And now, at long last, the conclusion to “But Who Would Be Dumb Enough to Try it?” It’s been a great ride, and we thank our readers for joining us on this quest to save Celis from the powers of darkness.
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The Crystal of Darkness shattered in a rain of glittering fragments. The aura of red blinked out, a torch doused in the rain.
Landgrave Cristoph cried out in pure rage.
A flood of dark streaks streamed from the crystal’s fragments, whistling as they soared over head. They found every crack and crevice in the wall, pressed through the window, and fled into the gloomy sky. One flew so near me I could see a blurred face—ghostly, horrid, yet graced with an expression of sublime relief.
Doomed souls set free.
Warmth raced across the room, melting the frost—and cracking walls. The stone behind Tekla and I crumbled away, letting in the gloom of the sky beyond. It was dark. But only for a moment.
Light sundered the gray, shredding it, burning it as leaves flare in the campfire. It flooded the room—such warmth and such… love? Tears filled my eyes again as the light embraced me. Tears of joy.
Tell no one Barzillai Broadhead cried twice in the space of mere moments. Reputations and all.
The screams from the landgrave and Initius were ungodly. The light solidified them, turning them marble white and riven with cracks. They’d become as much stone as the room about us.
The light devoured the corpses of the beasts. Their dust scattered and swirled in the air.
It enveloped Raibert. The crumbs were swept up in the waves that burst through the tower walls in three directions, sending stones thundering far to the ground below.
I knelt there in a room suffused with the bright of day, streaming in through four ragged openings facing the points of the compass. The sky was blue, and birdsong greeted my ears.
Tekla gasped. Something clattered.
The arrow lay on the floor beside her, soaked dark with blood. Her wound? Gone. Merely a pink scar on pale flesh.
A moan. Abelard rubbed his head, and braced himself against his wall—or what was left of it. His armor was in ruins but he lived, bless him!
Raibert knelt with me. It was profoundly odd seeing that smirk, that pointed nose, those whiskers all free of their shroud. And his eyes were a keen hazel. I never noticed.
His smirk faded. “So much for gold.”
I laughed. It felt good to laugh. “Raibert, old friend, I don’t think it matters.”
Abelard stood over us. His smile was broad and bright as the sun. “Praise to the Lord Most High. Raibert, you have done an honorable thing.”
Raibert snorted. “Tell that to our fine frozen hosts.”
Abelard rapped his knuckles on Initius’s forehead. The face was contorted with rage, but utterly immobile. “Stone.”
The floor rumbled and rippled like water. Up rose a statuesque figure, a man of stone, as much a part of the tower as the blocks upon which we rested. His body could have been carved from whale’s ivory. He looked strong, young and bold.
Raibert blinked. “Golem, you’ve, ah, improved yourself.”
The golem’s laugh shook us. “You may call me Bulwark. You see me now in my true form, as I was created—guardian and jailer of this place. I can grant you safe passage in this moment of peace, yet one task remains. Abelard St. Boniface, she awaits you.”
“My… sister?” Abelard approached the golem. “I knew it—she lives. My prayers have been answered.”
“Come. We dare not dally. She is in the dungeon. Your friends may escape out the wall, to the courtyard. I will unseal the gate for you.” Even as he said it, I heard the creak of wood and the rattle of chains as the gate rumbled open.
Raibert wasted no time. He’d tied the silk rope to the nearest crag of stone. “Well, let’s get a move, then.”
“Wait, golem—can’t you come with us?” I helped Tekla to her feet.
He shook his head, ponderous and sad. “No. I cannot pass beyond the walls. And I have a final duty. I must destroy this place forever.”
“Oh.” Right then.
I got Tekla to the rope.
The tremors started as I took the golem Bulwark’s hand.
Lord Most High, let me not fail in this final hour.
We descended through black and gray into a dank, fetid dungeon lit by a lone torch. I let the light extend a tendril so I could pull iron bars apart. She was the only one there—save for skeletons.
I, Abelard St. Boniface, priest-mage of the Church Itinerant, knelt before my sister. My heart stuck in my throat. “Corinna?” I dared not say more lest this be revealed as a final deception of the enemy.
Her hair was long and brown, bedraggled by countless months of filth. The skin, smooth and porcelain as I always remembered. When I spoke her name, she looked up. Bruising marred one cheek and her eyes were sunken from exhaustion. But they were the same bright green I loved.
“Abelard… is it you?”
It was the gypsy’s voice. I knew it.
She wrapped her arms around me, ignoring the armor. Sobs wracked her body, and my tears dripped to the floor. Thank you, Most High. What was lost is found.
The next round of quakes near knocked us over. Dust rained from the ceiling.
“Hold on. The light demands vengeance. We must pass from here.” Bulwark put his hands upon our shoulders. His grasp was exceeding heavy, yet full of heat.
Darkness embraced us and we hurtled through nothing.
We made it down the side of the tower in no time. Raibert, the man with moves like a cat, got there first. He was gentlemanly enough to help me lower Tekla, but by this time she’d fully recovered from her wound. The first thing she did was check for her knives.
I handed over the one I’d borrowed. “It’s so strange seeing it glint like that, in the light.”
“All things look better free of the gloom.” She sheathed the weapon.
“Even me?” I grinned. The ground rumbled beneath us, but I didn’t want to break the spell.
Tekla smiled. “Even. I suppose.”
“I suppose so.”
“You didn’t leave me.”
“I’d thought it all a dream.”
Raibert rolled his eyes. “Barzillai, kiss the woman and be done with it before this place falls on our heads!” With that he sprinted for the gate.
He is a wise man. I kissed her.
She put her arms around my neck. A large chunk of stone landed at my heels—that is what it sounded like, at least. I paid it no mind.
Confound that man.
Raibert waved frantically from the gate. Luther, the strange lad, stood with him. The golem appeared through the wall of the tower, Abelard carrying a young woman dressed in rags. His sister?
“Hurry! It’s breaking!” Luther yelled.
I looked again as soon as we were clear of the gate, just in time to see the tower crumble. Stone shattered upon stone, piling into heaps. Dust rose in clouds. It billowed and rose, until we could see nothing. Grit assailed my eyes. A strong wind rose from the west. Dirt swirled about so hard Raibert donned his hood once more.
Tekla cried out, but not in pain. I blinked away the dirt.
The wind had scoured a huge swath of land clear of all rubble. There was not a stone left atop another where the Fortress of Gloom once cast its shadow. The sun shone all around us. It was most beautiful.
“Well…” Raibert shrugged.
“Yes. Ahem. About the gold…” I scratched the back of my neck.
“I don’t think it a problem, Barzillai.” Abelard held tight to his sister. “There was much more precious gained in this venture than earthly treasure.
Tekla gave me a playful punch on the shoulder. “Much more precious, right?”
“Of course.” I grinned. “But I hate to leave us all empty handed, in the fiscal sense.”
Luther tugged at my shirt. “You did a good job. The monsters have fled. They won’t scare the animals anymore.”
“That’s nice. You’re a strange lad. Have you no kin?”
“I come from Brookstone, by the sea. But I’ve been lost a long while.”
“Well, perhaps we can change that. Doubtless your parents are worried sick. It’s a long trek to the northeast. What say you, Tekla?”
She smiled. I could get used to that. “I’m game for a more leisurely journey. With perhaps a stop at the Rancid Boar en route.”
“It might well be a fine place for my sister to seek rest, before I return to the cathedral.” He nodded. “And we owe this boy a great deal of our victory.”
He lit his pipe. “Perhaps.”
“Good enough.” I patted Luther on the head. “There you are, lad. Barzillai Broadhead and his famed band of adventurers will gladly see you home.”
His face brightened. “You’re so kind! My mother always said to share with those who share with you. Here.” He dug something from his pocket. Seven old, worn coins of an odd shaped—hexagonal. They were thick and silvery.
My heart accelerated.
“Fourteenth Ek’reg Dynasty.” Raibert took one and bit it. “Real. You never see real anymore.”
“How old are they?” Tekla asked.
“At least three thousand years.”
“I don’t need them all. They’re kind of heavy. My parents have some more.”
Wagon wheels turned fast in my head. A coin of this value was—well, valuable. Very.
“I think it best,” I said slowly, “We stop somewhere else before the Rancid Boar. Say at the home of a certain scribe I owe—a scribe who is also very fond of antiquities. Did I mention he’s rich?”