Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 11: Where It All Began

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Revision 2 is in progress.


Chapter 11: Where It All Began

Drake barely slept a wink. The message he saw inside the void continued to haunt him all throughout the night. Whenever he fell he asleep a harrowing dream was already waiting for him. He never remained for long, but it was more than enough to drain his bedsheets in sweat. That was the least of his worries, though, as the repeated descend into nightmares meant that his heart never came to rest. He suffered multiple infarcts without noticing them, but it was impossible to disregard the stinging sensation in his chest.
Shortly before dawn he made use of the bathroom and drowned himself in icy water to lessen the pain. Blood trickled from his lips as he gulped down an entire vial, but the substance proved to be entirely useless. All it got rid of was the inflammation that had spread across his chest. He probed the region for a while, but couldn't come up with a logical explanation of why the pain persisted. Eventually he gave up and leaned back in a desperate attempt to relax. He noticed a spiderweb in a corner of the ceiling and followed the impressive spinning skills of its resident with his eyes. It seemed to have a hypnotic effect on him as he actually dozed off without realizing it.
Sharp ripping noises echoed through the room as word after word was etched into the ceiling. Drake wanted to look away, but the water had frozen solid, trapping him in place. Even his eyes refused to move, since they were held in place by the legs of two humongous spiders that were resting on his shoulders.
The world fell apart as three loud knocking noises reached Drake's ears. He shot forward, breathing heavily, and gritted his teeth when he realized that his aching chest had taken on a reddish hue again.
Drake, it's time!” yelled Maximilian through the door. “I'm going to gather my men. We'll met on the bridge.”
Okay,” is what Drake tried to say, but his words were fainter than a whisper.
He slipped out of the bathtub, rubbed his body dry and got dressed. The clothes were nearly identical to his old ones, just a bit more expensive and sturdy. He moved towards the door but stopped when his hand came to rest on the doorknob. His vision blurred for a moment and he had to inhale heavily as a wave of pain rippled through his body.
He turned around, gazed at the balcony for a couple of seconds and ran. His hands grabbed onto the handrail, his legs flew over them and then he fell. To an onlooker it must have appeared as if he wanted to brag with his abilities, but all he wanted was a rush of excitement to oust the fatigue that plagued him. It also got his heart pumping, which seemed to drown the pain in his chest.
He landed only a feet away from a patrol and the guards screamed in surprise and fell over themselves since they couldn't decide if they should attack or escape. Drake ignored them and walked towards the meeting point, where he leaned onto the wooden handrail and stared at the water below. He took deep breaths, relishing in the freshness of the air. A storm had hit the city during the night, which could have been seen as a bad omen if it hadn't moved on already.
Maximilian arrived a few minutes later. Two men in their forties were walking besides him while a contingent made up of about a dozen soldiers followed them.
You shouldn't scare our guards like that. They aren't used to people falling from the sky. Why didn't you take the stairs?”
I just felt like it.”
I...see. Anyway, since I didn't get to introduce them properly yesterday: this is General Armakal.”
He pointed to the man on his left, who seemed quite scraggy since he barely reached the recommended weight for height, which made him appear much older than he actually was. The general wore a set of horn-rimmed glasses, had a crooked nose and a half-bald head. New recruits rarely wanted to be assigned to his unit—even going so far as to call him a scarecrow—but he was actually a very nice person and one of the most lenient generals in all of Pagan.
I'm glad to make your acquaintance”—he shook Drake's hand and showed him a radiant and genuine smile—“It's good to know that not all of your kind has fallen victim to the madness. Seems like the stories were true after all.”
What stories?”
Some records talk about a vampire kingdom that existed back in the Golden Age. It was a place that your kind could call home—a place where vampires and mortals lived together in peace and harmony. Most people don't believe those stories, of course, and who could condemn them?”
That's nice and all”—Maximilian interjected—“but we don't have time for chit-chat. Anyway, Armakal is our strategist. He will coordinate our man in the battle against Modera, but we will have to draw her out first. Fighting inside the tower would be suicide.”
Shouldn't be too much of a problem. I'll just blow a hole into the wall if I have to.”
We'll see about that when we get there.”
Maximilian was about to introduce the other general when he took the initiative and stepped forward. He grabbed Drake's hands with his paw-like ones and shook them wildly. That man was the total opposite of Armakal: big, burly and more muscle than flesh. His fist could have easily crushed the head of a normal person.
I'm jeneral Borado and I will squash Modera with my hammer if I jet the chance!” he bellowed with a strange accent and patted the small hammer on his belt.
I doubt she would even feel the impact,” replied Drake doubtfully.
Borado smiled and removed his weapon with a swift movement. It tripled in size, but the weight seemed to remain constant since he had no trouble lifting it.
Huh, nice enchantment. But isn't it a bit too slow for actual combat?”
The general lifted it above his head and twirled it around rapidly, nearly destroying the bridge in the process. The soldiers stared at him in astonishment. Most of them had never seen him use that weapon since one slap with his flat hand was enough to knock them out. Only a handful of trainees had ever managed to land a hit on him.
Enough with that!” said Maximilian, ”We shouldn't keep the others waiting any longer.”
And so the party moved on to the city gates. They would have aroused a lot of suspicion if it hadn't been so early. Not that it mattered after the spectacle of their arrival.
Somewhere along the way Drake asked Maximilian: “Do you really think that the soldiers will be any help? Borado seems like a nice addition and I suppose that Armakal could come in handy, but I'm not so sure about the others...”
It doesn't matter if they can help or not. They were the only ones brave enough to heed my call and that is all I need. Who knows, one of them might turn out to be the hero who will slay Modera.”
Drake raised an eyebrow but refrained from saying anything else.

Eventually they arrived at their destination, where a group of four people were already waiting for them. Two of them were red-haired twins in their twenties—a man and a woman—who held the same kind of sword in opposite hands. The latter wore a tight top and short pants, which revealed legs many women could only dream of, while her brother was dressed in a plain shirt and trousers that covered all of his flesh.
Those are are Erik and Erika—”
Just Rika, please,” she interjected.
They share a mental bond and fight as one. Among their guild members they are know as 'The Red Whirlwind'.”
A few feet behind them stood a tall elf with short chestnut-colored hair atop a stone. He had a bow slung over his shoulder and wore a glowing quiver on his back, which is all that he showed to the group. His simple clothes merged with the background, making it almost impossible to distinguish him from the surrounding area.
That's Feyadal, also known as 'The Invisible Hawk'. He is like a ghost whose infinite arrows soar through the sky and kill their targets with a single hit.”
Infinite arrows? That's quite a convenient enchantment.”
One that is only bestowed upon the best hunters in the world. It's not entirely limitless, though, but we should have no problems unless a war breaks out,” said the elf without turning his back.
The last person, a woman, stood so far away that no one would have connected her to the others. She wore long, flowing robes that left nothing to the imagination. Only that fact that her head was bald prevented her from being swarmed by men 24 hours a day. Her eyes looked glazed over and her hands rested on a bronze staff that had been embedded in the earth. It was surrounded by a circle of glittering crystal shards.
And that is Illutia. She doesn't have a nickname, at least not one that describes her skills.”
Either my eyes are playing tricks on me”—an unlikely occurrence, given his vampiric nature—“or she's actually wearing transparent clothes. Doesn't that bother her?”
Drake couldn't help but stare at the perfect hourglass shaped form beneath her robes. Excitement welled up within him and sweat ran down his face as he tried to get his senses under control. His mind wanted to focus on her body whereas his eyes did not. He actually had to imagine a more distasteful scenario to supplant the images inside his head, which concealed the spark that flared up within him.
I doubt she cares. Among men she is known 'The Numb Sorceress' since she doesn't portray any kind of emotions. According to rumors her facial expression never changes, even in states of excitement.”
In states of excitement?” Drake glanced at Maximilian and a slight smile played around his lips. “Just rumors? I certainly hope so, for Jessica's sake.”
Maximilian looked at him indignantly but wasn't able to utter a single sentence.
What about me?”
The soldiers yelled in confusion as a robed figure ran through their ranks. Two of them were even pushed onto the street without receiving an excuse.
Jessica! Where the hell did you come from?”
I walked behind the soldiers. They seemed to be so enamored by your presence that they never looked back,” she said with a sparkling smile and giggled.
Why couldn't you move like that in the castle?”
She pouted her lips and crossed her arms over her chest instead answering his question.
I hope you know what you're jetting into. She's a feisty one,” said Borado and broke out into deep roaring laughter befitting his shape.
Yeah, I know...”
You're not mad, are you?” Jessica put on a puppy eyes look, grabbed onto his arms and put his hands onto her chest.
Maximilian harrumphed and freed his arms while whispering: “Not here!” Only then did he respond: “Of course not. I just can't imagine ruling the city, not now at least.”
Well, there's no hurry,” said Armakal, “I doubt the king will abdicate anytime soon. But I'm sure he will take some time out of his schedule to teach you the ropes.”
Great...” Maximilian closed his eyes and shook his head “But enough of that. What are you doing here?”
I just wanted to say goodbye and wish you good luck. To all of you!” she turned around as she said so and jumped into the air, waving her warms.
The soldiers responded with lukewarm and confused murmuring.
What was that? I couldn't hear you?” yelled Maximilian.
Thank you, princess!” the soldiers responded in unison and saluted her future queen.
It is nearly done.”
Drake flinched when he heard the emotionless voice behind him. Everyone turned towards the sorceress, that is everyone but Maximilian, who was pulled away just as he was about to move.
Let go off me!”
His screams vanished around the city wall and everyone broke into laughter—everyone but Illutia and Feyadal, although the elf did grin at least. It took all of Drake's willpower to focus on Illutia's face. A valiant but pointless efforts since she didn't give a damn about the opinion of others. They couldn't know that dressing so lightly allowed her to make use of nearly all her magical potential. Ordinary clothes always absorbed some of the energy, which caused them to deteriorate much faster than under normal circumstances.
Hello, I'm Drake.” He held his hand towards her, but all she did was reply with her own name. “Nice to meet you. What is it you're doing for us?”
I'm opening a portal to Modera's tower, but I cannot finish it without you.”
I cannot open portals to a place that I don't remember. Such magic does exist, but it would advise against using it unless you have a week to spare. Therefore I will have to access to your memories.” The sorceress pressed a finger onto his forehead before he could protest. A rush of memories came flooding back, in no particular order. He saw Dorr'n Selkesch chasing them, the fight against Xar, his first meeting with Emily, the void plunged into madness, his transformation into a vampire and Modera's tower. It could have stopped there, but fate was cruel and showed him the message in the book of destiny once more. And again, and again, and again, and—
Maximilian pulled them apart and held his trembling and screaming friend in his arms. “What did you do?” he screamed at the sorceress, who was bathed in sweat.
I got stuck inside a very powerful memory. Thank you for pulling us apart.” Her eyes focused on Drake. “I am sorry for your coming loss.” Those words were as emotionless as every word that left her mouth.
No. It will not happen. I will not let it happen!” he screamed at her face. She didn't flinch.
What is she talking about?”
Nothing. Nothing will happen, so there's nothing to talk about!”
He wrestled himself free and left the group behind to seek solace under a tree. Illutia returned to her staff to finish the preparations.
Should I try to talk to him?” asked Jessica, but Maximilian shook his head.
We cannot force him to talk, although it would certainly help. I hope he comes around before it's too late.”
They spent the remaining time in silence. Only the soldiers whispered among themselves, that is until Borado raised his hammer and smashed it into the ground next to them, which should them right up. “We're not on a pleasure trip!”
Minutes later Illutia's staff was wreathed in green fire. She lifted it across her head, twirled it once round its axis and slammed it into the ground. Reality ruptured with a loud pop and the air began to flicker and shimmer. The portal was just wide enough for a single person and revealed a murky forest engulfed by fog. It took the eyes of a hawk to see the tower in the distance.
I will make sure that the coast is clear,” said Feyadal as he jumped from the stone and hurried towards the portal. His movements were a blur, even to the trained eye of a vampire. Only when the portal swallowed him with a loud slurping noise could they be sure that he was gone.
Get yourselves ready!” yelled Armakal towards the soldiers, “We move out in ten!”
Jessica and Maximilian shared a long and passionate kiss before she stepped back, waved towards the group and hurried towards the castle. She nearly tripped over her dress and tore the hem apart. Maximilian had to cover his eyes and wondered how she had ever managed to follow them without being seen or heard.

Drake, are you ready?” Maximilian asked a few minutes before their departure.
The vampire didn't respond. He just stared into the portal without focusing on anything at all.
Won't you tell me what's wrong? I'm sure we can prevent whatever might happen if we work together.”
Drake finally raised his head and locked onto his friends eyes. “Will you do whatever I ask of you?”
Of course.”
That is enough.”
He stood up, dusted the dirt from his trousers and walked towards the portal.
Why won't you tell me what happened, or rather what's about to happen?”
Are you deaf? Nothing is wrong and nothing will happen! We will win this fight and there will be no casualties except for Modera!”
And then he was swallowed by the portal, preventing Maximilian from responding once more. He ran towards the soldiers and prompted them to move, even though the ten minutes weren't up. When the final member of their party stepped through the portal it dissipated into thin air. Only scorched earth remained.
A lone figure stood on the city walls. His head was cocked and he smiled slyly as he stared at the spot where the portal had been. The disfigured corpse of a soldier lay behind him. The pool of blood that framed his body hadn't even dried yet.

Despite the considerable distance between Pagan and Modera's tower the journey proved to be instantaneous. The only sign that something out of the ordinary had happened was that Drake's body felt awfully cold, which he himself barely noticed. He had expected to appear directly in front of the tower, but the area reminded him more of the forest that he had crossed upon his first journey, especially due to the fog. It didn't impede his movement like last time, however.
Drake had only taken a couple of steps when the portal, which wasn't visible from this side, spit out Illutia. It took a few more seconds for the twins to appear and even longer for the general, Maximilian and the soldiers.
Feyadal reports no enemy activity,” said Illutia even though the elf was nowhere in sight.
And he can actually see under these conditions?”
They call him 'Hawk' for a reason,” said Maximilian before the sorceress could answer. “What's his current position?”
He's waiting atop a tree at the base of the tower.”
Which is...”
In this direction!”
Drake led the way and the others followed closely behind, except for the twins, who sprinted past him in total synchronicity. The instant they disappeared in the depths of the mist Drake and Illutia felt a ripple of power reverberate throughout the air.
Stop!” they yelled simultaneously, but it was already too late.
The clanking of swords upon metal was carried towards them. Not all soldiers had been fast enough to react, though, and their death cries sent chaos through the ranks.
What is going on?”
General Borado grabbed his hammer, turned around and vanished in the direction of the soldiers.
There's something in the mist. Fight back to back to avoid being caught off guard!” yelled Armakal as he followed his comrade.
Dammit! They must have been waiting for the rest of us to come through.”
Maximilian drew his sword and sliced through the air. The fog parted and revealed no living being except for their group. It didn't change the fact that three soldiers at the back had been massacred. They couldn't investigate what had happened since the fog was already returning, ready to engulf them once more.
Where are they?”
They are all around us. They are the mist themselves,” said Illutia as she pressed a hand onto the tip of her staff. A bright orb of light popped into existence and banished the fog around her. Drake hastily took a step backwards in case it was sacred magic. The air behind him grew unbelievably cold—it reminded him of the freezing temperatures around winter—and he heard the sound of metal slashing through the air. A fireball shot past his face, but instead of hitting a target it only managed to set a shrub on fire. The vampire whirled around and noticed an arrow stuck in the ground a few feet to his left. It turned into golden dust right in front of his eyes and was carried away by the wind. Is that how his magic works? But that was the wrong time to worry about such trivialities.
Even more attacks had taken place at the back, but judging by the lack of screams no one had been killed this time.
Is there a way to get rid of these creatures?” asked Maximilian.
No, at least not while we're out in the open”—Illutia rammed her staff into the ground and two shockwaves of pure energy shot past the group, destroying an entire horde of attackers—“They might not be strong by themselves, but their numbers are legion. We will tire before even half of them are dead.”
More arrows whirred past them, Borado's hammer was smashed into the ground, Drake fended off another attack by himself and Maximilian tried to carve more paths into the mist, but it retreated and reformed in rippling motions, until it was able to see his attacks coming a mile away.
Then we'd better follow through with our plan and get to the tower!”
That might prove a bit difficult!” two voices replied at once as the twins reappeared from the front.
A dark silhouette manifested itself in the fog behind them—the silhouette of a creature that was about as big as the entire tower. It walked on two legs and had arms that reached all the way to the ground. They were connected to big globes full of spikes.
The creature screeched deafeningly—Drake wouldn't have been surprised if the inhabitants of Arlin could hear it—and raised its arms into the air till the were perfectly aligned with the group. And then they came hurtling down.
Evade sideway”—the moment he uttered those words Drake realized the stupidity of the idea, as dozens of demonic faces appeared in the mist—“Don't evade! We need a barrier!” And a barrier they got. It didn't stop them from getting smashed onto the ground, however, but the alternative would have turned them into flattened pieces of flesh.
Dammit, why did Modera summon something like that? Doesn't she care what happens to me anymore?”
Perhaps she believes that you cannot die before you've fulfilled your destiny. But whatever the case, we need to get rid of that beast!”
I know. Illutia, can you protect the group while we take it down?”
I can try, but I won't be able to block all of its attacks. Erecting a barrier in such a short amount of time is very draining.”
It won't take long...I hope. Come!”
The barrier popped like a bubble and the duo sprinted towards the monster. Feyadal was already trying to fight it, but the onslaught of arrow failed to the impress the creature, since it ignored the elf and stepped towards the party.
What's the plan?” asked Maximilian.
Get below it and slice it into pieces? We can always think of something else if that falls apa—“
The beast screeched once more. Drake grabbed onto Maximilian's hip and jumped into the air as the spiky hands smashed into each other below. When their feet touched the ground once more they had switched places.
Nice trick. Your skills seem to be improving at a ridiculous speed.”
That's one of the benefits of being a vampire, I guess. But my body did most of the work. I hadn't actually planned to show off.”
I'd call that cheating.”
Drake smiled wryly before he got serious once more. Shadows engulfed his blade—but only a fraction of those belonged to the ones sealed within, as he wanted to preserve most of the energy for his battle with Modera—while light gathered around Maximilian's. They held their swords in opposite directions as they approached the monster's bottom. It would have been a perfect attack, if they weren't forced to break their formation multiple times to evade an attack from the mist. When they got within a few feet of their goal Drake noticed that they might have a problem. The creature's arms were solid enough, but the rest of its body was blurry and transparent, as if it wasn't entirely anchored in reality.
I'm not sure if we can actually hit this thing, but it can't hurt to try.”
And so they did. Two energy waves shot into the sky—one made of light and one of darkness—and they would have accomplished nothing by themselves, but using two completely opposite elements can have startling effects. The waves intertwined as if they were snakes, and in an attempt to cancel each other out they created a more powerful burst of energy that ripped a hole into the mist and cut the creature in half. They hobbled sideways and screams of agony filled the air. But the battle wasn't over yet. Instead of toppling over and dissipating the severed portions of its body began to swell and undulate.
What is it doing?”
A blurry figure jumped into their midst and arrows made of light began to penetrate the beast's wounds. “It's pulling energy from its home dimension in an attempt to regenerate. Illutia, we need fire!”
The sorceress appeared above their heads with a loud pop and twirled her staff. Its dull bronze began to glow from the inside and it spit out flames that engulfed her entire form. It made her look like a female fire elemental, not that elementals had a gender to begin with. She turned into a pillar of flames, transferred herself between the two halves of Modera's beast and unleashed her power in the form of a spinning wheel of fire. The monster shrieked in agony as its flesh was roasted, but it only managed to halt the regeneration, not kill the creature.
Feyadal held his hand above his quiver and held it there for about 10 seconds. The light it emitted increased in intensity until the elf pulled out an arrow that was as bright as the sun. The moment it came into contact with his bow a giant image of the weapon was projected into the air, similar to the form the “Heavenly Blade” had taken during their fight against Dorr'n Selkesch.
The left side of the creature exploded upon impact. Meanwhile Drake and Maximilian ran towards its right side and repeated the same procedure as before. They didn't manage to recreate the phenomenon from earlier, but the damage was severe enough to force the beast into the physical realm, cutting it off from the energies of its dimension.
The earsplitting screams of the beast echoed over the landscape and the fog thickened, hiding the movement of its arms from view. They had been flung into the air before Feyadal's arrow connected and were now hurtling down, ready to crush our heroes. The masquerade wasn't perfect, however, since the creature lacked the energy to strengthen all the fog, which meant that it could only fool people within a radius of a few feet.
The twins jumped over Drake's and Maximilian's heads, slicing through the arms in a perfectly fluid movement, and the severed hands were battered far away by General Borado's hammer.
And you had doubts about getting others involved.”
I'm sure we would have managed, somehow...”
Their exchange had to be cut short because the soldiers and general Armakal came running with the enemy in tow. After seeing the giant fall the mists-beasts had decided to attack in full force. Two more soldiers were killed, one had to be left behind since he was mortally wounded and the rest was also in a bad shape.
I will stall them,” said Illutia, who had shed her fiery form but was still floating in the air. “Get into the tower, I will fol—”
Winged creatures emerged from the mist and sank their fangs into her soft flesh. She screamed and smashed into the ground after the twins had sliced through her attackers. Huge chunks of flesh had been ripped from her torso, but they didn't end up being life-threatening. She clasped her hands together, which began to glow as if they were on fire, and pressed them on her wounds. The muscles in her face twitched as palm ascended from beneath her palms.
So much for that. Duck when you see the sword!”
How are we supposed to—”
The soldier never got to finish his remark as the giant glowing image of the “Heavenly Blade” was impossible to overlook. The mist-beasts at the front were utterly annihilated and the rest retreated, taking the fog with them.
And so they did. Erik and Rika ran along the outer edges, destroying everything in their path. Feyadal was running at the front, carrying the lithe body of Illutia in his hands. Borado had fallen back and remained there till the last soldier had passed him by. Armakal, on the other hand, was far ahead. He hobbled, was breathing heavily and almost tripped over a stone. Drake grabbed onto him, slung him over his shoulders and sped past Feyadal. Within seconds he had reached the entrance of the tower.” the general replied, gasping for air.
Drake nodded silently and tried to open the gates. They didn't budge.
What is wrong?”
They appear to be locked. I'll have to destroy them.”
No need.”
The elf put the sorceress on the ground, held his right hand towards the gates and closed his eyes for just a moment. When they reopened one could have mistaken them for glowing gemstones. Several clicking noises echoed through the air, followed by a loud snap. The gates swung open while Drake lunged at a pair of creatures that appeared behind Feyadal. The twins twirled around Drake, cutting through another set of beasts that had been aiming for him.
I suppose we would have managed,” continued Maximilian the conversation from earlier, “But we would never have remained unscathed. Into the tower, now!”
They didn't need to be told twice and hurried inside. Then the gates slammed shut, crunching the bodies of two more creatures that tried to follow them.

The interior of the tower was filled by an impenetrable silence, literally. The moment the gates closed every sound had been swallowed by an invisible force. Many members of the party gasped for air, but no one could hear them doing so. Stomping on the ground with metal boots or hitting the walls with a sword had the same effect.
Apart from that phenomenon the tower proved to be quite harmless. There were no gargoyles, skeletons, knights or even traps. And there was also no sign of Modera. Thanks to the lack of sounds Drake's senses picked up faint vibrations, though, which seemed to be coming from the ground in erratic intervals.
He glanced inquiringly at Maximilian, who beckoned him to move forward, most likely to get away from the crowed entrance area. Drake took a couple of steps before he noticed that the door ahead was swinging open. He grabbed his sword tightly and lunged forward. His opponent gaped in surprise, fell onto his ass and screamed silently in terror. He might have even pissed himself, but skeletons aren't exactly known for their bodily functions.
...” Drake uttered Abaddon's name, but Aramal wan Dago had never been known for his lip-reading skills.
The skeleton gathered itself from the ground and stared at the vampire. He tried to put on a quizzical expression, but his lack of skin and muscles thwarted that attempt. Then he opened and closed his mouth rapidly while his hands moved in wild gestures.
Drake replied with a shrug.
The rest of the group arrived seconds later and Maximilian had to stem himself against general Borado to keep his hammer in check. The giant of a human looked at the royal knight in confusion.
Drake glanced at them for only a moment before he returned his attention to Aramal. The skeleton had fled under the table to escape a crushing “death” and was covering his head with his arms. The vampire kneeled on the floor and tugged on his bones to get his attention. When Aramal was looking at him he attempted to talk once more, very slowly this time: “(What)...(is)...(going)...(on?)”
The outcome was the same, but the skeleton did crawl out of his hiding spot and moved towards one of the wardrobes. He rummaged through it for a while before he returned with a pencil and a stack of documents. After plopping them on the table he took the first sheet of paper, turned it on its back and wrote: I think Modera is screwing with us, or can you think of a reasonable explanation for getting rid of the sounds?
Drake shook his head, took the pencil and replied: Where is she?
Gone. She left the tower with your father after she found out what you're up to.
Where are they now?
Drake's eyes widened in horror, he turned on his heels and had almost reached the hallway when a chair burst into pieces next to him. He stopped abruptly, almost toppling over in the process. Turning around once more he saw another sheet of paper in the skeleton's hand.
You shouldn't go just yet. Check out the basement first.
Drake was puzzled but nodded regardless. The moment he turned back he stared at Borado's giant hands. He assumed it was a signal to stop, since the general walked past him subsequently. Aramal scurried into a corner, even though the general made some apologetic hand-gestures. Then he grabbed a piece of paper and the pencil, but his burly hands caused it to snap in half. Annoyed he threw the rear part away, moved the tip into his fingertips and scribbled: If Modera has already fled we should at least destroy the tower before we leave. Smash every magical object, torch all the books and so on. Just in case she manages to get away.
Drake walked forward and wrote a reply: Go wild, but beware of the fourth floor. There's a strange door with a crystal behind it. I almost got killed the first time I saw it. I wouldn't be alive without Modera's intervention.
Borado nodded and left with the majority of the group. Only a few soldiers, Maximilian, Feyadal and Illutia remained. The sorceress had been propped against the wall and the elf was moving glowing hands along her sides. The burned flesh started to dissolve. It wouldn't take long for her flesh to heal, but Drake didn't have time to wait. He took another sheet of paper and scribbled: Get rid of this spell if you can!
He pressed it into Illutia's hand before he descended towards the basement. Maximilian was close on his heels, but Drake was completely oblivious to his presence.

He had no idea what could possibly be more important than chasing after Modera, but since the others had already spread throughout the tower there was no point in not checking it out. With every step he took the vibrations he felt from above grew stronger, but they ceased the moment he stepped into the room where he awoke in after his transformation. Everything had been smashed to pieces and the walls looked scorched. What happened here? It looks as if someone went on a rampage. He swiped his fingers across a scorch mark to the left—it felt cold to the touch—and walked further inside. Is this what I was supposed to see? Doesn't seem very interesting or helpful.
His thoughts were interrupted when the vibrations returned, much stronger than before and also without pause. He closed his eyes for merely a moment, which was more then enough to pinpoint their source. He turned almost 180 degrees to the right and glanced at the area next to the stairs, which had been expanded by a single room. It consisted of a hard wooden bed, a stack of hay and a hole in the ground. Since it was fenced off by iron bars it had to be a prison—a magical prison at that, unless Modera had actually forgotten to add a door, which would have been stupid since someone actually dwelled within. Someone that Drake hadn't seen in ages. That's what it felt like, at least.
(Emily!)” he tried to scream and ran towards her.
She looked at him in disbelief and he mirrored her expression. Her hands reached towards him but came to rest on an invisible barrier that prevented even the passage of dust grains. His hand smashed into in and he screamed silently before he began to pound his fists against it, naturally without achieving anything. He unsheathed his sword and pointed its tip at one of the corners before he mouthed “Move”, but the gesture was unnecessary since the sword told her everything she needed to know. She retreated into the corner where the hole was—the other one was blocked by the bed—and waited for him to smash her prison.
He turned 90 degrees to the left, held his blade sideways against the bars and gathered the darkness around it. Then he moved it halfway to the left and swung it right back with full force. The force field blocking the prison flared up, the floor directly above it exploded and Drake was flung against the other side of the basement in a spinning motion.
Maximilian, who had remained at the base of the stairs and watched Drake's actions, ran towards his friend and helped him to his feet. He hadn't even reached him when Feyadal dropped through the hole in the ceiling. Since bows are at a disadvantage in close-quarters combat he was holding onto two daggers instead. Puzzlement and annoyance passed over his face when he realized that there was no enemy to fight.
(What happ—)” he began but stopped himself.
He looked slightly irritated and glanced upwards. His eyes met with those of the sorceress and after exchanging a brief conversation without words she nodded and disappeared. By that time Maximilian and Drake had already returned to the cell. Feyadal held a finger in front of their eyes and pointed towards it with his other hand. The duo started at him in confusion but understood soon after.
He showed them ten fingers and then another set of five fingers. Then he held his hand in front of his mouth—all of his fingers were gathered around his thumb—and opened it wide. 15 minutes till the spell would be lifted, but Drake didn't have the patience to wait. He showed the elf the sealed prison while Emily stared at the companions her boyfriend had gathered. She felt somewhat ashamed of herself, even though her appearance wasn't her fault. The beautiful dress she wore had been ripped to shreds and her body was covered in cuts, bruises and dirt. It could have been much worse, though, as Modera had actually planned to torch her hair, but Glenn had intervened and taken the brunt of her anger.
Feyadal stood in front of the cell, his hands outstretched and his eyes glowing once more. His head moved from left to right, as if he was trying to listen to something, and sweat gathered on his forehead. His hand began to shake, which was then followed by expanding and pulsing veins that spread from his forearm all the way to his shoulders. He pulled it back with an inaudible scream when some of them exploded, and pressed his other arm onto his wounded one.
Drake looked at him questioningly and the elf shook his head. He retreated into a corner to treat his wounds while Drake kicked the barrier in rage. Maximilian tried to calm him down, but doing that without words proved to be impossible, hence why he pressed his left hand against Drake's chest and pushed him away while he drew the “Heavenly Blade” with the other hand. He held it in front of Drake's face with an inquisitive look and gestured towards the cell.
The vampire pressed his lips together, nodded and stepped away.
The royal knight mimicked Drake's position from earlier and breathed in deeply a couple of times before he gathered the sword's energy. It hadn't recovered completely from their fight against Dorr'n Selkesch, but its power should have been more than enough for an enchantment like this.
Maximilian pulled the blade away from the iron bars and screamed when he swung it back, as if believing that it could strengthen the blow. The force field flared up once more and the blade began to vibrate as it penetrated the barrier. Sparks of pure energy flew through the air, but the impact hadn't been enough to break through the spell, which was already pushing back.
Just a little bit more! Drake returned to the cell and pressed his hands directly above the “Heavenly Blade”, completely oblivious to the burning sensation he felt in the presence of its holy magic. Fire seeped from his hands, which rapidly grew into a flaming orb that vibrated in the same rhythm as Maximilian's blade.
The whole room started to shake, but the barrier proved to be extremely resilient. Seeing their desperate efforts Feyadal readied another giant arrow, although he couldn't make it as powerful as before due to the lack of space. When it hit the cell victory seemed to be at hand. A crack appeared in one of the iron bars and it rapidly spread across all the others. A confident smile spread across Drake's face, but, as if on cue, they were all blown away. Even Feyadal, who was as far away from the cell as he could be.
They were smashed into the wall and held in place by an invisible force. Purple smoke gathered in front of the prison and Drake's eyes narrowed in anger as he mouthed Modera's name. She smiled at her visitors before she turned around and examined the damage they had caused. Then she paced back and forth while her hands caressed the iron bars as if they were some kind of animal. When her hands moved on the ones she had already touched began to mend themselves. But not only that, they also grew in diameter, so as to prevent another attack from succeeding.
Drake, Maximilian and Feyadal struggled in an effort to break free, but their limbs didn't move at all, as if they had been chained to the wall. The vampire couldn't even conjure a fireball as something interfered with the flow of energy in the room.
When Modera was done she glanced at Emily and smiled like the lunatic she was. One flick of a finger and the girl flew forward, smashing headfirst into the iron bars. Another flick turned her around and yet another one caused her to crash into the wall, leaving behind a big bloodstain as she fell backwards. Modera pursed her lips in disappointment when she realized that it hadn't been enough to knock the girl out.
(Stop hurting her you goddamn bitch!)” Drake screamed furiously, but the 15 minutes weren't over yet.
Is that how you greet your master after abandoning her for so long? Oh, it feels so good to be able to invade your mind once more. You're such a naughty boy for cutting our connection!
Modera's voice felt different from before, most likely because she had to force herself into his mind instead of using a pre-established connection. It reminded him of the grating sound fingernails made when they moved across a blackboard.
I did no such thing, but I would have if I knew how!
Well, it doesn't matter now. And I don't care what you were up to all this time. All that matters is that you actually returned and brought Maximilian with you. That should have been Voluere's task, but it looks as if he's forsaken me.
He didn't. We just killed him.
Modera's eyes widened in appreciation and gleamed in excitement. She licked her lips and walked towards him seductively, even going so far as to widen the cleavage area of her dress with a flip of her fingers.
Oh my, you've grown quite strong since I've sent you on your way.
Her hands caressed his cheeks, which he couldn't get out of her reach, no matter how much he tried. Emily had gotten back onto her feet moments earlier and stared at this horrible display of affection in disgust. The filthy curses that left her mouth would have left every man agape, but neither the men nor Modera could hear what she was saying.
If I had known that you would improve so quickly I would have delayed your departure to train your personally. But I can make up for it later on. She raised herself onto her tiptoes and licked over his cheek, which caused him to shudder in repulsion.
Are you stupid? I only returned to kill you, so get the fuck away from me! I'm not your pet!
Modera sniffled playfully and put on a puppy eyes look, but she couldn't keep it up for more than a few seconds before she burst into hysterical laughter.
You're going to kill me? Don't kid yourself! You might have gotten stronger, but you shouldn't overestimate yourself. And don't count on your support. They will fall before they ever reach me!
You're right in front of us! Remove these bonds and we show you what we've got!
You're mistaken. I only embedded a fragment of myself within the barrier and I'd be grateful if you refrained from trying to break it. The only way to save your little girl is by joining me. Or destroying me, of course.
I'll gladly choose the latter option!
We'll see about that. My army is already waiting in Arlin. I can't wait to see you in action. Bye bye.
She held a hand in front her lips and blew him a kiss before turning incorporeal. Her fragment rejoined the barrier and set them free. They fell face-first. Maximilian pressed his hands onto the ground to cushion his fall before he got onto his knees and stood up. Feyadal, on the other hand, used the momentum to perform a handstand. Then he rolled forward and got onto his feet in one graceful move. Meanwhile, Drake hit the floor with a loud thud.
I thought you would at least outdo my miserable performance, but it looks like I was wrong.” He smiled when he realized that the spell had been lifted. “Perfect time for the sound to come back, by the way.”
This isn't the time for jokes!” Drake still chuckled a bit. “I'm just too enraged by Modera.”
Did she talk to you?”
Yeah. If her words are to be believed then she is waiting in Arlin, with an army!”
An army of what?”
Beats me...I just hope she hasn't summoned more demons.”
Voluere didn't seem to like her that much, therefore I'd be surprised if she had gotten even one demon on her side. And there have to be limits to how much she can summon.”
At the sound of Emily's voice Drake got onto his feet and ran towards her. Many people claim that love makes you blind and it seems they've got a point, since he smashed his hands directly into the force field and made a 360 degree turn on his heels as he screamed in pain. “Goddammit! I swear I'm going to rip Modera apart with my bare hands if I have to!”
Drake, look at me and calm down,” said Emily with a slightly muffled voice.
She pressed her hands onto the iron bars and Drake did the same on the other side in a vain attempt to touch her. And then he looked into her beautiful green eyes—eyes that glowed with such radiance that most of his dreams had revolved around them before he confessed his feelings. But now he found himself unable to focus on them for too long as he couldn't help but notice all of her bruises and cuts, not to mention the bleeding nose and the laceration on her forehead that Modera's fragment had bestowed upon her.
What were you thinking?”
He stumbled backwards, surprised by her sudden outburst. “What?”
Don't what me! How dare you put me to sleep? Don't you realize what you put me through? I didn't even realize where I was when I finally woke up. And when it dawned upon me I searched the house from top to bottom, only to realize that it had been empty for hours. You should have left a note at least!”
Emily, ple—”
I'm not finished yet! I'm already damned to rot in this cell—”
Not if we kill Modera!”
“—so you could at least shut up and listen!”
I'm upstairs if you need me!” said Maximilian and hurried away. He was the last person to leave, since Feyadal had already fled the moment Emily began to scream.
Aren't you at least glad that—”
Of course I'm glad, you idiot!” her voice softened a little, but not for long. “But it doesn't change the facts!”
What was I supposed to do? Take you with me to fight Modera? My father lost, I was defeated without an actual battle, so what could you possibly have achieved?”
It doesn't matter if I could have done anything or not! You should have confided in me. But no, you had to drug me and leave without saying so much as a word! What was I supposed to think? That you had been kidnapped? Or that you died in the middle of nowhere?”
Tears began to well up in her eyes and Drake stepped forward once more. He wanted to hold her, to feel her soft body against his own, but all he could do was listen.
The entire village was oblivious to what had transpired. And when I told them that something bad must have happened they laughed it off as lovesickness. As if I couldn't live a single day without you!” Her wistful facial expression betrayed her words. It might not be as worse as the villagers believed, but she certainly couldn't imagine a life without Drake.
I had to search the entire vicinity of Arlin by myself. But how could I have ever found you? You could have been anywhere on the island. Or somewhere in Pagan. Or even farther away...” She sunk to the floor and covered the ground in tears. “I wasted two whole days and found nothing at all! The moment I returned home I fell into my bed like a stone. I didn't even have the energy left to cry... Everything else is a bit of a blur. I only remember waking up inside this cell. This mad bitch told me to coax you out of your hiding place, but how was I supposed to do that? Eventually she stopped and contented herself with torturing me.”
Drake clenched his fists and pressed his lips together to stop himself from overreacting, although it would have been completely justified.
I think she planned to kill me in the end, seeing as I proved to be worthless, but your father saved me by becoming her punching bag. I suppose that's not very fitting when she burned him alive...” She wailed loudly when she inadvertently remembered the punishment she was forced to witness.
Drake kneeled down and forgot the barrier once more in his pointless attempt to pat her head.
Something changed a few days ago, though, and she stopped coming entirely. At least till she got rid of the door and left me here to rot... That's when your father was finally able to tell me everything.” She wiped her tears on her arm and looked at him. “'re a vampire now?”
Yeah, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Not anymore, anyway. I just need to get rid of Modera and then we can resume our normal least for a while.”
Only for a while?” she replied aghast and tears began to well up once more.
Well...I'm not going to age anymore. I can change my appearance to look older, although I haven't tried to do it consciously yet, but it doesn't change the fact that...that you will die eventually, whereas I will not.”
You could turn me into—”
No!” he pounded his fist against the barrier and she fell onto her butt, stunned by his sudden outburst. “I'm not going to turn you into a vampire! It might not be as horrendous as I imagined, but that doesn't make it a good alternative! You'd have to drink blood all the time and there's this voice inside your head—” ins..e ..ur he.d! “—that drives you insane! It's really no surprise that Modera is as screwed up as she is. Which doesn't excuse her behavior of course!” he added the last part rapidly when Emily's expression turned sour.
So, you're just going to let me die?”
I don't have a choice...I'm certainly not going to kill me just to be with you in an afterlife that might not even...” he stopped himself and remembered something that had happened shortly after his death. “Well, I suppose it does exist, but that's still no reason to end my life. And please don't ask me to turn you someday...”
Emily averted her eyes and looked ashamed of herself. “I'm sorry...I don't know what I was thinking...”
Don't worry about it. I'm sure there will come a time when we have to talk about it once more, but now that moment isn't now. I have to get you of there before it's too late! And to accomplish that I need to kill Modera.”
She gazed at him and he could see a glimmer of hope inside her eyes. “Do you think you can beat her?”
I killed a giant shadow beast not too long ago. How hard could it possibly be?” He put on a confident smile, but it didn't seem very genuine.
You have to tell me all about your adventures when this is over.”
I will. I promise.” He wasn't sure what to do next. A kiss would have been perfect, but there was no way to accomplish such a simple feat. They could have kissed across the barrier, of course, but the thought alone sounded kinda silly in Drake's head. “Well...I guess that—”
Close your eyes,” she interrupted him softly.
He furrowed his brow in confusion but did as he was told after she nodded encouragingly.
Imagine us standing on the hill overlooking Arlin. The sun is about to set and its warm glow envelops the land one last time before it gets overtaken by the darkness of the night. You step towards me and put one hand onto my hip and one onto my cheek. And then we share a kiss so passionate that the sun begins to rise again, banishing the darkness for all eternity.”
He could almost see the scene before his eyes and sighed with relief as a content smile spread across his face. Su.. a ...g..tin. sc...! The voice inside his mind was drowned out by a love song performed by birds. He hadn't read any of the corny romance novels his girlfriend owned, but he imagined that he could find such a scene in one of them.
Emily broke the illusion by flicking her fingers a couple of times. “I think that's enough. Not that you start imagining something else...”
He blushed slightly and she followed suit after seeing his reaction. “Yeah, that would be kinda inappropriate.” He pressed his hands onto the barrier and she mirrored him. “I'll get you out of there as fast as possible! Just hold out a little bit longer.”
She nodded and the corners of her eyes began to glisten, but she suppressed the tears for once, at least until Drake had left the room.
Don't get your hopes up! He will never save you, unless he joins us. And even if he does, who knows what unfortunate accidents could happen while he's away? The hysterical laughter of Modera's fragment echoed through her mind and broke all the floodgates.

The whole group had gathered in the room on the ground floor. Some of those who went upstairs looked worse than before their expedition.
What happened?” asked Drake.
We met a few jarjoyles during our ascent. They didn't seem to like us very much, but my hammer shut them rijht up,” answered Borado. “We didn't manage to look through the whole tower, by the way.”
There was a strange presence behind the door you mentioned,” interjected Erik.
It was trying to reach out to us, maybe even control us,” continued his sister. “We might have walked straight into it, if not for our mental connection. The others only felt a slight pressure.”
It doesn't really matter. I'm not planning to let Modera live anyway.”
Did you find out anything important in the basement?” asked Armakal, who was one of the only people who sat in a chair.
I did, actually. Thanks for telling me about her, Abaddon.”
The skeleton cringed at the use of his name but refrained from complaining about it. “Don't mention it. I just felt sorry for the girl. She would have already starved to death, if not for your father.”
Who are we talking about?”
Drake's girlfriend,” answered Maximilian with a smile, but he wiped it off his face before continuing, “She's trapped inside the basement.”
And we have to get rid of Modera to free her! But she seems to have gathered an army in Arlin.”
What kind of army?” Armakal once more.
Abaddon, do you have any idea?”
Well, I've seen Modera's spellbooks and it could be anything, really. Give her enough time and she could summon beasts from the depths of hell.”
Then it would be prudent to call for reinforcement instead of attacking headfirst.”
We...Emily doesn't have time for reinforcements! And I doubt that a few more soldiers would change anything. We just have to make do with what we have!”
If only the magical academy hadn't vanished,” said Illutia.
The what?”
A place for people to learn about magic,” she answered matter-of-factly. “It was located between dimensions and was connected to dozens of portals spread across the world. That could have been quite handy in our situation, but it disappeared ages ago, even though it survived the war.”
Then why bring it up in the first place!” Drake yelled at the sorceress and Maximilian put a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. “I'm sorry...”
No, I guess you're right. There was no point in mentioning it. Please excuse me, I'm going to work on getting rid of the mist.” She left the room and Feyadal followed closely behind.
In case there's anything else lurking within the tower,” he said.
So, we're just going to storm your village and hope for the best?” asked Borado.
You don't have to come if you don't—“
Do I look like the kind of juy who jets discourajed by overwhelming forces?”
The general put on a bright smile and swung his hammer around. It resulted in a giant hole and screaming soldiers who fled to the other side of the room.
You might not get discouraged, but if anyone wants to stay, they can do so. Someone could even keep Emily, my girlfriend, company.”
The twins looked at each other at the same time, as if one was the mirror of the other, and they also shrugged in synchronicity. The soldiers looked at their comrades in uncertainty, but no one wanted to make the first move, therefore causing none to take the offer.
Then it'll be just me, I guess,” replied Armakal. “It would be nice to think of a strategy for a real battle, but I haven't prepared any tactics for supernatural beings and there's not much that I can do with the forces we have left. I'll keep my fingers crossed, though.”
Already thinking of retiring, old man?” asked Borado with a hearty laugh.
Not as long as I can hold a sword. Some of the recruits use theirs as if they were knifes!”
His gaze wandered across the gathered soldiers and one of them quickly hid behind his comrades, which made it all the more obvious who he was talking about. Laughter echoed through the room and the person in question scratched his head in embarrassment.
I guess that's all for now. We'll move out when Illutia gets rid of the mist. We can't decide on a strategy without seeing Modera's army anyway,” said Maximilian and ended the conference.

Drake had left the ground floor and was standing all by himself in front of the door on the fourth floor. It began to rattle the moment he stepped off the stairs and he could feel a probing sensation in his mind, but the presence behind the door either couldn't breach the locks or Drake had gotten too strong to fall under its influence.
What exactly are you? Modera called you Assar, didn't she? That's also a name that my father mentioned, but I still don't know who that is, only that she wants to get rid of him.”
The only reply was laughter—unending laughter filled with malice.'re not Assar. I shouldn't know the difference, right? But you feel different, somehow.”
He walked forward and put his right hand onto the door, albeit hesitantly. Images flashed through his mind—images of a giant beast, a winged humanoid, a castle buried beneath the sea, a group of hooded beings, an endless army, a world filled with chaos, a universe engulfed in flames.
Drake tore his arm from the glowing door. The heat should have turned it into a molten heap of metal, but it somehow withstood the power coming from the other side. The vampire shook his head and breathed in deeply to get rid of the pictures within his head, especially the last one—the picture of an eternal darkness. It didn't seem as bad as some of the others, but it filled him with unimaginable dread.
He glanced at the door one last time before he ascended the stairs.

The room at the top had changed since his last visit. The only constant seemed to be the picture of the handsome man on the wall. The bed had been replaced by a table with four chairs, one of them most likely meant for Drake himself. A map full of scribbles had been spread across the wood. Drake couldn't read the hasty scribbles on its sides, but he couldn't overlook the giant red circles. One of them had been drawn around Arlin, another around Pagan, one more around a mountain range to the far east of the human city, and a final one around a forest to the far south-west of the tower. There was also a black cross on the north-pole, surrounded by four small dots.
Drake had a vague idea what some of this could mean, but there was no time to investigate. He pocketed the map, walked towards the exit, conjured a fireball and threw it behind him.
He slammed the door shut and left with a look of determination on his face.

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