18.104.22.168. The Mindbender’s Grudge
Ah, the great, no, terrible outdoors.
That’s the first thought that pops in Robert’s mind as his feet touches the narrow pathway. He’s not so fond of heights, yet he has no trouble whatsoever balancing himself while walking.
And now rob must also practice caution as well as speed and timing, because it’s dark out here and the only thing that lights up the path is the lava flowing in the ducts on the walls, so he, Adler, Carol and Eidos must jump in the right time so they won’t get burnt by the splashing liquid fire.
The white-haired Paladin looks up and notices a row of gargoyle statues carved on top of the citadel roof, just like the ones in Basilica Vadisium in Ascension. The difference is the gargoyles seem as though watching his every move. Robert becomes alert and tightens his grip on Grimlock as he leaps over a magma duct and lands safely on the other side.
‘SKHRIEEE!!’ FLAP, FLAP!
Eerie shrieks fill the air, along with heavy wing beats. Eidos’ shout comes afterwards, ‘The gargoyles! They’re attacking us!’
ZWIISH!! As soon as it is said, a pair of pale-white talons sweeps downwards, targeting Robert’s neck!
Using his reflexes, Robert ducks a bit to avoid the attacks and sweeps upwards with his sword. CRAACKZZZ!! Cutting a gash on that hideous species of a winged demon’s gut.
‘SKREEEAAKK!!’ The gargoyle falls all the way down into its doom.
Soon, a battle rages on the terrace way. The gargoyles’ shrieks attract more and more flying monsters to attack the spot where the Paladins stand.
FWOOSH!! Robert dodges a harpy’s claw attack, and an imp comes swiftly behind him! As the imps’ claws are a few inches away from Rob’s head, suddenly, Dejan the eagle comes and BAGG! Rams into the imp, planting long, sharp talons on the monster’s chest.
Robert doesn’t thank his savior. Instead, he darts and splits a harpy that attacks Adler who is busy with a few other dark flyers.
‘Huh, come you all, foul beasts! Even a legion of your kind will not bring Adler von Bachmann down! GHAAA!!’ Kraal’shazar dances like a soaring devil, splitting all opponents into pieces with the skill Fingers of the Blade. CRASH, CRASH, CRASH!
Blood splatters. Not fancying a shower, Adler moves swiftly away.
A few inches away from Adler flies the Chrono Chakram, swirling through three flying monsters attacking Carolyn who is preparing a spell. The pink-haired sorceress shouts, ‘Thanks, Eidos! Now it’s my turn! Clustrvoltari!’
Carol lifts her magic trident Esthagar and a current of Chain Lightning surges, hitting the enemies one-by-one. ZAP! Frying an imp into its crispy death. ZAP! A harpy. ZAP! Another imp, and ZAP! A gargoyle gets blackened like charcoal, turns back to stone and crumbles into small pieces.
Step-by-step, the Paladins keep on fighting. Enemy flyers keep coming in waves, splitting their concentration between fighting and leaping over ducts.
Robert, however, keeps pressing on forward. A swarm of winged monsters charge upon him, and his answer is a super-speed combo of Black Dragon Soulstealer, like a shadow coming here and there, passing through anything in his path.
CRASH, CRASH, CRASH!!
Robert gets past the swarm, leaving the monster fall to their deaths.
And suddenly, BHAGG! A harpy hits Robert headlong, throwing him off the ledge!
‘AAGH!!’ Robert’s face turns pale as he falls to his death! A second later, suddenly a claw grabs his back!
Ah, what’s that, a dracolich? No, this grip is gentle, and I feel a fiery hot aura around me. Rob turns back, and there she is, his mighty ally, the Ancient Red Dragon Algaban.
Nice timing, as always, says Rob in his mind.
That’s what partners are for, little one, The crimson bahamut replies. I’ve been tracking you while fighting out there, and since Petra is not a cooperative and share-our-victims type, I thought I best let him take all the fun.
Robert replies, Well, thanks. H-hey, look! My friends are in trouble! Let’s go and help them!
Robert climbs Algaban’s claw and mounts the dragon on his neck. Behind them, a large, rotten-winged dracolich (undead dragon) comes crashing into the citadel wall right between the groups of Paladins.
With a roar, the all-bones dragon sweeps fiercely with its claws and tail, snapping its fangs here and there. Plus, some monsters join in, overwhelming the Paladins, cornering them on the spot.
At one point, the giant skeletal dragon opens his fangs real wide, darting to swallow the foe closest to it: Adler the Borgian!
The Viscount is aware of his position, but he is unable to move away in time. So, at that desperate moment he uses his sword as support, preventing the jaws from closing.
‘UGGNNHH!!’ Adler struggles to keep himself from being bitten in two, mustering all his strength and aura. Still, the jaws keep closing in. A second later, something hits the dracolich real hard, BHLAAAMM!! The jaw grip on Adler is loosened, and he uses this momentum to pull his sword back and falls on the path.
Still groggy from the fall, Adler turns and looks up towards his enemy, which is now being carried aloft in Algaban’s gigantic claws. The giant read one then dives and slams the dracolich on the ground, CRRACKK!! Breaking the flying bones in pieces and flattening all undead and monsters beneath. It also breathes fire to incinerate the undead and dragon bones alike so they won’t reassemble again.
Gritting his teeth, Adler gets up, lifts his sword and charges forward, fury in his eyes and thoughts in his mind.
The Paladins keep on fighting all the way without rest. Carolyn, for one, tries not to lose focus on her spells as Robert is clearing the enemies in the sky with Algaban. The good thing is, Eidos has enchanted her with Haste spell so she can fight and cast quickly. In return, the pink-haired sorceress provides protection for the old chronomage who tends to avoid close-combat at all times.
Spinning and swinging her trident Esthagar like an expert martial artist, Carol runs her weapon into a demon’s belly and ZAP! ZAPP!! Electrocutes it into smithereens. The demon, as hefty and tall as a full-grown man wielding a fiery whip stands dead with a blank expression and falls to the front, BAMM!
As the demon falls, Carol sees something in front of her and shouts, ‘Look! The main tower is up ahead! Come on! We must push forward!’
Soon enough, Dejan in wolf form, Eidos and Adler dash to the way Carol pointed. Only Robert still seems busy fighting winged demons and dracolichs with Algaban.
The path soon comes to a stairway going upwards, and Carolyn starts to climb it, running behind the armored Adler who opens the path in the front.
She stares upwards. The stairway goes a long, long way up, up like climbing the tallest, largest black tower – the tower that looks like an upright, gigantic black hand with its palm facing up, holding a gigantic skull.
It’s a long way upstairs, and my wounds and fatigue are killing me. But I must keep going. There’s no stopping, no turning back now.
Uh, what’s that? I sense strong, very powerful aura up ahead! And it feels like somebody is... somebody is reading my mind?
Suddenly the pink-haired Paladin touches her forehead, muttering, ‘Nervatr!’ Placing a protection field in her mind to ward the intruder off.
A moment later, Dejan the halfling comes near her, saying, ‘What’s wrong, Carol? Why are you stopping?’
Carolyn answers by touching Dejan’s forehead and muttering, ‘Nervatr. Just get everybody here. There is an enemy who can read minds around here, and I must protect you all with Mind Ward now.’
Soon, Adler and Eidos come. Before the old mage can say anything, the sorceress casts, ‘Omninervatr’ at both of them and darts upstairs, no questions asked, no word said.
Her eyes stares at a distance, her midn races, No, this is too easy. The ward is not quite enough to repel all sorts of mindbending spells. Besides, Robert is up there and he must maintain mind contact with Algaban at all times.
Well, this is as ready as we can be.
With that thought, Carol reaches the last step of the stairs.
And then, a wide platform-like structure comes into view. It’s actually the rooftop of a tower – one of the four towers standing around the main tower like sentinels. A bridge connects this tower to the great gate of the main tower.
Strange, that place seems vacant. No dark creatures here, nobody is guarding the gate. This is not right. Maybe I’ll go back and warn the others...
‘Mousey... little mousey... tripping into trapsy... And comesy the big, bad catsy, having the pesky petsy for eatsy...’
Startled, Carolyn points her trident Esthagar to the front, shouting, ‘Who the hell are you? Show yourself!’
‘Tee hee, so the little mousey can’t fight the catsy she can’t see? Flimsy, flimsy mousey...’
Wait. I think I recognize this crazy woman’s voice. But I’m not sure... She sounds quite... different. Well, better play along, then. Resisting will get me nowhere.
Thinking so, Carolyn shouts back, ‘Oh, so the big bad catsy wants to play? All right, then. Let’s see if she can stop the little mousey from crossing to the other side...’
DASSSH!! Sparks fly from Esthagar as Carolyn darts like lightning!
As she reaches the center, suddenly BLUURRSSHH!! A blazing dark energy erupts from the floor! The sorceress moves quickly aside to avoid being hit, and the other Paladins arrive.
Adler, Eidos and Dejan stop at once, seeing he dark force getting bigger and bigger, taller and taller like an inflating balloon.
The ‘balloon’ then takes shape of a person wearing all-black pointy hat, cloak and robe.
A bone-white mask conceals this hooded acolyte’s visage. Her bony, pale white hand with abnormally long ivory nails is holding an ebony staff with a cobra head on its tip.
Carolyn recognizes it at once, her eyes widen, shouting, ‘The Viper Cane! My goodness... this appearance... are you... Zal’fira?!’
‘Zal’fira? Zal... fi... ra... That’s funny. Somehow, I remember that name,’ says the hooded person touching the forehead of the mask as though thinking hard.
‘No, that’s not. They call me ‘lich’ now. Lich this, lich that, just lich! Zal’fira... three syllables, too long... Oh, yes. I just remembered. That was my name back then, but, I never liked it. Call me Zally, that’s the name I like... tee hee hee.’
Zal’fira. I was so sure she was dead back then in Hvalgarr, but here she is now, completely deranged. And, what did she say? Lich? Is that what she becomes now? An undead mage?
With that thought, Carolyn shouts to her comrades, ‘Be careful! She’s a lich, a very powerful undead!’
To this, Adler smiles and snorts, saying, ‘Tchah! No matter how powerful she is, she’s all alone against the four of us. That stupid heir of a devil has put a wrong dog to guard his gate!’
‘BWAAHAHAHAHAHA!!! You think the four of you can scare me? Think before you talk, tin man, because I also brought friends to play along! An Cerberus Aschi!’
Again, a black hole materializes on the floor, and from it, a gigantic, three-headed black hound comes out. It’s the mythical Cerberus, a monster of overwhelming strength and ferocity. Not only that, flying monsters also come, swarming and surrounding the whole area.
‘You’re saying...?’ Dejan regards Adler coolly, the latter just snorts again and readies his greatsword.
Just then, Robert arrives at the scene with the great dragon Algaban. He looks rather surprised to see this stand-off like situation and stays where he is, suspecting a trap.
‘O-ho, Algaban is here too? Tee hee, the more the merrier,’ says Zal’fira, chuckling behind her mask. ‘That’s just great, because I have here an old friend who looves very much to have a rematch with his old rival.
An Omegron Aschi!’
Zal’fira points her cane up high, and a big, bright hexagram-in-a-circle magic light erupts in the sky. From that portal a gargantuan black dragon comes down and perches on top of the skull on the apex of the main tower.
His four large, reddened eyes scan around the perimeter, and as he spots his arch rival Algaban and the man who lost him his fifth eye, Robert Chandler, he spreads his enormous wings, outstretches his neck upwards and throws a challenge with a deafening roar, ‘GRRWAARHRRR!!’
Algaban roars back to accept that challenge.
Well, it’s me and you versus the great Omegron now, says Robert to Algaban in his mind. The saber Grimlock on his hand blazes in fiery flickers – a sign of its true power, connecting with the white-haired Paladin’s blazing fire aura.
The red, eagle-like-headed dragon nods, answering, Yes, the Red and the Black in one final showdown.
Down at the platform, the masked Zal’fira lets out an insane shriek, ‘GWHIHIHI!! Now that the pieces are in place, let the game begins!’
DASSH!! The battlers dash towards their targets! Robert and Algaban deal with Omegron, Dejan turns into eagle form and attacks the flying monsters, Adler and Eidos attack towards the three-headed Cerberus, and Carolyn comes face-to-face with the lich necromancess.
‘Fighting me alone eh, little girl? Do you think you can win? No, because you look tired and you really can use some sleep – Lullabio!’ Saying that, Zal’fira shoots a pale-blue bolt at the opponent!
‘Delmetr!’ With a single wave of her trident, Carolyn wards the Sleep spell off with ease.
The pretty young mage shouts, ‘I can cast mindbending spells as well! Magoblivio!’
A green bolt of lightning crackles from Esthagar to shock the lich’s mind so she will temporarily forget her spells: the Mind Silence spell.
‘Oh no you don’t!’ Without chanting the incantation, the masked lich swings her cane overhead, smashing the bolt directly! BLAANGG!!
The masked lich is pushed back several paces and stands straight again, saying, ‘You’re asking for it: Petrifio!’
PPYAARSCHH!! This time, three indigo bolts rotate and swirl like whirlwind. Carol must evade or repel these bolts without even touching them or get Paralyzed like a stone – which is impossible except if she is as fast as Kyflynn on foot.
Instead of doing both, Carol steps back, points her trident and shouts, ‘Nervatrparadh!’
FYAASCHH!! In timely manner, Carol conjures a Wall of Magic Barrier and blocks the three bolts altogether! As the wall vanishes, she limps a bit before standing straight again, gathering energy for the next round.
‘Whuhoho!! This is getting more exciting!’ Zal’fira shouts. ‘Tell you what, why don’t we get rough and straight from now on? The spellslinger’s way, of course.’
‘Yeah, let’s,’ says Carolyn.
‘On the count of three... one, two, An Nekraal’me Fyasch!’
The lich is cheating! Zal’fira shoots a dark blast of Dark Disintegration at her opponent!
‘Pyroagnios!’ Anticipating Zal’fira’s cheap trick, Carol, however, is a split-second late. Her Fireblast collides with the dark blast a bit too close to her, BLAAM!!
Image Source: The Vigil of the Lich Queen by David Blac