A Rise of the Runelords campaign journal that turned into a book

53. Blazing rage

Ten years ago

Canorate

“His footwork is awful”, Macharius said in a low voice only I could hear, nodding at the direction of the slave gladiator in the sand-covered arena. “He can’t even handle the greatsword properly. He should stick to smaller blades”, he added, thoughtfully. I was barely listening and more focused on the apple I had stolen from the buffet of Lord Horryn’s guests, savoring each bite. It was games night at the Horryn estates, and our master had invited his allies, prospective allies and other notables to watch his slaves fight. It was private entertainment for the elite of Canorate, servants and slaves like us were not allowed to attend of course. Still, we were also there, crouched and uninvited, watching between gaps from the shadows under the stands.

We managed to sneak in every time. And that evening was no different. In the pit, Gastrian, Horryn’s most prized fighter, armed with a whip and a gladius, tripped the poor gladiator with the greatsword with a lash of his weapon of choice. Dust puffed into the air as the combatant fell on his arse, and he cursed aloud, venting desperate anger. Many among the nobility in audience laughed, while others sighed in boredom. Gastrian laughed too, and asked the nobles for their favour in form of gold, flaunting his uncovered back to his downed foe. One old politician threw him a silver coin from the upper stands, and in his lust for money, Gastrian stepped to pick it up from the sand.

“Kurtus is shaming the Master with his poor performance”, Macharius noted, “he will make Gastrian kill him.”

“Gastrian’s as much to blame”, I offered the insight after swallowing a bite, “going after the coin like a beggar. And he’s toying with Kurtus like a kitten.” The mismatch was obvious, and the younger, more talented fighter was eager to show it off. In the pit, Kurtus rose to his feet, brought his greatsword to bear and roared in defiance before charging his opponent.

Macharius tut-tuted. “His raging does not help him. He’s too quick to lose his temper, just like you, brother.”

I let out a small chuckle and rubbed the fresh, itching scar that crossed my face. “I can control my anger quite well”, I replied as Gastrian evaded the other gladiator’s lunge with a sideways step. Almost all of the time, I added to myself. “I heard from the slaves Gastrian had bet a jug of wine that Kurtus would not even land one wounding blow on him. He is making his life difficult with his greed for glory and over-confidence.”

In the pit, Gastrian’s whip lashed out, and Kurtus found himself unarmed as his blade sailed in the air and into the dirt. Macharius turned to me, smiling roguishly. “You think so?”

I kept my gaze on the fight. The whip struck anew, but this time, Kurtus was fast enough and he caught the leather in his left hand and pulled with all his strength, making the other stumble a few steps towards him to arm’s reach. Without missing a beat, Kurtus’s hip rotated slightly, powering his shoulder, arm and fist that went to meet the other fighter’s face. The straight right connected and splattered Gastrian’s blood onto the arena.

“I’d pick simple wrath over greedy arrogance every time”, I said to my twin.

**

Date: unknown

Runeforge, Ravenous Crypt

“Talking with the dead again, eh Harsk?” Alice asked the kneeling god-touched. Harsk was holding his palm on the chest of a corpse, one of the blue-robed adepts the necromancers had violated and chopped to pieces for their sick ends. The one next to the dwarf was missing both arms and legs, but he had his head and throat intact, and thus was the cleric’s choice. Not that the corpse really needed them for talking – a skull had managed earlier at the Barracks of Xin.

“We need more information, magus”, Harsk said without turning, “what happened here, and where are the runeforged weapons.”

A focused beam of pure white light shot from nowhere, like a stream of sunlight appearing between dispersing clouds, and marked the head of the corpse. It stirred like a fish on dry land, and opened its mouth in reflex. No inhale of breath came however. The body was still as dead as it had been.

“What happened here”, Harsk began the interrogation without preamble in Thassilonian while Alice translated as the simultaneous interpreter for me and Alfred. The empty eyes of the adept looked through the god-touched, but replied still, bowing to the will and might of the servant of Iomedae.

“..It was the pool.. It came alive.. but Karzoug tricked us.. we tried.. to take control of it.. but failed..” The adept’s whispered reply reminded me of windblown autumn leaves brushing stone tiles.

“The pool of Runeforge”, Alice muttered, her own comment. “Where is the pool”, Harsk asked the dead beyond the veil of Planes.

“At.. the center of the Runeforge..”

“Why did you try to take control of the pool?”

“.. we were certain.. that our lord Belimarius was awakening.. returning.. to us.. but we were… wrong. Vraxeris turned the others.. against us.. Kazaven.. Athroxis.. the other fools..”

The damned servants of the Runelords had been waiting for ten thousand years for their masters to return, I realized to my horror. Small wonder they are all mad.

“Why did you say Karzoug tricked you”, the dwarf pushed on, still holding his palm firmly on the dead adept’s chest. “We all.. thought our lord… was awakening.. but it was Karzoug.. I have no.. doubt.”

“His connection to this Plane is weakening”, Alice noted, with some urgency. For once, we were getting valuable knowledge. “Who is this Vraxeris?” Harsk continued.

“Vraxeris.. is the servant of Runelord Xanderghul..”

“The weapons, the weapons“, I hissed to the cleric. He held up his free hand to silence me. “What kind of weapons could one forge here against Karzoug?”

I heard a long rustle of leaves. Laughter? “You’d need.. a Hellstorm flume.. to hurt him..” He was referring to the tower-sized magical weapon, one that was the ruin called Old Light in Sandpoint. Harsk asked one final question but the weak connection to the dead adept was already lost.

“Dammit”, I cursed and Dûath growled in sympathetic irritation. “Still nothing about forging the weapons, or finding them.”

Harsk got to his feet and swept and patted his hands together, cleaning the touch and essence of the dead from them. “We must explore other wings of the Runeforge”, he said, lost in his thoughts. For a moment I felt the unnatural, timeless aura of the forge press against my sanity and I clenched my teeth. Ten thousand years. Locked in here. With no means to escape.

“Come on, archer”, Alfred walked next to me and slapped his palm on my back, “we still have so many treasures to find!”

**

We were standing next to the Runeforge pool, looking around. “Where to next”, Alice voiced the question. I cleared my throat and pointed at the tunnel that led to the wing belonging to Runelord Alaznist. It was the next tunnel to the left from the Ravenous Crypts. To the right of the wing of Gluttony was the tunnel leading into Karzoug’s own part of the forge.

“I’d pick Wrath over Greed”, I said, and felt like I had said something like that once, ages ago. Alfred went past me, eager to continue our search. “It’s the next one, so fine by me,” he offered as he went. Alice frowned. “He just chose that because it empowers him”, she argued, but all she got was a dismissive wave of hand from the sellsword – he was already walking into the tunnel. “We’ll get to Pride sooner than later, sweetling.” I heard the pale-faced magus murmur something before she followed us inside.

**

We passed the long tunnel, and with each step I felt more powerful. I embraced it, and felt the lurking pressure of the Runeforge give way to the siren call of rage and the power it promised. I steeled my mind. Careful, Alpharius, or you might lose yourself here. Focus.

Entering a massive chamber room, its arching walls decorated by a single, awe-inspiring mural depicting the Runelord of Wrath riding a flame-spitting red dragon, I found myself staring at a lone figure. A statue made of mirror-clear steel (chrome?), carrying a longbow with its string drawn, it’s form locked in an aiming position. The giant-sized guardian stood alone on a platform that extended from the back wall of the chamber, like a balcony. There was no way we could walk farther. We had to fly, or step through dimensions to continue.

The steel statue waited and aimed with the metallic bow string drawn, almost urging us to enter the chamber proper.

“That’s a trap”, Alfred, master of the obvious, muttered. “That’s a golem”, Alice clarified, and nodded at the golem-bane scarab hanging on the sellsword’s neck. He looked down and noticed the faint glow it had begun to emanate. “Oh, right.” The magus rolled her eyes before turning back towards the guardian of the chamber. “I can sense that the thing is resistant to our magics, and only special metals will harm it.”

“And anything I wield while I carry my scarab”, Alfred commented nonchalantly if proudly and stepped forward into the chamber with beautiful marble floors. Immediately, the golem reacted by altering its aim, if only noticeably. “How do you intend to get there and fight it”, I hissed at the reckless axe-man. The balcony was thirty or so feet above ground level. Alfred guffawed. “With my shoes of course”, he said and kept going, taking eager paces forward. Of course. The damned wall-runner’s boots.

I told Dûath to hold still, and ran after him, leaving the dwarf and the woman to exchange curious glances.

That was too much for the golem. Taking one step forward, almost off the lip of the platform, it opened its mouth and issued a thunderous boom that sounded like a great war horn. A challenge? An alarm? Maybe both.

My arrows, steel-tipped, were already in the air when the sound died.  The arrowheads bounced harmlessly off the skin of the golem. The creature kept moving, and stepped into the air as if it was scaling invisible steps. Then it loosed its arrow, a magical bolt really, that curved in the air as it flew, looking for its target. Alfred raised his shield just in time and swatted the bolt aside. “Still planning to try melee?” I asked the sellsword as we increased our pace to a run. Stopping momentarily I shot more arrows, only barely denting the golem’s armour-like skin. “Keep tickling it, archer, it might die of laughter”, Alfred replied as he went. I spared a quick glance back. Alice was nowhere to be seen, which did not surprise me, but Harsk had transformed himself into a cloud of dust particles and was rapidly floating towards the golem as well. “So air walking is not good enough for you”, I shouted as the particle cloud flew past and I loosed more arrows at the golem.

The chrome-clad guardian disregarded us all. Instead, it lifted its aim up from the floor level. Bolts of sizzling magical energies shot out from its bow and hit something in the air. A woman’s cry of pain pierced the chamber. It saw through Alice’s tricks. Drips of blood spattered to the marble floors as the pale-faced magus came out of her shroud of invisibility and slashed at the golem, lunging at it from beneath, all the while floating in the air. Her scimitar connected and transmitted the power of lightning into the golem. Her strike did little physical damage, but the electrical charge somehow affected it, making it tremble slightly and lose some of its dexterity.

“Now, kill it“, Alice ordered with a yell bordering desperation. She was badly hurt, again. Alfred had dropped his battle-axe and shield and switched, uncharacteristically, to the bow.

Harsk materialized into normal form that instant and laid a hand on the wall below the platform. Not again, I thought as the stoneworks began to reform according to will of the god-touched, rapidly pushing steps out of the wall where they had not previously been. No wraiths appeared this time, thankfully. Smart, I realized with a grin, Harsk is offering us a way up.

Alfred’s laughter echoed in the chamber. “See, Alpharius, the way I hurt the golem”, he hollered the taunt, and I saw the way Alfred’s steel arrowheads burrowed into the massive bulk of the enemy and created spreading cracks in its armor. The golem-bane scarab was blazing around his neck, making his attacks somehow more potent.

“Up, fools!” Harsk shouted at us and began to ascend the ad hoc steps with leaps and laborious breaths. Above us, Alice and the chrome golem dueled. Alice’s blood kept falling to the floor in droplets as she fought, but she was holding her own, thanks to the sudden rigidness that seemed to hamper the golem. The sellsword was not listening but kept peppering the foe with arrows. I on the other was almost totally out of arrows I could sensibly use. I wasn’t going to use my special arrows, bane to specific creatures. But I had an idea, one I should have remembered earlier.

“Alfred, your other golem-bane scarab! Throw it to me!” Hearing me he turned to regard me weirdly, but then reached to his magical backpack, found what he was looking for and flung the necklace to me. I was already on the run when I caught it in mid-air. Discarding the trusty Carmine Avenger, I donned the scarab and pulled out my gladii. Alice had pushed the golem back just a little, I thought as I ran after the dwarf to the stairs, I might just reach it with my swords from the platform. And with the scarab, I can truly hurt it.

Harsk was maybe ten feet higher than me, almost at the top of the platform, when the golem suddenly withdrew from its melee with Alice and focused on Harsk instead. Magical bolts pierced the air, and the dwarf crumpled into a heap as each hit, badly. “Go on”, the dwarf urged me with an angry, pained snarl as I leaped past him. He was bleeding and severely injured, but I had no time to help – the golem was already greatly damaged and my window of opportunity to end its existence was quickly closing. Three more leaps brought me to the platform. The golem was in still in the air, battling with Alice, and had its back to me, providing an easy target. Soundlessly, I charged, putting all my strength behind a killing slash of my adamantine-forged gladius, aiming for its neck..

.. and I would’ve struck the final blow had it not been to the damned sellsword landing a lucky arrow straight into the golem’s head. At its death, the force holding the creature in the air vanished and the golem turned into a several ton lump of falling metal. I almost fumbled my steps and went after it but was able to arrest my motion just in time. With an awful clatter, the golem’s ruined body crashed into the marble tiles, a foot away from Alfred. He looked up at us and grinned. “I should try archery more often, this is so easy”, he said, raising his second-grade longbow and guffawed.

Lucky bastard.

**

Our mission into the Runeforge had quickly depleted my reserves of arrows. Alfred carried two full quivers, but it was particularly humiliating to ask him for replacements after the fight with the golem. After jokes about how they would be more useful in his hands and about my lacklustre archery skills he parted ways with half of his arrows.

The flying golem had a diamond and a magical gem for eyes, which the sellsword forcibly removed from its sockets before we healed our wounds and continued further. The platform led into a tunnel, and at its end was an empty room save for two ten-feet wide, embossed glyphs on the floor. Their iconography was foreign to me, but the other was blueish, while the other was red and resembled the rune of Wrath. That obviously meant something.

Alice immediately sensed the magic imbued in the glyphs. “They are portals”, she explained as she cleaned blood from her features, then murmured something about letting the brutes fight in the front in the future. Alfred snorted. Harsk was rubbing his bearded chin, considering the possibilities. “I think you’re right”, he said finally. “But which one to take?”

The sellsword stepped on the red glyph without a word and vanished with a poof. “We need to talk about his lack of judgment-” I began but the god-touched cut in. “It didn’t look harmful”, he said and stepped after Alfred, also disappearing. Dûath growled in irritation. I exchanged glances with the pale-faced magus. “After you”, she said, raising her brow and pointed at the glyph with her scimitar, gesturing me to go. I just grumbled, grabbed my panther by his scruff and stepped on the red portal.

The translocation was imminent and I found myself in another, albeit similar room. Harsk and Alfred had both already ventured further and were peering across a short corridor to what seemed like a large hall. Training hall, to be exact, with hay-filled dummies standing here and there. All looked worn out – some were hacked into bits, other were full of arrows. Old blood marks covered parts of the floors. Four passages led into the halls in total, and to our left and right were several closed doors. Everburning torches lighted the space, their crackle the only sound I could discern.

Alice materialized behind me and Dûath and strolled to us. “What is it”, she asked with a low voice, noting how were carefully waiting for something. I had been in enough ambushes and set up even more myself to identify one.

“It’s a trap”, I whispered, and realized I had said exactly what Alfred had said a moment before. The theme of our adventures, it seemed to me. Alfred guffawed and stepped forward into the hall before raising his voice. “Then let us spring it!” He stated, more to the waiting foes than us. I winced. The enemy obliged.

The first had waited just behind the corners of the passage, and they came into view charging, eager to get to the sellsword. Two snarling, grumbling aberrations, I realized, and was not surprised. They and wrath, be it Alaznist’s or Lamashtu’s kind, seemed to belong together. The one on the left, closer to Alfred, tried to cut the sellsword in half with a wild swing of a great-axe. The sellsword kept laughing as he blocked the vicious blow. Another tried to attack his unprotected back, but I was faster. The aberration crashed into the floor with three burning arrows across its swollen, rancid face and didn’t get back up.

A swarm of enemies poured into the room from the other passages. The aberrations howled and gurgled maniacally. But they were the vanguard – behind them came cloaked human fighters. They were armed with heavy swords, but their true powers became evident when the first one stopped to begin casting a spell.

“That’s a lot of foes”, Harsk commented and started into a run to help Alfred. Alice spat few words of magic and vanished, hiding herself with a spell of invisibility yet again.

I fought back the uncharacteristic urge to drop my bow and launch myself into a wild melee like gladiators back in Canorate. It was the aura of the wrath calling me. The wildfire force within me responded, and in an instant I was seeing everything through supernatural red flames. Through the growing thirst for violence I saw the blade-wielding magicians and the madness they had succumbed into. They came at us with the aberrations, almost foaming in rage. I willed my mythic powers into control. No – I will not succumb. I will not become a madman, overcome by the burning rage, I swore to myself.

I’ve pocketed my anxieties, my disappointments, my anger for years, a cooler part of me realized. Hidden them under a blanket of stubborn, crude sense of purpose. I am coming for you, brother.

Wrapping that sense of purpose around me like a cloak, I descended into a thoughtless state, letting my killer’s colder instincts guide my hands as arrow after arrow sprang from my bow, hitting, killing, adding to the might of Harsk, Dûath and Alfred.

The crazed adepts of wrath had magical powers, but they seemed inconsequential at first. The fireballs they blasted at us failed to do real damage – for me and Dûath, it was child’s play to evade them altogether. Still, the enemy came relentlessly, driven to a frenzy. Bodies of aberrations began to pile around the mouth of the passage where we stood. Alfred had stopped guffawing and was methodical in his killing. Harsk chanted prayers to Iomedae and made blood sacrifices with his golden, god-touched longsword. Dûath growled furiously as he bit and clawed. But step by step, they were pushing us back. Alice was nowhere to be seen. Before long, a lucky ray of fire struck the cleric, slamming him on a nearby wall. Immediately, one eager aberration pushed to the opening left by the dwarf, but I shot it dead, only to be assaulted by another that wildly slashed with its blade. I could do little else than parry with the length of Carmine Avenger, but lost my grip and the composite longbow went tumbling to the floor. Immediately, my hands swept down to the pommels of my gladii and I was about to draw them, when Alice’s commanding voice boomed through the mayhem.

Get away, to the passage!

I kicked the aberration in its ugly face, and it stumbled a step back, allowing me a clear line of sight to the center of the training hall.

There, Alice appeared from the cover of invisibility. Standing with her legs wide apart, her free hand extended high up in a fist, she looked like she was holding something heavy from falling on her. Her outline shimmered in colours of orange, red and yellow, as if she was in a skin-fitting cocoon of protective energy. There were half a dozen adepts of wrath around her, and she was alone with them. They turned to her and charged. Crazy woman was all I had the time to think. But I saw her face, and she was smiling.

She opened her hand. Destruction blanketed her and the adepts as the world around her exploded.

**

The fires died almost instantly, and as always with magical flames, there was no smoke. Or almost no smoke. Wisping trails of it rose from parts around Alice’s dark leather clothing, and she had small burn marks across her face. I guess the her field did not offer full protection, I thought. The remains of three adepts, mainly charred body parts and clothing, were scattered around the magus. Two had been vaporised completely.

Alfred, holding his bloodied chest with his shield hand, coughed and whistled. “Messy”, he said and grunted in pain. “But effective.”

Alice gazed around, clearly pleased with her magics, not showing any signs of being hurt. “I’ve always wanted to try that spell.”

“Thanks for the advance warning”, I sighed and picked up my bow where it had fallen. The magus just harrumphed, correctly recognizing the tone I had used. “You were easily outside the blast radius”, she offered and spread her arms. Harsk was still on the ground, looking a bit fazed. I offered him my free hand to pull him up, which he took. “I once knew a woman who liked to play with fire..” I muttered my reply, but for only cleric’s ears. He met my gaze but said nothing.

**

We scoured the training halls but found no more enemies to slay or question. I roamed every corner and found to my delight some replacement arrows, but otherwise the weaponry was normal, even surprisingly so. There were no magical weapons stashed, especially nothing we could tell was runeforged. And we found no new clues. So we pushed on, through another set of portals.

We emerged into large, oblong dining hall. Almost a dozen of the adepts of wrath were waiting for us. Crazed men and women, armed with swords and sorcery, they came at us without mercy or fear.

It was a slaughter, one reminding me of the battle at Magnimar when we cleared the Seven’s Sawmill of the mysterious cultists. I quickly expended all the arrows I had just acquired, which irritated me greatly. I knew more frightening foes still awaited us, somewhere deeper within the halls of Wrath. As the blood of the slain adepts trickled and spread to cover the marble floors of the dining hall, we stepped to another portal to meet the true challenge.

**

“Gah, smoke filled corridors, again”, I spat, remembering all too well our fights with Mokmurian and Xaliasa, as we found ourselves in a domed space, with a wall of smoke at the opposite end. Above us an angry-looking red-head was looking down, her vehemence recorded in a massive mural that covered the curving ceiling. Runelord Alaznist was carrying her weapon of choice, the burning ranseur.

Alfred pulled out the weird goggles he had taken from Mokmurian and put them on as we stepped away from the portal. He stopped on his tracks immediately. “I can see through the smoke. There’s another large space beyond it.. and it’s not empty.”

“What can you see”, I said with a whisper as my fingers went to the mouth of my arrow quiver, their tips brushing feathers. “A friggin’ big demon that looks just like the one beneath Sandpoint.. and a fierce armoured woman”, he responded, also whispering. My lips curled into a vicious smile as my fingers found a pair of outsider-bane arrows. Never leave home without a few.

“It’s staring at me”, Alfred added part in puzzlement and part in anxiety, and the blade of his axe rose to cross his shield. They could see us, so they knew we were coming. Makes no difference, I thought to myself. The aura of blazing rage pulsed around me, feeding me strength, willing me to attack with its longing, tempting call. Let go. Release all your pent up anger. Succumb to the hatred. The promise of power was sweet, but not sweet enough.

“I hope they could provide us with some answers”, Alice said and began to weave a spell with her free hand. “Do we ever ask any questions from our foes?” I asked her with a smirk.

“For Iomedae!”, Harsk bellowed, drew his inspiring golden sword and we started to a run.

**

We followed Alfred and Harsk blindly through the wall of smoke – thankfully, it was thin, and we emerged to a great hall, mostly empty save for a dozen thick, blood-red pillars that stretched from the ground to the ceiling at both sides. The humongous glabrezu demon at the center drew the attention, but my eyes quickly took in the rest of the space. The warrior lady in carmine full plate had taken to the air and was pointing her flaming trident down at us. The demon regarded us passively, almost as if it didn’t care we were there. Above us the ceiling was in flames, like a house on fire.

Behind the horned, dog-faced demon with crab’s pincers, was a silver-etched Sihedron rune, almost fifteen feet across. Small tails of fire circled it, like marking the already very discernible spot on the floor. Maybe it was a some sort of a ritual? I didn’t know.

The armoured flying woman spat words in Thassilonian, directing them to Alfred with her penetrating gaze. I was surprised to notice I understood what she said.

“For fury and hellfire! You’ve defeated my minions!”

We spread away from the wall of smoke, but kept our distance to the foe. Alfred was on point, and I could hear his grin. “We did, lady, we did”, he replied in Common. “They were not really a challenge, I’m afraid”, he added the insult, trying to sound as regal as possible. The woman, dark-skinned like a pirate from the Mwangi Expanse, beautiful yet scarred, bared her white fangs in rage. The glabrezu grumbled and stirred almost unnoticeably.

The lady oozed hatred through clenched teeth. “You little fools.. for your insolence you will face the WRATH-” But Alfred had heard enough and cut her short. “Blah blah, you sound just like the lich we killed”, and with those words launched himself into a charge towards the demon. So much for questions and answers, I thought and nocked a pair of bane arrows, drew back the string and took aim. I locked eyes with the demon and let loose the first two arrows. They covered the short distance in a tight cluster and burrowed into the demons hair-covered chest. I didn’t miss the third or the fourth arrow either and the pained howl of the monster filled the space. It did however block the charge of the sellsword with its giant pincers, and responded with a dirty trick. Its human arms, tiny appendages really compared to its claws, motioned rapidly and Alfred was stopped like a marionette that lost its strings. His battle-axe and shield both fell to the stone floors as his hands went limp. I was already barking an order to Dûath to charge the monstrosity and he went with a snarl.

Up in the air, the armoured lady laughed at Alfred’s plight and turned her attention to me. “Now close your eyes, archer”, she commanded me and her form sparkled with magical powers. But then her smile died and she yelled in disbelief – I could not identify the words.

Alice leaped into the air, her blade held high. “A poor try”, she told her calmly as she gained altitude, speeding up and forward towards the enemy. She had saved me, again, from the effects of a spell. Maybe I should thank her, I considered. Maybe later.

The glabrezu, eager to end the life of hapless Alfred, spread its claws and reached at the sellsword. He would have been cut in half had it not been for the god-touched. His holy words breathed life into the stunned axe-man and just in time he ducked and evaded the incoming pincers. The glabrezu growled in anger as its lunge overextended. It was the last thing it did before I filled its snarling dog-face with bane arrows.

“Still talking shit about my skills”, I hollered at Alfred and turned to see what Alice was doing with the armoured lady. Ittee nuuta, I cursed to myself in Elven. Instead of one I was seeing eight different red-plated warriors. And she was now staring angrily at the dwarf, furious for the last second save he had made. “Little worm!” She howled and pointed her trident at Harsk. The room exploded in colours of red, orange and yellow as bolts of fire shot from the weapon. Harsk had no chance of evading the attack. Alice was still too far away to interfere. The bolts completely enveloped Harsk, and for a second I could not see him.

I got goosebumps when I heard Harsk’s cry of pain. I had never witnessed such a terrible scream. It took only seconds but the annihilation was almost total. The god-touched was scorched, blackened, barely living, lying on his hands and knees. I could not recognize who he was.

Seeing what had been done to my friend I went berserk. “Bitch, you will pay for that”, I roared the taunt and scrambled for arrows, my remaining few. The wildfire within me erupted, making my eyes glow, fueling my strength, increasing my abilities. But Alice was faster. The mirror images of the enemy warrior vanished, and soon after, she fell to the floor, hard, as the pale-faced magus dispelled her flight ability. On the ground she got a taste of Alfred’s battle-axe and Dûath’s fangs, but expertly turned to parry their other attacks. I countered with arrows, peppering her back. Irritated, she cast a spell on herself and in seconds grew to the size of a giant, as did her equipment. Alfred cursed aloud.

I was not fazed. Rather, I laughed in mad glee. “You fool”, I spat the taunt as I saw everything in shades of red, “don’t you know I like to hunt big game!”

A sharp, sideways arching blow of the trident threw the sellsword and the panther aside and the red-plated warrior-turned-giant stepped towards me. “Petrify!” She commanded me again with a bark, her features mad from rage and pain, and I could feel my arms and legs starting to harden and become solid. I roared in anger and denial. Drawing all the willpower I had, letting the wildfire powers I had been imbued with wash over me, I resisted. Sweat trickled down my face. No, damn it.

“Worm! DIE!” The giant howled in rage for what I had done and stabbed me with the trident. I managed to evade, partly, but even my enchanted mithral armor could not turn the blow aside fully. One point of the weapon bit deep and ripped open my thigh. I screamed in pain.

The next thrust never came. Out of nowhere, a translucent being resembling a naked woman stepped into the fray and blocked the follow-up stab of the lady of wrath. Harsk, I laughed inwardly as I dropped the Carmine Avenger and went for my blades, you selfless bastard. Always thinking about the others before yourself. The longsword of Harsk’s spiritual ally reflected the fires around us as it first cut air and then the abdomen of the lady, passing the armour, eviscerating her. It was a clean killing blow, worthy of Iomedae.

Our foe slumped to her knees, the trident’s flames dying as it clattered to the floor. Still unbelieving, she regarded the spiritual ally, and it regarded her, with no emotion at all.

“You’ve.. defeated me.. therefore.. the Mark… is yours..” she whined, almost unable to breath, and coughed blood. No other words came as she perished, but her forehead began to glow and a strange rune appeared on it.

“What is that..” Alfred whispered as we slowly began to gather around save for Harsk. The mark’s glow increased. Then it blazed once briefly and disappeared. Seconds later, something began to glow on the spiritual ally’s forehead. It was the Mark she told of, I thought and winced as my thigh flared in agony. “Stop it! That mark has power!” Alice was yelling as she descended from the air. “It must be retained!”

“But how”, the sellsword asked, amazed. The magus never replied but reached out with her hand. Lights began to flicker around Harsk’s summoned warrior but it remained still, the rune glowing on its forehead.

I realized what she was doing. “Alice, wait-” but she didn’t listen. With a faint pop the summoned warrior disappeared as its existence was dispelled. Alice doubled down and went crashing to the floor, as if someone had struck her midriff.

When she rose after a moment, the Mark of Wrath blazed in her forehead.

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