Paragon Of Destruction 114 A Debt Repaid
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When he did, the sight was shocking, but not unexpected. Before him stood a gaunt, pale figure, lacking a nose, and with two black holes where its eyes should be.
It was the creature Arran had freed from the Academy's prison over a year ago. At the time, he had hoped he would never see it again, but it seemed his luck had failed him. The creature had somehow made its way across the border, and now, it was here.
Still, now that he knew what was happening, he found the creature's aura of terror easier to resist, if only slightly. The fear wasn't his own, and just knowing that, he could fight it like he would any other attack.
"Did Panurge send you?" he asked, forcing himself to speak even as the creature's presence weighed down on him. He feared that if he gave in to the pressure for even a moment, there would be no coming back.
"The trickster does not command me," the creature answered in its raspy voice.
"Then why are you here?" Arran asked.
"There is a debt," the creature said. "Today, it will be repaid."
The creature did not answer, instead silently stretching a bony arm in the direction of the Blood Crystal. At its gesture, the crimson orb floated through the air, moving toward Arran.
"I don't want it!" Arran blurted out. He had wanted to take the orb only moments ago, but now that the creature was involved, his desire for the power it held had been well and truly extinguished.
"The debt will be repaid," the creature hissed.
Arran tried to move his hands in front of him to stop the orb, but he found himself completely unable to move as the creature's aura suddenly surged in strength. As the pressure on his mind rose, his consciousness began to slip, and the panic he felt now was all his own.
"Nourish it well," the creature's gravelly voice spoke as Arran's vision turned blurry. "And you will get the power you covet."
With that, Arran's consciousness faded entirely.
When he awoke, he was lying on the ground in the circular chamber. Somehow, the stench of death had disappeared, and the chamber was now completely empty, with both the mutilated body parts and the altar gone.
Snowcloud was lying on the floor a few paces from Arran, and although she was unconscious, she seemed otherwise unharmed.
For some moments, Arran stood silently in the chamber. Briefly, he entertained the idea that it had all been a dream or an illusion, but he quickly rejected the thought. Now that he had been reminded of the Academy's prison, he could see that this dungeon had been created in its semblance — deep underground, with a long hallway leading to a large circular chamber, the resemblance was too accurate to be a coincidence.
Yet at the same time, many things about the situation made no sense. If it had all been real, the creature had somehow known Arran would be there long before he arrived, spending weeks or even months creating the Blood Crystal. That would mean it had come here before Arran even crossed the border.
And then, there was the Blood Crystal itself. Arran did not know what happened after he lost consciousness, but he could feel no difference within himself.
He knelt by Snowcloud's side, shaking her a few times until finally, her eyes slowly opened.
"What happened?" she asked, her expression confused. "Where are we? I remember stepping into the hallway, and then, a horrible sense of dread…" Her face turned fearful as she seemed to recall the feeling.
"I don't know," Arran lied. "I was unconscious as well."
If it had all been real, he had unleashed a terrible monster on the world. And worse, the creature had killed thousands of people, apparently to repay a debt it thought it owed Arran. If he told Snowcloud and she believed the story, she might hold him responsible for the deaths or even think he was in league with the creature.
"There must have been some kind of magical trap," Snowcloud said as she sat up. "It's a good thing we already killed the mages — with both of us unconscious, we were completely defenseless."
Arran nodded in agreement. "Do you have any idea how long we were out?" he asked, in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the source of their stupor.
Snowcloud hesitated, then said, "It must have been days."
"Days? Why do you think so?"
"Your face is completely healed," she answered, looking at Arran.
When Arran touched his cheek with his hand, he was surprised to find she was right. During the fight against the deserters, the last mage had left a deep burn on the side of his face. Yet now, it was completely gone, not even a scar remaining.
"We should go," Arran said.
"What about the prisoners?"
"Wherever they are, it isn't here."
Snowcloud nodded, though her expression remained troubled. Yet she seemed as eager as Arran to leave the dungeon behind, and they quickly made their way up the stairs, then out of the keep.
It was dark outside, with only a crescent moon lighting the night sky. But even with what little light the moon provided, Arran could see that the bodies in the courtyard were still fresh — which meant that they had been unconscious for hours, not days.
Snowcloud did not appear to notice, however. Instead of looking at the bodies that littered the courtyard, she seemed to make an effort to ignore them, and for once, Arran was glad for her squeamishness.
"Let's leave," she said in a low voice. "I want to be far away from here. This place feels… wrong."
They left the fortress under cover of night, using just their Sense to guide the way. For the first hour, neither of them spoke much, both of them still thinking about the things that had happened at the fortress — though for entirely different reasons.
It was only after they had put a good few miles between themselves and the fortress that they both relaxed a little, and finally, Arran spoke.
"That last mage we fought," he said. "She went invisible. How did she do that?"
"I can't be sure, but I think she used a spell called Shadowcloak," Snowcloud answered. "It's one of the Society's more powerful secrets."
"Do you know how to do it?" Arran asked.
Snowcloud shook her head. "I'm neither skilled enough nor strong enough to handle it," she said. "Only novices who are close to becoming adepts can cast it, and even then, only some of them can do it well."
Arran rubbed his chin, disappointed that Snowcloud would not be able to teach him the spell. A way to turn invisible would certainly come in useful, but if Snowcloud wasn't able to perform it, then he still had a long way to go before he could even begin to learn it.
With a thought, he asked, "So does that mean she was stronger than you?"
"She must have been," Snowcloud said. In a thoughtful voice, she added, "If she had attacked us head-on with the others, we probably would have died."
"Then it's a good thing she didn't," Arran replied, though the thought sent a chill down his spine.
They kept talking as they walked, both of them growing more comfortable as they traveled farther from the fortress. Nevertheless, Arran could tell Snowcloud was still shaken from the battle. Even if she pretended to be composed, he could hear a slight tremble in her voice whenever the conversation touched on the battle they had fought.
Meanwhile, Arran's thoughts kept straying to the events in the dungeon. Although he wanted to believe it had all just been a dream, the events were too vivid in his memory for him to truly believe that. He did not know what had happened after he lost consciousness, but he did not believe the creature had left before it repaid its debt — whatever that meant.
It was near dawn when they stopped to make camp, but even so, Arran's thoughts kept him awake for several more hours. When he finally fell asleep, the sun had already risen.
Paragon Of Destruction 114 A Debt Repaid
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Paragon Of Destruction 114 A Debt Repaid summary
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