Walking beside Legin, Pip stumbled on a broken paver and fell heavily to his knees.
“Pip.” Legin exclaimed as he jumped to help his friend to his feet. “Are you alright? You’re hurt.”
Pip wince and took his hand away from clutching at his ribs. His palm was moist with blood and his shirt stained with red.
“I’ll be fine. It’s just a scratch, honest,” Pip reassured Legin.
Legin gave his friend a concerned look, but it seemed that the wound was not deep.
“What are you playing at monkey?” the cabāl demanded, “Get moving.”
“We’re moving,” Legin snapped over his shoulder as he helped Pip. “You ugly, fat oaf.”
“What was that?” growled the cabāl. “Say it again and I’ll bite off your tiny head.”
“Say what again?” Legin asked innocently, “You must be hearing things.”
The demon’s face turned red with anger and he looked as if he were about to lung at Legin and Pip.
“Leave it.” Commanded the ghoul from its perch atop a ruined wall. “We will have our fun with them later.”
The cabāl reluctantly obeyed the demand and fell quite as the ghoul dropped from the wall and began walking in front of the group. Pip shrugged off Legin’s aid they continued onward and seemed to be walking alright, albeit slightly bent over.
As they moved along the streets the jungle plants lessened and more of the decrepit white ruins stood at the side of the road. Legin noticed that there was less life here, before the jungle and animals provided vibrance to these old buildings. But now everything felt hollow and dead. Even the vines that tried to persist and climb up the old stones were brown, wilted and dying. A strange sickness had seeped in the surroundings, an unseen malice which manifested in the mutants they fought before and the dead plants around them now. The city had also changed as they followed the ghoul, the buildings became more tightly packed and what was left of them were now remnants of once grand and magnificent buildings. Through the structures Legin caught glimpses of paths which suddenly fell away at the edges of the cliffs and the Gornl Sea beyond. He also saw movement among the shadows of more of the twisted creatures they had fought previously, but the vicious mutants fled at the sight of the ghoul and cabāl.
The heavy clouds in the sky finally decided to break as they walked along a light but steady rain began to fall on their heads. Overhead thunder rumbled softly and flashes of lightning could be seen within the cloud cover.
Ahead of the party the view opened up as the ground dropped away to the sea bellow. A single building sat precariously at an angle, seeming as if it would tumble down the cliff at any second. Legin’s mouth fell open in wonder as the turned the corner and a grand building towered over them. Such beautiful architecture filled his eyes, its spires were tall and thin, its windows large hollow, and its entrance imposing and open.
“The Azarě Monastery?” Vhindr gasped in shock. “Incredible.”
“Shouldn’t that be destroyed?” Pip asked in confusion.
“Yeah, all the other Monasteries and Temples of The Five were destroyed when that wave of Fog rushed across the lands.” Legin agreed and scratched his head. “Not to mention it’s really old. Vhindr?”
Vhindr shook his head, having no answers.
Legin shrugged to Pip and they continued to follow the ghoul up the short stairs and through the grand vestibule into a large hall with a massive window at the opposite end. Once a beautiful stained glass window must have sat in the void, but it had long since shattered.
Strange, blood chilling wails echoed through the corridors as the ghoul led them through the hall and up a winding flight of stairs into the rest of the Monastery.
Despite the beauty of the place Legin could not appreciate it. There was something wrong about this place, something in the silence and soft cries that twisted into a knot in his gut and made his shoulders and neck tense. That sickly smell intensified in these halls and made him feel physically ill. There was an evil in this Monastery, an evil that chilled him to the bone.
Through another doorway the ghoul showed them into the large room on the north side of the Monastery. The hairs on the back of Legin’s neck stood on end as he looked around to the tables covered in strange experiments and writings. Strange contraptions sat next to the tables and in the corners, each of them looking bizarre and disturbing at the same time.
Legin’s eyes were almost instantly drawn to the fleshy sack atop a table that was held by metal claws with tubes going in and out of it.
“What is that?” Legin exclaimed in repulsion, “Vhindr?”
“I do not want to even venture a guess,” Vhindr replied in similar disgust.
“That is a woman’s womb.” Came a simply reply as a tall, thin man in robes came from around a corner, a confident smile on his middle aged face.
“What?” Legin recoiled, his face marked with abhorrence.
“Freshly harvested from one of my guests this morning,” the Magi continued. “Quite a decent specimen, and fairly undamaged which is good. I have developed quite a knack for it now.”
“You’re a monster.” Pip gasped in horror
“What about the poor woman?” Legin exclaimed in disbelief.
“She’s dead now,” the Magi dismissed the question, “Threw her over the side like the rest of them.”
“You’re … you’re.” Legin stammered in shock.
“He is evil Legin,” Vhindr finished, “Meet Magi Siggr Stinfry. Deranged, deluded, dangerous a scourge of this land, and an affront to all things good.”
“It is a pleasure to see you again too, Vhindr Varrintine.” Magi Stinfry smiled wide and dipped into a slight bow. “I admit I am surprised to see you, but delighted. And delighted you brought a friend with you. A friend with a tail …”
The Magi’s words drifted away as he noticed Legin uncoiled tail.
“Tell my boy, how old are you?” Magi Stinfry suddenly asked.
“Why should I tell you?” Legin snapped back angrily.
“He is in his early twenties, Stinfry,” Vhindr replied, “And you guessed correctly, his mother was one of the first you used for your twisted experiments.”
“Which one?” The Magi pondered to himself. “Of course, I remember that strange rumor about the guard cutting out a live child from a dead woman. I looked into it and never found anything. Indeed it must have been the Fog in the Gornl Sea that created this anomaly …”
Stinfry continued to mumble to himself as he walked over to a nearby table and made some notes on a piece of parchment.
“So he is the one who killed your mother, bro,” Pip remarked and Legin nodded seriously.
“It seems you are right Pip,” Legin replied and the Magi looked back to them, “You’re the one who killed my mother and father.”
“Killed your father?” Stinfry asked in surprise. “No indeed boy.”
A sudden wave of fear washed over Legin as a cruel smile came to the Magi’s face.
“Why, you are talking to your father right now.” Stinfry stated and Legin felt his breath get caught in his throat.
The Magi let out a delighted laugh, “Of course I used my own seed for these experiments. What do you think I am? Celibate? This maybe Azarě’s Monastery but I am no monk.”
“You … you raped her.” Legin gasped, his expression a mixture of despair and anger.
“Not just her,” Vhindr said viciously, “Every single one of them. You are no Magi, just a common criminal.”
“How dare you?” Stinfry snapped back, “My work is the key to understanding the future. I have made more progress than even Drakkas Eitherian himself. Indeed, some might recoil at the lengths I have had to go through to achieve these ends. But history is not paved with good will and righteousness. Only through research which has pushed the boundaries of what society considers moral or ethical have we advanced in knowledge and understanding.”
“Do not even try to justify what you have done,” Vhindr interrupted, “There is no higher purpose to what you do, no grand scheme and enlightenment which will advance our knowledge. It is just your base and perverse desire that motivates you to mutate the natural order of the world.”
“Natural order?” Magi Stinfry laughed aloud, “What a novel concept.”
“You raped and killed her.” Legin yelled suddenly, interrupting the heated debate.
“Are you still on about that, child?” The Magi sighed, “I had hoped a son of mine might be more intelligent.”
“Kill him bro,” Pip sneered, “Kill him, or I will.”
“Don’t you worry Pip, I am going to destroy this rapist and murder.” Legin said through clenched teeth.
“Pip?” Magi Stinfry asked curiously, “Who is this Pip you speak about? Is he in here with us?”
“What are you stupid?” Legin scrunched up his face, “Pip’s right here.”
He motioned to his friend standing right beside him.
“Is he invisible?” The Magi asked sarcastically, “There is no one here called Pip. There is only myself, you, Vhindr, and my two devoted demons.”
“This guy is blind,” Pip stated as Legin looked at him in confusion.
“Don’t think you can fool me Magi,” Legin flared as he turned back to Stinfry.
A bemused expression came to the Magi’s face and he chuckled.
“This is priceless,” Stinfry shook his head in disbelief, “My greatest success turns out to be a deluded maniac. Here catch this Pip.”
Magi Stinfry suddenly grabbed a veil of green liquid from his desk and threw at Pip. Legin’s eyes followed the object into Pip’s surprised hands. And right through them.
The shattering veil behind Pip sounded loudly in Legin’s ears as his mouth fell open as Pip turned a scared expression towards him.
“How’d you dodge …” Legin’s voice trailed away.
“I … I don’t understand bro,” Pip replied and his form seemed to flicker strangely. “What is this?”
“But … Pip …” Legin shook his head in disbelief.
“Make it stop.” Pip began to cry as his solidity again wavered. “I don’t want to die. I’m scared. Legin …”
Pip’s voice shattered right through Legin’s mind as his only friend disappeared before his eyes. His breath came in short sharp gasps and he suddenly felt very cold as tears welled in his eyes.
“Do not cry my son,” Magi Stinfry said callously, “No child of mine can be seen to be so weak.”
“I am not your son.” Legin turned his furious expression at the Magi.
With a yell of despair Legin shot towards Stinfry, closing the distance in a heartbeat. Fist balled he launch his heaviest punch right into the Magi’s face. But no bone crunched with the strike, and in fact there came a flash of blue as Legin’s fist hit some solid surface. The man had been ready for such an attack.
Stunned Legin stumbled back a step and felt a firm hand grab his wrist. With surprising strength the Magi tossed him into the stone wall beside the wide window. Legin felt the wind blast from his lunges and he dropped to his feet as he looked back at Stinfry. His eyes widened in surprise as a ball of magickal energy sped towards him. Somehow Legin managed to cross his arms before him in defence as the sphere thundered into him. The impact from the blast jolted every bone in his body and he felt keenly the impact of the stone shattering his back. Legin cried out in pain as the magickal energies scorched through his body, braking his bones and popping his joints. Suddenly he was falling through the air, he felt the wind in his hair and the rain on his face. The last thing he felt was the impact of the water as he plummeted into the Gornl Sea.
“Legin.” Vhindr called out as he watched his companion be blow out through the wall of the Monastery.
Gritting his teeth Vhindr summoned his Fog and launched a ball of magicks at Stinfry before he turned upon the ghoul. The demon’s eyes widened as he saw Vhindr’s blade flash towards him. The ghoul raised its hand in defence but Vhindr’s Fog sword carved straight through the limb. As the forearm dropped to the floor and dissipated into black smoke the tip of Vhindr’s sword shot for the creature’s neck.
But his arm stopped dead it its tracks as a massive hand grabbed him by the forearm. The cabāl’s greyish hand clamped down on his arm like a vice and Vhindr yelled in pain as he felt bone break and caused his Fog sword to dissipate.
The screech of the ghoul brought Vhindr’s attention back to his other problem. The yellowed eyes creature hissed angrily at him and its clawed hand swiped for his face. With his free hand Vhindr blasted the ghoul backwards into a table. As wood broke and vials shattered the cabal swung Vhindr around roughly. Thinking quickly Vhindr summoned his sword in his free hand and plunged in deeply into the giant demon’s chest.
The monster yelped in pain and tossed Vhindr aside like a rag doll. Hitting the stone heavily Vhindr rolled to his feet and turned to face Magi Stinfry just in time to see the man launch a spell towards him. Vhindr acted quickly and raised his hand, arm outstretched to brace the wave of energy. The power rolled over him, making his arm vibrate, but his defence held firm.
Vhindr saw the Magi smirk at him before he intensified the spell. Gritting his teeth Vhindr used all his willpower to stem the flow of magicks. He felt several of his rune encrusted bracelets begin to grow hot and saw them start to glow.
He felt a sudden shake in the ground before a heavy blow collected him in the ribs, sending him sprawling across the room and into another area that was initially blocked from view. Vhindr rolled to his feet again and groaned in pain. The cabāl’s blow had certainly broken some ribs. Wincing away the pain and clenching his teeth Vhindr turned to face his enemies once again.
Suddenly the ghoul was right in front of him and its black hand shot out, grabbing him around the throat and lifting from his feet. Vhindr felt his breath being closed off and his eyes widened as the demon opened it mouth wide. Fear clutched at his heart as he suddenly felt as if his life force was being drained from him. Black winds seemed to be drawn from him and into the ghoul’s open mouth. Darkness began to cloud Vhindr’s sight and his arms fell limp at his sides.
Suddenly he was on the ground coughing for air, his energy drained from him.
“Well fought Master Varrintine,” Stinfry congratulated as Vhindr became more alert to his surroundings. “I admit I was not expecting you to still be skilled with magicks like myself. Well, not quite like myself. Stand him up.”
Vhindr felt two rough hands grab him under the armpits and pull him to his feet. Shaking the lethargy from his mind Vhindr glared angrily at the Magi.
“I knew I made a mistake with you,” Stinfry said with a smile. “It was the necklace was it not? The key piece of evidence that eventually led you to me. It is no consequence now of course, but I needed to lure you away from Pentra as I made my departure. I had used the city as a base as I gathered subjects for my research.”
“Chilldeep Prison?” Vhindr stated with a weak voice.
“Initially, yes,” Stinfry nodded, “The Commander was willing to aid me for the right price. Eventually that resource ran out, so I looked to the fishing villages.”
Vhindr coughed and fixed the Magi with a disgusted glare.
“I am curious,” the Magi continued, “Why did you start looking out here in the Gornl Sea?”
“Arell’s investigations,” Vhindr replied.
“I thought I cleaned that up,” Stinfry scratched his chin.
“Your mistake was kidnapping her,” Vhindr smiled slightly causing the Magi to look at him in amusement.
“Perhaps, but it was worth it,” a smile came the Magi’s face, “Would you like to see her again before you die?”
Terror gripped at Vhindr’s heart as the Magi motioned for him to turn. Roughly the cabāl swung him around and Vhindr’s eyes widened in horror as he saw Arell chained to a bench. She was unconscious and wearing only her small clothes as she lay eagled on the table.
“My tests are going quite well with her,” Magi Stinfry remarked offhandedly, “Hopefully the child will not turn out like the others. You know the ones you fought in the broken spire square?”
Vhindr in despair, his mouth open in a silent scream as he looked upon Arell.
“Do you want to see some of my tests?” Stinfry asked curiously and chuckled as he moved over to the bench.
Casually the Magi moved a lever and three large ebonite discs carved with runes moved closer to Arell’s abdomen. As the plates moved closer the runes began to glow and the Fog streamed between the plates and through Arell’s body.
The woman’s eyes flickered open as she gasped in pain and her back arched as she pulled against her bindings. Her gasps soon turned to screams and Vhindr struggled against the cabāl’s hold to try and help her. But it was no use, he was too weak. All he could do was watch on in horror as Arell convulsed in agony.