RP:The Revenging Prince

From HollowWiki

Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc

Part of the Magic, Madness, and Mayhem Arc

Summary: A direct sequel to the cliffhanger ending from Wading Through Styx and Into Tartarus. Lionel embraces his destiny, sacrificing his life to destroy Kahran once and for all. In the aftermath of a fierce and costly battle, the allies to the fallen prince -- Penelope, Rorin, and Lanara -- are left with a seemingly impossible choice.

Horrible Imaginings

Lionel || The wraiths charged forth on their great muscular behemoths, the first line of assault and the largest. The fell creatures who had been given the forms and visages of the Dark Immortals approached more slowly and from the far sides of the battlefield like stalking wolves. The spirits of everyone that Lionel, Rorin, and Penelope knew and loved were suspended high up in the air, their invisible strings held in place by some unseen puppetmaster. General Renne, commander of the vicious armies still in waiting far across the Shadow Plane, could be seen near the farthest end of the crystalline enclosure, waiting for some unknown moment before she struck. And Kahran, having already declared his intent, sprung nimbly across the field in almost no time at all, his serrated black blade prevented from killing Lionel instantly by the Catalian’s heartbroken parried defiance. As the dark lord had promised, the form of Alexia Isis -- whatever was left of her, having been kept in hiding for this wicked purpose for so very long -- died in agony. Her skin was shorn, her flesh was riven, and her bones became ashes. Lionel’s shocked scream filled the warzone with what was perhaps a suitable opening dirge. The final battle in a long-fought war began.

Rorin watched them come, the monsters in the darkness, the innocent souls strung as phantom puppets up above, an otherworldly wage to win and defend. Rorin’s left hand swung up and touched the blazing blue pendant around his neck and a divine flame overtook his body. Solid forms of half-plate came into being over his leather armor and his clenched fists were covered in glowing runes. The spirit of the formless weapon granting him such power spoke to him in his mind, readying him for battle- ‘there,’ it drew his attention towards the image of Elazul, the First Vampire, ‘this one is ours. Our destiny was forged to defend our kind from the like of him- even in visage, the incredibly fury that fills us now cannot be contained. You must fight.’ Propelled forward by his own desires and the light of Arkhen shining inside his soul, as well as the forged spirit dwelling within him now, Rorin launched himself at the apparition with incredible speed, his half-elven heritage and training at the hands of the realms bravest, most noble souls giving flight to a near mechanical level of precision as the holy power flowed through his body into every strike.

Lanara had been granted another day of freedom, as the jury was –still- deliberating whether she should burn at the stake or be rightfully proven innocent. She’s a bundle of nerves, praying to the universe that it won’t be a hung jury, as that was another outcome she couldn’t fathom. Exile. How would she survive without her little sister, friends, and animal companions?! The witch had grown accustomed to roaming Lithrydel, and this was the first place she truly felt that she could consider home. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, she finds herself repeatedly connecting the dots of darkness, and her mind is plagued with worry. What were those shadowy figures she had chased off with her light magic? The darkness felt so similar to the ones that had showed up to crash Khitti and Brand’s wedding! Were they all connected to the Shadow Plane? Lanara had heard through the grapevine that Penelope Halifax, the woman she had met on the beach, worked nearby, at a healing center. Would she have taken Lionel there for treatment? She needed answers, needed to know if her best redheaded friend was in danger, and she also wanted to check up on the warrior and the healer. As she’s wandering the familiar terrain, a shiver runs down her spine and a thick fog appears ahead, beckoning her to investigate. Carefully placed steps bring Lana before a crystalline enclosure, and she presses her palms upon the believed impenetrable surface, feeling the darkness that radiates from within. A howl pierces her concentration and her white direwolf, Sigrid, appears at her side. A woman’s intuition is often true, and Lanara locks eyes with the wolf, before she pats her atop the head and closes her eyes, forcing her intentions and energy into crystal. A small sliver of the shard responds to her magic, and in a split second, the witch and her familiar are tugged into the abyss, landing haphazardly in the midst of a battlefield. Chocolate hues wildly dart around the area, taking in the sight of the behemoths, shadow figures, Kahran, and of course, those that were taking heroic actions. Teaming up with the defenders of the realm, Lana pushes herself to her feet and beckons one of the behemoth’s closer, using her animal empathy to convince the beast to assist her in this war. Would they stand a chance against this madness?!

Penelope || Silence overcame the three as they walked through the chill of the woods. The observant girl would watch the snow fall above before her eyes danced at the single snowflakes that fell on her camel coat. There was a sense of tenseness at the fact Kahran may be watching—waiting. Ready to jump out from behind. The weather, however, hit a serene spot within the herbalist, although full of gust. Well, until the fog set. Her green eyes are trying to make out the fog, but no luck, so they find their way up until they land on the Catalian speaking on the next life. El thought quietly on how may he find peace wherever his soul travels in the afterlife. Her eyes almost close in silent respects, but suddenly he is bending towards her quickly and brushing his lips against her own. The girl unfamiliar at first realizes that there is a feeling she had not felt in a long time. A long lost light. Although brief, the motion makes the woman’s freckled cheeks glow, and she feels she might have imagined the kiss. The woman then quietly holds her head up high before trailing behind Lionel into the clear that would soon become a prism.

Penelope was frozen as the shimmering crystals surrounded them. This was it. This moment was the warrior’s end. She knew it. There was darkness that ran up her spine—something was wrong sharpness of her skin. An illusion that the girl could bare due to worse wounds. Moss eyes lingered on what was known to be as Kahran. The herbalist had never rested her eyes on him until tonight, but the sensation that twisted her gut the most was Linken… “Linken…?” The woman had a hushed voice. Had Kahran been tied to Linken’s darkness that was wrapped within him? Would this be the solution to the metallic man’s problem? Would he regain his memory? Though, there were more bodies hung by magical thread… Yerrel. Meri. The woman was mortified. Ringing began to enter the human’s ears. She could not hear what the faux-faced man and the warrior were yelling about. Her mind was set on the innocent, and as Lionel aggressively lifted the blade, the woman would sprint at an angle past him. The girl was quick on her feet—a runner.

Penelope’s legs stride across the field as she dodges whatever comes flying at her first. Monsters—not yet. Not on her agenda. Or maybe they were. The woman skids on the ground on the field. In her camel coat, she shoves her hand within the coat and pulls on a handle. A meat cleaver. Of course she needed a weapon just in case—it was the first thing she saw in her kitchen, okay? As the woman skids, her quads bend up to keep her steady in a squatted stance at the behemoth’s ridden by wraiths. “Dear, Sven, dear, Sven,” she heavily whispers before one is charging towards the petite girl. Everyone knew in Lithrydel, Penelope LeAnne Halifax was not one for combat, but the woman did have some skills that she bottled up from her past. The woman had grown. With a throw back of her arm, the woman screams and grunts into the cleaver to force the sharpness into one of the legs of the beasts. If the blood flies out and lands on her coat, it would surely be a sad day. But that was the whole point of war, but that was a new coat, people! The herbalist, however, does not react to the war at-hand. Instead, she tries her best to work around the hopefully distracted beast and go near the body of the beast to give the creature another whack—if she could. The woman does not know what the wraith does due to adrenaline and sprinting to the next behemoth or behemoths that would charge her direction.

Lanara heaves a sigh of relief when the behemoth violently jerks in her direction, upending the wraith from his back in a fluid motion, and romps over to where she stands. The witch isn’t sure how she’ll make use of the beast, just yet, but it brings her great comfort to have one of the opposing team’s members on their side. The behemoth pants heavily, his eyes rolling in his head as he’s brimming with rage, berserker mode boiling but momentarily contained by Lanara’s tender touch upon his flank. Sigrid is darting around the area, sinking her teeth into any that dare tread her path, and it’s not too long before the flash of white is tinged with crimson, but still she presses onward. She’d defend her mistress to the death, but hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, at least not on this unexpected of occasion. The witch studies the battlefield as a scholar would their favorite novel, and it’s then that she selects a worthy opponent. Khasad. The two seem to be lost in a moment of unbridled passion as they peer at one another with a mixture of awe and disdain. As the ax is lifted, Lana darts to the right and gives the behemoth the go ahead to fulfill his destiny. He takes off, weaving in and out of the path between the witch and the weapon wielding apparition, working as a distraction, as Lana lifts her palms and prepares her spell, “Lord and Lady, be with me here and now! Infuse me with power, this I vow! Seek to destroy with holy light, aide us all against this plight!” A crackling sound is heard as Lana’s fingertips glow an eerie shade of gold, and she waits for the precise moment to fling a bolt at her opponent.

Yet Do I Fear Thy Nature

Lionel || The apparition made to appear as Elazul snarled. Its tremendous scythe was held parallel to its side as it awaited its declared foe. Every bit of its ghastly body went unnaturally still. It was almost as if the dead thing had gone dead all over again. Only in the final breath before Rorin arrived did the manufactured entity move, but when it moved, it left a cloud of thick lavender ooze behind. The ooze, which was fast transforming into a familiar shape, threatened to smear across Rorin’s whole body, and if it did, it would burn through him like a knife through butter. The familiar form was that of Rorin himself -- it was as if Rorin now had to contend not only with the faux-Elazul but with a toxic version of himself as well. The apparition reappeared behind Rorin, slicing its scythe in deathly measure toward his back as the paladin’s oozing mockery, complete now with a toxic oozing sword made to look like his own, continued its attempt to constrict its deadly self around the lad.

Lionel || The apparition made to appear as Khasad moved brutishly, each swing of its ax bringing a sharp whooshing sound through the air. The spectral thing fought not unlike a gladiator at the arena, wordlessly taunting Lanara as it came closer and closer to her with every deliberate motion. The unbridled passion between them was indeed steamier than the steamiest Cenril sauna, if considerably deadlier. This effort -- if indeed an apparition could even feel it -- was not mere showmanship. Each time its ax was swung, a trail of dark magic came to life, and each trail merged with the next, and then the next, and coalesced into a chain that suddenly wrapped around Lanara and her behemoth like a lasso. No sooner did the faux-Khasad achieve this than one of the wraiths preoccupied with Penelope’s expert leg-cutting maneuvers abruptly burst into flame. The apparition of Khasad then vanished, reappearing where once there were a wraith and now there were flames. Lanara’s foe rode its stolen behemoth with great bluster, and the two purple-skinned monsters soon locked horns like manic goats. Lanara’s spell, however, was delivered exactly as she had intended. ‘Khasad’ shouted, confused, and unceremoniously threw its ax at her with pinpoint accuracy. Other wraiths, momentarily bewildered, gave Penelope the edge she needed to continue the assault, but when one of those wraiths locked eyes with the green-eyed lass it reared its monstrous ride forth whilst shooting an arrow sharper than steel straight for the healer’s head at terminal velocity. That might very well have been the end of Penelope Halifax, were it not for the selfless sacrifice of Sigrid, who had evidently decided in short order that Lanara’s acquaintances were equally worth fighting for. Sigrid took the blow, dead on impact, but her claws had already struck the behemoth in the jugular, knocking it down for the count like a tumbling tower. The wraith twisted and sprung from the scene, darting back into the chaotic fray until further notice.

Lionel was nearly a master of swordplay. But Kahran was every bit as skilled and more. Every lunge, every parry, that Lionel knew to make was countered in full. Against a dark lord of such unrivaled prowess, Lionel knew that he could not rely upon the summoning of Hellfire’s flames if he was going to withstand Kahran’s assault. Ishaarite magic may have been Kahran’s Achilles’ heel, but no conventional burst of Ishaarite fire was going to inflict permanent damage upon a being who had proven himself highly resistant to the fiery destruction of an entire kingdom. Nor would a hundred successful stabbings bring Kahran down for good; no doubt this was why the man sniggered and sneered at Lionel every time they clashed. The Prince of Catal tapped into combat techniques he had learned from men and women who had never crossed blades with Kahran, hoping that those techniques would be unfamiliar to him and catch him off-guard. Donovan Keane’s ‘Sword of the Morning’ was a horizontal slash toward a foe’s neck whilst the fighter lifted their right leg skyward for a roundhouse kick to the chest. Lionel emulated it as best he could. For his effort, he received naught but a nasty wound to his shoulder when he left himself vulnerable to retaliation. Donovan’s fierce wife, Cailyn Keane, preferred to perform unpredictable lunges with one arm outstretched like bait then quickly retracted as her sword went straight for the gut. The technique was known as ‘Straight to the Point’ and it was feared by ne’er-do-wells half the world over. It was also completely ineffective against Kahran, who countered by ignoring Lionel’s outstretched arm entirely, sidestepping the intended gut cut, and slamming the hilt of his blade into the side of his opponent’s head in the split second afforded to him by the Catalian’s blunder.

Lionel || As his head rang like a bell and the battlefield became noticeably blurrier, Lionel tried -- and failed -- to pay no heed to Kahran’s pleased laughter and opted to mimic a nameless sword technique he’d seen his sister, Khitti, use twice since she had acquired the legendary Tenbatsu Kaji. Khitti favored dual-wielding. Lionel made up for this shortcoming by drawing the simple iron dagger he kept holstered on his belt and bringing both Hellfire and the dagger up to bear. Before Kahran could react, Lionel had already pulled back a full meter but left the dagger precisely where he’d first drawn it, keeping it suspended in midair so that Kahran’s instinctive predatory lunge was met with a short blade piercing all the way through his right eye. As Kahran cried out in pain, Lionel went for an opportune swipe with Hellfire, but already the dark lord had recovered. He even left the dagger lodged in his eye; perhaps he was boasting yet again of his near-invulnerability to death. Still, it felt good seeing that dagger where it belonged. ‘Thank you for everything,’ Lionel thought to himself, honoring Khatja ‘Khitti’ Elysse Herzegler as best he knew how. He also knew it would likely be the last time he would be privileged with the chance to remember her. He swallowed hard to conceal his heartbreak. The duel continued.

Rorin tried to avert his eyes as his acrobatic flurry of blows brought him constantly up towards the dome of their crystalline enclosure. Oline… Oline! He had lost his arm for her, he had dragged her into the pits of hell fighting ancient horrors during the Township Troopers brigade, he had emprilled his own life to save hers as he took in the eldritch energy leftover from the Haathian explosion in order to convert it into healing energy. His body had corrupted, and he faced his end, knowing madness would come before death, and that he would live in an unrecognizable form obsessed with it’s own twisted ideal of Justice, Revenge, and Retribution, a Hunter of the Wicked. Lionel and Hildegarde, Frostmaw’s loyals- the very country his existence endangered- promised to end his life should it come to pass that he could not control that hidden side. While Rorin’s heart waxed and waned poetically, the shadow of Elazul made its move, Rorin darting past it and the toxic sludge it left behind. Staring down the grotesque ameobic form shaped as himself, Rorin narrowly avoided Elazul’s scythe and attempted to strike counter blows while dodging the disgusting falsified form of himself and again he found his memory reflected in the things jellied face.

Rorin was here, following Lionel to the ends of the earth once again, towards the mans own self imposed execution to save the world, a duty Rorin never had the courage to undertake himself. He could not end his own life to save the world, and people like Oline were here suffering because of it. If Rorin had not brought her into his life, would she be safe now, and empty shadow where her life now dangled just above? Would Lionel feel the same if it was Rorin’s body there, if it was another soul who had fought with him, sacrificed for him, willing to die for him- how many people did Lionel feel responsible for? How many deaths, Rorin wondered, as he felt the sting once more of the Battle of the Bridge, how those under the boys command had died attacking Larket, for nothing. The many wraiths and their behemoth mounts flew around him, giving the fluttering shadow of Elazul a wide birth, as well as the toxic mimicry of Rorin, the battle reflected a thousand times over in their cage, a seemingly endless stampede, a river of death and Oline, Lionel, Penelope, every soul that hung from the cavernous ceiling reflected in the mirrored walls.

Rorin || As another joined their plight and the battle, Rorin wondered if they really could drive back Kahran. And if they could, was it really possible to do it without sacrificing Lionel’s life? The life of a true hero, a man Rorin had idolized these past years, saw shed blood and tears, given to madness and despair, only to regain his spilled heart and lead his own crusade to save the world. If they couldn’t, could anyone, anyone at all, hope to come even close to picking up the pieces? Dread and terror threatened to chill his veins, slowing the paladins progress, his back to Lionel’s fight. As the darkness threatened the firey light of hope that burned within him, as his will sunk in his guts, as he looked around at the lives of the ones he loved so perilously perched on lethal edge, Elazul’s scythe swept away at his feet, taking the paladin by surprise as the toxic malformation attempted to swallow him from behind. Sinking to his knees, Rorin’s arms rose and above him instantaneously appeared a grand shield of light, its many holy glyphs blazing within the crystalline sub-realm, almost overwhelmingly bright. The light flooded Rorin’s eyes as his thoughts were overtaken by a dark and inhuman voice which had long been quieted by the Guardian Blade…

Lionel || As Rorin’s holy might reawakened, the apparition and oozing reflection with which he contended sheltered their faces where eyes might have been. The apparition of Elazul hissed and launched a flurry of scythe swings which steadily formed an ‘x’ in the air powered by dark magic. The ‘x’ remained in place as the mimicry of the First Vampire passed through it, showering itself in further energy. That self-same magical ‘x’ then emerged from within Rorin himself, sending what would feel like an internal gale force wind through the paladin and doubtlessly knocking him off-balance. But his shield absorbed the damage, leaving Rorin to suffer its aftereffects but keep on breathing to continue the fight. The apparition hissed once more, and the oozing cloud creature lunged itself into the shield; the impact would be enough to threaten the shield with shattering and leave Rorin exposed to further harm. But the ooze itself was gone, lost to the shield for its sacrifice. Elsewhere, Renne abruptly closed the gap between the duelists Kahran and Lionel and herself, rushing the Catalian with all her considerable might. Her big blue eyes were filled with the certainty of a woman who believed she had already won. When her claymore crashed heavily into Hellfire, it was all Lionel could do to move in favor of its directional force, letting himself get swept backward by the blow but maintaining his footing along the way. Renne pressed her apparent advantage, and Kahran, never one to play fair, did not stand idly by. He switched to a one-handed stance and lifted his freed fist into the fog, sending a blast of dark energy at the Catalian. It would have struck him dead if he hadn’t already left.

That Tend on Mortal Thoughts

Lionel || Leaving a trail of fresh embers in his wake, relying upon Halycanos’ Ishaarite magic to bring him to safety, Lionel raced swiftly through the path of charging behemoths, leaving befuddled wraiths behind him. He reappeared to Renne’s immediate left and swung Hellfire as quickly as he could, but she was a master of her craft. Already, her sword was up, blocking him from the kill. Kahran vanished into thin air, then blinked back into view next to Lionel, his own sword lunged forth, but Lionel blocked it in kind, then took maddening turns parrying each of his opponents’ blades in rapid succession, visibly losing stamina in the process. Renne silently grinned, her crooked teeth looking more like fangs in the moonlight. When Lionel was a fraction of a second too slow in switching his defensive antics from Kahran to Renne, the self-certain general moved to stab the Catalian in the gut, but once again he charged wayward with embers trailing behind him. This time, however, he had more than a mere escape plan in mind. He watched from afar with no small degree of relief when Renne’s attempted stab struck Kahran across the arm instead, provoking the dark lord into anger. Renne’s eyes filled with panic and she quickly opened her mouth to make amends but whatever she had planned to say would never be said. Kahran twisted her neck and it snapped. Lionel took a deep breath, sweat pouring down his face, and returned to the fight.

Penelope was in no condition to see Lanara come to the scene. Everything was a blur. A very fast blur. As the wraith burst into the flames, the herbalist cannot help but feel relief as she turns to her next components that charge after her. Strands of hair blocked her sight as the wraith with the bow and arrow narrows down its next target. Her. The woman looks like a deer in the headlights with those doe-eyes of her own as the sharp arrow comes flying towards her head. Then, Sigrid. The dire wolf. “No!” She shouts before becoming furious at the thought of the loyal animal saving her human life. The woman breathes out before running up to the wolf. “Peace be with you, rest easy,” she sighs and touches the fur of the wolf. If Sigrid was here then Lanara… Briskly, her head turns to rest eyes on the witch. The herbalist bows her head—almost in shame, yet condolences nonetheless. The woman then jolts off to the next journey. Her heart pumps rapidly as her legs prance across the field in a rapid manner. Arms pump to make her move faster with the meat cleaver in her hand just in case any other behemoth and wraith stormed and clomped after her—since they were not all dead. Her eyes, though, were locked on her past. The metallic-armed elf. The woman ran past the first row of the innocent dangling bodies. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she chants as if the people can hear her. The woman then comes to a halt and looks up at the blonde elf who swings before her. “Linken, I’m going to get you out of this mess,” she breathes heavily. “You shouldn’t have ran away. I know things will never be like they were, but you didn’t have to run, Link,” her chest is tight from all the endurance the girl has overcome. There is a small wheeze that comes out from her. “You’re going to go home—to your kids. Take care of them, and never look back again.” Perhaps he would remember. Perhaps this darkness was what was corrupting his memory. High hopes. The observant one looks on how he is dangling. Nothing is there. Nothing visible. Magic. The one thing that she had a hard time grasping onto when she first started healing. Although awkward, the petite woman has no other choice but to jump and clasp onto his body. The girl then takes the bloody cleaver and hurls it at the invisible thread to see if the magic will unravel itself—highly unlikely, though that did not mean a different reaction was not soon to come.

Lanara continues her dance of death with Khasad, the two flawlessly twirling their way through the battlefield, each step bringing them closer to each other. Their eyes remain locked, their hands weaving evil intentions as bolts of light and slashes of might are sent towards their target, most deflected, though one eventually pierces the apparition of Khasad, and in that single feat, they are no longer entangled in their mutual desires to taunt and tango. All hell breaks loose as the dance comes to an abrupt end, and Lana narrowly dodges the ax, as she falls to the ground. A murmur of thanks is given to the Goddess, as she had to shift her powers and use the element of air to propel her to the right at the last second. However, she wouldn’t exit this battlefield unscarred, as it’s at this precise moment that Sigrid’s sacrifice is witnessed, and the scream of the witch pierces the ears of those within range, “NOOOOOOOO!” Lanara helplessly watches as the crimson soaked direwolf plunges to the ground, never to take another breath, and the pang in her heart is so severe that she clutches her chest as tears flood her vision. “Sigrid! Sigrid! Come on! Get up, Girl!” Sobbing hysterically, Lanara sprints into the fray, not caring if she’s beaten, stabbed, or even in great peril, as they –all- are on this battlefield. All she cares about is getting to Sigrid in her final moment. Miraculously, the witch makes it to the wolf unscathed, falling to her knees and pulling the arrow out of the canine’s majestic head. She hadn’t held Sigrid as she took her last breath, but she had witnessed the sacrifice the wolf had made for Penelope. “I’m so sorry…” Tears streaming steadily down her face, Lana dips her fingertips into Sigrid’s blood and smears a line across each of her high cheekbones, as she lifts her head and cast an icy glare at any that dare near the direwolf’s final resting place.

Lanara :: The witch rises to her feet a warrior, no longer crying over a dead companion, but filled with determination to end the one that she had danced with earlier. The others had chosen their opponents and were facing off in the distance, and Sigrid had already risked her life for another. Now, it was the year of the witch, the moment of truth, and the time for vengeance. Lanara scans the area until she’s once more facing Khasad, a venom laced smirk on her lush lips as she saunters over to the apparition. Those that look at her in this moment would clearly think she was insane, that the trial was a ruse, and that she was entirely capable of slaughtering anything that dared lift an opposing finger. She’s not sick in the head, though she’s heartsick in this moment, and for one that feels so deeply, it’s the most dangerous of moods to be enveloped in. Khasad seems to have reclaimed his ax, and as he wields it, the berserk behemoth strides into view and Lanara leaps onto his back and wraps her arms about his neck, steering him straight for the torso of the apparition. This is for Sigrid, she thinks, as a blinding light engulfs the witch, the behemoth, and the two horns atop his head that pierces the middle of Khasad. The magnitude of their impact is threefold, as Lana’s magic had bound with the berserker and the blood of the wolf that was sacrificed. The golden glow lasts for several minutes as Lana’s arms go slack and she limply lies on the back of the behemoth, spent from such a powerful spell. Were her attempts futile? Was Sigrid’s death in vain? Had Khasad been destroyed?

Lionel || “You fool girl,” something with a raspy feminine tone seethed from high into the heavens. Was it a woman? A demon? As a thicker magical string than the rest, too thick to be concealed, rammed down from the starry sky and into the ground beside Penelope, a massive black spider slid down and raised its fangs ferociously. “These spiritssss are mealssss for my chilllldren.” The spider did not yet attack, but a deluge of eggs falling from on-high and cracking all around the healer was likely the reason why. Spiderlings the size of small dogs scurried toward Penelope hungrily. “Mayhapssss you will be their first coursssse,” the matron spider observed, laughing in a manner most grotesque. But Penelope was not at all helpless; she had but to reach out and pull. The thick magical string in front of her, on which the matron spider lay, was clearly connected to the invisible strings of all the captured spirits, including Linken’s. And their eyes, each imprisoned spirit’s, were beginning to open from all the havoc. Whether the real bodies which housed the actual minds that these spirits represented -- wherever they were across Lithrydel and whatever they were currently doing -- would have an inkling of awareness that their lives were hanging in the balance and their souls wanted vengeance… well, there was no way for Penelope to know the answer to that query. But regardless, the spirits gathered here tonight looked angry. Justifiably so, perhaps. In fact, they looked angry enough to join forces and kill a giant spider and her young if the thick string were tugged and they were let free to do as they unconsciously pleased.

Lionel || The thing that was Khasad and not Khasad would have been blinded by the incomparable power swelling up all around Lanara even if it had been the dark immortal for true. In the decade since the fall of the dark immortals, Lithrydelians had risen to the occasion, gaining in strength and resolve to rival any foe. Endlessly, their foes claimed otherwise. Tonight, the witch Lanara would shine a light that brooked no questions. For when night reclaimed the place in which the apparition of Khasad had readied its ax, there was nothing left but the ax itself and a vaporous scent. Not only had Lanara utterly destroyed the vile creation, but she had sent the axman’s ride along to hell, too. With so many behemoths now dead, and one of the beasts completely vanquished from existence, the bow-wielding wraith that had earlier aimed for Penelope but slain Sigrid instead was in a full-blown panic. It knew, of course, that so long as Kahran and the apparition of Elazul remained, those that fought against them were only stalling their inevitable defeat. But that hadn’t saved the other wraiths or their mounts, and the dark lord surely would not pause in order to save this one. The only conclusion that remained was to join forces with that colossal, menacing spider matron and kill Penelope Halifax. It was a shame for the bow-wielding wraith, then, that as soon as it arrived, toothless mouth opening wide to explain its intent, the spider matron simply… ate the wraith.

Our Poisoned Chalice

Lionel || The longer Lionel’s fateful clash with Kahran wore on, the more frequently the both of them suffered wounds. Every lucrative attack cost the men plenty of effort in failed attempts, and given Lionel’s far more mortal frame, it was naturally taking its toll on him more so than Kahran. By now, his arms and legs and sides were covered in blood from a half a dozen painful shaves. And each of those shaves was the result of contact with a serrated black blade that had been coated with poison. It was only a matter of time now before the Hero of Hellfire fell victim to his mortality. Every fresh dose of pain, however, caused only further adrenaline-fueled indignation. “You killed Catal,” Lionel spoke laboriously between slashes. “You killed… everyone. Your gods were slain, your face was scarred, and you never took the ‘L.’ So you became a monster. I slay monsters, Kahran. Slaying you tonight will be the last thing that I do. When I die, I will know that Catal has been avenged. When you die, not a soul will mourn you, and in time your evil will turn to bardic parody. In a hundred years, Catal will be remembered. But you? You’ll still be the same bad joke.” Kahran, dagger still lodged in his eye, frowned from Lionel’s barbed verbal sting only briefly before responding in kind. “Do you know why I pity you, boy? It’s not for your endless string of defeats. It’s not for the lives and loves you have lost along the way. These things bring me satisfaction. I pity you because you cannot know the pleasure that I felt on the day that I destroyed your realm. Vividly, I remember each and every sweet Catalian scream. I murdered your entire people. I am victory personified. You are the prince of ashes.” The feral Catalian scream that followed brought Kahran ever greater satisfaction.

Rorin || The shade of Elazul was nothing less than formidable, the paladin staggering with the sheer force of the blow that surely would have felled a dozen men. The shield above him cracked and sizzled, the toxic form that had taken on his likeness spent. With teeth clenched and eyes watering, Rorin felt the burn of his body struggling to go on before the voice domineered his mind- it’s own words spilling out of him twisting his voice with fury and hate. “Rage!” It shouted, hot tears falling from the young mans eyes that streaked across his skin, “Rage against the dying of the light! How dare you, mortal scum?! How dare you succumb to the darkness! How dare you lose hope and despair?! You are unfit! Unfit to carry on and save those precious souls so close to you! Fight! Get up and fight you coward!” Rorin was consumed with the thought of loss, with the idea of the world perishing, of the overwhelming challenge that stood before him, and the death of all he held dear. A clenched fist pounded at the ground as he looked up at the shadow of Elazul, silver eyes growing sharp and glowering redly in the low light. Part of him refused to give up. Refused to surrender. The words of his oath echoed hollow in his mind- his sworn duty. “Yes! Yes! Arise, champion of the light, arise weakling, reborn on the path of Arkhen! Remember your beginnings and fight! We are the ultimatum, the absolution- purifiers of their corruption through fire! We are Justice! See how a true hero refuses to fall before you!”

Rorin || Through eyes that burned Rorin could witness Lionel’s triumph and missteps, the unrelenting hero who refused to fall. The grim determination that filled him and the weight carried on his shoulders. Rorin had to save him. He could not let Lionel die here, he could not let him fall, even if it meant saving everyone, it wouldn’t be everyone without him. With Renne out of the picture they had a chance. Rorin simply had to defeat one man and then true victory- victory with Lionel alive- could be in their sites. But he could not be consumed by the fiery rage of Justice, nor could he subsist on the cold arrogance of the Guardian. Only by balancing the weight of the two would he last long enough to achieve the greater goal. Rising from his knees, Rorin banished the shield he had summoned, shattering it as if it were a solid object, sending shards in all directions. A distraction, as he zeroed in on the apparition of Elazul and swept at the shade with terrible claws, strange unearthly structures not quite like metal or glass, energy from beyond the plane of the divine striking forth. Faster than before, darting and rising, Rorin drove himself against the apparition again and again, an attempt to corral him before launching from above- propelled against the strange ceiling of their enclosure, a spinning dive fit to break the paladin’s own hardest defenses. This too was not Rorin’s ultimate goal however, as the corralling would be oriented to have a second effect- leaving a gap between Rorin, and the fight between Lionel and Kharan. Who would Rorin be closest to? The question had been calculated in the back of his mind, the question of what he could possibly do. Attack Kahran? Shield Lionel? Would Rorin fall to Kahran’s blade, leaving the opening Lionel needed? Would Lionel fall, only for Rorin to salvage a victory? Would he even make it there in time if the shade of Elazul was faster- more cunning- more powerful than the paladin anticipated? Was there truly the opening he had thought and fought for, or was it all for naught? Would he be spent, having vanquished his foe, giving himself only a window to watch his hero die?

Penelope catches her breath momentarily as she swings on the slumbered body. The woman swings the cleaver and the web does not cut. “Damn, damn, damn.” The strength in her arms loosen before she tumbles backwards on the ground. Then, the raspy voice appears. Feministic vocals holler from the sky. Eyes flicker up to the sky with furrowed brows. “I swear to the Gods if you don’t let them go,” the woman raises the soaked cleaver in her hand in a threatening motion, but the spiderlings come from the skies above. Why did she have to get the gross tusked beasts and the eight-legged critters? What luck was that? The color in her face fades to a pale color momentarily as she sees the army of spiders that are ready to attack at any given moment. The inner thinker begins to scream within her mind. ‘Looook! Look, you stupid girl!’. The healer’s shoulders would relax only slightly and her eyes would begin to shift from their frozen state of fear. They would bounce from the spiderlings, to the massive mother, and back up to Linken’s dangling body. His eyes pierced open, though unable to speak. Eyes swiftly move back to the matron spider. Spider. The innocent dangling from invisible thread. Web. It was web. Although the spider babies were crawling their way towards her, she realized the stained cleaver was still in her grasp. Automatically, the woman pull back her arm and chuck the cleaver; sending the weapon spiraling and directed towards the matron. The woman then pivots and climbs up the awakened spirit and reaches up to tug on the invisible webbing which causes the spirits to collapse around her—including herself with the elf. “No time, no time, no time,” she repeated over and over again as she stares into Linken’s face unknowingly. Is he awake? Is he not? Did they all fall?

Penelope begins to move again from whatever state she is in. Her head is swirling and her chest still burns from the lack of skill she has to even keep up the endurance of war. The tiresome boils within her. By now, her coat is ripped off of her leaving her in her lighter flowy blouse that is dyed with red blood splotches. Her hair that was pulled back is now tied loosely from all the running about the field. Her breathing is heavy. Oh, so, heavy as she glares beneath the hair that falls within those mossy green eyes. There is no light that shines anymore. The spiders are charging after her in that moment. The sweat drips off her forehead and neck and her arms feel hot from all the cleaving, sprinting, and climbing. Perhaps she should work out more. Either way, the anger boils within as she stares at the matron. “Leave. Them. ALONE!” She rages out, and automatically a hand is lifting up and her fingers begin to tingle with an odd sensation. The tips of her fingers are red. Without being able to control the rage, a flame disperses on the ground. The druid was crafting magic unknown to her. The ground then begins to light up, and the orange flames move towards the giant spider matron. The girl’s vision is piercing on the spider and anyone who knew Penelope would know that this was not something she was actually capable of. The girl did play with magic before, but the magic was never powerful enough to heal. Either way, the tingles within her arm and fingers move to her body where she grows weaker, but the fire now remains in the prism. Burn, baby. Hopefully burn—to the giant spider we mean. Not the innocent--who are hopefully helping kill them all.

Lanara feels the massive beast moving beneath her lithe frame, and she lifts her head in time to see the spider matron devouring the wraith that had bested her canine. If she weren’t so utterly exhausted from dancing around the battlefield with Khasad, dodging swipes of a menacing ax, witnessing the death of her beloved direwolf, and using every ounce of energy to defeat her opponent on the battlefield, she’d have smiled at the epitome of karmatic justice. Rorin is preaching in the corner as he takes out a vampire lord, poor Penelope is dealing with the spider after luring the behemoths off of a cliff, and Lionel is… Dying? The witch can sense it in a sweeping glance as his movements are slower, he’s covered in blood, and his shout is a mixture of emotional turmoil and extreme physical pain. How would she tell Khitti, her best friend, that her brother was slain by Kahran? Would the rest of them even live to tell the tale? Lanara had been sucked into this fight, amongst mere strangers, and whereas in the past she’d have left them to their own demise, she’s unable to turn her back when she’s needed the most. She had lost her sanity, home, family, friends, pets, and much more along the road of life, but rather than grow bitter, it had made her more sympathetic towards the feelings of others. Witches were often persecuted for the wrong reasons, which is why whenever the opportunity to be a heroine arises; the brunette is the first to throw herself into a fight. She lived to nurture others, to defend those that practiced the craft, and to be a beacon of hope, for all intents and purposes. Sitting upright now, Lana slides from the behemoth and unsteadily walks nearer to Kahran and Lionel, assessing the situation. There is little she can do, and it’s obvious she’s disoriented as she quirks a brow and blurts out, “NO! Kahran! –You- are the pinched ass!” Clearly, she’s trying to defend the warrior’s honor, though her statement is a bit warped as she misunderstood the ‘prince of ash’ comment. The green eyed woman, Penelope, scream from below, and Lana leaves Rorin to contend with Lionel and Kahran, as she inches to the edge to peer at what’s going on below. The massive wraith-eating spider and her spiderlings are threatening to devour the innocent, and the healer seems to be using the element of fire, though she’s not entirely sure –how- to wield her magic. Lanara smiles, her senses clearer as she calls down to Penelope, “Feel the pressure in the center of your brows… And help it to flow through your body and out your fingertips! Imagine a massive bonfire, engulfing everything in its wake! You got this. Use your magic! I’ll help you!” The witch focuses on the spider matron, swallowing hard, and knowing what she must do. She wasn’t to be saved, unlike the behemoth that had more than proven his worth. Using her psychic connection with the arachnid, in sync with Penelope’s newfound powers, the animal empath convinces the spider queen to turn around and walk into the flames, with all her babies following closely behind, literally committing suicide. Tears sting Lana’s eyes, though it’s hard to determine if it’s because she’s forcing the spiders to sacrifice themselves, or if it’s from the heat of the healer’s fire magic. Either way, their combined forces are saving the lives of all gathered, and when complete, she exchanges a small smile with the woman. The witch was proud of her new friend, and apprentice.

Lionel || Elazul’s likeness had been torn very nearly asunder by the complex machinations of the wearied, winded, all-or-nothing paladin Rorin. If it possessed sentience, the grim smile twisting its mouth was likely a sign that it enjoyed all the pain. The First Vampire, after all, had always been quite the sadomasochist. The apparition seemed to crumble almost into dust to join its false brother Khasad in oblivion. But Rorin’s sudden wayward rush gave that almost-dust the momentum that it needed to reforge itself into Elazul’s form anew -- albeit a form that was now covered head to spectral toe in gashes. Whatever was left of the entity, it was clear that it would not be able to cling to life for long. “Away,” it said simply, and then it spun itself round and round, scythe following suit like a metal cyclone, at a speed that caught up to brave Rorin before he could do what he had risked everything to do. The apparition of Elazul did not stop spinning even now, however; instead the cyclone continued, the scythe seeking to rend meat off the paladin’s every bone. It was courage unparalleled that had prompted Rorin to attempt to intervene in Lionel’s fated plight. But it was going to take everything the lad had left just to survive that scythe as the apparition’s cyclone quickly spun itself out of existence. What had remained of that apparition now joined the rest in dust, but what remained of Rorin’s last-ditch effort was doubtless finished as well.

Lionel || The spider matron knew not the wrath she had awoken. No sooner had she finished feasting on wraithflesh than the world as she knew it came down on her in flames. Was it from that girl? No, that was impossible; she would have sensed it, felt something, known what she was up against. Nothing for it now -- her fur was aflame and her spiderlings were fanning out desperately to escape. All of this wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the fact that Penelope had also awakened the spirits from their slumber. Frantically, the giant spider tried to make up for lost time, throwing her front legs up haphazardly and chomping at her own webbing in search of warm bodies -- especially the warm body of a certain healer. She did manage to kill a middle-aged man whose spirit had dangled unfortunately close to her fangs; somewhere in faraway Rynvale, a lifelong pastry chef stirred in his bed and died. His wife would have no idea how it happened, nor that her husband had been the unwitting hero whose death gave Lanara the necessary time to instruct his killer to kindly eff off forevermore. The last thing the spider matron had the chance to realize was that her progeny had just committed mass suicide, leaving her bloodline permanently off the pages of spiderly history. As if to add insult to injury, the spider matron wasn’t even allowed to kill herself politely uninterrupted, for it was then that every imprisoned spirit climbed over the flailing, failing spider brood and crushed the killer queen to a scorching pulp. When at last the spiders’ screams had faded, the spirits of Linken and all the rest of the imprisoned seemed to smile. Quickly, the spirits dispersed, disappearing into the night and returning to their respective bodies none the worse for wear. The crystalline structure surrounding the remaining fighters crashed inward on itself with the puppetmaster’s demise. Penelope had just saved hundreds of lives… and almost none of them would be the wiser for it. The single exception was the man she had spoken to, had touched, and worried over the most. Indeed, there was a very real chance that the man called Linken would know Penelope Halifax had just saved his life.

What We Leave Behind

Lionel || The poison across his body and the unbound aching of his very soul gave Lionel one last spark of fire. His sword lit up in a billowing display of heat and he dashed with extraordinary swiftness in a bid to carve through his nemesis with the brute force of all his sorrow. “I think not,” Kahran said, disappearing before Lionel could succeed. Instantly, he reappeared, his claws extended. With the poison now seeping into his bloodstream, Lionel did not find the time to react, and Kahran’s claws dug deeply through his flesh. The dark lord’s poisonous palm stayed open as it tore and came to a halt two inches from Lionel’s heart.

Lionel || By all rights, Lionel should not have been able to think. He should have been consumed in full by the pain and fallen to the bloodied dirt and died. But his need for revenge reigned supreme. Even as the poison spread through his chest and his blood splattered in every direction, he smirked. “You’re wide open,” he hissed, nearly choking on a stream of red-black liquid which had begun to form in his throat. The strength that he needed returned through sheer stubbornness alone. With a wild twist of his left arm, Lionel plunged Hellfire straight through Kahran’s chest. The dark lord gasped and screeched and withdrew his claws, leaving Lionel’s exposed heart to its inevitable end. It was obvious that Kahran was in just as much pain now, but like Lionel, revenge sustained him. And unlike Lionel, a ravaged heart would never kill him. Kahran cackled, though it was an ugly, shrill struggle to do so. “You lose, prince of ashes.” But even as Lionel O’Connor’s heart slowed its beating, his smirk did not fade. Hellfire began to glow more brightly than it ever had before. Halycanos, too, was dying. But in Ishaarite lore, Halycanos was known as the spirit of vengeance. And in his last moments on this earth, that was the power that Lionel was banking on. “You don’t listen, huh? You stupid… hideous… dick.” Blood gushed from his mouth. “I said… you’re wide… open.” Hellfire’s glow intensified. It was almost blinding now. Kahran’s black eyes widened with sudden understanding. He tried to wriggle free from the superheated steel inside of him. He screamed in pure fear -- a scream more fearful than anything from any victim, Catalian or otherwise, that he had ever heard. The legendary blade exploded into a million tiny brutal shreds of magical metal and the dark lord of the Shadow Plane exploded with it.

Lionel’s heart stopped.

Rorin lay defeated. As he began to move towards his mentor, his hero- his adoptive father figure damnit- the shadow of Elazul reconfigured to strike him one last time. Ravaged by the shadows blade, Rorin lay bleeding on the ground, still desperately crawling towards his hopes, his dreams, the once and future prince if Rorin had anything to say about it gods damn it! Even as Lionels heart was nearly ripped from his body, and the legendary weapon shattered, he refused to lose hope. Holding together the tattered remains of his own leg, a nearly severed appendage from the shade’s last effort, Rorin refused to let Lionel pass. Turning over onto his back, the paladin held up his knee and gritted his teeth, grasping his left leg in both hands and whispering a prayer, encapsulating the ribbons of flesh in a crystalline cocoon. Rolling over and hobbling up, the paladin tripped over himself moving forward, falling near the hero’s supposed corpse. “No you don’t, you don’t get to die here- I won’t let you! I don’t care what I have to do, I’m not letting you go yet! Larket isn’t free, the chaos realm is awakening- your job isn’t done yet! A real hero wouldn’t die so get up! Get up damn you!” Seeing that respiratory resuscitation was out of the question, as pushing on Lionel’s chest would probably have the opposite of intended effects, the paladin looked down at his leg and only contemplated for a moment… Pain could be transferred into martyr magic, he knew that all too well, he had sacrificed his arm and brought Oline back years ago from a whole through her abdomen, so… “Cripes! You really wouldn’t forgive me for thinking about this but…” Rorin cried a little, as was natural when someone thinks about the situation on hand. He just hoped he could come up with something else in the moment it was going to take him to truncate above the knee in preparation for the spell. “I won’t let them take you. You’re coming back damn it! You selfish, suicidal… I won’t say goodbye commander. You’re coming back with me.”

Penelope :: At the time, Penelope was listening to Lanara’s instruction when she was strong enough to produce the flames. Focusing on the aggression within her furrowed brows, but of course, she did grow weak like before. The woman turns her green gaze towards Lanara as she attempts to bring the spiders towards the fire, and Penelope is relieved the witch is by her side and offers a shortened smile. The herbalist backs away slowly to regain some energy. She breathes even more heavily and clutches her stomach as it cramps. She was only human. A weakened human. Moss eyes flick up and around her is chaos. Linken, Yerrel, and Meri fall in her gaze as she stares around the burning field, but there is only one person who clouds her mind. Lionel. The warrior. Swiftly she straightens her posture again before her eyes fall on Kahran and Lionel. She is a distance away in the crystallized prism that encloses them. Although Lionel had prepared her for this moment, she was not fully aware she would be actually witnessing it. Kahran latched his claws within the warrior’s heart and the girl screams. “NOOO!” Automatically, her legs are moving across the field. The world was almost like slow motion as the man jabs Hellfire within the evil one and twists. The blade glows bright within Kahran’s chest. “Lionel don’t!” Perhaps she could not accept his death. Though, the more steps she would stride, the brighter the weapon would glow within Kahran’s chest until the weapon exploded with the villain himself. “NOO! Lionel! Lionel!” By this time, she was closing in and falling to her knees with the fallen soldier. “Lionel,” she touches the face of the warrior. “Please, Lionel,” she pleads, but she quickly shakes her head with a furrowed brow. Her eyes move to the exposed heart of his. “Oh, Gods, Lionel,” her heart begins to twist and she can feel the bile begins to boil within her throat before she pushes it down. The woman holds the emotion back. ‘Cut it out, El. Leave out all the rest.’. The woman is now by Rorin’s side, and even though Rorin tries to revive Lionel, the girl is trying to push the man out of the way while he preps his spell. The woman quickly reaches for her satchel and untwists a bottle of alcohol to cleanse her hands before sticking her hand into his chest even if Rorin is trying to prepare a spell to bring the man back to life. Penelope can barely think except for her trauma skills she learned from Yerrel and Finn Fennigan. A piercing cry comes out of the throat of the freckled girl, “Lanara! Please! Please!” The cry was chilling to anyone who would hear the chords from the normally silken and graceful girl. She then looks to Rorin trying to push down the fear. “We have to at least keep his heart as stable as we can.” The woman begins to massage his heart gently, but in a rhythmic motion—since she cannot do any respiration to the exposed heart. “Please, please, please,” she whispers repeatedly. The woman had made a promise that she intended to keep, but would he survive?

Rorin nodded to the woman, quietly telling her to keep going while he worked on a permanent solution. He had to work fast, tracing the sygils and glyphs, the runes necessary to work the sacrificial magic. The leg was basically useless right now anyway, he kept telling himself, and besides, that Ranok guy had always offered to get him a shiny new limb if he lost another one…

Lanara :: Although she knew the warrior’s death was imminent, when he took his final breath, it came as a surprise. Silence settled upon the area, and Lana bows her head in respect to the Catalian that had sacrificed himself so that they all could survive. Kahran, Khasad, Renne, Elazul, the wraiths, all but one behemoth, and the spiders had been defeated, yet there were no cries of victory and no applause of any kind. Covered in scratches and bruises that she can’t quite recall receiving in the heat of the battle, Lanara turns from the scene of Rorin dragging his nearly severed leg over towards the corpse, as he begs his commander to return to the land of the living. It’s tragic, her lashes are soaked with tears, and she makes a show of wiping the direwolf’s blood from her cheeks, so that Rorin wouldn’t further fall to pieces. She didn’t know the young man, but often when one saw another crying, it worsened their own feelings, and she didn’t want to put that on the paladin. Come to think of it, Lanara barely knew Lionel, yet here she was shedding tears and dreading how she would tell Khitti this news. Penelope’s shrill cry brings the witch to her side, and she wants to desperately tell the healer that this is no use, that it wasn’t possible to revive Lionel… Yet, she cannot ask Penelope or Rorin to give up all hope. What was the point of life, without faith? Without love? Without taking a risk? “Okay…” Kneeling at the woman’s side, Lana tries not to retch as the woman massages the warrior’s exposed heart. She was truly in there and it’s sickening, but touching at the same time, and were it to resume beating, Lana would do her best to seal the wound with her magic. Three of them were exhausted, one was deceased, the behemoth was prancing around the field, and the clock continued to tick. The longer they waited, the less chance of survival. “Okay. I’ll cast a paralyze spell on his form, so he’s unable to move his head, arms, or legs. That should keep him steady.” She pauses, “Penny… When you feel his heart is warm enough, and you feel the softest pulse… You need to tell Rorin! And then he can call upon his holy magic… This should work.” She speaks with an air of confidence, though her expression doesn’t quite match her tone, as she forces herself to focus and uses the remainder of her energy to cast a spell in Sylvan. Eyes close, and Lionel’s form is forced into a rigid position, so that the healer can best rub his organ. “Okay… Let me know if you guys need anything else.”

Lionel || The corpse was still but a corpse. There was no sign of life. No miracle breath, no beating heart against all odds. Nothing to indicate that Penelope’s and Rorin’s and Lanara’s steadfast refusal to yield would blossom into a happy ending. There was scarcely even the slightest indication that the paladin’s bravest holy spell could save the day. (Though this humble writer is touched by how hard his IRL friends are trying to make it happen.) And yet, somehow, an ounce of hope remained. Everything that the three of them had scrambled haplessly to do, every tear they shed between every motion to defy fate, kept the cold from casting its eternal pall over Lionel’s body. Perhaps it would be the sole culmination of their quest. But it was something. It meant that, even in death, something indistinguishable from life clung on with the Catalian stubbornness that his friends’ actions afforded him. The warmth did not fade. It did not falter. It would not go away, so long as his makeshift surgeons didn’t either. But for how long could they possibly do so? It was not a solution so much as a speck of hope. Something else was needed. Something to supplement their achievement.

Had I But Lived An Hour Before This Chance

Lionel || The sorceress strolled up to the survivors with all the swiftness of an aging woman searching for someplace to stop for tea and crumpets. Mulgrew scanned the situation with passive emerald eyes, her white hair flowing freely with the wind. “Child,” she told Penelope, who likely had no idea who the hell she was. “Your power reaches me. Your yearning for his life is a terrible thing to behold; terrible because no matter what you do, he will never return to you. This was the destiny that only the most forceful retreat could have prevented, and rather than retreat from it he raced head-on to greet it. It is a very… Catalian approach.” She sniffed the air indignantly. “Yet to do nothing but watch? No, I will act. So I offer you a choice. I will give your combined efforts the vital boost necessary to do what this dimension of mortals declares impossible. Traditional necromancy is out of the question for him; the loss of Halycanos has brought him closer to the brink than even bawdy Vakmatharas would answer. And that spell I know you’re preparing, young Rorin? It would give his heart three more beats for all your sacrifice. I forbid you from such youthful tomfoolery. But here I stand. I will help you to restore life to that corpse before it has gone completely cold. But it will not be the Lionel O’Connor you know who will be given a fighting chance to breathe the air for future years. It will be his shadow. Fragments of stories past will taunt his brain but stay just out of reach, tickling him ruthlessly. I do not know how a man reborn as such could remain sane for a day, let alone a lifetime. And I am an Ishaarite spirit -- if I don’t know something, odds are no one does.” Evidently, no one told Mulgrew that now was not the time for chuckles. “He will not know what to do with himself. And I daresay, neither will you.” The woman tilted her head toward Rorin, indicating she meant to include him in that statement. “I will do this for you, Penelope Halifax, if you consent to let the shadow of a man wander.”

Penelope keeps massaging the heart before her. The poise that the Miss Halifax remains the same and she is almost brain-washed to fulfill her healing duty. A trait Yerrel had taught her in the field of medicine. The woman keeps whispering ‘please’. No words from Lanara or Rorin will knock her out of this state, for they are optimistic—well, verbally. The pain of massaging Lionel’s heart continues on for minutes until the older woman approaches. “He. Will. Return,” she keeps her rhythm as the sorceress proceeds with her sorrowful news of defeat. Mulgrew, however, offers a choice and although the girl keeps a hand on his heart in pattern, her moss eyes look up as if there are no emotion within them. The herbalist had tucked the pain deep inside with all the rest of which she owned. Her stare is trained and she begins to think of the possibilities. A shadow of Lionel. A shadow besides the Lionel? Someone who went mad because that was not the true self of Lionel? Penelope knew pain. Although most people did not know Penelope, the frizzy-haired, freckled girl knew pain. She knew pain. She knew suffering. The last thing she wanted to do was have Lionel suffer. Suffer like Pakellin Halifax did with death. Suffer like Linken does with not being his present self. “No,” she stares flat-faced at the sorceress. “Neither.” She is so stern that someone would jaw-drop at the thought of the tone Penelope Halifax is using. “You give me another option—now. He will not suffer after this. That’s the last thing he deserves from saving those people,” she is stoic and hardened. The face of not taking ‘no’ for an answer. She keeps that rhythm as she stares dead ahead at the old woman before her.

Lanara is a proud practitioner of white magic, so when Mulgrew appears seemingly out of thin air and spouting promises with dire consequences, the woodland witch is skeptical. Dark hues narrow on Mulgrew as Penelope declines the offer, showing backbone that she didn’t earlier possess, but it’s obvious that Lanara approves as she lifts her chin in defiance and remains at the healers side. Her expression clearly states ‘just try me’ as she delivers a short statement of her very own, “One witch to another… I know that isn’t the –only- option. But seeing as I don’t dabble in the forbidden areas of magic and –you- do…” Her words dangerously cut off, issuing a threat of their very own. Lanara didn’t use black magic, but she would, if this woman didn’t offer them a much better bargain. Penelope’s determination had moved Lana, as Mulgrew said it did her also, “If it’s true that you have an ounce of empathy in your veins… I think it’s high time that we haggle a tad more, don’t you?”

Rorin knew the strange old woman far more than the others did, and all he could feel at her words was pure bitterness. "This? This is what you brought me here for- what you wanted to happen? Stop playing your games! Stop toying with people's lives- you don't exist beyond the rules, but you exist in a set higher than Kahran. You're still trying to hold onto your cards and not show your hand, but you won't find an easy con here, spirit.You’ve played us from the start, but I swear we will stop at nothing to end this absurd game, we will act as your pawns no longer. So then? What’s your real offer, eh? Spout your cryptic portents. I no longer wish to ponder your ulterior motives. Speak plainly with us, no longer thinly viel your machinations, I beg of you.”

Lionel || The next moment might have felt like an indecisive eternity. Mulgrew’s passive eyes took in Penelope Halifax’s defiance with a cold squint and let that squint linger for added effect. She kept the squint and narrowed it further in response to Lanara’s words-not-minced and Rorin’s no-holds-barred outburst, though there was subtle amusement on her lips for them both. “I see,” the sorceress finally spoke. And then she laughed. Her old face filled with mirth she had never before revealed to anyone in Lionel’s entourage. Unfolding her arms, Mulgrew walked up beside Penelope and touched her hand to the healer’s. “I once told Lionel there would be three tests to determine his true character. I may have neglected to mention at the time that the third would fall upon someone else’s shoulders. Listen to me, Miss Halifax.” The warmth in Mulgrew’s hand began to glow a vibrant green with the exact intensity that Hellfire had possessed in the seconds leading to the sword’s destruction and the Ishaarite spirit Halycanos’ death. “Listen well,” the woman repeated. “There is a very good reason for my trickster facade,” she whispered; beneath her hand and Penelope’s, Lionel’s flesh and skin returned -- scarred, perhaps, but otherwise just as he’d left it. “It is the only way that I can intervene in mortal matters without dire consequence. Keep this to yourself, for it is you whom I now trust the most.” Lionel’s heart beat slowly at first, but it wasn’t long before it was shaky but steady. “The real pawn here was Kahran himself. He was a piece in someone else’s game.” Lionel gasped for air and coughed. “All three tests have been passed, Miss Halifax,” Mulgrew said, rising so the others could hear her. “The heroism on display tonight has given all four of you a permanent Ishaarite ally -- me. There will be a time of peace from this… cruel arc,” she chose her words carefully. “Let other restless matters be resolved. For now, heal. And for the gods’ sake, Rorin, go get laid or something; your shouting gives ancient women headaches.” She vanished.

Dawn's first beams of gentle light spread out across the ravaged battlefield. Lionel O’Connor opened his azure eyes… and smiled. Catal had been avenged.