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Lich Dance Prelude - Part 2

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Lich Dance Prelude - Part 2
Saiyin pulled the reins of her steed, gently bringing it to a halt. Her thighs were grateful for the respite as she dismounted and led the horse to a fast-moving stream that wound its way between two densely flowered green fields. She spent far too much time on the road these days and too little time at home, in her temple where she felt more at one with the gods.

More recently, her focus has been to observe the witchdoctor, Kruul. No one was exactly sure what he was up to really. It seems he had made a big enough disturbance that Saiyin, Doenrakkar and Haksa had all been sent direct commune from the old gods to investigate. The three of them had become unlikely allies as a result.

Today, however, Saiyin was on a mission of a different kind, one that held far more interest. Word had reached her ears of a human warrior woman who was able to heal her wounded comrades and smite her enemies with divine energy. Saiyin assumed the woman had recently joined the ranks of the summoned, but that was yet to be confirmed. In any event, the elf was eager to speak with her. There was an increasing likelihood that the titanic conflicts raging on Between would soon come to Athien. Powerful allies would be needed.

Bastian woke suddenly, his chest heaving. Beads of sweat trickling steadily from his temples to his jawline. The gems embedded in his head tingled, as they were wont to do during times of stress. He was sure it was just a dream. However, the line between dreams and reality had admittedly blurred of late.

Dream or not, the risks of it being reality were too tremendous, so Bastian was determined to act, and soon. There were a lot of things happening in the world that had the potential for catastrophe, however, if Zaron succeeded in becoming the first undead to walk upon the mortal realm of Athien, well, that could end all life on the planet.

Bastian's mind worked overtime as he thought things through. His physical form on Athien was not powerful enough to confront the necromancer alone, mainly since Styx would most certainly come to Zaron's aid. Bastian thought of one that would help as she was also aware of what the necromancer had been up to and would do anything in her considerable power to thwart him.

Bastian grabbed a cloak and dressed hastily. Time was of the essence. He raced up the roughly hewn stairs that lined the inside of his tower until he reached the top floor. A circular chamber filled with wooden shelves containing row upon row of leather-bound books. He paced across the floor towards a small, circular oak table covered in a black cloth. Bastian removed the fabric and took a seat at the table, his gaze immediately focused on the glass sphere half embedded in the centre of the table-top. Crystal balls were rare. However, Bastian made it a priority to get his hands on one when he first ventured to Athien from his home plane of Between. They were priceless in times like this.

The lore keeper cleared his mind, gently massaged his temples, then reached out with both hands so that all ten fingertips rested on the sphere. Green smoke swirled within, before turning purple and finally disappearing. Bastian opened his eyes to peer into the depths of the globe and slowly an image formed of a radiant elf with a porcelain face that inspired awe. The desires of Athien natives did not constrain Bastian; however, even he could admire sheer beauty when he saw it.

The image within the sphere panned out to reveal more of Saiyin's surroundings until it announced a second figure that was talking with the priestess. Bastian did not immediately recognise her. A powerful-looking human woman clad in heavy armour with similar iconography to that of Saiyin. A holy warrior of sorts which intrigued the lore keeper. Suddenly Saiyin held up a hand to silence her companion before the elf looked up towards the sky and said: "Bastian, what troubles you, my friend?"

"Priestess, apologies for the manner of my contact, however, time is of the essence." Bastian's tone betrayed his obvious concern.

"Tell me. Is it Kruul?" she replied with a hint of trepidation.

"I would prefer to speak with you in private, my lady." Saiyin then realised he was referring to Isabel who could hear her responses, albeit not the lore keeper's words. "Isabel is fine to hear this. I have a feeling we may need her!" She replied.

After a short mental note that indeed the priestess was correct, Bastian continued. "This is not about Kruul. The witch doctor remains a concern; however, we will deal with him another day. I wish to speak of the necromancer for I fear Zaron is close to achieving his goal. Much closer than we anticipated. His ascension to un-death is imminent. We must act quickly."

"What evidence do you have of this?" Saiyin probed. Isabel instinctively moved closer to Saiyin, wanting to hear the other part of the conversation, unaware it was not possible. Saiyin raised a hand to request patience.

"I have seen it in a vision of sorts. One that has possibly already come to pass. At the very least, let us investigate." Bastian spoke with an urgency Saiyin had seldom heard before.

"We are a hundred leagues from Zaron's home, Bastian. It will take us days to get there." Sayin replied with some exasperation in her voice.

"Stay where you are," Bastian said. "I will be there in a few minutes to transport you and your companion. I assume she is coming with us?"

Saiyin looked at Isabel for a moment. The paladin's gaze bore into Saiyin as if trying to read her mind. Before Saiyin could speak, Isabel exclaimed: "I am coming with you." Her voice left little room for debate.

Isabel scoured her mind trying to remember everything she had heard of Bastian before today. Unfortunately, she was not sure which parts of her knowledge were the truth and which were a myth. There was a lot of intrigue and fear of the man. Not entirely unexpected for a human who was rumoured to have lived for hundreds of years. Then again, rumours persist that Bastian was not of this world at all, but rather a resident of Between who became trapped here following the fall of Edarr. The fact Saiyin held him in such high regard was enough to pique Isabel's interest. She wanted to learn more, mainly since her recent first summons to the shadow plane had provided numerous questions and very few answers.

Shortly after meeting Bastian, she found herself travelling hundreds of leagues across Athien in a matter of minutes within his otherwise unremarkable tower. The fact it appeared out of nowhere in front of her and Saiyin moments earlier unnerved her to no end. The most remarkable thing about the tower was the sheer number of books that lined the seemingly infinite shelves and bookcases that cluttered every square foot on all the levels she had seen. Other than books, there were various contraptions and devices scattered around. Each looked alien to her though some she recognised as mechanical and others more magical in nature. If there was any doubt that Bastian was not of this world, a few moments in his tower and you were assured.

A slight feeling of inertia developed in the pit of Isabel's stomach, a reminder that the stone structure she was sitting in was hurtling towards their destination at speed impossible by reasonable means. She overheard Bastian explaining to Saiyin that the tower was able to phase in and out of a quasi plane that connected Athien to Between. The proximity to the latter meant exposure to the shadow plane's time-warping properties, which in turn allowed the tower to travel vast distances in a short space of time.

Bastian's voice cut through the moment. "We have arrived. Let's have our wits about us since we do not know what we will be facing. Zaron's powers have evolved, and we must hope he has yet to become a full Lich else this could be our end."
"You called master?" Styx stood at the doorway of an oval-shaped chamber. Candlelight flickered off the stone walls while moisture meandered its way down the mortar lines between the stone blocks, the moss absorbing it whenever it had the chance. This chamber used to be the place where Styx and his master, Zaron, would conduct their gruesome experiments, far underground and away from the prying eyes of the villagers. These days Zaron hardly left it, so engrossed in his work he had become.

"Master," Styx said a little louder. Zaron looked up from his work momentarily, and his initial irritation quickly subsided when he saw Styx. "Styx, the time has come. Our enemies are moving against us."

"I did not think the phylactery was ready to use my master. Is not still unstable?" Styx asked.

"My work is not complete. However, it is close enough. Besides, we have little choice." Zaron's voice was barely above a whisper. "Listen to me, Styx. We are about to come under attack, and no matter what happens, you must survive and ensure you escape with the phylactery on your person." Styx involuntarily stepped forward to hear better.

"Let us flee now master. We have time!" Styx voice was rasping as anxiety set in. He nervously looked behind him to expecting an assassin from the shadows.

"No. The time for my death is here. It is what we have been working towards for years. I am ready for the next phase of my journey. They will strike me down, and at the precise time, you must activate the phylactery to capture my soul, as we discussed." Zaron's voice displayed little emotion other than a hint of steely resolve. His eyes flared with intensity, and for a moment, he almost looked excited.

Styx adored his master. He would give up his life for him. Deep down he knew this day was always going to come but now that it was here, he did not want to face it. "I am afraid, master."

"I am still mortal, my friend, and the human part of me always knows fear. However, we must be strong. Under no circumstances are you to become involved in the melee. I will try my best to destroy as many of them as I can before they kill me. However, you must stay hidden and only reveal yourself to capture my soul at the opportune time, and then make good your escape as we discussed." Zaron continued, "Once we succeed at this, and I transcend into undeath on the mortal plane of Athien, in time, I will be able to challenge the gods themselves and rid us of their meddling once and for all."

To be continued...

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