Friday, November 14, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 19: Resurgence

And here's another chapter of A Decaying World, which turned out a bit different than originally planned, which is also why it's called Resurgence. Although I could have easily called it something else and moved the ending to the next chapter, as it will most likely not have the impact it could have. But whatever!


Chapter 19: Resurgence

As soon as the group returned to the camp, Alyssa stopped moving and pressed two fingers onto her throat. “Wake up!” Her voice was as loud as thunder. “We have to return to the village at voice. I'll explain everything on the way!”
Within less than a minute, all tents and campfires crumbled into dust and merged with the earth, wiping all signs of the elven encampment from the face of Meceruun.
Do you always destroy your camps?” asked Drake and faced Alyssa, but she had already disappeared from his side and made sure that no one else had gone missing.
We don't destroy,” said an elf who had overheard Drake. “Everything you saw was given to us by the forest. And now it's back where it belongs.”
I see...”
Good. Then start moving.”
The vampire looked over his shoulder and the elf backed off. His skin was as smooth as that of a child and his sword looked like it had never seen a serious battle.
You should teach him some manners! I'd rather not.
You heard what lady Alyssa said! You're coming with us. So move.”
Yeah, yeah.”
And so began their journey through the darkness of the night. But as luck would have it, dawn was less than an hour. At least it should have been. Yet no matter how long they walked, the darkness prevailed. And it wasn't the fault of the trees lining their path, as even those would have allowed the light to pass through.
What's gotten into them?” asked Maximilian after catching up to Drake. “First they want to wait until dawn, now they're running as if the reaper himself is chasing us down.”
Drake looked at his companion out of the corner of his eyes. “Two elves were killed while you were asleep.”
Shit!” The knight cursed and looked over his shoulder, but his eyes weren't able to pierce the darkness. “Are we being followed?”
Drake jumped over a slug-shaped root protruding from the ground before facing Maximilian once more. “No, and to be honest, I'm not sure why exactly we're running.” He sighed. “But the dead elves are the least of our problems.”
What do you mea—”
A branch bent forward by one of the elves snapped back. It was thick enough to leave at least a nasty bruise, but while Maximilian tried to duck, Drake swung at it with his bare hand and ripped it off, propelling it forward. A wail followed, as it hit the same elf who had reached for it in the first place.
Thank you,” said the knight, slightly out of breath.
You did that on purpose, vampire!” yelled the elf, who was now cowering on the ground and pressing glowing hands onto the back of his head.
And you didn't?” Maximilian recognized the elf by his golden armor. The wild look in his eyes was more than sufficient to tell him the truth of the matter.
Would you please shut up?” screamed Alyssa from up front without pausing for even a second.
Both companions looked at each other and shrugged before moving on.

A few minutes passed before Maximilian remembered the question that had lingered on his lips. “What did you mean earlier, when you said they are the least of our problems?”
Drake clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth. Telling his companion the truth was far from welcome, but he couldn't exactly hide it for long.
This entire trip was pointless.” Maximilian's head turned so rapidly that Drake almost feared it would snap. “Modera didn't want to turn anyone into a vampire. All she sought was help, which a darkelf was ready to provide … if she could transform you first.”
That's the reason I was to become a vampire?”
I'm sure she wouldn't have rejected your help in fighting Assar, but it seems to be one of the reasons, yes. Don't ask me why, though. I didn't have the time to ask.”
Dammit!” Maximilian cursed and groaned, which transitioned into a coughing fit. If not for another giant root, he might have been unable to stop himself from collapsing.
Wait!” yelled Drake. To his surprise, everyone followed his command. Alyssa was the only one to leave her position, however.
What is it? We have to get back as soon as possible.”
Is fine!” said the knight as he exhaled heavily. Another cough followed, after which he spit onto the dry forest floor. “Just … need to … breathe for a bit.”
Alyssa leaned back her head and peered into the sky, moaning just loud enough for Drake to perceive it. But her annoyance was quickly wiped away by a look of confusion.
Her hands were wreathed in blue fire as she raised them into the air. The energy ascended into the sky like the most majestic bird Drake had ever seen, but it was torn apart before it could pass the treeline.
What was that?” asked the vampire as he averted his eyes from the glittering inferno.
Alyssa turned away without answering and beckoned another elf to come closer. Drake couldn't make out what they were saying before he ran westwards, which is where Mimeidr could have been seen towering above all the other trees.
Could you please—”
Alyssa turned around and held up her hand.
Looks like that kid isn't the only one who should be taught some manners. Teach them to yourself first! The primordial beast chuckled, but Drake couldn't get annoyed at him, as his eyes focused on the elf approaching from the east—the same one who should have vanished in the other direction.
We've been tricked!” howled Alyssa and slammed her fist against the root Maximilian was still resting on.
The air began to vibrate and a twisted grinding noise filled the air, accompanied by the rustling of a billion leaves. The elves looked startled and reached for their weapons, but none of them would have been able to guess what was about to happen.
The ground split open and an enormous body covered in black hair rose from the ground. It swallowed one of the elves and snatched another out of the air, pulling him underground with two of his eight legs before a single arrow managed to pierce its flesh.
Was that a spid—”
Scatter!” Alyssa's scream drowned out Maximilian's question and left him and Drake abandoned within the blink of an eye. Fortunately for them, the monstrosity ascended in a different location, where another elf fell victim to its attack.
We never get any rest, do we?” Maximilian groaned and pushed himself off the root before drawing Elegnis.
The fate of the entire world depends on us. Would be strange if we could just sit sit around and do nothing for a while without anything bad happening.”
The spider descended just as Drake had unsheathed his own blade, so he closed his eyes and improved his hearing, tuning out the rustling of the leaves in the process. The next step would have involved getting rid of the grinding noise to pick up the spider's movement's, but the sound stuck around like a catchy tune, no matter how he hard he concentrated.
I don't think we should just be standing arou—woah!”
Maximilian pressed his body against the root and pulled Drake with him as the beast emerged only inches away, almost ripping their flesh right off. There wasn't even enough space left to swing a blade, which is why Maximilian shifted Elegnis' form and acquainted the monster with its fury.
Piercing screams echoed through the woods and caused the skies to crack, allowing sunlight to trickle through. At the same time, the grinding noise grew even louder. Then the ground began to shake, turning something so simple as taking a step into an arduous task.
Maximilian could barely hold onto his blade when the spider descended, cutting a huge gash into its flesh. The hole it had come through collapsed before anyone would have been able to follow.
What now?”
I can't get rid of the noise,” replied Drake. “Maybe we'll have enough time to react by waiting in a tree.”
While the earth is shaking? Are you crazy?”
Don't be such a wuss!” The vampire's face distorted into a manic smile as he forcefully grabbed Maximilian's free hand and catapulted him into the air.
What did you do that fo—agh!” The knight slammed against a branch and quickly wrapped his arms around it.
That wasn't me! Sorry...” Drake jumped after his companion and pulled him up while the spider emerged once more, this time toppling an entire tree nearby.
Maximilian grimaced. “Yeah, looks like sitting in a tree is the perfect way to fight that creature...”
Better than getting swallowed without being able to defend ourselves.”
Right...” The knight nodded absentmindedly and reverted Elegnis' form. The following wave of energy cut through dozens of branches, but did not manage to hit its intended target. “Just stay still for a moment!”
The beast's next target turned out to be a decoy made of mist. It bathed the creature in a brilliant flash of light and trapped it within a cage, allowing a hailf of arrows to descend upon the beast. Most of them bounced off harmlessly, however, with less than a dozen making any impact at all. And before they could try again, the cage shattered.
We can't fight it huddled together like this,” noted Drake. “I'll try going over there”—he pointed to where the spider had been—“that might give us a better chance to actually hurt it.”
Just try not to cut down my tree.”
Why would I—”
Not you. Him!”
Drake opened his mouth, but stopped before actually saying anything. “Oh … Yeah, I'll see what I can do.”
The vampire flung himself off into the distance, involuntarily making the branch shake even harder. Had Maximilian not already clung to it, his head would have been mush in an instant.

After catapulting himself from one shaking branch to another, Drake reached his destination and found himself next to an oversized tree hole. The ground within was covered in leaves and sticks, upon which lay an assortment of nuts that could have crushed a human's skull. It would have made for a good hiding spot, but the foul odor emanating from within kept him at bay, even though he could have easily snuffed it out.
When the beast surfaced again, Drake could only hear but not see it. So he rounded the tree and arrived just in time to see the spider vanish with another elf in its grasp. One of them could also be seen sitting on a nearby branch, with one of his hands resting on his glowing quiver.
Drake was about to join him when Alyssa appeared out of nowhere, almost earning herself an arrow in the face. Feyadal did manage to realize who she was before actually unleashing one, though.
What are you doing here? You were the one who suggested we split up.” The elf turned away and studied the ground, just waiting for the opportunity to plunge one of his magical arrow into the depths of the spider's stomach.
Why are you avoiding me?” Alyssa's eyes were solely focused on Feyadal.
What are you talking about?”
Don't play dumb! You haven't left that human's side since you arrived with your request. And when the vampire returned, you decided to eat with them instead of joining us.”
Why would I ever want to spend time with those who have made fun of my inadequacies?”
Alyssa lowered her eyes and nibbled on her lips, completely oblivious to the spider surging up nearby. Feyadal reached for his quiver and charged up an arrow, but the beast was gone before he could unleash it.
Dammit!” He turned his head and frowned upon noticing Alyssa's absentminded expression. “What are you doing? We have to get rid of that monster if we ever want to leave this maze!”
She raised her head and met his eyes for the first time since he returned home. “You also refused to go with me when I asked you to.”
He rolled his eyes and sighed before looking away. “I told you I was tired!”
This really isn't the best time to tal—”
The tree they were sitting on trembled. Feyadal fell backwards but managed to wrap one of his arms around the branch. Alyssa wasn't so lucky and plummeted towards the ground, which was then ripped open from below, revealing the spider's dark and hungry maw.
Drake flung himself onto the ground, hit it for only a second, then propelled himself into the air again. His left arm wrapped around Alyssa as he turned in mid-air, aiming his blade at the spider and unleashing a powerful wave of darkness.
The beast's ghastly wail filled the woods when two of its legs were severed. The sky cracked once, twice, then chaos broke out. The trees wriggled and their branches came to life, moving left and right, slapping each other, catapulting everyone holding onto them away.
Drake narrowly avoided getting hit by moving his head sideways, but he couldn't stop himself from crashing into the ground, with Alyssa on top of him. She muttered a hasty “Thank you!” before freeing herself from his grasp and eyeballing the madness that had taken hold of her home.
What is going on?” asked Drake while standing up. “Why is the forest trying to kill us?”
This isn't a forest. Just a fragment of reality distorted by chaos.”
And we just so happened to run into it?”
Of course not. It must be a trap laid by the person you met. He's trying to delay our return.”
Feyadal came flying from a branch he had grabbed onto and landed gracefully next to Alyssa, upon which he rose to his feet. “Is everything okay?”
For now, at le—down!”
Alyssa raised her right hand into the air and an opaque barrier popped into existence, engulfing the group. It lasted maybe a second before three contorted branches slammed into it. Drake and Feyadal had thrown themselves onto the ground by then, but Alyssa only fell to her knees while summoning a second barrier.
Another branch joined in, and then another. They attacked the elf like a series of sentient whips, rapidly whittling her down and driving her body into the earth. The shockwaves created by their impact were so powerful that her companions found themselves unable to move. As soon as they managed to lift their body from the ground, they were already flung back into it.
Eventually, Alyssa toppled over, only able to stare death squarely in the face. Her weakened arm went searching for Feyadal's, but it stopped moving when three consecutive beams of light cut through the branches, which were then incinerated by a floating pillar of fire.
When the elf looked up, she saw Maximilian standing at the edge of a scorched path. It was lined with innumerable heaps of ash, which is all that remained of the trees surrounding him.
Looks like I'm just in ti—”
The ground exploded from beneath, swallowing Maximilian's words and the group lying on it. Feyadal finished what Alyssa had started and grabbed her by the hand. Not to feel her warmth, but to throw her out of harm's way.
Meanwhile, Drake's palms lit up and two flaming orbs came into existence, instantly fusing into one. They illuminated the beast ascending from below and continued to grow with every second that death drew closer.

Drake's ears where ringing when he came to. Distant screams and sounds that he couldn't quite place could be heard all around, but he found himself incapable of moving. Partially due to being covered in soil, but also due to the carcass resting on his chest. It looked similar to the creature from earlier, just smaller, about twice as wide as a normal human but half as big.
He pushed the corpse away and caught a glimpse of the sky. It had more cracks than before. So did the trees, and the ground.
What is going on? Didn't you listen to what that 'lovely' elf said? This is only a fragment of reality. Everything you see is artificial. The more it decays, the more it falls apart. Makes sense … I guess.
The vampire's hands dug into the earth while he took in his surroundings. Another nameless elf lay a few feet away, somehow robbed of his head. More elves were scurrying about in the distance, shooting arrows at blurry black figures that vaguely resembled the corpse now lying next to Drake. One elf tried to attack them with his spear, but he was slammed into a tree and ripped in half before he could finish swinging.
With his body freed, Drake jumped on top of the spider and reached for his sword. His hand came to rest on an empty scabbard. He looked down just to make sure, but the result remained the same.
Dammit. Where is—”
A familiar hilt slammed into his palm and his fingers closed without input. There you go. Thanks...
When he looked up, his eyes met with those of a spider. It shrieked, slammed its pincers together, then accelerated to turn into the same blurry shape as all of its brethren. The only mistake it made was to run in a straight line.
Its severed body fell apart before it was able to cross the gap.

Feyadal and Alyssa stood back to back, with their bows at the ready and constantly keeping an eye on the blurry shapes encircling their prison of horribly disfigured branches. They rose high into the sky and were dotted with thorns, making it almost impossible to escape.
Three spiders had already been struck down, but not before tearing through Alyssa's flesh and injecting her already weakened arm with poison. She could barely raise her bow at this point.
We can't keep this up for much longer!” said Feyadal through gritted teeth after unleashing another blinding arrow at the beasts.
I know. But we can't stop fighting. The human has to be here somewhere. His sword should be able to cut down the barrier.”
So now you want him around?”
You weren't in danger before!” She raised her shaking hand and sent another arrow flying. It missed its target by a couple of inches, but sheer luck drove it deep into another spider's flesh. “And I seem to remember you saying something about this being a bad time to talk.”
Which it is.”
Two spiders broke rank and approached from the side. As soon as the arrows were flying their way, they propelled themselves into the air, with their pincers aimed at the elves.
Alyssa reached for Feyadal's arm and pointed the other at the ground. A momentary gust of wind catapulted them into the air, from where they could take out the spiders just as they collided with each other.
But they had no reason to rejoice, as the remaining spiders were blotting out the sun.

Maximilian remembered Drake being blown away by the force of his own explosion. He also saw a myriad of spiders crawling out of the hole where their presumably deceased mother now lay. But he had no idea how he'd gotten from within the chaos to an area that seemed surprisingly peaceful.
His body had been laid to rest against a rock, which provided him with a good overview of the area. A clear river was flowing past the hill he was on, which was in turn surrounded by all kinds of flowers, most of whom he had never seen. Their pollen hung in the air, suspended in time, and filled the clearing with a smell so sweet that it stung in the human's eyes.
When he raised his head, no cracks could be seen. Only the sun's radiant disc surrounded by the azure ocean of the sky. But even though there were no clouds or tree tops in the way, the clearing felt awfully cold. Maximilian could barely stop his teeth from chattering.
Rubbing his hands, he pushed himself upwards. That's when the grass turned from soft to slippery, robbing him of his foothold. If not for the slope, his head would surely have slammed into the rock. Instead, he slid all the way to the bottom, where his left hand plunged into the river's seething water.
He howled and pulled it out. Yet when he looked at it from back to front, not a single burn mark could be seen.
You must be asking yourself 'What the hell is going on?', am I right?”
Maximilian's heart slammed into his chest as he jumped to his feet and whirled around, drawing Elegnis. His body overlapped with the shadow of a man standing atop the rock. The sun, which had suddenly decided to move halfway across the sky, obscured most of his features, but the knight would have recognized his voice anywhere.
The man chuckled and bowed before jumping in front of the knight, forcing him back. “Hello, Maximilian. Looks like Drake told you all about me. Saves me a lot of trouble.”
Here to finish your work?” The knight knitted his brow and grabbed tightly onto his sword. His heart was pounding as rapid as his eyes were moving, fearing his opponent's first and possibly last strike.
Assar raised his empty hands into the air and smiled. “No, I'm just here to observe. For now.”
Of course. And you kidnapped me, because...?”
Assar pointed at Elegnis. “I decided to remove you from the equation, as your sword might otherwise have burned through the elves' illusion and ruined their plan.”
And what does that entail?”
Assar raised his hands once more and the forest burst into flames. “Is that enough of a hint? You'll find out the rest in due time. Just wait till Drake gets out … if he manages to.” He dropped his hands and smirked. “Would be quite disappointing to see him fail.”
And what makes you think I'll let you do as you please?”
I'm glad you asked.” He flashed Maximilian a sinister smile and drew Abolitor. Its crimson blade reflected the inferno, making it seem almost alive. “But you do have to realize that challenging me is suicide.”
Elegnis flared up like a blade made of light and Maximilian's immediate surroundings billowed, unveiling a neverending storm of colors. “We defeated you once, we can do it again!”
Trees cracked and toppled over, swirling up dust that engulfed Maximilian from behind. While he could guess what had happened, he still gulped and looked over his shoulder. All the trees had been cut down, and what remained of their trunks was only slightly bigger than he was high.
This is the extent of my power … when I'm not being serious.” Assar's form flickered, revealing what looked like tattered wings protruding from his back. “What I showed you back at the swamp was only me playing games. I never intended to strike you down. Not before you got rid of Modera or died trying.”
The knight took a deep breath and shifted his weight towards Assar. “But you haven't stopped playing, have you? Otherwise we'd already be dead.”
Assar's grin grew wider than should have been possible while his eyes reflected the hungry flames reaching for the sky. “I've been playing for a thousand years now. Only a single opponent has ever forced me to get serious.”
He snapped his fingers and the forest turned into an arena that was filled to the brim. Humans, demons, and all kinds of unimaginable horrors were sitting skin to skin and shouting for the battle to start. Their positions were constantly shifting, as if invisible waves were moving them around at random.
Friends of yours?” asked Maximilian as he leaned forward.
What would be the point?”
Their blades clashed and dazzling sparks flew in all directions. Maximilian pushed forward, with both hands on his blade, while Assar remained steady without straining a muscle.
You'll have try harder than that.” He pointed the palm of his left hand at his opponent and blasted him backwards. “Show me the power contained within that sword. You don't stand a chance without it.”
The knight swung his blade twice in quick succession. Two beams of energy surged forward and merged into a spiral that should have cut right through Assar's flesh. But the warrior had already moved behind Maximilian and was about to cut him down.
A wave of dread overwhelmed the knight and caused him to jump forward, barely escaping Abolitor's reach. Yet when he rolled onto his back, the blade was descending once more, this time aimed at his heart. He diverted its course by turning halfway and ramming his elbow into it, which is when Assar kicked him halfway across the arena.
Is that all you can do? Throw a few beams of light at me and crawl over the ground?”
Maximilian answered by doing just that, but no matter where he aimed, he couldn't even graze Assar's coat. All he saw was a blur moving left and right, rapidly inching closer.
Those attacks pack quite a punch, I'll give you that. But raw power will always lose against skill.”
The silhouette that was Assar vanished in the blink of an eye. Maximilian's eyes widened and he turned in circles, looking left and right, hastily searching for even a glimpse of his opponent.
But the moment he felt his presence, it was already too late.
Assar's elbow connected with the knight's neck and catapulted him face-first into the ground, earning himself a wave of deafening cheers. He planted his left foot on Maximilian's back and raised Abolitor high into the sky.
What a disappointing performance. Anything you want me to tell your companion before I send you on your way?”
No.” Maximilian coughed up blood and splintered teeth. “There's something I have to tell you, though.”
Assar smirked and placed his boot under Maximilian's body, turning him over. “And what would that be?”
The knight touched Elegnis' ruby and the sky erupted.

Feyadal unleashed arrow after arrow at the oncoming horde, but there were just too many and he couldn't possibly hit those that were hidden by the ones he had already killed. Alyssa tried to help him out, but her arm twitched and her eyes teared up, making any attempt at aiming impossible.
Alyssa, you need to push them out of the way or we're going to get crushed!”
The elf clenched her eyes shut, then opened them wide.
Aly, please!”
She turned her head and noticed the swiftly approaching ground. It was only a matter of seconds until impact, upon which they would have also been crushed by the weight of at least a dozen spiders.
Feyadal turned his head and stopped firing. Yet as soon as he opened his mouth, Alyssa waved her left hand and flung his body far away.
No!” he screamed and resumed firing, but without the proper preparations, his arrows lacked the impact necessary to push the spiders away from Alyssa.
He hit the ground moments before she did and rolled away, with his arms wrapped around his head. Stones and branches tore through his clothes and bit into his flesh, but he swallowed the pain and hoped for it to stop as soon as possible.
When that moment had come, he sprang to his feet and fell over again. His back felt as if it had exploded, but the fact that he could still move proved that assumption to be false. Standing was out of the question, though. So he raised his head and looked at where Alyssa should have been.
An elf dressed in gold cowered in front of the mountain of corpses. Alyssa lay motionless within his arms while another group of elves joined forces to burn what remained of the spiders to a crisp.
Drake watched all of this from within the hole he had torn into the barrier. His body and sword were covered in what looked like black sludge, which is all that remained of the spiders that had closed in on him after he had struck down most of their forces.
Now that every enemy within the barrier had perished, it should have been time for the illusion to fall apart. But while the cracks had widened, nothing else seemed to happen.
Yet when Drake focused on his surroundings, he noticed tremors rippling through the ground, with their source being somewhere at the edge of this field. And they grew stronger with every passing moment.

Maximilian lay coughing in a wasteland that stretched for as far as the eye could see. The ground beneath his body was unscathed, but everything else had been incinerated. There was no sign of Assar or any of the creatures that had filled the stands, but Maximilian's head kept turning as staggered to his feet. Not that he would have been able to defend himself, as Elegnis was nowhere to be seen.
The knight spun around, looked over his shoulder and peered into the crimson sky.
Nothing moved.
You're still out there, right? Else I wouldn't be here anymore.”
Laughter rumbled through the sky and storm clouds formed out of nowhere. They spit out rain as thick and as hard as rocks, which forced Maximilian onto the ground. But he could not stay there for long, as the water level rose at ridiculous speed.
I hope you didn't expect a single explosion to take me out,” Assar's voice reverberated through the wasteland and drowned out the rain.
No.” Maximilian attempted to look up, but a single raindrop forced his head back down. “But it was worth a try.”
That's the spirit. Which is why I'll give you one more chance.”
A comet descended from above and crashed at Maximilian's feet. The impact lifted him off the ground and flung him into the icy water, which he swallowed unintentionally. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he spasmed when it invaded his lungs. His arms and legs flailed about, somehow finding footing and pushing him back up.
There wasn't much left to stand on, however. The water had already risen to chest level and with the way it kept falling, his head was in danger of vanishing within mere moments.
That's when Assar emerged out of the sky. His tattered wings had finally taken shape and were flapping up and down, keeping his body in place. Abolitor hung loosely at his side, but the arm holding onto it was slowly parting from his hip.
I'd pick that up if I were you.”
Pick up wh...” Maximilian lowered his head and noticed something glittering below the water.
Five!” The beginning of Assar's countdown echoed far and wide.
The knight took a deep breath and dove forward.
Maximilian's eyes burned and felt like they were about to pop out of his head, so all he could do was reach aimlessly for Elegnis.
Blood spilled from the human's hand when it came into contact with Elegnis' blade, but utilizing that mishap allowed him to lay hands on the hilt.
Two!” Assar's arm pointed away from his body and Abolitor was wreathed in what looked like black flames.
Maximilian emerged—if you can call it that when more than half of his face was under water—and raised his sword above his head.
Elegnis gleamed and covered Maximilian in layer upon layer of light, banishing the water at the same time.
The corners of Assar's mouth dropped and he shot forward without uttering another word. Maximilian's shield popped like a bubble and the arm holding onto Elegnis flew far away. He barely had time to comprehend what had happened when his other arm was also severed and splashed into the water. One painful thrust later, his insides were skewered, which allowed Assar to lift his body into the air.
Did you really think your imitation could stand up to the genuine article?”
Blood and indecipherable words spilled from Maximilian's mouth while waves of pain rippled through his body and images began to flash in front of his eyes.
He saw himself playing in the streets of Pagan, remembered the laughing faces of his parents for the first time in years. It almost helped him ignore the feeling of getting his legs ripped from his body as if he was nothing more than a puny insect.
That's what you get for allying yourself with Drake.”
Months of training passed him by, memories of when he had been nothing more than one soldier amongst many others.
And of course for being such a stupid idiot. Why would you even think that you had a chance when none of you managed to finish off Modera?”
Jessica's smiling face appeared in front of Maximilian's eyes when Assar pulled his bloody blade out of his torso and turned him around in mid-air.
But the image did not remain for long, as his head went flying soon after.

The elf who had rescued Alyssa from a crushing death was now kneeling next to her, with his glowing palms resting above her arm. The spider's viscous poison was slowly trickling from her wounds and evaporating, but she had lost conscious before the healing process began.
Feyadal walked back and forth, keeping a safe distance from his brethren but constantly looking at Alyssa's ashen face. While he usually wasn't in the habit of biting his nails, he had already reduced one of them to a scrawny stump. And he was so engrossed in it, that he failed to notice Drake's approach.
What are you doing?”
The elf kept on walking and switched to another finger, silently mumbling to himself. “Why did I have to sacrifice my power? I should have been the one to save her...”
All the elves, even the one caring for Alyssa, turned to face Drake. Only Feyadal did not.
Could you please stop!
Feyadal choked as his torso whipped to and fro like that of a puppet. Any attempt to move his legs turned out to be pointless.
Sorry, that wasn't me,” said Drake and placed his hand on the elf's shoulder, upon which the paralysis dissipated.
What was...” Only now did Feyadal realize what he had done. Appalled by the condition of his nails, he clenched his fists and hid them behind his body before turning to face Drake. “Did you want something?”
Yes, there's...” He paused when noticed that Feyadal wasn't looking at him. “You do like her, do you?”
That got Feyadal's attention, if only for moment. Then he decided to stare at a crack in the ground. “That's none of your business.”
True, but I'd still like to help.”
Aren't there other things we should be worrying about?”
Drake nodded and closed his eyes. The tremors were much closer now, but the sound that accompanied them reminded him of a sawmill at work. “Do you hear that?”
Feyadal raised his eyes and frowned. His head turned left, then right, then he shrugged. “I don't know what you mean.”
Aren't you supposed to...?”
The earth shook as if a giant had jumped onto it. Most of the elves toppled over whereas Drake and Feyadal managed to hold each other steady.
What was...”
Another quake followed, twice as strong as the first. And with it, the entire world was plunged into madness.
The cracks widened, the ground's angle shifted, and something resembling a snake swallowed the sun. Darkness fell and commands were uttered, but instead of unleashing hell on the beast, only a few wisps of light popped into existence.
How much more does this thing have in store for us?” yelled Drake and slammed his fist against the tree he had been propelled against. It melted in an instant and closed around his flesh, gluing him to its bark. “Could you please stop screwing with us?” He growled and reached for his blade, but the wood erupted like lava and enveloped his torso. “Damn you!” He summoned a fireball and the tree exploded from within.
Before he could take a single step, gravity shifted.
The mountain of spiders, the elves, the trees, just about everything plummeted into the depths, where the snake's hungry gullet was already waiting for them. Drake might have been able to slice through it, but it seemed impossible to not cut down his allies at the same time.
Only one person didn't care about what happened, and he had already made sure that Alyssa wasn't in the path of his attack. He reached into his quiver and waited, drawing out all the energy it had left while staring into the abyss. It ascended too rapidly for him to amass enough power, but as long as he could shred its body, getting swallowed wasn't as bad as it sounded.

A radiant orb of light tore through the harmony of the forest, obliterating everything that lay in its path. It grew for about a minute, then faded out of existence, leaving behind a group of elves and a smoldering heap of flesh that no one would have recognized as Drake.
Maximilian, who lay propped up against a tree and showed no sign of ever having been torn apart, overlooked the scene from a nearby hill. His eyes were glazed over and incapable of perceiving what had happened.
See? You could have simply waited for them to escape on their own. But no, you had to try and fight me.” Assar pushed himself from the rock he had been resting on jumped onto the ground. “Be glad that we fought within the Void. Even I couldn't have put your physical body back together. But this is how you will end up if you follow this journey through to the end.” Images of him getting skewered were replayed within Maximilian's head. “Just think about it.”
A crimson beam of energy ascended from within the forest and Assar turned to face it. More than two dozen followed, all placed around the village Alyssa had come from. They constructed a symbol that pulsed from within, scattering clouds and scaring away every animal in the vicinity.
Assar spread his arms and snapped his fingers, which brought Maximilian back to his senses. But he found himself unable to move when his eyes fell upon the crest drawn into the sky.
No, just improbable. If only your ancestors had dug a little bit deeper. Their oversight will now plunge this world into chaos and usher in the beginning of the end.”
Storm clouds darker than the deepest black formed at the edges of the continent. And as with Arlington, everything that came into contact with the black lightning was turned into dust.
Stop it!” Maximilian screamed and pushed himself off the ground, but he could barely keep his balance.
Assar lowered his arms and turned around. “You're the hero, not me. So go and show me what you're capable of. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to delay the inevitable for a little bit longer.”
Assar's form faded out of existence while the black castle of Golgotha broke through the earth. It was supposed to have crumbled a thousand years ago. It should have buried what little remained of the hordes that  had ravaged the world. Yet here it was, untouched by the passage of time and ready to finish the War.

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