Atonement Part 2
The freezing cold water of the glacial stream brought Manzio back to his senses with a shock. Around him, loose stones and debris from the landslide continued to cascade into the stream, with dust kicked up obscuring his vision.
His leg was still painful, even debilitating as he tried and failed to stand, opting instead to wedge himself between two giant boulders. Gradually the feeling returned to his injured leg as the sounds of battle ensued from higher up the slope. Using the huge stones as leverage, Manzio managed to push himself upright before scanning his immediate vicinity. As the dust began to settle, he glanced left and right, seeing Heraclief levitated high above the ground but covered in dirt and blood. The sorcerer completed a now familiar spell, summoning his emerald fire guardian to do his bidding, the giant wielding a flaming scimitar in hand.
Facing Heraclief, two huge araken warriors emerged from the wreckage of the forest; one carrying a spear and the second with a sadistic grin, wearing a glove crackling with necrotic energy.
As the Emerald Guardian advanced to defend Heraclief, Manzio’s attention was distracted by the sight of Tuan slamming the sword of Nuada into a Kurgen, the two positioned on the opposite side of the hill and the knight’s armour covered in filth from the fall.
The Kurgen was bald and covered in tattoos although of a very different kind to those used by the Danagrim. Instead, the calligraphy seemed to have faded into the Kurgen’ face and exposed arms, blending into a deeply weathered face, as though exposed to the elements day and night.
However more pressing concerns demanded Manzio’s attention. Approaching from the debris not more than 30ft away appeared a female araken warrior accompanied by three huge, drooling hounds.
She wore only a loose fitting cowl which barely covered her nudity. Hugely muscular and covered in scars, the araken’s protruding incisor teeth provided a bestial quality in tune with the hounds snapping at her feet. Each dog possessed a thick coat of jet black hair, muzzles lowered to the ground clearly searching out Manzio’s scent.
Seeing himself outnumbered and with Tuan and Heraclief already engaged in combat, Manzio considered the possibility of entering the shadows to flee but in broad daylight, the assassin was unable to find a tangible entrance point. From beyond the boulders, the dogs had picked up his scent as they began to snarl and close in on their quarry.
Loading his crossbow and attempting to bide his leg a little more recovery time, Manzio aimed and let loose a quarrel directed at the araken but the attack was optimistic given the distance and she was able to easily dodge the bolt, a dismissive look upon her face, quickly replaced by a clear sense of anticipation, as she spotted the Vesuvian.
Manzio could begin to feel the onset of panic, trapped as he was with the enemy closing in fast. Struggling to walk he relied almost entirely on the magical properties of his solstice boots, his leg still protesting and numbed from the fall. A sadistic grin crossed the araken’s deeply chapped lips. She barked a command and the circling dogs attacked as one. Meanwhile she removed a bow from her back before taking careful aim, notching another black headed arrow.
Manzio waited until the very last moment before throwing himself back behind the huge boulder, the arrow narrowly missing its mark and smashing into the stone barrier. However, the huge, jet black hounds were close behind, their drooling maws quivering with hunger, teeth bared and hackles raised. Incredibly, given his weakened state, the Vesuvian was still able to use the keen edge of his elven blades to keep the dogs at bay. The snarling hounds backed off slightly, awaiting the hounds-woman; their alpha, the pack leader; to catch up.
Using the temporary respite, Manzio glanced toward his friends. Further up the slope Tuan charged forward but the treacherous footing left in the wake of the landslide caused him to slip, very nearly dropping the sword of Nuada. In riposte the Kurgen summoned a vortex of power, which Manzio recognised as a power similar to those used by the late, Myrddin. The vortex quickly developed into a raging whirlwind of power but was incorrectly centered with Tuan able to scramble toward safety just as a half damaged tree to his left was flipped up into the vortex.
Elsewhere the woods were ablaze with emerald fire. Manzio could see the telltale glint of Heraclief’s key as a golden aura surrounded his cloak, the healing magic at work. The sorcerer then focused his energies, drawing his flames inward before releasing a massive fireball. The guardian creature surged with power as the furnace passed through it before the two araken were both engulfed. The sadistic, bald headed adversary wearing the necrotic glove bore the brunt of the attack and was badly effected, rolling to the ground in an attempt to stamp out the flames. The second, giant warrior was driven back, his skin clearly scorched by the eruption.
The emerald guardian followed up by attacking the prone araken. With a huge blow the fire scimitar cleaved the araken’s head clean from its shoulders before immediately turning to face, the second much larger warrior.
Sensing that the battle was turning and with his leg finally able to hold his weight, Manzio wasted no time in using his figurine. Waiting patiently until all three dogs pounced, the assassin acted. The hounds, sure of a kill were left utterly confused, landing in nothing more than the stream, with a heavy splash. No sign of their prey.
Now positioned behind his adversaries, Manzio gleefully faced the araken’s exposed, naked back. He slammed his daggers into her shoulder blade. Left and right! Screaming in agony she turned to face him although her eyes reflected the horrific pain inflicted. She backed off, desperately trying to put some distance between herself and Manzio, the dogs moving forward to protect their leader. However, as she did so Manzio noted her looking beyond his right shoulder back into the woods. Turning onto his side so as to keep the dogs in sight whilst having a look at the forest he could see a figure step forward. The largest Kurgen yet surrounded by a ghoulish, unnatural green light. He was the only enemy combatant to wear armour, albeit leather with bone mementos of previous hunts added as extra shoulder padding and the skull of a great prey worn as a helmet. He carried a twisted, wooden staff containing an acidic green Emerald trapped at the heart of a crystal sphere and oozing a sickly gas.
Massively outnumbered, the Vesuvian no longer noticed his injured leg as he dodged left and right. The first dog missed. Just. The second attacked from behind, scoring a raking blow with its filthy taloned paw, across the assassin’s neck, the claw biting deep into his flesh. The araken female followed-up with her knife drawn, a small skull held in her left hand but missed, as did the final dog, as Manzio made excellent use of the debris to avoid blows delivered from every side.
Nervously keeping an eye on the Kurgen emerging from the forest, Manzio was unsurprised to see the giant extend his arm, the staff levelled in the direction of the assassin before a huge lightning bolt crackled between the intermediate space separating the two adversaries, smashing a huge chunk of stone from the boulder providing protection to the crouching Vesuvian.
With Manzio injured from both the vicious dog bite and fall from the landslide not to mention outnumbered, he shouted to the black knight for support.
The Tuatha, glancing down toward Manzio’s conflict, threw himself back into the fray and with a huge double handed blow, decapitated the massive Kurgen, its severed body collapsing into the soil, a river of blood trickling into the mud.
However just as the knight turned toward Manzio, yet another lightning bolt was released from the cover of the woods, Tuan throwing himself to the left, narrowly avoiding the crackling energy. A third kurgen sorcerer emerged, also naked from the waist up and heavily tattooed.
Seeing his friend in serious trouble and Tuan’s inability to quickly span the gap to Manzio, Heraclief concentrated his energy, pointing a single finger toward the Kurgen attacking Manzio. The staff wielding Kurgen exploded in emerald flames as Heraclief employed one of his most powerful spells. Combustion!
The Kurgen sorcerer, for a fleeting moment looked terrified before being caught in a conflagration; backing away and screaming whilst attempting to douse the scorching flames. His attention well and truly distracted away from Manzio the Kurgen’s murderous gaze switched to Heraclief.
Meanwhile, the emerald guardian continued to drive the muscular araken warrior back, the flames scorching the naked torso of the defender and the spear no match for the massive sweeping blows of the fiery scimitar.
Sensing that his two friends would be unable to reach him in time, Manzio donned his Sithe cloak, attempting to make it more difficult for his attackers to strike. Then, removing his key of lightning and holding it alongside the elven dagger carried in his left hand, the assassin closed the gap between himself and the araken. He was surprised to see that the dogs, protecting their alpha, were perfectly at ease in the magical darkness. Subsequently, Manzio suffered a momentary lapse of concentration, the key slipping from his grip as he prepared to attack. Nevertheless he recovered quickly and thrust home with his right hand instead, narrowly avoiding the snapping teeth of a lunging hound. An arterial wound formed on the araken’s neck, great spurts of blood erupting as the assassin removed his blood stained dagger. In shock, she clasped her hand over her injured neck attempting to stem the flow of blood whilst backing away into the glacial stream, which Manzio himself was using only minutes earlier.
The dogs, crazed with rage and completely at home within the darkness continued to attack, one of the three successfully connecting with a vicious bite to the leg. Manzio was once again forced onto the back foot, blood dripping from his right thigh.
Further up the slope, Tuan let rip with a huge bellow and incredibly started to run uphill at a phenomenal, loping pace! Seeing the black knight bearing down on him, the Kurgen sorcerer became flustered, his concentration broken as the sword of Nuada crashed home, opening up a massive wound on the chest of Tuan’s adversary.
In desperation and pain, the Kurgen pointed a finger and thick vegetation thrust upward from the forest floor. However, the knight was alert to the threat, backing off before then beginning to circumnavigate the barrier.
From within his magical darkness, Manzio caught the flash of a massive emerald fireball, released from the hands of Heraclief, which flew high and wide, trees igniting in flame as the fireball sped into the forest.
In riposte, the Kurgen summoned a whirlwind vortex, which flung Heraclief into a tailspin, his body out of control. Manzio was relieved to see the telltale signs of the emerald solstice stone activating, which provided protection for the sorcerer, although then noted that the second earring used to store some of Heraclief’s life energy had been activated, flaring to life and bringing much needed healing.
Perhaps sensing the dire need of his master, the emerald guardian surged forward for the kill, his huge fiery scimitar too much for the ailing araken, the flames cutting into the big warrior’s torso, leaving nothing more than a scorched, blackened corpse.
Manzio, desperate to finish his duel with the araken, took aim with his crossbow, simultaneously backing off from the dogs. Remarkably, despite the distraction of the hounds, the arrow struck home, catching the other side of her neck, the quarrel protruding as she spun and then crashed down into the stream, her head smashing off the rocks with a sickening crunch.
The hounds seemed unsure what to do with their pack leader dead. With their tails between their legs they backed off toward the massive Kurgen attacking Heraclief.
Meanwhile, Tuan, having once again gained higher ground, closed on the Kurgen. However, in his haste, he slipped! The sorcerer, with a moment of respite summoned an invisible barrier of force, which threw the black knight back down the hill. However, blood pouring from the chest wound inflicted earlier, the Kurgen turned on his heel and sprinted into the woods.
The final remaining Kurgen, surrounded by the hounds, used the necrotic energy held in his left hand, which had grown since the beginning of the battle, and surrounded himself in the acidic green aura from his staff. Somehow, he seemed to grow in size, whilst the scorch marks from Heraclief’s combustion faded a little. Seeing his tribesman flee, a look of derisive scorn was reflected on his twisted, scarred features. Pointing a finger, two trees detonated, the wood splintering into a mass of mini projectiles. Once again Heraclief was caught, the whirlwind a chaotic swirl of debris although the solstice stone provided at least some protection. Further fallout showered the emerald guardian but not enough to slow him from attacking the closest of the dogs. The blazing green scimitar once again struck home, catching fire in the thick black hair of the dog’s back, whilst the other two surged forward. Surprisingly the guardian was fast enough to avoid the hounds, perhaps because they were growing wary given the fire radiated from the guardian’s scimitar.
Behind, the Kurgen sorcerer, with a snap of his fingers dispelled the vortex and Heraclief simply flopped to the ground, his emerald necklace, the last remaining contingency triggered around his neck. The flame brought him back to consciousness though he was unable to do anymore than sit up, confused and barely conscious.
Tuan desperately attempted to traverse the hillside, still treacherous after the landslide so as to engage with the Kurgen but struggled to remain upright.
Manzio tried to aid the emerald guardian by firing his crossbow at the closest of the dogs. Once again he was successful, the dog yelping in pain and retreating behind the Kurgen.
The guardian struck out at the final remaining uninjured dog and was once again successful, the creature set ablaze. In crazed panic it rolled on the hillside attempting to douse the flames whilst the first hound to be struck by the guardian had jumped into the stream leaving the Kurgen exposed and alone.
In response, the Kurgen pointed to the ground separating Manzio and Tuan, with a mass of thick vines and vegetation breaking through the soil. Manzio threw himself to the left but for once was too slow, his left leg caught fast in the thick vines and quickly submerged in a tangle of vegetation.
Tuan, having seen this tactic used already, had already moved quickly through the stream so as to attack from below the Kurgen. Closing the gap quickly and with no dogs to avoid, he attacked not once but twice at lightning speed. Twice, the blazing sword of Nuada struck home, biting deep into the flesh of the Kurgen. The sorcerer gurgled in pain, blood filling his mouth before a second much harder blow smashed into his chest breaking ribs.
Backing away and barely on his feet, the Kurgen’s confidence clearly gone, he too began to look for an escape route. However, the indomitable guardian blocked any viable exit, whilst once again striking out at one of the hounds, this time the one struck earlier by Manzio’s crossbow. The muzzle, already horribly burnt by the scimitar was struck again, emerald sparks cascading from the blazing fur and the dog convulsing in its death throes.
Manzio, heartened by the arrival of Tuan slashed through the vines with his elven daggers, gaining safety just as Tuan attacked. A huge two handed blow, which caught the Kurgen, just as he tried to avoid the emerald guardian. The white hot sword cut through leather and flesh separating the body and torso .