“Everyone okay?” I asked, as I let Liz down on the ground before the dais. There was a considerable lump on the side of her thick skull, but the lightning had done far more damage. She had a hard head.
I bent to her and lay a blanket of healing upon her. She had not been too sorely wounded because she returned to consciousness with a growl. “Swords,” she bellowed and Bob chuckled.
Rufus pushed her harness rig into her hands and scanned the room, practically pouting. “I wanted Leviathus,” he said, more to himself then the rest of us. “Jerk.”
“Hear, hear,” I said.
Liz looked at me and grinned. She knew how I felt about wizards.
“He’ll rally better forces to storm in here,” Rufus said, sitting down on the edge of the dais and allowing his feet to swing. “Now that we’ve seen him, he can’t let us live. Dealing with this ilk may be gaining him powers or knowledge that no one in the university can officially acknowledge, but it will go toward his ability to get tenure.”
I looked at Bob who shrugged and looked up suddenly as Sparkle came bounding into view, her blades driven into the back of a behemoth frog nearly twice my size. When the freakish thing fell to the ground, she rolled off and onto her feet with the grace of an acrobat and gave a little bow, while flicking her blades behind her, throwing off blood and viscera.
“Glad you could join us,” she said, bumping me with her shoulder and grinning. “I was sure you’d met your match.”
Before I could speak, Rufus looked at me with a screwed up face. “How did you break his hold?” he asked, obviously confused. “Leviathus is one of the best I’ve ever met with mind cage spells.”
I shrugged, and reached out to stroke Liz on the side of the face before standing and helping her to her feet. “I’ve managed to survive similar experiences,” I said with a shrug. “I guess I’m getting good at breaking out of cages.”
“And the mystical missiles I saw him cast?” Sparkle asked. “Explain that.” I wracked my brain there. That was one of the spells a novice learns early, something that builds over time. Wizard Tim had told me all about them when he used them around Liz and I. How had they not hurt me. I looked down at my chest, feeling where the heat of them had passed into me, and remembered the amulet that I had claimed from Gore Fist’s gear. Tim had told me it would absorb a certain amount of magic cast at the wearer. Too bad for Gore Fist that didn’t extend to being bit in half by a giant insect. That was a nasty way to go. Still, his loss was my gain.
I pulled the chain out with all my holy symbols and everyone stopped when the Bountiful One’s sphere pulsed a golden spasm of light and we each felt a wave of peace and healing wash over us.
“Okay, I’ve got a few things that helped me out.”
Bob chuckled, climbed off the dais, and walked through the dead frogs, making sure none still lived. Bÿglar helped him while Liz donned her gear.
“Bad idea, that,” Sparkle said, pointing to the discarded serving tray where Liz had been struck down. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” She looked right me, unabashed. “If they had all just left like she asked, we could’ve avoided some unpleasantries.”
I glared at them. “Might include the cleric in your plans next time. Would prevent people I care about being bludgeoned.”
No one said a peep.
“Besides,” I groused. “We have to kill them eventually.”
“Eventually is not now,” Sparkle said, her face set and her voice haughty. “It was a clever plan.”
I continued to glare but did not press that subject. Eventually I was able to stare all of them down. Bÿglar looked away first, Sparkle last.
“What happened to Jira?” I asked, remembering Liz’s sister suddenly. “She was fighting against the frogs.”
Liz placed a hand on my arm and pointed. The lizard folk had fled, all but Jira. She sat against the wall on the far side, by the halls to the north. She had slain two dozen frogs before she had fallen to their spears as they fled the hall. Liz and I went to her and found she was beyond healing.
“My father,” Liz said, reaching out and closing Jira’s eyes. “He is tied to her. With his death, she was free of their magic.” She paused. “He allowed himself to die, probably killed himself to free her once they knew we were here to rescue them.”
I looked at her, astonished.
“It is the control they have over them. For one of the warriors to die is to condemn those captives held behind. He knew he was dying as did she. He chose to help us in the end.”
I stared down at Jira and felt the hot sting of tears in my eyes. Why must the world be so cruel?
Liz took my hand and I was comforted by her touch, as I hope mine comforted her.
The rest of my troop appeared behind us, bloodied and ready to continue our incursion into the froggy stronghold.
“Where is Magda?” I asked, looking at each of them. That’s when I noticed the scorch marks upon them, singed hair, clothing blackened from fire and soot. They had all survived Leviathus’s ball of fire with minor wounds.
I quickly took inventory of their burns. They would all need some healing and Bob’s right hand would need some salve.
None of their wounds were life threatening. So what of Magda?
Rufus shook his head when my gaze fell upon him, as if I had missed a clue. He pointed back to the antechamber where Leviathus had detonated his ball of fire and I felt hope bleed out of me. Numbly I climbed upon the dais and pushed aside the battered and burnt screen that had give those in the antechamber seclusion from the public throne room. Perhaps it had taken a portion of the explosion, minimizing the wounds that afflicted my friends. The rest of the chamber had not fared as well.
The entire area was blackened and scorched. Anything that could burn had burned in a flash of fire so intense and quick, that only ash remained. No lingering fire had continued after that initial conflagration and no smoke hung in the air. Everywhere was the stench of char, however.
Ash lay inches deep in some areas and it took me a full fifteen minutes before I found her. None of the others came back to help me search and I was glad for the solitude. When I found her, broken and burned, I let the tears flow freely. I cupped her small body in my hands and carried her out into the throne room. The others were on point, watching the doors and making sure we were not counter attacked. I stopped beside the froggy throne and held her body out to the room in supplication and shame. I had failed her
It was Bÿglar who came to me and offered comfort. He had his holy symbol out, that hybrid of Kithri of the healing touch, and Semaunzilla (may she ease the pain of lost friends). He held it and placed a hand on my shoulder, reciting a prayer I had said during a lull in the battle for the bridge. I did not recall those words exactly, but they had a ring of truth.
“We honor our fallen,” he intoned, squeezing my shoulder. “We do not wail at their loss as that would dishonor their sacrifice. Rather we weep for their transition unto the far shore in hope that their next battle is even more glorious than the death they have achieved this day. And that, when we meet on the plains of light, that we are joined again in friendship and camaraderie.”
I had said those things to this young man, and the others in my legion when we had suffered such grievous losses. I had meant those words then, and they resonated with me now. Still it did not take away the pain of seeing this sweet face, contorted in death. She who saw the truth in me that no one else had spoken. Her counsel while it had been brief, would be sorely missed.
I lay her on the seat of the throne and turned to face my companions. Liz knelt rearranging Jira’s limbs and setting her weapons within her grasp. If she had heard Bÿglar’s words, she gave no indication, yet she shed no tears. Even though she had also lost her father this day.
“We find the wizards and kill them,” I barked, allowing the pain to course through my words. “Then we see to the surviving slaves.”