Chapter Five: Gravelord Nito.

The flame began to dwindle, he no longer had humanity to stoke the fire of man's soul, the time to fight Nito was upon him. Had he done what was right? Should he have gone with the others? And abandon my post, no. No one can be burdened with this mission. I alone.

He could barely raise his arm, the lanterns swinging handle remained still as he faintly gripped it with two unfurling fingers, the last of his strength waned like the flickering ember in the glass case.

Before him lay a vast intersection of caves and slopes whirling into gradually darkening recesses. If only he knew the direct path. With Grant on his shoulder he slugged forwards at a stumbling pace. He walked under a crumbling archway and before him stood a giant frame of bone and crunching jaw, it hunched down to his head height and let out an alarming deep bellowing call. Beyond the tip of the dying yellow flame he could vaguely make out the shifting of ancient gods. Leeroy held the immense hunk of iron in one hand, it was easy when one was so attuned with the Gods. And then it ached, and the bulk crashed into the meagre soil; swarming with miniscule bugs, a colony the size of a rug began to move in unison distorting the ground before him. He let go and took out the Talisman. The cavern and all its winding roads were immediately lit up in an obscuring, blinding holy white light. The bones of once Gods rattled as they were thrown, bouncing around the cave like insignificant insects being violently shook in a jar. He wanted Nito now and no one else, no foul ghosts that lingered in these ruins would stop him.

Hah! A natural light had travelled through so many broken fissures, cracks and scars that ran throughout the granite stone. The darkness had finally given way to a vast landscape, hovering with a murky white fog, the mist moist on his lips and the fresh air stung at his nostrils. He struggled to sit down on the narrow pathway, his legs hung over a drop coated in the haze. Sparse green grass, flattened and decaying but still with a tinge of life lay around him. He tried to picture the long strands of grass at the safety of the Shrine. What was there? There was… a bonfire… Of course, of course, but…

The light passed through what he presumed was the last tomb before the great Lord, before the grand finale. He had discarded the lantern, not that it mattered, his arm had completely gone, numb and riddled with sickly green veins.

He limped aimlessly to his final destination, holding the hilt of Grant at the tip, struggling to plough it through the ground as it churned up chunks of stone equally as enormous in size.

He looked up as he stood at the high point of a scooped out cave. Stalactite rock shards hung from the jagged ceiling and thinner icicle shaped ones beside them. Far on the north-east side an embankment with a bulwark of long sharp wooden stakes protected an alcove. It must be the entrance to Nito, why else would it be so heavily fortified?

As if anything else could surprise him, several forms of Pinwheel, clones or lesser beings, stood on the ramparts.

He held his head back and looked into the ceiling, as if to curse the Gods themselves for his pitiful luck.

He sidestepped, which was more of a stumble and an attempt to regain balance than anything else. Several dark pulsating balls of flame struck him, he fell to his knees and rolled off the ledge into a shallow stream. The water became red around him, smoke sizzled off the burnt threads of his clothing. His cloak that ran down to his ankles was blackened and torn to slivers. He knelt and pulled Sanctus from over his back, its face dented and a large crack ran down the side where a piece had snapped and fallen off into the stream. His blood suffused over the water as the white waves and red coalesced together.

Another salvo of blasts struck Sanctus, its green healing glow had all but faded now. He charged up the ramp and smashed the silver dome of the shield into the mask of one corrupt imitation. He kept beating, bludgeoning the round ram part until it dented flat. Shards of mask chipped and smashed off, the faceless being, just a black hole, crumpled into its cloak. The spindly arms and fiery lanterns fell to the ground with a thud. Leeroy turned to face his demons, a black cloud hit him full face. The scorching fire seared his eyes and scalded his face. His skin bubbled and bulged morphing black, streams of tears like molten lava liquefied his face. He screamed as the natural light disappeared, the darkness shrouded him as if he had stepped into the Catacombs for the first time. He touched the ground, groping it unsteadily until he found the remnants of Sanctus. It was battered and useless, so he turned to the divine power of Grant. He gathered his energy and in a single burst, he pelted up where he thought the ramp to be and dived. A sharp, thick point was driven straight into his infected arm, it cut through the chainmail and plating, digging under his shoulder and tore the useless limb clean off. He rolled as he hit the deck, tumbling over and over until he fell off a sheer drop and crashed to the cold hard ground.

He could feel it now, a black mist of death hovering precariously around him. The smell, a fetid mix of raw flesh and rotting carcasses.

He felt the Talisman in his pocket and pulled it out. He placed it on the ground.

"I am a God." He said aloud, denouncing his Faith and all that he had once believed in. No God, omnipotent, all seeing, all knowing, would let man face these trials unaided. He had faced his trial against Pinwheel and succeeded, where was Gywn then, where was he now? The white flame like petals across Sanctus, his Talisman, Grant… his sacred Paladin armour… The Clerics of the Way of the White were frauds. His Gods had left him blind, disembowelled, a longing for a sun, a longing for a life to be lived!

Gravelord Nito, a husk of hollowed skulls and black swirling miasmas leered over him. Leeroy struggled, his legs skidding behind him, his one arm bent at the elbow, trying to force his burdened body upright.

He knelt, doubled over, struggling to breathe, he removed his helmet to reveal a face as deformed as any demon he had laid to rest. His face smeared, skin black and crisp, his eye sockets devoid of life with black orbs as dark as hell. His skin putrid, his jaw bone, cheek bones and brow protruded out as if he was already hollow. Was he still human?

He got up, his senses heightened, he'd adapted to the darkness, it was his home. He swung Grant wildly and planted it into something. The iron mass wedged into soft cloth wrapped around a black mass of emptiness. The weapon was being pulled from his grasp by an intense force. The skull necklace rattled, the red eyes above glared, the stomach of Nito opened like a chamber, a coffin of death and drew Grant into it. His divine companion was snatched from him.

Leeroy looked up and all that stared back was death. Nito raised his skeletal arms, the ground and rock was sent flying into dust particles as a fleet of red tinged, black swords blasted upwards and cut through Leeroy vertically. His severed body was thrown to the floor, eviscerated, his entrails lay behind him.

He crawled with the last energy in his bones, broken and blinded he felt an icy pool of water which he immersed himself in. He ambled into the alcove, the grey, death filled water felt refreshing on his battered limbs and open wounds. He curled up into a ball.

Nito ignored him, it knew death when it saw it. Leeroy lay, the once brilliant magnitude of his white and gold Paladin armour was now stained, bloodied with a crimson red. He turned over as the water began to touch the tip of his mouth, his breaths forced now.

Gywn had left him, life had not taught him what it felt to be alive! He always thought his abilities would guide him to achieve his great aspirations. He had propelled himself above the rest, physically strong and also strong willed, a faithful man of god; the church snatched him, they abused his potential and he became their Undead experiment. All that remained for him was a feeling of immense failure…

His last hope was that the Rite of Kindling would make it back. The Age of Fire would eventually fade and the dark soul would take over. Who would sacrifice themselves to stoke the flame of the Kiln?

Would anyone ever reach the heights of this golden Paladin?

The End…