[Takayoshi T.]<--Back Forward-->
The ninja and Brea finally made it downstairs to the courtyard undetected.
"Now its time to rock", the ninja thought happily, as he and Brea hastily ran in and out of the shadows that adorned the perimeter of the courtyard. Within 10 feet of the tower entrance, the ninja looked back to see Brea.
"Having fun back there? We have only a few more feet until we reach the tower.", the ninja asked and commented to Brea, "I just hope that we are able to find Kary...THUD!!!"
The "experienced" [Ha! (by the author)] ninja stopped dead in his tracks (as he wasn't watching where he was going) and rubbed his head. Instinctively, the ninja drew his sword readying himself for any attack. He look around to see what he bumped into, and saw a guard sitting on the ground, wondering what hit him.
The guard found the answer as he looked up to see the two intruders staring at him. However, that would be last thing he saw, since the ninja quickly kicked the guard's sword out of his hand, and took his life and his head.
The ninja looked up to see another guard's sword coming down to cleft his head. Frantically and instinctively, the former-assassin ducked and brought his sword up defensively, over his head in order to block the attack. Within a blink of an eye, the ninja heard the familiar sweet metallic music of the two blades hitting each other.
"So you want to die like your pal, huh?", the sly ninja asked the guard mometarily, as the two combatants were literally locked together, blade-to-blade.
"No, you will die like my pal!" the guard replied, as he tried to push the ninja all away to the ground.
"He's alot stronger than I thought!" Takayoshi mentally commented to himself as he was slowly being driven down by the sheer power and tenacity of the guard, "@#!$@!, I shouldn't have left my Girdle of Storm Giant Strength at home..."
Upon seeing that he was losing this battle, the ninja quickly slid his sword to one side, thus making the guard's sword miss his head. Upon seeing that the guard was now open to an attack, the ninja then quickly spun around and delivered the fatal blow.
"Whew, that was close.", he thought to himself. He then looked down to see the dead guard.
"Like I said, '...You want to die like your pal.'", the ninja snickered.
The ninja then stopped dead his movements and heard some people murmuring. He looked over to see what it was, and saw some more guards, just standing there! Were they too shocked, from the event that unfolded before them, to attack? Who knows.
"I guess they will be next," the ninja commented loudly.
"Funny, they look familiar," he thought to himself as he saw a glimpse of their faces. He especially eyed the first guard, who looked more feminine than masculine (!!) even with a helmet, whom looked alot like Karynn!
Upon closer inspection, the ninja concluded that it WAS Karynn. With his glowing katana at hand, the ninja stealthily approached Karynn from out of the shadows.
"What took you guys so long!?", the ninja humoroulsy and unexpectedly asked her, "Brea and I have been here for, oh...let's say...five seconds. By the way, we must hurry, because Brea and I are planning on getting some ale after this fiasco. Anyone want to join us?"
"Sorry we're late." Karyn said, "We ran into some old friends. Melyda is locked up in that tower over there. Let's go."
As they moved towards the tower, Karyn quickly detailed to Brea and Tak the dwarves' plan to sap the walls. She inquired as to their activities, and received a brief summary.
Circling above, Elwynn spotted the drawbridge crashing down over the moat, and, wasting no time, she casted a spell to activate the 'rocket' batteries.
"Fire for effect!" she cried.
Instantly the strange hollow tubes sprang to life, but this time their fire was concentrated on a weak spot in the magical wards that Kieraan had placed over the keep. The inital barrage had been only to test the defenses and find weaknesses. Now the energy blasts were pounding away at the seams, splitting open Kieraan's wards in explosions of light and smoke.
Seeing the breach made in both the physical and magical defenses, Queen Sindella lost no time in exploiting the situation. A group of armed knights charged over the drawbridge and into the castle, while from points around the moat archers opened up, sending a hail of elvish arrows over the walls.
As they approached the guards by the southwest tower, Karyn halted her group and advanced alone. Speaking in a surprisingly low voice, she shouted.
"What are you doing standing here? Can't you see we're breached? Get to the gates, NOW! We've been summoned to remove the prisoner. Go!"
The guards hesitated only a moment before they turned and headed towards the battle at the gates.
Karyn led her party through the door and up the stairs. To their surprise, the door at the top was opened.
"Come in," a voice said. "I've been expecting you."
Kieraan sat in a chair, apparently unperturbed by the events. Nearby, Melyda lay on the bed, hands and feet still tied. In a nearby corner the Aerial Servant hovered, arms folded, a sour expression on his face.
"Yeah, like I believe that one...."
Melyda had been surprised when Kieraan, instead of trying to force her to remove the spell, had merely sat back down in the chair. A moment later, her confusion was partially answered by the entrance by a group of disparately-dressed people. She sat up as they entered, and quickly recognized Sammel, Karyn, and Takayoshi, and another girl she'd seen at the Festival, but to whom she'd not been introduced. 'And Chaer's here too!' she thought with surprise. 'He's not usually a fighter--he must have helped them get inside.'
She mouthed "I'm all right" to answer Sammel's concerned glance, then turned a puzzled frown on Kieraan. She wondered why he wasn't more concerned about this most recent, and direct, reversal of his fortunes. 'Has he got something up his sleeve?' she thought. 'Or is he just too cocky for his own good?' She turned her senses inward a bit, to keep a magical eye on the spell that still affected that troublesome book. She also began tightening her wrists against the bonds, hoping that she'd be able to stretch them enough to slip them off.
Sammel stepped into the room behind Karyn and immediately scanned the room. His eyes locked on Melyda, and he was greatly relieved when he recieved her silent message. He turned his attention to Kieraan, studying him intently and wondering how much of the calm demeanor was a facade.
Chaer, carrying a knife in each hand, stepped to one side of the door as he entered. He, too, immediately studied Melyda and was glad to know she was all right. He also saw her arms tighten and relax, tighten and relax, and knew she was trying to stretch the ropes that bound her wrists. He shot a glance over at Kieraan. 'Not even that so-bad one can completely guard against the unexpected,' he thought. Quick as a flash, he threw one of his knives--not at Kieraan, but seemingly right at Melyda.
The knife thudded and sank into the wooden frame of the bed, just a few inches to Melyda's side. Chaer grinned as she leaned over and frantically began sawing away at the ropes. 'She gets free, our job easier,' he thought.
"Something does not seem right?!", the ninja thought to himself as he finally saw Kieraan.
"I know he is up to something, I can just feel it." he continued, but this time his hand on the magical katana.
"We must keep on our toes," Takayoshi told everyone, "And that goes for you Kieraan."
The ninja eyed Kieraan. "Must call his bluff." he thought.
"We know what you are up to," he cautiously told Kieraan, "and we knew that you planned to trick us here. One of your "Guards" told us EVERYTHING. You may not believe us, but we do have him in custody, and even you know that they couldn't be trusted. That is why you tried to keep mum about it, however your little plan leaked. Now everybody knows about it. Of course, you wouldn't care, because you have a book that doesn't work with out Melyda. You kill her, no book...You kill us then, by my parents honor, you will die as well. If you manage to live, then Melyda will either die honorably in battle, trying to kill you and save the world, OR kill herself, in a state of depression, upon knowing that her 'significant other' will end up dying trying to kill you as well. You have crossed the Rubicon."
The ninja paused mometarily before starting again.
"Oh, sure you can try to dispell Melyda's incantation, but since you seem to be a very powerful magician, you couldn't. The bottom line is that it IS a no win situation for you. So it is time you make your move, OR do we have to do it for you in a nice gentlmanly way...with force."
The ninja looked over to the Aerial Servant in the corner, then looks back and continued his 'assault' on Kieraan.
"By the look of his face, it seems as though you are like a master to him and he does not like you. Moreover, he then speaks the truth about you not expecting us, but what am I to say to a man that will die by my sword."
Takayoshi unsheathed his blade a little and unpatiently waited for anything to happen.
Brea said not a word as they entered the tower and the room where Kieraan was holding the bookseller. She was relieved to see that Melyda was unhurt, and smiled a bit to herself as she noticed her working the rope that bound her hands.
Finally, her eyes found Kieraan for the first time, and she felt her blood begin to boil. *No point losing your temper, girl* she thought to herself. *Your no match for a mage.* So, she merely stood there glowering at the pompous fool, with a look that would have stopped an army dead in its tracks.
'Chaer certainly cut that close,' Melyda thought as she finished freeing her wrists. Her heart was still pounding from the surge of adrenaline she'd received when she saw the knife heading for her. As Takayoshi continued his grandstand play, she yanked the knife out of the bed frame and sawed away at the rope binding her ankles. Their timing couldn't have been better if they'd planned it--as Takayoshi finished talking, Melyda felt the last strand of the rope snap. She straightened up, waiting for what Kieraan would do next.
"Well put, my oriental friend." Kieraan said, "and very well thought out too, I might add. However, I doubt that your analysis is completely correct. I would like to point out that our bookseller friend there is not likely to kill herself, not when a simple acquiescence is likely to save the lives of her friends."
So saying, the sorcerer extended his hands, fingers spread wide, and from them bolts of orange-white energy lashed out. The bolts forked around the rescuers and encircled them, then lifted them off the floor and threw them all against the walls. Pinned there, the energies lashed across their bodies, firing every nerve that could sense pain in an endless agony.
"Now, my dear." Kieraan said. "I will ask one question. How do you remove that little spell from the book? Answer me in five seconds, or one of your friends....perhaps the clever oriental there....will die."
Sammel grabbed an arrow from the quiver as Kieraan started to reply to Takayoshi. He had a bad feeling about what might happen next, and as Kieraan finished, he realized his bad feeling was confirmed. He raised the bow and drew back, but before he could fire, Kieraan's magic struck.
His suddenly nerveless hands dropped the bow as orange flame seemed to lick over his body. He grunted with pain as the magic picked him up and flung him against the wall. He writhed against it, trying to escape, and looked into Melyda's desperate eyes. "Don't do it," he mouthed to her. "Don't let him win."
The Oriental looked over to his companions in pain, "Sorry, but I had to see how far he would go. As I suspected, he won't blatantly kill us, because he still needs her to disrupt the spell."
Knowing that he was almost lying through his teeth, he had to react fast.
"Must summon and harness the Chi within me," the ninja began to concentrate deeply, "must fight off pain."
Little by little, the pain subsided. However the ninja acted as though he was still writhing from it.
"Must react and think of a plan...", the oriental thought, "...but he is too powerful, not as powerful as that darn lich, we faced [At one time, Tak's and some of his friends from whence he came had to fight this powerful lich for a relic, well I will just say there was a happy ending] ...Now HE was tough!....What about the Aerial Servant? Why doesn't Kieraan order him to kill us or at least subdue us? If he summoned him, then he should control him almost indefinitely... unless Kieraan is down to his last summon?..."
The proverbial light bulb shone over his head.
As Kieraan's magic wrapped around her and threw her against the wall, she felt her breath knocked out of her. Her head began to throb and her vision swam with color. Instinctivly she immediately stopped trying to struggle against the magic. She let both her mind and body relax, and tried to concentrate on breathing. Her breath became shallow and she closed her eyes, trying to shut herself off from the increasing pain in her head.
Melyda gasped and stood up as her friends were wreathed in orange lightning. She instinctively raised the knife, ready to throw it, but lowered it again. 'I can't attack him--he's ready for that,' she thought as she watched her friends be thrown against the wall. 'I think it's time for plan B.' She caught Sammel's silent command, but she knew that if she was going to have any chance to delay Kieraan long enough for the rest of the army to storm the keep, she's have to betray that command--or appear to.
She let her eyes fill with tears as she whirled back to Kieraan. "Stop it! Let them go!" she shouted, her voice breaking. "I'll...I'll do it. Just let them go."
Melyda realized that Kieraan would probably want more from her before he'd be convinced of her sincerity. "I'll...ahh...I'll need a mortar and pestle, some quartz, some rue o'morning, and seaweed--carageenan." She looked at Kieraan, trembling all over with anger and fear. 'Even if he knows I'm bluffing,' she suddenly realized, 'there's no way I could concentrate enough to remove the spell right now. One way or another, he's going to be delayed.'
"Very well." Kieraan said. With a wave of his hand the energy bolts disappeared, leaving the would-be rescuers slumped against the walls. Kieraan looked them over and smiled.
"I trust you realize now that a direct assault against me would be futile. But just to make sure...."
He made some mystic symbols with his hands and spoke a few words. Another creature formed in the room, a strange globulous mass, almost liquid in appearance, but with strange appendages which seemed to grow out of the central mishapen blob. The creature stank of the swamp; its skin, if it could be called that, seemed to be made of roped vines and mosses. It had no head, but a large maw gaped from one side, dripping slime and what appeared to be bugs of varying sorts.
Kieraan spoke crisply to the strange green vine mass. "If these people move, kill them."
He turned back to Melyda.
"Now my dear, we shall make our way to my laboratory, where...."
He never got to finish the sentence, because at that moment the outer wall and half the room collapsed with a crash.
The Second Construction Battalion had done its work. The walls had been sapped from underground. Their foundations had been undermined and supported with wooden beams, which had been burned out from under the walls at the appropriate moment. One entire wall of the square keep crashed to the ground in an avalanche of wood, stone and masonry.
Much to his dismay, the sorcerer had been standing close to the outer wall when it gave way. The floorboards broke beneath his feet and he fell with a scream and disappeared.
Melyda shrieked as she felt the floor begin to collapse under her. She flung herself backwards, hoping to land on a more stable floorboard, but her weight caused it to tilt down and sent her sliding toward the edge. Her hands scrabbled around, trying to find something to hang on to, and finally found and grasped the protruding end of a more well-supported floorboard, just as the rest of her went over the edge.
She knew she couldn't hang on for long, though. Her wrists were sore, and her fingers still clumsy, from being bound. She scanned the pile of debris she was dangling over, and spotted part of the mattress of the bed she'd been sitting on. It was some way to the side of her, but if she could swing hard enough... She began swinging, ignoring the pain in her wrists. When she judged her arc to be high enough, she let go, dropping into the flickering near-darkness.
She landed a little short of the mattress, but she managed to throw her weight forward, so that the rest of her body collapsed on the mattress. She lay for a second or two, assessing her condition. A twisted or sprained ankle, she judged, and a rather extensive collection of bruises, as the mattress wasn't thick enough to have completely cushioned her from the rocks and wood underneath. 'Could have been worse,' she thought as she raised herself on her hands and knees.
She could now hear, above the explosions of Elwynn's rockets, the sounds of shouts and the clash of metal on metal. 'They must have broken through into the courtyard,' she thought with an immense sense of relief. She began carefully crawling over the pile of debris toward the sounds of battle, hoping she'd be able to find someone, anyone, who could help those still trapped in the tower.
Sammel watched helplessly as Melyda slid toward the gap in the floor. He caught his breath as she disappeared over the edge, then sighed in relief when he saw her hands grasping a floorboard. A moment later, those hands also vanished.
"She's all right," he said aloud, as much to convince himself as to reassure the others. "She didn't slip, she deliberately let go. She wouldn't have done that if there wasn't *something* to land on. She'll be all right." Sammel wished he could rush over to the edge and make sure, but there was at least one small problem in the way. He kept his eye on the hideous maw of the swamp creature and slowly edged his hand down to his sword hilt. He was still weak and dizzy from Kieraan's magic, but he wasn't about to leave himself defenseless against the creature's attack.
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