Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Chapter 43 - Fallen

The dawning sun warmed the cold chill of night that had fallen over the lush green farmlands of outer Ghastenhall. The leaves shed the thin ice formations that spring’s darkness had brought, shining drops of water that fell to feed the shrubbery below. Though the sounds of early rising farmers herding their cattle still bounded along the empty grass plains, the number of them had dwindled over the spring. Ghastenhall had been the first region to be hit with the dreaded Tears of Achlys, and it was here that the worst of the sickness and death resided.
By the slow trail upon horseback, the Forsaken made their way along the dirt road towards the main city, eyes tracing the quiet expanse. As had become expected and fashionable, Willow and Traya wore silken veils across their faces, draping the fine fabric along the bridge of their noses and low along their chins. It was a futile attempt by the populace to shield themselves from the deathly plague. Though it offered no real protection from the vile and sentient sickness, it offered commoner and noble alike a naïve hope of preservation.
Willow had first seen them appear in Matharyn only days before they had left. Like most plagues, the first casualties of the sickness fell from the ranks of the poorest. With the lack of nourishment from hefty food stores and the brunt of the coldest weather by lack of shelter, the poorest of the fair city were always the first to fall. When the plague reached Matharyn, the veiled fashion had already infiltrated every street. The common folk wore flanks of harsh wool or scuffed linen around their faces, while the nobles and the upper classes took the chance once more to flaunt their station. Ghastenhall had always been the cultural hub of Talingarde, first in line with the raging change of trends and fashions. And so it was here that the veiled craze had truly taken off. Veils for women came in an array of vivid shades, embellished with intricate patterns woven in shimmering gold thread, or strung with glass beads in glittering hues. Veils for men were tighter fitting and threaded with much less frill, in colours of bold blues and greens.
Though of late, her mind and time had been preoccupied with the like of battles, gods and kings, Willow could not deny her affinity with the standard of dress. With spring’s arrival the colours had changed, gone were the dark and rich fabrics of winter, entering bright shades of blooming flowers and sprouting plants. Greens in emerald rich and smooth teal – pinks in soft pastel and glowing fuchsia – yellows in sun bright and warm honey. Trotting along upon her steed, Willow wore a long and draping gown of burned amber, a short sleeved dress with a collar that extended into a head wrap and finished in veil that softly reached across her lower face.

As usual, Pellius and Garvana shunned the need to follow the fashionable trends. Clad in their armour, looking much the part of wandering adventurers, they forwent the veils and opted to stride through the streets with their faces open to the warm spring winds.
“What is it we’re looking for?” Traya asked, peering over the mauve silk that draped along her face, “Potions?”
“And scrolls,” Garvana huffed, uneasily guiding her horse out of the path of a cart filled with the plagues latest victims, “We need to protect ourselves from the dragon’s breath.”
“I think we’ll need more than a few trinkets,” Traya scoffed.
What they knew of the fearsome Strider-in-the-Dark was not nearly as much as they would have liked. Yet, what they did know, was enough to instil trepidation within them.
“The dragon’s breath may be frighteningly powerful,” Garvana frowned, “But it cannot hurt to have even the smallest amount of protection.”
“I still do not like the idea of fighting such a beast,” Traya scowled under her breath, looking to the others with an arched and knowing brow, “For one, though the undead may not be at risk to much of its ways, some of us are still breathing… and would like to stay that way.”
“We may not have a choice,” Willow said quietly, moving her steed closer, “If there was a way to procure the Heart without encountering the Linnorm, the Heart would not be there…”
“There must be another way,” Traya sighed, shaking her head, “This is suicide.”
“Suicide is usually something we have a way of evading,” Garvana laughed.
“It may be possible…” Willow began thoughtfully.
“What may be?” Traya frowned, looking to Willow.
“There may be a way to slip in unnoticed. Perhaps while the dragon sleeps. If I am able to sneak through unseen… it may be possible to retrieve the Heart and escape before the dragon knows anything is afoot.”
“Now that,” Pellius laughed, “Sounds like suicide.”
Willow shrugged as an easy grin lifted her lips, “It may well be worth a try.”
As the soft clip of horse hooves echoed along the cobblestone streets, the Forsaken made their way through the town towards the marketplace, passing the tune of sickly coughs and wheezes as they went.
Tethering their horses to a stable post along side the Wellspring River, they continued on foot through the streets of Whitequarter. As the sounds of people and cheer grew, they neared the grand market square. The hours passed as they perused the fine and peculiar wares of the visiting merchants, filling their pouches with vials of curious potions and brews. After visiting the weapon-smith to purchase a new and stronger bow, the afternoon sun began its descent, as their casual and meandering steps brought them alongside the path of the river.
Suddenly, a familiar voice echoed in Willow’s head, loud enough to halt her steps.
Barnabus Thrain of Ghastenhall sends greetings,” the gruff and aged voice said, “I know Sir Richard’s whereabouts and mission. I remain at the Great Library in Ghastenhall. Seek me there. Hurry.
Willow frowned, looking to the others who had continued on as if they had heard nothing. As Pellius noticed her halt, he turned to her with a questioning look.
“You did not hear that?” she asked quietly.
“Hear what, my lady?” he responded with a frown.
“Brother Thrain’s message.”
“What message?” his frown deepened.
“It must have been a spell of some kind,” Willow whispered, looking around her with suspicion, “He said he knows the whereabouts of Sir Richard, and his mission.”
“What did he say?”
“To meet him in the library, with urgency…” she replied, “Curious…”
“Suspicious,” Pellius scoffed.
Willow took a quick look around before making up her mind swiftly.
“Tell the others,” she nodded curtly, turning back towards where she had left her horse, “I will meet up with you this evening.”
“Be careful, my lady,” he frowned, brow crushed in distrust.
“I always am,” she winked with a grin.
As she quickened her pace and wove her way through the throng of people, she made it to the side of her steed as a sudden cheer erupted around her.
“He has done it!” cried a man in elation, “Mitra has delivered the noble knight to us, and he has brought about the cure! Mitra be praised!”
Willow frowned, turning her head towards the tearful man, watching his delighted face radiate with pious joy. With swift steps and a feigned excitement, she arrived by his side.
“What is it?” she asked, the frown vanished by will, replaced with innocence, “What has happened, sir?”
“Mitra has saved us, my lady!” he gushed warmly, “The Shining Sun sent us our dear Sir Richard, and the benevolent and brave knight has found us a cure to the vile sickness! Cast off that veil, my lady! Mitra’s love was all we needed!”
“Sir Richard of Havelyn?” Willow asked, a feigned joy coming over her face, “Oh, light be praised… how wonderful.”
“The one and the same, my lady!” he laughed happily, “He has saved us!”
Willow smiled, inclining her head towards the man as she returned to her steed. It was with a new urgency that she lifted into the saddle, ignoring the momentary looks of shock as a noble woman mounted a steed unassisted. She swiftly dug her heels into the horse’s sides, ushering it quickly out of the busy paths and onto the main streets. Though the cure was no threat to them, actually aiding their cause by allowing the masses to recover in order to serve, it was a boost of morale that reminded the people that Mitra was not completely unaware of their plight. Sir Richard of Havelyn had been a thorn in their side from the moment he had made himself known. He needed to die. Not a legendary battle in the eyes of the light, he needed to be extinguished in the dark – to be forgotten by all.

She slowed her steed on arrival at the great Library of Ghaster, swiftly dismounting before tying her horse to the post. As she approached the large doors, she unbuttoned the flank of amber fabric from her face, before dropping the customary toll of silver into the decorative iron tray. After walking the halls for a few moments, she found Brother Thrain amidst a stack of musty tomes, his wrinkled face pulled into his usual frown as he sorted through the mass of literature. When she approached, he looked up as she drew nearer, his grumbled frown easing as he recognised her.
“Ah, Lady Clarentine,” he smiled, though the smile was barely a look of joy under the weight of his gruff demeanour, “Here for the symposium this evening?”
“Of course, Brother,” she responded cordially, “I would not miss the opportunity to discuss Fillius Isenhour’s work.”
“The usual time and place,” he huffed, nodding curtly as he turned from her.
Willow smiled at his abruptness, she was rather fond of the aged brashly tempered man. As she awaited the sunset and perused the halls of the library, she thought on the troubling problem that the paladin was. The prophetic words that they had heard since they had begun their righteous mission for the Dark Lord, were that the son would bring about their doom. For a time, Willow had thought the words were of the Shining Sun, the very will of Mitra standing against them. But as they had continued down the path of darkness, culling the faithful and dousing the light of the holy lord, she had begun to rethink their words. The son. The son of Thomas Havelyn, the nephew of the fearsome Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. Perhaps it was he that was fated to bring about their doom. It was him that escaped the dreaded Horn of Abbadon, it was him that rallied the King of Talingarde to his cause, it was him that seemed to appear along every step of their dark path. And now, he had quested in the name of the Lord of Light and cured the evil Tears of Achlys. What could his next quest be, and how would the Forsaken be able to stop him?

As the sun fell behind the horizon, Willow made her way to the familiar spiralling staircase that descended deep below into the basement lecture hall. As she approached the open doors at the bottom landing, she recognised the faces of Thrain’s guards as they nodded to her. A sudden thought arose in her mind as she saw them. Thrain had been with Cardinal Thorn long before the Knots had formed. If there was any who would stand by him, even while he strayed from his course into the disfavour of the Dark Lord – it would be him. And Cardinal Thorn was determined to eliminate the Ninth Knot. Was she delivering herself openly to his waiting arms?
As she stepped over the threshold, the men sealed the doors behind her.
“It is good to see you alive and well, child,” Brother Thrain said warmly from across the hall.
Willow smiled to him, “And you, my friend.”
Though she approached him casually, she felt the slight tug of wariness overcome her. She trusted him, though she knew not why. It may have been a childish folly, but she was eager and contented to add Brother Thrain to her very short list of true allies and friends. When she stepped to his side, he held his arms out to her. With only the slightest hesitation, she stepped into his embrace. When no blade pierced her skin, nor spell hit her flesh, she sighed quietly and returned his amiable hug.
“You have been busy, I hear,” the aged priest chuckled, pulling back from the embrace and indicating a seat to the side of the lecture hall, “Curious that after your word with the terrible Chargammon, he turns his eye upon the Adarium.”
“Coincidence, I assure you,” Willow smirked playfully.
“Of course,” he grinned, “And I have heard the unfortunate passing of King Markadian, another coincidence?”
“One of many,” she laughed softly.
“Ah, well it is good you are well young Willow. The word is of much destruction and chaos across the lands, the battle of Fallingsbridge bringing the defeat of the king’s army.”
“The bugbears fought well,” Willow nodded, arching her brow, “Though it seems they had the upper hand in the battle. For a strange reason, the army led by General Vastenus assaulted only the most well defended gate. Curious move on his part.”
“Curious indeed,” the brother commented, giving no tell of clue upon his face.
“You sent word of Richard of Havelyn,” Willow said with a frown, the easy smile dropping from her lips, “What is it you know?”
The priest adjusted his seat upon the uncomfortable wooden pew, his aged bones creaking as he shuffled to face her.
“It was a few days ago now,” he began, a worried frown pulling upon his lined brow, “That I received a piece of parchment that was being passed around amongst the priesthood. It spoke of a meeting actually here in this very room late at night. I was to tell no one but the faithful. How could I refuse an invitation like that?”
“You are, of course, the most faithful,” Willow chuckled.
“I am that,” he replied with a small laugh, “But, guess who was at that meeting? Not only your friend Sir Richard, but also the princess Bellinda. The heir to the throne of Markadian herself in this very room!
“So she did survive,” Willow frowned.
“Indeed,” he nodded, “She spoke for quite a while – very inspirational stu. It seems she’s forming an army. She calls upon all true sons and daughters of Talingarde and Mitra to flock to her banner in this dark time. She’s gaining followers quickly. I would be careful around her. She seems... I don’t know... dangerous.”
“We discovered something within the Adarium,” Willow replied, her frown burrowing slightly, “Bellinda is not the daughter of a foreign fallen queen, well, not exactly. She is the daughter of the silver elder wyrm, Antharia Regina.”
“She is what?!” Thrain balked, shaking his head, “Truly? Until the other night, I had thought her only a childish brat. And it was her who slayed the black beast?”
“We do not know for certain,” Willow shrugged, though there was nothing relaxed about her reply, “Someone had the ability to open the skies and rain meteorites upon him. And to my knowledge, there was only the princess and Havelyn within the room.”
“Well,” he frowned, “Then I would advise caution around her. She knows all about us. Or at least a little. She spoke about the Knot of Thorns.”
“That is Sir Richard’s doing,” Willow nodded solemnly, “He was the one who informed the King and guided the monarch against us.”
“Then he must also be her source on the information,” he frowned, “She mentioned that there were nine knots and that the worst of those villains was the Ninth Knot who they think are likely the leaders. Congratulations on your promotion, by the way!”
Willow chuckled softly, though her brow raised as she knew he did not know how close his words were to the current truth.
“There were several things she did not know,” he continued, “Or was simply mistaken about. She never mentioned Thorn, she doesn’t realise that the Fire-Axe is part of the Nine, and she seems to believe that Chargammon was part of the Nine Knots. She specifically mentioned his death as slaying one of the Nine. I’ve no idea how you managed to convince Chargammon to attack the Adarium, but she seems to believe he was one of us.”
“The meeting concluded with Bellinda talking to Sir Richard more privately, but I overheard everything. Bellinda is sending Richard to Chargammon’s lair. First, she wants to see if there is any information there about any of his allies. And also she wants the dragon’s hoard. She believes the money could be of use in raising and equipping her new army. He has already sailed for the island almost a week ago. If he has a fast ship he may already be there.”
“Then perhaps we must make sure that he finds something there,” Willow said darkly, “And ensure what he finds means he will not be returning…”
“Very good,” Thrain nodded, before frowning and looking to Willow, “I tried to relay this information to Thorn, but he’s not responding to my seals. Has something happened to the Cardinal?”
Willow chose her words carefully. She would not lie to the man she considered a friend, yet his loyalty to Thorn could have proved an impassable obstacle. While the Cardinal still lived, and they still planned his demise, she would not test Brother Thrain’s loyalty to his life long friend.
“He must have much on his mind,” Willow shrugged, “It has been some time since we have heard word from him. Do not fret, we will take care of the paladin. I must thank you for letting me know. He has been most troublesome. Have you heard word that the plague has been cured? Havelyn found a way to overcome the Daemon’s Gift!”
For a moment, Thrain’s eyes narrowed slightly, as her evasive words lingered. Though, when she mentioned the Tears of Achlys, his mind turned from suspicion to curiosity.
“Impressive,” he grunted, seeming put off by the feat yet impressed by it, “Do you know how he managed such a thing?”
“No,” Willow shook her head gently, “I have only heard word of it on my ride here. We had heard he had begun a quest for the cure, yet we figured it was a futile journey. But he returned from wherever he was, in time to be by Bellinda’s side. Curious that he would be there at the opportune moment, that he would be there when Chargammon arrived. No one knew what we were planning. No one but the Ninth and Thorn.”
Brother Thrain nodded his head in thought, as the revelations churned through his mind. After a time, Willow sighed a small breath.
“I must go and inform the others,” she said with a small smile, standing to embrace the old priest, “We must head to Chargammon’s lair with all haste. I will keep in touch.”
“Stay safe, young Willow,” he said seriously, with a small affectionate smile.
She returned his smile, pushing down the guilt she felt at deceiving him, “And you, my friend…”

When she returned to the farmland estate on the outskirts of Ghastenhall, she called the others into the parlour to relay what she had been told. As she revealed the details of Brother Thrain’s words, she was met with a mix of emotions; anger, determination and suspicion.
“Are you certain the priest is not misleading you on Thorn’s orders?” Pellius scowled.
“I am certain,” Willow replied, a truth in her words, “I believe he was truthful. He has not spoken to Thorn, and he seems unaware of the conflict between us. He reached out to us because he trusts us.”
“Let us hope your friendship with him has not clouded your judgement,” Pellius frowned thoughtfully, “We must follow this up.”
“What of Sir Richard?” Traya frowned, “We cannot allow him to retrieve Chargammon’s horde.”
“We cannot allow him to live,” Willow scoffed bitterly.
“But we must seek the Cardinal’s Heart,” Garvana interjected, “We cannot pursue Thorn without it!”
“Thorn does not know we are after his phylactery,” Willow replied, “We need not worry, as long as we do not alert him to it.”
“If the goal is to conquer the country,” Traya added, “Then dismantling the princess’ army must take priority. She cannot get her hands on that much gold.”
“And the paladin must be stopped,” Willow said sternly, “If not for the trouble he has caused us, for the hero he is painting himself as. The Mitran’s are regaining their hope, we cannot allow this to continue.”
“Agreed,” Pellius nodded firmly.
“We need-
A screeching cry from beyond the parlour walls silenced Garvana’s response. The sounds of metal clashing, painful screams and panic from within the dining room had the Forsaken drawing their weapons and quickly heading for the doors.
“If those men are fighting again,” Garvana growled, “I will kill each one of them myself to set a damn example!”
With blades clutched in hands, they stormed to the dining room and threw open the doors. What they found, was not a mere squabble between the more rowdy of their men. It was a scene of carnage, straight out of the gates of hell. Six devils, each standing over seven feet tall, layered in bristling spines that protruded from their bodies in ever changing lengths as they struck out and retracted continuously. Slick wet skin of the darkest green, lined with bright blood that dripped between the hundreds of barbs upon their frames. As the doors opened, six pairs of hungry shining black eyes slowly turned towards the Forsaken. Bodies of their men strewn about the floor, pierced with punctures that littered across their flesh. Two men still stood, one cowering behind a table and another held in the grip of one of the devils. In a feral and bloodthirsty display, the devil grasped the man and yanked him closer, the barbs striking out in unison. The man was skewered through the face and neck, killing him within moments, as the blood poured in cascade from his skin.
It was not a fight the Forsaken could possibly walk away from unscathed. Each time they carved their weapons forward, their hands and wrists were bombarded by razor sharp spikes, barbs that tore shreds through flesh and punctured holes through their skin. But they had no other means of banishing the foul fiends. Willow leapt forward into the fray, slashing and slicing at the leaned muscled creatures beneath the guarding walls of spikes. As lightening flew from Traya’s fingers, it’s white blaze arced between the devils, searing the scaled flesh. Willow struck out with her vicious blades, thrusting forward with all her might, shrieking through clenched teeth as a barb tore straight through her hand. But she could not let the pain overwhelm her as she continued her onslaught, her eyes ablaze as the agony fuelled the anger within her. How dare these devils enter her home. How dare they think they had right, or might enough to take the Forsaken down. What was clear, was that they were here on Thorn’s orders. As she tumbled out of the path of the devils craning claws, she leapt forward with a callous swing and cleaved his bestial head from his body.
You defy the will of the Lord of the Nine by attacking us!” Garvana growled fiercely, “You will pay for such insubordination!”
The snarling devil that launched his cruel claws towards her laughed, a feral and savage hiss.
The Hamatulan Host will drag you to hell,” he snarled in the infernal tongue, “And you can complain to the Undying Lord himself…”
He lunged towards her, gripping hold of her shoulders and wrenching her towards him. Garvana struggled to free herself, but threw her hands up in front of her face as his blood ridden barbs struck out. As both hands were impaled upon barbs, she cried out in bitter agony, ripping them free as she reared back and plunged the spikes of her mace deeply into the creatures torso.
As the second last standing devil was swiftly dispersed by Pellius’ vicious blade, Hellbrand eager to taste the blood of any sentient creature, the last devil saw his chance to take one of them with him. He charged upon thin almost insectile legs towards Willow. He swiped his claws and tore shreds from her chest, before attempting to leap over her head and grip her from behind. Though her strength was weakening, and her consciousness began to falter, she was still quick enough to react. As he leapt into the air, Willow snapped her hand upward, gripping hold of his razor sharp tail and yanking him back to the ground with every ounce of strength she had. As he fell, his barbs shifted once more, plunging into flesh and ripping long and agonising lacerations along her arms, neck and chest. She screamed a frightening and feral cry of outrage, her eyes blazing a hellfire crimson. As the devils body crashed to the floor, she plunged both of her blades into his skull.

As Willow clung to the last shreds of undeath, her sight flashing with a mix of white light and utter darkness, the sprayed blood of the once living men riled the ravenous hunger within her. Suddenly, the thundering heart beat of a living being became the loudest force within her mind. Cold black eyes turned upon the poor soul that had managed to avoid the death that had met the rest of his men. When Willow saw him, his name vanished from her mind, his existence became nothing more than the blood that ran through his veins. In the blink of an eye, with a sound no more than a whisper, she appeared behind him. As her hands gripped his head and shoulders, her fangs plunged deeply into his neck. He had survived the battle, but he did not survive the aftermath. The only consolation he was offered, was a quick and painless death as the blood was drained from his veins. As his body slumped to the floor, the doors to the dining room flew wide open. The armed and ready ranks of the Forsaken guard charged into the chamber, led by the stern faced sergeant.
“My lords!” the man called, quickly scanning the scene of carnage.
When he saw the scattered remains of his men, and the still bodies of the barbed devils, he looked over the Forsaken and their wounds before bowing his head.
“We were not quick enough,” he said shamefully, dropping to one knee by Pellius’ feet, “It is my failing, I offer my life as punishment.”
“That would be a waste of resources,” Traya said dryly, shaking her head.
“Get up,” Garvana spat, “There is no need for punishment, you are naïve to think this was something you could have prepared for. Double the guard around the manor, this may be the first of many.”
“Yes, mistress,” he nodded curtly in all professionalism, before barking orders to his men, “Clean this mess up, take the bodies out back and burn them!”
The Forsaken watched their men work for a moment, before moving to the hall outside of the destroyed dining chamber.
“Gods be damned,” Willow cursed, flexing her fingers under the wincing pain of skewered flesh, “Thorn truly wants us dead.”
“He will keep sending killers until he is successful,” Garvana snarled, wheezing through a chest that had been pierced by dozens of barbs, “We must not delay any longer.”
“We must leave for Chargammon’s lair tonight,” Pellius said sternly, “The sooner we stop Havelyn, the sooner we can retrieve the phylactery and put an end to this pathetic betrayal.”
“What of Jeratheon?” Willow frowned, “His loyalty was assured only as long as his sire lived. With his death, there is nothing holding him to his service.”
“We best speak to him,” Pellius nodded, “Confront him now, rather than having him on our tail later.”
“Traya,” Willow beckoned, turning to the woman, “Will you send him a message and tell him we wish to speak with him?”
The sorcerer had been quiet since the last of the devils had fallen. It was only as Willow looked to her now that she realised why. She could hear the heart beating within the womans chest. She could hear the blood coursing through her veins. When death was upon Willow, she had turned on the closest living being, the bloodlust had overwhelmed her completely. The need for blood, the need to survive had become all that had mattered. What would have happened if Traya had been closer? Would she have turned on her ally, or remained strong enough to resist the call of the blood? It was clear in the wide eyes of the sorcerer that her thoughts were aligned.
“Of course,” she replied cordially, inclining her head, “At once…”

As darkness fell heavy overhead, after the Forsaken had healed the worst of their wounds, they made the quick ride through the farmlands to the edge of the forest that bordered their land. With their steeds tethered to the nearby trees, they awaited the black dragon. Though far larger than most beasts, Jeratheon was lithe and quiet for his size. The barest hint of flapping wings sounded before he dropped to the ground in a billowing wave of dirt and debris. While Raiju calmed the horses, the others approached the vile creature.
“You bring me dinner?” the dark and malicious beast snarled towards the horses, a feral grin alight on his maw.
“We bring news,” Willow said coldly, brows arched in distaste.
“What news?” Jeratheon hissed.
“Your sire is dead,” Garvana said harshly, wasting no time on pleasantries, “He was slain at the Adarium.”
The great dragon threw his head back, laughing a rasp of bitter and bile.
“If you believe that,” he grinned, “Then you are more foolish than I had thought.”
“We saw him fall,” Garvana replied, lip curling, “We saw his lifeless corpse.”
“He will be back,” Jeratheon hissed viciously, no question to his words.
“That may be so,” Willow replied darkly, “But the Mitrans do not believe it. They have sent a band of men to Chargammon’s lair to retrieve his horde.”
They would not dare!” he snarled, “Vile sub-creatures! Have they no fear?! I will teach them true terror, they will pay for their insolence!”
Willow smiled as she looked upon the great winged beast, “How fast can you fly there?”
The answer she received was swift. Within seconds Jeratheon had launched himself high into the sky, disappearing within a blink beyond the cloud of dirt and dust he left behind.
“Shall we wait for him before we teleport?” Traya asked, a sly smile lifting her lips.
“No,” Willow laughed, “If he wants his revenge, he shall simply have to fly faster…”

There were a few counted advantages that the Forsaken had over the pious paladin and his retinue. The Mitrans were unaware that anyone knew of their mission, they would not be expecting visitors to arrive in the desolate wasteland that was Chargammon’s dark and inhospitable lair, certainly not ones prepped for battle and slaughter. It was also their first time stepping within the home of the ancient black wyrm. The Forsaken knew the terrain, they knew the cavern filled with festering broth that Chargammon had called home, they knew where they were most likely to find the search for his horde. As they gathered together, linked by touch of hands upon shoulders, they knew exactly where to transport themselves.
Willow was not one to believe in fate. She was more prone to believe in serendipitous moments, things occurring either by chance or simply beneficial coincidence. Stepping through the spiralling vortex that transported them to the large open cavern, only to be greeted by two unaware familiar faces, was one of those moments. The last time they had seen the two, was as they had vanished from sight with the sanctum of the crumbling Horn of Abbadon. Sir Richard of Havelyn and Brother Carthus Donnigan.
“So,” Havelyn demanded harshly of his friend, in the moment before realizing the Forsaken were upon him, “Has that worthless wizard managed to dig anything out of his books yet?”
There was no time for a reply, it was then that the paladin caught the fearsome sight of the Forsaken, accompanied by the flaming vision of the Nessian Warhound. It was then, that the air in the cavern changed. All his questing, all his hatred, had led to this moment. Once before he had been presented with the challenge. He had stood before the same foes, primed for righteous vengeance and personal revenge against those who had slain his father. Yet, the last time, he had failed. He had succumbed to the onslaught, and had been transported away and revived by his surviving allies. But now, as the bane of his quest stood before him, he was offered his vengeance once more. Unfortunately for him, those that stood in his way were on a quest of their own.  And their quest, was watched by the most powerful force of them all.

Havelyn screamed out a mighty battle-cry that echoed through the winding passages of the caverns, ripping his sword from its scabbard. The hatred he felt for the Forsaken overwhelmed his face, pulling his brow into a contorted scowl, his lip curling in a feral snarl. As he leapt into battle, his attentions were drawn to the greatest threat within the Forsaken, to the dark paladin that opposed and equalled his might in every way.
Pellius held Hellbrand clutched in his fist, blazing eyes of fire flaring as he looked upon the paladin. This was the moment he had longed for; this was the moment every dark paladin lived for. They were matched in strength and might. Though they shared much in similarity, it was the core belief in their hearts that so vastly differed. When their words of prophetic promise called from their lips, and the crisp metal of their weapons clashed – they begun something that was far greater than either of them. Both of their gods granted them power to wield in their name. This fight, was a battle of the beneficent Mitra against the unyielding Asmodeus. The air thickened, as the aura of good against evil collided in a thundering blast. With sturdy and malicious words, each of them swore to their divine that they would slay one another. Yet, there could only ever be one victor.
Surging forward upon strong and powerful legs, Pellius charged towards Havelyn, his vicious blade splitting the air as it travelled. Havelyn was swift in his defence, a shattering ring of metal on metal piercing the atmosphere. But the weight of Pellius’ swing was far to great to be cast aside. Hellbrand pummelled forwards, the force of its strike pushing Havelyn’s sword backwards and into the paladin with a grunting shatter. Retaliation was instant. Richard stepped back quickly, giving himself enough room to rear his weapon backward over head and carve it downwards, pushed by enough might to tear through Pellius’ defence, delivering a blow with as much brutish force. Their battle was set, and with the raw destruction they were causing one another with each hit, it would not last long.

Before the paladins met, Willow was lithe and swift with her movements. She knew what this fight meant to Pellius, and she would not interfere unless there was no other option. She would leave the pious Paladin of Mitra to him, but she would not allow Havleyn’s allies to aid him. As the first sounds of metal clashing echoed through the empty stench of the cavern, she darted forward, slipping behind Donnigan unseen. His attention was garnered by the horse-sized blaze that was Sith, as he pounced forward and his blazing maw snarled and charred through flesh and fabric. Willow was swift in his consequence for distraction. She plunged her daggers through the crease of his armour, deeply into either side of his neck. Garvana rasped a bitter incantation, holding the small metal pentagram between her fingers, offering it to the darkness. The ground around her trembled, small cracks opening in the stone to allow the twisting and curling tendrils of ebony to escape. Though their caress upon Willow’s skin was warm and welcome, they did not greet the priest in such a way. They clung to his flesh and greedily siphoned the white wisps of life from his veins. The combination made for a swift death. As blood poured from the seams of the metal, his skin and clothing caught ablaze. Willow ripped her blades free, pushing the priest backward into the festering lagoon of putrid still water, causing an eruption of steam and spray to expel from the surface.

As the billowing wave of water travelled across the stagnant lake, Willow turned to Pellius. His feral sword blazed forward, carving through with terrifying might, in a blow that should have been the last of the paladin. But as the blade collided, the air within the great cave shuddered. A blinding white light flared from the chests of the paladin and fallen priest, as the vision of golden shimmering wings encompassed them.
Arise, champion,” boomed a divine and androgynous voice from the ether. 
Suddenly, the weeping blood that fell from the paladin ceased and sealed. His chin lifted once more, as determination overtook his features. From the depths of the water, Donnigan’s body lifted to the surface, levitating slowly to bring him to his feet upon the stone shore. As sounds of thundering foots steps sounded from beyond the cavern, the rest of Havelyn’s entourage racing to aid their leader, Willow growled her fury, charging forward with the vicious intention of putting the priest back where he was. But this time, he was not interested in Willow or her snarling hellhound. He moved through the fray, simply accepting the onslaught of bladed daggers and flaming teeth, his sights set upon Pellius. It was a sacrifice, he gave his life once more, to do all he could to keep Sir Richard of Havelyn alive. With his last breath, he called upon the divine spirit of Mitra, channelling the glorious white light into his fingertips. As he reached forward and pressed the holy force into Pellius’ flesh, Willow’s blade pierced deeply into the back of his neck, before tearing free and drawing the last of his life with it. The white light swarmed along Pellius’ flesh, like a sentient force of good eager and hungry to purify and eradicate the evil within him. Though the skin on his cheeks sunk into hollows, the undead flesh shrivelled and clinging to bone – it did not deter or distract him. It would take more than the threat of death to stop him from slaying his nemesis.
Havelyn lunged forward, putting every ounce of might and power into a single thrust. It all happened within the blink of an eye. As the paladin’s sword coated in thick coagulated blood propelled through Pellius’ torso, Hellbrand descended towards to him. Garvana shrieked a feral incantation, summoning a thick miasma of darkness with her hands, hurling it to towards him. Traya called out for the flames of hell to reach forth and claim the blessed soul, billowing swirls of crimson and copper, wafting in the stench of brimstone.
All at once, the darkness and blazing fire light engulfed the paladin, Hellbrand cleaved downwards with terrifying might, tearing through the paladin’s shoulder and into his chest. In a cascade of charred and sickened blood that painted the stone of the dark cavern, Havelyn release his grip on the sword and fell to his knees. For a moment, the only sound to be heard was a deep expelled breath of defeat from Richard’s lips. With his friend dead by his side, and his mission once more a complete failure, he slumped in bitter despair. Bright crimson blood pooled from his lips, as he coughed through a wheezing chest. He looked up, staring at Pellius with emotion that enraptured Willow’s attention. It was the look of anguish, the look of despondency. He had failed, but moreover, Mitra had failed him. As if time slowed, the sound of echoing metal footsteps as Pellius slowly approached him stretched to a forboding song. With one hand, he pulled the steel sword from his torso, not making so much of a sigh as he tossed it aside. With slow and deliberate movements, Pellius lifted Hellbrand. It would be an honourable death, a soldiers death, a beheading. As the gleaming sword shone in the flickering light of the emerald torches, the infernal blade prepared to complete its hungered mission. Pellius’ lip curled, his brow contorting with vicious rage as he reared back and begun his frightening swing.

“Wait!” called a familiar voice from deeper in the cavern.
Pellius snarled as he pulled back from his sword’s decent, growling a low and malicious rumble at being interrupted and denied that which he’d been so eager to receive. The sounds of the approaching guard vanished, the cavern still and quiet as if time itself had stopped.
“Spare him,” Dessiter said with a small grin, appearing beside the defeated paladin, “At least for a moment...”
“Speak,” Willow clipped, narrowing her eyes upon him, “Quickly.”
Dessiter looked towards her, inclining his head.
“Richard,” he said with a patronizingly sweet feigned warmness, “It seems my associates are about to slay you. And who can blame them after all you’ve done to thwart their noble aspirations.”
Willow listened intently to the devils words, her daggers clutched in her hands, her mind churning in suspicion as she watched what unfolded. The appearance of Dessiter was never mere coincidence. His presence indicated once more that the game of pawns in Naburus’ plan was vastly more intricate that they had thought.
“My name is Dessiter, and I have been empowered by my master to extend you an oer.” “Never,” Havelyn whimpered, slumped upon his knees, little strength left behind his dejected words.
“Never is a long time, dear Richard,” Dessiter smiled, “You have failed at your mission. Talingarde stands on the brink of disaster. Would you see your nation delivered into the hands of monsters? You can still save your people, Richard, you just have to let go of your pride.”
Dessiter shook his head gently, speaking to the paladin as if speaking to a child, “Mitra has abandoned Talingarde and abandoned you. Tell me, if Mitra were truly so powerful, would you lie here helpless before my associates? No. You’ve followed a false god, dear Richard.”
“Mitra has forsaken Talingarde,” Garvana scowled viciously, “The sun was never powerful enough to shield the land from the chaos, and so it turned its back on us.”
“But you are in luck,” Dessiter chimed in, a light joy to his words, “My master is impressed by your skill in battle. He’s impressed by your doggedness and determination. He’s impressed by you, Richard. It is just that... you are working for the wrong side. You are working for a side that has already forsaken you. Tell me Richard, will you die here in this festering swamp like a dog… or will you rise once more?”
For a moment, the festering cavern hung in silence. Though Garvana seemed eager to aid Dessiter in his argument, Willow was still trapped deeply in the grasp of distrust.
“Will you accept our generous oer,” Dessiter continued, “And swear allegiance to a new master? I’m afraid this is a one time oer, Richard.”
He looked to the Forsaken with a sly smile, “And judging from the look on my friends’ faces, I’d say that time is quickly running out...”
It was a pitiful sight, the paladin crumbled in complete loss of hope and true and utter despair.
“You have no real choice,” Garvana said to him, “There is only one way to defeat the chaos, and that is the order of the Lord of the Nine. You must accede.”
“Mitra can no longer help you,” Traya said coldly, “Mitra cannot save this country. Only the most powerful being can, only the mighty Asmodeus can.”
Willow watched the paladin with true curiosity. She watched the torment warring across his face, she watched the aching indecision play upon his heart strings. More curious than that, she watched how he stared eyes of strange longing towards Pellius. It was as if he longed for the certainty and conviction that exuded from him. As if he longed for undeniable truth in the conviction of his god. As if he longed for everything that Pellius was. With his brow contorting in agony, he wept.
Mitra,” he cried to the wind, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”
The ground beneath their feet trembled, a rumble deep within the earth. Suddenly, a dark wind moved amongst them, a palpable evil that swarmed the cavern. Sir Richard of Havelyn cried a forlorn breath, before his body slumped to the ground in a state of unconsciousness. It was clear to those eyes who saw, that he was a Paladin of Mitra no longer. He had fallen. “Gods in Hell,” Dessiter grinned, “I never get tired of seeing that!”
He turned to the Forsaken, “He’ll wake up soon enough, and when he does, Naburus would like a few words with the poor darling. It seems he is ours. I shall take him away, get him cleaned up and ready. I’ll return him to you after you have killed Thorn. You might want to decide by then what you are going to do with your own fallen paladin…”
Before he vanished with Havelyn in flash of brimstone, he smiled, perhaps the single most evil smile Willow had ever witnessed.
“Whatever it is,” he grinned, “I hope it is something really special...”

When the thick air in the cavern cleared, the sounds of thundering footsteps grew closer to the wide mouth of the cave. Willow rushed to Pellius’ side, quickly looking over the worst of his wounds. For a bare moment, their sight collided. She saw the disappointment in his eyes, the frustration and dissatisfaction at having to restrain from the killing blow. But she saw acceptance, he knew that true conversion of such a soul was far better than death. From her pouch she pulled free a wand carved from a single piece of darkwood, twisted knots filed to sharp points, radiating a subtle throbbing blackness. She used the dark arcana to heal the worst of his wounds, before the clambering of steel boots appeared just beyond the bend of the cavern walls.
This way!” cried a deep voice.
Though the Forsaken took cover behind the jagged stone, they saw only a glimpse of a familiar man before a thirty foot wall of erupting colour flashed into existence around them. It was the same wizard that had transported Havelyn from the halls of the Horn of Abbadon. The Forsaken were trapped within the glimmering force, splashes of vivid hues, a myriad rainbow of sparkling arcana. Willow knew better than to approach the wall, backing up to the centre of their surroundings, eyes wide as she looked to the others.
“We have no defence in here!” Willow growled.
Without a word, Traya transformed herself into the mass of shredding earth, sinking low into the stone before disappearing from sight.
“Turn to gas,” Garvana growled, “We can escape over the wall.”
But as Willow looked to Sith, knowing he had no way to escape, she would not leave him behind.
“Go,” she said to Pellius and Garvana, quickly pulling free a scroll from the case strapped to her hip, “I’ll take Sith.”
“You cannot travel through it,” Garvana rushed, “You shall have to go up to the surface and then come back down.”
As Willow swiftly reached out and clutched hold of a fist full of fur, she nodded to Garvana as she watched them vanish into mist.
Dorith,” she said calmingly, taking a pointless breath to steady herself.
As she read the incantation written upon the scroll, the two of them were torn through the vortex and spat out high atop the rocky mountains that housed the caverns beneath. The strong wind blasted into them, the salty seas crashing against the stone, showering them in brine and vapour. The skies above thundered in warning of the storm that was approaching the desolate isle, ricocheting bolts of lightening across the darkened canvas of sky. Within a breath, Willow pulled free another scroll, rushing the incantation to take her back down to the depths of Chargammon’s lair. Though she aimed their descent towards where the wizard had stood, they arrived to face much more than she had expected. Two rows of aligned soldiers, primed with bows and readied arrows. As luck would have it, Willow had arrived behind them, their sights aimed above the wall of colour, tracking the two mist forms that crept over the edge. These were no ordinary soldiers. They were Knights of Alerion, a specialised rank that usually charged mounted upon steeds, firing their fatal shots from horseback. But there was no room in the caverns winding passages for horses, and with their hastily donned mismatched pieces of armour, it was clear they had leapt into battle unprepared. As Sith caught their attention with a snarling growl that billowed small flames from his maw, the dozens of heads whipped towards her. There were a few faces Willow recognised, men she had seen before, serving with her husband, though she knew not their names. Only one of them she recognised, a lean olive skinned man, dark locks pushed back off his face – Taal O’mara, a close friend of her husband and family. When he saw her, the shock he wore lasted only a moment before the hatred and bitterness overwhelmed him.
Harlot!” he hissed, quickly turning to train his sight on her.
Willow grinned as Sith roared with savage fury, unleashing a torrent of fire upon the ranks of knights. The flames coursed their way across the men, burning, scorching, blistering. As the first wave of arrows came hurtling towards her, Willow lithely darted out of the path of the majority of the splintered wood.
“Turn about!” bellowed the captain.
Almost faster than her eyes could track, the rank of knights moved with practiced expertise to change formation and aim each arrow upon her. Though they were fast, not all were fast enough. She danced about with her blades, tearing them through flesh in a flurry of slashes, felling the two who dared to move in her reach. As the others drew their arrows, a sudden eruption exploded from the stone beneath them. Traya, in the form of the earth itself, exploded into a vile and searing black and poisonous sludge. Large chunks of toxic earth were flung in all directions, hammering into the metal and steel worn by the knights. As the dirt collided with flesh, it seared upon the bones, melting skin and scorching muscle like meat. It was too much for most of the knights, the screams of agony a chorus that paired the crashing metal as they felt writhing to the ground. But as the acidic sludge flew towards the wizard, a strange shield that surrounded him, forced the dirt to part around him and fall inert back to the ground.
Nessith!” Willow rasped, commanding Sith to attack the wizard.
As the great warhound pounced forward, the wizard’s eyes widened. As the magic surrounded his throat, he opened his mouth and expelled a booming word that carried the force of a thousand winds. The power within the word was so great, the air was thrust forward in a blurred vision, pummelling into the flaming chest of the hound. Though Sith whimpered against the pain, digging his claws into the stone to stop himself from being flung across the room, he did not shy from his approach. Once the force had passed, he leapt forward and craned his vicious maw wide, devouring the wizard in a few savage and snarling bites.
Only three of the knights remained standing, one of whom was Taal, furious and scowling, eyes blazing with hatred. They swiftly looked to one another, casting aside their bows and drawing their swords, hoisting them high into the air.
FOR MITRA!” they cried in unison, before Taal cried on his own, “And for Audric!”
They charged towards Willow, screaming their wrath as they neared. But they did not get a change to taste vengeance, they made it only far enough to arrive by her before the ground erupted in a gigantic fist of stone, gripping hold of their burned and blistered bodies before closing itself and crushing them beneath its enormous fingers.

They took rest for a moment, surrounded by the stench of charred flesh and blood, to heal their wounds and recover their strength. While Pellius helped pull free the three arrows that had managed to pierce through Willow back, Garvana looked over the dead and Traya quickly scouted the great chamber.
“You knew him?” Pellius asked, nodding his head towards Taal’s crushed corpse, losing one of the arrows to pull it free.
“A long time ago,” Willow said quietly, “He was – gah, damn it – he was one of my husbands friends. Stood by his side at my trial, seemed to take it almost worst than Audric. Death is better than you deserve, traitor. Those were his last words to me.”
“Little does he know…” Pellius chuckled, wrenching the first arrow free.
“Curious to see him here,” Willow frowned, “I would have thought he would have been at Fallingsbridge. It makes me wonder if Audric was there.”
“Would he not have been?”
“That legion,” Willow said, talking of the deceased archers, “Were known as the Sun’s Arrow, in battle they are paired with a league called the Sun’s Shield. Mounted archers that surrounded knights with great shields and spears. They were part of the same battalion. Audric is a Shield. If the Arrows were not in the battle, it is likely neither were the Shields.”
“So your beloved husband may still live?” Pellius chuckled, tugging on the last arrow.
Willow winced as she scoffed a laugh, “It is likely.”
“Good,” he replied, pulling the metal head free from her back, “I should like to meet him.”
Willow arched her brow, looking over her shoulder to Pellius.
“And I should like him to meet with the end of my blade…”

After a time spent scouring the rest of the cavern passages, they found a small camp in the centre of a large and open cave mouth. It was clear by the strewn about pieces or armour, discarded metal plates still filled with half eaten rations and the low flickering campfire, that the knights had been at rest when they heard the call of their paladin. Huddled in the corner were twelve horses, tethered to a post driven into the stone, saddles and bags piled by their side. The steeds watched the Forsaken with warily interest, restlessly shuffle their feet, unease within the dark and foreboding chamber. Further into the caverns, they found a separate camp tucked away from the noise of the soldiers, one filled with tomes and books piled along the sides of the canvas tent.
“The books that Havelyn mentioned,” Garvana concluded, a frown on her brow, “I wonder what the wizard was hoping to find within them?”
“We can take them with us,” Pellius dismissed, waving his hand, “We must find this horde and move on from here.”
“We have searched the whole cavern,” Garvana sighed, “And it is no where to be found.”
“Not the whole cavern,” Willow said quietly, her brow pulled low.
“You have an idea, my lady?” Pellius asked, brow arched in question.
“The water,” Willow said slowly, “It was stagnant, still and putrid…”
“Of course,” Garvana said plainly, shaking her head in frustration, “Chargammon has been dead and Jeratheon has been with us.”
“If I was dragon,” Willow drawled, rolling her eyes at Garvana, “And I wanted my horde away from prying eyes, I would want it where it was hard to get to and kept close to me at all times…”
For a moment, wide eyes stared towards her.
“Beneath the water!” Traya said in realisation.
“Close to him,” Willow nodded, “Not easily accessed.”
“And who is volunteering to jump into that filth?” Garvana grimaced.
“For the treasures he has to have hidden there,” Traya grinned, “I am…”

Traya was not the only one willing to dive into the putrid water to search for the illustrious horde of Chargammon the Black. Though she protested at first, even Garvana was willing to delve into the liquid. One of the advantages of their slow transformation into vampirism, was that they did not yet share all the weaknesses that affected their undead kin. Though being completely surrounded by water had an unease settle in Willow’s stomach, she knew it was safe to traverse the lake. Safe, as they could be in the lair of one of the great fabled terrors the land had ever known.
After a time swimming beneath the surface, they found only two possible options. Hidden deep in the lowest part of the cavern, was a tunnel that led further out into what they believed was the surround seas. On the other side of the lower cavern, was a boulder larger than a house. It was far larger than anything they could move, even as the four of them tried in unison. Traya used her curious arcana to form into stone and tunnel through the walls, returning a short time later with a disappointed scowl on her face.
“It’s gone,” she growled, treading atop the feral water, “It is all gone. There’s nothing there save a few scratch marks!”
“Do we have the wrong place?” Garvana frowned.
“Or has someone been here before us?”
“Could Jeratheon have beat us here and retrieved it via that tunnel?”
“No,” Willow shook her head, “He is far too afraid of his sire. Someone else must have taken it when they heard word that Chargammon was dead.”
“Risky,” Pellius commented, arching his brow.
Willow scowled as she thought over their options. With an idea forming, she dove back beneath the surface and swam down to deepest tunnel. With keen eyes searching the harsh stone floor, she followed the passage out towards the sea. With no need to breathe, she took her time winding through the thorned coral, looking for even a single clue as to what happened to the treasure, or who could have taken it. It was a single piece of glistening gold that caught her attention. A single coin, resting atop the seabed, as if it had been dropped there recently. With the gold in hand, she wound her way back to the others, climbing upon the stone shore, cringing at the stench that had soaked into her hair.
“What did you find?” Garvana asked intently.
“This,” Willow said, holding up the coin, “On the floor of the sea at the foot of the tunnel. It could be coincidence, but it could be our thief.”
“How did they move that boulder?” Pellius asked sceptically, “And why did they put it back?”
Suddenly, a loud and vicious snarling roar sounded from deeper in the caverns, followed by the savage noise of slaughter.
“To keep that one unaware as long as they could,” Willow offered with a laugh, standing from the stone to greet Jeratheon.
When the black dragon stalked into the open cavern, he looked over the Forsaken with bitter distaste.
“You did not leave me much to eat,” he hissed, cold black eyes scanning the dead Mitrans around the cave.
“You should have flown faster,” Willow scoffed, arching her brow and crossing her arms.
His response was a snarling bite, snapping his venom dripping teeth towards her.
“Your sire’s horde is gone,” Garvana said plainly.
“An easy way to say you could not find it,” Jeratheon laughed venomously, “You did not think you would find it so easy?”
“We found where it was,” Garvana replied coldly, “Beyond that great boulder. But it seems we were not fast enough. Someone, or something, beast us to it.”
Though a small flinch gave away his shock that they had figured it out, he snarled his reply.
“Too proud to admit you could not move the boulder?” he hissed.
“It is not there,” Willow sighed in frustration, unimpressed by his attitude, “Something large enough to remove the boulder, and put it back, has taken it before we had a chance to get here. I would wager it was a large aquatic beast, brave enough to test the knowledge that Chargammon had been slain.”
“And what makes you so certain?” Jeratheon growled low in his throat.
Willow lifted the coin to his sight, “This.”
With a sense of smell far keener than that of a human, the beast drew harder through his flaring nostrils, his eyes flaring with hatred and anger as he recognised the scent of his father.
Where did you find that?!” he hissed viciously.
“By the foot of the tunnel out at sea,” Willow replied, arching her brow at his great snarling head so close to her, “Laying atop the seabed, as if it had been dropped there recently.”
His dark eyes flared wide, as he threw his head back and roared a bestial cry of wrath. Without a word, he leaped out into the air, plunging below the water in a crashing wave of exploding water. The Forsaken looked to one another, as Sith growled his displeasure as the water hissed along his flames.
“Shall we await his return?” Willow asked.
“We do not know where he is going, or when he will come back,” Garvana frowned.
“But there is a camp already set up,” Traya suggested, “Food and supplies. I could certainly use a rest.”
“And if there was one place,” Willow laughed, “That we could sleep in safety away from the Mitrans, it would be here…”

When the sun lifted from the horizon, and the darkness of night was banished once more, the crashing sound of water awoke the Forsaken from their sleep. They moved quickly through the cavern, to be greeted by the foot of the large dragon pinning a creature to the stone. A man with skin and scales the colour of soft pale sapphire, long wet locks of white hair, and a long curling tail in place of legs. His scaled torso was torn and battered, seeping blue blood that pooled around him.
Tell them, what you told me,” Jeratheon hissed callously.
“Please,” pleaded the merfolk, “Mercy, I beg of you, mercy!”
Willow stepped forward to the crying creature, drawing his sight towards her.
“You will find no mercy here,” she said coldly, “You will give us what we want, or your death will be far longer and more painful than it need be.”
“Please,” he whimpered, “Please…”
“Tell us,” Willow said calmly, “If you have information, it may be enough to spare your life.”
“Did you take the treasure?” Garvana demanded.
“Not I,” he wept, shaking his head, “It was our lady. The elder wyrm, Benthysara…”

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