Belenus returns to Bornheim and spends the evening with Mirwen at her apartment in the Medaille District. She gives him a book that Dobry asked her to give to Xarth. After Xarth’s behavior Mirwen is not sure she would not kill Xarth if they should meet again. Belenus agrees to deliver it to Xarth.
Belenus asks her about Ælfric’s plans to overthrow the Lord Marshal. She knows nothing about his plans, she is just a mercenary working for the money Lord Koën Brandr pays her. She has heard discussions of the extensive caves under Glory Ridge. They might try storming the castle through those tunnels; however, she has never heard of anyone successfully using them.
Gia Sojourner is settled into her cell for the night with her only companion of fellow prisoner chained to the far wall. She quietly tries to speak to him, but he only hurls vile insults at her. She waits him own and soon his invective falters. She speaks to him and gets him to speak civilly to her. She is curious about his tattoo. He says the tattoo his his duty. It binds him to the task of destroying the darkness and protects him from its influence. His father took him to a magician of some sort to get the tattoo when he reached his majority.
Gia turns the subject to Lady Hapsteng, as mentioning his father made him silent. He becomes very animated speaking about the Countess. He is convinced that the Countess will have Gia killed before morning. If Lady Hapsteng herself comes to speak with either of them they need to do whatever is necessary to kill her. If she should speak her words will burrow like worms into your brain, she will control Gia as a puppet master his marionettes.
Gia slowly says the man to trust her when he starts saying, “Azaroch” over and over again. He screams at her that if he releases that which is inside of them – the monster bound within the tattoo – it will consume his soul. The darkness to fight the darkness; evil to confront evil; only those willing to sacrifice all can claim all.
He goes berserk and tears the chains off the wall. Once free he charges up the stairs and kills everyone in the constable hall. Gia does her best to save his soul. She suffers terrible wounds trying to counter the power of the demonic beast, but loses the battle. The does manage to save a small glimmer of hope – a fraction of his soul that may make the different. As the building collapses behind him, the demon-beast runs into the snow and darkness.
Oswald, Nigel, and Xarth are in the dark tunnels below Lady Hapsteng’s house. Seepage from the walls make the floors slick with water and lichen. They reach a block and tackle system that can be used to lower a platform into the darkness. They ride it down a hundred feet or more one at a time. Each of them see flickering lights in the darkness showing the immensity of this cavern.
At the bottom the cavern is covered in sticky muck a few inches deep. Small streams flow into the darkness. They find a set of footprints and follow them along one of the smaller streams. Several times they avoid pressure plates hidden in the muck, the second one Nigel barely managed to spot it in time. Suddenly the lights around the cavern begin to rock and sway in unison, quickly drawing together into a large ball. The ball floats well out of their reach, but seems to follow them.
It seems like a hour or more later when they finally reach a large iron-bound wooden door. The ball of light simply floats through the door. When Oswald inspects it a sharp crackle of lightning blasts out, throwing him several feet back, the lighting continues to arc back the way they came. The ward comes from a rune they find buried under mud, but Xarth cannot dismiss it.
Stuck, they head back to the lift only to find the heavy rope coiled at the bottom. The end has been burned, leaving them trapped.
Brizanthimus finds himself chained to a wall, Gloria Hoelzer’s head on his lap. When he asks questions, she tells him to be quiet for just a little bit more as their time is almost done. A ball of light floats into the room and turns into Ilse Lange. She tells Gloria that she is out of time. She has led Briz’s companions to the door and cut off any attempt at escape. They will have no choice but destroy the door and find her love. Briz notices that Ilse’s eyes are overly large, completely black with glowing pinpoints of light.
Gloria takes Briz’s head in her hands and kisses him deeply. She explains to Briz that Ilse is a spirit that was forcibly bound to the body of a dead baby girl by Charles, whom she exchanged for Ilse. Her sins that she has committed for Charles is too long and foul for redemption, only one path remains. If Charles fails to uphold his contract with Briz to protect her from his kind then Briz will have a weapon with which to fight.
Gloria takes Ilse’s hand. The little girl is sacred as she is going to her death and does not know what waits beyond for her. She has no soul and the darkness scares her. Gloria reassures the girl that she will hold her hand forever more until she finds her way. The two of them walk through a small metal door as Briz screams his throat raw.
Demon in the Darkness
Nigel hears Briz’s voice on the other side of the large wooden door. Xarth forms an axe from the stone of the cavern and chops at the door. The lighting strikes again and again, but Xarth rains blow after blow upon the door. The door fails long before Xarth does and Oswald squeezes through the first opening big enough. Oswald finds and frees Briz while the others break down enough to follow into the hallway.
Briz runs through the metal door, but knows what he will already see. Ilse is ashen and face down on the floor, her body still in death. Gloria is on her back, her chest still barely rising and falling as a large bat-demon drinks her blood from a large gash in her throat. Nothing can save her, but Briz refuses to surrender.
Nigel rushes the bat-demon, forcing it to leap up to a nearby ledge. This gives Briz and opening to drag Gloria and Ilse out into the hallway. With the door cleared, Xarth charges in and leaps into the air. He grabs the ledge striking down at the bat-demon, but his weapon bounces off. As Nigel and Xarth harasses and attack the creature, Oswald helps Briz who is crying over Gloria’s body. Oswald notices Ilse’s eyes are beautiful glass spheres, empty of any life – her entire body has a unnerving feeling.
As Nigel and Xarth finally defeat the bat-demon the entire floor falls away. At the bottom of the shaft there is a six-foot long white sturgeon in shallow sea water. The white sturgeon is a sacred fish of Karash. There is an old blade of Irillian make stabbed through the body and into the rock below.
Briz remembers a story about a cursed legion that was given golden swords made from the treasure they stole from their governor. Each sword is said to be cursed, always seeking to kill any who tries to posses it. Oswald, with the help of Xarth, wisely uses a rope to pull the sword from the fish. Once the sword is free the fish quickly heals and shifts its shape into a Neriad. She offers a boon to those that rescued her. Oswald asks for mercy for those trapped in the city. The daughter of Karash says that her father will send a powerful storm to cleanse the city. They have ten days to escape with the innocents.
When the storm arrives it will destroy everything.
Belenus is sleeping in the common room of the Black Stag Tavern in the Medaille District when shouts of “FIRE!” rouse him. He grabs his gear and runs outside where he finds four burning Reavers in the street. The Reavers are wielding halberds, killing anyone they can reach. Several men try to charge the Reavers and kill them, but a rolling wall of fire in front of the men is hot enough to scorch skin when touches. The charred bones of those brave enough to try are testament to the fire’s heat.
Belelnus tries to rally the people around him and make a push through the fire, but the Reavers are simply too overpowering and soon the gathered crowd breaks and runs. Several people gather water from the nearby fountain to douse the flames. Belenus draws magic from Vayne, while he work with the water he can bolster those around him. In a loud voice he declares the strength of Vayne and plunges into the fire. Those nearby hearing his call douse him with their water.
With the aid of those around him, Belenus acts as the point of the spear and pushes through the waves of heat. Several falter or die behind him, but their strength carry him through to the Reavers. Reavers do not die easily, but they are overwhelmed by those rallying to Belenus’ call. As he stops to spit out the soot and blood in his mouth Belenus sees a woman on horseback carrying a iron staff. She opens a portal to a place of fire and escapes.
Gia visits Lady Hapsteng’s House. She finds Lady Hapsteng berating a guard in her front doorway. She loudly fires him for allowing untrustworthy people into her house. The guard stomps away, nearly pushing over Gia as he leaves. Gia speaks to the man and finds out that several people snuck into Hapsteng House while he was sleeping in the foyer.
As the guard walks away Gia follows those other visitors. She slips into the house and sneaks up to the Countess’s bedroom. When Beatrice descends from her solar she is confronted by Gia. Gia tries to convince her to break her contract with Azeroth, but the Countess has no idea what the addled woman is saying. Lady Hapsteng tries to flee from the Gia, but the old woman tackles her and pins Beatrice’s arm when she tries to pull a dagger. Lady Hapsteng calls for her guards, again.
Fredrick, her personal armsman, finally breaks down the door and advances on Gia with his sword drawn. When he gets close he says, “Why do I always have to clean up the messes,” and stabs Lady Hapsteng. The physical form of Fredrick changes into Charles. Gia asks for a moment to speak with Lady Hapsteng before he kills her. Charles graciously grants Gia a few moments alone with Beatrice.
Gia leaves the house and Beatrice to her fate – who never regretted a thing and refused any help.
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