VI

salavskali

VI: Salasso!

Kailifae had a distinct flashback to the crypt of Karsmore. The fecund scent of rot that permeated Karsmore’s crypt also occupied Salasso’s labyrinth, a labyrinth Kailifae would later realize was shaped like a bat if one was peering at it from the top down.

The entire maze was broken into separate chambers, and each were eventually opened by the manipulation of guarded levers haunted by any number of abominations set upon the destruction of both Artha and Kailifae.

“Go back,” Artha said, “this lever cancels the magic barrier of that last passage. All we need do is cleanse the room for the next clue to Salasso’s whereabouts.”

Kailifae nodded, mind centered in the jin gong, an immovable path of razor-sharp alacrity. She was both in her body and outside it, merging with her will, the labyrinth, and the ancient voices that murmured in the very walls of the dungeon. They were past liberators killed by Salasso’s minions, lost souls trapped within the crypt by magic wards and vampiric necromancy.

“This one,” Artha whispered, pointing at a blank opening that was only moments ago sealed off by a screen of blood-red energy.

“May it be the last one,” Kailifae said to herself, her body already creating the curving arc of a backward sweep, her left leg sweeping in a wide arc mimicking the tail of a dragon. She connected with the ankle of a wight, and felt his disgusting sack of a belly shiver with the force of her follow-up palm strikes.

“It’s this or nothing,” Artha said to her god, yanking backwards on a lever.

The hisses and hoots of more undead was her reward as yet another door opened to vomit forth the walking contagion of carrior feeders and a brace of charnal wights.

“Well done,” Kailifae laughed, her body once again forcing itself into the moment, at first mimicking the ferocity of a tiger, and then—with a flourish of effort–taking on the spirit of a leopard. Artha, well practiced at timing her divine magic, filled the void of Kailifae’s stuns with laser-like light, which shot from her hands in controlled bursts, the bolts disintegrating undead flesh upon contact.

***

“He is awake,” Artha said suddenly, rousing from their hasty rest at a shrine.

“You know this how?”

“It’s in the air. The stillness is broken with the aura of a greater evil. Salasso knows we are here.”

The left wing of the maze vanished in the shadows behind them even as a greater shadow swallowed them ahead.

Artha “knew” the way the way a wolf knows how to find its way to prey. Her face was lit in the aura of the divine light whirling restlessly in her right palm, a lantern of righteousness uncloaking shadows and lesser evils that wished to remain anonymous. “In there,” she said, her chin nodding to a greater darkness brooding just past a beautiful arch littered with grinning skulls.

“My lord, the illumination of the sacred text is complete. This chapter of the Great Work is ready to be bound with the others,” said Brother Salasso.

“You have served me well Brother, but I sense a disturbance within your crypt. Attend to it quickly so I may begin my ascension!” a wriggling shadow bid, raising a withered finger, pointing to Artha and Kailifae who stood only yards away.

“At once Master,” Salasso, the vampire, said.

“Do not speak to him,” Artha said directly to Kailifae, “no matter what wisdoms he shares, no matter what truths he mutters, it is twisted by lies.”

“Yes,” Salsso said, voice booming, “ignore me at thy peril.” Salasso’s hands whirled, a hypnotic trace of blanched whites against a perfect abysmal black. “You cannot harm me, I am invulnerable thanks to my lord and master, the Black Abbot.”

“The gods have revealed to me your weakness,” Artha shouted, a ray of pure white light blasting from her hand, “your great secret was revealed in a dream, for the chaste have power enough to put down even one creeping serpent. Kailifae! Take him now!”

Kailifae’s body slid into action, skipping backwards towards Salasso with a whirling salvo of strikes that increased their ferocity and power with every step. And later, upon meditation, she would not be able to remember the battle except for a series of frantic counter measures, a time of gaming with Salasso as Artha sought out the end of her own silent mission.

“You cannot harm me with your palms, monk! I am immortal, as immortal as the night. Better you box with the wind than me!” Salasso was no slouch in counters, nor was he a stranger to cruelty, but Kailifae’s training on the plum blossom stumps saved her, allowed her to wheel suddenly out of Salsso’s reach like a drunkard, only to rejoin with a series of blinding flurries that would have killed an orc. But Salasso’s invulnerable body took the blows easily as if the monk were nothing but a wispy gnat.

Artha also would not be able to speak of how she was lead to the object Salasso dreaded the most. The best she could say was that a hand guided her soul toward a coffin in a sea of coffins on the second floor of Salasso’s balcony of coffins. She had not been jesting. The gods did indeed favor the chaste with their own special brand of favor even when the powers of darkness used deception to deceive the ignorant and the weak.

“Found it!” Artha cried, opening a coffin to reveal a beating heart snugged away in the coffin’s red, satiny interior. “Isn’t this what you feared I would find, vampire? Your heart? A heart you sacrificed to evil long ago?”

Salasso, his hands around Kailifae’s neck, cocked his eyes suddenly at Artha, the iron will in his arms suddenly draining, allowing Kailifae to break the hold with a whirling strike to the vampire’s arms. The strike was a combination of drifting right suddenly, left leg curving behind her, allowing her right forearm the momentum to strike Salasso’s arm like a hammer ringing upon an anvil.

Light from Artha’s palm disintegrated Salasso’s beating heart as her fingers curled cruelly into piercing claws. She shut her eyes against the divine light, seeing only a ebony afterimage of the heart withering to ashes.

***

It would take the duo two days of deep sleep and meditation to wash the last of Salasso’s evil aura from them. It was as if the vampire’s soul had followed them from its crypt, willing them to collapse in exhaustion after their task.

“I think it is time we part,” Artha said quietly at breakfast two days later. She had been mulling over her bread and meat, picking at the sandwich thoughtfully as if it would suddenly reveal her destiny to her in a series of omens starring marbled fat and mottled cheese. “I have a feeling my order is going to need me.”

Kailifae nodded solemnly, discerning the meaning of the cleric’s words. “Salasso and his master’s evil go deeper than that crypt, don’t they?” she asked.

“I had a dream of the Black Abbot,” Artha confessed, “I believe the destruction of both Salasso and Kasmore has goaded him into action. I feel the call to return to the order, a call as loud as a church bell.”

“I understand,” Kailifae said, forcing a smile. “We were a powerful duo.”

“You will find others to fight beside,” Artha said, eyes suddenly boring into the table as if she could see the future play out before her. “You will become a powerful monk soon, even more powerful than you suspect. That is all I can see.”

“I wish you well, sister-in-arms,” Kailifae stood, embracing the cleric.

“Right back at you, monk.” Artha hugged her friend briefly before drifting away,  a tear clouding her eye. “Let not your faith weaken, nor your heart become greedy for power.”

“If it does,” Kailifae said, smirking, “I know the right priest to confess my errors to.”

Narrowing her eyes at Kailifae in mock menace, Artha left enough coin on the table to cover the breakfast, and with a nod, vanished from Kailifae’s life.

Thus ends the early saga of Kailifae’s life, the telling of levels 1-11.

———-Author’s Note———-

Thanks and credit goes out to http://ddowiki.com/page/Brother_Salasso for:

  1. The lines spoken between Salasso and the Black Abbot
  2. The Salasso image

 

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