Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 5: Dying Breath Of Gana Borodem

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Revision 2 is in progress.


Chapter 5: Dying Breath Of Gana Borodem

The light diminished and darkness took over. Drake's body felt like it was on fire but he couldn't see what was happening after being temporarily blinded by the crystal's radiance. He did notice the smell of burned flesh, though, and touched his face with his right arm. His eyes widened in disbelief after noticing the bloody mess that should have been his cheek. What happened?
You don't look so good, vampire!” responded Maximilian mockingly while pressing his blade into Drake's neck. “Tell me where we are and how I can get back to Pagan and I'll make it quick!” I know? You...shattered the crystal! And I...can't even see...anything!” Drake was wheezing and trembling, barely able to hold himself upright. It wasn't because of the pain, as vampires have a higher pain threshold than humans, but because most of his energy had been drained.
Maximilian removed his blade and walked in a half-circle across rocky terrain before he spoke once more: “Gosh, you look even worse from the front. Even your eyeballs are burned.”
How did this...was it the light? It has to be, right? He expected an answer from Modera but all he received was a kick to the stomach, which caused him to fall backwards onto rocks.
Agh, why did you do that?”
Just making sure that you're not putting on an act. How long will you need to regenerate?”
I don't...know. I haven't been a vampire...for very long,” his stomach grumbled, as if on cue. “And I don't know...if I have any energy regenerate. What does it even you? Just kill me already.”
No, you're not getting off that easy if you can't or won't provide information. And who knows, maybe you can still prove useful as bait for wild animals.”
I guess we're not in the vicinity...of a city or village?”
No, we're stuck in the mountains, with cliffs all around us. It's too dark to climb therefore we'll have to spend the night together. That should give you enough time to heal yourself.”
Don't you...have any potions?” The only potion we need is his blood! Trick him, suck him dry! Shut up!
Of course I do but I'd have to spend every single one of them to heal wounds as severe as yours. And I'm certainly not going to waste them on an evil creature.”
I'm not...evil!”
Sure, you were just playing a little prank by putting every person in the castle to sleep. And I suppose you were joking when you talked about kidnapping me?”
We didn't do that...because we wanted! Modera...ordered us to.”
I don't know why!” Drake yelled and suffered a coughing bout.
Don't strain yourself. We can talk later! Perhaps I'll even believe you this time,” these words were followed by the sound of metal falling onto stones. “I'll try to find some firewood. We have a long night ahead of us. You just stay there.”
Very funny!”
Maximilian's footsteps would have vanished in the distance but Drake's hearing was going haywire once more. The area was strangely quit, though, only filled by sporadic gusts of air, but Drake was too distracted by his aching skin to care. Maximilian returned 15 minutes later, started a small campfire and went to sleep soon after.
Drake tried to follow his example but was disturbed by strange sounds coming from below: thudding footsteps followed by rattling metal. Whenever they ceased a raspy breathing noise filled the air. Whatever you are, please go away! The moment those thoughts passed his mind the footsteps stopped and the ground shook ever so slightly.

When morning came Drake still hadn't recovered. He was able to see a little bit but his field of view was extremely diminished. His face wasn't bleeding anymore but it looked like raw flesh nevertheless.
Can't you recover any faster? We need to get moving!”
I don't know how to control it! And all the magic I used in the castle and this forced regeneration must have sapped most of my energy.”
I already told you...that I won't waste my potions on you,” Maximilian answered with a groan as he was climbing the cliff next to their camp.
I doubt they'd much good anyway,” Drake tried to sit up but his body was unbelievably stiff, as if he had been bitten by a poisonous snake during the night. “Dammit, I can barely move my body.”
You're really pathetic for a vampire. I expected more from your kind.”
I already told you that I haven't been a vampire for long. I doubt you were a good swordsman when you first started,” he clenched his fists and moved his toes but the rest of his body failed to respond.
Okay, I'll concede that,” he paused for about a minute, “Looks like we are in the mountains to the north-west of Pagan. There's no way we can climb down, though.”
I can't even walk!”
Stop whining and wait th—yeah, I know!” he climbed back down and walked away, only to return a few minutes later with a puzzled expression on his face. “Strange, I can't find any traces of animals.”
What do you need animals for?”
I need them so we can get going! It doesn't look like you'll recover anytime soon without drinking blood.”
Don't you dare drink animal blood! It's one of the most disgusting fluids in existence!
I guess you'll have to give me some of yours,” he said it jokingly but was cut off when Maximilian actually cut himself with his sword. “What are you doing?” Don't complain! Drink, suck, kill! We need power!
What does it look like? Open your mouth!”
Drake did as he was asked and Maximilian's lifeblood dropped into his mouth. Ecstatic waves of energy surged through his body, his skin started to tingle and his field of view expanded within seconds. He was quite literally recharged by Maximilian's sacrifice.
That's better than any healing magic I've ever seen. But that's enough,” he was about to pull his arm away when Drake jumped into the air. His arms darted forwards but Maximilian slapped them away, followed by a punch to the face and a kick to the groin. Seconds later he was pressed against the cliff with a sword against his neck. “What the hell do you think you're doing? I said it's enough!”
Please, don't kill me! I can't control the beast inside of me yet.”
You are the monster, not some imaginary creature inside of you!”
Sure, that's how it must appear to an outsider but once in a while I hear this voice inside my head and it urges me to do things.”
And you gave in to it right now?” his voice was filled with malice and his blade began to cut into Drake's flesh.
No! It just took over for a split second but I'm fine now. You don't have to worry!”
You're a vampire! Of course I have to worry! That's why you're going to walk up front,” and with these words he finally removed his sword, still keeping an eye on his opponent.
Walk where?”
We're going through the caves. There's an entrance nearby. I've never been here before but there has to be a way down.”
I don't suppose you know any legends about this area? Because I heard strange noises during the night, as if something huge was walking below us.”
Hm...” he was deep in thought for a while. “I do remember stories about a stone tablet with a warning on it but I have no idea what it's about. Well, if there's anything below you'll be the first one to find out!”
I don't even have a wea—” Maximilian pulled out a knife and held it towards him. Wow, looks like the perfect tool to murder a piece of butter!
Now you do. And can't you use magic anyway?”
Drake took the puny weapon and put it away. “You've seen the only magic I ever used and it destroyed my sword. I might be able to do more but I shouldn't waste the energy you've given me.”
Well said, especially because you won't receive another drop from me. Now let's get going! The entrance is over there. After you.”
And what happens when we get out of these mountains?”
We'll see about that when the time comes...” he didn't try to hide the threatening tone in his voice.

The entrance Maximilian mentioned was nothing more than a small hole in the ground and the sun wasn't high enough to illuminate the darkness beyond. Drake saw everything, though, and he couldn't find a way to climb down.
Are you sure about this? It's quite a drop—“
Don't you worry about me. I'm not that frail.”
“—and we won't be able to climb out again.”
I don't plan to. Either we find an exit or you'll make one with your magic. You did obliterate the castle's walls just fine, after all. Now go, or do I have to push you?” he followed it up with a wide grin but Drake declined and lowered himself into the hole. He let go when half of his body had disappeared and fell a couple of meters. His legs smashed into the ground with a loud thud and he shuddered for a few seconds. Maximilian really thinks he can remain unscathed after such a fall? I'm sure I would have broken my legs if I were still hu— something heavy fell on top of him and he was pressed into the floor.
You've be kidding me!” he yelled through clenched teeth while Maximilian stood up, drew his sword and stretched himself. His bones cracked loudly.
Don't be such a wimp! You survived having your face melted off and you didn't even scream. Serving as a cushion couldn't possibly have been worse.”
I'm so sorry for complaining!” he rose from the ground and brushed the dust from his clothes. “But don't think you can abuse me forever. I'll repay you eventually!”
Of course you will!”—Maximilian lit a branch on fire—“Now take this and start walking! I'd like to leave before the sun sets again.”
I can see just fine without any light.”
That's not the point. Take it!”
Drake refrained from asking what other reason there could be and took it. Whatever. As long as we get out of here. He will kill you the moment you step outside! You need to kill him prior to that! No, I don't think he's that kind of person. Then you're a naive idiot!
Can we go now?” Maximilian asked impatiently and pressed the tip of his sword into Drake's back.
You don't need to threaten me! I don't plan on staying in these caves either!” and with these words they started their journey through the darkness.

For a long time the cave seemed quite ordinary. The brown walls looked natural, there were dozens of stalagmites and stalactites, a few tunnels had collapsed and the area was infested with bugs and bats, none of whom tried to attack them. They didn't even encounter any giant specimens although these were quite common on Meceruun. Their origin isn't clear but most people assume them to be the result of magical experiments.
After running into a dead end for the sixth time our heroes stumbled upon an artificial passageway made out of obsidian. The material seemed to consume the light of Maximilian's torch as its light dimmed visibly. It wasn't necessary, though, as crystals of varying colors had been embedded into the walls, giving the place an eerie atmosphere. Even animals seemed to avoid this place as it was devoid of spider-webs and excrements.
What is this?” asked Drake curiously as he ran his hand across the smooth surface of the wall. He felt some kind of presence in the area but it was too weak to pinpoint its location.
I don't know. The dwarves could have built it I suppose, but I don't remember there being any outposts or cities in the area.”
Perhaps we should turn around. I've got a bad feeling about this.”
And go where? We've already stumbled upon too many dead ends. This could be the only that actually leads towards an exit. If you're too afraid of the darkness we can talk, of course.”
I'm not afraid! And what is there to talk about?”
Everything! Like why you serve the 'Mad Queen'.”
Is that something like a nickname?” Maximilian nodded while he urged Drake to start walking again. “I understand the part about her being mad, but who would ever call her a Queen?”
Her husband, the vampire lord Cardul. According to legends he was one of the strongest and most reputable vampires in existence, but he was killed a thousand years ago. No one seems to know how he fell but Modera started her rampage a few decades later. Entire villages were wiped from the face of the earth thanks to her and due to the war no one was able to stop her. History gets a bit sketchy after that but in the end only Modera remained and she vanished entirely about ten years ago.” Drake stopped and urged Maximilian to do the same. “What is it?”
Sh!” is all he uttered as he listened into the distance. Numerous creatures were moving in the darkness, but the sounds were so weak that no ordinary human would ever have been aware of them. They were accompanied by the panicked shrieking of bats. This went on for quite a while but Drake ignored every attempt of Maximilian to get his attention. Silence returned after a loud thud reverberated throughout the caves.
What was that?” Maximilian readied his sword.
I thought you didn't hear the noises?”
All I heard was a loud bang, as if something fell to the floor.”
That was at the very end, but I heard dozens, maybe even hundreds of footsteps prior to that.”
Must have been rats or something. Can you still hear them?”
Drake listened intently before he answered. “No, they stopped after this thudding sound.”
Must have gotten themselves buried under rocks or something,” relief was audible in his voice as he lowered his blade. “Let's keep going while you tell me your tale.”
They continued their trek through the darkness while Drake told him everything.

Maximilian's laughter echoed through the passage, which had grown continually darker as less and less crystals were embedded in its walls. “You're a chosen one? Seriously? I knew that Modera was crazy but she must have gone completely bonkers if she waited ten years for someone like you!”
We really need to get out of here so you can stop making fun of me!” Drake grumbled.
Sorry, I just don't see it, although I have to admit that there might be more to you than meets the eye. Maybe this Alp could clear things up, seeing as he knew about your 'destiny'. I don't suppose you can contact him?”
I wouldn't know how apart from going to sleep and hoping for a meeting.”
But he did contact you in the castle while you were wide awake.”
Yes, but the connection only lasted a few seconds and I could barely understand what he was saying.”
Well, sleeping is out of the question right now. Maybe we can try it later,” he ran into Drake right after speaking these words. “What is it now?”
So you're not going to kill me when we get out of here?” Drake asked hopefully.
I haven't decided ye...what is that?” Maximilian snapped the torch out of Drake's hand and held it towards the wall on their right. It was hard to see the difference but that section of the wall was actually a door made out of obsidian, meaning it was nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding area. “Could you try opening this?”
Why don't you do it yourself?”
Because it might be a trap and you're still my prisoner!”—he raised his sword once more—“Go on, then!”
But there's neither a door knob nor a handle!”
Try pushing it or something!”
Now that Maximilian had called attention to it Drake wondered how he could have overlooked it. If it weren't for this voice inside my head and the blood lust I could get used to these abilities. They certainly come in handy once in a while. I'm just trying to help you! Kill this foolish human and our powers will grow tremendously. And then we'll go back to Pagan and drink the sweet blood of his woman! It's a real bummer that this oaf has already taken her virginity. Would you please shut up? I'm not listening to you! Then why did you react?
Are you talking to yourself again, or what?”
I am, actually!” Drake responded angrily.
No wonder that vampires go mad eventually. Perhaps it'd be better to get rid of you sooner rather than later.”
How would you know that all vampires turn out like Modera? I'm sure there were others who didn't have a choice. Like me.”
You did have a choice!”
And I suppose you would have killed your father if given the same choice?” he lashed out at Maximilian, nearly giving in to the beast to rip out his throat.
I wouldn't have killed him. I would have saved him from eternal suffering! And if Modera had kept her promise I would have killed her too the moment she dropped her guard.”
I doubt you'd stand a chance against her!”
Why not? Your father nearly succeeded so there's no reason to assume that I would have failed! But enough with this idle banter. Open the door!”
Drake didn't want to admit it but Maximilian had a point. He was the better swordsman and more agile thanks to his age. If only he could join me. I'm sure we could get rid of Modera if we worked together. He started to push. Nothing happened at first, however, slowly but surely the wall gave way and the ground began to shake ever so slightly. Drake was too distracted to notice it and the moment he was done it stopped. The chamber beyond was enveloped in complete darkness which not even the torch could penetrate.
Wait here, I'm going to get something,” said Maximilian and returned the way they came. Drake didn't plan on listening and entered the chamber on his own. The room was round and a circle of pillars surrounded its center. Some of them had been smashed to pieces by cave-ins but the central area was devoid of rubble despite there being holes in the ceiling above it. Drake heard the sound of clashing metal in the distance, followed by a strange humming noise, but the chamber fascinated him too much to care. He didn't understand why, though.
The whole center was placed inside the symbol of an octagon with eight wooden staffs adorned with jewels at it's edges. They emitted a deep buzzing noise which seemed to be directed at the very focal point of the octagon, where a sword had been rammed into the ground. Directly in front of the blade was an inscription but Drake had never seen this language before.
Hey, I told you to wait!” Maximilian yelled indignantly as he entered the room with a crystal shard in hand, which managed to penetrate the darkness. “Wow, I never knew that such a magnificent blade was hidden in these mountains!” he stopped with a baffled expression.
The sword had a golden hilt with a ruby embedded in it whereas the blade had been forged with the same obsidian as the walls. The most unique aspect of the weapon was its form, however, as the blade itself was split into two. The center was shaped like a thin v and the outer edges like a sawtooth, allowing it to rip right through flesh, leaving behind terrible wounds in the process.
Not exactly my style but I can't just leave it here,” he stepped into the octagon, instantly stumbling backwards and falling on his behind while a painful scream escaped his lips.
What happened?”
I...I don't know. It felt like some invisible force...was pulling at me from top to bottom, as if rip me in half!” his hand was pressed onto his stomach. “Whatever this blade is, someone didn't want it remo—” his eyes fell upon the inscription as Drake stepped into the symbol himself.
I don't feel anything. Let me get it. It should prove more useful than the knife you gave me.”
Stop, don't touch it!” Maximilian could do nothing but gaze in horror as Drake removed the sword from the stone. Black smoke emanated from the hole it left behind and the ground shook violently. It grew stronger with every passing second. “Put it back, please!” but Maximilian's desperate screams were in vain as one staff after another crumbled into dust, leaving behind nothing but a humming sound when the jewels hit the floor. As soon as the last one perished the octagon imploded and the ceiling started to cave in. Maximilian got up and ran towards the exit, barely able to avoid the rocks that would have crushed him. Drake, on the other hand, was stuck in place. A rock dislocated his shoulder and forced him to the ground, but he still couldn't move his feet, as if they had been glued to the ground. After narrowly avoiding a rock aimed at his head his head he tried to remove his boots, which is when he noticed that he couldn't let go of the sword either. He still managed to untie one of his shoelaces but the moment he raised his foot a red glow emanated from within his shoe and pulled him back down.
What is happening? Isn't it obvious? It's the last safety mechanism in case someone actually pulled out the sword. Whoever placed it here didn't want it removed! I prefer not to be buried alive! Then do something! You're holding onto a magical sword after all! Magical sword? Oh, I see! Drake closed his eyes and focused his energy like he had done during his escape. The sword eagerly consumed the power it was given and a maelstrom of shadows surrounded its new owner, obliterating everything it came into contact with. At the same time a surge of energy flowed from the sword into Drake himself and his eyes turned black. He noticed none of that and everything returned to normal when the ground stopped shaking. He found himself surrounded by rubble and the way towards the exit had collapsed entirely.
Are you still alive?” yelled Maximilian, his voice muffled thanks to the boulders between them.
I am!”—Drake stared at the blade, which was still covered in a layer of darkness—“Get away from the exit! Three! Two! One!” he swung the sword in the general direction of the door. The rubble was obliterated in an instant and so was the wall next to Maximilian, leaving behind a gaping hole. Drake hurried through the passage before it collapsed under its own weight.
And then he blacked out.


I awoke in world of pure darkness. There were no lights, no discernible features, no living beings, just nothing. Apart from the voices, that is. The air was filled with screams of pain and suffering. It was too much for me to focus on but one thing was for sure: there was not a single happy creature among the voices. It's as if I had landed in hell itself, although I had imagined it being located in a sea of fire and inhabited by hundreds of demons.
You shouldn't be here,” said a familiar voice—the voice of the Alp!
I couldn't see him at first but his form slowly took shape in front of me. He was still wearing the gray robe from before, making it impossible to see what he actually looked like.
Where am I?”
Inside the Void,” he noticed my puzzled expression and elaborated, “It's another name for the dreamworld. It consists of different layers and dreamers rarely get as deep as this. Maybe it has something to do with the shadow sword.”
Shadow sword?”
The one you pulled from the stone. It's filled with darkness and the connection hadn't been severed before you collap—” a demonic screamed resounded through the Void and the Alp looked over his shoulder. “You need to leave. That cave is not a safe place to take a nap.”
It's not like I choose to collapse,” but it was evident that the Alp had no plans to continue this conversation. He touched my forehead and I was catapulted into the air. The world grew brighter till I emerged into the color-filled dreamworld. I was still rising but noticed a figure clad in white in the distance. He seemed to be wearing the same type of robe as the Alp, which made it impossible to make out any details, apart from the fact that he was looking at me.
And then I was engulfed by a flash of light.


Wake up!” were the first words Drake heard upon his return from the Void, followed by a slap to the face. Another one would have followed but his eyes snapped open and he grabbed Maximilian's arm in mid-air. “I hope you slept well, princess,” it should have been a joke but his voice was filled with tension.
What's going on? And where are we?” asked Drake as he noticed the giant spider-webs all around them, covered in bat carcasses.
In a tunnels we didn't explore earlier, or rather in a small cave inside one of them. Here, drink this,” he said and held out a vial filled with red liquid.
I though you wouldn't—” but he was cut off when Maximilian pointed behind him towards the corpse of a giant spider. “I see. Better than nothing, I guess,” he gulped down the blood. This tastes like piss! It's certainly disgusting, but I feel better already. You'd feel much better if— Stuff it! “What did I miss?”
Not much...yet. But I think I heard the footsteps you mentioned earlier and they seemed to be coming closer. Can you hear them now?”
Drake closed his eyes and listened intently. He heard the wind blowing through the caves and the trickling of water dripping into an underground lake. Apart from that everything was quiet.
No, I can't hear anything out of the—” the sound of metal upon rocks cut him off. The cave shuddered as a passage collapsed somewhere in the distance. “Wait a moment!” Drake closed his eyes once more. He ignored the wind and the water, finally noticing the thudding footsteps, the rattling of metal and the raspy breath. Something was moving towards them very slowly. “I could be mistaken but it sounds like someone or something is walking towards our position.”
From which direction?” Maximilian had lowered his voice to a whisper. Drake gestured towards the western side of the caves. “That's where the obsidian corridor is.”—Maximilian smashed his fist into the wall—“Seems like we're trapped unless we missed a passage.”
Don't tell me you're afraid,” Drake was surprised at the sudden change in attitude, especially as they didn't even know what kind of creature was lurking in these caves.
I have every right to be afraid! Didn't you see the inscription?”
I did but I have no idea what it was saying.”
That's something we have in common but I know where it's from, at least. It's a message written in the language of shadows.”
The what?” How could shadows have a language?
It's the language spoken in Gana Borodem, a land inhabited by living shadows. It was destroyed thousands of years ago by the combined forces of Pagan and Asselion but managed to re-emerge eventually. It fell once more at the end of the Golden Age but we don't know if it's inhabitants have been entirely annihilated.”
A deep growl echoed through the caves, followed by three quick strikes of metal upon stone. Boulders smashed into the floor, dangerously close this time, and a wall of smoke descended into their hideout. They covered their faces, trying not to cough.
And what makes these shadows so dangerous?” Drake's voice had also dropped to a whisper.
I suppose their magic can be compared to the one you used. They can obliterate everything they touch while we can't touch them with what we have,” he pointed towards their swords. “Unless you suddenly manage to conjure a sacred spell.”
Unlikely. If the light that crystal emitted was sacred then I'd only burn myself trying to use it.”
The ground shook as two giant feet stomped upon the ground, only a few feet away from their current position. Maximilian crept towards the hole leading into the tunnel and peeked around the corner. He retracted his head seconds later, his face a grim mask.
What is going on?”
There's a giant figure around the corner. It's nearly as big as the tunnel itself, is entirely covered in a black suit of armor and bears a scythe.”
Give it back!” a deep, raspy voice reverberated through the tunnels. It was filled with malice so thick that you could literally feel it. Goosebumps spread over Maximilian's skin and the air grew colder.
Maybe it'll go away if we—”
I know that you're here! I'll bury you alive if I have to!” these words were followed by the sound of the scythe cutting through the air, which send a shock wave through the caves. Dust trickled onto our heroes and Drake's jaw dropped when he realized that it also severed the spider-webs above them.
So much for that...”
Sounds like he wants the sword you took.”
And you think he'd leave us alone if I gave it up?”
The footsteps resumed, getting dangerously close to their current position. Drake and Maximilian scampered away from the hole, pressing themselves against the walls beside it.
Thud … Thud … Thud .. Thud … The armored figure stopped in front of the hole, his raspy breath resounding through the tunnel. Drake glanced towards the side and managed to catch a glimpse of the scythe through the creatures legs. It resembled his shadow sword as it's blade was also sawtooth-shaped. Not that it really matters. A single strike with that should be able to cut through anyone. The weapon was emitting smoke but so was the armor the creature wore.
I'll find you sooner or later! There is no escape from this prison!” the figure started to move again, his footsteps vanishing in the distance.
What now?” asked Drake after making sure that the creature was nowhere to be seen.
We have to move! Let's return to the obsidian corridor to look for an exit. And if there is none then we'll find a place where you can break through.”
They left their hiding spot a minute later, walked through a couple of tunnels and began to jog after reaching the obsidian corridor.

Some time after passing the collapsed chamber they came to a crossroad with a gaping hole in its center. The smell of decay wafted towards them and while Maximilian covered his nose Drake didn't really care. He hadn't experimented too much with his new abilities but he was already able to blend out everything he didn't want to notice without much of a thought. He kneeled at the edge of the hole and stared into the abyss. Deep below was a rectangular object surrounded by the glowing remains of a pentagram. It was impossible to identify what exactly it was, though, as the walls had been shredded, scattering rubble all over the area.
Anything interesting down there?”
No, just rubble. Certainly nothing that could be the cause of this smell,” he stood up and looked towards the other corridor. Its entrance was adorned by a small gargoyle statue baring its fangs. Drake looked away, only to focus on the statue once more.
Maximilian, do you see that?” he looked at his companion before he pointed towards the empty corridor.
See what?”
What? Where did it go?” he scratched his head.
Where did what go?”
There was a gargoyle statue at the entrance!”—he turned, about to walk towards the other side—“Like this one!” he yelled, pointing at the creature blocking his path. “You see it, right?”
I do and I don't remember there being any statues when we entered. Is it alive?”
How else could it have moved?” Drake unsheathed his sword, wondering how it even fit into a scabbard made for normal blades. “Maximilian, how did you get the sword—”
Into the scabbard? It changed shape, actually. Which you would have noticed if you had looked at it just now,” he answered casually while checking the area for more statues.
Convenient but I don't want to let the gargoyle out of my sight again.”
Drake tapped the creature with his blade. Doesn't feel like it's alive. He listened for a heartbeat but the stone didn't make any noises whatsoever. Then he stepped a few feet backwards before closing eyes for just a moment. When he opened them again the statue had partially retreated into the corridor.
Seems like these creatures can only move when they aren't observed,” and he stepped forward once more, raised his sword and sliced through the gargoyle with a single strike. He blinked when the two haves tumbled to the ground and heard a short, otherworldly scream of agony. Then he kicked it into the hole. “I've gotten rid of it. We can continue now.”
I'm not so sure...” Maximilian's voice quivered with fear.
What is wro...oh god!”
The unexplored tunnels where filled with statues. Maximilian had retreated into a corner from where he could see two passages as well as any arrival from the third.
I think we better retre—” Drake couldn't even finish the sentence as his voice was drowned out by footsteps from the obsidian corridor.
Well done! Just a few more seconds and I'll be free!
Any ideas, vampire?”
Drake's mind was racing, as was his heart. God, this is like a nightmare! Leave the human behind and escape on your own! Or better yet, make a deal with the shadow! We are both creatures of darkness, I'm sure he would hear us out! Believe me, if I could rip you out and send you towards him I'd do it in a heartbeat!
I'll obliterate the gargoyles in the corridor to your left. Remain in the corner till I'm safe. Then I'll look at the other passages while you catch up to me!”
Do you think I'm stupid? I'm not letting—”
Don't tell me you still think I'm evil!”
Thud...thud...thud...thud … The armored figure had nearly caught up to them.
Fine, do it!” Maximilian screamed. He'd never been in a situation as stressful as this. Neither had he ever felt this useless. He might have been able to cut down a handful of these creatures but the ones he didn't see would kill him within seconds. Magic would really come in handy right about now.
Drake focused his energy and the sword was enveloped by darkness. He swung it shortly afterwards and the shock wave destroyed every single gargoyle in sight. I'm glad they're actually made of stone. There has to be something that my magic can't obliterate. He ran towards the empty corridor and cut down the ones hidden in the corner.
Don't leave m—”
Yes, goddammit! I just needed to take out a few stragglers! Come now!” he yelled as he turned around to keep the other gargoyles in check. Maximilian literally flew into the corridor as the ground beneath him exploded into a million pieces.
You are not getting away again!” a deafening scream filled the air when Drake pulled Maximilian to his feet. They turned around and bolted as fast as humanly possible while the cave shook under the burden of their pursuers.

They ran like hell, glancing backwards once in a while to stop the progress of their enemies, who gained upon them with ridiculous speed despite filling the corridor to the brim.
Can't you destroy them?” yelled Maximilian, gasping for breath.
I can try,” Drake replied and focused on his sword once more. Every time he did so his control improved, allowing him to gather the darkness a tad faster. “Okay, here goes nothing!” he screamed, turned around on one leg, jumped backwards into the air and swung his sword from left to right. The darkness shot through the cave, ripped through the walls and had nearly reached its targets when it collided with a black tornado. The energy was sucked right into it, dissipating harmlessly before even a single gargoyle could be destroyed. Drake landed on his feet, swirled around and looked backwards while running once more. The tornado was accelerating but instead of attacking Drake and Maximilian directly it overtook them and smashed into the floor, where it grew into the shape of the armored giant. Our heroes came to a sudden halt.
Did you actually believe you could fight darkness with darkness?” these word were followed by roaring laughter. “Let me show you real power!” the creature began to spin his scythe horizontally, causing the walls to collapse, blocking the small gaps that would have allowed his opponents to slip past. Then the scythe was rammed into the ground and the floor exploded in a straight line, aimed directly at Drake. He stepped sideways but wasn't fast enough to evade it entirely. He was smashed into the wall with such force that he left a dent in it. And somehow, through all the noise, he actually noticed the sound of running water. His sword was aglow with energy in a split-second and the wall crumbled to dust. Drake grabbed onto Maximilian and jumped through it, just in time to avoid the mass of gargoyles smashing into them.

They found themselves in a huge natural cavern with giant stalactites. It was split into multiple layers descending into the depths, with a vast underground lake at the bottom, which was filled by a waterfall across from the hole Drake made. At first glance the cave didn't seem to have an exit but the deeper it went the brighter it got and warm air was ascending from below.
An earth-shattering scream shattered the silence and the wall was ripped apart.
Can't you just leave us alone? Come on Drake, we can't fight him!” Maximilian sped towards a small cliff but the armored figure threw his scythe into the air. It evaporated and a dome of shadows descended upon them, blocking their escape route.
You've run far enough! Give me back my sword!” the creature was still screaming and his words were so powerful that they brought our heroes to their knees.
And what...are you do after that?” asked Drake while trying to fight the unbelievable power pressing him to the floor.
Then you're going to be sacrificed, serving as the cornerstones of Gana Borodem's Revival!”
Are you stupid?” Maximilian laughed but it sounded forced. “As if a single person could revive a whole empire!”
The armored figure crossed the gap within the blink of an eye and his fist smashed Maximilian into the floor, shattering his ribcage in the process.
Know your place, human! I am all that is needed to revive the land of shadows!
And why...”—Maximilian coughed up blood—“...would that be?”
Because I am Dorr'n Selkesch, the lord of shadows!” the cave shook, like the world itself was frightened by that proclamation. “But enough of this! Give me back my blade, vampire! You don't deserve its power!” he raised his fist and would have smashed Drake to smithereens if his primordial beast hadn't taken over.
Dorr'n Selkesch was bent over, his fist buried in the earth, while Drake was right above him, his sword engulfed by flames. We won't be able to take him out like this but it should be enough to shatter his barrier! Gravity took over and Drake descended, his sword aimed at the point where Dorr'n's helmet and armor connected.
Where ar—” his words were cut off, replaced by a demonic scream of pain. The dome shattered and the scythe fell to the floor. Time to escape! Don't you dare leave Maximilian behind! Are you stu— Do it! The vampire growled but he changed his direction ever so slightly, grabbed the human's neck and jumped from the cliff in a ridiculous arc. The scythe shot through the air but Drake plummeted just in time to evade it.
Seconds later they plunged into the water hundreds of meters below. Shadowy tendrils extended all the way to the bottom but the moment they came into contact with water they pulled back. Dorr'n Selkesch let out a never-ending scream and the cave started to fall apart.

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