Monday, 23 November 2015

Chapter 7 - Fall of Balentyne

The wind howled across the lake, echoing its mournful chorus into the night sky. Willow lay awake staring at the spine of the tent. She could hear the breeze whistling its somber song, the nocturnal creatures calling to one another on the outside of the camp. She could hear Pellius’ satisfied heavy breathing as he lay next to her in a deep sleep. But she focussed on the low rumbling snore coming from the orc. He was a curiosity to her, a puzzle she needed to solve. As they had sat by the fire, he spoke of The Wall. Willow had pried for more details, listening intently as he described a prison of sorts, a place that sounded like an eternity of misery, uncountable souls crushed upon each other in a lay of tormented moans and ululating cries. He had no recollection of life prior to The Wall, no memory of what would have led him to become imprisoned there. Willow asked him of his loyalties, noting he had no obvious moral qualm with taking out Iron Sam in armed combat. She watched his facial expressions as he answered, searching for telltale signs of truth or lies.
“Do you serve our Infernal Lord Asmodeus?” Garvana asked forcefully.
“I do. That, I will always remember,” he answered truthfully.
“Who or what was that devil?” Willow asked curiously, “The one who opened the portal, do you remember him?”
Bor turned and stared intensely, “I don't know what it was, I’ve never actually seen it before. But I could feel it. Always there, always watching.”
She was most intrigued, looking over to Garvana she asked, “Do you know what type of devil he was?”
Garvana frowned, “Nothing I've ever come across.”
Willow had no knowledge of a devil such as him, nor had she ever heard of The Wall. Of course, she intended to find out.

The day had certainly been strange. Willow’s mind wandered through a labyrinth of questions, at the top of them all was her intense bond with Hell. Most intriguing was how the bond was strengthened and intensified as the portal from this realm to His had formed. She had always known she had an odd religious connection. She had never heard of anyone feeling their god the way she did. As a child it was more like a friend, an eidolon of guidance and comfort, always by her side. But as she grew, it changed.
Her fourteenth birthday had barely passed before He came to her.
Her mother had insisted she accept the offer of a date from the son of Marcus Edanburn, Duke of Tevvarneh. Willow had to admit, Samson was certainly the most handsome and adventurous of the four Edanburn boys. He was sixteen years of age, tall and lean with cropped darks waves framing his soft edged face. He had a reputation for fun and mischief, far more exciting than the other young noble men who had tried courting her.
After a polite lunch in the parlour of his families’ manor, he offered Willow an arm as an escort for a tour of the gardens. They strolled slowly away from the watchful eyes of their chaperones and approached the end of the maze of flora.
“Want to go somewhere a little more fun?” Samson asked mischievously.
Willow laughed as he grabbed her hand and pulled her along, sneaking off the property. She hitched her dress up as they ran through the wheat fields and into the forest. They ran alongside the river, following its bends and curves, climbing over rocks and fallen tree trunks. When they came to the cliff edge of Fell Valley they sat and hung their feet over.
“May I say my lady,” Samson said, “You are staggeringly beautiful. I am most grateful you accepted my invitation.”
Willow laughed, “And may I say dear sir, that flattery will get you entirely everywhere.”
She stared out across the rolling hills of the valley, pretending not to notice as he slowly leaned in, planting a kiss on the side of her cheek. Turning to face him, she looked into his eyes, smiling coyly she moved in closer pressing her lips to his. He placed his hand gently behind her head, staying locked in the kiss for a time. Willow could feel a warmth growing from within her. As he reached his other hand around her waist pulling her closer, Willow whimpered. A hot rush flooded her, and an aching tear seemed to be pulling her deeper into the forest. She broke the kiss suddenly and scrambled to her feet.
“What's wrong sweet girl?” asked Samson standing after her, “I apologise, I did not mean to rush you.”
“There's something out there,” Willow said distractedly.
“Wait, come back!” he called as she ran off, “Wait for me!”
Winding through the trees she followed her instincts. She knew she was getting closer when the feeling in her grew and started to burn, her breath quickened and with each step her senses heightened. She stopped as she came upon the largest weeping willow tree she had ever seen. Pushing aside the curtains of branches, a moan escaped her lips, an open abandoned stone temple stood dark and solitary.
Willow jumped as a hand grabbed her shoulder.
“What is this place?” Samson asked, eyes wide.
“I haven't a clue,” Willow said in a breath.
As she stepped forward, Samson pulled her back.
“No, I do not like this place.” he said sternly, “It feels evil. It feels angry. Wrong.”
Willow scoffed and pushed his hand away, “Nonsense, it feels… like… Him.”
The words came out of her mouth with no intent on her behalf. But they felt right, they felt truthful.
“What are you talking about?” Samson snapped, “This is not right. Who are you talking about?”
Willow wandered forward ignoring his protests. As she reached the entry to the temple, she was greeted by a hot wave of energy, searing her from the inside out. She groaned as she continued on, timidly climbing the stairs one at a time. The further she made it, the louder the rushing energy sounded, she could barely hear Samson talking behind her. She stood at the threshold of the archway and paused. The pulling was at its worst, threatening to yank her inside, but this was a step she knew she had to take herself. Taking a deep breath, Willow lifted her chin high and crossed the threshold, stepping inside.
A surge of knowledge flowed through her veins, the burning heat comforting her in a way she had never known.
“This is his,” she said in awe, “This is his place. He’s here, he’s everywhere!”
Willow studied the markings on walls, most blurred by burn marks. She surmised that the temple used to be a place of worship for those faithful to Asmodeus. As the thought formed in her mind, a wave of heat flared down below, forcing out another moan.
She lifted out her arms and span in a circle laughing, “I can feel him. He’s actually here!”
“Willow!” Samson bellowed fiercely, “Stop this nonsense at once! No future wife of mine should be permitted to carry on in such a way!”
Willow froze in her position. Her arms dropped to her sides as she slowly spun to face him.
“Can't you feel him?” she asked intensely, “He's rushing through my blood, he’s fire in my belly, he’s feeding my soul.”
Willow ran over to Samson, pushing him up against the wall, forcing her lips against his. Grabbing his hand, she thrust it between her legs, the touch sending a shock wave through her body. As she kissed him with fiery passion and ground herself down on his hand, he struggled with the decision to pull away, eventually tearing himself from her.
“Willow,” he panted through a heaving chest, “What is going on? What is this? Who are you talking about?”
Willow looked up at him with bright eyes and whispered, “The Prince of Darkness.”
Samson recoiled with a look of disgust.
“What in Mitra’s name?!” he screamed, “Who are you?!”
He backed away from Willow with his hands up in defence.
“Stay back you devil bitch!” he yelled, “Heinous blasphemer!”
He ran down the stairs and back through the forest, Willow followed behind him, skirts flying as she leaped. Her parents had warned her of this. She had been so caught up in the moment that she had forgotten the reality of the world. Even simple worship of her beloved Infernal Lord was outlawed, punishable by death. As they neared the clearing of Fell Valley, Willow knew she would never catch him, she had to act fast. She swooped down and picked up a heavy stick and threw it hard at his head. A perfect shot had him tumble forward and skid along the dirt on his stomach. Willow ran over to him and grabbed him by the collar pulling him to his feet. She could feel the searing heat circling in her again. Her eyes flashed with hellfire as he stood frozen in fear.
“Deliver me from chaos that I may serve you in eternity,” she said fiercely, holding his collar tight forcing him to step backwards to the edge of the cliff.
Staring deeply into his eyes she kissed him softly and whispered, “Hail Asmodeus.”
She shoved with all her might and saw Samson fly outwards, plummeting down the side, his body falling limp as it smashed into the rocks along the way. Willow watched until he came to a stop, unmoving and lifeless. She sat down, hanging her legs over the edge of the cliff. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She did not enjoy death, even when it was necessary. As she stared out over the expanse and more tears fell, Willow felt a gentle warmth encompass her. She smiled through the tears as it wrapped her tight, like a gentle caress from a lover.

Staring up at the spine of the tent, Willow smiled. She may not feel her god as others did, but the way she felt Him was magnificent. She remembered learning some very valuable lessons that day. That she could not trust anyone with her secrets, that a crying woman’s lies are very likely to be believed and that no man would ever be as great, or mean as much to her as Him.
Willow thought back to the day she had just had and was struck with an odd thought. She remembered the devil that had stepped out of the portal had looked straight at her. When she caught him he had snapped his head away, she would have sworn it seemed almost in deference. She was still left with questions, certain questions only her family or their histories could answer.
Rolling over, she could make out the silhouette of Pellius’ face. His Chellaxian bone structure so rigid compared to those of Talingarde. She wondered what he felt when he channelled their Infernal Lord, smiting he called it. Did he feel the same heat? Did his blood burn and his chest heave? Did he know that was what she felt?
Willow silently crawled on top of him, gently grasping his hands and swiftly slamming them down above his head. He woke with a shock, instantly flipping Willow over and under him, hand to her throat.
Willow laughed, “Round two?”

In the early hours before dawn, Willow was woken by a familiar lick of burning flare. She blazed in the same way she had that night in the Lords Dalliance.
“And does our great Infernal Lord offer any guidance?” she heard Garvana ask.
“The Master of Devils,” spoke a smooth baritone voice, “Is of course far too busy to provide guidance, nor would he expect he would need to provide guidance. He would of course assume, that you would suffice with your own capabilities.”
“Of course,” Garvana said curtly.
Willow lay still, listening to their exchange. What she could gather was that Garvana had been contacted by this creature more than once. Willow wondered what she had to gain by hiding this information, and what other knowledge she was withholding from the group. The creature seemed to be offering advice and encouragement, as well as the use of his particular talents, described as best used in shadows. As they said their farewells and the creatures’ presence faded into nothing, Willow thought of how far she had let her guard down. She had begun to trust these people although she knew they all had secrets. Garvana’s concealment was a reminder of why trust was such a futile and hindering value.

Willow heard Garvana shuffle around the camp, darkness still looming, first light not having breeched the horizon. The group roused quietly, gearing up and clearing out well before sunrise. Garvana, Pellius and Bor dragged the corpses of Barhold’s men towards the clearing around the Watchtower. Willow helped Teelee carve inverted pentagram’s on each of their foreheads. She watched deep in thought while they strung each body up by its neck in full view of the keep. A gruesome message sure to inflict fear in the hearts of god-fearing men.
They hustled back to town as the sun bloomed low in the distance. The signal horns sounded from the keep as they reached its secret entrance. Upon reaching the other end, they slowed and listened. Garvana signalled that she could hear coughing in the vault. Preparing for a fight they opened the wall, charging the two guards from the tunnel, catching them by surprise. The group was so quick at taking them down, neither managed to use their signal horns. Willow took the brass flute off the guards body, a keepsake, someway to remember the beginning.
Pellius and Bor used the magic from the circlets to mimic the guards they had killed, copying the fine facial details. Willow and the others stood in the shadows, readying their weapons, prepared for anything. She watched Bor’s face contort with rage as he reached the top of the ladder, leaping from the trap door into the room. Before anyone else could react, Willow had surged up the ladder and darted in behind the blacksmith that Bor had hacked, and sliced him through the neck. One by one, each of the six blacksmiths were cut down, but unfortunately not before they managed to raise the alarm.
They took the tower one room at a time, meeting any resistance head on, emerging almost unscathed. Climbing another lot of stairs, they came face to face with Father Donigan. Poised for battle, a grim determination set on his face. Willow felt her fierce energy flare as he made eye contact with her, unflinching and undeterred he stood tall, while she smiled at his arrogance. He whole heartedly believed his Mitra would save him.
The room was lined with guards forming a barricade in front of the priest and layers of archers along the northern stairwell. Willow dove through a gap in between two guards, jumping out of the way of a shower of blood flying across the room. Bor had hacked a guard clean in half, splattering the priest as his sword carved through flesh. Pellius charged through the defence into the path of Father Donnigan. Willow flipped around the room with ease, ducking and weaving gracefully, effortlessly avoiding swords and arrows alike. As she slid under the stairs flanking the priest, she was flooded with a searing rush of profane heat. Pellius called to Asmodeus, dark energy seeping from his skin, making Willow clench her teeth to stop from moaning. Father Donigan did his best to fend off the attacks, surprisingly skilled with his shield, but was ultimately too weak. A last desperate attack he started a summoning, magic wisps stirring, but was too slow to avoid Willow’s dagger aiming for his heart or Pellius’ great axe aiming for his head. He fell to the ground as the last sounds of his incantation spluttered in his throat. Pellius charged onwards upstairs towards the archers while the others took out the infantry men. Willow lingered over the priest.
“Do not be afraid,” she whispered, draping his eyes closed with her fingers, “Our fate cannot be taken from us. It is a gift.”
Dragging her dagger to his throat she pushed down firmly, “And if that gift is displeasing; the strong will carve out a new one for themselves.”

The last room in the tower they took quickly. Willow was repulsed watching Bor cram a guard through an arrow slit barely half his width. Pellius seemed to puff out his chest and cleave with vicious strength, so cleanly decapitating the last guard that his head appeared to float in mid air for a moment, before dropping to the floor with a thud. Willow laughed at their vile display of testosterone.
Through the other arrow slit they were greeted with too much silence. Looking closely, they managed to make out men on the top floor, the remainder of the guards and the commander having fallen back, preparing for a last line of defence.
Willow and Pellius argued on which way to go, she wanted to go back through the guard rooms and come up from underneath, avoiding the open space of the courtyard. It didn't take long for Willow to snap with impatience.
“Go wherever you go,” she clipped, “I'm going DOWN!”
Pellius chuckled, “No no it's fine, I always have fun when you go down.”
Willow rolled her eyes and span on her heel, smirking as she trotted down the stairs.

They prowled through the hallway, clearing each room they passed. As they entered the passage that joined the main hallway they came upon four sturdy reinforced doors. Willow watched Bor shift his balance lifting his leg and ramming it into the door, not even making a dent. She placed a hand on his forearm as she slipped in front of him, swiftly picking the lock and swinging the door wide, winking at him as she entered. The four rooms belonged to the captains, none of which contained much worth the weight. As she rummaged through their belongings she heard a loud crack of splintering wood. Slinking back into the passage with her daggers at the ready, she laughed as saw Garvana holding a large wooden door, the door to the forge. She squeezed passed as Pellius ripped another door off, splitting the hinges apart, tearing it from the wall.
They reached the main door in the hallway and prepped themselves for a fight. After opening the door towards them, Willow quickly took a peek at what awaited them. As arrows flew towards her head, she saw a line on four infantry men guarding a line of four archers, set up on the northern and southern side of the hallway. She swiftly withdrew, dodging the arrows with ease. Pellius and Garvana stood with their wooden doors as shields at the ready. They stepped out on either side of the door, followed by Teelee with the fireball wand and Willow with her bow. Willow saw an arrow slip through the side and puncture Pellius in the shoulder, he stood fast, tall and strong behind his wooden shield.
Teelee launched a pellet of flame into the centre of the southern guards ranks, the explosion of fire rippling outwards, obliterating all but one. Willow launched a volley of arrows to the north, not standing in the return path long enough to see if they had hit. The northern guards retreated back into the gatehouse, calling for the drawbridge to be raised. Teelee launched another charge and managed to slip it through the small gap of the rising bridge. They knew it had found its target when the screaming sounded.
The last infantry guard on the southern side started a desperate charge towards them. As Willow stepped out and drew a bead on his leg, Pellius launched his door towards the guard. The guard tripped forward as she loosed her arrow, unintentionally shooting it into his forehead.
They closed and barred the large doors to the north, blocking off any chance of attack from behind. Pushing on into the barracks they saw part of the devastation they had caused with the poisonous Wolfsbane. The smell of decaying limbs pungent in the air. Guardsmen strewn about the place, gaping mouths, wheezing chest, blackened lips and tongues. Willow cringed at the smell and continued on, leaving Teelee to burn the barracks down behind them.
Entering the acolytes’ quarters, they came across a simple candlelit shrine to Mitra. The humble altar stood in the centre of a small pond filled with holy water, a shining sun sprouting from its top. Willow was intrigued as she watched Pellius approach it feeling the dark energy radiate from him. He hefted his great axe and cleaved the sun from its pedestal, sending it flying into the wall, shattering on impact. A small moan escaped her lips as she felt the darkness pulse and surround him.
Along the back wall stood a small bookshelf, flicking through the titles Willow pulled out a blue white and gold book, a Mitran holy text. She held it gingerly, half expecting it to turn to ash and scorch her hands as it lit itself on fire. She laughed at herself and threw it roughly in her bag. Pellius led the way into the chapel, dutifully charging up the ladder and into what lay above.
“LEAVE!” bellowed a saintly voice.
“This place,” Pellius called with sacred purpose, pulling out his Asmodean pendant, “Like all others, is His. And we… are here to claim it for Him.”
Empowered by his words the rest of the group charged up the ladder into battle. Willow reached the top and sprinted towards a nearby acolyte, cutting him down with quick slashes to the chest and neck. Looking around she recoiled as she saw a great mass of energy, like a whirlwind of dancing firefly lights. Nine Archon lanterns, scouts of heaven, forming one single entity.
Willow twirled around the chapel, flipping above the pews, avoiding each attack with ease. As she dove through an acolytes legs, reaching up behind him and impaling her daggers into his spine, she felt a menacing aura surge from the Archon. The surge throbbed and threatened to break into Willow’s mind, but Pellius’ words were still bounding around, giving her strength. She was here to claim this place for her Infernal Lord. She shrugged off the feeling and leaped back into the fray, carving her way through.
As the last of the acolytes fell, the group realised they could do little to no damage to the Archon, they fled back down the ladder. As Willow hurried towards the latch she laughed and winced as she saw Bor hack off an acolytes head and throw it up at the Archon.

Barging through the kitchen door, they were greeted by the chef, an array of knifes set out in front of her.
“Don't be thinkin’ your using my kitchen as a way in!” she barked, picking up a knife.
As Pellius charged forward she started hurling knives erratically, clearly with no skill, flinging them everywhere but at him. He reached her and easily knocked her to the ground subduing her pitiful attacks. Willow sprinted forward and leaped up onto the table, diving off it plunging her dagger into the woman's skull. She had to prop a foot against her forehead to remove the blade, shrugging and smiling in response to Pellius’ quizzical look.

Climbing out of the trap door into the throne room, Willow’s lip turned up as she felt the sickly righteous aura of the Thomas Havelyn.
“Lay down your arms, lest you further endanger your very souls with this villainy!” boomed the Lord Commander.
The group ran into attack and Willow vaulted up onto the throne in the centre of the wall.
“Our souls have always belonged to Him,” Willow replied fiercely, firing an arrow at his head, watching it clang of his helmet, “We are in no danger. It is your soul Havelyn that I would be worried about!”
With a flash of fire, Teelee conjured another inferno that ripped through the ranks of guardsmen, more than half of them falling to their knees. As the Commander charged at Willow he beseeched Mitra for healing aid, channeling holy energy allowing it to flow from him into his comrades, reviving them from the brink of death. Garvana, Bor and Pellius took the brunt of the attack as the guards and the commander pushed forward. Lord Havelyn seemed to recognise Pellius for what he was, a Paladin of the Archdevils faithful, the righteous embodiment of his power. Willow bared her teeth as the sickening wave of divine energy flooded the area, he called down Mitra’s guidance, smiting Pellius in the Shining Lord’s name.
Willow dashed in behind the commander, slashing and slicing, searching for a weak point in his armour. He carved his great sword across into Pellius’ torso, continuing through to strike Garvana in the shoulder. Pellius continued to try parry and defend, while Garvana called out to Asmodeus, her blood covered mace erupting in flame.
Bor harnessed his rage into effortlessly hacking through the guards, making his way toward the commander. Pellius started to falter after taking the majority of the assault, his gaping wounds refusing to stop bleeding, he continued to fight, his strength draining with each hit.
Bor stepped up to the Commander and brought his sword down into his helmet. Caved as it was, it held fast. Garvana swung her flaming mace, smashing it into his chest, denting in the front of the breast plate.
Willow saw her opportunity when a spilt in the armour opened, allowing her to plunge her dagger into the Commander’s spine, his legs collapsing underneath him. The guards behind tried to grab hold of him and drag him back into their ranks. Before they could Willow pounced, landing atop of him plunging her dagger down through his throat. Feeling an intense rush of burning pride, she looked up at the guards with the fury of hell in her eyes and grinned. Willow laughed as she saw the look of horror form on their faces and fear took over, sending them scrambling out of the door. She watched as she heard Teelee send off another fireball, but as it passed her she whimpered when the searing hot flare swarmed through her veins. The fireball had been enveloped by a dark swirling mist, the sweltering burn of hell engulfing the simple pyromancy. As it reached the fleeing guards, it forcefully imploded, leaving behind only a shower of red blood misted through the air.

Garvana saw to healing Pellius, while Willow stayed perched atop of Lord Commander Havelyn. She pulled off his helmet and studied his face. He looked like any ordinary man, and in death of course, nobody was special. As the last flicker of life drained from his eyes, her thoughts churned over in her mind. This was her enemy. Mitran fanatics that would never understand or appreciate real order. Freedom and equality were the cause of the chaos in this world. She felt slightly unhinged as she sat crouched atop his corpse. She had gone from a life of privilege to a life of death and destruction. The chaos of death and destruction that she had caused. She knew that the cardinal had a greater plan in motion, she just had to trust that he was capable of reining in the chaos he was ensuing. She would follow him, while he was still powerful enough to lead.
Still crouched on top of the Lord Commanders corpse, she heard Pellius’ footsteps behind her. She smiled, stepping off the body, throwing the helmet to him.
“Don't mind the blood stains,” Willow said with a wink.
She turned to walk off, but froze as she felt a creeping surge of powerful profane darkness. Spinning back to the commander, she watched the silver armour flake and shed its layer, revealing a matte black finish underneath. The trim boiled off leaving a blood red one in its place. Willow smiled and her heart sang as the Mitran sun burned away, exposing the Asmodean star, front and centre in the heart of the armour.
Pride pounded in her chest, “He is pleased!”

They seized each floor of the keep, working their way to the roof. As they rounded the stairs on the top floor, they reached the ornate doors leading to the commanders meeting room. Willow smirked as she threw the doors open and approached the large chest in the corner. She carefully inspected its joins and grooves looking for the trigger to its alarm.  She noticed the creases of a small hidden button at the back, disguised as one of many decorative engravings. She disabled the trap and sprang the lock, opening the chest to reveal two silver Asmodean pendants and two iron circlets laid over a heavy barbed mace; Garvana and Teelee’s confiscated belongings. After she lifted out the last piece of armour, Willow smiled at the glittering wealth she saw. Perfectly sorted bags of gold, jewelled chalices and valuable medals. She knew she had been correct, she had just robbed Balentyne’s treasury.

After storming the roof and cutting down the rest of the guards, they dismantled the trebuchet by cutting through its ropes. Pellius stood by the edge, pointing to the north, lighting and launching the signal rocket. It exploded into a shattering of green flame coating the sky, unmissable by their bugbear army over the wall.
Heading towards the gatehouse, they reached the bottom set of stairs, leading to the throne room. They heard a large number of guards and dwarves blocking their exit, leaderless and with little chance of success, they had banded together as a last ditch effort to attempt to stop the take over. Deep and intimidating, Pellius shouted a warning of the incoming attack, giving them a one time offer to flee. Bor, Garvana and Pellius bickered amongst themselves about what to do with the group, while Willow strained to listen to the others. They were divided, some wanting to flee in fear desperate to stay alive, some wanting to stand fast and stay and fight. While the bickering kept the group distracted, Willow used the arcana of her circlet. She bled her skin crimson, grew her teeth and tail out, flashing her eyes blood red. Slowly she prowled out in front of the guards and dwarves, with a wicked toothy smile, watching the fear drain their faces hollow. She perched up onto the arm of the throne.
“Go,” she purred, “Take this chance and flee. For you will know real fear before long. He is coming for what is rightfully his. And when he comes, those who are unworthy shall drown in agonising dread. For his shadow is darkest at the bottom, a place where terror and horror feed on the fear of mortal men.”
She leant forward, “GO!” she screeched, “Or I will cut you down myself and offer you in sacrifice!”
She laughed as she watched the men scramble and shriek. Looking over to the stairs she saw the group staring down at her.
“What?” she asked innocently, fluttering her eyes as she blinked away the fire.

The gatehouse had been abandoned. Only scorch marks remained of the guards, their screams of agony still haunting the walls. While Garvana and Bor opened the portcullis and the drawbridge, Willow sat along the top of the outer wall facing north, watching the bugbear horde approach in the distance. She had dropped her disguise and sat, legs dangling, marvelling at their own accomplishments. The five of them had managed to infiltrate, wipe out and take over an entire watchtower by themselves. She watched the army flood through beneath her and she cringed at the utter chaos they would bring. She understood the necessity, and saw their usefulness in the long term, but still despised their thirst for pointless brutality and violence. Feral beasts at heart, dogs that needed to be kept on a short leash.
And from the front of the charge she saw Sakkarot. A feral beast indeed, but with an intellectual mind. A dangerous sort and a powerful ally.
The horde spilled out of the keep towards the town. Willow could hear the massacre bounding across the clearing. She dropped down landing in a crouch when she saw Saakrot approaching.
“I'm impressed little one,” he laughed, slapping her on the back, almost knocking her off her feet, “I’ve barely worked up a sweat. You sure did a number on this place!”
“Eh,” she said in her best cockney accent, “All in a day's work.”
“Haha!” he bellowed, “That's the spirit!”

The gruesome deeds raged on and fires burnt high in the town, while the group gathered around the clay seal they had been given. Willow studied the carving, an inverted pentagram surrounded by intricately detailed thorns. Firmly holding it between her hands she snapped it clean down the middle, watching the cracks rivet along the pentagram's points, shattering the clay through her fingers. The waited mere seconds before Tiadora, the Mistress from the cardinals’ manor, appeared before them with a small wooden box in her hands.
“Well,” she said patronisingly, looking around, “I suppose this means you've been successful in your task. Most surprising.”
She handed Willow the oddly heavy box containing a hefty amount of platinum bars and a note marked with an A. The Cardinal gave his congratulations offering the fine reward. He gave orders to rest and recover, before they would be called on again soon. Tiadora announced that she had been given authority to recruit Bor as the replacement fifth charge in their Nessian Knot. He signed without hesitation, much to her obvious disappointment.

They traveled to the dockside where a ship awaited them, Willow turned back towards the watchtower. She saw the smouldering embers and thick ash smoking through the air. The outer walls were crumbling, the tower had fallen into rubble, the inner sanctum was nothing but an inferno. To the south the horde had amassed in camp. The horrific cries of the last townsfolk and the ferocious calls of the beasts could still be heard as she walked away. She threw her hood over her head as she toed along the plank.
The Watchtower of Balentyne had fallen, and with it, all hope of peace for Talingarde as they knew it.

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