Andril stood still, surrounded by the battle on the ledge. It was the only moment in the battle that he had for breathing he’d recall. In less time than he could blink, the massive cocoon-like structure fell towards him in the blackness. It was larger than a tavern, as long as a mangrove tree was tall, and it was filled with screaming men, women and children. He could see the faces, the arms jutting out looking for a savior. Anyone. He could hear the cries. All of which were a simultaneous, “No!” He could see the look upon Genoran’s face. The now King of Cellinor, riding atop the dragon steed circling the monstrous thing, unable to do more than watch it. The prince, two dragons, nor could they save the men, women and children now on their way straight to Ket itself. The men and women they knew. Andril knew, like Haryk would as well, that this batch, this group, would have been the citizens of Far Realm, those who had been taken deep in the citadel, when the fighting was over. Pulled from their hiding places, these were the bakers, the cooks, the tavern keepers. Some of them were most definitely people Andril and Haryk had known. Some of them, once upon a time many years ago, were the very people they would have saved.
No one could save them now. Or could they?
Below him, Andril knew was infinite space. The cave itself he was staring into wasn’t so much a cave as an impossibly deep hole–a tunnel leading straight down. And he, as Abraxas’ study had shown him, knew where it led– to the bowels of the earth itself. A one way, and immediate drop to Ket. The slaves of the demon lords of Ket were no longer a nightmare for children. They were real, and new slaves were on their way, passing him this very moment.
The screaming echoed off the cavern walls and Andril knew because he had seen it, that they were covered in the same thick strands as that which coated the cocoon. He couldn’t stop the momentum of such a heavy object, but he didn’t need to! He just needed to catch it. Muttering the words he learned while in the ancient one’s laboratory, Andril felt the staff of power in his hands grab onto the magic of the people in the cocoon. We are all lights in the darkness, Haryk. I am a magic-user.
That magic Andril pulled outwards, upwards, and instantly he felt it latch onto the sticky strands winding their ways along the cavern wall. The noodle like coils peeled themselves off from the walls, dozens of them, and by his direction, shot out underneath the cocoon, just as it was about to pass by. More and more strands did the same, until Andril saw what looked like a massive wheel with spokes, and in the center the object still falling. The cocoon kept going, deeper into the darkness, so far that Andril could not see it, but then the strands, the dozens of them stretched to their limit, taut as the chain on a drawbridge. Looking down, he saw, miraculously, the cocoon begin to rise! Upwards, pulled by the massive coils of sticky vine-like strands that pulled at the cavern wall. Some gave way and snapped, but most held. The cocoon bobbled up and down. Andril jumped on top of it, and pointed his staff along the cavern walls, just as the enemy closed in around him.
Just then, one of the half men, half spider creatures lunged from the cavern wall and onto the structure. It swiped a cruel blade at Andril, who dodged but nearly lost his balance.
There was a flapping of wings overhead, and then a boy’s voice yelled, “Oh no you don’t!” The spider creature was snapped up in the jaws of one of the steel dragons streaking by, which came back around for another pass. Other spider things were hacking at the strands clinging still to the walls. Andril stayed quick to his work, concentrating on the stone, pointing his staff and using the magic he needed.
Looking down, Haryk saw that the ledge no longer ended by his feet. In fact, it was expanding outwards into the cave itself, underneath the cocoon. That object filled with the prisoners of Far Realm was suspended from strands, but with each hack of the enemy’s blade, it dropped a little more. But Andril’s power was incredible, for as fast as he and the other fighters could walk, a floor was made from the rock of the cavern. Like molding clay of it’s own accord, the stone simply oozed outward from all around the walls, creating a stone bridge, and then a stone floor just underneath the trapped object.
Haryk ran to help. So too did the lizardfollk, taxabi, fauns and other halves run across the magical floor. Using all manner of weapons they hacked at the strands, freeing the prisoners. Genoran and Tahg, riding the injured dragons hovered above them, holding the enemy at bay. The prisoners, aided by the fighting warriors of the isles, untangled themselves. Despite the nightmare of what they had endured, they helped one another, and many of the native creatures carried a woman, a child, or an unconscious Celn over their backs and into the tunnel. Several didn’t make it, smote down, hacked down or blasted by their foes.
Andril jumped off the now hollow and empty structure and quickly came by Haryk. He was covering for the mage with his weapon aimed outwards, firing whenever a creature got too close. Andril didn’t see them coming, his concentration had to remain on the spells he had cast. One Celn had waited and was still on the platform. It was the King’s Jester, Hojo. “Blast it Jester, run along with the others!” Roared Andril in his monotone spell voice, and then with equal indifference, he used his staff to block an attack from a beholder’s eye. It ricocheted off the stone at his feet. Great cracks were already appearing in the magically carved floor. Haryk could see that it wouldn’t hold much longer.
Haryk now could tell that all around them, like an anthill was woken, the spider creatures raced down the walls towards their prisoners retreat into the large tunnel. The others, the native fighters and the prisoners were already in, but many were injured, and they were not going to get far. The creature from above, what Andril had called the elder brain was sending out bursts of mental energy but somehow Haryk was no longer effected. Others were, and one woman in particular, child in hand, began to walk backwards. Before he could do anything to stop her, she stepped right over the ledge, clutching her baby as they fell into the abyss together.
Andril ran on without a word to the idiot fool Hojo. What was he thinking he’d do? Kill a few bad guys with a joke or two? The mage was now limping from where a wicked blade had slashed his thigh. Haryk came up behind them, pushing them faster in, and as he did so there was a great crack. The magical platform the mage had conjured as well as the remains of the prison structure, the cocoon, fell into the depths. Pushing their way inside the tunnel, they faced outwards and walked in backwards. Looking out of the tunnel, giant spiderlegs clawed their way over the edges around the tunnel’s entrance. “We aren’t going to make it, you know. There’s too many of them, I have few spells left that can benefit us now,” said Andril. There was not much left in him.
The outside of the tunnel lit up with light. There was a screeching noise, followed by a sizzle and then the smell of something burning, flesh. The first and then the second dragon landed inside the tunnel entrance. Both still had the riders upon their backs, Tahg on one. Genoran on the other. They positioned themselves same as Andril and Haryk, pullling their tails inside, they backed up. Both dragons were covered in wounds, and neither looked like they could go on much longer. The neck of the dragon Tahg rode had a cut that nearly crossed it’s entire neck. The scales of the beast were coated in it’s thick blood. The dragons faced outwards, their gaping mouths snapping at anything coming into the cave from which they flew in. They backed up, guarding Andril and Haryk as they ran in deeper. Genoran hopped down off of his mount, and ran to the jester who was still holding back and waiting for them.
“Fath….,” Genoran cried, but stopped himself short. It was too late though and the moment was too inexplicably charged for Haryk not to pick up on the slip. Haryk could see that Andril knew it too. Hojo didn’t speak. Something about him looked different. He wasn’t the same man that Andril and Haryk remembered in Three Harbors.
“Darkness take him! Haryk get this man in with the others.” Genoran withdrew the Sword of Cellinor and stutter-stepped backwards.
Haryk pushed Hojo on further into the tunnel without a word.
Tahg, whose dragon was in front was suddenly assaulted en masse by four of the spider like creatures. Working together, they hacked at the dragon’s front limbs, and avoided it’s bite as it’s jaws snapped out. The dragon howled, and it’s neck fell upon the tunnel floor. Tahg spilled over and off it’s back. The dragon couldn’t seem to lift it’s head and swiftly, the enemy crawled over it, some hacking it’s wound with vicious blades. Together, they sliced the dragon’s neck cleanly from it’s body. They howled with cruel triumph. Haryk could hear the wyrm’s final roar and then it was silenced.
Tahg howled, “No!! Drongo!” and he tried to run towards it. But Genoran pulled the boy behind the last of the dragons. It was now the only thing blocking them, their retreating countrymen too, from what looked like all of Ket itself.