Tapioki

Shadow Quest

Apr 17th, 2013
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  1. Shadow Quest Chapter 1
  2. You are.
  3.  
  4. Memories strike you. You remember birds, though you’ve feel as though you’ve never seen one. You can imagine trees, though there are none where you are now.
  5.  
  6. Around you is darkness. Though there is no light, you can see. You are in a small cavern. The absolute silence is complete.
  7.  
  8. Why are you here? Who are you? What...what are you? Where did you come from?
  9.  
  10. And why are you in this dark place, alone?
  11.  
  12. It's as if something has bored holes in your mind, leaving most things where they are but extracting the rest. You consider yourself carefully, but there's nothing. You strain your ears, but hear nothing. Silence.
  13.  
  14. You raise your hand to your face..
  15.  
  16. ...and shadow greets you.
  17.  
  18. You turn over your 'arm', as much an arm it is. You are a shadowy thing, formless, indistinct. Even as you watch your skin wavers slightly. With difficulty, you can even stretch and bend yourself slightly.
  19.  
  20. You realize this is not normal. Most creatures have static form. But though it feels odd, it's all too familiar. You feel more at the tip of your mind, but it slips away.
  21.  
  22. You decide to get your bearings and take a look around the cavern.
  23.  
  24. It seems there's a tunnel leading away to your right. You keep turning.
  25.  
  26. Behind you, there's a pool. Misty, black. You're not sure if the liquid itself is black, or that's just the lack of light.
  27.  
  28. You don't think it's normal to see in the dark, either, but it feels natural. It's still there--the dark--but it simply knows to get out of your way.
  29.  
  30. Further past the pool is what appears to be a small altar.
  31.  
  32. You move towards the altar. You slide and slither more than walk. But it's like breathing; it feels natural.
  33.  
  34. You arrive in front of the stone altar. It's almost shaped like a chair; wide, with a large flat back rising up into the cave wall. Text and symbols are carved into the rock. You can't understand any of it.
  35.  
  36. When you reach out to touch the altar, a flash of sensation runs through you.
  37.  
  38. You sense yourself. And other things - 7 other things exactly. They're like you, but different.
  39.  
  40. 4 seem closer than the others. The last 4 are far. Very far.
  41.  
  42. 1 stands out. It faces you. It's like staring into the face of the sun, and after growing used to the darkness around you, you recoil from the sensation.
  43.  
  44. But you know yourself. 1 of 8. Opposed to the bright thing. The light. And you know it opposes you, as well.
  45.  
  46. You crawl toward the pool.
  47.  
  48. It seems to surge with energy. You don't hesitate and reach a hand directly inside.
  49.  
  50. The energy swims into your body. You remember this energy - Mana.
  51.  
  52. You wish you could read the words on the altar--you're sure they're important. But it's to no avail. Perhaps it's time to move on.
  53.  
  54. You return to the altar. It seems so...familiar. But you can't quite place it.
  55.  
  56. You tentatively rest a limb on its surface. The sensation of the other 7 existences flashes to the surface. 7 other elements.
  57.  
  58. Light waits there, cruel to even look upon...
  59.  
  60. ...but it seems somehow unaware of you.
  61.  
  62. You withdraw your hand none the wiser. You take a few moments to stare down some of the symbols, burning their images into your mind. They must be important. After drawing them a few times in the dirt to help you memorize, you feel as though you've accomplished everything you can for the moment.
  63.  
  64. You head toward the tunnel...
  65.  
  66. It's dank, and dark. You proceed forward slowly. The walls are ancient--but in between the dust and dirt you can see the cobbled brick of intentional construction. However, the nature of those intentions eludes you.
  67.  
  68. You crawl forward. Strange patches of white mold glow on the walls. They darken as you pass, then lighten again once you're by. It's as if the light knows you.
  69.  
  70. You can't tell how far you've gone, or how much time passes. You don't feel thirsty, and the small effort doesn't tire you.
  71.  
  72. You do feel a hunger. But it's small.
  73.  
  74. The hall finally ends in a wide chamber. There are several entrances to the room, all of the same ancient, crumbling brick. It's like some sort of maze.
  75.  
  76. Suddenly, a light flashes from one of the tunnels! You hear voices, sharp, cautious. What do you do?
  77.  
  78. You quickly duck into the shadows and go absolutely still. The darkness jumps at your will, molding over your form. You feel relatively secure.
  79.  
  80. The source of the voices bursts into the chamber. It's a group of men - no. Elves.
  81.  
  82. The elves march into the center of the room. You watch from your vantage point, silent. A small sphere of light floats over their heads. There are four of them; two males with heavier armor, swords, and shields. A smaller female holds a bow that seems much to large for her to draw, but...
  83.  
  84. ...somehow, you know better. More of those memories, that knowledge from nothing.
  85.  
  86. In the center of the group stands a beautiful elf woman. She wears practical clothing, leather armor, but holds a wood staff with a green crystal. She is quiet while the others argue. There's something different about her.
  87.  
  88. "Dammit, Selene, we're totally turned around!" On of the swordsmen stomps his foot. "Where in Venia are we?"
  89.  
  90. The young archer raises an eyebrow. "Why don't you stop and ask for directions?"
  91.  
  92. "Fuck you!"
  93.  
  94. "Silence," the woman says. They instantly fall silent, exchanging looks like children caught with hands in the cookie jar. The woman takes a breath. "A moment of peace, please, while I discern its lair."
  95.  
  96. For a moment, you tense.
  97.  
  98. What is IT?
  99.  
  100. Are you IT?
  101.  
  102. The woman relaxes. She points in the opposite direction you came from. "This way." She steps forward confidently. The other three elves bound forward to keep her surrounded. However well they get along, they're well trained.
  103.  
  104. "Wait." The boisterous swordsman pauses. "Something's off..." He turns back and faces where you're hiding. He takes a step forward.
  105.  
  106. The elf blinks for a moment.
  107.  
  108. "What?" the archer asks. "Have to take a shit?"
  109.  
  110. "Would you shut up?" The swordsman glances back over his shoulder, then straightened. "Just thought I saw something move. Can't be too careful down here, right?"
  111.  
  112. "Your caution is appreciated, Zeldan," the matronly elf says. "Let us proceed."
  113.  
  114. "Thank you, your majesty," Zeldan says. He grins haughtily at the archer as he saunters into the tunnel ahead. The archer pouts at the woman, who simply gives a vague sigh. They begin out of the room.
  115.  
  116. Just as the light fades, the woman's face turns. She looks directly at you.
  117.  
  118. There is no question in your mind she knew you were there.
  119.  
  120. They vanish down the tunnel. You can hear the echos their voices as they move forward.
  121.  
  122. You are intrigued by the elf woman - nobility, going by what the swordsman said. And you know she chose not to reveal you.
  123.  
  124. With your energies put to use, you no longer have to crawl - legs pick and shift you lightly across the ground. It's easy to stay quiet. You remain just out of range of their sphere of light, trailing along softly.
  125.  
  126. The tunnel opens up ahead. You can see their light spread wide over a vast chamber. The young archer whistles. "This is incredible, your majesty."
  127.  
  128. "...an old place," the woman says. "Ancient. Dark."
  129.  
  130. "And evil," Zeldan finishes.
  131.  
  132. "Maybe," the woman says. "What we hunt is evil. But the darkness is not so, not implicitly."
  133.  
  134. "Haven't met a dark thing yet that wasn't evil."
  135.  
  136. The woman smiles. "Perhaps you haven't met a dark thing yet that you've given the chance."
  137.  
  138. The swordsman scratches his head, then shrugs. His face disagrees with the assessment, but he doesn't voice his opinion further, probably out of respect.
  139.  
  140. You decide you like the woman more.
  141.  
  142. Something changes. Huge footsteps pound the floor. The elves fall into stances. The woman twirls her staff into a ready position, and green energy crackles around its crystal.
  143.  
  144. A roar like death and suffering fills the air of the chamber.
  145.  
  146. A huge monster slithers to the top of an outcropping of broken rocks on the other end of the hall. In front of the broken stone and rows of columns long since collapsed, it looks like the harbinger of doom.
  147.  
  148. Its wings flap once, twice, and it darts into the air far faster than you'd expect.
  149.  
  150. The elves leap into action. The archer sprints left, firing arrows that leap forward with white light. A flap of the monster's wings scatters them on a dark wind.
  151.  
  152. The two swordsmen charge forward. The dragon slams down onto the ground in front of them and breathes an ugly black fire. They brace themselves for the impact, but you don't see how they could possibly survive.
  153.  
  154. The woman raises her staff. Green light flares over the two warriors. The black fire rolls around them harmlessly, dissolving the columns and bits of rock on either side. They dash in and land nasty cuts on the dragon's maw.
  155.  
  156. At the same time, the archer's arrows pierce its belly from the side. It roars in pain, thrashing as the white light seems to blossom on its side. Its head swivels as it tries to pick a target.
  157.  
  158. You don't want to be that target, but you're enraptured by the battle.
  159.  
  160. You feel a tremor shake your body - one of both fear and excitement. You feel ready to run, but the scene nails you to the floor.
  161.  
  162. The dragon roars, and then turns his body. His tail whips and strikes both the warriors. They fly through the air; apparently the protection was only magical, not physical. They both land upright, but are obviously hurt.
  163.  
  164. The archer continues to fire, burying another arrow in the creature's hide. It blasts a wave of the black fire in her direction.
  165.  
  166. The woman, who seemed to be preparing a spell, is forced to stop to protect her ally. The archer is barely saved from the acidic fire-smog.
  167.  
  168. The dragon begins to flap its wings, building a storm of wind. Darkness rips through the air like razors. The warriors and archer hunker down against the ground. The woman uses her magic to shield them once more, but she's left open. The spell goes up, but the staff is ripped from her hands.
  169.  
  170. The dragon roars. It flies toward the easy target, then begins to dive from the ceiling and toward the woman.
  171.  
  172. An absurd idea pops into your head - the idea that you should preserve this woman that so recently preserved you.
  173.  
  174. You'd probably die trying, and not make that much of a difference.
  175.  
  176. The dragon is seconds from slamming into the ground directly on top of her.
  177.  
  178. The trembling inside you explodes.
  179.  
  180. Your shadow whips out behind you, blasting your forward as your body forms legs and lopes along. Your shadow snatches up the rod.
  181.  
  182. The rod crackles with energy at your shadow's touch. You nearly fumble it, but at the last minute decide to toss it to the woman. Startled, but reacting quickly, she snatches it from the air.
  183.  
  184. You run past her, just between her and the dragon. Your shadows lick at her sides and tug her up into the air and along with your run. The dragon's jaws snap only air as it lands in the corner, and it hits hard, momentarily confused by the shadows around it.
  185.  
  186. But it reorients quickly. You barely have time to set the woman down when a wave of the black fire is on top of you. She raises her staff, but there's almost no time to cast the protective spell!
  187.  
  188. You can see in the elf's eyes that she doesn't believe she'll make it.
  189.  
  190. You launch yourself up, bending yourself around in front of her. The flames roil over your body, dissolving the walls with an ugly hiss. But your shadows protect you.
  191.  
  192. The fire ends abruptly. You uncoil and settle on the ground. The elf woman's eyes are wide. She stares at you, uncertain.
  193.  
  194. You try to speak, to calm her and let her know that you're a friend.
  195.  
  196. A strange gurgling escapes your body. She blinks at you in confusion.
  197.  
  198. "HAIL."
  199.  
  200. You both snap to attention. The dragon just spoke. If you had eyes, they'd be as round as dinner plates.
  201.  
  202. The dragon's voice is like roaring sandpaper. "...YOU PROTECT THESE CREATURES? I DO NOT UNDER-"
  203.  
  204. Arrows of light slam into the dragon's face. One of them buries itself in the creature's eye. It shrieks, stumbles, and runs headfirst into a column.
  205.  
  206. The swordsmen are on top of it in an instant. They hack at its exposed neck, cutting deeply. The dragon begins to rise...
  207.  
  208. ...just in time for the elf woman to finish her spell. Stone from the column the dragon struck comes alive with green light. It shapes itself into an enormous fist and slams downward, crushing it into the ground.
  209.  
  210. Meanwhile, its head is a pincushion of white arrows. Its head is nearly severed clean. The shining green fist raises itself once more, then pounds down. A sickening crack resounds through the hall.
  211.  
  212. The dragon does not move again.
  213.  
  214. The elf woman lowers her staff and looks to you. After that display of power, you don't feel much like hopping into her arms. She squints hard. "...it knew you."
  215.  
  216. You try to give her some explanation, some message. You wobble. You shake. You end up shaking yourself from side-to-side in a sort of "no".
  217.  
  218. "Look again," the woman says.
  219.  
  220. You turn back toward the dragon. Its eyes, now dead, stare into space. Dark eyes.
  221.  
  222. Eyes you've seen before.
  223.  
  224. Memories. Memories flood into you.
  225.  
  226. Yes. You know the dragon. You know it... but where! How? The answer is on the verge of your recollection...!
  227.  
  228. "Oh." You're distracted by the woman's voice. "You're..." Her voice falls to a whisper. "By the earth and moon."
  229.  
  230. "My lady!" Zeldan is running over. "Run!"
  231.  
  232. "NO!"
  233.  
  234. Zeldan and the other two freeze at her shout. She turns back to you. "...I see...what I must do."
  235.  
  236. Her rod begins to crack with green light. It flares bright, then brighter. You can hardly see with all the light.
  237.  
  238. The memories...so close--if you could just reach out, you know you could--
  239.  
  240. "I will give you choice," the woman says.
  241.  
  242. You are bathed in the green light, and the world goes dark.
  243.  
  244. You waken.
  245.  
  246. You look around.
  247.  
  248. The caverns and elves are gone. You are on top of a hill, whole, unharmed. A soft wind whistles by, rustling the grass under your form. The moon is bright high in the sky.
  249.  
  250. You're not sure what happened. What did she mean? She knew something about you, and then she transported you here.
  251.  
  252. You search for the memories once more. You can piece this together if--
  253.  
  254. You hit a wall. A wall in your mind. It might as well be built of admantium. You can't get past it. You struggle to remember, but it's like clawing at steel with bare hands. You can't even remember the symbols from that altar. Just the woman, the fight with the dragon - then nothing.
  255.  
  256. Frustration burns inside you. You have to find her, and somehow make her give you your memories back.
  257.  
  258. But where is she? And where is here?
  259.  
  260. You gaze out over the hill...
  261.  
  262. After several fields, a town set alongside a sizable river greets your eyes. It is brightly illuminated by the moon, though you wouldn't need that to see.
  263.  
  264. On one side is a large farm. Opposite that is a small graveyard. Light flicker from several windows, but they seem brightest in a large building set in a square in the town center.
  265.  
  266. Perhaps this is where the elf lives? It seems a bit mundane...
  267.  
  268. You decide to head toward the graveyard. It seems dark, and safe. If the sun rises, it might offer a nice hiding spot.
  269.  
  270. You stride around the edges of the town, keeping distant from any lights. You pass through without event.
  271.  
  272. You make your way into the graveyard. Fog has settled low around the lines of tombstones. They're etched with characters; you can't read the language, but you assume they're names and dates. Some few have flowers next to them. The older stones are weathered with age to nubs. This town has been here for a long time. That bodes well, considering you're looking for elves.
  273.  
  274. You hear a shriek tumble out of the fog to your left. You peer through the fog...
  275.  
  276. ...there's a small girl. She's lying on the ground in front of a grave.
  277.  
  278. A human form lurches toward her, arms outstretched. Rotting skin hangs off its bones, exposing blackened flesh and sinew.
  279.  
  280. Shadow Quest Chapter 2
  281. The girl scrambles back on her hands and knees. The zombie teeters along. It lets out a soft groan.
  282.  
  283. The scene before you is clear.
  284.  
  285. You step between the girl and her assailant. It seems to refocus on you, but does little beyond continue forward, intent on eating you as it did her.
  286.  
  287. Your shadow spears out toward the zombie, puncturing its chest with a sickening splat. The blood falls to the ground as your shadow unravels and fades back into your aura. The zombie steps back, unbalanced, but it's still hanging on.
  288.  
  289. The girl is standing behind you. Her eyes are wide. "...who are you?" Her language isn't familiar, but you can understand the words.
  290.  
  291. You try to speak, but it simply comes out as a strange murmur. She worries at your side, watching as the zombie rights itself. It comes forward once again.
  292.  
  293. The zombie is stubborn. The wound you've inflicted has already stopped bleeding. But you're hardly afraid.
  294.  
  295. You unleash your shadow in three pieces. Your spears plunge into its heart, abdomen, and left leg, throwing it back onto the ground and pinning it there. You twist the spears in their holes, carving the wounds larger. The zombie twitches, moans, and struggles, but it can't get free.
  296.  
  297. The little girl appears by the zombie's head. You're about to push her away with a tendril of shadow when you see the rock in her hands. A moment later, it's smashing into the zombie's head.
  298.  
  299. The zombie stops moving. You can feel its death.
  300.  
  301. You withdraw your shadowy spears. The zombie's hunger reminds you of something, something forgotten in the rush of events.
  302.  
  303. You're hungry.
  304.  
  305. Zombie's body sits there...ripe.
  306.  
  307. The little girl stares at you. "...are you a person?" she asks.
  308.  
  309. You tear your gaze off the zombie. The pressure of the hunger fades.
  310.  
  311. You turn to the little girl. You can't speak. You nod your body up in a very obvious "yes".
  312.  
  313. "Oh," she says. "You're more like a ghost. I guess you're a person though, because ghosts are people."
  314.  
  315. You can only shrug at this strange logic. You notice she is definitely a human. Perhaps this isn't an elf village after all.
  316.  
  317. "My name's Abigail. What's your name?"
  318.  
  319. You begin to think...and then stop. You realize you don't remember your name.
  320.  
  321. You shrug at her.
  322.  
  323. "You don't have a name?" She seems more amused than anything else. Strange, after she was about to be eaten. "That's silly. Well, you're kind of like a shadow, so how about Mr. Shadow?"
  324.  
  325. You shrug in acceptance. You wiggle yourself back and forward, trying to ask why she was out in the middle of a graveyard at night fighting a zombie. You tap the dead zombie's body.
  326.  
  327. "...the zombie...it was an accident," she says. "I can talk to some dead people. I was trying to talk to my parents. But this thing came out of the ground and...well, now you're here." The girl yawns. "I should get home." She looks at you. "If you're traveling...you can stay with me, if you want."
  328.  
  329. You decide that, considering your lack of options, following the girl home seems prudent.
  330.  
  331. Shadow Slip allows you to anchor into her shadow, hiding within it. You discover that, while you cannot move, you move along with her shadow as she does, still as it flits and flickers past the edge of the graveyard.
  332.  
  333. Abigail walks past the still-bright town center and toward the farm. She stops in front of it. You reappearance out of her shadow doesn't seem to phase her. "You know, you're the second person I've met today that was traveling."
  334.  
  335. You poke your shadow about in what you hope is a questioning manner.
  336.  
  337. "Oh, he's not here right now," she says. "He went to the meet house. But I'll introduce you later if you want, he said we're friends. His name is Donovan Flint." Her voice gains an admiring quality. "He's a knight of Dobshire, a city waaaaay down in Arland! It's really far, not even in Kelvere. I've never been out of the village before."
  338.  
  339. It all pours out of her mouth really quickly. You can only shrug. But perhaps you'd rather not be introduced to a knight. It doesn't sound like the sort of person that would like a living shadow.
  340.  
  341. "...um..." Abigail seems uncertain of something. "...you can stay in the farmhouse, ok? But promise not to come inside. Ok?"
  342.  
  343. She ducks inside the house quickly, opening and shutting the door before you can catch a glimpse of the inside.
  344.  
  345. But something wafts out to you. A smell. If you had a nose, you'd wrinkle it in disgust. What on earth is that?
  346.  
  347. Glass windows are luxuries afforded only by the rich. There are some shuttered holes in the wall, but the wood is barred tight. You might be able to pry it open, but not without making a lot of noise.
  348.  
  349. You press yourself up against the gap to the door. The pungent smell greets you. It's...filthy. Sickening.
  350.  
  351. And Abigail is in there without a care in the world? Maybe this has something to do with how quickly she seemed to brush off being attacked by a zombie. Who exactly is this girl?
  352.  
  353. A chimney is perched at an angle above the main room of he house. Plenty of handholds offer a way up, but you doubt you could climb back out if you dropped in that way...
  354.  
  355. You quickly scale the building. The chimney is tight, but you could fit inside without difficulty.
  356.  
  357. There's no smoke. You are silent as you listen to the house below. The smell is much more faint here. There aren't any sounds. She did seem tired, so perhaps she's gone to sleep?
  358.  
  359. But what is the source of that smell?
  360.  
  361. You wait a few minutes, just to be sure Abigail is asleep, then drop sound the chimney.
  362.  
  363. You land quietly in a puff of soot. The smell is stronger, but still subdued. You're in a long room. A bench is set in front of the fireplace along with a large, cotton-stuffed chair.
  364.  
  365. In the corner of the room is the slumbering form of Abigail. She's wrapped in a nest of blankets. She rolls over, murmurs, and then her breathing settles.
  366.  
  367. You creep into the middle of the room. There is a door to your right, and a door to your left.
  368.  
  369. You edge to the left, and grow close to the door. The smell grows unmistakably stronger.
  370.  
  371. You stand before the door. It is unlocked and could be easily opened. You're sure the smell is coming from inside.
  372.  
  373. You finally place it. Rotten - that's the best word to describe it.
  374.  
  375. You begin to reach for the door handle, but hesitate. Maybe...this isn't such a good idea. Maybe you shouldn't break the first promise you've ever made.
  376.  
  377. You withdraw your arm and turn back.
  378.  
  379. You explore the other door. Past it is what seems to be a tool shed that forms an L-shape with the rest of the house. There's kitchen supplies, empty jars, dried food, hoes, scythes, animal harnesses and brushes...everything a farm could need. You spot a door at the far end and make your way down to it.
  380.  
  381. You unbar the latch. The door opens with a slight creak. You close it, and the latch clinks shut, locking in place.
  382.  
  383. You flit and walk and ooze your way toward the town center.
  384.  
  385. The dirt road transforms into uneven, broken cobblestone. The buildings turn from scattered farmhouses to a small cluster of stores and specialty shops. It's a small but seemingly quite permanent setup.
  386.  
  387. Most of the buildings are shut tight and dark for the night. But one building blazes with light and activity - a wide, tall meeting house at the center of the town square. It rises high from the cobblestone. Its tower, a wooden outpost with a ladder leading up to it, is even higher than the steeple of the nearby church. You can just make out a man sitting up there in a chair, resting with a single candle. What appears to be some sort of large alarm bell dangles next to him.
  388.  
  389. There's plenty of noise coming from the hall. Lights flicker and shift as people move about. The babble of conversation is constant.
  390.  
  391. The hall's door is cracked open. Most of the windows are shuttered, but a few are open to the night air.
  392.  
  393. On the way to the town center, you practice a bit with your shadow manipulation.
  394.  
  395. It seems you can split your shadow into four different parts. More than that and they get very weak. Even four is a bit much; three is the optimum.
  396.  
  397. It's tough for you to focus on multiple things at a time, even with three 'arms'...
  398.  
  399. You can make your shadows into a point, but you can't really sharpen them for slashes. Bludgeoning or stabbing seems possible.
  400.  
  401. You aren't dexterous enough to use them as fingers, but you can wrap them about things like rope and pull or push.
  402.  
  403. You stop beneath an open shutter. It's quite dark under the window sill. You feel confident no one would notice you.
  404.  
  405. The babble continues. You pick out bits and pieces - something about a place called Kan-Abar. A disease. Undead. The Duke Vellik of Kelvere.
  406.  
  407. "Everyone, please! Attention!"
  408.  
  409. The voice seems lost for a moment amidst all the babble.
  410.  
  411. "AH, SHUT UP, YOU FILTHY IDIOTS!"
  412.  
  413. The babble quickly softens. You poke yourself above the windowsill. The closest people to you are sitting at a table a few feet away, but they're all turned to the inside.
  414.  
  415. A man on a slightly raised platform in the back looks like the one who's just finished shouting. He's dressed in simple brown robes. A small sun-shaped pendant hangs around his neck.
  416.  
  417. There's a second man near him. He's clad in half-plate, and a long sheath dangles from his hip. You suspect he's the knight Abigail mentioned - Donovan Flint. The way he's timidly cowering from the other man seems almost comical, especially considering the knight's huge size. His arms are almost as big around as the other man's thighs, and he's easily over 6 feet tall.
  418.  
  419. "Alright," says the robed man. "We need to get this straightened and under control. We're treating this like a plague until it's done. Any questions?"
  420.  
  421. A single man raises his hand. "...ah...pastor...is that really-"
  422.  
  423. "What? Necessary? The disease makes you shit until you die and any contact with them is practically a half chance of dying yourself. There's walking dead coming out of the woods, rising up from the burial pit! And Sir Flint here says he can virtually smell the magic leaking out of the Old Forest!" The pastor turns toward the man in armor. "Right?"
  424.  
  425. "Ah, yes, pastor," Donovan says meekly.
  426.  
  427. "There you have it. Double the pit's size. I want 20 men digging. 40 are going to the woods to gather wood; stick close, no wandering off alone. We have to burn everything. Clothes, blankets, anything that's been in contact with the dead or diseased. And then..."
  428.  
  429. The pastor's voice grows much softer. Somehow, it's a lot more threatening than the loud version.
  430.  
  431. "I need volunteers. 1 group to treat the infected, move the bodies. I won't like. It's risky. But we've got me, and the knight knows a bit of healing magic. We might be able to stop its progress if we catch anyone early.
  432.  
  433. "And second...men willing to go into the forest and find the source of this mess."
  434.  
  435. The hall is very quiet. A few scattered men volunteer to help with the bodies and treat the sick - maybe ten or 15 out of the hundred or so gathered. No one volunteers to venture into the forest.
  436.  
  437. "Am I going alone with the knight?" the pastor demands. The men look away from his gaze.
  438.  
  439. A young boy near the back stands up. His eyes are bright. "I'll go, pastor!"
  440.  
  441. "Dammit, Joey, you're 16. I repeat: I need MEN."
  442.  
  443. "I'm just as good as anyone! Better than this lot of cowards!"
  444.  
  445. "Boy, that's enough out of you!"
  446.  
  447. "Joey," Sir Flint begins. "It's too dangerous. This isn't just a bandit that knows a spell or two. This is serious magic. I can't use anyone that doesn't know how to fight."
  448.  
  449. "But I do know how to-"
  450.  
  451. "Or that's as young as you. Experience is important."
  452.  
  453. Joey sits in a huff and folds his arms. Donovan looks like he wants to say more, but he holds his tongue.
  454.  
  455. "Alright," the pastor says. "We need to get to work right away. We can sort the rest out when the sun rises. Get to knocking on doors, get people to come out of their shells, spread the word. Flint, come with me. We need to-"
  456.  
  457. The bell on the roof of the hall beings to ring. Long, low, belching clanks.
  458.  
  459. The men burst into whispers. There's a thudding and pounding of wood. A man leaps down the stairs leading up to the second floor of the hall. "Pastor! There's men coming! Two, three dozen of 'em walking out of the woods! I swear one's just a skeleton!"
  460.  
  461. The conversation gets louder. The men exchange glances.
  462.  
  463. "Arms, men!" Flint says. "The north side of the town! If you value the lives of your families, we've got to fight!"
  464.  
  465. The hall bursts into action. Many men already have shovels or picks they'd been planning on using to dig. Most have knives. They crowd the door of the hall as they try to get out, then start toward the north in disorganized groups of 5 or 10 men each. Sir Flint and the pastor take the lead of the largest group. Joey sticks close to the knight.
  466.  
  467. This isn't your town; you feel no compulsion to leap to its defense. But you do have a friend who is relatively defenseless: Abigail.
  468.  
  469. You rise up on your legs and run as fast as you can back toward the farmhouse. You pass several groups of men who are gathering innocents into the town center for easier protection. They won't get to Abigail's farmhouse for some time. All the more reason to move faster.
  470.  
  471. You arrive back in a few minutes, slightly winded, but you recover quickly. The farmhouse is still shut tight.
  472.  
  473. You pound a part of yourself against the front door, loudly. It makes a satisfyingly heavy knock against the wood. You knock again, then a third time.
  474.  
  475. There's no answer. You hesitate for a moment, then slam harder, five times in a row. Still nothing.
  476.  
  477. A massive strike cleaves the door in front of you. Wood splinters go flying - you barely avoid being skewered. The ugly smell of rotting flesh roils out around you.
  478.  
  479. You freeze.
  480.  
  481. Standing in the door is something that, even by your standards, you can only describe as a twisted monster. A warped head protrudes from its neck, distended like a human's skull elongated into a sort of crocodile jaw. A second head gnaws at the air, a defective face embedded in its shoulder. Yellowy pustules throb on its skin, the remnants of disease and rot.
  482.  
  483. The creature has the jump on you. It exhales a long breath. A yellow gas bursts forward from its mouth.
  484.  
  485. You leap back. The gas dissipates into the air in front of you, leaving an acrid, putrid stench behind. You continue backwards, putting a comfortable distance between yourself and the monster.
  486.  
  487. It seems unsteady, but it isn't like the last zombie you've seen. Its footsteps crunch into the dirt, heavy, plodding. It has weight, stamina. It raises a long, crooked arm.
  488.  
  489. You unleash three prongs of shadow.
  490.  
  491. The first stabs straight through the exposed, outstretched arm. The second spikes through its stomach, and the third through its left leg. The momentum drives the zombie back and slams it against the wall. Your tendrils pin it into the wood of the house.
  492.  
  493. The zombie struggles and groans. Your shadows buckle under its strength. Its free arm swipes at your shadow, trying to knock itself lose, and it lands a few solid blows, but you're able to hold for the moment.
  494.  
  495. "Mr. Shadow!"
  496.  
  497. Abigail is running from the tool shed. She stops when she sees the monster. "What...what is that thing?!"
  498.  
  499. You can't answer while you're using all you strength just to keep it pinned. It turns to her voice, stretching itself toward the morsel. "Muuhhh...UHHGHGH!"
  500.  
  501. "Don't hurt Mr. Shadow!" Abigail raises her hands.
  502.  
  503. Beams of orange light slice through the air, slamming into the zombie. It rattles against the wood as the energy hits it. Its arm and leg are severed clean off.
  504.  
  505. In the process, it is torn free from your grip. It falls to the ground and crawls toward Abigail, pulling itself forward with one arm.
  506.  
  507. Abigail's face has gone pale. She stumbles back, then falls. Her breathing is labored.
  508.  
  509. You launch your shadow once again. The crawling zombie is an easy target. The three prongs of your shadow meet and pierce its skull through and down inches into the dirt. And again, you attack, severing its head from its body totally, and again, destroying the second head in its torso.
  510.  
  511. Abigail crawls away from the monster and toward you. She seems alright, if shaken - perhaps exhausted from her efforts. There are tears in her eyes. "...I'm sorry, Mr. Shadow. It's my fault."
  512.  
  513. You wiggle and bobble. You tap her on the head. She sinks to the ground and cries. "...they...mommy and daddy died from the yellow disease thing...I wanted to talk to them, like I can talk to the nice lady, and ghosts...but, they wouldn't talk back..." the wailing grows louder, and she's practically shouting the words through her tears. "And then they came back but I didn't want that, that's a zombie, so I put them in the room and tried to practice at the graveyard but then I made a zombie again by mistake. And then the bad magic in the forest made them like this and it almost hurt you!"
  514.  
  515. You're a little overwhelmed by the torrent of words. You pat her gently on the head. She wraps her arms around you, cradling your slightly gelatinous body. Her crying is somewhat muffled by the shadows.
  516.  
  517. But distracted as you are by the monster and her story, you don't hear the sounds of men approaching until they're nearly on top of you!
  518.  
  519. Several men are jogging up to the farm, carrying lanterns. You can see a glint of armor - Sir Flint is with them!
  520.  
  521. You hop into Abigail's shadow. She blinks at your sudden disappearance. "Mr. Shadow? Are you there still?"
  522.  
  523. You feel something turn in you...an Impression.
  524.  
  525. You try to push the feeling at Abigail. You send her an image of you and her standing on a hill on a sunny day. You wave cheerily from her shadow.
  526.  
  527. She looks at her shadow. her eyes seem to light up in recognition. "Oh, ok! You're secret place is my shadow!"
  528.  
  529. She seems startled by the arrival of the men. "Abigail!" Flint calls. "Abigail. Are you - by the light, what is that?!"
  530.  
  531. The men crowd around the corpse of the monster. Sir Flint examines it, then turns back to her. He peers at her closely. "Abigail? What happened? Did you do this?"
  532.  
  533. "...um...uh - the disease made the monster come," she says. "Mr. Shadow killed it."
  534.  
  535. You mentally wince at she innocently denounces you.
  536.  
  537. "Mr. Shadow?" Sir Flint asks. He frowns. "What do you mean?"
  538.  
  539. "Mr. Shadow. He's my magic friend. He saved me from the zombies."
  540.  
  541. Sir Flint eyes her a long time. You go as still as you can.
  542.  
  543. Sir Flint nods. "...I see. Mr. Shadow. That's what you call it."
  544.  
  545. "ah...Sir Flint," one of the men says awkwardly. "What do we do?"
  546.  
  547. "It's obvious." Sir Flint walks up to the zombie. His sword glows with a faint white light. He stabs it straight into the heart of the beast.
  548.  
  549. There's a sharp hiss as the blade sinks into the dead flesh. He nods. "It's dead." He looks carefully at the severed limbs. "I see."
  550.  
  551. He withdraws his sword...
  552.  
  553. ...but overbalances. He stumbles, trips backwards, and falls on his rear. His sword clatters to the ground. The men, having been impressed by the display, quickly move to cover grins and smirks. Flint scrambles to his feet and sheaths his weapon.
  554.  
  555. He coughs his throat clear. "..ah. I'll escort the girl into town. Check the building. Then...bury this thing. Deep."
  556.  
  557. The men nod, humor gone. They open the house, waving their hands over their noses as they enter the front door of the farmhouse. One of them, still staring at the zombie, wretches onto the grass.
  558.  
  559. Donovan sighs. "Come on, girl."
  560.  
  561. "Are we going to the town?"
  562.  
  563. "Yes. Stay close."
  564.  
  565. Still crouched in her shadow, you're towed along, sitting silently as they walk into the town center. You're almost up the cobble road when Flint's leather boots catch on the stone. He stumbles forward and clanks face-first onto the pavement.
  566.  
  567. Abigail grins. "You're funny, Sir Flint. But you should be more careful."
  568.  
  569. Flint is as red as a beet. "...good advice, Abby."
  570.  
  571. It's strange. You thought you felt something...when he tripped? And when he fell, earlier. Odd, that. Maybe it was nothing.
  572.  
  573. You reach the town center and head upstairs. The pastor is there. You crouch further into the small shadow cast by your friend.
  574.  
  575. "Abigail," Flint says, "go downstairs and get something to eat. Talk to Linda. She's arranging dinner for everyone."
  576.  
  577. "Why is everyone together? What's going on?"
  578.  
  579. "...we'll explain in a bit, girl. Go, and make sure you mind."
  580.  
  581. Abigail sighs and nods. As she starts to turn the corner down to the first floor, you see Flint turn to the pastor. "John. We need to talk. Her house-"
  582.  
  583. She's around the corner, but not quite down the stairs. But you can't hear any more of that conversation...
  584.  
  585. You decide not to risk it and stick inside Abigail's shadow.
  586.  
  587. The first floor of the hall is a gathering of woman and children. Most are playing games; many wave and call out at her. She waves back and shouts a few names. The mothers sit in hushed circles, one eye on their children, another on the door of the hall. A few men keep a vigil along the walls and just outside the door.
  588.  
  589. You send an impression to Abigail. It's a series of pictures; the zombies, her magic, and you - followed by a finger pressed up to lips.
  590.  
  591. She looks at you, her shadow, and gives a big, conspiratorial wink, and puts a finger to her lips. "It's a secret. Well, unless Sir Flint wants to know. He's a good person."
  592.  
  593. You hastily send an image of Flint with big red marks over his ears. She frowns at you. "But why?"
  594.  
  595. You repeat the image. Abigail scratches her head a bit. "Well...ok, I guess."
  596.  
  597. "Abby, dear, come get some soup!"
  598.  
  599. A fat, pleasant-faced woman is waving from the kitchen. Abigail plops herself down and begins some menial conversation with Linda, who, judging by how Abby is eating, isn't a bad cook.
  600.  
  601. You're reminded of your own hunger, but it seems a bit distant, now, surrounded by all this activity.
  602.  
  603. "Where're your parents at, dear?"
  604.  
  605. "...um..." Abigail hesitates. "At home."
  606.  
  607. "Ah, out helping, then," Linda says. "Good, good. Well, you relax - oh." Linda turns a bit red. "Sir Flint, Pastor John. Feeling hungry?"
  608.  
  609. "No, thank you, Linda," Sir Flint says. "We need to borrow Abigail a moment."
  610.  
  611. "I see. You mind them, girl."
  612.  
  613. "I always have to mind grown-ups," Abigail mutters.
  614.  
  615. They begin to lead Abigail up the stairs. Sir Flint is in front; pastor John just behind.
  616.  
  617. You stay motionless. Neither the knight nor the pastor give anything away to say they've noticed you, but you don't want to take any risks.
  618.  
  619. Abigail is led up to a small room on the second floor. They close the door. Pastor John stands in front of the door. "Go ahead, Flint. You know more about this business than me."
  620.  
  621. Flint nods. He turns, then trips again. He manages to catch himself on the desk in the middle of the room, then straightens.
  622.  
  623. "You really need to pick up your feet," John says.
  624.  
  625. "...right," Flint mutters. He sighs. "Abby, have a seat."
  626.  
  627. Abigail clambers into the chair of the desk. She swallows hard. She's picked up on the score somewhat. You remain in her shadow, still and silent.
  628.  
  629. "You don't have to look so nervous," Flint says. "I know you're not responsible for what's going on. It's not your fault." Abigail visibly relaxes. "But you do have magic, don't you?"
  630.  
  631. Abigail bites her lip. She glances over her shoulder. Her eyes briefly wander to you, then back to Flint. "Um...yes."
  632.  
  633. "Did you use that magic to kill the zombie?"
  634.  
  635. "...um..well, it's-"
  636.  
  637. "I sensed the spirit residue on its severed limbs," Flint says. "And I can sense the spirit magic resting within you. It resonates with the magic coming from the forest."
  638.  
  639. "But the forest is bad!" Abigail says. "I'm not like that!"
  640.  
  641. Flint raises his armored palms. "I know. That's not what I meant." Abigail sits back down. Flint thinks for a moment. "This...may be a bit advanced for you, but I'll do my best. Magic is instability. That instability creates more instability...which creates more magic. Do you understand?"
  642.  
  643. "...so," Abigail says, "it's a big circle that gets worse, isn't it?"
  644.  
  645. "That's right." Flint seems relieved that she understood so quickly. "There's something bad in the forest - something with powerful spiritual magic. You have natural spiritual magic, and this creates a sort of loop near you - more of everything near you."
  646.  
  647. "But...about the creature at your house," Flint says. "Where did it come from? Your house...let's just say it had a lot of spirit magic in it."
  648.  
  649. Abigail's eyes begin to water again. "...the bad magic made the disease...and...mommy and daddy got sick...I...tried to..." She hiccups. "...they...went to heaven. But, I tried to talk to them...and...but the bad magic made them like that. I hate it!" She slams her hands down onto the sides of the chair. Orange light sizzles into the leather.
  650.  
  651. "Easy, Abby, easy," Flint says. He rubs a hand on her shoulder. She starts to cry once again, and he awkwardly allows her to clutch his arm.
  652.  
  653. "So?" John asks.
  654.  
  655. "Abby, you're quite talented," Flint says. He looks at John pointedly. "But not responsible for anything that's happening. No more than a rock is responsible for the avalanche."
  656.  
  657. "...then the forest is the source. Even the girl thinks so."
  658.  
  659. "...I can feel it," Abby whispers. "A bad thing in the forest. The nice lady told me, too."
  660.  
  661. "Nice lady?" John asks.
  662.  
  663. "Likely a spirit," Flint says. "Alright. Abigail, keep this to yourself, understand? This is important, and people need to find this sort of thing out in a calm and rational manner."
  664.  
  665. "...ok. Mr. Shadow said so too. I guess he was right."
  666.  
  667. Flint smiles and nods. "That's good. Listen to Mr. Shadow, ok?"
  668.  
  669. Abigail nods rapidly. "Ok."
  670.  
  671. "Then..." John sighs. "What do we do, now?"
  672.  
  673. "What I figured we'd have to do," Flint answers. "Find the source in the forest, and destroy it."
  674.  
  675. "You'll be marching into hell alone."
  676.  
  677. "The entire town will be swallowed at this rate."
  678.  
  679. John's face goes quiet and stern. He has no words for that.
  680.  
  681. "What do you mean?" Abigail asks. "Is the bad thing coming?"
  682.  
  683. "Don't you worry." Flint smiles brightly. "Nothing's going to hurt you, or this town. Go downstairs and play, alright?"
  684.  
  685. "Ok. Um... thank you, Sir Flint."
  686.  
  687. "...yes. Well, you're welcome."
  688.  
  689. Abigail hops off her chair. You are towed along with her shadow. John opens the door for her, and she turns the corner.
  690.  
  691. "...too much faith in a knight like me," you hear Flint say. "Honestly, I don't know if I can handle this. Actually, I probably can't. But there's no time."
  692.  
  693. "You're all we've got," John answers. "But I'm with you, so that should be plenty. I can shout it do death."
  694.  
  695. You hear a dark chuckle, and the door to the room closes.
  696.  
  697. Abigail marches down stairs.
  698.  
  699. The rest of the evening is uneventful. Abigail plays a bit with some girls that know her. More men return, and others leave. You see some of the men that went to Abigail's house spread whispers around the room. By sunrise, everyone will know about what happened there, and that her parents are dead.
  700.  
  701. Eventually, the hall goes quiet. The lights are put out, and the room is stuffed with blankets. Everyone shares a fitful sleep.
  702.  
  703. Shadow Quest Chapter 3
  704. There are still a few hours before dawn. You do not require sleep, and have been processing the events of the day.
  705.  
  706. You are uncertain as to your goals. You're anxious to continue your journey and learn of your nature, hopefully by finding the elf that banished you. You've no particular allegiance to Jacob's Field, but you feel a growing attachment to Abigail. The small girl has been through a great deal of trial in a short time, and she's quickly looked to you as a friend and guardian.
  707.  
  708. You decide to find something to eat. The smell of Linda's soup hangs in the air.
  709.  
  710. There's a small but well-stocked kitchen behind the main room - probably for times just like these. You locate the pot of soup, well-covered to preserve as best as possible for many hungry people the next morning.
  711.  
  712. You take a few gulps, discovering that you do in fact have a sense of taste. It's tasty. You feel a bit more energized after eating.
  713.  
  714. But there's a hole that hasn't been filled. Deeper. Darker. An emptiness. It calls for you to consume something else...
  715.  
  716. ...something alive.
  717.  
  718. You push the feeling away, and it fades as your attention focuses elsewhere.
  719.  
  720. You walk back out to stand amidst the pillows and sheets of the common room. Many woman and children snooze comfortably. You can see the flickers of torches outside.
  721.  
  722. You creep over and nudge Abigail. She stirs slightly; you give her a pat on the shoulder. She blinks awake.
  723.  
  724. "...mmm...Mr. Shadow?"
  725.  
  726. You send her an image: one of you standing next to Sir Flint. You send more images like a sort of slide-reel; a zombie enters the scene. Flint stabs it, and you clobber it over the head. It falls over.
  727.  
  728. "Oh!" Abigail covers her mouth and looks around. A child next to her rolls over, but no one else wakes. "Yeah," she whispers. "That's a good idea. I bet Sir Flint could use help to fight the bad thing. I'll go with you!"
  729.  
  730. You immediately impress her with a sense of caution and a series of images showing her clearly sitting and waiting at the town hall.
  731.  
  732. She folds her arms. "But I have magic and I can - "
  733.  
  734. You repeat the image, a lot harder. She bites her lip, then nods. "...fine. Be careful, ok?"
  735.  
  736. You nod, then slip out the door.
  737.  
  738. The entrance is dark. A few pools of light are illuminated by torches. The men are huddled together, nervously looking between themselves and the darkness that seems to rise from the north.
  739.  
  740. Picking a direction, you walk toward the church, which is adjacent to the town square. Perhaps the knight is with the pastor on his home territory.
  741.  
  742. You can see the graveyard stretching long behind the iron fence.The church itself is a sturdy stone building.
  743.  
  744. You hear a grunt of effort echo across the stone. Curious, you walk around the edge of the church.
  745.  
  746. Sir Flint is in a small grassy nook tucked between the church and the graveyard. He's attacking a wood post that's been driven into the ground.
  747.  
  748. You're stunned by the skill on display. His strikes are light, and powerful. He slips by the post, ducking, twisting, cutting it as if he's done it a thousand times. In half a minute, the post is covered with notches and slices.
  749.  
  750. He grunts hard, and launches himself forward. His sword glows briefly. With a hiss, it slices through the wooden target, loping off a section of the wood. The severed piece thumps to the ground.
  751.  
  752. He ends in a measured pose, sword extended. After the rather embarrassing trips and falls that have seemed to plague him, he seems like another person, a powerful paladin ready to smite evil.
  753.  
  754. If you had a throat, you'd swallow rather nervously.
  755.  
  756. He twirls the blade once, twice, then sheaths it. He turns away...
  757.  
  758. ...and promptly trips and falls. In a huff, he pushes himself to a sitting position.
  759.  
  760. "Flint, you're out here?"
  761.  
  762. Flint turns. You tuck in the shadows of the graveyard fence. John is approaching from the back door of the church. "I see the post got the best of you."
  763.  
  764. "...what did you see?" Flint asks.
  765.  
  766. "See? Uh..." John folds his arms and shrugs. "Opened the door, saw you trip." He looks at the beaten and weathered post. "On second thought, maybe you did get a few good hits in."
  767.  
  768. Flint sighs resignedly. "I'd hope so." He folds his legs in. "Couldn't sleep. It's only an hour till light anyway. Thought I'd do...something useful."
  769.  
  770. "Well, don't wear yourself out. I need you alert." The pastor walks past your position without seeming to notice your presence. "I'm going to speak with the men. I want them ready to evacuate if need be."
  771.  
  772. "A good idea. I'll speak with you later."
  773.  
  774. The pastor walks off towards the town center, leaving Sir Flint alone. The knight sighs again. He stands.
  775.  
  776. He punches the fence, hard. It bends slightly where he struck it. Frustration is written across his face - pained, deep frustration. "...why not...when...dammit."
  777.  
  778. He sighs again, then leans on the fence. He looks up at the moon.
  779.  
  780. If you're going to protect Abigail, you need to work with this man. He seems to know more about magic than you do yourself, and his combat prowess - while inconsistent - would probably be a big help.
  781.  
  782. You gather your courage and impress him with a vague feeling of hello - a measured, cautious greeting.
  783.  
  784. Flint spins. He looks from side to side. You send him an image of a man standing in the shadows, and a feeling of patience and friendliness.
  785.  
  786. "I've not many friends amongst things that speak into minds," Flint growls. His sword is in his hands in a blink. His eyes scour the shadows. "If you're a friend, then reveal yourself." He swivels, uncertain. "Come, into the open!"
  787.  
  788. You quickly form an image of yourself holding Abigail's hand. You send this image repeatedly - a shadowy blob with eyes with the girl, who wears a bright smile.
  789.  
  790. You edge into the open. Sir Flint stares you down. You continue to slowly feed him images. An arrival at the town. Discovering Abigail in the graveyard. And then, defeating the monster that the corrupted magic had made from the bodies of her parents.
  791.  
  792. "...by the light." Flint lowers his sword. "You're that thing she kept on about. Mr. Shadow."
  793.  
  794. You bob and nod at this. Flint visibly relaxes. "I see." He peers at you; squinting. You can almost feel his senses probe at you. "...a shadow spirit. First, we've too much spirit magic. And now we've a denizen of the shadow. 2 for 8. At this rate the entire town will be a mana pool."
  795.  
  796. You send an impression of confusion, then ask for explanation. Flint sighs. "New spirits don't know much, do they? You're a living piece of the shadow element. A shadow elemental. Do you know of magic?"
  797.  
  798. You impress him with the affirmative.
  799.  
  800. "Magic creates instability, which creates more magic. When that reaches extreme concentrations, one of two things happens. Either a sentient spirit of the element forms in order to diffuse the imbalance, or a mana pool forms, usually if there's a mix of elements in the instability. It's a toxic sort of thing; pure energy. Not even you would survive contact with it."
  801.  
  802. You nod in understanding...well, somewhat. But questions can wait. You send an image of yourself and the knight attacking the zombies in the woods, and another of yourself shielding Abigail.
  803.  
  804. "...you wish to protect the girl?" Flint blinks at you for some time. "...to my understanding, most elementals are savage, wild things. Wolves, at best. You seem quite coherent...but I'm not sure if - " He seems hesitant to accept your offer.
  805.  
  806. You search your mind and find a good image.
  807.  
  808. Abigail is pale and lying on the ground, exhausted from her spell. You use your shadow to stab through the zombie three times in quick succession, instantly finishing it. You then show an image of her holding you, and then you hopping into her shadow when the knight arrives with the men.
  809.  
  810. "...so you can fight," the knight says. "And you know well enough to hide...you were right to do so. That might have escalated, had you not."
  811.  
  812. You nod.
  813.  
  814. Flint sighs again. He rubs his hair under the edge of his helmet. "...I need every bit of help I can get, shadow." He locks his gaze on you. "If I find you unfaithful, my sword finds your throat."
  815.  
  816. Not to be intimidated, you send him a hard, powerful image of defending Abigail. He takes a breath, then nods. "I see you have priorities. About the girl. She needs training; she must learn control. A backwater village like this won't do; she'd just be subject to misunderstandings, or worse. But in the Empire, she'd be respected, raised quite high, in fact. They value every magician highly."
  817.  
  818. You notice that the sky is beginning to pale. There's only a short time until dawn.
  819.  
  820. You send Flint an image of a man in a robe. The man fires orange light like Abigail did. You impress him with a feeling of curiosity.
  821.  
  822. "Magic?" Flint asks. "It's a wild thing. Energy. It can be channeled into spells." He shrugs. "I suppose you don't know a lot about the world...." He trails off. "I can't imagine living as a babe, born, thrust into the world without a guide." He clears his throat. "Spells are instructions which direct magical energy. We don't keep mana -that's energy-within ourselves, but rather, our souls act as conduits for the energy around us. Spells serve as a framework to control that energy, direct it to useful purpose.
  823.  
  824. "One of the problems, though," Flint says, "and underlying problem...is the instability. Legends speak of a time before ours that lacked magic. It wasn't born with the world, but introduced afterward. Why, or how, is not known. But magic creates instability, which creates more magic." He gives you a grim look. "And look around. Undead. Unnatural plagues. Uncontrolled, such magic corrupts what it comes across."
  825.  
  826. "As for mages, those are professional magicians that earn their living studying and controlling magical energies. Most have an affinity with 1 or two of the 8 elements - shadow, spirit, earth, water, wind, fire, lightning, and light. Each element opposes one other. Earth and wind. Water and fire. Spirit and Lightning. Light..." He looks back at you. "...and shadow." He sighs. "As you can imagine, such powerful might is useful for a state. For important tasks...and, when necessary, for military strength."
  827.  
  828. You send a feeling of thanks to the knight. Your curiosity still has room for another question, though...
  829.  
  830. You send him an image of yourself, and a great feeling of curiosity.
  831.  
  832. Flint frowns. "...elementals. I'm unfamiliar with specifics, but know that they're to be avoided. Most are feral. I suppose I can see why, considering they're alone...it's debated whether they're even intelligent, or more like animals. They can often use powerful magic, though."
  833.  
  834. Flint looks at you. "As such, they're regarded as highly dangerous. To be reported, confronted and nipped in the bud whenever encountered. The Angels of the Ringed City take care of that, usually. I've heard rumors of mages capturing elementals and using their energies to fuel experiments. Were I you, I'd avoid public exposure. And that is all I have to say about that."
  835.  
  836. You then impress Flint with a new question - who is he, a knight of the empire, to let his guard down against something like that?
  837.  
  838. "Well, this...uh...conversation, settles the intelligence issue, as far as I'm concerned," he says. "I'm no great man. Perhaps, on another day, I might have been...acted differently. But I need allies, and I saw the wounds on that monster. They match with the images you showed me. You've spoken the truth. I will trust you, creature, for now."
  839.  
  840. He sighs. "But beyond that, I've no love of the Empire myself. I'm loyal to Arland, and my family, and my people. No more, no less."
  841.  
  842. You begin to ask him why he is here...
  843.  
  844. ...but a heavy moan cuts through the night. It's different from the others - almost a roar. Angry and vicious, it rattles the air. The bell atop the town hall begins to ring.
  845.  
  846. Flint leaps off his position on the fence. "Shadow, stay at the town hall, protect the innocents!"
  847.  
  848. He runs off toward the sound of the roar.
  849.  
  850. You lope alongside Flint, keeping pace without difficulty. You flash him an image of fighting together.
  851.  
  852. "Someone that knows a hoe from a sword needs to be defending the children!" He shouts back. His steps clank across the cobblestones as you quickly approach the hall. You see torches bobbing in the distance - others have already run to the defense.
  853.  
  854. You send him an image of him standing next to Abigail in the hall, and yourself confronting a zombie. Flint hesitates a moment. "...too many people. Too risky. Stay in the shadows!"
  855.  
  856. You've reached the hall. Flint circles the building. Another roar peels out over the square.
  857.  
  858. A series of thumps pounds the ground, getting louder, like the thunderous clopping of a 2-ton horse. A thing rounds the corner - a thing with more heads than you can count, twisted, pulsating with pustules of disease.
  859.  
  860. Flint charges. His sword glows bright. A band of men round the corner, chasing after the monster.
  861.  
  862. Flint falls and trips forward. A swiping hand catches him before he hits the ground, and he's sent flying, up, back towards the church. He lands hard, his armor clacking across the ground. But somehow, he finds his feet, and he's up and running in a flash - back toward the church, though not quite as fast as before.
  863.  
  864. The golem looks between its new prey and the men.
  865.  
  866. And it splits. Sections of its body slough off as it trods after Flint. They grow, mutating into warped, rubbery-looking zombies. The original monster is now only a third its original size, but the group of men is faced with nearly half their own number in undead.
  867.  
  868. The biggest hunk of the fleshy creature continues after Flint, who is nearly to the graveyard. It roars again, splitting the air with its ugly cry.
  869.  
  870. You decide to put your trust in Sir Flint for the time being. You lope towards the men, snaking through the shadows created by their torches.
  871.  
  872. Neither group has spotted you. There are five of them arrayed against 9 of the men.
  873.  
  874. You unleash your shadow.
  875.  
  876. It flies up, and under your command, splits in three. Two prongs stab straight through the skulls of zombies ahead of you. You wrench to the side, splitting their heads open. They drop to the ground, dead in an instant.
  877.  
  878. Your main attack strikes at a third zombie, but misses high. But with the numbers advantage, three men join forces to hold it off as it continues to lurch forward, and its teeth and claws find only air. Your shadows unravel back into your form.
  879.  
  880. On of the men screams. "The shadows! Their shadows are moving!"
  881.  
  882. "Oh my god!"
  883.  
  884. "Hold them off!"
  885.  
  886. The frightened man, distracted, loses his grip on his scythe. A zombie lunges forward and bites down hard on his neck. Blood splatters the stone. His gurgling cries of death rattle the others.
  887.  
  888. The zombie you're hiding behind has noticed your presence. It swivels back faster than you expect, swiping down at you!
  889.  
  890. The zombie's movements prove no match for your reaction time. You snake your body to the side, and its swipe, while powerful, goes far wide. It unbalances and is forced into an awkward stumble to stay upright.
  891.  
  892. However, the movement puts it at a bit of distance from you. You move to close the gap-
  893.  
  894. A knife plants into its backside, and then a hoe slams it upside the head. The zombie is knocked to the ground. Three men proceed to surround it, stabbing and hitting it until its twitching finally stops.
  895.  
  896. Getting those first two zombies was enough to give them the edge. The men are still alter though. Their eyes peer into the darkness.
  897.  
  898. "Did you see that shadow?"
  899.  
  900. "I saw. Stay close!"
  901.  
  902. "Is it magic? Maybe Sir Flint will know?"
  903.  
  904. "Who the hell knows?! Stay in the light, keep against the wall!"
  905.  
  906. The men back up against the wall, pressing near the door of the hall. For now, it seems, the battle is over.
  907.  
  908. With that threat taken care of, you run off to assist Sir Flint. The men's eyes can't follow you through the night; your identity seems safe for now, your movements attributed to the zombies and vague magical forces rather than an elemental.
  909.  
  910. Halfway to the church, you stop, surprise. Donovan Flint is marching back toward you with firm purpose. His armor is splattered in blood.
  911.  
  912. He stops, frowning. You bob up and down, making yourself obvious. "...shadow? Is the hall safe?"
  913.  
  914. You send him an image of zombie corpses littering the cobblestone. You send an image of the larger monster and a bit of curiosity.
  915.  
  916. "The beast is dead. I was able to corner it behind the church." You send him an image of himself flying through the air. "Relax. It winded me, but this armor has a nice enchantment on it." He knocks his gauntlet against his chest-plate with a solid ping of metal on metal. "Let's get back to the hall. Ah...you should stay out of sight?"
  917.  
  918. You send him an image of yourself sitting in his shadow. He pauses, then, grudgingly, nods. "That'll do."
  919.  
  920. In a moment, you hop into his shadow. He stops for a moment, focusing carefully on the slight blackness cast by the moonlight. "...it's like you're not even there. Useful for you, I suppose. Maybe that explains the elemental imbalance..."
  921.  
  922. As he walks toward the hall, towing you along, you throw him a curious feeling.
  923.  
  924. "Elementals aren't common by any stretch," he explains quietly, "but those of Shadow, Spirit, Earth, and Water varieties are most frequent. The other four - wind, fire, lightning, light - well, I've never heard of any incidents at all. A curiosity. Something to ask a mage, maybe."
  925.  
  926. You reach the hall. The men look relieved to see the knight. "Sir Flint!"
  927.  
  928. "I've slain the beast. Are the people safe? Where's John? I'd just spoken with him earlier."
  929.  
  930. One of the men takes a long breath. He shuts his eyes. "...Joey...the idiot boy ran at the thing. John pushed him out of the way...he isn't good."
  931.  
  932. "Shit." Flint stomps a foot. "Where is he? Take me to him, quickly!"
  933.  
  934. The men quickly lead you to the pastor. The scene is not pleasant.
  935.  
  936. John is propped up against the wall of a building. His left arm is bent back the wrong way at the elbow, and one of his legs has a long gash down the side. A man is busy stuffing cloth on the wound, trying to staunch the blood. Joey is alone at the edge of the torchlight, holding his head in his hands. You can see the tears leaking out from his face.
  937.  
  938. "Dammit." Flint kneels down. He lays his hands on John. "...this isn't my area of expertise. Stand back."
  939.  
  940. The townspeople quickly make a space. Flint's hands begin to glow.
  941.  
  942. "...no." Flint blinks, surprised. John's eyes flutter open. They find Flint. "Don't. I'm done."
  943.  
  944. "John, I've got to-"
  945.  
  946. "Shut up." John coughs hard. "...don't waste...the strength. Arm's gone...couldn't fight now. Both be in bed if you healed me this far gone."
  947.  
  948. "You won't be in bed if I don't heal you! You'll be dead!"
  949.  
  950. "At least the town'll have a chance. Get to the forest...stop this thing."
  951.  
  952. "John, I can't do it alone!" The shout comes out of Flint, unreserved even in front of the people surrounding him. "I'm healing you whether you like it or -"
  953.  
  954. "Fuck you," John spits. He coughs again. "...you...save my town..."
  955.  
  956. He goes slack. Flint grabs his shoulder. "John. John!"
  957.  
  958. The townspeople hang their heads. Joey's wails are the only sound. Though you're distant from these people, you do feel pity for them.
  959.  
  960. The rest of the late night is quiet and somber. John is buried behind the church. By the time it's done, the sun has risen. You've stayed in Flint's shadow the whole time. The townspeople are in mourning for their outspoken but warm religious leader. Abigail stays with the other children, briefly smiling at you when Flint passes her by with a nod.
  961.  
  962. He leaves the town, alone.
  963. You stand alone at the edge of the forest. It's surprisingly close to the edge of the buildings. "Shadow," Flint says. "I'm going in. The attacks will only worsen. Are you coming?"
  964.  
  965. You send Flint an impression of agreement, and an image of yourself holding off a zombie from his shadow while he decapitates it. Flint nods fiercely. "Damn right."
  966.  
  967. He trods forward.
  968.  
  969. You briefly send Abigail an image of yourself and the knight going into the forest, followed by one of her with the children in the hall, and a note of caution. You feel as though the message has reached her, though it seems as if it was at the very edge of your range of communication.
  970.  
  971. The forest is quiet. His boots crunch through the leaves and snap twigs without much concern for stealth. He's a man on a mission.
  972.  
  973. "...speaking of, shadow. What's your name?"
  974.  
  975. You send Flint an image of yourself, with a heavy streak of curiosity. You send him what you remember of the tunnels - a brief glimpse of the altar. The face of the elf woman. The shadow dragon. A flash of bright, green light. And then you finish with another wave of uncertainty and curiosity.
  976.  
  977. "I'm getting that you don't really know much about yourself. I suppose "Shadow" will do for now. What was all that, exactly? Was that an elf?"
  978.  
  979. You send him the affirmative, but find it difficult to communicate the exact specifics. Eventually he shrugs. "Just tell me when you can think of how to put it."
  980.  
  981. You consider this for a moment. Then you realize you don't know much about the current situation. You compose an image - a strange, glowing figure, connected by shadows to many zombies. You add a note of curiosity.
  982.  
  983. "What's behind all this?" Flint translates. "...could be rampant magic. It happens. Or...it could be intentional. Directed." He frowns. "...I'm...well, I suppose you could say well read, at least compared to my brothers. I don't have much to compare myself to. Anyway, I remember something about this region in particular. Long ago, there was a strong clan of mages that specialized in spirit magic that lived here, near that town and in what's now called the Old Forest. I think that must be at the heart of it - spirit magic is closely linked with speaking to and raising the dead. Along with Shadow, in fact." Flint glances hard over his shoulder at his shadow, and you. "Don't do anything like that, if you can. Or you can consider this allegiance over."
  984.  
  985. You respond to Flint's question with a brief and sharp image: yourself, smashing zombies back into the ground with shadowy spears.
  986.  
  987. Flint nods. "That's what I wanted to hear-ah, see, I guess."
  988.  
  989. The journey continues. Flint breaks briefly for food and water from his shoulder pack, then walks on.
  990.  
  991. The forest begins to change.
  992.  
  993. Trees lose their leaves, though it barely seems to be mid-spring. The ground below grows dry and cracked as if all the water has been sucked dry. Yellowy bits of fungus clods the base of trees and here and there in bare dirt. Flint's movements begin to grow more measured, precise.
  994.  
  995. You send him an image of crossroads, and curiosity.
  996.  
  997. "...it's easy," he says. "Can't you feel the magic? It's like breadcrumbs. A giant road made out of them."
  998.  
  999. You reach a small clearing. He points above the treeline. "There. That's where we're going."
  1000.  
  1001. You follow his arm. Above the trees sits the tower of an old keep. Despite your efforts, you can't seem to sense magic very well, at least, not the diffuse sort that Flint seems to be so aware of.
  1002.  
  1003. Flint glances back, frowning. "Did you hear that?"
  1004.  
  1005. You send him the affirmative.
  1006.  
  1007. "...you, in the woods! Show yourself!"
  1008.  
  1009. You find it unlikely that a zombie will obey that command...but then, you haven't seen many smart zombies lately.
  1010.  
  1011. Despite your skepticism, there's a rustling from behind you. Bushes part - and Joey steps into the clearing.
  1012.  
  1013. "What the - dammit, boy, why the hell are you out here?!
  1014.  
  1015. "I couldn't just sit there and wait!" Joey shouts. "I...it's..." His voice falters. "Pastor John...he died because of me." He clenches his fists. "I have to do something. My life is the least I can - "
  1016.  
  1017. "You stupid, idiotic boy!" Flint screams. Joey is in shock at his tone. You're surprise yourself. "Self-sacrifice is the path of cowards and fools that can't face their mistakes head on! What do you think you can do against a zombie? Against 5, ten?! You think I have the skill to protect you?!" Flint covers his face. "And now we're but a half mile from the center of this chaos. I can hardly send you back through the woods alone and expect you to live."
  1018.  
  1019. "...I got this far alone," Joey mutters.
  1020.  
  1021. "That just shows your ignorance. 4 of them have been following us for three miles. I thought you were the fifth, but when you got close I could tell the difference." Flint folds his arms. "This is beyond you. But now you're stuck here, and I'm stuck with you."
  1022.  
  1023. The knight leans forward. "Let me explain something to you. This isn't an adventure out of a story. I'm not going to get myself hurt trying to save you. Not because I don't like you, or I think you deserve to die - no, I'd prefer you safe and at home and tucked into your bed after your mother's pie. I won't go out of my way to save you because I now have to weigh your life against the five hundred or so other lives in your village, and I can't afford to take more risks than necessary. Sticking my neck out for you is more than necessary. This is already a Light-damned suicide mission."
  1024.  
  1025. The 16-year-old struggles to respond to the brutal honesty of a cynical man. In the end, he says nothing; only checks his hilt and straightens his pack.
  1026.  
  1027. "Stay close," the knight warns. "I don't know why they aren't attacking us..." His eyes wander down to you, then back to Joey. "...but it can't last forever. Just remember that your life is in your hands. The longer you live, the more zombies you get to kill, and the less Pastor John has to turn in his grave."
  1028.  
  1029. The journey forward is as silent as ever.
  1030.  
  1031. When you reach the keep, there are still several hours of daylight left.
  1032.  
  1033. A crumbling stone retaining wall surrounds the ancient keep, which lies in the middle of a large courtyard. Access is simple; there's holes in the wall, weathered down from the elements. You can see the dome of a mausoleum in the back behind the keep, and a large well is located in the courtyard as well.
  1034.  
  1035. Flint steadily eyes the surroundings.
  1036.  
  1037. You could suggest a course of action, or let him chose for you.
  1038.  
  1039. You send Flint an image of the well. He gives you a subtle nod, then walks over.
  1040.  
  1041. The wood supporting the bucket has long since broken and collapsed inside. The opening itself is pitch black. Flint drops in a stone. It clacks off the wall, then after a brief silence, you hear the distinct "plunk" of water. It has no distinguishing features.
  1042.  
  1043. You send Flint an image of yourself stretching out from behind him, and Joey having a fit.
  1044.  
  1045. Flint turns back. "Boy - I'll be using magic. That includes shadow magic. So don't turn into a frightened pigeon when you see my shadow move, alright?"
  1046.  
  1047. Joey nods. His eyes keep darting around nervously. He's obviously near about to wet himself.
  1048.  
  1049. Flint just sighs.
  1050.  
  1051. You send Flint an image of the wall.
  1052.  
  1053. He deftly scrambles up a few collapsed stones, and he's on top of it in moments. The surrounding forest is quiet.
  1054.  
  1055. You see a bit of motion through the trees. You send it as an image to Flint.
  1056.  
  1057. He nods. "They're out there," he mutters. "Don't know what they're waiting for."
  1058.  
  1059. "D-did you say something?" Joey stutters.
  1060.  
  1061. "Nothing important."
  1062.  
  1063. "Y-you too..."
  1064.  
  1065. Flint frowns, then just shakes his head.
  1066.  
  1067. You send Flint an image of yourself rolling your eyes at Joey. That gets a small smirk out of the knight, but it fades quickly.
  1068.  
  1069. Flint walks over to the Mausoleum.
  1070.  
  1071. Now, even you can feel the magical energy. The mausoleum is certainly the source.
  1072.  
  1073. Images glow on the walls. In small nooks, an orange sun and moon. In the center, the orange outline of a triangle.
  1074.  
  1075. Flint puts his hand on the triangle. It doesn't react. He probes a bit. "...I think this is an entrance of some sort. Sealed." He purses his lips. "Wonder if the key is still lying around..." He takes in the sun and moon sigils. "...maybe two keys."
  1076.  
  1077. You nudge him to look at the keep. He walks toward the front. Joey trails like a scared puppy.
  1078.  
  1079. The front doors of the keep have long since fallen in. It's quite dark inside, but the wide hole provides enough sunlight to cast shadows. Your night vision allows you to peer through the darkness easily. The stone is bare and devoid of furniture other than an old pile of wood in one corner. You see a stairwell leading up into the second floor, and one leading down.
  1080.  
  1081. You nudge Flint with an image of the tower collapsing, a feeling of great caution, and then direct him to the staircase leading down.
  1082.  
  1083. Flint moves down the stone stair. The door below is made of iron. Oddly, the iron hasn't rusted at all, despite the obvious age of the surrounding materials.
  1084.  
  1085. There's a sun crest on the door matching the one that was on the mausoleum. Flint focuses for a moment, then nods to himself. "I think I'm beginning to see the idea of this place. Defense in depth. We need one key to open this door. I'd bet you anything the second key is down there. Once we have both, we can open that mausoleum." His face darkens. "But what did they want to keep locked up?"
  1086.  
  1087. "...maybe they wanted to keep something locked in," Joey mutters.
  1088.  
  1089. "Your speaking privileges have been revoked," Flint snaps. "Think positive. I'm not going to be eaten alive by zombies. I'm going to survive what is by far the most dangerous situation I've ever been in. Sir Flint is not going to kill me out of sheer frustration."
  1090.  
  1091. Joey swallows, but wisely keeps to his new no-speaking rule. Flint marches up the rotting wood steps with slightly more gusto than is probably wise. He opens the door to the second floor...
  1092.  
  1093. Shadow Quest Chapter 4
  1094. He peers around; you peer with him. It's as empty as the first floor. Dimmed, orange light from the setting sun filters in from a sizable hole in the corner of the wall. The stone is covered in a layer of dust, and a slight yellow haze. The disease of the magic hangs in the air palpably.
  1095.  
  1096. Flint goes still. "...my senses are dulling. Something's wrong."
  1097.  
  1098. "...what do you mean?" Joey asks.
  1099.  
  1100. "I could sense 4 zombies out in the woods, still beyond the wall," Flint says. "Now, nothing." He glances to another flight of stairs in the center of the room, curling up into the upper reaches of the keep. "Nowhere to go but up..."
  1101.  
  1102. The stairs creak and groan as Flint walks up them. Joey stays right on his heels, nervously glancing about as you work your way into the dimmer recesses of the broken rafters higher up.
  1103.  
  1104. The third floor is, like the others, rather bare. There's a dusty-looking container in the corner. Two doors, wood, lead to the outside. If you remember correctly, that should probably be the upper walk of the keep. They're old, and slightly ajar.
  1105.  
  1106. The spiral staircase continues to the fourth floor. Shafts of light beam down from above. The roof of the keep is worn and collapsed in places, exposing the highest reaches to the sky.
  1107.  
  1108. You send Flint an image of the container in the corner.
  1109.  
  1110. He approaches cautiously. The chest, about three feet wide and two high, is coated in dust. He reaches out a gauntlet and gingerly swipes across the top. That reveals a grey burnish. He beings to brush at the rest of it, slowly revealing a solid steel box.
  1111.  
  1112. Like the iron doors leading into the basement of the keep, it seems untouched by time or the elements. Flint frowns heavily. "I sure hope our key isn't in there." He squints. Etched into the top of the chest are the same symbols that were on the mausoleum - a sun and a moon.
  1113.  
  1114. You send an image to Flint of the old wooden doors.
  1115.  
  1116. He walks over to them and places a hand on the first of the two doors. It begins to creak open...
  1117.  
  1118. ...then tilts and falls forward. Flint, surprised, falls backward. The door slams onto the walkways with a hard WHOOMPH.
  1119.  
  1120. He clambers to his feet and brushes himself off "...scared the hell out of me."
  1121.  
  1122. You walk out onto the upper level of the keep. The forest is quiet. Flint frowns deeply, then shakes his head. "Nothing."
  1123.  
  1124. From your high position, you noticed something you didn't before - two large gargoyles on the north side of the retaining wall. You came from the south, so you didn't see them when you were down on the ground.
  1125.  
  1126. Other than that, nothing's changed.
  1127.  
  1128. Sir Flint proceeds up the stairs, with Joey at his heels. They groan with each shifting clank of Flint's armor.
  1129.  
  1130. You reach the top floor. The upper room of the keep is totally exposed to the elements; the roof has been ripped and blasted away with time. Some rotting wood support beams still protrude into the air. The light of the setting sun illuminates one wall brightly, while the other is deeply shadowed.
  1131.  
  1132. But the floor, like the other rooms, is bare.
  1133.  
  1134. Flint glances around. The key he'd predicted is nowhere to be seen. He shoves his hands into his hips. "...shit."
  1135.  
  1136. Joey looks crestfallen. He scuffs his boot against the floor, kicking up dust and rot. He frowns, then slides his shoe back and forward, then begins to shuffle like mad.
  1137.  
  1138. Flint waves a hand at the approaching cloud of dust. "Boy, what are you - "
  1139.  
  1140. "Look! It's a picture. Like a mural, on the wall of the church."
  1141.  
  1142. Flint peers down. You join him. Indeed, there is an imaged etched into the stone tiles that line the floor of the room. You spend the next few minutes clearing dust off the floor, then stand there, staring at it.
  1143.  
  1144. "...this makes no sense," Joey says. "It's just random lines."
  1145.  
  1146. "No." Flint bends down. He wedges his fingers in-between one tile and the next. With a grunt, he lifts it up and moves it to the side. Spiders and centipedes scurry out from under the slab that hasn't moved in probably several hundred years. "...the pieces are all here. We've got to put it back in the write order."
  1147.  
  1148. When Flint's shadow begins to move on its own, Joey nearly has a heart attack from the fear.
  1149.  
  1150. Flint coughs loudly. "Ah...shadow, assist us move the slabs!"
  1151.  
  1152. You stifle a response - the cover is convenient - and begin to assist moving the slabs. You Strength allows you to be of great assistance. Flint makes a show of directing you carefully, and helps you carry pieces hear and there.
  1153.  
  1154. Joey stands back, amazed. "That magic is incredible. I didn't know knights could do that. Is...it a kind of light magic?"
  1155.  
  1156. "Obviously," Flint answers smoothly.
  1157.  
  1158. "Oh, well, right. Um, is it smart?"
  1159.  
  1160. "Sort of like a golem."
  1161.  
  1162. "Oh." Joey looks like he has no idea what a golem is, but he bites his tongue there.
  1163.  
  1164. You quickly make out the image, but moving every piece into place takes a long time. When you're finally finished, the sun is dipping below the trees, and it's getting dark fast.
  1165.  
  1166. The last slab thuds down into place.
  1167.  
  1168. The image, formerly stone, glows orange. It's like the picture of some sort of...Spirit.
  1169.  
  1170. Something rises from the center of the floor, right where the 'head' of the spirit is. The grating of stone on stone echoes in the small space until a waist-high pedestal has settled into place. The top of the stone platform glows very bright orange, then vanishes. In its place is a talisman in the shape of a sun.
  1171.  
  1172. Flint nods. "Now we're getting somewhere."
  1173.  
  1174. Flint begins to move toward the pedestal. You stop him with a strong Impression of caution. He hesitates, then lets his arm drop.
  1175.  
  1176. You inspect the pedestal carefully. It is etched with images itself, congruent with the image on the floor, as if the artist included it originally. You focus all your senses on the pedestal...
  1177.  
  1178. You can't sense anything out of place about the pedestal. So, either there's nothing wrong with taking the key...
  1179.  
  1180. ...or your senses aren't as sharp as you'd like to believe.
  1181.  
  1182. Having finished your inspection, you send Flint an Impression of him reaching for the pedestal. He nods, then walks forward. He snatches the key from the pedestal, then skips back.
  1183.  
  1184. For a moment, nothing happens.
  1185.  
  1186. And then several things happen all at once.
  1187.  
  1188. A snap of orange energy crackles down the pedestal.
  1189.  
  1190. A ear-splitting screech echoes from the stairwell.
  1191.  
  1192. A roar blasts over your heads, echoing from the edge of the forest.
  1193.  
  1194. You're not sure what's coming, but you're rather certain it won't be friendly.
  1195.  
  1196. You flash Flint an impression of yourself running down the stairs and stabbing zombies to death, with him at your back. You lope to the stairs and start down.
  1197.  
  1198. "Joey, stay behind me!" Flint sprints after you. The wood thuds under their feet as they pound down the stairs after you.
  1199.  
  1200. Another huge roar rips down the stairs after you. You can hear several smaller shrieks echo after it, along with a chorus of zombie-like moans.
  1201.  
  1202. You hit the stone of the third floor. The room is still empty, but you can hear footsteps on the stairs leading up from the second floor!
  1203.  
  1204. You dash toward the top of the stairs. Flint is just behind you. You stop at the top of the wooden stairwell, ready to kill.
  1205.  
  1206. A monster tears up the steps faster than you've seen any zombie move. It's not a normal zombie...it's a ghoul! Its shriek seems to cut into your ears.
  1207.  
  1208. With little time to react, you lash out with your shadows!
  1209.  
  1210. You shadow spear stabs in...
  1211.  
  1212. ...and the ghoul leaps up, deftly evading your strike! Its clawed feet rip into the stone wall, and it rebounds onto the second floor...
  1213.  
  1214. ...but Sir Flint's sword meets it in midair, decapitating it in an instant! The ghoul's body drops limp to the ground, dead.
  1215.  
  1216. Another ghoul is coming. And another - and a third!
  1217.  
  1218. In the meantime, Joey has run over to the balcony door. He's trying to drag the wood over, but he's not as strong as either you or Flint. It's slow going.
  1219.  
  1220. You stab forward straight down the stairs, trying to throw off the ghouls with your superior range.
  1221.  
  1222. But they aren't normal zombies. The ghouls react faster than you could possibly expect, twisting out of the way of your spear-attack. Your shadows can't unravel fast enough to defend before they're on top of you!
  1223.  
  1224. The first ghoul slams into you, smashing you with a clenched fist. You tumble into a ball and fly backwards, rolling from the top of the stairwell, a mess of claws and shadow.
  1225.  
  1226. The second ghoul is in the room, charging at Flint. The knight raises his sword -
  1227.  
  1228. - and trips. The ghoul catches him under the chin with an uppercut. His sword falls from his hands as he stumbles backwards, dazed from the blow.
  1229.  
  1230. The third ghoul sprints up into the room unchecked! It runs straight for Joey, who was almost across the room with the door! Joey drops his load and unsheathes his knife. He's shaking, but there's a grim look on his face.
  1231.  
  1232. You step back from the ghoul and strike again.
  1233.  
  1234. It manages to evade once more, but not entirely. You spear rips its arm clear from its body. The blow huts it significantly -
  1235. - but extending your shadow leaves you vulnerable to its speed! Its claws rake across your side!
  1236.  
  1237. Out of the corner of your eye, you see Flint's swift recovery. He rolls sideways, grabbing his sword and popping to his feet in one smooth motion. His slash catches the overconfident ghoul from below, slicing off one of its legs! That kills its movement, and he seals its fate by slicing its head in half.
  1238.  
  1239. Meanwhile, the ghoul facing Joey launches a series of wild clawing attacks. Joey steps backward toward the balcony entrance, keeping his knife pointed squarely at his opponent. He's losing ground fast, but he hasn't been hit.
  1240.  
  1241. You dance across the stone floor with the ghoul, acting and reacting. You're fast, but the ghoul is just as fast. Neither of you seem to be able to land a blow.
  1242.  
  1243. You overextend your shadow a bit too much! The ghoul rakes its remaining arm back the other way. You deflect it up with your shadow, but you don't expect its kick! You stumble back.
  1244.  
  1245. Flint runs to help Joey, but trips. He growls in anger and shoves up to his feet.
  1246.  
  1247. The ghoul catches Joey on the arm! The force of the blow spins the boy to the side. He sprawls on the stone with a sharp cut near his shoulder. His knife clatters across the floor.
  1248.  
  1249. The powerful roar blasts through the room.
  1250.  
  1251. The remaining half of the balcony door splinters inward. The ghoul that had just cornered Joey looks up just in time to be blown in half by the force.
  1252.  
  1253. Standing in the doorway is a gargoyle. It's as tall as a man, but nearly twice as wide. A stone tail sweeps the floor menacingly. It raises a mighty spear, turning its head from side to side as it takes in the scene. Its eyes stop on Flint, who has the Sun Key tucked into his pack. A low rumble rises out of its throat.
  1254.  
  1255. Flint levels his sword at the new opponent. Joey crawls back on his hands and knees, his eyes wide with fear.
  1256.  
  1257. You decide enough it enough. You charge at the ghoul, shoving it forward, throwing your strength and your shadows into the attack. It hits you back head on, but its rotting body succumbs to your momentum. You take several direct hits from your foe, but your shadow nearly severs its head. As its twitching body tries to get in one last hit, you rip its other arm off.
  1258.  
  1259. At the same time, you've pushed it toward the gargoyle, hoping to distract it long enough to be of some use. The gargoyle snaps its head over at the noise. Still dealing with the body of the ghoul bleeding on you, you don't see the thrust of its spear.
  1260.  
  1261. The weapon stabs into you, landing a direct hit. The ancient stone, bolstered by spirit magic, is much stronger than it looks. The spear pierces through the body of the ghoul and almost punctures through you, as well. You're sent back to the stone floor, hard.
  1262.  
  1263. Flint runs up to the gargoyle and engages it in battle. His heavy two-handed sword is able to block the first swipe of its spear. He deflects its tail, but his own counter attack misses.
  1264.  
  1265. Joey has managed to crawl into a corner, away from immediate danger.
  1266.  
  1267. You're really hurting now. You can feel the pain of the fight, but a deeper instinct tells you your life force is significantly reduced. If you recklessly attack, you might die.
  1268.  
  1269. ...and that same instinct drags your gaze to the four corpses surrounding you on the floor...
  1270.  
  1271. You need energy.
  1272. You need health.
  1273. You
  1274. Must
  1275. CONSUME
  1276.  
  1277. You let instinct take over. You roil over the nearest corpse like a cloud of black acid. The energy and warmth it used to move, still lingering form its brief time in undeath, is absorbed into your body. You immediately feel yourself begin to heal, and greedily latch on to each of the bodies in turn, sucking them dry.
  1278.  
  1279. All that remains of each corpse is a skeletal dust.
  1280.  
  1281. You feel the energy of undeath roll through your veins...
  1282.  
  1283. ...yes...
  1284.  
  1285. Joey watches you, wide-eyed. His face has gone pale. He draws his knees in to his chest, as if trying to get as much of himself away from you as possible.
  1286.  
  1287. Meanwhile, Flint is locked in battle with the gargoyle! Neither side has made any inroads.
  1288.  
  1289. You are reinvigorated by the consumption of the ghouls...recharged...empowered. You can feel the might of your shadow grow. Your body seems to become more flexible, as if finally responding to your will the way it was always meant to.
  1290.  
  1291. You leap into the deep shadow behind the gargoyle. With its gaze focused on Flint's sword, it doesn't notice you.
  1292.  
  1293. Your unleash your shadow in an attack that has become familiar to you. Three spears swing out. Two stab through the gargoyle's wing - and the third and main thrust of your attack pierces through its heart.
  1294.  
  1295. You twist your spears as you withdraw them. The gargoyle's left wing is shredded by your efforts. It staggers as your shadow unravels out of its chest, clutching at its body. Flint, wary of the beast, gives it room as it sways to-and-fro.
  1296.  
  1297. The gargoyle stumbles backward, slumping against the wall. Orange ooze is pooling in its wound.
  1298.  
  1299. Your second strike is without mercy.
  1300.  
  1301. You shadow spear through its body, throwing it up against the wall, one through either shoulder and the middle thrust directly between its eyes, cracking its skull in two neat halves.
  1302.  
  1303. You withdraw your shadows, and the beast slumps to the ground, dead.
  1304.  
  1305. The carnage of the battle has been intense, but you've survived - nay, thrived!
  1306.  
  1307. Flint sighs heavily. "...for a moment, I was worried." He turns, then sees the drained corpses of the ghouls. He falls silent.
  1308.  
  1309. Joey stands up in his corner. His words shake out from his mouth unevenly. "...t-the shadow ate them."
  1310.  
  1311. "...and it used that strength to protect you," Flint finishes.
  1312.  
  1313. Joey doesn't look convinced by the reassuring words.
  1314.  
  1315. You glance to the corpse of the gargoyle. Another feast awaits you...
  1316. ...but your relationship with Joey could use some mending.
  1317.  
  1318. But then, do you care what some cowardly boy thinks of you?
  1319.  
  1320. The life force of the gargoyle is rapidly bleeding away. Instinct tells you to move quickly if you want its strength...
  1321.  
  1322. You slowly spindle your way over to Joey. He stiffens. Flint watches carefully, but makes no move to stop you.
  1323.  
  1324. You work a long tendril into his pack. After feeling around a bit, you find something you know a boy used to hunting would carry - bandages. You withdraw them, and your new dexterity allows you two wrap his wound. He winces as you tighten the cloth around the cut, but his trembling stops.
  1325.  
  1326. You lift his knife off the ground and turn it so it faces him hilt-first. He gingerly plucks it from your "hand" and returns it to its sheath.
  1327.  
  1328. You send him an Impression of confidence and warmth. Joey blinks for a moment. "...so...can a golem think?"
  1329.  
  1330. "...well, this is a special golem," Flint lies. "My family knows a powerful mage, a family friend that gave me Shadow as a gift. Think of it as a hunting dog." Flint points to the dried-up corpses. "A dog has to eat. It can turn the power of our enemies against us. If it didn't, who knows if I would've been able to beat the gargoyle?"
  1331.  
  1332. A small smile works up onto Joey's face. He nods. "...yeah. Um, thanks, Shadow."
  1333.  
  1334. You send Joey the best version of "your welcome" you can muster. His smile broadens.
  1335.  
  1336. Shadow Quest Chapter 5
  1337. Unfortunately, the energy you might have harvested from the gargoyle is gone by the time the exchange is over. It seems only fresh beings will do...
  1338.  
  1339. A roar echoes into the third floor of the keep from the balcony, reminding you that you're not quite finished. It's the second gargoyle - but its cry is more pained than angry. You can hear the shrieking of more ghouls.
  1340.  
  1341. With Joey taken care of, you flash Flint an image of the balcony and lope out to investigate. His and Joey's boots smack the stone just behind you.
  1342.  
  1343. The sky is a dull yellow pink; the sun has almost fallen behind the trees. But that's not what draws your attention.
  1344.  
  1345. Down in the courtyard, the second gargoyle is fighting against a mob of 8 ghouls - and the ghouls seem to be winning. The gargoyle swings his spear back and forward, trying to keep them at bay, but the undead are too fast. He manages to catch one, ripping in in half with a single blow, but three more latch on to his side. The gargoyle drops his spear to rip them off his body, but the rest attack all at once.
  1346.  
  1347. The gargoyle attempts to use its wings to take to the air, but it's weighed down by 4 ghouls. As it manages to beat itself into the air, the ghouls grab on in a chain of bodies, forcing it to drag their weight. The gargoyle gives up, but not before using its weight to crush some of the monsters as it lands on the ground.
  1348.  
  1349. Now it's one chewed up gargoyle against five ghouls. The gargoyle looks beaten.
  1350.  
  1351. You don't hesitate - an advantage lost here is another, harder battle. You leap of the edge of the balcony. The sun shines bright behind you. You dig your shadow into the wall of the keep. It finds the nooks and cracks in the weathered stone, slowing your fall. You hit the ground hard, but without injury.
  1352.  
  1353. Flint and Joey are peering down at you. You flash them both an image of them jumping down and you catching them. They exchanged glances.
  1354.  
  1355. "Did it just tell us to jump?" Joey asks.
  1356.  
  1357. "Yes."
  1358.  
  1359. "...I think I'll take the - "
  1360.  
  1361. Flint grabs Joey and throws him over the edge.
  1362.  
  1363. The boy screams all the way down. You gently catch him in your arms and set him on the rotting grass. He's breathing hard, but totally unharmed by the trip. He clambers unsteadily to his feet.
  1364.  
  1365. Flint jumps without reservation, almost falling into a sort of swan dive. You then realize that catching a full-grown man in plate armor after having fallen three stories is going to be difficult.
  1366.  
  1367. Flint falls into your arms. You slow him as much as possible, but he slams into the ground, hard. He rolls over and coughs. "..dammit...Shadow...shit..." He's struggling to draw a breath - the wind is totally knocked out of him. But he's ok.
  1368.  
  1369. You turn back. The gargoyle is missing an arm, and its tail is gone. Another ghoul is dead, leaving four still moving.
  1370.  
  1371. The battles you've fought, consuming those monsters - it's like stretching old, rusted muscles. You're faster than you were before. You duck into the shadow of the gargoyle. With its attention on the four ghouls, it doesn't notice you.
  1372.  
  1373. The ghouls have surrounded your position. The gargoyle cocks its head, wary, trying to watch all its enemies at once.
  1374.  
  1375. You decide to focus on the two ghouls running at the monster's backside.
  1376.  
  1377. One of the ghouls leaps high. It's going for the gargoyle's wing.
  1378.  
  1379. The other ghoul ducks low, trying to score a hit on the creature's legs.
  1380.  
  1381. Your shadows fly through the air...
  1382. ...and slam into the ghoul that was going for the gargoyle's legs, piercing through its head and neck. Its limp body slides down your shadow spears before stopping, then drops to the ground as they unravel.
  1383.  
  1384. You send a third spear at the leaping ghoul, but miss! It lands on the gargoyle's back and begins to tear into the stony flesh connecting its wing to its back.
  1385.  
  1386. The gargoyle's fist smacks one of the ghouls charging from the front, pummeling it into the ground. The final ghoul strikes at the gargoyle's armless side, landing nasty blows on its stomach.
  1387.  
  1388. The gargoyle spins angrily, trying to throw the ghoul on its back. Unprepared for the movement, the ghoul tumbles away and slides to the ground in a confused tangle - but that same motion snaps the gargoyle's left wing right off.
  1389.  
  1390. The gargoyle faces the final ghoul and tries to smash it, but it's fast enough to dodge the attack.
  1391.  
  1392. Two ghouls remain. Two are dead.
  1393.  
  1394. You
  1395. Must
  1396. CONSUME
  1397.  
  1398. You latch onto the ghoul you killed yourself. Its energy becomes your own. As the two remaining ghouls attack the gargoyle, you find the other ghoul that was smashed and suck in the remnants of its spiritual energy.
  1399.  
  1400. Meanwhile...
  1401.  
  1402. The gargoyle is stripped of its wings entirely, but one of the ghouls has lost both of its legs. It feebly tries to claw away from the battle...
  1403.  
  1404. ...only to be met by Sir Flint's glowing sword. The steel pierces the monster's skull. Its body twitches futilely, then goes still.
  1405.  
  1406. The gargoyle is in a close-range clawing match with the final ghoul. The two beasts take bites out of one another, exchanging death blows. The ghoul is only standing because the gargoyle has been so weakened.
  1407.  
  1408. But finally, the gargoyle catches the ghoul on the neck, rending through deep. The ghoul's shriek is cut low by a spluttering of blood and yellow pus. The gargoyle finishes the beast with a punch to the head with its good arm.
  1409.  
  1410. The gargoyle's eyes land on Flint. It narrows its gaze, but it doesn't move. You realize why - one of its feet is chewed to bits. You both stand side-by-side in front of the monster. Joey is some distance behind you, close to the wall of the keep.
  1411.  
  1412. You feast upon the final ghoul.
  1413.  
  1414. Flint steps toward the gargoyle. The monster tries to move into a striking position, but its damaged footing leaves it sorely unbalanced. Flint dives in, dodges the Gargoyle's attempt to strike, and cleaves off its head with one flash of his longsword.
  1415.  
  1416. He then promptly trips and falls into the battle-churned dust face-first. The gargoyle's body falls on top of him. He's pinned, squirming and yelping. "...ow.w...shit! Shadow, get this thing off me!"
  1417.  
  1418. You grab the gargoyle's body. With a long heave, you lift the stone off the knight. Flint gets to his feet and sighs heavily. You hear him mutter something under his breath. "...damn...always happens to me."
  1419.  
  1420. "Sir Flint, are you ok?"
  1421.  
  1422. "My dignity could use some polishing, but I'm alright."
  1423.  
  1424. Joey seems beside himself. With the battle finished, he's forgotten his fear. "That was amazing! You killed the ghouls and the gargoyles too, and Shadow ate the zombies, and, Light Spirit, we jumped off a castle keep! My friends are never going to believe this!"
  1425.  
  1426. Flint withdraws the Sun Key from his pouch. "...focus on survival, Joey. We're only half done." Flint pockets the key. "Probably not even half, I expect. We haven't even found out what's causing this mess." Flint looks at the fallen, half-eaten foes. "...but we do know one thing. It's actively controlling these things as its minions."
  1427.  
  1428. Joey seems puzzled by this. "How do you know?"
  1429.  
  1430. "A wild guess," Flint says.
  1431.  
  1432. "...oh."
  1433.  
  1434. The knight just shakes his head. "Use your brain. Do you think the timing of that attack was an accident?"
  1435.  
  1436. "I guess not."
  1437.  
  1438. "No. I guess not." Flint marches toward the keep. "Let's go."
  1439.  
  1440. You send Flint an image of a moon, then of the steel basement doors.
  1441.  
  1442. "Indeed. A Moon Key to match," Flint says to you. "More or less what I was thinking."
  1443.  
  1444. You follow Flint into the keep. He marches confidently down the stone steps to the steel basement doors.
  1445.  
  1446. "I know I saw...ah." He takes the Sun Key in his hand and slowly lifts it to the door. It fits snugly into a small, etched sun-shape embedded in the door.
  1447.  
  1448. The steel glows once, bright orange. The key falls loose; Flint picks it up. When he pushes on the doors, they open smoothly and soundlessly.
  1449.  
  1450. The sun is set, and the darkness beyond the doors is quite deep. This poses no problem to you, but Joey swallows audibly. Flint shuffles around in his pack a bit, then withdraws a torch.
  1451.  
  1452. He seems about to light it, then pauses. He glances at you. "...I know a minor spell to give myself and Joey sight in the darkness. No color. But perhaps it would be better to have an invisible friend than a torch?"
  1453.  
  1454. You send Flint and Joey an affirmative of him lightning the torch, backing that with an image of the knight feeling his way through the dark, only to trip over a rock and smack into Joey.
  1455.  
  1456. He snorts. "Very amusing."
  1457.  
  1458. You send them another image of yourself clearly bobbing around outside their bubble of torchlight, scouting. Flint nods. "That sounds like a plan. Let us know if you see anything."
  1459.  
  1460. "How smart is Shadow?" Joey asks.
  1461.  
  1462. "Very," Flint says. "A very smart wolf."
  1463.  
  1464. "...oh. Well, good!" Rather than frightened by your intelligence, it seems Joey has a rising confidence in your abilities.
  1465.  
  1466. This pleases you greatly, though you're still rather miffed as being labeled a pet by Flint. It is, however, a convenient cover story, so you don't contradict him.
  1467.  
  1468. You proceed into the darkness, continuing down the stone steps...
  1469.  
  1470. ...your shadowy body splashes into water.
  1471.  
  1472. "What's that?" Flint asks.
  1473.  
  1474. You send him what you see: an image of flooded hallways.
  1475.  
  1476. "...fantastic. Hope you've waterproofed those boots, boy."
  1477.  
  1478. They splash into the water behind you. You creep forward, wary of any enemies.
  1479.  
  1480. You come to a fork. The path splits left and right.
  1481.  
  1482. You send Flint a note of caution and tell him to stop. The splashing from behind you comes to a halt; you hear Flint mutter the command to Joey.
  1483.  
  1484. You creep off to the left. Your shadowy footfalls plink through the water. It's the only sound. The left-hand hall slowly curves to the side.
  1485.  
  1486. A faint haze greets you. You move forward, and come to the edge of a wall. A long crack runs up its side, and is the source of the light. You peer in.
  1487.  
  1488. You can see the shaft of the setting sun piercing down into what must be the well. The wall, cracked with age, has let the water flood into the bottom of the keep.
  1489.  
  1490. The well is very deep. You can't see the bottom. But resting on a hunk of stone is a faint glimmer of steel. It looks like a sword...
  1491.  
  1492. You send Flint an image of the bottom of the well and the sword, as well as a note of curiosity. He should get the message that you're going to investigate.
  1493.  
  1494. You Ink your way through the crack, liquefying and plopping into the water on the other side. You reach a tendril toward the sword.
  1495.  
  1496. It springs into the air! Its metal glows hot orange. It brandishes itself left, right, then levels itself in your direction!
  1497.  
  1498. Shadow Quest Chapter 6
  1499. Surprised by the sudden enemy, you dive into the water.
  1500.  
  1501. The dark well is inviting to your sensibilities. It seems to effect you somehow - turning to Ink and swimming about seem second nature. You can move very easily.
  1502.  
  1503. With a splash, the sword dives in after you. Its orange glow lights the water eerily. It swipes at you, but the water slows its speed significantly. You easily bend out of the way. It slowly tries to drag back through the water to cut you, but you've already swum to the other side of the well.
  1504.  
  1505. You have the advantage...but whatever is causing that sword to move remains a mystery. Below, the well continues, deep into the dark.
  1506.  
  1507. You send a brief message to Flint, three successive images describing the strange situation you've found yourself in. You're getting rather good at using pictures to communicate.
  1508.  
  1509. You focus your senses on the sword...
  1510.  
  1511. ...it feels like Spirit. Rather like the heavy weight of magic within the keep, the same feeling Abigail radiated when she attacked the zombie with her magic. But though you've characterized the enemy, your senses are too dull to learn anything more.
  1512.  
  1513. The sword, rather than swipe through the water, tries a stab! It's much faster that way, and nearly pierces you!
  1514.  
  1515. You swim away, evading harm, but the sword seems to have 'realized' that stabbing attacks will be more effective. You still have the upper hand, however.
  1516.  
  1517. The sword, seemingly unprepared for your assault, is thrust flat against the wall of the well! Your shadows hold it there, though it still struggles, trying to slip away. For every inch it gains, your shadows merely compensate, sliding up and down its side without harm; you're careful to avoid touching its sharp edge.
  1518.  
  1519. Holding it feels somehow numbing...like holding a vibrating object for a long time.
  1520.  
  1521. Your Ink worms through the water. Your fingers grab onto the hilt wrap it tight.
  1522.  
  1523. The vibrating sensation increases tenfold.
  1524.  
  1525. Suddenly, you see what you've been fighting - an orange haze hangs in the water next to you! The vaguely humanoid shape is...reminiscent of something...but you can't place it.
  1526.  
  1527. It struggles to keep its grip on the sword. You're in a tug-of-war over the weapon!
  1528.  
  1529. You flash images at the orange haze.
  1530.  
  1531. The corruption of the plague. Yourself, fighting the zombies. Sir Flint, trying to help the village...
  1532.  
  1533. The spiritual creature responds to none of it! It shrieks back at you in your own language - that of images. You see nothing, then the sword, and then the well, and then clouds, sky, rain, weather passing, changing, shifting, alone, the sword, alone, nothingness, an orange light,
  1534.  
  1535. ALONE
  1536.  
  1537. You pull back from the contact, shaken. It's bestial, incomprehensible. You can't understand any of it, and you severely doubt it understood you.
  1538.  
  1539. The sword is being pried from the edge of your fingers! You Ink works to grasp at the bits it has left.
  1540.  
  1541. You feel untapped energy within you come forward as you struggle for the weapon...you feel a Great Strength surge through your arms!
  1542.  
  1543. You pry your fingers around the hilt of the sword and tear it free from the grip of the spirit! A sound like a banshee's cry rips through the air! The shadow wavers, then evaporates.
  1544.  
  1545. The dull vibration within the sword fades, though a sense of...discomfort, remains. It is not something you would wield - you feel that in your bones. It is Other. Alien. Not your element. Of Spirit, not Shadow.
  1546.  
  1547. Its instinct more than anything that tells you this. For now, you hold onto your hard-won prize.
  1548.  
  1549. You swim to the surface of the well and slip through the crack. The hilt of the sword can -just- wedge through. Perhaps it was a good decision not to run!
  1550.  
  1551. Flint and Joey have come down the hall somewhat. Flint narrows his eyes. "Shadow? Is that you? What happened in there?"
  1552.  
  1553. You spend a few moments describing the events to Flint and Joey.
  1554.  
  1555. Joey's eyes go as wide as tea saucers. "...a real magic sword!"
  1556.  
  1557. "It's not a toy, dammit. Shadow, let me see it." Flint stretches out his hand.
  1558.  
  1559. You hand the sword over to the more experience warrior without complaint. You flash him a strong image of the orange spirit, along with a note of confusion.
  1560.  
  1561. Flint takes the sword, then fumbles the weapon and drops it. "Shit!" He gingerly touches the blade, then hurriedly withdraws his hand. "How can you touch this thing? It feels like my hand's getting stabbed when I try to pick it up." He turns around. "Here, put it in my back. There's a spare leather sheath in the large pocket. Not a perfect fit, but it'll do."
  1562.  
  1563. You stick the sword in the sheath. Flint adjusts his pack. "...looks like it only hurts to touch. Well, I'll have a friend take a look at it later. Might be powerfully enchanted."
  1564.  
  1565. You move off back down the tunnel. You send Flint another image of the spirit.
  1566.  
  1567. "...probably a Spirit...ah...spirit," Flint says. "With all the magic around, I'm not surprised one formed here." Flint turns as if he's speaking to Joey. "Most elemental spirits are just raw, condensed magic. Barely alive. Shadow is different...though I'm not sure why, exactly. Something for a wizard to know, not me."
  1568.  
  1569. "I though you knew magic," Joey says.
  1570.  
  1571. "Well, a little," Flint admits. "Enough to sharpen this sword, or do some impromptu healing. But magic is a physical science. I'm no real expert. It's something that requires years of dedication. With my sword training and political studies, I hardly had the time."
  1572.  
  1573. Joey seems yet more impressed with all the talk of a lifestyle he's never witness, let alone experienced. You walk down the hall until you get back to the fork.
  1574.  
  1575. Flint looks at you. "Taking the lead?"
  1576.  
  1577. You scout ahead of the group, slipping into the deep of the shadows ahead of the torchlight.
  1578.  
  1579. It's quiet. The bend of the dungeons continues the opposite way...
  1580.  
  1581. You see something in the dark. You stop. It's a ghoul - one that's been chewed in half. Its lower section is sawed cleanly from its torso, both legs spread over the floor. Blood pools in a trail around it - perhaps where it tried to struggle forward before ultimately dying.
  1582.  
  1583. You can faintly hear sounds up ahead. Scratching, clawing. A rattle of metal. And a faint...clicking sound, almost like a clock.
  1584.  
  1585. You send an image to Flint of the ripped-in-half ghoul. You faintly hear a sword being drawn, and a gruff command spoken to a young boy.
  1586.  
  1587. You move forward. All the sounds get louder, including that incessant ticking. There's definitely something moving up ahead, but it's still past the bend in the hallway.
  1588.  
  1589. The ticking is bothering you. It doesn't sound natural. More...mechanical.
  1590.  
  1591. You slither about, peering at the stone.
  1592.  
  1593. You press against the stone. The sound seems louder. No - you can feel it in the wall. You press harder.
  1594.  
  1595. A part of your body sinks into a long crack you hadn't noticed. You draw back to look at it. Not a crack - a long, smooth bevel carved into the wall. You glance behind you, can you can see a similar line beveled into the stone across the hall.
  1596.  
  1597. But why is it ticking?
  1598.  
  1599. You continue your investigate by probing near the fallen body of the ghoul. You can see the bob of the torch clearly - Flint and Joey are almost to your position.
  1600.  
  1601. You stop and listen hard.
  1602.  
  1603. Click-CHUNK
  1604.  
  1605. WHIIIRRRRRRR
  1606.  
  1607. Orange light flashes around you as two spinning blades fly out of the walls!
  1608.  
  1609. You barely duck below the two weapons, falling back onto the floor before they strike you. The heat of the magical energy brushes over your shadow like a reaper's scythe on the back of your neck.
  1610.  
  1611. The blades continue to move, slicing up and down the hall on what you realize is a track. Staying below waist-height, you crawl forward...
  1612.  
  1613. ...and the stone you stood on moves slightly. The blades snap back into the walls.
  1614.  
  1615. "Shadow!" Flint and Joey are almost there. "What the hell was that?"
  1616.  
  1617. You send him an image describing the trap, as well as a very, very strong image of the slightly raised stone near the body of the ghoul. Your friends carefully stick near the sides of the wall as they move past.
  1618.  
  1619. You begin to move ahead, but it isn't long until you find the source of the sounds you've been hearing.
  1620.  
  1621. The hall opens into a series of iron cells. While rusted, the ancient bars still hold strong to the stone of the dungeon. Within the pens, animated skeletons move about, rattling and cracking the iron or scraping at the walls. They move with a relentless drive, trying to escape their prison.
  1622.  
  1623. "...what the hell was this place?" Joey asks.
  1624.  
  1625. "I don't care," Flint says. "Let's keep moving."
  1626.  
  1627. You stay ahead of them, but something in one cell catches your eye.
  1628.  
  1629. There are two skeletons. One is huddled in the corner. The other beats its arms on a particularly rusty part of the iron, but to no avail. A rusted keyhole, perhaps still usable, is of no use to prisoners without a key.
  1630.  
  1631. In the back of the room is a strange, silvery talisman.
  1632.  
  1633. After checking with Flint, he nods to you, his eyes on the talisman.
  1634.  
  1635. "...reminds me of something..." He snaps his fingers. "Remember that steel chest? Doesn't it look like that?"
  1636.  
  1637. You nod, then prepare your shadows for an attack while the skeletons are still trapped in the cage. They seemingly ignore your presence...
  1638.  
  1639. Your aura of shadows stabs through the bars!
  1640.  
  1641. But like any weapon, you can fumble it.
  1642.  
  1643. You smash into the first skeleton, blasting most of it to dust. But in the process, you rip the iron bars right out of their holes!
  1644.  
  1645. The last skeleton glances up, and its eyes flare with orange light. It snags the talisman off the floor and sprints right toward you.
  1646.  
  1647. Just as you attempt to reduce it to the same state as its partner, it leaps over you, evading your attack. Its movements remind you of a ghoul - and its speed is hardly different. It's gone down the hallway before you can blink, deeper into the dungeon.
  1648.  
  1649. "There's only one way out," Flint growls. "Let's go."
  1650.  
  1651. You move along down the hall, and the dungeon opens into a wide chamber.
  1652.  
  1653. It's a long room, all the same stone as the rest of the dungeons. Pillars of rock support a flat ceiling.
  1654.  
  1655. On the other end of the room is a pedestal, and resting on the pedestal is a softly glowing orange light, illuminating a key to match the one you already have - a small iron trinket in the shape of a moon.
  1656.  
  1657. And behind the pedestal is what looks like a giant man made of boulders. An orange light glows in its core. Even you, in your inexperience, can tell that this is the guardian of the treasure.
  1658.  
  1659. The skeleton is nowhere to be seen, though it seems as though you're standing at the only entrance to the room. It might be in the shadows behind a column.
  1660.  
  1661. You send Flint an image of him blocking the door, and then of you finding and killing the skeleton. He plants his feet firmly. "Kid, get ready. Shadow's going to find that skeleton."
  1662.  
  1663. Joey nods hard, and grasps his knife in both hands, scanning the darkness. Flint holds his torch high in one hand, the sword low in his other.
  1664.  
  1665. You slip forward. And your best attribute takes over - your ability to remain unseen.
  1666.  
  1667. You slide across the floor in search of the skeleton, keeping to the dark shadows cast by the pillars...
  1668.  
  1669. It's quiet.
  1670.  
  1671. The slight crackle of the torch burning follows you through the room, along with the softest pat...pat...pat as your shifting feet slip across the floor.
  1672.  
  1673. You find the skeleton.
  1674.  
  1675. It's huddled in the shadows of the last pillar, eying the pedestal and its apparently guardian. It has its back turned to you.
  1676.  
  1677. You unleash your shadows.
  1678.  
  1679. Your attack strikes the skeleton's leg, shattering it to pieces! The skeleton skitters across the stone toward the golem, then, recovering from the surprise, begins to desperately push itself forward with its other limbs, in an attempt to reach the pedestal.
  1680.  
  1681. You feel a very strong need to stop it before it gets there.
  1682.  
  1683. You shadows fly up, then unnaturally bend and change direction at a right angle, piercing into the skeleton's body like so many dark stalactites. Its head is smashed to pieces. Half its ribs are gone. You break both its arms several times.
  1684.  
  1685. The orange light of its eyes dies, and it stops moving.
  1686.  
  1687. You whisk the trinket up and away from the body. It's a key, but unlike the one you already have, it has both an image of a sun and a moon in a sort of etched drawing. It's exquisitely detailed, showing a small landscape. Half of it is lovely farmland in the sun; another, the shore of a peaceful ocean with the reflection of the moon.
  1688.  
  1689. You wonder what, exactly, is in that steel box that justifies such a key? ...if it's even the key to the box at all.
  1690.  
  1691. You bound back toward Flint and Joey and signal them forward. Joey takes a few choice stomps onto the remains of the skeleton, then spits on it.
  1692.  
  1693. "...here." Flint points. Some characters are etched into the front of the platform. "I can't read this language, but it's got to be something important. Like how to pick this thing up without fighting a golem."
  1694.  
  1695. Joey looks up at the looming statue. "...how strong do you think it is?"
  1696.  
  1697. "I don't know, boy. How strong do you think a boulder smashing into you might be?"
  1698.  
  1699. Joey swallows hard.
  1700.  
  1701. "It's familiar..." Flint sights and sits down. "Old Elvish? Let me see if I can't figure something out."
  1702.  
  1703. You glance at the stone.
  1704.  
  1705. You feel something within you...and a Translation seems to come to mind even as you read it. The characters don't change, but their meaning resounds within you as if you've spoken the language every day of your life:
  1706.  
  1707. I can convey emotion without a word;
  1708. I can bring forth swords or still men's hearts.
  1709. I am without silence, but always bounded by time.
  1710.  
  1711. Guess me, and the night is yours.
  1712.  
  1713. Answer wrongly thrice, and know magic's wrath.
  1714.  
  1715. You gesture a murky arm at the stone, then point at yourself. You give send Flint and Joey a great sense of curiosity.
  1716.  
  1717. "What?" Flint asks. "Can you read the words?"
  1718.  
  1719. You nod vigorously, then send him more curiosity. He frowns. "I don't get it. What do you mean?"
  1720.  
  1721. "Hey, I know," Joey says. "What if it's a riddle? Like in a story."
  1722.  
  1723. "Boy, I believe I told you earlier that - "
  1724.  
  1725. He's interrupted by you practically forming a halo of shadows around Joey.
  1726.  
  1727. "...it's a riddle?" Flint nods and folds his arms. "Well. Alright then. What's it say?"
  1728.  
  1729. You send him an image of a violin. Then a trumpet. Then chimes, and drums.
  1730.  
  1731. "Musical instruments?" Flint asks. "Or do you mean music in general?"
  1732.  
  1733. You send Flint the image of many people playing instruments.
  1734.  
  1735. "Music. The answer is music?"
  1736.  
  1737. You nod vigorously.
  1738.  
  1739. Flint turns toward the statue and pedestal. "...ah..." He clears his throat, and enunciates the word directly at the Moon Key. "Music."
  1740.  
  1741. The core of the golem glows bright orange...
  1742.  
  1743. The core of the golem falls lose from the statue. It's a orange, smoky orb, clearly imbued with strong spirit magic. Flint picks it up, then ends up juggling it from hand to hand before dropping it. "Dammit! That fucking hurts!"
  1744.  
  1745. It clunks to the ground, but it seems made of stronger stuff than glass. You pick it up and feel a numbing sensation in your arm, even stronger than the enchantment of the sword. The orb is almost crackling with power...
  1746.  
  1747. You affix your grip to the sphere a bit harder to keep it there. The numbness stops before reaching your body...but it is clearly something NOT you. Something that exists strongly, but draws that existence from another place.
  1748.  
  1749. You send Flint an image of the eight elements. You then send him a picture of a bubble of murky darkness and a bubble of orange light, rotating, and then a sense of curiosity.
  1750.  
  1751. Flint makes a big show of treating you like Joey thinks you are. "What's that Shadow? Yes, the Spirit and Shadow elements are very close. I thought you knew that already." He pats your head in a very condescending way. You resist the urge to hit him.
  1752.  
  1753. "Shadow, Spirit, Water, Earth."
  1754.  
  1755. "Wind, Fire, Lightning, Light."
  1756.  
  1757. "The two elements have always been grouped like that...each four have more harmony with each other than the others," he explains. "Though they don't always get along."
  1758.  
  1759. You suck the ball into your midsection and let your instinct take over...
  1760.  
  1761. ...you hunger...
  1762. ...you must CONSUME!
  1763.  
  1764. The orb cracks. The power shoots out, sparking, snapping, orange energy bleeding into the nether. You snap up as much of it as you can - not an insignificant portion.
  1765.  
  1766. The tide settles, and you feel a surge of untapped power sitting within you like a reservoir, greater than any thus far.
  1767.  
  1768. "I suppose that takes care of that problem," Flint says. "Good work Shadow."
  1769.  
  1770. Joey nods. "With Shadow helping, we can do anything!"
  1771.  
  1772. If you had eyes, you'd roll them.
  1773.  
  1774. Flint stretches his arms, then reaches a hand for the key. He grasps it and lifts it off the pedestal.
  1775.  
  1776. Nothing happens.
  1777.  
  1778. He and Joey heave a sigh of relief. You feel a bit relieved yourself.
  1779.  
  1780. You flash Flint an image of the steel container.
  1781.  
  1782. "My thoughts exactly," Flint agrees. "Let's move."
  1783.  
  1784. You get back up to the top of the keep without incident, ignoring the skeletons and slipping by the trap. The steel container is where you left it on the second floor.
  1785.  
  1786. Flint takes the key...but there's no keyhole.
  1787.  
  1788. "Huh." He kneels next to the chest. "...funny. Do you see where you - "
  1789.  
  1790. The key flies out of his hand and hovers over the chest. Both the key and the chest glow bright orange. You hear a solid -click-. The glow fades, and the key clinks onto the chest, seemingly spent.
  1791.  
  1792. Flint opens the chest.
  1793.  
  1794. Inside, resting on untouched velvet, is the shard of a sword, a piece of the blade. It gleams in the light of Flint's torch. Characters are etched into the steel. You glance hard at them and discern their meaning:
  1795.  
  1796. -oon, the void tw-
  1797.  
  1798. But there the words end, cut off where the blade is broken.
  1799.  
  1800. Flint moves to take the shard...
  1801.  
  1802. ...his hand stops halfway there. He withdraws his fingers. There's a look on his face you haven't seen before. He's been nervous, bemused, frustrated.
  1803.  
  1804. But never afraid. And his expression is unmistakably terrified.
  1805.  
  1806. "I'm not touching that thing." Joey leans forward. "Correction: -we're- not touching that thing." Joey seems a bit put out, but he stands straight.
  1807.  
  1808. Flint sighs. He moves to close the chest...
  1809.  
  1810. You stare at the sword. Your gaze seems drawn, no, STUCK on the thing.
  1811.  
  1812. Time seems to slow down. Flint's footsteps fade into the darkness.
  1813.  
  1814. You're reminded of something. Something even the wall in your memory can't hold back...
  1815.  
  1816. ...your senses flash back to you.
  1817.  
  1818. 8 flames burn in your vision. Of the 8, three are close - three others, three existences, pillars, foundations, three Others...spirit, like orange mist...water, like blue rivers...earth, soil, the smell of a spring morning...
  1819.  
  1820. And then, distant - so far you're not even sure they're in this world, but so clear you know they're there absolutely - wind as the searing air of a desert, fire like a volcano's wrath, lightning from an angry thundercloud -
  1821.  
  1822. Light to pierce darkness.
  1823.  
  1824. The sensations fade. But they're there, hovering.
  1825.  
  1826. Spirit - you can feel it - Spirit is close. Just to the south.
  1827.  
  1828. Water is far to the southwest.
  1829.  
  1830. Earth, far to the southeast.
  1831.  
  1832. The other four...impossibly far, even for you to tell.
  1833.  
  1834. You gaze upon the the world with new eyes.
  1835.  
  1836. Joey stands behind you, nervously regarding the container. He seems...plain. Empty. There is no element there. Or, perhaps, just a tiny bit of each.
  1837.  
  1838. But Flint is different. Light blazes in his core so brightly it hurts your eyes. But something keeps it back...like chains of shadow...lingering there.
  1839.  
  1840. Something is in Flint's shadow. It's watching you. And it knows you can see it.
  1841.  
  1842. But it makes no move, merely sits and watches. You turn away, and it ignores you, as well.
  1843.  
  1844. You lay your eyes upon the sword. And you see that it's no ordinary blade. The weapon is sheathed in black mist, an aura like a dark void so deep not even your sight can pierce it.
  1845.  
  1846. You flash a note of caution to Flint. He stays his hands. "What is it?"
  1847.  
  1848. You send him an image of the shard.
  1849.  
  1850. "...I'm not sure that's a good idea," Flint says.
  1851.  
  1852. You send Flint an image of him next to a ball of light, and yourself next to a ball of shadow. You place the sword inside the ball of shadow. Then you clash it up against the ball of light, very hard.
  1853.  
  1854. "...I guess it's your area. Don't blame me if you get cursed."
  1855.  
  1856. You reach toward the shattered piece of blade...
  1857.  
  1858. ...a spark of energy thrums between you and the blade at your touch. It's like shaking a warm hand. But though reassuring, it gives you no energy.
  1859.  
  1860. Surely, you think, the other pieces must be out there somewhere.
  1861.  
  1862. But if you consume this now...this housing of energy aligned with you...you'd grow even stronger. But is the short term gain worth the sacrifice?
  1863.  
  1864. You flash Flint an image of the sword in his pack.
  1865.  
  1866. "Not a chance," he says flatly.
  1867.  
  1868. You flash Joey an image of the sword in his pack.
  1869.  
  1870. "I can hold it?" Joey asks. "Cool!" Joey takes the shard from your 'hand'.
  1871.  
  1872. "Dammit, boy, that's dangerous!"
  1873.  
  1874. "What?" Joey looks at the shard. "It's sharp, but I've used a knife before."
  1875.  
  1876. "It's..." Flint has no argument for the fact that the blade has illicit no response from Joey. He sights. "Alright. Just...be careful."
  1877.  
  1878. "I'm always careful." Joey wraps the blade in cloth and sticks it in his pack.
  1879.  
  1880. "Careful enough to follow a knight not worth half his armor into a magically corrupted forest filled with the undead," Flint says. "Really, really careful."
  1881.  
  1882. You leave the keep and walk to the Mausoleum.
  1883.  
  1884. Its foreboding building reeks with spirit magic. It's even more pungent with your recently rediscovered senses...
  1885. ...but below the building lies a source of magic even stronger. The source. Ghouls aside, you can see why Flint was so sure this is the place
  1886.  
  1887. But it's not THE Spirit. That doesn't seem to be near here. But perhaps they're related.
  1888.  
  1889. Flint glances at Joey. "Boy...Joey. Something very dangerous is in this place. Stay behind us. Do you understand?"
  1890.  
  1891. Joey nods.
  1892.  
  1893. "Good." Flint walks up to the building. This close, you can see the indent in each sigil where the keys fit. He inserts the Sun and Moon keys into their appropriate slots.
  1894.  
  1895. The triangular sigil glows orange, and the stone of the door fades into thin air.
  1896.  
  1897. "...let's go," Flint says.
  1898.  
  1899. You march into the Mausoleum...
  1900.  
  1901. The inside of the mausoleum is a round stone room. A spiral staircase leads directly down.
  1902.  
  1903. You lead in front of Flint, with Joey behind.
  1904.  
  1905. It's quiet but for your footsteps. Patters of dust follow your feet down the dark shaft. You descend deep into the ground - possibly deeper than the dungeons.
  1906.  
  1907. The stairs end. You stand in another stone chamber. Opposite you is a simple wooden door.
  1908.  
  1909. In the center of the room is a ring reminiscent of the well - only this is filled with a hazy, orange murk that lights the room. Flint draws in his breath. "...a mana pool. Boy, do not touch it."
  1910.  
  1911. Joey nods, his eyes glued to the source of magic.
  1912.  
  1913. You feel as though you've seen something similar before...
  1914.  
  1915. You walk up to the pool and dip your hand in.
  1916.  
  1917. You feel refreshed...but nothing else happens.
  1918.  
  1919. Flint seems surprised. "...I'm beginning to think something's wrong with you, Shadow. Nothing can survive that. Nothing."
  1920.  
  1921. You make an elaborate shrug his way.
  1922.  
  1923. You flash Joey and Flint an image of the wood door.
  1924.  
  1925. "Right. Guard up." He works his grip on his sword and rises the torch. Joey flips his knife from one hand to the other. He's contributed little, but seeing you and Flint best the monsters you've faced thus far seems to have bolstered his confidence.
  1926.  
  1927. You approach the wooden door and reach out a hand for the rusty knob.
  1928.  
  1929. It opens itself before you can get there.
  1930.  
  1931. "Come in, come in!" A voice calls. It sounds like angry sandpaper and hissing snakes. "I was wondering what was taking so long..."
  1932.  
  1933. You slip into Flint's shadow. He nods, accepting, then pushes through the door after handing the torch to Joey so he can use his sword with both hands. Joey holds the light in a death grip.
  1934.  
  1935. The other thing in his shadow seems to ignore you...seemingly, only a part of it is really 'there', almost like the shadow's shadow. The rest seems to be inside of the knight himself.
  1936.  
  1937. The next chamber is a crypt. Three tombs are set into the wall in the back; coffins resting in each tomb are already open. Two ghouls stand to either side of the central coffin. And before the center is a rotted creature in dark, patched robes.
  1938.  
  1939. "Greetings." The hissing voice rattles even you. "I've been waiting for some time."
  1940.  
  1941. "Are you responsible for this?" Flint demands. "Speak! Did you command the undead to harm the innocents in the town?"
  1942.  
  1943. "Innocents?" the lich muses. "Innocent. I wonder. Descendents of a people not so innocent, perhaps?"
  1944.  
  1945. "...I neither know nor care of past crimes," the knight says. "That justifies nothing."
  1946.  
  1947. "If I am frank with you," the necromancer says, "you will allow me to speak."
  1948.  
  1949. Flint hesitates.
  1950.  
  1951. You Urge caution to Flint.
  1952.  
  1953. Flint works his sword in his grip. "If you have something to say, say it."
  1954.  
  1955. "...not much, to you," the lich says. "I can see the light rolling off you in waves...would you work with something like myself? Ever? In a thousand years, mayhap?"
  1956.  
  1957. "...not likely."
  1958.  
  1959. "As it is for me," the lich adds. "But I have words for the Shadow Spirit, there."
  1960.  
  1961. Flint tenses. You go still.
  1962.  
  1963. "Yes, I sense you," the lich says. "You fool the mundane easily, but my senses are quite attuned...I've spent the better part of a millennium mediating on the mana pool next door, you see.
  1964.  
  1965. "You're different than a normal elemental spirit. Unlike that cloud of nothing that was polluting the well...you're special. Unique. Intelligent. I can see the potential within you."
  1966.  
  1967. The lich leans forward. Its eyes burn into you. "What are you fighting for, Shadow? Why are you here? Have you asked yourself those questions? What, exactly, do you care, to come down to my crypt on a...witch hunt?"
  1968.  
  1969. "There's no witch hunting here," Flint says, "only justice for lives taken!"
  1970.  
  1971. "Really? I wonder if that little girl would feel the same way?"
  1972.  
  1973. "The hell would you know?!" Flint says. "What did you do to her?!"
  1974.  
  1975. "Me?" the lich asks. It seems honestly surprised. "Another budding mage of Spirit...I've no ill will toward her. But I've a minion in town, now, staying quiet," it continues. "I can show you what it sees. Would you like to know?"
  1976.  
  1977. You Impress Flint with caution, and a slight hint of curiosity. He doesn't move. You slide out to the left of the knight, revealing yourself in full for the first time.
  1978.  
  1979. You send an impression toward the lich - a tentative affirmation. And something a little extra...
  1980.  
  1981. ...a darkened threat of potential retribution.
  1982.  
  1983. The lich cocks his head, nods, and waves a hand. "I see. Observe, Shadow, and know for yourself."
  1984.  
  1985. An image forms on the wall to the left, a magical projection. Abigail is curled into a ball, sleeping in pile of straw. You can see a cut on her forearm. There's bruising on her wrists.
  1986.  
  1987. The image backs up. She's behind bars, locked in a cell.
  1988.  
  1989. You feel a deep, simmering anger.
  1990.  
  1991. You send a wave of emotion at the lich - anger, clenched tight like a fist - but restrained. Barely. The feeling radiates out from you, as well, not just directed at your target. Flint shifts uncomfortably. Joey nearly drops the torch. Even the ghouls crouch lower.
  1992.  
  1993. The lich raises skeletal palms. "Not I, Shadow. Them. The townsfolk. I've been keeping an eye on people of note...she accidentally used a bit of magic. Such is life for the young mage." The lich shrugs. "A friend saw. The friend told her mother. The mother told other mothers...and with the return of the mayor just this evening, well. He wanted something done for the death of his brother, the pastor."
  1994.  
  1995. "A death you caused!" Flint shouted.
  1996.  
  1997. "...ultimately..." the lich is still. "It is my responsibility. But the deaths were not intentional."
  1998.  
  1999. "Not intentional?!" Flint shouts. "The hell do you mean, not intentional? You just accidentally commanded the undead to rise and kill people?!"
  2000.  
  2001. "You know of the Elementomachy?"
  2002.  
  2003. "...every child knows of The War," Flint says.
  2004.  
  2005. "So it's history, now?" the lich asks. "I suppose it would be so. I was a soldier, of sorts. On the side of Spirit."
  2006.  
  2007. "Dear Light. You fought in the Elementomachy?"
  2008.  
  2009. "As I said," the lich nods. "My last command to my minions was to free me from my shackles...this command persisted, beyond my control.
  2010.  
  2011. "Locked in here, I've been reduced to this to survive. A barely-cobbled together enchantment of self-applied undeath...it was never my specialty. I had no interest in it. But when we began to lose, I did things I never would have thought myself capable.
  2012.  
  2013. "There's been a recent surge in Spirit magic here," the lich continues. "My old spell took on some of that latent energy, killing, spreading, making its victims rise once more. The townsfolk are indeed descendents of those I fought against, or they wouldn't have been targeted. Regardless, they were beyond my control until very recently."
  2014.  
  2015. "I see," Flint says. "So the attacks on the town were unplanned. Just...chaos from a remnant."
  2016.  
  2017. "Yes."
  2018.  
  2019. "And the attack on myself and the boy, while we were in the keep?"
  2020.  
  2021. "...that was me," the lich admits.
  2022.  
  2023. "Then why should I trust you more than half a second?"
  2024.  
  2025. "I admit what I did," the lich says. "But you just yourself said you were here to end the cause of this problem. You've come here with sword raised, prepared to kill me. In reality, I couldn't have done anything even if I'd wanted. And then you have the gall to ask me how I dare have the audacity to defend myself?"
  2026.  
  2027. "What if I don't believe an undead monster that tried to destroy the Great Light?"
  2028.  
  2029. "Then I believe our discussion had no meaning from the beginning," the lich says. It looks back at you. "Shadow. An old ally...but a close one. Together." The lich clenches its fist. "Together we could punish those ignorant fools that squeak and panic over the sight of a simple spell. Restore the dominance of Spirit, Shadow, Water, and Earth. Restore order, and peace, as it was meant to be." The lich raises its head. "The Light won the war?"
  2030.  
  2031. "Spirit save us, it did," Flint confirms. "And Its servants live and reign from the Ringed City and bless us with their strength. Fuck you, you undead piece of shit! You'd start another war to rip this land apart?!"
  2032.  
  2033. "If the light is what I remember, I severely doubt the outside world has transformed into a magical utopia," the lich drawls.
  2034.  
  2035. "Ive heard enough!" Flint roars. He raises his sword, and it glows white!
  2036.  
  2037. Orange light crackles in the lich's hands!
  2038.  
  2039. Flint leaps forward!
  2040.  
  2041. You leap between them, your shadow spreading across the room! You've got to stop this fight before it begins!
  2042.  
  2043. Your aura rolls across the middle of the room. You speak.
  2044.  
  2045. "STOP!"
  2046.  
  2047. Flint pulls up short and lowers his sword, stunned. The lich slowly lowers his hands. The two ghouls flinch back, cowering away.
  2048.  
  2049. "...you can talk?" Flint asks.
  2050.  
  2051. It seems you've pulled them from each others' throats.
  2052.  
  2053. "I can." You murmur the words with some difficulty, but it's understandable. "You must not fight. No one is at fault here."
  2054.  
  2055. "Not at fault?" Flint points his sword, no longer glowing, at the lich. "He just invited you to start a war!"
  2056.  
  2057. "...I was attempting to recruit an ally for immediate defense with...inspirational language," the lich responds. "I'm rather tired of war."
  2058.  
  2059. You nod. "What is your name?"
  2060.  
  2061. "...Adavan," the lich says.
  2062.  
  2063. "Adavan. You will reign in your minions and leave the town in peace. Is that acceptable?"
  2064.  
  2065. "Of course. But what of the girl?"
  2066.  
  2067. "...I will deal with that." You look back at Flint. "Or we, perhaps?"
  2068.  
  2069. "...I..." Flint shakes his head. "I am a knight of the Light. My code compels me to...to take some action to - "
  2070.  
  2071. "To protect innocents," you finish. "That has been accomplished. Adavan goes his way, and leaves to live how he will. You go yours. Did you not enlist my aid at the edge of the wood? Have I not shown you I am more than my element?"
  2072.  
  2073. Flint swallows. He licks his lips, then slowly sheaths his sword. "...creature. If you go back on your word...there is no hole you can hide in, no crevice into which you may crawl - if you take refuge at the bottom of the Timorian Deep itself, I will find you and kill you."
  2074.  
  2075. Adavan shrugs. "I've heard more impressive threats, Sir Knight, but I acknowledge your word."
  2076.  
  2077. You turn back to the lich. "...I would know about this Elementomachy. And my nature. I have many questions. Many...but for later."
  2078.  
  2079. "I see." Adavan nods. "Come to visit me later. I will gather my magic and work on restoring the wood." He looks at Flint. "Just tell the villagers to keep out of it for the time being. It will be easier work if I can walk about..." He chuckles. "...in the flesh."
  2080.  
  2081. "Fine." Flint turns about. "Let's get the hell back to the town and sort this out."
  2082.  
  2083. You both turn around, only to realize Joey is standing there with his jaw open.
  2084.  
  2085. The lich coughs loudly. "Perhaps a bit of memory editing might be in order...?"
  2086.  
  2087. You look expectantly at Flint. "What do you think?"
  2088.  
  2089. "...memory magic, to my knowledge, is an imprecise thing." Flint narrows his eyes at Adavan. "Not that I'd trust him as far as I could throw him."
  2090.  
  2091. The lich shrugs. "Fine. Have a young boy run about spouting rumors about a lich and a talking shadow spirit."
  2092.  
  2093. "...uh..." You all turn to look at Joey. "Can I say something?" No one moves. "...I promise I won't tell."
  2094.  
  2095. The lich gives you a pointed look.
  2096.  
  2097. Flint frowns. "Allow me to clarify: I do NOT approve of this."
  2098.  
  2099. You turn back to the young boy. "Joey?"
  2100.  
  2101. "...yes?"
  2102.  
  2103. "This is a lot for a young man to handle," you begin. "Perhaps it would be better off...if you remembered the journey, but if it ended with us destroying the magical stone. If I stayed a pet, and you never met Adavan." You look at him. "Do you want this on your conscience? A lich, ghouls? Can you really keep that - "
  2104.  
  2105. "Of course I can!" Joey says. He stomps his foot. "I'm sick and tired of everyone treating me like a kid. I can keep a secret, ok?"
  2106.  
  2107. You feel skeptical. Adavan doesn't hide his open disdain. Even Flint isn't convinced, but he's made his position clear.
  2108.  
  2109. ..."I do not question your ability." You loom closer. "But if you speak of this, three things will happen. I will be hunted for what I am. Sir Flint will be hunted for not taking action against the lich, who means no harm to you or your village. And Abigail will burn. Do you understand?"
  2110.  
  2111. Joey swallows audibly. His knees are practically knocking together. "I understand. I won't tell."
  2112.  
  2113. "Good." You slough back into a smaller shape. "...it's an effort to speak. Let us leave this place. Until later, Adavan."
  2114.  
  2115. "A fair night to you, Shadow. Good travels, Sir Knight. I will keep the pool and the forest in check."
  2116.  
  2117. Flint sniffs, then turns away.
  2118.  
  2119. You walk back through the room with the mana pool.
  2120.  
  2121. Night has fallen, and the trek back through the forest is difficult. Still, by the time you reach town - and hour or two before sunrise - the edge of the yellowing rot has retreated significantly, leaving brown, untouched dirt behind.
  2122.  
  2123. "...I suppose he's at work," Flint mutters.
  2124.  
  2125. You send Flint a brief image of him and the lich holding hands. He stares at you a moment, then shakes his head. "In your dreams, Shadow."
  2126.  
  2127. You feel rather...bemused.
  2128.  
  2129. The town is quiet in the pre-dawn light. Flint sighs heavily. Joey yawns.
  2130.  
  2131. They've been walking, fighting, and running for nearly 24 hours, and it shows. You feel a bit tired yourself, but that's more mental than anything. They're physically exhausted as well.
  2132.  
  2133. "...John mentioned his brother," Sir Flint begins. "Fredrick. It seems there's a little family tension there...John is the perfect older child. Fredrick was resentful. John told me he's always had to keep a tight leash on local politics." Flint sighs. "Village drama. Just what I don't need."
  2134.  
  2135. "What should I do?" Joey asks.
  2136.  
  2137. "...I'll escort the boy home," Flint says. "Shadow, you head to the gaols. It's the stone building opposite the church in the square. Make sure she's all right, keep watch until I get there."
  2138.  
  2139. You nod and head toward the gaol.
  2140.  
  2141. As you turn away, Flint trips and falls hard on his chest. He groans, slowly picking himself up and rubbing his cheek.
  2142.  
  2143. Your sense flashes at you. The thing inside him has shifted somewhat...
  2144.  
  2145. But they're gone in a moment, and you have a friend to check up on.
  2146.  
  2147. The gaol is a squat, featureless building. There's a tiny barred window on one side. The doors offer another possible entrance.
  2148.  
  2149. You peer through the window. The pre-dawn glaze illuminates Abigail's cell. She's still sleeping.
  2150.  
  2151. You Ink down into the prison cell.
  2152.  
  2153. Abigail's breathing is soft. In person, you can see that the bruising is worse than you thought.
  2154.  
  2155. You feel a tendril of rage crawl under your skin.
  2156.  
  2157. You push the feelings back and, gently, send her a light impression of you holding hands with her.
  2158.  
  2159. She stirs slightly. "...mmm...missershadow..." The tension leaves her face, and there's a slight smile on her lips.
  2160.  
  2161. You feel something well up in you...strange, but...good.
  2162.  
  2163. You sit and meditate while you wait.
  2164.  
  2165. You have so many questions...starting with what you are. Though even Adavan seemed unsure, seemed to believe you were unique.
  2166.  
  2167. But what was the war they were talking about? The Elementomachy? And what is the nature of the world you live in?
  2168.  
  2169. It strikes you that you know nothing. You don't know where you are, what country, what place. You have no idea what kind of a world you're in. You don't know yourself. You don't even know your own name.
  2170.  
  2171. What you do know seems all the more precious...the bits of your memory, of your power that you still retain. The knowledge that you can absorb, CONSUME if need be to restore and revitalize yourself.
  2172.  
  2173. But the frustration of early times lingers. Who was that damn elf woman, and why did she block your memory?
  2174.  
  2175. The minutes tick by, but Flint does not appear.
  2176.  
  2177. Suddenly, sound echo from the next room. "ake, he'll be here in a minute. Damn nosy bastard."
  2178.  
  2179. You hear doors slam open. "What the hell is this?! I've been given the runaround by every damn - "
  2180.  
  2181. "Pipe down! Knight or not, this is Kelvere, not Arland. This isn't your damn playground!"
  2182.  
  2183. The door to the prison slams open. Flint is standing there, furious. Behind him are two men, a surprised and uncertain peasant and a rather corpulent-looking but well-dressed man you assume must be the mayor, Fredrick.
  2184.  
  2185. "...why is this girl in a gaol cell?" Flint says. "She can't be more than ten at most!"
  2186.  
  2187. "She's the cause of all this!" Fredick bellows. "I know a good deal about magic myself, -Sir- Flint." He puts an condescending emphasis on Flint's title so obvious even Abigail couldn't miss it. "This is the work of Spirit. A forbidden element, dammit! And hell if I'll just let a witch walk around my town and - "
  2188.  
  2189. "She has nothing to do with it!" Flint shouts back. "I just spent the entire night defending myself from ghouls so that I could crush the magic sphere causing all this up in the keep in the woods!"
  2190.  
  2191. "Prove she had nothing to do with it," Fredrick says. "That magic might have built up, gotten out of hand. But a spell like that had to act through someone. Or something." He turns to the cell. "I've a mind this is just an illusion, a trick! She's been acting, replaced the real Abigail with some sort of - "
  2192.  
  2193. "Would you listen to yourself, you paranoid bastard?" Flint says. "She's 9 years old!"
  2194.  
  2195. "Derek saw her cast a spell, and there's no one else with that magic!" Fredrick declares. "Dammit, man, see reason!"
  2196.  
  2197. "Reason?! Reason!?! I didn't stay here and risk my life to see a perfectly innocent child get manhandled into a gaol cell! How dare you call yourself a mayor, you ignorant pig! John is rolling in his grave!"
  2198.  
  2199. "....get the hell out." Fredrick points toward the door. "OUT!"
  2200.  
  2201. "She's coming with me."
  2202.  
  2203. "She'll face trial and be burned alive for what happened to my brother!"
  2204.  
  2205. "She's a girl!"
  2206.  
  2207. "She's a witch!" Fredrick shouts. "I don't have time for this. Kan-Abar is knocking down our doorstep. The town has to be organized. This has to be dealt with, now, by any means necessary, and because it's dressed itself up sympathetically you're falling for it like a sack of bricks."
  2208.  
  2209. "I will not allow any more harm to come to this girl," Flint growls.
  2210.  
  2211. "What are you going to do?" Fredrick asks. "Kill me to have your way? I know your family, Flint. You'd start a war."
  2212.  
  2213. Flint is silent for a moment. "...this is wrong, and we are not finished. Damn you, if she gains so much as another scratch - "
  2214.  
  2215. "...Sir Flint? Mr. Mayor?"
  2216.  
  2217. Abigail has awoken. She looks back and forward between the two men.
  2218.  
  2219. Flint takes a breath. He leans in to Fredrick's ear to speak, but you can still hear him. "...one more scratch, Fredrick, and maybe I don't care if I start a war." He turns back. "Abby, you just be good and sit there, alright?"
  2220.  
  2221. "Will Mr. Shadow help?"
  2222.  
  2223. "You see." Fredrick looks triumphant. "Age 9, and summoning familiars. This is why Spirit is a forbidden element."
  2224.  
  2225. Flint ignores him. "Yes. Mr. Shadow will help. Be a good girl. Everything's going to be fine."
  2226.  
  2227. "Ok."
  2228.  
  2229. Flint struggles not to storm his way out of the gaol in front of Abigail.
  2230.  
  2231. Fredrick narrows his eyes. "You don't fool me, witch. I'll see you turned firewood, mark my words."
  2232.  
  2233. "...it wasn't my fault," Abigail says. "And I didn't mean to - "
  2234.  
  2235. "Whether you meant to or not makes no difference! The pastor, my brother, is dead!" And with that, Fredrick slams the door behind him. You hear a few muttered words muffled by the door, and then the front door opens and closes.
  2236.  
  2237. Light shines in through the window. You're alone with Abigail.
  2238.  
  2239. Shadow Quest Chapter 7
  2240. Abigail shifts and sits upright against the straw. She tries to brush some off her dirty clothing, but it sticks, and she promptly huffs and gives up. She draws a finger in the dirt.
  2241.  
  2242. Curious, you stay silent for a moment and watch. People emerge in her drawing. There's a small stick figure holding hands with two larger stick figures. Then, a fourth is added, holding a sword and wearing a square helmet. Finally, above them, is a big blob with eyes and a smile.
  2243.  
  2244. You bob out of Abigail's shadow.
  2245.  
  2246. "Mr. Shadow?!" She grabs your squishy side and hugs tight. "Did you beat the mean thing in the forest with Sir Flint?"
  2247.  
  2248. You send her an image of the affirmative and bob up and down. "We did."
  2249.  
  2250. "...you can talk?" She stares at you. "Since when?"
  2251.  
  2252. "I've recently...remembered. But it's rather difficult."
  2253.  
  2254. "That's ok, I like picture messages. Maybe I can do it to, if I practice." She tilts her head. "So what happened?"
  2255.  
  2256. You explain the major points of your recent adventure. You don't hold back the details about Adavan, describing him as a good wizard that was trying to stop the plague all along, but couldn't because he was imprisoned.
  2257.  
  2258. "...wow..." Abigail falls back. "Can I meet him?"
  2259.  
  2260. You send her an Impression of the affirmative and bob a yes.
  2261.  
  2262. "Cool. Maybe he can show me more magic stuff?" She frowns, and something crosses her features. "...maybe...not. The mayor doesn't like it, and..." She begins to tremble. "...am I a witch?"
  2263.  
  2264. "No." You bob next to her. "You are a remarkable young lady. None of this was your fault."
  2265.  
  2266. She nods. "...ok." But she starts crying anyway and latches on to you once again. You let her, quietly absorbing her tears into your inky form. "I miss my mom and dad."
  2267.  
  2268. An odd thought strikes you: you have no parents. A Shadow Spirit such as yourself is simply born from instability...a physical phenomenon. A thing that happens, like the sunset and the tide.
  2269.  
  2270. The thought is sobering.
  2271.  
  2272. You lazily contort yourself into various shapes. Abigail considers each one with the too-serious attitude of a child.
  2273.  
  2274. Time passes. The light of the window slowly rotates through the prison as the sun follows its course. You duck into Abigail's shadow when she's brought food - soup and water. Her jailer seems sympathetic, but makes no conversation.
  2275.  
  2276. In the meantime, Abigail quietly tells you about herself - not line by line, but in a sort of meandering way, hopping from subject to subject as her mind grasps different things. She likes climbing trees. Her mother makes great pumpkin pie. Her parents were turnip farmers. She's been able to see ghosts since she was five. She can make things move with her mind if she tries, and sometime orange sparks fly from her fingers when she gets angry. She does her best not to get angry. She's glad she met you and Sir Flint. Turnips are really tasty, you know. What kind of magic does the wizard use?
  2277.  
  2278. Sounds turn your attention to the outside. You peer out the window of the gaol. Abigail tries to hop to get a view, but she's not tall enough. You grab her by the back of her old dress and lift her so she can see.
  2279.  
  2280. A large number of men are moving into the town center. Fredrick leads. Flint is nowhere to be seen.
  2281.  
  2282. You continue to watch. A moment later, Flint appears, Joey and a few others in tow. They head into the hall.
  2283.  
  2284. Over time, more people gather. The hall is packed with lights and sound. Whatever Flint's going to do, he's probably going to do it soon.
  2285.  
  2286. Though it's tempting to take action, you're unwilling to take any chances. You decide to put your faith in Flint and sit tight with Abigail.
  2287.  
  2288. But you do wrap your arms tight around the window bars...and tug, hard. The stone is firm...and the metal is sunk in deep. It might make too much noise to just rip them right out.
  2289.  
  2290. You turn back to the longer, thinner bars that wall off the cell. You put about half your strength into it, and you're able to bend them slightly. Confident you can do more as soon as needed, you turn back to the hall.
  2291.  
  2292. You bend your senses toward the town hall in an effort to discern more...but it's too far to hear clearly.
  2293.  
  2294. However, you are able to vaguely sense the position and movements of the souls within. Someone is standing at the front of the room, before a panel of individuals...the hall has fallen silent but for a single, muffled voice. It must be some kind of speech.
  2295.  
  2296. After he's finished, another soul moves to the front...one that's bright as a sun. Flint.
  2297.  
  2298. He stands there, moving to and fro on the stage. You can hear gasps and voices from the hall reacting to his words...maybe he's telling the story? You can almost feel the crowd coming around to his side, like a pendulum of emotion swinging back....and Flint's soul seems to -react- to the warmth of the crowd, glowing brighter.
  2299.  
  2300. Something slithers across your senses.
  2301.  
  2302. The black thing bent around Flint's soul suddenly warps. It twists, constricting, rattling like a snake.
  2303.  
  2304. Flint trips. You can hear the thud from here. Laughter echoes from the hall.
  2305.  
  2306. You wince.
  2307.  
  2308. But the sense of a turning tide is suddenly gone. The muffled stream of Flint's speech is stolen - he's practically stuttering. You hear what might be Joey adding something into the mix, but it falls flat.
  2309.  
  2310. You don't have a good feeling about this.
  2311.  
  2312. You Impress Abigail with yourself standing next to Flint, propping him up.
  2313.  
  2314. "Gonna help?"
  2315.  
  2316. You bob a yes.
  2317.  
  2318. "Ok. Be careful. Um...thank you, Mr. Shadow."
  2319.  
  2320. "You're welcome," you say.
  2321.  
  2322. You Ink out through the prison window and slip into the town hall.
  2323.  
  2324. It's crowded, but there's a lot of light. Shadows play everywhere as people shift and move about...and Flint's all the way across the room.
  2325.  
  2326. People are frowning and giving Flint looks as he tries to find his place. "...there's...the thing is, in the keep - "
  2327.  
  2328. "This is ridiculous," Fredick says. "Out with it, or quit wasting our time. I don't care who you are, this is our town and this needs to be dealt with in a serious manner, not like some sort of bedtime story."
  2329.  
  2330. A rumble of agreement rises from the crowd. Flint's face twists between nerves and frustration.
  2331.  
  2332. You blast him with Impressions. You and him, fighting side-by-side against the ghouls. Abigail, locked in a cell. And Flint himself - promising her it'll be alright.
  2333.  
  2334. Flint's head jerks up. He gives a subtle nod. "...you don't care who I am?" He turns. "Then you're an ignorant fool. I am Donovan Flint, fourth son of Timerius Flint, Lord of Dobshire! And you will hear me out before you put to the stake an innocent young girl!"
  2335.  
  2336. Fredrick sits back, stunned. The townspeople go silent. You use the opportunity to sneak up through the shadows. None of them notice you, and before long, you've slipped into Flint's shadow!
  2337.  
  2338. "Not just an innocent," he continues. "A girl you've all known all your lives. A sweet, goodhearted child - and yes one with magic, but one that never meant or did harm to anyone. She...she's - "
  2339.  
  2340. The black thing twists on the light of Flint's soul - and now you see it stealing the light away, siphoning it off as if its sipping from a drink.
  2341.  
  2342. Flint clutches his head. He shakes himself.
  2343.  
  2344. "Proclamations of authority will do you know good here!" Fredrick says, taking advantage. "My brother is dead. Our friends, families - our loved ones are dead!"
  2345.  
  2346. You send Flint an Impression of his brightness in chains, along with worry and confusion. Flint raises his head and tries to shake the distraction. You send Impressions into the crowd as he begins again, images of Abigail picking turnips, smiling, playing near the river. You can see the faces of the people you're working on change once more...
  2347.  
  2348. "While in the keep, we found a Spirit dynamo. This is a special type of magic that perpetuates..."
  2349.  
  2350. Donovan's speech continues, and you focus on the creature.
  2351.  
  2352. It's snake-like indeed, wrapping about him like a rope. It eyes you warily.
  2353.  
  2354. You strike with your shadows!
  2355.  
  2356. ...nothing happens. Your shadows, though magical, slip by your target as if it isn't even there!
  2357.  
  2358. It slithers and rattles...almost as if it's chuckling.
  2359.  
  2360. "...concentrated instability, thereby continuing a very old spell," Flint finishes. "I believe that it may have stemmed from as far back as the Elementomachy."
  2361.  
  2362. The room watches him...but doesn't react in horror. You've escaped notice.
  2363.  
  2364. "You expect us to believe something like that?" Fredrick asks.
  2365.  
  2366. "More likely than a 9-year old witch bent on destroying her own neighbors," Flint shoots back.
  2367.  
  2368. "Clearly she's possessed!"
  2369.  
  2370. "If she were, I would know," Flint said, "and if I couldn't do it, I'd bring her to Heavensgate myself if need be to exorcise her."
  2371.  
  2372. "Then it was intentional," Fredrick insists. "Spells don't work on their own. They need a human channeler."
  2373.  
  2374. "That's not always the case. With a dynamo - "
  2375.  
  2376. "A magical dynamo, an object capable of powering an airship - but one of the Spirit alignment, a forbidden element - just so happened to be located under an ancient keep deep in the Old Forest, a remnant of the great war of the elements," Fredrick summarizes. "Or, Abigail, as awful as it may be, is a witch. I think that makes things clear."
  2377.  
  2378. "I saw it!" Joey says. "He's telling the truth. There was a big orange ball, and we cracked it open and the ghouls died!"
  2379.  
  2380. "I'm calling this vote right now," Fredrick says. "By a show of hands, those over 18 years of age shall vote. For those believing Abigail guilty of witchcraft?"
  2381.  
  2382. Fredrick's hand leaps into the air to proclaim Abigail guilty...
  2383.  
  2384. ...as does a solid majority of other hands in the audience.
  2385.  
  2386. Fredrick nods solemnly. Now that he's won, he's all the serious pillar of leadership. "We'll do it calmly, and humanely."
  2387.  
  2388. "There's nothing humane about this!" Fredrick says. "Good folk, please reconsider. There's -"
  2389.  
  2390. The black thing twists. Flint nearly loses his balance, but catches himself on the pedestal. The brightness of his soul is dimmed back. But it cuts off his words.
  2391.  
  2392. "We've heard your case, Sir knight, and no one here doubts that your intentions are pure. But the town has made its choice." Fredrick frowns. "I'd hoped we'd not see a noble of Arland try to bend us with his influence...but in the end you felt pushed to it. You have no place here. We can take care of our own in Jacob's Field. And in Kelvere."
  2393.  
  2394. A grumble of agreement strikes the crowd at large. It seems that the mayor is playing off of foreign tensions...
  2395.  
  2396. The crowd begins to mill near the doors. Fredrick is rallying several men to help him gather the wood for the stake. You overhear them planning to simply hang Abigail, then burn her so as to spare her the prolonged suffering.
  2397.  
  2398. The injustice makes your skin boil with rage, but you carefully hold yourself still within Flint's shadow.
  2399.  
  2400. You speak directly into the knight's mind. You feel your words echo, ethereal, unnatural. But plain to hear. <Flint.>
  2401.  
  2402. Flint jerks his head back from the view of the townspeople. He looks at his shadow - and at you. He does not look happy.
  2403.  
  2404. <There's some kind of curse upon you...some being actively thwarting you. It is wrapped about your soul.>
  2405.  
  2406. "What?" he hisses.
  2407.  
  2408. <It is making you clumsy and lose your words,> you clarify. <...siphoning something off from you.>
  2409.  
  2410. Flint seems stunned. He says nothing.
  2411.  
  2412. <I will get Abigail and retreat into the forest, to Adavan's keep. Follow afterward.>
  2413.  
  2414. Flint glances back around the room. "...no choice. Do it. Wait for me on the forest's edge. I'll create a distraction."
  2415.  
  2416. <What happened to the shard of the sword we found?>
  2417.  
  2418. "With my things," Flint hisses. "Get going!"
  2419.  
  2420. You slip out of his shadow and out the back door of the hall. You cross the cobblestone square and get into the gaol.
  2421.  
  2422. "Mr. Shadow?" Abigail stands up. "What happened?"
  2423.  
  2424. You send her images - angry townsfolk not understanding. Pitchforks and fire. And then you and her, running into the forest with held hands.
  2425.  
  2426. "...ok. Um, but how do I get out? I can do that thing you - " You bend the bars open. They grate and creak, nearly snapping. Abigail's eyes go wide. "You're really strong."
  2427.  
  2428. You snatch her around the arm and drag her toward the entrance.
  2429.  
  2430. The doors of the gaol burst open. You can sense them - Fredrick is there with a group of other men. That was fast.
  2431.  
  2432. You lift Abigail and tuck her into a corner deep in the gaol. You wrap her up and send her a sharp image of fingers pressed to lips. And then you go very still.
  2433.  
  2434. The door to the small cell block opens. Fredrick lifts a torch high to see in the dark space. "...did you move her?"
  2435.  
  2436. "...no."
  2437.  
  2438. He marches down the block. His eyes pass over you sightlessly.
  2439.  
  2440. "She's gone!" Fredrick kicks the bars. "I knew it! This proves everything!"
  2441.  
  2442. Suddenly, Flint is there. "...by the light. You were right. I can't believe it."
  2443.  
  2444. "Of course I was right," Fredrick snaps.
  2445.  
  2446. Flint shoves his gauntlet into the stone. "I can't believe I was fooled. Dammit!" He freezes, cocks his head. "Wait. A spell. I can sense her!"
  2447.  
  2448. "Where?" someone asks.
  2449.  
  2450. "She's headed east, out of the village! She must be trying to use the river to escape!" Flint glances around. "Where are the boats? Where would she head first?"
  2451.  
  2452. "Her family was good friends with the Millers!" someone calls. "They have a fishin' boat!"
  2453.  
  2454. "There's no time to lose," Flint declares. "With me!"
  2455.  
  2456. And just like that, Flint is leading the march for blood. A rather surprised Fredrick waddles behind as the men sweep through the village toward the east.
  2457.  
  2458. You hear a heavy clank as Flint trips and falls flat on the cobblestone outside. There's a heavy sigh. "Leave the leading to me, Sir Knight," Fredrick calls. "To the river!"
  2459.  
  2460. In his haste to co-opt the spotlight, Fredrick's witch hunt has backfired...
  2461.  
  2462. You bring Abigail along for a shadow-ride. It's a simple matter to duck past the few people still remaining in the square. You've pass into the forest edge...
  2463.  
  2464. ...and stop dead. The yellowed rot of the keep has rebounded closer to the village than ever.
  2465.  
  2466. "Hello, Shadow." Adavan steps out from behind a tree. "I'm glad you managed to get away from the knight. Everything's fallen into place rather well."
  2467.  
  2468. "...what is he?" Abigail whispers.
  2469.  
  2470. "Fear not child. I am a wizard, living in the forest. We are of a similar nature, you and I - both able to do magic, see the spirits of the dead. Spirit magic runs in our souls."
  2471.  
  2472. "...you look like a zombie."
  2473.  
  2474. Adavan's hand twitches toward his face. "...so I do. There's no denying it." He looks at you. "When I told the knight I had no intention of starting a war, I lied. This isolated river town is the perfect foundation for an undead army. The knight is hardly an honest fellow, either - I expect that, upon arrival to his home, I would have been outed in short order. In any case, Shadow, I'm sure I have your allegiance in this matter...?"
  2475.  
  2476. "Wait," Abigail says. "What do you mean? You want to make the whole town zombies?"
  2477.  
  2478. "That's exactly what I mean," Adavan says.
  2479.  
  2480. "But - "
  2481.  
  2482. "But what?" he says. He looks at Abigail. "Do you know what they were about to do? I was watching, young lady. They were going to kill you and burn you at the stake for being a witch - simply because of who you are, even though you had nothing to do with the, ah, zombies, and never did anything wrong. I am sorry your family died - I am. But these people do not deserve mercy."
  2483.  
  2484. "...but...even though they did bad things to me, doesn't make it ok to do bad things to them," Abigail says matter-of-factly.
  2485.  
  2486. "...to be young again," the lich says wistfully. He looks to you. "Well, Shadow? I'm afraid the knight...will have to be made a permanent -friend- of mine, to ensure at least temporary secrecy. Though I do not plan to make a stronghold here. The keep is aged, and we are too close to...whatever force backs the new strength in these lands."
  2487.  
  2488. You set yourself back.
  2489.  
  2490. <During the meeting,>" you project, <Flint spoke of the source of the magic in the keep. He spoke of a large crystal ball that caused the undead to rise - when it would have been easy to claim you as the source. He has already had a chance to -out- you.>
  2491.  
  2492. <And when I first approached him...a Shadow spirit that did not know its own name...he accepted me quickly, when I showed I meant well. He is a righteous man. It is you who is unwilling to put your faith in Light, not the other way around.>
  2493.  
  2494. "...I did not believe the day would come when a Shadow Spirit would defend a man aligned with the Light."
  2495.  
  2496. <The war you fought is over,> you add. <Perhaps it is time for more.>
  2497.  
  2498. "...never speak to me of the war again, Shadow. Ever. Clearly, you have yet to be reminded of the terror of the Light."
  2499.  
  2500. <But it is over. If you cannot live with the town in peace, I must ask that you leave.>
  2501.  
  2502. Adavan frowns in thought.
  2503.  
  2504. Adavan hesitates.
  2505.  
  2506. <They follow a fool,> you add, <but only some raised their hands against Abigail. Do women and children deserve to die over this? Walk as undead?>
  2507.  
  2508. Adavan clenches his fists. His eyes are distant. For a moment, you see a man layered over rotting flesh, a man trapped in a room for hundreds of years and forced to turn himself into what he wrought to survive.
  2509.  
  2510. "...they do not, as much as my soul cries for blood." Adavan heaves a sigh. "...I will leave this place. But to where I go, or for what I live...I do not know."
  2511.  
  2512. <There is a young mage that could use your guidance.>
  2513.  
  2514. Adavan perks up. He glances down at Abigail. "...would you like to learn magic, little one?"
  2515.  
  2516. "Does it mean the town doesn't become zombies?" she asks petulantly.
  2517.  
  2518. Adavan's rotted lips crack in a smile. "...I suppose so."
  2519.  
  2520. "Then I want to learn magic and do good things for people. I bet I can make turnips grow really well, right? I tried that once, but it just burned it sort of."
  2521.  
  2522. Adavan laughs, and, despite the rattle of a dried throat, it's filled with warmth. "You might have to find an earth mage to help you with that."
  2523.  
  2524. A sound rises in the distance. All three of you snap your heads to the west.
  2525.  
  2526. BaaaarrrrRRROOOOOM
  2527. BaaaarrrrRRROOOOOM
  2528.  
  2529. Torches line the edge of the dark horizon - men, hundreds of them, pouring down a hill towards the village!
  2530.  
  2531. "...what is this?" Adavan asks.
  2532.  
  2533. You can send him only uncertainty.
  2534.  
  2535. You hear shouts rising from the village. Torches scurry around the town center. Many boats are being corralled into the docks close to the town square.
  2536.  
  2537. "Ironically, it seems war has found me," Adavan says. "...I will not harm these people, but I will not save them."
  2538.  
  2539. <I wouldn't ask you to,> you say. <You're a teacher now. Not a soldier.>
  2540.  
  2541. "A teacher, hmm?" Adavan nods. "Mayhap."
  2542.  
  2543. <Take Abigail to the keep. I'll meet you there when I return.>
  2544.  
  2545. "The keep? No. The enemy has several mages; I'm too weak to defend myself should they discover me. I am happy to protect her, but we'll be leaving. And getting as far away from that magic to the south as possible. I head northeast. Far northeast. Where, exactly - wherever I feel it is safe. I do not know the land anymore."
  2546.  
  2547. <Magic to the south?>
  2548.  
  2549. "...your senses need tuning," Adavan says. "And were you not of the Shadow element, you'd need a lesson in concealment as well. A powerful force of Light servants is south of here - far to the south. But I know that they'd destroy me in an instant. I'm weakened from my long time sealed."
  2550.  
  2551. <Is there any way we could keep in touch, a way I could track you?>
  2552.  
  2553. Adavan rubs his forehead. "...in my current state, I'd need a few minutes preparation time, and a few minutes casting time." He glances out at the rapidly approaching army. "A few minutes which should be spent getting as far away as possible."
  2554.  
  2555. <What about a trail of breadcrumbs? Some kind of symbol I could use to find you?>
  2556.  
  2557. "...you care about this girl, don't you?"
  2558.  
  2559. "Of course he does." Abigail plants her fists on her hips. "He's my best friend. And stop talking about me like I'm not here!"
  2560.  
  2561. "You require discipline. That will be attended to in short order." Adavan thinks a moment, then nods. "Yes. Here."
  2562.  
  2563. He draws a symbol upon the ground. It looks like a circle with a triangle within it. It flashes orange, then fades. "...the best I can do on short notice. The symbol of Spirit."
  2564.  
  2565. <I am going to try to reach Joey and Flint,> you say. <Wait as long as is prudent. If things go well, I will join you and Abigail again shortly. If not...take care.>
  2566.  
  2567. "You won't convince that knight to abandon the town," Adavan says. "I've been watching all day. I know his type. He has something to prove."
  2568.  
  2569. <I have to try.> You turn toward Abigail. <...you are my best friend as well, Abigail. In my short time...>
  2570.  
  2571. You have been alive not a handful of days, and suddenly you're risking that tenuous existence for the life of this young girl. You briefly wonder what's wrong with you.
  2572.  
  2573. But there's no doubt in your conviction. You feel more solid about it than you could form your own body.
  2574.  
  2575. "Don't worry, you'll be back soon, right?" Abigail says simply.
  2576.  
  2577. <Right. Take care.>
  2578.  
  2579. "Shadow, before you go."
  2580.  
  2581. You pause and glance back.
  2582.  
  2583. "There's something...under this town. A strong presence of Spirit. Very strong. It feels...like you."
  2584.  
  2585. "That's probably the nice lady," Abigail says.
  2586.  
  2587. <What? Like me? Who is the nice lady?>
  2588.  
  2589. "Um...she's a lady, and nice," Abigail says. "But she doesn't talk. Just like you! Well, before anyway."
  2590.  
  2591. "If we have a chance, I will help you investigate later," Adavan says. "It may be beneficial to me as well, to have an ally such as yourself of my own alignment. But for now, go."
  2592.  
  2593. You rush down to the town.
  2594.  
  2595. Men are everywhere, shouting, gathering spears, pitchforks, hoes, anything that could be used as a weapon. Women and children are being loaded into the boats. Fredrick is directing the transport of those that can't fight, while Flint works the men, getting them ready to defend the docks.
  2596.  
  2597. Most of the boats are already gone, but there's still several boat-loads of women left. There's enough transport for everyone, but it's going to take time to bring them into the docks and up on the shore.
  2598.  
  2599. <Flint, I'm back.>
  2600.  
  2601. Flint stops and glances down. "Shadow?" He runs off to the side a bit. "What's going on? Where's Abigail?"
  2602.  
  2603. You lift out of the shadows and face him directly. <She's with Adavan. He'd been watching from the forest...and was prepared to intervene on her behalf, if necessary. He'll get her to safety.>
  2604.  
  2605. "I don't want to know what form that intervention would have taken," Flint says. "There's no way we can hold the town. But -"
  2606.  
  2607. BAaaaAAROOOOOM
  2608.  
  2609. "Shit. We've got to fight them off long enough for the boats to get downriver."
  2610.  
  2611. <We owe nothing to these people, and they've given us nothing but grief,> you say. <We should take Joey and leave.>
  2612.  
  2613. "Take Joey? What? From his family?" Flint shakes his head, then leans forward. "...you've done enough. You knew no one here. Hell, you were just born. If you want to leave, then leave. And go with my blessing." Flint draws back. "But I have to stay. Their backs are already straight from having been shouted at. Fredrick is not a line commander. He's never seen battle. I can hold. Long enough."
  2614.  
  2615. <You'll get yourself killed.>
  2616.  
  2617. "...I might," he says, "unless I can count on my shadow."
  2618.  
  2619. <Can we make peace? Stop things that way?>
  2620.  
  2621. "This is Kan-Abar," Flint says. "Maybe a decade ago...when I was young, they weren't as belligerent. But that's changed. This is a raiding party. They're here to rape, pillage, and burn. They won't even bother asking."
  2622.  
  2623. <What if I go for the enemy leaders?> you ask. <Try to kill them?>
  2624.  
  2625. "That won't work," Flint says. "This is your first battle, too. Dammit. Magic makes it easy to assassinate specific people, if you really try. Most command structures have triplicates waiting in the wings. That won't do enough." Flint shrugs. "Better plan - I need to you stall. Raise as much hell as you can, scare them, whatever. I can get the men ready in the meantime."
  2626.  
  2627. <Adavan told me of a Spirit force under the town,> you say. <He said it felt similar to me. Perhaps we can recruit it?>
  2628.  
  2629. Flint frowns. He puts a hand to his head and closes his eyes. "...I don't..." He blinks. "If you hadn't told me, I would have missed it. Under the church. But it's far. Very far, half a mile deep. We don't have time to reach it. And with that keep, who the hell knows what we'd find on the way, besides."
  2630.  
  2631. BAAAAARRRROOOOOOMM
  2632.  
  2633. "They're on our doorstep!" Flint yells. "Now or never!"
  2634.  
  2635. <I'll hold them as long as I can.>
  2636.  
  2637. Flint turns away from you as your begin to run. You can hear his shouts echo over the rooftops.
  2638.  
  2639. You dash through the buildings to the edge of the town center. The army is nearly upon the town!
  2640.  
  2641. A fireball from the back ranks arcs high and smashes into the town hall. It explodes on contact, sending a wave of fire out in a sphere. The bell tower is vaporized, and the rest of the hall goes up like kindling.
  2642.  
  2643. And Adavan said there was more than one mage. You immediately realize that, if the Kanians are so inclined, the town will be ashes within the hour.
  2644.  
  2645. The enemy lines face you.
  2646.  
  2647. You let out a shriek, using Ink to warp your voice in the most ear-splitting manner you can. It cuts through the air with near-physical force. The front lines of the enemy troops hesitate. You can see the war paint on their faces - faces that, for a moment, are hesitating.
  2648.  
  2649. But you can't put on a show. You'd just make yourself a big target. Flint doesn't know about their magical power - that's what you need to get after.
  2650.  
  2651. You slip into their ranks, throwing out random Impressions like a war cry. You twist the images, ghouls, children, the diseased freak that was Abigail's parents, ripped limbs of your fallen foes, consumed, bone-dry corpses. You mash them together and unleash them like nightmares as you duck between the enemy ranks.
  2652.  
  2653. The men cower in fear...
  2654.  
  2655. "They're using illusions!"
  2656. "Don't be fooled!"
  2657. "Ignore it!"
  2658.  
  2659. ...but without occupied on getting to the back, your visions pass by those in the front. The well trained force picks up its pace again.
  2660.  
  2661. You see man after man, rank after rank, all with the same layered, leather armor...where are the mages?
  2662.  
  2663. An awareness strikes you suddenly, hard. Fire. Flaming volcanoes, pure heat - a man to the left, wearing a cape over his armor...
  2664.  
  2665. He's not looking your way, seemingly focused on another fireball...
  2666.  
  2667. You know what you have to do.
  2668.  
  2669. You lunge at the mage, slamming your body into his. His cry is muffled as you drag him to the ground.
  2670.  
  2671. You
  2672. Must
  2673. CONSUME
  2674.  
  2675. You unleash the instinctual urge to devour his gleaming, fiery soul...
  2676.  
  2677. ...and it flares back! You've never tried to consume something still alive!
  2678.  
  2679. The mage's spirit is strong, but you've got the edge of surprise. You latch onto it, and you can feel tentacles, fangs of shadow leach into the very fiber of his being.
  2680.  
  2681. The fire rages in anger as you try to snuff it out...
  2682.  
  2683. ...but your advantage proves the greater!
  2684.  
  2685. You feel his soul peel away from his body as you latch upon it with greater and greater force, a mouth gnawing at a open vein to puncture it over and over. An ugly cry rolls over you...but you're rather certain you're the only one to hear it. The fire is sucked into your form, and you feel the energy serge within you.
  2686.  
  2687. ...yes...more difficult to eat something still kicking...but oh so more...MORE.
  2688.  
  2689. ...but a small part of you wonders what might have happened had you lost the battle.
  2690.  
  2691. "Oh my god!"
  2692.  
  2693. "It's a monster!"
  2694.  
  2695. "Yacobe!"
  2696.  
  2697. You turn at the last word - a name, cried in dispair. Another mage is there. Fire forms over his head as his eyes light up in anger!
  2698.  
  2699. You burst into a sprint. The mage's features clench hard as he tries to complete his spell...
  2700.  
  2701. ...you slam into him! The fire flies out of his hands, arcing high, high, then down, slamming into his own soldiers! An explosion rocks the ground, and unbalances you!
  2702.  
  2703. You hit him, but not with any coordination. You knock him over but fly past, tumbling to a stop.
  2704.  
  2705. When you get up, it seems as if an entire battalion has pivoted to pen you in with spears. The mage is starting to get up...
  2706.  
  2707. The spears stab in for you...
  2708.  
  2709. ...and they slice across your form! You can feel the pain as your body is twisted in a manner you did not direct...
  2710.  
  2711. ...but you're through their line! The mage has just gotten to his feet. You unleash your shadows. Disoriented, you manage to slice a nasty gash on his leg, which puts him back on the ground.
  2712.  
  2713. The spearmen must have faced similar magic before, because they don't hesitate to protect their comrade. They're already trying to flank you.
  2714.  
  2715. You can see another mage running toward you in the distance...he's holding fire above his hands, poised to strike, but his throw hesitates with the risk of hitting allies.
  2716.  
  2717. You latch onto the enemy mage....
  2718.  
  2719.  
  2720. .....you....
  2721. ....must....
  2722. ....CONSUME
  2723.  
  2724. With his lifeblood pooling onto the ground, his soul peels away from his body like the skin of a banana. Your maw churns it to mush and sucks it into your system.
  2725.  
  2726. But the spears have surrounded you once again!
  2727.  
  2728. Though horrified by the sick display, the men attack you nonetheless. But you manage to duck back, and your shadows through their vision enough for you to evade damage.
  2729.  
  2730. You're still surrounded, and the enemy mage is approaching fast. The fire above his head is rotating like a miniature sun...he's shouting something.
  2731.  
  2732. Maybe he felt his friend's soul get eaten alive by a shadow.
  2733.  
  2734. You feel...satisfied by the thought.
  2735.  
  2736. You begin to move...
  2737.  
  2738. ...and you rocket forward, faster than you thought possible. The darkness around you responds to your will, sliding, pushing, increasing your speed beyond its previous limits.
  2739.  
  2740. You dart past the spears in a flash.
  2741.  
  2742. The mage stops - it isn't fooled. It can see you clearly.
  2743.  
  2744. He unleashes his spell. A line of fire erupts from the sun-sphere and pours toward you!
  2745.  
  2746. Not expecting the different, faster magic, it almost strikes you dead on! Your speed carries you out of the way, but not before you suffer serious damage...
  2747.  
  2748. But the fire roars past you, striking the mage's allies, cutting them down like a scythe cuts wheat. Some are separated from limbs, while others simply ignite. The acrid scent of burning flesh and leather fills the air.
  2749.  
  2750. The mage's spell begins to rotate once again...it's going to fire!
  2751.  
  2752. You rush forward at lightning speed, sprinting inhumanly fast!
  2753.  
  2754. But the mage tracks your every movement. You duck through the flames and leap over corpses as you work your way closer.
  2755.  
  2756. His gaze keeps moving...
  2757. ...and you change direction! You've lost him!
  2758.  
  2759. You lung in. You feel your body condense for a powerful blow.
  2760.  
  2761. You reach within yourself for more power. You have to do more...
  2762. ...and you find it. Magic, waiting, ready to be used. You unleash your shadow - but this time, it's coated in -you-, your essence. Pure darkness.
  2763.  
  2764. You unleash Shadow Strike!
  2765.  
  2766. The mage swivels at the burst of magical energy.
  2767.  
  2768. You're in midair, plowing toward him, needles of darkness raining down on his face! His sun flares near-white with heat!
  2769.  
  2770. The mage's stream of fire erupts in your face!
  2771.  
  2772. It slams into you, hotter and fiercer than even the first attack. Your magical energy pierces through the fire, only to be shrugged off by the mage's magical defenses.
  2773.  
  2774. You're flung back, rolling, singed, barely coherent. Fires rage all around you. You push yourself back up.
  2775.  
  2776. The mage's sun begins to spin again.
  2777.  
  2778. "You're mine, you corrupted piece of filth! You will die here!"
  2779.  
  2780. You gather your power.
  2781.  
  2782. You aura glows a deep black and crackles with purple energy.
  2783.  
  2784. The mage's spell still needs a moment to charge back up. There's time to make it. You're fast enough! You have to be fast enough!
  2785.  
  2786. You lunge forward!
  2787.  
  2788. For Joey!
  2789. For Flint!
  2790.  
  2791. For delicious mage souls!
  2792.  
  2793. For Abigail!
  2794.  
  2795. Needles of darkness rain down with your attack. The mage growls and clenches his fists tight...
  2796.  
  2797. Your rain of darkness slams into the mage as his spell is unleashed.
  2798.  
  2799. His arms are severed from his torso.
  2800.  
  2801. The sun warps, destabilized.
  2802.  
  2803. It explodes.
  2804.  
  2805. BOOOOM
  2806.  
  2807. You're sent flying, part of you on fire. You land heavily on the ground a short distance away. Pieces of your shadow, shredded by the force, are lying here and there, twitching. Fire and smoke are everywhere.
  2808.  
  2809. The mage is vaporized.
  2810.  
  2811. You crawl forward...the desire to consume burns within you.
  2812.  
  2813. ...there. A soldier, still alive. His leg is seared nearly to the bone in one spot. A knife in his hand, he struggles out of the flames.
  2814.  
  2815. You roil toward the wounded soldier. He's barely making progress across the ground, scraping himself away from heat on instinct to survive more than anything else.
  2816.  
  2817. You fall on top of him and hook yourself into his soul. His struggle ceases quickly.
  2818.  
  2819. Feeling slightly better, you lop your way out of the smoke.
  2820.  
  2821. There's chaos within the enemy ranks. The backside of their force is a flaming crater. However, they're still pushing into the buildings. Mages or not, the battle continues. But at least that's over and done with.
  2822.  
  2823. You see flames spread across the roof of another building. You find yourself hoping it's mundane, rather than magical fire.
  2824.  
  2825. You can see the twinkle of lights on the river - the boats are moving swiftly. But there's still more to go.
  2826.  
  2827. Shadow Quest Chapter 8
  2828. You roll across the grass in search of...
  2829. ...there's no other word for it...
  2830. ...prey.
  2831.  
  2832. And you find it in a recently charred corpse. A trendril of energy hangs onto its body...you CONSUME it.
  2833.  
  2834. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, you latch onto a second corpse, and consume it as well.
  2835.  
  2836. You've reached a farmhouse a short run from the town center. Flames lick the sky. Smoke, stained red and orange from the fires, billows up, blocking the stars. This army is clearly here to destroy, not to conquer.
  2837.  
  2838. You suppose Jacob's Field isn't a place worth holding - and you can appreciate the idea of striking fear into an enemy.
  2839.  
  2840. You hear a sharp gasp of breath from the other side of the farmhouse. You creep to the corner.
  2841.  
  2842. There's a Kanian soldier propped up against the wood wall. A thick bandaged is wrapped around his leg, which another man just finished tying off. The would-be medic isn't doing well himself - he's sporting a deep cut on his forehead and a bandage around his arm.
  2843.  
  2844. "Grit your teeth, you bitch."
  2845.  
  2846. "Easy for you to - "
  2847.  
  2848. The man tightens the bandage on the man's thigh.
  2849.  
  2850. "SHIT!"
  2851.  
  2852. "Aww, shut up. You'll be fine once we can get a wiz to look at you."
  2853.  
  2854. "Wizards? Did you see that explosion? I heard from a man that spoke with someone that ran - well, before he cut him down - that it some kind of shadow magic."
  2855.  
  2856. "Bullshit. Kelvere might not like the Empire, but they're not suicidal."
  2857.  
  2858. "Unlike us."
  2859.  
  2860. "The difference being we've got a pair and they don't."
  2861.  
  2862. The more injured man manages a smile despite his obvious pain.
  2863.  
  2864. You can only see them as ripe targets for consumption...but you also notice a small group of spearmen a short distance away. If you're not quick, you'll draw attention...
  2865.  
  2866. You slowly creep to the side...
  2867.  
  2868. ...the babble of the spearmen goes on in the background. Your attention is on the conversation in front of you.
  2869.  
  2870. "...but seriously. What if they did it?"
  2871.  
  2872. "I don't see any angels descending from the sky. Want some water?"
  2873.  
  2874. "Yeah, thanks."
  2875.  
  2876. The medic's back is turned to you.
  2877.  
  2878. Your shadow stabs into his spine.
  2879.  
  2880. He lurches straight. His arms twitch wildly. Spittle forms in his mouth and he gasps and gags. And then you're on top of him, roiling over his body like so much black acid, dissolving him to the bone and and then chewing those up for good measure.
  2881.  
  2882. The man, still propped against the wood, lets out a shriek -
  2883.  
  2884. - which is suddenly cut off when you throw yourself over his mouth. You liquify, Inking into his nose, down his open throat. Part of you tries to sink in through his cut, slip into his veins, but you're too solid, too thick. You burst open the inside of his leg as you go. Blood and flesh fly apart as you literally tear him into pieces from the inside out, feasting as his soul naturally drifts apart from his body upon his death.
  2885.  
  2886. In a moment, you Ink back, free of any gore or blood. It simply slides off you.
  2887.  
  2888. The spearmen are staring at you, mouths agape. One of them runs, and then they're gone, screaming into the night in the direction of the town, shouting of demons and shadow magic.
  2889.  
  2890. You feel quite satisfied.
  2891.  
  2892. You feel your strength almost return in full...
  2893. ...but surely there's still a little room for improvement.
  2894.  
  2895. You're well enough - your friend could need help. And the memory of the shadow creature latched onto his soul bothers you...
  2896.  
  2897. You sprint back into town. You can see how the battle has unfolded. Flint's leadership has done wonders - the men have formed a perimeter around the docks, blocking in the alleys between the houses with furniture, scrap wood and metal, and anything else they could find on short notice. Bottlenecked, the soldiers aren't making good progress. Though the untrained peasants are furiously defending their families, they're slowly being pushed back.
  2898.  
  2899. The major front is on a short grassy stretch between the buildings and the docks. You can see Flint's sword flashing, a bar of light flickering in the darkness as he lops of heads.
  2900.  
  2901. But suddenly, the light of his sword dies.
  2902.  
  2903. The ground rumbles under your feet...
  2904. ...thrum...
  2905. ...Drum...
  2906. ...DRUMM...
  2907.  
  2908. One of the ramshackle palisades explodes outward. A construct of earth and rock thunders forward across the cobblestones - a golem! It's quickly surrounded by a wave of stalwart peasants, but the golem brushes them aside like dominoes.
  2909.  
  2910. Your sense flares as the golem moves and shifts. It's being controlled...but from where?!
  2911.  
  2912. You focus your senses and try to locate the mage...
  2913.  
  2914. ...a house to the south...somewhat in-between the barricade and Flint's line.
  2915.  
  2916. The peasants don't stand much of a chance against the golem, but they're almost certainly dead if you can't kill what's animating it.
  2917.  
  2918. "Don't attack head on!" cries a voice. You blink, then turn. Fredrick is standing at the back of the nervous farmhands. "It's slow! Stay out of its reach and give ground!"
  2919.  
  2920. You run toward the source of magic, following your senses. The defenders quickly adopt the strategy of baiting the relatively slow golem to-and-fro rather than face it directly...that should buy you a little time.
  2921.  
  2922. Perhaps you -won't- torture Fredrick before you consume him.
  2923.  
  2924. You reach the house. It's just outside the town square, relatively isolated. A column of spears runs past, headed for one of the barricades - probably to back up the golem's advance. You keep in the shadows until they march by.
  2925.  
  2926. There's a posting of five or so spearmen in front, and in back, guarding both entrances. A second-story window offers another means of entrance, if you can climb up without being seen.
  2927.  
  2928. Your senses tell you the mage is on the first floor. But other than that, he's alone in the house...if you can get inside, you just might pull this off.
  2929.  
  2930. After your last bout against a mage, you feel as though taking one head-on would be a mistake.
  2931.  
  2932. You slip past the side of the guards.
  2933.  
  2934. One of them turns toward you. You freeze.
  2935.  
  2936. He picks his nose a bit, then turns his head back to the group's conversation.
  2937.  
  2938. You slink up to the side of the house. Your strength easily pulls you up several handholds to the shuttered window. It's locked tight, but the old wood leaves a gap plenty wide enough for you to Ink through.
  2939.  
  2940. You pass through the wood and dip through a bedroom. A warm, earthy sort of soul glows from the first floor...you creep down the edge of the stairs, pausing at the edge of the light shining from a fireplace.
  2941.  
  2942. The mage is sitting at the kitchen table. His eyes are closed, and his features bent, as if he's deep in thought. A brown light folds and twists around his hands. As you watch, his fingers stir slightly, as if pulling the strings of a doll you can't see.
  2943.  
  2944. You know you've found the right man.
  2945.  
  2946. The room is well-lit...shadows are few and far between. But you're a little far for a surprise attack...and considering your last fight, you're not sure if you're willing to take risks now...
  2947.  
  2948. You launch yourself off the stairwell.
  2949.  
  2950. The mage snaps his head up.
  2951.  
  2952. His hands clench tight, and he raises his arms in front of himself in a defensive posture. Brown light starts to flare up...
  2953.  
  2954. ...but you're there before the full effect of his spell takes place! You crash into him, taking some of the brunt of his enchantment, but landing a serious blow!
  2955.  
  2956. The mage is struggling fiercely underneath you. His enchantment somehow stops your weight from pressing down on him completely...you can feel another spell welling up quickly!
  2957.  
  2958. You realize something - the mage's shadow is right below him. And you're practically sitting in it.
  2959.  
  2960. You've already won.
  2961.  
  2962. Your shadows rage up from below him, tearing through his skin. A spear of darkness rips up through his stomach - and even while that occurs, you smash yourself into him, breaking his bones and pulverizing him into the wooden floor.
  2963.  
  2964. He's dead.
  2965.  
  2966. And you know what do you...
  2967. ...you hunger...
  2968. you
  2969. must
  2970. CONSUME
  2971.  
  2972. You suck the mage's soul away like a thirsty man drinks water...
  2973.  
  2974. But the noise of your struggle has altered the guards!
  2975.  
  2976. The spearmen burst into the room. "Wise one, is something - it's the demon!"
  2977.  
  2978. The men shift and hesitate. Their faces glaze over with fear at the sight of your form perched like a vulture over the dead and drained body of their mage.
  2979.  
  2980. "Hold your ground, men! It can't beat us if we work together!"
  2981.  
  2982. It's a man in the back speaking - you note that his rather ornate helmet has several colored plumes draped from its tip. A commander? Regardless, it seems they're firming up at his words...
  2983.  
  2984. You simply let go of your aura.
  2985.  
  2986. It flares around you, twisting, curling like smoke come alive. The men shy back.
  2987.  
  2988. "Spears up!" the commander shouts. "It's just smoke and mirrors! Get ready to -"
  2989.  
  2990. His words are cut off because you've already barreled through his ranks and slammed into him.
  2991.  
  2992. Your momentum carries you out the door and into a crowd of more men that was quickly forming up around the house - and through them. You bodily lift the commander and sprint through the streets, quickly leaving the men behind.
  2993.  
  2994. The commander struggles in your grip -
  2995. - and you -accidentally- smack his head into the wall of building you pass. He goes limp, but you can still sense life within him.
  2996.  
  2997. You're in no-man's land between the lines. The battle falls oddly silent around you, punctuated by shouts, clashes of metal, and the crack of fires in the distance...
  2998.  
  2999. ...something's coming back to you...a sense of the souls around you...
  3000.  
  3001. <...erebus...>
  3002.  
  3003. You slow. What was that?
  3004.  
  3005. <erebus>
  3006. <erebus>
  3007.  
  3008. <Who speaks?>
  3009.  
  3010. <erebus>
  3011. <EREBUS! HEAR ME!>
  3012.  
  3013. <I can hear you! Where are you?!>
  3014.  
  3015. You turn about, but there's no answer. You feel something...Spirit. It brushes against you...
  3016.  
  3017. <...help...4 keys...find to...weak..please....>
  3018.  
  3019. The sense falls dead.
  3020.  
  3021. You stand there, unsure of what just happened. You feel tense and distracted. Was that...the thing under the town? It's message was too broken to understand...keys?
  3022.  
  3023. Your mind flashes to the key you found in the keep. It held strong spirit magic...perhaps that has something to do with it?
  3024.  
  3025. You struggle to call out to the thing, but there's no answer. Weak...perhaps too weak to continue to speak?
  3026.  
  3027. You hesitate a moment longer, the but sound of shouting drags you back to the present. There's no time to consider the words - perhaps Flint can help you make sense of them.
  3028.  
  3029. You charge back toward the barricade...
  3030.  
  3031. ...to find the peasants fiercely engaged with the soldiers! They've been pushed almost to the edge of the docks. Only fifty men remain - the rest are in boats.
  3032.  
  3033. You are not surprised to see Flint defending the peasants. He probably wouldn't do anything other than leave on the last boat.
  3034.  
  3035. "Help!"
  3036.  
  3037. You glance back. Fredrick is pinned under a log. A Kanian solider is walking toward him with a sword and a smile...
  3038.  
  3039. You turn back toward the line to see Flint stumble and fall. A mace pounds into his backside!
  3040.  
  3041. But it clangs hard off his armor. Other men move to close the gap, and Flint scrambles to his feet. His face is coated in soot, and he looks exhausted.
  3042.  
  3043. You grab the commander in your hands...
  3044.  
  3045. ...and you throw him at his own soldiers!
  3046.  
  3047. The commander's heavy armor slams into the line pinning down Flint's position. He barrels over them, unconscious.
  3048.  
  3049. <An enemy commander! Save him for later!>
  3050.  
  3051. Flint is aghast as you soar by. You have time to see him nod and shout an order to some of the peasants, who drag the man back through the line.
  3052.  
  3053. But you delay has cost you...the enemy is nearly at Fredrick!
  3054.  
  3055. You leap ahead as fast as your shadows carry you...
  3056.  
  3057. But not fast enough. A knife sinks into Fredrick's backside...
  3058.  
  3059. ...you're there a second later, plowing through the offending soldier! He flies through the air and smashes into the side of a building. The wood cracks where he hits - and he slumps down, nearly dead.
  3060.  
  3061. You lift the beam of flaming wood off of Fredrick. He's comatose - not out, but totally shocked. The knife is still sticking out of his back. You're too unfamiliar with the specifics, so you leave it where it is and hoist him into the air, trying not to disturb his injury.
  3062.  
  3063. You charge at the enemy lines with the man in tow!
  3064.  
  3065. You slam into the enemy lines, relying on your natural strength and momentum to get you through!
  3066.  
  3067. Your attack instantly thrusts you into the midst of chaos. You shove, and get shoved back. You can't Ink while you're carrying Fredrick, and you have no choice but to take the hits. Your speed stutters. A spear gashes your right side!
  3068.  
  3069. You lose your grip on Fredrick. He tumbles down...but you're through the line! His body hits the stone of the docks hard, but he rolls only once before stopping. The knife has been ripped from his back, leaving an ugly wound.
  3070.  
  3071. Flint is there an in instant - and you take the opportunity to hop into his shadow. The line is in total chaos; between throwing the commander bodily and charging into it yourself, you're pretty sure no one knows exactly what the hell happened.
  3072.  
  3073. "Shit! He's bleed like crazy." Flint kneels down. "...this is bad. If I don't heal him right now, he's gone. But...that'll put me out of commission." Flint grits his teeth. "...I could cover for you. Say you're a magic spell I was saving for an emergency. But you'll have to get the us out of here. Or..." Flint swallows. "...I could -not- heal him. He defended the town...but there's a lot of lives I could save if..."
  3074.  
  3075. Flint is torn between his greater sense of responsibility and the dying man before him. You could probably sway him either way.
  3076.  
  3077. You find it an endearing testament to his character that he ignores his own recent history with Fredrick.
  3078.  
  3079. The lines have parted somewhat. The Kanians are regrouping for a final shock attack. You might not hold through another one...
  3080.  
  3081. <Heal him,> you say. <Tell them...that I'm a gift from Abigail.>
  3082.  
  3083. Flint nods. He looks up to the villagers and bellows like you wouldn't have believed him capable. "Men! Stand firm! Because there's something you have to know!"
  3084.  
  3085. Flint stands. The light inside him starts glowing. "Abigail wasn't a witch! I can sense it with my magic..." Some of the faces are surprised, but they're listening, caught up in hsi words after he's lead them through a life-or-death situation. "...a mage, yes, but not one to hurt her own town! Her people! She's sent us something...I can feel it!"
  3086.  
  3087. The shadow within Flint twists tight...it drinks...but it's as if it can't drink fast enough. His light just keeps growing, brighter, making you wince and retreat into the far reaches of his shadow.
  3088.  
  3089. "Abigail stands with you, even though you rejected her! Stand firm, and hold this line! Her gift is coming...watch for it! It will strike those invaders down!"
  3090.  
  3091. The horn sounds...
  3092.  
  3093. BAAARRROOOOOMMM
  3094.  
  3095. The Kanians charge the final circle of the peasants. Flint withdraws to the boat, dragging a nearly-lifeless Fredrick. He lays his hands on the man, and his light flares so bright your shadows vanish, clearly exposing you for all to see. The wounds on Fredrick's back ripple and roll and seal themselves up. Color floods back into his pale features.
  3096.  
  3097. Flint collapses, totally spent. The shadow thing rattles, then settles again.
  3098.  
  3099. You rise up to face the Kanian lines. With Flint's light gone, your shadows return in full force. You take the top of the villagers' formation. And both the defenders and the attackers are awed by your revealed presence - no stealth, no shadow, just darkness and death. You slam into the enemy line as more men withdraw onto the boats, drawing back into a tighter and tighter circle...
  3100.  
  3101. Flint has inspired the townspeople...and your sudden, dramatic appearance on their side drives them to greater strength...
  3102.  
  3103. ...but you, yourself, have been inspired by this man.
  3104.  
  3105. You widen yourself and attack, spearing your shadow at the enemy again and again. But for every soldier you cut down another takes his place. You attack, and attack, and attack, but it just isn't enough.
  3106.  
  3107. As the circle tightens, you'll run out of room for the villagers to retreat. And when that happens, getting a boat will be nearly impossible for any of them...the last left will inevitably be a bloodbath.
  3108.  
  3109. But you won't let that happen.
  3110.  
  3111. You stretch yourself wider, dangerously wide, straining to hold yourself so the villagers can escape. Your shadows still leap at the enemy soldiers, stabbing and unraveling as fast as you can will them, but you're a huge target. Spears and axes pierce your flesh. But for every axe you stop, you save a man's life.
  3112.  
  3113. You're pushed back, back to the brink. The last boat is already gone - your sense of time is totally shot by the fighting. You just have a vague sense to keep stabbing, keep defending. You panic when you realize you're out of room.
  3114.  
  3115. You fall into the water of the river. Exhausted, you're swept away...
  3116.  
  3117. ...the boat. You're almost there. You can see the glint of Flint's armor...if you can get an arm up on the wood!
  3118.  
  3119. Your shadow snags the edge of the boat. You drag yourself up.
  3120.  
  3121. Exhausted. You're totally exhausted. It's more than just your health...your feel tired of fighting, tired of thinking, tired of everything. Too much has happened to quickly...
  3122.  
  3123. ...you slunk down into Flint's shadow. And for the first time, sleep comes to you...a sort of half-awareness...drifting, senseless, but rather awake all the same...
  3124.  
  3125. You sit up.
  3126.  
  3127. The sun is high, almost noon? On either side of you are the widening banks of the river. The boat drifts with the current, though a few men are holding paddles to steer it true. Ahead, the town's flotilla forms a snake of wood in the middle of the water.
  3128.  
  3129. "...awake, huh?" You start. Flint turns to you. "Greetings."
  3130.  
  3131. "You know this...thing?" Fredrick asks.
  3132.  
  3133. You glance between the two men, uncertain of your position.
  3134.  
  3135. "...I knew that if I spoke of it, you'd condemn her for sure," Flint said. "Abigail sent this with me to the keep. The gargoyles would have killed me if not for her intervention. When she broke out of the gaol, like you, I thought myself tricked...but she helped us in the end. She was just afraid of misunderstanding."
  3136.  
  3137. Fredrick doesn't look convinced. "...I'm skeptical."
  3138.  
  3139. "Saved my life, it did," a man says.
  3140. "And mine."
  3141. "Make that three!" chimes in a younger voice. It's Joey. He made it - though he's a bit worse for the wear, with scraps and scratches up his arms and chin.
  3142.  
  3143. You notice another man in gleaming, overly-ornate armor, bound and silent toward the front of the boat. The commander.
  3144.  
  3145. <I've questions,> you say to Flint.
  3146.  
  3147. "I bet," Flint answers.
  3148.  
  3149. "That thing can talk?" Fredrick says.
  3150.  
  3151. "To those with magic," Flint covers quickly. He glances at Joey pointedly. "Otherwise, just pictures."
  3152.  
  3153. "...hmph. It saved us, maybe, but count me out of conversation." Fredrick retreats to the other end of the wide boat, eyeing the prisoner carefully. The other men, though seemingly grateful, shy away from your presence. That does provide you and Flint with a bit of privacy.
  3154.  
  3155. <Where are we, exactly?>
  3156.  
  3157. "The Tairns," Flint mutters quietly. "Jacob's Field is adjacent to a smaller river that feeds into it. It's the biggest river in Venia. It goes from Kelvere, down through the tip of Archon, near Vischon, through Arland, and down into the Empire of the Light. We're only a few hours from Evinbrook - that's the capital of Kelvere."
  3158.  
  3159. <...I believe I need a map.>
  3160.  
  3161. "I'll keep that in mind."
  3162.  
  3163. <Do you have the sword shard? And those keys?>
  3164.  
  3165. "They were on the boat long before we were driven back to the docks," Flint says. "I know better than to leave something like that lying around. But why do you ask?"
  3166.  
  3167. <The blade is of note. But something in the town spoke to me.>
  3168.  
  3169. Flint hunches lower. "...you mentioned something...on me. A creature. What did you mean?"
  3170.  
  3171. You tell Flint the details of what Adavan said - a mighty force of Spirit under the town. You match this with Abigail's tales of the "Nice Lady".
  3172.  
  3173. You begin to relate the words the Spirit sent to you...but you hesitate.
  3174.  
  3175. <...about the Spirit,> you begin.
  3176.  
  3177. You relate to him that is sounded like it was trapped and was calling for help. It mentioned several keys, but you didn't learn anything else.
  3178.  
  3179. Flint frowns. "...the keep...all that spirit magic...Jacob's Field...and..." He lowers his voice. "...a lich that fought in the Elementomachy. This isn't a coincidence. Something is there - something powerful, and possibly dangerous."
  3180.  
  3181. <...Flint...do you consider me a friend?>
  3182.  
  3183. Flint leans back in surprise. He considers your words carefully. "...frankly, Shadow," he begins, "you've shown more -humanity- in the past few days than I would have ever expected or believed possible. ...a sight more than one of my brothers...well." He stops, then shrugs. "If you're not a friend, I don't know what a friend is."
  3184.  
  3185. <...the spirit mentioned something else. It was calling a name...I think it was directed specifically at me.>
  3186.  
  3187. "What name?"
  3188.  
  3189. <Erebus.>
  3190.  
  3191. "WHAT?!"
  3192.  
  3193. The crew of the boat simultaneously turns to look at Flint. The knight flushes slight and coughs. "Ah, sorry."
  3194.  
  3195. A few men shake their heads, shrugging in a sort of what-can-you-do sort of way. Fredrick narrows his eyes, then looks out over the river bank. Joey stares at the two of you, intensely curious.
  3196.  
  3197. <What is Erebus?>
  3198.  
  3199. "Shadow," Flint says gravely. "Erebus is the shadow elemental. THE Shadow Elemental. The Lord of the Night. The Prince of the Moon. Regent of the Void, Consumer of Worlds. Bringer of Justice - well, the last one is only according to some."
  3200.  
  3201. <...sounds intimidating.>
  3202.  
  3203. "Considering your nature," Flint says, "I suppose...it mistook you?" Flint snorts. "If you were Erebus, we'd know about it. Even non-magical folk would be able to feel you like a lead weight on their backs. Well, that's what the histories say, anyway. The elementals vanished during the war."
  3204.  
  3205. <What exactly is this war?>
  3206.  
  3207. "...we've got plenty of time for history lessons. I'd rather know about the...uh...whatever you can see sitting inside me," Flint says.
  3208.  
  3209. You spend a few minutes carefully detailing your observations, including how it seems to thrive and stamp out his rising...efforts. Glory. Speeches, everything. You mention your failed attack during his speech back in the town hall.
  3210.  
  3211. "...and you couldn't hurt it?"
  3212.  
  3213. <My attack slipped through it as if it were air.> You eye Flint, putting a bit of focus into your senses. The creature is still there, unmoving. <I can see it now.>
  3214.  
  3215. Despite himself, Flint shivers. "...I feel like I have worms."
  3216.  
  3217. <That's not far from the truth.>
  3218.  
  3219. "But...if it's doing what you're saying..." Flint's face almost seems to crumble. He turns away. For a long time, he's silent.
  3220.  
  3221. You begin to wonder how long this thing has been inside of him...
  3222.  
  3223. "In that case," Flint starts. He turns back, and he's his usual self. "I've got to get rid of it. Shadow - there's a mage at my home, renowned and wise, and he never mentioned this to me. Which tells me, you're special, in your ability to see it. I have a feeling I'll need your help." Flint takes a breath. "If I can have it."
  3224.  
  3225. <...what about Abigail? I feel...a certain desire to go after her.>
  3226.  
  3227. "You know..." Flint looks into the distance. "I would have made certain she was treated well, but...she would have been..." He shakes his head. "Mages gifted in the four...ah, lesser, elements, are not as high regarded by many. Spirit and Shadow, especially. She would have been watched for the rest of her life. Well-taken care of, and educated, and comfortable...but used, and watched. As much as I loath leaving her in the hands of a lich, perhaps..." He shrugs. "You left her with him. If that isn't judgement enough for me, than nothing is."
  3228.  
  3229. <That you value my judgement and friendship...thank you.> It's all you can manage.
  3230.  
  3231. Flint nods. "That said...if you want to follow them, I will respect your choice. She would certainly enjoy your company." His smile fades as he looks down the river. "But these people need escorting, at least as far as Evinbrook. And if they're as far as Jacob's Field, they've already taken Westport. I'll need to meet with Lord Vellik on the subject of the invasion...he's the ruler of Kelvere. Our captive should prove quite valuable. Perhaps this...this can be the start of mending relations between Arland and Kelvere. Things have been growing more and more frayed, lately..."
  3232.  
  3233. <Who are you, exactly, to meet with Lords and speak of diplomacy?>
  3234.  
  3235. "The fourth son of the Lord of Dobshire, ruler of Arland," Flint says simply.
  3236.  
  3237. <...you're a prince?>
  3238.  
  3239. "The fourth son is not a prince," Flint says. "...neither are any of us. That is not how things work in Arland. But...I did...choose to leave, after...certain things came to pass. I wanted to strike out on my own." Flint punches his gauntlets together. "But now I know my failings were not my own. No - this thing curses me." Flint nods. "Perhaps Vellik can help. He is a shrewd and cunning man, but he cares for his people, and my allegiance would certainly be of value to him."
  3240.  
  3241. Flint looks back at you. "I could use you, Shadow. But...what do you want to do? You know next to nothing of yourself. Your nature is different...radically different. But perhaps my contacts would be of use in your personal investigations?"
  3242.  
  3243. <...as much as I want to accompany - >
  3244.  
  3245. Flint snaps his fingers. "Of course. You mentioned keys. What sort of keys?"
  3246.  
  3247. <...I imagine them as the one that opened the container with the shard of the sword,> you say. <Perhaps that very key opens two locks. But what makes you...?>
  3248.  
  3249. "There's a key like that in Dobshire," Flint says. "My father's. The Key of Arland...legend has it, it opens the vault to a legendary power, or treasure, or both...it's more a family heirloom with an interesting tale to back it, but it's been passed down from lord to lord before Arland solidified as a kingdom. Perhaps it's one of those keys?"
  3250.  
  3251. <You're trying to tempt me.>
  3252.  
  3253. "Well..." Flint looks sheepish, but then grows solemn. "I can see your desire to leave. But you're the only one that can see this thing inside me." He leans forward. "I...I must...I will be rid of it. Please, help me, my friend. And when the task is done, I will do everything in my power to assist your quest, whatever it may be - to find Abigail, to learn of yourself, what have you."
  3254.  
  3255. "I do not mean to pressure you into a decision," Flint says. "Only to communicate...how I feel."
  3256.  
  3257. You think hard...
  3258.  
  3259. ...and images of Abigail run through your mind. Her laugh...her voice. A young wizard trying to grow turnips, and accidentally sizzling them to ash...
  3260.  
  3261. You don't know much about the world. But somehow, you feel as though that simple dream is worth fighting for.
  3262.  
  3263. You turn back to face Flint.
  3264.  
  3265. You stop. Something's changed...
  3266.  
  3267. You feel your sight shift, warp...a sight that's different than before...a Spirit Sight.
  3268.  
  3269. You can see the parasite more clearly. Its mouth is sunk into Flint's soul, and its body winds down the length of his...
  3270.  
  3271. ...and a trail extends back from its tail. Whispy, ethereal, leading off into the distance and over the horizon. A funnel for the magic it drinks.
  3272.  
  3273. You feel a chill. This is no random creature. No odd curse.
  3274.  
  3275. This was placed with intent.
  3276.  
  3277. You communicate this, and your thoughts, to Flint.
  3278.  
  3279. "...I don't know what to say," he says. "Where is it leading?"
  3280.  
  3281. <Downriver. What direction is that?>
  3282.  
  3283. "Almost straight south."
  3284.  
  3285. <...I feel...as though it's Spirit-related. What element is your wizard?>
  3286.  
  3287. "Wind. Though he's quite diversified, capable of minor things in every element...well, not that he makes that public if it's one of the lesser four." Flint narrows his eyes. "I see where you're going with this. The answer is no."
  3288.  
  3289. <Adavan is the only expert in Spirit magic I know.>
  3290.  
  3291. "And I want nothing more to do with him."
  3292.  
  3293. <Then you're a fool,> you say. <And I mean that as a friend.>
  3294.  
  3295. "Some friend."
  3296.  
  3297. <Do you know anyone else that could guide in such a matter?>
  3298.  
  3299. "...well - "
  3300.  
  3301. <Do you, or do you not?>
  3302.  
  3303. Flint heaves a sigh. "...no."
  3304.  
  3305. <Then you have no choice.>
  3306.  
  3307. "...I wonder...where does it lead?"
  3308.  
  3309. <I'm not sure we want to know,> you say. <only that we want to cut it and be done with it.>
  3310.  
  3311. "...perhaps you're right." Flint nods. "Alright, Shadow. Let us go as far as Evinbrook. I would speak with Vellik, and finish this matter with...I suppose they're refugees, now."
  3312.  
  3313. <Yes.>
  3314.  
  3315. "Perhaps Vellik can aid us." Flint frowns. "Though I feel we won't get away without trading him back something of value. Likely, he'll want a promise of some sort from me. Sealed in ink. He's that sort of man." Flint looks back to you. "So. Are you with me that far? Then back to..." Flint's face contorts as if he's smelled something rather nasty. "...Adavan?"
  3316.  
  3317. <Let it be so,> you say.
  3318.  
  3319. "Good. Now, you wanted to know about the Elementomachy..." Flint frowns for a moment, thinking of where to begin.
  3320.  
  3321. "Essentially, magic was spinning out of control," Flint says. "The more magic, the more instability. The more instability, the more magic. It grew, and grew, until sentient beings of each element formed - the Elementals.
  3322.  
  3323. "Oh...I always forget their names," Flint says. "but everyone knows the two most important. Hyperion, the Lord of Light, and Erebus, the Lord of Shadow.
  3324.  
  3325. "The elementals quickly gained followers - worshipers, even. The creatures used their great powers to bring boons to their peoples. In time...tensions formed. The elements that so naturally opposed each other kept their distance, but their people did not.
  3326.  
  3327. "Things came to a head when Erebus began calling himself the one true god. Lines were drawn in the sand...four elements on each side, allied to take down their opposites. Shadow, Spirit, Water, Earth. And Light, Lightning, Fire, and Wind."
  3328.  
  3329. Flint sighs. "Many normal people and mages were granted powers by their patron elementals, making them what were called Van'Ath...I think that means servant in Elvish, or something. But these super-human armies clashed alongside great armies of normal men, and finally, the elementals joined battle themselves. The world was pretty much ripped apart.
  3330.  
  3331. "Eventually, to prevent further destruction, Hyperion sacrificed himself," Flint says. "His allies joined him...and they effectively canceled out the other elements. Undid the instability, culled back the actual quantity of magic in the world itself. But they planned it well - their enemies were mostly destroyed in the annihilation, but their own armies remained.
  3332.  
  3333. "The battle continued for some time after that, until all were greatly reduced. But in the end, the forces of the light won." Flint slaps his knees. "700 years later, here we are. Still watched by the angels in the Ring City - that's their island fortress to the south of the the capital of the Empire of the Light. The capital itself is Heavensgate."
  3334.  
  3335. <Where do I fall into this?> You ask.
  3336.  
  3337. "...perhaps..." Flint grows quite serious. "...a sign. Instability is returning once more...you're not Erebus...more like one of his servants. Not feral, like a normal elemental." Flint looks up. "If that's so...we're on the edge of something."
  3338.  
  3339. <That doesn't sound good.>
  3340.  
  3341. "...no. No, it does not."
  3342.  
  3343. <...does all the world bow to the angels?>
  3344.  
  3345. "...hardly," Flint says. "Kan-Abar is accepting of the elves, who wield great earth magics...this puts them at odds with the Empire. And its allies - Arland, Ulund, and Kelvere." Flint shrugs. "Kelvere has been drifting lately...but this attack will no doubt drive them back the other way. And then, the Elvish Isles themselves, far to the east. Independent is an understatement. And there's Atlantis, just west of the Empire - they're neutral to most things, keep to themselves. Now, Felnoir, that's in the center of the continent, and home to the Great Forest. They take all kinds there - and the Empire detests all non-humans. Mostly, they look the other way, but it's always a source of friction."
  3346.  
  3347. Flint's face darkens. "...and to the north, past the great Valendrak peaks...once named Temerland, renamed Vampiria 150 years ago. Ruled by the Black Lady. A bastion of the shadow." He looks at you. "And not the good kind."
  3348.  
  3349. <...I could sorely use that map.>
  3350.  
  3351. Flint chuckles. "We'll get you one."
  3352.  
  3353. You ride in silence for a time. Flint's expression slowly changes as he thinks. Eventually, it settles on something grim.
  3354.  
  3355. <You are not pleased to go to Adavan.>
  3356.  
  3357. "Gee, how'd you guess?"
  3358.  
  3359. You send Flint an image; an image of him skipping hand in hand in a meadow with Adavan, with Abigail and yourself following behind, throwing rose petals.
  3360.  
  3361. Flint bursts out laughing.
  3362.  
  3363. "What?" Fredrick asks over the group. "Are you going to tell me that...that thing, has a sense of humor?"
  3364.  
  3365. Flint has to struggle to get his words out through his smirk. "Would you believe me if I said yes?"
  3366.  
  3367. Fredrick's face darkens. "Forgive me if I don't feel like laughing, considering we just lost a hundred lives and our entire home."
  3368.  
  3369. Flint sobers quickly at that. "I meant no offense."
  3370.  
  3371. "...whether you meant or not, makes no difference," Fredrick finishes. And he turns back around.
  3372.  
  3373. Shadow Quest Chapter 9
  3374. The hours pass lazily...
  3375.  
  3376. ...and the riverbank starts to change. You see houses, farms more frequently. Clusters of homes dot the countryside. Soon, they've become regular occasions, and a road joins the side of the river, winding between hills.
  3377.  
  3378. "Evinbrook is actually one of the most populous cities in the world," Flint comments. "It's just very spread out because of the space. We should be just - " He stops. "There is is."
  3379.  
  3380. You gaze upon Evinbrook...the home of Duke Vellik.
  3381.  
  3382. You stare up into the sky. What looks like a flying boat is steaming up through the air, circling the fortress. <What is that thing?>
  3383.  
  3384. "Airship," Flint says. "There are only 27 in the entire world, as there's only 27 dynamos left that are capable of powering them. Artifacts made by the elementals. Duke Vellik owns four - one always on post here. Two constantly moving between Evinbrook and Detson - that's the mining city north of Jacob's Field," Flint clarifies. "It's the biggest source of iron in the world, and it's perfected into fine steel right here. The envy of the rest of Venia's armies. And then, the last airship is usually traveling between here and Dobshire and Heavensgate, ferrying officials. The river is used for mundane trade."
  3385.  
  3386. <It sounds as though the resources give Kelvere a powerful advantage.>
  3387.  
  3388. "Indeed. They might be on their heels at the moment, but ultimately, Kelvere will defeat Kan-Abar and retake Westport. Especially with Arland's help, which I'd expect my father to give."
  3389.  
  3390. There's a few minutes until the boats reach the docks outside the duke's fortress.
  3391.  
  3392. "My sword, yes. My armor is a family piece. The enchantments were done in Arland."
  3393.  
  3394. <What do you think about Joey?>
  3395.  
  3396. "Him? Why?"
  3397.  
  3398. <I think he'd make a good squire.>
  3399.  
  3400. Flint seems surprised, then frowns, then purses his lips. "...well...I suppose it's...perhaps I'll mention that to his parents." Flint looks at you. "I tried to scare the shit out of him back at the keep to help him keep his guard up, but he did well during the battle. Saved a man's life, killed at least three. There's some potential, with training."
  3401.  
  3402. <Would you ask Fredrick about the spirit elemental under the town?>
  3403.  
  3404. "Hmm. Perhaps I'd better do that."
  3405.  
  3406. Flint makes his way over to Fredrick.
  3407.  
  3408. "Something I've been meaning to ask you."
  3409.  
  3410. Fredrick doesn't respond for a moment. He slowly lifts his gaze from the water. "...yes?"
  3411.  
  3412. "A lot happened in Jacob's Field," Flint says. "Too much for it to be a coincidence. I was wondering if you knew of anything about the town's history that stands out...any old ruins, legends? Something a leader such as yourself would need to know."
  3413.  
  3414. Fredrick seems suitably flattered by Flint referring to him as a 'leader'. "...well...there's the old tale from the Elementomachy. Jacob's Field was a bastion of the Spirit Elemental. Lucky for us, the forces of Fire came to free the people after the Spirit allied itself with the Shadow Lord. There was quite a battle, but ultimately, the spirit retreated." Fredrick shrugs. "Other than that, I don't know anything specific. Why do you ask?"
  3415.  
  3416. "Curious as to the source of the problem," Flint said. "I expect the duke will be after some answers."
  3417.  
  3418. "Mmm."
  3419.  
  3420. Fredrick turns away, and it doesn't seem as if he has more to say.
  3421.  
  3422. "Did John ever mention anything about it?"
  3423.  
  3424. Fredrick just cuts Flint with a look, then turns away.
  3425.  
  3426. It seems the subject of his brother is a sore spot...
  3427.  
  3428. Flint walks over and sits back next to you.
  3429.  
  3430. <Flint. What happens if we ARE on the edge of something big? Something bigger than either of us? What happens if Erebus shows up tomorrow and tells me I'd better be a loyal servant, and that he wants revenge on the world for rejecting him?>
  3431.  
  3432. "...you're a pessimist, aren't you?" Flint says. "Do you always imagine the worst possible outcome?"
  3433.  
  3434. <I have to account for every possibility.>
  3435.  
  3436. Flint sighs. "The angels would destroy...well. In-between running the empire, they seek out and reduce latent magic. It would have only been a matter of time before Jacob's Field was dealt with. They try to prevent the elementals from manifesting again. It's been working for 700 years." Flint looks at you pointedly. "...and maybe they're starting to run out of room to maneuver."
  3437.  
  3438. <...if it meant stopping another war,> you say, <would you take action against me?>
  3439.  
  3440. Flint looks at you. "I'd hope, that if it meant stopping another war, you'd do something about it yourself that would stop me from having to make that choice."
  3441.  
  3442. <Were there others like me? Sentient spirits?>
  3443.  
  3444. "...I don't know," Flint says. "There are stories about the Fire Elemental that are similar. It was always surrounded by flaming sprites and motes that were as intelligent as people. I assume you're something along those lines."
  3445.  
  3446. Your boat, the last, pulls into the docks. You duck into Sir Flint's shadow.
  3447.  
  3448. There's already a commotion up on the stone. City guards are rapidly collecting and organizing the townsfolk with practiced precision. You get the feeling that this has happened before, but it's clear they're well trained. Their well-maintained armor glistens and gleams without a creak.
  3449.  
  3450. The prisoner is quickly offloaded. The man makes a show of protesting his rough treatment, demanding recognition and ransom as his status demands. He's about as ostentatious as his colorful helmet. The guards shuffle him into the castle without much ado.
  3451.  
  3452. "Where's the creature?" Fredrick asks. He's turned around, and his eyes are suspicious. "Where did it go? Sir Flint, it was near you last."
  3453.  
  3454. "...I think it must have vanished," Flint says. "Perhaps returned to Abigail?"
  3455.  
  3456. "...hmph."
  3457.  
  3458. A primly dressed man walks up to Flint and Fredrick as they disembark. "Mayor. I'm sad to see you again so soon under these circumstances."
  3459.  
  3460. "So am I. Can I be of aid?"
  3461.  
  3462. "Runners are being sent to the duke with details of the situation. We saw you coming from a long way off. Stay with your people, keep them calm. We'll find places for you. There's plenty of work to do in preparation for the counter assault. Winter is long off, yet."
  3463.  
  3464. "I will." Fredrick looks at Flint. "...you stood by my town in its time of need. I thank you." He marches away before Flint can respond.
  3465.  
  3466. The man bows low to Flint. "Sir Flint. The duke wishes to speak with you."
  3467.  
  3468. "I wasn't aware the duke knew I was here."
  3469.  
  3470. "He was informed when you passed through on your way north. He pays well for such information."
  3471.  
  3472. "I see." Flint nods. "Take me to him."
  3473.  
  3474. You decide to remain in Flint's shadow. You're curious as to the nature of this Duke Vellik.
  3475.  
  3476. You're taken through the castle. It's a grand place, arched ceilings, thick pillars dotted with arrow slits, polished floors layered with carpets. It's a splendid combination of aesthetics, functionality, and practical defense. Your senses can pick up hums and throbs of magic here and there - magical items, and mages, no doubt.
  3477.  
  3478. You ascend the stairs and reach a more cozy set of halls. The messenger bows out of Flint's way before a set of doors. He walks in.
  3479.  
  3480. Sitting in an ornate painted chair at a desk stuffed with quills and stacks of parchment is a man in lustrous red robes. He glances up from his work, then stands. "Lord Flint. Or should I say, Sir Flint. How goes the revival of the Aeolus's Order?
  3481.  
  3482. "...of course, you'd know," Flint says. He bows. "Well met, Duke Vellik."
  3483.  
  3484. "Well met indeed." Vellik leans forward. "I hear you played no small part in defending my people. For that, I owe you much. It is no small thing for you to risk your life in such a manner. I'd tell you not to be so foolish, but if what I hear of you is accurate, you'd tell me I was the foolish one."
  3485.  
  3486. Flint smiles. "I just might."
  3487.  
  3488. "Tell me everything," Vellik says.
  3489.  
  3490. Flint pauses for a moment. His head shifts toward you slightly, and you realize he wants your opinion.
  3491.  
  3492. <Leave Adavan out of it,> you say. <...use your own judgement in mentioning me.>
  3493.  
  3494. "How do you feel about the Empire?" Flint asks.
  3495.  
  3496. "Hmph. Would you like the usual political bluster, or the truth?"
  3497.  
  3498. "...well, the truth, of course."
  3499.  
  3500. "I detest the empire," Vellik says. He gestures to the side. "Kelvere would be better to stand alone and make a trading partner of Kan-Abar, and strengthen ties with Imil and Felnoir. If the northern nations forge an alliance, we don't need the empire's military strength to stand firm against the Black Lady, and we certainly don't need the interference and micromanagement of individuals blessed with the light that call themselves holy angels to win weaker minds."
  3501.  
  3502. Flint looks taken aback. "...I see."
  3503.  
  3504. "And now," Vellik says, "let's trade. My honesty for yours."
  3505.  
  3506. Flint nods. He begins the story...and tells everything. You take the prominent role of Abigail's accidental familiar, summoned by her powers. You and Flint killed the lich attacking the town, and then worked together to defend it during the attack.
  3507.  
  3508. "...has Westport fallen?" Flint asks.
  3509.  
  3510. "Yes," Vellik says. "Our aim is to take it back, but with Jacob's Field fired, they've finally penetrated to the river. At this rate, the country will be divided. We have to strike back, and hard. But as to this sentient shadow...what became of it? And the girl?"
  3511.  
  3512. "She fled the town," Flint says. "The shadow was with us for a time, but I missed it when we arrived at the docks. I assume she summoned it back."
  3513.  
  3514. "I see. Well, I'd like to -"
  3515.  
  3516. "That's enough, Thomas."
  3517.  
  3518. Flint flinches at the new voice, surprised. Duke Vellik stops, then nods toward the back of the room, and withdraws to a corner.
  3519.  
  3520. A crackle of lightning sparks in your senses...
  3521.  
  3522. ...a man steps from behind a darkened curtain - a curtain that gleams bright gold and silver with the snap and spark of Lightning.
  3523.  
  3524. A man emerges. He is dressed all in black. His hair is as sharp and trim as the rest of him. His soul flares with lightning, snapping, crackling, a match for Flint's blinding Light, a twin with Abigail's cloudy, smokey Spirit.
  3525.  
  3526. "I am Duke Vellik," the man says.
  3527.  
  3528. Flint looks between the two men, aghast. "But then - "
  3529.  
  3530. "My double, Thomas. I can't afford to be exposed for things like this. The empire's assassins are...proficient." A bit of static sparks up his hand like arc lightning. he clenches his fist, and it stills. "Now then, Sir Donovan Flint, fourth son of Lord Flint...why is there a sentient shadow sitting on the floor behind you?"
  3531.  
  3532. Flint gulps. He tries to form words...
  3533.  
  3534. ...the black thing twists, smothering him before he can get started. You feel concern welling up within you...
  3535.  
  3536. You slowly edge out from Flint's shadow. You use Mimic to make yourself less...threatening, contorting into the vague form of a human. While shadowy, you think you've done a fine job of balancing your appearance...with a bit of intimidation thrown in for good measure.
  3537.  
  3538. <I mean you or yours no harm, Duke Vellik. But it is true that Sir Flint has avoided outing me in my entirety.>
  3539.  
  3540. Flint is about as expressive as a hunk of marble. Vellik smiles, but you can feel his magic crawling on his skin, ready. "A talking shadow. Fascinating. Are you the girl's familiar, or do you exist by your own merit?"
  3541.  
  3542. You get the strong, absolute feeling that this is not a man to be trifled with.
  3543.  
  3544. <My nature is something I am still trying to discern,> you say. <I appeared in this world but a few days past. If you mean that I am a spell of hers, then no...but I do have a strong concern for her.>
  3545.  
  3546. "Where is the lich?"
  3547.  
  3548. <...in friendship with them both, he retreated from the battle with her in his care,> you say. <I stopped him from taking action, and he agreed to watch over her and tutor her to better control her abilities. They have gone north, far away...from the place called the Ring City.>
  3549.  
  3550. Vellik nods. He smiles. And then he begins to chuckle. "Incredible. It's true, then - magic has continued to build. The angels cannot forestall the forces of nature themselves." Vellik folds his hands together. "What is your name?"
  3551.  
  3552. <I suspect that naming the only sentient shadow would be an exercise in futility.
  3553. Call me what you will, but I am I, the one and only.>
  3554.  
  3555. Vellik smiles. "As you would, Shadow."
  3556.  
  3557. Vellik walks over to the wall, and he rips down a banner of cloth. "War is coming. We are at the center of it."
  3558.  
  3559. Stretched across the wall is a map. The word Venia is scrawled across the top. It's covered with markings, notes, the positions of troops, even the names of important people. But below that is a simple physical map of the world.
  3560.  
  3561. "The time has come for Kelvere to stake its ground independent of the empire once and for all," Vellik says. "I plan to use the war against the Kanians to my advantage. Of course, the war was started by the empire in an effort to reduce Kelvere's burgeoning strength, but that won't - "
  3562.  
  3563. "What?!" Flint asks. "The empire isn't perfect, but it wouldn't - "
  3564.  
  3565. "Naive as reported," Vellik says smoothly. "The Lord of Kan-Abar, Nulis, was supported and installed by the angels. Otherwise, he never would have managed to supplant his brother. You must have seen it - Kan-Abar's increasing belligerence toward Arland and Kelvere? They're trying to scare us into staying united. They need us to fight the Black Lady while they continue to reduce the magic in the world, because..." He looks at you. "...because it's getting out of hand. Because it's finally slipping from their fingers. Kelvere will ride this wave to the top."
  3566.  
  3567. Vellik continues to pin you with his gaze. "A living shadow. A harbinger of Erebus, perhaps? I can sense your strength. I feared your reaction, but banked on this - and my gamble, I feel, was well placed. Work with me, Shadow, and your girl will have all the protection and tutledge she needs."
  3568.  
  3569. "What the hell is this?" Flint asks. "Why are you telling me all this? Why would you let me - "
  3570.  
  3571. Flint stops. A mote of fear passes over his face.
  3572.  
  3573. "Oh, relax," Vellik says. "I've no intention of harming you. Besides, I own you. If it was revealed you were traveling with a living Shadow, you'd be ostracized from your family and hunted down by the empire."
  3574.  
  3575. Flint gulps.
  3576.  
  3577. "I'm a man to seize opportunities," Vellik continues. "And this...THIS is an opportunity. I've much work to do. Shadow, you could be the pebble to tip the scales."
  3578.  
  3579. Vellik turns toward the map. "Imil. Kelvere. Kan-Abar, once it is subdued, and Nulis is replaced...and Felnoir. The Northern Alliance will face the south and flaunt its independence, and the Angels can only come and put the lie to the preaching if they try to shove us back in line by force."
  3580.  
  3581. Vellik turns to Flint. "...and perhaps, Arland? Oh, the jewel puppet of the empire turning against its master. It would be a glorious comeuppance."
  3582.  
  3583. "Arland is no puppet," Flint says sharply.
  3584.  
  3585. "You delude yourself, -Sir- Flint."
  3586.  
  3587. "My father - "
  3588.  
  3589. "You father has been invalid for three years. Your brother rules now, and he bends to every beck and call of the angels." Vellik looks at you. "What do you want, Shadow? What price for the alliance of nature's assassin?"
  3590.  
  3591. <An alliance with you? You're a lightning mage. What - >
  3592.  
  3593. Vellik waves a hand. "Our elements clash. So do the colors teal and pink. I care not for petty idiocy, categories such as "lesser" and "greater" elements. I could do with a lich. I could do with a Spirit mage. I could do with every element on my side."
  3594.  
  3595. It's quiet.
  3596.  
  3597. "What are you trying to do, exactly?" Flint asks. "What is the point?"
  3598.  
  3599. "Why, simple," Vellik says. "Kan-Abar is raging out of control. The Black Lady grows more daring by the day. The angels are getting desperate - I can taste it in the air, and now I know why. They're afraid that their plans aren't working.
  3600.  
  3601. "My people." Vellik narrows his eyes. "My people will be caught in between these great, grinding rocks - unless we are the rock that grinds. Kelvere must surround itself with powerful allies for the coming storm. I admit..." A snap of electricity crosses Vellik's arms. "I foster the storm, in part. I welcome it. But first and foremost, justice and peace will replace this hypocritical theocracy."
  3602.  
  3603. Vellik faces you. "I give you a home, and shelter for your friends. Honor. I have many contacts...we can learn more about you, and how you can use your unique status to greatest advantage.
  3604.  
  3605. "You haven't been around long, Shadow. Let me tel you." Vellik's face softens. He looks away. "The things you wish to protect...what you do is never enough. You must do more than what is necessary. You must account for all possibilities." He looks back at you. "Surely, the things I've discussed are worth your attention?"
  3606.  
  3607. <Might I have a moment with Sir Flint?>
  3608.  
  3609. "Of course," Vellik says. "Use the joining room."
  3610.  
  3611. You retreat with Flint into the offered door. Suspicious, you extend your senses around you, but you can't feel any hint of some sort of magical eavesdropping...but then, you've been mistaken in the past.
  3612.  
  3613. <Don't speak, just in case,> you say to Flint. <What do you think?>
  3614.  
  3615. Flint thinks hard. His brow is furrowed. He starts to shake his head, stops. He ends with a shrug.
  3616.  
  3617. <Is there another place that would accept me as he has?>
  3618.  
  3619. Flint licks his lips. He doesn't move for a long time. But when he does, it's to shake his head in a definite no.
  3620.  
  3621. <...Abigail needs protection. He could offer it.>
  3622.  
  3623. Flint accepts this with a tilt of his head. But he gazes shiftily at the door back to the other room.
  3624.  
  3625. <I don't trust him fully, either. Not yet. But perhaps we take a day to think on it?>
  3626.  
  3627. Flint looks thoughtful, then nods to you.
  3628.  
  3629. You walk back into the other room.
  3630.  
  3631. <Duke Vellik. Your offer is...intriguing. A place for all elements - that is something I can imagine. But though your vision is strong, I'd like to take time to consider my decision, at least until tomorrow. And, before you say more, I've promised to assist my friend, Flint, in a certain quest.>
  3632.  
  3633. "Of course," Vellik says. "I'd be skeptical if you jumped into my arms. But what quest of the good knight do you pursue? Perhaps I can help."
  3634.  
  3635. <I doubt you don't know it already, duke. Regardless, I shall refrain from talking about his pursuits. It isn't my quest to discuss.>
  3636.  
  3637. The duke smiles. "You learn fast. Well, Sir Flint?"
  3638.  
  3639. "It is something I must handle on my own," Flint says firmly.
  3640.  
  3641. He cocks his head. "A day to decide, then. Sir Flint, you shall have my best guest room, and Shadow, you may feel free to claim the adjoining suite. Until we can afford public exposure, which is a rather distant destination...we'll keep this under wraps." Vellik grins a conniving but amused grin. "Though if I'm perfectly honest, the amenities you'd require, if any, are beyond even my not-insignificant intellect."
  3642.  
  3643. <I'm exceptionally hungry,> you say.
  3644.  
  3645. "I wouldn't have expected you to get hungry."
  3646.  
  3647. Flint snorts. "Not in the way you'd expect, either."
  3648.  
  3649. Vellik raises an eyebrow.
  3650.  
  3651. <Food. A lot of it. And frankly, I'd appreciate further discussion with you, duke. I need information, as well.>
  3652.  
  3653. "A meal and a nice chat over a game of stones sounds like an excellent plan," the duke says. "I've some matters to attend to, so, in a few hours. You're free to move about as you please - I'll have a man summon you when the time arrives."
  3654.  
  3655. Flint nods. You begin to walk out of the room.
  3656.  
  3657. "And, Sir Flint."
  3658.  
  3659. Flint turns. "My lord?"
  3660.  
  3661. "Two points. A revival of Aeolus's Order - one aligned with Kelvere - would be as great an event as the allegiance of a shadow. I believe we could accomplish great things." Vellik smiles a thin, knowing smile that makes you extremely nervous. "And if you have need of assistance on your quest...perhaps a little Lightning could deal with Spirit."
  3662.  
  3663. You leave the chamber.
  3664.  
  3665. The prim man that guided you up to the room leads you to your quarters. You have a suit adjoining with Flint's.
  3666.  
  3667. Flint closes the door. He walks over to a table and slumps into a chair. "...by the light, that was tense. That man frightens me."
  3668.  
  3669. <That lightning put me a little on edge.>
  3670.  
  3671. Flint nods, then slouches nearly half-off his seat and yawns deeply. Suddenly, you realize your friend is exhausted - he's been up for hours, fought ghouls, defended a town against an invading army, and if you know him, likely took little rest on the boats in the name of vigilance.
  3672.  
  3673. You begin to wonder what sort of a man he'd be without a magical parasite latched onto his soul.
  3674.  
  3675. "I need a rest." Flint walks over to the bed, stripping pieces of his armor across the floor as he goes. He's out like a light before you can say a word.
  3676.  
  3677. Perhaps he deserves a good nap.
  3678.  
  3679. You're fascinated by the architecture around you. You set off to explore the castle.
  3680.  
  3681. It's a maze-like place - probably by intention. You wander carpeted halls, across bare stone, and up and down spiral staircases. Guards are very frequent, and servants even more frequent.
  3682.  
  3683. It's easy to keep in the shadows. with so many walls and nooks and pieces of furniture. Mundane eyes simply roll over you without notice. You feel balls of magic bobbing about...probably mages. You move so as to avoid crossing their paths.
  3684.  
  3685. You discover what appears to be a large library. There are a few balls of magic, inside, though, so you pass it by, noting it for later.
  3686.  
  3687. There's a dungeon lower down, but plenty of guards. You make a note of it.
  3688.  
  3689. A tower window gives you a look at the airship dock. It's set along a piece of land that juts out over the river to the side of the castle. The steaming craft is abuzz with activity, mostly the loading and unloading of cargo. You can feel a burning ball of magic on the inside of the hull.
  3690.  
  3691. You stop at a corner to consider your next move. A few guards are having a conversation down the hall...
  3692.  
  3693. You lean toward the guards...
  3694.  
  3695. "...mers just in from some river town. Jack's Field or something."
  3696.  
  3697. "That's the third group this week," another guard says. "What's the duke doing?"
  3698.  
  3699. "Planning."
  3700.  
  3701. "He's always planning."
  3702.  
  3703. "Planning out the counter attack," the man adds. "Just you wait. My brother always tells me stories about when the duke personally lead a battalion up at Wallfront on the frontier. That was before he was even a duke, mind you." The guard lowers his voice. "Here's the thing about him. He's always playing games, always thinking, changing pace, that sort of thing. Gets his opponents on his road. And just when they think they're starting to see through the tricks, he brings out the big guns and smashes their heads in."
  3704.  
  3705. The other guard smiles. "Damn glad he's my duke, and not the other way around. I'd be shitting my pants if I was a kanian."
  3706.  
  3707. "How 'bout those hicks, though?" one guard says. "Practically falling over themselves worshipping the light. One saw our water mage heal a man and nearly had a had a heart attack getting over to tell him off. I mean, he's saving lives."
  3708.  
  3709. "Duke's right about that," the man says. "The war was 700 years ago. A man does good, a man does good. Don't need some angel telling me what's good and bad when I can see it plain for myself."
  3710.  
  3711. The others nod grimly. Their conversation turns to less interesting things - the pretty servant girls they've been trying to land in the sack.
  3712.  
  3713. You briefly wonder what the metaphor "land in the sack" refers to, then shrug to yourself and decide to explore elsewhere...
  3714.  
  3715. ...you decide to start with the dungeons. Perhaps the prisoners there will give you some insight as to the nature of the duke's justice...
  3716.  
  3717. You sneak into the dungeons. They reek of shit and piss grown over with mold.
  3718.  
  3719. This doesn't particularly bother you.
  3720.  
  3721. More importantly, they're very dim. You feel secure in your stealth.
  3722.  
  3723. You hear a shriek as a whip snaps. A man is lashing another. You slide and slither past a row of cells. A few have occupants - and they generally look the part, ugly, brutish men that are probably guilty of more than what they were locked up for. There's a few less-obvious types, but there's nothing to say whether they're innocent or not. Despite the conditions, there's a regular posting of guards, and you see one giving out bread and water. A few prisoners even get soup.
  3724.  
  3725. "Two more days, Harold," a guard says. He sets a bowl inside the bars of the man's cell.
  3726.  
  3727. The occupant looks relatively harmless. He nods up and down. "...can't wait. I won't be thieving again, I swear."
  3728.  
  3729. "Just remember the second offense is worth your off-hand." The guard walks away.
  3730.  
  3731. It seems you've explored anything of note here. There's nothing incriminating of the duke's policies.
  3732.  
  3733. You feel a faint sense of magic lower down in the dungeon. It's probably a mage.
  3734.  
  3735. Your sense of curiosity gets the better of you. You sneak down lower into the dungeons.
  3736.  
  3737. The dungeons become progressively...cleaner?
  3738.  
  3739. The smell starts to fade back. The torches now all have nice brackets. Oddly enough, the rows of cells transitions into a hall with doors. Perhaps a place to keep more important -guests-?
  3740.  
  3741. One door has four guards posted outside of it. You hear footsteps behind you can duck into the shadow under a brazier. A man comes by with a tray of food. The guards open the door for him.
  3742.  
  3743. You hear a voice from beyond the door. "About time! Where is the duke? I demand an audience!"
  3744.  
  3745. He continues to berate the food man.
  3746.  
  3747. The sense of magic has grown stronger...it's further under the castle. It feels muffled, somehow. Definitely not a person. Perhaps its just the distance. Then again, the castle likely has magical defenses to bolster its strength...
  3748.  
  3749. You decide to leave the dungeon and move back toward the library.
  3750.  
  3751. The library is a neatly square room with only one story. Shelves of books are split into several sections. A few balls of magic are scattered about in the shelves and sitting at tables...you should probably be careful.
  3752.  
  3753. You look into the shelves about geography and politics.
  3754.  
  3755. A few books catch your eye.
  3756.  
  3757. Expanding Vampiria
  3758. Atlantis - A Watery Road
  3759. Archon and the Empire - The Long Armistice
  3760.  
  3761. Archon and the Empire - The Long Armistice
  3762.  
  3763. Any discussion of the prevailing tensions between these two great kingdoms is necessarily rooted in their founding...
  3764.  
  3765. You skim past a bit of introductory bits.
  3766.  
  3767. The foundation of the two major kingdoms of the first centuries after the Elementomachy was set by the deciding battles between the Hyperion's Host, Aeolus's Order, and the remnants of the Black Hand and the Spirit Union. In short order, the Black hand the Aeolus's remaining knights destroyed one another; the one using the atmosphere itself as a last-ditch defense but ultimately causing the instability which still plagues airships to this day, and prevents much forward progress being made on modern wind element-related research. The Sky-Severing itself ultimately dampened the long-distance influence of the Empire, perhaps, in the long run, allowing Archon to persist longer than it would have otherwise...
  3768.  
  3769. ...you skim a bit more.
  3770.  
  3771. Today, Archon is a refuge for many mages, and they make no lawful discrimination between each element. This liberal policy has since been adopted by Kan-Abar, though more conservative factions such as the elves and imperial-aligned countries Arland and Uland remain staunchly opposed to such acts. Archon relies on its magical might to maintain its long-decayed borders, and the threat of a magic-heavy war ensures that the Empire respects the armistice. Archon itself has grown more isolated over time, and concerns itself little with external politics aside from a token force donated to the frontier. The country and people focus more on self-improvement and fortification against what is seen as an inevitable attack by the empire. Whether these concerns are justified remains to be seen.
  3772.  
  3773. You move on to another section of the library...
  3774.  
  3775. ...and you come across a fiction section. Hmm.
  3776.  
  3777. Abigail flits across your mind...perhaps she'd like a story?
  3778.  
  3779. Which one would she like?
  3780.  
  3781. The Hero of the Light
  3782. The Magic Turnip
  3783. The Zombie That Could Talk
  3784.  
  3785. You decide to take the Magic Turnip and The Zombie That Could Talk.
  3786.  
  3787. Heroes of the Light sounds cliched. And certainly no young friend of yours needs that sort of rubbish around.
  3788.  
  3789. You move on to the next shelf...
  3790.  
  3791. ...hmm. It seems to all be magic-related.
  3792.  
  3793. Duke Vellik isn't fool enough to leave spellbooks lying around, but there is plenty on random magical phenomenon...
  3794.  
  3795. Keystone of Atlantis
  3796. The Sky-Sever
  3797. Nelmar
  3798.  
  3799. You decide to skim all three books. Because, why not? Besides, you'll read them more later.
  3800.  
  3801. Keystone of Atlantis
  3802.  
  3803. The Keystone refers to the magical artifact discovered approximately 200 years ago by Tilian Deva, the founder of Atlantis. The Atlantians by tradition lived nomadic lives in their swampy homeland, and many still do - but the stone provided a means to purify and produce vast quantities of fresh water. Ironically, the swamp held large amounts of water, but most of it was stagnant and undrinkable. The keystone has allowed for the rapid development and success of the city of Atlantis, giving rise to a kingdom heavily reliant on water magic just next-door to the Empire of the Light, much to the chagrin of the Ring City. However, Atlantis has been consistently benevolent, pioneering an innovative exchange program between its nobles and those of the empire to reduce these tensions, as well as donating many mages to the Frontier. The origins of the Keystone itself are still unknown.
  3804.  
  3805. The introduction ends with a listing of several chapters. It seems the book is also a brief history of Atlantis...
  3806.  
  3807. The Sky-Sever
  3808.  
  3809. Aeolus's Order, pressed back to their stronghold above the Great Forest by the Black Hand, used this massive spell as a last-resort maneuver against the invading forces of the Black Hand.
  3810.  
  3811. It was wildly successful - but the backlash almost completely annihilated the order itself.
  3812.  
  3813. The Sky-Sever can be compared to a magical dynamo, which is a sort of magical singularity: a self-sustaining feedback loop of magical energy and physical instability. The Sky-Sever itself was a spell so strong that it literally turned the air above Venia into a permanent dynamo. Anything that attempts to fly - disconnected from the ground - for more than a minute or so is quickly attacked by winds capable of ripping apart solid steel. As such, much of an airship's power goes toward magical shielding, and the hull of airships has to be reinforced by adamantium to withstand the pressure.
  3814.  
  3815. The phenomenon was eventually named the Sky-Sever by researches out of Archon, aptly for its severing the denizens of Venia from access to the sky.
  3816.  
  3817. Following is a brief description of various experiments involving the spell, as well as the latest theories as to the sigil mechanics involved in its casting. It is commonly held that the spell was probably impossible without direct sacrifice of wind-mage souls, a variation of blood magic that is, today, forbidden...
  3818.  
  3819. You yawn.
  3820.  
  3821. Nelmar can wait. You should get back to the suite.
  3822.  
  3823. You sneak back without anything special happening.
  3824.  
  3825. Shadow Quest Chapter 10
  3826. The room is plush and ornate. Flint is in the next room over.
  3827.  
  3828. You bob your way over to Flint's room and open the door. It's unlocked. You enter...
  3829.  
  3830. ...but Flint is gone.
  3831.  
  3832. Well, it's been several hours. He probably wanted to get his armor tended to or something...
  3833.  
  3834. You hear a sharp rap on the door.
  3835.  
  3836. "Pardon, m'lord...Shadow. Dinner is served, if it is your pleasure."
  3837.  
  3838. Briefly concerned for Flint's whereabouts, you focus your senses...
  3839.  
  3840. ...his distinctive flare of white Light prods your mind. It seems he's out on the grounds below the castle, in the town...hmm.
  3841.  
  3842. You assume use mimic to assume your more humanoid form before opening the door with your shadowy 'hand'. The primly-dressed manservant is there again - apparently he's been assigned to you.
  3843.  
  3844. He guides you down the hall toward Duke Vellik's side of the quarters.
  3845.  
  3846. <I have a question.>
  3847.  
  3848. The manservant stutters a step, but nods. "Of course, m'lord."
  3849.  
  3850. <How are mages treated here? Do they have an important presence?>
  3851.  
  3852. The manservant nods. "Of course. The duke is an accomplished mage himself...nothing on the order of Li Fang, but certainly formidable by any stretch."
  3853.  
  3854. <Who's Li Fang?>
  3855.  
  3856. "Ah. That would be the ruler of Archon. He's one of the most powerful mages in the world - and a lich, if the rumors are true. Though, considering how long he's been alive, seems unlikely elsewise..." The servant takes a breath. "But to your original question. The duke treats his mages very well, and accepts all who live and work for his people in benevolence as citizens of Kelvere. Though...even he hesitates to accept Shadow magic, with the Black Lady's forces constantly antagonizing the Ring City." The manservant purses his lips. "Though it seems he's decided on a change of policy."
  3857.  
  3858. He bows out in front of a door, and opens it for you. You walk in.
  3859.  
  3860. You're in a small dining chamber. A bright chandelier illuminates a wide table that is absolutely bursting with food enough to feed half of Jacob's Field. Duke Vellik leans casually at one end, his back to the window displaying a rather magnificent sunset. "Wasn't sure how hungry you'd be. Will this suffice?"
  3861.  
  3862. <Greetings, your excellency. I appreciate the table...I'm quite hungry. Starving, in fact.>
  3863.  
  3864. "Oh, don't mind me." The duke stabs his finger through the air. "Have at it!"
  3865.  
  3866. You dive into the food and CONSUME it. Chicken, beef, and pork dissolve into you, along with a balanced diet of vegetables and occasional fruit. You find it rather delicious.
  3867.  
  3868. When you withdraw, the plates are shining clean. You feel extremely satisfied.
  3869.  
  3870. "Well," the duke says. "That's not something you see every day. You do seem to have perked up slightly, if I may say so." He thumps the table near him. "Come, sit! Stones!" He raises a finger.
  3871.  
  3872. A shock of yellow lightning crackles on the table to your left. A metallic board with metal pieces flies over and arranges itself on the table. It's a long flat piece with several large indents. The pieces are all uniform stones sitting in the indents, arranged in a uniform pattern. A longer indentation perpendicular to the others marks either end of the board.
  3873.  
  3874. <I'm afraid I haven't played before,> you say.
  3875.  
  3876. "Simple. Each turn, you can move one of the eight pools. See how one has four stones, while another has but three?"
  3877.  
  3878. <Yes.>
  3879.  
  3880. "You draw all the stones from your chosen pool. For each pool you pass, you deposit a stone. When you pass your goal-pool-" He indicates the too longer indents at either end. "-you deposit one, there, earning a point. But if you pass your opponent's pool, you skip it. The player with the most stones in their goal-pool when all the stones have been deposited is the victor."
  3881.  
  3882. <I see.>
  3883.  
  3884. "Don't worry, practice makes perfect. I'll go easy on you..."
  3885.  
  3886. <Tell me about Evinbrook.>
  3887.  
  3888. "Originally a garrison under Rajin, before the Elementomachy," the duke says. "I still carry that old bloodline."
  3889.  
  3890. As you each pick and move the stones, they clink and clatter across the board. It's a simple game, but it feels as though thinking very far ahead is difficult - there's too many moves for each player.
  3891.  
  3892. "The castle was built a hundred years ago, as an offensive base against Archon - that was before Arland was established, and Archon was a much larger threat to the empire. The borders have grown far from here since then, but it remained an important trade hub for the whole of the country, and now, its capital."
  3893.  
  3894. <Will Sir Flint be joining us?>
  3895.  
  3896. "He was already here, in fact," the duke said. "Dropped in for a quick bite and then was off to see to the latest refugees..." The duke sighs. "I understand his concerns. Being concerned is important. But if you're too concerned, you'll just end up killing yourself trying to please everyone. A good man, though. None other I'd pick to restore a knighthood to its former glory. Better than that brother of his by a far sight." Vellik grins. "I can just imagine the look on Gerald's face when he sees his brother has been consorting with Duke Vellik."
  3897.  
  3898. More clattering. After a few minutes of play, the duke is winning, 15-12.
  3899.  
  3900. <Tell me honestly," you ask. <What do you stand to gain by siding with me? From what I understand, the Black Lady is the prevailing force of shadow in the world.>
  3901.  
  3902. "And so much to gain by stealing her power away from her," Vellik replies. "Why should she have a monopoly on the shadow? I'd co-opt the strength she uses to keep the angels at bay and use it for myself. I'll beat her and them at their own game, and make a place...a new place, Shadow. Where people don't give a damn about this element or that type of magic. That's my goal." He looks up from the game and looks at you. "Do you understand what it means to be a ruler? To weigh 50 lives against 5,000 and make the call that 50 must die so 5,000 can win? Because that is what it means to rule. It means you must put a price on life.
  3903.  
  3904. "I seek a world in which my successors no longer have to make those choices. In the meantime...if I have to break a few eggs for my omelet, so be it."
  3905.  
  3906. <Concerning Arland...what do you make of them? Would you say that Sir Flint is a good representative of his people, or would I find a less warm welcome in his lands than I have in yours?>
  3907.  
  3908. "Ah, Arland. A glorious bastion of wind and light. Defenders of the empire, thorn of Archon, and annoyance of Kelvere and Felnoir." The duke looks at you. "Arland is a puppet state of the empire. Sir Flint's father was a just man, and did much to reduce conflict in the world. But Gerald, the de factor ruler, and Flint's eldest brother, is not as he was."
  3909.  
  3910. Play has gone on for about fifteen minutes now. As the number of available stones dwindle, your moves both become slower and more measured. However, the duke has maintained the upper hand.
  3911.  
  3912. Score: 24-16
  3913.  
  3914. <I understand your goals better...but what purpose would I have in your fight?>
  3915.  
  3916. "The king rules the chessboard, but he can only move but 1 space," the duke says. "Pawns are important, but he needs rooks, knights, bishops, a queen. He needs his power-pieces. Pieces such as yourself." The duke meets your gaze squarely. "A powerful fighter to turn the tide of a crucial battle. An assassin to remove a particular obstacle from the field. A being capable of treading where other men fear to go to strengthen Kelvere's hold over magic. That would be the roles I would ask of you."
  3917.  
  3918. <Committing myself is one matter, but what of my companions?>
  3919.  
  3920. "They are their own people, of course," the duke says. "I've already had more than my fair share of Sir Flint simply by talking to him. Gerald will be having fits once he hears about it. If you have an obligation to the good knight before you can take more formal tasks under my direction, that is perfectly acceptable. I have many resources, and Sir Flint owing me a debt would be...advantageous. As for the girl, my mages will be happy to shelter and educate her."
  3921.  
  3922. He pauses, then squints. "The lich is...a more complicated matter. A fellow from the Elementomachy...a fine scalpel of great power. I'd shelter him as well, of course. He'd prove a fine companion for your undertakings, should that be his wish. Though I'd have to keep him a closely-guarded secret. That kind of concentrated knowledge is something many people would wish to use...or destroy."
  3923.  
  3924. <Let us say that all goes well and all factions fold into yours. What then? Will you stay in power and rule over all, or will this change continue beyond the conflicts of beliefs?>
  3925.  
  3926. "Of course it will continue," the duke says. "If you have any need for evidence of the fact that men are unable to live in peace without the rule of law and society, well - you need merely look at the world around you. We are divided. We hate subgroups of ourselves. Many of us are wary of elves, for all the difference they have with us, pointed ears and better balance..." He waves a hand vaguely. "Nonsense, all of it. Though, I suppose making friends with orcs will take some doing." He nods. "A great union will bring the end of war - stability through acceptance and tolerance of all those that live by their fellows in peace. Though, I have no wish to rule over such a place - it sounds rather boring. But in any case, I've no delusion that I'll live to see it. But perhaps, if I'm lucky, I shall place its foundation."
  3927.  
  3928. <How will the people see all this? Am I too be a guarded secret, or a leashed pet at your beck and call?>
  3929.  
  3930. "For now, a secret." The duke raises an eyebrow. "I'd be a fool to leash you. Much better to give you reasons to follow me and let you accomplish things as you would."
  3931.  
  3932. He leans back. "But you wouldn't be secret forever. Why should you be? Secrets are at their most powerful in the moment in which they are revealed." The duke smiles. "How did you feel when I revealed my ambition to you, so suddenly, so dramatically? How did you feel when I stepped from the corner and revealed that I was the true duke, and was merely speaking through a double until then? You felt suitably impressed - otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we? The revealing of a secret is a stage act that captures the heart of a man and sweeps him up into your hand. Your reveal - it's time will come. And I can guarantee you it will be one of my finest acts." The duke smirks. "Though, strangely enough, it seems the rules of men apply to you, as well. You're rather like us, it seems."
  3933.  
  3934. <I have many questions about myself and the world. What could you offer me on that front?>
  3935.  
  3936. "Of knowledge, I have plenty." The duke nods thoughtfully. "I will have my best men look into the war of the elements, into the elementals themselves. Surely we can find some reference, some clue that relates to your existence."
  3937.  
  3938. You think back to the time when you appeared...a few fleeting images. The strange altar...the elf noblewoman...the shadow dragon...the flash of green light.
  3939.  
  3940. Perhaps he might be able to make sense of these clues...
  3941.  
  3942. You've managed to turn the tide of the game. The duke furrows his brow and smirks as you bring your score back to even, and even gain a few points on him.
  3943.  
  3944. 32-35, you
  3945.  
  3946. <Wars between the elements...the angels losing control of stability. Tell me. What do you really think my existence means?>
  3947.  
  3948. The duke raises his palms and shrugs. "I've no idea, Shadow. It could mean any number of things. Tomorrow, the elementals could rise again. You may be a harbinger of chaos. Or, perhaps, you're just a random fluctuation, spawn of a mana pool in some dark place in the world, lucky enough to have a will of your own...I doubt anyone could truly answer that with perfect certainty."
  3949.  
  3950. <An odd question.>
  3951.  
  3952. "Try me," the duke says.
  3953.  
  3954. <Do you know anything of a dragon of shadow?>
  3955.  
  3956. "...you likely refer to Do'Vak, the Terrible."
  3957.  
  3958. <...what can you tell me about him?>
  3959.  
  3960. "A thing that lived in the caverns under the Frozen Hand, far to the north, where the sea turns to ice," the duke says. "A pet of the Black Lady. The elves and the empire are technically involved their own unsettled conflict, but even they pull aside to point their swords at the vampires. I'd heard rumors he was slain by Queen Kalladar, though at great personal cost...I suspect she's either invalid or dead, though the elves won't tell, of course." He looks at you. "Do you know something of the matter?"
  3961.  
  3962. As the number of stones dwindles down, the duke's play becomes sharp as a knife. You quickly lose ground...
  3963.  
  3964. ...you realize there aren't enough stones left to make a comeback.
  3965.  
  3966. <I'm afraid I must yield.>
  3967.  
  3968. "So it is."
  3969.  
  3970. You've lost to the duke, but he seems pleasantly surprised by your performance.
  3971.  
  3972. Final score: 42-37
  3973.  
  3974. <...a fleeting image. A grain of sand in things long forgotten.>
  3975.  
  3976. The duke, for the first time, has no immediate reply.
  3977.  
  3978. <What do you know about Flint's condition?>
  3979.  
  3980. "What makes you think I know anything?"
  3981.  
  3982. <...you implied you did, earlier.>
  3983.  
  3984. "Now, now," the duke says. He smiles. "I'll trade secrets for secrets, but nothing less."
  3985.  
  3986. <...my memory...> You stop, then start again. <I remember an altar. Darkness. Then an elf woman...a shadow dragon that attacked her and...two...three others? I can't remember.> You shake your head. <There was a flash of green light. I remember she was responsible...I felt as though I was on the verge of something, and then when I woke from the spell, I was on the edge of Jacob's field. And my memory is now blocked.>
  3987.  
  3988. Vellik frowns deeply. "...this is disturbing information. I know not what to make of it. And I'm like to be very cautious about things I can't understand."
  3989.  
  3990. <Can you tell me anything about Flint?>
  3991.  
  3992. "Honestly, all I caught was a glimpse when we were speaking. Give me time, and I'll see what I can tell you."
  3993.  
  3994. You feel somewhat cheated, but are mollified by his promise to help in the future.
  3995.  
  3996. "A good game, Shadow," he says. "We should play again." He glances out the window. The sun has fallen low. "I've matters to attend to. By the way, you don't need to jump around my mages. They've been told I've been working with various familiars lately...and to expect and ignore a shadow such as yourself." He stands. "Feel free to do as you wish until tomorrow. I'll take your answer at midday, or sooner, if you would."
  3997.  
  3998. You walk out of the room together. The manservant bows to you, and he an Vellik are about to leave...
  3999.  
  4000. <I have a word or two for the prisoner I captured at Jacob's Field.>
  4001.  
  4002. "Oh, that fool?" the duke asks. "I already interrogated him myself."
  4003.  
  4004. <And?>
  4005.  
  4006. "He's dead," the duke says flatly. "I don't take kindly to men that attack my defenseless villages. I'd planned on sending a force in a few days, but..." He frowns. "They moved faster than I predicted. What happened to Jacob's Field is my fault."
  4007.  
  4008. <...honestly, your excellency, you don't seem a man to make that kind of mistake.>
  4009.  
  4010. "No? Good." The duke's frown doesn't leave his face. "...I try very hard not to underestimate my opponents. But I was wrong. This time. It won't happen again. Our counter-stroke will be swift and brutal." Vellik looks at you again. "He didn't know much of any importance, but he did tell me one thing - they're unabashedly using demons, summoned from the Nether. Did you see any at Jacob's field?"
  4011.  
  4012. <No. Nothing that could be described as such.>
  4013.  
  4014. Vellik nods. "Good. Perhaps it's on a limited scale, then. That sort of thing will draw the attention of the angels. And that is something neither you nor I want. A fair night, Shadow."
  4015.  
  4016. They walk off.
  4017.  
  4018. You make your way through the castle back to the dungeons.
  4019.  
  4020. You're soon at the part you were before - nice rooms, carpeted flooring. A stairwell leading down awaits at the far corner.
  4021.  
  4022. You creep down, down...
  4023.  
  4024. ...the dungeons shift back into cold, wet stone. It smells earthy and dank. Old air, poor ventilation. The torches grow more and more infrequent.
  4025.  
  4026. The stairwell ends in a simple storeroom piled with old furniture. There's dust and cobwebs everywhere.
  4027.  
  4028. The source of magic picking at your senses is further down, but you're closer than you were. You'd estimate perhaps 1 or 2 stories deeper.
  4029.  
  4030. It seems you're at some sort of dead end...
  4031.  
  4032. You move about the room, shifting furniture and brushing aside cobwebs.
  4033.  
  4034. Maybe there's a lever for a door? You try moving all the furniture...but nothing.
  4035.  
  4036. You flatten yourself to the stone and feel along the seems...
  4037.  
  4038. ...you stop.
  4039.  
  4040. There's a stone that's looser than the others. You pick yourself up and look at it.
  4041.  
  4042. You can see it now that you've picked it out. Slightly less dusty than the ones around it - and the grout around it is very thin. This is the way forward, you can feel it.
  4043.  
  4044. But you can't wedge yourself around it, and there's no real crack to Ink through...
  4045.  
  4046. ...maybe it would be better to simply ask the duke as a condition of your alliance?
  4047.  
  4048. Then again, maybe you shouldn't give away that you know about this place...who knows what's down there. It could be as simple as a vault, or...something worse.
  4049.  
  4050. You try pushing the stone down.
  4051.  
  4052. You grunt and strain, but to no avail.
  4053.  
  4054. You glance back at the entrance to the stairs. Getting caught down here is probably not a good idea...
  4055.  
  4056. Feeling a bit put out, you leave the room. Perhaps you could tail someone down there later...
  4057.  
  4058. ...you decide to investigate the airship.
  4059.  
  4060. The sun has set. The moon isn't out tonight, and it's quite dark. Perfect.
  4061.  
  4062. You move toward the airship. Despite the hour, torches keep the area brightly lit, and it's still a hive of activity. You stay in the shadows.
  4063.  
  4064. Two men nearby are talking. One is holding a clipboard - and you recognize the second. It's the primly-dressed manservant.
  4065.  
  4066. The airship itself is a hulking craft. While the body somewhat resembles a sea-ship, the underside houses a cylindrical engine almost as big as the rest of it. The entire thing is ribbed with bars and plates of a gleaming, turquoise metal. You remember reading that airships have to be reinforced with adamantium to survive the trip through the sky...how strong is that stuff?
  4067.  
  4068. You can feel a throbbing pulse of magic from inside the engine. It's the airship's dynamo. Comparing it to the magic under the castle is like comparing a sun to a candle.
  4069.  
  4070. You creep closer to the two men.
  4071.  
  4072. "...on schedule?"
  4073.  
  4074. "Yessir. About a quarter ton more adamantium, 3 tons steel...1 of coal left. Should be good for takeoff just past noon."
  4075.  
  4076. "I'll inform the duke. Keep up the good work."
  4077.  
  4078. "Yessir."
  4079.  
  4080. The man walks off. The man with the paper makes a few notes with a pen, then holsters it in a small portable inkwell he has attached to his belt.
  4081.  
  4082. Looks useful.
  4083.  
  4084. All these people with pockets and bags...something to carry things with would be helpful.
  4085.  
  4086. You wait for a group of men to march off the airship with crates, then duck inside.
  4087.  
  4088. Energy thrums under your heels, restrained, but waiting to be unleashed again. You make your way through tight wood and steel passages, deep into the engine room. The thrumming turns into a buzz you can feel inside your chest...
  4089.  
  4090. You pass into the innermost room.
  4091.  
  4092. The machine churns with steam and smoke. You can see a few men sitting in a corner nearby. They were thick ear coverings, smoky goggles, and thick leathers. They're playing a card game.
  4093.  
  4094. In the center of the pistoning, rotating machine is an orb of blue fire. It wavers lazily, but screams with magic.
  4095.  
  4096. ...you feel a deep urge to consume it...
  4097.  
  4098. ...the duke probably wouldn't like that, though.
  4099.  
  4100. You try to move closer...
  4101.  
  4102. ...the power it exudes pushes against you. It's certainly Fire. Though you can tell that if you could take hold of it, it's energy could be yours.
  4103.  
  4104. The flame almost seems to spin...diodes attacked to the surface of the sphere pulse in time with the motion, sparking, almost igniting themselves. The energy seems transferred to the motion of the steel...which conduct magical energy to the rest of the ship. You're not sure what the moving parts have to do with that.
  4105.  
  4106. You move closer, and it pushes harder. It's like walking through water...you're slowed down, somehow.
  4107.  
  4108. You think that, with effort, you could get close enough to touch it, but there's no real reason to push things. You slip out of the airship and wander down to a darker spot on the cliffs.
  4109.  
  4110. The dynamo inspires you with an idea. You recall the smaller orb that was in the golem back in the Old Forest Keep. Having something like that around of your own element might be quite handy. You try to gather your shadow together in a ball...
  4111.  
  4112. ...but it unravels. You try again, pushing harder. But as soon as you release your efforts, it just falls apart. How does the dynamo stay in one piece?
  4113.  
  4114. ...hmm. Perhaps that's exactly why they can't make any more. But if you were an elemental, shouldn't you be able to do so?
  4115.  
  4116. You sigh. More questions than answers...
  4117.  
  4118. If you had fingers, you'd snap them. Motion. Spinning. Perhaps that's the key to the stability?
  4119.  
  4120. You push your shadows together, and this time you twist them, spin them over and over in a little cyclone.
  4121.  
  4122. Delicately, like a child releasing a top, you let your arms drop from your creation...
  4123.  
  4124. ...and like a top, it spins for a short time, then falls. Your shadows unravel. But it definitely lasted longer.
  4125.  
  4126. Perhaps you're on to something...you file your little experiment away for later.
  4127.  
  4128. You move to the cargo.
  4129.  
  4130. There's a small encampment positioned on the dock where the goods are being unloaded. A few men with more pens scurry around, checking things in. Most of it's raw ore, but there are a few odds and ends.
  4131.  
  4132. You find a small section that seems dedicated to leather and cloth goods. A quick glance reveals a few choice containers...
  4133.  
  4134. The utility belt really draws your eye. All those different-sized compartments...and the large purse looks big enough to hold keys and the shard of the sword you found. You snatch it from the pile and clip it around yourself. It fits snug and concealed against your side.
  4135.  
  4136. You decide you really ought to find out what Flint's been up to all day.
  4137.  
  4138. Shadow Quest Chapter 11
  4139. You spread out your senses...
  4140.  
  4141. ...Flint's shining light is easy to see in the darkness. Points of life float like little candles...but he's a bonfire.
  4142.  
  4143. Oddly, you can't sense Duke Vellik. He probably makes an effort not to be sensed in such a manner.
  4144.  
  4145. Flint is across the bridge leading over the river, in a clustered group of houses. You slink your way through the darkness, holding still to avoid detection by the frequent patrols. You're soon outside the building he's within.
  4146.  
  4147. There's plenty of lights and noise coming from inside. Men are carousing and conversing...thinly dressed women are serving them large mugs filled with frothing brown liquid. There's several musicians playing lively, cheery music in one corner.
  4148.  
  4149. You locate Flint quickly. He's leaned up on a long counter near the back. He's slumped low on the wood.
  4150.  
  4151. You send Flint an impression of yourself waving a shadowy hand at him from the window of the bar.
  4152.  
  4153. Flint's slumped form doesn't budge, but he raises his right hand. At first, you think he's making a subtle attempt to return the greeting, but his hand lowers to stop a mug slid his way down the counter.
  4154.  
  4155. He raises himself up and - in one long motion - chugs the entire mug. He slams it down on the bar, though it's only a small pat in the middle of the noisy room. He fishes a few coins from his pockets and scatters them on the wood, then winds his way out of the bar.
  4156.  
  4157. He slowly meanders toward your position at the window. His feet keep getting ahead of his torso, and his eyes don't settle. Something about him is off.
  4158.  
  4159. "...eh, Shadow. Hey!" Flint stands next to you. He paints a striking picture. He cleans up rather nicely with a red and white shirt and coat, but he's practically falling over himself. "How're things...'n...you know?"
  4160.  
  4161. <...I'm fine. I played a game of stones with the duke, and I've learned a bit more about his goals...assuming he was honest with me. What's the matter with you?>
  4162.  
  4163. "Ah...drunks as shit, is s'matter."
  4164.  
  4165. <What's a drunk?>
  4166.  
  4167. Flint barks a laugh. <Fuckin' thing don't even know what drunk is. Jeeze. Drink beer, get drunk. Problems go bye-bye!" Flint pumps his fist. The motion nearly knocks him over. You hurriedly move to prop him up, but he catches himself at the last minute. "Shit. Gonna headsache in the morning. Let's get the shit out of here and leave."
  4168.  
  4169. He promptly marches off, ready to trip and break his neck. You leap into his shadow and keep on your toes.
  4170.  
  4171. <If that 'beer' makes you like this, perhaps you shouldn't drink it. It's not solving problems that I can see.>
  4172.  
  4173. "Don't solvesing shit, dummy. Just makes you stupid and not thinking."
  4174.  
  4175. <...an ignorance potion? Humans are strange.>
  4176.  
  4177. Flint coughs and splutters a weird giggle. "Of course you'd put it like that...shit."
  4178.  
  4179. <Did you see Joey or the townspeople today?>
  4180.  
  4181. "Ah yeah! Joey...fucking kid. Can't believe...shit. You know, I...asked him to be my squire. Parents liked the idea...thinkin', 'hey, get with a noble and everything'...and he's up for it. 'Cause you mentioned it. Well, so that's that...guess he can polish armors is something..."
  4182.  
  4183. <You're a bit...difficult to understand.>
  4184.  
  4185. "That's the beer talkin'. I'm drunk. Dammit, listen whenna man speaks, you know?"
  4186.  
  4187. You cross the bridge. He nearly teeters off into the river. You leap into position as a hand rail, but he sways back into the middle before reaching you. You pass a patrol and duck into his shadow. The men give Flint looks, but just mutter and shake their heads after he's gone.'
  4188.  
  4189. <Speaking of ignorance, I've a few questions.>
  4190.  
  4191. "Well shit, just ask. You're my friend er somethings...?"
  4192.  
  4193. <What does the phrase "get her in the sack" mean?>
  4194.  
  4195. "Dumb idiot," Flint says. "Means you take a woman and roll in the hay. Bed 'er."
  4196.  
  4197. <What does "roll in the hay" mean?>
  4198.  
  4199. "Take a tumble. Sleep together. Bed a woman. What's I wanna do to Megan. Fuck, man. Fuck."
  4200.  
  4201. <...copulation?>
  4202.  
  4203. "Shitsis stupid, but yeah."
  4204.  
  4205. <...oh.> The thin clothing of the women suddenly has context. Easier access. <This beer seems rather popular. Do the women serve it as a profession...?>
  4206.  
  4207. "Nothin' like a good bar maid." Flint makes a lopsided grin. "...couple times. Not anymore. I'm not in my teens now, shit."
  4208.  
  4209. It strikes you that women seemingly primed for copulation via thin clothing would make excellent marketing for male beer consumption. The nature of the bar becomes more clear to you.
  4210.  
  4211. The castle guards have a quiet chuckle when Flint passes, but he's in the doors without a problem.
  4212.  
  4213. <Do you think the duke is sincere? About his wish for peace?>
  4214.  
  4215. "...shit, I dunno. Probably. But whatsayin' his'is...ah, the pieces...shit. Um, so, you think world's just gonna fall into place? That's what I'm saying. Bloody. Forcing the world...into a vision. Maybe a bigger bite than anyone's chewing, you know? But...hell. Might as well try if you got the time and the power and the...shit. Who gives a fuck?" Flint sighs. "Anyone does it...maybe him, I guess. But he's not so, you know, nice and all. Ain't cuddly and fucking happy. He's political demons and...that's what I mean. Peace...at what cost?"
  4216.  
  4217. <The duke told me it's a folly to care to much...but you're a better man than him, because you know that, but you care nonetheless.>
  4218.  
  4219. "Yeah...?" Flint eyes you for a moment. He seems briefly surprised, even happy...but the drunken grimace crosses his face once more. "Easier if I didn't. Didn't care."
  4220.  
  4221. <So, you drink beer to become stupid.>
  4222.  
  4223. "S'bout the sizeofit, yeah."
  4224.  
  4225. <What good does that do you?>
  4226.  
  4227. "Stupid means think less. Think less, hurt less, shit man, don't you get it? Fuck. I hate thinkin' about shit. Gerald and Megan and...fuck. Fuck it. Not thinkin' about it."
  4228.  
  4229. You're going up the stairs. You keep your arms on either side of him as he thumps back and forward, one arm leaving heavily on the railing.
  4230.  
  4231. <I don't understand Kan-Abar's position. What good they get from waging war like this? No acceptance of surrender, no peace?>
  4232.  
  4233. "...shit man, s'have times s'to educate you on every damn thing...n'...well,'skinda simple n'...Obis was gonna rule, Nulis, younger brother, drove him out. Got the war hawks on 'is side...no one knows where Obis is...prolly dead, poor sonovabitch. Nulis keepin' his rule...uniting his people by making the rest of the world enemies, get me?"
  4234.  
  4235. <I think so.>
  4236.  
  4237. <What would you say if the duke could do something about your curse?>
  4238.  
  4239. "...I'd go home and find somethin's else to help," Flint says. "...not gettin' in debtors prison to that...that man."
  4240.  
  4241. <What would you do if you were me?>
  4242.  
  4243. "I can'ts hardly understands you when you don't even fucking know BEER, man. Not even beer. Shit, you just wanna keep Abby all safe and cozy...should just build a fuckin' cabin in the woods and live there 'er something. Why be a servants of dukes...shit."
  4244.  
  4245. <Are your memories so unwanted that you wish not to think over them? I have very few and most are filled with either questions or conflicts. But...the few I have...I cherish.>
  4246.  
  4247. "The many I have...I wish I didn't," Flint says.
  4248.  
  4249. You've finally made it to the top floor. You probably won't have time for many more questions...
  4250.  
  4251. Flint stops at the door to his suite. He leans against a tapestry hanging from the stone wall. He droops low.
  4252.  
  4253. He's silent.
  4254.  
  4255. You're just about to ask if he's alright when he slams his fist into the wall. And then, again, harder. "...shit...shit. Never fuckin'...goes away."
  4256.  
  4257. <What are you talking about?>
  4258.  
  4259. "You wanna know? Whatchyou wanna know about? You gonna laugh at me too? Huh?"
  4260.  
  4261. <Flint, I don't - >
  4262.  
  4263. "Fuck, man." He crashes through his suite door. Concerned, you hurriedly rush in after him and close the door, hoping he's not making too much noise.
  4264.  
  4265. "You wanna fucking know? You know what they call me at home? Dummy Donny. Idiot. Shithead. The fourth son - and the first three got all the good shit, and I'm the dribble. That's what they say.
  4266.  
  4267. "And fuck. I worked - I TRAINED - day and day and day after days, over and over. I studied...I read the whole library twices, and even learned a...some magics and things...I'm best at the sword, but...I can't...I never..." Flint falls back on his bed. "...No one's ever sees it...always fall right when...just when I thought I'd finally show 'em...then you tell me it's...this thing is on me...who? Who fucking did it? WHY?!"
  4268.  
  4269. Flint slams his fist into his pillow. "SHIT! WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME?!?"
  4270.  
  4271. He draws his pillow in. He sniffs. His eyes are red and wet. "...stole her from me. Stole Megan. That things stole Megan...and now, Gerald...shit. Shit!" He pounds the pillow again.
  4272.  
  4273. And before you know it, he's out cold.
  4274.  
  4275. You have a feeling you heard things that Flint considered of greatest privacy.
  4276.  
  4277. Flint lies on his bed, fully clothed, breathing slowly, but soundly. His hand still clench the pillowcase tightly.
  4278.  
  4279. You feel...
  4280.  
  4281. ...you feel...? You have no name for it. But the feelings direct your actions.
  4282.  
  4283. You untie his shoes and set them on the floor next to him. You push him into what appears to be a more comfortable position, then throw the bed's blankets over his form.
  4284.  
  4285. You stand away from him, watching him for a moment. You try something you haven't before...you send him an Impression. Calm. Peace.
  4286.  
  4287. Balance.
  4288.  
  4289. Flint's clenched features relax. His grip on the pillow softens.
  4290.  
  4291. ...balance...
  4292.  
  4293. ...you can feel them. Water...somewhere south. Earth, far southwest. Spirit, now north.
  4294.  
  4295. And the other four...impossibly far. But there.
  4296.  
  4297. The feeling fades. You try to bring it back, but it stubbornly refuses to coalesce.
  4298.  
  4299. You open Flint's pack, which is leaned up next to a chair elsewhere in the room. You stow the Sun-Moon Key in a pocket on your belt and the Shadow Sword Shard in the largest pocket, the purse. The Spirit Sword has its own sheath, now - perhaps Flint bought one while he was out. You could hook it on your belt if you were so inclined...
  4300.  
  4301. As you stare at the sword, an idea strikes you.
  4302.  
  4303. You remember the sword's ethereal former master...the spirit elemental. Perhaps it can strike the parasite? Or cut it off from its other end?
  4304.  
  4305. You draw the sword with an Articulated Fist. The numb vibration of the spirit magic hums in your hand. You turn.
  4306.  
  4307. The parasite lingers...passive. You see the misty trail leading from Flint, across the room, and through the wall...you level the sword over the connection, and, bracing yourself, swing.
  4308.  
  4309. The sword passes through the trail and thuds into the carpet. Nothing happens.
  4310.  
  4311. You sheath it and heave a sigh.
  4312.  
  4313. You decide to leave the sword with Flint. No reason to put all the eggs in one basket.
  4314.  
  4315. You retire to your room and sit on your bed.
  4316.  
  4317. Sleep...it doesn't seem to be something you need. But the quite is nice. The dark is nice.
  4318.  
  4319. You've found out so much in such a short time. The only thing you've truly confirmed is how little you know.
  4320.  
  4321. The duke's propositions are intriguing...but in this world, you're an ant, and he's a giant. Any deal he'd make would seem tempting. On the other hand...perhaps you do want to be a part of that vision. Would you be satisfied with a Abigail and a log cabin? Would she even want that sort of life?
  4322.  
  4323. You wonder where she is, and what she's doing. You hope Adavan is keeping his word.
  4324.  
  4325. Why do you feel such an attachment to her? It's strange...but then...she was the first person to know you. Her acceptance was easy, and immediate. A child's affection, simple - but too sweet to ignore...something worth protecting, fostering, growing.
  4326.  
  4327. Flint's situation seems complicated. You realize you know little of his past, or his family. It seems that the parasite has been with him a long time...you remember the duke mentioning that Gerald was his eldest brother, but you wonder about that other name he mentioned, Megan...who is she? More importantly, who is she to Flint?
  4328.  
  4329. ...the night passes...you slip into a deeper meditation. Your thoughts float in black space...you see the world as pinpricks of light in a void...
  4330.  
  4331. A thumping at your door startles you from your reverie. "Shadow?"
  4332.  
  4333. <Flint.>
  4334.  
  4335. The door creaks open. The man scratches his ears and works a hand through disheveled hair. "Damn. My head is killing me. How did I get back here?"
  4336.  
  4337. <I found you at the bar, drunk. I escorted you back.>
  4338.  
  4339. "Oh." Flint leans on the door frame. "Guess I was really out of it?"
  4340.  
  4341. <'Out of it' does not accurately describe your behavior,> you say. <You intentionally imbibed beer, which you informed me was an ignorance potion, to make yourself stupid. You taught me several euphemisms for human copulation, including 'get her in the sack', 'bed her', and 'take a roll in the hay'. From these I deduced the purpose of the bar.>
  4342.  
  4343. "...well..."
  4344.  
  4345. <When I asked you what I should do if you were in my place, you said that, considering I don't understand beer, you couldn't possibly understand me. You then proclaimed that if my goal was simply to protect Abigail that I should build a log cabin in the woods and live with her there rather than involve myself with the duke.>
  4346.  
  4347. Flint has flushed a rather deep red. "...well...I suppose I owe you an -"
  4348.  
  4349. <You also informed me that, even if the duke could help with your curse, you'd rather seek help elsewhere than be subjected to his 'debtors prison'.>
  4350.  
  4351. "...that one I'd tell you sober, too."
  4352.  
  4353. <You also...> You hesitate a moment. <You mentioned frustration over...past failings. Though you weren't specific. You mentioned your training, and...your family's regard for you. And your brother, Gerald, and a woman, Megan. You...> You are unable to meet Flint's eyes. <...you seemed to think that your parasite somehow stole this Megan from you.>
  4354.  
  4355. The room is quiet for a long time.
  4356.  
  4357. "...I see."
  4358.  
  4359. <I realize...those things, perhaps, were not meant to fall on my ears.>
  4360.  
  4361. "...I..." Flint shakes his head. "...we'll speak on it another time. But for now..."
  4362.  
  4363. <Whenever you feel it is appropriate.>
  4364.  
  4365. "Thank you."
  4366.  
  4367. There's a knock on the door.
  4368.  
  4369. "...come in," Flint calls.
  4370.  
  4371. The door opens smoothly. It's - once again - the duke's manservant. His hair is as smooth as his fine-pressed coat. "Gentlemen. Brunch will be served shortly." He glances up. "There's plenty of water, as well."
  4372.  
  4373. Flint mutters something under his breath. "...ah, good. Could you be so good as to have a bath drawn up?"
  4374.  
  4375. "Already done," the man says. "Across the hall."
  4376.  
  4377. Flint spends a few minutes bathing. Without much else to do, you sit in the room and wait. When he reappears, he's fully dressed in his armor and pack.
  4378.  
  4379. <I see you're ready.>
  4380.  
  4381. "I figured we'd want to be on the road as soon as possible...no matter your response. By the way...did you have the key, and the shard of that sword?"
  4382.  
  4383. <I do. You seemed reticent about them...>
  4384.  
  4385. "No, it's fine," he says. "Just wanted to make sure we hadn't lost them. Nice belt, by the way."
  4386.  
  4387. You adjust your single article of clothing. <Thank you.>
  4388.  
  4389. "Leather needs to be kept well-oiled. I'll show you later. Oh, by the way, I've asked Joey to be my squire, and he's - "
  4390.  
  4391. <You informed me of that as well, last night.>
  4392.  
  4393. "Oh. Great."
  4394.  
  4395. The manservant once again calls on you, and you're taken to the same dining chamber you were in previously when you played the game of stones. The duke and his double, Thomas, are both at the table. The manservant takes an out-of-the-way place on the wall to the side.
  4396.  
  4397. "Sit, sit! Eat!"
  4398.  
  4399. The meal is quiet. The duke and Thomas share conversation about the state of Evinbrook. The main body of the army is headed north the next day. At some point, you notice that the manservant has left. Probably to attend to something somewhere. That man is everywhere.
  4400.  
  4401. The clink and clatter of silverware slows to a halt. You've long since absorbed your plate of food.
  4402.  
  4403. The duke clears his throat. "Well, my friends...have you come to a decision regarding my proposition?"
  4404.  
  4405. <I have decided...> You look at Flint, then back at the duke. <Prior obligations call me elsewhere. There are people to whom I owe debts...and people I must protect.
  4406.  
  4407. <But I respect you, your excellency, and your goals. Though lofty and idealistic, they resonate with me. Your show has won an audience. I would have us part as friends - and perhaps, when the time is right, I can offer you my full allegiance. But for the moment, I can't tie myself down.>
  4408.  
  4409. The duke sets his fork down on his plate. He folds his hands. "...are you sure?"
  4410.  
  4411. <I am.>
  4412.  
  4413. "I could offer great help in tracking down the lich, and Abigail. And my resources could certain aid our mutual friend -" He nods toward Flint. "the good knight Sir Flint."
  4414.  
  4415. <I know. But these are our problems, and we will solve them.>
  4416.  
  4417. "I see." The duke sighs. "In that case - "
  4418.  
  4419. The door bursts open. It's the manservant. "Your excellency, angels are here! They're up the stairs, they'll be here any moment!"
  4420.  
  4421. The duke rises. "What is this? Calm down and explain."
  4422.  
  4423. "There's no time. I've tried to slow them with formalities, but asking a man to stand and stall an angel..."
  4424.  
  4425. "Which ones?"
  4426.  
  4427. "Auriel and Raziel."
  4428.  
  4429. "When did they arrive? How?"
  4430.  
  4431. "The Velarion just warped into our airspace but minutes ago. I ran to get here."
  4432.  
  4433. "What?" Flint asks. "What are two of the high council doing here so suddenly?"
  4434.  
  4435. "You are with Thomas," the duke says quickly. "Sir Flint. They'll be able to sense you easily, so don't move. Don't act alarmed, just surprised." The duke looks at you. "We've only got one hope - that they haven't sensed you. Get behind this."
  4436.  
  4437. The duke pulls a drape of the wall. At his touch, it mists orange - not with the electricity you expected. You hesitate, confused.
  4438.  
  4439. "Hide you with my own magic and implicate myself?" the duke says. "You must be mad. Now slip behind the tapestry before they move another inch closer!"
  4440.  
  4441. You leap behind the hanging. The duke withdraws behind another tapestry, and that one sparks and snaps with electric energy. And so you wait there, tense, uncertain. You stretch out your senses...
  4442.  
  4443. ...you can feel nothing. Angels. Aren't they aligned with the light? They should flare brightly...or perhaps they are good at concealing themselves.
  4444.  
  4445. The doors open.
  4446.  
  4447. Two angels step inside.
  4448.  
  4449. The first is beautiful. A cowl is pulled low over her silver hair. A blue circlet is pinned to the waist of her dress. It sparkles with light energy. White wings are folded neatly behind her back...
  4450.  
  4451. The second is like light incarnate. Light defines his features, glows in patterns on his clothing, illuminates the four swords sheathed on his back. He's like a totem of light.
  4452.  
  4453. Thomas, the double, stands. Flint also stands, and he bows almost double. Thomas nods his head respectfully to the silver-haired woman. "Auriel." He nods to the gold-lined angel. "Raziel."
  4454.  
  4455. "Spare me this idiocy," Raziel says. His voice cuts the air like a sword. "Vellik. Get out here."
  4456.  
  4457. Thomas raises an eyebrow. "...high one?"
  4458.  
  4459. The hilt of Raziel's swords begins to glow white-hot. You feel the power from your position...
  4460.  
  4461. ...and you feel fear.
  4462.  
  4463. "Don't make me ask twice."
  4464.  
  4465. "Peace, Raziel," Uriel says. She turns toward the curtain hiding the duke. "Your excellency, if you would. I'm afraid my companion has little patience for games, today."
  4466.  
  4467. The duke reveals himself with a smile. "High ones. How can I be of service?"
  4468.  
  4469. "You requested aid against Kan-Abar, did you not?"
  4470.  
  4471. "...aid was requested from Arland."
  4472.  
  4473. "And so we have come, for it was reported that the Kanians were making use of demons," Uriel clarifies. "Is this so?"
  4474.  
  4475. "I've no reports of that, no," the duke says. "But then, my ears are not always accurate. I had thought to settle this without involving the Ring City."
  4476.  
  4477. "...I see. Perhaps we shall investigate for ourselves. Why have they attacked you?"
  4478.  
  4479. "Expansion," Vellik answers. "Nulis seeks to consolidate his rule at home with external military conflict. They are the aggressors in this war, I can assure you."
  4480.  
  4481. "We will be the judge of that," Raziel says sharply.
  4482.  
  4483. Uriel looks at him. Raziel folds his arms and settles back on his heals. He turns to the duke, after glancing at Sir Flint. "I see you have guests of Arland."
  4484.  
  4485. "Sir Flint has been - "
  4486.  
  4487. "We are aware of his goal to restore Aeolus's knighthood," Uriel says. "A worthy goal, Sir Flint, and one worth commendation."
  4488.  
  4489. Flint bows double again. "I am honored, highest. That is too much for myself."
  4490.  
  4491. The duke clears his throat. "Yes. Sir Flint's intervention saved hundreds of my people. You can ask him, and them - Kan-Abar attacked outright, and without provocation."
  4492.  
  4493. "We will be speaking with Nulis, and soon," Uriel says. "Sandalphon is watching this conflict closely."
  4494.  
  4495. The duke swallows.
  4496.  
  4497. You decide you never want to meet Sandalphon.
  4498.  
  4499. Raziel sniffs. He twitches his nose. "...something is...off."
  4500.  
  4501. "You think so?" Uriel says. "I sense it as well."
  4502.  
  4503. "Darkness," Raziel whispers. He scans the room.
  4504.  
  4505. Raziel's gaze locks on your position behind the tapestry.
  4506.  
  4507. "Darkness?" the duke demands. "In my castle?!"
  4508.  
  4509. "An elemental, no less," Raziel says. "A parasite, no doubt. I'll handle this."
  4510.  
  4511. You feel a stone cold grip on your heart. But what can you do? There's nowhere to run! You shrink back further, trying to reduce your presence...
  4512.  
  4513. Raziel's hand behinds to glow like white fire.
  4514.  
  4515. "Now, Raziel," Uriel begins. "Show restraint. You wouldn't want to - "
  4516.  
  4517. A beam of light explodes from his palm.
  4518.  
  4519. BOOM
  4520.  
  4521. The wall of the castle erupts with fire. The light sears you, and then you're in open air, falling, tumbling! You slam into the castle wall and keep falling!
  4522.  
  4523. You've decided to try to slow your descent by digging into the wall. You'll then try to push off the ground as fast as possible to keep your momentum.
  4524.  
  4525. You form a hand with your body...
  4526.  
  4527. ...your Fist crushes into the castle wall! Stone and mortar are chipped out as you drag yourself down. You strike the ground hard, but land on your feet. You blast out as fast as your can!
  4528.  
  4529. SHEEEWWWW
  4530. BOOOM
  4531.  
  4532. Light explodes behind you! The force carries you forward even faster!
  4533.  
  4534. You spare a moment the glance over your shoulder...
  4535.  
  4536. ...Raziel is flying down out the hole he made in the duke's castle! He's preparing another magical attack, and all four of his swords are drawn, floating in the air around him!
  4537.  
  4538. You realize you've landed at the airship dock. Crates and supplies are all around you. The dynamo within the craft thrums at your senses. People are screaming, scattering away from the explosions. You can feel mages condensing around your position.
  4539.  
  4540. If you're caught in the open, Vellik will have no choice but to disown you.
  4541.  
  4542. You Mimic a person and slide into the crowd...
  4543.  
  4544. "Foolish creature!"
  4545.  
  4546. An explosion of light detonates in the ground in front of you. People stumble back...but the light passes though them harmlessly!
  4547.  
  4548. The wave of light pushes you backward, sending you flying, tumbling. You land on your feet...you feel alright, but the spell has separated you from the crowd! You've been pushed all the way near the airship!
  4549.  
  4550. "Feel Hyperion's wrath!" Raziel raises his hands, and his swords fly forward!
  4551.  
  4552. The swords of light fall like blazing spears...
  4553.  
  4554. ...and you lift yourself up, zipping to and fro the the shadow of the lightning bolt! The spears pound into the ground and send out waves of light, but you're already gone!
  4555.  
  4556. You find yourself pushed back to the entrance of the airship. You try to get down to escape down the cliff...
  4557.  
  4558. Raziel throws another sword, and you leap back further into the ship! The weapon pierces through even the steel and wood of the hull!
  4559.  
  4560. The airship roars.
  4561.  
  4562. It lifts off the ground. In half a second you're high in the air!
  4563.  
  4564. ...you only now remember the noon takeoff time.
  4565.  
  4566. Raziel flies forward, coming even with the cargo hatch. "Not afraid of heights, are you?"
  4567.  
  4568. You form your body into a big, inky hand and point over his shoulder.
  4569.  
  4570. "What's that behind you?!"
  4571.  
  4572. Raziel is stunned that you've spoken.
  4573.  
  4574. Out of habits ingrained by a lifetime, he glances back with a dumbstruck look on his face.
  4575.  
  4576. You tear into the airship.
  4577.  
  4578. "THIS IS ALL JUST A BIG MISUNDERSTANDING!!!"
  4579.  
  4580. You quickly lose yourself in the tangle of wood and steel hallways. They're uniform and regular...everything looks the same.
  4581.  
  4582. You can feel a pulse of light pursuing you, but he's not trying to rip out the innards of the airship...yet.
  4583.  
  4584. You do have some sense of direction. The engine room is just below you. A set of stairs offers a way down...the power it exudes might just hide your aura.
  4585.  
  4586. The power offered by the dynamo picks at the back of your brain...it's like nothing you've felt before.
  4587.  
  4588. Or, perhaps you'd be better off in a crew deck, hiding amongst people. Either way, if he saw through the duke's enchantment, normal concealment seems shaky.
  4589.  
  4590. You dart down to the engine room.
  4591.  
  4592. You're greeted by the thrumming dynamo. Blue light swirls in its depths...
  4593.  
  4594. ...you give yourself a shake and duck into a cranny between two moving pistons. Hopefully the motion will distract him.
  4595.  
  4596. It's quiet. Several engineers move about, checking dials and inspecting the parts of the machine that surround the dynamo. None of them seem to be mages, but with all the power swirling around it's difficult to tell. You settle back against the corner to wait.
  4597.  
  4598. Time passes...but there's no way to tell how long its been.
  4599.  
  4600. You glance around. The engineers are gone.
  4601.  
  4602. Gold light flares from around the corner. You shrink back into your hiding place and freeze absolutely still.
  4603.  
  4604. "...shadow..." Raziel's footsteps somehow echo inside the noisy chamber. "Come out, come out, wherever you are...."
  4605.  
  4606. <Come out? Why? You'll just try to kill me again.>
  4607.  
  4608. "So you -are- down here," Raziel says. "I'm surprised you can talk. That's rather advanced."
  4609.  
  4610. <...advanced?>
  4611.  
  4612. Raziel ignores your question. "It's just like the shadow...slinking, creeping, crawling in the dirt and the muck like a coward and striking from the shadows. How many times have I played out this scene with shadow mages?" His swords flip lazily in the air around his body. "If I didn't clean them, even my swords wouldn't glow for being so stained with the blood of shadow mages. They sing for it..."
  4613.  
  4614. <...I mean you no harm. Nor the people of Evinbrook, nor anyone harm. I merely wish to be - >
  4615.  
  4616. "Left in peace?" Raziel finishes. "I'm afraid that alone puts us at odds."
  4617.  
  4618. You send him an images of a burning wreck of an airship. <You'll kill me and everyone here at your pace.>
  4619.  
  4620. "You're right. And if everyone dies, no one will be left to tell the story but me. Such an evil shadow...consuming everything it could in a desperate attempt to live. No choice but to use my full strength...
  4621.  
  4622. "...but I like hide and seek. Let's play."
  4623.  
  4624. He raises his hands. A sphere of white light glows bright...
  4625.  
  4626. White light glows from his hands.
  4627.  
  4628. And there's no explosion of power...it's a seeking ray, turning, twisting like smoke, billowing over the room. It's subtle, somehow evading the pressing force of the dynamo...
  4629.  
  4630. It finds you!
  4631.  
  4632. "Found you," Raziel hisses.
  4633.  
  4634. He snaps his fingers.
  4635.  
  4636. You lunge out of your hiding spot...
  4637.  
  4638. ...and just in time! The white smoke condenses like a thousand knives, blowing a hole in the floor where you stood!
  4639.  
  4640. Your momentum carries you through the air toward your foe...
  4641.  
  4642. ...and you latch onto his face with the burning urge to
  4643.  
  4644. CONSUME
  4645.  
  4646. "AUGH!"
  4647.  
  4648. One of his swords scrapes your flank as you dig your tendrils into his soul and rip at his wings. He isn't expecting the brutal assault and is sent stumbling backwards, trying to get his balance.
  4649.  
  4650. Raziel grabs you with his hand. Burning hot claws sink into your flesh and peel you away.
  4651.  
  4652. He screams as he does it, a terrible, ugly screech. You're sunk in deep, and you have to be ripped out by force.
  4653.  
  4654. But he does, and he throws you across the room. You slam into side of the engine.
  4655.  
  4656. You stand. But you feel as though you're under some huge pressure...what is that?
  4657.  
  4658. Raziel is clutching at his head. Where you tried to consume him, his skin is melted nearly to the bone. "...my face...what did you DO TO MY FACE?!"
  4659.  
  4660. He raises his hands. "DIE YOU PIECE OF FILTH!" His swords snap to his command and glow white-hot once more.
  4661.  
  4662. You're pinned against the engine...there's little room.
  4663.  
  4664. But you realize you're sitting right next to the magical dynamo powering the entire airship. It's the source of the pressure squeezing you...
  4665.  
  4666. Raziel's spell continues to build. A network of interconnected gold lines is spiraling between his weapons. It's glowing brighter and brighter. The power dwarfs anything he's cast thus far. If that thing is unleashed, he'll blow away half the ship.
  4667.  
  4668. You don't have the power to protect or stop Raziel's spell. You magic would probably just bounce off him...and you doubt he'll let you get close while he's charging the spell.
  4669.  
  4670. You see only one possible option.
  4671.  
  4672. You latch yourself on to the dynamo.
  4673.  
  4674. Your trendrils sink deep into it. The ball of power cracks. Snaps. Erupts.
  4675.  
  4676. Fire roars over you...into you. Pure energy. And you feed on it...
  4677.  
  4678. ...consume it...
  4679. ...CONSUME!!!
  4680.  
  4681. You're filled with more power than you've ever felt before. Your strength could move mountains! You could raise cities!
  4682.  
  4683. Darkness overtakes Evinbrook.
  4684.  
  4685. The power of the dynamo roils through you...
  4686.  
  4687. ...burning...evaporating quickly...
  4688.  
  4689. ...but you can still grasp it!
  4690.  
  4691. The power of the eclipse is upon you.
  4692.  
  4693. Raziel's eyes have gone wide as your form warps and trembles with sheer energy. His spell is about to be unleashed.
  4694.  
  4695. Your energy moves of its own will.
  4696.  
  4697. But you force it under your control. It will bend...and erase this magic!
  4698.  
  4699. The air trembles. It warps. It shifts. It tears open!
  4700.  
  4701. A terrible howling wind answers your call, twisting the very fabric of the world around you and sucking it down in pieces.
  4702.  
  4703. Raziel's swords and spell are annihilated.
  4704.  
  4705. And so is the engine all around you. But without a power source, the airship would be falling anyway.
  4706.  
  4707. Raziel stumbles back. "What...WHAT ARE YOU?!"
  4708.  
  4709. <I AM SHADOW,> you respond.
  4710.  
  4711. You condense your power into an accurate beam to strike the angel...
  4712.  
  4713. Your ray of darkness pierces the angel's chest The power blasts a fist-sized hole through his armor, his flesh, and out the other side.
  4714.  
  4715. He spits blood.
  4716.  
  4717. The ship rattles beneath you. And then...
  4718.  
  4719. ....wwwwwhhhhWHWHWHWHWHWHWOOOOOO
  4720.  
  4721. "...shit..." Raziel mutters. He drops against the wall, still alive, but barely.
  4722.  
  4723. The roar of the wind increases. It rips, tears, churns against the hull of the airship.
  4724.  
  4725. Something is very wrong.
  4726.  
  4727. A lesson you learned from a book in the duke's library comes back to you...
  4728.  
  4729. The Sky-Sever - an ancient spell capable of tearing down the airship - is attacking the hull. Without the power of the engine protecting them, the crew is defenseless.
  4730.  
  4731. Raziel sputters up more blood from the corner. It seems he's trying to gather his power.
  4732.  
  4733. <You will have to wait for another day,> you say. <I must save these humans.>
  4734.  
  4735. "...you don't...kill me here...I'll hunt you down."
  4736.  
  4737. <Their lives are more important than yours, you pathetic creature.>
  4738.  
  4739. You feel your power coalesce on your back as it answers your call. Wings of darkness grow. You fly into the widening hole in the hull of the ship.
  4740.  
  4741. The airship is assaulted on all sides by a torrent of hurricane winds, wrapping it in a sphere of storm force. The airship itself is plummeting out of the sky, only a half minute from crashing into the earth. It reminds you of something...
  4742.  
  4743. ...you push your power into the wind, -spinning- back the other way. It howls against you, but you will not be denied. You shove more and more force, more power into the act, using everything you have.
  4744.  
  4745. Slowly, the winds churn to a stop. The air is stained black with streaks of purple energy. And then it turns, back the other way.
  4746.  
  4747. The ship is consumed in a globe of black inky shadow. It surrounds it, holding the winds at bay. Slowly, the ship settles to the ground. A cloud of dust is hurled into the air as the ship grinds to a halt.
  4748.  
  4749. Your wings begin to shrivel up. The power is slipping from you. You manage to land next to the crashed vessel before it leaves you entirely.
  4750.  
  4751. A figure of light drifts out of the hull of the ship. Raziel's wings flap weakly, but steadily. He drifts away over the horizon. You don't have the strength to pursue him.
  4752.  
  4753. Crewmembers are crawling out of the wreckage. They appear mostly unharmed, aside from some bumps and bruises.
  4754.  
  4755. The last of the power fades...
  4756.  
  4757. ...but something is different...
  4758.  
  4759. As your power burns away, the pressure of your Shadow roars across the lands...
  4760.  
  4761. --------------
  4762.  
  4763. Sir Flint and Duke Vellik feel the power. Flint shivers. "By the light."
  4764.  
  4765. --------------
  4766.  
  4767. A lone swordsman in a deep canyon glances up at the wave of power. He can only believe that a powerful demon walks the earth.
  4768.  
  4769. --------------
  4770.  
  4771. A lady in black glances up from a throne she did not build. "...a dark thing walks Venia."
  4772.  
  4773. --------------
  4774.  
  4775. The prince of a swamp feels a shiver crawl down his spine.
  4776.  
  4777. --------------
  4778.  
  4779. A criminal grown man feels the shadow churn from his tree.
  4780.  
  4781. --------------
  4782.  
  4783. An elven woman twists and turns in her sleep. Sweat rolls down her face. Concerned attendents rush to her side.
  4784.  
  4785. --------------
  4786.  
  4787. A Spirit yearns for release. A Keystone's calls go unheard. The earth ignores all, mad with rage.
  4788.  
  4789. --------------
  4790.  
  4791. A lich-king thumbs a crystal ball and considers how to bend the new energy to his whim...
  4792.  
  4793. --------------
  4794.  
  4795. An angel looks up from a portal. "...even you must feel this."
  4796.  
  4797. "It is beginning," says a voice from the portal. "This time...we will not fail."
  4798.  
  4799. --------------
  4800.  
  4801. A young girl feels the power of darkness tremble. "What's that?"
  4802.  
  4803. "...trouble," an old lich says.
  4804.  
  4805. You raise your head.
  4806.  
  4807. The sun has come out again. The darkness, for now, has passed.
  4808.  
  4809. Shadow Quest Chapter 12
  4810. ...wait a minute.
  4811.  
  4812. Your belt...your belt is gone! Where's your belt?!
  4813.  
  4814. You focus your senses...
  4815.  
  4816. ...the shard of the sword stabs into your sense like a bolt of shadow. You jog toward the airship. A beam of steel is laying on top of it.
  4817.  
  4818. You grab the bar and, with effort, roll it to the side. Your utility belt is muddy, but unharmed! You clip it around your waist once more.
  4819.  
  4820. Phew.
  4821.  
  4822. "Help! Somebody!"
  4823.  
  4824. You glance up at the voice. It's away from where most of the crew is exiting the ship, near where part of the wing is shredded up and heaped like a pile of rubble.
  4825.  
  4826. "Can anyone hear me?! Help!"
  4827.  
  4828. You glance over your shoulder. Raziel is faltering, but still moving. You might just be able to catch him...
  4829.  
  4830. You call out in your best imitation of a normal man's voice.
  4831.  
  4832. "Over there! There's a man pinned under the wing of the airship!"
  4833.  
  4834. A few men start at your voice. They jog around the edge of the wreckage and help their friend.
  4835.  
  4836. But you don't have time to stay and help. You've got to get after Raziel before he can get back...
  4837.  
  4838. ...you sprint after him. His flight is slow and unsteady, and soon you've caught up! It can't be long until that other angel shows up...
  4839.  
  4840. He's a few dozen feet above you.
  4841.  
  4842. You run ahead of the angel, making your way to a slight rise in the terrain. He's flying above the river, panting, oblivious.
  4843.  
  4844. You wait until he draws near...
  4845.  
  4846. ...then sprint, and leap! You fly at your foe!
  4847.  
  4848. Raziel's head just starts to turn toward you. His eyes are filled with terror.
  4849.  
  4850. You land on him...and instinct takes over. You Fangs pierce into him, crushing against his light. It burns brightly...good thing you didn't use magic. But it's no match for your sheer crushing force!
  4851.  
  4852. His screams pierce the air as you rip at the base of one of his wings and tear it aside. Your momentum carries him over, down, and into the ground. You land on top of him.
  4853.  
  4854. He's buried under you. You tear a claw into his healing chest wound and rip out a hunk of glowing flesh. He twitches, convulsing, but somehow still alive.
  4855.  
  4856. It's time to end his pain...
  4857.  
  4858. ...and CONSUME.
  4859.  
  4860. Something flashes in your senses. A star of light - and it's approaching fast. You know what it is. Uriel is coming, and swiftly.
  4861.  
  4862. You grab Raziel and wrap him tightly. Your soul-dissolving tendrils hover just over the core of light at the center of his body.
  4863.  
  4864. He groans. You punch him in the face for good measure.
  4865.  
  4866. You hear a hiss of air...that turns into a WHOOSH.
  4867.  
  4868. Uriel lands before you, a dozen feet away. Steely grey eyes stare at you from beneath a cowl. Her gaze quickly assesses Raziel's condition. Her hands are on the pommel of her blue-white sword of light, but she doesn't move.
  4869.  
  4870. <I had hoped to speak with you,> you say, breaking the silence. <You seem more reasonable than this one - willing to massacre an entire ship full of innocents to slay one elemental. He has received due punishment.>
  4871.  
  4872. Her eyes flick to Raziel, then back to you. "...yet you have not killed him."
  4873.  
  4874. <That would only prove that I am the murderous beast he sought to slay. I am a rational being. I can show mercy. Perhaps more mercy than an angel...?>
  4875.  
  4876. "...what of the ship?"
  4877.  
  4878. <I saved it from destruction,> you say. <Most of the crew is unharmed, though I did not linger. I had other matters to attend to.> You tighten your grip on Raziel. He's fallen unconscious.
  4879.  
  4880. "What do you want?" Auriel asks.
  4881.  
  4882. <A peaceful, orderly resolution to this...predicament.>
  4883.  
  4884. "And what does that entail?"
  4885.  
  4886. <The first thing you will do is throw down your weapon.>
  4887.  
  4888. Without hesitation, Auriel draws her sword - and tosses it forward. It lands to your side, sitting in the grass. The blue-white light fades.
  4889.  
  4890. <I came into this world four days ago, angel,> you say. <And in that short time, I have learned that my existence is despised. I am a living anathema. I am hunted by yourself, and this one, simply for being what I am. I do not understand this.>
  4891.  
  4892. "The power you demonstrated earlier gives reason for that," Auriel responds. "The little peace we have cobbled together from the nations of man since the Great War is threatened by your very existence."
  4893.  
  4894. <Threatened?> you ask. <I have no wish to involve myself in your situation.>
  4895.  
  4896. "Conflict always finds power," Auriel says. "Whether or not you seek it out, you would inevitably act to change something, and then you would be in conflict with the established order - an order that has persisted mostly peacefully for several hundred years. You seem most ignorant of these basic facts." She eyes you. "Raziel is a passionate fool, but I see between the lines. Our friend the duke has great ambitions...high enough to make use of the shadow."
  4897.  
  4898. <You look for enemies that do not exist. Have you considered that by searching with such intensity you may, in fact, create them? Your established order of peace and harmony dictates that I must die? It reeks of hypocrisy.>
  4899.  
  4900. Auriel grits her teeth. "Do not speak to me of hypocrisy, creature."
  4901.  
  4902. You feel a chuckle bubble up from within you, deep, but sharp. Auriel swallows, but says nothing. Her fists are clenched tight.
  4903.  
  4904. <Why not? Does it bother you? Yes, your peaceful order, your inquisition of rulers and slaughtering of life that exists in opposition to your own element, for all the meaning it has.>
  4905.  
  4906. "...get to the point."
  4907.  
  4908. <I want to be left alone. I want to live in peace. I will accept working within a framework to do this.> You stare her down. <I will not accept anything that does not lead to my peaceful existence. I have a right to exist. These are my ideals, these are my demands.>
  4909.  
  4910. "And if I refuse?"
  4911.  
  4912. <Then he dies, here and now.> You glance at your prisoner, than at Auriel. <He has already threatened to chase me down if he lives. I need an assurance that he will not be allowed to do so. One way or another, I will not permit him another chance for him to do what he did today.>
  4913.  
  4914. "...permit," she repeats. "No, shadow. You do not define justice, nor law. You define only chaos." Auriel raises her hand. "You must die, here and now. You may have bested him, but you are sure to be weak. Prepare yourself, shadow."
  4915.  
  4916. The sword flares white-blue!
  4917.  
  4918. This is a powerful foe.
  4919.  
  4920. You know what you have to do.
  4921.  
  4922. you
  4923. must
  4924. CONSUME
  4925.  
  4926. And your tendrils, already settled on Raziel's soul, hungrily devour him.
  4927.  
  4928. Raziel's unconsciousness doesn't survive having his soul attack. He wakes, and begins to scream a torture, gurgled cry that freezes Auriel in horror. You fall over him, eating away at his flesh, his being, his very EXISTANCE until it is yours, all of it, YOURS!
  4929.  
  4930. Auriel charges at you!
  4931.  
  4932. You dodge, but not fast enough! Her sword nicks your side, and light burns you, almost twisting in the wound...
  4933.  
  4934. You dance back lightly on your shadows. Auriel's wings snap taut, ready to propel her across the ground in another charge. Her sword spins a foot away from her hand, controlled by telepathy - and it moves faster than any arm could swing it.
  4935.  
  4936. You feel the angel's power condense inside you...a raw soul, bent to your will.
  4937.  
  4938. The air around you is no match for this power.
  4939.  
  4940. New limbs unfurl from your back, a bat's broad wings, wreathed in shadow. You take to the sky, and prepare to pour on the speed...
  4941.  
  4942. ...Auriel is right after you! She lunges forward with her sword!
  4943.  
  4944. You beat your wings forward and stop dead.
  4945.  
  4946. Auriel's sword flies past you, and her momentum carries her past you. She turns...
  4947.  
  4948. ...and you've already bent double. Power condenses behind you. Your shadow goes still...
  4949.  
  4950. ...then erupts!
  4951.  
  4952. BOOM
  4953.  
  4954. You blast through the air at supersonic speeds!
  4955.  
  4956. A trail of sound like an explosion follows your passing, making the clouds themselves waver.
  4957.  
  4958. Your power is steadily returning...
  4959.  
  4960. ...returning...?
  4961.  
  4962. The thought confuses you. Returning from what?
  4963.  
  4964. But you've got other problems.
  4965.  
  4966. Something's wrong. The air around you is shifting, changing. The air itself is pursuing you!
  4967.  
  4968. The air burns at your sides, scraping, clawing. You brace yourself against it, but it continues to slash at you, cut like a thousand swords prickling from every direction!
  4969.  
  4970. Your belt is slashed free...
  4971.  
  4972. ...but you're just able to snatch it with your shadows! You tuck it in against your underside.
  4973.  
  4974. The Sky-Sever continues its relentless assault. Evinbook castle is coming up fast!
  4975.  
  4976. The pins and needles of the Sky-Sever are rapidly turning into something more deadly...
  4977.  
  4978. ...you cut the power of your flight and dive down, away from the sky. It chases you...the air itself, surrounding you, is trying to cut you to ribbons. You shield yourself as you can.
  4979.  
  4980. You fly back into the crater left by Raziel's spell, landing in the duke's dining chamber with a heavy thud.
  4981.  
  4982. Almost instantly, the wind vanishes. You allow your wings to vanish into smoke and keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.
  4983.  
  4984. <Flint! Duke! Are you there?>
  4985.  
  4986. The door bursts open. Flint storms in, then stops, a shocked look on his face. "I thought you were dead for sure! What the hell happened out there?! I could feel that power all the way from - "
  4987.  
  4988. <No time,> you say, cutting him off. <Auriel is right behind me, and I don't know how fast she can fly.>
  4989.  
  4990. The duke appears from behind Flint, along with his double, Thomas, and the manservant. "Shadow. Are you convinced, yet, that my asylum is the only asylum?"
  4991.  
  4992. <Getting there. But are you sure you still want to offer me that with angels your open enemies?>
  4993.  
  4994. "Obviously, you'll sneak back in later," the duke says. "Besides, they're already secretly my enemies. They don't want any power shifting away from the empire. After I deal with Kan-Abar, of course."
  4995.  
  4996. <Flint. I'm going to Jaocb's Field.>
  4997.  
  4998. "...give me a day, and a horse, and I'll meet you there."
  4999.  
  5000. A star of light is fast approaching your position. You stretch out your senses. Auriel's light is...hopping. Slowly. She's flying for a short time, and then landing. Then flying.
  5001.  
  5002. Of course. Fooling the Sky-Sever.
  5003.  
  5004. You can't imagine what kind of aerial battle must have taken place to justify such a powerful spell.
  5005.  
  5006. <She's closing fast. I have to go.>
  5007.  
  5008. "Fair travels," the duke says. "Sir Flint shall have two of my horses to meet you will all due haste. Though I urge caution - you're heading into enemy territory."
  5009.  
  5010. <Then I'll become a shadow.>
  5011.  
  5012. You turn toward the hole in the castle. You've got to fly as fast as possible, but you're sure the Sky-Sever eagerly awaits your return...
  5013.  
  5014. You fly up and away from the hole, gaining altitude...then...
  5015.  
  5016. BOOM
  5017.  
  5018. You explode through the air.
  5019.  
  5020. You cover ground quickly...
  5021.  
  5022. ...but soon enough you feel the prickling of the air surround you once again.
  5023.  
  5024. You let the speed fade, and plunge directly into the Tairns river. You remember your little trip in the well back at the keep...you're a natural swimmer, and Ink makes it even easier. You slip between the currents and press yourself to the bottom as you continue to head north.
  5025.  
  5026. Auriel's star of light stops at Evinbrook, and, as you gain distance, it fades from your ability to sense. It seems that you've escaped - for now.
  5027.  
  5028. The bottom of the river is deep and dark. You can feel yourself healing...as if you're absorbing the ambient darkness....you begin to Regenerate.
  5029.  
  5030. ...time passes...
  5031.  
  5032. You climb on top of the mill. The wheel creaks and groans as the water pushes its paddles along.
  5033.  
  5034. The forest of tents spreads far and out across the hill coming down into town. Earthworks have been thrown up on the highest hill, and you can see teams of men hacking into the woods, probably to use as materials for more permanent construction. Mages seem concentrated in the town proper, though there are more than a few lights buzzing about in the church...
  5035.  
  5036. ...perhaps they've discovered the "nice lady"? You wonder if this was any kind of motivating factor for attacking...
  5037.  
  5038. A growing -thumping- draws your attention. You glance over, pinning yourself down flat against the roof. A stone golem nearly three times the size of the one you faced earlier is stomping down from the hilltop fortifications. It begins to walk around the edge of town, but away from you. A group of ten or so men divided into two groups patrol along with it, five ahead of its path, and five behind.
  5039.  
  5040. Abigail's farmhouse is isolated and quiet. You wouldn't have trouble reaching it.
  5041.  
  5042. You make your way toward the church.
  5043.  
  5044. The lights of patrols are easy to outmaneuver. You reach the edge of the church. Closer, you can tell more - there are five bright lights inside. One is of mostly spirit; another is a sort of mix between lightning and fire. Then there's one that's bright light, an earth mage, and a water mage.
  5045.  
  5046. It seems the Kanians have no problem with elemental diversity...
  5047. ...something strikes you. Why would these people be attacking Kelvere? Certainly their new ruler, Nulis, wants to firmly grasp the reigns of power...but why not do that through trade and friendship with a new ally? That would also demonstrate competence. Though, the duke did seem bothered by their use of demons.
  5048.  
  5049. ...there's more going on here than meets the eye. You're sure of it.
  5050.  
  5051. You slip into the church. The five men are gathered close to the altar. They're having a soft conversation, but there's nothing to say they've discovered some ancient magic...
  5052.  
  5053. You creep in under the pews, sticking to the shadows close to the floor. You stop under one of the wood benches.
  5054.  
  5055. "...there's no way down, I said it once, I'll say it again," says the man with a core of spirit. "Unless you want to throw the dice and blast your way through...but we could end up annihilating ourselves."
  5056.  
  5057. "Lord Vin has said his peace," another says. "Our task is to get down there, and he'll not be satisfied with failure. Unless -you- want to be fed to a minotaur."
  5058.  
  5059. The mage sighs. "It's surrounded by...force. It's not just spirit that's locking this thing in - all four of the greater elements, fire, wind, lightning, light. If we just casually dig it up, we could unleash a trap on the scale of the elementomachy. We're not getting in by force."
  5060.  
  5061. "There has to be another way."
  5062.  
  5063. "Maybe there is. I don't fucking see it. Do you?"
  5064.  
  5065. The other mage stomps his foot. "This is your realm of expertise. Too bad for us, you're a dumbass."
  5066.  
  5067. "You want to duel and find out just how much of a -"
  5068.  
  5069. "Hey!" says the earth mage. "Enough." The other two settle back on their heels. "Keep analyzing the area. It's definitely concentrated here, under the church. There's got to be something we're missing. Scour over the writings, the priest's journals, everything. Every inch of this church has to be spit shined."
  5070.  
  5071. Three of the mages move off. The water mage turns to the earth mage. "How's the southern force doing?"
  5072.  
  5073. "I expect they'll be nearing Evinbrook soon," the earth mage says. "Wait..." he puts his hands to his temples. He's silent for a moment, then nods. "A day's march. But they're pretty sure the duke's going to be aware of them any minute. That demon lord is handy, but even he can't hide an army that large forever, not that close."
  5074.  
  5075. "...do you think Nulis still has control over it?"
  5076.  
  5077. The earth mage is quiet for a moment. "No idea. We could be working for Abaddon right now, for all I know. The lord...it was definitely taxing him, last I saw him. But he was still in his right mind. He's surrounded by his mages, and they'd certainly help him banish it if things were getting out of hand. I think we're ok..." the mage squints his eyes. "But...keep a backup plan in mind."
  5078.  
  5079. The water mage nods, and sighs. "...Nulis never should have taken the throne. It wasn't his to take..."
  5080.  
  5081. "That isn't our call."
  5082.  
  5083. "No. It's a woman's call, isn't it? And she's poison. She's the one that pressed him to demons. I don't even know why we're here. Why are we here?"
  5084.  
  5085. "Do find a magical artifact that can secure victory," the earth mage says. "Keep your opinions to the whoring tents and get moving."
  5086.  
  5087. They split up, and the two move off.
  5088.  
  5089. It seems as though Vellik has a lot on his plate. You hope he knew about that attacking force...
  5090.  
  5091. You creep out of the church and flit across town to the edge of Abigail's home.
  5092.  
  5093. You walk up to the house. You can clearly see where the creature died - the grass where it fell is shriveled and black. The body itself is probably long buried.
  5094.  
  5095. The house seems as it was. The small shutter, covering the only 'window', if you can call it a window, is bolted tight, just as it was before.
  5096.  
  5097. You feel memories drift in you...just a few days ago, you met a little girl and she took you to her home. Sheltered you without hesitation.
  5098.  
  5099. The angels must be wrong. You are not something that has to die to preserve balance and order. You have a right to be...
  5100. To be.
  5101.  
  5102. Your curiosity gets the better of you...you open the front door. It creaks open.
  5103.  
  5104. The smell of decay assaults you - putrid, but less so than it was the day before. You don't really mind it. You can just tell it's rotting, nasty...perhaps -abnormal- is a better way of putting it.
  5105.  
  5106. After fighting the twisted freak, you know what caused it. You wonder how her parents got that way.
  5107.  
  5108. The kitchen in empty. The shelves are dusty and undisturbed.
  5109.  
  5110. There's a hatch near the back, probably leading down to a storeroom.
  5111.  
  5112. You pause.
  5113.  
  5114. Something's coming from the storeroom...a little tingle of magic.
  5115.  
  5116. You walk over and put a hand on the door.
  5117.  
  5118. Something stops you. Perhaps...you don't want to know.
  5119.  
  5120. You open the hatch.
  5121.  
  5122. It's dark. That's no problem for you. You climb down the ladder.
  5123.  
  5124. It's a normal storeroom, cool, slightly dry. Shelves are lined with jarred, preserved fruit, and dried plants and roots of a wide variety. You carefully examine the shelves.
  5125.  
  5126. Up above the top shelf, nestled in a corner where a child couldn't see, is a lever.
  5127.  
  5128. You can't turn back.
  5129.  
  5130. You pull the lever.
  5131.  
  5132. A shock of spirit cracks down the wall and into the floor...a stone slab, covered in an inch of dirt, groans as it shifts to the side. You peer into the hole. It's a room filled with orange light.
  5133.  
  5134. You drop down, and peer around.
  5135.  
  5136. You're in some sort of laboratory. A shelf piled with loose-leaf books is in the corner...it's all handwritten. A long bench is filled with beakers. Delicate, specialized condensers and supporting metal form a net of glassware serving a function you can only guess at. Notes and papers are scattered across the table, pinned by weights or pieces of the structure. Multiple pens are scattered about. An inkwell is set into the corner of another desk.
  5137.  
  5138. The third corner holds a raised platform...on the platform...is drawn a diagram. It's a circle, with a 9-pointed star. Characters and images and numerals are scrawled across it in exacting, measured detail.
  5139.  
  5140. You think it's written in blood.
  5141.  
  5142. The prick of magic grabs your attention. In the final corner is simply a hefty book, and a pen.
  5143.  
  5144. ...it seems that the pen is the source of the magic...
  5145.  
  5146. You walk up to the circle.
  5147.  
  5148. It's a confusing tangle of pictorials...but your ability to Translate shifts the words...slowly...parts of a message become clear. But even your natural power can't unravel it all.
  5149.  
  5150. To Bind and Keep
  5151. Kept, but Free
  5152. Freedom --- -- - - Human
  5153. Child of ---- -- - - Blood, the Only
  5154. To be Able -- ----- restrained from ---
  5155. Locked, in ------ -- -- - Plane of Man
  5156. The Void of the Nether Calls
  5157. Forth from the - -------- --- -----
  5158. Zek'Ata
  5159. ---- ----- - Stable, a Presence --- -----
  5160.  
  5161. You glance to the desk and walk over.
  5162.  
  5163. You hesitate.
  5164.  
  5165. You carefully examine the chair, the desk, and the book and pen...
  5166.  
  5167. ...and you find it completely free of traps. But then, the lever was probably meant as security enough. A researcher wouldn't wants traps near his work.
  5168.  
  5169. Right?
  5170.  
  5171. You look at the book and the pen, staring them down.
  5172.  
  5173. They appear to be perfectly normal. The book is leather-bound. The pen is a normal quill.
  5174.  
  5175. You delicately reach out a hand and touch the book.
  5176.  
  5177. Nothing happens.
  5178.  
  5179. You heft the book in a hand, and set it down. No explosions, no traps.
  5180.  
  5181. You look at the pen.
  5182.  
  5183. You touch the pen.
  5184.  
  5185. It leaps into the air!
  5186.  
  5187. The book flaps open with sudden force, then stops, open on a fresh, blank page.
  5188.  
  5189. -What's going on?- You think.
  5190.  
  5191. The pen scrawls the words 'what's going on' on the page of the book, then dips itself in the inkwell, then poises over the book, ready for more.
  5192.  
  5193. ...what?
  5194.  
  5195. The pen writes -...what?- on the page, complete with ellipsis.
  5196.  
  5197. Apparently this pen can read and write your thoughts.
  5198.  
  5199. The pen duplicates those words on the page even as you think them.
  5200.  
  5201. -...stop writing- you think at the pen.
  5202.  
  5203. The pen zips into its resting position and sits there, quiet.
  5204.  
  5205. Huh.
  5206.  
  5207. You pick up the book and turn to the first page...
  5208.  
  5209. --------------
  5210.  
  5211. We've traveled far...I'm pretty sure this is the most obscure village in Kelvere. Li Fang's agents will have trouble finding us. I used every trick in the book to conceal our path.
  5212.  
  5213. The townspeople have accepted us readily. I know some healing techniques, so blending in as a farmer and sometime apothecary should be simple. No one else here farms turnips, it'll be easy to story-up a bit about how they're healthy, or somesuch.
  5214.  
  5215. ...Zek'ata is nearly at nine months. I still can't believe the humanization worked. I love her so much...the woman who will bear my child.
  5216.  
  5217. If it's a boy, we've both agreed to Jonathan. If a girl, I want Laura, but she wants Abigail. That's a name for old witches, but she's really twisting my arm about it.
  5218.  
  5219. ----------
  5220.  
  5221. Something's under this town. I can't help feel like our arrival here wasn't a conincidence. Zek'ata says she can feel it too...she wants us to keep our distance. My old scientific curiosity has tried to get the best of me, but I'm a family man, now. Such a thing is best left where it is, I think. Sealed and buried.
  5222.  
  5223. It was my curiosity that got me where I am now. It was that urge to keep pressing beyond limits, to cross lines that hadn't been crossed...never again.
  5224.  
  5225. Abigail is 5...she's positively glowing. Very popular amongst the other children, when she sees them.
  5226.  
  5227. I don't have the words to describe my happiness. I won't do anything that could disturb the peace I've scraped together for this child.
  5228.  
  5229. ------------------
  5230.  
  5231. A new pastor arrived from the seminary down outside Evinbrook, a man named Jonathan. He's some primitives of light magic about him. I've already taken the nessecary precautions, and I'm not worried. Still, I'm glad Abigail's not a baby anymore. Her powers sparked up a bit when she got to crying. I'm tracking her condition carefully...her mother is certainly unique. Other than a very strong bent for Spirit magic, she seems normal. Thank whatever gods there be for that.
  5232.  
  5233. Abby is strong...I think, when she's ten, I'll begin her training. Until then, asking her to keep it quiet, and safe, should be enough.
  5234.  
  5235. ----------
  5236.  
  5237. Zek'ata has caught the plague, and now she's bedridden. She shouldn't have gone to the market. The turnips were getting boring, but Abby was fine. And now this.
  5238.  
  5239. I didn't think that was possible. The humanization gave her weaknesses, too. I've raged at myself all day.
  5240.  
  5241. The spell controlling this thing is powerful. Exceedingly so. It's like nothing I've ever seen...old, old magic.
  5242.  
  5243. I've been feeling unwell. Achy, sniffling. There's no time to be angry. I've got to find a way to reverse it before it's too late. For now, I've told Abby to stay in the parlor room, and not to come in under any circumstances. She's a good girl...she cried, but she listened.
  5244.  
  5245. My lab sits before me, and I've written enough. Time for work. I haven't done any serious research in some time...hope I've still got it.
  5246.  
  5247. ----------
  5248.  
  5249. I think I've found it. I've modified an undeath spell...it should reject the magic that's killing us through sheer incompatibility. Sigils that cancel one another out.
  5250.  
  5251. Zek'ata is at death's door. I'm getting closer. I'll cast it on us both, tonight. And if there is a Light spirit watching over us all...I pray it has mercy on a Spirit mage, just this once.
  5252.  
  5253. ------------
  5254. ------------
  5255. ------------
  5256.  
  5257. You close the diary and set it gently on the table.
  5258.  
  5259. This was the workshop of Abigail's father...a spirit mage. You frown, then open the diary to the first page.
  5260.  
  5261. Something is scrawled on the inside of the cover...
  5262.  
  5263. "To Jen Fang, my dearest brother. Congratulations on your graduation from the Archonium. I have high hopes for you, and will continue to support your growth and happiness."
  5264.  
  5265. Jen Fang. Abigail's last name is...Fang, then?
  5266.  
  5267. You tuck the book into your purse and the pen into your belt. You take a spare jar of ink and put it in a separate pocket.
  5268.  
  5269. A thought strikes you. You withdraw the shard of the sword from the purse...
  5270.  
  5271. ...it's warm in your hand from the power. You walk toward the circle.
  5272.  
  5273. ...the sword's humming increases. You frown, and step over the circle.
  5274.  
  5275. A part of the circle flashes. The rest vanishes.
  5276.  
  5277. A dark sphere appears in the air over the stone platform.
  5278.  
  5279. Something's coming.
  5280.  
  5281. There's a flash of purple light...
  5282.  
  5283. ...the dark sphere vanishes...but something is left behind. A small, dark mote. Darkness, floating, moving on its own...darkness that isn't a part of you.
  5284.  
  5285. You feel an Impression cross your mind. The moat floats above your head. A man walks up from behind you with a club. The mote zaps the man with shadows.
  5286.  
  5287. You send it an impression of the affirmative in reply.
  5288.  
  5289. The wisp of shadow dances around your head, seemingly pleased with itself.
  5290.  
  5291. Fascinating. You pocket the sword shard and head up out of the laboratory. The shadow wisp follows you, bobbing about.
  5292.  
  5293. You feel as though you've uncovered something you've forgotten...a way to open something...a passage somewhere else.
  5294.  
  5295. You glance at the house.
  5296.  
  5297. Abigail's parents were full of secrets...that much you know.
  5298.  
  5299. Abigail Fang. Who is this girl? What is her place in the world?
  5300.  
  5301. Suddenly, you remember. The duke mentioned a mage - Yi Fang, the archmage and ruler of Archon. Archon, Archonium...it can't be a coincidence. Abigail is not just a normal girl. She's very, very special.
  5302.  
  5303. And her father ran away from home, for one reason or another. And she and Adavan are out there somewhere, alone.
  5304.  
  5305. You feel a shiver run through you.
  5306.  
  5307. Auriel's words echo in your head.
  5308.  
  5309. "Conflict always finds power."
  5310.  
  5311. What is your place in the world? What do you want to do? Would you truly be content with living with Abigail and Adavan in a log cabin in the woods? Waiting until something finds you, or until the world falls apart?
  5312.  
  5313. You have too many questions to be satisfied with that. Questions about what you are, why you have the powers you do, why you're hunted - and why your memory still lingers behind a wall of steel.
  5314.  
  5315. You feel at it...
  5316.  
  5317. ...it's gone.
  5318.  
  5319. The steel barrier in your mind is gone. For a moment, you feel a rising sense of joy as you plunge forward...!
  5320.  
  5321. ...but you're only greeted with emptiness.
  5322.  
  5323. Whatever was there, is gone.
  5324.  
  5325. Anger boils inside of you.
  5326.  
  5327. No. A quiet life alone, in ignorance, will not do. You will find the elf noblewoman...and you will have an explanation.
  5328.  
  5329. Or there will be hell to pay.
  5330.  
  5331. Shadow Quest Chapter 13
  5332. For what seems like the hundredth time, you push the frustration away. Immediate concerns must take precedent.
  5333.  
  5334. Jacob's Field is occupied by a force numbering in the thousands - no doubt working to solidify Kan-Abar's control of the river, dividing Kelvere in two. It's no scouting expedition. They're building a fort, there's mages everywhere, and they have an earth golem nearly two-stories tall patrolling the edge of the village.
  5335.  
  5336. You've learned that an attacking force led by the ruler of Kan-Abar, lord Nulis Vin, is headed for Evinbrook, and at its head is a demon lord.
  5337.  
  5338. You're not sure whether the duke was prepared for that, or not, but Sir Flint is probably already halfway to Jacob's Field by now.
  5339.  
  5340. And you also have a strange wisp of darkness floating about your head, seemingly summoned by your power. You've uncovered something there...a way to open a path to someplace...else.
  5341.  
  5342. You decide that sitting around and waiting wouldn't accomplish much. You have to hit them where it hurts.
  5343.  
  5344. You don't need food, beyond eating to replenish your stamina. But humans must eat just to live - and frequently. You wonder how they'd react if you consumed their stores.
  5345.  
  5346. You decide that you'd like to find out.
  5347.  
  5348. You slither and slip and sneak your way up toward the half-constructed fortress. There's a lot of torchlight, but you clamber up a darker side of the wall and perch near the top for a better view.
  5349.  
  5350. The inside of the fort is a hive of activity. A wide breach in the north end, opposite you, looks like the foundations of a gate. To the west is a long pen sloping down the hill holding what must be several hundred horses.
  5351.  
  5352. The square fort itself is divided into quadrants. Two are filled with rows of small tents; another, larger pavilions and tents. The final fourth is set with long tables crowded with soldiers, and has several long, wide pavilions with crates and barrels stacked inside.
  5353.  
  5354. It seems as though you've found your target. There's more than a few mages, but they seem concentrated in the section with the larger, fancier tents. Perfect.
  5355.  
  5356. You sneak toward the storage tents...
  5357.  
  5358. You slink along in the darkness near where the earthen wall rises. Soon, you're at the entrance to the supply tents.
  5359.  
  5360. A man is standing outside one with several leafs of paper and a harried look on is face. A group of men enter, then leave, all carrying several crates and barrels back toward the mess tables. The man makes some scratchy notes, then scurries away. You're alone.
  5361.  
  5362. You slip into the tent. You can taste the aroma of food...and in the barrels, water, and something else - it smells a bit like the bar Flint was at. But more like the red drink that the duke was always sipping at meals.
  5363.  
  5364. You spread out like a tidal wave of black ink and consume the tent, piece by piece, eating through wood, paper, acidifying water, liquifying dried meats and hard biscuits. You feel full, but as if you could consume forever.
  5365.  
  5366. If you had lips, you'd smack them. You do it anyway, using ink to make large, heavy smacking sounds. Human peculiarities are oddly entertaining.
  5367.  
  5368. When you're done, all that remains is several sizable barrels of what you think is beer and twenty caskets of wine. You've no desire to imbibe any of Flint's ignorance potions.
  5369.  
  5370. You turn to leave...
  5371.  
  5372. ...the frazzled counting man is standing at the entrance to the tent. He stands there, stunned. His pen and papers slip from his hands and scatter across the grass. His mouth opens and closes without making any sounds.
  5373.  
  5374. You shock the man with two impressions.
  5375.  
  5376. In your first image, he tries to flee. A shadowy tentacle grabs his leg, then drags him back, kicking, screaming all the way until you devour him in your form.
  5377.  
  5378. A dark stain forms around the man's crotch. He whimpers.
  5379.  
  5380. You send him a second image of him crawling into the corner, putting his hands over his head, and of you walking out of the tent.
  5381.  
  5382. The intent of the message is clear. The man scrambles into the corner and ducks his head, sniffling and shaking.
  5383.  
  5384. You smash the barrels to pieces, breaking the wood and spraying the wine and beer everywhere. The liquid pours across the ground and is soon muddied and useless.
  5385.  
  5386. You slip out from the tent just in time to evade a group coming to investigate the source of the sound...
  5387.  
  5388. You dig your claws into the earthen wall and quickly scale to the top, and burrow in slightly to watch the chaos you've created.
  5389.  
  5390. You hear shouts of anger and a terrified voice echo from within the tent. More men gather when they hear. Whispers and words become a confused, babbled roar as the commotion draws the attention of more and more soldiers.
  5391.  
  5392. Eventually, one group is fed up and begins to rip the cloth of the pavilion away.
  5393.  
  5394. Finding it empty, a majority of the crowd goes silent. They begin to work faster, lifting the cloth up and over the several wooden stakes supporting its girth. It's not long until they realize all their supplies have vanished, and the caskets have been broken.
  5395.  
  5396. The soldiers mob the now panic stricken man for an explanation. The word of a shadowy creature spread quickly.
  5397.  
  5398. Officers are quick to arrive next, shouting the men off from the supply area. They snap back to other tasks - the Kanians aren't without discipline - but you know that they're still thinking, no matter what their orders.
  5399.  
  5400. Your work here is done, for the moment.
  5401.  
  5402. Balls of magic are headed your way...a confrontation with the mages on their turf might be pushing things.
  5403.  
  5404. ------------------
  5405. ------------------
  5406.  
  5407. You leave the fortress, sneaking down the hill.
  5408.  
  5409. A few horses shy away and whinny at your presence. A passing patrol gives the animals an odd look, but after glancing around, they shrug and continue on.
  5410.  
  5411. Your quickly reach the edge of the trees. The lumberjacks have made quick work of the outer forest, leaving it a narrow field of stumps.
  5412.  
  5413. Torches light the work area. It seems they're cutting through the night. They're scattered up and down the edge of the wood in a thin line. Perhaps a few dozen soldiers are amongst them, holding conversation and watching the night.
  5414.  
  5415. You work your way to the edge of the line, where there is less light and fewer men.
  5416.  
  5417. Three soldiers stand at the end of the line of lumberjacks, a short distance from the next group. Two men are working a long saw on a tree. The soldiers are quiet for the moment. The background of axes hacking and saws grating wood covers the sound of your footsteps easily.
  5418.  
  5419. You settle just inside the trees, further in the dark.
  5420.  
  5421. It's time to put the fear of the shadow into these men.
  5422.  
  5423. To start, you decide to kill these soldiers as an example to the others nearby. You feel confident you can defeat their spears and leather armor without much trouble.
  5424.  
  5425. You creep up behind the soldiers. One shifts from side to side.
  5426.  
  5427. "Hey. You hear what - "
  5428.  
  5429. Your shadow pierces his skull. His words turn into a rattling gurgle, then die as his corpse slides back on the spear of your shadow. Blood trickles onto the ground.
  5430.  
  5431. The other two soldiers turn at the odd noise.
  5432.  
  5433. Your shadow attack pierces the other two soldiers in quick succession, one in the head, the other through his chest. The one struggles and coughs, spluttering blood for a few long, painful moments. He goes slack.
  5434.  
  5435. You release your shadowy spears, and the bodies fall to the ground with a thump.
  5436.  
  5437. You steal away back into the trees just in time for the lumberjacks to stop sawing. They look over, freeze. Their cries for help are quick to go up over the rest of the line.
  5438.  
  5439. Men and lumberjacks gather around the fallen corpses. One of the men, wearing a rather fancy helmet with a red plume, quickly takes command of the situation. Runners head off toward the fortress. The lumberjacks are pressed back to work.
  5440.  
  5441. Their work proceeds slowly, and fitfully. They mutter to each other, keeping one eye on the dark wood.
  5442.  
  5443. You pose as a tree, using mimic to hold your form. You put a bit of effort into making your outside look like bark. In the flickering half-light of the torches, you blend in easily.
  5444.  
  5445. Two lumberjacks begin to move toward you.
  5446.  
  5447. "...I dunno. I want my shift to be up already."
  5448.  
  5449. "Think it's some kinda magic? I heard a mage talking about something under this town...and I heard another rumor they found a pit full of dead bodies past some of the farmhouses. Sounds like plague."
  5450.  
  5451. The other man shivers. "Don't want to think about it."
  5452.  
  5453. They reach your position and raise their axes.
  5454.  
  5455. You warp, shiver. They stand there, stunned, and their faces slowly transform into masks of horror. You leap on the first, consuming him, eating away at him head-down until you've reached the ground and there's nothing left.
  5456.  
  5457. You Ink yourself into a new form, Mimicing something you've noticed before...a spider.
  5458.  
  5459. You snatch a claw toward him.
  5460.  
  5461. The man screams and flees into the night.
  5462.  
  5463. You withdraw deep into the trees and watch the men under their torches. The terrified man is babbling and nearly incoherent. A brief search for the missing lumberjack turns up nothing - as there's nothing to turn up.
  5464.  
  5465. The lumberjacks begin throwing down their tools one by one. This time, the officer's shouts don't persuade them back to the trees. And even he seems a little sweaty, a bit to eager to keep his eyes on the forest...
  5466.  
  5467. You can feel two balls of magic walking down from the fortress and toward the forest.
  5468.  
  5469. You blast a flurry of images at the nervous crowd of men. Bodies, ripped open. Innards spilled onto the ground in pools of blood, hanging from the branches trees with glowing red eyes that greedily gobble up the intestines.
  5470.  
  5471. "It's the monster!"
  5472.  
  5473. "I told you!!"
  5474.  
  5475. "Calm down!" shouts the captain. But his voice is cracking. "It's magic! Illusions!"
  5476.  
  5477. "It ate Henry alive!"
  5478.  
  5479. "Pull yourself together!"
  5480.  
  5481. You blast the captain with an image of him being devoured alive by a ghoul. Its claws rip into his stomach and tear out chunks of his flesh.
  5482.  
  5483. The captain pales and falls to the ground. He scrambles back from the woods on his hands and knees. The rest of the men are in a near-panic. You assault them with the same vision, generalized.
  5484.  
  5485. One of them breaks and runs. Another follows. And then, like a horde of ants, they scramble back up the hill, away from the terror in the wood.
  5486.  
  5487. This pleases you greatly.
  5488.  
  5489. You decide you've done enough for the duke, and you retreat toward the keep.
  5490.  
  5491. With your new, greater speed, you make it in record time. There's still a few hours before dawn. The darkened, ruined keep is silent. In the courtyard still rest the crumbled remains of the gargoyle you defeated.
  5492.  
  5493. -----------
  5494. -----------
  5495.  
  5496. You walk back to the mausoleum. The building, opened, is quiet. You walk in and down the winding staircase.
  5497.  
  5498. The mana pool still rests in the center of the chamber, a deep ring of still, glassy liquid. It seems to be Spirit...concentrated spirit. It feels different than the power under the town, however. More...chaotic.
  5499.  
  5500. You dip a hand into the pool.
  5501.  
  5502. Nothing happens, and you withdraw your hand. You remember Flint being surprised that you survived contact with it...he seemed adamant that nothing could survive that.
  5503.  
  5504. You glance at the wisp. Undirected, it has followed you silently, hovering near your head. You send it an impression of it touching the mana pool.
  5505.  
  5506. It sends you back an impression of it going up in a puff of purple smoke, but also an acknowledgement if that is what you want, it would be happy to oblige.
  5507.  
  5508. You lean back over the pool. All this raw magic...
  5509.  
  5510. You know what you have to do.
  5511.  
  5512. You
  5513. Must
  5514. CONSUME
  5515.  
  5516. You extend yourself over the pool, dipping you tendrils down into the energy, and -
  5517.  
  5518. You hit it, hard. Confused, you try to CONSUME it, but it's like trying to bite down on a bar of steel. It's simply there, and it won't budge. A useful construction material...? But not something for eating, apparently.
  5519.  
  5520. You feel a slight sense of disappointment at finding something you cannot simply consume. It seems that your greatest talent cannot solve -every- problem.
  5521.  
  5522. ------------------
  5523. ------------------
  5524.  
  5525. You move into Adavan's chambers.
  5526.  
  5527. It's the same as before, cracked, aged stone with three inset resting places. They're empty, now. Other than that, there's nothing remarkable about the room.
  5528.  
  5529. You walk up to where Adavan was resting. It strikes you that he was able to survive down here, locked away, alone but for two of his ghouls...for hundreds of years.
  5530.  
  5531. He must have slept and meditated quite a bit. And have a will made out of adamantium.
  5532.  
  5533. You're surprised you were able to convince him to abandon his old war and take care of Abigail. He must have seen things during the elemantomachy. Terrible things.
  5534.  
  5535. A sudden fear strikes you. What if he lied? What if it was an act? These humans are chaotic creatures, prone to lies and secrets...
  5536.  
  5537. ...but you've made your choice. Worry will not help the situation.
  5538.  
  5539. You walk up to Adavan's resting place and peer into the nooks and crannies, but it's empty.
  5540.  
  5541. Wait...
  5542.  
  5543. ...a tingle of magic grabs at your senses. The key...it's reacting.
  5544.  
  5545. You withdraw it from your pocket. It glows a soft orange. You move it closer to the lich's burial alcove...
  5546.  
  5547. It burns bright. You hear a thunderous sound...
  5548.  
  5549. CLICK
  5550.  
  5551. It echoes into the ground and vanishes.
  5552.  
  5553. Adavan's resting place sinks into the ground, leaving only a dark hole.
  5554.  
  5555. You jump out into the hole.
  5556.  
  5557. You fall.
  5558.  
  5559. ...and fall. Faster, now.
  5560.  
  5561. You slow your descent with your wings, and continue to slowly fall.
  5562.  
  5563. Finally, you settle on the ground.
  5564.  
  5565. This place...is dark.
  5566.  
  5567. You feel right at home.
  5568.  
  5569. You're at the end of a massive cavern. You walk forward, keeping your guard up and your wings ready. Your wisp seems to sense your attitude...it buzzes near your head, darting here and there in constant vigilance.
  5570.  
  5571. You walk for a long time. The cavern continues, wide, lengthy, a deep bore through the earth. You're rather certain you're heading south, toward Jacob's Field...because the sense of the Spirit under the town is growing larger with every step.
  5572.  
  5573. Finally, you reach the end of the cave.
  5574.  
  5575. A door looms above you. The ancient vault soars all the way to the ceiling. It is divided into four sections. Each is carved with a different symbol; one for wind, fire, lightning, and light.
  5576.  
  5577. At the bottom of the door are four round holes. They show slightly different pictorials within their indents. Each one shows the matching elemental opposites - a wave and a flame, a mountain and a cloud, a bolt of lightning and what appears to be a ghost - and then a sun and a moon, just like on the key you hold.
  5578.  
  5579. The door radiates power...
  5580.  
  5581. ...you're wary of disturbing such a thing alone, with an army above you trying to get to this very spot. You shouldn't do anything rash. You pocket the key.
  5582.  
  5583. You remember the voice that spoke to you during the battle for Jacob's Field...
  5584.  
  5585. <Hello?> you project toward the door. <Can you hear me? Hello?!>
  5586.  
  5587. There's no response.
  5588.  
  5589. You sigh, then turn and head back the other way.
  5590.  
  5591. Confident in your surroundings, you take flight, flapping up and into the air. You soar up back through the hole...
  5592.  
  5593. ...something pricks at your backside...a familiar feeling of wind...?! Even here?
  5594.  
  5595. You flap your wings faster, but the Sky-Sever pursues you. The rush of air increases around you...
  5596.  
  5597. You shoot back into Adavan's chamber and roll onto the ground. The air dies, and goes still.
  5598.  
  5599. Nowhere is safe from that awful spell. You stand, and glance at the wisp, still hovering by your side.
  5600.  
  5601. Wait a minute. The wisp...it's constantly flying. Why isn't it getting attacked?
  5602.  
  5603. You press your thoughts at the wisp.
  5604.  
  5605. It only answers with uncertainty.
  5606.  
  5607. Just what you don't need - more questions.
  5608.  
  5609. You decide to meditate and settle in next to the mana pool.
  5610.  
  5611. You close your eyes and easily enter the half-sleep you've experienced before...
  5612.  
  5613. ...you see darkness, spotted by points of light.
  5614.  
  5615. One of these points is just next to you...are these...mana pools?
  5616.  
  5617. You examine the darkness, looking at the lights...
  5618.  
  5619. Footsteps awaken you.
  5620.  
  5621. "Shadow! Shadow, are you - ugh! Whoa, whoa, ahhh!"
  5622.  
  5623. You hear a bang, and a crash, and a tumultuous tumble of steel clanking and mashing against stone.
  5624.  
  5625. Sir Donovan Flint tumbles to a halt at the bottom of the stairwell. He groans, then rolls over. "...fuck me."
  5626.  
  5627. <Flint?! Are you alright?>
  5628.  
  5629. "...good, you're here." Flint struggles upright. "Believe it or not, I've had worse." He picks himself off and brushes his armor. "I got past the Kanians without bringing them all down on my head, so I guess it had to catch up to me sometime..."
  5630.  
  5631. <Well, if you say so.> You settle lower. <Are we off? In any case, I've got some things - >
  5632.  
  5633. "No," Flint says. "We've got problems. Big problems. Nulis Vin - uh, that's the lord of Kan-Abar - he's marching on Evinbrook. They'll be in full combat by now, and Vin's come with a near army of demons."
  5634.  
  5635. <I know. I've been...-helping- the Kanians adjust.>
  5636.  
  5637. Flint grins. "So that's what got them riled up. I sort of figured." His smile fades fast. "What do I need to know?"
  5638.  
  5639. <I've found a way under the keep to where the great force of spirit is sealed,> you explain. You raise the Sun-Moon key. <This opens the way. The Kanians are looking for a way down, but they don't know about the keys. We need three more.>
  5640.  
  5641. "For what, exactly?" Flint asks.
  5642.  
  5643. <Answers - I hope.>
  5644.  
  5645. "...well. Anything about the attack?"
  5646.  
  5647. <Apparently this Lord Vin has summoned and is controlling a demon lord. Does that mean anything to you?>
  5648.  
  5649. Flint goes white. "...demon...lord. You're sure you heard those words. Demon lord?"
  5650.  
  5651. <I'm sure.>
  5652.  
  5653. "Oh dear light. Shit, I'm standing here. I might as well pray to the shadow, too." Flint holds his head in his hands. "If it ever gets out that there's any kind of relationship between us, I am going to be hunted down and skinned alive by my own family, you know that?"
  5654.  
  5655. <Flint, focus.>
  5656.  
  5657. "...a demon lord," Flint mutters. "Last time one was around was when the Black Lady summoned one. That was the last time the war in the Frontier escalated to open combat, fifty years ago. Two angels were able to bring it down. One of them, Raphael, is still famously crippled to this day. He was the greatest healer in the land - well, he still is. But he can't walk any more."
  5658.  
  5659. <...I thought he was a healer.>
  5660.  
  5661. "Even he can't cure the curse the demon lord put on him, stealing his legs. But he got the last laugh - banished it back to the nether." Flint pounds his gauntlets together. "But in a way, this is good. Auriel stuck around Evinbrook, poking around a bit. I had to pretty much tell her everything about Jacob's field..."
  5662.  
  5663. <What do you tell her?!>
  5664.  
  5665. Flint raises his hands. "Hey, what was I going to do, refuse her?"
  5666.  
  5667. <...fair enough.>
  5668.  
  5669. "I told her you appeared out of nowhere. I was...as vague as possible. But she probably got all she needed to know about Abigail from the townspeople." Flint sighs. "On the other hand...she is suspicious of the duke, but she'll fight on his side against a demon. That's dark magic right there, if nothing else is."
  5670.  
  5671. <What exactly is the nature of the nether?>
  5672.  
  5673. "An alternate plane," Flint says. "No specialty of mine. Nasty things live there, mages can bring them here to do their bidding."
  5674.  
  5675. Flint takes a breath. "The duke asked me to get you back there just before I was able to get away from Auriel. He needs all the help he can get."
  5676.  
  5677. <Help? With a war? With an angel and a demon lord?>
  5678.  
  5679. "Don't know if you've noticed, but you're pretty powerful," Flint says. "And..." he frowns. "I still...demons, Shadow. Nulis isn't just an enemy of Kelvere. He's an enemy of everything decent in this world, using them just to power his ambitions. Like a dark mirror of the duke...if that's possible." Flint sighs. "I guess what I'm saying is, I feel like I should be a part of this battle."
  5680.  
  5681. <With that thing attached to your soul?>
  5682.  
  5683. "I've gotten this far," Flint says firmly. "I won't let it stop me from doing what I think is right. And I say we can't well adventure after a lich and Abigail while our backside is being overrun with demons, and good people are dying."
  5684.  
  5685. <What's stopping Auriel from calling in backup?>
  5686.  
  5687. "The Ring City is very far from here," he says. "It'll take the angels half a week to fly, probably, and they'd be exhausted. Their two airships - the Velarion and the Noiralev - are the greatest in the world. They can even warp from place to place, but only once per month, or thereabouts. The Velarion just warped into Evinbrook, which is how they surprised the duke. And if the other could warp in, it would have done so already." Flint frowns deeply. "We're on our own. Unless you join us. I saw your speed, before. It's unlike anything I've witnessed before. You - we can make a difference in this fight. Even if it's just to save one life, it's worth it. Isn't it?"
  5688.  
  5689. <...you've thought this through, haven't you.>
  5690.  
  5691. "...had a lot of time on the horse," Flint mutters.
  5692.  
  5693. <I would say that saving one life might be worth it. It depends on the life.>
  5694.  
  5695. "Cynicism doesn't suit you. You're better than that."
  5696.  
  5697. <My actions have saved lives, but ended others. I am no hero.>
  5698.  
  5699. "You could be," Flint says. He looks at you. "You could be a hero if you wanted. You could show them that a man's element has nothing to do with his character, with his goodness."
  5700.  
  5701. <Why do you care do much?>
  5702.  
  5703. Flint looks slightly hurt by this comment. "...because I met you."
  5704.  
  5705. You have no response to this.
  5706.  
  5707. "...Shadow..." Flint swallows. He looks away. "...I'm...I'm the screw-up of my family. I left home to restore a knighthood because I had to get away before I drove myself crazy. I thought...if I could get out from under them, I could show them that..." Flint stops, then starts again. "...I never had a friend that simply trusted me like you did. That joined me on what I believed was a suicidal adventure. That showed me a shadow elemental...could feel, like a human.
  5708.  
  5709. "When the survivors of the airship crash returned to town, they spoke of a dark thing - a thing that drove back the Sky-Sever and saved their lives. That was you, wasn't it?"
  5710.  
  5711. <It was.> You look at him. <I consumed the angel, Raziel.>
  5712.  
  5713. "...he's not unknown for his belligerence," Flint says. "I don't doubt he forced you into it. But you know - Auriel tried to press the crewmembers into else. But they were adamant that you'd saved them from a rampaging angel. They seemed to think it was the duke's work, protecting them from the unwanted influence of the Ring City. He was quick to spin it that way. It bothered Auriel, their defense of you." Flint raises an eyebrow. "Many Angels had no love of him- will be glad he's gone."
  5714.  
  5715. <What happens when she sees me on the battlefield again? She's made her position clear.>
  5716.  
  5717. "What happens when she sees you fight at her side against demons?"
  5718.  
  5719. You go quiet.
  5720.  
  5721. If you go off on your own, Flint will just drive his horses dead to get back to Evinbrook, alone if he has to.
  5722.  
  5723. He places upon you the qualities of a human.
  5724.  
  5725. Perhaps there is something to that.
  5726.  
  5727. <I don't know,> you say. <I hope she puts aside her crusade for the moment. But I do know that I can fly faster than a horse can run. We need to get back there as soon as we can.>
  5728.  
  5729. Flint grins. "I knew I could count on you."
  5730.  
  5731. You both run up the stairs. Your wisp still bobs around you.
  5732.  
  5733. "What's that black thing?"
  5734.  
  5735. <A...wisp.>
  5736.  
  5737. "Good," Flint says. "We need all the help we can get."
  5738.  
  5739. You reach the courtyard.
  5740.  
  5741. <Alright. I'm going to fly us back.>
  5742.  
  5743. "Uh...I mean, we have to get back quickly, but we're not going that fast." Flint looks at you. "Right?"
  5744.  
  5745. You grab him.
  5746.  
  5747. "Shadow? Shadow, just put me down for a second!"
  5748.  
  5749. You aura gathers behind you and goes still, like a shadow frozen in place.
  5750.  
  5751. "Shadow, let's plan this out!"
  5752.  
  5753. BOOOM
  5754.  
  5755. --------------------
  5756. --------------------
  5757.  
  5758. You zip over Jacob's Field so quickly the buildings blur in your sight. The sound of the air around you vanishes as you outpace your own ability to hear. Flint's face is contorted in a constant scream of terror. You can't hear him, but you can see his adam's apple bursting from his throat.
  5759.  
  5760. Serves him right for twisting your arm.
  5761.  
  5762. And then you hear it...
  5763.  
  5764. ...the Sky-Sever. Wind, rustling, stabbing, needling!
  5765.  
  5766. You pour on the speed. You can't stop now!
  5767.  
  5768. The river turns into a undulating snake as you cruise along. The force of the wind steadily increases, but your aura slashes back, holding it at bay!
  5769.  
  5770. Hills ripple beneath you. Farmland flickers in your sight, then is gone. The wind continues to assault your sides!
  5771.  
  5772. The wind is getting fiercer, but you're almost there! You think you can recognize the terrain!
  5773.  
  5774. You cut out your supersonic.
  5775.  
  5776. WHOMPH
  5777.  
  5778. You beat your wings, then land on a nearby hill. The winds fade, and vanish.
  5779.  
  5780. You release Flint. He stumbles forward, then falls onto his hands and knees. "...thank you, earth spirit." Flint collapses. "Never again. Never, ever again, do you hear me?"
  5781.  
  5782. You're about to make a smug response...
  5783.  
  5784. The roar of an explosion, muffled by distance, cuts you off.
  5785.  
  5786. You turn around.
  5787.  
  5788. You're on the opposite side of the castle from the battle, but you can see and hear it very plainly.
  5789.  
  5790. The horizon beyond the castle is stained red and black. Lights pulse amongst the clouds and around pillars of smoke. The castle's highest keep has a hole torn in its side.
  5791.  
  5792. The Velarion circles the battle. It's unlike the other airship - almost solid steel, all lights and shine, but it's scarred from the battle. Its hull is smoking, and there are tears in its armor plating. Lights still pulse from its underside, bombs of fire and lightning.
  5793.  
  5794. You see clouds gathering around a small form on the top of the keep. Lightning pulses around him, arcs of gold energy snapping and cracking across the battlefield like the sound of a thunderstorm. Bolts of the energy strike the ground, doing damage you can't see. You recognize that aura - it's the duke.
  5795.  
  5796. You're glad you didn't try to fight him.
  5797.  
  5798. A flash of light like a sunray pierces the sky from near the Velarion, boring a hole through the clouds. A might dome of darkness thrums suddenly, humming with power. A deep rumble roars over the entire field as the powers clash.
  5799.  
  5800. The ray of light snakes across the dome, leaving an ugly red scar, but it's ultimately unable to penetrate.
  5801.  
  5802. The darkness fires back. It's like a missile of shadow, aimed at the airship. The blast strikes home. It seems to be partially deflected by the airships energy, but another smoking tear is ripped in the hull.
  5803.  
  5804. "War," Flint whispers.
  5805.  
  5806. Shadow Quest Chapter 14
  5807. Flint shakes himself. He points to the top of the castle, where the duke is seemingly commanding the heavens down upon his enemies.
  5808.  
  5809. And here you thought he was merely magically competent. Obviously he was playing his cards close to his chest, because with his power unleashed, you've felt no other mage like him. He might be on par with an angel...
  5810.  
  5811. ...well. Might.
  5812.  
  5813. "He's sure to have a plan," Flint says. "And either way, he can't keep that up forever. My money is that he's forced to play himself as a stopgap. We should fly up and speak to him."
  5814.  
  5815. You can feel the resounding crash of battle around you. You're unsure where to even begin. Flint's suggestion is a good one.
  5816.  
  5817. The now-silent and smoking airship catches your eye. It still drifts over the battle, but its attacks have been halted by the damage it's sustained...
  5818.  
  5819. ...perhaps its magic dynamo would serve your side better in your stomach.
  5820.  
  5821. Aside from these competing plans, you can feel Auriel's light flaring like a star up beyond the clouds. And then, you see her - she touches down briefly on the roof of the Velarion to stop the Sky-Sever, and then is off again before the Demon Lord can pinpoint her.
  5822.  
  5823. It's probably not a good idea to take a random action right now. Whatever the duke is planning, it's sure to be carefully choreographed, and you might have an important role.
  5824.  
  5825. You grab Flint. <Time to fly.>
  5826.  
  5827. "Slow this time!"
  5828.  
  5829. You spin up into the air, tugging along a green-looking Flint. In short order, you reach the top of Evinbrook's keep, which is crackling with gold lightning. <Your excellency!>
  5830.  
  5831. The duke thrusts a hand forward. The last of his lightning burns into the battlefield, exploding, and leaving a crater where there once was a square of red-dressed Kanian spearmen. Kelvere soldiers, marked by their orange-gold tabards, rush in to take advantage of the break in the enemy line.
  5832.  
  5833. The duke exhales. "Shadow. I wasn't sure you'd come."
  5834.  
  5835. <I have.> You land on the keep next to him. Flint wobbles for a moment, then catches himself. It's a long way down.
  5836.  
  5837. You can see the battle spread out below you like...a game of stones.
  5838.  
  5839. A distance away from the castle, there's a large fortified building, surrounded by walls and palisades. This seems the centerpoint of the Kelveren defensive. Occupying a hill further back is the center of the Kanian army, surrounded by a smoky sphere of darkness.
  5840.  
  5841. You focus your senses, trying to pinpoint the demon...but you feel nothing. Strange, despite it using that much magic.
  5842.  
  5843. <Do you have a plan?>
  5844.  
  5845. "The Velarion was the variable to tip the scales," the duke says. "Before you arrived, the demon hit it with something - it's engines can't be working right, because it's stopped firing, and its shielding isn't stopping more blunt attacks. We need to get up there." The duke clenches a fist. "I know for a fact it has a Lightning-based dynamo. You will convey us to the airship, and I'll do what's necessary to get the engine going."
  5846.  
  5847. <What of the angel?>
  5848.  
  5849. "She's working on getting through that." The duke points at the sphere of darkness. "Maybe you'll have more success, but later. We need the Velarion to hold our lines. They outnumber us nearly 2-to-1. If it goes down, the battle is lost." He shakes his head. "A demon lord. Arland might not like Kelvere, but now they'll be forced to align themselves with us - because they know they'll be next if we fall. We'll drive the Kanians back, but we have to win here."
  5850.  
  5851. <Then let's get going. Are you ready?>
  5852.  
  5853. "I've done more insane things. To the ship!"
  5854.  
  5855. You grab Flint and the duke. <Hold on.> The duke braces himself, and Flint tries not to squirm too much. You flap off from the roof of the keep, a bit slower for the weight, but without too much effort, heading for the airship.
  5856.  
  5857. A few moments after you take off, a twinkle of darkness zips out of the sphere, straight for your former position.
  5858.  
  5859. You instinctively feel you must get away. You flap harder, flying as fast as you can without going supersonic.
  5860.  
  5861. The twinkle of darkness strikes the keep, and an orb of shadow expands, booms, and collapses. The roof of the building is gone, eaten away in a spherical pattern.
  5862.  
  5863. "I'm glad I wasn't standing there!" The duke shouts.
  5864.  
  5865. You're nearly to the ship...
  5866.  
  5867. ...when all hell breaks loose from the black orb in the middle of the Kanian army.
  5868.  
  5869. A storm of demons emerges from the smoky sphere. There's every monster you can imagine, and more - harpies, twisted birds, even what look like tiny dragons; wyrms.
  5870.  
  5871. "They can feel me moving!" The duke shouts. "They're trying to intercept us! Go, go!"
  5872.  
  5873. You flap harder, but burdened by two weights, you're not quite at the ship when a wyrm lunges down to attack!
  5874.  
  5875. You twist sideways!
  5876.  
  5877. The wyrm flies by, missing you completely...
  5878.  
  5879. ...but even stuck in your grip, Flint has his sword free. The wyrm has too much momentum to stop - it's like running headfirst into a light-enhanced guillotine. The wyrm's head is lopped clean.
  5880.  
  5881. In a twist of shadow and spirit, it vanishes, and is gone.
  5882.  
  5883. "There! Into the hole!"
  5884.  
  5885. You dive through the smoking hole in the airship's hull. A buzz of lightning passes over you as you go through the ship's shields...but the duke reacts quickly, creating a barrier around you and Flint both. You're through, and you land on the inside without event.
  5886.  
  5887. Flint stumbles to the side and puts a hand on the wall. "I...hate...flying."
  5888.  
  5889. "Perk up, we've got work to do." The duke frowns, then nods. "This way. I could feel that core from a hundred miles out."
  5890.  
  5891. You march through the halls of the airship.
  5892.  
  5893. You turn a corner...
  5894.  
  5895. ...you face a satyr!
  5896.  
  5897. "What the - " the duke begins.
  5898.  
  5899. The satyr crouches, ready to attack!
  5900.  
  5901. The hallways are wide enough for about two men across, and only 7 feet high - a tight space.
  5902.  
  5903. <Get to the engine room, I'll hold it off!>
  5904.  
  5905. The duke nods and dashes down a side passage. Flint tears after him.
  5906.  
  5907. You're about to charge, but the Satyr's claws flare with Fire! Uncertain of what to expect at close range, you hesitate. You dodge its first aggressive swipe, and its second, but its third catches you straight on! Searing flame burns you...
  5908.  
  5909. As you fall back, the Satyr pauses for an instant, then catches sight of your wisp! A fiery claw destroys it in a puff of purple smoke!
  5910.  
  5911. The satyr goes for another flaming claw attack. But its fourth strike isn't anything special - just like the last three you've already seen, and felt.
  5912.  
  5913. You flicker to its side. Its claws rake the steel of the hallway, leaving glowing gashes, but you're unharmed. Your Fist catches it on the side of the head, slamming it into the side of the corridor.
  5914.  
  5915. The demon stumbles, dazed. Your follow-up punches him in the gut, once, twice, three times, pounding him so hard the steel bends and cracks. Your shadow finally stabs into its neck...
  5916.  
  5917. ...AND YOU CONSUME.
  5918.  
  5919. ...it goes easily...the satyr was near death. But...there's no Soul. It's just magic...strange. You feel more of that untapped power surge through you, but you don't feel as revitalized, physically.
  5920.  
  5921. You turn...
  5922.  
  5923. ...and see someone standing just behind you.
  5924.  
  5925. It's a woman...she holds a strange pose. A sharp, short blade protrudes from a contraption under one of her wrists. In the other hand is a wide punching dagger. She's lightly clothed...
  5926.  
  5927. ...but it's hard to focus on her. She seems wreathed in shadow. It emanates from her, and her clothing. Darkness.
  5928.  
  5929. You find yourself in approval of this human.
  5930.  
  5931. "...impressive, creature. You fight demons." The woman slowly lowers her blades, but her posture is balanced and tense. You have no doubt she is ready for a fight. "You are no demon yourself...though recent events have me feeling...cautious."
  5932.  
  5933. <I am no demon,> you confirm. <Only a shadow that seeks to remove them.>
  5934.  
  5935. "The we have at least one enemy in common," the woman says. Her voice is low and soft. "But who do you fight for in this battle?"
  5936.  
  5937. <I fight for justice.>
  5938.  
  5939. "What justice?"
  5940.  
  5941. <My own.>
  5942.  
  5943. The woman smirks. "Really? And what does the justice of a living shadow entail, exactly?"
  5944.  
  5945. <If we both survive this battle, I might have the time to tell you.>
  5946.  
  5947. "Your allies ran toward the engine room," she says. "I aim to restore it. Don't get in my way."
  5948.  
  5949. You realize she's been watching since the beginning of the fight.
  5950.  
  5951. That bothers you.
  5952.  
  5953. But somehow...you find yourself oddly pleased that it was Shadow magic that fooled you.
  5954.  
  5955. <We share a goal, then,> you say, <for that is our aim as well. Come.>
  5956.  
  5957. You dash after your allies, and she follows behind you. It's easy to keep an eye on her. You don't have a head that can only look forward, like these humans do. But it's difficult...as if your gaze wants to slide off her.
  5958.  
  5959. You wonder if that's what it feels like when people look at you.
  5960.  
  5961. You clank across the metal and slide down the railing of some stairs, turning to Ink to speed your passage. She vaults over the banister and lands next to you, and you both continue to run.
  5962.  
  5963. "Useful body you have there."
  5964.  
  5965. <You are agile. That is good.>
  5966.  
  5967. "An eloquent, too."
  5968.  
  5969. You suddenly realize her movements and footfalls haven't made a sound the entire time she's run along with you. It seems you have some room to grow...
  5970.  
  5971. You can feel the pressure of the dynamo rushing up upon you as you grow closer. There's still no sign of the duke or Flint. There's a moment left until you get there, however.
  5972.  
  5973. Perhaps time for a quick question.
  5974.  
  5975. You glance at the woman. <Eloquence? Unnecessary.>
  5976.  
  5977. "You have me there."
  5978.  
  5979. You reach the engine room...
  5980.  
  5981. The vast chamber is in chaos. Demons are everywhere - two more satyrs and three fae, imps, are dancing about. Flint's holding them off by taking them on one at a time from the bowels of the engine, but he's giving ground fast.
  5982.  
  5983. Three wyrms are flitting about up above like vultures, waiting for an opportune moment. A hulking minotaur is challenging Vellik directly. Forced into hand to hand combat, the duke wields two knives sparking with lightning, deflecting and parrying the Minotaur's shadowy greatsword. The demon isn't giving him time to prepare any larger magic spell.
  5984.  
  5985. The dynamo itself is...covered with something. Shadow wraps it like a cloak. The engine is moving in starts and stutters, coughing with the lack of power. The lights strobe on and off.
  5986.  
  5987. "Like I said," the woman says. "Don't get in my way."
  5988.  
  5989. You shove an impression at Flint - he pushes the demons, then ducks for cover.
  5990.  
  5991. Flint's trust in you is realized. He reacts immediately, slamming himself into the demon he's fighting. His armor takes a nasty blow, but holds. The satyr falls back and smashes into the creature behind him.
  5992.  
  5993. Flint is prepared for his own attack, and he leaps back - just in time to collapse in a heap in the corner. But he's out of the way.
  5994.  
  5995. You draw upon your full mana pool at all once, something you've never done...darkness rises in you...
  5996.  
  5997. Bright missiles of shadow leap out from your form, spraying across the room toward the demons. The fae just have time to glance up before your attack hits them head on. The three are vaporized in an instant.
  5998.  
  5999. The rest of your shadows plow on. The majority hit the satyr on your side - which blows it full of wholes. The other satyr is protected from the attack by the meat shield, but is still stunned from Flint's charge.
  6000.  
  6001. The satyr you struck begins to twist and waver. It vanishes in a cloud of magic. You would have liked to consume it...but it seems that dead demons don't linger.
  6002.  
  6003. The woman hasn't moved. Her mouth is slightly open.
  6004.  
  6005. <Don't get in -my- way, either,> you say.
  6006.  
  6007. "Hmph."
  6008.  
  6009. She leaps up the machinery along the wall next to you as if she's practiced the moves her entire life. You blink, stunned. You've never seen a human move like that. She's fluid as Shadow.
  6010.  
  6011. An instant later, she'd flying through the air, launched toward one of the wyrms. Her punching dagger stabs into its back. The monster screeches, twisting left and right. She jerks her knife, steering the creature where she wants it to go with pain, and then leaps again, aiming for the second wyrm.
  6012.  
  6013. It sees her coming, and dodges. She falls...
  6014.  
  6015. ...only to catch a pipe, swing, redirected, and leap onto its back! The other wyrm is flying to help its ally...
  6016.  
  6017. ...but you think she can handle it. You dash towards Flint.
  6018.  
  6019. "Shadow, was that you?!"
  6020.  
  6021. <It was.>
  6022.  
  6023. You pull Flint up to his feet. A growl makes you both turn. The Satyr is charging, both claws wreathed in flame!
  6024.  
  6025. You hop into Flint's shadow and flash him an impression of him hacking off its arm, and then you devouring it whole.
  6026.  
  6027. He meets the Satyr's flaming claw with his sword, striking it upwards. You spear your shadow forward, deflecting the second claw. The satyr is reeling from your combined defensive!
  6028.  
  6029. Flint move in for his attack...
  6030.  
  6031. ...this close, you can see it clearly...the black thing constricts, eating at Flint's light as it tries to flare. He stumbles, and the Satyr has time to give ground and get its balance back.
  6032.  
  6033. You're in the middle of the room, now. Flint and the Satyr strafe one another; the Satyr's eyes flick from you, to Flint, and back again.
  6034.  
  6035. The duke barrels by. He's bleeding from a wound high on his arm. The minotaur is chasing after him, but it looks even worse - black, scarred pockmarks all over its body show where the electric knives have pierced its flesh. You can hear the cries of the wyrms from above, but you don't have time to look and check on the woman.
  6036.  
  6037. You want to consume the Minotaur and be done with it, but you hesitate...it hasn't been hurt.
  6038.  
  6039. <Flint, the duke needs help!>
  6040.  
  6041. Flint grunts in acknowledgement. You dash out of his shadow. The Satyr's gaze flickers after you as you leave. Flint takes advantage of the distraction and lunges forward, but you're not sure how he fares.
  6042.  
  6043. You dive at the minotaur's backside and dig in, clawing at it with your shadows and your body. It growls in pain, and your momentum forces it down to the floor.
  6044.  
  6045. It reaches back for you, tossing and rolling to shake you. A shadowed claw scrapes your back, but you hold on tight!
  6046.  
  6047. You latch onto the demon's...existence?
  6048.  
  6049. You're sure of it, now. These things have no souls. Then again, they're demons. Perhaps that is their defining characteristic.
  6050.  
  6051. But soul or not, it has plenty of energy.
  6052.  
  6053. You dig into the minotaur. You tendrils dip and reach into every scar and burn, sinking it, slurping the magic right out of it. The creature gives a plaintiff cry, then finally falls slack as your consumption takes hold in full. When you're done, there's nothing left.
  6054.  
  6055. The duke has taken a knee. He reaches a hand to his arm. His face contorts in pain, but he grits his teeth and ignores it as he cauterizes his own wound with lightning.
  6056.  
  6057. You run back toward Flint. The knight is winning, pushing a now-scarred satyr back across the steel floor. You're nearly positioned at its back...
  6058.  
  6059. ...a black shadow drops from the ceiling. The woman lands like a lithe panther on the beat's shoulders. Her knife stabs into the creature's spine, and then she's away, flipping back and landing gracefully on her toes.
  6060.  
  6061. The satyr twitches, then slumps, limp.
  6062.  
  6063. You're already there, anyway. You might as well
  6064. CONSUME
  6065.  
  6066. The duke sidles up to you and Flint, watching the woman carefully. <She aims to fix the engine,> you explain. <She killed the wyrms.>
  6067.  
  6068. "...who are you?" The duke demands.
  6069.  
  6070. "A servant of angels," the woman responds. "For now, a crew member. If you can do anything about the core, lightning mage, I suggest you do it before Lord Vin asks the Demon Lord to stop conserving mana and annihilate the ship entirely."
  6071.  
  6072. A roar snaps everyone's heads toward the door of the engine room.
  6073.  
  6074. A wyrm clambers in - so big you're surprised it fit through the halls. It rises up on its haunches. It's an intimidating beast, 7 feet high and 10 feet long, almost like a miniature dragon. It opens its mouth in a low growl. Fire and shadow twist in its jaws.
  6075.  
  6076. "Buy time!" the duke shouts. He runs toward the dynamo.
  6077.  
  6078. Shadow Quest Chapter 15
  6079. You hop into Flint's shadow, sending him an impression of his shadow growing and moving on its own to fend off attacks.
  6080.  
  6081. Flint has confidence in your ability, and he takes point against the wyrm. "Try to get behind it!" He shouts at the woman.
  6082.  
  6083. The woman runs for the wall of the engine room without acknowledging Flint.
  6084.  
  6085. The giant wyrm lowers its mouth and unleashes its breath. A roiling pile of flame and shadow tumbles toward you, catching Flint by surprise.
  6086.  
  6087. He raises his sword, almost as if to cut the blackened flames. It glows bright -
  6088.  
  6089. - but his magic stutters. The parasite twists hard on his soul.
  6090.  
  6091. You grab your friend around the waist and drag him sideways. The fire twists over the both of you. Flint escapes with some singed hairs, but you take a portion of the attack. Luckily, the dark magic seems to slide off you...
  6092.  
  6093. Flint settles back into a combat stance. He wraps his gauntlets tight around his hilt and sets his stance. You can see the frustration building on his face.
  6094.  
  6095. You send Flint an impression of confidence, and his sword buried in the wyrm's head. He nods, and takes a widened stance.
  6096.  
  6097. Flint lunges forward, pulling you along in his shadow. The wyrm's right claw lashes out to intercept!
  6098.  
  6099. You strike upward with your shadows, aiming to deflect the heavy arm away from Flint -
  6100.  
  6101. - but your aim isn't center! The massive claw slides off your shadow spear easily, still heading straight for Flint! It slams into his side, rending his armor, and sending him tumbling across the floor.
  6102.  
  6103. But before the wyrm can follow up, it reels backward in pain. The woman is on top of it, jabbing her knives into the back of its neck! It shakes side to side, trying to throw her. She grabs on to one of its spines and holds on for dear life.
  6104.  
  6105. Flint stands. His chest plate looks like it's been torn apart by giant can-openers, but he's blessedly unharmed. Light flickers on the enchanted armor, then dies. He snaps the leather straps holding it in place and lets it fall to the floor. "...I'd cut myself up if I kept wearing it anyway."
  6106.  
  6107. You send him a brief impression of the next attack cutting his chest...and a sense of worry.
  6108.  
  6109. He bends his knees. "Look at the positives. Now I've got more freedom of movement."
  6110.  
  6111. His words don't inspire you with much confidence.
  6112.  
  6113. Flint is eyeing the writhing wyrm, looking for an opening. The woman is still hanging on, but she can't do anything else without being flung across the floor.
  6114.  
  6115. You send an impression of Flint throwing his armor at the wyrm to distract it while you dart in to do what you can - either trying to blind it or attacking its underside.
  6116.  
  6117. Flint's face goes blank. And slowly, he grins.
  6118.  
  6119. "I'll do the blinding! Do as much damage as possible!"
  6120.  
  6121. You split off from Flint and head for the worm.
  6122.  
  6123. Flint grabs his plate mail...
  6124.  
  6125. ...and it glows a bright, golden white! He grunts, then hurls the armor up at the wyrm!
  6126.  
  6127. The wyrm's head twists from side to side as it tries to shake the stubborn woman off its back - and the plate mail connects squarely with its eye! On contact with the demon, the mail shines even brighter, then flares over the entire room! You're forced to shield your eyes. The wyrm rears back on its hind legs, pawing the air in a panic.
  6128.  
  6129. You're underneath it. You slam your Fist into the underside of the demon, punching through its scales and carving a rut through its muscle. Blood gushes out in a torrent. The wyrm roars in pain.
  6130.  
  6131. It's moving, turning around your head! Tree-trunk legs stomp around you, trying to smash you.
  6132.  
  6133. The clawed feet stomp around you, but the wyrm is injured, blinded, and confused. You flit between the feet with ease.
  6134.  
  6135. The gash you've made in its scales catches your eye...
  6136.  
  6137. ...you Articulate your limbs and grab into the sides of the tear in the flesh. You can see the injury already beginning to regenerate...
  6138.  
  6139. That won't last long.
  6140.  
  6141. You pull, throwing all your strength into the act. The scales begin to peel back with a long, sickening rip. The wyrm thrashes from the excruciating torture of having its skin ripped off its muscle.
  6142.  
  6143. You turn to ink, and pierce through its flesh...
  6144.  
  6145. Where guts and organs should be, fire and shadow rage inside the demonic creature. It's a shell of something real...a terrible sort of half-existence, part magic, part flesh. You grab onto that energy nonetheless, ripping and tearing at it - and your shadowy form can indeed touch it, rend it just like any other thing you've encountered.
  6146.  
  6147. The energy claws back at you, and you tumble inside of it, warping, Inking, fighting a strange back and forward with pure energy in a sort of territorial tug-of-war.
  6148.  
  6149. Something strikes you as odd.
  6150.  
  6151. This isn't an enemy.
  6152.  
  6153. It's a feast.
  6154.  
  6155. You.
  6156. Must.
  6157. CONSUME
  6158.  
  6159. You spread like a blot of ink dropped in water, in all directions, absorbing the energy as it tries to attack you. As you consume it, it stops, then tries to flee, pressing to the edges of its fleshy container. You're sure its aware - yes, this energy is the wyrm itself.
  6160.  
  6161. You can feel its terror.
  6162.  
  6163. You show no mercy.
  6164.  
  6165. You suck it down like a man sucks meat from a lobster tail, and soon, you're at the edge of the wyrm itself. You devour its flesh, starting from its head, then work your way down its neck like a unified swarm of locusts picking a corpse clean. Your body wraps it like a cocoon, turning around its scales and claws and breaking them into viscous energy ripe for absorption.
  6166.  
  6167. When you are done, you rest on the floor where the wyrm stood, a simple shadow. Nothing remains of your enemy.
  6168.  
  6169. Flint stares at you, stunned. His mouth is slightly open. His sword is loose in his grip, touching the ground. "Dear spirits."
  6170.  
  6171. The woman is hanging off the edge of the wall. She hops down and crouches on the floor. Her eyes don't leave you for an instant.
  6172.  
  6173. <You excellency. The engine?>
  6174.  
  6175. The engine coughs, splutters, and roars to life even as you speak. The shadow over the dynamo is gone, and roiling gold lightning crackles and spins in the center of a cage of moving pistons and steel. The duke waltzes out from behind the intricate contraption. "Online. We need to get up to the control room so I can coordinate with the crew." He glances at the woman. "I thank you for your efforts. Can you guide us to the control room?"
  6176.  
  6177. "...the engine is running. My work is done." The woman glances at you for a moment. "But I will take you to the bridge."
  6178.  
  6179. You pause. The Velarion is running smoothly...
  6180.  
  6181. ...but you wonder if the duke appreciates exactly what happens when you consume a dynamo.
  6182.  
  6183. ...you turn away from the dynamo's lingering pressure. It isn't going anywhere.
  6184.  
  6185. Power surges through the engine and down through the ship...the steel beneath you rocks and shudders periodically.
  6186.  
  6187. "We're firing again," the duke says. He glances at the woman. "Lead on."
  6188.  
  6189. She jogs ahead, and you all follow behind at a brisk pace. You glance at your friends. <Are either of you injured?>
  6190.  
  6191. "My arm doesn't work too well after that cut, but I'll live until we get to one of my healers," the duke says.
  6192.  
  6193. "...probably bruised a rib or two," Flint says. "Nothing major."
  6194.  
  6195. "I notice you lost your chestplate."
  6196.  
  6197. "Casualty of the fighting."
  6198.  
  6199. The duke nods. "We can substitute it with something, once we're back on the ground."
  6200.  
  6201. The uniform halls of the airship change as you ascend the stairs. You reach a wider, longer hall with several doors leading off it to either side. The steel there is bent and twisted, blackened in places. On the other side is what appears to be a ramshackle barrier of metal seemingly grown out of the airship's corridors.
  6202.  
  6203. "Who's there?!" calls a voice from across the room.
  6204.  
  6205. "Duke Vellik, and allies!" the duke calls. "We just came from the engine!"
  6206.  
  6207. A head pokes out from behind the barrier. "The duke himself. Well. Come along, then!"
  6208.  
  6209. The woman trails behind the group as you march forward. You keep an eye on her...her forms grows steadily more indistinct, hazy.
  6210.  
  6211. "...feeling shy?" the duke asks. He hasn't missed her reticence.
  6212.  
  6213. "I keep my own company," the woman replies shortly.
  6214.  
  6215. "You could at least give us your name."
  6216.  
  6217. The woman is silent.
  6218.  
  6219. The duke shrugs, then turns away. "Shadow, stay close. I'll give you a bit of shelter. Though...if Auriel is around, we'll probably not be keeping you secret long."
  6220.  
  6221. You hop into the duke's shadow and go still.
  6222.  
  6223. You reach the barrier. You can feel another lightning mage. He focuses, and magic bends the metal out of the way. The duke waltzes into the control room, a curious Flint and silent woman trailing.
  6224.  
  6225. The airship's command module is a strange blend of magic and technology. A glass view port encompasses nearly half the room in a sort of dome. A huge gaping hole is open to the air, a tear in the glass like a wyrm came and took a bite out of it. Magic hums around the opening, preventing air from coming inside.
  6226.  
  6227. Below, the battle is unfurling. The duke quickly makes his way out onto a long deck of steel set over the glass.
  6228.  
  6229. In the airship's absence, the battle hasn't gone well. Kelvere's lines have been pushed back to the brink of the last fortifications before Evinbrook castle. The Kanian armies press against the Kelvere soldiers in a long line, and their efforts have bent the defenders inward, encompassing them in a U-shape. Their core is still surrounded by that fog of shadow.
  6230.  
  6231. Mages exchange blasts of magic. Some are deflected or reflected off shields of energy. Others are blocked by rising tides of water and rock. It's like watching the earth fight with itself.
  6232.  
  6233. You can rather make out the core strategy from your vantage point. Each squadron of soldiers is assigned a core of mages that protects and defends it, while the soldiers themselves protect their magical support.
  6234.  
  6235. <What are you thinking?> you ask the duke.
  6236.  
  6237. "...what aren't I thinking." The duke's gaze lingers on the battlefield, then he looks back to Flint. "This is not good."
  6238.  
  6239. A star of light makes you flinch.
  6240.  
  6241. Auriel cruises down level with the hole in the airship, directly in front of the glass plate. She raises her sparkling blue sword of light, and levels it at the enemy lines.
  6242.  
  6243. The control room bursts into activity. Men and women in crisp white uniforms work manual controls with levers and knobs. You can feel the flow of Lightning within the airship redirect itself...
  6244.  
  6245. ...a hail of light and lightning rains down on the Kanian front line from the underside of the ship. The mages don't stand a chance against the concentrated power. A gaping hole is blasted in their forces. You can hear the roar of the Kelveren rally even from this high up as they push back, gaining lost ground.
  6246.  
  6247. "Recharging!" shouts a man at the front of the controls.
  6248.  
  6249. A missile of darkness spears out from the cloud of mist. Everyone in the room automatically flinches back at the power cruising straight for the glass wall...
  6250.  
  6251. Auriel flies out to meet the magical attack. Her sword glows bright, brighter, extending and lengthening nearly five times its size. She swings, hard, and cleaves the missile in two. The darkness explodes to either side of her, and she flies back toward the airship, smoke trailing from her form - though she seems unharmed.
  6252.  
  6253. It isn't long until she flies directly into the hole in the glass. She alights hard on the steel. "Duke! You did it!"
  6254.  
  6255. You're surprised. When she's happy...she doesn't seem all that bad.
  6256.  
  6257. The duke smiles. "Naturally. But we're not firing very fast."
  6258.  
  6259. "Report," Auriel says sharply.
  6260.  
  6261. "Critical damage to three of the energy converters," a man says from a console. "We can barely crawl, and the main gun's going to take twice as long to charge even with all power diverted there."
  6262.  
  6263. Auriel takes a deep breath.
  6264.  
  6265. Then she pauses. Her glances left, then right.
  6266.  
  6267. Then straight at you.
  6268.  
  6269. Auriel steps forward...her hand flinches to the hilt of her sword...
  6270.  
  6271. The cloaked woman butts in front of the duke, throws you an subtle glance, and strides up to the angel.
  6272.  
  6273. You note that the way her shadow falls intersects with the duke's...
  6274.  
  6275. "High one. The engine was restored without problems. Do I have another assignment?"
  6276.  
  6277. Auriel blinks. Her face twists as if she's smelled something bad, then sighs. "You are to seek and kill enemy mages in the lines. Use your magic to glide down. I've much to speak of with the duke." The angel glances at Flint. "Sir Flint, I see you've lost your armor? We can replace it."
  6278.  
  6279. Flint doesn't miss a beat. "I wouldn't want to impose, highest."
  6280.  
  6281. "It's no imposition. Arland's royal family demands more than casual protection." She throws a pointed glance at one of the crewmen, and he scurries off. "What happened down there?"
  6282.  
  6283. Flint launches into a detailed and shadow-less version of the battle, mostly using the woman as a substitute for your actions.
  6284.  
  6285. The woman pauses a moment longer...
  6286.  
  6287. Auriel glances away from Flint and squints at the woman. "Get going, now."
  6288.  
  6289. With the shadows crossing each other, you don't even have to move. You subtly -shift- from one to another.
  6290.  
  6291. The woman is off with a leap. Her aura allows her to cruise out the hole in the glass, and then she drops precipitously. A buzz of lightning passes over you as you drop through the magic shielding of the airship, but it doesn't seem to mind things leaving as much as things going in.
  6292.  
  6293. It's a bit of a trip back to the ground, and she isn't aiming to land right in the middle of enemy territory.
  6294.  
  6295. You send her an impression of gratitude for her help. She doesn't respond.
  6296.  
  6297. <What's your name?>
  6298.  
  6299. <I cannot tell you. What is yours?>
  6300.  
  6301. <...I am simply called Shadow,> you say. <But is a name so important you can't speak of it?>
  6302.  
  6303. "It isn't important," she says. "I can't speak of it."
  6304.  
  6305. <Why not?>
  6306.  
  6307. Her mouth twitches, but her throat works, and she chokes the words off. She swallows, and remains silent.
  6308.  
  6309. You're drifting slowly toward the east end of the Kelveren lines...
  6310.  
  6311. -----------------
  6312. -----------------
  6313.  
  6314. <I'm surprised the angels have a shadow mage as a servant.>
  6315.  
  6316. The woman says nothing.
  6317.  
  6318. <I think I may have misunderstood,> you continue. <Can you literally not speak of it? What could cause such a thing, if you can say?>
  6319.  
  6320. The woman says nothing, and makes no indication either way. She doesn't even look at you.
  6321.  
  6322. You feel confident in your assessment. <You are not a willing servant, but a slave.>
  6323.  
  6324. The woman's throat convulses. She looks at you. But she says nothing.
  6325.  
  6326. You bend your senses toward her...but you feel nothing. No locks or chains, no light holding her back. She feels...
  6327.  
  6328. ...empty.
  6329.  
  6330. Like a demon.
  6331.  
  6332. The thought bothers you in the extreme.
  6333.  
  6334. You're approaching the ground rapidly. You glance at her. <You can't tell me your name?>
  6335.  
  6336. Her lips snarl back over her teeth. Breath forced out her mouth stops, stutters. But she says nothing.
  6337.  
  6338. <Know I am not your enemy.>
  6339.  
  6340. "This I can acknowledge," the woman says. "How will you fight? I would know before we land."
  6341.  
  6342. <Do you have an opinion?>
  6343.  
  6344. "...staying together would give us a stronger defense. Moving apart would allow us to do more damage, and we would reduce the risk of getting in one anothers' way. But we run the risk of being cut off if the enemy surrounds us."
  6345.  
  6346. <I'll stay in your shadow. Move as you will. I'll watch your back.>
  6347.  
  6348. "Alright. Get ready." She cruises down toward the first Kanian unit at the edge of the U-shape - although now it has a hefty bulge in it where the Velarion helped. "We're going to help the Kelverens bend back out before they're overwhelmed. We need to take out the flank in its entirety."
  6349.  
  6350. <Understood.>
  6351.  
  6352. She lessens her aura, and your speed increases. Soon, you're whistling toward three mages at the core of the first Kanian spear squad. She flies like an arrow, arms tucked at her sides; you flap behind her like a shadowy cape, tucked into her aura.
  6353.  
  6354. "I take left and center." She shouts so you can hear over the air. "You get right!"
  6355.  
  6356. You extends her arms with knives ready. Like a hawk, she plunges toward her chosen targets. You let go of her and the two of you separate.
  6357.  
  6358. Her knives slash out. Shadow crackles against magical barriers, then cuts through. The heads of her two targets fall to the ground. Her aura pulls her up short, and she rolls down to a stop.
  6359.  
  6360. You lever your aura in front of you as a single spear and fly toward your target. You burst through his magical shield like a hot knife through butter, and bore through his chest. Blood explodes past you, and you roll to a stop next to your...
  6361.  
  6362. ...partner.
  6363.  
  6364. The corpse of the mage suddenly missing his heart and most of his lungs thumps to the ground. Before anyone around you can react, you spin, Lashing out with physical attacks. Unprepared spearmen are caught by your Claws. You sever arms, cleave legs, and dig through leather armor.
  6365.  
  6366. The woman is a whirling dervish of knives and shadow. The spearmen are faster to pinpoint her - but only because she's lifted her stealthy cloud and turned it into a weapon. It stabs and strikes along with her blades, a third and fourth arm seemingly reacting to her thoughts.
  6367.  
  6368. It's not long before you're fighting within a ring of corpses. The grass, churned to mud by the battle, is slick with blood and innards. The enemy stops coming.
  6369.  
  6370. The Kelvere lines are pushing foward. A blast of magic several yards away takes out a group of spearmen. Without their magical core, they're totally vulnerable.
  6371.  
  6372. "We need to move on," the woman says. "Dangerous to linger, when you're a shadow."
  6373.  
  6374. You grab the corpse of the mage you punctured. <Energy.>
  6375.  
  6376. The woman's lips twitch, but she says nothing before starting off at a quick run. You lope behind her as best you can while you acidify the body of the mage...
  6377.  
  6378. An idea strikes you. You should use your Impressions to raise the morale of the duke's troops...
  6379.  
  6380. You send the approaching Kelvere troops images of victory - raising their flag back over the lost fortifications, driving the Kanians into a rout.
  6381.  
  6382. You throw other images at the Kanians ahead of you - the army being driven back. A retreat under heavy fire, and men dying in awful explosions. A magical curse eating away at their skin.
  6383.  
  6384. You hear few cries of triumph from the Kelverens, and see little fear on the looks of the Kanian spearmen. The area around you is obviously in the duke's favor, but it doesn't seem as if you've had much effect.
  6385.  
  6386. "...you can speak in images, and feelings" the woman states.
  6387.  
  6388. <Yes.>
  6389.  
  6390. "Did you try to do something just now? I felt it."
  6391.  
  6392. <I tried to encourage the Kelverens and discourage the Kanians...it doesn't seem to have worked well.>
  6393.  
  6394. "Too much battle," she says simply.
  6395.  
  6396. A tiny point, but an important one, apparently. Drained and exhausted, perhaps they're just too into what they're doing to be frightened or pumped any further.
  6397.  
  6398. You hop into the woman's shadow.
  6399.  
  6400. She runs toward another group of mages - two, this time. One of them seems to be focusing on defense. The other one is lobbing balls of fire at the Kelverens.
  6401.  
  6402. Some nasty memories crop up in your head.
  6403.  
  6404. "...you aren't quiet," she says. "Distract them. I'll finish them off."
  6405.  
  6406. <My distraction might kill them before you get there.>
  6407.  
  6408. You put on a burst of speed sprint ahead.
  6409.  
  6410. You blast an Impression at the two men - getting their faces immolated by fire as they're stabbed by spears from every direction.
  6411.  
  6412. The mage on defense jerks in surprise, but the other mage looks over at you immediately. A fireball flares your way!
  6413.  
  6414. You're fast enough to dodge before it hits. A gout of fire throws up a cloud of earth at your backside, but you're unharmed.
  6415.  
  6416. With the fire mage trained on you, you can't just run at him.
  6417.  
  6418. So you stab a claw through a nearby spearman and lift him bodily into the air. You throw the squirming, screaming man at the two mages.
  6419.  
  6420. The mage on defense raises his hands. A wall of rock rises up out of the ground, shielding him from the flying spearman.
  6421.  
  6422. The spearman's head collides with the wall, snapping his neck at an ugly angle. But his body is forced by, and he slams into the fire mage!
  6423.  
  6424. The fire mage drops his fireball. The rock wall contains the explosion in a smaller space! You can hear the screams rising high and sharp.
  6425.  
  6426. You arrive on the scene. The fire mage is still alive - relatively protected from his own magic - but the earth mage is a blackened corpse. The man flinches at your presence. He flings a hand at you, shooting a thin beam of fire toward you.
  6427.  
  6428. But he's dazed, and you're too fast. The fire burns a line in the mud behind you, and in a moment, you're on top of him, ripping at his face!
  6429.  
  6430. The fire mage gets another flame-shot off, striking you in the side. But with his concentration on the shadowy thing ripping his nose off, it doesn't do much damage.
  6431.  
  6432. You latch onto the mage's soul. Exhausted, bleeding, and confused, he yields easily. You consume him without much struggle, and then you pick away the corpse of his friend, too.
  6433.  
  6434. A flare of Water makes you turn to the side. A water mage you didn't sense has cast a spell while you ate! A storm of ice spears flies toward you!
  6435.  
  6436. You throw yourself to the side and evade the spikes of ice. They thump into the ground beside you, burying themselves halfway into the mud.
  6437.  
  6438. The water mage raises his hands, and the ice springs back into the air under his command. They swivel to face you! You rise up, ready to run...
  6439.  
  6440. And then they collapse back to the ground. You blink, then turn. A knife is buried in the mage's neck. The body is kicked forward. The woman wipes her blade on the corpse.
  6441.  
  6442. You sprint over. She gives you a look. "We're in the middle of a battlefield. Control yourself."
  6443.  
  6444. <Thank you for helping me. I will do so.>
  6445.  
  6446. She nods, then looks around. The intense magical fighting is actively avoided by the normal troops, so you've got a bit of space.
  6447.  
  6448. You're higher toward the hill on which the Kanian core is camped. With two major magical ballasts gutted, the entire eastern flank of their offensive has started to collapse. Even as you watch the Kelverens surge forward, turning the U into an L.
  6449.  
  6450. A rumble cuts the air. Streams of light and lightning leap from the airship. Fire and earth is spat into the air as the Velarion crushes the western flank. Kelvere's comeback is at hand.
  6451.  
  6452. "Shall we continue?"
  6453.  
  6454. <We shall.>
  6455.  
  6456. She begins to move, then stops. "...something is coming."
  6457.  
  6458. You can see it rise from the ground clearly. A golem - two golems. Three. Then five.
  6459.  
  6460. When the spell is fully unleashed, ten two-story earth golems pound across the ground toward the Kelvere lines. Their arms end in angry, irregular morning stars of rock and metal. When they hit the Kelveren lines...
  6461.  
  6462. "Let's go," the woman says immediately.
  6463.  
  6464. <Should we coordinate with the Kelvere mages?>
  6465.  
  6466. "I don't -coordinate- with anyone. Are you coming, or do I fight alone?"
  6467.  
  6468. <Of course I'm coming. Do we aim for the source?>
  6469.  
  6470. "Yes." Her face goes grim. "Don't underestimate the Kelverens. Looks like someone's coming to compete."
  6471.  
  6472. You can feel the rapidly approaching star of Auriel. And she's carrying something - another star, smothered. Flint. And a crackle of lightning - the duke. They land near the center of the Kelvere lines, where four of the golems have almost reached.
  6473.  
  6474. A storm of lightning appears at their landing point. You watch, amazed, as a new golem arises. A -lightning- golem. It's as pure energy, golden lines making the framework of a tall, spindly creature. While not as study-looking, the lightning golem has twice the height and a greater reach than the earth golems. You can feel the duke controlling his magical creation from the Kelvere lines.
  6475.  
  6476. Just before the golems clash, another barrage of fire erupts from the Velarion, tearing through the golems like rice paper. Three of them explode in a torrent of light and lightning; another loses an arm. But that still leaves six that are unharmed.
  6477.  
  6478. From within the cloud of shadow, darkness swirls...
  6479.  
  6480. "We don't have time to stand and watch! Come!"
  6481.  
  6482. You run after the woman, keeping an eye on the dome of darkness.
  6483.  
  6484. <Can you feel that?>
  6485.  
  6486. "The demon lord is preparing something. Be on your guard."
  6487.  
  6488. You sprint off alongside the woman. Her path puts you on a collision course with a golem on the eastern flank.
  6489.  
  6490. The lightning elemental has engaged three of the earth elementals. The hulking giants exchange ground-rocking blows. The lightning elemental is faster, but it's surrounded. Every strike carries a surge of magic across the plain.
  6491.  
  6492. You're only yards from your target.
  6493.  
  6494. <I'll distract the golem. Find the mage.>
  6495.  
  6496. "Understood. Don't die."
  6497.  
  6498. <I won't. I still have to tell you what I fight for.>
  6499.  
  6500. The woman's lips curl up in a very tiny smile. And then she's away, sprinting, sped by her shadows. You reach the golem.
  6501.  
  6502. It's aware of your presence. A huge hand begins to move!
  6503.  
  6504. You try to stop and turn, but the golem's arm slams into you from the side. Earth magic rocks through your aura. You land on your feet, but you can feel the blow, heavy and hard as steel.
  6505.  
  6506. The golem is raising a foot to squash you like a bug!
  6507.  
  6508. You barely get out of the way in time. A rocky protrusion scrapes you, but it's hardly an injury worth noting.
  6509.  
  6510. The golem stepped wide to attack you - and it takes a moment to find its balance. For the first time, you're on even footing with the creature.
  6511.  
  6512. You can sense a ball of wind heading your way. A wind mage is moving up to support the line...
  6513.  
  6514. You shove at the golem's back foot, throwing your weight against it.
  6515.  
  6516. The golem takes another step, but keeps its balance - and you lose your initiative as a result. A giant club-hand is swinging for you once again!
  6517.  
  6518. You feel the WHOOSH as the arm passes by your side. You barely escaped that one. Thank goodness you're faster than the average shadow...
  6519.  
  6520. You position yourself to try to gain your advantage once more...
  6521.  
  6522. ...and the golem collapses. The magic is cut from it like a puppet's strings, and in a moment, it's a pile of rock.
  6523.  
  6524. A beam of green-glowing wind blasts into the rock! You duck, and a boulder just misses you!
  6525.  
  6526. The wind mage has arrived. He stands on top of the rubble. You can tell he's powerful. Green spheres of wind wrap his hands like little cyclones.
  6527.  
  6528. A tremendous wave of shadow falls upon the battlefield.
  6529.  
  6530. You can feel the pressure...it doesn't really phase you. But the raw power is still staggering. The wind mage, on the other hand, nearly outright falls over.
  6531.  
  6532. Something is emerging from the swirl of dark clouds over the center of the Kanian forces...
  6533.  
  6534. An orb of pure shadow emerges from the cloud.
  6535.  
  6536. It's...
  6537.  
  6538. ...wrong.
  6539.  
  6540. You can't describe it. But that shadow isn't right. It's...lonely. That's the only way you can put it.
  6541.  
  6542. The battle has practically halted in the face of this spell. Every mage is reeling; even the soldiers can feel the press on their souls. The sphere rises rapidly, then hovers in the sky, almost directly above the lightning elemental.
  6543.  
  6544. The sphere erupts. Sparks of shadow fly in every direction - mostly toward the Kelveren forces, but scattering across the entire front lines of the Kanians. A huge portion flies toward the Velarion, still hovering up in the sky.
  6545.  
  6546. Where the shadows strike, the world is erased. Orbs of destruction eat away at the terrain, leaving perfectly smooth craters. An earth golem loses its upper body and head, and collapses to the ground. The front lines of both armies are completely decimated, and pockets of death further line the reserves of the Kelveren forces.
  6547.  
  6548. The Velarion fires back into the shadow. Its bolts of Light and Lightning punch through the void-bombs...only to split them into smaller and smaller pieces. The airship's fire strikes hard on the Karnian troops, but the bombs reach its hull an instant later. The shields deflect some of the magic.
  6549.  
  6550. The rest explodes on contact. Holes dot the sides of the ship. Explosions follow. A cloud of smoke rises into the air as the airship steadily begins to drop. It's not in free-fall, but it can't maintain its position any longer.
  6551.  
  6552. The lightning elemental takes the brunt of the force at the center lines. The duke intentionally warps his creation, making it less humanoid and more like a flat shield. The Lighting absorbs most of the blow, sparing the core of his army. The Kanian side is not so lucky.
  6553.  
  6554. You can only think that Lord Nulis Vin is insane...or that the Demon Lord isn't fully under his command any more.
  6555.  
  6556. Your position far out on the flank was lucky enough to avoid the worst of the attack, but the wind mage is still stunned by the wave of magic.
  6557.  
  6558. You prepare yourself to attack...
  6559.  
  6560. Shadow Quest Chapter 16
  6561. Your position far out on the flank was lucky enough to avoid the worst of the attack, but the wind mage is still stunned by the wave of magic.
  6562.  
  6563. You lunge toward the mage!
  6564.  
  6565. He snaps his head over to you and puts his hands together just as you're halfway to his position. A blast of teal wind roars from his hands like a cyclone. It rips and tears the stone as it passes over.
  6566.  
  6567. You leap! But not high enough - so you spread your wings and flap to boost you over the gust of energy.
  6568.  
  6569. The wind catches your open wings and sends you tumbling to the ground, but you've evaded the worst of the blow.
  6570.  
  6571. You set your leg(s). The mage has prepared a large spell...an orb of wind is spinning faster and faster above his raised hands.
  6572.  
  6573. You Lash your body toward the mage. A tendril of your shadow form whips out and strikes with a sharp crack!
  6574.  
  6575. It strikes...
  6576.  
  6577. ...but something stops it! A shield of wind deflects your attack upward! You feel as through a solid blow could penetrate, but this isn't a normal mage...
  6578.  
  6579. The man grins. "Time to get yours!"
  6580.  
  6581. The magic sphere condenses. A dozen small pockets of wind scatter in your direction!
  6582.  
  6583. You flicker left, right, up, down, around! The arrows of wind blast into the ground around you, but there's too many! You're overwhelmed!
  6584.  
  6585. A concentrated set of three hit you straight on...but your aura comes to your defense. The wind seems to bend around you, absorbed, deflected. When it strikes you, it's greatly dissipated - but it still hits hard.
  6586.  
  6587. You keep running, building speed. The mage follows you with his shots, and soon the ground is churned into pits of mud. You duck, dive, and sprint to avoid the barrage of wind magic. He can't lead you fast enough!
  6588.  
  6589. The magic bullets are starting to slow...either he's getting tired, or the spell has had its day. But you're feeling wary after he blocked you the first time...
  6590.  
  6591. You sprint faster. You learned the hard way that attacking a wind mage head-on can be disastrous.
  6592.  
  6593. And even as you leap across another pit, the flurry of attacks suddenly increases beyond anything that's come before! The sphere unravels in a cloud of green, wind strings that whip forward, gashing the mud.
  6594.  
  6595. But you're gone! At full speed, he can't follow you!
  6596.  
  6597. The mage falls to a knee. His breath is coming in heavy gasps, but his head is still on a swivel.
  6598.  
  6599. You keep moving.
  6600.  
  6601. The mage stands. He gathers his power into a fist and shoots wide waves of air out, scattering it wide. He fires again, again, throwing up rock and bud and tossing corpses into the air.
  6602.  
  6603. You wonder where he's aiming, because you're already behind him.
  6604.  
  6605. He starts to turn just as a lunging ball of arms and legs and shadow lands on top of him. You claw at him, gashing him across the chest and arms. The wounds are many, but shallow - his wind magic is slowing your blows.
  6606.  
  6607. You fall from the top of the pile of rocks and land on top of him in a pile of mud. The wind is rallying around him, but he's still at a huge disadvantage.
  6608.  
  6609. You raise your Fist and pound into the mage like a madman.
  6610.  
  6611. His wind shields him. It looks like he's collecting himself.
  6612.  
  6613. You Articulate a second arm, and a third, stretching your capabilities to their limits. All three of your hands are pounding and clawing, but his wind makes the blows shallow at best. The wind is gathering to a single point...
  6614.  
  6615. A blast of hot air expands! You're thrown up, out of the pit. Shocked, you try to orient -
  6616.  
  6617. The mage is standing upright, holding a hand in your direction. A bright green light gathers at the center of his palm - !
  6618.  
  6619. The woman appears from nowhere. Her dagger is thrust in under the mage's chin, and the sharp aura of shadow surrounding it pierces through his shield as if it isn't there. The man's body goes limp and hangs off her weapon like an old green tapestry.
  6620.  
  6621. You land next to her. Her dagger *shinks* back into its sheath on her wrist, and the mage's body falls dead.
  6622.  
  6623. You can feel lightning energy building in the distance...is that the duke?
  6624.  
  6625. "I thought you had him," the woman says. "You need work on your finishing technique."
  6626.  
  6627. The words are delivered flatly. It's the statement of an observation more than any criticism.
  6628.  
  6629. <I see,> you respond.
  6630.  
  6631. You decide to opt out of eating the mage. She did ask you to control yourself...and for some reason, you feel rather indignant at the prospect of consuming a corpse you didn't kill yourself.
  6632.  
  6633. Perhaps this is that thing called 'pride'.
  6634.  
  6635. <I appreciate the assistance.>
  6636.  
  6637. "It was my pleasure."
  6638.  
  6639. <...pleasure?>
  6640.  
  6641. "Taking life." The woman stares at the corpse. "It's the only thing I have left."
  6642.  
  6643. <What do you - >
  6644.  
  6645. A flare of magic makes you snap your head up. Four mages are marching toward your position, backed by a battalion of Kanian spearmen. This part of the battlefield has been scattered melee, but it seems as if the Kanians are trying to flank the Kelverens once more...and they're practically on top of you!
  6646.  
  6647. <Do you have new orders?>
  6648.  
  6649. "No. I will kill them." She drops low.
  6650.  
  6651. You duck into her shadow. <I am your shadow. I will watch your back.>
  6652.  
  6653. She watches you meld into the darkness. seemingly impressed. "...then let us attack, Shadow."
  6654.  
  6655. She sprints toward the enemy, a wavering, shadowy phantom.
  6656.  
  6657. ...you can feel the duke's magic still building, gathering. He must be planning something...good.
  6658.  
  6659. The woman vanishes.
  6660.  
  6661. You're dragged at what feels like a speed greater than your Supersonic flight.
  6662.  
  6663. She reappears behind one of the mages.
  6664.  
  6665. You don't have time to react before she's punched both her daggers into the mage's backside. You lash out with your shadows as best you can, taking out spearmen in every direction. Five fall dead before they can blink.
  6666.  
  6667. The woman turns to the next mage, but he's already shrouding himself in wind. He manages to block her daggers with his hands, green light pulsing to deflect the attacks.
  6668.  
  6669. The other mages are preparing their own spells. The woman turns on a heel and sprints away. Spearmen are everywhere, but you manage the knock the points of their weapons wide. She loses herself in a tangle of the enemy. Shouts fly into the air.
  6670.  
  6671. "Find her, now!!"
  6672. "Where is she!?"
  6673. "She passed by me, I saw her!"
  6674. "Where?"
  6675. "Here!"
  6676. "She's over here!"
  6677.  
  6678. The woman doubles back toward the mages...
  6679.  
  6680. ...she leaps over the heads of the confused spearmen, aiming at the neck of the wind mage once more!
  6681.  
  6682. Green spheres of light deflect her back. She takes the deflection almost as if she planned it, using the momentum to turn past the man and flicker back into the ranks of the mundane. You send a few feeble licks of shadow at the mage, but he's alert enough to deflect them.
  6683.  
  6684. The spearmen are well trained, but they don't have the capability to sense her position. The mages are having trouble tracking her with all the people around, and so far they haven't been willing to fire into the crowd. She knifes one here, there, keeping them a panicking, uncoordinated mass.
  6685.  
  6686. You note this strategy for later.
  6687.  
  6688. "I'm going back in," she shouts. It's noise in the crowd, but you can here. "Don't mess up this time!"
  6689.  
  6690. The woman flickers back into the inner circle...
  6691.  
  6692. ...and the wind mage's back is turned! She stabs one knife into his kindey, and, grabbing her wrist, drags her blade upwards, eviscerating him!
  6693.  
  6694. But the other mage wasn't turned the other way. Fire roars in a sphere above his head, and the woman turns, almost as if in slow motion...
  6695.  
  6696. You shadows are unleashed.
  6697.  
  6698. Three spikes of black death stab into the fire mage. With his concentration on his building spell about to fire, you encounter no magical resistance. You punch through his stomach, heart, and left eye.
  6699.  
  6700. The flames warp out of control!!!
  6701.  
  6702. You've seen this before.
  6703.  
  6704. <Explosion! RUN!>
  6705.  
  6706. The woman immediately leaps without trying to assess the situation, powering herself away with her aura. You're dragged along in her shadow.
  6707.  
  6708. A vertical column of fire blasts upwards and expands, raging toward you. You wrap yourself around her exposed side.
  6709.  
  6710. The flames roar across you. Your aura curbs some of it, but you still take heavy damage. The pain is sharp and hot.
  6711.  
  6712. The woman lands.
  6713.  
  6714. The last remaining mage was of Water - and he was able to defend himself and his men from the fire. The globe of liquid he summoned to shield them evaporates to steam, countering the fires easily.
  6715.  
  6716. The woman barely hesitates before exploding off her heels toward the mage. She's trying to get him while he's distracted...
  6717.  
  6718. This time, it isn't the mage that responds, but the spearmen. They gather around their protector in a ring of pointed steel. The woman is good, but she's not made of shadows. She starts slicing her way through the front ranks, but the mage's hands are beginning to glow...
  6719.  
  6720. ...luckily, you ARE made of shadows.
  6721.  
  6722. You slip through the legs of the men like Ink, clawing at their hamstrings as you go. You drop a dozen before you reach the mage.
  6723.  
  6724. His spell isn't ready, but you are. You Ink into a piledriver and slam into his chest, blowing him into the men gathered behind him. A pile of spears and armor and flesh collapses to the ground. Men are shouting, struggling to get away. You stab a few for good measure and to bog the rest down.
  6725.  
  6726. The water mage is gasping for breath. You're pretty sure you've crushed several of his ribs, and maybe more on the inside.
  6727.  
  6728. ....
  6729.  
  6730. You consume the mage.
  6731.  
  6732. It is done rather professionally and quickly. He was pretty much dead from the internal injuries, anyway, but you're not scaring anyone in the middle of a battlefield.
  6733.  
  6734. ------------------
  6735. ------------------
  6736.  
  6737. The woman has reached your position. You work together to clean up the spearmen immediately around you.
  6738.  
  6739. Her efforts have singlehandedly turned a flanking action into a rout. Burned and drenched spearmen without their mages are breaking back for their main lines. You can see a plume-helmed man trying to organize things, but with explosions of lightning beginning to erupt in the unshielded troops, he isn't helping much.
  6740.  
  6741. In the distance, you can still feel the lightning energy building. It's twisting, turning. You wonder what the heck the duke is thinking.
  6742.  
  6743. Two more earth golems still stomp the field, chipped and torn, but alive. They're far in the western flank, though. The Kelverens have continued to press the Kanians back up the hill towards that smoky cloud of shadow.
  6744.  
  6745. You have a blessed moment of peace.
  6746.  
  6747. "You saved me from the fire," the woman states.
  6748.  
  6749. <You saved me from the mage.>
  6750.  
  6751. The woman nods. "Then we're even."
  6752.  
  6753. <...is that important to you?>
  6754.  
  6755. "...few things are..." She looks away. "Surely that can still be among them."
  6756.  
  6757. You send her an Impression; one of balance. Scales with you on one end, and her at the other. They tip even.
  6758.  
  6759. You give her a second image. Fire roils near her, but a darkness rises to rebuff it.
  6760.  
  6761. "Such is our nature," you say aloud.
  6762.  
  6763. She blinks in surprise. And when that fades...there's the hint of something else...curiosity?
  6764.  
  6765. "...our nature," she says, prompting you forward.
  6766.  
  6767. You begin to -
  6768.  
  6769. <Shadow! Can you hear me?!>
  6770.  
  6771. You snap your 'head' around. That sounded like...
  6772.  
  6773. You bend your thoughts toward the building lightning magic and shout them hard. <You excellency?>
  6774.  
  6775. <Ah, good! One of my spirit mages is lending a hand with this...wasn't sure if it would work! Get back over here! It's time for the assault!>
  6776.  
  6777. <What of the angel?>
  6778.  
  6779. <She's with us. Are you still with that woman?>
  6780.  
  6781. <I am.>
  6782.  
  6783. <Bring her, stay in her shadow! Worked well last time!>
  6784.  
  6785. You turn to the woman and relate what the duke said.
  6786.  
  6787. The woman nods. "We've done enough. Auriel will have new orders."
  6788.  
  6789. You hop into her shadow and she speeds toward the growing force of lightning. It seems to have changed...the power isn't increasing, but its nature is. It's getting...sharper.
  6790.  
  6791. <...I am not in the angel's favor,> you say to the woman.
  6792.  
  6793. "I have not been ordered to check my shadow for elementals," the woman responds.
  6794.  
  6795. You feel a sense of satisfaction.
  6796.  
  6797. Scattered men are running two in fro, some in melee, some seemingly with messages. The lines have parted...the Kelverens are preparing for another shock attack. The Kanians seem to be disrupted. What's going on in that sphere?
  6798.  
  6799. There's a short time until you arrive at center of the Kelveren army.
  6800.  
  6801. <I appreciate your discretion.>
  6802.  
  6803. "I think...discretion, is also in our nature."
  6804.  
  6805. <I would agree.> You think for a moment. <Can you tell me anything about Auriel?>
  6806.  
  6807. "She is an angel. A mage-knight blessed by Hyperion himself. Living since the Elementomachy. Not immortal, but nearly, by our standards. She hates the shadow." Her face clenches. "All the angels hate the shadow."
  6808.  
  6809. <Surely not all.>
  6810.  
  6811. "I would - "
  6812.  
  6813. Her words are choked off. She sighs a breath through her nose.
  6814.  
  6815. <I will stay in your shadow,> you say. <I'd prefer not to be spotted.>
  6816.  
  6817. "I'd prefer to never see her or them again."
  6818.  
  6819. <What's stopping you leaving?>
  6820.  
  6821. She merely looks at you, then puts her eyes forward.
  6822.  
  6823. You've reach the center of the Duke's armies. Men and mages both are massing around what looks like a giant spear of lightning. It's at least three men across and a dozen long.
  6824.  
  6825. You think back to when the duke revealed himself to you...you imagine that the duke's true identity must be the worst kept secret in Kelvere.
  6826.  
  6827. The duke himself is standing inside the magic, as if it were a conical tunnel - which, you can see, it is. Flint and Auriel are standing just behind; they're engaged in conversation.
  6828.  
  6829. The woman works her way into the center. The men don't seem to even see her...or they do, but strangely don't voice any objection.
  6830.  
  6831. "...you can beat it?"
  6832.  
  6833. "I do not know," Auriel says. "But I will try."
  6834.  
  6835. "I have faith, Highest." Flint nods to her, and the determination is written on his face. "We will drive this thing back to the Nether."
  6836.  
  6837. Auriel smiles. She doesn't seem like the cruel hunter you remember her to be. "With your support, Donovan, I'm sure we will."
  6838.  
  6839. "...I am honored. Too honored, highest."
  6840.  
  6841. "We have fought together now, son of the light. You may call me by my name."
  6842.  
  6843. Flint stutters a bit, then gets the words out. "As you wish...A...A-Auriel. I thank you."
  6844.  
  6845. "...hmm." She pauses, then turns toward the approaching woman. "Ila. It's about time."
  6846.  
  6847. Ila? ...is that her name?
  6848.  
  6849. "My apologies." The woman - Ila, takes a knee, never meeting the angel's gaze. "What are your orders?"
  6850.  
  6851. "Our main assault is soon to begin, once the duke feels confident his weapon is prepared." The angel nods. "Impressive magic."
  6852.  
  6853. "To pierce their shield?"
  6854.  
  6855. "Indeed. We've little choice but to kill the demon, here and now. Letting it ravage the land unopposed is not an option. The refugees have had little time to retreat." Auriel's face is set. "And if we die, than at least we will have bought them a bit more ground. The Dawnflight will avenge us."
  6856.  
  6857. "Yes, highest."
  6858.  
  6859. The angel's slowly turns back. Her eyes narrow.
  6860.  
  6861. She looks at you.
  6862.  
  6863. "Ila."
  6864.  
  6865. "Yes, highest?"
  6866.  
  6867. "Step a bit toward the lightning there, if you would."
  6868.  
  6869. Ila stands. You can see the confused frown on her face, but she complies.
  6870.  
  6871. As she nears the large light source, her shadow swings out and lengthens.
  6872.  
  6873. The angel puts a hand on the hilt of her glowing blue-white sword. It flares like an arrow of sunlight. She whips it down, right at you!
  6874.  
  6875. "STOP!"
  6876.  
  6877. Flint dives forward, spreading his arms wide. Auriel's swinging sword freezes.
  6878.  
  6879. She looks like she's been stabbed in the heart. "...I don't understand."
  6880.  
  6881. "You can't." Flint heaves a breath. "Don't hurt it."
  6882.  
  6883. "...I see. It's controlling you." Anger takes Auriel's features. "This time, Shadow, you will not escape me so easily!"
  6884.  
  6885. "It's not controlling him!" comes another voice. Everyone looks up as the duke strides over. "Highest. Don't touch that shadow. I'll be needing it."
  6886.  
  6887. "Explain. Immediately."
  6888.  
  6889. "It's the tip of the spear," the duke explains. "Nothing's been able to get through that barrier. We need to attack the problem from the other direction. Shadow won't be expecting shadow."
  6890.  
  6891. "...did you know of this...this -thing's- presence before my arrival in Evinbrook?"
  6892.  
  6893. "No."
  6894.  
  6895. Auriel stakes her sword in the ground, and what happens next shocks even you. Orange light glows around her - and you sense the magic. Spirit. A little thread of it winds itself around the light inside of her.
  6896.  
  6897. The spell completes itself. "Answer again," Auriel growls, "and if you lie a second time, and Evinbrook will have a new duke."
  6898.  
  6899. "I knew of the Shadow's presence."
  6900.  
  6901. Auriel turns to Flint. "Donovan. Why did you defend it?"
  6902.  
  6903. "...it saved Jacob's Field." Flint gestures sharply. "You know it isn't controlling me. You can feel it. I-there's-"
  6904.  
  6905. The parasite constricts Flint's soul. He loses his words.
  6906.  
  6907. The parasite rattles...
  6908.  
  6909. You send Flint an impression of him lifting a boulder as if he had the strength of ten men, and standing tall.
  6910.  
  6911. He glances back at you - and smiles.
  6912.  
  6913. His light shines brighter than the parasite can control.
  6914.  
  6915. "...the shadow has been at my side since I was in Jacob's Field," Flint begins again. "It saved the townspeople from the undead. It protected me from gargoyles, and ghouls. It protected a young girl that would have been hurt."
  6916.  
  6917. "That does not - "
  6918.  
  6919. Flint takes a few steps toward the angel, closing the distance between them. "It has no memory of itself. I wasn't sure if I could trust it, either. In fact, I thought I couldn't. But despite knowing nothing about its origins, or its own abilities, or even its own name, time and time again it put itself on the line for strangers it hardly knew. I saw it at the end of the battle at the village - it stretched itself out over the docks so that the villagers could escape on boats. Overextended, even. It took the swords, and the axes, the spears, just to buy time. And for what? People so superstitious of the shadows that they jump at their own.
  6920.  
  6921. "I met the shadow at Jacob's Field, when I rode out for reinforcements," Flint says. "It -was- the reinforcement. And when I asked - despite having no connection to these people, this city, having pledged no loyalty to the duke - it came, because it believed me when I said I needed its help. Because it considers me a friend. As I do it."
  6922.  
  6923. "...call me a skeptic," Auriel says. But her voice is quiet and subdued. "...you lied, then. When you said you thought you'd do more good if you stayed yourself, then to ride out for help that wouldn't arrive in time. The shadow brought you back here."
  6924.  
  6925. "I am sorry I deceived you," Flint said. "But if you need proof it's been helping..." Flint glances at Ila. "The eastern flank...?"
  6926.  
  6927. "...the Shadow was a fierce ally," Ila says. "It...saved me from fire."
  6928.  
  6929. "Wonderful," Auriel snaps.
  6930.  
  6931. "I know that...perhaps, there are things here that cannot be reconciled," Flint says. "But I do know one thing for sure." He points at you. "Right now, that is not your enemy." He points at the sphere of darkness. "That is. The shadow isn't attacking anyone. If it wanted to do damage, it's had plenty of chances - kill me, kill Ila, kill the duke, anyone, really."
  6932.  
  6933. "You weren't there, Donovan," Auriel says. "You didn't experience the Black Hand. You didn't see your friends and partners cut down by spies that sat in waiting for years! You didn't have your village burned down by an army of the undead!"
  6934.  
  6935. "Auriel - "
  6936.  
  6937. "Do not speak my name with lips that have lied to my face to protect the Shadow!"
  6938.  
  6939. Flint swallows. "Highest. If we don't work together now, those demons are going to eat the people of Kelvere alive," Flint says. "I don't know what happened in the Elementomachy, but I know what's happening now." He glances at the duke. "You need the Shadow."
  6940.  
  6941. The duke nods. "It's absolutely necessary."
  6942.  
  6943. Flint turns back to Auriel, and waits.
  6944.  
  6945. Auriel raises her sword, and with a growl, she slams it into its sheath.
  6946.  
  6947. "I'm watching you, Shadow," she hisses. "One false move. One toe out of place!"
  6948.  
  6949. She storms to the edge of the inner circle. The duke turns back to his spell. Flint rubs his hair under his helmet. "Well...I'm glad that worked out. Sort of."
  6950.  
  6951. <Maybe you should say something more to her,> you suggest. <Smooth things over.>
  6952.  
  6953. "...yeah. I'll try."
  6954.  
  6955. Flint walks toward Auriel. She doesn't look at him, seemingly ignoring his presence. He moves to get her attention more obviously, and then immediately trips and falls on his rear. He blushes as red as a tomato.
  6956.  
  6957. Auriel heaves a frustrated sigh she puts a hand on her face. She extends a hand to Flint. He takes it, and she pulls him up.
  6958.  
  6959. "...I'm sorry."
  6960.  
  6961. She turns away, and says nothing more. Flint, downtrodden, sulks back to the center of the ring and twiddles his thumbs.
  6962.  
  6963. The magic is solidify. You can see the shape of a spear, now. The inside is particularly interesting...it's almost like there are alcoves and crannies. Lightning made physical.
  6964.  
  6965. The duke is highly skilled.
  6966.  
  6967. <I thank you for you words, Ila. That is your name?>
  6968.  
  6969. "It is."
  6970.  
  6971. <It matches you.>
  6972.  
  6973. "...matches me?"
  6974.  
  6975. <Precise. Exacting. Discrete.>
  6976.  
  6977. "You can really smooth-talk a girl."
  6978.  
  6979. <What is smooth talk?>
  6980.  
  6981. "...unnecessary, really." She looks at Flint. "Essentially the opposite of what the knight just said to Auriel."
  6982.  
  6983. <Oh. I see.>
  6984.  
  6985. Yes, the nature of this "smooth talk" does become more clear. Perhaps you should practice this "smooth talk" with women so as to earn their trust more readily. Combined with beer for men, you'll be able to stop more misunderstandings and gather information...though it might be difficult to get other people to intentionally imbibe ignorance potions.
  6986.  
  6987. But that can wait for another time.
  6988.  
  6989. <You deserve to be free.>
  6990.  
  6991. "...I have been told all my life that the shadow is evil," she said. "And I have just watched a knight of Arland with a soul of light defend a shadow elemental. What I deserve, Shadow, is beyond me." She looks at you. "No one has ever spoken to me of our nature. The nature of shadow...what is it?"
  6992.  
  6993. <I have no great memory, Ila. But what I have seen...I will relate.>
  6994.  
  6995. <Shadow is that which everything in the light casts. It soothes and hides those blinded or pained by the light. The shadow consumes threats without a trace, but the light can sear and burn. We are not evil, or malignant, but merely the other side of the coin.
  6996.  
  6997. You send her the impression of a cat hunting a mouse.
  6998.  
  6999. <This is shadow.>
  7000.  
  7001. You send her a second impression, that of the mouse slipping away without being caught
  7002.  
  7003. <This is shadow.>
  7004.  
  7005. You reach up with a single Inked finger and touch her right in the center of her chest.
  7006.  
  7007. <You are shadow. Shadow is what you make of it.>
  7008.  
  7009. You lower yourself back down. <As to my own nature...that I aim to find. But I have found some things, already. I have discovered within me humanity. As you humans think and feel, so do I.
  7010.  
  7011. <I have discovered a sense of balance. That things must weigh each other out. As you have already told me yourself - this is precious. You know it by instinct.>
  7012.  
  7013. Ila is listening carefully. She nods when you say that, partly murmuring the words with her lips.
  7014.  
  7015. <I have discovered Justice. That I have a right to exist, that beings have a right to live, and that those who are innocent ought to be protected.
  7016.  
  7017. <And I have discovered Temerity...that my protection shall be firm, my justice swift, and my humanity great to behold - as I have found humanity so - terrible, and strange, but great. My shadow will consume as much as it shades, and it will flow where I will it, when I will it, as I will it.>
  7018.  
  7019. Ila swallows hard. Her lips tremble. "...I-I see. I understand."
  7020.  
  7021. Shadow Quest Chapter 17
  7022. The army around you is tense. Men are scurrying to-and-for-carrying messenges as the formations gather. Mages are speaking tersely in small clusters. This is going to be big.
  7023.  
  7024. Auriel still stands alone, back turned to the clearing. Flint seems uncertain of whether to stand next to her, the duke, or you, and so he worries at his hands in the center. You notice he acquired a new breastplate at some point...it has a bright sunburst emblazoned on the front.
  7025.  
  7026. Ila is silent.
  7027.  
  7028. "Shadow, to me," the duke says.
  7029.  
  7030. The rest of your haphazard part glances up, but doesn't move. You bob over to the duke. <Your excellency. I believe everyone in your kingdom will know who you are, now.>
  7031.  
  7032. The duke smirks. "What are you talking about? I'm a well known public figure. Davel Zoran, the duke's most powerful mage and chief magical and political adviser."
  7033.  
  7034. <...clever.>
  7035.  
  7036. "I thought so too." He leaned in. "But you'll think me more clever still if I have anything to say about it."
  7037.  
  7038. <What do you mean?>
  7039.  
  7040. "I lied to the angel when I said you were necessary for the plan."
  7041.  
  7042. You're stunned. <...you lied? After that threat?>
  7043.  
  7044. "Spirit magic to read the mind of a lightning mage?" the duke asks. He smirks. "Her soul is mostly light. Clearly, it's not her specialty."
  7045.  
  7046. <You're bolder than I.>
  7047.  
  7048. "And more successful for it." The duke leans closer. "You ate the dynamo on my ship."
  7049.  
  7050. You're unsure how to respond.
  7051.  
  7052. "Oh, come now," the duke says. "You and Raziel fly off. When all is said and done, a giant wave of shadow buffets my face, my crashed airship has no engine, and Raziel is dead. What else could have happened?"
  7053.  
  7054. <You...are not angry.>
  7055.  
  7056. "Well. You've cost me an important tool. I'm counting the interest." He gives you an gleefully calculating look. "But what is lost is lost. What we must focus on...are the possibilities. The Velarion has fallen just across the river, there..." The duke glances up over the heads of his troops, then back to you. "The dynamo is still intact. What if a shadow ate it? Why, we'd have a lot of power to throw at the demon...and one of the Ring City's airships would be out of commission. Permanently."
  7057.  
  7058. <What of your lightning spear?>
  7059.  
  7060. "It should work without your intervention," the duke says. "Though speed will be important. Once we're inside that thing...Auriel alone will not be able to defeat it. And I've already spent too much strength to help fill the gap. We'll be buying time until you can arrive." The duke shrugs. "Alternatively, you can come with us now...if you're there the entire time, you just might be the weight to tip the scales."
  7061.  
  7062. <It sounds like I have a dynamo to consume.>
  7063.  
  7064. "I thought you'd agree." The duke gestures toward the front end of his massive, slowly rotating lightning spear. "Slip around to the front and act like a speartip. It's time."
  7065.  
  7066. You dash to the front of the spear. The power of the spell seems drawn there, crackling, snapping in a constant surge of gold light. You stretch yourself out in what you hope is a convincing representation for the duke's purposes.
  7067.  
  7068. The duke begins giving dramatic orders and gathering the group into the inside of the spear. Along with Flint, Ila, and Auriel are a squadron of mages and the duke's elite guard. The rest of the army forms up behind it on a long, pointed arrow, with mages concentrated in the center.
  7069.  
  7070. <...hear me?> the duke's voice comes in like static, as if the lightning magic is interfering with the spirit.
  7071.  
  7072. <I can hear you.>
  7073.  
  7074. <...go...when...light shines...hide your aura.>
  7075.  
  7076. <What?>
  7077.  
  7078. <...ready.>
  7079.  
  7080. <Wait, I didn't quite - >
  7081.  
  7082. The tip of the cone flares like the light of a thousand lightning bolts.
  7083.  
  7084. You know what you need to do in this situation.
  7085.  
  7086. Your aura is already gathering behind you. It stills, quiet before the roar of the lightning spear.
  7087.  
  7088. BOOM
  7089.  
  7090. SCHREEEEE
  7091.  
  7092. You explode away from the spear just as the spear roars forward, carrying along its passengers. The sound helps to hide your rapid escape, and in an instant, you're over the river.
  7093.  
  7094. WHOMPH
  7095.  
  7096. You end your Supersonic and flap to a halt. You land on the ground, Quiet, and quickly Mimic the shadowy form of a man.
  7097.  
  7098. The airship is battered and smoking. Holes are scattered along its length. Even if you didn't eat the dynamo, it would probably need extensive repairs. Most of the crew has gathered at the far end of the ship.
  7099.  
  7100. "Help!" cries a woman's voice. "Help me!"
  7101.  
  7102. You walk toward the ship, and the cries grow louder. You try to put them out of your mind...this is a battle. You've got a mission, and can't afford to rescue cats from every tree you pass.
  7103.  
  7104. "Help, please! Can you hear me?!"
  7105.  
  7106. You hesitate as the voice seems to address you. And you see her - a woman is pinned under part of the collapsed frame of the airship. It reminds you of what you saw before, when the duke's airship crashed...
  7107.  
  7108. ...flames are spreading up the inside of the rubble. The woman's cries grow more desperate by the moment. If you ignore her, there probably wouldn't be enough time for the other members of the crew to reach her.
  7109.  
  7110. You remember cries for help...Abigail's cries. You run back toward the woman.
  7111.  
  7112. You grab the wooden support and heave. It's slow going - solid adamantium is not light - but you're able to clear it off her.
  7113.  
  7114. "...t-thank you." She winces, hard. "...hurts."
  7115.  
  7116. Her legs are not in good shape. She seems to be in too much pain to wonder how you had the strength to help alone. You extend a hand to her.
  7117.  
  7118. Red eyes glow like little fires, and her hand grabs onto your arm. "Mortals. All the same."
  7119.  
  7120. Instinctively, you try to pull free, but she has you in a grip like steel.
  7121.  
  7122. "You're mine." She rises up and plants a kiss on your body.
  7123.  
  7124. Nothing happens.
  7125.  
  7126. Before you can wonder about her strange and pointless attack, she recoils in shock. "...what are you?"
  7127.  
  7128. You Ink and slip out of her grip like water. "What are you?"
  7129.  
  7130. Bat-like wings form from the young woman's back, and her nails turn to claws. Fire dances in her eyes. "You'll find out soon enough!"
  7131.  
  7132. <I don't have time for this. There are humans that way.> You point toward the surviving crewmembers. <Attack me at your peril.>
  7133.  
  7134. You fly into the air over the airship and land on its hull. A large hole near the bottom catches your eye. You can feel the dynamo quite clearly, and it seems to be the closest entrance.
  7135.  
  7136. "Hey! Don't ignore me!" the female demon flaps up after you. "Are you a demon as well?"
  7137.  
  7138. <Begone.>
  7139.  
  7140. "You're worse than the lord," the demon says. She gives you a big pout. "Doesn't it feel good to finally exist here?"
  7141.  
  7142. <I wouldn't know. I'm not a demon.> You march purposefully toward the hole.
  7143.  
  7144. "You sure feel sort of like one. Kinda" She flaps after you lazily. "Hey, don't you want to eat the humans?"
  7145.  
  7146. <I have other matters to attend to.> You drop into the ship and are quick to navigate the halls toward the engine room. The pressure of lightning magic quickly increases...
  7147.  
  7148. "...sure is stuffy. I don't want to get near that thing."
  7149.  
  7150. <Then go.>
  7151.  
  7152. "I dunno, could be fun. You seem interesting...no one's ever resisted my kiss, you know." The creature flaps around your head incessantly, somehow twisting through the tight spaces of the hall with ease. "So you don't work for the lord? Were you summoned by one of the mages on the other side? Or are you unsummoned?"
  7153.  
  7154. The dynamo is just in the next room.
  7155.  
  7156. You turn toward the strange female demon and -
  7157.  
  7158. <If you don't leave now, you probably won't survive what's about to happen.> You march into the dynamo room.
  7159.  
  7160. "I'm tougher than a look!" She flies in after you, but lands quickly. She seems laden by the magic pressure. "Besides, now I want to see. What are you up to?"
  7161.  
  7162. <You've been warned.>
  7163.  
  7164. You latch onto the dynamo and consume it.
  7165.  
  7166. It cracks...
  7167.  
  7168. ...Power floods the room. The pressure forces the winged woman to the floor. "What's going on?!"
  7169.  
  7170. You don't try to consume it all this time...you learned the consequences of that before. Too much greed, and you couldn't control it.
  7171.  
  7172. Cracking the dynamo releases its magic in a powerful flood. You stick your tendrils into it, siphoning off as much as you safely feel you can.
  7173.  
  7174. The lightning magic snaps, compresses, warps, and dissipates in a wave across the room. The magical pressure fades. Snaps of gold light spark around your form as you twist the energy into that well of untapped power that sits inside of you.
  7175.  
  7176. "...wow," the demon says. "Cool!"
  7177.  
  7178. You feel the power condense and turn within you. You feel stronger - much stronger. You could strike anywhere, at any time. Behind, above, below - your confidence in your physical attack has increased greatly.
  7179.  
  7180. And something lingers at the tips of your claws, at the end of your fangs...an aura of disease, ready to sink into an enemy.
  7181.  
  7182. You glance at the demon. <I am going to kill the demon lord. Stay out of my way, or I wil consume you as I did the dynamo.>
  7183.  
  7184. You flicker back the way you came. You've wasted enough time in this place.
  7185.  
  7186. "Wait!" the female demon flies after you. "Did you say you're going to kill the lord?!"
  7187.  
  7188. <If you try to stop me, I will - >
  7189.  
  7190. "Stop you?" the demoness asks. "I'll help you!"
  7191.  
  7192. You continue to move out of their airship, and the demon flaps along above you. <Why?>
  7193.  
  7194. "The lord summoned me, not a mage," she explains. "If he dies, I'm free. My own existence! That would be so...refreshing. All the humans I could eat, and no boring fighting all the time. All he wants to do is fight...where's the fun in that? You understand, right?"
  7195.  
  7196. <I neither understand nor care.> You spare her a slightly glance as you clamber out of the hole in the airship. <There's an angel. It will destroy you.>
  7197.  
  7198. "Heh." The demon leers at you. "If it can. I'm pretty fast, when I want to be."
  7199.  
  7200. <Do what you want,> you say. Worst case, perhaps she would make a good meat shield.
  7201.  
  7202. "Ok!" she says. "I want to go with you. At least, for now."
  7203.  
  7204. You turn toward the shadow sphere.
  7205.  
  7206. A gaping whole has been blasted through the side of the magic. The shield still stands, swirling...and yet, where the spear struck is left a crumbling entrance. The edges of the gashed shield glow red like melted steel. Flashes of light and magic are coming from inside.
  7207.  
  7208. The Kelveren army has pushed a column of men through the Kanians in a huge shock attack. Golems are smashing each other to bits, constructs of earth and water and fire fighting amongst explosions of other spells. Men surge beneath the titans like waves of steel and flesh. They're doing everything they can to keep a path cleared to the shadow sphere.
  7209.  
  7210. <Is there a way to get through the shield?>
  7211.  
  7212. "Well..." She grins. "Why don't you just ooze straight into the hole?"
  7213.  
  7214. <Aside from the obvious.>
  7215.  
  7216. She puts a hand to mouth and blushes. "I'm not that kind of girl!"
  7217.  
  7218. This demon is even more useless than Joey, and that's saying something. You fly up into the air, then let your wings vanish and glide forward, trying to stay inconspicuous. The demon flies next to you, keeping pace. For a moment, you're afraid you'll be caught in a magical bombardment that targets her bombastic appearance...but no one seems to notice her.
  7219.  
  7220. <You are hidden.>
  7221.  
  7222. She smiles. "Humans see what I want them to see, silly."
  7223.  
  7224. You land on top of the shadow sphere. It's like hard stone. The shadows seem to lick at your feet, but they seem to recognize a superior and leave it at that.
  7225.  
  7226. "Ick. I wouldn't touch that stuff."
  7227.  
  7228. You lower yourself closer to the shadows...surely if they avoid you, you could get through them?
  7229.  
  7230. You press your will at the inky shield...
  7231.  
  7232. ...it bends. The shadows swim apart like water. You drop through the hole and begin to glide. The demon zips through the gap before it snaps closed.
  7233.  
  7234. "That was close!" she says. "Warn me first!" She's about to spout more nonsense, but the scene below chokes her off.
  7235.  
  7236. It's total chaos. Demons are everywhere, flying, shrieking bird-men, minotaurs, satyrs, smaller fae. You even see a few more of the humanoid female demons launching spheres of shadow and fire. The Kanians are below them.
  7237.  
  7238. But they're all being pressed by a torrent of Kelveren magic. Explosions are ripping through the air. The duke's lightning spear has reformed into the giant elemental, and it is thundering through the melee with him suspended in its center. The great effort serves to keep a large area clear -
  7239.  
  7240. - and the demon lord and Auriel are fighting like nothing you've seen. The winged woman wields her sword grown several times, shining like a blue sun. The demon lord itself is a twisted creature, fighting back with claws wreathed in black fire.
  7241.  
  7242. Auriel's attacks are fierce and unpredictable, but she can't break its iron defense. She takes wing and shoots a ray of light at the enemy.
  7243.  
  7244. The demon swipes at the light with his hand. the spell is deflected into a crowd of soldiers, where it explodes, turning them all to dust in a white explosion.
  7245.  
  7246. Auriel continues to fire her magic from the air, but the demon takes wing himself, dodging her attacks like...
  7247.  
  7248. ...like a shadow.
  7249.  
  7250. It reaches her, and they enter midair combat at close range.
  7251.  
  7252. Far below, you can feel Flint's light. He's fighting at the front of the Kelveren lines, leading the mundane troops against the demons on the ground.
  7253.  
  7254. Ila, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen.
  7255.  
  7256. You soar toward Flint, allowing yourself to drop quickly. The demoness follows behind you
  7257.  
  7258. You drop heavily next to the knight and slam away a soldier running in at his flank. Flint turns, prepared to confront the foe, then stops when he sees you. "Shadow! The duke filled me in!" You both retreat back slightly, and the Kelveren lines swallow you up. The disciplined elites hardly spare a second glance at what they believe is just another spell on their side - as it must be, considering it isn't trying to kill them.
  7259.  
  7260. <Let us clear this ground, first,> you say to Flint.
  7261.  
  7262. "...uh..." Flint looks at the demoness, who has landed next to you. "...another new friend?"
  7263.  
  7264. "My name's Annette," she says. "Shadow saved me back outside. Right, Shadow?"
  7265.  
  7266. <...Flint. What do you see?>
  7267.  
  7268. Flint clears his throat. He leans closer to you. "...ah...a, uh, attractive young mage. Dressed like a woman from the bars."
  7269.  
  7270. <Is it a distraction?>
  7271.  
  7272. "Well...the more the merrier?" Flint says. He turns away. "Lady...Annette. I am Sir Donovan Flint, of Dobshire. Please stay behind us, where it is safer, and support us as you can."
  7273.  
  7274. The demoness raises a hand and fires a bolt of dark fire at an approaching minotaur. It growls in pain as its hand and the axe it was holding evaporates. The elite troops smell blood and gang up on it for a quick kill.
  7275.  
  7276. The demoness licks her lips. "Can't I stay a bit closer, Sir Flint? I'm sure I can be much more helpful at your side."
  7277.  
  7278. "...uhh...o-ok." Flint gives himself a shake, and jogs back toward the front of the line. His sword begins to glow.
  7279.  
  7280. You stare at the demoness. "What?" she asks. "I can't have a little fun? He's handsome."
  7281.  
  7282. <If you harm him in any manner, I will consume you from the inside out.>
  7283.  
  7284. The demoness goes very quiet, then nods. "As you wish."
  7285.  
  7286. You leap after Flint. The demoness trails behind you...
  7287.  
  7288. ...something bothers you. You hear Auriel's words repeated in your head:
  7289.  
  7290. "One false move. One toe out of place!"
  7291.  
  7292. You feel...
  7293. ...hypocritical.
  7294.  
  7295. The demoness is...vapid...but have you merely condemned her as Auriel condemned you?
  7296.  
  7297. ...no.
  7298.  
  7299. You feel no guilt for reprimanding a creature that was lying in wait for easy prey. With Auriel, and Raziel, you sought discussion. You sued for peace. The demoness sought only an easy meal. She does not deserve further consideration until she proves otherwise.
  7300.  
  7301. You march forward to the front lines. The tides of men are pushing against one another. Flint is engaged with a Satyr.
  7302.  
  7303. You've opted to fight alongside Flint and press the lines forward on your own merit.
  7304.  
  7305. You step up next to Flint. With his sword locked on the Satyr's claws, the beast is easy prey. You unleash a barrage of tentacles, beating the creature's head to the side, slicing off its arms, and stabbing it in five different places. The creature falls back and vanishes.
  7306.  
  7307. Flint looks up at you. "Guess you learned a few new tricks!"
  7308.  
  7309. You stand together as the Kanians form up for another attack. <Flint. The sorceress that arrived with me is a female demon.>
  7310.  
  7311. "Wait, what?!"
  7312.  
  7313. You send him a series of impressions depicting the strange demon and its odd fascination with you.
  7314.  
  7315. "...how do you get yourself into these situations?"
  7316.  
  7317. <I would like to know that, so I can stop them from happening.>
  7318.  
  7319. "Alright. I'll keep my guard up." He looks at you. "...demons summoned by mages vanish when you kill the mage. But summoned by another demon...they call that unsummoned. This might be something to take care of before the battle ends."
  7320.  
  7321. "Sir knight!" cries Annette.
  7322.  
  7323. Flint glances up as a minotaur's war hammer plummets down toward his head!
  7324.  
  7325. But blast of shadow-fire forces the demon to fall back. Annette appears behind you and continues firing. The minotaur growls and raises its axe in a defensive posture, using its magic to deflect the shots.
  7326.  
  7327. "Be more careful," she shouts. "The shadow wouldn't like it if you got hurt!"
  7328.  
  7329. Flint raises an eyebrow your way, then tightens his grip on his sword. You face the enemy lines as the Kanians and their demons charge in.
  7330.  
  7331. You release your new power...and it feels as though chains holding you back have finally dropped away. You surge forward like a wall of swords tied to the end of whips, slashing, cutting, hacking through enemies as fast as they can present themselves.
  7332.  
  7333. The Kelveren army can barely keep up with you. Flint runs to keep pace at your side, watching enemies that try to get behind you, but it's a wasted effort. No enemies live to get behind you. In your wake you leave mud churned with blood, severed arms, innards cut from the bowels of your foes, and the evaporating dust of demons.
  7334.  
  7335. A trio of minotaurs surges toward you, trying to halt the advance. Annette strikes one with a blast of her shadow magic, and its head evaporates. You barrel headlong into the other two and stab through their chests a dozen times before they can react. The demons evaporate in a cloud before you.
  7336.  
  7337. What began as a clash of armies turns into a rout. The Kelveren line balloons out behind you, herding the Kanians back into the wall of shadow like cattle. You take advantage of the press, slaying even more as they begin turning away from you, screaming in horror and pain. Even the demons fear to face you.
  7338.  
  7339. Your intense burst of effort finally begins to slow. You can't keep it up forever. You allow the lines to surge forward around you and let your limbs draw back into your body.
  7340.  
  7341. Flint drives his sword down and leans forward, breathing heavily. Blood splatters down armor, meeting the mud splattered up his boots and pants. Despite his state, a smile is bright on his face. "...damn. We did it. We beat them."
  7342.  
  7343. Annette walks toward you. You tense as she gets a bit close for comfort...
  7344.  
  7345. ...and you feel all the more surprised when she takes a knee before you. "I am your servant."
  7346.  
  7347. <...are you not subservient to the demon lord?>
  7348.  
  7349. "Not if you kill him," she growls.
  7350.  
  7351. She seems like a different person. Her illusion has no effect on you - you still see her original form. But even as you watch, she changes. The childish gaze peels back to reveal something...different.
  7352.  
  7353. <You threatened to slaughter humans indiscriminately, and you expect to serve me?>
  7354.  
  7355. She seems surprised. "...but...we are greater existences than they. You would condemn me for crushing ants?"
  7356.  
  7357. <Could an ant immolate you in fire?>
  7358.  
  7359. "...if your command is not to harm humans, I will do so. Though I do not pretend to understand."
  7360.  
  7361. You say nothing...but you Impress upon her a feeling of disappointment.
  7362.  
  7363. She looks away from your gaze.
  7364.  
  7365. "We need to keep moving," Flint says.
  7366.  
  7367. You glance around the battlefield.
  7368.  
  7369. The duke has taken heavy hits. His elemental looks to be on the verge of collapse. It's swarmed by a flock of freakish demons with crows for heads. Lightning snaps at them on contact, but there's too many. The duke's surrounding support isn't done, but it's been greatly damaged by aerial bombardment.
  7370.  
  7371. The demon lord and Auriel have returned to the ground. Flashes of shadow and light thunder across the inside of the shadow dome. You can't tell who is winning or losing.
  7372.  
  7373. <We need to support the duke. Let's move!>
  7374.  
  7375. You begin to run, and Flint runs with you - and alongside you runs battalions of the Kelveren army and squads of mages. After that last performance, you've won a bit of influence.
  7376.  
  7377. "Shadow," Flint says. He moves close and speaks so only you can hear. "...what are you planning with the demon?"
  7378.  
  7379. <Nothing, if she is useful and does not harm anyone.>
  7380.  
  7381. "You think Auriel will approve?"
  7382.  
  7383. <I do not seek her approval.>
  7384.  
  7385. "Dammit, you're not making this easy."
  7386.  
  7387. "Oh Sir Flint!" Annette dashes over, ruining any of privacy you might have had with the knight. You wonder if that was intentional. "Might I say that you were quite dashing during our charge...you'll protect me during the next fights, won't you?"
  7388.  
  7389. "Uh...w-well, I wouldn't - "
  7390.  
  7391. You can feel a tingle a magic pass between her and Flint.
  7392.  
  7393. <Stop that,> you say.
  7394.  
  7395. "It isn't harming him." She shrugs. "That Shel'kath attached to his soul should really be taken care of at some point, by the way."
  7396.  
  7397. Flint stops dead. "What?"
  7398.  
  7399. Annette pokes a finger at Flint. "Shel'Kath. On your soul. Can't you feel it?"
  7400.  
  7401. Flint swallows hard.
  7402.  
  7403. <Perhaps you will have use for this one,> you say to Flint.
  7404.  
  7405. "...dear spirits. Bargaining with demons. Auriel won't so much as speak to me ever again, if she doesn't kill me outright.>
  7406.  
  7407. <She already seems to be ignoring you.>
  7408.  
  7409. Flint holds his head in his hands. "First a shadow elemental, now a succubus. I'm going to die a terrible, ugly death."
  7410.  
  7411. "Oh, come now, ~Donny~." Annette sidles up to Flint. "I'll protect you from the meany angel."
  7412.  
  7413. "T-that won't b-be necessary."
  7414.  
  7415. The succubus leers forward. "It almost sounds like you don't want me around?"
  7416.  
  7417. "W-well...I...there's, sort of - "
  7418.  
  7419. Annette makes a deeply hurt face. "But...don't you like me?"
  7420.  
  7421. Flint raises his palms. "Now, I...I just don't..."
  7422.  
  7423. "I knew it! You do like me."
  7424.  
  7425. "That's not what I - "
  7426.  
  7427. <Enough. They're coming.>
  7428.  
  7429. And they are. Two succubi are wheeling toward your position, leading a flock of the crow men.
  7430.  
  7431. The mages on either side of you are preparing spells. Annette steps in front of Flint. "You stay right there, Donny. I'll handle this."
  7432.  
  7433. You spread your wings and soar up off the ground, aiming to take down the more dangerous enemies - the succubus.
  7434.  
  7435. The succubus see you coming, and unleash balls of shadow-fire!
  7436.  
  7437. You dodge, drifting to and fro, but a flame catches your left wing!
  7438.  
  7439. It roils around you, bending past your aura. But the force sends you spinning to the side. The flock of crow-men surrounds you in an instant. Disoriented, you're pecked and clawed from every angle by long, ragged beaks and claws like steel.
  7440.  
  7441. You lash out, but you've lost your sense of direction. Black eyes and feathers are everywhere, chocking off every route of escape. You slice a wing there, and stab another here, but only because there are so many to hit. They continue to rake you with their attacks...
  7442.  
  7443. You unleash a burst of magic power.
  7444.  
  7445. An image of you is left behind, turning, flapping. You blast through the wall of feathers. The coordinated strike, refocusing on your "new" position, can't adjust fast enough to catch you! You take a bit of a scrape on the way out, but you're through!
  7446.  
  7447. You emerge from the wall of feathers -
  7448. - and you turn, slashing back into your foes with limbs extended. The tips of your wings become blades, and you spin against the motion of the flock, slicing them as they fly by! They drop like flies.
  7449.  
  7450. But before you can do more damage, magic flames rocket past your position. You're forced to beat your wings back to evade the shots. One of the succubi is closing in.
  7451.  
  7452. A tremendous blast of magic roars past you, evaporating the succubus. The lightning pours on, slamming into the crows that are still trying to reorient. A follow-up barrage of other elements peppers the flock, felling crows one after another.
  7453.  
  7454. You turn. The duke's elemental is gone, but with you distracting a large portion of the flock, the ground forces were able to rescue him.
  7455.  
  7456. You manage to land next to Flint. "Shadow? Are you alright? I couldn't even follow where you were!"
  7457.  
  7458. <Neither could I.>
  7459.  
  7460. Annette is running toward you. Fire still flickers in her hands.
  7461.  
  7462. Annette opens her mouth to say something as she lowers her hands -
  7463.  
  7464. Ila appears below the succubus. Her knives are out, extended.
  7465.  
  7466. Annette tries to dodge. She gets out of the way of the slice aimed for her neck, but the punching dagger drives up into her abdomen. Ila withdraws her weapon and kicks the succubus down onto the ground. Annette's breath is shallow and uneven.
  7467.  
  7468. Ila raises her knives for the killing blow...
  7469.  
  7470. <Ila, stop!>
  7471.  
  7472. Ila stops. She glances at you, confused.
  7473.  
  7474. You slide to a halt next to Annette. You're not an expert in demonology, but the wound looks lethal. You lean down. <Tell me of the Shel'kath. Hurry!>
  7475.  
  7476. "...two...twins," Annette wheezes. "One...Donny...second...."
  7477.  
  7478. <What else? How do I kill it?>
  7479.  
  7480. "...need..." She coughs blood. It splatters over her body. "...resummon...me...master..."
  7481.  
  7482. Her head falls limp. And just like the other demons, she vanishes in an implosion of magic.
  7483.  
  7484. You feel a slight sense of loss.
  7485.  
  7486. But no matter. There is still Adavan.
  7487.  
  7488. "...was this demon important?"
  7489.  
  7490. <Somewhat,> you say. <But not irreplaceable.>
  7491.  
  7492. Flint finally reaches you. He seems unsure of how to react. "...I admit, I feel pity for her."
  7493.  
  7494. "Demons are not to be trusted," Ila says flatly. "I would utilize whatever replacement you have, Shadow, and forget this creature."
  7495.  
  7496. An explosion of magic grabs all your attention. The demon lord and Auriel are unleashing powerful blasts directed at each other, countering power with more power. But the shadow is steadily snuffing out all the lights, in a slow, inexorable wave.
  7497.  
  7498. "She needs help," Flint says.
  7499.  
  7500. "Indeed." The duke walks up between you. "And help she shall receive."
  7501.  
  7502. Shadow Quest Chapter 18
  7503. The duke is looking tired...but you think you've got a solid plan.
  7504.  
  7505. <Ila. Are you under orders?>
  7506.  
  7507. "I was told to help the Kelverens as I could," she said. "Vague. Open to interpretation."
  7508.  
  7509. <I think you'd best help if you focused on the remaining succubi before they rain down more fire on us. Right, your excellency?>
  7510.  
  7511. The duke hasn't missed much. He nods. "I agree. That would be very helpful to Kelvere."
  7512.  
  7513. Ila's lips curl in a slight smile. "Then I'll do that."
  7514.  
  7515. She vanishes.
  7516.  
  7517. <You stay here and prepare,> you tell the duke. <I'm going to clean up the crow demons. Then we can all focus on the lord.> You glance toward the fight. <Auriel can hold a little longer.>
  7518.  
  7519. "...probably. But don't be long."
  7520.  
  7521. Wings spread from your back. The flock is scattered in a melee with the duke's forces, but you know from experience they could reform quite quickly. This first strike needs to count...
  7522.  
  7523. You soar up through the flock of crows, slashing at every one you pass. You down them quickly. Alone, they're light and frail.
  7524.  
  7525. It isn't long until a group forms up and hones in on your position in a flying-V. You collide with them, blowing a few of them apart and taking some damage yourself.
  7526.  
  7527. Meanwhile, one of the last succubi has mysteriously vanished...you silently thank Ila.
  7528.  
  7529. A barrage of magic is unleashed from the mages on the ground. The last succubus ignites, then gets hit with a blast of water...then gets electrocuted. It drops from the sky like a lead weight, corpse still smoking. Apparently the duke had one more trick left.
  7530.  
  7531. There's still a significant number of the crows, but they're thinned out quite a bit.
  7532.  
  7533. You glance down toward the main event. Auriel is now on the defensive against the demon lord, who is mauling at her with his claws. She's deflecting them with her blade, but she's giving ground, fast.
  7534.  
  7535. Flint has organized a company of mages and elites, and they're charging at the demon lord from its backside!
  7536.  
  7537. You fly towards Flint, clipping a few crow demons along the way. Compared to the rest of this battle, its easy going - they're trying to survive, now, rather than attack.
  7538.  
  7539. You land heavily on the ground next to Flint and merge with his shadow. The other men with him are briefly surprised, but smile grimly. They remember your previous work. It's probably a relief for them to have you with them.
  7540.  
  7541. "We've got to hurry," Flint says. "I don't know how much longer she's going to - "
  7542.  
  7543. The demon lord roars. A powerful shockwave of shadow and spirit blasts at Auriel.
  7544.  
  7545. She drops her sword and raises her hands. Lines of white light twist into a complex sigil. The disc of magic takes the shockwave attack, but she's driven back, back, her feet leaving ruts in the ground as the powers push against one another.
  7546.  
  7547. Finally, the spell dissipates. Auriel raises her right arm, and her sword vanishes and appears back in her hand. But then, she crouches low and waits.
  7548.  
  7549. "̨Tir̢e̵d a̵l̵r͏eady͝?" The demon grins. Black smoke escapes his mouth when it speaks. "͝C̛o̷m̷e̸ ̧cl̀o̶se͏r̡ ̶so̷ ̴I͘ ͟c͘a̶n ͘b̡r̴ea͠k̵ ͢yo̧u.̛"҉
  7550.  
  7551. Auriel straightens, and levels her sword out. "I'm just getting warmed up."
  7552.  
  7553. The demon laughs for a moment - then turns. He stares at your approaching party. "͘More̵ wo̢rm̶s?̀ An̕d ҉th̶e̴ Shad̵ow, to҉o. Ít̕'s̴ ͜a̵bo̢u͜t̛ ͏ti̢me̶ ͘you͘ b̸r̢o͏uǵht ̛me ͟s҉o̸me eńt̵e̷r͠t͘a̛i̸nm͏ent.̡"͠
  7554.  
  7555. The demon glances up into the sky and takes note of his decimated army. "̛A͞h̶. T̴heỳ'̢rȩ ͠d͡ea͏d̴.̵ Well̀ t͠h͠en̴.̛.."̀
  7556.  
  7557. Magic flares!
  7558.  
  7559. The demon raises its arms.
  7560.  
  7561. Discs of shadow and spirit appear on the ground around it. 2...then 5...then more. They multiply until there are dozens. Black spheres warp and condense over the sigils, and they all flash brightly.
  7562.  
  7563. Spirits fly out of the spheres! Ghosts, wraiths, some like wisps, others more evil specters with eyes of fire! The phantom army flies toward you, cutting down the troops to either side of you.
  7564.  
  7565. "What's happening?!"
  7566. "Take cover!"
  7567. "Ghosts, get down!"
  7568.  
  7569. Magic leaps from the hands of the mages. A few ghosts are scoured out of the air, but a dozen are still attacking your group. The rest of the mob flies by, heading back for the duke's army!
  7570.  
  7571. "We've got to kill this thing," Flint says. "Keep them off me!" He charges forward straight at the demon lord, dragging you along with him.
  7572.  
  7573. The demon lord sneers at the lone knight. "Pathetic. What are you, Shadow, a pet? I'll do you a favor and kill this one." It raises a hand, and a ray of darkness pulses toward Flint!
  7574.  
  7575. You twist in front of Flint, wrapping his front side with your body!
  7576.  
  7577. The shadow strikes you - !!
  7578.  
  7579. And for you, it's like taking a warm bath. The ray strikes you, then dissipates to black mist that floats to either side of you. It kills the blades of grass it touches, but Flint is totally unharmed.
  7580.  
  7581. The demon settles back. It takes a long look at Auriel. She's set low, still breathing hard. He looks back at you as you separate from Flint and stand up.
  7582.  
  7583. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVyZrYv_BUQ
  7584.  
  7585. <You call me a pet...but you're a puppet yourself,> you say.
  7586.  
  7587. "Hardly," the demon growls. "That fool's sanity is crumbling at the seems. It's only a matter of time...and then, I'll exist here by my own merit." The demon grins. "You had reason to save that thing?"
  7588.  
  7589. <My ally is worth saving.>
  7590.  
  7591. "Ally? Can't you feel his soul? He's like a miniature version of the flying rat." The demon jerks its bony thumb at Auriel. "I was under the impression that you beings hated one another."
  7592.  
  7593. <Apparently you had a false impression.>
  7594.  
  7595. The demon's laugh rumbles loud and long. "So what did they promise you? Protection? Or merely your life? Oh yes...glory to the wonderful angels, who deem your existence worthy to go unnoticed, un-purged-." The demon shrugs. "We can easily destroy these fools."
  7596.  
  7597. <Why would I help you?>
  7598.  
  7599. "Why not? Join me, and we will rule as we might. We will make slaves and servants of these...humans...and secure ourselves a foothold in this Reality. Alternatively..." The demon raises an eyebrow. "Help them, and be tolerated as a second class citizen...until they decide you've grown too dangerous for their precious sense of -balance- and rub you out like chalk on slate."
  7600.  
  7601. <That won't happen.>
  7602.  
  7603. "Am I not under assault by those very forces right now? Have you been different? Did they make some special exception, just for you? or did they label you a disgusting thing to be destroyed just because of what you are - what you look like?"
  7604.  
  7605. You remain silent, for you have nothing to contradict.
  7606.  
  7607. "As I thought," the demon says. It smiles its evil smile. "You have potential, Thing of Shadow. With my power, these lands would be ripe for you to consume. I care not for the tools of mine you've slain - there is no debt to pay. No conflict between us. Join me, and prosper."
  7608.  
  7609. "Flint!" Auriel shouts. "Get away from the Shadow!"
  7610.  
  7611. Flint's head snaps back and forward between you and Auriel. He settles his feet. "He won't betray us."
  7612.  
  7613. Auriel's face is strained with exasperation, but she doesn't try to reach you. She's worse off than she's letting on.
  7614.  
  7615. <Do you believe you could sway me with a display power and an eloquent speech? I have seen power. I have heard speeches. The outcome of this battle is clear.>
  7616.  
  7617. "My army will prove otherwise. If you - "
  7618.  
  7619. <I will not join you. You are wrong.>
  7620.  
  7621. "...what?" the demon growls.
  7622.  
  7623. The image of a small girl forms in your mind.. You may not know what you are, but those memories are clear.
  7624.  
  7625. <I have been rejected, by some. Not all. I will not abandon those that have accepted me.>
  7626.  
  7627. Flint grins.
  7628.  
  7629. <But you're right about one thing,> you continue. <I am of the shadow...and my darkness will consume whatever lies in my way.>
  7630.  
  7631. "We shall see who consumes whom."
  7632.  
  7633. Black light flares around it. The dome of darkness encompassing your battlefield begins to swim and churn...it's beginning something big!
  7634.  
  7635. Auriel leaps, and flaps your way, strafing the demon by a good margin. It watches her, but does not move. She lands heavily next to you.
  7636.  
  7637. "You see?" Flint asks.
  7638.  
  7639. Auriel snorts. "You're naive." Auriel stares at you. "And don't think you've won any points with me."
  7640.  
  7641. You ignore the jibe. <Do you know what it's doing?>
  7642.  
  7643. "I got in a few hits." She examines the demon a long moment. "It's casting a regeneration spell, and then planning on resummoning its full army. We need to strike hard, now."
  7644.  
  7645. <What about the man controlling it? Nulis Vin?>
  7646.  
  7647. "I've searched," Auriel says. "He's was never here. Probably back in Kan-Abar."
  7648.  
  7649. Flint spits on the ground. "Coward."
  7650.  
  7651. "...Shadow..." Auriel begins. "...with me. And if I see a hint of intent against me, I'll annihilate you."
  7652.  
  7653. <I've enough of your threats, angel, to last me weeks. But I will fight with you.>
  7654.  
  7655. "What about me?" Flint asks.
  7656.  
  7657. "This enemy is beyond you. Keep your distance, help the other men."
  7658.  
  7659. Flint works the pommel of his sword in his hands, but he grudgingly nods.
  7660.  
  7661. <I am your shadow. Go with caution.>
  7662.  
  7663. You slip into Auriel's shadow. She swallows, staring at you for a long time.
  7664.  
  7665. Slowly, she turns her back on you.
  7666.  
  7667. Over 700 years old...a survivor of wars, plagues, demons, and who knows what else. It must have been difficult for her to look away.
  7668.  
  7669. That, or she's very desperate. You decide it is probably the latter.
  7670.  
  7671. She clutches her sword of light high and beings to carefully make her way toward the demon. "Do you discern anything I may have missed?"
  7672.  
  7673. You closely examine the demon.
  7674.  
  7675. <...I thought you said the spell was for regeneration.>
  7676.  
  7677. "I think so."
  7678.  
  7679. You note scars and burns on the demon's arms. <It isn't healing.>
  7680.  
  7681. "Then what...?"
  7682.  
  7683. The demon roars. Purple lightning leaves its body and rises up into the sky. It strikes the dome, and the rate of the spinning increases, faster, then even faster. It's like your in the eye of a black hurricane.
  7684.  
  7685. You sense something.
  7686.  
  7687. <...that took power,> you say. <Its defenses are weakened! Strike, hurry!>
  7688.  
  7689. Auriel nods. She lunges forward at blinding speed, swinging her sword as she does so!
  7690.  
  7691. Auriel's sword swings from top to bottom!
  7692.  
  7693. The demon shields with his forearms, but her attack leaves thick gashes! A strange mixture of blood and magic ooze sprays from the demon's wound.
  7694.  
  7695. The demon roars and spins, lashing out with his tail to catch her while she's bringing her sword back up -
  7696.  
  7697. - but your limbs catch the demon's tail briefly, stopping it. He struggles to escape, and frees himself, striking you hard as he jumps away.
  7698.  
  7699. Auriel presses forward on the retreating beast.
  7700.  
  7701. <If the opportunity arises, I'm going to try and bind it!>
  7702.  
  7703. She nods, and positions her sword for another attack.
  7704.  
  7705. You throw your thoughts back across the battlefield. <Your excellency, can you hear me?>
  7706.  
  7707. There's no response. Either he can't hear you, or he isn't in a position to use a spirit mage to communicate back. The ghosts are still rampaging through his forces...mages are alright, but the normal troops have no defense against invisible phantoms. It's all they can do to stop a slaughter.
  7708.  
  7709. <If you can hear me, I'll try to bind the demon! Use that moment to strike!>
  7710.  
  7711. Auriel presses forward at the demon's retreating back -
  7712.  
  7713. - and it turns, firing a barrage of shadowy missiles!
  7714.  
  7715. Remembering your earlier success with flint, you react quickly, wrapping around in front of her like a sail. The missiles strike into you, exploding to either side. This shadow seems different...wrapped in a bit of wind. You take a few hits, but hold strong!
  7716.  
  7717. Auriel slams hard into the demon with her shoulder, forcing it back. It's warding her attacks with its aura and its claws, but she cuts here, there, and slices its chest with another strong blow!
  7718.  
  7719. The shadows high above continue to spin...
  7720.  
  7721. You have the initiative.
  7722.  
  7723. You leap up from above Auriel and -
  7724.  
  7725. VUUM
  7726.  
  7727. The air around you vibrates as you teleport behind the demon. Your spell is already ready! All your mana blasts forward in thick ropes of spirit magic!
  7728.  
  7729. The magic strikes the demon and wraps around him with a mind of its own, binding up his legs and tightening one of his arms to his side. His muscles strain to free himself -
  7730.  
  7731. But Auriel is there before he can! She swings down, driving through his arm, nearly severing it clean from his torso! But in the process, her sword cuts your magic. The binding drops free!
  7732.  
  7733. A crack of lightning snaps across the battlefield. Auriel and the demon leap away. The spell catches her on the wing, and it on one of its legs. She goes flying through the air, spinning away from you.
  7734.  
  7735. The demon lord lands heavily, its right foot blackened and cracked. Its injuries are slowly healing...
  7736.  
  7737. The spell above you continues to spin. The hurricane's pressure increases...the battlefield is cast in even greater darkness.
  7738.  
  7739. The demon lord faces you, growling heavily.
  7740.  
  7741. You charge at the demon, lashing him with you arms as you close the gap. He crouches and shields with his good arm and wings, taking the blows one after another.
  7742.  
  7743. It's like hitting solid steel. You can feel his flesh give somewhat, but your damage is limited. However, the pressure visibly stops his regeneration...
  7744.  
  7745. You've entered close range.
  7746.  
  7747. The spell above is still churning...you hope the duke is working to do something about that.
  7748.  
  7749. You barrel into the demon.
  7750.  
  7751. You open your body like a giant set of jaws and CRUNCH down upon him.
  7752.  
  7753. The demon throws out its arms, catching you wide! Your jagged teeth of shadow catch it on its wrists, digging in, making new cuts, but its strength is enough to keep you from completing your attack!
  7754.  
  7755. "Errrrgh....RAAAH!"
  7756.  
  7757. The demon's claws dig into you. It lifts you up, off the ground, then slams you into the dirt! Its foot tries to stomp into you, but you manage to slip out of the way.
  7758.  
  7759. You've lost the initiative.
  7760.  
  7761. Stunned, you try to put a bit of distance between yourself and your foe.
  7762.  
  7763. He turns away from you and raises his hands. Spears of darkness leap forward, but they go wide! Very wide...as if he isn't even aiming for you.
  7764.  
  7765. Auriel, who was trying to slip around to the side, takes the full brunt of the attack. She deflects some of the missiles with her sword, and they explode into the ground around her, cutting rivets and channels in the earth. But one slips through her defenses, blasting a hole in her armor! She clutches at the wound on her side, but she's still standing, and she hasn't lost her grip on the sword.
  7766.  
  7767. The demon pauses. It puffs a breath of air through its nose, and raises its good arm up, up, straight toward the roof of the dome. A twisting rope of shadow swims down to meet him like a tornado extending down from storm clouds.
  7768.  
  7769. You instinctively know something bad is about to happen.
  7770.  
  7771. The shadow does not frighten you. You can stop this - with your own body.
  7772.  
  7773. You leap up, above the demon lord, and place yourself between it and its twisting spell. The lord looks shocked.
  7774.  
  7775. It rapidly descends towards you. You bend your senses toward it, trying to gain a clue before it arrives and strikes you.
  7776.  
  7777. You sense...
  7778. ...nothing.
  7779.  
  7780. There's nothing. You can see the shadow, but there's no magic. But more than that, it's -devoid- of magic altogether. Empty. Terribly, horribly empty.
  7781.  
  7782. And yet...Something is there...
  7783.  
  7784. And it's staring back at you.
  7785.  
  7786. A thousand minds, a thousand voices, screaming, clawing at you like nails on slate stolen and amplified a hundred thousand times. You can't hear, you can't think, but you can see the eyes of the beast as if they surround and dominate your entire existence.
  7787.  
  7788. And then, they're gone.
  7789.  
  7790. The shadow plunges through you...
  7791.  
  7792. ...and nothing happens. It's as if it isn't even there. Or...it is there...but not in the same way you are.
  7793.  
  7794. Uncertain, you fall back toward Auriel. She's recovered somewhat, but her wound still has a long way to go. <What is that thing?>
  7795.  
  7796. "I don't know."
  7797.  
  7798. That statement, coming from her, is perhaps more frightening than the creature in the shadow.
  7799.  
  7800. The shadows reach the demon. It wraps the beast like a cloak, shivering, shaking, warping. The ground trembles.
  7801.  
  7802. "Auriel!" Flint is running toward you both. "What's going - by the light, what is that?!"
  7803.  
  7804. The void-like darkness around the demon explodes outward.
  7805.  
  7806. The shadows blast outward like all the hell in the world unleashed on Venia.
  7807.  
  7808. They sweep the field and pass through you, Flint, and Auriel.
  7809.  
  7810. Nothing happens.
  7811.  
  7812. At first.
  7813.  
  7814. Shouts go up from the men behind you. The phantoms vanish.
  7815.  
  7816. Auriel's wings begin to shrivel.
  7817.  
  7818. "What...what's happening?" A glow flickers around her back, and her wound, and then dies. She collapses to the ground. Her wound isn't bleeding anymore, but it's a giant, raw scab. "...I...my magic...I can't feel it!"
  7819.  
  7820. Flint goes down on his knees. "I still have mine. What the hell was that?"
  7821.  
  7822. You...feel...lessened.
  7823.  
  7824. You're...ok...but something's gone. You feel for your magic, your aura...
  7825.  
  7826. ...and nothing is there.
  7827.  
  7828. The sense of the world around you is gone.
  7829.  
  7830. You hear the stomps of the demon approaching.
  7831.  
  7832. You grab Flint and Auriel and throw them to the side.
  7833.  
  7834. A giant arm plows toward you -
  7835.  
  7836. - but you Ink below it, dodging the blow! The demon overbalances, and you punch back at its head! That knocks it back several paces, and it falls over, stunned.
  7837.  
  7838. You rush back to your allies. <Angel! What is happening?!>
  7839.  
  7840. "...my magic...it's just, gone!" She's holding her wound. "I...my sword..." She glances down into the grass beside her. Her sword is now just a tiny shortsword...unremarkable in any way.
  7841.  
  7842. You listen to the shouts in the distance. The ghosts are all gone...the mages are doing the shouting. Their condition is similar to the angel's.
  7843.  
  7844. "I can still use my magic," Flint says. "I can - Shadow, look out!"
  7845.  
  7846. You turn. The demon is lumbering forward. You can't sense him coming any more...but his magic isn't working, either!
  7847.  
  7848. Thanks to Flint's warning, you're not caught off guard
  7849.  
  7850. You spin to the side of its bad arm, striking the demon as hard as you can in a flurry of punches-
  7851.  
  7852. -it grabs your arm! You pull back...but it's as if you're not even as viscous as you were before. It squeezes, then throws you. You land a good distance away, hard.
  7853.  
  7854. The demon's momentum continues forward. Flint steps up to attack. His sword bites into the demon's arm, but alone, it's not enough! The demon's backswing contacts with his chest bowls him over.
  7855.  
  7856. It reaches Auriel.
  7857.  
  7858. He grabs her and lifts her into the air. She struggles, crying out in pain, but there's nothing she can do against the demon's brute strength.
  7859.  
  7860. "...so weak, now." The demon squeezes harder, and you can hear a few nasty cracks. He throws her, and she tumbles across the ground. Bits of blood trail through the mud where her wound has reopened. She struggles to stand upright, then falls again. She's pale, and her breath is shallow.
  7861.  
  7862. "It'll be a simple matter to restore my own power with a few...easy snacks," the demon says. It chuckles mercilessly. "Unless the good knight thinks he stop me?"
  7863.  
  7864. But Flint is already running toward Auriel's side. "Highest? Highest!"
  7865.  
  7866. "...Donovan...get...away..."
  7867.  
  7868. You glance down at your belt...
  7869.  
  7870. ...and sense nothing. You feel at the sword shard with an inky nodule, but there's nothing to it.
  7871.  
  7872. ...has it been ruined?
  7873.  
  7874. <Flint! The spirit sword! Is it working?!>
  7875.  
  7876. Flint ignores you.
  7877.  
  7878. He's kneeling next to Auriel. "Highest..."
  7879.  
  7880. "...dammit...call...me...Auriel...idiot..."
  7881.  
  7882. "B-but you said - "
  7883.  
  7884. "...fuck what I said!" Auriel coughs. "Get yourself...together!"
  7885.  
  7886. "...I can heal you. We can - "
  7887.  
  7888. -----------------
  7889.  
  7890. The demon doesn't care for their conversation, but you intercept! You slam into him from the side with all your weight, and you go down in a tangle of limbs and Ink. You slam into him, targeting the nasty slice in his arm and the cut Auriel made on his chest. He roars in pain.
  7891.  
  7892. ----------------
  7893.  
  7894. "Don't...waste strength. I...I'll live."
  7895.  
  7896. "But - "
  7897.  
  7898. "Go!" Auriel coughs hard after struggling to say the louder word.
  7899.  
  7900. Flint stands, and turns. He grasps the spirit sword...and finds it useless. He leaves it in his sheath and draws his main sword.
  7901.  
  7902. Light flares around him...
  7903.  
  7904. You Crunch into the demon, ripping hard into his chest! He growls, twists, turns, and gets in a hit or two, but you've got the upper hand! You tear a hunk of flesh out from his chest, exposing his inner core...
  7905.  
  7906. ...it's still magic, twisting, writhing. Somehow, the spell keeping the demon here is still active.
  7907.  
  7908. "Shadow!" Flint calls. You can spare him a glance, but you can see flickering light. "...something about my magic is different! It's really...give me some time!"
  7909.  
  7910. <Hurry!>
  7911.  
  7912. You continue to attack the demon.
  7913.  
  7914. You claw across the demon's shoulder, tearing the wound that Auriel cut in its arm deeper -
  7915.  
  7916. It grabs you!
  7917.  
  7918. "ENOUGH!"
  7919.  
  7920. It gets its feet under itself and stands, holding you in midair! You scrabble and scrape, but its hold doesn't break. It throws you down to the ground, then brings its hands together and smashes you into the mud!
  7921.  
  7922. You're disoriented, but you see follow-up stomp coming and slip back! You face the demon on even footing once again. You've done a lot of damage, but it hardly seems to care. The wounds aren't regenerating, though...
  7923.  
  7924. "Almost...!" Flint shouts to you.
  7925.  
  7926. Your eyes widen when you see him. A blanket of light surrounds him like a gleaming cloak, and its growing larger every passing second. Auriel is gaping at him.
  7927.  
  7928. The demon doesn't miss it, either. It snaps its head back to you. "Time for a meal, I think."
  7929.  
  7930. You send the demon an impression of you swallowing him up like so much magical mist...he vanishes, and you rise above where he laid, swelling with power.
  7931.  
  7932. "We'll see."
  7933.  
  7934. You dart in and lash him across the face!
  7935.  
  7936. The blow strikes him hard, but he grabs you! You strain backward, but he pulls you in like a boatman hauling rope. When you're finally in range, he heaves on last time, then swipes you back the other way, gouging you with his claws!
  7937.  
  7938. The demon runs after you, but you lash at its legs. It stumbles, growls, and picks itself up! You flicker around it, leading it away from the knight.
  7939.  
  7940. Flint still hasn't moved...he needs just a little more time!
  7941.  
  7942. Flint runs forward...
  7943.  
  7944. ...his light flares brighter. Then brighter.
  7945.  
  7946. Then BRIGHTER
  7947.  
  7948. "Shadow, get away!!"
  7949.  
  7950. The light around Flint detonates.
  7951.  
  7952. You leap for a crater bombed in the ground...
  7953.  
  7954. ...the light scorches you, but you fall into the dirt, preserved by the faintest of shadows on the inside of the pit!
  7955.  
  7956. The demon's screech roars out into the air!
  7957.  
  7958. .̴͏.̷͞.҉҉.̷͜͠.̡.̧.́͡.͏̨͠.̡̛͠.͝҉.̷͢...̛.̵.̛́͜.̶͟͡.̷̢.̛́.͝͏͝.̀.͟͡.҉.̶.́͢.̛҉̛.͏.̛.̶͝..͢.͞....̸̵͡.͏.͡
  7959. ́A͢͞H͡͡R̸͘H͏͏ÁH̢RA̧̕H́G͟͝͠H̢!!͜҉͘!͠!͠
  7960. ́.̸͢͡.͞..͘͟..̶̸.͝͡.̴.̛.̛.̶҉.̶.̸̢̕.͡͡..̷..̕͏.͘͢.҉.҉͏̡..̴̶͝.́͜.̴̕.̵̧.̸.͟.̵͝..̢.͞.̴͜.͏..҉͢.̕͏.̨
  7961.  
  7962. The light dies - a torch suddenly snuffed.
  7963.  
  7964. You peer out of the hole. A blackened corpse lies at Flint's feet, who is now free of the light. The dome of shadow high above you is beginning to dissipate already. Your aura flickers back to life around you and your senses return, as if they'd never left.
  7965.  
  7966. You sprint toward the corpse. But first...
  7967.  
  7968. You hold up a shadowy hand to Flint.
  7969.  
  7970. "...I think...I did it. I lost control of it at the end, there...whatever it was." He looks at your hand. "...what?"
  7971.  
  7972. <I have noticed this gesture amongst humans. We are to slap hands in congratulations.>
  7973.  
  7974. Flint laughs, then smacks your hand. "No shit, huh Shadow?"
  7975.  
  7976. <No shit, Sir Flint.>
  7977.  
  7978. You know what you have to do now, of course.
  7979. You
  7980. Must
  7981. CONSUME
  7982.  
  7983. You leap onto the corpse of the demon lord. Much of the magic has already bled away...but there's so much, it hasn't simply evaporated like the other demons. You suck it dry.
  7984.  
  7985. A flash of something crosses your senses as you drain the last bits of the corpse...
  7986.  
  7987. ...eyes...watching you.
  7988.  
  7989. But then, the feeling is gone.
  7990.  
  7991. Flint smile vanishes. "Auriel!" He runs back, and you tail after him...
  7992.  
  7993. You run alongside Flint.
  7994.  
  7995. He slides to a stop near the fallen angel. "Highest! We won!"
  7996.  
  7997. "...told you...Auriel...dammit."
  7998.  
  7999. "...Auriel." Flint kneels next to her and grasps her hand. "We did it."
  8000.  
  8001. "Yeah...I...need a rest, I think..." Her head sags back, and she's out like a light.
  8002.  
  8003. "...well." Flint closes his eyes and focuses. "...she will live. But...she was so bright, before, it was like I could sense her from a mile away. But now...I thought her wings would come back."
  8004.  
  8005. <I sense similar changes. Her soul still holds magic, but not like before.>
  8006.  
  8007. "...Shadow...that power I used...is the parasite...?"
  8008.  
  8009. <My thoughts exactly. A moment.> You bend your Spirit Sight toward the knight.
  8010.  
  8011. The parasite stares back at you almost haughtily. It was only suppressed...not destroyed.
  8012.  
  8013. <Still there. Just beaten back, for a time.>
  8014.  
  8015. "...damn. Well." Flint faces the lady and gingerly reaches his arms around her form. "Forgive my presumption." He lifts her up and carries her from the field. You slip into his shadow, and let him tow you along.
  8016.  
  8017. Curious, you check his sheath. The glow that was on the spirit sword has gone. Unfortunate...but the sword itself is intact. You're certain it could be remade.
  8018.  
  8019. The shard of the shadow sword in your purse ravels and flickers once again. It is made of stronger stuff, apparently...
  8020.  
  8021. -----------
  8022.  
  8023. ...THE NEXT DAY...
  8024.  
  8025. -----------
  8026.  
  8027. You're in the duke's drawing room. Flint, the duke, Thomas, the duke's double, and the primly dressed man, seemingly the duke's steward, are all in attendance. Auriel is absent.
  8028.  
  8029. After the dome of unmagic faded, the mages regained their talents. They had to gather mana once more, but their abilities were intact. You've gathered from Flint that something more permanent seems to have happened with Auriel, but he refused to say more.
  8030.  
  8031. "What about casualties?" Flint asks.
  8032.  
  8033. "Overall, the Velarion spared most of my troops, but we still took very heavy losses," the duke says. "On the plus side...we annihilated the Kanian army. As bad a shape as my men are in right now, we're still much better off than we were before this fight."
  8034.  
  8035. He glances out the window, and you follow his gaze. Mass pyre-pits have been dug for the Kanians...there's simply too many to bury in any reasonable amount of time, and there's a war to fight. The fields north of Evinbrook castle are devastated, grasses changed for mud and blood. The scent of death seems soaked into the land, though the mages work to restore it, and repair the holes in the duke's keep.
  8036.  
  8037. "So, Shadow. Sir Flint." The duke sighs. "I believe...long before this all got out of hand...we were having a conversation about a certain alliance."
  8038.  
  8039. <Your excellency. After this last battle, I don't think we can be anything but friends. In the future, I may find that my path runs alongside yours. But for now...there are people I must find.>
  8040.  
  8041. "...I see. Are these two...the girl, and the lich, so important?"
  8042.  
  8043. <They're all I have.>
  8044.  
  8045. The duke folds his hands behind his back, then quietly nods. "Then I look forward to when we meet again." He extends his hand, and you shake it.
  8046.  
  8047. You turn to Flint, nod, and you both walk from the room.
  8048.  
  8049. Flint sighs heavily. "...you know...I think I like the duke a bit more, but...I'm glad that's over. Know what I mean?"
  8050.  
  8051. <I think I do.>
  8052.  
  8053. "Shadow," Flint begins. "...one day, I'll see that you have a home. A real home, not one you work for as a strategic tool to be moved around a board...so that you don't have to say those words again."
  8054.  
  8055. <...what words?>
  8056.  
  8057. "All I have," Flint says. "...I hate those words, Shadow. We're more similar than you think."
  8058.  
  8059. You do not press further, for you feel that, if Flint had wanted to continue, he would have.
  8060.  
  8061. "Before we leave...I wanted to speak with Auriel. If that's alright."
  8062.  
  8063. <Certainly. What are her plans?>
  8064.  
  8065. "...I don't know. But..." He drifts off.
  8066.  
  8067. You work your way down a flight of stairs and through some carpeted hallways.
  8068.  
  8069. A shadowy presence tingles at the back of your neck...
  8070.  
  8071. You turn. Flint stops with you, confused, and then jerks back in surprise when he sees Ila.
  8072.  
  8073. "Shadow," she says.
  8074.  
  8075. <Ila. You are unharmed.>
  8076.  
  8077. "I am."
  8078.  
  8079. <Good.>
  8080.  
  8081. "I...am pulled. Back."
  8082.  
  8083. <...back where?>
  8084.  
  8085. Her throat works, but she says nothing. She looks toward the door at the end of the hall. "I am a servant of angels...only angels." She glances at you. "In Heavensgate, there is a tree in the public park...in spring, it blooms with black flowers."
  8086.  
  8087. <Do shadows meet under that tree?>
  8088.  
  8089. She looks at you pointedly. "But Heavensgate is close to the Ring City." And with that last last, rather chilling warning, she walks away.
  8090.  
  8091. Flint shivers. "Woman gives me the creeps. Something not right about her."
  8092.  
  8093. <I could say the same of Auriel.>
  8094.  
  8095. Flint sights. "That's a Shadow's taste in women, for you."
  8096.  
  8097. He walks to the door and pauses before it. "...I...should probably see her alone."
  8098.  
  8099. You nod, and move off back to the intersection. Flint knocks upon the door and calls Auriel's name. A soft voice responds, and he opens the door and closes it quietly behind him.
  8100.  
  8101. You briefly direct your thoughts at Flint. <I'll be in the library.>
  8102.  
  8103. You wander back down through the castle. You don't have to hide, now...though the servants have a habit of leaping back in raw terror when you pass.
  8104.  
  8105. You walk into the library. The large, intimidating shelves rise up around you. There's a lot to leaf through, and you're not just browsing like you did last time...
  8106.  
  8107. ...hmm. A water mage is reading quietly at a table.
  8108.  
  8109. You walk up to the mage. <Excuse me.>
  8110.  
  8111. "...just a moment..." The mage traces a finger along the lines he's reading, then turns to face you. He stiffens in surprise. "...uh..."
  8112.  
  8113. <I'm unfamiliar with the layout of the library. Could you direct me to any text regarding summoning rituals, specifically regarding resummoning? Failing that, I'm also looking into the nature of demonic parasites.>
  8114.  
  8115. The mage adjusts his spectacles and scratches his head. "Are you that shadow that was in the battle?"
  8116.  
  8117. <I am.>
  8118.  
  8119. "...you're more lucid than I realized." The mage clears his throat and points down the shelves. "You want three rows back from here, top shelf. There's some red-bound books on rituals. I've never heard of a demonic parasite myself, but it's not my field."
  8120.  
  8121. <Thank you.>
  8122.  
  8123. The mage nods. "Uh, sure."
  8124.  
  8125. You move to the shelves indicated. Indeed, on the top shelf are some red leather books. You reach up to grab the lot of them...
  8126.  
  8127. You reach up for the books and nab them all.
  8128.  
  8129. But one hops out of your hands!
  8130.  
  8131. You fumble to catch it -
  8132.  
  8133. - but it flaps like a bird and flies around the shelves!
  8134.  
  8135. You dash after the mad book!
  8136.  
  8137. You leap up a shelf, quickly clambering to the top of the library. The book flaps harder in an attempt to escape.
  8138.  
  8139. You lunge off the wood, engulfing it in shadows. You land hard on top of it. It struggles to escape, but you can easily hold it down.
  8140.  
  8141. "Oh, hey, sorry!" The mage runs over after all the ruckus. "Forgot about that one. Happens every time we get a new mage...everyone wants to try for a succubus at least once." The man clears his throat. "Just stroke the binding. It'll relax."
  8142.  
  8143. You brush a shadowy appendage down the book's backside. It audibly sighs, then flaps open. You grip it tightly, then walk back over and gather up the other books, feeling rather annoyed at the mage.
  8144.  
  8145. "You know, if you're planning on...uh..." the mage shrugs. "Well, read up on the reagents you're interested in, then see the apothecary in town. He can probably help you out, he stocks a few common things for us." The mage leans down. "Keep that under your hat, though. Officially, the duke doesn't allow summoning of any kind." The mage turns and walks off.
  8146.  
  8147. The news bothers you a bit...you hope the duke soon changes his policy.
  8148.  
  8149. Then again, you've vague plans to do summoning yourself...
  8150.  
  8151. You sit at a desk in the farthest corner you can find and prop open the offending book first - just in case.
  8152.  
  8153. For the first few pages, images assault your eyes. There are demons all over the inside cover and adjacent pages...all, it seems, with a bent toward human copulation. You see a few naked succubi, and their male form, incubi, carefully drawn and labeled. There's a hobgoblin-seeming creature with abnormally large genitalia. Following is what appears to be a man wearing a hat...to hide a blowhole, because his true form is a dolphin.
  8154.  
  8155. You're uncertain what to make of this human fascination with copulation...first the bars, then the beer, then Flint and his blushing, now this. What is it with these people?
  8156.  
  8157. You flip to the section on succubi...the details for a summoning ritual are all there, along with plenty of warnings of all kinds. Apparently all needs to be just right, or the succubus will escape its 'command structure' and suck out the summoner's soul. You feel as though you could probably handle such a situation without much difficulty. But more troubling is the threat of accidentally summoning something else if the sigil is off or the reagents are not of the correct type, quantity, or purity.
  8158.  
  8159. Obviously, more reading will be required, but you feel confident that in time you will grasp the mechanics of the ritual. You note the various ingredients required for succubus summoning.
  8160.  
  8161. As you leaf through, about to close it, you discover further information. A resummoning requires a slightly different ritual that is not described in the text...the sigil must be different. Apparently, after a summoning, a demon leaves a mark on the soul. Not visible, or otherwise detrimental, but an irregularity that must be accounted for - and something that can be used to intentionally bring back the same demon.
  8162.  
  8163. Still, you never summoned Annette personally, so that's not really an issue. But it may be useful in the future.
  8164.  
  8165. You decide that your next stop should be the apothecary.
  8166.  
  8167. You browse through the books for any mention of parasites, but find nothing.
  8168.  
  8169. You put the books back on their shelf, confident you know where to find them, then exit the castle and head into town.
  8170.  
  8171. You wander into the town, keeping to the shadows. There's no need to cause a panic.
  8172.  
  8173. There buildings clustered below the keep near the river are a bustling hive of activity. The crowd is thick with people and soldiers babbling and jostling one another on the way to various destinations. The scent of forges, cooking food, and horses hangs heavy over the cobblestone. Plumes of smoke rise from blacksmith after blacksmith, and the ringing of hammers on Kelveren steel overlays all the rest.
  8174.  
  8175. You keep to the rooftops, evading the gaze of archers posted on platforms here and there. They don't notice your passing. You pass by a large podium in a square. A man is reading a long document, and a few others are standing near loops of rope. A short distance further, a naked man in chains is being displayed in front of a crowd of merchants. You wonder what all these rituals are for.
  8176.  
  8177. Soon enough, you locate a building with a mortar and pestle on the sign above its door, back away from the busiest streets. You slip inside.
  8178.  
  8179. The shelves of the apothecary are lined with ingredients. Some are roots, others, green plant material. Still more are powders or crystals packed into jars. The sound of a man humming comes from behind a long counter, and you hear a rhythmic grinding from a back room.
  8180.  
  8181. You decide that discretion is the better part of valor and mimic a vague humanoid form. You layer it with what you hope looks like shadowy clothing.
  8182.  
  8183. You Ink some words up from your lips, deciding upon a rather neutral male voice. "Hail, apothecary."
  8184.  
  8185. The grinding stops. "Just a moment, didn't hear you come in!" A warm-looking and very fat man comes out from the back room. He pauses when he sees your form...then a sly look crosses his face. "...let me guess. Succubus?"
  8186.  
  8187. You feel a sense of panic. Can this man read minds? "...indeed."
  8188.  
  8189. "You can drop the intimidation act." The apothecary leans an elbow on the counter and raises a knowing eyebrow. "We've all been there, kiddo. Hell, half my profits come from it."
  8190.  
  8191. "...I had no idea."
  8192.  
  8193. "Yep." The man flies around the shelves with an expert hand - he knows where everything is, apparently. He quickly packs a series of reagents into bottles and lines them on the counter. "Duke'll compensate me for the price. But for the service, I've got my own request."
  8194.  
  8195. You lean forward. "And that is?"
  8196.  
  8197. "Well...simple." The man smiles. "This is enough for two. When you're going about it, let me know. Got it?"
  8198.  
  8199. "...certainly."
  8200.  
  8201. "There's a good man." The apothecary hands you the bottles in a satchel. "Anything less discrete you need?"
  8202.  
  8203. "I wonder...do you know of any brews that could be made to hold mana? For storage, in case of need?"
  8204.  
  8205. The man leans back. "...that's beyond my pay grade, son. You'd need a top alchemist for that kind of work. Bottling mana is a dangerous business. It's the stuff we're made of. Highly volatile. I can light a candle or two, but I've no serious talent."
  8206.  
  8207. "I see. Thank you."
  8208.  
  8209. "No problem. Hope to see you again, real soon."
  8210.  
  8211. "Ah...yes."
  8212.  
  8213. You pack the bottles into your satchel. It's rather full, now, but there's a bit more space.
  8214.  
  8215. You spread your senses into the town...
  8216.  
  8217. ...it's very difficult to find one, single person. But you've nothing else to do, so you keep up the search. Eventually, at the edge of town in a small apartment, you find a very familiar presence.
  8218.  
  8219. You slip in through the top window. <Joey.>
  8220.  
  8221. The young boy leaps up as if he's been stung by a thousand needles. "...Shadow?! How did you - well, I guess you'd sneak up on me pretty easy."
  8222.  
  8223. <I hear you're a squire.>
  8224.  
  8225. "Yes I am!" Joey puffs out his chest. He looks rather buffoonish, but you let him have his moment. "Do you know what that means?! I can be a knight. A knight! One day, I could own -land-!"
  8226.  
  8227. <Is ownership of land a worthy goal?>
  8228.  
  8229. "Of course!" Joey says. "The duke owns Kelvere, don't you get it? He rents to other nobles. And they rent to knights, who rent to peasants. That's the tithe. The higher up you are...well, the better. Owning land means you're somebody. The duke is really fair to us, though. In Arland...well, the tithe is a lot higher than it is here."
  8230.  
  8231. <I see. Land ownership represents a source of income, and power.> The thought turns in your head. <Perhaps I should acquire some -land-. It may prove useful.>
  8232.  
  8233. "I bet Flint would give you some if you asked. Well..." Joey sighs. "We haven't done much lately. We've been put up and promised work, but refugees are pouring in from all the north. Not much work to go around. I would go in the army, but my parents already worked things out with Sir Flint...and, besides, I guess that's better anyway." Joey grins. "I heard YOU and Sir Flint destroyed the demon! I'll be the squire to the most famous knight in Venia! There hasn't been a demon lord in years, and Flint killed it! And we've got a monster on our team!"
  8234.  
  8235. <...am I...the monster...?>
  8236.  
  8237. "Well, yeah," Joey says, matter-of-factly. "You're a freaky shadow monster. You're scary, you shapeshift, you have shadow magic...what's not to like?"
  8238.  
  8239. <...monstrosity is a good thing?>
  8240.  
  8241. "It is when you do good things and help people," Joey proclaims. "I mean, you're not REALLY a monster. You just look like it, and have monster powers. But you know...secretly, I think people really like it even more when something bad is on their side. Because you know it's going to do bad things...but to the things that deserve it! Know what I mean?"
  8242.  
  8243. <I do,> you say. <But who told you the shadow is bad?>
  8244.  
  8245. "Well...everyone."
  8246.  
  8247. <Have all those people met a shadow?>
  8248.  
  8249. "Well, no."
  8250.  
  8251. <Have I done anything bad to someone that didn't deserve it?>
  8252.  
  8253. "Well...I guess not."
  8254.  
  8255. <Then why do you think I'm bad when the only thing you have to go on is the word of other people that have no evidence to back their claims?>
  8256.  
  8257. "Well, I mean, the angels are light, and they protect us and fight the shadow. You don't do bad things, but shadow and spirit does all the time."
  8258.  
  8259. You impress Joey with a feeling. It's no singular emotion, but a mixture you can barely describe yourself...that of your roles reversed. Of humans being bad because a distant authority claims it is so...and there is no debate, and no argument. That no matter what a human thinks of himself, he is bad, because humans themselves are bad.
  8260.  
  8261. Isolation. Anger. Incomprehension.
  8262. Sadness.
  8263.  
  8264. Joey shivers. "...oh."
  8265.  
  8266. <That is how I feel.>
  8267.  
  8268. "...I never...knew." Joey looks at you. "I'm sorry I called you a monster. I won't again."
  8269.  
  8270. <It's fine.>
  8271.  
  8272. <We'll fetch you at sunrise, tomorrow,> you say. <And then we leave.>
  8273.  
  8274. "Ok. Guess I'll see you then." Joey sits on his bed. His eyes are far away. It seems your words have put him deep in thought.
  8275.  
  8276. Humans have a great capacity for change.
  8277.  
  8278. But you realize, if anything, that you are quite similar...for you haven't stopped changing once since you entered this world.
  8279.  
  8280. You make your way back to the castle. The sun hangs low in the sky. You search for Flint's aura...
  8281.  
  8282. ...a twinkle stings at your senses...and you recognize the location.
  8283.  
  8284. The bar.
  8285.  
  8286. Not again.
  8287.  
  8288. You heave a sigh, then change direction, and walk across the bridge toward the bar.
  8289.  
  8290. You straighten, suddenly.
  8291.  
  8292. You...sighed. Audibly. Like a human. But you didn't think about it...it just sort of happened. Like with them.
  8293.  
  8294. Well...it stands to reason you'd probably pick up a few of their habits, spending so much time amongst them.
  8295.  
  8296. You're almost at the bar...
  8297.  
  8298. You peer in through the window. It is as you remember - boisterous conversation, a noisy band, and women in skimpy clothing serving mugs and mugs of "beer".
  8299.  
  8300. Flint is at the bar once more...
  8301.  
  8302. ...and he has company. Auriel, dressed in conspicuously mundane clothing, is sitting next to him. They're both leaning hard on the wood.
  8303.  
  8304. You have a bad feeling about this.
  8305.  
  8306. You sneak into the bar. The noise and the shadows would make good cover, even if your targets weren't drooping from the effects of the potion.
  8307.  
  8308. Curious, you nip a bit out of a mug you pass.
  8309.  
  8310. You have to make an effort not to immediately spray it onto the floor. Humans crowd taverns to drink...this. This bitter, nasty water flavored with plant matter?
  8311.  
  8312. Truly, the nature of humanity surpasses any one being's understanding.
  8313.  
  8314. You sidle up below Flint's seat and rest in the shadows...
  8315.  
  8316. Flint thumps his empty glass on the table. "eeeEEEY barkeep!"
  8317.  
  8318. The bartender doesn't even turn before he moves to the casks lined up behind the counter. He fills two frothing mugs and plants them down in front of Auriel and Flint.
  8319.  
  8320. "Das 9, er 10?" Auriel asks.
  8321.  
  8322. "Dunno. Whatever, been the same for both us."
  8323.  
  8324. "Yeah."
  8325.  
  8326. Simultaneously, they lift their mugs, take a good few gulps, then plant their mugs back on the counter. Auriel smacks her lips, and Flint sighs contentedly. They both wipe their hands over their mouths.
  8327.  
  8328. Flint burps.
  8329.  
  8330. Auriel giggles. "Ha. Haha."
  8331.  
  8332. They both burst into laughter, and in half a second, they're falling over the counter and each other, pounding the wood with their fists.
  8333.  
  8334. You're beginning to feel a little worried for their sanity. Is it possible to overdose on these things? No that you comprehend how they stomach the material...
  8335.  
  8336. "Ahhhh...shiiit." Auriel straightens slightly. "Been like...twenty years since I been to'a tavin'. An'...damn. Had to disguise, y'know? Fucking wings, can't turn 'em off." Something dark passes over her face. She slumps low. "...can't turn 'em on, now, though."
  8337.  
  8338. Flint makes an admirable attempt to steer the subject away from that fact. "Disguise to go 'n bar? Huh?"
  8339.  
  8340. "...yeah," Auriel says. "Angels, drunks? I mean, people'd all, y'know, what? But...shit to do, can't drink, I mean...when the war was on we drank every fuckin' day. EVERY. FUCKING. DAY." She slams her palm on the counter to enunciate the words. It goes unnoticed in the incredibly noisy bar. "Cause y'know...shit. Every fucking day you hear about more death. More dyin'. More errything bad. It gets you, after while. Really gets you. So...tired of it." Her eyes grow distant, and her voice gets softer. "...sometimes...you just don't want to live...another day...another year...700...it'sis...too long, maybe..."
  8341.  
  8342. "Hey, fuck you."
  8343.  
  8344. "...wha?"
  8345.  
  8346. "I said a big fuck fucking to you!" Flint says. "You're 'n angels, right?"
  8347.  
  8348. "...well...now, I'm - "
  8349.  
  8350. "So you're 'n angels," Flint says, riding over her response. "Blesseds Hyperion himself. You gets' live centuries. Fightin' shadow, loved by all thats good and everything like all that, so...shit. You got errything. Ev-er-y-thing you wanted. How y'think someone...ain't got nothin' feels? Someone ain't ever had no glory, or...life...stolen away."
  8351.  
  8352. "What's your point? You means, you like that? Demonslayer? I ain't thinking so, no more, bucko."
  8353.  
  8354. "...shadow did all the work anyway. Look...just sayin'...think of it like...a holiday. Seabathin' on the elvish isles, right? Another...adventure."
  8355.  
  8356. "...maybe," Auriel says. "So wassa girl gotta do get in bed wit' a demonslayer, huh?"
  8357.  
  8358. Flint blushes, but not that deeply. "Jus' gotta ask nice and dress poor."
  8359.  
  8360. "N'here I'm thinkin' you's all polite 'n nice..." Auriel leans in toward Flint. "...so...I wonder...what's nice Flint like when the lights are off?"
  8361.  
  8362. It's at this moment Flint sees you sitting on the stool opposite Auriel, probably because the bar has quietly significantly since you chose to make an appearance.
  8363.  
  8364. "...uh...uh...duh..."
  8365.  
  8366. Auriel frowns at him, then looks at his eyes staring over her shoulder, then looks behind her. She sees you. She cocks her head. "Da fuck you want right now?"
  8367.  
  8368. <It's time to get you both back to the castle before this ignorance potion leads you to engage in drunken, irresponsible copulation.>
  8369.  
  8370. "Fuck you," Auriel says. She turns back to Flint, grabs him by the collar, and drags him into a kiss. Flint is more surprise than anything else, so he doesn't really make much of an effort behind waving his hands to keep his balance on the stool.
  8371.  
  8372. Auriel lets him fall back, chugs the rest of her beer, then stands. "I'm goin' back."
  8373.  
  8374. She takes one step off the stool, then promptly begins to fall over.
  8375.  
  8376. You catch Auriel, who is rapidly falling into a state of semi-consciousness. Flint moves as though to help you, and falls off his stool onto the floor. The three of you make quite a scene hobbling out of the bar, but no one says a single word the entire time.
  8377.  
  8378. <...hmm.> You hoist Auriel over a "shoulder" you Ink up for the purpose. <Woman have fleshier chests than men.>
  8379.  
  8380. "...fucking tits, Shadow. Fuckin' tits."
  8381.  
  8382. <So what happens when the lights are off, Flint?>
  8383.  
  8384. "...ideally speakin'...I fuck that pretty lady you got...but..." Flint sighs. "...les just go. And if I start talkin...again...just tell me to shut up."
  8385.  
  8386. You tell Flint to shut up four times by the time you reach the upper quarters of the keep.
  8387.  
  8388. You lug Auriel into her room and unceremoniously toss her on her bed. Flint sort of half-walks, half stumbles over. It looks as though he's moving to put the blanket over her, but he sort of just...slows down. The soft bed traps him before you can blink, and he's asleep, half on top of the angel.
  8389.  
  8390. It seemed Flint wanted to copulate with Auriel...well. Reproduction is an important part of the human existence. His choices are none of your business.
  8391.  
  8392. It rather begs the question...what exactly is Auriel?
  8393.  
  8394. But she seems to have all the right parts. The book of sex demons showed many humanoids laying together in beds. This is probably the ideal scenario for Flint, and a good learning experience for you. You arrange the two so they are sleeping side by side, with Auriel tucked slightly within Flint's larger form.
  8395.  
  8396. You observe them for quite some time, but nothing happens. Clearly they require more assistance...the pattern of imbibing beer and then copulating is no doubt a common one.
  8397.  
  8398. You decide to strip their clothing to assist their efforts. With a few tugs, your many limbs easily leave them naked and willing upon the mattress.
  8399.  
  8400. Unfortunately, it seems as through they've had too much of the potion...they're both slumbering soundly. Well, when Flint wakes, you can at least report that your made a good effort of it. That should cheer him somewhat.
  8401.  
  8402. A strange sound escapes Auriel's mouth...and suddenly, bile forms and sprays out, across the bed and floor. While smelly, it doesn't particularly bother you. Perhaps her body is rejecting the excess of potion.
  8403.  
  8404. Humans should really know better.
  8405.  
  8406. You wait, and watch. Slowly, the moon rises, then sets. The sky slowly starts to lighten, and eventually, it's several hours past daybreak.
  8407.  
  8408. Flint stirs.
  8409.  
  8410. Flint yawns, then stirs. He blinks. His eyes are groggy and bloodshot.
  8411.  
  8412. You've leaned in directly in front of his face. <When does the copulation begin?>
  8413.  
  8414. "WAH!"
  8415.  
  8416. Flint rolls himself back on the bedsheets. "...w-w-w-WHAT - "
  8417.  
  8418. <You were both intoxicated with beer,> you explain. <And you complained about me not knowing dick about anything. To satisfy both our needs, I arranged for you to copulate with Auriel, and I decided to stay and observe through the night. When does the mating begin?>
  8419.  
  8420. "It doesn't fucking work like that!" Flint's voice is cracking. "It doesn't just...begin!"
  8421.  
  8422. <Then how does it work?>
  8423.  
  8424. Auriel stirs, murmuring. She works her head deeper into her pillow.
  8425.  
  8426. Flint carefully works his way off the bed...
  8427.  
  8428. The parasite twists inside of him. You feel a flash of worry...
  8429.  
  8430. Flint falls over Auriel, knocking her off the bed. They both end up in a tangle on the floor. Auriel splutters awake. "What-where-uh..."
  8431.  
  8432. She falls silent.
  8433.  
  8434. "AAHHHH!"
  8435.  
  8436. Flint desperately tries to escape, and does, but not before he takes several bruises on his arms and legs. You're more confused than ever.
  8437.  
  8438. Auriel snags the sheet off the bed and covers herself with it. Unfortunately, it's the sheet covered in her own bile. She drops it, shrieking, and runs into the adjacent room holding the chamber pot and and tub. She slams the door shut.
  8439.  
  8440. Her voice comes through muffled. "...what...what happened?! What did we do?!"
  8441.  
  8442. Flint runs a hand through his hair. "...I have no idea."
  8443.  
  8444. "That's no help you idiot!"
  8445.  
  8446. <I was watching the whole time,> you begin.
  8447.  
  8448. "WHAAAT?!?!" comes Auriel's shriek.
  8449.  
  8450. "...Shadow..." Flint says. "...what...is wrong with you?"
  8451.  
  8452. <Wrong with me?> you demand. <Nothing is wrong with me. You're the ones that have something -wrong- with you. First, you spend half the night consuming ignorance potions at the bar, forcing me to drag you back here. Despite that - despite all that trouble - you both said you wanted to copulate with one another, and I thought it would be a valuable learning experience. I keep hearing about all the things I -don't- know, all the things that are such a -burden- to explain to a creature that simply popped! into the world a week ago. So I go through the -additional- hassle of removing your clothes so that you might both copulate easier. Favor after favor, Sir Flint, and you have the gall to demand what is wrong of me.>
  8453.  
  8454. Flint swallows hard. "...well. Did we?"
  8455.  
  8456. <Did you what?>
  8457.  
  8458. "DID WE FUCK OR NOT, YOU IMBECILIC SHADOW?!" comes Auriel's shrieking voice.
  8459.  
  8460. <That's the whole thing,> you say. <All that, and you both just slept the entire night. What do you even need all that sleep for? I've had enough humanity for 1 day, thank you. I'll meet you at breakfast.>
  8461.  
  8462. You stomp out of the room, feeling annoyed and quite justified in your several frustrations.
  8463.  
  8464. Shadow Quest Chapter 19
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