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Volume 3190a
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ROSE OF STORMGAARD
A Serialized Fantasy Adventure Novel
By Ken St. Andre

Chapter 29: Retribution

"It's that bastard lich wizard!" Urarrth's face contorted with rage and dismay when Terevorr appeared.

"Rose of Stormgaard!" screeched the wizard, "your death comes now!" He pulled out a sigil of silver shaped like a lightning bolt and aimed it at Urroz.

Urarrth had his great anti-magical sword in hand. He could only hope that it was truly that--a protection against magic. He was just two steps away from Urroz. He turned and strode to her, and sheltered her with his body while thrusting the grip of the sword into her hand. He also kept part of this hand on the forte of the blade. She looked at him and grasped his plan, reaching out and taking the pommel into her hand.

"Lightning!" yelled Terevorr. "A bolt of crackling bluish-white energy shot from the sigil to strike Urarrth and Urroz. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air, and a tremendously loud boom rocked the dungeon.  The lightning danced around the figures of the two false uruks for a few seconds, and then it seemed to be sucked into the great sword they were both touching.  The sword pulsed with a brightness that hurt the eye to look upon, and then went dark again. The lightning was gone.

Urroz took off her uruk amulet, and reverted to her human form. She glared at the wizard, then took a brief moment to give Urarrth a quick kiss, little more than a peck on the lips. Taking his sword from his hand, and giving him her elven blade, she strode forward to meet the wizard.

"I'm glad you came to me, Nam," said Rose as she walked calmly toward him. "It saves me the trouble of hunting you down."

"Nufon!" bellowed Cherry. "You have a lot to answer for, you lying sack of undead bones!"

Terevorr beckoned his golems forward. "Kill them all!" he shrieked. The four gigantic automatons stepped forward, two on each side of the wizard, each massive step shaking the very stone of the dungeon. Twenty feet tall, they seemed to be made of tubes of steel, and they dwarfed even Muck the mighty Rock Troll. Their huge arms swung back and forth like pistons. Their eyes glowed with a red radiance, and they clanked as they walked.

"Uruks!" bellowed Urarrth. "This is my fight! Retreat! Get yourselves to safety!"

"Dat's da Boss!" chortled Urokko. "He's always taking da glory jobs for himself. Not dis time!" The big uruk hurled himself at the advancing automaton, and twenty others followed him including Urnatar.

L'nnrrd and L'rrww aimed their wands and cast blue fire at the advancing golems. Where it struck their stony bodies burned blue for a moment, but it did not halt them, or even seem to damage them.

Terevorr cast another bolt of lightning at Rose. She held the sword in front of her, and it swallowed the magic again. "Smash her!" He touched the nearest golem and pointed at Rose. The lifeless thing turned toward her.

The other three spread out as they walked deeper into the room.  With each step forward they smashed and crushed the petrified bodies of lizards who were mostly on that side of the room.

Twenty uruks bowled into an advancing golem and were brushed aside. Their scimitars shattered when they struck the magical metal. Their spears blunted and broke. No uruk was more than a third as tall as the golem, and it batted them aside and crushed them down effortlessly. The golem hit Urnatar (and four other Uruks) with a sweeping blow of its arm and knocked them through the air across the room.

The statues who had been sitting down, got back on their feet, and began attacking anything that wasn't one of them. Dwarves and uruks went back to the battle against statues.

Muck shook off the effects of the boulder that had just hit him, and caught a golem's arm just as it descended toward Urcaryx's head. With a show of tremendous trollish strength, he pulled the golem off course, and then threw it across his hip to land prone with a resounding crash amidst a group of petrified skeletons. Rock fragments flew everywhere when the golem crashed into them.  It lay still for just a moment on its back, then rolled over, knocking even more gorgon victims down, and got to its hands and knees before standing up. Murk charged it.

Cherry leaped forward to tackle a golem. She honestly believed she could beat anyone or anything in combat, but she was not foolish enough to think she could simply trade blows with the thing. A massive fist crashed down where she was standing, but the flame-haired warrior woman danced aside. Rock chips flew up from the floor from the fury of the blow. She leaned in and cut with all of her might at the golem's armpit.  Her sword rang against the stone and rebounded with much of the blade blunted where she had struck.

"That's awkward," said Cherry. "I will have to find another way of taking this thing down."

Urcaryx aimed a kill spell at the black-garbed wizard, but did not cast it. She got a very bad feeling when she contemplated that spell, and knew from her magical training, that she did not have enough kremm to affect the lich. When she thought about using the spell on a golem, her mind found nothing there to kill.  Urpetar yanked her out of the way of a swinging fist of stone.

Then Urarrth entered the fray. He avoided a blow and leaped right on top of a golem's arm, riding it back up toward its head. When he got close enough, he jammed the silvery elven blade Rose had given him right into the golem's eyes.  The blade went a few inches into the bullet-shaped head and then stopped as if it had hit solid stone.  The golem flailed at Urarth with its other arm, and he had to leap clear.

That golem reached up and pulled the sword out of its eyes.  It hurled it aside. The blade went spinning into the general melee and decapitated a living statue.

A golem aimed a sweeping blow at Rose. She waited until the last second, threw herself flat on the floor, and dodged under the attack. Rolling quickly with her arms tight against her body, she moved to the side of the monster, then came to her feet and sprinted toward the wizard. There were only ten steps between them, and she crossed the distance in a couple of heartbeats. Terevorr barely had time to shriek "Die!" before she was on top of him.

Purple fire sprang from his hands and washed over Rose, but she didn't die. The magic was sucked into the large black blade she carried.

Rose reached her target and lashed out with the sword. Terevorr raised his arm to fend it off, and the heavy blade sheared right through it. The forearm and hand flew off sideways, still clutching the lightning bolt sigil. The blade thunked into the lich's chest and stopped just as if she had tried to cut down a tree. There was no blood from the wound.

"Even that cursed blade cannot kill me!"

"Let's give it another chance!" Rose jerked the blade free and swung it back for another cut. Terevorr staggered a few steps, then raised its other hand and screamed "Kill her! Kill her!"

The golem Rose had dodged was ponderously turning around, and raising its arms for another crushing blow.

Muck rushed against his foe, and leaped to land with both rocky feet squarely on the golem's cylindrical body. He came down with tremendous force . . . and simply slid across the body, lost his balance, and fell down on the other side.  The golem balled its fist and struck Muck a blow on the hip that sent stone chips flying in all directions and left a fist-shaped indentation in Muck's rocky carapace. Hot, lava-like trollish blood bubbled up out of the wound.

Such a blow would have shattered the hip and broken the leg of any normal creature.
 Rock trolls aren't normal; they don't have bones. The injury hurt Muck, but it certainly did not take him out of action.

Cherry threw aside her blunted sword. She felt super-charged with magic, and it mostly felt like strength. The golem's main attribute was Strength, and the genie's blessing was now making her twice as strong as it was. But she was only perhaps one fourth its size and mass. How to apply her strength was the problem.

The golem groped for her. She reached out with both hands, caught its fist and heaved. The golem flew over her head and smashed into the mass of struggling statues, uruks, and dwarves. It squashed many of them flat.

Urarrth came to his feet, wondering what he could do now. He had no weapon, and no way of harming the golem that he was fighting. He looked back and saw his loyal uruks swarming over it like ants. Some clung to its arms or legs. Some were climbing on its back. Urokko had actually gotten on the golem's shoulder and was hanging onto an eye with one hand, and pounding a large piece of broken stone on the bullet-like head with the other. Looking down, Urarrth saw Urthorn standing on the golem's foot and taking swing after swing at what should have been an ankle but was just a massive tube of metal. Her Dwarven axe shone with a supernal radiance and chips of metal were flying with every blow.

The golem must have felt Urthorn's carving. It suddenly kicked its foot violently into the air, and the dwarf-uruk went sailing away, cursing violently as she went. Urarrth watched her arc toward the far wall and winced. This was going to hurt. Then her trajectory ended, not with Urthorn going splat as he had thought she would. She just quit moving and hung in mid-air.

Urthorn was so surprised when she slowed and hung in mid-air that she dropped her axe. It only dropped a few feet, and there it stayed, almost, but not quite, within reach. Then she started moving, descending, on a curving path. Looking down she saw an ancient elf--the oldest she had ever seen waggling his fingers at her and directing her flight.  In a few seconds more she landed on her feet beside the elven wizard.

"Thorn of the Clan Undermountain at your service," she told him as she landed and reached again for her axe.

"Ohtar at your service, good dwarf," replied the oldest elf she had ever seen. His ears were so long and pointed that they flared up behind his head almost like wings.  His nose was long enough that a bird could have perched upon it. His hair was pure white, a tangled mane that rose up off the top of his head. His mustache and beard spread across his cheeks and hung down onto his chest in curls and twists. It was all pure white. He had long, long elongated fingers with long pointy fingernails. His eyes were more than twice the size of Calyx's eyes and were slanted upwards at the corners. His skin was a fine shade of gray, not quite the same snowy white as his hair. He had no wrinkles. He wore the tattered remains of a once-red robe. It seemed to be held together by magic and mildew. And he smelled--a not unpleasant odor--akin to rotting leaves.

"Nice catch, old timer. You must be the old wizard that Karalialin mentioned to us.

"I must be," he smiled, a smile revealing overly large eyeteeth.

Thorn took off her uruk amulet. There seemed no point in wearing it now.

"Do you have much kremm left?" A plan was taking shape in Thorn's mind.

"The kremm energy is not mine, youngling. Do people not yet understand that the magical energy belongs to the world itself, and that we who call ourselves wizards simply redirect and focus the flow to suit our own purposes?"

"Right, right. I don't believe that is how most wizards see it. But you're saying you have plenty of piss and vinegar left?"

"Oh yes, I am feeling stronger all the time."

"Then, do you suppose you could use that levitation trick on the golems?"

"You mean like this?" He gestured toward the golem that had just kicked Thorn across the room, and it slowly rose off the floor and headed upwards.  With cries of alarm, the uruks who thronged it began dropping off. Last to jump was Urokko, still pounding futilely at the golem's head with his crumbling stone.

"Hee hee, yes!" chortled Thorn, "but get the one that's menacing Rose next. And hurry!"

"Like this?" The old wizard gestured and the golem turning on Rose suddenly left its feet and floated high up into the air, just as it was beginning a swing that would have surely mashed her into the floor.

"Volcanic!" Thorn offered the highest term of dwarven appreciation for his efforts. "You are good, old timer!"

"I was once the best, at least among my kind," he bragged.

"Can you do the same for the other two?"

"Certainly! Let me just skyhook these two first."  Ohtar made some complicated gestures with his hands, gestures that suggested gouging and gripping and hanging all at once. The two levitated golems hung writhing in the air as the old elf turned his attention away from them.

No longer threatened by a golem, Rose turned toward the wizard once again. He was striding toward his amputated hand. He obviously intended to pick it up and re-attach it. Rose bounded after him, bringing her sword around in a vicious cut aimed at his head.

Somehow Terevorr sensed her coming. He turned to see the blade swinging at his head, and then he did the smartest thing he had done yet during the fight. He ducked. Rose's sword passed hover his head and body. She had swung with such violence that she had to turn with it. Since she could not stop her momentum, she turned with it, angling the sword down for a lower cut on her second try.  Terevorr groped for another sigil with his remaining hand. He pulled out a silver pentagram with a glyph in its center.

"Protective Pentagram!" he yelled, invoking the power of the talisman with his voice. A shimmering barrier of silver energy sprang up in a five-sided column around him. He started to smirk. Nothing could penetrate the magical barrier around his body.

The anti-magical sword sliced through the energy barrier like it wasn't there and took his arm off just above the elbow.  Shock contorted the wizard's pasty features as he realized for the first time that he might be destroyed here. He still couldn't believe it would happen to him, but at that moment he wished to make a magical gate that would get him out of the dungeon. In order to do so, he had to touch the gate sigil inside his left bottom pocket. He reached down for it with what was left of his left arm, but the arm was now just too short to reach the pocket.

Rose smiled ferociously, and pressed her attack. An accomplished warrior she knew better than to give her foe any respite, any chance to do something unexpected. Her next blow took the wizard in the neck and decapitated him. Terevorr's head bounced across the room.

But the undead body did not fall. Instead it lurched forward and smashed a shoulder into Rose, sending her staggering. Then it turned and shambled toward the fallen head.

Urarrth sprinted to help Rose. He caught the staggering woman and steadied her on her feet, then launched himself at the headless body that had almost reached the wizard's head.

"You cannot kill me!" yelled Terevorr. It was amazing that the head could still talk with neither lungs nor air to force through its vocal cords, but Terevorr was a creature of magic, and he spoke by magic.

"You're not putting yourself back together, wizard," said Urarrth, grabbing the wizard's robes and flinging the body back away from him and the head in Rose's direction.

"That was a mistake, mortal! I don't need sigils for everything. DIE!" Purple energy spewed from the wizard's head and enveloped Urarrth. The big uruk looked shocked. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he crumbled to the floor without a sound.

"Arrth!" Horror sounded in Rose's scream. She couldn't believe that the man was dead, just that quickly.

Terevorr's body caught its balance and started back for the head. Terevorr gloated for a moment as he saw one of his foes go down.

Rose struck a low blow at the staggering carcass. Her sword cut through its right leg, and then the body crashed to the stone floor. Terevorr didn't give up. If he could only get his hands back, and his body, then he could escape this debacle.

"Watch this!" said the Old Wizard. He gestured strongly with both hands, and the two remaining golems levitated into the air.  With them suspended twenty feet above the still struggling dwarves and statues, he made the gouging, hooking, tying motions that left them hanging in mid-air.

Thorn wasn't watching. She ran across the room as fast as her short legs could carry her. On her path a living statue struck at her. She parried the blow with her shield, and cut it off at the knees with her axe. It clanged to the floor, bleeding molten iron from both legs.

Both arm fragments, half a leg, and a mangled body clawed their way through stony fragments toward the head. Rose stepped forward and hewed the other leg off.

"Let me put a stop to this," rumbled Muck as he came over beside Rose. He stomped down on the wizards writhing hips and flattened them, pinning the bloodless body to the floor.

If looks could kill, Terevorr would have slain everyone in the hall in that instant. But he was not a gorgon. He had to resort to a standard death spell. "DIE! DIE! DIE" he raved as the purple energy flooded out of his head toward the mighty rock troll.

Even as Terevorr began to speak, Rose laid her sword across the rock troll's nearest leg, letting the blade rest against his rocky hide. The purple energy swirled toward them, but was sucked into her sword where it did no harm. Some of the energy poured past them both and struck struggling statues and dwarves thirty feet behind them. Everyone touched by it dropped like a stone, instantly dead. Thus died L'rrww, second highest wizard of the Ebony Dwarves.

"That's enough out of you!" snarled Rose, skipping forward as soon as the purple glow abated.  She reached the head and brought her sword down across it with tremendous power, cutting it in half vertically.  Then she cut it again, horizontally right through the forehead. Nudging the pieces apart with her foot, she dropped to her knees and diced the fragments of brain until nothing larger than a fingertip remained in one place.

The pieces of the body stopped moving. The hanging golems stopped writhing in the air. The few living statues left broke and ran for the exit. The dwarves and uruks, many of whom were badly wounded let them go.

The fight was over.

Interlude 6

The Goddess watched the final battle in the Pits of Despair. When Urthorn revealed the head of the Gorgon and petrified two thirds of the combatants at the beginning, she watched it through a mirror. She had foreseen that trick, knew instinctively that Rose would use the Gorgonís head to her own advantage. She didnít think that the Gorgonís magic, the divine effects of an alien god, could affect her through the magical barrier that surrounded Terevorrís Pits of Despair. If vision could penetrate the barrier, perhaps magic could also strike through it. There was no reason to take chances.

She watched the entrance of the golems and saw how they crushed all the opposition they could reach. Rose lost more of her forces fighting golems than she had in the rest of the dungeon campaign. She also saw how vulnerable they were to a magician with a levitation spell.  She saw the four tiny figures hanging helplessly in the air above the Hall of Skulls.

She watched Roseís dismemberment of the lich wizard Terevorr. She felt the wizardís mind being shattered as his brain was reduced to dust, and finally to ashes. The undying spirit remained, but it had been rendered mindless and so scattered that it had very little power left. She watched the bonfire, and breathed a tiny sigh of relief when the Gorgonís head was consumed.

She looked long and hard at her ancient enemy. She supposed Khazan Ohtariel Khazan would somehow find a way to intrude in her life once again. She felt conflicted about that. On the one hand, he was her bitterest foe. On the other, he was the only one, except for a few dragons, who went back to the beginning with her. He might be the only person in the world who could truly understand her. Perhaps that is why she had always chosen to imprison rather than to slay him. If he were gone, removed from Trollworld forever, then what would she have to live for?

She thought about Rose and Cherry, two mortal women who had somehow confounded and destroyed her second-most dangerous minion.  It occurred to her that perhaps she was doing this wrong. Instead of eliminating the heroes who could oppose her actions, perhaps she should recruit them and get them on her side. Both Rose and Cherry were mercenaries. Surely their loyalty, or at least their services, could be purchased if it was done right. She had always been good at making allies. Perhaps she should return to the things that had worked for her when she was just beginning, back in the early days of the War of Liberation. 

She could see now why Gristlegrim encouraged adventurers to try their luck in his giant floating fortress. It wasnít about crushing and destroying the fools who dared invade his sanctum. It was about playing with them, testing them, enjoying both his own cleverness in creating the situations, and the resourcefulness and heroism, yes heroism was the word for it, of those who managed to beat them. Dungeon as living theateróit certainly beat counting tax monies and worrying about the Empire. Perhaps, next time she would insert herself into the adventure, recapture those times in her youth when every day was a challenge. Yes, she would have to talk to Khara Khang about it, but Terevorrís experiment had given her a lot to think about.

Lerotraíhh, Death Goddess of Khazan, snapped her fingers and instantly returned to her palace in the city of Khazan. She left the mountain fortress of Terevorr behind without a thought. She didnít care what happened to it now. She would not watch it any further. Perhaps it would just run down and perish, or perhaps Rose and her friends would escape. Let it be a surprise.

Sitting on her Obsidian Throne in proud Khazan, Queen City of the Dragon Continent, the Death Goddess smiled a secret smile that didnít show a single tooth.  She really hoped she would meet Rose and Cherry again. She really hoped they could surprise her.
 

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