Monday, November 24, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 20: Splinter of Desolation

And yet another chapter of A Decaying World, the events of which are only possible because the last chapter added something that wasn't originally planned. But hey, the game this story is based on wasn't particularly exciting. So this might be for the better.


Chapter 20: Splinter of Desolation

Beautiful crimson hair fluttered in front of Drake's unseeing eyes while someone pressed a wet piece of cloth onto his aching flesh. It corrugated like the ocean, slowly repairing the damage done by Feyadal's devastating attack. He could have been healed minutes ago, but everyone present was either screaming, howling, complaining, demanding, or simply sitting in the grass and staring off into the distance, with a horrified expression etched into their skin.
Upon realizing that, a question popped into Drake mind: if no one was paying him any attention, then who was the person whose flesh smelled like roses and whose hands were caressing his burning cheeks?
He forced his eyes open and just about caught a glimpse of a face long gone.
His right hand reached for the retreating figure and the sky burst into flames. It was accompanied by a gust of wind that carried the stank of decay right into Drake's nose. He chocked and reached for his throat as his vision blurred, turning dark at the edges as if smoke was seeping into his eyes.
Why don't you just give up? The end of the world is rapidly approaching. There is nothing anyone can do to stop it.” Drake remembered this voice from before everything went to shit. But he found himself unable to place its origin.
No, you have to belie—”
Metal streaking through the air and cutting through flesh scattered Emily's voice into the wind, replacing it with the screams of all those who had perished at the hands of the black lightning.
All you can believe in is your impotence. Just look at the corpses lining your path.” The flames began to swirl, twisting themselves into burning renditions of the past. “The soldiers of Pagan, who were nothing more than cannon fodder. A respected general. A powerful wizard. All those who died in the fire, and all those who perished soon after. Not to mention your father and girlfriend.”
Drake tried to close his eyes when Glenn was being consumed by smoke that took the place of shadows, but all he achieved was to flutter with his eyelids. The scene then shifted to his unconscious form, with Emily hunched over him. Arlington had already been destroyed at that point, which is why Drake stopped resisting and stared intently at what happened next.
Emily shook his body, yelled words the fire didn't replay. And during all that, she never noticed a figure approaching her from behind. Drake couldn't make out who it was, but his muscles tensed when the person extended a hand towards his girlfriend.
It only took a second for her form to fall apart.
No! This can't be true.
Laughter as sharp as a knife cut right into his flesh. “But why would I lie when my goal is to hurt you? She was alive … and then she was dead. All because you couldn't protect her. And while you may not have cared about them, you're also responsible for the deaths of Alyssa's brethren, most of whom never even realized that they were part of a ritual to raise Golgotha from oblivion.”
Would you stuff it already?”
Drake's shaking hands clawed into the ground as he tried to move his mouth, but all he accomplished was to open it wide, signaling his presence with an unearthly moan.
We have to do some—”
Shut up!”
The unending complaints were momentarily silenced by Maximilian's stressed scream. But they resumed after he had taken a single step into Drake's direction, whose body he had placed within the shadow of a rock.
You have no right to—”
Enough already!” yelled Alyssa. She was sitting next to a bush, with her hair blowing in the wind, and flexed the muscles of her injured arm while keeping an eye on Feyadal. His chin was resting on his arms, which were in turn propped up by the knees he had pulled close to this body. He did not pay any attention to the bickering, however. Instead, his gaze was focused solely on the black castle and the forest burning around it. “We won't accomplish anything by screaming at each other.”
Alyssa unglued her eyes and looked at what little was left of her group. Only the most skilled of fighters had survived, which wasn't saying much, given her experience in the War. At least twice as much had been alive at the end, but their bodies were now burned to a crisp. And everyone knew who was responsible for their demise.
There isn't much we can do now,” continued Alyssa. “So we either investigate the castle or try to get to the nearest village and save as many as we can.”
What about our village?”
What village? Don't you see where Golgotha has risen? There's nothin...” her gaze fell unto the earth as her voice failed her.
Are we sure this is Golgotha?” asked Maximilian, who was kneeling in the shadows and pouring blood into Drake's quivering mouth. “I've read the books written by the heroes who fought in its depths, and while they do embellish their actions, they all agree on the fact, that the castle crumbled on their way out.”
Drake choked and coughed up blood. Maximilian quickly raised his left hand, with his forefinger pointing into the air, while wiping his friend's mouth with the other.
Sorry, I should have paid more attention.” He turned his head back to the elves. “What I am getting at is: couldn't this be an illusion meant to drive fear into our hearts?”
Alyssa shook her head with her eyes closed. “No, it's the genuine article. The power emanating from within might not be as strong as it was back in the day, but there's no mistaking its source.”
But that was also destroyed!”
The elf's head threatened to unwind when her icy stare pierced Maximilian's flesh. “Don't you think I know that?” her voice was as shrill as the screech of a banshee. The other elves eyed each other nervously and moved away from Alyssa, lest she blow them all away in her rage. “But this”—her finger slashed through the air and came to land on the structure towering even above the World Tree—“is without a doubt Golgotha, the same castle that has brought devastation upon Meceruun a thousand years ago!”
No need to freak out. I was just trying to make sure...”
Alyssa growled and faced the earth, repressing the urge to scream by keeping her lips pressed together. Cold air with a hint of smoke entered her nostrils as she inhaled deeply. Only when her lungs felt like they would burst did she release it. She repeated the process for about a minute, slowly draining the tension that had built up within her flesh.
Someone cleared his throat next to her, but she kept her eyes glued to the ground and pressed the tips of her left fingers against those of her right. Magic began to flow from one arm into the other, coursing through her magic circuits and then returning to the starting point. It was a technique she had been taught in trying to focus her power and was supposed to take her attention away from the physical plane. But her concentration was so scattered that sparks of pure magic erupted from her hands and burned the grass beneath her feet.
More annoyed than ever, she raised her head and looked at Feyadal. Just a quick glimpse to see how he fared. Their eyes met for a split-second and his turned wide. He rapidly averted his gaze and scratched his head as if nothing had happened.
Alyssa's body lifted off the ground like that of a predator who was about to assault his prey. Magically enhanced steps carried her to Feyadal with lightning speed, upon which she grabbed his arms and pulled him up. He yelped in surprise and reached for her shoulders to steady himself, but she pressed her arms against his chest and chucked him onto the ground.
Ouch!” He staggered to his feet and rubbed his back. “What are you—”
Stop looking at me like that! How do you think that makes me feel, when all you do is avoid me otherwise?”
His lips turned into a thin line and his eyes drooped. He had thought about a thousand scenarios that could unfold upon his return, but this was so far from his imagination that he didn't know how to act. Most likely because he had stopped thinking about it after losing what little magic he had.
Eventually, he took a deep breath, stepped towards her, and looked her in the eye. His right hand was about to touch her shoulder before she slapped it away.
Some of the elves had already pressed their hands onto their mouths when Feyadal hit the ground, but now they couldn't contain themselves any longer and broke into laughter.
Alyssa's body trembled and her eyes flared up. She raised her arms into the air and immediately slammed them back down, ramming all of her brethren into the earth, even those who had remained silent. They whined and yelled, but only until they noticed the threatening glare she cast at them over her shoulders.
Aly, you have to calm down. This isn't the time for—”
And when will there ever be time?” Her hair fell over her face when her head turned back, covering half of it. “You might not have noticed, but a castle full of monster has just risen where our village lay! We'd be lucky to survive the coming weeks.”
If at all,” came the hoarse voice of Drake from beside her.
If you don't have anything useful to add, then just shut up!” Her eyes appeared to be consumed by fire while Drake was being helped into a standing position by Maximilian.
But I do have something to add.” He looked at where the castle lay, then peered even further into the distance. “Haven't you noticed the storm clouds hovering above the mountains? The ones unleashing black lightning unto the earth?”
The elf furrowed her brow and followed his gaze. A few seconds passed, during which more than a dozen lighting bolts were unleashed on areas hidden by the mountain range.
What about it? The color might be weird, but—”
Keep looking!”
Everyone but Maximilian and Feyadal were now looking into the distance. As if to reward their attention, the storm clouds moved further inland, which allowed the lightning to slam into trees and rocks and mountaintops. And everything it came in touch with exploded in rain of dust.
Alyssa scrunched her face in incredulity and shushed her gasping brethren before facing Drake once more. “What is that?”
The End of Time, the harbinger of Meceruun's destruction. My hometown has already fallen victim to it.” He clenched his fists, replaying the scene of Emily's death in front of his eyes. “And it seems to have followed us all the way here.”
Fury tarnished Alyssa's beautiful face as she pulled an arrow from her quiver and raised her bow into the air. Maximilian drew his blade and Feyadal lunged forward, grabbing Alyssa's arm before she could take aim.
He has to take responsibility for what's about to happen!” said Alyssa without looking at Feyadal.
But I came here to stop it! How was I supposed to know that it would follow me?”
Stop it how?”
Drake opened his mouth, then closed it very slowly. “I don't know … find someone who can help defeat the cause.” He looked at the ground and rubbed his head. “But that person seems to have been the darkelf I met near our camp.”
The one who slew my men? Who trapped us with his magic and got even more of them killed? And you didn't think this was worth mentioning?” she screamed and elbowed Feyadal to free her arm. Then she aimed at Drake.
You didn't need to kno—”
Alyssa let go and Drake ducked out of the way. Maximilian tried to hit the arrow in mid-air, but he only sliced through one of its feathers.
Come on! How was I supposed to know what would happen? And the one who made a deal with him was Modera, not me. I rejected his help!”
Alyssa's held her trembling hand above her quiver. Drake hadn't gotten up yet, making him an easy target. But Maximilian looked like he would cut her down before she could fire once more.
How did you even survive your previous encounter with this … this thing?”
Drake gathered himself from the floor, with his arms raised high and with his eyes focused on her bow. “It wasn't moving the first time, so I just ran out of its range. The second time … I don't know. It started following our ship a few days ago but seemed to have disappeared by the time we crashed.”
The storm in Alyssa's eyes turned into a sparkle of inspiration as she lowered her bow. “It … disappeared? So that's why Mimeidr unleashed its power. I should have thought of that.” She turned to the remains of her group. “Listen up! You will hurry to the World Tree and see if it can banish the storm once more. Me and the others will investigate Golgotha in the meantime.”
Milady, you can't be serious,” interjected the elf with the golden armor. “The vampire got our comrades killed, while that … elf burned them to death!”
Her features hardened and her hands began to sparkle. “Do I look like I'm joking?”
No … of course not. But what if Mimeidr can't repel the storm again?
Then we're all doomed,” replied Drake in Alyssa's stead.

Their journey to the castle was an uneventful one. Neither did they encounter the horrors lurking within, nor any other sign of life. Only upon arriving at the borders of what had once been the elven village did they see the devastation left behind by the rising of Golgotha.
Corpses mangled beyond recognition littered the area. Some had been crushed by forces that left them smaller than they should have been. Others had been scorched by a fire so hot, that single touch caused them to fall apart. The rest had either been dragged halfway into the earth or merged with trees, upon which their skin had been ripped from their flesh.
No...” is all Alyssa managed to say before slamming her hands onto her mouth. The dreadful sight brought tears to her eyes, yet she insisted on checking up on those who seemed mostly intact. “A few must have managed to erect barriers before being attacked. They can't all be dead!”
Aly”—Feyadal grabbed her softly by the shoulder after passing more than a dozen bodes on the way—“it's enough. There's nothing you can—”
She whirled around and slapped him hard enough to propel him sideways. It took only seconds for the red mark of her palm to manifest on his flesh. “I know that!” Her eyes overflowed with tears. “But you don't need to say it out loud...”
Feyadal's eyelids dropped as he followed the tears trickling down her face. Eventually, his hand began to move once more, but he dropped it upon noticing the mere hint of her face turning left and right.
I know it's a horrendous sight, but we can't keep on skulking around like this,” said Drake, deliberately looking away from Alyssa, so as not to catch her icy glare. “And don't you find it weird that there isn't a single demon to be seen?”
Neither dead or alive,” added Maximilian. “You'd think the elves would have taken down at least one of them. And I can't imagine demons to care about burials.”
A single demon was entirely sufficient to take out an entire platoon,” replied Alyssa with a voice so shaky that half of her sentence could barely be heard. “So seeing no corpses isn't terribly surprising. But you're right, something is off, especially given our proximity to the castle.”
Wait here,” said Drake and jumped onto a tree that, while toppled over, had somehow escaped being set aflame. It gave him a clear view of the gate leading into the castle, which looked more like the skeletal remains of a dragon than an artificial structure. Still no signs of life. And the earth looked strangely undisturbed.
Shouldn't there be footprints of whatever surged out of it? Not all demons are as big as Voluere. Some of them barely reach the height of a dwarf. You know about … of course you do.
Drake closed his eyes and focused on the darkness beyond the gate. Water had gathered on the ceiling and was dripping down in regular intervals. Its sound echoed through a maze of corridors, which was filled with a wind so demonic that it might as well have belonged to a beast hunting for prey. But Drake did not feel any physical presence attached to it. He did, however, notice something rising from the depths at a leisurely pace. Something brimming with so much power that even Modera would have turned tail and fled.
Has he fallen asleep?” asked a mysterious female voice only inches from Drake's face.
While standing upright?” said another, which is when Drake's eyes snapped open.
No, he must be looking for us,” replied the last of three humanoid creatures now floating in front of him. While all of them were female, none looked even remotely like the other.
One of them had rosy skin and long green hair. Mistaking her for a ordinary woman would have been easy, but her eyes appeared to be filled with mist and her body was veiled in a dirty robe that failed to hide the barbs protruding from her torso.
The second looked less like a human, with skin as gray and brittle as stone. It was enveloped in a dress only marginally darker, which, in combination with her black hair, made it nigh impossible to distinguish what of it was actually part of her body. Only the fire burning within her eyes stood out from the rest.
Mistaking the last creature for a human would have impossible. Her body was as blue as the ocean and and as smooth as that of a doll, which might explain why she didn't seem to care about being naked. Ears reminiscent of fins poked out from beneath her azure-colored hair, which was long enough to cover the claws she had instead of hands.
What ar—”
The first creature waved her hand and the tree collapsed. Drake fell for only a second, after which the splinters reformed to trap him in a cage made of wood.
I am Halath, the Arbiter of Nature,” said his assailant and bowed half-heartedly.
And I am Mordred, the Arbiter of Destruction,” continued the second while raising her hands. An infernal wyrm—a snake made of fire—burst out from beneath her dress and ignited the cage. The heat penetrated Drake to the bone, yet it somehow managed not to destroy his prison.
And I am Aquis, the Arbiter of Serenity. I'd be pleased if you could die quietly.” She pressed her hands onto her lips and blew him a kiss that turned into a bubble slightly bigger than his head.
Two carefully aimed beams of light shattered Drake's prison while arrows soared over his skull and into the bubble. Despite being powerful enough to rip through a torso, their movement stopped halfway through. The bubble then contracted and crushed them into atoms.
Who allowed you to interfere?”
Four dozen wyrms emerged from Mordred's flesh and zoomed in on Drake's companions, all the while emitting a manic screech that caused their target's auditory canals to vibrate.
Maximilian lunged at them like flies, with one hand pressed onto his ear and constantly scowling. If not for Drake's assistance, his body would surely have suffered severe burns. The elves had less of a problem, as their rain of arrows annihilated their enemies in droves.
How are they ever going to take us seriously when you're just toying with them?” asked Halath, whose hands were resting on Mordred's head as if she was bored.
We lay dormant for far too long. Let me at least have some fun before incinerating them. But you're right, this isn't enough.”
The Arbiter of Destruction burst into flames and robbed Halath of her support. She flailed around without falling while all fires in the vicinity were snuffed out like candles on a birthday cake.
You better take cover,” said Aquis matter-of-factly before rising higher into the sky.
Was she talking to us?” asked Drake while turning his head to and fro in search of Mordred.
She was certainly looking in the right direction. But it might have been—”
An uncountable number of fiery orbs lit up the sky as if all stars in existence had suddenly turned supernova. But these grew bigger and descended upon Meceruun like the kind of hail you would only find in the pits of Hell.
Or maybe not,” screamed Maximilian as he dove into the nearest cover he could find, a small overhang topped by a rock that was only big enough to fit a single person.
Drake looked left and right and spun around, but there was no additional cover to be seen. So he raised his sword into the air and conjured a barrier thick enough to withstand at least a couple of impacts.
I'm not sure that'll hold,” said a voice from beneath his feet. He had just enough time to perceive the smile playing around Halath's lips before she dragged him into the ground as if it was nothing but water.
Feyadal and Alyssa, on the other hand, had chosen to turn tail and outrun the blast radius. It should have been easy, at least with magic at Alyssa's disposal, but their escape was thwarted by a wall of water that encircled the area and rose far too high to circumnavigate it.
Plunge right in if you want to escape Mordred's inferno. It might get a it stifling before you get crushed, though.”
Feyadal bit onto his lips while Aquis' laughter echoed through the air. His gaze lingered on Alyssa's arm, which seemed to have mostly recovered, before he looked her in the eye. “Are you in any condition to block that?”
I'm not sure I'd be able to even without my injury.” Her eyes moved left and right, then focused on something behind his shoulder. “Maybe … get between those trees!” She pointed at two stumps whose upper half had been torched by the fire. They stood so close together that their combined tree tops might have rivaled Mimeidr's majesty.
How are trees going to hel—”
Alyssa raised a stone twice as big as her body from the ground and squeezed it between the trees. She had just enough time to repeat the process with two others before the fire got too close.
Just have to keep the stones in pl—”
Her body shook when the orbs collided. Feyadal quickly wrapped his arms around her, with his head held high to keep an eye on their barrier. That's all he should have been focused on, yet he could not help but inhale the sweet scent of her hair, which caused his heart to race for reasons other than the death raining down from above.

Maximilian stepped from beneath his collapsed hiding place. The stone had been blown to smithereens after a single impact, upon which the overhang seemed to commit suicide rather than face destruction. Maximilian had to keep the remaining fireballs at bay by summoning Elegnis' barrier, which worked out well enough but left his arms numb. Had he not seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn't even have realized that he was still holding onto the sword.
No matter where he looked, he couldn't see so much as a sign of the arbiters. That is until Drake was expelled by the ground and flung into the air. He drew a wide arc into the sky and his screams still echoed through the woods long after a tree put an end to his journey.
The knight sped across the scorched earth and passed the now smoking remains of the villagers. The smell caused him to gag, so he pressed his numb hand onto his nose and tried his best not to breathe until leaving them behind.
It didn't work. The corpses where everywhere, despite not having been there before.
What's this? Don't you like what you see?”
Maximilian threw himself backwards. The tree he had been about to pass snapped in two, shattered by the stony fist of Mordred.

How can you still be alive?” asked Halath, with her torso bent-forward and with her gaze focused on Drake. “You should have suffocated five times over, yet you still managed to scream after being expunged.”
Are you really that stupid?” The vampire raised his arm with the speed of a cannonball and rammed his nails into the sides of Halath's face. “I'm already dead. And so are you!
Her eyes opened wide as her skin grew hot. She reached for his hands, but it was already too late. Her body was flung threw the air by an explosion that melted her flesh and caused Drake's bones to snap. He barely noticed the pain, however, as the beast was entirely in control.
He jumped onto his feet and whirled around, raising his still undamaged arm to conjure an orb of fire. Yet all he could do was jump out of the way or risk getting crushed by a rock. Halath's figure emerged from behind it, undamaged by Drake's attack and wrapped in a thin film of mist.
I hate demons!” grumbled the vampire as he worked his way into a standing position by pressing his back against a tree.
Why do you insist on calling us that?”
But Halath didn't wait for an answer. As soon as she spread her arms, the tree behind her came loose and fell over. Its top had already transformed into a stake by then.

What are these creatures?” yelled Feyadal over the fierce current of the river that had flooded the area after Aquis' barrier collapsed. Only a series of rocks undamaged by the inferno provided them with foothold, but the water gnawed at them like beavers on wood.
I don't know. I've never seen demons like this before.”
How could you?” Aquis' head popped out of the water and ruptured after being pierced by an arrow. “We were already dead by the time Golgotha rose from the depths.”
Feyadal launched a dozen arrows into the water without having anything to aim at. It should come as no surprise that he achieved nothing by doing so.
You're quite lively for someone who should have turned to dust by now.”
Death is but a temporary hindrance to those who have been blessed by the planet.”
You're delusional!” Alyssa sheathed her bow, held her hands over the water, and closed her eyes. Aquis' presence was weak and never in the same place for long. She might have been swimming up and down the river to confuse her enemies. Or maybe she'd become one with it, spreading herself so thin that she could appear wherever she pleased and never be in any real danger. The elf couldn't be sure, but she still tried to latch onto it.
You want to pull me out? Why didn't you just say so?”
The water surged up from beneath and formed a rapidly shrinking dome around the pair. Alyssa raised her hands to repel it, but the arbiter overpowered her in an instant.
It's done,” a deep voice reverberated through the air and the water splashed harmlessly onto the elves. “You can stop delaying them now.”

Maximilian's bruised body was thrown on top of Drake's, while Alyssa and Feyadal were swept towards them by a wave. The gate leading into Golgotha rose less than ten feet away and was now being flanked by the arbiters. Aquis stood to the left and Halath to the right, while Mordred sat on one of her wyrms and looked at their prisoners from above.
Couldn't anyone do something against these creatures?” asked Maximilian as he and Drake staggered to their feet.
We couldn't even touch ours...” replied Feyadal.
And mine withstood an explosion to the face as if I'd thrown pie at it...”
What did you expect?” An eerie glow appeared from within the shadows of the gate, partially hidden from sight by the bandages of the man Drake had encountered in the woods. “These demons—”
We're not demons!” yelled the arbiters in unison.
You've been raised from perdition to serve my needs, and I can plunge you back whenever I desire.” A wave of energy rippled through his glowing arm, lighting up his veins from within. “So don't you dare correct me again … you maggots!” The man chuckled and the demon's scowled, but they swallowed their anger and returned their attention to the prisoners.
Where was I?” The man scratched his head, allowing a single strand of golden hair to escape the clutches of his constraints. “Oh yeah. These demons”—he paused and looked at the arbiters—“belonged to Arronax' personal guard. They are the ones responsible for raising Golgotha and unleashing Chaos upon the world.”
And we would do it again!” hissed Mordred.
You might want to turn around. You already did.
The bandaged man raised his head and broke into laughter. A second voice chimed in from out of nowhere while waves of energy rippled through his flesh.
If you want to think of the arbiters as a horde. Sure, there are other demons back there”—he waved over his shoulder—“but most have either lost their will to fight or are nothing more than living corpses. That's what happens when you rob them of their only purpose in life.”
Then why raise Golgotha from the depths?” asked Alyssa.
The bandaged man spread his arms as if engulfing his prisoners. “That's the most important question of all. But we're not quite there yet, Alyssa.”
Do I know you?”
He shrugged. “All will be revealed in due time. If you survive, that is. Just call me Ri'zzar”—he looked at the demons and smiled beneath his bandages—”the Arbiter of Desolation.”
Energy pulsed through his left arm, accompanied by a rumbling noise that grew louder with every repetition. The flesh beneath his bandages twisted and quivered as if invested by a horde of worms, then his head snapped back. A scream full of pain escaped his lips as his head turned faster than should have been possible. Even the arbiters seemed confused at what was happening.
However, within less than five seconds, everything had returned to normal.
What did you unearth within Golgotha?” hissed Alyssa, who had pulled an arrow from within her quiver while the arbiters were distracted.
I guess it's too late to hide it now.” Ri'zzar raised his hand and the bandages burned off, revealing a crimson crystal shard embedded within flesh as black as the night. “It proved to be almost impossible to find, but here it is: the last fragment of Golgotha's power, a splinter of Arronax' heart!”
Alyssa drew her bow and shot the arrow at his hand, aiming directly for the splinter. But a pillar of fire emerged from below Mordred and consumed the projectile moments before it could strike.
Try that again and I'll incinerate you!”
That wasn't necessary, Mordred. One thought is all it takes to make my wishes come true.”
Ri'zzar held out his hand and a chasm opened between him and his prisoners. Its edges were lined with bones sharper than any metal in existence and its bottom could not be seen.
Alyssa stared into the darkness and gulped. “And what do you intend to do with such power?”
He chuckled once more and pressed the palm of his left hand against his face. His insides lit up like a lighthouse and the earth began to rumble, mimicking his motions. At the same time, the bones lining the chasm began to move, crunching some non-existent object as if they were teeth.
When he unveiled his face again, his silver eyes were sprinkled with crimson. He had apparently decided to embedded even smaller shards of the splinter within them, which might have given him the sight that other darkelves had long since lost.
I will use it to destroy Mimeidr, so that I can put an end to this miserable world!”
Are you out of your mind?”
Everyone screamed and readied their weapons, but they vanished from within their grasp before they could unleash a single attack.
Don't you get it? There's nothing you can do.”
Arronax was killed despite having all the piec—”
The ground beneath Alyssa's feet turned into mud while a pillar of fire engulfed her form, only inches away from actually touching her flesh. Escaping might yet have been possible, if not for Aquis emerging from below and pulling her down to the waist.
Did I tell you to do that?” Ri'zzar's voice was so full of malice that one stray thought could have pulverized the arbiters.
No,” replied the demons unanimously and dispelled their magic, which made Alyssa's prison even harder to escape from.
Then sit back and relax if you want to bear witness to the end of the world.”
You're not the one who's going to end it!” yelled Drake.
Says who?”
Says destiny. Or have you already forgotten about Assar?”
The man laughed and pressed his hands against the back of his head. “Oh, destiny. Of course.” One flick of his wrist flung Drake at his feet. “I'm sorry”—he pressed a finger beneath the vampire's chin and raised his head, until they were facing each other eye to eye—“but your destiny has been canceled.”
Drake slapped his opponent's hand away and grabbed Ri'zzar by the shoulders. The arbiters did not interfere this time.
You promised Modera you'd help her against Assar! And you said I could take you up on that offer. So why would you suddenly want to destroy the world? That doesn't make any sense!”
Blinking once caused Drake to return to his original position. Robbed of anything to hold onto, he toppled forward. If not for Maximilian's quick reflexes, he would surely have fallen into the chasm. Feyadal was still busy digging Alyssa out of the ground.
I lied, to you and to Modera. I did intend to fight Assar, that much is true. But killing him would have ruined everything. But it doesn't matter now. While I might be able to face him with the splinter, doing so would still be dangerous. And you have already chosen the wrong side.” He leaned back his head and cracked his bones. “Destroying Mimeidr will have to suffice. But I'll make you a new deal. Should you somehow manage to stop me, then I'll tell you why defeating Assar would have been preferable. Which will only end up confusing you. But the chances of you even getting to the World Tree are slim.” He looked at the arbiters and nodded in the direction of his prisoners. “You've got about an hour until the Abyssal Gate spits me back out. So unless you somehow manage to defeat the arbiters and have a portal stashed away, this is goodbye.”
Only now did the group notice the pillars hidden in plain sight. They stood right at the corners of the gate, which allowed them to blend in with the rest of the castle. Darkness surged up from within their center and swallowed Ri'zzar's body, once again carrying him into the World Below. As soon as he was gone, the weapons he had taken reappeared within the hands of their owners.
Can we kill them now?” asked Aquis, who was juggling half a dozen bubbles of water.
I suppose that's what he was trying to imply,” said Mordred.
Then what are we waiting for?”
The bubbles splashed onto the ground as the arbiters turned towards their prey, ready to finish them off.

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