Chapter 23 - One Villain's Death is Another's Birth

- Jyre: Incomplete Sacrifice - Day 10: 11:38pm

Agony ripped through me. I might have screamed. I might not. I was hurting too much to care! I stared into the beasts grinning eyes through a blanket of tears. Sobbed, I think. It took me a moment to realize I wasn't dead. Why wasn't I dead!?!

I looked down. Blood. My blood. On its hand. Running down its arm. Not dead. I half-stumbled, half-fell, pulling myself from its claw. It had missed. The stupid thing had gone and missed! I stared at the hole just above my hip in disbelief. I stared at the beast. I swung my head around to stare at her. I should have been dead!

"Not so easy, little thing." The beast laughed. Then it was reaching for me, trying to grab my shoulder.

Instinct made me dive out of the way. I scrambled between its legs, tried to stand. Couldn't. Hurt. Had to get away. Couldn't die here. Couldn't die for her!

Get away. Get away. The words were a chant, driving me forward. I saw darkness. Scrambled towards it. Crawl away and die. That's what I would do. Find somewhere dark and warm and curl up and die! But not here. Not for her!

There was a passage there. In the stone. In the dark. I think I was laughing again. I prodded the hole with my finger. It came away covered in blood. It didn't hurt anymore though. It was just numb. And bleeding. I forced myself into the passage. On my belly now, wriggling like a snake. Had to move deeper. Get away from the beast's reach. Away from her! I worked the dirt with my elbows. Kicked it with my feet. Completely dark now. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear. Just the blood dripping from my wound and the dirt under my fingers. And then it was gone. Air above me. Air beneath me. I fell.

The ground hit me hard. I couldn't breath. I rolled onto my back. Stared up at nothing and knew I was safe. She couldn't get me now. It was too late. I would be dead soon. Safe. Alone. And dead. I smiled, I think.

Something white hovered above me. White, with two tiny dots inside it. And something else. A mouth? I squinted. Blinked the tears from my eyes. And slowly I came to make out a face.


- James: First Aid - Day 10: 11:40pm

Jyre stumbled and fell next to my hiding-place, a deep hole in her gut. Blood was everywhere, and she seemed to be on the verge of passing out. I poured a healing potion into the wound, and forced another down her throat; then got to work trying to stitch the damage closed. It would take a while; there was a lot of internal damage to repair, and each set of stitches needed to be accompanied by another dash of healing potion in a desperate attempt to prevent the wound turning septic.

- Nightfall: Too Slow, But Not Too Late - Day 10: 10:40pm

The doors suddenly cracked and gave way to my will. I thrust them open wide enough for my entry as quietly as I could. I saw the creature that was the cause of her fear. An insect-beast was clawing away at a hole in the wall, which Jyre definitely used to escape. I ended its attempt by allowing the wall to return the favor, impaling the critter with a nice shaft of stone.

Jyre had escaped. She was much better now, but still very upset. She was somewhere below me, it seemed. She was not alone either, James was with her. I thanked them to stay where they were, out of sight, and safe for now. I had a job to do.

- Lytha: Hunting in the Lion's Den - Day 11: 12:20am

As we continued the search, and set more fires in the bedrooms of some Hammerites, I thought back to the main hall.

The room had been filled with the corpses of Hammerites. Most of them didn't die from the blasts of the mines. These were Hammerites who had wished themselves dead, and killed themselves. They believed the pain of their torn and broken limbs to be worse than death. Cowards. Torturing others, but not able to live with the pain themselves.

We had searched in the entire eastern wing of the building, but found no one. The majority of them were obviously in the main hall, when Ghost had blown them up. I was happy that I had brought some matches with me, and enjoyed myself as I set fire on some tapestries. The smoke was already very thick, but we had some time until it would be really threatening. Ghost was busy arranging clothes on the bed, to set fire to it later. The tapestries burned very easily and produced more smoke. Of course, the building was made from solid stone, so we didn't have to worry about the fires getting bad enough to put us in danger.

As we were setting the fire on the bed, a priest walked into the room. Through the thick smoke, we could see he wore a wealthy and expensive robe. His face was strong and young, but hard and cold. He had not a sign "High Priest" on his forehead, but he moved just as if he owned the place. I was sure that he was the man we wanted, and as I looked up, I realized that Ghost thought that, too. The Priest seemed to be confused, and tried to see us through the thick smoke.

"Who goes there! Show thyself!"

Both of us, Ghost and me, shouted simultaneously: "Get him!"

And we readied our bows. The High Priest stared at me a moment, and realized that something had gone wrong for him. Completely wrong. He started to call for the Builder's help, and concentrated to cast a spell.

I aimed at his throat, in a hurry. I had almost no more arrows left, and did not want to have to kill him with as many arrows as I had needed for the Inquisitor.

Beneath me, I heard Ghost say: "Aim at his legs!" He seemed to chuckle. I frowned, but lowered the tip of the arrow. He had already summoned a magical hammer between his hands, and was ready to throw it. Ghost and I were faster. The split second it took for him to decide which one of us to hurl the hammer at was long enough to make the difference. We shot almost at the same time.

The High Priest fell to his knees and screamed The magical hammer had disappeared as soon as he had lost his concentration because of the pain. He stared at his legs in disbelief, and at his own blood. One arrow stuck in his right knee, the other in his left upper leg. He touched one of the arrows, and wheezed again. He shouted, his voice weak with pain, "My sons, help, help me..." No one heard him. No one came. Then he tried to regain his concentration and to cast another spell.

I hurried to him, as I saw what he planned. As I yelled "Ghost, help me!" I realized that he was already near the Priest, and grabbed one of the arrows, and twisted it. The Priest screamed in pain and lost his concentration. He fell on his back.

Suddenly, a mad idea appeared in my mind. Hadn't I brought that potion of mushroom tea with me? I started a nervous search in my pocket. As usual, I did not find what I needed in the chaos in there. That happened to me always, when I was in a hurry - the main reason why I don't use mines or bombs. I cursed the chaos, and searched nervously.

Ghost had grabbed the High Priest at his throat. "Now, now; no more spells, Mister Priest!" he said.

The priest shut his eyes, and clenched his entire face. He was concentrating very hard. He began to whisper quietly, words I did not understand. Ghost throttled him, yet the priest did not phase, and continued his incantation with massive determination.

I found the potion, at last. Luckily it was easy to open, because my hands started shaking because of my nervousness. "Open his mouth!" I shouted to Ghost. Ghost nodded and gripped the man's jaw, trying to pull his clenched teeth open. They would not budge as he continued to utter, now under his breath. Ghost, determined, jammed his dagger between the man's teeth, and pried open his mouth. I poured the mushroom tea between his teeth, and into his mouth. He gurgled and tried to spit it out, but then Ghost held the mouth of the Priest shut with both his hands. The High Priest swallowed.

He stopped his incantation suddenly. I started laughing hysterically as I saw the odd expression on the priest's face. The effects of mushroom tea appear almost immediately after it is drunk.

Ghost stared at me, wondering about my laughter.

"What was that? Poison?" he asked.

"Mushroom tea," I chuckled.

Ghost grinned now, too. The high priest started swaying. He closed his eyes, and tried to concentrate. It seemed to be difficult for him to keep a thought in his stoned mind. As I looked at him, I calmed down. I realized that it could be a good idea to prevent any risks now by tying the priest up. I started another search in my pocket, and found some strings. The High Priest struggled a little bit to get free.

I said to Ghost: "Hold his arms."

He hesitated, and had a look at the stoned expression on the priest's face. The priest mumbled the name of the Builder and admired a colored pattern of light on the ceiling. "Nah, no need for tying him up," he said.

"No need to take any risks", I told Ghost, as I tied the High Priest's hand before his chest. He seemed to be busy admiring the fire on the bed now. At least he stared oddly at it, his lips were moving silently. He ignored us. As he moved his legs a little, they went into a spasm.

"So, what shall we do to him now?" I asked Ghost. I started to giggle again.

"What should we do? I have no idea. I never expected to get this far in my plans," he laughed.

"Well, we have him now."

The priest tried to shuffle backwards. His eyes came into focus for a split second, and then glazed back over.

"Don't dare, mister," I said, and fumbled a dagger from below my cloak into my hand. The priest stared at me, and stopped moving.

Ghost continued with a wicked grin: "Let's get him to the front gate and make an example of him." He looked up, and stared at the burning bed. "Beside, it is really getting smoky in here."

I saw a really nasty picture in my mind with the High Priest as an example in the entrance area of the temple, and grinned. "Okay. Lets take him."

We reached simultaneously at the shoulders and arms of the priest. He tried to kick and prayed for the Builder's help, but was too feeble and the Builder seemed not to be interested in helping his servant. I kicked the priest in his side.

"Don't worry, Mister Priest. You will meet 'thy' precious Builder soon enough," Ghost said. "Isn't this what you want?"

"But, but I never -" The priest did not end this sentence.

He closed his mouth as I ordered: "Shut up!"

"You never what?" Ghost asked.

The high priest only shook his head.

I started to drag on the shoulder of the priest, to get him to the entrance. Ghost waited briefly, but helped me to get the wheezing priest to the front gate. The arrows stuck still in his legs, and caused him pain, as they collided with door frames and moved in the wounds. We left a broad trail of blood behind us.

- Ghost: Cruel Intentions - Day 11: 12:40am

We dropped the priest on his face long enough to open the huge front doors to the temple. We stared outside, waiting for the smoke to clear a bit and some fresh air flooded inside. Lytha started to cough as we picked the priest up and stepped outside into the night. The sky was filled with stars, but was quickly becoming filled with smoke. We looked around to find a good spot for teaching a Hammerite a lesson in humility. Then I spotted it. The big wooden sign that read "The Temple of the Inquisitor, Order of the Hammerites"

"That's it! Drag him over here!" His eyes widened as he tried to struggle against us.

"What do you have in mind?" Lytha asked.

"Untie his hands and hold his left hand over there." I wasn't smiling any more. This was a gruesome idea, but I felt like it had to be done. Lytha did as I asked and stared in shock as I pulled one of my daggers from behind my back and drove it through his right wrist, pinning it to the sign. The priest let out a howl of pain as the blood started to drop from the hole in his wrist. He started shaking and struggling with Lytha as she reached for her own dagger. In her search the High Priest slipped free of her grasp. He pushed her to the ground and reached for something at his belt. I didn't have time to stop him when he raised his hand and pointed what looked like a large pipe at me. He grinned evilly for a moment. I didn't have time to react when the blast of noise and smoke struck me and threw me violently to the ground.

- Nightfall: Piecing Together Her Plan - Day 11: 12:40am

The place seemed deserted. I quickly made my way back to the central chamber. I had managed to get a good feel for the place before, so finding it was not too hard. The area was basically an oval. A corridor circled the oval-shamed ceremony room. At the foot of the room was the old ceremony chamber, where the Trickster met his demise. Evidently the Queen felt that a new one needed to be created for this different type of ritual, so this new area was quickly constructed. Dashing back to my point of origin, I used the path James originally took, which lead to a small outcropping of rock overlooking the chamber. It was all too perfect.

I could still sense James and Jyre somewhere below where I stood. They were out of the way, and safe.

The creatures were moving quickly to prepare the scene. The Queen was still nowhere to be seen.

"With Jyre rescued, there will be a major damper on her plans." Said the voice of James from behind me.

I sighed and looked over my shoulder, the light from my eyes Illuminating his face. "James, you could sneak up on anyone, couldn't you." This was also an embarrassing moment to realize that my sen-saronde was oddly inactive. Not waiting for a reply, I queried his statement. "What do you mean?"

James elaborated. "I am still not all that clear on what she hopes to accomplish, but based on what I have seen and read, and what Jyre has told me," he gestured to Jyre, who was sitting several feet away with a large bandage around her torso, "the ritual required the sacrifice of a certain number of young and strong human bodies. The human body contains a great deal of raw energy, and certain magic can absorb it when the body dies. Many deaths went into the construction of the villa. Still more humans have been transformed into beasts. Several more were needed for this last ritual. One, Ranson, a former acquaintance of Jyre's has already been slain. Jyre was to be sacrificed during the ritual, along with two others. However now that Jyre seems out of the picture, she will have to settle for her third alternative."

"And that is?"

"Well, herself, I believe."

I blinked.

"What does she hope to accomplish that does not require her to be alive when it's finished?"

"Evidentially something that does not require her body."

I sighed out of frustration. How could we thwart a plan that we did not understand?

- Jyre: Heavy Heart - Day 11: 12:50am

I sat up slowly and tried to work out where I was. I had been with Viktoria and then... There was something about Daneel... And James... I had seen them both. I stretched my arms out and felt rock above my head. There was a tightness across my stomach. It felt as though my skin had been pulled taught. Looking down I found the tear in my top, prodded it with my fingers and found the stitches underneath. I couldn't remember getting them. All I could remember was the feel of that thing's spike driving in and.... "James?" My voice trembled as I spoke his name. If it hadn't been him...

Something shifted up ahead. I could make out James' face now. He smiled at me softly. "Hold on a while longer. Daneel's almost here."

Daneel... I stared at the ground between my feet and wondered how I was going to face him after everything I had done. I had certainly proven him right on one point. I was just a stupid little kid. Thoughtless, selfish...

I heard something scrape on the rock up ahead and glanced up to find him crouched down on his knees just a foot away from where I sat, the top of his head brushing against the low ceiling. Even as he lifted his eyes to look at me, I slipped my arm over my wound, feeling suddenly ashamed of it. I didn't want him seeing what I had done to myself.

It was surprising just how well I could make out his face, silhouetted against the light as it was. Lines of worry had set in across his forehead and his eyes flickered back and forth, never quite meeting my own. If it was anyone else I would have said they were nervous, but not Daneel...

He sighed softly and his eyes finally came to rest on my own. It was then that I finally noticed what had been disturbing me. The light that had filled his eyes the last time I had seen him was gone. I suddenly felt the need to say something. "Daneel, I..." I what? Was sorry? What good was sorry going to do now? Sorry wasn't about to take back all the damage I had done.

"No need..." He was speaking to me now. His voice gentle. "I'm sorry I betrayed your trust. I forgive you for trying to kill me before. I understand why you did it. Right now, all I'm trying to do is save us and get us out of here - and hopefully kill The Lady in the process."

I felt so guilty, hearing him say that, as though everything that had happened was his fault. I tried to move closer but the pain from my wound stopped me. I hoped he hadn't noticed me wince. "I didn't mean... I wasn't thinking..."

I waited for him to say something but he just watched me, looking uncertain. Perhaps he still doubted me. Perhaps... "I'm sorry." I dropped my eyes back to the ground and picked nervously at my stitches, not really paying attention to what I was doing. He didn't deserve to be lumbered with me. "Maybe you should just leave me here."

I felt his hand on my shoulder. There was a moment of silence before he spoke. "You're with us now, Jyre; a fellow thief, trying to survive."

"Maybe I don't deserve to survive!" I spoke more sharply than I had intended. It wasn't him I was angry with. It was myself. I pulled too hard on the stitching and felt blood under my fingers. I moved my hand away before I made it worse. "That could have been you in there!"

"I know that you care about me."

I stiffened, surprised by his words, started to shake my head in denial, only he hadn't finished.

"I don't know why its true, but I know that you do."

I watched him, seeing something else in his eyes but not knowing what it was. "I..." I broke off uncomfortably. My voice seemed like an intrusion.

He started to speak again. "And though I can give little rational explanation, I care about you."

I was stunned. He cared about me? "But you... I thought..." It was only when I saw the look of puzzlement cross over his features that I realized I had spoken out loud.

"What did you think?"

"When you never said anything," I stared at the fresh blood on my hand, feeling stupid. "I thought I was in the way." Daneel shook his head but somehow that only made me feel worse. "I'm always in the way." There was just a hint of anger in my words.

"I can't lie to you. I wished you didn't come."

I swallowed hard, uncertain now. A tiny drop of blood fell from my finger to the ground below. I watched it, fascinated as always.

"But that's only because I didn't want you in danger. Jyre, can I tell you a secret."

I lifted my eyes and nodded, unable to speak.

"A long time ago, when I was younger than you even, I was in trouble. I was taken away from my home, and lost. Someone found me and helped me. They had no reason to, they just did. I never understood why, but they helped me find my home again." He stopped, waiting for my reaction. I just looked at him, unsure of what expression to give. "I never forgot it. I learn my lessons well. It's just in my nature, that way of thinking."

I watched him, waiting for him to say more but only silence followed. If only I could understand what it was I could see in his face. I knew I was missing something! "You want to help me like they helped you..?"

A slight smile blossomed on his lips. "It's more than that..."

I knew he would have said more but James picked that moment to speak. "Look! Its Viktoria!"

- Lytha: Avenging Deamon - Day 11: 12:50am

I looked up. Ghost was on the ground, and I saw the blood on his shoulder. His face was pale, his eyes closed. He was dead. I knew he was dead. And that scum Hammerite held still this; this thing in his hand. He pointed the thing at me, and tried to get his other hand free.

I reacted as fast as I could. I jumped on my feet, and tried to ignore the voices in my head that tried to tell me that I had failed, again. I kicked at the Hammer's hand to keep him from using that pipe, again. He wheezed, but had his hand cramped around it. I grabbed his hand, and turned it on the wrist. He dropped the thing, as I started kicking against the arrows in his legs.

"You killed him, you bastard!" I shouted.

Then the priest seemed to bite on his own tongue, at least I saw some blood drizzling from his mouth. He cried aloud and praised the Builder. He said something about how he had found the true belief now.

I stared at him, and stopped kicking him. I got another dagger from below my cloak, and drove it through his left hand. Now he was nailed to that sign, blood everywhere. He cried to the Builder for forgiveness. I slapped his face, both because I thought that he killed Ghost, and because I wanted him to shut up.

His entire body tensed up. He then uttered, through his clenched teeth, "Damn you, Nightfall." I hit him hard with my fist across his temple. That was too much for him, and he fainted.

The hate I felt was overwhelming. I had never felt such hate before. I had him, the cause of my pain in the last week, at least the one who was responsible. I had him in my hands. And he dared to faint into the numb unconscious darkness. I kicked him, again. "You want to have it easy? Simply fainting? Come back to feel the pain!"

Before I could kick or hit the priest another time, I saw Ghost moving a little on the ground, he touched his shoulder, and groaned.

I turned to him. "Ghost! You are alive!"

- Ghost: Undead- Day 11: 12:51am

My eyes opened, then closed again as I grimaced in pain. I thought my arm was missing, because I couldn't feel anything but pain. I heard a voice. Maybe it was the Builder speaking to me or something. Everything seemed to have a haze around it and I just hurt. Then I heard it again.

"Ghost! You are alive!" I opened my eyes again to see Lytha standing there, staring at me in disbelief. In just a few seconds she went through a full range of emotions, from violent anger to happiness.

"Yes of course I'm alive," I groaned. "Can't kill a ghost you know." I tried to smile and stand up, but took a while since I was too busy holding one arm with my other one to hold myself up. Besides, it hurt when I laughed.

"What in the hell was that?" I asked while clutching my shoulder.

The discussion was cut short when someone behind us shouted "Foul murderer! Guards! Someone help!"

"Oh this is just what we want! Lets get the hell out of here!" The subtlety of my assault plan had been blown up with the guards inside. The priest moaned, breaking me out of my thoughts.

"You didn't kill him yet? You are slipping Lytha! And here I thought you really hated these guys. Or were you just playing around?" I grinned and she looked at me like I was crazy but I think she was amused. I gave the priest a smack to try and wake him up. He was having a really bad day.

- Nightfall: He Who Hesitates is Lost - Day 11: 12:55am

There was more to it than that, but I couldn't find the words. She seemed to be temporarily satiated with that explanation, so I left it at that. I considered for a long moment if what I said was the right thing to say. I severely disliked talking to anyone about such personal things. However once in, it was hard to pull back out. There was something about my explanation, or rather her probable interpretation of it, that did not sit well with me. I attempted to clarify, still having no idea how. "It's more than that..." James cut me off.

"Look! It's Viktoria!"

"Who?" I said, a split second before I realized he was referring to the Faery Queen. I uttered a quick "Ah."

And there she was. I instantly grew tense as she strode into view down below. This was it. Ironic that such a chilling adventure would end on such a quiet solemn note. I had only to fire this arrow and it would all be over. Her minions would search for the killer, but they would not find us.

She stepped up to the pedestal at the far end of the oval chamber. Behind her was the large shimmering gateway, presumable her ticket to our world as soon as the ceremony was completed. In front of her was a pentagram, which, oddly enough, seemed to be prepared on a metal platform. In the center of the room was an oval pool of lava. Between the pool and the pentagram where two pillars. One had the corpse of a very old man tied to it, and the other had the corpse of a strong looking middle aged man, who looked rather familiar. He was dressed in a Hammerite uniform, most likely Private Christopher. I could only guess at the significance of these two bodies.

The beasts began to take up positions around the pool in the center. They were the common bugbeast, craymen, rat-apes, and mongbats, along with others I had never seen before, hybrids of tree and man, of serpent and man, and even a strange too headed ogre-like creature. They were all whispering amongst themselves, all in different tongues.

James gave me a sharp nudge. "The time is now!" he whispered. I nodded, and readied the arrow, slowly taking aim. I heard Jyre swallow hard. Then he Queen looked right into my eyes.

I hesitated, frozen with dread. She was looking right at me, just like before. She reached into her robe, never breaking eye contact, and pulled out the mechanical eye that had killed the Trickster. Behold, she had taken it after all. Unless I was very much mistaken, what I was seeing here was quite opposite of what we should have expected. Breaking eye contact, she placed the eye on the pedestal in front of her.

Okay, maybe she didn't see me. Maybe I was just paranoid and she was looking just in my general vicinity, just like before. She was quite far away, at any rate, and I couldn't be sure. Besides, at this distance, it was dark enough up here to render us totally invisible. My confidence regained, I took aim once more, for right between her collar bones. She was saying something down there, some type of incantations.

Something warm and wet hit the side of my face. This totally intentional act served to totally destroy this simple solution. I didn't even get to see what it was before I tumbled head over heals off the ledge, and onto the stone floor some twenty feet below. It hurt. It hurt quite a bit, especially considering that my cheek was now bleeding. I think Jyre actually screamed louder than I did.

- James: Bizarre Chance of Fate - Day 11: 12:55am

Why did he delay? I suppose he needed to be careful, for he would only get one shot. I retrained my desire to urge him on. Viktoria pulled out the mechanical eye, and a number of possible courses of action began to crystallize into a horrible certainty. I could have really used an hour or so to just speculate, but I didn't have it. I was increasingly sure I knew what was going on, but if I was right, we were witnessing a disaster for all humanity.

Suddenly, I noticed a large red mass of flesh crawling across the wall directly towards us! Before I could warn Dan about it to avoid causing him to misfire the arrow, it lunged a part of itself at him, jabbing him sharply in the side of the face! I reached futilely to catch him as he careened over the ledge, but all I caught, as if by some bizarre chance of fate, was the arrow!

Shocked, I averted my attention from the arrow and the red mass, which was now nowhere to be seen, and made my best effort to see what happened to Dan without making my presence blatantly obvious. He had fallen quite a way, and landed rather uncomfortably on the polished stone floor. I could tell he was still alive by the groan and the attempts to regain his feet, but I was unsure as to how long it would last, considering that several dozens beasts were loudly converging on him!

I heard Jyre screaming something, but couldn't quite make it out. Thankfully the ruckus below drowned out her cries of panic. Curses, Daneel, why did you go and let that happen? I grabbed Jyre and handed her the arrow. Summoning my best command voice, I told her: "Jyre. Kill Viktoria with this. NOW." She reacted slowly but nodded her understanding.

- Nightfall: Magic - Day 11: 12:56am

I rolled to my feet as quickly as I could, in spite of the aching pain, only to have a half dozen fists and claws come down on my back like so many sharp falling rocks. I didn't have time to deal with this. No sooner had I been flattened to the ground, I focused my mana into a horizontal shockwave. It blasted forth from my body at about ankle level, knocking all my attackers right off their feet.

Once again getting to a standing position as quickly as I could, I found myself face to face with her. She was still in her human form, arms folded across her chest, glaring at me.

"Ah, Master Nightfall. You know, if you had simply requested to attend, I certainly would have offered to make you an honored guest, and witness to this monumental occasion." It could have been the tone of her voice, or just her history, that told me she was mocking me. I could do worse, I suppose.

"My children, please, retake your places. This manfool cannot harm us any further." She did not know me very well.

With a thought two stone hands reached out from the stone floor and grabbed the Queen by the calves. Her vocalization of surprise was turned to rage as the hands drew apart sharply. She twisted around, her arms flaring out in vine. A spray of steaming mercury launched from my palms, tearing through the vines. Her skin dried and cracked, tearing her clothing as her body converted into its natural wood. Vines sprouted from her knees, forming new legs, and the old ones fell off. More vines and branches shot out from her arms. I raised the ground beneath me suddenly, launching myself into the air. From there I commanded the ground beneath her to form a cup, and polish smooth as glass. She lost her footing and slipped to her back, her vines unable to get hold. I came to my feet, and commanded piercing spikes to issue forth from the bowl. The rods of stone cut through her wooden body like nails. She screamed with pain. My eyes narrowed as I watched her vines flail. Do not anger an earth wizard, Faery.

The cries of pain turned to laugher as her torn wooden body rose from the bowl, her wounds quickly sealing over with bark. I was caught totally off guard as vines slithered around my shoulders from behind, jerking me backwards. The sickness in my stomach brought about by the fall climaxed as I realize she was sucking all the mana out of me with her mere glance. I felt instantly nauseated, as the power that filled me was swept away so rapidly. She was not fighting me, she was playing with me.

An aura of vines surrounded her as she strode towards me. I felt the vines which gripped my shoulders release, sliding back into her ribs, only to feel the grip of her fingers around my neck. She lifted me up off my feet, looking me over. "You would have done well, but alas, your body is far too tainted. I could drain the life out of you, but still the stench of your human earth magics would ruin my ritual." Her vines moved all over my body, ripping my tools and weapons off my person and scattering them. It didn't matter, I was now too weak to use them anyway. Then I was dropped. I struggled to stand, but was again thrown to my back as she kicked me. She reached down, and a stream of metal flowed upwards into her hand; my magic armor. The liquid metal dried and dissolved to dust as it touched her hand. She was destroying it. Great, first my sword, now my armor. Thank god I didn't bring my art trophies or my autographed novels. Come to think of it, I should have brought that stupid stuffed pigeon that my neighbor had sent me. I really needed to get rid of that thing.

Finished with me, she walked away. Without the armor, and with the drain on my powers, I was too weak to stand.

The bark of her body softened, and turned milky white. The vines which surrounded her were either enveloped back into her body, or fell off. She resumed human form. "You shall be a spectator, a witness to my coming glory. Then you shall be my slave. I must thank you for delivering yourself to me like this. It was certainly an unexpected gift."

When she got to the pedestal, she just stood there, as if waiting for something. Maybe she wanted me to say something.

- Ghost: Death Without Parade - Day 11: 12:59am

"Well we can't just leave him here alive or we're really in deep shit." I looked around for something, and decided to use the dagger from the guy who ran outside after us. I pulled the dagger from his chest and walked back to the priest.

"I really wish you were awake to see this Hammer. With all the pain you've given to others you aren't much for taking it yourself." He winced and let out a long breath as the dagger slipped between his ribs. He was no longer breathing, but I jammed the dagger deep into his chest one last time. I spotted the thing he has used on me, laying on the ground and grabbed it as I dragged Lytha into an alley and away from this place of destruction.

- Nightfall: All In Place - Day 11: 1:00am

A haunting smile crept over her face. "There," she said, ripples flowing across her body, "it is done. The High Priest of Order has been slain. We can begin."

- Chapter 22 - The Past Returns / Chapter 24 - Vendetta's Fruition

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.