A Crossing of Paths

By Dartanian Lestor in Dark Ages

Excerpt from "Where Sleeping Heroes Lie"



Part 1: Forsaking The Path

"Betrayal!"

The scream echoed through the cold night. The man with the jet black cape swiveled, cloth billowing in a swirl of darkness, and pointed an accusatory finger at the sheepish red-head.

"Iíll not stand for this! I cannot...nay, I will not allow this to happen! You would make a mockery of everything we stand for!"

The boy brushed his fingers through his fire-like hair nervously, scuffling his foot at the accusation. "But I..."

"But nothing!" The elderís voice had a hysterical quality to it. "You would forsake our path and choose another!? What of your obligation? What of the oath I gave you? Does that mean nothing to you boy?? Answer me!"

The boy was obviously shaken. "Master, I..I canít...I cannot help it! You said y-yourself you werenít sure if I was ready for the path of the shadows. The ways of the rogue just arenít for me!"

"Aye, lad. That was true...but that was before! Look at what youíve accomplished!" The master gestured to the garments that the boy was wearing, studded with fine jewelry. A satchel hung from his side, full of needles, barbs, and snares that could be properly pieced to make the clever traps the rogue trade was well known for.

"But master, itís wrong! Luring unsuspecting creatures onto nasty traps, swiping treasure from chests...I canít stand for it!"

"Wrong? Boy, itís just a method of survival! You know very well those dark creatures would stop at nothing to sneak up behind you and gnaw at your bones. And as for the chests, we only steal from the crypts...the dead need no treasure. Besides, youíre more than willing to share your wealth if you..."

The student seemed to be getting his nerve up. Shaking his head, he cut the master off, "No, master, no. Donít try to rationalize it. Itís still stealing. And stealing....is not for me."

For once in his life, the master seemed to take him seriously. A concerned look clouded his face. "Does it really get to you that much? Weíre not harming anyone. In fact, weíre helping. Those jewels, those rare holy treasures...theyíd be trapped down there. Never see the light of day. We bring these artifacts back so they can be useful."

The master sighed and continued. "Weíre not thieves, lad. Thieves are vile little creatures. Stealing a few coins from a mundane or aisling that needs those to survive. See, thieves take whatever they can get their hands on, no matter whom it hurts. A rogue, a true rogue, always considers who might be affected. Weíre not monsters, kid."

The boy seemed slightly ashamed and hung his head slightly. Solemn for what seemed to pass as aeons, he finally got up the courage to speak, "Youíre right, master. But still...I...I donít think rogueship is the calling for me."

The master wrapped his cape around the boy and held him for a bit, patting his shoulders. "I understand. Do whatís in your heart, lad. If ya donít mind my asking, what path were you considering to change to?"

The boyís expression brightened, highlighting the fiery locks on his head. "Well, I was leaning towards a priestly calling..."

With that, the master let out a loud bellow of laughter and slapped his palm against the boyís back. The young lad stiffened and winced, but didnít make a showing to the master that the hit was a tad bit harder than heíd expected. "Priests are fine people. Youíll make a swell one, lad. Just hope ya decide to serve Fiosachd. We always need more of them around."

The master and young student headed off to Mileth, eager to get him started on his new ways.

Part 2: The Initiation

"So you wish to be a priest now?"

"Yes"

"But what of your roguish past?"

The figure looked up through his hood, a glint of red reflecting light from the torches. "I have put that behind me."

"But surely you..."

"I have put that behind me."

"I would think after being a rogue, you would at least wish to serve Fiosachd. Not many take this path. Are you sure?"

"I am certain."

The guide bowed her head, purple tresses tumbling over her greenish eyes. Sheíd never met anyone like this before. He seemed determined. But still, so drastic a transformation was unheard of. Seldom did even a peasant seek His calling, but this boy here didnít even blink an eye.

She lifted his chin with her hand and looked into his eyes for a hint of doubt. "Your determination on this day will be remembered if you make it, Saurel."

Saurel looked back into her eyes without the slightest hesitation. "I know he will have me as his follower. Sgrios calls all eventually, Calosia. You know that as well as I."

Sighing, Calosia shook her head and smiled. "You say it easier than I would, and Iím an established priestess. Everyone is born to die. You believe this, donít you?"

"Yes. I have known it all my life. I think...maybe secretly, I felt maybe that by becoming a rogue, I could send some to meet him."

Calosia hissed and whirled around, slapping his face. Shock mixed with pain covered his face.

"What was that for??" Saurel whined.

"Everything!" Calosiaís presence seemed to expand around her, making her the most frightening thing he had ever seen. Scorpions did not embody such hatred and anger as he saw in her.

She calmed herself and sighed, stroking his hair. "No one, I say this again, no one is to determine who should visit Sgriosís realm. He alone will guide Aisling, mundane, and creature alike to meet Him, but only when it is their time. Not a single creature, not even those accursed Dubhaimid, deserves to be sent to Him before He has willed it. Until you learn that, boy, we have no place for you."

Saurel bowed his head in chagrin. "I...I didnít realize."

Slowly he rose his head and sighed, "If creatures of the dark are destined to die, so be it, but it should be when they are looking their lifeís ender straight in the eyes."

The priestess nodded. "I agree."

He smiled and looked through the bangs falling over his eyes. "I believe I am ready now."

Calosia gestured to the entrance to the Temple of Choosing. "Well then, shall we begin?"

"Yes, mistress."

Part 3: The Kingís Request

"...and next, Your Majesty, we have the reports on the Kasmanium Mines. 20 stones worth of pure beryl has been found in the...."

King Bruce sat with his hand just barely propping up his heavy head. He opened his mouth widely and let out a hefty yawn. These reports were always such a chore. He waited for the least bit of excitement to spice up his mundane lifestyle.

"Isnít there any relevant news, Archchancellor? Weíve been over and over these reports and, frankly, theyíre just giving us a headache."

"Iím sorry, my liege, but these must be done," replied the Archchancellor, his tone not the least bit apologetic, "Next we have....oh...oh my..."

The king sat up at attention. Maybe now there was finally something of interest. "Yes? What is it?"

"Oh...um...nothing, my liege. They must be foraged reports."

"Howís that?"

"Well...um...they seem to state that..." the Archchancellor turned the paper this way and that, looking at the scroll in disbelief, "Well, it seems that bats and scorpions are terrorizing the first floor of Mileth crypt. Centipedes and spiders are crawling out and ravaging the fields, terrorizing the mundanes...all that nonsense."

King Bruce seemed to ponder this. Sometimes, it took him a while to grasp the situation. "Bats and scorpions? But those things are confined to the depths of there. We do not believe that they would be able to travel up."

"Indeed, sire. Your Majesty is right as always, as sure as the sun shines in the sky, as certain as Glioca watches over..."

"Oh, stop it, Archchancellor. If we wanted to be kissed up to, weíd find a queen would be much more satisfying...or at least a suitable concubine." King Bruce guffawed at his own joke.

"As you wish, sire. Iíll find one right away."

King Bruce snorted. The Archchancellor always took him too literally.

"Still...this does require some attention. We do not really believe these stories, but the people are insistent. Do we have any qualified Aislings to send?

"We are a bit short-handed, my liege. The only people we really have to spare are Junius, the brave warrior and Harskalit, the wizard."

"Very well. Send them at once. They should be able to find some assistance when they get to Mileth, donít you think? Place is a spawning ground for those Aislings it seems. Theyíre always showing up there."

"As you wish. Junius! Harskalit!"

Trumpets blared as a tall man and short woman entered the throne room. They bowed, and the king appraised them skeptically. They seemed an odd couple. Juniusís blood-red cloak billowed out around. They said that the cloak was, in truth, the purest white, but so many had fallen from her hand, that the entire sheet was forever stained. There was a jingle of earrings hanging around her ears. The jewelry itself held no magic powers, but Junius insisted on wearing them. She had not lost yet ever since she had dawned them. Emeralds glinted in the golden frame in the shape of dragons. Her breastplate was custom-made steel, a little worse for wear. Her long flowing hair seemed to absorb all the light rather than reflect it. It contrasted well with her milky complexion, brown eyes twinkling with the gleam that distinguishes the Aislings. She carried a Loures Sabre at her side. She could have well-wielded even the Black Death, but she refused, stating that it "wasnít the sword that made the warrior, but the warrior that made the sword."

Harskalit was tall and lanky. He (at least they called it a Ďheí; no one dared take a glance at his face) was fully cloaked from head-to-toe with a forest green robe. His hood was constantly drawn, only letting a dim ray of light reflect off his chin. No one cared to know the secrets held underneath that cloak, for those that did seemed to find themselves floating over to a river bank somewhere. Despite his protection of his identity and face, he was a kindly wizard, always helpful, sometimes overly polite. But his deadly elements would whip at your soul if you werenít careful around him.

Instructing them on the situation, King Bruce waved to them and sent them on their way. After they all left, he slouched in his throne, fanning himself with his crown.

"Oy, I hope I made the right decision. Those fools never seem to do anything well together. Hopefully, theyíll find a good helpful person in Mileth thatíll keep them from blowing up."

Part 4: An Unforeseen Partner

A scream permeated the serene atmosphere in the Temple of Choosing. The old walls shook and dust long forgotten tumbled down from the ceiling and walls.

"What in Danaanís name is going on out there?" Saurel yelled, bracing himself against the rocking of the floor.

"I donít know," Calosia responded, brushing the dust and hair out of her face, "but if they keep doing whatever theyíre doing to that wall, Iím sure weíre going to find out real quickly!"

As if in response to her cynicism, there was a faint screech and the wall crumbled with one last thud. A centipede glared through the gaping hole, crimson eyes piercing Saurelís soul. Saurel felt he could scarcely breathe.

"W-what??" Saurel spit the words out as if they were a foul taste in his mouth, "Whatís a centipede doing outside of the crypts? Iíve never known one to be so bold."

"Ssssss...., " the centipede hissed at them, opening its bone-crushing jaw. It glowed slightly with an unholy light.

Calosia was slightly puzzled. "Whatís it--"

There was no time for Calosia to finish her sentence.

"Ssssssssrad!" the centipede spit out. A gigantic fireball spewed forth from its mouth towards Saurel. Paralyzed with fear, Saurel just sat on the ground, trembling.

"Damn! This is no time to space out on me, kid."

With that, Calosia leapt towards Saurel, wrapping her arms around his waist and dragging him prone to the floor just in time for the fireball to pass harmlessly over their heads. Well, not exactly harmlessly. It struck the roof, and huge chunks of granite plummeted to crush the two of them.

Saurel was still stunned. "It casted a fire spell? But I thought centipedes, even on the lower levels, only casted--"

"There will be time to worry about that later!" Calosia hissed. "Right now, it would definitely behoove us to scram...and I mean now!" With that, she slung Saurel over her shoulder and burst out the hole. The centipede turned and hissed at them, skittering along the grass in pursuit.

From behind a tree, they heard someone starting a chant, "Stream of life, grant me your boon. Flush this foe with my deadly monsoon!" With that, the centipede seemed to rise up and down, but it was actually the earth beneath it. The earth ruptured, powerful jets of water surrounding the beast. The centipede screeched in horror as the waves ripped at it.

"Hey, Harskalit! Save some for me, will ya? My sword-wielding hand is itching!" A shadow leapt into the air after the centipede which had been pushed up with the streams of hot water. Drawing a blade quickly, there was a feminine yell, a sound of steel cleaving through bone, and then the sound of a blade being sheathed. The centipede fell to the ground in two halves.

"You two are lucky we came along when we did. You would have been centipede chow by now." The woman had her back turned to Calosia and Saurel but they could obviously tell from her speech that there was almost definitely a smug look to her face.

Calosia groaned and tugged at the raven hair that covered the warriorís head. The woman yelped, eyes widening in surprise. "You never change, do you Junius? Iíd never know anyone else whoíd pull a stunt like that."

"Ack!" Junius fumbled, frantically trying to free herself from Calosiaís iron grip, "Itís Sgriosís witch! Help me, Harskalit!"

"Sgriosís...What did you say???" Calosia tugged a bit harder, eliciting a satisfying yelp from Junius. "So I suppose that old wizard is with you, eh? You two make such a cute couple. Hiya, Harskalit!"

Calosia waved to the green-robed figure standing behind the tree. If one could actually see any expression on his face, one might actually suspect that he was grinning. "Good to see you too, Calosia. Whoís the young one?" He gestured with a nod of his head to poor Saurel.

"Ah...that red-headed fellow would be Saurel, my recent rogue-turned-priest."

Saurel cringed at the reference from his past. Still, he managed to force enough air out of his lungs to say, "It is a pleasure to meet you all." Wincing in pain, he picked himself up.

"A path-shifter eh?" Junius grinned.

"Please, please. Do not call me that. My guide and mentor already gave me a hard enough time about changing paths. But this is my calling. I was meant to be a priest of Sgrios."

"Itís your funeral, kid...literally." Saurel groaned at Juniusís joke.

Calosia coughed. "I hate to interrupt this touching moment, but what exactly was that?"

Junius shrugged. "It was a centipede."

With a scowl and another tug, Calosia said through gritted teeth, "I know that, dear Junius. Now would you mind telling me what it was doing? Itís not often we see a centipede come out of the crypts, much less knocking down the Templeís walls."

"It casted Srad..."

Theyíd finally calmed down enough to really notice the voice and all eyes fell on Saurel. Junius looked unimpressed. "Thatís nothing special, boy. Monsters cast spells all the time in the lower levels."

Saurel shook his head. "You donít understand. í"

Junius turned pale. Although she dreaded she already knew the answer, she asked, "What are you saying exactly?"

Saurel gained confidence as he spoke. "Iím saying that that centipede seemed to cast with a human quality. It seemed to have a plan in mind for us, rather than just being offensive."

Saurel turned to Junius. "I never knew centipedes could plan strategy like that..."

"As far as I know, they canít, kid. If a centipede was able to cast srad like that, then this wasnít a chance meeting. Someone would have had to teach them. Ye gods, that really worries me."

Harskalit interrupted. "I do so hate to be blunt, but sitting around thinking about it wonít do any good. Weíll probably have to ask one of the locals."

"But weíve been here all this time! We never heard about--"

Harskalit shrugged Saurelís words off. "You two were in the Temple of Choosing. That can take a long time. A lot can happen in that time that you would be oblivious to."

Junius nodded, sitting down next to Harskalit. "Especially with Calosia as your guide. Iíve known her to spend weeks in there, sometimes even months, training someone in the ways of Sgrios..."

Saurel expected Calosia to grab at Juniusís hair again, but this time she was silent. A disturbing thought dawned on him and he turned to his guide.

"Um...Calosia...how long were we inside the Temple?"

"Oh...um..." Calosia blushed. Saurel had never seen her blush before. "About...two and a half weeks."

Saurel was in shock. "What?!?!? How could we have possibly been in there that long??"

Calosia just shrugged.

"Over Two whole weeks...no wonder Iím starving...."

Just then, a pale figure stumbled their way. About 6 paces away from them, she collapsed, dark hair billowing like a tarnished halo around her. She had fainted without a sound. Calosia gasped and ran over to her, already uncorking the jar that contained the reddish concoction. Pouring it over her wounds, light entered them and they sealed. The last remaining drops she poured in the figureís mouth. Color returned to her face as she sputtered, red saliva dribbling over her blue shift that was torn in several places. She looked up, her eyes dull brown; a mundane. But all the Aislings present gasped in unison.

"Riona!"

The woman smiled through her lips, blood dripping into her mouth. The four turned away, not willing yet to accept the horror in front of them. Riona was a good person. Some mundanes might be easily passed by, but not her. Though her life of labor was harsh, she tried to keep a cheerful disposition around all those she met that she knew would have a better life than she. Her charcoaled hair and warm smile had greeted many new Aislings who wished to start on their journey. For someone to wish her harm, to do this, was....unthinkable.

Calosia was the first to build up nerve enough to speak again. "What kind of monster did this to you, Riona?"

"Monster? Nay, it was truly a sweet creature. It had come to set me free from my life of toil and solitude...forever."

"Donít speak like that, Riona! A lot of Aislings know you. They respect you! By Danaanís light, we care for you and what you do, Riona. No mundane is useless on this world."

Riona clasped her hands around Calosiaís and smiled again. "Thank you, child. Your words are salve for this old womanís heart. But all the salve in the world cannot change what I am."

Saurel spoke this time. "Dear Riona, we implore you. Please tell us who or what did this to you? We do not wish this horror on any Temuairan inhabitants, mundane or Aisling."

"Bless you, child. You are too good for this foolish woman. It was a mere spider. I heard tell from Aislings that came to my inn that spiders were docile creatures, that never attacked unless provoked. So I went to pet it and..."

Junius turned her face clear away. "Itís too much. This is all too much. Centipedes casting spells like nature never seemed to teach them, monsters crawling out of the crypts, gentle creatures attacking without warning...." She slammed her sword in the ground and gritted her teeth as she spoke the next: "Someone is behind all this. Someone has to be behind it. And Iím going to find out just who."

"Not without me, you are not." That was Harskalit.

"Iím coming too!"

Saurel was the only one left with the task of deciding. "I donít know...."

Junius grabbed his arm and tugged, not too forcefully but enough of a grip that Saurel couldnít wriggle away if he tried. "Youíre coming. We could always use a rogue..."

"But Iím a priest now!" Saurel insisted.

Junius sucked air in between her teeth, then turned to stare Saurel straight in the eyes, green fire seeming to whip in and out of her irises. "Listen, kid. We have an established priestess over there, Calosia. We might need a rogueís skills in that crypt; you never know when they might come in handy..."

But..."

"No objections, alright?!? When we finish this mystery here, you can be a priest all you want. Hell, you can be a priestess for all I care. But right now, we need a rogue. If someone is controlling those creatures, you never know if they might be have set up traps down there, or if they can cast magic that we canít get through but thrown weapons can, or even if we just need our weapons mended in the middle of it. Fact is we want to be prepared for anything and weíre already prepared for the event we need a priestess. We need a rogue."

Saurel sighed. Heíd hoped heíd never have to do this again, but he reached into his pack. Taking out the slightly wrinkled costume, he sighed again and went behind a corner. A few minutes later, Saurel emerged in a surprisingly shiny outfit made out of the toughest Dwarvish Leather. Tying on the sheath to his belt and sliding a nicely polished blossom dagger into it with a satisfying Ďshink,í he sighed for the third time.

"Alright. I am ready."

Part 5: The Master of the Crypt

Junius shivered as she entered the vestibules of the dank crypts. Sheíd never liked this place. Not because any of the monsters that usually hung out inside were too much trouble, but it always took her several suns to get the smell out of her cloak. The stench of mildew and decayed flesh permeated the air. She was starting to look a little green in the cheeks and plugged up her nose with her fingers.

"Can we hurry?" Junius whined in a nasal tone, "This rank smell would kill me sooner than the monsters."

Harskalit chuckled, but said nothing. Lighting a torch with a minor spell, he descended and beckoned for the rest to follow.

Calosia turned at a faint noise. Flap, flap, flap.

"Sounds like a bat heading our way."

Shadows hid his face, but the flickering light made a motion that Harskalit was smirking. "Is that it? I was hoping for a challenge to start me o....argh!"

Harskalitís smug words were interrupted by a giant whirlpool of water surrounding him, threatening to drown him. Harskalit glowed lightly and the water dissolved, but he was panting heavily.

"That....stung," he scowled as he placed his palm flat against the ground. "Earth beneath me, heed my call. Extend your grasps and make the foe fall!" A golem-like fist raised out of the ground, grabbing the bat with a squeak. The hand closed tighter and tighter until the bat was crushed.

Harskalit wiped blood from his lips. "I could have sworn that was sal maell. These are definitely not your garden-variety monsters."

Saurel nodded. "And have you noticed, all the crypts and chests seem to have been removed?"

Junius chuckled. "Only a rogue would notice that."

Saurel sighed and rolled his eyes. "Anyways, Iíve been looking around and it seems theyíre all gone except one behind closed doors...itís heavily guarded though."

"Good work. If itís that well-guarded, it must be something important...and I want to find out what."

Saurel led them to the rear of the crypt where the door was. Cracking the door open slightly, they could make out four centipedes and two scorpions, chittering away around the chest.

"You guys distract them. Iím going to find out whatís so important about that chest." He took a set of lockpicks from his belt and muffled the jingle.

Everyone nodded. Calosia was silently mumbling protection spells for the group. Junius sharpened her blade. Harskalit started invoking an arcane spell. They burst into the room, making as much noise as they could to distract the creatures. Meanwhile, Saurel crept along the wall towards the chest.

"Fire I summon from the groundís breast, help these creatures find eternal rest." The cavern lit up as nearly all the creatures were sucked into a pit of magma. A few still managed to crawl their way out.

Junius parried a blow from a scorpion that she was facing, then jabbed toward its eyes, but the creature blocked it. "Gah! When did these creatures ever learn these kind of fighting skills?"

Saurel took out his last Blossom Secret, kissed it, and tossed it at the scorpionís stinger, chopping it clear off. The monster hissed in main and whirled around. Junius took advantage of this opportunity and cleaved it in two.

"Thanks, boy. I owe ya one."

Saurel smirked in smug victory as he made it to the chest. Jostling the picks in the lock, he avoided the nasty trap inside and slowly lifted the lid. There was nothing in the chest save a sack with an orb that glowed with a light golden light.

"I wonder what this is," Saurel thought out loud. Then he noticed the strange quiet that was behind him. There should have been a melee going on but...

Then, Saurel felt cold steel against the back of his neck. "I highly suggest that you give that back to me."

Saurel took a while, but slowly slipped the orb back into the sack and held it over his shoulder. A cold chill went down his spine, but not from the weapon. Something about that voice seemed hauntingly familiar.

Then it dawned on him. That gruff voice had done it. Gulping slowly, he stammered out, "M-master?"

A laugh echoed through the crypts. "Nay, lad. I was your master once. But you changed paths. I lost all tie with you then."

Another voice yelled out, a feminine voice that sounded like Junius, "I donít really care what exactly went down between you two. All I need to know is, are you the one behind all this?"

He guffawed with laughter again, his cape fluttering in what seemed to be a chuckle as well. "Aye, lass. You might say that. These crypts are mine. And soon, so shall be all of Northern Temuair."

"But why..."

The master sighed and looked serious. "Because no one really respects us rogues. You tolerate us as Aislings, but deep down, you resent us for coming up with so much more gold than you could ever dream. You use us up to polish your fancy gems or smith your pretty little sword, but deep down, you all think weíre just thieves. Well, I am going to show this world just what a thief can do!"

"How..."

"...did I do it? Simple." With that, he held up his sack. "I found this in the lowest level of the crypts. Other rogues seemed to just pass it by, but I recognized its true power. It made me into the master of the crypts. With it, I can control every single monster in here, from the lowliest rat to the mightiest Succubus."

"How lovely for you," Junius muttered, her voice drenched in a sarcastic tone. Saurel couldnít figure if she was trying to enrage him or just get her shots in while she could.

The master bellowed and gestured the way to the vestibules. "You might wish to watch that tongue. It may be the last chance you have to use it!"

Part 6: The Duel

"Here looks like a good place."

The master stopped outside the entrance to the crypt and whirled around, black cloak billowing outward. "Well then, are you ready, mílady?"

"For what?"

"For the duel, of course. If you defeat me in single combat, I may just decide to let you keep your lives."

Junius smirked. "Oh, how generous. Pretty confident, ainít ya? Alright...Iím game."

"I knew youíd agree." The masterís cape fluttered around him as a dagger flew out of it. Junius moved just in time for it to miss her hands and slice the ropes binding her. He then tossed a dirk over to her.

"And to make sure you people donít interfere..." The old man snapped his fingers, scorpions and bats came out to hold the rest of them at bay.

"Alright then, mílady," the elder smirked, flicking the blade from one hand to the other, "Shall we dance?"

Junius smirked again. "Gladly."

Taking off his cloak, the master flung it to the side. His body was aged, but still obviously athletic and in good shape. His loose-fitting white sleeveless tunic flapped in the breeze. Black leather clung to his agile legs. He smirked and held up a dagger by the blade with his thumb and forefinger, flicking it at the ground where Junius had been standing just a split second before. If she hadnít twisted out of the way, her foot would have been quite painfully pinned to the ground. She looked up, eyes wide.

"This isnít exactly a fair fight. A dirk versus a barrage of light daggers?"

With that, the master just shrugged. "Eh...my game, my rules right?"

Scowling, Junius planted her foot on the ground, hand out in front of her. Shifting her weight, she dashed and slashed the masterís side. The shirt he was wearing was slowly soaked up with a red puddle.

Clutching his side, the master spit out, "Good...very impressive. It seems the stories Iíve heard of you havenít been exaggerated. No one has scratched me in years."

In a mocking tone, Junius replied, "How fortunate for you."

The master slashed at her, but she ducked inside his defenses. Junius went to strike but found out the blade was on her other side and itíd be awkward to. She sucked air in through her teeth. Instead, she took her free hand and simply slugged him in the face. The master staggered back, clutching at his nose with his free hand and swished violently, cutting Juniusís sword arm then twisting the blade.

"Youíll pay for that, old man!" Junius fumed, clutching her arm, "You know how many battles this armís gotten me through?"

Junius went into a mad slashing fury, never relenting. The master was shocked by the sudden assault and backed up, doing his best to block the rapid blows that were coming at his direction. He kept trying to lay a trap for her to step in, but as soon as he started the attempt, he had to back up and block further. The blade eventually flew out of his hands with a loud shing and landed a few feet away from him. Junius held the dirk up to his throat.

"It seems youíve lost, old man."

The master staggered up and ran back into the crypt entrance. Shouting back at her, he said, "You may have won the battle. But this war is far from over! Once this crypt overtakes Temuair, youíll soon respect me again!" He laughed and darted in, followed by his monster legion.

Junius grinned, tossing the blade on the ground. She then combed her fingers through her hair and sighed. "Well...we may have defeated him this time. But as long as he has that strange orb, weíll never hear the end of him."

"Donít be too sure about that." The four of them turned to see the owner of the voice. It was Saurel, grinning, and holding the glowing orb in his hand.

The other three were dumbfounded. Even Harskalitís normally calm demeanor was unsettled. Pointing at the orb, they said in unison, "How? How did you...?"

Saurel smirked and waved their question away, wagging a finger at them. "Ah, ah, ah. A rogu...errm...I mean a priest never reveals his secrets." Saurel tossed the orb up in the air and caught it, whistling lightly and walking past them. The rest of them simply shrugged as they followed him, heading towards the tavern to celebrate ending the reign of terror that was in Mileth.

* * *

Epilogue

The master crawled into the crypts slowly, still clutching his face. It was starting to heal again though.

"Curse those wretches. Especially that traitor, Saurel. Well Iíll show them, once I get back to the chest to regain my control over these mindless creatures."

He went to his chest and sighed. "Ah, here we are." Taking out his key to it, he unlocked the chest and took out the bag.

"And now..," the master said, opening the bag. He never got a chance to finish the sentence. Black shards flew from the bag as he untied it, shredding at his eyes and blinding him instantly. The master shrieked in horror. Raising his arms to clutch his eyes, he dropped the bag and heard a dull clunk, checking what it was he felt something that he thought was his orb at first, but felt strangely cold. He recognized it; the bag was simply being weighed down with a simple piece of beryl.

"Curse him! This must have been Saurelís doing! He switched the orbs as he was putting the bag back! How could I have missed it!??"

Flailing his arms about angrily, he swept everything he could to the side. His hand smacked against something hard and cold. There was an angry hiss and chitter.

"W-What is that?" The master seemed genuinely frightened since he couldnít see anything.

Hisssssssss...

Fangs dug into his hand and he screamed, staggering and flailing backwards. His hand contacted scales again. There was another deep hiss, and the masterís face was smacked with a stinger. He flailed back again and fell onto of a centipede, who wasnít too happy about it. The centipede sunk its fangs into his neck. The masterís screams of agony carried through the crypts as the monsters feasted.