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Like a Bat out of Hell (part 4)

July 9, 2014

Brightsong was deaf and dumb now, his mind whispering incantations and prayers that he could not speak and perhaps never would again. Only the dreadful pressure to check if that was the case told him that he had not yet failed his lady.

Either of them.

****

“I don’t understand.”

“How can a half-elven ranger hope to throw bolts of magical force?”

The half-elf pondered for a moment only before her mind, far more agile than her body even in this form, caught up.

The gnome hurled energy at the imp and blasted it to shreds. “A warlock needs neither bow nor arrow”, she half-exulted, half-mourned as her next blast caught another and hurled it across the sky.

None of these minor devils came within arms reach of the warlock who channelled the powers of hell with growing assurance and authority.

“Hurry child!”

She grimaced. Despite the ease with which she had stopped the band of imps, she knew she was no match for more powerful devils. And if she ran as a ranger, she would be seen and slowed by the combat. What she really needed, was not to be noticed.

Concentrating now on stealth and not speed, she found herself lightening and becoming more refined. An eager, almost cruel light entered her eyes even as horns and a tail sprouted. Soon a Tiefling girl, perhaps the descendent of long ago cambions brought to the Hells by their parents, slipped into the shadows and began to work her way onwards.

It was not exactly quick but it was sure. Twice weariness forced the young Tiefling to find a nest and take a snatched and fearful rest. But she made it to the ruined castle and slipped in.

The portal was not, precisely, difficult to locate. A wide glowing purple circle of tangible light, seemingly unsupported by anything.

No the problem was, as her sponsor had so helpfully hinted, that it appeared to be in the favoured room of a vast devil. An arch devil in fact, if he had not been lying and looking at the beast, she did not think he had been.

She wished he had.

Senuchs was huge and repulsive but to the young rogue’s fear-widened eyes, an impregnable barrier. He lay, scaled and fat enshrouded muscle and bones rolling onto the floor, on a bed of skulls and bones mounded up like a dragon’s hoard. Every so often he threw a blast of corrosive magic at one of the huge pile of corpses lying around which scoured away stone and flesh but seemed to ignore bones. Soon after, the more complete
sets of bones would get up and join the serried ranks of skeletons that were everywhere. Other, more shattered ones continued to lie still, apparently unharmed by whatever magic the devil was using.

‘Great,” she thought to herself sardonically, “all I need to do is not have any skin or muscle.’ She paused in mid-mutter. ‘Or is it?’ She mused, serpentine eyes narrowing in thought.

****

“Don’t you want to know how your little protege is doing?” The thought was inesacapable but Brightsong did not answer it.

Unfortunately he did hear it and, as he had always known, that was enough. Because, of course, he did want to know and the word “yes” was in his mind.

****

The rogue darted from shadow to shadow, desperately hoping that her skills would be enough to keep her alive for long enough to reach her objective.

The arch devil watched with some amusement through slitted, serpentine eyes. Every so often he spat magic near enough to her for her to be nearly caught but was careful not to actually hit her. This promised to be amusing .

****

“You do? Then I had better go and check on her.”

Brightsong sagged wearily and looked at the empty summoning circle.

“I am sorry, My Lady, I tried.”

A comforting radiance fell upon him and his long nose shone in the moonlight as his Lady healed his mind and spirit and moved his body to where she needed it.

****

The rogue reached the shadow of the dragon’s skull she had seen and cowered within it, trying to pluck up the courage to make the final dash. The portal was only yards away but there was no more cover. She had to hope that the ancient bone would shelter her.

But there was no point in being a rogue now. Stealth and skill would be no help and with this thought, and growing confidence in her abilities, the frame of the young girl thickened and strengthened into that of a muscled half-orc who lifted the skull with a shrill bellow of exhilarated fear and anger and ran towards the glowing blue oval of the portal home.

The arch devil bellowed melodramatically and a huge glob of viscous slime soared towards Shadefire and spattered off the skull. With triumph, she realised that although drops had seeped through, spattering and paining her, she was still alive. Her improvised shield had held.

Another blast and another yard gained. There were only feet to go now, the huge and ancient skull seemed to be growing heavier by the second but she would make it.

Then as she tensed to jump, the skull crumbled violently into a spray of razor sharp, stinging fragments that cut and pained her and the half-orc found herself unable to move.

“Did you really think I only had one type of magic available to me?”

The arch devil’s voice was a deep rumble that vibrated unpleasantly in Shadefire’s head. But that was nothing compared to the despair she felt at how close she had been and how useless being mere inches was when a paralysis spell held her immobile.

The arch devil laughed in pleasure when he felt her despair and drank it in. It was a heady enough draught that he even look the effort to heave himself from his comfortable bed of bones and pat the little barbarian’s head. “It was a good attempt,” he said consolingly and laughed again at the wash of emotion this elicited.

“It was indeed.” A silky voice agreed and if Shadefire had not been so terrified, she might have been amused by lurching fear of the arch devil as he swing round, power boiling around him as he looked for whoever had managed to enter his lair undetected.

It was not a difficult feat though; the Lord of Evil was not trying to conceal himself as he leaned against the pillar, his ruby rod held negligently in his hand.

“Lord Asmodeus.” The ancient devil gasped. “What…”

“What am I doing here?” The God of Evil inquired theatrically. “I am protecting my investment.”

“What?! She is yours? Lord, she does not bear your mark.”

The silvery voice spoke urgently. “Quickly child, take your first form.”

“Really?” Asmodeus’ beautiful voice sounded intrigued? “Did you look?”

“Of course!” Senuchs said defensively but his voice trailed away as the little gnome shook off his paralysis and he saw the unmistakable mark of a pact with Asmodeus himself upon her.

“She is my Warlock and I have plans for her.”

“Lord, I did not know.”

“Do you really think that is an acceptable excuse?” The Lord of Evil sounded amused. “None may lay a hand on what is mine withing the Hells. You know the law. Now feel the punishment.”

The rod moved slightly and hellfire leapt from it.

“No!!” A shield of corruption encompassed the fire and swept it back towards Asmodeus but powerful as he was, the ancient arch devil, who had been cast down once by The Lord of a Evil before that being had even been a god, was no match for the other.

“Now child!”

The voice was like a scalpel, cutting through the webs of fear and despair that held the young gnome despite the removal of the magic binding her.

“Selune aid me!” She screamed and leapt for the glow of the portal. Light enveloped her and she stumbled into the ancient, undead ridden ruins of Harlanthoon Keep and the soothing arms of Brightsong.

****

When the two gnomes reached Silverymoon finally, Brightsong found a note within his summoning circle. In elegant calligraphyinscribed with elven blood on gnomish skin, it ran “Your protege is safe. Since you never set a price for this information, I’ll do so myself.”

The High Priest and Archmage looked at the note and shuddered, then set it aside, what mattered was that the Chosen of Selune was no longer in hell. Compared to that, all else was immaterial.

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