The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 64

While her brothers winced at her words, they also nodded in grim determination.  They had followed her here for the same reason she had led them here.  Tryst was dead, killed helping them escape from Count Adbar’s citadel and he had been working with Dergeras.  All the pieces had fallen into place; Adbar had been collecting the Artifacts of the Original as well.  He had been bent on thwarting them from the beginning and when he lured them in they had taken the bait.  It had cost them Tryst, their mission and likely the world.

If the world was going to burn anyway, at least she would take Dergeras down in the flames.  She set out at a steady trot, her brothers flanking her, and in a few minutes they had arrived at the back of the keep wall.  Here it was still mostly sound and reached nearly thirty feet into the air.  Callindra incanted another spell and leaped into the air with the Winds gathering beneath her.  Landing on the top of the wall in a crouch, she made certain she hadn’t been spotted and then took a rope from her pack and secured it to a crenellation that was still solid before tossing the other end down for them to climb.

They brought the rope up after them and tossed it down the inside of the wall, each scrape of boot on stone muffled by the spell Callindra had wrought around them.  Cronos pointed to a broken window in the crumbling keep and they crept through it without attracting the attention of any of the monsters outside.

The building was thick with dust and decay, but the sound of unceasing chanting came faintly to their ears as they made their way into the depths of the keep.  A feeling of foreboding settled over them a feeling accentuated the Winds fled as they got closer.  The sound of their footsteps began to echo off the moldering stone walls as Callindra’s magic faded, muffled only slightly by the dust that coated everything.

“This feels wrong.  Worse than I thought it would.  Worse than I thought possible.”  Callindra said, shivering.  “The air is dead here.”

“Everything feels dead here.”  Vilhylm said, looking at the dust choked walls and floor.

They found a doorway with stairs leading down.  More importantly, there were many tracks here.  The dust had been mashed nearly into nothing from the passage of many feet.  The chanting came from below.  It stopped the second Callindra’s foot touched the top stair.

“I don’t like this.”  She and Cronos said simultaneously.  For once they didn’t glare at each other.  Clutching their weapons, the three made their way down the stairs.  Callindra idly thought that being a leader unfortunately also meant going first into certain death.  Of course, she didn’t care if she died now, as long as she got her revenge.  As long as they got their revenge.

At the bottom of the stairs the hallway widened into a single large room.  Two dozen or more corpses lay on the floor, bloody knives in their hands.  Callindra shuddered in revulsion, they had killed themselves and spilled their lifeblood on symbols roughly carved on the floor in some dreadful ritual.

Stepping around the corpses they moved into the room itself and saw a dark figure cloaked in rags standing before an altar with a figure assembled from clay pieces laying upon it.  The mold of the original mortal.

“Dergeras!”  Callindra called out, her voice ringing throughout the room, “You have taken my brother from me, you have betrayed the living and made dark contracts with the Abyss.  You will die for your crimes here and now on my blade.”

She sprang forward, Shadowsliver a living extension of her arm and sank his twin tips into the figure’s heart, pinning him to the clay figure on the altar.  Dark blood flowed from his body and dripped onto the Mold.

“You have … completed.”  He gasped, a beatific smile on his face as his life flowed out onto the altar.

A rent tore in reality and something forced its way into the world using the Mold of the Original Mortal as its vessel.  It sat up, moving smoothly and easily; flexing limbs that shed the clay of the shell that allowed it to take mortal form.

“THIS IS A STRANGE WAY TO ENTER THE PRIME.” It said in a voice with the power of a glacier.  “I, MORDE FIND MYSELF FEELING BENEVOLENT.”

Callindra hacked at it with desperate force, her sword slicing through one of its arms at the wrist as it stretched and sat up.  Vilhylm thrust his spear through its torso and Cronos unleashed a torrent of flame that nearly blinded them all with its intensity.

It pointed at Cronos with a finger that flickered with blackness.  “DIE.” It said, and he fell to the ground motionless.

Callindra swung her sword in a vicious arc, hacking deep into the Morde’s chest but he simply grabbed the chain, pulled her forward and slammed her into a wall with bone shattering force.  She tumbled to the floor in a broken bleeding mass.

“Great Goddess of life I call upon thee in my time of need!  Jorda, I invoke the boon you bestowed upon us, come now and save us from this unholy monster!”

Vines and growing plants arose from the ground at his feet, some wrapped around Callindra and Cronos but most of them grew into the figure rising from the altar, ripping into its substance and pulling it apart; the work of a hundred years of growth happening in a few moments.

Jorda rose from the mass of vines, her eyes glinting in sunlit rage as she attacked, “You are not of this world!”  Her voice was the clarion call of the charging bull and the scream of a red tailed hawk.  “Your kind is not welcome here!”

“AND YET NEICE I AM HERE AND I SHALL NOT BE DENIED” Morde responded, the terrible grating of his words unmaking her where she stood.  “I WILL LEAVE YOUR PUNY MORTALS HERE TO BEAR WITNESS TO YOUR DESTRUCTION.”

Jorda looked at Vilhylm and her face contorted in pain as blackness ran up the vines that grew through the man shaped thing that stepped from the altar.  “Run.” She whispered, and her body burst into blisters of dissolving ash.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 63

Callindra looked up at the broken black walls of Hellgate Keep.  They had been pushing hard for days and finally were within reach of their goal.  Her goal really.  Her brothers had protested at first, but when she pointed out that their mission was completely destroyed because Tryst had the Hand as well as the rest of the pieces of the Mold they had shut up.

She felt bad about their expressions of defeat, but all she could feel was the burning desire to make Dergeras pay for all his crimes.  Everything else was going to burn anyway; the High Forest, the ravaged villages she had seen with burned bodies piled high, the greed of the swamp folk, the wanton destruction of the Abyss seemed unstoppable.  The only thing she cared about was killing the one responsible.  Dergeras would feel the black steel of Shadowsliver pierce his heart or she would die trying.

“We’re here.”  She said, looking at her brothers.  “You don’t have to come in with me.  I bullied and shamed you into this and I’m not proud of that.  This fight is one I cannot back away from.”

“I’m with you sister.”  Cronos said, lifting his tired face and looking at her with determination.  “I wouldn’t have let you talk me into this if I didn’t know it was the right thing to do.  You are convincing when you’re right.”

“The only way to stop this from happening seems to be to cut the diseased plant off at the root.”  Vilhylm said, “As we have traveled these last five days I have seen the wisdom of your words, even if they were spoken with pain and passion instead of reason.”

“We can’t win.”  She said, “But we might make him lose.”

“This is our only chance.”  Vilhylm said, looking at the unmanned, broken walls.  “They can’t possibly think we would be this reckless.”

“Our sister’s inclination to rush headlong into danger is finally working out to our advantage.” Cronos said with a sardonic smile.

Normally his teasing would have made her smile or at least respond with a jibe of her own.  Callindra couldn’t bring herself to do either.  Instead she focused all of her attention on the goal, looking at the defenses and possible threats.  This keep was ancient and crumbling, the walls barely offering resistance at all now that nature had been slowly defeating them over centuries.  Beyond the walls, fires were burning, greasy black smoke reaching skyward in tall pillars undisturbed by any breeze.

“I’m going to check it out.  You wait here for my signal.”  She said, treading lightly up the slope without waiting for their assent.  Once she had reached her target; a place where a large section of the wall had fallen down, she slipped between large square blocks of basalt to peer beyond.

There were thousands of humanoid forms standing in a parody of a military camp.  None of them moved, there were no apparent guards posted and from what she could see the smoke was merely from fissures in the ground.  Out of those gaping wounds in the earth more bipedal figures emerged, each one with glittering emerald fire shining from eyes and mouth.  If they alerted these creatures to their presence it would be mere moments before they were overwhelmed, even if the abyssal creatures were as weak as newborn kittens.  Beyond the throngs stood a tumbled down structure that likely had been a keep or a cathedral; its sole remaining tower tilted drunkenly to one side.

Cursing silently under her breath, Callindra returned to where her brothers had waited.  She felt a momentary surge of pride that she was leading and they were following.  It was akin to the books she had treasured reading in Glarian’s tiny house while recovering from her shattered leg.  These were times when heroes would be made or destroyed.  She had no intention of being destroyed.

“I think I know where he will be.”  She said, experience had taught her that a whisper carried much further than simply lowering her voice.  Quickly, she described the scene she had witnessed.  “Beyond a few thousand thralls in what I believe is the ruins of Hellgate Keep itself.  In this case we can’t just charge in, but I think if we skirt around to the far side we can get access to the place while avoiding their notice.  They haven’t even posted guards.”

“I think they may be relying on senses other than their sight then.”  Vilhylm said, his voice tired.  “Who knows what kind of fiends are crawling into this world or what their abilities might be?”

“If they were that powerful, Dergeras would just use them as an army and destroy everything.”  Cronos said.  “We should be careful but not panic.  Not yet.”

“I’m going to circle around and try to get in without them seeing me.”  Callindra said, “Once we’re inside, we can bar the door if there is one.”  She stopped and looked at her brothers, taking a deep breath and letting it out.  “I don’t expect to get out alive.  This isn’t about stopping them all.  It isn’t about our mission or saving the world.  For me this is only about revenge.  Dergeras took the ones I love from me and I will not allow that to go unpunished.”

Focusing her mind, she brought a spell from the flat black blade of Shadowsliver.  Around her sound became muffled and indistinct.  “This will keep them from hearing us.”  She said, “Possibly from smelling us too; I have asked the Winds here to do my bidding.  If you are with me, keep close.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 62

Durrak faced his mentor across the sand floor of the formal arena, dressed in heavy plate armor with his gisarme held easily butt down in his right hand.  The dwarf was calmer and more centered than he had ever been since bandits had slaughtered his family.  This was what he had trained for, if he could not defeat the one who claimed she could teach him no more then she had lied to him and he would die for it.  If he could defeat her then he was ready for anything gods or men could put in his path.

“I ask one final time Durrak.  Lay this madness aside.”  She said, standing in rippling maile tunic with six feet of blackwood staff tipped with a foot long hook pointed blade that made his look crude held almost idly across her body.  “I will not allow your foolish vanity to bring us to dealing death if it can be avoided.”

“My mind is set Master.”  He said, bowing low to a creaking of leather straps and steel plating.  “You do say you no can teach me more.  This do be the only way I can know it for true.”

“If this is how it must be, then we shall see if my words are true.  We shall give them the test of blood.  It is ever the risk of the teacher to face a student who needs proof.”  She spun her weapon easily over the back of her hand and slammed the Mithril pommel into the floor.  “I have told you the truth of my heart.  Now you will see the truth of my blood.”

This time her attack was not one of trickery, it was straightforward deadly skill born of decades of training.  Only the skill she had taught him and the reflexes of youth saved him from losing his head within the first few seconds of the match as he threw himself into a backward roll, coming up with his own weapon in a blurring arc that slapped her following slash away.

Rather than trying to rise immediately, he swung his blade at her legs and used the momentary pause of her rush to thrust at her face while holding the polearm in one hand for the extra reach.  She simply tilted her body to one side and slapped the shaft of his weapon down, nearly trapping it under a stamping foot that would have had a good chance of breaking it or tearing it from his hand and spun the heavy counterweight towards his head.

Durrak allowed the momentum of her block to swing his blade in a wide arc that he followed with his body, diving back to the ground and spinning to strike at her knees.  His strike met with the Mithril bound blackwood shaft of her polearm as she grounded it to intercept the swing with jarring force.

He rolled backward onto his feet and charged forward, catching her by surprise as he slammed the spiked shoulder of his left pauldron into her chest, ripping rings of her maile free and drawing blood.  This close, the advantage was his and he pressed it ruthlessly, continuing to shove her back across the floor.  It was a tactic better suited to close quarters rather than the open arena, but it gave him time to plan his next move.

She jerked a short handled spiked ax from behind her belt and drove it into his side with enough force that it punctured the thick steel of his armor and lodged in a rib.  Durrak twisted away, wrenching the weapon from her hand and swinging his gisarme held halfway up the shaft.  She deftly parried, spinning her weapon with perfect timing to throw the blade off before it sliced her fingers off and would have broken his right shin with the counterweight if he hadn’t been wearing plate armor.

The follow up of her strike placed the hooked bill of her gisarme behind his left leg, severing the leather buckle and sending him sprawling onto his back.  Rolling to one side saved him from a finishing blow and instead caught him a glancing strike that slashed the spikes from his left shoulder in a shower of sparks.

A desperate thrust with the steel ball end of his weapon caught her square in the chest, although her anticipation of the blow and the awkward angle kept it from breaking ribs.  He had to keep rolling then as a stamping foot followed her strike and another blow, this time from the ball end, dented his breastplate and nearly stole the wind from his lungs.

A lance of pain reminded him of the ax still stuck in his side and Durrak wrenched it free, flinging it at her and feeling mildly surprised when it sank into her left shoulder.  He regained his feet and attacked in a series of swinging strikes that might have put her at a real disadvantage if he hadn’t been hampered by his dented armor and injured leg.

As it was, she nearly managed to sweep his legs out from under him twice even as she retreated from his advance.  He watched as the hook of her weapon reached for his leg again and allowed it to connect, dropping to one knee and trapping the razor sharp blade between the plates of his armor.  The force of her trying to pull him off his feet was arrested suddenly, throwing her forward directly onto the point of his weapon.

The assembled students were silent as she sank slowly to her knees and fell on her side, blood pouring from nose and mouth.  “Do … you … believe … me … now?”  She gasped.  “I die … I leave … a true … master behind.”

Durrak stared in horror, realizing that he had believed in some way that this would end with him bleeding out on the sand of the arena.  Thinking that this was suicide by combat.  She had taught him everything and he had not truly believed her words.

In spite of the protocol of a proclaimed death match he screamed for a healer, tears streaming down his face.  She looked at him with forgiveness in her eyes.

“You will do.”  She slurred, blood bubbling on her lips.  “Know … price of … victory…” Her hand left a bloody streak down the side of his face and her life fled.

“I do be sorry.”  Durrak said, looking at the assembled members of the Drakranda school.  “Though I do be The Caverstorm, I no do be worthy of it.  This did be a selfish act.  To be atoning for this act I do be leaving today.”

“You can’t leave, you’re the master of the school now!”  Corrine said.

“The reason I did be finding schools and killing their Masters no did be to teach them.”  Durrak said harshly, “I did be training myself.  For revenge.  It no do be honorable, but it do be true.  I no will be turning from this path.  To be doing honor to the memory your former master, I do be finding the god who did betray me.  And I do be killing him.”

Ignoring their horrified gasps, he turned and limped from the room.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 61

A group of warriors detached from the others, running at the hideous creature and shouting battle cries.  Their blades chopped into it and pieces flew off, forming their own separate creatures that swarmed over the hapless men.  The remaining men and women turned almost as one to glance at Tryst, seeming to hope the man with the gleaming shield daring to drive back the darkness would guide them.

“Do not cut it.”  Tryst cried, “Use any magics or blunt weapons but cutting it seems to have no effect!”

Callindra aborted a lunge and instead tried to find the winds.  Even in this dark, dank place she could feel them but they were sluggish, her call to them feeling weak and strained.  She focused on drawing what power she could into herself, but only a tiny spark of electricity glimmered between Shadowsliver’s twin tips.

Several of the others ran forward with hammers or flats of swords and began attacking the monster, but it focused on Tryst.  A massive hand descended on him and he stood resolute, offering the gleaming symbol of his faith in a response.  The fist crashed against his shield, black ichor spraying from the impact and driving him down to one knee.

“My GOD is my shield!”  He cried and silvery white light erupted from him, breaking the bonds that held the thing together.  Tryst rose as the creature recoiled and stepped forward, unlimbering his hammer.  “You do well to flee before me!”

Vilhylm placed a mask on his face, becoming brutish and strong, and another, growing living vines about himself and flanked his brother.  Callindra raised her sword, sweating with the effort and a crackle of lightning arced down the blade and into the chain.  Cronos leveled his twin swords at the creature and a wave of fire burst from between them to scorch its flank.

Callindra ran forward as the monster retreated, leaping off the back of an armored man in front of her and throwing Shadowsliver to one side.  The blade whistled through the air and she caught him by the hilt as she landed behind the creature, the electricity that the weave had gathered blazing into its body.

Cronos was on one side, flames lashing out between his swords and Vilhylm was on the other, mashing huge fists clad with growing vines into the thing’s gelatinous body.  She cried out in triumph, feeling the lightning coursing through her weapon ripping into her enemy and inflicting grievous wounds.

The monster stood tall, gathering the jellied corpses that made it up into a mass above them and let it fall, engulfing them in a bubble of rotting flesh and fluids from dead bodies.  Callindra struggled to keep her mouth and eyes closed against the pressure surrounding her but knew soon she would have to take a breath.  Pushing hard on the floor, she struggled to free herself and move forward, but it was impossible.  She had failed.  She was going to die here.

A white light cut through the gloom and she could see Tryst striding towards her, face tight in a grimace of concentration and pain.  Cronos and Vilhylm walked close on either side of him, looking worse for the wear even as Callindra was sure she did.

“I will hold it off and you must go.”  Tryst said, his tone resigned and firm.

“What?”  Callindra shouted, “I am NOT leaving you here to die for me!”

“You don’t have a choice.”  Tryst said sadly.  He incanted a spell, even as they all tried to reach him in time to stop it.  The ground below their feet rippled and changed, a huge pillar rising high into the air to smash through the side of the room and three more slender ones to raise them out of the creature’s fetid embrace.

The large pillar broke through the wall and the smaller ones threw them forward.  They tumbled to a stop, taking bruises and minor cuts along the way.  Behind them the Keep fell in upon itself and before them the city burned.

“Adbar was working for Dergeras.”  Callindra said, not knowing where the certainty in her voice was coming from.  “He took Tryst.  I’m going to Hellgate keep.  I’m going to kill the bastard.”

March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 60

The room was full of rowdy folk, all drinking and eating with an appetite that Callindra had never seen before.  She had seen people engaging in excess before, but this was different.  They ate as though they were desperate or starving despite the jovial atmosphere.  They were offered any kind of food or drink, however for some reason she and her brothers felt disinclined to partake.

Eventually they made their way to a far corner of the room where other groups of capable looking adventurers sat at quiet tables.  They picked an empty table and sat.

“I think this is part of the test.” Tryst said in a low voice.

“Yeah, those guys must be the dead wood.”  Callindra said, packing her pipe with tac.  “We need to just wait until they all pass out and Adbar comes out.”

True to their prediction, after a few more minutes the louder side of the room subsided to a dull murmur of voices and one by one the men and women at the tables there slumped onto the tables.  A few seemed to experience a moment of panic before slumping onto the floor or into their cups of ale.

“I don’t like this.”  Cronos said, looking at them with a critical eye.  “They don’t look like they’re just sleeping.”

“Ladies, gentlemen and assorted other beings!”  A voice from the dais on the far side of the room rang out, “Congratulations on passing round one.  Now comes the time when you have the chance to prove your ability to fight!”

Attendants dressed in simple white robes came and dragged the bodies from the other tables out of the room.  They didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to keeping them from being bruised either.  The way the bodies flopped spoke of them being heavily drugged or, more likely dead.

“Take up your weapons and show me what you can do!”

Doors opened and misshapen creatures spilled in from all sides.  The few attendants who were too slow were literally torn to shreds and the bodies they had been dragging did no better.  The room erupted into chaos as they all drew steel and Weave.

Callindra spun Shadowsliver in a vicious arc, slashing one of the shambling creatures from gut to neck in a spray of ichor.  She was conscious of Tryst raising his shield to protect her from another as Vilhylm picked one up bodily and threw it into two others.  Cronos finished an incantation and blurred in her vision; making it difficult to see where he really stood.

Within a few moments, the strongest fighters had all backed to the center of the room, leaving a pile of corpses in their wake.  Callindra spun her blade and flung him, letting the fine Mithril chain fly through her fingers.  Shadowsliver slammed into the skull of another monster, felling it even as she yanked on the chain and brought her blade spinning back into her hand.

She spun and found herself back to back with Cronos, “Well, these things aren’t as bad as we thought they would be.”  Cronos said, “Hardly worth the effort.”

Several of the other warriors were down, clutching bleeding wounds but the monsters were all down and bleeding on the floor.  The other groups were eyeing one another warily but as of yet were not making any hostile movements.

“Well done!”  A man in beautiful silk robes walked down the dais and into the light applauding as he came.  “You have passed my first two tests and now it is time to change the game.”

“Game?”  A woman shouted, aiming a spear at him, “This is just a game to you?  Ledras is bleeding out on the floor because of your gods cursed game.”

A rumble of agreement came from the gathered warriors and the man held up his hands.  “Of course it’s a game.”  Adbar said with a benevolent smile, “What else is there but the game?  Why would you be here if you did not believe in the game yourselves?”

“I am here for one purpose and one purpose only!”  Tryst’s voice rang out in the room, cutting through the angry mutterings of the others.  “I have come for the pieces of the Artifact you have gathered.  I am here to beg you to give them to us that we may fulfill the mission given to us by the gods themselves!”

The room fell silent as the others all turned to look at them.  Adbar’s face grew dark and he pointed at them.  “These are ENEMIES!”  He shouted, “Kill them and the reward shall be yours!”

“Will you listen to him or to those who fought beside you?”  Callindra asked, lowering Shadowsliver to her side, the tinkling of Mithril as the chain landed on the floor a counterpoint to her words.  “We spilled our blood beside you to kill the things he sent against us.”  She leveled Brightfang’s dripping point at Adbar.

A few of the others looked between her and the Count, not certain where their loyalties would lie and Callindra took that hesitation as an advantage.  She ran forward and swung her sword in a deadly arc, releasing him at just the right moment so that the chain flew through her fingers and the razor edge reached for his flesh.  Count Adbar reached out a casual hand and caught Brightfang by the edge.

“She has made the decision for you!”  Adbar shouted, “To the Pit with all of you!”

The floor vanished and Adbar stood on air as they plummeted down into darkness.  A stench of rotting flesh and old bones assailed her nostrils and a moan of hunger and rage came from hundreds of unseen throats.

“Gods balls, what is THAT?”  One of the other fighters asked, invisible in the darkness.

“Gode, lend your light of truth that we may see!”  Tryst shouted and his shield began to shine with silver light.  It revealed a monstrosity that seemed to be composed of equal parts black ooze and pieces of dismembered bodies.

“Sometimes the things that hide in the darkness are worse than our imaginations can create.”  Callindra said, holding Brightfang in both hands.  “I almost wish you hadn’t shown this one to me.”