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.

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12. 12

Adros held Ollius upright in one arm, his blackened staff in the other.  His friend’s head hung low; tangled locks of grey hair draping over his pale and wrinkled face.  Ollius’ normally dour expression was now purely that of a man defeated: a man at the end of his life with nothing more left to comfort him than the emptiness of death.  Adros was unable to repel the thought that Ollius was a burden he must now bear.  Though his emaciated body weighed little, the tragedy that Ollius’ life had become was so cumbersome that Adros felt as if his feet were glued to the floor.  If it wasn’t for his staff, the Graelic, supporting the weight of them both it would have been impossible to continue on. 

Too much was at stake for him to stop.  Sadness filled his grey and white eyes as he looked upon the aged body of his friend.  Only horror had befallen the man because he remained at Adros’ side -- and more was certain to come . . . it had to come . . . and once more Adros would be the one to deliver him to it. 

Because if he didn’t, they would all die . . .

Dreading the inevitable, Adros plodded onward through the strange alien structure, while with every step, his friend grew heavier, slipping closer to death.

All around them blue lines crawled across the surface of the metal walls and floors, rhythmically pulsing like a network of veins.  From light to dark the blue lines flickered, casting their group in shadows one minute – complete darkness the next. 

But no matter the shade, the metal giants that accompanied them remained black silhouettes; their eyes constant pits of fire.

In order to ensure their mission went according to plan, five of the sleek behemoths had joined them; their white eyes fiercely burning as they tracked their every move, their steps a loud cacophony of metal pounding against metal.  One of the beings led the way while the other four flanked the group, herding them tightly together to ensure no one suddenly decided to straggle away on their own.

“Do you even think she’s still alive?” Ollius asked telepathically – not in an attempt to keep the conversation private, for they both knew the telepathic powers of their captors’ were likely privy to their every thought – he was simply too physically exhausted to communicate verbally.

“She’s strong . . . a survivor,” Adros replied, trying to assuage his friend’s anguish.  “Yes, she’s out there . . . and she’s alive,” he continued, even though in his heart he felt it was a lie. 

Ollius’ wife was dead.  The creature they went to find was a demon; a corruption of the woman he loved not the staunch and trusted friend who fought alongside them on countless worlds.

“Don’t patronize me, old friend.  They have taken much from me, but I yet have my wits,” Ollius said, reading his thoughts.  

A bluish haze surrounded the man, the last remnants of his power – that and Adros’ arm the only things keeping him on his feet and moving.

“I’m not a fool, I know what she has become, Adros . . . what we’ll find . . . still, I wish to see her for one final time, nonetheless . . .”

Adros had expected as much, and felt ashamed by his attempted ruse.  It had been wrong of him to pretend this mission was anything other than what it was, especially after all that Ollius had forsaken.  His life was coming to an end – perhaps prematurely, perhaps long overdue.  Either way it was a life that would be sorely missed.  He deserved better . . . to spend the rest of his days with his love at his side.  But now those days were cut short, and his love . . . if she was anything . . . was gone . . .

Ollius had always meant a great deal to Adros, and not merely because he was a powerful mage and Gatekeeper.  To Adros, he was far more than a key to unlock the worlds of the Black Door.  Ollius was a trusted advisor, a confidant, and most importantly, a dear friend. 

That made it all the more difficult for Adros to accept the fact that he was using him.  Nor did it make things any easier that the man was practically cradled in his arms, near death, and being led to the remains of his undead wife.  But it had to be done, as much as it pained him to do so, he had to deliver him to Kendal.  It was his only hope, that the sight of him – so tortured and decrepit – would not only spark recognition in Kendal’s eyes, but ignite her renowned rage, and that she would unleash it not on her former allies, but the ones who imprisoned them. 

Despite what Ollius may have thought of his prior intentions, never before had he used him so – a pawn in his war against the Plague.  He had always been a companion, ally and his equal . . . now he was bait.

As agonized as Adros was with that reality, he felt there was little choice in the matter.  What else could he have done?  He certainly couldn’t have left him, left him to the appetite of the masters.  No doubt if he had, Ollius would be a lifeless husk by now, and Adros wouldn’t have a hope left in all of the Rift for a chance to set the rest of his companions free.

“As much as you may wish it so, the universe doesn’t center on you, One Elf.  I wanted to come . . . not just because they would have bled me dry.  I have my own reasons to find her, reasons that have nothing to do with the great Adros,” Ollius said, once more intruding his thoughts.

Instead of grimacing at his words, Adros grinned.  Ollius was never a man to hold his feelings back.  It was one of the things that endeared him to Ollius – not that he tended to invade Adros’ thoughts, but that Ollius’ honesty grounded him, saving him from drowning in his own self-centeredness.  It was true, Adros needed him now – more than ever.  But Kendal was his wife . . . of all people, Adros should know what it meant for him to find her. 

For Adros, this was a mission driven by survival.  For Ollius, it was all about closure. 

“I’m sorry it has to be this way,” Adros replied, once more growing somber as the nature of their situation began to sink in.

And for what . . .?

Adros was to blame for their predicament, he couldn’t ignore that fact.  It all started with his quest to find his own lost love.  His romantic yearning had cost the lives of many of his companions – and was soon to claim at least one more.  Now, the ragged handful of those survivors joined together to find another lost love; one of their own, Kendal, Ollius’ wife and until recently their most powerful companion.  The merciful thing would be to put an end to her corrupted existence, but they had to take her alive – a feat that even at their fittest would be nearly impossible. 

“. . . sorry for it all,” Adros continued.

I’m the one who’s the fool . . .

Adros’ steps were heavy indeed, but as ever he somehow found the will to trudge onward . . .

His bare chest heaving, hands clenching on his hilt, Prince Kalan seemed on the verge of rounding on the giants and unleashing his own legendary rage.  With a murderous look in his eyes he kept turning his head back to the giants, and every time, Adros was certain he would launch an attack on the beings.  His common sense must have got the better of his rage, for every time he turned back around and continued to trudge forward . . . knuckles white on his hilt.

The other human, Trenton, kept his eyes to the ground, trying to keep as much distance from himself and the giants as possible.  His fingertips feebly kept hold of his blade, as if he was going to drop it at any moment.  He knew how useless it was . . . how useless he was. 

Adros had seen that look far too often . . . a man resigned to his fate . . . even worse, a man who knew what fate had in store for him.  Yes, he had seen that look many times; far too many of them while looking into a mirror.

Should they survive this, Kalan could very well forge some semblance of a normal live in the Seventh World – if he could learn to set his anger aside.  Trenton, on the other hand, would likely wither; dead before the next comet even crosses the sky.  No amount of peace and harmony would ever steal that sense of uselessness from his soul. 

If Adros could find any glimmer of hope in their situation it was that he was reunited with his children, Jinla and Montrose.  Compared to the rest of their companions, the elves had actually fared well; Jinla stalked forward, wincing as she raised her spear but held it steady -- once she had it rested in the crook of her arm.  She took deep, labored breaths and often Adros caught her favoring her side; both clear signs that she had likely fractured her ribs in the battle at the cave – or possibly even broke them.

As for his son, Montrose, he drained the lump on his brow with a deft cut of his sword but it was still so swollen it completely covered his left eye.  The blow to his head had left him noticeably shaken.  He walked on legs of rubber, often listing to the right as if about to topple over.  Gone were his smooth strides, his perfect poise; the soft rhythm of his steps disrupted by his awkward gate.  His blade – renowned for being steady and true – trembled in his hand; the razor edge angled to the ground, leaving him vulnerable to a sudden attack.

His hawkish features were bloodied, beaten.  His neatly tied bun of golden hair splayed across his back in a crimson stained heap. 

There was too much at stake for Adros to worry further about the well-being of his children; Montrose had suffered – and survived -- far worse.  It wouldn’t be the first time Adros had left him to survive on his own willpower and resources.  So it went for all of his kin; since the day he saved them from the Dead Tree he had made certain his children grew strong, knowing that days such as these would undoubtedly await in their future.  It was his belief that the best way to save them was to give them the ability to save themselves; and for the most part it worked – in the Seventh World his children thrived.  But sadly, for many it did not – the Rift took their immortal souls.  He gave them the skills and knowledge to make their own choice – choose their own battle.  It was all he could offer them – a choice.

Jinla and Montrose had made theirs . . . Jinla was a seasoned huntress – Montrose a renowned swordmaster, they were children no more.

Adros had to trust to his training . . . and that when needed, Montrose’s abilities would return and Jinla’s spear would be certain to strike – as accurately and deadly as ever, and no matter her pain, the only way the weapon would fall was if she was dead.  Like himself, the Dead Worlds were a part of them now -- the abilities they gained fighting in the Rift as instinctual as taking a breath.

According to their captors, they had been spared the fate of the others because their elven blood was unsuitable for whatever dark purpose they had planned.  Adros was more than grateful their uselessness hadn’t led their captors to kill his children outright.  For the moment, they let them live.  But once Kendal is contained . . . they all will have fully exhausted their usefulness.  Even though they had been given their weapons back, against the giants they may as well try fighting them with their fists – no doubt precisely why their captors returned them. 

Adros had no reason to trust their intentions – especially since he had yet to fully understand what they were.  They claimed they would free them after they delivered Kendal, but it was far more likely they would all be killed.  For all he knew, such was the metal giants’ main purpose for accompanying them – some sort of kill order imprinted in their programing, one that would initiate the moment Kendal was in their possession.

Adros felt far more comfortable acting on that assumption as opposed to blind faith -- trusting their new enemy to live up to their word.

But what would he do?

That, he had yet to decide.  He still feared the telepathic reach of the masters, and knew that any plan – no matter how elaborate – would amount to nothing if they knew what was coming.  Surprise may be his one and only weapon to strike a blow against their captors.

As the metal giants guided them through their ship, back to the cave, the pieces to his plan began to tumble together -- a picture formed; the image of a dying god, weak and so starved for power it needed others to do its dirty work.  A being driven mad by revenge, and its lust for immortality.  In the image, its weaknesses began to show.

As for the puzzle pieces, Adros gathered them along the way.  All the while they walked, Adros committed every twist and turn they took to memory.  He was certain he could find his way back and rescue the women.  Before he left the torture chamber, he vowed to return for them, no matter the cost.

He also thought he discovered the purpose for the pulsating blue lines in the floors – it was energy, and yes, veins of a sort -- the life-blood of the masters’ prison.  Not only that, but if he interpreted them correctly, he believed he could navigate the stronghold, perhaps even find the masters’ hide-out.

Every discovery, no matter how small, was an important piece.  Without a doubt the most important puzzle piece of all was Kendal; she completed the image – the death of the dying god.  First they had to locate her amidst the planet’s endless melted surface, and then somehow convince her to join them instead of killing them.  Of all the dangerous situations he had been in his long life, surely this one was at the top of the list.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry, Adros.  Save it for the young ones who followed you into the Rift,” Ollius continued, nodding weakly to the humans. 

Adros flinched at his harsh words, but knew they were well deserved.

“Martyrdom doesn’t suit you, Elf Prince.  Not all the ills of the universe are yours to bare.  Remember it was I who brought us to this world . . . I played my part in this destiny, all the while knowing they were here . . . life was here.  It was one of the reasons I chose this world . . . I thought that if there was life, perhaps we too could survive.”

His words did nothing to alleviate his guilt.  If Adros hadn’t brought them into the Rift in the first place, Ollius wouldn’t have had to make such risky decisions.  And considering their situation, the choice Ollius made was the best one available.  How many times had Adros said the same for his own decisions . . . his own mistakes?

“Kendal isn’t a fool either,” Ollius continued.  “She knew what the Rift had in store for her . . . In fact she longed for it.  Perhaps in some ways she is too much like you.  All those days we spent in the wilds of the Seventh World I saw it in both of your eyes . . . the Rift, calling you back.  I have to admit there were times I too felt its call . . . During the Exodus, the notion of peace was always an unattainable dream . . . when finally we had it fulfilled -- suddenly life made even less sense than it did during the war.  Aye, we found peace, but our pain remained . . . I guess some of us lacked a means to vent it.  Me, I had love . . . that was enough.  But for Kendal . . .”

Ollius’ words stung with truth; until Adros had his love – or his vengeance – his soul would never know peace.

“We both know why she really came back; to save your love was just a convenient excuse.  She never wanted peace . . . it never suited her . . . What she needed was an outlet; revenge, the thrill of battle . . . her pain manifested into a bloodlust . . . and since the day we left the Sanctuary it has been begging to be quenched.”

Adros was unable to respond; he knew the truth of it, to say otherwise would be an outright lie.  In the Rift, where so many untold souls withered to nothingness, Kendal thrived.  It was why Adros needed her help in the first place . . . he needed her to enter the Rift -- but not nearly as much as she needed to enter it for herself. 

“No, Adros, I should be the one who is sorry.  I didn’t have the heart to tell you the truth when I should have.  I should have told you your love was no more.  That your mission to save her was one of desperation if not pure foolishness.  I’m sorry, because I didn’t come here to help you either.  I came to help her . . .  At first I thought it was to give her the battle she longed for, to set her rage free.  But now I see it was to save her from her fate.  All this time it was the Plague that had been calling, drawing her in through her rage . . . her hate, seeking to make her bloodlust its own.  I failed her . . . not you.  As it has done since its creation, the Plague has yet again proved itself too strong for mere mortals to stop.”

No matter what Ollius said, Adros couldn’t help but feel responsible; they were his friends, instead of chasing ghosts, he should have seen to their needs – saved them from themselves by stopping them from ever setting foot in the Rift.  He lied to them, and he lied to himself.  He told them they went to save others, but in reality it was a selfish quest.  He went to find his love, Alana, or failing that, find the truth – that there was nothing left worth saving in the universe. 

He found the latter . . . the truth.

He had to go through hell for it to sink in, but now the truth was deeply rooted in his soul.  Despite it all – all the pain and suffering he had been through -- he had to wonder . . . was this pain the only way he could have ever gained such clarity? 

Was this the Maker’s path . . . or the road to hell?

His former friend, Brontes, knew the answer. . . He saw the universe for what it was and knew what had to be done . . .

Brontes gave his life for the future of others . . . and selfishly, Adros bemoaned his sacrifice.

At his death bed he made the man a promise -- yet another promise he may never be able to fulfill – to stand atop his wall when the final battle comes. 

He never should have left it.  He never should have left his friend.  He should have believed in Brontes – like he believed in Adros so many times before.

Now, like so many others, Brontes was gone . . .

The past turned to dust . . . slipping through his fingers. 

There was nothing Adros could do about it but cling tightly to the present . . . and hope that he could keep at least keep something in his grip.

Their metal guardians led them to a cavernous chamber that was seemingly without end.  The pulsating lines continued forward, trailing off into darkness where their mechanic hum transformed into a ghostly shriek as the many streams of energy echoed down the vast chamber.  The lines also branched off to the sides, splitting more times than the limbs of the Great Tree, to flow up the barreled walls where, in horror, Adros looked up to see row after row of sleeping giants; their sleek metal bodies glistening, their eyes cold and empty.  There were thousands of the energy lines, multiplying exponentially as they continued to curve up the wall.  Where each branch ended, a metal giant was suspended; the pulsating blue cord fixed to the nape of its neck. 

When first he looked upon the massive army, Adros worried that any plan he could form would mean nothing.  Even with an entire army at his side, if the hidden masters decided to activate them all he would be unable to stop them.  But then he realized something . . . there was a good reason the entire army wasn’t activated, they couldn’t.  It was the same reason they needed Adros to do their dirty work.  They were starved for power, at the edge of death and for all he knew, this venture was born of desperation as much on their part as it was on his. 

Kalan growled at the inanimate army, as if ready to walk down the line hacking away at the power cords.  Adros had to wonder if he didn’t have the right idea; perhaps destroying them in their sleep would be the wisest course of action . . .

“Yes, Adros, you should end them now, before they awaken.  Their masters are weak, perhaps even closer to death than myself.  But now that they have my power, they will finally be free . . . still, it’s won’t be enough.  All the universe was once at their command and it was never enough . . .  They will send this army into the Rift.  And should they get Kendal’s power as well . . . they will be unstoppable.”

“I won’t let them have her,” he replied, his eyes of grey and white peering down the lines.

“I hope you’re right this time, Adros.  Not just for our sake, but for the universe itself.  They know us . . . where we’ve hidden our world.  With both the powers of the Plague and their army of metal soldiers at their disposal, they will make short work of the Seventh World and our ‘great’ wall.  The sacrifices of so many will be for naught.” 

“I know I’ve failed you -- in so many ways . . . but in this I swear, they won’t take her.  Nor will they ever set foot upon our world.”

His pile of promises were forming a mountain . . . he just hoped it didn’t come crashing down around him.

Ollius’ advice did make a great deal of sense; he should have made his stand then and there – fight five of the beings now or thousands of them in the future?  But he had to weigh the risks -- which was the greater; fighting their captors, or trying to locate and eliminate the masters?  Either way he was gambling the fate of the universe with little chance of success. 

In the end, he reaffirmed his faith in Kendal; trusting that she would miraculously tip the scales in his favor, as she had done so many times before.

Instead of striking the sleeping giants with his staff, he used it to nudge Kalan onward, and for what seemed like an eternity, the giants led them on past the perfectly organize lines of the lifeless metal bodies, until finally they came to a narrow hallway barely large enough for the metal men to pass single file.  Their captors moved quickly down the tunnel, well-suited to travelling the vessel which was obviously specifically designed to accommodate their large forms.  His children had no trouble keeping up with their pace, but the humans were less able – or willing to move so fast.  Even Adros was having difficulty, forced to carry Ollius; in order to keep the flanking giants from trampling over them.  His shriveled form was so light in his arms; like a babe.  Ironically, it reminded him of holding the child of Brontes and S’ilindsa, Andril’lin.  For a brief instant he felt comforted knowing years of peace awaited the child, until he realized just how fragile that peace was, and how easily it could be shattered if he failed in this.

He had to remind himself that there was far more at stake in this than just their lives.  His venture into the Rift had proven costly enough already, but now, because of him the fate of the entire Seventh World was at risk.  It was all the more reason he had to succeed.  Just the thought of losing anymore was unbearable.  The fear of having to witness in unfold became a driving force that brought him to new heights of perception.  Perhaps he couldn’t succeed in an outright contest of skill and strength against the giants, but to avoid such a fate, knowledge would be Adros’ greatest weapon, and every scrap he gained of it would be invaluable in aiding their escape.  He had to stay vigilant, observe everything – for now. 

But no matter how vigilant and sharp as his senses were, Adros still found himself struggling to keep track of the many twists and turns they took, the mental map he sought to create was rapidly expanding in size and complexity beyond the scope of his memory.  Just when he thought he gained his bearings and could anticipate their intended destination, the giants took what seemed a random pathway in the complete opposite direction.  Adros knew it was likely intentional; that they were purposely confusing the path to make it difficult to find their way back.  And he had to admit, they were succeeding.  Indeed, even if his mind could keep up with the maze, he worried his memory of it would fade the moment he left the ship.

Yet even more troubling, they encountered many doorways in the journey; doorways that only opened with the presence of the giants – another essential piece of the puzzle.  Even with the most elaborate hand-written map of their route Adros would have no chance of returning unless he found a way to replicate their unlimited access.  He believed their eyes were the secret, or an internal sensor held the key . . . he could guess all he wanted.  Until he knew for sure, and could replicate the process, they were trapped. 

Suddenly he missed his old friend TOphin more dearly than ever.  The tough old dwarf had a knack for mechanical devices and could uncover the method with ease.  If he could somehow capture one of the beings and get it to him, TOphin would be able to tear the thing apart, piece by piece, and unlock their many secrets. 

Coincidentally, just as the thought entered his head, Adros made a startling discovery; as they neared the exit, resting several feet away from the door, he caught the glint of silver and two foot length of silver that was the head of TOphin’s pick.  The handle was cracked, and the crescent moon shaped spike nearly folded in half, making it apparent that his crafty old friend had used the tool to try to disable the door. 

Eventually the metal giants broke through . . . but still . . .

He made it.

Adros didn’t bother to hide the thought, considering the obvious tracks heading away from the site.  One set of them were shortly spaced, wide prints which he attributed to TOphin, while another was a set of human-sized boots, arranged in irregular, clumsy steps that could only belong to Commador. 

They had escaped the battle of the cave, but were they yet free? 

More footprints followed, deep inset prints nearly as large as a Rock Lord’s.

Adros figured at least four of the behemoths followed, even so, until he saw TOphin’s body, he wasn’t about to count the old dwarf out of the fight.  If he was still out there, Adros’ own chances of success were increased ten-fold.  TOphin was their best bet to understanding the technology that governed the metal men and their ship. 

He had to find him . . .

Adros gazed longingly at the stunted footprints heading out to the other end of the ship . . . a metal giant stood strategically positioned in their path.

One thing at a time . . . he thought, realizing that even if he wanted to follow them, their metal captors would put a quick end to any such attempt.

The first thing he needed was a means to defeat them . . . failing that, a distraction significant enough to buy him time to flee.  That’s where Kendal came in, he hoped she could provide him with one – if not both – means of escape.

He tried not to let his thoughts dwell on it . . . that he intended to slip free to reunite with his friends . . .

Even the giant standing in the pathway of his friends seemed to sense his intentions, its eyes burned hotter, as if in warning and acknowledgement of the thought. 

The giant strode towards him, eyes flaring down.

Too late, he thought. 

Adros settled Ollius to his feet and gripped his staff tightly, fully expecting the being was coming to crush him for the mere thought of escape.  Instead, it continued past, leaving the path of his companions unguarded, as if daring him to attempt it.

He didn’t . . . Adros knew the time would come to take that path, but for now, he was content to follow the giants’ lead.

With one last remorseful look at TOphin and Commador’s path he turned to the exit.

The metal giants approached the damaged exit, which slid open with a loud groan; it was a slab of metal at least a foot thick, floating on some sort of invisible magnetic track.  But not only was the slab bent, because of TOphin’s pick, it was out of alignment, causing it to grind against the hull of the ship as it slowly opened. 

Sunlight flooded the chamber; the sapphire tinged rays of the dying star.  So accustomed to the dark interior of the ship, Adros flinched as his eyes took in the light of the outside world.  He shook it off, and in a matter of moments Adros was reunited with the scene of his most recent battle. 

No . . . he thought.  It wasn’t a battle.

It was a beat down.

He surveyed the scene, hoping to find a clue as to not only Kendal’s whereabouts, but his other missing companions as well; TOphin and Commador.

It should have come as no surprise that the cave was now littered with robotic body parts. 

Kendal . . .

Empowered by the Virus, she had made a mess of the metal beings. 

He stepped over a severed metal arm; bundles of thin black wire protruding from it, dripping a greasy black fluid.  Though it was detached from the giant’s body, the fingers continued to flex and twitch as electric flashes ignited in the exposed wires.  Twenty feet away from the arm, Adros found the torso; crushed and mangled with dozens of deep fist-shaped imprints from where Kendal pounded away at it as if it were made of clay.  One blow even tore a hole directly in its chest, allowing Adros to glimpse its innards, which was a blue-glowing black box with hundreds of similar bundles of wire fused to it.  Drawing closer, he detected a faint humming – similar to that which filled the ship -- emitting from the box as if the entire unit was vibrating. 

The technology behind the machines was beyond him, but he could make an educated guess as to some of the components.  Obviously the tremendous strength of the giants came from the bundle of wires, which functioned like muscles, only far more durable and stronger.  The central box in its chest was most likely the being’s heart as well as brain – the box was reinforced with an added layer of the metal, which Kendal easily ripped her way through to damage the device. 

Adros deeply hoped it didn’t come down to a rematch with the giants, but if it did, that was where they would have to target their attacks, the metal box.

A quick nod from Jinla signified that she picked up on that as well.

Even if they didn’t find her, Kendal had already aided them significantly through her destructive display, and no matter what happened from here on out, Adros felt this venture was well worth it if only for the knowledge he acquired along the way.

Thus far he had a map, and a sense of his enemies’ weaknesses.  With the Maker’s aid, and a little luck, they just may get out of this world yet.

Just when things looked optimistic, as he continued to examine the carnage, to his dismay, among the scattered metal limbs he found a human body.  Her head had been bashed against the rocks until her brain and skull exploded into a pulpy mass.  Within the mass, a pair of long, auburn braids.  Her scarlet hooded cloak was a shade darker, stained by her dried up blood while her boots of black leather had nearly melted to her bare feet.  At her breast, a silver pin --two trout chasing each other’s tails -- was still fastened. 

Alicia . . . Adros thought, recognizing her by braids and clothing but most clearly by the pin.

She received it from her small fishing village in the valley, south of Lock Core, the Frond.  Her people were so proud of her skills and courage they sent her off with smiles and the pin; the emblem of their town.  She had a strong sword arm and a stronger will . . . Adros never hesitated to take her with . . .

How could he have been so selfish?  So callous?

Her skin stretched taut over her bones; a greenish hue, covered in webs of thin, black veins.  Dark fluid yet spilled from her blistered skin, and various orifices, outlining her body in a viscous pool.

Kendal had sucked the life from her.  She fed from her corpse, then in what appeared to be one last remnant of compassion she ended her existence – sparing her from the curse of the Plague by caving in her skull.

Yet another death heaped upon his shoulders. 

As the breath left his lips he gave an agonized moan.  It was a significant loss.  Like all the companions who had gone before him Adros accepted full responsibility for it. 

He tried to convince himself it was a good sign; Kendal had given in to the Hunger, but was not yet willing to forsake everything for the reign of the Dark Army.  But he knew it to be a falsehood; there was no more ‘goodness’ in his reality, just torment heaped upon torment.

The grim scene gave him pause . . .

Why go on? He wondered. 

Instead of trudging onward through this endless road of suffering, how much easier it would be to simply give up?  Why, time and time again, did he continue on?

He looked to Ollius -- so frail, his end imminent.  Soon, the man would have his peace – or would he?  What really awaited them in the afterlife?  Adros had to believe it was better than this; that all those he lost were better off dead – at peace with the Maker; if he couldn’t convince himself of that then truly there was no hope nor even purpose to his existence.  What was the point of it all if not to achieve a happy ending?  Adros could only dream he would find his own one day.  But for now, such a dream seemed so distant that it almost didn’t matter; the tragedy of the present was so vivid and undeniable that he couldn’t bring his mind to think beyond it.  If peace awaited him, there was much to do before he could claim it.  If he claimed it too soon, many more would suffer.  It wasn’t that he wished for death, merely . . . absolution, an end to the suffering.  Whether he found it in life or in death, the pursuit of it was all he had left, it kept him moving; not only his duty to those he loved, but his need to rectify the errors of his past. 

Yet regretfully, it seemed the longer he lived, the greater his list of errors, to the point where his debts could never possibly be fulfilled. 

He thought that by returning to the Rift he could start at the beginning . . . fix his first and greatest error.  Instead, his troubles only mounted ten-fold.  No matter how good his intentions, he only brought death to the ones he loved.

Perhaps the best thing he could do was to simply be still . . . let the universe fend for itself and claim him on its own time . . . but he couldn’t.

Again, he had to ask himself, “Why?”

And again he reflected on the dream . . . the pursuit of the happy ending.  He allowed himself to be lulled to submission by its spell; and that if he tried hard and long enough, good would finally come from his good intentions.

Lost in the dream, he didn’t notice that Jinla had crept up next to him, and before he could blink, she drove her spear into Alicia’s heart.  With a wet, slurping sound she pulled it out, as if Alicia’s fetid body was suctioned to the silver tip.  Unremorseful, Jinla wiped the blade clean on Alicia’s scarlet cape.

If only he could be so decisive, so heartless . . . to do what he thought was right without giving a damn about the consequences. 

No . . .

Once upon a time he did exactly that . . . and look where it got him . . . Such things were a gift of youth, something lost in time, to be discarded by an experienced mind.  He had to care . . . if he no longer gave a damn then he was no better than the Dead Gods.

“We must be certain,” she said, bending down to investigate the corpse.  Her hand shot out and ripped the pin from her breast.  “Silver,” she quietly stated.  “We’ll have more need of it now than her,” she finished before sneaking away, skipping from one metallic body part to the next. 

There was no need to chastise Jinla for her seemingly cold actions.  Jinla was many things, but heartless wasn’t one of them.  She was merely trying to survive . . . perhaps another gift of the youth – to desire life, to have hope for a future.

He prayed to the Maker that no matter how many years may pass him bye, he will always have hope for the future . . .

Jinla proceeded to follow Kendal’s bloodied tracks as they exited the cave.  She paused at the threshold -- her scaled suit of mail glimmering in the blue light – stopping just short of entering the acidic wasteland before continuing her pursuit.  A giant shadowed her movement, but Montrose shadowed it, his good eye studied them with equal vigil, eager to test perhaps he found what he thought was a weakness in their metal bodies.

With a final sigh of regret, Adros shouldered Ollius’ weight and moved to join her.

“Can you pick up her trail?” Adros asked, his voice still a hoarse whisper from having the tube shoved down his throat.

“She bleeds . . .” she replied, her grey and white eyes scanning the land.  “But unfortunately the rain has washed most of it away.  Even so, there is little doubt where she was heading . . . her path could only lead in one direction.”

Adros turned to Ollius, who stared blankly at the rippled landscape.

“The ocean,” the aged mage whispered.

The metal giants seemed to pick up on their conversation and immediately stepped out of the cave with no thought to the lethal atmosphere.  Whatever metal formed their bodies was far stronger than normal steel.  The blades of his companions were some of the finest in all of the Seventh World, and they failed to so much as scratch the giants.  Again, Adros began to fear his chances of success when even the acid rain didn’t mar their bodies.  Then he looked back at the cave, and the many pieces of scrap Kendal had reduced them to . . . and to Ollius, so delicate in his arm. 

When she saw what they did to him, the entire army of giants wouldn’t keep her from wreaking her vengeance on the masters.

The only problem Adros foresaw was that he would have to face Kendal when her vengeance was done.  His fingers tightened upon his staff.  It may be useless against the hard exteriors of the giants, but if he could land a blow against Kendal he could send her on her way to the true death.

It was a sad thought indeed, that such an end was their best case scenario.  Even if all of the pieces fell perfectly into place, there would be no happy ending for any of them.

His face grim with the thought, Adros aided Ollius out of the cave, where his halo of power flared brighter than before, falling upon the companions to shield them from the environment. 

Three of the metal-men scouted ahead, while two remained behind, flanking their group on either side.

Nodding to Jinla, Montrose picked up a bent breastplate from one of the destroyed giants.  One of their guardian’s eyes ignited as he took hold of it, but Montrose continued on, holding the half-moon piece of metal as if it were a shield.  Apparently satisfied with his intended use of it, the giant moved on. 

“How far can you take us, Ollius?”

“As far as needed . . .” he replied, his gaze never wavering from the horizon where the sun continued to be ripped apart by the nothingness.

It was a marvel to Adros how Ollius found the power to continue on; there was so little left of the man that Adros wondered what source he could possibly be drawing on.

Love? he pondered, never considering before whether such a thing could be a source for the Oneness.

Was that why I failed? he wondered, thinking of his own lost love, Alana. 

Because I supplanted mine for hate?

He dismissed the thought.  Adros knew better; that no matter how great their love, it was never strong enough to overcome the Dark Army.

Perhaps it’s the will of the Maker . . . strengthening Ollius in his final moments.

Such miracles were not unheard of.  One man in particular was legendary for such things; Anon, Alana’s mentor and the founder of the Seventh World.  Adros had personally witnessed one of his miracles; infected, and then killed, Anon had arisen as a being of pure light to rescue him from his home-world.  For long afterwards, Adros was a believer in miracles.  He fought the Maker’s war, returning time and time again into the Rift to save the living.  For years, he truly believed the miracle . . . and then there was the Sanctuary.  It was the end of the miracles . . . the end of the gods and very nearly the end of all life in the universe.  Perhaps it was the will of the Maker that set them free – a gentle push in the right direction at exactly the right time . . . or perhaps such things were just luck. 

Whatever it was, Adros once more escaped death. 

To do so again, he would require a great deal of both.

They exited the cave, the blue sun devoured as it set.  The horizon was like a pure azure ocean.  The real ocean, a stagnant, grey and dead vat of acid.  The black vortex marred the beautiful horizon – or perhaps enhanced it.  A swirl of blue shades spiraling into what could only be described as emptiness.  So akin to the Rift, it made him wonder if they weren’t guided by the same forces – perhaps the Rift was even based off of the all-consuming natural phenomena.  Ollius had said time passed differently in its presence . . . even if he did escape this world, what would he be returning to?  What if the Seventh was already dead, and their small party the last living souls in the universe?

It was all the more reason to leave this place . . . for all he knew, every second he spent here cost him years back home . . .

Home . . . he finally saw it as such, the Seventh World.  A place to fight and to die for.  He was needed there.  Adros swore that if he ever made it back, he would dedicate his many remaining years of life defending it.

If I ever make it back . . .

At the moment, all he had left was a half-formed plan and faint glimmer of hope to deliver him home.

Now that he was free of the masters’ prison, in the open, Adros felt free to ponder his captors.  The first thing he needed to know was what controlled the metal giants; a telepathic connection or an ancient piece of technology?  He was guessing it was the latter, for even the greatest telepaths he had even met . . . a former Elder turned Dead God came to mind . . . couldn’t possibly control so many beings at such a distance.  But were they even ‘beings’?  Or simply a complex collection of mechanical parts?  In that case, telepathy could be all but useless on them.  The Oneness, on the other hand, could easily manipulate their parts and pieces to guide their actions to one’s will.  He simply didn’t know enough of the Oneness or the science behind the machines to understand the limitations involved.

He clung to that course of thinking, adding it to the foundation of his plan – which he now felt he could safely form.  Kendal was still the primary possibility for success, but what if there existed a control center – and to find it, he could turn the giants upon their masters.  It was all very simple, cut the head off of the snake.  But how to find the snake in such pit. 

Adros had a thought or two . . .

But until he figured out how to activate their doors, Kendal was their only ticket in. 

Their Hubris was their greatest weakness, a weakness undoubtedly exploited by this ‘Sevron’ as well.  Their arrogance was so great that even after their years of exile they still looked down upon the other races as insignificant.  True, they bested him once, but that was when his group was unprepared and at their weakest. 

Despite their defeat at the cave and subsequent imprisonment, Adros still had a hard time convincing himself he was wrong to lead his people to the pyramid.  He knew evil lurked within, but where else could they have gone?  The longer they were exposed to the elements the weaker they became. 

As bad as things seemed, they at least had a fighting chance now.

“So that’s your plan – unleash Kendal on our captors?” Ollius asked, reading his thoughts.  “Once more you wish to use her . . . Or use us both?”

Adros hoped his friend could sense his remorse as well as his thoughts.

“I have no other choice . . .”

“There’s always another choice . . . You’re right about one thing though, they cannot hear us now.  No doubt they can yet sense us, as they have since we first set foot upon their world, but beyond the walls of their prison our minds are free.”

“What would you have me do then?”

“The first problem is that they have seen your thoughts.  They may be mad, but they are undoubtedly clever.  If I could sense your intentions then surely they can as well.”

“I assume you have another plan?”

He should have figured Ollius was not yet done, and that no matter how weak his body, his mind was still ready to fight.

“They showed me many things during my capture . . . pain the chief among them.  My body . . . they all but destroyed.  But my mind . . . They are incredibly strong telepaths, but I did manage to hide one thing from them . . .”

“What?”

“When they took me in I saw something . . . something few others would have recognized – especially in this age.  It was crude, crafted with what they could salvage from their ship, but I knew straight-away what it was – a pool, its liquid surface as still and perfect as any mirror.”

A mirror pool . . .

“It stood to reason that at one point in time our captors would have made attempts to contact the universe outside their prison, and they did so by crafting a mirror pool, silent for unknown span of time, but I believe it will work.”

“If you are right, and indeed it functions, then why has no one come to save them?” Adros asked.

“Perhaps they realized there was no one left to talk to . . . or none willing to help them even if they could.”

Ollius’ discovery changed everything.  If he could get him to the pool . . .

Adros let the reality of the thought sink in . . .

What good would it do?  They didn’t dare contact their home-world, not if they didn’t wish to condemn the rest of them to death.

Darkness began to take over the sky; a pure black sheet.  Adros could count on his hands the number of stars in the sky – and even they were but faint pinpricks of light. 

“What would you have us do?  If we manage to reach it and call in the cavalry we could very well be sending them to their deaths and leading them directly to our home.”

“I’m glad you finally call the Seventh home now, Adros, but I can’t take you there.  I’m the only mage left in this world and I’m far too weak to tune the GateThe power they stole from me is gone forever.  We’re as trapped here now as our captors.  If you truly wish to get the others back, you will need someone else to open the Gate, someone from the Seventh World.”

Ollius said more than a couple things that worried Adros.  First of all, that he didn’t include himself in the rescue.  He had basically acknowledged his imminent death, something that Adros still hadn’t fully accepted.  Also, that he wished to draw others into this madness, lead these masters back to their world – no matter what he couldn’t allow that to happen.

The powers reserved to maintain my youth are no more . . . stolen by the very ones who first brought them into being.  They left me only enough to keep you safe . . . for a time.”

Adros knew exactly when that ‘time’ would end – the moment they brought them Kendal and their precious virus.

“My true age has come calling.  I suppose it’s fitting.  I’ve cheated death far longer than most.”

Ollius was his friend.  To see him suffer so was unbearable – especially when he still considered himself the cause.  But he had to know . . . he had to know his enemy.

“What else do you know of these beings?”

“There is a legend among those of my blood . . . that our bloodline began with one man – the first being to unite with the Oneness.  With his power he saved his world from the chaos born from the Age of War.  But his decedents weren’t satisfied to live in peace . . . not when they could summon such unlimited power.  Rumor has it, they set out to conquer all of creation . . . and they did so by creating the Rift.  In doing so, they put an end to the Age of War, but only after bathing the living worlds in the blood of the conquered.  Many years later, their Rift was complete and with it their conquest.  The descendants yet lived, and were yet unsettled with the peaceful state of things.  They were dying . . . and no matter how great their power there was nothing they could do to stop it.  So strong was their desire to be immortal they twisted the very laws of nature, giving birth to the Plague.  But just as they usurped their father, their own child grew beyond their control.  The Hunger proved to be a power far greater than the Oneness, and you know as well as I how the story goes from there . . . we both have lived it; the spread of the Virus through the Black Door and the slow death of all creation.  I believe our captors to be these very beings, the Antevictus, my ancestors, conquerors of the universe and creators of the God Door.”

His words explained a great deal, but not how they came to be in the ship, or bereft of their creation the Plague.

“They told me a similar tale, though in theirs, they also spoke of a being named Sevron, the one who supposedly banished them . . . and if they are to be believed, he is the one who created the Plague and destroyed the world of my birth and countless others.”

“Sevron . . .”

The night covered the land, the darkness as absolute as anything Adros had ever seen.  Ollius’ aura was the only thing that held it back.  Jinla hung on the edge of it, using the faint glow to scout ahead.  Meanwhile, the eyes of the metal men cut through it like beacons, their heads rotating back and forth in search of Kendal.

“The man’s a myth, Adros . . . it’s a persona created to humanize the Plague.  True, I’ve heard him described often . . . but the details always vary.  His arrival comes as a harbinger of death – a herald of the Plague.  In one world he comes as a man, in another as a beast . . . or any possible variation between the two.  Perhaps he is a symbol of the entirety of the Dead Gods – and the many races they represent.  Or more likely he’s a fictional construct, a way to show the possibility of infection for all of the Maker’s creation.”

Except the elves, Adros thought.

“Yes, in all the known universe your kind are the sole exception.”

Ollius paused, sensing Adros’ course of thinking. 

“Don’t allow these tales to cloud your mind with thoughts of hunting ghosts . . .”

Never again.

“Strike the name Sevron from your mind.  The threats we face now are real.”

Adros trusted his friend and his good intentions, but he wasn’t totally convinced.  After all, like he said, the masters themselves were legends; as ancient as they Age of War. 

As much as he wished to ignore the possibility of Sevron’s existence, he couldn’t.  The appeal of it was too tempting . . . yes, to give a face to his fears, his hate, his vengeance.  To tie them all to one man . . . How simpler it would be to put an end to him as opposed to stopping the infinite legions of the Plague?

As he pondered the possibilities, Jinla suddenly announced, “They’re gone.”

He was discouraged by the announcement, knowing that if Jinla couldn’t find a trace of Kendal, then her bloodied footprints had completely washed away from the face of the smooth stone.

“Hold up,” Adros commanded, checking on the status of Ollius.  Luckily, the acid was a faint mist, because the mage’s blue shield was a mist as well.  His eyes were closed, his body flaccid.

The eyes of the giants burned into the night, allowing Adros to catch a faint metallic gleam which could only be coming from the distant shoreline of pyrite cubes.

Ollius seemed light as a feather in his arms, his body all hollow bones.

He was dying, sooner than Adros thought or hoped.  If Kendal was out there somewhere, Adros wasn’t sure Ollius could even take them there, let alone get them back.

“You’re right, I can’t . . .” came his telepathic reply.  “I’m sorry, old friend.  I said I could take you as far as needed and have done just that.”

Adros wondered at his meaning, noting that they hadn’t made it more than a couple hundred yards from the cave.

But despite his misgivings, he calmly replied, “Don’t worry . . . you have done far more than I could ever ask.  As you said, there is always another way.”

“No. . . It’s over, Adros.  It was over the moment we returned . . . how is it you still cannot see that?”

He didn’t understand.  Then it clicked . . .

Ollius had said he had his own reasons for coming but never elaborated further; now Adros was beginning to see exactly what those reasons were.

“You came here to die . . .”

“Yes, to die close to the one I love most.”

Adros was in shock.  Ollius had to know what that meant . . . what that meant for the rest of them?

“You’ll kill us all!”

Adros couldn’t believe his friend could possibly be so selfish, to sacrifice them all. 

“No, Adros, I am not like you.  My sacrifice will be purely selfless . . . a lesson I pray you one day learn.  As I pray you stop lamenting your existence, and find the willpower to do something about it.  I suppose the day will come that even you die, but for now you live . . . make the best of it, One Elf.  Make your life count for something . . . as if hope mine will.”

Ollius wasn’t being selfish . . . he was saving them.  Adros knew precisely what his friend intended . . .

“NOOOO!”

He tried to pull the Graelic away, but as it often did, the weapon had a will of its own; the mage sent his power out – all of it – and the blackened staff eagerly devoured wave after wave of blue flame.

“May my life save you all, and help you find your way back home,” Ollius finished, his halo winking out of existence. 

With his power gone, the night closed in, threatening to envelop the glowing blue tip of the Graelic.

Adros felt the acid eat away his own skin, but with the Graelic still clutched in his other hand he was healed as fast as he burned.  With his friend dissolving in his arms, Adros spun to the others screaming, “Run!  Back to the cave!”

The elves had seen the whole thing, and only remained in place because they awaited their father’s command.  After it was given, they hurriedly complied.  Montrose buried his singed faced under his hood; his sword in one hand, the plate of steel he recovered from the cave in his other hand – raised above his head like an umbrella.  Nimbly, he dodged the momentarily confused giants to unite Jinla under his shield.  Her face was blistered, her colored hair withering.  But her body was saved from any real damage by her golden scaled armor, which was quickly fading to a dull brown.  One of the metal giants managed to cut them off before they broke free.  Surprising even the automaton with his quickness, Montrose unloaded several rapid slashes at its chest – likely trying to get at the power source sheltered within.  Though he failed, the flurry confused the giant, allowing Jinla to bury one of her spears into its flaming eye. 

It swung at the pair, but Montrose deflected the blow with the metal plate, hugging Jinla close – probably closer than necessary, he let the force of the blow throw them clear of the being.  The giant paused to pull the spear from its eye, giving the pair of elves enough time to get to their feet, dashing for the cave entrance.

Unfortunately the humans weren’t as quick.

Kalan didn’t even bother running.  He knew what was coming . . . his flesh searing from the acid mist, screaming in pain and rage he rounded on the giants, hammering away with his massive sword at the pair nearest him.  Back and forth his mighty blade swung, ringing against their sleek metal bodies.  He roared as the acid etched away his eyes, swinging wildly, blinded – his blows landing more powerfully than before.  He even managed to dent one . . . but in doing so, the being finally took note of his actions.  As if annoyed by a biting gnat, it slowly rounded on him, its white eyes glaring down.  Black metal fingers shot out, wrapping around Kalan’s head and lifting the prince from the ground.  Effortlessly, skull and brain exploded in its hand.  Without pity, or any emotion for that matter, the giant dropped Kalan’s bloody and still quivering form to the acid covered ground.

Trenton turned to run but was captured as a giant took hold of his arm.  Another giant swooped in, grabbing his body . . . together they began to pull . . . his arm stretched like taffy . . .

Adros let the lifeless body of Ollius fall to the ground . . . there was no time to dwell on his loss . . . he had to focus everything on saving the living . . . his staff crackling with azure flames, he dove into the fray.  In an instant he was in range . . . the blue-tinged tip of the Graelic shot out, slamming into the giant who was ripping off Trenton’s arm.  Blue flames exploded as the Graelic landed on its chest, blasting a hole straight through the being.  A second, more powerful explosion, sent Adros and Trenton flying as the power of the Graelic made contact with the black box within its chest.  They flew back, the Graelic shielding Adros from the deadly force, but unfortunately Trenton wasn’t so fortunate.  Adros landed on his back, dazed but unharmed.  Trenton’s body was on fire, his fatty tissue burning like oil.  The heat was so great, his armor fused to his flesh.  The blast also broken several of his bones, the most apparent the jagged shard of femur sticking out of his left thigh.  Blood spurted from the wound in his leg . . . but it gushed from the empty socket where his shoulder once was.  

Adros rushed to him, extinguishing his body with the power of the Graelic.

As for the giant he had attacked, the being’s eyes were black – a two-foot hole smoldered in its chest.  It still stood; Trenton’s bloody limb dangling from its clenched fist.

His theory proved true, with the box destroyed the being was lifeless, frozen . . . shortly after, the weight of Trenton’s arm unbalanced it and the giant toppled over. 

The rest of the giants strode through the smoky aftermath, surrounding Adros.  He was ready for a fight, but still focused the Graelic’s power on Trenton, knowing that the moment he stopped, the young man would die.  Trenton was unconscious, horrendously damaged, but still alive; his chest ever so subtly moving up and down.  Just by looking at him, Adros knew he was too far gone to save.  Even if he managed to do so, it would fully drain his staff – Ollius’ final gift, and his only chance to free the others . . .

To the dead with it! Adros fumed, the giants still hovering over him.

He was done watching his companions die.  Adros flooded Trenton with the power . . . his power.  He had never felt this before . . . he had used the mage-fire many times before, but this was different . . . he was healing Trenton, not the staff.  For the first time ever, the Graelic was absorbing his energy and transferring it to another.  He had been using the weapon for ages, had thought himself one with it.  But now he truly was, he truly was open to the Graelic.  He had always thought he knew what the Graelic was . . . the essence of death and creation – the measure of which depended on the one who wielded it.  He never questioned what that meant – all the while wielding life and death as he saw fit.  With his very soul flowing through the blackened shaft, he knew there was more . . . much more.  The Graelic was a gateway . . . unlike the Rift, it was a Gateway of energy. 

He had opened the door and walked right in . . .

No . . .

He wasn’t the one, he didn’t open the door . . . only a master Gatekeeper could have performed such a feat.

Ollius . . .

He was in there . . . he had given his life to the Graelic and now he was one with it . . . 

He was in the Graelic . . . and he was guiding him, teaching him secrets of the ancient weapon Adros had never dreamed of.  Adros was certainly no mage, but with Ollius’ aid he was equal to the greatest of their ilk.  Trenton’s wounds fused, flesh regenerated, it even set his broken leg.  The power he fed him was tremendous . . . not even the great healer Jakkar could have brought back a man so close to death.  Trenton had no right to survive, but he did.  His eyes blinked, then opened.

Steaks of silver suddenly appeared in Adros’ golden locks – years of ‘immortality’ spent to save the life of another.

Awash in power, Adros stood up to face the giants . . . how easy it would be to destroy them . . . but he needed them yet.  He may be extremely powerful . . . but so was Kendal.  And she had new powers as well, the powers of the Virus.  There was no telling how dangerous that made her. 

Beyond the ring of giants he saw Prince Kalan, still twitching, his flesh gone, the acid eating away his muscles and organs.  His blood spilled mixing with the pools of acid.  He was dead . . . even with his new-found power there would be no saving the brave young warrior.

His blood washed down the rocks, breaking around Adros’s feet.  He watched it go by, flowing downhill into the darkness, and the distant shoreline of cubes. 

“This was your plan all along!” Adros screamed at the metal behemoths – or more particular, the masters hidden behind their glowing eyes.  “To summon her . . .”

“YOU FAILED . . .” the metal men echoed as one.  “FAIL US AGAIN, ELF LORD, AND THEY ALL WILL DIE.”

He understood now why the humans were really allowed to join them . . . the masters knew there was no possibility they would have found and reached Kendal.  But once the blood of the humans was spilt . . . they wouldn’t have to, she would come to them. 

As soon as Ollius lost his power the masters must have determined they could no longer succeed and the secondary commands of the automatons were set in motion.

“You’ll get what you want . . . death,” Adros continued, letting the threat hang in the air.  As long as some of his companions were still captive, it was still impossible for him to openly oppose them.  He would do as he was bidden . . .

Something was coming . . . but it wasn’t Kendal . . . what he sensed was death . . .

Yes, I’ll give you what you want . . .

Trenton stirred to his feet alongside him.

“Stay close,” Adros whispered to him. “Kendal’s coming.”

Trenton looked at his missing limb; a hint of a roguish grin crossing his face.  He still knew what was coming, but no longer gave a damn; he truly had nothing left to lose.  He flexed his leg that was horribly broken just moments ago.  He looked upon Adros in awe and then bent down to pick up Prince Kalan’s discarded blade.

“She’s close . . .” Adros said, much louder this time.

“Good.  Let’s get this damn thing over with . . .” Trenton replied, somehow finding the strength to wield the massive weapon one-handed.

Adros couldn’t agree more.

 

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