Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 16: Losing Control

And here's chapter 16 of A Decaying World. It's relatively short with only 4k words, which is why I decided to continue with the next chapter instead of switchting back to Loop. That one might be a bit longer, but I doubt that it will go over 10k words. Which means that my plan of having 26 chapters overall will most likely fail. Not that it really matters.


 Chapter 16: Losing Control

Drake's slumped over figure rested in front of a pillar that a dozen enchanted ropes bound him to. He had been thrown into a small, dank chamber devoid of furniture. Its exit was located far above and inaccessible by normal means. Even a rope would have been insufficient as there was nothing to affix it to.
A rectangular section of the wall flared up, transforming it into a door made of stones. When it swung open, a tall elf dressed in white stepped through. A small clearing could be seen above his shoulder, but the walls wobbled when his feet touched the stones, swallowing the portal.
The elf raised his right hand and turned its palm skyward, conjuring a pea-sized ball of energy. It exploded from the inside out, doubling in size, continuously repeating the same motion until he could wrap his fingers around it.
“I'm ready.”
A ripple of energy tore through the walls as the elf aimed at the vampire, leaving a series of white concentric circles behind. They pulsed in anticipation as the elf let go, propelling the orb into the vampire's chest.
Drake's body reared up and his muscles spasmed as his consciousness was pulled from the darkness. He slammed his head into the pillar and let out a gut-wrenching scream as the sacred energy tore through his flesh, partially destroying the corruption within his blood. Repeatedly bombarding him with such power could have cleansed his vampirism, but the chances of surviving such therapy did not exist.
His screams echoed from wall to wall for an entire minute before his voice died down and his head dropped onto his chest. Fluttering eyelids unveiled a mixture of light and darkness coursing through his pupils, wrestling for control. His fingers twitched, his chest convulsed, and his flesh began to emit smoke, which caused the ropes around his body to glow.
“Why are you here?” said the Elf after pulling a chair out of thin air and planting his behind on its seat.
The vampire raised his shaking head, still unable to keep his eyes open. His mouth opened and closed, as if crunching something into a million pieces.
“Why”—the elf raised his hand and conjured yet another ball of sacred energy—“are you here?”
Drake's eyes open wide, as did his mouth. He shot forward, as far as his shackles would allow, and his flesh changed, fell in on itself, transformed into a mask of pure horror. Blackened, dripping, grotesque. Huge eyeballs atop an even wider mouth. Fangs so sharp they could have crushed a skull with ease.
The darkness dissolved when the orb of light penetrated the vampire's chest, revealing Drake's unchanged face. His head slammed into the pillar once more and an even louder scream fled his throat. Wisps of smoke followed the sound and turned solid upon coming into contact with the air, lashing out at the elf.
“Fool!” The elf vacated his seat as a dozen tentacles tore through it. He landed close to the wall and slammed his palm into the nearby circle before rolling away, evading yet another attack.
A deafening buzzing noise filled the room as a myriad orbs were disgorged from the walls. They honed in on Drake and spun around his screaming figure, dissolving the darkness and hiding his body from view.

“What's going on?” Maximilian was kneeling atop the sole entry-point into Drake's chamber, with one hand on the floor and the other on Elegnis' hilt.
“He's trying to keep Drake's darkness at bay,” said Feyadal, who looked a lot better than after his encounter with the lapucuz.
But why is it so powerful now? He couldn't even use his magic in the gialuk's camp.”
That might be the problem. Without his powers, he's unable to resist the beast's influence. It should have been weakened by Mimeidr's radiance, but it seems to be even stronger than before. As if it draws strength from an unseen force.”
The chaos below calmed down, yet the orbs of lights remained, hovering around Drake's unconscious form, ready to strike at a moment's notice.
Dorr'n Selkesch,” Maximilian spit his name out like a curse.
What about him?”
We encountered what was left of him in the caves north of Pagan, which is when Drake stole his sword and half of his power. He should have been able to reclaim it by getting his hands on the blade, but it seemed to have been sucked dry by then.”
So that's what the beast is using. No wonder it can resist Mimeidr's influence.” The elf pressed his fingers against his smooth chin and rubbed it for a moment. “Destroying the Shadow Lord's essence might be enough to bring Drake back, but I doubt the beast will relinquish it.”
Maximilian looked over his shoulder and glanced at Feyadal. “Can you force him to give it up?”
He shook his head. “Not without destroying Drake's mind. But if we can't come up with anything … then they're going to kill him.”
Maximilian almost lost his balance as he leapt to his feet. “We came here looking for help!”
I know, but it's not up to me.” The elf averted his eyes, so that he wouldn't have to look into Maximilian's. “They won't harbor a vampire, especially not one who's gone feral.”
Then do something!”
I can't! I'm no better than a human now. They won't listen to me … well, except for one person … maybe.” He rubbed his hands over his sweaty neck.
Bring me to whoever it is, now!” yelled Maximilian and rammed his forefinger into the elf's chest.
I'm not sure—”
I don't care.”

Why are you here?” asked the elf once more, now sitting atop a hovering stone slab a few inches away from the vampire. His body was surrounded by a translucent barrier in the form of a globe.
Drake raised his head from his chest, eyes closed. A smirk wider than any human could muster spread across his face before he glanced at the elf, revealing a vortex of darkness behind his lids.
I'm here to kill you a—”
One flick of a finger propelled a dozen sacred orbs into the vampire's chest. He rammed his fangs into his flesh and growled, unwilling to give his opponent the satisfaction of screaming again.
I'm not talking to you. Send out your host.”
Sorry to disappoint”—blood trickled down the vampire's chin—“but there's no one here but me. Drake never knew what to do with his powers, so he left me in charge.”
You can't do destroy your host's mind, only merge with it. And if Drake's friend is to be trusted, he would never have joined forces with you.”
The best nibbled on his lips and slurped up what little blood was left. Then he raised his head and spat it at the elf, only missing him by an inch.
Fine, he's still in here … somewhere. Lost most likely. Haven't seen him for a while.”
You better find him”—the elf raised raised his hands and wreathed them in blue flames—“or I will destroy you both.”

Bright sunlight welcomed Maximilian when he stepped out of the cave that led into Drake's prison. Before him lay a cluster of trees connected by dirt roads and surrounded by flower fields and shrubs. A massive bear with shiny, onyx-colored fur was resting in the grass, either oblivious to the rabbit kits crawling over its body or simply indifferent to their antics. A snake longer than most men hung from a nearby tree, but none of the animals seemed to care about its presence.
“Are they domesticated?” asked Maximilian as he and Feyadal walked down the road.
“You do realize where you are, right?”
The knight shrugged dismissively. “Just asking. You're the only elf I've ever had a conversation with.”
“Let's just say we have a silent agreement with nature. As long as we keep it safe, its children will do us no harm. Unless they're really hungry. Don't expect to be spared you if you cross the borders, though. They're not stupid enough to mistake you for one of us.”
They crossed a sparsely populated square occupied by market stalls and followed the road to a bridge spanning a shallow river. The path beyond led to the largest tree in the village and was illuminated by a thousand glittering sparks emanating from within the earth. They danced and spiraled around each other, ultimately merging with the leaves above, transforming them from green into a radiant pink.
“That's our destination?”
“Yes. It's where some of our most reputable elders live.”
“And you know one of them?”
“Not personally. But I do know one of their guardians.”
Maximilian mustered the elf with skepticism. “What good is that gonna do?”
“Alyssa isn't just any guardian. She's a war hero. Without her marksmanship and tactical knowledge, we would have lost more than just Elvone. Delaying Drake's execution should be easy if she puts in a good word for him. And who knows, she might even know of a procedure to save his mind.”
Maximilian looked back towards the tree. Two elves dressed in golden armor were guarding the entrance. One of them was holding a silver spear in his left hand, the other in his right. One motion was all it took to block intruders from entering.
“You think they're going to let a human inside?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Feyadal stepped onto the bridge and marched towards the tree. Maximilian followed closely behind but slowed his steps when a series of sparks rose in front of him. Curious, he reached towards them and cupped his hand. Every attempt to capture one of them failed, however, as they simply passed through his skin.
Feyadal looked over his shoulder and smiled when he noticed Maximilian's antics. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” Maximilian hastened his steps and tore his eyes away from the sparks. His right hand had gotten a tad brighter, but the effect faded before he could take notice of it.
The guards were quietly chatting with each other, sometimes breaking into laughter, but turned their heads and fell silent before Feyadal and Maximilian could understand a single word. Then their spears clashed.
“What do you want?” asked the elf on the left. His hair was as golden as his armor and was held in place by a bandeau made of grass. His eyes, on the other hand, were as dark as the night and speckled with white dots, as if reflecting a starry sky. They were framed by a series of wrinkles, betraying his otherwise youthful appearance.
“We want to speak to Lady Alyssa.”
The guard chuckled and glanced at his companion who chimed in. “And why would she want to see a brainwashed wannabe-elf?”
Feyadal clenched his fists behind his back, yet his expression remained neutral. “Brainwashed? What in Mimeidr's name are you talking about?”
“Do you take us for fools?” The guard swung his spear around and aimed it at Feyadal's chest, forcing him to back away. “What elf would travel with a human and a vampire out of his own free will?”
Maximilian stepped forward and pushed the spear away before going eye to eye with the guard. “An elf who wants to make the world a better place instead of sitting on his ass.”
Another spear shot forward, now threatening to tear trough Maximilian's throat. “Know your place, human. And don't spout nonsense. What could an elf without magic possibly achieve?”
“I've helped kill Modera!” Before I lost what little magic I had.
“Oh, you helped kill her?” The first guard ripped his spear out of Maximilian's clutches and laughed out loud. “And how much did you contribute?” He leaned forward, almost spitting into Feyadal's face. “Ten percent? Five? Maybe less? A fully fledged elf could have stood toe to toe with a beast of her caliber, which she must have known since she never dared to venture into our territory.”
Now it was Maximilian's turn to laugh, but not before he flung the other spear away. “Really? So you're telling me you could have defeated an army, a mythril golem, a dragon, and one of the most feared vampires of the last millennium all by yourself?”
Swirling eyes focused on the knight's face as the guard's spear began to glow. “I could certainly defeat you!”
“That's not what I was asking, but if that's supposed to be a challenge, then I accept.” Maximilian drew Elegnis with threatening smile and aimed its tip at the guard. A storm of sparks engulfed the blade, filling it with radiance rivaling the sun. “Don't complain when you lose, though.”
The elf swiped his fingers across his eyes, creating a thin film of energy to filter out the light. “I'd never lose to a human.” The glowing spear danced through his fingers and painted white arcs into the air before it clashed with Elegnis.
“And I never lose to anyone.”
The elf snarled and Maximilian grinned when both of their bodies were raised into the air and flung away. Another elf had stepped out of the tree. She wore a gown as blue as the sky, which showed off her arms and collarbone but concealed the rest of her body. Her shoulder-length hair swayed in an unfelt breeze and seemed like the perfect extension of her dress. Even her eyes appeared to be blue, but that impression faded when she lowered her tanned arm and revealed them to be violet.
Feyadal fell to his knees, but she stopped him mid-motion by grabbing onto his chin and pulled him back up. She did not perform the same deed for the other guard who had knelt down beside her, however.
“Fey, it's good to see you again.” Her hand moved from his chin to his cheek, stroking it lovingly for a moment before letting go. “Could you please tell me what this commotion is all about?”
He was about to bow but quickly snapped back, as if recoiling from a horrible sight. “Of course, Myl....” he paused when the smile she had greeted him with melted away. “Of course, Aly. We, that is me and Maximilian”—he pointed towards the knight, who was sitting on all fours and shaking his head in confusion—“were trying to visit you when the guards stopped us.”
Alyssa looked over her shoulder, piercing the kneeling guard with a steely glance. “And why is that?”
“He's travelling with a human and a vampire,” said the guard without looking up. “We couldn't risk letting them defile the sacred tree.”
“And that is all?” She turned around the color of her eyes intensified, transformed into a deep red.
The guard's body began to shudder, as if something was pushing him down. “Yes, that is...”—cold sweat trickled down his face and he slammed his free hand onto the ground to support his weight—“...not all. An abomination like him has no right to enter the sacred tree, let alone live amongst us.”
“How dare you!” A loud slap echoed through the village and the elf fell to the ground. “Fey might be different, but he's still...” She turned her head and peered into his eyes, then focused on his chest. Her brows furrowed in confusion and her lips tightened before she looked up again. “What happened?”
The elf back away before Alyssa's hand could caress his shoulder. “I saved my friends and paid the ultimate price. That's all there is to it.”
“So that's not why you're here?”
“No, we need you to help someone. A vampire.”
Alyssa opened her mouth, then closed it again, apparently changing her mind before uttering a single word. “I'll see what I can do, but I can't make any promises. Gather your friend and follow me.”

Maximilian had a hard time believing his eyes when he entered Alyssa's room. It resembled those of other women, but every piece of furniture seemed to have grown out of the tree itself. Only small objects, like a hand mirror and the books lining the walls, were artificially made. A small basin filled with glowing water occupied the center of the room, emitting the same sparks as the earth in front of the tree. The table placed above it did not glow, however.
“Please sit down,” said Alyssa and pointed towards the couch surrounding the table. It was overgrown with leaves and could be entered from two sides, offering enough space for at least a dozen people. Maximilian had his doubts about how comfortable it could be, since its frame was also made of wood, but he found himself pleasantly surprised.
“How can it be so soft? Even the one inside my room feels hard in comparison.”
“Magic,” is all Feyadal said.
Alyssa vanished in a small side chamber and returned with a tray upon which tree cups had been placed. The liquid within was mostly translucent and smelled like tea, but Maximilian couldn't come up with a suitable comparison. It felt strangely refreshing even though the cups were warm to the touch.
“So you're the one they found injured in the woods?” said Alyssa with her eyes on Feyadal as she sat down.
“Yeah. I was trying to get help when a lapucuz attacked me.”
An amused smile flashed across her face before she took a sip from her cup. “Gotten a bit stiff over the years, have you?”
“It's not like that. I had to carry two enchanted swords with me. I couldn't possibly leave them on the beach. And the beast appeared so suddenly that I had no time to draw an arrow.”
“You're telling me a lapucuz managed to sneak up on you?” Alyssa chuckled and took another sip.
“Could we please postpone this banter until we've saved Drake?” interjected Maximilian and slammed his palm onto the table.
Alyssa's gaze grew cold as she focused on the human, but she nodded nonetheless. “Of course. Drake's your vampire friend?”
Her guests nodded simultaneously.
“Has he been affected by Mimeidr's power?”
Another nod.
“I guess it's to be expected. The World Tree sent out a powerful burst of energy not long ago. We still don't know why. None of the scouts have found anything amiss.” She stood up and shook nonexistent dust from her gown before she walked towards a round window. It offered her a glorious view of the village and the lands beyond. The World Tree couldn't be seen from her current position, though, as the window was facing south. “You don't happen to know anything about that, do you? Because if your friend was involved, I might not be able to help.”
Feyadal and Maximilian looked at each other for a moment, exchanging gestures that Alyssa couldn't see even if she decided to turn around.
“Something was following us,” said the elf at last. “Something that could destroy the entire world if we don't act fast. Drake seems to be a key player in stopping it. As well as someone he has to meet on this continent.”
Alyssa spun around with an anxious look on her face and peered deeply into her friend's eyes. “Something that could destroy the entire world? But all creatures capable of such a feat should have died in the War.”
“Or should have been locked away, I know. But someone has been killing vampires left and right since it ended, until only Modera was left. A person who goes by the name of Assar. He might also be known as the Calamity.”
“I fought him once,” said Maximilian, “but he must have been holding back.”
“Hmm...” Alyssa brushed a rogue strand of hair out of her face. “I've never heard of him. But if you're telling the truth—”
“Do you really think I would lie to you?” said Feyadal.
Alyssa shook her head. “Let me see...” She walked towards the table, almost unnoticeably stroking Feyadal's hair as she passed him by, and propelled it into the ceiling, where it merged with the tree. Subsequently, she kneeled down and held her hands above the water, moving them in concentric circles. Its surface shimmered and solidified until it reflected Drake's image like a mirror. He screamed words the water couldn't transmit, but his black eyes were all they needed to see. “That doesn't look good.”
“No kidding,” mumbled Maximilian.
“Has he always been like this?”
“I would have long since killed him if that were the case. But no, he's been his usual self most of the time. Despite losing his father and his girlfriend.”
Alyssa peered into the water and drew circles around Drake's face. “Poor boy. Losing the people he cared for and being robbed of his power must have left him weak. No wonder the beast took over. I'm not sure his condition can be reversed, though. Not by normal means.”
“Do whatever it takes.”
She looked into Maximilian's determined face and nodded.

“Have you found your host yet?” said the elf from atop his stone slab.
“I haven't bothered looking,” the vampire cackled like an old hag as he had long since overexerted his voice.
“Do you want to die so desperately? One snap of my finger can grant you that wish.” The room was now awash with light. Only the area behind Drake's pillar was bathed in shadows as the elf had no intention of bringing the entire structure down while he was still within.
“Different question. Are you sure that you can kill me before I can kill you?”
The elf squinted at the vampire and inconspicuously examined every corner of the room, but he couldn't find so much as a hint that the beast had anything up his sleeve.
“I am.”
The vampire pouted before he broke into laughter. “Damn, you got me. Go on then, kill me! If you dare...”
Irritated, the elf raised his hand, but his eyes kept scanning the room.
“Come on. Do it!” The flesh around the vampire's mouth receded, giving it a truly grotesque appearance. “Don't be such a wimp. Think about what the others will say when you fail to finish off one measly vampire!”
“They won't say anything,” spoke a powerful voice from above.
The elf didn't need to look up, but the vampire raised his head as far as he could and spotted Alyssa as well as his companions. His face instantly returned to normal. “Maximilian, thank god. Get me out of here, will you?”
“Save your breath. You're not Drake.”
The beast cackled for an entire minute before it spoke up again. “Oh well, it was worth a try. Hey, lady, could you walk a few steps? I can almost see your luscious—agh”
The elf was standing in front of the vampire now, with his fist embedded in his stomach. “Don't you dare talk to Lady Alyssa like that!”
“It's okay, you can leave.”
The elf stared into Drake's smiling face and backed away until the cold surface of the wall greeted his flesh. He raised his right hand and knocked once, then twice in quick succession, then three times very slowly. One blinding flash later, the door had reappeared. He spun around and hurried through before the beast could throw anything at him.
“So they've decided to send a woman now? Pathetic. How about letting me go instead? I'll even promise you a quick death.”
“How about a counteroffer? I will set you free if you survive what comes next.”
Maximilian turned on his heels and opened his mouth, but Alyssa commanded him to be silent with a single motion of her hand.
“Do your worst!”
Alyssa smiled and spread her arms before closing her eyes. Words that Maximilian couldn't understand left her mouth in a steady stream and reverberated through the room, getting stronger and stronger with every passing second. A shockwave emanated from the wall opposite the vampire and a miniscule hole was ripped into its structure. It continued to expand with every repetition, slowly transforming into a gaping maw that led into darkness.
“Oh no,” yelled the beast theatrically, “you've forced me to stare into the abyss. What will I possibly do no—”
A light flared up from within and grew rapidly, engulfing the vampire's entire field of vision. The ropes holding him in place burst into flames, but he had no time to react before he was sucked into the vortex that the light had created.
“Where'd he go?” yelled Maximilian when the light had receded, giving way to a deserted chamber.
“Into the World Below. And he will not be able to return unless he achieves balance.”

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