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Excerpt from 'My Travels with Akibono'

by Talar Overnstorm

The castle stood bleak against the moonlight and stars, grimly looking down over the cliff on which it was built and the thick forest below. A wolf bayed out through the darkness that enveloped us. Through the gloom we saw Akibono unsheathe his sword and point towards the narrow trail up to the ominous gates. "Come, our friends" His oriental accent keen against the sharp stillness, "The one we seek lies within".

I looked to Drake, the Viking priest of Hagol that had accompanied us here to this dreadful place. He held his spiked mace, glowing with a pale blue light, confidently in his hands. Treading lightly he stepped through the gateway into the courtyard beyond. Marcus, his rapier out in his left hand, and a dagger deftly held in his right, followed. He had changed from his loud, vibrant finery of earlier, into a black silk shirt and bandanna, at his waist hung a variety of knives and weapons. Akibono entered next, dressed as always in his black oriental robes. He had sheathed his katana and drawn a long bow, an arrow half cocked within it. After a minute he waved us through. We entered carefully, our scimitar down and shield close to our body. As we stepped through the foreboding gateway into the magnificent courtyard, resplendent with gargoyles, columns, and balconies we was amazed, even in its rundown state, it still stopped a breath.

"Wow!". The voice behind us was that of Orlando, the half-elf mage. His sword was loose in its sheath, and he held an orb before him producing a milky white light that illuminated the many precipices and gave the place an eerie atmosphere. We slowly moved into the centre of the courtyard, our eyes scanning every nook and cranny of the large expanse of walls. "Doesn't seem too bad" Marcus said quietly. He placed his rapier on the ground and knelt to adjust his bootlace. At that moment the portcullis where we had been standing just moments before crashed down, and the gates slammed shut.

"What the...!" uttered Marcus, as he dived for his sword and jumped to his feet. A light appeared from the main doors to the castle as they swung open. A figure stood in the doorway, his cloak flowing and his eyes piercing right through us. "You shouldn't have come Akibono!" The figure boomed. "It's your funeral Zalarth" Akibono retorted, letting loose his arrow into a zombie that appeared from an alcove. Zalarth, the fmyth Vampire Count of Kardenspike Peak laughed, but humour was not present, "I had mine years ago, Now it's time for yours!!.....".

"Spread out, and engage!" Akibono growled, "But stick together!". From the surrounding doors and windows figures appeared. Fleet ghouls sprinted out at us. Zombies shuffled forward, arms outstretched seeking our flesh. Skeletons and other misshapen creatures clanked out in rusty armour with decaying weapons. Akibono loosed arrows into the horde until his quiver was spent, placed his bow back over his shoulder, and calmly turned to the approaching zombies. At the last possible instant, when it seemed he was engulfed within the swarm of creatures, a blur of motion and the glint of steel was the last thing to be seen by the three nearest zombies as they fell, neatly collapsing with their throats slit. Marcus emptied his crossbow bolts into an oncoming mumour, the gigantic creature toppling as he threw the spent weapon at it. Ripping his rapier from its scabbard he lunged taking a zombie in the chest. The creature halted and its throat was slashed by a fluid motion of his dagger. Kicking the corpse of his blade, Marcus span to face another eneour.

Drake, his back to a wall, touched a rune upon his battle mace, chanting as he did so. The huge weapon glowed brightly as it connected with the chest of a ghoul that dived at him, knife drawn. The walls and the oncoming zombies were painted with a interesting colour of gore as the ghoul exploded from his blow. With his next, two skeletons were shattered, one loosing its head, the other fell, its ribcage smashed. Drake grinned as he turned to face the oncoming zombies, " You want some too?".

At this point, we left the three to their own, as the Undead creatures swarmed towards the Mage and ourself. Brandishing our scimitar as best we knew, we leapt towards the nearest skeleton, sword raised. Unlike the others we was not proficient in the art of fighting, and our blows were easily parried by the foul creature. The skeleton retaliated, and we quickly fell to the defence, our shield restraining the battering of it's rusting sword. We resigned ourself to our forthcoming demise when from behind came the uttering of magical verse as Orlando brought forth from his hands a burning swirl of fire. We dived out the way as the fireball engulfed the creature, and when the brightness died away, there was nought left but ashes. With the mages' help, we were able to manage our small faction of the eneour, and after the mage produced a wall of fire to protect us, we was able to see how the others were coping.

Marcus, extravagant as he was, was duelling with a female vampire, whom we can only imagine to be Katherine, the Counts' mistress. They circled each other, occasionally daring to force the attack but to no avail. They matched each other blow for blow, each parrying or dodging anything sent their way. Slowly she was gaining an advantage over the cavalier, forcing him backwards with every attack. We was worried for the swashbuckler, as it seemed that the Baroness was his better, yet there still remained that incessant grin upon his cocky face. It dawned on me, at about the same time as the Baroness, that Marcus was actually right-handed. With a neat toss, he flipped his rapier into his right, and skilfully disarmed her sword. His left arm raised, and the spinning sword dropped perfectly into his opened hand. The vampire, now weaponless, fell to her knees begging mercy, but Marcus was not fooled by this show of weakness. She lunged towards him, teeth bared, but he deftly dodged the charge, and thrust his rapier through her heart, her lifeless body sliding of his sword and melting into a black ooze.

Drake seemed at ease amongst the zombies, his deadly mace connecting with one after another. A shadow appeared from a doorway nearby, and seemed to float towards him. As we shouted a warning, the wraith speed towards him, intent on destroying him. Almost too late, Drake noticed the foul demon, and swung his mace towards the creature. His weapon passed through the insubstantial wraith with no effect, and it struck Drakes' arm. Reeling from the blow, his arm hung useless by his side, Drake began to chant, calling upon his God to return the shade to the land of the dead. He was bathed with a red aura, and the wraith screamed, its body wracked with pain. As Drake finished his prayer, the spectre shrivelled and disappeared, its lingering death howl chilling our very bones.

Of the three, Akibono was facing the worst. He had managed to force a path through the zombies, and faced the unholy apparition he had come to destroy. Although he was an excellent swordsman, the vampire had centuries of practice, and Akibono was forced into a defensive stance. He managed to parry the forceful blows being dealt by Zalarth but his resolve was beginning to weaken. Blow after blow was parried by the oriental, but he was unable to mount a counter attack. As the vampire pressed his advantage and forced Akibono back, the unkempt stones of the neglected courtyard floor caused the samurai to stumble, and his sword span from his grasp. The vampire stood over the fallen warrior, an evil smirk appearing on his pale face. "You thought you could defeat me, you puny human!!. Now you will feel eternal anguish". He raised his ancient sword above his head, and swung down a mortal blow towards Akibono's exposed neck.

Safely behind Orlando's magical barrier, we could only stand and watch as the vampire forced Akibono further and further back. As he fell we knew that only we could save him. Jumping through the wall of fire, we felt our skin crisp and burn, but ignored the searing pain. Drawing two throwing knives from our belt, we ducked the swing of a skeletons sword, rolled forward, and let loose the daggers. With pinpoint accuracy, our first knife flew straight as an arrow, and dug deeply into a doorframe barely missing Drake. Our second we lost as it went upwards into the dark, and we watched with anguish as the mortal blow swung down towards Akibono.

From in the rafters came an unearthly crash, and tumbling downward spiralled a chandelier above where the vampire stood. Zalarth dived out of the way, narrowly avoiding the plummeting woodwork, as it smashed only inches from Akibono's prone body. Lifting himself from the swirling dust, the vampire turned in time to see Akibono dive into the shadows. The black clad samurai merged with the darkness, allowing him time to shake off the stunning onslaught. Our eyes scanned the walls, searching for a glimpse of our friend, but to no avail, it seemed as though he vanished.

The vampire stood and turned, looking up towards a balcony two stories up he smiled, "A pathetic parlour trick!" he laughed, "This is real magic!!!". He raised his hand, bringing forth a bolt of lightening and released it towards the stonework. Akibono's silhouette dived out of the balcony as the bolt struck, the stone exploding, trying to catch a handhold to stop his descent. Managing to catch a strut in the wall, he flipped his body into a somersault landing on top of a chandelier. Motioning to Drake, Akibono started to swing the flimsily held rope, and getting a good grip, cut the rope below him causing the woodwork to crash onto a group of bewildered zombies, crushing their lifeless bodies. A blood curdling scream left Drake as he dropped his mace, and slid out his huge Great sword from its back sheath. He charged across the courtyard, forcing a path past anything no quick enough to get out of the way and gave a mighty swing.

Akibono's rope reached the pinnacle of its swing as Drake cut the knot holding it up, and Akibono speed downwards towards the unsuspecting Vampire, knocking it backward into the wall of fire. As he hit the floor, Akibono twisted into a roll and came up sword drawn in a fighting stance. The vampire walked out of the fire, his skin blackened, and his eyes glowing. "Now it finishes." Warily they circled each other, both understanding that any mistake would be their last, neither wanting to be the one to slip in attack. Akibono stopped circling the vampire and stood silent, eyes closed, preparing himself. Zalarth, not letting the Oriental have a moments pause, surged forward taking a powerful swing at Akibono's back. The swordsmaster deftly parried the blow with his sword, and countered with a fast masterful slash across the Count's chest. Unable to get his sword back to defend, the vampire howled with pain as blood appeared through his shirt. "That was for Bronwyn!" growled Akibono, as he gracefully parried the vampires' next strike.

An anger we have never since seen in the Oriental took control, he seemed possessed by demons. Blow after blow rained onto the vampire, as it reeled back from the sheer power behind them. Akibono forced the vampire backwards, his attack becoming stronger and more confident, with Zalarth struggling to keep hold of his weapon. "And this is for me!" yelled the swordsmaster as his next swing shattered the ancient sword held by the foul creature. Weaponless, the vampire hissed vehemently, turning to flee but Orlando uttered a line of arcane verbals rooting the vampire to the spot. Spinning back to face its opponent the vampire snarled "You cannot kill me, we am immortal!". Its confident grin dissolved as Akibono drew a wooden stake from his tunic and strode towards the Undead fiend.

Standing, Akibono wiped the ichor from his face, all traces of the anger washed away. Marcus walked over and slapped him on the back, "Well done our friend, couldn't have done it more theatrically ourself!". With the death of the necromancer the other creatures had fled or collapsed dead, only a few groans from dying monsters lingered, until silence returned. Drake resheathed his Great sword, and picked up his mace. "Drinks on you then Akibono! " he laughed.

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