Into the Rift

Once more into the Rift . . .
Led by the elf prince, Adros, a group of heroes returns to the Dead Worlds in a last ditch effort to find the living. But instead of survivors, they encounter beings more ancient and evil than even the foulest of Dead Gods.
Meanwhile, the Goddess Alana begins her own quest -- a journey back to the world of her greatest failure, the elven home-world, the land where she left her true love die. There, she must face her greatest fears -- and an enemy more powerful than anything she has ever known.


1. 1


. . . Why did I return?

. . . What could I have possibly hoped to achieve?


The Seventh World

Post Exodus, 110


Adros turned his back to the Black Door.  His tattered cape fluttered wildly around him as his eyes of grey and white fell on the valley beyond . . . to where row after row of giant metal slabs jutted from the earth like tombstones – the graveyard of a once glorious city.

“Keep looking,” he said, as ever, his words calm and soft-spoken, belying the urgency of the command.

Only the One Elf could be calm at a time like this, Ollius thought.

Not that Ollius required the Elf Prince screaming to understand the severity of the situation.  The grim look on his face said it all, as did the horde of undead enveloping the ruined city and the dark rotating clouds growing on the horizon.  The dead came on in a relentless wave; hunched over, their soggy innards dripping from their fleshless skeletal frames.  Basically humanoid, the former habitants of the world were roughly six-standard-feet in height.  Bony fins projected from their bent spines while a tail of segmented bones dragged behind them.  Their skulls had elongated, protruding jawbones filled with jagged teeth.  Their jaws unhinged as they bellowed for blood.  From the cavernous, toothy gape came a deep, guttural cry of utter desperation. 

They stumbled on to the Rift, their clawed toes digging in the sand.  They climbed over the metal slabs, and each other; their long fingers ended in dagger-length talons allowing them to mount any obstacle with relative ease.

That’s not our only problem . . .

It was clear to Ollius, that if the dead didn’t overwhelm and shred them to pieces, the mounting storm was sure to sweep them all away.  Swirling clouds filled the sky beyond the Rift; a solid mass of black.  Deep within the maelstrom lighting flashed; faint bursts of light, their ensuing thunder all but muffled by the dense clouds. 

“There has to be something . . .” Adros continued, forced to raise his voice as the wind picked up, whipping past their small party and the throbbing Black Door.

“Anything . . .” he pleaded. 

Smoldering in his hands, Adros raised his staff of blackened wood, holding it towards the wasteland.  The Rift continued to pulsate behind him – swelling and contracting more violently than before.  As if feeding off the coming night, it swallowed the air around it, adding the darkness of the land to its endless spiraling heart.

His hood fell to his shoulders, revealing a head of golden hair, and pointed ears.

Beyond the Rift, the clouds continued to coalesce, a broiling mass of purple and black.  As if to accentuate Adros’ point, a rotating funnel dropped from the heavens, creating a whirlwind of debris as the narrow tip met the earth.  It tore a winding path towards the Rift, gaining size and strength the more of the land it destroyed.

Ollius found it no wonder an altar to the Rift was absent in this world; likely swept away in the storms, as were the rest of the city’s structures.  All that remained of the once thriving and advanced civilization were the nearly indestructible bi-metal foundations of their former buildings.  As if the very ground was trying to expel them, the metal rectangles protruded from the earth; their surfaces gleaming, polished smooth in the midst of the chaotic environment.

“We should never have come . . .” Adros said, his words barely audible in the howling wind.

The shining metal slabs vanished one by one as a wave of foul and rotting bodies poured over them.

“I’m so sorry,” he continued; the violent writhing of his cape matched the rage in his eyes.

Ollius wondered if the apology was truly meant for his companions or for his lost love, Alana, whom they failed to save from the Dead Worlds – let alone find a single trace of her existence.  

Since they left their home-world, they had been to dozens of worlds in search of life – and came up empty-handed on them all.  If by some miracle life remained in the universe, it would take the Maker’s luck to find it.  But at this point, Ollius was fairly certain that if the Maker did exist, he had surely abandoned them to the hell of the Black Door a long time ago.

At the foot of the Rift, Ollius stood, his body covered in flames of blue, his hands spread out before him, directing a constant flow of energy into the Rift.  At his side, a thin black-robed figure was similarly engulfed in power, gritting her teeth in determination as she added her blazing stream of blue energy to his own.  Her hair was short, jet-black and slicked back on her head.  Her brown eyes bore fearlessly into the Rift.  Out of necessity, her rage was building, and with it her power. 

The angrier she became, to Ollius, the more beautiful.  While most people’s dimples grew when smiling, hers did so when enraged. 

Such strength . . . such power . . . he thought, still awed by what his wife could achieve with the Oneness.

He met her in the Rift long ago, the lone survivor of a dead world.  She was just a stick of a girl then; light as a feather and afraid of her own shadow.  But the moment he set eyes upon her he saw the potential within . . . limitless power buried within a prison of fear.  It was one of the greatest joys of his life to watch that power grow . . . and to watch her fear dwindle.  Kendal had grown to become one of the strongest people Ollius knew, not merely in the Oneness, but in her courage and determination.  He knew of only one power in the universe greater than her strength in the Oneness – love, namely his love for her.

If we cannot find something together, then truly the universe is dead, he thought, beginning to fear it was exactly the case, for even with Kendal’s tremendous aid, he sensed only death within the swirling maelstrom.

Together they flooded the black pool with wave after wave of pure power -- stretching out into the endless depths of the universe, searching for even the slightest glimmer of life . . . of hope.  He had never been so far, his power spread so thin.  He was at risk of losing himself to the Rift – far closer to the Void then he was with reality.

“They’re closing in, prepare yourselves!” Adros screamed, fighting to be heard above the roaring wind.

A group of several dozen soldiers stood with their backs to him, their weapons raised to the eerie dark blue-horizon and the oncoming tidal wave of undead.  Some of the soldiers cast nervous glances to their backs, and the building storm.  But for the most part their eyes were glued to the ruined city, where the dead filled the land; their spiny fins like sails in an endless churning black ocean.

The majority of the soldiers were humans; and were for the most part similarly garbed.  Segmented steel plates covered their necks; the joints riveted for mobility.  Exposed jugulars typically acted as magnets for teeth and claws, the result of which was a quick and extremely bloody death.  Light helms protected the soldiers’ heads; smooth, round skull-caps that lacked visors with only a nose guard to protect their otherwise vulnerable faces.  Like scales of a fish, their breastplates were made of overlapping plates of steel.  Bracers without gauntlets protected their arms while minor greaves guarded their legs.  Rings of fine steel – with a cerulean tinge – held all of the armor together, covering any remaining bit of flesh.  It was the chain mail of the dwarves, made from their durable, and exceedingly rare, blue-steel.

The leader of the humans was the young, broad-chested Prince Kalan; direct descendent of Lord Edric, the human leader of the Exodus.  Ollius had known Edric well, very well considering he had personally guided him and his people into the Rift, and subsequently hid them for years from the hunger of the Dead Gods.  He saw much of his old friend in the young prince, not only his demeanor, but his physical traits as well.  Both were large men; standing just over six-standard-feet.  Their bodies made even more massive by the layer of solid muscle filling out their frames.  They also shared the same curly blond locks and even wore it in a similar fashion; flowing freely down their shoulders and necks. 

Lord Edric had been a thoughtful, caring leader, but when it came to matters of survival, he was a brutal and violent warrior.  In the Rift, he slaughtered his enemies with a savagery that would have had him convicted as a madman in any other era.  But during the Exodus, if people thought of his rage, it was in gratitude; for it saved them on more than one dead planet.  Nor were any sympathetic to the death of something that was already dead, no matter how vicious and brutal the manner of its demise. 

Edric’s descendant, Kalan entered the Rift innocent of the horrors within, yet like his ancestor, all too eager to bath himself in the silver-fire of those he vanquished.  It was well known that his father, King Therion, had commanded him to lead the human forces in this mission.  Therion had many sons to spare; Kalan was but the fifth in line for the throne.  The King felt obligated to put a royal stamp on the mission, but at the same time knew it was a fool’s mission, one that would most likely end in death.  Wisely – or perhaps callously -- Therion offered up Kalan, knowing his loss wouldn’t disrupt the hereditary claims of those in line for the throne.  Though not the youngest of his sons, Kalan was the perfect candidate; strong and skilled enough to sufficiently represent the crown, yet in the scheme of things, utterly expendable. 

No matter the human king’s intentions, Ollius couldn’t have been happier with his decision.  Kalan’s broad shoulders, powerful sword-arm and quick reflexes – combined with Adros’ personal guidance – had transformed him into a force to be reckoned with.  Now, five cycles into the Rift, Kalan had grown to be as stout – and vengeful -- a warrior as his ancestor. 

His companions were likewise hardened by the mission.  It was a varied group to say the least; ex-soldiers of the Red Wall, lawless cut-throats, fame-seeking young lords and ladies of Lock Core and wide-eyed Outland villagers who wanted more out of life than a future working the fields.  No matter what they were when the mission began, they were grim-faced soldiers now, one and all.  To their credit, only a handful had fallen through the course of the mission, and most from accidental, or natural causes.  Oftentimes, the terrain and the environment of the Dead Worlds proved more treacherous than their undead inhabitants – the growing funnel cloud soon to engulf them being a prime example. 

Ollius did his best to protect the group with his power, but some forces of nature – he turned a worried eye on the storm – were beyond him.  If the massive tornado came upon them, he doubted even Kendal could save them from it.

Of the group, only two were elves. 

So few remained to give their aid, nor did their father and prince, Adros, require them to do so.  They had given more than enough during the Exodus and the Sanctuary.  Those that survived, desired nothing more than to live a peaceful respite in the Seventh World before the Plague returned and the final battle began; already settling into their new home within the glorious Brentwood Elms that Adros had only recently discovered. 

Others chose to use the time to hone their skills to perfection . . .

One such elf was the female warrior, Jinla, who wielded a silver-tipped short-spear with blinding speed and precision.  A leather holster on her back held six more of the four-foot spears; seemingly small when held in her long, muscular arms.  Her golden hair was shaved bare on the sides, while the rest was shoulder length; bound at the top of her head with a leather braid but otherwise left flowing wild.  Her hair was golden and glowing (as were all elves) except at the tips, where she had dyed it a mix of silver and blue.  The elegant – often luscious -- curves of her body were amplified by a form-fitting suit of gleaming golden scales.  The scale-mail covered only the front of her body, leaving her muscular and milky arms and legs fully exposed, and was bound in the back with a fine chain-mail mesh.  Instead of plates, her slender neck was covered in tight-fitting rings of blue-steel. 

She was an ardent devotee of the One Elf.  She saw him not only as a savior and a father, but as an immortal god.  Her main goal in life was to emulate Adros.  To Jinla, his every word was like scripture, his actions the height of perfection.  When she heard of their journey to the Rift, she found it an irresistible opportunity to achieve spiritual enlightenment by fighting at his side. 

If she knew anything of the One Elf, Ollius thought.  She would see he was a being cursed . . . a man to be pitied not revered.

The other elf to join them was the gallant swashbuckler known as ‘The Rose Elf’, thus named for his flair for the romantic.  For the Rose Elf, the mission was one of honor.  He felt bound to repay his life-debt to his adopted father, Adros.  By helping him find his lost love, the Rose Elf would see that debt repaid. 

For as much as he strutted around touting the great depths of his honor, Ollius knew the Rose Elf was a lover at heart.  And the true force driving him into the Rift was love – or perhaps more accurately, lust.  His grey and white eyes lingered far too long on Jinla’s gold-scaled breasts than was necessary or oftentimes appropriate.  Though over the years he had been tremendously successful seducing the human women in their group, his affections for Jinla had yet to be reciprocated.  He was too blinded by his own arrogance to realize she was incapable of loving any being other than the One Elf.

Beyond his reputation as a romantic, the Rose Elf was a legendary swordmaster.  Any discussion of the greatest living swordfighters inevitably became a debate centered on three elves; one of which was certain to be the Rose Elf.  He fought with a single, thin blade.  The weapon was forged by the dwarves, made by their durable blue-steel, with a slightly curved edge that made it ideal for slashing as well as greatly strengthening its razor-sharp edge.  The pommel was an elegant rose of silver.  His golden curls were tied into a wild bun at the back of his head, leaving rogue strands of hair dancing along the graceful curves of his face.

The Rose Elf didn’t put much faith in armor.  A survivor of the Sanctuary, he had seen the Dead Gods burn through blue-steel as if it were paper.  His trusted his skills, and his blade, to protect him, wearing only a basic coat of black, oiled leather, with patches of blue-steel chain mail over his vitals.

Only one dwarf joined their journey; a grey-haired, hunched lump of hardened muscles.  TOphin, an old friend, and a dear one.  His death was coming, whether it was here or in the safety of the Seventh World.  He came to die in battle, and to die alongside his friends.  Of the combatants barricading the Rift, he was the only one who looked eager to meet the charge of undead; his stumpy digits clasping and unclasping on the handles of his silver hammer and pick.

His mumbled curses were lost in the wind.

Both Jinla and the Rose Elf were seasoned warriors; survivors of both the Exodus and the Sanctuary.  But the humans were novices when it came to the Rift.  They were born under the blanket of peace; too young to know anything other than legends of the Exodus.  They sought adventure and glory at the One Elf’s side.  After they entered the Rift, they soon learned there was nothing to be gained other than nightmares. 

Already, too many of the humans had been lost . . .

And for what? Ollius wondered.  The One Elf’s love?  A meaningless quest that could end only in death? 

At the head of their group, a thin, cloaked being towered over them – Prince Adros.  In his hands, his blackened and smoking staff; its tip – red and throbbing as if on the verge of bursting.  Not all of the smoke came from the burning staff, some was rising from the many blisters and charred cracks in his hands.

Even though he most certainly had led them to their deaths, Ollius couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.  His love was lost, as was his hope.  He had survived horrors of the Rift Ollius had only seen in his most chilling dreams.  In this war, few beings had suffered more than the One Elf.  All Adros ever wanted was a chance . . . a sign.  Just to believe his love was alive would have been enough . . . but no longer . . .

Ollius had no right to bemoan his own mortality.  He had spent more than the average human lifetime with his love.  Despite what they suffered, he had lived a rather good life.  A life that was only made possible because of Adros.  They lived because of him.  All of the races.  None of them would have ever made it to the Seventh World without him.  During the Exodus, then, like now, Ollius was lost in the Dead Worlds.  A bloodthirsty Dead God had tracked them to the Gaj’sn Ring – a close alignment of planets that existed in a once peaceful part of the universe.  After months of feeding off of their weak, the Dead God decided to put an end to them.  Half-dead from starvation and exhaustion, Ollius, his small collection of Chosen, and the last of the human army made their final stand . . .

If Adros and his elves hadn’t arrived, it would have been a massacre.  His life, for what it was worth, would have ended then and there.

He was saved . . . but led by Adros’ example he went back . . . for others yet remained.  Ollius could have lived in peace, giving his power to build the Red Wall, as so many of his Order had done.  But instead he returned to the Rift, to rescue his peers in their moon stronghold known as the Sanctuary. 

The carnage . . .

It would never leave him.

Afterwards, Ollius swore he was done with the Black Door.

He knew there was only death within . . .

Then why had he returned. 

For Adros . . .?  For hope? 

No.  For her . . . for Kendal, his wife.  She had a score to settle with the Dead Gods, and would never be content to wait in the Seventh World to see it fulfilled.

He had to admit, since they returned, she had never been happier.  The thrill of battle exited her in ways his love never could.

And this time, what will I lose? the mage thought, sparing a glance at his companion, the lithe Kendal, his wife and love.  In the end, would he be like Adros, lost, alone, wandering a dead universe chasing a dream?

Like Adros . . . he pondered.  No, he would never be like Adros.  The elf was a rock.  If he lost Kendal . . . 

Had he suffered as did the One Elf, he would have broken a long time ago.  Not only did the One Elf remain . . . with every heartache, with every loss, the rock hardened. 

Perhaps Jinla knows him better than us all . . .

Perhaps the One Elf was a god . . . and their only salvation.

Salvation . . .

That weight was on his shoulders now.  Even the One Elf couldn’t possibly stand against the army they now faced.

When they first arrived in the world, they found the ruined city – or at least the bi-metal graveyard it had become.  The buildings they supported had toppled and turned to dust after the Plague ravaged the world.  Immune to rust and decay, the near-indestructible foundations were all that remained standing, only slightly worn by the harsh environment and the ravages of time.

At first glance, they thought the world was abandoned.  With its sky of dark, rotating clouds it seemed a land even the Dead Gods would dare not tread.  

Adros was the first to think otherwise, as if he could sense the evil lurking in the ruins.  Perhaps it was the smell that gave them away, the tell-tale stench of death that always foreshadowed the coming of the Dark Army.  Prince Adros caught their scent the moment he arrived.  It wasn’t until Ollius and the others were walking through the maze of metal slabs that the dead caught a whiff of them.  And when they did, the earth came alive.  Piles of bodies buried just below the soil clawed their way to the surface.  The very ground they stood upon became snarling mouths and grasping claw-filled hands.  Ollius and Kendal were quick to clear a path back, back to the Rift, starting the former streets and alleyways ablaze with mage-fire. 

A world’s worth of infected must have gathered in this city, the city of the Black Door, in hopes such a feast would one day come.  Or perhaps such a feast had come before – asylum seekers searching for peace, or adventures lost in the Rift, as were they.  Thus the dead were drawn there, waiting for the Rift to spew forth their next meal.  It must have been ages since last they fed.  Trapped, starving, they entered a lifeless state, their bodies, by all accounts, dead . . . until their party arrived. 

Or even worse . . . maybe the living came here . . . came to flee.  The entire population of the world seeking shelter through the Black Door only to find it locked . . . their Gatekeeper dead, the Plague consuming them as they prayed for the black depths to stir.

Whatever horror befell them, their ranks were great.  Luckily, the undead were slow and witless . . . minor infected, those reanimated by the virus after their deaths.  But they were hungry . . . starving.  And they were endless . . .

It was obvious from the outset, it was a fight they could not win . . .

It came down to Ollius and his ability to tune the Rift.  If he failed to find a habitable world, their mission would come to an abrupt, and bloody end.

There’s nothing . . . 

His power spread further into the Void . . .

Before the Plague took away all life, Ollius had been a Gatekeeper, a navigator of the Rift.  With his power, he had touched countless worlds, but never had he gone this deep into the Black Door, nor so close to the end of the colonized universe.  The universe’s core was violent, dark and utterly dead.  He touched it only briefly; long enough to learn that it was not only chaotic and uninhabitable, but also thriving with the minions of the Dark Army.  He immediately decided against searching further in the universe’s interior, choosing instead to test his luck in the outer rim of galaxies -- where the Black Doors and Dead Gods were few and far between. 

At the end of the Age of War, the Makii, the forbearers of his order conquered the universe, carving a path between the worlds with the power of the Oneness.  They created the Rift – Heaven’s Bridge, the God Gate, the Black Door . . . the Tear -- joining every world they set upon to their Union – the collection of races and habitable worlds they conquered.

Exponentially, their conquest gained momentum.  In time, the universe fell to their Oneness.  It was only when the Makii reached the cold, uninhabitable edge of the universe that their expansion ground to a halt.  The Rifts ended.  The borders of the Union solidified.  An unknown number of galaxies were abandoned; the dark galaxies.  Galaxies so distant and old, they were utterly devoid of light.  Instead of stars, they were filled with black holes; the ravenous celestial bodies fighting amongst themselves to devour the final remnants of the galaxies, and then one another.  Because the galaxies were so far from the rest of the universe, it would be ages before the ancient light of their former stars could even be seen; thus giving proof to the galaxies’ existence.  They were unperceivable, these dark galaxies, dwelling in the part of the universe once thought to be the end of reality.  Unbound by gravity, they were perpetually moving through space and time away from the rest of creation.  In comparison to the motion of the rest of the galaxies in the universe, their relative speed was even faster than the speed of light.  Thus, they could neither be seen nor reached – only theorized . . .

. . . until the advent of the Rift.

The Mage-lords found them, but found them to be useless.

That’s where Ollius focused his search, the edge of the Union, the borderlands between the conquered worlds of the Mage-lords and the worthless ones.  It was there Ollius surmised he would find life if any remained; refugees fleeing to the darkest corners of the universe, outposts perhaps forgotten and overlooked by even the Dead Gods.

One after another he skimmed the outlying galaxies, not only unable to find life, but even a single planet whose atmosphere (or lack thereof) wouldn’t instantly kill them the moment they set foot upon it.

Growing ever desperate, Ollius continued searching, sinking ever deeper into the Void.  Meanwhile, his companions prepared to stand against an overwhelming force; not in the hopes of winning, but to perhaps buy him enough time to find something . . .

. . . anything, he begged of the Void.

The stench of the horde overwhelmed his senses, even as he drifted deep into the Rift.

Adros sensed it too, his hands clenching tighter on the king’s wood staff – even though they yet burned.

“They’re coming . . .” Ollius told Kendal telepathically.  “Help them.  I’ll find a world.”

I must!

Doing his best to ignore the smell, he let his mind go . . . fully into the void of the Black Door.  He was one with oblivion now.

Far too gleefully, Kendal complied.  The massive flood of blue flames she sent into the Rift now covered her thin body instead.  Engulfed in flames, she turned to the others, just as the horde of demons came pouring at them.

The beings were more bone than flesh.  If any internal organs remained, they were globs of mush – including their brains.  They held only one thought – feed!  It was all that drove them on. 

The winds began to mount around them.  There came a thunderous roar as the tornado drew nearer.  The swirling mass filled the majority of the horizon, and more began to form, many more, the spiraling funnels falling like rain from the darkened sky.

Kendal met the initial charge alone.  Her blue flames became fists of death as she tore into the crowd, pounding her way into the heart of the horde, unafraid.  Anything that came into her path was obliterated.  It wasn’t long before she was alone, and surrounded – but never happier.  With ease, she could have burned their bodies to ash, but instead she choose to use her fists to pound them to dust.

Adros was equally effective.  His staff as deadly as her fists.  And with his tremendous reach, anything within ten-feet collapsed into a pile of bones and rotten flesh.  The tip of his staff glowed like an ember, while the length of it was scorched by flames of black.  He ignored the pain in his hands as they cooked in order to wield the weapon.  He fought on, able to keep the swarm of undead at bay – along with the aid of the others. 

TOphin was in a berserker’s frenzy – partly suicidal, partly homicidal.  His pickaxe fell against the wave of undead as if it was chipping away at a sacred vein of blue-steel. 

Jinla was magnificent – her form perfect as she decimated the undead with a pair of spinning short-spears.

The Rose Elf – elegant, impressive (hopefully to Jinla, considering he seemed to look her way more than he did his enemy). 

And the humans –They lacked the grace of the elves, but were fierce, brave warriors.  Prince Kalan held their line, his broadsword cutting through the crowd in a blaze of silver-fire.  Those who escaped the wrath of his sword found his shield smashing into their skulls. 

The young humans, though relatively new to such horrors, held their ground.  Adros himself had trained them before they left the Seventh, and continued to do so the years since they left.  And TOphin . . . despite his crippled and aching limbs, still fought well, with a foul-mouthed ferocity that fueled his attacks and kept him fighting on.  Even so, had it not been for the elves they would have been quickly overwhelmed.  The elves were a blur as they moved down the line, aiding any human who faltered.

Jinla danced her way to a group of humans who were forced to step back by the press of foul bodies.  Two spears shot out before she even made it there.  One burned a hole of silver-fire through three of the undead before coming to a rest, the other spear hit one on the side of its head, igniting his skeletal body like a struck match.  She tore into the crowd, a spear in each hand; silver tips darting out, undead bodies popping into blue flame like cinders in a bonfire.

The Rose Elf never strayed too far from her, killing his enemies with far more grace than was needed; enacting the most difficult maneuvers when the rudimentary hack and slash would have sufficed against an enemy whose main weapons were their teeth and nails.  

And the One Elf . . . he was a whirlwind of death.  His spinning staff dropping their lifeless bodies by the hundreds.  Though it was obviously taking its toll, the stench of his burning flesh as foul as the reek of their rotting enemy.

Beyond their small wall of defenders . . . the land was swarming with fleshless atrocities for as far as the eye could see.

As well as they fought, they couldn’t hold them off forever . . .

And the tornado was closing in . . .

“Any time now Ollius . . .” TOphin managed between labored breaths; his frenzied rage waning, and the limitations of his aged body finally catching up to him.

No longer did he appear eager to die in battle, perhaps realizing neither manner of death was as noble as he imagined it to be -- being gnawed apart by the throng of undead or ripped apart in the air by a tornado.

Even Kendal was wavering . . . she stumbled to a knee as the winds struck her – immediately a tide of undead surged over her.  She recovered in an explosion of pure energy; bits of burning bodies flew into the air as the blast annihilated anything within a ten-foot radius.  She got back to her feet, her body ablaze, brown eyes fiercer than ever.  The storm raged around her, flinging the undead bodies in all directions.  Those unfortunate enough to collide into her blazing halo scattered into the winds as ash. 

He was relieved to see she was holding her own, but even so, Ollius could tell though that a great deal of energy now went to keep her footing amidst the storm.

It has to be now . . .

Ollius sent more power into the Void . . . too much more.  He would be useless in this battle, or any battle that would come for some time.  If he chose wrong . . . he would be the first to die, and the rest would have nowhere left to go but back, back to this world, where if the army of dead didn’t kill them the storm surely would.

A sudden blast of wind swept a pack of humans into the undead throng; their screams briefly marked their location before they disappeared amidst a spray of blood and shredded body parts.  Kendal fought her way back to the line, trying to fill the gap resulting from their loss.  She made it to the line to find the trio of elves had beat her there, and were fighting furiously to keep from being overwhelmed.  Kendal blasted her way to their aid, temporarily throwing the horde back and joining her allies shrinking wall of defense. 

The undead resurged, a tidal wave of bodies.  Even with Kendal’s aid, the group would have been easily overwhelmed . . . but the cyclone bore down on them.  Kendal extinguished her fists, covering them all in a shimmering shield of blue as the tornado roared around them.  The sound was deafening; a continuous clap of thunder.

Outside her shield, the army of dead filled the sky, still snarling and grasping towards the group as they vanished into the swirling abyss.  The tornado moved into the city, obliterating the army.  For what seemed like forever it raged around them.  All eyes were on Kendal as she struggled to hold it back, her shield flickering and growing fainter with every passing second.

Then, like a miracle it simply stopped . . .

The air was still as death. 

Walls of black clouds surrounded them; spinning so fast they were dizzying to see.  Burst of lighting bounced from the walls, crackling up and down the tube of swirling air.  High above, the stars gently twinkled through a giant circular opening. 

“The eye . . .” Adros softly whispered, resting his staff on his shoulder to ease his blistered hands.

The still eye moved on, covering the ancient city. 

The plaz-walls remained, perhaps smoother than before.  Broken forms littered the field of battle, slow to rise, but rise they did.  The limping forms soon became a wave of dead – once more the earth was moving in their direction.

Ollius had scarce power left . . . as did Kendal, the shield she generated had taken its toll.  Outside the temporary haven of the eye, the storm only grew stronger . . . dozens of such tornadoes had now fully formed.  In front of them, the undead reassembled and came surging back to the Rift.

Ollius kept searching . . . he went beyond . . . but even at the end of the universe there was nothing . . . no planet even remotely safe, nor one holding the slightest signs of life . . . until . . .

He felt a glimmer . . . a beating heart where there should be none – no Gate, no habitable atmosphere, no possible way an intelligent form of life should exist.  In any other instance he would have certainly seen it as a bad sign; an anomaly that could only mean one thing . . . evil. 

But Ollius took a chance – he had to.

He made a Gate . . . a Gate to a new world.  As his forebears once did, Ollius expanded the Union. 

It was an unknown world . . . a world deep within a dark galaxy; a planet so distant and old it bordered the very edge of the known universe.

. . . But it had life . . . he only hoped they too could survive it. 

 “It’s done . . .” he said, before collapsing. 

The eye of the storm was over, the undead swarmed around them.

Kendal carried him through . . .

. . . into the unknown.



Why did we return?  I had to be certain no life remained . . .

. . . In that sense, perhaps I succeeded.

-- Adros. 

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