Rag’nerack lifted his hammer from Brokheim’s crushed skull. Brokheim was the last of them; the last of his infected brothers. Once more he caught that oh so familiar scent . . . the reek of death and decay. This time it not only filled his nostrils but his every pore. His teeth gnashing, his hands twisting and tightening on M’jillner, Rag’nerack slowly turned to Hell’s Gate.
It was time . . . time for his vengeance to be fulfilled.
At his side, the wise old Oldem clanged a pair of massive silver axes together, howling at the Hell’s Gate in the old tongue – shouting out ancient profanities, cursing the very wombs of the Dark Lords’ mothers.
Rag’nerack squared his shoulders to the Gate, taking up Oldem’s howl . . .
The first Lord was stunned by the sound . . . It was the last sound he ever heard. Oldem cleaved his head in half and then some. From the top of his skull down to his chest, the Dark Lord’s body was split like a log. He was damaged, but not quite dead. With the axe stuck in his torso, the Dark Lord flailed around; even attempted to escape by running away. Oldem’s other axe swept off his legs. Oldem slammed his foot upon the body, spewing out the Lord’s guts around his toes. He pried his axe free, seeking his next victim.
Rag’nerack took down the second Lord, and the third as well. The pair came out of the Gate together, more wary and prepared than their fallen companion. Immediately, they split up, attempting to take Rag’nerack on either side . . . They were fast, and thought they could outrun the sluggish giant, outflank him and take the fight beyond the range of his devastating weapon.
Rag’nerack defied the stereotypes of his race, he was neither slow, nor stupid. His left hand shot out, wrapping around the one Lord’s head and neck. Aided by the moon’s gravity, his right hand bore the weight of M’jillner, swinging the hammer downward to crash into the other Lord’s back. There was a brief scream from the Lord before he was blown to bits. Rag’nerack watched the Lord’s remnants rain down, then suddenly remembered the other Dark Lord trapped in his left hand. His hand was wet with mush. In his excitement, he had unknowingly squished the being’s head.
To Rag’nerack’s left, Oldem was engrossed in another battle. He fought two – and then three, Dark Lords simultaneously. One was heavily injured, her spine severed from the axe sticking out of her back. She collapsed to the ground, desperately trying to pull the axe free.
Rag’nerack squashed her skull with his boot, then slammed M’jillner on top of another Dark Lord’s head. Oldem got the other with an axe straight between its eyes.
Oldem screamed a warning, wrenching the axe free.
Rag’nerack didn’t even bother to question the warning, but took a huge step, rotating his body while swinging M’jillner around in a circular arc. One Dark Lord managed to dip below the hammer – two didn’t. His allies exploded behind him as he rolled into the room. The Dark Lord turned his hands into blades and arose to his feet – Oldem’s axe took off his head.
That was it . . . the end of the Dark Lords’ attempted assault (that is to say, their first attempt). After that, the Dark Lords came slowly. During the course of the battle, Rag’nerack and Oldem had been pushed far enough from the Gate that now the Dark Lords were able to enter the room without being immediately cut down. They came through the Gate in threes – nine had already made their way into the chamber.
The Dark Lords had a better sense of their foe now. Instead of rushing the giants, they waited, building their forces and pressing the giants further and further away from Hell’s Gate.
“No point waiting for it,” Oldem grumbled.
“Apparently not,” Rag’nerack agreed, tossing M’jillner back and forth, from one hand to another, preparing for an attack at any angle. “Well, old friend . . . Let’s be on with it then . . .”
Thirty Dark Lords barricaded Hell’s Gate by the time the Giants came thundering at them . . . and still the Dark Lords came, now shoulder to shoulder, ten at a time.
Fascinating, Dona’Cora thought, rather enjoying the spectacle. These mighty giants slaughtered the Makii as easily as sheep.
Even so, it would be over for them soon . . . just how soon, had yet to be determined.
Time after time, she was on the verge of stepping in – fearful the spectacle was coming to an end, and eager to play her own part in the slaughter. It wasn’t until the Dead Gods gained a foothold that she finally saw her opportunity.
It is time . . . She thought, watching as the Dead Gods flooded her Sanctuary.
She also noted how the Giants were no longer content to wait, and were on the verge of charging headlong into the growing gathering of Makii.
What a perfect distraction the giants would provide her as they rampaged into the Makii’s ranks. The Dead Gods would never see her coming. The blaze of glory would be her own when she fell upon the unsuspecting Makii.
As expected, the Giants filled the chamber with their roars, and then fearlessly charged forward to their deaths.
She almost let them . . . It didn’t feel right to her, abusing their courage so she could have her revenge. They too deserved a glorious death. They too deserved revenge.
Perhaps they could share it together – and by joining forces, let their glory rise ten-fold.
Before Dona’Cora rushed out to their aid, she even offered up her own version of a prayer, damn you, Maker. If you refuse to let my life have meaning, at least let my death count for something.
A living inferno, Dona’Cora joined the giants’ charge . . .
Mastecus stepped out of the Darkbridge – Galimoto hovering fearfully behind him. In front of them, a pair of grim, battle-scarred, giants towered over them. One, was far more fearsome than the other. He was over a head taller than his companion, and wielded a hammer of unimaginable power. He cast such a look of shear, bloodthirsty hatred toward the Makii that he sent even Mastecus’ dead heart fluttering with fear.
Without-a-doubt they should be feared. Thus far, everything they faced they destroyed. Mastecus wasn’t surprised it took his brethren this long to form a logical response to their resistance. The Dead Tree commanded many of their minds now, Sevron cared little for the value of their lives. It was his will that this be the final battle. He possessed armies upon armies, which he could virtually throw them upon the Giants until the end of time. As for the Makii, with the battle won, they would no longer be of value to him.
Madness and death . . . that is all Sevron really wanted . . . and he would have more than his fill of it today.
Over a dozen Makii were aligned around Mastecus. He felt free will in many of them, the others were of weaker blood and had been fully taken by Death’s Servant. Nevertheless, for the moment, their goals were aligned. Sevron seemed to be coming to his senses. Since the beginning of the Plague, the strategy of the Makii had been three-fold; test, tire, then take their enemies. Why kill a powerful enemy when you can make him an ally? That simple strategy was the secret to their rise to power. Perhaps a part of Sevron yet remembered that.
Now, they were gathering power and forces to enact the third phase of the assault – they would combine their demon wind, then take the Giants.
Mastecus had to admit, they would make fierce additions to the Dark Army. Sevron must have finally seen the value in them as well. No doubt, he had already conceived a hundred horrors for them to enact.
The group of Makii grew to eighteen . . . they summoned their power, joined it as one. Mastecus felt the surge of power building, and knew it would take only of few more, then the Giants would be easily overwhelmed . . .
‘Is The Master ready yet?’ his familiar, Galimoto asked. For once, Galimoto would serve a purpose in battle.
‘Yes, Galimoto. The time has come. Tell the others it is time to stand before the Maker . . .’
Past time, Mastecus thought to himself. Death is long overdue . . .
M’jillner was raised over his head, glowing like a star as Rag’nerack rushed forward. The Makii remained motionless in front of him, an ever-growing line of pasty, despondent faces. He hoped to obliterate more than a few of those faces before he died.
At his side charged his trusted brother, Oldem, a silver axe in each of his thick, wrinkled hands. His axes had bathed in the black-blood, yet seemed eager to spill more.
Rag’nerack focused all his hatred and rage into the steel column of M’jillner, determined to make his final blow a costly one. The crystal shone brighter, as though it sought to burn the very eyes from the Dark Lords’ skulls . . . Then came another light – equally bright, though burning blue with the signature wizard-flare.
Brontes? He wondered, unable to give the matter too much thought as he focused on the enemy ahead. Instead of a man, he saw a flaming woman suddenly appear at his side. It was only a single, quick look out of the corner of his eye, but the brief glimpse was enough for Rag’nerack to recognize a kindred soul – an ancient warrior who hated the Dark Lords as much as he.
And what a display of wizard-flare, nearly as impressive as M’jillner’s glow . . . nearly.
He was looking forward to seeing whose power proved greater.
Only a few more step remained before they were upon the Dark Lords, their numbers had greatly multiplied in only a matter of moments. It would take far more time than Rag’nerack had left in life to count them all. And with every moment that passed, ten more Dark Lords arrived.
Despite the pair of Giants and flaming goddess barreling at them, oddly, the Dark Lords remained motionless.
Rag’nerack was within striking range when the scene turned to utter chaos, and not at all the type he had expected.
. . . a white hand burst through a Dark Lord’s throat, clenched into a fist, then snapped its spine . . . hands turned to black blades, one entered the belly of a nearby companion, the attacker’s powers went out, exploding its victim’s torso skyward . . . limbs and black-blood flew through the air . . . heads came off . . . heads were cut in half . . . the rain of blood and body parts was everywhere.
The Dark Lords continued to come through Hell’s Gate, enacting their own private war. To Rag’nerack, it was impossible to tell who was who, or what side to join. Nor did he care. He joined in, killing whatever he saw . . . and there was a lot to see.
The carnage spread out through the Grand Hall. Dona’Cora thought she had seen it all, but she was baffled by the chaos. The Dead Gods fought amongst themselves, and in such a reckless abandon that their actions seemed akin to suicidal.
They wish to die? She wondered. Then die!
Gladly, she joined in the chaos . . . any chance to kill Dead Gods was a good one, and this one seemed a miracle. Some fought back, some didn’t. It was obvious one party welcomed death, perhaps even sought remittance for their sins, while the other Dead Gods clearly desired no such thing. The only way to tell them apart was by killing them. One group maintained a blank empty stare, even as she burnt their bodies to cinders. The others screamed, begged for forgiveness, or even prayed to the Maker as they died.
That empty stare . . . looking into those emotionless black orbs seemed vaguely familiar to Dona’Cora. She had seen such a vacant being once before, back in Castle Kandor.
Despite the ‘aid’ of the one faction of Makii, the only ones she truly trusted in this battle were the Giants, the rest she put down without hesitation.
The Giants . . . they had fought well together in the opening moments. For a while it almost seemed they could hold the Gate, but the Makii were too numerous and were ceaselessly vomited up by the Rift. Eventually, they had to separate, spread out into the Grand Hall along with the Makii, who continued to engage in their own personal vendetta.
The Giants were easy to find in the melee, especially the larger one with his blazing crystal hammer. Few approached him any longer. The dead-eyed Makii were more concerned with putting an end to their treacherous brethren, and besides, they knew any attempt to stop the giant meant certain death.
The other giant fared much worse. He was surrounded, wounded, and tiring. The pair of huge axes were the only thing keeping him from being overcome, and they were slowing.
Dona’Cora fought her way to him.
Covered in flames, she danced through the chaos . . . her fists burning, smashing, and exploding her foes. The Oneness leapt from her body as if alive – alive and leaving death in its wake.
It was like a dream come true.
For the first time in over a thousand years, Dona’Cora was smiling.
When she made it to the grey-haired giant, she wasn’t smiling anymore. The giant was on his knees, his axes lying flat upon the ground. His legs were marred with vicious gashes. Red blood dripped down his legs, black blood filled his veins. Already, his veins had blackened up to his hips, and with every beat of his heart it continued to spread. The blank-faced Makii no longer fought him, they just gathered around him, regarding him with that vacant stare.
She had to set him free – he deserved as much. Besides, if she didn’t, she doubted she could defeat him once fully infected.
Dona’Cora carved a path to him. Her flames went out, wrapping three of the Makii in burning blue tendrils. With a thought, she slammed the three Makii against the obsidian wall. Bones popped and snapped as they hit the black glass, black blood poured from their orifices. The Makii took the beating in silence, their faces blank and impassive. She enhanced her flames, igniting them to a brilliant azure. Sizzling, smoke rose from the Dead Gods’ flesh. Wherever her flames bound them, they melted straight through, leaving the Makii in smoldering pieces.
She made it to the giant just as he was rising to his feet. Once more, his axes were in his hands, though now those hairy hands were riddled with swelling black veins.
A group of Makii barred her way. She did her best to smash and burn her way through them but they were too many. She hated to admit it, but her own power was dwindling. Initially, a single blow was enough to blast a hole through one of their pale bodies, but now, she had to land several just to disable them. A great deal of Oneness went to enhancing her speed, a great deal to her protective halo, and a great deal to her strikes. In her prime she could have maintained them simultaneously for near eternity. Unfortunately now, the greatest amount of her Oneness went to slowing the rate of metabolic aging. If she let any area of power slip, she was doomed.
She found herself on the retreat as the giant continued to rise, towering over her. Certainly, she no longer had enough power to face him. With some clever, well-timed blows, she could still take down many Makii before she was entirely spent, but to face the giant would result in her immediate death.
She was about to meld back into the chaotic battle, hunting weaker foes when a blinding ball of light slammed into the giant’s head, showering the area in burning brain matter.
She felt the ground shake beneath her, heard the rhythmic boom of the giant’s feet as they pounded the earth. The larger giant came storming toward them, charging the scene. He ignored the gathering of Makii – they should have ignored him as well. They stood strong and blank-faced as he plowed into their ranks, his massive feet sending them flying, or grinding them into the black glass. His crystal war-hammer rested on the ground alongside his ally, who was now a headless corpse. The infected blood pooled around both as it drained from the giant.
His wide, brown eyes looked down at his fallen companion and then he howled . . .
He didn’t even bother with his hammer, he dove into the gathering of Makii, his club-like fists smashing and crushing anything he saw.
So it ends . . . Dona’Cora thought, looking upon his rampage in awe and admiration. A glorious death . . . one surely befitting a goddess.
She abandoned immortality – was instantly crippled. In a single heartbeat she aged a millennium. Her legs could no longer support her, her arms were too weak to move. She would have crumpled to the ground, a pile of brittle bones, if not for her halo.
Her halo flared – brighter than ever. She drifted upwards, a gleaming ball of flame. A dozen blinding, blue coils leapt out as she went to join the giant and together fulfill their glorious end.
“Master, look out!”
Mastecus saw it coming – how could he miss it – but he knew that even with the demon wind he couldn’t avoid the oncoming glowing hammer.
His legs came out from under him. His face slammed to the floor as the hammer passed him over. The ashes of his allies and enemies rained down on him after the hammer continued on, the others not as fortunate to avoid its arc.
A barbed tail uncoiled around his ankles.
‘Galimoto . . . thanks,’ he said, more than a little confused, wondering why the imp had cared enough to save him. He had expected the fiend would be pushing him into the servants of Sevron by now, being all too eager to possess a new master.
Perhaps the Elder Dona’Cora was not what the imp had in mind.
The Giants moved on as more and more Makii continued to pile out of the Darkbridge. Dona’Cora followed, equally as dangerous as the pair of behemoths. Mastecus was wise enough to avoid that trio, besides, he had made his choice – they were his enemies no longer.
Instead of sticking around by the Darkbridge, Mastecus took the fight into the chamber, trying his luck with his own kind – the Makii.
He got to his feet, and in a ripple of dark energy he moved out. The hosts of Sevron were everywhere. He snuck up on a pair of them who were engrossed in tearing apart one of his allies with their bare hands. Four rapid bursts of energy stunned them, his blade-shaped hands cut them down. Nearby, Galimoto had entwined his tail around another’s neck, his claws buried deep in its dark eyes. Mastecus sunk his hands into the Makii’s body and sent his energy out – rupturing his every last internal organ.
From there the battle continued to rage, much the same. The upper-hand passed from one faction to another. Mastecus and those who sought atonement were clearly outnumbered, but they had the advantage of possessing free-will. The servants of Sevron had a slow response time, and responded to attacks in an equal, and predictable fashion. When the servants came at them, they attacked head-on. They focused the demon wind on speed and strength, preferring to get up close to their opponents and rend them to pieces with their hands.
Meanwhile, the free Makii operated independently, and unpredictably. Each of them employed the demon wind in uniquely destructive ways, making it hard for the servants to anticipate, and defend. Galimoto was the most unpredictable force of all. His tail could bind limbs, while his claws could leave his foes blind. His ‘antics’ left many a Dead God defenseless, allowing Mastecus to finish them quickly and easily.
The battle raged on, and the Makii died in droves. It almost seemed as if the battle would bring them to the brink of extinction . . . then they simply stopped coming.
Mastecus’ first thought was that something happened on the other end of the Bridge. Perhaps another battle was being waged in that world, or perhaps Sevron somehow managed to redirect the Darkbridge, closing it off to this Sanctuary. Either way it really didn’t matter, for, win or lose, this place was death for Mastecus. Even if they managed to overwhelm the servants, in the end, either the giant, or Dona’Cora would take their lives without hesitation. They would never view him as an ally, nor should they, death was all he really wanted – death and redemption.
Judging by the dwindling number of servants, he would soon have both things.
The majority of the servants had focused their efforts on the weaker of the two giants – a wise move. To infect him would be a tremendous boon to their forces, they would no longer need superior numbers to win. Mastecus thought to aid him, but saw a blaze of blue flames heading his way and changed his mind. Dona’Cora was on a killing spree, and Mastecus didn’t intend to become a part of it.
As he assumed, the servants had a lot of their hopes invested in possessing the giant. When Dona’Cora came at them, they threw everything they had at her, desperate to repel her. Many fell in the effort, but they managed to keep her away – long enough for the fallen giant to arise.
But the larger giant they simply could not stop. His glowing hammer flew through the air, taking off his former ally’s head. The Makii came at him, but he trampled right over them. At the sight of his fallen companion, the mighty giant entered such a rage that even the blank faces of the servants seemed afraid.
And then Dona’Cora returned to the fray – her body suddenly frail and weak, but surrounded in a halo of flames greater than anything Mastecus had ever seen. He even saw wisps of white fire dancing in the inferno, a power he thought belonged to only one man . . .
The sight filled his dead heart with hope. Perhaps Sevron could be stopped, the universe restored to order once more.
Then they came from the tunnels . . .
His allies, the free Makii stood against them, independent and unpredictable . . . the newcomers annihilated them.
Galimoto dropped to his shoulder, pinching his nose.
“What are those stinky beasts?” he asked in his musical voice.
Mastecus watched his former allies arise from what should have been their deaths – their bodies more vile and corrupt than ever before. Before heading out to face them, he replied to his creation, “Good bye, Galimoto” . . .
Hands of blue light wrapped around the Dead God’s waist and neck – burning as they pulled, the Dead God was ripped in half. Next to Dona’Cora, the mighty Rag’nerack finished his last foe by slamming his boot upon its skull.
They stood in a heap of burnt, squished, sundered pieces of Makii.
She did it . . . no, they did it together. Victory. Over fifty Makii met their deaths, and yet they stood.
It was a miracle.
Rag’nerack leaned wearily on his huge hammer, panting, his chest heaving . . . grinning. His smile broadened as he looked down on Dona’Cora. He likely would have slapped her back in congratulations, had such a blow not broken her frail body.
She made the gesture instead, her thin fingers patting his thick, hairy leg.
“A glorious end, my giant friend,” she said, her voice a scratchy whisper.
“Well fought, little wizard. A glorious end, indeed.”
She was utterly spent. Only enough Oneness remained to keep her frail body upright. For some unknown reason, the Makii no longer poured through the World Door. She liked to believe it was because they feared the great Dona’Cora and her mighty giant ally. But she knew that was too much to wish for. If they returned, they would kill her. If so, she would die content. She had done enough -- more than she could have hoped for. She spilt enough Makii blood today that she could now go to the Maker content.
The Maker . . .
Had this miracle victory made her a believer? Perhaps . . . or perhaps she had learned to believe in others. The giant for instance; so fierce, brave and caring. As powerful as he was, he never would have made it this long without the loyalty and love of his companions – including his most recent one, Dona’Cora.
Even the Makii had a change of heart in the end. Though far too late, they finally saw the evil they had wrought, and realized their victory and glory came at the price of their souls.
For so long she believed evil ruled the universe, and the best she could do was defy it. But now she knew the war had yet to be won. Goodness remained. It would always remain . . . and it would fight the evil for all eternity.
Dona’Cora stood with her new ally, content to watch the Dead Gods put an end to each other. There remained only a handful of Makii left in the Grand Hall. The minority of which were blank faced. The rebels made short work of their emotionless enemies, gaining the final upper hand. Provided the Rift remained silent, the outcome of their battle would soon be decided. She was a little more than curious to speak with these ‘good’ Makii once their battle was won. After all the years, and all the atrocities, why the sudden change of heart? Why now, when they could have won their war for all time?
Unfortunately, she would never have the answer . . .
Suddenly, she felt the giant tense up, his muscle turning hard as steel. He raised his hammer.
“It would seem our fight is not yet done,” the giant growled.
She had to focus more of the Oneness to her ancient eyes before she understood what the giant meant. When she abandoned immortality, her age almost instantaneously caught up to her. Her muscles were weak, her bones frail. All of her senses were incredibly dull. Unless she filled her eyes with the Oneness, the world was a murky blur.
When, at last, she was able to see the distant figures creeping from the tunnels, her first instinct was to tell the giant he was mistaken, that the beings coming out of the tunnels were allies; her Chosen, and Elders. But after enhancing her vision even further, the blackened veins and bleached flesh became all too apparent.
“Our fight is never over,” Dona’Cora whispered
The infected Elders took a moment to survey the battle, then, wasting no time they struck out against the ‘good’ Makii. The Makii fought back, often scoring viscous, fatal blows, but nothing stopped the undead Chosen and Elders. They healed almost instantly, and were faster, more powerful than their counterparts.
“Are you able to fight on, wizard?” Rag’nerack asked, tightening his grip as the battle drew near.
She recognized many faces in the crowd. One in particular posed a horrifying sight. With his body spewing black slime, Ome wobbled out of the tunnels. He briefly paused, then his body was suddenly wracked with spasms. Something emerged from the sole orifice in his belly that handled all his body functions, from breathing to defecating. A veiny black ball, covered in pus and bile, spewed out of the slit in his stomach. It plopped to the floor. A high-pitched squeal emitted from the object as it started wobbling around. Ome abandoned it, and continued to waddled forward, meanwhile, the ball grew, and sprouted limbs. Soon, it too was waddling forward, a perfect clone of Ome.
After witnessing the foul birth, Dona’Cora wasn’t the least bit surprised to see another Ome emerge from a different tunnel . . . and then another . . . and another . . .
So much for victory . . .
“Until they kill me, I will fight,” she said, knowing full well she had nothing left to give. “Promise me one thing though, my giant friend. When I finally do fall, make my death a permanent one.”
Dona’Cora was startled when the giant suddenly roared with laughter.
“Don’t worry, fierce, little Wizard,” Rag’nerack said, wrapping both hands on the hilt of his hammer and stepping in front of Dona’Cora. “Soon, we shall both stand before the Maker.”
All of the Makii were defeated, dead. They arose, more loathsome and foul than ever before. The corrupt Chosen and Elders set their sights on Rag’nerack and Dona’Cora. Onward they came, walking beneath M’jillner’s glow . . .