Geralhd gave Obdehi a friendly smile. “Yes, you all seem like such nice people. There is no reason we need our weapons among friends like you!”
This was a rather weird thing for him to say, since he had just met the man, and had absolutely no reason to trust him. Not only were the priest and the mayor super creepy, but they were surrounded by armed thugs that looked almost feral.
“Just have your servants throw them on the ground between us,” the mayor told Gerahld, as both he and the priest looked smug.
Still grinning, Geralhd nodded and turned to Ilisiti. “Let’s do as he says.”
A groan escaped from within Blacknail. He understood that Geralhd’s normally naive mind was under the effect of magic, but this was still incredibly pathetic and obviously suicidal.
After a moment of silence, Ilisti coughed to clear his throat and then spoke calmly and clearly. “No, I don’t think that is a good idea. Let’s take their weapons instead.”
Before anyone had time to respond, Ilisti threw off his cape to reveal his burning red eyes and chainmail armor. Then, with startling speed, he drew his long sword and lunged toward the mayor. The vympir lord moved so quickly that he seemed to fly across the ground, but that didn’t stop Garen and Blacknail from being right behind him. They were both incredibly fast as well.
Caught off guard, the first few thugs went down hard in a spray of blood as Ilisti cut them apart. Meanwhile, Garen veered off to the side and rushed toward the priest. He cut open one man’s belly and stabbed another through the stomach before Blacknail caught up. Ripping his cloak off, the hobgoblin threw it at a cultist and breathed deep. As the air filled his lungs, he reached down inside himself. There, the power of the Elixir he had drank earlier simmered in his blood. Exhaling, Blacknail laughed madly as he burned the energy within his body and sent it out as an invisible wave of mental power. The sound of his laughter had already drawn a lot of attention, and his hobgoblin visage provided a spark of fear. That was all the magic needed. It doused the spark to ignite an magical inferno of terror within the minds of all the nearby humans.
There were shrieks and gasps as people froze or jumped back away from the charging hobgoblin. Screams followed as the terror wormed its way deeper and began tearing thoughts apart. Using this opening, Blacknail drew his blade and unleashed a flurry of slashes at all the nearby thugs. It had been quite a while since he had let loose, and it felt wonderful! He was unstoppable and completely free of restraint. Bloodlust boiled up from within his guts as the power of Elixir flowed through him. More thugs fell as Blacknail used the techniques he had spent countless hours drilling, but now discipline was the furthest thing from his mind. Hunger and fury drove him forth with abandon. He dodged a club and cut the attacker open from groin to collar.
Ahead of him, Garen kicked away a thug that was bleeding from his neck. The terrified henchmen were no match for his superhuman strength and speed. Now, there was no one between him and Obdehi, so the vympir stepped forward to grab the priest, while Blacknail moved to take down the last two robed thugs.
Pale with fear, Obdehi finally reacted. The bearded priest raised the amulet he was still clutching and grunted with effort as he unleashed its full power. As Blacknail dodged a hasty and off-balance blow from a club, he felt a new sensation tear its way through his mind and body. Like a wave of intensely cold water, the mental force froze everything it touched, deadening thoughts and emotions. Blacknail felt his fury wither and then shatter into nothing. Light became darkness. Halfway through a swing of his sword, he suddenly let it go. The blade flew off to the side as Blacknail’s arms went slack, and he came to a complete stop. Suddenly, nothing seemed important. Even thinking was pointless. He was nothing.
Around the hobgoblin, all the remaining thugs and the mayor were hit even harder. They dropped to ground as they lost the will to stand up. Geralhd tottered for a moment and then fell as well. Similar to Blacknail, Ilisti and Garen stumbled and dropped their weapons. As Obdehi jumped back and dashed away down the street, the vympirs just gazed straight ahead with dazed expressions.
Seconds ticked by without anyone moving. It was only after almost half a minute had passed that the stunned combatants began to shake off the effects of the magic. Blacknail blinked and watched Ilisti slowly reach down to pick up his fallen sword.
“That may have well have been the most uncomfortable thing I have ever experienced, and I’ve been set on fire, twice,” the vympir growled.
Blacknail blinked some more. “My head is cold and alone. Why am I here?”
Garen shuddered and took a step forward. “Ugh, I’m sorry, lord. I failed to get to the wiseman in time.”
Ilisti shook his head. “You did not fail me. I set you an impossible task. You didn’t have the time necessary to stop him from using the amulet. A single moment was all he needed, and I planned for that. However, I didn’t guess that his magic would be quite so… horrible.”
“Do you want me to go after him?” Garen asked as Ilisti looked over all the fallen humans.
Blacknail took a moment to stare at his hands. He felt hollow, although the sensation was slowly fading. He could move, but with no immediate threats around, he didn’t really feel like it.
“Yes, pursue the wise-man, and take the hobgoblin with you,” Ilisti replied as he walked over to the fallen mayor. “I have plans for the unworthy leader of this settlement, and someone should stay with our friend Geralhd.”
Garen threw him a quick salute. “At once, lord!”
The vympir knight then walked over to Blacknail and met his gaze. “Are you alright?”
The hobgoblin stared back. “Hmm, yes. I’ll follow you since I don’t have anything better to do.”
Sighing, Garen poked Blacknail’s shoulder. “I need you to track which way he went.”
“Oh, right,” the hobgoblin replied as walked over to where Obdehi had been standing and sniffed the air a few times.
The movement helped Blacknail shake off some more of the magical numbness, so he immediately began running after the priest. Garen followed right behind him, and they ran down the empty street. There were plenty of houses, but there wasn’t a single person in sight. Blacknail thought he saw a terrified face peeking out of a window, but when he turned to get a better look at it, all he saw was an empty window. It was odd how empty this town was. He would have thought it was abandoned, except for how well maintained most of it was. There weren’t even any screams, which was very unusual for anyplace Blacknail was visiting. Silence reigned across the whole town.
Following the scent of the bald old priest, Blacknail and Garen ran through a pair of tight alleys and down three wide streets. There was a noticeable lack of any sign of activity in the streets. They were clean, but Blacknail didn’t see any colorful signs, stalls, litter, or any other evidence that people ever gathered outside. Even most the shops he saw were closed and boarded up, as if they hadn’t been used in a long time.
Putting these oddities out of mind, Blacknail concentrated on tracking Obdehi’s scent. A few minutes later, he found himself on the far side of the town, next to the cliff. Houses had given way to run-down warehouses and mineshafts.
“Is he trying to hide in a tunnel?” Garen guessed.
“It smells like he went to that building,” Blacknail remarked as he pointed to the structure in question.
It looked like some sort of temple. Its walls were made of thick stone blocks, its front was decorated by a row of smooth stone columns, and it had a long triangular roof. Yep, it looked exactly like a temple. Although, oddly enough, the entire thing had been built so that it backed up against the face of the cliff.
“Yes, that does seem like the sort of place a false priest of a false god would run,” Garen observed disdainfully.
Blacknail nodded in agreement. Together, Garen and him approached the entrance to the temple. It had wide double-doors made from wood. Deciding to play it safe, Blacknail pulled one of them open as Garen covered him. As the door swung open, the dark interior was flooded with light, revealing a long room with a raised altar at the back. A myriad collection of rugs and blankets covered most of the floor, but there was no sign of any people.
After pushing the other door open to get more light, Blacknail walked into the chamber, and sniffed irritably as the heavy reek of burnt incense assaulted his nose. Seeing no danger, Garen and him took the path through the center of the room that avoided all the mats. As they approached the altar, the scent of human blood began to edge out the smell of the incense, and the source was obvious. The altar ahead of them was made of grey stone and its top was perfectly flat. It was also about the right size for a human adult to lay down on, which didn’t seem to be a coincidence. The entire thing was covered in dark red blood stains.
Garen scowled in distaste as he looked the altar over. “Disgusting. What does this false priest hope to accomplish by doing such heinous acts?”
Sensing that Garen didn’t actually want him to answer the question, Blacknail just shrugged. The vympir also wasn’t in the best position to criticize other people about that sort of thing. Blacknail was pretty sure he drank people’s blood and carried dead bodies around, but Blacknail wasn’t one to judge.
Turning away, the hobgoblin sniffed the air again. Smelling his prey, he examined the green tapestry that hung behind the altar. As he pulled the tapestry aside, a dark natural cavern was revealed. It led deep into the rock, and judging from the wooden supports someone had built to hold the roof up, it had probably been a mine at some point.
“Do you happen to have a lamp?” Garen asked Blacknail as he peeked over his shoulder.
Blacknail didn’t have a light on him, so the pair were forced to search for one. Eventually, Garen found one in the warehouse next door, but not before a quarter of an hour had passed.
“This passage had better not just curve around and lead back outside,” Garen grumbled as he stepped into the mine shaft.
To shield his eyes from the light of the lamp, Blacknail moved in front of him. His sword was out, and he was ready for anything as he began walking forward. Garen followed after him, and the light from the lamp he was holding up shone over the rough cavern walls, casting shadows everywhere.
“Ever been deep underground?” Blacknail whispered as he snuck a glance back at the vympir.
“No,” Garen replied tersely. He seemed a little on edge.
“I have. It’s even more dangerous than the Green. Lots of monsters down here that sting or bite people,” Blacknail explained as he studied the roof overhead. Sometimes critters liked to hang among the stalactites.
“So, I hear, but I’m more worried about the priest. This is a mineshaft, not part of the dark roads.”
As Blacknail and Garen walked around a curve in the passage, a light appeared up ahead of them. It was faint, but it could clearly be seen shining out of a side passage. Garen nodded at Blacknail, and they both quietly moved to investigate it.
When they reached the lit opening, Blacknail slowly leaned over and peered into it. There was a natural cavern on the other side. It was vaguely roundish and about half the size of the temple they had just left. The light was coming from a lamp that had been placed on the floor, and by its illumination, Blacknail could see Obdehi. The priest was standing over by a table and a large cage that had been placed on the far wall of the cavern. There was a dark shape lurking at the back of the cage, but Blacknail couldn’t make it out. Over a bit, there was also a pair of barrels next to a simple looking wooden shrine. A soft green glow could be seen escaping from behind the shrine’s closed doors. Blacknail had no idea what was going on there, but it probably wasn’t good.
Putting his lamp down by the opening, Garen stepped past Blacknail and went inside. Moving quickly but stealthily, the vympir stalked toward the priest’s turned back. Shrugging, Blacknail crept after him. Garen was apparently in a hurry.
After they had properly entered the room, Blacknail noticed some new details. Most importantly, there was a large crevice in the center of the chamber. The crack in the floor was too thin for a human to climb down into, but it was about ten feet wide. As Blacknail tiptoed forward, light glinted off several small shapes within it. Were those crystals?
Just then, Garen’s foot hit a loose piece of rock, and sent it clattering away. With the cave so dark and full of shadows, the small rock had been next to impossible to see. However, the it was more than large enough to create an almost impossible to miss echo in the silent cavern. Blacknail tensed up and quickly glanced toward their target. They hadn’t even gotten halfway to him yet.
Immediately, Obdehi spun around. There was a shocked look on his face, and there was a crystal in his hand as he held it out toward the intruders. “No, I’m not ready! How did you find me?”
“You stink,” Blacknail explained helpfully as he came to stop.
Garen stopped as well. “Drop the magic stone, priest. It won’t save you from us.”
“I don’t think so. Make one more step and I’ll blast you into oblivion. This isn’t the same power as before. It is a new gift from my mighty god,” Obdehi replied reverently as he backed up toward the cages.
Warily, Blacknail examined the crystal in the priest’s hand. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but it did look smaller and it did seem to have a purple cast to it. Wait… it was new? Blacknail didn’t see any of the usual mage equipment around. Uh oh, had this priest just picked the crystal out of the crevice in the floor? …And was that dried blood he saw next to the crevice? Had this complete idiot been pouring human blood down there? Blacknail wasn’t a mage, but he knew there was no way that was anything like safe! It was perhaps the dumbest thing Blacknail had ever heard of, let alone seen.
Carefully, Blacknail nudged Garen with his elbow. “I think the priest’s new magic stone grew here in this cave. There is a shiny crack in the floor over there.”
“I’m not familiar with the secrets of the wisemen, what does that mean?” Garen replied quietly as he looked toward the crevice.
“It means that rock is very super dangerous, but even more dangerous than that to the priest. He probably doesn’t even know what it does!”
“So, it could do nothing?” Garen asked as he studied the priest with narrowed eyes.
Blacknail grimaced. “Not likely. I have seen mages work and do magic quite a few times. If he uses that thing, he will probably either melt into goo or kill us all with a funny colored explosion that smells like dewberries. I don’t know which.”
Garen took a moment to contemplate this. Judging by his deepening scowl, he wasn’t thrilled by the implications.
Obdehi had used the time given to him by Blacknail and Garen’s indecision to reach the cage. As they watched, he spun around and unlatched it, before quickly dashing away. Still holding up the mana stone, the priest hurried over to the shrine and peeked inside.
Before Blacknail or Garen could go after him, there was movement from within the just opened cage, and a large creature emerged from the shadows. Blacknail drew his weapon as the beast stepped out the cage and looked around.
Garen groaned in disbelief and disgust as he pulled out his sword. “Is that a giant mutant rat?”
Blacknail grimaced. That was definitely what it looked like to him. The creature was almost the size of a donkey, and probably weighed more than a hobgoblin. It had slick black fur and a long tail that trailed behind it like a pale worm. Its purple eyes seemed to glow in the darkness of the cavern as it focused its attention on Blacknail and Garen. Viciously, the rat rose up on its hindquarters and hissed at the intruders. The beast’s snarl revealed two huge fangs and countless smaller needle-like teeth behind them, and now that it was standing up, Blacknail could see that there was an iron collar around its neck.
“Huh, that’s a new record,” Blacknail mused. He’d seen a lot of large rats before, especially during the goblin rat wars of his youth, but this was the biggest.
From next to the barrels, Obdehi began yelling furiously. Spittle flew out of his mouth as he shouted. “This is the herald of Dev-Methi! It will unleash the fury of the great god against you without mercy, and soon the lord himself will appear. Only doom awaits sinners and unbelievers. Those who do not bow before him will know the damning touch of famine and ruin!”
As he spoke, the vicious mutant stared at Blacknail and Garen with purple eyes that reflected barely contained hunger and rage, and the green glow within the shrine intensified.