FACING TEMPESTS OF DUST, I’LL FIGHT ‘TIL THE END: in which Tem is a beacon and we thaw out

I couldn’t see where Helli was, but presumably she had things under control. She usually did. On the ground, Felegum blinked back into existence, ran forward, and disappeared again. Near him, Vincenzo continued to swim through a zombie swarm.

Somewhere ahead, a pegasus glittered in the darkness and I could barely make out Harry’s voice. “Awful lot of trash here that needs your help while I go do something extremely unadvisable.” Then, softer: “I think I can make it.”

I continued to move in on my broom. Whatever Felegum had told me about this room, I’d forgotten it. It was just really big and it was at least for now important that I stay hidden as we crept up. So I did that on the broom, keeping close to the wall and aware of anything headed my way.

Somewhere, I could almost detect something else in the air. On a broom. There was a crunching smashing sound, like something heavy pounding through money. As Helli was probably not yet living her dream (let alone that massive, even with Nisbit), this was probably Yuval.

“Butcher!” cried Tem again. “Come at me, you cowardly hatchling!”

Her blade slashed into the zombies before her, cutting a path forward.

Meekly, Vincenzo stepped forward behind her, hoping no doubt to avoid the massive onslaught of blows that were now focused on our bright paladin.

Felegum also took advantage of Tem’s aggressive stance to run along the wall behind her. Unfortunately he was not as stealth as Vincenzo and a zombie hit him. “Oof ouch, my skin,” the mage moaned before casting a giant powerful ice storm ahead of Tem.

Perhaps it was the injury that made him less able to place the storm precisely or maybe he just thought Tem, being a paragon of Bahamut’s power, would be able to handle a little cold. Either way, she did not fare very well.

“Felegum,” she said somewhat balefully, “you’ve done more damage to me than all of these zombies combined.”

“You should’ve killed more zombies then!” the mage said and then wisely became ethereal.

There was a wave of cold and frost then, which luckily my boots kept me nice and mostly protected from. In the distance, I could hear a horse doing something, flying around, so hopefully Zeno was being cool, since Vincenzo was really struggling back here, though he did manage to get past Tem.

“Not that you need it,” came a familiar bardic voice, “but good luck with whatever stupid thing you’re about to do.”

No doubt this was meant as encouragement to Harry, as a moment later there was the sound of a deft leap and landing.

Once again, I moved and hid in a wall. Progress was slow, but I was closing in. At least I could see a little better now with more of the cavern opening up. I was next to Zeno as he rode Lily mid-air, and then the broom-riding Hat-Broom Person emerged from the darkness and called down a lightning bolt on a zombie directly below the two of us.

This was gross for multiple reasons. One, that zombie had been a person we could have saved. Two, that zombie could have been useful to Hat-Broom Man’s purposes as a terrible Red Eye and here they were just wasting all that potential to make a dumb statement. Dumb because– reason three– I totally evaded that lightning.

Unfortunately, Zeno and Lily were not so lucky. They quickly sailed away, no doubt in search of cover.

Meanwhile, also assaulted by an element, Tem shrugged off the ice on her armor, cracking it off the segments as she called down a moonbeam and blazed a path for herself through the zombies.

Felegum still wisely remained ethereal.

This was probably for the best, as three zombies incinerated themselves on entering the beam and it was a safe bet to say that Tem was still pretty annoyed at all the ice. I didn’t know if this was helping to power the moonbeam or what, but I wouldn’t’ve chanced it either.

She even kicked another zombie into the moonbeam and it just vaporized. So, yeah.

The zombies also had this weird hand-eye coordination that was actually decent, and a bunch of them started to throw rocks at the ceiling, as many of us were flying. A few aimed for Helli as well as Zeno and Lily and made contact.

Sparkling rainbow blood trickled down onto the sand. I remembered how Zeno had stayed out all night with Lily the first night he’d summoned her.

It wasn’t just me risking a lot for this fight.

Somewhere else, Harry stood surrounded by zombies and calmly caught one of their strikes in his fist.

Maybe I was still caught up in the horror of yet another beautiful thing being destroyed slowly, because when the pulse of death magic hit me, I was totally unaware. Things…separated for a moment, like I wasn’t quite attached to my body the same way as I had been before. I shook it off, but something still felt lethargic about my movements.

Helli continued her ceiling crawl, keeping herself above Harry more or less for back-up as another cold wave rippled across the room. Once again, I was very thankful for my boots.

On the floor by Tem, Felegum appeared and made a mad sprint for the altar. Zeno attempted to cast a tricky spell, but it didn’t seem to work so instead he said a few comforting words to Lily (who did look a little better) and braced himself for the next onslaught.

Harry took this opportunity to move really fast, as he was wont to do. Savas, noticing that the monk was probably going to be a problem, fired an arrow at him, but Harry caught it, even though it had burst into flames.

I still felt slow but I kept moving forward, my mirror images swirling around me still. I didn’t feel like I could do much more than move and evade things.

Another crackling beam of glitter fired toward Zeno, courtesy of Hat-Broom Man, making the half-elf look like a bright soul atop the pegasus. Naturally, Zeno T-posed to assert dominance.

Casting aside the now-ashen arrow, Harry muttered, “I want to know what my soul looks like.”

“It’s all over you, Harry!” Zeno called back.

I had to laugh because yeah, that was a pretty apt description of Harry’s tattoos if I’d ever heard one.

Harry did not have long to contemplate the nature of his soul, however, as he needed to quickly dodge a tendril of rock before it smashed him and some zombies.

Our other dragonborn moved her moonbeam through the crowd with ease, cutting a path for herself. “Hey, Felegum, got any heals?”

The arcane caster gave the paladin a wry look. “It’s a big no from me, boss.”

Two more zombies ran through the moonbeam, one trying to hit Tem and failing. She fell back on her tried-and-true punting method and that was that. Some zombies also now tried to throw rocks at me, but I was pretty good at dodging. The same was true with Helli. Zeno was not, which was getting worrying, though.

“Set, what’s the plan?” Helli called, as if I looked like someone who had a plan for this other than “do it and try not to die”.

“I don’t know!” I said, honestly, for once in my life. “Just get in there. I feel really bad after that last one!”

This was not a battle of attrition for me. I needed to get in, do things, and hopefully not croak before then.

Helli nodded and moved closer. Felegum popped back into existence and called down his ice storm on the Red Eyes themselves, as he was now close enough to do so. The Red Eyes did not look pleased– many seemed to be working some kinds of magic that were not terribly copacetic with massive shards of ice pelting them.

Two zombies, though, made advances on Felegum.

“How uncouth!” cried the mage before vanishing back to the ethereal plane, unharmed.

A flaming arrow from Savas struck Lily, who was now once again not looking as majestic as she once had exiting the fey realm.

But something else had happened, and that was that the temperature was getting warmer. It wasn’t as bitterly cold as it once had been, which meant that someone had stopped channeling Calcryx through the conduit (hopefully).

Instead, Durnen summoned a giant monstrous alligator which trampled zombies on its way toward us.

“Bring it, short stuff!” yelled Harry.

Again, even in my lethargic state, I grew angry. How dare they turn my entire city into zombies and then just…crush them under alligators, as if they didn’t even need all of my people to power their nasty death portal? Wasteful, in addition to being evil.

While I was thinking salty thoughts, Zeno flew down on Lily toward the paladin. “Hey Tem,” he said, “express ride?”

“Yes please,” said Tem.

They vanished and a moment later Lily exploded into glitter and prismatic dust, no longer protected.

I didn’t have long to mourn her as Harry was truly taking doing something stupid to new levels as he approached the monstrous alligator. Also, and I wasn’t sure if this was a trick of the light or not, but he was weirdly misty, not unlike Zeno’s bagpipe smoke. He threw the lightning javelin at Durnen and the lich Ahkmatix, hitting both.

This was where I knew I had to make some moves. I got closer and I cast a spell of silence on both the lich and Hat-Broom Man.

Perhaps this was foolish. I didn’t notice any discernable change in the lich’s spellcasting, only that he was still the thing directly powering the death ritual and that didn’t appear to be interrupted by my silencing him, which was annoying.

Hat-Broom Man, however, had not noticed the silence around them, and attempted to cast a spell before it failed. They flew away and then spoke a few healing words in the direction of Durnen.

Once more, Harry tumbled out of the way of Yuval doing something. I was glad not to be on the ground.

Just when I was thinking that Harry was actually being pretty cool this fight, the alligator ate him. This would happen, especially when I thought that we were getting somewhere.

Tem moved her moonbeam, no doubt off to solve the alligator problem now that she was closer to the ritual area, and patted Zeno on the back.

A zombie moved to the center of the ritual circles in preparation to be disintegrated forever.

I was too slow. None of the attacks could touch me because my reflexes were working okay, but I couldn’t stop this. Ahkmatix rotated and spun like some bizarre bloated doll, and a half-orc shimmered back into living existence before his soul was ripped from his body and lost to dust.

In the resulting pulse, I blacked out.

Or at least, I kind of did. The last pulse had felt like my body and soul were separating, and this time it seemed like they truly had. My body lay crumpled on the floor, broom floating into space, and I had to ease my way back down toward it.

Helli launched herself off the ceiling and landed on the alligator with sickening crunch (both to herself as well as to the alligator).

Felegum unleashed a psychic attack, causing the lich to momentarily crease his brow before the mage once more vanished into another realm.

Seeing us closing in, the Butcher unsheathed two swords on his back. “It’s time now!” he yelled to Tem, jumping onto the back of the crocodile and hitting Helli twice with his vicious slashes.

She fell to the sands unconscious.

Savas jumped up with an arrow nocked and Hat-Broom Man began to cast something as Durnen healed himself again and moved backward.

Seeing this commotion, Zeno called, “Helli, get back up!” and then set his sights on the Butcher. “Man, I hope you’re stupider than the last guy.”

A strange sheen washed over those barbaric red eyes and even in weird ghost-soul form, I knew Zeno had won this battle for control.

Then Harry punched his way out of the alligator.

This probably looked cooler if you weren’t a soul and seeing things in monochrome, but Harry was all lit up with his tattoos and covered in digestive slime. He was probably the worst meal of that creature’s life.

Anyway, he got up on the platform and Savas attempted to shot him, but Harry just caught the arrow nonchalantly and hurled it back at the elf.

At last, I rejoined my body. It was astonishing how long that had taken.

Hat-Broom Man pointed at Harry, who seemed to make great effort to not do whatever the terrible cleric was asking him to do, and Yuval caused a small earthquake. To say that this was honestly the least of my worries should say a lot in terms of how bad things were getting.

Tem dashed off. “Burn in Bahamut’s glory, lich,” she seethed and clipped in the massive form’s side with her moonbeam. She stood behind Zeno, a powerful presence.

“Please, continue!” Zeno pleaded, pretty beaten up and very much wanting a large person to hide behind.

Three zombies tried to hit Helli, and though some got in strikes, she stayed up. Zeno managed to evade all foes, which was excellent, considering that we now were borrowing the Butcher indefinitely.

Ahkmatix writhed briefly in the moonbeam, but no new pulse came forth.

It was time for the end game.

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