Swerve right, avoid arrows and incoming steel.
A skeleton soldier will try to ambush me. Block and smash.
Repeat until I near the gate.
My future vision is working at full force trying to predict every probable outcome in this burning war zone that is Swordhaven.
It is in worse condition than I originally anticipated. By the time I arrived from Battleon, the war was already in full effect a few hours earlier than what was originally predicted. Much of the residential homes were razed to the ground, leaving great clouds of soot and ash to fill the once tranquil air of the great city, which was already teeming with the undead. This, in and on itself, is very unnatural, as my visions were ever rarely this inaccurate. I can already tell that something is going terribly wrong.
A soldier will try to decapitate me. Duck.
"Watch your head!" I instinctively ducked and nearly avoided a rusty axe to the neck, then swirled around and decapitated the offending undead instead. Turning to the source of the voice, and grinned brightly as the visage of a familiar armored brunette ran up to me with his signature golden axe.
He is as youthfully dynamic as I remembered, with his unfaltering smile, horrible sense of humor, and goody-two-shoes personality. His goodly nature is infectious in the best possible way, and that is why I am honored to consider Artix Von Krieger as one of my best friends, even when I can hear his soul scream for the darkness from whence he came, but he doesn't know that.
"Thanks for the literal heads up, Artix!" I yelled through the cacophony of voices, and he gave me a matching grin and a thumbs up.
"No problem, friend! Do you need some help getting to the drawbridge?" As he asked, he swung his axe down behind me, taking out another incoming skeleton. I barely reacted at his sudden attack, and only smirked as I proceeded to push him aside to swipe at two other incoming soldiers.
"That would be much appreciated!" As the two soldiers laid dead on our feet, I cocked a challenging eyebrow at the Paladin "You take the left horde, and I'll take the right!" With matching grins, we charged in tandem at the incoming hoard, hacking and slashing away in perfect sync of one another as we have been doing for years. Bone dust and weathered limbs filled the air as we ran and whooped in our excitement to get to the castle moot first.
"By the way," I called out to him as I stabbed through another bony menace, "Where's Robina? I usually see you guys partner up in these sorts of things."
"She decided to head first into the castle, royal business and all that!" He replied back with a leap, crushing the heads of a few clustered skeletons and paving the way for both of us.
"Some of Sepulchure's forces already infiltrated the castle before you came in. The rest of us have just been fighting off the stragglers from that flying fortress up there." He pointed up at the biggest dracolich that has ever existed. It is a fearsome sight, seeing the reanimated skeletal remains of a once great dragon flying over the kingdom and bearing the entire weight of the dark fortress of Shadowfall on its back. Skeletons of various shapes and sizes dropped down like bullets, quickly replacing those that had fallen in combat and continuing the battle in their place in a never-ending cycle of death and destruction. I fear that if we don't stop this soon, Swordhaven may be overrun and we will lose the chance to see another day.
Grimacing at the reality of just how dire the situation is dawned on me, I hacked through several more incoming attacks with renewed vigor, only pausing to look back at my companion. He gave me a firm nod, knowing full well what is going on through my head, like he usually does. I gave him a grateful, albeit tight-lipped smile.
"I see. . ." Fixing a determined look at Artix, I raised my sword arm high and pointed straight at the drawbridge, my resolve now back in place. "Then we better start catching up to the fight." And with that, I ran forward with the Paladin following close behind me.
It took a while to battle through the horde, but after some close calls and with the help of my future-vision, we made it through in one piece. By the time we both got to the drawbridge, we were in differing states of disarray, but we paid no heed to the disaster that is our appearance. Instead, our eyes scanned the damage brought upon by the previous attackers. Again, more burnt buildings as far as the eyes can see and, to my dismay, corpses. Men, women, children, everywhere I look, there are traces of death. I flinched as my eyes landed on the sight of a woman sprawled on the ground with two other smaller bodies beside her. All three were charred beyond recognition.
However, my attention is caught by a giant skeleton marching its way through the crowds and towards the soldiers struggling to defend the pulled down bridge.
It will try to open the gate by force. Destroy it and take its sword to lower morale of the enemy.
A piercing scream filled the air, causing Artix and I to turn to the sound. Beyond the fire and smoke, I could see a group of survivors huddled near one of the few remaining homes, avoiding the remaining undead that are quickly closing in on them. The decision is clear at this point.
"Artix, there's still some civilians by the west side of the city. Round them up and get them to safety while I deal with this big fellow."
Artix looked up at the direction of the giant and frowned, ready to voice his concern. However, he kept his protests to himself and reluctantly nodded once he heard the distressed cries of the townsfolk from a burning wreckage in the distance.
"Well, if you think you can handle it. . ." In a blink of an eye, his signature grin is back in place, and he clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Good luck out there, friend! Don't forget to holler if you need me!"
I grinned back at him and patted his hand reassuringly, "You too, Artix. Stay safe!"
And with that, he ran off, disappearing in the smoke and haze, and my grin fades as I return my gaze to the problem in question. It would seem that we finally caught its attention somewhat, as its glowing red irises fixed itself upon me. It snarled at me menacingly and held out a grotesquely large blade that could easily crush me if it wills. But the mental image of its disassembled body at my feet gave me the incentive to raise my sword to it in kind, and I allowed myself to give the abomination my own victorious sneer.
"Let's see if Sepulchure has enough bones to rebuild you once I'm done." With a final, toothy grin, I launched myself forward with my favorite battle cry;
The beast, in turn, gave a loud roar and started to charge towards me, shaking the ground every time it takes a step. It barreled through its other skeletal comrades with reckless abandon, swinging its blade mindlessly and letting bones fly everywhere as it did. Within a few seconds, we were about to meet in the middle. Time seemed to slow down at this moment as it raised its sword up, ready to bring it down on my head. I closed my eyes and let my visions fill and guide me once more.
It will try to crush me. Now's my chance to strike.
Upon reopening my eyes, I gave the giant a cocky smirk.
"Hey! You know how much it takes to take on a venerated hero?!"
I yelled up at it just as it bought its sword down at me. With a quick push, I swerved to the side, avoiding the rusty weapon as it hit the ground instead. As expected, it got stuck due to its weight. It let out an unholy screech as it tried to pull it out again with frantic fervor. While it was distracted, I wasted no time in swinging my own blade up at it with all my might, directly into its shoulder.
"It'll cost you an ARM—"
My blade hit true to its mark, instantly severing the skeleton's arm from the rest of its body with a sickening crack. It shrieked in agony and staggered backwards, rising back to its full height and leaving its lower half exposed. Perfect.
"—and a LEG!"
With a quick sweep, I aimed lower and struck its kneecaps. Its legs buckled before it completely ripped away from it, sending the hulking mass down and both of its legs flying away. Now rendered completely useless, it let out a chilling howl and clawed around with its remaining arm, trying to reach me to no avail. I merely took a step back and watched it scramble around pathetically. If I wasn't so hellbent on stopping this invasion, I would almost feel sympathetic to this thing.
". . .Well, both of your legs, in this case."
With a victorious sneer, I placed a foot directly on top of its head, and it froze. We had a moment of silence as it stared up at me with its contemptuous red eyes. It snarled and tried in vain to reach me once more. But with a quick stomp, it was gone, its skull crushed beneath the soles of my boots and into a powdery heap.
I let out a relieved sigh.
The bridge is safe. . . For now.
I look up to the drawbridge, to the soldiers stationed around it, staring at me in what I could only assume is astonishment. But their reverie was broken when one of their own flew over them, and I jumped back in alarm as he landed in a heap in front of me before passing out. Slowly, I looked back up into the now opened gates, as a cluster of the undead spew forth from within the castle, seemingly running away from something. That 'something' proved to be Robina, if the sudden onslaught of arrows coming from the opened gate didn't already give it away.
The soldiers were quick to spring into action, and they hacked and slashed into the newly-arrived invaders. All that I could do to aid them was to join in. I pushed past enemy after enemy, taking down as much as I could with every swing of my sword, before coming face to face with the green Ranger herself.
She looked worse for wear, but the fiery brunette is anything but discouraged. Her blue eyes blazed with a determined flare, intensified by her need to protect her home and her family. Despite her current disguise (if you could even call it that), she still bore a regal air around her, fitting for a Princess of Swordhaven. An air that compels a decorum of respect from the people around her, including me.
However, something's wrong with the renegade Princess.
She didn't say anything, but the look on her face says it all. Beneath that brave facade is a glimmer of fear. Fear for her father's safety. The loud sound that came from the stairway leading up to the throne room all but confirmed our shared suspicions, and one thought rang true;
Sepulchure is here.
Damn it. . . DAMN IT!
While I was helping Robina regroup her fallen soldiers, I arrived too late. The Kings are already dueling.
Upon hastily entering the golden door frame of the throne room, I narrowly avoided the result of one of Sepulchure's dark spells that barely did a dent to Alteon's shields. I opted to stay close to the exit as much as possible. Even if I cannot foresee myself getting injured, these recent unforeseen events have been more than concerning signs for me to not be wary.
Crossing my arms, I watched silently as the two went head to head with one another, throwing the other across the room in rapid, deadly succession. And yet, it was clear that neither of them will get the upper hand, as both are equally matched in strength and prowess. That seems to be something they realized, as they eventually pushed apart from each other and took up battle stances.
It was Alteon who spoke first. "Sepulchure! Your reign of terror ends with my next strike." He raised the symbol of his reign towards the undead ruler, "I shall unleash the full power of the Golden Dragon Sword and destroy you!"
It was Sepulchure's turn to let out a deep, inhuman laugh. "YES, let this next attack be our last." And much like what Alteon did, he readied his sword arm to reveal the Necrotic Blade of Doom in all its horrific glory, " MY DOOM WEAPON SCREAMS TO UNLEASH ITS FULL POWER!"
And for the first time, the two noticed my presence in the room, and from underneath the crimson helm of the Death Knight's armor, I could see his smirk.
"YOU, HERO." He bellowed, and both he and Alteon turn to look at me. I gave him a blank look.
"IF YOU WISH TO ACHIEVE POWER BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DESIRES, THEN FIGHT FOR ME." He raised his fist up as if to beckon me, "FIGHT FOR EVIL, FIGHT FOR THE SHADOWSCYTHE, AND I WILL GRANT YOU YOUR BOON!"
"No, Hero, do not listen to him." Alteon pleaded, "If you wish to fight for what is right, then side with Swordhaven, and protect all that is good and pure in this world." He raised a welcoming hand to me, "I've heard tales of your heroic deeds from faraway lands. I KNOW that you are a good person, Hero!"
I looked between the two of them, but I didn't weigh the pros and cons of their offer. I didn't need to. There is no reason for me to choose between two sides that have virtually the same value in the grand scheme of things.
In my visions, I can see that their kingdoms are dying, and the cycle of war and peace will always repeat with their daughters and their children afterwards once Alteon unleashes his killing blow. My involvement in this fight will bear nothing and will inevitably waste my time. In the end, all I stand for is balance in this world, and I intend to keep a neutral ground in this matter. I have no need to get involved and fight for a cause I do not believe in.
Besides, they cannot give me what I need.
I opened my mouth in preparation to answer.
"I—hrk!" I gagged, cutting off my answer as my throat suddenly tightened in a painful manner that sent me keeling over, choking.
A sudden chill filled the air around me, making me instantly break into cold sweat. My hands started shaking uncontrollably as I held it up to my face, and I felt the air grow heavy like lead, nearly suffocating me.
What's going on?
Something's wrong. A part of me is screaming to run, to get as far away from the castle as possible, but my feet wouldn't budge. I was stuck in place, staring fearfully at the two Kings who are now eyeing me with suspicion and concern respectively.
The air around me shifted.
Before any of us could react, the wall bursts open, sending me collapsing to the ground as a strong gust of wind knocked us over. Wheezing, I scrambled to recover from the shock of the impact and regain my bearings. But once my eyes opened, I gaped up as a tall, dark, male figure bearing an otherworldly purple monstrosity of an armor stepped out from the gaping hole of the castle wall, and I could see what looks like a pair of impossibly huge draconic wings unfurl from behind him, towering over us and creating a looming silhouette. His entire motif is entirely made up of purple spindly tentacles that looped over his entire body, encasing and seemingly forming the structure of his armor, pulsating in a way that almost makes it look like it's living off of him. Combined with the giant green eye smack dab in the middle of his chest that seems to be looking into my soul, and you get the creepiest armor set this realm has ever seen.
"W-What. . ."
This isn't part of the script. . . Where did he come from?!
Now at the verge of panicking, I racked my brain for any signs that could foresee the arrival of this stranger, of any images related to a winged being disrupting the battle between good and evil. But as my search continued in increasing frenzied horror, I realized something that, for the first time in nearly a decade, struck cold fear into my heart;
There is no vision for this.
I can't SEE him!
This is impossible! A broken gasp ripped itself out of me as tears started pricking the corner of my eyes. The sudden epiphany that my own powers had failed me somehow for the first time in my entire life sent me spiraling down. My body started to shake violently as confusion and fear filled my head, and I shut my eyes to stop myself from panicking too much and risk ensuing a breakdown.
NO! Get a hold of yourself! Something in me screamed.
This is no time to be panicking, Ezyra! You're a hero, damn it! ACT LIKE ONE!
Shaking my head, I forced myself to breathe slowly through my nose until, eventually, my breathing calmed back down, and I could physically feel myself again. Upon reassuring that I'm not shaking like a leaf anymore, I opted to finally reopen my eyes. But the moment I did, my body tensed up, and I froze in petrified fear as my eyes met two unnaturally glowing orange eyes head on.
Before I could react, the shadow that veiled the man's face lifted, I gaped, but not in fear like before, as it revealed pale skin with dark, sunken in eyes of sickly emerald green, and sharp, strong features, reminiscent of a warrior. Jet black spiky hair framed his face in a way that made him look less intimidating, and in some sick manner, he looks. . . regal. Attractive, even.
I shuddered in revulsion at my own thoughts.
But as I continued to regard him, there was no denying the soullessness in his being from the way his face is set in stone, bearing a grim expression with that hollow look in his eyes. He is like a caricature of what a human is suppose to look like. However, just as that observation crossed my mind, his face subtly shifted into one of barely concealed surprise, then something strangely akin to shock, then finally, deep seated anger that, by the looks of it, were all directed at me. It all happened so fast, that if my attention hasn't been completely at him at that moment, I would've probably missed it all.
I jumped as the voices of both Alteon and Sepulchure boomed from in front of me, having forgotten that we were in the middle of a war zone in the first place. Scrambling to stand up, my legs nearly collapsed once more from my haste to get back on my feet. But my legs nearly turned to jelly once more when, in a blink of an eye, this 'Drakath' fellow sent both Kings hurtling to opposite walls with a loud and painful "thud", and I immediately covered my face with my hands to protect myself from any flying debris that resulted from the aftershock. A hacking cough escaped me as the dust settled, but when I turned to the direction of the good King, I clamped my mouth shut to muffle a horrified shriek.
What was originally a regal looking figure is now covered in these big, purple eyes that pulse rhythmically on his skin in a disturbing dance. His torso is wrapped in violet tentacles that seem to spread throughout his chest and burrow into him painfully, if the way his face is twisted into a scowl didn't already gave it away.
Without even realizing it, my feet moved on its own and I ran towards the downed man. Carefully, I knelt beside him to pick up his hand to comfort him. He gave me a strained but appreciative smile, but my focus is on the sudden onslaught of dark, ancient energy that seems to radiate out of the man, and barely stopped myself from just yanking my hand away from the infernal purple monstrosity. Instead, I took a deep breath, pushed down the incoming nausea lodged at the back of my throat, and tried to focus on the healing magic that oozed out of my palm. With a deep exhale, I released it unto his body. Almost immediately, he relaxed and let out a relieved sigh, but when I opened my eyes to check up on him, my brows furrowed in confusion when the eyes and tentacles haven't disappeared yet. Cold dread shot up my spine at the implications as I stared down in growing horror.
This magic is far more potent than mine. . . How can a force stronger than the powers of a god exist in this world?!
"FOOL! YOU CANNOT KILL WHAT IS ALREADY UNDEAD!" Sepulchure shouted in rage from behind us, and I swiveled my head to see the King standing up shakily. Despite his obvious weakness, his tenacity for revenge far outweighed his own sense of being. In my panic, I reached out to him in desperate warning.
"My mistake." I froze.
Drakath's gruff voice filled my head, echoing deeply, and making me gasp as an unexpectedly powerful shiver ran down my spine. It filled me with a sense of unfamiliar familiarity that sent me spiraling down on the ground from the rush of unexpected emotions it brought upon my already heavy heart. My entire body trembled with each wave of repressed feelings, and I was left gasping into the air and cradling my head as pain started pounding at the crevices of my mind, filling my ears with white noise.
He sounded painfully familiar, but at the same time, not. It was as baffling as it is oddly relieving to hear, almost like a piece of myself that I didn't realize was missing somehow found its way back to me.
But. . .
"I AM DARKNESS!"
So deep into nursing my own head was I, that I didn't react when the man in question flew towards the Dark Lord and ripped out the equivalent of his heart.
"I AM DOOM!"
I could barely breathe when the noise started fading away as he raised the blood red soul orb up in the air, letting me hear the demonic screeching of damned souls in startling detail.
"NO FORCE IN THIS WORLD CAN DESTROY WHAT I AM!"
He started squeezing it with brutal force. From behind me, Alteon was screaming weakly and trying to hoist himself up to attempt to save Sepulchure. Despite my vertigo, I just pushed him back down, ignoring his struggles, and shook my head at him solemnly.
"It's no use." I mouthed silently at him, and I watched as his face fell with sorrow as he continued to look upon the horrific death of his nemesis.
"LONG UNLIVE THE SHADOWSCYTHE!"
And with a final press, he crushed the corporeal essence into glowing smithereens, releasing pure darkness into the sky and back to the elemental realm from whence it came, the screams of the damned fading along with it. As Alteon let out an anguished cry, I could only watch silently alongside him, numb in the face of the Doomknight's death. I closed my eyes, letting out a shaky exhale as a familiar feeling of completion overtook my mind, like pieces of a puzzle slotting itself into place.
Well, at least THIS is part of fate's design. Sepulchure was meant to die today, after all.
Reopening my eyes, I glared daggers unto the back of Drakath's spiky head, who was still looking up at the spirits he released unto the realm of the dead. Probably admiring his handiwork.
But he was meant to die by ALTEON'S hands, not to this uninvited bastard.
Growling, I raised my blade to him, feeling hot red anger wash over me and bring energy within the weapon, causing it to thrum to life and give it its signature scarlet glow.
I can't let him continue destroying the natural balance of this world. This ends NOW!
"Father. . . NOOOOOOO!" a shrill feminine wail snapped me out of my wrathful reverie, and as I looked up to the direction of Sepulchure's flying fortress, my jaw dropped in awe.
There on a balcony, overlooking the entire scene, stood the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, staring despairingly down at us with her tearful azure eyes and crimson locks in disarray. Her elegant red armor suggests a position of great importance within Sepulchure's army, but her general appearance and the golden circlet around her head outright says so.
She is Gravelyn, daughter of Sepulchure, and future Empress of the Shadowscythe.
She has her mother's eyes. . . Poor girl, having witnessed her father's defeat and subsequent death all on the same day, and at such a young age too. . .
"Sepulchure has a daughter?" Drakath drawled out almost mockingly, nearly making me pop a nerve as anger returned to me, "Amusing. . ."
The nerve of this man—!
With a livid roar, I vaulted forward at breakneck speed, intending on aiming directly at his neck. But the moment I swung my sword down on him with all my might, it halted almost immediately. To my surprise, he managed to catch my blade with a single, armored hand, and is now holding it over my head. Recovering from the initial shock, I snapped my head up to bare my teeth and snarl at his face, wanting to look as intimidating to him as possible. But my growl stopped midway when my eyes met his, and I was instead left in a stupor.
He was closer than I anticipated, with how our faces are only inches apart despite the height difference. I could easily stare deeply into his bored, almost dismissing green eyes. Except, that's what it WOULD'VE looked like, if it weren't for the fact that there was an air of caution and something curiously heavy around us, and he looked oddly apprehensive for some reason. His eyes seem to be searching for something, from the way they flicker between my own orbs alternatively. In search of what, is something he couldn't seem to find, as not even a second later, he went back to his cold and uncaring veneer.
"And what do you think YOU'RE doing?" with a single push, I was sent flying back to Alteon's side, and my back collided with the wall, ripping an audible yelp from me. I fell back down in a heap, wincing and hissing at the pain that started to pulse from the back of my head. It wasn't as bad as the one I previously had, but it's sure to leave a nasty bump once this is all over.
But despite my wobbly vision, I was still conscious enough to witness Drakath shooting a burst of magic to the flying dracolich, sending it crashing halfway across the mountains in a near instant with Gravelyn still inside it. I let out an involuntary whimper when the ground shook upon impact, which only worsened the nausea I feel at the moment, and my worry for the young Empress increased tenfold.
Drakath cackled maniacally, raising both of his arms up as if to show off his work in some sick sense of accomplishment "The battle between Good and Evil is over." he proclaimed with a tone of grandeur, and he turned back to us with a malicious grin on his face.
"Now begins the AGE OF CHAOS!"
Chaos. . .
My eyes widened in recognition.
He is an agent of Chaos, one of the most dangerous and unpredictable unbalancing forces of this world, and the only one of its kind to exist in millenniums. Unlike life, death, and even space, this is a force that hadn't existed prior to the creation of this world. It came out of nowhere, corrupting any land it touches, and turning everything in its path into monstrous, power-hungry fiends of pure destruction. Its power was so great, it took all of us gods and guardians of old to keep it from leaking unto other realms, and we contained it and its creator in a small realm of its own, never to be seen again. But alas, the orbs that contain its master have been destroyed years prior, but no word of its influence has been reported yet.
But now, with the appearance of this man who claims to work for Chaos here in my realm, in a time where the Elemental Orbs are now destroyed and I am still stripped of my immortal deity status, and thus cannot see the likes of him in my visions, means. . .
My face paled in sheer terror.
By the Devs, this is worse than I thought. . !
"What is happening to me!?" Alteon demanded from beside me, and I turned to him, reeling back in disgust at seeing the tentacles somehow crawling more all throughout his body. He looked up at the man with angry, fearful eyes, "Drakath. . . what have you done?
At his agitation, he let out a cruel bark of laughter.
"Heh. Not feeling like yourself, King?" He smirked down at the weakened ruler with spiteful amusement as Alteon inadvertently let out a pained hiss.
"You and this pathetic 'Hero'" his eyes flicked to mine when he said that, "can't stop what I am about to do with your world."
"And what do you intend to do?" I found myself piping in for the first time in this entire event with a venomous tone, "Enslave us? Put us in eternal torment? Bring the total DESTRUCTION of our world as we know it?"
In response, he let out a full, belly-aching laugh. "Oh, Hero, you underestimate me." In a blink of an eye, his former amusement turned to complete and maddened sadism, "I would've done all of that and more before you even learned how to lift that sword of yours."
Clenching my teeth, I leaned forward as much as I can and gave him the most spiteful look I could give, "You won't get away with this, Drakath!" I bellowed loudly, even as my voice cracked near the end from how frustrated I am of this prick. My entire body is vibrating with rage and the need to fight, which only worsened when the man had the audacity to fix me with an amused, lopsided sneer.
"Oh, but I already did. . . You shall see soon enough, my little Hero."
With a final laugh, his wings outstretched into its full length, and he launched up into the sky, creating a long shadow against the backdrop of the moon, "Watch as my 13 Lords of Chaos destroy everything that you love." he pointed a finger at us "I will save you two for last. Enjoy the show. HAHAHAHA!" and in a flash of purple, he disappeared, cackling into the night as he vanished across the night sky.
And just like that, everything was silent, as if the war and this entire encounter never occurred in the first place. My body ached something fierce once the pain of the impact finally settled in, but I knew that it could never compare to the pain the good King must be feeling, so despite my aching temples, I reached out to him and continued to give out pulse after pulse of life-giving magic. He was already unconscious by the time I did, but I didn't mind.
That's good. Let him save his strength. He'll need it for what this new future has to offer.
But I couldn't look away from the crater Drakath left behind, even as a quarter of Alteon's loyal army stormed into the throne room, led by both Artix and Robina. From my side, I could see their worried faces morph into ones of utter dismay, with Robina bearing the most crestfallen look among the two at having seen the state of her fallen father.
"HERO!" I heard Artix cry out from beside her, and he ran up to me quickly with Robina following close behind. Immediately, I removed my hand and gave myself a moment to breathe. The realization of how much energy that took out of me dawned when my literal world blacked out for a second and my ears got flooded once again with deafening white noise.
"Hero. . ? Hero, can you hear me—"
My entire body felt utterly destroyed, and I am barely holding on to my last bit of consciousness as my vision started fading into darkness, alongside my ability to hear what Artix is saying.
"Please, friend. . . we're gonna get help, don't. . ."
I tried blinking away the black spots in my eyes and the overwhelming urge to sleep, but somehow, it only served to worsen my state, and I could feel my eyelids drooping by the second. Even when I could feel the gentle tap of an armored hand on my cheek, my ever-present need for rest outweighs every one of my instincts to stay awake.
"No. . . no, no, no, no. . . WE NEED A HEALER, QUICKLY—"
Fading. Everything is fading. I can only feel the heavy weight of my head now, and Artix's voice sounds so distant and muffled, like my entire body is submerged underwater as he speaks. All I am left with is the company of my own intrusive thoughts.
Gods, I shouldn't have been so foolish. Why did I even meddle in mortal affairs in the first place? I should've been strong enough to maintain this reality I created, not let it be destroyed! And now my people have to pay the cost of my negligence. . . Why did I let this happen? What kind of a god am I?!
Horrible guilt washed over me in what felt like endless waves at my own line of thoughts, making it the last thing I felt before my body ultimately shuts down, and I am plunged into temporary darkness.
"It can't be her."
Somewhere up North, on a barren mountaintop lies a lone throne and a ruined gate, and on that iron throne sat the exiled Prince of Lore, who is hunched over a clear purple orb overlooking the unconscious figure of the Hero.
She was pale, dangerously so, from how much energy she exerted in trying to ease Alteon's condition in vain. During the entire process of trying to heal her, she was transferred to a recovery ward and draped in clean white sheets from her torso down to her legs, with her juggernaut of an armor and blade perched nearby on an armor stand. Even when her body was finally given a chance to rest after the grueling ordeal, her face was anything but relaxed, as it is set in an almost permanent frown even as she slept.
Somehow, Drakath caught himself reaching out to her visage. He retracted his hand quickly, as if burned by his own actions, and shook his head, cursing and berating himself for his moment of weakness.
"No. . . surely it isn't her. I'm just confused, that's all." He muttered to himself upon remembering the blank, hateful look she sent him when they had their brief showdown. No traces of recognition whatsoever, just the familiar disdain he's grown used to over the years.
He nodded in reassurance and sighed, closing his eyes and allowing images of Lore's imminent destruction to give him peace and refuel the bitterness in his heart that he has been harboring for years. A cruel, satisfied smile stretched across his lips at the thought. But just as it did, memories of the Hero's face from an hour prior suddenly popped up in his head, and his smile faded.
He remembered her looking wide-eyed and terrified, like it should be when one faces against a stronger foe. But he also couldn't forget how her cobalt eyes were blazing with an otherworldly fury that left him breathless on the spot, and the way they both curled up against each other as he held her accursed blade over her head. He remembered leaning down on her, creating only a fraction of a space between them, their breaths mingling together as one. The air around them was tense and hot, most likely from the anger that emanated from the Hero. But at the same time, it was heavy with something else, something left unspoken, and combined that with the whiff of something that smelled vaguely familiar on her, it left him intoxicated in her presence.
She was so close, that had I leaned forward just a little, we would've—
That thought sent unfamiliar warmth spreading like wildfire throughout his face, and his eyes widened in surprise at his own line of thinking. Growling under his breath, he shook his head wildly and stood up to rid himself of these thoughts, which only persisted stubbornly, much to his chagrin.
Damn it. . . I can't do this to her. . .
And in an uncharacteristic turn of events, shame, guilt, and other unnamed conflicting feelings overcame him, and he cursed at his own mind for betraying him like this.
She is dead. She's been dead for years now, and I can't sully her name by fantasizing with her image on someone who just so happens to be a carbon copy of her!
Biting back a scream, he looked up once more to the orb and at the still image of the Hero, who seems to be sleeping more soundly now.
He should feel angry. He should feel the need to torture the girl for as long as he pleases for standing in the way of his goals. He should take pleasure in the thought of finally destroying this pest. But the moment those thoughts settled in his mind, he felt sick to his stomach, and he knew deep inside that he just couldn't do it. She reminded him too much of a simpler time long ago, of memories in a sanctuary deep in the woods of Falconreach. Of brunette hair swaying gently in the breeze and the sweetest smile reserved especially just for him. Of a time when he actually cared for something beyond his need for revenge. A time when he felt loved.
A time when he felt human.
Oh, Ezyra. . . it's a good thing you can't see me now, wherever you are.
With a wet, broken laugh at the irony of his situation, he buried his face in the palm of his hands. And for the first time in what felt like an eternity for him, in an empty realm solely for the chaorrupted Prince, he wept.