“Stay behind me!”
Theodoric was already scrambling up the dais as he barked out the order. Several paces back, Jaheira gripped her staff and forced herself to keep her distance. Ahead of her she could see the necromancer Lavok preparing yet another spell. It appeared to be intended for her own spell-casting companions across the room, but she had no doubt the mage would turn its attentions to them momentarily. Theodoric was now a full ten feet in front of her, ensuring he would bear the brunt of any attack.
This is madness! Why do you continue to risk yourself so? Thoughts rushed through her mind at a visceral level, each previous instance of the paladin’s recklessness of late making itself remembered in an eyeblink’s time. Jaheira forced them aside as quickly and instinctively as they had come. Judging from the power surging through the necromancer, death could be found easily enough; she need not invite it by allowing herself to be distracted…either by her questions or the implications their answer might carry.
“That’s the last of them.”
Valygar looked down on the remains of his opponent. The skeleton was slumped over in a grotesquely humorous position, the undead creature’s bony hands still clutching at the twisted stump where its head had been. Yoshimo rubbed at his own throat.
“I had not thought a life in the wilds would require the skills of an assassin. You snapped its neck with one twist.”
Valygar grunted and dropped the skull in his hands. “Something I had to learn to do as an army scout.” “Enemy sentries” he supplemented.
Yoshimo nodded, glancing up at the dais warily. “We still have not been noticed. Should we not make our attack now?”
Valygar said nothing, but quietly drew his katana. “Stay low, and move only when I do” he said, measuring the distance from their position to Lavok’s atop the dais. “If you get the opportunity to strike, take it and hold nothing back. We only get one chance to do this. Remember that.”
“Right” agreed Yoshimo, noting the single-minded intensity in the ranger’s face. Does he even remember he has allies in this fight?
As if to answer the thief’s question, the top of the dais suddenly erupted with eldritch power and some terrible darkness engulfed the part of the room Neracer and Aerie had been standing. Valygar scarcely glanced in their direction as he moved quietly towards a cluster of machines that would help conceal his approach towards the dais.
“Shit, shit, shiiiit!”
Neracer dove to avoid the oncoming magic Lavok had just unleashed, tumbling hard to the metal floor. The blackness of midnight rushed past him, bringing with it waves of lethargy that his own spell protections only just held back. Greenish fire danced and flickered wherever Lavok’s spell grazed the ethereal nimbus of magic that protected him. Neracer’s illusionary mirrors weren’t so lucky, each of the false Neracers dissolving in a most disturbing manner before his eyes.
The blackness passed as quickly as it had come, and Neracer was reasonably sure he was still in one piece. Scrambling to his feet, Neracer called out to Aerie.
“Are you alright?” he shouted. “Aerie – what’s wrong?!?”
The elf had dropped to one knee, clutching her staff with trembling hands, her head hung low. Her body was slack and swayed unsteadily. It was as if the natural vitality had been almost completely drawn out of her. At the sound of Neracer’s voice she raised her head, with difficulty. She gave him a weak smile and began whispering some enchantment too faint for Neracer to hear. Aerie maintained consciousness just long enough to bring a cylinder of pale blue light into place around her body before slumping to the floor.
A rattle of bones drew Neracer’s attention. The horde of skeletal undead he and Aerie had driven back was advancing again. The illusionist could not help to notice the skeletons were ignoring Aerie and advancing solely towards him. He also could not help but notice the horde possessed a necromantic vigor that wasn’t there before. Their bones had thickened, taking the appearance of stone, and they moved with an eerie quickness and grace.
Neracer instinctively knew that the same spell that had taken from he and Aerie had also imbued the things closing in on him with a deathly power. It was quite a spell, and in another situation the illusionist would have found it all quite interesting. At the moment, however, Neracer was far more focused on the very real possibility that he was about die.
Minsc whirled his blade through the air like a scythe, reaping two more skeletal foes with a single blow. More undead stepped up to take their place, but Minsc didn’t mind at all. He bashed one with the pommel of his two-handed sword, shattering its brittle skull, and spitted the second right through the breastbone, wrenching it off the ground and sending its upper ribcage flying over his shoulder.
It was good to have a stand up fight, Minsc decided. After all the walking and talking and worrying about what to do next Theodoric and the chubby wizard and the rest had done the last few days, Minsc had started to get a headache. Talking was good, sometimes, but too much talk and worrying always made his head hurt.
Minsc sidestepped a pair of bony claws and kicked out the knee (literally) of the offending skeleton. It wobbled about on its remaining leg for a moment, before clattering to the ground in a pile of dry bones.
Behind him, Minsc could hear Theodoric call out to Jaheira, telling her to
follow him. Minsc was happy Jaheira wasn’t angry at Theodoric anymore. Boo understood it better than he did, but Minsc decided he understood a little bit. Jaheira was mad about something she thought Theodoric did, but it wasn’t really Theodoric who did it. Something like that.
Minsc paused, absently cleaving a bony opponent in half. He thought about Dynaheir, and the dream he’d had about her back at Umar’s temple. What if…What if Dynaheir had been mad at him when she - what if she blamed him when the goblins attacked her in Irenicus’ dungeon?
Minsc stood rooted to the spot. His heart hurt in his chest. He thought about the forbidden feelings he had had for his witch, and how much worse he felt having those feelings now. He’d never talked to anybody about them, not even to Boo. He felt dirty and ashamed like he’d never felt before.
A burning pain ripped across his forearm. Minsc started and saw blood ooze from several long claw marks along his forearm. With a speed surprising for a man his size, Minsc grabbed the offending skeleton with his hands and slammed it down on his knee, breaking its back with a satisfying snap. Snatching up his huge sword, Minsc plowed into the throng of undead, berserk rage filling him. The world became hazed with his fury, and the foe before him would bear the consequences of that anger. His comrades and past foes had seen this part of him often enough.
Only Minsc knew that, this time, the cause of the rage came not from his foe but from within himself.
Theodoric scrambled up the steps of the dais, his legs pumping and propelling him forward despite the weight of his armor and the huge shield on his arm. Daystar nestled into his grip, still depleted from the spectacular magical attack it had unleashed on Lavok’s undead minions moments ago, but seeming to slowly regain its power.
He saw Lavok unleash some powerful magic at Neracer and Aerie and his heart leapt into his throat. His instinct, as it had been when Jaheira had been swarmed by undead, was to break off the attack and rush to his comrade’s defense. His step momentarily faltered, and he looked to see if they…if Aerie… was hurt.
The sound of Jaheira’s footsteps behind him brought the young paladin back into his senses. Lavok was less than thirty feet away now, and he would reach him in a few more seconds. Already he could see the faintly shimmering field surrounding the necromancer, the energy barrier that had stopped Yoshimo’s arrow and seemed to be twisting the very air around it even now.
Theodoric had taken a single stride further when Lavok spun about to face him. The glimpse of flesh and metal they’d seen from a distance was evident now. Entire portions of the necromancer’s body had been replaced or fused seamlessly with the alien machinery native to the Planar Sphere, from the glowing jewel-like orb set into the right eye socket to the wires running in and out of the withered black flesh of its abdomen and legs to the brightly glowing, mirrorlike device mounted on Lavok’s left shoulder.
Gods, this truly is an abomination! Theodoric thought. The device on Lavok’s shoulder abruptly increased its radiance, sparkling with multihued light. Instinctively, Theodoric brought the huge tower shield up to protect himself.
There was a brilliant blue flash and then Theodoric felt someone drop a mountain on top of him. His last thought was of flying through the air as he was flung back and down the dais. His armored form crashed down the steps and skidded to a stop nearly twenty feet from where he had been. He did not move after that.
“No – damn you, no!”
Jaheira spat out her words even before Lavok struck Theodoric down. She saw the beam of blue energy lance out from the thing on Lavok’s shoulder and heard the thunderous impact echo in her ears. She saw him tumble down the dais and, in the pit of her stomach, Jaheira feared the worst.
“Not again!” she said, wrath replacing fear. “No…No, NO! Damn you all, NOT AGAIN!”
With a sweeping gesture Jaheira brought her hands up, her anger adding venom to the words in her incantation. Stinging, locust-like insects swarmed from the space between her hands, and descended upon Lavok. The strange barrier around the necromancer kept the locusts at bay, but. the thickness of the swarm effectively blinded Lavok, at least for the moment.
Jaheira decided in the next breath how to use that moment, and ran headlong towards Theodoric.
Chapter 36 - Lavok (Part II)
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