Ulaid Part 2
Ulaid- Part 2
Still slowed by giant bat poison it takes some considerable time before Heraclief and Manzio have sufficiently recovered to even engage in conversation with their rescuer, Conall Bradach. The tall Sithe warrior dressed so magnificently, urges that they keep moving, which eventually, Heraclief and Manzio reluctantly acquiesce too. They note the crushed body of at least one dead bat on the bridge ahead of them, lifeless eyes staring up balefully as they pass.
It does not take long to traverse what remains of the stone bridges, with the cold blue light growing ever stronger ahead. As they approach, Conall announces, with a note of pride in his voice:
‘Behold, the gates to Tír na nÓg. Few have seen such a marvel…’
Passing through a gargantuan egg shaped opening emanating a cold blue light in a vast underground subterranean cave the like of which, Heraclief and Manzio have never seen before, they pass onto a broad roadway, which cuts through a huge looming rock face on either side, much like a mountain pass.
Before they continue, Conall bids that the three sit and passes a hip flask between them.
‘This will heal you gentlemen. A sip will suffice for each of you…be careful not to take too much.’
Heraclief, finally able to rid himself of the debilitating bat poison, looks Conall in the eye.
‘What in the name of Shadow are you doing here?’
‘…now is that anyway to greet a long lost friend, Emerald boy? Especially after I saved your arse from some wee angry birds.’ says Conall, with a sardonic grin. ‘I hope your friend has better manners.’
For a moment, Heraclief’s eyes blaze with emerald light but after taking a deep breath, he controls his emotions.
‘You are right. That was unfair. On behalf of both Manzio and I, thank you for your support. You were an…unexpected saviour.’
‘Not to worry…to tell you the truth, I’ve been following you for a day or so. Followed you in, so I did. Just as well you turned up, as I was struggling to find the gateway…was quite surprised that you both knew and could use the old dark ways Emerald. Thought you were above such dabbling.’
Once again, there is an uneasy silence between the two, although all the while, Conall retains a constant look of sardonic superiority.
‘Well, what a funny trio we make. I’d suggest that we stick together…dangerous, abandoned fortress and all…big bad bats in the rafters and that was just in the caves. A lot worse to come me thinks. What do you say?’
Begrudgingly, Heraclief accepts the support of Conall, although he is clearly uncomfortable with this arrangement.
‘I’d also suggest that we keep our reasons for being here to ourselves.’
Once again, Heraclief nods. Manzio shrugs, noting the tension between the two.
The pathway into Tir na nOg is long and winding. The occasional movement on the road ahead can be seen and it is obvious that the group is not alone. The vast subterranean landscape opens up into a cavern big enough to house a city. Sure enough, as they fully round the sweeping bend leading further down, the twinkling city of Tir na nOg shimmers in the half light of blue gemstones which seem to illuminate the Gothic architecture. Divided into quadrants each is spanned by beautiful bridges, which seem to defy gravity, given their intricate, fine workmanship and seemingly endless chasms. Vast mansions and towers soaring into the darkness above are entwined with huge trees that were perhaps once beautiful but which now stand like black sentinels.
Reaching the first of the bridges, Conall calls a halt, pointing to the far side where scuttling figures can be seen,
‘Beware, lycanthropes…rat men by the look of it. Their bite spreads the disease so keep them at arms length.’
Advancing carefully onto the bridge, the three proceed and are able to scale the chasm quickly and without incident. At the far side they enter into an abandoned square, a huge statue dwarfing the surrounding buildings and depicting a hooded figure holding a scythe. In the shadows and in doorways, scuttling movements are observed but the lycanthropes keep their distance preferring to observe rather than attack. Only a single road leads from the square and Conall quickly leads the group onto this road, rounding a bend before entering a wide street surrounded by dark, vast buildings as though once inhabited by creatures of great size.
Suddenly, bursting from a narrow side street, his huge frame barely able to squeeze through the gap emerges a monstrosity. A huge creature, standing over 10ft tall charges from the shadows. His left arm is mismatched, as though a human limb has been attached to a giant’s body. He has pale, almost translucent skin and moves in jerky, zombified movements. In his giant right hand, he carries a huge spiked mace.
The creature heads straight toward Conall, missing with his mace but catching the sithe warrior a hefty cuff with the back of his hand. Conall is knocked back several yards but is able to stay on his feet, the magnificent armour absorbing what would surely have been a huge blow without this invaluable protection. Manzio, as ever is quickest to react, notching his quarrel with lightning speed before loosing a bolt. The crossbow aim is true and the bolt buries itself in the ashen hide of the vast creature. Heraclief also acts quickly, his now characteristic flame wheel rotating with vicious accuracy before exploding in emerald flames directly on the creature. It bellows in pain, beating out the flames with his vast left arm, the mace held aloft as a reminder of the prodigious strength, wielded by the undead giant. Conall, having recovered from the ringing blow received, speeds toward his opponent with a speed matched (and bettered) only by Manzio. With a vast two handed blow, he cuts deep into the creature’s makeshift right arm, though it seems barely to notice as the arm hangs uselessly toward one side, the bone exposed and rotting flesh hanging grimly together, preventing the arm dissecting entirely.
Despite the deadly attacks of the three it seems little slowed by the injuries inflicted. Just then, emerging from the shadows of a nearby building a second vast shape enters the fray. The second figure is even larger than the first but from his movements, very much alive. His dark grey, almost charcoal skin is crisscrossed with tattooed runes, including an impressive lifelike design on his right forearm of a wolf. He carries an enormous broadsword of seemingly rusted metal, which few men could lift, let alone wield. He also wears a huge animal hide, crudely shaped as a sleeveless coat, which gives him a menacingly broad shadow. He makes straight for the creature assailing the trio and with a blow, which would have felled a bear, just misses the other giant.
As Manzio makes to fire his crossbow again, filthy claws strike him from behind, the rank smell of the lycanthrope attacking him like a physical blow…a disgusting stench, filling the Vesuvian’s nostrils with the smell of rotting flesh and excrement. For a moment, he feels a bizarre sense of affinity for this overpowering odour, his fingers curling and his teeth tingling but his body fights off the effect and he is able to turn on his assailant. Backing off, he creates enough space to fire home a quarrel…the rat lycanthrope turns tail and scuttles away on all fours, leaving a trail of blood in its wake.
Back in the main battle, Heraclief disappears from view, appearing not more than 5ft from the animated giant. The others back away having already seen the devastating impact of the emerald flames. The tall sorcerer detonates a giant fireball at point blank range blasting the creature from its feet with the impact. Following up as the flames abate, both Conall and the mysterious newcomer deliver massive blows, the second a fatal one, as the creature is decapitated by the huge broadsword, which finds its mark with a whistling shriek.
As the group takes stock of the situation, further lycanthropes scuttle away clearly no longer interested in pursuing the group, at least for now. Heraclief extends a hand to the giant.
‘Well met. Your aid was much appreciated. My name is Heraclief, this is my companion Manzio and we are travelling by chance with our associate, Conall.’
The creature nods, clearly noting the distance between Conall and the others. ’I am Lu-Thi-Us.’ The giant speaks slowly, almost methodically with a deep, gravelly voice. ‘Why are you here?’
A little taken aback by the abrupt, no-nonsense approach of Lu-Thi-Us, Heraclief takes a few moments to respond. ‘We search for ancient icons. I cannot speak for Conall.’
Surprisingly, the Sithe responds of his own accord. ‘I search for the banshee.’
The shock of all is palpable. Lu-Thi-Us, gives voice to what each of the companions is thinking. ‘Why would you seek such a creature?’
Conall shrugs. ‘I keep my own council.’
Heraclief turns to Manzio. ‘I have heard of this denizen of the deep. It is a creature of evil, or so they say.’
Conall is quick to refute this claim. ‘That really depends on your perspective. There are many who dwell in such subterranean, extra dimensional spaces as this. All were…are persecuted by humans. By the church. The black Queen provides a sanctuary for such as these. Maybe even you too Lu-Thi-Us?’
‘The Badb are no friend of mine and this is not a sanctuary but rather a prison. For others, I cannot speak.’
Manzio and Heraclief glance at one another. Manzio, slightly confused by the conversation, addresses Conall. ‘So do you serve Morrigan?’
Conall once again shrugs. ‘The black Queen is the protector of my people. I owe her my allegiance, should she ask it.’ There is an awkward silence as the group assesses one another. Conall breaks the silence by sheathing his sword and shouldering his pack. ‘Perhaps it is better if we part company. Farewell.’ He does not wait for a response and is quickly gone.
Manzio and Heraclief are left with the giant Lu-Thi-Us. He turns his head to consider the two. ‘If you are more specific, I can perhaps help you. I have significant knowledge of this place.‘
The two companions agree to trust the giant and tell the story of their quest. In return, Lu-Thi-Us simply nods. The stone you seek is situated in a tower at the heart of the forest, which forms the central wheel of this city. It is the symbol of Morrigan’s power but is also extremely dangerous. I can lead you to the forest but will not enter for I have other matters to attend to here in the Bishop’s quadrant. Connaught in miniature I believe’
Heraclief and Manzio once again exchange glances but choose not to test the patience of the taciturn giant further. Simultaneously, Lu-Thi-Us turns and begins to head for the shadows. ‘We stay off the main roads, we are easy targets in the open.’
For several hours in the inky darkness, the giant leads Heraclief and Manzio through narrow alleys, which sit in the shadows of countless vast black buildings of haunting, chilling beauty. After some time, it is clear that winged creatures, which occasionally land on the rooftops above, are tracking them. They remain frustratingly out of crossbow range although Manzio keeps his weapon readied. Heraclief is equally alert to the unusual conditions, his emerald flames never far from twitching fingertips.
Heraclief is the first to call a halt, beginning to tire in the humid conditions. Lu-Thi-Us chooses a smaller dwelling, though still in scale from which to make their camp and seems happy to accept the offering of what little meagre daily rations Manzio can spare him. The giant devours the food and agrees, at Heraclief’s request to take first watch. Before sleeping he notes that Manzio is experiencing extreme discomfort and pain from the lycanthrope claw marks received early in the day. Reaching into his giant pack, he extends a belt made of heavy, overlapping metal plates. He bids that Manzio wear the belt. The belt is enormous and the Vesuvian requires all of his strength and the support of the giant to wear. Lu-thi_Us speaks in a strange language, perhaps an ancient dialect and Manzio suddenly feels an electrifying shock throughout his body. The heat is extreme, even painful but as the shock subsides, the scars lose their stabbing discomfort and gradually the heat diminishes, leaving no sign of pain at all. In delight, Manzio hands the belt back to the giant.
‘I am in your debt, Lu-Thi-Us.’
The giant shrugs and positions himself close to the second floor window from which to view his surroundings. ‘Those winged denizens are still tracking us.’
The night passes without incident although Lu-Thi-Us is keen to break their camp quickly. After some breakfast of salted meats and goat’s cheese approaching a putrefied state (the giant seems to care little and finishes their stock as Manzio looks on repulsed by the smell), the group once again traverses the narrow alleys of the city. At one point, they are forced to cross a much wider road, which they do at a run. Illuminated briefly by the blue gemstones, there is a screeching call from high above.
It is about noon when Lu-Thi-Us leads the group to the bridge leading to the forest beyond. The area is almost entirely dark and utterly silent. As the three prepare to pass, a skeletal creature emerges from the forest, carrying a wicked curved scythe, quickly crossing the bridge. Lu-Thi-Us immediately stiffens. ‘The black bishop is come. Beware.’
(Image credit: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/fantasy/images/26350348/title/winter-death-photo)
Spreading out to face this threat, the three are hit by an unseen force. At first nothing happens but as they draw steel and prepare spells, a terrifying fear chills them to the heart. Before Manzio is aware of his own actions, he finds himself running back toward the safety of the narrow streets behind him. The leering, hideous face of the skeleton seems to mock him, an image that he cannot dispel from his mind. Finally, the fear fades and Manzio finds himself huddled within an abandoned cellar. Controlling his breathing he wills himself to stand and dispels the remaining residue of the bishop’s spell. Embarrassed by his own weakness and fearful for his companions, Manzio powers back toward the battle, his boots moving at great speed. He arrives just in time, as it is clear that Lu-Thi-Us has also been subject to the same fear, as he is nowhere to be seen. Ahead, Heraclief stands alone. The creature’s cloak has already been burnt revealing thick, oiled bones made of adamant and a rotting, darkened skull, containing demonic scarlet-red eyes set in a metallic carapace. As Manzio approaches, his friend stumbles to his knees, as though bereft of strength.
‘The creature resists my magic. Be careful Manzio. It has drained my strength.’
Manzio attacks at speed, throwing his flash powder directly at the Black Bishop. It misses but the area of effect is wide enough that it causes the creature momentary disorientation. Nevertheless, the skeleton is quick to counter, swinging its scythe, which comes perilously close to the assassin’s face. For a second, a wave of nauseating necrotic energy sweeps across him; sweat pouring from his pores as though energy is draining from his essence just by standing in close proximity to the skeleton.
Warily, Manzio backs off, his boots carrying him quickly to safety. As he considers his options, the air is suddenly charged as though a storm is approaching. From high above a lightning bolt crashes to the ground, striking the skeleton full on. This time, the magical impact clearly penetrates the invisible force protecting the adamant bishop, further scorching it from the attack, whilst Lu-Thi-Us re-emerges from the alleys, a lightning bolt tattoo on his chest emblazoned with a pulsing midnight blue light. Seeing his opportunity, Heraclief concentrates his efforts on the skeleton, disappearing from view. He reappears behind the creature, stood on the bridge and simply points his right index finger. Emerald flames erupt from the bishop, driving it backwards in a conflagration of furnace heat. Lowering its scythe, the skeleton calls up a globe of darkness, disappearing from view, the flames seemingly enveloped within. From the globe, a pinprick thin beam of ultraviolet light shoots toward Heraclief. Even from his safe vantage point, Manzio is sickened to the core, his skin prickling as though a terrible energy has been unleashed. Heraclief, throws himself to the very edge of the bridge, the attack missing by a whisker. In his wake, a large chunk of the bridge slowly begins to implode. Seeing the danger but clearly further weakened, the sorcerer reaches to his left earring and blinks out of existence, reappearing 40 yards away just in front of the foreboding, twisted darkness of the forest ahead, just as a large chunk of masonry falls from the bridge into the gloom below.
Something of a standoff ensues, with all 3 combatants waiting for movement from the globe, albeit with a respectful distance between. Finally, it is both Manzio and Lu-Thi-Us who act simultaneously. Acting in unison they close the distance quickly heading for the globe of darkness and are able to enter without further attack from their assailant. However, as soon as they are within the globe, a hideous, shrieking, scream accosts their senses. Manzio clutches his ears, blood soaking through his fingers before staggering clear of the darkness, his attack negated. Just then, the globe dissipates and Manzio has a clear view of Lui-Thi-Us, his greatsword held in both giant hands, the skeleton having been knocked back by his blow, its left shoulder buckled by the impact of the strike. Malevolent eyes quickly take stock of the situation. The skeleton reaches for the scythe, touching a diamond pattern set in the blade. It disappears from view.
Exhausted and bloodied from the encounter, Manzio is helped across the damaged bridge by Lu-Thi-Us to Heraclief who looks equally shell shocked and bereft of energy. Lu-Thi-Us hands first Manzio and then Heraclief his belt. Both feel strength and energy return to their bodies but only after violent shocks to their system. Heraclief is once again able to stand although neither regains their full strength. Lu-Thi-Us, having safely packed his belt and towering over the two nods.
‘I thank you both for your aid but I will go no further. We have struck a huge blow against the Bishop. I will pursue for I have a score to settle with this mechanical abomination. Be wary in the woods…it is a manifestation of Castlewellan Forest, Morrigan’s home and is the most dangerous area of this accursed land.’ Lu-Thi-Us observes the two, an odd expression in his eyes. ‘I sense that we will meet again. Until then, ride the storm with lightning or fire…’ he says glancing at Heraclief, ‘…in your hearts.’
With that, the giant re-crosses the bridge, carefully avoiding the disintegrated section and is quickly swallowed by the shadow of the alleys beyond.