True Nemeses

Gheshkan stared, mouth agape, as Silvoth collapsed in the road a dozen feet away, his body falling apart into thousands of charred beetle carapaces. Floating up from behind the ruined innkeeper’s body, a skeletal figure, robed in rotting finery, laughed down at the dragonborn.

“Ah, the paladin. All alone. And where, pray tell, is your little menagerie of friends? I’ve come so far, I’d hate to have to kill you…one at a time.”

The thought spun across Gheshkan’s mind. Teresa. In Fallcrest.

“Why yes indeed!” The lich responded, and Gheskan’s blood froze. “I’m flattered by your recognition. And impressed as well, given that you never met us.”

Us…?

Teresa threw her head back and laughed again. “How terribly rude of me! Come, paladin. Meet my friends.”

At the words, Teresa stretched her arms out to the side and beckoned with her bony hands. Gheshkan watched in horror as two translucent figures rose from the ground, as though pulled out of the depths of some hell by Teresa’s gesture. The wispy figures—broken bodies, ravaged limbs—turned dark red eyes towards the paladin; they did not look friendly. Not at all.

Even worse, thought Gheshkan, as he yanked out his axe at the approach of the apparitions, he felt positively naked. He had on only his civilian leather armor, the warplate back up at—

“—your estate.” Teresa again answered his unspoken words. “Aha. Ahaha. AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!”

Barely half an hour had passed since the deadly assassin attack on Morgan, and Kord’s Deliverance was hardly expecting yet another assault on them in their own home town. Morgan, who suffered numerous razor sharp cuts from the ninja, had retired to their manor to recoup. Asha had decided, both out of guilt and suspicion, to continue Morgan’s solo investigation of their list of potential Fallcrest cultist suspects. Gwydion headed back into the tower, on foot unfortunately, to further his studies.

And Slyron returned to the Blue Moon under his disguise as Par Winameer. The elf had spent long minutes ambling back to the tavern, re-establishing his cover by glaring at anyone who came too close, and sniffing contemptuously at the various crafts he glanced at in store fronts. Finally, he reached the Blue Moon. And not a moment too soon. He’d worked up a wicked thirst, and the thought of a cold beer was making his mouth water.

He’d no sooner walked in the door when a commotion erupted back outside, from down the street. Slyron paused, staring towards the bar and its row of frosty mugs of ale in alarm. Nothing to do with me, please nothing to do with me…

“Something’s attacking the cathedral of Kord! Something magical, and bony, and-and-and, well…dead!!”

Ah, shit.

Gwydion heard the big explosion, and, looking out the tower window, saw the fireball curl up from near the cathedral. “By Kord, Morgan!” he complained. “You never listen, do you? Howard, my bag!” And the mage took off down the long spiral staircase.

Asha, too, heard the explosion. She spun. In the street around her, townsfolk all recoiled with shock. An almost identical thought as Gwydion’s began to form when the sight of the mushroom cloud curling up from the direction of the cathedral caused a tremor to rip through her soul. Multiple flashbacks of that same, particularly shaped cloud flickered before her eyes. Then, Galad’s scream tore open her mind.

Morgan, meanwhile, snored loudly in his room.

The Blue Moon Tavern was not far from the cathedral work site, and Slyron, out of disguise and slipping through the shadows quickly, arrived after only a handful of seconds. From his secluded spot around the corner of the last of the temporary homes for the workers, the shifty elf noticed the two floating wraiths chase after Gheshkan down in between the next row of camp homes. He also picked out, with some surprise, the floating skeletal mage.

Interesting…Slyron considered the figure cautiously. As well, Gheshkan was running—away!—and the lack of further companionship gave the elf a moment’s pause.

He shrugged.

Ah well. Let’s see how much she likes the dance with my blade, Slyron smirked to himself as he reached for his deadly dagger.

And stopped.

So, too, did his heart.

The elf’s hand, reaching down to the familiar sheath just to the left of his hip, closed around empty air. Slyron’s dagger was gone.

“Looking for this?” a familiar voice tittered.

Slyron’s heart rate spiked, and a cold rage began to pour into his veins. Slowly, he looked over his shoulder. He already knew whom he would see.

Xixxit.

Asha stumbled forward, mind reeling. A tall man caught her as she fell. She stared up at him. One part of her mind registered his handsome features distantly, and she thought, I must thank him. The other part of her mind, however, spoke first.

“Get off me!!” Asha screamed, her voice a strange hoarse echo, and she shoved the man aside. Startled, he backed away quickly. People now stared at her. Another explosion resounded, and the crowd recoiled again.

“Sorry!” Asha managed to stammer, before another psychic howl erupted from her throat. I can feel her!! Galad’s voice whiplashed inside her head. Asha fought back.

“NO! I am in control, Galad, and you will NOT interfere!” With a deep breath, Asha pulled herself upright and sprinted away towards to dark curling clouds forming over the cathedral spire.

Under the shadow of that spire, Gheshkan hurtled his heavy bulk around the corner of the camp home. Inside, his stomach was churning with fear and anger. He couldn’t believe he was running from a fight! He was out of his element; he also knew when he was outmatched. Gheshkan prayed to Kord as he took a quick look for pursuers. Alright, you bastard. At least make sure they’ve heard those thunderous explosions.

Gheshkan jumped back. The two ghosts had stepped through the walls, about 10 feet from the dragonborn. He cursed, and retreated around to the other corner of the barracks, even as he realized the futility. The walls wouldn’t stop them.

Morgan stared at the enormous bowl of mushrooms that had been placed in front of him, and grinned. The steam from the fungi was intoxicating. He scooped up the oversize spoon and glanced across the table at his dinner guest. Thrumbolg sat awkwardly on a small stool, half his face hanging down, dripping blood. The fomorian king was trying to pick up a tiny, delicate fork beside his own thimble sized bowl.

Morgan laughed as he dug into the dark meat of the mushrooms.

“Looks like the table really has turned, eh, ya big lug?” He shoved his spoon into his mouth. The mushrooms tasted, oddly, of feathers.

Thrumbolg had managed to grasp the fork between his thumb and one finger, and was now trying to spear the single mushroom balanced on its stalk in the thimble. He missed, and the fork clattered to the table. A frustrated grimace spread across half of the ruined king’s face, and he slammed his fist on the table three times.

“Morgan! Your help is required!” yelled the fomorian in a strangely high pitched, cultured voice. Morgan dug into his bowl again.

“No way! Eat yer own mushroom!”

Slyron stared at the quickling. Xixxit, his foe and hated nemesis, sat atop a stack of building supplies, lounging casually on one elbow, one foot swinging playfully. Balanced easily on the end of his finger, sharp point down, was Slyron’s weapon. His vampiric dagger. His alter ego. His primary means of self-identification.

“It’s very nice,” Xixxit purred. “So much more interesting than that bag of gold I took from you the first time, isn’t it?” The quickling winked playfully, and a burst of chittering laughter erupted from his pursed lips. It stopped almost as soon as it started, so rapid was the laugh.

Slyron’s eyelid twitched. The urge to leap at the quickling’s throat was almost blinding. Instead, he focused on his breath, forcing his racing pulse to settle. Had to maintain control. Turn, slowly. Be nonchalant.

Xixxit, though, abruptly paused. His eyes shone with anticipation.

“You might be,” he teased, drawing the words out slowly. “You might just be….…”

Slyron grinned, and shrugged—

“But NO!”

Even as Slyron lunged, Xixxit was already gone, leaving behind only his triumphant laugh. Slyron recoiled immediately, his hand clutched, then spun and sprinted after the tell tale dust of the quickling’s passage. As he ran, Slyron stared at his right hand, furiously and unbelieving.

A thin line of blood stretched across his palm. The necrotic burn from the cut of his own knife paled in comparison to the burning humiliation in his soul.

Gwyd clattered down the spiral staircase as quick as his feet could take him. In his mind’s eye, he was leaping swiftly from wall to wall like a gazelle, barely even touching the staircase. In reality, he trod on his robes as much as the stairs. He noted with alarm a growing nausea. The long spinning decent was making him dizzy.

“Howard-ulp! My bag!”

Asha sprinted through the surging, panicked crowd. She dodged, rolling away from collisions, pushing desperately again the tide of humanity. She ran up a thin tent pole that had been pushed over, leaped onto a stack of crates, and from there onto an awning overtop a merchant stall. She hit the fabric and bounced high over the crowd, spinning a somersault. Landing nimbly in a clear stretch, she ran hard to get around the riot of citizens. Up ahead, the cathedral spire loomed closer.

“Morgan! Your help is needed, right now!”

The dwarf, another spoonful halfway to his mouth, stared at Thrumbolg, puzzled. The king was still pounding on the table, one eye regarding him expectantly. Morgan shook his head with irritation.

“What makes you think I’d ever help you, you lousy sack of bat turds! Yer lucky enough I invited you ta dinner!” The dwarf stopped, suddenly suspicious. Why did he invite Thrumbolg to dinner? Something seemed odd there. He was about to demand to see some identification when Thrumbolg sprang to his feet, yelled in a shrill voice, “Sire! You must arise!!”, and reared back, dropping his massive fists in one huge blow on the table.

Morgan jolted awake. He was laying face down on his bed. The loud pounding on his bedroom door had finally pierced his sleeping consciousness, and he was aware of their chamberlain—what the hell was his name? Morgan could never remember—calling out to him tremulously from the other side. Morgan spat out his pillow and rolled over.

“Keep yer shorts on! I’m coming!”

The view from the bedroom window suddenly caught his eye. An odd, mushroom shaped cloud was rolling up to the sky from the southwest. From towards the cathedral.
Morgan swore, leaped from his bed, and stormed out of room past the startled chamberlain.

“My lord!” Bertrand, the chamberlain, began as he followed the dwarf down the stairs towards the foyer. “There’s something terrible happening down at—!”

“Ya ya!” Morgan cut him off. “I know! Don’t open the door for anyone until I’m back!” He ran out the front entrance, slamming it behind him on the way through.

Bertrand raised a trembling hand to his forehead, and sighed with relief. These new owners were not around nearly as much as Kamden had been, but they were, in their own way, far more high maintenance than the miserly landowner had been. Bertrand shuffled over to the door and reached up to lock it.

And shrieked as it burst back open.

“I’m back!” Morgan yelled as he plowed past the chamberlain. “Outta my way.” He disappeared up the stairs in a hurried rush. A few moments later, he reappeared, clanking loudly. Over his shoulder he carried a large collection of metal guards and greaves, all strapped to a wide breastplate.

“Remember!” Morgan snapped at the terrified Bertrand. “Nobody, until I return!”

“Y-yes.”

Morgan slammed the door. Bertrand stood, petrified. Slowly, with a trembling hand, he reached out towards the lock. Finally, with a fearful lunge, he snapped the bolt shut and leaped backwards. Definitely high maintenance, thought Bertrand.

Gwydion, meanwhile, burst out the bottom door of the tower, and staggered for a moment, trying to regain his equilibrium. Howard scrambled up his master, and held out two fingers in front of Gwydion’s face.

“Four!”

Howard slapped Gwydion, then held up two again.

“Two!”

Howard gave the thumbs up.

“Thank you Howard. Let’s go! We are not far now!”

Asha’s path ahead was now unhindered, as she’d made her way past most of the panicked populace going in the opposite direction. She was close to the outskirts of the construction; she could see the bridge over the river, and the worker’s barracks on this side of them. Overhead, a figure floated 20 feet off the ground.

There. Galad’s voice was cold fury.

Obviously, Asha returned the thought, fighting for control with anger. Her sword materialized. As she began to stalked forward, a glowing translucence near the barracks caught her eyes. Ghosts. Teresa’s.

Two rays of brilliant light, tinged with red, blasted from her silver eyes. One of the ghosts flickered momentarily, then turned to her.

Gheshkan, in between the buildings, caught sight of the rays of light. He breathed in relief.

“Asha!” he bellowed. “I’m here too!” He charged forward, back towards the main street.

Slyron heard Gheshkan bellow behind him, and caught sight of Asha’s Radiant Vengeance from the corner of his eye, but paid little attention. He was looking all around, his peripheral vision focused, as he scanned for a sign of the quickling. He moved forward swiftly, then stopped suddenly. A curtain, in a window to his left, moved—

Slyron grabbed his arm with a gasp. Blood seeped from between his fingers, and another burn of necrotic energy creeped into the cut.

“Tardy Elf! Far Too Slow!” came the echoing taunt. It was from his left, but he knew Xixxit wasn’t there. Probably. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. Slyron rolled up his sleeve to staunch the wound as he dashed down another alley way. To the south he could hear the river. That might help, he began to think, then cursed. He remembered Gwydion’s story of quicklings being able to run across water.

“Cannot See! Will never Know…”

The line of blood ran down the right side of Slyron’s face. A flash of silver hair disappeared to his left and Slyron immediately sprinted after it, through a door into a house, over a table, into another room, and out a far window in a tight forward roll. He leaped to the side instinctively and felt the whistle of a blade pass just a hair’s breadth from his jugular. Another laugh echoed across the small square. Slyron looked around, side stepping nimbly, cautiously.

He’d avoided one strike. But it couldn’t go on.

“TERESA!!”

The strange pitch of Asha’s Galad-influenced voice rang out. The lich turned, a wide skeletal grin on her face.

“Ah, there you are, Galad! Or whatever you call yourself now. I wondered when you’d show up. The weakest of them all!”

Asha heard the voice, still young, and memories thrust forward from the dark. Her heart clenched as Galad’s raw pain pushed its way to the surface, riding her own cool detachment. The dichotomy was peculiar, and it made the deva very angry.

“You betrayed me.” Asha stalked forward slowly, sword out wide. “You betrayed everybody! How could you?!”

The lich laughed. “Yes, well, it’s rather a requirement, being a Zehir devotee. I suppose your outrage is meant to shame me into a twisted wreck of guilt, is it? Don’t waste your breath, you pathetic fool.”

“When?”

“What?”

“I want to know when you turned. When you joined this sick cult of perversion.”

“Why, the moment I thrust that poisoned knife into your throat!” Asha’s eyes narrowed. Teresa chuckled. “No? Alright, how about the moment you declared your love? Or, better yet, the first time I set eyes upon you!” The lich threw her head back and laughed long and loud. “What does it matter? All that matters is that you will die, again, and fail—again—and I shall enjoy it even more this time.”

Teresa quickly floated back from the deva, and gestured once more. From directly below the hovering lich, another ghost thrust itself from the earth. Teresa pointed, and the ghost turned its red eyes onto Asha.

Asha paid no attention. “You can’t die today, Teresa.” Asha’s own eyes flared red, and she aimed her sword up at the lich. A red brand appeared above Teresa, a fist clenched around lightning. “But I’m going to make damn sure you hurt.”

Morgan sprinted—at least as best as a dwarf can—across the bridge to the Tower of the Magic Guild. He took a quick look down towards the cathedral. From this distance, he could see very little. He sucked in a deep breath, and began heading down the long spiral staircase. All he knew was, he’d a long way to go to get to whatever it was.

“When I come. When I go!”

Slyron twisted away from yet another nick from his knife, this one across his Achilles. The quickling’s taunting rhyme rang in Slyron’s ears as he spotted Xixxit zipping up a wall and over the roof of a small house. He took a swift note of the new wound. Not deep, at least.

But Xixxit didn’t have to know that.

He took a step and stumbled, lurching awkwardly to his side. He collided into the tool rack beside the bundle of building supplies in the square. Rakes and shovels clattered to the ground along with the wounded rogue. Slyron looked around desperately. One of his hands was raised to fend off another inevitable strike. He extricated himself from the tools snared around his legs and pulled himself up onto his one good leg, balancing precariously.

“Damn you Xixxit!” he yelled, his left hand clamped over a bruised temple. “Show yourself! Fight like a man, you coward!”

Another chuckle mocked the elf. Then, a slow sing-song verse crept out from the empty surroundings.

“Faster…than the…wind……can…”

The final rhyme was left unspoken. The quickling was baiting him. Slyron tensed. Nothing happened for several moments.

“BLOW!”

Slyron suddenly stomped down with his ‘useless’ leg. His foot pounded on the blade of a shovel he’d subtly positioned, and the shaft of the shovel shot up behind the elf, directly beside his supporting leg. Slyron felt a satisfying jolt on the other end. He spun immediately and pounced on the staggering quickling, pinning him to the ground.

He also dropped the mirror he had palmed in his left hand. Xixxit stared at it, comprehension dawning in his dazed features.

“Feeling a bit…’winded’? Slyron growled directly into the quickling’s face. Xixxit snarled, and both he and Slyron began a mad struggle for the vampiric knife.

Gheshkan charged around the corner, spotting Asha and the new ghost. “Where—?” he began, and the other two ghosts were suddenly on him, swinging away with their transparent weapons. The paladin lashed out, tearing a thin wisp of ectoplasm from out of one of the ghosts. He reeled back from their own stinging attacks.

Gwydion, meanwhile, had finally reached the edge of the battlefield. He peered carefully over the edge of long foundation wall. He spotted Asha, and Gheshkan nearby, battling what looked like specters of some sort. No Morgan, though. Perhaps he had judged him too harshly, Gwydion thought. Not that anyone would blame me, after all look what happened when by all the gods that is a Lich.

Gwydion stared up in the air in shock, and felt his bowels clench. He felt paralyzed. Which perhaps was a good thing, he realized. If he could move, he’d have shat his pants already. His brilliant, analytic mind, however, was far from paralyzed, and was, in fact, in furious action, already calculating their odds, given Morgan and Slyron’s absence, their depleted resources and by all the gods that is a fucking lich!!

Still, he managed to do what every battle-mage-cum-academic librarian is trained to do.

He hid, and summoned Sparky.

Asha stared up at the laughing lich, trembling with fury.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Teresa taunted. “Go ahead. Swing away.”

“Teresa.” replied Asha.

“Yes?”

“*_COME. HERE._*”

A beam of stinging light shot out from Asha’s hand and struck the lich in the face of her grinning skull. The beam, ringing with power, seemed to solidify in Asha’s hand. With a mighty pull, the deva yanked the lich all the way down to ground at her feet. The beam coalesced around Teresa’s legs, immobilizing her.

Asha hoisted her sword. “I believe your last words were ‘swing away’.”

Morgan rumbled down the stairs, leaning hard left to balance out the weight of Gheshkan’s armor on his back. The staircase seemed to run on forever. He managed to dodge some sudden vomit that appeared on a step as he turned the corner. Gwydion’s been by already, Morgan noted.

Gheshkan pulled back from his transparent opponents and dropped into a defensive guard. Blood had begun to seep from his eyes, ears, and nose as the psychic assault took its toll. He steeled himself for another attack.

However, the two ghosts turned from him and sped over to a new target. Asha suddenly found herself surrounded by the three gruesome spectres. Their ethereal weapons lashed through her defenses, and she recoiled as pain splintered her mind. Her legs went numb.

“Doesn’t feel good, does it darling?” Teresa mocked the deva. “But then again,” she added wickedly, “neither will this…” A rolling blast of necrotic energy erupted from the lich’s fingers, engulfing Asha entirely. Even with her innate resistance, Asha’s was sorely wounded; her skin turned ashen from the crippling attack.

Meanwhile, Slyron and Xixxit thrashed around on the ground furiously, the elf trying to wrest away control of his knife, and the quickling trying to wriggle out of his grasp. A whirling cloud of dust billowed into the air as a result of the speedy fey’s rapidly kicking feet.

“Stay still,” shouted Slyron, and, out of desperation, launched a swift head butt at the quickling. Xixxit dodged. Slyron slammed his forehead onto the ground. Dazed, he still managed to hold onto the twisting fey, who slashed another vicious cut along his arm. The wounded elf felt his grip starting to weaken.

Gwydion sent Sparky into the battle, and the explosive electricity rippled through the ghosts. None of attacks by Kord’s Deliverance seemed to have any effect on the ghosts; however, small torn tendrils of their ethereal forms marked at least a modicum of damage.

Ghesh had had enough of running. At least, enough of running away from the enemy. With a bolstering yell, he (launched ranged attack i can’t remember, it hit, he charged in provoking an opportunity attack even though he didn’t need to, got hit and immobilized, go bloodied and fired off his ring of fury but missed with both attacks, then managed a hit with his final action point and then used his pinning axe to stick Teresa to the ground.)

“Take that! Bitch!”

Morgan finally burst out from the door at the bottom of the stairs. He was close; he tried not to think about his own wounds, suffered at the hands of the ninja not half an hour ago, nor his spent powers. At the very least, he could heal.

And he was going to need to.

Asha ignored the pain. The fact she was immobilized was of little consequence to the deva at the moment. She had a number of options to overcome that obstacle. Quickly assessing the altered battlefield, the deva made a quick choice, and disappeared. Teresa eyes flared, intrigued. A sword slammed into the lich from behind, as Asha reappeared on the opposite side of the lich. Before Teresa could even turn, they both disappeared, materializing a moment later a few steps away. The undead mage now stood flanked, the hulking Gheshkan on one side, the determined avenger on the other.

“OO! Interesting!” Teresa quipped, ignoring the broken ribs that fell from her skeletal form. “For a bunch of failures, you are doing quite well!”

“If I take off her jaw next, will she still keep talking?” Ghesh growled.

“Yes,” Asha replied.

“Damn.”

A prismatic burst exploded beside the pair. The three ghosts stood motionless, their red eyes gone. Sparky floated in again too, for good measure. Asha and Ghesh both exchanged a relieved glance. Gwydion was nearby, somewhere.

Slyron could hear explosions from nearby, and his companions yelling. His fury compounded. Not only had Xixxit stolen his weapon, making him nigh useless, he had pulled the elf away from aiding his friends.

The quickling was struggling in his arms, still poking away at him with the vampiric knife. Enough. Time to get it back.

Slyron timed Xixxit’s thrusts, then suddenly slammed his left hand down on the point of the knife as it jerked towards him. It pierced through to the hilt. Slyron nearly gagged. The pain was excruciating. Instead, Slyron focused his anger on his infuriating nemesis, and wrapped his fingers around the hilt with a concrete grip.

Xixxit stared down at his hand for a moment, then laughed. He released the dagger and kicked out with both feet viciously, slamming them into the elf’s midsection. The sudden release and blow caught slyron off guard and he tumbled backwards. Xixxit leaped to his feet and buzzed around the square. He did not, however, disappear.

“Well, elf,” the quickling cackled. “You got your knife back. But then, I’ve got mine too.” Indeed, the quickling suddenly sported a thin, curving stiletto. “And it’s quick eager to get a taste of your blood, I assure y—.”

Xixxit halted midsentence. Slyron, with a speed to match the quickling’s own, had leapt to his feet and disappeared back down the alley from which they had come.

“Keep up! I dare you!” came the distant elven cry.

Xixxit’s face darkened.

“A fool and an idiot,” he screamed. “There is no way you can outrun me!” and the quickling was gone in a sudden blur.

Ghesh lined up his swing, and brought his axe down hard. The blow ricochet of the top of the lich’s skull.

“Pathetic! You swing like Galad did.” Teresa chuckled, eying the deva beside her.

I will cut out your heart, you traitorous whore!!!

Save you breath, Galad. Asha fired the thought at her alter-ego. Liches no longer have hearts. She had no time for Galad’s raging interruptions. Her own breath was beginning to labour heavily, and she tried not to look at the myriad of wounds that Gheshkan was sporting. Doing so only reminded her how outnumbered they were-and that was before she counted the three ghosts.

As though they’d heard Asha, the three ghost turned, as one, and headed straight for the dragonborn paladin. Asha’s heart sank; she thought Gwydion’s prismatic burst had gained them some time.

“Ghesh! Look out!”

Her warning was to no avail. Their ethereal weapons once again passed right through Ghesh’s upraised shield, and past his leather armor. The dragonborn spasmed, and coughed. A bright red gout of blood sprayed out of his mouth, tattooing his chest and legs like huge scarlet leaves. He stared down at his lifeblood with dull amazement. Without a word, he pitched forward onto his face with a heavy crash, and lay motionless.

Asha forced back a despairing cry, and struggled it into fury. She whipped her jagged blade over her head and brought it down with heavy momentum on top of Teresa’s head. This time, the blow did not bounce, but cut through three inches deep. With a sudden flare of light, the ghosts that flanked the lich disappeared, and materialized thirty feet away.

“Looks like I’ve fixed my swing,” Asha spat at the lich, then yanked free her sword, jerking the lich off balance.

Teresa started to retort, but a magic missile blasted through the back of her skull and out through her open mouth, removing several teeth. The lich turned in the direction of the attack. She caught sight of Gwydion at the last second before he ducked out of sight. Staring hard at the foundation, Teresa snarled, “I know where you are, mage!” Behind the lich, another explosion of necrotic energy caught Asha again, unexpectedly.

Suddenly, beside Asha, another deva appeared, who immediately removed a potion from Asha’s belt pouch. Teresa, turning back to her former lover, looked in surprise at the new addition to the battlefield.

“Oh? I see you’ve brought your own ghostly ally. I hope it’s more effective than your living ones were,” she added, glancing pointedly in Gheshkan’s direction.

Slyron sprinted at full speed towards the main street where he knew his companions to be. Just as he was about to enter the street, he ducked against the barracks. The front was crumbling where Teresa’s necrotic blast had aged the timbers a hundred years in a second. It gave him perfect cover, and the rogue melted from sight.

Just as Xixxit came buzzing along the alley after him.

Slyron smiled. The quickling was right. There was no way he could completely outrun the speedy fey over the long term. But he didn’t need to. He just needed to get out of sight, if but for a few seconds.

Now, he was virtually invisible. And planned to stay that way.

Xixxit came whirring into the wide street like a hummingbird, and abruptly halted. He could see Teresa in close combat with the deva-he snarled at the memory of her decapitating his young cousin the last time they met-and he also picked out Teresa’s ghosts, and the dragonborn prone on the ground. But no elf. Where had he-

“Aaack!” screamed the quickling, as a blade punched into his back, and then was gone. Necrotic energy, like a withering poison, spread through his veins. The elf! He was suddenly facing the other direction, turning faster than the naked eye could follow. Nothing. Xixxit bared tiny, sharp teeth, then sped back down the alley to the end of the barracks. He sidled up to the corner rapidly, wary of another ambush.

Slyron watched him, and leisurely lined up his aimed at the quickling’s achilles heel.

Teresa watched Asha beside her, tracking the deva’s quick glances.

“Yes,” the lich mocked. “Too many tasks, not enough time, isn’t that so? Your friend is dying, but then again, so are you. Or you will be just as soon as my ghosts arrive. Look,” she gestured, “here they come. And, of course, there is always me. And you want to hit me again, so hard, don’t you…well, deva? What’s it going to be?”

Asha mind reeled. Teresa’s words had hit home. She’s right! Asha thought. I can’t focus!

And the ghosts were suddenly on her. Asha instinctively spun, her sword arm straight up while the other wrapped tightly against her lithe form to help her twisting momentum. The first ghost missed. But Asha spin turned her directly into the path of the second ghost’s swing. the transparent hammer passed right through her forehead into her brain. The psychic explosion sent two thick tears of blood streaming from the deva’s flickering eyes.

Teresa’s triumphant howl was shortlived. A blast of radiant light immediately echoed from the ghostly attack against Asha, and struck the lich square between the eyes. Teresa grabbed her skull. This time, it hurt.

The final ghost landed a blow against the deva as well. But even as the blow was landing, the jagged fullblade lashed out and tore through the spectral figure. It nearly forced the attack aside, but the blow still managed to clip the deva on the arm. She nearly keeled over. She was on her feet by fury and willpower alone.

Asha’s detached mind took in Ghesh’s form. She could get him on his feet, with her past life servant and the potion of vitality. But then she was sure to drop. The psychic aftershocks of the ghostly attacks, the same one keeping her immobilized, was quite possibly going to finish her off. But if she got Ghesh on his feet, he could possibly bring her back from dying…even as she tried to rationally strategize, the enormity of the odds against them began to overwhelm her.

And then…

KAGLEM GULM GHESHKAN!”

Asha smiled at Teresa.

“Why so glum? You said you wanted the cleric.”

Sparky exploded into the ghosts again as Teresa retreated a step from the avenger. Her eyes narrowed as she watched the deva take a breath, regaining a substantial color to her cheeks. For good measure, the ghostly deva stepped over and poured the small potion-no doubt some restorative elixir-into Asha’s mouth. The deva now stood, positively glowing with rage.

All this Teresa recorded for future reference. This test run had been most informative.

Gheshkan blinked and grabbed for his axe reflexively as his vision swam into focus again. Quickly kipping to his feet, the dragonborn snapped his axe through a ghost. Whether it was effectively or not he couldn’t tell.

Xixxit whirled again with a yelp as Slyron’s dagger plunged home into the back of his leg, and disappeared. The quickling frantically buzzed up the wall to check out the roofline. He was limping now. How was that damn elf able to get out of sight so quickly? The quickling almost whined with frustration. He glanced between the rooftops of the two barracks flanking the alley. Instinct was telling him one was safer than the other. But which?

Below, from his invisible position in the alley at the corner of barracks, Slyron held his breath. Xixxit had disappeared from sight, up on top of the roof of the building he was adjacent to. He no longer could target the creature, unless he moved. He forced himself to remain calm. He did not want to move, not yet. Once he moved, his invisibility would vanish. But had Xixxit fled already, or was lining attack on his allies from the far side of the building? The elf forced the panicky questions aside.

Xixxit glanced between the rooftops, indecisively. The rogue was probably gone, trying to draw him away from Teresa and his other allies. He could no longer see lich from this rooftop; he’d gone too far down the alley from the main street. Xixxit pondered for a moment. If he jumped to the other, he could watch both the alley, and see the battle in the street as well. Xixxit wavered. Then, decision made, he leapt to the other roof.

Slyron’s heart leapt too, as the quickling suddenly came into view. He had a clear view of the hated fey creature as it landed on the rooftop of the barracks opposite. He also knew the reverse was not the true.

Xixxit heard, a millisecond too late, the tell-tale whirl of a blade through the air. His head snapped back. He would have gasped, but the gaping hole in the bottom of his chin prevented it. Blood filled his mouth, pain flowing in with it. His wits deserted him. The quickling sprinted down the rooftop, spraying blood the whole way, and leaped into the middle of the street with an agonized scream.

“Show yourself! Fight like a man, you coward!”

Slyron nearly laughed as he heard his own words thrown back at him. Of course, being on this side of them was the far better option.

Morgan came thundering down the road, clanking like a tin puppet. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimspe of gwydion, crouched down-what a surprising strategy from him, thought the dwarf-behind the newly laid foundation wall that marked the northern border of the cathedral. Ahead, he’s already spotted the formerly prone Ghesh and Asha fighting what he really hoped, this time, was a leech.

“Quit hidin’, and unleash hell, Gwydion!” he roared as he sprinted past. For his own part, he sent yet another healing prayer towards Ghesh-Asha looked not too bad all of a sudden-and then sent a ranged attack prayer towards the robed skeleton; his mark, unfortunately, was wide.

The ghosts quickly flew back to Asha, who twisted away from their swings deftly. The lingering effects of their debilitating psychic attacks still remained-she was having a hard time pushing the pain away, due in no small part, she suspected, to Galad’s distracting presence in her mind. As such, she couldn’t move from her spot. But she could still duck and deflect.

Then her fey step lacings flared, and Asha teleported adjacent to Teresa.

“That’s becoming annoying, Galad,” Teresa glared at the deva.

Asha feinted on overhead blow, then reversed her sword and snapped it around horizontally. Teresa’s head jerked to the side. Five feet away, a jawbone landed and skipped a few times before coming to a rest. The lich raised her hand to her face, and felt the conspicuous gap below what remained of her upper teeth.

“You always did talk too much, Teresa,” Asha said coldly. Then she turned and yelled in Gwydion direction, “Do it Gwyd! Drop it on us!!”

Gwyd, in fact, was pondering that very dilemma when her heard Asha’s words. The eladrin looked at Howard, then shrugged.

“Well, she gave us permission,” he said, then pointed his finger over at the tight grouping of undead surrounding the deva. A spinning dart zipped out and landed at Asha’s feet, then exploded in a wave of energy. Asha, expecting the attack, easily avoided the blast.

Ghesh, revitalized, stepped forward with an eager axe raised. Suddenly, he recoiled.

“Ow!!”

A sharp sting punctured his lower side, and Gheshkan quickly looked down for the source. There stood that funny creature from the Underdark.

“You tell me now!” barked the quickling. “You must tell me, fatso! Where is the elf?!”

“What?” Ghesh blinked at the peculiar demand. “Look, you pint sized prick! First off, I’m not fat, secondly, I have no fucking clue where Slyron is, and last, I’ll be damned if I tell you anything anyways, even if I did know where he was!! You piece of-! Ah,” Ghesh interrupted himself as a wicked dagger spun into the darting fey. “Well, he’s around somewhere. Hope that was really, really painful.”

It must have, quite a lot, mused Slyron, as he felt a surge of energy replenish his aching body. It came from the knife, and that usually meant bad things for the opposition.

In fact, Xixxit was staggering, his numerous wounds exceptionally painful. Another blow like that and it would be lights out for the panicking fey. Time to retreat. But not before one last jab. He sped past the deva, ready to avenge his cousin.

Asha kicked the quickling in the face as he raced by. It wasn’t hard, but it was enough to send Xixxit’s thrust with his stiletto wide. She’d heard him yelling for some time now, and her detached, analytical mind had been tracking his movement.

She wasn’t the only one. A triumphant rush washed over Slyron as he drew back his dagger, and took another bead on the frustrated quickling. “My pockets will be safe now,” her murmured, and began his wind up.

Gwydion swore. He’d had a perfect shot lined up on the lich when that annoying quickling-Where on earth did he suddenly come from!-stepped right in the way. Fine. He’d wanted to finish off the lich, but one target was as good as another. The mage flicked his finger in annoyance, and a streaming line of fire arced away. He was mildly, and happily, surprised when his spell torched the quickling to a crisp.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” yelled Slyron. The elf leaped from his hidden spot, losing his invisibility. He glared over at Gwydion. “That was MY KILL!!”

“Well, look, I’m sorry, but he was in the way-!”

Slyron snarled, and suddenly sprinting into the midst of whirling combat around Asha and Gheshkan. Moving impossibly fast, the rogue wove a path of death through the undead, hitting the Lich twice, and two of the other ghosts. Bone and ectoplasm flew.

The final strike against Teresa proved telling. The lich staggered backwards. Asha, Ghesh, and Morgan watched as Teresa’s skull lolled to one side, then the other, then, finally, fell off onto the ground. Her robes rotted away suddenly, and her skeletal form fell into dust. As the skull crumbled and blew away with the wind, her echoing laugh could still be heard.

“I’ll be back…”

Kord’s Deliverance had no time to celebrate what could at best be considered a hollow victory. The ghosts still harried the companions, and although they were now all gathered together, they could not be considered remotely at full strength. Nevertheless, the heroes prevailed, and eventually the remnants of the last ghost drifted apart into nothingness.

Gheshkan stood, exhausted, and tried to catch his breath. He jerked, startled, as a cacophony of metal crashed at his feet.

“Brought yer armor,” Morgan said. “You can thank be later.”

True Nemeses

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