Unsurprisingly, Helli dove into a pile of wealth. I guess maybe this was as good a coping mechanism as any for dealing with Harry’s death and subsequent undeadening, and maybe it was helpful to her to focus on a clear goal in the face of so much death.
Felegum, meanwhile, took a moment to focus on order. He always got this wistful look on his face when he stared off into space like that, so that’s what I’m imagining he was thinking of at least. He cast a spell, but it must have been a really sneaky one because I couldn’t discern what its purpose was.
The Butcher sidled alongside Tem. “Challenge accepted, you glinty bitch!”
“Oh,” Tem said, nonplussed. “He attacked me recklessly but then ran away like a little bitch.”
Spoiler alert: he would go on to attack her recklessly again, but only one of the three sword strokes managed to hit Tem in a way that mattered. This was probably due to the combined efforts of Lathander and Bahamut, and I was feeling really proud of myself until Savas loosed two arrows on his Phoenix Bow and Tem went down.
The bow also exploded, but it was unclear if this was supposed to happen or not.
Anyway, I already had one friend dead. I was not keen on another.
That being said, I was also not keen on becoming dead myself, being so close to a horde of zombies and also a very angry goblin who was unaffiliated with the GSN.
To make matters worse, Durnen had gone to the portal to help Yuval reassemble it after Zeno had nuked it earlier in battle.
The bard in question, no doubt not liking the direction this was going in, did something that obliterated all zombies in a twenty-foot sphere around Durnen and made the Red Eye look like he had a terrible headache. Yuval didn’t seem affected too much (no surprise, dude was a rock) but Savas also seemed to be riding the migraine train.
Somewhere in the crowd behind me, Vincenzo surged forward, Felegum hanging onto him as though the zombie was driftwood in an ocean. Vincenzo was not able to surge very far, but he made some distance.
And to give Felegum credit, he did a great job of acting like a dead body.
Undead Harry was not giving up on his eternal dream of smashing me into the ground, and once again took a leaping jump from a pillar at me. Luckily, I was either very good at dodging or he was less agile in his zombie form, because he missed me by inches and fell to the floor solo. It even looked like it hurt, which was deeply unusual for him.
Anyway, one dragonborn problem dealt with, I went go to solve the other. I swooped in over Tem and healed her with the most powerful spell I had. “Come on, Champion of Bahamut,” I said. “Get him.”
Somehow, probably thanks to Zeno’s confusing the hell out of the zombies earlier, I was able to get out of there and fly next to Ahkmatix.
Tem stood. “With Bahamut’s Righteous Fury,” she said, in a gritty, low voice that made everything sound like a proper noun, and laid into the Butcher with her sword.
“Haha!” the Butcher crowed back amidst the bloodshed. “A worthy opponent at last! The people of Csipherus are weak!”
I was going to comment that fighting them as zombies was like beating up infants and then calling yourself the strongest preteen ever, but luckily Tem had a better riposte.
“Thank you,” she said and then him him again. She restored her own shield of faith and thus Bahamut and Lathander were back in business.
Somewhere in the distance a zombie hit Felegum but he didn’t for a moment break character.
A whole bunch of zombies tried to hit Tem and couldn’t do it, again thanks to the super god-shield. Less good news was that a fresh zombie had stepped into the ritual spot, which was sure to cause huge problems for me in short order if it was not removed. A few more threw rocks at me, but either I dodged them or I didn’t care.
I was right where I needed to be and this was my chance.
The ghostly form of Harry was also near Ahkmatix, and he too was going all out.
“This may be my twilight, but the dawn is coming for you and your many schemes,” he said. “Hopefully the many people who are coming into the city can finish my work.”
And then he just started punching. The two strikes, three, then four, and he headbutted Ahkmatix right in the soul, if that makes sense. This in turn smashed the soul of Hat-Broom Man right out of the lich.
But it had a cost.
The edges of Ghost Harry’s form grew nondistinct and then blurry, then faded. “Piss off,” he said, and vanished.
I felt a presence near me.
This was one of the weird things about working for Lathander: I could tell when my friends were dying. It was what had allowed me to keep Helli alive when I couldn’t see her under the rocks during the Yuval cave-in. The idea, I think, was that I’d be able to sense them in trouble and then halt it.
But this felt like someone there, a prickly, familiar presence lingering for a moment before being pulled into the black pillar by a distant storm.
Ahkmatix turned to me and put his massive hand over my head.
I unloaded everything I had, slicing and radiating rage, before the wave of death hit me. It was awful, but I was still standing.
I could still do more.
“Ah fuck,” said Felegum. Then he let that ray of sunlight loose again, right through the lich and the surrounding zombies. After that, for reasons best left unquestioned, he dove into the alligator corpse and hid himself so thoroughly that even I couldn’t see him.
“Oh, round two!” cajoled the Butcher. “We will bring in a new era!”
And sadly, that seemed to be looking like the case, because once again Tem-ho-ja-mak Arkris was inspeting our very fine Csipherian floors.
The Butcher even cut into her again as she lay prone and dying. “And stay down!” he said, as if this would prevent her from getting any funny ideas about reviving. “I have better work to do than deal with this.”
Savas looked confused. Possibly because he was still dealing with Zeno’s brain static. Possibly also just actual confusion at this point. Durnen too looked still worse for wear, walking right underneath the lich and not even seeing me, wrecked by death magic as I was.
I could swear I heard Zeno’s voice saying “and lo, they could not find me” but I didn’t see Zeno anywhere, so I could only assume that my own mind was still rattled after that last attack and was flashing back through dreams and memories.
Undead Harry, stood, bounded to the top of the pillar again, and readied himself for yet another leaping tackle fifteen feet below me. This, I knew, was stupidly possible for him and I did not want to be around to find out if not having a soul stopped him in any way.
That being said, the situation I was going into wasn’t much better.
But the time to run had long passed and I wasn’t the person who did that anymore.
I flew. Undead Harry leapt. I dodged and touched Tem’s unconscious shoulder one more time.
“The hopes of my city lie with you,” I said.
The Butcher laughed as Tem rose. “You pick this one to pin your city’s hopes on?”
And honestly, I did. Tem was incredibly silly in a startling variety of ways, but there was one thing she was damn good at and that was her work. She wanted something here in Csipherus and while I didn’t have the precise shape of it, I knew it was at its heart to put things right. She may be a little strange with dragons sometimes, but she also didn’t seem willing to sacrifice my city for them.
Plus, she’d stepped into this entirely of her own volition. She hadn’t liked me or been friends with us in the desert. She had some wacky sort of conviction about helping my people, and that was more than enough for me to swallow my pride about letting her be the one to be my people’s savior.
She stood and together we stood (or flew, in my case) in the center of an undead mess.
Somewhere behind us, Yuval fixed the ring that had broken before. Another wave of that terrible death energy rippled through the air and I staggered, the last of my strength almost leaving me. I was pretty confident that if anything hit me, literally anything, that would be the end.
Tem, though, fueled by Bahamut’s righteous fury (and perhaps also by Lathander’s many heals and shields), cut through the Butcher with a mighty blow.
And for all his talk, he became a red slither just like the rest of them.
We could handle this.
Our moment of triumph was short-lived, though, as Savas, still blinded, just burst out in flame arrows. He took out a whole bunch of zombies as he shot wildly out around him.
Vincenzo was horrified.
Two more zombies got through Tem’s defenses, which was bullshit considering the amount of armor she had on. Another zombie stepped into the repaired portal–a fresh problem, I doubted I could stick around much longer if more of those pulses tore through us– and while I knew that the lich was channeling a spell, I had no idea what he was up to beyond that.
Helli hit him with a few magic missiles, and the lich cracked his neck, turning to face her.
Back amidst the rest of the horde, Felegum appeared and conjured a wall of force, effectively blocking off the zombies from the dais. This was truly next level thinking, and I’d have to thank him for both saving my people and also possibly myself if I made it through this.
The spirit of the Butcher took this moment to made a break for it, but Tem and I were ready. We’d seen how Hat-Broom Man’s slither had beelined back to Ahkmatix and made the lich stronger and we were not about to let that happen again without a fight.
I struck out with my knife, wings still aglow, and Tem cut through it with her hilariously large sword, and the spirit dissipated. We’d done it.
“We got one,” Tem said, panting.
I held up a fist for a fist bump.
Just as Tem had returned the gesture, the lich let out a sickening scream. His body vibrated and contorted as though the force of it had torn something important from him.
Savas once again made an attempt with his bow, but just ended up hitting a whole bunch of zombies. Durnen even came over, but he seemed equally confused.
Zeno took advantage of this break in the onslaught to turn invisible. Then he said, from somewhere, “Keep it down.”
I couldn’t tell where that was directed, as Zeno was as previously mentioned, no longer visible to the human eye, but it did seem like this was an especially vicious whisper.
Good. Then maybe things would be okay.
Once, I’d found it hard to trust in my friends. I’d thought I had to do everything myself if I expected to get it done at all, because who cared about this stuff as much as I did?
But here I was, with a group of people who honestly didn’t have to be here, who, for their own reasons either of saving the world or just saving my world, were anyway.
I walked toward the lich, my wings glowing like a sunrise, and lifted my hand.
I pointed at the lich, as he had at me, at Felegum, at various hapless people in my city who hadn’t been as lucky as we had to escape.
Sometimes a god put you in a place not because you were going to save the day yourself, but because without you it wouldn’t be possible. You were an unassuming but essential linchpin. And maybe that wasn’t what you thought of when you imagined a legendary hero, but if the good guys couldn’t have won without you having been there, then wasn’t that at its heart the same thing?
“Everything ends,” I said, throwing the last of my power into a divine curse.
My ears rang. I felt dizzy. In the background, Tem twisted in fight against a giant stone and zombies careened around her. Stones cracked and Ahkmatix turned to me and laughed before directing another zombie, another person who shared my home, to step into the gate.
And that was it. I hardly even felt it, just the vertigo shift of falling backwards, my hand reaching up to the stars above, to a gap in the ceiling where a cadre of dark hooded figures crouched at the ready.
They always were fashionably late, I thought, and died.
“It’s time to finish this,” said a familiar voice.
Everything hurt. It had hurt before, but now it hurt somehow even more, enough that I didn’t even notice I was being cradled in Zeno’s lap as he played a familiar, haunting song, and a even more familiar red column loomed above us.
A lot had happened. I jolted up (a mistake, see: everything hurt) just in time to see Tem salute Atarka (deeply weird, how had that happened?) and press their sword into the strange aura surrounding the lich, now diminished, who seemed to be hiding out in the column of darkness.
“Bahamut and Tiamat send their regards, lich,” Tem growled and drove the blade home, bursting with divine draconic energy.
There was this terrible burst of hatred. I felt lucky to be far enough away that I didn’t have to deal with it because yikes, I had enough problems already. And so too did we, even before the lich tore open a portal in space-time and fled. Zeno, who had literally just brought me back to life, fell, soldiers around some dude in the height of Paripas fashion went down, and many, many goblins lay dead.
Before I could stagger up to do anything useful, Sylla (who was also somehow here) healed Zeno and everything went quiet.
I looked around.
Harry’s body lay still and silent, the restless animation now quelled. So too did Felegum.
“Oh shit,” I said.
Zeno dug through the hoard for a diamond and together we ran toward the sorcerer’s body. He put the diamond on Felegum’s chest. “I hope this is enough,” he said. “If this works, it’s a victory for the Sovereign Dungeoneering Company. If this fails, it’s a victory for Reach’s Fallow.”
I tried to be supportive. Despite sometimes believing that Zeno was full of nonsense, he was also the best at bringing people back to life. He’d done it so many times. Surely, this would work. Felegum of all of us had said that he didn’t plan to die.
The diamond melted into smoke on Felegum’s chest and dissipated into wisps of nothingness.
I called on Lathander, not knowing how to do this. It was even less effective. I tried begging some of the paladins of Bahamut to help, that my friend was dead and here were diamonds, please, but none could spare the energy. They told me they had their own dead, to mind my own business.
I was too exhausted to do anything more than make angry, disbelieving faces back at them.
Luckily, Zeno had another plan already lined up. He sidled up to Sylla, who was tending to a massive dragon of indeterminate greenish color, and said in that casual, aristocratic way, “You know, there may be a way to bring people back.”