Stage 21: Ransom
Narrator: When we last left off, Kula’s identity as Icirrus had been revealed. However, Kula willingly threw herself at the mercy of the Adepts and offered to help them fight against Antiochus. In order to understand her reason for wanting the Planet Stones, Kula told the Adepts of her past life in her home village, recounting the dreadful attack that resulted in the massacre of her family and clan. Kula also revealed her detail of the Mt. Airyglyph Incident, finding a woman washed up on a riverbed. Quenn, realizing that the woman in question matched the description of his and Brandon’s long-lost foster mother, Richelle, asked if what she was telling them was true. Upon her confirmation, Antiochus appeared before the Adepts, offering to make a trade: Richelle for the Planet Stones. The location of the exchange would be at Frozoma Village. Kula suspected there would be a trap lying in wait the moment they arrived, but Quenn vowed that the Adepts wouldn’t give up the Planet Stones without a fight. With Richelle’s life hanging on the line, the Adepts must find a way to rescue her from Antiochus’ grasp without handing over the Planet Stones as well…
The Adepts and Kula have managed to acquire an airship, which they use to fly out to Frozoma Village.
Kula: It won’t be too much longer. Frozoma Village should be just over that crag.
Keith: You guys do know that we’re probably heading straight to our deaths here, right?
Brandon: We know, but with Mom’s life on the line, we have to go there.
Quenn: I don’t think it’s gonna matter if it’s a trap or not. (a panoramic view of Frozoma Village is shown, desolate and in disarray) We’re here.
The Adepts and Kula get out of the airship and walk slowly through the ruins of the village.
Brandon: This place is giving me the creeps already.
Marina: Try not to think about it too much. I don’t want to be here for too long, either. (bites her tongue in consideration as she looks at Kula) Sorry, Kula, I didn’t mean to…
Kula: It’s fine. At one time, this place was very beautiful, but seeing it in its current state now only brings back the painful memories of that day. I would also prefer if we’re not here too long.
Quenn: I just hope we’re doing the right thing. On one hand, I’d like to see her again, but on the other hand, Mom always had a habit of putting others before herself.
Brandon: Let’s just hope that Antiochus isn’t too savvy to take our bait. (the interior of a bag is shown with the Mars, Jupiter and Venus Stones inside) Just before leaving, I managed to make some replicas of the Planet Stones that we currently have by using some rock candy. From far away, they’re authentic enough to pass for the real deal. The subterfuge won’t last very long, but it’ll buy us some time to get Mom and get out of there.
The Adepts and Kula walk forward until they see three figures on the street ahead of them. As the view becomes clear, Richelle is shown kneeling on the ground with Antiochus and Zhane standing on either side of her. Zhane has his two-handed blade drawn.
Antiochus: You’ve arrived, right on schedule. I take it you have the Planet Stones with you?
Keith: You don’t get anything until you let the lady go, Squid-Face!
Antiochus: (scoffs) Please. You’re in no position to demand anything. As you see… (motions to Zhane, who directs his blade toward Richelle’s shoulder) …I’m the one with the power.
Brandon: How do we know you’ll even let her go if we hand you the Planet Stones?
Antiochus: I suppose you’ll just have to trust me. Or perhaps, I could do away with this useless woman and take the Planet Stones anyway.
Quenn: Fine. We’ll go at the same time. That all right?
Antiochus says nothing, responding simply with a nod. Richelle stands up and starts to walk toward the Adepts as Quenn walks forward with the bag of Planet Stones in hand. As Richelle approaches, Kula examines her, feeling uneasy.
Kula: (thinking) Something isn’t right. The woman I know had a warm and kind spirit. This woman’s spirit is murky and clouded with darkness. Also, Antiochus seems far too willing to let her go. There has to be something that Antiochus is planning.
Quenn reaches the area where Antiochus and Zhane are standing. Quenn holds the bag out in front of him.
Quenn: Here they are.
Antiochus starts to reach for the bag. At the same time, Richelle reaches the Adepts. Brandon starts to free Richelle from her bonds by using one of his leaf cutters.
Kula: (thinking) Antiochus doesn’t have any interest in human bargaining chips, so why would he want to keep her alive, much less use her to trade. Unless… This must be some kind of trap! (aloud) Brandon, wait! Don’t free her!
Brandon: Huh?! What do you mean?
Kula: There’s something wrong. Antiochus wouldn’t just eagerly trade a human being for something that could easily help him take over the world. This has to be some kind of trap!
Brandon has managed to cut through enough of the rope around Richelle’s wrists. Richelle then goes over to Kula and places her hands on her shoulders before squeezing them tightly. Richelle looks up at Kula, but when Richelle’s face is shown, is it shown to be that of an apparition. The apparition changes its form and grabs Kula by the neck, attempting to choke her. Meanwhile, Quenn has seen what has happened and looks back at the scene, distracted. Antiochus takes advantage of Quenn’s confusion by kicking him in the stomach. The kick sends Quenn flying back a short distance before he skids on the ground and stops. The bag has been knocked out of Quenn’s hand and lands in Antiochus’ hand. Antiochus walks over to Quenn and steps on his chest.
Antiochus: Feculent maggot! Did you really think I would trade back a human with no worth? Pathetic! However, my former General was quite right. This was indeed a trap, and like flies to a bug zapper, you flew right into it.
Quenn: (strained) You… bastard!
Antiochus: The real woman is still at my fortress, along with your worthless master, and you’ve just handed me the tools I need to conquer your world!
Keith: Why, you dirty, double-dealing coward!
Keith rushes toward Antiochus to attack, but Antiochus picks Quenn up from the ground and throws him into Keith. Quenn and Keith fall into a heap. Antiochus opens the bag and pours the Planet Stones into his hand before clutching them tightly in his fist. When his hand opens, the Planet Stones have been ground into small fragments.
Antiochus: Word of advice: when trying to trick an overlord, you can do lot better than rock candy.
Quenn: (thinking) Damn it… he didn’t take our bait!
Antiochus: While I would love to stick around and chat about our respective ruses against each other, I’m rather pressed for time, so I’ll just get to the part where I find out which one of you is holding my Planet Stones.
Back at the others, the apparition still has its hands around Kula’s neck. Kula gasps and chokes, clutching at its arms. Suddenly, Brandon uses one of his leaf cutters, slashing through the apparition’s forearms. The apparition falls away from Kula with a loud, pained shriek, then starts to fly away.
Marina: Oh, no, you don’t.
Marina aims her Dousing Pulse and fires it at the apparition. The attack travels until it approaches it, leaving the apparition hardly enough time to turn around. The attack hits the apparition full on, freezing it on contact. The frozen apparition falls to the ground and shatters. The hands around Kula’s neck vanish in black smoke, allowing Kula to breathe. Marina goes over to Kula and helps her to her feet. Meanwhile, Antiochus begins to levitate into the air, forming multiple blades of psionic energy. Brandon looks up and notices it.
Brandon: (nervously) Uh, you may wanna take a look at this…
Marina and Kula look up in time to see Antiochus aim the blades towards them. Marina reacts by forming a Poseidon Shield just as Antiochus sends the blades down towards them. Right away, some of the blades start to pierce the shield.
Marina: (straining) Ugh, it’s too much! I just can’t block those blades of his with it!
Kula: Marina, try extending your Cryomancy into your shield!
Marina transfers her Cryomancy into her shield. The shield then begins to freeze over, forming a hard shell in the which blades bounce off or shatter on impact. Antiochus sneers.
Antiochus: Someone’s found a teacher. (he points two fingers toward the ground in the area where the shield is) But there is more than one way to get past a shield. And if all other options are useless, there is still one place where a shield cannot protect… below.
Beneath the shield, a circle of psionic energy begins to glow beneath their feet. The three barely have time to react before the energy erupts, destroying the shield. Marina, Brandon and Kula are all thrown in opposite directions from the attack, knocked out by the attack. Antiochus hovers back down to the ground and looks over each of the three. He finds a similar bag attached to Brandon’s waist.
Antiochus: I would assume that these are the real Planet Stones and not more candy. (he picks the bag up and uses his psionic senses on it) Clever little sneak. (looks down at Brandon) A well-played gambit, but still not enough. I would admit it was a pretty clever ruse, but nothing short of amateur’s work. That intellect could grow to be a serious problem to my plans one day. (he points two fingers down at Brandon) Farewell, Earth-Adept.
Just before Antiochus can use his attack, Quenn tackles Antiochus away. Both of them tumble for a short distance, with the bag being knocked loose from Antiochus’ grasp.
Antiochus: (angrily) You dare to raise your hand to a GOD?!
Quenn: No. I’m raising my hand to YOU!
Quenn directs his palm toward the ground, supporting it with his other hand around his wrist as he charges up for his Icarus Lance attack. The sparks are so intense, they seem to be screaming as the bolt is formed. Quenn yells and dashes toward Antiochus with his arm drawn back. Once Quenn reaches Antiochus, he thrusts his arm out to attack, but his attack never meets with Antiochus, instead being intercepted by Zhane, who has attacked with a sharp slash that brings Quenn to his knees, creating a deep gash in his side. Antiochus walks up to Quenn.
Antiochus: Well, that was quite a sight, Wind-Adept. A sad one, albeit, but a sight nonetheless. So angry, so drained of Elchemy. How does it feel, knowing that you’ve just helped me achieve my ultimate victory? Face it, you’ve lost! (he strikes Quenn in the side with a kick; Quenn yells in pain) Does it make your blood boil, boy? The urge to kill me is so strong, it’s like acid in your mouth, isn’t it? Well, I’m afraid you won’t be making a comeback from this. (he walks over to the bag and picks it up) I have the Planet Stones, your mentor, and a lowly human, and you have nothing. And now, you shall bear witness to the end of your world and the birth of a new one in the Keeper’s image.
Antiochus and Zhane vanish into their Nightfall Corridors. Quenn rises to his feet, wincing in pain at the gash in his side. The pain is so intense, Quenn drops back down to his knees, clutching his side in pain.
Quenn: (through clenched teeth) Damn it! Man, did you really mess this one up, Quenn. I thought our plan would work, but Antiochus was so far ahead of us, we didn’t know we were walking into his trap. We’ve failed! We’ll never see Aster or Mom again!
Quenn lifts his head to the sky and lets out an anguish, guttural cry. A t the Obsidian Fortress, Antiochus sits upon his throne, laughing at his accomplishment. Standing next to him is Zhane. Before them are the forms of Richelle and Aster. Both of them are chained in the middle of the room with their arms outstretched.
Antiochus: (laughing) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh, achieving your goals is so much easier when you use a person’s loved ones for bargaining chips. Now that I have all four Planet Stones in my possession, my ambitions will finally be realized!
Aster: You’re just as demented as ever, Antiochus. Do you really believe you’ll get away with this?
Antiochus: To answer your meaningless question, I actually do believe that my plan will succeed. When you’re a mastermind, you learn to plan ahead in case something goes wrong. Your pathetic Adepts are no less as contradictory as you, old man. Even when they have the lead, they are too soft, too weak-willed to finish the job. Do you still believe fighting fair will grant you victory? Hah! The Adepts were willing to hand me the Planet Stones in order to trade for their precious human friend. The one with the crimson-streaked hair was burning with anger and fury.
Richelle reacts by attempting a backhanded strike, but Antiochus catches her hand.
Antiochus: (chuckles) Ooh, yes, that’s it. That’s the same look of hatred he had on his face.
Richelle: What have you done to my son, you monster?!
Antiochus: Son? Knowing that makes this all the better. (he reaches out with a hand and clamps it over the lower third of Richelle’s face, squeezing firmly) I hate having my authority challenged, especially by those with such primitive intellect. You would do well to remember that. So, hold your tongue, or someone will hold it for you.
Antiochus lets go of Richelle’s face, and Richelle lowers her head and coughs.
Aster: What will it take for you to realize that the power of the Keeper will destroy us all? Must the world burn before your very eyes before you are finally able to see the truth?
Antiochus: Silence, old man! (he strikes Aster across the face) My clan and I served the Keeper dutifully, trying to make right what you so-called self-righteous humans made wrong. You and your Order of the Trinity banished us out of fear that we were superior. You disavowed our knowledge and destroyed the Illithid race, and banished me to that eternal hell known as the Black Lake. During my banishment, I was able to take the knowledge I learned about the Planet Stones and discovered that the will of the Planet Stones can be swayed to that of Necro-Elchemy as well. On the first night of the Vernal Equinox, when the moon reaches a certain alignment, the Planet Stones will create a gateway between this world and the chamber of the Keeper. Once I’ve achieved the powers of the Keeper, I will use them to usher in a new age of darkness, and all those who oppose will be hunted down and annihilated without mercy. You and your Adepts played the game and lost, old man. (he holds up the bag with the Planet Stones inside) The geese won’t be trapping this fox.
Antiochus walks back to his throne.
Antiochus: I will head to the Pillars of Ruin myself. No doubt our former associate will be leading the Adepts here to save their friends. Be sure to welcome them and keep them here long enough for my triumph.
Zhane nods. Antiochus uses a Nightfall Corridor. Aster looks over to Richelle.
Aster: Are you okay?
Richelle: (nodding) I’m fine, considering… Who was that, and what is he planning to do?
Aster: That was Antiochus, the head of the Illithid race. He is planning on using the Planet Stones to bring about an eve of destruction that the world may never recover from.
Richelle: It sounds like you two have some kind of history. Why does he have so much contempt for you?
Aster: As you now know, I was part of the sect that banished him and ended the Illithid-Human War. Antiochus plans to undo all of the peace that we have worked towards in order to carry out the Keeper’s rule. It is up to the Adepts to stop him now.
Richelle: My sons… are they part of your, uh, “Adepts”?
Aster: Yes, and for three years, the remains of my sect have been training them to fight against him.
Richelle: You can’t be serious. Why are you using children in your fight against someone like that?
Aster: The Adepts were personally chosen by the Creator. You are right to question our methods and reasoning, that we are sending innocent children to war. But that was never our intention. Our hopes in training the Adepts is so that they never have to fight any wars. And if Antiochus is able to obtain the powers of the Keeper, a war would be imminent, one of which humankind would have no hope of surviving.
Richelle: He mentioned a former associate of his leading them here. Do you know who he was talking about?
Aster: Yes. Her name is Icirrus.
Richelle: It couldn’t be… She was the one who rescued me three years ago.
End of Chapter