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Snypiuer

28 Weeks Later

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It was a clear morning that dawned on the Keep. It's denizens rubbed their eyes and yawned as they awoke from peaceful sleep. No longer were there nightmares or screams in the night as one would awake, reaching in desperation for the comfort of a loved one. Injuries were healed and conversations were about the weather or about how well a relative was doing. The Keep and those who resided within it's walls were at peace, safe in the knowledge that all was well.

 

Or so they believed.

 

As this clear new day arrived and the Keep awakened, there was a faint tension everyone felt as they performed their morning rituals of washing up and readying themselves. A silence fell over the breakfast table as no one was quite able to express the growing apprehension in the air.

 

A nagging began to creep into the collective psyche of the Keep.

 

And not a few of it's members began to wonder why.

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Tzimfemme leaned into the angled confluence of mirrors in her bathroom, winding the thinner braids into kinks and half-hearted spirals to add a bit of volume. The patch of condensed breath fluctuated to a beat as she flicked another completed twist atop the rest of the pile and reached for another, then paused as her ears received the message.

 

Back in flesh?

 

The Tzimfemme who skidded down the updraft to the dining level wasn't the usual forenoon zombie, but placing her feet into the wind like jumping checkers. One especially heavy step as she reeled herself onto the appropriate landing was forgivable. Several more might have been explained away by the tome she had balancing on one hip and the crook of one arm. The remainder of the stomping strut to the breakfast table was pure, direction-less aggravation. Nor was it necessary to drop the book flat upon the table before accepting the breakfast meats and gnawing with one hand while flipping through the pages with the other. And so it was that, while Tzimfemme sucked upon a slice of marbled meat so well-preserved it melted in her mouth with the taste of faintly meat-flavored salt and peppercorns, whoever spoke didn't quite dare raise their voice to the point of being identifiable, "Who has the stomach to read that sort of stuff over _breakfast_, anyway?"

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As morning began to blossom into day: soothsayers and diviners cast lots, read cards and stared deeply into crystal balls; scribes, historians, elders of academe and the generally bookish searched tomes, scrolls and ancient tablets; practitioners of the arts from dark to light used their esoteric might, while followers of both deities and demons prayed for enlightenment - all in a futile attempt to reveal the source of the growing tension within the Keep.

 

Few individuals moved about and those that did, did so out of necessity - as quickly as possible, hands in pockets and with head down. It was as if all those whom dwelled within the walls of the Keep had made an unspoken agreement to to stay within the increasingly dwindling comfort of their own rooms.

 

Within this atmosphere of growing dread, individual doubts and fears began to rise. Each citizen of the Keep began to suspect that the growing doom was specifically meant for them. They searched their memories for every slight given and every wrong they may have done (regardless of how small) that had cause for retribution. They looked back and recalled every enemy long forgotten. A few began to wonder of fallen enemies and whether or not they truly were gone.

 

And the tension grew.

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The light flickered from suspended loops of glass as Tzimfemme strode between it and the light, scribbling on a flat plate of a clipboard. At the terminus of every loop, a saucer of sampled dirt and rock resisted whatever pulsed down the tubing and dashed itself against it: the five flavors of mana, the four Aristotlean elements, various frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum. The naked mage drummed her fingernails on the board and thought. The paradox of measurement and observation was tangled into these samples as surely as in the ground she'd scraped it from, and was no closer to figuring out why Rydia's sigil had tightened against her in the first place. All she'd wanted was the return of a borrowed textbook!

 

All around, the poster-size blowups of the Ager Guild Book of Indiscretions glared and winked from the walls.

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Agitation, frayed nerves, tension. . . all began to be too much of a strain. Fights broke out amongst friends. Lovers and families yelled at each other. Those alone, threw and broke things. Books and scrolls were torn in frustration. Demons and angels roamed free and did battle as those whom summoned them in an effort to find the source of the inner darkness that was spreading, made mistakes in their binding spells.

 

It was a while before anyone noticed that on a bright, cloudless day. . . the sky began to darken and a low thrumming hum was felt, more then heard, throughout the Keep.

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When it seemed the tension could grow no more, as if it were a balloon stretched to its' very limit and about to burst, it happened.

 

The noise like a freight train falling from the sky, filled the air. Everyone stopped what they were doing and ran to windows and balconies to see fire and rocks fall out of the sky, destroying the forest just east of the Keep. While most stood in awe and terror, those who came to the Keep from the lost world of Terra, shuddered at the sight - a meteor storm. Power of that magnitude had not survived the journey from that blasted and dead world.

 

How? Who? These were two of the thoughts on the minds of those who crossed so long ago. Was it some one already here, who had some how regained enough power to rise to the might once wielded by Archmages? Or, had some one, some how, not only manage to claw their way back from Hell, but to do so with full power? When was the last time that had happened? Who was the last one with the strength of will to do so?

 

What did this mean?

 

Worse yet, what could be done?

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Kikuyu stared broodingly out of her large window, flipping a kunai on one finger. She crossed her legs and stared at the clouds, as if a mere glare could send them whisping away.

 

Beside her Degorram slouched, arms crossed, also staring at the sky. Her hair had faded to a dull purple, like a disorganized bruise or ripe plum.

 

The two pairs of eyes did not blink. The tatoos under Kikuyu's lids fluttered through a series of colors. Degorram's scythe gleamed with a sharp, toothy light.

 

Neither spoke. Neither had to.

Edited by Kikuyu Black Paws

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Tzimfemme, arms laden down with scientific apparatus and three notebooks full of agronomic recommendations (three! more results in a day than she'd written up in a year), leaned one hip into the kitchen door of the Keep. Its central planks bowed outwards and tugged at the cross-bars, but those at the edges, fluttering as meteoric winds raced through the gaps on either edge, resisted. The face obscured by apparatus grumbled, then muttered a few spells which sloshed against the lock. The door did not spring open. The naked mage selected a spell with a bit more push to it and threw that near the hinges while shoving at the opposite edge with her hip. Mana, meters, and mage spilled out into the yard as the door cracked down the centerline. Tzimfemme's eyes followed one sharp-edged metal box as the wind tumbled it by and nearly gashed her face, then acknowledged the weird weather. Before conscious thought, she'd scrambled to her feet and bellowed upwards, "I'm still listening, you bastards!"

 

The watchers at the windows saw her tilt her head upwards, look at the fist-symbol she'd thrust at the sky, grimace, and reel that back down. The naked mage kept her eyes pointed at the sky, but hopped and wandered alongside the craters and shattered stumps, sometimes pointing at a probable angle of descent, once leaping for a low-hanging tree branch and pulling herself up and away as a smaller chunk of falling rock tore up the turf where the undergrowth was still bent from her footsteps. She dropped back down, danced in sudden pain on the heated earth, swung up and away before dropping down on a less abused patch of ground. Here she stopped and collected her thoughts, fingers tapping rat-a-tat on the bark. The remainder of what the watchers could see was less straightforward: Tzimfemme digging her heel into the disturbed ground to form lines and symbols on the theme of eight, Tzimfemme casting spells with exaggerated and perhaps mocking gestures with no correspondence to the fresh drawings, Tzimfemme flattening herself to the ground and resting her ear in the center of the consecration as though listening for movement underground.

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Apaltra tapped her staff on the ground and once more a tree shifted out of the path of a meteor. Ground boiled, ponds evaporated and still the verdant mage of long ago stood her ground. There was a blue shimmer hugging her, sizzling whenever a meteor struck close. Sparks trailed to the ground as if deflecting power.

 

It was taking every inch of self-control for Finx not to drag her out. He prowled near the castles perimiters, barely noticing Tzim hop-skipping past him. He knew she should be safe, as safe as a mage of her stature in possession of a wand that powerful should be. For as long as the barrier held. And that's where he worried.

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"Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the FLOOOOOOOORRRRRRR!"

 

Rocking her air guitar Appy screamed into the microphone stand when the first meteor struck. Thinking it to be mere playfulness of fire-mages Appy grinned at the proper display of violence to accompany her mood and continued rocking. The huge headphones on her head had a long cord trailing towards a small laptop. She was in serious danger of entangling herself in it when the second meteor hit, closely followed by a third.

Appy's mouth dropped open and she rushed to her window, pulling of the headphones and stepping clear of the cord in one movement.

Feeling the heat on her bare arms she took two steps back again.

 

"No"

 

Not bothering to open it, she rammed through the door and ran towards the gate leading to the forest.

 

"NOOO!"

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As the meteor storm rained down upon the forest, lightning strikes began to arc through the air. While a few struck home, the Keep's magical defenses deflected most of them - causing them to spider web across the sky. Among the roar of falling meteors and the crackling of electricity, another sound was heard: The deep muffled sounds of leather flapping against the wind. As if out of no where, nine Red Dragons circled the Keep - probing it's defenses. They then began razing the surrounding country side with gouts of flames, several landed to level buildings and tear up bridges and roads leading to and from the Keep. With all the confusion and havoc, it went unnoticed that they left access from the south open. When this was finally discovered, small groups of soldiers were seen setting up defensive positions around the southern bridges and surrounding buildings (a deeper sense of tension and uneasiness came over those who came to the Keep from the lost world of Terra, when it became clear to them that "Hero's" were among these small groups of soldiers). The purpose of these defensive positions became obvious when the massing army on the southern horizon was spotted.

 

At this point, some who sought the source of these events started to realize, may be it didn't matter. Others who sought the source, redoubled their efforts in a desperate race against time.

 

Most inhabitants of the Keep just readied for war. To them, it was clear: They were under siege.

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Kikuyu strapped her katana to her back and stuffed her pouches full of shuriken. She sighed as she contemplated a series of ninja bombs and stuffed them in along with the rest.

 

Beside her Degorram sharpened her scythe neatly, one of the only weapons she needed since her entire body could become one giant shifting arsenal. She touched the blade experimentally, leaving a thin line of blood on her finger. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and joined her twin's sigh.

 

"Never stays peaceful for long, one way or another, does it, Dego?"

 

"Nope."

 

"You have no doubts?"

 

"Nope."

 

"Good. We can't hold back at any point, not ever."

 

"Nope."

 

Kikuyu sighed again and slid the buckles in place that held on her bracers, their three, backwards curving blades shimmering along her forearms. A single strike with her wrist and her gauntlet would slice through flesh and bone with the backslash of her forearm. "Well then," Kikuyu said. "Ready or not."

 

Degorram's eyes narrowed and she bared her teeth. "Here we come."

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As Tzimfemme lay upon the ground, she heard a voice. Not what she was expecting, especially since it seemed to come from above, "Are you?" The meteor storm grew stronger around her. Molten rock pounded down and acrid fumes filled the air. The ground shook and trembled, as if trying to dislodge her. The voice spoke again, "Are you. . .really?"

 

As Appy sped to help, Apaltra stood her ground shifting tree after tree out of harms way, knowing full well she could save only so many. She had felt when one of the oldest and mightiest was destroyed. The fact that she could not save it pressed upon her even more since it lay twisted and dead within her view. She doubled her efforts to shifting trees in an attempt to block the image from her mind. It was beginning to work when her attention was torn back to the fallen tree. There beside it stood a woman dressed in robes of the most ancient style of Verdant mages. Her face was young and beautiful, with full lips like rose petals against milk white skin and eyes the color of a crystal clear mountain lake. Apaltra's heart lept with hope as she saw the mage place her hands upon the tree. Her heart fell to her feet even faster as she clasped her hands to her head. An agonizing scream of unearthly pain and sorrow echoed through Apaltra's head as she stumbled from it's sudden onset. The tree moved and began to stand, twisted and deformed. The mage had brought it to life as an undead treant. That's when Apaltra noticed that the mage's robes were the color of death and decay. The mage smiled and stared at her with crystal clear unseeing eyes.

 

As Kikuyu and Degorram readied themselves, the window blew inwards sending shards of glass everywhere. They protected their eyes and dodged the worst of it. When they looked back at where the window used to be, a black bird sat upon the ledge. The smell of rotting corpses came from it as it spoke in a low ghoulish voice, "Death is eternal, it can not be defeated. Only put aside for a brief time." The bird began to disintegrate before their eyes. Neither was too sure, but both thought that they could barely hear a whisper as it turned to dust and blew away, "He comes." In the distance they saw shadows moving towards the Keep.

 

More and more lightning bolts made it past the Keep's defenses. Masonry exploded and fell from roof tops with each strike, sending people running in panic. Those within the Keep that had no magic power or abilities wondered at why those who did were not using their power to protect them from the lightning. It became clear why when the dragons began blasting the gates of the Keep with their fire and bashing and trying to tear down the walls - magic to defend the Keep from lightning would be wasted if there was none left to use against the dragons.

 

To the south, siege engines could now be seen as the army approached the Keep.

Edited by Snypiuer

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Wyvern carefully positions another geld piece on the piles organized over his oaken tabletop, licking his lips as he slides the coin ever-so-slowly over the top of the last piece without tilting the column at hand. The reptilian Elder reaches for another piece in the small sack at his side, only to curse as another tremor runs through his little dungeon, causing the stacks of geld to fall over and scatter for the one hundred and fifty seventh time. Wyvern grits his teeth and drums his claws over the wood of his table top till little indentations form, then slams a claw down and hops to his feet.

 

"Alright, that doesssss it!" Wyvern storms over to his little cavern of a closet and begins tossing on mismatching variations of sweat pants and a smoking jacket. The overgrown lizard raises a claw to his snout as he struggles to fit his wings into the garment. “Aardvark, if that’s you playing with explosives again, I’ll have your hide!”

 

Wyvern slams his door behind him as he exits his quarters, stomping down the hall and taking a few sharp turns before barging into the Cabaret Room. The overgrown lizard’s agitation is so great that he doesn’t even notice the shattered glass scattered across the floor, brushing it aside harmlessly with his tail as he makes his way to the front door. Stepping outdoors, Wyvern raises a clamped claw to the sky and loudly exclaims:

 

“Hey, what’s the big deal with the racket?! Sssome of usss have important business to attend to here!”

 

Wyvern pauses as he suddenly notices the lightning, the dragons, the undead treant minion, the soldiers, the destruction and the shadow of siege tanks. As if on cue, a meteorite crashes to the ground mere inches away from the lizard, narrowly avoiding his tail and leaving him with a frozen and bewildered expression. The action seems to pause for a moment as all eyes turn towards the almost dragon.

 

“Errr… caaan I interessst anyone in an Almost Dragonic Brand Chill-ish Pill Diet™?” Wyvern digs through his robes until he pulls out a small Bruteweiser bottle filled with pills, his expression failing to change for the ad. The lizard holds up the bottle to the left and to the right with no reaction, then clears his throat and stuffs it back into his jacket. “No? Weeellllll, I guess I’ll just be leaving then, eheheheh...”

 

Wyvern flashes a nervous grin and raises a claw as he slowly backs up in the direction of the Pen Keep’s entrance.

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Alten the martial artist was meditating calmly in the midst of the chaos. Suddenly, but equally calmly, he opened his eyes and stood, stepping aside just in time to avoid a piece of falling masonry.

Looking around, he quickly formed a full mental picture of the scene.

 

Such pointless bombardment is no test of my skills, but I should see if I can protect anyone else from it. Until the enemy arrives, the best course is to seek out anyone trapped in the open, and move them to safety. As for the dragons... if I can convince one to come down to the ground, at least it won't be unleashing death from above.

 

Alten ran out into a rubble-filled courtyard, and began dragging an injured Pennite into the relative safety of stone walls.

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As Wyvern slowly backed up, he caught a flash of movement to his right. Already nervous, he hurriedly reached into his smoking jacket and pulled out his Almost Dragonic Brand Localized Disintegration Wand™ and fired it off without thinking. Wyvern was more surprised then anyone else when bright spot lights focused on him through the smoke, music started blaring around him, confetti blew all around him (much of which was catching fire) and giant air powered wiggle worms popped up around him. In horror, Wyvern looked at the wand in his claw and read the label on it 'Almost Dragonic Brand Center of Attention Wand™'. He froze in place as he thought to himself, "There is no such thing as an Almost Dragonic Brand Center of Attention Wand™!". The shock distracted him long enough to get captured. The fact that he was the center of attention was why so many of the Keep's citizens saw when a group of dark clad intruders quickly surrounded Wyvern, bundled him up and whisked him away. The spot lights, music, confetti and wiggle worms raced after them as they quickly made their way out of the Keep - to the south. It wasn't long 'till word got out that Wyvern was taken.

 

What was more troubling is what else began to circulate through the Keep: The intruders were not only very careful with Wyvern, their conversation to each other and him was clearly overheard (very surprising considering all the noise). It was said that they continually told each other to be careful with him, they assured him of his safety and repeatedly referred to Wyvern as "Boss."

 

Alten gently settled an injured Pennite next to others who had sought refuge inside a very well built supply shed, as he exited to find others in need of help, his attention was drawn to Wyvern at the moment he set off his Almost Dragonic Brand Center of Attention Wand™, taking in the scene, he clearly saw the group of intruders that surrounded Wyvern before they even moved from the shadows. He sped to Wyvern's aid, but before he could reach him, Alten himself was attacked. He easily side stepped a slashing blow from a katana on his right, but was hard pressed to avoid a thrown axe that appeared from the smoke. The fact that the katana attack was clearly telegraphed and the axe was thrown exactly at where his head was GOING to be, brought his full attention to his own situation - clearly, his assailants were skilled. Alten found himself confronted by three figures: All about his height and build, bald and dressed in loose, dark burgundy robes (first contact with any of them reveals tight fitting, yet supple, leather armor beneath these robes) with face scarves. Behind the scarves, he could see that their eyes were solid and the same color as their robes. The one in the center spoke in a strange tongue as the two to either side of him attacked. A katana from his right and a short staff from the left.

 

Meanwhile, the meteor storm began to focus around Tzimfemme's location and lessening elsewhere. The ground around her shook more and more violently and the voice from above said, "What is it that you hear?".

 

Apaltra composes herself as the agonizing screaming in her head (a remarkable feat considering her proximity to it's source), not only continues, but increases as three more undead treants rise, twisted and deformed, their tortured wailing echoing for all those who can communicate with nature to hear. They move towards the Keep, each step leaving a trail of decay and rot.

 

She thinks to herself, "Nature is about birth, life and (yes) death - But this, this is an abomination. Undeath is not meant for it."

 

Kikuyu and Degorram set their sights on the advancing shadows, a flash of bone white can be seen at times and the familiar smell of undeath strengthens at their approach. In the distance, arms raised as if guiding the shadows, a lone, dark robed figure stands. A familiar (yet slightly different) aura emanates from him.

 

Cracks begin to appear in the outer walls of the Keep and the gates begin to smolder as the Dragons continue their attacks unhindered.

 

A boulder slams into the Keep's magic shield, vaporizing as the siege engines come into range. More and more boulders vaporize on contact. . . until one finally gets through. A shout of triumph is heard from the advancing army.

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Alten sized up the situation instantly.

The centre one may be a spellcaster, or more likely has concealed knives. The katana is likely too sharp to parry, so I should avoid it if possible. The staff I can deal with easily.

These appear to be focused opponents. I should not underestimate them. I doubt they are individually as skilled, but with three...

They have made a mistake; they assumed I was left-handed, for the more dangerous is on the right. Either that, or they knew that I am ambidextrous.

 

Alten rapidly stepped to the left, evading both staff and katana, and putting the staff-wielder between him and the one who had spoken. The three opponents rapidly compensated.

 

They are skilled. This may be my time, but that has been true before.

 

Alten caught the incoming staff, wrenching it to pull the foe off-balance, but was forced to release it with one hand to disrupt a kick. His return punch forced the robed opponent back a step, but did little damage. At this point, the katana came back into play, and Alten was forced to move back. Bowing to his skilled adversaries, he soon rejoined combat.

 

Meanwhile, the greater scene continued...

Edited by Hjolnai

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Kailea let out a long, colorful string of curses.

 

She had been standing on a balcony, looking outside trying to figure out what heck was going on down there when suddenly and for no reason said balcony had been blown to bits, Kail herself only just avoiding being taken out with it. She spat a few more colorful words, struggled to her feet, then continued with:

 

"Meteors, Meteors!" then sped down the hall back to her room.

 

She continued to chatter to herself, as she always did when she was nervous. Vocalizing her thoughts made her feel better.

 

"Knives, knives, where'd I put the knives?" she rifled through a drawer, chucking shirts and socks aside and pulled out a long, thin box. "Ha-ha-ha!" she slipped them into place, continuing to monologue:

 

"Here I think to myself--I've finally found somewhere nice, somewhere peaceful where I can retire and most importantly where there aren't going to be people tryin' to kill me every three seconds and what happens? Trouble always finds a way." she made a sour face, "I even brushed my hair today---thought I'd look nice. Well, silly silly me!" She twisted her hair up in a single defiant motion, took a deep breath and tapped her toes as she surveyed the room. "Should I bring the katana? Never much liked the thing, but I supposed you've got to do what you've got to do…" she dug it up out of yet another box--this one tucked under the bed. Another blast shook the room, sending Kail tumbling backwards into the opened dresser drawers and the box skittering across the floor. She uttered a few more choice words before grabbing the weapon and skipping towards the door and down to the outside.

 

"One of these days...I swear one of these days I'm going to find myself somewhere nice to settle down. Just you watch. Until then..." she sped off into fray without a backward glance.

Edited by troubled sleep

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All around, the keep rumbled and grumbled as the onslaught shook the ancient home to its roots and beyond. Somewhere in the deepest and darkest recesses of the ancient castle, an old broom closet stood, door slightly ajar, with a faint gleam of torch-light reflecting off of a large mirror, providing the room with its only light.

 

Any nearby rats in the walls may have heard a faint "poof", followed by a moderate hacking cough and a crash as someone spontaneously appeared in the old closet, only to find that there were now brooms, mops, and buckets suddenly occupying his old living space.

 

"For the love of...I should have seen that coming."

 

Once more the Keep of the Pen shook at the excessively forceful announcements of incoming "visitors".

 

"Oh....well, I guess I got here just in time..." The man chuckled to himself. He turned his head quickly, a faint shuffle where his old 'bed' had been. "Oh...Guess I should have known you'd take up residence here. How goes it, Nick?"

 

"Well as could be, I suppose. After your little 'event', I slipped on down here. Everything's in order, and after a month, no one came down here to check on things." The rogue lounged on the small bed, arms crossing his chest.

 

"Well, I suppose that would be about what was to be expected" He smiled a little. The ground shook again. "Oh yes, visitors... What do we know about them?"

 

"Ah, nothing yet, far as I know, save that they started attacking not long before you arrived. Also, I sense a similarity between some of them and myself." Nickoli stretched a bit, sat up.

 

"You mean... the Dead? Ah, yes....the walking dead..."

 

"Yup."

 

The man who had just arrived smiled, laughed a little.

 

"Well then, seems I've returned just in time. Prepare your daggers. The time for blood may be drawing nigh."

 

The two gathered their weapons about them and left the room.

 

"You know, I think you're losing touch, man." Nickoli laughed, patting him gently on the back. " 'may be time', What, why back in the day, you had no questions of 'when' things would happen."

 

"Yeah, and you used to not leave a trail of flesh."

 

"..shut up..."

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Alten was finding himself very hard pressed. His opponents were adjusting to him faster and their attacks were becoming more coordinated. He was basically in full defense mode and knew he must do something quick before it was too late. As they fought back and forth across the yard, they came closer to the Keep's outer walls, which were now beginning to show larger and larger cracks while pieces of the wall were starting to fall from the top. The sound of the dragons on the other side grew as they pounded against the Keep's defenses. The ground shook with each strike and Alten and his foes found themselves with the added tasks of keeping their footing and dodging falling bits of wall as they fought.

 

Kailea not only ran out into the fray, she ran right into the middle of it. So far only several small groups of invaders had managed to enter the walls of the Keep (most likely they were there before the initial attack - waiting). The largest of these groups was the one that had bundled up Wyvern and was headed out of the Keep to the south toward the invading army. Kailea was lucky enough to not only exit her rooms seconds before an inbound boulder took up residence in them, but she had the great good fortune to exit right as the very group that had Wyvern was in front of her door. The blast from the boulder shot her right into their midst. There was bedlam for a moment as cries of, "PROTECT WYVERN!" and "QUICK, GET THE BOSS TO SAFETY!" rang out all around her (their intentions of 'protecting' Wyvern was VERY clear - as if they wanted to make sure everyone who could hear knew it). She caught a swift glance of a bewildered Wyvern as he was hustled off and several of his 'gaurds' surrounded her. One said, "It's just a girl!" He was dead before he hit the floor (in fact, he was dead before he finished his sentence, he just didn't know it.) - she said to herself, "Guess the katana has some good uses." That's when she noticed the remaining guards were guardsno longer looking at her like she was 'just' a girl.

 

Xaious and Nickoli had only gotten a few feet from the room when there was a 'shift'. They looked at each other and then back at the room. . .at least where it used to be. Nothing but a solid wall now stood where the room once was. There was another 'shift' and they looked back to where they were originally headed - the corridor they had been headed down was now an open room with 3 hallways branching from it. Xaious also noticed that with each 'shift', time itself fluctuated. Fluctuated in such a way that he had never seen before, a way he never even thought possible - mainly because it wasn't. Nickoli said, "That's odd." In the distance, slightly closer then the rumbling of the attacks outside, a deep 'huffing' noise could be heard. There was another 'shift' and they once again stood in a corridor, only it now went off to their left and right. The 'huffing' seemed to be getting closer.

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Alten was gradually being forced to a nearby wall by his three opponents (the third of which had turned out to be a dagger-wielder), and tiring rapidly. Knowing that with his back to the wall, he would have no chance, he dodged the next swing of the katana, slammed his hand into the back of the blade (a blow which would have left the blade of a lesser foe stuck in the ground), feinted a kick at the staff-wielder, and took a step back. Then, suddenly, he performed an amazing leap, landing on his feet on top of the building behind him.

 

When they follow, I may gain a brief advantage, but I must move quickly.

 

The three robed opponents made the same, impressive leap as one, but Alten kicked one straight back off. At the same moment, however, he couldn't avoid the katana headed for his ribs...

 

Only one chance.

 

Alten's arm came up, and the solid-eyed foe almost smirked at the inadequate defense, seeing no futile attempt to strike the flat and drive the cruel edge away. Then, blade struck flesh in a burst of sound like steel on steel. A line of blood appeared where the sword struck, but the blade was stopped. Truly surprised, the opponent broke out of any semblance of a blank face, fear now showing in his eyes. A punch broke his balance, and with a mighty kick, Alten sent him flying to the ground, where he lay still.

 

Meanwhile, Alten prepared to deal with his two remaining foes. In two brief seconds, the staff-wielder had caught his falling companion, pulled him back, and they were ready to fight.

Alten flowed into a new position, ready for the slightly more equal battle to continue. He threw himself aside, avoiding a thrown dagger, and felt the strain on his injured arm.

 

That blade cut deeply. The muscle is torn, and I cannot afford too much blood loss.

 

Alten flexed the arm, the pain not even penetrating his battle concentration. The blood flow slowed, then stopped. So long as the muscle was tense, he would lose little blood. With his unharmed limbs, he continued battle. The fight was hardly more equal than before.

 

 

The dagger-wielder stopped, stepped back, and spoke again in his unknown language. Alten could tell that the pair would try to leave now. Knowing he could not strike them down before they escaped, Alten bowed, and said, "We will meet again."

This time, the enemy bowed back.

 

Alten walked to the fallen katana, picked it up, dropped to the ground, and walked calmly to the fallen enemy, stepping aside only once as a brick flew through where he had been.

 

The katana-wielder was alive, but unconscious. From the laboured breathing, Alten could see (if he had not already heard and felt) that the burgundy-robed warrior had broken ribs. He would not be fighting for some time. Alten tore a red sleeve to bind his own arm, finally unclenching the sliced muscle. Realizing his prisoner would not survive long amidst falling masonry, Alten begun the task of getting him to the main keep building.

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"...Nick, did you bring any friends with you...." Xaious raised an eyebrow at his pale friend.

 

"Nay. And besides, they don't breathe that poorly." Nickoli drew his sharp, purple daggers.

 

"Ah, as I figured. Remind me, later, to ask Wyv why there's a minotaur running loose in my quarters. Or rather, when was there a minotaur in my quarters." Xaious drew forth his longsword, as the hallway was no place for his more preferred weapon, while Nickoli motioned for silence.

 

As the two looked around, the room didn't seem to do anything for a few minutes. Nick's head picked up, and he turned to their right. As they watched the hallway, it shifted again, and suddenly, Xaious could feel the beast's hot breath on the back of his neck. Slowly, he turned around.

 

It was no ordinary minotaur, that much was true. Shorter than the average, but built like a dwarf and covered in moldy gray scales that may have, at one time, been armor. It's breath a putrid cloud of disease, the beast respired not of necessity, but as a mockery of the natural order.

 

"Cattle-man Zombie....le sigh" Nick whispered quietly, as the cow-man raised it's rotten meaty fist into the air. Faster than a blink, he stepped through the shadows, and expertly placed one dagger into the creatures lower spine, and one in its neck, separating vertebrae. The mass of rotting flesh fell to the ground.

 

"Well, Nick, once again you showcase your incredible skill at anti-climaxing." Xaious laughed.

 

The room shifted. Nickoli fell to the floor, a terrible weight slamming into his back. The minotaur zombie was gone, but in its place, a live one in shimmering scale armor had just slammed into the rogue with nothing less than excessive force.

 

"Well, looks like it's my turn, old chum." Xai grinned, giving his sword a quick spin. "I could use the practice, anyways."

 

The minotaur cracked its knuckles, and Xaious thrusted his sword out to where the beasts innards should have been, would have been, had the room not shifted again.

 

"So, we fight it's corpse, we fight it's ...not corpse..." Nick mused as he stood up, looking around.

 

"Fighting in the past, the present, and the slightly less distant past. This is peculiar." The time mage stroked his goatee thoughtfully. "Ah, my room is back. Let's hurry."

 

Reaching into the room, Xaious pulled out his glaive, and the two began sprinting for the upper levels. As they ran, they could each have sworn to have heard a loud, poisonous huffing behind them.

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The magical defenses of the Keep were strained to their limits and starting to fail at points. Boulders flung at the southern wall were now creating small gaps and the invading army began concentrating their assault on those spots. A large group of undead warriors took up a defended position just outside of bow range near a gap larger then the rest, prepared to flood into it as soon as it was big enough to breach the wall.

 

(NOTE: These are not the classic lumbering, slow moving undead. Nor are they the re-imagined 'feel no pain so they can run at full speed endlessly' undead. They are more along the line of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' undead, leaning toward the re-imagined undead.)

 

Meanwhile, the front gates were now fully ablaze from dragon fire and several dragons had now created gaps in the other walls big enough to reach through and began spewing fire through them as they continued to tear away at them.

 

Tzimfemme suddenly found herself surrounded by, what to her was, silence. The meteor storm that had concentrated around her had abruptly stopped. She lay there, listening. Just when she believed she could hear something, a figure moved toward her through the smoke and molten destruction that surrounded her. A being about 10 feet tall approached her. It was androgynous, perfectly toned, with wings and silver - not metallic, but shiny. It seemed to glow. It stopped just outside her consecrated position. It looked around at the markings and gave a small smile. For a moment, it stared at her, head cocked slightly as if puzzled or, perhaps, amused. Raising a finger to it's lips, it made a 'shushing' motion and gently tossed a rolled parchment to her. It turned and disappeared back into the smoke. She heard the voice from above say, "What the?" as she reached for the parchment. At that very moment, she also heard a noise from below.

 

As Appy raced to assist Apaltra, she found herself running wildly in an attempt to to avoid falling debris, lightning bolts and miscellaneous projectiles. Meanwhile, Apaltra faced several undead treants and a Verdant mage of death and decay alone.

 

As Alten made his way to the main building with his adversary, he began to notice that his wound was beginning to feel better and his strength was no longer weakening. He also noticed his adversary's breathing became smoother. He brought him into the building and lay him down on a table. He had every intention of telling one of the many individuals around him to give medical attention to the wounded man and then place him in custody. Instead, a strange thought entered his mind, "I should slice his throat before it's too late." Alten backed up and looked closely at the unconscious man. His burgundy robe was lighter then before. Alten then looked at the piece of robe he had cut to bind his own wound with. It should be soaked with blood, yet it was dry and fading. He found his wound was sealed and he felt strong. That alien thought was again entered his mind, "I should slice his throat." Movement from the fallen man caught his eye. The man was holding a dagger by the blade and holding the handle out to Alten. With a smile, he lifted his chin, exposing his neck.

 

Xaious and Nickoli sprint for the upper levels took longer then they thought it would. Shifting walls, shifting time and countless versions of the same minotaur slowed their progress. The shifting time troubled Xaious the most. Time flows like a river, while it may branch, each branch becomes it's own time line - flowing back and forth along itself. Time lines do not cross. They can't. If they did, they would become DIFFERENT time lines! Yet, here he was, witnessing the impossible - time lines crossing and remaining the same.

 

Kailea and the remaining guards were taken by surprise as the lights, confetti, music and wiggle worms from the Almost Dragonic Brand Center of Attention Wand™ raced through them to catch up with Wyvern.

 

Wyvern thought to himself, "Center of Attention Wand™?!" as he was carried along.

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Alten kept the foreign thought at the front of his mind, while behind it he thought,

 

This spell must be undirected; if it had been intended to attack me no knife would be needed, and in any case, if they knew of me they would not have tried such magic; perhaps... Ah, I see. They might hope to force me to guard the prisoner myself. On the other hand, I have not been here long, and I avoid fame, so more likely it is an undirected spell.

 

Alten took the dagger, and hurled it straight at the wooden roof; the blade bit deep, and stayed there. Pushing back the illusory thoughts, he began searching for someone to seal wounds and watch the prisoner, while also searching for any dark seeds from the restorative magic within himself. Finding a small knot of magical poison, he sliced a small, thin cut nearby, using the katana he had taken from the field of battle, and with extreme muscular control, forced the poison through the flowing blood and out.

 

I should be more watchful; someday my pride will get the better of me, and the magic I do not notice happening will kill me. I was foolish not to notice the magic instantly, and refuse its purchase upon my flesh.

 

This is taking too long. More foes may already stand within our walls; I hear dragon fire, and the dragons may be close enough to the ground for me to bring them within reach of others.

 

Finally finding someone to take care of the prisoner, after warning them to beware of the magic which could end the prisoner's life, or free him, Alten left the katana and raced out to do battle with the enemy.

 

As he left the building, Alten saw a dragon heading in to burn it to the ground. Alten made a tremendous leap, landing on one wing as the dragon came in. The disrupted dragon hurled its flames into the courtyard instead of the building, and Alten jumped to the other wing, forcing the dragon down bit by bit as he went back and forth. Though he dealt little real damage, Alten knew that he could at least bring the dragon within reach of someone who could stop it, or even force it into an obstacle and let its own speed kill it.

 

Then the dragon turned its head, looking back at Alten with furious eyes.

Edited by Hjolnai

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