Under the Mountain – Part Five

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

A thunderous lightning bolt streaked across the room striking into a deep cut he had made previously. The beast convulsed and twitched – howling in agony. Ru grinned again, Cryan had helped him carve that particular rune spell on his hilts. He could only do it once in a fight but it was usually worth it, despite the ringing it left in his ears.

Then Ru was charging back in, swords slashing in the air in front of him, sending more arcs of energy before he reengaged in melee with the beast. Ru never missed. He couldn’t, not with something that huge. The demon, in turn, swiped and bit at him and despite Ru’s best efforts to dodge and twist he was not as nimble as Krolis and could not remain uninjured. Shannon was as quick as she could be to heal him, halting all healing on other members of their party for a moment while she rapidly repaired damage to Ru.

He flung out more arcs of energy from his sword, doing everything in his power to keep the demon’s attention on him. Despite that, the demon still bit or swiped at the fighters on the ground, slowly beating through the magical shields until there were only two left.

It was enough. Shannon’s power finally spread out to the two fallen warriors and it wasn’t long before they were healed enough to help move themselves out of the immediate reach of the beast.

Arrows began to fly once again as the archers rejoined the fight. They were followed only moments later by the elementalists. They dealt heavy wounds that would have toppled most creatures but it just wasn’t enough. Not for this beast. He was a demon lord. Minor, but still powerful. He would have few weaknesses. They would not kill him until they could immobilize him long enough to deal a deep enough wound. But without the ability to mirage and get close, there was just no way they could hamstring and cripple it as they had planned.

Once more he felt one of the heads focus upon the distant members of his party. He threw his last dagger at it but it ignored the painful prick. Thankfully it didn’t matter because Cryan was ready for the fireball this time. He caught it as if in a giant net, swung it around in the air, and flung it back at the demon. Ru threw himself out of the way as the demon reared back, taking the fireball on it’s stomach. The blast scorched flesh and toppled the monster backwards. He rolled twice then was on his feet once more. It bellowed and charged, headed straight for the group. Leetah recalled her mists once again and the demon slowed but didn’t stop.

Ru cried out for power and he felt Laz feed him a fountain of it. He snatched it, enhanced it with his adrenaline and charged. Timing and a little luck was on his side for just as the beast’s full weight landed on one leg, Ru slammed into it, bumping it out from underneath him. The wolf crashed into the floor but immediately began clawing his way back to his feet.

Enraged, his attention was once again focused on Rugaba. Ru felt Laz’s brief communique with him before the boon mage withdrew his power. The team had a plan.

“Got it!” Ru shouted as he twisted and dove for his shield. He picked it up and then spent the next few minutes manically trying to avoid being eaten and trampled by the beast. He struggled to sheathe his second blade and get his shield back on while dodging teeth and claws. Just as he accomplished it Ru felt the tension in his team heighten. The moment was right. They didn’t need to tell him. He activated his last speed rune and sprinted forward, surprising the demon as he ran straight between it’s trunk-like legs.

As it’s massive heads instinctively lowered toward the ground to go after him and it’s great body made as if to lay down and squash him flat, Leetah gave a shout that was full of the menacing power of ice. Ru felt Laz give her all the power he could manage and so he reached out too, tapping his adrenaline once more to add his own enhancement to her spell. The three heads were suddenly collared by ice that circled their necks and extended in massive pillars the short distance to the floor, locking them in place. It surprised the beast so much that he forgot about squashing Ru, for which Ru was very grateful. He howled and jerked his three heads upward but to no avail. He was stuck. It wouldn’t hold him long but they didn’t need long. Leetah gasped and Ru felt her trembling with the strain through the battle pulse.

“DO IT! DO IT NOW!” He shouted even before he had cleared their line of fire. Glowing, multi-colored arrows and streaks of fire hit the beast but this time, they were not aimed randomly. They targeted the eyes, noses and ears. The demon lord screeched, a piercing sound that made everyone flinch. It jerked and twisted, trying to break free from the collars. Leetah convulsed with every attempt. As the magi and archers let fly, the fighters sprinted back into range as well.

Leetah screamed out one more effort and even at this distance Ru saw the smoke rise from her jewelry as she burned up the energy in nearly every spell she had. More than two dozen lances of ice formed around her and she shot them all forward. They impaled the paws of the Demon Lord, froze and spread, creating shackles and locking the demon’s feet into place just as the fighters reached them. They hacked and slashed; brutally severing tendons and dealing as much damage to the monster as they could. Ru joined them. Once more the demon lord screamed and the fighters backed up, their work done. Leetah let go of her spells, staggered, and then her eyes rolled up in her head and she crumpled to the floor.

“I’m out!” Mereb shouted and his cry was echoed by the other archers.

Cryan stepped in front Leetah’s still form, shielding her with his body should the demon decide to lash out at her. He raised his arms and they became engulfed in fire. Slowly he spun them, twisting the fire until it appeared that he held two miniature whirlwinds. Ru and the other fighters hurriedly backed further away from the demon.

Cryan’s eyes burned as he unleashed the two tornadoes of fire at the demon. They grew larger and larger until Ru could see the ceiling of the cavern far above, no longer hidden in darkness. The heat of it was nearly unbearable and Ru raised his arm to shield his face. The tornadoes struck the demon and it howled in pain, writhing and twitching as it’s bonds of ice melted under the onslaught of fire. Then, it finally went limp.

The fires ebbed and died out, leaving the cavern feeling much darker after the blinding display. Cryan fell to his hands and knees, looking like he too was about to pass out. Leetah sat up, holding her head with one hand and patting Cryan’s back with the other. Silence reigned. The entire team waited tensely. A moment passed; then two. When the demon didn’t stir, they let out a collective sigh. Ru grinned as they began to whoop and cheer. They did it!

Then the world exploded.

***

Illyoten dreamed.

At least, he was pretty sure it was a dream. He was asleep under the big red fern. Or was he? Something didn’t feel right. He opened his eyes and looked up at the fern. It’s normally fuzzy red leaves were drooping – the soft tendrils turning grey. He rolled out from under it and stood up, looking around.

All the plants were getting sick. He needed to tell the witchwoman right away. They had to stop the disease from spreading or it would kill all the plants. He ran through the tunnels and shouted but no one came and he couldn’t find the exit. That didn’t make sense. He knew these tunnels very well.

The plants were dying, the disease was spreading. He saw it everywhere he went. He kept running, searching, but there was no one to help him. And then he was at the red fern again. He stopped, breathing heavily, and sat underneath it’s dying leaves. The plants were in pain. He could feel it. He cried.

He had to stop their pain. He realized he had to heal them. He wasn’t sure he could. He was so confused and nothing was working right, but what other choice was there? He was the only one here. His mind refused to focus but he tried anyway. He had to do something. These plants were his friends too, just as much as the other children.

Laying a hand on the main stem of the great fern, he reached directly into it to find the source of the problem. Rot had set in and it was moving quickly. The fern was riddled with unhealthy spots inside. He touched a particularly bad place, one that seemed to pulse with menace, in order to try to understand what he was dealing with and how to counter it.

Suddenly he was in a different place. There was nothingness around him like when he meditated only it felt more real here. This place felt familiar but different and he realized he was no longer in his own mind. There was another presence there. It was advancing on him rapidly and as it did, he began to make out it’s shape in the nothingness around him. It was a man. No, as the creature came forward he unfurled great wings. He was a demon.

Illyoten felt helpless. He could do nothing to defend himself. He tried to summon life’s critters to aid him. He tried to reach out to send fear into the demon’s roots so it would leave him alone. He tried to move his body to a defensive crouch. He even tried to run. None of it worked.

The demon sprang at him, grasping him around the throat and squeezing. It’s great golden eyes boring into his own. At the contact, Illyoten suddenly found he could move. He struggled; wrestling and prying at the demon’s hand around his throat. His nails dug long scratches into the demon’s arm and hand but it’s grip did not lessen. Illyoten’s vision was tunneling. He was running out of oxygen. The demon smiled, revealing great yellowed fangs.

Illyoten snarled back, choking out the last of his air. He began to feed his body oxygen through his skin but it would only buy him a little extra time. Desperately, he reached out with his mind to touch the demon’s roots. But, he couldn’t reach them. It had roots, yes. He could sense them, but they were not of this world. He reached out again but this time through the direct contact of the demon’s hand on his throat. Still he could not influence the demon’s body with weakness or fear.

He didn’t know why he did it but as his vision began to blacken he reached out and gently healed the wounds he had scratched upon the demons arms and hands. Perhaps he wanted his last act to be one of healing sent, not damage done.

It worked. The demon howled in pain and released him. Illyoten gasped in a ragged breath and suddenly found himself back in the milling tunnels. The black, menacing spot inside the fern was gone and it was now rapidly healing. Illyoten stood. He felt a little better too. His mind wasn’t quite so foggy. He knew this wasn’t a dream now. He was trapped in his own memories He was being kept locked in his own mind.

The disease was the key and the spots seemed to be the problem. He quickly moved to another plant, sat, and touched it with his mind. Searching methodically, he once again found another pulsing black spot. Just like the one he had found in the red fern.

This time, before touching it, he imagined himself holding a spear. If this was his own mind, he hoped he could manipulate it to some degree still. A tall spear appeared in his hand. It was of simple, sturdy craftsmanship; the kind of spear his tribe used for hunting. No spells, no adornments. It was a tool to get a job done.

He touched the black spot and was drawn into the blank mindscape once more. This time, whatever paralyzing influence had been there was gone. He threw the spear immediately toward where he sensed the demon. It screamed and Illyoten launched himself toward the sound, getting there faster than possible had they been battling anywhere but in the landscape of their minds.

He grasped the spear, yanked it out, and tossed it aside before the demon even realized Illyoten was upon him. He laid both hands upon the wound and healed it. The demon howled. Illyoten was thrown back to the tunnels once again. The spot was gone, the plant healed, his mind clearer.

Illyoten picked up his spear and went to another plant to hunt another spot. And another after that. Each time he touched one, he was drawn into that blank mindscape. Each time he battled the demon. The fight was always different but all Illyoten had to do was wound the demon. Then, no matter how small the wound, he healed it through direct contact. The demon would vanish with a howl and Illyoten would be thrown back into his own mind.

As he progressed through each fight he noticed that the wounds he had dealt to the demon in the earlier fights were still there. They seemed closed but they pulsed and glowed with brilliant green light that caused the demon a great deal of pain. It seemed odd to him, for Illyoten’s own wounds vanished when he was back in his own mind again and did not reappear upon entering the mindscape. He thought perhaps it was because the demon was not in his own mind but either in Illyoten’s mind or in the mindscape, like the mindscape was some spiritual neutral ground.

Finally, Illyoten reached the last black spot but as he prepared for the next fight, he felt that something was different. The demon wasn’t waiting for him in the blank mindscape. He was running – retreating. He had not done that before. Illyoten touched the spot and gave chase immediately but could not catch the fleeing demon.

Something, some instinct, warned him to stop and he came to an abrupt halt. The mindscape fell away suddenly before him and he gazed upon a volcanic tunnel like his own. This one was different. It was bare of any greenery. But it wasn’t empty. There were people here and they were fighting a giant three headed wolf. His guild! His mind cleared abruptly and he no longer had trouble focusing or controlling his memories.

The demon he had been chasing sank into the three headed wolf’s body just as it collapsed under the assault of his team. They waited but the giant demon didn’t move. Illyoten tried to call out, tried to warn them. He could still clearly see the demon of his mind inside the felled beast. It was gathering power far, far below the surface of the rock, beyond their immediate senses.

Illyoten made as if to step forward, to warn his team, but that same overwhelming sense of danger flooded him again and he halted himself. There was something dangerous about going this way. He had to get back to his real body if he wanted to warn them. But how? This mindscape was unfamiliar and he didn’t know how to return without defeating the demon.

Perhaps if he could establish a memory connection he might be able to manage it. He did something similar when healing. He encouraged the body’s spirit to remember what it was like to be whole and that helped speed the healing process quite a bit. This situation he found himself in wasn’t all that different. He was broken at the moment; separated from his body and he needed to be whole again.

Closing his eyes, he focused on remembering what his own body felt like. He thought about what it was like to stretch in the morning after a good night’s sleep. He remembered what it felt like to have the breeze blow through his hair and the wind caress his face. He remembered the way he could smell rain coming and the sound of it beating on the canvas of his tent. He remembered what it was like to be himself.

It took only a moment for what he remembered that it felt like to be whole to turn into what he was actually feeling. He stirred and opened his eyes. They were fuzzy and out of focus. His whole body ached like he had been thrown against a wall. He felt concussed and realized he actually was. Had he been thrown into a wall? He looked around, dazed.

Shannon came over to him, “Illyoten! Tophus! You’re both awake! I’ll get you fixed up again in a  mo- ”

She froze as she saw the fear and urgency in Illyoten’s eyes.

“The beast isn’t the demon lord!” He said. He tried to shout but his voice wasn’t working right yet. It came out too soft.

Tophus heard it though and that was enough to save them. With a cry he projected a shield larger than anything Illyoten had ever seen a shield mage do before. But they were spread out and though the shield was massive, it didn’t reach them all.

The room rocked with explosions. The tunnel by which they had entered the room collapsed, cutting off all chance of escape. Lava exploded upwards from the floor in several large geysers and began filling the far side of the room near an old cave-in. The demon beast’s body smoked and began to melt grotesquely in the spray.

With a great thump and hum, the portal core structure began to float and spin.

“He’s activating the portal!” Lazarus shouted above the noise of grinding rock.

“How do we stop him?” Illyoten shouted back.

“We have to cut off the power!” Lazarus replied.

“We need to get Ru!” Shannon shouted, pointing just outside the shielding protection of the barrier Tophus held. Rugaba and the other fighters were caught outside. They had collapsed under the concussive forces and were not moving. Illyoten reached out and could feel that they still lived, though they were badly burned. Leetah and Cryan were still out there too but they were leaned back to back and moving in their direction. Cryan was working frantically, redirecting the heat and fire around them. Leetah was doing her best to cool the air inside the sphere.

Tophus opened a rift in the shield and the team sprinted into the chaos to grab their downed teammates and pull them to the safety of the shield. The heat was staggering but they managed it without injury.

Mereb moved to the rift and bellowed at the elementalists to hurry. Looking up from their spellwork they saw the shield. They bolted for the shelter. Tophus closed the rift behind them.

The initial explosions subsided but the lava kept flowing. Shannon and Illyoten knelt beside their unconscious guildmates and immediately began to heal.

***

Ru opened his eyes. They were still in the cavern. It was bright, hot, and loud. Ru’s body tickled and itched all over. He was being healed.

“What happened?” He croaked and coughed.

“Don’t talk,” Illyoten said sharply. “Your lungs are scorched. Give me another minute,” He was leaning over Rugaba with his fingers lightly touching his neck.

Ru complied but looked around to try to figure out what was going on. Illyoten growled at him and he held still again. Thankfully, Laz knelt next to him a beat later to fill him in. He hated going a second without information when the team was in possible danger.

“The wolf was just a beast with a few clever tricks. There’s another demon inside it. I think that’s the actual demon lord. He’s awakened the volcano and is using the chaos energy of it to fuel the portal. The room is filling with lava and the only exit is collapsed.”

“Another problem,” Mereb shouted, pointing out across the room to the cave-in. Demonlings- dozens of them- were scrambling out of the narrow opening at the top of the rock pile. They were minor threats and easier to kill than most demons. But that was why they tended to rove in packs.

Only a little over three dozen escaped before the top of the hole spilled over with lava. The demons screeched and scrambled down the rocks but some were caught by the lava and consumed. Seeing the demon wolf’s dead form, they stopped in front of it and sent up a chorus of wailing despair. Then, one by one, the wailing was cut off as the hidden Demon Lord regained control and smothered their fear. Eerily, the silent demons turned their eyes toward Ru and his guildmates.

To Be Continued on 12/22/2014

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