The sky through the lush green canopy was clear crystalline blue, the birds were singing and the crickets chirping, a wonderful day that may as well have been hell. The group trod through the brush and encroaching trees as if walking on egg shells. Every woodland creature that scurried across their path set them to react as if they had stumbled upon a hungry bear.
“Is he still tracking us?” Wuppet growled.
Prahtan hissed and knelt to feel the earth with her palm, her ears prickling to the sounds in the distance. Her bush sight came to her like a sixth sense, an amalgamation of her earthly perceptions into the impression of an image in her mind. Usually she used this when tracking her quarry, now the hunter had become the hunted.
“Yes, he’s just . . . strolling. He isn’t even following our winding path or following our decoy tracks. It’s just a beeline to us.”
“He won’t ever stop, not until he has what he wants,” Laylen cried, “Your fate would have been less painful if I had just left you all to die on that ridge.”
“You need more optimism,” Ot’s voice rumbled, “Why, whenever I am feeling down, maybe when some kids in a village ignorant of ogres give me grief for my appearance, I just stop and think on how lovely the world can be.”
“That’s all well and good when you didn’t just watch your friends get torn apart!” The Satyr who had joined them at the base of the cliff was sobbing.
“Hey,” Trestam said softly, “We saw two of our friends die to that creature. Ot it just trying to help.”
“I know, I know . . .” the satyr said, “I’m sorry, I’m just . . .”
“Shook,” Wuppet spoke for him.
“Yes . . .”
“Well . . . the sky is lovely,” Ot rumbled, “And I saw a deer over there. It had antlers bigger than mine.”
“Yes Ot, it was lovely,” Prahtan bared her tusks pleasantly, “How is your shoulder?”
“It still hurts,” he gingerly touched the pudgy skin where his shoulder had dislocated.
“Yeah, sorry Ot,” Trestam said, “We were interrupted before I could finish healing you. Luckily ogre musculature is strong enough to move around without the bone joint . . . for a time.”
“Even with a skilled elven paladin to heal it, it hurts,” Ot rumbled in reply, “I shall kill that thing if it tries to hurt anymore of you.”
“It won’t work,” Laylen started fretting again, “Nothing ever works.”
“Hey, hey,” Prahtan halted their march and took the young human mage by the shoulders, “You survived this far, we can do this.”
“Yeah she has,” Wuppet rounded on them, “Coz she’s got magic that can hurt the thing, maybe even kill him!”
“No!” she shrieked, “It always draws more of his minions.”
“We can’t keep stopping like this,” Trestam sighed and rubbed his rosy brow, “Do we have a plan, Prahtan?”
“Yes,” Prahtan gazed at him as she held Laylen, “There is a town somewhere over that way,” she gestured ahead. “I wasn’t going to take us through it with that thing on our tail but I smell the pheromones of many warriors a way off, more help would be . . . helpful.”
“Myrrel and Gomlon were warriors,” Wuppet grated his brass gauntlets against each other, “It made little difference.”
“We can’t be defeatist, my grumpy dwarf friend,” Trestam smiled, “Their souls now sail towards the great light of the sun to live in paradise.”
“So why not just neck yourself if it’s so grand up there, you pompous elf!” Wuppet roared.
“Hey!” Prahtan snarled as the elf paladin and dwarf monk squared up against each other. “We already have one unstoppable force bearing down on us! Let’s not make it easier for it by killing each other.” They backed down from their conflict. “Now I know we’re rattled, but our best hope of surviving is to stay coordinated, we . . .” she trailed off and looked off to the side.
Ot rumbled a low growl and hefted his club, readying himself to defend from the direction she was facing.
“What is it now?” Wuppet pulled a vial of some concoction from his sash while Trestam channelled paladism into his hands and the satyr slinked into the shadows.
“Something else,” Prahtan whispered as she nocked an arrow, “Carcenon is still tracking us from the way we came. But I smell similar pheromones in that direction, heading this way.”
“More of those flying critters?” Trestam asked.
Ot whimpered and looked to the tree canopy, his face still scratched and singed from their swooping attacks.
“No,” Prahtan closed her eyes and tried to imagine, “Wolves? But they’re larger, more sinister.”
“Hell hounds,” Laylen squeaked, tears running down her face, “Carcenon used them flush us out from the convent, then sent them after the ones that got away. if they’re here it means they already fed on my sisters or worse.”
“What are hell hounds?” The satyr asked from his hiding place, he must have been a rogue.
“Giant four legged beasts of obsidian skin with hell-fire leaking through the cracks. It’s like a crimson vapour like fire, like . . .” she hesitated, “Like Carcenon’s power.” She sniffled and stood up, “We have to leave, now.”
“Damn it,” Prahtan hissed, “We get to the village!”
“If those wolves are in the glen it must mean our path ahead is compromised,” Wuppet lamented, “The village could be in ruins for all we know.”
“But the pheromones!” Prahtan protested.
“You know very well that a select few people can release that much battle pheromone if they’re being slaughtered . . . they’re done for.” Wuppet countered.
“He’s coming,” Laylen whispered to herself, “He’s coming, he’s coming he’s coming. We can’t stay here.”
“Alright,” Prahtan conceded, “Satyr, what’s your name?”
“Signat,” his voice hissed from the brush.
“You head that way,” she gestured towards the village, “We’ll follow a few minutes behind you and cover your rear. If the village is still living, warn them of our arrival and our guests, if not, double back and we’ll circle around on our way to the other side of the glen.”
“You want me to go alone?” Signat’s voice quivered.
“It’ll be fine, friend,” Trestam smiled, “All of our foes are not in that direction, Prahtan would sense them.” A sigh hissed from the bushes, they rustled as the satyr snuck away. “Be careful,” Trestam called after the rustling.
“Alright,” Prahtan said, “We form up, stay close. Laylen, do these hounds have any weaknesses?”
“Her magic, probably,” Wuppet muttered.
“His minions aren’t as impenetrable as him,” Laylen said. “They aren’t arch demons, just hell folk and monsters. But hell hounds are as formidable as they are terrifying.”
“So are we,” Prahtan winked, Laylen smiled back weakly, “We should be safe,” Prahtan said, “Don’t you worry.”
“I can still hear my sisters screaming as the hounds gnawed on them. Worry is too weak a word.”
Prahtan hesitated, her yellow eyes lingering on the young mage who glanced back nervously before her gaze flitted away. “I’ll keep you safe,” Prahtan finally said, “I swear it.”
“Why?” Laylen’s plea was a barely suppressed sob. “Why would you risk your life for me? You should just leave me here, let Carcenon take me and run as far away as you can before his kind scour the lands.”
Prahtan took Laylen’s chin in her clawed hands and directed her gaze back to meet her eyes. “Because I sense something in you worth fighting for,” the words lingered in the silence, she realised the other members of her party were watching intently. “Now, get up on Ot’s shoulders, you can help us look out.”
Laylen sniffed and shuffled over to Ot, who offered his good arm for her to climb up on. Once she was perched on his uninjured shoulder she gripped onto one of his antlers as he ambled off. Wuppet grunted and followed Ot as Trestam and Prahtan brought up the rear.
“You seemed to be taken by the satyr,” Prahtan said.
“I like satyrs, grew up around them . . . You seem taken by that human,” Trestam replied.
Prahtan bared her tusks in a guilty smile, “Well, like Wuppet mentioned, she ain’t a hard thing to look at. And I do have a thing for her short red hair. But there’s something about her, some scent I can’t place, it’s intriguing and frightening, especially given the situation.”
“Well, maybe we’ll find out soon enough.”
As they pushed through the mild undergrowth of the wooded glen, Prahtan a chill crept over Prahtan. The birds stopped singing, the woodland critters hid from sight. She paused and crouched again, letting her focus wander from her natural senses to perceive through bush sight.
Carcenon—the arch demon that pursued them—she could not sense him, nor the hell hounds. But a foul scent scrunched her nose and the trees hissed with an unnatural breeze.
With dread, she glanced up at Laylen, whose eyes darted around nervously.
“Ot,” Prahtan roared, “Down!”
Ot instantly sprawled forward and Laylen toppled from his shoulders to the dirt as a monstrous black creature leaped from the brush. Its jaws clamped the empty air where Ot’s head was a split second before. Red vaporous energy trailed in its wake and its obsidian musculature was striated with pulsing red power.
It landed agilely, its paws gouging the earth with razor sharp obsidian claws and it snarled with a drooling mouth, each drop of vicious saliva hissed as it hit the earth. On all fours it stood as tall as Prahtan, she loosed an arrow and it glanced off its hardened hide.
It rounded on her, taking its attention off Ot—who was still struggling to stand—and charged. Prahtan fell back onto her arse as it leaped through the air at her. She loosed another arrow which glanced off its snout and moments before it clamped its mighty jaws around her body it was blindsided by a lance of paladism from Trestam.
It whelped and slammed into a tree, rocking it to its roots and scattering the hidden birds within its canopy.
Prahtan leaped up and drew her axe, closing in on the sizzling creature and hacked at its eyes and jaw and charred skin, hoping to break through something. Her axe blade imbedded into the obsidian skin—charred from Trestam’s attack—and sunk deep, glowing red viscera spilled out as the beast howled.
The howl was answered from the surrounding brush as its pack mates closed in.
Prahtan swore and dodged back from the wounded hound’s bite, then shifted back to attack again. She plunged her fist into the open wound she and Trestam has created and forced her arm deep into the creature’s chest. The hell-fire blood burned her skin but her yellowed orc scales could resist the heat for a moment. She forced fist through rib and organ as the hound wailed and she gripped the beating heart. She plunged her claws into it and the creature whimpered as it died.
Ripping her dripping arm form the dead beast, she spun to check on her companions.
A hell hound leaped at Ot and he walloped it with his mighty club. It collapsed with a whimper and a second hound leaped in its place. Ot lowered his head with a guttural roar and charged, skewering the beast on his antlers as he surged forward and pinned its writhing form to a tree.
Trestam rolled over his shoulder and fired targeted beam of paladism into the rustling brush around them, smaller beams than the one he had used to save Prahtan as he was already sweating and panting from the exertion. Prahtan loosed arrows where he fired, hoping her arrows would penetrate the weakened obsidian after it was burned by holy sun-fire.
Wuppet threw his vial bombs into the surrounding brush. Throwing up smoke barriers of red and blue with a pungent odour that ruined Prahtan’s sense of smell, and hopefully the hound’s as well. One lunged for him and he chanted, summoning a spiritual barrier of orange fire that the hound’s teeth cracked on. It reared up and cried in a rage as Wuppet took the advantage, lunged forward and struck at the creature’s underbelly with his brass gauntlets. The stubborn nature of the dwarf’s limbs in tandem with brass gauntlets wreathed in spiritual fire and decades of martial training sent the devastating punches ripping through the hound’s skin. Its hellish guts spilled out over the forest floor, sizzling through the soil.
The battle raged on like this, the pack of hell hounds attacked viscously and were repelled by the barest margins thanks to the party’s skilled abilities and teamwork.
With several of their pack dead and dying around them, a hell hound howled a command and the giant creatures receded into the brush. With Prahtan’s bush sight addled by Wuppet’s smokescreens and her raging nerves, she could not sense how far they retreated.
“Is everyone alright?” she snarled, jamming her arrow into the eye of an incapacitated hound.
“My head hurts,” Ot rumbled, the hell-fire blood on his antlers dripped down and sizzled on his head before going inert.
“The hell-fire only lasts a few seconds, Ot.” Wuppet climbed up the ogre’s arm and grabbed the antlers, wiping the burning blood with his gauntlets which weathered the damage remarkably well. “There, should be all good.”
“Thank you, grumpy Wuppet,” Ot rumbled pleasantly.
“Trestam?” Prahtan took his shoulder as the elf doubled over and heaved.
“I’m alright,” he panted, “Just knackered.”
Prahtan’s eyes darted around the battlefield, “Where is Laylen?”
“I told her to run,” Ot said, “Right before I broke this pup’s spine.” He lumbered over to the writhing hound he had walloped before skewering its companion. It whimpered and he roared as he caved its skull in with his club with two mighty swings. “She headed for the village.”
“Alright,” Prahtan said, “We need to catch up to her. Whatever this Carcenon wants with her, we can probably bet he’ll be more dangerous after he gets it.”
The party stumbled out of the skirmish ground and through the brush after Laylen.
Laylen tore through the brush, the branches and thorns ripped at her face and garments like unintentional servants of Carcenon, like they did on her flight from the convent. Only now she could hear the rabid breath of a hell hound on her heels.
It barrelled through the brush and blindsided her, tackling her into a tree and knocking the wind from her. She collapsed in a heap and rounded as the hound recovered and bared its fangs.
She forced herself to suck in a breath of air and screeched, “Stay back!” she raised her outstretched hand and the beast hesitated. Then it relaxed, its bared fangs hinted at a wicked smile. “I mean it!” she focused on the raging whim within her, on the need to let it out, her eyes pulsed red and she swam in a field of vaporous red energy for only a second. “You can’t take me to your master if you’re dead!”
The hound growled, its spine like fur extended on end and it heard the howl from the battle behind them. It glanced back at her and dashed into the brush with a dismissive snort.
Laylen breathed a sigh of relief as she lowered her shaky hand and allowed the dark power within to recede. She dragged herself onto her feet and bolted in the direction of the village that Prahtan had pointed out earlier. Laylen hesitated, considering going back to them, remembering the deep colour of that orc’s eyes, how her gaze held her like a gentle embrace . . . “No,” she said, “The further away from her, the safer she’ll be.” But she didn’t know where else to go, so the village it was, and then out of this blasted glen.
After a frenzied half an hour scurry through the woods she came into a clearing to find a village constructed from the same dark wood as the forest around her. It was silent, save for the sound of coursing water on the far side, up an incline that had wooden aqueducts snaking down it towards the village. Smoke rose lazily from several chimneys within and the gates stood open. She sighed with relief and sprinted across the opening to the village gates and slipped inside.
As she entered her momentum halted, her blood turned cold and a sickening feeling plummeted down her spine so suddenly it rebounded up from her gut in the form of vomit.
The town was littered with the freshly defiled bodies of townsfolk. The buildings were wrecked and the ground was gouged with the marks of struggle. Each gouge was filled with the still pools of blood that drained from the dead, skinned, dismembered, drawn or strung up about the place in eerie stillness.
The stench hit her next, a stench more visceral than that of the hell hounds, as this was from creatures that once lived peaceful lives. Men, women and children of humans, elves, orcs, gnomes . . . and one satyr, strung up by his hooves within the town plaza. The satyr rogue she met at the base of the cliff, the one Prahtan sent ahead, Signat.
Laylen looked away from his pained, upside down expression, dripping with his own blood and viscera.
She doubled over and tried to throw up again, but all that came from her pained effort was bile.
Carcenon most likely overtook them while he set the hounds on them, laid waste to this town in that short time and then had his way with the satyr like he said he would.
The post he was strung up from creaked, the breeze pulled towards her, carrying the scent.
She wept, and in response to her misery something within the town laughed at her. The voice was a sinister howling echo that warped the very air.
“Do you feel guilty for their deaths?” Carcenon taunted. “They were luckier than my other victims lately, their deaths horrible yes, but relatively quick . . . except for the satyr. What do you think I’ll do to you when I finally feed on your soul?” He stepped out from the buildings and into the plaza. Tall, imposing, menacing, with obsidian black skin, cracked with the red power that drove him and an insidious, shifting maw that pulsed crimson along with his madness inducing eyes. He spread his arms, “Come, Laylen, let us end this farce, and maybe I will spare that orc bitch you are so taken with by killing her quickly.”
“Fuck you!” Laylen screamed.
His laugh made her skin crawl, “We both know you don’t have the power to challenge an arch demon!” He strode forward, each step rattling the buildings, rippling the puddles of blood, shuddering her soul. “If you did you would have saved your sisters, your matron . . .” she turned away and scrunched her eyes shut. “Oh she did not die well,” his insidious maw widened with glee. “And even if you did fight back, even if you could slow me down, more of my kind will be drawn to your magic. We will breach through the gaps in this pathetic realm, left unguarded by the hubris of your necromancers, we will consume the magic that sustains its barriers and then we shall march through in force and have our way with every disgusting overworlder we get our hands on!”
He marched right up to her and she backed away, only as tall as his sternum. She felt the brimming power within her, threatening to rise past her inhibitions. She glared up at him. “I swear I’ll kill you.”
His laugh filled her with dread, and he reached out with his clawed hand to stroke her face, “You are so adorable, little dem . . .”
Footsteps behind Laylen, he hesitated and looked past her as Prahtan, Ot, Wuppet and Trestam stormed through the gate.
They skidded to a halt, taking in Carcenon’s towering form, the grotesque devastation of the village, and Trestam blanched at seeing Signat hanging by his hooves.
He channelled a bolt of paladism and launched it at Carcenon’s maw. It struck the demon and he recoiled. Prahtan’s arrow followed next and struck the base of one of his monstrous teeth, it embedded in the gum charred by holy light and a tooth came free as he bellowed. Wuppet dove around Laylen who stumbled out of the way and he caught Carcenon’s falling tooth. He whippet it around and rammed it into the demon’s knee and struck it with his gauntlets, hammering it in further.
Carcenon roared and collapsed as Ot lumbered in and struck a savage blow across Carcenon’s face with his club. With the sound of a titanic crack the mighty demon fell back into the blood soaked street with an earth shuddering crash.
Prahtan grabbed Laylen and the party sped past Carcenon’s reeling form, they sprinted across the grotesque plaza to the far side of the village.
“There’s a bridge over a dammed river on the far side, if we can cross it and disable the bridge we could halt his advance.” Prahtan breathed between strides.
A dark shape swooped over them and Carcenon landed with a grunt. He spun as Ot struck him again and he caught the club with one hand. He slashed out with his other hand, demonic barbed chains lashed out from his arm and they raked across Ot’s belly. He bellowed in agony and stumbled away. Wuppet leaped up next and with a chant conjured spiritual fire around his brass gauntlets and punched into Carcenon’s maw. The arch demon dodged the blow easily and caught Wuppet’s wrist. With a deft motion he flung the dwarf over his should and who went skidding across the plaza.
Prahtan loosed an arrow at his maw, he chomped it from the air and taunted her with a sickening grin, until a lance of light from Trestam knocked him across the plaza into the tavern.
“Come on!” Prahtan hefted Laylen and rushed past Ot who stumbled up clutching his cut belly. She stopped when she realised Trestam wasn’t following. She turned to bark at him but hesitated, noticing how he looked up at the poor satyr he was so taken with, “Trestam?”
“You get the others out of here,” his chest heaved and he summoned paladism to his fists, “I will hold him off.”
Prahtan swore, she wanted to argue but knew they would be wasting precious time. She barked at Ot to heft Wuppet up and they rushed out of the plaza and towards the gates on the other side of the town.
Trestam turned from the defiled body of Signat and faced the tavern he had blasted Carcenon into. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” he roared, he aimed his charging fists as beads of sweat formed at his brow like thick condensation, “You’ll pay for what you’ve done to all of these people!”
Carcenon’s insidious figure strode from the demolished tavern, he laughed the same as before, “And who will make me pay, you? A mere elf who plays at true immortality? Or a paladin with all of the might of the sun coursing through his fingers but with a corporeal coil so weak he pales to channel it? Come worm, let us see who pays!”
Trestam was still channelling light, the sun above dimmed as even the holy powers turned their attention towards him, his fists shook, the light lashed out in beams from the gaps in his fingers, the sweat dripping from him hit the earth like great drops of blood.
“In the name of the Holy Sun, I cast you from this realm, DEMON!”
He let his fists shoot open, and the lances of holy light pilfered the area like beams from the sun itself. Carcenon smiled and spread his hands before the twin lances smashed into him, knocking him back into the demolished tavern and beyond. The demon–charred and smouldering with pulsating hell-fire–halted his tumble with a grunt and scrambled through the town.
Trestam roared and with his power he strafed the whole area before him, the lances of light so powerful, so focused, that they cut whole buildings into halves, they collapsed in on themselves in clouds of dust and ricocheting chunks of wood and stone and metal. They caught alight under the intense heat and the whole town went up in a blaze as Trestam continued his vicious assault, firing light in every direction before him in his righteous fury.
The initial lances dulled and fizzled out, but before briefly thinking about collapsing, the beleaguered elf saw movement in the ruin. He spat blood and channelled smaller lances and bolts of paladism. He strafed the area again but now with sporadic power as the form of Carcenon, damaged, enraged, but alive, sprinted towards him with thunderous steps.
Carcenon dashed to the side and Trestam followed with his attack, fire and destruction raining in the demon’s wake. His path skirted around the plaza as he spiralled in towards the elf, the holy light striking the rest of the town and soon thick, choking smoke filled the skies.
Trestam’s rage fizzled out and he collapsed onto his knees. Carcenon sprinted for him across the plaza and in desperation Trestam pulsed more light, shooting diminishing bolts of holy power at the demon which struck it in the chest, face and leg. But despite the damage it caused to his obsidian skin, despite the pained growl with every blow, it powered forward. As Carcenon closed in Trestam channelled one final continuous beam with both hands. It struck Carcenon in the chest and he powered through it to grasp the elf’s hands and crush them in his demonic grip.
Trestam moaned, too exhausted to scream, and the demon looked down at him with predatory intent.
“As you die,” he growled, “know that not only did you fail your holy light, but it failed you,” his jaw widened hideously, revealing rows upon rows of razor teeth all the way down his hellish throat to end in a black pit. “Once my master is done with this world, we will come for your precious sun. And if your soul makes it to your sun paradise, it means I will simply have the pleasure of devouring you a second time!” he made sure that the elf had time to understand his words before he clamped down around him with his maw.
His jaw grew so wide it engulfed Trestam’s whole upper body. He crunched and tore with thousands of teeth and sucked the writhing elf whole down into his throat. Once he had fed, his jaw realigned to his face, a wicked tongue lapping up the elf blood that still gushed from his mouth and Carcenon looked up at the choking black smog, at the fire red sun that shone through, and he howled in a victorious rage.
Prahtan, Ot, Laylen and Wuppet turned at the sound of the vicious howling, looking down the rise to the village which was now an inferno.
“He couldn’t beat him,” Wuppet moaned.
“He knew that,” Prahtan growled, “He meant only to buy us time. Quickly, to the bridge, the aqueducts are from the dam, the bridge must be near.”
Laylen paused as she moved past Prahtan, “I’m sorry!” she cried, “I’m so sorry!”
“Go!” Prahtan roared, and shot one last look back at the town. She raised her bow in salute to her comrade. Not enough respect for her liking, but more than she had time to give Gomlon and Myrrel, then she turned and sped after her party.
As they crested the rise there were sounds of pursuit in the trees around them, hell hounds closing in through the underbrush and the harpy cries of the winged critters that had attacked them earlier.
They cleared the trees to find a ravine spanned by a sturdy wooden bridge. Further along the ravine the dam stood looming over them, built from rounded stones and mortar with a channel down the middle creating a pleasant waterfall. Wooden aqueducts rolled down from the dam towards the ruined town below.
A howl, a hell hound lunged from the tree line and Wuppet was quick to throw a vial which struck it in the face. It exploded in a yellow pungent smoke. The hound whimpered and retreated as the winged critters swooped down. Ot was ready for them and swung out with his club and Prahtan downed them with swift shots from her bow as the party crossed the bridge.
Laylen reached the other side first, and then Wuppet and Ot as Prahtan waited in the middle, shooting any of the creatures foolish enough to get too close.
“Destroy the bridge, Ot!” Prahtan barked.
Ot roared from the edge and swung at the bridge planks with his club, the whole structure rattled. He roared and swung again, hammering away at it.
“What about Prahtan?” Laylen cried.
“She’ll get here,” Wuppet said, “Just you watch.”
Ot smashed the bridge again and the whole thing shook. The hell hounds realised what was happening and leaped out from the tree line to surge over the bridge before it was destroyed. Prahtan turned and sprinted, and that’s when they all heard it.
The clinking sound of demonic chains, several of them launched from the tree line and caught Prahtan by the legs, the arms, and waist. She cried out and collapsed as the chains encircled around her and dragged her back across the trembling bridge, towards the rushing hounds, towards Carcenon.
“Shit!” Wuppet clenched his fists and made to run across but hesitated when he heard Prahtan barking.
“NO! JUST BREAK THE BRIDGE!” she snarled, “GET TO SAFETY!”
“What do we do?” Ot asked, he watched hopelessly as the hell hounds closed in on the ensnared Prahtan.
Wuppet’s voice was a whisperr, “We do what she said, break the bridge.”
“No!” Ot blubbered.
“DO IT, OT!” Prahtan screamed, “DO IT!”
Ot growled, and then roared as he hefted his club for the final blow. But he hesitated when chains shot out from behind them—from their side of the bridge—obsidian, hell-fired, demonic chains.
One swiped at the hell hounds, keeping them at bay while the others encircled the chains restraining Prahtan and burned with crimson, vaporous power. Prahtan’s ensnaring chains writhed and released her, retreating back to Carcenon as the new chains grabbed Prahtan and hauled her to safety.
She hit the ground beyond the bridge hard and looked up at her saviour, as did Ot and Wuppet as they followed the chains that receded and slunk back to their master, to Laylen. She was panting, red vapour power rose from her—hell-fire. Her eyes shone crimson and she was baring her teeth in a grimace as the skin around her cuts dissolved, revealing obsidian skin in patches beneath her pale flesh.
She strode past the party and gestured to the dam. Crimson lashes of energy shot from her and slammed into the stone structure, causing it to crumble and break. The water broke free in a tidal wave and swept the bridge away in a flood with the remaining hell hounds which howled and cried out before drowning in the coursing waters.
Carcenon stood on the far side, his skin healed, he was smiling, and clapping.
“Well, well, well,” his hellish, warping voice rose over the sound of the emptying damn. “The bitch can bite worth a damn it seems . . . and now every demon within leagues has sniffed you out. This valley will be swarming with hell folk by nightfall, and they will bring you to me in pain. I shall very much enjoy consuming you when I finally get my claws into you, Demon Princess!” He turned from the river and marched back into the tree line.
Panting, Laylen turned to face her companions, as the vaporous energy subsided, as her eyes dulled back to their natural blue and her obsidian skin was healed over by human hide. She looked down from them like a guilty pup.
“You’re one of them,” Wuppet said.
“You lied to us?” Ot rumbled.
“Laylen?” Prahtan picked herself up and cautiously made her way over to the human mage.
Laylen was weeping, and collapsed on the ground at Prahtan’s touch, “I’m so sorry!”
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