MoboReader> Adeventure > Maldene: Volume Two

   Chapter 27 Showdown

Maldene: Volume Two By Mark Anthony Tierno Characters: 83592

Updated: 2018-04-10 12:02


"But, Beltor has been dead for thousands of rels now, " Candol asked, as they walked carefully down the wet slimy steps, "what in the name of Indra could Krey possibly want him for?"

"Beltor, my good priest, " Mauklo answered calmly, his Sileesh accent carrying out into the damp quiet of the cavern they now walked down into, "was a necromancer, and a pretty good one. Now, it is said, that good necromancers never truly die. That alone would make Beltor a good ally."

"But, " Shong asked, walking a few steps behind them in their single-file trek down the stone steps, "then what does happen to a good necromancer when he dies?"

Mauklo just smiled.

"Okay, " Quickfoot put in, a little taken aback by Mauklo's pleasant but unnerving smile, "I never thought that a smile would tell me more than I wanted to know."

They were walking down the carved stone steps that the opening of the portal had revealed; steps that hadn't been used for thousands of rels. The steps were wide but wet and slimy, leading down through a narrow tunnel, the sound of lapping water coming up from below. Cold drafty air came up the steps, lending a chill to the dark dampness. After about a hundred of the steps, the walls to either side gave way, the cold draft now taking on the feel of a much larger open area, though all they could see was darkness. Then, one by one, they each finally came to the bottom of the steps and on to a wide flat platform of rock, the sound of water lapping now about their feet. Sabu tapped his staff once on the stone floor, immediately causing a ball of light to shine forth from around the tip of his staff, illuminating the darkness as if with the light of day. They then just stood there for a bit, all looking around at what surroundings were revealed.

A fluttering of small creatures, both winged and crawling, went scurrying quickly away into the shadows at the sudden appearance of Sabu's light. The steps had brought them to a wide stone platform but a few inches above the surface of the dark waters that stretched around them. They were in a large underground cavern, the ceiling stretching forty feet up as it curved and arced around, moistly gleaming stalactites hanging down from the ceiling in colorful arrays, Sabu's light glittering off their damp surfaces. The water lay before them like a small lake, a tall cavern wall defining its opposite side some fifty feet away, the sides of the water curving away like a slow river as it flowed away and around other openings in the cavern. From their left they could see the water coming gently through a narrower reach of the cavern, while to their right it split into two, meandering around the tall walls and rocky projections of the slowly twisting cavern.

In back of them, the steps came out of a large cavern wall, a narrow ledge near the base of the steps leading off into an open flat area in the rock wall, a foot above the surface of the water. In front of them the water lapped gently around a long rowboat, old and wooden, tied off at a stone projection at the base of their platform. It bobbed slowly up and down, as if inviting use.

"The water must somehow come in from that large lake, " Sabu said, gazing around. "It probably filled up these caverns long before Th?r T?orca was even built."

"Maybe that's why it was built here, " Lindel pointed out, "it makes for a nice emergency exit."

"I should point out, " Eldar warned, "that if the water comes from the lake, then whatever creatures that live in the lake may also be around."

"Then we'll just have to be careful of them while we search for Beltor's tomb, " Sabu agreed.

"At least we have an enchanted boat in which to search these caverns, " Sindar observed, as he walked over to the small boat.

"How do you know it's enchanted?" Quickfoot asked.

"It's a wooden boat that's been here in a damp cavern full of water for thousands of rels without decaying and rotting away, " Sindar answered, "how could it not be enchanted?"

"Good point, " Quickfoot admitted.

"Is that thing big enough for all of us?" Bronto asked, as they all walked over to the longboat. "Some of us need a bit more elbow room."

"We should all just about fit, " Sindar answered, sizing up the small boat with his eyes. "It looks long enough, and my guess is that its magic will allow it to keep us all afloat."

"Well, we're about to find out then, " Bronto said, while getting into the boat.

"Just one question, " Shong asked, as the others started to follow after Bronto, "if these caverns connect with the lake outside, and Beltor is buried somewhere in these water caverns, then how come Krey just hasn't used these caverns to get in and find Beltor's tomb instead of waiting for someone to open up the palace?"

"Hmm, " Sabu pondered, while stepping into the boat after Shong, "it may be that Krey doesn't know about these caverns- although after a few hundred rels of him being in this valley looking for a way in that's hard to believe- or some other reason that we don't yet know."

"More unknowns, " Eldar said, as he untied the rope, the last one to get in. "Life just keeps getting better all the time."

"If these caverns are as large and extensive as I suspect, " Sindar said, as Bronto and Shong each grabbed for an oar, "then finding the tomb could be quite a lengthy process."

"Not at all, " Sheil-Bor(h) replied, "the boat knows the way, let it guide us."

"I'm almost afraid to ask how a boat can know, " Quickfoot groaned.

"Simple, " Sabu explained, immediately catching onto Sheil-Bor(h)'s idea. "This boat was obviously used at least once in getting Beltor to his place of rest. Therefore, the boat has been there and knows the route, or rather, residual sympathetic and psychic emanations of its travel would be left on the boat. We can simply tap into these emanations and use them to guide our way."

"I think I like his explanation better, " Quickfoot nodded towards Sheil-Bor(h), as he held his head between both hands as if in pain.

The boat gave a sudden jerk away from the stone pier, moving away without benefit of help from either Bronto or Shong.

"The spell has been cast, " Sheil-Bor(h) explained, "the boat shall now be our guide."

The small boat seemed to then take on a heading of its own. Heedless of currents, the boat drifted on through the water, heading off to the left of the stone pier, floating stately out into the caverns. Around a bend in the rock wall it went, down another side-channel, around a curve of gently flowing waters, and through a narrow section of cavern. The boat floated at a steady gentle pace.

Eldar looked bored.

"Hey, " he finally said, after they'd gone through several caverns of colorful stalactites, "you think maybe with these Hevon Water Gems we have that we could put a bit more speed on this trip?"

"Eldar's right, " Bronto agreed. "I feel like I'm on some rich man's pleasure cruise and not hunting after a dead necromancer."

"I think it can be managed, " Sabu answered, "but let's not try for too fast; these caverns are rather twisted."

Sabu nodded to Sheil-Bor(h) and a moment later the small boat was picking up speed. Faster and faster it went, speeding around the bends in the watery caverns, sometimes almost threatening to scrape against the walls. Quickfoot held onto Candol, seated right in front of him, as the boat splashed through the water. Down watery rapids, past glittering cavern walls and raised muddy expanses of dry land, through tunnels so narrow that the stalactites overhead almost touched down upon Bronto's lowered head, and around pointed rocky projections coming suddenly up through the water.

Eldar just put his face into the wind and screamed with delight.

Schanter mimicked Eldar, but with one minor difference; Schanter tried to catch his head upon the passing rocks, actually hoping to maim himself on the swiftly passing terrain.

Quickfoot hung on for dear life.

"Karu! Now this is a ride!" Eldar exclaimed. "I'd pay money for a trip like this!"

"I'd pay money just to get off!" came Quickfoot's immediate reply.

"Maybe you'd better slow this down a bit, " Sabu shouted over to Sheil-Bor(h) above the roar of their passage.

"As you wish, " Sheil-Bor(h) shrugged.

The boat slowed down to a more acceptable pace, much to the relief of Quickfoot and the disappointment of Eldar and Schanter. They found themselves sailing through another long watery cavern, Sabu's light reflecting green off of the ceiling far overhead.

"That does it, " came Quickfoot's immediate comment, "I now hate dragons and fast rides."

"Uh, just a little question, " Shong asked, looking up, "but should that ceiling up there be glowing that particular color?"

Lindel looked up, squinting his sharp elven eyes for a better look. Covering the entire ceiling he saw a thick green carpet of moist fuzz, coating the ceiling, hanging from it in ragged strips.

"It looks like some sort of moss, " the elf answered, turning back to Shong. "I can't tell what type though. It's probably harmless."

"Why does that almost sound like a cue?" Quickfoot moaned to himself.

One of the ragged strips chose that moment to tear off from its loose moorings, falling down towards their small boat. With a sudden plop it hit the edge of their wooden boat, catching the tip of the prow in a sizzle of green foam as it ate through the enchanted wood, turning it in turn into even more of the strange green growth. When it hit the boat, part of the green foam splashed onto Bronto's right arm, eating straight into the exposed flesh it found, foaming and sizzling as it also turned the flesh into more of itself.

Grimacing in brief pain, Bronto quickly took out a knife and scraped the green stuff off from his arm. The green growth tried to ooze up the knife as Bronto threw the blade across the cavern.

"Uh oh, " Lindel said, "now I know what type it is."

Quick as thought, Sindar's mind reached out and yanked the growth off of the boat, throwing it far off into the water. Then, with the fires of his mind did he cauterize the green stain upon their boat, being careful to only burn through that which was no longer wood. Then, just a quickly, he turned the fires of his mind onto Bronto's arm, cauterizing any of the green growth that was left there, the big man grimacing as he tensed the arm against the brief moment of pain.

"What is that stuff?" Candol asked.

"It's a form of moss or slime, " Lindel answered quickly, "it'll eat through anything organic."

"I can testify to that, " Bronto agreed as he rubbed his arm.

"Considering how much of that ceiling overhead is coated with it, " Lindel continued, "we may want to put on a bit of speed."

"I agree with the elf, " came Quickfoot's nervous voice, as he suddenly pointed. "Look!"

It was then that they noticed something else about this particular stretch of water on which they sailed. Floating upon its surface, in scattered green clumps, was more of the strange green moss. All around them the moss floated, coming slowly towards them with the lapping of the waves.

"This looks bad, " Eldar said.

"Schanter like!"

The small green one had dipped his hand into the water, producing a handful of the oozing green stuff. It dripped out from between his fingers but did him no harm. He reached out with a long warty tongue, licking up the oozing green mass from off his hand.

"I think I'm going to be sick, " Quickfoot groaned, as he watched Schanter's display.

"It figures he'd be immune to the stuff, " Eldar sighed. "It probably doesn't like how he tastes."

"Fire kills it, " Lindel offered, "but the amount of fire it would take to kill off this much of it would also kill our boat."

Another green mass plopped down into the water near their boat.

"Suggestions?" Sabu asked around.

Plop.

"Just one, " Sindar answered. "Air is for flight."

Sindar thrust out his palm, the swirling light blue of his Hevon Gem of Air showing forth. Their boat then picked itself up out of the water, hovering a foot above the surface of the water.

"Hold on, " Sindar said.

With a crack of thunder, their small boat roared out of the cavern. Down under the long green ceiling they flew, Quickfoot holding onto the priest once again, strips of green peeling down from the ceiling in the wake of their sudden passage. They rounded a watery bend in the cavern as the wave of green surged beneath them, then turned into the new passage ahead of them, flying fast enough for the boom of their flight to reverberate throughout the caverns.

A sudden shape loomed into view ahead of them. The gaping mouths of a large twin-headed snake, looming high up out of the water, a mass of tentacles coming out from the water in front of it, dozens of feet long. Long tongues hissed greeting as hungry eyes looked down at the prey speeding straight towards them, as it blocked their only way through.

"Hydraswit!" Lindel shouted out, pointing.

"We don't have time for this now, " Sindar said, pointing his free hand out towards it.

There was a sudden loud 'squeak' and a 'pop' and the large hydraswit was suddenly reduced to the size of a clenched fist, hanging momentarily in the air before it plopped down into the water. They sped on past the puzzled creature and into clear water.

"I think we're clear of it, " Sabu said, as he looked up at the ceiling for any traces of the dripping green carpet. "You can put us back down into the water now."

At a gesture from Sindar, their boat lowered down onto the water, their speed reducing substantially. They floated along the currents, the boat once again leading them onward.

"Hey, " Eldar suggested, "do you suppose we can make money for this ride. I know people that would pay to go through some of what we just did."

"Bad idea, " Lindel said, "it would never catch on."

"Pity, " Eldar responded.

"I think we have other things to worry about just now, " Kilgar said, pointing on ahead of them.

Ahead of them, the water started to slope downward at a steep angle. Their boat was heading into its current, being drawn down as the cavern that it sluiced into seemed to slope at a gradual downward spiral.

"It looks like we're going down to a lower set of caverns, " Sabu said thoughtfully as their boat picked up speed from the current. "A second series of caverns right beneath the first; most interesting. To be almost totally separated from each other but for through a few select egresses, the geology of their formation would have to be-"

"Sabu!"

Sabu jumped with a start at the unexpected shout of Eldar's voice directly in his ear. He looked around to see everyone holding on to the sides of the boat, the water ahead of them now running downward in a wide but rapid spiral, as if down through the drain of a giant bucket. Cavern walls rose on either side, channeling the water into its deadly curving passage.

"Oh. Yes, " Sabu said, grabbing onto the boat himself as he was brought back to reality, "another time then."

Down into the bowels of the watery deep they went, down deeper beneath the ground. The water spiraled round and round, deeper and deeper, faster and faster, everyone now holding on for their lives to the small boat. To make matters worse, the sides of the spiraling cavern now bristled with a scattered array of spiky formations of rock; one little brush with just one of these deadly spikes at this speed would splinter their boat and tear half of its inhabitants in two. Watery grave before them, rocky death around them as they tumbled about and down, Sheil-Bor(h) used his magic to straighten their course as best he could.

Quickfoot looked up to see a particularly large spike coming straight for them, the boat on a collision course for death. He covered his eyes in fright and waited for the painful end.

When it didn't come, he dared a peek up. Sheil-Bor(h)'s magic had steered them clear of it at the last moment, as he now concentrated on the next approaching projection of rock.

They careened down about the treacherous water-slide, Sheil-Bor(h) trying his best to steer them safely around, sometimes their small boat only narrowly missing a brush with death. They spun down faster and faster.

With a roar, they finally shot out onto open level waters once again, skidding along the surface like a stone. When they had slowed down to their normal steady pace once again, they looked around at their surroundings.

"It looks kind of like the previous caverns, " Sindar noted.

"With one exception, " Mauklo voiced. "I can now feel the presence of Beltor's minions down here."

"I thought they got rid of all of his undead army, " Candol said, turning towards Mauklo, "or is there something you haven't been telling us."

"I think you ought to narrow that question down a bit, " Eldar smiled, "like to which of the several things he hasn't been telling us about."

"My dear compatriots, " Mauklo smiled with just a trace of venom, "any suspicions that I may have are still not proven to my own satisfaction and hence will not be voiced until then."

A distant ghostly howl interrupted the exchange, echoing throughout the caverns so that the direction of its source could not be told. A lonely cry echoing over the dark waters.

"Sounds like one of your friends, " Eldar said over to Mauklo.

"We can discuss this later, " Sheil-Bor(h) pointed out, as their boat floated onward. "That is, if we want to survive to have the discussion."

"He's right, " Bronto said. "Candol, there's something you should handle up ahead."

Floating out from the watery gloom rose seaweed-covered ghosts; spirits with the look of long-dead vagueness about their green glow. Rising up by the score from the murky depths, their long lonely song spoke of a different sort of ghost than those faithful that had haunted the palace of Th?r-T?orca, now far above them. They rose up to block the boat's path.

"Stragglers from Beltor's old army perhaps, " Candol said, bringing up the sigil of Indra from around his neck.

"Hey, get back."

A glance back showed a slimy moss-covered form, humanoid of appearance but the light of life having long since left its dead eyes. It was trying to climb up into the boat, long green claws reaching out for young tender flesh, for Kilgar. The boy was stabbing at it with his knife, taking deep gouges out from where its heart should be, but to no avail.

You can't kill something that's already dead.

"Candol, " Eldar said quickly, "I can sense many more where these came from. Almost like this place could be the source of all the undead in this valley."

"Hmm, " Candol said, fingering his sigil.

While Lindel joined in with stabbing at the creature coming at Kilgar, and Sabu used the brightness of his light to try and keep the ghosts at bay, Candol reached into a pocket and took out a small coin. Flipping it up in the air, then catching it, he turned it over onto the back of his hand and looked at it.

"Heads it is, " he said, and then raised up his voice, loud enough for all to hear. "May this boat be blessed by the power of Indra, free to sail its cargo through the seas of death!"

There was an inhuman scream as the creature clawing towards Kilgar was sent flying out into the air to land several dozen feet away in the water. A dim glow seemed to encompass their small boat and its occupants. Dim but apparently bright enough, for the ghosts ahead of them started to part way for them, floating aside as the boat came on through them. Expressions of fright covered their vague faces as they lined themselves on either side of the boat, more and more coming up from the watery depths to form ghostly walls on either side. Like an honor guard of death, they quietly watched as the small boat sailed on by. Watching and waiting. A mix of eagerness and fright on their ghostly faces.

"There's gotta be hundreds of them, " Sabu observed. "Eldar, I think you're right."

"But, why all in this one specific place, " Shong asked, "in all these twisted watery caverns?"

"I think we have our answer, " Bronto nodded.

Ahead of them was a solid bank of fog. Fog so thick it looked like an impenetrable wall. Their boat, still following its own course, sailed straight into the fog.

Moments seemed like long rels, each foot a mile. The fog swirled in around them, so thick they couldn't even see their own hands, so stifling they couldn't even feel their own hands. Worse than fumbling around in the darkness, this glowing white fog, for at least in darkness you could still feel when you stumbled against something. Not so in this fog. All sound was stifled, deadened by the fog. Quickfoot tried to scream, to at least hear his own voice, but no sound could he hear coming out of his mouth. A deprivation so complete that one could go insane and not even know it.

Then, like suddenly bursting through a bubble, they were clear of the fog, sound suddenly washing in around them like a heavy force. Several hands grabbed at their ears, so akin to a deafening roar was the sound that pounded in around them, so sudden the sensation of feeling once again.

Gradually, they lifted their hands from around their ears, as they began to realize that the deafening sound was nothing but the simple quiet lapping of the water about their boat. A flickering red light lit up the large cavern before them as they each shook their heads free of the effects of the strange stifling fog.

"That's not something I want to experience again too soon, " Eldar said, feeling the tingle of warmth flowing back into him.

"I don't know, " Sindar said thoughtfully, "such total deprivation might be good for meditation; under controlled circumstances, of course."

"That plaque, " Bronto said from the front of the small boat, as he looked out in front of them, "it did say something about 'let rest the Black One in his burning crypt of night'?"

"Yes, " Sabu said, looking up. "Why?"

"Then we've found Beltor, " Bronto replied, looking straight ahead of them.

He looked at the source of the red flickering light in the cavern. Ahead of them, but thirty feet away, roared a great wall of fire. It danced upon the surface of the waters, its flames not affected by the wetness upon which they fluttered, nor giving any sign of abating. A large round circular wall of fire they formed, around a single island not more than thirty feet across, the island also alight with flames. But big enough was this island for a single cave in its small rocky hill.

Around the cave they could see tall, almost man-like, creatures, their lower bodies being roaring tongues of flame upon which they stood, their red muscular arms holding long sharp glaives, bladed dark-metaled polearms with which they stood their guard.

The flaming water too held its own guardians, at each of the four compass points around the island, standing upon the flaming water. Body like unto a giant snake, with dark green scales and swishing tail, but with the head of a woman, was how they looked. Like true snakes, no arms had they, but a look that promised death did they stare out with as they stood their grim guard, the hot flames leaving them untouched.

"I think you're right, " Sabu said, straining for a better look around the others.

"Even in death did they so fear Beltor, " Candol said as the boat drifted closer to the flames, "that they would guard him thus."

Everyone was staring at the flaming sight, almost entranced by its hypnotic effects, before the soothing heat snapped Shong out of it.

"Sheil-Bor(h), " he snapped, "your spell. We're still drifting into the fire!"

Sheil-Bor(h) nodded, the boat then drifting to a motionless stop in response. The flames danced high, up towards the rocky ceiling far overhead, reflecting heat in their faces as they floated now not ten feet from its reach, one of the strange woman-faced snakes directly in their path.

"The snakes in front, " Sabu pointed out, "are naga; guardian spirits. They will use their magic to prevent us from entering."

"I recognize those on the island, " Mauklo added, "they are a sort of fire elemental. The fire they emit is said to be hot enough to turn hardened steel into a liquid puddle upon contact."

"A trap made to keep anybody from entering, " Sindar said thoughtfully, "anyone who doesn't just happen to conveniently have a Hevon Gem or two to guard their passage through. I am beginning to appreciate your unspoken paranoid suspicions, Mauklo."

"I am glad to know that my presence may finally be appreciated, " the Sileen nodded, "but as to a solution. . ."

"We go on, " Sabu decided, after a brief pause. "I want to see what's at the bottom of everything that we've been led through; the reason why we're here."

"Once I see what is inside the tomb, " Mauklo offered, "I may be able to provide an answer."

"Good, " Sabu replied, "and then we'll see if we can turn thi

also rang the room as the fire overcame the two remaining ceramic pillars, turning them into broken and burned bits of scorched pottery. Fire flamed as electricity arced wildly over the platform.

The flames parted in the middle, revealing a single figure still standing there, holding onto his skull-staff.

Beltor.

"No mere ball of fire can destroy me, mortal, " Beltor said.

"Then I just suppose that we'll have to do better!"

Eldar was standing up in the midst of a pile of charred ghoul bodies, helping Sindar to his feet as the platform blazed brightly. Sabu walked over to his two friends as Sindar straightened himself up.

"How are you feeling?" Sabu asked quickly.

"Fine, " Sindar answered, "Bronto's anger gave me strength."

"Enough for some group effort?" Sabu asked.

"Anything to put ugly up there away for good, " Eldar said as he brought up his sword.

They joined together their power, aiming it as a single bolt of magical force straight at Beltor. It ionized its way through the air, hitting the lich directly in the chest.

Beltor just laughed, shrugging the effect off with a wave of his hand, sending the three crashing to the ground, as his undead hordes gathered protectively about him, more and more of the spirits circling around him.

"He's too powerful, " Sabu said as he struggled to his feet, "and there's too many undead guarding him."

"We've got to do something, " Sindar said as he stood up.

Several spirits suddenly went flying out past them, but this time fleeing in fright.

Walking up behind them came Sheil-Bor(h), calmness ever about his face.

"If it is strength that you need, " he said, as the three stood up, "it may be that there is strength in Hevon, if one but reaches beyond the mere appearance of the Gems."

"Tap into them, " Eldar said, "sounds good. Come on then."

Sheil-Bor(h) joined in with them as they concentrated their efforts once again. Meanwhile, the flames covered the platform, raging out as they cloaked Candol and the three on the step from view. Mauklo, flickering vortex of spirits still swirling around him, was finally recovering his strength as he looked with cunning eyes at the situation about him.

"First things first, " he said, finally abandoning any attempts at getting his torn robe straightened.

He looked around, his eyes resting briefly on the roaring fire, and then over towards the coffins with their endless rows of undead coming out of them.

"Yes, " he smiled, "that fire will do rather nicely."

He raised up his hands, concentrating as a flaming red Hevon Gem shone forth on his palm. He concentrated on what he desired, adding the magic of his own spells to the power of the Hevon Gem.

Roaring pillar of fire, turning black stone steps to runny liquid. Swirling wind, unseen hands guiding flames around. Round and around, spinning maelstrom of fire. Circling out, ever faster, ever wider. Ring of fire, ring of expanding death.

Beltor looked around as the fire about the large raised platform suddenly began to spin round. It gathered up into a circle, until it was all a single large wall of fire encircling the base of the platform, soaring high up towards the distant ceiling.

"This trickery will not hurt me, " Beltor's voice rang out, his right hand pointing out his staff, his left holding onto the amulet chained around his bony neck.

As they focused their powers, Sabu's gaze fell upon the flickering image of Beltor between the leap of the flames as he grasped onto his amulet.

"Now I remember the secret behind a lich, " Sabu said. "It was mentioned in one of those dimensio-books."

"So, " Eldar said quickly, "just don't stand there; tell us!"

The circle of flame now began to expand outwards, spinning out wider and wider as it expanded to fill the room. A widening circle, passing through the ranks of undead.

"LET THE HAND OF INDRA SMITE OUR FOE!"

Candol was standing near the base of the platform, watching the flames come down. Weak though he was, his bright shield of light now completely gone, destroyed by Beltor's dark light, he held onto the sigil around his neck, his faith in Indra summoning up the last of his strength as he added his own special twist to Mauklo's spinning fire before he collapsed to the ground.

The flames suddenly turned purple.

More than just an effect for the vain, the nature of the flames had now changed. As it expanded out through the undead ranks, besides burning through the running forms of the more material of their kind, the wraiths and other deadly spirits found that now they too were affected by the roaring flame. Ghouls and spirits alike went running away from the expanding flames.

"Fools, " Beltor said, pointing his staff down at them, "I shall just make more undead. Starting with you!"

They could feel the irresistible wave of Beltor's power as he concentrated his rage down upon them, power that fought against their own. Beltor smiled evilly as his own magic sought to conquer their combined efforts.

The circle of fire gained speed, expanding out, wider and faster, catching up with the fleeing undead as its widening circle raced across the hundreds of feet that was the room's width. Beltor looked at the racing wall as he suddenly realized where it was headed.

"NO!"

His cry carried throughout the room as the flame headed straight for the room's walls. Straight towards where the coffins stood on end and the small black orbs floated upon their pedestals.

"Oh yes, " Mauklo smiled pleasantly, "you mummified lout."

The wall of purple flame hit the walls, burying the hundreds of coffins in a wall of flame, engulfing the black globes in spiralling twists of fire. In a single simultaneous crash of sound, the coffins all exploded, wooden bits exploding outwards in splinter-filled fingers of flame, hot translucent tongues wrapping around the undead that were marching through them, licking inwards at the open portals. The portals in the coffins all suddenly gave way to the flaming wall, collapsing as a one.

As well did go the black spheres; one moment untold numbers of spirits and wraiths were streaming out of them, the next moment the strange purple flame was about them. Like a glass bubble bursting, so did the black orbs. Flashes of night exploded upon the flames, destroying forever their access to the darker places of the spirit world.

The walls of the room were now alight with purple flame, roaring their screams of flaming hunger as they ate their way past the burning remnants of the coffins and seemed to sink into the very walls of the room itself. Anger crossed Beltor's face as he watched the flames sink into the walls, leaving not a trace of coffin, black orb, or undead behind.

"For that, you die!"

He singling out the wizard that had started the destructive circle of fire, pointing his staff at Mauklo, its eyes glowing a bright red, the crackle of dark-colored power forming at its tip. The eyes then flashed black as an ebony-colored bolt of power raced out.

Crack! Splintering of wood, sudden shattering of power. Red-eyed skull exploding in black power now unrestrained.

The two halves of Beltor's staff clattered to the ground, broken, useless, and now without power. Beltor turned around to face the one who dared so offend him.

Bronto stood to his side, Dragon Sword raised up in both hands, ready for another blow.

"The next one's for the kid, " he said, anger and the look of yora'zaugh in his eyes.

Beltor screamed and lunged for Bronto, hands going straight for his throat.

A wash of power interrupted Beltor's charge as Sabu and the others focused their own wrath upon the lich. Beltor turned as the energy washed off him like water off a furred pelt. He just laughed his dark laugh and turned back towards Bronto.

"Aim for that amulet!" Sabu shouted. "It's the secret of his kind's power; every lich has a secret place for its soul, and I'm guessing that that's his!"

Bronto dropped his sword as he went for Beltor with his bare hands, large meaty arms reaching out for the bony throat, while Beltor's strong skeletal hands sought the death of the large warrior.

Swift sound of racing wind. Dull thump of impact, metal-tipped courier bringing home it message.

A single dagger was imbedded in Beltor's chest. Of no harm did it to he who was already dead, but of its true target perhaps more might be said. The dagger was long and curved, its small curved handle sticking straight out of Beltor's chest. Under its blade though, lay a severed golden link; the link to a chain about Beltor's neck.

Bronto spared a quick glance at the source of the knife. Off down the steps, Candol, weak though he was, sat with three patients in his care. The youngest amongst them now sat up, weak and still pale, resting against the steps as Candol laid his curative spells over him, his skin now significantly less green, his boyish face looking up at Bronto, hand still raised from the dagger he'd just thrown.

Bronto smiled, a grin of resolve, as both he and Beltor looked down at the chain holding up the amulet as it lay broken about Beltor's neck. The chain slipped from around his neck, the amulet slowly falling to the ground.

Beltor screamed and dived down for the amulet, but Bronto's large fist came racing up for his jaw. The impact sounded like a hammer hitting stone, as Beltor took the blow, staggering back on his feet, facing Bronto. The amulet flew to the ground, rolling along the top of the platform, dragging the chain after it.

Beltor raised up a hand, magic ready at his fingertips, power enough to turn Bronto into a pile of ash. But, as he opened up his mouth to cast the spell, he was interrupted.

A single golden arrow, sent through his mouth, sticking out the back side of his head. Beltor staggered back as he struggled with the arrow, pulling at the deeply imbedded offending shaft while Bronto ran over to the amulet.

"That should shut him up, " Lindel said, his wounds already healed by Candol's ministrations.

The amulet rolled to a stop against a particularly large boot. Bronto looked up at Beltor, determination on his face as the lich saw final death now before him.

"And this, " he said, raising up his foot, "is for the kid!"

His heel came down with a hard resounding crack upon the amulet, the force of his crashing foot instantly reducing it to powder. Beltor cried out with a soul-wrenching scream just as Sabu, Eldar, Sindar, and Sheil-Bor(h) hit him with their full combined power.

Beltor exploded in a white-hot incandescence just as Bronto leapt off the platform, jumping twenty-five feet down as the lich exploded behind him. An explosive scream of death sounded behind the big man as a wave of force reduced the entire top of the large platform to a molten slag of melted rock. The sound of Beltor's final death, that which not even the last of Th?r T?orca had accomplished, echoed up through the deep cave and out into the water caverns beyond.

At some place in the strange fog that encircled the island above them, finally struggling free of their bonds, four naga heard the death-knell. They heard it, and were relieved; satisfied that at last Beltor was gone and their duties finished.

The explosion had sent everyone to their knees, hands protectively covering heads as white-hot death screamed out overhead. When the bright glare of light finally cleared, and the echoing sound of destruction at last dissipated, several heads looked cautiously up, ready if need be, but seeing only the bubbling rock that was the large platform's top; lich no more upon its molten surface.

Bronto picked himself up as Sabu came over to him. The large room was quiet now, empty of all sound except the fading resonance of Beltor's death scream.

"Are you okay?" Sabu asked his large friend.

"I'll do, " he waved off the question, "how's the kid?"

"I'm fine, " came the weak reply from the base of the steps, "but I think I'll have to get that dagger replaced."

Bronto walked over to where Candol now nursed the groaning form of Quickfoot and sat down beside the boy. He put a fatherly arm around him, straining to hold back the weakness that strained his every movement.

"Maybe we can get Quickfoot to loan you one; it's not like he has a lack of them. . . So, how's it feel to almost become a ghoul?" Bronto asked with a smile.

"Not something I would try again, " Kilgar replied, "but you should let Candol look at you; you're ready to collapse!"

"Naw, there's others worse off than me."

"You should be looked at, " Sindar advised. "I don't know where you got the strength from after you threw that pillar, but you're too weak and tired now. We aren't finished yet, and you'll need your full strength."

"Yes mother, " Bronto mocked with a tired smile.

"I'll take care of Bronto, " Lindel offered, as he took out a small vial from amongst his tattered robes, "I still have some of that healing water from Fawsil's village."

"Good, " Sabu nodded, as Lindel went over and sat next to Bronto, holding the vial up to his lips. "Who else needs help?"

"Shong, " Sindar nodded over towards the far end of the room, at a quiet figure lying on the ground, diamond sword still gripped in his hand, "Beltor's control will be broken, but his mind must still be healed."

"Do you think you can help him?" Bronto asked, concern for his friend showing on his face, Lindel's potion slowly returning strength to his body.

"It will take a while, " Sindar replied, as he walked over to the still unconscious form of Shong, "but I believe that I can free him of any influence that the throne had over him."

"That will be good, " Bronto said with relief, leaning back against the steps. "When we're out of here, I shall have to treat him to a good woman and a tall tankard; teach him never to sit on strange thrones again."

"What about Schanter?" Eldar walked over and asked Candol. "The poor insane creature got sliced to bits."

"Yes, " Candol said as he looked up from the now-conscious Quickfoot, "strange creature that."

"Don't tell me he survived?!" Eldar gasped.

"Well, his wounds were cauterized and sealed by Beltor's spell, " Candol continued, "and he does have some regenerative powers. When I started placing his limbs next to each other in preparation for a spell, they started to heal together, trying to reattach themselves. Slowly, but definitely doing it. It only took a little bit of help from Indra to get him in one piece again."

Candol pointed towards a humanoid form lying quietly by the base of the platform.

"He's over there, " Candol said, "all but healed, though I think when he wakes up he'll be Lorel again."

"It may be that such extreme damage takes a lot out of the Schanter side of him, " Sindar theorized, as he knelt down beside Shong, "and needs time to rest before it can surface once again."

"Well, " Candol put in, "if he hadn't been Schanter that time, he never would have made it."

"We still have some unfinished matters, " Mauklo reminded them, strolling over as unperturbed as ever.

"Yes, " Sheil-Bor(h) agreed, "Krey awaits us in the valley above."

"Yeah, " grinned Eldar, "and he isn't going to be too happy about what we did to Beltor and his armies. I don't think they're as intact as he wanted to have them."

"We'll have a battle on our hands then, " Sabu nodded.

"Battle?!" Quickfoot sputtered, apparently feeling much better. "We barely survived this one!"

"Actually, " Eldar pointed out, "you didn't survive this one."

"Krey must be stopped, " Sabu said, "for more reasons than I can count, his being an ally of Miro being not the least among them."

"We must rest first, " Lindel stated, "or we won't be ready for him."

"Our present abode appears perfect for this prospect, " Sheil-Bor(h) offered, "it would be unwise of him to seek us down here."

"Yeah, " Eldar agreed, "too much trouble him coming down here, all he has to do is wait for us; he's stopped us from using a spell to just teleport out of here, so he knows we'll have to come out sometime."

"Perfect. We'll rest here then, " Sabu decided, as he walked over to the base of the platform. "We must be fully alert when we face him."

Sabu sat down at the base of the steps with a heavy tired sigh, using his staff as a brace as he did so. He then looked over at Candol as the priest stood up and stretched himself, his healing work finally finished.

"Hey Candol, " Sabu asked innocently, "do you think that Indra can spare us some conjured food? Fighting the hordes of the nether world really works up an appetite."

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