Chapter 37:



Remembrance Moon 6, AS 632. The Marble Fortress, Pocket Dimension, The Sundered World

The Sunviewers sprang into action, with Joram following suit. They had encountered this shadow assassin twice now, and they knew there was no talking, no negotiation, and no rest until it fell or they all did.

It fought with the same style as it had before: using overwhelming strength and agility to land attacks, and then fading in and out of the shadows to confuse or avoid counterattack. This time, however, it had a major advantage: the dim illumination provided endless shadows for it to hide in. Combined with its inherent speed, this mobility advantage proved challenging for the party. Erenata used the magic word to ignite her Flameblade, but that wasn’t enough.

Erenata and Joram tried to pin it down into close combat, but each time it looked like they might succeed in fighting it long enough for the rest of the party to prepare, it faded back into the shadows to strike again. It mainly targeted Rachel and Descartes, perhaps identifying them as the weakest physically. Because she was constantly harried this way, Rachel had to give up on the idea of healing Cyton in combat, instead focusing all of her energy on staying alive. This left Cyton, one-handed and bleeding out, nearly worthless for the fight. He used his own healing magic to stem the bleeding, but he wasn’t advanced in healing enough to do more.

Furthermore, he was another weak link that the shadow assassin could guard. Indeed several times it did appear out of the walls or floor near him, attempting to stab him, only to be driven away by a thrown dagger from Appraiser or a bolt of fire from Descartes or an axe swing from Joram.

Still, the fight was relatively even. The shadow assassin landed a few light blows on Descartes, but one time that it appeared, Rachel caught it with her paralysis spell. It shook off the effect of the spell quickly enough, but that provided enough of a distraction for Appraiser to plunge a dagger into its left leg with a diving strike, leaving it there as her momentum carried her out of range. In retaliation, the shadow assassin used the shadows to jump to the place where her momentum was about to take her, landing a nasty wound in Appraiser’s shoulder.

As the fighting raged, Cyton, on the sidelines unable to help except with the occasional minor fire blast. That inaction allowed him to hear the sound first. “Guys, hurry up!”

“Why be thou in a rush?” panted Erenata as she sprinted from one end of the room to the other in chase of the assassin.

“Because we’re gonna have company, and a lot of it,” he said back. “And I think they want a snack.”

“What are you talking about? Speak English, I mean Common,” yelled Appraiser, withdrawing her second to last knife, the rest lying around he ground.

“I am talking about incoming undead reinforcements! A lot of them!” By this point, the moans and shuffling were loud enough that everyone noticed. They were clearly quite far away in the system—about the distance from the crossroads—but they were slowly approaching, and by the sounds of it, there were a lot.

Erenata tried a different tact. Instead of swinging her blazing Flameblade, she dropped it and attempted to grapple the shadow assassin. Unfortunately, it was strong enough that it simply kicked her off before disappearing again, this time attacking Appraiser from behind. She kicked backward, deflecting it away.

It jumped into the shadows, and for a moment didn’t reappear. Appraiser took the chance to yell “I think I know it’s weakness. Erenata, Joram, keep trying to grab it!” As if in response, it appeared directly behind Appraiser again, attempting to cut her throat. Joram was ready, jumping in the way and blocking by allowing the blade to cut his left arm while he seized the shadow assassin with his right. It violently twisted out of his grip before disappearing. Over the next few moments, it seemed wary, based on Appraiser’s claim, but its movements were still as fast and strong as ever. Once again, as Rachel attempted to run to Cyton to heal him, the shadow assassin materialized, kicking her hard in the chest so that she skidded ten feet away.

In response, Erenata grabbed it in a bear hug from behind. It violently struggled, stamping on her feet, but Erenata refused to let go. With it in her grip, Descartes and Cyton pelted it with a bolt of fire each before it broke free and disappeared once more.

Appraiser pulled a small dagger from her collection, this one with barbs like a fishhook. “Rachel! Hit it with that paralysis spell one more time!” As it appeared, Rachel complied. Like before, the spell only affected the shadow assassin for a few seconds, but that was all Joram and Appraiser needed to get into position to each attack—only for the assassin to strike out with both hands, punching them off their feet.

But that off-balance strike gave Appraiser a moment to act. Using the momentary distraction to sneak behind the assassin, she placed her left hand on its shoulder, then drove the dagger through her own hand into the assassin’s flesh, where the barbs held it and her hand in place. The rest of the party looked on in horror as the assassin attempted to kick Appraiser away, although of course she was tethered by her hand. Descartes used that opportunity to lob a small fireball at its head, forcing it to disappear into the shadows—with Appraiser disappearing with it.

The next moment, they both reappeared on the edge of the room. Appraiser used the opportunity to stab at the assassin with her free hand. It disappeared again, this time remaining in the shadows for a long enough period of time that Rachel could finally fully heal Cyton. The two reappeared, still attached, and the assassin was covered in several more wounds that it hadn’t born when it disappeared—wounds that clearly they must have been inflicted by Appraiser while in the shadows.

There was a wild ferocity in the shadow assassin’s movements, now that it knew it couldn’t retreat to the shadows. Even carrying around a thrashing, stabbing burden, it’s speed and agility were enough to give Erenata, Cyton, and Joram simultaneously a good fight. During the battle, a blast of fire from Descartes caused part of its head to erupt with flame, and while it survived the fire that died out quickly, it jumped back into the shadows. It reappeared a moment later, a gaping wound on its throat causing it to bleed out quickly. One more blast of Descartes fire made the thing stop moving.

“Glad it worked,” Appraiser said, breathing heavily. With Joram’s help, she removed her hand by cutting away at the assassin’s dead flesh to free the dagger and thus her hand.

“That was too reckless,” scolded Rachel as she hurried over to heal the wound.

“Hey, we needed some way to stop it from moving around freely,” Appraiser said. “The way it acted, it figured it couldn’t jump through shadows safely if it was grabbed, but it kept breaking our grapples.”

“Lets take stock of our resources,” suggested Cyton. “Other than simple flame spells, I have one Minor Healing and one Fireburst. Plus stabbing.”

“I can heal or use a support spell up to four more times, plus bring someone back from the dead once,” said Rachel.

“6 major spells left,” offered Descartes. “Plus, like Cyton said, limitless minorly damaging flame spells. And a potion of minor healing we’ve had since Sin-dee.”

Excitedly, Erenata said “I also have a potion from that encounter. A potion of speed. My, I dare near forgot we possess this valuable thing.”

Joram raised his hand. “Miss Rachel, can I make one request? Could you save that back from the dead spell till this is all over?”

She looked worried. “I can, but why ask that?”

Shouldering his battleax and standing up, Joram pointed at the tunnel they had entered from. In the excitement of battle, the party had forgotten about the steadily approaching moaning of undead, but now Joram went alone into the tunnel. “This tunnel here’ll make a great bottleneck,” he said. “If I don’t stop them here, y’all will be overrun while trying to take down the Big Bad Evil Guy.” He turned and smiled as the first few zombies appeared in the distance of the tunnel. “Don’t worry. Every member of clan Jormungandr wishes to die gloriously like this. And if I can use a little magic to cheat death and talk about my glorious sacrifice later, well, that’s just pudding, isn’t it?” The first zombie got within range. It charged, but Joram chopped it with ease. “Go on. Get through that there door.” He turned his attention to the now raving horde that he would have to hold in the chokepoint.

“Joram!” Erenata called. She tossed him the potion of speed, which he caught and guzzled in one smooth motion that also dodged a zombie swing. By drinking it, he began to move supernaturally faster, cutting down the enemies attempting to pass him even quicker. He gave a quick wave in appreciation.

The Sunviewers wasted no time of his sacrifice. One by one, mostly healed and mostly ready to fight, the moved through the black metal doorway to confront whatever waited on the other side.