Cold wind swept through the mountain pass. No creature stirred. The two figures sat motionless as the wind whipped through their cloaks and robes. One, fair-skinned and robed in green, sat and watched the other with eyes of pale blue. The other, cloaked and hooded in black, stared back with two solid black eyes as cold and empty as the abyss.
Loral listened for the sounds of the Muramites as they crawled over the Taelosian temples of power. He heard nothing. Truth seeped into his mind as the cold seeped into his skin. He and this dark figure were not in Taelosia. They were somewhere else.
Since those first four words, the glyph-skinned being said nothing to Loral. Beyond those four words, the two would never speak again. Loral watched the black script on the vampire's skin shift and weave. Loral saw quick glimpses of elder elvish script shifting into an older and far more terrifying abyssal script. The runes, if read, would drive a man mad. Loral felt the age and deep dark power within the vampire that sat silently across from him. This was no mere minion of Mistmoore. This was a vampire lord; an assassin of dark kings. This was a creature beyond Loral's power and it meant to kill him.
The attack, one of Glave's weaker strikes meant to test his opponents, struck Loral like a dark lance. The telepathic black spike ripped into Loral, though the vampire never moved . Loral cried out in pain as a bolt of steel tore into his mind. Another black spike appeared in the air above Glave's head and speared in. Loral's eyes blazed and a crystal shield appeared before him. The black spike smashed into it and shattered into shards of onyx that evaporated before they touched the ground.
Loral now realized where they were. They were in some sort of pocket in space and time, some micro-world between their two minds. They sat in a battlefield where their minds would clash like gladiators in the arena. The winner would awaken as though nothing had happened. The other would not wake up at all.
Three more black lances raced in and all three burst against Loral's mental shields. A droplet of sweat dripped down the side of Loral's face. A vein stood out on the side of his head. Glave, hardly breathing at all, smiled.
A memory, nearly a century old and two continents away, returned to Loral. "Thankfully, few beasts possess any sort of telepathic ability. Most of those that do possess nothing more than slight empathy or projection." A wizard of the Towers visited the church of Tunare when Loral was fourteen. The long haired wizard lectured the acolytes on the strange magics of Norrath. Loral found it fascinating. "Most telepathic power beyond this is limited to the demons, devils, daemons, demodands, and celestials of the outer planes. Very few mortals ever possessed such abilities. Old dark texts speak to some undead possessing such powers after eons of work in the dark crypts below the earth.
"We have read of telepathic battles from some time long past. These battles take place mostly in symbolism and metaphor. The complexity of telepathic battle is too difficult to handle directly. Instead, each combatant imagines physical representations of psychic energy. A sword, a shield, a wall, a fox, a bird; any of these can serve to focus and visualize the offensive and defensive powers of telepathy."
Loral now understood exactly what that wizard meant. Only three times had he experienced what the old wizard had spoke of. The first time, the undead dragon, Trakanon, paralyzed him with an onslaught of the dragon's lifetime of experience. It burned through Loral like a poisoned nightmare. The second time the Shissar telepaths drilled into Loral's brain feeding him a world so real he still had trouble separating it from the world he now resided in. The third time...
Three more lances arched in, shattering Loral's thoughts of the past. Loral repelled all three but with much effort. Glave smiled again, revealing small sharp teeth. A black squid burst open above Glave's hooded head. Dozens of tentacles writhed in the cold air. Two tentacles pierced in but a shining sword burst into existence over Loral's head and parried the two tentacles away. The sword, covered in blue fire, came from deep in Loral's memory but he could not place it, nor did he have time to consider it. The sword wove and weaved, cutting and parrying as the black psychic tentacles stabbed and twisted in. Twenty slick tentacles grew where ten had been. Like an unholy sunflower, the tentacles weaved and writhed above the grinning hooded vampire.
Loral's sword continued to slice through and parry but as the speed of the tentacle attack increased, he could not keep up. Loral knew he was going to lose. One of the tentacles twisted around the blade and pierced into Loral's shoulder. It burned like black fire. Loral felt his life draining away, sucked out by the oily spear. The blade severed the attacking tentacle and it fell into the ground continuing to writhe as it faded from existence.
Two tentacles twisted around the pommel of the sword and wrenched it out of the way. Two more tentacles punctured into the sides of Loral's temples. Loral felt visions and memories rush through his breaking mind. He saw his father and his teacher. He saw the son he never had, a false memory implanted by the Shissar. He felt the tentacles sucking his memories out of his head and feeding into Glave's tainted power.
A voice spoke in the deep reaches of Loral's mind.
"Release me." Xuzl spoke in the ancient tongue of the demon princes of Fire. His voice was full of dread and power. "He is beyond you, but not beyond me. Release me and we bargain later."
Loral screamed in frustration and pain. He saw the demon trapped in a vault of steel and magic. He imagined the key. The key turned and Loral released the demon.
The effect was immediate.
The two tentacles that pierced Loral's temples burst into hot flame. They grayed and turned to ash almost at once. Glave grunted in pain and his smile disappeared. Few creatures could match Glave's telepathic ability. Xuzl didn't match it, he far surpassed it. The demon lord had eons to practice his telepathic abilities, crushing the minds of millions before Glave ever walked the earth.
Glave tried to break the telepathic bond but Xuzl grabbed his mind in a burning claw and did not let go. Glave brought up his own shield, a twisting sphere of black and gray but the sphere exploded into white fire. Loral heard a dark whisper of ancient and horrible words. He thanked Tunare that he did not understand them or he surely would have gone insane, but he knew the goddess he prayed too was far from this place. The words were thankfully unknown to Loral but not to Glave.
The vampire screamed.
Loral saw Glave's eyes burst into balls of rolling flame. Tears of molten metal rolled down his cheeks. His gray skin burst open, spattering the ground with black blood. His cloak and hood smoldered in smoke. Still the vampire screamed. He should have been dead, but Xuzl would not let him. Xuzl poured every ounce of hatred and fury he held since falling into the steel trap of Loral's shield. The demon wanted Glave to feel every ounce of hell he had to give.
It took a long time.
Loral woke at dawn. Stonehewer's face was close it made Loral jump.
"We worried for you," said Stonehewer. "You cried out in your sleep."
Loral looked around the canyons of Kodtaz. The Muramite hoards still swarmed on the temples. The dwarf followed his gaze.
"What is our plan now?"
Loral thought back to the battle. Before Xuzl had ripped Glave apart with claws of fire, Loral saw something, something Glave had tried to keep back. The vision was blurry but it gave Loral direction.
"We cannot win here." Loral held his cloak close to his cold body. He and his companions looked over the hoards of beasts tearing into the ancient temples of Taelosia. "We go home."
On his back, the shield of Xuzl burned with delight.