Thursday, November 18, 2004


Day 57

Cuirass had flown to the Grishelm cave on the back of a huge bird, and there had been some sort of transportation spell that had made it a very short journey. We were hoping that the spell was still operating, and that the bird was big enough to carry four women rather than just the one. It was waiting behind a bit of the old castle wall, and seemed happy enough for Cuirass to mount it, though its beak did look rather hard and sharp when it pointed it in our direction. Still, one after the other we piled on behind Cuirass, and it didn't object. Sitting on the feathers was quite pleasant, actually, though we had to hold on to each other tightly when it spread its wings and took to the air.

No normal bird could have managed the load, but Atzmon of course had used magic on some ordinary creature, and it flew - straight for one of the cave's walls! I was starting to wonder if jumping off would be a good idea, but Cuirass didn't seem worried - and instead of hitting the wall, we popped straight through it, and out onto a grassy, sunlit slope not far from, well, either a large, fortified house with a tower, or a small castle.

"That was fun", Memree said cheerfully. "I hope we can get back that way, as we left our stuff by Grishelm, and Hengist."

We headed for the castle-house, hoping that Atzmon wasn't watching us and devising some nasty welcome. Cleve climbed up the outer wall very quickly, using tiny gaps and cracks - she let down a rope for the rest of us, I was impressed with how fast Cuirass climbed, considering the weight of her armour.

"You next", I said to Memree, stepping aside as some guard or other landed head-first on the ground close by.

"I suppose it's too late to just write her a nasty letter...?" Memree grinned, and I gave her a boost up the rope, which she certainly needed, even though carrying her crossbow across her back meant both arms were free. I followed, and we were all on the top of the wall. Yes, definitely a castle, with battlements like that. We went quietly down some steps into the small courtyard, and Cleve risked a peek through a narrow window, and beckoned us to join her.

There was a good-looking woman in a close-fitting, armless dress, sitting staring at a mirror - and the 'mirror' showed Sprite's block of stone, occasionally fading to white and then refocussing. A black cat was sitting close by, and we could just make out what the woman, Atzmon, was saying.

"Whichever one I try to focus on, I just get that lump of stone - that damned Grishelm has too much magic in it!"

"They must all still be in the catacombs below", the cat purred... I didn't so much hear its voice, as feel it.

"I suppose so, Hugo, but I don't like it - our silly conjured warrior has freed herself from my control, and that makes me uneasy..."

"She did what you wanted", the cat commented. "She killed Charol, with Memree watching. That would have relaxed the spell... maybe the belt just fell off."

"Probably... the transfer won't last much longer, anyway - and then back she'll go, to her watery grave!" She laughed. "But I would so like to see my dear old friend Emmie again, if the little bitch hasn't killed herself!"

Sometimes you can get what you wish for. Cuirass looked grim, but marched over to the front door, while we three kept close to the wall alongside. She knocked, and a little window slid open.

"Open up in there! I have urgent news for your mistress!"

"I never even touched her", the reply came, from some sort of half-troll.

"No - your employer, simpleton! Open up and let me in!"

"I've always thought her rather bright, personally", he rumbled. "But we've instructions to be nice to you, so you'd better come in."

"Would 'being nice' extend to breathing in a different direction?" The door had opened now, and Cuirass was edging round it.

"Sorry, this is the only way I know - OOF!"

We were in, now, and a couple more guards didn't really give us much trouble. We'd tied up the comedian, and one of these two got similarly lucky. We moved off down the corridor, with Cuirass leading the way, heading for Atzmon's mirror room.

I can't say we actually managed to surprise her, but she'd not had any time to prepare for us. Cuirass went in first, and some sort of magic ray reflected back off her chestplate. Atzmon gestured at her cat and spoke a single arcane word, and it was suddenly some sort of furry monster, more like a minotaur or a two-legged wolf than any feline.

"So, you've come back to me, Verdandi? And you've brought me Memree to play with again, how nice!"

And then she saw me, and her face lost its colour. It was my turn to smile. "Hello, Atzmon - I do like your new head."

"You! But I had you killed."

"Are you getting worried yet, Atzie? Neck giving you any twinges...?"

Suddenly Atzmon was in tight trousers, boots and a jacket, and holding a glowing, slender-bladed sword - and she was leaping forward, straight for us! The Hugo-thing growled and advanced, but...well, I decided that Cuirass, or Verdandi, deserved the first crack at the mage, so I blocked Hugo, used the hilt end of my sword - and Cleve threw a spear, probably taken from the wall, and transfixed the brute. He fell, writhing, and turned back into a cat - a cat with a spear through him from end to end.

Atzmon's sword clashed with Verdandi's - and the glow extended from the mage-sword, began to cover the brave warrior as well. She groaned, but did not retreat. "Monster!"

"That's it, feel the pain, savour its embrace", Atzmon gloated. "It's the last thing you'll ever feel."

Memree fired her crossbow, it bounced off Atzmon's face. The glow around Cuirass was more like flame, now, and she was turning red, I think her breastplate, her cuirass, was actually starting to glow, as Atzmon broke away at last and turned towards me. And, with one desperate effort, the dying, baking hero was able to stab at Atzmon with her own sword, now hot itself from the magic... she sliced into Atzmon's side, and then she fell. "Something to remember me by", she gasped.

Memree ran to her, but Cuirass told her not to touch her, as the spell could bake her too. "Don't be sad", she said. "I died five centuries ago, these last few days... a bonus. But my spirit will live on, and we shall meet again, I hope..."

"Who's next for death, then?" Atzmon's wound had bled, but only briefly, and I'll swear even the jacket itself was healing.

"You are", I shouted, and brought my sword forward, hoping to hit her blade hard enough to knock it out of her grasp - it didn't work, but at least my weapon seemed proof against the burning spell.

"You're a fool", she shouted. "Maybe I'll take your body, now this one's been marked by that stupid cow - then Memree would really like me, wouldn't she?"

My reply was a punch straight to her jaw - it hurt my hand, but in a really good way! Some sort of wide-angle light flared from her hand, but I ducked under it, and had the very great satisfaction of burying my sword right in the middle of her stolen, well-developed chest. The only trouble was, it didn't seem to bother her at all, and it meant I'd lost my weapon...

"Ah, Charol darling, it's not that simple", she told me. "It will take more than what you've got to kill me!"

I looked around at Memree, holding the crossbow, tears streaming down her cheeks, standing close to the pile of ashes and empty, half-molten armour that had been Cuirass, and at Cleve, with a sword ready to either throw to me or at Atzmon. "Well gang, we've got her attention..."

Cleve threw the sword like a dagger, but it went into some sort of magical vortex and vanished before it could reach Atzmon. She looked around, and saw the spear that had killed the mage's monster-familiar, and tugged at it, pulling it out of the small but surprisingly massive little cat-corpse. Memree fired a bolt, but again it was harmlessly deflected, then turned to help Cleve, while I just stood confronting Atzmon with a small dagger I normally just use for cutting food.

"Whatever the body, I'm stronger than you, Charol, aren't I?" Atzmon gloated. "And I think you've run out of tricks now - haven't you!" Her hands moved with incredible speed, and suddenly she was strangling me. I tried to cut her arms with the dagger, I think I did draw blood, but she was winning, until wham, she was spun away, and I could breathe, and see that between them Cleve and Memree had transfixed her on their spear. And this time she wasn't laughing. Her whole body seemed to shrivel, until it was just old skin covering older bones, even her head seemed to deflate, and then the fire licked over her...

She was dead, or at least as dead as such mages of darkness ever get - and we, except for poor Cuirass, were alive.

But it's getting late - tomorrow will be one of those "ties up loose ends" reports, okay?

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