Chapter 21 - Crimson Sunset

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After Lavinia's swearing-in as official mayor of Farshore, the preparation efforts for the coming Crimson Fleet invasion became an all out flurry of activity for the town. Everyone was kept busy reinforcing walls and towers. Using the ballista mounted on the Sea Wyvern as a reference, two more were constructed on either isthmus that defined the harbor. All those with spell casting skills devoted their efforts to "buffing" up the defenders. Liamae employed her potion brewing talents over the intervening weeks making Potions of Healing to distribute, and managed to get at least one in everyone's pocket.

"One? Only one?" Avner asked indignantly. "Is this how Lady Vanderboren plans to ensure our survival? This whole situation is ridiculous!"

"That's enough, Avner," Mathalay said sternly. "It is time to man up and do what is needed." Then he turned to Liamae to accept a potion with more dignity than his nephew. "Thank you."

Liamae inclined her head respectfully before directing a wry smile at Avner. "All one really needs is luck," she said before continuing on her distribution of the potions.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Avner frowned severely.

"Avner, it is time you let this go. Elections have consequences," Mathalay said in a tone that was lost on Avner. "The town has decided, and now it is time to do our part. Surely you have some skills that the town is in need of."

"Well, of course! My swordsmanship is unparalleled, however, I suppose I should probably assume operations of one the ballistae. After all, I'm the highest skilled here in that regard," Avner declared suddenly shifting his focus. "In fact, I'll just go make sure they set it properly," he said before leaving his uncle to do just that.

In anticipation of the Crimson Fleet's attack, Lavinia had employed several small, fast fishing boats to patrol the waters surrounding the southern islands. It was one of these scout boats that returned with the news of the approaching fleet approximately one week shy of two months after Viselys and company first arrived in Farshore.

"How many and how much time do we have before they are upon us?" Lavinia asked.

"Five ships. We made sure to get an accurate count. My best guess is a few hours before they enter the harbor," the scout replied.

"Thank you," she said, her tone dismissing the man. Then she turned to Viselys and the others. "It's time. You all know what is expected. We stand our ground and hold this town."

Several people nodded in grim acknowledgement, with some smiles of dark anticipation of the battle ahead, before everyone switched into action. With all the effort that had gone into preparing for this moment, it wasn't difficult to get the town's people moving. Those that were fighting took their posts, while those that were not bunkered down.

The Hellfish was quickly moved into the harbor to be anchored between the points of the two isthmuses armed each with a ballista. As planned the Crimson Fleet began to maneuver around the Hellfish. With the Stygian Shark and the Brine Harlot on either side of the Hellfish the ballistae mounted on either side of the Hellfish shot harpoons which were tethered by a chain securely fastened into bedrock, effectively anchoring the pirate ships. The ballistae posted on either isthmus likewise shot harpoons chained to bedrock. With the ships anchored and the added chains in the way, the remaining three pirate ships were completely blocked from entering the harbor. This did not, however, prevent the pirates from boarding landing crafts to row for shore.

"Alright, time to split up and prepare to receive those pirates headed for us in the rowboats," Viselys said.

"Right. Looks like something is coming off one of their ships besides the pirates," Saris pointed as four figures dropped off the trapped Stygian Shark. "I'll take the Jade Ravens," Saris said as he turned to them. "You ready?"

Tolin cut a glance to be sure that Lavinia was listening. "Of course. As the lady wishes, this town will be defended."

Zan shook his head at Tolin, but nodded at Saris. Kaskus rolled his eyes at Tolin, but also nodded at Saris.

Saris turned to Liamae who was smiling. "What about you?"

"Let's go test our luck," Liamae said with a look of anticipation in her eyes.

Saris returned the smile, drew his sword and lead the way to where they would take up post.

"OK, that leaves us with you," Lavinia said to Viselys indicating Damondback, Lefty and herself.

Viselys looked at her a moment uncertain. "I'm not sure I should be ordering you about. It doesn't seem right."

Just then fire began to streak the sky. Huge fireballs were hurled from the crow's nest of the trapped Stygian Shark, crashing into buildings and creating infernos.

"We don't have time for this," Lavinia said. "In matters of battle you are the authority as Marshal. I trust your tactical directions. Now, command."

Viselys nodded and began to do just that as he directed his group towards their waiting point for the coming assault. Screams rang out as the town's people began to fight to escape the blazing buildings and fight the fires.

The first two rowboats debarked their 3 pirates each just as four flesh golems emerged from the water, having walked across the harbor floor.

"Them must be the nasties Saris saw droppin' from that pirate ship," Lefty noted with a mixture of disgust and fear before the pirates were upon them.

The pirates were quickly engaged and would have been more easily managed had it not been for the golems, which did a great deal of damage. Kaskus cast a lightning bolt on the golems, which had the unfortunate effect of healing the creatures rather than causing them any harm. This forced him to assume medic duty as Saris and the other Jade Ravens rotated their lines in order to receive healing.

Lavinia struck three rapid successive blows to one of the pirates. She could thank a Potion of Haste for that, but it sure looked impressive. Her initial success was short lived as she, Lefty and Diamondback took a lot of damage from the golems' fists.

With their combined efforts the two groups were able to take down the first wave of pirates and two of the golems. However, with two golems remaining to pound the defenders as they struggled to stay healed enough to battle and more pirates on the way it was clear they would need more help. Fortunately their alliance with the Olmans had provided them with many Olman warriors.

As more pirates began to debark and spread into the town, the militia and Olmans fought with vigor. It was hard to say which was the more disturbing to watch, had anyone the time to observe the battle. The pirates where vicious and merciless, but with the Olman zombie master commanding Olman warriors long dead it was a gruesome sight. Apparently among the Olman tribe once you became a warrior, you were a warrior for life…and unlife.

Kaskus looking for another target for his lightening spell saw a figure in the crow's nest of the trapped Brine Harlot. Without hesitation he cast the spell upon the unknown figure. A distant roar was heard as the figure rose up on demonic wings to fly towards the source of the attack.

Just as the winged figure arrived to hover over the beach three demons appeared at the far end of the beach. Within moments another demon appeared, followed by another after a short delay. Three of them began to chant and dance while the other two were seemingly joined by the appearance of more demons. The dancing demons were joined by what appeared to be a chorus of more chanting, dancing demons as a huge fireball streaked overhead obliterating the Last Coconut. This caused Malfus and Saris to shout a few explicatives, though for different reasons.

Malfus directed his focus at the demonic winged creature hovering above causing it to fall from the sky as it was held in the grip of a spell preventing movement. Lavinia stared in shock as she recognized the figure as that of Vanthus, though he was not the boy nor even the man she remembered as her brother.

The fireballs continued to bombard the town. Mathalay having taken up a sword and positioned himself with Kabaja and the militia found himself nearest a building newly aflame. Mathalay quickly ran to pull a screaming child from the flames, however, he wasn't able to truly save the poor boy. Though Mathalay managed to escape the fire barely singed, the child was horribly burned. Before a healer could be called for the boy the original triad of demons finished their dance and went silent as a little flaming sphere in the center of their triangle that had been growing suddenly shrank to a point before exploding in a blast of magical energy. The blast killed the boy in Mathalay's arms, took out Lefty, Malfus, Tolin, Zan, Kaskus, and left everyone else severely wounded.

As Saris fought his way through the demons many began to disappear. "What the—?"

"It must be a mirror spell," Ornrik shouted. "Not all of them are real."

"Great!" Saris finally struck at one of the remaining real demons, and after dispatching it he took cover behind one of the rowboats that was anchored near by in the water.

"Are you hiding, Saris?" Viselys shouted noticing the uncharacteristic move.

"It's so I don't die!" Saris yelled back just as the boat was pelted with magic missiles by the other mirror spell casting demon. "I'm a walking kidney, here!"

Diamondback drew the attention of the spell casting demon allowing Saris to make for the beach where Lavinia met him with a healing potion, which Saris was badly in need of being little more than the walking kidney he claimed to be. Lavinia held his head up to administer the potion and smiled encouragingly as Saris' strength began to return. Then Saris watched in horror as Lavinia burst into flame above him. All the strength he had gained from the healing potion evaporating with the blaze, reducing him back to walking kidney status and staring at the charred remains of Lavinia.

A hideous enraged roar thundered across the beach as Vanthus watched his beloved sister fall. He turned all his fury upon the unlikely cause of Lavinia's death, and with the demons at his command, converged on Ornrik whose fire ball aimed at the demons had fallen short of its intended target. Ornrik cried out as he was torn to shreds. Viselys shaken, but still in command of himself, charged to strike at Vanthus.

Vanthus, however, struck back with tremendous force, wounding Viselys. Just then a shadowy, cloaked figure emerged from the billowing smoke caused by the burning buildings to strike at Vanthus saving Viselys by drawing Vanthus' attention. Vanthus turned to strike at the figure causing the figure's hood to fall back revealing his face. The already shaken and weakened Viselys was shocked to see that his rescuer was none other than Adameus!

"Well, don't just lay there! Get up and fight!" Adameus shouted as he held Vanthus off. This jarred Viselys from his shock enough for him to rise and rejoin the fray. Together Viselys and Adameus dispatched Vanthus.

Before any feelings of victory could set in a sudden wave of pirates began to debark and overrun the town. The surviving defenders fought on, but their spirits were flagging just as a pterodactyl flew over head. The jungle exploded with all manor of thunder-lizards gunning for anything with a hook or an eye-patch.

With the fall of Vanthus, and the dinosaur reinforcements taking care of the pirate infestation, the only threat remaining came from whoever was in the crow's nest of the Stygian Shark hurling the enlarged fireballs and the remaining archers aboard the same ship. Viselys quickly decided to take a dingy with Liamae and Mathalay to address this last major threat. Saris and Diamondback stayed behind to hold the shore should it prove necessary, though truthfully Saris was too weak to really be of much help any closer than his bow would afford him, and Diamondback stayed to watch his back.

As the Viselys led dingy group rowed towards the ship, the figure in the crow's nest flew out towards shore. As the creature had no wings, it could only be assumed that it was using a spell of some sort. Once the figure reached shore, a female with oddly shaped eyes reminiscent more of a snake than human, she was joined by two others that shimmered into place. Then for no reason that anyone could figure the women began to focus on attacking Diamondback, who rummaged through the charred Lavinia's pockets to retrieve a healing potion for Saris. Diamondback was able to pass off the potion before retreating to the church severely wounded.

While Viselys, Liamae and Mathalay took out the snake-men archers aboard the Stygian Shark, Ken-ji in the form of a pterodactyl made a few swipes at clipping the sorceress trio. Saris shot off a few arrows at the trio as well. Between Ken-ji and Saris one of them managed to hit the real sorceress, which resulted in the shimmery disappearance of her mirror images. With a definite target the guys were able to take out the snake-eyed sorceress effectively ending the battle.

With the pirates routed, Viselys and the others returned to shore. At one end of the beach lay the cleaved body of the demon that had been Vanthus Vanderboren. At the other lay the charred remains of his beloved sister, Lavinia. In between many bodies lay strewn about, including those of many allies.

Ken-Ji flew in low and took his natural form as he landed – he hit the ground running on with the grace of a cat. He used his momentum to take a visual scan of the battlefield and did not break stride as he passed Viselys and the others debarking their rowboat, “Collect up the bodies of our fallen comrades and bring them to the chapel. They are not lost, but we must move quickly.” He grabbed up Lefty, barely breaking stride, as he continued on to the chapel himself.

Everyone paused and looked at Viselys. Realizing their confusion, he said, “That was Ken-Ji. He’s a friend. I don’t know what he’s on about, but I trust him. Let’s do as he says.”

With that, they collected the bodies of Lavinia, Malfus, Ornrik, and the male members of the Jade Ravens. The chapel, the only stone building besides the Vanderboren and Meravanchi estates, and the only building to be spared severe damage from fireballs, served as the primary infirmary. Inside, many dead and wounded lay in pews, aisles and even some on the alter. Vesserin Catherly and his four acolytes rushed about performing triage. Telda Syren applied healing herbs while an Olman witchdoctor chanted.

“No raising our dead, understand?” Catherly said to the Olman in a tone that seemed to suggest it was a reminder and not a new thought. This was supported as the Olman nodded without ceasing in his chanting.

Ken-Ji turned to Viselys, though he made it clear that he was addressing all their allies, “I have a limited ability to …” he trailed off, clearly uncertain how to phrase what he was about to convey, “to recall the spirit of the recently departed and restore them to life.” He waited while everyone absorbed that rather heavy bit of news. “It's like priestly magic but, more an orchestration of the resonance of nature. In any event, the important point is that I can bring back your comrades … only in a different form.”

After a moment of consideration, Viselys cocked his head, “What exactly does that mean?”

Ken-Ji nodded and continued, “I cannot return the spirit to the body; it's dead and I cannot resurrect it. I can, however, summon a new body to house the spirit, in much the same way as I can summon allies of nature to do battle for us.” Everyone who was listening nodded their understanding. “I have no control over what that new form will be. Humanoid, to be certain, but they may be very different; any race, and no way to know which. I can do this once each day, and there is a limit to how long after death the spirit can be recalled, so… I'll have to start immediately to maximize the number I can save.”

Everyone was having a hard time digesting all of this, so when Adameus spoke up, the others were silent, “Ken-Ji, could I have a word with you in private?” Ken-Ji, who had no reason to find Admaeus' very presence, let alone his request, out of place, had no reservation about granting the request.

While those two moved off to carry on a private conversation, the others turned their attention to Viselys. He tried to field a deluge of questions, but had to assure them that he was as lost regarding Adameus as they were. However, he did take the opportunity to explain how he came to be associated with Ken-Ji. There was also some debate about the morality of making decisions of life and death, things as sweeping as bringing someone back to life in another form.

“I think it's rather fitting, leaving their form up to chance,” Liamae said with a smile after quite some time of discussion. "If I should die with Ken-ji around, by all means, let chance have me."

“But, what if one of the humans doesn't like being a gnome, for instance?” Viselys supposed, then added, “No offense, Urol.”

“None taken,” the gnome responded.

Saris shrugged, “No problem. We can make them dead again easy enough.”

“That would not be necessary,” Ken-Ji stated as he returned with Adameus, “If the spirit chooses not to return, the reincarnation will fail. In essence, you can be assured that we are not making any decisions without the input of those most directly effected.” He then turned his attention to those same subjects. “I'd like to begin with Lavinia. Help me bring her to the anteroom behind the alter?”

“Viselys, could I have a word with you now?” Adameus inquired, earnestly.

“Of course,” Viselys replied, perhaps a bit eagerly, and followed him out of the chapel, “I have no idea how you survived drowning in that grotto,” Viselys began, “Ornrik was so certain you were dead. I'd love to know how you managed it – survival and escape – but first I want to express how sorry I am that I did not believe you. I've had a … well, a very eye-opening experience. I know that everything you said was true you are my brother!”

By this time the two were outside the chapel with enough privacy that no one would overhear them, “I'm glad you know the truth, Viselys. Very gratified, indeed, but … I'm NOT your brother.” Viselys was confused, and didn't know how to respond. “Adameus was your brother, but I am not Adameus. Not really. Be patient with me and I will explain. This is a long story, and I have very little time.

“When you gave Adameus the teleportation bracelet, he used it to teleport to Lavinia as you planned. His first night with her, he was abducted in his sleep by Rowyn and replaced, unbeknownst to Lavinia and the Jade Ravens, with a doppelganger.” The individual who, for all the world appeared to be Adameus paused to give Viselys an opportunity to realize exactly what he was saying. “Yes. I am the result.”

Viselys, understanding that this being, by its own admission, was a doppelganger – an imposter – prepared to defend himself should an attack be forthcoming, but was bound by his personal code of honor to take no further action until such time as he was, indeed attacked. This allowed Adameus to continue, “When a doppelganger assumes the form of another, it’s not just the physical shape and the sound of the subjects voice being duplicated. It’s the memories and thoughts, too. It’s a telepathic process, you see? Well, sometimes, rarely, the subject is particularly … well, I’m not really sure if it happens for the same reason in all instances, but the outcome is the same … sometimes the result is that the doppelganger loses itself in the process of simulating the subject. It forgets that it was something else and believes itself to be the subject. It might even think the original is the duplicate. These new beings are called ‘fetches.’”

Viselys eyed him critically, “So that’s what you are? A … fetch?”

Adameus began to nod, but stopped, “Well, sort of. A true fetch would not recall being a doppelganger, mostly because it’s not an intentional occurrence. In this case, the mind I saw, the life and experiences, the love … I wanted them. I CHOSE to become Adameus. I took all of him into me – EVERY memory, every thought. Everything that made Adameus … well, Adameus, I took into myself.”

“So, you killed him,” Viselys stated with an inferred threat.

“No, no,” the replicant said in mild frustration, “The process does not damage the original. However, upon … um … becoming? … Adameus? … but still remembering that I was NOT the original, well, Adameus wasn’t the kind to work with Rowyn, to help her advance her plot against his allies and … brother. And he couldn’t NOT help a duplicate of … er, well, the original of … himself. I turned on Rowyn. I tried to free Adameus. I failed, and I was hurt really bad. I escaped and hid, and when I was healed enough to travel, I made my way to Farshore in the hopes of telling you what had happened and mounting a rescue attempt. By the time I’d arrived, though, Rowyn had implemented a new plan, and Adameus was dead. I arrived during the memorial service.”

Viselys could see the anguish in Adameus’ eyes and believed it to be genuine, “Then, why didn’t you come forward sooner? Say something?”

“I couldn’t. It would have been wrong. You’d already buried Adameus, figuratively speaking. What would have been the right way to step in and take over his life where he left off? Instead, I remained in the shadows, as you prepared for battle. I planned to help you defend the town and then, when you inevitably sent a ship back to Sasserine, I would stow away and return to Shadowshore.”

Viselys was now beginning to grasp that this was, in some strange way, an echo of his brother, “But, when Vanthus struck me, you chose to forgo your cover to save me.”

“Yes, though all I did was manage to piss him off,” Adameus noted, sheepishly; a mannerism so familiar to those who had known the real Adameus.

This made Viselys smile, “Well, it served the same purpose. By distracting him for just a moment, it left him vulnerable and I was able to finish him off. Oh, Adameus, I’m so glad to have you back, even if it’s not strictly you, per se.”

The face of Adameus drew a grim line, “Well, that’s the other, far more pressing reason I wanted to speak with you. The very same thing that made this doppelganger willing to forsake itself for the life it coveted … is also the reason I must give it up now.”

Viselys, who was just beginning to believe he understood this bizarre situation and was dealing with it, became confused gain, “What do you mean?”

“Love, Viselys, that’s what I mean. Adameus loved … I love … all of you, but am very much IN love with Lavinia.”

Viselys nodded sadly.

“Of course you know that Adameus would give anything, including his own life, to bring her back.” Although it wasn’t stated as a question, Viselys nodded his agreement. “Well, I feel the same way and … I’m in the unique position to do just that.”

Viselys did not understand the specifics of what was being proposed, but he understood enough to be alarmed, “That’s not necessary. Ken-Ji can bring her back. He can reincarnate her.”

“Yes, he could bring her back in some random form. He could restore her to life as an elf or a dwarf or an orc. In doing so, he would restore her spirit and memories, but not her LIFE. Think about it, how would the people of this town respond to their Mayor resurrected in some new form by magical means, especially if they’ve lost loved ones that could not be returned to them? She already has to deal with the backlash of being the reason this battle came to Farshore in the first place, not to mention that her brother turned out to be a demon. At best, she would lose her standing in Farshore. At worst, they would turn on her. Returning to Sasserine wouldn’t help much, either. How does she go back and reclaim her family holdings? Can anyone just walk into town and say, ‘Hello, I know I don’t look like her, but I’m really Lavinia Vanderboren?’”

Viselys couldn’t argue with that.

Adameus continued, “I’m not telling you all this so you can talk me out of it. It’s not your choice to make. I only tell you because … well, to me, you are my brother, and I wanted you to know. I wanted a chance to say goodbye – a chance your real brother never had.

“I’ve talked this through with Ken-Ji. He doesn’t know if it will work, but it should. I will take the form of Lavinia Vanderboren and he will recall her spirit, infusing it into this body. The thing to understand is that I gave up all but a dream-like memory of my true identity when I became Adameus. When this happens, I will certainly lose all memory of anything that’s gone before. The memories of Adameus will be overwritten, as well, replaced with those of Lavinia. If I am only a copy of Adameus, possessing his appearance and memories, but not his soul, then in every way that matters, the result of this event WILL BE Lavinia Vanderboren – body, mind and spirit. Well, true, the body will still be that of a doppelganger, but SHE WON’T KNOW THAT. Nobody will, that doesn’t do some sort of magical probing. That’s another reason you should know – so you can protect her. Of course Ken-Ji will know, too, but that’s it.”

There was much that Viselys wanted to say, but the replicant insisted that they had no time. Resolute, they bade each other a tearful goodbye.

“What should I tell the others?” Viselys asked, almost as an afterthought.

After some thought, Adameus said, “Tell them the truth – what I am and how I came to be here. Then tell them that I made the choice to intercede, but I also made the choice to leave. I couldn’t stay … because I wasn’t really Adameus. It is the truth.”

With that Adameus returned to chapel and disappeared into the anteroom where Ken-Ji waited.

Continue to Book 6 - The Lightless Depths...

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