She was hunched over, her back bent from a harsh life that spanned ages. The small, yellow-eyed woman scurried through the dark tunnels of the Sanctuary. Her nostrils flared as she breathed, almost as if her sharp, pointed nose was sniffing the air, searching for a path through the maze of tunnels.
And to think, there was a time when she walked through hallways gilded with silver and gold, and all who beheld her fell to their knees. Worlds worshipped her . . . then she led them to their deaths. After that, she lost everything.
Almost everything . . .
She still had one thing left – revenge. The thought of it had kept her going all these years. Her flesh should have withered to dust long ago, but by focusing her vast reserves of the Oneness on slowing her cellular decay she had outlived her own mortality. Like the Dead Gods, her ‘immortality’ came with a price; to continue her quest of vengeance Dona’Cora had to sacrifice her power. Sadly, she had devoted so much of it to maintaining her existence that she was hardly the goddess she once was. But she was still a goddess, and still powerful enough to be ranked among the Elders. Though with every passing day, the processes required more of her. It was only a matter of time before she was as weak as any Chosen, and shortly thereafter, the great and powerful Dona’Cora would be little better than a bloodless. Likewise, the process to extend her life only slowed decay, unlike the ‘immortality’ of the Dead Gods, it didn’t stop it. Little by little, Dona’Cora was inching her way toward death.
Surprisingly, her advancing geriatric condition was the least of her worries. With the latest wave of reports (or lack thereof) she very much doubted she would be dying of old age.
As she moved through the tunnels, the same thought that had plagued her of late continued gnawing at her -- Something was wrong.
Dona’Cora’s mind was clouded with a sensation she rarely felt, an emotion she had thought herself incapable of – fear. She vaguely remembered experiencing it as a child, and felt as helpless now as she had then. She was an immortal, a goddess, perhaps the most powerful being in known existence, and yet she was as frightened as a little girl.
Dona’Cora was ancient and had been born before the Age of Death. Since then, she had witnessed virtually every imaginable nightmare come to life and had faced all those horrors unflinching and unafraid.
There was truly only one thing she feared – failure.
The Void was coming to reclaim her – reclaim them all, and she wasn’t ready. A thousand years of planning, all for naught.
It’s over, she thought, a new (more familiar) emotion arising. I’ve failed. This will be the end, my final battle, and once more I will be defeated.
Anger replaced fear.
I will not die easy.
Her anger flared. How she wished to bath herself in the Oneness.
Soon enough . . .
She had a promise to keep, and there were many Makii left to kill. No matter what happened, she would do her best to see that promise fulfilled.
Even so, she harbored no illusions of victory. If the Dark Army found a way to the Sanctuary, death would be an inevitability.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.
She had been so close; her Chosen were stronger than ever. In only a short matter of time they could have marched against the Makii. But they weren’t ready now – and most likely, all those she had invested on the Living Worlds were either dead or enslaved to the Dark Army.
For over a standard year, there had been only silence from the Living Worlds. No Saviors returned home bringing a new flock of Chosen. Even the sparse communication with the Dead Gods was no more – and likely so too was the Treaty. Most recently, she had sent a team down to the Rift-world to investigate the Gate. But they were long overdue. With every passing moment of their absence, Dona’Cora drew closer to the conclusion that they were all dead, and the Rift-world was compromised.
What is happening out there . . . ? she wondered, not used to being left in the dark.
The Conclave of Elders had been summoned to discuss the situation, but Dona’Cora knew that it would become a war council, for it was obvious that the only thing left to discuss was an impending attack.
She walked through a tunnel of black glass to reach the Conclave, one of the many pathways the Elders had carved through the mountain of basaltic obsidian. She crossed paths with many Chosen and even a few Elders as she walked the tunnels, but she spared them hardly even a yellow-eyed glance. Soon they would all be dead; nothing she did could change that. That was the truth of the coming battle; she didn’t want them to read it in her eyes.
Let them have hope in the battle to come, it may be the only thing left to them.
Those she passed gave her a quick bow before scurrying out of her way. Clearly, everyone sensed her mounting anger as well as the mounting threat of danger, and none of them wanted to have any part of either.
There was an unusual amount of traffic in the Sanctuary’s halls. Dona’Cora wondered where they were heading. Where could they possibly go? It was doubtful they even had a destination. Without access to the Gate, each and every one of them were trapped in the Sanctuary. Part of the reason it remained standing through the millennia was that the moon was inaccessible, but if the Dark Army controlled the world below them, then the Sanctuary was also inescapable. The metallic ships they called ‘pods’ were the only way to reach the moon, and the only way off of it as well.
The thought of taking the pods and fleeing into deep space crossed her mind, but she dismissed it almost instantly. Since the creation of the Rift, star-charts were no longer maintained. They wouldn’t know what direction to begin their journey, or even what they were searching for. Not to mention, the power of the Oneness was limited – space was not. They could only go so far before they became stranded.
No. A trip to deep space was akin to suicide. Dona’Cora wouldn’t end it that way . . .
Thane . . .
She remembered her fallen lover, and how she found him killed by his own hand rather than risk becoming a demon.
No. She will die in the fight. The Dead Gods will have to kill her, she wasn’t going to give them any other choice.
As for their own choices, the only other way off of the Sanctuary would be to make a Gate on the moon itself. But the Dark Army would love nothing more, for the moment they did so, every last undead being in the universe would pour through. Even if the Elders could take control of the Gate, the entire Sanctuary would be flooded with the dead by the time they did so.
There was but one choice left to them.
Our only choice is to fight.
But who would stand beside her now? Who could she trust?
She had sent her most loyal to the elven home-world, Ki'minsyllessil – the place where her best laid plans began to unravel. They were to return with a great source of power, something that could have brought Dona’Cora her long sought after victory. But instead, they were all murdered.
Anon . . . if ever we meet again.
She once thought Anon was trustworthy -- perhaps even a friend -- but now the man plotted against her. Sources said he even aligned himself with a Dead God. He betrayed her on the Elven home-world, not once, but twice. His first betrayal was in the form of his acolyte, Alana. He entrusted her to save a Chosen one from the dying world Ki'minsyllessil, but instead of leaving with the Elf Prince Adros, she took it upon herself to stand against the Dead Gods – thereby forfeiting the Treaty. Her actions brought about grave consequences, of which Dona’Cora was soon to suffer. It was apparent their ‘peace’ with the Dead Gods was broken, allowing the Dark Army to run amok throughout the universe.
As for Alana’s quest to save Ki'minsyllessil; predictably, the world fell anyway and whatever Chosen existed on the world were lost – or so Dona’Cora thought. A handful remained, most markedly their leader, Adros.
As punishment, Alana was sent to the Forsaken Worlds, and Anon was sent to Ki'minsyllessil to fix the mess she had made. But instead of returning with the remaining elves and their source of power, he hid them all – even from Dona’Cora. And her loyal followers who were sent to aid Anon were now dead, presumably murdered by Anon’s hand.
Despite this travesty, many yet viewed Anon as some sort of sacred entity. She could almost forgive the naiveté of the Chosen to be swayed by his lies, but even some of the Elders had become followers of Anon’s monotheistic belief in a so-called ‘Maker’.
If anyone had knowledge of the gods, it was Dona’Cora – she was one, after all. She was the leader of the gods, the most blessed with the Oneness.
As for Anon, she was quite certain the man was barren of the Oneness. Without-a-doubt he did ‘things’, but how? She felt no power in the man; saw no signature of blue flame when he did his ‘magic’. He managed to convince many it was the hand of the Maker itself that gave him power, but Dona’Cora wasn’t so easily fooled. He had been an illusionist in the ancient times, and most likely, was still little more than a charlatan.
But he was beloved, and had risen in the hierarchy of the Elders because of it. Dona’Cora though, was at the hierarchy’s top, not because she was loved, but because she had incredible power and a devotion to succeed against the Dark Army that was its own religion. She put her faith within herself. She didn’t require the power of some supreme being to fight her battles, her powers were supreme.
In a millennium, they had only failed her once . . . she vowed they would never do so again. No matter how grave the circumstances had become, she trusted them still. Ideally, she would have bided her time -- let her army of Chosen grow -- but if a battle was imminent she had no choice but to fight it.
The nagging sense of doom grew stronger as she reached her destination. The room was a spacious, rectangular chamber located deep within the Sanctuary. Like the majority of the Sanctuary, the walls were smooth obsidian glass. The ceiling was over four stories high, and from one end to the other was filled with elaborate, magic wrought carvings depicting the fallen star-systems of every Chosen and Elder who had ever stepped foot in the Sanctuary. As she always did, Dona’Cora paused for a moment at the threshold, her yellow eyes immediately darting to her own system, her own fallen world.
Demicron . . .
Of late, she remembered little of it. If it wasn’t for the mural, she would probably no longer even recognize her own system.
‘Greetings, Elder Dona’Cora. What news have you on the mission to the Rift?’ an Elder God asked, interrupting Dona’Cora’s attempt at nostalgic reverie.
Dona’Cora took her eyes from the ceiling and focused them on the Elder, a one, Mila Dosanti. Mila was kind-hearted, intelligent, trustworthy and brave. Nevertheless, Dona’Cora couldn’t help sneering at the woman. What annoyed Dona’Cora was that she belittled each of those benign qualities by flaunting her other (less wholesome) ones. On any world in the universe she would be perceived as a remarkable beauty. She stood just less than seven standard feet tall, though she seemed taller with her hair made up into an elaborate crown of jet-black curls. Her features were subtle and flowing; like tiny, wind-blown waves stirring the surface of still water. Her flesh was soft and smooth – far too soft in Dona’Cora’s opinion. She would prefer it if the woman spent more time enhancing her physical fitness, hardening her flesh in anticipation of war, as opposed to enhancing her physical beauty in anticipation of love-making.
Even so, Dona’Cora would have been willing to overlook her lack of physical discipline if only the woman could be persuaded to wear the proper attire.
Mila wore nothing at all -- that is to say, no physical garb. Her naked flesh was covered by a thin layer of blue flames instead. The Oneness was her wardrobe, a constantly shifting sheet of silken flames. The more males in her company – the less blue flames. At the moment, five were present, thus she revealed enough skin to only be mildly vulgar. But it was still far more of Mila than Dona’Cora would have liked to see.
Mila returned Dona’Cora’s sneer with an angelic, bright smile.
‘As one would expect, those we sent to the Rift-world are no longer among us,’ Dona’Cora replied, communicating telepathically to hasten the pace of the meeting.
‘Are you certain? They were all highly trained Chosen, led by one of our own, the Elder Corrisan. He is no novice to the ways of the Dark Army, and would not have succumbed to a trap – especially knowing he was heading into one,’ the Elder, known simply as Ome, said.
Among the remaining Elders, Ome held the greatest amount of Dona’Cora’s respect (and he held the most power as well). For a mortal, he was old, perhaps several centuries so. If they had been of a like age, Dona’Cora would have easily outranked him in power, but now they were near equals – Ome edging her out, but barely.
He was wise, old, and a veteran warrior. But could she trust him?
Because they were so similarly matched in power, Ome would not simply bow before her. He had his own opinions on how the battle should be waged, and like the boulder he so resembled, he was immovable, highly resistant to changing his stance on anything.
Ome was a squat, thickset being. His appendages were little more than stubs poking from his ball-like body. He only had three fingers per hand, each of which were so small and fat they were all but useless unless utilized as a sort of claw. Ome had no definable head, his race had long since evolved to the dense gravity of their home-world by melding head and body into one. His eyes were giant saucers on his chest, while his nose and mouth shared the same location; a hole where his belly-button should be.
His limited vocal chords made verbal communication nearly impossible. Nor did Dona’Cora stand a chance speaking his native language -- which was comprised mainly of gurgles and grunts; meaning formed by subtle variations between the two. Thankfully, the Oneness enhanced telepathic abilities and Dona’Cora didn’t have to try.
‘I cannot claim knowledge of what occurred down there, Ome. I know only that Corrisan is long overdue and that can mean only one thing . . . an attack is imminent. The Dark Army is coming to claim the Sanctuary.’
There was silence and nervous shifting among the Conclave, and then Ome replied, ‘We should have heeded his warnings.’
‘Yes, but what good would it have gained us?’ another Elder asked, a stocky, grey-skinned being named Atomin.
‘Anon would have welcomed us to his new world . . .’ Ome began, before Dona’Cora forcefully interrupted.
‘ANON! You have spoken with Anon?’
Ome continued, ignoring Dona’Cora’s interruption, ‘But now we are beyond that.’
The group of Elders backpedaled as Dona’Cora ignited into a pyre of blue flames. She would not be ignored!
‘Anon spoke to you and you failed to inform me of it?’
Her gaze concentrated on Ome, as if she was attempting to bore a hole in him with her beady little eyes.
‘Did it ever occur to you that we are in this situation because of him? That he is the direct cause of this? It is possible, even quite likely, that he is the one orchestrating this assault.’
Ome was the only Elder brave enough to stand his ground as she stormed toward the Conclave. His own halo was but a thin blue shell while Dona’Cora’s had grown to a towering inferno.
‘You’re wrong about him, Dona’Cora. Wrong about what he has done, what he is, and what he means to our struggle. Why is it, that among the Elders, you alone cannot see it? There is no doubt that you are wise and powerful beyond any one of us, but nonetheless, you are wrong.’
Dona’Cora was shocked, so much so that her grasp of the Oneness faltered, her flames sputtered and died. In a millennium of life, she had never been spoken to so bluntly.
‘How dare you . . .’
Her flames returned, stronger than ever. Even so, Ome continued to stand his ground, unafraid.
‘I have dedicated my life to eradicating the Plague, and you would betray me for one knowingly aligned with a Dead God. You fools. You believe Anon is a God, perhaps even the Maker. The man is a fake, a murderer. He left my most loyal companions to die on Ki'minsyllessil, or killed them himself. If ever I see him again he will surely pay!’
As stoic as ever, Ome replied, ‘He assumed you would feel this way. Thus, he came to us. We are sorry to hide this from you, but you leave us no choice. Anon may have betrayed you, but his reasons are justified. Even had he not told us his tale, we all see it . . . the hate in your heart.’
Ome continued talking, even as Dona’Cora’s halo bathed him in flame.
‘If anything has led to our downfall it is that. You have been consumed with vengeance for so long you can no longer fathom the true purpose for your existence. You no longer understand why we fight. It is not simply to defeat our enemies, but to ensure the continuation of life. That is the Maker’s path . . . and you, Dona’Cora have strayed.’
‘Damn your Maker, and damn you as well, all of you. This won’t be the first time I have faced the Dark Army alone. I promise you, once more I will be the last one standing. Even after you have become ash and bone, I will stand against the Makii. When the Plague enters your veins and you lay in agony, rotting, wondering why your Maker has forsaken you, I will not hesitate to burn you to ash.’
Dona’Cora had heard enough, and said enough as well. She spun away, putting an end to the final meeting of the Conclave of Elders. Where she once stood, a pool of steaming, molten glass remained.
‘I feel for her,’ Mila said, her dress of flames swirling around her. Tears formed at the corners of her sparkling blue eyes. ‘Did it have to be this way? She has suffered more, fought harder than all of us combined.’
Ome shifted his weight, wobbling over to her.
‘She is lost, Mila – has been for far too long. It is up to us to bring her back. When the Dark Army comes, I do not doubt she will be the last of us standing. If half of Anon’s tale is to be believed, then this new mutation of the Plague is sure to destroy us all. As gods, we have proven ourselves false. Only one power can save us now, the power of the Maker. If Dona’Cora remains blind to the truth until the end, then I too shall feel for her, for when she stands before the Maker, he will find only hate in her heart . . .
Damn them, damn them all . . . Dona’Cora fumed as she aimlessly stormed through the Sanctuary. But you most of all, Anon, may you rot in hell. I so pray you are behind this, and that you find the courage to come and face me in your betrayal. Let them watch what a true god is capable of. Let the truth be revealed as you die by my hand.
As she rampaged through the Sanctuary, she hardly noticed that the once bustling hallways were now completely empty. When she did finally take note, it only served to fuel her rage even further.
Where in the dead is everyone? The cowards, they flee when we should be gathering for an assault.
Out of curiosity, she sent her power outward, her tiny blue threads sweeping into the tunnels. She would find where they had hidden, and with what little authority she had left, she would make them stand and fight.
What she sensed should have shocked her, but after what happened in the Conclave she wasn’t the least surprised.
Fools, all fools. And to think, I had such high hopes for you all.
Dona’Cora sensed a large gathering -- including the presence of many of the Elders -- in the Hangar. Undoubtedly, instead of staying to fight they thought to flee with the pods. It would be possible to launch a preliminary strike on the world below, thus challenging the Dark Army for control of the Rift, but Dona’Cora theorized instead, that they most likely sought to test their faith in the Maker by fleeing into space.
She thought to join their gathering and chastise them for their cowardice, but then she sensed something else . . . a large swell of the Oneness. It was otherworldly, lacking a detectable source, and it was tearing a hole into the Sanctuary.
Better hurry, Ome, she thought, changing her direction and enhancing her speed to reach the power’s source. I hope you’ve made the right decision, and find your Maker out there in space.
Her anger towards the being dwindled. In all honesty, she had always respected him. It should have come as no surprise that he didn’t agree with Dona’Cora, in over two hundred years he had rarely done so before. Truthfully, she desired him no ill will (nor Mila and the rest of them). If anything, her anger fell to Anon, he was the ruin of them all. If his acolyte, Alana had never set foot on Ki'minsyllessil none of this would be happening. In only a short time, Dona’Cora could have led her army of Chosen and Elders into a battle with the Makii (a battle that they could actually win).
Besides, no matter what Ome and the others decided at this point was meaningless, either way they would die.
She would have much rather preferred that their final moments were spent as companions, fighting side-by-side in battle against the Dark Army. But perhaps it was better this way; even if she stood with an army at her side, in the end she would stand alone just the same. At least this way she wouldn’t have to watch her army die.
No, not again.
As for Dona’Cora, she was still going to get what she wanted – a final battle with the Dark Army.
She knew it was a battle she could not win, but she would yet try. Long ago she made a promise to the Makii, and she still meant to see it fulfilled. Let them come to her home . . . let them die in the tunnels she personally wrought. As long as her powers hold, she will hunt them . . .
. . . and if her efforts give Ome and the others a chance to flee, then all the better.
The tunnels of the Sanctuary were a blur of black glass as Dona’Cora sped to the burgeoning Rift, and her final battle with the Dark Army.