Doc and Claire stared at the images being shown on his crystal. From the opening of the dungeon, Doc could see most of the town and what was happening.
“Claire . . .” he began to say, but Claire shook her head.
“No Doc, we can’t get involved. We are silent observers, and will absorb the remains of the dead. Whoever wins will be your new prey.”
“What about Rowen?” Doc asked.
Claire fiddled with her hair, “If he requests help, then save him. Otherwise, he is acting as a human now, not a dungeon monster. Anything we do to interfere with that would compromise his identity. Even if he dies, he’ll just reform here in the dungeon.”
“After all, we are immortals who deal with death every day. The dealings of mortals should be left to mortals.”
“Get out of here!” Mary yelled at Rowen and Milly as she disabled her shield, “Leave this to the adults and go home; it’s not safe here!”
Milly nodded quickly and grabbed Rowen’s arm, dragging him with her into the remains of the corridor. Their room, and Mary’s shield, had protected this part of the guild, but the explosion had decimated the main room and the closer parts of the ground floor. Bodies lay everywhere, flung in all directions by the blast. The few survivors were struggling to rescue anyone still alive, the room filled with the moans of the dying.
“Rowen, come on!” Milly hissed at him as he stared wide-eyed at the disaster, “We won’t be of any help here! We need to reach the tavern!”
“This explosion was from a person,” Rowen muttered in a dazed voice, “I recognize this blast area. Someone used their body as a catalyst.”
“Which means this is more dangerous!” Milly declared, finally pushing Rowen out the door, “Come on all ready!”
Outside, people were running around in a panic and the two teens could see multiple pillars of smoke rising from around the town.
“Hurry, we need to get to poppa!” The two ran through the crowd, dodging bodies and screams as they made their way through the iron quarter.
All of a sudden, a man flew out from one of the businesses. He landed in front of them, his eyes wide in shock and his throat cut. From the door where he had flown from, a women walked out, bloody knife in hand. Her eyes glowed in madness as she walked over and began to stab repeatedly into the man’s corpse.
“I AM NOT A SERVANT TO CLEAN YOUR HOUSE!” she roared at him as the knife fell, “I, AM, YOUR, WIFE!”
Unbeknownst to her or Milly, a red energy strand visible only to Rowen slithered across the ground from the woman down the street. With every cut of the knife, the red strand grew stronger until it resembled a rope, at which point the woman shuddered. Black cloth made of magic formed over her body, hiding any indication of her gender or former appearance. The maddened eyes were the only thing visible, and they faded into pale orange flames.
She got up staggeringly, like a puppet dropped and used for the first time. Woodenly, the newly created servant brandished her knife and turned to face Milly and Rowen.
Milly did not hesitate, and two hidden daggers flew from her hand into the forehead and heart of the attacker.
The figure faltered, but stood straight as the red line of magic pulsed new life into the body.
Rowen pointed, “Milly, you need to cut the red string! It’s controlling her!”
“I can’t see it,” Milly said as her eyes darted along the area Rowen was pointing to, “What string?”
Gnashing his teeth, Rowen charged the black assassin and dodged the knife. He skid across the ground and grabbed the magic with his hand, “CUT IT HERE!”
As the assassin turned to kill him, Milly’s dagger flew through the magic string, destroying it. The black garment dissolved, and the lady fell to the ground dead. Remorselessly, Milly retrieved the daggers from the body and ground.
“Rowen, how did you see it?” Milly asked curiously.
“I don’t know,” Rowen responded, “But I can see where the line is coming from. If the adventurers are blind to the red strong too, then we have to let them know.”
Milly shook her head, “No, I need to get you back to the tavern with Poppa. It’ll be safe there.”
Rowen slapped Milly’s hand away, “I can’t do that Milly. I can see the magic; I have a responsibility to do something about it. My job as a prince is to protect my people!”
“They aren’t your people, you owe nothing to them,” Milly argued, “You have a responsibility to yourself to stay safe. I need to keep you safe.”
Screams began to arise from the background, and Rowen could see more streaks of red snaking their way across the ground. He shook his head.
“No Milly; this time I won’t be protected and coddled while everyone dies around me. Are you coming with me or not?”
Milly glared at him, but then smiled.
“Fine then, but you’re my back-up. I’m the strong one after all. Oh, here,” she tossed something to him, “Take Mr. Bubbles; he likes your attitude.”
Rowen’s face twitched as he gazed at the object in his hand, “Milly, this is human skull. Why in the 9 hells are you carrying this around with you?”
“He get lonely, so I take him with me,” she explained as she tied her hair into a pony-tail and prepared her throwing daggers, “Now come one, I need you tell me where to go.”
Gripping the skull, he turned and pointed, “It’s that way, toward the center of town.” The two of them ran together, nether noticing the small glow in the skull’s eyes. It gave the skeletal grin a feeling of amusement.
Fiora slashed through another assailant, the body catching fire and burning as it fell in two pieces. She snarled as another took its place in front of her.
“Gran, tell me what’s going on?” she called behind her.
Protected by Nat, Jonas, and Fiora, Gran was kneeling on the ground with his eyes closed next to a nervous Alfred and calm Prince James. Finally, he opened his eyes and frowned.
“It’s a large scale corruption class type of magic. This magic is incredibly sinister; many were sacrificed somewhere to get this ritual to work. Demonic magic is being injected into those with hearts of resentment; even the smallest bit of resentment leaves one vulnerable. Its turning the victims into puppets of the source. We must destroy the source to free the victims.”
“Are you telling me we’re fighting innocent people?” Jonas said in shock, twisting his staff to knock away an assassin, “Crap; we’ve been killing them!”
Everyone grimaced in pain; the knowledge that they had killed one of their own was frightening and rage-worthy.
“Most are imprisoned by their own hearts; killing them is a blessing,” Gran countered, “Even if they are freed, most would succumb to the horror of what they’d done. If you see one fighting against them self, however, tie them up. It may be possible to save those who preserve their awareness and fight back against the corruption.”
Corruption, the most insidious type of magic. It was created through a horrendous mix of demonic mind control, magic puppetry, and mind curses by an ancient magister so evil he was even feared by demons. However, its worst aspect was not how it affected people immediately; it was what it did to their minds and souls even after it was gone. Corruption magic dived into the core of person, and changed it. They would come to believe in the cause of the inflictor and would betray even their loved ones for the cause. Only the strongest souls could resist the lure it created. The most forbidden out of all magic, even the gods had united together to outlaw the magic by cursing however used it. Even the majority of demons despised its use.
“The empire has gone too far,” Nat roared in anger, “Using demons is bad enough, but corruption magic? They are condemning themselves to the destruction of their souls!”
Prince James surveyed the battle with a grim façade, “This is indeed monstrous; first my siblings and now my citizens. I won’t stand for stand for this.” Alfred quickly restrained the prince, who was trying to lunge forward with a decorative sword.
“Your majesty please!” Alfred begged, “You were never the equal to your sibling’s martial prowess. You will be killed without hesitation by your own people!”
“Alfred is right,” Fiora yelled back to James, “You strength as future king comes from you intelligence and wisdom, not your sword arm. Leave this to us while we get you to safety!”
“Elf, Gran is it?” Prince James turned to look down at Gran, “Can you identify the source of the spell formation?”
“Center of Iron City,” Gran said curtly, “Unfortunately, it seems both my people and those of the church are being prevented from moving in due to explosive traps and ambushes by suicidal puppets. Fiora, by the time either group makes it through, the damage will be very severe.”
Fiora locked eyes with James. After a nod from him, she pointed with her sword, “Alright, we’re making a path to the source to cut it off. Prince James, stay in the middle of the group so we might protect you. Gran, lead us through any groups of adventurers that you can find on our way; we’ll need the back-up.”
James snorted, “I’m not that worthless in battle Fiora.” To prove this, he invoked healing magic that flowed from his hand to the four adventurers. “I have plenty of talent in healing spells, so rely on me to keep you all safe.”
Fiora could not stop herself from giving James a once-over, “Never would have pegged you for a healer.”
“We change to fit our capabilities and duties,” James said grimly, “Now, let’s hurry and save as many as we can!”