Chapter 11 - Aftermaths

- Nightfall: Return to The Lodge - Day 9: 6:00pm

It was not a good feeling. It was a horrifying sense of anticipation.

The storm decided to let up and cut us a little slack. The rain slowed down to a drizzle. A fog quickly rolled in, covering the view in an eerie mist. The dark clouds slowly rolled away, opening the sky on the horizon so the light of the setting sun might touch us. Rays of orange light cut through the mist, seeming to point us in the proper direction. We did our best to work through the soaked underbrush, being wary of pits, puddles, or other hazards. We moved quickly by foot. Brother Thurm and the captain walked together. The scouts walked up ahead with the lieutenant. I took up the rear. We traveled without a word, or even a glance at each other. We all knew what we were about to see, and dreaded the thought.

The smell hit us with a sudden gust of wind. It was the horrid smell of rancid meat. Smells like that made you wish you didn't have a nose, or, at least, has a very bad cold. The Hammerites winced in disgust, and tried to cover their noses with pieces of their uniforms. I just slowed my breathing and pressed on. After what seemed like hours, we finally made it to the lodge - or what was left of it.

Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw there. The lieutenant could have described it in intricate detail, and we still would have been stunned. The lodge, as described before, was gone. In its place, was pure death. I pity any soul not moved to sickness by the sight. It was something I was, sadly, not unfamiliar with. However I doubt my reaction would change should I see it a hundred times.

What was once wood and stone, was now flesh and bone. The pentagram shaped lodge had transformed itself, to what was perhaps its nature all along - a house of rotting skin. Bones tied tightly together into beams by vine formed the skeletal framework of the building, with pelts of skin, immediately recognizable as human, forming the walls. Everywhere you looked you discovered new ways in which flesh and bones could be used as construction material, blood and organs included. Some of the flesh was fresh, blood still gushing from it, but most was old and rotting. My stomach begged my eyes to fall from the sight; hide from the ghastly images, but they could not. The sight was far too overwhelming. I felt a weakness in my knees, but stood firm, fighting off the sickness.

The construct was slowly falling apart. With the Lady's magic gone, there was nothing left to hold the soft building material together, and gravity began to take its toll. Thurm finally could take no more and turned his back on the sight, eyes cast downwards. The lieutenant kept his eyes clearly away from the building, having no desire to look again. The captain slowly walked towards it. I could not see his face from where I stood. I saw his head turn as he looked the structure over, his hand shaking as it gripped the hammer tighter and tighter. Suddenly he let out a scream of rage. He took two steps backwards, pulling his hammer high above his head, and charged. As the Hammer came crashing down on a bone support beam, thrust with all his might, the wall shattered. Bits of torn flesh, whipped away by the sudden release of tension, flew through the air. He let out a deep sigh and turned to face us, his face specked with bits if blood. His eyes were dark, and filled with tears. He looked up into the sky, and proclaimed at the top of his lungs: "Builder! Guide thy servants righteously! Bless us on this holy quest to rid thy earth of this evil!" Then he was silent.

Eventually, the captain walked to Brother Thurm, who was still looking away. The captain's eyes were clear now, almost calm. "My Brother: lead us."

Brother Thurm turned to face him. He then glanced at me, and then to the wreck, quickly pulling his eyes away as if the sight pained him. "Captain," he said finally, "summon thy men. This creation must be obliterated. The ground on which it doth stand must be sanctified." Thurm's voice was shaking. The captain nodded, and ordered a pair of the scouts to come with him. Brother Thurm finally seemed to come to terms with what we had to deal with, and looked upon the structure, his eyes empty. The lieutenant approached me.

"Master Nightfall, thou art wise in the lore of the land. What creature hath done this?"

I did not answer him at once. I looked at the structure again, especially where The captain had attacked it. I was in no mood to discuss my theories with the young officer. I was too busy contemplating the implications of this situation. The Lady was an extremely dangerous creature, and at large. There had to be a way to determine where she fled to, but I feared that any trace of her departure was destroyed along with the lodge's previous manifestation. Hopefully James would have some answers for me.

"My Lord?" he said again. I sighed, and glanced at him to let him know I heard.

"The Order of the Vine," I said simply, and then walked a few steps away from him, making it clear that I did not want to discuss it further. After several moments I glanced back at Thurm. I wondered when The captain would get back.

He was whispering to himself. I could not hear the words. It was a prayer no doubt. I looked back up at the wreck. The portion that the captain destroyed sagged, and soon another section crumbled as well. Even without the help of the Hammerites, this thing would be nothing but debris within hours. I didn't know which would be a worse fate for these people who went into the building's construction -- being smashed to bits by holy hammers, or simply rotting into the forest floor over time. The woods were dead silent. None of the usual forest background noises could be heard, not a bird or insect, not the rustle of leaves, not the sound of water dripping off foliage.

I was relieved when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it may be the Hammerites, but disregarded that thought based on the direction from which it came. It must have been an animal of some sort. I took comfort in the thought that there was something alive here other then the trees and plants. I seated myself, not really interested in looking at the wreck anymore, and waited patiently.

Eventually they came. There was only a handful of soldiers left, possibly several dozen, and they were wet, tired, and wounded. The captain lead what was left of the once-proud task force into the clearing, to where Thurm and I waited. As the men saw the structure, their reactions were mixed. Some were shocked, others sickened, others angry, others wept, others vomited. They were a rather displeased group, to say the least.

Brother Thurm spoke, "My sons," he hesitated, slowly turning away from the structure to face the men, "demolish it."

The men looked at it, sick with anger, and hesitant with fear. The captain spoke reassuring words. "My brothers! Use the gifts which the Master Builder hath granted thee, thy hammers, thy holy instruments, to purge the land of this abomination of pure evil! The dark power here cannot harm thee, as long as this sacred tool is clenched within thy fists! Built into this structure lies the bodies of thy fellow man. Free their flesh from the wood and vine which captivates them, so that their souls may find rest!" At that, the group rushed the building, and struck hard with their hammers. They surrounded it, systematically pounding and smashing, without hesitation or fear.

- Jyre: One Last Hope - Day 9: 6:00pm

It had taken three days to remove the worst of the damage, although I couldn't get rid of all the bloodstains. It was not as if it really mattered. I wasn't planning on sticking around. The hardest part had been Els' burial. Letting him go was the hardest thing I had ever done. I must have sat at his graveside for hours, thinking.

Once that was done, I saw to myself. I splinted my damaged ankle, applied salve to the many cuts and bruises and strapped my arm to my side. I didn't have the courage to set the dislocated shoulder. Then I moved everything I could out of my onetime home, taking anything unsalvageable to the dump and selling the rest. The only things I kept were a few supplies, my bow, and the necklace Els had given me after he had first rescued me from the Lady's clutches.

I did all this in a state of numb depression. All my feelings, everything that had happened over the last few days, I locked up in a little box deep inside me. I needed to be calm now. I needed a clear head. I had no doubts as to who was responsible for Els' death. I wanted my revenge. But I was almost sure I could not have it.

I let the cool stream water wash over my fingers as I stared down at the city gates, watching the trickle of human traffic that passed through them. Four Hammerite guards checked every person through, asking them their business and checking their possessions. I had avoided the gate myself, choosing to climb out where the stream flowed into the city. The small hole that allowed it free passage was a tight squeeze but I had used it fairly regularly in the past. That was a bit stupid really considering I couldn't swim.

I sighed and turned my back to the city for the last time. I had no desire to go back there again, Lady or no. I had been hurt too often to see it as my home now. My eyes roamed over the rolling green land that eventually led to the woods and the Lady's lodge. I considered going there and making one last futile attempt at vengeance – something I should have been doing instead of running off to fight undead. I felt no urgent need to do so though, so I let the idea drop.

Where then? I asked myself as I stared at the ugly paved wound that the hammers had created through the untouched land. There was surprisingly little movement on the road, considering the amount of people at the gates. Perhaps I could go to the docks, hop on a boat and go back to that other world I had known briefly. I was torn on that one. It would be good to forget about this place but I wasn't quite ready to let go of it yet.

Small white clouds drifted across the pale blue sky as I considered what to do. I glanced at the sky above where the Lady’s lodge would be, and saw many dark clouds hovering – unnatural, evil looking clouds. I found the site disturbing, so I looked away. I looked in the other direction instead, to where the clouds were small and thin. The sun's setting rays cut through, giving everything they touched a gentle orange glow. It was getting late now, almost evening. Soon the sun would set behind the mountains, and the world would belong to my people; the thieves. A flight of birds passed overhead, flying in a perfect arrow formation. I followed their course, turning on the spot as I did. As they flew to a range of mountains, I found myself staring at something I had spent many days and nights staring at before; a tall narrow structure, silhouetted as the sun set behind it. It was the place to which I had gone and started this terrible adventure: Master Nightfall’s tower.

I felt my whole body relax for an instant as I gazed at it, remembering all the times I had trekked up there, to deliver to Nightfall a trinket or bauble I had stolen. He always accepted, and always found some way to repay me. A smile crossed my face for the first time in days as I remembered the time which, rather than pay me with supplies like I asked, he handed me a half broken lockpick and told me where I could steal some from. He never made it easy, but he did so in such an odd way that I didn’t seem to mind. I pulled myself back to the present, and refocused my eyes on the tower, which suddenly didn’t seem so far away. It was almost as though it was waiting there for me to come to it, beckoning me.

- Nightfall: Prayer for the Dead - Day 9: 7:00pm

"Plume and plane, forge and fire, purify their spirits; and draw from them all which does not meet Thy plan. Take them to serve with Thee in Thy Home, where they may rest in peace eternal."

I spoke the Hammerite prayer alongside them. It was more than just a facade this time. Though I did not believe the Master Builder to be any more than a great man who lived long ago, I still prayed to my own god for the souls who were sacrificed at this evil’s whim.

After the structure had been torn down, by hammer and axe, three piles were made. One was of the broken wood and vine used to fasten the body parts together. Another was of the flesh and bone which was identified as being of animals and beasts. These two piles were then thrown into a pit, and buried. The third pile, of human flesh and bone, was laid out and stacked carefully, blessed, and then cremated. The ashes were placed in urns, crudely fashioned from segments of hollowed out logs. By the time they, or we, rather, were done, there were twelve large wooden urns filled with ash, ready to be transported to the cathedral where they could be exorcised thoroughly. According to the Hammerite beliefs, the spirits would then be able to rest.

I stood not far from where I first arrived and looked at the spot where the structure had once been. After they were done dealing with the bodies, they scrapped and ripped everything off the ground they could. The pentagram shape the building once held was still clearly scorched into the earth. Where the substructure of the building had been, was now a wide pit, about ten feet deep, filled with loose dirt and broken roots. At the center of the pentagram, and base of the pit, was a very large stump. It was laden with impacts and cuts, where Hammers set to with their weapons in an attempt to destroy it. It seemed, however, that they either lost interest or were defeated by it. Neither case seemed likely with this group, so I could not help but be suspicious about it.

I decided to investigate. Night had fallen so most of the soldiers had already been relieved, and traveled back to the main camp. Before they left, they set up a perimeter of torches in the clearing to keep it illuminated so the soldiers who were staying to keep guard could see. The main camp was set up at the scene of the battle with the mongbats, using the wreckage of the machines for shelter and fortification. The only people still here aside from myself were the captain, Brother Thurm, a few solders and scouts, the troops who would keep watch during the night, and Richen.

I saw out of the corner of my eye, the captain speaking with Thurm. I listened.

"My brother, there is a great restlessness which lies within myself and the hearts of our sons. We feel we have not done all which we shouldst. Is it not true that we were sent here to slay the pagan leader which resided within this unholy place? And have we accomplished this task? Nay, all that was done will be for naught if this vile fiend is allowed to slip from our grasp! For the sake of all future victims to this beast, we must press on! No force this powerful could flee without a trace. We will find this trace, and it shall be this fiend’s undoing. Until then, I declare that we must honor the tradition of old and build a temple of our own atop the ruins of this shrine to the pagan lord. I suggest that we pave this road which we have worked so hard to construct, and build a tower on this spot. It hath been done before, and we shall do it again. This land will be conquered and from this day forth be a monument to our vigilance." I could tell by the man's voice how angry he truly was, and how hard he was trying to contain it. He felt as though this was a slap in the face to him and his soldiers. They had worked this hard, come all this way, only to be thwarted at the very end. He wanted victory so badly, and was searching for a way, any way, to find it. He continued. "This campaign must not be left incomplete."

Brother Thurm nodded, and spoke his reply. "I agree, captain." Thurm then took a deep breath and looked about. "Yes, a tower shall be built." It was disturbing to see the usually long winded and enthusiastic man so drained and depressed. I could see it in his eyes, his faith was weakened. His faith in the machine and technology were being tested like never before. Those wrecking machines were his pride and joy, and he had watched as they were reduced to junk. To add insult to injury, it didn’t even matter. In the end, the work he had envisioned the machines doing was accomplished by simple men. That, plus this display of raw might put forth by the pagans, had weakened him severely. He would recover, I knew, but he would never be the same. He was less naïve now, in a way. I don’t think he had ever before seen what the Order of the Vine was capable of. He had lived in the cold, clean, polished world of the Hammerite monastery all his life, and knew little else. Rigid and brutal as their doctrines may be, they were still sheltered. They were sheltered from chaos. Thurm now had his shelter whisked away, and had been fully exposed to pure chaos. I understood how he felt. After all, I was every bit as depressed as he was.

I was pulled from my thoughts as the captain approached. Before I could address him with the question of the stump, he got right to his point.

"Brother Thurm and I shalt be making our way to camp. Wouldst thou like to accompany us in our tent?"

I shook my head no. "I’ll be staying here for a little while."

There was a tap on my shoulder, just as the captain asked, "Art thou sure?" I glanced over my shoulder to see Richen. I turned back to the captain.

"Yes, captain, I am sure. Thank you for the offer." I gestured to Richen to wait a moment.

"Very well sir. Just note that Brother Thurm doth indeed wish to speak with thee. I shall tell him to approach thee in the morning."

"Very good," I said. "Tell Brother Thurm that I wish him well." He turned to go. "One thing." I said, quickly getting his attention. "I am curious, why did the troops leave the large central stump standing?"

The captain shot me a half smile. "Brother Thurm wouldst attempt to tow it with one of his mechanical children. He described to me a vision of a massive mechanical beast ripping the stump and all of its roots from the ground. I called the men off, honestly interested in his ability to repair our demolition machines and convert them into such a locomotive powerful enough to do such a thing."

I nodded, pleased to hear that. It was good to know that Thurm was still thinking like his old self. Finally I bid the captain farewell and turned back to Richen who was waiting patiently for me. "Yes, my friend?"

"I ‘eerd you say ta tha cap’in that yea will be stayin oot ‘ere fer a bit. Jus askin’ ya ta find out if I should save ya any dinner? I’ll be makin’ some beef stew."

I shook my head no. "I have no appetite, thank you anyway Richen."

He nodded. "No prob then sir. I set us up a campsite jus ootside the ‘ammer tents. I’ve goot Suzy tied up all proper like. Shood I expect ta see ya thar t’marrow mornin’?"

I sighed. "I don’t know." I glanced about the clearing, and saw that all of the Hammerite scouts had taken up their watch posts. I turned back to him slowly. "Get some sleep, Richen."

"Aye, that I will." We shook hands, and he walked off in the direction Thurm and the captain had. I was now alone.

There was no sense in trying to eat, and even less in trying to sleep. I knew I would not be able to do either, even if I wanted to, which I didn’t. I decided that it would be best if I found a good observation point from which I could see the entire clearing. It would be even better if I could not be seen from this point. I soon found one in a large tree nearby. It was on the very edge of the clearing, opposite to the main camp. There was a point about twenty feet up where three branches split off from the main trunk, forming a nice basket-like area. I found my way up and laid my cloak over the branches, giving this "basket" an almost seat-like quality. It was not my recliner back home, but it would definitely do. I was correct about the vantage point - I could see the entire are quite nicely from here. I noted one of the scouts who just happened to be looking in my general direction, and I tried to signal to him by waving my hand. He did not see me, or, at least, did not acknowledge. I decided that I was hidden well enough.

So there I sat, watching, and waiting; for what, I did not know. Maybe I expected to see one of the pagan scouts, and then to track him or her, (or it), to the new base. Most likely I was just going to wait until sunrise. I wondered how Thurm and the captain, (whose name I really should ask about), were doing. I did my best not to think of the horrors I had witnessed today, and spent my time thinking instead about my plans for The Circle when I got back. Maybe that rare set of antique armor would finally arrive. I had ordered it over a month ago.

Try as I might, I could not let the current situation slide from my mind. Where could this "Lady" possibly have gone? I doubt she went back to The City. That would be too easy to track. However, the best place to hide a letter is on the mantle, so going back to The City would be an option were I in her situation. She and I, however, were like night and day (possibly a bad analogy) so I had my doubts she would do what I would do. I did know that she was no fool. I also knew that she was highly unpredictable.

The initial scouting party has found the house vacant. At the time, I reasoned that they simply had not been thorough in their search, and failed to discover any secret compartments or underground passageways through which the occupants had fled (of course, they also could have merely been out for the day.) Now it was rather clear that the place had already been abandoned. It had been abandoned for over five days – more then enough time to get far, far away. Now that I thought about it, it was foolish to think that these pagans would just stay here and wait for the Hammerite task force to come and kill them. They must have gotten word from their spies that the scouting party was on its way, and fled immediately. The mongbats were left behind to slow down or possibly even destroy the assault force which they knew was coming.

Why had I not deduced this long ago? Was I that preoccupied worrying about Jyre’s fool’s errand into the Forbidden sector? Even if Els had managed to rescue her, I would have no way of knowing out here. I was confident in her ability to survive, as well as Els’ prowess. He had already saved her once from greater odds. Was I too busy feeling guilty about Lytha to think about what was going on around me? The Hammerites were, invariably, a very harsh and cruel bunch, especially to those they deemed pagan, so chances were that Lytha would not have survived her first day of interrogation. Still, those who lived in the woods tended to have a higher constitution then those in The City, so even if she was an old woman she may have lived long enough for Ghost to get her out. As for Ghost, he was a freelance master thief who was being paid to do a job for a fence - his neck was his business, not mine.

I hated being cut off from the world for so long; this not knowing. I was used to being kept up to date, by the hour at least, on the events going on around me. At any rate, I was sure that Sheam would send word as soon as she heard anything about Lytha or Jyre. Jyre, the person who clued me in to this vile monster, I thought to myself. I wondered if our paths would ever cross again. She had always been a very unusual person. It was as if she belonged here in this world as little as I did. I suspected that I would see her again, soon enough.

My train of thought was broken when I spotted movement down below. I saw a shadow captured briefly in the torch light. The torches were flickering so much in the breeze that it was hard to tell exactly what the shadow was, but it was definitely alive. I quickly scanned the entire clearing, paying close attention to the massive star-shaped pit and the stump in the center. Most likely it was well concealed, from me at least, behind the steep lip of the pit. I knew something was still down there. I could sense it. I relaxed, making it appear as if I had abandoned my search. If whatever it was could see me, then hopefully it would be lulled back into a sense of security and let its guard down again. From the look of the guards, they were totally unaware that anything was amiss. Two of them even looked asleep.

Time passed. Then quite suddenly I saw him again – quite clearly in fact. There was no more doubt; he was the same someone I had seen earlier. In a way I was disappointed, since it was not a pagan and I would not be able to stalk him back to base. I was, however, relieved. I watched the man, genuinely concerned by the fact that he was totally unconcealed, as he looked directly at me and then point to the stump. He then melted back into the shadows. I waited a moment, and then several, and then many, but the man did not come back. Deciding he was gone, I slid down from my perch to go investigate closer that with which he was so fascinated and wished to share with me.

I, quickly and quietly, though I could have been marching and playing the trombone and these guards would not have noticed, went to the stump. I took a moment to sum it up. It was rather tall and thick. It stood about thirteen feet, and was maybe five feet across at the top, and ten at the bottom. The first seven or so feet was a mass of roots, which converged into a trunk, as was proper for a tree to do, at where ground level would have been. It was, on a whole, a big ugly stump. Something on the surface caught my eye. It seemed as if a small stream of metal was embedded into the side of the stump. It started about a foot below the top, and flowed down the truck until it vanished unto the mass of roots. The wood around the metal was burned heavily. I climbed up the roots so I could get a better look. The ax cuts left by the Hammerites came in handy. The source of the metal was a small and shallow hole. It looked like a hole left by a spike.

I jumped back down to the ground. It occurred to me then that there was something quite unusual about this stump. With most types of trees, the roots spread out in all directions, with many roots laying horizontal to the surface. These roots all went downwards, each at nearly the same angle. From the looks of it, a chamber could neatly be hidden inside the roots. Now, the Hammerites beat down on this thing rather heavily with their hammers and axes, so a way in would have to have been very sturdy. That, or it could be enchanted. It did not take long at all to find a section of two roots which did not have any axe marks on them. After my initial reaction was to ignore it, I knew that I had a winner. After overcoming my intense urge to leave it alone, I gave the section a sturdy tug, and open it swung. Sure enough, there was a small chamber within.

I glanced about to see if any of the scouts had noticed. As suspected, they had not. I squeezed my way in through the narrow doorway, and found myself in a medium sized nondescript room. The air within was not stale. The room could not have been sealed long ago. The smell of rotting meat still hung lightly in the air. As deduced formerly, the roots of the trees formed a rather conical chamber. Further establishing my theory that this was no ordinary root system, there were no signs that a tap rot had ever existed. In fact, this ‘stump’ was seeming more and more like severed hand, with many root-like fingers pushed into the ground. Yes, there was a passage leading down from here. It was more like a pit, leading a short way down, and then out. Other then that, the room was barren. There was barely any room to stand, and the ground was loose soil. Cautiously, I lowered myself into the narrow hole and into darkness. I paused for a moment and listened. I heard nothing alarming. It was not pitch black down here. Part of it was a dim ambiance from the moonlight, but there was also a dim reddish glow coming from far down the passage. After an initial hesitation, I pushed on.

It was not long before my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I could see at least well enough to tell whether or not I was going to fall into a pit. The passage was wedge shaped, flat at the bottom with the walls slanting to a point above. The walls were rough and jagged. I could not tell if it had been dug by man or beast. It would have been nice to stop and do an archeological and geological analysis of the rock, but I didn’t have the time, the resources, and I really wasn’t all that interested anyway.

I had been traveling for many minutes before the red glow was heavy enough so that I could see properly. I cautiously proceeded, my ears straining for any sign of other life. By the time I was about halfway to the source of the light, I noticed that it was a great deal hotter down this far. I could also clearly make out an archway up ahead, and a sharp turn into what looked to be a larger chamber which was illuminated by this red light. I continued towards it, my speed increasing.

It was now rather clear that I was in the territory of the precursors. This was not the lost city proper, but possibly another of their settlements. The way the walls were cut was definitely their style, and the archway ahead was an even stronger indication. The Lady must have discovered this ancient entryway and built her lodge right on top of it. I didn’t need any more indications to prove to myself that this was the way the pagans had fled, but I did want to explore a bit more before heading back.

The tunnel twisted at a sharp right angle directly after the arch, leading into the massive chamber. I tucked myself against the edge of the arch, doing my best to look into, or at least listen into, the cavern. Initially I settled for the latter. I could only hear a very deep rumbling noise. Finally, I peeked out slowly.

It appeared to be a large man-made chamber. The floor had been ground flat, much like the walls and floors of the passage. Four large pillars marked the room into quadrants. The ceiling was clearly tunneled out by the flow of lava, but I could not see where the lava would have entered or exited, so this cavern could not have been part of a lava flow network unless the traces of it were removed. The "room" was more like a foyer, acting as an entry hall to an underground city. I suspected that this was a back door. This was far too simplistic to be a main entrance, especially because the passage to the surface was so narrow. I saw a bridge in the center of the room, which must have spanned some sort of chasm. I was in no position to see any more, though.

Confident that the coast was clear, I stepped out into the room, still careful to maintain a level of cover. I used the shadow of a large pillar as a walkway to get a closer look at the rift. The rumbling became significantly louder as I approached. Soon it became apparent that this chasm was actually quite large, and took up most of the room. I gave the chamber another once over from this new angle before finally stepping out into the red light to get a better look at the bridge. To my dismay, as soon as I was able to look at it from a proper angle, I saw that the bridge was totally destroyed! Only the mountings on either side of the rift remained.

I walked up to the very edge of the broken bridge to properly examine it. Before I got a chance, my attention was quickly diverted to the source of the red light and the rumbling. Flowing in the depths of the rift, was a river of lava. It amazed me how close to the surface lava always seemed to be in this realm. After my brief skit of cynicism, I was back to the matter at hand. The torrid air was rippling heavily, in the pattern of a strong air current. I didn’t need to see the ripples to clue me in to that - I could feel the sweltering breeze.

I tore my attention away from the molten flow and back to the bridge. The center of the bridge looked as if it had been melted clean off. The cut was very smooth, and there were signs that the cut rock had been molten briefly. It was as if a giant welder’s torch had sliced the center of the bridge off. I could not tell if it had happened yesterday or ten thousand years ago, but I trusted my hunch. Fire magery, at least in this land, was unknown outside of the Hand Brotherhood elementalists and the Hammerite Order of Priests. We had no idea of the Lady’s capabilities, so I was not one to put this past her. After all, she had already proven herself to be a powerful sorceress.

By now I had a rough plan formulated. The pagans had fled into this underground city, and destroyed the bridge to keep the Hammerites from following. They did a good job on that mark. There was nothing the Hammerites could do here. It would take far too long for them to rebuild the bridge, what with the passageway leading down to here only being wide enough to let the men travel through single file. The pagans would have won at this point. It was a shame I had no intention of letting them win.

It was time to take matters into my own hands. But first I needed to get to my tower to gear up.

- Lytha: More Nightmares - Day 9: 10:00pm

I moved in darkness. In absolute darkness. And then I heard them again. Voices. And a light went on, and off, and on. Flickering. I saw faces in the darkness, in the short intervals of light. Faces of Hammerites. Grotesque faces of dead people. Thalia. The face of the Inquisitor. The pain. They moved towards me, pointing with their hands at me. Or claws. With their eyes motionlessly wide open. Thalia slowly raised her hand, the head of the Inquisitor hanging from her claws. She held up her other hand, holding another head, the face of which I did not recognize.

I tried to back away and stumbled into someone or something. I turned, and saw into the face of the man from the prison from the opposite cell who had – He grinned, and reached out to get me…

I screamed.

And found myself upright, sitting in a bed.

Someone sat beside me and had grabbed my upper arms. "Hey, hey… hey... Lytha. Calm down. It was a nightmare," it said.

"What? Where – " I said, shaking.

"A nightmare. You are in my house. No Hammers or monsters here. You've screamed loud enough so that the neighbors have probably woken up." Ghost offered me a glass of water. "Here. Drink. I've mixed some of the healing potion in it. That should chase away the nightmares."

I drank, and fell asleep again after a few minutes. This time I had no nightmares.

- Nightfall: A New Mission - Day 9: 10:00pm

"Brother Thurm!" I shouted, as I entered camp. He emerged quickly from his tent. I approached him. "Brother Thurm, I have found where the pagans have fled to."

His eyes widened. "Thank the Builder for his emissary. Where?!"

"The stump which thy men could not destroy. It is a doorway! I have discovered a way to open this doorway, and this I have done. I found beneath it a chasm, and in this chasm, the path which our enemies have taken. But our path is blocked, for the evil ones destroyed the bridge which spanned a rift, rendering us unable to follow by the path which they took."

The light came back into Thurm’s eyes as I said this, and the captain emerged as well, having heard. He spoke from over my shoulder: "Excellent! No barrier shall stand between us and our foe! We shalt conquer it and victory will be ours!"

I turned to him. "You should be warned, captain, for this is no simple barrier. The passageway which leads to this chasm is indeed narrow. It would require many days and nights to build a bridge using material and tools small enough to fit through this crack in the ground."

Brother Thurm smiled. "Then," he said, "shalt we widen the passage."

I dashed off as the two men argued as to how that foolish notion would be accomplished. It made me glad, though. They had hope once more, and a new chance to prove that their technology would defeat the forces of chaos. Anything they had in mind, however, would take too long. I had to act fast. I could not allow this Lady and her minions to escape once more. I made my way to Richen and the horse. Richen had not gone to sleep either.

"Richen, I need to use Suzy," I said, as I was untying her.

"Er? Of course, Dan, She’s yer ‘orse!"

"Thank you!" I shouted, and then mounted and took off down the road.

At this speed, it would take me a little over three hours to get to my tower. If I gave myself thirty minutes to get geared up, I would be back here before sunrise. I just hoped that it wouldn’t be too late.

- Chapter 10 - A Coming Together, and a Ripping Apart / Chapter 12 - Revelations

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.