Monday, July 21, 2008

The Lair of the Flowstone King

The party of five huddled in a green-lit tunnel, a dark outline feet away indicating the entrance to a larger cavern. A yellow, flickering light passed through it, a torch in the hand of the party's scout, the Bangaa Dragoon named Luft. "It's there," he said. "The mark is at the bottom of a pit. It has at least two guards loitering nearby - some kind of giant insects."

"Probably its vile spawn or something like that," Ris, clad in iron chainmail, grumbled. "Bet you it's got more waiting in the eaves."

"No bet," another man replied. "We'll have to do this quickly." He considered for a moment, then decided on a plan. "Harlyn, you go along the side of the pit, take shots at the mark from a distance. I'll do the same. Luft, Alys, and Ris, charge the target, hit it as hard as you can. No time to worry about precision; besides, with a creature that large, how can you miss?"

"What am I doing, Tarthis?" asked Ethis, Elementalist.

"The usual," Tarthis told her, not unkindly. "Provide healing and protection. Don't attack them with your earth spells; they're bugs in the depths of the earth, they'll almost certainly be immune to earth magic, and they might well be healed by it."

"How can anything be healed by a boulder to the face?" Ethis asked, unbelieving.

Tarthis shook his head. "Magic?"

He looked about to see if there were any more questions about the plan; then he took a breath and began a prayer. "The Judges give us the Law; the Law binds us and protects us." The others joined him. "Within the Law we have Life Eternal, without end; outside the law we are doomed to inevitable damnation. The Law is our Shield, it is our Sword." Voices raised, they concluded: "Praise to the Judges; amen, amen, amen!!"

Then came a deep rumbling. Tarthis and the rest of the party whirled, seeing nothing but darkness. "They've noticed us!" Tarthis cried. "Ethis - light 'em up! Everyone else, charge!"

The group dashed through the opening to the pit as Ethis hurriedly incanted. Her first spell sent a flaring ball of light to the ceiling of the pit; the second set a golden glow around the bodies of her companions, augmenting their armour. The others raced ahead of her, Luft the fastest of all, leaping down the steep and uneven incline where others were forced to a walk. His spear came down on one of the ant-lion guards, cruelly injuring it, then he leapt again and struck at the creature he and his companions were being paid to eradicate.

On the way down, he had time to examine the creature he was attacking. "Wow," he noted. "That thing is bigger then my house - and I don't really like the way its five, hideous mandibles are clacking and dribbling-"

Then he hit.

The others did not idle while Luft flew towards the Flowstone King. Alys and Ris ran and stumbled down the rock-strewn, green-lit slope, fending off the antlion guards as best they could with sword and shield as they moved. Tathis followed them, dodging the antlions as best he could until he could let loose with his bow at the King. Harlyn, ignored by all, moved to a good firing position along the rim of the pit, pulled out his boltgun, and fired shot after lightning-crackling shot into the hideous beast far below. Each blew a crater the size of a wagon wheel into its chitinous flesh; Harlyn saw it as a bad sign that the monster did not even react to the wounds.

"Perhaps it's already dead," he speculated unhopefully.

The Flowstone King wailed hideously, and gravity itself seemed to twist within the confines of the pit, warping the light momentarily to a shade of teal, and making each of the party members feel hideous pain as their insides underwent the same process.

"Augh!" Harlyn gasped, recovering as the distortion ended. "I knew it was too much to hope for."

Now the Flowstone King was fighting in earnest. With unthinking, terrible strength, it slammed its claws down like hammers, nearly crushing the Alys and Ris; its vast maw gaped, hungering for flesh. Ethis did what she could, repairing the gold-glowing shields on those whose coatings wore thin, healing the wounded; but her skill was too little and the Flowstone King's strength too vast. She fell to her knees as he twisted gravity into a knot again; then a breeze blew, a wind, a hurricane, and into his mouth she fell. The monster chewed, and its wounds began to heal; from Ethis's death it drew life.

The others paused, briefly, to mourn her; "To the Judges we entrust her soul," they mumbled, then resumed the fight. Only Tathis did otherwise; he plucked from his belt a red-gleaming feather and lay it carefully to the pit floor. One word only he whispered, too quiet to hear; and the feather burned, and from its fire and smoke arose Ethis, born anew like the phoenix. Her wounds were visible on her flesh; but still she rose from her knees, already preparing another spell of healing. This fight was too important to lose.

The battle raged for interminable minutes longer; the Flowstone King used its terrible natural weapons, its antlion minions harrying the party's flank, and four times more Tathis cast down the phoenix feather. Ris fell, and Luft, and Alys; and there was no time to revive them.

Then Harlyn fired his third-to-last shell, the air around him thick with the foul scent of powder, and something in the Flowstone King broke; coloured gases rushed upwards, and a pulsing, brown organ was left exposed. Tathis leapt to one side, dodging the falling claw of an antlion. "Now!" he cried, his face coloured only by the green light of Ethis's dying flare, and fired one arrow into the brown organ. The Flowstone King shivered and shook, and raised its claws high above Ethis for a retaliatory, lethal, blow. Tathis closed his eyes, consigning himself to the Law of the Judges; so he only realized that he was alive by the sound of the claws falling to the ground to each side of him, limp in death.

Tathis took six deep breaths as the Flowstone King faded away, its minions following it into the Beyond. Ethis's light brightened as she regained her strength, turning a cleaner hue. "We won," Tethis said at last. "We won."

Now, to collect their pay; which might be harder than earning it had been.

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