While the reports were still coming in, it still looked like the initial estimate was holding up surprisingly well; they could account for nearly 85% of the original – rough – count of nearly three hundred Death Knights, and slightly over 5% were known to have had their swords broken and lost without a formal count during the siege engine bombardment. That left them with a likely count of less than twenty-five running around.
Presumably most of those had simply been sensible enough to retreat. After all, they’d already been sensible enough to pull out of doomed attacks.
On the other hand it was still possible that they were headed for the relic room under the temple; it was about the last place where a couple of them could do a lot of damage by themselves. Besides, with the wards down, it was a good time to have a look down there anyway. The Knights and Thralls now outnumbered the remaining Death Knights by better than two hundred to one – and if they couldn’t handle a straggler or two that had gotten lost under the city or who popped up at random with those odds, they were going to be wiped out by the next group of angry rats to pop up in the city…
The group stopped by to see the Knight-Commander first; it was only courteous to let him know where they were off to now.
Besides, he’d need to know that the Thralls would be continuing to protect the temple and bodyguard the priests – as well as scanning around with detection and clairvoyance magic. That way he could send a few with each group of straggler-hunters for support and communications.
The Knight-Lords were all busy at the moment – either giving or receiving healing – and the Knight-Commander was suffering from positive-energy saturation at the moment as well. There were a couple of priests who wanted to come along – one of the priest-assassins that A’ikana had spoken to earlier and one of the Levites who’d been at the temple when the Silmarils had boosted the wards.
Well, they were perfectly welcome. After all Jamie was still down at the walls fighting the last of the undead, and A’ikana was off having a private conference with some of the priests about healing techniques. She seemed to be determined to introduce something besides holy powers – and to forestall another Lichstein.
According to the clairvoyance-surveys, the fastest available mundane route would be to enter the tunnel network underneath the Temple Complex and take a stairwell that led down towards the relic chamber – but the stairs were mostly rotted away long ago, and there were plenty of collapsed sections of stonework along the route. At least further down it was mostly just carved out of rock.
They could bypass a lot of that time with telekinesis and rock-shaping, but – if they were going to use magic despite all the energy arcing and discharges going on down there, they might as well be a bit more direct… A gate would still be giving away too much – at least before Death arrived – but the water-shaft was large enough to get down without shapeshifting. It’d be a rough trip – they’d need protective spells and water-breathing spells, and preferably some active guidance – but it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two, and they’d left the archway to the whirlpool room open, so it wouldn’t take too long to reach that either.
The priests were a bit taken aback at the proposed route – and at the notion of accepting a spell – but both assented, although the Assassin took his lead from the Levite.
Kevin assigned them each a Thrall to assist and provide some extra telekinetic buffering and steering – and they set off.
They each leaped into the whirlpool of holy water in turn, and were sucked beneath the surface and down a long shaft into the depths of the catacombs. At first, everything went dark, but soon enough they become aware of a sourceless yellow glow gently illuminating everything. It WAS a pretty rough ride; the current was swift and the walls were still in the process of being worn smooth… The first drop bottomed out in another hallway, landing each of them with a jolt – but the current swept them on down the twists and turns of the hallway – until they reached a section where the floor had collapsed into another pit, and the water cascaded down.
Finally they were unceremoniously dropped into a giant pool through a hole in the ceiling.
Despite Kevin’s and the Thralls attempts to cushion them, the Levite had taken a few good bumps and hard knocks on the turns – but the assassin had been holding his feet and legs out in front of him to help cushion the impacts as they occurred, and was evidently used to a bit of tumbling.
(Marty) “That was fun!”
(Kevin) “Wee! Everyone all right?”
(Levite) “Fun you say? That was a most terrifying experience. How could that have been fun?”
(Marty) “Well, you didn’t lose any limbs, did you?”
(Kevin) “Well, we were looking after you, so there wasn’t much risk of being seriously injured, it was unusual and not particularly painful I hope, it was exciting, and it may lead to discovering new things! That doesn’t guarantee fun, but it certainly helps I think!”
Marty was considering doing it a few more times actually. Underground, fully submerged, half in the dark, full of twists, turns, and projections to bang against… Now THAT was a FUN water slide!
The Levite frowned at that, and rubbed his wrist – and there was a slight glow from his hand for a moment.
(Kevin) “I’m sorry: We were trying to make sure you didn’t get hurt; do you need any assistance there? And where are we for that matter?”
(Levite) “I should be fine, I still have enough power left over to handle a minor sprain like this.”
Looking around, they could see columns – looking like very old stonework – going off in all directions for some distance. The water depth was about four feet deep where they were – and hopefully the floor wasn’t full of concealed pits. The ceiling was about 15 feet above the water’s surface – and the entire place is illuminated by that same yellow glow, although it now appeared to be coming from the water itself. Very cathedral- or temple-like – although that was appropriate enough.
Now where was that island the Thralls had reported? Kevin sent his aides out to scout a bit – just in time for them to dodge the worst of a massive electrical discharge arcing form column to column off into the far reaches of the room beyond their sight.
It knocked most of them down, but the injuries were easily treatable. Kevin made sure to patch up the priests first; they were probably the least durable members of the party at the moment.
(Assassin) “What in the nine hells was that?”
(Priest) “I suspect it is a symptom.”
(Kevin) “Nine?… Well, it looked electrical, but it was obviously supernatural in origin or it would have grounded into the water…”
(Marty) “A trap, maybe?”
(Assassin) “Odd thing for a trap.”
(Kevin) “Clashing energies all over down here… Well, if everyone is healed, lets go on – unless you want some protective spells first? Trouble is, those might clash with something.”
(Priest) “Sadly I suspect any spells are going to cause more outbursts. We may be best off using only minor healing spells when necessary. Although the water may afford some protection.”
(Kevin) “Onwards then!”
As they pressed onwards towards the (presumed) location of the island, the energy discharges became more frequent and varied. Blue discharges – of varying sizes and concordant durations – leapt from pillar to pillar before grounding out. Red arcs danced along stonework like sparks on a Tesla coil. Up ahead brilliant flashes of yellow light alternated with blackness. The air was filled with steam, the water was bubbling slightly, the hair on their arms and on the back of their necks was sticking out, and they all felt a little fuzzy.
(Kevin) “Hoo boy… Lot of power running loose down here. Your city here is built on a magical powderkeg I think.”
(Assassin) “Alright, I can definitely say this is mildly uncomfortable.”
Marty was wondering if they’d somehow wandered into the city’s boiler room. He headed on ahead to see if he could find out what was going on.
(Priest) “This is not good.”
(Kevin) “Well, the foundation of all this – and of the power of Jerusalem – is it’s importance as a sacred site. We’d better see what’s going wrong and do something to fix it.”
Marty found that they were indeed approaching the island – or at least the raised area – that the Thralls had reported. There was an altar at the center, and some sort of stone chest which was sending out arcs of energy in all directions. Judging by the way the water was steaming nearby, it was also where all the heat was coming form.
Up above the chest there was a mass of light – glowing a pure white and surrounded by a great number of magical diagrams, all spinning around it like an orrery or a set of interlocking wheels. The scorched and broken remains of seven stone objects surrounded the entire altar-and-chest assembly.
Definitely a weird boiler room.
Kevin – as usual – had a quick guess when he arrived. If he hadn’t been just as ready to discard any theory that didn’t work out, he’d have been insufferable.
“I think something overloaded the focusing or warding talismans or something like that…”
Well, the breaks and scorch-marks did look fresh, and the smell of burning stone was apparent up close.
Sadly, the priests didn’t recognize them. Marty was just glad that they didn’t appear to be based on Accounting… The last thing they needed around here was Terry Jenkins and her naginata!
(Priest) “Interesting, but why are there seven and not six?”
(Kevin) “It’s not a seal, it’s for channeling and regulating energy. Seven is important in a lot of ways. Planetary affinities? Days of the week? I think we need to fix this before it blows the foundations of the city out. Can anyone make out any of the diagrams?”
“(Priest) Agreed, this energy buildup isn’t going to be able to ground out for long.”
They set the Thralls to working – very carefully – on grounding out the energy surges and on trying to stabilize things while they tried to figure out what to do.
There was some writing on the chest, although the white glow didn’t particularly seem to react to them – although it did dim from time to time, whereupon the temperature seemed to rise briefly before another major energy outburst occurred and the light returned. The stone chest did have some writing on it – while the diagrams themselves were in another form of writing.
The writing on the chest was mostly in classical Hebrew – which their Levite could read readily enough, although – given the conditions – a complete translation would take a few minutes. It wasn’t like they could easily get close and walk around it.
The diagrams in the air – and on the stones – seemed to be a series of magical formulae spelling out exact processes for processing energy and directing it – melding the energies from whatever was in the stone chest together and directing them into a field around the city. The script itself looked to be Tengwar – although the language wasn’t elven.
What the hell? That might help explain why the Silmarils had responded – but this realm should long predate Tolkien and Tengwar! It could just be leakover – a popular image of an “ancient mystical script” which had overlayed itself on a bit of unexamined reality in this realm – but that didn’t seem very likely. Much, MUCH more likely that the foci were more recent – that someone who used Tengwar for a magical script had meddled within the last few centuries, or even since the Opening. Some Manifold voyager? It would have to be someone both powerful, inclined to meddle benevolently, and highly skilled. It could – perhaps – be one of the local greater fey mage-smiths. They might well have picked up on Tengwar in the place of whatever vague notion of “elvenrunes” they’d originally been imbued with.
Too much speculation, not enough information, and no time.
At least it looked like he stone foci had simply fractured and fallen apart, rather than exploding. All the pieces should still be there… Kevin could try just re-assembling things through raw power, but it would probably be best to try something more subtle first.
Marty wasn’t much for fixing stuff, considering that he could wreck his car and find it undamaged in his overpriced parking space the next morning – but he didn’t see any reason not to just try putting the pieces back together. If they needed it, they could surely get some glue – and if it zapped them, it zapped them. If they’d just fractured and slumped, it might work.
Kevin had at least a theory on how they’d worked… It looked like foci A, B and C gathered different energies, most likely Psionic, Arcane and Divine. Focus D fused Psionic and Arcane energies, focus E fused Arcane and Divine, while focus F fused Psionic and Divine energies. Focus G appeared to concentrate the energies and form the field or energy stream going to the Temple Mount.
That was weird too. That kind of engineering left out most of the classical mage-smiths and scholars and such. That was more of an engineers approach.
Oh well. They tried working in reverse order – repairing “G” first since it shouldn’t have any load on it until the previous ones were repaired, and so on. A, B, and C would be the really tricky ones. The last three available Thralls – it had turned out that only six at a time could work on stabilization-duty without interfering with each other – assisted with little mending-spells, telekinesis to hold bits, and molecular manipulation to fuse the bits of stone back together. There was too much energy running around loose at the moment to be sure of whether or not the foci had some independent enchantment to worry about.
It took a good deal of fiddling with pieces and rotating them to see how they might fit together before they began to make matches on “G”… The Mending spells worked nicely at first – but as they began to get further along in the re-assembly, the pieces began to form meld together on their own as they set them into place. As the last pieces slid into place, they formed a smooth cylindrical object about four feet tall – which began to glow with Hebrew and Tengwar symbols.
They split up to do the fusing foci. Since their Levite was busy with the chest, it was Kevin, Marty, and the Assassin. It wasn’t like they could get much more broken – or at least it didn’t look like it.
Kevin and the Assassin had little difficulty – but Marty didn’t have much luck. Putting things back together REALLY wasn’t his thing. Fortunately, he didn’t manage to get enough of it together to do much of anything. He wound up standing proudly over a pile of loose pieces.
(Marty) “It’s supposed to look like this, right?”
(Kevin) “I dunno. I think you might have missed a spot!”
“Ok! (Marty put a rock in the hole). Hah, more practice and I’ll be a better techie than the Balrog!”
The Assassin was holding his hand over his mouth and quietly chuckling to himself as Marty actually took a look as what he’d put together.
“I think your speciality lies more in taking things apart Marty… Mind if I try?”
It took some finagling, but they got the pieces of that one together as well. Now they had four glowing stone cylinders covered with Hebrew inscriptions with a Tengwar inscription overlaid on top of the Hebrew.
Meanwhile, they had a summary-translation. The really relevant portion wasn’t very long:
“Here lies the Ark of the Covenant. For as long as this altar stands and the Ark remains here, Jerusalem shall not fall to the Darkness. Beware he who would gaze upon the Ark, for it will smite all but the Holiest amongst thou and consume you in your hubris.”
The rest appeared to be incantations and prayers.
Kevin had thought so… the Ark was about the only known relic that spontaneously affected its surroundings.
They decided to put the last pieces in the last foci as simultaneously as possible: for that, they’d leave the last bit to the Thralls; they all have similar reflex speeds. Besides, they had to deal with Death, and they couldn’t do that if they blew themselves up or something. Kevin would have pulled back a bit, but he had to supervise. He did have everyone else retreat though; if the pulse from the system fried someone, it would be better if it was someone who wouldn’t have a problem with a vacation.
The energy discharges began decreasing in both frequency and intensity as the last three foci started to come together – but the partially built foci started getting very warm. Kevin promptly shielded them to reduce the energy flowing into them before they were ready. That dropped the temperature, but kicked up the energy discharges again.
Kevin invested quite a lot of power in getting the last few pieces in properly and simultaneously. The final bits went in within some small fraction of a second of each other – and the whole room suddenly went dark as foci became whole again and the energy discharges stopped.
The inscriptions on the stone chest lit up, and the entire room suddenly exploded with a brilliant white light that seemed to shine through the very stone. Everyone had to shield their eyes – and even when the light levels had dropped back to what was probably “normal”, it took several minutes for them to see clearly again.
“You know Marty? Sometimes I feel like the sole remaining auto mechanic in New York City. Aren’t there any other repairmen out here? We never seem to meet any.”
“Gelman does repairs, but I don’t think he feels like cooperating with me right now… Other than him? Yeah, I agree.”
Well, that seemed to be all right.
Checking the reports, the Thralls on divination-duty had located another five straggler Death Knights in the tunnels. They’d chased down and killed two of them, and the remaining three had suddenly started showing signs of being in great pain. They expected that they’d be able to capture them shortly.
Presumably any sensible ones had either kept track of the route and gotten out fast or hadn’t come in the first place. Still, that took them down to somewhere between 15 and 25 unaccounted for Death Knights. Not bad. If none of them made it to the relic chamber within the next couple of hours, none would make it in that far past the wards anyway.
They stationed more Thralls on guard around the relic-chamber in the meantime – and Kevin put quite a lot more power into setting up some defensive effects around the island, including a series of feedback surge-protector spells designed to dump excess power – especially Death’s negative aura – so that the wards would just be shut down, rather than blowing up if it was overloaded. That should be good for a week or two. If and when Death got there, they didn’t want to have to fix the system all over again. It might not work again anyway.
(Kevin) “I must thank you for your willingness to dive into a whirlpool on faith. It was a great deal to ask.”
The priests were still pretty diverted by the thought of being so near the Ark.
(Priest) “Well that explains why we couldn’t get the ward restarted after it failed.”
(Kevin) “Marty? What do you think? fix the stairs or seal it up? Oh, probably dumping more power into it was just confusing things. Oh well, live and learn.”
(Marty) “Seal it up. We don’t need everybody and their brother coming down here.”
They settled for putting up some wards and such on what was left of the stairs on their way up. It wasn’t like they had time to map all the tunnels and stop them up, and there was no easy way to block the water without undermining the city defenses anyway. Besides, the Thralls would have to get out in a few hours and they had to go and prepare to meet Death.
The assassin took one last look around the chamber before leaving.
(Assassin) “I never thought I would see it with my own eyes. Or, at least, the stone chest which seals it. This will be a story to tell the grandchildren I think.”
(Kevin) “And hopefully there will be many to tell.”
(Assassin) “Indeed, if we can survive the coming battles, I plan to have many to tell my stories to.”
(Marty) “Well, so far, so good!”
Back upstairs, things upstairs were jubilant. The Knights had repulsed the besieging army and freed the city, the last of the undead had been wiped out at the walls by the common folk. The armies of the dead had suffered a great defeat and – right now – the battle for survival looked to be winnable. Rumors of Death’s approach had begun to spread however.
They went to check with the Archmage and find out how close Death was. They suspected that – at this point – he (?) was going to be pretty upset. If he didn’t take Jerusalem, the Crusader Kingdoms were going to survive.
Hm. Given that a bunch of Death Knights had apparently vanished, and that Marty found that some of them weren’t enamored of their boss, they had to wonder if they were escaping, going to join other forces or to try to get more troops – not that the “more troops” strategy had worked well this time – or if they were going to try to usurp command and either ignore Death, take him out, or possibly replace him.
The Archmage was staying at the top of one of the towers outside the Temple Mount. They were led up to a high chamber that overlooked a great portion of the city. It was full of books, weird chemical equipment, samples of various forms of plants and animals, and pieces of amber. The Archmage was in the center of the room, gazing at a pool of some sort, and busily adjusting mirrors.
Evidently the Archmage was the local equivalent of a scientist. It looked like he was doing actual experiments. Not at all typical for the period!
“Ah, come in, come in. I am afraid the place is rather a mess at the moment. I really would prefer to receive guests at my laboratory in my homeland but we must all make little sacrifices in this war. What can I do for you this fine day? A victory like this doesn’t come often. I just hope we can keep this up.”
(Kevin) “Mostly we were wondering whether that dark power was still approaching; we do need to be ready to meet it, and preferably well outside the walls.”
(Archmage) “Sadly, it is indeed still approaching the city as it was before. At it’s current rate of travel, it should arrive here tomorrow, afternoon I think. It is hard to try and gaze upon it directly I fear. And while it does appear to have a sizable contingent of undead, it is still nothing like what was besieging the city earlier.”
(Marty) “Well, with the wards back up, if we can defeat Death, Jerusalem should be able to withstand the other undead.”
(Archmage) “Indeed, although I must say that is a very big if.”
Marty had to agree. Technically, he defeated Death every time he died, but he really didn’t think that that kind of “victory” would help much in a duel against him, though.
(Kevin) “Well, I suspect that this may require some special efforts. Tomorrow then… I had best make sure that at least a few of my agents are restocked with the better spells by tonight then.”
(Archmage) “Indeed, and I hope to have a few surprises stashed up my sleeves for the coming battle.”
(Kevin) “I suspect that a good many hidden plans will come into play for it.”
They went to get on with preparations.
Marty got his knife sharpened, spent some time “reaffirming life” by playing with the girls, and then spent some time with Limey.
Kevin got some sleep, played with his own companions, recruited another sizeable batch of Thralls (it looked like a fair number of the youngsters watching from the walls had been impressed with the battle, wanted to help save the rest of their world, and knew that the Knights didn’t have the power to throw fire and conjure bears) – and spent much of the rest of the time getting about half the Thralls restocked with major spells.
Next morning, the preparations for dealing with Death were in full swing across the city.
Presumably Death had been gathering up every corpse along the way. They would have to see if he wanted to talk – or if the Trickster arrived first.
They set up a pavilion, a table a selection of nice wines, and some tasty foods, to await their meeting with Death. He was still off over the horizon, so they had a few hours to kill. They set up a warding against the mindless undead to keep them from being a bother if they got sent in first.
Marty voted for setting up a game of some sort… Perhaps a chess board or a twister setup? He was sure that they could get a twister setup somehow!
(Kevin) “Oh, Chess! Yes! It’s very classic! I think I remember how to play!”
After all, the game-of-chess-with-death was a classic myth – which meant that even the suggestion should hold a certain amount of power over Death.
It seemed likely that, given the disaster for him so far, Death would want to survey the situation first before launching an attack. Ergo, the lesser undead should leave them in peace until Death’s arrival. Setting up protective spells against the aura was no real problem, Kevin just made a dozen of so especially-tuned level three effects.
Meanwhile, the Knights were busily crafting a defensive line behind their position and the Archmage could be seen directing peasants to do odd tasks behind them.
The sky began to darken and cloud over, the air became chill, and the began to feel of winter as Death approached.
Marty changed his clothing into setting-appropriate winter wear.
Eventually the outriders of Death appeared on the horizon – apparently a selection of Death Knights scouting ahead of the main force. Death did not appear to be with them. Evidently he either had quite a range on that aura of his or the army extended it somehow.
Fortunately, the knights and such were all set up inside the wards. They’d be secure enough if the party could stop Death before he hit the wards.
One of the Death Knights approached the table:
(#5) “Am I to take this as some attempt to discuss terms? Amusing.”
(Kevin) “If you like. Will it hurt? It will give you more time to survey the field and get set up in any case.”
(#5) “I suppose not. I shall send word back that you wish to speak then. This should be interesting to watch.”
(Kevin) “Otherwise – well, we’ve already destroyed a considerably larger force than this. Death may be a problem for us, and may well win in the end, but it will certainly be hard on many of you.”
The Death Knights leathery dry skin stretched into a smile underneath his helmet at that.
“We shall see what will come of this. I pray you are prepared to meet with the master then. His presence can be quite a burden on mortals.”
Death Knight #5 rode off into the distance to meet with the approaching army – but it stopped at about half a mile and three riders came to meet them – the Death Knight they’d just spoken to, the Death Knight with the large axe that Marty had felt a connection to, and a small man clad in heavy blue-steel armor with only a pair of glowing green eyes visible through the helmet.
(Death) I am to understand you wish to discuss terms. Very well, I am listening.
(Kevin) “Actually I suspect that Marty wants to sell you something. I want to find out what you actually want here, and why. It’s quite possible that we can agree on something that will limit the damage to your forces. If not, well, I suppose we can talk about battle terms if you like. Would you like some wine? It’s quite good.”
(Marty) “Yeah, I already drank a couple of bottles.”
(Kevin) “The fish dishes are really too salty what with the relying on the preserved stuff, but the rest is pretty good as well.”
Death seemed to find this a bit diverting… Whatever it had been expecting, it had apparently not included light banter. Kevin was pleased. It looked like Death did indeed have a soul. That was going to be important.
(Death) “Very well then. Let us sit and discuss. This may at the very least prove a distraction.”
Kevin poured the drinks – and let Death pick, just in case he was afraid of poison.
Apparently he wasn’t; he took one of the goblets somewhat absently.
(Kevin) “To whatever it is you like!”
Kevin had some – and Death hesitated briefly and drank his goblet as well.
(Death) “So you wish to sell me something? An odd thing to wish to do I must say.”
(Marty) “Hey, I’ve got merchandise to move. Want to look at my wares when you’re done with Kevin?”
Kevin had some brief and interesting visions – but he had his multi-tracking discipline working, so he could deal with them later.
He had wondered what effect some water from the Rosary of Memory – laced with a massive infusion of his power to push it’s effect and make sure he got a LOT of memories – would have on Death. After all, it was quite harmless, who wouldn’t like to suddenly have a lot more life experience, and he thought that almost any change in Deaths personality might be an improvement.
He’d been ready to employ a ridiculous amount of power to toss it into Deaths mouth if he wouldn’t drink it – but having him do it voluntarily was definitely better.
Death suddenly froze up for a moment – which his two attending Death Knights quickly noticed.
(One with axe) “Amazing, whatever was in that drink had to have been potent to effect him. May I ask what it is?”
(Kevin) “Memories from his previous lives. You have some too of course; would you like to try some?”
(Marty) “It’s enlightening.”
(One with Axe) “No thanks, I fear such a thing would probably be even more treacherous without a soul anchoring my identity. (Turned to #5) Although I suppose you are free to try if you wish.”
(Kevin) “Ah, if you don’t have one, it probably would be messy. “
(Marty turned to the one with the Axe). “Hey, you wouldn’t have had a son when you were alive, would you?”
#5 looked back and forth between One with Axe and Marty.
(One with Axe) “Afraid not, although I was certainly hoping to get the chance to meet you. By what name do you go by now?”
“Name’s Marty Tabard. I’m from a faraway realm. Uh . . . what happened after you touched my head?”
Meanwhile, Kevin was speaking with death – enhancing his oratorical powers with the ability to affect undead, just in case:
“I suspect that you were very bitter, and suffered much to choose such an incarnation. The desire to strike back at those who wronged you must have been strong – but is this really bringing you any pleasure or satisfaction? Is there joy in it? I offer you a chance to enjoy yourself, rather than bringing and enduring more misery.”
(One with Axe) “Oh dear me, seems you remember some of the details, but not all of them. You see, I wasn’t the one that touched you that fateful day. I was the one touched.”
Marty was a bit confused. “So you’re saying it was . . . the other way around?”
Kevin had caught on: “There is one of us here without a soul”. It was the New and Improved Marty (with his own marketing slogan!) versus the preserved Mind and Body of the Old Marty!. Oh well, not his problem at the moment – not with Death holding his head in his hands and looking terribly confused. Still, he was in no position to resist Kevin’s persuasion – or his offer of a really good retirement package. It looked like the Aura of Death had shut down without Death’s will to back it, so Kevin handed Death a plate and patted him on the shoulder comfortingly.
(One with Axe) “Dear me, the soul was ripped out and went off to reincarnate elsewhere. I am the body and mind that was left behind. Can you guess what happened to the soul?”
(Marty) “Sure. It’s in me. So what happened after that? The memory ended after the touch.”
(One with Axe) “Not surprising really, that was when your part in the whole ordeal ended.”
(Marty) “Must have started your transformation then.”
(One with Axe) “Quite true, although the process was slow and gradual. I guess that is the joy of playing a stereotypical role; losing the soul isn’t death unless the role has been played out to it’s conclusion. But anyway, I was taking to one of their “camps” for training. The do all sorts of “fun” things to you to break your will and bend it to their own. I must say they were never quite successful; I just got good at hiding it. I got sent off to kill villagers, spread plagues and various other evil works – you know how it goes – until they finally decided to remake me. Perhaps they thought it was some sort of achievement award.”
Meanwhile, Kevin had Death more or less settled down. He wasn’t bad as a psychiatrist, and his oratorical talents were working fine. Offers of a pleasant life, a few servants and playmates of the opposite sex, a nice retirement package, and that sort of thing seemed to be falling on fertile soil – and Death should still have a lot of the power he’d accumulated, if not all of it – which would be lost to whoever took up the role next. More importantly – and the reason why he’d been glad to see that Death had a soul – he retained all the information he’d had. They might finally be able to get a good lead on who was behind the War of Souls and on how souls were captured and manipulated. Death, in his confusion, was quite willing to listen to any offer that sounded reassuring.
#5 was trying to formulate an objection to this, but was rather upset that his companion – One-with-Axe – seemed more concerned with talking with Marty than with doing something about Death.
(Kevin) “Oh do stop fussing. Did you really want to have a battle? It’s not like you’re really getting much out of it.”
Back behind the lines, a number of the more sensitive Priests, the more perceptive Knights, and the Archmage and his assistants were dealing with a considerable shock. Death’s aura was… gone? How could that possibly be? There didn’t even seem to be anything going on in the pavilion, much less some epic conflict. Were their allies somehow silently countering the full power of Death? The fey were Deathless, could Kevin somehow be forcing or tricking Death into focusing entirely on him? Even Oberon in person could not possibly endure that for long! Was he being supported by the heavens now that the Pact was no longer a factor? He had called upon the powers of light in battle and been answered with a pillar of power from above that had destroyed nearly half the besieging army…
Which was quite a change from the state of things when the group had cut their way through to the city a mere ten and a half days ago.
Meanwhile, Kevin was focused on finding out what the Death Knights actually wanted. Giving everyone on both sides everything they wanted had been a pretty good way to end fights so far, and it was worth another go. If they were anything like Darth Plageous, it might just be to live again and have a little fun.
That was indeed what roughly 50% of them wanted. Another 20% wanted their souls back too – and the remainder were mostly so far gone that all they wanted was a chance to inflict death and destruction.
It looked like, for most of them, their souls were trapped in their swords, with many dark magics wound about them to sustain their bodies and minds external to it.
Well the bodies would be easy enough to fix – and Death knew how to let their souls out without simply breaking the swords and releasing them to reincarnate. The swords had to be forged out of the swords in a process similar baking the impurities out of iron – releasing the bindings that held it without releasing it into the Manifold. Heat, a magical forge, biophysical repairs, and probably some spells and sacred energies? No place better in this realm for that than outside Jerusalem.
Kevin got some Thralls over to get started. They could restore the 70% – and maybe some of the rest – and deal with whatever was left. It wasn’t like they couldn’t offer them places to go deal out death and destruction. They could take the mindless ones along; it wasn’t like dealing with all of that would be anything but tedium anyway.
Now, explaining all this to the Knights, THAT was going to be awkward. “We’re cancelling the war, sorry about all the work!”. Oh, yes, THAT would go over without an explanation.