VIII. War of Two Worlds: The New
“Massster…an army gathersss outssside the city,” Reptilius hissed.
“Silence, imbecile!” Yamash roared as he cut the heart from a sacrificial victim. “Our mythal renders them harmless. They’ve no time to lay siege and starve us out, for our preparations will soon by complete.”
As Yamash was holding aloft the heart and looking up at the night sky and the unusually bright and strangely twinkling full moon, he saw a beam of energy shoot out of the jungle nearby and dispel his mythal in a flash. He roared with anger and squeezed the heart to a pulp.
In the jungle below, Imoen laughed as she put away her Selune’s Tear and watched the mythal disappear. Onyx smiled and looked over the city’s defenses. Jaguar knights and hishnashapers stood on top of the city walls, crouching on the ramparts. Behind them, the city’s pyramids were covered with more, as were surely the streets. The jaguar knights seemed to be pounding the butts of their spears on the stones in rhythmic unison in some sort of war chant. And among them, Onyx could see and smell demons. Hundreds of demons. These Maztican demons almost looked more like manticores, with snakish tails and catlike claws and faces. Looking through his spyglass, he saw a richly adorned figure on the top of the tallest pyramid hurriedly making sacrifices and summoning more demons through a portal overhead. He pointed this out to Anomen who was looking through a spyglass too.
“Yamash,” Anomen beat him to his conclusion. “He’s been summoning an army of Maztican demons. According to the folklore hear, the tribe is led by a terrible demon chieftain Jaguagorgon.”
“I wouldn’t worry about him,” Onyx laughed while Anomen gasped at his inappropriate levity. “Guess word hasn’t reached Maztica that you best not summon a demon chief to the Prime, lest my son Eryx the Demonhunter show up in tow and crash the party!
“Hopefully, the demon horde will be foolish enough to fly at us so Imoen and the archers can blast them out of the sky,” Anomen added with more gravity.
Onyx looked at their own forces. The Order knights and eagle knights were arrayed in front, the sea rangers had their flanks, and the plumaweavers and Helmite priests were behind them.
“Don’t charge the ramparts,” Onyx commanded the knights and rangers, “their spears and hishna spells will cut you to pieces. Stay back, pick at them with arrows and bolts, cover the eagle knights when they shapeshift and fly over the ramparts to take them; it’ll be much easier for them from the air. And if there are demons flying out to intercept them in midair – as there doubtless will be if any are still alive – cover our Qotalan friends against them too. But we’re going over and through the walls today, so all of that goes for those of you who aren’t in our rams. Load ‘em up now.” Some of the knights and rangers began manning the covered battering rams they had constructed over the past few weeks. The wood had been kept covered and thus fresher and wetter, as well as treated by the natives with available substances, to make it flame retardant. The wood had also been studded with stones to keep incoming spears from piercing straight through and getting to the troops inside.
“And let me just add,” Onyx continued, “how useful this Maztican ‘rubber’ stuff has been for making quick-recoil catapults. Don’t let me forget to take back as much rubber as we can carry. I can’t wait to see what Jan Jansen can do with this stuff. For now, let’s just see these catapults in action. Load ‘em up now.” More troops ran to the constructed catapults, pulled them to the ready, and loaded in huge stones.
“Too bad we didn’t have the time to make full-blown trebuchets,” Yoshimo mused, looking at the catapults. “We could probably have picked off Yamash from right here.”
The battering rams and catapults, all manned, began wheeling forward, the troops marching behind them.
“At my signal,” Anomen commanded the priests and knights, “and not before, protection from evil – on everyone. And I mean everyone. That goes for you knights in the siege engines. We need to be invisible to those demons.”
When the rams were still amazingly far from the wall, the jaguar knights on the ramparts began hurling spears that reached them at incredible distance. The spears lodged shallowly in the roofs and fronts of the rams or ricocheted off them outright. Hishnashapers cast fiery spells upon them but they quickly burned out harmlessly over the veneered wood. Then the hishnashapers cast swarms of insects at the rams and the bugs easily flew inside them.
“Keep moving!” Onyx yelled as he saw the rams slow down and heard annoyed screams and furious buzzing sounds from within them. They kept moving.
Anomen then heard the sounds of hundreds of cackling demons. He looked up at the looming pyramids and saw them prancing about and flapping their wings. Then they took flight and began sailing over the city at the good army.
“Eagle knights stay down!” Jade commanded. “Do not engage them in the air! Draw your bows!”
Boo squeaked into Minsc’s ear. “Rangers and knights!” the ranger screamed. “Aim your bows at eeeevil!!!!!!”
“PROT-EVIL NOW”! Anomen screamed and cast a protection from evil on himself and those around him. The interleaved priests and knights did the same and Anomen approvingly watched the faint blue auras shimmer over the entire force. The demons, who had been sailing toward the army, suddenly looked quite confused and began flying around in circles over them as if looking for something. All they found was a hail of arrows and bolts that suddenly flew up in the air at them. Below, rangers and knights were drawing longbows and loading crossbows and firing up at them round after round. Imoen cast a time stop spell and then immediately cast a half dozen comet storms into the air. When time resumed, the comets slammed into demons across the sky and the fiends screamed as they were literally knocked to pieces and fell to earth, with their arrow-filled brethren following them.
The priests were now renewing their protection from evil spells on everyone, but a few hapless warriors managed to find themselves bereft and then quickly had demons bearing down on them. The beasts landed among them and began clawing them ferociously, but were quickly taken down by the many swords and spears around them.
Atop his Pyramid of Zaltec, Yamash was screaming in rage as he watched his demons fly around aimlessly and get shot and burnt. He uttered a very long string of exotic curses as he watched the battering rams, still deflecting spears, crawl up to his walls and begin pummeling them to rubble. Behind them, catapults were lobbing boulders at the ramparts and taking his forces out in handfuls, but some of the less-protected invaders manning the catapults were impaled by hurled spears or burnt by flying spells. Under assault of arrows and stones, the jaguar knights on the ramparts fearlessly leapt off the walls and outside the city, landing on the ground already shapeshifted into jaguars and charging down the approaching troops. They ran into the foot soldiers with flashing tooth and claw and engaged in man-beast melee battles, which were bloody for both sides. Some shapeshifted back into jaguar knights and expertly wielded their spears, fighting other marching warriors or attacking those manning the rams and catapults. Some of the siege engines stopped moving, firing, or pummeling as their companies were forced to draw out their armaments and engage the fierce jaguar knights. More of their fellow soldiers joined them in their battles and afterwards took to the engines to replace those that had fallen.
The catapults were knocking the stones and men atop the ramparts to pieces and very few Zaltecans were left on them. The rams were breaking through sections of the wall and then moving laterally to resume pummeling and widen the existing breaches.
“Eagle knights!” Jade shouted as the last demons fell, “fly to the pyramids! Upper steps only!” At her order, every eagle knight got directly engaged in a melee shapeshifted into an eagle and took high to the air, flying over the city above the range of hurled spears and cast spells, bearing down on the pyramids from above. They landed on upper steps of the front two, dueling the jaguar knights and hishnashapers with macas, spears, of pluma spells. Below, the rams and catapults began rolling through the crumbling wall, with rangers and knights swarming around them to protect them from the charging jaguar knights within the city. The catapults came within range of the first two pyramids and began firing at the lower levels, smashing the Zaltecan forces there, who weren’t even within range to use their spears and spells.
Now Minsc and the rangers had climbed up onto the walls and were running around the sides of the city on the ramparts, engaging the jaguar knights there and smashing them with their various armaments, then turning to their longbows to fire at the Zaltecan forces within the streets of the city and upon its pyramids. Their left flank progress around that side of the wall stopped abruptly when a thick phalanx of extremely fierce jaguar knights came crashing into them. Rangers and jaguar knights traded blows with swords and spears, both sides dueling deftly and calling on occasional druidic and hishna spells to entangle or burn one another or protect themselves.
Minsc was front and center, his vorpal halberd Ravager flying about and cutting jaguar knights to pieces as fast as they could come. He charged along the wall ahead of comrades in a mindless berserk fury, slashing down enemies with the halberd blade or merely knocking them off the wall with the butt or his own shoulders. He went into a whirlwind attack that sent every foe within halberd-reach of him sailing off the wall, perhaps in multiple pieces. Boo gave a cautionary squeak and Minsc finally stopped as he realized there wasn’t anyone left just in front of him on the wall anymore.
One of his fellow rangers caught up to him and looked around. Just then a figure wearing strange arthropod-like armor leapt onto the wall with a spear sticking out from the spearthrower on his wrist and a rope in his hand.
“Get over here!” Scorpicon yelled and hurled the spear, the rope tailing from its butt to his hand. The spear impaled the ranger but before he could fall, Scorpicon yanked the rope back hard and the ranger went stumbling forward at him. Scorpicon pulled his other arm back and as the ranger began to fall in front of him, he shot forward again with a massive uppercut that sent the hapless woodsman sailing over the wall and splashing into a canal below, the poisoned water of lake Temaclac dissolving him down to a skeleton.
“Fatality!” Scorpicon bellowed. He looked up at Minsc and drew another spear in his rope and spearthrower. “Come here!” he yelled at Minsc and hurled the spear. Minsc narrowly feigned aside and it sailed past him. Scorpicon grunted and yanked it back again as Minsc began charging him with his halberd held forward. Just as he was about to run Scorpicon through, the jaguar knight somersaulted over Minsc’s head and landed on the top of the wall and ran along it before jumping back down onto the rampart. He spun around and prepared to through his spear again. Boo squeaked excitedly and Minsc merely backed up against the stones of one of the wall’s teeth. Scorpicon tossed his spear again and Minsc stood perfectly still until the last moment, when he spun out of the way and the spear lodged in the wall. Scorpicon jerked back to no avail and Minsc ran alongside the rope with another halberd charge. Scorpicon flipped his spearthrower off his wrist, sending the rope off his arm with it, and drew out his Stingspear to parry the incoming Ravager. The two began a mighty polearm duel, each managing to glance the other’s armor several times. At last Minsc lodged his halberd blade solidly in his foe’s side while the Stingspear slid harmlessly past him. Scorpicon’s tail lashed forward and plunged deep into Minsc’s shoulder, stinging him with burning scorpion venom. Minsc groaned and Boo squeaked unhappily. The ranger tried to twist his halberd in Scorpicon’s gut but the jaguar knight had already backed out of it, and then thrust his stinger and spear into Minsc again, hitting him with a double dose of venom.
“Now you piss Minsc and Boo off NOW YOU DIE!!!” the ranger roared insanely and began waving his halberd about in a wild berserk state. Scorpicon’s tail and spear were both cut in half before he could dislodge them and Minsc cut deep into his chest with his next swing. Scorpicon did several backwards somersaults and then began casting a fiery hishna spell at Minsc. The ranger charged him with Ravager held high and just as Scorpicon began to shoot jets of flame from his hands, Minsc swung down and cut both of them off, then swung full around and decapitated Scorpicon with his next blow. The might of Minsc’s blow sent the body tumbling into the canal below, and as it dissolved, no bones could be seen, only the exoskeletal armor.
Yamash was watching the progress of the invaders into Temactitlan with anger and panic. He was hurriedly sacrificing captive after captive, summoning more demons and praying.
At last an unusually large and fiery rift opened and a huge demon stepped through. “Jaguagorgon!” Zaltec shouted with mad glee. “Zaltec be praised!”
“You disssappoint me and mighty Zaltec, priestling,” Jaguagorgon hissed. “There isss no time no spare. You mussst begin the ceremony of poisssoning. Poissson the Fountain of Youth…now…our alliesss of the Far World will sssoon began the withering of their Tree of Life…you mussst complete them together…before the legionsss of Qotal sssteal the Fountain from usss again…”
“Yes, great Jaguagorgon!” Yamash cried happily, wringing his hands. “Aspa! Boa! Rattlel! Go within the pyramid! Begin the poisoning!”
“Yessssss massssster,” the three hishnashapers hissed together and ran down a level of the pyramid and then down a staircase leading within it.
“AAAAHHH!!!” Jaguagorgon screamed as two winged figures appeared in the fiery gate over him. “It isss the Demonhunter and the Dark Angel!”
“You should know by now I’ll track any fiend chief to the Prime!” laughed Eryx, the cavalier son of Onyx, as he descended, brandishing his bastard swords Foebane and Purifier. Beside him, the winged drow Luna descended, flashing her shield and Moonmace and chanting.
“I’ll take Jaguagorgon!” Eryx called to his lover.
“I’m onto those priestess!” Luna called back. “I’m afraid I know where they’re going,” she flew down a step and into the door of the stairway around the fire jet Yamash cast after her.
Jaguagorgon flew high into the air, shrieking in rage, and Eryx followed him up into the sky high above the fray. Jaguagorgon turned sharply, baring his claws and fangs and swooping down at Eryx. The cavalier flew aside and raked Foebane across Jaguagorgon’s back as the beast went by. It screamed, enraged, and spun around with a demonwing buffet that sent Eryx falling awhile before he could regain lift. The young knight flew straight up again, swords parallel and forward, and Jaguagorgon came down at him with his claws out. Nail crashed against blade and Jaguagorgon tried to lunge out with his maw between them and bite of Eryx’s head, but the cavalier pulled his head back and then shot a wing up for a wing buffet of his own which smacked Jaguagorgon strongly across the face and sent the demon spinning in the air. Eryx slashed after him and managed to cut deep into his thigh with Purifier, but then the demon’s snakelike tail shot out and bit into Eryx’s shoulder through his armor. The cavalier hardly winced at the physical pain as he felt the poison instantly neutralize in his blood and hacked off the serpentine tail with Foebane. Jaguagorgon turned again with his claws out menacingly and Eryx came at him, plunging both bastard swords into the beast’s body, but the fiend simply came forward on them and gripped his claws and teeth around Eryx’s wings. The demon didn’t pierce through the elven chain armored wings, but he held them against Eryx’s flaps and the two began to fall as one rigid mass. As the stone of a pyramid drew dangerously close, Eryx managed to twist his swords around in the beast’s body to cut its heart apart. Jaguagorgon gave an anguished dying roar and kept gripping as hard as it could while its hellish life faded, but the strong Eryx managed to wrest from the beast’s weakening grasp and fly free just before the demon’s great body slammed into the stones in a pulp of dark, putrid demonflesh. Within the same swoop, Eryx was coming down into the fray of warriors again and had beheaded two jaguar knights before his legs even touched the ground.
Jade and Imoen stood side by side among the plumaweavers, at the apex of the recaptured Pyramid of Kiltzi, casting all manner of spells down into the streets below at the line of jaguar knights and interleaving some shots from their respective long and short bows. Jade suddenly dropped her bow and clutched her heart and Imoen had to drop her own to brace her new friend.
“The fountain…” Jade whispered, “It is as I feared…Yamash had some design for it…we must hurry Imoen.”
Imoen had been told of the Fountain of Youth by Jade, and was still slightly confused about the magical workings at hand, but nodded with trust in her wise friend. After they picked up and strapped on their bows, Jade shapeshifted into an eagle and took Imoen carefully in her talons, and flew high above the fray toward the Pyramid of Zaltec. As they neared it, Imoen cast a protection from missiles spell, which encircled herself and her carrier, and the hurled spears of the jaguar knights bounced off as they flew within range and then into one of the doorways leading inside the pyramid.
Jade set Imoen down in a hallway and then shapeshifted back into her human form with her Wingmacas drawn. Imoen followed her down hallways and staircases, helping her take out the scattered jaguar knights and hishnashapers they encountered inside the pyramid with spells of her quarterstaff. At last, as they were getting to what seemed near the level of the lake itself, they came to an open chamber. The middle of the stone floor was missing and a bubbling pool occupied the space. Imoen could almost smell the rejuvenating properties of the water of the fountain, but her mind was quickly snapped away from the pleasantries when three snakeskin-clad women emerged from the shadows around it.
“How sssweet!” hissed Aspa, “Darling Jade! It isss not to not too late to join usss, my dear. You could be a massster shaper of hishna. And I ssseee you’ve even brought a friend!”
“Two,” Luna corrected as she came down a stairway into the room, quickly nodding in a hello to Imoen. “And I think we’ll be ones giving you a magic lesson – Old World style!” She winked at Imoen and the two mages shot fireballs into the middle of the room but the snake women each did backwards somersaults out of their range. As they landed, they sent fiery clouds of their own around the room which curled harmlessly around the shimmering protective spheres encasing their three foes. Imoen and Luna sent flurries of magic missiles around the room while Jade sent orbs of her own about. The hishnashapers all darted away, melding into the shadows again as the energy balls slammed into walls and columns, harming no one.
Imoen cast a detect invisibility spell just in time to see Boa and Aspa appear behind her and Jade. Jade now saw them too and she and Imoen spun around just in time to parry the incoming Viperknives that had been aimed for their backs. Across the room, Luna swung her Moonmace about but a Viperknife found her first, though it failed to pierce her elven chain. Luna swung around and caught Rattlel across the arm with her mace before the hishnashaper could disappear again. Rattlel hissed in anguish with her forked tongue, flicking it just in front of Luna’s mace. She swatted with her Viperknives but Luna caught them both with a movement of her shield and then crashed into Aspa’s stomach with an underhanded swing. Luna swore she could hear her opponent’s body rattling with each hit and continued to parry the knives with her mace and shield while trying to find openings to strike. Rattlel cartwheeled away from her and Luna began preparing a spell while the hishnashaper snapped back onto her feet and prepared one of her own. Their magics crossed in the air and Luna felt herself grow weak and poisoned while she watched her Bigby’s crushing hand descend on Rattlel. She crouched in pain and chanted a neutralize poison and then a healing spell on herself and managed to laugh at the sight of Rattlel getting squeezed and crushed to a pile of snakeskin by the giant boxing glove.
Boa and Jade engaged in a quick melee of macas and daggers, each managing to graze the other several times, and Jade managed to resist the poisonous bite of the Viperknives. As she swung in from each side at Boa’s head, the rogue cartwheeled back and the Wingmacas swung through empty air. Boa, still in a handstand, flipped back toward Jade and her muscular legs wrapped around the neck of the plumaweaver, who managed to tuck her chin into her chest before she could be strangled. Boa then pushed her hands against the floor and sprung off it, wrapped her arms around Jade’s waist. Faces grew red and muscles bulged while Jade held herself tense and felt Boa constrict her. Jade tried to pound her macas on Boa’s back but the legs around her neck and over her shoulders left her with only weak swings from her elbows and wrists. As Jade felt her breath giving out, she hurled herself forward, jumping off the ground and taking a front-first dive onto the stones. Boa gave a hissing scream as she was slammed onto the floor and her spine shattered. Even so, her muscles remained squeezing with animal-like reflexes as Jade slowly wrestled out of the constricting grasp.
Imoen and Aspa circled one another, Aspa flashing her Viperknives and Imoen her Boneblade and Dagger of the Stars. Aspa lunged in and engaged Imoen in a two-handed knife fight, each rogue evading and slashing with outstanding deftness and speed. Arms and stomachs feigned back to avoid swooshing dagger tips by mere millimeters. As their weapons clanged over their heads, each shot up a leg and kicked the other in the stomach and they both went sailing back. Imoen shot a blitz of magic missiles but Aspa had just leapt behind a column and they slammed against it, pummeling the stone. Imoen heard her opponent moving about but couldn’t see her and disappeared into the shadows herself. Daggers could be heard swooshing through the air but could not be seen. At last they reappeared with Imoen stabbing a dagger into her foe’s back. Aspa hissed in pain, her forked tongue flicking madly about, and she quickly spun around and slashed Imoen across the face with a viperknife.
Imoen felt a searing, poisonous pain running down the side of her face as Aspa slashed open the very same scar that she had worn from her forehead to cheek since waking in a mad sorcerer’s dungeon many years ago. As the blade sliced down her face, Imoen’s mind shot back to the last time that cut had been made.
“Hold still! Don’t you see, I’m trying to unlock your power! You’ll still have the other one for seeing!”
“Get that knife away from my eye! Noo!”
“Don’t jerk you’ll….ah! Now look what you’ve gotten yourself! A needless scrape!”
“Now hold still you’ll….ah! You bit me, you brat! My hand!”
“Serves you right, meanie!”
“You have to be conscious for this, girl! Now quit squirming and….ouch! Very well….perhaps I’ll try something else…where did I put that half-elf…”
Imoen jerked back as Aspa’s dagger left her face with blood trailing along an arc in the air. “DIE MEANIE!!!!!” she screamed and plunged a dagger through Aspa’s throat and twisted it, snarling as only a very angry child can. “YOU’RE PRETTIER DEAD!” she yelled through her tears of sorrow and rage and she watched with disgusted curiosity as Aspa fell gasping to the floor, clasping her ripped-open throat.
Imoen’s rage passed and she held her hurt face, feeling poison course through her, wrestling with both guilt for her macabre curiosity and the torment and pain of the repressed memories that now came flooding into her mind. Then she felt the pain of the wound and the venom vanish and a sense of peace came over her and she looked up to see Luna and Jade standing over her, completing chants as soft blue light ran from their fingers into her. They each held her by the shoulders, pulled her up, and hugged her, Luna’s wings wrapping around all of them.
“Now, my new friends,” Jade began, “Help to cure me. I shall guide you.” She faced the fountain and began motioning and chanting, and the other two watched and sensed and followed suit, and together they watched the greenish taint the Fountain of Youth had taken on disappear.
Anomen, Onyx, and Yoshimo were fighting hard, front and center of the line of advancing paladins, Helmite warriors, and eagle knights. They had just reached the base of the Pyramid of Zaltec. The catapults behind them began hurling stones at the jaguar knights and hishnashapers on the lower levels of the pyramid, but soon broke down under a hail of spears and hishna spells.
“It’s all uphill from here, my friends!” Yoshimo shouted with an almost delighted tone.
“The path of justice always is!” Onyx said with a similar hint of eager resolve.
“And every step is worth it!” added Anomen, sounding the happiest of all, speeding up the steps to the first level and bashing several jaguar knights off the stairs with his shield and mace. The other two followed while the forces below shot up at the first few levels with arrows, bolts, hurled axes, sling bullets, and columns of fire and lightning. They held large shields high against the incoming spears and chanting protective and healing spells as fiery and venomous hishna magic flew at them.
The various projectiles flew past each other, piercing or glancing off metal or pelt armor, spears crossed with swords and maces, and the magic of Helm, Qotal, and Zaltec crackled in the air. The spears, hurled by strong warriors from above, came down hard, but with superior shields and armor the good forces took more than they gave. The fierce and furious spear dueling of the jaguar knights proved deadly, skewering opponents or knocking them off the steps, and the Zaltecan warriors rarely went down until overcome by projectiles and spells. But slowly, the good warriors cleared and took level after level.
At the apex, Yamash sensed the destruction of his hishna archpriestesses within the pyramid and the purification of the Fountain of Youth, and watched with his own eyes the advancing of the invaders up the outside of the pyramid. He began chanting in a strange, hissing tongue, and with his bare hand pulled his own heart from his chest and held it aloft. The wound closed and the heartless Yamash seemed unfazed as he squeezed his own heart and pure venom oozed from it, pouring down into the hollow pedestal and hitting the water of the fountain within the pyramid with a burning hiss.
Below, halfway up the pyramid, Anomen looked up and saw the mad priest performing this vile ceremony. “He’s poisoning the Fountain of Youth!” he screamed to Onyx and Yoshimo, all the lore from Cordell’s journal and Jade’s conversations crystallizing in his mind. “He cannot be allowed to finish!” Looking around them across the city, the three could see the waters of lake Temaclac begin to bubble and give off a sickly steam. “Charge!” Anomen yelled.
He blitzed up the stairway with Onyx and Yoshimo beside him, the three of them hacking and smashing Zaltecans away as fast as they could. Their enemies grew thick near the top and they were fighting desperately, surrounded by competent foes, barely alive to stay alive and making slow progress through the phalanx ahead of them. Suddenly, Yoshimo quit fighting, sheathed his katanas, and nearly disappeared among the mass of bodies. Onyx and Anomen could just barely make him out, darting up the stairs, cleverly avoiding the attention of each foe, crouching in their own shadows, and slipping around them with a ninja’s grace.
Yamash’s pupils narrowed to slits and he looked down the pyramid, divining Yoshimo’s advancing presence. He nodded to Reptilius, who followed his master’s piercing gaze and bowed. Reptilius cast a cloud of smoke from his hands and when it disappeared, so had he.
At last Yoshimo broke through past the last of the defenders, appearing again by himself on the top few steps of the pyramid. Two jaguar knights noticed and turned to face him, but Yoshimo had tossed a small gadget from his pocket down the stairs and it exploded between them in a ball of spikes, skewering them together in a heap on the stairwell. He drew his katanas Hunter and Trapper and turned again to dash the last few stairs to the apex and confront the lone Yamash, but as he did, he was stopped abruptly as he felt invisible armaments clash against his own.
Suddenly a reptilian figure appeared in front of him, holding two axes against his katanas. Reptilius spun around out of the lock, lashing his tail at Yoshimo, but the bounty hunter backed up and it sailed through the air in front of his waist. Yoshimo swung his katanas at his foe’s back but Reptilius spun out of range, opened his mouth, and spat a gob of acid. Yoshimo ducked and it sailed over his head, splashing against the impaled jaguar knights behind him and dissolving them. Yoshimo charged and swung, but Reptilian’s tongue lashed out and snaked around Yoshimo’s wrists, binding them and his katanas together helplessly. Reptilius then swung into Yoshimo’s sides with his axes, but the thief leapt off the ground and cleared them, somersaulting over Reptilian’s head and twisting his arms in midair to swing his katanas through Reptilius’s tongue, severing it and freeing his arms. Reptilius pulled in the remainder of his tongue and hissed in rage, spinning around to attack his opponent with two axes swings from one side and another spray of acid, but Yoshimo tucked and rolled backwards as he landed, rolling under the axes and acid and away from Reptilius. The reptilian warrior followed him, but Yoshimo set a trap into the ground as he rolled along it, and as he sprang up again, Reptilius held his axes for another round of blows but his foot smacked the trap and it exploded in a small cloud of fire that engulfed him. He stumbled backwards in burning agony and spat acid at Yoshimo, but as the slime left Reptilius’s mouth, the flames caught it like oil and trailed quickly along it back down his throat. Yoshimo hit the ground as flying droplets of combusting acid and flaming pieces of Reptilius’s exploding body flew across the top of the pyramid.
Several steps below, vigorously fighting their way through the throng of Zaltecans toward the showdown at the apex, Anomen and Onyx gave relieved battle cheers as they saw Yoshimo destroy his foe.
“Flawless victory!” Yamash clapped his hands approvingly as body parts of his own general flew past him. “But now,” he yelled menacingly, “you will die, mortal!”
He began casting a spell but Yoshimo had already drawn his crossbow and fired it straight into Yamash’s chest. The evil priest was disrupted but laughed as it dissolved in his body. Yoshimo fired several more bolts but Yamash waved his hands and a glowing barrier appeared to deflect them all. Yoshimo switched out his katanas again and charged, but Yamash merely held his hands forward and sent out bolts of lightning, knocking Yoshimo back to the stones. The thief flipped up onto his feet and charged again, but this time Yamash’s fingers became snakes and lashed out, wrapping around Yoshimo’s wrists and ankles. Yamash lifted his arms and sent the bound bounty hunter flying into the air over his head and landing on the other side of him, onto his back on the stone table. The snakes tightened themselves around Yoshimo and then bit into him, filling his veins with paralyzing poison. Yoshimo’s scream was cut short as his muscles froze and his katanas clattered to the ground beside the table. The snakes drew back, becoming Yamash’s fingers again, and the priest held one hand menacingly over Yoshimo. He began to chant incomprehensible but terrible words and reached barehanded into Yoshimo’s chest, pulling out the still-beating heart and holding it high.
“Fatality!” Yamash laughed as he let go and the heart fell back onto Yoshimo’s lifeless body.
“Yoshimo!” Onyx cried as he saw the hapless bounty hunter’s heart for the second time in his life. He and Anomen drew upon holy might and smashed their way past the last of the jaguar knights and hishnashapers with titanic strength. As they made the final charge up the stairs to Yamash, a conduit opened beside the priest and an all-to familiar hulking warrior walked through, staring down at them with angry glowing eyes.
“Hello, brother!” Sarevok boomed with glee.
“We’ve no time for games!” Yamash yelled angrily as he withdrew his own heart from his robe and resumed squeezing it over the pedestal. “Both our ceremonies must be completed before we lose the cities. Finish them!”
His black armor glinting, Sarevok drew his Crossbow of Affliction and fired several paralytic bolts down the stairs at his charging brother. One of them pierced Onyx’s armor and he was frozen midstride. Sarevok switched out Soul Ravager and came bounding down the stairs. He swung at Onyx with a mighty overhead blow, but his sword was intercepted by Silvereye.
“Why, it’s noble Anomen!” Sarevok laughed. “I shall enjoy killing you again!” He pushed down and his sword drew closer.
Onyx unfroze and swung Carsomyr into Soul Ravager. Sarevok, up a few stairs and bearing down with his weight, held fast against the two weapons crossing his.
“I’ll be the one killing someone again!” Onyx scowled. Then his gaze moved with Anomen’s back up to Yamash.
The two knights looked into each other’s eyes again and exchanged nods. Anomen withdrew his mace and charged up the stairs past Sarevok, onto the apex. Onyx grunted and pushed Sarevok back away from him, and when Soul Ravager came flying down again he hopped down a few steps out of its reach, and the fearsome sword smashed into a step. Before Sarevok got his sword up again, Onyx swung Carsomyr into his helmet. As Sarevok’s ears rung and his head flew back, he drew his sword up again and met Onyx’s next blow. The brothers snarled at one another across locked swords.
Onyx glanced past his brother and saw Anomen from afar, shedding tears of joy as he engaged Yamash and shouting out to Helm while channeling a blinding flash of power. A column of brilliance descended from the sky as they charged and crossed weapons, and when the white light disappeared both were gone.
VIII. War of Two Worlds: The New
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