Dead'Ra looked at the soldiers now a few steps away. "Sahg, we are dead. Inferno, here we come."

"But irritations are known to be deadly in my hands," Sou'Tern said. "Here is an old trick." He rubbed his hands together to warm them then held them out, each one cupped. He opened his hands and tipped his palms downward, giving breath to a wide stream of water, perhaps a few gallons in quantity. It flowed over the steps and a sudden chill filled the air as the water froze to slick ice.

Sou'Tern folded his arms as the jubilant cries of the soldiers coming toward him stopped, their faces frozen as they looked up at him, and slipped on the slippery ice. The first soldier flailed his arms to no avail and crashed into the man behind him. Like pins struck by a ball, the man fell into a ball of arms and legs and shrieking voices. The ball of bodies rolled to a halt at the bottom of the stairs and sprawled its contents across the floor.

"They will be forced to inch up, clinging to the banister single file to avoid slipping on the ice," Sou'Tern said. "We have gained a few more minutes to reach the top of the stairs."

Above the three, Kiowa found his energy rejuvenated by the feel of hot blood on his face. The stains on his hand and sword blade brought a thirsty glow to his eyes. He pushed his way forward with vigor, taking each step in time to soundless music distinguishable to his ears alone. The weight of his sword seemed to fade into the feel of his arms, dissolving into his flesh, taking the place of his hands as he shoved his way around the curve of the banister and saw the landing about twenty steps ahead.

In his plowing, he had left his brothers behind and soldiers had filled the gaps on the stairs he had left in his wake. Jostled against the railing, surrounded on all sides by enemies, Kiowa felt his blood racing in his veins. The true thrills of his life lay not in saving hapless villagers or basking in the gratitude of pretty maids or even feeling the satisfying feeling of gold in his hand but in the uncertainty of enclosure, alone to fight with nothing to depend on but his own skill. The satisfaction lay in sending departed souls to flee to their heavens and feeling the warm rush of blood not only within him but flowing from cuts on him as well.

Each solid hit of metal against flesh sounded like a piano chord, the image of delicate fingers pressing down each key stuck within his head. Working against the tidal waves with his back to the banister gave him a positive advantage as the soldiers pressed in around him. Bruises formed on his shoulders and thighs, leaking blood through the holes pierced by the spiked balls tipping the maces. The blood soaked into the cloth of his clothes.

Kiowa took another step up, the reach of his blades keeping the space around him cleared. He walked over the corpses littered below him without looking at the faces of the dead men, their helmets far below, bouncing off the stairs, kicked by moving feet. He swept out his blades, feeling them connect with the leather covering the stomachs of the men before him. Both soldiers grunted, stumbling back under the force of the blows as the leather peeled apart at their waists, showing the shirt beneath. Kiowa grunted with annoyance as he realized the force of the sword cuts had not been enough to slash past the armor. He flipped the blades around in his hands until the flat ends touched the sides of his wrists, allowing him to use the brunt of the sharp ends as he let the crossed swords come apart with the strength of his arms behind it. Both swords opened the stomachs of the two men standing before him, finding the gaps in their damaged armor with their tips and following up with the rest of the blades.

The smell of internal organs exploded from the stomachs as the humans dropped their weapons to the floor and clutched at the slithering expanse of guts sliding free of its fleshy prison. They looked up at Kiowa, their eyes wide, lips frozen, as their insides slopped over their shaking hands and slipped to the floor. Their bodies keeled over backwards, crashing and rolling beneath the feet of yelling soldiers, knocking over more than one.

Kiowa grinned. He glanced at the piles of grey and purple organs stained and blood splattered, thinking of the treacherous footing they would make for anyone moving without their eyes on their feet.

He turned and took another step up, glancing below at his brothers as they cut through the soldier's below. He saw blood on their bodies and years of experience gave him the eyes to see what blood seeped from wounds and what came from the dead soldiers. He felt his heart sway inside his chest at the sight of the many cuts and injuries marring the physical manifestations of his family but it hardened in his chest a second later; they knew the risks.

The top of the stairs neared, five or six paces away. He could have covered the distance in seconds if it were not for the armed men crammed onto the staircase, making the way slow and bloody, marked by pain and blood. And as he fought his battles alone, feeling the thrill of battle return, his brothers fought theirs together below.

Afagi looked down the stairs, protected from attacks by Nalfein's stalwart body and saw the ice on the stairs melting on the surface into a trickle of water. The soldiers had stopped their attempts to inch up the stairs single file and stood clustered at the bottom, watching the melt, releasing hails of arrows up at their adversaries.

Sou'Tern stood facing the men below, an invisible shield spread out in front of his delicate fingers. The arrows bounced off the unseen defense, clattering to the stone below. The expanse of it stretched from wall to banister, reaching about six feet tall in height. An occasional arrow arced over the top of the shield and struck the stone steps.

"My strength drains," Sou'Tern said. "I feel the power of the shield fade bit by bit as I stand by unable to prevent it. Once the ice melts, the soldiers below will swarm the stairs and my shield holds back missiles, not solid flesh."

"Give it a minute or two," Dead'Ra grunted without turning as he cut into the legs and arms before him without taking the time to aim for a specific body part or area.

Afagi looked up the stairway. There were more stairs behind him now, splattered with blood and bodies, and few steps left above him to tread. Even over the last row of soldiers on the last step, he could see the stone of the landing. His eyes turned upwards, to the high ceiling above and a small spark found itself fanned into an idea within his head. Fighting against the masses, he was of little use to his brothers. Unleashing a powerful ball of fire at close quarters would endanger the lives of those he cared for. At first it had seemed wise to save most of his energy for the final confrontation against Trastorm Dreant, but now reaching the landing was of utmost importance.

Afagi cast his mind back to the words of a long-neglected spell, standing still as he closed his eyes and uttered them inside himself. He felt the tingle of power run through his body, traveling up from the bottom of his feet and into his eyes as the spell's magic filled his shell, spreading out into his veins. Nalfein jostled him but his voice seemed far away. Afagi opened his eyes, the sounds of battle rushing back to him but he ignored his brother's annoyed orders to fight for now he had his own purpose.

Afagi willed his body to rise. His feet left the ground and he soared high into the air, moving toward the ceiling with alacrity. It was a spell similar to levitation but this magical incantation allowed him to fly without the limits of a simple up and down. The magic gave him complete maneuverability in the air. He drifted to the left as the bows and spears of the men below and the soldiers standing on the balcony turned their eyes to him and the hail of missiles narrowly avoided his vulnerable body.

As the ceiling came closer, Afagi glided at a horizontal angle over the heads of the soldiers on the stairs below. He saw the white heads of his brothers overrun by the masses and a trace of despair trickled into his heart. He let his eyes run up the stairs as he flew close to the wall, to the soldiers on the balcony pushing their way forward to reach the stairs and descend. Most of the balcony stood empty, the white stone of its polished floor glowing in the gloom and few men stood waiting to rush down the stairs and claim the lives of the tiring drow.

Sou'Tern's ice melted into a few last drips of water oozing over the stone down the stairs. With a cry of victory uttered in advance, the soldiers at the bottom charged up the wet stone steps, weapons held ready to take the five dark elves from behind.

Afagi drew himself upright and shot toward the floor of the balcony. He came down crouched in the circle of his robe's skirt, one palm flat against the ground to keep his balance after the quick landing. As the soldiers standing on the edges of the balcony spun around to face the dark elf mage, Afagi rose to his feet with deliberation in his moves. Something in his eyes made the soldiers hesitate despite the fact they outnumbered Afagi seven to one and the fact he stood weaponless.

Afagi met the eyes of the first soldier and a slow grin spread across his face. Afagi felt the thrill of excitement in his heart, traveling through his body as he faced the sharp tips of spears and the dull, cruel balls of the mace heads without the thrum of fear invading his senses. He took five strong strides forward, his robe swirling around his legs, and held out his palm.

A rush of energy surged up from his feet, running through his veins, and exploded from his hand. The familiar crackle of electricity hit his ears as the lightning bolt crackled its way through the air, following the straight train of Afagi's eye down the stairs. He had built it shorter than usual, replacing the length with width.

The bolt of life threatening energy tore a path down the stairs, crashing through the bodies of the soldiers lined up in the neat row. It covered the whole width of the stairs as it flew, a wide expanse of snapping blue electricity, flinging soldiers from the steps, hurling them against the walls and over the banisters. It slowed its fast-paced progression downward as it came up against the flesh and leather of the men in its way but its force would still be enough to wreak havoc down the entire flight of stairs until it came to the curve in the banisters and hit the wall.

Kiowa looked up as the lightning bolt came down, his lips curling into a snarl as it descended toward him. He sheathed his weapons, both swords finding the opening in the scabbards at his waist with ease and flung himself over the banister as the searing electricity cleared the stairs behind him. As he fell toward the floor of the hall below, he reached up and grabbed one of the metal bars making the railing above. He dangled above the unforgiving stone, his grip strong on the bar above him, the base of his curled hand digging into the stone around the base of the rod on which his life depended.

The lightning bolt continued past him, lifting Kiowa's hair with its force. The dark elf grabbed another bar with his second hand and pulled himself up until his hands could reach for the flat band of metal running over the bars and give him the height he needed to climb over the banister and onto the stairs. His feet landed on a small patch of stone, beneath the scattered bodies of soldiers lying on the steps, sprawled and blood-splattered. He glanced down the stairs, seeking to find his brothers.

The twins, Dead'Ra, and Sou'Tern had taken the same course of escaping the lightning bolt he had. Nalfey clambered onto the stairs, leaning down to give his hand to Nalfein. He pulled his brother up, Nalfein's face grey with the pain in his wounded arm. Dead'Ra and Sou'Tern climbed up next, Sou'Tern's teeth gritted as his muscles stained at the unusual exercise of supporting his weight.

Relieved his brothers lived despite the minorities of wounds, Kiowa walked over the last few steps and walked onto the balcony with a feeling of great triumph in his heart. The dimples and curves of Afagi's smug expression vanished as the mage turned to his brother.

"Good thinking," Kiowa said. His four brothers jogged to meet him on the balcony and Kiowa looked around at them.

"We have little time," Kiowa declared. "We have defeated the enemies of now but more, even greater in bloody number, will be on their way to defend the castle. We need to move before we are found. We will follow this hall up and search for the tyrant. Killing him is of utmost priority."

"Afagi and I need some rest," Sou'Tern said, his hair hanging in limp tendrils around his drawn face. "Afagi must have used all but a shred of his strength and I have little energy left."

Kiowa leaned down and swept his hand across the floor, sweeping up two spears undamaged and with a good weight to their heads. He tossed a spear to each of the mages. "There is no time to rest. You will have to improvise or accept you place in Zvith's halls of torture."

Afagi caught the spear with an expression of disgust, his lips folded up as he glared at the unfavorable weapon. "I cannot use this."

"Were you taught bloody nothing at Asonge?" Kiowa snapped. "Rahn, I know Mage School is bad but this! This is bloody rotten! How can you expect to survive if all you know how to use it spells?"

"We were taught to use light weapons, such as daggers," Afagi said, hurling the spear to the floor.

"We will do the best we can," Sou'Tern said, his fingers tightening on the shaft of his spear. "Afagi, pick it back up. I know it is a humiliation but the extent of our powers reaches out to our strength and it reaches only so far."

Afagi drew in a deep breath before he stooped down and picked up the spear. If anything, it would serve as a good walking stick.

Kiowa looked up the long hall to his left and broke into a jog. His brothers followed him into the quiet, their footsteps light against the floor, running toward an uncertain future and an unclear fate.