‘UNNGHH!!’ Carol gets pushed back, tripping and almost falling back. Blood sprinkles out from her mouth and she touches her stomach, hurting.
Urgh, my old wound is opening again! I have to find a way to outwit this mindbender and find a chance to drink healing potion!
Carol’s eyes widen as she sees the masked lich standing tall, ready to unleash another powerful spell to finish the foe of her personal vendetta off.
With a twisted tune, the lich taunts, ‘Ho? Done playing already? Well, that’s no fun. Hmph, tell you what, let’s play a new game. I want to know whether you can survive my new spell here: Vare Nekraal’me Skulegion!’
BHLAAARSHHH!!! A barrage of dark, skull-shaped bolts shoots out from Zal’fira’s cane, spreading, hurtling to random directions like a Myriad of Lost Souls!
Still hurt, Carolyn uses the scant mana energy she has and conjures another Wall of Magic Barrier. DAT, DAT, DAT, DAT! The wall resists a portion of bolts and then, CRACKLE-CRACK... PYAARSCH!! Shattering into pieces!
BASH! BASH! BASH! Still, many more bolts hit the sorceress here and there. Carol grimaces to suppress the extreme pain. The next thing she sees is the Omegron-like serpent head of Viper Cane, hitting her stomach before she can do anything about it! BLUGG! The cane as though sticks on Carol, and dark energy keeps pumping in, inflicting gradual yet continuous damage.
‘GHYAAAHHH!!!’ Carol can’t take it anymore, screaming in agony, electrified by the pain she never felt before. The torment is not only to her body, but also to her mind and soul, and she, like all other people would rather die than experiencing this ‘taste of hell’.
Zal’fira, on the other hand laughs out loud, ‘GYAAAHAAHA!! I got you! I got you this time! GWEHEEHEE!! Scream on, little girl! Scream on! Your scream is like a sweet music to my ears! Your dying breath is like a fragrant incense for me!
Scream, you insignificant pet! Scream and die!’
‘LEAVE – CAROLYN – ALONE!’
A scream comes, the lich turns her neck and looks up. ZZZRRRSHH!! A descending, vertical line of fire passes right in front of her face!
The pressure on her relieved, Carolyn falls on all fours on the floor, slowly opening her eye, seeing her savior: It’s Robert!’
The white-haired Paladin crouches with his hand on the floor after delivering the Dragon Hammering Down move. The lich stops immobile in place like a statue, covering her face with her gloved hand. Just then, PHRAALL!! The mask on her face breaks in two precise pieces.
The lich then hurriedly moves away from her opponents, still covering her face with her left hand.
Carol takes a glimpse on the hollow, dark spots where the lich’s eyes had been and struggles to get up and take a good look. However, Zal’fira already knows her intention. She points her cane at her opponents, shouting, ‘Not a step closer! My face... You... You made my face... like this! Oh, yes, of course, you two meddlesome RATS! Khu, khu... My beautiful face... no more... You took it away, and now I’m a lich, half-life, half-dead... But more powerful, oh yes, for that I thank you. For that, I have a gift for you: The most excruciating pain you’ll ever experience, and a slow, gruesome death!’
Saying that, Zal’fira removes her hand from her face and reveals a skull’s face – ivory, deathly white, hollow and vacant. A pale, faint glow comes behind the skull’s eye slots, signifying the massive magical energy generating her life force as the only source. Robert doesn’t bother to look at that hideous, deathly face and ignores Zal’fira’s taunt. Instead, he supports Carolyn who is down on the floor, saying, ‘Carol, are you all right?’
‘Urrgh... She is too strong... But I think I’ll live,’ The pink-haired sorceress curls up a faint yet beautiful smile on Robert’s affectionate attention, gets up and close and touches Rob’s forehead, muttering, ‘Nervatr.’
‘No matter what you do, don’t let that bonehead bend your brain.’
‘Thanks, Carol. Now watch me. Zal’fira will not escape me and Grimlock and won’t escpae death ever again!’ Saying that, Robert holds his fiery saber up high, charging frontally towards the lich.
‘Oh, a frontal assault? Fine, let’s see you dodge this! Vare Nekraal’me Skulegion!’
DRAT-DRAT-DRAT!! Again, Zal’fira unleashes a Legion of Lost Souls, this time to a different opponent. How can a swordsman handle it, whereas it breached a sorceress’ force field?
The answer coems in split-second. ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOMAH-ZOOM! The white-haired Paladin moves like lightning from side-to-side, avoiding and slashing through the dark bolt barrage with a skill that utilizes both fire and dark energy – Black Dragon Soulstealer.
BASH, BASH, BASH! The skull-shaped bolts burst in the air. Robert keeps moving like a shadow and is nearing at his opponent. Suddenly, BYAAARSCHHH!! A big, dark blast comes from his front! Robert’s eyes widen in shock and he tries to evade it, but it’s too late! He only outstretches his hands to block the blast with his saber, and BLAAMM!! Robert is hit by the full blast and is thrown to the back and hits the floor, BRUUSHHH!!
‘ROBEERTTT!!’ Carol shrieks, thinking that her soulmate must be gravely injured, or worse.
Yet, Zal’fira’s high-pitched laugh fills the air.
‘WHUIHIHIHI!! Falling to the oldest trick in the book? PAH! Some Paladin you are. You better crawl back home and cry to mama, but oh, you’re too late for that!
Humph, playing with you crybabies is making me bored, and now I bring you the grand finale to wash you all away! Take this, Vare Nekraal’me Mephistopeles!’
Making sure that her two opponents are weakened and immobile, Zal’fira leaps up and floats in mid-air. BRRURLLL!! A swirling black ball materializes on the tip of her Viper Cane, signifying the first phase of the dark magic spell: Eternal Banishment.
Robert and Carol struggle to get up and defend themselves.
‘Come, Robert. This is the same spell as before! Let’s combine our strengths! A Fire Wall will do!’ Saying that, Carolyn raises her trident preparing her spell, while Robert presses her back, supplying her with fire energy.
FWOOOM!! The wall of fire shoots up in front of them.
‘Do you think I shall try the same spell on the same opponents? Think again! Oh, no, don’t think, just DIE! Napalmios!’
BLAAM, BLAM, BLAAM!! The gigantic black ball instantly bursts! Countless bolts of dark energy, more numerous and with greater destructive power than Legion of Lost Souls spell pours like a falling blanket from all sides!
‘HYAAAH!!’ In one desperate move, Robert explodes his aura and turns back, his sword slashing in fervor upwards, forward, left and right.
TANG! TANG! TANG! BASSH! TANG, TANG! BASSH!
Together, Carol and Robert block the bolt and take hits in rapid succession. Yet, the shower doesn’t stop and both Paladins are already running out of juice.
Carol’s hands feel numb already and she starts to panic.
No, I can’t... stop... blocking. If I stop, I die...
Alas! The more she tries to move faster, the more bolts hit her like raining sledge hammers.
Just them, THWANGG!! A big, black torso flies above Carol and Rob straight towards Zal’fira! The thing is absorbing the bolts and surprises the lich at the same time.
‘WHAT??’ Zal’fira quickly steps back and avoids the torso altogether and BLUGG! The big thing crashes on the floor!
With blurry eyes, Carol tries to see what the thing actually is. It’s Cerberus! The three-headed giant hound is not moving at all, and it gradually shrinks and changes shape.
In less than a minute, the minusculed Cerberus has transformed into another beast: a luchi! The little bat-winged, arrow-tailed, black mouse-like creature gets up. It turns towards Zal’fira a bit, flaps its ebony wings and flies away.
‘FERRE, come back! FERRE!!’
Distraught and distracted, Zal’fira shouts on to call her pet. However, Ferre the luchi already flew out of sight.
‘Don’t you see, lich? Your face is so hideous, even your pet abandoned you!’ A man walks towards Zal’fira wielding a glowing jet-black and blood-red greatsword, Kraal’shazar.
Hearing that, Zal’fira laughs evilly instead, ‘WHUIHIHIHI!!! Here comes another pushover, a pathetic smart-aleck! You think you know full well about the relation between master and pet, but you actually are making a fool of yourself! And I think you never had a pet in your miserable life! Pah! I don’t need to explain anything to a hopeless moron like you, so just shut up and fight!’
Gritting his teeth in shame of being beaten in an argument with a mad undead, Adler von Bachmann dashes and thrusts forward with the Supreme Lone Lion skill!
DASSHH!! The frontal, straight thrust darts like an arrow. No time to cast a spell, the lich swings her cane forward to block that attack. Suddenly, Adler stops thrusting and pivot-slashing instead! ZWISSHH!! Pouncing Tiger Slash!
Shocked, Zal’fira swings her cane aside and TANGG! The sword strikes the cane with such force and sends her flying into the tower roof wall, BAMMM!!
‘Time to finish you off!’ Adler charges again! This time, it’s to deliver a deadly blow on the skeleton-in-the-robe sitting helplessly with her head down near the wall!
As the tip of Deathblade is a few inches away from the skull face, suddenly Adler stops on his track!
As soon as it’s said, Adler falls on his knees. And the next thing, Zal’fira gets up slowly. The viper head on her cane has its teeth sunk into Adler’s nape of neck like a vampire’s bite, and the Viscount falls, sprawling on the floor and looks like having a seizure or sorts. His face turns greenish, and it’s an obvious sign that he is poisoned!
‘Ha, ha! You stupid, careless bloke will never understand the extent of a lich’s power! You might’ve learned by now that you cannot finish a lich off easily. Now you’ve fallen into my trap and you’ll die slowly and painfully! On second thought, why don’t I just crush your skull now? CRACKKK!!! It’ll be a sweet melody! Khu, khu, khu, farewell, foolish Paladin!’
ZWOOOSH!!! The Viper Cane strikes down and suddenly Z’TANG! A dining plate-like object flies through and blocks it!
Startled, Zal’fira moves her head up and sees the old chronomage Eidos Crydias standing and catching back his godly weapon, Chrono Chakram.
‘You’re underestimating me, mad bones. You forgot that I, too am a wielder of Adair’s Arsenal. Oh, well. I deserve that attitude because of my old age, and it gives me a chance to do my thing with minimal risk.
So, come on, give me your best shot, and I’ll show you what an old man can do.’
‘Humph, I don’t have to use full force against you. But, since you asked for it, I’ll give you this: Charrcerebron!’
Jets of green and blue bolts shoot out from Viper Cane and Chrono Chakram. Strangely, they don’t clash into each other, just darting and hitting the targets!
‘Ghaah!’ Zal’fira yells in pain. She then tries to move her fingers and limbs and feels that she is moving much slower than usual.
‘You might’ve slowed me down, but you can’t stop me now! And now you’re a totally idiotic, deranged old man incapable of doing anything! WHUAHAHAHA!’ She lets out a maniacal laugh.
However, the old man is standing still, and with a smile he talks, ‘So, you think you really turned me into a madman, eh? Think again!’ He rolls his left sleeve down and reveals a silvery-white bangle on his arm. ‘Bracelet of Courage, a magical relic to keep me focus and conquer my fears, and also rendering my brain immune to mindbending magic.’
In response to that, a thick, dark aura accumulates all over Zal’fira’s body as she says, ‘Good, in that case, I’ll try ANOTHER type of magic! An Nekraal’me Fyasch!’
Again, Dark Disintegration blasts off! Eidos, who has enchanted himself with the Haste spell moves aside swiftly like a young elf. Yet, he is still caught in the blast! DHIIESHH!! And gets knocked down to the floor.
‘HOHAHAHAHAHAW! Even you, old man, no matter how many godly weapons you wield, you’re no match for my power!
WHOAAH!! Now I’m bored from lack of challenge,’ says Zal’fira, walking to the center of the rooftop and accumulates her aura. ‘It’s time to finish the game and wipe all these puny, pesky Paladins out. This is my ultimate, original spell. I saved it to challenge the Dark Overlord, but since occasion demands it, I’ll demonstrate it to you all.
Witness! Experience! Suffer, and die!
Fathomless Abyss: An Nekraal’me Tyral!’
WHUURR, WHURR, WHUURRR!!
Two holes materialize – on the sky and on the floor beneath Zal’fira’s feet. Strangely, the lich is floating in mid-air instead with the stream of dark energy keeps on flowing from her upright cane. The holes ar getting wider and wider, and electric currents are flowing like rain between both holes. Soon, the sprawling Paladins are all caught in the middle. Their bodies also levitate, but that’s because they’re been trapped in the middle of the electric bolts!
FZZZT, FZZT, FZZT!! ‘GYAAARRRGHHH!!’
Robert, Adler, Carolyn and Eidos scream together as their bodies are tortured in the endless electric currents before being thrown in the fathomless void: either up in the sky or down below for eternity, dead or alive, in one piece or torn apart.
‘WHUIHIHIHIHI!!! That’s right, SCREAM! Scream on like whores! Scream, because you will scream on for eternity in nothingness, between heaven and hell, in ultimate, eternal loneliness… like me.
Like me! Yes! You feel like I feel now! So empty, so hollow, with no friends, no family, no lover! Yes, I shall make this world a place of all lonely people, all being must live in loneliness for eons and eons to come! Now…’
Just as Zal’fira waves her hands to finalize her spell, suddenly, CRRACKK!! A streak of white light darts, breaking through the rain of electric currents and cracks into the lich’s skull forehead!
Though naturally she has no brain, the magically generated living skeleton doesn’t die yet. Still, that line of light disrupts her concentration, and she abruptly stops her spell!
Zal’fira turns to look at her assailant, and here he is, riding his faithful red griffin up in the air, the one who just shot her with the Guiding Light of Faith, Cristophe the White.
The lich waves her hand to retaliate, but ZZZT, ZZZT! The residual energy from the unfinished Fathomless Abyss spell begins to backfire, and it’s now Zal’fira’s turn to feel the torture!
‘GAAAH!! This can’t be happening! How can a simple spell break through my ultimate finishing? My dreams, my masterpiece… No, I can’t die yet! I still have to… move on!’
‘Sadly, your chances are up.’
Another voice comes with a resounding CRRASSHH!! A flash of light runs down all the way from the lich’s head to toe, and she freezes in place.
‘No, I can’t… allow it… Kluyvard…!’
CHRUMBLE! Zal’fira’s body splits in two pieces of identical sizes, and then crumbles down into a pile of bones beneath the robe. The Viper Cane is thrown aside like a wasted reject.
Just then, the man who splitted her steps forward with both hands gripping the Zweihänder Kraal’shazar tightly. Injured from head to toe and with sparks still crawling on his battered full plate mail, Adler von Bachmann curls a smile on his bloody lips.
‘Have a taste of your own medicine, you insane pile of dog chew! Yes, that’s the fate you deserved from choosing the path of hollow loneliness,’ he says.
Just then, a hand comes to stop the Viscount on his track. Carolyn the sorceress steps in front of Adler, saying, ‘However, she’s not truly finished yet. Necromancy can reassemble her bones again and she will be up and about again to go on wih her menace.’
Eidos also steps forward and says to the pink-haired mage, ‘So, do you have a solution to finish Zal’fira off for good?’
‘In fact, I do,’ says Carol with a serious face. ‘Step back, everyone, because I’m going to cremate her. Incineragnios!’
From the floor below, a pillar of fire erupts continuously, kindling the pile of bones and robe. It only takes a minute before Zal’fira’s remains turn into ash. At least Carol is civil towards her old rival by giving her a proper cremation.
FWOOSHH!! Suddenly, the ash swirls up like being uplifted by a cyclone! Robert, Carol, Adler and Eidos step back an ready their weapons in shock, but the surprise turns into wonder as they see a transparent, luminous apparition between the swirling ash.
Carol observes that apparition carefully as it forms a figure of a moderately beautiful young woman. Ah, so this is Zal’fira in her prime. Now I understand why she couldn’t take it when the love of her life Kluyvard chose the plain Genilda Yemima over her.
Then, a whisper so melodious, soft yet audible by all comes. ‘Ah, you finally understood, Carolyn, if that’s your name.’
A pause, then Zal’fira’s ghost continues, ‘At first, I was so frustrated and felt that my world has fallen apart when I attended Genilda and Kluyvard’s wedding. I was so consumed with rage and hatred that the beast in me took over. I soon resorted into studying necromancy, and I was so good at it that I became obsessed in using it to take revenge on not only Genilda and Kluyvard, but also on this cruel, unfair world.
I wanted to make the world suffer the loneliness and emptiness I was in, and when I realized the error of my way, I was too late. I already became someone else, even becoming an abominable lich and lost my beauty, family, friends, possessions and all hope for life and heaven.
Still, though it’s too late, I’m grateful that you liberated me from my worldly prison at last, Carolyn.
Now, I can rejoin the late Kluyvard, my love, seeing him for one, last time before undergoing hell and damnation which is for one, last time before undergoing hell and damnation which is the destiny I deserve. Well, as for Genilda, if you see her again please tell her that I apologize for harboring such hate towards her, and may she live long and prosper, taking care of Kluyvard’s offsprings so his legacy will live on and on.’
Suddenly, Zal’fira’s ghost looks up. From the dark sky, another apparition comes down bearing form of a tall, handsome man with a trimmed mustache and a pair of large, beautiful eyes on his manly visage, which would make an ideal pair for the fair Zal’fira.
Zal’fira then says to the male ghost, ‘Oh, is that you, Kluyvard? What? You’re coming to take me up to heaven? You want me to live with you there?
But, I am stained and foul. Huh? It’s not my fault? I am already saved when I repented from my sins and I was just a victim, a prisoner of the beast in me you hated so much that made you chose Genilda?
You tried to tell me that but you never had a chance to, but thanks to Carolyn, now I can rejoin you. Oh, I’m so happy! I’ve never felt this much joy before! I’m not lonely after all!
Well, I must go now. The Dark Overlord is in that tower, and be careful, he’s very powerful – way more powerful than the rest of us. Farewell, Carolyn! Farewell, o’ brave Paladins! Farewell, good luck and thank you!’
As she says that, Zal’fira’s ghost floats up and embraces Kluyvard. And then, hand-in-hand, the two apparitions fly up, up, and away until they vanish from sight in the dark clouds of the dark, starless sky of neverending night.
‘Farewell, Zal’fira. May you rest in peace, love and happiness forever and ever,’ says Carolyn, staring into the sky.
And then Robert comes, still staggering from his wounds and curls a hand on her shoulder, saying, ‘That was a divine thing you did, Carol. It made me admire you more and more.’
Hernan and Iris come together riding a pegasus.
Cristophe also lands on the battered tower rooftop, dismounts, comes towards the Paladins who just battled Zal’fira and says, ‘Robert, Carol, all of you, are you all right?’
Eidos says, ‘We’re injured, yes, but we can still move on after a bit of rest. Oh, which reminds me, where are Algaban and Omegron?’
Chris says, ‘They’re still battling, I guess. Omegron was deranged after Zal’fira, her master was slain, and Algaban the Red drove him away to continue their fight somewhere else far from here.’
Robert sighs and speaks up, ‘Well, I hope Algaban is all right and this fight can end the chain of hatred and rivalry between the two contending beings.’
Pointing his sword at the great gate to the main tower, Adler says, ‘The Dark Overlord’s Heir is in that tower. The final fight is upon us. Let’s go now, we have no time to waste for our comrades’ sake.’
Hernan says, ‘Yes, let’s… Hey, look! A swarm of flying monsters is coming towards us now and Dejan is fighting them! Let’s help him!
Adler, Robert, Chris and Carol, you go ahead! The rest of us will handle things here!’
Saying that, Hernan mounts his pegasus, Iris mounts Acavela the griffin and Eidos prepares a Meteor Shower spell.
No time to argue to that, Carol runs along with Robert, Adler and Cristophe to the main tower and arrives at the great gate. The jet-black gate is decorated with carvings of demons, devils and all beings of hell on each side and door and a hideous carving of Vordac’s mark, a skull with two pairs of big horns with hands holding the globe and a heart, all portraying the ultimate dark authority and its desire to dominate the world and the hearts of al people.
‘Well, there’s no turning back now. It’s the final judgment that will determine the balance between light and darkness,’ says Cristophe. ‘Are you all ready for this?’
‘As ready as ever,’ says Carolyn with a smile.
Robert puts his hands on the left gate door, saying, ‘This is what I live for. Fight on!’
Adler also puts his hands on the right side, ‘So, what are we waiting for? Let’s push this already!’
CRII… CREEAAKKK!!! The gate is pushed open.
The four Paladins walk into the tower with firm steps, cautious without hurrying.
Inside the tower is a round, high and vast dome with pillars and windowless walls surrounding it which bear similar colors and design to the demonic walls near the throne chambers. On the far corner of the hall, a throne bearing a carving of a demon and a black altar made of a single slab of ebony stand on a high platform with stairs.
On the altar lies a divinely beautiful woman with golden hair, wearing a grand, white gown and dress sparkling like being made of diamond thread. One look on her face and one can guess that she’s sleeping like a log or dead like a statue.
On the demonic throne sits a figure wearing all black, ragged cloak and hood. With the Crow Scythe on the side of the throne, all in all he looks exactly like a Grim Reaper, an angel of death.
Upon seeing the woman, Cristophe rushes forward, shouting, ‘Eloise!’
Suddenly, the woman levitates in mid-air, still in sleeping position and lands on the hooded figure’s lap. The mysterious figure outstretches a deathly pale human hand and caresses Eloise’s long hair and cheek and stares at the Paladins.
Cristophe sees the cloaked man’s lips moving, saying, ‘So, we finally meet again…
End of Chapter 20
Image Source: The Vigil of the Lich Queen by David Blac
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