Content of the article: "Scoundrels Chapter 69: The Lion and the Warden"
I am The Bard, who has battled The Lich upon the moon. It was a rather silly battle, as great wizards always create overly bombastic names and require them to be shouted during the incantations.
Then again, I am not at all certain that any battle involving a giant re-animated space squid (or genetic experiment meant to look like a space squid) can be taken entirely seriously.
Janus faced Elsior, the moon high above witness to their duel. War Pig snorted a blast from his nostrils, Janus’s steed, Bolivar, pawed the ground. The black lion gripped her lance tightly. The iron warden met her sapphire gaze with his own steely one.
Bolivar was faster, but War Pig was stronger, and had almost half a ton more mass to work with. In a direct engagement, the mighty boar’s bulk and ferocity, combined with the weight and strength of his rider, would overcome any normally mounted knight, regardless of their skill. There are some factors no amount of training can overcome.
Janus understood this, and thus his charge was a feint. Trusting to a bond as strong as his opposite’s, he pushed Bolivar to the side and dropped from the saddle. Falling into a roll, he came up just to the side of War Pig, opposite Elsior’s lance. The great beast’s mass turned against him, as it was unable to turn. With a mighty swing from his blade, Janus put his might behind a blow to the boar’s back leg.
With the momentum of their charge working against them, Elsior and War Pig were undone. The blade clove through at the hip, and rent leg from body. The impact jarred the mighty boar, and it lost its balance due to the disparity in weight. The mighty boar toppled, throwing Elsior to the ground. It rolled over once, and struggled to rise. But it was unable to. With a groan of anger, it vanished into a swirl of snow and frost.
The unexpected manuver and shock at the defeat of the legendary mount stunned the rest of the ambushers, but they recovered somewhat quickly and attacked. However, the shock broke their cohesion, and rather than attacking as one, each attempted to execute their part of the plan piecemeal.
Keelah fired too soon, aiming on instinct for the throat. But the iron warden’s thick fluted armor shifted, and the bolts were deflected. So great was its thickness that the small crossbows could not pierce it. But such was not even Janus’s intent.
The fall of War Pig had brought an uncontrolled gasp from all, though Lamora quickly stifled it and raised her musket. The moonlight glinted on her barrel, and this combined with the gasp informed him of her position. Janus shifted as she fired, presenting the thickest parts of his armor. The bullet deflected off the masterwork plate, leaving a long scratch.
Then Matlal fell upon him from above, bringing forth a gout of flame to blind and burn the fighter. He was only human, and so the sudden brilliance would sunder his vision and leave him more exposed in the darkness. Indeed it did, and the warden shielded his eyes. But while the flames found their way in through gaps and singed, they did not consume.
The monk landed on the blinded fighter and unleashed a series of attacks. He struck for the knees, for the neck, for a series of points on the arms. And while his fists were indeed like iron, and his blows rained down on body and soul, he would not prevail. The thick armor was dented by his blows, but he could not strike with the precision needed to disable the warden. Likewise, even Janus’s soul was warded by the ancient magic of his potent blade.
Said blade then forced the monk to retreat as Janus swung out at him and landed a long cut across his arm and shoulder. Before the knight could advance, a weight struck him from behind. A lioness had struck him in the back, and if he had not already been crouched it would have toppled him. Her claws raked against his armor, creating an awful screeching noise, and she sought to bite out his nape.
Janus ducked his head forwards, then jerked it back, his helmet smashing the lioness in the nose. Then, he released his grip on his sword with one hand, seized her, and cast her off before him. He rose to cleave her down, but as she fell, Lamora reverted to her true form. Her blade met his, and sparks flew as they deflected off one another.
With a whisper, her blade shimmered with silver magic to cleave mind and body alike, a vibrating keening filled the air. Janus adopted a stronger defensive posture, recognizing the dreaded spell “Soulrazor” by which the legendary bladesinger Markal Silverblade (Elves, everything is blade or bow or flower or thorn with them) slew the armored gorgon.
Lamora smiled, and attacked. Janus blocked one attack, then another, then predicted her third strike and deflected it, leaving her open. With his blade not in position to strike, he threw out his elbow and struck her in the face. She staggered back, as he raised his blade high and brought it down. She blocked, but her posture was broken. She rolled away from the follow through, barely evading the lethal blade.
Then Raymond roused himself and spoke words of dread power, binding a foul hex onto the fighter. He raised his hands, and vines sprouted from the earth, covered in thorns as long as fresh pencils. These thorns detached from the vines, and hammered into the knight. They could not pierce his armor, but the hex upon his flesh blossomed bruise and necrotic blemish wherever they impacted him.
He fell again to a knee, and for a moment Raymond felt triumph, for the pain had laid him low. Too late he remembered who he was facing. Janus had not fallen to a knee from pain, but rather to pry up one of the flagstones from the road. Rising, he sent it flying at Raymond, and it struck him in the face and sent him to the ground, world spinning, in pain, and covered in blood.
All this took place over the course of merely a few seconds as Elsior regained her senses and her feet from the fall. Once she did though, she made her presence known. Crossing the space between herself and Janus in an instant, the wind howled around her like a cloak from her speed. Only years of experience prevented her blade from bisecting the warden, as he turned just in time to meet her.
As their blades met, such was her force and strength that Janus was lifted off his feet, and cast back half a meter. Elsior did not relent, raining blow upon blow down on the fighter. His posture and defense was perfect, and it had to be. He remained patient, attempting to analyze the pattern of Elsior’s attacks, but she was too swift. Her attacks landed within less than a second of one another, so quick that the afterimage of one obscured the next.
Janus had seen her fury unleashed against the demon, but those had been different, single, devastating blows meant to blast a regenerating opponent to pieces. This was an entirely different style, and her ability to change between the two spoke volumes of her training.
Her blitz was not merely animalistic either, hoping to overwhelm him with speed and ferocity. She drove him into a vertical block, attempted to bypass it with a thrust, but the thrust was a feint, and he she pushed his blade down. With a shout of triumph, she trapped his blade under her foot and thrust her sword at his face.
In a cold, calculated maneuver, Janus released his grip on his sword, and stepped back. All who watched could see as the pain of all his injuries struck him at once. Even still, he grit his teeth, and raised his hand. Elsior’s blade pierced his palm and carried through, but he gripped the blade, and forced it aside.
Elsior was stunned, and Janus smiled through the pain. “You underestimated my resolve, lion, I am more than my weapon.” Then he made a fist with his other hand, and struck her in the side of the head. The mailed fist tore scale to the bone, and sent her back half a step. Then he pulled his other hand off of her sword, and struck her in the jaw with it, sending her back off his blade.
Lamora struck again from behind, but he heard her coming. He turned, and caught her blade on his forearm. The enchanted weapon peeled aside his armor, first the plate, then the chain, then the cloth and flesh beneath. Its keening vibration shook all aside, the shimmer allowing it to not merely cut once, but again and again, to wear through and rend even the strongest armor.
It cut to the bone, and began to cut into the bone, but Janus pushed through and bore Lamora to the ground. Using his superior weight and strength, he trapped her blade arm under his, and then stuck her in the face, slamming her head into the ground. Once, twice, three times, and the blade began to dim.
He rolled back as Matlal rushed to the cleric’s aid. Silver blood leaked from her face and the back of her head, gleaming like the moon above. He took hold of his blade once more, as Matlal struck down with his fists. Even so, the enraged lizardman kicked him, hard enough to dislodge the helmet and send him rolling back.
Janus rose, and saw something that had he not held his blade, would have terrified him. The lizardman’s eyes were bloodshot with anger. His aura rolled off of him in red waves, his gleaming tattoos were bloody in the night. For the blood of Sobek was roused within him, and terrible fury.
Faster than the fighter could react, Matlal slid across the space between then, passing space in an unnatural manner. He seized the fighter by the throat, cutting off his oxygen, and lifted him into the air by the throat. His other fist clenched, ready to smash the fighter’s head in. His mouth was filled with spittle, like a wild beast.
And then he regained himself, and his hand shook. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “No. Never again. I am not that any longer.”
Janus took his advantage, and broke the lizardman’s grip as his resolve weakened. Raising his blade high, he brought it down on Matlal’s shoulder, and cut deeply into him. The monk fell, and Janus caught his breath. “I respect your commitment to control, ser monk, but in battle, any hesitation will be your defeat. Next time, follow through when you have your enemy by the throat.”
Elsior rose, sealing the wound to her head with crimson energy. Her breathing was heavy, her eyes filled with anger. “You are beaten lion. Your allies are fallen, or fled in the Kobold’s case. In fact, I suspect she is currently making off with the contents of my potion bag, as well as my purse.”
Keelah shrugged as she dragged Raymond into the bushes and pulled out a stolen potion. He wasn’t wrong, but hey, when you can’t do anything to the enemy, may as well play a support role, especially since the cleric was down.
Elsior growled. “I won’t stop. They might be down, but I can still kill you for one simple reason.” She snarled. “I don’t have to worry about collateral out here. Nobody but you and me, just the way I like it.”
Janus set himself against her. “Even I can see that your overdrive is steadily weakening you. You do not have the mana reserves needed to maintain it.”
The dragonborn grinned. “I underestimated you, and now you do the same.”
There was a hissing in the air, and all suddenly stank of brimstone. Janus took a step back, as a pattern emerged above Elsior’s heart. Above it, a symbol formed, a star, with its five points beyond the limits of their circle. There was a howling wind, and the night was filled with the light of hellfire.
”Bear witness to the power of sacrifice.” Elsior growled. “Lord Ascalon’s gift unto me. Infernal Gateway.”
And the circle blossomed, a miniature portal into hell itself opening on her breast, and flooding the dragonborn’s body with boundless energy. Her heels erupted into fire, her scales blackened or else turned red as blood. Her eyes lost their blue brilliance, and replaced with a diabolical gold. “Now die.” She ordered the warden, and charged.
With a single step, her feet broke, and the ground was sundered under her. Fire roared in her wake, and her blow was like a thunderbolt. Janus was prepared, fully so, and only that saved him. He deflected the attack on pure instinct, and his left wrist broke from the impact. The wind was cut by her sword, and it severed the trunk of two trees. Hellfire exploded from the blade, and there was a screaming wind as it cast out the winds before it, and burned away all its oxygen as quickly as it went, and the wind was sucked back in to fill the void.
That was only the first blow.
Janus rolled with the blow, but even so it cast him meters away into the side of a tree. He fell onto his feet, and ducked as another withering attack swept where he had landed. The tree was cut through with a gleaming line, and then exploded in another gout of flame and force.
He came to his feet and deflected the next attack upwards. Fire and wind tore a brilliant light through the trees, and set them ablaze. Hellfire raged through the trees, and Raymond and Keelah raced to evacuate the rest of their party. Raymond tore open the rope room underneath Matlal, dropping his body in, then he and Keelah leapt inside, carrying Lamora, as the forest burned down around them.
Janus had no time to counterattack. He was certain that with a single blow he could strike the wounded and burning dragonborn down, but equally so a single mistake would cost him his life, and perhaps even his soul. He dodged to the side as Elsior cut down on him. A line of fire twenty feet high cut its way across the side of the hill, obliterating everything in its path and digging a trench deep and wide enough to be of use in battle.
His one grace was that the power had clearly affected her mind. Her attacks were faster and more powerful, but also far easier to read, and sloppy. Furthermore, if her normal overdrive was enough to weaken her, this would be enough to kill her or exhaust her to unconsciousness within only a minute or so. He just had to stay alive.
So he did everything he could to do just that. He rolled away from another earth shattering blow, retreating down the hill. He could not possibly escape her speed, but his sword preserved him for a while longer, deflecting another two blows that cut down all the trees to his left, then all the trees to his right.
Then dread so palpable even his sword could not protect him from it struck him, as his back hit a tree. He dove to the side desperately, as her thrust blew a hole in the tree, and in every tree behind it until it reached the ground and overturned it.
As he rose, she struck again, and forced into a lock. His heels dug into the ground. His arms creaked and broke, but he felt them not. Still he held on. She was more black than blue or gold now, her own fires consuming her. He just had to hold on.
Then she let go of the sword with one hand.
”Oh f-“ was all Janus had time to say, before she punched him in the chest. Once more hellfire blossomed, and his breastplate, chain, and skin alike melted. There was a sound like a cannon as the air was forced out, and then sucked back in by the intense fire, and Janus went flying. He hit a tree, a solid old oak, and it cracked under the impact. He coughed up blood, and staggered to his feet.
His ribs were broken, one of his lungs was most likely collapsed. He was bleeding internally in several places, and one of the chambers of his heart was damaged. If he didn’t get to his horse, he was a dead man walking. Yet Duty, sword and concept alike, kept him standing. He had forced her to go all out, unleashing all this power to defeat a single man. He wasn’t dead yet, and if he was, he’d die on his feet.
Elsior did not charge, but gathered the overwhelming power within her for a final attack. It gathered about her head, her eyes, her lungs, her throat. “Die.” She cursed him, and opened her jaws. Hellfire mixed with dragon’s breath to create something altogether more potent and deadly. The air screamed, and she unleashed a beam of destructive power, not much wider across than a thumb.
Janus dove to the side, as the concentrated beam of destruction tore through the hill beneath him. Where it traveled, the ground erupted and was torn asunder, as if a barrel of gunpowder had been laid beneath it. She swept her head to the side to follow him, and the beam cut along the side of the hill. There was a great roaring, as the exploding earth caused the peak of the hill to slump to the side in a great landslide. Without a doubt, if she had desired it, she could have sundered it in twain, or cast it down entirely.
Janus thanked whatever gods were listening that she wasn’t keeping the beam up any longer than that, and ran. An avalanche of earth, trees, and hellfire swept after him, but still he kept on, and got out in front of and to the side of it. Then he fell, almost certainly nearing his limit.
But Elsior was not much better. Even though the infernal energy kept her body moving, she was covered in burns. Her arms and legs were mangled, torn apart not by anything he had been able to do to her, but rather simply by the incredible forces she had unleashed. Janus was well aware that the mind placed limits on the body to prevent it from damaging itself. Whatever her gift was, it had shattered those limits, and gone even further beyond what should have been possible,
She gathered the energy again, even as her body began to crack like wood on a pyre. He pushed himself to rise, and try to evade. This would be her last. Any more and she would incinerate herself. He just had to survive this.
But it never came. In a blur, Matlal intervened. He appeared before Elsior, and the dragonborn hesitated. Then he struck her chest with two fingers, and struck many other points across her body. The flow of infernal energy was halted, and then across her body, it was dispersed. He concluded by striking the gateway with his palm, and it was sealed.
The glow faded from Elsior, and she fell forwards into Matlal’s arms. The lizardman turned to the mangled warden, but before he could do anything, Bolivar intervened. As courageous as his master, the destrier braved the uncertain footing and the hellfire to come to his aid. Janus barely had the strength to mount up and turn the steed in the right direction, before he collapsed atop it.
As the other scoundrels raced down from their hiding place, Keelah raised her crossbows. But he passed out of her reach before she could fire. “Damn. Well I stole all his potions. He’s a dead man riding anyways.”
”Mother of god, any of them.” Raymond said. “It’s a wonder he’s still functional.”
”Deal with it later.” Lamora ordered him, as she knelt to attend to Elsior. She examined the dragonborn in horror. “It’s going to take a minor miracle to save her.”
Matlal also examined her. “Overflowing energy came from the heart chakra.”
”I hear it.” Keelah said. “It sounds like it’s about to burst, and it’s not slowing down.”
”Too much residual energy.” Lamora growled. “Ray. I need you to start draining it, slowly.”
”That could kill her!” Raymond argued.
”Not doing it will kill her.” She shot back.
Raymond nodded, and placed his hands on the dragonborn lightly. He recoiled. Her scales felt like a peeling log, after it has been left on the fire. It was still hot to the touch. Still, he composed himself, and shut his eyes. He drew off the heat, the relentless, burning energy, and cast it into the void. He wanted no part of that.
At the same time, Lamora replaced it with healing magic, letting it flow through the whole body. The dragonborn was tough, built to withstand punishment, but nothing like this. Her whole system was ravaged.
At the same time, Keelah poured healing draughts into her open mouth. These never even reached her throat, instead being absorbed into the mouth. Her tongue resembled nothing so much as a lump of charcoal, and once she had dumped all of the potions she had, Keelah turned and vomited.
After a few agonizing moments, Elsior opened her eyes. Even after everything, she looked like hell. She was completely dehydrated, and burned through every calorie her body had taken in over the past two days. Everything was pain.
It therefore didn’t hurt that much more when Lamora slapped her across the face. Well, it probably hurt the changeling more. “Never do that again.” She ordered the dragonborn. “No excuses, no complaints, nothing. It is a miracle you’re still alive. Your mouth was nothing but a single massive third degree burn. If I had cast even one more spell in that fight, you would be dead. Plain and simple. If you ever even try that again, I will cut your way into your mind and burn the knowledge of how to out of it.” She berated the warlock.
Elsior simply nodded, then fell back down. “Did I get him?”
”He got on his horse, but I could see both his lungs and one of his kidneys, or maybe that was his liver. Hard to tell in the dark.” Raymond said. “He’s dead, he just hasn’t realized it yet.”
”Wouldn’t be so sure.” Keelah said. She pointed to the horizon, where a brilliant blue light was even now fading. “He might have had one more trick I didn’t see coming.”
”Can’t go after him now.” Lamora said. “Ray, get the base back open, we need to rest.”
- Scoundrels Chapter 70: Bitter Grain
- Scoundrels Chapter 71: Uneven Scales
- Scoundrels Chapter 72: Graysleeves
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