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Two portals opened beside the two teams. “Sprite and I will monitor things from here, though we expect interference once Sihodael knows we’re there. Once he’d been removed, the dimension will open fully easily and we can extract you.” He glanced at Net and Cortland before he continued, “Are there any questions?”
No voice was raised, and War grinned. “That’s what I like to see. Now move it, people… we can’t keep these portals open forever!”
* * *
“Holy…” CJ’s voice was a whisper as she looked at the caverns around them. “It looks like something carved this damn thing out of the stone with just its claws!”
“Probably more like a hundred thousand somethings, if you want the truth.” Net gave the eating chamber a casual glance. “Remember, Sihodael controls those shadow creatures. Most likely, they dug this thing out themselves at his command.”
CJ nodded and looked at Cortland. “Your call, sarge.”
Cortland looked at Net. “We’re actually closer to that source of dimensional activity. Do you want us to stay together, or do you want us to head there first?”
Net considered it for a moment while the others kept a sharp eye out for signs they’d been detected. “Let’s split up, try to tackle both areas at once. My team will head after Sihodael; you four find that activity and disable it, then head after us as backup.”
Cortland nodded. “Let’s go, team!” Cortland’s team took one hallway and Net’s team took the other.
* * *
Orangenius twirled his gun in his hand absently. “Man, I’m bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.” He stopped twirling his gun and looked down its sights into the hallway. “All I have to do is sit here… hold on.”
Orangenius moved the gun aside and peered down the hallway carefully. “What the.. Stalkers?!?”
He thought for a moment about raising an alarm, as the four creatures hadn’t yet noticed him. However, after a moment, he smirked and stepped back into a small alcove. Both of his pistols were in his hands momentarily, and he grinned savagely as the creatures continued to get closer.
* * *
Mayhem snarled. “There are too many scents here, Net. It’s impossible for me to tell if anyone’s close or not. I don’t like this… too many damned people travel this way.”
TLH shushed the lion with a glance. “Be quiet! Do you really want us to be found out this fast?”
K-Dawg frowned. “In a way, I have to agree with him. These hallways are horrible to fight with a poleaxe. In a chamber, that’s another thing…”
“Shh!” Net turned and fixed them all with a look. “Do you really want…”
Orangenius took that moment to make his move. He sprang from the alcove and wrapped an arm around the lizard right before him, putting one of his pistols up against the naga’s head sharply. The other gun remained trained on the other three Stalkers, all of whom had assumed defensive positions.
“Don’t move, jackasses.” Chuckling to himself, Orangenius looked between them. “Stalkers, in Sihodael’s home? Oh, he’s going to love this. Unless you want snake boy here to die, all of you in that room, now!”
Begrudgingly, the three complied. Orangenius shoved Net ahead of him as they walked until all five of them were in the large room together. Orangenius laughed gleefully as they walked. “Oh, Sihodael’s going to love this so very much, I’m going to be his favorite…”
“The minute you look away, human, I’m going to devour you.” Mayhem’s voice was a growl. “You can’t watch all four of us at the same time, and the moment you look away, I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re right.” Orangenius grinned. “So, best I take care of that problem right away, right?” Without further warning, he lowered his gun and fired at Mayhem once…
But Mayhem had already moved, springing into the air and rolling off to the right as TLH flattened himself and K-Dawg jumped out of the way. Mayhem landed easily and growled, but he didn’t dare attack the human while he still held Net.
“Oh this is classic!” Orangenius released another round at the lion, making the creature duck out of the way again. “No one told you, I guess, but my guns don’t run out of bullets!” He fired in rapid succession, this time scoring a hit on both Mayhem and K-Dawg.
Net pushed at the hand around his throat, but to no avail; Orangenius was too strong. “You… cough… you do realize you’ve doomed yourself?”
“Shut up, creature!” Orangenius slammed the butt of the pistol down on Net’s head, bringing stars to Net’s eyes. “I’m going to kill your friends here, and then I’m going to peel your skin off of your body and make myself a nice pair of boots and luggage!”
“Peel out of my skin?” Net grinned. “What a marvelous idea.”
“What?” Orangenius looked down at Net in confusion. “What are you… augh!” In his momentary distraction, he had forgotten about the long reach of K-Dawg’s poleaxe. The weapon had slammed down onto his shoulder, biting deep and drawing a fountain of blood streaming out of his wound.
“I’ve been restrained in my magic before. Not so, now!” Net’s eyes flashed a dark purple and he placed his hands on Orangenius’s arm. Fire exploded around them, pushing Mayhem, TLH and K-Dawg backward as Orangenius began to scream.
A deep blackness surrounded Net’s hands as he intoned, “In life, you were cursed. In the afterlife, your soul turned black enough to become what you are today. Now, let life return to your desecrated soul!”
Orangenius’s scream took on a higher pitch as his body rose off of the ground. For a long moment, he hung in the air, splayed to the winds as if a scarecrow in a hurricane. With a wet, meaty sound, his skin ripped just above his temple and pulled downward savagely, ripping easily off of his tortured body until his skin lay around him in bloody tatters.
Still screaming, the body of Orangenius continued to thrash as the muscles began to pull away. Blood shot everywhere as the muscles and organs flew to every corner of the room, draping everything inside with a curtain of blood. Finally only the bones of Oragenius continued to thrash in Net’s spell, still hovering a few feet off of the ground.
As one, the bones began to vibrate at a high frequency, the sounds becoming unbearable for those present to hear; until at last, with a final silent scream, the skeleton exploded from inside as the marrow fought savagely for release from their bony prisons.
The skull of Orangenius fell to the ground with a clunk, coming to a stop just next to K-Dawg’s feet.
Net coughed and motioned to K-Dawg, obviously weakened. “Fin… finish him off, so that Sihodael… can’t bring him back…”
K-Dawg nodded and stepped back a few feet before swinging his poleaxe. The monkey’s attack shattered the skull upon impact, sending teeth and bone flying.
Mayhem moved over to Net. “You ok?”
“Yes… just need to catch my breath… we need to move before someone comes to investigate…” Net supported himself on the lion as they moved out of the bloody room.
* * *
“Good. Any casualties yet?”
“Just one from the looks of it.”
“Ok, separate them now.”
* * *
The two teams walked along dark corridors carefully, nearly at opposite sides of the caverns by this point. Without warning, the ground underneath both their feet started moving, shifting and rearranging itself savagely. Each person suddenly found themselves falling down shafts in every direction, each person scattering to the wind.
Komiyan was the first to reach his destination as the shaft dumped him unceremoniously into a large chamber. He rolled to a standing position and grimaced, his swords already in his hands. “Well, that was fun.” He looked around, but the chamber he was in was completely empty.
He touched the crystal at his neck and said, “Sprite or War, can you hear me?” After a moment, he snarled and released the crystal. “Just what we needed…”
He turned as a sound echoed from a hallway nearby, sounds of nails on stone. He pushed back against the wall and concentrated, focusing on the essence around him like he’d been taught.
Three gigantic creatures that vaguely resembled lobsters came into view, pushing their way to get past each other and into the room. However, once they reached the room, the three creatures inspected the room with obvious disappointment; their prey was not here. After a moment, enraged, they began to turn on each other, and within moments gore and pieces of shell fell on and around the invisible drow.
Komiyan grinned as he maneuvered over near the strongest one as it worked to finish off the other living one. As the giant lobster crushed the head of its rival with a sickening crunch, Komiyan sprang onto the tail of the creature and quickly ran toward its head.
The creature knew it was in trouble, even if it still couldn’t see its attacker. It tried to sweep a claw back across its back, but it did not have the flexibility to reach Komiyan as he clambered up the creature.
Finally near the neck, Komiyan raised both swords high and plunged it down into the soft skin underneath the shell. The creature roared and thrashed about as Komiyan struck again and again, but finally the lobster collapsed with a wet gurgle.
Komiyan wiped the sticky muck off of his face with a grimace. “Gort would love this place.” He shook his head and took off at a run down the hallway, returning to invisibility as he did so.
* * *
Mayhem did not fare as well as the dark elf. When he landed, he landed hard; the crack of bone breaking was muffled only by the lion’s muttered curse. Limping, Mayhem got on his feet just as six humanoids with nets and spears arrived in his chamber.
Mayhem growled as the first human sneered at him, “Here, kitty kitty kitty… it’s dinner time, kitty kitty…” The human brandished the spear before him threateningly, and Mayhem chuckled.
“Go to hell, human.” With a roar, Mayhem sprang toward the man, narrowly avoiding the spear as he closed the distance to the human. The man tried to backpedal away; but even wounded, Mayhem was still far too fast. Mayhem’s jaws closed around the man’s arm with a crunch and he pulled savagely, ripping flesh and tearing tendon.
As the man’s scream split the air, nets began to fly. Mayhem darted to the left as the first net missed, but the second net landed directly on top of him. Snarling, Mayhem rolled in an attempt to dislodge the net, but when he tried to return to a standing position his back left leg could not hold him.
He collapsed in pain as the first spear came down. He felt the impact of the spear into his chest almost as if from a long distance away… then he felt nothing more…
* * *
TLH rolled to a stop easily, the turtle having simply tucked into his shell and allowing gravity to finish playing with him. He popped out of his shell and stood carefully, raising his lantern to illuminate the cavern he’d dropped into.
He frowned. “That’s strange.” He moved over to the far wall and inspected the sigils inscribed there. “Where in the world…”
He paused as a sound echoed from behind him. TLH turned just as the massive shadowy snake struck, the creature’s mouth easily larger than TLH by twice his size. Within moments, the snake had swallowed, TLH’s lantern falling to the ground with a clatter.
The snake’s tongue flickered out once, twice, as it tested the air for more opponents. Then, the snake visibly paused and shuddered, finally collapsing to the ground and writhing in pain. The snake’s death throes destroyed most of the contents of the chamber, as the twenty feet of tail simply demolished anything in its way.
Finally the snake came to a stop and released its last breath. All was still for the longest time until, with a wet ripping sound, TLH’s knife worked its way through the thick hide from the inside. TLH cut and pulled at the skin until the hole in the snake’s throat was big enough for him to climb out.
He shook himself once to clear some of the muck off of his shell and body. “You know, I hate snakes.” TLH reached down and picked up his lantern carefully and went back to examining the sigils.
* * *
RA grinned as the human slid down the shaft toward her. She wasn’t supposed to be here; but how could she miss all the fun? She leaned against the wall casually as Tdot landed gracefully. “Welcome to your hell, human. Took you long enough; I was getting bored.”
“You were.” Tdot stood quickly, his large sword already in his hands. “Really. I hate to disappoint.”
“Oh, you won’t, sweetums.” RA licked the blade of her knife idly, blood oozing out of her tongue. “Trust me.” The knife flew out of her hands at a blinding speed, but Tdot deflected it easily.
RA grinned. “Oh, this is going to be fun.”
* * *
Claude paced around the room nervously. He knew what he was here for; Sihodael hadn't spared them any details. The Stalkers had arrived, and would be split up.
It was then up to each one of them individually to stop them, or die trying. A test of fire, if you will. Claude gripped his sledge grimly as the sounds of sliding indicated that his opponent had arrived...
And he grinned evilly as K-Dawg slid into the room, his poleaxe only moments behind him. "Oh, good. I get to spank the monkey."
"Fat chance, bub." K-Dawg pulled himself back up to a standing position, his armor clanking in annoyance. "Who the hell are you?"
"Name's Claude." Claude rested against his sledge as he inspected K-Dawg. "You know, I thought you'd be taller."
"Really." K-Dawg kept his poleaxe before him carefully, judging the man before him. "Been watching us, have you?"
"You know it. We don't get cable here, so had to make do with whatever was on the boob tube." Claude hefted his sledge and glanced at it idly. "So, guess we have to fight, huh? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to it." The tip of the sledge began to hum with a green glow, and the glow reflected in Claude's eyes eerily.
"Hope I don't disappoint then." K-Dawg swung his poleaxe into the ground savagely, sending rock scattering before him. "Ready when you are."
"Oh, I'm ready." With a gutteral yell, Claude sprang forward, a green arc following the movement of his sledge, and the fight was on. Metal rang against metal time and again, only partially covering the cries of man and monkey.
The fighters were almost evenly matched. Each hit was returned in kind, deadly blows turned by the slightest of movements into glancing blows. The poleaxe of K-Dawg bit into Claude's shoulder at one point, driving deep... only to be wrenched away as K-Dawg had to dodge the falling sledgehammer.
Finally, panting and gasping for breath, K-Dawg and Claude faced each other grimly. Blood was still running from Claude's injured shoulder, and K-Dawg was carefully avoiding putting any pressure on his obviously crushed right foot.
Claude chuckled. "You... you know, I'm not so sure either one of us is... is going to win this."
K-Dawg gasped for air, leaning on his poleaxe as a support. "No... No, I'm not sure either."
"You're a hell of a... a fighter, monkey." Claude's vision started to dim. "But you know what... I think... I think you might have..." He shook his head, trying to clear it. "You might have... won.. this one.. god, that kinda hurt, you know?"
"Like smashing my foot didn't hurt?" K-Dawg touched the crystal at his neck as Claude continued to slump. "War, Sprite, you there?"
Claude blinked once as a dim light bathed over him, and then he remembered nothing more.
* * *
"Welcome to my home, fool." Sihodael remained wrapped around his throne idly, watching in interest as Net floated to the ground carefully. "We've been expecting you for some time."
Net didn't answer as he touched the ground and allowed the spell to dissapate. The exertion of the fight with Orangenius had drained him, and though stopping a fall wasn't a huge expense of energy, he didn't have a whole lot to draw from at the moment.
"Oh, come now. You've come this far. Don't remain silent on me, or I won't enjoy watching you die." Sihodael raked clawed fingers down the side of the stone throne, sending a shriek of noise into the air.
"This stops now, Sihodael. You know why the Stalkers have to exist. These attacks have to stop, and your death will ensure that." Net brought flame to his hands, but paused when Sihodael chuckled.
"My dear Net, of course I know why the Stalkers exist. You exist to amuse me, nothing more. I've watched your little group of idiots take away those that are mine for too long; allowing you to come here only speeds up the process of removing you." A clatter of sound came from behind Sihodael, but the noise wasn't repeated.
"The others will have removed your forces by now, Sihodael." Net grinned. "Your shadow creatures are nowhere to be seen, and you have no defenses against my spells. This battle hasn't begun, and it's already over."
"Already over?" Sihodael hissed. "You are mistaken, naga, to believe me alone."
Net raised an eyebrow and swore as a large, multicolored hand swiped past his face, disrupting his spell and forcing the fire in his hands to dissapate. He darted backward quickly, turning to face his opponent...
And gaped in shock as a pile of small plastic pieces reassembled themselves into a savage-looking man with a wolfen head that was snarling in his direction. "What in the..."
Lego sneered, "Welcome to hell, snake. My spiders might not have killed you, but I should thank them for the chance to do it myself!" With a snarl, six branches of razor-honed Legos shot out of Lego's constantly moving pile of Legos, impacting in the ground where Net had been standing a moment before.
Net rematerialized a few feet away and immediately launched a blast of fire toward Lego, but the man simply fell apart and let the fire go over him harmlessly before he reformed and bent to the attack again.
Sihodael watched Lego and Net fight with a smirk as he settled back down into his chair...
* * *
CJ rolled to a stop grimly, her weapon clutched tightly in her hands. The room she'd landed in was black as night, and her eyes tried in vain to search out any available light.
After a moment, she stood carefully and activated the magical part of her weapon, casting a weak red glow over the empty room... and a figure in the far corner that was watching her with eyes that reflected the red glow with a ferocity she hadn't seen before.
Laurel hissed. "Oh, I'm so glad it's you, my friend. I owe you a world of hurt I can't begin to start paying back."
"You." CJ grimaced, immediately assuming a defensive position. "I thought we killed you."
"Oh, you did, you did, and I have to thank you for that." Laurel unslung the bow off of her back and notched an arrow to it. "If you hadn't done so, I wouldn't have been able to do this." She sprang into the air with a bloodcurdling shriek, her dark wings unfolding behind her and lifting her into the air.
"Oh shit." CJ swung her weapon around, trying to track the demon in the darkness, but it was nearly impossible; Laurel's dark complexion melded into the blackness almost perfectly. Only a shimmer of light occasionally reflected off of her eyes, or ...
CJ dived to the side as two arrows imbedded themselves in the spot she'd just been standing in a moment before. The metal of the arrows had given away their target, but she still could not see the demon.
A low chuckle echoed through the room. "What's the matter, human? Don't have the advantage of numbers and surprise on your side this time? Well, here, let me turn the light up a bit." Toward the ceiling, a ball of fire erupted and dived at CJ in fury.
CJ cried out and swung her weapon, instinctively calling upon the defensive spells she'd been taught. The fire blasted directly in her center, deflecting off of the shield and erupting behind her harmlessly.
"Ooo... you've improved. I'm impressed." Four more blasts of fire followed the first with only the slightest of hesitation.
CJ deflected each of them with the same spell, but she cried out in pain as two arrows buried themselves into her legs. The distraction of the fire had been enough; she had never seen them coming. She collapsed to her knees in pain, and another arrow collided with her weapon, sending it sailing off into the darkness behind her. The room fell back into darkness as her weapon automatically shut down.
A flap of wings before her indicated that the demon had landed, and Laurel chuckled. "My, how the mighty have fallen. I wonder what I should do to you first... disembowl? No, too fast. Start with the feet and hands, perhaps..."
"You bitch." CJ tried to pull one of the arrows out of her leg, but another arrow came to a sudden stop in her right arm, and she cried out again. "Mother..."
"Ah ah ah. One more movement, human, and the next one goes between your eyes." Laurel's voice dripped with contempt.
CJ grimaced and shut her eyes, steeling herself for the impact. For a few minutes, the demon simply taunted her, flying around her and shooting arrows into the ground near her.
Finally, the demon landed again somewhere behind her. "Well, since you're not going to be anymore fun, maybe I'll just kill you and get it over with. You made peace with your gods, human?"
Through gritted teeth, CJ muttered, "Just do it, bitch, and get it over with."
"As you wish." The amusement in Laurel's voice was overshadowed by the sound of metal leaving sheathes. A whisk of movement was followed by a meaty thunk, and a wet, rolling noise that came to a stop somewhere over to the right.
CJ blinked, still trying to see in the darkness. "I... what?" She screamed as a pair of hands placed themselves on her shoulder.
"Shhh!" Komiyan clapped a hand over CJ's mouth. "CJ, it's alright, it's me, it's me!"
"K... Komiyan!?!" Gasping, CJ grabbed ahold of the drow and gripped him hard. "Oh lord, oh lord, I thought for sure..."
"Shh..." Komiyan clapped her on the back uncomfortably, pushing off of her after a moment. "We're still not safe, CJ. The demon's still alive."
"What?" CJ pushed herself to her feet gingerly, each movement an agony. "What do you mean, and how can you see in this?"
Komiyan's voice was filled with amusement. "I'm a drow, CJ. Darkness is my natural environment. I beheaded that demon, but her body kicked her head off to the side before it tore off back out the doorway. Whatever that thing is, I don't think we can really kill it."
"We need to leave, then. Can you... can you find my weapon?"
"Already got it. Let's go find the others."
* * *