Chapter Seven, Part Three
“I need a sword,” Percy shouts as he shoots two arrows at the Stirges. “I think I missed one. This darned darkness!”
Red, sensing one of the winged creatures about to land on her, falls onto her rear end, then chops back with her ax and cuts a Stirge in half. Lying stretched out on her back, the cloud flies over her. She rolls over, stands, and charges the swarm from behind. “The ceiling collapsed because the Fireball shook the cave, Orjulun! Ye may nae want to do another – unless we have no choice,” Red shouts from behind the wave of Stirges flying at the rest of the party.
“That’s ok, if luck is on my side, I may have a surprise for these blood-suckers,” Rastorn says as he completes casting his spell. Out of a small hole in the ceiling of the tunnel, a swarm of bats fly into the fray, attacking the Stirges with deadly intent. “That’s my boys,” Rastorn shouts. Some of the Stirges fight back and are soon slain by the bats. Others fly back the way they came. Many dive at the party. Although they look similar and are the same size, bats have advantage in this battle, since they have sharp teeth and claws, while Stirges attack with their proboscis by attaching to their prey and sucking blood.
Melias calls out to Percy, “Heads up, Perc . . .,” and throws his longsword to him. Then, he shoots arrows at the Stirges. His plan is to keep backing up as the battle ensues to remain at a distance. He knows he is better with a bow than Percy and Percy is better with a sword. The Stirges quickly overwhelm Melias, forcing him to drop his bow and draw a dagger.
Arturus gets off two shots with his bow before he is forced to draw his sword.
Orjulun uses his wand to cast Burning Hands.
SeLiem chants and his right hand briefly glows red, then a fiery sword forms in his hand. He looks at the sword, then looks at the nearest Stirge and smiles mischievously.
The Stirges attack in a wave. They ignore the heavily armored Percy and only one attacks SeLiem while everyone else in front of the wave is attacked by two Stirges at once.
Red, who is behind the wave, has one of them turn in mid-air and dive at her. It misses the first attack, but flutters in front of her, ready to strike again.
The two on Orjulun seem to be weary of his fiery wand and miss their attempts at his neck.
Rastorn, who is focusing on his Summon Swarm spell, is a much easier target and those near him both latch onto his neck, breaking his concentration on his spell. “Ughh! They got me, get them off, get them off,” he cries, dramatically. Even though he no longer focuses on the spell, the bats he summoned will remain for a while longer.
Melias shoos one away with his sword, but the other comes from the opposite side and pierces his neck.
SeLiem is also struck.
Arturus deflects and dodges the two attacking him.
Red leaps into the air and chops at the Stirge above her head. She hacks a huge hunk of the creature’s body off and it spirals to the floor of the tunnel.
Drawing a dagger, Rastorn recklessly stabs the Stirge on the left side of his neck. Luckily, he hits the monster and not himself, but unluckily, he doesn’t do enough damage for the creature to let go. Both of the Stirges on his neck draw huge quantities of Rastorn’s blood.
Percy, alerted to Rastorn’s situation, runs to the Necromancer and slashes Melias’ blade at the Mage’s throat, barely missing him, but cutting right through one of the Stirges. Blood sprays out of the bloodsucker and coats the right side of Rastorn’s face. Panicking, Rastorn feels that side of his neck to be sure none of the blood is his own.
Orjulun’s Burning Hands spell torches and slays both Stirges attacking him. Then the spell ends.
The dagger Melias is using is deflected by his armor, when the Stirge he attempts to remove dodges to the side as he strikes at it.
SeLiem’s flaming magical blade cuts through the Stirge on him like a hot knife through butter. He is now free to assist his fellow adventurers.
Arturus nearly kills one of the Stirges attacking him. Unable to continue flying, it falls and crawls away.
The Stirges, still not attached to a host, continue to dive the party. Melias dodges one, while Arturus ducks two.
Melias and Rastorn can feel the blood being sucked out of them by the Stirges feeding on them. Rastorn stands still so Percy can help remove the parasite. With a flick of his wrist, Percy separates the Stirge’s head from its body. Rastorn quickly holds the spot where the Stirge had been feeding and screams, “Bandage! SeLiem, Red – I need aid! I believe I’m bleeding to death!”
While Percy aids Rastorn, Red runs to Melias to kill the one flying around him. She jumps up and hacks at it, but her attack misses the agile creature.
The Stirge dodges Arturus’ first attack but is whacked with the second. It continues to attack furiously, though injured.
“Ho, friend Arturus, dispatch that winged abomination, so we might leave this cursed place,” Percy shouts.
Orjulun uses the wand to slay the one crawling away.
Melias mutters, “What a pain in the neck,” and drops his dagger. He grabs ahold of the Stirge with his bare hands and pulls. “Get off of me, you overgrown mosquito!” Try as he might, Melias finds his efforts to remove the creature to be futile. As he stretches its body, SeLiem slices it in half with his flaming, summoned sword.
Two Magic Missiles sent from Rastorn kill the Stirge on Arturus and his third brings down the final one as it attempts to flee. Percy stabs that one as it lands, then hands Melias back his sword.
“Thank you, Melias. Now . . . where’s my magical long sword?” he asks innocently.
Rubbing Percy’s shoulder, Melias tells him, “I’m sorry to mention this, but I’m afraid my sister has taken your long sword, as well as your very image, for herself. When we meet up with her again, please feel free to enact judgment and punishment swiftly and with a strong arm.”
Sighing, Percy turns to look as Red casts her final healing spell of the day on Arturus. Dim sunlight shines from the opposite end of the tunnel and draws Percy’s attention. He stares in that direction, wondering how far Evenliir might have gotten and how she avoided the swarm of Stirges.
A short walk later, Melias and Arturus both turn at the same time, detecting something. On the right side of the cave they squat down by a small pile of rocks which they are both certain is somehow more than it appears. Rolling one of the rocks out of the way, Arturus spots a bundle of rags in a small hole in the side of the cave. Melias carefully removes the rags and discovers a potion bottle and a note.
As the Elves inspect the potion, Rastorn reads the note.
“It says . . . ‘Now that you have what you need, and I have what I requested; you can follow through on your scheme. We are both educated men (even more so compared to these savages), so I will not attempt to mislead you by saying I think the assassination of one of the more powerful apprentices in the Metavian Wizard Collective will be easy. Believe me, I too would like to see you attain a higher position within the Collective (especially when the natural-born Metavians so outnumber us), but if his (and your) master catches you in the act, he will likely use the same crushing hand spell he used on Mortimar-ez last summer and that was a horrible death to behold.
Once again, I beg you to reconsider. The Invisibility Potion is still a valuable item to have, even if you do not use it in this particular situation, so you have lost nothing.
They will always promote their own over outsiders, but eventually they will see the benefit of more civilized practitioners and we will move up the ladder swiftly. All it will take is playing a major part in assisting the Collective in saving the Sword Master or his family one time and we will be heroes.
As always, burn this letter once you have read it.'”
Rastorn hands the letter to Orjulun and says, “The author has attractive hand-writing. Perhaps a female? What do you think?”
“Well, the writing doesn’t look particularly feminine to me,” he says. “But it’s possible, I suppose. Whoever wrote it took some time with it and obviously they were well-educated.” He hands it back. “I think we should keep moving.”
Further down the tunnel, the party spots a corpse lying near the middle of the cave. Investigating, they discover it is a man in robes who has been completely drained of blood.
“I estimate he has been dead two days,” Rastorn remarks.
Searching the body, Melias find a note, a book, a dagger, and a small coin purse.
The note is in the same hand-writing as before and says:
‘Go to the Stirge cave. Wait until night when they leave to feed and travel 100 yards into the cave. There, on the north side behind some rocks is the potion you desire. Please burn this note once you have finished with it.’
The exit from the volcano is now in sight, just fifty yards away. It is almost sundown, but bright enough outside to aid the Humans in maneuvering over the rough terrain. Near the exit, the ceiling is honeycombed. Red says it is from the backsplash of the lava as it left the cave.
SeLiem sighs. He wishes he were in his bedroom in Dumas taking a long, enjoyable, nap. He pines for the homecooked meals of his childhood. Then he ponders out loud, “Why does the writer of that note want it burned? Perhaps so he would not be followed? The Potion of Invisibility is valuable. It can be sold for a decent amount of gold. Whoever left it must be either great in wealth or insane.”
Kneeling over the body, Melias scoops up the book and tosses it to Orjulun. Taking the dagger from the corpse and tucking it in his beltline, he tells Rastorn, “Assassination . . . conspiracies . . . sounds like he would have been a good friend to you.”
Rastorn smiles for a second, then leans toward Orjulun and says, “Perhaps we can review that book together tonight after dinner, friend Orjulun.”
Orjulun nods, then places the book in one of his many pockets.
Melias takes the small purse and opens it with mild curiosity. “I wonder what he had that was ‘needed’ to put the plan in motion?” After looking in the purse and seeing it only holds five copper pieces and one silver, he stands and says, “We have a choice. We can risk heading back into Metava to expose this plot and possibly prove ourselves as friends to those barbarians that would feed us to their volcano or we can just take the Invisibility potion and let them deal with it on their own.”
“Hmph,” Orjulun snorts. “I’m for letting these savages just languish in their own filth, since they tried to kill us,” he adds, “but what do the rest of you think?” He asks Melias, “Do you think your sister had them under her thrall or do you think they are just evil people to begin with and she was accepted as their leader?”
“I wouldn’t put it past her abilities to enslave the entire village,” Melias responds, “but they didn’t make her leader. In fact, it seemed their leader had ulterior motives, because he had her pushed into the volcano, too.” He silently considers it some more, then shrugs. “I’d bet she made a deal with them and they double-crossed her. And if they’d double-cross her, they can double-cross us. Maybe you’re right . . . we should just let them suffer their own fate. But what about this sword master? Perhaps we can help him out? He apparently has a family as well. We could stand to win a few allies in this area.” Although he is leading the conversation, Melias retains his spot at the back of the group.
Rastorn glances back and immediately catches Melias’ eye. “Indeed, so far our allies are about from zero to one.” He frowns. “This Swordmaster sounds neutral enough. I agree with Melias; we should find this Sword Master, but where is he and who is he? Surely he has a name?” He turns toward Arturus, to see if he has an opinion he is willing to share.
“I say we let those bastards suffer. I have no love for them, even if they were working against their will. They were obviously stupid enough to fall for whatever trick that bitch sister of yours gave them,” Arturus says. “Now, as for a sword master . . . I’d like to meet him. Maybe exposing a plot against him will earn us a free lesson or two. One can always use lessons – no matter how good you are.”
“If I remember correctly, the Sword Master is the honorary title for the ruler of Metava. That well-muscled man with all the drawings on his skin who had us all sacrificed to the volcano was referred to as ‘Sword Master’. I think we’d be better served to look elsewhere for allies,” Percy calmly interjects. After a pause, he adds, “I’ve been thinking over what you said, Melias, and I think I have every right to take back my sword from your sister and even seek retribution. If it truly is acceptable to you.”
Melias is formulating an answer when close to a dozen Stirges rain down on them from out of the holes in the ceiling. Again, they don’t bother to attack Percy, but everyone else has one or two of the little monsters go for their necks or other exposed skin. Two latch on to Melias, while Rastorn, SeLiem, and Orjulun each have one. The other Stirges circle Red and Arturus.
Melias beats one of the Stirges on his neck with his fist, preferring not to risk cutting his own throat with a dagger and bad aim in the frantic moment. “Someone needs to develop a repellant for these things!” With his other hand, he bares his sword and hands it to Percy. “A little help, friend?”
“Certainly, Melikas! I am always willing to assist my brothers in arms,” Percy says in his dramatic, deep voice. He slices the Stirge on Melias’ left side, but it survives and begins drawing blood from the puncture it made.
Rastorn has had enough. He pulls his dagger and stabs at the Stirge connected to his neck.
He misses. He missed so badly he stabs himself in the neck. “Ooowwww! Damn you – you accursed vermin! Someday, I will develop a potion that will kill all Stirges! I swear it,” he announces, as he holds his self-inflicted wound.
“Don’t ye worry yeself blind, spell-slinger, aye have ye covered,” Red says, hacking the Stirge off her neck with one well-placed blow.
Melias swoons, then catches himself before he falls over. He beats at the already injured Stirge with his fists, then turns around to present the fresh Stirge to Percy.
Percy slices it, but it remains alive and still feeds.
Orjulun invokes his burning hands wand-effect once again and points it at the Stirge attacking him. He cautiously burns it off his neck. Another crawls along his back, preparing to replace the one he just killed.
Using his long sword to swat at the one flying around him, Arturus misses and almost strikes Melias.
SeLiem takes his mace and whacks the one that is drawing his blood.
The two on Melias begin drawing his blood with a sickening sucking noise.
The Stirge crawling on Orjulun finds a spot it likes and pokes him.
Red has one land on her and start feeding.
SeLiem is having blood drawn out, too.
“Alright you little winged Demons, now that I’m not having my blood drained – I can cast again! Now you are going to pay!” Rastorn says through clenched teeth. “Get off of my friends,” he screams, before he casts Magic Missile, splitting the missiles between the monsters on Melias, Orjulun, and SeLiem. The injured one on Melias drops off, as does the one on SeLiem, but he merely injures the one on Orjulun.
Red ignores the one on her and swings at the one flying around SeLiem. She misses.
Unwilling to risk hurting himself again, SeLiem smacked the one flying around him, injuring it to the point that it drops to the floor of the cave.
As he swings wildly at the Stirge circling him, Arturus shouts, “I hate these stupid things! What purpose can they actually have – other than being vermin?”
Again, using the wand, Orjulun easily slays the one on him, without harming himself or others.
Pummeling the Stirge seems to be ineffectual, so Melias takes a chance and carefully attempts to remove the Stirge with his dagger. He does only minor damage to the creature.
Red stumbles into the wall face first, then turns around and pushes herself from the wall and back into the battle.
SeLiem is attacked by the one crawling near him, but he easily steps away from it so it cannot climb onto him.
“I’m out of Magic Missiles. In fact, I’m almost entirely out of spells. I can’t risk attacking the beasts in hand to hand combat, I’ve lost too much blood already. You will have to carry on without my aid,” Rastorn says, as he runs away from the battle and sits exhausted on the floor of the cave, holding his bloody neck.
Red collapses onto one knee and drops her ax. “Head’s spinning.”
Percy takes careful aim with Melias’ sword and slays the one on Melias’ neck.
Orjulun casts Magic Missile, sending two at the Stirge on Red and one at Arturus’ Stirge. The one on Red dies and she pulls it off her neck.
SeLiem steps away from battle and takes a quick mental inventory of spells he has left in his arsenal. It isn’t many. He has one healing spell left and many injured friends. “We’ll have to rest soon. I’m nearly tapped out as well,” he says, mimicking Rastorn’s concerns.
Arturus cheers as his sword slices into the Stirge attacking him, killing it.
Red reaches over and chops off the head of the one crawling around. The Stirges are all dead.
To be continued in Chapter Seven, Part Four next week!
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