Ice and Hate Incarnate

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Kelne
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Ice and Hate Incarnate

Unread postby Kelne » Tue Nov 02, 2021 12:55 am

It had been a long, hot morning of creeping through the undergrowth, avoiding roaming sentries and guiding the less wood-wise from cover to cover. There were six of them, counting herself, and the group was about as large as Rhyn would care to try and lead through hostile territory. Still, she also wouldn’t want to try and carry out a rescue with less, and she was confident everyone would play their part when the time came, which would be soon now.

From her perch in among the rocks, Rhyn had a good view down into the overgrown amphitheatre where the cultists had set up shop. It looked like they were inside the patrol perimeter, which made their lives easier, but there were a lot of people milling about. They weren’t going to get close to the captives’ cages unseen, but Rhyn didn’t want to wait till nightfall – the block of stone at the amphitheatre’s centre had an ominous ‘sacrificial altar’ look to it.

“We’re going to need a distraction,” she mused, looking behind her to the rest of her somewhat impromptu team.

“I do like distractions,” Cerene said, with that mischievous smile which lit up her face. Rhyn had expected she would volunteer. She’d seen the phoenix in action and she had a genuine talent for mayhem. Between imaginative use of summoning spells and more straightforward manipulation of fire, Cerene was very capable of commanding attention when she wanted to.

Of course, there remained the small matter of making sure she survived creating the distraction. “Keros, Mel, can you handle backup?” A pair of nods answered her. As Cerene’s brother, Keros had a complimentary skillset and experience working with her. More solidly built and quietly capable with a sword, Mel could defend the pair if anyone got in close.

“Alright then. Eth, Liane, you’re with me.” Liane had a personal stake in things and would appreciate being in on the rescue, whereas Eth could be counted on to deal with any locks along the way. “Cerene, give us twenty minutes to get into position and then kick things off.”

------------------------------------------

“So, Rhyn seems nice,” Keros said at length.

“She does, doesn’t she?” Cerene responded, “It’s early days yet, but we get along really well, and we’re seeing where things go.” A rescue party wasn’t the traditional way of introducing a girlfriend to family, but there were probably worse ways.

The three of them settled in to wait and Cerene reflected on the situation. Based on what the townsfolk had told them, this was Nikuumian pettiness at its least justified – some failed suitor of a local aristocrat had been turned down and had promptly decided to get his own back by abducting a bunch of other prospective suitors (in practice a wide net which also included anyone else he could lay his hands on in the right age group).

Cerene certainly couldn’t fault Liane on turning the guy down, what with the kidnapping, possible plans for human sacrifice and just how readily he’d been able to conjure up a mob of Nikuumian cronies willing to take his side. One might suspect he’d been planning for that outcome all along. Or perhaps for something equally nefarious if they had ended up getting married.

By contrast to the villain of the piece, Liane had made a good impression on Cerene. Although it was generally agreed that none of what happened had been her fault, Liane had seen it as her duty to join the rescue party, and was also comfortable deferring to an experienced leader.

----------------------------------

Time ticked by and Cerene eventually decided it was time to make her move. Standing up in full view of the cultists, she started towards them, summoning as she went. As the spell was completed, a decidedly… unusual creature took form.

“Devotees of Nikuumu!” Cerene pronounced dramatically, drawing immediate attention from across the camp, “Behold the Crocoduck! Where is your God now?”

“That’s… really not how evolution works,” Keros objected plaintively.

“Obviously. But they don’t know that.”

“I doubt they’ve even heard of evolution.”

“Really? The Nikuumian hierarchy aren’t riling people up against the concept?”

“I… doubt it. Where did you even get a crocoduck?” Keros felt that important questions had been raised here.

“You know how Tower Mages are. They’ll mash any two or more things together on a lark.”

As Keros tried to formulate an appropriate response to this, a thought percolated through his outraged incredulity. “Shouldn’t they be attacking us?” Instead, the Nikuumians stood rooted to the spot, staring at the creature before them with what looked awfully like quivering existential dread.

“Oh, that’ll be the gaze attack,” Cerene admitted cheerfully, “I figure why leave these things to chance?”

On the one hand, Keros reflected, there was a rational explanation for everything. On the other, it was worrying how much preparation Cerene had put into this.

“It won’t last forever, mind you.”

“BLASPHEMERS!” A shout went up from somewhere to the rear of the crowd.

“And there we go.”

The expected sequence of events asserted itself with a vengeance, howling cultists hurling themselves towards the pair, weapons brandished with vicious intent. In response, the phoenixes gestured as one, raising a wall of fire between themselves and the mob.

They had, however, underestimated the depth of weaponised hatred at work. While most shied back, one cultist was willing to hurl himself through the searing flames, closing the distance even as he burned, too fast for them to respond.

There was a loud CLOP and the cultist went down in a tangle of limbs.

“It’s a surprisingly vicious creature, isn’t it?” Cerene observed as the crocoduck made a spirited attempt to put the cultist into a death roll. Keros simply shook his head in resignation.

A pair of firebolts punched the next cultists to brave the flames straight back through the burning wall. Still, the wall was clearly not as effective a deterrent as they might have hoped. This time it was Keros who fell into a summoning spell, Cerene smoothly taking over the maintenance of the wall until another unusual creature took form.

Even as the flames died away, a mass of claws and feathers ploughed into the cultists, ominous hoots and cries of pain marking its progress.

“Owlbear! Where is your God now?

“Please stop that.”

“Spoilsport.”

As it turned out, hatred was not the most effective weapon against fifteen hundred pounds of apex predator. For a while, the siblings were able to stand back and observe, picking off anybody who tried to circle around the melee.

At length, the remaining cultists, with the fight thoroughly knocked out of them, fell back. Unfortunately, by now reinforcements were trickling in.

“ENOUGH!” This latest shout came from a man in what was incongruously courtly finery in the current wilderness setting. Undoubtedly the instigator of all this trouble. “You will not stand between me and my revenge!”

“Yeah, you’re not getting any sympathy from me,” Cerene told him, “We’ve all been spurned at one time or another. Most of us don’t go all Fairest-of-Them-All over it.”

The look of raw anger on his face at this continuing defiance certainly blended in with the rest of the mob, “Worse, you have mocked Nikuumu’s loyal servants! And so I call upon him now - Nikuumu! Grant me the power to obliterate those who would defy your Will!”

Cerene would have pegged that kind of pronouncement as mere cheap theatrics, aimed at intimidating the credulous as part of a relatively minor display of power. In this case however… In this case, the appeal drew what might just have been a genuine divine response.

The air chilled abruptly, snow and shards of ice condensing out of the air and swirling about the crowd before being drawn inexorably inwards, towards the man who had made the appeal. It began to pass through his skin, turning his body a translucent blue in its wake and causing his form to grow – slowly at first, then faster as the swirling mass gathered ice inwards at an increasing pace. At length, the loose particles were gone, leaving the man changed by their touch.

Although still humanoid in form, he was now three times a human’s height, skin resembling plate armour cast from ice. Here and there, tattered shreds of finery still clung to his new skin. He had very much been remade in opposition to the phoenixes – whereas they were small, comparatively fragile creatures of elemental fire, they were now confronted by a hulking brute of ice, perhaps able to wield that element as easily as they would their own.

----------------------------------------

“Keros?” Cerene asked softly, trusting that her scholarly brother could cast some light on what had just happened.

“It’s a nemesis spell,” Keros said, “It turns you into something capable of destroying the specific subject of your ire.”

“Got it. How do we undo it?”

“I don’t think we can – it’s permanent.” Anticipating Cerene’s line of questioning, he went on, “It’s balanced in that ‘be careful what you wish for’ sense - you only get to use it once, and you have to live with what you’ve turned yourself into afterwards.”

To Cerene’s mind, this still didn’t seem terribly fair, nor did it seem like a proportional response to a couple of meddling adventurers. Then again, Nikuumians weren’t known for their proportionality, and the aristo might have resorted to extreme measures rather than appear weak in front of his followers. Now, he appeared to be relishing the moment, letting his newly gained icy bulk sink into everyone’s minds before acting. Amidst this moment of tension, Cerene felt a strange sensation pass over her skin, as if she’d been engulfed by an invisible cloud of steel wool – some kind of spellcasting, surely, but whose?

“You know,” Mel said conversationally, stepping forward to interpose herself between the phoenixes and the newly minted ice elemental, “My father always said there were people in this world who were kept in check only by the prospect of somebody more dangerous than them. Today, here and now, I am that somebody.”

Their enemy was done with talking. Instead, he swept a massive hand forward in a throwing motion, sending conjured spears of ice hurling towards the trio… Only to have them shatter against a briefly visible, shimmering dome.

“It’s called an ice ward,” Mel said, smiling wolfishly, “You’re their nemesis, not mine.” To underscore her point, fire ignited along the length of her sword. Behind her, the siblings gathered fire in their own hands. The fight was suddenly looking like a very different prospect.

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Endesu
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Re: Ice and Hate Incarnate

Unread postby Endesu » Thu Nov 04, 2021 1:53 am

Very cool. The best work of writing this forum has seen in years.

Crocoduck...
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