Ollius left the main party and headed out into the halls.
He spoke with the survivors, they said more Magi were coming. Other Survivors . . . perhaps. Or perhaps they were something else now. Ollius sent his telepathy outward and picked through their minds as best he could. With humans it was easy, but with other Magi there was often little to see. Nevertheless, he would take any advantage he could get. He didn’t seek information, he heard the tale of the Hangar from the other survivors. What he sought was infection – the building bloodlust. The one thought the undead couldn’t hide because it filled their minds.
Kendal and Gabe followed him down the hallway. Both were veteran Guards who had fought on several worlds – not to mention they were the lone survivors of their own fallen home-worlds.
Gabe was a rather squat young man, standing no higher than five standard feet. Most likely, he had reached the pinnacle of his height. His girth however, seemed to expand daily. In the little time Ollius had known the man, his waist-line nearly doubled. When not battling the Dark Army, Gabe indulged himself in all the bounty the Seventh World had to offer. For the majority of his life, he had known only famine. Judging by his current, gluttonous behavior, the young Mage seemed to be making up for lost time.
Kendal was also quite young. She was a shy and mousy waif of a girl. Her arms were thin as twigs, hardly able to lift her own body-weight (which was approximate to an adolescent child). Her brown eyes were forever sad, and far too often could be found studying the ground at her feet. When in battle, she was transformed by the flames. She grew fierce, unafraid. More than once, the other Guardians had to pull her away from the battle, keep her from charging into the thick of things where she preferred to pound her enemies to death with nothing but her fists.
At the moment, Kendal wasn’t looking at the ground. She seemed fixed on the hallway before her, a ferocious look in her eyes.
Anticipating the worst, the trio moved on down the hallways of black, obsidian glass. Up ahead, explosions continued to resound – though with far less frequency than just moments before.
They encountered two more Chosen; one nearly collided into them as he came flying down the tunnel at top speed, the other came running full sprint – her Oneness completely drained. The moment he sensed their presence, Ollius communicated telepathically with them. Both seemed sound of mind, though incredibly frightened – and rightly so, in the minds of their companions he had glimpsed the monstrosity that sent them running. The image of it made him wonder why he dared to walk on.
Ollius had been through many worlds, survived them all by what could only be called the ‘Maker’s Luck’. He had seen more horror and evil than he dared to remember. There were many soldiers in the Legion of Death: the Dummies, the Soulless, and of course the Dead Gods. They came in many shapes and sizes – during his exodus, he had faced them all. But never had he seen anything like the demon that attacked the Hangar.
Not only was it invincible, but it was utterly evil.
You better get your ass out here, Anon. You wanted us to save these people, the least you could do is give us a way out, Ollius fumed. He had never personally met Anon, but the rumors of his greatness could be heard to the farthest ends of the universe. Even before he united with Brontes and the others, Ollius was fully aware of Anon’s splendor. He was a Savior – maybe a saint – perhaps even the Maker himself. But where in the dead was he now? Where had he been when Ollius dragged his people through the Rift? When they were broken, starving . . . hunted?
If Anon wanted Ollius to believe in him, then he would have to prove himself worthy of it . . . now seemed as good a time as any.
After a brief, telepathic conversation, Ollius sent the two fleeing Chosen to Brontes and the others, informing them of who they were, and why they came. For a split second they seemed hopeful, then they asked the question, and he had to tell them, ‘No. Anon has not come.’
Their shoulders sank as they made their way to Brontes and Adros.
If you truly cared, Anon, you would come, Ollius said, before continuing on, sensing a larger group farther down.
For some reason the group had stalled in their current location. Ollius sensed confusion, shock, and a great deal of fear among the group. He sent a mental warning to his companions, indicating they should proceed with caution.
Ollius, Kendal and Gabe moved on. They came to a bend in the hallway . . . with their halos blazing hot, the three Magi took the turn . . .
“How bad is it?” Adros asked, seeing the grim look in Brontes’ eye.
“It’s far worse than even you can imagine, my friend. They’ve taken the Hangar . . . that’s the obvious part . . .”
Brontes hesitated to continue, as though his mind had suddenly just drifted off.
A pair of haggard looking Magi appeared down the hallway. Adros looked down at Brontes, arching an eyebrow. Brontes nodded back at him, confirming the new-comers had friendly intentions.
“Before I tell you what we face, you must promise me one thing . . .” Brontes continued as the Magi drew nearer.
“For you, anything.”
He was about to continue, then abruptly froze. At first, Adros thought he was communicating with more new arrivals. But after a closer look, it was plain to see his friend was worried.
“Ollius . . .” Brontes whispered.
Requiring no further information, Adros was already in motion by the time the screaming began . . .
They came around the bend. Their glowing blue halos flooded the area in light. In front of them the glassy hallway opened into a large, tube shaped chamber. A row of black pillars lined the room’s center. Identical in shape and design, the pillars were roughly three feet in diameter, and rose from the room’s floor to the ceiling (which was over twenty standard feet tall). Beyond that, the room was comprised of the same, smooth glass that was found in the hallways.
Two pillars into the chamber, Ollius saw the group of Magi – what was left of them.
For the most part, they were only body parts now, strewn haphazardly throughout the room. Blood covered the majority of the floors and walls – a surprising amount had even found its way to the ceiling.
Only four figures remained standing. One was obviously dead – the other three, were soon to be.
The dead one was female – Ollius could tell because every inch of her flesh was bare. What would have been a sensuous and voluptuous figure, was not only corrupted by her ghostly white skin, but also by her jet-black veins. Her veins swelled to such heights they almost seemed external to her skin, as if her blood was flowing outside of her body. With every beat of her heart the veins expanded, branching out further along the surface of her skin. Her eyes were empty sockets, as if they had ruptured in her skull.
She held one Magi in her hand, her fingers clutching his throat. The other two stepped back, throwing weak blasts of Oneness at her. Their attacks landed with little damage, her skin charred black for a moment then immediately restore to its alabaster white.
“Mila . . . please,” her prisoner begged between haggard breaths. “You can fight it . . .”
She directed him a lusty smile.
“I don’t want to,” she replied, grinning.
Her lips parted . . . with an effortless jerk, she ripped out the man’s throat. Her lips dove down into the spray of blood, suctioning onto the open wound.
The remaining two Magi had seen (and done) enough. With their halos little more than a bluish mist, the pair turned and bolted – or tried to.
Mila released her victim. Her tongue fully protruded from her mouth, and was dripping with blood, having recently been licking around the inside of the man’s throat. Before he even hit the floor, she had another Mage by the arm. The man tried to keep running, but was lifted off his feet instead. To the sound of crunching bones, Mila slammed him to the ground. His arm was bent in the opposite direction to the rest of his body, while his legs were motionless and seemed unable to move entirely.
He screamed as Mila bent down and bit into his skull.
It all happened so fast, Ollius hardly had time to take it all in, let alone decide what to do.
But Kendal had made her decision. For her, there was only one thing to do in the presence of the undead – fight.
Her fists glowing like blue stars, she sped towards Mila. She completely disregarded the lone, surviving Mage who continued to flee their way. She flew past him, her fists punching out at Mila who was moaning in ecstasy as she slurped up the man’s brains. Kendal’s fist landed squarely on Mila’s head, collapsing half her skull, snapping her neck and folding her head back behind her shoulders. That should have done it, but Kendal didn’t stop there, she continued pounding the woman, breaking more of her bones with every blow. Mila’s black blood sprayed into the air . . .
Suddenly Kendal fell back, screaming in agony . . .
Where Mila’s blood fell upon her, her suit of blue-steel disintegrated, Kendal’s skin melted.
Ollius and Gabe ran to her . . .
Mila rose to her feet . . . as did the other two Magi she had recently feasted upon . . .
Adros was the first to arrive. He leapt into the room, sprinting past a terrified Mage who was fleeing the scene. He saw his friends forty feet away . . . their situation was dire indeed. Gabe was on his knees, his innards spilling out of a giant tear in his mid-section. Despite suffering what was an obvious mortal wound, he used what little power he had left to cover his steaming pile of guts in a shield of Oneness, while simultaneously attempting to shove the twisted pile of entrails back inside with his hands.
Kendal . . . a fiercer warrior Adros had never seen -- the harder the fight, the stronger her power. She was ablaze in the Oneness. Her steel armor was riddled with holes, through which, raw pinkish flesh could be seen. She moved with impossible speed, her glowing blue fists striking out with incredible destructive power.
She landed many blows, broke many bones, but her opponent seemed oblivious to them. And her opponent was just as quick, if not quicker. A tall, sensual Dead God. Her body was completely bare, and completely riddled with a spider web of pulsating black veins. As Kendal hammered away at her, she landed her own vicious blow to Kendal’s chest, throwing the waifish girl back twenty feet. The Dead God flew after her, continuing to land more blows before Kendal finally crumpled to the ground in a beaten lump of blue flames.
She licked the black blood from her cracked lips, grinning as she prepared to fell her with a killing blow. Suddenly, the ground below her feet liquefied. Before she knew what happened, the Dead God was knee deep in molten obsidian. She wailed in pain as the liquid glass burned her legs. Ollius levitated past her, scooping up the child-like body of Kendal. He hurled a wisp of Oneness as he passed, returning the obsidian glass to its solid state, leaving the Dead God temporarily trapped.
He tried to flee the area, but Ollius was forced to stop as a pair of Dead Gods came at him; one virtually lacked a head, while the other had a gaping hole in his throat. Thick, black blood poured freely form both of their wounds. He set Kendal down and prepared to face them . . .
It took only a couple quick strides of his long legs and Adros was in striking range. The King’s Wood shot out, taking off the remainder of the one Dead God’s head. The staff was blistering to the touch to begin with, but once it took the Dead God’s life, it was smoldering. Adros felt the staff slipping his grasp, his hands too crippled with pain to hold onto it. Somehow he held on, and shoved its blood-red tip into the hole of the other Dead God’s throat.
Adros screamed out in pain, against his will, the staff fell. His fingers had burnt into charred black digits that he could no longer control.
The undead woman was freed from the floor – and coming at them fast. Ollius simultaneously sent blue flames at her and Adros. He meant to burn the bitch down before she reached them, or failing that, heal Adros so he could fight her. Indeed she burned. Smoke rose from her bleached, white flesh, while the blood within her large veins boiled and burst. But she didn’t stop.
Enough blue fire sank into Adros’ hands that he was now able to move them, but the woman was upon them, and he didn’t have time to reach for his staff. He kicked out at her instead. His foot landed flat upon her face, but she completely ignored the attack. She willingly accepted the blow to get her purple fingernails on Adros. There was a loud snap as her neck bent back, her nails latched onto Adros’ leg, sinking through the blue-steel like it was paper and burrowing into his flesh.
He felt the infection spreading through his limb like fire. The pain was so intense his crippled hands were forgotten. Adros dropped to the ground, letting the woman take the brunt of his weight. As he did so, he reached for his fallen staff. It was just inches out of his reach. He struggled to kick his leg free; her nails dug deeper. He stretched out, his burnt fingers latching onto his staff’s blood red tip. He turned over, preparing to slam it onto her head when he saw Ollius appear from behind the woman, blowing a flaming hole through her chest.
The woman let Adros go and spun around, her dagger-sharp nails going straight for Ollius’ throat . . . they found a hair-thin blade of silver instead. Her fingers went flying through the air – as did her blood. The silver blade melted in half. The black blood sprayed out, hitting Ollius’ halo of flame. Neither his halo, nor suit of blue-steel offered him much protection. The acid-like blood sank through both, and continued on into Ollius’ flesh . . .
Wave after wave of blue flames entered him, kept him whole and unharmed. Another blade appeared to sever her other arm at the shoulder. A pair of daggers sunk into her empty eye sockets. Ten more daggers followed, each one coming to rest in one of the woman’s vitals.
She screeched in agony and defeat, then was silenced as another dagger stuck into her throat.
A child-like form stepped forward, stopping right in front of the woman. The pyre of Oneness surrounding the lithe figure broiled to the ceiling. The fire continued to rise, threatening to melt the roof of the chamber. Before it did so, the flow of energy reverted, focusing entirely on the small figure’s fists. Kendal’s fists – too bright to behold -- struck out, exploding the upper half of the Dead God’s body.
Lacking a head and heart, the woman’s lower half continued to stumble around, spurting black blood wherever it went.
Adros finished it off, his King’s Wood staff rained down on her waist.
“What in the dead do we do now?” Ollius asked. “It took all of us to take down but one of these, if the rest of the Elders shared a similar fate, we will be hard pressed to near the Hangar.”
“Hard pressed indeed,” S’ilindsa said, a confused look on her face as she studied her melted blades. She flung them to the ground before continuing on, “The steel of the dwarves is the hardest I have seen, yet it melts like butter when it touches their blood.”
“Mage-fire is little better,” Ollius said. He looked to Kendal, who was half naked beneath her disintegrated suit, then continued, “Unless employed in vast amounts. But even then, nothing we can do proves fatal. It would seem, only Prince Adros has that power.”
Nearby, a dozen Magi were fervently pouring their Oneness into Gabe’s ‘now external’ organs. Brontes had to intervene and halt their efforts. The young Mage was on the verge of death, and nothing they could do would keep him from crossing the brink. He convinced the Magi to let him go. It was even more difficult to convince them to burn him to dust, lest they risk battling another powerful undead foe.
“So it seems,” Adros said. The Magi had healed his hands, but he still walked with a limp due to his injured leg. The Oneness had no effect on the infection -- fortunately, elven blood did. Within his cells, another battle was being waged. Due to the slow recession of pain, Adros judged his body to be winning.
“We have to complete this mission,” Brontes said, returning from the charred lump of Gabe. “Stick to the plan. It was never our intention to come here to fight. We came to save these people, if any yet live we should find them and get the dead out of here.”
“Agreed,” the others said, echoing one another.
Then Brontes took Adros aside.
“Now for that promise, Adros,” he said, grabbing his arm and guiding him away from the others.
The elf allowed himself to be led, and nodded his head.
“You have to know what we’re up against before we proceed. But I worry, that once you know the truth, you’ll act rashly. I want you to promise me, that no matter what, we hold fast to Anon’s plan.”
“Of course,” Adros replied, though his white eyes betrayed his uncertainty.
Brontes accepted his word, without exception.
“When I spoke with the survivors, they say a single, powerful entity took the Hangar.”
From the survivors’ minds he gleamed scattered images of what had happened. When taken together, the many images formed a pretty solid picture of the desolation . . .
Ome fell to the ground, his halo dissipating . . .
Darkness swept from the pod, spreading outward and into the Hangar . . . the darkness took Ome . . . it filled him, possessed him and bound him to its cause . . .
The Oneness of over four hundred gods filled the chamber . . . the blue flames struck out against the tendrils of darkness . . .
The tendrils moved on . . . one after another it fell upon the gods . . . one after another they were claimed . . .
The living fled . . . the dead walked . . . and they fed . . .
“He turned their forces against them and scattered over four hundred Chosen and Elders into the Sanctuary,” Brontes continued. “They said they knew the creature, and that at one time he stood among them as a brother. They say his name is Ostedes, and that he has returned to the Sanctuary, a monster.”
There came a soft hiss as Adros’ grip tightened on his gnarled staff. The wood yet burned, blood trickled from his fingers, winding down the length of it.
“Impossible . . .” he said through gritted teeth. “That fiend was slain by Anon. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“I don’t doubt what you saw. But by some ungodly miracle, he has survived . . . and now it appears he is stronger than ever. By the Maker, he alone scattered the entire might of the Elders!”
Some said X’ander wasn’t the only elf to have suffered permanent, emotional loss at the hands of the Dead Tree. Some said that Adros also left a part of himself high upon the branches of the Graelic.
They say that when he first stepped foot upon the soil of his home-world, the Elf Prince, Adros abandoned his fear high atop the branches of his God-tree, the Graelic.
“I’m going to the Hangar,” Adros said, side-stepping Brontes. The Mage reached out to him, but this time, the elf gracefully avoided his hands.
“You made a promise,” Brontes pleaded, knowing the Elf Prince would surely be heading to his doom.
“I made a promise to Ostedes as well,” he replied, continuing down the chamber. “The Maker willing, I will be able to keep them both. The plan remains. Gather the survivors then meet me at the Hangar. Someone has to secure our transport out of this deathtrap . . . like Ollius said, nothing you can do will destroy them. Therefore, I’m making it my responsibility . . .”
S’ilindsa strode forward, cutting him off.
“What are you going to do, Father?” She questioned.
“I’m getting us out of here,” he bluntly stated.
“Not alone you aren’t. I’m coming with you,” She demanded.
X’ander was already at Adros’ side, as though his companionship was expected.
“No,” Adros commanded. “We’ve already seen what becomes of your weapons. You cannot stand against these demons.”
“Father . . . please, we can find another way to defeat them,” S’ilindsa pleaded.
“No. I’m ordering you to stay. That’s not the command of a father, but of your Prince,” Adros harshly replied. “And I expect you both to obey it.”
“And what about me, Elf Prince?” Brontes asked.
“You know I cannot order you to stay, Brontes. But you would be a fool to come.”
“Then we’ll be a pair of fools against the Dark Army,” Brontes said with a warm smile.
“A pair of dead fools,” S’ilindsa cried out. She took Brontes hands, tears forming at the corners of her white eyes.
“Pray we are not,” Adros replied. “Or none of us will be going home.”
Home . . .
Did it even exist any longer?
Adros raised his voice, directing it at the others, “Our sole means of escape, the Hangar, has fallen. Brontes and I must go to reclaim it. The mission continues, though I fear we haven't much time before these hallways become flooded with the Dark Army. Even the mighty Rag’nerack must have fallen by now. You must move quickly, spread out, search the Sanctuary in threes; two elves to a Mage. Recover survivors, and at all costs, avoid confrontation . . . I do not doubt the bravery or skill of any one of you, but this foe you cannot kill. If they find you, run . . . and run fast. Don’t stop running until you get to the Hangar. If all goes well, we will be waiting for you when you arrive. If things go badly, do your best to fight your way to a pod and flee.”
He put a hand on X’ander and S’ilindsa.
“X’ander . . .” he said. “I know what you’ve faced better than any. And I know one day you will see beyond your suffering, one day you will change. If I’ve learned anything in my own life of suffering, it is that the only constant in the universe is change. Accept the path of the Maker and free yourself from pain.”
X’ander said not a word, merely sent his father a blank, white-eyed stare.
“S’ilindsa . . .” Adros said.
She left Brontes and wrapped her arms around him.
“Fight on . . .” he whispered into her ear as he returned her hug. “Never stop.”
X’ander took her hand as Adros turned and walked away.
“I’ll never stop . . .” she replied. “Not ever.”
She held on tightly to X’ander’s hand as Adros and Brontes headed out to the Hangar.