Thursday, 14 January 2016

Chapter 10 - Clandestine

The rotting flesh rapidly deteriorates as the infection spreads,” Willow read from the Dirges of Appolyon, “Contracted through contact of bodily fluids.”
She cringed, flipping through the pages on detailed accounts of the plagues of history. Those sent forth throughout the planes by the hand of the Prince of Locusts, deep from his Throne of Flies, centred in the festering pits and shrivelled forests of the Plaguemere. 
“Disgusting,” Willow commented, turning her nose up.
She turned the page and traced her fingers across four names. 
Apollyon, Szuriel, Trelmarixian and Charon,” she read aloud to the group gathered around the small fire they had made in the throne room, “Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.”
Willow skimmed over the little known lore of the Pale Horsemen, repeating facts she found interesting, as the members of their knot listened in. When she continued on, she came across the rambling account of a plague ridden doctor devoted to Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes.
Wilfred Frederick Collan, Oathday Pharast 4679,” she read, “The bacteria has spread into my lungs. The cough has grown heavy, my lung capacity has shortened by a factor of four. Symptoms have grown to include fever, chills, muscle cramps and infrequent seizures. It is most fascinating! The skin on my fingers and toes has begun to discolour, I shall be interested to see in which order I lose them…”
Willow cringed, reading his entries aloud, frowning at the unhinged enthusiastic script.
Wilfred Frederick Collan, Starday Desnus 4680. He spoke to me. My undying Prince, Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes! He congratulated me on my self mutations of the pneumonic plague. He gave me his blessing, he touched my soul, dousing it in his unholy pestilence. I can feel the greatness within me, corroding my lungs as I write this. This shall be my last entry. Know that as my insides are putrefied and decayed, my heart is full. The life shall drain from my rotting carcass, my soul shall live on in my Prince of Pestilence’s despair.”
Willow closed the book as she finished and stared off into dead air in contemplation, “We cannot allow him his freedom,” she said coldly, “A plague we have control of is acceptable at best, perilous at worst. But releasing a malefic plaguebringer of his might? The repercussions would be catastrophic.” 
Willow was struck with an idea. 
“Garvana, Pellius,” she called, eyebrows pulled tight in thought, “How binding is this ritual?”
She flung open the tome, flipping to the last page, the hand written letter.
For the Withering Eye of Hatred ask what ye will,” she recited, “for in his gratitude he must answer your charge…”
Willow looked from Pellius to Garvana, “How bound is he to that? Can we ask for his banishment? Ask him to leave this material plane and never return?”
“That would most certainly anger him,” Pellius said, eyebrows drawn together, “But it is possible. Rituals such as this are soul binding. He must comply, but he is free to taint the ‘wish’ in anyway he can.”
“Well we've got seven months to perfect the wording,” Willow smirked, “I'm sure we can come up with something fool proof.”
“I've been meaning to mention,” Pellius continued, “We are obviously in need of allies, trustworthy allies devoted to our Infernal Father...”
“And you know of some?” Garvana questioned.
“When I arrived on these shores I was heading a small fleet of my Chelaxian brethren. Their punishment was lacking in comparison to my own. But say we spare some time to locate them? They would flock to our Infernal Lord’s banner.”
Willow smiled, “Perhaps the Baron may provide some assistance, his contacts could prove useful in locating them.”
“Ah,” Pellius frowned, “He is going to be a problem. We must eliminate him or at the very least find some compelling leverage over him. I confess, I am not a man of easy trust, but I have known men such as he. He will betray us, it is only a matter of time.”
“Of course he will,” Willow chuckled, “But let us suck him dry of his use before we dispose of him.”

As the first light from the sun pierced through the large canopy along the horizon, the group crawled up the second staircase winding around the spire. A slender set of steps, narrowly winding up the two hundred feet. Willow marvelled at the large Horn, it's open entrances ominously forming a silhouette of Vetra-Kali’s three eyes. 
They crept in through the entrance way, passing what should have been a brutal death trap. But instead, the arrow slits lay unmanned, the gaping pit trap hung open, the barricade strewn off centre. This entrance also abandoned. A single pair of Boggard tracks scattered across the floor, breaking the dense layer of dust and moss swarming the stone. As they crossed the board bridging the pit trap, Pellius and Garvana seemed to slow.
“Do you feel that?” Garvana asked quietly, “It's like a sickening ray of goodness, an aura of just and righteousness.”
Pellius cringed, “I feel it too.”
Willow frowned, she did not necessarily feel comfortable in this place, but she could not comprehend what they were feeling.
Searching warily through the rooms, they discovered it held great resemblance to the level below. The entrance hall littered with gaping pit traps, guard rooms, store rooms, even the remains of what was once a functioning brothel. Willow shuddered, viewing the murals depicting the ravenous scenes of lust and debauchery. She grimaced as she noted not all of the clientele were humanoid in nature.
The murals continued throughout the base, intricately carved tales of the Pale Horsemen and their deeds of history. Willow browsed each carving, recognising the worth that could be if they were to catalogue the information. As she studied the long vivid images lining the lengthy passageway, she noticed three separate patterns.
“They're rituals,” she mused, “Daemonic rituals…”
Willow made note to study them further during their long stay in the walls of the Horn.

Laying amongst the rubble of a room laden with various shattered statues, Willow found a single stone head, unlike any of the others in the room. Examining it close, she noticed how intricately detailed the stone carvings were.
“Garvana,” she called, “What do you make of this?”
Willow handed her the head, as she looked it over in frown, “I do not know, it is far too detailed for a mere statue.”
“That's what I thought, could it have been human? Turned to stone by magic?”
Garvana nodded, “It is possible.”
Bor offered to carry the head if Willow wished to searched for its body.
“I would appreciate it,” she chuckled and winked, “My hands are more use elsewhere.”

Opening the door to the small room along the western side of the base, they were greeted by a tumbling of creeping vines furling along the walls. The mural on the western wall had been smashed so vigorously that the stone had collapsed, allowing the outside forestry to slither its way in. As the door clanged against the wall, two clear oozing masses resting by the hole began to shudder. Green vines rippled from the blobs, convulsing in an eery dance, mimicked by the greenery wrapped through the wall. Before Willow had time to react, she saw Pellius collapse in a sleeping heap on the ground. Three thuds behind her had her spinning around in time to see the rest of the group fall in the same unconscious daze. Willow panicked, slamming the door to the room closed, locking in the oozing forms. 
“Wake up!” Willow called, bending down and slapping Pellius across the cheek, “Wake up!”
Willow grew frantic, unable to comprehend a plan. She kicked Pellius in the stomach, hoping to rouse him. When he gave no signs of consciousness, she rammed her pick into the lock and jammed it tight. She knew the blobs to be creatures called Verdurous Oozes, but she had little knowledge of them and even less on what could have caused this effect or how to combat it. She paced in front of the door, feeling completely out of her depth. She kicked Pellius low in the stomach. 
“Wake up damn you!” she screeched. 
After a few minutes, and a few more solid kicks, she saw life slowly return to his eyes. Frustrated, she kicked him again in the side for good measure, his groan enough to stay her panic. 
“Sorry,” she said sheepishly, offering him a hand up, “You're probably going to have a few good bruises…”
Pellius chuckled, clutching his side, “You'll just have to rub them better tonight.”
Willow grinned, unabashedly feeling safer with him conscious. 
The others woke a few moments later, each dazed and confused as to what had happened. Willow explained the little she understood, Garvana deducing that the sleep effect was a natural ability of the oozes, possibly an ingestible type of spore.
“Well,” Willow said, “The lock is good and jammed, perhaps we clear out the rest of this place and come back to this later?”
“No objections here,” said Teelee, rubbing her head, straining her eyes.

After double checking the lock has been sufficiently compromised, the group continued their search of the base. Two large wooden doors stood centre of the hallway, a looming feat in the stone brickwork. They cautiously opened the doors, the second of the great throne rooms laying beyond. As they entered, Willow marvelled at the expansive panorama of murals, depicting a great civilisation in all its glory. Knights in majesty and gleaming armour, standing tall and proud, stout in their defence of the hoard of commoners. Towers and spires spiralling into the sky, strong and protective, overwhelming artistry of the civilisations might. As the group began their approach of the throne, Willow watched the horrific transformation. With each mural they passed, the crippling effects of the Pale Horsemen became apparent. The Knights grew gaunt, their skin hung from their meatless bones, the flesh rotted and festered. The scene depicted pestilence in all its lustre. A plague sweeping the country, the walls of the great buildings decaying and falling in disrepair, the common folk purged by famine and disease. As the scene mouldered and putrefied, images of daemons spawned across the expanse. The civilisation in festering ruins, portraits of cackling daemons, herding the masses of plague ridden undead humans into the blackened void. 
Lead the flock,” Willow read, from the Abyssal script carved above the throne, “Into the arms of blessed death…”
She shivered, the images of the death of humanity shaking her to her core. 
“I will do as my master bids,” she said quietly to Pellius, staring at the foreboding words, “but I will not allow this monstrosity his freedom.”
“Agreed,” he replied sombrely.

Willow stood in silent prayer for a few minutes, reminding herself of the power Cardinal Thorn harboured, reassuring her faith in her own instincts. She knew he was utterly devoted to Asmodeus, whatever his reasoning and motivations, their goals of her Infernal Lord’s reinstatement aligned. She had to trust in his wisdom, and his ability to control the backlash that unleashing the Tears of Achlys would bring. Her lips lifted in a small smile as she felt the softest pulse of profane energy, like a sweet searing kiss, a reassurance of faith.
Gathering herself, Willow began a closer inspection of the throne. After examining the intricate carvings along the base of the large chair, she found another small scripted nonsense word written in Abyssal – Rah.
“Command words?” Willow proposed. 
Teelee took it upon herself to test the theory. She marched with confidence up the stairs leading to the throne, sitting upon the seat in natural regal might. 
“Rah!” she called. Nothing happened.
“No no no,” Willow chuckled, “My guess is Rah is the command word to return here. Try saying Yah.”
“Yah?” Teelee said, unsure.
She vanished. For a few moments, the throne lay empty as her person was sucked through another dimension. Just as quickly she blinked into existence, returning to the throne in front of the group.
“Did it work?” Willow asked.
“Of course,” Teelee chuffed, “I knew it would.”
Willow laughed, walking back towards the exit, “Of course you did.”

As they approached a door adjacent to the throne room, both Pellius and Garvana cringed. The spine tingling aura of goodness radiated its strength from behind this door. Willow checked the door over for any unexpected sabotage. Satisfied, she swung the door wide, revealing a small shrine on the far wall and a carved inscription in ancient tongue.
Mitra lucet omnibus,” Garvana read aloud, “Mitra omnia regit. Mitra shines on everyone, Mitra rules everything.”
Willow grimaced, the sickeningly sweet words caressing her ears with its taint. 
“It seems powerful,” Willow said quietly, nose turned up, “Desecrating it would take more than merely brute force. I've read of such things, a blood sacrifice in our Infernal Father’s name would suffice.”
Garvana called for her dog, leading it over near the shrine. Willow raised her eyebrows, she would not stand by and allow it to be slaughtered. She had little remorse for human sacrifices, sentient beings who were weak enough to be massacred, failing their natural born right to be strong. But loyal animals, ones who knew their place by their masters side, their slaughter felt wrong and immoral. 
“Surely we can offer our Lord a more worthy sacrifice,” Pellius remarked to Willow as Garvana decided against it, leaving the shrine for later.

Opening the door to what appeared to be a large bedroom chamber, Willow sighed with delight at the sight of an enormous four poster bed. The grand structure reached a height of over ten feet, it's intricate oak beams carved in immaculate beauty, it's deep base heavy laden with majesty. The mattress and bedding rotted with mould and mildew. The drapes lay in shreds, the coverlet corroded into frail scraps of silk. 
“It's beautiful,” Willow crooned, strolling around the bed, speaking to Pellius, “How difficult would it be to procure a mattress from Farholde?” 
Pellius smirked, “It would be possible.”
“This is definitely going to be mine,” she said, grinning back at him, “I'll let you join me on occasion I suppose.” 

Entering the last room on the floor, had Willow chuckling. Centre of the chamber was an intricately carved statue, missing its head. 
“I think we've found its owner,” she chuckled, looking over to Bor.
He pulled the head from his bag and placed it atop the statue. Each shattered fragment sliding snug for a perfect fit. Willow rounded the statue, making out the markings of insignia of his back. The image of a bull skull, tall pointed horns and deep gaunt hollow eyes, lay carved into his back. 
“Here lies our first sacrifice,” Willow mused, thinking of the components to the ritual.
The ritual to release Vetra-Kali had spoken of three necessary sacrifices. The first, one of the Sons of the Pale Horsemen, sacrificed to show their acknowledgement of their failure and their prolonged devotion. The second, one of Mitra's faithful, sacrificed to called forth the malevolent powers of darkness to weaken the seal. The third, one of the Victor’s own bloodline, sacrificed to use the same blood that bound him, to unbind him. 
Willow had recited the specifics of each ritual to the group. She surmised that any priest or priestess of the Light would suffice as the second sacrifice. She had recalled a rumour of Sir Valen’s relation to the Victor, suggesting him as a possible third and final sacrifice. 
“One of the Sons,” Willow said, tracing the stone bull skull carving with her finger, “Do you know of any way to un-petrify him?”
Garvana frowned, “Did we not uncover some stone salve from that abandoned alchemist laboratory?”
“Would it work?” Willow asked, as Garvana pulled the vial from her pack. 
“It should,” she said.
“Let us wait,” Willow said quickly, “He may have useful information. There is another floor to this place, let us be sure of our surroundings first.”
Bor chuckled, “I do not think he'll be going anywhere.”

Willow deftly clambered up the outside of the forested Horn, a thick rope bundled over her shoulder, towards the only visible entrance to the next level. She quickly reached the balcony and peered in along the tiled hallway, another room laden with horrific imagery depicted in murals. Bor leaped along the wall beneath her, his great strength allowing him to force his way up onto the balcony. Willow laughed as he reached the ledge, seeing Teelee clinging fiercely to his back. She handed Bor one end of the rope and flung the rest down towards Garvana and Pellius. Garvana hefted her dog under one arm and struggled her way up the rope awkwardly towards the balcony. 
“Come on Pellius,” Willow yelled as she laughed.. 
Strong and stubborn, battling with his pride about taking help to climb a simple steep, Pellius brooded. 
“Come on man,” Bor laughed, “Can't climb a simple rope?!”
Pellius glared up at him, dramatically gripping the rope and hauling himself up. As he reached the balcony, Willow couldn't stop the giggles from escaping, earning her a fierce glare in return. Her giggles exploded into laughter, as she patronising soothed him. 
Still chuckling, she turned to the passage. As Bor stepped forward, Willow flung her hand out to stop him.
“Look,” she pointed, “Another trap.”
Carved intricately into the centre of the floor was a portrait of Vetra-Kali, the borders of the stone plate raised ever so slightly. Willow bent down, inspecting the mechanism of the slab, lingering over the sculpted three eyes. She saw the finely tuned minuscule pins of their locks, threaded into the joints holding up the trap door. As she reached to press the buttons, she saw Bor leap over the trap, barely clearing it with Teelee still clinging to his shoulders. Willow scoffed as she clicked all three eyes in together, snapping the trap in place, standing and sauntering across its board. 
“Eyes as keen as they are beautiful, my lady,” Pellius complimented.
Willow laughed, playfully fluttering her eyelashes to him.
She heard a great thud on the plate behind her, turning to see Garvana having failed to leap across the trap. 
“What?” she said, “It's hard to jump in this much armour.”

Entering the passage, the murals lining the floors and walls made one thing abundantly clear. This was Vetra-Kali’s abode. Each scene depicted his own accomplishments, terrifying imagery of his pustule nightmares ransacking the land and its people. The murals lead them through the halls, through cell blocks of sturdy might and hidden libraries that once held the secrets of his blasphemous pestilence. 
Chills ran down Willow's spine as they stepped inside a chamber littered in ominous Abyssal script. A large red circle carved into the floor, surrounded by dark ritualistic chants and blackened glyphs. Menacing whispers chanted in soft chorus, hurried and hushed wisps of sound licking Willow's ears. 
Receive the wisdom of Abbadon,” Willow read from the wall, large print furiously carved into the back wall.
Scribbled hastily a hundred times over in Abyssal script was a single word – Nen.
Willow was bent over, translating one of the chants written upon the floor, when she heard a single word.
Yah!” Garvana called.
Willow spun on her heel, in time to see Garvana vanish, gone from the centre circle.
“What in hell’s name does she think she's doing?!” Willow burst.
A moment later the air rippled and Garvana winked back into the room. 
“Are you daft?!” Willow yelled, “Standing in the centre of a room dripping with the ‘wisdom of Abbadon’ and you run without thought into its ritual circle and use its magic?!”
Garvana raised her eyebrows, “It was not without thought, I suppose I possess a greater understanding of this magic than yourself.”
Willow temper flared, “Do you not see the risk?! Are you so stubborn and blind?!” 
“What I saw,” Garvana said proudly, “Was that it worked. It was indeed, a teleportation circle, aligned with the others.”
Willow scoffed, “Let us hope that is all it is.” 
She turned from Garvana, fuming at her carelessness. Her worry was less for Garvana's safety, primarily for the success of their mission. As skilled as Willow was, she was not arrogant or na├»ve enough to believe she could succeed alone. After taking a deep breath, exhaling it slowly, Willow calmed. She knew Asmodeus saw strength enough in Garvana to grant her access to a sliver of his immense and unrivalled power. Willow would follow Him. She would forever follow Him, and never question his supreme wisdom. He saw Garvana as worthy, and so would she. 
After the others had left the room, Willow pulled Garvana aside, requesting a word. 
“I apologise for my outburst,” she said softly, swallowing her pride, “It was aberrant and puerile of me. But I must confess, the gain falls far short of the risk.  Losing you would endanger our odds of success in this holy mission, and this mission must come above all else, pride and might aside. We must succeed at all cost.”
Garvana hung her head slightly. 
“I do admit, it was indeed a rash action,” she replied, “I apologise. I was most confident of the outcome, I would not have attempted it otherwise. I do only wish you would have more faith in me.”
Garvana lent forward and gently kissed Willow on the cheek. 
Softly, she said, “Asmodeus smiles on us both.”

Two heavy reinforced, intricately carved doors stood solid and proud, what appeared to be the final doors to the Horn. As ornate and baroque as the entryway hall was, it paled before this expansive and vaulted chamber. The fane was adorned with a riot of lurid colours. Magnificent murals depicted daemons of every sort engaged in countless acts of wanton evil, callous destruction and inhuman savagery. Rows of pews lined the room, that would have once allowed a congregation of the chosen Sons to gather. A single podium stood centre of four heinous shrines.
Willow approached cautiously, eyeing each step warily.   
A shrine of white stood to the far left, decorated with bas-relief depictions of open pits of the dead and foul lepers crying in anguish.
“Pestilence,” she said quietly. 
A shrine of red stone stood second, decorated with cruel iron weaponry and horrifying imagery of slaughter and massacre.
Third, stood a shrine of black, decorated in repulsive illustrations of mortals in ravenous hunger wasting away from starvation.
Fourth stood a shrine of pale green, adorned with a skull with two coins over its eyes and a jagged Abyssal inscription. 
Behold a pale horse,” Willow read sombrely, “It's rider is Death, and all shall follow him.”
Willow shivered, sickening chills tingling her spine as she approached the centrepiece of the chamber. The large wall bedizened with an immaculately carved portrait of Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes. He sat with his equine hooves cross legged beneath him, his boned grotesque wings draped heavy over his shoulders, his single corroded horn protruding from his skull. He held out a hand offering his greatest work, his masterpiece, the Tears of Achlys. 
The three eyed daemon prince may have been paying homage to the four shrines, but there was no doubt that this fane was built primarily to honour him. 
Willow turned her head and scanned the other walls. Each contained a litany of the deeds performed by the daemonic prince. It was he who crossed the great void and came to the material plane to establish the Sons of the Pale Horsemen. It was he who oversaw the construction of the Horn of Abbadon. It was he who forged the frightful Tears, and he who planned to unleash it. 
Willow turned back to the centrepiece. Slowly, she approached. As she neared she saw a jagged key carved into one of Vetra-Kali’s open hands, a small inscription on its neck. Bor followed as she moved closer, walking up beside her. As he neared, she heard his sharp intake of breath. She snapped her head to him, frowning as he began to gasp for air. He cried out, a mournful sound of sheer terror, as he sprinted from the room. Garvana went after him as Willow turned back to the carving. She felt a sickening wave of fear tugging at her mind. She could feel it trying to wrap its tendrils around her, worm its way into her thoughts. With a surge of willpower she flung the effect away. 
Willow cringed, “It's a curse or hex, I think?”
Once Bor had calmed and returned, Garvana carefully approached. She called out an incantation raising her hand in front of the carving. 
“There's summoning magic here,” she said, eyes glazed, “And here…” she said, pointing to the eastern wall.
“Look at the words,” Willow said quietly, pointing to the inscription on the key.
Hail Vetra-Kali,” Garvana read aloud. 
Willow grimaced. 
“The foreboding magic is gone,” Garvana commented, “I no longer feel its presence. It must be a charm, warding off all but the followers of the Pale Horsemen.”
“I will never utter those words,” Willow replied coldly. 
“Spoken words have little meaning,” Gavrana responded, “Asmodeus knows of our unwavering devotion.” 
Willow smiled, “I concur, but if those words were to leave my lips, I feel I would be betraying my… heart.”
Garvana smiled back at Willow, “Then there is no need, I shall speak them for you.”
She turned back to the carving as Pellius approached Willow. He bent down to whisper in her ear.
“Asmodeus rewards his faithful… As do I,”  he said low and menacing.
Willow drew her lip in between her teeth as she grinned, winking back to him. 
Garvana reached out to the carving, tracing her fingers over the three eyes of Vetra-Kali, clicking all three in together. The sound of stone scraping on stone had the group spinning around. The bricks of the eastern wall separated and opened, revealing a store room filled with discarded broken furniture. As Garvana approached the room, Willow called out.
“Wait, there was magic connecting the door to the shrine. What would it do if you entered?”
While Willow was distracted, Bor sent the dog into the room. Willow spun around, and pursed. The dog merely trotted into the room, unharmed. As the others followed in, Pellius took a seat on the pew, leaning on his weapon. Willow strolled next to him, watching warily from the outside of the room. 
After searching the chamber and returning empty handed, closing it behind them, Garvana approached the carving. She stood in thought for a moment before reaching for the eyes. 
Hail Vetra-Kali,” she said, clicking the eyes inwards in sync.
The stone bricks parted, revealing a room littered with glistening gold and treasures. Silver furniture, golden goblets, jewellery in an array of sparkling stones. Mounds of coins flowed across the floor, potions and ornate vials stacked along the wall, delicate plates and silverware piled upon each other. 
Floating atop the hoard of trinkets was a blackened swirling wraith foaming with hatred and malice. Three lesser wraiths cried out from behind it. 
“Fresh mortal souls!” wailed the foaming wraith in Abyssal tongue.
As it moved to swarm the party, Teelee called out.
“What binds you to this world?!” she boomed.
“What binds us here, mortal,” he groaned, “The banishment of our great Vetra-Kali is what binds us!”
“Then stay your attack and let us help you,” she replied, “We intend to free Vetra-Kali!”
“And what makes you think, you mortals are of might enough to free the Undying Prince?!”
Garvana stepped forward, “We possess the ritual, required to release him.”
She turned to Willow expectantly. Willow frowned, sceptical of trusting the sinister spectre. She slowly pulled the Dirges out of her pack, flicking to the back page, eyeing the wraith cautiously as she held up the hand written letter.
“Ah,” the wraith moaned, chuckling ominously, “You must be the ninth knot.”
The group started, suspicion flaring. 
“Indeed,” Willow clipped.
“The memories of your fourth knot were deliciously informative.”
She scoffed, “They were weak. Failures. There deaths mean nothing.”
“Very well,” he groaned, “For now, ninth knot, I shall allow you to attempt the unbinding of our Prince. Make haste, for my patience is short.”
Willow raised her eyebrows, biting her tongue, “We shall require the use of this wealth. There are many components to the ritual.”
“Take it,” the wraith shrieked, “I have no use for treasures.” 
A glistening green ray of light bounced off the walls, sparkling in Willow's vision. The second emerald of Vetra-Kali’s sat atop a thin pedestal behind the wraith.
“And we shall require the Eye.”
“You may take it, mortal. I feel the presence of the first Eye on you. But know this; we will know if the Eyes ever leave the Horn. And we will come for them.”
“Of course,” Willow said, inclining her head.
She slipped in the room a grabbed the large gem, eyeing a few golden and ruby pieces of jewellery, snatching them along her way out. 
Before the wraiths swirled into nothingness, they told the group of the last Eye, incased in stone on the floor below them. Willow turned to leave and saw Bor and Pellius still poised to attack.
She laughed in realisation, “You two can't speak Abyssal, you didn't understand a word?”

They sealed the room after taking as much lightweight treasure as they could, deciding to camp on the current floor for the night. After they had eaten, they cleared the room and set a round of sparring.
Willow exhaled slowly, poised and ready, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She fingered her makeshift wooden dagger, holding it lightly, preparing to attack. Garvana stood solid in her shining metal breastplate and chainmail, wooden club firmly in hand, grim determination painting her features. Willow approached cautiously, circling Garvana counter clockwise. She feinted to the left, stepping forwards and quickly changing direction, darting to the right. She attempted to strike Garvana in the side of her ribs, struggling to find a break in her armour. She hacked as she continued her movement through, tumbling away and springing to her feet. The tight lace of Garvana's heavy chainmail deflected the blow with ease, but made her movements sluggish, slowing her reflexes. Willow dove in beside her, leaping up and slashing the dagger between Garvana's shoulder and neck. 
“One point!” Bor called. 
Willow span back around, scoffing at Bor’s poor scoring, diving straight back into the fray on quick dexterous feet. Garvana swung her club fiercely, hacking low, clipping the edge of Willow’s knee as she leapt backwards. Willow jumped to the right, thrusting her dagger out into the seam of the chainmail sleeve, pirouetting swiftly and drawing the dagger back across Garvana's face. 
“Eight points!”
Garvana roared ferociously, she tackled Willow and latched on, gripping her tightly. She locked her elbow tightly around Willow’s neck, squeezing firmly attempting to cut of her airways. Willow couldn't help but grin as she struggled, finding herself in a very familiar position. She conserved her breath, using every bit of strength she had to inch them closer to the wall. When they were close enough, she swiftly braced her foot against the brickwork and ran up, leaping herself over Garvana as the grip broke around her neck. Landing in a crouch, panting for breath, she backed up stepping warily. 
Garvana spun around and charged at Willow with her club flying high above her head. As she neared, Willow attempted to feint to the left, darting to the right in hope of avoiding the attack. But this time Garvana saw through it, her keen eyes noticing the change in time, her club swinging wide and carving back towards Willow’s face. The brunt of the blow hit Willow in the jaw, the force of it knocking her off balance and sending her skidding backwards. 
“Ten points!” Bor yelled.
Willow shouted in frustration, wiping the blood from her mouth, baring her teeth. She flipped the dagger reverse grip, cracking her neck side to side, preparing to charge.
A firm hand gripped the back of her neck, painfully tight, in a familiar dominant gesture.
“Enough!” Pellius said firmly, the fierce bite in his voice soothing Willow's temper.
She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, revelling in the sharp pain his fingers were causing.
“Certainly,” she said softly, inclining her head, “Well fought, Garvana.”

Later, as the moon rose to its full height for the night, Willow sat straddled atop Pellius, her sounds of carnal satisfaction echoing off the empty stone chamber. She took him as she pleased, slow and steady. Her mind revelled in the low torturous hum of her Infernal Lord circling in her veins. As her mind drifted and her body dazed, she was suddenly hit with a frighteningly forceful pulse of profane energy. She cried out, doubling over onto Pellius’ chest, the wave of sheer blissful agony sweeping through her. Pellius took it as a sign, taking control, rolling her over and under him in a swift spin. Willow screamed as her body was set alight, the fierce inferno exploding from within her. Her chest tightened and her throat caught, the pulsing fire crushing her slender frame in the most pleasurable of ways. Something was here. Something touched by the hand of Asmodeus. Willow knew from experience that Pellius was highly skilled in the way of their nightly escapades, but a pain so primal and so wicked, was more than he could offer. She had never felt something so intense. Her limbs failed to respond, every muscle had clenched so tightly they felt as if they were trying to tear themselves away her bones. Her joints seized and locked in place, each bone cradled and stiff. But it was the throbbing deep below in her that had her screaming in rapturous agony. Each surge of searing burn, reverberating dark ominous carnal pleasure, ricocheting throughout her insides. 
She tried desperately to call out to Pellius, warning him of the unannounced visitor, but all she managed was a guttural unintelligible groan. She struggled to claw her way to the door, her nails digging deep into the sheets, shredding them beneath her fingers. As another wave crashed through her body, her back arched off the bed, her frame suspended in the air by her head and backside. She shrieked in ecstasy as her own pleasure climaxed, pushing it’s apex ever higher, a blinding red light flashing behind her eyelids. As the euphoric torment fluctuated, Willow became unable to quiet herself. 
Pellius sat back, eyeing Willow with a mix of lust, concern and suspicion. 
Suddenly, the feelings vanished. Willow gasped for air, chest heaving, scrambling to her feet. She scooped up her dagger as she flung the door open and ran, completely naked, out into the hallway towards the camp of the others. She heard Pellius’ heavy thud of footsteps behind her as she rounded the corner. 
“What happened?!” Willow yelled, running into the room, “What was here?!”
She raced over to see Garvana bent over Bor’s limp body, Teelee standing back watching. She knelt down next to Bor, frowning as her eyes flicked across his bare chest, smouldering burns festering along his torso. Two hand prints seared on each pectoral, thick oozing welts seeping from them leading down his trunk reaching his legs. Garvana called for her profane power, feeding from Asmodeus’ boon. 
“Something is blocking it!” she called, frantic and confused, “I cannot draw from His power.” 
She reached into her bag and lifted a potion, tipping its contents into Bor's mouth. The scorching bleed stopped, each of the blistering burns remaining. 
“That's all I can do for him,” she said, “He is stable, it shall not get any worse, but something is preventing his burns from healing. I cannot do anything further.” 
“What did this?!” Willow demanded.
“I do not know,” Garvana said frustrated.
She frowned, muttering the incantation Willow had learned to recognise as a Detect Magic spell. Garvana shuttered, crying out as her eyes rolled back and her body crashed to the floor. Pellius, standing in all his naked glory, dropped his axe and dragged both Garvana and Bor to the camp room. He dropped them upon the bedrolls and stood back, eyebrows pulled tight in contemplation. Life sprung from Garvana’s eyes, she slowly came to as Willow stayed crouch over Bor, inspecting his wounds. Garvana got to her feet, shaking off the haze clogging her mind, silently returning to the dark ritual room, kneeling upon the scripted circle. 
Willow had little knowledge of what could have possibly done this to Bor, or what Garvana would want with a ritual chamber smothered in Abyssal script and Abbadon’s wisdom. Her body still alight, her adrenaline still racing through her veins, her insides still throbbing. She had little patience left for curiosity.
“Teelee,” she called, turning to face her, “Will you watch over Bor?”
Teelee smirked, averting her eyes from the two naked bodies in front of her, “Why? Are you too busy?” 
Willow grinned strutting towards the exit, grabbing Pellius by the hair and pulling him along with her, “We will be very busy, we’ll be busy all night…”

The sweet scent of pancakes woke Willow from her heavy gratified slumber. The morning rays of light beamed in through the open balcony as she draped her slip over her tender body and went seeking the alluring aroma. She whimpered as she had to strain her thigh muscles to sit crosslegged by the fireplace, laughing at Pellius’ devilish smirk as he handed her a plate topped with pancakes drizzled with honey. Willow grinned sheepishly as he turned his back and she saw the gouged claw marks along his neck and shoulders. 
“So,” Garvana interrupted, “When do we restore the man of stone?”
Willow snapped out of her inappropriate reverie, “We must return to town first, there is no point reviving him and leaving him here alone.”
“We have an array of places to confine him,” Pellius stated.
“Yes,” Willow replied, “But his knowledge of this place will undoubtedly be greater than our own. He may have information that could aid us. Let us wake him when we are ready to coax the material from him.”
Pellius opened his mouth to speak, a look of longing painted his features. 
“And if that doesn't work,” Willow said soothingly, “You can extract the information in the way you do best.”
He grinned, dastardly and handsome.
Willow looked over to Bor, who sat in silent contemplation, face as emotionless as stone.
“Are you alright?” Willow asked quietly, gently laying a hand on his shoulder. 
He looked to her, agony swarming through his eyes, “I am fine.”
His cold tone told Willow he was not wanting or needing to voice his inner battle.
“We must inform the seventh knot of our plan and progress,” Teelee said.
“Ah yes,” Willow said, eyebrow cocked, “Dear Elise. I believe we must be cautious of her actions. I cannot imagine one as arrogant as her to be thrilled with playing second fiddle to us. If it were I in her position, I would not be content as the assistance. I would plan to take the prize for myself. We must be wary, she is very likely to betray us.”
Pellius chuckled, “Is that a hint of jealousy I hear?”
Willow laughed, lifting her chin full of pride, “Jealous of her? I have little reason to be.”

By midday the group had returned to the city. While Bor left to converse with the Baron, Willow strolled to the market, in search of a large luxurious mattress. After selecting the most opulent bedding and handing over a purse of fifty platinum pieces, she instructed the merchants that she would send servants over to retrieve it. She swayed through the market place, a dress of vibrant green laced tightly around her waist and bust, the soft train of tule flowing behind her. When she arrived at the docks the group had arranged to meet by, they were introduced to the crew the Baron had recommended. Ten handymen, built sturdy for hard labour and brute strength, and a skilled carpenter leading them by the name of Sven.
Willow smiled politely, approaching the men.
“Sven,” she called, dipping in a small curtsey, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance. You may call me Willow.” 
He smiled, eyes lighting up as he looked Willow over, “Nice to meet yer mam,” he replied in a gruff voice, thick with the Northerner’s accent, “Happy to be workin’ for yer.”
Pellius approached, placing a possessive hand on Willow's shoulder, “You men come well recommended. You are to be part of a worthy cause, a holy mission set to shake the very core of this world. What credentials do you have to vouch for yourself?”
“Well uh,” Sven stammered, “The work I'll do for yer will speak for itself. I have no ‘credentials’ as yer say, but me and my boys’ll do right by yer. I'm kinda wantin’ to leave my past where it is…”
Willow smiled, softening her gaze she said gently, “It is alright. We all have our secrets.”
“Thank yer kindly mam,” he replied, head bowed. 
“This is your chance to atone for those past mistakes. Failure will not be tolerated,” Pellius said threateningly.  
“Right yer are,” he replied, eyes wide.
Sven clapped his hands together, bellowing to his crew, new vigour in his step. Willow informed them of the mattress they were to pick up and have delivered to the Horn at the earliest convenience. He barked orders at the men, delegating the tasks between them.
“He seems competent,” Willow said quietly.
Pellius huffed, “Let us hope so.” 

They made their way to the tavern Elise and the rest of the knot had checked into, finding them in the lounge, sprawled around a table.
“Finally,” Elise said coldly, “I began to assume you had failed in your task after waiting this long.”
Willow smiled condescendingly, “I do apologise, it must have been terribly boring having little of importance to do.”
Elise pursed her lips, “Indeed.”
“We have secured the Horn,” Willow said with an air of pride, “We have also obtained the complex ritual required to perform our task.”
“And how long do you expect this to take you?” she scorned, “I suppose we shall be waiting around, delayed by your incompetence.” 
Willow smiled, “The ritual will take nine months of incantation to complete,” she lied, “Try not to be too bored in that time. I'm sure you'll be able to make yourselves of some use.”
Elise gritted her teeth in obvious disdain, “I'm sure. If that is all, we must be off, some of us have actual plans to adhere to…”
As she turned to leave, Bor chuckled, “Huh, you sure start whoring early.”
Willow burst out in laughter, slapping her hand over her mouth. Fuming, Elise stormed away, her oversize elven guardian following her lead. Trick smiled and inclined his head to the group as he left, Track and his usual glare tailing behind. Willow grinned at Bor as they left the tavern, giggles still tickling her lips. 

They split up for the afternoon, the men off hunting the stores for weapons, while Willow took both women shopping. She found a beautiful set of black and red drapery, large enough to hang from the windows of the bedroom chamber she had selected. Willow smiled as they cased the markets for silk undergarments, grateful for the smallest of normalcy in their adventurous tales.
They met back at Vandermeir’s manor late afternoon and sat down for a civil meal along the great oak dining table. Willow marvelled at the glistening warhammer that Pellius had commissioned, it's grand might visible by it's weight and solid surface. When he asked what she had spent her coin on throughout the day, she grinned. 
“Oh,” she said seductively, “You'll see it later tonight…”

Before they retired for the night, Willow strolled out onto the terrace overlooking the expansive green valley that was the Caer Bryr. She held her crystal wine glass to her lips as she stood deep in thought. With a soft swish, Garvana joined her at the railing, dressed in the gown of soft peach coloured silk that Willow picked out for her. The draping lace sleeves and high neckline softened the harshness of her sculpted masculine figure. Willow smiled as she looked her over, tight banding around her waist giving the illusion of a slender yet curvaceous figure. 
“Two eyes, and the location of the third,” Willow mused, turning to stare back out across the horizon of forestry, “We are worthy of this mission.”
“Indeed we are,” Garvana said confidently, “For the glory of Asmodeus, and for the glory of ourselves.”
Willow smiled, her heart fluttering with pride and pleasure, “For Asmodeus, The First and rightful ruler of everything…”

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