Chapter 29:

Better to Burn Bright


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

The Sunviewers and Cyton stepped over the smoldering threshold into the house of the dead Archmage of Research where, they hoped, they could find a clue to the undead powered by the strange rune that were attacking the city. “And this is all based on the assumption that the undead are related to whoever is creating the war,” Rachel pointed out helpfully.

Of course, it was not that easy. The entrance hall they stood in was full of smoke; already, the Sunviewers were coughing. “You don’t happen to have a smokebreathing spell or something, do you?” a coughing Appraiser asked Descartes. The wizard shook her head.

“Let us not tarry overlong, fellows!” said Erenata. “There is nothing here to harm us other than a little fire!”

No sooner had she said so then Cyton was forced to duck as a piece of the roof collapsed. Sprawling through the hole was another zombie that had already gotten up and was moving toward the party with surprising speed. This zombie differed from the unmoving ones outside in one way: it was on fire. Not that it seemed to mind.

“Fire zombies,” Descartes said flatly. “There’s fire zombies now.” She waved her hand, sending a bolt of fire at the zombie. Normally, her fire was very effective at dispatching foes, but of course, it did nothing at all against the already flaming monster. Descartes looked panicked at the thought that her entire offensive spell lineup was worthless as Cyton hacked the fire zombie to pieces with the help of Erenata.

Slightly charred, Cyton said “let’s move. We just need to find the wizard’s study, get what we need, and get out. Assuming it hasn’t burned up already.”

That proved easier said than done. The manor house was a labyrinth of doors, hallways, and false exits. The search wouldn’t have taken so long in normal circumstances, but of course the house being in the process of burning down made things more difficult. Further complicating matters, the whole place was infested with the fire zombies, which seemed to have no purpose other than to crawl around and attack the party whenever they came close. Descartes’ fire magic was consistently useless against them, and Rachel still didn’t use offensive magic, leaving Appraiser, Cyton, and Erenata to deal with them. The first few times, Rachel used her power to Repel Undead, but she quickly ran out of the ability to do so, leaving the rest to be disposed of through combat. Soon, all five were covered in small burns. The constant smoke, too, took a toll on the party’s health; Rachel was forced to expend quite a bit of magical power to keep everyone from collapsing from smoke inhalation.

Still, their search wasn’t fruitless. Another wrong turn led them down a passageway with nothing but a heavy iron door at the end. The door itself was undamaged, but it the heat had warped the surrounding wood, leaving the door ajar. On a count of three, the party burst in to see that this was a small vault of some kind. It was also infested with 7 fire zombies.

The fight was quick but brutal. As was becoming habit in this house, Descartes stood near the back. She enchanted Erenata with a glimmering barrier that deflected some attacks; Rachel similarly put an enchantment on Cyton that allowed him to move faster. These two charged the fire zombies, hacking with their weapons, although Erenata’s wooden sword was in danger of destruction since it had been weakened by all the fire. The two inflicted heavy damage on the fire zombies, although at one point they were in danger of being surrounded by the monsters. Appraiser took that moment to strike. She whispered a few magical-sounding words under her breath before tossing five knives at once. All of them unerringly hit weak points of the remaining monsters, either destroying them outright or crippling them enough that Erenata and Cyton could finish them off. “Bet you didn’t know I knew magic, too,” Appraiser bragged.

Unfortunately, the vault was of little value. There were a few charred pieces of paper that suggested scrolls carrying powerful spells, rendered worthless by the fire. Shattered bottles lying around also suggested there had once been a number of potions stored here, but those too were all spilled. However, there was one object still intact: an overly long sword that glowed as if it were red-hot but was cool to the touch. “Flameblade,” Appraiser said after appraising it instantly with just a glance. “Works as a magically enhanced normal sword until you say the magic word. When you do, it catches on fire.” She tossed it to Erenata. “Here. Take this instead of your stick.” Erenata uttered a few words of protest about how the wooden sword was a branch from the Great Tree, and using it was the traditional fighting style of her people, but she saw the wisdom in Appraiser’s words soon enough, so she took the Flameblade.

They only encountered a few more fire zombies, although the injuries and smoke inhalation were starting to pile up. So it was a relief when they stumbled through a hallway that ended with a door that was larger and more ornate than the rest. It also seemed to have the remains of a magic rune painted across the front, although the heavy wooden door was starting to burn, destroying any potential magical effects of the rune. Erenata pushed open the door with her newly acquired magic sword to reveal a mage’s workshop and study. The fire raged worst here, burning across shelves, the desk in the middle of the room, tables, and even the floor itself. Still, some papers next to an ajar cage looked salvageable, so Erenata was about to run in when Appraiser grabbed her hand. “Wait,” Appraiser said, having to shout to be heard over the roar of the flames. “Something’s wrong.”

“Indeed. The entire room shall suffer an inflammatory doom if we do not hurry!” said Erenata.

Appraiser kept a firm hold. “This isn’t natural. None of those papers should have survived this long.” As the five stood and stared, they realized she was right. Despite the raging fire in this room, nothing actually was destroyed.

“An illusion?” suggested Cyton. Appraiser shook her head, pointing out that the fire was still hot. Still, as they studied a bit longer, they realized that the fires weren’t exactly normal. The fire here all had a pale yellow tint, whereas the more normal flames elsewhere had been normal orange and reds.

“So what should we do?” asked Descartes. Appraiser shrugged, unsure.

Erenata, looking determined, freed herself from Appraiser’s grip. “Whatever the case in this room, tis no falsehood that time runs out for this building,” she said. Without further hesitation, she strode into the room, making a beeline for the exposed papers on the desk.

She had been careful to avoid the patches of fire, but it didn’t matter. When Erenata approached the desk, tendrils of flame leaped at her unnaturally out of a piece of the fire. Her fast reflexes saved her, allowing her to deflect the blast with her Flameblade. As she stood at the ready, the fire coalesced into a four-legged form. It took a vaguely canine shape, although since it was made entirely out of the odd yellow fire, its body flickered and moved. Although this fire dog didn’t open its mouth, words rang out: “Intruders detected. Threat level: maximum. Intruders, you trespass in the domain of Archmage Zyxxiovonzz’s territory. Leave immediately or face annihilation with great prejudice.”

“We’re not intruders!” Rachel exclaimed.

“Technically we are,” Descartes said, but it didn’t seem to matter. The fire dog gave no sign that it had heard anything they said, instead repeating its warning. At this point, the rest of the party had entered the room to stand beside Erenata, although none of them wanted to reach for the papers.

The fire dog repeated its warning one more time, although this time it ended with “This is your final warning, intruders.”

Descartes raised her staff. “Violence, then?”

Cyton sighed. “Same as always.” Together, the Sunviewers and Cyton attacked.

This proved much less effective than they would have hoped. When Cyton’s sword and Appraiser’s dagger struck at the fire dog, it simply burst into blast of fire, dealing some damage to the two that attempted to strike it. A moment later, it reformed out of a different patch of yellow fire on the other side of the room. It launched two bolts of fire out of its ‘mouth’ at the party; Descartes dodged one but the other hit Rachel directly in the face, creating a scorch mark. Appraiser had somehow maneuvered behind the fire dog, and she struck at it with a dagger in each hand. Again, it exploded and reformed from a different patch of the yellow fire.

Rachel had the idea to just grab the papers, but the fire dog materialized out of the patch of flames on the table to block that attempt. It didn’t even bother to teleport when Descartes shot it with a small blast of fire; predictably, the fire magic did nothing at all to damage the beast made entirely out of magical fire.

“This stupid thing must be some kind of magical watchdog for the dude who lived here,” exclaimed Appraiser, attempting to stab the firedog with identical result to before. “Descartes! Weird magic stuff is your thing. Can’t you dispel it or something!”

“This is too complex a spell!” she shouted back, narrowly dodging an attempted bite from the enemy. She was not as lucky for the next attack, however, which cut a burn across her face. She fell to the floor, only to have the burn erased by a hastily cast healing spell from Rachel.

“That’s my last healing spell for the day,” she said. “Unless you want me to use my final trump card?” She looked at Cyton.

“Will it help us beat this thing?” he called back.

“No.” She shrieked as the annoying magical fire dog appeared in front of her. Appraiser happened to be standing right next to her, so she was able to stab it with a dagger. It let out a fiery yelp, disappearing with the familiar small explosion. But when it reappeared from a patch of fire on the other side of the room, it distinctly had a wound where Appraiser had stabbed it.

“So it can die,” Appraiser pointed out, running across the room only for the dog to appear elsewhere. She spun around and growled. “If only we could keep it from spamming that bitch of a teleport!” She put on a brave face, but she looked close to passing out.

During this shouted conversation, Descartes sat up and brushed herself off. Since she couldn’t contribute to the fight directly, she to a moment to think. There was something odd about the yellow fire. In a moment, she had it figured out: like they noticed earlier, despite the fire having raged in this room for quite a while, none of the objects in the room were damaged. Particularly, the bookshelves, floor, table, desk, and papers were unaffected by the clearly magical fire. “Of course,” she muttered to herself. “If it’s a watchdog, he wouldn’t want it to burn the things it’s supposed to watch.” Still, the fire appeared to be ‘burning’ from those sources; it just didn’t consume the fuel. “But maybe it still needs something to burn,” she said, although her self-reflective mutterings were drowned out by an Erenata battle cry.

Taking careful aim, Descartes shot one of her small fire bolts at a patch of bookshelf that contained a patch of yellow fire. As hoped, her own magic lit a more ordinary fire in the highly flammable books. That patch of bookshelf was burned away in a moment. When it did, the yellow fire that had sat there seemed to vanish. It was just as if the odd fire’s fuel that didn’t burn had been burned away by Descartes’ real fire.

“What are you doin-oh. I get it!” Cyton said, also realizing that there was now one fewer patch of yellow fire. He joined with Descartes in casting simple fire spells to systematically burn everywhere that held the yellow flame, giving the fire dog fewer and fewer places to run.

It clearly realized what they were doing and charged the two. Erenata held it off. “It be no issue if it cannot disappear,” she grunted. Soon, the only yellow fire remaining was the patch on the desk that was too close to the exposed papers to risk burning away. The fire dog stood on that table, prepared to fight. However, with it unable to disappear, Erenata dispatched it with a few blows of her magical sword. It exploded in one last bust of yellow energy and did not reappear. Erenata triumphantly grabbed the papers. She then moved to start collecting items from the bookshelves, only to come to the same realization as the rest of the party: the room they stood in was now legitimately on fire around them.

“Let’s go,” shouted Appraiser, who was already out of the room. The rest of the group wasted no time in following her out of the study, through the maze of hallways, and out the front door. As the burst through the exit, gasping at the suddenly clean air, the building rumbled as it began to fully collapse in on itself.

“Solnia IV! Jorgun!” called out Rachel. A figure stirred in the shadows. As it stood, though, it became clear that this was not either of the group’s new allies, but was instead the shadow assassin. Although the party was exhausted, they all prepared themselves for round two against this monster.

It did not engage. Indeed, as each member of the group looked closer, they realized that this thing leaked some kind of shadowy grey smoke from a variety of axe wounds around its body. It barely seemed capable of standing up. After a moment, it gave a strange movement with one of its arms that could have been a salute, then melted into the shadows of the night. It didn’t reappear. The message was obvious: since both the party and this shadow were on their last legs, they would finish this fight another time.

With the threat gone, the group fanned out to look for Jorgun and Solnia IV. Appraiser also kept an eye on the city streets, which somehow were still empty; she supposed that people in this town learned not to intervene in the matters of powerful mages. It was Erenata who found Solnia IV with a gaping hole in her stomach, lying in a pool of blood in a crater in the ground that looked like she had been slammed into the ground with excessive force. She was unmoving, and a quick check revealed that her pulse had stopped. Still, she must not have died immediately, because in her own blood, she had written a short note: ‘Jorgun is safe.’

With tears in her eyes, as the rest of the party gathered around, Erenata stood up. “Farewell, friend Solnia IV,” she said. “Thou wert a brave companion, a true ally of justice, to sacrifice thy life to buy time against such a foe. Although we were together for but a short time, surely these memories shall cross time and space to enter the annals of myth and legend as one of the great—”

“Resurrection!” A blinding light surrounded Rachel, who had shouted the word. It took the form of a blinding cloud that moved away from Rachel and covered the body of Solnia IV. After a moment, it disappeared, leaving her body healed of the stomach wound. She let out a great cough and began breathing again. Although her eyes were still closed, she seemed now like she was sleeping and would awaken soon. With a weak smile, Rachel said “the final trump card.”

Appraiser, Cyton, and Descartes all bust out laughing at the absurdity of the mood whiplash. Erenata crossed her arms, looking faintly red. “Honestly, thy timing is far too convenient,” she said to Rachel.

“No, no, all Clerics learn resurrection magic when they reach a certain threshold of power,” Cyton said, still gasping and wiping his eyes.

“Shut up,” she replied. She handed the few scraps of paper she had salvaged to Appraiser. “See if thou canst make sense of these.”

Obediently, Appraiser read through the few papers. “This is the scraps of a journal, I think. Let’s see…he mentions something odd is going on in Farrus…he’s seen reports that the Archmage Ruler was killed by a shadow that acted oddly and matched records of an ancient foe that served Shitabii, god of Magic and Death…” she turned to the last piece of paper and read what she saw: “‘I have come to the conclusion that some powerful entity wishes to take the place of Shitabii, and somehow, the death of the Archmage Ruler will facilitate that.’ Oh, one more thing! He’s drawn a map to…”

“To where?” asked Cyton.

“To the center of the twisted necromancy magic.” Appraiser held up the tattered, soot-covered paper. “If this map is accurate, we can find the one who’s been doing all of this whenever we want.” The Sunviewers and Cyton let that sink in as, finally, the sound of many marching feet and horses approached the burned building husk.