There was some internal debate, but I decided the straightforward approach was the best approach. Meaning; my skeleton knocked on the crypt door until it opened up. The entryway was like Good Neighbor's. OK, there were a couple of bats roosting overhead. Must be lookouts.
Hey. Hi. Hello? Truce? I'm the dungeon on top of the central hill. I come in peace. Is it OK if I look around?
Awesome. Look. I'm not sure how old you are, or how much you know so-
I paused on seeing a beetle that came up to mid-shin on my skeleton. Oh... Kay that was a heck o a lot bigger than the ones that scurried about when I was just a single room. Wonder if those were from here.
I DO NOT RECALL SENDING SCOUTS THAT FAR.
Huh, maybe creatures can exist without dungeons then? Look. I've got a library, Good Neighbor has an alchemy lab, and a forge. We've kinda started posting quests so that delvers know to try visiting everyone to spread the wealth around and let everyone get a little mana. Are you fine with Delvers showing up? Like... would you be cooperative, and not immediately try killing them, and giving them things to do?
IF THEY BEHAVE. YES.
Wish I had Laginn free to do the inspection, but boney boy was what was on hand, and as it turned out? I flicked my awareness when I felt a new Delver and was apprehensive. Large guy, with tusks, green skin, and plate armor with gold worked etching. Had a very 'holy knight' aura about him.
There was the sound of a loud bell when he slapped his shield with the flat of his sword, causing several of the delvers in the room, all on the younger side, to stop and look at him. "Your attention, please! I have been sent by the Church of Saint Alnus to investigate reports of a murderous dungeon and connected reports of undead roving these lands."
Oh ... crimminy it's gonna be one of those holier than tho won't listen to reason types isn't it?
Jjaro and Arin were being carried by a pair of skeletons upstairs just as the announcement was made.
Of course, I'd get the holy inquisition on me right as I have to fish a couple of folk out for getting in over their heads.
"SMITE!" The sword was aimed in the direction of both skeletons. Predictably both Jjaro and Arin dropped to the floor with a pair of soft thumps. To the holy knight's credit, he did stop to inspect both. "No sign of Lifedrinker, Scourge, Black seed..." He frowned as he murmured to himself. "Both appear to be in stable condition." He would rise before taking the stairs down.
There was a wall of skeletons waiting. Most of the Bone Guard had been either sparring or working with the training dummies. Meaning when the knight made his entrance they had formed up into ranks and the robed skeletons already had barrier spells in place.
"Far more disciplined than the shamblers I had been told of." the sword raised. This time nothing happened. Causing the man to frown, "Also knows barrier magic that deflects low-level smite actions."
A pair of skeletal archers in the back aimed and then fired. Not sure when they started using bones for arrows, but that's what was fired. Too-long lengths of bleached bone with crow-feathered fletching and black rough-worked iron arrowheads. Both arrows shattered against the knight's armor, and before more could be fired the knight waded into melee combat with the others. Preventing either archer from getting a clean shot, and forcing both to draw short swords at their waists.
I was proud of the armor and gear I had given the Bone Guard. It wasn't amazing, but good solid 'I care about the welfare of my creatures' sort of armor.
Which made my heart drop when I saw it may as well have been tissue paper for all the good it did stopping the knight's attacks. They fought. Robed skeletons, on seeing their magic sliced through by holy blade, lept on top of the Knight, attempting to pin him, bind limbs and blade, for their fellows to strike. For every blow they struck, the Knight made a Skeleton vanish into dust.
All this was witnessed by Bonehead. He paced in his arena as he watched. He paced the same way a cat might. Fortunately, and perhaps the only thing keeping him in his arena, there were respawn timers that clicked into being with each skeleton that fell. So. even with a holy knight breathing down their necks, they weren't permanently gone.
And then there was only Bonehead, and the Holy Knight staring at each other.
Laginn and literally everything else were told to clear out. I want the Delvers removed from here. Chased from my Dungeon. Shielded from what was going to happen.
This was the first time Laginn had disobeyed me. Instead of trying to organize a blockade, my Right Hand hurried adventurers, including both a freshly healed Jjaro and Arin, ran to the arena.
There was barely time for me to register this act of disobedience when the knight aimed his sword at my Guard Captain. "You have no magics to defend you. Begone from this place. SMITE!" And.... it did nothing.
Bonehead drew up to his full height and calmly knocked an arrow. The Knight squared up. No words were said, a classic 'Give me your best shot' stance.' His arrow, blunt-tipped and made of dark wood, struck the knight in the center of the gold inlay tree engraving, knocking loose the center red gemstone that separated trunk from the split of branches.
The Holy Knight took a step back as his hand went to his chest, looking down in disbelief at the dent in his armor, and nodded once before charging. Knight and Guard-Captain met in the center of the room. Bonehead didn't meet force with force. He pivoted, turning his opponent's charge, changing his momentum so it drove the knight flat to the ground, wind knocked out of his lungs.
Bonehead stepped back, sheathing his blade, as the knight got his breath.
"By Alnus's Star...." He breathed. I could see him looking at Bonehead. Really... Looking.
Bonehead - Captain of the Bone Guard
Unwriter of Fate
'No Grave can hold my body down.'
The man's nostrils flared. Blade unsheathed. Bonehead met steel with steel. This time, the sheath of his blade in one hand, the curved short sword in the other. My Skeleton-Captain fought dancing, using the Holy Knight's bulk against him. Never giving the man the fight he wanted.
At one point, just as Bonehead used the dented metal scabbard of his sword to turn his opponent's blade aside, he jabbed the side of the Knight's cuirass at the place where breast and backplates met, slicing one of the leather straps.
Delvers gathered, watching the pair.
There was no cheering. All were deathly silent.
No bets. Nor was money trading hands.
This battle sparked no Joy or cheer.
For them that regularly visited my lands.
Only Terror. Only fear.
A collective inhalation when Bonehead was knocked to the ground. His opponent's blade missed by a finger's-width as Bonehead rolled. Skeletal foot lashed out at the Knight's shin, but the Holy blade's stance held firm.
Another strike, this one caught by both blade and sheath. Deep yellow orcish eyes met hollowed eye sockets. the knight spat, "I will not fall to the likes of you."
I swear, I could almost hear a voice come from Bonehead. I would have dismissed it as imagination, except I could hear whispers from the gathered delvers. Though the Knight's bulk was greater, Bonehead shifted, forcing the Knight to press harder, only to pivot, letting the holy blade's bulk carry him stumbling, leaving him exposed.
Where was Bonehead's backup? Where were the others? It's then I noticed the respawn timers were frozen. Well. Nuts. You're on your own man.
I'll give the Knight this much. He had endurance. Bonehead led him from the arena to the guardpost. The secret door covering the stairwell down was smashed to splinters.
Faintly I was aware of Jjaro yelling for everyone to stop. That something was weird with the other skeletons. Counter-Arguments from Jen. That Bonehead needed them. Not the Skeletons, Hands, or even my Avatars of Darkness and Night. Them. She insisted this Knight was going to find my core and shatter me and it would be their fault for standing by letting it happen.
Pride and Panic in even measures. Jen sprinted forward. As did others. They were too young. too green. Yet they were rushing to my aid.
When they made it to the next level down, my border with Kronos, Knight and Guard-Captain still fought. There was no fancy artistic ballet. No flourishes. Just Blow, counter-blow, dodge, and waiting to see who would give first.
Then. Before the Delvers could get in the way, Ishida stepped forward. Her scythe raised. Instead of rushing either Knight or Skeleton, which I think was Bonehead's plan. She lept, twirling till she landed in front of the delvers.
They were wide-eyed, pressed backward by her presence alone as she advanced.
Fear gripped me. My mind blanked. I couldn't help them. Dimly I could hear the sounds of battle go silent.
"No!" Bonehead.... spoke? Screamed. "I won't let you have them!"
There was no grand magics. No light show, or fae-fire lining his blade. Only him rushing at something that had bested him before, intent on putting himself between it and its prey. Ishida turned, Scythe already in motion. yet this time it was stopped by his blade. Empty eye sockets met carved stone eyes that ... somehow impossibly showed sorrow.
His fist drove into her midsection. Her armor, of course, took the blow. Yet there was a grunt of pain. Another blow. Then another. He kept attacking. Preventing her from bringing her scythe to bare. Not allowing her to generate space.
There was no way he could keep this up.
Yet still there he was pressing, forcing her to remain on the defensive, preventing her from generating any momentum. "You hate me because I didn't know they would throw you to the wolves. I acted without realizing the consequences. Don't take it out on them." His words.
A vision. A desperate gamble I had taken when a gemstone of all colors and none fell to me. A group leaderless, needing unity. Seemingly at any cost. Seemingly doing what I thought my friend would have done in my place.
Ishida hissed. Her knee driving into Bonehead's skeletal frame, driving him back. "I lost everything because of you!"
"Then let this be between us!" My Captain-General pointed his blade to the Delvers, never taking his gaze from Ishida. "Fly!" He pled, slipping between Ishida and the others. "Fly you fools!"
The holy knight banged his sword against his shield. His mind made up, and now advancing on the duo.
"You." Bonehead hissed, still not looking away from his opponent, "Out. Cover the kids." The Knight seemed to remember his vows and moved to defend rather than join the fray.
The pair continued to fight. My awareness contracted, causing details to blur together. Flashes of other battles. Ishida and I fighting side by side. That same sword countering monsterous chitin blades. Resisting the pull of magicked ribbon whips. Inherited blade came to me at the end of it all to drive through the blackened corrupt heart of a madwoman hoping to remake everything in her image.
A Madwoman holding the Scythe Ishida now wielded.
I was barely aware of the knight forcing the delvers back, up the stairs between this floor and the next, through the now ruined secret door to the guard post in the floor above.
Instead, the bulk of my awareness, what of it I could manage to claw away from flashes of memory, was centered on those two. How was Bonehead able to hold his own?
I couldn't breathe. Gods help me. What was going on?
Dimly I heard a crack. Saw Bonehead's sword slide through Ishida's sternum and straight through where her heart would have been, were she a living being, as she held him by the neck. "I will hate you for the whole of time for what you did." Her words were raw-edged pain, and yet her eyes. I saw sky-blue eyes in place of cold stone. I saw her heart reflected there. Sorrow. Pain. Regret.
Bonehead's legs lay broken and separate from his body. His sword embedded in his opponent. He held onto the arm she was using to lift him by his neck. "I know I can't make it right. I tried at the end" The voice was threadbare. "I'm sorry."
"Me too." Ishida's hand twisted. Bonehead's body dissolved as it fell to the ground. She pulled his sword free and cast it aside.
I could, at that moment, only focus on one thing.
She was crying.
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