Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Decaying World - Chapter 13: The Calamity

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Chapter 13: The Calamity

While Emily looked after Feyadal and the twins Maximilian and Drake returned to the battlefield, crossed the chasm and gathered the remaining soldiers in the forest. Then they cut apart a couple of trees and used them to built a temporary bridge into the village.
What happened hours later should have been a joyous occurrence, but Drake was slowly descending into a catatonic state and barely noticed the return of Arlin's inhabitants. Thanks to the timely arrival of the twins they had been able to evacuate the village right under Modera's nose. Erik and Rika took two villagers at once, carried them over the walls, evaded sparsely scattered enemy forces—Modera never expected Drake's group to strike from the back—and hid them in a nearby cave. Upon one of their return trips they were almost caught in the blaze that destroyed the mayor's building. They tried their best to save everyone, always hoping that Modera wouldn't notice the increasing amount of people scattered on the walls, but it turned out to be in vain. Some villagers were crushed by falling beams or caught fire right in front of their eyes, which is when they chose to abort the mission and escaped with everyone they had already evacuated.
More than 50 percent of Arlin's inhabitants survived the battle, but the twins never forgot the people they had left behind and trained even harder to make up for their incompetence—as they themselves put it. Together with the other villagers they erected a marvelous black marble tablet—sponsored by the king of Pagan himself—in front of Arlin to honor the dead. It also served as a gravestone to those that left no corpse behind to bury.
It should have been a nice gesture, but all that Drake could think about—at least during the few moments that he was actually lucid—was that his hasty attempt to save everyone had only led to more deaths.
It's not your fault! You did your best to save everyone and that is all that counts,” is how Emily tried to appease him, but it didn't help.
No. I got everyone killed. I should have accepted Modera's offer and defeated her together with Maximilian and my father. Why did I ever decide to play the hero?
Eventually Maximilian and his soldiers left the village. They promised to return with enough men to rebuilt Arlin as fast as possible. The twins remained behind to help clear the rubble while Feyadal had fallen into a coma that lasted two weeks. When he awoke at last he fled into the forest to hide his tears. He didn't care about the magic he had lost and even his longevity was barely worth a mention, but his connection to nature had also been severed, which made him no better than a mere human—a race that many elves despised.
About two months passed, a time span during which Drake barely felt alive. He awoke, ate breakfast with Emily, listened to her ramble on and gated at nothing at all until he went to sleep again. He had expected to be haunted by gruesome nightmares. Instead he was plunged into a dark abyss from which he resurfaced without dreaming even once. The only thing that disturbed his slumber was the sound of rolling thunder, which drew ever closer. But he forgot about it the moment he awoke. Only when a voice was trying to reach out to him did he slowly come to his senses. He could barely understand it at first and the most he got was: “Stop...wasting...ime. approaching. You have to fulfill...destiny, or...will end!”
Drake tried to call out to the Alp in an attempt to understand his message, but the only reply he got was an image of a hand sticking out of a wriggling mass of flesh.
One day he stepped into the light and heard the chirping of birds, mixed in with the pounding of hammers and the grating concision of saws. He was greeted by a couple of villagers, albeit cautiously, and responded with a wide smile—a smile too wide to be entirely genuine. He tried to strike up a couple of conversations, but they trailed off very quickly. All he managed to learn was that the twins and Feyadal had returned to Pagan and that Maximilian had done the same after he failed to rouse Drake from his “slumber”.
Eventually Drake left the village to go for a walk. He felt a headache approaching and hoped that the fresh morning air would help clear his mind. Shortly afterwards he found himself atop the hill where he had confessed to Emily. He closed his eyes and envisioned the scene once more, but the memory wasn't strong enough to wipe away his regrets. He propped himself against a trunk, stared at Arlin and listened to the rustling of the treetops and the birds singing within. Warm salty tears trickled down his chin as his consciousness faded.
He was awoken by the rumbling of thunder. A massive obsidian-colored storm cloud hung in the air. It covered the sky as far as the eye could see. There was no rain, though, and Drake couldn't perceive any lightning bolts either. He turned back and forth in the hopes of catching a glimpse of them on the horizon, but the only indication of a lightning strike was the rolling thunder that returned time and time again. That alone was strange enough, but Drake also noticed a strange, sickening smell—a mixture of rotten eggs and decaying flesh—hanging in the air.
His gaze wandered towards Arlin, expecting the worst, but nothing looked amiss, at least not from his current vantage point. He turned sideways and froze. A dark, robed figure stood between two trees and was staring directly at him. Drake's body trembled with uncontrollable fear and cold sweat ran down his neck. He tried to open his mouth, wanted to know who this person was, but his muscles were paralyzed.
The stand-off seemed to go on forever, but it actually lasted only a few seconds, after which the figure turned around and walked down the hill. Drake fell to his knees and pressed his arms into the ground. His heart was pounding heavily against his chest, his breathing came in short raspy bursts and he felt the need to vomit. A burning sensation spread throughout his throat before gastric acid ran down his tongue and dripped onto the floor. A nauseated expression flashed over his face as he tasted his horrible stomach fluids.
How long are you going to keep this up? Don't you have something to do?
Drake raised his head and stared at the spot where the figure had been. He slowly raised one of his legs, shaking even more than before, and toppled over when he tried to stand up.
You're really pathetic, you know that?
The primordial beast resurfaced and Drake jumped to attention as if a puppet-master had grabbed onto his strings.
Don't take control of my body!” screamed Drake as he resurfaced.
Then stop acting like an idiot! Why would you be afraid of some guy in a robe? I don't know! But I doubt he was out for a walk.
After having more or less regained control of his body Drake stumbled forward, slowly and deliberately. Going any faster would have sent him in a nosedive down the hill.

He approached the village with dread. His heart was thumping painfully and his movement slowed to a crawl, unwilling to take the final steps that would get him into the village.
Come on, move! What could possibly have happened? I'm sure this is just some strange weather anomaly. And this figure might have been nothing but a figment of my imagination. Perhaps I was still half asleep and was seeing the last fragments of a dream.
He closed his eyes, steeled himself for what was to come and breathed in deeply, only to end up choking since the stench had gotten even stronger. Tears welled up in his eyes and he pressed his hands onto his knees as he tried to rid himself of the atrocious taste in his mouth by spitting onto the ground.
Goddammit, what is this?”
When he raised his body once more he saw something vanish around the walls. His body moved instinctively and he rounded the corner within seconds, only to freeze again.
Arlin had been robbed of its colors. Only shades of gray remained. Drake couldn't see any corpses nor any damage—not any new damage, at least—but something was still off. He entered the village with shaking legs and let his gaze wander: three women were talking to each other, a few construction workers were brooding over a set of plans, a cat was chasing a mouse, a door was being slammed shut, a cat was chasing a mouse, a door was being slammed shut, a cat was—
What the hell?”
He turned in circles and saw the same scenes over and over again, as if the entire village had been trapped in a loop that lasted only a few seconds. Breathing heavily he moved one leg in front of the other, all the way to the group of women he saw earlier. Despite seeing their mouths move he couldn't hear a single sound, no matter how much he strengthened his hearing. But his skills had suffered since he fell into a catatonic state, especially since he had refused to drink more than a drop of blood a day.
He raised his right hand, which began to shake with increasing intensity, and moved it towards one woman's shoulder. The moment his fingers touched her clothes a scream of agony filled the air and her body crumbled into dust. His eyes widened, he stumbled backwards, slammed his hands onto his mouth in disbelief and fell on his ass.
The loop continued as if nothing had happened, but the shattered form of the woman never returned to normal.
What is going on? This...this can't be happening!”
The instant he finished his question he could hear the sound of shuffling feet from behind. He whirled around, jumped to his feet and stared into the face of an old, toothless man with long white hair covered by a black top hat. He was wearing matching vestments similar to those of a priest and supported his weight with a long golden staff embedded with emeralds.
Who are you?” asked Drake with fury in his voice.
The man removed his hat with his right hand, bowed slightly, put the hat back on and said: “I am The God of Destruction.”
Drake lunged forward, determined to smash through the newcomer's skull, but the man stepped sideways without hurry and Drake fell into the dirt.
You of all people should know not to judge a person by its cover. I am not evil, despite having such a sinister sounding title.”
Drake gathered himself from the ground and turned around. “Then why are you here?”
To answer your question. This”—he spread his arms, revealing that he didn't even need the staff—“is the end of time. Or at least the beginning of the end.”
The end...of time? I don't understand.”
The god lowered his hands and gazed into Drake's eyes. “Meceruun is decaying from within, has been since the end of the war. This world is dying and what you see before your eyes is the first sign of the end.”
But why now? Why here?”
The man closed his eyes for only a moment. Then he pointed at Drake. “Because of you. You are the bringer of destruction. You have hastened the end.”
Drake stepped backwards, mumbling incoherently: “But I...why...what...I haven't done anything!”
The god lowered his hand and shook his head. “You don't remember doing anything, but that doesn't change the facts. Meceruun would have had another century, perhaps even more, if not for you.”
Why?” Drake screamed.
I am not allowed to tell you.”
Then why are you even here?” Drake stepped forward with clenched fists, tempted to hit the man again.
I am here because the Alp couldn't reach you. He is lost inside The Void. And don't complain to me. Complain to yourself. You decided not to know.”
The vampire looked at him in confusion, unable to comprehend what he was talking about. “And what do I do now? How can I reverse this?”
You don't. All you can do is stop it from spreading by destroying the source.”
Drake lunged forward, grabbed the god's vestments and pulled him face to face. “Are you kidding me? Don't tell me that the entire village will be trapped in a loop for all eternity!”
It won't.” An invisible force grabbed onto Drake and flung him backwards. “Arlin is done for. It's inhabitants are as good as dead. You already killed one of them with your own hands and the same fate awaits all of them.”
A mask of despair was etched into Drake's face and he shook his head in denial. “No! You're lying. I...we just saved the village. They were in the middle of rebuilding it. How could they possibly die for some arbitrary reason?”
This wouldn't have happened if the Alp had been able to contact you. But it's too late now. I'm sorry.”
Drake clenched his right fist, it burst aflame and a ball of energy shot towards the god. He made no move to evade nor did he protect himself from the impact. A deafening explosion cut through the silence, but the god of destruction didn't even flinch. When the smoke dissipated Drake's fists connected with the old man's face. “You called yourself a god, didn't you? I'm sure you could do something about this!”
The god grabbed onto Drake's arm and smashed him into a building without using any force at all. “I am not allowed to interfere. You are the only one who can stop this.”
Drake broke into maniacal laughter while he dug himself out of the rubble. “Are you shitting me? I, a mere vampire, am supposed to stop something that you, a god, cannot?”
You are not a mere vampire. You are—”
The savior? Is this what it is all about? Is Assar the source?”
The god looked into Drake's eyes without responding. He was nibbling on his lips, apparently unsure of what to say next. The sound of rolling thunder was still shattering the silence once in a while. It seemed to be getting closer.
Hello?” said Drake irritatedly.
Go to Modera's tower if you want to know more.”
But Modera is dead! … Isn't she?”
The god nodded and faded out of existence. Drake turned around in puzzlement, but the old man was nowhere to be seen. He saw something else, though. The figure of a person was approaching the village. A person clothed in a dark azure-colored dress. A person with long crimson hair. His heart skipped a beat when he realized who it was.
Drake broke into a run, waved his hands above his head and screamed “Emily, get away from the village!” but she was too far away to hear his words. And to make matters even worse she also began to run towards him.
No, stay back!”
Still running.
Get away?”
Get the hell away!”
She faltered for a moment, but only because she stumbled over a rock.
No! Get back!”
Her movement slowed down, but she had almost reached the entrance to the village. Drake concentrated, gathered his energy into his legs and jumped with all of his might. His hands connected with her body and she was swept from her feet as they flew backwards onto the ground.
Black lightning struck the center of Arlin. The rumbling of the sky turned into an unending cacophony of noise as one lightning bolt after the other hit the village. Everything it came into contact with turned into dust, until the whole area was engulfed by a thick plume of smoke. It appeared as if the sky was falling and the world itself was coming to an end.
Screams of agony reverberated through the air and somewhere at the edge of his hearing Drake also noticed cackling laughter filled with malice. He looked behind him in a vain attempt to pierce the smoke. The silhouette of a dark figure appeared right in front of his eyes. An otherworldly screeching sound dug itself into his mind, his eyes began to roll in his sockets and his vision faded away.

His consciousness returned hours later. Momentary peace had returned to Meceruun. The birds were chirping, a warm breeze was flowing over the land and the sun was bathing the earth in its radiance without being blocked by a single cloud. Only the torched and sandy area where Arlin had been located told of the events that had transpired.
Emily!” Drake yelled and looked sideways. His right arm was covered in a thick, human-shaped layer of dust. “No...” he whispered in disbelief as he sat up and dug through it, as if hoping that her body was buried underneath. “No. No. No!” he yammered in anguish. “I got you out of there! You should have been saved!” Still digging, still finding nothing. “No, this has to be a trick. There's no way that it should have looked like a body after this chaos!”
He was right. The dust shouldn't have been human-shaped. It didn't matter, though. He knew that Emily was gone. But he will never know that she was killed after the clouds had vanished. If only he hadn't fallen unconscious...

Drake had lost everything. His father, his girlfriend, his entire village. Only the shadow sword remained. It shouldn't have been there. It was locked away in a chest inside his house. But it lay right next to him when he was done screaming Emily's name. He picked it up and began to walk, to shamble like a zombie. His goal was Modera's tower. He needed to find closure before the end. Perhaps he would try to save the world. Or maybe he would kill himself. Both would be fine. One less painful.

He kicked in the gates, never noticing Aramal wan Dago's gravestone in front of the tower. His soul was finally able to move on after Modera had been defeated. General Armakal was the one who dug the grave, since he had come to know and like the man during his last hours on earth.
Drake climbed the stairs without being fully aware of his actions. The mysterious presence above had fallen silent. Maybe it wanted to see what was going to happen next.
Another door was kicked in and Drake entered the uppermost chamber of the tower. All the furniture should have been incinerated, but instead it had been replaced with a throne. It was occupied by a man who was looking at him with a bemused expression. He had an angular face, fine silvery hair that fell over his neck, wore a matching set of tight-fitting clothes and had a brown coat draped over his shoulders.
Drake stared him in disbelief, his mouth agape.
You really left me hanging here. I expected you weeks ago.”
Impossible!” Drake's voice quivered.
No, I really did exp—”
How are you still alive?”
Why would a little bit of electricity kill me? Maybe I shouldn't have put on such an exaggerated show.”
Drake's body trembled, his knuckles turned white and his fingernails drew blood. “Why?”
Why what?”
Why did you do all that?” Drake screamed, unable to contain his rage.
You have to be a bit more specific. I do quite a lot of things.”
Drake shot forward, swung his sword and cut the throne in two.
The man reappeared inside the doorway, which made it appear as if they had switched places. “Is that a way to greet your host? I haven't even introduced myself.”
Drake rammed his fists into the wall and screamed through gritted teeth: “I already know who you are! I only want to know the reason!” He whirled around, readied his blade once more and appeared in front of the door within the blink of an eye. His opponent unsheathed his crimson Katana, parried the blow and disarmed Drake at the same time. Then he held both weapons at the vampire's neck.
No, you do not know who I am. My name isn't Xar. I am Assar. The Calamity. Your destiny! And I think we have to talk.”
Assar entered the room, snapped his fingers and the doors slammed shut.

To Be Continued
In The Next Part Of A Decaying World

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