The Cleric Quintet: The Chaos Curse (Page 20)

Ivan roared in protest. The rat found them?” he bellowed incredulously.

Pikel slapped him on the back of the head.

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“We have nothing better,” Shayleigh reminded the volatile Ivan, trying to stay yet another fight between the brothers.

Cadderly wasn't even listening. He had been with Percival for three years and knew the squirrel was not a stupid thing. Far from it. Cadderly did not doubt Percival understood they were looking for Danica.

He followed Percival, and his friends followed him, around to the south wing of the library. Much of the wing showed damage from the fire, but the wall and windows near the back of the building did not. Percival moved gracefully along the gutters, then picked his way carefully down the rough and cracked stone. With a final leap, he landed on the sill of a small second-floor window.

Cadderly was nodding before the squirrel ever stopped.

“Danica's in there?” Ivan asked doubtfully.

The private room of Dean Thobicus,” Cadderly explained, and it all made sense to him. If Rufo had Danica, a woman he had long desired, he would likely show her the most comfortable and lavish room in the library, and none was better suited than the dean's private chamber.

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With Cadderly's confidence came a moment of sheer dread. If his logic was on track, and Percival was right, then Rufo did indeed have Danica!

“What's the quickest route through the building to that room?” Ivan asked, deciding not to continue his useless arguing.

“The quickest route is straight up,” Cadderly remarked, drawing all their eyes skyward. Ivan grumbled for a bit, trying to figure some way to get them all up there. Finally he just shook his head, and when he looked back to the young priest to denounce the plan, the dwarf jumped in surprise. In place of his regular arms and legs, Cadderly now had the limbs of a squirrel, a white-furred squirrel!

Shayleigh, not so surprised, gave Cadderly the end of a fine cord, and up he went, easily scaling the wall to sit on the narrow ledge beside Percival.

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The window was only a few inches wide, barely a squared crack in the wall. Cadderly peered in, the light from the disk on his hat casting a glow into the room. He couldn't see much of the chamber, though, for the window was more than a foot deep. He did see the bottom edge of the bed, though, and on it, under a satiny sheet, the outline of a woman's legs.

“Danica,” he whispered harshly, straining to get a better angle.

“What do ye see?” Ivan called from below.

It was Danica. Cadderly knew it was Danica. He shifted back, willed his arms and legs to return to normal, and fell into the song of Deneir. He was too close now; he would not be stopped by simple stone.

“What do ye see?” Ivan demanded again, but Cadderly, lost in the song, the magic of his god, did not register the call.

He focused on the stone surrounding the window, saw it for what it was, saw its very essence. Calling to his god, he pulled his waterskin around from his back and squirted it in strategic locations, then placed his hands on the suddenly malleable stone and began to shape the material.

The window's thick glass fell out, past entranced Cad-derly's working hands, and nearly clobbered Ivan as he stood, hands on hips, on the ground below.

“Hey!” the dwarf yelled, and Cadderly, even in the throes of the song, heard him. He considered his handiwork and remembered his friends, and worked a spur in the stone, that he could loop Shayleigh's cord securely about it.

Then it was done, and the window was wide, and Cadderly crawled into the room. Deneir went away from him when he entered the unholy place; he would have recognized that fact clearly if he had concentrated. Even the glow of the lighted disk, fixed on the front of his wide-brimmed hat, seemed to dim.

This, too, Cadderly did not notice. His eyes, and his thoughts, were squarely on the bed, on the figure of Danica, lying too still and too serene.

Shayleigh practically ran up the rope, rushing into the room beside Cadderly. Ivan, and then Pikel, powerful dwarven arms pumping, came up fast behind, with Pikel pausing long enough at the sill to haul poor Belago up the fifteen feet to the window.

Cadderly stood beside the bed, staring down, not finding the strength to reach out and touch Danica.

She would be cold to his touch. He knew that. He knew she was dead.

Shayleigh couldn't bear the suspense anymore; she could not bear to see Cadderly in such awful torment. She bent low over the bed and put her sensitive ear to Danica's pursed lips. A moment later, she rose, staring straight at Cadderly and slowly shaking her head. Her hand moved as well, shifting Danica's tunic to reveal the puckered wounds on the monk's neck, the twin punctures of a vampire's bite.

“Oooo,” Ivan and Pikel moaned together. Vicero Belago sniffled and fought back tears.

That tangible confirmation that Danica was gone, that Rufo had taken her, sent a ball of grief spiraling through Cadderly, a spiked ball that pained the young priest in every corner of his soul, that tore at his heart and all his sensibilities. Danica dead! His love taken from him!

This Cadderly could not tolerate. By all the power of Deneir, by all the edicts of callous fate, Cadderly could not allow this to be.

He commanded the song of Deneir into his thoughts, forced its flow past the dullness of the evil veil that permeated this place. His head throbbed for the effort, but he did not relent. Not with Danica, his love, lying so pale before him.

Cadderly's thoughts careened into the flow, pushed open closed doors and rushed to the highest levels of power. He was gone from his friends, then, not physically, for his body stood very still beside the bed, but spiritually, his soul rushing free of its mortal coil into the realm of spirits, the realm of the dead.

So it was that Cadderly did not hear Shayleigh's shriek, and did not react as the strong hand shot out from under the bed to clasp the elf's ankle.

Cadderly could see the events in the room, but they were distant from him, somehow disconnected. Through a thick veil of smoky gray he saw his own body standing very still, saw that Shayleigh, for some reason, had apparently gone down to the floor and was being pulled under the bed.

Cadderly sensed the danger back in the room, sensed that his elven companion was in trouble. He should go to her, he knew, go to the aid of his friends. He hesitated, though, and stayed clear of his corporeal form. Shayleigh was among powerful allies – Ivan and Pikel were moving, he could see, probably rushing to her side. Cadderly had to trust in them now, for he knew that if he left this realm, he would not soon find the strength to return, not in the desecrated library. He was looking for a spirit, and spirits were fleeting things. If he hoped to get Danica back, he had to find her quickly, before she took her place in the netherworld.

But where was she? Cadderly had gone into the spirit world on several occasions, had gone after Avery Schell when he had found the headmaster lying dead, his chest torn wide, on a table in the Dragon's Codpiece tavern in Carradoon. Cadderly had gone into the spirit world after the souls of men he had killed, assassins who had been pulled down by shadowy things before the young priest could call out to them. He had gone into the spirit world after Vander, and had held back the malignant assassin Ghost while Vander found his way back to life through the enchantment of his regenerative ring.

The ring!

Cadderly saw it glowing clearly on Ivan's gnarled finger, the only distinctive thing in the room. He could use it, he believed, as a gate to get Danica back to the realm of the living. If he could somehow get Ivan to put the ring on Danica's finger, he might be able to find an easier way to usher her spirit back to her corporeal form.

But where was she? Where was his love? He called out to Danica, let the images in the room fade from his thoughts and sent his mind out in every direction. Dan-ica's spirit should be here; she could not have been dead for long. She should be here, or at least there should be some trail of her passing that Cadderly could follow. He would pull her from the arms of a god if need be!

There was no trail. There was no spirit. No Danica.

Cadderly weakened with the realization that she was lost to him. Suddenly there seemed no purpose in his life, no reason to even bother returning to his body. Let Deneir take him now, he thought, and be done with his torment.

He saw a flicker of clarity in the dull plane he had left behind, a movement within the room. Then he saw the vampire, as clearly as he had seen Ivan's ring, coming out from under the bed.

Baccio ripped at a dull form – Shayleigh, Cadderly knew – and leaped up to his feet He was undead, existing on both planes, as tangible to Cadderly in the spirit world as he obviously was to Ivan and the others in the material room. Yet the vampire took no note of Cadderly. Baccio's thoughts were squarely on the battle at hand, on the battle against Cadderly's friends!

Cadderly's focus became pure anger. His spirit shifted behind Baccio, his will narrowing like a spike.

Shayleigh was out of the fight before it ever really began. She hit the floor hard beside the bed and slid under, the vampire's strong hands slamming her shoulder as she tried to reach for her short sword.

The silver-tipped arrows had bounced free of Shayleigh's quiver with the impact, and that alone saved the wounded elf. Sheer luck brought her free hand atop one of those bolts and, without hesitation, Shayleigh whipped the thing around, sticking its silvery point deep into Baccio's eye.

The vampire went into a frenzy, battering Shayleigh, bouncing the bed up and down on its supports. Pikel lay flat on the floor by then, using his club like a billiard stick, poking it straight into Baccio's face to keep the vampire busy while Ivan yanked Shayleigh out into the clear.

Baccio came out, too, wailing and thrashing, most of his strikes landing squarely on poor Shayleigh. Pikel hit him good a couple of times, but the vampire was strong, and he accepted the blows and returned them tenfold.

Belago shrieked and cowered; Ivan rushed in with a vicious swipe, but his axe was useless against the vampire. Baccio had them on the defensive, had them dead.

The vampire lurched suddenly as if something had hit him from behind, and indeed, he had been struck, by Cadderly's spirit. He staggered forward, his trembling arms reaching behind him for some unseen wound.

What a beautiful target that presented eager Pikel. The green-bearded dwarf spat in his hands and rubbed them for a tighter grip on his shillelagh, then spun two complete circuits, building momentum, before bringing the tree-trunk club to bear against Baccio's face.

The broken monster flew away, crashing into the far wall. Still, Baccio reached around to his back, reached for the spike, the manifestation of Cadderly's will, which the young priest had driven into his back.

Cadderly's corporeal form shuddered then as the priest came back to the Material Plane. He moved deliberately, mercilessly. He reached for his hat, then changed his mind and went instead for a fold in his traveling cloak, a pocket he had sewn into the cloak during his weeks in the cave on the northern side of the Snow-flakes, producing a thin, dark wand. Cadderly shook his head as he considered the instrument – over the weeks of idleness and during the excitement of the last day, he had nearly forgotten about this wand. Advancing on Bac-cio, the wand's tip leading the way, the young priest said calmly, “Mas illu.”

A myriad of bright colors exploded from the wand, every color of the spectrum.

“Ouch!” Pikel wailed, blinded by the explosion, as were all of Cadderly's friends. Cadderly, too, saw spots behind his eyelids, but he did not relent. “Mas illu,” he said again, and the wand complied, spewing forth another colorful burst of light.

To the friends, the bursts were optically painful but otherwise benign, but to the vampire, they were pure agony. Baccio tried to recoil from the explosions, tried to curl into a little ball and hide, to no avail. The shower of lights clung to him, attacked his undead form with the fury of hot sparks. To a living creature, the spark shower could only blind; to an undead monster, the shower could burn.

“Mas illu” Cadderly said a third time, and by the time the last burst ended, Baccio sat limply against the wall, staring at Cadderly with pure hatred and pure impotence. Cadderly put away the wand and pulled the holy symbol down from his head. He walked up to stand before the wounded vampire and calmly, methodically, placed the glowing symbol on Baccio's broken face.

The vampire's trembling hand came up and clasped Cadderly's wrist, but the young priest didn't wavac He held firm his symbol and intoned a prayer to Deneir as he struck repeatedly with his ram's-headed walking stick, thoroughly destroying the monster.

Cadderly turned about to see his four friends staring at him incredulously, amazed by the sheer, unbridled fury of the display.

Pikel moaned, and the end of his club dropped limply to the floor.

Shayleigh grimaced against the pain as she regarded Cadderly. Her right shoulder was badly torn, and the wheezing in her voice told Cadderly that Baccio's beating had probably broken a few ribs and collapsed one of her lungs. He went to her immediately, without saying a word, and sought the distant song of Deneir.

The melody's flow was not strong this time; Cadderly could not seek the higher levels of clerical power. The day was young, but he was already tired, he realized, so he accepted the weakness and found his way instead to minor spells of healing, pressing his hands gently but firmly against Shayleigh's ribs and then her shoulder.

Cadderly came back to full consciousness to find the elf resting more easily, the magic already knitting the wounds.

“You did not find Danica,” Shayleigh reasoned, her voice determined but trembling from her pain and weakness. It was obvious to them all that she needed rest and could not go on.

Cadderly shook his head, confirming the elf's fears. He looked plaintively to the bed, to the serene form of his lost love. “She is not undead, though,” he offered, more to bolster himself than the others.

“She escaped,” Shayleigh agreed.

“Danica should not be in this place,” Cadderly said. He looked determinedly to each of his friends. “We must take her from here.”

The mausoleum is clear,” Shayleigh offered.

Cadderly shook his head. “Farther,” he said. “We will take her to Carradoon. There, away from the darkness of Kierkan Rufo, I can better tend your wounds, and can put Danica to rest.” �� His voice broke as he finished the thought.

“No!” Ivan said unexpectedly, drawing Cadderly's attention.

“We're not for leaving!” the dwarf argued. “Not now, not while the sun's in the sky. Rufo got her, and he'll get another if we walk away. Yerself can go if ye need to, but me and me brother are staying.”

“Oo oi!”

“We'll pay that one back for Danica, don't ye doubt!” Ivan finished.

Pay that one back. The sentiment bounced about Cadderly's thoughts for a while, gaining momentum and imparting strength. Pay that one back! Indeed, Cadderly would pay Rufo back. He found his heart in the thought of revenge.

Take Danica to the mausoleum,” he said to Belago and Shayleigh. “If the dwarves and I do not come to you by the time the sun has begun its descent, set out far from this place, to Shtlmista or Carradoon, and do not return.”

Shayleigh, as angered by the loss of Danica as any of them, wanted to argue, but as she started to reply, sharp pain racked her side. Cadderly had done all he could for her wounds; she needed rest.

“I will go with Belago to the mausoleum,” she reluctantly agreed, accepting that she would only hinder her friends in her weakened state. She grabbed Cadderly's arm as he started to move away from her and lockei^his gray eyes with her violet orbs, “Find Rufo and destroy him,” she said. “I'll not leave the mausoleum unless it is to come back into the library to your side.”

Cadderly knew there was no way he would convince the valiant elf otherwise. Danica had been like a sister to Shayleigh, and the elf would never walk away from the one who had killed her sister. Understanding that sentiment, that he, too, would never walk away from this place unless Rufo was destroyed, Cadderly accepted her pledge with a knowing nod.

Anguish

Ivan and Pikel quickly rigged the rope so that Dan-ica's body could be lowered gently. Both the tough dwarves had tears in their eyes as they worked; Ivan reverently removed his deer-antler helm, and Pikel did likewise with his cooking pot. When the rope was ready, Cadderly could hardly bring himself to move Danica into position. His anger could not hold against that wave of grief, the feeling of finality as he tenderly looped the elven cord under Dan-ica's stiffened arms. He thought of going again into the spirit world to search for her, and would have gone, except that Shayleigh, as if reading his thoughts, was beside him, her hand on his shoulder.

When the young priest looked at the battered elf, her whole body quaking as she tried to hold her balance, he understood he could not expend the energy to go off again into the spirit world after Danica, that the consequences might be too high. He looked to Shayleigh and nodded, and she backed away, seeming satisfied.

It was decided that Belago should go down first, to cushion Danica's descent. The alchemist, seeming more determined than any of them had ever witnessed, took up the rope in both hands and hopped up onto the win-dowsill. He paused, though, then motioned for Ivan to come near.

“Ye got to do it,” the dwarf said, coming close. “We need ye …” Ivan stopped in midsentence, realizing Belago's intentions, as the alchemist extended his arm.

“Take it !' Belago offered, pushing the flask of explosive oil to Ivan. “You will need every weapon.”

As soon as the dwarf had the flask in hand, Belago, without hesitation, slipped over the sill and descended quickly to the ground. Danica's body went next, and then Shayleigh, the injured elf needing nearly as much support as had Danica.

Cadderly watched forlornly from the window as the group slipped away toward the back of the library and the mausoleum. Belago had Danica's form over one shoulder, and though the load was extreme for the alchemist, he still had to pace himself so that the wounded Shayleigh could keep up.

When Cadderly turned away from the window, back to the room, he found Ivan and Pikel, helms tucked under their arms, heads bowed and cheeks streaked with tears. Ivan looked up first, his sorrow transformed into rage. “I gotta fix me axe,” the dwarf said through gritted teeth.

Cadderly looked at the weapon skeptically – it seemed fine to him.

“Gotta put some silver in the damned thing!” Ivan roared.

“We haven't the time.” Cadderly replied.

“I got a forge near the kitchen,” Ivan retorted, and Cadderly nodded, for he had often seen the setup, which doubled as a stove.

Cadderly looked out the window. The morning light was full, sending long shadows to the west. “We have just one day,” Cadderly explained. “We must finish our business before nightfall. If Rufo recognizes that we have been inside the library, as he surely will when he realizes that Baccio is destroyed, he will come after us with all his forces. I would rather face the vampire now, though only my walking stick and Pikel's club – “

“Sha-Iah-lah!” the dwarf said determinedly, popping the cooking pot on top of his green hair.

Cadderly nodded, even managed a slight smile. “We must be done with Rufo this day,” he said again.

“Bul ye'll have to kill him quick,” Ivan protested, presenting his axe once more. “Kill him to death. Quick, or he'll just go into that green mist and melt away from us. I got a forge …” Ivan stopped in midramble and turned a wicked look toward Pikel. “A forge,” he said again, slyly.

“Huh?” came Pikel's predictable reply.

“Makes the fire hot,” Ivan explained.

“You will need a fire very hot to singe Rufo,” Cadderly interjected, thinking he was following the dwarf's reasoning. “Magical flames that no forge could match.”

“Yeah, and if we hurt him, he'll just go into a cloud,” Ivan said, aiming the remark at Pikel.

Pikel considered the information, tried to connect the forge to Rufo. His face brightened suddenly, his grin ear to ear as he returned his brother's hopeful stare.

“Hee hee hee,” both dwarves said together.

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