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Monday, April 28, 2008 The Shield of Faith - Part 5

Eidos and Adler reach the northern part of the lake fourteen hours after they came in from the southeast. They have searched every part and they are now totally exhausted. Luckily they encountered some water elves who gave them mashed algae as food or they would have to hunt and eat raw fish. More sushi, anyone?
After piranha-fishmen battle, before this, they came upon four nagas guarding a shrine-like place. Adler saw the Shield of Faith there. Eidos managed to slow them down and Adler grabbed the shield from under their gills. Remembering Res’marth’s clue, Adler thought that was too easy. So he put the shield on the rock and hit it with Deathblade and all his might. The shield was a fake! The hit left a dent on it. The real shield would bounce the sword back without the slightest dent. So, Adler threw the shield away.
So now they’re still searching high and low, apologizing every now and then for trespassing merfolk holes. Another hour passes, and finally Adler signals Eidos. Let’s go back. Maybe the others are luckier than us. We’ll follow another route, maybe we’ll get lucky.
But suddenly a whisper comes into his mind. A melodious, woman’s voice, almost like singing. Why go back, O’ valiant warrior? You’re so close.
Adler shouts in his mind. Who are you? Show yourself! How dare you intrude my mind!
But you’re really close! Come a little bit more forward, don’t go back. It’s waiting for you.
Eidos’ eyes looks mesmerized with glee. He swims forward, but Adler drags him back. Looks like the old man wants to go on, mouthing repeatedly, ‘We’re so close... so close....’
The melodious voice comes again. See, the old one already understands. Why don’t you follow, O’ valiant one? The shield is here, in the most protected place. It’s genuine, you can test it yourself. And you’re close, so close. Come and take it, it’s yours by right, not for some Arcadian pampered pipsqueak or pompous prince. It’s yours, and yours alone. So come, come. Come forth.
And he hears the melodious voice singing so beautifully (though the divis in Yvais can sing better than this). Adler can’t help curling a smile, and the sweet song is like an oasis in the desert of his ambitions. He is too determined to reach his goals that he forgets to take a break once in a while and enjoy his life. Pictures of him reaching his goals pop up in his mind: An Emperor, a legendary hero greater than Sage the Fireheart, the wealthiest man in the planet, and the freedom to own anything he likes.
Unknowingly, he follows Eidos forward. His mind keeps wandering, and at one point he imagines about his faithful wife, in spite of all the riches and power, falls sick and dies. His children are lost in vanity, sloth and lust, and one of them even goes fat from gluttony. The riches and power are still there, but his life becomes empty and meaningless. His greed has made him a tyrant. His pride has made him lots of enemies. All people see him with envy, and one, driven by wrath, plunges a dagger into his heart. This snaps him back to reality.
Where am I? Adler looks around. This area is full of wreckages of small ships and fishing boats, and bones of fishermen who were foolish and greedy enough to sail to the middle of the lake for more fish – more than what’s allotted for them. On top of it sit three beautiful mermaids, all singing beautifully, with Eidos sitting among them, totally mesmerized.
Adler tries to reach them through his mind. Sirens! I knew it; you are up to no good. Though the images enlightened me a bit, but it’s all just virtual reality. It’s I who determine my own success, and with the assets in my hands, I’m just one step away from my goal.
Speaking of assets, says the blonde siren in the left through telepathy, We have one of your so-called assets here. And we also have here, the Shield of Faith.
Another siren takes the shield out from a rock and shows it to Adler. The shield looks genuine with light aura surrounding it.
The red-haired siren in the middle talks. So, which one do you choose to have? The Shield of Faith or your partner? You may choose only me. If you choose the shield, we’ll kill this old man. If you choose this old man, we shall give this shield to someone else. So, choose wisely.
Adler thinks long and hard about this. If he chooses his ally, he’ll lose his partner, vice versa. After considering his long-term goal, he finally makes a decision.
I choose my partner, Eidos.
Is that final?
Yes. You’re all aware of my intentions and my motives. There are many ways to gain an ally, but a partner, especially with rare skills – is irreplaceable.
If that’s so, here’s your partner back, says the brunette siren, tossing Eidos back to his partner. But, as you can see, this is the real Shield of Faith. We know that you will go for the shield after you choose your partner, so experience our full power.
The sirens get up from their seats and slowly begin to transform. Eidos is recovering, and Adler doesn’t dare to attack them due to Res’marth’s prohibitions. He will rather sneak in and steal the shield from the shape-shifting mermaids.
Their transformation is complete. The sirens are now three nagas. The naga sirens are legendary creatures excel in both magic and martial arts. Adler is not surprised on this situation, only thoughtful. He calculates his moves and strengths carefully, comparing to his enemies. I’m all alone. Deathblade and Haste alone won’t be enough to sneak through them. All I need to do is to go down there... Adler looks at the glowing white-gold shield with the Mark of the Right Way embossed on its front side. He may choose to run away and give up, but he’d rather die trying than live forfeiting.
The naga sirens shoot Adler with a rain of ice bolts (Frost Arrows) spell. Adler moves rapidly side-to-side, blocking the ice bolts with his sword, and goes forward in order to be in range for close combat. Step-by-step, side-by-side he goes. A few shards even rip his cloth and make him bleed.
The nagas intensify their attack by coming into a triangle formation and move in circles like a fan. The bolts also come in circles from above, under and sides. Now Adler might wish that he has three swords and six hands. More and more ice shards graze his body, and as he is in range now, he retaliates!
With Buffalo Stampede multi-thrust combo, Adler rushes forward like a wounded bull, breaking each and every ice shard with its thousand horns and multiplied speed. And as he comes real close, he dives! He only has one target: the shield. The naga sirens break their formation and shoot downwards.
Adler puts his sword on his back as shield. He reaches for the shield on the pedestal some five meters below him. Four ice shards are nested on his shoulder, thigh, lower back and left hip. Adler pays dearly for that, but his reward is two meters away now...
And suddenly, someone is passing in high speed and snatching the shield! Adler is shocked and groans in pain and disappointment. He falls, crashing on the bottom of the lake. The attacks cease, and the snatcher now stands in front of the helpless Adler now lying face-down on the lake floor. It’s Res’marth.
The Water Elf Queen speaks through telepathy. I told you this shield is in the heaviest guarded place, and now you know I’m the last guardian. You may try to get this shield from me, patting the Shield of Faith on her hand, but you don’t seem to have any strength left.
Adler scolds himself. Impatient fool! I should’ve backed off and search for the other champions first. Then, when they’re busy fighting, I’ll sneak in and take the shield. Now my wounds are too deep! I’m going to die a fool.
Do you want me to heal you? If you do, you may not attempt to get the shield again or we’ll kill you. If not, may you rest peacefully in Mother Enia’s embrace.
The Queen's offer is tempting. But the choices now are: to die a fool or to live a coward. Ach, what the heck. If I live, I can still go another day, try another way for the glory of me and my family. I accept your offer, Your Majesty.
Very well, then, Res'marth nods.
A ball of light shines like a pearl on the palm of Res'marth's right hand. She bends down on Adler. With her left hand, she barely touches the wound and draws the sharp ice shard from the wound. As the ice gets out completely, she instantly mends the wound with the light on her right hand. The water elf repeats the process three more times on Adler's wounds and scans his entire body to heal scratches, grazes and internal wounds. At that time, Eidos is fully restored, but he's still very weak from fatigue. He sits near his benefactor and thinks hard on how to get the shield, because no way he's going to do it alone.

Half an hour later, Chris and Iris arrive at the spot. They look battered and slightly wounded from their battles, and they're obviously run out of healing potions. A sight of Res'marth wielding the Shield of Faith on her left hand and a trident on her right hand in her naga form obviously shows that she's the last guardian plus her three naga sirens. Iris immediately readies her bow and arrow.
Res'marth contacts their minds.
Well, time is running out. What'll it be? We fight, you quit, or something else?
Iris replies, We really don't want to fight you, considering the long-lasting brotherhood between wood elves and water elves, and your friendship with merfolks and nagas. But if that's what it takes to claim the Shield of Faith, we'll fight you!
Go ahead, fight us, try to snatch this shield from me. But remember our deal. If you hurt any of us, we'll fight you to the death and the shield will deny you. So come on! Give us your best shot!
Iris draws her bowstring to the fullest, and suddenly Chris stops her. Puzzled, Iris looks at him, but Chris just shakes his head and signals her. I'll talk to the Queen.
With a mild surprise on her face, Res'marth contacts Chris.
Well, Prince Cristophe, what's in your mind? Are you planning to quit?
The Prodigal Prince replies, That thought crossed my mind, but there's something else in my mind, bothering me. Something is amiss. Tell me, Your Majesty, if we hurt you and the shield will deny us, if stealing the shield will be too difficult without hurting you, is there any other way?
I didn't say that you may not try other ways. Go ahead, try them.
All right then. This might sound absurd, but Your Majesty, the exalted Queen of the Depths, may I borrow the Shield of Faith? We really need it to fight evil forces, and we promise to return it to you after we banish the Great Evil from this world once again. Please?
Suddenly, Res'marth transforms back into her self water-elf form and her face smiles beautifully. Why, of course you may? Why not? 'Borrow' is the password. All you have to do is asking it to me. You fighters and warriors always resort to violence when dealing with problems and adversaries. Why don't you try peaceful ways for once? Of course, it can be done with allies or someone who you'd rather to be your ally than enemy. Violence and force should be the last resort. Seek for peace; negotiate your differences, that's the right way.
Chris responds, Honestly, we've tried peaceful ways several times. Especially in Grad, when Father Andreas told us only to run away and never harm his fellow dwarfs.
Good for you, Cristophe. Someday I want to meet this Andreas fellow. His thoughts and ways are the spirit we're seeking for.
If you want to take a ride in Airship Aurora, I'd be happy to introduce you to him.
Another time, perhaps. I don't like air flights or airships. It'll give me airsick for sure. Anyway, congratulations, Cristophe. Use the shield wisely, and don't forget to return it when you're done, says Res'marth, handing the Shield of Faith to Chris and guiding the four champions to the surface.

(Finished - part 5)

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