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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Again he led them . . .

Why did they follow? 

He certainly didn’t deserve their continued respect, for as their leader, thus far he had proven a failure. 

But as difficult as his failure was to accept, perhaps the tougher, more crucial question . . .

Why did I bring them to begin with? 

Was it to save lives?  To save her life? 

He should have known better, known what was left . . .

No.  He couldn’t lie to himself any longer.  He may be a failure as a leader, but he was not a fool.  He had known . . . since he left his home-world Ki'minsyllessil he had known. 

He came here to face it, to see it for himself . . . and by doing so, he came here to die . . .

His greatest regret – other than confirming his fears – was that against his better judgement, he had brought the others along for the ride. 

In the end, he had found what he was looking for – the truth – and it was more than he could bear.

Alana . . . 

She was truly lost now.

There was nothing left . . .

And the price for such knowledge had proven far too costly.

Many died . . .

Yet he led them onward . . . and they continued to follow . . . to follow him to what could very well be their deaths.

Adros couldn’t deny it . . .

There was evil within the pyramid. . .

It was what drew him to the object – like a beacon; a power . . . ancient, dark, filled with malice and yes, it was evil . . . very much so.  Under any other circumstance he would have guided them in the opposite direction.  The only reason he didn’t do so was that whatever the evil may be, it was absent of the Plague – that, and they had nowhere else to go.  To stay in the open, death was a certainty.  To find the source of power, they at least had a chance.  If they were lucky, they could even find an ally against the Plague.  How many good souls had he encountered who were driven mad by the horrors of what the universe had become?  How many thought as much of him?

Whatever the power was, with it there was life . . . chaotic, desperate and enraged – but it was alive, and it had survived in this world for far longer than even Adros’ span of life.

What could it be?

He had to admit, he was rather curious to find out.  Life, where there should be none.  If Ollius was correct, this world existed well beyond the inhabited zone.  If there was life, and if it was indigenous to this world, the genetic possibilities would be infinite.  What sort of creature could survive here?  Perhaps even a strain of life removed from that of the Origin Race – the first to conquer the universe.  The Origin Race found – and subsequently conquered -- many forms of life.  Some they acclimated into their own.  Most they exterminated.  To find a form of life untouched by their hand would be unique indeed.

In the wasteland of the universe, the discovery of any life-form should be a welcome blessing. 

Shouldn’t it?

He wasn’t so certain; the evil and the power within the pyramid was a force he could not easily discount nor ignore.

He had to go there . . .

As for the others . . . maybe they weren’t following him at all . . . and like Adros, they had no other choice than to head in the same direction.

They moved on, Adros in the lead, their boots melting on the acid slicked rocks. 

The blue sun continued to fade on the horizon – as did Kendal’s shield; now merely a faint bubble of blue flames, and their main source of light.

It was awhile before they drew close enough for the humans to see it . . . another of the planet’s strange geometric shapes; this time the tip of a giant pyramid – half buried and projecting from the earth at an odd angle.  Obviously a large portion of the structure was submerged below ground, what was visible, was a three-sided, fifty-foot tip of smooth black.  Considering they may only be seeing the top portion of the pyramid, the entire structure could be vast, extending deep within the ground. 

Whatever its true form, there was indeed ample room for them all to find shelter beneath the jutting tip.

Has my path finally brought us hope?

The sense of evil faded as he looked upon the object, in fact, as his eyes fell upon the blank surface he felt nothing at all.

Or is this merely the end of the road . . ?

“That . . .” TOphin began, squinting at the structure.  “Isn’t pyrite . . .” he continued, a perplexed look on his face. 

Adros had been to more worlds than them all, but even he had never seen the likes of it before.

The surface was smooth and utter black, but lacked any sheen. 

“Perhaps our luck has changed,” Kalan said, Kendal’s body limp in his arms.  Meanwhile, the light sprinkle had become a downpour, thus far still falling harmlessly on Kendal’s shield but the magical barrier was little more than a thin blue mist. 

“She hasn’t much left,” TOphin said.  “We need to get under there, the sooner the better.”

Adros remained frozen in place.  Did he dare lead them on? 

He spared a glance at Kendal, typically he sensed strength within her -- a strength that belied her small frame -- but now she just appeared frail, as if her little bones would break should Kalan drop her.  He looked at his own hands, the blisters still freshly healed; the pain at the edge of his mind.  A wisp of smoke appeared on his shoulder, followed by an intense pain.  Kendal was nearly unconscious, her shield non-existent; the drops of rain were beginning to burn through. 

He looked past her . . . beyond the rain, to the ocean and shoreline of cubic rocks. 

Adros knew there was no going back.  He had chosen his path, and had no choice but to walk it . . . no matter where it may lead.

He put one foot forward, was about to turn to the pyramid . . .

The rain rippled.  A disturbance so subtle and short-lived even his keen eyes had barely seen it.  He wasn’t even certain he had, until he saw it again . . . and again . . . and again.  There were dozens of them; ultra-fast blurs moving through the rain.

Impossible . . .

Without-a-doubt he was beyond weary . . . could his eyes be playing tricks on him?  Or perhaps it was an illusion of the setting sun; its eerie blue rays bending in the rain . . .

Not even a Dead God could survive out there.

“Keep moving,” Adros commanded. 

Besides, he would have known the moment he entered the world if a Dead God was present.  Adros immediately ruled out that possibility, so too did he decide it could not be an illusion; the blurs moved with purpose, their intent clear . . . they were coming for them, and they were coming fast . . . 

“We have to reach it . . .”

They had more to fear now than the rain.

“Run!”

The group didn’t question him . . . they knew better.  Very little unsettled the One Elf, any urgent command from him had to be followed.  As fast as their weary legs could carry them, they ran to the pyramid.

The pair of young elves were the first to reach it, their weapons drawn and ready, their grey and white eyes scanning every blackened nook and cranny for the slightest hint of danger.  Surprisingly, TOphin was the next one to approach it.  His old, stubby legs and wide flat feet helped him balance across the wet, acidic ground.  That, and he charged forward with an excited look in his eyes which Adros hadn’t seen since his friend was a young dwarf. 

The group of humans arrived together, safely sheltered under Kendal’s fading blue umbrella.  Even against the light of Kendal’s shield, there was no reflection upon the pyramid’s blackened surface.  Adros was the last to enter, his cape smoldering with fresh holes from the acid rain.  He backed into the cave, his eyes still studying the strange movement in the rain.  With extreme care, Kalan gently set Kendal down next to Ollius.  Jinla stood vigil alongside Adros at the edge of the outcropping -- the Rose Elf close by.  The humans gathered around Kalan – except for Drex, who stood in the darkest corner he could find; his blade out and running across his sweat-slicked head.  His dark eyes regarded his surroundings as he regarded all things – with complete disinterest. 

Making his way to the back of the angled cavern, TOphin enthusiastically investigated the structure.  He had an ear pressed to its surface while tapping the object with his silver etched pick.  The click of his pick deadened immediately while he tapped his way along the wall, as if sound didn’t travel through the material.

“What is this thing?” Commador asked, walking up alongside him.  Hesitantly, his fingers brushed over one of the object’s sharp angles.

“Damned if I know,” TOphin replied, taking out a small silver box from one of his many vest pockets.  Inside was a blood-red diamond, the faucets a unique, complex hexagonal structure.  .  His stubby fingers took it out and ran the diamond down the surface of the pyramid.  He pressed hard, but the surface remained unblemished. 

“That’s something . . .”

“But it didn’t do anything,” Commador said, regarding the object with as much fear as he had the acid rain.

“That’s exactly what worries me . . .  Blood diamond is the hardest mineral in the universe and it didn’t so much as scratch it.  Bi-metal, plaz walls . . . it would have left a scratch in em all.  Whatever this is, it damned sure ain’t natural.  And it’s nothing I’ve ever heard of before.”

With everyone safely tucked beneath the black pyramid . . . the full downpour began.  Adros stood vigil at the opening, watching as the land melted before his eyes, liquefying and running to the ocean.

“What’s troubling you, One Elf?” Jinla whispered, sensing his worry, and wondering why he remained unsettled even though they had reached the shelter.

“I thought . . .”

The pouring rain was impenetrable, even for Adros.

“I saw something . . .”

The land and water rippled down the slope as one.

“Something moving.”

Jinla paused a moment, searching for herself, before she replied.

“We’re all weary, One Elf.  Get some rest, there’s no need to guard this . . .  Even the greatest of the Dead Gods would be reduced to a pool of blood and guts out there.”

She continued to scan the land, obviously doubtful of her own words, and aware of how keen the One Elf’s instincts could be. 

“Besides, Ollius said this is a new world.  A land untouched by the Dead Gods’ hands.”

Perhaps . . .

It was true, the evil he once sensed was utterly gone. 

Yet . . .

Now, he felt only emptiness . . .

“Aha . . .” came TOphin’s boisterous voice from the back of the cave.

His meaty hands rapidly scanned the surface.

“I thought so . . .” he proudly exclaimed. 

His fingers pressed hard against the black material.  

“This, Commador,” he said, anticipating the boy’s inevitable question.  “. . . This ingeniously hidden, nearly invisible crack . . . is a door.”

A door . . . Adros thought.  That could mean only one thing . . .

“Whatever this thing is, it didn’t come from this word,” TOphin continued.  “If I had to guess, Commador, I’d say this thing’s a star-ship!” TOphin finished, taking the words right out of Adros’ mouth.

A ship . . . but who’s?

He didn’t know who they were, but he did know where they were.

They’re out there . . .

Adros was distracted by the discovery, had taken his eyes off the rain for a matter of seconds.  He turned back to the land . . . a watery blur . . . a watery blur that was rapidly approaching them.

“Everyone, get back.”

His staff shot out, lightning quick . . .

“Jinla . . .”

She was already in motion before the words left his lips.  Her spear moving nearly as fast as his staff.

They both missed . . . the blurred shapes dodged the attacks.  A shiny metallic fist landed on Jinla’s scale covered chest, sending the young elf flying through the air.  The cave entrance was suddenly filled with tall metal beings – standing well over a head taller than even Adros -- their eyes glowing white, their bodies sleek, powerful, and made of steel.  Adros stepped back, the Graelic spinning impossibly fast as numerous metal fist sought to crush him.  He couldn’t even see them coming, he shut off his mind and moved on instinct alone, hoping his staff was fast enough to keep them at bay.  Suddenly the Rose Elf was at his side; his form finer than ever, his blade faster.  Rage filled his grey and white eyes.  He somehow managed to not only avoid the oncoming fists, but score several blows with his blade of blue-steel.  The razor sharp blade fell with a resounding clang as it found its foe . . . but that was all.  The metal body was perhaps scratched, but otherwise undamaged.  Only his exceptional grace kept the One Elf in the battle, his thin, limber body bending and twisting to avoid the metal fists.

The humans rushed to their aid, a pair of Drex’s well-thrown blades led the way.  The creature didn’t even bother to block them as they fell against its metal flesh with a clatter.  Kalan fought like a madman, but for all his ferocity, his large blade was far too slow to ever come close to a strike.  Trenton’s longsword proved a welcome distraction, until a metal fist laid him out.  As always, Drex fought exceptionally well . . . but it was pointless, and he knew it.  Grinning at the futility of the fight . . . he dropped his curved short-swords and lashed out with expletives and upraised middle fingers instead.  It took two blows to silence him . . .

The trio of female humans fought valiantly . . . but were cast aside by the metal behemoths as if they were ragdolls.

Ollius managed to make it to his feet.  Leaning against the cave wall, his hands filled with blue flames.  His power shot out, catching one of the beings upon its chest and subsequently ripping it in half.  But immediately after the attack he collapsed, the limited power he managed to summon now utterly spent. 

If Kendal had her power, perhaps they could have stood a chance . . .  But she was on the cave floor, unconscious from exhaustion.

With the humans’ aid, for a brief moment, Adros was able to go on the offensive, but even the mighty Graelic landed with a hollow thud, and little more.  Eventually, a metallic fist clipped his shoulder, sent him spinning through the air and landing on the cavern floor. 

He pushed himself up with the aid of his staff . . . a metal foot pressed against his back and crushed him to the ground.  He turned his head to find a pair of those burning white eyes staring down at him. 

The same white glow filled the being’s fist, blasting out in Adros’ direction . . .

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