Return to Nurrengaard (Part 2
David J. Duncan
Originally Written 08/96 Revised 06/02
For notes & such, please see Part 1
Chapter 8 [Citadel-Nurrengaard]
Back in Nurrengaard, Mike kept watch over Karen's shimmering form. Even as he denied the fear that his wife would never awaken from this, he choked back tears from his bloodshot eyes. "Why did this have to happen to you?" he queried her unconscious face. Receiving no answer, he raised his head to the sky and implored, "Please, God, can't we have some more help in this? Everyone is stretched so thin as it is as they deal with this threat. Thank You. Amen."
"You already have as much help as you need," Grimwilkin reminded him as he entered the room.
"What are you doing here? Why aren't you with Dave and the others?" Mike pushed adamantly.
The wizard held up his hand, looking for peace. "Please, Mr. Montoya, my motives aren't for you to question. However, since you asked, I will say that our group makes good progress. I have just returned to talk with the Empress. Having done so and seeing that there is no change in Karen, I will return to them."
Mike sighed and looked down at the ground. "I'm sorry, but everyone's acting as if Karen doesn't matter."
Grimwilkin's eyebrow arched in surprise. "She doesn't matter?" he laughed. "I beg to differ! Her soul is of central importance to everyone, especially David."
The nervous husband doubted, "What does it matter to him? He didn't speak to Karen for years until she reached out to him."
The wizard shook his head. "The relationship between them has always been deeper than that. David has risked his life for her more than once. She has made him feel special in many ways. As a result, they loved each other once. Even though that phase of their lives is over, they will always be the very best of friends no matter what. It was David who made that request first on their graduation day so long ago. I hope you will not impede that friendship through lack of trust."
Mike's eyes bulged. "Wow! I guess I should talk to Dave about this."
Grimwilkin smiled warmly. "Remember, Karen has always been like a twin sister to him. But, I would also ask you not to disrupt the balance between him and Angela either." Turning toward the door, he continued, "I must return to the troops. They are almost out of the forest and will need my assistance soon. I shall bear news to David and Garth of Karen. Guard her well, Mr. Montoya." With that, he disappeared from view, leaving Mike wondering about what would happen next both within and outside of the citadel.
Chapter 9 [plains of Joltenheim]
After the skirmish with the trolls, the party continued to trudge through the forest unimpeded. Occasionally, a stray sound would alert the travelers' senses, making them antsy. Yet, the scouting patrols found no sign of the trolls other than their long worn trails and the cold remains of their campfires. Whatever the cause, the enemy had retreated quickly from their former quarry...no doubt due to Lousain's designs.
About a fortnight after the battle, the group began to see sunlight poking through the trees, which picked up their spirits. Increasing their pace, they emerged from the leafy canapÈ in a few more hours out onto a wide and flat place. In front of them lay level ground where the tall grasses bent back and forth in the stiflingly hot wind. For miles, nothing could be seen save for the grass.
"The plains of Joltenheim," Dave recalled, nodding.
"Your memory serves you well, David," Harokin complemented.
"It seems as flat as I remember," Garth commented frankly. "How long of a ride do we have until we hit the mountains on the other side?"
"About four days at our current pace," the commander informed him, pointing to the dark smudge hovering over the horizon in the distance. "That is where we're headed, my friends."
"That is correct," Grimwilkin agreed, riding up behind them. "Greetings!"
"Grimwilkin! We had given you up for lost," Harokin reported.
The wizard nodded. "I see everything has worked out all right since you defeated the trolls. I bring news from Nurrengaard. Ms. Montoya has not changed. The Empress sends her greetings and best wishes. Also, I have sped ahead to converse with the Lord and Lady of the Plateau. Eadmer and Elsin send their best and will meet us at the base of the mountains in five days time. Once again, Gentlemen, I shouldn't have to remind you of the gravity surrounding this situation." Seeing them shake their heads, he concluded, "Very good."
"Then, there's no time like the present to get started," Dave indicated climbing back up onto Streaker's back.
The wizard waited for the others to do the same before raising his staff.
The commander blew a note on his horn, starting the next leg of the journey toward the mountains.
The sun and moon cycled through the sky four times. Still, everything remained ominously still across the giant prairie. The wind blew with greater ferocity on that last day, carrying intense heat and a pungent acridity. More alarming to the party, the cloud was spreading out of the Dark Lands, enveloping the plains in a relentless march of its own.
As the group settled into camp on the fourth day, the sky darkened considerably.
"Fortunately, we have arrived," Ferali pointed out. "Now, we can wait for the Lord of the Plateau."
"Indeed," Grimwilkin concurred, squinting into the gloom. "Let us hope they arrive in time. We are close to the Enemy's stronghold now, and an attack could come at any time."
"Begging your pardon, Grimwilkin, but I would like to prepare some other weapons for our adversaries," Dave pointed out.
Harokin shot him a quizzical look. "You have the special arrows of the Empress. What else would you need?"
Grimwilkin considered his friend's words as well for a moment. Then, he smiled. "Ah, you wish to mix up your explosive mixture, do you? I believe we can spare a soup pot."
"What else would you require?" the commander inquired. "I will have the men provide it."
Reaching into his saddlebag, the librarian produced two giant sheets of snowy-white material and a slender box. "Do you have any kerosene or flammable oil? I'm going to melt these pieces down and when the liquid cools, mix it with the oil. You'll see what I do with it next."
Garth wondered, "Can you make your arrowheads with that stuff?"
"We'll find out. If I can't, then we'll see what we can do with it. C'mon," Dave indicated, leading him toward the side of the camp.
"Is this wise?" Harokin pushed.
Grimwilkin shrugged. "As David said, he'll find some use for the solution he's making. Through the watch crystals, the Empress and I have seen him do this on several occasions. Trust in his judgment, my friend. Meanwhile, we need to prepare as well, do we not?"
"Indeed we do," the commander concurred, following the wizard across the gray landscape toward his tent.
They awoke before first light, but it would have made little difference. By this point, the sky was totally black. Only the bright fires burning throughout the camp allowed the warriors to see each other.
"So, it begins," Dave muttered, staring up at the sky. The darkness surrounding them reverberated through him, triggering off another sudden spasm within him. "Sooner or later, I'm going to have to figure out what's causing that stuff." By the firelight, he inspected his weapons once again. Everything was ready for the coming offensive.
In the distance, a trumpet sounded, heralding the approach of the Lords of the Plateau.
In response, Harokin's horn blew its solitary note, revealing our location.
The librarian packaged his gear up with care so that it would be ready for battle. Then, he left his tent, heading for the commander's shelter. On his way there, he noticed fireworks exploding in the air. "Grimwilkin's handiwork," he remarked.
An hour later, the first riders approached the camp. Dave recognized the woman in their midst immediately. "Lady Elsin! Greetings!"
"And my greetings to you, David Dubois and to your friend, Garth Singleton," she replied with a nod. "Grimwilkin advised us that you'd be fighting at our side once again. We are glad for that. So where will this council be? My husband is not far behind me, and our men spoil for a good fight."
"As do mine, Milady," Harokin noted soberly. "Come, we go to my tent."
The group followed him quickly into the central shelter. When Eadmer had joined them, the commander and Grimwilkin revealed their plan, compared strategies, and came to agreement on how to proceed.
"Time grows short and we must fly," the wizard reminded us.
Without waiting any further, Harokin blew several short notes on his horn, telling the warriors to mount their steeds.
Due to the conditions, they did so at half of their normal pace, however within two hours, the group was ready, and marching away toward the mountains. The climb over the passes was slow and treacherous due to the harsh conditions. More than one man slipped and fell to his death on the way.
Finally, after a long week in these conditions, they descended into the Dark Lands. From the taper light, they could see that it was the perfect place for an ambush.
"We're here," Grimwilkin noted.
"With our armies relatively intact," Harokin added.
"And no enemies to be seen," Eadmer chimed in.
Dave glanced around at the landscape. Somehow, even if he couldn't see them, he could feel that the trolls were close by. "With all due respect, can you get them down here?"
"Let me guess," Garth supposed. "You have a bad feeling, right?"
"Yeah, in my gut," the librarian snarled, grabbing an arrow by feel, and stringing his bow. A glare at the sky revealed a solitary raven...Lousain's choice spy. "Damn!" he hissed, firing one of the Empress's arrows.
The bird, impaled by the missile, fell to the ground.
"He's knows we're here," Grimwilkin told the others.
From the distance, they heard a noise, low at first but growing in intensity.
"By the gods," Harokin realized.
"You have your enemy, King Eadmer," Dave declared. "And they'll be nasty enough!"
In the reddish gloom of the surrounding volcanic fires, the group saw a horde of trolls spill forth from the horizon, numbering in the ten of thousands. The fight was on.
Harokin raised his sword and proclaimed, "For the races of man and others!" Turning to the librarian, he asked, "Did you make those weapons?"
"I have one ready, Harokin," Dave commented, waiting for the enemy to come into range. Once they had, he lit the wick and fired the explosive at the enemy.
The arrow impacted against a puddle of pitch, flaring up in front of the juggernaut. Its frontline fell back screaming, scorched from the flames if they weren't immediately consumed. However, there were more where they came from.
"Now, Milord," Dave indicated.
"CHARGE!!!" the commander ordered.
In response, the men spilled forth and engaged the demons. Sword clashed on sword followed by the sounds of metal sinking into flesh. The death screams of both sides jumbled themselves together into a weird symphony of death.
Turning himself invisible, Garth penetrated the enemy's flank, cutting and slashing away as he went.
Grimwilkin fired blast after mystic blast, punching holes in the tide.
Dave sent a steady stream of arrows, both the Empress's and his own, into the monsters, stabbing and burning them. Then, looking into the sky, he saw the eruption from the peaks growing stronger and the lightning flaring more wildly. "Grimwilkin! It's getting worse!"
"Indeed, David! You and Faroli must go and finish this struggle in the Pit yourselves! We'll occupy our adversaries!" the wizard agreed.
The gnome stared at his human brother in arms and requested, "Will you stand by me until the end?"
"Until the bloody end," the Earther agreed.
With that, the two companions mounted their horses and rode away largely unnoticed in the heat of the battle.
As they left, Garth noted, "There they go. I hope they're successful!"
"They have to be," Eadmer stated. "They have to be."
For what seemed like hours, the two scouts rode through the gloom, noting a landmark here and there. Still, they pressed on, knowing that every second was precious in their race against time.
"David, where are we going?" Ferali wondered.
"The Pit," the human indicated, pointing to the particularly active purple cloud in front of them. "Come on!" Urging Streaker onward, he rode faster and faster across the barren landscape, barely allowing his companion to keep pace. Finally, on the rim of the giant crater, he stopped the steed. "Here it is." Dismounting, he guessed, "The entrance needs to be around here someplace."
The gnome discovered it first. "There!" he pointed to his left. "What do you think?"
Dave studied the path for a second and took a few steps down it. "This is it all right. Come on!"
His companion gulped nervously. While he usually didn't like to show fear, the Gnome-lord wasn't foolhardy either. However, he wasn't about to let the other go down there by himself especially given the armies' fear about his internal darkness. "You owe me big time, David," he reminded himself as he followed in his friend's footsteps.
Chapter 12 [A prison cell, deep within the Pit]
Angie stared up at the rocky ceiling of the small room in which she was manacled. The area was dark, the floor was wet and it stank with the reek of excrement and urine coming from the other prisoners. Echoing up from below and the sides, the cries of her fellow inmates assaulted her ears. She had no idea of time here. All she knew were the two meager meals she received and the occasional visits from the master troll whose job it was to take her to be tortured.
"What did I ever do to deserve this?" she moaned, giving another absent tug to the chains. In response, a tired ache shot up through her hands, making her wince. Bad enough she still felt the scars from her last beating, but they wouldn't release her arms. She also worried about her boyfriend. At her last sight of Dave, he lay wounded on the ground. She hoped against hope that he was all right...that somehow he had been left for dead. "Please, Lord," she prayed. "Even if I don't survive, I hope he does." Somehow, the vision of his face and smile gave her strength to persevere no matter what.
At that moment, the door slammed open, allowing the dim torchlight to spill into the area. From outside the door, she heard a familiar cry. "Miranda!" she realized, struggling to stand on her tired legs.
Strutting into the area, the head troll snickered, "Good! You're on your feet. Excellent!" With a single claw-like pick, he unlatched her bonds. "The Master wants to see you, the Brat, and your friend. Move it!" With that, he shoved her through the door so hard that she fell face first into a patch of brackish water.
"Oh no ya don't!" it denied. "C'mon! Get up!" Pulling by the back of her tattered clothes, the demon yanked her back up to her feet. Pushing Miranda into her arms, he ordered, "Now keep the brat from crying, and go!"
Angie shuffled along, doing what she was told. Right now, the little bundle in her arms represented all of her hope and joy. No matter what, they would have to kill her to get to this child. That she promised herself.
Two levels above this scene, Dave stooped over his latest piece of handiwork. Two guard trolls on patrol had the misfortune of running into him and Ferali. Well, they wouldn't be worrying about it at any point in the future or anything else for that matter.
"How many more of these things are there?" the gnome asked, hefting his axe.
"How the Hell would I know?" the librarian replied almost flippantly. "Hundreds...probably thousands. All the more to shish-kabob. Let's get to it. Time's getting' short!"
The other followed reluctantly. Despite the friendship, which had blossomed between them, he was getting tired of Dave's impulsiveness. "We better get through this quickly."
Fortunately, as they weaved their way down into the labyrinth of passages, they discovered that they were eerily deserted. Pressing onward, they found themselves in the main sacrificial chamber.
"This is it," he whispered to his companion as they ducked behind a group of rocky outcroppings.
"So, where are they?"
Dave shrugged. Then, he saw a group of trolls march in from the other direction. "Showtime!"
From the far entrance, the demons pushed Angie and Miranda into the room. Behind them, they pulled a glass container with Karen's spirit clearly inside of it.
One of the trolls spat, "If you don't shut that brat up, I'll put her on a spit!"
"I want Mama!" Miri wailed.
Angie tried to quiet her. "Hush please, Miri. It's going to be okay." Struggling to remember the notes, the doctor hummed a tune to the little one, calming her for at least the moment.
"Yes," Karen urged telepathically. "Listen to Angie."
The monsters pushed their prisoners toward the stone slab in the middle of the room. Around it stood four robed figures and a fifth clad in brilliant colors, holding an ornate dagger.
Once they had reached the slab, the beasts ripped Miranda from Angie's arms and growled, "Strap her down! She goes first!"
The others pulled her down, securing her with a great deal of effort. She tried to fight but to no avail.
The colorful priest inspected her for a second and grinned. "You'll be perfect!" Turning to the throne, he asked. "Won't she, my lord?"
In a puff of smoke, a human male--or what appeared to be a human male with long black hair and a matching beard--materialized on the seat. "Yes, she will be."
From her prison, Karen spat, "Lousain! We'll get out of this yet!"
"Not this time," he laughed. "Turning back to his head priest, he commanded, "Make it quick."
The demon raised his blade over her chest, letting it hang there for a full minute...
From the side, Dave yelled, "NO!" Firing the bow, he impaled the priest just to the right of the head officiator.
"What is this?" the wizard demanded.
"What d'ya think?" Dave growled, feeling the familiar fire burning inside of him again.
Lousain glared at the defiant intruder, not wanting to believe that he would have to face him again. Sure enough, it was Dubois. "YOU!!!"
Angie craned her head up to see him standing there. "Dave!"
"That's right, it's me," he replied to them both. "Bring your worst!"
"Oh, I intend to!" the sorcerer promised. Looking at the mass of trolls huddled to his right, he yelled, "Get them!"
However, Dave had an explosive on its way before they could move. Before they could take three steps, the troop was engulfed in flames, searing their gray flesh and dispatching them all in a matter of seconds.
From the left, 20 others charged the duo.
"Ready?" Dave asked Ferali.
"Do I have a choice?" the gnome asked back, readying his axe.
"Nope!" the librarian commented, sword in hand. Swinging his blade, he cut a bloody swath through the competition. Slowly, he made his way toward the dais. However, he felt the pounding increasing in his head with each step. "I'm comin' for ya, Lousain!" he spat, decapitating a troll. Eventually, he stood before his enemy. "Now, hand 'em over!"
"I don't think so!" the wizard retorted, motioning with his hand.
"What?" Dave inquired just as he felt a cold pain jab into his shoulder, missing his heart by inches.
"Dave! No!" Angie moaned, not wanting to see her boyfriend die in front of her.
Slowly, he felt the strength being sucked away from him. He dropped to his knees and then fell to the floor, writhing in pain.
"David!" Ferali exclaimed. "Raaghh!" With that, the little warrior went on a rampage of his own, polishing off those trolls surrounding him brutally and efficiently.
Lousain admired these efforts. Really he did. However, in the end, they would be for naught. Firing a burst, he knocked the pint-sized intruder off of his feet, stunning him. "Such a shame," he coughed. "I thought that Grimwilkin would send better fighters than these two." Still, he recalled Dubois's fortitude from before. "I'd best finish him."
As the wizard was blasting his brother in arms, Dave floated in murky throes of unconsciousness. He hurt too much to move...too do anything really, but if he didn't, they would all be dead shortly.
"Can't..." he muttered.
["Let me do it," a voice told him. From out of the inkiness, a shadow figure emerged with bright red eyes and an orange corona surrounding it.]
["Your inner self," the Other stated. "Rest now. Ah'll handle this."]
Feeling too weak to do anything else, the librarian collapsed, allowing it free reign.
Back in the chamber, Karen sensed that something was going on inside of Dave. Even after they split up, the two continued to share a mental link of sorts. Now, it was telling her that he was transforming into something dark, wicked, and downright frightening. "Lord, help us!" she beseeched silently. Now, she knew what had happened that night in Cambridge when he had faced Dr. Samuelsohn's killers.
Lousain began to channel energy into his hands, intending to fry his foe on the spot.
At that moment, Dave looked up...but it wasn't really him. His right eye was closed. His mouth was locked in a lopsided grin as drool ran down its sides. In spite of the situation, he was chuckling maniacally. Rising to his feet, he said low, "Ya blew it. Now face me!"
The wizard silently fired a blast. "Go away!"
The burst impacted against the Other but, instead of frying him, it seeped into the stab wound, strengthening him.
"Surp'ise!" the Other chuckled. "Ah guess ya'll are pissed now. Ain't ya? Well, too damn bad!" The left eye glowed a shade of bright yellow. From that point, a burst of psychic energy flew outward, slamming the wizard backward. "Ah think that's yours."
The ebon-haired magician gritted his teeth angrily. He hated loose ends especially volatile ones. Firing blast after blast, he tried to take down the intruder. But, as each burst soaked into the Other, he realized his mistake.
For his part, the Other fired one big mega burst, knocking the wizard right on top of Angie...and into the dagger's flight. In the space of an instant, the blade had imbedded itself in his heart.
"No!" he denied, staggering into the middle of the room. For several minutes, he staggered about, glaring at those around him. Finally, he promised, "Dubois, this isn't finished! I'll...be...back."
"Ya'll come back now, ya hear?" the victor taunted as the sorcerer breathed his last. At that moment, the ground shook furiously; jarring the survivors, and making them think that the ceiling was going to collapse on their heads. Fortunately, the disturbance stopped almost as soon as it had started.
"Uhh, David?" Ferali inquired woozily. Pulling himself to his feet, he saw the carnage around him as well as the wizard's dead body. "The bracelet!" he realized. Swinging his axe, he amputated the forearm of the wizard wearing the item in question.
"That was mine!" the Other spat angrily.
"No! Not David! Ah'm his dark side!" the Other continued, seething in rage. "Go! Trash the damn thing!"
The gnome nodded nervously, carrying the severed limb over to the burning brazier. Dropping the appendage into it, he scurried back to the Other's side just as the flame flared up, consuming the evil talisman. After that was done, he considered his companion's mental state. This was what the others had feared. The darkness had manifested itself. "Hopefully, the Empress will be able to help him."
However, with the bracelet destroyed, the source of the Other's stamina vanished with it. Accordingly, the wound caused him to waver and he collapsed.
Ferali rushed over to the dais and freed Angie before releasing Miri from her confinement. "Are you both all right?"
"I...guess," she indicated. Seeing her love lying on the cold stones in front of her, she made her way over to his side. "Dave! What happened?"
Replying for his unconscious friend, the gnome replied, "I have no idea, Angela. Let's hope Grimwilkin gets here soon."
She nodded in agreement, staring up at the ceiling. To get out of this situation, they would need help from an outside source. That was for sure.
(to be continued)
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