When the World Falls to Darkness

A kingdom at war, a web of truth and lies, a vicious game of friendship and betrayal, and a world that will kill you, whatever path you take.
When the World Falls to Darkness, nobody is safe.
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Beautiful cover by River_Summers.

(I also promise much more frequent updates starting July, when exams are over. :D)

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20. Intervention

"I still don't get why you want to die."

Quartz didn't bother to glare at Ghost. It would have no effect on her, and besides, his eyes were better used trained on the other assassins.

"I do not."

Frostblade had clearly established his authority over the rest of them - that much was obvious from the way they followed him, like wolves followed their alpha. They were pathetic - merely succumbing to another being of equal status. 

"And that's why we're trying to fight five Guardians and their masters," she laughed, her words smothered by sarcasm.

"Quiet," he muttered. "They might hear you."

Ghost snorted. "As if. They're too engrossed in watching the shapeshifter."

She was right - they were. Their eyes were trained solidly on the camp of travellers. The dark-winged angel. The elf. The Guardian, whose features had evidently captured the interest of the assassins.

"We should kill them now. While they're not paying attention," Ghost continued absently. "They're being too stupid to keep their guard up. Please. I'm bored."

He ignored her, his attention focused solely on the camp. The Guardian was smiling at something the angel said, and she was laughing, and the elf was smiling too. It was strange to see them getting along, as though they were the same, as though they were friends and not weapons. Such people were stupid and oblivious and ridiculously easy to control.

"Ghost," he said quietly. "Follow me."

He slipped through the forest, his slender frame passing easily through the maze of leaves as he moved closer to the shapeshifter. The second the assassins struck, the second they moved, he would step in.

"Heroes are merely idiots. They invented the term to make themselves feel better," she tried reasoning. "Don't turn into one of them."

Quartz continued to ignore her. There was excitement in her words, and everything she said was another fragment of her careless façade.

"Only laws are those of survival," she reminded him in a singsong voice. "We should stab them in the back while their Guardians are humanoid form. Honour was just a code invented by those too afraid to face monstrosity. But monsters survive. And that's why we're not dead."

He turned on her, eyes flashing irritably. He could see the smirk as it wound its way across her lips, triumphant and mocking.

"Monsters need other monsters, sometimes. Alliances ensure survival, and we don't want the shapeshifter against us: we want him with us. Besides," he sneered, "you don't have to come."

Sniggering, Ghost shrugged casually, as though it was a copper coin she was gambling with rather than her own life. "Can't let you have all the fun. I need to prove my superiority once in a while, you know."

"Then shut up complaining," Quartz replied. She could protest, but she was easy to read: bringing her into this would undoubtedly cement her loyalty - and that meant she'd speak highly of him to the shapeshifter and the storm mage. A hint of a grin danced at his lips.

"Excited for your own death?" Ghost laughed, and Quartz's eyes narrowed as Frostblade raised his hand in signal to his team. He thrust his arm forwards, and the assassins sprung towards the shapeshifter, their Guardians transforming behind them.

"Hypocrite!" Quartz shot over his shoulder, and threw himself into the fight.

In a moment he was standing before the shapeshifter, his swords deflecting Frostblade's knives. In his enemy's confusion, Quartz took the advantage, forcing the white-winged angel back. The moment Frostblade recovered from his shock, his lips curled up in an expression of disgust.

"I hear you've taken to calling yourself Quartz these days, old friend," he snarled, voice dripping with rancid venom.

"You were never my friend," Quartz replied, no longer bothering to keep the hatred from seeping into his words. "You were a traitor. My old name belonged to a naïve fool who trusted you."

"Then I suppose we match," Frostblade sneered. "New names, brutally heartless... Two monsters born from a village of blood and tragedy." 

"You say that like it wasn't your fault," Quartz hissed, blood pounding through his ears, and Frostblade smirked.

The two lunged forwards, blades clashing in a ferocious screech of metal, and then there was a blur of silver as they parried, struck, feigned. Fury pumped through his blood as he fought, fuelling him with energy as he attacked. Relentless. Ruthless. Reckless. When he forced the opening in Frostblade's defence, he surged forwards, his weapon slicing through the angel's flesh and forcing a cry of pain from his lips.

He was briefly aware of Ghost locked in battle with a Guardian, of flashes of light, of snarls and roars and cries, but none of that was important.

Him. Frostblade. That was all that mattered. Every ounce of spite found its way into his weapons as he attacked again, managing to draw another line of blood. The crimson sent an overwhelming wave of satisfaction through his mind.

"So it's revenge?" Frostblade hissed. "That's what you want?"

Quartz still pushed forwards, not once faltering. He could not allow this coward's words alone to cripple him - not like before. Not like before.

He charged, the final strike finding its way towards his nemesis's chest, and already the sensation of suffocating victory was closing its fist around his lungs. And suddenly there was black, and Quartz could only throw himself aside as the obsidian dragon dived in.

Its claws barely missed him, and even when they did not tear open his stomach he could feel their power as the creature twisted itself around, white fangs gleaming like daggers of ice. His eyes flickered between the dragon and Frostblade, and the other assassin used the distraction against him, attacking with a powerful blow. Somehow, Quartz snapped his blade up in time, but then there was the crushing feeling in his left wing and the helpless weightlessness, and suddenly he realised that he was in the air, tossed into oblivion.

He landed heavily, gasping for breath and writhing in pain. His wing: burning. His body: aching.

Frostblade walked over with the calm of a victorious predator, raising his foot and bringing his foot down upon Quartz's chest. The hateful smirk was plastered across his loathsome face, and Quartz wished for nothing more than to slice it off. Feebly, he struggled to move, but the pain was too much and Frostblade too strong.

"You're pathetic," the traitor laughed, and raised his blades.

A flash of purple darted across his vision, so swiftly that Quartz wasn't sure at first if it had been real. For a moment, he simply lay there, trying uselessly to figure out what was going on, and then realised that the weight of Frostblade's boot was gone and that there was the snarling of a feral beast.

A shadow blocked the light as the dragon passed overhead, the very movement of its wings sending waves of air rippling across the battle. His eyes tried to follow it, and he realised with amazement that he hadn't been imagining the purple. A lilac skycat had pinned Frostblade to the ground, and a dwarf - a dwarf - swung herself from its back. In a moment of insanity, he opened his lips to try and call out to the dwarf that the dragon was there, but his voice refused to work.

A blur of grey collided with the black dragon. Ghost.

Quartz tried to push himself up, every second of movement sending knives of pain through his body. But he couldn't allow them to outdo him. He could not allow Ghost or Frostblade or the dwarf to outdo him.

Somehow, he stood as Ghost abandoned the black dragon to fight off another enemy. He raised his hand as the monster turned back to Frostblade and the skycat and the dwarf. Drew a sharp, shaky breath. Slid his eyes shut.

And allowed the magic to tear through his veins.

It felt like liquid fire as it raced through his blood, searing and freezing and tearing all at the same time. It was no longer within his control, but raging of its own free will, fighting and hurtling and battling to reach his palm, shredding every barrier he had ever built to stop himself unleashing it.

His eyes snapped open. The silvery magic exploded from his palm. Struck the dragon.

Quartz sunk to his knees, no longer able to bear the weight of standing. The dragon crashed to the floor before him, and he studied it with a curiosity that could come only in the midst of the pain, where it had all become so much that the roaring of the battle was no longer there; where the pain had become so overwhelming he felt only numbness.

And the dragon glared back at him as it died, and its talons flexed, and it pushed every last ounce of its energy into striking out with its claws and closing them around Quartz's other wing and forcing him to the ground.

Pain, screaming, blood.

Then, darkness.

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