WRITING: The Battle Against Mara and Ember

Did you honestly expect me not to write a short story about the events that happened in the last two sessions of Neebs and Associates? Writing moments from Basile’s perspective helps me survive the long droughts of playing. Please enjoy the angst, the fluff, and adventure that has become Basile’s life.

 

The Associates arrived in the Abyss through a mist of shadows, passing through the Mortal Plane into the Realm of the Dead. A wasteland of dried earth greeted them. The sky was rusty orange, and rolls of thunder echoed through black clouds. Steam erupted with a loud hiss through cracks and geysers, filling the air with unbearable humidity and heat. Before them stood the Demon Lord Fraz-urr’blu and Mara, Leader of the Unholy Crusade.

A split second of recognition was all it took for Basile to fill with rage. At the sight of his mentor’s murderer, his hands burned as hellfire brewed in his palms. He watched as Alkaid summoned three more copies of herself across the field, the four of them separating to surround their enemies. Not too far away from her, Lorn touched Ragnarok’s side and enchanted him with Rhino’s Rush. The Rhino charged forward without hesitation, his sights set on the Prince of Deception.

As Ragnarok’s feet pounded into the ground, Mara grinned and thrust out his hand, sparks of magic flying from his fingertips. A wall of Force appeared in front of Fraz-urb’luu, but Ragnarok never broke stride. Lorn was quick to respond, countering Mara’s spell with his own Wall of Force. The two spells collided and cracked, shattering as Ragnarok plowed through and drove his horn into the Demon Prince.

With a shout that rivaled the thunder above, Fraz-urb’luu whipped his spiked tail around Ragnarok and held him down, trying to penetrate his armor and hide. Meanwhile, Mara’s eyes glowed white as he studied Ragnarok. Lorn telekentically flung dozens of arrows into the Demon Prince and Mara to distract them.

A crack of black lightning struck down from the sky into the earth. Ciaran held back a startled scream and grabbed Basile’s cloak for support as another Demon Prince was summoned onto the field near Lorn.

“No need to be scared, Ciaran,” Rhaegar said with a grin, Torch lighting ablaze in his hands. He looked over at Bubbles, who moved to shield their new comrade, Biff. “We’ve battled worse.”

Before Rhaegar could attack, Mara turned and pointed toward the three of them. A wave of green energy washed over them, their armor flashing as it protected them from the death spell. However, Basile and Ciaran could feel that the bond protecting them was damaged.

Rhaegar charged forward and threw Torch at Mara, striking him in the chest. The tiefling stumbled backwards, ripping it away from himself before the blade returned to Rhaegar. The normally steel sword now shimmered with silver, Mara’s blood staining the metal.

Mara’s mine,Basile growled as he stepped in front of Ciaran and charged up an Eldritch Blast. The pain of hellfire boiling his blood and scorching his skin was nothing compared to the anguish he felt as he remembered his final moments with Pythos in Mechanus. He unleashed three balls of fire at Mara, two of which collided into him and partially melted his amor. He pulled out his wand of Lesser Restoration and handed it to Ciaran, never once taking his eyes off his enemy. “Don’t come closer,” he commanded. Ciaran nodded and touched himself with the wand, healing his brother in the process.

Basile continued to walk forward, noticing how the tiefling paid him no mind. Could he not see through his invisibility, or was he that ignorant?

Chaos ensued as Alkaid fired off what seemed like a hundred arrows into the Demon Lords and Mara. One of the rings on Mara’s hand glowed as he ripped the arrows out of him. Nearby, the Demon Lords continued to attack Lorn and Ragnarok. The Wizard cast Moment of Prescience to create a white shield around himself as three Frost Giants were summoned. They swung their war hammers, but Lorn blocked each attack with his shield.

“Don’t worry, I got you, buddy!” Biff shouted as he jumped out from behind Bubbles to try and disintegrate Mara. The tiefling merely laughed as he resisted the attack.

“I said he’s mine!” Basile shouted in his mind, feeling rage overwhelming him. He had never wanted to kill a man so desperately in his life. Not Henrik, not even Krause. They were just humans. Mara was just like Basile: a Scion of Lucifer. He needed to be eradicated.

With an explosion, Ragnarok’s spiked armor glowed and ripped through Fraz-urb’luu. Chunks of his body littered the ground, his ichor seeping into the dry earth. At the sight of the Demon Lord’s death, Mara roared with rage. The blood seeping from his wounds turned black like tar, hardening as if to create another layer of protection. Wings sprouted from his back and his hands became massive claws. Lastly the marks of Lucifer seemed to drip from the corner of his eyes down his throat, and his horns grew larger to curl into the air. Whatever humanity left in Mara was gone.

At the sight of Mara’s devil form, Biff hid behind the earth elemental and cast Inflame the Righteous. A shield of fire appeared around each of the Associates, even Basile.

At that moment, Mara clapped his clawed hands together and pulled them apart to manifest a a green glaive. Basile grabbed his own glaive off his back, squeezing the hilt tightly. “How dare he use the same weapon as Pythos.”

Mara spun his glaive around and struck out at Chronos, banishing him from the Abyss. However, Rhaegar took the moment of his distraction to run up to the tiefling and slam Torch into his head. The force of his attack cracked the former-tiefling’s horns. Mara reeled from the pain, roaring as he staggered back.

“Basile, what do I do?” Ciaran thought in a panic as his brother approached Mara.

“Help me survive,” Basile replied, dropping his invisibility.

“No! Don’t show yourself!”

“Ciaran, cast Wraith Strike,” Lorn instructed telepathically, continuing to dodge the attacks of the Frost Giants.

Ciaran nodded, copying the spell Lorn taught him. Basile felt his glaive vibrating with energy, and he smiled as Mara turned to catch his eye. He activated his Anklet of Translocation to teleport right up to Mara and slashed down with his glaive, catching him off guard and slicing his chest. As he swung up to strike again, Mara blocked his attack and stepped back. Basile pressed forward, forcing his thoughts to invade Mara’s mind despite the pain of Lucifer’s mark.

“You have no idea who you’ve pissed off,” Basile ducked as Mara swiped his glaive over him. He struck out and pierced Mara in the side, then yanked it out to take a step back. “You’re going to regret ever threatening my family and friends.” Basile smashed the hilt of his glaive up into Mara’s chin, knocking him back before bringing the blade across his neck. A thin line of blood beaded up on the devil’s skin, mingling with the dried ichor on his throat. “I’ll make you pay for what you did to Pythos in Mechanus.” A memory flashed in Basile’s mind: Pythos stabbing Henrik through the leg to help Ambrosio escape from capture. Basile knew he could do better than that. As Mara spun his glaive around and swung at Basile, Basile ducked backwards and felt the tip slice his cheek. In response, he jabbed his glaive at Mara’s legs and knocked him to his knees. “In Ioun’s name, I will destroy you.”

“Basile, don’t!” Alkaid shouted, but it was too late. With a pained shout, Basile drove his glaive through Mara’s chest, piercing through his armor and slipping between his ribs. He felt the resistance of Mara’s muscles and pressed harder until his glaive broke through the other side and embedded into the soil

Mara’s eyes widened as he slumped and slid to the ground. He opened his mouth to speak as black blood bubbled up and seeped over his chin. Basile breathed heavily as his glaive glowed white, enchanted with every spell that could hurt Mara. Then Mara’s vision seemed to clear, and he grinned as he realized who he was fighting.

“It’s you,” he croaked out. “Scion.”

“It’s over, Mara,” Basile replied, twisting his glaive to make the devil suffer.

Mara laughed weakly – painfully. “On the contrary…it’s only just beginning.” He then let his head fall back as he stared up at the sky and began chanting in infernal: “From where you came you shall remain, until you are complete again.”

The blood seeping from his body began to thicken into a large pool, before forming into a massive glob above the two of them. Then, they heard a loud heartbeat shaking the earth as Fraz-urb’luu’s heart ripped out of his chest and collided into the sacrificial blood. Realization came over the Associates as their gold and gems were sucked out of their bags and into the orb of blood. Basile watched in horror as Rhaegar dropped to his knees; the Key of Infernus flew out of his bag to combine with the other components.

“You lose, Eythan,” Mara whispered before the life drained from his eyes. Dread spread through the Abyss like a disease, causing even the Frost Giants and the remaining Demon Lord to pause. Everyone watched as the portal of blood stretched and caught fire, tearing open the gate to Infernus.

“What have I done?” Basile thought with despair, hearing laughter from within Infernus.

“Oh god, what do we do?” Alkaid shouted in a panic, looking over at Lorn.

“One moment, I’m thinking,” Lorn replied as he racked his mind for a solution.

“We don’t have a moment!” Rhaegar yelled, getting back to his feet.

Ciaran ran forward and ripped off his amulet. He held it up in the air, the light from the gate to Infernus reflecting off the tiny golden hourglass dangling from his hand.

“For Dwayne!” he shouted. For a moment nothing happened, as though Lucifer himself was trying to prevent time from going backwards. Then suddenly, everyone felt themselves being shot backwards in time. In mere seconds, they watched their life in reverse until the portal vanished, Mara was back on his feet, and time had been reset.

“The hearts!” Basile shouted as he rushed to attack Mara once more. Ragnarok grabbed the heart of Fraz-urb’luu in his mouth and charged toward Lorn. He knocked the frost giants aside and Lorn jumped onto his back. The wizard held out his hand toward the Demon Lord before him.

“Come with me unless you want to die.”

After seeing what took place, the Demon Lord didn’t hesitate to take Lorn on his offer, the the three of them place shifted out of the Abyss. With one of the components gone, Basile continued to attack Mara with a flurry of blows, changing his tactics to avoid repeating a moveset that Mara would recognize. As Mara struck at him, Basile activated his Anklet of Translocation once more to teleport behind him and slice him behind the knees, knocking him down once more. He smashes the black of his glaive against Mara to spin him around before stabbing him through once more.

Mara fell silent, staring at the blade through his chest. He looked up, the rage in his eyes now gone. For a moment, he almost looked human, but the marks running down his cheeks was a reminder of the evil lurking within him.

“No, Mara,” Basile said with a triumphant smile. “You lose.”

As the life drained from Mara, Biff peeked out from behind Bubbles and played a note on his triangle. A green triangle shaped Disintegrate spell crashed into Mara. Basile ripped out his glaive and watched as his relative dissolved into dust. He trembled as his adrenaline began to fade and fatigue began to overcome him. Basile collapsed onto the ground, his vision growing dizzy. Everyone began to cheer with eruphoria around him as the realization that they won came over them. Basile leaned on his glaive as Ciaran ran over to him and hugged him.

“You did it, Basile!” Ciaran cheered.

“No, you did it, Ciaran,” Basile said as he hugged his brother back. “I’m proud of you.”

When the dust had settled, Ragnarok and Lorn returned to help collect the spoils of their victory. The wizard walked over to Lorn and helped Basile get to his feet, healing the damage caused to his bond with Ciaran. Alkaid flew over and fist bumped Basile, stating that they needed to get a drink. For once, Basile agreed.

The Associates gathered together and held hands as Lorn plane shifted them back to Neebsenshire, arriving at the well where their adventures began.

“We should go to the Lair,” Alkaid suggested. “Celebrate the fact that we just saved the world from Lucifer’s invasion.”

“Count me in,” Rhaegar said quickly.

“Only one flask!” Ciaran reminded, causing the warblade to groan.

“You’re gonna be the death of me kid,” Rhaegar said as he ruffled Ciaran’s hair and headed to Marven’s bar. Ciaran followed after gleefully, grabbing Alkaid hand to drag her along.

“I’ll be there in a bit,” Basile called out before heading to the Temple of Ioun. “Are you coming, Lorn?” he asked as he noticed the elf walking back toward his tower.

“I will pass this time,” Lorn replied. “I have research to attend to.”

“Suit yourself,” Basile sighed as he jogged over to the temple, adrenaline still pumping through his veins. His parents opened the door for him, almost expecting his arrival.

“Eythan, you’re back already?” his mother asked with surprise as he came up the steps and hugged her tightly.

“You sounded quite grim before you left,” Levi added. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, everything is great, actually,” Basile said with a low chuckle. “The demon we were looking for is dead, as well as the leader of the Unholy Crusade.”

“You’ll have to tell your brothers all about it,” Dahlia said as she walked him inside. “I know Tomas will want to hear every detail.”

“And Judah has always been one for adventure,” Levi added.

“We’re actually all on our way to the Lair to celebrate. I’d appreciate it if you would come as well.”

“Isn’t it a bit early to be drinking?” Judah chided as he rounded the corner with Tomas.

The younger twin grinned, “I thought you didn’t drink anyways.”

Basile shrugged in response. “Saving the universe calls for some exceptions.”

“Saved the universe?” Levi asked with surprise. “What in Ioun’s name have you gotten yourself into?”

“I’ll tell you all about it at the bar,” Basile said as he walked up to his brothers and rested his hands on their shoulders. “Be sure to invite Charlotte as well, Judah. She’s family after all.”

“And what about me?”

Basile turned to see Eyrene walking down the hall from the bedroom. He smiled and walked up to meet her. He reached out to take her hand, catching her off guard by the gesture. “I want you to be there, too. Will you come?”

She smiled in response, and Basile could sense the rush of happiness in her thoughts. “I’d love to hear all about it.”

***

When the Addlers and Kenters arrived at the bar, most of the Associates were already starting to party. Ciaran was sitting in the back, watching Marven and Neebs playing chess. Rhaegar sat next to him, unable to partake in drinking. Alkaid was sitting at the bar, waving them over to join her. He took Eyrene’s hand and led her over toward Alkaid, with the rest of his family following suit. Alkaid handed Basile a drink as he took a seat beside her, with Eyrene on his other side.

“Try this jelly shot,” Alkaid said firmly.

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Basile replied as he knocked it back. He coughed after it went down, the acid burning his throat. However, it left an overly sweet sensation in his mouth. “Note to self, I’m not resistant to acid.”

Alkaid laughed in response. “Want another?”

“Fuck me up, Alkaid,” he said as she waved over Regis to start ordering drinks.

“You shouldn’t be too irresponsible,” Eyrene teased as she elbowed him. “After all, you still need to be ready at the sign of any danger.”

“I think we’ll be fine for one night,” Basile said with a grin. “Do you want anything? Elven wine? A mixed drink?”

“Some dwarven ale,” she said. “When in Neebsenshire, drink as the locals do.”

Regis handed them both a pint of ale, and they clinked their glasses before drinking.

“So tell us about what happened,” Tomas said eagerly, leaning over the bar to look down at Basile from the other end.

With that, Basile and Alkaid began to relive the events that nearly destroyed their plane of existence. As he continued to drink, the worried thoughts of his parents faded away in the back of his mind, and he could only sense his brothers’ excitement from the looks on their faces. However, Eyrene’s voice still managed to slip into his mind, as though begging to be heard through the fog of alcohol. He stared intently at her as he spoke, trying to hold on.

Near the end of his tale, there was an abrupt lack of music that caught Basile’s attention. He turned in his chair to see Regis begrudgingly helping the previous band leave the bar as H’rathen and four winged women came up to the bar. Basile felt his face flushing as he noticed they were wearing very little armor to cover themselves. He heard Judah grunt in pain as Charlotte punched him in the arm for staring at them for too long, and noticed his mother turning Tomas around in his chair to face the wall. Basile looked over at his dad and saw that he paid no attention, only staring at his wife with a smile.

“Alkaid, Basile! Good to see you. Have you had the chance to meet my girlfriends?” he introduced as they took a seat in a line beside him.

“H’rathen, please buy us something to drink,” one of the women said, her voice thick with an unusual accent.

“Anything for you my darlings! Regis, please give these women everything you have on the house!”

“Double the price,” Marven shouted from the other side of the room, not bothering to look up from his game of chess with Neebs.

“I’ll go to Modelheim to get some more,” Alkaid whispered before vanishing into thin air.

Basile observed the scene as Regis gave pint after pint of alcohol to the four angelic beings, wondering if H’rathen could afford their drinking habits at Marven’s prices.

“Looks like you’re doing well,” Basile said carefully as H’rathen slid him a drink.

“Never been better!” H’rathen said stiffly. “Kord has blessed me with his own valkyries as a token of thanks for serving him all my life.What could a man possibly want more in life then four beautiful women at his side?”

“One woman is usually enough for most men,” Basile replied quickly, squinting his eyes as he tried to read his old friend’s thoughts. He thought he heard the traces of “help me” but couldn’t quite make it out.

“Enough about me, what about you? Going through any existential crisis that you need to talk about?”

“Other than being the scion of the Wicked One?” Basile said with a bitter laugh as he took another swig of his ale.

“How about women! Do you need help getting a woman?”

Basile nearly spit out his drink and started coughing. “Excuse me?!”

“I’ve never been happier than spending all of my money on these beautiful valkyries, having them keep me up all hours of the night with their ravenous desires,” H’rathen rambled, his eyes wide as though in fear. “Tell me, have you ever been with a woman, Basile?”

“Yes, tell us, Eythan. Have you ever been with a woman?” Judah chided.

“Anyone other than Eyrene, that is,” Tomas added, his comment innocent in nature but loaded with the wrong implications. They both earned a scolding look from their father as Basile cleared his throat awkwardly. He could sense Eyrene adjusting in her seat.

“No, H’rathen, I’ve never been with a woman and I don’t need help finding a woman either,” Basile started, growing more flustered by the second.

“I do not need to be hearing this,” Dahlia said as she shook her head, causing Tomas and Judah to burst out laughing.

“How about children?” H’rathen pressed, not seeming to pick up on Basile’s discomfort.

“Absolutely not,” Basile said sharply. “Never. The last thing I want is to further my bloodline.”

“But children are a wonderful thing! Take Ciaran, for instance.”

“Why does this matter?” Basile interrupted. “Why do you care about who I date?”

“Because it makes you a man,” Neebs said as he walked up and slapped Basile and H’rathen on the back. “There’s nothing better in life than the love a woman; from they way they kiss you when you return from adventure, to how they unleash their most primal desires when -”

“Okay, okay, I got it!” Basile shouted as he pulled away from Neebs’ grasp and turned to face Eyrene his cheeks red. “I hate them. I hate them so much,” he said quietly as Neebs and H’rathen began talking about the valkyries. Shortly after, Alkaid returned with two barrels of Modelheimian Ale, dropping it off behind the bar for Regis to start pouring out.

“What’s up with you?” she asked as she sat back down next to Basile.

“Don’t ask, it’s not important,” Basile said as he reached for another glass of alcohol.

“Eythan’s just embarrassed that he’s still a virgin,” Judah joked loudly.

“Well, I’m still a virgin,” Tomas said, as though he was trying to defend Basile’s masculinity. “The only reason you’re not is because you’re married to Charlotte.”

“And he doesn’t get much out of me anyways,” Charlotte added, grinning savagely as Judah looked at her betrayed.

“You three knock it off already,” Dahlia said. “We’re here to celebrate Eythan’s victory, not your sex lives.”

“Please kill me,” Basile groaned as Eyrene pat him on the back.

“Hey, Basile,” Marven said as he walked over. “We need a fourth person to partake in a drinking contest.” He gestured over toward a table where the valkyries were sitting with Neebs and Biff. “Apparently H’rathen thinks it will make the valkyries leave him alone if they lose.”

Basile glanced over and sighed, feeling bad for his friend. “Yeah, sure thing.” He stood up and felt the floor shift below him. He immediately grabbed the counter to right himself. “Uh…I think I’m a bit too far gone to be of help.”

Marven shrugged in response. “I guess I’ll get Goa’wei to help.” He turned and walked toward the entrance of his lair to retrieve the young blue dragon. Basile sat back down and took a breath.

“Need some water?” Eyrene asked, leaning over toward him.

“Yeah, I think that’s smart.” He looked over at Alkaid, who had turned herself into an eagle and was trying to pry open a barrel of ale with her talons. “I think Alkaid needs to be cut off as well.”

As Eyrene got Regis’ attention for water, Basile watched the drinking contest ensue. Marven and Neebs had no trouble holding their liquor as they chugged their Kordic beer, and the Valkyries they opposed were unable to keep up. However, Goa’wei and Biff fell flat drunk before they could finish.

“We need a tiebreaker against H’rathen,” Neebs shouted, looking over at Basile.

“I already told Marven, I’m too drunk,” Basile shouted back, his voice slightly slurring.

“What about Ciaran?”

“Absolutely not!” Dahlia said in shock. “He’s only a boy.”

“You know I don’t want him to drink,” Basile argued as Ciaran ran up beside him.

“But we have to help H’rathen somehow,” Ciaran said with wide, innocent eyes.

“You’re too young.”

“I’ve spoken with gods,” Ciaran shot back quickly. “There’s nothing I can’t do. Besides, we can just use our bond to help me stay strong and drink enough until H’rathen loses.”

“Are you seriously going to let him do this?” Eyrene asked with surprise.

Basile narrowed his eyes and stared Ciaran down, who didn’t even blink in response. After a long pause, Basile felt a warm sensation trickling through his skin as their bond was activated. “Sounds logical enough to me.”

“Eythan!” his mother scolded as Ciaran ran off toward the drinking contest.

“If I was sober I wouldn’t even consider it,” Basile argued. “But Ciaran has dealt with much worse than alcohol. He fought in a tournament that cost me my arms, and watched me die like…two times.”

“He what?!”

“He’ll be fine, trust me. I’d never put him into any real danger.”

“Except let him adventure with you while you fight against the Wicked One,” Charlotte reminded him.

“If I were still able to ground you…” Daliah grumbled as Levi chuckled and distracted her from what was going on. Basile watched anxiously as Ciaran slowly drank the massive glass of beer. H’rathen made a quick distraction that caused the valkryies to look away. Ciaran cast prestidigitation to make the glass look empty and H’rathen made himself vomit and pretended to pass out.

“Guess I win!” Ciaran said triumphantly as he ran back over to Basile. “I barely had to drink anything. Are you proud of me?”

“Always,” Basile said.

“Yay! I’m gonna go dance now, okay?” Ciaran said as he grabbed Eyrene’s hand. “I’m taking Eyrene with me.”

“Ciaran, don’t bother her,” Basile started as he watched Eyrene slide off her barstool.

“It’s not a bother at all,” she said as she followed Ciaran to the dance floor. “I’m quite fond of dancing anyways.” She beckoned Charlotte to join them, and the three started a small circle in the middle of the Lair.

Basile leaned over and folded his arms on the table, resting his head as he watched them dance. He listened to his dad talk about the last time he was able to drink Modelheimian ale. He closed his eyes and felt content. It felt like only a moment passed when Eyrene nudged him awake.

“You’re falling asleep at the bar?” she said with a breathy laugh. Her cheeks were red from dancing and her breathing was heavy.

“It’s so quiet,” Basile murmured, not realizing how tired he was. He noticed the confused look on her face and tapped his temple with his finger slowly. “It’s quiet up here. I can’t hear people’s thoughts for once.”

“Hear people’s thoughts? Like some mind reader?” she asked curiously as she back down at the bar.

“Yeah, like…I know what people are thinking even if they don’t say it. When I’m drunk it goes away. When I’m hungover, it gets too loud.”

“So you can’t tell what I’m thinking right now?”

Basile concentrated as hard as he could, but his head was silent. “Nope. Nothing. My mind is quiet for once.” He felt like the bar was rocking and groaned. “But peace of mind comes with a cost.”

“And when you’re sober you do know what I’m thinking.”

“Pretty much.” He noticed her face turn read and immediately started blushing as well. He sat up straight, his vision going blurry as the blood rushed to his head. “Oh…oh no that came out so much creepier than it really is. I’m not, like, spying on your thoughts all the time. Voices are just always there and I try to ignore them, but I pay attention when people think about me. God, I probably sound crazy with all this telepathy talk…”

“No, no! You’re fine, it’s just something I didn’t realize someone could do,” Eyrene said quickly in response.

“It’s another thing I inherited from my bloodline. Along with the horns, and the skin, and the tail and…yeah.”

Eyrene leaned against the bar and crossed her legs, facing Basile. “You know, you get more interesting every day, Eythan Addler.”

“And you manage to make me feel normal, Eyrene Kenter,” Basile replied with a smile, the atmosphere of the bar seeming to melt away as he focused on her.

***

That evening, Basile returned to the Temple of Ioun and collapsed onto his bed. He buried his face into the pillows and took a deep breath. His sheets smelled like flowers. .

“Have you forgotten that you’ve been sleeping in Ciaran’s room?” Eyrene said with amusement, her voice only slightly slurred after their hours of partying.

“I haven’t forgotten. I just want my bed tonight. I’m tired of sleeping on the floor.”

“And where am I supposed to sleep?” Eyrene asked as she sat on the edge of the bed, taking a blanket and draping it over Basile. “On a bedroll?”

“My bedroll gives you a magical night’s sleep in only an hour,” Basile commented. “So it’s not a terrible option.”

The two of them fell silent, the only sounds of the crickets outside the window. Everyone else in the Addler household was already asleep. Despite his short nap at the Lair, Basile still felt exhausted. He knew the next day was going to be rough for him. He’d have Ciaran cast Mind Blank on him to help with the voices.

“Can I ask you something?” Eyrene said quietly, her voice barely a whisper.

Basile rolled over on his bed to look up at her. “Yeah, you can ask me anything.”

Eyrene opened her mouth as though to say something, then awkwardly tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. Her eyes were locked on the floor – too embarrassed to look Basile in the eye. Seeing her so concerned made him uncomfortable and sobered him up a bit.

“What’s wrong?” he asked tentatively.

“It’s just…you’re telepathic…”

“Yeah…”

“And even if you’re not actively trying to spy on people’s thoughts, you still hear them?”

“If I focus I can hear specific thoughts, otherwise it’s more of a general idea.”

Eyrene took a deep breath and let it out slowly, as though steeling herself. “So you know how I feel about you.”

At first, Basile wasn’t sure how to response. He had a strong assumption that she had developed feelings for him, but hearing her acknowledge it made his chest ache. With a spark of bravery, he reached out and took Eyrene’s hand.

“Would it help if I told you that I feel the same?”

Eyene held her breath for a moment and squeezed his hand lightly. He could feel her trembling. “You do?”

“I’ve always liked you,” Basile confessed, his stomach churning anxiously. “When we were kids, I thought you were awesome. Even though you were older and could hang out with other people, you’d still want to play with me. You were my best friend and I like you even more now.” He paused and closed his eyes, but that only made his dizziness worse. He looked back at her again and focused on her face. “Sorry, I’m still a bit drunk and probably talking too much.”

“Don’t be sorry! It’s a relief to know that I’m not misreading everything,” she said hastily. “Unlike you, I’ve been in a few relationships so I kinda know what signs to look for and I had a feeling you maybe liked me but I didn’t want to be wrong cause that’d be super embarrassing.”

“God, women are mind readers of their own,” Basile said with a flustered smile. “Was I that obvious?”

“No, not really,” Eyrene admitted. “You’re much harder to read than most men.”

“I’ve gotten used to hiding myself. If people don’t know I exist, they can’t use anything against me.”

Eyrene’s smile faltered as the conversation took a turn. “What do you mean?”

Basile sat up and folded his hands in his lap, fiddling with his thumbs. “I’ve been invisible for nearly a decade, hiding in fear of being hurt. Ever since I started opening up to the other Associates, bad things have happened. I’ve watched my friends and their families get hurt. My parents and brothers have been attacked or threatened because of what I am. Letting people get close to me is dangerous.”

“But what if I don’t care about the danger,” Eyrene said, causing Basile’s mouth to go dry. “What if I want to stay with you?”

Basile looked up at her and felt his chest ache. “I…want that, too….but I can’t risk you getting hurt. Until Lucifer is dealt with…it’s just too dangerous to let myself get attached…”

“I understand.” Eyrene reached out to rest her hand against Basile’s cheek, her thumb brushing against the black tear streak running down his face. He couldn’t help but lean into her palm. “But it’s nice to know that we’re on the same page.”

Basile closed his eyes and sighed. Sleep was grasping for him, pulling him under, but he still had so much more he had to tell her. He didn’t want her to go.

“Will you stay with me tonight?”

“I thought you didn’t want to get too close.”

“Just this once.”

Eyrene smiled and laid down on the bed next to Basile. He laid back and let her rest her head against his shoulder. For a moment, Basile worried that he smelled too much like alcohol, but the comfort of having her next to him made his anxiety fade away.

***

Basile woke up to a loud crash in his room and searing light. He jolted up in bed and felt Eyrene sit up beside him, wrapped up in the blanket.

“What the hell was that?” he said, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. The moonlight filtered into his room through a hole in the wall, illuminating a figure standing before him.

“How dare you kill him!” Ember screeched in agony as she opened her mouth. Basile jerked and pulled Eyrene against his chest as he turned his back to Ember. Acid sprayed against his back, causing him to cry out in pain as he made sure Eyrene wasn’t injured.

“W-what’s going on?!” Eyrene said in shock as she trembled.

Basile grabbed his anklets of translocation off the floor and shoved them to Eyrene. “You need to get out of here.”

“B-but, Eythan – ”

“Go!” He turned and flung his arm out at Ember, hellfire igniting around his arm and billowing out to engulf her in flame. The room lit up in a blue glow as he felt Eyrene vanish. Ember roared in fury as wings and a tail sprouted from her back. As Basile dashed to escape, she lunged at him and bit into his arm.

“Marven!” he called out in his mind, his head pounding as the terrified thoughts of his family overwhelmed him. “Ember’s in my room! She’s attacking me, help!” He barely heard Marven’s response as she raked her claws into his back and chest. He fell to the ground as blood bubbled up in his throat and gushed out onto the floor. He feebly tried to crawl away, but he knew that it was no use. She slashed a wing across his head and he hit the floor, everything going dark, his last thought about Eyrene.

He gasped and woke up, coughing up whatever blood was remaining in his mouth. His ears rang as he pulled himself up to his feet and saw that his entire room was burnt to a crisp. Marven stood beside him, the residual flames from his breath weapon escaping his mouth. Outside of the door, he saw Ciaran holding his Amulet of Emergency Healing.

Dazed, he hastily slipped on his armor and watched as Ember fought off Biff and Marven, causing the latter of the two to dissolve into ashes with a disintegration spell. Ciaran grabbed the Amulet of Second Chances and rewound time. Basile activated his bond with Ciaran, just in time for Ember to lash out at him and attack. He thrust his glaive into her side as her claws dug into him. He twisted it as she writhed in pain, thankful that he was numb for a little while. However, it wasn’t enough to stop her from casting her spell again and killing Marven.

Basile yanked out his glaive and swung for another attack, but she dashed to the side and dodged. She pulled out a flask of blood and chugged it, doubling over as two more sets of arms sprouted from her side. Her wings doubled in size and grew feathers, and massive horns sprouted from the top of her head. A great sword and a pick axe materialized in her hands as she unleashed an unholy howl.

He backed up out of the room, fear almost overwhelming him. Then in an instant, he heard the whistle of arrows flying past his head and driving into Ember. She stumbled back as twelve arrows lodged into her body, ice spreading up her body. The tendrils then turned black, frost bite spreading throughout her until she froze in place, reaching out for Basile with a feral look in her eye. One final arrow slammed into her skull and made her entire body shatter onto the floor.

“Are you okay?” Alkaid said as she flew over to Basile, resting her hand against his back to steady him.

“I’m okay now,” he said hollowly. “I think she and Mara were working together.” He turned and looked out into the distance, sending a quick thank you to Neebs. He watched as Neebs flew from atop his watchtower to the temple.

“Is there anything else we need to worry about?” Neebs asked as he landed, completely naked except for his bow.

“Marven’s dead,” Basile explained grimly.

“Why the hell are you naked?” Alkaid screeched as she turned away. Basile grabbed his cloak from off the floor and handed it to Neebs, but the former king ignored it and moved into the center of the room. He bent down and grabbed Marven’s items, tying his Belt of Battle around his waist so the Bag of Holding would cover him.

“Alright, it’s time for you to do your magic. You got this buddy,” Neebs whispered to his bow as he laid it on the floor. He then sat down and watched it intently. Basile sighed and sat down as well, familiar with the resurrection process.

After several minutes, the bow began to tremble and shake, until it was rocking and spinning in a circle. The string then began to stretch far past the limits of the bow itself until it was tall enough for a man to walk through. With a flash of light, Marven materialized before them on the ground. Basile handed him his cloak, but Marven ignored him and began yelling at Neebs to give him his stuff back.

“I don’t have time for this,” Basile grumbled as he turned and left his room to start running through the town.

“Where are you going?” Alkaid shouted after him.

“Looking for my family! Please watch Ciaran!”

Basile dashed through the streets, calling out for his family. Even with his mind sight, the chaos was too much to navigate. Everyone was awake and scared about the sudden attack on the Temple. At one point, it became too much and he had to stop. He held his head in his hands, pulling his hair at the roots in frustration. Where are they?

“Eythan!” Dahlia cried out as she ran out of a nearby building. She hugged her son tightly, tears spilling from her eyes as he hugged her back. “Thank Ioun you’re alive!”

Basile held onto her, relief washing over him and making his knees weak. The rest of his family came over, crowding around and hugging each other.

“Are you okay, son?” Levi asked as he squeezed Basile’s shoulder, steadying him.

“Yeah, I was only dead for a moment,” he mumbled, his voice cracking.

“Dead?” Dahlia weeped. “Oh my god, my baby.”

“Who attacked you?” Tomas asked, his eyes wide with worry.

“Marven’s crazy sister. I think she wanted revenge for Mara…” With that realization, guilt began to eat away at him. “Oh my god…she attacked us because I killed him. It’s all my fault.”

“None of this is your fault,” Judah said. “You couldn’t have known this would happen.”

“I brought you all to Neebsenshire so that you would be safe, so that you wouldn’t have to worry about any danger.”

“No place is a utopia,” Levi explained soothingly. “Sometimes bad things happen. You just have to do your best to protect those you care about.”

“Eyrene!” He looked around frantically, not seeing the Kenter’s with his family. “Where is she? Please tell me she’s okay.”

“She’s right over there,” Charlotte said calmly, pointing over toward where they had taken shelter in a nearby shop. “She warned us about what was happening and told your dad to send a message to Neebs.”

Basile pulled away from his mom and ran over to the Kenters. Eyrene was kneeling by her grandfather, who was sitting on the ground. Her mother paced beside them. As he approached, Eyrene’s voice broke through all of the shouting in his head.

“I almost died.”

“Eyrene!” he called out, catching her attention. As she stood up, he caught her off guard and pulled her close to him. He felt his bond with Ciaran fading, fatigue overcoming him as he held onto her tighter for support. “I’m so sorry,” he said lowly, burying his face into her shoulder and curing his fingers into her shirt. “I should have never let myself…”

“Eythan…” she replied shakily.

“I was so scared,” he choked. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to save you in time.”

“Eythan, stop.” She pulled away from him for a moment, looking him up and down with tears in her eyes. Basile held his breath as she traced her hands along his body to look at his wounds. He winced as she touched his acid burns and gashes. “I left you behind…”

“It’s fine if I die,” Basile insisted. “I’m not scared of that anymore. But you would have died if you stayed, and I can’t bear to lose you.” He looked over at Eyrene’s mother and grandfather and felt his chest tighten with regret. “Mrs. Ophelia, I’m sorry I’ve dragged you into this. I just wanted to keep you safe and I – ”

“Thank you, Eythan,” Ophelia interrupted as she walked over and hugged the two of them. “You saved my little girl.”

Suddenly, a blast of light in the distance shot up into the air and a black hole in the sky began to form. Basile felt dread come over him as the hole started to spread. Root like streaks of black stretching out blocking out the stars. The ground beneath them began to grow soft, the stone paths sinking into the earth as undead creatures began crawling up from beneath. The penultimate omen was that of a massive black dragon taking off toward the mountains.

“Eythan, what’s happening?” Ophelia asked in fear.

In the distance, they heard Marven’s voice ring out through the town: “Citizens of Neebsenshire, come to me.”

“I have no idea but we need to go,” Basile said as he looked over to where his family was standing. Basile helped the Kenter’s carry Terrence over to the Addler’s, and both families began to make their way to the Lair. Basile activated his Rod of Bodily Restoration to heal himself before blasting hellfire at any undead that came their way. Ciaran sprinted toward them from the Temple of Ioun and cast Turn Undead to help clear the path. As they arrived at the Lair, they saw Alkaid and Marven ushering people into the club. Basile led his family through the crowds toward the back where he knew they would be safest.

“Everyone needs to stay here while we figure out what’s going on,” Basile instructed, trying to remain calm. Ciaran reached out and grabbed his hand, steadying his trembling hand. “I’ll come back as soon as possible.”

“I’ll keep him safe,” Ciaran added proudly, hiding his own fears well.

The two of them broke away from their family and rejoined Marven near the front.

“Marven, what’s going on?” Basile asked as Alkaid ran up toward them.

“Marven gave me this necklace and then he collapsed, and a huge dragon fell from the sky, and now zombies are attacking again,” she rambled in panic.

“It’s worse than that,” Marven said dejectedly. “A few months ago, I was with Ashisa trying to get Lilli to speak her first sentence, and I suddenly blacked out. The next thing I knew, my body was moving and saying things against my control. I realized that Pendralar had managed to possess me to move forward with the plans I’ve been resisting for so long.”

“S-so that dragon that took off was Pendralar?” Alkaid asked.

“Yes. He used me to kill Ember, retrieve the decanter of his blood, and perform the ritual to release him from the Eternal Bog and…apparently bring it here,” Marven concluded. “I tried to call out for help, but nothing seemed to work. No one could hear me.”

“Marven, I’m sorry I didn’t realize something was wrong sooner,” Basile apologized, now noticing how clear the gnome’s thoughts were. “I try not to pry into your thoughts, and when I would check on you he had mimicked you so well…”

“It’s fine. We just need to figure out how to stop him now.”

Biff walked up to the group carrying all of Ember’s items, handing Marven the great sword she had used against them. “Take this, you’ll probably need it, bud. I also divided up the gold she was carrying in case we need to buy more supplies.”

Basile took the sack of gold and handed it to Ciaran. “Is there anything you know that we can do to stop this?”

Marven shook his head. “No nothing…unless…” he paused for a moment. “There was a story my mother used to tell me…I doubt it’s true…”

“It’s worth a shot, eh?” Biff said with a shrug.

“Well, she told me that there was a golden dragon named Velerex, who was Pendralar’s mortal enemy. He and his army, the Amber Flame, were able to keep Pendralar from overthrowing the world. However, Pendralar was able to create the Ebbonfire to defeat Velerex and his men. Apparently, my father was the last remaining member of the Amber Flame before he converted to the Ebbonfire. I don’t think there are any other members of the Amber Flame alive, but it’s probably our best lead.”

Basile looked around the room pensively, trying to determine what to do next. Past the mingled thoughts of the entire town condensed into one space, he could hear the undead swamp creatures trying to break into the Lair. He needed to protect his family, but didn’t know how.

Until he caught sight of Rhaegar calming down a family in the back.

“Ciaran, go steal the Heart of Mechanus off Rhaegar,” he ordered.

“Couldn’t I just ask for it?”

“No time. Just get it back to me.”

He watched as Ciaran darted through the crowd, stealthily making his way to Rhaegar before reaching into his back to pull out the mechanical heart and running back to Basile while yelling, “Basile needs to borrow this!”

Basile walked over toward an empty corner of the room and pulled out a scroll of True Resurrection from his bag. He held the paper in his hands, knowing that it was the one thing that could bring him back if all hell broke loose. But with the gold Biff stole off Ember, he had a second chance. Now, he could try something more important.

Ciaran handed him the Heart of Mechanus and Basile turned it in his hands. He was slightly disturbed to realize it was the same of an average human heart. It was made of gold and gears, which ticked quietly as the clockwork pieces turned. He ran his finger along the most prominent gear and turned it half a rotation, then pressed a button on the side to lock it into place. He then flipped the heart over and twisted a small knob three clicks.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Ciaran whispered, trying to not distract Basile but curious as to what he was doing.

“Considering I’ve never seen one of these before, not a clue. Just following my gut instincts at this point,” he said as he held the heart out in front of him. He unfurled the scroll in his left hand and held it up, beginning to chant the arcane words inscribed on the parchment. With how many times he’s had to recite this spell, he felt confident that he could do so with his eyes closed; but he didn’t want to mess this up.

The clock began to glow and shake in his hands, the gears spinning wildly as the energy of the spell energized the artifact. He watched in awe as the heart began to dissolve into glitter, billowing into a cloud that solidified into the shape of a person. He took a few steps back as a man was resurrected before him. The scroll burned up in his hands, now spent on the being he willed back into existence.

Did it actually work? Is he…? Basile wondered as the mentor he lost appeared before him, defying all laws of magic. Pythos took a breath and looked up in confusion, glancing around the room to gain his bearings.

“Do you remember who you are?” Basile asked, ignoring the fact that tears were streaking down his cheeks. His chest was tight as Ciaran returned from behind the bar with a tablecloth. The boy handed it to Pythos, who slowly covered himself with it. “Do you remember who I am?”

“Ambrosio…” Pythos murmured before pausing. “No, Basile. How is this possible?”

“I used the Heart of Mechanus to resurrect you,” Basile explained as he dropped to his knees before his mentor. All at once, the fractured memories he had of his mentor came back in full color. Basile wiped his eyes with his sleeve and began smiling uncontrollably. “You were erased from time by Mara, but I was able to bring you back…thank Ioun it worked.”

“I don’t understand why you would use such an artifact to resurrect me,” Pythos said as he held his hand against his chest, feeling the ticking heartbeat beneath his skin. “I had accepted my fate.”

“Well, I didn’t accept it,” Basile said defiantly. “I’m tired of losing the people I care about. I’ll do everything in my power to protect them.”

Pythos sighed and shook his head, a small smile gracing his lips. “You’ve always been so sentimental. You need to learn to let go.”

“I will once we defeat Lucifer once and for all.” Basile reached out to help Pythos get to his feet and stood up. The rest of the Associates made their way over to him, their memories restoring as Pythos looked over at them. “But I didn’t only resurrect you for myself,” Basile explained. “I’m hoping you can provide us with some information.”

Pythos nodded. “You know the deal.”

Basile explained everything that happened since Pythos’ death: their battle against Mara, Alkaid restoring Basile’s memory enough to perform a resurrection, their trip to Carcery, the portal to Infernus nearly opening, Ember’s attack, and finally the release of Pendralar. It was more than enough for an equal exchange of information.

“What do you need to know?”

“The only lead we have right now is the Amber Flame. Can you provide any information on them? Are any members still alive?”

Pythos closed his eyes and began to focus, the tattoos on his skin glowing as he connected with the universe. But after a moment, the light faded and Pythos opened his eyes. “My connection has been severed,” he said somberly. “I’m no longer supposed to exist, and the universe has chosen someone else to serve as it’s messenger. However…” he looked over at Biff and glanced at the demon heart in his bag. “That heart needs to be destroyed. A cold iron weapon should do the trick.”

“I don’t think anyone has anything cold iron on them,” Alkaid said.

“Just a second, I have an idea,” Basile said as he rushed over to the Kenter family. They were sitting with the Addlers, watching the scene anxiously. Basile walked up to Eyrene and leaned against the table. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have anything made with cold iron on you, would you? I figure you work with lots of materials and might have something on you.”

“First of all, there’s much more to me than my profession,” she said teasingly as she unhooked her bag from her waist.

“Of course, your job is just a facet of your life,” Basile replied as he watched her rummage around for something that might be useful.

“For instance, I am very creative and resourceful,” she continued.

“Indeed, you are.”

“And I always make sure I have useful items on hand.”

“I really love our banter, but now might not be the best time,” Basile said impatiently.

Eyrene pulled out a dagger and pointed it at him. “You’re lucky I don’t use this on you for that comment.” She then smiled and handed it to Basile. “You’re also lucky I happened to grab a cold iron dagger while running out of the temple.”

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Basile said with a thankful sigh as he took it from her.

“Yep, I do. Now go stab a demon heart.”

The tiefling felt his chest flutter for a moment as her smile eased his anxiety, yet when he turned away and headed back toward Pythos, he felt dread creeping up his spine again. Once everything was said and done, and Lucifer was no longer a threat, he knew that he would be rushing back to Eyrene to feel at ease once again.

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