Roman rushed into the living room, threw the body of the goblin across the room, and hid against the wall next to the entrance corridor. The displacer beast had not noticed the heroes and Roman hoped the beast and the duergar would lose interest and leave. Maggie hid on the opposite side of Roman; her rapier drawn and ready for action. Arien disappeared into the other room and ran upstairs. “Good,” Roman thought. “If we have to fight, I don’t want her involved. She’s too weak for this.”
Nolofinwe snuck up to Roman and, as silently as possible, whispered a prayer to his Mother Earth for healing. “Mháthair leigheas an lucht créachtaithe.” His hands glowed green as he placed them on Roman. The barbarian felt a surge of purity and strength flow through his body. His bruises and cuts miraculously healed and disappeared.
At that moment, the displacer beast cautiously strode into the living room, sniffing the air. Its tentacles slithered above its back like hovering snakes. Multiple spikes at the tip of the tentacles were covered in dried blood; a sign of a recent kill. But what made this panther-like beast unnerving wasn’t the extra pair of legs or the tentacles, but rather its shimmering appearance. The displacer beast’s ability to project an illusion, that of multiple, shifting reflections of itself, was a natural defense. It made it difficult for the heroes to focus on the creature.
The three heroes held their breath and stood motionless.
“Shoo, big kitty,” Maggie thought to herself.
The beast slowly lifted its head and turned to Nolo, locking eyes on the druid. Its tentacles whipped out and struck the elf. He fell to one knee in pain.
Roman roared. He leapt out of his shadow and attacked the beast. The tiger was loose. “You will not hurt my friends!” he bellowed. He slashed the six-legged panther. It snarled at the raging human, saliva oozing out of its clenched fangs.
Maggie jumped out of her hiding spot and stabbed the beast, but it ignored her. Its sole focus was on its true rival – the raging tiger of a man. Tentacles slithered and whipped around the barbarian, seeking weak points. Roman twirled his glaive to defend himself, while trying to find openings to reach the body of the panther-like creature. The two feral animals furiously fought for dominance.
Nolo was badly hurt. He grabbed hold of his necklace totem and made a short prayer: “Chun an marc Guí mé, leigheas do sheirbhíseach.” His body radiated in a green aura and his wounds began to heal. He felt the energy and courage of a bear surge through his body. He jumped back up and ran to a corner of the room.
Roman and the six-legged panther fought on; their speed and brute strength was blinding and brutal. The slithering tentacles continuously struck Roman as he slashed at the beast. But Roman was at a disadvantage; the beast’s illusionary images made it difficult for him to focus on exactly where to strike. He noticed a piece of furniture move somewhere to the left of him. His instincts knew what was coming. He had dealt with such things before, but dared not to lose his concentration on the displacer beast. Roman knew things were going to get ugly for him and his friends.
All of a sudden, three dwarf-sized duergars appeared in the room. They had used their natural ability to turn invisible, snuck in the room, and placed themselves, strategically, around the heroes. One stood before Nolo, trapping him in the corner. Another appeared next to Roman where he had seen furniture move. The final duergar materialized in front of Maggie, blocking her from the displacer beast.
The appearance of the duergars made Nolo instantly react. He smacked the butt of his staff on the floor and a wave of thunderous force radiated outwards around him. The whole house shook followed by a loud boom. Chairs, tables, paintings, and anything else not bolted down, flew across the room. But the spell’s force had little effect on the duergars or the displacer beast. It even hit Roman, but he, like the duergars, shrugged off the spell.
The duergars’ surprises were not finished. Without warning, the duergar next to Roman began to grow in size. He magically grew from a four-foot tall dwarf to a ten-foot giant. His body nearly took up a third of the room; his head almost hitting the roof. Roman briefly stopped his assault on the displacer beast, turned to look at the giant, and sighed in resignation. The large druergar swung his mighty warhammer and walloped the barbarian against the wall, leaving a huge hole. The house shook again. When the dust and rubble settled, Roman stood before the giant and the monstrous panther; his body bloody, bruised, and nearly broken. The raging tiger roared and Roman leapt back into the fray against the oversized duergar and displacer beast.
The battle raged on.
Roman fought valiantly, but he knew that he was no match for both the displacer beast and the giant duergar. Maggie tried to run away and hide from the duergar that hunted her, but he followed suit and would not lose sight of his prey. The duergar that cornered Nolo had severely wounded him. Nolo didn’t stand a chance against the dwarf. Roman felt fury; Maggie felt fear; and Nolo felt desperation.
Nolo sensed the impending doom upon him and his companions. Was all to be lost in this moment? Were their adventures at an end? Is this how the heroes of Burran, the heroes of Xymor, were to end? No. Hope was not lost, especially for those of faith. For men like Nolo, hope was just as deadly a weapon as the sharpest blade. For him, hope could never truly be killed as long as true believers held on with all their might, and he held on to that hope.
The duergar bashed Nolo in the shoulder and the druid was gone.
Nolo saw himself in the woods of his clan. It was night and the full moon shone brightly through the leaves of the trees. The air was chilly and silence surrounded the young wood elf. He was alone with no light, weapon, or food. And then he saw the wolf. It was a noble creature; strong, mighty, and fearsome. It snarled at Nolo. The would-be druid wanted to run away, but his father, Angrod, had taught him not to be afraid but to be respectful. “Nature is not the enemy – the enemy is the intentions of men,” he heard his father say. Nolo knelt on one knee and bowed his head to the wolf. The noble creature stopped snarling. It cocked its head and started to wag its tail. Nolo saw that instead of suspicion in the wolf’s eyes, he saw joy. The noble creature leapt towards the kneeling wood elf.
Nolos opened his eyes and quickly dodged the duergar’s warhammer. He then realized he was in the middle of a spell and spoke the last incantation: “A ligean ar na madraí amach!”
All around the room there appeared large, bright blue portals crackling with mystical energies. Everyone stopped fighting, surprised by the sudden appearance of the strange gateways. The duergar next to Nolo slowly approached a portal, his face only inches from the magical, oval-shaped sphere.
Nolo smirked and whispered, “Attack.”
The duergar didn’t know what hit him. He found himself on the ground, contending with a large, rose-colored, ethereal fey in the shape of a wolf, attempting to tear off his arm. Blood sprayed everywhere as the wolf sunk its teeth deeper into the duergar’s arm, coloring the wolf’s fur a deeper crimson-red. The wolf relished the taste of the dwarf’s blood and flesh, and snarled in ecstasy.
Out of each portal leapt a similar, wolf-shaped fey which in turn attacked the other duergars and displacer beast.
The six-legged panther was no match for the fey wolves. One jumped over the panther’s body, snapping at the tentacles and pinning them to the ground. Another wolf rushed in and cruelly tore open the displacer beast’s neck. The wolf buried its muzzle down the panther’s throat, attempting to eat it from the inside-out.
Three more wolves pounced on the giant and knocked him to the ground with a loud thud. Again, the house shook. They then proceeded to tear out his gut; gory entrails and spongy organs splattered and flew across the room. It was a feeding frenzy and the wolves loved it. The giant screamed for mercy, realizing he was being eaten alive, but no mercy was given. The duergar gurgled his final breath and died in agony.
The duergar that hunted Maggie wasn’t as lucky as his comrades. One wolf grabbed a hold of the dwarf’s arm, pinning him for a moment. Another wolf bit down on the duergar’s groin and began to chomp its way up the dwarf’s mid-section, relishing the taste of flesh and fear. The duergar howled in pain, realizing he was being eaten alive like his giant friend, but more slowly. Even for Maggie, this was a disturbing sight. Yet for a few seconds, she watched the suffering, writhing dwarf with a sick glee. But eventually, she had enough. She granted the duergar mercy and pierced him through the heart.
Roman saw that there was still one duergar still alive. He reacted before the wolves had a chance to finish him off. He rushed in and knocked the dwarf out.
“Hold,” Nolo shouted and the wolves stopped their assault. They looked towards their master, covered in blood and gore, wagging their tails.
The three heroes sighed in relief and took in much needed breaths. The battle was over. It would seem fate was not done with them yet.
Arien with nary a scratch on her, appeared, carrying two books. She surveyed the carnage and gasped, “Is everything alright?”
Roman, badly beaten and bruised, shook his head and rolled his eyes. He took a deep breath to calm himself.
“Can I keep one?” Maggie asked Nolo, while playing with the pack of fey wolves. “They’re so cute.”
“They will need to go back home in an hour or so,” Nolo responded, rubbing his shoulder. “Besides, I’m not sure they’d make good house pets.”
The sound of a slow clap interrupted the heroes. They turned around and saw Morgath causally standing in the hallway, unhurt.
“Nicely done,” he said.
“Where the hell were you?” Roman asked.
“In my secret chambers. Come. This isn’t the first time they attacked and they will be back,” Morgath gestured for the heroes to follow.
“Morgath!” Arien interjected, with a pained expression on her face. “Skye – she’s…”
“Dead, yes, I know.” Morgath interrupted nonchalantly. “Ah, well, there will be others.”
At this response, Arien’s mouth dropped open. She didn’t know what to say.
Morgath looked at Roman. “Come.” He gestured again.
“Wait,” Roman said. “Nolo, pick up the goblin. I’ll carry the duergar.”
“Yes, bring them,” Morgath said. “They may be tasty.”