Assault at the Bottom of the Multiverse - Part 2

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Assault at the Bottom of the Multiverse - Part 2

Post by Dungeon Master on Fri Aug 12, 2016 11:43 am

Assault at the Bottom of the Multiverse
Part 2 - Alone in the Shadows


Harun had only reluctantly let Hector go on, as many of the taskmasters mercenaries had died and he needed replacements. Of the cadets, Hector counted less than a handful alive whom he recognized. He held his tongue but had difficulties grasping the pure recklessness with which the academy master treated the mercenaries. As he ran through the upper ramparts of the ancient fortress, briefly taking him away from the thick of the combat, Hector was grateful that he had not ended up with Harun’s force.

Flashes of light and distant thunder came at him from the end of a wide corridor. As he neared the end, Hector slowed down and took to the shadows. Most likely another skirmish between the undead forces of Tcian Sumere and the mercenaries were taking place just beyond. Hector had no great wish to blunder into another epic fight with immortal undead demon lords. Slowly he angled towards the opening, when he noticed a mist seeping down the corridor. He folded his wings before him, letting their shape drape him in even more shadows, and squeezed into a small man sized niche. Hectors instincts served him rightly and his training saved him from being noticed by the evil intelligences hidden in the mist. Before him the mist transformed into two regal looking vampires. Both wore old-fashioned armour with gold filigree from some ancient time, and both hefted greatswords with serrated edges, held leisurely out before them. They spoke hushed in low tones as they looked intently down the end of the corridor. The two were less than five feet him, and he could smell the dampness of old earth and stale blood from them. One of them stuck his sword out before him in a strange probing manner. The other spoke sharply in a language Hector did not know and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. The first vampire hissed over his shoulder and turned its attention back to the corridor in front of the pair. The other backed away a few feet, taking up a relaxed guard stance, watching its companion with piercing blue eyes. The first vampire set its sword against the wall and stared hard down the corridor. From the opening only a twenty feet further down, Hector could hear fierce combat going on. The vampire spread its arms out wide pressed down on the air in front of it. It looked to Hector as if the vampire was using all its undead strength, as if the very air was a solid barrier. The second vampire, who had now also put its sword against the side of the corridor, barked a command word in a dark language. Hector considered taking the chance to bolt down the corridor, but he knew the vampires had supernatural speed as well as strength. He knew enough of such creatures to not want to face them in open combat. So he stayed hidden, while the second vampire stepped forward. The first vampire hissed again, but gave way to the other, a few drops of blood sweat dripping from its forehead. The other vampire clicked its tongue, and started casting an intricate spell. Hector did not have any training in the magical arts and could not determine what spell the vampire was casting. The smell of sulphur spread in the tunnel, but nothing happened. No swirling of shadows, no great beast appeared, and no unholy magic blew the world apart. The vampire stopped chanting, looking intently at the empty air in front of it. It poked the air with a finger, and snarled something at its companion, who merely shrugged, transformed back to mist. As the first vampire flowed towards the barrier as a blue mist, it spread the width of the corridor. Flowing this way and that, it was searching and probing for a way to get through. After a while, it gave up and transformed back to solid form. Not talking, the two vampires simply took up their swords and stared intently down the corridor for a long time. Hector felt they were looking straight at him, and while something was clearly preventing them from passing and ripping him to shreds, he did not feel safe in any way. After what seemed a lifetime of waiting in silence, the vampires turned about and walked back the way they had come. Hector waited for as long as he could bring himself to, before his curiosity compelled him to see what was happening at the end of the corridor.

Peering over the edge of a steep set of stairs, the corridor dropped into a deep chamber, giving Hector a perfect view of the battle takin place. Two armies of sorts were facing each other in untidy lines where constant scrimmages flowed back and forth. One side, the larger force by far, were all snarling vampires, wearing the same type of archaic armour and wielding oversized weapons. Their immortal strength letting them wield even greatswords as daintily as a fencing master. Others wielded ornate scythes or glaives. Had the vampires not been bickering and infighting at every turn, the smaller, much more colourful collection of adventurers would surely have been destroyed already.
Wielding flimsy rapiers and daggers, wearing assortments of bright green, reds and blues, adorned with far too many gems, a large band of adventurers were fighting the undead. Whatever number of the group had had of wizards or priests had been picked off first by the vampires. Their broken and rendered bodies sprawled about the chamber. The undead were toying with the humans now. Singling out one individual at a time, throwing themselves at their prey in a vicious display of bloody steel and fangs. Holding their own, the adventurers inflicted damage on the untold number of vampires at every turn. A clear song rang out from their midst, carried by none other than the bard Lord of Canton. Most of the adventurers lent their voices to the fighting chorus. Forming a loose semi-circle around Lord Darion, the band used the stairs as a natural defensive position, keeping the vampires at bay. The vantage point gave their archers free aim to rain arrows on the undead in ways Hector had never seen before: One colourful human wearing armour only covering his left half was firing three or four arrows at a time from a massive compound bow made from polished darkwood. The grains in the wood glowed with red embers as each enchanted arrow left the powerful string. The arrows inflicted terrible wounds on the vampires, as if they had been made from pure sunlight. Another human fired not arrows, but shafts of light that magically appeared on his bow as he strung it to take aim. A third archer, a half-elf with wild red hair, would jump and tumble about, coming well within reach of the deadly vampires before he loosed his arrows. Hector didn’t know any archers who could deliver an arrow with any strength at that range, but for this fellow it was no problem. Up close, his shots would find unprotected areas, like hands and faces, and do devastating damage to the undead. More than a score of archers were protected by the band, which probably numbered three times as many in total. At every turn and every thrust, Hector marvelled at their unorthodox fighting styles. He saw daggers flung, and fine blades dance freely in the air, keeping the monsters at bay. Not in his wildest of imaginations would he have expected to see a man armed with a flimsy rapier deflect the blow of a greatsword wielded by a vampire lord. Here, it seemed it was happening everywhere. If a vampire were not killed outright, it would merely withdraw while its undead body regenerated. So many were there of the undead thralls, that they formed a sea of darkness and glinting fangs below the lowest step of the stairs. Although the Lord of Canton’s colourful band performed incredible fears of bravery, and destroyed the undead at every turn, they were losing the battle. Step by step, the adventures were forced up the stairs towards Hector.

---

“Amedia, what priestly powers do we have left at our disposal ?” The question came in thieves cant, as the bard lord was busy carrying the magical warsong that lend strength to the adventurers around him. He spun a tale of heroism and light overcoming darkness, as his band held the sea of vampires at bay. His devotion to the arts, and knowledge of his companions allowed him to lift up their abilities and their hearts in this place of darkness. The losses were within the realm of the acceptable for the importance of the task, but Darion lamented the loss of so many important operatives and resources. Although he had not expected the ancient fortress to be empty, maybe the pure number of mercenaries the Sheik had brought had clouded his judgement a little. He had perhaps wished for it to be easy. This was anything but easy. The vampires had been systematically singling out anyone with magical powers, first the priests, then the mages. It had cost them dearly. With every adventurer they had dragged under in the sea of fangs and claws, more than a score of the vampires had been destroyed. That had not deterred the undead, who seemed to view the whole encounter as some sort of macabre contest.
“The chalice and the book, sire. Jonas is not ordained, but could wield the chalice for a short while.” There was a short pause. “It might claim his life.” The aide, a young woman with short-cropped hair, made grimaced, her stoic features momentarily scarred by loss. The bard lord made a small nod as sadness passed his own heart at the decision he would have to make.
“Ask him first.” Darion canted. The young woman nodded, spun her mithril shield with practiced ease, and set a course through the remaining adventurers. Wherever she went, she would deflect deadly blows with the magical shield, and lightly place an assuring hand on shoulders, offering hope and invigoration. She quickly reached her target, a young giant of a man in scale mail, his hair knotted in the traditional Uthgardt barbarian way. His eyes were tired, and dark blood covered his face, but when he saw her, he lit up in a smile. She threw him a hasty kiss, silently weeping, tears running down her face as she pressed against him. Her shield magically held the vampires a bay, offering the two lovers the briefest of moments.

“There is no other way ?” The towering warrior looked with silent accept at the aide, as she pressed a diamond chalice into his huge hand. Through tears, she shook her head as the light that protected the two started waning.
“Sing of me, Am, so that the great bear himself hears of me.” He took to one knee, setting his broadsword on the ground before him. The aide nodded and started singing in a clear tone that soon became a ballad of the deeds of a devoted templar, a ferocious warrior, and a faithful husband. While her protection still lasted, the barbarian templar grabbed the chalice with both hands and started reciting his oath of fealty over and over.
“I will protect those that cannot protect themselves. I will always show trust to those entrusted to me. I will not falter in my beliefs. The bear is my totem. My totem is my life. My life is to be the bear.” With each word, an otherworldly light grew within the chalice. Soon it engulfed the templar in swirling blinding light, and soon its brilliant radiance overtook the protection of the magical shield. As Amedia returned to her Lord’s side, tears flowing freely, Johan released the power of the diamond chalice, the shield of positive energy pressing the vampires back. Magically enhanced, Darion’s voice rang out over the crackling from the energy shield:
“Dawnsingers, heed my word! Much have been lost, but look upon your comrade as he channels the power of a god. This is what you signed up for; this is the song of legends. Retreat to the top of the stairs, use your potions, tend to the wounded. For when the light dies, we will rein terror upon the undead as only the Sworn of Dawnsong can do. We will show them what it means to be Canton!”
A roar of exaltation and defiance rose from the adventurers as they quickly moved to take up position at the entrance to the tunnel at the top of the stairs. As the light died, Darion looked at Amedia with a heavy heart, but in her eyes, he saw nothing but admiration as she continued her song of Jonas.

---

Hector had never met the Lord of Canton in person, only seen him in the passing. Here in this darkness at the bottom of the multiverse, the bard lord was rallying his Dawnsingers around him. Hector could see that the valiant adventurers were getting killed, and wanted to help them fight the undead. But he could not know what they would think of him coming up at them from behind. He would most likely be met with an arrow to the face. Maybe from that redheaded wild elf. The group got closer and closer, and Hector realised that they would soon be close enough to see him. Even with his skills, he was not going to stay hidden from a band of adventurers with their blood up spilling into the tunnel.

Hector turned away from the fighting, and backed down the corridor. There would have to be another way around. Hopefully he would find something quickly before the vampires had killed the Lord of Canton and his band. He didn’t really like the idea of untold numbers of blood drinkers flooding the tunnel after him. With or without their wicked greatswords. Like the one leaning against the wall there as he passed.
Hector stopped. A terrible realisation came to him: the two vampires hadn’t left. They had just retreated far enough that they would be out of his sight. And now he had passed through the protective barrier keeping them at bay. Mind racing, Hector did everything in his power to not panic and bolt down the corridor with all speed. Cold shivers ran down his back as he heard a smacking sound behind him. The mist in front of him suddenly had eyes. He could see the outline of one of the vampires, its red eyes shining and its thin smile punctuated by needle like fangs. It materialised before him, leisurely leaning over to snatch the sword from its resting place. In a lightning fast motion, it lunged forward, the sword streaking straight at his face.
“Mine” the vampire declared as the sword connected with something solid just behind Hector. The blade cutting so close, wisps of his black hair fell to the ground. A groan sounded behind him, and as the first vampire retraced the blade, the wet sound of blood splashing on the stones followed. Then he was violently thrown to the floor as the other vampire, covered in its own blood, barrelled over him to claw at the vampire with the greatsword. The two moved with such speed that they became a blur. The larger vampire, fuelled by bloodlust, fought the first one with the greatsword at even ground. Neither seemed to have the upper hand, but nor were they really doing any damage to the other. The gaping wound the serrated blade had dealt the second vampire had already closed. As Hector tried to force his breathing to come under control, he scrambled away from the snarling and biting monsters. One hand or foot at a time, he forced his shivering body to move away.
The two vampires stopped fighting, and turned to the terrified tiefling. Blood swelled in their eyes as they looked at him with feral hunger. Hector felt his heart at the top of his throat, threatening to suffocate him with fear. The vampires hissed, clawing at the ground and each other, metal armour and stone floor screeching as they were rend. Leaping forward with great power, the vampires sprinted to catch him as he finally turned and ran. If he had run fast before today, he now ran faster. He sprinted, as he never had before. Whatever strength was left in him went to fuel his headlong dash to reach that magical threshold that would keep the vampires at bay.

He didn’t make it.
A razor sharp claw connected with one of his wings, the force lifting him off the floor before landing him heavily on his back. As dread consumed him, he fought to hold on to consciousness. The larger vampire grabbed his chin and commanded him to look into its eyes. He did not understand the words it said, but he did knew that he had no choice but to gaze into the depths of its blackened soul. And that to do so would be to forever obey the evil within. There he was made to understand that he would forever be a slave, with no will of his own but conscious enough to understand the horrors that would befall him in his new existence. In the silence of his enslaved mind, Hector screamed in despair.

---

The staircase had turned into a killing gallery. The Dawnsingers were unleashing untold damage on the vampires as they flooded up the steps.
"We are not alone. I smell death in this corridor." Daria had leaned in over the Lord of Canton and almost whispered between activating her twin lightning wands into the mass of undead. Then she had deftly tumbled to the other side of the staircase, releasing another torrent of lightning.
"Amedia, with me. Let’s check on Rahnefereths wards." Touching one of his enchanted silver earrings, the bard lord nodded slightly and said to no one in particular "just a little while longer then." He drew a slender sword beset with diamonds, its yellow light illuminating the corridor around them. The corridor looked it had when the archmage had laid his wards to prevent undead from coming up at them from behind. The magic was still intact. Darion could feel that the magic was still strong, and then he caught the odour of old dirt and fresh graves.
"Be ready Am". The young aide stepped forward, her shield at the ready. Its magical properties siphoned off some of the power coming from Darion’s sword, making the light flicker ever so slightly. They shared a brief look, as Darion’s young aide took a step past the protective barrier. She had already spotted the winged vampire trying to hide in the shadows. As it threw itself clumsily at her with a silent scream, she deftly planted the shield squarely in its surprised face. It dropped to the floor in a heap. Amedia took up a defiant stance behind the glowing shield, challenging the creature’s evil allies to do their worst. The two vampire lords that materialized out of the darkness were composed and hungry. Stopping a few paces from her, they lazily levelled their huge swords at her and smiled. The bigger of the two made a crushing motion with one hand and the thin light in her shield was snuffed out. Amedia dropped into a crouch, bracing her shield out before her just as the first of those terrible swords crashed into the magical steel. As she was thrown clear by the strength of the blow, she heard the clear sound of the other sword passing harmlessly through the space her body had occupied a moment before. As the light was returned by Darion's rapier, she found herself cut off; the two vampire lords blocking her way back to safety. Under her breath, she started singing the Lament of Adimarcus, the fallen angel, and as her lord advanced through the barrier she knew her heard her song. He winked reassuringly at her, but his grim smile betrayed that this might be the end. Sidestepping one powerful stroke, cleaving stone, and deflecting another with his shining sword, the Lord of Canton danced his way past the two vampires to her side. Fighting side by side, the two bards deflected blow after blow. Rapier and shield, master and apprentice working in unison. None of the powerful strikes went through their defences. One vampire fell back casting a spell while the other pressed the attack. Darion sung an ode that countered the mind controlling enchantment. Fuming with anger, the larger vampire started casting a more powerful spell. The darkness drew around the vampire as frost scales formed on its archaic armour. Darion recognized the spell as an implosion evocation. If not countered, it would wrack its target with multiple wormholes sucking matter into other dimensions. It was one of the only spells that could destroy a creature on such a basic level, that no resurrection would ever be possible. He realized song could not counter this. The vampire lord before him was an accomplished mage, and this spell was a testament to its dedication to the arts. Not many wizards could wield such destructive power. Darion could see the spell was initially aimed at Amedia, but he had no time to offer warning. He stopped his song and let the rapier go. It floated from his ringed fingers, streaking light as it pressed the attack against the other vampire. Surprised by the floating sword, the vampire offered the bard an opening to act. Reaching into his jerkin, Darion activated the wand to quicken his actions. As he felt the magic speed up his body and mind, his young aide was hit by the first implosion. The effect was instantaneous and horrifying. Fully half her shield arm, from shoulder to elbow, turned inside out in a vortex of blood and broken armour. Convulsing, Amedia dropped to the floor, her body going into shock. Grimacing, Darion stepped up to the vampire attacking him and with his enhanced speed deftly tapped it on the shoulder. He only said one word, but the magic he unleashed with that word was one of his most powerful bardic spells.

"Dance."
Through rage, the vampire could do nothing but obey the powerful command, lunging into an intricate dance of an ancient court, as it was cut to ribbons by the magical sword. Darion strode past it, all intent on the other vampire, as it screamed its impotent anger at him, black blood spraying around it as it danced on.
Intrigued, the other vampire turned its attention to the bard lord, the implosion spell still active, charging the air with its destructive of magic. The smell of burnt ashes and fresh graves were heavy in the air as the vampire levelled a finger at the Lord of Canton. Before he could unleash the awful power of the spell again, Darion yelled a single word with destructive effect. The word carried no magic with it, but was of such a primordial and vile nature that just speaking it cut open Darion’s tongue in a long angry welt. The vampire instantly convulsed, puking black blood and melted organs as it collapsed to the flood. Although the vampire was in pain, it retained the control of its spell. Defiant, black blood matting its hair and face it again tried to unleash the destructive power on the bard lord, when Darion spoke another vile word. This one blew out all the vampires nails as blood welled out of its fingers. Darion felt wetness seep from his ears as the vileness of the deed took its toll on him as well. Black blood still bubbling out of its mouth, the vampire finally lost the hold on its spell. Darion felt cold to the bone, his hands shaking as he drew a long slender dagger of cold forged iron from his boot. With great difficulty, he uttered the command word, and the dagger heated up, turning the colour of molten rock. Slumping over the vampire on the floor, he buried the dagger deep in its eye socket, the burning blade spluttering as it met black blood.

---

For the second time that day, Hector woke in a dark tunnel surrounded by strangers with the taste of a healing quaff on his lips. He looked around, surprised to be alive. The corridor around him was an abattoir with black blood sprayed everywhere. The two vampire lords had been destroyed, their bodies dissolving into masses of putrid black decay. A young woman lay nearby in a contorted and unnatural position, her ice blue eyes looking vacant at him.
"Whom do you serve, tiefling ?" The words came were spoken with slowly and with great difficulty.
"I server you mylord Darion." Hector said without pause. The lord of Canton lifted his eyebrow in a quizzical manner. Hector quickly added that he was under the command of Gom Jabbar and sent to find the archmage. The bard lord didn't speak; exhausted he nodded as he wiped blood away from his mouth with a Cathay silk handkerchief. He gave the tiefling a friendly pat and indicated the entrance to the corridor where the Dawnsingers had fortified their position.
"Can you fight?" The words came out ragged as if the bard lord had cotton in his mouth, and blood dripped to the ground with every syllable. Hector nodded tentatively.
"Will they let me ?" He asked Darion, indicating the Dawnsingers. The Lord of canton smiled, as he drew a slender elf wand from a holster in his other boot. Limping slightly, he drew a rectangle, roughly the size of a door on the curved wall of the corridor. The outline magically stayed on the wall as if drawn in chalk. Propped against the other wall, Hector couldn’t make out the details of what the bard lord was doing, but he saw him remove his eyepatch as he talked to himself. It didn’t sound much like a spell, more like someone muttering about something they had misplaced. This continued for a while, until it sounded like the old bard found what he was looking for. He replaced his eyepatch, and brought forward a bundle of keys. Starting from one end, he tried the keys in the keyhole in the door he had drawn, until he found one that fit in the lock. With a clear chiming sound, the key turned in the locking mechanism, and the door opened.

“You look awful old friend.” The tall gold elf, who stepped out of his warm and cosy study into the corridor, deftly put a hand on the bards shoulder. He gave Hector a stern stare.
“Did they not train you to protect your lord, tiefling ?” The last word came out an insult as if the gold elf regarded all tieflings as lesser lifeforms. Hector was too astonished to come up with a proper answer, and the gold elf again turned to the Lord of Canton.
“I don’t have much time, Darion. Are you sure this is when you need me the most ?”
“Do your worst Rah.” The bard lord said, and pointed down the corridor. Blood dripped over his lower lip, ruining his expensive clothes. The gold elf wrinkled his nose, and threw back the sleeves of his oversized robes. From within he produced two wands, one made of diamond bound in circles of cold iron, another a delicate sickle-shaped duskwood twig tipped with amethysts. As he turned around, about to stride down the corridor, Hector gathered his wits enough to talk to the gold elf.
“You are the archmage ? I mean; you are the archmage.” Hector quickly corrected himself. The gold elf looked at him, again lifting an eyebrow. Hector cleared his throat and quickly blurted out how he had been sent to find him and bring him to Gom Jabbar for help. The gold elf wore an alien expression of disdain and boredom throughout the tale. When Hector stopped, he exclaimed:
“Done ?” Hector was about to press the importance of his quest, when he saw that the gold elf was not interested in anything else he would say. He nodded and said nothing. Sighing, the archmage made a dismissive gesture, as if plucking a flying strand of hair from the air.
“There, fate has been spun.” Before moving on again, the gold elf took a second look at the tiefling. Hector felt as if under a magnifying glass, those piercing golden orbs seemed able to see into his very soul. The archmage took a step towards him and whispered loud enough that Darion could also hear:
“When one fate is spun, another is sealed.” As an afterthought, he continued. “One life, one decision. Make sure it ends with you still living.” Then he strode down the corridor. As he turned from Hector, for a brief moment it was as if a blanket had fallen away from the tiefling’s eyes, and Hector saw the archmage for the creature it really was. Not a regal gold elf, but a sunken thing of pale white skin, connected to other living things by silvery strands of fate. Its eyes sunken and deep within its skull, embers of dying suns. A shiver of dread came over Hector and he felt like a ghost had just passed over his grave.

“Come.” A strong hand lifted Hector off the floor as the Lord of Canton got him to his feet. Although Hector had thought the bard severely hurt, there was more strength in the old man than his appearance indicated. They joined up with the Dawnsingers, and the gold elf quickly pushed through their ranks, to get to the front.
The first sonic boom almost threw Hector off his feet. The sensation rattled his bones and it felt like his marrow had been baked in an oven. He could only guess at the devastation caused at the impact of whatever destructive spell the archmage had hurled into the chamber. With magical speed, the archmage moved across the battlefield in blinks. To Hector it looked like he were at least a dozen places at the same time. Then he was back at the entrance to the tunnel, raising a multi-coloured curtain of energy in front of the Dawnsingers.
"Shield your ears." His magically amplified voice carried with it a magical command, and everyone in the tunnel instantly did as asked. It was a good thing they did. The simultaneous detonation of countless sonic fireballs across the chamber was deafening. The energy field then archmage had conjured, protected the adventurers from the devastation on the other side, but the soundwaves still travelled through. Everyone were lifted off their feet and thrown about like ragdolls. Head still spinning, and ears ringing, Hector climbed to his feet along the Dawnsingers. The adventurers quickly composed themselves, readying weapons and distributing healing potions to those in need. The archmage again disappeared. Only to reappear a moment later. Again, he gave the magical command. As everyone covered their ears, the corridor physically shook, throwing everyone about again. The gold elf looked detached as he cancelled the energy curtain and looked down into the great hall.
"I believe you are free to continue on. I will lead you to the prisoner; my seeking spell has already sought him out. When you are ready."  Taking up position at the entrance to the corridor like an usher, the gold elf whisked away his wands, as he regarded the Dawnsingers with strange curiosity.

---

The adventures had quickly penetrated even deeper into the undead fortress with the aloof archmage setting a brisk pace at the front. Whatever opposition they met, were blown to pieces or banished to some other dimension in the blink of an eye. It seemed the gold elf could be everywhere at once when he wanted to, and the amazing wands and magical trinkets he brought from his deep pockets, seem in endless supply. Everyone were half deaf from the constant bombardment of subsonic fireballs, and all notions of stealth had quickly been waylaid. Their spirits were high now that they were moving again. Although they had lost many comrades, they were congratulating each other, offering praise for deeds done and acknowledging the next man. Where a single undead would escape the destruction wrought by the archmage, an archer would finish it off with one or two swift arrows.

Hector had no idea where they were in the immense fortress, and he had had no chance to talk further with the archmage of why he had been sent to find him. It looked like the opportunity might present itself when the Dawnsingers arrived at a set of great iron gates. Already a great throng of Silken Hand mercenaries were gathered in front of it. Hector spotted taskmaster Harun up near the gate, angrily shouting orders at the mercenaries. There were a lot fewer than when he had left them earlier, and looking around, he could see none of his fellow cadets at all. Assuming they all had been killed, Hector felt a loss he never thought he would attribute rivals from the academy. As the two groups met, Hector realised he had missed his moment, as Harun quickly strode through the throng to confront the Lord of Canton and the archmage. He was too far away to hear the exchange, but he imagined it was probably rather one sided, if the assassin master had his blood up. Tired and a bit disheartened, Hector slowly made his way through the Dawnsingers to the great iron doors. As he got near enough, he could see that he had been right; clearly, the assassin taskmaster was demanding something of the archmage who was having none of it, and Lord Darion was trying to make peace between the two. An enormous clank sounded, like a giant iron lever sliding into place, and the great iron doors started grating as they slowly opened up. Tension immediately filled the air, as everyone hastily got ready for battle. The Silken Hand flowed quickly into the crescent formation, crossbows cocked and at the ready, silent as shadows. The Dawnsingers much less organized, were a chaotic mess of spells being renewed, prayers offered, shouts of encouragement and bets on number of kills in the battle to come. Standing in the midst of it, Hector felt like he was between two mighty seas. Then the doors opened, and the Dawnsingers too fell silent. At first, only a well-muscled man pushed through, his naked torso covered in sweat. Behind him was a large mass of winged warriors, clad in dark leathers.

Gom Jabbar lit up in a smile as he halted his forward momentum in the middle of the space vacated by Darion and Harun’s forces.
"Brother! How good to see you!" The assassin general stopped as if to catch his breath, his breeches covered in dark blood.
"Lord Darion." The bald assassin acknowledged the bard and his band with a nod, as he beckoned towards Hector.
"I see you found the archmage, cadet."
"I did general. But how..." Hector trailed off, not entirely sure if it was ok for him to question the master assassin in this way. Gom Jabbar winked, sweat dripping from his brow.
"I took care of it myself. Didn't I lads ?" A rough laughter rose from the 117th.
"Enough of that brother.” Harun interjected. “You are here, and we will continue together." Gom Jabbar took a step back and bowed his is head in deference to the Silken Hand taskmaster. He spread his arms wide and made a patting motion with his hands. As one, the 117th kneeled before Harun and his troops. The capricious taskmaster smiled through a clenched jaw at the display of the other master assassin.
"And I'm taking back my cadet." He declared with unnecessary defiance. Gom Jabbar simply nodded as if nothing was more natural. Harun did not look at Hector, but when he snapped his fingers, there was no mistaking the intent. Hector quickly and quietly joined the thinned ranks of Harun’s cadre.
It was a weird gathering. Gom Jabbar’s jovial veterans had more in common with Darion’s colourful adventurers, than the neatly arranged rows of mercenaries under the command of Harun. However, the three groups did not have much time to study their differences. A terrible roar came from deep within the darkness beyond the iron doors. Silence fell over the collected army, and the 117th were quickly organized on the right flank, keeping the Dawnsingers protected behind the two crescent formations.
"Where's the archmage, bard ?" Harun demanded of the Lord of Canton. Hector looked around and didn’t see the tall gold elf anywhere.
"Rahnefereth is master of his own fate, if he is not here, he was meant to be somewhere else." The bard lord said relaxed. To Gom Jabbar, he posed a question:

"What manner of devilry did you bring with you, assassin ?"  The assassin general gave the lord of Canton a wide smile.
"What sort of devilry, indeed." The rest of his answer was lost, as another terrifying announced the arrival of an undead monstrosity like no other. Screeching in protest, the ancient metal gates were forced wide open, as the thing barrelled through. It was hard to look at. Most of all, the undead thing looked like a gigantic mass of humans fused together in a big jumble with an oversized head at the front of the snaking mass. The skin over the oversized skull, thin and stretched as if it did not belong there. The undead was all pink, arms and legs moving in all directions. When it roared, Hector could see a swirling maelstrom of necrotic energy swirl through its abominable body. It regarded the three armies for a brief moment, and then it struck. With lightning speed, the oversized head was propelled forward like a striking snake. Hundreds of legs pumping, the pure force of the creature barrelled it into the midst of the 117th, throwing their formation into disarray. Harun had already given the order to fire, and the thing sprouted hundreds of arrows, like some oversized porcupine. None of the arrows seemed to have any effect on the abomination, which continued to decimate Gom Jabbar’s band. At this distance, Hector could see that individual bodies in the mass wielded wickedly serrated blades. Swords, daggers and spears, covered in some black substance. He realised it was stale blood as the smell of the abomination hit him. With the 117th all but destroyed, only a thin line of lord Darion’s forces stood between him and the undead monstrosity.

“Stand aside bard!” Harun shouted clear above the battle. Hector noticed Darion cast a quizzical look at the assassin taskmaster, as he pulled his adventures back a little. They kept firing at the abomination.
“To me!” Harun yelled. “Kill it. Now!”

With a warcry of their own, the Silken Hand mercenaries surged forward. From the front, Hector was able fire another shot with his short bow before switching to his khopesh. With a warcry of his own, he smashed into the pink mass, slicing across the torso of one of the headless bodies. The wound almost instantly sealed around the putrid innards spilling out of the abomination. Hector was taken aback, as he saw the same results all around him. Confusion hit the mercenaries as the headless bodies fought back. Then the abomination roared. Chaos swirled before Hectors eyes, and he saw nothing but emptiness. He felt lost. He tried to speak, reciting the creed of the Sheik, but found that he could not. His vision returned quickly enough, but he could no longer control his body. He found himself staring back at Harun and the Dawnsingers, vaguely aware that most of his comrades had shared his fate. He felt a wetness and looked down. From his chest protruded the tip of a black spear, almost pushing through his ribcage. Surprised, Hector gagged on blood as it sprouted out of his nose and mouth. He heard nothing. He felt nothing.

The last thing he saw, was Harun brandishing his Darkblades, both exploding into white-hot green fire, as the assassin master charged.
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