The intricately carved double doors were smashed to pieces, their splinters littering the inner room’s threshold and several feet beyond. Within, a white marble pedestal stood on a raised platform. The skeletons that were arranged were human this time, and arranged to be bowing towards the stone structure.
Behind the pedestal was Rissien, except his appearance had shifted dramatically. His robes were rich and forest-green, inlaid with numerous emeralds around the embroidery. His face and hair were clean, revealing regal features that one would expect from elven nobility, and adorning his head was an elegant yet regal golden crown of emerald-inlaid leaves sprouting from enwrapped golden branches.
Dendric and Veasson returned to their normal forms, but Redorand took a step forward.
“You know not what you deal with, fool elf,” said the ghost with eyes narrowed. “I know what it feels like, but you cannot let it in!”
“You are the fool, ghost,” drawled Rissien. “Your kind should know to fear me. Here, let me show you why.” The elf raised his wand and chanted under his breath, but all that resulted from his effort was the emanation of another stream of haunting laughter that echoed from Redorand’s ghost. However, this time, that haunting laughter was mocking . . . and terrifying.
“You think you could banish me? Me? In my own tomb?”
Rissien closed his eyes and continued chanting, and for a moment it seemed that Redorand’s form wavered the slightest bit.
“You evoke the power of the Helm? This early?”
“The Helm is my crown,” Rissien said through gritted teeth, ceasing his attempt at a banishing spell. “With it I can show my people what true supremacy they could have! It is our rightful way to—”
“Enslavement. It is your way to enslavement, death, and enslavement again.”
“The Helm has promised me power, and I can feel that it holds what I desire!”
“Rissien, this is madness! That crown must be destroyed!” shouted Dendric, stepping forward and partly through the insubstantial Redorand to face the elf clearly. Rissien seemed unimpressed.
“Of course a human would fear that which he does not understand.”
“And only a fool would believe he is the master of what he doesn’t know the power of!”
“I KNOW THE POWER IT HOLDS!” screamed the elf, and with his voice came a wave of sonic energy that threw Dendric back and knocked both he and Veasson from their feet. The shouting spell had deafened both of them, and cracks now lined the double doors’ stone frame.
Redorand floated forward, and Rissien evoked another wall of force directly in front of him. This only halted the spirit long enough for it to pause for a second before phasing through with minimal effort. The spirit began to speak then, but his words were not aimed at the enraged elf that now carried in his scarlet-glinting eyes a growing sliver of fear.
“Come now . . . you belong with me,” Redorand began. “You know that you want to be worn by me! Not some magic-waving elf . . . you’re a warlord’s helm, and only I can give you the glory you desire . . . that you deserve. That is the reason you chose me in life, is it not? Because I am and will always be the most fit to don you, and will always have the most to offer you. Forsake him! Forsake the inferior!”
“How dare you!” screeched Rissien, but he suddenly looked concerned. His hand came up to adjust the crown on his head, and his eyes gave an involuntary twitch.
“It is your path to choose the most worthy,” spoke the powerful spirit, “and with this elf you have chosen wrong. Come back to me . . . I miss you. I need you . . . and you need me. You. Deserve. Me.”
Dendric had a hard time following what was happening. Everything, even his sight, seemed blurred and muffled by the sonic shout. However, as he watched, he could not help but notice that Rissien was losing control and the ghost of Redorand was slowly and steadily advancing. Once he stood directly in front of the elven wizard, he spoke something that sent Rissien into a fury.
Another super-charged shout ripped through the air to send cracks webbing through the stone ceiling above Dendric and Veasson, and the two threw their arms above their heads to block the falling debris. A lightning bolt flash-flooded the room with light, going directly through Redorand and blasting a huge chunk of rock from the wall beside the two humans. Streams of acid sprayed from mage’s outstretched palms, and then gouts of fire and frost. Everything simply phased through the spectral apparition, and when it reached out its hand toward the elf Rissien fell backwards to land sitting with his hands out like small shields.
Dendric tried to shake the deafness from his ears, but after such a cacophony of spells he would be surprised if his hearing would ever return. He did see, however, that Rissien was screaming. Obviously screaming, and his crown was no longer golden with emerald leaves, but instead white.
The crown melted and melded on the elf’s head, becoming molten gold as it glowed white-hot and clenched down on Rissien’s skull. The elf flailed about, but smoke and steam were billowing out and the flesh of his head was charring black. Only after what seemed like an eternity of agony, the elf’s body became completely immolated in golden flames that swiftly reduced the corpse into an elf-sized pile of black ash. The artifact’s glow lessened, and it rolled several feet closer to the ghost before coming to a stop.
“You chose me,” smiled Redorand, “You chose me, just as I chose you. I am the only one worthy of wearing you, my glorious helm.”
And, indeed, the crown had now melded and taken the form of a battle-worn yet still shining steel helmet.
“And yet,” Redorand paused. “Yet, never had I done you harm. Never had I drawn too much from you, and yet here I am, a shell of my former self. You gave me freedom from the life of a king’s servant, and you gave me his throne, but what else did you give me?”
Redorand’s ghost glared down at the helmet, his expression one of the utmost disgust. “You polluted my dreams with your visions of battle! You ignited our conflict with the trolls, an unstoppable force! You used me and sent hundreds of honorable men to their deaths!”
The Helm was beginning to shake on the floor, as though vibrating with rage, and it glowed red.
“And most of all, you killed me. I donned you, and you killed me through manipulating my thoughts. And what’s more,” Redorand gave a great laugh now, and despite their deafness both Dendric and Veasson could hear the unearthly sound. “What’s more, you stupid little scrap of steel, is that I am utterly useless to you now. A ghost to carry you into battle? Haha! As of now you are a sword without a wielder, and a foolish one at that.”
The Helm of Redorand was glowing white-hot now, vibrating on the ground.
“Now, you stupid helmet,” Redorand said with absolute glee, “Now, I am going to kill you, as you killed me. A life for the magical sentience of a hunk of steel. Hardly a fair trade, in my opinion, but one I feel just in carrying out. You killed me . . . now I kill you.”
The spirit of Redorand reached down, his hand closing over searing-hot metal of the artifact. However, as his ghostly essence made contact, that part of the Helm cooled and cracked. Redorand brought down another hand, and a piercing whistle escaped the helmet as jagged cracks that seemed to glow black made their way across its surface and cutting deep.
And then, for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, Dendric and Veasson were thrown backward as the sentient helmet shattered and sent a shockwave of force that fractured the walls and blasted away the pedestal. Dendric’s eyes were blinded by the explosion, his hearing long gone, and every one of his nerves felt as though aflame. Chunks of stone were falling from the ceiling; a great clamor arose as the roar of a cave-in made the ground shudder, and he felt his consciousness slowly slip away.