Ru swore and started getting to his feet. “That will have to do Illyoten,” He said. “Thanks.”
“I need your help over here, Ill!” Shannon called.
“A moment!” He called back then spoke hurriedly to Ru, “The demon lord is a mind mage. He got in my head and trapped me in a childhood memory then tried to kill me by corrupting the memory. I was able to fight him off only by healing him. I’m not sure why that hurts him but it was enough to drive him from my mind.”
“Thanks, that helps.” Ru said. Illyoten nodded and hurried over to help Shannon with the rest of the wounded. Ru picked up his sword and shield and began to bark out orders in rapid succession. As he did, he opened his tin of millwax and began to apply it rapidly to the emptied runic carvings on his gear.
“Everyone recharge your gear now, quickly. It’s going to be a dicey fight but focus on those demonlings. Shannon; fighters up as soon as possible everyone else is secondary. Lazarus; find out where the demon lord is pulling power from and cut him off. Cryan; I need to you figure out how to keep that lava from reaching us. Illyoten; figure out if you can use the healing trick on the demon lord from this distance.”
Illyoten nodded, “Lazarus, I may need your assistance in reaching his roots. They are not of this world but perhaps as a source mage, you could connect me to him.”
The two men sat facing each other in meditation pose, bowed their head and closed their eyes, focused on their respective assignments.
“Can’t hold it,” Tophus said through clenched teeth. “Too much.”
Ru looked over at him sharply. Tophus was still seated, his leg not yet fully repaired enough to stand. His eyes were tightly shut, blocking out any unnecessary input in order to focus on the shield better.
“Gather in!” Ru shouted and everyone complied. “Tophus, shrink the shield and only block what you must. The demon lord is probably too focused on opening the portal to throw any spells at us and I doubt the demonlings have the capability.” Instantly the shield was smaller and more transparent. Tophus looked much less strained. He nodded.
“Better. I can hold this longer but be careful stepping out of it. The pressure outside is beginning to build. Let the demons come in to us.”
The room rocked again as two more geysers spouted up from the floor, one of them only feet away from the shielded party. Cryan was ready though and he bent the flow of it away from them. The lava spew from the cave-in across the room became a flood as the rocks gave way. The lava pool that had begun to form suddenly began to expand across the room. The demonlings shrieked and launched themselves toward the team.
Ru planted himself at the edge of the barrier. Mereb came up on his shield side. With a twist and flick of his wrists his bow came apart in his hands. The caps of the bow came out, revealing two short bladed daggers. Mereb snatched the main shaft and bowstring from the air before they could fall and tucked them away.
The other archers followed suit, drawing short swords and daggers and putting away their bows. Only one archer stayed back and tucked a rock into a sling. He began to swing it and it hummed through the air. He released as the demonlings came into range. It struck a demon in the chest and exploded into a small dust cloud that appeared to impede the breathing of any who ran through it. They had to stop to bend over, coughing and hacking. The demons behind them didn’t slow, knocking their fellows to the ground and trampling them.
The shield made them briefly pause as they prodded it with their drawn weapons. Ru took that opportunity to lunge forward, not leaving the shield entirely but enough to plunge his blade through the gut of the nearest demonling. Then the battle was truly joined.
It was a struggle for a few minutes to hold the demons back to the outer edges of the shield. They were mad and panic-driven for the lava was coming up behind them. The pressure of their assault only eased when Leetah stepped in.
She had used much of her millwax supply in the previous fight and had to be picky of how she was using her magic now. Instead she drew a rapier from her waist and darted into the fight wherever it looked like the demonlings were able to push inside the barrier. Her blade was a blur of movement, flicking in and out faster than their enemies could react. The demonlings who would touched by it howled and staggered backwards, their wounds coated in ice crystals and frostbite.
With a click-clack-crack, Cryan unfolded a thin piece of hinged wood until it stood as tall as a staff. It had a pointed end which he stabbed it into the ground. The advancing lava suddenly halted fifteen feet away from the edge of the shield and it began to pile up. When the demons realized the lava had halted their panic was quelled somewhat and the pressure on them eased.
“Cryan!” Ru shouted, ducking as a demonling’s claws missed his head and raked across his shield. “Can you help us out here?”
“No, I’m sorry!” Cryan said, “The staff gives me a structure to work with but I still must be the force behind keeping the lava at bay.”
“Fighters are up!” Shannon called and Ru was relieved. The heavily armored soldiers stepped in as the more lightly armored archers plus Leetah backed out. The warriors were a bit sluggish, their bodies still trying to heal, and Rugaba fed them some of his own adrenaline to give them more strength and speed. It helped tremendously which was good because the demons kept coming.
The creatures began to show signs of an intelligent force binding them now that their panic was quelled. They came at the team in more and more coordinated waves. Ru shouted orders; countering their tactics as the lava began to pile up behind them in a taller and taller wall. Despite their best efforts, the demonlings just couldn’t get through their defenses. They were the lowest kind of demon and while they could be strong in numbers there was only so much their master could do with them.
Finally, the last remaining half dozen backed off, dragging the corpses of their comrades with them. They appeared to have no interest in continuing the fight no matter what the demon lord might be ordering them to do. They hunkered down as far away from the shield as they could get, within a few feet of the lava wall. Ru lowered his shield and glanced at Tophus.
“Would it be safe to go out and finish them?” He asked.
Tophus shook his head, “No, the heat and pressure would kill you in under a minute.”
“They’re cannibalizing their buddies,” Mereb said with disgust, pointing at the remaining demonlings. Ru spun back around to look and sure enough they had begun to rapidly consume the bodies of their dead.
“Curse the Six Realms,” Ru spat. “Does anyone have any arrows left?”
The archers all shook their heads. The demonlings began to convulse, grow larger, and sprout wings.
“Leetah?” Ru asked, “Can you get them?”
“No,” She said, obviously frustrated. “There’s too much heat now. My ice lances would just melt as soon as they’re out of the shield.
“Cryan?” Ru turned to the fire elementalist. Cryan didn’t respond but he did give Ru a two-second glare before turning back to maintaining the fire wall. Ru took that as a no. Cryan was sweating, he noticed. That rarely ever happened to a mage who could manipulate heat just as effectively as fire. He looked up at the wall, well over thirty feet high now and growing.
“It’s no use,” Leetah said. “He’s maxed out and the barrier stave wouldn’t let him manipulate the lava inside the ring anyway.”
Everyone tensed as the newly formed demon fliers shrieked and launched themselves into the air. But instead of heading toward them, they simply flapped their wings as hard as they could and began to climb upwards.
“What now?” Shannon asked, glancing between the ever-heightening wall of lava in front of them and the fliers gaining altitude above them.
“Illyoten and Lazarus are still working,” Mereb said. “They need more time.”
“I don’t think Cryan can hold the wall much longer,” Leetah said, eyeing the fire elementalist.
“I have an idea!” Cryan said, gasping out the words, “Leetah. Cold ground. Few feet. Mereb. Power. Gimme.” Mereb nodded then grasped a crystal on a chain at his throat. It flared with light and Ru felt the surge of power he sent Cryan’s way. Meanwhile, Leetah placed a hand on the ground and it became coated in ice crystals. She nodded at Cryan who knocked the staff over with a kick then made two slashing motions with his arms. Geysers shot up all around them, right at the edges of the shield.
No, Ru realized. Not around them – beneath them!
While Leetah froze the earth and kept cooling it, Cryan was lifting the whole floor with the pressure of the lava. As he did, he released the lava wall, which was already trembling anyway without the staff to help him hold it, and it flowed quickly into the empty space. Everyone went to their hands and knees, scrambling to hold on to something. Cryan pulled the lava and twisted it around them, using the oncoming waves to bolster them higher and higher without tipping them too far and drowning them in lava.
But he couldn’t stop the lava from splashing. Globs of it hit the shield, cooled, and got stuck there. Tophus grunted and the shield flared. He gestured as if to try to flick away the lava. Seeing what he needed, the rest of the team carefully maneuvered around the edges of the shield. It was quite a trick to maintain their balance and still knock away the chunks of cooling lava but they managed it.
In a few minutes they were floating on top of the lava like a raft on a lake. Cryan was keeping them afloat and it seemed like a much easier endeavor for him than the lava wall had been. Leetah stayed kneeling, hands on the ground, keeping it cool.
The solution was temporary though; the cavern was still filling up. They were already halfway to the ceiling high above them. Ru looked around and spotted the fliers. They had attached themselves to the ceiling and were desperately scrabbling at it, digging away chunks of rock that splashed down into the lava far below them. One of the fliers whole upper body, wings and all, had disappeared into the tunnel it was digging.
“Okay,” Rugaba said. “Right. What can we do to help Laz and Ill?”
“Hang on,” Mereb said, kneeling beside Laz. He pulled off his gloves and took one of Laz’s hands in his own. He closed his eyes for a few minutes then opened his mouth to speak. It was Lazarus’ voice that came out instead of his own.
“I can’t stop the lava flow if we don’t shut down the demon lord’s power source. But I must keep Illyoten connected to the demon lord. I can’t do both.”
“It’s still alive in that?” Shannon asked incredulous, gesturing out at the sea of lava.
“The wolf’s inner body is resistant to the lava. He is relatively safe inside it but would have been baked to death a while ago if not for Illyoten.” Laz answered through Mereb’s lips.
“Why is Illyoten keeping him alive? I thought we needed to kill him?” Shannon asked, beating Ru to the question.
“Opening a chaos portal requires a sacrifice. He was going to use the wolf but we killed it. So he tried using the demonlings but they were too insignificant. No power in them. His life is the only thing he has left to sacrifice. So he can’t die until after we shut down his power and stop the volcano.”
“What do you need?” Ru asked.
“Mereb,” Laz said at once. “Can you spare him a while longer?”
“Yes. Who else? There are only a few enemies left and they seem more interested in escape than in fighting. Leetah and Cryan are keeping us afloat on the lava for now.”
“Good, then I can use you and Shannon too. Skin to skin contact, hurry.” Laz’s voice left and Mereb’s voice returned.
“It’d be good if everyone gives Tophus, Cryan, and Leetah whatever millwax we have left,” Mereb said, tossing his own tin to Leetah. “They can burn it for energy. Laz and I will be too busy to channel power to anyone and we are rapidly rising above any usable roots.”
Ru nodded his agreement and gave his millwax tins to Toph. The others did the same, digging out tins and distributing them to the elementalists and shield mage.
“Toph, you’re in charge. If those demon fliers decide to come back at us you’ll all have to kill them the old fashioned way. Don’t waste any millwax you don’t absolutely have to use.
Ru sat, removed his gloves and took Laz’s other hand. Shannon sat opposite him, taking Mereb and Illyoten’s hands.
Mereb nodded at them and the world tilted.
To Be Continued on 12/29/2014