Beneath the depths of the Oerth, a band of heroes and villans makes it's way into the heart of the Old One's stronghold, intent on destroying his power forever. Along the way, death, desertion, and betrayl beset the band, until, in the end, Iuz himself is met.
Iuz the Evil
by Man-of-the-Cranes (email@example.com)
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Continued from Part 1
19 Wealsun 595
Emerging from the stairwell the Company of the Rod, now numbering eight, saw that they had not in fact descended into a pit but through a shaft that was the inside of a huge stalactite that descended into a staggeringly huge cavern. From the stair the brave adventurers stepped out onto a balcony-like overhang that jutted from the side of the stalactite.
Below them and across the cavern, they could see a huge stalagmite jutting out of the mist that perpetually shrouded this place. Instead of coming to a point, the top of this stalagmite was open and it appeared much like a gaping maw filled with hungry darkness.
From the balcony where they stood, a bridge made out of chain linked the two immense rock formations.
The sword-knight Michael Torgrim was frowning. "What do you think, Jallarzi? This bridge is a clear point for ambush. Are we headed toward a trap?"
Jallarzi nodded. "Aye. Yet we dare not use the wind magic of the rod to cross. Were an ambush to be launched, those not transformed by the rod would be doomed before the others could return to their corporeal forms. Best we cross on our heels, or turn back altogether."
Michael looked at them all. "Well?" he asked. "Do we press on afoot, or turn a half of us into the wind once more, though it could well mean the deaths of you others, and soon?"
"We face death with every step and still our enemy lays hidden ahead." Bethany said shrugging. There were nods of agreement.
"You go on across then," Michael said nodding to the priestess, the Elder Brother, and Jallarzi. "Have your spells at the ready, and be sure to pick up the pace. Slow only when an ambush seems likely. We others shall cross as the wind and watch the cavern about."
Scabbarding the ancient blade of the vaati so that he could grasp the rod with both hands, the champion of law held aloft his hard-earned staff.
"Gather around me, comrades-in-law," spoke their proud leader as a blue white light descended upon him and spread to engulf the dwarves, the dragon, and the necromancer. Before Jallarzi and Bethany had followed the Scarlet Brother more than a half way across the bridge the Rod of Law flashed and the companions were joined with their champion as they vanished into the wind.
"Does something about this place feel…wrong to you, too?" Jallarzi asked, the three of them now two thirds of the way across the chain link bridge.
Grigiel nodded. "Yes, and until – "
At that moment a man in robes appeared at the far end of the bridge. He was short and skinny, with thin scraggly black hair and a greasy, acned face, and wore robes of dark burgundy.
"Who are you," he called angrily, looking down on the three spellcasters, "and why have you passed the gates without leave? Speak! Show me the sign forthwith or perish!"
The man bore no staff or weapon. His eyes were black and glistening. There could be no doubt about what nature of man this was, and Jallarzi thought that she had never seen a man who looked so cruel and evil.
"What gates?" Grigiel called hoping a parley would buy them time as they climbed nearer.
The three of them were moving now, spell components readied as they advanced on the man, shifting apart from one another. The black eyes darted coldly back and forth.
"The Gates of Doom," came the cold reply, and that it seemed was all he intended to parley. His fingers moved as if they were crawling spiders. He chanted one rising phrase, and lightning leaped into the air from his hands in a spitting, crackling bolt.
In the blue-white flash of the bolt, only Jallarzi remained unharmed, protected as she was by her own abjurations, and she could only watch as the other two danced a convulsive jig of pain.
The air picked up speed swaying the bridge slightly as the incorporeal Champion of Law rushed towards the mage carrying his comrades - already beginning the lengthy transformation that would return them to their physical selves.
Jallarzi was too shocked to attempt a spell, the others were stunned by the lightning.
Abruptly, nine streaks of light darted at the beleaguered trio from the mages' pointed fingers. Jallarzi watched in morbid fascination as each glowing missile flew with frightening speed, turning in the air to follow her scrambling companions. A second spell! She watched as Grigiel and Bethany were struck by three bolts each, before she realised they had been magically slowed! Then three bolts took her above her breast bone – cold and burning and almost alive. Very hard. Such pain…
Jallarzi twisted in agony, crying out as she clutched herself, arms tight around the searing pain in her breasts that burned up into her neck and brought tears to her eyes.
It passed, finally, leaving her empty, weak, and sick. She was dizzy, and as she leaned against the railing, her hands were shaking uncontrollably. Jallarzi knew that she should ready her magic, and attack, but she could not. The cavern spun around her in gathering darkness. She wept and shook helplessly, dropping to her knees. Then she fell sideways against the metal links of the bridge, its cold chainmail links against her cheek. Boccob's brow! What had the wizard done to her….?
After what seemed like hours, Jallarzi's eyes saw again. Pain from her stiff neck and burned chest roused her from where she lay slumped against the bridge. She looked past the prostrate forms of Bethany and the Elder Brother, themselves no better off, to the huge stalagmite at the terminus of the bridge. The mage still stood, his hands twisted in spellcasting in a desperate melee with Michael and the valiant dwarf Piper. On the rocks behind them lay the still, twisted form of Mizaab, Hornfel obviously hurt, was crouched beside the dragon-mage helplessly. Away from the combat, at the edge of the radiance cast by the rod, Mort was circling around behind the deadly mage, mounting a massive boulder slowly to gain a vantage point.
Jallarzi could taste blood in her mouth. She spat it out angrily as she watched Piper's sword bloody the mages hand and ruin another spell that might have slain them all. The mage struck aside Piper's blade with his other hand. Now caught off-balance the sword-knight to his left drew back his sword to strike a fatal blow, and the mage shouted a word in desperate haste.
An instant later he was gone. Michael and Piper faced empty air, swords flashing as they spun about to look for their foe. Jallarzi saw him, suddenly, very near, behind all the Company but her.
Jallarzi summoned a spell…her eyes fixed on the mage who stood grinning down at her, his hands moving again.
Grigiel, now recovered and just behind Jallarzi tossed a volley of enchanted and poisoned throwing knives. Their short blades flashing end over end towards the dark-eyed villain, but he ignored them. Before they reached their target, the knives seemed to strike some kind of invisible barrier, and they bounced away to one side.
Then Jallarzi's invocation was completed and a thunder bolt of force struck the mage who stood over her. He was thrown backwards by the magical fist. As his knees buckled he fell out of sight from the violently swaying bridge. Jallarzi clambered feebly over to the side, peering anxiously downward. But even as hope grew and rose in her throat, the mage's shoulder and pained, furious face appeared again.
He flung one hand into the air in a fist. On it he wore a brass ring that twinkled with a sudden magical light, Jallarzi, Grigiel and Bethany scattered.
But the mage had no time. Piper and Michael had quaffed potions, and flown out over the precipice. As they closed with the mage, Piper took his balance and threw two axes in rapid succession, all in one smooth motion. The mage, intent on the three on the bridge did not see danger approaching.
Suddenly the axes were buried in the mages hip and stomach, and he was thrown sideways in the air, spinning uncontrollably. Michael overtook the dwarf, brow bristling in fury, sword drawn, calling upon his patron the Lord of Swords. The mage, with both axes still lodged within him, raised bloody hands and began to cast another spell. Michael cursed and flung his arms up defensibly. The mage, never ceasing in his weaving of magic, twisted in the air and evaded the sword-knight as he flew past.
The others hurled spell and weapon alike but the mage evaded them all. He finished his spell. Michael and Piper were both suddenly surrounded in dark cocoons that held them fast in the air. Michael's roar of baffled rage was almost deafening as he struggled against his bonds.
The mage turned quickly in the air, hurling magic to destroy a small army of shadows summoned by Mort. The haft of the axe that was still buried in his hip caught on the side of the bridge, the mage gasped as the blade scraped against bone, and he sunk down briefly in pain. Then he raised his head wearily and turned to fly away from them all.
"Oh no, you don't you bastard!" Mort roared, leaping wildly towards the edge of the precipice, one final and deadly forbidden spell on his lips – and then they heard the roar.
Jallarzi looked up. Near the roof of the cavern, turning ponderously as it emerged over the bridge from between the two towering crags, was the vast scaled bulk of a dragon. Its huge, bat-like wings with membranes the sheen of fine silk beat once, then it dipped its great serpentine neck, the colour of brushed steel and dove down at the mage.
Vast and terrible it was, and in its glittering eyes the mage saw his own death. Paralysed with dragonfear, he could not even scream as Mizaab, now recovered from his magical paralysis spewed out a stream of thick, greenish yellow gas. The mage screamed as Mizaab's shadow fell over him. He could not breathe. His lungs were suddenly burning, his eyes smarting. He choked and coughed and choked again and began to plummet downwards, the searing pain spreading in his lungs. Darkness claimed him, as the mage, surely one of the Greater Boneheart perished.
After their battle at the bridge, the company only travelled a short distance further before Michael called a halt. They needed to rest – if only for a few hours. Bethany volunteered to stand watch, as she moved amongst the companions administering much needed healing, and Piper offered to stand with her.
And so it was that the first Mort knew of the treachery of Piper the dwarf was the prod of a blade-end in his right side, just above the hip, rudely awakening him from his troubled sleep. Cloth and skin dimpled, and he felt a wasp-like sting. There was something about the knife. It slipped more easily into the flesh than his protective spells should have allowed.
Magic. The dwarf's knife was enchanted.
Able to ignore the wound almost completely, he felt the weapon withdrawn, and half-turned, ready for the kill thrust. He heard himself cry out to the others, many of whom were still sleeping, swearing obscenities in his anger.
Jallarzi Sallavarian was on her knees, trying to wrestle Bethany down, a hand pressed to the spewing hole in the priestess of Istus' throat.
He brought his hands up, palms out, a spell that would reduce the dwarf to bones already on his lips. The knife leaped forward, and he saw Piper's face contorted in a feral snarl. His teeth and beard bloodied from Bethany's throat, and Mort could see torn fragments of skin caught between them. The dwarf stabbed at him again, destroying Mort's spell uncast as he caught the necromancer in the centre of his hand. The pain was sharper this time, as the bones were displaced. Mort saw the point pricking outwards from the back of his hand. Flesh parted, and the metal emerged between his middle knuckles.
The enchanted steel shone as someone struck a light, the rest of Mort's companions were now awakened and battle-ready. Piper swore, and spat red foam. He put his shoulders into the attack, and tried to push Mort's arm back, to staple his hand to his chest.
He could ignore the pain of the sundering of his flesh – his heart had been swapped with one of stone by ancient and dark magicks won with the deck of chaos. He shoved the dwarf back, the blade sliding through his hand by agonising inches. He felt the hilt against his palm and made a fist, gripping the dwarf's weapon with still-strong fingers.
With his free hand he punched Mort in the nose and throat. He was ready for that; the blows didn't bother him. He kicked back, connecting with the dwarf's mail clad shins and breaking one of his own toes. Surprised at the ineffectiveness of his betrayal, the dwarf backed away from him, leaving his knife in the necromancer's grasp. He reached behind him for his battleaxe, and Mort backhanded him. The blade stuck out like a spiked extra finger from his fist carved a deep rut across Piper's forehead.
The dwarf fell back, blood in his eyes, and nine magical bolts of light burned across the diagonal line of his chest. Mizaab. the dragon-mage, had cast well. Mort pulled the knife out of his hand, and threw it away. He made and unmade his fist, feeling the bones grind and catch on their jagged ends, and realising that if he were to find spell casting at all possible, it would be long and painful. Piper still staggered as Mizaab's magic continued to shock his body. Stiffening, the dwarf fell.
Grigiel, the Elder Brother and scarlet assassin-priest looped his garrotte around Piper's neck. He pulled it tight, cinching until he was satisfied of the dwarf's death, even as the sword-knight cried for them to hold off.
"Dwarf bastard," swore Mort, kicking at the dead warrior's groin. "You never know when one of them is going to turn."
"Less of the dwarven bastardy, necromancer," said Hornfel, who had joined them with Piper. Mort had always assumed the two were related. "Look."
The traitor was growing in his death. At least, his skeleton and insides were expanding. His dwarven shell and clothes split open, and showed raw pink and purple through great tears. Ogre-sized bones twisted on the ground, their wet contents pouring through the remaining, ragged strips of Piper's skin.
Michael stepped back, leery of getting his Velunese leather boots in the mess. Piper's still-glaring eyes popped, and maggots writhed in their sockets, spilling over stretched-tight cheeks and into his beard. His tongue slithered out of his mouth like a snake, twisted down impossibly towards his chest and then died. Grigiel voiced his disgust loudly as he pulled his noose free.
"He was no true dwarf," said Michael.
"That's certain," said Jallarzi, who had given up stanching Bethany's wounds, leaving the doctoring now to Grigiel who knew more of such matters, "but what was he?"
Hornfel shrugged, his harnessed weapons rattling, and touched the still-spreading body with his boot-toe.
"A demon. A creature of Iuz known as the animus, it has been described as an Abyssal doppleganger" Mort informed them, kicking the dwarf's swollen helmet away into the darkness.
The stink of the grave wafted away from the remains of the dwarf-seeming tanari who had ridden with them since the beginning. Piper had shared quarters with them and had eaten with them. He had never spared himself in their fights, and Mort knew that without his deftly swung axe, many of them would have been kobold meat several times over. Had Piper always been a traitor among them? Always in the service of Iuz? Or did his treachery begin a few moments ago, as he stood guard over them all? How little he really knew about any of his companions on this damned quest. It spoke volumes of Morts opinion of his companions that the only one he would have trusted was their missing warrior-mage: the vampire Donal.
"Bethany of Istus?" Michael asked.
Grigiel shook his head. The priestess was still bleeding, but her eyes showed only white. She had stopped kicking. "She had no chance. The dwarf bit clean through her throat to the bone. She'd have bled to death if she hadn't been strangling for lack of air. Or the other way around, it matters little."
The sword-knight rubbed his eyes, turning his grief into an angered determination with a tragically practised ease.
"Enough," said Michael. "Gather your things, we must go on. We will not rest again, till this is over. Or we rest in our graves."
Iuz the Evil, the Old One was only old in human terms. His evil had begun only a bare century ago. And he, Mizaab reminded himself was now almost six hundred years old.
One hundred and twenty years ago, what would become known as the Land of Iuz was only a collection of petty fiefs, with chiefs of minor bandit warbands and clans fighting each other for control of small swathes of barren land. One of these minor despots died in the year 479 CY and his 'son,' Iuz, took control of a few hundred chaotic, vicious bandits. That was just the beginning, but of course Iuz was no mere bandit's 'son.'
Iuz was born of a human mother, the conjurer Iggwilv, and a great demon lord Graz'zt, ruler of the Tri-Abyssal realm of Azzagrat. The young cambion demon soon used his powers to great effect. Realising that his warriors could not hope to triumph by simple force, Iuz began to ally his men with other minor clan leaders to beat off stronger enemies. Of course, these allies always ended up suffering most of the casualties and their leaders died in battle with astonishing predictability. Slowly, the size of Iuz's warband increased. Celbit and Jebli orcs of the Vesve margins began to join. The human scum serving Iuz didn't like the orcs overmuch, but they saw how their enemies liked them even less. And of course, there was Iuz's magic. Many half-demons wield magic, but that of Iuz aided by his mothers' sorceries, was far more powerful than anything the competing hordes could muster. Iuz had control of the entire Land of Iuz in little over a decade.
Mizaab had at this time been in the prime of his life, and at his home in the City of Greyhawk, he had been known as Oswald Jehan, First Minister to the new Lord-Major Paerinn. The dragon-mage remembered the stories, fresh then, and told in whispers by the refugees fleeing into the city and into Furyondy, tales of Iuz's inconceivable crimes, of his devastating rages, of his titanic magicks, of his terrible revenges. The cambion's capital city, Dorakaa, was a charnel house, with a road of skulls being constructed from there to the Howling Hills. Along the road, watchtowers were entered by chained slaves, who never again saw the light of day. From the towers, acrid clouds of smoke belched out across the plains. Burning beacons that proclaimed to all Oerik that Iuz had a kingdom and sought further conquest.
King Avras of Furyondy grew concerned about the rise of evil to the north of his lands, and the elves, rangers, and good folk of the Vesve began fighting in earnest for the safety of their homeland against the increasingly well-trained and marshalled humanoids in Iuz's service. But neither Furyondy nor the Vesve were directly involved in the banishment of Iuz, ninety years ago.
The Old One's single defeat. He had been bested only once, at the hands of Zagig Yragrene. Mizaab thought it strange that Zagig had been deemed a man then. A sorcerer without equal, but still a man. Now, the priests called him Zagyg, the Eye of Boccob. Zagyg was gone, no one knew where, but the monster he had once humbled was still here. The Evil of Iuz was still very much with the world.
Iuz's banishment had lasted sixty-five years. To the dragon-mage who had seen six centuries pass, had seen everything change many times: empires, dynasties, wars, alliances, cities, a few great men, numberless little ones; the time had passed like the seasons of the year. But for the humans, he lived amongst, the time was long indeed, one reason why the defenders of good were slow to respond to his reappearance. A strange alliance that had sought to slay him in his prison had been responsible for his release. This tale, was long in telling and Mizaab had heard many conflicting versions but the end result was the same. A short twenty-five years ago, the cambion demon returned home, but he was no mere cambion now. How Iuz became a demigod was a secret any sage on Oerth would give an arm and a leg to discover, Mizaab included. Only now was the mystery beginning to be unravelled with the rediscovery of some of the unpredictable and mighty magicks, Zagig unleashed within the Depths Below Greyhawk City.
After his release, Iuz was filled with a desire for vengeance and conquest. Sixty-five years of imprisonment had concentrated his mind wonderfully. With a savagery and cruelty allied to plans formed over many long years of thought, Iuz acted to gather together the warring bandits and humanoids of his land with an iron grip. He drew together his Boneheart, a Greater and Lesser circle of spellcasters, six in each echelon. His agents began to scour the Flanaess, seeking arcane evils and relics. Iuz readied his forces for a great war.
To his annoyance, Iuz discovered that the Temple of Elemental Evil he had developed with Zuggtmoy in the Gnarley Forest had been sacked the year before his release, and that his demon-lady had been bound within. But on reflection, he needed no longer worry about her dangerous games. Likewise his mother had offended Graz'zt, who had drawn her into Azzagrat and imprisoned her there. Forgetting them both, Iuz developed and executed his plans alone.
Through his plans his instigated the Greyhawk Wars and plunged the entire continent into conflict, and now since the war's end and the signing of the Pact of Greyhawk, his empire of tyranny and suffering was expanded and secured.
Mizaab had heard all manner of rumours from the Empire of Evil, but none had touched him as more than tavern gossip until the Sword-Knight Michael Torgrim, had arrived at his home with his sponsor Jason Krimeah. He told him that Iuz the Evil was almost ready to strike once more, aided by his again-returned mother and the demon Tuerny the Merciless, and that the Old One would have to be stopped before he could bring down fiery doom upon an entire continent.
That had been nearly three months ago. Mizaab, of course, knew the Sword-Knight well, he had done since the Falcon crisis had struck the City of Greyhawk, and counted himself fortunate to have the man as a friend. Nevertheless, he was unprepared for the change in him since his becoming Champion of Law: his ice-clear eyes, the strength of his handshake, and the directness of his speech all spoke of his new-found confidence and determination to see this impossible task to the bitter finale. This was a man much removed from the troubled and distraught escaped prisoner Mizaab had rescued from the burning city of Suderham in the Pomarj.
Mizaab had responded to Michael's summons and had attended the meeting beneath Greyhawk City in the Chamber of the Obelisk. On that day, two months ago, many of the most powerful good and neutral folk of Oerth gathered. Ul-tan Rath-el-Stan the High Priest of Istus; Olbrimmar Thunderwood High Druid of Beory; Cobb Darg Lord-Major of Irongate; Nerof Gasgal Lord-Major of Greyhawk City; Count Hazendel of Sunndi; Corinna Arch-Chronomancer; Jason Krimeah Mage of the Vale; Prince Tol-Kan-Zeeb Djinni-Mage; representatives of the Circle of Five and the Church of FourSeasons.
Known only as 'The Balance', these powerful folk represented a mysterious organisation of like-minded individuals who strove to maintain the balance of neutrality against the growing forces of evil. They were organised largely by the druidic faiths of Beory and the FourSeasons (Wenta: Autumn/West; Telchur: Winter/North; Atroa: Spring/East; Sotillon: Summer/South), the mysterious Church of Istus, and the cult of Kelanon the Sword-Lord.
They sought the removal of the growing threat of Iuzs' Empire, and careful supervision of the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Although by no means extensive, agents of the Balance could be found throughout the Flanaess from the Hold of the Sea Princes and Irongate watching the covert actions of the Scarlet Brotherhood to Greyhawk City and beyond. They were a loose, but powerful coalition devoted to the idea of maintaining the peace across the wartorn Flanaess for as long as it took for the forces of good to recuperate the harsh blow dealt to them and restore the Balance by taking the fight directly back against evil.
The Balance found their origins with the necromancer Malek Carthoris. After his defeat at the hands of Bigby and the paladin Ortux, Malek fled across the planes. Heavily injured and burned near to the point of death Malek used his staff of the Magi to reach the palace of Ihuar-than-Tarth, the prince of an invisible stalker city on the elemental plane of air, whom he had known for many years. The invisible stalkers however had been less than happy about Maleks persistent enslaving of their people, and took advantage of his weakness to capture and imprison him. In negotiating for his release, Malek revealed the location of the lost city of a race of mystic planar travellers that was believed to hold several artefacts the stalkers coveted. Leading a party of stalkers, including Prince Ihuar-than-Tarth himself to this city, Malek led them into a trap and effected his escape. The city, located on the demi-plane of Shadow, was the home of Nightshade, a white necromancer Malek was allied with. Together with Nightshade, a priest of Wee Jas, and a halfling warrior, who had been sent to find Malek, they managed to overcome and defeat the stalkers.
The priest Deadeyes, and the halfling Connors, had been sent to locate Malek by the Sword-Lord. Upon finding him, they returned to Greyhawk to report to Kelanon. The Lord of Swords had learned whilst questing through the planes that the necromancer knew the location of his hated enemy Iuzs' hidden soul husks. Kelanon immediately returned to Oerth, only to discover that Malek had been banished and was thought to be lost. By the time Kelanon visited Malek in the shadow plane, Iggwilv had already returned from the Abyss angered by her daughter Drelnza's death. Things already looked very bleak indeed. Travelling with High Priest of Istus Ul-tan Rath-el-Stan, Kelanon interrogated the necromancer, who claimed never to have heard of Iuzs' soul husks. Ul-tan communing with his Lady received a vision of a mountain filled with thousands of tiny devils, and stalked by a halfling and a vampire. Malek knew of this mountain, but not its location. The mountain, which the three now believed to hold the demigods soul husks randomly teleported across the planes.
Disheartened by this news, and alarmed at the return of Iggwilv. The three decided fast and decisive action was needed. The Balance was formed. Spearheaded by Ul-tan and the Church of Istus, aided by the cult of Kelanon, and soon joined by the druidic faiths of Beory and the FourSeasons, the Balance developed their aims.
Kelanon, an experienced planar traveller, assisted by the arch-necromancer Carthoris who viewed this mission as his final act of redemption, lead the search across the planes for the hidden mountain. The Churches of Beory and the FourSeasons lent their aid to the search for the Rod of Law. Whilst the Church of Istus aided now by the Lord-Mage of Greyhawk guided the struggle against Iuz and Iggwilv.
Although their plans to gain the Rod of Seven Parts and the Crook of Rao went well, the search for the Mountain failed. Their failure was all too obvious when Iggwilv found the mountain first, summoned and bound it to Oerth, where it could further guard the gateway into the Soul Husks. As if this were not enough the Witch-Queen awoke and bound the ancient red wyrm Zollrender to guard the mountain.
Kelanon and Malek suffered further misfortune upon their return to Topaline when they were attacked and imprisoned by Tuerny the Merciless.
Even without any centralised control or base of power, the agents of the Balance maintained close adherence to the overall goals of the Balance. Their greatest strength lay not in its armies but in its individuals (including Cobb Darg, and Tol-Kan-Zeeb who do indeed have armies at their disposal). Talent is the Balances' greatest asset.
Kyrian Darkstar, Sorcerer of the Obelisk had led this Conclave of the Balance. The powerful elf laid out the proof of Iuzs' recent doings. He read aloud the testaments and evidences gathered individually by those around the table alleging that all manner of magical and demonical forces were converging on Dorakaa, and that the Old One was reaching new levels of power. The forces of evil were gaining in strength. Whilst Iuz's physical armies and resources had been as deeply drained as those of the good nations, the return of his mother Iggwilv from the Abyss, threatened the delicate scale. Iggwilv sought immortality. She planned to obtain this by capturing Nerull and holding him, forcing a pact from him so that he would never come to claim her. This may sound far-fetched, explained the elven spellfilcher, but Zagig once captured nine gods and held them imprisoned for many years, and the crazed demi-god still holds the secrets of imprisoning the gods. Iggwilv had already taken Baba Yaga's Hut from the wizard Leomund the White. From Leomund, Iggwilv learned that the secrets used to imprison the gods were still buried within the Great Depths. She had since travelled there and joined with the remnants of the Ring of Five to discover these secrets. And she had already had some success: stealing the power of night and day from Celestian and Pelor for a period of time. The artefact armour the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd had also fallen into her hands further strengthening her cause. However she would need to recover her Fiendicom from the Circle (who had in turn entrusted it to Philidor the Blue) if she was to hold enough power to ultimately succeed.
Jason Krimeah, the enigmatic Time Lord and Guardian of the Balance cautioned that the Soul Husks be destroyed but Iuz allowed to live, for fear that his mother would simply take the throne in his place. He had foreseen that should her plans be successful, the power she would lend her foul son would be the final blow to the faltering forces for good within the Flanaess, plunging the world forever into evil.
Unbeknownst to the forces of good before this meeting, Tuerny the Merciless was strongly allied with Iggwilv and Iuz. He intended to use their lands as the staging point of his conquest.
He had been working as a double-agent of sorts in order to use and control Kyrian Darkstar and through him the Obelisk of Greyhawk, and to learn of the Balances' plans, reporting all back to Iuz.
Tuerny had been supporting the Balance in their efforts to recover the Rod, so that it may be taken into the Soul Husks in a controlled fashion and Iuz need have nothing to fear. His work with Darkstar to secure the major flux points and to close the weave would have hindered the forces of good, not evil (Iggwilv has her shard of the obelisk, and Kermin Mind-Bender of the Greater Boneheart has his own semi-secret group of sorcerers). His Hextorite Shadow Army would have arrived in Dorakaa as allies and not enemies of the Old One.
Michael Torgrim, Champion of Law, intended to face the monster in his own lair and vanquish him, forever destroying the Soul Husks with the Rod of Law, whilst Kyrian and the Circle would lead a mission into Topaline to confront and kill the Merciless One.
Olbrimmar Thunderwood explained that the Balance was out of alignment. Evil stood astride the Flanaess, poised to deliver the fatal stroke. The gods were watching closely for the actions of a few may make the difference for good or for ill.
The forces of good were scattered, isolated and desperately clinging to their once great stations. Now, must the good folk from every corner of the Flanaess, join in the fight against evil. The balance must be restored. Evil must be checked long enough for the forces of good to recover.
They had formed the Company of the Rod and set out only three days later. They had faced insurmountable horrors before even entering the Mountain: their narrow escape from the Abyss after a miscast plane shift, and the loss of so many of their companions in a catastrophic ambush on the mountain road.
Through it all though, Michael had been at their head, undaunted by each new horror, keeping his followers together – which given many of their volatile personalities and opinions hadn't been easy – and he seemed forever confident of the eventual outcome. These were the last great days, Mizaab had thought, and their names would live in ballads forever.
Now Count Artur Jakartai of Crystalreach was dead. Lady Sharl Harlene was dead. Touchstone of Dumothoin was dead. Yars Blud-Sigil was dead. Piper of the Barrier Peaks was dead. Imogen of Beory was dead. Bethany of Istus was dead. Donal Darkbane was missing. And before long, others – maybe all of the party – would be joining them.
Ahead of Mizaab the party reached a dark junction. Michael walked straight up to the crossroads in the tunnel they had been following, looked casually about, and signalled to them. He turned left, stepping into the dark. Hornfel followed him. And the others came after.
As they ventured further, Elder Brother Grigiel began chanting, invoking the name of his assassin-god for protection. He had done so before their other battles, and the Suel priest claimed the credit for their victories.
Hornfel went ahead now, the haft of his axe probing the floor like a blind man's cane, watching intently for any traps. Michael followed close behind, the rod held high in one hand casting its holy light on the unholy darkness. Mizaab noticed that Mort was praying to Pyremius with the priest now, his dark lips silently repeating Grigiel's words. They were all praying to their gods now.
At the end of the passage was an aged wooden door, with inset copper designs. It was too easy to see a face in the abstract patterns. But of course the effect was deliberate. Nothing in this place happened unless it was by design. Iuz's design. The face Mizaab saw was that of Iggwilv who had destroyed his lover and home. Maybe there were other faces for the others: a cruel parent, an implacable foe, or an unbanished demon. Jallarzi was badly effected, her blood quickening and a cold sweat covering her body in chills. Even Hornfel and Mort were tense. Only Michael kept his chilly calm, his noble composure.
In this, the heart of Iuz's darkest lair, Mizaab's draconic senses told him things he wished not to know. It was as if a million insects crawled upon his skin, shrieking in a cacophony. There was great danger nearby, great evil. But you didn't need heightened draconic perceptions to know that. They all knew fully well that they were walking into a great and dreadful darkness.
"The door," said Hornfel after a brief examination. "It's guarded by spells."
Michael paused, and extended his sword. He touched the metal, and sparks flew. The inlay grew white-hot, and foul smoke curled out as the wood burned. The imagined faces looked angered now, and glared hatred at them.
"Can you open it, Hornfel? Jallarzi?" asked the noble.
Jallarzi smiled her confident, lop-sided smile. "Of course, Michael. A mere apprentice could penetrate these petty charms. I'm surprised that a wizard of Iuzs' standing would stoop to such things."
The mage reached into a pouch and, with a flourish, threw a handful of sweet-smelling dust at the door. The face went dark again, and Jallarzi reached for the doorknob. She twisted it, and pushed the door open, standing aside to let Michael through before her. With a mocking grin, she curtsied.
"See," she said, "it was simple."
Then, Jallarzi Sallavarian, youngest member of the Circle of Five simply exploded.
They were drenched in gore. The door hung with ribbons of cloth and meat. The stone walls dripped red for ten feet behind them. Jallarzi's naked skeleton stood for a moment, still grinning, then collapsed.
Grigiel, Hornfel and Mort swore loudly, and frantically scraped at themselves, dislodging the chunks of flesh and scraps of clothing that had plastered them. Michael calmly wiped off his face. Mizaab felt his disgust rising within his stomach, but fought it back.
"Something's coming," said Grigiel. "Behind us."
The others turned in the corridor, weapons at the ready. Eight monstrous abominations rushed at them. The creatures had perhaps once been human, but were no longer. A half of them had human bodies with the heads of huge cobras, the others were almost naga-like: huge ten-foot long snakes with the arms of humans and evil intelligence gleaming in their eyes. The leading creatures rushed at the company armed with swords and maces, whilst the others hung back swaying rhythmically and chanting as if in prayer. Michael pushed his way to the back of the company and met the first two creatures with blade and rod. The sword-knight swung his ancient blade with practised grace, and a serpentine hand grasping a mace fell, severed, to the ground. Grigiel grabbed his two-handed glaive that was slung on his back, and began to head towards the emerging creatures.
"Careful, fool priest," shouted Hornfel, barely avoiding Grigiel's blade. "That's not a corridor weapon."
The dwarf shoved past the shocked priest to take Michael's left flank. A pillar of flame as wide as a man is tall descended from the ceiling engulfing Mort in a living shroud of flame. A terrible bolt of lightning tore down the length of the corridor blasting the whole company and shattering the door behind them. A wall of writhing dead flesh and limbs grew across the destroyed door trapping the company between its grasping reach and the serpentine attackers.
Mort emerged unharmed as the flaming pillar burned itself out, his robe and pack alight. Grimacing at the pain in his hand he conjured a spell to mind. Mizaab turned his attention to the wall of flesh, beginning his own spell of counter-magic. The dwarf and the sword-knight held the corridor side by side, sword and axe rising and falling in crimson swathes, Grigiel immediately behind them, healing their injuries and blessing their weapons. Michael's sword counted. The snake warriors fell. Hornfel stood beside him, swinging his axe about him, hacking at the attackers.
His broken hand was too clumsy and Mort's spell failed. The necromancer gripped his aching fingers, and tried to push the bones back into their proper places. He managed this, painfully, as Mizaab dispelled the foul wall behind them. Mort grabbed two wands from his belt, discharging balls of fire at the inhuman spellcasters scattering them in the corridor. The draconic mage was beside him now throwing bolts of acid at the black-skinned snake-men.
As suddenly as it had begun, the combat was ended. The last of the attackers hewn to pieces by the warriors' blades, or blasted by the mage's magic.
Mort looked down at himself, his robes were still burning. He spoke a few words of magic and the white copper ring he wore on his uninjured hand glowed as the flames were extinguished. The necromancer was still completely unburned. His robes, boots, and cloak were almost destroyed he noticed with dismay, most of them were enchanted, and all were now filthy and stinking, as if he had crawled through the mud of a plague-pit. The others were in no better condition, having been burned and blasted with lightning, although Michael bore his dirt and rags as if they were perfumed silks.
The company caught its breath. Grigiel moved amongst them examining their injuries.
Michael struck the wall with his sword-hilt. Masonry fell to the floor. Tears stood out on the noble's face. Mort had never seen him betray such emotion since entering the mountain.
Mizaab laid a hand on his armoured shoulder, and he calmed instantly.
"After this night, Iuz will prey on no more fools. I swear it on my life, and all that is dear to me."
He strode through the carnage of their slain enemies, and through the shattered door.
"Come on. Iuz's damned soul husks lie just beyond these passageways. We're near him. I know it."
The others glanced at each other in silent apprehension, united for a single moment in their unease, before falling into step behind their leader and champion.
The demi-god was the land itself, Grigiel thought. The hills and the plains, the towns and the cities, this very mountain: the corridors and chambers carved in its bowels were the Old One's arteries and organs, his blood and bones. Michael's band might as well be penetrating Iuz's body like knives, striking for his heart. Or they might be fragments of food tumbling down his gullet. And wasn't that a comforting thought?
Grigiel was not alone with his doubts as they followed Michael. He was talking to himself, praying fervently. The corridors were wider here, and hung with tapestries. One depicted the Old One at play, and a great deal of red thread had had to be employed. Even Mort paled at what was shown here. Michael glanced at the central panels of the hanging, and slashed out with his sword. The entire dusty tapestry fell and lay on the floor like a snake's cast-off skin. Hornfel touched his torch to it, and in an instant the fire spread along its length. The next tapestry, a grim family portrait of Graz'zt and Iggwilv, Iuz and Drelnza, caught too.
"Very clever, stunted lackwit," spat Mort. "Burning us up now, is it? That makes a change from the traditional dwarven knife in the back."
The dwarf pulled his knife, and held it up. Mort had his wands out. There were fires burning all around them.
"A traitor, eh? Like dead-and-damned Piper?"
"I'll give you damned, dead-heart!"
Hornfel stabbed up, but Mort stepped out of the way. Flames reflected in the necromancer's dark eyes. He pointed both wands.
"Enough!" cried Michael. "We've not come this far to fall out now."
"Mort cries 'traitor' too often," said Hornfel. "I trust no-one who counts only the dead as his allies."
The dwarf had drawn his sword now, and Mort stared hatefully at him down the length of his wands.
"Ethics from a thief and mercenary, that's rich…"
"Better a thief, than a trader in death and the dark arts!"
The sword and knife came up. The wands wavered in the air.
"Kill each other and be done with it," said Grigiel.
This was typical of the antagonistic Mort, but Hornfel had been quiet until now, dodging the necromancer's taunts with good humour. Something was working on them. Something unnatural. Mizaab staggered forward as someone landed on his back, pushing his face to the floor.
"Hah! Dragon bastard!"
Grigiel's killing garrotte was about his neck, and drawing in. The assassin had taken him by surprise. Mizaab braced himself against the floor, to give himself leverage to heave Grigiel off. The wire constricted. The assassin knew his business.
Mizaab fought to get his hands under him, palms flat against the stone, and pushed himself up. Grigiel tried to ride him like an unbroken horse, his knees digging into his ribs. Mizaab, though, was no mere human, he corded his neck muscles, and drew breath down his windpipe.
He heard the wire snap, and felt Grigiel tumble from his seat. He stood, and struck out. The assassin took the blow heavily, and fell. Grigiel rolled on the floor, and came up, unholy symbol in his hand, a prayer on his lips.
Mizaab felt the urge to kill. Kill the stinking Suel assassin! Kill all these fucking humans! Kill, kill, KILL!
"Fight it," shouted Michael. "It's an attack, an enchantment!"
He turned to the dragon-mage, his beloved friend and comrade-in-arms.
Mizaab's eyes were crazed. Whoreson noble! Sister-raping, honour-besotted scum! Drenched in perfume to cover his own stench!
Michael held him, gently by the shoulders. Mizaab grabbed his wrists in his strong hands, feeling the bones of his wrist, knowing how easily they would both snap.
Michael drawing upon an inner strength broke his grip, and slapped him. He grasped the rod and held it out like an offering. Mizaab found himself, and stood back, ashamed.
Michael went to each of them in turn, calmed them. Restored order, where the chaos had invaded.
The fires were dying. They walked again.
Hornfel – weather-beaten and hardy Hornfel – was ailing. He had sustained a wound during the battle with the snake-men. It was just a scratch beneath his thick beard, a newer scar among so many old ones, but it was bleeding steadily, and he looked too pale. He was moving more slowly now, lagging behind them. His sharpness was going, and he blundered too often against the walls.
Mort, who had offered the dwarf nothing but insults, went to him, and offered him a shoulder to be leaned on. Hornfel took the necromancer's arm to steady himself, and grimly pressed on, face ashen and gasping for breath but stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the injury.
Grigiel was struck down next, by a complicated trap that Hornfel would have been greatly impressed by, had he the strength and awareness to have spotted it in time. They had been following yet another darkened corridor when a section of the ceiling dropped downward suddenly. Michael and Mizaab, in the lead, leapt forwards in time to get themselves clear, and Mort and Hornfel were forewarned sufficiently to hang back out of the way. The Elder Brother Grigiel however was hit by the descending ceiling and jammed against the floor of the corridor, which was in actuality a counterbalanced pit cover. The pit opened dropping the priest through the floor. Grigiel shrieked in shocked surprise, even as magical runes on the walls of the pit began to glow. The trap's spell was triggered and the priest was reduced in size to a mere two-feet tall; the fall didn't scare him as his enchanted ring slowed his descent to a safe rate. But this merely gave him time to witness his fate, the pit below him gradually funnelled into a narrow pipe feeding into the darkness; a funnel only a foot in diameter. Scrambling futilely for a purchase, the merest of handholds with which to stop his descent, he screamed for help, but his companions were above the ceiling which descended further, forcing him towards the funnel.
Mizaab cast a powerful spell splitting apart the several feet of rock that separated them from the priest, but he was too late. Grigiel had descended over twenty feet down the narrow funnel, when more runes glowed to life in the darkness. This second spell was simple but terrible: it reversed the spell of reduction, transforming Grigiel back to his natural six feet of height and two hundred pounds of girth.
All the others could hear the screaming protest of the priest's plate mail and the shattering of Grigiel's bones as he became impossibly wedged in the funnel. Grigiel hung there, face down, arms outstretched, dripping blood into the darkness and screaming in terrible, terrible agony.
"Oh gods, do something. Put the Suel devil out of his misery," Mort said.
Mizaab stepped to the edge of the pit and raised his hands. He cast his own spell of reduction. Once again Grigiel began to slowly descend the funnel. In a pain beyond belief he managed to draw and gulp several healing draughts, before he was better able to use his own magic to mend his crushed body. By the time he had achieved this he had fallen over five hundred feet and he finally splashed down into a completely dark water-filled natural cavern. The water was iced over, and the cold exposure was enough to place the priest into shock in only a few minutes. His fate was sealed. Mizaab's spell would not last for long, and if the cold didn't kill him, he would drown when he returned to full size and could not reach the inch or so of airspace at the mouth of the funnel.
Michael's face was grim. "We cannot rescue him. Given time perhaps we could do something, but we have no time. We leave him. We will come back if we can…"
Michael raised his sword in a final salute. "He will be remembered."
Mizaab nodded. Hornfel drew a stone from his pocket. A crude pick was carved into the round stone.
"It is the mark of Dumothoin, Keeper of the Secrets Beneath the Mountain. Good luck Elder Brother."
He tossed the stone into the funnel.
"One by one, " said Mort shaking his head in despair and utter disbelief.
"Quiet Mort. Be alert," Michael told him.
So, only four came to the Soul Husks of Iuz.
20 Wealsun 595
This was the Soul Husks of Iuz the Old. A huge cavern filled with shattered rocks reduced to black dust with a dark gravel underfoot. At the centre of the cavern stood an iron obelisk, fifty feet tall and decorated with sigils and runes of evil that hurt the eyes and mind to look upon. A clock was mounted upon the obelisk counting unnatural hours as its single hand circled an unfamiliar dial. Around the iron pillar for thirty feet was nothing but rock and bone dust.
Above the clock, atop the obelisk, was a single glaring red eye, that blinked grotesquely as it surveyed the cavern. Radiating from the eye like obscene eyelashes was a black web; strands of purple-black energy that lead away from the obelisk criss-crossing the cavern before a single strand entered one of the six adjacent caverns.
In a cage, suspended from the ceiling, a harpy preened herself, wiping the remains of her last meal from her feathered breasts.
Mort hung back near the entrance.
Hornfel kept to the walls, sword and axe raised before him.
Michael and Mizaab trod wearily through the gravel as they circled the cavern.
"He's here," said Michael.
"Yes, I feel it too."
A laugh resounded through the caverns.
In that laughter, Michael heard the screams of the damned and the dying, the ripples of rivers of blood, the cracking of a million spines, the fall of a dozen cities, the pleas of a thousand raped and murdered infants, the bleating of slaughtered animals.
Michael and Mizaab turned as one, both blinking as if finding it difficult to focus. Michael stepped over the hunks of broken rock that littered the floor, trying to see. He blinked his watering eyes.
"I am Iuz," a creaky old voice said mildly, the deathly laugh still in its voice, "I bid you welcome to my house. Come in health, go safely, and leave behind some of the happiness you bring…"
Dragon-mage and sword-knight whirled towards the voice, and there outlined in the purple-black light of the energy web stood a small dark figure. Michael crouched low, the rod held before him. Mizaab studied the figure cautiously.
"Put down the rod like a good lad," Iuz said soothingly. "I know you don't want me to hurt you or your friends."
The voice was so gentle. And Michael was so tired. Tired of the struggle. Tired of fighting. Tired of being scared. For one brief moment his arms wavered, the rod was lowered, and he was sorely tempted to do as he was told.
Then Hornfel suddenly flew out of the darkness at the Old One, his sword and axe both raised to strike. With a terrible languor, moving as might a man of molten bronze, Iuz stretched out and slapped him aside. Hornfel struck a rock wall and fell squealing in a heap. Blood was spurting from him. The harpy was excited, and flapped her wings against the bars of her cage, smelling the blood.
Iuz was holding the dwarf's arm in his hand. It had come off as easily as a cooked chicken's wing. The demi-god inclined his head to look at his souvenir, giggled, and cast it away from him. It writhed across the floor as if alive, trailing blood behind it, and was still.
Mizaab looked at Michael, and saw the doubt in his friend's face. He had his vaati sword out now, the rod held in his left hand. But both looked feeble set against the strength, the power of the demi-god of deceit, pain, oppression, and tyranny.
Iuz opened a window in the air, and the stink of burning flesh filled the cavern. Mort peered through the window, and saw a million men twisting in eternal torment; men raped by demons, their flesh rent from their living bodies, rot grubs eating through their faces, rats gnawing at their limbs, strangled with their own entrails, choked on their own genitals. Those closest to the window reached out to him, reached through the window. Blood fell like rain onto the floor.
"Witness your fates, your own futures," said Iuz.
"Screw you guys, I'm going home." Mort drew from his pack the deck of chaos with shaking hands, and disappeared into the darkness of the entrance tunnel.
Mizaab resumed his true form in an instant, and flexed his massive leathery wings to a tremendous span. Michael vaulted astride the huge dragon.
Iuz looked from one to the other, and laughed again. Demons were gathering about him now, gated in by their foul deity. They funnelled around him, ethereal, like a tornado.
"So you have come to kill the monster? A Paladin of Nobody and a self-pitying dragon whelp? In whose name do you dare such an endeavour?"
Michael tried to be strong. "In the name of Kelanon, Prince of Swords and Zagyg Yragrene, Eye of Boccob!"
Michael's words sounded weak, echoing slightly, but they gave Iuz pause. Something was working behind this little old man that was no little old man, a rage building up inside him. His demon spirits swarmed like midges.
The harpy squawked in her cage. Mort had fled. Hornfel bled slowly, fingers clamped over his stump. Mizaab roared out a deafening draconic challenge. Michael, tears coursing down his face beneath his helmet, was maddened by his fear.
Iuz threw out his hand in the direction of the brave knight and his dragon mount, and a black tide of demons engulfed them both, hurling them back against the walls, smothering them, weighing them down.
As Michael and Mizaab fought with the demons, Iuz was changing. His back humped beneath the dark cape and then seemed to fill out, bulging strangely in odd places. Then the cape fell away from his head and the skull itself began to twist and move as though it were made of soft clay and were being shaped by an unseen hand. The skull lost what few threads of hair it had possessed and swelled to three times greater in size. The forehead bulged grotesquely and eyebrows, great bushy red eyebrows, pushed through the skin and grew.
The withered cheeks grew fat, the deep wrinkles smoothing away as though they had never been. The nose became bulbous and misshapen, and a gold stud was fixed in each nostril. The mouth formed wide and cruel and the lips fleshy and somehow obscene. The ears were mere slits in the sides of the skull.
The cape fell to the ground as the demi-god grew, revealing an immense broad-chested, round-bellied body, thick with layer upon layer of fat.
Its arms and legs were massive, smooth of skin and hairless and red. The entire monstrous avatar was red. The red of a lobster boiled in seawater. And still Iuz grew, becoming taller and taller and wider and wider till he towered more than nine feet tall and six hundred pounds of girth. And it wore nothing but an evil smile. In his hands Iuz now held a tremendous and wicked two-handed sword.
The battle was begun. The battle that would become an inspiration for poets, minstrels, sculptors, and painters. The battle that would make Michael Torgrim a hero famed throughout the Flanaess. The battle that would cause some to see in the knight the very spirit of Kelanon himself.
The battle between Law and Chaos.
The demonic horde was terrible in the extreme. Scores and scores of tanari bore down on Michael and Mizaab: creatures that were feathered and fanged, spined and scaled, taloned and fanged, beaked and clawed, winged and tailed, those who wielded deadly fire-shrouded blades, whose bodies were gaudily coloured or cleverly camouflaged.
Michael's vaati blade was like a scythe, cutting down the autumn corn - but his deadly harvest was of the tanari who dared block his way towards their dark lord.
Michael had despatched the first few before Iuz's transformation was completed. Using both his hands, Michael swung his sword to and fro, back and forth, around and around. Flesh was slit and sliced; severed limbs flew; bones were crushed; ugly heads smashed. The ground underneath became slippery with demon gore, and so Mizaab took flight, beating dozens of tanari back with his wings. The heroic pair had taken the tanari by surprise with the ferocity of their attack, but there were more and more of the enemy every instant, and it was growing dark. The light shed from the rod now slung over Michael's back was being subdued by a purple-black mist rising from the walls and floor of the cavern, and then it was suddenly extinguished.
For the first time Mizaab was pressed back, pulled almost to the ground. Their opponents were deadly, they outnumbered them – and they could see in the infernal mist. Still Michael's blade and Mizaab's claws did their deadly work. The demons pressed so close against them, pulling Mizaab to the ground, threatening to rip Michael from his seat, that there was no way they could miss. It was tiring work, but Michael seemed filled with an almost joyful strength and each dead foe seemed to invigorate him. As the human fought as he never had before, the dragon Mizaab beat the demons down with his mighty tail, kicked them viciously with his powerful hind legs, reared up grabbing and crushing, slashing and tearing with his claws, rent demons apart with his terrible jaws, killed them by the dozens with his deadly breath.
But without light, he could do little to defend against the impending claws and teeth that began to lacerate his body, and he realised that it could not be more than a few seconds before he was struck a fatal blow, or he fell from Mizaab's scaled back which was slick with dragon blood. Strength alone would not be enough to carry him through, and he began to feel the keen edge of desperation urging him on to a suicidal recklessness. All would end here, in the bowels of the earth, deep beneath the cold and forsaken Howling Hills…
Then abruptly, there was light all around! The cavern was ablaze, as if ignited.
The demons screamed and yelled, holding their clawed hands over their eyes, trying to scuttle and fly away from the sudden brilliance that illuminated from both the rod of law and the blade of the vaati.
Michael did not care where the light came from, or what had caused it. He was too busy. The real killing had begun.
Mizaab, his wings torn so badly now that he could not fly, strode through the monsters. The dragons head was down as he bore blow after blow from tooth and nail, claw and talon, sword and spell, stubbornly refusing to fall to his horrendous injuries. His wings and massive shoulders were raised protecting Michael, and astride him: Michael swung his blade of the vaati. Each swing meant death for one of the accursed demons. Blood spurted onto him and spilled across Mizaab's back onto the dirty stones.
Michael felt a renewed surge of force flowing through his limbs, his spirit infused by some powerful force that seemed as if it had always been a part of him yet was asserting itself from deep within for the first time. He felt absolutely revived. Like the heroic Kelanon of old, he was an invincible warrior destroying his despicable foes. The sword swung repeatedly, it blade glowing, with vapour trails of magic and gore. Each sweep left another hideous victim writhing in agony, its brains oozing from its pulverised skull. Amid all the blood Michael felt exultant. This was so right; it was as though he had been born for this day, his whole life an arrow aimed at this point in time. This was his time, and slaying the demon horde was his mission. The Balance be thrice-damned, he was going to end it now. He was going to kill a god.
The demons were screaming now not only with agony but pure terror as they tried to scuttle away from the merciless sword. It was not only the blade that they feared, but the ferocious and unstoppable knight himself. Behind his helmet, Michael's lips were drawn back, bared in an atavistic snarl. He struck out mechanically, his whole body an efficient killing machine unhampered by thought. All he needed was instinct and reaction. He was, at that moment, the finest swordsman on Oerth.
The bodies of countless demonic foe lay sprawled across the floor of the ancient cavern, their blood flowing as freely as in an abattoir.
The massacre only ended when every demon was dead or mortally wounded or had managed to creep away into the darkness. Eventually, emerging from his killing trance, Michael was able to still his deadly weapon, his magical energy beginning to wane. A hundred tanari – perhaps two hundred – slain by warrior and dragon-mage!
Splattered with gore, Michael slid from Mizaab's back. He rested for a brief second on the hilt of his blade, breathing heavily, and gazed at the charnel house he had created. His friends head rested upon the ground, his legs splayed out around him. The tortured dragon opened one eye – he was staring at Michael, as though slightly afraid; as though he did not recognise his comrade. His flanks barely rose and fell as his breathing weakened.
Michael was totally exhausted and wished that he could simply close his eyes and sleep. Mizaab lost consciousness and Michael envied him.
But the sword-knight wrenched off his battered and crumpled helmet, tossed aside his sword, and grasped the rod of law. He held the rod tightly in shaking hands and strode towards his nemesis. Towards Iuz. His expression of murderous violence curled into a contended grin. He wiped at the sticky blood that coated his face. It was not his blood, but the dead no longer had any need for it.
Michael Torgrim, fallen paladin of Heironeous, Hero of the Temple of Elemental Evil, Slayer of Miska the Wolf-Spider, Sword-Knight of Kelanon, and Champion of Law strode towards his diefic adversary knowing fully well that more likely than not he was walking to his own death. Content only that it ended here. Here he would make his stand.
Continued in Part 3
Balance, Iuz, Kelanen