Ru closed his eyes, ignoring the sensation. Then they were in a different place. There was nothingness all around them. Ru looked right and left. Mereb and Shannon were there.
“What is this place?” Ru asked.
“It’s a mindscape,” Lazarus said, appearing beside them. Ru jumped. Lazarus began to lead them away. Where, he didn’t know. There were no landmakrs, no scenery to help orient himself. He only knew they were moving.
Laz continued talking as he walked, “This place is outside your conscious mind on the edges of the spirit realm. The white blankness you see is called the Veil. If you find a place where it looks like you can go through, don’t. It will separate your spirit from your body and you will die.”
After a short distance they halted. “Ru, you are able to enhance our spells and make them more potent, right?” Lazarus asked him.
Ru nodded, “If I have adrenaline to draw from. I don’t have much right now. The fighting is over.”
“Illyoten has been fighting the demon lord, you can take over for him and he can concentrate on healing with Shannon.”
Ru realized he could hear fighting ahead. Lazarus pointed in that direction, “There. Take Shannon and go, quickly!”
“What about you?” Ru asked as he hooked his shield to his back by a strap and unsheathed his swords.
“I will sever him from his power source. Then I will see what I can do to soothe the roots of this ancient place and put the volcano back to sleep. Mereb will stay here and anchor us, keeping you three in the fight and allowing you to channel enhancements through him to me.”
“How do I do that?”
“Just send it to him – he’ll send it to me.”
Ru nodded then took off running toward Illyoten and the demon lord. Shannon was right on his heels. He was upon them in moment though he could have sworn they were a good hundred yards away. Illyoten seemed to know he was coming for he disengaged the demon lord and was beside him and Shannon in a blur of movement.
“This place is still a part of your mind,” Illyoten said, “You have all the abilities you believe yourself to have.”
“Got it,” Ru said and with another step, he engaged the demon lord in combat.
“Your spells are amazing,” Illyoten said to Shannon only a few minutes later. He had shown her how to connect with the demon’s roots with Mereb’s help. Then he had shown her how he was canabalizing what was left of the demon wolf’s body to heal the demon lord. Like a fish taking to water, she needed little coaching after that.
“You’re doing twice as much as I can for the same amount of effort.” He said. Granted, he had been fighting and healing but that didn’t matter now. “No sense in both of us staying here.”
Shannon nodded and Illyoten turned to where he could feel Mereb’s presence.
“Mereb, can you send me to-” He was cut off as he felt a lurching sensation in his stomach and abruptly he was standing next to Lazarus. The mindscape around them had changed. It felt like they were standing on a precipice – an outcropping of the mindscape. All around them was a tangled mass of colored threads of all shapes and sizes. Illyoten looked more closely and realized they were in flux. They were moving as if some invisible hand was yanking on first one thread then another.
He could feel the cry of the earth. It was in pain. With each tug, it writhed and screamed. Illyoten flinched as if it was his own pain. A particularly hard tug staggered him and Lazarus reached out a hand to steady him.
“Careful,” He said.
Illyoten steadied and distanced his mind from the sensations. “Shannon has the Maker’s touch and is holding her own just fine. How can I help here?”
“I’m sure you can feel the earth is in pain. If you can soothe and calm it I can focus exclusively on severing the demon lord’s grasp on these roots.” Lazarus gestured at the mass of color around them.
Illyoten nodded and examined the scene before them. “I see, I think. This is a spiritual representation of the roots around us?”
“A bird’s eye view at the moment,” Laz replied. “But I can adjust your sight to where you’re needed if you’d like.”
Illyoten shook his head, “No, It’s better if I feel instead of see.” He moved back a couple steps then sat and once again cleared his mind for meditation. When he achieved clarity, he opened his mind and felt.
Pain. Wrenching. Tearing. Burning. Burning. Burning!
Fear! Confusion! Anger!
Illyoten gasped, disoriented and lost in the torrent of sensation and emotion from the living roots. He fought against the onslaught and eventually was able to steady himself. He searched, roaming through the earths roots. They were all in pain, being wrenched from their natural state to serve the unnatural purpose of the demon lord. He longed to reach out and soothe them but he stopped himself. He could spend all his magic and drain away his very life and not make a lick of difference. He had to find the place where it began. He had to find the first wound.
Remembering what he saw when he chased the demon lord back to it’s body, Illyoten began spiraling downward in his search. It felt like an eternity passed but finally, there, in the deepest places of the earth, he found it. A great, black rent in the roots like a severed artery. It was pulsing with dark menance. Bleeding upwards; it seared and tainted every root it touched. He reached out, just like he would have for any wound but it was hot and burned him.
Illyoten jerked his hand back and studied the wound. He tried reaching out with his senses only to heal it but got the same reaction. It burned and he spasmed. Realizing what he would have to do, he braced himself. He reached out once more, mind and spirit body, grasping the wound’s edges. He screamed as it burned him but he held on and began channeling power into it; pulling it together, willing it to knit closed. Inch by inch he sewed up the rent and cleansed the taint.
That done, he still could not let go. He reached out for more power and found ample amounts in this place, deep under the mountain. Tapping it for what he needed, he soothed away the pain and continued to encourage the wound to heal properly. He crooned and hummed to the earth as he would have to a wild, wounded animal and though it was pure nature, the earth understood his intent and listened.
This was Illyoten’s element. Always more comfortable with the natural, wild earth, he had had to work hard to become just as comfortable with animals and even people for he did not want to become a recluse like many of the life mages of his people did. When communing with the earth though, he didn’t even have to try.
Healing the earth, soothing it, was as natural as breathing for he had been doing it long before he had ever healed a human being. He knew just how and where to apply his magic. It was obvious to his eyes just like knowing that burned and blistered flesh was were you needed to apply salve. The earth recognized his touch and he felt it’s gratitude. Slowly, the ancient volcano allowed itself to be lulled back to sleep.
The first wound healed, Illyoten sighed in satisfaction and turned his face upwards to begin soothing and cleansing the rest.
The demon lord threw back it’s head and shrieked in rage. The power of that scream staggered Ru back a step and he clapped his hands over his ears.
“Shannon, stop healing him!” Ru shouted and though his words were lost, she got the meaning and nodded stiffly as he made eye contact. If this wasn’t a signal that the demon’s chaos portal was disrupted, he didn’t know what was. The fight with the demon had been relatively magic-free; most of the demon lord’s power being tied up in the portal spell.
Confirmation resonated to him through the battle pulse by the victorious feelings coming from Mereb. The demon lord was cut off, the volcano stopped.
It screamed and screamed again and Ru felt his body stiffen by a paralyzing force. He tried tapping his adrenaline to force himself to move but it was no good. He grunted with the effort but his limbs wouldn’t move. The demon lord’s spirit body smoked and crisped as it’s real body began to burn. It walked unsteadily toward him, eyes glowing with the intent to kill him before it died.
Ru felt Shannon trying to reach him but her movement was jerky and sluggish. The demon lord gasped in a great breath for another scream and Shannon staggered forward a few steps before the shrieking began again. Ru’s eyes widened with understanding. It was the scream itself that was paralyzing him. He waited for his chance.
When the demon lord was once again out of breath and it’s scream petered off, Ru was momentarily free! He tapped his adrenline, drew his sword, reversed the grip, and threw it in one fast, fluid movement. He drew every ounce of power he could tap and channeled it into the strength of that throw. The instant before the sword left his grip he activating his truestrike rune.
The sword struck the demon lord just above the collarbone, slicing through throat and spine. It would have gone clean through him if it had been a spear. Instead, the cross guard caught on the demon’s upper ribs and the remaining force sent him flying back a dozen yards. He crashed to the floor and went tumbling right through the Veil. He disappeared like smoke on the wind. Ru collapsed, panting.
“That,” He said. “Was my favorite sword.”
Then he remembered this wasn’t real. A disorienting second later he was back in his own body. He was lying on his back, staring at a ceiling that was only a few feet above him. He reflexively reached for his sword. It was there.
“It’s stopped!” He heard Cryan exclaim. “They did it!” The team was cheering.
Ru and the others who had been in the mindscape with him sat up carefully. His helmet brushed the ceiling. Someone had activated an orb and it glowed softly, illuminating the space. They were inside a squashed half dome of rock and cooled lava. Everyone was crowded in tight together and were either kneeling or crouching. They hugged each other, whooped and cried.
“What happened?” He asked.
“We were just about to decide,” Cryan said, “If we wanted to be crushed to death against the ceiling or burned alive in the lava. You don’t get a vote.”
“Seriously though,” Leetah said. “You guys couldn’t have cut that one any closer. We are out of magic, out of millwax and Tophus just passed out again.”
Ru took another look around and noticed many of them were bloodied and bandaged.
“The fliers?” He asked.
“Dead. They reached hard rock that they couldn’t claw through. They saw our little island as the only potential protection from the volcano. We took some hits,” She shoved Shannon and Illyoten back on their haunches as they started to move. “But none too serious. They can wait until after we get out of here.”
Shannon nodded and Illyoten shrugged. Both were too tired to argue.
“I’m going to check on Tophus at least,” Shannon said and scooted across the small space to where the man lay, unconscious again.
“He held the shield long enough for me to cool the lava and create this little bubble. But the pressure, you know,” She said, tapping the ceiling above them. “Lava was coming up and it had no place to go.”
“And now we have no place to go,” Rugaba said, surveying the tiny room once more. “We need an exit.”
Illyoten spoke up, “I can probably help with that. Mereb, can you tell how much earth is above us?”
Mereb placed a hand on the ceiling, frowned a moment in concentration then nodded. “Only about twenty feet. It’s all hard rock though. Tophus’ shield cleared the softer stuff as we got shoved into the ceiling.”
“Not a problem,” Illyoten said. “Lazarus could you feed me a little power?”
Lazarus gave him a thumbs up but remained laying prone and exhausted on the floor. Illyoten sat, staring upwards. Nothing happened… until something did. A hole formed above their heads, dropping dirt and debris on them but not much. The tunnel was wide and sloped so it would be easier to climb out of. Sunlight streamed down it and Ru caught sight of the movement of a tiny horde of rockmites disappearing back into new walls, their work done.
“There you go Rugaba. One exit, as ordered,” Illyoten said tiredly.
“My guildmates call me Ru,” He said, clapping Illyoten on the shoulder.
“Ru, it is then,” Illyoten smiled. A rockmite dropped from the ceiling and Illyoten caught it deftly. Ru watched in fascination as it chittered at him and he murmured a quiet thank you to it. It squeaked and he placed it back on the ground where it sank into the stone like it was water.
“I didn’t know you were a Caller too,” Ru said.
Illyoten looked up. “I’m not a very good one but this was easy. They knew we had stopped the demon from destroying their home completely. They were grateful and eager. And the task I asked of them was simple.”
Ru nodded then nudged Illyoten toward the tunnel. “Best get going.”
As the team began to climb out of the tunnel one by one, Ru crawled over to check on Tophus.
“How is he?” He asked Shannon.
“He’s in as good a shape as the rest of us,” Shannon said with a small smile. She looked pale and drained. They all did, Ru realized, glancing around.
“He’ll wake up any minute now,” Shannon continued.
“I’m awake,” Toph said croakily.
“Oh good,” Ru said. He shooed Shannon toward the exit then offered a hand to help Tophus get over to the tunnel. Tophus accepted it gratefully.
“Something is nagging at me, Toph,” Ru said as they began to carefully climb out.
“What’s that?” Toph asked with a grunt. Toph’s leg was still stiff and couldn’t hold a lot of weight so Ru was behind him, ready to catch him if he stumbled.
“What did Illyoten say to you just before the demon hit your shield? Right there at the start?”
Toph paused and leaned against the side of the tunnel. He looked down at Ru thoughtfully, as if trying to recall the moment. Then he burst out laughing.
“He asked if I was going to pet the puppy too.”
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