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December 12th, 2008

Hall of Heroes: Act III

"A spear, huh?" Trent said, up on one elbow, looking at the weapon David had placed in front of him. "They didn't have any guns or anything?"

"There was a crossbow," David said, leaning heavily on the rugged wooden staff he'd picked for himself. The top half of the staff had carvings of various mythological beasts with wings or arms encircling smooth circles of plain wood; at the very top, a large ruby hung tightly gripped in a finely-carved dragon's claw. "A few sword-things. Some claws and knives. But I figured these would help us get to our feet fastest."

"Point," Trent acknowledged, and tried again to rise to hands and knees. "Ow."

"Kevin?" David said softly, looking over at his friend's back at the pool's edge. "I'm sorry. I really am. But Trent's right. As soon as he can get up, we should get going."

"He didn't have to die," Kevin said, turning the sword over in his hands.

"I'm sorry," David repeated.

"If I'd just come with him -- if I'd just trusted myself, instead of being too scared to go alone -- we would have been here together. I could have helped him fight ... or maybe he would have been able to escape through the doorway up above." Kevin hung his head. "I killed him."

David shuffled over to Kevin and crouched at his side. "No you didn't. You couldn't have known."

"He trusted me for help!" Kevin said.

"And you came," David said. "Just like Trent came for us. None of us knew what was through the portal. We did the best we could."

Scraping noises behind them caused them both to glance back. Trent had staggered to his feet, legs shaking, leaning heavily on his spear. The weapon was as tall as Trent, with a thick crossbar behind the leaf-shaped blade, and a large yellow topaz permanently, almost organically, inset in the middle of the shaft.

"Kevin," he said, "maybe now isn't the best time for self-pity."

Kevin sighed. "Yeah. I guess."

"I am sorry," Trent said. He started slowly limping toward the base of the nearest ramp.

David stayed next to Kevin for several seconds, then sighed, stood up and turned away. "C''mon. Let's go. We can come back later ... or use the pendant somewhere safer ..."

Kevin stood up, hefting the sword in his hand, examining the edge. "Alright. Just one last thing." He reached over and dipped the sword blade in the pool, swishing it around and watching the ink and blood on the blade dissolve away.

Kevin blinked. Wait. Blood ...? The only fresh corpses they'd seen had been shadows, which bled black --

His train of thought was interrupted by Trent swearing and a sharp thump behind him. "Kevin!" David cried out. "We've got company!"

Kevin whirled, bringing Diune's sword up. David was standing over Trent, pointing his staff forward; Trent was sitting on the ground where he'd fallen, trying to do the same with his spear. At the base of the ramp, several small black forms were crawling out of the solid stone of the wall.

The foot-tall shadows that emerged were humanoid, in that their blobby torsos stood on two legs, with stubby arms and a round head that was featureless except for two tiny white eyes. Two of the five shadows waddled forward aimlessly, head raised as if sniffing the air.

"H-hello?" Trent asked cautiously. They didn't respond.

"Careful," Kevin warned, stepping alongside David. "Diune said some of the shadows are under Eversor's control."

"M-maybe they're friendly?" David said, staff still leveled. "They look harmless enough ..."

The two mini-shadows suddenly stopped, two steps away. Their heads swiveled toward the teenagers. With an audible shing, three-inch claws sprang from their tiny hands. One hissed, exposing a mouth full of sharp fangs.

"Aah!" David cried, flinching. Trent's eyes widened and he tried to scramble backward.

"Shit!" said Kevin, who had been waiting for something ominous to happen. He lunged forward, swinging Diune's sword at the fangy one.

The blade met some resistance against the creature's body, but cut fully through, spattering ink against the floor in a broad line. The shadow shrieked as the top and bottom halves of its body tumbled separately to the ground, and then melted into the stone floor, leaving behind only a tiny, glittering shard of obsidian.

The other shadow hissed and, with a leap that seemed impossible for its tiny form, flew through the air at Kevin. He yelped and twisted away from the hurtling form, but the thing's claws tore through the fabric of his jacket, and Kevin felt a sharp sting on his arm. The shadow landed on the ground behind him.

"Kevin!" David shouted, swinging his staff in a wide overhand blow. It impacted the shadow's head with a solid crack, and the thing splattered into a puddle on the ground, which also melted away except for a tiny shard.

"Damn it!" Trent said. "Help me up before the others attack."

David grabbed Trent's outstretched arm and yanked him to his feet. Kevin backed away from the ramp -- the other three shadows that had emerged in front of them continued to mill around near the wall -- and examined his sleeve. The cut on his arm was shallow, more of a scratch, and seemed clean.

"You alright?" Trent said, balancing on his spear again, limping backwards in a deliberate retreat from the shadows.

"Yeah," Kevin said grimly. "But I guess we're fighting our way out of here."

Trent looked up. All around the room, the small shadow beasts were emerging from the walls to drop onto ramps or intersections in small groups. "Of course." He gritted his teeth. "Stick together. Keep moving upward. When we fight, take on small groups as much as possible. We'll really be outmatched if we get surrounded."

"At least none of the rest seem to have noticed us yet," Kevin observed. "Even those three in front of us are just wandering around randomly."

"They certainly know something is up," Trent said. "They're all doing that sniffing-the-air thing."

"Wait," David said. "You're right. They must not be able to detect us until we get close."

"You think we can charge in and ambush them?" Kevin said.

A grin spread across David's face. "Even better. Remember, there was a crossbow in with the weapons."

"Well, let's go get it!" Kevin said.

"Stay away from the walls," Trent cautioned. "I don't want any shadows coming out to surprise us."

"The pool too, if they're coming out of vertical surfaces," David said.

The three walked carefully around the room toward the pile of grey corpses David had raided for weapons, staying together in a tight circle, Kevin and David with weapons readied and pointed outward. As they walked, they watched the shadows on the ramps, who continued milling around. None of the creatures seemed inclined to venture out onto the large central floor.

"So far, so good," Kevin muttered.

David took a step forward and the stone underneath his feet shifted. "Whoah!" he said, overbalancing. There was a solid click.

All three glanced down. The smooth stone David's foot was on -- the same dull green as the rest of the floor, but with the grain of the rock running in a different direction than the surrounding stones -- had depressed half an inch into the floor. David threw his substantial weight backward and the stone sprang back up, flush with the floor again.

"It's a trap!" Trent yelled, crouching and hoisting his spear.

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legend of hero
ttustories
Tales from the Tomorrowlands

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Legend of Hero
[001]. Premonitions
[013]. Incursions
[026]. Companions
[043]. Complications

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