Chapter 55: The Kyv Heartstriker

The six adventurers continued their slow journey within the treacherous crags of Tipt. They fought in scores of battles and not one of them was free from one wound or another, many of them quite deep. Loral's healing energy kept the six adventurers alive, but every one of them nursed a wound that Loral's powers could not fully close. Infection ran free in this cursed land, it appeared, and Loral fought hard to hold back the rotting disease that attempted to swim through their blood.

While many of the beasts lacked any intelligence beyond the savage hostility of hunger and rage, the Ukuns and Nocs were quite cunning. The gray-skinned Ukuns crawled on lithe limbs among the rock before racing down hissing long into the night. The Nocs, a mutated monstrosity between a goblin and a tusked lower vampire, sought blood. Their eyes shone yellow in the low light and the stench of decay wafted off of their black skin. Between waves of cragbeasts and stonemites, small spined flatworms that bit and sprayed the open wound with acid, the Nocs attacked with spiked tusks and long claws.

Throughout the battles, Loral's demon-possessed shield was silent. Loral felt the shield's trepidation at falling into the hands of such creatures. Since the gods turned their back on Norrath, Xuzl spoke little. On the evening of their fourth day, the demon said a single sentence that sent a deep chill over Loral's skin.

"A shadow follows us."

The telepathic voice was not the booming cry of the damned Loral heard previously. It was still powerful, but low and quiet. Something cold and wicked followed behind them; something old.

Loral had only seconds to contemplate this before the first arrow screamed across the night and into their camp.

Juror stumbled on a rock in the dark and that troublesome rock saved the barbarian's life. The arrow streaked past cutting a lock of Juror's silver hair from his head with its razor-sharp tip. Juror would recount this tale many times, showing how the lock of his hair burst into fleets of silver as the arrow streaked past his head missing his eye only by inches.

The arrow buried itself in the stone wall of the canyon behind him. Juror wheeled around in time to catch another of the wicked arrows in his left arm. The large barbarian tugged experimentally at the shaft in his arm but the barbs stuck deep in the cords of his muscles. Juror clenched his teeth and pushed the arrow through, cursing the gods above and below and bellowing into the night. The barbed head shined red in the moonlight from the back of his arm. Juror snapped the shaft and pulled the arrow through. White magic flowed into the deep spurting wound from Loral's hands closing it and healing the damage inside Juror's massive shoulder.

The party, now fully alert, saw a figure skate down the steep side of the canyon. Gray skin covered his tall agile frame. A tunic of hard leather covered a robe of green. The figure slid easily down the rock on high leather boots folded down at the knee and tied tight with leather straps that wound like serpents around his legs. The figures long white hair flowed back as he slid easily down the steep rock walls. Kyv Heartstriker Jhiru, chaos ranger of the Muramites, fired another arrow from his long recurve bow.

Mici the dwarven berserker roared and rushed in, but his charge stopped dead when an arrow cut through his breastplate and exploded in the dwarf's stout heart. The dwarf fell to his knees and then down to the ground. No magic would repair or revive the noble companion. The Muramites added another body to the mountains of corpses that lined the shores of Taelosia.

Loral looked from the dead dwarf to the murdering archer. Black eyeless sockets returned the look from a self-scarred face. Loral had heard of these fiends, the scouts, rangers, and assassins of the Muramite legions; the Kyv.

Loral raised his shield and another arrow exploded into flame when it hit the cursed steel. A rush of insects engulfed the Kyv and loral heard it hiss in an alien tongue. Kaylessa chanted in a long and melodious spell. Her hands and eyes began to glow, illuminating the dark night. The Heartstriker heard her words, turned, and fired. The arrow would have torn through her chest but Stonehewer lept and slashed the arrow out of its flight with his double-bladed sword. The arrow exploded in white arcs of energy.

The Kyv hissed again, drew back his massive bow, and Stonehewer knew he had no chance in stopping the deadly arrow aiming at his own chest. The dwarf responded with a prayer to Brell, practically seeing the mountain path that would lead him to Brell's Castle when the deadly Heartstriker roared in pain and the arrow fired wildly into the sky like a comet. Illudar had slashed the back of the agile Kyv's knee, cutting through thick woven breeches, gray flesh, and thick cords of tendon.

The Kyv Heartstriker whirled, falling to one knee, and fired a barbed shaft right through Illudar's stomach. The air filled with the crash of the arrow as it exploded against the mountain wall. A wave of healing light flowed through Illudar as Loral sealed the wound and healed Illudar's pierced organs before the mortal would stole Illudar as it stole poor Mici.

Stonehewer cleaved into the back of the Heartstriker's neck so fast that the Kyv's hair, tied back with a string of leather, fell open and into a wide cloud around his severed head. The ranger of Chaos fell dead, his head rolling across the stone ground.

Illudar pressed his fingers against the spot in his chest where the arrow had pierced him. Juror tested his wounded arm. Kaylessa complemented Stonehewer for his amazing cut and kissed the blushing dwarf on his thick forehead.

They buried Mici in the crags with his axe in his hands. Each whispered a prayer to the gods for his safe passage into Brell's halls.

They traveled the next day without incident, as though the beasts of the treacherous crags knew the party had slain their greatest champion. On the afternoon of the second day, with the sun breaking low atop the mountains, they entered the valley of Kodtaz and beheld the lost temples within.

The sight filled them with simultaneous feelings of awe, wonder, and fear. Never had they seen temples so old or so massive. The ziggurats towered over the canyon walls and statues of Taelosians stretched into the violet sky in worship to ancient gods.

Hoards of Muramites covered each one of these temples like insects feasting on a fallen bit of sugar. They feasted from the power of these temples and they grew stronger with each pulse of the temple's energy.

"Lord Brell, what are we supposed to do against that?" Stonehewer ran a hand down a braid of his long woven beard.

"Lets rest here tonight and consider our options in the morning," spoke Juror. The barbarian sat with his back against a rock and exhaled as though he held his breath since they entered the canyon.

Loral woke late into the night. The moon of Luclin shimmered overhead. An ethereal mist twisted and flowed over the stone ground. The others were gone; Loral was alone. He was dressed in his green clerical robes, not the golden battle-scarred armor he wore when he fell asleep. A lone figure, cloaked and hooded in black sat across from him. Loral saw the figure's pitch black eyes like orbs of night staring unblinking at him from within the hood. Runes and glyphs shifted and twinkled on the figure's gray skin. Loral felt the terror and dread he had felt only once before. He felt exactly the same when he faced the Vampire Lord Aviatis in the crypts of Mistmoore.

Glave spoke clearly and smooth, like a thin needle sinking into soft flesh.

"We have much to discuss, elf."