Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 18: The Messenger Of Chaos

And here's the next chapter of A Decaying World. Took a lot longer than it should have, due to me going on a short vacation, finishing up Aedis Tenebrum, working for Textbroker etc... but I'll try to get the next chapters out a bit faster again. Loop is kinda on a backburner right now.


Chapter 18: The Messenger Of Chaos

Drake's feet lifted off the ground when the light receded. He was gripped as if by a tornado and flung through the air, momentarily catching sight of the setting sun before getting entangled in a soft fabric upheld by wooden sticks.
Guess I should have warned you that this might happen,” hissed Belia as he freed his paws. Light as piercing as the sun's lit up his ashen paws. The fabric was blown apart away and torn to shreds.
The cat freed himself from Drake's grasp and leapt onto a looping branch, just about evading the sight of a dozen elves who came running to investigate the commotion.
It's the vampire!” yelled the same guard who had been about to fight Maximilian back in the village.
Within seconds, a circle of swords and spears had formed around Drake, with a few archers visible on nearby trees. One of them decided to jump onto the same branch Belia was sitting on, which resulted in him getting smacked into the underbrush without anyone noticing.
There's no need for that,” said Drake, keeping his voice calm and his movements slow as he stood up with raised hands. “I'm entirely in control of myself.”
His right hand began to twitch and the urge to slap himself welled up within his mind. Only when he bit onto his tongue did the feeling recede. Do you want to get us killed? Just trying to have some fun. And what's so funny about us getting impaled or sliced to pieces? We would have managed. The force keeping your powers in check has calmed down. And even if it hadn't, you could still access the darkness I have amassed within your mind. I'd rather not. Suit yourself. But now that I have gained a bit of control, don't expect me to watch you bumble around.
We should just kill him. No one would be able to tell if he was about to attack or not!” whispered one of the elves, before an arm landed on his shoulder and turned him around. Alyssa stared at him with cold eyes and he backed off. His feet came into contact with Drake's and he fell over, forcing his companions to pull their weapon's out of harms way, lest they impale him too.
The beast utilized the momentary confusion and catapulted Drake's body to the other side of the camp, where an enormous but artificial-looking tree rose into the sky. A sign with the words “Do not enter the Riddle Tower!” stood next to a gaping hole that seemed to lead nowhere.
An arrow lodged itself into the point of the exclamation mark, narrowly missing Drake's head. He flinched momentarily, then followed its course back to Alyssa. She had already readied another one.
Don't you dare run away.”
I didn't plan to.” So stop using my body as your plaything! “But I don't like being threatened.”
Are you back to your old self?”
Drake turned his head and saw Maximilian standing in front of a tree, with his arms crossed. Feyadal could be seen sitting on one of its branches, but instead of threatening Drake with his bow, he was holding his sword in hand.
Mostly, yes.” He bent his arm and clenched his fist, constantly feeling a slight pressure coursing through his muscles. “I might even be stronger than before.”
One more reason to get ri—”
Alyssa lowered her bow and flung her arm sideways without breaking eye-contact. A sticky glob rose from the ground and shot towards the elf. He looked shocked for a moment, then smiled and moved his head out of the way. The projectile instantly corrected its course and slammed onto his mouth, gluing it shut.
That's not for you to decide.” She lowered her hand and stepped forward, until she was just out of arm's reach. Her other hand was still holding tightly onto her bow, ready to snap back into action at even the slightest hint of danger. “Congratulations on surviving. Not many can claim to have bested that madman's challenge.”
You meant to say no one, right? They would have had to get through—” Belia's paws shuddered as he collided with the ground, barely missing Alyssa's shoulder. “Hey, you didn't have to step away!”
The elf looked at the cat out of the corner of her eyes and an almost inaudible grumbling noise surged up from within her throat. “Belia … how 'nice' to see you again. I thought you couldn't leave the tower.”
Maybe not out of his own accord, but carrying him outside proved to be surprisingly easy,” said Drake and smiled.
Alyssa's eyes locked onto his as her lips tightened for a moment. “Looks like I've chosen poorly. I should have killed you instead of risking this beast to attain freedom.”
Belia purred as his fur turned pink and his ass plopped onto the ground. “How dare you call me a beast? What have I ever done to you?”
You mean apart from ripping off my dress, stealing my jewelry, and being a general pest to anyone who ever dared to venture into the tower?”
But it's been ages since then!” Belia's ears twitched and his hind paw landed on his head, scratching it furiously.
About 600 years. Not long enough to forget about your mischief. You could have had at least had the dignity to die of old age by now.”
Ha, you wish! I'll still be around in a thousand years. But if you'll excuse me, I'll have a world to see.”
Be my guest. And don't come back.”
Belia's fur turned into a mixture of green and brown, making him almost invisible if looked at from above. Then he sped off into the distance, jumping over sticks and stones like an excited rabbit.
The forest seemed to fall silent for a moment, as if every elf, human, and animal was mesmerized by the cat's departure. Only when his body vanished in the underbrush did everyone's thoughts return to the situation at hand.
Back to you,” began Alyssa, but she stopped herself when Drake held out his hand.
I'm Drake.” He smiled and stood there like a puppet, yet her arms remained frozen in place.
I know.”
His eyes dropped and he mustered his hand, almost expecting something disgusting to be stuck in his palm. It looked perfectly fine, though. Just a bit dirty. He retracted it nonetheless, absentmindedly wiping it on his clothes.
Sorry, I don't remember us being introduced.”
We weren't. I was too busy sending you to your inevitable death.”
A few elves chuckled on the quiet but stopped when Alyssa turned her head halfway into their direction.
Drake glanced at Maximilian. A vague smile played around his lips as he shrugged. “I hope you're not planning to finish what the tower failed to do.”
I stand by my word. You and your companion are free to go. But not until I know what your plans are.”
The vampire opened his mouth and came up empty. All he knew was that Modera had marked this place on a map, as she had done with Arlington and Pagan.
To be honest, I don't have a clue. We're looking for someone … I guess. But I have no idea who it is or where to find him.”
So you came here all the way from Pagan, looking for someone you know nothing about, with only a general location to go on?” She furrowed her brow and smirked. “That must be the worst plan I've ever heard.”
Drake scratched his head and eyed the ground. There was no denying her words, but he had acted on the spur of the moment, unwilling to waste even a second, just in case the same event that destroyed Arlington followed him to Pagan.
Whatever the case, I doubt that anyone would be willing to help you out, even if the fate of the entire world might be at stake. We're busy enough as it is.” Alyssa rubbed her neck and relaxed the hand clutched around her bow. “However, you can follow us back to the village and try your luck if you want. But you'll have to wait until dawn. It's too dangerous to travel at night.”
I thought the animals wouldn't attack you,” interjected Maximilian.
They don't,” she replied without turning her head, “but there are other creatures lurking in the woods. You've already met some of them,” and with those words, Alyssa turned around and walked towards the rest of her group, who rapidly stepped aside to let her through. “Oh”—she stopped upon reaching the other side and looked over her shoulder, focusing on Drake once more—“I'm Alyssa Mirazzal. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” The vague hint of a smile flashed over her face before she moved on.

I really hope you can keep the beast at bay.” Maximilian retracted the stick he had been holding above their camp fire and gulped down one of the sausages impaled upon it.
You and me both. But look at it from the bright side: temporarily switching places has given me a more profound understanding of my potential. I might even be able to...” Drake raised his hand into the sky, blocking the moon's splendor from sight. His flesh began to quiver and undulate, his arm shook, his lips tightened, and then his fingers evaporated, starting from the tip.
When half of his arm was gone, it snapped back in an instant. His face glistened with sweat and he might have breathed heavily, but fusing with the beast had finally gotten rid of the need to mimic such a useless motion.
Looks like turning into smoke isn't as easy as I thought.” He threw a glance at his companions. “I don't assume you have any vials of blood lying around?”
We'll never be able to get some with my kind around,” said Feyadal. “At least not if it's animal blood.” He reached for his belt and unsheathed a knife.
And you think they'd appreciate me drinking your blood?” Drake didn't need to look over his shoulder to feel the piercing gaze of at least half a dozen elves on him at all times.
What do I care? Most of them wouldn't even acknowledge me as an elf. Not anymore.” He pressed the blade into his palm and closed his fingers. One swift motion later, blood trickled onto the ground. Drake handed him an empty vial, and then, begrudgingly, another. “You'll need the energy more than me. Just take it.”
You're actually sharing your blood with a monster?”
Drake reached for his recently recovered sword and Maximilian for his, but they relaxed upon realizing that it was just Alyssa, who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Feyadal glanced at her face for a second, then averted his gaze and swallowed loudly without even having a sausage in his mouth.
I can hear you, you know?” grumbled Drake.
I'm not talking about you. Just the creature you harbor.”
As if that makes much of a difference.”
It does.” Alyssa walked towards Feyadal and slumped down next to him without asking for permission. “I've seen others of your kind, long before they destroyed each other. A lot of them were evil, sure, but I've also stumbled over those who tried their best to live amongst mortals.” She raised her hand and summoned a nearby stick. Within seconds, she had skewered the remaining sausages and was holding them over the fire. “Only a select few were entirely in control. Others had to fight every day, constantly keeping the darkness at bay. As long as you accomplish that feat, you may live.”
Are you going to put me through another test if I ever succumb to it?”
I don't intend to travel with you, so no. And sending you into the Riddle Tower was already a measure that might as well have accomplished nothing. If you can't keep the beast in check, your only salvation lies in death. Unless you prefer a slow descent into madness.” Her soft lips closed around a sausage, consuming it almost seductively. The image of him ramming his fangs into her neck flashed through Drake's mind, causing his heart to race.
I've seen what madness can do to a vampire. And I don't intend to end up like Modera.” He pulled back his stick and ripped off a sausage, oblivious to the heat. Swallowing it whole did nothing to quench his hunger, however. He might as well have been eating unsalted potatoes, so bland was the taste.
That's good, but try not to create any more of your kind. Not everyone is as understanding as me.” Her body had somehow inched closer to Feyadal's, but he kept his eyes focused on his stick, even after all the sausages had entered his stomach.
A few minutes filled by the chirping of crickets and the hooting of owls passed before Alyssa rose from her spot and dusted off her clothes. “Well, it's already late. Guess I shouldn't bother you any longer.” She looked at Feyadal out of the corner of her eyes. He quickly averted the glance he had been casting her. “I'm going to check in with the guards, just to make sure that everything's okay. Would you like to accompany me, Fey?”
The elf's mouth become a gaping hole as he yawned and stretched himself. “Thanks for the offer, but I'm really tired. Maybe another time.”
Alyssa's eyes stared off into the distance as the corner's of her mouth dropped ever so slightly. “Okay then. Good night.”
Her lithe form became one with the shadows.

Drake was sitting on a rock and peering into the vast expanse of the starlit sky long after Feyadal and Maximilian had gone to sleep. The guards passed him by from time to time, suspiciously eyeing his every move for as long as they could without having to turn their heads towards him. They might as well not have bothered, however, as Drake needed only a single glance to see where they were looking.
Their stares caused his throat to tingle, caused scathing words to burst from beneath, but he gulped them down and kept his teeth pressed together. Eventually, the beast returned to his slumber, grumbling and groaning. Spoilsport! “Whatever...”
Sporadic gusts of wind roughed up his hair—it had grown longer and more savage since the Battle of Arlington—but he didn't bother straightening it up. It's not like there was anyone left he needed to look good for.
Distant fire crackled in his ears. It could have been from one of the guard posts, but his instincts claimed that assumption to be false. Then the screaming set in, followed by Modera's crazy laughter. By Assar's menacing voice. By the sound of lightning striking the earth.
Drake shook his head, banishing the wisps of memories that had tried to manifest in front of his eyes. But the echoes of his waking dream still remained.
I could rip them apart, you know? What are you talking about? Those 'painful' memories of yours. Who needs them anyway? Just give me the go-ahead and I'll make sure you never have to see them again.
Drake reached for his chest and formed his hand into a claw, digging it into his flesh. His heart beat rapidly, making its presence know like the sound of a drum. Losing the pain, these horrible visions that defied reality, seemed like a perfectly good idea. Gathering whomever Modera had chosen and destroying Assar would certainly be easier if he wasn't plunged into a nightmare every time he fell asleep or dozed off.
Just say the wo—
No!” Drake yelled into the night, earning himself a wary glance from high above the treeline.
Why not? Don't tell me you prefer to be reminded of your failure? You're messing with my head more than enough. I'm not going to allow you to alter who I'm am. Who knows what else you'll decide needs to be trashed. You could be erasing Emily's entire existence, making me lose focus of why I'm even doing this! Why would I ever do that? Because you want me to become more like you. And I'd rather die than give in to the madness. Come on, I'm not trying to trick you every time. Drake stood up and walked towards the edge of the camp, imagining the beast to still be sitting on the rocks. Fine, whatever. But we'll see how long your resolve lasts.
Drake should have been content, at least for a while, but after taking only a few steps into the underbrush, a strange metallic smell crept into his nostrils. His formerly deliberate movement came to a stop and he looked around, scrunching up his nose and furrowing his brow.
What is this? Seems kinda familiar...”
He smelled the air, the ground, the trees, but nothing brought him closer to an answer. Scratching his scrubby cheek—his stubble had never changed since his transformation, maybe because he found himself to be more manly that way—he continued his investigation further into the woods.
Something landed next to him without making a sound. His hand shot towards his blade and swung it sideways, only stopping when he saw the frightened eyes of an elf open wide.
You'll never make it out of here alive!” he stuttered with shaking legs. Even something as simple as a gust of wind might have been enough to topple him.
I'm not here to kill you.” Drake sheathed his blade, all the time feeling the beast push back, if only playfully. “But you'd only have yourself to blame if I had cut you down, what with you falling out of the sky so suddenly.”
The elf took a step back, his eyes jumping between the blade and Drake's face. “I was just trying to find out what you're doing. There's nothing of interest in that direction.”
Don't you smell that?” said Drake and beckoned into thin air.
The elf sniffed once, then pressed his fingers onto his nose. “What is that?”
That's what I'm trying to find out.”
He turned away and followed his original path. It didn't take long for the smell to change. First getting more intense, then turning from metallic to putrid. That's when it hit him. He had encountered that smell a lot during the last few months.
His pace quickened, as did that of the elf who trailed behind. Slapping away branches and ripping through newly-built spiderwebs brought him to a clearing with a hole in the ground. It was flanked by two serrated pillars with spheres on top. They depicted a creature that appeared to consist of nothing more than a giant mouth with rows upon rows of pointed teeth.
But that's not what held his attention.
The grass around the hole was drenched in blood and covered in entrails, as if a body had exploded into a million pieces. The remnants of a bow lay nearby, giving Drake and his gasping companion a perfectly good idea of whom might have been claimed by whatever was lurking below.
Drake unsheathed his blade once more and took a careful step forward.
Stop!” yelled the elf, his voice full of fear.
I know, I'm going to be careful.”
You shouldn't even go near the hole! It might be riddled with all kinds of traps or enchantments.”
Drake looked over his shoulder and frowned. “But it's just a hole, isn't it?”
Don't you know what those pillars mean?”
The vampire turned back. Now that he was actually paying attention, he realized that fine mist was constantly being dispersed from within the spheres. It hung there for a moment, as if frozen in time, then descended rapidly, as if sucked into the darkness by an unseen horror.
Those are Abyssal Gates,” said the elf after receiving no reply for several seconds, “a 'gift' left to us by our fallen brethren. I never knew one to be so close, though. We have to tell Lady Alyssa!” He turned around and stomped away, but looked over his shoulder when his ears revealed Drake to not be moving. “What are you waiting for?”
What do these Gates do? And what did you mean with fallen brethren?”
Now is not the point for questions!”
Drake seemed to disagree, as he refused to heed the elf's warning and stepped even closer, until he could peer into the billowing darkness that made up the hole. Adjusting his senses did not change his inability to perceive what lay beyond.
I can't see anything.”
The elf gnashed his teeth and glanced to where they had come from, then back to Drake. “Of course not. It's a portal connected to the World Below. You'd be hard-pressed to survive more than a day down there, what with all the horrors lurking below. Luckily, most of them cannot stand the light of day.” The elf's fingers twitched nervously as he eyed the trees. Something seemed to be lurking just at the edge of his vision. He just couldn't manage to catch sight of it. “Can we go now?”
Drake waved his blade between the pillars, scattering the mist but accomplishing nothing else. “Why did these fallen brethren of yours create these passages?”
The elf furrowed his brow, angry that his words seemed to be falling on deaf ears. “How else would they get to the surface without getting killed? They might have renounced Mimeidr's radiance and become one with the earth, but even they couldn't survive a lengthy trip through the World Below.”
The vampire turned on his heels, his mouth opened slightly. “Wait, are you talking about darkelves?”
That's what your kind calls them, yes. Is that al—”
A spear flung from nowhere tore through the elf's chest. A fountain of blood painted the grass crimson, but he didn't feel the pain for more than a second. His heart had already been mangled, ending his life in the blink of an eye.
Drake clutched onto his blade and peered into the woods, rapidly turning in circles. Neither his eyes nor his ears were able to pick up anything, but something was unmistakably descending upon the clearing. The air grew cold, the animals silent, and an invisible force seemed to have doubled his weight.
Who's doing this?” his words came out hollow, barely able to reach the corpse now lying at the edge of the woods.
The sound of grass getting crunched under someone's foot resounded from nearby, yet when Drake turned to face whoever was coming, it shifted to a different area.
Stop playing games!”
I'm not playing, just observing,” said a cold, almost lifeless voice. Its source could not be determined.
And killing,” spat Drake out as he whirled around. A wave of darkness emerged from within his blade, cutting down trees and shattering stones, none of which made a sound.
He got in the way of our deal. I couldn't possibly let him live,” replied the mysterious spectator, his voice unshaken by the vampire's display of power.
Even with some of the obstacles cleared, Drake still couldn't see anything resembling a lifeform. “I don't remember making any deals.” Care to explain? Explain what? When would I have had the time to make any deals?
You are the one sent by Modera, right? Why else would the Royal Knight of Pagan be in your company?” The steps fell silent for a moment. “Although he does seem strangely human.”
Because he is human!” Drake focused all of his energy into his ears, but whenever he thought he had ascertained the stranger's location, he was already gone.
That wasn't part of our deal. Modera was supposed to turn him before I help her out.”
Drake's heart stopped for a bit and goosebumps spread over his flesh. “You are the one she wanted me to find here?”
Without warning, a figure emerged out of a fallen tree. His body was wrapped in what looked like oversized bandages, with only his silver eyes and the gray flesh in-between visible. “You don't know?”
Drake felt as if hit by an anvil and fell to his knees when the stranger raised his hand.
You killed her? That I did not foresee...”
The vampire clutched his head as he wobbled to his feet. “She deserved nothing better. And how dare you invade my mind?” He swung his blade in a wide arc, but the stranger had been swallowed by the earth before the darkness could reach him.
I assume our deal is off then?”
I'm not so desperate as to hire a killer!” You're not? His skills seem quite useful. Shut up!
Well, it's your funeral.”
I'm not going down so easily.” Drake clenched his fist so tightly that any normal weapon would have shattered. “So come out and fight!”
Why would I? Modera's the one who made the deal, not you. I don't care if you go through with it or not. Just don't complain when the Voidwalker rips you to pieces.”
The wha—”
A sudden blast of energy took Drake by surprise and catapulted him into the underbrush. The branch of a broken tree welcomed him with its sharp tip, so he grabbed onto his blade and used it as a shield. Splinters scattered in every direction, but none managed to pierce his flesh.
You don't know anything, do you? Assar, the Calamity, the Voidwalker … he goes by many names, all of which are false. I could explain what he really is … or what he has become, but I can't allow myself to waste time with her drawing closer.”
Drake sprung onto his feet like a freshly-hatched chicken and spun around. The bandaged figure hovered above the Gate and was slowly being engulfed by darkness.
Stop right there!”
You've had your chance. However, if you stick around for a bit, we might run into each other again.”
The vampire threw himself forward, intent on piercing the stranger's chest. But at that very moment, a dome made of impenetrable darkness rose from the ground and swallowed him whole. It repelled Drake's attack and hurled him away before sinking into the ground.
When it was gone, the Abyssal Gate had also disappeared. Only the pillars framing its entrance as well as the remains of the elves bore testament to what had happened.
I knew that we shouldn't have trusted him!” A group of elves stormed the clearing and formed a circle around Drake before he had time to get up. If not for Alyssa, whose gaze was resting on the second corpse, they might have already skewered the vampire.
Her palm lit up as she held it over the elf's wound, but the glow receded almost as soon as it had appeared. Then she eyed what little remained of the first guard, paying particular attention to the pillars.
This was not your doing, was it?” her words might have been framed as a question, but they sounded more like an assessment to anyone present.
Milady, you can't be serious! Just look at what—”
Alyssa shook her head and pointed at the pillars. “There was an Abyssal Gate here not long ago, else the pillars would also be gone. No vampire of his level could have opened it up.”
You're right,” said Drake as he dusted his clothes off, “there was someone with me … someone powerful. He killed one of the guards without anyone noticing and got rid of the second while we investigated the Gate.”
A sword was pressed against Drake's neck. “But the vampire is alive and well, with only a few scratches to show for it! I say we chop off his—”
We do no such thing!” bellowed Alyssa and took down the elf with a single flick of her wrist. “Who was it? You must have seen something.”
He didn't tell me his name and kept to the shadows most of the time. Not that there was much to be seen. His body was covered in bandages from head to toe … but it didn't look like he was wounded.”
Alyssa's eyes narrowed dangerously. “So you saw nothing?”
Except for silver eyes and gray skin, no.”
A murmur rippled through the group. Only Alyssa remained silent, with her lips pressed together.
Why would they choose this moment to resurface?”
I don't know if it helps, but he said we might meet again if I stuck around.”
A grim look flashed over Alyssa's face as her eyes peered into the distance. “I'm sorry, but I'll have to revise my decision. You're coming with us.”
It's not like I have anything better to do,” mumbled Drake.
What was that?”
Alyssa eyed him dangerously while nibbling on her lips. “Fine. Let's get out of here. We don't have any time to waste.”
And so they left the clearing, one by one, never noticing the cloaked figure hovering above.

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