Spears, swords, shields, and a few other items rested on tables and racks. The fortress’s armory still had a few of its equipment still intact. Although in need of some polish and perhaps a grindstone, the equipment still had the edge and girth to last through a few more battles.
Before going off to face the monster, Uriel requested to check the fortress’s armory. She actually didn’t expect much. If anything, she simply expected to find some spears and chipped swords lying around. The armory may have not been packed, but the few equipment available was certainly enough.
“Why are we here, my lady?” Mycelia asked. “We’re very well armed, at the moment.”
“I know, but I wish to see if there is any other weapons or armor that I could perhaps use,” Uriel said. “We are not entirely sure what sort of monster we are facing in the depths, so it’d be best if we prepare a bit more.”
“Well, if you insist so, my lady,” Mycelia said, as she looked through the weapons, eventually picking a sword. “I suppose I’ll have to make do with this.”
“Oh, a sword?” Jotun remarked, as he played with a dagger. “I had no idea magic users knew how to even use one. I simply assumed you’d either rely on magic or a stick.”
“Quarterstaff, not a stick,” Mycelia corrected, not even sparing the Drow a glance. “And for the record, I can use both of them. Sorcerers and sorceresses aren’t defenseless without magic. We know how to protect ourselves with weapons.”
“Play nice, you two,” Uriel sighed, as she rolled her eyes.
“Don’t worry, Lady Uriel, I won’t make her cry,” Jotun snorted, as he kept the dagger. “Speaking of which, my lady, what exactly are you hoping to find here?”
“Nothing too complicated or fancy, I just want a…,” Uriel searched around the armory, until something finally caught her eye. “Ah, good! There actually is one here.”
Uriel picked up a mace from the rack. She held it up and inspected the weight. Generally speaking, it weighed about the same as a sword, but the balance seemed to be more focused near the head, as it should have been. Although she often used swords, Uriel had a soft spot for these kinds of weapons.
“A mace?” Jotun asked. He leered closely at the weapon’s crude design. “You wanted a mace?”
“I quite fancy these weapons,” Uriel replied. She swung it a few times, moving mainly her wrist.
“It doesn’t look that dangerous,” Ragosh said, as he looked around and compared the mace with the swords.
“Swords cut skin, while spears pierce flesh,” Uriel said, taking a stone and placing it on the table. She then lifted the mace above her head and smashed the stone into smaller bits and gravel. “However, maces break bones.”
“I see your point,” Ragosh gulped, as he squeezed his thumbs in his palms. “As strong as it seems, I think I will keep to my spear and sword for now.”
“Very well,” Uriel shrugged, as she strapped the mace on her belt.
“Have you finished preparing?” Sonpra asked. He stood just outside the armory, waiting for them to finish readying themselves.
Uriel looked at her three companions. None of them appeared interested in taking anything else.
“Yes, I do believe we are,” Uriel said with a nod.
“Excellent,” Sonpra grunted, as he already began walking. “Follow me.”
The Chamael chieftain led the group around the fortress. As they followed, Uriel glanced around and quietly inspected the infrastructure. Pity filled her face, as her eyes continued to wander. Her expression said it all.
Like the citadel of Nul Hunur and most of the ruins that she had come across, the fortress itself appeared to be in a poor state. Parts of the structure had been reduced to rubble. Large holes gaped through the walls, allowing Uriel to immediately see outside. Without any further maintenance, the fortress would quickly fall to a siege attack.
“Quite a sad view, isn’t it?” Jotun commented, noticing Uriel’s expression. “A once proud and mighty bastion now reduced to this.”
“I would be lying if I disagreed,” Uriel groaned. “Jotun, you’ve been around the Dark Lands, haven’t you? Are there many or ruins such as this fortress?”
“Naturally,” Jotun said with a nod. “The realm is littered with enormous ruins and cities. It seems like this whole land used to be populated with more than just armies.”
“Really?” Mycelia said. Her ears twitched with curiosity and interest. “None of our records indicate that there were any populated cities during the time of the Overlord.”
“The Dark Lands didn’t always belong to the Overlord, my little sorceress,” Jotun replied. “From what I’ve seen, this whole realm might have been home to many different kingdoms, or one massive kingdom altogether.”
“And so our ignorance about the Dark Realm grows,” Uriel grumbled, as she continued looking around. “To be honest, I am quite that fortresses, such as this one, are abandoned. Shouldn’t they be guarded by some of the previous Overlord’s remaining forces?”
“Loyalty is a fleeting thing, my lady,” Jotun grunted. “Most, if not all, of the previous Overlord’s commanders were powerful warlords who lusted for power. As soon as the Overlord fell, the warlords turned on each other and fought for leadership. Years passed and the Overlord’s once ferocious army had been reduced into nothing more than rabble to be picked off.”
“Then absolutely nothing remains of the previous Overlord’s army?” Uriel asked.
“A few of them are existing here and there,” Jotun said, his head swaying left and right. “I do believe I met one of his troll warlords, but he was more of a disappointment than anything.”
“I too have faced one,” Mycelia remembered. “One of the old warlocks came to Nul Hunur, hoping to obtain a powerful ring. He went on saying how he would use it to rule the land and bring a human kingdom to its knees.”
Uriel frowned a little when she heard this. “Can I assume he failed?” she asked, quietly praying that he lost.
“Naturally,” Mycelia answered with a nod. “I couldn’t let him steal one of your relics, so I summoned my flames and turned him into ash.”
“Well… excellent job,” Uriel congratulated. Her voice had some uncertainty. She found it difficult to praise someone for killing another.
As they wandered around the fortress, they passed through a few small corridors and spotted a few skeletons. They rested on the sides, some lay on the ground, others leaned back on the walls. Judging from the height and structure, most of these must have belonged to goblins.
Before long, they came to one of the most damaged rooms in the fortress. Most of the walls and ceiling had been reduced to rubble. The very little furniture and décor lay scattered and splintered across the room, as if they had been thrashed or thrown violently.
At the very center of the room, an enormous tree grew. Its thick roots burrowed deep into the ground, while its trunk rose through the roof. Blue marks glowed on its bark. They resembled scratches more than writing or symbols.
Five Chamael warriors quietly guarded the room. Three stood near the roots, while the other two hid up in the branches. Each one carried two spears. They remained perfectly still like gargoyles, until they spotted Sonpra and the group.
“This is it,” Sonpra grunted, as he tapped his staff on the ground. “The monster is trapped underground, the entrance barred by this tree.”
“Amazing,” Uriel gasped, as she gazed at the tree. Although not being as large as the other trees around the forest, this one tree radiated with majesty and power. “How did you manage to seal the monster under here?”
Sonpra took a deep breath before explaining. “We couldn’t do anything against that monster by ourselves, so we did the only thing we could do,” he said. “We called upon the spirits of our ancestors. Ten spirits of our clan’s greatest warriors possessed the bodies of this generation’s best.”
“We hoped that it would have been enough, but even they could do naught against it,” Sonpra continued. “Unable to defeat the monster, they dragged it down under this place. While distracted, we called the elements and created this tree to seal it down there.”
“That explains the strange aura around this tree,” Mycelia said, as she knelt down and touched one of the roots. “This tree resonates with strong energy.”
“Has the monster attempted escaping?” Uriel asked.
“The monster only attacks those within its sight,” Sonpra answered. “The solitude of the underground has made it docile.”
“Couldn’t it be possible that the monster is dead?” Uriel then asked.
“We have checked many times,” Sonpra responded, puffing through his nostrils. “No, the monster still lives. It just stands there, as if it were waiting for something.”
“Perhaps it’s waiting for its master to return?” Mycelia suggested, as she turned her head to Uriel.
Uriel coughed out a chortle in response. “Whatever the reason, we need to deal with it,” she then said. “How will we get down?”
Sonpra grunted and approached the tree. He raised his staff towards the tree. The tree’s symbols glowed brighter, with a chime that lasted for several seconds. As soon as the sound had faded, something finally happened.
The ground shifted. Pieces of the debris tumbled aside, as the roots themselves moved. They squirmed from their spot and revealed a long and dark staircase to the underground. A cloud of dust flew out, accompanied by a stench that could only be described a death. It felt as if they had just been warned about what rested underground.
“You know, a red carpet would have been more inviting,” Jotun chuckled, trying to lighten the mood a little. He looked around, hoping to get some sort of reaction. Nobody did.
Uriel rolled her eyes and turned her head a bit. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.
“May you emerge victorious and finally rid our clan of this monster,” Sonpra growled, as he bowed his head.
“I guarantee it,” Uriel said, as she patted Sonpra’s shoulder.
She took the first step down the stairs. Mycelia and Jotun then followed after. Ragosh, however, remained behind. He stood quietly still and watched the others descend down the stairs. He leered at the creeping darkness and swallowed nervously.
It didn’t take long for Uriel to notice her reptilian companion still in the light. “Is something the matter?” she asked, with one foot down a case.
“N-no, nothing’s wrong, Overlord Uriel,” Ragosh replied, as he walked down the stairs. His anxious tone betrayed his words.
The four of them travelled through a long spiraling staircase. The way appeared quite dim. One misstep and they would have tumbled down. They would have reached the end faster, but with a broken neck and bones. Fortunately, Mycelia had her magic to brighten the area around them a little.
As they continued down the stairs, one of them started making loud and rather fussy noises. Ragosh quite breathed heavily. He deeply inhaled and then grunted the air out through his nostrils. His tail swished left and right, lightly tapping the steps behind him. While not the most annoying of sounds, it still proved to be unnerving.
“Afraid?” Uriel asked, her question directed to Ragosh.
“N-no,” Ragosh replied. Again, he failed to hide his anxiety. “Descending into the earth just invokes uncomfortable feelings, especially since we bury our dead beneath the earth.”
“Scared that perhaps the bones of the fallen would rise up and tear you limb from limb?” Mycelia chuckled softly.
“If you’re trying to startle me, I’m afraid it won’t work,” Ragosh snarled. His tone changed a little, but the hint of fear remained. “Bones rising from the ground? That sounds like stories to frighten hatchlings!”
“Oh no, those stories are very much real,” Uriel replied with a straight face.
“You too, Overlord?” Ragosh groaned, as he forced himself to laugh. However, his laughter faded when Uriel turned to him with a serious expression. “W-wait, they’re real?!”
“I have faced such horrors a few times before,” Uriel responded, recalling a few experiences. “Weak foes, but problematic when in large numbers.”
“You talk about them as if they are nothing,” Ragosh huffed with his head down. “Such a fearless creature you are, Overlord.”
Uriel chortled softly. “I am not without fear, Ragosh,” she said with a small smile. “There are quite a number of things that I fear.”
“That is quite strange of you to admit, Overlord,” Ragosh said, surprised. “Isn’t fear a weakness?”
“Fear ISN’T a weakness, cowardice IS,” Uriel sharply corrected, slamming her palm. “Fear can bring about bravery and courage, and most importantly, fear reminds you that you are still alive.”
“Quite the counsel there, my lady,” Mycelia praised, lightly clapping her hands. “Is this something that a mentor taught you?”
“You could say that,” Uriel said with a nod. “Back then, I didn’t quite understand or take any of it seriously. Now, I keep such words to heart.”
“I would be very moved if I knew what any of you were talking about,” Jotun grunted. “For the record, I don’t understand that eerie language you use when speaking to your scaly friend.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Uriel murmured. “Mycelia, I don’t suppose you could conjure another potion for Jotun and the rest of the Blood Crows.”
“I could, but all the necessary ingredients are back in Nul Hunur,” Mycelia replied. “For now, if they want to talk with the lizards, they’ll need to have us translate for them.”
“Very well,” Uriel sighed.
They soon reached the end of the staircase and arrived at an enormous dungeon filled with over a hundred cells and several hanging cages. Bats hung upside down, while a few rats scurried about. Light peaked through a large ventilation hole in the ceiling, providing some illumination to the dungeon. The light may not have made the entire dungeon clear or visible, but at least it wasn’t entirely dark or dim.
Under the ventilation hole, they saw it. The monster that the Chamael had trapped stood quietly with light shining upon it. Several reptilian skeletons lay around it. These must have belonged to the Chamael warriors that fought it.
It had a broad body with a few dents and cracks. Compared to the rest of its body, its head appeared quite small and had two horns on the sides. The arms appeared thick and massive, capable of breaking a body in half with a single swing. Small spikes protruded from its shoulders and arms. Its hands looked large enough to hold a regular sized head within its palm and crush it like a grape.
The creature simply stood there, breathing very deeply and slowly. Its head faced down, not even giving any care or interest to its surroundings.
“I guess this is the monster,” Uriel whispered, as she and the group stayed hidden under the shadows. “So, is that thing one of the previous Overlord’s golems? Why is it awake?”
“No, it’s not quite,” Mycelia said, as she leered right at the armored hulk. “Like the golem, I can sense magic fueling it. However, it feels messy. A single person did not breathe life into this creature, but several.”
“So what do we do?” Uriel asked.
“My lady, try approaching it first,” Mycelia suggested. “It may recognize you and yield.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Uriel said.
Mycelia held out her hand and formed a ball of fire. “If it doesn’t and tries to attack you, I will hit it back,” she responded.
Uriel gulped and approached the large armor. She stomped on the ground, making her presence loud and obvious to the golem. One hand reached for her mace. Her fingers twisted softly around the handle, ready to pull out the weapon immediately.
Eventually, the armored hulk took notice of Uriel. It raised its head and twisted its joints a little. Soon, the armored hulk advanced. Its feet shook the dungeon, creating loud and heavy thuds. After taking a few more steps forward, the golem picked up speed. It bellowed in a low voice, as it tightly clenched its hands into fists.
Uriel didn’t need to wait any longer. She took up her mace and readied to dodge the first blow.
“My lady, get out of the way!” Mycelia called out.
Not wasting a moment, Uriel leapt to the side.
Three blazing spheres of fire launched from Mycelia’s palm and directly struck the monster’s face and chest. The spell disrupted the creature’s momentum, but unfortunately did not stop it.
Still on its feet, the armored monster shook off the attack. It swung its arms to swat the smoke and embers, before turning its attention back to Uriel. Gathering its strength, the monster raised its fist and threw a mighty punch.
Again, Uriel leapt away and dodged. Although safe, she couldn’t help but look at the spot where the golem landed its fist. A large portion of the stone wall had been punched right in. Not even the fiercest of ogres or trolls would have managed that.
Gritting her teeth, Uriel launched forward and swung her mace. She poured all of her strength into the attack, only for her weapon to bounce right off the armor. A part of her knew a direct attack wouldn’t work. She quietly asked herself why she even tried it.
The monster then reached out and attempted to grab Uriel by the head. However, before it could close its hand and crush her skull, the armored monster shifted its stance and defended itself from a spear and sword.
Ragosh and Jotun joined in the battle and aimed their weapons at the armpit and neck, the exposed areas of the monster. A good attempt, but the lumbering creature moved at a speed that contradicted its weight and size, and defended itself. Neither of the two managed to land a decent hit upon it.
“Mycelia, got any spells to handle this situation?” Uriel asked.
“I have something,” Mycelia replied, as she slammed her hands and knelt down. “But I will need some time.”
“Can’t you just summon lightning like earlier?” Uriel asked.
“We’re underground, my lady,” Mycelia explained, trying to concentrate. “It would only strike the surface.”
Uriel snarled, as she gripped her mace with both hands. “We will distract it for as long as we can,” she said, as she ran into battle.
The sound of clashing metal roared like bolts of thunder blasting at a rapid pace. Bats screeched with agitation and flew away, while rats retreated back to their holes. This one whole battle shook the entire dungeon.
Together, Uriel, Ragosh and Jotun attacked the monster with the fury of a rampant inferno. They moved quicker and with better form than their opponent. With their numbers, they managed to divide the monster’s attention and keep it from throwing anything too serious. Despite these advantages, none of them managed to make the armored hulk falter or even flinch.
“This thing is tougher than it looks,” Jotun grunted, as he stepped back avoid one of the monster’s swings.
“I don’t think we’re even hurting it!” Ragosh added, panic growing in his voice.
“Both of you, stop stating the obvious and keep it distracted!” Uriel yelled.
Blood pumped through Uriel’s veins, as she found herself exhaling air faster than she could inhale. She successfully dodged every attack and even landed a few blows, yet the monster kept going. A stab to the neck or even a blow behind the knee didn’t seem to affect it. This armored hulk was proving to be more of a challenge than expected.
A part of Uriel wanted to be surprised, but she then remembered one important detail. She was in the Dark Lands, a realm where the unprepared are severely punished. Great monsters and horrors roamed the perilous land, gorging on anyone unfortunate to meet the standards.
Uriel had many ventures and fights in this strange realm, but she still knew she was still very much vulnerable to the Dark Land’s many surprises.
Just when the battle seemed to slowly tilt out of their favor, a number of voices wailed from the darkness of the dungeon. Shadowy figures stepped forward and trudged towards the monster. They had no weapons or unique shapes. They bore simple humanoid figures. One by one, they grabbed the monster and tried to restrain it. Their touch tainted the monster’s armor with faint black marks.
Realizing the danger, the monster fought back and struck every shadowy figure that came near it with ease. However, the figures just kept coming. They moaned out in agony and piled upon the monster, eventually burying it under a mass of shadows.
“Just in time,” Mycelia sighed. She approached with arms raised forward, controlling these shadowy figures with her hands. Her eyes had changed. They glowed like violet flames.
“Good job,” Uriel panted, wiping the sweat off her brow. “That’s… that’s quite an interesting spell you’re using.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Mycelia smirked, as she continued to restrain the monster with her powers. “It was something I learned back in the empire. Quite the useful and nasty little trick, if I say so myself.”
“Question,” Uriel huffed. “If you could use such magic, why didn’t you use it on the Blood Ogre before? It would have really helped a lot.”
“This spell demands concentration and time,” Mycelia replied. “That Blood Ogre rampaged relentlessly. I didn’t have any time to do so.”
“I see…,” Uriel murmured. “Regardless, you saved us from that thing. Now all we need to do is just finish it off and-.”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up just yet, my lady,” Jotun interrupted, as he pointed towards the monster.
Despite being outnumbered and tainted all over, the monster still managed to get back on its feet and fight all these shadowy figures that challenged it.
“H-how is this possible?” Mycelia hissed, as she tightened the muscles in her arms.
“It could still fight back?” Uriel said with surprise.
“It shouldn’t even be able to move at this point!” Mycelia snarled. She held her breath and tried to concentrate harder. Despite her efforts, the monster still continued to fight. “What kind of monster is this?! To be able to resist the cursed touch!”
Uriel frowned and clicked her tongue. “Looks like we’ve still got a part to play,” she said, as she gripped her mace. “Just keep at it! We’ll try to break off perhaps an arm!”
“Don’t!” Mycelia gasped, trying her hardest to both concentrate her magic and speak. “If you make contact, you will be tainted as well!”
“Then what are we supposed to do?!” Uriel yelled out of frustration.
“I-I don’t know!” Mycelia cried out. “I don’t have enough power for my magic! I’m reaching my limit!”
“Curses!” Uriel sneered. She hated standing idly by, unable to do anything. “If I knew the spell then maybe I could…”
At that moment, Uriel had an idea. She approached the Dark-Elf and gently pressed her hand against Mycelia’s back. Uriel took slow deep breaths, while she focused her mind. She recalled what Mycelia had taught her about magic, and did what she could to control her power. No time for mistakes. This was either going to work or fail horribly.
“M-my lady, what are you-?!” Before she could finish her sentence, an immense amount of power flowed right into her body.
Mycelia screamed, as the energy ran through her veins, scorching her insides. Her heart raced rapidly, it felt ready to explode. Despite all this, she somehow managed to remain conscious and even keep her spell at work. She felt intense pain, but she also felt her magic growing stronger.
Gritting her teeth, she redirected her attention from her pain towards the spell. She focused harder and quickly used whatever power Uriel had given her.
More shadowy figures appeared from the darkness. Rather than wailing and trudging, they ran and hissed with voices of anger and rage. They piled on top of the monster, exerting more weight. The marks from their touch had become darker.
Soon, the monster once again found itself buried under several shadowy figures. It continued struggle for freedom, but it could no longer stand or even rise to one knee.
“Die, you wretched monster,” Mycelia uttered with whatever strength she had left to spare.
Soon, the movement ceased. One by one, the shadowy figures stepped away and revealed the monster lying on the ground. Its whole body had been tainted with rust and marks. It almost looked as if it had suffered eons of neglect and weathering.
Uriel stopped the flow of power and removed her hand from Mycelia’s back.
The Dark-Elf lowered her hands and ended her spell. One by one, the shadowy figures retreated back into the darkness without a single sound.
As soon as she the magic had completely faded, Mycelia dropped to her knees. She desperately gasped and wheezed for air, blood ran down one nostril. Her arms trembled to keep her body off the ground. It looked as if they were ready to snap any moment.
“Do you need aid?” Uriel asked, checking the sorceress.
Mycelia gagged and took one last deep breath. “I’m… I’m fine,” she hoarsely answered. “B-but my lady, please inform me before you try that again.”
“I will,” Uriel replied with a nod. She helped Mycelia on her feet and then approached the fallen monster.
“Remind me to be nicer to you,” Jotun said to Mycelia, as he sheathed his swords.
“I’d rather you remember than I remind,” Mycelia smirked.
“Let us take its head and announce our victory to the Chamael,” Ragosh said, as he grabbed one of the helmet’s horns.
With one tug, Ragosh yanked the helmet off. Rather than finding flesh, bones, or even a face, a heap of sand and bits of gravel poured from the neck and spilled on the ground. The monster’s real body seemed to be made from this.
Jotun whistled and then remarked, “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.”
“We’ll be seeing a little more than this something,” Mycelia said. She knelt down and began digging the sand out of the armor.
“What are you doing?” Uriel asked.
“I can still sense something in this thing,” Mycelia replied with excitement. “It could be another crystal, or perhaps some magical artifact!”
Uriel had more questions, but decided to keep quiet. For now, she was interested to see what Mycelia would find inside this monster.
After a bit of digging, Mycelia finally found something. She pulled out a large black tome with a golden spine and frame. It had two locks, keeping the tome tightly sealed. Parts of the leather cover appeared to be tattered and stitched. Embedded on the front cover was a small golden eye.
“Well, let’s see what’s in this, shall we?” Mycelia whispered, as she used her magic to break open the locks.
Flipping through the tome, Mycelia found it filled with passages of an unknown language, strange symbols and very vague pictures. Rather than start at the beginning, Mycelia just picked one random page and quietly scanned through it.
“Well, isn’t this interesting?” Mycelia said with a smile.