Alexa told her plan to Isabela and then had her drop her above the hole in the roof. Angling the shovel blade downward, she fell and struck the tender pink mass. Her momentum and weight was sufficient to bury the implement deep. With a yank, she tore it free, and continued to dig until she had a shallow hole that rapidly filled with fluid.
Scrambling out of the small hole, she drew her quicksilver dagger and helped to free Thinana from one of the grasping fleshy vines that had sprouted from the top of the inn. Once freed, she continued to fire arrows at the behemoth’s ‘wrist,’ whittling away at the thick wood and stone.
“I don’t think you can cut through all that in less than an hour,” Alexa commented. She was unsure what the dwarven woman’s plans were, but thus far she’d been content to hack away at the mostly invulnerable shell of the building.
“Don’t need to,” Thinana replied. “We’ve sickened it, cut it insides, carved away at its flesh, driven it mad with pain, and now are digging into its skull. It’s like fighting a mountain: you just got to keep chipping.”
“Mountains don’t fight back.” Alexa could not tell if the behemoth was more hurt than it seemed, or if the dwarven woman was overestimating the damage they’d done.
It continued to try to shake them off. Thrashing under their feet, tossing itself to and fro in its attempts to dislodge the group of adventurers. In this, the plethora of tentacles it had sprouted work against it. They were numerous, firmly rooted, and solid enough to grab a hold off.
Isabela landed beside them, carrying one of the gnome’s heavy wooden trunk. It stood as tall as Alexa when rested on one end. Metal hugged the corners and reinforced the sides.
“Perfect,” said Alexa. She poured her essence into it, strengthening the wood. Using her dagger, she sliced off strips of the wood until it became an oddly shaped wedge at one end. This she positioned over the hole and twisted while trying to push it down. The chest tilted but managed to stand in the hole without her support it.
As the behemoth’s hand rose, the trio backpedaled. It slammed its hand down for the third time. The lunar enhancement Alexa had provided kept the chest’s wood from snapping, and so the blow drove it over five feet down.
The inn screeched. This sound was not of anger or rage, but pure pain. It clawed frantically at the hole where the chest was lodged. Massive fingers scraped and dug up chunks of stone, wood, and flesh in search of what had stung it.
The distraction gave the group the opportunity they needed. Their diminutive halfling barbarian leapt onto the arm and hacked away at the opening, widening it. Those with ranged spells and weapons focused on the growing crack. Those who lacked range, like Alexa and Nythe'las, protected the others from the still aggressive growths.
Alexa could not help but reflect on the difference between the small group of adventurers and the battle at Haven. The people around her showed little in the way of hesitation or fear, and though they were strangers, worked effectively together.
A piece of building, the size of a broad door finally came loose, exposing throbbing issue and the joint of the wrist. Yolanda gave a cry and raised her blade. It blazed golden hot in the chill of night and a wave of energy washed over the group. Alexa remembered that she also had a buff, and let lose with a low, mournful howl.
The lunar essence flowed out of her – wild and joyous – and mixed with the empowerment of Yoland’s solar renewal.
The assassin sprang forth, claws unleashed and oozing with a glowing, green liquid. He landed on the hand and stuck fast like a spider as he sunk his claws into the open flesh. The mottled purple tissue blackened around the puncture wounds, and the blackness aggressively spread. Not only did its flesh to blister and boil, but the planks and bricks around it also crumbled as cracks grew across them.
Too late, the behemoth jerked its hand back. Waving it wildly in the air as though it might toss off the necrotic toxin coursing within it. Nythe'las’ eyes shone as she readied her weapon. She waited for Atharion to land safely on the roof, and then shouted as she cut the air. Energy pulsed from the blade in a red arc, slicing clean through the behemoth’s weakened wrist.
The hand went flying, freed from the waving arm. It spun through the air and landed at least seventy feet away with a heavy crash. A black, oily liquid spirted from the giant stump. A scream of agony poured from the behemoth – a desperate, piercing sound that made Alexa’s ears ring.
A cheer of triumph came from the gathered fighters, but it died on their lips as the inn thrashed under them. Each gripped a tentacle or his neighbor as the roof tilted from horizontal to vertical. It slammed itself, face first, against the ground repeatedly until the building ripped itself in two from the force. The tentacles drew back, pulling themselves within the roof.
Having become familiar with this routine, Alexa grabbed Isabela’s hand and they glided downwards. The others tumbled to the ground, but the distance was not so great. Rather, it would have killed or seriously injured a normal person, but not this group.
Something yellow and slimy flowed out of the jagged crack like the yolk of an egg from its shell. Freed from the shell of the building and the mass of its grey trunk, the behemoth form was now that of bloated, swimming pool sized maggot. It rose up, its mouth filled with spinning circles of jagged teeth, and then crashed its face against the ground.
“It’s trying to escape!” someone yelled. Indeed, it was. It burrowed downward, digesting the rocky dirt as it forced its head deeper and deeper.
In a flash, Atharion pulled out his rope and looped it around the soft, undulating mass.
Isabela began to lower them, but Alexa pointed back at the split in the roof.
“Take me in there,” she ordered. Her Bloodhound power was still active. The dracokin and the innkeeper would still be within, and she didn’t want to give them a chance to escape.
They flew into the ruined building and landed on a floor that had once been a wall. The interior was trashed and broken. Alexa’s foot falls were light enough to not break the ruined walls under her feet, but they creaked and groaned in protest. Isabela shifted her elf form and followed.
Her Bloodhound power led them to a door that hung open above them. She crept forward, reaching out with her senses and her essence. Not only could she feel the dracokin, but around her a remnant of the behemoth’s energies remained, saturating the walls and floor. She wondered if, like a dungeon core, some part of it remained trapped here, and thing they fought outside was a larva.
“…made a mess of things, Erin,” came the sorcerer’s voice.
“Don’t blame me,” replied a woman. “You were the one who wanted the mage and his books. I’d have been content to grab the small fish. We could have sat here for months as new adventurers streamed by, growing richer and more powerful, but no. The second you saw that elf, you had to pounce.”
“No, it was a stupid plan from the start. We lost control of the infernal thing in seconds. What good was growing it, if we could never use it properly?”
“It was young! The ancient demon-princes let theirs grow for centuries.”
Alexa grabbed the edge of the door frame and pulled herself up into the room.
The dracokin and the innkeeper’s wife, Erin, stood speaking in the remains of a dining area. A small ball of flame hung in the air, illuminating their location but leaving the rest of the room in shadows. Crushed beneath a freestanding pantry, surrounded by the shattered remains of plates and glassware lay a portly demon, bleeding out. The innkeeper, presumably.
Erin clutched to her chest a massive leather-skinned egg. It pulsed and writhed with the infernal and living essence of the behemoth. Alexa readied her weapon and inched forward towards the dracokin’s exposed back.
“Master, they come,” groaned the pinned demon. It raised a trembling hand and pointed at her; its eyes piercing the darkness as well as Alexa’s, or possibly better.
“Goodbye, Erin,” said the sorcerer. “I’d say it’s been fun, but in truth, our partnership has been a disappointment from start to finish.” He tapped a small pack at his side. “At least I got some good reading out of it.”
With that, he waved his hand, and a fiery portal opened in the air. He darted through it and it closed in a puff of sulfur smelling smoke.
Alexa regarded the other woman. She was portly and dressed in a simple, home-spun dress. Cuts and bruises decorated her face. Her hairbun was a nest splinters of wood sticking from it.
She did not make a very imposing figure, but as Alexa stepped closer, purple flame danced against her hand.
“Do you know where he went?” Alexa asked.
Erin narrowed her eyes. “Yes, what’s it to you?”
“Your life,” she replied. “I want that thing you’re holding and to know where that sorcerer-”
“Yes, Pozenth.” Alexa memorized the name. “Where he’s gone off to. Otherwise, this will end poorly for you.”
The other woman gave a sharp, bitter laugh. “I know you. You’re the one who brought us some venison and then went on a rat killing quest for my ‘husband.’ You don’t frighten me; nothing but a low-level Ranger.”
“A low-level Ranger who convinced the others to crawl into the belly of your beast and kill it. Most of them are alive and well, and they’ll be here soon. Maybe you’re right – maybe you can kill me. But if I’m alive, I can convince the paladin to take you before a judge.”
Erin looked unconvinced. “Do you know what orc justice entails for a warlock?”
“Is it better or worse than dying in a few minutes? Your demon is done for. If you had a teleport spell, you’d have used it. There’s no where around to escape to. Things aren’t looking good for you, either way.”
Alexa stepped forward as she spoke, but the warlock didn’t throw her spell. Her shoulders sagged. The shadows deepened in the wrinkles around her eyes.
She handed the leathery egg over.
“What exactly is it?” Alexa asked. It was warm to the touch and throbbed in her hands like a beating heart. Incredible power swirled with in it.
“Think of it as a seed,” Erin answered. “Plant it in a building, feed and nurture it, and it can grow. In the Dawn Era, demons lived in cities rose on the backs of giants. They even turned castles and factories into war machines that did battle for them. When you hurt it; part of it split off and part of it retreated to this.”
Isabela nodded, verifying the story. Alexa only grunted. This all sounded terribly familiar.
She placed the egg on the ground, and pulled out the necromantic stone dagger. Alexa had wrapped it in soft cloth; this was now soaked in sweat and stomach acid that the dagger was frosting over.
“And where did Pozenth go?” she asked.
“He has a sanctum in Old Ketar. It’s west of the city of Monstaraq. There’s a conclave there who searches the Titan Bones for artifacts. It’s how we met.”
“Field trip to the Ketar zone, master?” asked Isabela. “Dry and desolate, but rich in gems. And slaves to mine them. You’ll hate it, and the tower masters will hate… What is that?”
Isabela had spied the blade that Alexa had unwrapped. It glowed an eerie blue, and when Alexa held it in her grip, she could almost hear Justine whispering in her ear. Cool mist sprang from the tip as she pressed it against the warmth of the egg’s leathery exterior.
“It’s something I dug up from the dungeon of your previous master,” replied Alexa. She plunged it to the heart of the egg in one smooth motion. It would suck the life essence from this seed, and she wouldn’t have to worry about anyone growing a behemoth again.
“What are you doing?” Erin asked, a touch of alarm in her voice.
“Getting rid of a problem.”
She cut down half and inch and icy vapor poured from the exterior. The dagger was feasted on the potent essence within. It grew in her hand, crystalline material lengthening from a knife to short sword in the space of seconds.
Its sickly blue light intensified, radiating over every corner of the room. The heat was sucked from the room. One second, there was warmth, and the next it was so cold Alexa could see its breath.
“Please tell me you know what you’re doing, Alexa,” Isabela said, worry dripping from her words.
Alexa realized she’d made a mistake.
She pulled on the blade, trying to dislodge it, but it was frozen solid in the core of the egg. She yanked harder and was rewarded with a sharp wave of cold so painful she had to drop the blade. It continued to grow violently, gorging itself. Under Alexa’s horrified eye, it stretched to a longsword and then a greatsword and then a long, wicked polearm. And yet, it had not finished feeding. Jagged spiked erupted from it randomly, as though it had lost a cohesive shape. The light burned in its core, hurting Alexa’s eyes. Then cracks appeared on its surface.
Alexa realized she’d made a horrible mistake.
She backpaddled on her hands and feet, making for the doorway’s rectangular hole in the floor.
Energy surged through the room. Alexa tried to move her hand, but found it frozen fast to the wood. Ice covered her hands and boots, and slid up her limbs.
Isabela’s wings spread out. The blazing light was so strong Alexa could see the network of veins within the black leather wings. Isabela jumped towards her, tossing herself on top of Alexa, wrapping her arms and wings around the smaller woman.
“Gods damn, you,” she whispered into Alexa’s ear.
The sound of ice cracking – of glaciers crashing against one another – filled the room, followed by a boom. Alexa squeezed her eyes shut, burying her face in the demon’s chest as an icy explosion ripped through the room.
Erin cried out. The world turned bright. And Alexa knew no more.