105 Ancestor - Headed by a Snake
Lone looked back up the walls. Guild Invictus had climbed down 5 flights of stairs and had finally found the source of the incessant clanging and hammering. Hundreds of dwarves worked around forges, hammering away with orange-skinned, tree-trunk thick arms, their heads and necks lit in golden flame.
Maximus pointed his spear, to a sealed set of red double-doors, "I don't like the look of that."
As salty as Naedrielle had acted during the descent, she managed a chuckle, "You've never locked the doors before, why worry now?"
Maximus was left dumbfounded. It wasn't the first time. Dragan snorted and pat Maximus on the shoulder.
"What're these folks? Fire dwarves?" Tamaki asked. His eyes were filled with wonder and his brow was covered in sweat from the sweltering heat.
"Azers," Dragan explained. "Think of them like a cross between dwarves and golems with a single function. They'll work until they can't."
Maximus banged his spear against his shield, "Shall we reap their lives, brother Dragan? Surely it's a better end than being forced to do evil's bidding"
"If you waa~AAaant," Dragan sang, noncommittally, "But the azers are essentially slaves. It doesn't stop the slavemaster from acquiring more."
"Slavery? Impossible. A true fae wouldn't desecrate another living creature's freedom!!" Naedrielle growled, her long ears reddening.
Lone had just the tools for the job! He took out a hammer and a chisel, "How about we just free them? Break their chains?"
The elven girl knelt down to examine the black chains on the azer smiths' feet, "Sacred gods, there's so much blood?? How can they work in these conditions?!"
"Looks like... black twisted vines? Thorns like daggers and knives," Tamaki squatted down, reaching a hand out to touch.
Naedrielle caught the boy's fingers in her soft hand before he got too close, "House Flamebriar was known for growing iron-colored vines... When pricked by their thorns, it will burn like roiling flames."
She stood up, gritting her teeth, "I spoke too soon, leader. This can only be the work of the Flamebriar family."
Dragan rolled his eyes, "(Azer, who's in charge here?)"
The nearby azer blacksmith didn't take his eyes off his craft, "(Sod off, filth. I can smell your efreet-blood.)"
Dragan's face remained impassive, "(Mom's dead. I have her severed head displayed in a box. Who's in charge?)"
The blacksmith clanged his hammer a few more times... "(Flamebriar Monarch. If there's nothing else, I'm working.)"
Maximus grinned, "The Fire Language? That's a rare one."
"Had to confirm." Dragan walked off, "I really didn't want to be right."
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The Wind General opened her mouth to argue, but clenched her teeth and remained silent.
"Guys! I found somethin' over here!" Tamaki called out.
Guild Invictus gathered around a huge spell array on the wall, covered in orange-glowing magical script, several layers of lines rotating at different speeds.
Naedrielle levitated up to it, examining the carved runes, "I know these runes. Ancient elven characters. If you just give me--"
"Provides heat to the forges. Heat stabilizes the rift," Dragan spun his finger in a circle, signaling the elf to hurry up.
She floated down, crossing her arms, "It looks like someone's spent a pretty copper crushing earth crystals to make the mana ink, along with a few other reagents. We'll be able to track down the Duke's supplier once we leave this place."
Dragan turned to Maximus, "Winged iguana, wanna do the honors?"
"Shut up, dude." Maximus snorted and shook his head.
He slashed at the array with his circular shield, "Maximus!!" A rending line of lightning zapped the array, the glow blazing brilliantly before suddenly dimming.
The entire tower began to shudder, groaning as if angered.
"Move! MOVE MOVE MOVE!!" Dragan yelled.
Maximus spread his wings and flew ahead of Lone and Tamaki. Naedrielle crossed one leg over the other, chanting. Wisps of wind spirits swirled around Guild Invictus, speeding their movements.
The ground beneath Dragan burst in a gout of flame, enveloping the redheaded giant and ruining his hair. Even with the ground quaking and occasionally spitting super-heated fire, the azers continued to hammer and smelt their metalware.
The double doors burst open.
Dragan yelled to Naedrielle, "Hey, listen, we haven't been on the best of terms, but I really think we should run."
Naedrielle scoffed, "Leader I am the Wind General. I have the strongest defense out of anyone on the Council and I can literally fly. I'll delay the Ancestor and follow shortly."
Dragan was jogging in place, "I'm not gonna ask twice, y'know?"
"Go, Leader. Think of this as an apology for my earlier rudeness." Naedrielle drew her rapier and gave Dragan a wink, "I'm looking forward to traveling with Maximus again."
With a wave of her hand, Naedrielle pushed Dragan with a burst of air, forcing him to run towards the rest of the guild.
The creature emerged from the door, at first appearing like a man. It stood as tall as Maximus, towering over Naedrielle. On its face, it wore a ram's skull with what appeared to be red worms bulging from its eye sockets. Its body was covered in black vines, each tendril as thick as Naedrielle's fist and thorns grew at its corners like ridged spines on a beast's back. At the end of an elongated vine arm, it held a wicked curved blade made of sharpened bone that glowed crimson with magic.
It glided forward as if it hid no legs underneath its tendril robe.
Naedrielle called out, "Flamebriar Ancestor! I am Naedrielle, First Warrior of House Whisperwind!"
She flourished her rapier, "I request to take part in the ceremonial rite of the Sword Dance!"
Wind mana began to slowly rotate about her, kicking up dust and flame.
The Monarch raised its left arm, a dozen black vines extending forward, easily crossing over 20 yalms in an instant and wrapping around Naedrielle's mouth and neck. Without moving its main body, the vines withdrew, pulling the elf along with it.
The Monarch held the woman up with one arm, several fulms off of the ground. She had dropped her sword. She kicked. She tried to scream. Blood ran down her neck, chest, and arms, from the burning thorns embedded in her flesh.
The Monarch lifted its right hand, and the curved blade cut into Naedrielle's side. With a sudden jerk, it tore the weapon out, blood and entrails spilling onto the burning ground. It drops its blade and reached into her wound, tearing out her guts with gnarled roots that resembled fingers.