Chapter 15:  House on the Hill
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Chapter 15:  House on the Hill

Every soldier goes into battle knowing that soldiers die.

Every adventurer takes risky jobs knowing that adventurers die.

Almost never do they set out thinking that the one to die will be them or their friends and loved ones.

“If I keep my head low I can stay out of trouble.”  “If I stay near the strong guys it should be the safest place on the battlefield.”  “I’m strong and smart, I can survive this.”  “There is no way a simple minded monster can beat us.”  “I can always just escape if things get too difficult.”

They convince themselves that they will be able to pull through, that it will happen to others but not THEM.  It isn’t until that sword, claw, fang or spell is closing in on them that they realize they were just deceiving themselves.  

Friends and companions die, family dies.  I have lost many and I have killed many in my long years of fighting, and most of them had the same looks on their faces as their life ended.  They weren’t looks of anger or pain, they were looks of confusion and denial.  Until their very last breath, they couldn’t believe it was actually happening to them.  

Reality can be cold and cruel and it is rarely kind to those who think of themselves as untouchable.  

The lesson that everyone has to learn at some point in their life is that people die. 

And there is nothing you can do to stop it.

**************************************

-Thane-

 

Two mornings after the inquisitors were escorted out of the city, Thane woke up with a splitting headache. His mouth felt dry and his muscles ached.  He realized that this must be what a hangover feels like. Last night was only the fourth time he had ever had alcohol and he had more alcohol than the other three times combined.  It was actually Evelyn's advice backed up by their “chaperone” Amara that he went to sleep drunk.  When he mentioned that it felt like someone was tampering with his dreams she got quite serious, saying “That sort of thing is dangerous in this city.”

The logic behind getting drunk before sleeping was simple.  If your mind is too messed up to think and dream properly, it's too messed up for someone to manipulate.  Supposedly this sort of thing would also work against direct contact illusion spells like the ones Mahs was practicing, but good luck fighting in that condition.  Thane was convinced that the suggestion was half real advice and half Evelyn and Amara wanting to laugh at him as he stumbled around drunk.

Strangely enough, it worked, but the side effects were rather harsh.  Three nights ago he relived his mothers death, two nights ago he replayed the fight with Tarpin and the events around it.  Both times it felt like there was a presence with him, watching his memories.  Last night he dreamt of...he wasn’t sure.  He remembered there were colors and swirling and…

“Urk”, he clenched his throat to stop himself from vomiting.  He needed some fresh water as soon as possible.

After spending most of yesterday preparing for their journey they were finally ready to depart this morning.  Since the cart and horses they rode to Verda were property of the mercenaries, they were taken back to the fortress by Gailwyn, Lance, and Ruby.  So Thane was forced to buy a pair of pack horses with the money they received from the goods recovery and monster hunt.  He still hadn’t spent any of the zehnbar he received from Evelyn as a down payment.  He should probably split it up into coins at a money changer before they leave.

Once he had managed to get a drink of water and swallow at least a little bit of food he met with Evelyn and they started loading up the horses for the journey.

“You look terrible, perhaps you overdid it while drinking last night.  Did it work at least?”

“Yeah I guess so, but was it really necessary?  Do you really think there was someone or something tapping into my thoughts while I was asleep?”

“It’s likely, it is a known method for gathering information in this city.  Most important people who visit here take precautions against it.  Since we are leaving today we don’t have time to track down the offender, but it should be fine once you leave the city.”

“Why me?” 

“Anyone who heard about your battle in lowtown or saw us together would get curious about you.  I’m just glad they didn’t learn anything too important.”  

“You mean learn anything about you?”

She smiled, “My horse is in the back of the stables, I’ll prep it and be right back.” 

Thane got to work loading up the saddle bags and packs with the luggage and supplies he brought with him.  Amara joined him as he was tying down the last few travel packs to their horses.  “Are we just about ready to head out?” she asked.

“Yeah once Kisha brings her luggage I can pack it up and we can meet up with Evelyn.”

“You seem to be getting along rather well with our employer.  You’re making the others jealous.  All of them.”

“It’s not like that, she wanted to know more about me...about us since we would be traveling together for several weeks.  She’s a lot more,” he hesitated for a moment trying to think of the right word, “...free spirited than I expected.”

“I was going to say unrefined.  Her father might run the city but she probably had a wealthy commoner's education, not a noble’s.”

“Calling her unrefined is a bit harsh, she's easy to get along with.”

“Maybe a bit too easy, you told her a lot more than you should have.  She didn’t need to know about our condition, how we can act outside the system.”

“She already guessed some of it.  Toth called us Sorscare in public.  It only takes a little research to find out what that means.  If she’s going to travel with us for this job, she should know what she’s getting into.”

“And she doesn’t care?”

“If anything she became more interested in our history once she found out.”    

“Yes, interested in ‘our history’, that’s why you’ve been spending half your day with her for the past three days now.”

“I wasn’t alone, Ruby was with me the first day and you were with me yesterday.” 

“Mhmm, and I’m sure the fact that she is rich and beautiful didn’t escape your eyes?  You were staring at her enough.”

“If you think she’s so beautiful why don’t you court her?”

“Well, first there is the age difference, and second, I don’t know how receptive she would be to courting a woman instead of a man.”

“It doesn’t matter to me either way.” Evelyn replied from the corner of the stables where she was tending to her horse, “You are right about the age difference though, come see me when you’re older.”

“I didn’t hear you arrive.” said Amara

She stroked the neck of her horse, “That’s because I arrived shortly before you did.  Once you are ready I’ll meet you at the front gate.”

Once Evelyn was gone she continued, “You could have told me she was there.”

Thane simply smiled in response while tightening the straps on the horse.  She dropped off her bags and continued, “Usually when people take interest in being able to defy fate it means they have a particular future they want overturned.  I’ll go get the others and meet you at the gate.”

------------------------------------------

It wasn’t long before they left Verda and were headed East.  It would take them at least 6 weeks to reach their destination on foot, if they were lucky they would arrive before the first snow.  They were told that once they arrived, the mage they were delivering the cube to was powerful enough to teleport them back to Verda where they could head back home.  Evidently the cube was too “volatile” to be teleported so the delivery would have to be done on foot.

It was when they were starting to set up camp after the first day that Thane regretted not buying more horses, or at least some sort of wagon.  He was tired, the whole group had been walking all day.  Well, most of the group had been walking all day.  Amara was still young and couldn’t keep up the pace with the others, so she spent the entire day sitting on Stone's shoulder.

He started setting up the first tent next to Kisha who was staring out over the open fields and hills. “What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s quiet, calm.”

“I’m glad you came, I wanted to remind you about why we left our home in the first place, why we always talked about being adventurers.  It was this.  Exploring and experiencing new things, it's not all about the fighting.  I figured we could use a nice calm mission where nobody was at risk of dying.”

A chill breeze swept in causing her to shiver, “It’s also cold.”

She looked like she was about to say something else when a heavy blanket was tossed over her back by Sarah, “It will only get colder Kisha, we’ll probably spend the last week or so of our trip trudging our way through snow.  It’s a one sun winter after all.”

Thane looked at the setting sun, only one of the two dancers was visible the past couple months.  The suns were often called the dancers because they seemed to spin around each other in the sky, sometimes with beams of light that arced from one to the other.  It took around five years for them to do a complete spin and the weather was greatly affected by the number of suns you could see in the sky.

“Wait, trudging through snow?  Weren’t we supposed to make it before the snow?”

“Not likely,” replied Sarah.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” added Mahs, “a few days of our last week will be spent traveling underground.”

“Wait, un-...underground!?” exclaimed Kisha.

“Yeah, unless we want to climb over the mountains or go around for a few weeks, we’ll have to take the deep road of the Dwarves.  It’s two days from one end of their tunnel to the other, with a waystation in the middle.”

“So... traveling through frozen ground and snow and spending at least 2 days without seeing the sun.”

Mahs smiled at her discomfort, “Don’t worry about the cold, we all brought heavy clothes and blankets… Speaking of which, Miss Evelyn seems to have packed rather lightly for this trip.  Don’t tell me you’re looking to share a tent with someone to keep warm?”

Evelyn shook her head and pulled out a small black cloth from her pocket.  “If I actually wanted to share a tent with someone, trust me, you would be the last to know.”  She unfolded the black cloth to it’s full circular shape and then tossed it on the side of her horse.  It stuck to the horse's side and she reached into it.  Soon her arms were elbow deep in the ‘hole’ that she put on the side of the indifferent stallion.  “Besides, I packed more than you did. Maybe you could ask your big sister to keep you warm if you’re that desperate.”  She pulled out camping supplied from the hole that had attached itself to the side of the horse and tossed them on the ground.

Once the camp was set up the group watched the last rays of sunlight disappear while sitting around the warmth of a campfire.  With little hope of catching anything fresh, the group was eating preserved rations cold or heating them up by the fire for at least some semblance of a cooked meal.   

“I hope there are at least a few towns on the way,” said Sarah.  “Do you remember any on that map you studied, brother?”

“Hmm...besides the scattered communes for farmers I only remember two until we reach the city at the mouth of the deep road.”

“Two chances to resupply and get a good meal in the next four weeks?  That sounds delightful.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad if Gailwyn would have let us take the horses and cart.”

“It’s only been a day,” said Evelyn, “I told Thane he could bring as many as he wanted but I didn’t think he would invite all of you. We just needed enough of a presence to discourage bandits and keep a rotating watch going in the field.”

“And let him keep all the money?” Sarah laughed, “Sorry, but you offered too much for us to sit this one out.”

----------------------------------------------

The second day was much like the first, and third, and fourth.  Even the late harvests were finished by now and most of the people in the communes were too busy with packing and milling to even acknowledge the group traveling down the road.  It took them six days to reach the first town where they finally were able to enjoy an actual cooked meal and a real bed out of the cold.  They even purchased some fresh meat for the next few nights to go along with their cold rations.

The journey continued like this for a little over two weeks. The snowy peaks of the Crown Mountains showed up on the horizon and grew larger while the cold air became colder as the seasons changed from fall to winter.   A day and a half after they left the second town, they came across a horse on the side of the road.  The horse was laying on its side and once they approached it, they noticed it was dead.  There were five arrows stuck into its flank and the straps holding any packs to the side of the horse had been cut, leaving short strips of leather dangling from the saddle.

Thane drew his bow and scanned the horizon, while Sarah looked around the horse.  “Yeah someone definitely got robbed here,” she said, “No signs of a fight other than the poor horse.  If I had to guess, the bandits aimed for the horse and the rider managed to run away.”

Thane looked past the horse to the field, “It looks like there is a riverbed a dozen meters off the road.  If they are still around and plan to ambush us, that is where they are waiting.”  He looked down to the horse and surrounding area, laying his hand on the dead animal for a moment,  “This was less than an hour ago, the bandits and the victim might still be around somewhere.”

Thane kept his bow ready to fire as he crept up on the riverbed with Kisha and Stone by his sides.  Stone was the first to notice something in the riverbed, “I see a body.”

“Dead?” asked Kisha.

“I don’t know.”

Thane saw it.  The river here had receded into a small stream and a young man was lying face down in the mud near the edge of the water.  “Could you check it Stone?  I’ll keep an eye out with my bow.”

“Nn” Stone nodded and took a few steps down to the body and poked it once before grabbing him with one hand and picking it up to drape over his shoulder.  “He lives.”

 They headed back to the road where the others were waiting.  Sarah looked at the unconscious man and shook her head.  “I know it’s a few hours early, but we should set up camp now and keep watch for whoever was responsible for this.  Especially if you want to babysit that man.”

“How is he?” asked Thane as Stone set him on the ground.

“Unconscious, uninjured.” replied Stone.

Thane walked over to the man, “All right then, let’s wake him up.”  

“You don’t say very much do you?” asked Evelyn.

“I say enough.”

It didn’t take much prodding to awaken the man and he sat up straight without saying anything and blinked heavily a few times before speaking.  “I’m not dead?”

“Not yet.  I don’t suppose you’d be willing to tell us what happened?”

“I was, um, I’m Gavin by the way.  Gavin of Bohldale.  I was traveling back to my master and my horse got shot.”

“That much we figured out.  Where are the people that attacked you?”

“I ran to the stream over there and they panicked when they saw another group approaching, that was you right?  Well, they panicked, cut the bags off the horse and ran.  I tried to run back to the horse but I slipped and hit my head.”

“You said your master?  Are you a servant of a local lord or something?”

“No, not that kind of master.  I am an apprentice to the mage and alchemist Troya.  Well, an apprentice and a research subject.  I am a song mage and he wanted to try to figure out how it works exactly.”

 “What exactly is a songmage?”

“It’s an irregular magical ability a few people are born with,” said Mahs, “They can use magic that is very limited in power and scope, but they use their voice as a medium.  So anyone who hears their voice can be affected.  It’s pretty weak but they are often tracked down and conscripted for military use since they can give a speech or sing a hymn and strengthen hundreds or thousands of troops.”

Sarah sighed, “You pick up some of the most obscure knowledge yet you always skip out on Maria’s lectures.  You can’t name the capitals of the four kingdoms but you know some obscure branch of weak magic.”

“Not weak!” said Gavin, “Have you never heard of Amellisan the Deathsinger?  She was one of the founding members of the Attican council and a songmage.  She once fascinated and froze a squad of soldiers and killed them all with a single knife.  They said she could even sing a discordant song that would rip the soul out of anyone that heard it, turning them into a lifeless corpse.”

“Well that's completely terrifying,” Sarah replied.  “Can you do anything like that?”

“Um...no.  I can use enhancement magic and make people hallucinate though.  It is how I made a living before Troya picked me up.  I would tell stories and make people see the stories as they were being told.  Troya saw one of my performances and took me in.”

Thane was pretty sure at this point that this talkative man wasn’t going to attack them so he grabbed one of the saddle bags and walked over to the man.  Ok, we know your story now.  So strip.”

“Wait, strip?  You’re not going to...”

“You’re drenched, it's cold and getting colder.  Unless you want to freeze to death, take off your clothes and wrap yourself in this.”  He pulled a blanket out of the bag and tossed it on Gavin.

“Oh, ok.”  He wrapped himself up and began to undress under the blanket.  “So, um, I’m in a bit of a predicament, I don’t suppose you could take me to Troya’s mansion could you?  You’re heading East, right?”

“We are heading to the deep road, yes.”

“Oh, it won’t be too much of a delay then, only a couple hours.  We can shelter you for the night and feed you.  I might even be able to convince master to part with a few of his potions as  thanks.  Many of them are magical.”

“How far is it?”

“I would be arriving after sunset if I wasn’t attacked, it would probably take until tomorrow night to arrive by foot.”

“We’ll travel with you until our paths split at least, after that we’ll see.”  

“That’s all I can ask for but...I really would appreciate it if you could take me all the way.  I’m sure I can repay you somehow.”

------------------------------

They didn’t travel for the rest of the day and didn’t set out again until morning. The wind was a bit more fierce and cold than it had been the past few days so the travelers bundled up a bit more than usual.  Thane and Sarah were traveling at the front of the group looking for any signs that they might be attacked when Evelyn came up next to them.  “So what do you think of our new traveling companion?”

“He’s either a fool or an excellent actor,” Sarah replied.  “There is still a chance he is leading us into some sort of trap.”

“That's a bit paranoid.”

“Only if I’m wrong.”

Thane sighed and shook his head, “You said that before.  What did you think about the story he told us at camp last night?”

“What?  The one about the god who turned itself into a sword so it could experience battles forever?  Seems a bit far-fetched, you would think that story would be a bit more well known if it was true right?”

“Maybe, I thought it was interesting though.  He said he collects stories from all over the world, I wonder what else he knows.”

“Well, it’s about time to stop for lunch, you can ask him then.”

Thane looked at the horizon concerned, “we’re not stopping for lunch, we need to find shelter as soon as we can.”

Sarah and Evelyn followed his gaze and soon saw what had him concerned.  The crowns were covered in white.  It looked like a winter storm had pressed itself up against the mountains and had finally burst and spilled over the edge.  What they now saw was a solid wall of white covering up the last foothills of the mountain and sweeping their direction.  It would only be a few hours until the blizzard was on top of them.

Thane ran back to the group, “Gavin!  You know this area right?  Is there any place where we can take shelter?”  He pointed at the white wall closing in on them, “In a few hours we are going to be buried in snow.”

“I...uh...there's a forest to the south, but if we hurry we can reach the manor where I apprentice.  We’d need to run though.  The road should split off into a trail to the north soon.  We can make it if we hurry.”

“I would definitely prefer a manor over a few trees for cover,” said Mahs.  “I think anyone with half a brain would agree with me.”

“Good point, let's move then.  Pick up the pace we are racing a storm here.”

The team hurried ahead.  Sometimes walking fast, sometimes jogging, it was difficult to keep a swift pace as the temperature rapidly dropped.  The cold air was becoming painful to breathe and they were quickly getting tired.  As the snow began to fall, the manor finally came into view in the distance, a massive mansion sitting alone at the top of a large hill. 

“That’s it!” exclaimed Gavin, “We’re almost there!” THey lost sight of the mansion mere seconds later as the snowfall increased.  The wind was picking up, throwing snow in their faces and it was getting loud enough that you needed to shout to be heard.  They struggled to the top of the hill with snow up to their ankles before they arrived.  “Stables to the right, get the horses under cover.”

“I will do that,” said Stone, “Young ones get inside quickly.”   

“Let's go big guy,” said Amara.  She had become strangely accustomed to riding on Stone’s shoulder over the past few weeks.  She sent a magical mote of purple light to the direction Gavin was pointing at that latched itself to a wooden wall some distance away.  “Just grab the reins and follow the light.”

Thane gave a sigh of relief when he opened the door to the manor, the place was large, and more importantly, warm.  He stepped in the dark entryway with his friends behind him and looked around.

Gavin was the last in and announced their presence as he closed the door behind him, “Master!  Master Troya, I have returned!” He stepped into the room and shouted again, “Mas-”

Thane suddenly put his hand on the man's chest holding him back, there was something wrong here.  The mansion was dark, with no lit lanterns anywhere and only the light from the windows illuminating the large entryway.  It was also completely silent save for the slight clinking sound of metal chains swinging slowly.  It looked like Thane’s entire house could fit in the main hall, it was 2 stories high with a pair of spiral staircases in the back of the room leading to a balcony and the second floor. The problem was both of the staircases had been demolished and there was a shattered chandelier in the middle of the floor.  Hanging from the ceiling were several dozen large chains that dangled down and stayed nearly a meter and a half off the floor.

The chains were also wrapped around the doors to the left and right.  Mahs began to channel mana trying to reach out with magical senses, “Something isn’t right here.”

Gavin began to panic, “Master!  Can you hear me?   Are you safe?”

Thane's hand left the man's chest and covered his mouth and he brought the finger of his other hand up to his lips telling him to be quiet.  Gavin was visibly panicked but nodded.  “What happened here?” he whispered.  “Was the mansion always this beat up.?

“No, I left nearly a week ago and everything was in order. My...my room is on the second floor but now I can’t get there.  And all these chains…”

Seemingly in response the soft clinking seemed to increase as if a breeze had caused the chains to start swaying again. “We need to get out of here,” Thane said and turned around to the entryway.  The large double doors were shut tight, and at some point the doors had become wrapped in chains like the others.  They twisted around the two door handles binding them together so the doors could not be opened.  Thane pulled on the handles, but the door wouldn't budge.  He pried and hacked at the chains to little effect. 

He heard a loud knock from the other side and heard Stone grunt.  “Stone! We can’t get the door open, can you force it open?”

“Stand back.” the giant said and Thane heard a loud crash.  The door didn’t move a millimeter and two more loud crashes came as Stone struck the doors full force with his axe.  

“It’s no use,” said Gavin, “Master Troya reinforced all the doors and windows, they won’t break.”  A third and fourth blow aimed at the glass to the right of the entryway confirmed what Gavin said.  A couple magical bolts from the young Amara bounced off harmlessly as well.  Thane could see her tiny hand touch the glass and he walked over and looked out at the two of them.  The snow was falling even harder, and was beginning to pile up outside.

He heard Amara talk through the glass.  “Thane, be careful, there is something very off about this mansion, and it's not just the mages' enchantments.  There is something in there with you.  Please be safe.  We will take shelter in the stables.”

Stone picked up the girl and they vanished from sight heading for the only shelter available.  “Did...did she say there was something in here with us?  We need to find out what happened to master.  He is a powerful mage, Troya the Firestarter.  He can keep us safe.”

“Calm down,” replied Sarah, “Right now we need to keep ourselves safe.  Examine this room but don’t leave it.”  She walked over to the chandelier and started picking through the broken pieces.

Thane nodded and started walking around the edge of the room.  Each door was locked and wrapped in chains.  The chains were running through the walls and encircling the door frames.  They were taught and had no slack at all.  This was definitely not normal, where did all this chain even come from?  The stairs leading to the second floor looked like they had been torn apart beam by beam until they were nothing but rubble on the ground.  It did look like it would be possible to climb up easily enough, especially with a rope.  

He finished encircling the room and saw nothing else of note.  No sign of whoever or whatever had remodeled the house.  No sound except the metal on metal sounds of the slow moving chains hanging from the ceiling.  Attempting to detect sources of magic was useless, as the magical reinforcements on the walls and windows were overpowering any other magic in the area.

Thane walked back to Sarah who was finishing looking through the chandelier, “Did you find anything?” he asked.

“Nothing, you?”

“Nothing.”

“So we’re just supposed to wait here until whatever locked this place down comes for us?”  

“Just...stay in the middle of the room, keep a watch up and wait.  Maybe once the storm lets up Stone and Amara can find a way in.”

“Hey storyteller, does the wood in this house still burn?”

“I...um...never tried.”

“Better question, where can we get food?  We skipped lunch to rush here and all our supplies are out with the horses.”

“It’s behind the door to the left but it's chained closed and magically reinforced.”

Sarah walked up to the door with her knife drawn, “The door is still a door though right?”

“Huh?” He watched as Sara began to pry out the pins on the door hinges one at a time.  Once the pins were out she gave the door a solid push causing it to tip over and twist the chains holding it closed, balancing horizontally.

She held up the edge of the door, “Well, you know where it is, go bring something back.”

------------------------

-Mahs-

 

When Mahs said he wanted to take shelter in the manor, this isn’t exactly what he had in mind.  They were sitting in the middle of a large open room, camping on a hardwood floor and keeping an eye out for some threat that might not even exist.  It was his turn to keep watch.  The cold from outside was starting to creep in, there was a large fireplace prominently in the middle of the room but no firewood to burn.

Mahs walked over to the window and looked out, seeing only white.  The wind was still blowing and the snow was still piling up, it looked like they might be stuck here for a long time.  It was strange though, this entire mansion hummed with energy.  Not just the reinforcement magic that toughened the building but also something darker, similar to the magic he was practicing.  There was definitely shadow energy involved here.  He clutched the shadow focus at his chest, “The others probably can’t feel it but I can.”

As if responding to him, he heard a sudden loud clanging noise and the sound of dragging chains.  He looked over to the source of the noise and found one of the doors was no longer chained closed.  Was it really responding to him or his focus?  There was only one way to find out.

He looked to the others who were still sleeping and quietly walked over to the door that had unchained itself.  When he opened it he was in a long, empty hallway lined with doors.  He walked forward confidently wondering what exactly was inviting him in.  He heard the rattling of chains again, this time from behind one of the closed doors. 

He opened the door, curious as to what was calling him.  He felt the spell focus on his neck vibrate with anticipation, and what he found was a bit confusing at first.  The room was small and empty of all furniture.  Instead there were a dozen chains hanging from the ceiling that were long enough to start coiling on the floor.  The chain in the middle was swinging in a circular motion, dragging the chain on the ground.  He walked up and grabbed the chain and it immediately stopped moving.  Once he let go it snapped up like a whip, impacting him from his chest to forehead and knocking him prone.  

“Ow, what the…” he stood up, wiping the blood dripping from his nose and trying to figure out what just happened.  He heard the rattle and all the chains in the room began to coil upwards, looking like snakes hanging from a tree that have tensed up and are ready to strike.  “Wait just a-” *crack*.  A chain slamming against his head shut him up and soon he was flailing trying to defend himself.  He tried to protect his head as much as possible as he staggered to the door.  Dozens of blows rained down upon him bruising his flesh, cracking on his bones and causing him to fall to his knees.  

When the blows stopped he stood up and tried to run out the door, only to realize that chains had wrapped around each of his arms.  They pulled taught forcing his arms out to his sides in a T while the other chains coiled up again. “Wait, wait I-” he stopped himself this time and swallowed in fear.  The chains in front of him were changing.  The metal was warping and expanding until each link of the chain had a sharp spike or razor-like blade.  He gave one last struggle with all his strength, pulling as hard as he could on the chains that were wrapped around his arms, and then screamed.

------------------------------

-Thane-

 

The group woke up to the sound of screaming.  Thane snapped awake and took a quick scan around the room.  The rest of them were confused and panicked, and Mahs was not in the room.  “Mahs is missing, Sarah, do you know anything?”

“No he was on solo watch.”  Everyone was now alert and a bit panicked.  They grabbed what weapons they could and were scanning the room.

“There,” said Kisha, “the door is open.  It’s the only way out of the room.” 

“Why did that idiot go alone?”  Sarah ran towards the door and the others followed her.  They found themselves in the empty hallway lined with doors.  They opened each in turn, finding only a small empty room behind every door.  Finally they found the room that wasn’t empty.

It was like the others, no furnishings, no window, the only thing in the room was Mahs, lying face down.  Sarah hesitated, and Thane moved closer to check on him.  It was still dark, but Thane could tell the condition Mahs was in when he got close.  His tunic and trousers were shredded and his skin was covered in several deep lacerations.  Surprisingly, there was very little blood on the floor as if it had been sucked up by the wood beneath their feet.   

When Thane flipped him over, any hope that his old friend was still alive disappeared.  His skin was cold and pale, and what little blood was left in his body was oozing out of dozens of deep cuts.

“Brother?” said Sarah.  Thane looked and she wasn’t crying or wailing, she was just...shocked.  It was as if she hadn’t fully comprehended what she was looking at.  

Kisha hadn’t entered the room yet and she had her sword and shield at the ready, “I hear something down the hall.”  She began to walk towards the noise she heard.

“Wait! Stay together,” said Thane.  He heard a crash and quickly rushed out of the room pushing past Sarah.  When he entered the hall he saw several chains that had burst out of the wall and wrapped around Kisha.  Evelyn was trying to free her, but the chains whipped out and slapped her away before giving one strong tug that slammed Kisha face first into the wall.  

She gathered enough strength to push herself away from the wall and Thane saw that it wasn’t only chains that were wrapped around her.  A pallid, grey tinted arm that was covered with thick scars was extended from the wall and had its hand wrapped around her throat.  The chains seemed to writhe around the arm as if they were part of the same creature.  Evelyn drew one of her swords in an attempt to attack the arm, but a new chain burst from the wall, this one was covered in several tiny blades and spikes.  

The chain lashed out at Evelyn, drawing a long bloody trail across her torso as it ripped through clothes and flesh.  A deep line of lacerations from her stomach to shoulder sprayed blood as she was knocked on her back and the bladed chain turned to Kisha.  

This was bad, Mahs was gone and Kisha was in the grips of this creature.  Evelyn would bleed to death without attention bringing the total of dead up to three unless Thane did something now.  He grabbed his new greatsword, the one traded to him by the Red Hand.  He channeled all the mana he could into the blade, and the red metal surface shimmered and pulsed.  He had no time and only one shot.   He brought the sword over his head as the bladed chain poised to attack Kisha and brought it down with all the strength he could muster.  

     

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