Storage room II

Lianna retreated into the map-room, acutely aware that the tables somewhere behind her were low enough to trip her if she backed into them, and that the druid was on all fours of the floor, bleeding.  It was possible that the watchmaker -- the thief, she corrected herself sourly -- had betrayed them, but this didn't have the feel of a set-up.  This felt impromptu.  If they'd had a mage with them the bones would never have had the chance to draw together in the first place.

She parried a blow from an arm that was completely wrapped in what looked like bark, and seemed to be producing leafy twigs as well.  Surely, she thought, the druid should be able to handle this?  It looked like his kind of magic, but instead he was on the floor having a nosebleed.  She riposted smartly, but the point of the sword was turned aside by the bark armouring.  She couldn't even see where the wretched apparition's weak-spot was.  It had to have one, everything did, but this one was well hidden.

She twisted her blade as she lunged this time, smacking the skeleton's raised arm with the flat of it and pushing it down, then she used the momentum of the sword bouncing off the arm to twist and step and poke the blade into the eye socket of the skull, where the hellish green light was.  Nothing happened.  She pulled the sword out, feeling it catch on something inside and saw a piece of the eye-socket crack and splinter, bone fragments falling to the ground.

Venne suddenly stepped into her eye-line, behind the skeleton, and swung a dagger in an overarm stroke.  It drove into the bark armouring at the creature's neck and lodged, and the creature stepped forwards, pulling the dagger from Venne's hand, and swinging at Lianna as though nothing had happened.  She parried again, noting the the blow seemed heavier this time, and stepped back again.  Her heel hit the leg of one of the small tables.

Venne stared at the lignifying skeleton, his mouth fallen open in shock.  His dagger still stuck out in the back of the creature's neck, clearly not affecting it at all, and all he could think was that he'd made the wrong decision.  He should have left the tower while he still had the chance.  He pulled his cloak slightly to the side to reveal a scabbarded short-sword and pulled it free.  It looked like he was going to have to fight his way to freedom.

Lianna felt her arms tiring as he held off the creature's attacks.  It seemed to know that she couldn't move backwards, and couldn't move sideways without looking to see which way the table was.  It was pressing forward and soon she'd have to take a wild guess and hope that she didn't fall over the table.  She swallowed hard, and concentrated on defending herself.

On the floor, blood dripping steadily from his nose, Mirko was still caught in the whirl of leaves in his head.  The energy that had animated the skeleton was still rushing through the room like a green tide, and Mirko felt like he was just a cork bobbing around in it.  It buffetted him constantly, pushing at him, trying to dislodge him and drag him away with it.  Sweat stood out on his face and pooled in the small of his back and his arms shook as though he were freezing.  Somewhere within it all he could remember who he was, but not much else.

A thought occurred to him, slow as honey sliding from a comb: he didn't have to sense this.  He just had to close himself off from his druidic vision.  Latching onto this hope, he began to detach himself.  Almost immediately the tide seemed to increase in strength and try harder to pull him away with it.

The woody skeleton jerked suddenly, its attack dropping and its arms falling by its side.  Lianna glanced desperately fast over her shoulder at the table and then stepped backwards and up, standing on it.  The skeleton still didn't respond, so she seized her sword two-handed and brought it round in a blindingly fast arc, scything through its neck, causing an explosion of splinters of wood.  The skull fell to the floor with an odd hollow sound and rolled a little way.  The body stayed standing, and then raised its arm again.

"Oh crap," whispered Venne.

Mirko fought to detach himself, pulling away one thought at a time.  At first the green tide seemed too strong, but with each detached thought it seemed to weaken.  Then the tide seemed to jar, as though something somewhere had dammed it momentarily, and Mirko mentally curled up into a tight little ball, severing multiple thought-threads at once.  The leaf-storm quieted and he felt a muted roar from somewhere, and then he closed down his druidic powers altogether, opened his eyes, and fainted.

Lianna saw the druid's eyes go wide and stare at the headless skeleton, and then it fell apart, chunks of woody tissue skittering across the floor like frightened mice and the yellowed bones bouncing and clattering to a rest.  She drew the back of her hand across her forehead and breathed out a sigh.  Then she stiffened her back again, and looked across at Venne.

The End

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