Heart of the Warrior

The following is a short story I wrote for my cousins in the Christmas of 2012. It follows the characters they created for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign we used to play in the summer prior to that winter in which I decided to be creative with my gift giving. Hope you enjoy! 

Dungeons and Dragons: Heart of the Warrior 

Controvetta yr. 326

Saoirse, for the first time in her life, was denied access to her own kingdom; the Kingdom of Controvetta. But then again, she had never left it before, not until her and her companions set out to hunt down the Necromancer Lazarus with the aide of Father Methuselah.

Unfortunately, they had just found out that Methuselah—High Priest to the Church of Pelor— and Lazarus were the same man. He had the strange affliction of switching personas after being slain; shifting from the High Priest to the dastardly Necromancer of Neyrule, who had once terrorized the land of Controvetta, and even more recently raised an undead army to attack Controvetta castle, which ultimately lead to the demise of Saoirse’s father King Taskerboz.

“As your Princess, I ask that you please step aside, sir.” She said. Hilde(2)

“No one is allowed through without a passport, and you look nothing like the princess, so bug off,” the guard replied.

Towering beside her stood her life long bodyguard, the Paladin Raiden, who began to approach the guard. He kept his hands by his sides and made no movement to unsheathe his broad sword, but the guard still backed away quickly and pointed his halberd at the tall yellow skinned elf, whose eyes blazed a crimson hue.

This lowly guard actually had the audacity to threaten a seasoned warrior, who had at least a century of life ahead of him, as well as experience in the Great War. Raiden has had his share in combat against some of the nation’s deadliest foes, foes he had slain by his own blade with little to no effort on his part. Luckily for the guard, Saoirse put her arm in front of Raiden to stop him from approaching further.

“That’s right, I’m still wearing my disguise,” Saoirse said giggling. She wiped the dark make up off her face to reveal her lighter tone of skin and shook off her nappy wig.

“Amateur,” said the short and nimble thief, Azure. Saoirse shot a glare at him as to say shut up, not now. Although Azure was Saoirse’s brother, he hadn’t been home for months before Necromancer Lazarus’ undead army attacked the castle of Controvetta.

The guard tossed his halberd aside and fell to his knees. He pressed his forehead against the stone ground, and with his arms spread, bowed to Saoirse. “My apologies, your majesty! Please, go right ahead.” He then instructed his partner at the gate switch to activate the door and open it.

While the door was rolling up into brick wall above, Saoirse passed by the bowing guard and said, “It’s okay, I forgive you.”

Raiden passed by him and just shrugged dismissively for having wasted their time with such formalities.

As the guard was about to stand up, Azure took the opportunity to step on his head, take a few steps across his back and launch him self in the air for a summersault after kicking off from the guard’s butt.

“Hey!” The guard yelled at Azure.

“I’m also the Prince of Controvetta, sucker!” He yelled back as he scampered away.

The dark purple clouds still blanketed the sky, leaving Controvetta in a shadowy haze. A gray mist also permeated the air, making it hard to breathe, as well as see beyond the fogginess of it all.

“Wait,” Raiden said. “I’m detecting evil from the streets.”

Having been appointed Captain of the Controvetta Paladins during the Great War, he had developed a heightened sense of detecting evil after receiving one of the greatest blessings from the Sun God Pelor as part of his training.

“Oh they look fine,” Azure said in comment to the people he noticed on the streets.

It looked like a normal night in Controvetta; drunkards hanging outside of the bars they just got kicked out of, a few street vendors trying to sell their left over inventory for the day—these supplies being food, medicine, clothing or even weaponry to name a few—and your average passerby just trying to get home after a long day from their occupations.

But it wasn’t fine, nor was it normal. Raiden explained, “Look at the life drained out of their faces. Their eyes droop tirelessly, they walk quite sluggishly. Lazarus must be in town somewhere and probably cast a curse upon the citizens.”

One man leaning against the wall of the tavern fell over and dropped to his hands. The mug of ale he was holding shattered against the stone ground and he vomited, not liquid, but a black ethereal vapour that floated up to join the mist in the air.

“Oh, right.” Azure said and laughed to himself.

Saoirse took notice of a female alchemist closing up her shop and locking the front door. “Hey, there’s Lilika! Let’s ask her about what’s going on, she probably knows something.”

Raiden called out to Saoirse, “wait she might be under the curse,” but she just kept running towards her.

Lilika heard rapid footsteps coming from behind her, and her lab coat twirled like a dress as she turned to see a woman approaching at top speed. She put her hands up in front of herself and screamed, causing Saoirse to scream as well and stop dead in her tracks.

“Raiden, she’s under the curse! Kill her!” Saoirse said.

He put a hand on the hilt of his broad sword, but let go when Lilika said “No, I’m not.”

“Interesting,” Raiden said, “how come Lazarus’s curse isn’t affecting you?”

“I’ve been inside my shop all day. He only attacked people roaming the streets.” Lilika took a moment to affix her glasses back in their proper place. “What you’re seeing around you is just the residue of his spell. If I were you guys, I’d stay indoors in case your lungs fall victim to the fog’s left over power.”

“Do you know where Lazarus could be right now?” Azure said poking his head out from between Saoirse and Raiden.

“I’m sorry, I don’t—” Lilika proceeded to answer him, but as Saoirse and Raiden stepped aside to give Azure some space, Lilika noticed that he had a peculiar dagger sheathed in his belt. “Wh-where did you get that?”

“Huh?” Azure said taking a step back and giving her a disapproving glare as she reached her hand towards his waist.

“I’m sorry, but that dagger—” Lilika stammered and retracted her hand.

“Oh this?” Azure pulled out the poison dagger from his belt. “What about it?”

Lilika politely asked Azure if she could take a look at it, and he agreed. When she noticed that her own initials, L.M., were engraved on the end of the dagger’s hilt, she immediately dropped it on the ground.

“Hey, what gives?” Azure said, picking it up.

“I’m the one who doused that dagger with poison.” Lilika took a necklace out from her shirt and presented the pendant to him. She gently took hold of Azure’s hand and turned it to show him her initials at the bottom of the dagger’s hilt.

“Yeah, so what?”

“Stay away from whoever gave that to you, he’s a dangerous man.”

Azure explained that he had found the dagger at the Underground Orc Cave, but did not disclose that Gaugheren, the Master of the Sinless Assassins, had entrusted him with the task of retrieving it for him. After all, it was against the guild’s code of honour to reveal any connection to other members of the Sinless Assassins.

“It doesn’t add up, why would he leave it at such an obscure place?” Lilika grabbed Azure’s shoulders and he just stood there dumbfounded as he stared at her.

“Who are you even talking about?” He asked.

“Gaugheren Caliburous.” She gave him a violent shake.

“Who the hell is he?” He said with his eyes rolling to the side.

“He’s my son.” She said shutting her eyes to stifle the oncoming tears.

“Oh my Pelor, really?” Saoirse interjected. “Shut up!”

“You know who he is?” Lilika said, releasing Azure and wiping a tear that managed to crawl down her cheek.

“No, but you made him sound very…well…dangerous.” Saoirse smiled.

“That’s because he is!” Lilika said turning Saoirse’s smile into a floor dropped jaw. “Please listen to me. Whatever you do, don not trust that man.”

“But you said he was your son.” Saoirse said slowly.

“Well, he’s not really my son. It’s a complicated story, but let’s just say that mother knows best…” Lilika began to breathe heavily.

“You’re getting delirious,” Raiden said, “perhaps the curse is affecting you. If you would just allow me to endow you with a blessing—”

As Raiden went to lay a healing hand on Lilika, she cowered away and said, “Stay away from me, all of you! You may have already compromised my life associating yourselves with a murderer!” Then she ran off into the distance until the darkness of the night swallowed her silhouette.

“We still don’t know where Lazarus could be hiding.” Saoirse said.

“I think I may have an idea,” Raiden said.

“How could you possibly know?”

“Well he is Father Methuselah as well, right? It makes sense that he might be at the Church of Pelor.” Raiden suggested.

But when they went over to the church, the front door was locked and the knob burned Saoirse’s hand when she tried to turn it. They looked around for any other alternative entrances and couldn’t find any. Even when Azure climbed around to find a window, an invisible barrier knocked him off balance, causing him to fall off from a tall height. Fortunately, Raiden caught him in his arms and let him down safely.

Raiden concentrated on sensing evil around the church and surmised that a very powerful protective curse surrounded the church, and ironically, the least warded area was the front door, save for the knob. Azure took out a pair of lock picks and at first, slowly inserted them into the keyhole, afraid that the same magic that burned his sister’s hand would burn his. When he was relieved that indirect contact didn’t affect the spell, he tried to pick the lock.

“The teeth system is too complicated,” Azure said. “It’s no use.”

“We’ll need the actual key,” Saoirse said, “but where in Hades can we find it?”

“I think I might know someone who could help us,” he said, hoping that Gaugheren would be at the tavern. The guild’s code of honour be damned, this was an emergency.

Azure prompted his companions to follow him and when they entered, most of the tavern was empty, except for a cloaked and hooded figure sitting at the far corner table. The only other patrons were the bartender washing and wiping glasses while a barmaid kept him company, conversing with him as she sat at a barstool.

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Gaugheren had three empty pitchers sitting upon his table and was nursing the last glass of ale in his hand. He was taking his time with this one, but the previous glasses haven’t received such appreciation as they were downed with the least amount of gulps possible. He turned to look over his shoulder and noticed that Azure and his companions were approaching him, but turned his head away from them to fix his focus on the golden brew stirring in his mug.

“Sir Gaugheren,” Azure said behind him, “I know I’m breaking the guild’s code of honour and stuff, but—”

“This is the Gaugheren that Lilika was talking about?” Saoirse said, unaware that Gaugheren’s head propped up at the sound of Lilika’s name. She was too distracted from pulling Azure aside by his tunic. “How do you know him? You know she said we can’t trust him.”

“Wait,” Raiden said, “we need just about all the help we can get at dire times like these.”

“Yeah,” Azure said brushing his sister’s hand off his shoulder. “But anyway, we need your help.”

Gaugheren prompted for them to have a seat in front of him with a simple hand gesture, which they all agreed to do—except for Saoirse, who sat down reluctantly—and waited quietly as he chugged the glass of ale. When he finished the last sip, he slammed the glass onto the table causing Saoirse to jump in her seat.

“Lilika…” Gaugheren muttered under his breath and frowned.

Before Azure could explain what they needed help with, Saoirse cut in and said, “Wait, do you know Lilika by any chance?”

Lilika Maccuchi? Gaugheren thought. Of course I know her. She’s the woman responsible for me having this damned life in the first place. All those years ago when her and that rat bastard Harman broke into my home and killed my parents, she should have let me die and burn along with the house.

“Well? Hello?” Saoirse turned to Raiden and he just shrugged his shoulders while Azure took the time to respect his guild master’s need to answer one question at a time.

She thought she was saving me, but she only brought me into a life of thievery and murder. Oh, Lilika you wretched bitch. How did it feel when I poured all of your poisons into the nearby river and killed every last assassin of the Deadly Arts Academy? I’d kill you next if you hadn’t made my time there any short of bearable.

“No,” Gaugheren said raising his glare at Saoirse. “I don’t know any Lilika. So shut up already!” Then he turned to Azure. “Now, what can I help you with?”

Azure explained to him how Lazarus had cast a curse around the Church of Pelor that was preventing entry from anywhere but the front door, and that the only possible way in was through there if he would be so kind as to try picking the lock for them.

“There’s no need to pick the lock when you have this.” Gaugheren reached into his pocket and took out a large key.

“Is that the key to church?” Azure asked. When Gaugheren nodded, he added, “How did you get a hold of that?”

Gaugheren turned to Saoirse, apologized for his outburst a moment ago and said, “Your majesty, I have a confession to make.”

“What is it?” She said.

“It’s all my fault.”

“What is?”

“The night your castle was attacked was the night I killed Father Methuselah.” Gaugheren said bowing his head in shame.

“You monster!” Saoirse stood up and slammed her palms against the table, causing the pitchers and Gaugheren’s glass to rattle. “It’s because of you that my father was killed?  It’s because of you that the Necromancer of Neyrule has returned and caused all this destruction?”

“You don’t understand—”

“What’s there to understand? You’re a soulless murderer.”

“Hey!” Now it was Gaugheren’s turn to stand up and pound the edge of his fist on the table, causing his glass to tip over. “I’m not saying I was the one who maimed your father that night. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m just partly responsible for Lazarus raising his undead army to attack Controvetta Castle. If you let me explain—”

“You have about a minute before I kill you,” Raiden said unsheathing his broad sword and laying it across the table in front of him while keeping a tight grip on the hilt. “What you have done is a violation against Controvetta law; killing an important religious figurehead of our nation, and by proxy causing the death of our king is an inexcusable offense.”

Azure frowned at Raiden and said, “I don’t think you should be threatening him.”

“It’s alright,” Gaugheren said. “I understand his precaution.” He waited for Saoirse to sit down, and then sat down himself, before he continued. “Someone very dear to me died and I was told—by an unreliable source, it turns out—that it was possible to bring her back to life. I don’t worship Pelor my self, but I took the chance and sought the council of Father Methuselah who was rumoured to have the ability to revive the dead. This information is kept under wraps, of course, because it is said that it expends an unhealthy amount of his being to perform, and I’m sure you can already imagine how many people wish they could bring back a deceased loved one.”

Saoirse bowed her head, closed her eyes and shook a little sob away before it distracted her from hearing the rest of Gaugheren’s story.

“When I met with him, he instantly wrote me off as a madman and forced me to leave his church. When I refused, he rose to anger and began screaming his lungs out at me, and for a geezer, I gotta say he’s got a healthy set of lungs.

“Anyway, he went insofar as to begin blasting holy spells at me and since the exit was too far by then, I did the next best thing I knew how to do…I ended his life. Or so I thought as you are aware of his dual nature now. I got away as quick as possible and didn’t know he would transform into the famed Necromancer of Neyrule until I left the tavern that night to catch a glimpse of Controvetta Castle burning down. And for that, I am incredibly sorry for what I have done. I was only trying to revive Kitsame.”

Unbeknownst Saoirse, a tear escaped her eye and crawled down her cheek. “Who was Kitsame?”

“She was my life long rival, but my lover first and foremost.” Gaugheren said, himself in tears as well now, in streams much more than Saoirse. He buried his head between his hands and slammed the edge of his palms onto the table.

Raiden was mostly uninterested in the story, but simply gave Gaugheren the courtesy to explain himself just so he can judge whether or not it was still worth killing him. He had no forgiveness for criminals, or worse in this case, assassins of holy men who Paladins revered as the highest authority next to the Sun God Pelor.

Azure already knew that Gaugheren had killed every assassin in the Deadly Arts Academy, but he had never mentioned Kitsame before. This display of vulnerability on his guild master’s part created a conflict within him. He was unsure if that made Gaugheren a strong willed leader or loose cannon. Disinformation was the trick of the trade, but honesty could still be a respectable virtue amongst comrades after all.

“How did she die?” Saoirse inquired.

Gaugheren’s sobbing immediately stopped and as he regained his composure, a glint of something maniacal shone in his eye. “I killed her.”

Saoirse’s eyes widened and she slowly frowned. She stood up, walked past Gaugheren and let her hand out as she bowed her head. Trying her hardest not to lose control over her impulses, it didn’t help when Gaugheren gingerly placed the church key in her palm. It only made her convulse with frustration and the best she could do to keep herself under control was walk out of the tavern as quickly as possible.

Azure and Raiden exchanged glances and decided to get up as well.

“Azure,” Gaugheren said, stopping him to stand by his side while Raiden followed after Saoirse. “The one thing that the Deadly Arts Academy lacked was compassion for fellow members. That’s something I believe we must implement in the Sinless Assassins if we are to thrive as a guild. With that said, I am really sorry to hear about your father.”

When Azure didn’t respond, Gaugheren turned his head to face him as he stood there frozen and quiet, with his hands balled up into fists by his sides. “Saying sorry doesn’t bring him back from the dead.” Azure said, snagging the poison dagger out of his belt and carelessly throwing it onto the table before bolting out of the tavern.

Joining his companions outside, Azure wanted to walk past and ahead of them towards the church, but Saoirse snagged him by the shirt.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She said, violently turning him around. “Is this where you’ve been all this time? Hanging around some low life assassin?”

“Yeah, so what?” Azure said.

“He killed dad—”

“No he didn’t. Weren’t you listening to him?”

“I was,” Raiden said. “And any way you look at it, he is at fault for a multitude of things. As part of the royal family, you must cut all ties with this Gaugheren and never ever speak of your involvement with him again. If Controvetta found out that their prince has had any link with an underground organization, they will think twice about trusting their leaders.”

Azure slapped Saoirse’s hand off of him and continued walking towards the church. “Take a look around you. There aren’t much of the people left to lead, and if our castle can be taken over so easily, what do you think that already says about this stupid royal family?”

“You’re part of this family,” Saoirse said, “so you must be stupid also.”

“There won’t be much of a family left if I’m the last one left.” Azure continued without breaking stride.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you threatening to kill me?”

“No, but I bet when we go fight Lazarus, you’re the first one he kills no problem.”

“Hey! I can hold my own in a fight.”

Azure snorted and said, “what are you gonna do, sing him to death?”

“Silence, both of you!” Raiden said, stopping the siblings in their tracks. “We’ve been through a lot and the fog might be affecting us. It’s best we keep a clear head or we’re all dead. We won’t stand a chance against Lazarus unless we maintain a united front.”

Azure and Saoirse stood face to face in silence for a while, frowning at each other. With the gray fog floating around them, and the streets devoid of any passerby now, it was just the two of them and their Paladin bodyguard standing unmoved by the harsh winds that were beginning to pick up. The only thing that broke their gaze was a loud crackle of thunder sounding near the Church of Pelor.

Black and purple blasts of light escaped the windows of the church, and whatever Lazarus was up to, they had best be prepared to tackle whatever he threw their way.

 ***

The key that Gaugheren provided allowed them entrance into the Church of Pelor without much trouble. As soon as the door was unlocked, the fiery curse that was cast over the knob was dispelled, but Saoirse still had her reservations about laying her hand on the knob again. With a stern glance and nod from Raiden, she decided not to let the fear of a miniscule burn stop her from confronting the murderer of her father; The Necromancer of Neyrule Lazarus.

Lit by purple flames burning in the torches that hung from the walls, the interior of the church was illuminated by a dim light that revealed enough of the warriors’ surroundings, but not bright enough to expose any details like the fine varnish of the pews that lay ahead, or the dais at the back end of the church.

Focussing his elven eyes beyond the aisle, Raiden noticed that Lazarus was standing in front of the dais. He drew his broad sword and began advancing without letting Azure or Saoirse know that he could see Lazarus in the distance.

“Wait!” Azure said, putting an arm in front of Raiden, but it was too late. Raiden had stepped on a tile that was jutting out of the floor—one which Azure sensed was a trap—and it triggered a blast of demonic energy that dropped from the ceiling. Azure and Saoirse jumped aside as Raiden raised his arms to cover himself from the spell. It burst apart and dispersed a purple light of energy that was swallowed by the surrounding darkness.

“Why don’t you fight us like a man, Lazarus,” Raiden said, “instead of relying on your cheap parlour tricks?”

Saoirse took hold of the lute that was slung on her back and played a couple chords that echoed throughout the church. As she strummed the last chord, she let the strings ring, causing them to glow and give birth to an array of faeries that clung to them. She then played arpeggios of the same chords, and as each string was plucked individually from the endearing melody, the faeries began to fly off and gravitate towards the torches. Replacing the dim purple flame was a holy glow that lit up the entire church, leaving Lazarus visible to her and her brother.

Necromancer-history

There he was, in all of his deathly glory, the Necromancer of Neyrule standing before them, with a wooden casket behind him. He had black and thin chainmail armouring his entire body, with human skeleton parts grafted onto it for extra protection. On his shoulders rested the top halves of human skulls. Aligned down each link of his spine was the spine of a poor soul he murdered ages ago. On his chest, a succession of ribs piled across it, and above each digit of his fingers were the knuckles of another poor soul.

“Your reign ends now,” Saoirse said. “Give it up, or we will be forced to take you down ourselves.”

Lazarus bellowed in raspy laughter as he stroked his long gray beard. “Welcome, royal family of Controvetta, and a fine hello to you too, curs’d ray of Pelor,” he said in reference to Raiden. “I am pleased that you could join us.”

“Looks like you’re the only one here,” Azure said pulling out his crossbow. He began loading it with bolts as he continued. “Unless you also meant that…other you, otherwise that’s a horrible joke.”

“I didn’t even think of it that way,” Lazarus said with a smile. “That would have been clever, but we do have company aside from my pathetic other half. Please come out, my precious creation.”

The casket lid popped open, and from within emerged a large hulking figure. It was a man with a large beard and medium length brown hair, its colour accentuated by the dirt that clung to it. His eyes were pearly white, save for the red veins scrawled around its outer edges. On his broad frame, he wore a silk robe that was covered in dirt with the Controvetta crest on its chest. He kicked through the sides of the casket that were encasing him just a few moments ago, and stepped forth, to join Lazarus’ side.

Lazarus noticed that this undead man’s crown was tilted across the head, so he reached over the head of this giant and straightened it.

“F-father?” Saoirse said, dropping her lute on the stone floor. She peered into his lifeless eyes, praying that he would recognize her, but she already knew it was a hopeless endeavour. Saoirse’s frown turned into a tight scowl as she directed her attention back to Lazarus. “What have you done?”

Saoirse charged toward Lazarus, unsheathing her long sword along the way, but as she was about to strike him, she felt her sword clang against something and it knocked her off her feet. When she opened her eyes, her undead father Taskerboz towered above her, standing on guard before Lazarus. Taskerboz had a giant broad sword held in hand, and he raised it over his head.

“Daddy, don’t—” Saoirse pleaded, but before she could finish, she had to roll aside, lest she get chopped in half by the blade plummeting toward where her head was a moment ago. While Taskerboz was trying to pull his sword out of the floor, Saoirse addressed Lazarus. “Please stop and bring him back to normal.”

“Normal?” Lazarus said. “My dear, if I put him back to normal, that means he will cease to live.”

“No…”

“Yes!” Lazarus interrupted along with a strike of thunder crackling from outside. “How is it that I can vaguely remember you bringing his body here for Father Methuselah to bury, while you can not remember that at all? I’m not even fully capable of experiencing what my lowly counterpart experiences when he has a monopoly over our body.”

“No, I meant…shut up!” Saoirse charged at Lazarus once more and he responded with Magus Claw, a spell in which an ethereal claw shoots out at its target from the swipe of the caster’s hand. The nails of the Magus Claw raked Saoirse in the face, leaving a streak of red lacerations across her cheek.

Taskerboz was about to assist his necromantic master after he freed his broad sword from the floor, but before his blade could make contact with a stumbling Saoirse, Raiden swept in just in time to parry the attack with his own broad sword. Standing back to back, Saoirse and Raiden had implicitly selected which foe they would each focus on.

Raiden knew damn well that the Taskerboz that stood before him was no longer the same man who had encouraged him to become Captain of the Controvetta Paladins, yet still he had to say, “My sincerest apologies, sir, but as my holy duty to rid this world of evil, I must also rid the world of you.” In a heartbeat, he forced himself to wipe away all the memories of receiving personal training with the king and pronounced his battle stance.

Saoirse, on the other hand, had nothing more to say to Lazarus. Whatever she wanted to express from this point on could only be expressed with the clash of steel on steel as Lazarus wielded his own sword fashioned out of bone. She lunged at him, meeting him by the blade.

As they were locked in a sword on sword clinch, Azure shot a crossbow bolt right into Lazarus’ arm, causing him to temporarily lose his grip. Saoirse missed her opportunity to capitalize on this moment, leaving Lazarus to return to the blade clinch with full force. He drove his bone armoured knee into Saoirse’s stomach, causing her to drop to her knees. As she was downed and vulnerable, Lazarus slammed the butt of his bone sword’s hilt to the back of her head.

“Hey! You leave my sister alone!” Azure said, running at Lazarus who tried to throw a Magus Claw his way. The nimble rogue jumped over it with acrobatic ease. While he was still airborne, Azure loosed yet another bolt that bounced off the skull grafted on Lazarus’ shoulder. Upon landing, while Azure was busy loading another bolt into his crossbow, Lazarus relinquished his bone sword, leaving it to float in the air above him. Then he thrust his hand forward, sending the skeletal missile toward Azure, puncturing the flesh above his heart.

Meanwhile, Raiden had been successful with landing blows against Taskerboz, however miniscule. A cut or scrape there against his muscular arms or across his stomach, but nothing too devastating just yet. It wasn’t that this undead Taskerboz was well versed with fencing as he would have been if he were alive, but because Raiden was holding back. He couldn’t bear the thought of doing harm against his king, even if what he was fighting was a mere empty shell of the man he was once was.

In the distance, Raiden heard Azure groan in pain as a bone sword was now sunk halfway through him, with its pointy end jutting out from his shoulder blade. He was lying on his side, trying his hardest to pull the bone sword out. He gave up once it hurt too much to move it another inch.

After deflecting a big swing Taskerboz threw at him, Raiden turned around to see that Saoirse was crawling towards her long sword. As she went to reach for it, Lazarus kicked it aside and drove his knee into her back to hold her in place. Her face slammed against the stone floor, causing her blood to soak into the rug.

While he was distracted, Raiden received a nearly armour piercing slash against his back by Taskerboz, but he didn’t waver. He stood his ground. Witnessing the sight of Lazarus pulling Saoirse’s head up by her hair—only to slam her face back into the floor repeatedly—enraged Raiden, causing him to spin around and swing his broadsword in a wide arc that ultimately chopped Taskerboz’s head right off his shoulders. This freed Raiden up to advance on Lazarus, who stepped away from Saoirse when he noticed that the paladin was approaching.

Raiden swung his broadsword at Lazarus who took yet another evasive step back, but while maintaining his forward motion, Raiden then, with his arms still down from the swing, drove his shoulder into Lazarus’ chest, knocking him a few feet backward onto the stone floor. He rushed over to Saoirse’s side to pick her up and cast a healing spell that closed up the claw wounds on her cheek, and also softened the pain pulsating all around her ribs.

“Are you alright?” He asked, helping her get back to her feet.

“I think so, but what about Azure?” Saoirse said.

At that, Raiden rushed over to Azure down the aisle. “Brace your self,” the paladin said to the rogue as he stood him against the end of a pew. Raiden placed his foot against Azure’s chest, gripped the bone sword’s hilt and gave it a little tug. At first, it was as if Azure’s flesh wanted to close around the blade, but with greater effort, Raiden managed to pull the sword out of Azure’s chest, causing a burst of blood to spray out in conjunction with the agonizing scream that gurgled in his throat. As he was about to fall from the shock and pain, Raiden caught Azure in his arms to stand him upright and perform a healing spell over the gaping hole left below Azure’s collar bone . There was only so much of the skin and bone Raiden could close up, but at least he stopped the bleeding. The two then turned their attention towards the Controvetta Princess.

With her long sword out of reach, Saoirse decided to unsheathe her rapier. Much to her preference, it was a lighter sword to wield and it afforded her more speed in its utilization. Lazarus was crawling back to his feet as Saoirse was approaching him. She swung the rapier at him and he managed to block the attack with the Magus Claw used in defence this time to deflect the oncoming blow. From the distance, the bloody bone sword lying on the isle rose from the floor and gravitated towards Lazarus until it popped right back into his hand.

While Saoirse and Lazarus engaged in a skirmish with their swords, the undead Taskerboz was affixing his head back onto his neck. He jammed it back onto his body like a corkscrew, twisting it ever which way until it fit back to normal. Raiden and Azure rushed over to the front of the church dais to intercept Taskerboz’s attempt to flank Saoirse.

“I’ll handle this one, sir,” Raiden said. “You go help your sister.”

As Azure nodded and turned away from him, Raiden was met with an impactful slash from Taskerboz’s broad sword across his chest, causing him to stumble against the dais. This time, the attack did pierce through his armour as Raiden’s blood began to drip over the metal plating. Taskerboz came again at full force, swinging his sword down at Raiden, but he moved out of the way in time making Taskerboz cut the dais in half. The very same podium Father Methuselah once delivered his sermons at was now in shambles of wooden rubble.

With two against one, Lazarus was forced to keep his distance from the Controvetta siblings in order to maintain the upper hand of this battle. Instead of taking Saoirse on head to head, he resorted to throwing Magus Claw after Magus Claw at them, leaving her only to block the attacks with her rapier and for Azure to flip over them as he was before. When she managed to navigate through the onslaught of Magus Claws, Saoirse reengaged in a sword to sword conflict, swinging her blade confidently and swiftly, never locking into a blade to blade clinch again with Lazarus. All of her attacks were unfortunately deflected, if not by his sword, it was by Lazarus’ bone armour.

“Listen,” Azure said after tucking his crossbow away into his belt. “I’m sorry what I said earlier…I know you can take on Lazarus in a fight. You’re not dead yet, and you’re not going to be if I can help it!”

“Azure, thank you, but—” Saoirse turned around briefly to address him, but the nimble rogue was nowhere in sight. That’s right, I know magic too, she thought to herself, and then began forming a fiery ball in the palm of her hand. She shot the Flare at Lazarus, and as he tried to block it with his bone sword, the flame parted down the middle, split into two and scorched Lazarus’ chest. As he was trying to pad the flames away with his hands, Saoirse took the opportunity to cut through the flames and into the skin of Lazarus’ stomach, resulting in a fountain of blood that issued from where she stabbed him.

From his aggravation, Lazarus relinquished the rib bones off of his armour and they began to circle in the air around him. As Saoirse was about ready to deliver another blow, the rib bones formed into a cage that bound her arms to her body. Lazarus attempted to stab through a crevice between the rib bones and pierce Saoirse’s , but little did he know that Azure disappeared to move silently between the pews and plan a sneak attack from behind.

Just as Lazarus was about to drive his sword forward, Azure dug his hand axe straight into Lazarus’ now unprotected spine. Still holding onto the hand axe, Azure was left hanging off of Lazarus’ back until he spun around and delivered a back handed smack to Azure’s face to knock him off onto the floor, leaving the hand axe to jut out from his back. Azure quickly got back up and shot his last remaining crossbow bolt at Lazarus’ chest, puncturing the chain mail and his skin with the squishy sound of torn flesh.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the church, Raiden’s broad sword began to glow in a golden light. Each time Taskerboz swung at him, he would successfully parry the attacks and continued to stay on the defensive as Raiden was powering up to perform Smite Evil; an attack designed to call upon the power of Pelor into one’s blade, and deliver a devastating blow against demons and the undead. Raiden thought, this was it, no more messing around. The king I served is long gone and I need to accept that. For the sake of his children, and the safety of Controvetta, I must put Taskerboz out of his misery.

As the golden light of Pelor engulfed Raiden’s blade, he raised his broad sword above his head and anticipated Taskerboz’s next move. When he came close enough, Raiden swung downward, breaking through Taskerboz’s sword, and sliced his undead body in half. A line of holy light swept diagonally across Taskerboz’s chest, and separated the top half from his midsection. The top half of his body slid off and fell to floor, leaving his legs to buckle under and crumble along with it.

“Farewell, sir. It was an honour serving under you.” Raiden said closing his eyes and bowing his head. He fell to his knees to watch the undead body of King Taskerboz dissolve from Smite Evil’s holy power, and also to hold his side where he sustained a deep laceration from earlier in their fight. Blood trickled from between his fingers, and he was unable to cast any more healing spells after expending all his power in his final blow against Taskerboz.

While chasing Azure and swinging his bone sword wildly at him, Lazarus’ focus on the bone prison that bound Saoirse had waned, and dropped into a pile on the floor. Azure began running towards a wall and run up it as Lazarus was going to swing his bone sword once more. With the momentum gained from the wall, Azure back flipped over Lazarus who struck his sword against brick. Retrieving the hand axe from the Necromancer’s spine, he waited for him to turn back around.

With Lazarus’ back to the wall, Azure capitalized on his vulnerability and hacked away at him, sinking his hand axe deep into the meat of Lazarus’ thigh. Just over his shoulder, Azure could see a rapier point whiff past his hair and dig into the heart of Lazarus, leaving both lacerated sections of his body to flow in a gush of black blood. Pulling their blades out of the maimed Necromancer, the Controvetta siblings took a step back to watch him crumple to the floor in the pool of his own life fluid.

Lazarus uttered, “Foolish children. You already know full well that I can return any time you fail to protect your precious Priest of Pelor.” He coughed up and spat out his blood before continuing. “And when that time comes, all of Controvetta will become slaves to me and my undead army.”

“Then we’ll just protect him with our lives,” Raiden said joining Azure and Saoirse’s side, “and ensure this terrible fate of becoming you never befalls him again.”

“It would be pleasure to see you try,” Lazarus said upon his final breath, and laughed before croaking and keeling over.

“I never want to do that again.” Azure said wiping the sweat off his forehead.

“Is it finally over?” Saoirse said.

“I would like to believe so,” Raiden said.

Azure kicked Lazarus’ limp body lightly and then cowered backward until he realized he wasn’t going to move any time soon. “What about him coming back like he said?”

“Okay,” Raiden said impatiently, “let’s just be thankful it’s over for now.”

Just beside Lazarus’ dying body was the backdoor of the church that slammed open and an old lady came tumbling face first onto the floor before them. She was short and stubby, and wore a veil around her head. It was Sister Mary, Father Methuselah’s nun that first welcomed the warriors into his church in search for Lazarus. As she got up on her knees, Gaugheren appeared behind her and held his poison dagger to her throat.

“What are you doing here?” Saoirse said, trying to express anger, but her voice only resulted in exasperation. “Haven’t you caused enough trouble?”

“Unhand her, you wretch,” Raiden said.

“Sir…” Azure said looking up at him with appraising eyes. “Why are you threatening the life of this innocent nun? I’m sure you have your reasons, but—”

“In about a couple minutes,” Gaugheren said tightening his grip on Sister Mary’s robe, “Lazarus is just going to revive into Father Methuselah. Do you really want the chance of Lazarus returning to remain a possibility?”

“No,” Raiden said, “but that doesn’t explain why you are about to kill a defenceless old lady.”

“Tell them what you told them before,” Gaugheren said giving her a violent shake on the shoulder. “The first day they came to you.”

Sister Mary’s voice trembled as she spoke, “Lazarus…is not just an ordinary Necromancer. He…” She stammered and closed her eyes as she began to weep.

“Say it, damn it!”

“He’s also a lich, which means that you can kill the man all you want, but it won’t vanquish his soul. His real soul resides in a phylactery, an object—”

“Or person!” Gaugheren said causing her to weep harder.

“—or person that holds his true soul,” Sister Mary continued. “Destroying that object or person is the only way to vanquish him forever.”

“And where is this phylactery? Tell them!”

Sister Mary bowed her head and wiped her tears away while pointing at herself.

“This whole time,” Azure said, “you could’ve just as easily killed her and saved us all this trouble of fighting Lazarus?”

Saoirse punched him in the arm and then addressed Gaugheren. “I don’t trust you. What makes you think that we would believe you? For all we know, you might have just as easily threatened her to agree with your little ploy.”

“No, my dear,” Sister Mary said, “it is all true. All these years working in the service of Father Methuselah, I’ve come to realize that there is no match in his religious prowess. No one can inspire the hearts of Controvetta better than he can, and so he asked me to research ways to keep him self immortal. When I found a method that would work, he agreed to it without hesitation. Unfortunately, it came with one slight disadvantage.”

“Slight disadvantage?” Gaugheren interjected.

“Okay, okay!” Sister Mary wept. “Insurmountable repercussion is what I meant to say. We had nothing of significant holy power at hand at the time of the cursing, nothing except for me.”

“This is nonsense,” Raiden said. He slung his broad sword over his shoulder to ready an attack on Gaugheren. “Even if this is true, let us protect you and Father Methuselah for as long as we live. The people of Controvetta need him.”

“Just look around you,” Gaugheren said, his voice thundering against the echoing walls of the church. “Controvetta is in a state of perpetual decay, whether he’s Methuselah or Lazarus. This inspiration she speaks of only keeps the people afraid of eternal damnation that which Lazarus exacts by resurrecting them as his undead army.”

“Then fear they should so they don’t end up in that position.” Saoirse said. “If it keeps them in line and away from becoming the undead, then I don’t see the problem.”

“No, but you see. He wants your undying loyalty to the church of Pelor because if you seek solace here, especially in the need to perform burial rituals to honour the dead, then it becomes too easy to build his army, one death at a time.” Gaugheren pressed the blade harder against Sister Mary’s throat, not yet cutting it, but denting in her wrinkly skin.

Azure pushed Saoirse aside, frowned at her and said, “I was serious about my question,” and then addressed Gaugheren. “Why didn’t you just kill her while our fight was taking place? What if Lazarus or my own damn father killed me?”

“I never doubted that you or your companions would prevail—” Gaugheren was then interrupted by the sound of Lazarus coughing up blood again. A bright and golden light began to stir in the back of his eyes and the blood that surrounded him in a pool began to turn from black to red. “The transformation is occurring! I came back to provide you all with a choice, hoping that you would make the right one. Now it seems I never needed any of your permission, especially if you were only going to hesitate to take your conquest over evil to the very end!”

Gaugheren tightened his grip around his poison dagger that was just about to pierce the skin of Sister Mary’s throat. The poison contained in it would render her death quick and painless, that much mercy was all he was capable of.

Azure watched and waited patiently, hoping this would end Lazarus’ reign of terror forever.

Raiden lunged towards Gaugheren with the intention to behead him. It was foolish to let him live after the meeting at the tavern.

Saoirse closed her eyes in absolute grief for her losses, and hoped that no matter the outcome, she could rebuild her kingdom as she saw fit.

 

 

THE END

…is up to you

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