Under the Mountain – Part Four

*Listen to the Audio* | Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three,

Ru blinked and looked around. “He was just here…”

They started to search the immediate vicinity but Mereb stopped them by holding up his hands and saying, “Stop moving about, you’re jumbling up his root trail.”

They all froze. Mereb’s eyes unfocused for a few minutes. Then his head snapped up and he stared down the narrowest tunnel.

“Holy Maker,” He said. “He’s gone into the cavern.”

Ru rushed down the tunnel and to the cavern entrance, the group following on his heels. There, in the center of the wide open expanse, was Illyoten. He was wandering aimlessly, peering up at the walls and ceiling, then down at the floor. So far he had not disturbed the gigantic sleeping form of the demon wolf.

“Illyoten!” Ru hissed but the man didn’t appear to hear him. Ru didn’t dare say anything louder. He turned to Laz.

“Is it a spell of some kind?” Ru asked.

Laz frowned, eyes locked on Illyoten. “There is….something. It feels like mind magery but it’s…different.”

“Can you stop it? Or find out where it’s coming from?”

Laz shook his head, “I’m trying but whatever it is, it’s evading me.”

Ru glanced grimly at Tophus who nodded. They’d have to go get him but they dared not enter the room. His battle armaments would make way more noise than the soft shoes and clothing that Illyoten wore. In fact, most of them were not attired for quiet work. There was only Shannon and Krolis.

“We can’t risk our only sane healer,” Toph whispered, coming to the same conclusion as Ru.

Ru nodded and gestured that Krolis should come forward. He pointed out at Illyoten who was now laying on his back, feet in the air and kicking lazily back and forth. “Can you bring him back?”

“I can tr-” Krolis started to say then stopped as Illyoten began to hum. Loudly.

They all froze. Ru held his breath. Illyoten continued to hum and then he began to sing. It was a child’s play song and he sung it with gusto. His voice echoed off the walls and ceiling and Ru winced.

“Maker protect us,” Ru whispered. “He’s gone crazy.”

The demon wolf stirred.

They watched in horror as Illyoten, seemingly oblivious to the danger, sat up and began to make grass grow and flowers bloom around him. He continued to sing, now adding in nonsensical verses and interrupting himself with sporadic giggling. The beast opened one, huge, orange eye and focused on the source of the noise that had awakened it. The demon’s heads rose up, ears twitching. Ru felt his stomach drop.

The movement finally caught Illyoten’s eye and he whipped his head around to see what it was. After one long look at the beast he let out a girlish squeal, stood and ran.

Straight at the demon.

“PUPPY!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Tophus cursed and charged into the room, the rest of the group following in his wake as if pulled in by the inexplicable scene before them.

Illyoten was now skipping toward the demon lord. Three sets of ears flattened against their respective skulls and it bared it’s teeth. A deep growl rumbled out from the beast, making Ru’s teeth ache with the vibration.

“Ru! Bump me, now!” Tophus yelled. Ru didn’t hesitate. He activated speed and charged at Toph’s back. Tophus whirled to meet him at the last instant. They connected, shield to shield; Ru slamming into him with all the power of a bull’s charge.

At the moment of impact, Ru activated another spell on his shield that magnified and transferred all his momentum. Ru came to an instant stop, but Tophus suddenly launched forward, flung by the spell. He tried to turn in the air and land in a roll but the bump was too fast. It was meant to send enemies flying, not friends. Toph crashed to the floor and rolled to a stop at Illyoten’s feet. Illyoten, thankfully,  was distracted enough to stop skipping toward the demon. He bent down to say something to Toph. The move saved his life.

Tophus grabbed onto Illyoten and a silvery shield flickered to life around the two of them just as a massive paw slapped them. The shield took the brunt of the impact but they still went sailing across the room like a kicked ball. They crashed into the wall, mere yards away from Ru and the team, and fell to the floor in a heap. The light of the shield cracked and vanished. Toph was down. Illyoten’s eyes were closed. The demon’s three heads roared and it heaved itself ponderously to its feet.

“Leetah!” Ru shouted.

“On it!” She said and stepped forward calmly, her ice heels crackling and popping as she moved. With a kick of each foot the ice heels disconnected from the soles of her slippers and she stood flat footed; much shorter now, but also much more mobile. She raised her hands toward the demon lord, brow furrowed and the same white mist she used earlier formed in front of her. She made a pushing motion with her hands and the mist rolled forward like a tidal wave.

Ru had never seen her use a mist bank that large before but it appeared to give her no trouble. Upon contact with the demon though, Leetah grunted and leaned forward as if pushing hard against something. The demon roared in fury as ice formed around him, slowing him; forcing him to break each leg out of it before being able to come forward another step.

“Won’t be able to stop him but I can keep him slowed for a little bit. Whatever the plan is, hurry!” She warned.

“Keep it up as long as you can!” Ru said and turned to Shannon. She was kneeling beside Toph and Illyoten.

“Are they alive?” Ru asked.

“Yes!” She said, voice brusk. “Toph’s leg is broken and the hip is out of socket, it will take time to heal. Illyoten is concussed and bruised. Now hush, let me work.”

Ru backed away. She looked between the two downed men then nodded, laid a bare hand on Toph’s neck and closed her eyes. Then she unbuckled and opened a tome that was chained to her belt, flipped to a page without looking and began to trace a finger along the script there. The script was written in millink and it began to disappear with a thin trail of smoke as her finger moved across it. Ru turned back to the demon lord and slid his sword out of it’s sheath.

He glanced over his shoulder as he did so, meeting the eyes of his team. They were apprehensive. This was not a good start to a fight at all. But, Ru was proud to see, there was also fierce determination.

“We are the best team in the guild,” He said. “We can do this! We must do this!”

They all nodded and drew weapons. Ru gave them a fierce grin. “Plan is the same, go for the legs first, we need to ground him. Without Toph though you’ll need to give me a head start. Make sure he’s focused on me then lay into him with everything you’ve got. Don’t hold back.”

Rugaba didn’t wait for their response. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he reached out with his senses and brought it all to him. Every sight, scent, smell, and texture he drew upon. Locking into his memory the dimensions of the room, the placement of his team, the smell of the demon lord, the vibrations in the ground as it moved toward them. It was like putting his finger on the pulse of the battle. He was aware of every beat and every change of pace. His senses became sharper, his awareness keener. He was able to anticipate some of the movements from his opponents and moved in synergy with the efforts of his team.

It only took a moment to tap into the battle pulse then Ru lifted his gaze to the Demon lord, meeting it’s eyes. Whatever it was the demon lord saw there, it made him halt his slow advance toward Leetah. All three heads turned to Ru and he felt the weight of those intelligent eyes upon him. Ru did not break the gaze.

The demon lord snarled and then bellowed so loudly that it shook the walls and made Ru’s ears ring. It was a challenge. The most primitive way to say, I am going to kill you.

Ru took another deep breath, tilted his head back and screamed a wordless, primal response. You can try.

When the demon stopped, Leetah’s mist began to build layer upon layer of frost around it’s legs. With a violent shake the demon broke free once more. Ru started forward, bringing up his shield in front of him. He walked first then began to pick up speed until he was sprinting right at the demon.

The mists of Leetah’s fog bank swirled around Ru then began to melt away.  He felt the power of it fading but he also felt more magic building behind him as his team prepared to unleash their spells. Just before reaching the demon lord, Ru shouted two power words, activating runes. The first granted more power to his legs. He leapt, launching upwards to come level with the demon’s middle head. The second spell enveloped his sword in white hot energy as if it had just been pulled from the blacksmith’s hottest forgefire.

Rugaba swung the blade in three quick slashes and the energy left the sword, arcing out and cutting deep into the muzzle of the demon lord. The demon lord’s other head’s howled but the middle one, the one he had just cut, ignored the wounds and snapped out at him. He pulled his legs in, landed on the demon’s nose and propelled himself backwards, activating his jump rune one more time. The demon snatched at him again but missed by bare inches.

He landed with a heavy thump on the ground and the demon lunged at him. He snapped his shield up and the demon’s teeth scraped along it before latching onto his arm and upper shoulder. A muttered word strengthened his armor so the beast could not penetrate or crush it. Smoke flared from the runes, burning up quickly. The strengthening wouldn’t last long.

Another word and his sword was once again white hot with power. He reversed the grip and stabbed deep into the gums of the hound, instantly boring a deep hole. The demon’s other two head’s howled in agony but again, the head Ru was attacking didn’t respond to the pain he inflicted. If anything the creature clamped down harder. Ru grunted, sensed what the demon wolf had in mind next, and quickly planted himself with another spell. A half second later the demon tried to yank him into the air where he could shake and break him. Instead, he nearly tore Ru’s shield arm off as he remained rooted in place. Ru cried out in pain, yanking his sword free from the demon’s gums and slashing twice more.

Still the demon didn’t let go. Then Shannon joined the fight. Ru felt her touch reach him, soothing the pain, and at the same time he felt her reach out to the demon. He grinned fiercely. Shannon touched the wounds he had inflicted in the beast and ramped up the amount of pain they registered. Then the  flesh of the gums around the puncture suddenly blackened and the hole began to spread. The demon finally let go of Ru, rearing and stumbling back from him but leaving behind one giant tooth that fell to the ground with a thump. The monster finally threw back all three heads and howled in agony.

“Fire!” Ru shouted and the might of his guild was unleashed on the demon lord.

Most of the attacks were aimed at the throat and legs of the beast. Lances of ice shot forward, well above Ru’s head. They were followed only a moment later by glowing arrows and burning gouts of molten fire.

Ru was impressed by the onslaught but incredibly, the beast seemed to be ignoring the wounds they were inflicting, redirecting the pain to one of it’s three heads. That single head roared and howled and thrashed back and forth. The others, however,  remained quite alert, eyes blazing with hatred. The left head surveyed the room and spotted the archers and elementalists. It opened it’s huge maw and Ru cried out a warning.

A huge fireball shot out of the beast’s mouth, straight at the majority of his team. At the last instant, Ru saw a wall of blue-white ice shoot up around them and the fireball crashed into it like a wrecking ball. The wall shattered, ice shards spraying everywhere. People screamed. Shannon stopped tampering with the demon’s wounds. Ru felt her presence withdraw, leaving with him only the barest thread of a connection by which she could quickly to focus upon him again if it was necessary. He felt her straining as she triaged the rest of the team.

Ru mentally cursed whatever mind magery had trapped Illyoten and subsequently knocked their only shield mage out of the fight. He drew a long dagger from his belt and flung it hard. It struck the left head on the cheek, just below the eye. It’s gaze snapped back to him and it’s lips spread wide in a canine grin that was full of malice. He grinned back, making it as mocking as he could, though his heart was constricted in fear for his team. He threw another dagger and accompanied it with a few choice demonic phrases. He didn’t know very many words in the demon’s language but the ones he did know were delightfully vulgar.

The demon’s eyes blazed and it lunged for him. That’s right, stay on me, Ru thought. He had to buy Shannon some time. He sprang forward, ducking under the huge jaws. He slammed his shield upwards, activating the bump spell and causing the demon’s mouth shut abruptly and it’s head to snap up.

Another word and his armor glowed with fiery light. The spell was very simple and didn’t do much but it was another trick to try to keep the demon’s attention. The beast swiped at him with one giant paw. He wasn’t quick enough to dodge it and it grazed his leg and sent him careening. He recovered quickly though, in time to duck and roll as one of the heads came at him again, teeth snapping. He was on his feet in an instant, dealing a long but shallow slash to the beasts neck.

Ru sensed movement through the battle pulse and while he dodged and countered, he gave a portion of his awareness over to figuring out what it was. It was Krolis and the other melee fighters. They had not be hit by the demon’s blast. They advanced quickly and unseen under Krol’s mirage spell. The fighters were almost in position to hamstring the beast when it’s right head suddenly went still, nose twitching, ears swiveling.

“Cryan, give me noise!” Ru shouted and Cryan, though injured still, obliged him. Huge, screeching explosions rocked the cavern.

It was enough to stop the hearing of the demon lord but not it’s sense of smell. The left head came biting down at Ru while it’s right head did the same, but aiming for the unseen fighters instead. Ru blocked and with a quick sidestep he just managed to prevent being clamped onto again.

The fighters were quick, dodging the bite. They just weren’t quick enough to avoid the paw that the demon followed up with. Ru sensed it and tried to shout a warning but it went unheard in the echoes of Cryan’s fireworks. Two of the three fighters were sent crashing and tumbling across the floor. Krolis, ever the acrobat, managed to leap and twist out of the way, landing in a crouch. He dropped the mirage, since it was doing no good. Instead he threw up his hands and a shower of sparks went up then exploded into brilliant flashes of light in front of the eyes of the nearest head. That won him enough time to get away again out of the demon’s reach.

Ru flung himself toward the downed fighters, activating another speed rune as he went. The demon shook it’s head, trying to clear the spots from it’s vision. Then it moved toward Ru and his companions, intent on finishing an easy kill.

“Shield wall!” Ru shouted, raising his shield. It flashed as it burned up the millwax. This spell was his most powerful defensive tool and it was the largest rune on his shield, taking up most of the space on it’s front. It burned a lot of millwax but without Tophus here to play defense with him, he had no choice but to use it. He was no shield mage, but he didn’t have to be one in order to use the spell. That was the beauty of millwax and runes.

Rugaba and his downed teammates were instantly surrounded by small, transparent floating shields that pulsed with energy. The demon struck at them but the blow didn’t reach them. Instead, one of the shields shattered, absorbing the energy from the strike and dispersing it. The demon struck again and another shield shattered. Ru smiled, he loved this spell. It was limited though; when the shields were gone, so was the protection. The demon reared back it’s heads regarding the new spell a moment.

Ru dropped his physical shield, reached over his shoulder and unsheathed a second blade.

“Krolis! Get them back! Laz, take my shields!”

Krolis hurried to obey but the lithe man couldn’t move the fully-armored and muscular fighters very quickly. At the same time, Ru felt Laz tug the shield wall spell off of him and hold the extra shields on himself. If the demon attacked his downed team mates again, Laz could transfer Ru’s shields to them, giving them just a little more time to clear the field until they were healed.

Ru’s twin blades flared with green light as he began fueling them with his adrenaline. He had more than enough to spare right now. He ran forward, cutting and slashing; his adrenaline spell causing the blades to cut deeper than they normally would have. The demon swiped at him but Ru leapt and spun away. As he did, ribbons of light flung out from his blades hitting the demon at random but causing very little damage.

Activating his last jump rune, Ru leapt backwards, gaining some distance and a moment out of the combat. He crossed his blades in front of him and the energy in them became a pure white light, tinged with blue. They crackled, indicating to him the spell was ready, and he pulled the blades apart. As he did, he activated a truestrike rune, ensuring his next blow would hit what he aimed at.

 

To Be Continued on 12/15/2014

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