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Chapter 94

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 5 years, 9 months ago

A mighty tremor shook the crypt and the quaking earth brought down a hail of dust. The ground protested, but a latticework of cracks running along the room's circumference stirred to life. Previously dark corners of the room now glowed a pale blue and grew stronger each second. These continued to pulse like a heartbeat while a strange wind whipped up a storm of dust and debris. I had to cover my eyes from the sting of particles.

 

Power was carried within those glowing cracks. Each ran like a river; countless streams and tributaries collecting together into thick bands which carried the light directly to the central altar. They reminded me of electrical circuits, and like electricity, the power affected the dust cloud. Bluish particles of light bent the haze of dust to and fro until I swear my eyes could see field lines form. These lines were thicker than the cloud engulfing them and I watched as they wavered around the primary suspect of all this: the reanimated corpse.

 

What were once skeletal remains reanimated into the form of a young woman. Her skin, however, retained a deathly grey colour. What's more she levitated above me while peering out from the hood with one good eye, likewise grey and devoid of life. A chill air billowed down from her bare and dangling toes. That air moved like as invisible fog, swept over the row upon row of lit candles and turned the flames an eerie blue as they passed.

 

Her position a meter above her sarcophagus remained steady in the eye of the storm until the cloud of dust got pushed back by a sudden wave of pressure. Every last mote vanished and the reborn form of the woman before me had been completed. Behind me I could hear the girls hissing and bickering between clenched teeth.

 

     “You were all struttin' 'round like the room was clean!” Rose said.

 

     “It is!... was!” Susan growled.

 

     “Don't look at me!” Ba'el shouted.

 

     “Master! Oi, Master! Tell her we come in peace!” Came Chris' suggestion bellowed above the bickering of the others.

 

Their bickering continued as they tried to shuffle into position and argued over one another. That left me all alone with the mysterious new arrival... Or should I say she had always been here? I noticed her eye had peeled itself off of me and locked onto its next target: the red gemstone clenched tightly in my hand. Which is odd, because she shouldn't be able to see it with my hand in the way like it is now.

 

A diplomatic approach, as Chris suggested, would likely be the best course of action here. I raised my hands above my head in a gesture of non-confrontation.

 

     “We're not grave robbers. We've come to—“

 

The woman's eye followed the hand I had the gem hidden in and she seemed rather disinterested and detached from everything I was saying. I might as well be still talking to the corpse. I unfurled my hands and exposed the gem between index and middle finger of my right hand. After all, trying to put my hands up like that while still clenching something isn't really the proper way to do things.

 

     “I didn't take it. It—it popped right out of your— skull. I was just holding onto it... To make sure it didn't—“

 

An icy chill scrapped by my fingers as something invisible lashed out with whip-like quickness. My hand instinctively clenched tight, but the gem had already been plucked from my grip. It floated in the eye, rotating on its axis in front of me before being reeled back toward the woman. Some sort of telekinesis or something snatched it away.

 

     “Damn it— Laven!” Ba'el screamed.

 

The living corpse wasted no time and the gem flew backward and directly into her gaping eye socket. A sickening squelch echoed outward and her eyelids descended for the first time. Her first act concluded and her second resumed immediately when they flew back open. Beside the dull grey eye lay an eye with a blood red iris. The full weight of her piercing glare burrowed into me chest. A cold oppressive malaise got quickly replaced with threatening glare. A screeching whine built up behind her red eye which sparkled and glowed before letting loose with a radiant flash.

 

I brought my arms down in vain attempt to shield my eyes, but it was a hook snagging around my chest from behind which saved me from the danger. As my limp body flew backward, a blinding flash of red light shot out in a beam as wide as my bridged thumb and index finger. That beam vaporized the ground where I had stood. A scatter-shot of debris exploded from the point of impact. A molten patch of slag rock is all that remained after the laser missed its mark.

 

Meanwhile, I kept falling backward and it wasn't by force of gravity. The force pulling me is much too fast to be that; I'm going in a straight line too. Before the inevitable impact with the ground I heard Shoshanah say in a rather resigned voice:

 

     “I should have thought this throug—”

 

I hit something far softer than ground. My momentum kept me going for another few meters, but this time with a passenger. Shoshanah and I tumbled and landed together in one big heap. I felt sore and struggled to unravel my limbs from hers while there were spirals in her eyes and no double stars dancing around her head. At least she ended up on top of me, the guilt of seeing her banged up had been assuaged... a little. With a bit of telekinesis of her own, the priestess had grabbed me from below in the nick of time at her expense.

 

     “Coming in peace has failed!” Rose shouted, letting loose with her battle.

 

She drew the sword from behind her back and the girls followed suit by lowering their centre to face the threat. But it wasn't a battle that was about to start. It's a one-sided onslaught.

 

     “Scatter!” Ba'el screamed back while shoving the salamander out of the way.

 

Ba'el dove after her while the latter got sent flying. The petite demon's unexpected show of strength from Rose's blind spot caught the warrior off guard. Both girls ended up behind the safety of a nearby column which must have been Ba'el intent.

 

Chris and Minte sensed the immediate threat better than Rose and scattered in the opposite direction. I watched it all from my vantage point that was still many meters behind them. My line of sight still had the beam slinging corpse dead and centre too. Her eye drew energy toward it in the form of little blue orbs of light. Once concentrated, it shot off in another ray of red light. This time it raked left to right in an arc across the floor. Stone tiles were vaporized on contact and rocky shrapnel whizzed through the air where the girls had been gathered two seconds ago.

 

That left Susan and myself in the open. And as if on cue, the woman above the altar turned her head slowly toward us. It's very much like a robot calculating we were both the biggest threat with currently the highest probability of killing. There wasn't so much as a moment of hesitation nor refraction period between the previous blast and the one building up now. Dozens of little ethereal balls of blue light were vacuumed from the previously empty ether and into the corpse's eye.

 

I had little time to act, so I rolled out from underneath Susan and scooped her up in my arms. The brief moment where she was relatively quiet from being knocked senseless ended no differently than splashing her with a bucket of cold water... Except that she went beat red enough that freezing water would have turned to steam. I cared not what I grabbed onto, or how hard. My arms grabbed hold tight and my legs did their duty. My leap had no running start as I outran the beam of light that tore up the ground from behind. One hop and a leap and I rolled into my own cover behind the safety of another altar.

 

With my back to the altar, and sitting on the ground, Susan sat crosswise on my lap with her paws still wrapped around me neck. Her protests stopped and she peeked around the corner at the corpse and to check on the other girls.

 

     “So what's the plan now?” I shouted.

 

     “Hold on a second!” Rose replied.

 

Rose scooped up a rather large hunk of stoney debris beside her and threw it out into the open. It flew for a few meters, but a red flash of light vaporized it at the moment before it was to complete its arc through the air.

 

     “Well, that narrows down a lot of options...” she said with dry wit.

 

     “Forget that,” Susan said. “We shall make tactical retreat to the exit. Our objective is complete. We should care little for—”

 

VREEEM

 

Another ray of light shot past us all and slammed into the rock above the entrance to the room. It scrapped along and brought down a massive pile of debris and blocked the exit with a few tons of limestone.

 

     “She can hear us,” Minte said, casually.

 

     “I realized!” Susan barked back.

 

     “We can dig out way out, but not under fire,” I said in a vain attempt to keep things on a productive note.

 

     “Maybe if someone hadn't given back her power source,” Ba'el seethed, “Maybe we wouldn't be worrying about either right now!”

 

     “I didn't give it back. She took it!”

 

     “When you present yourself like that, don't blame yourself when someone takes what they want!”

 

     “Friends,” Chris spoke, but was ignored.

 

     “What does it matter, demon?” Susan yelled back.

 

     “That's her phylactery. The source of her power. You break that and our problem is solved.”

 

     “Guys!” Chris yelled a little louder than before.

 

     “Really? That's all?” Rose asked.

 

     “Look... There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way for a wizard to achieve immortality.”

 

     “If she doth insist on wasting what power she has, we need only wait until she has expended her mana reserves,” Susan said.

 

     “And that is what I was gonna bring up before. She doesn't have a reserve. She has the whole dammed reservoir!”

 

     “You are not suggesting—“

 

     “HEY!” Chris screamed.

 

Everyone finally turned to the wyvern who struggled to keep her large frame hidden behind a pillar.

 

     “If she can hear us, that means she pretty much knows where we are, right?”

 

We all paused and our eyes then from Chris up to the ceiling where a glowing orb of white light had gathered silently. It spun in place like a disco ball. Meanwhile, mana gathered in the corpse's eye. The glow was brighter and more fierce than the others so far.

 

While still of one mind, the lot of us scrambled to flee our cover. Not a moment later, the next blast shot out from the wizardess' eye. It struck the orb and split the beam into a rain of countless smaller beams. They struck the ground like bullets around where we were hidden before. The ancient columns couldn't withstand the onslaught and were reduced to stone splinters and dust.

 

Susan broke free at last and we were once again in the open. But it ended up being the same thing for each of us. No cover was going to buy us any time if the corpse woman could so easily fire upon us at any angle she desired.

 

     “I'm going on!” Rose said, renewing her battle cry.

 

     “Not dead on! What are you thinking?” Ba'el shouted after the salamander after failing to grab hold of her.

 

Rose held her sword in front to act as a shield while charging headlong toward the stairs to the main altar. Ba'el tried to follow after her, but her little legs were too slow to catch up. I scanned the room to see Chris and Minte exchanging glances, hand signals and a few words. Beside me, Susan studied the whole scene from a distance. Her eyes had a keen analytical sheen. The last of the stars in her vision from our previous impact were gone. I wasn't sure if there would be enough time to come up with any sort of plan though.

 

     “Don't go chargin' a wizard with any old sword!” Ba'el shouted after Rose.

 

The demon came to a skidding halt when the wizardess' eye shone brightly once More this time it fixed on Rose as its target. With an air sundering screech to herald its arrival, the blast followed. Rose's charge came to a halt as she dug her talons into the broken stone pavement. Her sword, my old sword, she angled it at forty-five degrees in front of her, one claw on the hilt and the other holding onto it further down the blade. I watched as the beam of light crashed into the steel, the sword bent inward from the force of the blast... But it didn't break.

 

Given the angle of the sword, and its resilience, the light reflected off in many directions. Just as it had done so with the disco ball before, the majority of it went harmlessly toward the ceiling which absorbed the energy of the attack. Rose's sword remained intact after the last of the power behind the wizardess' beam was spent. Her sword glowed red hot with a patch of white on the point of impact, but the excess heat quickly drained from the blade from tip to hilt.

 

     “What in the hells?” Ba'el stammered. “That thing doesn't have any magical power in it!”

 

Rose spun the sword with a few twists of her wrist. Embers escaped the edges of the blade and left arcs of fire where it passed.

 

     “It has passion!” Rose declared with her chest puffed out.

 

I hid my face in embarrassment. Ba'el scowled suspiciously. The corpse's face contorted for the first time with a knitting of her eyebrows. Rose responded by exploding into action. Her tail's flame erupted and grew twice the size as she bounded up the stairs by two and sometimes three steps at a time.

 

But her target was not unprepared.

 

Now, for the first time, blue tinted magic circles formed all around the wizardess and danced around her in a flurry of activity. Whatever beam hit before had some sort of instant cast time, but this had at least a quick cast time. Every circle combined into a long barrel made of successive circles and front the muzzle came a blast of chilling wind. A cone of cold with the power of a hurricane blasted full force at Rose who was forced dead in her tracks. The air itself froze, invisible water vapor became snowflakes and the arctic gale assailed Rose without mercy.

 

Rose's tail flickered and sputtered under the onslaught and the salamander grit her teeth and focused on keeping her own tail burning bright. Yet every second that passed consumed more of her seemingly boundless life-force. Her talons dug into the stone steps as she tried desperately to not be blown clear off the altar. A layer of frost quickly became a snowbank that sought to bury Rose alive. Her long thorny locks of hair glazed over with a layer of frost, but she continued to hold one arm definitely against the freezing hail.

 

A flutter from above met the sound of the howling cone of cold. Chris had leapt high above near the ceiling of the room and hovered in place with each beat of her wings. Her cheeks were puffed out and her chest bulging. She let loose with her own cone of fire and breathed a hell-storm on top of the caster's spell. Cold and hot air clashed, but the stream of cold wing got cut in half. Rose only needed the few seconds given to her in order to explode once more and shatter the frost off of her.

 

Charging through Chris' fire without hesitation, Rose emerged from the other side unscathed. Her sword was now encased in a sheath of fire as it glowed white hot. She raised it high above her head, the sword leaving behind a streak of fire in the air wherever it went, and brought the edge down upon the spell casting corpse. A sound of steel on glass created a deafening ping, but I heard no break nor crack of flesh or bone. A blue aura surrounding the wizardess became visible along with the gash of red hot flame, but Rose had not broken through.

 

Yet the warrior did not despair. A cocky smile glared up at the floating corpse whose expression now revealed her teeth in a furious scowl. And that is the moment the sound of breaking glass and rending flesh rang out. Two green scimitars shot out from the greyish flesh and cut through the black cloth wrapped around her. They pierced through right under the breasts on each side of her chest, the place where her lungs would be. Minte materialized behind from behind at the end of flash step with each of her arm blades were swung into their offensive position.

 

     “Shit,” Ba'el spat. “Not good enough, get out!”

 

I had no idea what the old goat was talking about, but a second look back at Minte allowed it to slowly sink in. Minte's eyes where open with surprise and Rose cocky smile quickly settled back to neutral. The floating corpse seemed unperturbed. Unamused. A rush of blue mana orbs rushed into her body from every angle much faster than before.

 

There was no magic circles and no grace to what happened next. Pure magic exploded out from the wizardess' aura. It rocked the entire room like the concussive wave from an explosion. I caught a glimpse of the wave before I heard it, when it hit me. Minte got thrown backward scimitars and all. Her wings did no good to slow or redirect her being carried by the wave of magic as it slammed her into the rear wall. Rose was thrown down the stairs and rolled down the many steps. When the wave hit Chris, who was still airborne, the resulting turbulence threw her to the ground as well.

 

Ba'el managed to stand her ground when the wave passed over her. Her hooves slid back about a meter, but hardly affected her at all. It hit me like a truck. It knocked me off my feet and sent me tumbling backward. I watched as Susan braced herself with a magic barrier of her own. Her face contorted in pain from the mental strain, but she remained completely unmoved.

 

     “Laven!” She cried out when looking back at me being reduced to a rag-doll.

 

I pulled myself off the ground and gave her a wave of my hand to show her that I was okay. A little bruising is the worst I got from that. What worried me more is what happened to the other girls and how that one combination attack failed.

 

     “What's the deal? Minte got two clean hits?”

 

     “Minte failed to strike her heart,” Susan said. “She intended for her blades to pierce the mana barrier at the same point. They were deflected on initial contact with the barrier's out layer.”

 

So Minte joined her arms together and hoped to push through straight, but split far enough apart to miss her heart and go right trough on each side.

 

     “LIKE I WAS TRYING TO SAY—” Ba'el raised her voice. “That wouldn't do any good.”

 

Susan and I both looked at the demon, dumbstruck.

 

     “You can smash a zombie's head in, sure. You can stake a vampire's heart, that's cool. But none of that will stop a lich in its tracks.”

 

     “Nonsense!” Susan barked back. “One may tie the spirit to the body, but should that tether to this mortal plane be severed or destroyed—“

 

     “They ain't tethered by the body. That body is just for show. A lich ties its body here by the phylactery. It's soul, its everything, is right there in that little red gem.”

 

Shoshanah look mortified. More so than when she was told they were cremating the bodies throughout the crypt.

 

     “But that's—“

 

     “You know more about the unliving than I do, sure,” Ba'el replied cooly. “But trust me on this one... Doing that to your soul is a real foul act. It ain't one done lightly and it ain't one done by some amateur neither. If you wanna stop her, we're gonna have to get our hands back on that eye of hers.”

 

I looked for Rose and found her struggling to get back onto her feet. She was coming down from the adrenaline rush and trying to reignite her flame back to what it was. Rose had no doubt used a great deal of energy in that last attack. Chris remained in better shape, but she knew better than to rush back into action. She quietly made her way over to Rose and began to dethaw her with what little flame she has left in her lungs. But at the pace they are going...

 

     “Hey, Laven!” Ba'el called me out then tossed a small bag filled with what appeared to be looted silver. “I can do better. Hold that and watch this... And if it doesn't work, you'd better think of something, princess.”

 

While the other three girls were licking their wounds, Ba'el strolled up to the bottom of the altar and that act alone gained the attention of the lich. She rolled her shoulders and exhaled deeply.

 

     “If I had any word of warning I'd give in hindsight, it'd be that one of the classic blunders is fighting a wizard in his workshop. And ya did a good job here. Tapping right into the leyline, huh? I'm not sure how ya did it to be honest. But your a thousand years too early to win a pissing contest against the likes of me!”

 

     “Tis insane,” Susan growled.

 

     “More so than usual?” I quipped.

 

I cautiously made my way back and stood beside Susan and we watched the demon march off to battle.

 

     “Verily. If what we discovered prior to this being's awakening is so, and I am assuming the demon is acting in such a way that she believe it is true... The entirety of this crypt is a conduit upon which this lich is siphoning off into her own reserves of magic power.”

 

     “That doesn't sound like something you'd build a crypt fore.”

 

     “No. Tis more of a laboratory.”

 

     “To experiment with what?”

 

Susan did not respond to that. She instead carefully watched the showdown between the lich and baphomet. They sized one another up with itchy trigger fingers. Both would have enough time to pick one spell from their repertoire, but neither seemed to know right away which it would be.

 

Recovering in the wings were Rose, Chris and Minte. Rose was still feeling the chill and her tail sputtered occasionally, but managed to get back onto her feet. Chris appeared weary to take back to the air above since the winds the lich could cook up in such a small space is very much a tempest in a teapot. That no doubt made the winds far too unpredictable with turbulence that made flight impossible. Minte had peeled herself off the wall, but had yet to orientate herself. I watched her antenna twist in random directions as she struggled on shaking knees to prop herself up on the wall she had left a small crater in.

 

Getting caught in the ensuing crossfire would likely prove rather harmful too.

 

     “There is only so much either can channel into a single spell,” Susan said. “Her barrier is not impenetrable, as Minte demonstrated, but this lich's reserves of mana are bound to be bottomless. Ba'el has but one chance to choose wisely and achieve victory in one strike. Failure will no doubt leave her spent and her enemy granted a quick recovery.”

 

And the air became electrified. Blue colored magic circles returned to orbit around the lich. A red magic pentagram grew beneath Ba'el's hooves and began a slow saw like spin. Her twintails began to dance and flick in the winds of magic energy being both gathered and emitted. The lich's cloak fluttered in the not so gentle breeze.

 

On Ba'el's forehead a strange light glowed. It was not the pentagram brand, but a small pillar of light that grew out between her horns. The thing looked like a torch with a bright flame burning atop it, but the whole object was incorporeal. What it did have is an immense amount of power building up within it. It almost looked like a whole other horn.

 

She opened her clenched paws and two other pentagrams sprung into existence and began spinning in her palms. Meanwhile, the magic circles formed an arc behind the lich. I could not begin to decipher the method to their movements or the meanings behind the runes inscribed in light. What I could understand is that the last ounces of magic power were being refined. What has taken almost twenty seconds will be released soon and the outcome to the duel will take but a fraction of a second.

 

I could only watch her tiny back, so I could not see the expression on her face, but the Lich's expression was the same as always: cold, calculating and devoid of any emotion. There was no boast or provocation. What worried me was the lack of either from Ba'el.

 

And the exchange of fire happened so very quickly. Each of the twelves magic circles fanned out like a halo behind the Lich fired toward a center point just in front of the Lich before shooting out straight and down at the baphomet. To put a word to it: annihilation. The very air itself sounded as if it were screaming. Molecules of air were vaporized on contact. An oncoming scent of fresh ozone washed over us before the beam itself.

 

Ba'el's retaliation came from the flame above her head. She clenched her paws shut and the flame flashed bright. A triangle of light formed with the other two corners originating from the crowning curve of her horns The pentagram beneath her feet shattered into smaller triangles which flew across the ground at great speed before they disappeared, but they left behind an orange-red beam of light racing upward toward the lich. It met the beam of blueish-white head on, and kept going.

 

The lich's beam hit the vanguard of Ba'el's beam like a prism and scattered in all directions. Wherever the stray rays hit, the stone became not dust, but ash. Molten pools were left behind and we were lucky none of them curved back behind her to hit us. The other girls were forced further back, but thankfully beyond the range of the biggest ones with the most power behind them. But the lich had nowhere to run and her eyes shot open wide. Her figure vanished behind the impact of Ba'el's attack against her magic barrier's outer layers and the resulting explosion rocked and obscured the whole altar.

 

I had to avert my eyes from the flash and looked back only when a few stray bolts of lightning were racing along a black cloud of smoke obscuring the target. Any celebrations were cut short when Ba'el's little legs gave out from under her and she collapsed butt first onto the floor. Her chest heaved up and down and her voice was raspy and dry.

 

     “And that's why... you should remember your geometry. These days it seems to be a lost art in death rays. But... But I... I guess I don't have as much in me as I used to...”

 

She struggled to get back onto her hooves and had to keep her upper body supported with paws on her knees.

 

     “Fuck.”

 

That's the last word she managed to get out before a piece of floor shaped exactly like a firewood log shot out from the ground like a bullet slammed into Ba'el's chest and sent her limp body flying over my head, through a pillar and slammed against a second that she slid down onto the floor.

 

Looking back was a compulsion I dreaded, but I could not help it and set my eyes back on the lich who besides a briefly faltering magic barrier looked no less for wear. Her expression looked less disinterested and more stern than before, but it is far from enough.

 

     “Plan B has failed! Back to plan A!” I heard Rose shout.

 

And she tried to rejoin the fray, but ran face first into some invisible barrier. That barrier glowed a pale sickly green on the point of impact and a ripple ran along it from floor to ceiling. Chris followed suit with a shoulder first, but her whole body came to a complete stop on impact. Another ripple washed over an invisible wall like before. Minte struck at an identical wall in front of herself as well, but could not pierce it with her blades. All three had been locked away behind some impenetrable barrier. But when did that—?

 

No matter how many times the three girls struck out against the walls, they refused to give way or show any sign of damage. It's as if they were completely immune from any earthly form of damage.

 

And then there were two, but it didn't appear as if the lich was done with the demon yet. From her vantage point she pointed a single finger above Susan I. She aimed her finger at Ba'el and no doubt had intent on finishing her off.

 

     “Magic circuit on an alternating prime number logarithm, factoring on—“

 

Susan was mumbling something beside me. I noticed now that the whole time she had ignored the flashy show and kept keen on studying the lich's magic. So when the lich raised her finger and prepared to fire her third spell, the effect fizzled out. Rather, it didn't happen at all. Shoshanah had her staff back in paw and pointing the ankh toward the lich. Her teeth were gritting together and her face looked full of strain while she continued to mumble to herself.

 

Slowly, robotically, the lich's head swivelled to face Susan. A cold inquisitiveness was plastered on her face. Her first response to power up her eye once again, but that too sputtered and the red glow of her eye returned to a dull listless state. Susan let loose a long exhaling groan along with her a heave of her shoulders.

 

     “Susan?”

 

     “I shall hold her attention for as long as I am able... You need to find a means to interfere with the walls of force that have bound the others.”

 

     “You got a hint on that?”

 

     “None.”

 

That's great... But before I left my eye spied a trickle of blood running out of Susan's nose.

 

     “Go. I shall secure you fifty-seven seconds.”

 

A prick stabbed the back of my neck and caused the hairs on the back of my head to stand on end. I looked back and saw the lich had finally left her position from above the sarcophagus above the altar and began to float toward us.

 

     “...Thirty-nine,” Susan corrected herself. “Go!”

 

There was about a ten second run to the wall Chris and Rose were pounding on and trying to put a dent in with her flaming sword... Add in another six or seven climbing over debris... I couldn't waste another second weighing my options and Susan barking her order pushed me onward.

 

But I couldn't make it more than fifteen steps before I stopped and had to look back. A second trickle of blood came down her other nostril as the lich floated about twenty centimetres off the ground toward Susan. Every so often another blue magic circle would try to form, but a glow from Shoshanah's golden staff fizzled it out. But the closer the lich got, the most haggard the priestess looked. She countered each spell she could, but the strain on her body became greater with each attempt to cast a spell.

 

By the time the lich neared three arms lengths away, Susan could no longer stand on two feet. She sunk down onto one knee as though pushed by some heavy and oppressive aura. Her heaving became a raspy pant and I could taste the iron in my mouth just looking at her. If I turned away, something terrible would happen. If I stood around and waited, I'd have to watch as it happened. Any curiosity or amusement the lich had gained from the experiment had now long passed and the grip Susan had on her staff broke. The golden rod fell to the ground and on contact turned back into light and slipped into the aether.

 

Susan had nothing left in her to stop the next spell and it looked identical to the one the lich wizard used on Ba'el only a couple minutes before. It was at this time I felt a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

 

However

 

A heat flared up in my heart. My mind went blank and my reason whited out. A compulsion from the bottom of my heart turned me right around and charging back. But let it be said I'm a man who can learn from his mistakes. I didn't take aim at Susan as I charged; I set myself on a collision course with the lich whose back was turned.

 

Twelve magic circles reached their prime and gathered all their energy in one place. This would come down to the wire and end in a photo finish. I reached out, slammed into the small frame of the floating gray-skinned woman and grabbed on. I thought I might have tackled her to the ground, so stopping dead in my tracks yet again took me by surprise, but that would be the least of my shame. Something cold and very soft took up the palms of my hand.

 

     “Ah—“ said the collective gasp from five different mouths in every direction, near and far.

 

The body in my arms went rigid with surprise and ceased up in what I think is a panic. The focus of the magic circles backfired and the orb which had been prepared to obliterate Susan shattered and sent beams of light corkscrewing through the air before fizzling out or exploding on contact with anything in its way.

 

To be honest with myself, I thought I'd hit magic barrier instead and throw off her aim, but here I am, latched onto her back and holding onto her chest with an iron grip. As her spell exploded all around the three of us, we remained in suspended animation. My hands squeezed a couple times on their own as if they weren't quite convinced what they were holding onto. I couldn't confirm it with my eyes... Yes, the feeling was there, but a cold fish feeling sunk in through my hands. The lich's body is cold as a corpse. I couldn't feel a pulse and she didn't breathe either.

 

A cold slap in the face put a lid on my lust and brought me back to reality. It also reignited my rage and reminded me of what I had to do.

 

I slid my hands down and crossed my arms across her mid-section. My knees bent and I put all the strength I had into locking my grip tight and bulging my quadriceps. A battle cry from deep down in my chest shook the earth as I pulled back the best I could. In the distance I could hear a sound which should have come from right in front of me. It had the distinct sound of tearing glass. When the shattering sound came, I pulled the lich out from where she had anchored herself in the air and my body carried on backward thanks to the momentum.

 

Following the shatter came the sickening crack. My back hit the ground flat and the shock spread evenly throughout my entire body, but the lich hit the ground head first. By then my hands had become numb to the cold and lost their grip. I collapsed to the ground, but the lich bounced twice more. I may have hit my head a little too, because I could swear I heard her body hit the stone with a dog toy's squeak.

 

Her body come to a rest face down and buttocks exposed as the cloak settled back to the ground unfavourably. I rolled over as well and put strength back into my arms to lift myself off the ground, but a countless number of micro-tears in my overstressed muscles put a stop to that. A limping Susan had to lend a shoulder and that got me back onto just one knee.

 

A fizzle and new sound of a dying dynamo coincided with the flickering and dying of the force walls keeping Rose, Minte and Chris imprisoned. Ba'el pulled herself from the rubble and had a cut somewhere in her hair line which bled down her face. She favored one arm and held it in place at her socket, but otherwise looked alive. Each of the girls approached cautiously... Alright, that's a lie. Two girls approached cautiously; one couldn't contain her excitement.

 

     “Hahaha! Did you see that! Laven flipped the lich!” Rose said with a beaming smile as she ran to be my side.

 

But good times always end too soon. The lich's cloak began to flutter in the crypt's stagnant. Everyone went back on high alert and Rose renewed her war face. She didn't need to move a muscle and the lich raised herself back up like a reversed rendition of Nosferatu. Whatever force got used with that, the ground couldn't handle it and so it cracked and splintered under a weight of several tons.

 

And anger. A profound sense of anger displayed itself on the lich's face. A fury from a being otherwise incapable of feeling stabbed right at me. An anger like that carried a special meaning; the whole crypt shook with it more so than ever before. Blue magic circles materialized the whole room over and crackled with flicks of lightning. The sound of a dynamo whirled back to life as mana gathered into nearly a hundred circles and prepared to rain death over every square inch.

 

     “That's enough, Medae.” Came a voice.

 

A voice without an origin and spoke directly into my head brought everything to a halt. Everyone but the lich appeared confused and looked in every direction. No one had an idea from whence the voice came, but the lich looked dead ahead. We followed her gaze to the debris covered exit. Our eyes met in time to watch a lone figure walk through the stone and enter the room as if she were a ghost... Given what I've seen so far I wouldn't write that off either. At least until I could hear the sound of heels clacking against the stone with each step she took.

 

A radiant mane of long curly platinum-blonde hair. Half up and half down. On top of her head rested a tiara of opulent wealth and too many tiny gemstones embedded within it to count in a single sitting. A form fitting black cocktail dress clung to her and had slits running along the thighs that went... pretty much the whole way up. What struck me hardest of all is the scarf and gloves she wore. I could see her skin, her nearly translucent white skin, underneath it. They wavered as if alive, like a flame. Her slender fingers hidden underneath a pair of sinister ghostly claws and a fox-fur like scarf made of the same ethereal material billowing behind her as she walked heel to heel.

 

     “Honestly,” she cooed softly. “There should be a limit to how grumpy one can be upon waking.”

 

The lich hurriedly dropped to one knee.

 

     “Your highness,” the lich's first words rung like a steel xylophone.

 

No one had yet to drop their guard, but that didn't stop the new arrival from approaching. Her face looked familiar too. I would have studied her features more, but my eyes were drawn to hers instead. Instead of black pupils, they were bone white and that sent a chill down my spine as well as lock my gaze in place as if by a spell.

 

     “Sir Laven, you did well. So very well. Almost beyond my expectations.”

 

     “Who—?” I tried to ask, but the words got caught in my sore chest.

 

     “Ah! Wait a minute,” Rose said pointing a claw rudely at the noble looking woman.

 

     “Hekati Fioina Hyria Yaleria—” The lich announced.

 

She raised her head whilst crossing a hand over her heart (and holes in her chest).

 

     “—Crown Princess of Yaleria.”

 

The ghostly being smiled at me with the utmost elegantly while my face is contorted in a manner most ugly and with the utmost confusion slapped across it.

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