"ARTIX!" The one thing any dragon said that the paladin could understand caught his attention just seconds before a little ball of golden scales rammed into him and knocked him to the ground, preventing him from attacking the undead standing before him.
"By the Light, Aura! I was just about to kill it!" he exclaimed, disappointed at missing his chance. She responded by blasting the rest of the undead surrounding the group with a ball of light, reducing them to dust, then bit down on his arm and started trying to drag him towards Sepulchure's tower. "Whoa, what's wrong?" Then he noticed...
"Wait... where's Destiny?" Tomix voiced the question that all wanted answered but none wanted to ask. Blast that SoulWeaver, he was always a step ahead. Aura released Artix's arm and immediately set off in a string of Draconic that almost no one there could understand except the two oldest girls and the other dragons. And by the upset look on Kari's face, the way Galliteo covered her mouth in horror, and the dragons' not-so-well-disguised hisses, he gauged that it wasn't good news. He suddenly felt slightly sick to his stomach. What had happened to Des so that Aura would leave her behind? The two were nearly inseparable except in the direst situations. He didn't have long to wait for an answer, though.
Kari was the one to speak, her voice cracking. "Sepulchure has Destiny. And the Necrotic Sword of Doom." She seemed unable to continue, but everyone already knew what that meant. Lizzy's staff crackled with the energy from her anger, Angel gasped in horror, Yolie looked downright murderous, Tomix seemed genuinely worried, and Aura shook out her wings in impatience. A nearby tree was suddenly impaled by one of Jaxon's daggers. Artix clenched his hands into fists but couldn't stop his entire body from shaking with rage. He'd known that Sepulchure was evil, but this had crossed the line by miles. Corrupting Destiny Evingar, his best friend since the day he had saved her life when they were children, and quite possibly the purest person on Lore, was unprecedented and unacceptable.
"So what do we do?" Angel asked tentatively, fingering the hem of her SoulWeaver coat.
"Isn't it obvious?" Jaxon asked as he retrieved his dagger from the tree. "We're going in after her. Sepulchure probably thinks he's broken the prophecy, yes?" He nodded as if answering himself. "So we're gonna go in and fix it, and may the Avatars save us if all of us together won't make a big enough distraction for someone to slip in and break her out."
Kari grinned. "I like the way you think, Jax," she said, twirling one of her own daggers between her fingers before grasping the hilt firmly. "Let's go!"
The fortress loomed overhead as they approached the entrance, and Artix could hear Galliteo gulp softly. He understood the Ranger's reaction; it was a very dark place, and only Des truly knew who she was dealing with in Sepulchure. She had fought and lost once before, he knew, and just the thought of how the DoomLord had toyed with her made his blood boil in anger. She didn't deserve to have been in so much pain.
"So, what's the plan?" Lizzy's voice broke his train of thought.
"I say we split up," Yolie immediately replied, exercising her leadership abilities once again. "Two groups of three and one group of two, judging by how many of us there are." She pointed at Kari. "You, with Galliteo and Artix." The DragonRogue practically skipped to his side, which made him roll his eyes. Yolie then turned to Angel. "You'll go with Lizzy." The Mage and SoulWeaver moved to stand beside each other.
Jaxon grinned. "And that leaves me and you!"
"Shut up, Jaxon. We've got Tomix too."
"Children!" Kari interjected. They both looked at her sheepishly. "Now we split up. Search the entire place - tear it to pieces if you have to. We're saving our friend." The groups immediate split up in different directions. Kari, Galliteo, and Artix immediately headed for the stairs leading up.
"Look out!" The Ranger's cry reached his ears just seconds before an arrow whizzed over his head and nailed a skeleton in the forehead.
"Thanks for that!" he called. She nodded.
It was quite literally an uphill battle, as they had to fight multiple undead at a time to make it to each successive level. Artix still felt the thrill of releasing their trapped souls, but it was with an undertone of urgency that he did so. When they finally made it to what he felt was the halfway mark, they emerged into a practically empty corridor.
"Well," Kari began, "I do believe this is where we leave you, Artix."
"Oka- wait, what!?" He looked at her incredulously.
"You're the only one who can save her at this point, holy boy." Galliteo grinned at him before exchanging looks with Kari. "Mutual love makes it easier to rescue and purify someone, if I'm not mistaken." Then she frowned. "That didn't sound right. But you know what I mean." Both girls started giggling, which only served to worsen his confusion.
"What on Lore are you talking about?" he asked.
"Oh, Artix." Kari turned to him, feigning exasperation. "We've all seen the way you two lovebirds interact. Both of you've done a terrible job of hiding your feelings." Her "exasperated" look morphed into a grin, her signature mischievous glint appearing in her eyes. "This rescue is all you, hun."
He glared, but eventually had to concede that she was right. He was in love with Des, and judging by Kari's words Des was in love with him as well. He really didn't have a choice here anymore (or if he did, the DragonRogue and Ranger standing with him weren't letting him have it).
"Fine." He began walking towards the stairs. "You two'd better watch my back." The twang! of a bow string and the clatter of falling bones behind him let him know that they already were. He allowed a small smile to form before racing up the multitude of steps. There weren't many undead still standing in this part of the tower, he noted. He guessed that Sepulchure hadn't bothered to reform them yet. Des must've come through here more recently. He quickened his pace even more, felling the few remaining undead that were unfortunate enough to cross his path. He passed the spies still unconscious against the wall - Des never did have the heart to willingly kill a living being if she could help it - and then suddenly found himself in a large cavern-like room. Standing in the center of the room was a red armor-clad figure that he initially mistook for Sepulchure. But when he looked closer he realized that the figure was of too slight a build to be the DoomLord. And they also were not wearing any sort of helm or mask.
With a sickening, gut-wrenching jolt, he realized that the figure was Destiny.
"Ahahah! Well, well. Artix von Krieger; what a pleasure." The coldness in her voice sent shivers down his spine. It was not Des speaking, that was easy to tell. "I've been waiting for quite a while now, since that little dragon was sent off to find you." A malicious, twisted grin that did not and would not ever belong on his beloved's face formed as she spoke. "Of course, the efforts, while commendable, are completely useless. This body is nothing more than a shell for me to use now. Your precious hero is no more."
"Well, we'll just see about that!" Artix spat. He rushed forward, brandishing the Blinding Light of Destiny, but a simple wave of the woman's - for he refused to think of her as Des - hand sent him flying back against a wave of dark energy. Unfazed, he sprang back up, this time calling upon the Light and slicing through the darkness she sent at him. Though he merely hit her with the flat of the axe blade, it left her dazed on the ground, if only for a second. The ensuing battle found him blocking darkness while sending Light enough to weaken her but not to harm or kill her.
"You fight well," she said, after a particularly strong wall of Light sent her back against the opposite wall of the cavern. "But your efforts are in vain. The one you call Destiny is gone. You will never get her back." But a barely noticeable wince from her seemed to indicate otherwise to the Paladin.
"I think you're wrong." His response stopped her for a moment. "I think Des is still in there, and she's fighting you with all she has." He slammed the Blinding Light into her armor with a renewed force and she was again thrown into the wall. "I know you're in there, Des!" he cried as the woman seemed to struggle to stand. "Hold on! Just keep fighting for a little longer. I promise I'll get you out!"
"Heh... Don't make promises you can't keep."
The battle began anew, each fighting more fiercely as they essentially fought for Des's life. Artix refused to lose hope even as the woman continued taunting him - he knew that Des wouldn't give up without the fight of her life, and neither would he.
"Destiny, you can fight this!" he cried in desperation as he blocked yet another magic blast with his blade. "This isn't who you are!"
"Silence, fool!" she... no, the evil controlling her screamed. "Your Destiny is no more, and there's nothing you can do to bring her back." As his brown eyes, glittering with a mixture of despair and determination, met with her darkness-engulfed hazel green, something clicked inside him, and an idea came. It was an extremely risky move, and it might end up getting him killed, but he had to try. If this didn't bring Des back... he'd gladly take death over losing her. With his plan having fully formed in mere seconds, as was his specialty, he swung the Blinding Light into the ground, the muffled metallic sound resonating throughout the cavern.
"Heh... wanna bet?" he asked with a sardonic smile. He stepped forward, not stopping until he was right in front of her, and keeping his eyes locked onto hers. He saw the plotting look in them, but before she could say or do anything, and before his conscience could talk him out of it, he grabbed her wrists, leaned down, and kissed her.
A paladin's love was the purest love known to man, and no evil could stand in its way. So it was that with that kiss, that ultimate display of the love Artix had held for Destiny since... he couldn't remember when... the spirit that resided in the sword, which had taken over her body, could not survive and was forced out. He could hear a faint screech and a resounding crack! as the dark energy faded. When he finally pulled away he noted with joy that her eyes sparkled and were no longer dulled by darkness, and a small sense of satisfaction bubbled up inside of him as he saw the Necrotic Sword of Doom in the dust, a thick crack splitting the skull on the hilt cleanly in half.
"A- Artix?" she gasped, looking up at him with obvious confusion. He smiled.
"Welcome back... Destiny." He pulled her in for another kiss, and this time she kissed back. Amidst all the chaos, it was the perfect moment. Which, as they pulled apart again, was then ruined by shouting from one of the upper floors.
"Ow! Tomix, that was my foot! Dang it, you can't aim worth your life!" They could almost see Yolie's glare.
"Whoops." Tomix didn't really sound that apologetic. As usual.
"Whoa, what happened?" another asked.
"Forget it, Jaxon," they both grumbled.
"Should we go see if they're okay?" Destiny asked absent-mindedly. She and Artix exchanged looks.
"Nah," they said simultaneously, and then laughed. Then some muffled cursing silenced them for a moment.
"On second thought..." Artix's eyes met Des's again, and they rushed off.
Whew! Sorry it took so long for me to post this, but I had lots of trouble with the middle part. I hope y'all are satisfied with this, and I'm sorry that I've made everyone who followed this wait so long. At this point this is all I really plan to do for this particular story, but rest assured this isn't the last you'll see of any of these characters. No no no, not at all. Yes, I totally went for the classic Artix Entertainment-style humor in a serious situation thing there at the end, and I think it succeeded. And if you're wondering what happened to the dragons, I'm pretty sure they all ran off together to go kill stuff on their own. Those six are a pretty tight-knit group, just like their human partners.
DragonFable, Artix, etc. © Artix Entertainment
Destiny, Aura, all other adventurer and dragon OCs © KyasarinJakkusan & NobukoXxXAkira