Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-14-the-possessed-king/
Always pay your exorcist
Or you’ll be repossessed
- The Whitehelm Inquisition
Dungeons are only the third worst place in the world to be stuck all day.
Second worst? That would probably be on a gradually-sinking island, surrounded by hungry sharks. At least dungeons have the possibility of a good ending, but if you’re lacking wings or a boat, that whole sinking island thing is a real bummer
As for the very worst, that would probably be any award ceremony where you’re not one of the people getting a prize. Have you ever seen the dead-eyed expressions on those faces? Becoming a tasty shark-snack probably seems a decent option at some point, and a damp dungeon cell? Well, that would be paradise, relatively speaking.
Neither Luther, nor Amira (nor Brian, though they had no idea where he was) felt like they were in paradise at the moment though. The Dungeons of Darkstone were below the waterline, so cold sea water seeped into their musty cells, pooling into muddy stinking puddles on the floor.
Lit only by distant flickering torchlight, Luther was in a poor state. Two bolts had hit him in the shoulder and another in his side. The bolts were still there. Neither he, nor Amira wanted to remove them in case the wounds started bleeding. He’d had worse. None of the hits were life-threatening if they could be treated, but the injuries would already be infected down here in the murk. Infection was the least of his worries though - more pressing was the fact Lord Torgan of Darkstone planned to sacrifice both him and Amira at sunset, presumably to aid in summoning the next Blight.
It’s a mystery really, why someone who is already insanely powerful will murder thousands of innocents and risk everything, just to be insanely more powerful. It’s entirely possible that power is a lot like candied bacon - once you’ve tasted it, you just can’t stop, even though you’re pretty sure it’s killing you.
It had been a long day. Luther had been in too much discomfort to sleep. The three bolts, combined with the manacles on his wrists, made it difficult for him to find a comfortable position, and he was dog-tired - too tired to really even be angry.
He looked up at Amira and grinned.
“Didn’t quite go as planned, eh?” He grunted, began to chuckle, and it turned into a painful cough.
“We’re not done yet,” she shrugged.
“Speak for yourself, lass.” Luther shook his head. “This story doesn’t end well for us.”
“Can you walk?” Amira asked him.
“Probably,” he grunted. “I’m not feeling much like a stroll around this cell though.”
“Good.” The Wargare held up her own hands - one was scraped and bloody but it was free of the manacles.
“How did you-” Luther began.
“Shhh!” She interrupted, her voice a whisper. “I was a Sister here for a long time. Getting out of palace manacles is one of the first things we learned.”
“How about getting out of the cells?” Luther asked.
“Perhaps,” she replied. “I once squeezed between the bars, but that’s not going to help you.”
Luther looked at her. A serious calm had descended onto his face.
“Go then,” he said, “Get out while you can. Maybe if there’s only one of us, their ritual won’t work. Maybe it won’t be as powerful.”
Amira regarded him oddly for a moment.
“I don’t think so,” she finally said. “Let’s see how this plays out.”
“Damn fool girl!” Luther hissed at her. “It’s just us here. No sign of the Dragon. I thought I’d figured it out, thought we didn’t need Khorvash. But I was wrong, okay. Save yourself. Get out of here.”
Amira just shrugged and sat down beside him.
Luther shook his head and closed his eyes. They both sat there in silence. Against the drip of the rancid water, they heard a soft sobbing off in the distance, and realized Brian was down here with them.--------- o ---------
It seemed an age before the guards appeared and unlocked their cell door. Luther opened his eyes, glanced across at Amira and noticed she’d slid her battered hand back into the manacles.
“Get up!” One of the guards ordered.
Luther was slow to climb to his feet, so the guard kicked him. Amira just stood up obediently, head down. She looked subdued, but Luther could feel the energy in her, coiled tight like a spring. For now, she seemed happy to hold it in though.
They were shoved out of the cell at spear-point. Up ahead, was a gang of other chained prisoners being led away. Luther recognized Brian at its rear.
“Brian!” he called out. “We’re over he-”
The haft of a spear caught Luther across the back and knocked the wind out him. His wounds exploded in fiery pain, and he fell to his knees.
“Get up, hero,” the guard laughed, and kicked at Luther. “There’s a party for you upstairs.”
Luther stood up, wincing, but the tiredness was gone from his eyes now, replaced with red hot anger. He saw Amira glance at him, and he understood. He needed to keep his temper in check.
Up ahead, he saw Brian look back briefly before a guard shoved him forward, and they all began the long climb out of the dungeon.--------- o ---------
Luther was gasping for breath by the time they emerged from the cells. Mercifully, the sun was setting, so it wasn’t bright out here, else his eyes would have hurt as much as the rest of him. Amira still walked along calmly beside him. He wished he knew what she had planned.
The courtyard they entered was immense. It was flanked on all sides by huge colonnaded buildings. To the left was obviously the palace. Darkstone didn’t officially have a King - it’s ruler went by the title “Lord”. They’d had a brief visit from the current Lord, Torgan, earlier that day. Lord Torgan’s family tree had more nuts in it than you’d find in squirrel droppings, but like all mad despots, their home had to be the largest thing around. The Palace of Darkstone didn’t disappoint, and was the perfect real estate buy for almost any member of a royal family having a midlife crisis.
To the right was a temple. Luther wasn’t sure what gods they patronized here in Darkstone, but nothing good ever got worshipped in a black stone building with so many spires on it. Even the windows seemed to be made of black glass, which is really more a statement than a practical feature. Whatever deity this belonged obviously preferred form over function.
What really drew Luther’s eye though was the large stone archway in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by thousands of chained prisoners, all forced to their knees, facing inwards. Men in black hoods with axes strolled amongst them, laughing and kicking the poor creatures they were about to murder.
Luther glanced at Amira again, but her expression was still calm, blank.
They were pushed forward through the ranks of chained men, women, and children. The arch loomed high above them, and they could clearly see Daemons and flames carved into its surface. At the base of the structure stood a robed, hooded figure. As they approached, it reached up to remove its cowl, and they recognized the sickly pallid face of Lord Torgan . More disturbing than his pale visage though, were the shadows moving in his eyes and over his skin, moving with a slick oily life all their own.
“To your knees,” Torgan wheezed at them. His voice was thin and frail, like his body.
The guards with Luther and Amira pushed them down. Luther glanced at his companion again. If she was going to do something, time was running out.
All around them a voice began to whisper. It was soft, dark, and dangerous, and seemed to come from all directions at once.
“Beginnn…” it said quietly.
Luther looked around, but couldn’t make out where it was coming from.
“Beginnn…” it whispered again. “Beginnn… Beginnn…” And they started to hear the terrible cries of prisoners in the outer rings of the circle; the cries were cut unnaturally short. Luther glanced frantically at Amira. Was she just going to kneel here?
A strange thing happened then, and it caught the attention of everyone in the courtyard, even Lord Torgan. A sinister light appeared beneath the stone arch. It seemed to be many colors, red like blood, yellow like fire, green like poison, and as they watched it quickly grew from a single shining point to the size of, well, something Luther realized was big enough to let Daemons through. Torgan smiled at it, basking in its glow.
There was a sharp crack, and a bolt of power shot out and hit Torgan square in the chest. The Lord of Darkstone was instantly engulfed in acrid smoke, and Luther smelled burnt flesh. For a moment he dared to hope that Torgan had been killed, and perhaps this could all be over, but as the smoke cleared, Luther realized nothing could be further from the truth. Lord Torgan was simply changing.
The Lord of Darkstone was growing, stretching before everyone’s eyes. Screaming with pain, his face grew longer, muscles rippled beneath the robes as they began to tear, and horns began to erupt from his forehead. He was changing into a Daemon. As he did so, the light beneath the archway continued to grow larger.
It had been Sifu Yuan who had said the universe speaks to us in threes. It may have been coincidence, but Luther briefly thought of the old Elven Monk precisely at the moment that the universe decided to have three very important things happen all at once.
Firstly, Torgan - if it was still Torgan in that Daemonic form - stood up straight, his transformation complete. He held out his hands, palms forward, and more bolts shot from them, striking prisoners and guards alike. They all began to scream and change too.
Secondly, there was a huge explosion from somewhere behind the arch. Luther had no idea what it was, but there was a lot of yelling over there.
Thirdly, and finally, there was an almighty crash from up on the temple roof, dislodging spires which fell crashing down into the courtyard, breaking into rubble and dust. Luther looked up, and saw a large red Dragon perched majestically on top of the temple, silhouetted dramatically against the waxing moon. Dimetraxia had arrived.
It’s often in moments of chaos like this that we experience sudden clarity. Luther did exactly that. The universe had spoken three times and he knew the one thing he had to do. He glanced sideways at Amira, but she was gone. He heard a strangled cry behind him, turned and saw where she’d gone to; she had removed her hand from the manacles again, and with the loose end, had hit one of their guards in the head so hard it had caved in his helmet. He fell to ground, twitching. The other guard had chosen, quite wisely I might add, to drop his spear and run like the hordes of the Abyss were after him. He wasn’t far wrong on that count.
Amira started towards the Daemonic Torgan, but Luther moved in front of her, holding out his hands. He then pointed at the Dragon, and began frantically waving his arms, yelling her name, “Dimetraxia!”.
High up on the Temple, Dimetraxia looked at the chaos below her in the courtyard. Her old eyes couldn’t make out much in the fading light. There was smoke and fire over one side where the Dwarf, Boomgrizzle, had dropped something explosive as they flew in. There was dust directly beneath her where she’d knocked over two of the temple spires. That was unintentional, but she’d had trouble seeing where to land; the effect was impressive though. And there was an eerie light inside an archway in the courtyard’s center. She recognized that light - she’d seen distant glimmers of it in the Blighted Lands.
Her eyes may have been failing, but her ears were as sharp as ever. She heard someone calling her name down near the light. She squinted hard, and could vaguely make out two figures waving their arms.
“Hold on!” She yelled to the Half Giant and two Dwarves on her back, as she leapt from the temple, spread her wings and sailed down towards the two figures. She realized how tired she was, and for a moment almost lost control and belly-flopped onto them.
The Dragon landed dangerously close to Luther and Amira, and her three passengers immediately leapt off. Halfgrim, Zak, and Gimlet let out a series of battlecries, and waded into the horde of screaming prisoners who had begun their transition to Daemons. Their cries grew even more intense as the three newly-arrived warriors laid about them, Halfgrim with his mighty axe, and the Dwarves with a mixture of hammers, fists, corrosive beer, and personal explosive devices. Things suddenly got very loud, though both Luther and Amira swore they could hear a deep laughter amidst the screams and explosions.
Dimetraxia looked at the pair before her - they looked as wretched as she felt - filthy, wounded, and exhausted, all three of them. Luther nodded a greeting.
“There is something I must do,” the Dragon said, solemnly. Luther and Amira barely heard her.
“I’ll help you,” Luther yelled back.
“Me too,” added Amira.
“Wait!” Luther held up a hand to the Dragon, and he turned to Amira.
“I don’t have any time,” he said to her, “but will you trust me?”
Amira looked at him, uncertain.
“Here is how you help,” he continued, digging a manacled hand awkwardly into his belt pouch, looking for the letter he’d written back in Port Thull. It was dirty and scuffed, but still sealed.
“Get this to Queen Ysabelle in Swords’ Edge,” he handed over the letter. Amira took it hesitantly.
“And take this,” he reached up and lifted a medallion from his neck. It was made of gold, and shaped like a Dragon with a vertical sword at its center. The effort cost him dearly, and he almost blacked out from the pain in his shoulder. Amira took that too.
“The only reason I can do what I need to do, is if I know this letter will get there safely, and if I know you are delivering it.”
“I will,” Amira nodded.
“Good.” Luther turned to Dimetraxia.
“Help me up, Dragon,” he yelled. “Let’s do this.”
Dimetraxia dipped her shoulder and bent her neck around to nudge the old knight up onto her back. It was all Luther could do not to cry out in pain, but somehow he managed to get onto the Dragon’s back with barely a grunt.
He turned once, nodded and grinned at Amira, and then a moment later the Dragon beat her wings, leaping into the air directly towards the stone arch.
A moment later they reached the strange light at its center and vanished.
Not much ever surprised Amira, but she stood open-mouthed.
An eerie silence descended over the courtyard. Even the Half Giant and his companions paused to look back and see what had happened.
Daemonic Torgan too, dropped his hands, the bolts of energy fizzing out, as he slowly turned to face the arch.
The light at its center began to flicker ominously.
And, just as suddenly, it winked out.
Torgan opened his mouth as if to scream, but no noise came out.
And the next thing Amira knew, the world span upside down, turned red, and exploded.