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Chapter 27 -- Pale Flower of Darkness
The clean snow falls silently beneath a pale sky, within stone walls. Peaceful. Serene. A lie. "You! Woman! You have beautiful skin. If I sliced you into lovely red ribbons with this, would the pieces be as soft and delicate as silk?" Lyn's face is still ashen, and she's hardly the only one. Even those bolder than her or I are unnerved; perhaps at the stark madness in Jerme's words; certainly at the sheer callousness of that...woman, Sonia. The ruler of Bern, King Desmond, would have his own son murdered, for no better reason than jealousy. Sonia is not only willing to accept this despicable contract, but sent her own daughter to carry out the assassination—a girl younger than Zephiel himself! The Black Fang has indeed changed, if men like Uhai could once find it a home. The truth: this grim fortress is now a home to madness and corruption far more terrifying than any dragon.
Our small group huddles together for protection from the biting wind as we investigate the locked buildings within this complex—myself, Hector, Lyn, Pent, Louise, Guy, and Matthew. Farina and Bartre have set off west to circle the perimeter. Pent and Louise, older and more experienced than the rest of us, fear no crazed assassin, and Pent promptly blows a door to splinters. Unfortunately, the magic barrier trapping us here is too strong for similar treatment. As three axemen charge, two are Blown Across the Room by massive lightning bolts, the third falling with two of Louise's arrows in his gut. Guy blocks a narrow corridor from wyvern riders, though even his silver sword cannot slay these mighty cousins of dragons. The rest of us burst through behind him and spread out for a pitched battle in the now-pouring sleet. In the end, Jerme's men cannot stand against our united front, and we separate to search for Jerme himself. Bartre & Farina: The two of them volunteered to go by themselves, Farina seeking to prove herself after yesterday's battle, Bartre no doubt confident in his new skills—Louise actually complimented his archery, after which I gave him a Sacaen bow to try. With the help of Farina's axereaver, the guards on the northwestern vault are dispatched and Bartre opens the door. Inside are several archers, and Farina flees east while Bartre covers her escape. While he proves himself a better shot than any of them, the warrior is poisoned and forced to down an elixir before approaching wyverns can struggle their way through the blizzard. Meanwhile, Farina takes a grievous wound from an arrow, but manages to critical its owner and opens a now-unguarded chest, eyes sparkling with delight at the prospect of more money. Lyn & Matthew: Lyn seems comforted by the sight of her Mani Katti, shining as if new-forged after Pent magically repaired it. With bow and sword, she takes on pegasi and knights to the south, Matthew scurrying ahead of her. He dodges two knights with ease, but while picking the lock on the southernmost building, is slammed over the head with an axereaver. Lyn pulls the dazed thief to his feet and keeps him close while she finishes the knights within, but in his confused state Matthew is unable to open a final chest. Pent, Louise, Guy: Pent unlocks another door in the center courtyard and the trio set up an ambush. As a block of cavaliers and nomads charge at Guy, Pent from behind and Louise from within the room rain death upon them. His way clear, Guy walks to the northern room as Pent electrocutes a cavalier attempting to backstab him. Louise opens two chests, then, as she rejoins Lord Pent, spies an enemy with his back to her through a window in the southeastern room. It's a long and difficult shot, but she takes it, and he falls with a satisfying clatter. Guy, meanwhile, has found Jerme. He coolly dispatches the lunatic's guards, never taking his eyes off the cackling assassin. Evading a blast of magic from the Light Brand Jerme wields, he closes to duelling range...and with a mighty blow, the young champion rams his blade through Jerme's attempted block with such force it shatters. Jerme sinks to the ground, a fragment of Guy's killing edge embedded in his eye. Seems somebody doesn't like Sacaen women being threatened with attempted flaying. Hector & Montago: Weighed down by heavy armor, Hector trudges through the snow with me to open the southeast door. He heaves a deep sigh when the contents of the room are revealed: two mercenaries and a "Hero", as I have ironically dubbed the tougher, flashier mercs. They cannot break his armor, but he in turn cannot match their agility. One of his problems is solved when the Hero slowly tips over, an arrow sticking out of the back of his head. Behind me, the blizzard's howl quiets for a moment, and a windblown figure appears, bearing a lightweight sword similar to Lyn's Mani Katti. "...Here we are. Mm...A good wind. Appropriate to the feast about to begin." The other two mercs, running into the snow to fight Hector (and escape the unknown sniper) are challenged by the new arrival, and fall in the span of three heartbeats. "...Who are you?" "Karel." "Karel, what are you doing in this place?" "The Black Fang is gathering recruits. I want to hone my blade on them." "What? Do you have...a reason?" "My sword is my life. My sword is my reason." "You..." "What?" "You are unpolished...but powerful. Very well. I will join you." "You're going to lend us your blade? That's a nice gesture and all, but...why?" "You will someday be a famed general. It would be a waste for that power to be lost here. I must have you...stronger. I will wait for that time with much anticipation." I am still not sure if he was addressing me or Hector. I suppose Hector might learn some strategy from these battles if we survive. "..." "Shall we continue? The feast awaits..." The stranger's final words eerily parallel the assassin's. Yet somehow...this man does not frighten me. There is madness lurking within his eyes, but I sense a strange inner calmness that Jerme lacked.
13 turns. I feel like if I'd done something slightly differently I could have had Karel kill Hector's opponents for me a turn or two earlier without risking him being un-recruited. Oh well. And yes, Guy's original killing edge has indeed lasted this long before breaking. Now, just in time, he has a Wo Dao! The criticals will never stop!!!!! Muahahahahahahaha!!!!! MVP: The Battle Couple; Louise for shooting lots of stuff, opening chests, and getting a rather unexpected and helpful critical with the longbow; Pent for being a team player— opening doors and healing people—plus getting like four unnecessary criticals of his own. Oh, and Louise got an amazing level up. Guess Afa's Drops do make a difference.
Am I a bad person for finding the image of Guy slamming his sword into Jermes face so hard that it broke both hilarious and awesome? I've never actually broke a weapon on a boss in this run yet, but this gave me an idea in case something like that did happen.
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