Desmond looked over the statue and found a small heart-shaped indent by the tip of the stone sword. With a steady hand, he slid it in and pulled his hand away. Nothing happened for a moment but then the whole city shook.
Everyone stumbled as the ground around them shook. Terrified screams filled the air as the knights were quick to take up positions with the students to their backs. A few buildings came down and a few unfortunate students were buried alive along with their guard when they tried to clamor out of the building they had been exploring.
“Quick! Everyone! Retreat to the statue!” Randol bellowed as he stood guard by Desmond as Mai took up position by him while she pulled off her robe to reveal armor like Desmond’s. He kept his sword at the ready as he watched as all the groups sprinted from all over the plaza and huddle behind him with the knights on the edge. Black wisps of smoke danced off the bone piles on the plaza’s sides and from the large pile of rubble that had occupied the main entrance into the plaza.
“Black magic!” Lady Priscilla said in alarm once she saw that black mist that began to cover over the city. They had tomes upon tomes on the subject of Black Magic, though none of them on how to use it; they could identify it from where it came from and how it acted once in the world. With all the signs in place, it only took one of the students to hold enough of themselves together to see it.
Randol’s outlook on the young noblewoman had been favorably elevated by her call. Desmond, who was trying to remove the stone with a small blunted dagger, yelped as light burst from the said stone.
“What happened?” Mai turned and caught her love as he stumbled backward. She steadied him as the stone burst from the statue’s base and arched back over the figure. It flew like a meteorite before it crashed into the spot above the cathedral doors; The light rippled across the cathedral walls before it danced off its face and onto an invisible wall that divided the plaza from the mountain.
Before they could watch what came next, the piles of bone mounts erupted as several skeletons blitzed the group like rabid wolves. The knights were taken off guard by the sudden rush of skeletons and were overpowered momentarily before the apprentices blasted them away with minor spells that only had enough force to push them back. Wind and ice crashed into the skeletons, some even exploded into shards as a few lucky ice spikes managed to hit their weak spots.
The knights were soon up, without a loss of a single sword, they were quick to throw whatever buffs they knew at them. A spell that increased their stamina and a spell that strengthened their minds were cast upon the knights who were able to repel the weak skeletons with ease. Though, their speed and agility took them off guard as the undead should not have had some formidable traits as far as they knew.
Just when they thought it was but another one of those traps set by a normal ruin, they were horribly corrected. Black tendrils erupted from the rubble across from them. The buildings on either side of the main street fell apart as the long thick black eels unsettled their foundations.
“Incoming!” Randol called out as he had taken up the front of the host. The tendrils moved with horrifying speed as five of them shot through the air towards the host. Just before they met, a golden light shun from their feet and the tendrils rocketed back the moment the light touched them. No one could see the figure that was slowly rising from the rubble as the skeletons were embodied by the light and threw themselves at the host.
“Stay in the light!” Desmond cried out once he saw what happened. “No matter what! Stay in the light!” The light was around a fifty-foot diameter with enough room for the host to fight with enough room not to hit each other when they took caution. Though, the moment he gave the warning, the light split in half and slowly crawled around the statue. Each brick lighting up with the strange magic that kept the black eely arms away from them.
Mai, Desmond, and Randol managed to stick to the right group as well as Priscilla; She kept up by staying close to her crush and kept him buffed when she could.
The left group was no so lucky as most of the knights went with Randol. The skeletons were quick to blitz them with their overwhelming numbers. They did not kill them, no, they pulled at them. Tens of skeleton hands with black wisps of smoke that bellowed from their eyes grabbed at whomever they could reach before they pulled them from the light. In a matter of seconds, the group was swallowed whole in a sea of white and black as the tendrils deal the final blows to the group.
Their cries made Randol’s hair stand up on end as he could hear it all over the clatter of bones. “Do not give!” He roared. “Fight or die!” The knights repeated his words with feverishly as they hacked at the monsters. They too heard the death throes of the others. Their resolve was only strengthened by the will to survive.
“We’re moving towards the cathedral!” Desmond called out. “Just keep heading towards it!” He did not want anyone else to die. His heart trembled when he saw a few tendrils slither over the horde, fresh blood dripped from its ends as it passed over the skeletons; it stained them like some twisted sort of war paint. A few tried to pierce through the light, only to disintegrate only an inch from a guard.
With a quick headcount, their numbers had been nearly halved or so. Twenty guards remained and nearly fifteen students.
“We got a large one!” A guard called out. “South!”
At the call, all the apprentices directed their spells towards the large boar type skeleton that was hurled itself through the skeleton horde. Ice and fire splashed over its skull and crumbled away with the rest only to take out the skeletons around it. The sudden lack of support taken away, the sides were pressured in as the Knights had to contend with double the number of skeletons they had been fighting already. One knight had both his armed seized by six skeletons. Though they were weak monsters, they kept their hold by throwing themselves one after another in an attempt to pull him out of the light.
“No!” The knights cried out and the knight next to him tried to pull him back into the group but it was a mistake. He was so focused on repelling the skeletons in his section as he was before. The skeletons, while dumb, were able to see it and poured in to take advantage of the sudden gap. Soon, both the knights were plagued with bone hands that grabbed at them; pulled at them; bit at them with their cold dead hands. The apprentices were scared senseless but refused to cast any spells that could have splashed back, even though they did it earlier, they were no longer sane at the sudden break in their defensive circle.
The two knights were eventually pulled half out of the light by their legs, their armor scratching against the flagstones before two tendrils burst forward with sickening speed. They pierced each of the knights above their tail bones. Two horrible cracks thundered followed by a gut-wrenching splatter – then they disappeared into the horde without a cry. Utter chaos broke out and Desmond did not know what to do except continue to hurl all the offensive spells he knew into the crowd, but in a city full of the dead, was it even enough?
One by one, they lost knights as Randol continually fought to his limit. He no longer tried to properly use his sword now that it had been blunted from tens of skeletons; He used every part of his blade as a blunt weapon.
“We’re almost there!” Desmond called out. “Watch your steps! We’re going upstairs!” He sweated profusely. He felt his heart race from the adrenaline as death nipped at each of their heels. Yet, did not fear it so much as it feared whom it nipped at. Desmond no longer had the safety of the knights any longer but he fought harder to protect Mai only. He feared that death would come to take her. He fought harder than he had ever done so before, completely disregarding that he held no skills in close combat; he still would punch and kick any skeleton that tried to reach for her when she was not looking.
Lady Priscilla was also surprisingly steadfast in her desire to protect Prince Randol. Though she did not possess the natural strength of a man; she still punched and kicked all the same.
The steps of the large stairs were barely wide enough to fit five men across. Its granite steps steep and majestic, even when as death stepped upon it. Fortunately for the group, it proved to aid in their plight as the steepness prevented the attacks of the larger skeletons from all angles but their back. The large and high reaching golden dome glowed oddly as it swirled over the Catedral doors. With the sudden lack of enemies at their front, Mai and all the frontline survivors moved to assist Randol whose attacks had become slower and less impactful as he struggled to keep up the momentum while moving.
“Your Highness, please retreat and take a quick break!” Lady Priscilla called out. She too like Desmond was covered in sweat from the hefty amount of mana she had used during the move. While it seemed like an eternity was only no more than ten minutes of none stop combat. With the use of lesser spells and medium spells, she had managed to ration out her mana. The two other surviving apprentices were spent as well.
Randol switched out with the five remaining knights; With their brief respite, they were more fit to fight than Randol was at the moment.
He joined Desmond and the others by the door; his tanned face paled from exhaustion. He had to drag his sword as it was either hold it properly or properly use his legs. He chose his legs and Desmond helped him sheathe his sword as the light finally touched the golden barrier. When it did, the barrier began to hum. At first, barely enough for Desmond to hear, but it quickly escalated in pitch as the golden dome began to glow with greater intensity than before along with the sound.
The night was soon to encroach on them, but the dome burned like a sun; Its cries deafening. The skeletons who stepped within the harshest part of the light -closest to the cathedral – was burned away. The ones further out began to steam and char. The Tendrils retreated back into the giant and it hid in the shadow of the statue. For half a minute, everyone was spared from the onslaught.
Then the dome shattered. As if someone had shattered thousands of glass bottles on the stone floor. The dome itself became fragments that floated outward against gravity before all the pieces fizzled away. In its wake, the mountain was still there, but the ruins of the cathedral changed. The ruins were no longer a ruin, nevertheless, no longer a cathedral.
Where the cathedral entrance sat was only a large stone archway set with magical runs that glowed faintly. Where the inside of the cathedral was, once filled with debris, a bridge rested; Its grey stone untouched by time. It was two men wide and lept across to the middle of a lake where a platform with another archway with four golems with spears stood beside it.
Two orbs of light appeared in front of Desmond and Lady Priscilla as they were the two closest to the archway. The orbs turned into two stones, each made of the same material as the heart stone. One was etched with a key and the other a sword. No one had time to think about what had just happened as once the light died away, the undead charged them in a frenzy. With the protection of the light gone, they had nothing to stop the tendrils from killing them.
“Cross the bridge!” Mai called out to everyone, but the tendrils grabbed the two knights on the staircase. However, Mai was quick to notice that the tendrils could not pass over the railings; but instead had to channel themselves through the walkway. She didn’t bother to call out her discovery. They would notice in a few minutes anyway.
The group sprinted across the bridge with haste as the skeletons and tendrils alike came across feverishly towards them. The tendrils still hovered over the skeletons, yet it could not pass over the railings or it would burn away. The sudden constriction of its movements slowed it considerably and gave the group its much-needed respite from the threat of instantly being killed.
Unfortunately the other tired apprentices, the physical strain was too much. Without the tempered bodies such as the knights or at least, the bodies of Mai or Desmond who had delved regularly into ruins; they quickly fell back in the group before subsequently being killed by the undead…
Lady Priscilla wheezed deep and heavy, her face beat red from the effort, but she knew it. She was going to die too. They were only half the way to the middle when she began to slow and her legs began to fail. No! NO! She screamed in her heart, afraid that if she voiced her resentment; she’d die there. From the front to the back she slowly slid. She felt a single pulled on the back of her robe and she gave it, the stone in her hand clenched.
She let out a terrified scream finally once she knew it was the skeletons. She closed her eyes and prayed for a quick death.
She felt more force pull her back, but then she felt herself be pulled forward and her the back of her robes tear. Suddenly, she had become weightless and the rattle of armor became more pronounced. She dared to open one eye meekly and saw Prince Randol’s pale face as he carried her the rest of the way.
Randol could not let her die that way, not after she had proven herself a great comrade in the end. While they may die today, he wouldn’t let her die now. That was his thoughts as he pulled her forward and carried her. The surprisingly light teen has only weighted him down a little, but after that small break earlier, he could do it. He no longer dared to fight back against the horde as they ran. Neither did Mai or Desmond. The four were the last to survivors of the group and now they had the undead just out of a fingers touch away.
Desmond was the first to reach the gate. He quickly saw another hole similar to that of the statue in the gate and tried to stick the stone it. He could not though. He tried four times but the stone would be repelled. He remembered that Priscilla had a similar stone as well and turned for her.
“Priscilla -!” He was shocked when her in his brother’s arms but quickly dismissed it. “Priscilla, your stone!” He called out and she was quick to toss it as Randol put her down and faced the horde. They had a twenty-second gap before they would be overrun by hundreds of angry undead. Desmond shoved the stone into the gap and it took to it. The golems, who were lined in a row of two on each of their sides, activated and their spears pointed towards the undead with lightning-fast speed.
Light jumped from their spears and cut through the undead. Within a matter of moments, the undead horde had disappeared along with the giant who was at the end. It’s shrill death throes sounded more of despair than anger.
The golems did not point their spears to the group and returned to their original positions. With the sudden threat of death relieved, everyone collapsed as fatigue attacked them the moment the adrenaline subsided. Desmond laid on his back while Ma laid beside him. Desmond cried silently while Mai only patted his arm to soothe him as she laughed slightly. A laugh of joy that they survived.
Priscilla collapsed into a sobbing mess as all her emotions caught up to her. Ten odd minutes of overwhelming odds had suddenly been turned so strangely. She was but a sheltered teen who aspired to be a princess. She had only come to try and catch Prince Randol’s eye, but her friends were gone. She had almost been killed and she was sitting on a godforsaken bridge in the middle of the wildlands.
The weight of all her impulsive choices rammed into her like a runaway stallion and she could only cry it away. Randol was the only one who did not drop to fatigue. Though he was tired, he kept his eye on the south with tired eyes. He waited a moment to see if they were all really dead and they were. Once he was sure that the undead was not coming back, he sat next to Priscilla and pulled her close to his chest in a hug. Not in any romantic way, but he had done it to Desmond plenty of times when they were younger.
It was the only way he knew how to soothe another human.
While they let out all of their resentments and joy, the gates slid open silently; The mountain rippled like disturbed water. After a moment, another platform after the gate appeared. Circular with a small knee-high wall that ended where another archway was, but nothing through or in it. A single pedestal rested in the center of the platform with a similar hole. On the mountain, broken stairs were revealed, unreachable from where they were with a gushing river that poured into the lake.
The sudden sound of a rushing river caught all their attention. Randol was the first to notice the sudden appearance.
“Desmond… It’s another platform…” He called out. “The mountain slightly changed too…” He added and slowly got up while he helped Priscilla.
Desmond got up with Mai and noticed the change. “Two massive illusion barriers?!” He yelled in surprise. Not to mention how the wildlands heavy with a massive confusion spell that effected demons and Humans, there were even two almost godly illusion barriers that covered an entire mountain! He did not even want to think about the logistics and impracticalities of all of this. Whoever set these spells up were definitely trying to keep them out of whatever came next.
Mai was the first to test the platform. She looked for any traps or spells, but only found the same hole as gate they had opened.
The group rested until night fully came. Under the stars, they decided to move forward. To leave was probably as dangerous as moving forward. With no supplies, it was a death sentence; Though no one wanted to head back into the plaza where the dead may still be waiting for them. In all honesty, if his little brother and Mai weren’t there, Randol would have chosen to leave. He could not protect them in this state so whatever came next… Came next. They had already lost so much and gained nothing. There was no point in going back in that sense.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The group came out onto a raised stone platform. All around them was crystal clear water that shimmered in the nightlight. Large barren tree trunks rose from the water ominously as well of what looked to be broken stone walls.
“I.. Think this may have been a part of the city as well.” Mai commented as she had the clearest vision due to her race. Her eyes shimmered in the nightlight as she took the helm. The platform ended at a staircase that took them down into the water. With such clear water, Mai believed there was no life inside of it. Though with such a wide area, there was no way to be sure from her point of view. They crossed through the water as it came up to their thighs.
The area was a large enclosed valley that appeared to be flooded. Though, by the halfway point, Mai told the group that there was a massive structure on a plateau ahead, slightly illuminated by a golden glow. As they crossed the valley, the cold water felt good on their skin. Randol had tested it and found it was clean and drinkable. So they stopped where a broken stone wall rose close to the path to step out of the water for a moment.
“So… What do you think is up ahead…?” Priscilla asked Desmond. It was the first time she had spoken to him the entire trip. “I mean… If you want to tell me… I just… Wanted to talk to someone and your brother…” She turned to Randol who felt distant and closed off. He sat more away from the group whereas Desmond sat close to Mai.
Desmond looked to his brother. He held his head in his hands as he sat on the wall. His hair dripped from the water he had splashed himself with and the water below him was dark. The blood slowly floated away towards back the way they had come. “Hopefully nothing dangerous.” Desmond finally answered. Though it was the first time another apprentice had spoken to him, aside to mock him, he wasn’t in the mood to be happy.
Mai was no different. Her eyes were dull and she jumped at every perceived sound. Her ears lat flat back and her tail was fluffed in fear. “Alright. Let’s keep moving.” Before the fear of what’s next kills us. He added in his heart.
The group came went on their way, snaking through the almost endless forest of barren trees and water.
It took a half quarter of a moon to reach the end of the large flooded valley and eventually reached a small waterfall that cascaded off a small plateau. A large outdoor structure rose at the top of the waterfall. Six thick stone pillars rose up and connected with a large stone ring rested ontop. The pillars were mostly wrapped in a strange crawling plant that blossomed a strange golden sunburst rose that emitted a soft light that illuminated the structure.
They found two sets of stairs on either side of the waterfall, but only one was usable. So they climbed that and found themselves at the source of the river. It was not flooded here with well-trimmed grass and a single dormant longhouse, and a beautiful pergola that sat at the foot of the structure. The sunburst flowers grew all around the area, the source seemed to be the pergola. The beauty of it all seemed almost fairy in nature, though sadly, no one of them were in the mood to take in the sight.
They walked along a flagstone walkway that circled the pond towards the longhouse with their weapons sheathed. They sensed no hostility in the air nor smelled anything strange. They followed the path until they came to the pergola’s walkway. With the longhouse aside, they choose to walk down the path into the pergola to the structure by the waterfall were a golden orb floated in hopes it was the way to leave this place.