Knights of the Couch - Part VIII - In the Shadow of the Colossus - Section 7

Once Lloyd and Glorfindel were fully healed the group went back to the main room. Seth, however, refused Aksel’s attention. The ninja stated he would take care of himself. Now he continued to be standoffish and kept apart from the rest of the group.
When they reached the podium in the center of the main chamber, Elvisda retrieved the now complete golden sphere from his bag of holding. The bard stood over the dais and slowly placed the orb in the indentation in the platform. Then he stood back.
At first, nothing happened. Then some floor tiles next to the huge center pillar began to move. They slowly receded into the floor revealing a staircase leading downward.
“Seth, care to lead the way?” Aksel asked.
“Fine,” the ninja said curtly.
They took up the marching order they had been following all along throughout the monolith. The group entered the stairwell and began their descent. This staircase was also spiral like the one above. But it was completely surrounded by stone. It was also lit every few feet by the same glowing tiles that had been seen in the other parts of the basement of the monolith.
The companions followed the spiral staircase downward about two hundred feet when they heard Seth whistle up ahead.
“What’s up?” Aksel asked.
“You’re not going to believe this,” the halfling replied.
The stairs still went down another hundred feet or so, but the rock had opened on one side to reveal a huge underground cavern. This cave was also well lit so the companions could see the entire area quite clearly. It was fully four hundred feet across. There was a walkway that led out into the cavern and up to a huge stone head halfway across the cavern. There was a throne on top of the head on which sat a skeleton.
The company left the stairs and began to cross the walkway. As the cave opened even further below, they could see underneath the walkway.
“Holy dragon dung!” Elvisda exclaimed pointing over the side. They all looked down and saw that the huge stone head was on top of a huge stone body.
“That thing is huge!” Donnie exclaimed.
The Aksel said, “It couldn’t be….”
Glorfindel replied, “I think it is.”
“It’s a giant stone golem!” they all said at once.
The stone colossus stood almost ninety feet tall. It was covered with what appeared to be a stone loin cloth but was otherwise bare.
“This is crazy,” Elvisda exclaimed. “This must have been hidden underneath the monolith for the last hundred years!”
The companions slowly moved down the walkway and approached the huge head. They got about half way across when the light on Glorfindel’s staff went out.
“What was that?” Elvisda asked nervously.
“Anti-magic field,” the wizard replied.
“It must extend a hundred feet around the entire golem,” Aksel added.
They all began moving forward again; all except for Ruka that is.
Donnie turned and said, “Is something wrong?”
“I’m…not getting any closer to that thing. You can if you want,” the young girl replied.
It was not like Ruka to be squeamish Donatello thought. He looked over at Alana who just shrugged. “Go ahead,” the lady knight said. “Us girls will wait back here.” She walked over and put her arm around the younger girl.
“Suit yourselves,” Donatello replied. Then he turned and hurried to catch up with the others.
When they companions got close to the colossal head, they noticed that the skeleton sitting on top of it had a crown on its head.
Aksel said, “I want a closer look at that.”
“I’ll come with you”, Lloyd offered.
The walkway circled around the huge head. In front and back there were stairs leading up to the top of the gigantic golem. Aksel and Lloyd slowly ascended the front stairs till they were next to the throne. The skeleton sat unmoving, empty eye sockets staring forward, unseeing.
The little gnome found himself strangely drawn to the crown on top of the skeleton’s head. He started to reach for it, when the skeleton started to move. It reached up and grabbed the cleric’s wrist!
“Yahhh!” Aksel screamed in terror. He tried to jerk his hand away, but he was held fast. What’s more is the creature had turned towards him and its other arm was now reaching for his throat!
Then a huge sword swept down and severed the reaching arm before it could grab him. Aksel turned and saw Lloyd standing over him, his black adamantine sword in both hands.
The fighter brought the weapon up again and severed the other arm holding the little cleric.
“Th…Thanks Lloyd,” Aksel said as he backed away, the skeletal hand still attached to his wrist. “That thing took me by surprise.” Then his eyes widen and he cried, “Watch out!”
Lloyd turned back to see the skeleton rising up from the chair. The big warblade brought his sword up and took a great horizontal swing, severing the skeletal head from the rest of the body. The body collapsed to the ground while head went clattering down the front of the colossus’s face. It landed on the walkway below, right in front of Elvisda.
“I’ve heard of getting ahead in life, but that’s ridiculous,” Donatello quipped.
Elvisda, Glorfindel and Ellistra looked at the swashbuckler and groaned.
Then Elvisda bent down and pulled the crown off the skeletal head.
“Can you bring that back up here?” Aksel called down.
“Sure!” the bard replied. Then he turned to Glo and said quietly, “Is it me, or is he getting a bit carried away with this golem thing?”
“I don’t know,” the wizard replied, “but he does seem to be acting a bit odd.”
“Maybe it’s a size thing,” Donnie joked.
“Really?” Seth said his tone a mixture of disbelief and hurt.
“Seth. I didn’t know…” Donnie began, but the halfling had already stormed off.
“What’s with him?” Elvisda said concerned. “Normally that would have gotten you a scathing remark.”
“Again, I don’t know,” Glorfindel said. “But he also has been off; ever since the fire room.”
“There’s a shadow hanging over his soul,” Elistra stated.
They turned to stare at her. The seeress continued. “It has been there since I first met him. But something has brought it to the forefront suddenly.”
“Do you have any idea what it is?” the wizard asked with concern.
“No…I can’t tell. I just know that it weighs more heavily on him now than in the recent past,” she replied. “Something has stirred up old ghosts for the young halfling.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Elvisda asked.
“No. This is something he must face alone,” Elistra said. “Only he can conquer his own inner demons.”
Suddenly Aksel’s voice sounded from above. “Hey! Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to bring me my crown!”
“His crown, he says,” Elvisda muttered. “I’m telling you, something is definitely wrong here.”
“Better just humor him for now,” the seeress said. “I think it is just his natural curiosity that is peaked by the sheer magnitude of all this.”
“I hope your right,” the bard replied. He started to walk towards the back of the colossal head. As he moved he glanced back over his shoulder and said, “Because if our cleric has suddenly gone bonkers, we are in deep trouble.”

When Elvisda reached the top of the colossus’s head, Aksel practically grabbed the crown from him. The little cleric was sitting on the throne. He took the crown and placed it on his head.
“There, that’s better,” Aksel said. Then he turned to Lloyd and Elvisda and said, “You may go now.” Then he turned his head forward and seemed to go into a trance.
Elvisda looked at Lloyd and made a circular motion with his finger around his ear. Lloyd shrugged his shoulders. Then the two men descended the stairs, leaving the cleric to his “meditation”.
When the rejoined the others, Elvisda told them what Aksel had said and done. “I’m telling you, he’s not right.”
Suddenly, the entire walkway lurched. Look, Donatello pointed. Off to their left, the Colossus’ right arm was lifting up into view. Glorfindel turned and looked up at the giant stone golem’s head. Aksel was still seated on the throne, but his right hand was rising up just like the Colossus.
“It’s Aksel,” the wizard said. “He must have made contact with the golem. The crown must be the control mechanism.”
“So there was a method to his madness!” Elvisda cried. “Way to go Aksel!” the bard cheered.
“Incoming!” a voice suddenly screamed from behind them. It was Alana.
They turned and saw the lady knight sword in hand. Ruka stood next to her both blades drawn.
Beyond them, over by the staircase, stood a giant snake, three large snakes and four figures in black robes. Hovering above them, giggling manically was the succubus they had encountered along the river.
“I told you you hadn’t seen the last of me,” the naked creature cackled.
“It’s that frickin witch and the Serpent Cult!” Elvisda yelled.
“Quick!” Glorfindel yelled, “Back up into the anti-magic field!”
“I can’t!” Ruka cried back in protest.
“Why not!” Donnie yelled.
“Because….I can’t!” the young girl cried in a pleading voice.
“Well, there’s no hope for it then,” the wizard said. He started to run forward.
The other’s joined him, drawing their blades.
The snakes and black robed figures began to move forward to meet them halfway across the bridge.
They had almost reached Alana and Ruka when a huge shadow fell over them. Glo looked up and saw the Colossus’s hand reaching down towards the creatures on the walkway. “Look out!” he screamed pointed up at the hand.
The companions stopped in their tracks. The gigantic hand continued slowly coming down. The snakes and men in black continued charging down the walkway oblivious to anything except the party of adventurers.
Then the companions all turned to run. They were half way back to the Colossus head when the hand came down on their enemies. After it hit them it continued downward right through the walkway and the supporting beams underneath. The walkway began to collapse from that point outward. The party felt the structure waver underneath them and redoubled their efforts to make it to the head.
They group just made it to the stairs to the top of the head. The clambered up onto it as the rest of the walkway went crashing to the ground underneath them. They turned and surveyed the wreckage. There was nothing left of the walkway. Nor was there anything left of the Serpent Cult, except that is, for the succubus. She had flown out of the way before the hand came down as was now flitting around in mid air just outside the anti-magic field.
“I’ll kill you all!” she hissed.
Then Alana yelled, “Where’s Ruka?”
“Wasn’t she behind you?!” Donnie cried in horror.
Just then, they heard a roar from above. They looked up and saw the giant snake that had been on the walkway. It was hovering in mid-air. The snake was wrapped around something almost as large as itself. Then it started to fall. In a few seconds it was in front of them as it hurtled downwards.
The creature was wrapped around a small bronze dragon! The two combatants were locked in a death grip around each other. The snake was trying to squeeze the life out of the dragon. The dragon in turn was clawing and biting the giant snake. But the dragon looked to be losing ground. They were inside the anti-magic field and the dragon could not use any of its magic. Furthermore, the snake’s venom must have been taking effect and slowly poisoning the beautiful creature.
“Quick! Somebody do something!” Elistra yelled.
“Much as I’d love to help a bronze dragon,” Donnie said, “I’m more concerned about Ruka!”
“That IS Ruka you dolt!” Elistra screamed.
“WHAT!?” Donatello cried.
“She’s right Donnie!” Glo said. “It makes perfect sense.”
“But….HOW!?” the swashbuckler yelled.
“We can argue about it later!” Alana cried. “Right now Ruka needs our help!”
The dragon and giant snake continued to swirl around falling towards the ground. If the snake did not let go, they would hit the ground in less than a minute and both be dead.
“But what can we do?” Glorfindel cried. “We have no magic to help her!”
“Screw magic!” Donatello yelled. At some level he had decided that this young bronze dragon was indeed Ruka. And he was not about to let the girl die. His indecision lifted and the swashbuckler launched into action. He jumped off the head and landed on the Colossus’s shoulder. Not breaking stride he ran down the still extended arm at a breakneck pace until he was just above the falling combatants. Then he launched himself over the side, a single dagger clutched in both hands.
The group stared on half in horror and half in amazement as Donnie fell through the air towards the young dragon and the snake. Although the dragon could not flap its pinned wings, the very aerodynamic nature of them slowed their descent. It was just enough to allow the swashbuckler to catch up to them.
The companions held their breath as their friend had almost reached his target. Time slowed and they watched in astonishment as the swashbuckler dove knife first into the back of the giant viper’s head. He landed on the creature’s back and wrapped his legs around its huge neck. Then he yanked out his dagger and plunged it into the viper again and again. The creature’s grip began to loosen on the dragon and their progress slowed down. They were about twenty feet above ground when the snake completely lost its grip and fell to the ground. The dragon righted itself and slowly descended to meet the elf.
“Aksel!” Glorfindle yelled, “Get us down there!”
“Right!” the cleric yelled. He ran down the stairs as the giant golem hand lifted to meet them. Then the companions all climbed aboard the huge hand and were slowly transported to the ground below.

The bronze dragon had landed outside the anti-magic field. “Thanks for the assist,” Ruka said, changing back to human form and stumbling toward Donatello.
Donatello leapt nimbly off the back of the giant viper catching her before she could fall.
“Do me a favor,” she asked breathily, as he steadied her.
“Anything,” he said.
She smiled up at him. “Hold me a minute.”
Donatello looked a down at her, a frown marring his usual happy-go-lucky expression. Her young body was covered with multiple puncture wounds; most appeared seriously poisoned.
Ruka smiled at his concern. She liked the way his frown brought out dimples on his cheeks and how his alarm turned his gold eyes the shade of dark honey. She had finally gotten his undivided attention and all it had taken was to be nearly killed by some overgrown garden snake!
“Cursed snake had enough venom to kill a dragon … literally,” she laughed as she fell completely into Donatello’s arms and her eyes closed.
“Foolish child, you have only sped the poison by taking human form,” her sword, Inazuma, scolded.
“Totally worth it,” she whispered more to herself than to Inazuma as she buried herself in Donatello’s embrace.
The sword made a noise that sounded surprisingly like an exasperated sigh. “You would trade your continued existence for a chance embrace with this…elfling!”
“Oh Ruka,” he said, sweeping her up into his arms and gently brushing a stray strand of blonde hair away from her face. “Would that my lips could draw the poison from you body. But I am just a poor artist and such skills are beyond me. But I swear to you, and to you as well Inazuma, that your granddaughter won’t die! Not while I have a breath left in my body!”
Above the rest of the companions were still being lowered in the stone giant’s hand. They all had somber looks on the faces as they were faced with the grim realization that one of their number might not survive this day.
The giant stone hand finally came to rest on the ground. The party quickly disembarked and ran over to the elf and young girl. Alana led the rush. She knelt down quietly next to the two.
Aksel said quietly, “I can’t do very much for her right now. I used most of healing spells on Lloyd and Glo back upstairs.”
“Then it’s up to you Alana, you’ve got to help her,” Donatello pleaded.
The lady Knight of the Rose looked upon the injured child remembering how they had started out as rivals for the swashbuckler’s affection. But she had grown to know this young blonde girl over the last few weeks, and a strange bond had begun to form between them. Now she felt something closer to kinship with the girl. Almost as if she were…a daughter! But this was no time for thought, the lady knight realized, shaken herself into action.
Alana gently placed her hands on the sides of Ruka’s face, closed her eyes and willed the divine power of the Lord of the Winds to restore some of the dragon-child’s health. She knew it couldn’t repair all of the terrible damage, but it was something.
A soft red glow spread out from Alana’s hands and engulfed Ruka. When it faded, some of the wounds had closed, but most of the festering puncture marks remained.
“Is…is she going to die?” Lloyd asked after a moment breaking the awkward silence. All eyes turned to look at the big warblade. He looked like he wanted to cry. He could bend iron bars in his bare hands and cleave through hoards of kobolds without breaking a sweat, but looking down at this injured young girl left him feeling totally weak and helpless.
Elvisda noticed the quiver in his friend’s voice and put an arm on his big shoulder. “Well if she does, she’ll revert to her natural form, and Donnie’s going to look pretty silly trying to cradle her like that.”
Donatello gave Elvisda a scathing look. “She’s not going to die!” he scolded. “There is not enough serpent venom in all of creation that could stop a heart as good and noble as hers!”
“Sorry Donnie,” Elvisda replied softly. “I was just trying to lighten the mood. Between Alana and Aksel here, I am sure she’ll make it just fine.”
The companions looked at Donatello with concern. They weren’t used to seeing this serious side of their usually fun-loving comrade. They were used to his devil-may-care attitude, his easy smile, quick wit and the even quicker flash of his rapier and short sword. But none of them was as surprised by this “new Donatello” than Alana.
The anger she had been harboring towards him for some time now finally melted as she began to realize what truly motivated him. He liked to pretend that he was the carefree rogue, but underneath it all beat the heart of a noble and true Knight of the Rose. Perhaps that is why Cormar (the Lord of the Winds) had fated her to fall in love with him. She was….in love with him she realized.

Just then the succubus came swooping down towards them. She buzzed overhead laughing like a witch. “Looks like your little dragon friend there is not going to make it!” she gloated.
“I’ve had just about enough of you!” Glorfindel cried. He threw a scorching red beam at the demon and caught her square in the chest. She screamed and began flying away.
“Oh no you don’t!” the wizard yelled. He cast as spell of flying on himself.
“Wait!” Elvisda cried. “I’m coming with you.”
“Then keep up!” Glo yelled quickly casting another spell of flying on the bard. Then he lifted up into the air and took off after the screaming demon. Elvisda was right behind him.
Twenty minutes later, they both returned, red faced and sweating. But they had triumphant looks on their faces.
“The succubus?” Aksel asked.
“The witch has been banished back to the dimension that had spawned her!” Elvisda announced proudly.
“Yes,” Glorfindle concurred, “she won’t be bothering us again. Now how is Ruka?”
“Aksel cast a spell of delay poison on her,” Elistra replied, “but she is still very weak. I’m not sure she is going to make it.”
Donatello and Alana were both still kneeling by the young girl’s side. Aksel stood a little ways off.
“Isn’t there anything else that can be done?” Elvisda said.
“There may be something I can do,” the seeress replied, “but it may not be without consequences.”
“Something karmic?” Glorfindel guessed.
“Yes,” Elistra replied, “exactly.”
“Something Karmic?” Elvisda said puzzled.
“Yes,” Glo explained. “Basically what it means is that your actions in this life can affect your future lives. So any good deeds you perform will beneficially effect you in the future while and bad deeds will come back to haunt you.”
“I know what it means, but what does that have to do with Ruka being poisoned?” the bard asked still perplexed.
“There’s really no time to explain,” the seeress replied. “I have to act now if it is to be done. I already may have waited too long.”
“Go,” Glorfindel said. “Do what you must. It is now up to them.”

Elistra walked over and knelt down besides Donatello, placing a gentle hand upon his shoulder.
“There may be a way to keep her alive while we come up with a cure for the venom. But it could be very dangerous… for you.”
Donatello looked over at her, his bravado returning. “I laugh in the face of danger!” he said.
Elistra smiled at him. “No one here doubts your courage…but this is no fool-hearty venture that your quick reflexes can save you from. It’s really dangerous and you should not undertake it lightly.”
“I promised her that I’d do whatever it takes to keep her alive,” Donatello said. “And I always keep my word….Well, mostly…Okay, sometimes. Usually. But this time I mean it! Whatever it is I’ll do it. Just tell me what I have to do.”
“I can link your fates… sort of a karmic channel where you can temporarily share life-force, bolstering each other, but also distributing pain and damage. And if she does die while you are linked, she’ll take a big chunk of your life-force with her.”
Alana placed her hand on Donatello’s other shoulder.
“I should do it; I have the fortitude to withstand it.”
Donatello shook his head no and reached up and caressed the side of Alana’s face with his hand. “What’s a few hundred years to an elf like me? And what would be the alternative? Let you do it and rob this world of your beauty? I have painted a million faces across many lands and never seen one as lovely as yours. Robbing the realms of a face such as yours would truly be crime against art and that’s one law even I won’t break!”
Alana blushed despite herself. “Donatello,” she whispered. “I still stand the better chance…”
Elistra shook her head slowly. “Perhaps, but in order for this to work, I have to overcome Ruka’s will. And the will of a Dragon, even poisoned and dying, is a tremendous thing. I only bring this up because I thought, perhaps, if it was Donatello, she wouldn’t resist…”
Alana glared at the seer, momentarily angry. But then her thoughts turned back to her own feelings for the young girl and she cooled down.
“No,” Donatello said quietly. “I will do it. I made the promise and I intend to keep it!”
The seeress and the lady knight looked at the swashbuckler with renewed respect.
Then he blew it and said, “Besides it also gives me the chance to find the answer to an ages old question that had plagued my gender since the beginning of time!”
“And what question would that be?” Elistra asked.
“What does go on inside a woman’s head!”

Knights of the Couch - Part VIII - In the Shadow of the Colossus - Section 7

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