Bardass! Quest 22 – Coda

This one’s going to be relatively short and admittedly a bit rushed.  I’m not so good at large-scale.  Next chapter will be the last chapter of this arc, and has an ending I’ve been trying my best to get to for a good long while now.

FYI, the way WordPress decides to automatically format what I copy and paste into it has really gotten on my nerves as of late.  I’m almost tempted to actually do something about it.

Lastly, I pushed myself to type this up because I finally received a line art draft of a commission I requested way back in SacAnime Summer 2012.  I went to the artists alley with the intention of scouting out someone to take up a Bardass! commission, and Melissa Pagluica had, in my estimation, the best skills and style for the job.  What clinched it was when I handed over my notes and, rather than run away from the crazy person, she actually seemed somewhat eager to work on it.  Considering how much art she turns out and how often she attends conventions, I’m not even all that bothered that it took this long for some progress.  Especially considering I haven’t paid yet.  I was perfectly willing to pay in full that day in September, but I’m not exactly crying that I haven’t had to quite yet.

In case you’re wondering / haven’t figured it out, the commission was for a campfire scene with Brier, Coleen, and Avery.  I initially just wanted a sort of character design profile, but something that bland would be a waste of talent.  I just really, really, really love her style, y’know?

 Quest 22 – Coda

A mass of people waited inside the northern gates of Etrium.  The gate wouldn’t last much longer.  The Astorian army had been pounding it for the last two days with battering rams.  It was here that they would make their final stand.

Lunette: This is it… Hopefully they’ve been weakened enough from the attack.

Lunette begins singing Etrium Lied!

All allies affiliated with Etrium are at maximum morale!

With one final push, the Astorian army succeeded in breaking down Etrium’s northern gate, and a flood of iron and flesh poured through.

Kruseid: CHARGE!

* * *

Hayle: Commander?  The gate is lost.  We are outmanned.  The southern route has been secured for a retreat.
Lunette: I hope you didn’t say that to anyone else.
Hayle: No, ma’am.
Lunette: Because the last thing we need is a panic.  Listen up!  I want you all to hold your ground!  The gate is a choking point!  Focus fire there before  they spread out too far!
Hayle: Lunette…
Lunette: If nothing else, with this song they should be able to hold out long enough to raise morale.

The earth, the sea, the fire, the sky…

* * *

Svennia: Unbelievable… I’ve been pushing myself this hard just for a decoy… I SEE YOU!

Rieve Elan Assassin unstealthed!

Svennia: How many of you flies are there?!

Svennia used Stonebreaker Fist!
Rieve Elan Assassin collapsed!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Barrage!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Barrage!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Eagle Eye!
Svennia used Tough Skin!

Svennia: Boss, those Stormers are really annoying!  I can’t keep this up!
Doop: Our Mages and Rangers sadly don’t have the same mobility either.  They’re too fast.
Astorian Cavalry Stormer: That Harlian woman is their strongest vanguard!  Take her down, and they’ll crumble!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer: Aim for her legs!  She’ll be easy pickings if she can’t move!
Svennia: Damn, can’t use Tough Skin again for a while…

Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Pin Down!
Svennia evaded!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Pin Down!
Svennia evaded!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Pin Down!
Eagle Eye activates!
Svennia was pinned down!

Svennia: Agh!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer: Execute her!

Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Silencing Shot!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Rapid Fire!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer used Trick Shot!
Kendrick used Interceptor Shred!

Astorian Cavalry Stormer: What?
Kent: Can you move?
Svennia: Ke- er… No.  Give me a moment to get this arrow out of my leg and patch up.  If you can get me one of their horses, I can retreat.
Kent: Not a problem.

Kendrick used Dagger’s Flight!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer was downed!
Kendrick used Dagger’s Flight!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer was downed!

Astorian Cavalry Stormer: Ha!  Two daggers against three Stormers.  Lucky you can’t count.  Die!
Svennia: Catch!
Kent: About time!

Svennia tossed the arrow from her leg into Kent’s hands.

Kendrick used Dart!
Astorian Cavalry Stormer was downed!

Kent: Let’s get you on a horse.  Take your pick.  I’ll just pick my daggers.
Svennia: Heh.  So, you’re keeping them?
Kent: Of course.  What kind of Thief would I be if I just threw away my treasures?
Doop: I’ll clean up the rest of the forces here.  Help out the other troops and fight your way east.  Head back to Etrium.  I’ll catch up with you.

Svennia and Kent rode away from the fearsome vision of the Dark Lord slaughtering his would-be assassins.  During the ride, Svennia applied healing potions to her arrow wound.

* * *

Hayle: It’s no good.  Our defenses are thinning.
Lunette: You’re right.  Okay, listen up!  Etrium is lost.  I won’t blame any of you if you want to live.  But consider this!  Consider why you defended Etrium with as much strength as you have this day!  It’s because you knew even before today what the true face of those heroes was!  It’s because you aren’t just the place of your birth!  If you surrender yourselves to those Astorian maggots today, you will live, but at what cost?  If you stay and fight, you might die fighting for what you believe in, but it’s better to live and continue that fight when it really matters!  Even so, if you flee into Verdant, you may find death there as well.  So, I don’t blame you for what you choose to do now.  You can choose life and rot away, or you can fight and be free for fleeting moments, or you can venture into the unknown and leave your future up to chance like I am.  Whatever your choice, do it for yourself!
Hayle: Are you done?
Lunette: Yes.  Think you’ll make it?
Hayle: I can easily navigate Verdant’s traps.  It’s the snipers I’m worried about.
Lunette: Well… nice knowing you, kid.  If you make it alive, I’ll buy you a drink.
Hayle: I don’t drink.

* * *

Kent: Are you going to be okay?  Maybe we should’ve headed west toward the Sakarlands.  We can hire a Cleric to treat that properly.
Svennia: I’m a fast healer.  And the potions help numb the pain.
Kent: I see.
Svennia: Up ahead.  There’s a rider.  Friend or foe?
Kent: It’s solo and doesn’t look like a scout.  It’s probably one of our messengers.

Kent sped up to hail the allied messenger and hear his tale.

Messenger: How far away is Lord Balken?
Svennia: We’re about ten miles from the battlefield.
Kent: What are you in a hurry for?
Messenger: Etrium… Etrium has fallen.
Kent: What?!
Messenger: King Kruseid attacked from the north.  We held them off for as long as we could, but there were just too many of them.  The King’s personal forces are en route as we speak.  We won’t be safe until we rejoin the Lord.
Kent: What of the others?
Messenger: Most of the army stayed behind and set fire to Etrium.  Some are in pursuit of the survivors that escaped south toward Verdant, but…
Kent: Verdant Forest is a death trap.  And if they got word that the Astorian army is that far south, the Verdant army would have mobilized…
Messenger: Yes, they’re probably attacking anything that enters the forest, regardless of affiliation.
Kent: Right.  Back to Balken, then.  We can’t risk a head-on attack.
Svennia: Our horses are going to tire out before then.  I’ll have to use what potions I have left over on them.
Kent: That’ll work?
Svennia: Not as much as I’d like, but it’ll be a help.

* * *

Doop: That seems to be all of them.
(Ranger General) Fabian: I don’t detect any more hidden assassins.
(Assassin General) Braddock: They were from Rieve Elan.  Even your skills might not be able to pick them up if they were really trying to conceal themselves.
(Mage General) Sarisa: In that case, there’s only one way to be sure.  O, spirits of flame, light of the dead, stir to my voice!  Rise, and scatter this field of battle!  Ashen Haze!

Burning ashes rose from the ground and swirled about.  Ashen Haze is a spell that deals little direct damage, but quickly accumulates and hinders all foes in the area.

Fabian: I see one!

Fabian let loose his bowstring, and his arrow caught a hidden assassin in the back of the neck.

Fabian: Two more, on horseback!
Doop: Stay your hand.
Fabian: Hm?

The riders were Kent, Svennia, and the Messenger from Etrium.  They dismounted and reported the news from the fallen fortress.

Fabian: What do we do now?
Sarisa: Lord Balken, you should take this opportunity to destroy the Astorian army here and now with a Spell of Cataclysm!
Doop: No, I can’t…
Fabian: What?
Braddock: You saying you’re not fully recovered from whatever those Heroes did to you?
Doop: That’s not it.  I…
Svennia: He means to say that his Cataclysm magic has been sealed away.  Most likely a trade-off in order to survive the battle with the Seven Heroes.  How did that work again?  Did you form a contract with some kind of demon?
Doop: Uh… (What are you talking about?)
Svennia: (Saving your ass.)  Well?
Doop: I… fail to see why I should answer to you!  At any rate, even if I could cast it, Kruseid has a magic relic and an entire company of cavalry knights.  We should flee into the Sakarland borders and make our way to Wynn.
Fabian: The Sakarlands?
Sarisa: Will we be staying long?
Kent: We’ll worry about that later.  We weren’t that far ahead of Kruseid’s company, so let’s get riding!
Svennia: Whoops… I think my horse is about to kick the bucket.
Doop: We don’t have the time to sort this out.  Kill the weak ones and double up on the strongest horses.

* * *

Fabian: Looks like the burden’s a but too much.  If I’m not mistaken, those are Astorian banners just on the horizon behind us.
Doop: So they’ve caught up.  But we’ve very close to the Sakarlands borders.
Braddock: And then what?  Everyone knows how close Kruseid and Queen Meuri are.
Fabian: Oh no…
Sarisa: What is it?
Fabian: We’ve got company waiting ahead of us.  Right at the border.
Sarisa: Is it another Astorian ambush?
Fabian: No.  I don’t see armor shine.  This is definitely… the Sakar army.

* * *

Meuri the Immortal: There aren’t many.  Monks, spread out and construct a large scale Ward.  I’m going to have a chat with Balken.

Doop and the remnants of his advance army rode directly into the middle of the constructed Ward, from which there was no entry and no escape.  Meuri, dressed in no more than her royal regalia, approached the false Dark Lord.

Fabian: I’ve got a clean shot at her.
Sarisa: Save your arrows.
Doop: So, what brings you here?
Meuri: You’re in my domain.  I should ask you that.  But… it doesn’t matter.  You are being pursued by the Astorian army, are you not?
Doop: We are.  Do you plan to turn me over.
Meuri: That depends.  Fight me, Balken.
Doop: Fine by me!  Dark Blade!
Meuri: Aegis!

A shadowy sword appeared in Doop’s hand as he wrung his arm down to Meuri’s tiny frame.  The ethereal light shield, Aegis, repelled the blade and disappeared, its duty served.  Meuri gripped her scepter tightly and struck Doop in the side of his head, knocking him to the side.

Doop: Gh!  How is that possible from someone your size?
Meuri: By forming a barrier around my weapon, even a simple ritual scepter is as strong as a mace made of Astorian iron.
Doop: Not bad… but I’m prepared now!

Doop leapt into the air to deliver a powerful cleaving strike.  Meuri had plenty of time to defend against the attack, but she instead turned around, smashing a large earthen crystal that had been flung at her back.

Meuri: Thought you could fool me with that?
Doop: Yes!

The crystal served its purpose as a distraction as Doop put all his strength into his leap attack.  Meuri barely avoided being cleft in half, but her arm was severed in the process.

Doop: Ha!  Not so invincible, are you?

Meuri quickly regenerated her arm, which then grabbed hold of her former arm.

Doop: What in-?

Doop swung his blade multiple times, and Meuri avoided each of his attacks, repeatedly somehow getting that same arm of hers cut.  By the end of his flurry, Meuri had constructed a large whip consisting of nine former arms.  With one swing, Meuri wrapped Doop’s entire body with her whip.

Doop: This is… impossible!
Meuri: And now… Barrier Whip, scatter!

The parts of Meuri’s whip, now strengthened by her barriers, split and tore through Doop’s body, leaving him into just as many pieces.

Sarisa: L-Lord Balken!
Braddock: Ugh!  I don’t know which was more disgusting…
Sarisa: We’re doomed, now.  I can’t believe one Hero is strong enough to take on Balken like that….
Meuri: That was no Balken.  Just another impost-WHA?!

The pieces of Doop had merged together like many shadows overlapping, making a single black entity.  From that chaos emerged the form of the Dark Lord once more.

Doop: You were saying?
Sarisa: He… He really is immortal!
Meuri: You… you are impossible!  You’re… you’re not human!
Doop: What does that make you?
Meuri: Are you saying we’re the same?
Doop: No.  There are many strange things in this world… but I know this for sure.  You are not the same as me.
Meuri: . . .
Kruseid: Good work, my love!  I’ll take it from here!

Kruseid’s forces had by now arrived and stopped just outside the Ward.

Meuri: You have no authority in the Sakarlands.
Kruseid: What?!  But Balken is a criminal!  I’m only putting him to justice the way we should have done six years ago.  Without him, our lives would have… You wouldn’t…
Meuri: No.  I did this to myself.  And I am the eternal ruler of these plains.  I will be the one to deliver justice.  My justice, not yours.  Balken and his soldiers are now prisoners of Sakar.
Kruseid: Meuri… Why are you doing this to me?
Meuri: You brought this upon yourself.  Now depart these lands.  I think you have more pressing concerns to attend to in the east.
Kruseid: This is not the end of this matter.  Mark me.

Kruseid pulled on the reins of his steed and motioned for the rest of his company to return towards Etrium.

Doop: He left?
Meuri: But you won’t.  Infinite Cage!
Doop: Wha-?

With the exception of his head, Doop’s body was surrounded by a dim light.

Doop: What is this, a barrier?  I… can’t move!
Meuri: Infinite Cage is a Ward, not a Barrier.  It restricts people from passing through its borders, which is set directly on your skin.  But certain weapons and spells can pass through it easily.  It’s not really meant for defense.  Balken is my prisoner.  I trust the rest of you aren’t stupid enough to resist.  Even if you were at full strength, we have the superior numbers and a legion of Clerics on our side.  By now your constant battling and traveling has left you too weak to last even a minute.  I trust you will surrender yourselves peacefully.
Kent: Well?
Svennia: My leg is still bothering me.  I’d rather not take my chances.
Meuri: Don’t worry yourselves.  Balken is a special case, but you have broken no laws of Sakar.  The only reason I’m detaining you all is because I have questions to ask, and I have that right.  Once I’m through with you, with the exception of Balken, you are all free to leave.  But I do not imagine any of you would have much of a future if you were to leave my protection.
Fabian: We can’t return to Etrium.  There isn’t an Etrium to return to, after all.  But what’s stopping us from moving on to Rhea or Wynn?
Meuri: Do you think your army is the only one taking advantage of the Adventurers’ Guild network?
Fabian: That jerk’s gonna put a bounty on us?
Sarisa: Kruseid’s focused on Balken.  He didn’t even get a good look at us.  No way that’s happening.
Meuri: Of course not.  I’ll be the one placing the bounty on you.  Effective of course only outside the protection of the Sakarlands.
Sarisa: What?!
Svennia: Now, why would you go to that kind of trouble just for us?
Braddock: So, we’re prisoners after all.

Next time, on Bardass!  Doop is tortured in Sakar while Kruseid returns to Etrium, determined to hold the new territory against the Verdant army’s assault.  What will become of the remnants of the short-lived army of Balken, and what is the future of Etrium?  The act comes to a violent conclusion in Quest 23: Dark Phase.

One thought on “Bardass! Quest 22 – Coda”

  1. Hmm … so even Meuri and Kruseid’s relationship has tensed. I think this makes each of the Seven Heroes we’ve seen in the present day at odds in some manner with another Hero?

    Ms. Pagluica’s work is very good! I for one was not confused! I particularly like Brier’s expression of soulful/melancholy concentration.

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