Monday, September 15, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 15: Amidst the Ruins

And here's chapter 15 of A Decaying World. It could have gone a bit faster, but I've worked on another project a few days ago, where I ended up writing about 10K words in only three days. If only all my projects were progressing so fast...
Anyway, I'm going to return to Loop next. I've already had it lying around for too long without progressing the story. And I'm still going to release short stories during the next few weeks before I release the entire horror-collection.


 Chapter 15: Amidst the Ruins

A hundreds tiny grains of sand dug into Drake's skin like crystal shards, slowly rousing his dormant consciousness. His eyes fluttered open and fell upon two massive legs connected to a beast made of stone, a lapucuz. Its leathery tail entwined the vampire's chest, dragging him from the wreckage of his ship to a nearby forest.
Wha—” It was a mistake to open his mouth. A load of sand invaded his oral cavity, eliciting painful rattling coughs.
All motion came to a halt. The beast turned around, sluggishly moving one foot at a time, until half of its hideous face could be seen. One lidless eye focused on Drake while a giant mouth opened up, freeing the beast's snake-like tongue. It darted forward and connected with the vampire's skin, ramming a dozen tiny needles into his flesh.
Within seconds, he was paralyzed, incapable of offering any resistance. But his eyes were still open, able to take in his surroundings. He had never been on this continent, but the endless sea of trees and the giant one towering above them revealed that he had reached his destination, despite plunging into an icy grave.
Need a hand? Yeah, but not yours. Still defying me, after everything I've done for you? Modera might have crushed your mind if I hadn't pulled you back from the brink of despair! That doesn't mean I have to like you. Why don't you go back to sleep? No chance!
Another beast had joined the first, with Maximilian in its clutches. He was still unconscious, unaware of the sand cutting into his face. But it was only a matter of time until his skull would bang against the stones scattered across the forest floor.
So, who's going to save you now? Feyadal might still be out there. And if he's not? Are you just going to let them kill you? They could have done so a long time ago. Maybe they're using us to stock up on supplies. Why wait when we could be free within seconds?
There was no reason to wait, yet Drake refused to change his stance. He didn't want to depend on his inner darkness unless it was absolutely necessary. But when the beast could set him free, he should have been able to do so by himself.
He tried to close his eyes, but his captor's poison had frozen his lids in place. Even such a motion as simple as breathing was impossible. If the same applied to Maximilian, he might have already been dead. Good riddance. Fuck you!
Grasping the power trapped within his body, he tried to imagine a wave of energy surging through his body, dissipating the paralysis. A tingling sensation rippled through his flesh, but when it died down, only his fingers had come back to live. His arms were still trailing behind him, so the best he could have accomplished was to throw a fireball into the sky. A few more attempts might have done the trick, but both beasts stopped dead in their tracks, releasing fulminant roars from their cavernous bodies.
I could be mistaken”, said a squeaky voice from nearby, “but those creatures don't look edible at all.”
But we to them!” replied a much deeper, rumbling voice. Its owner seemed to have trouble using Meceruun's common tongue, as every sentence came in quick bursts and every T ended up sounding like a D. “Else they wouldn't grabbed those guys.”
The lapucuzs roared once more and raised their tails into the air, allowing Drake a glimpse of the newcomers, none of which were human. One could have been mistaken for a human child, if not for his sallow and wrinkled skin. A giant schnozzle was poking out of his face while the rest was covered by unkempt hair. The second creature was the complete opposite: tall, muscular, hairless, and dark-skinned. His four beefy arms could have easily crushed a human's skull.
Since the lapucuzs had no intention of letting fresh meat get away, they flung Maximilian and Drake into the sand and hurled themselves at the newcomers. The smaller creature, a gnome, shrieked and sped away, swirling up the earth beneath his feet. But his companion, a gialuk, was not inclined to take flight. He slammed his fists together, then pulled all arms back and propelled them forward. A shockwave rippled through the lapucuz's shell, partially rupturing it. But the impact hadn't been powerful enough to reach its fleshy bits.
It slammed into the gialuk and pushed him back, but the creature reacted quickly and rammed his feet into the earth, stopping their movement. A manic smile crept onto his face as he slung his arms around the lapucuz's body, lifting the beast from its feet.
Knowing that it couldn't land a direct hit, the lapucuz opened its mouth. Its poison was powerful enough to take most creatures down, but even though gialuk's aren't the brightest of creatures, this one was quite crafty. He threw the lapucuz into the air, grabbed its tongue wit its upper arms, and began to spin the beast like a lariat.
You like that?” yelled the gialuk derisively. “Or do you want down?”
The lapucuz screamed and snapped, as if trying to bite off its own tongue, but there was nothing it could do. And then the gialuk let go, sending it off into the sky. It ascended in a wide arc and them came hurtling down like a comet, audibly taking at least half a dozen trees with it.
The gialuk laughed and stretched his limbs just as the gnome came back, screeching for help. The second lapucuz was close on his heels, rolling through the sand like a cannonball.
Get behind!” bellowed the gialuk as he twisted his body halfway to the right. Then he pulled back his arms, taking a big swing. If timed correctly, the lapucuz's momentum could be used to smash through its shell, maybe even strike it down with a single move. But if the gialuk screwed up … well, it wouldn't be pretty. The lapucuz was moving too fast to be stopped like the first.
The gnome reached his companion and grabbed onto his burly legs as he slithered over the earth. When it came to a halt, it peered over a mountain of muscles at the rapidly approaching threat.
You got this?” asked the gnome, not quite as loud this time.
I do!”
The gialuk concentrated, focusing all power into his right arms. Any other member of his clan would have sidestepped the attack, but Gorn was more than confident in his abilities. He would not lose to a mindless beast that had to coat itself with stones to survive.
Moments before impact, his arms shot forward and time seemed to freeze. Neither did his fists penetrate the lapucuz's shell, nor was he squashed. Then, a crack appeared, followed by another, and then another.
The lapucuz screamed in agony and flew off, cutting a swath into the forest. Gorn smiled at this glorious sight, spread his arms, and let out a mighty roar. His companion chimed in, despite sounding like a broken whistle.
Drake would have been thankful for the rescue, but the gialuk gathered him and Maximilian from the sand and slung them roughly over his shoulders while the gnome stared at them with a watering mouth.
Their captors might have changed, but their fate was still the same.

By the time Drake regained control of his limbs, it was far too risky to struggle. Gorn and Aghat, his gnome companion, had already arrived at their encampment. It was located within the ruins of what might have been a temple once. Most of the building had collapsed and fallen into the grasp of nature, but the parts still covered by a ceiling were home to at least two dozen gialuks. Some of them were resting on dirty fur while others sat around campfires, roasting a variety of animals.
The few who paid attention to Gorn and his prey grumbled at the realization that they hadn't caught anything quite as tasty, but none would have dared to wrench it from his clutches. He might not have been their Chieftain, but the few gialuks who had tried to eat his companion had never been seen again.
Eventually, Gorn arrived at his own chamber. It was one of the few rooms still intact and he didn't need to share it with anyone. He even had his own fireplace, in front of which Aghat slept most of the time, as his tiny body tended to freeze quite easily.
Drake's head smashed into the floor when Gorn let him go, momentarily sending his consciousness into darkness. Meanwhile, Aghat grabbed onto a wheel affixed to the wall and turned it towards the left. A chain at the edge of the room began to rattle as it raised a floor panel from the ground, unveiling a dark hole underneath. Gorn himself had dug it out to keep his prey alive.
I'm hungry!” cheeped Aghat. “Can we eat one of them now?”
Not yet. Have reports to look at. ”
The gnome's mouth dropped as he stared longingly at Maximilian's juicy flesh.
Maybe a small bi—”
No!” bellowed the gialuk and slammed two of his fist onto the rock slab that served as his table.
Aghat screeched and fell to the ground, covering his head, but the strike he expected never came. He should have known better, as Gorn had always treated him like a friend since the day they'd met. Quite unlike his previous master, an old wizard who lived in the World Below and chastised him for the slightest of screw-ups. His ebony staff now adorned the wall behind Gorn's table.
Throw inside before they wake!” said the gialuk as he placed his behind on a stool that had once been a statue of an elven priestess.
Aghat slid his wrinkled hands under Maximilian's body and tried to raise him into the air, but even his compact armor proved to be too heavy for a gnome.
Any problems?” said Gorn amused.
The gnome kicked Maximilian and yelped when his right toe smashed against his armor, almost spraining itself. The gialuk could only shake his head at the gnome's stupidity, but he had other things to worry about. According to his brethren's illegible reports, a small gathering of elves had been sighted at the outskirts of their compound. They didn't tolerate anyone defiling the ruins of Elvone, even though the city had fallen a thousand years ago and none of the elves had ever laid claim to its remains.
Gorn raised his head and saw Aghat push Maximilian over the edge. “We fight soon. You not go out alone.”
The gnome's bare feet waddled across the floor until they reached Drake's motionless form. He leaned down, this time certain that he could raise the body into the air, but the vampire's left hand shot forward and swept the creature from his feet.
All he wanted was to take the gnome prisoner so that he and Maximilian could escape through one of the windows at the side of the room, but Aghat's shriek caused Gorn's blood to boil. He leapt to his feet, wrapped his arms around his table, and threw it at the vampire with an infernal roar. He could have easily hit his companion in the process, but Drake managed to jump out of harm's way in the nick of time.
Seems like he leaves me no choice.
The vampire whirled around, intent on hurling a fireball into the gialuk's face, but his palms remained empty. He knew that his power's had waned since the Battle of Arlington, but he couldn't even feel a spark of magic within himself when one of Gorn's fists propelled him into the wall and robbed him of his consciousness.

I found myself at the edge of a cliff, with a blazing inferno engulfing the land below. The same dream as every day. I glanced over my right shoulder until the burning figure of Emily appeared at the edge of my vision.
How could you let this happen?”
I normally leapt off the cliff at this point—I didn't want to face the monster disguising itself as Emily—but my feet refused to move, despite being in no way obstructed.
Closing my eyes, I imagined my lips moving in the real world, but before I could ask of Maximilian to wake me up, rough hands grabbed me by the collar. I was raised into the air and my eyelids were forced open, revealing a fierce god in the form of my father.
How dare you let my sacrifice be in vain? None of this would have happened if you hadn't been so selfish!”
You're not my father! He perished, body and soul. There's nothing left of him to reprimand me.”
The beast raised me even higher before it flung me away. My back met with a rotten tree that swallowed me whole, until only my face remained outside.
It doesn't matter if we're real or not. You've still failed all the people who depended on you!”
The image of my father unsheathed Rusangis and grabbed it by the tip like a knife-thrower. I knew what would happen next, but the pain was still unbearable. And it never ceased. My body was being consumed and restored at the same time, trapping me in an endless loop of agony.
Emily's face appeared before me now … or what's left of it. Just a burned-out husk with her gleaming eyes. “How can you call yourself the savior if couldn't even protect the one person dear to you?”
I don't call myself the savior!” I'm not sure how I managed to utter a single word through all the pain. “I don't need to save a race … that has already perished!”
Emily's face was torn apart from the inside out. Tendrils of pure darkness burst forth, consuming her flesh and enveloping it like a mask.
You haven't perished yet, unless you want me to end your suffering!”
Another transformation revealed Assar beneath the darkness, with his katana in hand.
I'm not gonna give up … before I've made you pay!”
I tried to swallow my screams to stare at him in defiance, but the pain increased a thousandfold when he plunged his blade into my intestines. A motion accompanied by the laughter of a hundred voices.

Drake”—a strong hand slammed onto the vampire's face, momentarily obstructing his hoarse screams—“are you okay?” Maximilian adjusted his grip and planted his hands on Drake's shoulders, shaking him a couple of times. “Wake up!” When his companion didn't respond, the knight searched his face again and slapped him as hard as he could, instantly silencing his screams.
Drake shot up, but Maximilian had made sure not to have his head anywhere near where the vampire's would be. “Wha...?” He looked around, but the darkness was as impenetrable as for his companion. “Where am I?”
I thought you would know.”
The vampire turned his head towards where Maximilian's voice was coming from. “Maximilian, is that you?”
Do you know anyone else who sounds like me?”
Drake shook his head before he realized how useless it would be. “Of course not.” He paused for a moment and stared at the ceiling while focusing on his eyes, but his senses refused to adjust. “You didn't happen to see a huge, four-armed creature or his gnome-companion, did you?”
Should I?”
Guess we're still under the floor then.”
What floor?” Maximilian had already noticed that the ceiling was hanging a bit low, but he hadn't found any hint of what kind of room this might be.
We've been kidnapped after washing up ashore and have been brought to some kind of temple. I don't how what the creatures inhabiting it are called, but humans must be some kind of delicacy to them.”
Maximilian growled and stumbled to his feet, with his hands above his head. As soon as they hit the ceiling, he stopped moving. “Then we'd better get out of here. Where's the exit?”
I don't know.”
But you can see in the dark, right?”
Drake pressed his hands against the sides of his head and concentrated while squinting into the darkness. It still made no difference.
The vampire let out a frustrated groan before he himself got up and slammed his head against the ceiling. “Dammit!”
What is it?”
I can't see anything!”
Still because of—”
No!” Drake pressed his right hand against his head and dug his fingernails into his flesh. “It's different from before. As if all my power has been sapped. I couldn't even conjure a fireball to protect myself.” That's what you get for letting yourself get captured. I could have prepared you for what was about to happen, but now I'm going to enjoy the sight! “What are you talking about?”
I didn't say—”
Not you!” Drake listened into himself, but the beast remained silent. Say something!
Flickering light pierced the darkness as the floor plate was lifted from the ground, revealing the silhouette of Aghat's face peeking in. “Could you please shut up? I'm trying to—”
Maximilian, who had managed to stand in Aghat's blind spot when the plate was lifted, lunged forward, grabbed the gnome by his nose, and pulled him into the chamber. The floor plate snapped back into position with an audible thud.
No! Let me g—”
Drake threw himself at the gnome and pressed his hands onto his mouth.
Shh! The big guy threw a stone slab at me when I tried to grab this one.”
He did wh—”
Shh!” repeated Drake, a little louder this time.
They listened intently, now with all of their hands on the struggling gnome, but no sounds could be heard from above.
Where's the other fellow?” asked Drake as he slowly removed his hands. In response, the gnome's head short forward and his stummy teeth closed around the vampire's fingers. Maximilian couldn't see what was happening, but the yelp of his companion and the following crunch was all he needed to hear. He quickly rammed his knee into the gnome's head, almost bashing through his skull.
Feeble whimpers escaped the creature's bleeding mouth as his head plopped onto the ground. Simply raising it up might have been enough to finish him off. Drake was kneeling over him, breathing cold air onto his injured hand. When it didn't soothe the pain, he pulled it even closer, which is when his right thumb came into contact with his swollen and throbbing cheek. He stopped breathing and let his hands drop into his lap.
This is getting better by the minute … we've been kidnapped, we don't have any weapons, I can't use my magic, and even my healing powers seem to have disappeared...” He raised his left fist into the air and hurled it down, but Maximilian's snatched it away before it could collide with the gnome's head.
Don't! We might still be able to use him.”
Please … need—”
Shut up!” Drake tore his arm away and stood up. Then he spun around and snarled into the darkness. His left foot rose from the ground and dug itself into Aghat's skull before Maximilian could react. The gnome was dead within seconds.
A surge of power rippled through Drake's mind and struck the armchair the beast was sitting in, transforming its occupant's bored expression into a gleeful smile.
Maximilian leapt to his feet as his eyes widened, but his attempt to grab onto his companion was foiled by the ceiling and Drake's quick reflexes. He winced and groaned when he sank to the ground once more. “Why did you do that?”
He was as good as dead!” A potion could have saved him. “No point in keeping him around. Let's just get out of here before the big fellow comes back.”

After peeking into all directions of the overlying room, Drake clambered out of their prison. Two heavy stone slabs were lying next to him, and two additional ones on the other side of the floor plate. They hadn't been there when he was first brought into the room, although he might have seen something similar lying in a corner.
Lazy flames were crackling in the fireplace, barely caressing the bubbling pot on top. A metal rod was stuck within the embers, apparently having been left there by the late occupant of a dirty bedroll that lay in front of the fire. His companion was nowhere to be seen.
Seems like we might be able to escape unseen,” said Drake as he snuck towards the corridor, giving Maximilian the space he needed to follow.
What happened in here?” said the knight, his eyes roaming the debris scattered across the floor.
That's the slab he threw at me. Must have had no time to clean it up yet.”
Maximilian kneeled down and rummaged through the pile, until he found a piece that snuggled itself into his palm. Its tip was cracked and thinner than the rest, almost like a dagger. “Still better than going at it unarmed.”
Drake looked over his shoulder. Maximilian was about to step over the rubble and advance towards his position. “Could you get me one of those?” His head swung back, once again focused on the hallway.
The knight paused momentarily, eyeing his companion and the rubble in turns. It would have been a matter of seconds to reach down and grab something appropriate, yet he turned away and walked towards one of the windows instead. “Get it yourself.”
The vampire turned on his heels, but all he could see was Maximilian's back. “What's wrong with you?”
What's wrong with me?” The knight leaned over the windowsill and peered into the forest. A row of trees lined this part of the temple, but the adjacent area was occupied by a small pond around which dark silhouette were stationed. One could have mistaken them for statues in the darkness, if they weren't changing positions every few minutes. “I'm not the one who killed a helpless gnome.”
You can't be serious! That beast almost bit my fingers off.”
Which I helped prevent.”
And he was trying to eat us!”
Which he wasn't able to.”
And his screams could have alerted the whole camp.”
After I rammed my knee into his head? Unlikely.”
Drake slammed his right fist into the wall and fell to his knees, with his injured hand pressed against his body. Its veins were pulsing and splattering blood all over the floor. “Why … are you trying to defend … that monster?”
Maximilian spun around, his eyes as cold as ice. “Aren't you a monster yourself?”
The vampire looked up. Wisps of darkness coursed through his eyeballs and his fangs cut into his lips, but the tension fled his body as soon as the echo of a familiar voice reached his ears.
Aghat, what you doing there? Stop playing with food!”
Hide!” hissed Maximilian as he jumped out the window.
Drake emulated his move and flung himself over the opposite windowsill.
Moments later, the towering figure of Gorn appeared from the shadows. One by one, his feet slammed into the floor, until the exit was blocked by his sheer mass. Giant, amber-colored eyes scanned the room, first landing on the glowing metal rod, then on the floor plate. Maximilian had closed the latter, but he hadn't replaced the stone slabs that were supposed to hold it in place.
Aghat, you better not have eaten food raw,” he growled as he stomped forward. “You not going to puke over floor again!” One of his hands slammed onto the wheel—his fingers couldn't possibly fit into the floor cracks—and the plate flew into the air. A few more inches and it would have shattered on the ceiling.
Turning his massive body around, Gorn took a few steps, then fell to the ground. His palms smacked into the floor, holding him upright so that he could peer into the darkness. “Aghat? Where you?” The massive hole gialuk's had in place of a nose began to expand and contract, picking up the appalling stench of his companion's decaying body. “Why you not say anything? And where is food?”
Gorn partially raised his body, then removed one of his hands from the ground and grabbed onto the nearest floor tile. While it wasn't as loose as the one affixed to the chain, it couldn't withstand Gorn's might for even a second.
Maximilian peered over the edge of the window as more and more tiles were scattered throughout the room. He could barely see the gialuk from his current position, but what little he could make out was enough for him to remain in hiding. The chances of surviving a full-frontal assault seemed slim, unless he managed to ram his rock into the beast's eyes.
Before vanishing into the underbrush, Maximilian glanced towards the other side, but there was no sign of Drake to be seen. While he heard the gialuk's increasingly desperate attempt to unearth Aghat, he had other things to worry about.
After landing in front of a tree and peering around its bark to make sure that he wasn't in immediate danger, he had planned to turn around. Yet he toppled over instead. The silvery silhouette of the World Tree loomed on the horizon, glowing as bright as day. Its crown looked weirdly crooked, a detail that Drake had no time to notice as he was overwhelmed by a wave of nausea. His stomach twisted and turned, as if trying to escape the clutches of his flesh, and the world began to spin. The pain lessened as soon as he closed his eyes, but even the slightest glimpse of the tree brought it right back.
A scream full of sorrow and rage cut through the night, drawing the attention of every gialuk in the area. Maximilian quickly scampered deeper into the shadows and even Drake was temporarily freed from his pain. He did not have to worry about nearby patrols, though, as the area he had escaped into was surrounded by a hill that no one could have climbed without gear.
Four mighty paws lifted the gnome's body from his grave and pressed his shattered skull against the gialuk's broad chest, drowning it in tears. “You dare kill Aghat? You dare enrage mighty Gorn?” A myriad of veins pulsed on Gorn's bald head when he raised his face towards the ceiling. “Humans escaped! Find them, crush them, kill them!”

About a dozen elves were gathered around a small campfire atop a hill overlooking the ruins of Elvone when the echoes of a terrific roar reached their sensitive ears. Two of them jumped to their feet and leapt into the air, landing gracefully on branches far above.
What's going on?” asked one of the oldest members of the group. Going by elven standards, even he was but a child who had only just found his place in society.
Something must have startled the gialuks. They're scattering in every direction.”
Are they being attacked?”
Doesn't look like it. Even the guards at the front gate have stormed off.”
The leader of the group smiled and grabbed his nearby weapons, a longbow and a sword so fine that it shouldn't have lasted more than a few fights.
Today must be our lucky day. Scatter and pick them off one by one, then work your way towards the compound. If you see a shooting star, advance into the ruins, otherwise retreat. Let us pray to Mimeidr that we can reclaim them at last!”
Everyone pressed their middle- and index fingers onto the golden clasp holding their emerald tunics together, eliciting a momentary flash of light. Seconds later, they sped off into the darkness. Only two elves who hadn't been sitting by the fire remained. One of them was a young girl, just old enough to be taught how to fight, while the other was badly wounded and unconscious, with his head resting on her lap. The dead body of a lapucuz was propped up behind them, now nothing but solid stone.

Gorn's thundering footsteps faded into the distance as his massive body vanished in the depths of the temple. Maximilian utilized that opportunity to climb back into the room, as he didn't expect the gialuk to return anytime soon. As far as he knew, they had already fled into the woods, which might be the reason why he stormed away without wasting a single glance out the windows.
Aghat's broken body had been laid to rest on his bedroll, with a dirty piece of cloth covering what remained of his face. The glowing metal rod was lying next to him, having unconsciously been removed by Gorn to free up space. It seemed like a much better choice than the rock Maximilian was holding, but the heat emanating from it reached the knight's hand long before touching it.
He glanced at the gnome, then grabbed the cloth with two fingers, rapidly pulling it off. “Sorry, little guy, but I need that more than you.” Turning it over, so that the bloody bits were on the outside, he wrapped it round his right hand. Then he reached for the rod once more. The heat was still seeping through his makeshift glove, but it was at least bearable now.
Drake, what's keeping you so long?” He walked towards the window Drake had disappeared through and looked outside. The vampire was resting behind a tree, with his back towards Mimeidr's radiant light, which Maximilian himself couldn't perceive. “We need to get out of here!”
The rock Maximilian had picked up landed next to Drake's hand, arousing his attention. He turned his head, but not enough to see his companion. “Is the beast gone?”
Didn't you hear it storm off?” The knight grabbed onto the windowsill and swung himself onto the grass, taking in their surroundings.
No … I was kinda incapacitated.”
Maximilian looked at Drake and walked around the tree he was sitting at. “By what? There's no one here.”
The vampire pointed over his shoulder, but all Maximilian could see was the hill and the distant silhouette of the World Tree.
No idea what you're talking about, but we have to get moving. Those beast's could come back at any moment.” He spun around and looked at the hill. As it wasn't quite as forested as the rest of the area, he could see it gradually rise until it merged with the mountains in the distance. “Has your magic come back yet?”
Drake closed his eyes and tried to envision a spark of fire, but even conjuring its mental image proved to be impossible. It's as if something had ripped out the source of his magic and locked it away.
No … and I'm not sure blood would help either.” Oh, it would. For a while. You'd have to consume all of Maximilian's essence, though. Sure, you could try attacking one of those four-armed freaks, but they'd turn you to mush unless you weaken them first.
Maximilian grumbled but left it at that. He walked towards the part of the temple directly connected to the hill and pressed his spare hand against it. The worn out bricks crumbled under his touch, laying bare a myriad of holes, but none were big enough to serve as footholds.
The knight rammed his rod into the ground and reached for the most weathered brick he could find. He inserted as much fingers as possible into two adjacent holes and began to pull, but no matter what he did, the brick wouldn't move.
He spun around and surveyed the rest of the area, but none of the trees were close enough to jump onto the hill without risking severe injuries. Climbing the temple was no option either, as this part of the building had no notable decorations they could have used to climb across.
Guess we'll have to try our luck on the other side. We might be able to escape unseen if we stay in the shadows,” with that said, Maximilian darted towards the window, making sure that it was still safe before jumping back inside. “You coming?”
Yeah,” said the vampire as he picked up Maximilian's rock.

The moment the vampire's feet touched the ground, he was lifted into the air and crashed into the wall, taking the staff of Aghat's former master with him. Maximilian spun around, his metal rod at the ready, but he too was lifted off his feet and fell into the hole Gorn had left behind after ripping out most of the tiles.
A blue pillar of smoke descended from the ceiling and crashed into the floor, spitting out a gaunt-looking gialuk. His muscles were withered, his skin ashen and full of wrinkles, yet he stood as upright as all of his brethren. His arms were raised into the air, revealing one jewel embedded within each palm. One of them, a white pearl, was slowly losing its glow, returning to its original dull state.
Gorn, come back. Intruders still in your room.” A surprisingly powerful voice echoed through the air, despite the gialuks' mouth never having moved. One of his hands pointed into Maximilian's direction and the agate within its flesh flared up, pouring life into the earth.
The knight, who had just raised himself onto his knees, was blinded by an explosion of dirt. It gathered above him like a bridge and then slammed down, where it grew as hard as stone. Only his head and arms were still able to move.
The gialuk then focused on his original target, whose location he had ascertained by tracing Aghat's blood, some of which had still clung to Gorn when they crossed paths.
You I keep alive.” The pearl glowed once more as he reached forward, pulling Drake into his embrace. “You'll be skinned. Be crushed. Be torn apart. All while alive. You will pa—”
Drake propelled his right hand into the air and hurled it down, ramming the stone Maximilian had given him deep into one the gialuk's gray eyes. The beast roared in agony and let go, but not before unleashing the pearl's power once more.
The vampire hit the wall twice as hard as before. Unable to take such abuse, it gave in to the pressure and exploded outwards, flinging Drake into the grass. There he remained, unable to stand up again. All he could manage was to wrap his arms around his shoulders in a pointless attempt to lessen the pain.
At the same time, the gialuk mage had fallen to the floor and clawed out to the stone, opening up the floodgates. Growling in pain, he raised the hand carrying a ruby and glanced at it with his intact eye. It would hurt, a lot. But the torrent of blood seeping from his skull would kill him within minutes if he didn't.
A roar more powerful than even Gorn's echoed through the forest as a short burst of fire fried the mage's wound, cauterizing it. At the same time, the earth around Maximilian crumbled. It could not keep him imprisoned as long as the gialuk's concentration had been scattered.
His hands closed around the metal rod as he leapt to his feet and spun around. The mage was just raising his head, slowly coming to his senses, so there was no time to waste. He ran at the beast with full force, using the rod as a spear. But the gialuk saw him just in time to raise his final hand.
A lightning bolt coursed through the room and headed straight for Maximilian. One hit would have been enough to finish him off, yet he managed to dodge the strike without consciously thinking about it. In the end, it wasn't too different from dodging the traps within his room while blindfolded.
Caught off guard, the gialuk could not utilize his pearl before Maximilian slammed that hand away. One thrust later, the rod ripped through the beast's torso, piercing one of three hearts. But that was not enough.
The mage spewed blood onto Maximilian, then wrapped his arms around him. While weaker than those of a young gialuk, they were still strong enough to hold a human in place. The agate flared up once more and half the room came to life, turning the earth into a storm. It swirled around the opponents, building layer upon layer, until the outside world was hidden from sight.
A single flame lit up the darkness, illuminating the gialuk's mad smile. He was too old to survive losing a heart, but he certainly didn't intend to die in vain.
Let go!” Maximilian screamed and struggled and pulled on the rod, but he didn't have enough breathing room to pry it loose.
You die. And Gorn kill companion. You loo—”
A radiant beam of light shattered the earth and tore through the mage's skull with perfect accuracy. He died instantly and Maximilian fell on his back, free once more.
What the hell...? Where'd that come from?”
He looked left and right, but there was no one to be seen. He did, however, perceive more beams of light cutting through the night. They seemed to be coming from a nearby hill. But there was no time to find out what was going on.
Booming footsteps echoed through the temple, rapidly drawing closer. They were accompanied by a roar that grew in volume with every passing second. Even the ground seemed to tremble in fear.
Maximilian gazed into the darkness and his eyes widened when Gorn's figure peeled itself out of the shadows. He was holding his fists in front of his body like a battering ram.
Oh shit!”
His eyes fell upon the rod still stuck within the mages body, but the chances of surviving such an impact seemed slim, no matter if he managed to wound the beast or not. Therefore, he leapt to his feet and jumped out the same window as before.

Blind with rage, Gorn crossed the room within seconds and burst through the opposite wall. Drake, who was barely conscious, quickly came to his senses when a rain of rubble descended upon him. He dodged it by rolling sideways, yet a a single stone struck him anyway, at the same location where Gorn's fist had slammed into his face. He screamed in pain and the gialuk's eyes focused on him.
You, food!” Three thundering steps later, Drake was raised into the air. “You kill Aghat? The other kill Aghat?”
The vampire spit into the beast's face and was paid back with a punch that should have crushed half his body. Yet he miraculously remained conscious.
You … kill … Aghat?” The gialuk was speaking slower now, as if assuming that Drake hadn't understood him the first time. “Or ... other? Speak … or die!”
A beam of light—an arrow engulfed in sacred magic—zoomed in on Gorn's skull, but the beast slammed it aside and jumped into the air. Despite his obvious weight, he crossed the hill with ease and landed in the enclosed area next to his room.
Speak ... or ... die!” A rain of saliva splattered Drake's face.
Are you shitting me?” the vampire's voice was surprisingly calm for all the injuries he had received. “It doesn't matter if I speak or not, you're going to kill me anyway. But you know what?”
The gialuk's face drew closer. “What?”
I did crush your gnome's tiny little skull, and I enjoyed every second of it.”
Gorn's eyes narrowed in fury as all but one of his hands closed around the vampire's limbs. “You pay … now!”
I don't think so!”
Pure darkness burst from Drake's body as his eyes turned black. Tentacles emerged from within his limbs and pried the gialuk's arms loose. Then they flung the beast into the wall. Without anything holding him up, Drake should have fallen to the ground, yet he remained in the air through sheer willpower.
You should have made sure of what kind of creature you kidnapped. But don't worry, you're never going to make the same mistake again.”
In the blink of an eye, the vampire crossed the gap between him and the gialuk. He raised his hands into the air and shot a pillar of darkness into the night sky. It burst apart at the top, sending a hundred feelers into the woods, all searching for a singular object.
Gorn had just enough time to wrestle himself from the hole his body had made when a sword as dark as the night flew into Drake's hands. Its cold blade tore through the beast's body like butter just as rain rain of golden arrows descended upon the darkness.

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