Sanctuary

The Dark Army is coming . . . A Rift has opened into the Sanctuary of the Elder Gods. With no way off of the small moon of volcanic glass, the Elder Gods must stay and fight – and face the full might of the Plague. Help is also coming . . . Led by the former Elf Prince, Adros, a joint rescue squad of giants, elves, and Magi are coming to deliver the Elders to the new ‘Sanctuary’ – a world the survivors have come to call ‘The Seventh World’. But first, they have to fight their way through a maze of tunnels crawling with the undead. The Makii are coming as well . . . every last Dead God. But they have a choice to make; embrace the will of the Dark Lord Sevron, or accept the path of the Maker.

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1. intro

 

 

 

The Plague took our friends, our families, and our worlds, yet it craved more – always more.  So it moved on . . . and on, and on . . . 

. . . So did we. 

We left our dead worlds behind and fled into the Rift, to the farthest reaches of the universe.  It was our hope to find the last of the living worlds before they were taken by the Plague; but instead, we found mostly death.  We saved those we could and once more we moved on . . .

I can no longer recount how often we returned to the Rift, or how many worlds we stood upon.  I only know it was not enough. 

Eventually, we no longer found survivors, only the infected.  It became painfully apparent that our mission was at an end.   So we returned to our new home.  Of all the countless worlds we ventured, we found only six that yet held life.  The universe, once brimming with a multitude of intelligent races, was reduced to a mere four.

But the four races were strong; survivors who had defied the odds and withstood the onslaught of the Dark Army.   Because of our joint trials and suffering at the hands of the Dark Army, the four races became as one, and together we looked to the future, to hope, and to the possibility that we had at last found sanctuary.

Little did we know that our battle had just begun.

-- Book of Adros.

 

 

 

DAVIDIAN

 

 

Death was at his back . . . and closing in fast. 

In front of him, a wave of blue flames scorched a path to the Black Door.  Crackling as they leapt from his fingertips, the flames crawled up the ivory altar, found the Door and tuned it to his home.  The Rift beckoned Davidian onward as if eager to devour him body and soul.  It hovered before him, pulsating like a beating heart.

Death had him surrounded.

Hands – more bone than flesh – reached out for him . . .

Davidian dove into the Rift, leaving the dead hands to clench the air.

Thank the Gods, he thought as his soul spiraled through space.  I didn’t think I’d actually make it. 

There was peace in the Rift – and he enjoyed every moment of it.

The tranquility allowed him to clear his head and to ponder his errors – there had been many.  He wondered what he could have done differently.  Would it have even mattered?  Could he possibly have changed the outcome?

. . . No. 

In that brief moment of peace, he came to the conclusion that nothing could have saved them.

I did my best . . . and it didn’t mean a damn thing. 

With that thought in mind, his tranquility came to an abrupt halt as the Black Door callously dumped him onto a Dead World.

He was home . . . almost.

Davidian cursed in pain as he landed on his back.  Instantly the tremendous pressure of the world’s atmosphere began to crush him.  He was only able to summon a thin veil of blue flames around his body, but it was enough to relieve the pressure, allowing him to get to his feet.  It was a slow process.  With every move he made, more vulgar and creative expletives filled his mind along with the pain.  Thankfully he had saved his trusted blade, Alithia, and was able to make use of it as a crutch. 

He carried the blade wherever he went, despite the fact that the Elders frowned on his use of the weapon.  Even though the edge of black steel was blessed, they considered any weapon, other than the Oneness, an archaic method of combat.

But Alithia had saved his life several times . . . and many of those times had just recently occurred.  To escape the latest Plague infested world, he had nearly drained himself of the Oneness.  Lacking the ability to kill his enemies with blue flame, Davidian found the cold steel of Alithia more than an acceptable substitute. 

So much for the Treaty, he thought, still not sure what the hell went wrong back there.  Davidian was no rookie when it came to venturing into the Rift.  He had been to many worlds, both living and dead.  And had faced the Dark Army on countless occasions.  But never before had he seen such a brutal, and blatant slaughter as that which he found on Torathius.  So consumed by madness, the Dark Army even ignored the feast, preferring to revel in pure carnage . . . and chaos.  The blood of the living, typically so precious and savored, was left to run down the gutters and bath the streets. 

I reckon Dona’Cora’s gonna burst into flames when she hears about this . . .

He tried to take a step, but with the thick atmosphere surrounding him, it was like walking through a swamp.  Not to mention, every motion sent a searing pain down his shoulder and back.

. . . If she hears about this, Davidian thought, beginning to wonder if he had saved enough of his power to make it home.

The Dead World he stood on wasn’t his home, the black moon that orbited it was.  They dubbed the moon ‘The Sanctuary’, the home of the Elders and their Chosen ones.  The only way to reach it was by piloting a pod; metal vessels designed to be powered by the Oneness.  There was no Gate to the Sanctuary.  The Dark Army could travel the Gate, but only the Oneness could power a pod.  It was a simple, but effective way to keep the Sanctuary safe from the Plague, and it had done so for thousands of years.  All Davidian had to do was reach a pod and he would be safe, but the Dead World harbored a lethal environment.  Every second spent within it was incredibly taxing on one’s power – and Davidian didn’t have much to start with.

There were several pods scattered around the Rift, their egg-shaped metallic hulls shimmering like a mirage as the planet’s sun beat down upon them.  The closest of them was roughly twenty standard feet away.  But what normally would be quick stroll, now seemed like an impossibility, considering Davidian had failed to complete a single step.

I will make it, he inwardly cursed.  . . . I have too. 

He didn’t come this far to die on a Dead World.

Davidian looked up, his dark brown eyes peeking out from a mop of disheveled black hair.  There it was . . . the Sanctuary, hanging in the sky; a half-moon sliver of metallic black.

It almost seemed close enough to touch.  If he could just reach out to it . . .

He lifted his left arm. . . there was a loud pop.  With the sudden jolt of pain, he nearly lost control of his halo of Oneness – the only thing keeping the dense atmosphere from turning his body into pulp.  He struggled to focus his mind, actually used the pain as a focal point.

He regained his senses as the pain slowly faded.  Clearly, before he did anything else, he had to assess his injuries.

He wore a jacket of black leather, the cuffs and collar dyed blood red.  A diagonal tear ran the full length of the back of his jacket.  The leather was cut clean, as if made by a razor -- so too was the flesh beneath, exposing muscle, tissue and bone.  His left arm hung at his side, he once more attempted to raise it above his head, but only made it waist-high before his mind was awash in pain.

Davidian couldn’t see the injury, but could guess at its severity.  Most likely, his shoulder blade had fractured or broken under the blow.  The wide slice down his back was a flesh wound, but a severe one.  He knew the wound was deep, but thankfully not deep enough to harm his spinal column or internal organs.  All in all, nothing an Elder couldn’t heal, or even one of the lesser Chosen for that matter.  If he was stronger, he could do it himself, but in his current condition he needed all the power he had left to guide his pod back to the Sanctuary; and the longer he spent on the Dead World licking his wounds, the less energy he would have to make that a possibility.

He gritted his teeth against the pain and trudged onward, one slow, excruciating step after another . . .

Davidian was a Savior.  He had spent the last decade on the world Torathius, anticipating their scheduled destruction, as dictated by the Makii.  He had found many on the planet he believed could prove themselves worthy as Chosen.  But before he could fully vet them, the dead came – far ahead of schedule.  That should have been his first clue that something had gone horribly wrong, but despite the unexpected arrival, Davidian did what he was supposed to do; he watched, and he waited.

He didn’t have to wait long, the Torathians were quickly slaughtered.  The lust to kill was unprecedented, even for the Dark Army.

That was his second clue – this time he didn’t ignore it.

He went into action.  Saving the world was an impossibility – he vaguely remembered an Elder teaching him that – so he went for the Chosen.  To his credit, he collected five of them.  It was when he tried getting them back through the Rift that things went from bad to worse.

They had been just kids.  They could have been great Chosen, perhaps even Elders one day.

Davidian couldn’t save them . . . but before he focused on saving his own ass, he made sure they wouldn’t end up as slaves in the Dark Army.

In his blood-bath scramble to get to the Rift, Davidian even took down a Dead God.  As Alithia slowly burned through the creature’s innards, he demanded to know why they had abandoned the Treaty.  It was common knowledge that it was a benefit to both sides, Dead Gods and Elders.  The Dead Gods had succeeded in devouring most of the universe, but their hunger remained.  It would always remain, such was their curse.  In order to keep them sated, in essence, the Elders created living planets for the Dead Gods to feed upon.  And by doing so, they were allowed to save their “Chosen” from these worlds and bring them back to the Sanctuary.  There, their powers could grow to create more planets for the Dead Gods to consume, and when they did, the Chosen who had been elevated to Saviors would venture out to collect more Chosen . . .etc . . . etc.  And so it would go for all time – a truce (sort of).  The truth of it was that the Elders were enslaved by the Treaty.  They were allowed to live and propagate, so long as the Dead Gods were fed. 

But the attack on Torathius was different than anything Davidian had seen, the Dark Army wasn’t the least bit interested in feeding, just slaughtering anything with warm blood in its veins.

Even as he twisted Alithia deeper, and black smoke curled from its torso, the Dead God said not a word.  It simply stared at him, oblivious to the pain.  When whatever sort of life the being possessed finally left, its eyes were as blank and empty as they had been the first moment Alithia sank into its stomach.

Something is wrong as hell, Davidian thought, remembering the creature’s dead eyes.   I have to make it, I have to tell Dona’Cora.

He discovered reserves of power he didn’t know he had, and lumbered onward to the gleaming pods.

Davidian grinned, gaining confidence as he drew nearer.  He was going to make it.  He would get back to the Sanctuary and tell his tale.  The Elders would heal him (make him strong as ever), and together they would face this unbridled resurgence of the Dark Army.  With Alithia in his hands, he would make them pay for what they have done.

He stood in the shadow of a pod and smiled.  He was about to send his power out and open a door in the vessel when another shadow appeared – eclipsing both Davidian and the pod.

His smile vanished.  He would have recognized the giant tree-like silhouette anywhere.  Of all the Elders, this being was his least favorite, and the last one he wished to see at the moment.

‘Ostedes, what in the dead hell are you doing here?’ he asked as the creature rounded the pod.

Davidian was also well aware of the being’s tremendous telepathic abilities, and knew Ostedes would easily be interpreting his thoughts – most likely had been since he arrived in the world.

The creature was a giant, nearly twice as tall as Davidian.  Though his body and limbs were thin, he seemed deceptively massive, for each of his arms had over a hundred limbs that spread out from his body like branches.  His feet were like roots, digging into the earth as he moved.  Ostedes had no mouth, only a blank face with a pair of glowing white eyes.

Suddenly the being reared up, and grew larger still, his branch-like limbs stretching out and writhing in the air. 

It was tough to tell through the hazy atmosphere, but he seemed even larger than Davidian remembered . . . and his eyes, it was rumored they turned white when the giant was angered, but now they shown like beacons.  And there was something else . . .

Davidian, you damned fool!

He cursed himself.  How could he have missed it?   

Ostedes doesn’t have a halo!

Any living being without a shield of the Oneness to protect them would have been instantly crushed in the dense atmosphere, leading Davidian to a simple conclusion – Ostedes wasn’t a living being anymore.

He focused the Oneness, enhancing his speed.  He had enough left for one strike – maybe.  But it had to count.

Davidian disregarded his injuries and dove for the being’s trunk-like chest -- Alithia leading the way. 

A hollow gurgle came from somewhere in the giant’s mouthless head.  His limbs vibrated and twitched as Davidian came on, but they didn’t move to intercept him.

They didn’t have to.

‘DAVIDIAN.’

The sound of his name reverberated through his mind.  Davidian felt his body shutting down, his own limbs were no longer his to control.  And there was pain, a solid wall of fire that prevented any rational thought.

But he was already in motion.  Alithia was still heading for her target . . . the tip of his blade made contact with Ostedes chest and easily sank in to the hilt.  The strike must have broken the giant’s concentration, for Davidian had his body back, the pain in his mind was but an echo.  He landed on his feet and pulled Alithia free.  A spurt of black blood accompanied the blade, drenching Davidian.  He ignored the spray of viscous fluid and prepared for a second strike.

The only thing moving on the tree-like giant was its flailing limbs.  His eyes continued to shine down on Davidian.

Perhaps he was mistaken, but it almost appeared like the bark ridges of Ostedes’ face had twisted into a grin.  

Davidian grinned back.  With his next strike, he planned to bury Alithia into the Elder’s face. 

Smoke rose from Alithia’s edge . . .

. . . and from Davidian’s flesh.   His face and body were suddenly on fire.  The black blood was like acid, burning into his skin.  He summoned what little power he had to stop it, but it was too late . . . and worse yet, the black blood wasn’t burning his flesh, it was burrowing into it.

‘Curse you, Ostedes!’ 

Davidian was being possessed.

His leather coat was speckled with holes from which his life-blood was pouring.  The majority of the fluid had landed on his face, which was rapidly being eaten away, his tussled head of hair became a skull cap of white bone. 

Alithia slipped from his grip, the entire length of blessed steel was pocked and rapidly disintegrating.

Davidian screamed, but he didn’t make a sound, his voice was swallowed in the dense atmosphere. 

‘I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU, DAVIDIAN.  I KNEW EVENTUALLY A SAVIOR WOULD COME, AND WHEN THEY DID . . .’

Even as his flesh melted away, Davidian summoned all the Oneness he had left, and prepared for one last attack. 

But Ostedes took his mind, and with it his power.  The branch-like limbs came at him, digging into his body.

‘SAVE YOUR STRENGTH.  I HAVE NEED OF YOUR POWER.  I AM COMING HOME, AND YOU WILL BE THE ONE TO TAKE ME THERE.’

The strange choking noise came louder from the giant.  Davidian’s eyes melted from his head.  Before the darkness took him, he realized the choking sound was Ostedes’ laughter.

 

 

 

ANON

 

 

A breeze followed the man.  It surrounded him in an invisible shield.  Leaves parted at his approach, tree bows bent.  Where there was only dense forest a path was cleared.  The breeze brushed his mossy green cape, stirring the many silver bells sewn into the cloth and filling the air with their gentle ringing.  Birds echoed the sound throughout the canopy.

There was even a rainbow breaking through the trees . . .

. . . He stood in the ruins of a once colossal structure.  Slabs of rubble etched by the elements closed him in.  They rose to the sky; giant grey monoliths hundreds of feet tall.  On the horizon there was a sun, a blood-red ball that seemed too decrepit to fully arise.  The dying light cast the land into shadow.  The shadows of the monoliths became warped replicas of their creators, stretching over the man.

There were shadows all around him . . . one of them even moved, and it drew near.

“Have you made contact?” the man asked as the humanoid silhouette shuffled over to him.

“Yes,” the being replied, his voice half echo, half whisper.

“And yet you live?” he chided the being.

“Ha . . . so it seems.  It appears their hatred for the new enemy has trumped their hatred of me.”

The being was wrapped in darkness, he wore it like cloak.  His face was shaped like a human, but his features were an indistinguishable dark blur.

“There was but a few who would meet with me,” the being continued.  “I wager that many of my Brethren have either succumbed, or been reclaimed by the Void.  Even those who are yet free were willing to say little.  They fear their fate will soon mirror that of their lost Brethren, and rightly so.  It was only when I mentioned the great Anon that they spoke at all.  They think you, and only you, can save them from the Void.”

“They are forsaken.  Nothing can save them now,” Anon bluntly stated.

“I know the truth of it . . .” the shadow said, performing an elaborate bow.  “But felt the knowledge should be withheld.  An act of kindness perhaps, for those who were once my brothers.”

“Kindness?” The man said, arching an eyebrow in mock confusion.  “I didn’t think you were capable of it, Imorbis.  Nor are your brothers deserving of it.”

“We, the Makii, have much to atone for, Anon.  Those who are free, only wish to set things right with the Maker.”

“Their time will come.  One day they will meet the Maker, let them beg for atonement then.  The Maker may be blessed with infinite kindness, but after what your people have done, my guess is they will only be granted suffering.”

“To stand before the Maker is more than we deserve.  No doubt, his punishment will be just.”

Anon nodded.  His head was bald on top and had a clump of hair on either side.

“What then, have you learned from them, these brothers of yours?”

Imorbis withered away as though the shadows were drawing him in.

“It is as you feared, the Dark Army will move against the Sanctuary.  In this, we will need all the allies we can get, even the free Makii.”

Anon wasn’t so certain, he already had a difficult time trusting just one of them.

“I knew it would come to pass, but sought to deny it.  Only one empowered with the Oneness can reach the Sanctuary . . .”

Anon lowered his head, pondering the meaning of his own statement.

“Surely we have been betrayed by one of our own.  But why would an Elder seek our destruction?  Why would they dare open a Gate into the Sanctuary?”

“There is but one who would wish such a thing, but he is an Elder no longer. We thought him dead, killed by your own hands.  But it seems we were both greatly mistaken.”

Anon raised his head, his bulging brown eyes filled with white fire.

“Even if what you say is true, the Oneness has left him.  He cannot create – not even a Gate.  Death is his only power.”

“Not his only power,” Imorbis replied. 

Imorbis was right, Anon remembered the evil being’s telepathic abilities all too well.

“And my Brethren say his powers have grown.  He doesn’t plan to create a Gate himself, but force one of your kind to do it for him.”

Anon’s flesh disintegrated in a burst of white flame.  He was a faceless man of fire – in front of him hunched the shadowed being that had once been a Dead God.

“The Sanctuary’s loss will be unavoidable.”

Anon’s voice came from every direction, from everything.

“But we may yet save many lives . . . if we can free them from the Sanctuary.  However I fear such a task could prove as difficult as a direct confrontation with the Dark Army.  Any attempt to rescue them could very well become a suicide mission.”

The Dead God’s face warped into a shadowed grin.

“Yes, Anon, I know.  Of course, I have already given the matter thought, and believe I have a plan.”

“Of course . . .” Anon replied, dreading to have to go through with another one of the Dead God’s plans.  The last time he did, he had died. 

But, as it was then, he had little choice.

“Alright, Imorbis.  What do you have in store for us this time . . ?”

 

 

And so it began . . . Imorbis discussed the plan with Anon.  He went into great detail, describing what should and would happen, when and where.  Though he never once lied to Anon, he omitted one immensely important detail – Sevron.  He spoke truly when he told Anon the evil force behind this attack was one he had defeated and left for dead.  What Anon didn’t know, was that Sevron survived because of Imorbis’ sin.  In his longing to be free of the Hunger, he resurrected the greatest evil the universe had ever known.  He unleashed him upon the Elfin God-Tree, the Graelic, and in doing so, he unknowingly imbued Sevron with unimaginable powers – powers that Imorbis should have possessed.

But now Imorbis sought another power, had another plan to be free of the Hunger.  Now, Imorbis walked a different path.

No, he would never lie to Anon, to do so would make him a prisoner to the Hunger for all time.  On the other hand, he couldn’t help but wonder how Anon will feel when he discovers the truth.  Sooner or later he’ll see it for himself.  Will he continue to forgive Imorbis’ sins?  Or will he send him to hell alongside his old friend, Sevron?

Either way, he’ll be free of the Hunger.  Either way, he’ll hold steadfast to the Maker’s path.

 

 

 

BRONTES

 

 

They fell out of the Rift into an ocean of black ash. 

The Magi went through first, their halos of the Oneness the only thing keeping them from being buried and suffocating in the field of dark debris.  Their halos swelled, becoming giant flaming bubbles that pushed the toxic air back.  Then, able to breath safely in their bubbles, they surveyed the world they had tumbled into.

A grey cliff arose in the distance – a pile of sulfur and ash, the recent deposit of some cataclysmic volcanic eruption.  It was well over one hundred feet high, but was loosely cemented and constantly crumbling; large chunks of solid magma were mixed in with the volcanic afterbirth and tumbled free, splashing to the earth and sending waves of ash to crash against the Magi’s blue shields.

The earth shook, sending several of the Magi to their knees.  A plume of smoke and fire erupted behind the grey cliff.

“Are you sure this planet is safe, Brontes?” one of the Magi asked, shouting to be heard above the rumbling volcano.

Their faces were all hidden beneath black masks, their bodies in tight, form-fitting black suits.  At first glance, the fabric seemed to be made of silken thread, but should one try to pierce or tear the thread they would find it nearly impenetrable.  The suits were a gift of their new allies, the dwarves, who had grudgingly decided to remain behind.  They wanted to help the mission, even if they weren’t allowed to join it, and had crafted each member a custom suit of their dwarven blue-steel.  The steel retained its unbreakable strength, even when thinned to a hair’s breadth.  With so many steel filaments woven together, the suits were certain to provide great defense against the Dark Army’s bite.

“This planet is unstable, to say the least,” the mage continued, struggling to keep his balance.

Only the symbols embroidered on their foreheads distinguished one mage from another – they each wore the symbol of their fallen home-world.  The speaker had a crescent moon centered below two suns.  His name was Ollius, and like the dwarves, he was another new and powerful ally.  Ollius was once Gatekeeper to the human populated world Omicron.  When the Great Exodus began, he led his people into the Black Door prior to the coming of the Plague, and from there they wandered from world to world, the Dark Army always one step behind.  They lost many along the way, and would have all fallen had it not been for Ollius.  He kept them alive long enough for Brontes to find them, and guide them to their new world.

Other than Ollius, none of the humans they rescued had shown the slightest desire to join Brontes’ current mission -- Brontes couldn’t blame them.  After all, they had only recently made it out of the Rift, and they had but barely escaped.   The moment they arrived on the new world, the majority of the humans fled the Black Door and never looked back.  The others wasted no time building defenses; strengthening the great wall the dwarves had named “Lock Core”, or beginning their own fortifications somewhere deep in the outerlands.

There was safety there, in the new world -- a planet the humans had begun to call the Seventh World – and safety was something none of them dreamed they would ever find again.  The humans thought Brontes and his companions were insane to leave it.  To risk losing it forever in the darkness of the Black Door, was a thought that few of them could fathom. 

To escape the Rift once was nearly impossible, to do so again – was a miracle.

If he survived, this would be Brontes’ sixth time escaping a besieged world.  And yes, he was in fact quite accustomed to witnessing miracles.  He knew that as long as the Maker was on his side, anything was possible – it had been proven so, time and time again.

He remembered the first miracle – his own rescue from his Plague infested home-world, Idrllian, a planet that was virtually defenseless, having been located deep in the Unified core.  None expected an attack would come from H’aleron – the capital world of the Makii.  None would have guessed that the Makii’s vendetta with death could unleash a wave of annihilation that would spread through the entire universe.

There was little left now, and the annihilation was spreading quicker than ever. 

The Makii once fashioned themselves gods, but to complete this belief, they dared to become one with death.  Considering all their accomplishments, the Plague was their greatest success, for once infected, they truly became death incarnate.

But the price for their immortality was great.  Unbeknownst to them, their dark powers unleashed a horror even greater than they.  The Void itself was awakened into reality, born in the corrupted soul of the elven Great Tree, the Graelic.

That was Brontes’ second miracle, his second brush with death in the Black Door.  On the elven planet Ki'minsyllessil, he was actually killed – infected by the Dead Tree, but the Maker brought him back . . . and gave him a mission – to save as many souls as possible before the Void claimed their worlds.

Since then he had visited many worlds, mostly lifeless ones.  Sadly, in most cases he was too late, the Dark Army moved too fast.  In all his journeys through the Black Door he was only able to gather survivors from three worlds – each one a miracle.

Souls had been saved, but Brontes would be the last man to call any of the missions a success -- far too many souls were lost before they made their way out.  Lately, Brontes feared he was not only running out of living worlds to save, but miracles as well.

I just need one more . . .

This mission was different.  There could be no failure this time.  Brontes honestly believed all souls were equally precious, but in the war with the Void, the ones he sought now were priceless. 

They were gods . . . once upon a time.

 “Of course it is unstable, Ollius.  It is a Dead World, after all,” Brontes replied to his new friend.  “If you were expecting to find paradise, then you signed up for the wrong mission.  We must deal with what we have.  If the volcano becomes active . . . the Maker willing, we’ll find a way to deal with that too.”

Brontes’ symbol was a large, silver diamond with twin triangles, their tips conjoined at its center; all three shapes were aflame. 

His right eye was somewhat visible through his mask, as was the pink scar that had replaced his left eye.

He took in the ash covered world around him with his one good eye.

Brontes looked to the horizon, there should have been a sun or stars up in the sky, but even with his eye of mage-fire he could only see ash.

The sky was pure black – a cloud of ash five hundred feet thick enveloped the entire world.  Only by using the Oneness as a lens was he able to see anything at all.  The cliff of collapsing ash vented its own clouds of sulfuric gas.  At the base of the cliff, the liquid sulfur sat in a steaming orange pool.  Encircling the pool was a yellow crust -- like pus drying around an infected wound. 

And the smell!  Brontes didn’t want to waste too much power cleansing the air of the odor, but the sour stench was nearly unbearable.

“Truth be told,” Brontes jested.  “We have seen worse.”

Much worse.

Ollius couldn’t deny that, having been through hell himself.

“I doubt Anon would have sent us here if this wasn’t the best location; the closest to the Sanctuary and least hostile.  We have to trust him in this . . .”

Was this your decision, Anon? 

Anon had acquired a new ally on Ki'minsyllessil, one that Brontes was none too fond of -- to say the least. 

Brontes sensed the Dead God, Imorbis’ hand in this rescue mission.  Whether that was good or bad, was yet to be determined.  The Dead God was considered a genius . . . and he was Anon’s ally.  That should be enough. 

Then why then did Brontes still have his doubts? 

Most likely, they stemmed from his past experiences with Dead Gods -- particularly the one who took his eye, Sevron the so-called “Servant of Death”.  Even among the Dead Gods, he had a reputation for cruelty – a reputation he fully lived up to while conquering Brontes’ home-world.  Sevron hadn’t been interested in spreading the Plague, only carnage.  Those he slaughtered didn’t rise again to join the Dark Army.  When Sevron was done with their bodies, there wasn’t enough left of them for even the Plague to resurrect.

Thankfully, Sevron wouldn’t be rising again either – Anon had made sure of that.

“And where is Anon now?” Ollius asked, as if he was reading Brontes’ mind.  “If he truly is as powerful as I have heard, his aid would be much appreciated for the assault . . . or rescue . . . whatever you are calling it.”

Having never met the man himself, Ollius had a tough time believing the tales of Anon, and that many of the past miracles had actually been performed by Anon’s hand.

“Well, I hope to call it a rescue . . .” Brontes replied.  “And I wouldn’t doubt Anon’s power, or question how he chooses to use it, Ollius.  If we truly needed him, he would be here.  He trusts us to succeed in this, just as we must trust in his judgment.  Besides, we cannot expect him to fight all of our battles, some of them we must win on our own.”

The rest of the Magi nodded in acceptance.  Even though he could only see their eyes, Brontes hoped his doubts were better hidden than their own.

“I’m with you, Brontes.  No matter where we go or who we fight.  I would never have made it this far without you,” Ollius said.  “I apologize if I’ve offend you . . . I just can’t help being worried about jumping into the middle of the Dark Army.”

You and me both.

“It gets easier after a couple times,” Brontes jokingly replied, his grin hidden beneath his mask.  “There’s no need to worry, Ollius.  We may not have Anon, but we do have the Elf Prince.”

Brontes would’ve bet, that Ollius was grinning as well.

“Speaking of which . . .” Brontes said, growing serious.  “We should probably get him here and the sooner the better.”

Wasting no more time, he ordered the Magi to secure the environment.

The Magi banded together, sending out their blue flames to clear a path for those who followed.  Their burning halos flowed together, turning ash into oxygen and clearing an area a mile wide.

Altogether there were twenty of the Magi – a small force compared to the number of dead they expected to face (which could very well be the entire Dark Army).  Brontes didn’t intend for this mission to become a prolonged fight, just a quick strike – in and out.  Thus his decision to leave the dwarves behind, though they were great warriors, with their short and stocky legs they were simply too slow.  Convincing them to stay behind, without offending them, had been a delicate bit of persuasion – Anon himself had to step in and handle that one. 

The giants, however, would not be denied.  Another . . . ‘arrangement’ had been made with them, an arrangement that Brontes whole-heartedly disagreed with, but Anon had allowed.  In the end, they did manage to convince them that because of their size, only ten could come.  The honor went to ten of their eldest.  And though they were old, they were all tough, war-hardened veterans who had hacked and smashed their way into their twilight-years – and didn’t intend to stop until they were dead.

As for the elves . . . Brontes wouldn’t leave without them.  As always, every member of the elven race would accompany him -- all fifty-two of them.

Brontes accepted the fact that, like their previous missions, there would be casualties, but the size of his group ensured the casualties would be minimal.  He also hoped to be leaving the planet with over twenty times the amount of Magi he arrived with . . . if things went well.  If they didn’t, none of them would be leaving.

Once they had the environment under control, Brontes sent the others a signal that all was clear; a wisp of blue flame left his hand, swirling out into the darkness of the Black Door

The elves answered his summons, gracefully striding through the pulsating Rift.  They were tall, thin beings, their eyes of grey and white the only feature visible through their own black hoods.  Even their pointed ears and golden manes of hair were tucked away beneath the fabric of blue-steel.

One symbol was emblazoned on all of their foreheads – a tree, its roots forming a world, its branches blazing like a sun.  Many of them were difficult to distinguish from one another, but Brontes could easily pick out the Elf Prince, Adros.  Not only was he a head taller than the rest, as ever, his trusted staff of King’s Wood was tightly clutched in his hands.  The blood red tip seemed to throb in this bleak environment, as if warning the Prince of mortal peril.

The wood held the life-force of Adros’ fallen home-world.  And though it was a sapling of the Great Tree, and thus the embodiment of life -- to the Dark Army it was death.  Countless of the undead had fallen to Adros’ staff, ending their long span of immortality as lifeless husks.   

After they abandoned his home-world Ki'minsyllessil, Brontes and Adros quickly bonded through their mutual mission to save the worlds.  Since then, they have suffered, and survived, countless turmoil in their attempts to save other races from the coming Plague – and in doing so, have grown to be the closest of friends. 

Adros and his elven kin were remarkable in so many ways.  One of which was that they never hesitated to journey back into the Black Door – even after all the horror they suffered on their own home-world.  Without their aid, there would have been no survivors on any of the other worlds.  The Elves were remarkable warriors; immune to the Plague, but also incredibly agile and fast.  Brontes had seen them stand as equals against the Dead Gods themselves in combat.

Over the past several years, Magi and elf had fought as one in many a battle.  They had proven themselves to be a formidable union, surviving some of the harshest Dead Worlds in the universe.  But no matter how the odds were stacked against them, they always survived.  And they always went back for more.  The one being Brontes would credit most for their bravery and success was Adros.  He led them in battle, and he led them to safety.  Without him, none of it was possible.

The Elf Prince had no fear. 

As though the world around him was full of sunshine and rainbows, and not ash and fire, Adros calmly strode over to Brontes, his slender fingers reaching out to clasp his hand.  The mage gladly accepted the gesture, feeling far more comforted now that the Elf Prince had arrived.

Next to the Prince was his guardian, X’ander.  Brontes recognized him first by the lifeless glaze in his eyes, not the fact that he was always at the Prince’s side.  Unlike the rest of the elves, X’ander wasn’t a soldier or warrior, he was a killer.  And a more skilled killer Brontes had never seen.  He was just thankful the elf employed his skills against the undead and not the living. 

Because their tight fitting suits were so similar, he recognized but one other elf, and only because she cast him a sultry wink.  As usual, he did his best to ignore the flirtation, but his good eye probably lingered a little too long on her shapely body.  It was especially difficult to look away when the tight-fitting suit of blue-steel accentuated her every curve.  

S’ilindsa . . .

How he wished she had stayed behind.

He couldn’t afford to worry about her in the coming rescue.  He knew that to do so would be a weakness on his part.  S’ilindsa was more than capable of making her own decisions and taking care of herself.  Perhaps when they returned to the Seventh World he would finally return her affections . . .

Why wait? 

Especially since there was a high probability at least one of them would not be returning.

He returned her wink with his one good eye, then turned away before he could witness her response.  S’ilindsa was bold and shameless, an unpredictable combination.  He didn’t dare encourage her further, not with her adopted father, Adros present. 

Brontes aided the twenty Magi as they ensured the elves’ safety, then he summoned the next group of warriors.

They were the giants . . . the Mithrlnites.  They had to step through the Black Door single file, so thick were their bodies.  Unlike the rest of the party, the giants weren’t dressed in suits of blue-steel, but were mostly bare-chested, wearing scant amounts of clothing; vests and breechcloths of exotic animal skins.  Their clothing was basic – but well crafted.  Medallions of gold and silver adorned their clothing; symbols of their valor in past battles. The rest of their bodies were covered with bushy tufts of grey hair, their thick, corded muscles rippling beneath.

An inch thick and tough as bark, their skin was armor unto itself.  Thus their refusal of the dwarven suits.  They did, however, accept the dwarves’ gifts of weapons; gargantuan axes with silver inlay, and steel hammers as tall as Brontes. 

Even the Elf Prince Adros, seemed small next to them – a twig next to a boulder.

The Mithrlnites were the newest additions to their little army.  They had been told to stay back, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  They were fearsome warriors, but they were also slow, cumbersome behemoths that could potentially jeopardize the mission.  But Anon (or most likely Imorbis) allowed them to come, granting them a role in the coming battle that would ensure their value.  Truth was, the addition of the Mithrlnites could make all the difference.  As much as he inherently hated their role in the mission, Brontes was glad to have them along.  After all, he had seen their leader, Rag’nerack kill a Dead God – with but one blow of his hammer. 

Rag’nerack was the most impressive of his kind, towering over them all as though they were children.  In his massive, hair-covered fist was a thick column of steel with a glowing brick of crystal fastened to the end.  Brontes had yet to learn the giant’s true name (perhaps never would) ‘Rag’nerack’ was a title given to him by his people.  The ancient meaning was something akin to ‘World’s end’, but in the giant’s tongue, the title meant ‘God’s weapon’ and represented a position of great honor among his kind.  Rag’nerack was the closest thing the Mithrlnites had to a Chosen, though he wasn’t a product of the Elders, his size and strength had certainly been enhanced by god.    

In general, the giants were an incredibly hardy people, a fact made evident as they lumbered out of the Rift and refused the Magi’s offer of protection, sucking in a vigorous breath of the planet’s acidic and ash filled air instead.

“Well,” the giant Rag’nerack thundered, his fist clenching on the steel column.  “Let’s get on with it.”

“You’ll have your vengeance soon enough,” Brontes replied.  Brontes was still in awe of their size, and found it difficult to be authoritative when his body was the size of Rag’nerack’s arm.

 “The moment they create a Door, we’re going in,” he continued, craning his neck up in an effort to look Rag’nerack in his massive brown eyes.

“And how ya be knowing they’ll make one for sure?” Rag’nerack asked, heaving his hammer onto his shoulder.

 “Anon said it will open, so it will be so,” Adros replied, before Brontes had the chance.

Brontes knew Adros and his kin wouldn’t have a problem waiting, when your life span lasted a millennium one gained a bit more patience.  But the Mithrlnites were more than eager to see their mission fulfilled – and their time was limited.

“The Gate will open to the Sanctuary, and when it does, I will sense it.  We will do our best to gain access, but it could take some time.  Every moment counts, the longer it remains open, the more of the Dark Army we must face.  When we do gain control, it will last but a short time.  As soon as the Dark Army senses our efforts they will tune us out.  We are but twenty Magi, the Dark Army has thousands of Makii.  Once we are discovered, we will be shut out immediately.  Our battle is not for control of the Gate, but for the souls of those stuck in the Sanctuary.  We land and we leave.  The more time we spend fighting, the more we lose to the Dark Army.”

Brontes looked to the giants, acknowledging that they would be the exception to the rule.

“As much as we wish this to end, this battle will pass to our ancestors.  It will be they who fight our final battle.  They can change the fate of the universe, but only if we live to pass on our knowledge and help them grow.  If we fail in this, all is lost.  This new world we have made together will surely fall.  We need them . . . as much as they have failed us in the past, the Elders, the Chosen.  They are Magi.  And without their bloodline we do not stand a chance.  They have no idea what is coming for them, or that we are coming to save them.  But we will save them.  We the ‘Guardians of Death’ will save the gods.”

We have to.

Then he felt it . . . just as Anon predicted, the Dark Army tore open a Door directly into the Sanctuary of the Elder Gods.

The Magi at his back sensed it as well, and shuffled nervously in anticipation.

“They’ve done it,” Brontes said, torrents of flames leaving his hands to pour into the Rift.  “Get ready.  We’re going to the Sanctuary.”

The roar of the Mithrlnites made the rumbling volcano seem like a whisper.

 

 

 

 

DONA’CORA

 

 

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.

 

 

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