Monday, December 8, 2014

A Decaying World Chapter 21: The Voidwalker

And one more chapter of A Decaying World. Not much else to say, really. I hope I'll be able to release one more chapter before the year is over, as I'll be away on vacation shortly after christmas. No idea how long the next chapter is going to be, however, as it is a finale of sorts. Not quite as final as Chapter 12 might have seemed, though.


Chapter 21: The Voidwalker

The arbiters could have struck hard and fast, preventing their prey from gathering their thoughts. Instead, they fanned out, with Halath walking clockwise and Aquis the other way around. The earth gushed out behind the Arbiter of Nature and rose into the sky like a waterspout. Its surface was coated in barbs whose tips were secreting a green, slimy substance. Nauseating fumes ascended into the air wherever it hit the ground.
That barrier was all that would have been needed to prevent our heroes from escaping. But Aquis created yet another layer by transforming the earth beneath her feet into sludge. It corrugated long after the arbiter had passed, as if a billion worms were moving beneath its surface, desperately searching for something to devour.
Mordred spread her arms when Halath's barrier sealed itself and a myriad of wyrms shot into the sky. They danced around each other and merged into a blistering tempest of fire that rose far above the arena. When not a single body remained to be seen, a shockwave ripped it apart, enveloping the wall in a fiery net that no one could have passed without suffering life-threatening burns.
Maximilian watched all of this happen with trepidation, ready to unleash Elegnis' power at the first sign of an attack. “What now? Do we run or do we fight?”
How could we fight someone who already defeated us not long ago?” said Feyadal. “But escape is no option. They'd simply create another barrier further away.”
Not that it matters.” Alyssa followed Halath's every step with an arrow resting between the tip of her fingers. “Reaching Mimeidr before Ri'zzar is impossible without a portal.”
There has to be something we can do. Drake looked at the arbiters, as if hoping for a miracle. Yet all he saw was Mordred's haughty gaze, who was still waiting for the final touches of Halath's barrier at that point. Maybe turn powers against each other. And how would you possibly do that? Invite them to stand next to you and hope they attack without a thought? If you put it like that...
The vampire's gaze wandered over the billowing steam. It grew thicker when the slime came into contact with Aquis' mud, offering only rare glimpses of the arena's outer shell.
Drake, any ideas?” Maximilian turned towards his friend, who showed no sign of having noticed his name being spoken. So he stepped closer and tried again. “Hello, are you listening?” When even that accomplished nothing, he raised his hand in annoyance.
Ouch!” Drake screamed and rubbed the cheek Maximilian had struck. At that exact moment, his eyes opened wide, lit up with inspiration. While not of his own making, he remembered a method that could allow them to escape while also catching up to their enemy.
The vampire turned his head and flinched. Maximilian had almost slapped him again and only caught his hand inches from his face.
What are you doing?”
Just trying to get your attention.”
You could have said something.”
I did!”
Oh … anyway, I think I might have found the perfect solution for our predicament.” Everyone's eyes focused on him while Mordred's firms ascended into the sky. “Remember our trip through the desert? When we helped the villagers by defeating that giant scorpion?”
How could I forget jumping into the maw of a beast? What about it?”
The creature came into this world by escaping the Void, which we then used as a shortcut into the swamp. That's how we could escape while also reaching Mimeidr in time!”
Maximilian nodded and a smile flashed over his lips, but his expression darkened immediately after. “Good idea, but how should we cross over when there's no tear in the fabric of reality?”
I'm sure the Alp could help. But I haven't heard from him since he went missing.”
Alyssa joined them moments before Mordred's net closed off the arena. “What is this Void you're talking about?”
It's a place for our souls to gather when we're asleep.”
But you did enter with your physical bodies?” They nodded. “Then there's only one thing—”
Are you done yet?” A wall of fire as wide as the chasm rushed towards them. Drake and Maximilian jumped into opposite directions while Alyssa propelled herself into the air. It would have been too soon to evade the attack entirely, but she managed to keep herself afloat by unleashing a short bust of air. Feyadal, however, could not get away. Claws created by the earth itself had latched onto his feet and were keeping him in place.
Halath smiled from beside her sisters. “One down, three to go.”
No, not with such a halfhearted attempt.” Mordred spread her arms. A fiery bubble displaying the events beyond the fire came into focus.
Drake saw Feyadal's dilemma before hitting the ground and propelled himself backwards. The elf gasped and buckled over when the vampire's arm connected with his stomach. That's the only reason he didn't scream when his feet were wrenched loose at a painful angle.
Are you okay?” A pointless question, as Feyadal could barely take a step without faltering. “Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you.”
Better than turning into ash.” Kneeling down, he traced his fingers over his covered feet. He grimaced once, then raised himself into a standing position by reaching for Drake's offered arm. “They don't appear to be broken. But I won't be of much help.”
No one will. You're all too pathetic to stand up to the likes of us!” Halath leapt from beneath the earth and pointed her palms forward. A myriad of barbs ejected themselves from beneath her dress, tearing it to shreds and revealing a wooden body underneath.
Drake stepped in front of Feyadal, dug his feet into the ground, and conjured a barrier. But the arbiter's attack was as powerful as the fist of a giant, easily pushing him backwards and into the elf. Feyadal pressed his hands into Drake's back, but without magic, there was nothing he could do.
The barrier shattered as they both toppled over. Yet Halath could not enjoy her victory. An arrow had pierced her face with perfect timing. Its force was powerful enough to push her skull upwards, almost severing the strands of flesh keeping her body connected to her head.
Nice shot.” Drake scrambled to his feet and pulled Feyadal with him.
Thank you. But it won't deter her for lo—”
Mordred's body wreathed in fire shot from the sky like a comet. The ground shattered upon impact, propelling Drake and Feyadal into Halath and Alyssa dangerously close to Aquis' barrier.
Huge bubbles rose from beneath the mud and splattered Alyssa's dress upon popping. A minor inconvenience compared to the foul-smelling odor assaulting her at the same time. It coiled itself around her brain and clogged up her cerebrum, slowing down her thought-processes. One could say she felt horribly drunk. A sensation entirely new to her.
She pressed her right hand onto her skull and toppled forward, constantly opening and closing her eyes. Blue and black shadows were moving in the distance, but she could neither make out what they were nor logically connect the dots.

Maximilian exchanged blows with Mordred, if you can call it that when every strike pushed him further and further away. Any normal sword would have long since shattered under the arbiter's assault.
Is that all you're capable of? If so, there's no point in prolonging this battle.”
Maximilian lunged forward and shot a spiral of light at the arbiter. The ground exploded halfway there and swallowed his attack like it was nothing.
We already went through this. No matter how powerful the attack, it's meaningless if it fails to connect.”
Mordred turned into a dashing flame and reappeared inches from Maximilian's face, with her fist raised high. His eyes opened wide and his heart slammed into his chest. There was no time to raise Elegnis, just to make a single motion and hope for the best.
He threw himself backwards and felt the skin being torn from his chin as if struck by a razor tipped into magma. He clenched his eyes shut and screamed, but still had the presence of mind to roll away when he hit the ground. His head barely avoided being shattered my Mordred's fist, but the rocks she propelled into the air cut through into his skin anyway.

It would really help to know what Alyssa was trying to say.” Feyadal flung his arms around Drake's neck when the vampire jumped into the air. Vines full of thorns lunged at where they had been. Another present conjured by Halath, who had managed to reattach her skull by pushing it down. “Don't you have any idea?”
With how little I know about magic? No.” He paused for a moment and looked off into the distance. “I'm sure Illutia could have come up with something.”
Drake hit the ground and looked over his shoulder. “I'm sorry—”
No need. You've already avenged her by killing Modera.”
What are you babbling about when death is all around you?” Halath's disembodied voice accompanied four vines bursting from the earth. They spiraled around Drake and Feyadal, quickly closing in.
Down!” Drake grabbed his blade and whirled twice around, unleashing two blades of energy that severed the vines at the height of his shoulders. The parts now dead bubbled from within and burst apart upon reaching twice their size. Sticky pollen belched forth from within, covering Drake's and Feyadal's skin in burning rashes and pulsing bulges. One could almost think they had been stung by a thousand bees.
You're looking much better now. How about scratching that itch until you're covered in blood?”
Screw ... you,” said Drake through clenched teeth. His shoulders were tense, his fingers twitched, and his eyelids fluttered as if he suffered from a nervous tic. Feyadal didn't fare any better. He squirmed and rubbed his back on the ground, with his hands clenched around his bow.

The fog that had taken hold of Alyssa's mind had just about lifted when the tip of a single claw tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around and tottered backwards, which is all that prevented her from getting slapped sideways.
Hey, come back here!”
Aquis reached out, then pulled her claws back in. A wave surged up from behind the elf and pushed her forward. Its icy temperature sent a chill through her spine and dissipated the remainder of her grogginess. Just in time to utilize her momentum by ramming her skull against Aquis'.
The arbiter stumbled backwards and bared her shark-like teeth. “You cunning bitch! Can't you just die with dignity?” Another wave emerged from the ground, this time behind Aquis. She shot toward Alyssa with her claws aimed at her throat, but the elf spun on her heels and decided to take flight.

Drake swung his sword left and right, but the horrible itch rippling through his skin left him unable to land a solid blow. Halath watched him flail about for a bit, then swept him from his feet. Turning towards Feyadal, she raised her hand and propelled him into her grasp. His bow fell as he reached for his throat, but her wooden grip was like that of nutcracker made of steel.
He gurgled and scratched while his eyes popped from their sockets. The edge of his vision blackened, his lungs screamed for air, and all the while his skin was still itching as if a million ants were gnawing on his flesh.
A wave of dark energy tore through the ground, but Halath could only smile and sidestepped it as if dancing to an invisible tune. Feyadal's throat had almost reached its breaking point. Adding just a little bit of pressure would have been enough to send his soul into the afterlife.
That's when another arrow soared through the sky.
Halath stepped aside this time, but the projectile curved in mid-air and came right back. It did so a second time when she jumped over it. Then it accelerated.
The arbiter sneered and threw Feyadal away like garbage. She crossed her arms and conjured a barrier made of earth and vines. The arrow stood no chance and shattered upon impact. A second arrow launched from behind had no such trouble and pierced her skull.
Feyadal coughed and reached for his burning throat, but Alyssa slapped his hand away—maybe thinking he was about to scratch himself—and pressed hers onto his skin instead. Her eyes flared up, as did her palm, and a soothing wave of energy rippled through his body.
Is she dead?”
Demons don't die that easily.” Drake wobbled to his feet and focused his blackened gaze on the arbiter. “But this is all I need!” He lunged forward and rammed his fangs into the demon's fleshy bits. Blood spilled onto the ground and into the vampire's face, but the bulk of it streamed down his throat like a waterfall. One could barely follow the regeneration of his skin.
Aquis had caught up to Alyssa by then and was resting on a wave big enough to crush them all. It had stopped moving when she noticed the predicament her sister had found herself in.
Mordred!” The arbiter's scream echoed from the walls of their prison and stopped Mordred from delivering a blow into Maximilian's chest. She looked at Aquis, then at where she was pointing.
Less than a second later, a fist engulfed by magma descended upon the vampire. He tore his fangs free and jumped away. Aquis used that opportunity to blast him with pressurized water, which he blocked with a momentary barrier. It still flung him onto the ground.
Now would be the perfect time to disgorge whatever idea you have, Alyssa!
The ground rumbled and the chasm lit up, which was followed by an eruption that scattered lava all over the area. The only one who didn't step out of its way was Mordred, who had her quivering arms spread wide. Her eyes had become flaming orbs and were revolving with ever increasing speed. The faster they turned, the more frequently the lava erupted. It didn't take long for Halath to be swallowed, but Mordred showed no sign of stopping.

Alyssa, Feyadal, Maximilian, and Drake had fled to the edge of the arena, only two steps away from Aquis' sludge. The vampire and the knight were keeping an eye on it, as Mordred didn't seem to pose any imminent danger. Except for frying everyone in the vicinity, of course.
If this Void is a place that can physically be accessed,” said Alyssa, “then all we need to do is rip a hole into the fabric of our world.”
The vampire turned to Alyssa and rolled his eyes. “Right, let me just get to it.
How about you crawl back into your hole and give Drake his body back?” said Maximilian.
Yeah, because he was so good at stopping the demons.
I don't see you fighting them.”
What am I, stupid?” A shudder rippled through his skin and the darkness in his eyes receded. “Sometimes, yes.” He looked at Alyssa. “I hope you have a plan on how to open that hole.”
A theoretical one, yes.” She pointed at their swords. “Your weapons oppose each other, which makes them capable of unleashing more power than they alone would be capable of. Now all I need is to 'steer' that power and focus it on where the veil between our realm and that of the Void is thin enough to break through.”
The earth shook and cracks spread throughout the ground, giving the lava even more places to spill out of.
You can do that?” said Drake while his eyes darted from Mordred, into the sludge, then back again.
I used a similar technique to sent you into the Riddle Tower. But I was able to draw on an existing connection back then. Trying the same with a place I've never seen could catapult us anywhere.”
What could possibly be worse than this?” said Feyadal, who seemed more occupied with his swollen feet than the lava rapidly inching towards them. Alyssa should have been able to heal it, so she either hadn't noticed or decided not to. Given everything that's happened, he wasn't sure which option seemed more likely.
The depth of space?”
Point taken. We still have to try.”
Alyssa sheathed her bow and stepped towards Drake, but he backed away when she reached for his head. “Don't worry, I just need to take a quick glance. The more you focus on the Void, the sooner I'm done.”
You're not going to dredge up some horrible memories while you're at it?”
She furrowed her brow. “Why would I?”
Just asking. So let's—”
Not do this!” Aquis' mud-covered body ascended from beneath, surrounded by icy spikes. She had no time to fling them, however, as Maximilian had already sent a volley of energy her way. Feyadal's charged arrow followed and popped the arbiter like a balloon.
We'd better get this over quick!” Alyssa dug her nails into Drake's flesh and ignored his screams. There was only darkness at first. Then a cage occupied by a roaring beast. An image of scythes flying through the air. A face so similar to Drake's, yet more mature and worn out. It was replaced by features hidden within the shadows of a gray hood, by a creature standing on a platform overlooking a storm made of colors.
The elf let go and froze in mid-motion, but only for a second or two. Subsequently, her eyes lit up and became almost white. “I see it now. Hurry before I lose focus. Unleash your power into the earth and don't let go until I say so!”
Drake and Maximilian nodded at each other before pointing towards the same spot. Despite having never done so before, constant beams of energy emerged from within their blades and began to coil themselves around each other, forming a rapidly expanding ball of black and white. Sparks flew in every direction and tore up the ground below.
Alyssa spread her hands as if trying to pick it up, upon which two halves of a spherical barrier materialized out of thin air. The elf moved her hands closer together. The moment her palms touched, the barrier snapped shut.
Stop whatever you're—”
Feyadal let go off an arrow he had prepared and blasted a hole into the ground. Aquis' emerging head blew up, but her body was swept forward by a wave, with its claws aimed at Maximilian.
Can we—” began Drake as he looked over his shoulder.
The companions spun around and their swords clashed. Another coiling beam shot forward and resulted in a blinding fireball that ripped Aquis apart. The following shockwave swept everyone from their feet. Only Alyssa, who seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into the ground, remained steady.
Her interlocked fingers were trembling in front of her chest while the barrier kept shrinking. The forces trapped within bubbled with anger and threw themselves at their prison with fist-like appendages, rocking Alyssa's body every time they did so.
Aly,” began Feyadal upon noticing that Alyssa's skin had turned bright red, “are you sure that—”
Shut up!”
The barrier expanded for a second, then shrunk again. Beads of sweat were running down Alyssa's skin as she focused all of her power into a single spot. Her lips were clenched together, her eyes closed, and some of the veins permeating her skin were clearly visible and pulsing.
The lava drew ever closer, with more and more cracks opening every few seconds. It had already covered more than eighty-five percent of the area and was about to consume the rest in less than a minute.
Alyssa, how much more time do you need?” Drake looked from the approaching lava to the elf, but she didn't reply this time. “Can't we delay it somehow?”
Maybe by cutting a swath into the ground,” said Maximilian. “To give it something to flow into.” He stepped ahead of Drake and swung his blade at the earth, from right to left and back again. The ground burst under his assault, but the line he had carved collapsed almost instantly and more lava emerged from below. “So much that for,” the knight grumbled and they retreated towards the edge.
Blood was dripping down Alyssa's hands. She had rammed her fingernails into her flesh to keep the barrier from collapsing. It was now the size of a melon and seemed to have no intention of shrinking even further. The trapped energy had become a stormy gray, a perfect mixture of light and dark. Miniature lightning bolts were surging along its border and multiplying rapidly.
Alyssa, now would be the perfect—”
The energy roared when the barrier shattered, consuming every sound in the vicinity. But instead of expanding wildly and consuming everything in its path, the orb imploded. An otherworldly sound, an amalgamation of rolling thunder, the earth splitting open, and an entire book being torn apart, reverberated through the fabric of reality and a dark rift opened up. It pulled in everything like a dark hole. The storm accompanying that phenomenon sounded like the growl of a world-devouring beast.
Alyssa was the first to vanish. Then followed Feyadal, Maximilian, and Drake. Aquis, who had emerged once more, would have been next, but the hole disintegrated after consuming its last victim. The lava swept over the spot soon after, destroying any sign of the rift ever having existed.

Dazed and light-headed, Alyssa pushed herself off the icy floor. Endless darkness surrounded her on all sides, making it impossible to see the ground beneath her feet. She heard Feyadal groan close behind and turned her head. The others were clearly visible, as if illuminated by a thin film of light.
Where are we? This is not how the Void looked in your memories.”
You missed your target by a few miles. But this is still the Void.”
Drake frowned and turned his head towards a familiar voice. The robed figure of the Alp sat in the air only a few feet away. A golden amulet with the engraving of a book rested on his chest. A miniscule crack cut through the picture and the area surrounding it looked darker than the rest.
You were here all along?”
The Alp tilted his head slightly to the left. “Where else would I have been?”
Someone told me you had gone missing.”
I did, after banishing the beast Dorr'n Selkesch's destruction had unleashed upon the world.”
Maximilian rubbed his neck and turned his head. The sound of his bones cracking reverberated throughout the strangely silent Void. “That was you? Why didn't you just kill Modera if you had such power?”
What would be the point? You cannot grow stronger if I take out all your enemies. Which I'm not supposed to, anyway. And my power has a limit that I cannot exceed.”
You could at least have opened the rift if you knew we were coming.”
The Alp stretched his legs and pushed himself forward. A dull ringing noise echoed through the darkness when his feet hit the ground. “I could, but I'm not supposed to interfere unless it's absolutely necessary. And you're here now, aren't you?”
Maximilian growled like a wild dog. “Your attitude still pisses me off.”
I'm sure you had something more urgent in mind than to complain about me.”
As if you didn't know the reason.”
Who is this?” said Alyssa after watching Maximilian glare at the Alp for a while.
Oh”—Drake turned towards his elven companions—“that's the Alp, an inhabitant of the Void.”
And he seems to know all about the future and doesn't care to share.”
Those are Alyssa and Feyadal,” continued Drake as if nothing had happened, “but I guess you already knew that.”
The Alp nodded in their direction. “I did indeed.” He took a few steps forward, as if to greet them properly, then corrected his course so that he walked past them. “Follow me.”
The elves turned around while Drake and Maximilian looked at each other.
Follow you where?” said Drake. “Can't you just redirect the rift towards Mimeidr?”
What rift? The one you took has already collapsed.” Only now did Drake turn around to notice that he spoke the truth. “We have to reach a higher level before I can send you on your way.”

They walked in a straight line for a couple of minutes, with only the sounds of their footsteps accompanying them. The darkness did not give way to even the slightest hint of color and none of the sounds Drake had heard during his last visit seemed to be present. But every once in a while, he would feel something sweep across his flesh. It felt similar to a gust of wind, yet more physical and so charged with energy that a few strands of hair raised themselves as if grasped by the hand of a ghost.
Shortly after climbing a flight of stairs, an outcry resonated from behind and scattered Drake's thoughts. He spun around faster than his heart could beat and held his sword at the ready. Feyadal knelt on all fours and his face was contorted with pain, but whatever beast Drake or Maximilian had expected was nowhere to be seen.
What happened?” Alyssa joined him on the ground and put down her bow.
I collapsed, nothing more. Seems like the stairs were too much for my feet.”
What's wrong with them?” She looked past his shoulder as if her eyes could pierce the material of his boots.
You didn't heal them.”
Oh.” She averted her gaze and picked up her weapon. “I must have forgotten.”
His eyes followed hers as she stood up. “Did you? Are you sure it wasn't some kind of punishment?”
We don't have time—”
Alyssa raised her hand and the ground trembled. Nothing else happened. She frowned and looked over her shoulder, rapidly moving her hand up and down.
Hey, are you trying to shut me up?” Maximilian took a step towards her, but she had already turned away.
You still haven't answered my question.”
What? You can't be serious.” Feyadal swayed to his feet and Alyssa stepped out of reach. “And what about my question?”
Guys, what about Mimei—”
What does it matter if I chose to ignore your injury or not? Isn't the state of our friendship more important?” She peered into Feyadal's eyes, then past him. “If we even are friends anymore.”
He took a shaky step towards her and sank to his knees with a groan. “Of course we are...”
Alyssa sighed and knelt down. Her palms lit up upon coming into contact with his boots and radiant waves pulsed through his flesh and the ground. A wriggling mass of tentacles were illuminated for a split-second, but no one seemed to notice.
Then why are you ignoring me?” She lifted her head and held his gaze.
You should know the reason. It's why I rejected you all those years ago.”
She grabbed onto her head as if suffering from a headache and stood up. “Because you're not worth it? But you've grown so much since then. You're even known as 'The Invisible Hawk'!” She fell to her feet. “And you said we could be together if you ever returned. Was that just a lie to make me feel better?”
Drake and Maximilian looked at each other and sighed in unison.
No, I meant what I said. But...”—he lifted himself off the ground only to sit down—“that was before I lost my magic.” He raised his hands and threw a gloomy look at his palms. “Our kind might have made fun of me before, but they at least acknowledged what I was. Not so anymore...”
Alyssa wrapped her hands around his. “You don't need magic! I love you the way you are. I always did.”
That doesn't change how I feel.” He pried his hands loose and stood up. “I'd already be dead if not for my equipment. So don't tell me that I don't need magic!”
He tried to walk past her, but she she grabbed onto his trousers and almost pulled him back down. “But you do love me, right? Why else would you look at me all the time? Or sniff my hair in the middle of combat?”
Feyadal cheeks turned red and he did his best to avoid her gaze. “That … that wasn't—”
Sure it was!”
Could we please get this over wi—”
Shut up!”
Maximilian raised his arms in defense and backed away upon being yelled at simultaneously. The sight was so bizarre that Drake had to press his hands onto his mouth or risk bursting into laughter.
Please, don't do this to me again.” Alyssa walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his stomach from behind, with her head pressed against his back. “I've rejected everyone who tried to get close to me, always hoping that you would return one day to uphold your promise. Doesn't that mean anything?”
Feyadal gulped. Not only did her sweet scent invade his nose, but he could also feel a soft sensation pressing into his back. His hands trembled and were almost upon hers before he clenched them into fists. “It would be heartless of me to say that it doesn't. But … it's not that easy...”
Of course it is,” said Drake. “But if you really need an incentive … how about killing Ri'zzar? That should get the other's attention.” He turned towards the Alp. “Oh, about that. Since I'm supposed to defeat Assar, Ri'zzar's plan cannot possibly succeed, right?”
It can and it will—”
Drake's eyes opened wide and he reached for the Alp's shoulders. “But—“
If you fail.”
A breath of relief fled the vampire's throat. “Don't scare me like that.”
You're the one who interrupted me. And you will fail if we tarry any longer. So can we get moving again?”
Please?” whispered Alyssa, just loud enough for Feyadal to hear.

The longer they walked, the stranger the Void became. Dead ends formed new paths where no one was looking, stairs twisted themselves until gravity itself had been reversed, holes connected to platforms far above. Yet the darkness remained unchanged, never opening up to the chaos that was the Dreamworld.
Drake accelerated his steps and caught up to the Alp. “How much longer is this going to take? We need to get to Mimeidr before Ri'zzar does.”
It's not much further now.” He didn't spare Drake so much as a single glance. “No need to panic.”
But didn't you say we needed to get to a higher level? Why is it still so dark then?”
I never said we needed to ascend all the way into the Dreamworld.”
But did we actually ascend?” Alyssa positioned herself on the Alp's other side. “With all those twisting staircases, I have my doubts. And while the difference might be marginal, it seems even darker than when we first arrived.”
The Alp stopped at once and turned his head towards Alyssa. “Are you accusing me of leading you astray?”
Why wouldn't I, when there's no sign to the contrary?”
What reason would he have? I might already be dead if not for him.”
Something might have changed since then. Maybe this place got to him.” She glanced over the edge of the path, at the bubbling mass of darkness surrounding them. “It's brimming with malice after all.”
I've spent an eternity within the Void, just waiting for the moment when Drake would start his journey. Interfering with his destiny would render all that for naught.”
That might be true,” said Maximilian, who had placed himself behind the Alp, “but you did allow his village to be destroyed.”
The Alp spun around and two red orbs flared up where his eyes might have been. “How was I supposed to warn him when I was lost within the darkness?”
Good question, but I've got a better one: how did you manage to get out?”
I .. I just did, one day.”
Maximilian nodded slightly. “You just did. Really? There was no one else involved, like Assar, for example?”
What are you saying?” Drake eyed his companion. “Why would he be involved with our enemy?”
I met him, when we were trapped in the forest.” His eyes remained on the Alp, not letting him out of his sight for even a second. “He snatched me away and we fought in what appeared to be a clearing. But it was just an illusion he created within the Void.” He took a deep breath. “I'd be dead otherwise.”
Assar can enter the Void?” Drake turned to face the Alp again. “Did you know that?”
He's far more powerful than even me. Why wouldn't he be able to? But that doesn't mean anything.” His eyes quivered and his gloved hands were clutched so hard that the material could not withstand the pressure.
Then get us out of here,” said Alyssa. “Prove that you're on our side.”
The Alp whirled around and raised his right hand. The glove covering it turned to ash as he unleashed a blast that flung the elf through the air.
What are you doing?”
Drake screamed and Maximilian slashed, but the robed figure vanished before Elegnis could connect. Feyadal had jumped over their heads by then to catch Alyssa before she could fall into the darkness, which had begun to seethe and grow as soon as she crossed the edge. They landed on a separate platform connected by a single path, but it shattered before they could decide what to do. The same happened to all the paths, until only two small areas were left to stand on.
Alp, why are you doing this?” Drake's voice reverberated through the nothingness and was joined by a low and high-pitched echo that quickly transformed into the growls of unseen horrors.
A ripple spread through the darkness between the platforms and gave way to what looked like a skull. It was connected to a twisted assortment of purple flesh, which revealed itself to be the neck of beast surfacing from below. Its head, chest, shoulders, arms, and legs were shielded by armor made of its bones. Only small areas around its upper arms and knees showed the huge strings of flesh spun around its bones. It had claws big enough to tear through a giant and a tail so enormous that it could have crushed dozens of people at once.
I'm sorry Drake, but Assar has opened my eyes.” The Alp's voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. “We're all puppets in a game far beyond anything you can imagine. And the chances of victory are so slim that following your destiny through to the end is far less enticing than Assar's offer to set me free.”
Everyone drew their weapons and flung one attack after another at the hulking beast, but it didn't so much as flinch. All it did was turn its head back and forth, as if trying to decide which group to crush first.
The world will end if we don't stop Ri'zzar! Don't you care about that?” yelled Drake.
Why would I care about a world that I cannot step into without using the limited supply of power I've been granted? And you're only delaying the inevitable by saving Meceruun. The Eternal Darkness is still coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it.”
The beast raised its tail from the darkness and far above its head. Everyone followed its movement as if mesmerized. A decision that could have been fatal, as it shot down before reaching the highest point. The platform Alyssa and Feyadal stood on shattered, giving them barely enough time to leap off but not enough to jump to their companions. Instead, they landed on the beast itself.
Feyadal grabbed one of his knifes and tried to ram it into the creature's flesh, but it bounced off as if he'd hit a rock. The beast turned its head and regarded him like a pesky insect with eyes that could not be seen. Its mouth opened wide, which caused his nose to be assaulted by the smell of a battlefield filled with a thousand rotting corpses. He grabbed his throat and choked as his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Then he fell into the darkness.
No!” Alyssa jumped after him and found herself knee-deep within a substance similar to quicksand. It grabbed onto her arms and legs, rapidly pulling her down. She yelled and strained her muscles to push against the pressure, which is when her eyes flared up. A shockwave of light drove away the darkness, just long enough for her to grab onto Feyadal and leap away before it rushed back like a hungry beast.
Maximilian halted his barrage of attacks to reach for Alyssa's shoulder. “You okay?”
Do I look okay?” she screamed into his face and wrapped her arms around Feyadal. His body was covered in what looked like bite marks and he was as pale as if most of his blood had been drained. Darkness oozed from his eyes and mouth, which Alyssa instantly banished with another burst of magic.
Here”—Maximilian pressed a potion into her hands—“that should help.”
I'm not so sure.” She took the vial and dumped half of its content into Feyadal's mouth. He burst into a coughing fit, which was accompanied by even more darkness surging up from within his body. “I knew it.”
She wiped the darkness away while the beast's invisible eyes bore into her flesh. Its tail swung back and forth like a pendulum, always moving in the reverse direction of its head. There was no indication that it would strike, despite still being blasted by Drake's attacks.
You cannot defeat the Vocivus as you are now. Just accept the release it will grant your soul before the darkness consumes everything.”
The beast's mouth opened slowly and its breath transformed into a blue vortex spinning in front of its face. It sounded like a tornado drawing rapidly closer.
But you said there was chance! I'm sure we can make it come true if you tell us what's going to happen,” Drake screamed and flung fireballs into the Vocivus' mouth. The vortex absorbed their energy and grew twice as big.
I'd be erased if I told you, destroyed as wholesome as your father.”
But you're allowed to kill us?” Maximilian flung light and fire at all of the beast's exposed parts, but it accomplished as much as the bite of a frail mosquito.
No, that's why you're fighting the Vocivus. Just close your eyes and let yourself be consumed. It might not even hurt.”
Screw you!”
The moment the vortex spun out of control and unleashed a bright beam of energy, time slowed down. A small sphere of light lit up within Drake and sent a shockwave through his flesh. His hair grew longer and his expression hardened while his clothes transformed into a silver armor and his sword into one glittering from within.
I might have screwed up a lot, but I will not allow you to take this chance away from me!” He raised his sword into the air. Circles of energy surrounded the blade, wider than the circumference of his body at the bottom, but only as big as one of his fingers at the top. “Heavenly Blade Koragar, come to me from beyond the Void to banish Regkier's madness!”
The shadow sword still visible below the thin layer of light that was Drake's new appearance was engulfed by a radiance so dazzling that the darkness surrounding their platform fled in fright. The Vocivus' attack continued unabated, however, only impeded by whatever power Drake had summoned.
The energy surrounding his sword closed in on the blade, enveloping it in a layer of constantly spinning rings. He held it beside him and jumped into the sky, leaving his original body behind.
When gravity grabbed hold of him again, an invisible force pushed him forward. He shifted his weight, so that he could descend with his head first and his sword aimed at the Vocivus.
The beast's head was blasted into smithereens when a force stronger than even a meteor crashed into it. Its attack fizzled out mere inches before hitting its target, but Drake's image kept descending.
He broke through layer upon layer of wriggling darkness, until he emerged in what looked like a giant cavern filled with ice. It was occupied by a monstrosity of flesh, a chaotic assortment of limbs and eyes and mouths. Black smoke was pouring from numerous wounds that did not appear to have been made by any weapon in existence.
The creature howled and flailed and screamed, until it was enveloped in an explosion so devastating that it rippled back through the Void and burned away the darkness.
A gaping hole opened beneath the platform the group had been standing on an swallowed them with a single gulp.

No comments:

Post a Comment