Progress translated into the smell of burned flesh, dismembered limbs, and hot ash. Some of the undead, upon seeing the flames, retreated. But there were many, many more of them. These were the ones whose souls and intellect were rotted away and taken over by blood lust. As the purifying flames blazed away what little semblance of life they had left, the monsters staggered past the wizard, screeching in agony, before they were hacked to pieces by Elmiryn, or torn apart by Sedwick’s watery grip. The fire billowed forward in an inferno so bright it left all three squinting while, amidst the hot glow, figures writhed and screeched. The walls were scorched black and the air was filled with thin acrid smoke that made the warrior feel queasy. She ignored the odor as best she could.
“Hey, are you counting?” Elmiryn shouted at the wizard. She broke off in a cough.
“It’s a little hard,” Quincy snapped over her shoulder. Then she added after a moment of thought, “I think I’m up to forty or so.”
“Hmm.” Elmiryn cut through one flame engulfed enemy that came too close to her, then knocked it off to the side with a boot in its flank. “Sedwick, another one please.” The elemental turned and with a casual swipe of his arm hosed the flaming remains. The flaming corpses left in Quincy’s wake were turning out to be something of a hazard as they advanced. The warrior was glad for the chance to use her sword in a way she thought more amusing–the shock of hacking off limbs felt nice–but already she felt the creeping sense of boredom rise up. After all, with Quincy more or less dispatching most of the monsters, there was hardly anything left for Sedwick or Elmiryn to do but clean up what was left. The idea of picking up after the wizard made Elmiryn surly.
Ah. Up ahead, the tunnel was ending!
“Quincy can you up the power or something?” Elmiryn called. “Let’s get the hell out of this tunnel, the smoke is killing me.”
“Just give me a minute. This takes concentration.”
Sedwick crushed a struggling monster in his watery arms. He looked at Quincy’s back. “Quincy?”
“Yes?” Now that the warrior thought about it, the wizard sounded a bit winded. Just what did it take for those flames to work…?
“How’s this. If you can focus your fire to clear a line before us, it should be enough to kill any of the undead stuck in our path without any slipping by. I’ll be right behind you and take care of those on our flanks. Elmiryn, you’d just have to keep up with us both. Cut anything that’s somehow still on its feet.”
“I never knew I was such a master of the janitorial arts. I seem to be doing quite well at it, lately. But fine,” Elmiryn drew her dagger and twirled her sword around so that the blade rested against her forearm. “Lead on, oh ye braves!”
Quincy rolled her eyes forward and gripped her arm with her other hand. One undead soldier reeled back a mighty swing of its rusty double-axe. The wizard blasted its head off with a giant ball of fire. The rubies flared on the bands she wore on her fingers and wrist. “Ready? Keep up with me now!” And then the licks of flame, the diffused fury that swallowed and chewed up so many of the nasty creatures before them, focused together into a small orb against the woman’s hand. It grew hot, almost white, and with a sputter, then a scream, the flame lanced forward what must have been more than six yards. Those caught on the flanks of this inferno were soon engulfed in the fire as though they’d leapt fully into it. Those caught in its direct line were all but turned to ash. Quincy didn’t wait too long after the lance of fire was formed. With her arm shaking, she charged ahead with Sedwick close behind her, and she blasted away those monsters that would’ve sought to ensnare them. Elmiryn took after them too, her eyes taking in the sight of the ash covered trail that now dusted her boots.
The tunnel was like a beast’s throat, and with the light and the madness that shifted inside it, the warrior thought for a moment that the walls were actually moving. The beast of this battle would swallow them whole, back into the darkness that clawed at her back. An undead soldier grabbed her by the arm, a chain mail hood pulled over its skeletal face. Her face tightened as she turned to regard the damned thing. Out of the corner of her eye Sedwick and Quincy were moving on without her. The black imagination she harbored was gazing balefully at her from the skeleton’s wicked face, where the shadows turned it into a ghastly thing far greater than it was. Elmiryn recognized the border she was suddenly faced with. That line between clarity and madness that challenged her so often in the last two weeks.
…But she knew that the tunnel was just a tunnel, and the skeleton was just a mindless creature weak on its own. She shook the thing off and dispatched it with a hard punch that saw its gaunt face crack, and with a sprint, she was once more in the full glow of Quincy’s light.
“We’re almost there!” Sedwick shouted.
Elmiryn thought about it, even as the lip of the tunnel exit passed over her head and the torch light from the chamber colored her. Yes, it was wonderful that they would be out of this harmful smoke. It would also be nice to have room to maneuver. But given that they were outnumbered, perhaps it was best to find another way to limit their stream of opponents?
The thought came too late.
They broke out of the tunnel in a blast of rage and flames, and the warrior found herself up to the neck in murderous corpses.
She wanted to ask questions about this Path, but was certain this would vex Him so she refrained. It was a little like being under water. She moved slowly–or seemed to. There was a delay between her sensory information, as her brain registered a step of her foot before her eyes said it happened. She saw no color and hundreds of colors. She saw other worlds like glimmers in the fog. Towers of metal, beings with hundreds of limbs, strange lands filled with alien plants.
His lizard form was ahead of her and she followed his quick gait with the occasional skip. His long legs made her feel inferior. That was understandable. He was a God.
…And seven feet tall.
Despite her attempt at keeping her confusion quiet, He answered her. His intuition was keen.
We are Traveling, Lacertli said over his shoulder. His dark tongue flickered once before he turned his head.
There are channels in the primordial energies that lead from one shard to another, he went on. We’re following the trail left by your Ghost. Keep your eyes focused only on the way forward, lest you invite the attention of something dangerous or unwanted.
Sir, what if– the girl started. She never got to finish.
Lacertli stopped cold, and she with him. His thick tail thumped on the dark ground. His reptilian hands tensed.
Abomination! Away with thee! He spat.
Curiosity got the better of her, and the girl peered around her patron–
He shoved her back behind him, hissing. Fool! Lacertli, spat. Do not gaze upon it! But his reprimand was unnecessary. She felt like her soul were being violated by angry insects–chewing, stabbing, tearing–
GODS, get it out of my head! She cried, clawing at her face.
She heard a melancholy song on a harp and her body seized up as she recognized it, bloodied fingers stilling on her skin. It, the creature-woman, spoke to her.
Ooooh…. My little sum of somes is quite a something! Now my error is known. Come. Tell Izma what it was like to break the things she loves…
“I’ve got…” Elmiryn sliced her sword through the throat of a Belcliff militia fighter. He was tall and had little muscle mass. His skin was gray and green in places. He tried to grab her with his long arms, but she danced around these to come around his side. With a strong wrench, the blade of her sword sliced sideways out of the things neck, beheading it. The undead fell first to his knees, then toppled to the ground. “30 kills!”
“What you’re doing is entirely juvenile,” Sedwick gurgled as he slithered past her in his water state.
“I have 100. I think.” Quincy panted out. She shook out the hand that wore the magic accessory. It was looking very pink.
“And yet Quincy, you encourage it,” the elemental sighed.
The wizard shrugged as she stepped back from the clumsy grab of one of the soldiers. Many of them weren’t very coordinated. Decayed limbs and all that.
“You can’t be serious. 100 can’t be the exact number,” Elmiryn argued. She parried one enemy’s attempt at goring her and hacked off its arm. She had sheathed her dagger in favor of fighting with her sword in the usual fashion.
“You’re right,” the brunette said with a smirk. “I’m estimating. I’m pretty sure I have more than that.”
They were in a cleared road where mountains of churned soil and rock towered over machines of steel and copper. These inventions were like carriages fixed with large shovels at the front. There were also a few buildings here and there–places where leaders had once coordinated and workers refreshed themselves. The chamber was a quarter of a mile wide, and from the ceiling hung thick ropes and chains. On these were lifts. The dwarfs hadn’t finished rounding out the ceiling yet. The warrior wondered if it were structurally sound since the work had been left unfinished.
Sedwick and Quincy were capable of much wider damage than Elmiryn. She felt envious of this. The elemental was carving out a wide perimeter as he rushed at the enemy in a liquid form. He swept out their ankles–literally–and the fiends collapsed onto the ground where they crawled, still intent on damage. Elmiryn stomped several heads in this way. The elemental took care of most of these as he circled around again. The wizard, too, was making good use of her fire trinket. No longer needing to focus the flames, she could blow away one or two of the creatures, or if she pushed it, she swallowed many in a wide blast.
Unlike their predecessors in the tunnel, these undead soldiers retained a level of intelligence. Given the destruction wrought by Quincy and Sedwick, they attacked more cautiously. They tried to get Quincy from behind. Tried to block Sedwick’s path with shields. They had the presence of mind to help one another. Work together. Elmiryn cut at these soldiers. Their rusted armor gave way to her precision. She saved the wizard from a crawling undead who looked to slice at her legs, and caught her when the wizard strafed too fast on uneven ground, making her trip.
“Halward help you, wizard, you’re a klutz.”
“Shut up, Elmiryn.”
Most of her work was to dispatch those that lingered from the others attacks. There was plenty going on, she supposed. Sedwick was the water and Quincy the fire, and she the hungry black hole, picking off what was left. They were a quarter of the way through the chamber. The dwarves had said to draw the soldiers to the other side. Elmiryn wondered how it was the creatures came to be there. Why it was they were stuck there. Was limbo boring? Elmiryn saw her blade cut off the face of a soldier with hollow eyes and a rictus grin, and felt her features flush hot. The thing hadn’t even been going after her. It had been going after Quincy, who was hunched over and cradling her arm to her chest. Sweat dripped from the tip of her nose and she was clawing at the magical jewelry she wore. The skin was lobster red.
The soldiers surged at the wizard. One cut her shoulder and she screamed. Her back arched as she stumbled from her attacker. Water, moving in a stream around their feet, burst up into the air, then took the form of a man. Oh. Sedwick. No wonder.
Wait. How much time had passed? Elmiryn didn’t remember standing at that spot. One second, they were just approaching a mound of dirt and debris on the right, with a dwarven carriage to their left and back. The next, both the carriage and the mound were well a ways behind them. They were halfway through the chamber now. Elmiryn didn’t remember coming this far.
Quincy threw her trinket to the ground where the redhead saw smoke curl from it. The thing had been hurting her, and now Quincy had reached its limit. Or her limit. Wasn’t it the same?
A gaggle of undead marched past Elmiryn.
Sedwick was saying something, but the dust was louder, and the warrior cocked an ear as she heard the dried blood on the ground tell her the story of the day the winter soldiers came and crushed spring from the hearts of women and children. The final slaughter had happened here. The dwarven commoners tried to flee with their dwindling escort, but their attackers had been relentless. Why? She started to feel a pins and needles sensation on her hands and feet. Her head started to hurt.
The woman tried to shake the noises from her head.
“I’m fine, it just caught me off guard–”
“I didn’t know you could be cut!?”
“I’m an elemental, not invincible.”
The warrior started to feel…
…small and quiet.
“Elmiryn? Elmiryn!? Where are you??” Quincy. With her lobster claw–no, no, no–her hand, she held her rusty sword, and used the pommel to strike enemies in the face and jaw. The undead were pressing in so close, she couldn’t swing the weapon. Sedwick was back to back with her, striking at any that came near with his arms turned to whips. There was a wide cut on the side of his face, and it wept blue water.
Elmiryn watched the scene unfold before her, the pins and needles spreading to her arms and legs. Her head started to hurt. She was…alone. The Belcliff soldiers had completely ignored her in favor of her struggling companions.
Actually, she couldn’t see all this happening because the undead soldiers blocked her view. They were packed in too close. That was the truth of it. She knew it was happening though. Knew it, without knowing it, without seeing it, because she was…
Large amounts of dust had gathered around her boots, like the earth was laying a hand over her.
“That’s it,” the warrior snapped. She flipped her sword around so that it rested along her forearm and drew her dagger. Then Elmiryn pressed into the throng of undead. Their stench filled her lungs, and she cut at everything she saw. The smell of them made her sick, but still she pushed forward. She felt her sword cut into them and the numbness in her pulsed and bowled forward, like the great gaping darkness of the world she had spat in. She felt her dagger bite into the throat of them and she choked and coughed.
Music. A jig. His music. She was surprised to find that she wasn’t surprised.
“No.” The undead still did not acknowledge her. Not after all the carnage, all the commotion. All the sweat and pain. “Bastards, leave them alone! Look at me!”
“Elmiryn!” Sedwick. His voice a rough bark over the mob. There was a blast of water and some of the soldiers were sent flying through the air where they fell on their brethren. But Sedwick was not Nadi. He could not command such levels of power. The undead pressed closer still. All of a sudden they weren’t so intelligent anymore. What was happening?
“Elmiryn,” Quincy called out. “Something’s happening, the soldiers, they aren’t trying to–“
Now, see. I thought you understood.
Isn’t it terrible to be forgotten?
To be ignored?
“Shut up!” The more she attacked, the more it hurt. She cut a shoulder, then her shoulder hurt. She caved in a skull, her headache threatened to black her out. And still the undead did not turn her way.
Elmiryn, have you realized yet?
“Meznik…I swear to the gods…”
The undead aren’t fighting.
Isn’t that funny?
Elmiryn threw her head back and screamed. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!“
…And the Belcliff soldiers did the same.
Their single cry echoed throughout the chamber. Silence followed. Elmiryn trembled as she stopped and stared about her. The decaying beasts, with their poor armor, and their loveless faces were still. Quincy stood head and shoulders over them. She was standing on a rock. Elmiryn knew this without seeing this. She felt the wizard’s boots on the damn thing.
Quincy was looking at her with confusion. The warrior looked down at the ground and saw her boots submerged in dust. She kicked it off, like she’d found a nasty spider on her. More dust attracted to her, and gathered about her feet. It wouldn’t stop.
Elmiryn let out another scream as she brought up her sword and impaled a small soldier in front of her. Her sword cut through his thin leather and the gambeson underneath. Her eyes widened. The numbness tore a hole in her gut. She turned the sword. Felt the numbness in her twist. She fell to her knees and the soldier, still run through with her sword, fell too. It had never turned around. The dust stirred, and she spoke through the cracks of the earth, where a rush of mountain air whipped the dust and sand from their rest to cloud the air–
You’re losing your definition is what’s happening.
The environment is trying to swallow you up,
Like air trying to fill a space.
Her body was there, still knelt on the ground, but she was out of it. She was out of it, out of bounds, but still in it. (“In what? What the fuck am I in?”) She saw from the ground, from rocks, from the ceiling, from the air, from the metal, and out of the eyes of the undead (if they had eyes). She saw from all. She could even feel the rust on Quincy’s sword. It had a taste of anger to it. Not the wizard’s, but from the spirit that had once lived there.
“What’s that music? Where’s it coming from?” The wizard breathed. From the warrior’s omnipotent view, she saw her look around, azure eyes in a daze. Elmiryn tensed, and the walls of the one-story down the road cracked, then caved in on itself. There was a low rumble and dust fell from the ceiling.
Meznik stop this, don’t bring them into it–
They’re in it whether you want them to be or not.
JUST like your kitten.
Why didn’t you petition mercy for her, if you like her so much?
I’m going to enjoy killing you, you fucking, lowlife, pile of–
I’m not the one who decided to exert herself in silly endeavors again.
She screamed and felt hands claw at heads, felt spines curve, and throats tense. Elmiryn, the real one, the body, the vessel down on her knees, let go of her sword to claw at herself and scream up at the ceiling. The undead around her did the same. She felt as one tore its ear off completely. Felt as another pulled back the skin of its scalp.
The dust and dirt and soil had collected about her. The world was trying to bury her. It was up to her hips now.
This is actually quite satisfying.
I’m just not sure this feast is worth the danger you’re placing us in.
She exhaled and the air surged, whipping at them with a howl.
…Everything…is reacting to me.
It’s a temporary thing.
A little longer and you won’t even have a body to puppet.
But I can control this, can’t I?
And if I can do that, then maybe I can push it BACK.
He didn’t answer, and Elmiryn felt something rise in her. The music started to fade away. She willed her head, just hers, to raise itself. The undead about them twitched like they wished to do the same but she willed these down. She shifted and the dirt that had covered her scattered. She tried to stand but managed just a crouch. When she attempted to straighten her legs she felt the ceiling overhead strain. She stopped cold.
“Quincy? Sedwick?” She called. There was a small breeze and the undead mumbled her words, but did not chorus as they had before.
“…Elmiryn,” This was Sedwick. “Do you mind explaining this to us?”
The redhead smirked. “Aren’t you the expert on the weird and spiritual?”
“How are you controlling them? Why aren’t they attacking anymore?” Quincy demanded. Ah, more to the point. The warrior loved this about the wizard.
“Um. Well…have you ever heard of those Higashan warriors capable of shaping their physical environment through charisma alone?”
“…Okay, it’s nothing like that. But the results look sort’ve the same.”
“Ah. It explains how they’re all mumbling idiotese at the same time. It was disconcerting at first. An army of you‘s. Perish the thought…”
“Love you too, Quincy.”
Sedwick interjected with a sigh. “Elmiryn would you stand up please? We can’t see you.”
The warrior winced. “I would, but I’m afraid of killing us all. So while I figure out how to move less like a duck without bringing the ceiling down, would you two refrain from killing these rotters? I sort’ve feel everything you do, and it’s not fun.”
There was a long silence. Elmiryn returned to the task of reining in her commands when…
“OW! Fucking, gods damn it, Quincy! You’re such a bitch!“
The wizard chuckled. “Sorry. Had to.”