Author Topic: Age of Retribution: The Extended Anthology  (Read 247 times)

Offline Tyler294

  • Game Master
  • Epic Role Player
  • *****
  • Posts: 14310
  • The Default User
Age of Retribution: The Extended Anthology
Posted Jun 13 2018, 10:28 AM
The following is a compilation of Age of Retribution short stories, off-site RPs and other works that would not warrant their own threads on Forge. Only current participants in the Age of Retribution universe can contribute.


image here

[IMG]http://rpgrating.com/ratings/113.png

Genre = Fantasy
Setting = Age of Retribution
RP Type = Comedy/Action/Drama
How to join = By Request (must meet qualifications)
Participants: Dead Jim, Shawnex, Tyler294 (possible others)
Discussion Thread



~Index~

Short Stories
Other
  • N/A

Offline Tyler294

  • Game Master
  • Epic Role Player
  • *****
  • Posts: 14310
  • The Default User
Age of Retribution: The Extended Anthology
Posted Oct 25 2018, 07:35 PM
Invaders of the Lost Horde
Chapter 1: Beginning in a Tavern

In another age, a great shadow known as the Empire of the Black Temple spread rapidly across the realms of Western Acrylia, consuming dozens of nations and stripping them bare of their people and resources. These ill-gotten spoils were then ferried back to the sprawling capital city, a mass of grotesque architecture built with deliberate design around a massive central citadel. Many unproven rumors existed about that great onyx fortress which served as both seat of government and religious epicenter for the Templar nation. There were whispers that the lower levels, banned to all by the ruling sorcerers, were places where nameless rites were practiced and blasphemous prayers were uttered, and where certain Unknown Gods were worshiped and invoked. But these were the subject of rumor and myth, while what was known as fact was that the ground level of the great temple citadel housed a massive vault at its very center. It was in this vault that the riches stolen from other nations were hoarded, and where only the Templar Sorcerer-Priests were permitted access. Many priceless treasures, religious idols and magical artifacts were sealed away there, never to be seen again by those who once rightfully possessed them.

But as the end of the age neared, the Empire of the Black Temple rapidly fell into chaos, declining even more rapidly than it had rose. The sorcerer-priests who ruled from the Temple Citadel went completely mad, leaving the subordinates and guards to attempt to maintain order as their masters were reduced to gibbering husks. Rebellion and madness soon spread across the capital city, and the rest of the empire with it, and all the world knew the reign of the Templars had come to an end. But before the capital city was completely annihilated and its ruins lost to history, a small band of temple guards broke into the great vault and stole away with the hoarded treasure. Even as the Templar Empire faded from the memories of man, the legend of the temple horde lived on, inspiring adventurers and hunters to seek the missing treasure for centuries to come. But none were ever successful…

It wasn’t until the dawn of the Modern Age that the first hints of the legendary horde’s location came to light. Discoveries in (the Northern Continent) by researchers from the Westinburg University gave the first clues that the Templars who had moved the treasure had crossed the sea from the South. Renowned archaeologist and anthropologist, Professor Pierre DeLouse, eventually took full control of the search. Even after the University’s interest waned and its funding for the project dried up, DeLouse and his Leprechaun colleague, Dr. Red McBrown, diligently continued their work. At long last, DeLouse’s efforts paid-off, and he was able to draw up a precise map that would lead to the treasure’s final resting place.

Unfortunately for DeLouse, McBrown’s loyalties did not lie with the Westinburg University, and the conniving Leprechaun used his close working relationship to make a copy of the map himself, before abandoning his former friend to seek sponsorship with the nefarious Corbaine Family of Eastport. DeLouse, upon learning of this betrayal, realized he had no time to return to the University from the research camp, and instead decided to hire local mercenaries to his expedition. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either man, the rising Kingdom of Cerulea had infiltrated the Corbaine Family, and a Cerulean spy, upon learning of McBrown’s partnership with the Corbaines to find the lost Templar Treasure, sent word back to his masters in the Holy Capital. As a result, the aging Cerulean King, a life-long warrior known as Leonardo Lionheart, began assembling an expedition of his own, hoping to cleanse the world of the heathen idols and artifacts contained within the horde (not to mention add the melted-down gold to the royal treasury).

Fortunately, DeLouse had the least traveling to accomplish, and as a result, had the early advantage. He found a suitable tavern on his route, where a fair number curious (and well-armed) individuals were mulling about. Several boisterous patrons sat at the bar, including a drunken Leprechaun and a gruff Dwarven woman, the latter of which was challenging the Alizarian bartender to a duel. In the background, an armored man was proclaiming the Gospel of the Banana to an unwilling congregation, while some shifty characters observed the well-dressed newcomer with ill-intent in their eyes. Rather than approach any of these individuals, however; DeLouse instead approached a table where a teenage girl in ornate armor was sitting in silence.

“Good morning, ma’am.” he greeted, displaying his distinguished high-Westinburg accent, “You wouldn’t be in need of work, by chance? I am looking to assemble a group of armed individuals for a recover and escort task. It pays quite handsomely, and I can a--”

“HEY!” a raspy female voice sounded behind DeLouse.

Turning around, the professor found the belligerent Dwarven woman standing behind him, a sword out and pointed up at his chin.

“You here to fight!?” she demanded.

“Ah… uh… no.” DeLouse stammered, “B-but! I am organizing a group of people for a job that may involve fighting!”

“May involve fighting?” the Dwarven lady snarled.

“Ah, did I say may?” DeLouse laughed nervously, “It will involve fighting, of course!”

“Then count me in!” the woman sheathed her sword, then gave an approving fist pump.

“Oh, uh, excellent! We’ll be leaving as soon as I have more people on the team!” DeLouse nodded, “Speaking of which…”

He turned to speak with the cryptic woman again, only to bump into a rather hulking fellow with a black beard, long, black hair and no shirt. The muscular man just glared down at the much smaller professor, who gulped audibly.

“You are in my way, little man.”

“My apologies, good sir!” DeLouse tried to move aside, only to be brushed aside by a meaty arm, causing him to stumble into an occupied chair at a nearby table.

“Ack!” the person in the chair gasped, as her drink was sent splashing across the table and onto the man on the opposite side.

“Oh, that’s a good one lass! You got me!” the recipient of the liquid, an aging man with a grey beard and a hook in place of his left hand, chuckled in amusement.

“Hey! You should watch where you’re going!” the bumped person, a woman wearing a hood, a jacket and trousers with with a black belt, snapped at DeLouse, whilst ignoring the bearded man.

“Terribly sorry!” DeLouse apologized.

At this point, he realized three of the four people who were at this table were now staring at him, which made this both a really embarrassing situation, but also a potentially opportune one.

“Ah, well, while I have your attention…” the professor sputtered, “I am in need of armed associates to assist me in a recovery and transport mission. The trek may be dangerous, but it pays quite well! Perhaps some of you fine folk would like to join?”

“Sounds like a great idea to me!” the bearded fellow proclaimed, “It’s been a while since I’ve gotten out and about!”

“I’ll join.” the hooded woman added, “If you buy me a new drink.”

“Why yes, of course.” DeLouse agreed to those terms, then looked to the other table occupants.

One was a ranger of some sort, as he had a quiver and a short bow, as well as broadsword hanging at his side. The other was a young woman with a long, braided ponytail, and with a spear rested against the table at her side. The latter didn’t seem to be paying attention to DeLouse, however; while the ranger’s interest appeared piqued.

“Pray tell,” the man hissed, his voice snake-like in its conniving undertone, “What is it that we are to recover? I am quite curious.”

“Yes, well, you understand if I would rather explain that on the journey.” DeLouse shook his head, “This is not the best place for it.”

“Understandable, I suppose.” the ranger shrugged, “If that’s the case though, I’m afraid I will not be joining you. I prefer to know what I’m getting into, you understand.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” DeLouse sighed, but realized there was still one other person her he could potentially recruit, “How about you, miss? Are you interested?”

There was no response.

“Um, miss? Ma’am? Ah, hello?”

“Are you talking to me?” the woman asked in a low-toned, somewhat dull-sounding voice, as she looked up from her silent brooding.

“Yes, yes of course I am!” DeLouse declared, “Are you interested in my job offer?”

The woman just looked at him inquisitively, as though she had no idea what he spoke of.

“Um, were you listening to me at all just now?” DeLouse looked a little annoyed.

“Nah.” the woman shook her head, “And honestly, I don’t care what your job is.”

DeLouse sighed again in disappointment, and was about to leave the table when she continued.

“As long as it gets me out of this rat-hole, I’m in.”

“Ah, splendid!” the professor’s face lit-up once more, “Now, if only I could-- oh!”

He had begun to turn, only to find himself facing armored girl who had evidently risen from her seat and came up behind him while he was distracted.

“I’ve considered your offer, and I accept.” she stated, her voice barely a hoarse whisper, and sounding far more mature than her physical age indicated.

“Right! Welcome to the team!” DeLouse beamed, “Now, that should be enough. If you all would be so kind as to gather your necessities, we need to depart posthaste! We have a boat to catch!”

But while DeLouse cheerily organized his team for departure, the ranger had left his seat and skulked off to one of the shadowed corners of the tavern, where another man was busy enjoying a smoke roll.

“Robin, I believe we have a good one.” the ranger snickered, “Fancy-pants over there is looking for armed individuals to escort a certain something. A something that he is afraid to reveal here in the tavern. Promising, is it not?”

“Ah, yes indeed, Relleck.” Robin mused as he took a couple puffs of smoke, “Sounds like he has something to hide. And anything worth hiding is definitely worth stealing! Prepare our supplies, partner. Wherever they go, we won’t be far behind! Hehehehe.”

***

And so, Pierre DeLouse and his newly-formed expedition set off for the coast on foot, arriving just over a day later. There they boarded a ship bound for Seremet, an island to the east, where DeLouse’s research had indicated the treasure was hidden. During the voyage, DeLouse explained the nature of what it was they were hunting, though he avoided giving more specifics than necessary.

In addition, the group learned each-others names, and a little bit about one-another. The Dwarven woman was named Jane, and her clan had once been proud warriors, but had since abandoned their heritage and taken on “pansy” professions like chilled cream making, leaving her to seek honorable combat alone. The bearded fellow identified himself as Henry Bones, a former sailor enjoying his retirement years, but desiring the thrill of adventure one more time. The hooded woman was called Ruth Flemming, and she revealed herself to have the ability to conjure fire through her hands, though she hinted that it was in fact some sort of curse rather than magic ability. The bored girl with the spear was known as Zeya, but she didn’t care enough about socializing to tell anyone anything further than that. The last member of the escort, Aeverie, claimed to be from the Barrier Mountains in Acrylia, though she likewise spoke little of her family or heritage.

After only a couple days at sea, the vessel reached Seremet, where it made port in the only major civilized city on the island. Unfortunately, that city (and ostensibly, the island as a whole) were under the rule of the Ceruleans, and the local governor was quite strict about inspecting all vessels that elected to anchor in his harbor. Subsequently, upon docking, the boat was forced to receive a delegation of soldiers. The sergeant-at-arms of the inspection team, an arrogant-looking fellow in a blue tabard that boldly showed off the Cerulean king’s crest, made it difficult for DeLouse and his followers. But ultimately they were unable to find any illegal goods, nor reason to detain the professor and his ensemble. Thus, they were all eventually allowed to disembark.

As they were making their way along the docks to head into the town, a lone individual wearing black robes and a black cape, and with jet black hair swept over his face, stepped into their path. The individual was a young male, likely in his early twenties at the most, and still in a bit of a phase. However, he was carrying a star-headed magic wand, which was a serious piece of equipment if it was not merely a counterfeit.

“Aha! Halt right there!” the man declared in an overly-dramatic tone, “It is I, the Cursor! Bane of normalcy, undoer of natural order, vexer of the common man, and terrorizer of the prideful! It is my life’s dedication to sow chaos and discord among totally random people, causing them great shame, embarrassment and inconvenience! Aha, but never death! I abhor violence, after all! And what good is it to cause misfortune of your victims, I say, if they are not alive to suffer through it? Therefor! I must invoke curses upon members of your party, in order to cause the aforementioned misfortune as I have so thoroughly dedicated myself to causing!”

“Sounds more like you’re just dedicated to idiotic monologues…” Zeya muttered.

“So… you gonna fight us or not!?” Jane snapped.

“Ah, now everyone just remain calm!” DeLouse sputtered, “There is no need for violence, or causing chaos or curses! After all, we have done nothing to you good sir!”

“But that is precisely the point, all that I do is random! And I do it to all I come across, regardless of whether they be innocent or guilty!” the Cursor laughed, “Now, it is time to begin! Temere’exponentia!”

Waving his wand, the crazy wizard fired a small blast of sparkling magic energy toward the adventurers. They all scattered, allowing the spell to smack into a barrel, causing it to abruptly shrink from view. Laughing madly, the Cursor barked out his curse again, then started hurling spells at anyone who he could see. Aeverie, attempting to take advantage of his distraction, tried to come around the flank. But the Cursor spotted her before she could get in range, and he quickly spun around and shot a curse straight into her as she made her charge. The woman was instantly encased in ice, falling over and sliding pathetically right up to the Cursor’s feet.

“Yes, just stay here and chill awhile, lady!” the Cursor cackled.

“Oi! What’s going on over there!” the voice of a guard called-out from one of the towers overlooking the dockyard.

“And that’s my cue to leave!” the crazy wizard remarked, “Ta-ta, my new friends; I’ll see you again soon!”

As more soldiers came shuffling into the area, the black-clad madman scurried off into the shadowed alleyways and out of sight. With the coast clear, DeLouse and the mercenaries emerged from cover, then gathered around the frozen Aeverie.

“Well, what are we going to do about this, ey?” Bones questioned.

“I can handle this.” Ruth was quick to answer, as she raised her hands and faced her palms toward the ice block.

Everyone took a surprised step back as flames jetting out from Ruth’s hands, rapidly melting away the ice block until most of it was just a puddle of water. Ruth stopped just short of scorching Aeverie, who managed to force herself the rest of the way free.

“I’m going to kill him if he shows up again.” she growled as she rung water out of her clothing.

“Heh, not even a thank you.” Ruth muttered.

“Excellent, you’re unharmed!” DeLouse proclaimed, “Let’s be away before more guards try to question us!”

“Can’t we fight them?!” Jane hissed.

“Or that!” DeLouse pointed at Jane, “Let’s go!”



Chapter 2: The Graveyard

After purchasing a pack mule to haul their supplies, the team began their journey to the interior. The trek across the island was relatively peaceful at first, at least while they were in the civilized, Cerulean-occupied territory. But the terrain grew more and more difficult the further into the countryside they went, as rocky outcroppings and rolling hills signaled their increasing nearness to the mountains at the center of the island. However, their destination was not the mountains, but rather a decrepit cemetery that lie near a decaying farming village. The stone archway, of a design predating most modern nations, loomed hauntingly in the late evening light as DeLouse’s team approached.

“Ah, here we are.” DeLouse declared, “My research indicates this cemetery contains an important key to our quest.”

“I say, don’t you already have a map that will lead us to the treasurrre?” Henry Bones inquired.

“Oh, well yes, but even if we found the location of the treasure, we first need this important key.” DeLouse explained, “The Templars buried it with one of their leaders, hoping no one but their own would find it again. But I, the renowned Pierre DeLouse, have managed tracked it down!”

Just as he concluded that, the group came to a stop near the center of the cemetery. Hundreds of graves were lined up in any direction one looked, many of them with their stones reduced to weathered rubble. As if on cue, the sun vanished behind a thick cloud, casting a deep shadow over the countryside that was not likely to be banished until the next day, as the sun had nearly gone below the horizon anyway.

“Well that’s just typical.” Zeya scoffed, “Wouldn’t make sense to search the graveyard during the day, would it?”

“Indeed, our timing is impeccable!” DeLouse proudly announced, “Using the cover of darkness, we will be able to search at will without anyone accusing us of grave robbing!”

“And we should care what they accuse us of… why…?” Zeya wondered.

“Now then, distribute the shovels there, Henry.” DeLouse ignored the speargirl, instead motioning for the old man to recover the tools from the pack mule.

“Right, as you say.” Henry agreed.

“Do you even know which grave is the right one?” Aeverie cut-in.

“Yes, um… of course.” DeLouse chuckled nervously, “I assume it will be the oldest, most eroded grave of all of them.”

Henry handed a shovel to Aeverie at precisely that moment, which she promptly tried to give to Zeya, but received only a blank stare in response. Subsequently, Aeverie shoved it into DeLouse’s hands instead.

“Feel free to find and dig it up yourself. We’re just here to guard you, after all.” she told him.

“Eh-heh, good point. Yes, very good point.” DeLouse admitted, “Um, I think it might be… this... way…?”

DeLouse would go on to wander the cemetery for nearly two hours, during which time total darkness enveloped the area, forcing the the mercenaries to light torches so their client could see. At last, they found a particularly old grave, where DeLouse managed to spot some faint Templar markings on the remnants of the headstone. However, the grey-haired intellectual was starting to tire, so Ruth generously offered to do the digging. She proved remarkably quick and efficient with it too, soon unearthing an incredibly old coffin, carved out of stone instead of being made from wood. DeLouse wasted little time in having the heavy covering removed, revealing an ancient skeleton in rusting armor. Around the neck of the long decayed body was a chain necklace, at the end of which was a discolored silver key. That key sat peacefully atop the breastplate of the armor, just above where the corpse’s arms terminated in a pair of folded hands.

“It’s… a literal… key…” Zeya scrunched her nose.

“Yes, yes indeed. This important key will be key in our quest!” DeLouse proclaimed.

He reached down and fingered the key, slowly peeling it off the rusty surface of the armor beneath. He in the process of lifting the key away from the skeleton, when one of the fleshless hands suddenly snapped out of its age-old posture and grabbed DeLouse’s wrist. The professor immediately froze in shock.

“Didn’t see that coming…” Ruth remarked, as she and all the other mercenaries took a step away from DeLouse and the corpse.

“Yooooouuuu should not be here.” a voice echoed on the wind, causing everyone but the fixated professor to glance around nervously

They sorely wished they hadn’t, for all around them, movement could be seen close to the ground amongst the graves. Not just close to the ground, but from under the ground! And when the first bony hands emerged from the dirt, clawing and scratching their way free in order to make way for the rest of their bodies, the mercenaries realized they had been surrounded by an army of the undead.

“Weapons out!” Aeverie barked, “Get ready!”

“Treeeeespasssssers will be… shhhhot!” the voice hissed.

As the skeletons began to emerge from their resting places, some were revealed to be carrying filthy, but surprisingly functional bows, though others were carrying blunt clubs or dull swords. The grotesque ensemble began to close in on the adventurers, their dirt-clotted bones creaking as they shambled through the rows of headstones.

“What the heck is going on!?” Ruth shrieked.

“It’s necromancy.” Aeverie answered, her eyes scanning the graveyard beyond the undead horde, “And that means there’s a…”

Then she spied it, a figure in a black robe standing beyond the skeletons, holding a long staff with a skull attached to the top of it. Though the individual’s face was obscured by a hood, a pair of faintly glowing eyes could be seen staring out from within. There was also a faint glow surrounding the staff, indicating that magic power was being funneled through it.

“There!” Aeverie declared, “Keep DeLouse alive, I’ll handle this!”

She rushed off in a blur, her twin blades slicing through the clumsy skeletons that tried to block her path as she made for the necromancer.

“She’s abandoning us!” Ruth moaned.

“Who cares?! We finally get to fight!” Jane barked, “RAH!”

The dwarven woman was soon diving headfirst into the horde, leaving Ruth, Zeya and Henry to defend the professor.

“Well lasses, it looks like we’re in a tough situation.” Henry remarked.

“We know already!” Ruth squeaked.

“Eh…” Zeya shrugged.

“Look out! Waaarrgg!” Henry suddenly whipped his sabre overhead and severed the head off a charging skeleton, before kicking the body away.

And with that, the whole horde attacked in earnest. While the club and sword-wielding skeletons kept the adventurers occupied, the archers stood back and fired arrows into the fray, often hitting other skeletons as they tried to shoot the trespassers. The three fought frantically, only to hear the professor cry out in terror from behind them. Upon turning to see, the adventurers would find the corpse they had come to loot was now on its feet, clutching the weak DeLouse by the throat.

“D-d-do something!” the professor gagged desperately.

“Aye, do something!” Henry barked, having to dodge two skeletons at once, and thus being unable to help.

“Do--” Ruth started to say, only to duck a swing at her head.

“Do--”, she then had to dodge an arrow.

 “DO--” she sent a jet of flames into a several skeletons that were trying to charge her from the flank, “DO SOMETHING!!!”

“...Eh, fine…” Zeya grumbled, turning about-face and rushing toward DeLouse and his assailant.

With a mighty thrust, she shoved her spear right into the skeleton’s side, punching through the empty ribcage and out the other side. The skeleton, seemingly unaffected and unamused, slowly rotated its head to face the attack, a disgusting creaking sound accompanying the slow pivot of the skull. Zeya and the skeleton glared at one another, or rather one glared, the other had empty eye sockets whose general direction approximated a glare.

“Right…” Zeya pursed her lips, “Looks like I brought a piercing weapon to a blunt weapon fight.”

She immediately released her right grip on the spear, instead balling her first and giving the skeleton a swift uppercut to the jawbone. The entire skull popped right off and rolled back into the grave, while the body hesitated in confusion. A quick shove sent it crumbling into pieces.

“You saved my life!” DeLouse proclaimed, attempting to pull Zeya into a hug, “Thank you so very much!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” the speargirl retorted, shoving DeLouse away, “Just stay out of the way and don’t get-- Hrrk!”

She was cut-off as an arrow embedded itself in her lower abdomen, promptly causing her to go rigid and drop her spear. DeLouse, who had been in the path of the arrow just before being shoved away, reacted with joy rather than horror.

“You saved me again! I am in your debt!” he declared.

“Lovely…” Zeya mumbled, before falling to the ground in a heap.

“Oh dear. Ah, help! Someone! It appears my noble rescuer is wounded!”

“I can handle this!” Ruth brushed past DeLouse, “Give me some space.”

She knelt over the wounded woman and broke off the arrow, then tore Zeya’s leather tunic away from the wound. The arrow hadn’t penetrated deeply, but it was still enough that there was considerable bleeding.

“Okay, I can cauterize this. Are you ready?” Ruth looked up toward Zeya’s face, the injured girl being just barely conscious.

“Cauterize…? What’s that mean…?” Zeya asked weakly, “Never mind… I don’t care, just so it… helps…”

“Cauterize means I seal the wound,” Ruth began, holding a hand up and igniting a small flame in her palm, “with fire.”

Zeya’s eyes widened slightly.

“Oh second thought, maybe I--”

She didn’t finish, as her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell unconscious.

“Hrmph. Well, that makes this much easier.” Ruth shrugged.

Meanwhile, Aeverie had cut a (non-)bloody path through the skeletons en route to the necromancer himself. As the last of his defending undead was cut-down, the necromancer adopted a ready stance, using his staff as his weapon. The girl was quickly upon him, her skill in melee combat readily apparent as she battered his defenses. The necromancer sensed he was not going to win, so he continued to attempt to summon his skeleton minions to aid him. Unfortunately, this allowed Henry and Jane to easily pick them off as they turned away from the fight near the looted the grave. As a result, none of them reached their master in time to aid him.

“This is my domain! Leave!” the necromancer shrieked, his technique growing more and more desperate.

But Aeverie did not let up, scoring a shallow cut across the man’s chest, revealing a small amount of blood and skin beneath. The necromancer angrily reciprocated, knocking one of the girl’s swords from her grasp with the butt of his staff. She blocked his attempted follow-up with her remaining sword, then suddenly lunged forward and shoved her hand into the hole torn in his clothing. As soon as her hand made contact with his skin, the necromancer let out a shocked cry.

“What is this!? What are you… what are you doing… to me…?” he gasped, suddenly feeling weaker and weaker.

“You should not have interfered.” Aeverie responded coldly, not removing her hand from the man’s chest until all life had drained from him.

When she was satisfied, she released him, allowing the black-cloaked body to slump to the bone-covered ground. As she stepped aside to recover her other sword, Henry and Jane arrived on the scene.

“Aye, looks like ya got him!” Henry chuckled, “Good work, lass!”

“Is the battle already over? I was just getting warmed up.” Jane moaned.

“It’s over.” Aeverie acknowledged, moving past the two in order to return to the open grave.

They found Zeya still unconscious, but with her wound now bound-up tightly thanks to the efforts of Ruth and DeLouse. The expedition leader was already moving back to the grave, intending to recover the key from the now neutralized skeleton.

“Hmm, will she be okay?” Henry asked.

“She’ll live.” Ruth replied.

“Yes, of course! She will live!” DeLouse proclaimed, “Ah, now, where is that-- oh, there we are!”

The professor recovered the key and held it up into the moonline that was now gleaming through the clouds. Smiling in satisfaction, the Westinberg native allowed his hired hands a moment to gaze at the thing he was holding.

“This is it.” he said, “This is the key to the forgotten vault! Soon, we will find the treasure itself!”

“I think not, Professor!”

As if on cue, several dozen human figures emerged from the shadows surrounding the grave. A short one took the lead, stepping into the moonlight to reveal the face of a middle-aged leprechaun, prompting DeLouse to grasp in recognition.

“Red McBrown! And your ill-gotten allies no doubt! Have you been following us, you traitorous blackguard?” DeLouse cried indignantly.

“Nay.” McBrown shook his head, “You forget, my old friend, I have a copy of your map! We merely arrived late!”

“Late? By the devil, how did you manage to get to Acrylia and back so quickly! The journey should have taken you days longer!” DeLouse roared.

“Ah, for a common sailing vessel, perhaps. But if you recall, my allies are of the Corbaine Family! They possess the fastest chips in the world!” McBrown laughed.

“Aye, that we do!” another figure spoke, as the rest of those surrounding the adventurers stepped into the light, confirming their identities as Eastport pirates, though the leader and those immediately around him bore the dressings of Corbaine enforcers, “Isn’t that right, captain?”

The lead enforcer, a skilled but arrogant fellow by the name of Koopa MacDoogle, turned toward one of the other pirates, one with a larger than average hat. That pirate was evidently the captain of the non-enforcer crew, as the Corbaines employed large numbers of contracted privateers.

“Aye!” the captain pumped his fist in the air.

“Now, you’ll be handin’ over that key now!” MacDoogle turned back toward DeLouse, “The treasure horde belongs tuh the Corbaine Family!”

“The posturing…” Aeverie groaned.

“N-no! The treasure belongs in a museum! Where all can enjoy the priceless--” DeLouse attempted to protest MacDoogle’s demand.

“Right, I gave you ya chance.” the enforcer interrupted, “Captain, kill them all and recover that key!”

“Oy, now just a moment there, matey!” Henry stepped forward, “I’ve sailed the seas many a year, and I know a unfair deal when I see it. You say the treasure is going to the Family, ey?”

“Yes…?” MacDoogle narrowed his eyes.

“But what about the captain here? Shouldn’t he and his boys be getting the lion’s share? Seeing as they’re the ones doing all the work!” Henry continued.

The captain and his pirate crew hesitated, then looked at one another. The captain turned toward MacDoogle a moment later, an suspicious look in his eye.

“He be right! My men and I be the ones that brought ye lot here! And we be the ones about to risk life an’ limb to get yer key. The treasure should be ours by rights!”

“What? Don’t be absurd!” MacDoogle sputtered, “You’re a privateer employed by the family! Ya get standard pay for this job, and nothing more, unless the Family decides you’re worthy of a bonus!”

“Did ye hear that boys? The Family be expectin’ us to just be ‘appy with common wages!” the captain growled, “Did they forget, we be pirates!? I say we kill these landlubbers, then get the key for ourselves!”

“AYE!!!” the pirates roared, suddenly turning away from DeLouse’s group and toward the Corbaine enforcers.

“This is mutiny!” MacDoogle roared, whipping out his sabre.

“Aye, that it be.” the captain agreed with a piratey grin, “YARRR!”

There was a massive clash of steel as the pirates and enforcers engaged, leaving DeLouse standing there with a confused expression on his face, and Henry Bones with a proud smile upon his. There they stood, at least until Ruth grabbed them both by the ears and pulled them back to the tethered pack mule. Zeya, who was just barely awake, was helped along by Jane, as the expedition made their escape from the graveyard. Behind them, they could hear McBrown screaming angrily at his supposed allies.

“What are you doing!? They’ve got the key! They’re getting away! Are any of you people listening to me!? Stop fighting, damn it! Arg! Bloody PIRATES!!!”

But while the pirates remained behind to provide fresh corpses to fill those recently emptied graves, a couple figures slipped out of the cemetery behind the expedition, intending to follow them all the way to their goal...



Chapter 3: Over the Mountains and Through the Forest

Foothills sooned turned to mountains as the expedition continued its upward trek. The treacherous leprechaun and the Eastporters did not appear to be following, so the professor and his associates were afforded the luxury of a slower pace. This was fortunate, as Zeya’s wound would not have permitted them to move rapidly anyway.

As they ascended, more of the island’s ancient beauty became visible from above. Vast plains of farmland transitioned into hills and gullies, scattered with tree groves and ruins from civilizations long gone. The ocean could be spied in the distance, weaving in and out through bays and inlets and small peninsulas. The clouds seemed to get ever lower as the elevation crew higher, and soon, the lowest clouds became fog that impeded their vision.

Near the summit, they were overtaken by a lone rider. The man was not dressed in local garb, but rather wore the robes and turban of a man of the desert. Upon reaching the expedition, the man slowed his horse so that he could speak to them in passing.

“You should turn back, travelers.” he urged, “Only evil can befall you in the places that lie ahead.”

“Ah, we are prepared! Worry not about us!” DeLouse answered confidently.

“Very well, but do not say I failed to warn you.” the man responded, before quickly riding off ahead of them.

“Why would he warn us about proceeding forward, then go that way himself?” Ruth wondered as the rider disappeared from sight.

“He’s clearly hiding something.” Aeverie remarked.

“Maybe he’s hiding a band of warriors that we can fight!” Jane grinned.

“Now now, I’m sure he was just concerned for our wellbeing!” DeLouse declared, “But I’m confident you fine folks can handle anything that’s thrown at us!”

“Is that so?” a familiar voice suddenly proclaimed.

“Aw, son-of-a--”

Out from behind a rock lept the black-clad fellow who called himself “The Cursor”. His wand was at the ready as he posed dramatically on the path just ahead of them.

“Nothing can prepare you for power of a well-placed curse! Aha!” the young man laughed, “Prepare yourselves! Oh wait, I just said you can’t prepare… never mind then! Here it comes! Ha! What the--? AHH!!!! CUUUURSEEEESSS!!!”

He was very rudely interrupted as Jane, who had broken into a sprint almost as soon as The Cursor appeared, plowed right into him and pushed him off the cliff. As the others gathered around the edge to watch the obnoxious magic-user disappear into the mist below, Henry asked what everyone else was thinking.

“How’d ya hit him so fast, lass?”

“I’m a dwarf.” Jane shrugged, “We’re natural sprinters; very dangerous over short distances.”

“Hmm, that makes sense.” Henry nodded.

“Let’s just get moving.” Zeya muttered drowsily.

No one argued.

***

The terrain eventually leveled-off as the expedition finally crossed the mountain and reached the hidden plateau that lie beyond. The road, or rather, the trail that barely resembled a road at this point, soon came to an end near the edge of a dense highland forest. An ancient marker, reduced to little more than a pile of weathered stones over the ages, indicated that this was as far as the faintest traces of civilization extended. The forest itself was thick and dark, but it was through this forest that the intrepid explorers would need to travel.

Despite some hesitation from the mercenaries, DeLouse urged them on. The forest was oddly warm, despite the high altitude, and the trees that grew within were not the one would expect to find here. DeLouse explained that this plateau was actually an ancient volcano, and though it hadn’t been active for hundreds of years, the geysers and hot air vents scattered along the the modern-day plateau gave the locale an almost tropical atmosphere.

“I thought you were an archeologist, not a geologist.” Ruth wondered.

“A what and a what…?” Jane scratched her head.

“Ah, but one must still be familiar with the basic geographical history of the region they are working in.” DeLouse stated, “Why, if you don’t know what sort of stone you are digging up, you could-- Oh, bother.”

The Professor found his boot stuck in some sort of sticky substance on the ground beneath him, which upon closer inspection appeared to be some sort of white netting. Like a very large spider web, in fact.

“Something grab you again, professor?” Aeverie rolled her eyes.

“Ey, hold up a moment there mateys, I thought I heard something.” Henry suddenly held a hand up to halt everyone’s movements.

There was dead stillness as all the mercenaries stopped and looked around. Not even a breeze could be felt through the oppressive woodland. But all at once, the stillness was broken as two massive spiders, each nearly four meters in radial diameter, dropped from the trees above and landed amidst the expedition.

“What the--!?” Ruth exclaimed.

“Woo! Something to fight!” Jane laughed, drawing her sword in an instant and charging the nearest one.

“Oh dear, oh dear!” DeLouse panicked, trying to pull himself free as he watched the other spider start to move in on him.

Aeverie drew her dual swords and moved to intercept it before it got to the professor, but the spider reacted more quickly than she expected and one of the arachnid’s legs abruptly extended out and slammed into her. The blow knocked her to the ground, but she had at least taken the spider’s attention away from DeLouse for the moment, as the creature now pivoted to face her instead. Aeverie was quickly back on her feet, slashing at the arachnid as it tried to plunge its pinchers into her. Her sword struck one of the creature’s legs, but the limb proved to be well-armored and far more resilient to the attack than expected.

Zeya hobbled over to Aeverie to help, but the girl was already back to her feet and pointing at DeLouse with one of her swords.

“Get the professor out! I’ve got it this.”

“Whatever…”

With Zeya moving out of the way to help DeLouse, Aeverie resumed her battle with the spider. But she had underestimated the creature, as it suddenly charged her and slammed her into a tree. Leaving her there, the arachnid abruptly turned around and made for Zeya and the still stuck professor. Thankfully, DeLouse noticed it and pointed it out, allowing the spear-wielder a chance to whirl around and poise her weapon. A quick stab into the side of the spider’s face caused it to shriek and back away for a moment, allowing Zeya a moment to pull out a knife and hand it to DeLouse.

“Cut yourself loose.” she muttered, then began to side step away to draw the spider’s attention away from the professor.

“Ah, yes… of course…” DeLouse looked down at his boot.

As for the spider, it did follow Zeya, and was about to charge again, when Aeverie leapt upon it from behind and attempted to stab it in the back with both her swords. However, the spider immediately and hurled the girl from its back before she could strike. As Aeverie landed in a heap nearby, Zeya rolled her eyes and prepared herself again. The spider wasted little time, soon coming after her. Zeya’s attempted stab barely pierced the creature’s exoskeleton, and the force of impact threw her to the ground with the monster soon hovering directly over her. Luckily, she hadn’t dropped her spear, which was still clutched tightly in her hand. Repositioning it to a spot in the spider’s underbelly, she thrust the polearm forward with all the strength she could muster. Greenish-yellow ooze began to trickle from the wound as the bladed tip pierced deep into the creature, prompting a roaring screech from the spider. The arachnid quickly pulled away, allowing Zeya to retract her weapon, then turned and fled into the forest. Zeya got up and walked toward Aeverie, who was also getting back to her feet.

“Where’s the professor?” Aeverie demanded.

Zeya just hiked a thumb over her should, whilst uttering a disinterested “eh”. In the background behind her, DeLouse was still fumbling around in the web, now with both his feet, one of his hands, and the Zeya’s knife, all stuck.

“I see…” Aeverie sighed.

In the meantime, Jane, Ruth and Henry had killed the other spider and were rejoining the others. The mulched and smouldering remains of the once fearsome monster lie in the background as they arrived at where Aeverie and Zeya were standing.

“Hey, where’d the other one go, lasses?” Henry wondered, not seeing the second spider.

“It ran off. Let’s just get the professor out so we can get a move on.” Aeverie shook her head.

“Not so fast!” declared a voice.

“Again? Haven’t we already been through this?” Ruth groaned.

The man on the horse they had encountered on the road earlier emerged from the underbrush. He was joined soon after by a couple dozen men in simple earth-colored tunics and wide, saucer-like hats, and each carrying a crude spear. But more noticeable was the fact that each of them was completely shaven of hair, and that each bore a wide, eerie smile upon their face. Just a moment of staring at them revealed the smile didn’t once flinch.

“That’s… creepy…” Aeverie remarked.

“Good heavens! It’s the Happy Spearmen of Incarsalonia!” DeLouse gasped.

“The what?” Ruth wondered.

“The Happy Spearman of Incrasalonia. It’s an island that was formerly an Alizarian colony. It’s now a haven to some of the worst slavers in the world.” DeLouse explained, “All those men… they’re slaves.”

“Don’t fool yourselves! Whoever they were before is gone now!” Jane barked, “Those slavers know how to break their victims completely! We have to fight them!”

“Oh, how right you are.” the rider laughed, “I cannot risk you discovering and reporting my slave camp, after all. I did warn you. Men, subdue them! I’m excited to perform some of my special techniques on this lot! They should be an interesting challenge to break.”

The spearmen, facial expressions still frozen in that same unsettling smile, quickly surrounded the mercenaries, then closed-in to attack. But, though everyone was exhausted from battling the spiders, these spearmen were nowhere near the same level. No amount of brainwashing could compare to the combat experience possessed by the mercenaries.

Wood, metal and flesh collided with one-another as the adventurers cut down the first wave of spearmen, creating a defensive perimeter around DeLouse at the same time. As his troops began to rapidly decrease in number, the slaver grudgingly drew out his scimitar and urged his horse forward into the fray.

“You will all suffer for this insole--aaaahhh!”

The man suddenly found himself sliding off his horse, as a sudden slash by Jane’s sword had severed one of the straps holding his saddle in place. Rather than completely fall-off, however; the slaver’s foot remained caught in the sterip, resulting in him being drug along as the horse ran through the battle and off into the forest.

“What!? Hey, come back here!” Jane waved her blade after the slaver and his horse, “I haven’t finished with you yet!”

But before she could chase him, another spearman tried to attack her. She promptly disposed of the interloper, but the slaver was already long gone. The rest of the spearmen were killed quickly, as even Zeya was able to battle effectively despite her injury. Spearing was her forte, after all, which gave her an advantage.

“That was too easy.” Aeverie stated, half-suspecting something else to jump out at them.

“Well, ah, nobody ever accused the Happy Spearmen of being great warriors! Eh-heh.” DeLouse chuckled nervously, “Now then, would someone be so kind as to um… get me out of this web? Please?”



[size=14]Chapter 4: The Horde Cavern[/size]

After camping for the night to recuperate their wounds, the members of the expedition set out first thing the next morning. They did not have to travel far to reach the entrance to the supposed secret vault. It’s entrance was an old stone door, covered largely by greenery and moss, but with a raised opening within which appeared to be a keyhole. For all the efforts that had been taken to hide this place away, a simple lock and key seemed like an amusing way of securing it.

“You weren’t kidding about the key, were you…” Aeverie deadpanned.

“No, of course not!” DeLouse laughed, “This is real archeology my friend! Things are far more literal! All that figurative, metaphorical nonsense is just stuff they make up in books and plays.”

“Well, turn the key then, lad!” Henry urged eagerly.

“Aha, not so fast!” a voice cried from the treeline.

“Not again!” Ruth groaned.

“You may have evaded me last time, but this time I have you right where I want you!” the Cursor, still somehow alive despite seeming demise, proclaimed.

“Okay, that’s it!” Ruth spat, “This time I’m gonna fry you!”

“How about… No!” the Cursor laughed, quickly turning his wand toward Ruth and firing.

“Wha!?” Ruth wasn’t able to move out of the way as the spell struck her square in the face.

A second later, she had no face! Ruth’s hands went to quickly shot up to where it had once been, but only a flat, empty canvas of skin was in the place where he eyes, nose and mouth had once been.

“Why ya dirty blackguard!” Henry snarled, drawing his massive sabre and pointing it toward the Cursor, “I’ll do ya in for that!”

“I’d like to see you try!” the rogue wizard cackled, hurling another spell toward Henry.

Henry swung his sabre through the air, deflecting the spell off the wide blade somehow, then charged toward the Cursor.

“As you see lad, my sword is immune to magic!” Henry scoffed, “I will deflect every spell you send!”

“We shall seeeeee!!!” the Cursor wailed, hurling curse after curse at Henry as the old sailor drew in close.

Then, at the last minute, as Henry was about to swipe the wizard’s head-off, the Cursor dove and rolled to the right flank, casting a spell aimed at his foe’s foot. Henry was unable to block or dodge in time, as the magic energy struck his foot.

“Aw, drat!” he groaned, as the magic energy quickly enveloped his body, changing it into that of a bright orange pumpkin, with Henry’s face on the front, “Hey, I can’t move!”

The Cursor immediately shifted his attention back to the others, where Aeverie and Zeya had been about to charge, but they stopped themselves short when the realized the crazy wizard was aiming his wand at them.

“Now, who shall I curse next? I still have to make up for my missed opportunity on the mountain path, after all! Hmm, eeny, meeny, miny--”

“SPIDER!” Henry suddenly exclaimed.

“Oh be quiet, you foolish gourd. It doesn’t go “eeny meeny, miny, spider”! That’s silly!” the Cursor laughed.

“Now, I mean, spider… behind you.” Henry explained.

“I told you to be quiet!” the Cursor snapped, half-turning to face pumpkin-Henry, “I’m in the middle of something right now and I can’t be interrupted!”

Just then, there was a hissing sound from right behind, prompting the Cursor to turn around fully, only to find a giant spider looming over him. It was the same one Zeya had wounded earlier, as it had a wound in its body, though it was no longer bleeding. The spider crouched down a little to get closer to the wizard’s face, hissing again angrily.

“SPIDER!!!” the Cursor wailed, before making a mad dash away from everyone and into the woods, with the giant spider in hot pursuit.

“That just happened…” Zeya droned.

“Eh, he has no sword, I wasn’t going to fight him again. Puny wizards.” Jane muttered.

“Right, anyway, into the cave!” DeLouse quickly decided to change the subject.

“Ey! Anyone going to help me out here!” Henry called.

Everyone seemingly ignored him as the professor finally inserted the key and turned it, causing an ancient mechanism to activate. The great stone slab began to slide to the side, grinding against gravel and plant matter as it did. Everyone stood back and watched in fascination as a slit of blackness appeared, growing larger and larger as the slab door pulled away, then suddenly became static as the mechanism ground to a halt… with the opening being but a measly three feet wide.

“Ah, well… that’s abnormal.” DeLouse muttered, “Usually these ancient contraptions work flawlessly despite years of decay. Well anyway, let us be on our way!”

He paused as he gazed into the dark inner chamber, which appeared totally devoid of light of any sort. After a moment, he took a step back.

“Yes, um, which if you would like the honor of going first?” he inquired.

Aeverie scoffed and went in first, after lighting a torch of course. The others did likewise, except Ruth and Henry, the former of which was carrying the latter, while the latter was providing directions for the former.

The cave itself looked to have been a natural cavern, though parts had been carved out to make it larger. They continued a ways, finding little in the way of traps, though what they did find had lost its functionality over the years. At last, they came into a much larger chamber, which seemed to have an odd, faint illumination already. Spread all about the floor were coins, gems, golden goblets and silver platters, while amidst them sat great idols and carvings and statues of marble and bronze. Scattered about were chests, overflowing with additional wealth in jewelry and gold.

“At last, we’ve found it! The lost treasure of the Templar Empire!” DeLouse cried, “What a glorious day this is!”

“Agreed, old friend… but not for you!” declared none-other than Red McBrown, the traitorous leprechaun, who now stepped out of the shadows to reveal himself to the group.

“I swear, if we one more person does this dramatic stepping-out-of-the-hiding-spot thing again, I’ll…” Zeya growled.

Before she finished, about seven or so pirates, mostly Corbaine enforcers led by Koopa MacDoogle, likewise stepped out of the shadows, some of the removing upturned bowls or goblets from over their torches, which were previously being used to shield them from sight.

“You’ll do what?” Jane asked Zeya.

“...nothing. Just like I always do.” Zeya grumbled.

“Red McBrown! How did you get here!?” DeLouse exclaimed, “Without the key, how could you have gotten past the entrance?”

“Never underestimate my brilliants, professor! No one can match wits with a leprechaun!” McBrown laughed.

“Well, actually we just fell through the ceiling…” one of the pirates corrected in an embarrassed voice.

“Silence! Don’t ruin my moment!” McBrown roared.

“Your moment has passed, Mr. McBrown.” MacDoogle shoved passed the smaller man, “You escaped us last time, DeLouse, but you will not survive this encounter!”

“Aye!” the other pirates cried in unison.

Judging by how few were left, it was safe to assume most of the hired pirate crew had been killed, along with the captain, leaving only MacDoogle’s enforcers and a couple of turncoats from the contracted crew alive. Even so, they still outnumbered DeLouse and his protectors, especially with Ruth and Henry handicapped by the Cursor.

“Ah, well… perhaps we could negotiate?” DeLouse whimpered.

“No negotiating! It’s time for WAR!” Jane snapped, whipping her sword from its sheath.

“No survivors this time.” Aeverie drew her blades.

“Meh…” Zeya shrugged.

“Erm, yes! Go get them ladies! I know you can do it!” DeLouse cheered.

As the the three women clashed with the pirates that outnumbered them more than two-to-one, two fingers slinked into the chamber, carefully staying out of the light so as not to be seen.

“Ahh! Jackpot Relleck!” Robin cackled, “Look at all this gold! I’m-- We’re gonna be rich! He he he he he.”

“Indeed, except for one problem.” his comrade mused, “How are we to get all of this out of the cave with just us two, without being seen no less!”

“Ah, don’t worry about a thing, partner. I’ve got a solution to our problem!” Robin pulled a small flask of liquid from one of his pouches, “Literally! Ha ha! This solution will enchant one of the chests, allowing it unlimited carrying capacity without changing its size!”

“Brilliant.” Relleck nodded, “Let’s move before we’re spotted or the fight ends.”

The two thieves scurried around to the other side of the treasure mound from where the battle was taking place, where they found a suitable chest for their purpose. After Robin enchanted the ancient steel container with his potion, the two began shoving everything they could see into it. However, their efforts did not go unnoticed for long, as they were suddenly confronted by MacBrown and one of the pirates.

“What do you two scoundrels think you’re doing?” the leprechaun taunted, flipping out a dagger and pointing at them, though he was mostly relying on the pirate at his side to do the actual fighting, “This treasure belongs to us!”

“Eh heh heh heh heh…” Robin chuckled nervously, “Well, then, I suppose we’ll just step back and… draw our weapons!”

Robin whipped out a dueling sword, while Relleck flipped his bow off his shoulder and notched an arrow before McBrown or the pirate could react.

“Now, back off! This is our treasure now!” Robin snapped.

“I have a better idea.” Relleck grinned, “Why don’t I just kill them and be done with it?”

With that, the archer loosed his arrow, sending it straight toward McBrown’s heart. But to everyone’s surprised, a parrot darted down from above and snatched the projectile right out of the air. It then delivered it to the pirate, dropping it into his waiting hand before landing on his shoulder.

“What!?” Relleck snapped.

“Thank ye, Winston.” the pirate stroked his parrot’s chin, “Now, let’s put these wee knaves down, shall we?”

Relleck tried to quickly pull another arrow, but the pirate lunged forward and sliced the bow in half with a might swing of his cutlass. He immediately followed up by back swinging the hilt of said cutlass into the face of the archer, sending him flailing to the ground with a couple broken teeth in his mouth.
“Not so fast!” Robin snapped, trying to stab at the pirate.

His blade was quickly parried, however; while the pirate’s parrot suddenly flew off his shoulder again. Robin swiped at the bird as it flew over his head, but missed, then was forced to defend himself as the pirate counter-attacked. But the thief was not quick enough, as the pirate kicked him in the gut and sent him flailing into one of the stone statues in the room, knocking him out as well.

“Thank you.” McBrown admitted begrudgingly.

“Think nothing of it.” the pirate replied, as his bird returned to his shoulder.

“Anyway, we should use that chest of theirs. It will make hauling this treasure that much easier.” McBrown noted.

The pirate nodded and the two went to start doing what the thieves were doing a moment before, but a commotion from the other side of the cave drew their attention…

It was the Ceruleans. A force of soldiers, led by none-other than King Leonardo Lionblood himself, burst into the treasure chamber, quickly trying to surround the pirates and adventurers who were battling one-another.

“What!? How did the Ceruleans find us!?” McBrown gasped.

“Well, I suppose that would be because a little birdie told them.” the pirate laughed, before suddenly plunging his sword through McBrown’s back, causing it to come out his chest and arc upward so the tip of the blade was in front of the leprechaun’s face.

“You… you traitor…” McBrown sputtered.

“I never really was on your side.” the pirate, who was a Cerulean spy in actuality, responded.

As he left McBrown to crumble to the floor and die, the spy wiped-off his blade as he made his way toward his true comrades. King Leonardo was at the forefront of the newcomers, proclaiming his arrival to all present.

“Attention! I am King Leonardo of Cerulea! Surrender yourselves at once and you will be shown mercy! This treasure is now the property of the Cerulean crown, and its heathen idols are to be properly disposed of as dictated by the Church! Do not resist!”

Everyone present, be they mercenary or pirate, exchanged glances with one-another, while an awkward silence ensued...

Then, all at once, pirate and adventurer alike suddenly started attacking the Ceruleans as well, while at the same time still going at each-other when possible. The chaotic three-way fight was not what the king expected, but he readily drew his broadsword and sallayed into battle anyway. MacDoogle took on two Cerulean swordsmen at once, displaying the superior skill that had earned him the position as the Corbaine’s chief enforcer. Meanwhile, the spy hung back away from the battle, intending to intercept anyone who tried to reach the treasure.

Jane cut her way through a pikeman that tried to slow her down, suddenly finding herself face-to-face with the king himself, who had just beheaded a Corbaine enforcer. The aging king sized up the dwarven woman a moment, concluding she was not likely to present him a challenge.

“Step aside, woman. There is no reason for you to fight me today.” he declared.

“On the contrary…” Jane grinned, “I have every reason to fight you today!”

She quickly lunged at him, though her attack was parried. The king sighed, not wishing to fight her, but she gave him no choice. He was soon surprised at how competent her skills were, despite the size disadvantage she possessed. Their duel would not soon end.

As this was happening, MacDoogle butchered his way toward where Ruth was blundering around while trying to follow Henry’s directions. He recognized the voice, though was a bit surprised to find it was coming from a pumpkin.

“You, ya be the wong who turned my own men against me!” MacDoogle snapped, interposing himself in front of the two.

“Oh, ye must be confusing me for someone else, lad. I’m just a pumpkin!” Henry feigned innocence.

“Don’t try that with me!” MacDoogle roared, “I know it is you! Pumpkin or not, I will crush you for your insolence!”

The pirate gangster raised his sabre to cut both Ruth and Henry in two, but the a shadow on the wall beyond warned the man of an approaching presence. Whirling around, he managed to parry a stab attempt by Aeverie just in time, though she followed up with her other sword and scored a shallow wound across the MacDoogles’s abdomen.

“Fine then, I’ll kill you first, then I’ll dispose of your friends!” he growled between gritted teeth.

“Feel free to try.” Aeverie shrugged, her tone a mockingly sweet one.

MacDoogle was soon in full attack mode, the conflict between him and Aeverie allowing Henry and Ruth to slip away and to a safer location. However, at the same time this was happening, Professor DeLouse slipped away from the battle and made his way to the treasure. Spotting the chest Robin and Relleck had been using, he slinked over and examined it, quickly finding to his joy that it might be possible to haul almost the entire treasure in this one chest. He now took his turn loading it with riches, at least until the spy caught up with him.

“Professor DeLouse, I’m certain the king will appreciate your leading us here. Perhaps he may even allow you and your comrades to go free, presuming you order them to cease attacking us at once!” the spy snapped.

“Well, um… as you can see, I have little control over the others. Eh-heh, they are a rather independent lot, I should say.” DeLouse pleaded, “I doubt they’d listen to a word I’d say!”

“Is that so…” the spy stroked his parrot’s neck, “Then I suppose I have little reason to keep you alive.”

“Oh, well, perhaps I was a big hasty in my assumption…” DeLouse gulped, backing away as the spy advanced toward him with his cutlass drawn, “Perhaps they will listen to me! Yes, maybe they’ll listen to me when I call for HELP!!!”

“They won’t be able to help you.” the spy taunted, “You will be long dead by the time any of them can respond!”

But while he had been talking, Ruth and Henry had stumbled over to that end of the chamber, their approach masked by the sound of battle drowning out everything. Neither of them seemed to really be paying attention to the spy though, as Henry was just trying to keep Ruth from running into things.

“Watch out for that statue, lass! Turn right! No! Your other right!”

The spy turned his head to see Ruth rapidly staggering toward him. He quickly attempted to pivot his entire body to face them, but he wasn’t fast enough, as the pair crashed into him and sent him reeling backward. The momentum caused him to stumble and fall into the very chest that was being squabbled over. He did not emerge again.

“You saved me agai--” DeLouse began, “Wait, you're not the speargirl!”

“Yea, what’d ya expect?” Henry asked.

“Err, well uh, it’s just… she’s always the one that saves me and…” DeLouse sputtered, before a relatively chucky stone idol suddenly struck him in the back of the head, “...so on and so forth…”

With that he fell to the floor unconscious, as Relleck rejoined the standoff, finding only a faceless woman holding a talking pumpkin left to oppose him now. Concluding it wasn’t worth it to attack them, he waved his sword in their direction.

“Go on, get outta here!” he snapped at them, whilst walking over to his knocked-out partner, “Robin, get up! We need to move quickly!”

Robin remained motionless.

“Robin, if you don’t get moving, I’ll take all the money for myself.” Rellek nudged the unconscious bandit.

“Did someone say… money!?” Robin suddenly popped to his feet.

“Oh, good, there you are. Now let’s get back to work loading up this stuff.” Relleck patted his friend on the shoulder.

“Riiight.” Robin nodded.

“Oh no you don’t! Let’s get ‘im Ruth!” Henry urged.

Ruth tried to charge, only to slip on some loose coins and go crashing into a pile of treasure nearby. The two bandits just shrugged and got back to what they were doing. There was still a whole lot of treasure to shove in this enchanted chest.



[size=14]Chapter 5: Fate of the Treasure[/size]

Aeverie and MacDoogle’s fight had gone on without respite for some time now. Both had caused one-another numerous small injuries, yet no advantage had yet been attained by either. At least not until MacDoogle managed to corner the young woman against the cavern wall. Aeverie fought ferociously, but MacDoogle’s skills were formidable, and soon he had knocked away one of her two swords. Subsequently the two locked blades again, with MacDoogle using his superior physical strength to force both swords closer to Aeverie’s throat, as she was now pinned against the wall itself. Just a mere push with force the girl’s own double-edged blade back into her and sever her head. But MacDoogle wasn’t about to conclude the fight without getting in one final taunt.

“Any last words?” he slowly hissed, intending to finish this fight the moment she finished speaking.

Aeverie stared him in the eyes, her expression cold and unreadable.

“I don’t want your soul...”

Suddenly she lurchered her left hand toward MacDoogle’s chest, placing her hand against it just as MacDoogle’s free hand intercepted it to try and pull it away. However, even when his hand reached her arm, he lacked the strength to do a thing with it, as his life force began to rapidly drain from him. Eyes bulging from his head, the feared enforcer continued to glare into Aeverie’s unflinching eyes as his spirit was ripped from him, leaving nothing but a lifeless husk collapsing to the stony floor.

“...but I’ll take it anyway.”

With that, Aeverie turned her attention back to the treasure, finding that most of the horde was gone somehow. However, there were a couple of figures standing over a chest to the rear of the chamber, they probably had something to do with this. Unfortunately, Aeverie was exhausted and wounded from her duel with MacDoogle, meaning she could only weakly limp in that direction. Thankfully, most of the pirates and Ceruleans had already killed each-other, giving her a clear path. She was joined along the way by Zeya, who had just disposed of the last Cerulean pikeman.

“I see you’re still in one piece.” Aeverie remarked.

“Ehh…” Zeya shrugged.

The two women now approached the chest side-by-side, stopping just a couple yards away from two bandits, who stopped what they were doing to face the latest challenger.

“Why won’t you people just leave us alone!” Robin snapped, “We’re just tryin’ to make off with this treasure, see?”

“I don’t think that’s much incentive for them to leave us alone.” Relleck muttered.

“Okay, let’s just kill these idiots so we can go home.” Aeverie rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Zeya agreed.

The four promptly raised their weapons and attacked, with Relleck battling Zeya while Robin engaged Aeverie. Luckily for the two brigands, though they were no match for their opponents on an even playing field, said opponents were currently rather tired and wounded.

While the interested parties battled over the chest, DeLouse groggily regained consciousness, finding the battle winding down and the treasure pile considerably smaller than it had been before. Not wasting time, he quickly set about recovering the last of the major relics and idols and adding them to the chest. With everyone left in the cavern distracted, he would be able to complete his task in a matter of minutes.

Within said matter of minutes, Aeverie had managed to get the upper-hand on Robin. After whacking him in the face several times between swords swings, she gave him a swift kick to the gut, sending the bandit tripping over some small stalagmites and into an underground pool at one end of the cavern. Confident he was down for good, Aeverie turned toward Zeya, who was still in a stalemate with Relleck. Or at least, she was for a few more seconds, before Zeya had one attack blocked, causing her to spin in-place while repositioning her spear, causing it to impale the ranger in the gut as she came around. Not expecting this, Relleck was completely run-through, gagging out several curses before dropping to the floor.

“That should be the last of them.” Aeverie stated.

“I guess.” Zeya nodded.

“Where’s the professor?”

Both turned, only to find DeLouse, the chest, and the treasure pile, all completely gone without a trace. In fact, after glancing around the room, the Ceruleans and Jane were gone too, leaving the Ruth and Henry as the only objects of interest remaining in the cave. Somehow, everyone had slipped away…

***


A few weeks later found Aeverie, Zeya, Ruth and Henry back at the tavern where they had all first been recruited. They had learned that DeLouse somehow slipped out of the cave undetected, dragging the enchanted chest with him and managing to find where the Corbaine horses were hidden. By the time the mercenaries managed to get back to the docks, DeLouse had already sailed back to the mainland. He was now back in Westinburg, intending to turn the treasure over to the university-owned museum, who would naturally credit the professor alone for his discover. DeLouse hadn’t even bothered to pay any of his helpers.

Robin had survived and also returned to the tavern, though he had done nothing but moan and cry over the fortune he had been so close to securing, only to have it slip through his fingers. As for Jane, the mercenaries would not hear of her fate for quite some time. Not until word filtered out of Cerulea that King Leonardo Lionblood, a childless widower, had been so impressed with the dwarven woman that he’d taken her as his wife, causing incredible scandal and controversy among traditionalists and church leaders in his homeland. Meanwhile, the Corbaines took great effort to cover-up the death of their best enforcer and his entire unit, though for the next decade the family struggled to recover from loss of their best men.

But as for the rest of the mercenaries who had been involved in that fateful adventure, they found themselves having suffered injury, hardship, inconvenience and humiliation, all for nothing. The Cursor’s spells had worn off Ruth and Henry about a day after they were cast, fortunately, but that did not make up for the fact that they felt betrayed by their employer.

As the sun began to set over that quaint roadside tavern, Aeverie took a seat at the head of the table, a tankard of ale in her hand as she looked over her compatriots. She may not have cared much for any of them, but she knew they all felt the same as she. That treasure had been recovered by their blood, sweat and tears, and they’d be damned if they let that scrawny professor take the whole prize without a fight.

“You all know what I want to talk about. The noble professor took something that rightfully belongs to us without paying for it. I say we go on up to Westinburg and fetch it back. What do you all say?”

“Aye, that sounds like a good idea to me.” Henry nodded.

“Agreed.” Ruth stated, a bit of fire dancing from the tips of her fingers.

Aeverie looked expectantly at Zeya, who just sat there with a blank expression on her face, as always. Aeverie waited a few awkward seconds, before finally addressing her specifically.

“Zeya, you in?” she pressed.

The spear-wielding woman shrugged, picking up her drink and swirling it around a little, before offering a simple, but unsurprising reply.

“I don’t care.”


The End.

« Last Edit: Oct 25 2018, 07:38 PM by Tyler294 »