Raven walked through the newly formed opening and onto the
ledge of a large, round chasm. The abyss extended infinitely above
and infinitely below, it’s extremities shrouded by an ominous
darkness. Stone discs hovered silently around a sizeable earthen
island at its center. Seated on a bed atop the land mass was a
golden-haired maiden in a white gown whom he recognized to be none
other than Trellia herself. She looked on him with a cold, distant
he asked hopefully, his voice echoing throughout the chamber.
scanned him down to his belt, and saw that he only had one sword.
“Raven?” she gasped, realizing that he was not the war god.
heart leapt for joy and he beamed her a true elven smile. But as
he took a step towards Aurora, the Warrior Spirit appeared beside
her in a flash of bright light.
sheathed his weapons, looked between the two and groaned, “Spare
me the sentimentality.”
was dressed in the black dragon scale armor he had gifted Raven
years ago and his blades were dripping blood. What Trellion found
most surprising, was that the god looked exactly like him. He now
understood how Aurora has been captured again and cursed himself
don’t you look pretty,” Yugashii made a derisive remark about
stared at him wide-eyed, still not recovered from the initial
mind that, why don’t I get to the point,” Yugashii smirked,
“I’m here to make you an offer that will benefit us both.”
kind of offer?” Raven inquired doubtfully.
have something I want, I have something you need,” the Warrior
Spirit explained, “Join with me again! Invite me into your soul
out of your own free will and you will be able to free your
girlfriend and lead the Caldorian armies to victory! And then, my
avatar, you will achieve power and greatness beyond your wildest
dreams as the living incarnation of the God of War!
you refuse, however,” his manner took on a more sinister tone,
“I will destroy you and everyone in this world that you ever
cared for. I will take over your identity and nobody would be the
my offer not fair? Is it not pleasing to you?” Yugashii smiled,
“This is the closest to a compromise any mortal has ever heard
from my lips. You should feel honored.”
glared at the god cynically – it was no compromise! He knew what
he was capable of when possessed by this bloodthirsty deity; he
would not stay the same person. The road to power and greatness
would be paved with thousands of mutilated corpses.
say you?” Yugashii cocked his head expectantly.
deciding factor came when he saw Aurora’s pleading eyes begging
him not to let such darkness into his soul again. “No,”
thought as much,” the Warrior Spirit sighed and twirled out his
weapons. “Well then, my former avatar,” his eyes blazed
crimson, “Feel the power you have forsaken! Feel what you have
wrought on your enemies!!”
battle aura flared up with ethereal fire, emitting a fear-inducing
wave that sent Raven reeling back on the ledge. The discs began to
move, humming as they slowly revolved around the central isle –
some clockwise, some counterclockwise. The war god clanged his
blades together and hopped onto one of the discs, eyeing Trellion
swallowed hard, drew his sword, and hopped onto a disc as it came
by his ledge. He took a minute to get a feel for the motion of the
platforms, but the Warrior Spirit was growing impatient. Yugashii
skipped effortlessly from disc to disc, leaping at Trellion with
his blades prepared to hack down. Raven met the attack with a
horizontal twist of his sword, pushing on it with both hands to
shove the god away.
hopped onto another disk, and then hopped onto a second and a
third, steadily making his way around the half-elf. Raven turned
in place, watching his enemy closely.
Warrior Spirit lunged at him once again, this time slashing with
only one sword. Trellion deflected the swing with his weapon just
as he saw the succeeding slash coming in diagonally from the side.
It was going too fast and too low for him to stop it with his
sword, so instead he pulled his weapon in reverse and thrust its
handle into Yugashii’s wrist, batting it away. Raven then tried
to slice down into the Warrior Spirit’s shoulder but was blocked
by his opponent’s crossed blades and promptly driven backwards.
solid ground fast, Trellion was forced to jump onto a nearby disc,
but this one was moving in the opposite direction and caught Raven
off balance. He flailed his arms wildly, doing his best to regain
coordination, not even noticing the dull humming of another disc
incoming from behind. It knocked him clear off the platform and
into the bottomless pit.
shook his head wryly and made a slight hand gesture.
disc swerved out of its path to catch Raven as he fell. The
half-elf landed with a thud and looked up. All around he could
hear the ghostly chanting of the tricksters adrift on the astral
now,” the Warrior Spirit warned him as he passed overhead, “I
won’t do that again.”
narrowed his eyes at the god. He hopped to his feet and used the
discs as stepping-stones to get back to the same level as Yugashii.
Sylvia was already within the astral castle. She was an
interdimensional being, and the tricksters – her loyal subjects
– gladly granted her entrance into the otherwise impregnable
fortress. The Trickster Queen was now dancing through the rooms of
the palace on floating feet, gathering her minions to her side.
They unraveled from the walls, the furniture, and the tapestries
at her beckoning call.
the word, my darlings,” she sang to the willow wisp trickster
lights that surrounded her, “That your true Queen has come for
fabric of the castle rippled in approval.
she purred, “Show me where my pet is.”
bricks began to whisper to each other and the walls parted,
revealing a murky corridor leading deep into the citadel.
Trellion and the Warrior Spirit were advancing at each
other on discs going in opposite directions. They crossed swords
as they passed, and exchanged fierce slashes as they hopped from
platform to platform, trying to keep within reach of one another.
But no matter what Raven did, the God of War always managed to
repel, parry, or even riposte his assaults with relative ease.
quickly assessed that close combat would get him nowhere. The odds
in this duel were stacked decidedly against him. Yugashii had two
weapons while he only had one, and though it never occurred to him
when facing weaker opponents, the glaring disadvantage versus the
Warrior Spirit was quite obvious. Furthermore, he was mortal while
Yugashii was a god.
Raven could not afford to lose! His best chance was to widen the
breadth between himself and the god’s deadly blades and work on
a strategy from a safer distance. The only advantage he had was
the longer reach of his two-handed sword and he would have to make
the most of it.
jumped back from Yugashii and onto a neighboring platform. The
answer to his predicament came when he heard the faint hum of
another disc coming in from the rear. Raven ducked under it and
gave it a violent shove towards the Warrior Spirit. In that same
instant he leaped over the missile and hacked down through the
rock, hoping the disc would conceal the direction of his blow. But
by that time Yugashii was long gone, perched on a nearby platform.
Trellion heard the god hiss from behind.
found himself in a very precarious position. He felt a rush of air
at his back and with no regard for balance, made a desperate
roundhouse slash, brushing both enemy weapons aside with one
powerful swipe. But the reckless parry left a clear opening that
the God of War immediately exploited by kicking Trellion onto a
lunged at the half-elf, his serrated blades weaving in at
mind-blowing speeds. Raven frantically worked to block the
onslaught with his sword as best he could. His movements were
purely instinctual, for the slashes were coming in faster than his
eyes could register even if he weren’t half-blinded by the
sparks that flew off the clanging metal. Yugashii was relentless,
not letting a single one of his opponent’s attacks slip through
his defenses. In mere seconds Trellion was already sporting a
number of cuts and bruises and knew he would not be able to hold
off the bombardment for much longer.
twisted away from a vertical hack and hopped onto the closest
platform, getting a painful slash across the back with the second
blade in the process. Raven twirled around, somewhat confused as
to why the Warrior Spirit’s other sword was traveling in a wide,
sideways arc nowhere near him. Confused, that is, until he saw it
slice through a nearby disc, crumbling it and pelting him with the
debris of fine dust and pebbles.
reflexively shut his eyes and barely managed to duck under a
subsequent swipe aimed for his throat. He felt his head being
jerked askew as one hook of the serrated blade got caught in his
silver headband and ripped it from his hair. The half-elf stumbled
and jumped several disks away, vigorously rubbing his eyes.
tsk, tsk,” Yugashii said with a mocking smirk. He spun the
headpiece on the edge of his blade and let it drop into the
fathomless depths below.
watched the headband fall and disappear into the blackness without
a sound; if this chasm had a bottom, it was a long way down. He
felt a trickle of blood issuing from the stinging wound on his
back, but tried to ignore the pain. Raven assumed a battle stance
and gripped his sword tighter, his hair now flying freely in the
chuckled and shook his head, “You’re persistent, I’ll give
you that much.”
Keramis strolled aimlessly through the gloomy halls of the
Dark Fortress. He noticed a patch of grass in the floor here, a
leafy bush by a wall there, then came copses of trees, and before
he knew it, he was walking through a full-fledged forest. The
change in scenery did not strike him as odd, however; it felt like
a routine transition in a lucid dream. He tread blithely through
the verdant foliage, surrounded by sun-dappled trees on all sides.
It made him feel safe and reminded him of home. But all was not
well, for a camouflaged presence lurked in the greenery.
elf froze in mid-stride as he sensed it. He knew where it was, he
knew who it was, and he knew what it had come for. Keramis’
specialty was aerial fighting, and he realized he stood no chance
versus this opponent on level ground. Without hesitating, he
jumped up into the branches and bared his fangs. “Lets see how
well you do against me in the treetops!” he barked, bringing out
stepped out of the underbrush, scimitar in hand. He silently
scaled one of the trees, perched himself on a large branch, and
smiled at him impishly.
you think I’m joking?!” Keramis snarled at the tamunid, his
voice quaking with ill-hidden fear, “That was a challenge,
got the elf even more aggravated. He lunged at his foe, and the
lizard followed suit. They flew through the canopy at one another,
and just as Keramis was about to swipe at Kentabri with his knife,
something rock-solid crashed into his ribs, blasting the air from
his lungs. He landed coughing in the opposite tree, glancing
around wildly for the cause of the impact.
was no branch, only Kentabri staring at him from a nearby tree.
elf growled irritably and pounced at him a second time. The
tamunid did the same. But as they were approaching each other
Keramis encountered the phantom impediment once again, this time
getting a glancing hit to the head. He grabbed onto some branches
on the way down, and quickly scrambled to the top, glaring back at
his adversary with a mixture of hatred and confusion.
creepy smile was back, inciting him into further combat.
shook off the daze and spat out some blood before pushing off his
branch and springing at Kentabri a third time. He collided with
the obstacle again, and the next time, and the time after that,
and then several more times, until he ultimately received a direct
blow to the head that made him black out and fall straight to the
eyes opened to the sight of the tamunid swooping down on him with
his scimitar poised to strike. A scimitar! His mind finally
registered that fact. A scimitar? Kentabri didn’t use a
not real,” Keramis whispered with conviction.
illusion flickered out at those words. No longer was he in a lush,
green forest, but on the cold floor of the Dark Fortress. His
whole body ached and his head throbbed with dull pain. The last
sensation he had before passing out was of the flow of blood
snaking across his forehead.
Aurora fretfully watched Raven and Yugashii fight from her
island prison, powerless to help or to heal. They had been hopping
all over the platforms, flinging discs at each other and trading
blows the details of which were blurred even to her keen eyes.
Most of the time, she noted, it was the Warrior Spirit chasing
Trellion across the platforms.
truth, the God of War had no real intention of killing his
potential vessel, only to scare him into submission. Plus,
Kowhani’s words have put doubt in his mind regarding Raven’s
prowess and he had to test the half-elf’s limits to see whether
he was still a suitable avatar. Of course, this did not mean that
Yugashii was holding back. If Trellion somehow got killed in this
game, he would merely be proven unworthy.
up!” Raven heard the god shout from several feet away. The
half-elf leapt aside as a disc crashed into the platform he was
know you can’t win!”
was starting to believe him. Any delusions he had of victory were
stripped away one by one throughout the fight as the true weight
of the match set in. Raven’s heart was racing fast; he was
getting weary, but he knew that the god would never tire, never
weaken, and never take ‘no’ for an answer.
Warrior Spirit playfully tossed another disc at him.
cut it in half before it reached him.
advantage of the half-elf’s obscured vision, Yugashii bounded
over to him and slashed at his head with his left blade.
Trellion’s own sword met the attack at a perpendicular angle.
The Warrior Spirit, having anticipated the move, kept his weapon
there to hold his opponent’s sword in place as he stepped around
the elf and slashed in with his right blade from behind. Acting on
his first impulse, Raven let go of his sword with one hand and
turned slightly to catch Yugashii’s wrist, twisting the
blade’s path away from his body and locking the god’s arm
behind his back.
trapped so near the Warrior Spirit was unnerving to say the least.
The full intensity of Yugashii’s aura assailed his senses and
was becoming ever harder to defy.
can smell fear, you know,” the God of War spoke softly, “I
feed on it. Fear…” he drew closer, pressing his shoulder into
Trellion’s open wound, “And blood.”
fresh surge of pain made Raven momentarily lose strength in his
arm, causing the force of Yugashii’s blade to drive the flat of
his own sword against his cheek.
are afraid,” Trellion felt the god’s breath on his neck,
“And your fear makes me stronger!”
wrapped a leg around Yugashii’s feet. “If I go down I’m
taking you with me!” he said through clenched teeth.
doesn’t have to be like this,” the Warrior Spirit sighed
sarcastically, “Join me and all this petty squabbling will be
I let you inside me,” Trellion replied, “The battle will only
change form.” He head-butted the god and broke free of the hold
by sweeping one blade aside with his sword and veering the other
away with a turn of his hand. The half-elf hopped backwards onto a
passing disc that carried him far from the recovering war god.
do you think you can do?!” Yugashii called after him, “I know
all your moves!”
last line wiped out any hope he still had left. It was true, the
god did know all his moves, making all the tactics Raven had used
up to this point futile. But that same line of thought sparked the
answer to his dilemma: he would simply have to use moves other
than his own. Yugashii was talking about the knowledge Trellion
had when possessed, but the half-elf had learned a new trick since
then: feigning, something the god would never expect him to do.
Although using the new ploy went against his every notion of honor
and dignity, this fight stopped being about him the instant he
entered the room – he had something to protect!
continued hopping from platform to platform and the Warrior Spirit
gave chase, hurling discs at the fleeing adversary. Raven surveyed
the scene for ideas on how to pull this off and the solution
presented itself in the form of a platform a few heights below,
which was just slipping behind the huge bulk of the central
island. He realized he couldn’t make the jump even if he wanted
to, but sensed a disc shooting in from behind that he knew would
be able to propel him close enough to get a good grip.
spun about in time to intercept the disc head on and got thrust
straight off the platform, falling behind the isle and out of the
god’s line of sight. To his relief, the estimations proved
correct, and his hand grasped the rim of the lower disc with a
sound inaudible over the ambient hum in the chamber.
watched chunks of earth drop into the pit, but not Trellion. Yet
he saw him go down, and heard no sound of a landing. The Warrior
Spirit looked around, scanning the shifting sea of discs for
clues. He looked to Aurora for any hint of the half-elf’s
condition but found none.
god’s platform was going clockwise while the one Raven was
hanging onto moved counterclockwise, steadily approaching each
other. Trellion knew that trying to climb on top of the disc would
make too much noise and put him out in the open, yet he could only
hold on for so long and his element of surprise was diminishing
fast. Instead, Raven stepped lightly onto a disc passing underfoot
right as he was closing in on his target, and leapt the last few
bounds with swift resolve.
was up in the air behind Yugashii, his sword moving in an inerrant
slash that cleaved neatly into the god’s side just as he turned
around. The half-elf landed on the platform with an elated look of
stared blankly at the weapon embedded under his ribs, dropped his
blades to the ground and slowly closed his hands around the
protruding sword; there was no blood. He chuckled slightly, then
burst out laughing in Trellion’s face, “You can’t kill a
eyes widened in disbelief as the Warrior Spirit kicked him off the
disc and sent him hurtling into the abyss.
cried out and scrambled over to the edge of her island.
caught Raven’s arm as he dropped. The discs stopped moving and
cleared out from under him, allowing for one long, unobstructed
descent. “This is your last chance, mortal. Join me!”
hung suspended over the chasm, tricksters howling hungrily in the
winds that whipped at his hair. There was a time when his life
felt so empty that the prospect of an eternity of falling through
nothingness wouldn’t even phase him, but all that changed when
he met Aurora. With somebody to love and care for, he found a
reason to live. The half-elf felt his arm slipping out of
he begged, “You must listen to me!”
God of War cocked his head with curiosity.
might not be able to kill you,” Raven explained, “But Aloquin
Warrior Spirit reeled back in outrage at the suggestion, “You
have that backwards. It’s your bitch of a girlfriend that’s
responsible for me being here…” adding in reference to his
physical manifestation, “Like this! Aloquin is the one
who helped me get my revenge!”
Trellion insisted, dangling haphazardly from the god’s hand,
“No! It wasn’t like that! You have to remember!”
raised his eyebrows. While inside the half-elf, stashed deep
within the unconscious, he had been dormant, awakening only for
war and the rare occasion when somebody stumbled onto his private
realm. His memory of outside events was hazy at best.
you remember when that faery kid probed inside me?” Raven asked,
“Ever since then Aloquin wanted my life essence. He tried to
take it by force but you fought back, giving Aurora a chance to
interrupt him. Except the ritual left me with astral wounds, and
you were clinging to the only resources that could heal me. If she
didn’t exorcize you I would’ve died – and you would’ve
died with me!”
stared at him, lost in thought. Though the god had a one-track
mind, it was quite spontaneous and tended to focus on whatever he
was most angry about at the time.
saved you!” Trellion insisted, “Once from being absorbed by
Aloquin, once from dying along with your host! She is not your
enemy! You think Aloquin wanted to help you? He only used
you for your–”
mortal,” the Warrior Spirit teased, “I was born when the first
drop of innocent blood hit the ground, and I can be reborn just as
easily.” He reached down with his free hand, dipped his
fingertips in Raven’s wound, and drew his trademark war paint on
his face with the blood. The god was instantly transformed into
his true form, his skin charred black and his hair bright crimson.
It was his obsession with Raven that had kept him in the material
form, and that fixation was fading. Anointed with the blood of his
former avatar, his divine body now vibrated with renewed power.
“Of all the gods you know, I alone am not bound by time or place.
Hymns to me are chanted across the universe in a myriad different
tongues, yet to all I am the god of war, blood, and fire. As long
as there is bloodshed anywhere in the cosmos, I will exist!” he
don’t need me,” Trellion pleaded, “You have more worshippers
than there are stars in the sky, and there are many who would
willingly give themselves to you. But why would you want to be
confined in a physical shell when you can bask in the prayers of
millions praising your name? Your followers need to feel that you
are an accessible deity, not one who would forsake them over a
followers know that I favor the strong,” the Warrior Spirit
corrected, “Still, what you told me about Aloquin does ring
true, and such treachery will not be tolerated. What say you we go
teach him that it is not wise to cross the God of War?”
flashed him a quizzical look.
did win,” Yugashii smiled, pulling the half-elf back onto
the platform, “May it never be said that I’m dishonorable.”
cringed as the god gave him a playful pat on the back. He was
still rather disoriented by the whole ordeal, and needed a few
moments to let the fact that the fight was truly over sink in.
Warrior Spirit made his way to the island and undid the forest
limped after him, collapsing into Aurora’s arms from exhaustion.
“I love you so much,” he whispered as the familiar scent of
wildflowers filled his nostrils. Her healing embrace mended all
his wounds, and restored his strength.
we be going?” Yugashii asked impatiently.
Meanwhile, Kranti and Kentabri ambled through the corridors
searching for intruders. They were being guided by tricksters, who
were constantly reshaping the labyrinth into a single tunnel in
order to lead them. Eventually the castle escorted them into a
circular room. Patches of blood were splattered on the walls and
Keramis lay battered and unconscious on the floor.
what have we here?” Kranti remarked with an amused grin.
must have knocked himself out against the bricks,” Kentabri
pointed out as he examined the crimson stains.
a moron!” the half-were sniggered and walked over to the body.
within an illusion,” the tamunid muttered. It would be
ineffectual to pit a straightforward illusion against somebody
with faery metal weapons – one could just slash through it. The
tricksters must have superimposed a visual illusion over the
tangible illusion of the Dark Fortress – one can’t hit what
one doesn’t see.
little bastards, aren’t they?” Kranti smirked, kneeling down
by the elf. He yanked Keramis’ head up by the hair and put his
sword in line with his throat.
can use him as bait,” Kentabri quickly butted in.
half-were rolled his eyes and put away the weapon, “Why you have
a soft spot for this weakling I will never understand. I suppose
we can use him as bait, but later I get to kill him,
avoided eye contact.
him up,” Kranti snorted, “And I don’t mean hands and feet, I
mean tie him up!”
tamunid knew what that meant. Keramis was notorious for his
ability to escape the tightest chains, wriggle free of the
securest ropes, and overall be a nuisance to contain. He tied him
up like a mummy, restraining the movement of his every joint.
Kentabri then threw the elf over his shoulder and went after
Kranti to look for more trespassers.
stomped through the tunnels, tearing off the fancy
ball dress she wore over her leather fighting gear. Her gift of
faery sight allowed her to see the Dark Fortress for what it truly
was: a place crawling with tricksters. They squirmed under the
weight of her feet, but she paid no attention, consumed by a
single-minded thirst for retribution. The woman was looking for
Kranti, and when she found him, she swore to kill him. To aid her
in this task she called on the Iktu, the ancient spirits of
vengeance, so that the heartless half-were would feel their fury
through her blade.
the tricksters directing Kranti and Kentabri straight to her, it
didn’t take them long to run into each other. They stared at one
another in brief surprise and Lianna saw Keramis, bound and
gagged, being carried by Kentabri. Judging by the fact that he was
tied up she dared to hope he was still alive.
summon the wrath of the Iktu upon you!” she yelled, gathering
the spirits’ power into herself. She drew her weapons and
assumed a battle stance.
Lianna ignored the sarcasm and charged him.
is about that boyfriend of yours I killed, isn’t it?” he
asked, sidestepping the rush and slapping her across the back when
she ran past.
woman skidded forward, scowled at him, and launched another
weapon still not out, Kranti seized her sword hand, swept her feet
from under her and pinned her to the ground. “He attacked
me, remember?” the half-were leaned in to say.
Lianna growled in frustration, kneed him in the groin, and kicked out at
his chest. He staggered backwards as she hopped to her feet.
if you insist on being this way, I might as well fight back,”
Kranti brought out his heavy two-hander in the blink of an eye.
expression darkened. Whether or she was helped by the Iktu or not,
this fight wouldn’t last very long. His only window of
opportunity to save at least one life came now, with Kranti
distracted. He set the elf down on the floor and tried quietly to
unconscious in the Dark Fortress did not grant respite. Quite the
contrary, it stranded the sleeper in a land of dreams, completely
vulnerable to the castle’s deceptions. Keramis was falling
through layer upon layer of illusions, each stranger than the
next. It was a kaleidoscope of his most poignant memories –
distorted, reshuffled, altered, and blown out of proportion. They
were images of guilt and hate and doubt, and denying them would
only bring ones more potent.
current illusion collapsed on him once again, and a new one took
shape from the living miasma. Keramis found himself entangled in
tight chains, hanging precariously over a pool of murky liquid.
The place was dimly lit, but his night eyes saw Kranti and
Kentabri standing on a ledge beneath, both of them grinning
profusely. The half-were had his hand on a lever, and when he
lowered the switch, the elf felt himself drop several feet before
coming to a jolting halt. Glancing to his apparent captors, he saw
that the lever was back up.
is the end,” Kranti leered at him wickedly in return, his jaws
lined with abnormally elongated teeth. He slammed his hand down on
plummeted through the air and plunged into the churning waters
below. He flayed about violently, struggling against the
unyielding chains, but it was of no use. They weighed him down
farther into the pool’s depths, drowning him in darkness.
awoke with a pounding headache, jerked into consciousness by
Kentabri. His gasp for breath came out as a muffled noise, and a
hand was put over his mouth to silence him. The cloth was quickly
peeled from his eyes, and the elf stared at Kentabri in
disoriented panic. The tamunid withdrew his hand, put a finger to
his lips, then slowly undid the gag. Satisfied with Keramis’
reaction, he proceeded to untie the rest of the bindings.
elf was still somewhat confused as to why the tamunid was helping
him, but looked past him to a more urgent distraction: the ongoing
had not lasted all that long, yet it was obvious who had the upper
hand. Kranti slashed in with his sword, and Lianna lurched
backwards a split second too late to avoid getting sliced across
the arm. She clutched at the wound and tried to spin away, but the
half-were’s kick came faster, smashing into her hip and sending
her tumbling to the floor.
away,” Kentabri whispered, giving the elf back his daggers.
didn’t seem to notice.
of this,” Kranti grumbled at the woman.
Lianna lashed her whip at him, but he merely stepped on it between the
barbs and cut it half with his two-hander. She brought down her
short sword in rapid succession, but the half-were had anticipated
the move and was more than ready to meet it with his own weapon,
twirling the sword out of her grasp. He then made a powerful
roundhouse kick which nailed her in the face and knocked her into
the wall. Before she could recuperate, Lianna found herself held
against the wall at sword point.
win,” Kranti smiled.
and defeated, she sank to the ground.
moved to assist her but Kentabri forced him back down.
can’t help her,” the tamunid said firmly, “And after
Kranti’s done with her, it’ll be your turn. Run away while you
gazed at him with embittered indignation. The overwhelming influx
of warped memories had drastically shifted his mindset. Kranti was
right, the elf decided: he had been running away his entire life.
He had been running away from Kranti, he had been running away
from Kentabri, and he had been running away from his past. He had
watched Kranti kill his best friend and did nothing except run
away afterwards, and he would never forgive himself if he let that
a real shame we didn’t get to know each other better,” Kranti
sighed with a tinge of pity.
Lianna glared back with misted eyes, saddened by her failed attempt at
vengeance, but devoid of all fear, content knowing she would soon
be reunited with her mate in the afterlife.
raised his sword for the killing blow, and howled out in agony as
two sharp daggers gouged into his shoulder blades, forcing him to
drop the weapon.
flipped over the half-were and landed between him and the woman,
his blades stained with Kranti’s blood. “Never again!!” he
cried, “Never again will I let you take a friend away from
barely heard him over his own incoherent growls. The half-were had
an exceptionally low pain tolerance due to the fact that he could
count the number of times he was hit in his entire life on his
fingers. “Oh what now?!” he snarled irritably at his tamunid
partner, “Lianna hit you over the head again??”
you,” Kranti turned back to the elf, “Backstabbing,
dogboy? I thought you had more honor than that.”
don’t honor cowards who kill unarmed lower ranks!” Keramis
shouted at the half-were. In the North Forest, it was considered
bad form to kill an adversary at first try – showed that the
victor was afraid of facing the opponent again.
not you too,” Kranti groaned, “This is a war, you imbecile,
and he attacked me!”
up!” Keramis hollered, “You know the Law – life for life!”
Lianna looked at him inquisitively; the elf was in no condition to fight.
life for hers?” Kranti laughed, “I accept!!”
life for Karaci’s!” Keramis hissed, and lunged at the
half-were in the same instant.
hands moved with the speed of lightning, grabbing the elf’s
wrists and spreading them out wide. “You never learn, do you?”
the half-were sneered. Lianna prudently scampered out of the way
as Keramis got rammed and pummeled into the wall she was leaning
against. Kranti scored over a dozen hits before the pain of the
enchantment kicked in. The half-were recoiled from his prey,
dropped to the floor, and rolled around bawling like a baby.
knees buckled as he slowly slid down along the wall and fell
forward, landing with a thud on the ground. He lay dazed until the
cold stone of the castle brought him back to his senses. The elf
twitched, groaned, and shakily got to his feet. His double vision
coalesced into a singular form of Kranti scowling at him enraged.
very sneaky,” the half were smirked, referring to the magical
effects of the bloodied daggers, “Very… noble?”
swayed a little, and assumed an offensive stance.
you think you can kill me by letting me kill you?? Well there is
something you forgot!” Kranti growled, tossing his sword to the
other side of the room and flexing his claws, “I can take more
damage than you!!”
could not deny that logic. His old plan was deteriorating at the
same rate as he was formulating a new one. Karaci’s words of
warning came back to him now. He would not make the same mistake
avenging his friend’s death as he did causing it.
roared a mighty leonine roar and charged.
foot slipped into the rear and he leaned back, changing to a
Some believe darkness to be merely the absence of light,
but Lowak had learned differently. This darkness was tangible, it
was thick, it was potent, and it enfolded him like suffocating
smog. The tricksters kept him in a state between sleeping and
waking, slowly feeding on his sanity. They flooded him distorted
images ripped from his mind, of his memories, of his hopes, and of
the realizations of his fears. The thief had spent enough time
with Sylvia to be nearly immune to such deceptions, however. Many
visions passed before his eyes but he ignored them, rocking back
and forth and muttering unintelligibly about his sister.
somewhere beyond the blackness came a bloodcurdling scream that
startled Lowak out of his reverie. Peering through the fog he saw
the silhouette of a monstrosity with hundreds of flaying tentacles
for hair and a twisted body sprouting disfigured hands that flexed
oversized claws. The shape swiftly contracted into a shadowy human
form that approached him at a brisk pace.
he asked, squinting.
mists receded as the figure stepped forward, her face paler than
his and her eyes as dark as the sockets of a bleached skull.
the boy affirmed with a smile.
the Trickster Queen croaked, stretching out a hand, “We have to
go help your friends.”
eagerly took her hand and followed her out of the Pit of Darkness.
They walked past the corpse of a guard, his hair stark white and
his face frozen in an expression of pure terror. They kept going,
out of the corridors and into a small chamber.
whole castle is made of tricksters,” Sylvia told him, “And I
am their Queen.”
nodded, looking around curiously.
have been going through the palace, swaying their allegiance from
Onedia to me, one by one, and I will continue doing so,” she
explained, “But meanwhile, I will grant you the title of
Trickster King. Do you think you can handle that?”
felt currents of power surge through him, and his right hand
became enveloped in black flame. “I think I can,” he replied
with a mischievous grin.
will now obey you as well as me,” Sylvia smiled cryptically,
“Do with them as you see fit.”
The fight between Kranti the second rank and Keramis the
fifth rank had now officially begun. Normally there’d be no
question regarding who the victor would be, but this particular
battle would prove quite interesting since the rivals’ fighting
styles were polar opposites of one another. The half-were’s
forte was offense; he moved faster than the speed of his own
thoughts, and relied on brute strength to demolish his enemies.
The elf’s asset, on the other hand, was defense; he relied on
dexterity and agility to keep himself alive.
knew that Kranti liked to overwhelm and overpower his opponents
from the get go with a series of dizzying whirlwind attacks. A
single hit from one of those would render him utterly helpless.
The half-were was twice his size and several times as strong, and
the elf realized that trying to block would do more to hurt
himself than deflect the blow. But if he could somehow manage to
outlast the initial rush, his chances for survival would raise
dodging ability was second to none, and he planned on exploiting
it to its limits. Furthermore, even though the elf was not in the
best shape, neither was Kranti – the half-were’s shoulders
were severely wounded, which would undoubtedly restrict the speed
and force of his maneuvers.
tricksters also took interest in the match. They had developed a
healthy respect for this elf that twice saw through their
illusions, and decided to express their admiration by changing the
room’s layout. It had acquired a relatively low, domed ceiling,
complemented by curving archways from whose columns sprouted
ledges. The bricks protruded in uneven lengths, forming steps,
outcroppings, and cracks, resembling a cliff face more than a
wall. The chamber was now perfectly suited for the Keramis’
aerial fighting style.
first whirlwind attack came at Keramis like a cyclone of
razor-sharp claws. They shredded anything in their way and the elf
made sure that he wasn’t, dropping to the ground and rolling
sideways. The half-were lunged at him just as he hopped to his
feet and ran for the opposite wall. Thinking him cornered, Kranti
slashed down with his claws, but the elf ran straight up the wall
and flipped far overhead, landing a few paces behind him.
watched his adversary closely; the smallest breach in
concentration could cost him dearly. He saw that Kranti was going
all-out on him, which meant he was not playing anymore. This time
he was really, truly angry. Angry that somebody was able to hurt
him, to embarrass him – and a lower rank, no less! But perhaps
the elf could use this to his advantage. He could intensify that
anger to make him reckless, and to wear him out – maybe then he
could get a hit in.
was hardly rational when mad. He would blindly pursue the object
of his fury until he ripped into little tiny pieces with his bare
hands. Keramis was to Kranti a mere fly that needed to be swatted
out of existence, but the fact that it was taking so much effort
annoyed him to no end. The half-were spun around and charged his
prey once again, bursting in with a torrent of kicks and claw
elf dodged, and ducked, and jumped, and sidestepped, always
staying within an inch of Kranti’s deadly claws. He purposefully
did so to taunt his ego, to rile him up, and to fuel his anger, so
that the half-were would attack him with ever-greater zeal. It was
a risky plan – for Kranti’s prowess was not to be toyed with
– but he had already made it through the first two assaults, and
was not one to shrink away from a gamble.
help him in the endeavor, Keramis brought the battle to another
level. He avoided Kranti’s slashes by hopping from step to step
along the walls. The half-were, more frustrated than ever,
attempted to follow, but his movements on the bricks were clumsy
compared to the nimbleness of Keramis’ airborne training. It was
then that the elf noticed Kranti’s attacks decreasing in both
precision and speed, if only a teeny bit.
filled Keramis with renewed vitality, giving him the much-needed
strength and optimism to continue. He sheathed his blades and took
to the ceiling, climbing across its domed surface by gripping the
gaps between the stones. Kranti chased him along the ground,
hissing and yowling, and taking haphazard swipes at the air.
Keramis evaded the onslaught by leaping from ledge to ledge and
swinging from archway to archway, feeling as comfortable in the
aerial setting as a spider in its web.
was getting easier and easier to elude the half-were’s assaults,
which could only mean one thing: Kranti was getting tired. His
reflexes were becoming heavy and sluggish – for Kranti, that is.
Though the fight had taken its toll on his stamina, he was still
very much capable of causing massive damage. Ideally the elf
would’ve carried on longer, until his enemy was completely
exhausted, but his own adrenaline rush had passed, and Keramis was
becoming fatigued as well. He couldn’t afford to wait – it was
now or never!
landed on a ledge and turned on the half-were, eyes flashing
bright amber fiercely enough to take even Kranti aback. His
slender elven form swelled with muscles and his skin overgrew with
dark fur. His ears elongated and curled backwards, and his snout
extended into a canine maw. The transformation had made him the
size of Kranti, except not a lion but a demonic wolf made from the
stuff of nightmares.
Lianna and Kentabri’s mouths dropped open in astonishment; they
hadn’t known that Keramis gained a new were-form.
hellhound bared his gleaming fangs at the enemy, savoring the fear
in Kranti’s eyes. He then pushed off the ledge and swooped down
on the half-were, mauling him to the ground. They wrestled each
other across the floor in a vicious flurry of teeth and claws,
snarling and yelping as they exchanged blows.
an outsider the scuffle looked like a jumbled ball of fur, and Lianna
couldn’t tell who was winning.
felt sharp claws digging into his flesh but paid no heed. He
fought past the half-were’s enfeebled defenses, sunk his teeth
deep into the exposed throat, and ripped it straight out.
Kranti’s eyes bulged, and he gurgled something unintelligible
before the demon wolf bit back onto his esophagus.
held on tight as his victim thrashed about brutally beneath him.
He held on for long after the last of the twitching stopped,
growling all the while. Slowly the elf changed back to his true
form and limply rolled away from the half-were. He sprawled on the
ground, panting sporadically from exhaustion.
Lianna and Kentabri couldn’t believe what they just saw; surely a fifth
rank couldn’t defeat a second rank!
tamunid would not stand for it. Not only had Keramis killed a
higher rank, but he had also killed his friend, and the law of
life for life was still in effect. What’s more, he himself was
responsible for Kranti’s death since he was the one who freed
paced back and forth anxiously, mulling it over in his head, then
charged at the prostrate elf and jabbed the end of his staff into
his throat, cutting off the air supply. Keramis pawed weakly at
the stick, but had no strength left to fight.
Lianna ran in and put a hand on the tamunid’s arm. “Do you want to
lose two friends in one day?” she whispered.
characteristic of the lesser dragons was their ability to think
logically under the most heated of circumstances, and Kentabri
heard the wisdom in those words. The tamunid withdrew his staff
and stepped away, leaving the elf wheezing and coughing up blood.
was not always like this,” Kentabri muttered under his breath
regarding Kranti, “Seinga’s death drove him insane. Perhaps
this is for the best.”
Lianna stared at him for a moment, and slowly nodded in an attempt to
calm him down. She then proceeded to tend to Keramis, kneeling
down by him and reaching to help him up. No sooner had she touched
the elf that he winced in pain.
she began to ask, but stopped when she saw the blood on her hand.
It was dark in the chamber, and only now did she notice the
crimson liquid seeping from the pores of his red-feathered tunic.
She realized that it was not just Kranti’s blood on the ground,
but Keramis’ mingling with it.
was already gawking wide-eyed at the half-were. Her worries
mounting, Lianna tentatively glanced over to the corpse and gasped
in horror. It was riddled with deep gashes that she knew could
only have been caused by Kranti’s own clawed hands – or by a
spell which mirrors the damage.
she asked with a slight whimper, “Kera, are you okay?”
he rasped, “You have to go now.”
are you talking about?!” Lianna clasped his hands and infused
him with a minor healing spell.
recognized that his injuries were far too severe to be mended by
someone of her aptitude. He didn’t mind. He had aimed for
suicide from the moment Kranti’s blood touched his blades.
Always he had strived to prove himself useful to his friends, so
he could not imagine a more rewarding death than laying down his
life for someone he loved. In a world where many died bitter and
alone, the elf could only wish Lianna too would someday know how
peaceful it felt to die with no regrets, in warm, caring arms.
“I did this for you,” Keramis whispered, “You can’t help
me and I’ll only slow you down… You have to leave me here…
have to…” he trailed off into unconsciousness.
Lianna broke out sobbing and threw herself onto him, imbuing him
another feeble heal, “No! I can’t lose you both!!” She
healed him again and again and again, and though it did nothing to
improve his condition, at least it kept him alive.
can’t do anything for him,” Kentabri told her softly.
not leaving him here!!” she screamed back at him.
tamunid let out a cumbersome sigh, unsure of how to assist the
woman in dealing with the inevitable; Kentabri was not a
pessimist, he was a realist. Had they been in the North Forest
they could have carried him to a lake, or dug a hole in the ground
until they punctured a blood vessel. All water on Caldora was the
blood of the great Earth Dragon, compatible with that of its
descendents. If the elf were to be placed in a pool of it, it
could act as a natural blood replenisher until more substantial
healing could be arranged for. But they were not in the North
Forest, they were in a sealed astral fortress.
we can’t help him,” Lianna wiped away a tear, “But Trellia
can! She is somewhere in this castle, we just have to find her!”
might be able to help him now,” the tamunid acknowledged, “But
it’s doubtful we can get him to her alive. That heal spell of
yours restores less life force than he loses.”
we’ll just have to run faster, won’t we?” she said through
him up!” the woman growled threateningly, “Now!!”
ma’am!” Kentabri concurred. He scooped the elf up from the
floor and flung him over his shoulder.
castle listens to you, you lead,” Lianna ordered, casting
tamunid nodded, and signaled to the tricksters. They opened a
pathway in the wall leading towards Aurora, and the two set off on
the trail. Lianna held onto Keramis’ hand, her constant healing
acting as a lifeline that kept him in this world.