Gertie circles round to approach spikey red demon from the back, Alaric and she seem to have this well in hand, and I have a feeling my fiery sword might be put to better use against the demon of ice rather than the demon of fiery spikes, so I head toward the icy bug. I spring in, but am unable to land a decent blow, Dom circle round to come at the thing opposite from me, Coy is moving in from the side, we’ll soon have this thing to rights.
My next flurry of blows did not do go even that well, I end up flat on my back staring up at the things icy tail whipping around above and my sword’s flame has been extinguished. Even I am not quite sure what happened.
I hear Gertie’s voice ringing out from the tent line over where they are battling spikey boy, “I smite thee!”, I am re-assured that they are faring better with their beast than us. The tide turns against icy bug as from my prone vantage point, I see Coy’s arm wrap round the monster, tail, spear and all clamping it down tight, his voice calling frantically for me to rise quickly, I take that to mean he does not expect to maintain his hold for long.
The cowardly guards continue to flee the scene, they have no remorse on leaving us to clean up their mess. I hear shouts of victory from my companions in the next tent aisle over, we may have much needed reinforcements joining us shortly.
The hound archon has joined us and is working away at the icy bug beside us. I manage to land one very solid blow, it waivers and Dom finishes it off from his prone position at its feet.
We spend a little time checking out the camp, all the guards have fled. We find a rubble wall store room, nothing of interest inside. The large tents don’t reveal much either accept a luxurious bed and what looks like a spell casting area complete with a circle inscribed and a book on a stand. Dom calls Keth over as he has interest in such things.
Cilka explores the purple tent, it is well appointed and was inhabited by a person of religious leanings, an alter and a statuette of the dark lady stand in the corner. There is an empty armor stand and another luxurious bed. No papers or other items of interest.
We continue on up the mountain out the back passage, the path is open, the land is rough but clear, there is little cover and no use attempting to hide our approach. We see in a clearing at the rim of the volcano, a circle of huge horns, misshapen as if melted by an unholy heat. The horns are all the colors of the aspects of the gods, as we saw in the underground sacred chamber, red, white, green, black and blue. The clearing is the shape of a five petalled starlike flower, where each of the petals is home to a horn. There is a gate way leading into the area, the white horn is at the closest apex.
All our preparatory spells are in place, we move forward. I am first to reach the gateway into the unholy place, but once I hit the threshold, it is as if I’ve hit an invisible barrier that takes significant effort to push through. The other side is obscured by a misty fog, as I struggle, pushing my way through, the fog clears just in time for me to see a huge monster with spikes and giant crablike claws, one of which is hurtling toward my head. I stagger under its blow, and try to move past the thing, but I am unsteady on my feet and the other claw comes round and smashes me into oblivion.
I am woken by the golden dragon that is the form Keth is currently wearing. We have the great beast surrounded, Coy, Dom and Keth nearest to me with Gertie on Star at the far side of the beast. As my eyes take in Gertie’s position, I see beyond her and Star that what we have most feared is in process.
There is a huge column of smoke pouring straight up from a pentagram shaped hole in the stone floor. Behind that is a wall of swirling swords protecting a pair of unholy monks in robes of red that are chanting in a droning monotone over a large slab of gray rock, the threshold we have been chasing for so long.
A pair of red skinned men with leathery bat-like wings are between Gertie and the monks, her attention has turned from the huge crab monster to the winged red men. I also see another figure to the left, this one is richly clad in golden armor. As I catch sight of the thing, I see it morph into a huge metal looking thing three times its original size. This just keeps getting better.
A wash of healing energy flows through us, though thankfully the beast we are facing does not seem to take any benefit from it. Dom is cut down, luckily he is almost as effective lying prone as he is on his feet.
Suddenly the chanting and droning from the monks cuts off, the world has not yet ended, so I hope this is something we’ve managed to do and are causing our enemy at least some level of consternation.
The monster crashes to the ground and we are freed to focus on the red-skinned winged, men, the ironman and the monks. There is still much to overcome.
The man of iron yells out, “attend to your lady!” he gestures and as the blade wall falls, he steps through and cuts down one the monks with a vicious strike. Blood sprays as the eviscerated monk falls across the threshold. There is no sound to accompany this brutal massacre, this explains the silence that suddenly fell over the monks, there is a spell cast over the area the deadens all sound. A very simple and effective way to cut off whatever nefarious spell they were in the midst of, it has bought a little time.
I race around to lend Gertie a hand, coming in for a flank on one of the winged men, landing a scathing blow. Sadly my fire again does not appear to have much, if any affect.
The monks and the ironman are being pummeled by ice then fire from Cilka and Keth’s spell . The image is eerie, the bubble of silence that surrounds them giving them an odd sense of remoteness, even though they are but scant feet away. The constant barrage has taken its toll, the other monk falls as well.
The bat winged man I face, swirls round, blades flashing and smashes through my halfhearted attempt to block I, once again, find myself collapsing down into a tunnel of blackening unconsciousness.
I come to in a haze, the red winged man is still on his feet in front of me, I scramble to my feet and ready my weapon to ward off any blows he might throw, I do NOT want to go down again!
My back is to the smoke column, I haven’t seen yet what is happening over there, but the air feels different and the light is darkening, a sense of ominous dread steals through me, the nape of my neck crawls with the need to spin round and see what is wakening behind me, but I cannot turn my back to the beast I face, better the uncertain danger behind me, than to expose myself to the certain death in front of me.
Dom has taken the dilemma from me by finally killing the beast we fought, there is a crash of thunder, the ground shakes, dust and pebbles dancing at my feet. I spin round and am faced with a terror more awful than I could have possibly imagined. A huge blackly scaled dragon faces us, but this is no ordinary dragon. The giant winged beast sports not one, but five vicious heads one of each color of the points of the star at which we are at the center. Each head differs in appearance, the black sports long spiral horns arcing along the side of its jaw, providing a daunting armored aspect, this head will be quite hard to hit. The green head has a large shout, is streamlined and dangerous looking, with a spiny ridge from the top of it brow down to where the neck meets the body. The white head is similar to the green, but more skeletal in nature. The blue has a wicked horn sprouting from its forehead, a sharp downward pointing snout and wing-like ears sweeping back. The red head is the most terrifying, center to all of them it sports many of the wicked attributes the others have. It is bearded, with horns arcing up from the base of its skull where a spikey ridge begins gracing the curve of its thick muscular neck. If those are not enough to cause everlasting nightmares should we survive this, it also has a stinger tail, much like that of a scorpion, complete with a venom ball at the base of the barb. All four powerful legs end in massive clawed feet, each claw as sharp as a dagger and twice as long. Even the wings are dangerously equipped with two large spikes along the upper edge, one on each side.
Just to prove the whole world has gone mad, the monster that Keth had called forth to assist us, has turned against us and is attacking my friend Dom. I take a quick step to the side coming up along next to him and finally my sword answers my call and swings true, smashing the thing to bits. Now we can focus on the darklady who has taken the terrible shape of the dragon before us. We’ve taken out dragons before, what is one more scaly beast? We can do this.
Keth’s voice rings out, and another form appears. This time it is a little more celestial in appearance, taking the form of an angel. At least the top half of it is. Once my eyes move down and take in her full appearance, I see the bottom half is a bit less angelic, she is angel on top, but serpentine and scaly from the waist down. She spreads her arms and opens her mouth, a lovely singing pours forth, and we are bolstered by a feeling of goodness and light.
This flood of wellbeing is marred by the dragon’s attack, the heads dart back and forth biting and snapping, if you are lucky enough not to be their target, the tail arcs up and over from behind, ready to puncture and poison as you try to dodge. Once again my body is battered and smashed and I lose myself to the darkness, this is becoming way too familiar.
I come to, only seconds have passed, barely taking a breath I stagger I brace myself and rise to my feet, guarding carefully against her inevitable attack as she takes advantage of my vulnerability. I hear the sounds of my companions engaged with the dragon on the opposite side, I can make out nothing of their condition, I can only hope they are all still alive.
I manage to avoid her gnashing teeth and wicked claws, and ready myself to swing again, trying to time my blow so it lands true, when suddenly her entire body convulses and, with tail thrashing, she screams from all five mouths at once, her wings quiver and her form starts to flow, almost melting as she dissipates into the smoky air.
Arms weak I stagger back, breathless with the intensity of the fight. We stare at each other incredulously, all of us still standing and miraculously alive. We are speechless, can it be we have succeeded, against all the odds? Alaric falls to his knees in prayer, Gertie’s voice joins his. It is done. As the darkly ominous oppression fades from the air, my thoughts turn to those who are no longer with us, Hamanu and Jenson, I hope wherever they are, they can see our victory, and know that it is theirs as well.
I look to the threshold, Coy’s eyes follow mine. We nod and move toward the large stone that has cost us so much, the stone we have rescued to serve the light once again. We may still have time to catch the boat tasked with trolling the shores of this land, watching and hoping for our return. The elephant statues will serve us well in hauling the huge stone to the water. We rest and recover from our ordeal, ready to get a fresh start in the morning. The stone imbues us with a sense of grace, it seems to radiate serenity.
As we sleep, we dream, and all of us share the same vision. A woman in silver appears to us and tells us we now possess the connection between mortals and the divine. The stone was a gift from the mother to the world, so mortals would not be cut off from the gods. Because we prevented the tragedy of her sister coming forth into the world, the responsibility of where the stone will reside lies with us. Our thoughts turn to the little church in Laibach, where this all began. As we consider the options, our responsibility weighs heavily upon us. After some discussion, we are all agreed, let the threshold rest in Laibach, let it once again serve as the conduit it was intended to be.
Gertie asks of the Lady, what now? The answer comes, spread the word to the world. Small words, with a powerful and encompassing message, we have direction, we have our purpose.
We leave the unholy temple as we found it, it is not our place to alter the balance of this world.
Thus ends this chapter, and the Third Age of Mortals. Thus ends The Age of Despair.