Chant confronts Sir Listeneise
by, 08-07-2011 at 05:55 PM (1020 Views)
"The singing has stopped."
Chant looked up from his search, his breath fogging the chill air in front of him. The icy walls surrounding the party glowed faintly with light streaming through them from outside. Corw'achs looked over at Chant, concern showing plainly on his face, then returned his attention to the western passage, where shapes stirred at the far end, sending sounds of movement toward them. Fear gripped Chant's stomach suddenly, and his tail twitched anxiously. He strode to the wide path that bridged the shallow, icy stream running through the middle of the chamber and waited on the eastern side. Corw'achs and the two dwarves, Kathra and Orthrum, arrayed themselves beside and behind him.
"Congratulations on your victory!" came a jovial voice, one he had last heard croaking and wavering as if near death. Sir Listeneise strode into the hall, Sister Eda and four of her followers trailing behind him. Hatred replaced fear in Chant's belly, and his hand clenched the Orb of Winter's Wasting as if it were the paladin's throat. Struggling to keep his voice even, he called, "Listeneise. What brings you to this far place? Surely you cannot be recovered yet?"
The scales of Listeneise's armor glistened like the ice of the walls as the Eladrin continued his slow approach. His smile remained easy, as if he were greeting an old friend. "The cloister has nursed me back to health with uncommon skill. I am not yet my old self," he admitted, "but I felt well enough to travel. Have you riddled out the mystery of the wall yet?" He inclined his head toward the northern end of the chamber, where the glacier filled the entire width of the room.
"Nearly." Chant kept his eyes moving over Listeneise and his followers. There was something odd about them. "I was about to attempt it."
"There will be no need," Listeneise said simply. "I will retrieve the Prism Ostracon from within, and return to Poemepine, quest complete at last."
"Still you seek this?" Chant asked. "Surely you know that Poemepine has never forsaken her vows, will never forsake her vows, no matter you bring back the heart of a dragon or a star from the sky. This quest was simply a way for her to remove a meddlesome fool from underfoot."
The paladin's eyes narrowed slightly, but his voice never wavered. He continued his slow progress toward the bridge. "So Chant, what do you say, one-on-one, you and I?" The scrape of Listeneise's sword as it rang against its sheath filled the otherwise silent chamber.
Chant's mind raced. He felt his companions beside and behind him, and their tension was nearly palpable. If he could somehow keep this fight between Listeneise and himself, he might save them pain, or even death. But no, that was foolishness. He was a wizard, his power linked to the fundamental energies of creation itself--but even a wizard must fear sharp steel wielded by a capable warrior. Whatever his many other faults might be, Chant had no doubt Listeneise was a capable warrior. Listeneise's slow progress brought him to the western edge of the bridge, but he did not stop.
"You think this is a game, 'knight'?" Chant hissed at the paladin.
"I'm just thinking about what would be most satisfying to you."
"What about the wall, and the Prism?" Chant asked. "You will need the Orb, and someone to wield it, if you wish to break through."
"I am an Eladrin," Listeneise said. "The wall will not stop me." He stopped, facing Chant, his sword held casually at his side, the easy smile on his face belying the threat of steel in his hand.
Chant looked from Listeneise to Eda and the other two members of the Cloister. Their feet drifted above the ground, never quite touching the floor. "What have you done with these people?"
"Nothing," Listeneise replied. "they serve me because they must. It is their nature to do so," he said, as if in answer to a question. "Do not waste breath persuading them to abandon me." The paladin approached closer, only a dozen paces now separating him from Chant.
"You will pay for the pain you have caused the sister and her cloister," the Tiefling said, struggling to control his face, which threatened to contort into a grimace of rage. His tail thrashed wildly.
"You seem to be misunderstanding something. I haven't done anything to the good folk of the cloister, may their souls rest in peace. These are the true forms of those whom you met in Fiaell." Chant looked at Eda, his mouth agape, and she nodded solemnly. "We are not of this world," she confirmed in an ethereal voice.
"Well, these are!" Orthrum's cry broke the near-silence of the chamber as he clanged his axes together. As one, the junior members of the Cloister leapt into the air. Orange flame-like halos in the shape of wings emerged from their backs as they moved rapidly through the air, and sword-shaped tongues of fire appeared in their hands. Angels.
Idgel charged straight at Corw'achs, her sword pulled over her head for a powerful downstroke. Without transition, she fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, Corw'achs arrow protruding out of her back, through her heart. The orange fire of her wings grew to envelope her entire form and consumed her. With a cry of anger and denial, her twin flew to stand in front of the elf, the flame of his swinging blade narrowly missing Corw'achs shoulder, but scorching his face painfully and setting his robes afire. He dove into the pool, but instead of simply soothing his burns, the unnaturally icy water instantly wracked him with convulsive shivers.
Eda called, "Serga, aid your brothers and sisters!" Dageloyg and Fasti flew at Orthrum, their blades swinging nearly in unison, but the Dwarf raised his twin axes and met each blow, returning vicious swipes of his own. Fasti dodged backward, and a scrap of his robe drifted to the ground, burning as it went. Orthrum's other axe cleaved Dageloyg in the head. He fell back, his orange aura spreading over his falling form, consuming his body as he fell.
"Serga, be wise and stay back!" Orthrum retorted. The angel that had once been jolly Serga looked sorrowfully at the falling body of her brother, shook her head to clear it and moved to engage Orthrum. Her face contained only sadness as she swung her fiery blade, catching the top of his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she half-whispered to him as he struggled to put out the flames that threatened to engulf his head. Fasti moved in behind the Dwarf, pressing the advantage. His blade missed only because of Orthrum's unexpected writhing as he beat out the flames on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, too" Orthrum snarled, and swung both axes at Serga's head. The angel cringed away, and the blades missed her face by inches. Allowing the momentum of the swing to carry his axes, he whirled and lunged forward, and the axes tore a bloody gash in her side. Her eyes widened in shock, but fire instantly oozed from the wound like blood, and where the fire passed, the wound became only a stain.
Eda turned to Kathra. The warden stood resolutely between her and Chant, glowering. "I am truly sorry, Kathra," the angel said sadly, "Not about this situation, but about your clan. They have just about written you off as a traitor. Your love of the Feywild is nothing they can understand with their hearts or their minds, even your parents." Her words carried more weight than simple sound. Kathra felt them worm into her brain, sowing seeds of doubt as dark as tar, muddying her thoughts and confusing her actions.
"Ye...Ye lie!" Kathra held her hammer and shield up defensively. "Mah Pa, Me Mah, they both knew what Ah fought for...what Ah still do!"
Eda shook her head sadly, "I cannot lie when it comes to prophecy. Would that I would send you to your rest with fairer news, but your life is ill-starred."
"Ah'll knock one tooth down yer throat fer every lyin' word ye spoke," Kathra growled, her thoughts and movements still sluggish from Eda's magically-enhanced pronouncements.
The paladin's sword flashed and suddenly Listeneise was in front of Chant. The tip of his blade struck sparks from the stone floor and he drew it upwards in a great, arcing slash. Chant reeled back in surprise, and a wide, bloody cut appeared across Chant's robes.
Howling in pain, Chant nonetheless raised his orb and focused his will on the paladin. The orb reflected the scene before him in miniature, as if it were a diorama. Suddenly within it, Listeneise's companions transformed into dark beasts, slavering as they turned on Listeneise and attacked him. "You," Listeneise paused to swing at empty air, "I know these are just illusions." He parried as he spoke, "It will not work forever."
I don't need forever, just long enough, thought Chant. He raised his orb again, but this time, the threat he conjured was real. A ball of lightning appeared in front of him and streaked toward Listeneise and Eda, engulfing them both in arcs of blue energy. The smell of ozone suddenly overcame the lingering stench of the dragon lying across the chamber. "Ah!" shouted Listeneise, "Not an illusion, damn."
Chant allowed himself a brief, taut smile. "No, not an illusion. These powers will kill you if you do not yield, Listeneise!" His smile turned instantly into a grimace as the wound on his chest flared with pain, and he gasped loudly.
It was Listeneise's turn to smile. "I shall bring you to ground today, Chant," he said. Chant tried to suppress the dread that gripped his bowels as the knight threw himself behind a swing that would have easily removed his head from his shoulders if he hadn't ducked. "Still fast on your feet, but let's see for how long."
Chant's mind reached into the orb in his hand, and he let his hand follow. When it emerged, he held black shadows that writhed and coiled hungrily. He cast them at Listeneise, and they exploded all around him, twining around his feet and wrapping tendrils of darkness around his neck. Listeneise set his face stoically, "I remember this one."
"I hoped you would. It is the only way I escaped you the first time you turned on me."
Listeneise lashed about at the ephemeral limbs, "Will it work again, I wonder?"
From across the room, Corw'achs fired an arrow that caught Serga through the back, piercing her heart. Her face twisted in pain and regret, and as she drifted to the ground, she looked at Orthrum. "I'm sorry," she said again, and then she was gone, consumed by orange flame. The ranger blinked, and the lines in his face seemed to soften as he lost his perpetual scowl for something more thoughtful.
"Kathra," Eda whispered, oblivious to Serga's passing. "Kathra, you've done enough. Let it go. If you prevailed here, there is only more pain to await you in your future." Although it was barely above a whisper, the angel's voice pierced Kathra as if it were driven by an awl.
Kathra glared at Eda. "So long as Ah draw breath, Ah'll endure every bit o' pain if it means me friends draw theirs." She shifted suddenly away from the angel. "Orth, Ah leave her to ye...Ah need ta help Chant."
Listeneise turned his head toward her, his face wreathed in a smile of genuine amusement. "Do you, my dear? Eda is a fearsome opponent to turn your back on."
"Yer fight is with me today," the warden said in a voice like rain pounding on stone, like wind through a mountain pass. An eruption of blue and white primal energies cascaded from her being, and she straightened as she threw off the lingering effects of Eda's spell. A vague, winged shadow seemed to fly from Kathra's head, leaping instantly into Chant. The Tiefling grimaced as the shadow lay over his mind, distracting him with memories of his parents wrath at his leaving, their accusations of cowardice and betrayal.
Kathra swung her hammer toward Listeneise, who turned it aside and slipped his sword into the opening her swing left. Kathra grunted and stepped aside, feeling the blade scrape her armor. "Not yet," she growled, as if in response, and this time, her voice sounded like the crack of a thunderstorm. She slammed the head of her warhammer into the ground, and for a second time, lightning erupted around Listeneise and Eda. "You face me, paladin," she said again.
"I have nothing but praise for your exploits, Kathra," said the Eladrin. "Even you, though, must be a little tired after dispatching Hroddzegor. But aye, I shall face you now."
The Eladrin and the Dwarf faced each other, steel and stone ringing together. The paladin's sunblade flashed and rang, but the warden's hammer met every blow and returned double.
Chant took advantage of Listeneise's distraction and raised his orb again. Within the orb, spectral figures appeared around Listeneise, tearing at him with their claws. The paladin jerked violently in surprise, then smiled again. "That is not quite as convincing as before," he said gently, as if reprimanding a naughty child.
"Shut yer trap! Ye're fightin' me, remember?" Kathra shot at him.
"I seem to be fighting both of you, good Kathra."
"Not fer long ye won't be." She swung her warhammer again, and a blast of cold air trailed behind it as she brought the force of a winter's gale to bear on the paladin. He raised his shield quickly and deflected the hammer.
He shook the frost off his shield, "I can't believe you have so much vigor even after dispatching the dragon."
"Yer gonna see more, I promise." But for all her bravado, the Dwarven warden was clearly suffering. She shook her head and slapped herself to stay focused, but her shoulder bled freely and a bruise flowered on her temple. Listeneise shoved his shield into Kathra's face and stomped at her knee. She twisted out of the way, but the paladin's armored boot caught her calf and sent her to one knee. She grunted and sprang back to her feet, but her movement was slow and painful. She deflected another blow from Listeneise, but was soon beset on her other side by Eda.
"Eda!" called Chant. "Why do you fight for this man? Surely you see his treachery at work?"
"Be silent, old friend," admonished Listeneise. "She fights because she must. She is an angel, not a mortal." Chant focused again on the orb, but every clash of axes, or crack of hammer, or twang of bowstring, seemed to rip at him like an echo of the burning wound on his chest. Chant felt despair rise up within him.
Kathra fell back under the double press of Listeneise and Eda. Listeneise caught her in the elbow with the flat of his blade, and as she twisted away from him, she stepped directly into Eda's line of attack. Her injured leg throbbed and she lurched, barely catching herself before she fell, but her balance was too compromised to react. The angel smiled sadly and raised her sword. Its flames grew bright in anticipation of the final blow, but before Eda could swing her arms down, her throat sprouted feathers.
From behind Listeneise, Kathra saw Corw'achs raise his bow in silent salute. Listeneise looked at the falling angel in dismay, and her body hit the floor with a heavy sound, much louder than her fellow Cloister members. "Eda!" shouted Listeneise, and then eyed Corw'ach, his face grim, "Four on two, is it now? I've had worse."
From behind him, Orthrum called out. "Four on one." Fasti's body drifted to the floor behind him, limned with orange flame.
Chant felt a wail beginning in the back of his throat. "These deaths! Listeneise, I lay all of these deaths at your feet!" The chamber seemed to spin about him as he looked at the bloody faces around him. He fought to keep his equilibrium.
"Ya see, Listeneise, Ah fight fer me friends ta keep 'em safe. How many friends o' yours are still up an' fightin'? And how many o' mine?" Kathra laughed heartily despite the pain and her injuries. She raised her hammer in salute to Cor, and he bowed with a wicked grin.
"You won't know how many will be left. You'll be the first to fall," Listeneise said. He spoke calmly, as if tallying off coins, "Then Chant, then that elf, and finally your dwarf comrade."
"Ye'll have ta get through me first. Try hard."
"I would do no less." He takes a deep breath, and paused as if surveying his opposition. "Kathra!" he yelled suddenly, and brought his sword down.
"Listeneise!" she shouted back, raising her shield. Sword met wood, and deflected into the ground, but her injured leg betrayed her again, and she buckled under the furious blow. The paladin's blade continued around and caught her chin on the upswing, knocking her head back and toppling her like a stone pillar.
"Kathra!" Orthrum called, as Chant yelled "No!"
Chant shook with rage and frustration so badly he could not summon his concentration. Within the orb, a few phantoms halfheartedly clawed at the paladin, but Listeneise stood smiling. "Not going to save you, Chant." He started slowly toward the Tiefling, and Chant backed away.
Corw'achs rushed across the bridge, digging into his pack, and stopped by Kathra's side. His hand clenched a potion, which he shook quickly and unstoppered, pouring the contents into Kathra's open mouth. Instantly, Kathra's breathing eased. The bloody gash in her chin closed, and the bruise on her temple faded somewhat. Still battered and torn, her eyelids nonetheless fluttered open, and she looked at Corw'achs. ""Ah hafta fight," she gasped weakly. "Cor, is he..still alive?" Corw'achs nodded, but said, "Lie still for a moment, we have to get you stronger first." He fished for another potion. He caught a motion out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Orthrum throwing a small vial toward him. With a deft motion, he caught it and administered the healing draught to Kathra. Her condition immediately improved, and she pushed free of him and began to rise to her feet.
"We both knew it would end this way," Listeneise said quietly, still approaching Chant slowly. Orthrum ran at him from the back, swinging his axes as he came. The paladin spun in place, catching one axe on his shield. The other slammed into his side, but his armor deflected the worst of the blow. Listeneise considered Orthrum for a moment. "As tempting as it is," he turned back to the Tiefling, "it's still you, Chant." He stopped in front of the wizard, considering him. He looked almost wistful as he swung his sword in an easy arc. The wizard twisted against the wall where he had backed himself, but the sword drew a line of blinding pain like fire across his chest, a twin to the wound that was already there. Chant howled again, his raspy voice sounding like a wounded animal caught in a furnace. Chant shook his head, over and over. The room spun, growing darker by the second. He raised his orb, but this time, not even a flicker of movement showed within it.
Dimly, he was aware of his companions shouting. The paladin's shoulder sprouted an arrow, then another, as Corw'achs found his mark yet again. The Eladrin winced, but for all the notice Listeneise gave them, they might as well have been wasp stings. Chant lurched drunkenly against the wall, his bloody robes leaving a smear of red against the icy wall. He saw Orthrum rush in again, but Listeneise stepped aside lightly, gripped the Dwarf's hand in his gauntlet and twisted it aside. "Not just yet…Orthrum, was it? First things first." The Eladrin shoved Orthrum away and turned once again to Chant, pulling back his sword as he turned. Chant twisted to avoid it, but an instant later Chant felt the sword spear his belly. The terrible pain spread instantly to engulf him in bright agony. He stared into Listeneise's eyes, and then fell to the ground.
His mind drifted for…hours? Minutes? No time at all? A stab of pain caused him to grind his teeth and nearly shout out. Chant he gave a shuddering gasp, and a thin line of blood trickled down the corner of his mouth, almost invisible against his ruddy skin. He saw his companions arrayed in a wide arc around Sir Listeneise, the tableau weirdly distorted as he lay on his side, staring up at them from the freezing ground. The paladin was limping slowly, his battered face bleeding from numerous cuts, his sword moved more and more slowly as he fought…something. A pale, nearly alabaster figure had joined the battle, and Listeneise faced it with a look of disgust on his face. Chant was at a loss to identify it until he heard the unlikely bleat of an angry goat.
Glatisant's Ivory Goat gored paladin with its horns, issuing a bleat that would have been comical if it weren't so fearsome. Sir Listeneise looked down incredulously, just in time to receive the goat's horns full in his chest. The charge knocked him to his back, his sword skittering away, and the paladin shouted in agony. Even from across the room, Chant could hear the "crack" of the knight's sternum as it snapped under the force of the goat's attack. The paladin doubled over and fell to his knees, and blood frothed at the corner of his mouth as his mouth twisted in a rictus of pain.
Kathra, her face grim, approached the fallen knight, hefting her axe. "Wait," Chant croaked weakly. His mouth seemed to be dry as old bones, and he worked his mouth and called again. Kathra looked back at him, surprised. "Wait," he called again. Her jaw clenched in a disapproving frown, the Dwarf nonetheless walked over to Chant and helped him to his feet. He leaned heavily on her. His side screamed where the sword had pierced it, and his cloak and shirt were torn and soaked with blood, but he tottered toward the knight, Kathra nearly carrying him. He fell heavily to his knees by the paladin's side.
The knight's eyes were glazed in pain, his face swollen, breathing in shallow gasps. Chant moved his hand to his belt, brushing the party's last healing potion nestled in its pouch. He paused for a moment, then moved his hand further.
He raised the dagger in front of him and looked calmly at the Eladrin. The paladin looked up at Chant, his eyes focusing weakly on the dagger, then gave a convulsive nod, his eyes fixed on Chant's. The black flecks in the Tiefling's eyes filled with red as he drew the dagger across the knight's throat. Sir Listeneise's hand reached up to clench Chant's wrist, then loosened, and finally fell limply by his side. He slumped forward, nearly toppling Chant, and slid to the floor.
Chant wiped the dagger on his cloak and replaced it in his belt, looking tiredly from Kathra, to Orthrum, to Corw'achs. He fumbled with the pouch at his side, but his fingers were numb and unresponsive. With a wan smile, he slumped to his side, Kathra catching him at the last moment and lowering him gently to the floor.
He never felt the potion pass his lips, but when he awoke a few minutes later, the pain in his side and chest had eased, and his head was clear.