Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 17: In the Depths of Belia's Tower

Here's another chapter of A Decaying World. And that's about all I have to say for now. I should really try to realize my horror collection soon, but I'm not sure I'll find the time to finish it up in the coming days as I've got some things coming up.


Chapter 17: In the Depths of Belia's Tower

Drake hadn't had a good night's rest since the destruction of Arlington, but when the beast overpowered his mind he was plunged into darkness, into an almost comatose state. He could see flashes of reality when the vampire's hold on his body was compromised, but they never lasted for long and quickly faded like a dream. Only when a radiant light penetrated every corner of his mind did he finally resurface.
Cold wind howled past his ears when he sat up. It had already chilled his body to the bone, so he rubbed his freezing hands while inspecting his surroundings. Grey rocks could be seen in every direction. They were illuminated by a ghostly flame floating above. Similar flames could be seen in the distance, but the area in-between was filled by impenetrable darkness.
Look who's finally awake,” said an awfully familiar voice from above. Drake's own voice, just more deeper, more menacing.
What the...?” Drake jumped to his feet and looked up, discovering his spitting image floating through the air. It was sprawled out on a disc made of darkness. “Who are you?”
His doppelganger chuckled and brushed through his slicked-back hair before he spared him a glance. His crimson eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. “Come on, have you already forgotten me? I'm the darkness slumbering within your mind. The source of your power.”
Drake furrowed his brow and looked around in confusion. “Why does it looks so different this time?”
Because we're not inside your head.”
Then why are we separated? Have I been cured?”
The beast laughed and his voice reverberated throughout the darkness, echoing back and forth from barriers unseen. “There is no cure. The only way to destroy me is to destroy us both.” He raised his right hand and snapped it shut, as if grasping onto something that couldn't bee seen. “But there's magic in air, magic so powerful that it was able to split us apart. Don't get your hopes up, though. It's only temporary.”
Drake sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “How did we even end up here?”
Some elven bitch threw me through a portal. Said she'd let me go if I survived this place.”
So why haven't you left yet? Couldn't you just float to the exit?”
I tried, but whoever created this place must have made sure that his puzzles aren't circumvented.”
What puzzles?”
See that lever over there?” The beast pointed towards an object that Drake had mistaken for a stalagmite. “Give it a shove and you'll see.”
Drake had no reason to trust the beast, but seeing as the rest of the island was empty, he didn't have much of a choice. So he strolled towards the lever, wrapped his arms around its top, then gave it a good push. The darkness seemed to grow brighter and a faint hum filled the air.
Look behind you.”
A path paved with glowing platforms had appeared in the air, connecting this island to another in the distance. It faded out of existence the moment Drake let go off the lever.
See? None of us can cross over unless the other holds onto the lever.”
Couldn't you have used your magic to hold it in place?”
Do you think I'm retarded? I've already tried everything I could think of, but I can neither float away nor manipulate the lever without actually touching it.”
Drake wrapped his arms around his body and rubbed his freezing flesh. He might as well have not worn anything, so easily did the cold penetrate his body. “What did the elves hope to achieve by throwing us in here?”
I guess they want us to cooperate so that I don't take over your mind again.”
You did what?” Drake looked up, his voice mad with anger.
The beast shrugged with a smile on his face. “You're the one who lost control and almost got himself killed. What choice did I have? If you'd simply accept what you are, we wouldn't be in this situation.”
I accept that I'm a creature of the darkness, but I'll won't let myself be consumed by my hunger!”
And that is why we will always wrestle for control.”
Whatever. Let's just get this over with,” Drake grumbled and turned around, activating the lever again.
The disc below the vampire dissipated and he fell gracefully, his descend slowed down by his fluttering robes. “You're letting me go first? How nice of you.” He vanished instantly, accelerating faster than the eye could see.
Another path appeared in front of Drake, prompting him to let go off the lever. He stared it for a moment, trying to conjure the energy needed to cross it as fast as his counterpart, but whatever magic had separated them had also returned him to his original state. So he sprinted across instead, just in case the beast decided to drop him into the void.
Two levers were waiting for Drake on the other side. One of them occupied the northern edge, the other the southern edge. It was only logical to assume that these were part of a puzzle, but they looked identical to each other and there were no hints to be seen.
Hey, did you also—” You don't need to scream. We're still connected. Okay. Did you also have two levers to choose from? No, the island looked like a reflection of the first. Hmm...
Drake squinted into the darkness, examining both directions thoroughly. There was a single island up north, about as far away as the first. He couldn't see anything in the opposite direction, however.
Could it really be that easy?”
He walked to the northern lever and gave it a slight push. It refused to budge. So he wrapped both hands around it and applied all of his weight, which still accomplished nothing. Only after kicking it a few times did it finally relent. As soon as it snapped into position, a distant growl echoed through the cave.
What did you do? I pushed the lever, what else? And made the entire ground shake in the process. I didn't feel anything. Must have been too weak for a puny human to notice. Stop trying to insult me and go to the next island! I'd like to, but there's no path.
Drake let go off the lever, yet it remained in place. He stared it for a moment, then peered into the darkness. The sound he'd heard only moments ago had sent a shiver down his spine, so it seemed like a good idea to undo whatever damage he'd done. But the lever refused to be pulled back and was too close to the ground to be kicked again.
Dammit.” What is it? Nothing.
He walked towards the other lever and pushed it down without encountering any resistance.

The next island was located about thirty feet below the vampire and was connected by two floating platforms, one moving horizontally, the other diagonally. They clashed loudly whenever they reached the halfway point, but never remained stuck for more than a second.
The beast jumped onto the first without encountering any problems, but he was almost thrown off when the platforms connected. He hadn't expected the impact to be so strong, which is why he jumped before they reached the halfway point during his second attempt.
Three levers aligned in a triangular form awaited him on the other side. A stone monument with a glowing message stood in-between. “What's this? Choose wisely”—black smudge transformed into the word vampire—“or the end of your journey will be even harder. Committing the same mistake as your companion will plunge you into oblivion. Only by rising above the challenge can you prevent the madness from growing stronger.”
Drake, where was the first lever you pushed located? On the northern edge of the island. And why did you push it first? Because there were no islands on the other side, which is where the other lever was located. Guess I shouldn't push the lever pointing east, then.
So which of you is it?” He glanced at the left lever, then at the one behind the monument. “Only by rising above the challenge … is that it?”
Two steps brought him to the upper lever and a fierce jerk moved it into position.

Has a new path opened up? Sorta. I've got a whole field of platforms, but none of them are directly connected to each other. Looks like I have to jump. Great, the human has to show his physical prowess... How about we switch? Drake spat onto the ground, imagining the beast in front of him. I don't need your power to accomplish my goals! I'm sure Assar would beg to differ. The beast chuckled, but Drake refrained from wasting any more time.
The first platforms gave Drake enough leeway that losing his balance did not immediately result in him plunging to his death. They were also placed at such short intervals that even a child could have jumped across without encountering any problems. But the further he got, the bigger the gaps became. And the platforms kept shrinking, until they could just about accommodate his feet.
Giving up yet? You do realize that you'll be stuck if I fall? I'll come up with something if I have to. And how many centuries is that going to take? ...
Assessing his next course of action wasn't easy. He was surrounded by three platforms, not counting the ones leading back, and while some of them were closer than others, they might as well have led him to a path that was even worse. It was impossible to be sure, as he could only see a few feet ahead until the billowing darkness obscured his path.
In the end, he left it up to fate and jumped towards the platform located on his left. The tip of his feet landed on the edge and he staggered backwards, performing circular motions with his arms that only worsened his situation. But he somehow managed to reverse his momentum and pushed forward, now stumbling towards the other edge.
Get a grip, will you? yelled the beast, but Drake was too busy to answer. He kept swinging back and forth, always dangerously close to the edge, gradually slowing down.
His heart threatened to burst through his chest when he finally came to a halt. He would have preferred to take a rest with his knees on the ground, but there was simply not enough space. So he kept on jumping, slowly improving but never finding the perfect amount of strength that would have landed him smack in the middle without having to fear for his life.
The last jump should have been as easy as the first, but a swarm of what looked like winged eyeballs chose that very moment to emerge from the darkness. They didn't attack, but their sight robbed Drake of the strength he would have needed to reach the next island unharmed. His upper body crashed onto the ground while the rest dangled over the edge.
Pulling himself up would have been easy, if not for the nonsensical surface of the island. It looked the same as all the others, but turned out to be as smooth as glass. Therefore, he slowly slipped away, inching closer to his death with every second.
Goddammit!” Do you finally regret not taking me up on— “Shut up! If you'd just stop spouting your stupid remarks we'd all be better off.” Drake allocated all of his power into his arms and his upper body, but it only served to slow his descent. “We wouldn't even be in this situation if you'd warned me that my power would fail.” Beads of sweat trickled down his face as his body shuddered, unwilling to let go but unable to hold him in place. “But no, you're always thinking about yourself, even though we share the same body. You know, I might actually be willing to relinquish control once in a while if you weren't such a fucking maniac!”
Drake's body had slipped all the way to his collarbone. A few more seconds and he would have had nothing but his hands on the edge. That's when he felt something grow within him. A power similar to the one bestowed upon him by Modera, but free of its corruption. Almost sacred even. His muscles bulged, turned his arms into freakish mutations that would have been more fitting on the body of a gialuk. He screamed and growled and pushed until the ground embraced him from head to toe.

While Drake pulled himself up, the beast crumpled. Only the hand clutching onto the lever prevented his face from meeting the ground. He screamed in agony and his veins grew to twice their size, covering his flesh in fountains of blood. Energy rippled through his body, leading to a thousand miniature explosion when light and darkness canceled each other out. Only the circumstance that Drake's power faded when he found himself in safety prevented the beast from being utterly destroyed.
How … did you do this? Do what? Transmit a blast of sacred energy into my body! A little bit longer ... and I would have plunged straight into hell. And no one would have shed a tear. You need me as much as I need you if you ever want to see the light of day again. So what … did … you … do? How should I know? It came out of nowhere and faded the moment I was safe. Such power does not come out of nowhere! Maybe. But that's how it happened. Now get back to your task.
A new path popped into being, this time without presenting any additional challenges. But the beast took almost as long to cross it as Drake's previous section had taken. His body was slumped over, his eyes were unfocused, and his arms hung loosely at his sides, constantly dripping blood onto the path. Every step was as volatile as that of a toddler and his condition barely improved along the way. His throat had been dry for too long.
Another swarm of eye-bats crossed his path unnoticed. All he saw was a conveniently placed button as big as his head, which is where he planted his body before his consciousness failed him.

A waist-high bowl resting atop a stone pillar awaited Drake at his destination. It was shaped like the mouth of an otherworldly horror whose sharp teeth had gotten stuck within a cracked jewel. A mixture of water and oil emerged from within as soon as the human's feet stepped off the glowing path. Since there was no sign of any levers or buttons, he decided to investigate.
The oil swirled around the center like a storm, but it converged when Drake laid his eyes upon it, first gathering in a single spot, then transforming into a message. The bowl lit up when it was formed, illuminating the letters from below.
Vampires are parasites, foreign souls latching onto the minds of others, transforming their bodies into shells capable of holding their power.
But neither can they exist without their host, nor can their host exist without them. An unholy union broken only by death.
The beast is dying now, slowly wasting away. Will you sacrifice a part of yourself to keep on going? Or will you remain in the darkness until your body crumbles to dust?
Why would he be dying? He was fine only moments ago.
The message sank to the bottom, allowing another to take its place. Its letters had taken on a dark shade of red, making them appear to be made of blood.
Your power has ripped his imaginary body apart. He cannot sustain it without your cooperation. Place your hand atop the jewel or wait for the darkness to claim your soul.
“Like I have a choice.” His right hand rose into the air, but he stopped moving before so much as a finger could come into contact with the jewel. “On second thought … what exactly am I sacrificing?” He peered into the bowl. The message remained the same. “Thanks for nothing.” He glanced at his right hand, then raised his left instead, swiftly placing it atop the jewel.
Five crystal shards tore through his flesh, splattering blood all over the back of his hand. His eyes widened in an almost comical fashion, but his screams were so full of anguish that they could have inspired a million nightmares. He wriggled desperately, pulled on his fingers, pushed from below, but an invisible force held his hand in place.
Nut-sized globules of blood seeped from his wounds and floated away, slowly approaching the edge of the island and then dropping off. They smacked onto the ground and kept on moving like a colony of ants coated in paint. The beast's starving body lapped it all up, absorbed it through every inch of exposed skin. And while Drake fell to his knees and could barely hold onto his life, the vampire sprung up, as refreshed as after a long nap.
Both islands shook when the globe shattered, propelling Drake to the ground. His skin had been sapped of all color, yet he kept on moving, feeling as rejuvenated as the beast below.
“What happened?” he asked out loud as he pushed himself off the ground. How should I know? I felt my consciousness fade away and now I'm back to full strength. Only because I sacrificed my blood. You sound awfully fine for the amount you should have lost. I didn't, until now.
Confused, Drake looked around. A rectangular platform had appeared up north, but it looked different from all the others.
A few more steps revealed it to be segmented into letters, which at first glance didn't seem to make any sense. A replica of the platform could be seen below, but what Drake couldn't perceive was a sentence burned into the earth.


We are one and the same

The vampire didn't spend much time looking at the riddle. A single glance at the burning letters and the field of letters was all he needed to come up with a solution.
He stepped onto the W and blue turned to red, engulfing him in a constantly rotating circle of energy. Reaching towards it did neither damage nor hinder him.
Another step brought the beast onto the E. A gust of wind grabbed onto his body from below and catapulted him backwards while the riddle reset itself.
How'd you get the first letter right?” yelled Drake, who had watched all of this from above.
Can't you read?” The vampire was clearly annoyed. A few more inches and he would have fallen into the abyss.
Read what?”
The beast walked towards the edge and looked at his other half. “The sentence burning before you?”
There's no sentence.”
It says 'We are one and the same'.”
Then why didn't the E work?”
I wouldn't have stepped onto it if I knew the answer, dumbass!” The vampire looked at the riddle once more and moved his head left and right, causing it to crack audibly. “How about you give it a try?”
Stepping onto the W produced the same effect seen below. Drake remained there for a while, then decided to step onto the F. His body was flung away while a wave of eye-bats appeared out of nowhere and vanished in the darkness above.
Why would you step onto the F?”
I thought we might have to advance one letter with every step.”
How would that work when there's no B anywhere near the F?”
Drake mumbled a curse and looked around, hoping to find another piece of the puzzle reserved exclusively for him. But the only things surrounding him where rough earth and darkness.
It can't be that hard,” said the vampire and rubbed his neck. “It wouldn't make sense, given how easy the rest was.”
Drake stood at the edge with crossed arms and drummed the rhythm of a long-forgotten song when he decided to look back to where he had come from. The last island seemed to have been swallowed by the darkness.
Isn't there something missing?”
What do you mean?”
We had to work as a team to get this far, so it doesn't make sense that only you would get the solution while I get nothing.”
But I already told you what is says.”
Which doesn't amount to much teamwork. Maybe we need to cross the platforms simultaneously, so that no one gets left behind.”
Hmm...” The vampire rubbed his chin and looked at the riddle once more. “I'd like to disagree, but the idea seems solid enough. So get your feet onto the W and let's begin.”
Everything worked out perfectly when they stepped onto the first letter, but their feet hadn't even touched the E when they were hurled away. An even bigger swarm of eye-bats emerged from the darkness and encircled the island before fluttering away.
I never should have listened to the idea of a human!”
Then come up with a better plan, oh almighty vampire!”
For a while, nothing happened. Only the the neverending hum of the platform filled the air. Then the vampire rose from the ground and propelled himself forward. It should have been obvious that he would not succeed, but he crossed four rows before he crashed into an invisible wall and rebounded like a boomerang. The momentum should have carried him far beyond the island, but another barrier stopped him in his tracks.
Bravo!” Drake clapped half a dozen times, with long pauses in between. ”What a magnificent plan.”
Shut up!” roared the beast and spread his arms. Two blade-like tentacles emerged from his flesh and shot upwards, instinctively aiming for where Drake stood. As soon as they touched the bottom of the upper island, they exploded into a million sparks of light, blinding the vampire.
The islands shuddered and crumbled at the edges while a screech reverberated throughout the darkness.
Looks like there's a time limit,” said Drake. As if to confirm his suspicion, the letters began to pulse, constantly shifting between red and blue. The hum also intensified.
Any other plans on how to proceed?”
I thought you didn't want to listen to my ideas.”
I don't! But I prefer to survive.”
Drake chuckled and felt a wave of anger surge into his mind. His body shuddered for a moment, but the feeling dissipated before it could take hold. Then he looked at the riddle once more. Teamwork has to be a part of it, but how? … Walking the path simultaneously doesn't work, walking it all by ourselves doesn't work … maybe … what?
Ignoring the vampire's question, he jumped onto the W. But instead of trying any of the letters he hadn't stepped on yet, he knelt down and pointed towards the E. “Could you step onto the second letter?”
You really think that's gonna work?”
We won't know unless we try.”
The vampire looked peeved and spat onto the ground before he turned his attention towards the platform. “I'm not your fucking guinea pig!”
Fine. Stay here. Let's wait for our inevitable end.”
The vampire flexed his muscles, cracked his bones, growled madly, then let out a short scream and planted his feet atop the E. It flared up and he was once again engulfed by energy while the one encircling Drake dissipated.
Ha … would you look at that?” The beast glanced upwards. “Seems like your brain isn't quite as useless as I thought.”
Drake rolled his eyes and sighed in annoyance.
They followed the message across the board and arrived on the other side in less than a minute. An unseen bell chimed three times when their feet reached solid ground. The first shattered the way back, the second created two staircases that led towards the same destination, and the third illuminated a vast field made up of multicolored tiles. Beyond lay a wall streaked with glowing veins. An almost unnoticeable beige door was located in its center. A giant could have easily fit through, if it hadn't been locked.
The first to reach the gate will get control of your body, okay?” said the beast and sped away.
An explosion like thunder rippled through the air, forcing Drake to hunch down and slam his hands onto his ears. He looked left and right, fearing the worst, but no danger presented itself. Which made it all the more surprising that the vampire lay motionless on the ground. Glowing cracks could be seen above his feet, as if the air itself had shattered.
Drake sprinted to the edge of the colored field, which gave him a better view. The beast lay inside a beige path but had stopped moving just when it turned away. Red tiles had taken its place and were running parallel to its new direction. The cracks seemed to be located where both colors met.
Could it be? Drake entered the same path as the vampire and advanced all the way towards the cracks. When he reached towards them, his hand came into contact with what felt like a stone wall. He followed it all the way to the exit and into the red path. Then he spun around and tried to advance into the next field, where he encountered the same phenomenon.
What … the hell … was that? Your own stupidity biting you in the ass. See you on the other side.
The field was too flat to make out where every path would lead, but since Drake couldn't see any obstacle except for the wall on the other side, he decided to follow the red path towards the end.

A quarter of an hour must have passed when Drake found himself confronted by a dead end. You can't be serious. I have to walk all the way back? He yelled in frustration and slammed his fists against the barrier. Wait, if this is a dead end, then why does the red path continue on the other side?
A few reluctant steps brought him to where the end would be. One more turned the entire world upside down. Darkness beckoned from below, blood rushed into his skull, and his feet bade the ground goodbye. He descended into the abyss like a lightning bolt.
His mouth was distorted in a neverending scream, his eyeballs bulged as if trying to escape, his bones cracked and groaned, readying themselves to be crushed, and his heart pumped faster with every passing second, maybe trying to kill him before the impact would.
He stumbled forward, crossed an intersection that his eyes could not perceive, and landed face-first on the ground, shivering and whimpering like a scared infant.
That's why I should be in charge. The vampire's voice penetrated Drake's mind, but he had a hard time deciphering what he was saying. I would never have fallen for such a ludicrous illusion. So rest for as long as you like. I'll wait for you on the other side.

The beast's arrogance came to bite him in the back. Assuming that the beige path would lead to the beige door was the most basic mistake anyone could have made, yet he followed it all the way to the end. To nowhere. A small square of earth, surrounded on all sides by invisible walls.
The vampire howled in fury and refused to accept defeat. He held his hands in front of him, a few inches apart. His eyes flared up and a miniscule orb of pure darkness popped into existence. It grew rapidly, revolving around its center with ever-increasing speed, and crackled with power. Only when it threatened to burst from his grasp did he stop charging.
He walked towards the path opposite his entry point, which was only a few paces away from the area surrounding the gate, then spread his legs, so that the left would touch the barrier and the right would be behind his body. Removing his left arm from the orb allowed him to pull it back, bringing it next to his head.
A deafening explosion cut off every other noise as the orb crashed into the barrier. It rotated faster and faster, spreading crack upon crack, slowly penetrating the wall. It could not hold against the onslaught and neither could the ones beyond. And with their destruction, the illusion was shattered, unveiling a giant maze whose walls seemed to have no end.
Had the vampire rushed towards the other side at that very moment, he would have seen an entire army of eye-bats appear in front of the gate, completely obscuring it from view.

When Drake stepped into the light, the vampire was already waiting for him. His back rested against the gate and his arms were crossed while a gleeful smile filled out his face.
I actually thought you were a human for a while, but turns out I was wrong. Only a snail would have taken as much time as you have. But I have to thank you for giving up. Now I will finally be able to rule while you crawl into my head!
Says who?” Drake mimicked the beast by crossing his arms.
We had a deal.”
Sorry, did you hit your head or something?”
The beast snarled.
Oh, you did? My bad. So allow me to enlighten you: we had no deal! You made a proposal and then decided to run off without waiting for an answer. And by the looks of it, you seem to be stuck. Why else would you still be here?”
The vampire pushed himself off the gate and spread his arms. “A minor bump in the road. I'm sure the solution will present itself soon enough.”
Have you already forgotten what this place is all about? We can't advance by ourselves. Only together do we stand a chance.” He lowered his gaze to the ground. “And I guess that also applies to our normal state of being. Sure, you might be more powerful—”
And experienced, and handsome, and charming—”
Whatever! But where would you be without me? You would have killed Jessica, Maximilian, and surely a lot of other people. No one would have stood with you against Modera.”
The vampire swiped through his hair and flashed Drake a radiant smile. “I wouldn't have needed any help. Charged with the power of all my victims, I could have obliterated that bitch without breaking a sweat.”
Believe what you will.” He stepped forward and tapped his forefinger against Drake's skull. “But there's a lot of untapped potential within you. Together, we could be more powerful than anyone. Even Assar might tremble before our might.”
Drake slapped the hand away. “He destroyed an entire village as if it was nothing!”
The vampire shrugged. “So what? We could accomplish a similar result.”
I don't want to destroy anything!” Drake made a move to grab onto the beast but received a fist into his face instead.
But I do. That's what I was born for.”
Blood escaped Drake's mouth when he spat onto the ground. It also clung to his arm when he tried to wipe it from his lips. “There were peaceful vampires. Modera said so herself.”
And where are they now? Dead! Every single one of them. Why do you think that is? Just because some guy showed up and killed them all? No. They could have defeated him by banding together” The beast spun around and raised his arms as if putting on a show. “But they decided to wage war against each other instead. Killed more than fifty percent of their kind at the drop of a hat. The ones left were easy pickings.”
Drake staggered to his feet. “How do you even know all that? You didn't exist back then.”
Of course I did,” yelled the beast and dug his own nails into his skull. “Or do you actually think siring a vampire is like knocking each other up? No, my consciousness is a fragment of Modera's, as well as of the person who created her. I can barely remember him, though. It's hard to think about what was when you've drowned in a sea of madness for a thousand years.” Blood trickled from his skin when he finally let go, only to peer deeply into Drake's eyes. “I would have liked to be free … to be put out of my misery.” The mad smile returned. “But then I remembered how boring my life had been. Just stuck in the cold, just trying to be nice.” The beast growled and spun some more. “You have to know what it's like, seeing as you were stuck in that awful village for most—”
Drake's fist collided with the vampire's cheek and caused him to spin some more before his feet could not keep up and let him drop.
The vampire shook his head, cracked his bones, then broke into manic laughter. “Yes, that's exactly what I want! Doesn't it feel great to just let loose? To do exactly what your instincts tell you to, without having to think about the consequences?” He lashed out and swiped Drake from his feet. “I could kill you right now”—his arms closed around Drake's neck—“all because you dared to lay a finger on me.”
Then you'd kill yourself.”
The beast pouted and wiggled his head before letting go. “Yeah, that would suck.” Air surged into the vampire's lungs and swirled through its useless flesh. “But why am I even wasting my breath on someone who decided to sit on his ass just because his father died? You should have vented your frustration by wreaking havoc, not by swallowing it all up! If only I could have taken control back then. But my battle with Dorr'n Selkesch left me weak.”
Drake rammed his knee into the beast's stomach and rolled away before jumping to his feet. His hand instinctively reached for his blade, only to come up empty. “If you were to ever take control we would sooner or later end up dead. So go back to where you belong. All I need is your power.”
The vampire smacked his lips and shook his head. “You cannot have my power without me. But you do have a point. We would never be in this situation if the elves hadn't taken me captive. However, we might also be dead if I hadn't taken control.”
Drake nibbled on his lips and looked around, pissed off by this conversation. He knew that he was right, but he couldn't disagree with the beast either. Both needed each other to succeed.
Let's just open this door.”
The vampire shrugged. “Fine. But how? There are sixteen buttons, eight on each side, and I've already tried pressing them all.”
Teamwork, of course. Let's try pressing two buttons at a time, from the nearest to the furthest. If that doesn't work, we do it the other way around.”
They walked off in opposite directions and positioned themselves in front of the first button. Exchanging messages through their connection allowed them to push it simultaneously. The same transpired seven more times, but when they were done, the door hadn't budged a bit. So they reversed the order as planned, which only caused the earth to rumble.
That worked out per—”
Yeah, yeah.” Drake waved his hand, cutting him off. “Guess we need to press them in a certain order. You didn't happen to see any hints?”
Would I still be here if I did?”
Drake sighed and returned to the first button. It was embedded within the wall, big enough to fit his entire hand, and devoid of any markings that might have helped figure out the combination.
He took a few steps back and let his gaze wander over the wall. It was rough enough that one could have cut his flesh open by being careless, but that was about all he could make out.
Lowering his gaze allowed him to inspect the ground, which seemed entirely unremarkable. But when he kneeled down, he realized that something resembling burn marks had been etched into it. Two of them in fact. He swiped a finger through them, but they didn't feel any different from the rest of the ground. Maybe...
He hurried towards the next button and almost threw himself onto the ground in an attempt to confirm his hypothesis. Eight identical marks could be seen. Then three. Then seven. Then only one. There were no repetitions.
Are you even making use of your improved senses?” yelled Drake as he returned to the door.
Come again?”
Didn't you notice these weird scorch marks in front of every button? The ones who just so happen to come in numbers of one to eight?”
A look of confusion flashed over the beast's face. It was quickly replaced by a knowing smile. “Oh, so that's what they were for.”
You knew?” asked Drake doubtfully, with his hands on his hips.
Of course I knew. I was merely testing you.”
Right,” the word rolled slowly off Drake's tongue as he scratched his forehead. “Let's just get this over with.”
Simultaneously again?”
I guess.”
They positioned themselves in front of their first button and counted down from three. As soon as both clicked into place, the ticking of an invisible clock filled the air. It started slow, but kept accelerating every five seconds.
We'd better hurry,” yelled Drake as he ran towards the second button.
Not so easy when I have to look for the right button first.”
Didn't you claim to have seen the marks?”
Yeah, but I didn't memorize their positions.”
Drake spat onto the ground. He was already in position while the vampire was still running around. “Bullshit.”
It should come as no surprise that they didn't manage to press all the buttons before time ran out. The bell from earlier rang again. Its resonance pierced bone and marrow, carrying Drake as well as the vampire off their feet. The ground ruptured all around them, giving way to an enormous pillar of darkness, or rather a swarm of eye-bats so thickly packed that their bodies could no longer be distinguished from each other. They swirled around each other, merged into an even bigger pile, and then slammed into the gate. Their bodies dissipated without leaving a stain.
What are those creatures?” asked Drake as he staggered to his feet.
Beats me. Maybe they're supposed to scare us.”
I honestly doubt that.”
And I honestly don't care.” The vampire brushed the dust off his robe and cracked his neck. “Wanna try again?”
What else are we supposed to do? Wait for a rescue party?” Drake returned to the first button, but moving proved to be harder than expected. Every bone and muscle in his body ached as if hit by a hammer. “I hope you've memorized the sequence now. Not sure I can withstand another chime.”
What? That was enough to wear you out? I'll never understand how humans can live with such fragile bodies.”
By taking care of them. Not that a beast such as you would know how that works.”
You really need to work on your banter. You haven't even gotten close to offending my feelings.”
Your what?”
The vampire rolled his eyes and raised his hand. “Three … two … one!”
The ticking started up again, but Drake and his beast moved in almost perfect unison now. Left and right and left again, swiftly slamming their hands onto the next button before moving on.
An explosion rippled through the air as the door exploded inwards. Its remains were scattered across a large, circular area with eight pillars in every direction. Cannon-like objects had been placed atop these pillars, but there were no ladders or ramps one could have used to reach them.
Whoever designed this area must never have seen how a door is opened,” scoffed the vampire as his eyes took in their surroundings.
Or maybe he loved playing with fireworks. Now where's the exit?”
Might be that one,” said the beast and pointed at the ceiling. A smooth, rectangular hole could be seen in its center. Another ceiling illuminated by flickering light lay beyond.
Drake stared it for a moment, then eyed the vampire, then the hole again.
The beast backed off. “No, no, no! I'm not going to carry you.”
How else are we supposed to leave?”
You can stay for all I care.”
Drake slammed his right head against his forehead. “How can you still be such an idiot? We have to work together. Get this into your fucking head!”
Make me!” The vampire smiled, spun on his heels, and ran towards the center of the area. When his feet left the ground, an invisible force catapulted him backwards.
Fissured opened up in the walls and darkness poured out. It gathered below the hole and grew bigger and bigger and bigger, until the exit had been hidden from sight. Then it began to take shape. One giant eyeball. Two humongous wings. A massive mouth armed with teeth that were as sharp as needles but as big as a house. And finally a set of thin arms with claw-like hands, long enough to reach from one side of the room to the other.
So that's what these bats were for,” muttered Drake as he retreated towards the door. To his surprise, it had reappeared out of nowhere, cutting off his escape route.
The monster opened its mouth and screeched. The resulting shockwave rattled Drake's skull so severely that he momentarily lost all orientation, only to find himself in a different corner of the room.
What the hell? What did you do?” screamed the vampire.
I have no idea what you're...” Drake looked down. He was dressed in the same robe his other half had been wearing. And he felt a familiar surge of energy coursing through his body. “Huh, guess you're the human now.”
That's not funny!”
A fiery beam escaped the bats eyeball and shot straight for Drake's mortal coil. The vampire threw himself onto the ground, but wasn't fast enough to avoid the attack completely. A few layers of flesh were cut from his shoulder.
Gyah!” The beast screamed and bit onto his lips as his body convulsed. “This hurts … like hell.”
Welcome to the world of mortals.” Drake chuckled, but he also felt the pain reverberate through their connection. “Try not to get killed while I take care of this monster.”
As soon as Drake sped towards the bat, its eye focused on him. Another beam followed, but the vampire's body was fast enough to evade it with seconds to spare.
More beams scorched the earth left and right. Drake jumped and slithered and danced while two fireballs formed in his balls.
Another beam, another jump, and Drake propelled his projectiles directly into the beast's pupils. They deflagrated in a puff of smoke without doing any damage whatsoever.
The bat seemed to smile as its next beam hit Drake point blank. He tumbled through the air and hit the wall with a thud, cutting open his robe as well as his flesh. The attack was followed up with another body-switching screech.
Look at what you did to my clothes, you fool. How did you even manage to survive the Battle of Arlington?” The vampire grabbed onto his robe and flung it away, revealing a skintight suit underneath. It seemed to be coated in a layer of shadows. “Let me show you how it's done.”
Blades made of darkness popped into the beast's hands as he jumped off the wall. He shot past the bat before the it could even react and cut through its left wing with a single stroke.
Upon reaching the other side of the room, the vampire spun around, ready to strike again. But the wing had already repaired itself. “Impossible!” He glanced at his blades, just long enough to miss that the bat's eyeball had changed positions with its back.
Look out!” screamed Drake, who was still cowering near the door.
Three beams emerged from the monster's eye. One was aimed straight at the vampire, the others came at him from the side. A simple evasive maneuver should have done the trick, but the second and third beam curved once more, following their target's movement.
The vampire spun around in midair and slammed his feet against the wall, pushing himself into the direction of the bat, with his blades held in front of him. The beams curved again. They had almost caught up with him.
Realizing his plight, the vampire gave the blade's free to act as momentary shields and simply raised his hands above his head. When they came into contact with the bat's smooth and slimy eye, he remained still for a moment, then pushed himself upwards.
The energy beams tore right through the monster's pupil. It wailed and screeched as it crashed onto the ground.
See? This”—the vampire and Drake switched places—“is how”—another switch forced them back—“it's done.”
The world kept spinning as they flew back and forth between each other's bodies. Even standing up seemed to be an insurmountable task under these circumstances.
Cut it out, will you!” screamed the vampire somewhere in-between a dozen switches, but the creature kept on screeching and there was nothing they could do but wait.

Neverending darkness crept ever closer, about to swallow both Drake and his other half. Glinting teeth framed it from above, betraying its true form. Drake's eyes appeared to pop out of his head when he began to struggle. The bat's tongue was keeping his arms bound to his torso, but his hands could move freely enough. Not that it helped him break out. He was in the wrong body to fling fireballs around.
Would you please do something?” he screamed at the vampire, who was held captive right next to him.
The beast turned his head and smiled. “Your wish is my command!” He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose. At the same time as he spat the air back out, his body fell in on itself. Bluish smoke was all that was left of his form. It fled the bat's mouth and ascended towards the hole above.
Hey! Have you already forgo—”
A shudder rippled through the monster's body and Drake was flung halfway through the room. He just about managed to grab onto one of the pillars to stop himself from smacking into the wall. His joints threatened to pop, but the pain was more bearable than what the rough surface behind him would have done to his flesh.
The vampire's scream echoed through the room. After ramming his fist deeply into the bat's flesh by falling onto it from above, he had been repelled by a forcefield and sputtered by a focused energy beam.
Drake's body pulsed from the reverberating pain, but his mind was clear enough to grab onto the cannon-like object and see what purpose it actually served. Its rear was made up of two handles, a black panel, as well as a red button. Upon grabbing the handles, the panel lit up, displaying the ground. A big white dot had been placed in its center.
That should come in handy.”
He raised the barrel into the air and aimed above the bat's head, assuming the cannon to be loaded with a cannonball. Yet when he pressed the button, nothing happened.
Another wave of pain hit Drake like a bouncer's fist. His knees gave up and his attempt to steady himself almost caused the cannon to be ripped from its hinges.
The beam finally fizzled out, but the vampire remained motionless. The bat hovered in place for while, then swiveled around. Its eye moved left and right, constricting only when it noticed Drake getting to his feet.
Another beam of energy shot forth. Drake had no time to evade, so he moved the barrel up and down, constantly hammering onto the button. As soon as its reticle overlapped with the white of the bat's eye, a single bolt of lighting burst forth.
The monster toppled over and its beam slammed into the ceiling. It crumbled instantly, showering the pillar Drake stood on in a ton of debris. He jumped down, with his heart beating rapidly, and sprained his right leg upon impact. Screaming and tearing up, he limped away, still evading smaller projectiles, some of which hit his already injured leg.
Would you please get up?” he screamed at the unmoving figure of the vampire, but the only creature listening to his command was the bat.
Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Drake was about rip out his hair when he mustered the nearby pillar. It seemed impossible to scale, even if his leg hadn't been injured. Its surface might have been ribbed, but not deeply enough to give him anything to hold onto.
He pressed his fingers onto his temples and imagined the surge of power he had felt not long ago. His breathing became ragged, his body trembled, sweat ran down his face, but what little energy he could muster was entirely insufficient. With a bit of luck, he might have been able to conjure a grain of sand, but that's about it.
Why isn't this—”
A humongous shadow fell over him. There was no need to turn around, but he did it anyway. His entire field of view was consumed by the bat's eyeball. And he could see the power building in front of its pupil as if in slow-motion.
He pointlessly backed away while the hum signaling his destruction grew ever louder. His hands closed around the pillar, tightening in anticipation. And when the light grew too bright, he closed his eyes and turned his head away.
What's gotten into you?” A familiar explosion of energy rippled through the room and the light penetrating Drake's eyelids faded away. “How dare you accept death when you should have bought time instead?”
The vampire leapt from atop a pillar on the opposite side of the room, conjured another set of shadow blades, and sliced through the paralyzed bat's backside.
A fountain of what looked like ink spilled onto the ground, accompanied by another set of body-switching shrieks. It felt different now, less confusing. Almost as if they were one again. And when it stopped, Drake found himself in the vampire's flesh.
Gosh, you didn't have to damage your body like that!” howled the beast when it tried to take a single step.
I'm sorry for not having a choice!”
The bat's body wriggled and its wound snapped shut.
We don't have time for that. Carry me to one of the cannons. I'll shoot it down and you slice it into pieces.”
Drake flipped over the bat's rising body and snatched the vampire from the ground. A few hasty steps later, he found himself atop the same pillar the vampire had shot from previously.
No, get me to another pillar.”
The beast pointed at the panel. It seemed to have exploded from the inside out and was still smoldering.
One-time use only, I guess. Shooting constantly would be too e—”
Drake sprang onto the wall and rolled sideways through the air, evading a short burst of energy that began on the ground and sliced directly through the pillar.
He deposited the vampire behind the next cannon and instantly propelled himself towards the bat to distract it. But the monster wasn't fooled so easily. Eight beams emerged from its pupil, six of them aimed at Drake, two at his other half.
Tentacles sprouted from Drake's back when he jumped into the air, even though he hadn't made the conscious decision to summon them. They began to spin like a pinwheel and obliterated the beams meant for the vampire. Then they snapped shut, hiding Drake in what looked like a black cocoon.
A bigger beam of energy slammed into it, ripping it apart. But before Drake himself could be cooked, another lightning bolt hit the bat dead center. Making the best of its vulnerable phase, Drake propelled himself directly to the point of impact. His body became covered in black goo as he stood atop the wound and conjured a fireball big enough to fit into both hands.
The explosion resulting from the impact catapulted Drake not only across the room but also between bodies, which made it impossible to stop himself from crashing into the wall. His head split open and the switching caused the pain to ripple directly into his mortal body.
His hands flailed about when his feet touched the edge of the pillar. He tried to push himself forward, but it was pointless as long as the bat's screech was filling the air. All he could do was watch—sometimes out of his own eyes, sometimes out of the vampire's—as his body plummeted onto the ground.
Every bone in his body cracked. His lung was punctured. Blood shot from his mouth. Only magic or a potion could have saved him now.
Don't stare at me with those foolish eyes! Get moving and destroy the bat already. We might merge back into one if you do. Or we might have to finish another set of riddles. No. That up there has to be the exit. I couldn't pass through it earlier. The air felt as solid as a wall. Must be warded until the beast falls. I hope you're right. If not...then you'll have to turn me. So that I end up as a vampire with two voices inside my head? No way!
The entire chamber shook and dust trickled from the ceiling when the bat raised itself once more. Its pupil was still spilling goo. The first sign that its regenerative powers had a limit. But having its eyesight reduced only served to aggravate the beast. Its teeth slammed into each other, filling the air with a sickening crunching noise, while its arms moved for the first time. One of them closed around a cannon and crunched it into dust.
Would you please—the vampire's thoughts fell silent. He was assaulted by a coughing fit and had to turn his head so as not to swallow the blood he was regurgitating.
Drake averted his eyes and jumped towards the next pillar. Half of his body crashed right into the cannon, as his vision had failed him just as he choose his destination. Suffering any more damage was out of the question. The vampire had lost too much blood after recovering from the beam-assault.
Another lighting bolt coursed through the room and carved a scar into the bat's eye, but the monster didn't topple over this time. Its arms actually accelerated while the corners of its eyeball lit up. Streaks of energy emerged from within its pupil at the same time. They swirled around it and grew bigger with every passing second, painting the picture of a vortex into its flesh.
Drake stared at it wide-eyed. Judging by what the beast had displayed so far, he could easily imagine what it was preparing now. Stop gawking! Or would you prefer to be obliterated?
Right.” He shook his head and jumped onto the ground. One of the bat's arms got ub his the way as he sprinted towards the next pillar, but he slid past it without wasting a second. Then he jumped into the air, but another bout of nausea threw off his aim. The second attempt was thwarted by the destruction of the cannon.
The room had grown as bright as day by then, so he quickly hurried towards the next pillar, which was located in a spot where the bat's arms couldn't reach it. Halfway there, Drake's vision faded and his feet turned to jelly. His face kissed the ground soon after.

The vampire lay in a puddle of blood and couldn't stop coughing. His insides felt like boiling mush. One moment of negligence was all it would have taken to slip into oblivion.
Keep ... moving! Stop dying! Very … funny.
The walls were vibrating, resonating with the hum emanating from the bat's eye. It seemed to be only a matter of seconds until its final attack was unleashed. And no matter what form it would have taken, survival seemed impossible. Even a straightforward beam would have obliterated Drake's mortal flesh.
He tried to stand up, but his feet refused to bear his weight. So he crawled as fast as he could, ramming his fingers into the ground as if they were the claws of a feral beast. He actually managed to climb the pillar that way, but his arms fell uselessly to the side when he tried to reach for the cannon.

Dust rained onto the coughing vampire, irritating his throat even more. He choked on his own blood and his eyes popped out of their sockets. His flesh convulsed, reared up one last time before the end. And suddenly, without outside interference, his vision switched.
He looked down at his motionless body. Saw saliva trickle from the corners of his mouth. Heard a jumble of thoughts that made no sense. And he also felt a wave of heat propagate itself throughout the room.
The bat had unleashed an explosion that was about to obliterate everything within the chamber. It was only a matter of seconds until it consumed both of their bodies.
Get up! Can't... Of course you can! Too … weak. We're going to be destroyed! Yeah...The vampire's ghostly body growled in frustration. He reached down, tried to grab onto the cannon by himself, but it was futile.
A wave of anguish ripped the vampire's form apart. The flesh his soul had been bound to was now being incinerated.
Drake's, or rather the vampire's heart slammed into his chest. His eyes snapped open.
His calves burned away.
His organs spilled all over the floor.
Every cannon that was left burst into action. The bat howled as it fell, but the lightning bolts kept coming, kept blasting through its flesh. Its final attack had already dissipated, but Drake's body was gone. Which made it all the more surprising that he felt perfectly fine.
What happened?” He inspected every inch of his flesh. It seemed undamaged, even though he had somehow hit the wall again. Whatever you did seems to have broken the spell, answered a familiar voice from within. “Couldn't you just die down here?” And rob you of my company? No way. And how would you even get to the exit without me? Drake looked up. The light beyond the hole appeared to have grown a tad brighter.
He staggered to his feet—they still resembled jelly—and limped towards the center of the room. Nothing was left of the bat, except for plumes of smoke that seemed to have no source.
Stop admiring the—wait. That's interesting.
Drake's feet lifted off the ground without any input of his own. He could just about grab onto the edge of the hole before gravity pulled him back.
What just happened?” I happened. Looks like our little adventure has brought us closer together. “And here I thought my day couldn't get any better...” Drake grumbled and pulled himself up.
A small chamber with brown, corrugated walls welcomed him. Multicolored tiles—the same ones seen below—surrounded the hole. As did four purple statues. They looked like pots resting on chest-high pedestals and were adorned with nail-sized rubies. The rest of the chamber was occupied by barrels and crates, except for the path leading upstairs.
Drake was about to follow it when his eyes fell upon a cat with white fur and gray stripes. Its black eyes seemed to be staring into his very soul and followed his every step.
Hey, little guy. What are you doing here?” He reached for the cat's ears.
The question isn't what I'm doing here,” hissed words escaped the cat's tiny mouth, freezing Drake mid-motion, “but what you're doing here.”
You … can talk?”
The cat's fur shifted to pink as it scratched its left ear with its paws. “Thank you for noticing, oh perceptive human. Now tell me what you're doing here or I'll throw you back down!” The beast bared its teeth and took a step towards him.
An elven woman sent us here, so that we may learn to work together.” Drake slapped himself. “I didn't allow you to speak! Do you think I care?
Oh, could it be?” Pink switched with yellow as the cat's eyes began to sparkle. “I've read of this. You're a vampire, right? And this other voice is the primordial beast slumbering within you.”
Yeah … wait, you've read about vampires?”
I can talk, so why wouldn't I be able to read?” Another shift, now to red.
What kind of cat are you?”
The beast propped itself up on its hind paws and crossed the remaining ones as if it were human. “I'm the one and only Belia, master of the Riddle Tower!” He fell forward, unable to keep the pose for more than a few seconds.
Drake scratched his head and squinted at the creature. “You ... own this place?”
Well, kinda. I'm the familiar of the magician who built it. But he got himself blown up and is now haunting this place. Be glad that he doesn't check down here too often.”
Okay...” Drake fell silent for a moment. He didn't know what else to say. “Well, nice to meet you. We'll be going now.”
Belia meowed and jumped into Drake's path. “Wait! You don't happen to know how to exorcise a ghost, do you?”
Not really...”
The cat's head dropped with a sigh. “Why does every adventurer have to be so useless? I don't want to be stuck here for all eternity.”
What do you mean?”
I can't leave this tower as long as my master commands me to stay.”
Drake rubbed his chin and looked at the rainbow of colors streaming over Belia's fur. “Couldn't I just … like, carry you outside?”
Belia's head cracked audibly when he focused on Drake. “Carry me? I've never thought of that. But it couldn't possibly be that easy.”
Only one way to find out.”
Drake leaned down and wrapped his hands around the cat's surprisingly cold fur. Pressing him close to his chest, he ascended the stairs and found himself in a much bigger room. A large stone tablet stood behind him. Scratch marks were covering the floor between its position and the stairs.
Its a hidden passage,” said Belia upon noticing Drake's glance. “You'd normally have to beat me up and solve a puzzle to get down there.”
Beat you up?” The vampire chuckled, until a paw as powerful as a hammer slammed into his chest. “Sorry!” He coughed and chocked. “My bad...”
What is this commotion?” yelled a high-pitched voice without source. It appeared to belong to a man, but it was difficult to be sure, since he refused to add a single pause between his words. “Belia, who are these intruders? Why have you brought them into the secret chamber? I didn't see you fight!”
Your master?”
Are you even listening to me? I am the master of this tower. Have a little respect!” The walls billowed as if made of smoke, unveiling the face of a man as old as time itself.
About leaving...,” began Belia.
Already on it.”
Drake followed the red carpet in front of the stairs and aimed for a blinding light at the other end of the corridor without paying the wizard's face any attention.
Hey, where are you going? I haven't allowed you to leave. Especially not you, Belia! Get your ass back here.”
The cat squirmed in Drake's arms and mewled in pain, but he held on tight until the light swallowed them whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment