303 Thornwood Keep part two
It was already pitch dark even though it was only mid-day, Nightmare stood out like a bonfire as she charged east past the town. Flash followed a few lengths behind the demon horse, with all three wolves running smoothly beside him.
A dozen spindly back creatures barely that looked like starving, skinless cats leaped at Nix, only to be dispatched by the flames that raged around rider and horse. Larger ones that were nearly the size of men kept pace alongside them. They ran on all fours with an unnaturally bent gait, their hands and feet were elongated and equipped with curved black talons.
A handful of the creatures were caught up in Pon's fire twisters. Their screams echoing in the night air as the steady drum of horse hooves pulled away.
/Inferno: Pon: Some of those Talon things headed toward town.
"Ronnie, take Bali, and make a run through town; clean it out.
"On it, Nix! We'll catch up after." Wolf-Ronnie veered off toward the town with Bali hot on her heels.
The ground twenty meters in front of Nix exploded upward in a spray of stones and dirt. Two large figures in black armor charge them.
Nix raised one hand and a half dozen strands of emerald flame wrapped around each of them. Nightmare flashed through them, and Nix braced himself in the saddle as both dark knights were yanked off their feet.
Nix grimaced in pain and glanced over his shoulder, the armored figures were bouncing and banging against the ground and each other as Nightmare dragged them at full speed.
Pon's Balefire incinerated the legs of one of them, the old mage's aim was slightly off because of his laughing.
/Inferno: Pon: Dammit Nix! Hold them still; you're doing that on purpose.
[Tides of Flames]
Nix placed the flames ahead of them and then dragged both figures through the AE before dropping the strands, while Nansu veered suddenly to avoid it.
The alchemist accelerated ahead of Nightmare. "This way, Nix!"
Nansu headed down a ravine that ended in a dry river bed, she turned and ran along the sandy surface. "I can smell the Agaricus."
"Here!" Nansu turned suddenly at a deadfall that stretched across the riverbed, she ran up the side of it and disappeared into the dead undergrowth. Nix was forced to run another 20 meters to find a path; the sound of growling caused him to pulled up and dismount.
The creature screamed when the Dire Wolf's jaws clamped around its leg. Nansu shook her head from side to side while pulling back to keep it off balance, an instant later it collapsed in a flash of white as Nix removed its head.
The entrance to the cave was no more than a hole in the ground; Nix leaped through, followed by Pon and Nansu. They slid down a steep incline, directly into a fight.
The cavern was shaped like a cloverleaf, it was quite small, only about thirty meters across. There were several burning torches on the rock floor. The gathering team was backed up into one of the alcoves, Tintin stood in front of them, wielding a long knife that resembled a machete.
"Stealth and protect the gatherers Nan."
Nansu didn't answer; her wolf form faded into nothing, and padded silently around the edge of the cavern.
Two more of the dark knights were trying to get past Tintin, while a third figure cloaked in darkness watched. Nix felt instant admiration for her; she was standing her ground.
"Enough." Nix raised both hands, and a half dozen strands of Gemini flame impaled the chest of the two knights.
Air exploded outward from all twelve strands blowing their torsos apart from the inside. Tintin jumped back when blood sprayed at her, bits of flesh and bone went in all directions.
Tintin's bloody face showed her shock. "Steward Nix?"
A Dire Wolf dropped stealth right in front of her before she could attack it spoke. "Be at ease, Tintin; move back with your team." Nansu turned to face the creature who was staring at Nix.
"Steward?" A voice hissed from its dark hood, except for the glowing blue eyes, its features couldn't be seen.
Nix raised a hand and sent a dozen Gemini Strands at it, the deflected off an invisible barrier, and fell to the cavern floor.
/Inferno: Pon: Magic-user, careful.
Nix laugh carried through the cave. "Right."
Fifteen feet of bear appeared in the cave, its big nose sniffing the air.
"Mushrooms? Can I have some?" Morti's hackles raised up when he saw the creature.
[Balefire: Fury Flames]
White-hot flames slammed into the barrier a moment before the charging Titan cub reach it. The barrier turned cloudy and shuddered under the heat; an instant later, it was shattered when a big paw slammed into it.
The dark figure was sent skidding across the floor and slammed into the rock wall on the far side of the cavern. Unexpectedly it recovered immediately and jumped to its feet.
Black vines covered in long thorns pushed upward out of the rock floor, they wrapped out the legs of everyone and started to multiply rapidly.
Morti pulled free quickly and charged through the brambles at the creature.
[Tides of Flame]
Nix laid down his AE attack away from the gatherers. He could see Tintin slashing at the vines with her machete.
A molten ball of flame emerged from Pon's hands, it darted towards the target, expanding and spinning.
The cloaked figure appeared ten meters away, the Fireball impacted the wall harmlessly, while Morti put on the brakes and skidded to a stop.
Duck appeared a moment later, her all-blue eyes staring at the dark creature. Instead of using charm or bewitch, her hands started weaving a complicated pattern, chains made from blue liquid wrapped around her target. It screamed in anger and tried to break free.
Ducky's expression grew serious. "Stun, please, Morti."
Morti's front paws came down hard on the rock floor, shaking everyone who was standing.
A Nighthag's puppet has been stunned.
"Oh shit." Nix pushed flames into Wrath and advanced slowly.
Ducky's hands finished their elaborate movements, and the blue chains settled around the puppet. "I have it now, Nix."
"Who are you?" Nix walked toward the puppet, not stopping until he could see its face. "Bastard..."
"It's not a person Nix, only a puppet. I can stop the puppet master from releasing it, but not for very long." Ducky walked closer, her pretty nose wrinkling in distaste. "This was made from a real person Nix."
Nix nodded. "I know."
A moment later, two more Dire Wolves skidded down the entrance into the cavern. They padded toward Nix, stopping on either side of him.
"We missed the fight?" Ronnie sniffed the air, "that thing smells like rot."
Nix patted Ronnie's furry head. "Escort the Gatherers back."
"I'm no longer holding it against its will Nix; it can drop the puppet anytime."
"Nix? Is that the name of the Steward? I rule here, fool." The hissing voice was cold and creepy.
Nix shrugged. "Let's debate that. Where are you?"
A rasping laugh filled the cavern. "Thornwood Keep awaits you if you dare."
[New Guild Quest Available: The Nighthag of Thornwood Keep]
The creature collapsed to the ground like it was boneless.
Nix raised a hand. "No one approach. Pon, take everyone back immediately. Morti and Ducky can stay with me."
The old mage nodded his head. "You got it, boss."
/Inferno: Pon: If that thing has human puppets, doesn't that mean it killed hundreds of them?
/Inferno: Nix: Maybe more. We'll sort this out when I get back.
Nix waited until the group left, and then he examined the puppet. It appeared just like a human who might be sleeping, although it had no body heat and barely weighed anything.
Ducky moved closer. "It makes puppets like you, Nix?"
Nix shook his head. "Putting aside that this is a human puppet. It's better than mine."
Ducky patted his head gently as he'd done to her countless times. "Yours are better, Nix."
Nix couldn't help but smile, even in the bitter circumstances. "That's not what's bothering me."
Ducky let Nix pull her away from the puppet; a moment later, he bathed it in fury flames.
Ducky gave him a questioning look. "Shouldn't you have kept it for study, Nix?"
"No. We can't let any of these survive." Nix suppressed a chill when he remembered the man's face. It was a face he'd seen before, three times in fact. It was a middle-aged version of the Tram siblings; without a doubt, he knew the fate of anyone killed during the Thorned Wood Curse.
Ducky bounced over to Morti and climbed on his back.
Morti waddled over to him. "You want a ride too, Nix?"
Nix shook his head, his thoughts troubled. That would definitely be the Tram's father. How many other dead people had been made into puppets? "I'll walk, Morti."
/Inferno: Ronnie: The town is fine, Nix, no casualties.
/Inferno: Nix: Thanks, Ronnie.