Sisters of Steel (Megan Smith Story)

The silver armored figure looked around and what she saw was certainly not good. She wished some of her old adventuring companions were with her. Little Dragon would be especially helpful. All she had was her steed as an ally. There were twelve bandits surrounding her, all heavily armed.

She had fought in many battles, some with much worse odds than she faced right now. The Sword Mistress Megan Smith had fought Vampires, had participated in a raid to Atlantis to rescue captives, and even had gone to Africa to fight against the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. She was a psi-knight, a cyber-knight who had elected not to have the cyber armor implanted. The silver armor she wore had been a gift from Thoth himself and a powerful rune blade was held in an extended grip. Wind Spirit, a rune blade with psychic and air elemental magic abilities, had been carried by her on many adventures. Still the true pain in her heart was not from the battle but a broken heart. Love lost. She had come out here to escape that loss.

The Knight scanned the opponents surrounding her. They had stepped out from the ruined buildings of the village as she had entered. It was an ambush. No words had been said. None were needed. Most of them were the usual scum which you see almost everywhere. Some might have been mercenaries at one time but all had turned to banditry. Two appeared to be two large to be humans. Probably half ogres because they were a bit on the small side for full blooded ogres. Still, she had fought opponents like these many times and could probably take them.

The problem was that two of her opponents stuck out to her as being especially dangerous. One of the bandits, a large male almost seven feet tall and extremely broad shouldered. He was dressed in armor that appeared to be made from some kind of bone and was topped by a demonic looking skull mask. Megan had heard that Mystic Knights often dressed in armor like that. While Megan had never encountered a Mystic Knight personally, she had heard tales about them from other members of her knighthood which indicated that these evil knights could be extremely formidable. Many of her knighthood had also met their end at the hands of Mystic Knight. From his movement, he was extremely skilled and she suspected that his sword was enchanted as well. Still, if it was just him she thought she could take him.

The second opponent which caught her attention was a serious concern as well. The figure was a tall raven haired female with dusky skin. She wore little more than a bikini and there were clearly tattoos all over the woman's body. Megan had seen such tattoos before. The Mystic Knight appeared to have allied himself with a tattoo warrior from Atlantis. Megan had fought tattooed warriors from Atlantis in the past and knew at least a little of what to expect from this opponent. A long sword simply appeared in the woman's hand when she pressed her hand against a tattoo of a sword on her left shoulder. The woman's movements seemed to indicate that she was not as experienced as the Mystic Knight but she was still appeared to be far from a green warrior. Megan could see no way she could fight both of these dangerous warriors while also being fired at by the other bandits.

Megan's only hope was to try and take down the Mystic Knight quickly. Even if Megan went down, she planned to make their victory as costly as possible. Otherwise her opponents would surround her and she would be overwhelmed. She did not really want to die but few knights of her order ever died of old age. The silver clad knight made a leaping strike with her sword and brought it down against the dark clad knight. Megan had been told by another who had faced them that Mystic Knights were immune to energy weapons somehow but that would not protect him from her sword.

Unfortunately, just as she attacked the other bandits opened fire with a variety of energy rifles. Megan was able to parry most of the shots against her silver shield which the beams bounced off the indestructible surface. Still, Megan could not parry all the shots against her and several still got through. The enchanted force field around her armor stopped them and would hold for a while but not forever.

The knight clad in bone armor parried incredibly fast. Sparks flew as his sword met hers. Megan could tell by his movement that he was an incredibly skilled opponent, even better that she first thought. She had rarely encountered opponents as skilled as she was. She hoped she was a little bit better but not by any real margin. His own sword rang out and she parried it with her own rune blade.

The sound of steel striking steel rang out. The sound was extremely close. A figure clad in simple leathers looked towards the sound of mortal combat. Dressed in little more than a leather loin cloth and halter, the blond woman was tanned from endless time under the sun. A wolf skin cloak was wrapped around her with the hood still containing the skull of the wolf, making her extremely fierce. A gentle breeze stirred her dark blond hair. While getting towards autumn, the weather bothered her little. The enchantments from her tattoos had made her something more than human and the weather was a minor annoyance generally. Her tattoos were concealed. Unlike most tattoo warriors, she preferred to hide hers under body makeup. Her name was Tarna Wolves-Daughter, a tattoo warrior who had escaped from Atlantis. For the last few days, Tarna had been following a trail, bandits from the way that they had decimated several small villages which they had gone through. Maybe it was her own foolishness but Tarna simply could not allow something like this to continue without her trying to stop it.

Tarna's only companion was a Werewolf who dressed like an oriental monk. Romulas had been Tarna's lover for several years now, the only male who she could stand in close proximity. Like her, he was a being of few words. On his back he carried a pair of samurai swords which he drew with the sound of battle. Few were as skilled as he was in martial arts but the pair of then knew that they were tracking at least a dozen opponents. That would be a tough fight for just the two of them seemed to be inevitable.

The sound of steel clashing sounded again. This was followed by the sizzle that most energy weapons make as they pass through the air. Her own battle axe clearing its scabbard on her back, Tarna prepared to charge her opponents although the warrior woman took a moment to activate a tattoo of invulnerability. The area was forested rolling hills and Tarna charged up to the top of the next hill as fast as she could. Hopefully she could be there in time to rescue whoever the bandits were attacking. She was tired of finding decimated villages.

On the top of the hill, she saw a single silver clad figure and a large steed clashing against a large group of bandits. The fight was in the ruins of a village, probably destroyed by the bandits. The embattled fighter down below seemed to be doing magnificently but it would only be a matter of time before she was taken down. One opponent was in some sort of dark bone like armor while another, a raven haired woman with extremely dusky skin, appeared to have tattoos all over her body. A minion of Atlantis just like they had tried to make Tarna. The blond haired tattoo warrior knew who her opponent would be. She yelled to Romulas, "Take the other bandits, I will take the tattooed woman."

Her companion was a Tarna grabbed her axe more tightly and thought the thoughts of teleport. It was a powerful rune weapon which she had stolen when she had escaped from Atlantis. Grey Dawn, as the axe was called was also powerful psychically but its other powers were the magic of teleportation and similar magics. She wondered how a "good" rune weapon ended up in a shop in Atlantis. Together, Tarna and Romulas appeared in the center of the battle. It was as if no time had passed.

This gave Tarna virtually complete surprise again her chosen opponent. Tarna's axe went down against the other tattoo warrior, the raven haired woman able to bring her sword up just in time. Blow by blow, Tarna began forcing her opponent back. Tarna felt a fierce joy as her adrenaline kicked in. Blue-grey eyes met dark brown eyes and the two warrior women continued to fight. The raven haired woman knew she fought another tattoo warrior and it was all she could do to defend herself.

Megan finally had a respite and could concentrate on a single opponent. From the constant fire from the other bandits, Megan's enchanted force field was almost down. She did not know who her allies were but she was grateful for their assistance. Freed from the need of fighting multiple opponents, Megan could now concentrate on combination parry and strikes. While the dark clad knight's sword was both longer and heavier, Megan could use her shield to get inside of his guard and deliver blows to his armor.

The other bandits saw a figure in no body armor in just robes and opened fire. Unfortunately they had not considered that he might be something supernatural as well. Werewolves are immune to most normal weapons and the energy rifles did nothing to him. Charging him, Romulas brought his paired swords down on the closest of the bandits. The ancient blades cleaved into the composite armor like it was cloth and the head of the bandit flew from the body. The bandits had never fought anything like this and suddenly they were afraid. Romulas turned to one of the ogres next.

Megan finally was able to get several blows past the guard of the Mystic Knight but she had not been completely unscathed. Her larger opponent had managed to get several blows past her shield as well. Her force field had gone down finally and her silver armor had several long scars from his blows. Still, little by little, she was winning the battle. He tried to fire an energy blast but she was able to parry it with her sword.

Tarna's could tell that he opponent was not in her class but was still tough opponent. Atlantis trained all their tattoo warriors to be virtual killing machines. The raven haired woman had activated a magic shield tattoo to parry the axe but Tarna rained blow after blow with her axe. When fighting with an axe, the best way to fight was offensive. She had gotten several powerful blows against the other woman and had only received relatively minor blows in return. Knocking the woman's shield out of position, Tarna brought her axe down and buried it deep in her opponent's chest, slicing the heart in two. Blood sprayed everywhere as the final blow was brought down. Tarna pulled the blade out as the body fell.

The demon bone armor is extremely tough but could not ward away the deep thrust which Megan brought against the flexible part of the armor protecting the abdomen. Megan twisted the blade as she punched it in with all her strength. Under the demon helmet of the mystic knight, Megan thought she saw shock in the figures eyes. Megan pulled her sword from the other knight, the mystic knight slowly slid to the dirt, his sword clanging quietly as it fell to the ground as well.

The remaining four bandits had seen enough. They were far more used to bringing bloodshed against others than being of the receiving end. Both of their leaders had gone down as well as their two ogre strongmen. The simply ran in all directions. Romulas considered trying to chase them down but considered that they warning the other bandits would be more valuable. Still, having a prisoner might be a good idea. He brought a chain out and wrapped it around the legs of the nearest fleeing bandit. The man fell to ground and Romulas sat on him to keep him from trying to escape. Romulas took a deep breath as he looked at the two women. One his lover and another apparently his ally. He noticed how similar in build they were, both just under six feet tall.

For what felt like a couple of minutes, Megan just stood there catching her breath. Battle, no matter if your armor is enchanted or not, is always strenuous. She did take a moment to look over her armor and saw that it was only lightly damaged. The enchantments in the armor would cause it to repair itself over time but it would still take a few hours. As well, her opponents had concentrated on her, not her mount. Likely they were hoping to capture it. As a result, her steed only had light damage from a couple of hits. Megan felt no danger from the others and her rune sword had no warned her either. She felt safe enough sliding off her helmet. Besides, she would like to see her rescuers face to face. Golden blond hair, a little lighter than Tarna's, fell from beneath the helmet.

Megan turned towards the woman warrior who had done so much to save her and they eyes locked. Except for Megan's eyes being more blue and the knight having lighter hair, the two were staring into their own faces. Megan had suspected for quite a while that the Splugorth had cloned her but it still was an incredible shock. In her mind came the question how her clone could be as old as she was. Megan was still less than thirty years old and her clone appeared to be around twenty. For the longest time, they just stared into each other's eyes, hardly even blinking. It seemed like hours to both of them although it was far shorter than that in truth.

Tarna had always wondered what it would be like to meet this woman, the woman who she was a clone of. Tarna considered it unlikely that they would ever meet but here they were. Megan, at least biologically, was both her mother and sister. As close in blood as two people could be. They were closer than identical twins to each other. Tarna had been created to kill Megan Smith and then her combat skills had been trained to a fine art. She had always asked herself if they would fight each other if they ever met. Very carefully, Tarna put her axe into its scabbard on her shoulder and took a deep breath.

The two rune weapons, both having psychic abilities, began talking to each other. Unlike the women who they had bonded to, there was no tension between then. They had a perspective that few beings of the flesh ever would have. Both were made to fight evil and they could sense in each other kindred spirits. As well, they could sense kindred spirits in those who they served.

Megan found her voice first, "I thought that if I ever met one of my clones, it would be on the battlefield against each other. I am pleased that this is not the case."She paused for several additional moments before speaking again, "You of course know who I am but I don't know what I should call you or your companion?"

Never one for formality, the tattoo warrior responded, "Megan, I go by Tarna Wolves-Daughter. The name which I was given by the ones who trained me is less kind." Tarna received a polite nod from Megan in response. After a moment she added, "My companions name is Romulas. He is a martial artist among other things."

Just then a groan was heard and Romulas stated, "Now that we have introductions complete, perhaps we should find out if our prisoner has anything interesting to say?" Romulas still had his knee in the bandits back although he was not exerting as much pressure as he had been. Still, the bandit was completely pinned.

Megan and Tarna turned as once to deal with the prisoner. Neither would torture him but he did not know that.

His spray of golden scales showing his anger, the Lizard Mage Cariellis stood in his stone fortress, gazing into his crystal ball. Dressed in gold and silver robes, the powerful sorcerer did not verbally acknowledge his setback. In the ball was the image of a woman in silver plate armor talking to another woman warrior, this one dressed in just a loin cloth, halter top, and a fur cloak.

When he had heard that she was in the area, he had hoped to catch Megan Smith in an ambush and there was no way which she could have fought her way from both the Mystic Knight and the female Tattoo Warrior. When he had heard that she was in the area, he had his group of raiders attack a village but allow some to escape to allow her to find out about the attack. The ambush had been carefully worked out. He had worked with Megan Smith in the past and knew that she could be an extremely dangerous opponent. At the time he had pretended to have been one of the good guys although he knew that Megan had never completely trusted him. Still, she had been an extremely useful tool in the past.

Cariellis reflected on the losses he had taken. While the female Tatoo Warrior was relatively new in his service, he could not even recall her without concentrating, the Mystic Knight had been a long time minion and would create severe problems with his loss. Samphon had been leader of his raiders basically since the Lizard Mage had set up his new kingdom and often doubled as the sorcerer's chief body guard.

The problem was that Megan Smith could be incredibly tenacious and would recognize his name as soon as she got the name from her prisoner. Megan would then probably try to attack him is his fortress. The location of his fortress was no real secret and all of his men certainly knew where it was. Cariellis did not recognize the knight's prisoner although he did not know more than a fraction of his troops. Likely, this one was yet another mercenary hired on by Samphon with the promise of spoils. As with most, he would spill his guts completely at the first sign of trouble to save his own hide. Such mercenaries rarely had any particular loyalties except to themselves. Cariellis understood this well. He had no particular loyalty to his own minions. They were generally just cannon fodder to be disposed of when they had no more use.

The Lizard Mage used to have a magnificent underground fortress near Tolkeen but when the Coalition began threatening the area, he decided it would be best to depart the area for greener grounds. He had found a new place to settle in the western hills of Pennsylvania. There had been a scattering of small villages which the lizard mage had decided to take over using the raiders he had recruited. Since the coming of the Rifts, the world had gone back to being small feudal kingdoms in many cases. The raids had netted him quite a chest of gold from Atlantis. The sale of humans was quite profitable and they always breed more. Just like rabbits. As well, the fear of his minions kept the remainder in line and he had few problems with rebellions. He had a one time ally and apprentice who had remained near Tolkeen. She preferred to not use fear in her tiny kingdom and preferred to use a certain kind of fair play. Cariellis considered her to be weak although the woman had always preferred to be the power behind the throne, not directly on the throne. Like Megan, she had been a useful tool in the past.

He had not expected anyone to come to Megan Smith's aid. Her former adventuring companions had either departed to new places or had retired. Cariellis had kept careful track of where they had gone and what they were doing. There are few who make a more dangerous enemy than one who used to be an ally. He had also known that due to recent events, her emotions were in turmoil and would be more likely to make a mistake.

Cariellis especially did not expect the allies which Megan seems to have found. He had known that the Splugorth had made clones of Megan Smith to kill the knight after she had freed one of their prisoners but had certainly not expected one of them to come to his aid. The woman appeared was extremely tough from the blows she had traded with the female Tatoo Warrior. Maybe this clone had been augmented by bio-wizardry. It was obvious that she carried a rune weapon and it appeared to be an extremely powerful one.

He did not know who the male figure was but from taking no apparent injury from the multiple energy rifles that had been fired at him, he obviously was not a normal human either. Maybe he was a rebellious Mystic Knight who preferred not to wear the body armor which most wore. There were stories of a branch of Mystic Knights which served the light instead of evil.

For a moment Cariellis considered seeing if he could get some assistance from his allies on Atlantis. They certainly would want their wayward clone back and they had their own hatreds of the Sword Mistress. The problem was that his allies might see it as weakness and attempt to take over his territory. They would probably bring their own creatures in and simply refuse to move them out again. As well, if they managed to capture Megan alive, they might find out about his own intrigues against them. It was kind of sad in a way. Knights such as her were worth a lot in Atlantis. They were quite popular in the arenas. Finally, they would likely be angry at his loss of their own tattooed warrior woman. She had been more of a loan than anything else. He would need to come up with an explanation for her loss. No, the smart plan was to deal with the knight without involving the minions of the Splugorth. Even with the loss of the Mystic Knight, he still had allies closer to home.

The Lizard Mage felt a hand on his shoulder and could feel the long black manicured nails. It was his chief among those allies and his current lover. A Night Stalker Dragon, still just a very young dragon but extremely cunning. Cariellis still wondered how far he could trust her, assuming that she was in for herself just like he was in for himself. She called herself Mophia and was currently in her favorite human form.

She appeared to be an extremely beautiful tall raven haired woman with jet black hair and wearing all black makeup, stood behind him. Only her skin was pale. The dragon was also dressed in a black dress that was almost pornographic with how much skin it revealed. The front was open to almost her groin. A cruel smile on her black painted lips, she whispered to him, "Don't worry lover, they are but mortals. We will handle them. Besides, just think about how much they will be worth if we sell the to Atlantis. Maybe they will even be pitted against each other in an arena and you can watch."

Megan did not believe in torture but a little strong arm questioning was a different story. Still, she rarely had to resort to even those levels. The suggestion of it and her reputation was enough. She walked over to the prisoner and gave Tarna a mischievous look. She hoped that the warrior woman understood the concept of "Bad Cop / Good Cop." The idea was ancient but still seemed to work quite well. Without further prompting, Tarna pulled out her axe and began idly looking at the heavy blade. Of course Wind Spirit would be listening in the background to his thoughts. Even if he did not tell her what she was trying to get from him, most people thought about it.

The knight turned back towards the bandit and stated, "If you answer my questions, I will make sure that you are not physically harmed. If you don't." She stopped for a few moments and grimaced. The knight continued, "I don't like to use alternate methods but I will have to see if she can get answers from you." Megan made a furtive glance toward Tarna and the warrior woman gave a snarling look at the remaining bandit. The warrior woman also stroked the grey blade of her axe, deeply etched with runes.

"Alright, I will answer whatever you want," came the answer from the bandit in a quavering tone. He broke even faster than Megan expected. Looking at him carefully, Megan thought it most likely that he was simply a down on his heels mercenary. Bad luck was likely mostly responsible for him ending up here. Still, Megan could not allow something like this to go unpunished.

"What happened to the residents of the village?" Megan asked the prisoner.

"I don't know," came his answer. Tarna glared at him and he responded in haste, "I don't know exactly but they were walked out east of here under several guards. They left a couple of days ago and were suppose to have been loaded into our Ley Line vessel. I suspect that they were to be sold to Atlantis. We were told by Samphon that we were to wait here to ambush someone who would be coming along. He did not say who. Samphon made sure a few villagers escaped so the word got out about the attack."

They had been waiting for someone. Megan suspected it had been her that they had been set to ambush. The whole raid had been a set up. Tarna's glare got even sharper and Megan did not think that the Tattooed Warrior was bluffing anymore. Tarna asked in almost a growl, "Why do you suspect that Atlantis is involved?" Megan wondered if the ambush had been set up to target Tarna instead of herself from the strength of her clone's reaction.

"How many others are there around here that buy large numbers of slaves. It is pretty obvious but Samphon never came out and told us that was where he was selling the captives." After a few moment pause her added, "Also, where do you think that woman can from. She was some kind of tattooed warrior from Atlantis."

Megan asked more gently, "Ley Line vessel? I take it that this is the transportation for your group on this raids?" Ley Line vessels were magic ships based on boats and ships which instead of traveling the oceans instead travel along the lines of magical energy which encircle the earth and have bloomed in energy since the coming of the Rifts. During the night, their glow was easy to see for miles away. The vessels cannot travel where there are no Ley Lines but can travel anywhere along those lines but much of the Earth is crossed by Ley Lines since the coming of the Rifts. In many places, including this village, there are no real roads for wheeled vehicles. A hovercraft would have been the only other effective transportation. The slaves could easily be anywhere within a few thousand miles by now. It was quite likely that they were already on their way to Atlantis.

"Yes, we normally are dropped off as close as possible to our destination and then walk to the village which Samphon designates. All except for Samphon, that is. He had a bionic horse. I heard him brag about capturing it by killing a cyber-knight." His eyes looked towards a metallic horse which standing docile in the shadows of a ruined stable. It looked all of the other animals had been slaughtered.

The knight locked eyes with the captive and asked, "So how did Samphon decide which villages which you were to go after?"

"Samphon served a powerful lord. I never actually met him though I heard was some kind of wizard and Samphon, who feared no one else, seemed to fear him. He was suppose to be able to summon demons and monsters to do his bidding. From what I understand, Samphon was told to attack a village by him. The villages were given an ultimatum to surrender to him and if they refused, we would be sent in and take as many captives as possible and burn the village once we were done as a warning."

This was not the first time a wizard tried to build their own pocket empire and probably would not be the last. They were not all that far from the Kingdom of Dunscon anyway. It would not be the first evil mage which Megan had sent to his dark lord. Megan asked simply, "Do you have a name for this lord?"

"Cariellis! His name is Cariellis," answered Megan's captive. This definitely got the attention of the knight. Cariellis was an individual who Megan had dealing with in the past. He used to live in a mountain fortress to the west of Tolkeen. It was always hard to understand his motivations. One time he would appear to be on your side and help you and other times he would appear to be serving the other side. Considered villain or hero depending on who you talked to, he had obviously taken several steps in the direction of villain. He had disappeared when the city came under fierce attack by the Coalition and his apprentice, a sorceress named Lilly appeared to have taken over his holdings.

While often appearing human, Megan knew that the powerful wizard was actually a Lizard Mage. She had seen him a number of times in what she considered to be likely his native form. Lizard Mages were extremely rare, she suspected that there were only a couple of a dozen total on the planet. Most, Cariellis included, were masters of multiple forms of the mystic arts. Like virtually all Lizard Mages, Cariellis also had quite an ego. Still he was an extremely dangerous enemy to have. Also in the past he had only the smallest dealings with Atlantis and had actually helped her to rescue a prisoner on Atlantis. That appeared to have changed.

Recovering from her surprise, Megan asked, "Cariellis, are you sure?"

"Yes, I am sure," responded the prisoner.

Megan stated, "So where does this Lord Cariellis reside?"

The prisoner had been more than happy to tell Megan everything he knew. Megan managed to get information on where the fortress was, how many troops he had seen, and even a basic layout of the fortress. Wind Spirit had listened in on his thoughts and had verified most of what he had said and had added some additional details. As Megan suspected, the mercenary thought that Cariellis was a human wizard of some kind, most likely a Shifter or Ley Line Walker. Although the prisoner never seems to have seen Cariellis face to face, from others he had been told that he was a tall man with dark grey hair and a neatly trimmed dark grey beard. The Mystic Knight appeared to have been a long term ally of the Lizard Mage and possibly even his chief lieutenant. There was also the images in the bandits head of a raven haired sorceress who appeared to be another important ally. Rumor was that this woman was the lover of the Lizard Mage. Rumor was that the Lizard Mage had kept the Sorceress named Lilly as a lover for a time. He seemed to enjoy having relationships with humans.

After questioning the prisoner extensively and satisfied that she got as many answers as she could from the prisoner, Megan had decided that she would seek Cariellis out in his fortress and put an end to this set of plans. Tarna and Romulas had both decided to accompany her. Megan was extremely glad to have them because she did not know how far she could have gotten on her own.

Encountering a patrol from Castle Caoth, one of the few beacons of civilization in the area, Megan had managed to get rid of her prisoner. The leader of the patrol had promised that the bandit would be punished. While Megan had never had any dealing with them, Tarna had worked with the Castle's forces previously and she trusted the leader of the patrol at his word. The patrol leader had offered to see if he could get some help for the knight and her companions but that they had recently had a serious engagement and the castle's forces were still regrouping. Finally, Megan had decided that a small group would likely be better. Still, if Megan did not succeed, the Castle could follow them up with their own forces in time.

Night had fallen and the three of them had set up around a small camp fire. Even with the camp fire, the stars and a half moon were clear in the sky. It would take them several days to reach the new fortress of Cariellis. The horse that they captured from the Mystic Knight was standing next to Megan's steed. Megan watched with envy her clone and her companion. The two were snuggled together and talking softly to each other with all the signs of being intimate. They appeared to have been together for some time. It reminded Megan of her times with Kron and touched the knight with sadness. Megan hoped that Romulas would not abandon Tarna like Kron had her.

She knew she had to do something to just forget. It all seemed so wonderful in the beginning. Didn't Kron understand the terms, "For better or worse" or "To death do us part." She could have understood if he had found someone else but destroying what they had built for the last few years due to his mother's orders was something she could just not understand. Kron had been her husband for the last couple of years and when she returned home from dealing with yet another hot situation, all she had gotten was a damn note stating that he was leaving, that he would not be back, and that his mother had needed him. Damn it, she needed him too. From what she understood, he had not even on very good terms with his mother previously.

To get he mind off of the gloomy thoughts, Megan asked, "Tarna, I am curious if you would be willing to tell me a bit about yourself?"

The tatoo warrior locked eyes with the knight and did not reply for several moments. Megan wondered if she had asked the wrong question. The knight hastily added, "You don't have to if you do not want to."

Tarna shook her head, "No, I can tell you. Would be nice to tell someone and maybe even understand." She paused for several moments before adding, "I have to warn you that it is not a pretty tale in the least."

At Megan's nod, Tarna started, "It is fairly obvious that I was cloned for the specific purpose of killing you. As far as I know, a total of fifty clones were made in an attempt to deal with you. We were put on another world where time moves quicker than it does on this world. There, training began as soon as we could walk. The training was done by a group of Sunaj and they were utterly merciless in the training."

Tarna paused for several moments as if to get her thoughts together, "Training included pitting the clones against each other, often in battles to the death. You had no choice. It was your life or theirs. The idea was that only the strongest of us would survive to be sent against you. We were all also subjected to savage beatings and even rape. Yes, rape! I probably have been raped hundreds if not thousands of times. It was suppose to toughen us up although I suspect it was really to give the Sunaj a sense of power over us." Megan could clearly hear the bitterness and anger in her clone's voice. Her hatred for the Sunaj was obvious. Romulas put a hand over hers. The knight was surprised that Tarna ever was able to let any man close to her again.

Tarna asked, "You know that the Sunaj are True Atlanteans who have allied themselves with the Splugorth? " Megan nodded her head and Tarna stated, "Well, they seem to hate you as much as they do the other clans of the Atlanteans. Maybe they are afraid that you will reveal their secret."

"Only five out of the fifty clones survived to reach adulthood," Tarna continued with after a brief pause. "Don't think that they all came out like me. Most are probably just as evil as the Sunaj who trained us. The survivors were brought back to Atlantis and prepared to be sent out after you. Along with the preparations was a series of arena battles. The only thing to do was to fight when told and pretend to be the loyal minion of the Splugorth."

"I was trying to figure a way of escaping but was unable to come up with any good plan" Tarna stated. "I was thinking that there was a possibility that I could escape once I found my way onto the mainland. I was being brought through the market when I got a telepathic message from Grey Dawn stating that it could help me escape."The tatoo warrior fingered her battle axe. "I grabbed the axe and we teleported off of Atlantis."

"After that, I wandered from place to place a bit. I met Romulas in the mountains which he calls the Himalayas," Tarna stated. Megan's mother was a scholar and so the knight had actually heard of the mountains. They were on the other side of the world and were suppose to be the largest mountains in the world. No one she knew had ever been there. Getting to the other side of the world was virtually impossible. There were also myths about incredible creatures residing in the mountains and ancient stores of knowledge. Tarna added, "Like me, Romulas is wanted by Splugorth Minions. We have been together since then."

"Over the time we have been together, we have been tracked down several times by Splugorth minions and had to fight out of a difficult one just a few weeks ago in Mexico. It seems like wind up going from problem to problem. In the last couple of years, I have been all over this planet and even to a couple of other worlds. Romulas and I have been caught in as several rifts which have flung us all over the place. Several times we have been in Mexico and had to fight Vampires. As well, one of the rifts took us a place which the people there call 'Wormwood.'"

It seemed to Megan that Tarna had worse luck that her in many respects. Megan herself had been to Wormwood and it was an extremely pleasant place. Megan also knew how hard fighting vampires could be. At the time, Megan also had several allies while Tarna appeared to only have Romulas as a companion. After a moment the female knight spoke, "I am going to need all the allies that I can get. I appreciate you being willing to help me with dealing with the problem."

Tarns smiles a crooked grin at that, "Well, it is not as if I have an plans to settle down. Trouble seems to find me if I look for it or not. Truly, I hate the Splugorth and their allies with a passion. Slavers I hate just as much. Revenge on somebody like this lizard mage is my pleasure." Megan could see the hate welling close to the surface of the tattooed warrior. Megan herself had never went in for hate very much.

Megan nodded her head. After a few moment pause, she spoke, "I have a history with this lizard mage. There have been several occasions where I worked as his ally. At the time, while his goals did not appear to be pure of heart, his goals and mine were the same. Just before the war between the Coalition and the city of Tolkeen, he seemed to have just disappeared. I though he had traveled to another world. My mother told me that she had read that lizard mages will do that from time to time. I never expected to see him again."

Megan watched Tarna for several moments and continued, "This Cariellis is extremely powerful and dangerous. As well, he knows a lot about me so he is an extremely dangerous enemy personally. Since he does not know you, you may give an element of surprise. Still, do not underestimate him." Megan tried to project a strong tone of caution into her voice, "He is an extremely powerful wizard, equal to some of the most powerful sorcerers on the planet. He is also a master of magic runes which there are few truly proficient at that magic art from my reading."

Returning to a less serious tone, Megan said, "He is extremely arrogant. As a result, he is unlikely to try and request aid from Atlantis. As well, he is extremely jealous and would not want to share. Finally, with what I know about his double dealings with Atlantis, he would not want the Splugorth to get their hands on me. I don't know how many minions he has here but everything that I know indicates that he has separated from at least most his former allies. As well, I have heard that his primary ally, a sorceress named Lilly, did not like to deal in slavery."

"It is getting fairly late and we need to be moving as soon as possible. I think it would be best to set up watches and find whatever rest we can," Megan finished with. It had been an extremely long day and she was extremely tired.

The Lizard Mage was far calmer than he was when his ambush was first thwarted. Still, there was clearly frustration in his expression. It was full dark, several hours after sundown although the Lizard Mage had only lit a single lamp in his work room. He had several large books open on his work table. Ancient books, he was looking for a powerful creature which he could summon to use against the Knight and her new allies. Summoning was not one of Cariellis's favorite choices but is seem to be the best option at this time.

The problem is what kind of creature could he summon which he could summon and control. He had considered a dozen creatures without finding one which appealed to him. There was a story that Megan Smith has slain a Baal-Rog on her own. He could summon something more powerful but there would be a definite danger of the creature fighting his control. The more powerful the creature, the harder it would be ton control it. Even a Baal-Rog could be extremely dangerous to a summoner if he made a mistake. He had heard the Baal-Rog which Megan had slain was one which the summoner had lost control of.

Soft footsteps could be heard by Cariellis. The pointed muzzle of the Lizard Mage turned towards the sound. As expected, it was his lover, the Night Stalker Dragon. She was in her human form although she had changed her cloths from earlier. If anything, this gown was even more revealing than the one she wore earlier, the one of black lace which was practically transparent. Black tipped hands were folded in front of her just below her well endowed chest. Her long nails were practically claws.

Cariellis stated, "Mophia."

The black haired figure responds, "You seem to be working extremely hard. Is there anything I can do to help. Getting kind of bored and have some ideas on how we might entertain ourselves."

In spite of the situation, Cariellis was sorely tempted to abandon his work for a while. For such a young dragon, Mophia was incredibly talented and several fantasies played out in the Lizard Mage's imagination. He dismissed them with some regret and responded, "I am still looking for a way to get rid of Megan and her allies. If not, she will be coming here."

With that, Mophia pouted back at him. Obvious she considered him to be obsessing over the knight. Mindful of the Dragon's disappointed look, Cariellis continued with, "Trying to come up with a creature which I could summon to deal with all of them. I have looked at a number of creatures including summoning a Baal-Rog. Problem is that Megan is suppose to have fought a Baal-Rog and a pair of Gargoyles about a year ago when they got out of control of the summoner. She is said to have killed all three of them."

Mophia's pout turned into an enigmatic smile and she asked, "Have you considered summoning a Maggot? I know that they are a favorite tool of Necromancers." Cariellis knew that his dragon lover was drawn to Necromancy. Many Night Stalker Dragons were drawn to the practice of it although she was still far from mastery of that magic.

Still, a Maggot might be perfect. He opened his tome on demons which contained information about Maggots. They were powerful, considered to be greater demons even though mostly bestial. The Demons Maggots were huge, some of the larger ones were the size of a tank. To be honest, they were actually tougher than most tanks. They had the ability to crush just about anything under their feet. He had heard one of the huge demons had crushed Coalition Spider Skull Walker. As a final ability, their eyes could fire a beam which turns their targets into stone. Because of there low intelligence, a Maggot would tend to be less subtle about the way it fought his magic and should be easier to control.

Still, he would need a bit of preparation to summon the creature. Even though less dangerous to summon than some demons, you still had to be careful when summoning a Maggot. It would be best to wait until midnight and the extra magical energy for summoning the demon. It would give him more energy to fight the creature if needed.

After a few minutes of studying the notes on summoning them, the Lizard Mage turned completely to lock eyes with the black eyes of the dragon's human form and nodded. He did have a bit of time to spare. They could indulge in some of the fantasies he had a few moments before.

It was less than an hour until dawn. Tarna had elected to take last watch. Romulas and Megan were both asleep, almost hidden in their bedrolls. The clone kept glancing at the knight. It had been an extremely bewildering day and Tarna felt out of sorts. She wondered what kind of relationship would develop between them. At least they had not fought each other. That had been one of her nightmares. Those dreams had been vivid, her axe clashing against the knight's sword as they fought for survival.

Suddenly there was a crashing sound repeated just a moment later. It was extremely faint but the sound got louder. Whatever it was, it seemed to be moving in their direction. It sounded similar to the sound of a giant robot vehicle although there was something definitely wrong. As the sound got louder, Tarna could here the sound of trees cracking and splintering as well.

Quickly, Tarna ran over to where Romulas was asleep, yelling for him to wake up while running. She began to shake her lover to wake him although the sounds had already reached his extremely sensitive ears. He yelled to her, "I am awake," and jumped up with his twin swords already drawn and his eyes already alert. He looked around, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from.

Tarna was about to wake up the knight but Megan was already awake as well. Megan could feel the tricking of danger already in her mind. A combination of that, the sounds of whatever was approaching, the yelling, and Wind Spirit prodding her awake. The knight ran for her body armor. She had worn the Elven light body suit while she was sleeping but wanted heavier armor when fighting whatever was coming.

Megan had just managed to get her armor on and was strapping down her helmet when it came into view. It was a huge four legged creature with a giant maw and three eyes on eye stalks. The body of the creature was a corpse pale grey. Trees shattered in its path as the creature ran towards where the camp was. The ground literally shook as the creature moved as fast as most armored vehicles might. All of them recognized the creature almost instantly. It was a Demon Maggot and it would be only moments before it would be upon them.

"Do we fight it?," Tarna yelled over the crashing of the trees.

While the steeds were probably faster than this creature, it could just force its way through the forest while the horses would have to maneuver around trees. Besides, if they escaped, the demon would probably menace the area with them being denied as a target. Megan yelled back, "We will fight!"

Pausing just a moment to activate her tatoo of invulnerability, Tarna charged the demon. The creature kicked at her, which she tried to parry with her axe. It was an automatic move on her part, used to bulling her way through the defenses of most opponents. She caught the blow on her axe and was thrown back over a dozen meters. A normal human would probably have been critically injured or killed by simply being thrown so far. Her tattoos made her far tougher than any normal and stood up after a moment.

Megan activated the magical flight on her armor. They would obviously have to fight this creature smarter not harder. She threw Wind Spirit in the shy and commanded, "Attack" as she activated a psi-sword in her right hand while preparing her sword-shield in her other hand. As Megan approached the creature from the front, her Rune Sword attacked the creature from the right side. The creature howled as Wind Spirit's blade founds its way into the creature's flesh. Megan used the creature's distraction to swing her own swords at one of the creature's eye stalks. Unfortunately none of the blows were much more than pinpricks and Megan managed to do little more than enrage the creature.

An eye tried to lock onto the knight and a white beam flashed towards her. Megan dodged out of the way, not wanting to be turned into stone. While the creature was focused on Megan, Romulas began sneaking up to the creature, planning to attack the creature from the rear. Part of his martial arts training included the fogging of an opponent's mind and he used that so that the Maggot would not sense him. A Maggot could see invisible beings but this ability tricked the mind. Unlike against normal weaponry, he was not invulnerable to a demon's attacks. Hopefully he could get a telling first blow on the demon.

Tarna had managed to stand up again and readied her axe. Instead of charging, she threw her axe at the creature. The heavy battle axe sunk into one of the front limbs of the demon and immediately disappeared, teleporting back to her hands. She used the strike to distract the creature from her approaching it.

More blows were exchanged between the Maggot and its two human opponents. While the creature managed to get several blows against both of them, few of its eye ray had managed to strike its opponents and none had been effective due to both Megan and Tarna being incredibly resistant to magic.

Finally, Romulas was able to get behind the demon and swung down with both his Katana and Wakizashi into the creature. It howled again in pain with the surprise attack. While the Maggot was incredibly tough, it had never found as fast opponents as these three and had never encountered a flying rune sword before. Even though the wounds were just superficial, it had rarely been hurt this bad as quickly as this.

The three of them fought it out with the Maggot. Even though they had only been together a short time, they fought like they had been shieldmates for years. Still, battles against a single creature never lasted this long. The only experience any of them had with combat this long was against large units. Exhaustion was beginning to take its toll on them, especially Megan, and all had been hurt by the creature. Tarna had needed to reactivate her invulnerability tattoo a second time and Megan was on the last activation of the mystic force field protecting her armor. Several large dents could also be seen in the knight's silver armor. Romulas had been luckier with the demon concentrating mostly on the knight and Tarna but even he had taken some heavy blows.

Still, the Maggot had been badly injured. It had tried using its eye beams on its opponents but eventually gave up with it seemed ineffective even after hitting each of them several times. If it had been allowed to, it would have returned back to its native plane but its binding from the summoning prevented it from escaping. It cursed the Lizard Mage which had summoned it. Still, it could turn to mist and use that time to heal its injuries before returning to finish off those ones he had been sent against. Suddenly, the creature began to become insubstantial.

Megan saw the creature becoming insubstantial and immediately knew what its plan was. Each of them were hurt and they had expended a huge amount of their magic in order to fight this creature. If it was allowed to regenerate its injuries, they would be at a distinct disadvantage. Wind Spirit landed back into the knight's hands and she knew how to deal with this creature. The knight commanded Wind Spirit to create a whirlwind where the demon had become a cloud of mist. She could not command the sword’s rune magic unless it was wielded in her hand.

The Maggot felt itself being ripped apart by the whirlwind. It knew that this magic could kill it as surely as if its opponents had used sword or axe against it. Changing back into its solid form, the demon struck against the knight in an attempt to take her down quickly. She appeared to be the source of the magic attacking him. The creature weighed several tons and was not moved at all by the winds created by the spell.

Unable to dodge in time, Megan held her shield up to parry the blow from the demon. The blow threw her even further than that first blow against Tarna had but she was able to land safely. She was bruised from the landing but not really hurt.

Tarna struck against the demon again, exhausted from the battle but still determined. Because of the warrior woman continuing to rain blows against the demon, it was unable to finish off the knight. It was forced to turn against her instead. It had never faced a creature quite like this one. The maggot's opponent looked human but had never heard of a human being as tough as this creature was. Tattoo magic was completely unknown to the Maggot. Maybe this creature was some type of half demon, it reasoned out.

While the demon fought Tarna, Romulas took advantage of its distraction to get a good solid blow into the back of the creature. Megan was up by now and was attacking the demon as well. The battle continued with all sides weakening. Finally, the demon collapsed. It was hard to know who's blows actually finished the creature off but suddenly it was down.

Taking a deep breath, Megan looked over at her companion. Each was hurt although they were both still moving. Both Tarna and Romulas were limping and were bleeding. Megan herself could feel the bruises from the fight and her armor was badly damaged. It would repair itself in time but its force field was depleted as well. None of them was in good condition to fight anyone in the next few hours. The knight asked in a shaking voice, "Is everyone alright?" The first light of dawn could be seen just coming over the horizon.

As the light brightened, the body of the demon faded as its link to this plain weakened. After a few moments, nothing was left except for a bit of bone and flesh. The flesh was grey and appeared to be half rotted.

The sound of crashing glass could be heard. Cariellis grabbed another glass jar and threw it against the wall. The lizard mage had already virtually demolished the room in his fit of anger. His jaws were still locked in a rictus of anger but he managed to get out a little of his frustration. Even though he normally considered torture mildly distasteful, he wished he could get his hands on that knight and take out his anger on her. Fantasies played out in his mind about what he wanted to do.

All that work to summon the demon and the three of them manage to slay it. He would have thought that it was impossible. Now they could simply track the trail of the Maggot back to his fortress. The demon had cut a wide swath between his tower and where the knight had been camped. A blind man could almost follow the path that it had created.

Cariellis was glad that Mophia was not around at the moment. Her soothing words would have simply enraged him further. As a young dragon, she could only spend a few hours in a form other than her natural form. She was in her dragon form in a large chamber under his fortress, maybe resting or maybe studying. No matter what, she was out of the way at the moment. He needed to calm down and plan his response. He still had resources he could send against the three of them.

Sending another demon was out of the question. On his own, he still had the magical energy to summon another demon but did not consider it the best solution. He did not want to risk the creature getting out of his control. As well, the demon, if it found out about the failure of the previous demon he had summoned, might be even harder to control that they normally are. Demon summoning was never safe at the best of times, even for a Lizard Mage. Instead Cariellis considered saving his resources more important at the moment than attempting to summon another demon.

He still had his Ley Line ship which he could use at long range to attack Megan Smith and her allies. Not a real big vessel, it still carry over a hundred troops even though he did not have that many available to him especially after recent losses. He had never recruited that many troops, most of the space of the ship used to carry prisoners before being sold to Atlantis. He had recruited the crew as carefully as he had the troops which he had used to terrorize the local lands. Lawless men and women, willing to do virtually anything. Much of the crew, like his mercenaries, had prices on his head. The mercenaries had been his main striking force but he still had a few dozen troops he could call on beyond the crew of the vessel. It would mean stripping the fortress of living guards but he still had a small force of zombies as well as his own abilities. As well, Mophia was no push over and could be counted on to protect the tower due to it being her lair if nothing else. The only problem was that Megan was not close to a Ley Line.

Still, that could work to his advantage. Hopefully Megan and her companion would take some time to recover from the fight with the demon. It would give him to potentially recruit some new cannon fodder as well as having the Ley Line boat set up an ambush for the three adventurers. They would have to cross several Ley Lines to get to his fortress. There would not be time to go to Atlantis and buy some new slave stock but there may be some mercenaries which he could recruit locally. The captain of the Ley line ship could be used as his contact. He could offer them long term contracts and use the survivors to rebuild his forces. The only real lack was that of a leader and one of the new hires might show himself to be a suitable replacement. The Captain of the ship could act .in that role until someone better could be found.

"Get in here, you lazy idiots," Cariellis roared out for his fortress slaves. All of them had disappeared as soon as he started his rampage. They should feel lucky that he had rescued them from being shipped off to Atlantis. They would have most likely ended up for sacrifices or as food. Human were a common food in Atlantis. One poked her head inside, her expression one of complete fear. She slowly walked inside, shaking slightly. She was followed by a pair more. As he saw them creep in cautiously, he told them, "I want this mess cleaned up and quickly." With that, the Lizard Mage stomped out of the room.

The sun had set the sky on fire with its dying light. The group had less than half an hour before the sky grew completely dark. It had been evening before Megan, Tarna, and Romulas got back on the trail. They had moved from their original camp so that they would not be so easily found while they were recovering but had not gone very far. During most of the day, they attempted to simply hide out and recover from the battle. Another demon would be just too much to deal with. If another demon was sent their way, the best they could do would probably be to run for it and try to deal with the demon later, if possible dealing with the Lizard Mage first. Tarna had recovered most of her magical energies but Megan's armor still lacked the ability to produce a protective force field.

The trail which the demon had left was incredibly obvious. It had simply leveled all of the trees in its path. Even if their enemy had not summoned the demon at his lair, it would most likely be in the same vicinity and should enable Megan to find Cariellis's lair far quicker than she might otherwise. It would be simple to follow the destruction back to the Lizard Mage's fortress. The rubble and crashed trees made for hard going with them having to often double back to avoid obstructions in the path. Still, hopefully they could make up some of the lost time from during the day. If it had been Megan alone, she likely would have used the armors ability to fly. Unfortunately, her horse could not fly and she was not sure if either Tarna or Romulas had the ability to fly either. There were some advantages such as being much harder to be spotted even if their course was fairly obvious.

The group was presently traveling in an area of forested low hills which was sparsely settled. Megan had decided to avoid all populated areas if at all possible. Along the path carved by the demon, there had been signs of habitation from before the coming of the Rifts. Megan was amazed yet again at how the Earth could reclaim the land once man had abandoned them. Magical energies had taken over the world and there was clear proof at that in front of them. Glowing in the distance was a Ley Line, getting more noticeable as the sun faded. It was perhaps a half mile away at the moment. During the day, the Ley Lines were virtually invisible.

Suddenly, something felt wrong. Megan looked around but could not see anything. There was a flashing of light coming from the Ley Line. A ball of fire just missed Megan and an explosion of flame erupted just behind her. Looking up at where the shot came from, a shadowy object could be seen appearing from the Ley Line. It resolved itself slowly as if the ship was appearing from the mist. In the middle of the ship flew a single black sail with a skull and crossbones. On the front of the ship was a dragon figure. A fairly small vessel, Megan had seen the type once before. It was based on the ancient Viking Longship. Megan's family was Scandinavian in origin and she had been taught a lot about their history.

Megan brought her shield up just in time as a second fire ball was fired her way. The fiery missile exploded in a shower of sparks. Tarna also parried a fireball which had been fired at her, sparks exploding outwards as well as the fireball struck her battleaxe. Several laser rifles opened up as well but Megan and her two companions as well. Only a fraction of the rifles had the range to target them. Those that could were at extreme range and most missed. One struck Megan and another stuck Romulas. The rifle did nothing to Romulas except to scorch his cloths. It only did some light damage to Megan's armor but the concentrated firepower could very likely penetrate her armor given enough time..

Tarna turned towards Megan, "I have an idea. I can teleport the three of us onto the ship and surprise them."

It sounded like a good idea and Megan replied, "Do it!" At the same moment, Megan prepared her sword for the attack.

Tarna raised her axe in the air and suddenly Megan, Tarna, and Romulas disappeared and less than a heartbeat later, the three reappeared on the deck of the Ley Line ship.

Without pause, Tarna charged the men on deck. Her axe was a blur in her hands as she struck at the closest, a mercenary by the looks of him. Surprise was total even though Megan and her companions were outnumbered by over sixteen to one.

Megan tossed Wind Spirit in the air and in her empty sword hand, she formed her sword of pure psychic energy. The life energy of the knight was focused into the glowing blade in the shape of a Katana.

One of the crew seemed to react faster than any of the others and drew a bone white sabre. From the way he was dressed, he might very well be the captain of the vessel. He was in a uniform which was similar to an old naval uniform. Some crews of Ley Line vessels have adopted old naval uniforms. Several had similar uniforms on but his had gold shoulder boards which made him look more important than the others.

The knight turned to face him, her sword and shield flashing. Her shield slammed into his sword, more an attack than a defense move. Her psi-sword slipped through his guard but struck a force field and sparks flew.

He struck back, not letting the disadvantage of having a single weapon against both her wielding both sword and shield. Megan found that he was surprisingly fast. Most captains of such vessels were techno-wizards and she had never met a techno-wizard as fast or as skilled with a sword as he was. He did not appear to be quite as skilled as she was but he was definitely no push over. With them being as outnumbered as their were, Megan needed to finish her fight quickly.

Luckily, Wind Spirit kept the other attackers at bay while she fought her opponent. The others could not fire on her due to the risk of hitting her opponent. Megan parried again with her shield, slamming her shield against his sabre again and again. A lightning blow with her psi-sword and she was able to penetrate his defenses again. Sparks erupted from his force field again.

Megan heard a grunt as Tarna took down another opponent. Her axe knocked through the rifles which the mercenaries threw up in defense and she was like death incarnate. The blond haired warrior woman paused for a moment, most likely to activate a tatoo. Looking through the corner of her eyes, Megan could see that Romulas fought with his twin swords almost as if he was reaping a field of wheat. Being invulnerable to virtually all of their weapons, he could concentrate purely on offense. As such, he had already managed to down three opponents. His cloths were shredded by the continuous fighting and he looked almost bestial even though he not shifted into his werewolf form. The crew seemed to fight as a group but those who appeared to be mercenaries seemed disorganized as if they had been thrown together.

Sparks again erupted as Megan struck through her opponent although this time it seemed to only spark weakly and she managed to get a gouge into his uniform. It was not deep and the uniform appeared to have armor built into it which protected him from her blow. Megan struck again, this blow not penetrating his armor either although the psi-sword cut deep into the composite layers in his uniform. There was a desperate look in his eyes as he grimly fought on against Megan. Megan brought a final blow down and sliced clean through the armor, opening about half of his chest.

Tarna and Romulas had continued to take down their opponents and almost half of them were down by this point in time. Megan turned and saw that their were eleven bodies lying on the ground, four had been downed by Tarna and Romulas had dropped five opponents. Wind Spirit had reduced their opponents by another. That was eleven with the man, probably the captain, who Megan had taken down. The knight turned for a moment and saw that Romulas was bleeding under his left eye. Apparently, one of his opponents had been armed with an enchanted sword.

Megan turned on another opponent. He had a pair of long barrel energy pistols which he opened fire on Megan with. They looked like modified versions of the Northern Gun "Long Pistols." In general, the combat was too close for energy rifles to be truly effective. He kept up a continuous barrage of shots, firing faster than virtually anyone she had ever seen. She parried most of the blasts with her shield but several more got through. Deep scars were cut into her armor but it was not penetrated. She charged him, almost as an automatic response, and her sword cut into his body armor. Two more blows and he was down although he managed to score on her armor a couple of more times.

Megan searched for another opponent. Her sword swung like lightning and she kept up battle with the group of mercenaries. The knight did not even know how many opponents she had fought. She did not believe that she had ever fought so many opponents at one time before and unlike Romulus or Tarna, she was not invulnerable. Her armor was extremely tough but enough blows could penetrate it through and there were already several deep scars in her silver plate. As a result, Megan could no go on an all out offensive like her two companions and had to carefully guard her back.

Suddenly, the sound of rifles clattering on the ground could be heard. The survivors who appeared to have been the ship’s crew surrendered. Only eight of them, not including the captain have been killed compared to the over twenty who had worn a variety of body armors. The mercenaries saw a moment or two later that the fight was hopeless and dropped their weapons just a few moments later. Around a third of the crew had been killed and over half of the mercenaries were downed as well. None had expected a fight like this one. The survivors seems to have come around to the idea that it was not worth it to die.

"They escape the jaws of yet another trap," Cariellis stated, his physical demeanor apparently calm but his eyes showing his rage. It would do no good to wreck his study again. He had destroyed several priceless items in his anger. There appeared to be nothing to stop the knight and her companions from reach his tower. He needed to stay calm and figure out what to do next. Instead of allowing his rage to take control, he paced back and forth, trying to settle his thoughts.

Should he try and fight Megan or should he attempt to flee. It had taken him a long time to set up his new tower and it still was not the equal of his underground lair which he had once had near Tolkeen. It had taken many years to get that one the way he liked. He had to consider how he could beat them. As a last resort, he should be ready to retreat. One did not live long as he had without knowing exactly how to escape even if defeat seemed unlikely.

He had several secret exits from his tower. Each was well protected by extensive wards. He wished he could do the same with his entrances and the corridors of the tunnel. The problem is that his slaves, both those he kept around his tower and those just passing through, would be effected just as anyone attacking would be. Without servants, he would have to do all the mundane jobs around the tower himself.

It would not be long until Megan Smith and her allies reached his tower. Unfortunately, he had little luck recruiting more mercenaries for the line ship in the time he had. He had managed to only get a little bit more than a doze. To boost their numbers, he had stripped out his towers forces in order to ambush the knight. The lizard mage had retained only four guards at his tower including his guard captain. They were reasonable skilled with the captain being a highly experienced mercenary but none were in Megan Smith or her companions' leagues. That was quite clear the way they cut through the line ship’s crew.

In addition, he had two dozen zombies who served him and over a score of servants. The servants were not trained warriors and would generally be useless in combat. Still, maybe he could use them. Megan, at least, would hesitate to kill them and they were in complete fear of him. He might be able to use them as shields for his troops and himself.

He would have to get involved himself and ask Mophia for her assistance. She had helped him with a few minor problems is the past. While he did not know how far he could really trust her, she was the most powerful remaining allies. At least it appeared that none of his opponents were true spell casters. A few spells would put them on their knees and his remain guards and zombies could finish them off.

Crossing his hands in front of him, Cariellis rings the bell for a servant to get Mophia's attention. She might be hungry. Sometimes she ate the one who work her up.

Megan looked over the bow of the Ley Line Vessel at the tower. Black stone, the tower came to a jagged peak like a giant tooth sticking from the hill it was built on. The hill itself was the tallest hill in the area and much of the sides were steep which made the tower stand out even more.

The Ley Line ship sailed towards the tower in what looked like it was going to be crushing collisions. The surviving members of the crew and the surrendered troops had been left behind, chained and waiting for some troops from Castle Caoth to pick up. The ship had contained a huge number of manacles and chains, obviously the ship was used as a slave ship. Megan could not let them die when the Ley Line ship collided with the tower.

Cariellis had set up as many wards as her could in the time her had. He had mainly set them up in the main entrance to his tower. There had only been a few hours to set up wards. He had blood bound the wards so that his own troops would not be effected by them. He had not bothered to protect the servants. He could always get more servants when Megan and her companions were defeated. The Lizard Mage already had plans to send out his remaining troops when the knight was dead.

The Lizard Mage watched the ship approach the tower at high speed. The boat had been extremely expensive and the loss of the ship would be more costly than the loss of his troops. He assumed that just before the ship rammed his tower, Megan and the two others would leap off. At that point, he would unleash his zombies against the three warriors. As he saw the ship make its final approach, he called his undead forward. Mophia and him could deal them as they tried to fight off his undead.

Megan and Tarna had come up with a different plan. They had extensively interrogated the crew and troops to find out the layout of the tower. They had not needed to harm their prisoners but still managed to get them to tell everything which they needed to learn. None of the prisoners knew much about the upper levels of the tower but gave enough information for Tarna to use.

The ship closed in to about a thousand feet from the tower and there was less than six seconds before the ship would collide with the huge stone structure. There would be no changing course now. Tarna drew up her axe and activated a dimensional portal. It shimmered on the flat backside of the dragon figure on the bow. A stone chamber could be seen on the other side. Megan and Romulas also had their weapons ready, drawing them a few moments before. Without more than a glance through the portal, the three had prepared for this in advanced and they leaped through the portal.

On the other side of the portal was one of the main slave holding pens. It was an extremely large room and currently empty. Probably several hundred prisoners could be imprisoned here. Metal bars covered one side of the holding pen. For the most part, there was one large cell but to one side was a series of individual cells for problem prisoners. The floor of the holding pen was covered in blood and human waste.

They did not stop at the termination of the portal but instead changed for the main doors. Tarna took the lead and brought her axe against the lock for the main set of doors. The metal bars were not up to a strike from a powerful rune weapon and the metal shrieked as the weapon carved through the bars. At the same time, the sound of a massive collision could be heard and the whole stone structure of the tower actually shook.

The slave cell area was directly under the main hall of the tower. From here, there was a spiral stairway directly into the upper part of the tower and an additional passageway down to the lower levels of the huge fortress. Tarna lead as the three companions headed towards the main stairway.

The Lizard Mage had not missed the fact that the three had disappeared just moments before the ship rammed his tower. Anger could be seen in the expression of Cariellis but striking down on those around him would be a waste. Where had Megan and the other two gone? They could be anywhere in his tower. As well, they had somehow appeared to have managed to avoid virtually all of his ward defenses.

Sending his few remaining troops to find the three invaders would be a waste of his few remaining resources. Instead, it would be best if they retreated to a place he could fortify. His laboratory and study? No, on the top level of the tower, that would be too exposed. He had an extremely well fortified chamber under the tower. It was his final refuge and a place where he worked on magic which he wanted to be better protected than in his main laboratory. Most of his escape passages also radiated outwards from the same chamber with some snaking for several miles before opening out onto the surface.

Cariellis yelled, "Slaves, in front of me before I decide to slay you where you stand," directing them to form a barrier against any attackers. They had been well trained in fearing and followed his instructions seeming without any thought. Having found a measure of calm again, he turned towards Mophia and gestured down the corridor, "If you are ready?" She was in human form and walked beside him as her headed for the stairway under the tower.

Tarna saw a bunch of people coming down the stairway as she was running upwards. While their clothing was fairly decent, there was something beaten in both their expressions and their movement. Their eyes were all cast downwards. It was not the first time she had seen people like this. They reminded her of the slaves she had seen among the Splugorth. She did not want to fight her way upwards through them. There was a low moan of panic from at least half a dozen voices. Megan and Romulus saw the people coming down the stairway and also slowed down.

Up on the upper stairs, Cariellis could see that his slaves had stopped and he could here panic from them. The first of them began streaming back outwards. Looking down the stairs, he could see a figure down the stairway. There was a muscular female figure who appeared to be dressed in leather halter. Megan's companion, the one who was also Megan's clone.

With them entangled with his slaves, it was the perfect opportunity to strike. Sometimes, the simplest of spells were the best. Targeting at the female tatoo warrior, he called down a spell which would leave her completely trapped in the ground. The others would be trapped as well. The guards would then be able to keep shooting them until they were dead.

Something was wrong. It was like his spell just fizzled and the three did not seem to be slowed in the least by his magic. Hew knew that none of them were spell casters but perhaps one of them had a magic item which allowed the negation of magic. There were a couple which he had heard about. He did not have much time. They were still being slowed by his slaves but they were steadily getting closer to him.

Tarna kept pushing her way through the bodies of humans, caught between being frightened of her and the Lizard Mage she could now see through them. She could see a humanoid lizard figure, almost dragon-like, with golden scales. He was dressed in gold and silver robes and carried a huge sword on his side. This was the first time she had ever actually seen a lizard mage.

The Lizard Mage had tried some kind of spell on her but she had an amulet which absorbed the magic cast at her. She knew that if he realized it, he could flatten her defense against magic. Her only chance would be continue to attack. After fighting her way through more of the Lizard Mage's slaves, Tarna broke free from the stairway with Megan and Romulas followed right behind he up the stairway.

Narrowing his eyes on the attackers, the Lizard Mage drew on his magic and through a massive lightning bolt. Like the carpet which he threw at her previously, the lightning bolt just seemed to die an inch or so from the tall warrior. Tarna charged through towards the Lizard Mage, the various servants scattering as she charged. Megan and Romulas followed just behind Tarna, all three rushing him and his companion. Megan thought for a moment about drawing her rifle but there were simply too many in the way.

Beside the Lizard Mage was a second figure. The figure appeared to be a human woman with raven hair and an incredible figure. The woman was dressed all in black and her lips were painted black as well as her hair black painted nails. The dress was so tight that nothing was left to the imagination. A replacement for the Sorceress Lilly who used to be his main companion.

Drawing his rune sword, he called upon the magic of the blade. The sword created a wall of force around all three of them. Tarna ran headlong into the wall. She swung her axe full force against the shield. Sparks flew as the enchanted blade struck the invisible wall of psychic energy. Megan and Romulas struck against the shield as well. Cariellis could feel the shield already weakening. It would hold for a few blows but it would hold for all that long.

"Yes, all three of you. Captured so easily," Cariellis stated, his voice like ice. "First, you kill all my troops and now you destroy my Ley Line vessel. Once, I might have seen you as useful but I will no longer allow you to interfere with my plans."

He pauses for a moment and turns his eyes towards Tarna, "Still, perhaps I should be merciful. Such as you could be extremely useful in my employment. All you have to do is slay the knight. After all, that is what you were created to do. I can protect you from the Sunaj, you know."

"I don't think so," Tarna responded, her voice coming out as almost a hiss. "I would do it for the Splugorth and I will do not do it for such as you. I am not a slave of anyone, including you." Her axe slammed against the force field, sparks against the blade as the weapon slammed against the psychic created wall.

The field collapsed with one final blow. Cariellis was not happy. He had rarely seen the psychic force field drop this fast. It was true that he could bring a second field into play but it would likely collapse just as fast. At least he had time to bring his soldiers into play. Two dozen zombies stood patiently between Megan and him along with his four remaining guards.

Tarna charged the guards with the other two just behind her. Megan was not used to attacking second but there was something elemental about her clone, as if she was a force of nature. Instead of trying to fight the zombies individually, the warrior woman punched a hole for Megan to charge through to the Lizard Mage. Tarna and Romulas continued fighting the undead, holding them off the knight.

Through the opening which he companions had carved through the creatures, Megan charged towards the Lizard Mage. There were two remaining guards between her and Cariellis. As she charged, they both scattered attempting to get around the battle and escape from the tower. The other two guards were entangled with the Zombies attacking Tarna and Romulas. At that moment, Cariellis realized that he had no more allies besides Mophia. He would either need to fight or flee, abandoning his hard built tower.

The knight kept Wind Spirit pointed towards the Lizard Mage as she cautiously advanced on where he stood. Her stance was an open challenge to Cariellis. Cariellis locked his own emerald eyes on the knight, appraising her. Her silver armor and shining shield made her look like a knight from ancient times, a true Paladin. The Lizard Mage reflected on this. She would fight for right no matter what else. He needed to kill her or she would hunt him forever. He focused his magic on her, firing a powerful lightning blast towards her. Megan brought her round shield up and the lightning just arched around her shield. Blue eyes looked towards the female dressed all in black.

Suddenly, Tarna broke free from the huge melee against the zombies, bodies of the undead scattered around her. She left Romulas to continue fighting the animated bodies around him. A second set of blue eyes locked onto those of the black haired figure. Megan's clone appeared to be sizing up Mophia. Cariellis did not think that the young Night Stalker could fight the tatoo warrior but maybe it would give him enough time.

"Megan Smith," the Lizard Mage stated. "I am many centuries older than you. Even dragons fear me. What makes you think you could defeat me in a duel? How do you think you could ever even harm me?" He called his will around himself and a powerful force field surrounded the lizard mage. He knew he was not the fighter which she was but all he would need to do was keep up the shield and he could simply wear her down.

"You lack in faith, Cariellis," Megan responded. "A knight fights evil wherever she finds it. I thought you were an ally, maybe even a friend. No, I see you making slaves of the villages around here."

"Friend, Ally. You were a useful tool but you have outlived your usefulness. Nothing more. If you did not know too much about my plans, I would sell you to Atlantis along with your clone. I might be able to make good most of my losses that way. Perhaps they will pay something for your body." Scorn was evident in the Lizard Mage's voice.

Megan waited patiently just out of sword range, waiting for the lizard mage to attack, deciding to let him make the first move. The longer she took, the more time that Romulas would have to deal with the zombies. As he brought the blade of his rune weapon again her, she brought her shield to parry the heavy bastard sword. At the same time, she brought Wind Spirit through the Lizard Mage's defenses. He appeared undaunted and continued, "Consider that you have been fighting for the last few days while I am fresh. You also are heart sore, having had you husband abandon you."

She kept allowing her own defenses to take Cariellis's attacks, parrying his rune weapon while striking through his guard with her own blade. Yes, she was heart sore from her husband but she now had a sister, a Sword Sister willing to fight at her side.

Mophia found herself outmatched by Tarna. The Night Stalker had tried casting "Agony" against the tatoo warrior but the spell had no effect. She had tried to do a life drain as well and it had worked out just as badly as the first spell. She knew she was not a true warrior. She parried the axe blow with a sword that the lizard mage had enchanted for her but it would likely be only a matter of time. She struck bat at the wild human in front of her but the axe parried her sword with little effort.

The blond haired warrior struck back at her and this time the dragon was unable to parry quickly enough and the axe slammed hard against her. Her protective force field was almost gone in a single blow. Cariellis had been an interesting lover and she managed to learn many new spells from him. No matter, he was not worth dying over. She started retreating back, concentrating on teleporting from this battlefield. As a young dragon, her ability to teleport was not fully matured. Suddenly, he mind was able to lock onto a location and she disappeared.

Megan was able to knock down the Lizard Mage's shield but he simply retreated back a step and brought his defenses back up. While she was a far better warrior, he was able to hit her several times. Her armor's force field was still holding but he might still be winning. Megan could also feel the exhaustion from the last several days of battles. While she still could fight for a while, he was right that she could continue fighting forever.

"Don't you know, even if I lose this battle, Castle Caoth knows of your activities. I understand that they are having some present problems that does not allow them to deal with you right now. Still, I expect them to get around to you eventually," Megan responded back, fighting for breath. "You have no more allies and you Ley Line ship is destroyed. How long do you think you can hold out against the castle's forces?"

He had already noted that Mophia had disappeared. He actually did not really blame her. Suddenly beside material, Tarna stood, axe ready for battle. On Megan's other side stood the male. All but a few of the zombies were down from his flashing swords. He had both his Katana and Wakizashi ready for battle. They dripped black fluids for his battle. Megan added, "Besides, maybe you can fight me but can you fight all three of us?"

Cariellis realized that is was a losing battle. It would be better to escape to fight another day. He replied back, his voice like ice, "This is not over, Megan Smith. Revenge will be coming." With that, he spoke the words for teleportation. His apartment in Splynn would be safe enough. One moment he was in front of Megan and in the next, he was just gone.

Taran stepped over to Megan and held out her arm to help the knight stand, "Sword Sisters." Slowly, the three of them walked from the tower.

[ Rifts® is a registered trademark owned by Kevin Siembieda and Palladium Books Inc.]

By Kitsune (E-Mail Kitsune).

Copyright © 2008, Kitsune. All rights reserved.