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CALDORA: Chapter 18: The King is Dead, Long Live the King
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The King is Dead, Long Live the King  



            Kadro wandered through the halls of the Dark Fortress, untouched by tricksters – they were concentrating most of their power to the main battlefield. He knew they were there, though; he could feel their eerie, looming presence all around – strongly enough to persuade him to postpone the carrying out of his penitence to a later date. Instead, he decided he could help the Caldorian army on the front lines… if he could ever find them. It was times like these he wished he hadn’t gambled away the magic faery sight ring he got while rescuing Princess Irriaptu of the Riverside Kingdom from the clutches of a powerful trickster lord.

            Suddenly the floor rippled in a series of hazardous waves that knocked him off his feet. Laying flat on his back, he felt the ground tremble beneath him. The mercenary quickly scrambled up to avoid the deadly stalagmite that erupted from the stone, and then zigzagged between several more that shot forth. He drew his sword and scanned the chamber warily.

            Lowak materialized a few feet away, a maniacal grin on his face. “How does it feel to be the hunted?” he gloated.

            His eyes now locked on his target, Kadro made a run for the thief, dodging pelted rocks and jumping over growing spikes on the way. The boy didn’t even flinch as the warrior hacked the sword straight through his body, only dissipated in a swarm of giggling bats. The mercenary waved his weapon about wildly as they flew past and melted into the walls. Kadro lowered his sword and looked around.

            “So you are a devil spirit like the stories claim!” Kadro remarked.

            Shrill cackling resounded throughout the room. “Only a weak-willed fool would mistake an illusion for my physical form!” the thief said from somewhere within the bricks, his voice coming from all directions at once.

            “Well then come out and fight fair, traitor!” the mercenary demanded.

            You dare call me a traitor!?” Lowak bellowed. The floor acquired a growing slope. The walls shook as their bricks dislodged and rolled along the incline towards the bounty hunter. “You are the traitor! I know that you conspired against me with Lakai.”

            “Wh-what?” Kadro asked, doing his best to evade the landslide, “What are you talking about??”

            “Do you think I’m blind?!” Lowak shrieked, slanting the ground so sharply that it dropped the mercenary flat on his stomach.

            Kadro watched as the walls around him fell away, revealing the panorama of night sky as far as the eye could see. He felt himself sliding along a floor that was quickly becoming vertical and he frantically pawed for any handholds he could find but they slipped from his grasp. He landed roughly on a ledge and regained his footing. No, no longer a floor, he realized, but a sheer mountainside. Below him were nothing but clouds, above him was a snow-capped peak upon which stood a tall, perfectly toned woman leaning upon a quarterstaff. Her beautiful face was as cold and indomitable as landscape.

            Kadro gaped at her with recognition, for this was none other than Sarandi, eldest Princess of the Riverside Kingdom whom he had tracked all the way to the Valley of the Winds. A Princess who did not wish to be found, and repaid his efforts by throwing him off a cliff and leaving him for dead.

            “One minute you’re positively against joining the foreigners,” she said in Lowak’s voice, “Then Lakai pulls you off to some room to talk – alone – and you come out eager to join out of the goodness of your heart? Do you think I got to where I am by being naïve?!”

            Kadro blinked, trying hard to sort through the dissonance in his head. “We-we didn’t talk a-abou–” he began.

            “You would hand me over to Germane!” she cut him off, “Do you even know Germane?! He is a monster! He… well why do I need to explain? I can show you! I can make you feel a lifetime of pain in a single second!”

            Kadro could feel the outcrop giving way under his weight. The only option he saw before him, however unlikely, was to reach the woman and somehow undo the illusion. He pushed off with all his might and climbed up along the frozen surface of the mountain, digging into the crushed ice for handholds. Already he could feel his fingers becoming numb, and he gritted his teeth to keep them from chattering. His blind tenacity was fueled by years of anguish, for Sarandi was responsible for what he had become. The last and nearly fatal straw on a pile of broken dreams. Though Kadro understood her to be a mere projection of his memories, the pain that festered inside him was very real.

            The mercenary’s predicament seemed to amuse the false Sarandi and she even started walking towards him. “I will not bore you with my fears,” she teased as she drew closer, “Not when your own are so apparent. Is this what you are afraid of? Being lost, alone, forgotten in an abandoned gorge?”

            Though Kadro fought for every inch of ground with every bit of strength he had, skidding and catching himself with every missed grip, the woman’s strides were as nimble as walking on air. Soon she towered over his prone form so that his eyes had to trace their way up the length of her shapely body before they met her face.

            “Or is it the sense of betrayal that terrifies you?” she asked, and kicked him squarely in the face before he could reply, “Of being punished for your kindness by those you try to help?”

            Kadro tumbled away several yards, grabbed hold of a rock only to have it come loose, ripped through a patch of dry roots, and would have flown right off the edge of a cliff had he not latched onto its rim in the last second of his descent.

            Lowak’s laughter sent tremors through the mountain. “They say that if you die in your dream you die in the waking,” he called down to the mercenary, “Do you think that’s true?”

            Kadro scrambled onto the protrusion and opted to change the subject. “You betrayed your friends because of–”

            “I have no friends,” the voice told him.

            “But they protected you! They stood up for you! They–”

            “I HAVE NO FRIENDS!!” Lowak shot back, launching ominous streams of snow trickling down from the mountaintop. He then continued in a dull, dejected tone, “Whether they were my friends then or not, I have no friends anymore. THAT IS WHAT I MUST DO TO SURVIVE!!”

            “You can redeem yourself! You can win their trust again!”

            “I am beyond redemption,” Lowak assured him, “Least of all by the likes of you.” The streams of snow were flowing into rivers strewn with boulders, swallowing everything in their path. The puppet that bore Sarandi’s image dissolved to the winds in a delicate gust of snowflakes.

            “There is a way!” Kadro exclaimed, all too familiar with what came next, “Hear me out!”

            “WHAT DO YOU CARE ABOUT ME?!” Lowak’s voice boomed and echoed everywhere at once. Massive sheets of ice broke away from all sides and shattered as the whole mountain seemed to come apart in a gigantic avalanche.

            “You’re right!!” Kadro cried in utter desperation a moment before the tumultuous wave of snow, ice, and debris swept him away. Inside was a whitewashed blur that drowned out all sound beyond its chaotic din. It spun him around, twisting his body, filling his mouth and nostrils, slamming and battering him against the ground. And then reality was swirling along with him until he was rudely discarded onto the equally illusory stone floor of the Dark Fortress.

            Kadro tried to get up but fell over from dizziness. He curled into a fetal position, shivering and struggling to catch his breath. “You’re absolutely right!” he said between gasps, “I care nothing about you. I am just a heartless, selfish bastard who sees others only for what they are worth to my pockets.”

            Kadro rolled over and lifted himself off the ground. “Much like you,” he pointedly remarked.

            The low rumble in the background told him such remarks were unwelcome.

            “But you know what?” Kadro quickly added, “While you’re playing cat and mouse with me, the only ones that gave a damn about you are out there getting slaughtered by your pets!”

            In this boy the mercenary saw an opportunity to atone for his misdeeds by using the tricksters as a force for good, perhaps even helping his Caldorian allies at the same time. “You seem to have a knack for manipulating this castle,” he explained, “You can use your talents to help out on the battlefield like nobody else can. You can win their war for them! Who could question where your loyalties lie after that?”

            “What’s in it for you?” the boy inquired, his tone dripping with skepticism.

            “I’m on their side, remember?” Kadro laughed, “We are here fighting for our own continent, as well – to free it from Onedia’s tyrannical rule. Did she not murder your parents?”

            “What’s in it for you?” Lowak repeated coolly.

            The implicit accusation hit Kadro like a slap across the face. It was true, such noble ambitions were but a dim memory to him now. He made no secret that the corruption of Onedia’s reign had proven profitable for him. He had no answer to the boy’s question. Though his thoughts were too tangled to make much sense, he was too nervous to stop talking and blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

            “It is looking rather bleak for our side right now, but you can change that! You could be a hero! Why I bet even all the bounties on you would be dropped!”

            Kadro knew he was sounding more unconvincing with each word, knew he was a sentence away from getting squashed like an insect, and he simply gave up. “You don’t have to trust anything I say, Lowak. When it’s all over you can take off! Disappear without a trace! But please…” he whimpered, downright begged at this point, “You couldn’t save your sister. I know that and I’m sorry. But you can save your friends!”

            There was a long pause that chilled Kadro to the bone and left him feeling very powerless indeed. Whether out of satisfaction, pity, guilt, or a genuine desire to help, Lowak finally agreed.

            “Alright,” the disembodied voice told him, and the Kadro could hardly believe his ears.

            “You have to lead us to the battlefield, of course,” said the mercenary, a heartfelt smile widening across his face.

            The walls parted in reply, forming one deep, straight tunnel.


*          *            *

            Dinictis followed Aloquin into a vast, domed cavern. It was murky, since the only light source there was the vortex that hovered at the center, its corona shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. The portal’s pulsations have since accelerated to a pervading hum that filled the air with an electric quality.

            Aloquin danced into the room and inhaled deeply. “Can you sense that?” he exclaimed, delighting in how the subtle vibrations of the vortex felt against his skin, “That is the essence of an Earth Dragon being born! Isn’t it exhilarating?”

            “Yes, quite,” Dinictis replied, trying to hide her uneasiness, “Though the prospect of getting rid of you once and for all excites me more.”

            “Of course,” the god smiled enigmatically, “One on one at last! I’ve been dreaming of this every waking moment of my imprisonment.”

            The goddess flashed him a wry grin.

            “You know the rules,” Aloquin stated, “First to get the other into the big shiny portal wins. Shall we begin?”

            “I suppose,” she folded her arms in boredom.

            “Come on, then,” the wizard teased, “Take your best shot!”

            Dinictis smirked, lifted one of her hands and zapped a fiery arrow in his general direction.

            Aloquin stopped it with the palm of his hand and chuckled, “You can do better than that!”

            The sorceress rolled her eyes, unfolded her arms and shot a stream of fire at her twin.

            “Now you’re getting the hang of it!” the god clapped, moving out of the missile’s way, “My turn.” He called on the powers of storm, feeling them course through his body like a refreshing breeze and burst from his fingertips as a great gust of wind. It swept his adversary off her feet and sent her flying into the air.

            Dinictis stabilized herself by casting a levitation spell, brushing away the half-hearted attack with a wave of her hand.

            Aloquin left the ground, as well, and drifted over to the other side of the portal. “Are you ready?” he asked, his voice resounding off the cavernous walls as he spoke.

            Dinictis dusted herself off and floated towards him.

*          *            *

            Kadro raced through the corridor that Lowak was actively shaping out of the Dark Fortress. Soon they stumbled upon the colossal battlefield. The tricksters were still wreaking havoc on the Caldorian armies, and though a minority of soldiers gathered enough courage to combat the illusory assaults, most were overcome by their own fears.

            Lowak surveyed the chaotic scene from safely within the walls. “How do I know which ones to attack?” he inquired of the mercenary.

            “You see the people the tricksters are attacking now?” Kadro pointed into the fray, “Tell them to attack the other side!” He expected some kind of response to the blatant sarcasm, but merely sensed the thief’s presence withdraw from him.

            A mighty tremor shook the full expanse of the immense battleground. The tricksters fell silent, their manifestations melting back into the floor. All fighting stopped as the opposing armies pondered what to make of this divine intermission. The Caldorian troops braced themselves for what they believed to be a second, more devastating wave of attacks, while the Kayintas soldiers murmured to each other in confusion.

            This ominous tension was broken by a resurgence of movement. One Caldorian fighter felt the ground shift beneath her and prepared for the worst, only to find the nearest foe impaled by a rocky spire in her stead. A few more surprised enemy soldiers got crushed by falling boulders, others got sucked screaming into the floor. Under Lowak’s direction, the tricksters have turned their powers against Kayintas, assailing the army with all the horrors they had previously wrought on Dinictis’ troops.

            Taking the hint, Kadro dashed into the thick of battle, attacking those whom the castle was attacking.

            Lynn had been worried for the dwindling Caldorian armies – their morale had been exponentially plummeting. But this new development brought a smile to his face, for he saw the reawakening of hope in their demeanor. “The Forestside team has proved useful after all,” the Acora muttered.

            Acleito, who was still being dragged around by the dark elf, had essentially recovered from his wound. But the tricksters had felt the power of his regenerative shield, and in their efforts to dishearten the West Forest army, kept him in a state of perpetual sleep. Due to their changed priorities, however, the cantrip had been lifted, and the Chief Commander was starting to stir. His heavy eyelids cracked open and he peered at the outside world. “What’s going on?” he asked the Acora in a hoarse whisper.

            “The tide has turned!” the dark elf answered, “It looks like we’re winning!”

            “Wh-How?” Acleito blinked several times to clear up his vision. He slid off Lynn and tried to stand on his own, but felt lightheaded and dizzy, swooned, and was caught by the Acora. Acleito recuperated quickly and clutched at his head wound, touching it through layers of blood-matted locks. “My hair must look like a mess,” he smiled reassuringly at the concerned dark elf.

            “The tricksters appear to have switched sides,” Lynn told him, raising him to his feet and holding him steady.

            “Why would they do that?” the Chief Commander asked.

            “I’m not entirely sure,” he slowly, thoughtfully replied.

            Acleito flashed him a weird look, not yet used to the Acora’s apparent lack of knowledge.

            “But I’ll find out!” Lynn added with a sly grin. He handed Acleito back the haste boots, Horn of Telepathy, and faery sight scimitar, “Will you be alright on your own?”

            “I think so,” the Chief Commander nodded, feeling confident enough to lean away from the dark elf’s support. He managed to keep his balance this time, and even succeeded in taking a few tentative steps around.

            “Good luck, Commander,” Lynn gave Acleito a crisp salute, “If things stay as they are, you should have no problems – and I’ll make sure they do!” The Acora winked and ran off, heading for the inner tunnels through the crowd that scattered out of his way.

            Acleito watched him leave, then turned his attention to his soldiers. He could not believe his eyes as he gazed into the ensuing carnage – the tricksters truly had gone against the Kayintas army. Picking up his horn, he shouted as loud as he could, “Stop attacking the tricksters!!”

            With the castle on their side, and their Chief Commander back in action, Caldorian morale was soaring.

            Things were not looking good for Kayintas. Kowhani and Ni’Atami were pressed back to back, fending off a number of opponents at once. No matter what happened, Kowhani was determined to fight for her beloved deity. Her faith in the Warrior Spirit’s might was strong – the God of War was behind them, they could not lose! She clung to the hope that he would come back and rescue them.

            Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, Yugashii thundered onto the scene, with Raven and Aurora behind him. Kowhani was overjoyed to see her deity return, but that excitement was short-lived, transforming into terror when the god ruthlessly tore through her fellow fighters in an ecstatic dance of death, shearing them aside like overgrown weeds.

            This was the last straw. Kowhani was not in this war for Aloquin, Onedia, political ideals, or even friendship; her loyalties were to her god and her god alone. Now her god had changed sides, and she was obliged to follow.

            “The Warrior Spirit has turned against Kayintas,” Kowhani told the half-goblin, deflecting an overhead slash from one of the Nastran fighters.

            “It’s okay, Aloquin won’t abandon us,” he replied absently, too busy with his own attackers.

            Those words stung her deeply. Not only were they blasphemous towards Yugashii, but they also showed that her friend had no intention of switching sides. ‘Friend,’ what an odd way to refer to her lifelong partner. The Warrior Spirit taught that in order to gain his favor, one must renounce all vulnerability. The weak found safety in numbers, but the strong believed in the power of one, relying on no one but themselves for the realization of their goals.

            Emotional attachments inevitably lead to the downfall of their initiator. Friends in particular were weaknesses waiting to be exploited. Even if one rid oneself of fear and became self-sufficient, friends were still sentimental ties that often got in the way of desired objectives. They could be taken hostage, held for ransom, skewer set priorities, cause much unnecessary stress, and, of course, they could betray you. A true warrior could not have distractions in order to be able to strike without hesitation.

            Ni’Atami was her enemy. No, more than that. The very fact that she was hesitating right now proved he was a weakness and a distraction, and what better way to demonstrate the extent of her enduring loyalty to her bloodthirsty deity than to sacrifice to Yugashii that which she cared for most in the whole world. She didn’t want to kill the half-goblin, and that is precisely why she had to.

            Ni’Atami sensed an iron sword cut cleanly through his chest from behind. Since they were fighting back to back, he knew the attack could only have come from one place. “Traitor!” the half-goblin gasped, his lungs filling up with blood.

            He felt excruciating pain as Kowhani pulled him closer along the weapon’s edge and drew back his head. “I am no traitor,” the woman said coldly, “Aloquin lost.” She watched the light go out from his eyes and let him slide off her blade.

            Kowhani dropped the sword and displayed her empty hands in a gesture of amity before the shocked Nastran soldiers. “Friends,” she smiled.

            The fighters exchanged surprised glances and cautiously backed off.

            Kowhani picked up Ni’Atami’s faery metal weapons and smeared his blood onto her face to match Yugashii’s war paint. She watched the floor swallow up his corpse, burying the last remnants of her innocence forever.

            The half-elf swung her new blades around, becoming accustomed to the fluidity of their movements. It seemed as though her entire life had been working up to this very moment: she had irrevocably chosen her destiny, dedicating herself completely and utterly to the God of War. She had passed his test and he had rewarded her with these marvelous swords. Confident in the deity’s favor, she set out to try her new toys against the Kayintas fodder.

*          *            *

            When Jason finally made it to the great cavern that housed the vortex, the battle between Dinictis and Aloquin was already in full force. He cautiously hid behind a prominent rock formation and gripped Caldor’s Fang tightly, waiting for an opportune time to strike.

            Vibrant warmth seared through Dinictis’ being as she called on the powers of flame. The goddess released the energy, raining a blazing shower of fire and brimstone on Aloquin.

            The wizard’s blood ran freezing cold as he invoked the powers of frost, raising a solid barrier of ice to neutralize the scorching downpour. He watched the blistering lumps sizzle harmlessly against the shield before shattering the icy shell into a hundred jagged pieces. The god then sent the shards whooshing towards his adversary with a calculated blast of wind.

            Dinictis swiftly erected a wall of earth to stop the bombardment. She called on the powers of water, feeling them flow through her body like a revitalizing mountain stream. The liquid gushed out from the tips of her fingers, crumbling the barricade and washing the large earthen chunks towards her opponent.

            The sorceress hoped the current would carry him closer to the portal, but Aloquin had other ideas. He deftly flew over the rushing river and riposted the attack by zapping a streak of lightning into the water.

            Dinictis recoiled from the sting of the electric shock and reflexively worked to weave together the astral shield that sprung up as an incandescent barrier of shifting colors all around her. Aloquin gathered enough energy to shoot a second lightning strike at his twin, but the electricity merely snaked across the etheric membrane and fizzled out of existence. Dinictis cast a heal spell on herself and dismantled her shield, flinging the raw power of the barrier at the wizard in a blinding flash of light.

            The brightness did indeed disorient Aloquin, and the goddess used this chance to launch at him a concentrated tornado that spun him about and out of the air. He landed roughly on the ground, scowled at Dinictis, and rolled out of the way of a hurtling fireball the size of a horse that broke into burning embers upon impact with the floor. The god was back up and flying in no time.

            Truly the two of them were absolute equals, and there was a long way to go before any decisive victory could be determined.

*          *            *

            Onedia sat in the meditation chamber, her essence blending with that of the Dark Fortress. She focused her attention on the battlefield, guiding her trickster minions in exterminating the Caldorian armies. But ever so slowly, somewhere in the back of her mind, she sensed her power over the castle ebbing away. The goddess had previously dismissed such trends as natural fluctuations in the astral plane. However, when her connection to the battleground was abruptly severed, she knew something had gone awry.

            The Mistress of Illusions stormed out of the meditation chamber, stalking through her domain towards the source of the disturbance. The citadel opened up passageways for the tempestuous goddess until it led her to a chain of illuminated hallways. Sylvia danced through them like a black shadow, humming a song of summons that penetrated every nook and cranny of the castle.

            “What do you think you’re doing?!” Onedia snarled.

            The girl stopped singing and leisurely turned around. “I am reclaiming my subjects,” she calmly replied.

            “Y-your subjects?” the goddess asked with a tight-lipped smile.

            Sylvia stared at her unblinkingly.

            “No, no, no, you have it all wrong!” Onedia corrected, “You see, they are my subjects!”

            “You abandoned them,” the girl explained, “When you left the Enchanted Forest on a whim they waited and waited for years but you never came back. They were forced to make a new Queen – someone who would be there for them. I am that Queen. They obey me now!”

            Onedia was hyperventilating by now. “You… will… are…” she breathed, “No! Me replaced by an icky, rotting, undead… thing?? Impossible! I’ll show you who their real Queen is!” She raised up her hands and called on her minions, “Swirling mists, gather ’round, from above and from the ground!” Hordes of trickster lights scurried compliantly to their Mistress.

            “Darkness thick, black as night, gather all around me tight,” Sylvia chanted. The same tricksters hustled over to her side.

            “They’re mine!” Onedia growled, drawing the tricksters to herself.

            “No, they’re mine!” Sylvia retorted, pulling them back.





            Lynn entered just in time to catch the brunt of the psychic tug of war. “Ladies, ladies, can’t we settle this in a civilized manner?” he chimed in, “Which one of you is the Trickster Queen?”

            “I AM!!!” Onedia and Sylvia jointly shouted at him.

            “O-kay,” Lynn rectified the question, “Which one of you is the Queen of the Forestside Kingdom?”

            “I am!” Onedia answered, straightening out her ruffled hair.

            “You are the Mistress of Illusions?” he asked to be sure.

            “Yes, I am,” she told him proudly, “You dare interrupt me, mortal? Give me one reason not to strike you down where you stand!”

            “I mean no offense, your highness,” the dark elf apologized, “I am merely concerned for your well-being.”

            Onedia raised a suspicious eyebrow.

            “You will not kill me,” Lynn hastily added, “Because I have information that would interest you.”

            “Oh, really?” the goddess smirked, “Then tell it quickly and make it worth my time.”

            The dark elf nodded, trying to think of a way to explain his case without slighting the deity. “My name is Acora Lynn,” he introduced himself, “And I know Aloquin personally, which is why I find it odd that you are allied with him.”

            “Why shouldn’t I be?”

            He figured he must begin at the beginning, “What do you know of the relationship between Aloquin and Dinictis?”

            “I know that long ago she trapped him between the worlds and claimed the rulership that was rightfully his.”

            “Heh, a half-truth!” Lynn exclaimed, “She did indeed trap him and claim the throne, but that is only because through her psychic foresight she saw that Aloquin would eventually want complete control of the country and turn it into a dictatorship. He does not want to share power with anyone, you see.”

            “I am supposed to believe that?” Onedia scoffed, “Even if it did happen the way you say, it only proves that he didn’t want to rule with her. He wants to rule with me instead!”

            “Oh?” the Acora teased, “And what makes you think that?”

            “Well,” the goddess tried to think of a single instance of affection, but couldn’t, “Well why else would he promise what he did?!”

            “What exactly did he promise?” Lynn inquired.

            “He promised that when he becomes King of Caldora, he will bathe me in the sacred waters of the Earth Dragon Caldor, restore my youth, and we will forever rule all of the Lossi Complex together.”

            “A lie within a lie!” the dark elf laughed.

            Onedia glared at him.

            “If that was true we would all be immortal!” Lynn explained, “Alas it is not. The blood of Caldor couldn’t even restore Aloquin or he wouldn’t have had to get his immortality back from Jason.”

            “Why would he lie to me?” she was still not convinced.

            “Trust me on this,” the Acora smiled knowingly, “It is people’s nature to think one thing, say another, and do something completely different!” He realized he needed to think fast, “Hmm… You said you could age?”

            “If I step out of the Enchanted Forest, I can age, yes,” Onedia grumbled reluctantly, “What’s your point?”

            “You were the one who cursed the Enchanted Forest,” Lynn frowned. The Enchanted Forest must have been the heart of Lossi; the dwelling place of the gods that doubled as an astral fountain from which life energy spilled onto the rest of the planet. “It’s worse than I thought,” he mumbled, trying to peak her interest while an idea of a motive crystallized in his mind.

            “What??” she demanded, getting aggravated.

            “Don’t you see?” Lynn said with a confident smile, “He is only using you. He used you to break free of his prison, he used you to build this magnificent fortress, and he used you to keep the two continents from coming to each other’s aid.

            “That’s not all!” the dark elf continued, “Aloquin was not lying when he said he wants to rule the world. But his ambition is insatiable – he will not give up until he stamps out every potential competitor to his throne. He knows that deities cannot be killed by force, so he used you to curse the Enchanted Forest itself, thereby weakening the source of the Lossian gods’ power. Without it they wander the land as pale shadows of their true might, and would eventually wither away like a forgotten dream.

            “But as for you,” the Acora grinned, “You would die of old age like a mere mortal, still blindly believing his empty promises.”

            He saw anger seething in the goddess’ eyes, and chose his words carefully, “Whom would you rather believe? It was the Caldorian team who liberated the Enchanted Forest from your curse. You have the full extent of your powers back now, how would you rather use them?”

            Onedia was not paying attention to him anymore. Lynn averted his eyes as she shed her mortal illusion, unfurling the vision of an ethereal goddess in all her glory. Her eyes were like shining stars, as dazzling as a multi-faceted opal. Her skin was as dark as the blackest night, and her hair was akin to delicate strands of spun silver, framing her visage like a nebulous halo. A waning crescent glowed softly in the center of her forehead. Her dress, woven with threads of moonbeams, billowed about her like shimmering mist, stardust twinkling on the fabric amidst translucent folds of rainbow pastels.

            The goddess was in her aspect of Starry-Eyed Onedia, her face beautiful yet fierce. Her emotions had been toyed with and she would not stand for it. With a wave of her hand, the walls parted, and she floated smoothly in the direction of the portal cavern. Sylvia followed, with a host of trickster lights close behind. Lynn ran after them; he wouldn’t miss this showdown for the world!

*          *            *

            The battle between Dinictis and Aloquin was becoming quite tedious. The wizard shot a quick glance to the vortex; it was nearly time. Getting impatient, he sent a ground-based shockwave at his adversary. Dinictis swept clear over the spurting rocks and came back with a jet stream of singing flame. Aloquin conjured up an arrow of ice and launched it to counter the attack. The two missiles cancelled each other out in a puff of hot air.

            “You’re stalling,” Dinictis remarked.

            Aloquin gazed into the portal. It had been pulsating faster and faster, to the point that the hum of the vibrations had now fused into one unbroken sound. The corona of the vortex blazed far brighter than ever before, radiating a steady, brilliant light. Already visible through the doorway was the parent dragon bulging with birth spasms as the newborn worked to break free from its bowels. Now it was time.

            Aloquin turned to face his twin, his psychotic grin accentuated by the eerie illumination. The god closed his eyes and looked inside, calling on the primordial energies hidden deep within his psyche to rise up to the surface. His form flared up in an amethyst aura.

            Dinictis understood what he was doing. The wizard was preparing to release the most potent spell in their arsenal, one invoking the dynamic forces of creation and destruction. The goddess closed her eyes and tapped into her own center of power, feeling the energy surge forth from the depths of her soul. Her body became engulfed in emerald flame.

            An astral serpent slowly spiraled up Aloquin’s shape, its scales black as onyx with a violet luster. It erupted from his aura as a gargantuan serpentine dragon with rows of sharp fangs.

            A magical snake coiled about Dinictis, as well, its scales a lush forest green with a lavender sheen. It burst out from her aura as an enormous ethereal dragon, its teeth gleaming white.

            No longer was Aloquin himself. He had transferred his consciousness into the new vessel, and when the dragon opened its eyes, they crackled like lightning. The Chaos Dragon was awakened and the walls shook with its infernal roar. It arched back to gain momentum and lunged at its opponent.

            Consciousness flooded into the Order Dragon and it opened its eyes, which burned like fiery orbs. The dragon flexed its mighty talons and lashed in to meet its twin’s charge.

            The cosmic serpents interlocked in a double helix, wrapped around each other in death-defying strangleholds, clawed at each other’s scaly bodies, and bit at each other’s necks. They whipped about all through the gigantic cavern, leaving massive craters as they rammed into the ceiling and crashed into the floor. Their blaring cries echoed throughout the chamber with otherworldly intensity.

            They could not kill, only injure each other enough to jolt their respective opponent back into their own body. Their humanoid forms were no match for their draconian manifestations, and the victor would easily be able to overpower the loser and push them through the churning vortex.

            It was then that Yugashii, Aurora, and Raven rushed into the huge chamber; they were quick to notice the titanic struggle taking place. In comparison to the two dragons, the vast cavern didn’t seem big at all. The humbling apparitions stemmed out from Aloquin and Dinictis, whose shells floated harmlessly in the air enveloped by impenetrable flames. Yugashii’s determination to get even with the wizard was drowned out by the sheer magnitude of this breathtaking sight. Never before had he witnessed such an awesome display of power!

            “The Order Dragon and the Chaos Dragon,” Raven gaped in wonderment, recalling the Overworld prophecy.

            Trellia put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

            Lianna and Kentabri, too, ran into the room. The woman took a hurried look around, glimpsed Aurora, and sprinted towards her, dragging the tamunid along. She latched onto the skirt of the forest spirit’s dress and begged through tear-filled eyes, “Please!! Can you please heal him?!”

            Kentabri gently set Keramis down on the ground, almost afraid he’d fall to pieces on the spot judging by the depth of the gashes.

            “How did this happen??” Trellion demanded, stepping forward to check on his friends.

            “Kranti,” Lianna told him.

            Raven looked from the beat-up Lianna to his inert cousin. His face blanched white when he saw the degree of damage and he instantly drew his sword. “Where is he?” the half-elf growled, his lethal gaze directed at Kentabri.

            “Dead,” the tamunid said coolly.

            “H-how?” Trellion asked, lowering the weapon a little.

            “Kera killed him,” Lianna replied.

            Raven put away his sword and stared back at his cousin in amazement.

            “Shhh,” Aurora quieted the lot of them and laid her hands on the wounded elf. Turquoise light spewed forth from her palms, making his body aglow with curative energy. Keramis’ eyes fluttered open at her healing touch. The gashes began to slowly close themselves up and the color returned to his skin. He moved to rise, but Trellia held him down. “You must rest,” she smiled.

            Squinting past the glare, Keramis saw only the forest spirit’s luminous countenance, but as the spell’s light faded, he was able to pick out an anxious Lianna and a worried Raven huddling behind her. The moment was disrupted as the floor beneath him trembled from the battle raging in the background. He cocked his head back and watched in awe as a string of iridescent scales flashed far above.

            “What’s going on?” Keramis asked his friends.

            “It appears that the Dragon Twins are living up to their namesake,” came a voice from the rear.

            “Lynn!” Trellion, Lianna, Kentabri, Keramis, and Trellia exclaimed in unison.

            “Yes, Lynn,” the Acora affirmed, folding his arms, “Where is Jason?”

            “The King?” Lianna asked, “We didn’t see him.”

            Lynn made a sour face as he looked up to the ethereal dragons. “Well that boy best get here fast,” he grumbled, “This fight will be over soon.”

            “Over?” Raven asked, entranced by their cosmic dance.

            “Aye,” the dark elf nodded, “The Dragon Twins are complete equals, you see. Only need a slight shift in balance to tip the scales.” His eyes wandered off to the side, where the Mistress of Illusions was presently making her entrance.

            Onedia glided into the cavern swathed in turbulent storm clouds. The goddess fumed with rage, her ire focused on the one who had cruelly abused her unfailing loyalty. She lifted an outstretched ebon hand and clenched it into a dainty fist, flinging an astral enchantment at the wizard’s body.

            Although his flaming aura guarded against elemental and physical attacks, it did not deflect assaults to the mind. The Chaos Dragon roared in pain and recoiled from its double. It flayed about, screeching several unearthly cries of protest, but in the end could not defy the undeniable pull of the fragile shell as it sucked the consciousness back into its body.

            The amethyst nimbus dissipated, and Aloquin awoke inside his humanoid form, feeling a heavy weight on his lungs and a crushing sensation at his throat. He fell to the floor, chocking and gagging and nearly fainting, but managed to fight off the effects of the spell with pure willpower. He gasped for air, trying to catch his breath as he gawked up at the colossal emerald dragon towering over him, it’s teeth bared in a menacing leer. He expected the serpent to finish him off there and then, but it didn’t – Dinictis was waiting for Jason to make his move.

            Jason, still hidden away behind the concealing rock formation, was too stunned by the spectacle to act.

            Somewhat perplexed by the dragon’s delay, Aloquin turned to meet gazes with the Mistress of Illusions. He had never seen her in such a state before, but he was not about to let her interfere with his duel. Onedia wasn’t in the mood to talk things over, however. She did not hesitate to cast another, more powerful astral attack. Immediately etheric needles stung at the god’s scalp and piercing shrieks resounded between his ears.

            Sylvia joined in, ordering hordes of tricksters to swarm Aloquin, barraging his mind with a multitude of disturbing images.

            The wizard clasped his head and doubled over in mental agony. The ringing in his ears and pressure to his brain was unbearable. He gritted his teeth and let out a furious outcry that momentarily pushed away the astral onslaught.

            Yet Sylvia and Onedia were persistent, and came back twice as strong. They pelted him with bewildering hallucinations and agonizing psychic blasts.

            Lianna, Raven, Keramis, and Kentabri looked inquisitively to Trellia.

            “I work with physical flora,” she explained, “I can’t use those powers on this plane.”

            Yugashii didn’t think twice about adding his own efforts to the combined offensive. His battle aura flared up in crimson flames and he sent a petrifying wave of fear at the god.

            That was the breaking point. Although he put up a valiant resistance, Aloquin could no longer hold the overwhelming force of their collective assailment at bay. He slouched to his knees, blinded by the mosaic of visions that flashed before his eyes, too terrified to fight back. Perhaps the most mortifying of all was Onedia’s merciless psychological assault, which made certain to sear the full extent of his failure directly into his mind. But he clung on to his pride – the fact that it took several deities to subdue him was nothing to be ashamed of.

            Jason snapped out of his self-induced paralysis. He told himself that this time he would not freeze up! He would make Dinictis proud, and he would show everybody that he was worthy of his royal title. The King narrowed his eyes in resolve, sensing the fresh rush of courage urging him on.

            Jason left the safety of the rock formation and charged straight through the spectacular light show; luckily the bombardment of spells was centered on Aloquin’s psyche, and therefore had no effect on him. The King took the last few confident steps towards the god, then held Caldor’s Fang up high and plunged it neatly into his father’s chest.

            Aloquin’s eyes sprung wide open from the surge of sharp pain. He felt the knife stab deep into his heart, the sacred crystals tugging at something intricately tied to his own spirit. His immortality was forcibly untangled from his soul and ripped out of his body, traveling through the crystalline dagger and into his son. Jason sensed the divine essence pouring into his being like cool water down a parched throat. It interlaced with his life energy and aligned perfectly with the blood that flowed in his veins, making him feel stronger, healthier, and fearless.

            Aloquin scowled at him in disbelief.

            “Thanks for the immortality,” Jason grinned cynically, “You die now.”

            “You…” the wizard hissed.

            This indignation only widened Jason’s vengeful grin as he pressed in on the weakened god, backing him up to the portal. Aloquin glanced over his shoulder into the vortex; the newborn dragon had already broken out of its earthen prison and was now devouring the leftovers of its parent.

            “Good bye, father,” Jason told him, then jerked the dagger out of his torso and shoved him headlong into the waiting doorway.

            Aloquin found himself drifting in the dead of space. Surveying the scene, all he could see was an endless sea of stars. A black shadow slipped by just at the edge of his vision, obscuring pinpoints of light as it passed. He frantically looked around for any danger, but it was gone. The form dipped under the wizard and looped in towards him, its immense jaws unclenching to reveal gleaming white fangs. Aloquin let out a bloodcurdling scream as its teeth clamped down on his body.

            Back in the Dark Fortress, those gathered near the portal leaned in to watch the god be torn apart and gobbled up piece by piece by the baby Earth Dragon. The serpent circled the area a few more times, and then settled down among the twinkling stars, indistinguishable from a large asteroid. The war was now truly and finally over.

            Dinictis roared in triumph and reverted back to her humanoid shape. She ran up to Jason, wrapping her arms around him in a warm embrace. The King and Queen engaged in a long and passionate kiss, their flamboyant display of affection embellished by the brilliant light of the vortex.

            Lynn looked on and smiled, his Acora insight was now returned in full. He glanced over to Raven. Aurora and he were kissing softly in a darkened corner, away from prying eyes – they were together, and nothing would come between them again. The dark elf felt an extraordinary sense of nurturing and trust growing between them, and it made him happy that his son had found such a wonderful woman to aid in the healing of his scarred heart.

            Lianna sighed in relief and carefully helped Keramis to his feet.

            “I was ready to die, you know,” he told her in all seriousness.

            “Not everything is about you!” the woman scolded.

            Keramis smirked cutely.

            “You-you think I could just leave you there like-like that,” she sniffed, “You are my friend! You can’t expect me to… You can’t expect me to–”

            The elf hugged her waist tightly, cutting off the train of thought. Never had it occurred to him that he was worth more to his friends alive than dead. Lianna laughed and hugged back, joyful tears streaming down her cheeks.

            Onedia had since calmed down and donned a more agreeable appearance. Yugashii extinguished his aura. Sylvia opened her mouth wide and sucked the tricksters back into her body.

            Dinictis at last separated from Jason. She took him by the hand and turned to face the mortals and divinities alike. “Lets go stop this senseless carnage,” the goddess declared.

*          *            *

            The battlefield was drenched in blood. Lowak was still on a murderous rampage, picking away at the Kayintas army with barrage after barrage of dreadful trickster pranks. Kadro was not deterred by the reptilian reflexes of his enemies – his sword and shield served him well in dispatching any who stood in his way. Kowhani slaughtered her unsuspecting foes left and right, her fervor fueled by eagerness to appease her deity. Acleito watched his armies decimate the Kayintas ranks; he could never have foreseen such an easy conquest!

            Suddenly, a mighty tremor quaked the battlefield and all trickster activity halted. The Chief Commander gulped down hard, fearing the castle had switched sides once again. Instead, he saw a magnificent shining star appear over the heads of his soldiers. It sparkled like a radiant beacon of hope, instilling peace and tranquility in all who gazed upon it.

            “Stop fighting and listen to the words of your Goddess!” Dinictis’ voice sounded from within the light, “I have faced Aloquin for your sake and have emerged victorious! He is dead and you have nothing to fear from him anymore! You are all my beloved children, you are all brothers and sisters! It pains me to see you spilling each other’s blood. This war is over, drop your weapons and go home in peace. No one else needs to die!”

            The tired Kayintas warriors slowly laid down their swords and raised up their voices in praise of the triumphant Queen. The Caldorian army responded with rounds of deafening cheers celebrating their victory. The enemy’s reaction was not all that surprising, for even the wild residents of the North Forest lived by a shared code of honor: they admired prowess. Dinictis was shown to be stronger than Aloquin, and so was worthy of their respect and allegiance.

            The surrender went by without incident. Onedia opened several exits to the material plane and everybody got a speedy trip home. It was strange stepping from the bloodied astral fields onto the spotless streets of the West Forest, the sun-dappled clearings of the East Forest, the verdant jungles of the South Forest, the cobblestone roads of the Forestside Kingdom, or even the stony walls of Kayintas in the North Forest, but they did. Each went their own way, and though many a friend and loved one journeyed to the Overworld this day, those left behind took comfort in the knowledge that their deaths were not in vain.

            When all have gone, the Mistress of Illusions dismantled the Dark Fortress and sent her minions back from whence they came.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 23:00:03 -0700 .




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