Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 12: Defying The Prophecy

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Revision 2 is in progress.


Chapter 12: Defying The Prophecy

After giving the map he found upstairs to general Armakal for safekeeping Drake returned to the second floor, where Illutia was busy trying to banish the mist. Her staff had been rammed into the ground and elongated all the way into he ceiling. She was apparently using the tower itself as a conduit for her spell, since its walls were glowing in the same rhythm as the staff. Whenever the brightness increased one could hear anguished groans coming the outside. Eventually the mist-beasts tried to break through the gates and the windows, but Modera appeared to have forgotten to remove the barriers she herself set up.
Since Illutia couldn't offer a definite time frame of when she would be done Drake began to pace and forth between the second floor and the ground floor, all the while trying to refrain himself from going into the basement, since he didn't want to face Emily without being able to set her free. That didn't stop Maximilian and the twins from visiting her, though. They hit it off very well and even managed to make her laugh, mostly because of the strange behavior Erika and Rika displayed. The men returned all by themselves after half an hour and Maximilian responded to Drake's inquiring looks with: “Rika forced us to leave the room. It appears she wants to have a heart-to-heart talk with your girlfriend.”
About what?” Drake scratched his head in confusion, as it seemed unlikely that anyone would confide in a person they barely knew. Must be something that only girls do...
If they wanted us to know they wouldn't have shooed us away. I do know the topic of course, since Rika forgot to shut me out beforehand.”
And?” asked Maximilian after a moment of silence had passed without any indication that Erik would elaborate.
Well, they're talking about love. My sister has never had a boyfriend, you know?”
How come? She's certainly cute enough to attract attention and some women would kill for legs like hers,” said Maximilian.
It's not that easy, not for us.” He scratched his nose and averted his eyes before continuing. “I might have even scarred her mentally during my one and only relationship, since I didn't know the extent of our connection back then.” He received nothing but perplexed expressions in return. “Imagine having a mental connection to a family member. A connection that you can only suppress when you are in complete control of yourself, which you might lose during more...” his eyes moved back and forth, as if hoping to find the right world lying on the ground.
Intimate moments?” asked Drake awkwardly. Erik nodded.
Is there no way to get rid of your connection?”
The young man looked offended but swallowed his anger. “There's only one way: by using magic. The change would be permanent, though. We'd lose our unique fighting style, which wouldn't be too bad, but it could also lead to severe mental repercussions, since we just aren't used to the silence in our heads. That's why we will never consider that option.”
I hope you find a solution eventually. Everyone should feel what love is like, at least once.”
Maybe...” Erik responded with a tinge of loneliness before he left the room.

Some time later the tower rumbled and the glow receded. When Drake ascended towards the upper levels he saw that the air itself was on fire. He could also hear the nightmarish screams of the mist-beasts, but they sounded strangely muffled, as if the tower had been surrounded by a barrier that absorbed sound. Which is exactly what happened, as Illutia told him, since she didn't want the group to be disturbed by hundreds of dying screams.
The mist burned away in the span of 15 minutes and the party got ready to move out. Drake was the first to leave, but he stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the sound of rolling thunder. His eyes glanced upwards. An ominous green storm cloud was gathering above the tower and began to stretch itself all the way to the south. When the first raindrop hit his skin Drake yelled and retreated into the tower, toppling over the soldiers that were trying to follow him.
What is going on?” asked the only soldier who had avoided the fate of his comrades.
Drake showed him the sizzling hole that the raindrop had eaten into his skin. It looked more like a tunnel, though, since the substance had been so acidic that it destroyed every tissue and bone in its path. The soldier turned pale, slammed a hand onto his mouth and looked away.
Illutia, can you get rid of this too?” Drake pointed behind him towards the sky.
Yes, but it will take even longer. Controlling the weather is no easy feat.”
We don't have time!” He slammed his fist into the wall, leaving behind a giant hole in the process. “Emily will die if we can't get rid of Modera.”
I could erect an energy shield, but protecting all of us would put a considerable strain on my powers.”
Maybe that's Modera's plan. Stall for time to strengthen her army and weaken us before we even get there. But aren't there magical potions to restore your power?”
Of course, but potions are dangerous, especially those that stimulate the mind. The producers of healing potions rarely mention the fact that you sacrifice your future with every vial you consume, since your body can't regenerate endlessly without repercussions.” She stared into his red eyes before continuing. “Well, I suppose yours can, but potions aren't made for you kind. Magical potions, on the other hand, can destroy your mind within seconds, which is why mages aren't supposed to consume more than two vials in any given day. An overdose doesn't have to end with their deaths, but it could lead to a fatal discharge, a destruction of their magical circuits or simply cause them to go insane.”
Drake paced back and forth as he thought about her words. “We don't have a choice! I'm sure she would prepare another distraction while you get rid of the rain. Just get us to the battlefield! Maximilian and I will try to defeat as many enemies as possible!”
Don't forjet about us, boy!” yelled Borado and spread his arms to figuratively engulf their remaining forces.
Drake smiled and Illutia stepped into the rain to cast her shield.

While the shield saved the mortals from a painful death it also turned the journey towards Arlin into a slog, since it partially solidified the air. And although the rain was made of acid it didn't eat through the ground, which meant that they were wading through a whole sea of mud within minutes. Only their sluggish pace prevented them from slipping all the time, which wouldn't have been very pretty since Illutia tried to keep the barrier as small as possible.
At this rate it will take us hours to get to the village. Isn't there anything you can do to hasten our steps?” yelled Drake towards the sorceress.
Sure, if you don't care about getting your face burned off,” she replied matter-of-factly, never even giving any indication if the acidic rain would have been a nuisance to her or not. Drake refrained from complaining again and they continued to move at a snail's pace.

They arrived in the middle of the forest during the late afternoon. They weren't able to tell, however, since the storm clouds stretched into every direction, completely hiding the sun from view. A portable clock would have helped in such a situation, but none of them were rich enough to waste their money on luxury items like that.
Stop!” exclaimed Feyadal when they passed by a small lake.
What is it?” asked Maximilian and followed the outstretched finger that the elf showed in response. He was pointing towards a lone tree inhabiting a small island in the center of the lake. “What about it?”
Can't you feel it? The tree is pulsing with power and is trying to fight the corruption within the rain.”
Maximilian felt no such thing and shook his head, but once made aware Drake and the sorceress certainly felt it too. The presence was quite weak, though, which is why they hadn't noticed it before. Only elves like Feyadal, who were in tune with nature, could have noticed such a presence without knowing that it was there.
I can feel it, but how does it help us? We can't exactly take a tree with us.” said the vampire.
I don't know, not without further investigation. But there's a good chance that we might be able to get its assistance.”
The assistance...of a tree?” asked Drake with furrowed brows.
It's not just a tree, unless I'm terribly off base. Its power does remind me of the world tree, however.”
World, forget it. We don't have time for a history lesson. But we can't stay while you investigate the tree.”
You don't need to. It will protect me from the rain as long as I stay close to it. I'll rejoin you later, hopefully with reinforcements.”
Drake was still puzzled at how a tree could possibly help them, but he didn't want to waste unnecessary time arguing about it, especially if the elf was right and could procure reinforcements. Whatever those might be. He nodded and the elf vanished, only to reappear on the island within seconds. Not even a single raindrop had managed to hit him.

They continued their journey for quite a while, but their tempo steadily decreased over time. Illutia breathed heavily, her body glistened with sweat and she nearly collapsed a couple of times, which caused the shield to flicker and the soldiers to scream.
I think it's time that you drank one of your potions!” exclaimed Maximilian after he repeatedly prevented her from falling.
No, I can still go—”
Don't kid yourself! You're already at your limit. Just get us to Arlin and hang back if you're too tired. We'll manage, somehow.”
No buts!” His fingers buried themselves into her shoulders as he stared into her eyes. “Do it!”
The sorceress ignored his painful grip and gazed into his brown eyes. They remained like this for about 15 seconds without moving an inch or even a muscle. Only then did a mischievous smile flash across Maximilian's face.
We don't have th—”
Maximilian raised his arm and beckoned Drake to shut up, never breaking eye-contact while he did so.
What is this supposed to be?” asked Illutia in confusion, still focused on his eyes.
Just a staring contest. You'll drink your potion if you look away or blink before me.”
An amused murmur went through the crowd.
What a stupid game. What If you lose?”
I never lose!”
And he didn't. The sorceress gave up after less than 30 seconds had passed. Not because she got flustered but because she saw no reason to draw out such a stupid game. She conjured a small vial with the twirl of a finger. It contained a radiant blue liquid that could have replaced a torch in the dark. She gulped it down at once and the shield flared up with renewed strength.
Good girl! Let's mo—”
Wait!” uttered Drake as he drew his sword and stepped in front of Illutia, nearly leaving the spherical area her barrier covered.
What's wronj?” asked Borado and pulled his hammer without waiting for an answer.
I'm not entirely sure. Give me a second.”
The vampire listened intently after he blocked the sound of the rain. Something was moving towards their current position—something swift, powerful and strangely familiar. Trees shattered, rocks burst and dozens of needles shot towards their position. They didn't pose a danger as long as they were behind the shield, but Drake felt the urge to show that he had grown.
He stepped outside and smiled, despite feeling his skin burn and melt. His sword whirled through the air and parried the needles while he ran into the direction they were coming from, slowly accelerating with every step. Realizing that its attacks where pointless his opponent flung himself into the air and vanished within seconds. Drake didn't stop running, though, and raised the shadow sword above his head. The darkness gathered and carved a huge scar into the earth when he let it go. The moment he unleashed his attack he catapulted himself upwards and turned 180 degrees, wildly swinging his sword sideways in the process. A monstrous snake emerged from the ground behind him, its fangs aimed straight at his stomach. It was scattered across the forest when its body was sliced into two.
The vampire hit the muddy ground with a loud splash and readied his sword once more. He turned left, then right, then in a full circle, but no further opponents emerged.
Show yourself! I can feel your presence!” He wasn't being entirely truthful. There was certainly something in the forest, something dark and powerful, but its aura was stretched so thin that it couldn't stem from a single being, unless said creature could split itself apart. It also faded irregularly, only to reappear somewhere else.
Drake must have looked like a madman to his approaching comrades, since he was turning in endless circles and appeared to be eager to destroy every tree in the vicinity.
Drake, what are you doing?”
Someone is watching us. It appears to be the same person who summoned the snake that attacked me during my first journey to the tower.”
I thought Modera summoned it.”
I've never asked her, but it doesn't make any sense. She wanted me to get to the tower, not to get killed.”
Now that you mention it...but weren't you saved by a stranger? Who just so happened to be in the area?”
Yeah, but I barely remember him.”
Couldn't he have been the one who summoned the snake?”
Why would someone send a monster after me and save me when I lose? That makes no sense either!”
Your guess is as good as mine. Is that person still around?”
Drake closed his eyes and tried to pinpoint the presence he had felt. It wasn't as scattered as before, quite the opposite actually. But something was obfuscating the connection, making it impossible to gauge the person's power and intentions. Drake did locate his general direction, though.
Half of the group fell into the mud as Drake dashed through their ranks. He ignored their disgruntled screams and grabbed onto one of the soldiers at the rear. His armor fell onto the ground and the presence vanished completely. The group fell silent, but a single soldier managed to snap out of it and started counting. He looked befuddled when he was done and repeated the procedure, only to arrive at the same conclusion: the soldier at the back should never have existed in the first place, unless one of them had played dead. I'm sure I don't have to tell you about the likelihood of such a situation.

Night had fallen when they reached the outskirts of the forest. They could actually tell this time since the clouds dissipated at the exact moment that the last of them stepped onto the plains. Arlin looked like a beacon in the darkness as it was surrounded by dozens of fires, none of which had ever been there in the 18 years of Drake's existence. Dark figures were gathered around the flames, and even darker figures hovered in the air above the village. They seemed to be protecting a swirling orb that was located between them.
What now? Are we just joing to attack head-on?” asked Borado, who had already drawn his hammer and was moving it up and down, as if exercising.
We could do that, but it might be better to sneak into the village first,” said Drake. ”We need to find out what Modera has done to the villagers. If they're... dead, then there's nothing holding us back!”
He glanced at the sorceress. She didn't look as tired as before, but her chest was moving heavily up and down and her skin was so pale that it seemed to glow in the darkness.
Leave it to us!” said the twins in unison. “We might not be as fast as Feyadal, but we should be able to sneak past a few monsters.”
Are you sure? I don't want you to risk your lives unnecessarily.”
They furrowed their brows and yelled: “We wouldn't have answered Maximilian's call if we were afraid of death!”
Drake took a step backwards, almost falling over a small log in the process, and raised his hands in defense. “Sorry, I didn't want to offend you. But Modera is my problem and I don't want others to die because of her.”
You're wrong! She's our problem!” said Maximilian. “Yes, she has turned you and your father into vampires, and she has also imprisoned and tortured your girlfriend, but that doesn't compare to all the destruction she has caused over the last millennium. We have to get rid of her, once and for all!” His speech seemed to be over, but he took a couple of steps forward, grabbed Drake by his armor and pulled him towards his face. “And you don't want others to die because of her? Well, I don't want you to die either! You might be some kind of savior, but that doesn't mean that we can't work together to achieve the best possible outcome.”
Drake avoided his friends eyes and stared at the ground, ashamed of himself. It only took a few moments for it to turn into a smile, though. “You're right. You've come all this way, so what right do I have to refuse your help?” He glanced towards the twins and nodded. “Be safe.”
They grinned, gave him a thumbs up and sped away after he told them about the general layout of the village. Since using the front gate would have been foolish they decided to round Arlin in a wide arc and enter from the side. The monsters had no reason to guard an area without entrances, that's what they hoped, at least.
They were gone for maybe a minute when a shrill voice boomed through the air: “Hello there, sweety. I'm glad that you could make it. I'm kinda busy right now, so I'm sending you my emissary. You'd better accept his proposal, for everyone's sake!”
A lone figure appeared at Arlin's gate and began to move towards them in a straight line. He didn't seem to be in a hurry and not a single creature followed in his wake. Drake was already walking towards him before the others even realized what had happened.
Drake, what are you doing?”
I'm meeting my father. Don't follow me unless a fight breaks out!”

They met at the halfway point between the forest and the village, which allow Drake to study the creatures gathered around the fires. He saw skeletons, gargoyles, chimeras, living trees—ents, if his memory served correctly—stone golems, lizards that were as tall as men and walked on two feet and of course Modera's knights. Nothing too dangerous, although their numbers could pose a problem. But what about them? He gazed into the sky, at the shadows hovering over the village, but couldn't make out any distinguishing features. Their silhouettes were blurry, which reminded him of the creature they had fought in front of Modera's tower. They either didn't want to reveal themselves or were still in the process of being summoned, which would certainly explain why Modera tried to stall them.
Aren't you going to greet your old men?”
Drake finally looked at his father. He had returned to his original aged appearance, but he felt more powerful than before and the sword in his scabbard was not his own. It emanated pure malice and Drake could hear it talking in a hissing voice, whispering into Glenn's ears. He had a hard time imagining what it must be like, since his father had to have another malicious voice inside his head.
What has Modera done to you?”
Not much. She beat me senseless, set me on fire, cut me apart and fed me human blood en masse. And when she was finally content she handed me Rusangis, the Devourer!” He unsheathed his crimson blade, which looked like frozen blood in the moonlight. “I'll never have to sink my fangs into anyone again. Ramming my sword into their intestines is all that is needed to consume their blood,” he didn't sound particularly enthusiastic and his eyes looked dull and lifeless, but there was still a certain kind of madness evident in his voice.
Why don't you give me that sword? One voice inside your head is more than enough.” Drake took a step forward and his father backed away while he dropped the sword into his scabbard.
Are you still hearing the beast within you? You only need drink blood to keep it content.” Glenn licked his lips, as if imagining the taste of blood on his mouth. “I'm surprised that you've grown so strong without understanding such a simple concept.” Glenn smiled and Drake had to clench his fists to prevent himself from lashing out at him.
I've understood it just fine, but I've managed to get rid of the voice without killing people!” You di... .et .id ...e! … still! ...t ..u .ait!
Interesting, but you've still got a lot to learn. Deliver Maximilian and we can start our eternal life with Modera! Well, after we—”
Drake couldn't keep it in any longer and lunged forward, hitting his father squarely in the face. Bones cracked as it moved nearly 90 degrees to the side. Glenn contorted his face in anger and tried to grab his son's hand, but Drake retreated by jumping away.
Are you crazy? She turned us into monsters! She tortured and imprisoned Emily! And now she's holding the entire village hostage...or whatever she's doing here. Why would I ever want to join her?”
Monsters? You look quite fine for a monster. And I'm not complaining about my new powers, although it took a while to get used to the taste of blood. I do agree that Emily was mistreated, but Modera has agreed to let her walk free when you join us. She could even become your eternal bride!”
The next punch sent Glenn flying in a wide arc. An expression of pure bafflement spread across his face as he lay on the ground. He moved a hand towards his face and noticed a giant dent in his cheek. Touching it with his tongue revealed dozens of tooth fragments that had lodged themselves deep within the flesh of his jaw. He sat up and stared at his son while he spit out a mixture of blood and teeth. “I don't remember raising a child that would dare attack his own father!” he said furiously as he got to his feet.
You're not acting like my father. He would never have told me to join Modera or to turn Emily into a vampire! How do I know that you aren't an impostor?”
Glenn began to move his mouth, but he failed to utter even a syllable. His eyes rolled in their sockets, completely independent from each other. His body shook and his veins bulged and deflated dangerously, similar to what happened to Feyadal when he tried to breach the prison in Modera's tower.
Drake unsheathed his sword, convinced that he had hit the nail squarely on the head, but his father didn't turn into mass of wriggling flesh, as he would have expected from a doppelganger based on the stories he had read. Instead he fell to his knees, put his head back and stared at the sky with barely opened eyes.
You're right, I'm not acting like I should. But Modera's madness got even worse after your disappearance, especially after she realized that Emily would be of no use in locating you. I had to take the brunt of her anger and I'm sure she would have killed me if she hadn't received news that you were still alive.” Drake took a single step forward, only to be stopped by his father's outstretched hands. “Stay where you are! I don't know how long I can keep the madness at bay. But there's one thing I have to tell you and you won't like it.”
And what would that be?” asked Drake hesitantly.
You have to join Modera.”
Drake opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but he was incapable of saying anything and just stared at his father in confusion.
Don't look at me like that. Isn't it obvious? If you join Modera you can save Emily and the entire village. The only sacrifice you have to make is to turn Maximilian into a vampire. But he doesn't matter—”
He's my friend!”
Glenn realigned his head and looked at his son once more. “Your...friend? That's not how it should have been...not that any of this should have happened...but it doesn't change anything. If you defy Modera you put your girlfriend, the entire village, your allies and myself in danger!” He smiled weakly before he moved his mouth once more. Only after he was done did he realize that his words had been unheard. “That was to be expected.”
What are you—”
It doesn't matter. The choice is obvious. Please, join us! We can deal with Modera when the time is ripe.”
Forget it! I will not allow Modera to turn anyone else into a vampire, even it it means putting everything I care about at risk.”
Drake's body was engulfed by darkness as he proclaimed his intentions. Glenn couldn't believe his own eyes, but before he was able to reason with his son he lost control. The same symptoms as before wrecked his body and the moment they ceased the madness returned.
So be it! You've got an hour to prepare yourself. When the time is up all your allies will be obliterated and Arlin will go up in flames! Don't say I didn't warn you.”
Glenn glared at his son for a couple of seconds and managed to prevent himself from leaving, in the hopes that Drake would have a change of heart. Nothing of the sort ever happened. The vampire left and Drake followed suit after he was sure that he wouldn't be attacked from behind.

What happened? Why didn't he come back with you?” asked Maximilian upon Drake's return.
He's not entirely in control of himself. He even told me to join Modera.”
Maximilian stepped towards his friend, put an arm on his shoulder and said: “I'm sor—”
Drake shook his head and turned around, rejecting Maximilian's compassion. “Don't be, nothing has changed. We need to get rid of Modera, but it couldn't hurt to immobilize my father beforehand. I'll leave that task up to you.”
You're not going to fight him?”
Drake looked over his shoulder. “I cannot fight my own father, even if he's gone mad! Just take his sword and destroy it, if possible. It seems to be a cursed blade that is corrupting his mind. Perhaps he'll regain his senses when he's robbed of it. If not...well, just try not to kill him.”
Maximilian nodded with determination. “You can count on me. But what about Modera and the village?”
I'll get rid of Modera, some way or another. But we don't have much time. Her army will advance in an hour and the village will be set aflame.”
Then we have to attack rijht now!” bellowed general Borado. “We'll never reach Arlin in time if we wait for the ultimatum to run out.”
We still won't reach it in time if they'll see us coming!”
They won't see us coming,” uttered the sorceress as she left her resting place in front of a tree. “I can cloak our approach, but that spell is even more taxing than the barrier. I won't be of much use when the battle starts.”
Drake glanced at her—he had long since forgotten that she was mostly naked—and mulled it over. There's no point in rejecting her proposal. We could try to sneak towards the village, but there's too much risk involved. “Fine. Get us to the village and we'll do the rest. Just try not to get killed.”
Don't worry. Even without magic I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.” Given the material of her robe that sentence was obviously not meant to be taken literally.
Then let's not waste any time! We move out as soon as Illutia has finished casting her spell,” yelled Maximilian.
Shouldn't we wait for the twins?” asked one of the soldiers hurriedly, in an attempt to delay their departure.
They can handle themselves. And they'll realize soon enough where we went when the battle breaks out. However, if you want to chicken out, now would be your last chance!”
The soldiers glanced at each other nervously, once more waiting for one of them to make the first move. One of them actually did so and stepped a few feet away. When everything was over only four soldiers remained and Maximilian cut off every attempt at an explanation.
I don't need to hear your excuses. It's obvious that we're severely outnumbered and none of you possess any special abilities or weapons. However, the least you can do is pray for our safe return.”
The soldiers lined up, pressed their feet together and saluted. They remained in that pose until the last member of the group had left the vicinity of the forest.

The cloaking field didn't impede their movement like the barrier had, but they still couldn't move as fast as Drake would have liked to.
I'm only hiding our presence from prying eyes, but subduing our auras and muting our approach would consume too much energy. So take care not to step onto any—”
A twig snapped and the group froze at once. Everyone looked backwards, except for general Borado, who stood behind the soldier responsible for the commotion.
I'm sor—”
Shut up!” shushed the general as he glanced around nervously. They were still far off from their destination, but all it took was one observant monster to ruin their plan. After wasting an entire minute without getting attacked they heaved a collective sigh of relief and moved on.

The closer they got the more obvious it was that they wouldn't be able to infiltrate the village without being spotted. They should have realized that there would be more creatures than just the ones gathered around the fires, but only after getting close enough did they actually notice the patrols moving through the darkness. They consisted of three knights, a chimera and two lizards. The knights didn't pose much of a threat, even if they were stronger than the ones Maximilian had fought in Pagan, and the Chimeras were too distracted to care about possible intruders. The lion heads would have long sine attacked the reptiles if he hadn't been chained by magic. Robbed of their meal they could only stare and drool all over the ground. The goat heads were too busy munching on grass and most of the snake heads were rolled up on their bodies, apparently bored by the lack of action. Only the reptiles were sniffing the air constantly, which forced the group to take huge detours. If they had to draw the route they took it would have looked as if they were drunk.
Since Arlin itself had been plunged into darkness they also failed to notice the ents guarding the entrance before it was too late. They didn't possess the fine olfactory sense of the reptiles, but they stood root to root, making it almost impossible to move through their ranks without being spotted. Not that the group had any time for such maneuvers. Two patrols were approaching them from opposite directions.
What now?” whispered Maximilian into Drake's ear.
We break through! Let's get rid of those ents and storm the village. Holding it from the inside will be easier than fighting Modera's forces on open plains.”
But what about those things?” asked Maximilian as he pointed into the sky. The creatures began to come into focus, but Drake still couldn't figure out what they were supposed to be.
I don't know. We just have to wait and see.”
Menacing growls wafted towards them from both sides and the chimera's lion heads chimed in with booming roars.
What is wrong with you?” asked Modera's knights in confusion, but they weren't puzzled for long. Illutia dropped the cloaking spell and two pillars of flames engulfed the patrols, pulverizing them within seconds. The sorceress dropped onto her knees and vomited onto the floor.
This is as I go,” she said as she noticed the worried glances upon her. “I able to later, but I cannot drink...another potion just yet.” She raised her right hand and grabbed onto a brilliant jewel embedded in a ring that Drake hadn't even noticed before. She moved the fingers of her left hand in a circular motion and disappeared with a pop. There was no time to worry about what had happened as the news of their arrival spread like a wildfire. The air was filled with roars, screams and the thundering footsteps of the ents.
Are you ready?” asked Drake as he unsheathed his sword.
As ready as I'll ever be,” replied Maximilian and copied his companion.
They ran towards the approaching wall of ents, shooting their energy waves left and right with every step. Some of the creatures were cut apart in an instant, but others shrugged the attacks off like mosquito bites. A rain of sharp splinters hurtled towards our heroes, but Drake summoned a barrier of darkness while Maximilian pressed onto the ruby embedded in the “Heavenly Blade”. A bright wall of fire engulfed their enemies.
Borado didn't have the time to notice the display of power happening behind him since Modera's forces were quickly approaching. He believed that he could take at last a dozen enemies with him to the grave, but his confidence faltered when he realized that the fires they had seen around the village weren't fires at all. Huge flame elementals zoomed towards the puny group of soldiers the general was protecting and his hammer wasn't made to withstand such heat.
Oh god, this was a stupid idea! Why didn't we go with the others?”
It's too late to doubt your decision. Kill as many as you can!” screamed the general, but his wavering confidence was quite evident in his voice. He slammed a reptile into the ground and smashed a knight into pieces with his bare hand, all the while staring at the beasts of fire that were only seconds away.
Drake whirled over the general's head, annihilating the fire elementals with waves of darkness. But before he was able to hit the ground he was snatched up by a chimera's lion head. The creature slammed him into the earth and roared as it prepared to roast him with a blast of fire. The upper half of the beasts head went flying when Borado's hammer connected with it. The remaining heads changed their focus and the general was hit by a lightning bolt and a wave of ice. That alone might have killed him if Drake hadn't reacted rapidly and sliced the heads apart, diminishing the force with which Borado was hit.
An ent fell to the ground right next to him, with Maximilian in its clutches, but Drake was too distracted by the echo of Modera's voice: “Drake, don't you have any shame? I gave you an hour to prepare and you try to sneak inside instead? Did you really think that you could save the villagers? Think again!” A beam of pure energy shot from the swirling orb above the village all the way to the ground. The house of the mayor was split into two and everything the beam had come into contact with burst into flames. “Oh, your father might have forgotten to tell you that all the villagers are trapped within that building. Not for long, though,” her voice trailed off into cackling laughter.
You goddamn bitch!” Drake screamed and cut through dozens of opponents at once. The horizon had turned into a wriggling mass of shadows and only the light emitted by the fire elementals made it possible to distinguish the different beasts. But Drake didn't care about them anymore. He was running towards the village in an attempt to save as many people as possible, but Modera's army wasn't about to let him go so easily. Rocks smashed into his back, catapulting him to the ground. There he was hit by a blast of fire before a wooden tentacle snatched him from the floor and hurled him into the air. Maximilian tried to come to his aid, but he almost got his arms torn off by the sharp teeth of a reptile.
Out of my way!” He spun around, covering the area in a sea of flames. Although it did get rid of every enemy in the vicinity it also attracted two fire elementals. The ground was turned into ash as he ran around them in a circle. He pressed onto the ruby and switched the blade back into it's sacred mode, but before he was able to attack he had to evade the attack of a chimera. Ice, fire and lightning shot over his head and one of the fire elementals literally exploded. “Thanks for the help, idiot!” He got to his feet, whirled around and destroyed the chimera's lion head. Then he jumped onto the beast and rammed his blade into its body. The creature roared in pain and aimed its remaining heads at him, but he grabbed onto them before they were able to blast him away and directed them towards the elementals. He wasn't able to enjoy his new toy for long as it was smashed into a bloody pulp by a stone golem. Maximilian would have shared its fate if the creature hadn't announced itself with a croaking scream.

General Borado and the remaining soldiers could only stare in amazement at the feats Drake and Maximilian performed, despite the fact that they got severely injured in the process. The general's hammer might be a wonderful tool of intimidation, but it proved to be almost useless in an all-out war against monsters, especially with the ludicrous amount of manpower they had available. Most of the ents guarding the village had been annihilated, though, which would have allowed Borado's group to retreat into the confines of Arlin's walls. But luck wasn't on their side.

Drake crawled from beneath a mountain of corpses, which he had created by jumping into a wall of monsters while holding onto two spheres of energy, but as soon as he tried to get onto his feet the area was hit by a severe tremor. Huge fissures opened in the ground, swallowing half of the enemy forces in the process.
Borado's group stood too close the source of the impact—a ginormous beast made of metal that had fallen from the sky—and he lost three of his men. Only one of them had managed to slip through the gate before the ground was covered in the cracks that devoured Borado and his soldiers. The general survived thanks to his hammer, which was longer than the cracks were wide, but he was incapable of grabbing even one of his men before they vanished in the darkness.
I hope you aren't getting bored yet, Drake. Please have some fun with my mythril golem. He might be a bit clumsy and dull, but he will swallow most of the magic that you send his way. And don't try cutting him with your puny weapons unless you want to embarrass yourself.”
Her grating laughter echoed through the air as Drake stared at the beast. It was twice as high as Arlin's walls, had huge quadratic eyes that moved independently of each other, a mouth so big that it could have swallowed a two-story building and its arms were flailing aimlessly through the air, as if it didn't know what it was supposed to do with them. Its sole purpose seemed to be to guard the gate, as it fit in perfectly, preventing even a rat from slipping through.
Do you really think you can prevent me from entering the village like that? I might not be able to destroy that creature, but there's nothing preventing me from breaching the walls! But before Drake could even think about executing that plan he was buried once more, this time under a living mass of creatures.

Maximilian had somehow been cornered by a group of skeletons, knights and gargoyles. His new armor had already been ruined as most of his body was covered in wounds and bruises. Most of them would have had no serious repercussions, but the sheer amount of them cost him too much blood. A potion could have helped, but the monsters weren't as stupid as he had hoped. Every time he grabbed onto a vial he was flung through the air or smashed into the ground, losing his potion in the process. Sweat ran down his face, his heart pounded heavily and his sides ached painfully every time he tried to breathe. He shot waves of fire towards his opponents, but his movements were too sluggish and he couldn't aim well due to his failing vision.
Poor Maximilian. Have you already exhausted your energy?” asked one of Modera's knights mockingly. “Why don't you put down that sword and give up. Our master is already waiting for your corpse!”!” He was able to focus for only a second, but it was more then enough to get rid of the speaker. But it wasn't sufficient to unsettle the others. The giant hammer carried by an enraged general that swept through their ranks was another story.

Drake re-emerged from the mountain of corpses. He was covered in blood from head to toe, some of it his own, most of it from his enemies. Deep bite wounds covered his arms—one could even see his muscles and veins hanging from them—and he could barely clutch his sword's hilt during the painful regeneration. It was already taking too long, but he couldn't ingest his vials as he had fallen victim to the same phenomenon as Maximilian. He did have the benefit of drinking his enemies blood, though, but that led to a similar reaction and didn't allow him to recover completely.
It became obvious that Modera was waging a war of attrition against him to land the finishing blow should he ever reach her hiding place. The golem guarding the village hadn't even done anything of note yet, but Drake could still see other silhouettes in the sky, only waiting for the right opportunity to be unleashed. He would have liked to see what was going on in the village, but it didn't take a genius to figure that out. He had already wasted too much time to save anyone.
Drake noticed blazing heat in his back and looked over his shoulders. Behind him stood an ent that must have collided with a fire elemental since it was completely coated in flames. The beast roared in pain and lunged at him, but its body was pierced by a burst of light and exploded into a million burning splinters. Was arrow? The vampire turned around and stared at the horizon.

Feyadal stood on a hill overlooking the battlefield and shot one arrow after another into the mass of monsters below. Illutia reappeared next to him and glanced at the animals surrounding the elf. He had gathered giant bears, majestic stags, hordes of wolves, regal eagles and also a mass of slimes. Except for them every animal was partially translucent and surrounded by a layer of light.
Those aren't normal animals, are they?”
Feyadal glanced sideways and nodded without ceasing his attack. “The spirit of Mideel has answered my call and summoned these heavenly beings with all the power it has amassed during the last millennium.” His expression turned into one of sadness before he spoke the next sentence: “It has given its life to turn this battle around...”
He refrained from conveying the spirits final message.
Meceruun is already doomed. Without Drake there will be no future!

Drake, Maximilian and Borado were astonished by the sight that was taking place in front of their eyes. Hundreds of glowing creatures descended upon the battlefield with thundering steps and buried Modera's army beneath them. Her forces rapidly lost interest in fighting a losing battle. Only the knights and the gargoyles remained, but they were consumed by an army of slimes or ripped to shreds by ghostly bears.
Maximilian finally gulped down a potion and Drake did the same with his blood, just in time to greet Modera's newest creation: a dragon.
It hovered in front of the mythril golem and spew molten lava onto the plains. The ground sizzled as it was burned away, leaving behind nothing but a huge chasm that descended hundreds of meters into the depths. The army of Mideel was nearly annihilated withing minutes of its arrival. Only a quarter of its forces still remained on the side of Arlin. The others had either fled onto the other side or were obliterated by the lava.
Stop hiding behind your summoned beasts, Modera!” yelled Drake into the sky, only to receive hysterical laughter in response.
Lightning bolts hit the dragon's scaly wings, but it shrugged them of as if there were nothing but a minor inconvenience. Feyadal grabbed onto Illutia and vanished moments before the lava destroyed the earth beneath their feet.
You'd already be dead if I didn't need you. You know that, right?” Modera's voice echoed through the air once more. “But spewing lava is only one of its tricks.”
The dragon descended onto the ground, moved his head towards the right and screamed. A shockwave of energy and sound propelled itself through the air and the earth, slowly enveloping the entire area as the beast moved its head from side to side.
Despite covering their ears Maximilian's and Borado's eardrums burst. They fell onto their knees and screamed in anguish as blood seeped from their orifices. It could have been worse, though, as demonstrated by the exploding slimes and summoned animals. Only a handful of Mideel's forces were able to withstand destruction.
Drake ran towards the Dragon, ignoring the blood flowing from his head, and aimed for its underbelly, since it lacked the scales that covered the remainder of its body. But the creature wasn't stupid. It ceased its attack, aimed its jaw at the vampire and covered him in a burst of fire. Drake was determined to bear with it, until he noticed the absurd temperatures that engulfed his body. Not even a rapidly summoned barrier could protect him, which is why he was forced to abort the assault. His clothes were nothing more than a burning mess. Even his enchanted armor couldn't cope with the power of the dragon's fire. It wouldn't take much longer for him to run around the way god made him. And while he waited for his burns to recover he noticed that the area he had aimed for was changing. The creature's belly was moving. Something seemed to be wriggling around inside of it, trying to break free. That's not exactly what happened, though.
The dragon spawned wingless, miniature versions of itself. It was obviously not a natural process, since nothing came bursting out of its stomach or escaped through any other orifices. Instead the flesh on its belly extended towards the ground and left behind a wriggling mass that took shape within seconds. And those weren't baby dragons either. They were actual copies of the original, just without wings. Not that it hindered them at all, as Drake got to feel firsthand when two of them smashed into him. Despite being focused on them the entire time he still hadn't seen the moment that they moved towards him. It was as if they had accelerated from zero to lightning speed in the blink of an eye.
The only mistake the creatures had made was not to attack everyone at once. The instant they assaulted Feyadal and Illutia, who had reappeared on the other side of the chasm, they crashed into a magical barrier and were turned into a gooey mass of flesh. But the sheer pressure of their attack still pushed Feyadal and Illutia backwards, nearly catapulting them into the abyss.
Since Maximilian lacked such a barrier he sliced through the air in the hopes of catching the creature before it caught him. Beams of light flew left and right. Through sheer luck he actually managed to cut the dragon apart, but there was no way for him to change its trajectory and he ended up being buried under huge slices of flesh.
Borado tried to imitate the Royal Knight, but his hammer lacked the magical properties of Maximilian's sword. Not to mention that it took much longer to execute a single attack. One of the dragons smashed into the general's chest. Bones cracked, blood splattered and screams of denial escaped Maximilian's mouth as he reached towards the general, but it was already too late. The dragon and its prey fell into the abyss of the chasm.
Drake might have suffered the general's fate if he hadn't slammed his sword into the wall of rock below the chasm's edge. The dragons were dangling from his legs. One of them had rammed its fangs into his flesh while the other was trying to crawl upwards with its claws. Trying to shake them off had proven ineffective, so Drake had only one more alternative. He split his powers evenly and diverted them into his hands. And then he removed his left hand from the sword handle, which nearly caused him to lose his grip. It didn't help that the sword itself was slowly but surely coming lose. Drake tried to suppress the possibility that he could fall into the depth of the earth and concentrated on his left hand instead. A ball of fire grew in his palms—it looked as if a sardonic smile flashed over the climbing dragon's face—and when it filled out his whole hand he aimed it at the beast that was chewing on his leg. The other one quickly swung sideways, opened its jaw and swallowed the energy.
You're not supposed to eat that!”
The movement had accelerated the sword's descent, but the dragon had already given Drake a better idea: he created yet another ball of fire. It looked identical to the first one but served a different purpose. It was swallowed once more, as was to be expected, but a look of pure horror spread across the dragon's face when it noticed the rumbling sensation in its stomach. Drake's clothes were covered in blood and gore as the creature exploded. The force of the explosion was so powerful that it also caused the other dragon to let go. And it ensured that the shadow sword was ripped from the earth.
The momentary smile of triumph was wiped from Drake's face as he tumbled into the darkness, unable to grab onto anything that might have allowed him to ascend. The wind rushed past his ears, but so did shadowy tendrils that descended from the sky. He landed on a soft, rubbery surface and was propelled upwards at an enormous speed while Modera's voice echoed through his mind. You're not getting off that easily. You still have a destiny to fulfill!
He crashed onto the ground with a loud thud, just in time to see the giant image of the “Heavenly Blade” smash into the big dragon. The creature shuddered under the blade's weight, but only for a moment. The beast roared, moved into a standing position and spread its wings. The image of the sword shattered and a pillar of fire shot towards Maximilian.
Drake scrambled to his feet, only to be rammed into the ground by two giant claws. His teeth broke and a pool of blood formed around his mouth, but he was never able to retaliate as a glowing bear sank its fangs into the small dragon's neck. Its scales were apparently not as thick as those of its “mother” since a single bite was more then enough to sever its head, after which the creature turned into ash.
Soft hands wrapped around the vampire's shoulders and pulled him to his feet. They belonged to Feyadal and Illutia. “None of our attacks seem to be working, at least not the ones that we have time to prepare,” said the elf while he pierced another small dragon with an arrow. “Any ideas?”
Drake glanced towards the dragon, who was still spewing fire in Maximilian's direction, then towards the mythril golem and then he nodded.

Maximilian shot attack after attack towards the dragon as he ran from its fire, but they were about as effective as a blunt knife. He only managed to take out a few of the smaller dragons who were engaged in battle with the spirit animals, most of whom had already perished. If the dragon had actually been serious Maximilian would have long since turned into a pile of ash, but even Modera couldn't transform the smoking remains of a human into a vampire.
After destroying yet another dragon Maximilian noticed that Feyadal had appeared next to him. “You need to get between the dragon and the golem! Illutia is already waiting for you.”
He disappeared before Maximilian had any time to acknowledge that he had even understood him, which he luckily had. The dragon seemed to have other plans, though, as his fire was slowly waning. The Royal Knight utilized that opportunity to summon the giant image of his sword once more. Mere seconds later he would have been swept from his feet by three smaller dragons, but two of them were swallowed by darkness and the last was pinned to the ground before an arrow pierced its head.
The “mother” dragon had already learned its lesson and was about to evade the attack when the earth itself closed around its legs. It couldn't hold him for long, though, since Illutia was busy keeping the smaller dragons at bay. Drake was also doing his part, but they were slowly getting overwhelmed.
The image of the “Heavenly Blade” cut into the dragon's neck, but the damage proved negligible since its scales weren't as weak as those of its “children”. It did get the job done, though. The dragon roared once more and attacked Maximilian with renewed strength. The burst of fire felt even hotter than before and if the Royal Knight could have seen himself in a mirror he would have noticed dozens of second and third-degree burns—only the adrenaline pumping through his body allowed him to shrug off the pain—as well as singed eyebrows and hair. Anyone who wasn't participating in the battle would have had a hard time recognizing him, even if he regenerated his flesh beforehand.

Drake's body was being pressed against the mythril golem, who stared at him with the curiosity of a child, while the small dragons played with him like a toy. They chewed on his flesh, cut him with their claws and smashed into him at full speed when Illutia managed to cut through their ranks.
How can this dragon continue to spawn these beast without getting weaker? thought Drake moments before another another miniature dragon shot out of the big ones back and shattered his ribs. Even Feyadal's arrows couldn't keep up with the speed at which they spawned and shooting continuously at the “mother” dragon had proven futile. But the spawning stopped when Maximilian began to move behind the dragon. The monster rammed its claws into the ground and shook the earth with its feet as it turned on the spot to keep up with its prey. Drake and Feyadal got rid of the remaining smaller dragons and hurried into the opposite direction, towards a corner of the gate.
I hope this works!”
I'd better prepare an arrow, just in case. My quiver might not have too much energy left, though.”
That shouldn't be a problem if I can get close to the beast.”
Drake concentrated on his legs and his blade, in the hopes of putting his plan into action should the distraction work. He did notice a tingling sensation on his arm though, which turned out to be the shadows that were seeping from his blade and crawling up his body. All the fighting had interfered with his control and forcing them back inside would have wasted time they didn't have. I have to get to Modera before I waste this power on her minions! But getting to Modera was impossible as long as the golem remained. It might have looked like a stupid and mindless creature, but its body had partially melted and covered the inside of the wall facing the battlefield, making it impossible to break through, and it would also swat anything out of the sky that tried to climb over it.

The ground beneath Illutia's feet began to glow as Maximilian approached her. She had also erected a stronger barrier behind which they could hide, which forced the dragon to increase the heat of its flames. But the moment it did so his prey escaped into the sky, carried away by a magical platform. It almost threw the Royal Knight off until he grabbed onto Illutia's staff to steady himself.
The dragon's flames followed the duo, heating up the golem in the process. Its eyes, which had begun to focus on Maximilian and Illutia, where now moving towards the beast that dared to attack it. Only when the golem's giant hands came hurtling towards him did the dragon realize its mistake. The earth exploded as the golem tore through the dragon's wings, eliciting a scream of agony.
Feyadal jumped onto the golem's arm, aimed at the dragon's opened jaw and fired his arrow. It was destroyed by a burst of lava and Drake almost got caught up within it as he jumped over the golem and onto the ground. He ran towards the dragon's underbelly, all the while evading the boiling rain from above, and gathered his power. His sword vibrated as the shadows tried to mix themselves with his energy, and he had to muster all of his willpower to keep them at bay, as unleashing them at this point would have let all of them loose. It would certainly have been more then enough to tear the dragon apart, but there was no point in wasting such power on a beast that was already wounded. The damage wasn't as severe as Drake had hoped, however, as the creature's belly bulged once more before he could unleash his attack. Another miniature dragon shot forward and was literally turned into atoms when it collided with an attack that was meant for its “mother”. The dragon also changed its angle of attack, covering the entire ground between his feet and the mythril golem with lava. Feyadal managed to grab onto Drake and escape before it was too late, though.
Well, that didn't work out as expected,” said Drake.
It didn't?” asked Maximilian, who had reappeared with Illutia. “So you're telling me that getting them to destroy each other wasn't the plan?”
Mythril golems might be impervious to most magic and weapons, but the lava of the dragon proved to be its downfall. Melting a golem took time, however, and since the creatures arms were mostly intact it could easily grab onto the dragon and turn it into mush. Scream after scream filled the air, and when all was said and done only a giant lump of flesh and the melting remains of the golem remained. Its eyes moved wildly as it bellowed in pain, but its master didn't seem to care. Arlin's wall began to crumble since it was still connected to the creature.
I certainly hoped that the dragon would accidentally hit the golem and cease its attack long enough for me to finish it off, but I didn't expect that they would actually kill each other off, seeing as they were summoned by the same person.”
If you hadn't forced me to hasten the summoning I could have made sure of that, but you had to attack before the hour was up! But not to worry, I've still got plenty of toys for you,” Modera's speech ended once more with laughter.
You've got to be kidding me. We have to stop her before she summons anything else!” said Drake and hurried towards the wall. Feyadal and Illutia followed closely behind, but everyone froze when Maximilian screamed in pain. Glenn stood above him, his sword embedded in his back. The blade was pulsing with energy as it consumed the human's blood.
Not so fast, Drake. You still have to go through me!”
He ripped his sword out of Maximilian's back and made a somersault through the air to escape a beam of light aimed at him from below.
Why...don't you instead?” asked Maximilian as he wobbled to his feet.
Have you looked at yourself lately? You're in no shape to fight me.”
Just let me drink this potion”—he rammed his sword into the ground to steady himself before he grabbed for a vial on his belt—“and I'll be as good as—”
Glenn vanished in an instant, only to reappear behind Maximilian. All potion vials shattered and the hilt of Rusangis connected with the back of the Royal Knight's head. He toppled over and bellowed in pain when he cut himself on his own blade.
Do you think I'm stupid? I might be a vampire but you are the superior swordsman. Why would I ever allow you to heal your injuries?” Glenn turned halfway to the side, raised his left leg and smashed it into the back of Maximilian's right knee. The Royal Knight whimpered in agony as his bones broke with a loud crunching noise. Drake's knuckles turned white when his hands closed around his sword's hilt in anger. He still didn't move an inch. “Don't you want to help your friend? Or is Modera so important that you'd rather leave him behind?”
A lightning bolt shot towards Glenn, but instead of evading Illutia's attack he smiled in amusement and held Rusangis in its path. The sorceress couldn't know what the sword was capable of, even if Drake had told her its name, and her attack dissipated harmlessly as the blade devoured it. But Rusangis doesn't destroy whatever it consumes. The blade turned blue and began to sizzle with power, causing the air around it to glow. Glenn's mile grew wider as he moved his hand ever so slightly. The lightning bolt was unleashed once more and returned to its sender. Since Feyadal hadn't expected such a move he could only watch in horror as Illutia's body was burned to a crisp. Her corpse flew against the wall and exploded in a rain of ash.
Stupid girl. She shouldn't have interfered in the affairs of men!” these words were followed by a barrage of arrows, but Feyadal's estimation before the final strike against the dragon had been correct. He barely had any arrows left.
Drake remained still as if he had been glued to the spot. He didn't want to let his father get away with this, but he didn't want to fight him either.
What the hell...are you doing?” a familiar voice broke through Drake's thoughts and he looked around in confusion. “Drake, give me a potion, for god's sake!”
The vampire's eyes focused on Maximilian. He was crawling across the floor with a painful expression on his face. Both of his arms were bleeding badly, not just because he cut himself on his own blade but also because he had to move through the shards of glass left behind by his potion vials.
Drake shook his head and slapped both hands onto his cheeks to regain control over his body, but the moment he jumped towards his companion Glenn did the same. “Forget it! You're the only one I want to fight!”
And you're the only one I don't want to—” before he could finish his sentence he already collided with his father. His hand had been more swift than his words, though, and a single vial fell into Maximilian's hands.
You don't have a choice, son, unless you realize the futility of your actions. You cannot win!”
They smashed into the wall, but Drake freed himself by headbutting his father. “Modera's army has been destroyed, her gargoyle is melting and the dragon is dead. Doesn't sound like we're losing.”
Most of the army has been destroyed by forces that were not your own. And the dragon and gargoyles killed each other thanks to their stupidity!”
He's g.. a po..t! ….. n. re..on to gi.. up, ….gh.
Drake ran towards Maximilian, who was slowly gathering himself from the ground, but he was grabbed by an invisible force and flung backwards, almost getting skewered by Rusangis in the process.
Stop running awa—” Glenn ducked as an arrow flew over his head. Drake fell to the ground, freed from his grasp, and hurried away once more. “I don't remember raising a coward!” The vampire kicked Feyadal far away, shattering some of his ribs in the process, and continued his pursuit. Before he could use his magic once more his belly was sliced open by a beam of light. He tumbled across the ground and came to rest in front of the Royal Knight's feet.
Go, Drake! I'll take care of this!”
Don't kill him!”
You don't have to tell—”
Glenn swept him from his feet, wrestled him to the ground and punched him in the face before he reached towards his lost blade. “Stop interfering in our affairs!” The moment Rusangis returned into the vampire's hand it was nailed to the ground by an arrow. Maximilian used that chance to kick him away and scrambled to his feet. “You humans never know when to give up, do you?”
I'm not a human!” replied Feyadal, who had healed his wounds before he returned.
Human, elf, what does it matter? Everyone who gets in my way will die!”
Glenn grabbed onto the arrow's shaft and ripped it out of the ground, all the while keeping a straight face. He stood up and raised Rusangis into the air. The sword began to glow, wind gathered around its blade and the battle began.

Drake jumped through a hole in the broken wall without ever looking back. He would have never been able to move on if he worried that Maximilian could lose. All he could do was hope for the best and confront Modera. The moment he arrived on the other side he saw the burnt remains of the mayor's house. The second floor had long since collapsed. Only a few of the walls were still standing. No one could have survived the fire and it didn't look as if anyone had escaped since the entire village looked abandoned. A few buildings had their doors ripped from their hinges, others had giant holes where the entrances would have been. Those were the only buildings where people had actually tried to stand up to Modera, judging by the corpses that were scattered around these areas. Drake didn't recognize who they were, however, since their bodies had been torched.
Tears welled up in his eyes and his fingernails cut into his flesh as he screamed: “Show yourself, Modera! You have to pay for your crimes!”
Her mad laughter echoed through the village, it's source untraceable. “Why are you in such a hurry? I haven't even shown you my strongest summons yet.”
I've seen a demon, a golem, a dragon and your entire army. That's more than enough! Or are you afraid to face me by yourself?”
Why would I be afraid? I already know your destiny.”
Oh yeah? And what does it say?”
That you will defeat The Calamity and bring glory to the vampire race!”
And how do you even know about that? And what's this calamity anyway?”
An image of Modera appeared in front of him. He grabbed onto his blade, jumped forward and slashed through it without encountering any resistance whatsoever.
I thought you wanted answers.”
Your death is not as important as the answers!”
You'll have to find me first. Let me tell you a story while you do so.”
He entered another building and replied: “Don't mind me.”
A long time ago vampires were hunted and killed wherever they appeared, even if they tried to live a normal life. All of that changed when a man named Cardul was turned into an immortal.”
Drake rammed his blade into a wardrobe before he actually opened its door.
Come on, I'm not playing hide and seek.”
I wouldn't put it past you.”
Cardul hated the way our kind was treated and sought to unite our race. Not everyone followed him, but those that did helped him create a vampire kingdom. A place that we could call home. Where we would be safe. But the peace didn't last for long. Some of us wanted to rule over the mortal realm.”
I guess you were among them?”
Modera ignored his remark. “Others wanted to be left alone. The relationship between our sides deteriorated till a war broke out. A war that Cardul's faction won after taking heavy losses.”
Drake entered the Inn and saw the owner lying dead on the floor. A hole had been blown into his chest, but the rest of his body remained unscathed. “Interesting story,” said Drake through gritted teeth, “But what does that have to do with anything?”
You've already seen what happened next. Transforming a person into a vampire creates a connection that allows us to see each others memories. Not all of them, only a few of the strongest ones. And you saw the day that The Calamity appeared. He slaughtered our man. He killed my husband! And then...then he disappeared and left me behind. I had no idea who that person was until I found out that he had been slaughtering our kind left and right since the war began. And he continued to do so for the next millennium, till I was the only one left. I've never seen him again, but I felt his presence a couple of times. I don't know how I managed to escape—”
I wish you hadn't!”
“—but I managed to evade his grasp for the last 10 years. And thanks to The Vampire Chronicles, a series of books used to record the history of our race, I know who he is and how he will die.”
How can a series of history books tell you anything about the future?”
That particular volume was special. I found it in the ruins of Carmilla's hideout.”
Drake kneeled in front of the mayor's house and picked up a burnt piece of wood before he asked: “Who?”
That bitch knew what was going to happen, but she never warned us! The book was extremely old, possibly more ancient than any volume of The Vampire Chronicles, but it mentioned dozens of events that hadn't even transpired yet. It told me to turn into a vampire. And it told me that you will defeat Assar—The Calamity.”
Drake dropped the piece of wood and stared into the sky, at the swirling orb of darkness that hovered above the village. “Did these Vampire Chronicles mention anything about your involvement in the battle against him?”
Modera didn't reply at first. Only a dull buzzing noise and the sound of the battle beyond the walls remained. Drake grabbed tightly onto his blade as he jumped onto the roof of his own house.
No. They don't mention me again can't be right.”
Drake smiled knowingly as he focused on his legs. “See? You're not meant to be there when Assar falls. You're just going to die. Right now!” He shot into the sky, broke through a creature that was only halfway formed and plunged into the orb. His movement slowed down tremendously as he was assaulted by darkness from all sides. He swung his sword in slow-motion, but it got easier with every slash. Shortly thereafter he could finally see Modera. She was floating in the center of the orb, her legs were crossed and her eyes were closed. She did start moving the closer he got, however. Eventually her eyes flew open and focused on him. Her hands began to glow, the air begun to burn and the orb exploded.
Drake smashed into the burnt-out remains of the mayor's house while Modera descended slowly in an upright position.
Don't overestimate yourself. I will not be the catalyst that you throw away when you're done with it. Assar will not get away with what he's done, but I have to be the one to finish him off.”
Drake crawled from the ruins and ripped fragments of wood out of his flesh before he responded: “You should have thought about that before you turned me into a vampire! I'm sure we could have come to an agreement if you had asked nicely.”
I should have asked?” said Modera hysterically and flung a fireball at him. ”Don't be ridiculous. You mortals hate vampires. You would have never accepted my offer. And you would never have chosen to become one of us.”
How strong can this Assar possibly be? Just gather enough people and overwhelm him.” Drake swung his blade, but the wave of darkness hit nothing but air. Modera reappeared behind him, raised her hand and smashed it into his back. An invisible weight forced him to the floor.
Don't be stupid! You've seen what a vampire can do, even one as weak as you. Assar would slaughter whatever force you could amass to fight him. We have to follow the prophecy or he will kill us all!”
Screw the prophecy!” Drake's body shuddered, the earth shook and the air began to vibrate before he finally broke through his invisible restrains. He whirled around, ready to unleash the power trapped in his blade, but Modera fled into the sky. “And don't forget that you're not a part of it!”
He jumped after her, only to collide with a black, formless goo that rained onto him from above. It nailed Drake to the ground, where it proved to be as sticky as glue. Even the attempt to move two of his fingers apart ended in utter failure.
Stop stalling!” he screamed and struggled, but the only part that came free was his right hand and the sword within it. Thanks to his premature attempt at releasing the shadows they had grown much stronger and engulfed the entire blade.
I didn't do that, not deliberately anyway. Those are the remains of the creature I tried to summon. It would have looked similar to the slimes that are scattered across the globe. Just much bigger and more deadly. Its body is made out of an acidic substance than can burn through anything.”
Drake had already notice the burning sensation on his skin and was hurriedly cutting through the goo with his sword. His torso and legs were already free when the sword was ripped from his hand by magic. He followed its movement to Modera's hovering form. Seconds later the slime engulfed him once more, covering him from neck to toe.
That's an interesting weapon you've got there. I seem to remember something like that from the olden days,” she closed her eyes and smiled as she reminisced. “I'd gladly leave all of this behind if I could turn back time, but I've never found a spell that would have allowed me to do so. Well, it doesn't matter. You're going to kill Assar and then we can rebuilt.”
“I'm not...going to kill anyone...for you. At least not...without killing you first,” he replied through clenched teeth. Smoke was gathering underneath the slimy mass that he was trapped under and he could feel his skin melt away.
“You'll change your mind soon enough. Even if that means breaking it first. I'm really glad that I turned your father. He was such a wonderful specimen. I'm not sure if I want to keep him around, though.”
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Drake yelled and screamed in agony as he spread his power all across his body. The slime began to glow. White at first, then yellow, red, and then it was gone. The vampire wobbled onto his feet. Most of his clothes had dissolved at last. All that remained were the tattered remains of his armor and his underwear. The shadow sword flew towards him without any outside interference and nestled itself into his grip. He stared at Modera with a hardened expression, pressed his lips onto one another and lunged at her. His attacks were repelled by a barrier of darkness, but the more he hit her the easier they broke. She barely found the time to attack herself.
At one point she actually tried to freeze his movements, but his willpower overwhelmed her within seconds. Her dress was almost ripped from her body as a result. But that was the least of her worries as that attack had nearly sliced her torso into two. She fell to the ground, screaming and with her hands pressed onto her chest. It allowed her to evade Drake's next attack and gave her enough time to turn into a pillar of smoke that vanished in the ground.
“Don't run away! You're going to pay for what you did to my father and my girlfriend.” His eyes scanned the village and stopped at the remains of the mayor's house for a second. “And for killing the villagers!”
“It's your fault that they died! You should have accepted your destiny and brought Maximilian to me. No one would have died that way.”
Drake's expression turned sour and he clenched his fists so hard that his nails drew blood. “I know that, you bitch! You don't have to rub it in my face. Just come out and die. I don't want their deaths to be in vain.”
“Why did you have to be the savior?”
Drake flew into the wall, smashing a giant hole into it. No sign of Modera.
“Why wasn't it someone who was easier to deal with? Someone who didn't care about his humanity.”
A window shattered as Drake jumped into one of the buildings. No sign of Modera.
“I wish I could just leave to let you wallow in your misery for the rest of your life!”
A shed exploded after Drake threw a fireball at it. No sign of Modera.
“But I can't let it end like this! I have to take revenge for the annihilation of my race. I have to avenge Cardul's death!”
Drake stood near the village gate and shot his waves of darkness at random buildings. “Cardul wanted peace, didn't he? I don't think he would have approved of your methods!”
A lightning bolt hit him squarely in the chest and flung him through the ashes of the mayor's building, all the way into another house.
“No, he wouldn't have approved of my methods. But what does it matter? He got killed for what he was. That's all his noble goal accomplished!”
Drake gathered himself from the rubble and staggered towards the hole he had entered from, only to be hit by three fireballs at the same time. The building couldn't withstand such force and fell in on itself, with him still inside.

Glenn had been entirely honest when he called Maximilian a superior swordsman, but the current circumstances made it impossible for the Royal Knight to go all out. Glenn had no such problems, since all that he needed to deliver was a corpse. Maximilian was already covered in dozens of cuts, none of which had been created by Rusangis. The Devourer continuously consumed the surrounding air and expelled it upon clashing with another sword, which enabled Glenn to hit his opponent without actually landing a blow. That's how he managed to bury Feyadal under a mountain of rubble. Not that the elf had been much of a help anyway. He disliked close-quarters combat, but there was no easy way to recharge his quiver, except for waiting.
“Come on, this can't be all you have to offer!”
Their swords clashed. Maximilian evaded the following slash by stepping sideways, dropped onto one of his knees while he stretched the other leg and tried to hit Glenn's bottom half. The vampire kicked him in the face before he could finish his move.
“I really expected more from the Royal Knight of Pagan, especially with that weapon of yours.”
Glenn jumped above Maximilian and fell like a rock, with his blade aimed at the human's chest. The Royal Knight rolled sideways, jumped to his feet, swirled around and hit nothing but air. He noticed a presence above him and spotted Rusangis only inches from his face when he looked up. He dropped onto his back, grabbed onto his blade and held it in the air to parry the blow. His elbows smashed into the earth and he nearly cut his throat with his own weapon. Even more blood covered his face as it was torn open by wind that felt as sharp as a needle.
“Why are we even fighting?” uttered Maximilian through gritted teeth, all the while trying to push Rusangis back. “You should help your son against Modera.”
“It's too late for that. I offered him a deal that could have saved the entire village and all the men that you lost.” The pressure faded as Glenn stepped back, spread his arms and turned 360 degrees. “And what did it accomplish? He turned the plains of Arlin into a wasteland and got everyone killed! I can't go back now. He has to live with the consequences of his actions.”
Maximilian got to his feet, breathing heavily and taking in the destruction their battle had caused. “He didn't want this to happen. He even tried to sneak into the village to save everyone.”
“It doesn't matter what he tried to do. He failed! That's all that counts and that's all history will remember.”
Their swords clashed once more, but Maximilian almost lost the grip on the “Heavenly Blade” and Rusangis drew blood.
“Drake only had to sacrifice your humanity to save everyone. What's wrong with that? I've never felt better in my entire existence as a human. Drinking blood isn't as bad as it sounds. The amount Rusangis just delivered has allowed me to heal my wounds, restore my stamina and fill my stomach. Doesn't that sound great?”
“And how do you get that blood? By killing people! That's just sick.”
Maximilian parried a strike, stepped forward and managed to sweep Glenn from his feet by using his right leg. The follow-up strike landed squarely between the vampire's legs instead of nailing him to the floor.
“And how do you get your food? By killing animals! How is that any different? Or are you telling me that it's justified because they're stupid and powerless?”
Maximilian toppled backwards as Glenn propelled himself from the ground. The next slash would have cut right through the human's skull if he hadn't thrown himself sideways. Then he scurried away on all fours, pressed himself upwards and managed to return to a standing position seconds later. He took one step to the side, rammed his right heel into the ground, swiveled around in a narrow arc and managed to cut right through Glenn's shoulder as he shot past him.
The vampire screamed in pain and tried to soften the following crash with his left arm, but he didn't notice the decline he would land on and tumbled down a small hill. He only came to a halt when his head smashed into the remains of a stone golem. His body rebounded and he fell on his back. Seconds later he was staring at the tip of the “Heavenly Blade”.
“You're right. We kill animals to survive. But we don't have a choice! It's not like we can cut them apart bit by bit. You, on the other hand, don't have to kill anyone! I would already be dead if that were the case, since Drake drank my blood on a couple occasions.”
A smile crept onto the vampire's face, which then turned into full-blown-laughter. Maximilian cautiously took a step backwards, even though Glenn's severed arm hadn't even begun to regenerate. “I don't have to kill anyone? Is that what you think?'re right. But how could I deny myself the pleasure of sucking them dry, to see them suffer?” his words were those of a madman, and the instant he was done he vanished. He reappeared behind Maximilian and muttered under his breath: “And it allows me to get rid of this goddamn voice inside my head.”
The Royal Knight's eyes widened in panic and he turned around as fast as humanly possible. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Glenn's sharp teeth glisten with saliva and realized that his sword wouldn't connect with the vampire's body before it was too late. That's what should have happened, at last, but his attack hit nothing but air. He fell to the ground, rolled down the same hill as Glenn and smashed against the golem with the back of his head.
Where did he...go? is what he thought before his consciousness faded away.

Drake pulled himself from the rubble, dragging his bleeding and entirely bare bottom behind him. Only the building's debris prevented Modera from seeing everything he had to offer when she drilled the heels of her shoes into his back.
“Will you join me?” she asked menacingly as her shoes drew blood.
Drake's face distorted with anguish, but he bit onto his lips and suffocated his scream. You're not getting the satisfaction of hearing me suffer! “Dream on, Modera. The only place I would join you is in death.”
Her face turned into a mask of pure insanity upon hearing those words. Her eyes widened, her brow furrowed, her teeth were pressed onto each other while her mouth opened wide, and then she raised her leg and rammed it back into his flesh. Over and over and over again, while she laughed like someone had who finally lost his mind.
“Will you join me? Will you join me? Will you join me? Will you join me? Willou joime? Willou joime? Willou joime? Wiu jome? Wiu jome? Wiu jome?” her words became increasingly intelligible as the speed of her question increased. It didn't even look as if she cared about the answer. All that her eyes were focused on was the bloodbath that her shoes caused. Drake's flesh was full of holes, and so were some of his organs, like his lungs. His body trembled in agony, but there was nothing he could do. His sword had fallen out of his hands when Modera's last attack hit him and concentrating more than a second proved to be impossible.
“Wiuyme? Wiuyme? Wiuyme?”
“No! No! No! No! No! Nooooooooooooo!”
Her movement ceased. The heel was still stuck in his body, but all she did was stare at him in incredulity. “How...can you still...resis—” her last word ended in a gurgling sound and she wobbled slightly forward, which caused her heel to penetrate Drake's body even deeper. He ignored the pain and tried to look over his shoulder to see what had happened. All he could see of Modera was a part of her dress, but that didn't matter, since he saw the soldier who had rammed his sword through her back just fine. He was slowly retreating, his hands still in the same position as before, even though his weapon was still stuck in the vampire.
“Run!” is what Drake tried to scream, but his voice failed him. Not that the soldier needed to hear what he had to say. He turned around and sprinted away the moment Modera pulled her shoe out of Drake's body.
“How dare you do this to me?” her words were merely a whisper, just enough for Drake to hear. “And where did you even come from?” those were the words that she actually screamed as she ripped the sword from her body. The she turned around, rose from the ground and followed the soldier like a cannonball.
Drake made use of that opportunity and pulled his aching body from the rubble. He thirsted for blood, but all of his vials had been destroyed. There wouldn't be another battle against Modera. He had to finish her off with the next blow. Where's my sword? He turned his head and gritted his teeth as seething pain ripped through his body, which almost forced him to the ground. Turning his entire body seemed to be the less painful alternative.
The shadow sword was stuck in a building a few feet to his left. Or at least it had been stuck until the shadows ate through the walls and caused it to fall to the ground. Another wave of pain rippled through Drake's body when he kneeled down, but he was too distracted by the sound of an explosions and the soldier's dying scream. I'm sorry, but thank your for this chance. I'm not going to waste it!

Modera returned to the destroyed building shortly afterwards. Her eyes focused on the spot where Drake had been and widened in panic. Then she turned around and around and around. A turn left, then right, then she moved her body left but looked over her right shoulder, then the other way around. Upwards. Downwards. Turning again.
“Where are you?” she screamed desperately, even though she should have been able to pinpoint his exact location with ease. Drake was either too weak to be noticed or she was simply too far gone to think clearly.
Her body trembled with rage and she screeched like a wild animal before her hands darted forwards. Two beams of pure darkness escaped from her palms and destroyed yet another building. The one where Drake had picked up his sword, to be exact. He could have hidden inside one of the houses, but since those had to be the first places Modera would look he decided to hide himself behind the rubble. He would have already been found if Modera had actually paid attention during her wild turns. Not because she saw him, but because his heart was going haywire. It pounded so heavily that a vampire must have been able to hear it from miles away. Not Modera, though. She lurked through the streets and attacked everything that moved. Not that there was anything left that could have moved, except for the collapsing buildings.
“You saw this coming. Even your demise was written within the Chronicles. Why didn't you say anything? Everything could have gone differently if you hadn't been so stubborn. This war, this conflict, all of it was meaningless!”
Who is she talking to? wondered Drake as he snuck towards her in a crouching position. His blood was dripping onto the floor, but thanks to an adrenaline rush he was finally able to ignore the pain.
“Now look at me. I'm running after a snotty brat who's supposed to bring glory to our race. Laughable. Absolutely ridiculous. I wouldn't have believed a word of this prophecy if it hadn't partially come true already...”
That would have been better for everyone involved. But don't worry, everything ends here and now! Drake hastened his steps, but tried to remain as silent as possible while he did so, and grabbed onto the hilt of his shadow sword with both hands. The time has come. Go wild and destroy her! And the shadows answered.
Hundreds of sword-shaped tendrils escaped the blade and trailed around the hilt, which made it look like a blooming flower. Only when Drake was holding onto a hilt that looked like one half of a shadowy goblet did they finally start to strengthen the sword itself. Layer upon layer of shadows engulfed the weapon, causing its diameter to increase. It also grew in length, but the layers didn't get as thick towards the tip, which gave it the appearance of a lance.
Moments before impact Modera finally noticed the energy building behind her. She whirled around, saw the lance's tip inches away from her stomach and smiled. “You should have liste—” the rest was cut off by the sound of tearing flesh. Only when the entirety of the weapon had pierced her body did it come to an end.
Drake couldn't understand why she smiled, but he realized that something was wrong when her body began to flicker. “What have you done?”
She blew him a kiss before her smile grew even wider.
“” Drake screamed, emphasizing every word.
And then she broke into laughter, but the sound of her voice did not come from the pierced body. Drake looked around in confusion. And then he knew that he had failed. Modera had been there in the flesh only seconds ago, but her form had been replaced.
Drake's sword ripped through his father's flesh and the insatiable shadows began to devour him. The chosen one screamed in denial and pulled at his blade, but it wouldn't even budge an inch. Only when all traces of Glenn, his body and his soul, had been annihilated would the blade return to its original form.
So has it been written in the book of destiny. And so shall it be.
“No... No no no!” Drake screamed in panic and his eyes widened as he pulled at the lance, but no matter how much strength he used, it wouldn't budge. “What is this? Why are you here?” Tears began to well up in his eyes. “Maximilian was supposed to fight you to prevent this from happening!”
Glenn was confused for a moment, but the unimaginable pain that ripped through his intestines told him everything he needed to know. “So this is what she was talking about...”
“What do you mean?” asked Drake without ceasing his attempt at retrieving the blade.
“Modera prepared a failsafe”—Glenn screamed as a bundle of shadows burst through his right leg, turning it into a useless lump of flesh—“just in case you managed to deliver a mortal wound. We would switch places, so that I could die instead of her...”
“No, I won't accept this! This isn't fair!” The floor was covered in a rain of tears, but he was still pulling with all he got, despite being unable to gain even an inch.
“But this is how it was meant to beag—”
Glenn's back literally exploded and the ground was covered in a splatter of gore and bones. His body turned flaccid, only held upright by the blade embedded in his body.
“This it was...meant I was never survive the the tower. But something...changed. I should have known...that it wouldn't last. Maybe history...will always...correct...itself...”
Screw history! Screw destiny! Screw the prophecy! You will not die today!” Drake gathered all the energy he had left into his hands, which caused them to glow with power. Then he rammed his heels into the ground, embraced the hilt and pulled. The blade began to shudder, the air vibrated and the shadows screamed in anger, but it still wasn't enough. Tendrils burst through Glenn's remaining arm, through his other leg, through his organs. Eventually he could feel something pulling at his very essence.
“Move goddammit! Move!”
But it didn't matter how much or how loud he screamed. Destiny would not relinquish its victim. Not here. Not on this day.
Modera sat comfortably on the village's wall and chuckled at the sight. There wasn't much left for her to do. Drake was already wasting his remaining energy and would not be able to withstand another attack. And Maximilian was out cold on the battlefield. She had confirmed his condition before she returned to witness this spectacle.
Two faint thuds resounded behind her. The vampire's blood flew through the air before she was able to turn around.

“I'm sorry, Drake...I wished...things...could have...turned out...differently.”
Drake barely listened to his words. All of his power had vanished whereas the sword hadn't moved at all. He had fallen to his knees, whimpering and crying like a child.
“Don't sad. This is...only...the beginning. You will understand...when” and those were Glenn's final words. His head was destroyed from the inside and the tentacles scattered to consume everything that remained, no matter how miniscule a piece it was. When their task was finished they vanished into the depths of the earth, never to be seen again. The shadow sword clattered onto the ground and banged onto Drake's hands. He didn't notice and he wouldn't have cared even if he did.
Ah, what a sight to behold. I've never seen someone die in such a gruesome and excruciating fashion. We should do this more often! Albeit with less whining. The primordial beast within him resurged at last, but he was too devastated to listen to its voice. His eyes were unfocused and his arms were drooping at his sides. Even his brain had become a useless cluster of flesh. He should have tried to process what had happened. He should have focused on the situation at hand to get rid of Modera. Instead his mind was a blank. Nothing could wake his from his torpor, not even the sound of battle coming from behind him. Under better circumstances one could have mistaken him for a lifelike puppet. Come on, don't be such a wuss. Your father is dead, buhuhu. But have you forgotten why you came here? Because Modera's still alive and kicking. Drake's eyes jittered at the mention of her name, but that was all the primordial beast accomplished.

Modera had fallen from the wall and been stabbed multiple times before she even understood what was happening. Two red-haired people where running swiftly from one hiding place to another, always attacking and slicing through her flesh when she least expected it. She tried to hit them with fireballs, but they were always gone by the time her magic connected. Her dress was ripped to shreds and drenched in her life-essence before she finally snapped.
Her body began to float, if only an inch above the ground, and the earth undulated, as if made of water. She spread her arms, began to spin and shot two continuous waves of lightning at her enemies. A spinning top that shoots lightning would have been a fitting descriptor, but Erik and Rika didn't have time to come up with any descriptions. The lightning followed them as if they were opposite sides of a magnet and the village was finally torn to shreds. Drake somehow managed not to get hit by the vampire's attacks, even though the earth around him was scarred by her magic.
“What should we do?” screamed Rika when she crossed paths with her brother.
We need to get Drake out of here and we have to find Maximilian. They might be the only ones who can stop Modera, answered Erik through their mental connection.
Drake just lost his father. I don't think he's capable of fighting anymore. Maybe we should have focused on them instead of Modera.
That would have been pointless. Drake couldn't remove the sword, so what could we possibly have achieved? We just have to find a way— Erik was cut off when the wall beneath him collapsed. The lack of a foothold nearly cost him his life, but his sister grabbed onto his hands and flung him away before she herself fled from the lightning.
She's getting faster. We have to act before it's too late!
Rika agreed and they fled in wide arcs before they closed in on Drake from opposite directions. Focusing entirely on their target instead of their enemy proved to be a mistake, however. A purple wraith created in Modera's image grew out of her spinning body. Its eyes were blank, it's mouth distorted in an everlasting scream and its hands were raised into the air, where a hole had opened in the fabric of reality. Silent lightning shot out of it and into the hands of the beast, which began to glow with power.
The twins must have thought that the sky was falling. The air sizzled with energy, the clouds grew dark and the earth trembled, steadily increasing in intensity. Moments before they would have reached Drake a booming crack resounded through the air, as if an enormous explosion had gone off. Erik and Rika turned towards Modera in slow-motion as the area behind them was engulfed by a blinding flash of light. And then they were flung all the way across the village and into the wall, their bodies wrecked with pain.

The twins would have turned into ash within the blink of an eye, if not for Feyadal. He had regained consciousness not long ago and had stumbled towards the remains of the village. When he arrived atop the molten golem he saw the twins running towards Drake while Modera's wraith prepared her final attack. The elf grabbed his bow and sank his hand into his quiver.
He closed his eyes and focused all the magic he could muster. His race has an unlimited magical potential, but Feyadal knew from an early age that his abilities were far below average, barely enough to teach him healing and unlocking spells, which is why he tried to become one of the best hunters the world had to offer. And he succeeded. But a hunter is useless without his weapon.
“Mimeidr, please grant me power so that I may protect my friends! I will never ask you again if you help me here and now,” he mumbled to himself while he felt Modera's power grow. There didn't seem to be a reaction at first, but he could already feel that a distant power was reaching out to him, grabbing onto the spark of magic hidden within the depths of his mind.
Are you sure, hunter? I can offer you a momentary gift of power, but it will burn through your magic, robbing you of your power and most of your life. You will die long before your siblings. Even long before your parents. A divine voice echoed through his mind. It sounded weak and unfathomably sick, but its offer sounded quite genuine.
And I might die right now if I don't do it!
As you wish...
Feyadal's eyes snapped open. They glowed with the intensity of the sun and his quiver did the same. The wraiths hands were already lowering itself, ready to unleash a devastating attack that could obliterate everything it touched. The elf pulled a thin arrow of light from his quiver and inserted it into his bow. When it came into contact with the string the elf's body split. And split and split and split, till the entire wall was filled with ghostly images of himself. They pulled at their bowstrings simultaneously and aimed for Modera. The moment the lightnings crack resounded through the sky so did the hissing of their arrow. They still looked like strings when they left the bows, but they grew with every inch they moved, until the vampire's body was pierced by hundreds of giant projectiles. The wraith disintegrated just as its attack connected, which is why the twins were flung away but managed to survive. They would never be able to get rid of the magical burn marks that had been etched into their skin, however.
Feyadal's power waned, his vision faded and he plunged from the golem onto the ground, without being able to confirm if his comrades had survived or not. Darkness engulfed his mind as his magic burned.

A calm breeze blew over the remnants of the village. Less than half the buildings were still standing, and even those were uninhabitable since they looked as if a single impact would cause them to collapse. The twins lay motionless and intertwined in front of the walls. Bruised, battered, but alive. Modera lay where she stood, her body a heap of smoldering flesh, full of holes and bleeding out. Drake, on the other hand, hadn't noticed the battle at all and was still sitting where his father had died.
Time passed uneventfully, until Modera raised her upper body from the ground. Some, but not all, of her wounds had closed. She rolled her head, eliciting painful sounding cracks from her bones, and stretched her arms. Her eyes wandered over the tatters that had once been her dress. There wasn't much fabric left to cover her, not that it mattered. She could have restored it if she so desired, but her reserves were nearly depleted. “Why did I waste so much power on mere mortals?” She staggered to her feet and tried to brush the dust of her shreds while she looked around. “What hit me anyway? It couldn't have been my own spell...”
It was impossible for her to see Feyadal from her current position and since she couldn't find the source she shuffle towards Drake's limp figure, dragging one of her legs behind her body. “Stupid creatures. Why did you even fight me when you couldn't finish what you started?”
She arrived next to Drake, inclined her head towards the left and looked into his dull eyes. Her legs wobbled, her arms flailed and then she fell onto her knees. Seething pain shot through her damaged leg. She gritted her teeth and repressed the urge to scream as she turned towards her savior. He didn't actually see her, but the moment her hand tried to caress his cheek he recoiled and fell backwards.
“Don't be afraid. The battle is finally over. There's no need to deny me any longer, unless you wish for Emily to die too.” His eyes flickered upon hearing his girlfriend's name and a vague glimmer of life returned to his pupils.
Modera crawled over his lying form and pinned his arms to the ground. It could have been mistaken for a sexual encounter, especially since Drake was entirely naked, if not for the blood and wounds that covered both of their bodies. Drake, still not entirely in control of himself, tried to move away, but his masters grip was too strong, even in her weakened state.
“Join me and help me take revenge. You can do this willingly or with a broken mind. I don't care. I will even let you go when everything is said and done. I swear on Cardul's name.”
Nice offer, but I refuse. … That's your line, Drake. … Come on, you're really forcing my hand here. Don't complain to me later.
A ripple of energy shot through Drake's body and his eyes became clear again. A smile played around his lips as he focused on Modera and spoke: “Okay, I'll accept your offer. Just get off me and let me breathe.”
Modera's brows furrowed as she stared at the vampire in disbelief. She still crawled backwards and got to her feet, allowing him to stand up too.
“I knew that you would come around. Let us gather Maximilian and be off,” she turned around before continuing. “I'll even allow you to save Emily before we begin with his transforma...” her words trailed off, but it was already too late. Rusangis, which Glenn had dropped upon realizing that he had been pierced by his son, was slithering across the ground. Modera only saw it out of the corner of her eyes, but that was hint enough. “Wait, you're not—”
The Devourer pierced her body the moment she turned around. Drake's playful smile had transformed into a wide gleeful one and his eyes glowed with power as he consumed Modera's blood and flesh.
“I thank you for giving me a host, mistress,” he said and bowed half-heartedly, “But you are no longer needed. Finish her off, Drake!”
The beast returned into the depths of Drake's mind and opened the cage that he hid within, but only slightly. Unimaginable power surged through Drake's body and his real self resurfaced. He stared at Modera in confusion, which allowed her to stumble backwards to get away from Rusangis. The sword had drained too much of her power, however, and she fell onto her back after a couple of steps. Her eyes widened in fear when Drake understood what was happening. His sword flew into his hands and darkness gathered around its blade.
“The time has come to accept your destiny, Modera.” he uttered with pure malice in his voice, “Pay the price for your sins, for turning me and my father into monsters, for imprisoning Emily, for killing the inhabitants of Arlin and most of the people who tried to help me and of course for tricking me into killing my father!”
Drake raised his blade and stepped forward, slowly and deliberately. His face was full of loathing and Modera stammered unintelligible words as she crawled away from him.
“You're only delaying the inevitable.”
Erik and Rika's bodies came flying towards him, but Drake raised his left hand and stopped them in midair, overpowering Modera's weak attempt at controlling them. They floated softly towards the ground while he continued to advance.
“Don't tell me you're actually afraid of dying!”
Pieces of rubble fell upon him and ripped through his flesh, but it didn't impede him at all.
“Fine, you've won! I'll leave you alone. Just get away from me!”
Modera's panicked reaction elicited nothing but dry laughter from Drake's throat. “I've won? You think that's good enough? No no no. Revive my father and everyone else you killed. Then we can talk.”
“I cannot revive someone without a body!” she screamed as she arrived at the wall and turned around, unable to escape any longer.
“Then we have nothing to talk about!”
Modera's body trembled from head to toe, but she managed to raise her left hand and yelled: “Return!”
“What?” Fearing the worst Drake accelerated his movement and began to swing his sword. A small beam of energy shot through the sky and into Modera's body, which momentarily made her look healthy again. Then she shifted her hands from the sky and towards him. A loud crack later a figure popped into existence, directly into the path of Drake's attack. Her crimson hair flew through the air as she turned around in confusion.
“No, not again!” Drake screamed and tried to stop himself, but by accelerating his movement he had made it impossible to abort the attack.
Emily's eyes connected with his and widened when she noticed the sword moving in her direction. She fell backwards, without even trying to think, and was covered in a rain of her own hair when Drake cut through it. Then he stumbled over her body, fell forward and swung his sword once more, this time from the left instead of the right.
Modera's gloating smile was wiped away when she saw the sudden turn of events. Had Emily reacted one second later her plan would have come to fruition. But she failed and there was no escape route left. I should have held her in— Modera's body was cut into two, preventing her from finishing her train of thought.
Drake slammed into her body, severing the two halves from each other. He jumped in disgust, blundered backwards and wiped her intestines from his body. Then he he held his left arm towards Emily. “Come, I need a little space.”
“What are—”
“This isn't enough!” he yelled, pointing his sword at Modera's body. “I have to annihilate her completely to make sure that she's gone.”
Emily looked behind her but quickly averted her eyes. She slammed her hand onto her mouth as the color drained from her face. Then she got up and ran away. Drake's eyes followed her util she vanished around one of the remaining buildings. Then he stepped forward.
One step.
Two steps.
Three steps.
That should do it. He turned around and raised his sword into the air. Darkness began to swirl and gather, stretching and widening itself till Drake was holding onto a sword that was about three times as big as himself, while weighing next to nothing.
“I hope you rot in hell!”
The sword came hurtling down and destroyed Modera's body in an instant.
The cage within Drake's mind was slammed shut and vanished. The vampire swaggered to the center of the area where he had fought against Dorr'n Selkesch and an armchair popped into existence. He sat down and conjured an imaginary goblet of blood while a content smile played around his lips.

“Is that it?” asked Emily when she returned. She looked a bit pale and had somehow managed to cut her hair to compensate for the damage Drake had caused. She was also holding onto a pair of trousers that Drake gladly accepted.
“Yes, it's finally over...” he replied and grabbed one of her hands tight.
“What happened to all the others?” Her head turned, resting momentarily on the three motionless figures that she could see.
“Some survived, but most have died...including all the villagers”—Emily's eyes widened and she shook her head in disbelief—“and father...”
Tears returned to his eyes and Emily slammed her free hand onto her mouth as she herself began to cry. “Oh Drake...I'm so sorry...”
But words alone couldn't heal his pain. Emily freed both of her hands, moved a little bit closer and embraced her boyfriend. He did the same and so they remained till Maximilian stumbled over the walls.

A small puff of smoke crash-landed in the forest north of Arlin. It transformed into the bruised and battered body of Modera. Blood was seeping from every orifice and dozens of wounds. She also seemed incapable of walking and had to contend herself with crawling over the ground in the search for small animals that she could suck dry. Halfway towards a rabbit she froze and looked around in confusion and panic. Someone was clapping and moving towards her. She couldn't find him, though.
“I'm impressed, Modera. I didn't think you would have another failsafe prepared, even though it didn't quite work out as intended. That's what you get for leaving your fragment in the tower.”
“Who...are you?” her voice quivered and her body shook.
“Who am I? Well, what did you call me? The Calamity, right?”
Her eyes widened in panic and she tried to stand up, but her feet failed to bear her weight.
“Come on, it's time to say goodbye. Your story is over. You should have accepted your defeat at Drake's hand.”
“No. I'm no you! Drake is the one...who will kill you! Just destroy him...and leave me alone!”
A sword was unsheathed behind Modera's back and she was too frightened to turn around.
“Destiny can be changed and I will not allow you rise up again.”
Tears welled up in Modera's eyes when the cold steel of Assar's blade moved over her flesh, as if searching for the best place to strike.
“Go on's not like I can stop you...but please, just answer me one question!”
Assar chuckled before he asked: “And what would that be?”
“Why did you extinguish our race? Why did you kill Cardul?”
He broke into gleeful laughter as he kicked her in the side and turned her around. Then he kneeled over her body and stared deeply into her eyes. “Cardul isn't dead!”
Her eyes widened in disbelief as he stood up. She was unable to utter a single word before he raised his sword and cut her apart, over and over and over again. Nothing was left of Modera when he was done.
Assar sheathed his blade and glanced towards the ruins of Arlin. Then he turned around and disappeared with a smile on his face.

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