Chapter 19 - Donning Our True Skins

- Nightfall: Stone Guardians - Day 10: 9:30pm

I heard a terrifying roar and felt a huge pain across my side. A large stone claw swatted me off my feet, and hurled me several yards towards the ledge. With my pride more damaged then anything else, I made a quick roll and recovery. Then I was back on my feet, facing my foe.

The statues, both of them, had come alive. I really should have expected as much, after all, why put statues of monsters to guard a gate when you could put enchanted statues of monsters? All I could do was utter a curse under my breath, and watch their every move. They, of course, were watching me with equal scrutiny. The just stood there, standing not two feet from where they had been before, watching me. Their eyes gave off a bright yellow light, highlighting the dust in the air with beam-like vision. They took turns staring at me, and then looking around the room while the other stared at me. I stood perfectly still, poised for combat. I felt like it was my turn to be a statue.

I took the opportunity to size up my opponents. Their bodies were, for the most part, shaped like large carnivorous cats, most resembling the massive nine-foot tall lions of mythology. They did not have fur or hair, but sleek, leathery stone skin. Their faces were roughly human in appearance, but somehow also non-human. The eyes were pure black. Every so often I glimpsed shark-like teeth and a forked tongue inside the humanish mouths. The front limbs were massive and arm-like, but bore clawed feet rather than hands. The back limbs were much more cat-like, and fit more with the rest of the body. A set of wings lay folded on their backs, and the tails, three on each, were that of a scorpion's.

In all honesty, I really wasn't all that worried. Sure they may be huge, made from stone, and had more than enough ability to shred my frail body, but I had a distinct advantage. I could melt them at a whim. I drew my left hand slowly behind my back, and began to whisper the incantations to melt stone. I could feet the heat in my palm as the charge began to form. But then it was gone. I broke into a cold sweat when I realized that I had just spent the last of my mana. Sure I had a huge magical arsenal at my disposal, but I could not use any of it until I let my mana charge. I had only begun to gain it since I entered the underground, which was only about 12 hours ago. Since mana charges very slowly when one is awake, all that I had was already spent. I was defenseless. Staying calm, and regaining my breath, I instead put my hand on my sword hilt, and made ready for what was coming.

Suddenly one turned to the other and began to speak in a strange language. The other replied in a similar way, and then they both, in unison, focused their gazes upon me. "That's not good," I said under my breath. I was right. They both let out an ear shattering roar in my general direction. What's more, they unfolded their massive bat-like wings, and began to fan them, vigorously. I was skeptical that they could lift their huge, stone, bodies off the ground with wings that size. The wings were big, but not big enough. However, as the wind created by the flapping hit me, I understood the true purpose. I was thrust once again off my feet by the gust of wind, and pushed further towards the ledge.

"Oh now, that's not nice!" I shouted, quite upset at what they were doing. If it had been a steady blow of air, I could have conquered it. But no, it was an uneven gusting wind, enough to knock you off your feet, blow you several yards, and let you get back up just in time for them to do it again. At the current level of wind strength, it would not get me over the ledge, though, at least not while I was wearing this armor. Unfortunately they realized this, and began to move closer, the wings still flapping away, blowing me ever closer to the ledge.

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to stay so calm under such dire situations, yet I loose my temper over minor frustrations. The answer to that is beyond me, but I was thankful for it. I could try to jump, but even if I could land on my feet on the lava below, how would I get back up? I could try and assault the creatures, but that was rather hard when I was being pushed further and further away.

Realizing the obvious, I drew my sword. I then thrust it into the ground (it slid in quite easily), and held on tight. The gusts of air came, but I could not be shaken from my anchor. I was safe for now, but I couldn't stay like this forever. They seemed to not want me to stay like this forever either, for as soon as they realized that I was not budging, they halted their attempt at blowing me off the ledge.

Well, as much as I was glad for that, I didn't really feel like going back to the staring game. Actually I would have rather done that than had to deal with what they chose to do next. One of them charged me. I didn't have time to pull my sword from the stone as the beast thundered upon me, forcing an extremely quick roll to the right. It stopped inches from the ledge, and turned to face me, bearing a hideous grin. I realized that I was now between them, right where they wanted me.

A cruel game of cat and mouse was being played, and I was the mouse. They began to circle me, spiraling slowly closer, as I stood, motionless, awaiting any offense. Acting totally nonchalant, I waited till neither of them was particularly near my sword, and walked over to pick it up. I expected some punishment for this act, but they didn't seem to care. Perhaps they underestimated the blade. They wouldn't for long.

I waited as they drew closer, and closer, and closer, spiraling down towards me. Soon, one was just out of striking distance. I took that as my cue, of course, and lunged at the beast, aiming for the throat. The creature raised its claw, and batted my blade away, with a strike that was actually faster than mine. I blinked. Even if the sword hit the claw rather than the throat, it should still have turned the creature to stone. Of course then I realized that the beast was already made from stone, and felt quite sheepish. Reacting, I swung again, that stroke also deflected. The beast moved into a sitting position, grinning wickedly at me. I backed up slowly, mindful of the other beast, which had sat down as well, making a deep chuckling noise.

"Oh, so you think you're faster than me, eh?"

It nodded.

I paused, realizing that they understood me. I tried a different approach.

"Pardon me, but may I simply be on my way? I came through that door there, and it shut behind me. I simply want to go back through." I pointed to the huge door to the temple they were guarding. I hoped that they were not conscious while they were stone. If they were, then my little lie would get a nice laugh.

The one I spoke to looked over my head at the other, sitting behind me. It seemed to shrug, and then speak in words I once again could not understand. The one I spoke to snarled, and then looked me over again.

"Manfool speaks to us. Tries to fool us. Thinks that man is more clever then beast. Fool is he. Hears not your lies." Its lips where not moving, but I heard the voice.

The other one spoke. I could tell it was the other only by the difference in the deep sinister voice. "None shall pass, says the Queen. All who have passed have passed, none more shall pass through nor from. Protects the gate, says she. Watches for manfools, says she. We do as she commands."

"The Queen commands us. Crush the infidel and the burglar. Maim the intruder and the thief. Destroy the spy and the bandit. None shall pass this gate."

"But then, says the Queen, will come another. The Queen, she warned us. Watches for he who is dark as nightfall. When finds this one, says she, plays with it we does. Tests it. Awaits him, does she. Brings him to her, orders she. The Queen commands us, and you shall follow."

I listened in disbelief. She was expecting me? She wanted me to come? I could not believe this! Before I knew it, they were standing once more, and walking towards me. I drew up my blade in reaction to their proximity.

"Puts down your blade. Wants through the gate, and through the gate you shall go. Guides you to her, we shall." I reluctantly went at ease. "Follows me," said one of them, which stepped between me and the huge door. The other one stood behind me.

We walked slowly to the gate. I could feel the gaze of the beast behind me penetrating every inch of my body, taking note of every detail. The one in front stepped up to the door, and reared up on its hind legs, using the wings for balance. I was amazed at the shear size of the thing as it towered above me. It fit its claw neatly into what I thought before was a place to put the medallions, and sure enough, the lock shuddered, and then bounced open with a very loud click. Slowly, the gate drew open. I strained my eyes to see anything of the darkness within, but the beast blocked most of my view.

- Jyre: No Time for Regret - Day 10: 9:40pm

I stared at the dead creature in shock, noted the still quivering arrow shaft sticking out of the side of her neck, then shifted my eyes to find James standing a short way down the tunnel, his bow in hand and a none-too-pleased frown on his face. I hauled myself to my feet and tested out my injured ankle. I could stand, just, but I wasn't sure how long it would take my weight. Still, no lasting harm done.

"Why... why did you do that?" I said, sick to my stomach.

"Do what?" James asked, as he searched the bodies.

"Kill her..." I said very slowly.

"Better her than you."

"No, James. It is never better to value one above another..."

I looked sadly at the slain woman's face. Was it odd that I thought of this beast as a woman, and not a creature? I peered closely at her, my eyes avoiding the shaft of wood that stuck out of her neck. I noticed something, and it made me sick to my stomach. There was a bracelet around her forearm. I knew her. I didn't know her well, or even her name, she was just an acquaintance. A guard in The Lady's service, like I once was. I wondered, if I had stayed, would I have become a beast as well? I pushed the concept out of my mind.

I turned around to look at the gate. It was a portcullis, which opened by sliding upwards. I saw that there was a hand-crank to open it. I peered through the bars of the portcullis, to see if there were any angry guards behind. There was nothing but an empty corridor, flooded with red light. Satisfied, I turned the crank, hauling the bars upwards. James came over and assisted me, and soon it was open.

I hobbled through the now open gate, and looked down the tunnel. I could see a short bridge, spanning a stream of lava that was flowing along below. There were signs that more guards were to have stood on the other side of the wall, but they were absent. There was a worn spot where someone had paced and what looked like the remains of a cooking fire. But no guards. It was at that moment that I heard someone shout.

I was across the bridge in seconds, the pain in my ankle dismissed at the sound of that voice. I dashed into the tunnel without another thought of the missing guards and nearly ran into the wall when it took a sudden turn to the right. I skidded to a halt in the dirt, pivoted around and ran on, aware now of the sounds of combat coming from up ahead. I had to get to him! If I failed now...

I lost my footing again as I spotted the two guards just ahead of me and went skidding across the ground to slam painfully into the tunnel wall. One glance at the guards' backs told me they hadn't heard a thing. The sounds that had brought me here apparently held their attention as well. I forced myself to creep up on them slowly, despite the blood that pounded through me, beating in my ears like a drum. They were both human, at least from behind. And, distracted as they were, taking them out was a cinch. Two fistfuls of hair, a loud crack followed by two crumpled bodies at my feet. I barely spared the unconscious guards a glance before stepping over them to reach the source of the commotion.

I took one glance at the scene before me, swore and ran back to get James. I found him at the bend in the tunnel. Well, ran into him anyway, bounced backwards and landed on my rump. I lifted a shaky finger and pointed in the direction from which I had just come. "It's Daneel. He -" I struggled for breath. "Help him!"

- Nightfall: An Uphill Battle- Day 10: 9:40pm

Soon what was beyond the door was no longer the center of my attention. One thing the beast behind me did not realize, was that with my sen-saronde, I could see it perfectly well. He obviously did not take this into account as he drew back his scorpion-like tails, ready to strike me dead. They countered my bluff with a bluff. How devious that was. I was impressed. I fought back my urge to react, in favor of a more useful approach. I would have to have perfect timing though.

The tails lunged, and so did I, straight towards the beast in front of me. The attacker, his wits lost in the thrill of the kill, altered his aim so that it would strike me. Unfortunately for them both, as I ran under the beast opening the door, the path the tails needed to take was right through the creature's rump, and so plunged the poison laden stingers, all three.

With a quick roll to the side, I evaded the falling mass of the creature as it howled with agony. It fell forward, its upper body falling through the door. With his claw removed from the receptacle, the doors began to slide shut! The attacker, horrified by what he had done, cried out with rage, a roar that shook the entire platform. It turned towards with me with a jolt, his eyes filled with bloodlust. He began to stomp his way quickly towards me, with intent to end this game now.

If it wasn't for the armor enhancing my strength and speed, I would never have been able to deflect the onslaught of strikes the creature thrust at me. It was, however, a loosing battle. With every jab of a tail I deflected, or bat of a claw I dodged, I was getting closer and closer to the ledge. The beast was obviously enraged, and its performance was suffering for it, but four legs and three tails were more than a match for two legs and one sword, and it knew it. I learned how to fence through years and years of experience, but it knew how to use its body by magical instinct.

I really need to stop doing that - loosing myself in thought, right in the middle of a duel to the death. The stinger tipped tail of the beast knocked a nice slice through the rim of my hat. This was my second best hat, too. I countered the loss with a very nicely made slash across the things nose, scattering dust and pebbles everywhere. Actually I aimed for the eye, but scratching his pride was better than nothing.

Suddenly, right in the middle of a parry followed by a half spin and a slash, which was blocked, I heard a shout from behind me! I really couldn't look to see who it was at that particular moment, seeing as I was trying to keep these scorpion tails from ripping my head open. Imagine my surprise when the beast succumbed to its own curiosity, and halted its assault for a spilt second to glance over my head. Now, I could have taken a clear slash at it, but I had a better idea. I ducked and rolled right between its legs, under its body, and out the back. Now he was the one closer to the ledge. It didn't take long for the beast to figure out where I went, and it wasn't about to make things easy for me.

From my new vantage point, I could clearly see where the shout had come from. I could make out two small figures standing on a platform to the side of the chasm. I couldn't believe it. It was James, and Jyre.

- Jyre: So Close, Yet So Far - Day 10: 9:45pm

I held my breath as I watched, so totally helpless. I pounded on James's shoulder, begging for him to do something, not even realizing that absolutely nothing was escaping my lips. All of a sudden he thrust a handful of fire arrows into my hand, saying simply, "Kill it!" as he wielded his bow and took aim.

I had not gone far when I came to another T-intersection, but this time I had the option to continue or turn. I chose to go down the new path. This new path began to ramp downwards, slightly at first, and then steeply. The ceiling above stayed at the same level, so soon it was quite high above me. I saw something up ahead which made me freeze.

- James: Fire Support - Day 10: 9:45pm

I could see Dan clearly in the fierce red light of the lava. He was engaged in a rather nasty fight for his life with a large stone manticore. He and the beast were both moving incredibly fast, and I could tell that Dan couldn't hold up much longer. The manticore was attacking far more often than it was blocking, and any one of his strikes could kill Dan, while Dan would have to hack at the thing for hours to make a dent. Dan was more skilled than the beast, but the beast was clearly more than a match, due to its stone nature. A shame too, Dan had the stone-strike sword.

I knew that fire arrows would be no more than wasp stings to a stone manticore, but it would buy Daneel the diversion he needed to either get the hell away from the beast, or finish it off. Knowing Dan, he'd choose the latter approach. I grabbed a handful of the things, and gave half to Jyre, saying simply, "Kill it!" I waited for a clear line of fire, which Dan gave to me by skillfully rolling under the creature, placing it between him and us. I shouted to Jyre, who now had the arrow to string as well, to "FIRE!!"

It was a long distance, but fire arrows, once in flight, weighed next to nothing. Their paths were straight and true. Mine slammed into the beasts rump, Jyre's into the back of its knee. I could see it roar in anger as it spun around, forcing Dan to the ground to avoid the swinging tails, to face us. I swallowed hard as I recalled that a manticore can, when properly excited, actually hurl poisoned rods from its tail up to a hundred feet, or more. This manticore was massive, and made from stone, so it would be extra strong, and the shafts extra heavy. I didn't have time to calculate weather Jyre and I were safe, only to shout, "Again!"

We fired off a second salvo, this time both our arrows hit the beast in the face. I could see its tails growing rigid, drawing back to fire. Jyre shouted to me something about Daneel, but I shouted "Duck!" over her cries, just as three large stone shafts flew over our heads, and plunged into the ground mere feet behind us. I could feel Jyre shuddering with fear. I could do nothing to comfort her at this point. All I said to her was, "Again!" as I rose to my knees, to fire a third fire arrow.

- Nightfall:

I didn't have time to be angry at those two for coming here, since they were doing a fare job of helping me out. The beast was now facing them, not thinking about me, and quite upset. I took the chance to put a bit of distance between myself and it, as I reformulated my approach. I noticed that the area where we had been fighting was now extremely beat up. Cracks and craters from the strikes of its tails covered the edge of the platform, and it looked to been weakened. I had managed to thrust my sword, and pull it out, of the ground quite easily, so I knew it was actually rather soft. Still, the beast was standing right in the middle of the damage, stomping its feet, and the ground beneath it did little more than shudder.

An idea came to me. It was pure insanity, but it just might work. I began making violent hand signals to Jyre and James, praying that they would understand my very serious requests. I thought I saw Jyre's recognition, as she shouted at James and pointed at me, but then suddenly they both ducked! I gasped as the creature, all of a sudden, actually launched spears from its tails! I held my breath, praying that none of the missiles hit their targets. A third salvo of fire arrows assured me that Jyre and James were both still alive and kicking.

- Jyre:

I drew a third fire arrow to my bow, not even waiting for James's signal to fire, but something made me pause. Daneel was trying to tell us something! He pointed downwards, and then made a very odd gesture with his hands.

"James! It's Daneel, he's -"

James didn't seem to acknowledge what I said. All he did was shout "Duck!" over my words. I gasped in confusion, and then glanced over at Daneel again, just in time to see three shafts of stone hurling towards us! I acted purely on instinct, curling myself into a little ball in attempt to make myself too small for the beast to hit. The spikes slammed into the ground behind me and then I heard James speak but the ringing in my ears prevented me from making out the words.

- James:

I paused, seeing that Jyre had not responded to my command. "Jyre! If Daneel does not see that we are both still alive, then he may do something we will all regret! You must fire with me, to make it clear to him that we are alive!"

That seemed to stir her quite nicely, as she got to her feet, and made herself ready to fire. I said, after a second's hesitation, "Now!" and we both fired, scoring direct hits again, which did little damage.

Then my eyes caught it. Dan was making hand signals to me. It was hard to see at such a distance, but he made it clear enough. "What's he telling you?" Jyre asked, her voice demanding.

"He's telling us to shoot fire into the lava, and then ready water arrows." I said, hesitating to take such foolish action.

"Then DO it!" she yelled, and immediately shot a fire arrow into the lava. I, a second later, did the same. A flare of flame plumed forth from the lava, and out flew several dozen flaming spheres: fire elementals.

"What is the fool thinking," I shouted as Jyre and I readied our water arrows. I could see Daneel clearly signaling us to wait, and defend ourselves if need be, but do not attack.

- Nightfall:

The good news was that everything was going according to my scheme. The bad news was that now I was in much more danger than before. The fire elementals, extremely excited by the fire arrows, darted about the cavern like drunk fireflies. It did not take them long to notice the dark man and large beast on the platform, and the two dark people on the ledge. A third of them went after James and Jyre, and two thirds after me and my stone adversary. The beast was now very, very, upset, and began to shoot tail spines madly at the hovering spheres of flame, which only served to make them even more excited. It was time to put the rest of my plan in action.

They began to fire, small bolts of liquid flame, more powerful than a fire arrow, and twice as fast. The massive beast made an easy target, as the elementals coated it with the bolts. It roared its poor stone heart out, thrashing and swatting to no avail. James and Jyre were putting up a great fight from the ledge. They had excellent cover, and both were expert marksmen, so they had little to worry about. One water arrow will douse a fire elemental easily. Too bad my stone friend had none. Too bad I had no time to fetch mine out of my pack.

I had to keep moving, weaving back and forth as the bolts struck ground, tossing up chunks of earth and huge clouds of dust, which I used to my advantage as a smoke screen. I ran, dodging as I went, in an arch around the beast, letting the fire projectiles cut away at the platform. A few came dangerously close, singeing my clothing, but not enough to set them on fire. It didn't take long for it to be enough. I felt the ground beneath my feet lurch violently. Amid the chaos of the beast thrashing about to defend itself, the smoke, the elementals hovering about, and bolts flying every which way, I decided that I'd really not like to be where I was. The edge of the platform was nearing total destruction, and thankfully the beast was still on it, but not for long.

It lunged its body away from the crumbling edge, an expression of pure panic on its stone face. It was lunging straight at me. I had worked too hard to kill this thing to let it escape now. "Sorry!" I said, as I swung my sword across its face with all my strength. My blade rammed into the side of its head. The force of my attack was just enough to get it to rear backwards, landing on its haunches, pushing the entire crumbling edge of the platform down with it. As it and the entire stone mass below it fell into the churning lava below, it made one last effort to save itself, spreading its wings to fly. No such luck. It was too heavy to fly before, and it was still too heavy to fly. The beast, howling with pain and rage, landed in the lava. Almost all of the elementals saw this, and swooped down for the kill. Everything was working beautifully.

But my worries were only half over. I still had a very pressing matter to worry about: James and Jyre. They had no way of getting to me, and didn't have enough water arrows to kill all the elementals. James was staring at me with the "what a dumb idea" look on his face that I always got tired of seeing. True they had helped me, but now they needed to help themselves by getting the hell away from this place. I had to trust that they would do the smart thing and run. I looked over at Jyre, and for an instant we made eye contact. I saw something in her eyes, I'm not sure what, but I knew that she wanted to get to me more than anything else. Hopefully James would be able to make her do the right thing, and get to safety.

I turned around and looked at the door to the temple, held open by the dead beast's crushed head. That's where I needed to go.

- Jyre:

I didn't know why I trusted Daneel enough to do such a foolish thing, but I did it anyway. I fired, one after another, at least four fire arrows into the lava below the platform. The instant the first arrow hit the lava a group of fire elementals shot out from the lava, spiraling upwards before spreading out to take down any threats they could see.

As James rummaged through his sack, I remembered the water arrows, and quickly readied mine. One of the elementals spun towards me and I released the arrow, instantly regretting what I was being forced to do. The water crystal hit the ball of flame with a splash, a sizzle, and a puff of steam. I readied the next arrow and waited for the next elemental to make itself my target. A few managed to fire flaming bolts towards us but we ducked and the shots dug into the wall behind us instead. I couldn't see much of what was happening with Daneel. There was too much dust rising from the elementals to bolts to let me make anything out. I forced myself to stop thinking about him and focus on the task at hand.

- James:

This was madness! The concept of releasing an extremely powerful foe to slay a less powerful one was reckless at best. Yet we did as Dan ordered. I hoped he knew what he was doing. It didn't take me long to see that he had a crafty plan, though I still didn't know how he planned to keep the elementals off of him! I noticed that Jyre was doing a great job of fending off the red orbs, so I concentrated my attention on just what in hell Dan was trying to accomplish over there. All I could see was dust.

His idea dawned on me when I noticed that some of the elementals' projectiles were actually going through the platform. That is, they fired at him, he moved out of the way, and the bolt went clear through the earth and out the other side! He was using the elementals to cut the ledge off! Remarkable, I thought to myself, and still totally ludicrous. I watched in amazement as the plan worked beautifully, and a large chunk of the ledge, with the manticore still on it, fell into the lava, a good distance below. The beast was none-too-happy, seeing as it was slowly melting in what must be a very painful death, even for a creature of solid stone. The elementals, nearly all of them, swooped down for the kill. The ones that did not either wandered off, or were dispatched by Jyre's bow. Soon, however, they would be back at us, and Jyre's arrow cache would not last forever. I shot Dan a look, saying, "what a dumb idea," and he shot one back that usually meant, "I'll think of something." He had better, and fast. I had no intention of becoming a barbecued scholar deep underground.

- Nightfall:

I left the battle scene behind me, darting as fast as I could over the hulk of the dead beast, and into the darkness of the temple. I quickly pressed my back to the wall, next to the door, and waited, hoping that no elemental would follow. They had a short attention span, so even if any had seen me go in, by the time they were through with the melting creature, they would have forgotten about me. I could still hear the thing screaming.

Satisfied that I was not being followed, I turned my attention to my setting. I was in a small pre-chamber, barely illuminated. A large vaulted passage lead to the main chamber of the temple, and from it I could see a dead red, lava-like glow. Knowing that I would have to step into the light, and risk being seen by the elementals again, I bolted forward through the vaulted portal.

That really wasn't the best thing I could have done. No sooner had I stepped through the threshold, I felt something that was most definitely a vine slide itself around my leg, and jolt me forward, very quickly. I fell flat on my back, stifling the cry of pain that came as a result. It looked as if I had stumbled upon another defense, and a truly evil one indeed. The entire room was filled with vines. The single room took up the entire inner cavity of the temple, with the exception of the pre-chamber. In the center of the floor was a square lava pool, and hovering above it was a magnificent yellowish orb, probably a portal. Everywhere I looked, I saw mangled and mutilated bodies of animals and people, some on the floor, and some wrapped in the vines. I was about to join them.

I struggled in vain to get myself free, but unfortunately it didn't matter that I was smarter than the vines, they were faster and stronger than me. Soon I was off the ground, and surrounded by the things as they slithered about me, jolting me this way and that. I cut at the stuff furiously with my sword, turning short sections of it to stone, which broke off before the petrifaction could spread. I was, however, beginning to make headway, for ironically the vines were much easier to break when they were stone. I had to work extremely quickly and carefully at the same time to hack myself free, while making sure I didn't encase myself in a cocoon of stone vines. Things took a turn for the worse when the vines, through some strange act of deductive reasoning, attacked my sword! The vines wrapped themselves tightly around the blade, quickly spinning a stone cocoon around it. The weight of the stone and vine mass grew tremendously, and soon the blade was yanked from my hand. Defenseless, I felt the vines wrapping tighter and tighter around me, squeezing me, holding me in place, covering every inch. The petrifaction spread throughout the entire vine quickly and, since so much of it was touching the sword, it could not break off fast enough! Luckily, or maybe unluckily, The entire weight of stone vine grew to be far greater than the natural cling of the vine could support, and all of it, the entire plant along with the dead bodies, my sword, and me, came crashing off the wall, to the ground! For me, it was a good ten feet drop, with only several layers of stone vine as a cushion. Oh damn, this didn't look good at all.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as I felt myself, bound and helpless, fall. I spun as I fell, the lava looming in and out of view, closer every time. With an almighty crash, I and the mass of stone vines around me struck the ground. Everything went black.

- Chapter 18 - Calm Before the Storm / Chapter 20 - Rescue

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