[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 74 -Final duel

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Fri Jan 4 01:20:33 CST 2002


    Thryza grimaced as she cast her gaze around the barracks hall. She 
couldn't see much from her perspective, but her aura-sight told her just what 
she had suspected: Nasoj's forces were losing, and badly. And worst of all, 
she still hadn't spotted the Lightbringers who had killed her students.

    "Damn it, Lothanasi, where are you?" she muttered, caving in the chest of 
an approaching Keeper with a quick right fist. The man sunk to the floor in 
silent agony, and she kicked his head contemptuously, snapping his neck. The 
fool never should have tried to take her alone, she thought, wondering why 
all of the worthier opponents seemed to be ignoring her.

    As if in reply, a challenging shout echoed over the crowd. "Moranasi!"

    She spun around to see the raccoon she'd fought yesterday, his whole body 
drenched with blood. He was approaching her now with death in his eyes. 
Smiling, Thryza brought her own sword to the ready.

    "Let's finish what we started, eh, Shadow Bringer?" the coon said.

    "Happily," Thryza replied, loosing a quick right slash. The dark warrior 
stopped her blow easily, and countered with one of his own.

    The ensuing duel was intense, brutal, and vicious, with neither of them 
holding back. The power of Revonos flowed through Thryza's limbs, as she 
dealt him blows that normally shattered swords and severed arms; but the 
warrior's sword was imbued with some sort of powerful magic that shrugged off 
even her hardest strikes, and he countered with attacks so strong that they 
could only have been empowered by Dokorath himself. The man bared his teeth 
savagely, reveling in the conflict, as their lethal dance spiraled all across 
the barracks.

    "You're good," Thryza remarked off-handedly, feinting to the right. The 
raccoon followed her movement just a split-second too long, and she gestured 
toward his sword arm with her free hand. With a few muttered syllables the 
warrior's hand spasmed, causing him to drop his sword. " 'Tis a pity I have 
to kill you." She swung her blade in an arc toward his neck-

    And in a flash, he reached out and grabbed it in both hands. With 
surprising strength -- the war-god's blessing again, no doubt -- he tore it 
from her grasp in an instant, then drove a fist hard into her nose. The dark 
priestess flew backward under the impact, but she rolled with the fall until 
she came up in a kneeling posture. The raccoon was waiting, though, and with 
an outstretched palm he drove a sizzling green ball of energy into her chest.

    Thryza reeled under the impact, momentarily stunned. She tried to project 
another spasm-spell at the battlemage, but he resisted its effects and kept 
advancing, armed with her own sword. Shaking off the effects of the energy 
bolt, she rose to her feet, just as he thrust the sword-tip into her belly...

    Only to find that it stopped against her flesh as if it were solid rock.

    Thryza smirked. "My sword," she pointed out, slamming her palms against 
his chest. There was a loud _crack_ of broken ribs as the warrior flew back 
bodily to crash against a stone pillar. He crumpled to the floor with a sound 
halfway between a grunt and a moan. As she swaggered towards him, she noticed 
that he seemed to have worn down badly -- this time, he'd only gotten to his 
knees by the time she reached him. He looked up at her with a stunned, 
glazed-over expression in his eyes.

    "Such a handsome boy," Thryza purred, running her fingers through the fur 
on his head. "Maybe I won't kill you, after all. You'd make such a wonderful 
slave..." She stretched out her mind toward his, already weaving the 

    Then snapped back as if she'd been bitten. Her vision went dark and 
blurry, as a sudden vertigo struck her body. In her fragmented and 
disoriented aura-sight, she could see a strange amulet glowing red beneath 
his armor.

    "Sorry, already taken," he growled, producing a dagger from his belt and 
driving it into her chest.

    Thryza looked down in astonishment at the ornamented handle protruding 
from her sternum. That was magical armor she was wearing beneath her cloak! 
She coughed, feeling the unpleasant sensation of blood filling her lungs. 
Dizzily, she raised her hands upwards.

    "Herumor, nai nuvan mornie!" she gasped.

    There was a sound like thunder, and a cloud of smoke rose up around the 
Moranasi, choking the battlemage with its foul scent. Then there was a 
pulsation of darkness, and Thryza's flesh, blood and bones melted away into 
nothingness -- until only a living shadow remained.

    The dagger fell to the floor with a muffled clang, surrounded by the 
black and silver garments of the Moranasi.

    The raccoon swore in amazement as Adept Mistress Thryza turned glowing 
red eyes toward him, ethereal claws flashing like silver daggers. He dodged 
and rolled out of the way, recovered his sword, and rose to his feet, the 
rune-carved blade at the ready.

    Thryza was mildly curious as to whether that mystical sword of his could 
actually harm her in her present form, but there was no time for her to find 
out. Now that she had used the wraith-spell, it would not be long before she 
attracted the attention of Metamor herself.

    "Polteen!" she cried, her voice echoing across the hall like a banshee's 
wail. "Come on!"

    There was another puff of smoke on the other side of the room, and within 
seconds the two Moranasi had vanished into the shadows on the ceiling above, 
leaving the raccoon battlemage behind.

    They floated through the stones of the castle effortlessly, racing toward 
the north wall and the freedom beyond it. Thryza found herself pondering what 
the Dark Prince would say to Nasoj when he was forced to give an account for 
this miserable failure. Perhaps he would torture the wizard -- that could 
prove quite entertaining, indeed.

    Thryza was just beginning to picture Nasoj writhing in agony in the pits 
of the Ninth Hell when she and Polteen passed out of the rock and into an 
open room.

    A room that abruptly flared brilliant white from every direction.

    Thryza hissed and covered her eyes, blinded by the divine light that 
emanated from the very stones. Futilely she threw her wraithlike body against 
the walls, but with no shadows present there was no way for her to slip 
through. She tried to summon a darkness spell, but she was already weakened 
from the battle -- and maintaining her wraith form was already taxing her 
energy reserves. As her eyes finally grew more accustomed to the brightness, 
she noticed that Polteen was having the same sort of trouble that she was.

    Then she heard the awful, piercing metallic sound of mithril sliding out 
of its sheath. She turned, and a chill of fear ran through her as she saw the 
Lightbringers -- wolf-woman and cat-child -- bearing towards her, swords 
flashing in the too-bright light.


Shadows and Light

    Merai held her divinely-blessed sword at the ready and tried not to show 
any fear. The two forms floating before them, just a few yards away, were 
nightmarish and menacing: though nearly human in form, they seemed to be made 
of darkness itself, and their eyes glowed an unearthly red. Ethereal claws 
flashed like daggers at the tips of long, distended fingers, each looking 
like it could eviscerate a man in seconds. For all their terror, though, 
Merai could see that these Shadow Bringers were weakened and vulnerable, 
their fatigue made clear by her aura-sight. That, at least, filled her with a 
measure of confidence, bolstering her mind against the animalistic fear she 
felt at the sight of such unnatural beings.
    She glanced at the elder priestess beside her, and the subtle motions of 
Raven's eyes made it clear: Merai was to face the one who had been a woman, 
while the Lothanasa herself dealt with the Grand Master. No words were spoken 
as the two sides warily approached each other; there could be no surrender in 
this battle and no retreat, and melodramatic speeches would only waste time 
and breath.
    The Moranasi struck first, rushing with blinding speed at the 
Lightbringers' throats. Dokorath's blessing held firm, though, and both Raven 
and Merai stopped their claws with a swing of their blades. Merai focused in 
on her opponent, forgetting for the moment about Raven and the Grand Master 
and concentrating solely on the shadowy, vaguely female shape before her.
    The she-wraith swung her claws in three quick swipes before Merai stopped 
her momentum and countered with an attack of her own. The shadowy mass before 
her felt firm but pliable as she struck at it, like leather armor, and in a 
flash of insight Merai saw the shields that surrounded her opponent's body. 
Those shields required force of will to maintain, and in time could be 
battered down.
    "A nicacce!" the wraith hissed, spreading her palm toward Merai. A 
sudden, icy chill shot through the cat-woman's body, freezing her from inside 
out. She went rigid, feeling her innards turn to ice.
    "N-nai nuva y-yaja!" Merai gasped, teeth chattering. Instantly an aura of 
fire sprang up around her, countering the freeze-spell and restoring her body 
to normal. Gritting her teeth, she struck out at the Moranasi again, knowing 
the dark cleric had just wasted a portion of her precious energy reserves. 
Silently, she thanked the gods that Raven had been teaching her Yajiit's 
proxy spells.
    Stealing a glance across the room, Merai saw that the battle between 
Raven and the Grand Master had been vicious: Raven's leather armor was 
largely shredded, and the fur on her arms and legs was matted in several 
places with blood. At the same time, the chief Moranasi seemed heavily 
battered: his shadowy form was significantly faded in many spots, and his 
"body" was leaking smoke like a censer-pot. Both were fighting like wild 
animals, attacking and counterattacking with blistering speed. From a quick 
glance at their auras, though, it seemed clear to Merai that Raven was 
gaining the upper hand.
    Merai's attentions were brought jarringly back into focus by a slash of 
her opponent's claws, slicing through her sword hand. Merai shrieked in pain 
as the blade fell to the floor, backed away from the attacking claws, then 
pushed the wraith away from her with a shield spell. The sword now lay 
several feet away, behind the advancing Moranasi.
    Biting back a curse, Merai stretched out her hand. "Yajiit, a nasa yaja!" 
she cried. A blast of flame about a hand-span wide shot from her fingertips, 
but the fire jet passed through the wraith with no apparent effect. The 
unholy creature seemed to be laughing.
    "So that's the way it is, is it?" Merai muttered. "Fine, then..."
    The young priestess stood her ground, staring the Shadow Bringer straight 
in her flame-red eyes. Then, steeling her will, she drove her consciousness 
down like a dagger into her enemy's mind.


    Merai found herself "standing", after a fashion, in the midst of a 
swirling torrent of hatred. Pushing further in, she saw ground below her -- 
the solid terrain of conscious thought. In the Moranasi's mind, that ground 
was bare and hard, devoid of growth or beauty, like the deserts she had read 
about from time to time. She settled lightly to earth, eyes and ears alert 
for danger, tail flicking back and forth in anticipation.
    She didn't have long to wait. The dust in front of her swirled together, 
driven by the winds blowing around her, and coalesced into the form of a 
short, red-haired woman with angry, defiant eyes. This deep inside her mind, 
Merai saw the woman's identity in an instant: Adept Mistress Thryza, the 
sixth child of Mordeloth Blackhand and right-hand aide to Grand Master 
Polteen. The Moranasi was proud of her titles, proud of the fear her name 
instilled in her homeland -- and, at the moment, utterly livid with Merai 
    "Get out of my head!" she growled, lunging at the young priestess.
    Merai, feeling for the first time like she was actually in control of 
things, nimbly stepped aside, tripping up the enraged Shadow Bringer and 
slashing her arm with a swipe of her feline claws. Thryza landed hard, looked 
down at her bleeding arm, then looked back up at Merai with an expression of 
surprise mixed with silent fury.
    "Don't ask me to explain it," Merai shrugged, her confidence strengthened 
by the discovery that Thryza was unfamiliar with this sort of battleground. 
Evidently Prince Ba'al taught his students to focus more outwardly than 
inwardly, to project their anger at external targets rather than to turn 
their observations toward themselves. That gave Merai the advantage: if there 
was one thing that Raven had taught her in her short time as a Lightbringer, 
it was to remain centered. "Nolalye sulelya", or "Know Thyself", was one of 
the prime commandments of the Lothanasi; fortunately, that did not seem to be 
the case for their counterparts.
Thryza rose to her feet again, panting, her fists clenching and unclenching 
as she stared at the intruder in her mind. Merai settled into a fighting 
stance, claws out, and beckoned to the dark cleric.
    "What are you waiting for?" she asked, quietly but with a slight edge to 
her voice.
    The red-headed woman took the bait. She stepped quickly forward, fists 
raised, and let loose a flurry of punches at Merai. The cat-woman blocked or 
dodged most of them, then darted in with a few quick jabs of her own -- each 
one careful, deliberate, measured. She ducked under one of Thryza's swings 
and raked her claws across the woman's belly, leaving deep gouges in that 
soft and tender flesh. The tempest above them roared with thunder as 
lightning-flashes of anger split the sky, and though the wind blew hard 
against her Merai held her ground.
    Thryza howled in rage and hit Merai with a straight right punch to the 
face, which sent her flying backwards to land roughly on the barren ground. 
The priestess was up in a moment, and she sensed a ripple of disappointment 
in the storm around her; evidently, Thryza had been expecting the blow to 
shatter Merai's skull.
    "Your strength won't help you here," Merai said, wiping the blood from 
her nose. In truth, it probably _would_ help the Moranasi a little, simply 
because it would grant her more confidence in herself. But Merai was 
attacking her psychologically, and the more uncertainty she could sow in 
Thryza's mind the easier it would be to defeat her.
Merai met her opponent halfway in the next attack, a quick exchange of blows 
that left both of them bruised and bloodied. They grappled with each other's 
arms, twisting this way and that in an effort to get some leverage, before 
both toppled to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Thryza bit, kicked and 
scratched like a wild beast, and Merai responded with carefully placed blows 
and measured swipes of her claws. Even as the Moranasi became more desperate 
and heated in her attacks, the Lightbringer became cool, almost emotionless, 
filled with a determination as rigid and cold as iron. It was a very 
different feeling for Merai, but it seemed so inexpressibly _right_ -- as if 
she had always known, at the very core of her being, what she would have to 
do in order to win this battle.
    Rolling until she was on top, Thryza pounded downwards at Merai's face -- 
but Merai caught her wrist and pulled the punch wide. Digging in her claws, 
she pulled roughly away from the dark cleric's hand, slitting the woman's 
wrist in a long, ragged gash. Boxing Thryza's ears, Merai rolled again until 
she was on top, and with two quick swipes she shredded the woman's dull black 
tunic to ribbons.
    It was a symbolic act, representing vulnerability, exposure, and the loss 
of identity, and the damage it did to Thryza's avatar was reflected in the 
surrounding landscape: the storm overhead grew darker and more violent, and 
the earth beneath them rumbled as cracks began to form in its surface. The 
Moranasi's consciousness was beginning to come apart at the seams under 
Merai's relentless assault.
    "Who are you?" Merai asked her, tearing away the shreds of fabric to 
leave Thryza naked and exposed on the rock.
    "I am Thryza!" the woman shouted, getting her arm free and punching Merai 
in the chin. "I am Moranasi!" Focusing past the pain -- after all, it was all 
in her mind, she thought -- Merai spit out blood and pinned down the woman's 
arm again. Trapping one of the Moranasi's fists under her knee, Merai quickly 
slashed a twin-cross on the woman's chest with her claws. It was another 
deliberate act, "branding" the redhead's avatar with the symbol of her most 
hated enemy.
    "Are you really Moranasi?" she replied calmly, holding Thryza firmly in 
    "Yes!" Thryza shouted.
"Then where are your robes?"
    "You took them!" she screamed. In her eyes, though, Merai saw a flicker 
of uncertainty mixed with the rage. The ground trembled, and the cracks 
around them began to open wider.
    "You don't look like Moranasi to me," Merai said firmly, locking eyes 
with the other woman. "You wear the symbol of the Lightbringers on your 
    "No! You lie!"
    "Look for yourself."
    Merai gave the other woman just enough slack to let her raise her head 
and see the bloody twin-cross that the Lightbringer had carved in her chest. 
"No!" Thryza shouted, struggling to free her arms. "Get it off! Get it off!"
    "It is a part of you," Merai said simply. "It is who you are."
    "NO!" Another tremor, and the cracks spread into crevasses around them, 
jagged and unfathomably deep. "I am Moranasi! I am Adept Mistress Thryza!"
    Merai scoffed. "You aren't an Adept Mistress," she said. "An Adept 
Mistress would never wear the mark of the Lightbringers. And an Adept 
Mistress wears black and silver robes."
    "I have robes!"
    "You are naked."
    "I _had_ robes!"
    "Where are they?"
    "I -- I --"
    The rocks groaned again, and now there was a canyon just a few feet away 
from them, so deep that the bottom -- if there was one -- was obscured in 
solid black. Merai leaned in close to Thryza's ear.
    "You have no robes," she said quietly. "You have no robes, because you 
are not an Adept Mistress."
    "I -- I'm ... not?"
"No, you are not," Merai said, her voice firm. "You are not an Adept 
Mistress. You are not Moranasi. You are nothing but a naked woman with the 
mark of the Lothanasi on your chest."
    "No!" Thryza insisted, tears of fear and desperation filling her eyes. "I 
am! I am!"
    "You are _what?"_
    "I am ... I am ... Thryza! I am Thryza!"
    "Who is Thryza?" Merai asked. "It is only a name. What does it mean?"
    "It means ... it ... I ..." The woman was sobbing uncontrollably. The 
canyon widened yet again, and now she and Merai lay at its very brink. The 
winds of the storm howled even in the bottomless chasm below -- a tempest of 
pure, uncontrolled emotion.
    "I shall tell you what it means," Merai said forcefully. "Thryza is a 
helpless, naked, defenseless woman who wears the mark of the Lothanasi!"
    Thryza shook her head violently, barely able even to speak amidst her 
shuddering sobs. Merai loosened her grip on her hands, and the woman pulled 
away from her like a frightened animal.
    "No! Go away! Go away!" she cried, pushing weakly on Merai's chest. 
Finding that she couldn't move that way, she pushed with her feet against the 
rocky soil, bringing herself and Merai closer to the edge of the cliff.
    "Don't run, Thryza!" Merai all but yelled in her ear. "We can help you! 
After all, you wear the sign of the Lightbringers, so you must be one of our 
own! We will take care of you, poor, helpless, vulnerable Thryza!"
    "No!" Summoning more strength than Merai would have thought possible in 
her current state, Thryza pushed the cat-woman off of her. "You stay away! 
I'm not one of you!" She was edging backward, sheer terror in her eyes, not 
even noticing the chasm behind her.
    "Aye, you are, Thryza!" Merai insisted, holding out her hand to the 
frightened woman. "You are Lothanasi! Look at the mark! What else could you 
possibly be?"
    Thryza backed away even further. "I am ... I am--"
    And then, abruptly, there was no more ground behind her -- and Thryza 
fell tumbling into the bottomless depths of insanity.
"I am!" she shouted, her voice echoing off the walls of the chasm. "I am! I 
am! I am!"
    And then she vanished from sight.
    Instantly, the ground beneath Merai crumbled to dust, Thryza's 
consciousness shattering in the wake of her fall into madness. With a 
thought, Merai propelled herself away from the disintegrating landscape, back 
into the storm of emotions raging above. She felt her mind twist sharply to 
the right, spiraling outward--
    And then she was back in her own body, as Thryza -- once again in human 
form -- collapsed numbly to the floor.
    "I see you survived your trip."
    Merai looked up to see Raven standing beside her, Elemacil in its sheath.
    "The Grand Master?" she asked.
    "Dead," Raven assured her. "He vanished like a puff of smoke. And his 
adept will soon be joining him."
    Merai looked at the Lothanasa in shock. "Is it truly right to kill her 
like this?" she asked, incredulous. "There is nothing left of her but 
    "We do not have to kill her, Merai," Raven said, putting a hand on the 
younger woman's shoulder. "For good or ill, that decision has already been 
made for us."
    "What do you--?" Merai turned, looking at the crumpled form of Adept 
Mistress Thryza, and suddenly saw what Raven meant: there was a grave-looking 
knife wound between the woman's breasts, which Merai's aura-sight revealed 
had pierced the woman's heart. Even now her life force was ebbing; in another 
minute or two, she would be dead.
    "Someone must have dealt her that blow before she changed," Raven said. 
"In her weakened state, her body apparently returned to the condition it had 
been in before, wounds and all. I suppose they must have some way of 
restoring themselves when they return to human form, but after you defeated 
her from within..."
    "There was nothing left of her mind to put her back together again 
properly," Merai said soberly. " 'Tis sad. For a moment there, I truly 
believed that we might help her to find a new life. One free of all the hate 
that she had been raised in."
"It is sad," Raven agreed. "But it is also just. She killed many in the 
pursuit of personal gain, and she was an accessory to the murder of countless 
others. She has paid the price for her actions."
    Merai nodded, eyes still fixed on the dying woman before her. "I 
understand," she said softly. "But it is still ... so very hard."
    "May the gods help us if playing the executioner ever becomes easy," 
Raven said. "Now, come. Let us see what has become of the others."
    Turning away from the fallen Shadow Bringer, the two priestesses took the 
door that Kyia had provided and began walking towards the barracks hall. 
Behind them, the glow of the stones faded into darkness, and all was silent.


 End part 74

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