Worms: Apocalypse

Interlude: Keeper of the Flame
In Which Love Has Come for Liberty Grace.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

12 Wealsun, 595 CY

Liberty lay on her stomach in her smallclothes, legs up and ankles crossed, considering the words on the scrap of paper she’d found tucked into Mom’s journal. The words, barely visible in the candlelight, read: ‘Know that your kindness and compassion can win out over your drive and passion. Not occult them, no, but temper them and keep them from causing unwanted harm.’

I’ve struggled with this for so long, she thought, and he knew it better than I did. She’d taken his lessons to heart (as best she could), and was finally learning to control her impulses. She’d come to care about people, too – not just her family and companions, but people, even the ones who’d called her a witch, or worse.

‘The best I could do was to be there for you when you needed me and I am most deeply sorry that I cannot be there for you now.’

You’re always with me, Mom. You always will be. His sacrifice had shown Liberty the way she needed to go… to choose forgiveness and mercy over vengeance, hope over despair, sacrifice over greed. And Signore di Mezzanotte would guide her as surely as Mom would have; Liberty planned to find out everything she could about Pelor’s ally, the fiery Joramy, as soon as her other business was concluded.

She wept a little less for his loss – no, for her loss – each day, for Mom hated to see her cry. But the last part of his message made her weep anew:

‘I have long loved you and longed to watch over you and protect you… to you, Liberty, I leave my heart, for there is no other more worthy to carry it.’

She had never known… had never had the slightest idea. Mom kept his deepest secrets better than Constance ever did. Liberty had never thought of him that way, had never considered it. No, that wasn’t entirely true – she remembered him walking shirtless on the road to the Free City, remembered how her thoughts had become more than a little wicked by the time the trolls attacked…

But it didn’t matter now. Mom was gone from her life, just like Ilya and Ekaym. Perhaps someday, once the Age of Worms was averted, Liberty could find the Honest Minstrel in the Amedio Jungle, and ‘fraternize’ with him, now that their business was concluded.

Yeah, right. Then, afterward, I can ride a gold dragon to Bahamut’s palace. Maybe I should have gone for a tumble with Korush, before I betrayed him.

I’m not like that anymore.

She turned the pages of Mom’s journal, getting to know a man she’d thought she knew, when a soft knock came at the door. Behind it, the din of merriment in the Crooked House’s common room had ebbed, but not died out entirely. Who could be bothering her at this hour – whatever hour it might be? Well, it can’t be Xan. Xan would just let himself in.

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Session 42: The Apostle
In Which The Champion's Games End.

11 Wealsun, 595 CY

The final battle was scheduled to take place at noon on the fifth day of the tournament. The adventurers were brought to the field of battle second, and when they arrived they found Auric, Khellek, and the three flesh golems known as the Leatherworks that the band used as thugs waiting for them. The crowd went wild as they took their position; a scan of the surrounding seats revealed that they were packed nearly to capacity. It seemed almost that the entire Free City had turned out to watch.

Drake lifted his arms up and the crowd responded favorably, his fans screaming enthusiastically to his antics. Xan likewise struck a pose, and the “Xanatics” cheered him on. “Try not to kill Auric,” Liberty told di Mezzanotte, but loud enough so Drake could hear. “I made a promise to someone.”

Talabir Welik stood alone on the podium. Loris Raknian was not in his usual seat of honor. The master of ceremonies had clearly pulled out the fanciest of introductions for this final bout. The adventurers were hesitant to begin their preparations after the fiasco with Madtooth, but they saw Auric’s Warband quaffing potions and casting spells, so they took the risk and made ready.

The emcee announced the start and Khellek took to the skies, flying forty feet up – just under the allowed limit – and started things off with a boom. Literally. A crimson bead streaked from his outstretched hand and exploded in the midst of the party!

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Session 41: Semifinal
In Which It's Not Easy Being Green.

“Lib! MOVE!” Drake shouted, rolling off his bunk onto his feet. If the alchemist’s shout did not wake her, Pharbol’s blade slamming into her side certainly did. Xan popped out of bed quickly and grabbed the weapons resting against his bunk. He spun around to face Pharbol ready to strike.

“Hold!” di Mezzanotte demanded his voice laced with power. Unfortunately, the raging dwarf did not heed the command.

“You BASTARD!” Drake roared, grabbing the dwarf and putting him in a full body lock. The dwarf was pissed, and he gnashed his teeth, futilely struggling to break the pin. Seeing Xan’s face, the alchemist rumbled, “Don’t kill him, Xan. We don’t need that on our hands.”

The rogue was disinclined to acquiesce to his request. He struck quickly, putting three deep holes in as many body parts. Di Mezzanotte prayed Liberty’s wounds closed from across the room. The sorcerer nodded her thanks to the priest as she gained her feet. “Mercy is for those who deserve it,” she growled, accentuating her point with a pair of scorching rays.

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Session 40: Dead Truths
In Which Proof is Acquired.

The adventurers were escorted back to the Coenoby by the guards, and the dwarves’ bodies – dead and unconscious – were collected and taken to wherever the match losers went.

“Fool,” Drake said of the dead one. “Had his chance to back down.”

“That was an interesting thing,” observed di Mezzanotte.

Honest Minstrel met them back down below in the bunk room with their prize money, as he’d done after the first round. He was practically quivering. Drake gave him a look. “Something wrong?”

“Better this time?” asked Liberty.

“What?” Ekaym asked, responding to both questions. He addressed Liberty’s first. “Oh, your performance. Based on the crowd’s response, they did prefer it, yes. But more importantly, I have confirmed my suspicions.”

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Interlude: A Letter
In Which Constance Explains.

Dear sister,

I don’t know how to begin. I’ve wanted to write you since I arrived here to tell you that I’m all right, that it wasn’t me that died that night. I almost couldn’t bear hearing your voice and all of the pain you were trying so hard to hide when you came to see B after…the attack. I was in his back room and very nearly came out then, to comfort you. To explain.

B got word that “I” had been killed shortly before you arrived, and he warned me to stay hidden. Considering the circumstances, he believed it wasn’t worth the risk of letting whoever had made the attempt on my life know that they had failed. And I agreed with him. I still do. Gods, I made such a mess of things…

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Session 39: Sunset, Sunrise
In Which Things Get a Little Brighter.

“What…?” Liberty paused and looked back over her shoulder at Drake’s pronouncement.

“Stupid damned orc,” Xan cursed, obviously upset. “He did that on purpose, keeping that thing away from us.”

“Keep moving, Mom’s gone,” said Drake.

The sorcerer was at a loss for words as Drake passed her by. A moment later she snapped out of it enough to start trying to keep up. “We’ll get him raised,” she said as she walked. “Eligos will know somebody. Constance will know somebody. We’ll get him raised.”

“Yeah… We’ll see. After all this he may just prefer the rest in Kord’s court,” said Drake.

“No. He wouldn’t do that … not while we still need him.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than anyone else.

“We have the resources, I’m sure,” said Xan. “But it was still stupid. There were other options. Mom never wanted to think things through past his gut instincts. When we wake his ass back up I’m going to slap the shit out of him.”

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Session 38: Bodies
In Which Blood Stops Making Noise.

The zombie did not react to their intrusion into the room.

“Oh. Oh, no,” said Liberty.

“Oh… This…. I think this is sad,” agreed Drake.

“What do we know about zombies in general? Is it possible that there is anything left of her mind?” Xan wanted to know.

Mom grunted neutrally as he entered the room and approached the zombie to inspect it. After a moment, he gave his professional opinion. “She’s pretty dead, as far as I can tell. It would take some very serious clout with the gods to bring her back from this … even more than just a regular corpse.”

“So what do we do with her?” Liberty asked quietly.

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Session 37: Fiendish Chambers
In Which Another Sister is Found.

“Burning Blood, isn’t it?” the fiend chuckled darkly.

“Demon-guy isn’t it?” Drake retorted. “What’s going on here?”

“He looks kind of like the jailer I saw in the madman’s head,” Liberty told the alchemist.

“Oh, well in that case … I’m thinking we can’t let you do … whatever it is you’re doing. Gonna have to have you stop.” Mom grunted in agreement.

The tiefling’s grin broadened. “Come then.”

Xan rushed forward to end the spawn of Kyuss before it could react, and he felt sure the blade would have struck true … had it not rebounded off some unseen barrier. Mom frowned, and cast shield other on Liberty, to protect her from harm while he moved up to support the rogue. The tiefling began casting a spell of his own, the harsh syllables of the chant echoing weirdly in the chamber. Drake advanced along the west side of the chamber, but was stopped short by an invisible barrier when he tried to pass the first pillar. A quick deduction suggested to the alchemist that he was being held back by an antilife shell.

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Session 36: The Corrupted Shrine
In Which Evidence is Aggressively Gathered.

Once they were back in their assigned chamber in the Coenoby, Xan turned to the others. “Mom, did you plan on us doing any swimming today?” The half-orc grunted affirmatively. “Good. As soon as things quiet down I’d like to do some exploring. See if we can gain access to any other parts of this place … or find an exit altogether.”

Time passed, and the Coenoby settled in to sleep for the night in anticipation of the second day of gladiatorial combats. The others waited for Xan to announce that the coast was clear. “It looks like it’s now or never. Let’s head down to the tunnels,” said the rogue.

“All right,” said Liberty.

Xan kept a sharp eye out for anyone that might be paying attention as they slipped into the corridor leading to the Titan’s House. He felt confident that their passage had gone unnoticed. No sounds of carnal pursuits came from the various alcoves in the ruins, and the adventurers made their way back to the dark waters of the pool. They donned the rings that Mom had enchanted to glow with magical light.

“Right or left, Drake?” asked Xan.

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Session 35: Skulking
In Which (a) Little Progress is Made.

The adventurers proceeded to the north, until they came back to the northern hall with many exits, including the stairway they’d used while being escorted to and from the Coenoby. Xan crept over to the hallway to the south to take a peek. Six identical cells opened along this corridor, each one closed by a metal gate. The growl of a large feline broke the silence, followed by several porcine grunts.

“Let’s not stir up the animals,” Xan said quietly. He continued circling the hall, and the others followed.

Cautiously, they proceeded west and south, until they make their way back to the western hall containing the lift. Xan scoped out the eastern passage, discovering a large room housing a workshop. Tools and simple machines mixed with scraps of raw materials, rags, and litter left by busy workers during the previous day. The odor of sawdust, leather, wax, and glue lingered in the air.

“Which way?” Liberty whispered. Xan answered, by walking softly into the workshop room, noting exits to the north, east, and south. To the north, a lift with two small capstans occupied almost all the space of this room. The machine appeared to be locked in the raised position with chains and nails. To the east was a smaller round hallway that encircles the bubble of a dome in the center. To the south, two wooden racks lined the west and east walls of this room, holding dozens of the odd and picturesque weapons traditionally used by gladiators.

He returned to the group to report. “There is another lift, but it is chained in place. And there is a room of weapons to the south. Come take a look but be careful … The guards are not too far on the other side of the room.”

Liberty followed, peering at the dome as she crossed the workshop, then followed Xan to the secondary lift. He seemed to be inspecting it for a way to get it working again. The sorcerer frowned and asked, “Wouldn’t that just go up to the arena floor anyway?”

“Hmm … Yeah, I guess so. I’m just used to suspecting things are more than they seem when they are locked.” He grinned at her.

“Fair enough. Let’s move on.”

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