Chapter 25:

Ashes and Flames II


Remembrance Moon 5, AS 632. The Archmage of Commerce’s Home, Apotheosis City, Sulmon Magocracy, The Sundered World.

The evening of the ball arrived. As a single group, all seven made their way to the manor house of the Archmage of Commerce. It was a massive, overly complex building from the outside with twisting towers and precarious balconies that looked like they couldn’t possibly stand up naturally. Indeed, when Descartes glanced at them with her purple-eye detection spell, she whispered that they were in fact held up by magic. The only thing preventing this mansion from looking truly overwhelming was the fact that it was situated in a part of town full of equally ornate buildings.

The Archmage of Commerce’s mansion had two separate wall systems, each with their own gate. The group was hurried through the first gate by a harried human who merely chided them for being late and urged them to get inside as quickly as possible. Clearly, their illusions were visually flawless. However, an issue occurred when they tried to cross through the second gate into the inner mansion itself.

“Ye can’t wear illusions here,” a weather-beaten dwarf guard said. His eyes glowed with the same purple energy Descartes used. “The master told ye so the day ye were hired, remember?”

“Oh, I know,” bluffed Appraiser. It had been universally agreed that Appraiser was the best at lying in the group, so she should take point if the situation called for it. “We just thought we’d wear a little glamour magic to spruce up, right? Look our best for the event?” She placed her hand on the gruff dwarf’s. “You understand, right?”

He shook his head. “No can do. Drop ye illusions.”

Appraiser looked helplessly back at the rest of the group. As one, Erenata and Jorgun stepped forward. “Sorry,” they said as they simultaneously made an open hand strike to the dwarf’s forehead with a ridgehand strike. He fell without making a cry. Erenata dragged him behind a stack of crates.

“You didn’t kill him, right?” asked Rachel with concern.

“Certainly not,” answered Erenata. “He art simply taking a nap.” There were no more delays getting into the main building.

From the inside, it was less of a labyrinth that it had appeared from outside. They quickly found their way to the central hall, where numerous guests of all races in very fancy dress mingled around small tables containing food and drink. “Remember the plan,” hissed Cyton. “Act like you’re working at all times…” his words died on his lips as, at once, the remaining six split off to do whatever they liked. Rachel, Erenata, and Descartes all more or less followed the plan of acting like servers. However, Appraiser hid suspiciously behind a pillar, Solnia IV strutted around like she belonged with this crowd, and Jorgun drank all the alcohol on the nearest table. Cyton just shook his head and got back to work, deciding that those three would have to take care of themselves.

It was hard to tell how long had passed before the entire building was shaken by a muffled boom. After a moment, it repeated. It could have just been thunder, only when the group had arrived there had been not a cloud in the sky. Indeed, there was no sound of rain to accompany the booming noise. Just that hollow explosion every few seconds.

“Oho, it’s starting already?” a portly elf said to his companion, an unnaturally beautiful female figure with red wings and not many clothes.

“What’s started, dear?” the companion returned.

“Why, the undead attack on that fool Zyxxiovonzz.”

Cyton and Erenata were both near enough to hear the words ‘undead attack.’ The locked eyes through their respective illusions. Erenata covertly gestured to Appraiser, who was also nearby. The three casually stood near the portly elf, who seemed eager to explain to his companion. “It must be those undead that have been popping up in the city lately. Naturally they were there for a reason. I suppose it’s only natural they were for Zyxxiovonzz.” As if to punctuate his words, another hollow boom slightly rocked the room. Nobody else seemed particularly concerned.

“But loved one, why would they do that?” asked what Appraiser was beginning to suspect was a succubus.

“Well he is the Archmage of Research. He’s been quite open amongst certain circles that he was on the brink of discovering a way to permanently block even high level necromancy magic. I do understand how any necromancer would feel, ah, uncomfortable at such a proposal.”

“Aren’t you going to go to his aid?”

“Go to the aid of what, my love? Officially, all I hear is the sound of distant thunder. Although,” he said as he grabbed another wineglass from the tray Cyton carried, “hypothetically, if an Archmage passed away today due to an unfortunate and unexpected attack on his home, it would leave his position open. I do fancy an Archmageship position, especially with the war about to start. I know several of my colleagues feel the same.” Laughing with his succubus companion on his arm, he moved further into the crowd.

Cyton, Appraiser, and Erenata didn’t need to hear any more. They scattered throughout the room and the nearby kitchen to collect the rest of the group. They were mostly easy to get, although Jorgun was apparently in the midst of a drinking contest with some of the guests, regardless of his position as a servant. Several of those nearby laughed and cheered as a dwarf passed out in front of him, joining a small pile of blacked-out figures who had dared to challenge Jorgun. As Appraiser pulled him away, several of the surrounding people made sounds of disappointment, apparently feeling they had been cheated out of their turn.

Once all seven were in a relatively peaceful side room, Appraiser and Cyton explained the situation. The group unanimously agreed that protecting this Zyxxiovonzz might lead to an important clue. They all had stashed their weapons in various places around the mansion in case the illusion failed, so it took a bit of time for everyone to be fully armed and armored. Worryingly, by the time they were ready to go, the sounds of the hollow booms had already stopped.

The group stormed into the night air before realizing they didn’t know where Zyxxiovonzz lived. Fortunately, a dull glow of firelight a few blocks down directed them to a house that was partially on fire. For a block and a half around the flaming house, the streets were totally empty. When they reached the scene, found a disturbing sight. Piles and piles of corpses and skeletons piled 10 feet high on the mansion’s grounds. Many showed signs of being destroyed by blade or blunt force, while others had been mostly incinerated.

They weren’t noticeable at first because of the mounds of destroyed undead around, but scattered throughout the grounds were several metal statute-like objects wielding swords. None of them moved, but they were all positioned in a way that clearly showed they had fought the intruding undead until they had been overwhelmed. “Golems,” whispered Descartes, looking at them.

The most ominous part of the scene was the silence. Other than the crackle of the burning house, it was quiet. Not a single zombie, skeleton, or golem moved. Also, there was no sign of any mage named Zyxxiovonzz at first.

“Over here!” called out Appraiser, pointing to a particularly large mound of undead that were all charred. She dug at the disgusting pile with her bare hands. After a few moments, the pile fell away to reveal the remains of a fiendblood in robes who had clearly only died recently buried beneath. While the ordinary zombies didn’t bleed, this body had blood still flowing from the numerous holes on the fiendblood’s body, including a neck that only held on by a few thin strings of flesh. The skeletons on the inside of the pile that had hid him were totally incinerated. “This must be the mage who lives here,” Appraiser confirmed grimly.

“Poor fellow” said Rachel. After briefly examining the body, she shook her head. “My magic can’t do anything for this one.”

Solnia IV said “I know it’s tragic and all, but the house is burning, and presumably all his anti-undead research with it. Let’s go.” The group walked to the house. While it was burning, the flames were still manageable. If they hurried, the group could likely save much from the fire.

Cyton stepped up to pull open the door. He heard a whizzing sound pass his ear as one of Appraiser’s knives was thrown past him. It hit something behind him with a metallic clinking noise. It was the sound of two weapons striking each other. As Cyton scrambled back to the safety of his allies’ company, a shape emerged from the shadows of the house. The shape started off indistinct, but it quickly congealed into a humanoid figure. It was dressed entirely in a black robe that covered every inch of its skin. The robe shimmered in the flickering of the firelight, seeming to almost blend in with the shadows. The only part of the figure that was not black was a long, curved blade held in its outstretched hand. The Sunviewers and Cyton had seen this black shape before: it was unmistakably the assassin that had killed the King of Farrus.

The assassin didn’t speak, but it stood in front of the doorway, sending a clear message: “If you want to enter, you have to come through me.” The Sunviewers froze up, remembering their dismal failure the last time they had fought this shadow.

Like a snake, the shadow struck out at Descartes. She screamed, but the strike never came. Jorgun had jumped between the two and was now locked his weapon with the assassin’s blade. The assassin jumped back, but was forced to dodge to the side to avoid a glittering magical missile cast from Solnia IV’s outstretched hand. “Don’t you all have a house to raid and information to save?” she cockily asked the Sunviewers, firing off another magical blast at the assassin.

Jorgun swung at it with his weapon. It sinuously dodged the strike. “The two of us are more than enough to fight this one,” he said. “Go in. We’ll clean up out here.”

“You can’t! You don’t know how strong it is!” Cyton cried out.

“You’re wasting time,” Solnia IV said. From the two attacks, the assassin had been forced to the left. This exposed the path to the doorway, which leaked smoke. There was a crash as a support beam fell through a second-story window, landing on a pile of corpses.

The Sunviewers knew he was right. One by one, they filed into the house. The assassin eyed them warily but didn’t dare try to stop them lest he expose himself to an attack. Cyton was the last inside the burning mansion. As he passed through the doorway into the fiery building, he looked back to see the shadow already dueling with Solnia IV and Jorgun. He turned back to walk into the house.