The glow from Isabel's sword illuminated an otherwise dark cobblestone-lined tunnel. She walked cautiously and not just because it was slippery underfoot from the constant water trickling between moss-covered stones on one wall. If Bastian's warnings were correct, she was about to step into combat with the most potent necromancer on Athien. Isabel had only seen Zaron a handful of times during her battles on Between, working both with and against him, however, locking horns with him on the prime-material plane was another thing altogether.
The tunnel entrance was roughly half a league south-west of Zaron's manor. Created initially to move goods between a copper mine and the nearby town, the tunnels had been abandoned for years, and by Bastian's reckoning, they more recently served as a way for Zaron to get in and out of his manor in private. Once rumours spread of the necromancer's gruesome experiments on corpses left in his charge as the operator of the local morgue, his movements were tracked continuously.
"Isabel, stop", Bastian said quietly with a hint of urgency in his voice.
She turned to her companions with an inquisitive look. Saiyin was focussing on Bastian as he ran the palm of his hand across the stone tunnel wall. Isabel could not hear the words the bard whispered, or even what tongue he spoke, however, after a short period, the outline of what looked like a door began to glow a bright yellow. Bastian pressed his second hand against the stone and leaned in to push it open. Beyond was an earthen passage that had a discernible upward sloping floor.
"This is it, prepare yourselves. I sense something about this place, it appears to rest on the border of Athien and the shadow plane. Zaron may have access to all his enhanced powers in this battle. However, make no mistake, we are not on Between, and there is no ethereal chord connecting us to our physical forms on Athien. If you die here, it is absolute.". Bastian's expression was questioning, making sure Saiyin and Isabel were prepared to continue.
"If what you say is correct, then, we must do this wise one.", Saiyin added.
Bastian looked to Isabel, and she nodded in agreement before walking steadfastly past Bastian into the new tunnel.
After a short period, the tunnel opened up into an antechamber. An altar of sorts with double wooden doors in the wall behind it stood opposite to where they entered.
"To arms!", exclaimed Isabel, jolting her companions into action. Several bodies, in various stages of decay, were emerging from the earth.
All 3 of them could sense their powers enhanced, similar to what they experience on Between. They fought well together, Isabel in the vanguard unleashing her holy wrath, Saiyin supporting her efforts while blasting the undead from close range and Bastian fighting with sword in one hand and firing blasts of magic energy with the other. The lore keeper had an aura about it, you could almost physically feel it, and it spurred his companions on. The chamber was quickly cleared of the undead, who were once again dispatched to their graves. Saiyin opened a vial of holy water to purify the soil and ensure they would not rise again. Undead were not a thing on Athien, something that Zaron was eager to change. He simply had to be stopped.
Styx crouched in silence, looking down on his master who waited patiently for his adversaries to arrive. He absentmindedly placed his hand on phylactery by his side. Despite the anguish that raged within, he would not fail his master. The next few minutes would define his life and change the course of Athien history.
Styx's thoughts were interrupted with the sounds of battle seeping through the double oak doors to the south. It seemed the trio had arrived and the moment of truth would come soon.
"Styx, my friend. Your moment is here. Once you have captured my Soul, be gone from this place and follow my instructions to the letter. I trust you and your reward shall be immeasurable." Zaron allowed himself a brief glimpse towards Styx before returning his attention to the doors. Styx eyes remain fixed on his master.
Suddenly, a big blast set Styx back on his heels. Both doors splintered and what remained of them hung limply on their hinges. Isabel, Bastian and Saiyin strode through the breach, weapons at the ready, both physical and arcane.
"Welcome.", Zaron said with a smile. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"It is over, old friend.", Bastian replied. "You have chosen a path of madness, and you will either rescind or die this day."
"You of all people should understand why the gods must be stopped, lore keeper. Help me, and we can put a stop to it all.", Zaron walked towards them with his arms open before him.
Styx silently lifted the phylactery in his right hand and clasped an obsidian glass orb in his left.
"Zaron, things have been set in motion outside of your vision. The old gods themselves are under siege from a demonic invasion, we need to work together to stop the destruction of our entire world. Don't make us kill you.", Bastian replied.
Isabel noted a flicker of doubt on Zaron's face. It seems the news was indeed unknown to him. However, the doubt was gone as soon as it appeared, and his original mocking gaze returned.
Before Bastian could speak again, Zarin fired off a green blast of energy that hit Saiyin squarely in her chest. She flew back, lifted several feet off the ground before hitting the back wall with a solid thud. She was stunned but staggered to her feet while uttering a prayer of healing.
Zaron fought like a madman firing off necrotic blasts in different directions as, once again, his undead minions started to rise from the ground. Isabel sprang into action, smiting undead with ease and all the while making her way towards the necromancer. Bastian entered the fray as well, enhancing her powers and shooting off magic blasts at the same time.
Despite his considerable powers, Zaron was no match for the 3 of them, and it became evident he would not be victorious.
"Don't let him escape!", screamed Saiyin. Battle fury overcoming her usual demeanour.
Styx readied himself.
Just when it looked like Zaron was spent, a mighty undead warrior rose from the ground behind him. Unlike the others, this one was clad in heavy armour and wielded a rune-encrusted magical sword. Baleful red eyes glowed beneath its metal helm as it gestured towards the paladin. Isabel braced herself for the ensuing battle.
The undead charged, its sword held high above its head. Bastian shouted an incantation, then a magic aura emanated from his hands to briefly engulf the undead warrior. The death knight subtly changed its course before bringing its sword down to cut deep into Zaron's shoulder. Styx let out an audible gasp, unable to comprehend what just happened.
Zaron screamed in pain and turned to regain control of his minion. The distraction was all Isabel needed to leap forward and bring her holy sword down, cutting the necromancer's head clean off his shoulders.
"Nooooo!", Styx cried as he leapt down from his perch. The 3 companions turned startled to face him, however, he raced past them, carrying what looked like a lantern in his right hand. Styx set the phylactery near Zaron's corpse before activating it. A faint trace of green vapour could be seen being drawn into it from Zaron's body.
Bastian and Isabel immediately rushed forward to stop him, while Saiyin began an enchantment to purify the place.
Suddenly, in one motion, Styx picked up the phylactery, then disappeared, only to be immediately replaced by Saiyin. Bastian had seen Styx do this before, on Between. He quickly turned to where Saiyin was moments back, and sure enough, there was Styx. However, quicker than they could react, he threw a black orb on the ground and was soon obscured with black smoke. Once it cleared, he was gone.
"What just happened?", Saiyin asked.
"I am not sure", said Bastian. "However, one thing is certain, Zaron's mortal form on Athien has been destroyed. Then again, I am not certain we have seen the last of him.