Mel extended a hand to help Alastor to his feet, and they stood beside Cadmus, looking down at the body before him. Blood was beginning to pool under the necromancer’s body. As the three of them stood, catching their breath, they knew they had won.
Kalrast the Dark was dead.
Cadmus stepped away, and immediately knelt down and began cleaning the blood from his sword. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, his red skin glistening in the torchlight. He kept twitching, constantly glancing back at the lifeless body, expecting it to get back up and take its revenge. His gaze darted around the room at the scattered piles of bones, dismembered parts of dry-skinned animated corpses, and once-living henchmen that had all taken part in the vicious battle. Cadmus let out a deep sigh of relief, returning his sword to its sheath. They had all taken a beating, each with broken bones and more cuts and scrapes to count, but it was finished. The fight was over.
Alastor, keeping his injured right arm close to his side, kicked the dead priest’s body for good measure. He opened his left hand, producing a ball of flame, but thought better of it and closed his fist with a wisp of smoke.
“Kalrast the Dark,” he said aloud, a smirk on his aged face. “More like Kalrast the Dead.”
Mel wasted no time in gingerly crouching next to the necromancer’s body, her bruised hands finding their way into every pocket and purse in his robes. “I’ll check him for valuables,” she began. “You two check everyone and everything else. Make sure they’re all dead. I’m sure none of us want any of these things jumping up and stabbing us in the back.”
Alastor muttered something under his breath, but followed her suggestion anyway. He kept an eye on her from a distance, however, in case she tried to keep any valuables without sharing. If anyone was going to do that, he mused, it better be me.
Cadmus used the end of his sword to sift through piles of bone and dead flesh, immediately stabbing and stomping on anything that looked like it was beginning to move. His tail flicked around nervously as he counted each kill, making sure every enemy was dead and accounted for. He joined Alastor in searching the bodies of Kalrast’s henchmen, and it appeared the grey-bearded sorcerer had already gathered a handful of coins, which he was sorting into three piles on the floor beside him, one larger than the others.
“Let’s see…“ began the robed spellcaster just loud enough for Cadmus to hear him. “I killed these three while you two were twiddling your thumbs, so these coins go to me… and I guess you had a hand in finishing this one off, so I suppose you deserve a copper or two…”
Cadmus raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “We’ll divide the spoils evenly when we reach town, Alastor.”
The sorcerer feigned surprise and shrugged, tossing all of the coins into his pack. Cadmus called out to Mel while sorting through everything.
“How’s it coming over there? Anything interesting?”
A brief pause, and her response came distracted, as if she was studying something. “A few,” she called out. “He had some rings, a scepter that is probably magical, and some scrolls. I don’t know what they are, but thank the gods he didn’t have a chance to use them all.”
Satisfied with her search of the necromancer’s body, she stood up and turned to join the others.
“I’m sure someone back in town can-“
Her words stopped abruptly. Cadmus turned to look at what had happened, and watched as she suddenly grabbed the last throwing dagger from her belt, her gaze fixed on the opposite end of the chamber. He jerked his head to follow her gaze, and he leapt to his feet, drawing his sword. Alastor immediately conjured another ball of flame in his left hand, bracing one foot against the floor to be ready to jump out of the way if necessary.
A man stood at one end of the huge chamber. It was difficult to tell if he had been there long- he was far enough from any of the room’s torches to be hidden in a shadow, and he stood as still as a statue. He could have been there the entire time, for all any of them knew, and they might not have even noticed him. The only entrance in or out of this room, that they knew of, was the noisy metal chain-pulley platform in the middle of the room. If he had come in the same way that they had, it would have been hard to miss.
“You there,” spoke Cadmus, his sword held firmly in both hands. “Show yourself. We may not be enemies. Our quarrel was with this necromancer, who now lies dead before us.”
The three adventurers stood in silence, each with a weapon at the ready. The only sound in the underground chamber was the sound of the man’s footsteps, each in perfect rhythm and tapping softly against the worked stone floor. As he came into the light, his garb looked like it would have been welcome in a museum- he wore an immaculate white coat decorated with all sorts of military insignia, though not from an army any of them recognized. His sleeves were colored that of the deepest blood red, and he kept his hands folded behind his back. At his side was an ornately-handled longsword whose pommel gleamed in the torchlight, and a shield could be seen strapped to his back. His face, as it came into view, was pale and clean-shaven, and perfect except for a jagged, ugly purple scar running down the left side, across his eye. His ebony-black hair was so neat it might have been carved from obsidian- everything about his appearance, in fact, was meticulous, unruffled. His face bore no expression whatsoever, but he stared ahead intently as he stepped rhythmically towards the three of them.
“Hey, Mr. Fancy Pants,” chimed Alastor, pulling himself to his feet, the flame in his hand flickering as his fingers danced impatiently beneath it. His right arm, possibly broken, remained tightly at his side, though he turned slightly to make it less obvious. “I recommend you turn around and go back where you came from. We’re kind of in the middle of something.”
“Alastor, shut up,” snapped Mel quickly, silently testing the weight of the dagger in her hand in case she needed to use it. Her eyes flicked back and forth between the stranger and the metal platform- if they needed to, would they be able to escape fast enough? If he turned hostile, would they be able to just leave this man down here?
The unidentified man continued to advance slowly, his eyes fixed on the group. Cadmus almost felt like the stranger’s gaze was piercing straight into his soul, as if he could put him into a trance with just a look. Then he realized the man wasn’t actually looking at them- he was looking at the empty stone archway.
“I have to warn you, sir” began Cadmus, trying hard to put the tiniest hint of a threat behind that last word, “that if your business is with this archway, we’re going to have to stop you. We came to put an end to it, and anyone who seeks to use it. I hope that doesn’t include you.”
The stranger, finally taking his gaze from the archway and directing it towards the three of them in turn, spoke at last, his clear voice carrying through the large chamber.
“Leave. Now. All of you.”
Mel took a sharp breath, her legs tensing up momentarily. Alastor, however, choked out a sarcastic laugh. “Maybe you didn’t hear my friend here,” he said defiantly. “And maybe you didn’t see what we did to the last guy who wanted to use this archway. But we’ve had a busy day, and unless you’re here to help us clean up, you can take your suggestions elsewhere.”
Cadmus and Mel began ever-so-slowly moving into a tighter formation around Alastor, Cadmus to his right and Mel to his left, attempting to look more threatening. Both of them knew that they couldn’t take another fight with a competent adversary, but after working so hard to stop Kalrast from opening the rift and unleashing unspeakable horrors on the world, there was no way they would simply hand it over to someone who showed up and demanded it.
The man spoke once more, barely moving a muscle except to speak.
“I will repeat myself once more. If you value anything, you will leave right now and say nothing else.”
His gaze caught each of their eyes, and Mel felt herself wanting nothing more than to give up whatever it was that they thought they had accomplished by resisting this stranger and simply flee with her life. Cadmus began to tremble visibly, and probably would have broken his composure if it weren’t for Alastor.
“Listen here, Scarface,” spoke up the sorcerer once more. “I don’t know who you are, or who put that stick up your-“
In an instant, the man was no longer there. Mel threw the dagger from her grip out of shock, and it sailed swiftly through the space where he had stood. A sudden clang of metal just steps away grabbed her attention- the red-sleeved man was between Alastor and Cadmus, his face a hair’s breadth from the aged spellcaster’s. Cadmus had swung his sword in a mighty downward arc at the stranger, but in the split-second of travel, the man had slipped his shield from his back and deflected the blow with its beautifully polished surface. Mel looked on in horror as she realized the stranger’s sword was no longer in its scabbard, and was instead buried in Alastor’s chest, piercing through the back of his robe, gleaming with fresh blood.
A stunned moment later, the sword slid gracefully from the sorcerer, and his body fell to the floor, gently. The man turned ever-so-slightly, pointing his still-dripping blade at Mel, his shield keeping Cadmus’ weapon at bay.
“You will leave. Now.”