“Everyone knows the Draconis, those proud and ancient lizards that assert themselves as masters of Segmentum Draco, saviour of the galaxy, teachers of wisdom. Yes, I am aware how celebrated we are. Ever since I opened that void-damned tomb up near the poles, I was no longer proud of my race. In fact...I was downright horrified what had happened way back before we even started building this reputation.”
- - Valeria Senteriman, Royal Academy scholar and archeologist
- 1 Prelude - Dark Arrival
- 2 In Pursuit of History
- 3 Illusion of Respite
- 4 The Damned General
- 5 Home Truths
- 6 No Home Is Safe
- 7 Cities And Their Secrets
- 8 Campus Massacre
- 9 Desecrating Lake Drak
- 10 Sombre Reunion
- 11 Temptation Made Manifest
- 12 The King of Blood
- 13 The Haven
- 14 Dusk for the Phoenix
- 15 Legends Reborn
- 16 The Sky King
- 17 Clash of Kings
- 18 Aftermath
- 19 Navigation
Prelude - Dark Arrival
Night. All of the stars in the sky glared down at the world with curiosity, watching as the sapients that relied upon their glow fulfill their own paths, constructed not of destiny but of choice. Their astral emotions flared in unison, incomprehensible to all but a few free-thinkers and philosophers that had believed themselves synchronized with all the Universe had to offer. It appeared that tonight, this night, the stars could agree on something; something had angered them, something beyond understanding had evoked their celestial wrath and provoked their punishment. That night, stars fell; they took up their arms and dived as fire, a descent destined for carnage. There were several of them, several that had made the choice to contact these unknowing sapients and have them pay for a crime they had an eternity yet to understand.
The Veilias-Sendrastus border had remained a home for mountains and fields for many millennia, a plane that was fertilized by bloodshed and spilled innards. While Sendrastus was home to poets, philosophers and the open-minded authors of genre and literature, while Veilias was the abode of bloodseekers, warriors and honoured protectors. The dirt flew that night, ascending into the air as the very unkindled wrath of stars made manifest struck contact with the blessed earth. The aura of the gods was breathed upon this land, irradiating the very soil. Their vessels of choice chose a splendid appeal; crystals of onyx, standing higher than even the largest of untamed warbeasts. From the cracks and etchings across their skin of perfect dark, a substance akin to blood dripped with an immense fury and spat, gallon after gallon.
From one, more than mere blood appeared; the skin that constructed this masterpiece exploded in a furious display of violence. From within, the passenger roared; climbing from where he had sat during his descent, he collapsed to his knees, his naked form dressed with a filthy semi-liquidous material that appeared gelatinous in nature.
Shielding themselves from the wrath's luminous might roughly two kilometres away was a patrol of soldiers who swore alliegence to the masters of the state of Veilias. Their armour was of a laminated fibre-lie material and they wore shoulders of bronze. Bronze-framed shield and iron spear were gripped their hands and their waists hidden from view by deep red tunics. Each of them, fifteen in this group, watched in awe that night from their watch in the camp. The land that surrounded them was mostly wilderness, still-untouched by the hands of sapients. Wooden homes lay scattered across the plain, inhabited not just by these dragon-like beings who had crafted them and called them home but also bipedal reptiles taller than them that paniched from the flash of light and the booming shockwave. Tiny embers of light flickered on the horizon, little sign of civilization, but present nonetheless.
The passenger's roar echoed thoughout this landscape, startling the lizards near to the patrol. One soldier of the Veilian patrol observed outwards into the distance, narrowing his battle-worn eyes as he curled his scarred, cracked lips. Another soldier, a mere subordinate, approached the worn warrior with a puzzled glance.
Soldier - Something isn't right.
Hoplite - It was like a shooting star captain, but why fall to the surface? Did it miss where it was going?
Soldier - Hmph... Perhaps it was on course. Perhaps the stars have something to settle here, maybe even with us.
The soldier, clearly something of a veteran based upon the glass eye that rolled freely in his skull, drew his blade and donned his shield. His voice was dry and rasp, his physique scarred and faded.
Soldier - Either way, it's our job to see if it poses any threat to us, understand? You know the Sendrastus-kin, wouldn't be surprised if it's one of their spectacles that they enjoy calling "art".
Hoplite - Understood sir.
The hoplite and his cohorts stood up and calmed their mounts. They were the closest to this impact site and, as the odl soldier had suggested, they began marching towards it.
In the plains, "He" feasted. The crystals that had accompanied Him upon His descent, they had been shattered. Broken by impact and shattered through violence, their passengers were nowhere near as fortunate as He. They were devoured, their corpses deprived of anything that could have been recognized as a skull for their necks happened to be absent of such feature. He twitched and spasmed, His body shaking almost as if such was exposed to the planes of arctic landscapes. Yet it was a hot night. His black wings drooped weakly, his eyes darting from place to place as He sought to somehow make sense of his surroundings. The environment around Him was alien, the air He struggled to breath alien, the ground His feet struggled to stand upon alien.
As he twitched and struggled the hoplites drew close, as they approached they looked at the planet's new arrival. Taking advantage of the wilderness night they kept low behind their shields in an attempt to stay hidden, but the glint of the moon betrayed their bronze-rimmed shields and their metal helmets, glinting as though stars were trapped within the metal. The soldiers looked at the alien with a mix of fear and confusion, it was like nothing they had ever seen before, barely visible in the pitch-black. The alien's skin, particular the crest upon his skull, appeared far more dense and far stronger than even the bronzebound armour that the soldiers found defense within. It snarled and growled like some form of undomesticated animal, its teeth like sharpened swords and its tongue the most malevolent of serpents. The elderly veteran of the hoplite patrol team gave it a glare, first expressing confusion upon his war-torn face before his lips rippled and lifted into a smile, revealing various gold-carved teeth that served as replacements for lost assets.
Soldier - Do you see that?
Hoplite - It is like an animal sir...
Soldier - What do you reckon? Coarlatus?
Hoplite - Pretty wierd-looking one if it is.
Soldier - Aye, looks like no Coarlatus I've ever seen before. Hehe, if we kill it, perhaps the Sendrastus-kin will write stories of us. Perhaps we could parade its corpse around and show them Veilias' true might.
Hoplite - Yeah...Imagine the glory
Soldier - Imagine the look on the Sendrastus-kin's faces. Or imagine what those damnable Minosians will think as we parade this monster around?
All the hoplites nodded with eager smiles. Slight things visually, but magnified by their own perceptions.
Soldier - I want two units of three to flank behind it, me and another team will take it head on.
The hoplites nodded and split up by rank, moving around and using the cover of night to hide their approach and moving carefully so as the sound of their armour did not give away their position.
Suddenly, the alien's pupils of blazing white flared a horrendous inferno. Leaning his head back, the beast unhinged its ferocious maw and allowed for a sky-shattering, bone-crushing amalgamation of roars and screams to dominate the sound of night. With that, the elderly soldier and his team, grasping ahold of their iron weapons, rushed forward; they surrounded this primordial monster, this titan, they lat out roars of their own, fierce warcries that clashed with the titan's own.
In Pursuit of History
The outcome of that battle was lost to history.
Out in the tundra some 300km south-east of Minos'Drakon an archaeological team from the Royal Academy were working at an excavation site out in the permafrost. Amongst the excavation team were numerous species; Draconis, Terratrix, Sankana, even a Draconis-Drallivian hybrid, a student eager to learn from his lecturer. Ice was thrown up into the air as charges revealed a chiseled entryway. The Draconis, a senior archeologist nodded satisfyingly as she plodded down to the aperture of carved granite. The assistant followed her eagerly, the archeologist picked up a chisel and hammer and proceeded to chip away at the ice.
The assistant stared curiously as the archeologist worked, over the next hour or so the apprentice studied the markings around the edge of the archway. He was not as well-versed in ancient writings as he was, when he called out to her she looked up from her work to examine the scripture.
Telemys - Professor what do the carvings on the archway say?
Veleria - Oh those? Hmm...Minosian. Let's see... "Those who...something...shall know...gah, the engraving's been eroded by the ice.
Behind the archeologist, a Terratrix wearing a skintight uniform with advanced defensive plating, used to store essential hardware such as kinetic barrier generators and micro-computers, approached with a smile on her face, holding her modified shotgun closely to her bosom as she took a short glimpse as the carvings.
Merdilla - "Ta ya in a billion years' time, a sorry sunnuvabitch was 'ere" I bet they say. "'Ope ya enjoyin' the weather, I 'ave frostbite on my frostbite".
Veleria turned around and gave a weary look to the Terratrix, her lip curling as she did so.
Valeria - Really captain was there any need for such a crude assumption?
Merdilla - Who said that them 'ere ancestors didn't 'ave a sense of 'umour? Could all be some big joke meant ta trick sorry bastards in ta future.
Valeria - Well we'll just have to carve our way in and find out.
Telemys - There's a hammered iron door behind all this ice professor.
Telemys picked up his own hammer and chisem amd chipped a chuck of ice away and exposed a snarling animal head that had been carved into the iron door. He jumped back at the frighting visage appearing and fell on his tail as he landed in the snow, baring his teeth and gasping as if he had hurt something on his person. Merdilla bellowed loudly, with members of her squad exchanging either much quieter chuckles amongst themselves or awkward glares as they saw their captain, a veteran of warfare and combat, giggling and laughing at something otherwise childish.
Telemys - Argh! Sunnafanewt!
Merdilla - If that's all it takes ta scare ya, ya wouldn't 'ave stood a chance durin' that rotter infestation in Minos'Drakon that them 'ere one time.
Terratrix Soldier - Captain, some of us here were dealing with the plague in multiple other places, trying to save our families. How can you use it so casually in conversation?
Merdilla - I'm 'avin' a laugh, don't get ya feathers ta rustled!
Telemys - Not funny! I think I bruised my tail.
Valeria shook her head and offered her hand, pulling Telemys out of the snow. Several Zazane, dressed in warmth-providing clothes and equipment, were examining and analysing samples of the snow and ice that surrounded them, observing these samples at almost-impossible visual levels due to the technology of the equipment they posessed, allowing them to trace over every single individual detail. One of them, his body adorned with bright red scales, looked at the detail with curiosity
Thakos - It is astounding to think that the very ice we tread upon and carve is older than some civilizations today.
Valeria - I admit it is, then again I am not a geologist. This door however, hm, that is interesting. Why make such an edifice for a tomb? Why go to the trouble of decorating it?
Sankana - Two well-placed kinetic charges get door open.
Merdilla - Well, if I know my 'istory, which I don't, I'd say that them there animal 'ead is a clear sign that this 'ere door is keepin' us away from treasure!
Thakos - Sounds absurd. Why place all your beloved possessions out in a tomb several thousand miles away from your palace or other residence?
Merdilla - Why not? It keeps little bastards from touchin' up my loot!
Valeria - Greed was a popular thing amongst men and women of station.
As they talked, the Sankana attached a pair of probes to the doors and connected them up. He ushered the others to keep their distance and once he was a safe distance himself, detonated the charges, creating a brief shockwave that kicked the doors open, releasing an even colder air from inside. Valeria stood up after the explosion and took out her tablet device, tapping away as she looked around the edge of the door, Teremys was eager to run nside and had already switched on an illuminator. Merdilla coughed and shiver was sent up her protected spine as she felt the abominable air molest the feathers upon her face, causing her to groan.
Merdilla - By the forests, t'is 'ere crypt is gonna freeze my Drakon-damned cloaca off!
Valeria - You alll might want to double-check your thermal envelope generators.
Merdilla - 'ow bout I check if ta station's still got some them t'ere Trastus' Finest while ya lot can go get me some ice cubes?! Ahah!
Valeria - Well you could, but what if we stumble across an Archon's hoard? Or perhaps his secret ale store?
Merdilla - T'en ya can bring t'at back ta me instead!
Thakos - My thermal envelope generator is working fine Professor, but it's still freezing. How much longer do you expect us to be out here? It'll be dark soon.
Valeria - Not sure, these tombs can reach 600m deep.
Thakos - I recommend we get back before it goes especially dark, there'll be no going back then. I know we have life support hardware in our equipment and armour, but these temperatures...
Telemys - Minosian winters; keeping Minos'Drakon protected since Lifefather-knows-when.
Merdilla - 'Cept fer goddamn snow beasts; t'em t'ere bastards are 'eavier t'an the fattest Draconis! Oh an t'em t'ere ice slikkids, little shits dunno it's a bad idea ta try an loot the drinks container!
Valeria - Let's just see how far we can get before we have to turn back. If worst comes to it, we can use a fabricator to assemble a lamp.
Merdilla - 'ow bout we fabrimatatacate somethin' useful, like a pint a Trastus' Finest or a Paa'go!
After twenty minutes of travelling they came across an entire corridor coered in carvings, their style reminsicent of the middle period of the Minosian Empire, which at one time spanned the entire Miminan continent. Valeria appeared intrigued and hovered a light over one, revealing a rather large Draconis creature battling smaller ones with Minosian soldiers' armour. The Zazane examiners approached the carvings, observing them with interest while the Terratrix captain shined her light at various other murals, allowing the rest of the team to see various points across the corridor.
Telemys - This is quite a display. I'd say this tomb is to a great warrior.
Valeria - All these carvings depict the same large Draconis again and again. Minosians liked to show fogures of importance as larger in carvings than the rank-and-file.
Thakos' light shone over a mural depicting four large Draconis battling soldiers. While the other two had worn away with age, the one remaining one displayed soldiers weeping, their heads low while others were bombarded by needle-like objects.
Thakos - ...Curious, to say the least.
Merdilla - Poor sons a bitches, not gonna stand a chance.
Valeria - Knowing Minosians, they would only make such a carving if the battle was a defeat of almost-embarrassing proportions...or they fought a truly terrifying opponent.
Thakos - Hmph. Zazane never did such. We showed the glory of both sides when we carved murals. We still do the same in our modern art.
Valeria - Minosians were a...proud people to say the least.
Telemys - Professor I've found a more intact scripture.
Valeria walked over and shone her torch, revealing an enormous Draconis in a carving, surrounded by Draconis bowing on one level, and dying on another, a two-tier carving with this more humannoid Draconis occupying the very centre. Above the carving read "He was a man born of the spirits, a force not even the Mountain Lord could contain. Sword and javelin did nothing, so we buried our fear and buried our foe, praying he would sleep"
Merdilla - Mountain Lawd? Don't t'at mean Drakon?
Valeria - The Mountain Lord was a pre-Drakon diety said to have blessed the valley where Minos'Drakon now sits with fertility.
Telemys - "Buried our fear...praying he would sleep"... Who in the void were they fighting?
Merdilla approached the mural and examined it further, her eyes darting across it frequently. She pointed a finger towards the Draconis at the center, an expression of confusion on her face.
Merdilla - Don't look like no Draconis I ever seen before.
Valeria - Curious... There's another door at the end of this hall....and another inscription. "Beyond these doors is she who was without joy. Do not enter, lest hope drain from your soul"
Thakos - This is getting too bizarre for my liking. I suggest we return to the stati--
Merdilla - I t'ought ya Zazane people were supposed ta be fearless an 'onourable an tough an fearless an tough an all t'at crap.
Valeria - The Minosians were rarely ever this sombre.
Telemys - Well we made it this far, let's take the final step.
Merdilla - Aight, lads! Use t'em 'ere land-bangers ta blast open t'at door! Lets thaw t'is bitch!
The sankana gave Merdilla an awkward glare though her eyepieces and placed another kinetic charge on this door. Valeria and Telemys used all their strength to push the iron brace out of the way, straining as they heaved it. With the brace gone, the charge exploded and kicked the doors wide open, sending a wave of heat into the main chamber, which was littered with the dried-out bodies of frozen Mininan soldiers along with uncountable numbers of ice shards partially fixed int othe ice. Merdilla and her squad rushed in and primed their weapons as they saw the corpses of the long-deceased Minosian militia. Immediately, they laid their weapons to their sides and their captain surveyed the room with a quick glance at various corners.
Merdilla - Aw, t'ere's only bodies 'ere. An not rotters either.
Telemys - This is what they were afraid of? I thought Minosians were warriors. What are they doing fearing the freaking cold?
Merdilla - Ta be fair, I wanna see ya try an endure t'is place fer more t'an a tenday wit' little ta no protectawhatjit.
Telemys - What about all that "she without joy" shit? Are you saying the Minosians personified the cold?
As the group discussed between themselves concerning the validity of the statement they had witnessed outside of this chamber, whose only residents appeared to be corpses, the shards that littered the floor and walls had disappeared. Before anyone could have noted the change in appearance of the chamber, they experienced a sudden, almost instantaneous, emotional shock as if they had all been struck with a violent, rampant case of depression. The Merdilla looked down to her side with saddened eyes, her stance quickly shifting from strong and bold to unfocussed and weak, drooping her arm and lifelessly clinging to her weapon without care.
Telemys - After all this...after all this effort and planning...what's the point? This whole epedition was a waste of time.
Merdilla - ...I miss my little leafchomper..I hope the school-whatjamahcallit is... is treatin' 'er well.
Valeria - Telemys is right. We came all this way for a room full of frozen Minosians. Why did we even come here?
Merdilla - ...It was all a big joke... Gah, I regret sayin' what I did now...
Valeria sat amonst the corpses and tossed her tablet onto the rime-crusted floor, closing her eyes tightly and cupping her hands.
Suddenly, one of the Terratrix soldiers under the Merdilla's command raised their automatic rifle towards the far end of the permafrost-constructed chamber. It had eerily escaped the entire group's notice up until this point, as if its appearance was sudden and it had just manifested from nowhere; a Draconis of deep blue shades was slumped against a wall, their features obscured by their blackened hands. Their body was covered in blackened marks that appeared like symbols, while her clothing appeared to almost seamlessly integrate with her flesh. Telemys turned slowly to look at the Draconis woman and tilted his head with curiosity. Where the Draconis sat, there was weeping; loud, untamed crying and sobbing. However, it appeared distorted, malformed as whimpers and groans escaped their throat. Tears of sheer ice, like stalactites, portruded from her face and merged with the floor.
Merdilla raised and primed her shotgun towards the figure as the rest of her team did, their upset and depression vanishing briefly to assess the situation. Telemys took a step forward and held up his hand, trying to tell the soldiers to hold their fire.
Telemys - ...H-hello? Are you okay?
The Draconis woman removed her hands of frostbitten black from her face and exchanged an icy, stalactite-filled glare towards Telemys with eyes just as black as her claws. Her blue scales appeared corrupted and wounded by immense formations of black across her form. She stared at Telemys with those piercing obsidian-black eyes, merely opening her jaw to let out another wimper.
Valeria - It's...it's like she just woke up from among the piles of these bodies....
The Draconis, with evident struggle, pushed herself upwards in an attempt to stand, showing the group she was off-balanced and somewhat rigid, with icebound formations of bloody crimson piercing the black wounding upon her joints and extending towards the floor. It was as if ice flowed like gushing water. At her full height, she stood taller than even the largest member of the expedition team. Her gums and teeth were black, her lips scarred and unbelievably cracked. Formations of ice and crystal could be seen in place of saliva inside her mouth. Telemys stepped back, intimidated by the Draconis' sudden shift in height, not entirely expecting her to be so tall. Valeria merely watched intently, confused as the whole situation.
Merdilla - It's a biggun, alrigh'! Where's she come from, 'ow'd she get 'ere of all places?
Valeria - She should be dead looking like that.
Merdilla - Great, more damned rotters!
Telemys took several steps forward with a worried look on his face, he was a full head shorter than her as he still had a few years left to grow. The Draconis did not talk nor did she move any more than she already did, instead staying still and continuing to whimper and whine pathetically with a dry, hoarse tone in what could be assumed of her voice. Crystalline formations continued to materialize around her eyes, as if her tears were transformed instantly upon leaking from their glands. Teremys made gestures, naively attempting to communicate with her.
Teremys - Me. Teremys. You?
Valeria - Lifefather's sake Teremys she very likely knows Minosian being here.
Teremys - Oh okay. [Me Teremys. What is your name?]
The woman shifted her head with difficulty towards Teremys, giving him a cold, dead stare. She had not blinked since her sudden materialization. Slowly and stiffly, she reached out a single arm, holding her black hand open as crystallized blood appeared from the joints of her fingers. Teremys reached out himself, thinking he wanted comfort and reached to touch her own hand nervously, thinking she wanted comfort.
Draconis - ...[What... are... you? Not Draconis... Bigger... Not know you... Spirits?]
Telemys - [I am Draconis...kind of. My form was modified by science before my birth.]
Valeria - Teremys don't you dare touch her you have no idea what diseases she harbours.
Telemys - Professor she is clearly distraught.
Valeria - She should be dead looking like that.
The Draconis woman continued to glare towards Telemys, who felt a sudden numbing around the lower half of his arm; the Draconis woman wrapped her scarred, blackened hand around it tightly, refusing to let go. In the process, Telemys was unable to pull back or move from where he stood. Telemys jerked with concern, worried as the woman's grip numbed his lower arm, a grip stronger than he had expected anyone to have. Although for someone her size a fair deal of strength was understandable but surely not this much.
Draconis - [Science... Not look like science... Blessed... or cursed...]
Telemys - [It is science. Hard to explain however. Just trust I am normal.]
Valeria - Well this is awkward.
Draconis - [...No explain... No normal... Normal... No normal...]
Merdilla - 'Ey ya, big gal! Get ya 'ands off 'im!
Telemys - [My parents are like me, and their parents. I have Draconis ancestors I assure you.]
All members of the expedition team began to feel an ice cold, wet sensation drift down their cheeks as the Draconis wailed. Not tears of salt, but of blood. Blood that began to crystallize and scar upon their freezing faces. In retaliation, the Terratrix captain fired a round at the Draconis, causing the latter to jolt back and begin to convulse violently against the wall, still grasping ahold of Telemys.
Draconis - [EVIL. SPIRITS. EVIL. SPIRITS. EVIL. SPIRITS. CONDEMNED. I. I AM. CONDEMNED. NOT DIE. HERE. NOT DIE. ANYWHERE. NOT LET THEM. TAKE ME.]
Valeria - [We're not spirits! We did not even know you wehre here!]
Telemys - Valeria, captain, help me!
Merdilla - Fireteam, give 'er all ya got but try not ta 'it the Draconis guy!
Terratrix Soldier - Affirmative, ma'am!
The Terratrix soldiers under Merdilla's command opened fire, releasing round after round into her frozen body. However, they lacked the necessary shelter once the wounds across her body retaliated in rage, firing sharp shards of needle-like ice in their direction. Several soldiers and scientists fell while others fleed the room. Valeria dodged as shards flew past her and she fell backwards, Teremys fell against the Draconis's body as he was dragged about by her immense strength. Cringing as his scales came into contact with the rather solid frostbitten flesh upon her body.
Valeria - [what do you want. Tell us and we shall leave you alone.]
Telemys - P-professor...the mural.
Draconis - [AETOMARCHIS. HAPPINESS. RELEASE. AETOMARCHIS. NO SPIRITS.]
The Draconis' free hand slowly cupped Telemys' chin, holding his head in her corpse-dead, numbing hand. She wailed once more, piercing the ears of her assailants and causing blood to drip once more from both their and her eyes.
Telemys - [P-please...we cannot release...whoever that is...when dead!]
Valeria fell onto one knee clenching her teeth in pain with her hands over her eyes, close to sobbing. The Draconis uncupped her hand from Telemys and reached over to Valeria, grasping ahold of her. Bloody crystals trickled from Telemys' constricted arm, her nails piercing into his frozen flesh. Now that she had her grasp around the Draconis professor, she turned attention back towards Telemys and leaned her jaws towards him, crystals appearing where saliva should have. He could feel her icy breath touch his scales.
Draconis - [RESTORATION. COMFORT, CONSOLATION. SADNESS, UNBEARABLE. GRIEF, INTOLERABLE. LOSS... ;LOSS. LOST. LOST.]
Telemys - [We-we'll help you I swear it. I'll do everything I can! Can you stop screaming?]
Valeria - This will affect your grades Telemrys.
Telemys - I think this is more important!
The Draconis brought Telemys closer to herself, pressing his face against her unnaturally solid chest. Her jaws opened with a rigid gesture, approaching the back of Telemys' head as she let go of Valeria. While the situation was already bad, grief began to overtake rationality. Telemrys felt uncomfortable at the situation while Valeria fell to the floor clutching the part the Draconis had grabbed. She looked back at the rather atange scene between the two. What made things worse for Telemrys was not only how solid the woman's body was, but also how cold it was. He was disturbed that it was compltely devoid of warmth, as if he had just been pressed against a sheet of ice.
Telemrys - [So uhh...what's your name?]
Draconis - [THEVIXUIAS.]
Her tongue stiffly passed over Telemys' skull before she made her move; her jet black jaws penetrated past the flesh and bone of his cranium, allowing her to tear a large chunk of his head away from the rest of his form. She lifted her head upwards, the grey matter she had torn from the student slipping into her throat. Valeria's jaw dropped at what she saw, now quivering in horror at the merciless scene.
Valeria - [What is wrong with you! He agreed to help you any way he could and you feast on him.]
Thevixuias did not reply, instead feasting on Telemys' skull slowly while tears ran down her face, joining with the blood that coated her lips. Her attention was now set, losing focus on the rest of the group as she consumed the poor soul. Merdilla watched the scene with a saddened look on her face, drooping down before her eyes shifted upwards. It was then that she noticed something carved into the ceiling of the chamber.
Merdilla - ...P-Professor... I-I don't know a lot abou' stars an all t'at, but... w-what c-constathingamahjig is t'at?
Valeria did her best to turn her attention away from the mosntrous fate of her student and looked up to see a collection of circular indentations within the image of a coiled serpent with half of its body missing. Valeria squinted, thinking hard and rubbing her chin. some fifty degrees around the dome from the serpent and to its right was a line that ran down from the top of the dome to where it became completely vertical.
Valeria - Constis, the Night Serpent if memory recalls. But what's the significance?
Thevixuias - ...Siblings...Family...No, not family... C-Companions... Champions... Others...
As the Draconis woman spoke in a recognizeable form of language, Merdilla backed away, pointing her shotgun. She tilted her head several times, gesturing for Valeria to move away while it was still possible. Valeria staggered back and nodded, staring at Therivixuias wide-eyed, intimidated by her.
Merdilla - Professor... Move away from t'at ting, it ain't safe...
Valeria - And here I was hopeing we could run while it still thought we spoke a horrible contortion of its own language.
Thevixuias - ...Minos'Drakon...
Valeria - If she learned how to speak from eating the poor boy's brain...how much else does she now know?
Merdilla - Right now... t'at ain't importan'. We need ta move outta 'ere, now.
Valeria nodded and beckoned the other survivors to follow as they ran for the door. The Terratrix captain was the last to leave, making sure that the Draconis woman was distracted by the boy she had chosen to use as her prey. With a heavy sigh, she ran with the others, holding her shotgun tightly as she spoke into a communicator,
Merdilla - Station defense, t'is is Cap'n Merdilla of Fireteam Gauntle'! Up ya defenses an armamen's, we gotta problem!
On the command deck of Battlestation One, which orbited above Minos'Drakon, an ITN commander walked over to the comm system that recieved the Terratrix's transmission.
Commander Tarsion - What's the situation?
Merdilla - Rotters! One t'is time, but it's strong! Plant plenty a land-bangers an 'eavy autosploders, ya'll be needin' 'em!
Station Defence - Confirmed Captain Merdilla. Mobilising deployment now. What's its status?
Merdilla - 'ungry!
Station Defence - Understood.
Valeria shouted for the other mercenaries to close the door to Thevixuias' chamber. After slamming it shut mercenaries shouted to each other to lift the brace back into place. Once it slotted back in they all ran out of the tomb as fast as they could, Merdilla took the rear of the group, but out of all of them Valeria was the most distraught.
Valeria - A three hundred thousand year old undead that appears from nowhere, what have we woken up?
Illusion of Respite
Valeria was working on a replacement tablet as the landscpe of Northern Miminas rushed by, ice and snow blanketed outside but the Mag-Lev car they were sitting in was smooth, quiet and above-all warm, providing a comfortable environment for everyone to rest in after their ordeal at the tomb. Sitting on the table she worked at was a cup of herbal tea. She was busy looking over star maps and research notes on the period of history to whcy the Minosian Empire was dominant, but she was somewhat weary. Her head was low as she was deep in concentration, thinking about the entire experience and trying to not be bothered by those lost by her desire ot understand the past.
Merdilla's team was sat and positioned across the car, fixing or modifying their guns and weapons. Thakos, head scientist of the research group here next to Valeria, was studying samples him and his team had collected alongside historic regards detailing the past of Alcanti's civilizations and culture. Merdilla herself was sat with a bottle of bright yellow Paa'go in her hands, swilling it round with an expression of gloom spread across her face.
Merdilla - T'em t'ere people died out t'ere cuz I Drakon-damned choked. Gah... the Paragon d'ain't gimme my own team just ta let t'em an' other people die out in the cold.
Valeria slowly turned her head to look at Merdilla, exhausted from the whole ordeal.
Valeria - To be honest, i never dreamed of seeing something like that. Those bodies, hers included perhaps, were over three hundred thousand years old yet...it was like encountering some bizarre nanotech cyborg.
Merdilla - Nan-what now?
Valeria gave Merdilla a confused look as if the latter was some imbecile based on her reply.
Valeria - Nanotech, the substance which allows nanosprays and fabricators to work.
Merdilla - Oh t'at! Course! What, ya take me fer some kinda 'ead-dropped 'atchlin' or somethin'?
Valeria - Well...your profile mentioned you were a veteren of the Necrosis Crisis so I assumed you knew about it.
Merdilla - Yeah, course I was! Met an' 'elped the Para-doohank 'imself! By the forests, 'e even 'ad a few beers wit' me!
Valeria - Thakos...can you shed any light on what we saw?
Thakos looked up from his own customized tablet device, which had been enhanced through a variety of technological applications and additions, and gave a concerned, disappointed look towards Valeria.
Thakos - The Minosians had a lot of enemies, hard to determine which.
Valeria - Well...I am more concerned with what happened with that woman in there. For one no normal draconid being should survive such lengthly freezing, scream as she did or somehow extract knowledge by consuming brain matter....what in the void's name was she?
Thakos - If I may be honest... it sounds similar to cases scripted within recent Zazane history. Far more specifically, she held symptons not dissimilar from conditions found within the state of... Descension.
Valeria looked blankly at Thakos, a little bewildered at what he was suggesting. She had heard of "descension", it was a common belief that was what afflicted Tyraz, but Valeria was never entirely convinced about it.
Valeria - Descension, you mean that spiritualist belief that the body undergoes a process to become more "demonlike"?
Thakos - Hardly spiritualist, although it does affect the essence that is believed to compose of "souls" within a being. But yes. Descension.
Valeria - And how exactly has a three-hundred-millenia old corpse inherited such qualities when the Zazane have only been present for a small part of that time.
Thakos - I would suggest Zazane settlement, yet your people do not appear to possess any prior records detailing anything relating towards the Zazane. An enigma indeed.
Merdilla - 'Ey I'm sober an' I still can't make out what ya sayin', Scaly.
Valeria - Maybe there's a link with those murals, or the depiction on the dome.
It was not just the sound of metal scraping and banging that filled their ears, but also that of crying and wailing; it was immense, ear-piercing and bone-shattering in its volume and pitch. Valeria was knocked about and thrown all over the car. There were other screams too; other passengers caught in the car upon the impact. When the car settled their panicking continued. Merdilla's team, at least those who were capable of remaining conscious, grabbed ahold of their weapons and prepped them while Merdilla barked orders incoherently. Thakos stood up, seemingly unfazed by the impact although he was nonetheless as worried as the others. Valeria stumbled up after the tumbling stopped, holding her head, she could feel a bruise on the side of her temple, as well as other aches all over.
Valeria - Urgh...was there a repulsion surge?
Thakos - Everything seemed stable before, one couldn't be this sudden, could it?
Merdilla - Must 'ave been a pretty big surge if it was enough ta take us off the damned track.
Valeria - So...what ha...ppened.... Merdilla has there been any word from the tomb?
Merdilla - Not a word! Damned slug-munchers ain't gave me no sign of a report or... whatcha call it... update!
Valeria - I have a vague hypothesis as to why.
Merdilla - An' what would t'at be?
Valeria - That draconis, she survived everything your team threw at her didn't she?
Merdilla - ...Ya implyin' t'at I'm incompecompetant?
Valeria - Of course not.
Merdilla - T'at rotter didn't even flinch! Bastard rotters, I 'ate t'em! All a 'tem! ...What were ya implyin'?
Valeria - It's just a hypothesis but...perhaps--
Suddenly, there was motion once more. This time, the walls, floor and ceiling of the car divided and split almost as if it was paper, sending Merdilla's team and various scientists flying to one side and the rest of the passengers, including Valeria, Thakos and Merdilla, to another side, exposing them to the sheer cold. Valeria collided with the back of the car, she shielded herself as a pair of seats almsot hit her, keeping her face tucked under her wings as though to spare herself from the horror that was going on around them. Merdilla squawked loudly as she hit the back of the car beside Valeria, slumping down as a seat was thrown in her direction and colliding with her arm, causing her to squawk in agonizing pain once more. Thakos had his legs high in the air while his head could only see the devastated ceiling.
Valeria - Drakon spare us...please...
Their eyes were obscured by a veil of raging snow, quickly filling the space of the car. However, it was not just snow that the group could see coming their way; a silhouette was wasting no time trouncing its way through the several tons of deep snow without error. Some civilians dotted the white landscape between the group and the snow, caught up in the chaos that ensued and now wandering about, stranded and confused, some not noticing the bounding figure. The group could barely hear their own thoughts as the snow raged, yet even then that wasn't enough to filter or disguise the loud, daunting wail that quickly followed the appearance of the silhouette. The civilians trapped outside, those who found themselves in its immediate proximity, dropped to their knees and collapsed while the figure continued on its devastating path. Valeria peeked out from her wings and climbed to peek over the edge of the wrecked car, her eyes widening to see the strange figure approach.
Valeria - Fellows...we have a problem.
Merdilla - Ya too? Phew, I t'ought I was the only one t'at drank too much!
Valeria - I've only been having tea.
uddenly, pressure drove against their bodies as the remains of the car made its way towards the figure, their image becoming clearer with each scrape and spark that flickered from the metal of the car's exterior. As soon as they were close enough, they could identify the figure somewhat more clearly; blue scales, black markings acting as tattoos, armour that moulded with the flesh, it looked scarily familiar as they were pulled by some unseen hand towards it.
The car stopped at the Draconis' feet; Thevixuias glared into the car, although she also curiously examined its exterior and interior. However, it did not distract her long as she proceeded to step forward, her black eyes observing the party. Her skin was not so decayed
Valeria hid behind her wings yet again, now whimpering timidly, secretly wishing this was all some horrible dream that she could wake up from. But she could feel it all, this was no dream, perhaps it was a nightmare. Valeria found her self in a panicked babbling as Thevixuias stood over her.
Thevixuias - ...Draconis. Terratrix. Zazane.
Valeria - Please go way please go away please go away.
Thevixuias - ...Valeria. Merdilla. Thakos.
Valeria peeked out from under her wing, visibly frightened as the large Draconis stared down at her with her obsidian-black eyes.
Valeria - H-how do you know our names?
Thevixuias - Telemys. Telemys knows... Telemys knew you. All of you. Recognized your faces, your personalities. Roles. Jobs.
Valeria was suddenly overcome with fury being reminded of the incident where she lost her apprentice. spreading her wings out she jumped up and tried to bite and claw Thevixulas savagely in a fit of rage. however she didn't even land a mere scratch upon the Draconis' scales as she found herself thrown back, slamming into the rear of the car once more. The impact caused the car to once more flip and turn, making a full vertical cycle in midair before collapsing to the ground once more. Thevixuias walked to them once more, a saddened snarl upon her face as Valeria struggled to move, holding her chest as she could feel an irregularity in ehr chest; a broken rib perhaps?
Thevixuias - You knew him.
Valeria - And you--you killed him. you tore off his drakon-blessed skull and you swallowed his brains you abomination!
Valeria stuggled to her feet and panted as she lashed out again but she was once more tossed back by an invisible kinetic shove, causing the wall behind her to explode as she was sent through it and into the snow. Valeria lay in the snow, this time too weak and possibly in too poor a condition to get back up, her wings sagged and lay in the powder-white substance, brusies showing through gaps between her scales.
Valeria - He...he had a scholarship, good grades, and you took it all away from him!
The titan's eyes began to drip with tears that once again crystallized the instant they escaped the gland as she spoke. Merdilla watched with horror at the pain she had inflicted on Valeria while Thakos squinted with confusion as to what was going on.
Merdilla - By the forests...
Thakos - Why is she crying?
Valeria - Wh-what do you want f-from us....
Thevixuias - Want? ...Want. What do you want...? ...What do I want? ...Want. ...I want the Aetomarchis.
Valeria - I-i've n-never heard of that name.
Thevixuias - ...Year. What year... What year this is? ...What year is this?
Valeria - ID.219506. Some 280,000 years from when you were frozen.
Thevixuias - ...Frozen. Tomb, crypt. Entombment. ...Entombment. Trapped. Thevixuias. Thevixuias, the Aetomarchis... Others. Others... Others. Find. Discover. Must find, discover others. Release. Unleash... Unleash, release others.
Valeria - We're not helping you release whatever other horrors were sealed away.
As Valeria claimed her statement, the Draconis giant leaned her head downward to the floor and closed her eyes. More crystals of tears began to form, with some red formations being created amongst them. As she sobbed with a heart-wrenching tone of sadness within her voice, she struggled to speak.
Thevixuias - Horrors... Sealed. Sealed... away. Help... helping... Assistance... Assistance... Choice... No choice... No choice! Destroy, kill... Obliterate you... Obliterate Minos'Drakon. You help! Or Minos'Drakon... no Minos'Drakon!
Valeria - You wouldn't. Do you know how many innocent people live there? Do you even know how large it has gotten in the interim?
Thevixuias - Innocents. Innocent! Innocents! Burn Minos'Drakon... Burn Miminas!
Thevixuias approached, causing Merdilla to grab ahold of her shotgun and fire a round at the towering Draconis. She didn't reel, there was not even the smallest detail of damage left upon her flesh. Merdilla however found herself thrown against the walls repeatedly by that same invisible force, rocking the car. Blood flew through the air with each impact. Merdilla's squawking and screeching pierced their ears, her blood landing onto Thakos' crest and clothing. He backed away, holding his ear sockets in desperation.
Thakos - M-Make it s-stop!
Valeria - Stop that, leae Merdila alone!
Thevixuias - Regain others! Or lose Merdilla, Terratrix! Lose Minos'Drakon! LOSE LIFE. LIVES. EXISTENCE.
Valeria dropped has jaw slightly and felt unbalanced. Her wunds began to overcome her as well as the cold lashing out against her scales.
Valeria - We'll help you but...please...spare her. She was only trying to protect me....
Suddenly, Merdilla was thrown one last time into the floor of the car. She laid there for several moments, whimpering and squeaking weakly as she attempted to crawl and stagger to her broken legs. Blood spat from her nose and mouth, coughing and spluttering in pain as she tried to escape the Draconis' reach.
Merdilla - I-I-I c-can't... c-can't f-f-feel... m-my teeth...
Valeria tried to get past Thevixuias in order to attent to her injuried, pressing a hand gently against the giant's flesh as se passed. Touching the skin she froze , suspended in motion and movement as she laid a hand upon Thevixuias' skin of ice sheets. The titan, still sobbing and struggling to hold back tears while she whimpered, exchanged only one glance to the Draconis as she tried to make her way past.
Thevixuias - ...Promise. Keep promise. Or mutilatation. Punishment.
Valeria - Scientist's oath. I will.
Thevixuias - ...Scientist. No scientist's oath. Word. The Aetomarchis. Aetomarchis' Word. By the Aetomarchis' Word...
Valeria - Well...alright. By the Aetomarchis' word, I will help you find your fellows.
Movement was restored, Valeria could once again place one foot in front of the other. Merdilla twitched and stuttered, more than usual, as she tried to reach out towards help; that same bottle of bright yellow Paa'go remained undamaged. As she tried to wrap her hand around the neck of the bottle, the glass shattered and exploded, causing her to shriek not from the pain of the glass penetrating her vulnerable areas, but of her sense of loss overwhelming her psyche. Valeria ran over and knelt down to Merdila, her nicitating membranes fluttering as she tried to speak.
Valeria - I'll get you a nanospray. I'm so sorry I got you and Thakos into this mess.
Merdilla - Ack...Urgh, ngh... I-I... D-Drakon-damned rotters...
Valeria - You need hospital attention...
Merdilla - N-Nah! N-Nah h-hospi-doodads! I-I'll be f-fine! K-Know what I-I n-need? ...M-My gun-banger a-and a d-drink!
Valeria - I promised to help her to save you, the least I can do is offer you proper medical treatment.
Valeria reached into one of the pokets on Medila's outfit and retrieved a nanospray, administering bursts of it to the places where she was bleeding or where bones were chipped. Merdilla could already feel the pain receding but the shock still rang though her body however. Merdilla cringed and spat out blood from her beak. She tried to lift herself from the floor, squawking as she felt the full extent of her injuries, Valeria instantly rushing to help her into a ocmfortable position.
Merdilla - W-What does s-she need 'elp w-with? A t-tissue?
Valeria - She...there are others like her. I either agreed or she killed you and possibly Minos'Drakon.
Merdilla - ...Oh bloody 'ell.
Valeria - We tried escaping her before and look what happened.
Merdilla - ...What are ya implyin'?
Valeria - I don't think we have a choice in this unless we enjoy the idea of getting killed.
Merdilla - Oh 'eck... I need ta pick my little flutterbutter from school-adood-dad, I ain't gettin' paid fer t'is!
The Damned General
Thevixuias, Valeria, Thakos and Merdilla, along with a few scientists and mercenaries, arrived outside the barrow of a town in the Miminan heartlands, a realm of flat plains dotted with fields of grazing animals and luxurious vinyards. In the distance was a palatial estate, no doubt owned by one of the Imperium's nobles. The town itself, which they had passed around to avoid drawing attention, glinted in the setting sun, the stone and columns of the buildings were a soft amber in the setting son. Above the barrow's entrance, similar carvings to what was on Thevixuias' tomb, only this time there was no excavation needed.
Merdilla - T'is place gives me the willies... T'en again, so does the t'em-t'ere cry-baby rotter behind us.
Valeria - Well, I think this is it, local records mentioned stories of a haunted barrow.
Thakos - "Haunted."
Valeria - The stories are old, I would not have believed it either were it not for...well.
Valeria pointed at Thevixuias with her thumb, jerking it behind herself as she said her final word.
Thakos - The extent of my belief in the supernatural goes so far. "Haunting" - The "thing" we are after is not dead, thus it cannot possibly be a haunting.
Thevixuias continued to sob and whine, her black eyeballs leaking with icy tears that froze the ground where they dropped from her face. Trying not to think of Thevixuias' condition, Valeria brushed her hand against the door, coming into contact with what looked like a wheel of sorts with three symbols; a bird, an udulov and a krann along with various other symbols of animals. Merdilla grunted and kept her shotgun close to her, already prepared and fully-loaded for any indicative sign of trouble in any shape or form.
Valeria - I think this is a lock of some kind...
Thakos - I wonder what this could mean.
Valeria - Hmm, all these animals are used in hunting...
Merdilla - Birds don't 'unt! T'ey peck an' scavenga-doodad!
Valeria rested her hand on one of the upper wheels, turning it slowly. For the bird symbol she matched up a branch, with the udulov a large bear-like animal and the Krann she mached up a Slikkid. There was a clank, along with metallic scraping.
Valeria - "As the bird rests on her perch, the Udulov spots the giant in the brush, the Krann, stalking his feeble prey..."
Thevixuias - Works. It works.
Valeria - Thevixuias do...do you mind trying to keep the tears to a minimum?
Thevixuias snarled angrily towards Valeria, tears still forming and dropping from her eyes as she approached, stretching out a cold hand towards the Draconis. However, Merdilla raised her shotgun again, causing Thevixuias to pause and then back away.Thevixuias - Useful. Still useful. No death. None.
As they travelled past the tomb they encountered murals identical to the ones in Thevixuias tomb. Where the mural depicting Thevixuias was was instead two other murals; a Draconis, surrounded by hordes of ill and dying soldiers, the other the soldiers appeared to be chanting, their faces shaprened with hostility.
Valeria - I'm getting bad feelings looking at these murals, very bad feelings.
Thevixuias - Identity, name. Cannot remember name. Classification, occupation. Title. Title. Legionar. General. Military.
Merdilla - Is t'at rotter gonna always do t'at?
Thakos - You must remember, it hasn't been long since she woke up from a 300 millennia-long sleep.
Valeria - Brain damage is understandable.
Thevixuias - Move, forward. Onward.
Valeria nodded shyly, they passed though a chamber ocntaining hundreds of stone Draconis warriors, each one armed with weapons of ancient times. Valeria looked to each statue, the faces of each appeared to be unique if still somewhat stylised. She passed betweeen several of them, studying faces and weapon arrangements with curiosity and wonder. With each statue that they passed, the soldiers of stone appeared more and more disfigured - features became mutated and monstrous, unique faces went from stern and proud to something akin to angry and wrathful, disgusted and full of hate. Their armour began to appear less and less prominent from their stone skin, almost as if fusing into one another.
Valeria - I don't like this...not at all.
Thevixuias - The Legionar. Army, militia. Legion. His legion.
Valeria - Wait are these...actual people?
Thevixuias - Frozen, suspended. Trapped within the ash of their own mortality.
Valeria became considerably more unnerved. Passing though the army, they reached a pair of solid metal doors. The team rigged a kinetic charge to blast the doors open, revealing an open tomb with a single large casket in the middle. Up above was the same line as in Thevixuias tomb, this time, isntead of a serpent, there was a snaking dragon-like creature halfway between the dome's apex and where it had its base. Along this line were the Dragon's jaws, open as if surrounding something. The casket in the middle of the central chamber was quite large, easily big enouth to fit Thevixuias.
Merdilla - An' t'ere it is; the willies.
Thevixuias - There. Casket, tomb. ...Sarcophagus.
Valeria approached the casket and tried to push the lid off, straining herself, but it wouldn't budge. Looking down she saw there were notches keeping it in place. Wrapping her hands around the endges she strained trying to lift it up, but ended up failing.
Valeria - Gah, must be iron or red marble. I think it's too heavy for me. Any volunteers?
Merdilla - Ey don' look at me, I'm 'ardly quali-fidoodad ta use a big-sploder. Well, I am, but t'ey won' let me.
Valeria - Thevixuias...?
Thevixuias was almost silent in her response as sheapproached the sarcophagus with tears raining from her cheeks, freezing the ground at her feet and rendering it icebound. She pointed a single finger outward, her wretched black claw extending in direction of the casket. Without so much as a whisper, the notches began to subject to the unforgiving cold that was her villainous aura - they shattered as she wailed once more, her cries echoing painfully throughout the chamber.
The notches cracked the tomb, forcing the walls t ogive way and crack, flowing out of the cracks were thousands of burrowing insects, causing all the scientists and mercenaries to back away in panic. Valeria backed away as the insects began ot swarm towards her, she backed up against a wall, her heart racing as she used her bots to crush what she could. Merdilla however, squawked and flew backwards in a panic, while Thakos ran almost entirely out of the crypt at first sight of the scurrying insects. Thevixuias remained where she was, yet something odd occured; the insects took notice of her and grasped the opportunity to engulf her form, swarming her shape like a ferocious horde. They ate away at her skin of sheer cold, some falling and dying from the lack of heat from her body while others buried themselves into her flesh.
The marble had cracked, underneath the casket lid, a Draconis, who's body was partialyl consumed by decay and feasting insects, his torso open to the elements. On his disfigured face was a look of disgust. He lay there quietly. With the insects gone, his wounds ever so slowly began to close up. The insects that swarmed her face consumed Thevixuias' tears of killing freeze as she looked over the devoured, infested corpse that was the casket-bound Draconis. Despite the creatures festering in her mouth and throat, she spoke with no quarrel.Thevixuias - [Awaken.]
After a few minutes, he moved, pushing the casket lid of the torso, his eye flickering open. He slowly turned his head and emitted a distained look and accompanying growl upon looking at Thevixuias.
Thevixuias - [Companion. Accomplice. Brethren.]
The draconis glared percingly at her, laying amidst the rublle and insect corpses as he quietly stared at her though yellowed eyes. The draconis spoke with a gratingly hoarse tone, as if his vocal cords had rotted to produce a gargling and ghastly baritone voice, which he used to communicate.
Dralkithus - [Why. Why free me.?]
Thevixuias - [We must retaliate.]
Dralkithus pushed the rubble away and attempted to stand up as his wiunds closed up, his body rotten and disfigured. As he stood up, he sent a yellowed set of claws flying at Thevixuias' face, delivering whatever strength remained in his muscles. As the claws collided with Thevixuias' tear-covered face, the icebound Draconis was thrown across the crypt, smashing into the surrounding legion of statues which broke apart and shattered as her mass came into contact with them.
Dralkithus - [No command. Over me!]
Merdilla raised her shotgun and Thakos watched from afar. The Terratrix captain stepped forward, growling and snarling as she attempted to aim it towards any vulnerable point she could find over the decomposed Draconis. The draconis turned isr head to Merdilla and raised his arm, more insects emerged from crevices and began to swarm Merdilla, climbing up her legs.
Merdilla - Drakon-dangit, gimme some supporta-widjet!
Valeria stumbled up and reached for the shotgun of a mercenary who had been eaen by the inesects, pumping it she aimed it at the Draconis. He loked over and stomped towards her, loering his hand and allowing the bugs to crawl off her. The surrounding mercenaries moved in and fired their weapons, striking the Draconis with a mixture of bullets and energy blasts that tore apart regenerating flesh and skin, blowing away the Draconis' redeveloping organs. However, the swarms of hungry, minute beasts continued to devour their armour, flesh and innards, making them a vulnerable, compromised unit. Valeria aimed the shotgun but before she could fire she was grabbed by the jaw and pulled close, she could see the rot-marks on the Draconis body as he snarled, his teeth yellowed and gums blackened. His face was twisted.
Dralkithus - [Such beauty...not deserved!]
Valeria - S-someone help...
Dralkithus - [Not deserve. Not deserve beauty!]
Thakos' fist collided with the Draconis' face, sending the beast reeling backward and causing him to drop Valeria. Thakos' moment of brutality was quickly overcame with fear and he backed away cautiously. The Draxonis stumbled and snarled as he looked at Thakos.
Thakos - Stay away from her!
Dralkithus - [You dare!]
The Draconis stood up and angrilly paced up to look down at Thakoss, his lips rippling in a snarl as his wounds continued to close. His eyes narrowed as he clenched his fists. As the Draconis made his approach, Thevixuias suddenly materialized behind the wretched, diseased monster and grabbed ahold of his degenerated wings, evoking a struggle to emerge between the two of them.
Thevixuias - [Settle... Calm yourself.]Dralkithus felt Thevixuias grasp his wings and threw his wings outward and attempted to slam her withhis bony tail. He swung his arms back also trying to hit her. She was thrown to the ground, causing the floor to crack - there was something of a crater where she had fell, where she began to struggle to balance herself. She lay at the Draconis' feet, gasping for breath as more and more tears escaped from her nightmarish eyes. Dralkithus turned around and glared down at herm breating deeply with is fists tightly clenched.
Dralkithus knelt down and glared at her. He then latched his jaws onto her skull and tore the top of the head away before taking a mouthful of brain matter, tearing it off and letting it slip down his throat. Thevixuias screeched, horrifically screaming as the back of her skull was torn away from her. Merdilla and the surviving mercenaries watched in confusion and disgust, several soldiers unable to hold back their stomachs and vomitted up steaming, fresh waste. Thakos' quivered at the sight, struggling to keep his fists clenched and his position stable. He took a few more bites before standing back up and leaving her body to recover, swallowing gleefully. Merdilla, not used to such a horrific sight almost gagged watching Dralkithus devour and swallow Thevixuias' flesh.
Dralkithus - The world...changed. No change. Retaliation for pain! Retaliation for slaughter and imprisonment.
Merdilla - By ta forests, t'at's jus' disgustin'.
Thakos - ...W-Who... Who are you?
Dralkithus - Was a Centurior...Minos...Minos'Drakon. Once home, now enemy. Aetomarchis...he provided new purpose. I am Dralkithus. Was Centurior? No. Still am. Still command. Legions, armies, I am still of worth!
Merdilla prepared her shotgun and approached "Dralkithus" with caution, keeping her aim somewhat steady despite her paranoid and probably intoxicated state. She was shaky, but she was no coward. Dralkithus slowly turned his head to glare in Merdilla's direction, a permanent scowl across his rotted and withered face.
Merdilla - I dun' care who tis damned Aeta-tingy is, all I know is t'at ya're a rotter and I 'ate rotters! Tell us who t'is Aeta-tingamajig is!
Dralkithus - He is the lord from the heavens, the one destine by the stars to rule this land eternally. He is divine, beyond the scope of a thousand Minosian high-kings, and we are all dirt beneath his feet. Respect him...thing, for he can wipe out entire armies....with but a glare.
Merdilla - T'at so, eh? Well, he ain't 'ere now, is he? Ya Aeta-doodad is gone! It's only ya an' us!
As Merdilla spoke, Thevixuias arose from the ground which was now stained with frost, ice and her blood, and gave a cold, dead stare towards the group. The wound afflicted to the rear of her skull closed itself slowly, her brain writhing, almost breathing as it regenerated.
Thevixuias - Buried beneath the skin of the world he has been, for eons immemorial. But no longer shall the Aetomarchis be constrained. He demands His empire. He shall have it.
Dralkithus - He lives yes, we feel it. Eons pass...you forget him. We shall make you remember!
In a flash of black vapour, Dralkithus stood toe-to-toe with Merdilla staring down at her, his skin crawling as he sized her up. Thevixuias approached, placing a hand upon Dralkithus' shoulder in order to pull him back from Merdilla and the group, while bugs cralwed up her arms and attempted to feast at her corpse-like skin.
Thevixuias - [They made an oath by the Word of the Aetomarchis. They shall assist us until He thrives once more, his kingdom resurrected.]
Dralkithus - [One of them agreed yes. But why, dear sister. Why must we work with such insects?]
Thevixuias - [So that they may watch as their Imperium is razed by His hand. They will bare witness to His wrath; they shall suffer as we have, as He had done.]
Dralkithus turned around swiftly, shifting his shoulder in an attempt to force her to let go.
Dralkithus - [You grow soft. All of them will bear witness. Every single inhabitant. These few are inconsequential!]
Thevixuias - [You do not understand what it means for you to watch as the ones you love and remember are taken away from you. You only care for revenge. It is not I who has grown soft; it is you who has grown bitter further.]
Dralkithus clenched his fists and swung his arm, smacking the back of his clenched palm into the side of her head with immense, bone-cracking force. Tears of crystalline ice flew across the room and shattered upon impact with the furthest wall as Thevixuias' jaw was dislodged from her skull, hanging limp with her throat gurgling desparately, her teeth shattered and broken.
Dralkithus - [NEVER assume I never cared. My cohort lost, sister.Every single one, dead, decayed or lost.]Thevixuias gurgled further, her words unable to be spoken or translated as she spoke the language of those who could not speak. Thakos, Merdilla and Valeria stood at the far side of the room, watching as the two colossi traded harsh verbal blows between one another in their native tongue, a language considered dead for all save for several of the scientists in the room, Valeria included.
Outside, the mist that shrouded the graves and tombs surrounding this one barrow swiftly began to part. Dressed in an ornate, glamorous armour of black and gold decorated with ferocious patterns with a skintight onyx bodysuit beneath it, the Zazane figure made an approach, sniffing furiously. There was but a lone figure in the surrounding graveyard, a Draconis woman who sat at the front of a small house overlooking the gravestones, reading from a tablet device, looking over recent news. Narrowing his eyes, the Zazane continued onwards, his path taking him towards the residence and the woman who sat outside. He wore a snarl across his face, evidently irritated by something - probably the nature of his mission. He appeared unarmed, although one would be wise to know that a Zazane never assumed a directive without a weapon.
As he approached, the Draconis woman looked up from her device and examined him with deep chestnut eyes. She was dressed practically, not the fanciness many Urban Draconis liked to wear, practical but still dispalying a demeanor of elegance; a soft white shirt, and dark thick trousers. Approaching her, the Zazane let out a commanding bark at her to draw her attention.
Skarlthrax - You there.
Draconis - Hm? Need something stranger?
Skarlthrax - What do you do here? Don't give me any riddles or funny talk, I want a straight answer.
Draconis - I tend this graveyard. I do not know how else I could have put such a statement though.
Skarlthrax - Then you make a poor Draconis; they love chatting others to death with poetry. Urgh, anyway, if you mind this place then I require your assistance. And you don't have the right to say no, before you ask.
Phaelana - Well you are a polite one. My name is Phaelana by the way. Why do you need my help anyway?
Skarlthrax - I'm on assignment. I have been sent to search for survivors of a terrorist attack in the North. I have tracked the terrorists and their hostages here, but I cannot seem to find them.
Phaelana - And you want to know if I have seen anyone suspicious as of late?
Skarlthrax - Exactly. They are definitely here, but there is something... proving an inconvenience. They are hiding.
Phaelana - Not many come by this way, well, save for the Royal Academy team that came to study the local barrow. One of them appeared a little odd though, I could hear her weeping over something all the way over here.
Skarlthrax - Royal Academy-- Take me there, woman. I cannot wait all day; there is a crisis to prevent.
Phaelana - Fine.
Phaelana put her device down on the seat she was sitting on as she stood up and gestured for Skarlthrax to follow her as they headed towards the barrow. She kept a cautious eye on the stranger as they headed over to the doors. When they got there, she could not help but notice that the seal had been deciphered and the doors left wide open.
Phaelana - Hm. It appears that someone has opened the barrow's doors. This Royal Academy group possibly.
Skarlthrax - Or the terrorists.
Phaelana - Can't say much about what's in there. Doors were sealed long ago, before I was born.
Skarlthrax - You stay outside. I don't need damned civilians getting involved with official business.
Phaelana - If you insist. Who are you anyway, Some ITN special forces? Private security? Some Aedan's lackey?
Skarlthrax - I am not at liberty to say. It is best if you do not ask questions; if you knew, I would have to terminate you. Unfortunately.
Phaelana - Great, so you are one of "those" types. Fine. I'll keep quiet.
Phaelana stepped to the side and leaned against the frame of the entrance, looking at Skarlthrax expectantly with a perked eyebrow, gesturing for him to head inside.
Skarlthrax - Believe me, woman, my job is hard enough as it is. I don't need you civilian sorts making it any more unbearable for me.
Phaelana - As you insist. I'll stay out here then since, well, this land is within my work area.
Skarlthrax grunted and headed into the depths of the barrow, paying no further attention towards the woman. He grumbled under his breath, placing a cigarette between his jaws before its tip spontaneously, and conveniently, lit itself.Skarlthrax - Terrorists. As if anybody with half a brain would fall for that. I'd better finish this job quick before that woman wonders in wanting to ask more questions.
Walking through the chambers, Skarlthrax encountered the chamber filled with the army of statues that guarded the entrance to the inner sanctum. Upon entry h caught a glympse of Dralkithus walking back inside the chamber, apparently talking to someone in a language that he did not innately know.
Dralkithus - [I will restore my legions, sister. And with them, and alongside our master, this "Imperium" will BURN!]
Skarlthrax stepped forward and leared his throat, faced with the legion of suspended statues, to which he paid no attention, and glared towards Dralkithus and Thevixuias with an indifferent, almost frustrated expression as he smoked his cigarette. Dralkithus turned around before he crossed the threshold and set his eyes on Skarlthrax, clenching his fists as he studied the Zazane standing before him. He spent a moment studying the Zazane's outfit, and although it was beyond anything he had seen before, he smirked. He was intelligent enough to realise that this intruder was a warrior.
Skarlthrax - And what do you think you're doing?
Dralkithus - [Sister...did this creature follow you!?]
Thevixuias' jaw repaired itself, allowing her to communicate in a more advanced manner rather than simple gurgles and grunts. Crystal tears continuing to manifest around her eyes, she glared towards the Zazane with an upset, sorrowful expression.
Thevixuias - [I have witnessed no individual such as this, nor did I feel its presence prior. Zazane, it appears.]
Dralkithus - [It knows of us now. Therefore it must be destroyed!]
Skarlthrax - Hey. You need to get better at whispering. I can hear everything you're saying.
Dralkithus - It matters not.
Clenching his fists, Skarlthrax glared towards the two monstrous aberrations he could only assume were Draconis. He reached out a hand and gestured for at least one of the monsters to approach him, puffing smoke from his nostrils.
Skarlthrax - Well? What are you waiting for?
Dralkithus snorted and cricked his neck to generate a disturbing sound. Tensing his muscles, he held out his hand and summoned a twisted kukri, charging and raising it to slash Skarlthrax in the stomach. Skarlthrax, however manoeuvred himself out of Dralkithus' range and drew a pistol, bearing design aspects from the Imperium, the Brood, and the Divinarium within its structure; sturdy, brutal, functional but also elegant in its own right. Pressing on its trigger, he launched bullets towards Dralkithus which appeared to shine and glimmer with silver incandescence. Dralkithus saw Skalthrax move and skidded, widening his eyes at the bullets that, within moments, buried themselves under his skin, causing him to grunt in pain. The bullets embedded themselves deeply, continuing to cause an immense level of agonizing pain beneath Dralkithus' flesh. The 'silver' that they were constructed of began to dematerialise into an almost-liquid form; Yrsalimarus picomachines programmed into bullet form.
Dralkithus felt the picomachines attacking his innards and gasped as he felt himself weaken, he held onto his stomach and snarled.
Dralkithus - Sorcery! I'll tear your skull through your snout!
Skarlthrax - I am right to assume it was you and your... accomplice who destroyed the MagLev. What exactly are your intentions?
Dralkithus - I have no idea what you refer to.
Valeria - Thevixuias please tell him, the train, the thing I was inside when you intercepted us. That's what he is talking about.
Thevixuias stepped forward, standing beside her injured comrade as his wounds festered with decay and picomachines. She glared coldly towards the Zazane operative, freezing blood dripping from her numb hands.
Thevixuias - Yes. It was I who destroyed it. A chariot of steel and iron, pulled by metal rope instead of udulov
Skarlthrax - And what are your intentions? Mass vandalism, genocide, occult worship, terrorism?
Thevixuias - To release Him. Aetomarchis. The man whose wings are of hellish fire, whose eyes are of accursed void. To set Him free to reclaim His kingdom, to continue His conquest.
Valeria beckoned the rest of the group close t to herself as the trio talked, having the research group huddle near her in the hopes of making sure they did not hear. All of them kept to hushed mutterings, but despite this their voices still reverberated thoughout the large chamber.
Valeria - Do you think we have a chance of slipping outwhile those three are talking?
Merdilla - I wouldn't bet on t'at, too dangerous. T'ere's a very good chance we migh' be spotted--
Before Merdilla could finish her sentence, Skarlthrax opened fire on the two aberrants that stood before him, bullets of Yrsalimarus silver penetrating the air with machine-like efficiency. He kept an indifferent look upon his face, but his eyes held a restrained, eager anger that desired simply to unleash itself upon all of who he saw. Dralkithus roared as he was hit, but managed to incinerate a single bullet, hus roars ecohed thoughout the chamber, shaking it and causing some of the ceiling to start cracking. In retaliation, he jumped towards Skarlthax, his kukri ready and thrusted it to stab the Zazane in the torso. Skarlthrax felt the kukri bury itself into his flesh, causing him to groan in pain while blood splattered out of his mouth. The two of them stood there, close to one another, while time seemed to slow down. Skarlthrax groaned, but he kept resistance; he planted the gun's barrel between Dralkithus' jaws and fired.
Dralkithus' flesh was scattered about the chamber, his head exploding from the impact and causing him to fall sideways. Near the entrance, Phaelana watched, she had snuck in and upon seeing the two abberant Draconis she stumbled back and pressed herself against a wall, suddenly panicking.Phaelana - Krandung, kranndung...those two!
Valeria panicked and bolted, she tried to keep away from the confrontation and behind Thevixuias' field of view as she ran for the entrance, hopping between statues desperately hoping not to get spotted by the monstrosity. Dralkithus was not fully dead however, and the moment he hit the ground his head slowly began reforming. But Valeria's escape attempt was not perfect, she was frightened, one could hear it in her breath. Skarlthrax hawever noticed and called out to them.
Skarlthrax - Wait outside the entrance and don't run any further than that! Just get out of here, all of you!
As he gave the command, Merdilla and Thakos bolted behind Valeria. Thevixuias stepped forward to apprehend, probably kill the two of them, but was met with a devastating blow to her eye, causing her to screech a horrific, almost-deafening scream that caused the walls and ceiling to crack. Valeria kept running, she managed to dart past the entrance to the army's chamber and caught a quick glympse of Phaelana who joined them running outside. Dralkithus eventually stood up, his skull still reforming but he had enough strength to slam his fist into the ground, causing himself and Thevixuias to vanish in clouds of black smoke smoke.
Skarlthrax continued firing until he could see the monstrosities no more. A loud growl escaped his bared teeth as he rushed outside in search of the creatures, for they could have managed to manifest themselves once more elsewhere. But it was not here; they were gone. He could feel them no longer. He placed his gun back into its hidden holster and growled, smoke escaping his lips as he chewed the cigarette he had been smoking several minutes ago, apparently indifferent to the fact that the ensuing incident had caused him to engulf it within his maw.
Valeria was taking deep breaths as she tried to regain her composure, sitting on her knees outside. Skarlthrax turned towards the group with a narrowed glare, his eyes evoking panic and violence as he took a step towards them. It was clear that he was no mere random bystander; judging by his weaponry and armour, he definitely had ties to the Commonwealth, the Imperium at least.
Valeria - Th-thank you sir...It...It was horrible being among those two.
Skarlthrax - What were you doing with them?
Valeria - Well...we were prisoners. That blue one threatened to burn down Minos'Drakon and kill my companions if I didn't agree. My partner Merdilla can vouch for me, the amount of damage she soaked up in earlier encounters made it feel she was serious about that.
Merdilla - T'at t'em-t'ere cold bitch was a damned rotter! A rotter! We ain't seen no damned rotters for, what, a decade? Maybe two? I dunno, I forget.
Thakos - We were taken prisoner. We had no other option, aside from being executed or potentially worse. If we wanted to survive, we had to--
Skarlthrax - And you valued your life over loyalty? You gave them information, didn't you? Any other day, I would have you executed on the spot for treachery and terrorism! ...But I won't. You're still useful, you have helpful information.
Valeria - Please don't say that...you're sounding like her, only without the constant weeping.
Phaelana - Wait that MagLev accident 70km south of MD, you were all part of it?
Merdilla - Eeeyup. Right now, t'ough, I t'ink we need ta find a more... suitable shelter rat'er t'an outside.
Skarlthrax - Agreed. We're vulnerable in the open and we're completely unaware if they could appear out of random and attack once again. You, Philian or whatever your name was, we can use your residence.
Phaelana - My name is Phaelana. And I suppose, since, well...I understand if these people are in shock.
Valeria - How much in danger are we exactly.
Phaelana - Seeing those two well...I think everyone's in serious danger. You all look worn out. We can use my residence, I can always cook up something for you all.
Valeria - Words cannot describe how grateful I would be for that.
Skarlthrax - No cooking for me. I don't feel hungry. Nor are Zazane compatible with cooked meals.
Merdilla - Screw t'at, I'll 'ave ta largest, most steamiest meat ya got!
Phaelana - I might have some leftover mince for the other Zazane. Don't worry, it should be raw.
Thakos - I... I would appreciate that, thanks very much. T-Thank you...
Skarlthrax - While you are having dinner, I want you prepared and ready to give me what information you know of these... creatures.
Phaelana had brought the royal academy team and Skarlthrax to her home nearby. Inside it was warm and despite her modest demeanor, as like many Draconis she lived very comfortably. When she entered she showed the group to the living room and quickly headed into the kitchen, leaving everyoen to warm up. There were two sounds that dominated the living room as they entered; the chime of an old clock, and the low tune of orchestral music.
Valeria moved to sit in a chair near to one of the radiators and warmed herself up, still shivering both from the cold tomb and from the nerve-wracking event that transpired. Skarlthrax eyed the team of Royal Academy researchers and leaned backwards where he stood, a spiteful yet somehow inquisitive glare in his eyes. Merdilla sat, or rather splayed herself, across the floor while her tongue dangled past the side of her beak. Thakos passed a glance towards Skarlrthrax with apprehension, unnerved to a point where it seemed he had lost those traits that made him Zazane.
Phaelana - I was not expecting visitors tonight so I do not have much food on offer. Do any of you desire drinks at all? I have a few wine bottles, one or two ales and some soda drinks if you're not up to alcohol tonight.
Merdilla - Lady, does it really look like I don't need no forest-damned alcohol?
Valeria - I-I'll have a glass of wine please. Actually, can I have a whole bottle?
Thakos - I'll have two.
Skarlthrax - You're going to drink wine? I thought you were one of the traditional Zazane.
Thakos - If I went by tradition, I'd be a soldier, not a scientist.
Phaelana came out after a few minutes with a serving tray, two bottles of dark red wine, one bottle of faintly-yellow wine a selection of beers and a pitchr of whater which she settled on a coffee table in front of the lounger Valeria had laid upon.
Valeria - Thank you, I never caught your name.
Merdilla - T'anks, whats-your-face, looks like I owe ya'.
Phaelana - Its Phaelana. Phaelana Danstrias. You all look famished so I will see if I can prepare something for you all.
Valeria - You are too kind, Phaelana.
Skarlthrax - I can go without. Food isn't my main concern, nor should it be all of yours.
Valeria - I bear no offense sir, but my team and I have been on te move since, well, it sounds like you already know what part of the coninent we started from.
One of Valeria's team popped open a glass of wine and poured himself a glass as he walkd over to activate Pahelana's imager to watch some much-needed broadcast programs, flicking though the channels to see what peeked his interest. A few of the others quickly joined him.
Skarlthrax - You are going to tell me what occured over there. Right now, based upon what evidence I have, I could have you all executed in private and erase all trace of your existence throughout the Imperium. Literally wipe your slate.
Merdilla - Well ain' he an 'appy cloaca.
Valeria - For someone I hardly know you talk like you're some thug for one of the praetors.
Skarlthrax - Who I am is not important to you. What is important is that you explain yourselves.
Valeria - To start with my team and I did not intentionally derail that Maglev. One of the, one of the things you saw in the tomb - the blue one - she was responsible.
Skarlthrax - I never would have guessed. Where did she come from? Who is she?
Valeria - Our team first found her in an ice-buried tomb further north. We did not expect to find her there, in fact given her original codnitino we were all shocked she was alive at all.
Skarlthrax - Original condition?
Valeria - When we first encountered her, her fingers and toes were frostbitten, there was rampant frost riming on her skin. She was freezing to the touch. And ice formed the moment it left her eyes.
Skarlthrax - And what of the other one?
Valeria - Similar to her, should be dead but somehow he woke up, stod up and even threw some of us about.
Merdilla - Fuckin' rotters is what t'em faeces-trotters are.
Scientist - I don't care what period in history you're from, when you look like that you shouldn't be able to stand up let alone toss people about like dolls.
Skarlthrax leaned forward, his arms folded tightly while he glanced towards Valeria. His teeth were bared, allowing some members of the group to make out patterns of scarring - almost as if they had been branded - across his gums.
Skarlthrax - And what were you doing with them?
Valeria pushed herself back, looking at Skralhrax gave her chills and looking at those scarred gums and that brutal expression unnerved her.
Valeria - We were hostages. The blue one, "Thevixuias" or something, she threatened to kill Merdilla if I refused to help her.
There was a crash in another room, standing in the arch just outside the living room Phaelana stood with her eyes wide, there were morsals of food scattered everywhere. She stood holding the handles of the silver-plated tray while the main surface had spun around and landed nearby. Skarlthrax turned towards Phaelana with a raised, reptilian brow, his expression calming as he examined her condition.
Phaelana - I apologise, I had a nervous twitch jsut then, it creeps up on me. Ahh, do not mind the tray, they are such cheap things.
Merdilla - Yup! Good rotter shields, though!
Phaelana - Am I interrupting anything?
Skarlthrax - The kind scientist was just confirming her treachery to the Imperium.
Valeria - What, No!
Phaelana - Oh my--
Valeria - Sir you have it all wrong, this was all against our will!
Skarlthrax - What did they want with you? Why you, of all people?
Valeria - The woman spoke in Minosian Dracid. We brought her to the tomb you found us in so she could wake him up.
Skarlthrax - And what are their intentions?
Valeria - They wanted to awaken something called the Aeotmarchis.
Skarlthrax - And what is that? Another one of them?
There was another crash from where Phaelana was, this time from the kitchen. Thakos' head turned towards the source of the sound, surprised by the sudden sound.
Thakos - I think she may require some assistance.
Valeria - Thakos can you check on her? I will answer this man's questions.
Phaelana was in the kitchen, slumped over a chopping board with a raw poutry bird resting on top of it, However things were not quite as they seemed, the bird appeared to hive had its back end explosively contorted and one of the legs was on the other side of the kitchen, with Phaelana tightly clutching a set of crushed innards in her hand. She looked upset, one hand resting on the counter, the other one firmly holding the animal's guts.
Thakos took a step towards Phaelana with interest and concern, raising a brow at the situation while he took a good, long glance towards the mutilated bird that splayed across the chopping board, drenching the board, the floor, the walls, and Phaelana with its blood.
Thakos - Is everything alright in here, miss Phaelana?
Phaelana looked towards Thakos with a worried smile and a similar look in her eye.
Phaelana - I'm fine-- Truly. A slight accident, twice in one day I had that twitch. That's quite rare, I have to say.
Thakos - Your voice speaks relief, but your face does not. Something pesters you.
Phaelana - Is it that transparant?
Thakos - Well, yes. It does not take a Zazane's facial recognition prowess to identify you are undergoing stress. Lots of it, presumably.
Phaelana - Did those creatures in the tomb truly speak of the Aeotmarchis?
Thakos - Affirmative, miss Phaelana. They exclaimed it outright.
Phaelana's features dropped and she slammed the innards onto the counter.
Phaelana - Those two, I may have heard about them. And if they speak of the Aetomarchis as you say, we are all in danger.
Thakos - ...Mind telling us in the living room?
Phaelana nodded and passed her hand over the faucet of a tap, triggering a rush of water to pass over her hands as she ran them under the outburst. She wiped her hands clean and joined Thakos in returning to the living room.
Valeria - Yes, we tried resisting. Both of them were hit with ammunition as though they were not affected at all. I have never seen anything like it.
Skarlthrax - Finally, some good news.
Valeria - How is this good? We have two giant Draconis running around immune to gunfire and this never would have happened if I had not been so Drakon-damned curious!
Skarlthrax - I meant, it's good news you've never seen anything like this before. Otherwise I'd have to spend more time questioning you.
Phaelana - Pardon, but I may be able to shed light on who these figures are.
Skarlthrax - Any idea into what's going on would be appreciated, so take a seat and feel free.
Phaelana nodded and moved to sit down close to Valeria.
Phaelana - From what I remember learning from my parents, those two are possibly champions of Veilias, an ancient kingdom that was a competitor to the Minosian Empire.
Thakos - I have only heard theories regarding the existence of such a kingdom. Mythical, at best.
Phaelana - Those two that were in the tomb. If I recall the female was once an inhabitant of a village on the Minosian frontier. She had fallen into mourning when the forces under this "Aetomarchis" attacked. According to the story, she fell into depression after losing her son - a soldier - during a war between the empire and Veilias. When the Veilian forces raided, she was brought before the Aetomarchis and, while I am unsure what happened, what I recall is that she did submit to him.
Merdilla - She became a forest-damned rotter is what she did!
Phaelana - According to legend each one of these champions could face armies single-handed, or even turn them against each other.
Valeria - ...how exactly?
Phaelana - That part I really don't know.
Skarlthrax - And what of the other one we witnessed?
Phaelana - Another Minosian. Supposedly the legatus of the army this female champion's son was in. He deserted and left his men to die before being found and, well same thing.
Valeria - That explains why they spoke Minosian; it was what they grew up with.
Skarlthrax leaned back, placing a finger to his chin in thought, while Thakos looked to the ground and fiddled with his thumbs as he tried to make sense of such mythology. Merdilla picked up her shotgun and stood, albeit stumbling slightly as emptied cans gathered at her feet.
Merdilla - 'ow many more of 'em would you say t'ere were?
Phaelana - There are two more: One of them had sold out the locations of numerous legions and movements that allowed Veilian forces to strike, later being made a champion herself. The fourth was said to be the king who ruled before the Aetomarchis emerged, and when he was removed from power, swore himself to serve his new king.
Merdilla - So we potentially 'ave nine-- eighteen-- four bullet-proof Draconis with superpowers. And what about t'is Aeto-doodad fella?
Phaelana - The Veilians likened him to a god-king. his very name connecting to the Veilian word for Aldra, and thus light.
Merdilla - Sounds like just anot'er damned rotter ta me.
Skarlthrax wore an uncomfortable expression across his face, as if he had thought of something perhaps otherwise unthinkable, a concept impossible. Growling, he stood away from the wall he leaned upon and looked over the group.
Valeria - So...they treated him like the paragavatus?
Phaelana - Not exactly.
As Skarlthrax finished talking, one of the scientists shakily coughed to draw peoples attention.
Scientist - Uhh...everyone, you might want to take a look at this...
Merdilla - We ain' got no time fer holo-doodad!
Scientist - I'm serious miss. Look!
The scientist pointed to the screen he and his colleagues had been watching. While originally they had been watching local sports channels and the odd cartoon, the footage they were looking at now resembled a news report with arial footage from a town called Racalatis - the very town they were not very far from.
Anchor - Images are coming in of an army of pre-colonial warriors marching upon this small town, emerging from a barrow less than a kilometre away. Local residents are surprised and curious at this, is it some elaborate holoparade or the work of the local reenactment society. We go live to the scene.
Thakos - Pre...colonial?
Valeria - What was it that Thevixuias said as we looked over the statues?
Thakos - ...Suspended.
The screen switched to a ground view, a Solinkidor wearing smart but casual clothing and a pair of headphones. Behind him were several soldiers gathering.
Reporter - Vespius I'm sorry to cut your exitement short but i'm being told by the PDF that this is not a friendly event and that residents are to stay in their homes until this group passes over.
Vespius - Are they saying why people have to stay indoors? This looks spectacular to me and I would not be surprised of people took a few holoimages.
Reporter - They're not saying but the officers are getting really, really insistent that I stop this report and follow their advice.
Valeria - This can't be happening. We drove them off didn't we?
Skarlthrax - No, I drove them off. You ran.
Merdilla - Well ya didn' do a good enough job, t'en!
Phaelana - Those two will not rest until their task is complete.
Thakos - What are we going to do?
Valeria - So we have an army of bronze-age warriors marching towards the town. The PDF will dispatch them...correct?
Phaelana looked at Valeria as if the latter knew nothing of what she was thinking.
Valeria - They're not normal warriors are they?
Reporter - Yeah, i'm going to follow the advice of the soldiers and--
Valeria had insisted that at least a small group could stay behind in case anything came after them and Phaelana had hesitantly agreed. So with a squad in tow, the soldiers - including Skarlthrax and Mardila - left the scientists to mull over what was going on.
Valeria felt tense and sat squarely on her lounger fiddling with her hands while a few of the scientists decided to change Phaelana's television to a different station. Phaelana herself had calmed down slightly and had begun serving cups of herbal tea to her guests. Thakos, as a Zazane, expressed no sense of fear. He neither shook nor shuddered, although he was quiet, analysing his tablet device over and over systematically. He had refrained from anything such as tea or coffee, and instead was satisfied with a glass or two of hot, salted water, to clean his throat. Meanwhile several of the Royal Academy scientists had settled on watching a sitcom and quietly talked amongst themselves, trying desperately to erase their minds of the nightmare occurring a few kilometres away.
Valeria - The PDF do not stand a chance...do they?
Thakos - Honestly? No. They do not. But so long as they are opposing... them, we will be safer for that little bit longer.
Valeria - Then perhaps we should leave, find somewhere we can stay safe until this all blows over?
Phaelana - Please don't make this kind of talk in my home...
Thakos - ...Apologies, miss Phaelana. It is safe to have a plan of action, however.
Phaelana - No monster is kicking me out of my home. Now, is anyone hungry?
Thakos smiled as Phaelana spoke those words - he had to admire a stubborn spirit, no matter the species. He nodded and sat up straight, adjusting himself where he sat.
Thakos - Do you have anything raw, by chance?
Phaelana smiled and nodded at Thakos' request. Others looked to her and nodded in acknowledgement, signalling they also felt hungry. With a brisk pace, she left the living room and headed into the kitchen to look inside her fridge, her mind churning with what to make with what she had. Thakos let out a heavy sigh before turning to Valeria, raising an eyebrow as he leaned forwards in her direction. He began to whisper to her, his smile vanishing into a frown. Valeria turned her head slightly to his whispering and appeared solemn.
Thakos - We will require an escape plan.
Valeria - What if they find us again?
Thakos - We need to go somewhere... that's secure. That isn't out in the open. Like a fortress.
Valeria - I have an apartment leased in Orras'Dacon. Would that work?
Thakos - Possibly, how well defended would you say it is? Do you reckon we could use it as a stronghold?
Valeria - It's downtown so they would need to get past anti-air defences and the local garrison.
Thakos - Right. Hopefully we can stock up on supplies prior.
Valeria - It is also across the ocean. So if we are lucky we may be able to ride out this crisis.
Thakos - The ocean. Fantastic idea, I haven't recognized any units of theirs capable of aerial transportation. Fantastic!
Thakos' smile restored itself across his face, as a glimmer of hope appeared in his eye. However, his smile shortly disappeared as quickly as it had returned, and he threw himself forward, grasping onto Valeria and throwing her to the floor. As he did, Valeria watched as the walls of the house were torn in half by a colossal... object that swiped through the residence at its halfway point. Valeria ducked and crashed to the ground as the house was horizontally bisected, the upper level scattered like rice at a festival across the countryside. Valeria's heart began to race, some of the scientists had been decapitated either by the object or by flying debris that had hit them at lethal velocities. Phaelana poked her head from the side of what remained of the arch into the living room, eyes wide.
Phaelana - Is anyone hurt?
Thakos - No, but I have a feeling if we don't move we will be!
Phaelana had managed to get inside the basement when the head smashed partially though the ceiling above her. She began to panic and ran towards a chest at the other end of the room. She brushed her hand across the roof of the chest before removing a key to open it up.
Valeria meanwhile stopped after running a short distance and looked back, watching as the Coarlatus systematically tore the house apart, watching as it ripped and maimed the house to shreds before turning around, its wings spread, to observe Valeria, Thakos, and any surviving scientists who managed to escape. With a liquefied substance pouring from its mouth, the undead beast roared once more, launching the acidic substance towards the group.
Valeria leapt to the side as a glob of the strange acid splattered against the ground right next to her. She turned to Thakos and shouted.
Valeria - We can't leave her with this thing!?
Thakos - What else are we going to do?! We can't fight that thing.
Valeria - Call for an emergency pick-up...I'm going back for her.
Phaelana opened the chest and rummaged around inside, removing a map and an old leather-bound book that was singed in patches on its surface. She removed a rucksack from a coathook next to the chest and delicately placed the items inside before slinging it over her shoulder. She froze as a dissonant voice echoed throughout the basement.
??? - You.
Phaelana perked her head up and darted her vision to the source of the dissonant and rather scornful statement. She clenched her fists, raising her guard as she could feel as a cold presence began to manifest within the room - a bizarre occurrence as it was an otherwise hot day. She could recognize the voice, for it sounded within mourning and had been sorrowful. She heard the heavy footsteps and the creaking sound of ice condensing and forming upon the ground approach her, getting louder.
From the darkness, stepping into the light caused by the hole that the Coarlatus had made, was Thevixuias, her flesh restored and regenerated yet nonetheless appearing decayed and demonic. Phaelana took a step back and widened her eyes, looking upon the giant Draconis who now stood between her and the door. Visible fear was in her eyes.
Phaelana - No. No no. Those soldiers made every effort to make sure you did not return.
Thevixuias - Their efforts... were not enough. We are... were merely stalled. To destroy us, impossible. To contain us, a temporary solution. Our return, inevitable.
Phaelana - How. How did you come back!
Thevixuias - The... descendants of those very soldiers had forgotten where we slept, it seems. They forgot the nightmares, the bloodbaths, and uncovered us.
Phaelana - They wanted to erase you. All of you.
Thevixuias - And for a while, we were erased. Erased from memory, from record. ...But history reawakens.
Valeria had managed to dodge the Coarlatus, narrowly missing a foot smashing against the kitchen floor to make it to the basement enterence. She carefully walked down the stairs after she heard talking and looked through the door into the basement proper to see Phaelana and Thevixuias talking, gasping quietly.
Phaelana - The Aetomarchis will be nothing now. Thevixuias. My-- their kind spread across the celestial plane, inhabiting realms unimaginable.
Thevixuias - Then wherever they infest, spreading their heresy, we shall follow.
Phaelana - By the void you will!
Phaelana charged towards Thevixuias and tackled her to the ground. Thevixuias screamed as Phaelana charged and clenched her fist she had aimed to deliver a punch, although her movements had been somewhat slowed by the ice that formed where she stood and thus was struck down to the floor by Phaelana's mass. As she hit the ground, the room underwent a colossal thud, shaking Valeria off her feet as the walls and floor cracked, causing her to and fall forwards and hitting her head against the wall. Phaelana pressed herself on Thevixuias stomach and threw punches repeatedly at her head, growling as she did so.
Thevixuias sobbed and cried with each hit that was delivered, and Phaelana quickly found her hands and fists being cut by the crystalline formations across her face. Opening and widening her eyes, Thevixuias grabbed ahold of Phaelana's tail and threw her across the room like a ragdoll, causing it to crack considerably and shaking the room even more as she slammed into the plaster. She took a glance as her eyes flickered and saw Valeria on her stomach, her head poking out from the doorway, her eyes were close to closed as she tried to stay conscious. Thevixuias roared as she clambered onto her feet, regaining her balance as her icy wings spread out widely. Outstretching her bloodied claws of black, she charged towards Phaelana, shrieking horrifically, like a bird of prey about to swoop to pluck its prey from where it laid.
Phaelana widened her eyes and gathered what strength she could to push herself out of the way of Thevikuias' attack, the roll swung her tail to the side and knocked Thevixuias was off-course, causing her to slam directly into the wall, throwing debris and dirt across the room as she smashed into the foundations of the house and causing part of its upper half to begin to collapse downwards. The ice within her footprints continued to spread the cold, as if stretching towards Phaelana slowly, who stumbled as rock and debris scattered across the room and headed for the door, hoisting Valeria up to her feel and onto her shoulder as she made her way upstairs, darting her vision back wary of Thevixuias.Seething and sobbing, Thevixuias pulled herself from the dent she had made into the wall and took several steps towards Phaelana and the weakened Valeria. Reaching out a hand, she unleashed yet another shriek - she was met by the upwards floor collapsing above and falling onto her suddenly, grounding her beneath debris. Phaelana had looked back as she heard the screech and watched as Thevixuias was buried under rubble, sighing with relief before she made her way up the stairs and outside the basement, looking around to see the remains of her home as nothing more than torn foundations and scattered rubble.
Phaelana had Valeria over her shoulder as she ran out of the basement and bounded away fro mthe house. The monstrosity laying waste to it too a moment to pause as it turned to see the Draconisrunning for her life. THis drew it's attention as it gathered acids in its mouth. It spat these toxins in Phelana's direction, many of them she narrowly avoided but some unfortunate soldiers found themselves splashed. As the corrosive venom took its effect they each collapsed in agony but Phaelana kept running; Valeria was her immediate concern but there was question of where to run to as the coarlatus stomped closer.
Her silent prayers were answered in the form of the roar of gunship engines. Emerging into view from the city nearby was an AO-8 gunship. As it soared forward like the fearless steel cavalryman it was, it's swivel-mounted chaingins revved up and soldiers on board fired a hail of supersonic rounds into the monster's body ,causing it to screech as the various fleshy organs were sscarred by the hail of bullets. The result however was not as well anticipated as it spwered more of its venoms in a less ocntrolled manner. Valeria had to change her direction in order to avoid a glob that came out of nowhere.
With the coarlatus distracted, the gunship settled nearby and Phaelana opened her wings. She crouched and propelled herself into the air and towards the gunship, followed behind by Thakos and many of the surviving soldiers and scientists. Merdilla, who had led the gunship assault, helped Phaelana on board. AO-8 gunships were small, designed for squads, but fortunate for the team a second one had been dispatched and picked up the ones who could not fit on board the one she had embarked on.
Merdilla - Sum'wun called tha cavalry?
Thakos - No time for theatrics we have to go!
Merdilla - Right tha' giant dinna-chuckin' rotter. Yah.
Merdilla banged o nthe hull of the gunship and ot ascended into the air. As they flew towards the city however, the coarlatus began following and gathered more venom within its mouth. Merdilla poked her head out of the side and widened her eyes at the sight.
Merdilla - Tha' rotter's not gonna quit! ...where'd it come from?
Thakos - No idea but we can guess.
Merdilla - If tha's so I dun' think bullets are gonna stop it...
Soldier - Weren't you in Minos'Drakon fighting Zombies during the nanoplague epidemic?
Merdilla - Tha' I was! 'Tleast those rotters could be exploded. We got any bangers?
Soldier - We have flares.
Merdilla - Flares? Oh! Flares! Yah.
Merdilla banged three times on the hull.
Merdilla - Deploy flares! Fire in tha' hole!
Soldier - You could just say that in the comlink...
The gunship projected a swarm of white-hot flares behind itself which the coarlatus eventually flew into, incinerating parts of its body and reacting badly with the venom it was gathering in it's mouth and intestinal tracks. Merdilla watched with a crazed look in her eyes as she watched it fall to the ground.
Merdilla - YEHAAAH! See 'ya in tha' abyss ya bog-damned, vomit-chuck'in' freak o' nature!Phaelana, who had by now sat down looked though her bag, satisfied she'd managed to save various trinkets as wel las the old map. With Merdilla screaming for joy while the wind collided with her beak, the gunships travelled to the nearby city.
No Home Is Safe
The dropship did not have far to travel to Racalatis but in the short space of time since the news report there was little to see. Much of the town had been reduced to ruins, the streets overrun with the champions' unnatural warriors who slaughtered anyone in sight. Looking out of a side window several of the group became unnerved as they watched a pair of ancient warriors forced their way into a townhouse, the moments after were indicated only by terrified screams that became lost in the chaos of the siege, blending with other noises typical of panic and fear. Valeria felt almost ill from seeing this - in the space of a few hours she had unleashed something that was long buried and should ahve remained as such, and at present there appeared to be no way to return them to their tombs. She began panting with nerves as it circled over and over again that all this was because she was fascinated with history. She kept her thoughts to herself but Phaelana and Thakos looked in her direction with concern.
The dropship landed on the southern road into town, one of the few places that was safe from the hostile tides. Standing at the barricades was a small garrison of the planetary defence force while away from it were severa tents hosting panicked civilians, no doubt survivors of the assault. As the dropship landed Merdila hopped from the side door and briskly walked towards the command tent that a Draconis had emerged from. Concern smothered his matured features as he approached cautiously, his hand resting on the pommel of a longsword strapped to his thigh. Upon the two of them reaching each other, the soldier saluted.
Tarelsas - Commander! Good to see you alive.
Merdilla - No tiem fer salutin' where's tha' Zazane tha' was 'ere?
Tarelsas - He marched into the city with two others who arrived shortly after you left.
Merdilla - Wha' otha' two?
Tarelsas - No idea. WHen I asked he told me I had no business asking.
Phaelana - He used the same line on me earlier tonight.
Merdilla - Do 'ya kno' where in tha town he went?
Tarelsas - Town hall I think. He didn't make a move until his companions showed up.
Phaelana - We're going to need him. Can you provide us an escort?
Tarelsas - Wish I could but we only just recieved a shipment of yrsalmarus ammunition and most of the base is preoccupied with containing the soldiers.
Merdilla - Then giv' us a' couple o' them yar-whatnow cases an' we'll be fine.
The officer saluted.
Tarelasa - Yes commander! As you insist.
The group were escorted to a makeshift armoury where they were offered several ammunition cases. Merdilla opened one up and promptly set about switching out the ammunition in her shotgun. Thakos walked over and picked up one of the silver shells.
Thakos - Yrsalmarus?
Merdilla - Can neva' get tha' name right. But I'm told they're good against magic rotters. Nanomawhatsis or somthin'.
Thakos - Descension countermeasures?
Merdilla - ...I guess.
Valeria - And you're sure they work?
Merdilla - I think Mr. Grumpy--
Thakos - Pardon!?
Merdilla - Naht you. Tha otha Zazane.
Thakos nodded in udnerstandment, but still gave Merdilla a harsh look.
Merdilla - Anyway, I think he must 'ave some o' these of 'is own ta 'urt them champions like he did.
Phaelana - What makes you certain.
Merdilla - Because I 'aint heard o' any otha kind of magic bullet an' somehow he was usin' somethin' otha than' regular bullets.
Phaelana - Right, right.
Phaelana looked out of the tent and in the direction of the first aid tent.
Phaelana - What about Valeria?
Merdilla - Yeah she's betta off 'ere. These boys'll take care o' her.
Thakos - So we go into an immortal-infested town, find Skarlthrax and bring him back to camp?
Merdilla - Tha's tha plan!
Thakos - Then you're in front.
With Merdilla and Phaelana in front, the group walked cautiously though the riuned town. Their nostrils were assaulted by the stink of decaying flesh and burning material that caused some of them ore sensetive mermbers to retch. As they marched, they noticed that crawling all over the buildings and around the bodies were thousands of insects that appeared to eb feeding on the blood and flesh that Dralkithus' soldiers had left to decay in the street.
Things had been quiet until Thakos narrowly dodged a large arrow that ended up wedging itself into the ground. Alerted to this new presence, everyoen raised their weapons to see a cohort of Draocnis warriors approach them, clad in ancient and withered armour over frayed and faded tunics. Within their helmets their eyes shone a sickly yellow. These were not Draconis like Phaelana however, like the champions they were of the ancient Draconis, large arm-like wings held wicked-looking spears and large swords. Instead of legs, they moved on large msucular tails that abraised the roadway underneath them, with smaller arms down at knee-level that the archers supported themselves with as they loosened their ammunition. As the warriors began to swarm them, the group dispered and ran to cover with Merdilla barking orders though her communicator.
Despite the way they moved about, the warriors moved briskly, churning up concrete as they moved but most were wounded by the gunfire of the yrsalmarus-equipped group. While a typical being would have been near-instantly incapacitated by the gunshots, all the shot appeared ot do was wound the area it hit; impacts on the stomach and arms did little ot slow them down and at best knocked them back while shots to the tail caused thme ot stumble. It was only shots to the head that forced tom to the ground and not get up, but the group's ammunition stores were limited and were slowly depleted as more warriors arrived. Merdilla had descended into rabid squawking as she unloaded shell after shell into enclosing warriors.
Merdilla - Sodding rotters leave us alone!
In the flash of a moment, several warriors fell isntantly. Standing on the roof of a townhouse was Skarlthrax holding high-calibre battle rifle and quite clearly furious. Taking a moment ot breathe he fired more shots to disperse the warriors. As a grup of greatsword-wielding warriors closed in, Skarlthrax leapt from the building and slammed into the road before charging and, wrapping the skulls of two of them with his hands, slammed them into the road, smashing their skulls. He tilted his head up sharply to stare furiously at Phaelana, whom he had jsut saved. Clearly not pleased.
Skarlthrax - What. Are you doing here!
Phaelana was stunned, but plucked u psome courage with a recovering breath. But Merdilla shouted out to him first
Merdilla - We need yer arse. Now!
Skarlthrax - I do not follow your orders Terratrix!
Merdilla - Then who'z do ya follow!
Skarthrax - That is CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.
Skarlthrax puntuated his words by tossing another warrior at a pair od archers and unleashed a flurry of rounds from his battle rifle at the hostile group before turning back to Phaelana.
Skarlthrax - My task is to get rid of this infestation that you all started!
Phaelana - It won't sto pwith these two!
Skarthrax - Excuse me?
A trio of archers were decapitated by a flurry of knives. Jumping fro mthe rooftops were two Zazane of similar colouration to Skarlthrax, wearing uniforms and body armour of an unidentified make, but designed with a similar threatening image to Skarlthrax's own.
Zazane Soldier - Refugees sir?
Skarlthrax - Like Shyrak they are.
Zazane Soldier - Then your orders?
Skarlthrax turned around and began to pace towards the town square
Skarlthrax - One of you escort them back to the refugee site, the other joins me in finding this "Dralkithus"
Phaelana - If you fixate on finding him others will awaken.
Skarlthrax turned around sharply and lifted his battle rifle to rest on his shoulder, giving a piercing scowl to Phaelana.
Skarlthrax - No they won't. We eliminate Dralkithus, the other one is next. And their armies will be scattered afterwards.
Cities And Their Secrets
The AO-8 dropship soared towards the coast as everyone rested for the time they had. Everyone had been worn by the events of the previous day and outside Alcanti's parent sun was beginning to emerge from the east. In front of them, the enormous metropolis of Elarsatos, a city of glittering spires and bustling roadways that bloomed and stretched around the cove. While this view may have been exiting, Valeria looked out the window only to begin hyperventilating. Phaelana showed Valeria the map she had rescued form her home and the location indicated was correct. Somewhere under this metropolis was one of the burial chambers of the Aetomarchis' champions.
Phaelana showed another map, one of a network of tunnels. Valeria had used her own research to back up Phaelana's map, showing that in one part of the city, these tunnesl and the city's underground infrastructure roughly overlapped, a move by city engineers perhaps to save on materials.
- Valeria - ...We can't let this champion out. If they are, Elarsatos could very well burn to the ground.
- Skarlthrax - I didn't sign up to fight demigods. I think that's outside of my paycheck, if you don't mind me saying.
- Valeria - Then whose jurasdiction is it?
- Skarlthrax - Now if I said that, I'd have to kill you.
- Valeria - So the only people capable are those who prefer to hide? Fantastic-- just. Fantastic.
- Skarlthrax - I never said I would hide. Considering I saved all of your asses back at the crypt, I feel I have a right to complain.
- Phaelana - I don't know who will believe our story if we tell anyone.
- Merdila - Give 'em enough drink and t'ey'll star' believin'!
- Phaelana - And if we have to spend time finding someone who will believe us, the champions have more time to look for more of their own relatively unhindered.
The dropship slowed down after it arrived in one of the city's industrial districts. Just outside the landing zone was an access hatch into the city's underbelly; subway lines, sewer pipes and networking bundles that stretched across the city and up into bildings like an infinitely complex maze that may be impossible to traverse without a map at hand, something the group fortunately had.
As they hovered over one of the dropship crews opened the ship's doors out and beckoned for everyone to climb out. Skarlthrax and Merdila prepared and loaded their guns, the former's weapon being packed with anti-Essence ammunition specifically designed for countering such powerful entities, before they set out into the district and towards the hatch. Thakos grunted as he stepped out behind the team, packing a side-arm pistol, fitted with combined technologies of both the Imperium and the Brood, on his belt. Behind him Phaelana followed, bearing a pistol, a smallsword and some light armour she had managed to find in the dropship's equipment locker. Behind her, Valeria emerged, still shaken from the ordeal back at Phaelana's home and the narby town. She looked around nervously as she followed everyone into the oening.
- Merdila - Now all y'all take a step back and let good ol' li'l me take care of t'is!
Valeria and Phaelana did so, with Valeria taking a full pace back. Merdila bounded forward eagerly, gun in hand, and proceeded to spend several minutes at a holographic display that was being generated from a panel located near to the hatch. Skarlthrax groaned impatiently while Thakos tapped his foot, his eyes narrowed. After quickly working the console, the large metal doors to the entrance emitted a loud clunk, and then another, before a pair of doors trundled sideways to create an opening. The group were hit with a burst of warm air thet threw itself out of the tunnels behind the doors, hitting like a warm and moist breeze. After trundling for long enough, the doors secured themselves in palce with a loud clang. Valeria looked down the tunnel and gulped, clutching her fingers tightly
- Skarlthrax - What's the matter, scared of the dark?
- Valeria - No...just the hibernating demigod that is waiting for us at the end.
- Skarlthrax - You shouldn't worry, if we're fortunate enough, they're still sleeping.
- Valeria - Yes...
Phaelana stepped ahead clutching the map, as she walked past she gently grabbed Valeria by the arm and encouraged her though.
The tunnels were open, but moist as they walked though the sewer system before walking down old subway lines a couple of kilometres in. The only sound that could be heard was the rumble of the city above, the splash of water and the rattle of underground maglevs travelling up and down nearby, and much busier, lines. Phaelana kept a close eye on the walls of the chambers, keeping an eye out for the entrance that they sought.
As the group continued they came acros a rather terrifying anomoly - there was a smashed wall that was lined with defrosting ice, as if this part of the wall had suddenly frozen and shattered. Give nthed ank nature of the tunnel they were in, there was only one logical expaination to the damage. Valeria's jaw dropped and quivered at the revelation.
- Skarlthrax & Thakos - Shyrak.
- Merdila - Now t'at ain't righ'.
- Valeria - H...How. How did they beat us?
- Phaelana - There may still be time.
As Phaelana responded, shadows energed down one corridor - two of Dralkithus' soldiers had spotted them ,and growled in a gutteral manner when they noticed. The two of them, one with a spear and one with a compound bow, readied their weapons.
- Valeria - ...Everyone?
- Skarlthrax - On it.
- Merdila - Step aside, y'all.
With those words, both Skarlthrax and Merdila unleashed a barrage of bullets upon the two undead, with the Zazane's anti-Essence bullets ripping and tearing through the air while Merdila got closer with a drunken step and fired several rounds of shotgun fire at her opposition, laughing and giggling as she did. The two warriors endured the gunfire, but were visibly weakened by it. The bow-wielder fired his arrow and it just barely missed Skalthrax to hit Phaelana in the shoulder, causing her to scream in pain as her shoulder was flung backwards from the momentum. The bow wielder was swiftly ended with a shot to the head while the spear-wielder tried to lunge at Merdilla, recieving a faceful of buckshot.
- Merdila - T'ey told me not ta drink an' drive cuz somebody could get hurt! Mhmm, I don' need no trans-magog ta do t'at!
The spear-wielding warrior was finished off by a round from one of Skarlthrax's guns smashing into his skull, simply collapsing backwards as his body began to burn into ash. As this went on, Valeria was attending to Phaelana who had her hand clutched around the arrow wound. From her expression she appeared hurt, yet despite the fact the arrow remained in her shoulder, there were no signs of blood. Skarlthrax turned towards Valeria and Phaelana as Thakos approached, leaning down by Valeria's side to examine the extent of the damage afflicted onto her. Merdila jumped onto the ashes repeatedly, wanting to make sure that the enemy soldiers had been truly finished off.
- Phelana - Its fine, just some shock damage, I don't think any major arteries were punctured.
- Valeria - M-maybe we just snap the shaft off and continue?
- Phaelana - Just go. Those two could be in the central chamber right now!
The wound itself bore impact scarring, however judging from the size of the soldier that fired it, this arrow looked anything but flesh-deep. Skarlthrax nodded with half-closed eyes and turned aside, approaching the entrance to the chamber in which the demigods could be inevitably found, while Merdila made a swift salute before following in the augmented Zazane's footsteps. Thakos, a concerned expression written across his face, growled as he stood and clenched his fists in frustration.
- Thakos - ... Are you going to remain here, Phaelana?
- Phaelana - I'll follow behind. I just need to nurse this.
- Thakos - It is not safe to remain isolated from the rest of the group... especially since our two primary combatants have moved ahead. Valeria, follow behind them, and take this with you.
Reaching into his pockets, the Zazane brought out an object that was shaped in an odd manner; it was partially ovular and had been rounded and curved on almost all angles, aside from four mechanical, "clawed" appendages that dangled lifelessly on the objects underside, with its size equating roughly to an uneven half of Thakos' hand. Valeria observed the odd device and observed it with confusion.
- Valeria - Wh-what is it exactly?
- Thakos - I cannot tell you, since the... entities ahead may discern its purpose from your mind should they have you captured. Just have it launch at the rear-side of one of them and you shall see for yourself. Knowledge is our ally, and I would prefer it pried away from those fiends.
Valeria nodded and accepted the device with caution before she returned to nurse Phaelana, who had settled herself near the entrance.
- Phaelana - Stop them, Valeria. Before they awaken a third.
- Valeria - I'm not--
- Phaelana - I'll be fine. Just go!
By the time she had reunited with the rest of the group, they were watching the main chamber from behind a collapsed pillar. Standing in an almost shrine-like great hall were Thevixuias and Dralkithus, before them a lump of solid gold placed on a plinth as if it were an object to be worshipped. Unlike the tomb of the others, this one was hauntingly beautiful with decorative murals depicting graphic and unsettling scenes of violence and debauchery. At the ancients' feet were five individuals clad in loose-fitting work overalls marked with high-visibility patterns. Surrounding all of them were more of Dralkithus' soldiers, who stood ceremonially at the walls of the chamber, while Skarlthrax and Merdilla had to visually restrain themselves from acting in impatience as they could only watch on. Valeria was no different, and clutched her own jaws shut in the hopes of not revealing herself.
- Merdilla - Bloody cul'ists, t'em and t'eir sacrifices and t'eir obscure ritual-wha'evers.
- Valeria - How could we save them?
- Skarlthrax - We cannot. For now, we lie in wait and bide our time, in hoping for the opportune moment. ... We are incapable of competing with their reinforcements without an ambush.
- Valeria - What about doing that then?
Dralkithus moved forward, his powerful serpentine tail pressing into the floor and eroding the stonework as he approached the golden lump, climbing the stairway and observing the mass closely. Clenching a fist, he slammed his hand down on top of the mound and cracked it with a ringing thud that echoed across the chamber. The forces he enacted upon the mass caused it to bend, but not break. He then palced a hand on the mass, heating it up unti lthe solid started to become a liquid.
And it started to bleed.
- Merdilla - Wha' the...'
- Valeria - I'm not sure I want to know what will come...
A strickle became a flood as a strange soupy material bled out of the golden rock. Once pooling, it began to move, coaliescing and then rising up with sickening noises, hardening into flesh, into scales, into a body. The entity appeared to cry out as it formed into a being remeniscent of the other two champions. She cried out, stretching her arms and wings. Although it was scarred and weathered, her body was covered in blue scales highlighted by vine-like patterns of amber scales that danced across her body. Some of the gold she had been imprisoned within appeared to flow and constitute as part of her flesh. Emrging fully from her golen prison, she looked about with intense golden orbs in her eye sockets that appeared to reflect the world within them.
- Champion - [The....Thevixuias? Dralkithus? Brother. Sister. You live?]
- Thevixuias - [... Sister... You rise. We rise.]
The woman looked to the workers that the two demigods had captured within these tunnels.
- Champion' - [What...are these? You bring...dressed animals?]
- Thevixuias - [Slaves... Soldiers... A reborn army... for the Aetomarchis.]
The champion moved towards Thevixuias, looking desperate, upset. The reflection in her eyes oscilatted
- Champion - [I am empty sister. Those I once nourished from...No more. My prison...I was alone, without posession...] - She then looked at the workers, who in turn shivered - [They will satisfy me for now.]
- Sewer Worker - What are they saying?
- Sewer Worker 2 - No clue but I don't like it!
- Champion - [They can speak, sister? These... are not the weaklings we... used to use. They...they are...strange.]
- Dralkithus - Strange, yes. But they are what crawls across the skin of Alcanti now.
- Champion - [...Must taste one.]
Without batting an eye, Thevixuias snapped her blackened, bloodless fingers to signal for one of the sewer workers to be brought to the newly-awakened ancient, her saddening frown worn across her face despite the reunion with her once-comrade. Two undead warriors, worker in hand, stepped forward towards the gold and blue Draconis and restrained the mortal by her arms as she began to tear up and resort to sobbing; it was at this moment that Skarlthrax, silently, made a reach for one of his heavy-duty pistols while observing from behind the pillar.
The poor woman was helpless as the champion glided over to her, leaning forward and caressing a large scaly hand across the woman's cheek.
- Champion - [You are...pretty.]
- Sewer Worker 3 - ... P-Please... Please! Please, d-don't let it... d-don't let it... B-By the L-Lifefather, d-don't kill me!
- Dralkithus - [The wretches do not speak our tongue, sister.]
There was a growl from the champion as she leaned forward, her motion becoming a little rougher.
- Champion - [To be rectified with...] Statia.
- Statia - ... M-My name... I-It knows my n-name... L-Lifefather, it knows my name! P-Please, d-don't... k-kill me!
Statia was interrupted when a large finger pressed itself against the woman's lips.
- Champion - Shhh. I mean no suffering upon you...Statia.
- Statia - ... P-Preserve me... L-Lifefather, preserve me...
- Valeria - Wh-what are they doing?
- Skarlthrax - Wait. Just... wait.
The champion moved closer and tilted her head.
- Champion - Working down here...it upsets you...you are sad...aren't you?
- Statia - ... W-What are you... g-going to do t-to me...?
- 'Champion - I want...you happy. It saddens me...you are pretty, and I want to please you.
Statia gulped, glancing into the spheres of refined, golden ore that had replaced the ancient's eyes before she could feel her body becoming liberated from the tight, damaged overalls that she had been wearing moments prior - looking downward, she found rings adorning the lengths of her fingers, and her filthied overalls had somehow transitioned into flowing, red robes of Imperial nobility, causing her tearful eyes to widen in awe at the transformation. She was rendered speechless. The ancient tomb that they were once in was now a gilded ballroom. And for every wonderous thing, the champion became less of a monster, now resembling a refined Draconis woman who moved with regal grace and spendour as she caressed Statia's neck.
- Champion - Do you...like?
- Statia - B-By the L-Lifefather... W-What... W-What is this, I... I... I-I love it...
- Champion - This is all yours, a kind gesture.
- Statia - All... f-for me? ... W-Who are you?
The champion moved close, and with a caring motion of her snout, whispered three words.
- Valchoria - I am Valchoria.
- Statia - V-Valchoria... A... A w-wonderful name...
Valeria, Skarlthrax, Thakos and everyone apart from Statia saw something different. Statia was in awe of this caring woman, but to the eyes of everyone else, a scared woman and her powerless companions had suddenly entered a trace. Valchoria had not actually changed, save for some of her scales mending. She was still the gold and blue titan she had emerged as. Nor was Statia wearing a gilt red dress. She still wore her overalls and so did everyone else.
- Valchoria - Statia...she was... sumptuous. But I am still empty.
- Valeria - What...what just happened?
- Merdilla - ... The momen' we've been waitin' fer!
Throwing forward an arm, the Terratrix soldier launched a pair of grenades from her palm towards the far side of the room where various undead warriors and cultists had gathered. The room almost shook as the two pieces of equipment swiftly detonated, launching heated, melting shrapnel into the crowd of undead, who found their flesh and tendons beginning to liquidize as they were met with the materials of the Yrsalimarus grenades embedding themselves into their armour and bodies. Dralkithus shielded himself with his arm, scowling as his arm burned from the shrapnel.
- Dralkithus - [I smell them...the worms who escaped us!]
- Skarlthrax - Eat... this!
Lining his pistol up with his direct line of sight, Skarlthrax pulled the trigger and his arm recoiled as a thick, heavy capsule was launched from the pistol with the strength of what felt like a miniature railgun - he had aimed directly for the forehead of the newly-awoken Valchoria while she was occupied with Statia and uncertain of what was unfolding around her. Valchoria screamed as the shot impacted her skull, sending her backwards and causing her victims to turn around with glazed but furious eyes. Letting out an almost-maniacal laugh, Merdilla drew an augmented assault rifle and fired anti-Essence rounds across the chamber, aiming roughly for whatever undead or Champions she could bring herself to aim at while being cautious to evade any civilians in the crossfire.
- Thevixuias - ... They have come with an enhanced arsenal... so it appears.
- Dralkithus - Rend their spines from their bodies!
Valeria managed to duck behind a pillar and took out the device Thakos had given to her. She looked about and, with a deep inhalation, she held her arm abck and tossed it in Thevixuias' direction. As she did, Phaelana made it into the main chamber only to see chaos erupt, with Thakos close behind her with a side-arm drawn. Due to the chaos caused by Skarlthrax and Merdilla, Thevixuias was oblivious to the device that had been launched in her direction, and Valeria could watch as its formerly-lifeless appendages attached themselves to the armour that was worn upon the titan's rear, its materials swiftly blending to reflect and emulate its immediate surroundings.
- Phaelana - I take it we arrived at the wrong time.
- Skarlthrax - Lend a hand in diverting the civilians from here! Dralkithus is mine!
Phaelana looked at the individuals that were standing protectively around Valchoria, their eyes still glazed over.
- Phaelana - I'm not sure if that's possible.
Out of nowhere, Dralkithus leapt with blades drawn to fall on Skarlthrax, roaring as he landed with a bibrant swinging of his blades which collided with Skarlthrax' own melee weapons - a pair of serrated, straight-edge metallic shortswords.
Valchoria turned sharply to Thevixuias with a snarl and a sinister look on her face.
- Valchoria - [I smell it. Millions of souls above my head!]
- Thevixuias - [... All for us. All for Him.]
- Valchoria - [These six...not enough. For me.]
- Thevixuias - [We should make a fleeting departure... You are wounded, dear sister. Your wounds shall only worsen should we stay.]
- Valchoria - [Take me above. These souls I smell...they will do.]
Dralkithus pushed to knock Skarlthrax over, the two battling with gratng blades as they tried to gain an advantage over each other. As Skarlthrax battled with Dralkithus on the front, Merdilla moved to ambush the colossal Draconis from the rear, firing a full round of Yrsalimarus ammunition into the demon's spine and wings while she screamed incoherently. These shots weakened Dralkithus, causing him to grate his teeth as his spine burned with the dampening potential of the ammunition lodged into his flesh. Valchoria used the opportunity to move around the battle and headed towards the entrance, with Thevixuias clasping her hand tightly as she guided her "sister" from the crossfire as its intensity increased. With a gutteral roar, various insects swarmed in from the entrance, avoiding the champions and going after Merdilla and Skarlthrax with their tiny clacking pincers.
- Merdilla - Ack! Lil' bastards chompin' on me like I'm leftovers or somethin'!
- Dralkithus - They shall devour your impurity, worm!
The insects biting at his flesh and armour, Skarlthrax made use of the window of opportunity Merdilla had opened for him by assaulting Dralkithus' spine and rammed his two shortswords into sides of the Draconis' collar bones and followed his attack with a swift roundhouse kick towards the monstrous entity's face, moving as if he were dancing in fluid motion. The titan roared and flailed about to shake off the attacks, his colossal tail physically colliding with Skarlthrax's horn, dislodging it from his cranium, as he fell to the floor. He spent mere moments on the floor before pushing to stand himself up again however, giving Skarlthrax a deathly glare as he began to rise back up. The Zazane, meanwhile, bared his teeth and clasped at where his horn had been broken, the breaking point left heated and steaming by the force at which it was struck by the titan's tail.
- Skarlthrax - ... D-Damn you!
- Dralkithus - Much worse awaits you....from the Aetomarchis.
- Skarlthrax - Good luck... having him awaken when you are dead, corpse-lord.
The titanic Draconis responded by lunging, teeth showing, to clamp at Skarlthrax's throat in a desperate attempt to finish his opponent. He would likely have succeeded had Phaelana not suddenly yanked Skarlthraz away by his arm and tugged him towards the entrance. Without Skarlthrax in the way, Dralkithus soared through the air and impacted a pillar, obliterating its structure and forcing rubble into his maw, which he appeared to swallow with impunity. Merdilla looked on with a raised eyebrow as she made attempts to swat and shoot at the insects pestering her.
- Merdilla - Wha' he doin' now then?
- Phaelana - New plan, we have to go!
- Merdilla - Eugh, righ'! Everyone ou', lads! ... And ladies.
Thevixuias and Valchoria materialised in the metropolitan centre of Elarsatos, drawing a busy crowd at the sight of the strange beings that towered above everyone. Valchoria suddenly felt overwhelmed but also excited. The aliens that filled her eyes and the glass skyscrapers that dwarfed her were perhaps too much out of her comfort zone. She had never seen anything like this and inched towards Thevixuias for reassurance. But despite all that was alien, the very aliens she saw surrounding her were irresistable. From the perspective of the aliens and whatever Draconis were present, however, the two giants incited mixed reactions; extraterrestrials felt intrigued, if not outright fearful, of the intense, dark aura radiating from the ancient women while Draconis felt their emotions being spurred on by their presence, left speechless by the spectacle unfolding before them. Few ran, while others continued to circle Valchoria and her colleague.
Valchoria was hesitant, but she then acted. She reached out her arms, her allure to Draconis suddenly growing as she reached out to interact with the crowds that surrounded her and Thevixuias, reveling in their response to these two giants.
- Valchoria - [They are allured sister...they want us.]
- Thevixuias - [Then... They shall have us, sister. Just as He will have them.]
Valchoria was met with arms outstretched, with some recoiling backward upon touch while others savoured the moment their fingers and palms came into contact, even if such connection lasted for only brief brushes of time. The sound of vehicles entering and departing the streets could be heard, blaring loudly into their ears, and yet the people paid no heed to the mobilised sirens or the screams of civilians and soldiers who were being cut down by armed, undead warriors - their crowd only grew as others were drawn to Valchoria's presence on an almost instinctive level. To the eyes of the crowd it was almost as if paradise was bestowed upon them as the city glistened like never before and many aliens were united with lost or distant lovers and family. The undead hordes no longer became a worry as they vanished from the eyes of those taken in by Valchoria's spell.
- Thevixuias - [... They all belong to you now, sister. From their willing sacrifice, you should replenish your bountiful strength... and thrive for Him.]
Valchoria smiled as her scales restored themselves and the golden scales of her body began to glisten, she became radiant once more not just in the eyes of the crowds entranced by her spell, but to the eyes of everyone, a haunting beauty was restored to her.
- Valchoria - [Until the Aetomarchis awakes and Minos'Drakon burns...this shall be our bastion. From here, all of Miminas will return to us, and to Him.]
A long flight followed the evacuation. Valeria, while shaken from the insicent, insisted they fly to a city in the Miminan hinterlands, which were eastward of the now subsumed metropolis.
The group arrived within a common room of a branch of the Alcanti Royal Academy within the city of Teryos, an old city that had its roots deep in the history of the Minosian Empire. Phaelana's arrow-wound had healed, leaving no scar upon her shoulder. Although she refused to admit if she had taken a nanospray to help. Other surviving scientists made themselves comfortable within the common room,with one of the terratrix instantly sitting down ot turn on a flatscreen to watch some prime-time entertainment while another hunted though a fridge and found some soda to happily drink. Valeria sat down at a table, flipping though notes in the journal she had been writing since before the expedition to uncover Thevixuias' tomb.
Merdilla, having somehow managed to spare the time to secure two crates of bottled beverages, splayed herself across a lounger while gulping through the beer she had acquired, dislodging the cap with her beak. She made a gesture to offer her beverages to the others freely, while Thakos sat beside Phaelana, his arms folded and his head lowered with closed eyes, as if he were sleeping. Valeria was tempted, her nerves were hit with the recent incident, but with a sigh she said "no" with her hand and stood up to make herself some coffee. Phaelana looked to Thakos, smiling a little, but her attention turned back to the others not long after.
- Phaelana - We can't keep running like this, can we?
- Merdilla - As much as I 'ate ta say it, it's workin'. I mean, none of us are dead yet, righ'?
- Phaelana - Well...no, but I don't like our odds.
- Merdilla - Ah, wha' am I sayin'... I 'ate the thought of bein' cooped up in 'ere, forced ta keep runnin' away from 'em like they think they own the place. We... We're survivin', but survivin' ain't the same as winnin', though, is it?
- Scientist - Well, at least this common room beats a creepy tomb and a manor by a graveyard.
- Phaelana - That manor - Phaelana snorted - Was my home for a long time.
- Scientist - I er...I meant no offence.
Suddenly, the group could hear the sound of heavy, frustrated breathing as Skarlthrax wandered into the common room, picking up a beverage from one of the crates by Merdilla's side and removing the cap that contained its contents with his bare teeth - followed up with him gulping the alcoholic contents in a single, prolonged sitting before he threw to emptied bottle into Merdilla's hands. He leaned against one of the loungers, a hand held over his crest. As he settled, Valeria returned to the roo mwith a mug of steaming coffee in her hands.
- Skarlthrax - ... I shan't lie; I do not fancy our chances.
- Valeria - What do we do then? We're not all soldiers.
- Phaelana - We're not, but we survived this long did we not?
- Skarlthrax - Aye; you are scientists and researchers. ... Research a solution, maybe, or something useful to keep people from dying like they have.
The scientist who had been passively watching the TV became slightly annoyed when one of his companions, who had just been speaking into a communicator, changed the channel to reveal a news report showing the events of the city centre.
- Scientist 1 - Hey I was watching that!
- Scientist 2 - Alcanti's on fire, who cares about your stupid show.
- Scientist 1 - Well we've been on the run for several hours. Not all of us calm ourselves by getting drunk stupid like the captain.
- Merdilla - I bloody well 'eard that, you lil' shit! Ye may not be a rotter but I'll still knock you up good an' proper if you keep runnin' yer mouth like that!
- Skarlthrax - I am surprised to see the normal channels are still being broadcasted despite everything that is occuring. Perhaps the infestation is much more contained than we happen to believe it to be.
- Scientist 1 - Well yeah, haven't seen anything beyond Alcanti yet regarding those horrors.
- Phaelana - Everyone quiet, we have an issue.
The news report was of footage recorded by a camera probe that had flown above the chaos of the city...at least, they were sure it must have been chaos somewhere, as the scene the camera focussed on was of Valchoria and Thevixuias as they allowed a crowd of thousands to gather hypnotically around them ,reaching out ot touch their hands. The true chaos was behind them, as on the periphery of the recording were scenes of violence and panic. Those who gathered around the two titans, appeared oblivious as to what was going on.
- Valeria - That...that sewer worker she entranced....it was just the beginning, wasn't it?
- Merdilla - ... Well bugger me.
- Skarlthrax - It shall become much more difficult to minimize civilian casualties if the enemy is engaging them with enforced hypnosis. ... Hmph, we may have to end up taking that risk if we desire their defeat.
- Valeria - Those murals on the tombs...they weren't lifetime feats.
- Merdilla - Eh?
- Valeria - In the tombs of those champions, remember we saw carvings of armies being driven to sadness, disguist...hysteria.
- Skarlthrax - ... They were recordings of a different kind.
- Phaelana - You are all correct.
Phaelana stood up from her seat. Looking sombre as she looked at the camera probe footage being displayed on the news.
- Phaelana - The legends were that at their apex, each of the champions could fell armies before them with a vave of their hand. And from them raise new soldiers for this Aetomarchis.
- Skarlthrax - How eery. Similar tales speak of the founder of the First Sovereign Domain of the Zazane - Zagdala - captivating the remnant soldiers of nations and governments he had destroyed, relying upon his dark powers to acquire victory and enlarge his army. ... Should the Aetomarchis have enhanced these Champions, they must have close ties with Zagdala to grant others such power.
- Valeria - Thakos saw a connection with Descension while we were fleeing Thevixuias. But those ruins are over two-hundred-and-seventy millennia old. All this predates the Zazane presence in this universe.
Stirring from his slumber, Thakos let out a deep exhale to let others know that he had awoken and opened his mouth to speak in a rather non-chalant and casual manner, as if he knew such speculations of his own to be fact.
- Thakos - Zazane have had the capacity for extra-universal travel prior to the Great Migration into Onuris. Even so, as some may suspect, such travel is... somewhat unreliable, possessing a tendency to send subjects back or forth in time as much as it does to send them into otherwise random regions of space.
- Valeria - Wouldn't there be wreckage of such a vessel?
- Scientist 2 - Here we go!
- Thakos - A probability, but as you have claimed, it has been over two-hundred-and-seventy millennia - and machinery, no matter how advanced, tends to degrade if unchecked, especially ancient Zazane craft. ... I feel as if the Aetomarchis may, perhaps, be a survivor from the end of the First Sovereign Domain.
- Skarlthrax - ... A close descendant of Zagdala?
- Thakos - Definitely within the third-to-fourth generation of his lineage. Far too potent to have been one gifted with Descension energy rather than born with such.
- Valeria - To be that far down the lineage...is that a good sign for our chances?
- Thakos - In comparison to modern Zazane? Mayhaps. From Zagdala? ... Grandmaster Breek is a direct descendant of Zagdala's lineage hundreds to thousands of generations downward, if you desire an estimate. And any of these Champions could potentially match the Grandmaster in combat.
- Scientist 2 - Even if they are linked to Zagdala, what's the guarentee this is their greatest extent? They've been restoring themselves for just a week or two and already one of them can captivate a city. Give it two months of further restoration, maybe six, who knows what they could accomplish!
- Thakos - At this rate, I am afraid that Minos'Drakon shan't last even a month, nevermind six. The entirety of Alcanti could, theoretically, be considered under the Aetomarchis' dominion in under a year. ... If we allow the Champions further victory.
- Phaelana - Thakos is right. We can't simply let them win. You have some kind of plan, I take it?
Thakos smiled to himself as began to chuckle quietly to himself, sitting himself upright where he sat as he pulled out a tablet from behind himself and raised it into view for the others to observe; on it was what appeared to be a digitalized map of the continent they resided on. Skarlthrax observed the device curiously.
- Thakos - The Champions can be damaged. As they can be damaged, it is reasonable to assume that they can be permanently terminated; as powerful as they are, subjects displaying the capacity of Controlled Descension can still be eliminated should they be... "killed" a sufficient number of times.
- Valeria - "Controlled"?
- Thakos - Full possession and control over one's own capacity for Descension... Skarlthrax and the Champions are examples; utilising Descension to its fullest extent without the requirement of a Demon Form.
- Valeria - I think I'm starting to understand that comparison a little better.
- Thakos - I have hypothesized that whenever a subject of Controlled Descension sustains otherwise fatal damage, their grasp upon self-control is gradually depleted. Eventually, should their self-control be sufficiently disrupted, they lose the potential to maintain their "Controlled" state and should either effectively die or be rendered far more susceptible to conventional means of combat.
Phaelana looked at the digital map and rubbed her chin with her fingers.
- Phaelana - We have that anti-Essence ammunition, but they could be anywhere on the continent.
- Thakos - They could be. And I can predict their movements based on observation due to the tracking device that Valeria attached to Thevixuias' rear during our previous encounter so we may allow ourselves the opportunity to intercept them.
- Valeria - Wait wouldn't we lose the tracker the first time we destroy Thevixuias?
- Thakos - Not if we do not destroy her entirely - so long as we happen to be careful. And besides, with some hope on our side, our "first" time may happen to be our "last" time due to our anti-Essence arsenal.
- Phaelana - Let's hope they don't pull that trick they used at my old home. The champions are getting strong enough that they may get less dependant on the the others during their campaign.
- Valeria - Well I hope so.
- Thakos - As the Champions are still recovering and keep sustaining damage to their forms, we may be capable of having to only successfully destroy them once as they appear to be rendered into a weakened state.
Valeria looked down at the map on the table and perked a eyebrow as she identified where Thevixuias' blip was.
- Valeria - It looks like she's near Lake Drak.
- Skarlthrax - Any idea what her motive would be to head in that direction?
- Valeria - Lake Drak is...well...Its where Drakon was said to have been seen by the scholar who wrote the Book of Divine Teachings. So tis a holy site for the Path's followers
- Skarlthrax - Is there a major settlement near there?
- 'Valeria - Oh Lifefather, Dagonris!
- Skarlthrax - ... We need to intercept Thevixuias. I shall take several companies of our current available military assets and lead them onto her path to potentially rid ourselves of her and her peers.
- Merdilla - I'll come with ya, gonna be borin' sittin' round 'ere an--
- Skarlthrax - You are staying here and establishing a secure fortification of the university with our remaining forces. Valeria, Phaelana, it is by my order that you two must remain within these premises at all times as of now and to report to Merdilla should any issues arise. Thakos, I require your presence for the purpose of support.
Phaelana gave a comforting pat on the shoulder to Thakos, her eyes indicating confidence in what they were about to do. Meanwhile Valeria slumped in the couch and lowered her head, looking miserable.
- Valeria - Lake Drak is about to be tainted with dark forces and one of the Royal Academy's fine institutions is being turned into a safehouse. I wish I never opened that rime-encrusted tomb door!
- Merdilla - Don' we all, missy. ... Alrigh', look sharp, people! Let's get a carrier transport or five prepped and readied fer take-off ASAP! Valeria, Phaelana, I want you two ta 'elp for'ify any an' all points o' entry ta keep them rotters from gettin' in when they come fer us!
Night was drawing in. After fortifying the doors, windows and other various openings with help from the remaining university staff, Valeria had retreated to the university library to look up what she could on the Minosian Empire withi nthe region. It was hear hope that this old library would ahve information on local occurances. When Phaelana came to visit her, she was surrounded with old books, tablet computers and site maps. Valeria herself however appeared to be in a state of half-wakefulness, struggling to stay awake though the night as she strained for an answer. Resting a hand upon her shoulder, Phaelana half-smiled warmly as she made an attempt to keep her own doubts and worries hidden from her accomplice.
- Phaelana - You've not slept?
Valeria roused and yawned as she rose her head up from the pile of papers around her.
- Valeria - Couldn't sleep. Wanted to know what we could be up against.
- Phaelana - And have you come to a reliable conclusion?
- Valeria - Apart from the Minosians burying everything they could on the Aetoamrchis? Not much. Some war with the kingdom of Veilas but apart from a large number of casualties and temporary territory loss on the Minosians' part, nothing.
- Phaelana - Shame, I thought that if anyone would be onto something about all of this, it'd be you, heh. ... You should try harder at getting some sleep this time around. The institution's fortified on all accounts, Merdilla's busy organising troops outside, and as far as I know, most of the students and staff are either asleep or scrounging the bar.
- Valeria - Phaelana, you said that in the old legend that one of the champions was the former king of Veilas. Does the name Kherost ring any bells?
- Phaelana - I... Yes, yes it does. According to legend, Kherost was a man who sought to make his nation a great one, and if he had remained in the seat of power he could have perhaps succeeded. ... Ah, but, he was supposedly challenged by a foreigner from an unknown land and gave the reign of Veilas as a prize.
- Valeria - Do you think the Aetomarchis was that foreigner? The books here make no mention of that, but they do say that after losing against the legions of Minosis in war, he was buried alive.
- Phaelana - ... I want to believe you, Valeria, but I cannot help but feel that it is simple historical coincidence. I mean... you are suggesting the war between Minosis and Veilas occured at the same time as the Aetomarchis' arrival? That is absurd... Hmph, alright, I am hoping it is absurd because it makes too much sense for me to feel comfortable.
- Valeria - Maybe- Maybe the war the Minosians had with Veilas was with the Aetomarchis, but maybe when they were victorious, the MInosians rewrote things to say Kherost had been king the entire time?
- Phaelana - If they were victorious against the Aetomarchis, why go through such an arduous effort to ensure that no documents recording information of him survived? No records or paintings of the victory, no pride to be had in Veilas' defeat?
- Valeria - Well they could have been that afraid of him. Where did you say you learned the legends of the Champions came from again?
- Phaelana - I... I suppose I never did say where I came to learn them from.
- Valeria - They're not in any history book I have found.
- Phaelana - That's... Gah, that's because--
Before Phaelana could say anything, the library's lights suddenly shut themselves off. The only thing now illuminating the library's shelves and occupants was the light of the moon outside, casting a magical blue light on whatever it touched. If only the sudden blackout were as magical as the moon-rays tried to make it, quite the opposite in fact. Valeria jerked upwards and sat upright, now panicking
- Valeria - Wh-what just happened?
- Phaelana - Power's gone out, the local grid has probably been damaged. We should get back-up energy coming online soon enough unless our own systems have been damaged... W-Which I doubt, considering we haven't had any sign of intrusion. Merdilla would have let us known... By the Lifefather, she'd have let us known.
- 'Valeria - Th-th-they're here, aren't they? They're outside.
- Phaelana - ... We should get to safety, just in case. I don't want to take any chances.
Valeria nodded and stood up from her desk, trembling slightly. She shuffled around and managed to find a flashlight that she had buried under the papers, just in case something like this happened and pointed it towards the duble-doors in tothe university. Phaelana also pulled a flashlight from her belt and activated it, following Valeria's example in pointing the gleaming light towards the double-doors and making a gradual headstart towards it, controlling her breathing as she did so to try and calm Valeria.
- Phaelana - Try to stay calm and slow your breathing down, you'll waste energy if you don't.
Valeria nodded, taking controlled breaths, they were short at first, but as she composed herself she returned to a normal rate.
- Valeria - I'm good.
Elsewhere in the university Merdilla and a squad of heavily-armed soldiers glanced towards the urban battlefield ahead of the institution from a window on one of the university's upper floors, overseeing the fortifications she had managed to establish in the hours they had available to them - they merely awaited the onslaught of drones and awoken undead, with soldiers and mobilised assets surrounding the building and snipers and flanking squads positioned in neighbouring structures. The terratrix once more dislodged a bottlecap with her beak as she drank to calm her nerves and spoke into her comms.
- Merdilla - No sight of the bastards yet, then?
As she drank, a trio of silhouettes emerged out of the skyline, becoming larger and with more detail it became clear they were winged creatures flying in the group's direction. Split seconds were present between their sighting and two warriors, the third being shot out of the sky with several well-placed sniper rounds, smashed though the window though brute force, showering everyone with glass and rubble as they smashed through the window and a wall, their luminous eyes gleaming in the darkness. Merdilla screamed as she rolled onto her back, spilling beer onto the floor while her assigned detachment of soldiers began to open fire onto the warriors, pumping a combination of conventional and anti-Essence rounds through their weapons in desperation at the sudden intrusion. Merdilla, meanwhile, struggled to pick herself up off the floor.
- Merdilla - Redact that, holy shit! They're inside, two rotters on my position!
The warriors retaliated with their wicked weapons, one of them swinging a blade in a horizontal fashion to slice into the waits of two of the detachment while its partner plunged a spear into another soldier. While not immune, the two appeared resillient to the conventional weapon damage and moved at a dangerous pace. Merdilla screamed and yelled as she finally managed to stand on her own two feet and drew her modified shotgun, raising it and aiming frantically as she pulled the trigger and allowed a splash of anti-Essence rounds to burst forth from the barrel, almost knocking her back onto her rear. The warrior recoiled, flailing his tail and almost hitting Merdilla had she not staggered back from the recoil of her shotgun. The warrior screamed loud enough to crack the glass that he and his partner had not smashed on their entry, and when the second one realised his partner was in pain, ripped the spear from the soldier and swung it to hit Merdilla, to which she responded by once more opening fire as the ranged weapon made its approach, effectively reducing its efficiency when the rounds of her anti-Essence weapon pulverized through the enchanted weapon's materials. The warrior reacted in surprise, while his partner, after enduring a lot of punishment, was taken down. The second warrior let out a roar but before he could land a fist on Merdilla his head exploded alongisde the ring of a rifle blast from outside. The headless body proceeded to fall forwards, still in Merdilla's direction.
Merdilla once more landed on her back as she threw herself backwards to evade the crushing weight of the collapsing body, panting before she quipped an amused chuckle and took another gracious swig from her bottle before looking up at her company and giving a thumbs-up gesture.
- Merdilla - Shoulda quit while ye were a'ead, mate!
The surviving squad members chuckled at Merdilla's remark. But quickly stopped when they realised what this potentially meant.
- Soldier - Does this mean our fortifications have been compromised?
- Merdilla - ... Ah, shit.
Valeria kept close to Phaelana as they carefully made their way down the corridor. Nearing a junction there was suddenly a rumble, Valeria quickly moved her flashlight in its direction down the corridor and for a split second caught something long moving from right to left along the far corridor, which sent her into a state of near paralysis. Whatever she saw was, it was long, and large. Phaelana swiftly turned to Valeria as she stopped moving and planted her hand on her shoulder again, a brow raised as she shone her flashlight in the same direction as Valeria's own.
- Phaelana - What? What is it?
Valeria gulped, as if swallowing her terror.
- Valeria - I thin-I thin--I think it was a tail. Down there! A-a big one!
- Phaelana' - ... You're probably imagining things, Valeria. You're tired and scared, if the university was compromised then we'd know about it.
- Valeria - The backup generators have yet to come on...
- Phaelana - Give it time. Come on, we need to get to a safe place, we can't be alone in the corridors like this.
- Valeria - Right...the common room isn't far.
- Phaelana - Not far at all. And there are soldiers there who can give us an update into what is going on around here.
Valeria nodded, and the two continued on. Thing seemed fine for a little while. Valeria stayed close to Phaelana and eventually, the door to the common room was in sight. A few more steps and Valeria looked back, hearing the same noise and, with a quick scan of her flashlight, catching the sight very tip of something that caused her to clutch Phaelana's arm very tightly.
- Valeria - I saw it! I saw it again!
- Phaelana - ... I know. I didn't want to tell you, but... I can feel it. And that is why we need to keep moving. Now.
Valeria nodded, keeping close as they reached the door to the common room. At the door however, there was silence inside. Phaelana, making haste, did not even knock as she rammed her shoulder into the door with a strength that Valeria had not seen before now, causing the metallic object separating the common room from the corridor off of its supports and causing it to collapse onto the ground.
The very first thing they saw upon crashing through, thanks to the flashlight, was a soldier's corpse mounted on the counter, torso torn open, blood and entrails everywhere and covered in the glossy carapaces of hundreds of insects crawling within his innards. A look of sheer horror was upon the soldier's lifeless face, a clear sign that whatever he had experienced utterly terrified him. The very sight caused Valeria to scream. In her panic, her flashlight revealed soldiers of a similar fate in several places around the common room. One in particular appeared embedded into the ceiling. Phaelana slowly raised a hand to her mouth as she looked at the horrific scene in a combination of awe and terror, her eyes widening as she had to resist the urge to puke her innards onto the floor at the very moment she saw the gruesome contents of the room.
- Phaelana - ... We need to get Merdilla on the line.
Valeria shakily nodded. She closed her eyes and carefully moved to one of the disemboweled soldiers, cringing in fear as she picked up a damaged but still-operable communicator from the gutted mess.
- Valeria' - M-Merdilla...are you there?
- Merdilla - Hey, darlin'! What I'd do ta see the look on yer face when ye see what kinda crap's goin' on outside right now!
- Valeria - R-right now that's not very funny! Phaelana and I-- We're in the common room and, argh, Lifefather your soldiers' innards are everywhere!
- Merdilla - ... Can ye not try puttin' 'em back in or...?
- Valeria - At this point....I don't see that d-doing anything.
- Merdilla - ... I think ye got a situation on yer 'ands.
- Valeria - You think!?
- Merdilla - A-Alrigh', look. Just... J-Just stay with whoever you're with righ' now an' try ta get ta the upper floor. I'll send some of my men yer way but you're gonna 'ave ta walk it out on foot 'ere I'm 'fraid. ... I'm just wonderin' 'ow they've got so far behind our line.
- Valeria - I don't know either... - Valeria took a deep breath - Phaelana and I-- We'll try getting to the upper levels but...I think He's tracking us.
- Merdilla - That ain't possible, he should be with the cold cow and the other sleepin' beauty they've just gone an woke up. They don't usually like bein' separated.
- Valeria - Well one of them is in here with us. And this room is swarming with bugs!
- Merdilla - Bugger! ... Pardon the pun. Righ', just keep on the line an'... Oh shit, is that a Coarlatus? Righ', uhh... Just try keepin' on the line--
Shortly after her last statement, however, the communications between Valeria and Merdilla was severed, rendered into little more than static in an otherwise silent environment minus the sounds of buzzing and gnawing from the bugs present within the room. Phaelana groaned, attempting to compose herself amidst the catastrophe that happened to be uncurling around them. Valeria stood holding the hissing radio.
- Valeria - Merdilla says we should head to the upper levels. She said she'd send who she can.
- Phaelana - The elevators are out since the power's gone. She expects us to get up there on foot while that... thing is still roaming about and stalking us?
Valeria nodded. She knew this university the best and silently indicated she'd guide Phaelana towards the nearerst appropriate stairwell. As they walked, Valeria timidly asked.
- Valeria - Back in your basement...I erm-- I saw you confronting Thevixuias. She spoke as if she knew you.
- Phaelana - ... I... I do not recall such.
- Valeria - The last bit I remember before blacking out is you punching her, she fell over and then I fell over.
- Phaelana - She was still weak back then, I am sure any one of us could have punched her and caused her to fall over like that. ... It does not make me any stronger than you are.
- Valeria - You didn't witness shotgun and handgun rounds bouncing off her body. And...you did just break a steel door off its fixings.
- Phaelana - ... I suppose you're demanding an explanation at this point rather than excuses, huh?
- Valeria - Could say that I guess. I'm not being rude...am I?
- Phaelana - No, no... I've been holding information from you all and, now that one disastrous thing has led to another, I suppose I should come clean at some point. ... It'd be nice to get it off of my chest as well.
- Valeria - It would?
Valeria gave Phaelana a curious look, a little surprised at what her companion could say that would warrant hiding all this time. Phaelana huffed, her step gradually becoming slower as she contemplated for several moments while attempting deep and heavy sets of inhales and exhales, as if to prepare or calm herself - despite the urgency, Phaelana's pace had slowed, and slowly she struggled to look towards Valeria and retain her composure.
- Phaelana - Valeria, I'm... Hmph, how do I say this? I'm... I'm older than you.
Valeria was initially confused, her expression became one of deep contemplation.
- Valeria - That doesn't sound like much to hide unless you're...well, really old.
- Phaelana - ... Give or take, roughly 200,000 years older than you.
Valeria took a step back, suddenly feeling uncomfortable and completely bewildered by this news. She looked Phaelana up and down repeatedly as if to confirm to herself if this was true or not by looking at her companion's apperance. Despite her claim, Phaelana, in the physical regard, appeared to be a mature specimen who still retained a firm grasp of her youth.
- Valeria - You can't be. You're trying to lighten the mood aren't you?
- Phaelana - I wish I was. ... Why do you think I know so much about the Champions and the legends behind them? I was there, Valeria. I was there when Veilas fell - I helped it collapse.
- Valeria - You mean...you mean you're one of them?
- Phaelana - ... No, no. No, I'm not one of them. I am... Descended, as the people of this time call it, but I'm not one of them.
- Valeria - That's why Thevixuias spoke to you the way she did. She...she remembered what you did and she remembered you.
- Phaelana - I contributed to nothing pertaining to the Champions or the Aetomarchis, Valeria. I helped Veilas fall after the Aetomarchis had taken dominion over it, not before. I helped lead the soldiers of Minosis against the Aetomarchis.
- Valeria - And the map that you have with you? That's not from some ancestor of yours?
- Phaelana - No, Valeria. That is a genuine relic from 200,000 years before your time - and I remember as if it were yesterday when it was not torn and aged.
Valeria took a few steps back against a wall, a little unnerved by the truth. Another part of her clicked that while Phaelana was not one of the Aetomarchis' champions, she surely had their potential. Phaelana, meanwhile, halted her pace completely and stood in the center of a corridor to assure Valeria of the truth and her own hospitality.
- Valeria - Then...I want to know. I want to know how you see me for...all this. Are you upset, worried, happy? I sense that you might be the former.
- Phaelana - Well I am certainly not going to be the latter, am I? ... You did not know what was to happen by unsealing that tomb, I cannot fault you for that, Valeria. I feel... worried, however, because I fear that without him we may not be able to defeat the Aetomarchis again.
- Valeria - Without who?
- Phaelana - ... Ah yes, I forgot that we made sure no trace of him or the Aetomarchis and his Champions would survive into the modern age on record. I should have expected you weren't to know.
- Valeria - You er-- Did well in that regard. So whoever you mean I guess I don't.
- Phaelana' - He wanted it this way, it was his idea in cooperation with the Minosian lords. ... His name was--
Phaelana was interrupted by a scream horrible enough to chill her blood. Rushing down a corridor was Dralkithus with swords drawn and yellowed teeth glinting in the light of their flashlights. He moved with a horrifying pace towards the two of them, pushing himself off walls and scraping off plaster as he charged for a collision course. Acting in the spur of the moment, Phaelana batted Valeria aside with her tail as she turned to face the colossus that aimed to pursue her, and before she could make an attempt to draw a sidearm, she merely raised her arms to cover her face and torso as she found herself colliding with the charging Dralkithus, causing her to yell in pain and shock.
- Phaelana - ... S-Shit!
Dralkithus pinned her down with his arm, snarling as he raised his blade to stab her savagely in her stomach. Valeria scrambled up from the floor and backed from the scene using her hands to convey herself beck along the wall, while Phaelana reached for the belt at her waist - in a swift motion, Dralkithus could feel the tendons in his raised arm break and tear as the sharp edge of Phaelana's blade - an ancient Minosian sabre with a partially blackened blade - cut through his limb with a swing from Phaelana's own right arm. She had kept her weapon sheathed until now, where she found herself tightly cornered.
- Phaelana - Valeria, run! And don't look back, I'll be fine!
Valeria was hesitant as Dralkithus let out a room-shaking roar of pain before slamming his stump of a wrist into the floor. While Valeria stumbled, she stood up and ran away from the scene of conflict to look desperately for another way to the upper levels. Phaelana utlised the opportunity and swiftly escaped from Dralkithus' hold, managing to provide at least a meter or so of space between the two immortals, clenching ahold of the grip of her sabre tightly while her eyes locked onto the undead commander.
- Phaelana - ... Hello again... Dralkithus.
- Dralkithus - Hrmph! My sisters are not amused with your defiance, wretch!
- Phaelana - I see your attitude has aged about as well as the rest of you. I'd have thought you would be with the rest of the family... Rather bold move confronting our safehouse by yourself.
Valeria, panicking and wanting distance, had been running and rushed up a flight of stairs, panting in panic as she tried to get as much distance from herself from the immortals as possible. In her fear she placed less emphasis on where she was going but in her heart she wanted safety and security. It was only when she burst through the first doorway she could find on the floor with what appeared to be people inside could she find what she had desired; Merdilla, alongside several other soldiers, had been turning the room inside-out with gunfire as they shot an aerial warrior, whom had managed to penetrate through the window, to little more than pieces. Merdilla took a heavy breath as she raised her beverage to her beak, shaking her head.
- Merdilla - Tell ye wha', they looks to me like they're growin' bigger sets o' balls if they're bein' this risky. An' I didn' think Draconis 'ad balls.
- Valeria - Merdilla?' Thank-- Thank the Lifefather!'
Merdilla turned around at the sound of Valeria's voice and smiled as she found her otherwise unharmed after giving her a brief look-over from afar; while she could tell the Draconis was panicked and anxious, she knew she was, for all intents and purposes, healthy with no signs of even minor wounds.
- Merdilla - Well, if it ain' our resident schoolteacher! Made it outta there alrigh' by the looks o' things, too.
- Valeria - Dralkithus is here. He's hunting us in the corridors!
- Merdilla - ... Which one was that one again?
- Valeria - The one who can command insects.
- Merdilla - ... Oh right, that guy! Yeah, well, that sounds like bad news alright. ... Where's the other girl?
- Valeria - She opted to hold him back while I ran to look for you. The last thing I knew she was downstairs fighting him off.
- Merdilla - Fightin' him off? ... You mean, she's not been torn into itty-bitty pieces righ' about now?
- Valeria - I...I don't know if she's still alive.
Valeria sounded hesitant. She recalled all the stories Merdilla had told her of the Terratrix woman's encounters with the undead and felt that perhaps the less who knew of Phaelana's true nature, the more comfortable things could be. Merdilla huffed, looking down at her shotgun before she looked back towards Valeria with a confident and undeterred expression written on her face - even though, not that Valeria or the others would know it, she felt fear and despair beginning to well within her as, for a second time in her lifetime, she watched her surroundings be torn apart by the undead.
- Merdilla - ... I wonder if Lavlitta's alrigh'...
- Valeria - Merdilla? Are you alright?
- Merdilla - ... Eh, what? Oh! Righ', sorry, must've dozed off cus of 'ow borin' things are 'round 'ere! Frankly, I'm kinda glad that Dralkithus 'as made an appearance - I was startin' ta wonder if things were gonna git anymore interestin'!
Merdilla cocked her shotgun as she glanced towards Valeria with a shaky smile, and the Draconis woman could see the faint glimmer of tears welling up at the sides of the Terratrix's eyes - she was attempting to act confident and retain the bravado she usually acted with. Valeria looked at her with a brave face. Tonight had quickly become nightmarish and it was easy to tell everyone was trying to stay brave in this dire turn of events.
- Merdilla - ... Ye stay up 'ere and I'll have some of my men stand watch over ye while I go an' investigate what's causin all that bloody ruckus downstairs.
- Valeria - Thank you, captain.
Valeria nodded. Before she left the library she had picked up her journal and had been carrying it in her pocket thoughout the evening. Deciding to settle here in the room for her own safety, with two of Merdilla's five personal guardsmen staying behind to keep maintenance over the Draconis while Merdilla herself ventured out of the doorway with the remnant of her forces and made a swift departure downstairs, her shotgun raised in preparation for any nasty surprises that may lie in wait for her.
Some time passed in the room, by now Valeria had settled for writing in her journal with a pen, feeling comfortable in a room protected by two of Merdilla's guards. As she continued writing however, the room was overcome with the powerful stench of rotting flesh. The smell caused Valeria to twitch her snout in disgust before she started gagging, with the two guardsmen beginning to cough and splutter as they raised their weapons to aim through their sights, analyzing the room and the outdoor corridor for any trace of daemonic or undead presence. There was a scream and one of the soldiers swiftly felt the sting of steel rupture though his insides and out of his stomach. In a swift motion the metal cut upwards, slicing the soldier in half to reveal the very titan Valeria had run from standing in the room with weapons drawn and his yellowed eyes glowing in the darkness. After cleaving the body of the first soldier he killed, a massive hand grasped the second soldier and lifted them off the ground, applying crushing pressure to the neck and collar.
The soldier squirmed and writhed in Dralkithus' grasp, with one of his hands attempting to pull away the colossus' fingers in vain while the other wildly held onto the trigger of his weapon, unleashing semi-automatic fire across the room, most prominently at Dralkithus' feet as he could not control the trajectory or recoil of his gun. It would take mere moments before there was a sickening, audible crack from the bones of the soldier's neck and his body drooped lifelessly, twitching only slightly. Dralkithus studied the body for a moment ebfore carelessly dropping it, turning those ill eyes on Valeria and revealing his rotting teeth to her in a twisted smile.
Moving like an eerie grace he moved up to her, his for mtowering over hers. He leaned forwards and, strangely, began to sniff her, moving his hand to mockingly caress her.
- Dralkithus - I can see why Valchoria wants you, little girl.
Valeria tried to run, but she did not make four steps before Dralkithus' tail slammed itself in her path, shaking the room. Int contracted, drawing her into the Draocnid colossus' vicinity, and when she was but inches form her, his hands moved to clutch her torso, causing her to scream. But only for a moment as a giant hand wrapped itself around her snout.
Moments following her capture, the doorway leading into the room was destroyed as the blast of a shotgun burst through the entrance, cracking and collapsing the surrounding wall in the process; Merdilla dashed into the room, followed swiftly by Phaelana, whose clothes had been partially torn while a fresh, bloodied gash resided at the side of her left cheek. Once more, Merdilla raised her shotgun and aimed at Dralkithus. The giant in question turned around, appearing not to be angered in the slightest.
- Merdilla - I suggest ye put her down, mate!
- Phaelana - Let her go, Dralkithus! She's not yours to take!
- Dralkithus - You...are mistaken.
- Merdilla - ... Less talkin', more droppin'! Anymore funny business an' I'll open up 'bout a dozen or more new assholes fer ye!
- Dralkithus - I obey only the Aetomarchis!
Desecrating Lake Drak
As Phaelana, Valeria and Merdilla endured the horrors that had come to Teryos, Thakos and Skarlthrax had arrived at the southern shore of Lake Drak, not far from the holy metropolis of Dagonris. Thevixuias' tracker led them here, but rather than going into the city proper, the tracker appeared to indicate Thevixuias was in this particular spot. The sun was rising from the west when they arrived, and below a ridge, a congregation of the followers of Drakon's Path, the sacred philosophical belief system that almost all Draconis adhered to were engaging in morning services.
Lake Drak was a site of pilgrimage, for it was said that on these shores Orlonis Voltus met a wise old man who enlightened him to the ways of the Lifefather. Such a holy site then, was perhaps a honeypot for the champions of the Aetomarchis. Skarlthrax and Thakos, along with what soldiers they could spare, had camped on a ridge overlooking the congregation, waiting for their quarry to appear. Skarlthrax had prepared himself with a large, augmented high-power sniper rifle loaded with anti-armour rounds that consisted of anti-Essence picomachines as their payload, designed in haste with the sole intent of incapacitating, if not outright terminating, more powerful Essence users, while Thakos merely kept his eyes locked onto his tracker and recorded the path undertaken by the paranormal warriors.
- Skarlthrax - I can feel them.
- Thakos - But do you have sight of them?
- Skarlthrax - ... Negative.
The two Zazane could hear the echoes of the congregation ringing across the valley. As they waited, and as Aldra inched a little higher into the sky, Thakos' tracker began to signal to him. Something was approaching, and it began moving fast. His eyes widening, Thakos turned to Skarlthrax and tapped his shoulder, drawing his attention to the tracker; Thevixuias was close, it appeared, and was within their somewhat immediate vicinity, which has caused the Zazane militant to raise the scope of his rifle to his eye and aim towards the sky.
- Skarlthrax - She is coming in for an aerial assault. I will have her grounded.
- Thakos - ... Where is she?
Skarlthrax saw nothing however, not matter how hard he looked though his scope, but there was no sign of a paranormal champion of some immortal warlord from ages past.
- Skarlthrax - ... Is your tracker functioning correctly? I am aiming in the correct direction according to it.
- Thakos - Yes, I am certain.
Then something did pass by, three avians flying on bat-like wings crossed Skalthrax's scope - confusedly right where the tracker said Thevixuias was. Skarlthrax growled agitatedly, glancing towards the avians through his scope, with Thakos also looking behind himself to look up towards the sky and observe. It was only after some minutes did Skarlthrax's eyes begin to widen as he zoomed in on one of the birds traversing the open air. He passed the sniper rifle to Thakos for him to look through.
- Skarlthrax - ... Is that not your tracker?
- Thakos - ... Oh, shyrak. We... We' have been rused, Skarlthrax! The damned witch discovered my tracker and manipulated us!
- Skarlthrax - ... That means she can be homing in from anywhere.
As the two argued, the congregation appeared to stop their chanting, as rising from the shoreline was a familiar but worrying sight. Rising to hold her head over everyone attending was Valchoria, now dressed in a silken robe and golden armour, the silk made translucent by the waters she had arisen from. Her sudden appearance had taken the congregation by surprise and all of them sat there, stunned at her visage. Skarlthrax and Thakos swiftly ceased their bickering as they looked towards the shoreline, with Skarlthrax swiftly raising the scope of his rifle to his eye and aimed down his sight as he sought to align his shot with Valchoria, awaiting the optimal opportunity to incapacitate her.
- Skarlthrax - She is in sight.
Before he could fire, Skalthrax felt a frigid sensation on his tail, along with a feeling of intense pressure. Whatever force gripped his tail suddenly yanked him into the air and sent him flying backwards, causing the Zazane to collide with the soldiers that had been assigned to serve his rearguard, turning up dirt as he impacted against the earth; Thevixuias had arrived to protect her companion, those black orbs within her eye sockets glaring at Skarlthrax as she watched him land within the soldiers' vicinity. Some, who had been flash-frozen, shattered like glass upon collision while others glared down at the floored Zazane with miserable expressions.
- Thevixuias - You shall not interrupt!
- Thakos - A-An ambush!
- Skarlthrax - Grr... That did not even tickle me, wretch.
Skarlthrax groaned as he picked himself up from the ground and glanced back at Thevixuias with narrowed, angered eyes, still clasping the hi-tech sniper rifle in his grasp as he took several steps forward; within an instant, the rifle had been thrown through the air and almost floored Thakos as he caught it with both arms after he had made some distance between himself and the Champion standing before him. Thevixuias responded to Skarlthrax's bravado with an ear-bleeding wail and charged forward, sheets of ice forming across her torso and arms as she sharged to tackle him. Down below, Valchoria had begun to mingle with the congregation, encouraging affection from the attendees with dancing gestures, sometimes stooping low to politely nuzzle the occasional man, woman and child. The chanting had now been replaced with the bustle of curious people, who approached Valchoria to hear her voice; one which rang with power as if the very winds carried her voice across the valley. Thakos glanced downwards towards the congregation as they became captivated by the presence of the ancient Champion and proceeded to instigate a dash from the ridge to secure both his own safety and another advantageous spot that he could utilise - he struggled to carry the heavy weapon in his arms as he ran, and he had briefly stared back at Skarlthrax as he engaged the frozen witch, with Thevixuias' minions beginning to come into view to surround them.
- Skarlthrax - You will regret Dralkithus' absence, corpse!
As she carried her charge, Skarlthrax allowed the length of his forearms, down to his fingertips, to become engulfed and ignited with a sudden and instantaneous combustion of ethereal, green flame; he braced himself for impact, a faint smile growing across his face as he acknowledged that he had at last managed to overcome the Essence dampeners and suppressors fitted into his armour, alongside those surgically implanted beneath and into his flesh and muscle tissue. Thevixuias momentarily became horrified in the last moments as she realised what was happening to him, the resulting shockwave from the two collisions blasted Thevixuias' minions away and created a flash of white light that momentarily drew Valchoria's attention. Despite the temptation to look over his shoulder and observe the devastation occuring behind him, Thakos continued to run to an appropriate and advantageous spot, which concluded with a large set of rocks naturally aligned across a brief cliff south of his previous position - he had moved into a shallower and more inwardly position, although he still retained the advantage of positioning himself above her and had secured some distance between them to allow for a faster and more accurate strike. As he raised the scope to his eye, he lowered his breathing as much as he could, although the rifle remained shakey somewhat.
- Thakos - ... I have you now...
As he was about to take the shot, the ground underneath him gave way to a landslide, sending him forward down the slope and towards the site of the congregation. In an instant, solid earth had become as loose as fresh garden soil that sent him and the rocks sliding down the hillside. Thakos tumbled and struggled to keep his grasp on the sniper rifle, and as he was sent downwards he began to feel somewhat disorientated and sickened, alongside beginning to panic as he had missed his opportunity to deliver a killing - or incapacitating - blow to the Champion in his sights. Once he collided with solid earth again, he could swear he felt several of his bones crack, although he was unsure of which ones specifically amongst the amount of aching pain he had been subjected to as he struggled to stand on his feet. The crowd had turned to look at him with concern as he struggled to stand. But pushing their way concernedly though the crowd to see him in particular was a tall, sturdily built Zazane woman with sizeable, well-defined muscles, large glossy eyes, a curling tail. As she stepped gracefully with caution towards hem, her well-endowed bosom swayed hypnotically from side to side. With those eyes, she looked at Thakos with worry.
- Zazane - A-are you alright?
- Thakos - Y-Yeah, I'm fine, just a couple of bones fractured, probably... W-Where is she? Where has she gone?!
- Zazane - Whose gone?
The Zazane's voice was firm, yet there was an enchanting tone to it; it was eloquent and comforting while at the same time boasting strength. Thakos glanced towards her, sparing a moment or two to look her up and down and partially admire her, before he attempted to leer over her shoulder in order to catch sight of Valchoria, panting and breathing heavily while he uneasily stepped forward, the sniper rifle clenched tightly in his quivering hands.
- Zazane - Are you sure you are alright? - The woman beckoned him over - Come, sit down. You look like you need it.
- Thakos - Ngh... I-I can't... Have you not seen the news...? There's... There's a group of accursed Draconis roving across the country and causing havoc... and I need... to catch this one...
The woman stepped forward.
- Zazane - ...We have not seen anything of the sort around here. But you appear tense.
- Thakos - She... S-She was here... Standing right o-over there! ... You are in s-serious danger, my lady... We are all in... serious danger!
- Zazane - Why so desperate? Surely the planetary defence force can handle it. You took a very hard fall and need to rest. The Lifefather's arms are open to all, after all.
- Thakos - If the PDF... could handle it, we would n-not... be in so much... t-trouble... Eurgh, I... I need to rest... Catch my breath, at least...
The Zazane beckoned him over invitingly. Closer approach further revealed her features; a number of scars on her arms, neck and the side of her head and scratched horns. Her eyes were a dazzling amber, which appeared to almost perfectly mirror the tinge of the morning sun. Closer approach revealed her to stand head and shoulders over Thakos.
- Zazane - Come, sit with me Thakos. Catch your breath in our safe hands.
Thakos stared at the woman, caught admiring her from where he stood before he gradually lowered the sniper rifle in his hands to where its barrel almost touched the ground at his feet. He approached her, panting with exhaustion while his eyes remained locked onto her, almost captivated by how shapely and powerful she appeared to him. As he approached, she lowered herself for the two to more evenly lock eyes. She looked worried as she studied him.
- Zazne - How long have you been without a rest, dear warrior?
- Thakos - ... It has been... I cannot remember, all the days have seemed to merged into one ever since the ordeal began... Too long, I suppose. ... I am no warrior, however.
- Zazane - You must be! Such a stunning representation of Clan Kharein such as yourself...you don't think so?
- Thakos - ... I know so. I am not a soldier like my brothers are... I opted for pursuits elsewhere, pursuits supposedly fit only for lesser clans. ... I only represent the shame Clan Kharein has for me.
The woman looked at him sympathetically, rubbing his shoulder. The attendes of the congregation moved to surround the two Zazane, looking on in curiosity. On closer inspection, the attendees appeared to be Zazane themselves.
- Zazane - I'm sure you could being pride to your clan! You went for days without rest to hunt these monsters. No lesser man could do that. You must have it in you.
- Thakos - I do it because I have to... not because I want to... Urgh... If only I had... managed to stop them earlier, found a means... to fight them while they were weak...
- Zazane - ...Lend me your shame, dear Thakos. I want to help you.
- Thakos - I cannot allow more people... to come to harm... I ... I must find her...
Thakos attempted to turn away and move, his eyes glancing down towards the earth after having gave a brief analysis to the Zazane attendees ahead of him - he was certain that he had been left disorientated by his fall. His fingers clasped his rifle tighter, groaning as he struggled to turn himself away completely from the image of the illustrous woman before him. As he clasped his rifle tighter, something weighted it down, the Zazane rested a hand on the barrel while looking into his eyes, a hand movig to lift his chin up.
- Zazane - If these monsters are what bother you now, we can all hunt for them together. Be one of our cohort, Thakos.
- Thakos - ... She will twist and devour your minds... and... and she would have you serve... as a mere pawn in her... damned cult...
- Zazane - You refuse our desire to help? If "she" is what you fear then what fear is there in uniting her opposition against her. We will not let her turn us, will we?
The attendees cheered with disciplined shouts, revealing Shidium blasters and melee weapons of all kinds by holding them aloft. Thakos looked to them and a faint smile came over him, his eyes blinking softly as his brow relaxed. He looked back towards the woman who kept him there and glanced her up and down once more, his breathing becoming more harsh and heavy as he simply observed her. He blushed in his cheeks, his eyes becoming half-closed.
- Thakos - I... I am unsure... of w-what to say...
- Zazane - I would feel ever so guilty if a man such as you lived in shame. - She leaned forward and whispered into his ear - You don't need to say anything, only accept our support.
- Thakos - ... I shall accept... on one condition...
- Zazane - ...And what is your condition?
- Thakos - ... I will... seal our alliance... with a kiss, my lady.
- Zazane - How could I refuse that? I accept your condition, dear, dear Thakos.
The strange Zazane woman leaned forward, bringing her muzzle close to Thakos' own in preparation for the Zazane's condition. Thakos engaged her, his eyes closing as he kissed her and seemingly sunk into her affection, his heart pounding deep within his chest. His mind began to feel at ease almost frighteningly quickly, and he began to lose his grasp with the reality around him in his disorientation from the fall and his captivation with this woman.However, his senses swiftly returned to him as he brought his sharp, jagged teeth down onto the end of his own tongue, swiftly and agonizingly drawing blood in a horrendous burst that sent pain and adrenaline through into his bodily system. His heart rate increased and his mind began to act in any immediate manner it could, and almost irrationally Thakos' arms raised and, with the adrenaline flooding through his blood, he could not help but have his finger press down onto the trigger of the sniper rifle, sending a round of anti-Essence technology fit for tanks into the torso of the beautiful Zazane he had embraced just moments before.
The woman jolted back, being sent backward by the force of the shot, letting out a banshee's wail as she fell backwards. She looked up at Thakos angrily, her glossy amber eyes becoming slitted golden spheres as she snarled after the screech.
- Zazane - You sick, demented, insect!
- Thakos - ... Rich... coming from a predator of the weak-willed... and innocent...
- Zazane - You denied yourself everything! You could have had what I offered for eternity; no pain, no sadness, you are insane to turn it down!
- Thakos - ... I would rather live a life shameful and true... than one built upon deception and illusion! .... You... You are little more... than a rapist, witch!
As the Zazane pulled herself up her image began to blur, twisting and contorting as it rose higher to form the colossus of desire herself. She was surrounded not by Zazane warriors, but civilians that shared her primal anger; men, women and children all sharing a collective disgust for Thakos. As she rose to her feet, Thakos uneasily fired upon her once more with the heavy sniper rifle in his hands, roughly aiming for her general upper torso - as she was colossal in her stature, outsizing Thakos significantly, he had a good basis at which to aim, with a hint of optimism returning to him as he saw the large, burning cavity buried into her chest from his previous shot. These extra shots tore off flesh, induring her greatly and weakening her as the wounds burned. She responded by launching an intense telekinetic pulse in his vicinity before collapsing onto one hand, and Thakos was successfully knocked onto the earth as a result of her telepathic assault. He groaned in pain and ache as he was knocked onto his back and gradually recovered from the blast, although he could not afford whatever agony he was going through to halt him from dealing more damage against the grounded temptress as he raised the rifle again.
- Thakos - ... W-Where... Where is the third one... The third Champion... D-Dralkithus...
Valchoria's scowl turned into a smile. She let out a booming chuckle as her eyes burned their image into Thakos' mind.
- Valchoria - He is gathering what we need...for His return! As I have been!
- Thakos - ... Phaelana! Valeria! ... This was a distraction... all along!
- Valchoria - Do not mourn them, dear Thakos - She paused to chuckle - They are to serve a higher purpose than your pitiful resistance.
- Thakos - Hrrgh... Bitch... You... I... I s-suggest... I suggest looking beyond me... and... a-and glancing where your... wretch of a sister... is being torn apart...
- Valchoria - Hm?
Valchoria looked up towards the ridge, to the site where Thakos and Skarlthrax had originally camped to wait for her to show up with a raised eyebrow. It only took a few moments to observe the gargantuan, frozen mass that was Thevixuias' body being propelled from the ridge towards whatever buildings or structures were in the path of her trajectory as she was launched through the air like a bullet; Skarlthrax, his body partially surrounded in fierce, emerald embers, stood with blood and slowly-closing wounds across his form, his armour having been wrenched and torn away to reveal the bare musculature of his upper torso. And in the moments Valchoria had kept her eyes away from Thakos, the Zazane scientist launched another round towards her facial vicinity. In her distraction the shot hit its mark, destroying the side of Valchoria's head and sending her weakly collapsing backwards. As she landed, the congregation vanished in a cloud of smoke and her body imprinted the ground where she landed, crushing the chairs beneath her mass that once bore the bodies of adamant followers of Drakon's Path as they praised his wisdom.
Thakos swiftly moved onto his feet, using the wall of a neighbouring structure to help his ascent, and watched as Skarlthrax shot through the air like a blazing fireball before landing at the scientist's side, his fist dug into the earth in order to anchor himself. He glanced towards the fallen Valchoria and the devastation that followed Thevixuias' forceful launch through sacred buildings and holy structures before having landed into the lake itself.
- Skarlthrax - How many did you land?
- Thakos - ... Six.
- Skarlthrax - Hrmph, it carries eight. ... Did you kill her?
- Thakos - I... I-I cannot say... for c-certain...
After a few hours' flight from Dagonris, the dropship returned to the university. The sun had followed their return and as Thakos, Skarlthrax and those not enthralled by the Champion of sorrow returned, Aldra was peeking over the western horizon. They returned to see the university devastated, with Merdila and Phaelana in the common-room while soldiers remained at the perimeter. Phaelana perked up as she heard the roar of the dropship's engines during its descent in the coardyard and stood up facing the door. Thakos had managed to stabilise his condition with minimal medical attention, utilising his own regenerative capacity to heal his lesser injuries and allow himself to walk without assistance, while Skarlthrax appeared to walk with a revitalized vigor in his steps, a slight smile across his face as he relaxed the muscles across his form - it was as if he had returned from a training exercise rather than actual frontline combat. As Phaelana saw Thakos walk in she briskly paced to him, appearing exhausted and almost in tears to which Thakos responded by gently grasping onto her shoulders in order to attempt reassurance.
- Phaelana - Thank the Lifefather! A-Are both of you alright?
- Thakos - Nothing I shan't survive, given the circumstances. ... Why do you cry? What has occured?
- Phaelana - Valeria - she gasped - During the night. Dralkithus' forces attacked the university. Merdila and her soldiers did theri best to hold off the enthralled but--
- Skarlthrax - As I had suspected; Thevixuias and Valchoria were using Lake Drak as a decoy to lure a part of the university's defences away when Dralkithus launched his assault. A more cautious approach should have been undertaken.
- Thakos - Does Valeria remain alive? ... Please, tell me she was not deprived off life by Dralkithus' hand on our own turf.
- Phaelana - I-- I cannot be certain. Dralkithus absconded with her as Merdila and her soldiers fought off his warriors. He took her right before our eyes and vanished in a cloud of smoke!
As she finsihed explaining, Phaelana reached out and wrapped her arms around Thakos, tugging him towards her a she struggled to remain strong in the face of recent events. Brought close, he could have seen the minute expressions she was making that telegraphed her distress, and he responded - somewhat awkwardly - by reciprocating the gesture and hugging her with his arms reaching beneath hers and his hands rested upon her back. Skarlthrax merely watched with an indifferent expression.
- Thakos - ... She may yet live, Phaelana; if she was to die, she would have been executed before our eyes. ... My apologies... Are you wounded?
- Phaelana - N-No. A few scrapes but its nothing I can't walk off. I feel lucky as Dralkithus hung many of the soldiers stationed on grisly display...entrails exposed.
- Skarlthrax - Terror tactics; it was his intent to afflict morale rather than kill either of you. If he had desired you dead, he would neither have wasted his time nor escape from the premises with Valeria in hand. ... I predict that Valeria will either be used as a bargaining chip against us or she will become yet another enthralled asset as another attempt to knock our morale.
As Skarlthrax analyzed the situation as Phaelana told it, Merdilla strode into the room with a shotgun in hand, her feathers appearing to have been literally rustled by the assault launched against her forces by Dralkithus; she wore a scowl across her face, infuriated with the knowledge that she was so easily distracted while the fortress she had made from the university was penetrated with ease. She spat at the ground as she walked into the room.
- Merdilla - It's only gonna get worse from 'ere, I'm 'fraid...
- Phaelana - Cities across the continent are falling...
- Merdilla - Back in the train carriage... after we accidentally woke the first rotter up from 'er beauty sleep...
- Thakos - ... What of it?
- Merdilla - ... Remember how ye got 'er ta stop tossin' me round like a ragdoll when she got all uppity with us?
- Thakos' - Yes... Contribute in locating the tombs of her fellow Champions and unearth the location of the crypt of the Aetomarchis. ... Or... Or...
- Merdilla - Or she'll attempt ta rock MD as if she were an 'urricane. An' I don't think we're doin' much in 'elpin' 'er find those tombs, eh?
Phaelana lifted her head up, looking worried at what Merdilla was suggesting.
- Phaelana - Is she aware of how large the city has become?
- Merdilla - Ye think she'll care? She's two other chumps 'elpin' 'er out an' Trees knows 'ow many more rotters an' dirty cultists under her command. ... An' I bet she's lookin' for the next piece of 'er lil puzzle.
- Phaelana - Valeria...She told me you three used ancient myths to find Dralkithus' tomb.
- Thakos - Correct. It is fortunate that while the current probability suggests that Thevixuias can locate her peers through some form of telepathic bond, she is incapable of establishing a potent enough telepathic link with those Champions that remain buried unless within close range. ... She may require Valeria to locate the fourth Champion.
Phaelana moved her arms to free Thakos from her embrace, gaining confidence as she reassured herself. She ended the gesture with a pat on Thakos' shoulder and a more confident gaze into his eyes.
- Phaelana - I will check my map. But we have to move soon if we want to keep ahead of the champions.
- Skarlthrax - While you pinpoint our next location, I am afraid I must be excused to attend to... matters personal to myself that do not happen to involve any of you. For now.
- Thakos - I shall investigate the scene of Valeria's abduction. She may have dropped belongings that we may as well collect and store for... when we manage to return her to safety.
- Merdilla - Poor gal... We better 'ope that Valeria can resist 'em fuckers long enough to give us time ta intercept their next possible location an' such... Agh, I need a drink...
Skarlthrax quietly turned to exit the room in an almost mechanical fashion, although there was a slight sprint in his step as if he was more than eager to leave the confinement and company of the room, while Thakos eyed and gestured for Phaelana to accompany him to Valeria's last seen location upon the premises of the university, paying little obvious attention to whatever motives Skarlthrax happened to be keeping from the rest of the group. Merdilla, meanwhile, slumped against the nearest wall and rested her eyes.
- Merdilla - ... Miss Phaelana, ye probably know where ta take 'im... Doubt ye'll find anythin' of use te ye, though it ain't have been the first time I'd be wrong.
Phaelana turned to Merdilla as she gave her parting words. The Draocnis gave her something of a knowing smile before leaving the room behind Thakos, leaving Merdila to nap in peace.
Following his return from Lake Drak to the fortified university he had departed from some many hours prior, Skarlthrax, his armour damaged beyond repair and his Essence-inhibitors exhausted and fried, swiftly separated from the company of Skarlthrax and the surviving soldiers that had deployed with them to find a place of privacy, where he could attend to his own, more personal matters; he had opened the door into a moderately-sized room consisting of a desk and various sets of chairs positioned throughout - a meeting room - and closed it behind him as he walked towards the room's centre. Reaching to his belt, he drew a small, octagonal gadget and set it to the floor at his feet, taking some steps back and biding his time for it to come into activation.
All the while, Skarlthrax wore a faint, satisfied smile upon his face, seemingly, at least partially, content with his encounter with Thevixuias at Lake Drak - he knew that she could have matched his power, yet by exhausting his inhibitors when he had, he had taken her by surprise and could refrain from using the extent of his unpredictable powers to get the better of her, allowing her, and whatever allies she would relay information to, to question and second-guess the capacity of his skill.
The device shone a light outwards, transforming the room into a different kind of office, this one filled with transmitters, monitoring equipment and piles of digital paper. Standing with his hands tapping the desk was Rahtaba, the slightly plump Terratrix who had recruited Skarlthrax. He had a familiar look of worry in his eyes that Skarlthrax knew all to well as the avian tapped the desk.
- Rahtaba - About fricking time Protus! We've been waiting days to hear from you ever since you went AWOL from Racalatis.
- Skarlthrax - The situation became... complicated and I was incapable of finding the time to send reports amidst actually coming to a conclusion regarding the situation itself.
- Rahtaba - Enlighten me, please! I've been listening to Domestic Security scanners all night and its nothing but rituals and invasions and murder and death and screaming and Trees know what! - Rahtaba spoke more rapidly as he decended into some form of panic, emoting by swinging his arms in paniched gestures - And so far nothing's stopping them! Your holdout's an island.
- Skarlthrax - ... A group consisting of several, pre-Imperial Draconis exposed to significant amounts of Descension energy have awoken in the modern day and are currently seeking to increase their number by, what I can only assume, awakening other members of their organisation and re-establishing their military branch from fossilised reserves and the conversion of the public. They also appear to desire the return of an entity they deem "the Aetomarchis".
Rahtaba rubbed his hands down his face, trying to calm himself with controlled breathing.
- Rahtaba - ...Shit. Alcanti Garrison reports are Elarsatos is fully under their influence, something about the public converging on the city centre and becoming violently protective of two aliens in the centre of the crowd. These your Pre-Imperial Draconis?
- Skarlthrax - Affirmative, sir, although myself and the local militia, including various academic agents, have managed to temporarily neutralize two of them at Lake Drak earlier today.
- Rahtaba - Waitwaitwait - The terratrix gestured rapidly, though he looked hesitat and jittery doing so knowing his contact - Acadmeic agents?
- Skarlthrax - An engineer and scientist from the Royal Academy, Thakos Kharein, and several of his colleagues, including Valeria Senteriman, Captain Merdilla Gilabi, and a Ms. Phaelana from the cemetery in Racalatis, have been working on permanently neutralizing the further threat of Descension from the pre-Imperial organisation. Anti-Essence weaponry is currently being fielded by a majority of the local militia involved in combating it.
- Rahtaba - Yeah, within an hour of reports of immortal soldiers devastating Racalatis, the Alcanti Garrison started shipping out yrslamarus rounds of all calibres to other risk zones. But so far that only seems to be mitigating the campaign. Any idea how much more we can expect from them to pul out of the ground?
- Skarlthrax - Based on supposed legend informed to us by Ms. Phaelana, there are four "Champions" - three of which are currently active - whom each hold the power to found and resurrect legions of immortals. Each Champion appears to to serve under this "Aetomarchis" entity, who supposedly granted them this power. Mr. Kharein theorizes that the Aetomarchis is a direct member of the Zagdala lineage that arrived on Alcanti in pre-industrial times.
- Rahtaba - So we have one more champion to see rise from the ground and worst-case scenario is we have to deal with one of Zagdala's descendants? Do you have any leads where either of them might be?
- Skarlthrax - I will have to request access to further info from Ms. Phaelana as it appears she has meaningful insight into these Champions and their apparent master.
- Rahtaba - Right, right. Get that information from her and the Institute will be open to providing reinforcements for your next drop.
- Skarlthrax - On the contrary, I believe additional operatives will arouse too much suspicion from my non-partisan company. I would like to request that my anti-Essence inhibitors be... suppressed for our next combat drop, as I find it difficult to combat the current enemy on equal terms with them active.
Rahtaba looked up from his notes, that worried look in his eyes returning.
- Rahtaba - Protus ... I don't know if that will go down well. No offence but without those inhibitors you're well... - He gestures with his hands, looking like he was hesitant with what he was about to say.
- Skarlthrax - ... I am what?
- Rahtaba - ... A potential disaster area. Brass's words not mine I swear!
- Skarlthrax - Permission to call bullshit, sir. Too many casualties are being sustained and the enemy's forces are constantly increasing and being reinforced. As of yet, I have only been capable of at least temporarily neutralizing one of the Champions... with my inhibitors active, of course.
- Rahtaba - Well the brass is looking for an op for a recent graduate. He still needs to unlock his full potential but the doctors tell me he has a high degree of it.
- Skarlthrax - A graduate? ... You are sending me a rookie to train instead of permitting access to my full potential?
- Rahtaba - Protus your inhibitors don't just limit your strength, Tamed Demon were also worrried of the pollutive effects of your ... nature. The inhibitors made sure you weren't too much of a health risk to bystanders.
- Skarlthrax - ... And what about the rookie? Why not send me somebody from my company if you are going to reinforce my position? ... Who are they?
- Rahtaba - Brass has your company on damage control. They can't risk pulling them out to help you and without a skilled mentor the recommendation would likely be sausagemeat by the end of the week.
- Skarlthrax - Was that an attempt at flattering me, sir?
- Rahtaba - Erm-- Kind-of.
- Skarlthrax - It was unsuccessful. ... Just give me a summary of the trainee so I am aware of what I will be handling.
Rahtaba nodded and tapped on a tablet device on his desk, transmitting information on the candidate to the holographic projection, including a holographic representation of them. Surrounding the representation were floating recordings of the recruit practicing their potential and martial ability. Skarlthrax looked upon the image of the recruit with dissatisfaction written across his expression; the recruit was evidently young based on their stature and the absence of any prominent or major battle-afflicted or surgical scars, with their scales showing a blend of dark red-aligned orange and black on an athletic physique. The facial features and crest size also betrayed the operative's youth by comparison to the matured Skarlthrax.
- Skarlthrax - ... Secundus. You are sending me a child as my reinforcement?
- Rahtaba - Protus, the kid has massive potential, he just needs the right guidance. He's not a replacement but you knew you wouldn't be the only generation...right?
- Skarlthrax - Why is the Institute training children as part of Tamed Demon? Was this even a voluntary procedure? ... Is Secundus the only child the Institute is willing to field?
- Rahtaba - I'm sorry but that's above my pay grade. I honestly have little idea.
- Skarlthrax - His background is misty as well. Djrozir of Clan Vedsean... Hmph. You claim Secundus has a massive rating for Descension potential. May I request access to a comparison based on the estimate of his and my own? As far as I am aware, I am one of the more potent surviving operatives of my company.
Rahtaba nodded and tapped the device, projecting in front of Skarlthrax various medical readouts for estimated Descension potential as well as displaying recordings of his use of Descension Energy at its most recent and most potent. Skarlthrax was almost stunned by the numbers he had been supplied, his eyes widening in shock; based on the approximations and comparative data, the youthful Secundus, according to the latest readings, wielded an estimated two and a half times more Descension potential than Skarlthrax himself.
- Skarlthrax - ... The child is a monster.
- Rahtaba - I er-- I thought you didn't like that label?
- Skarlthrax - What-- Where did the child come from? What augmentations and enhancements were performed on him to... forge him to be this way?
- Rahtaba - Brass has been tight-lipped about all that. But I do know he has implants similar to yours. Inhibitors, a few cerebral enhancements, standard Institute operation package. How he's so potent? Far as I know they did not do much. But I was told that the lessons they learned from training you helped.
- Skarlthrax - ... Alright, I will accept Secundus as appropriate support for the current operation - not that I hold much choice in the matter. It is only appropriate I allow him insight into true frontline experience before he is permitted to perform solo operations and teach him methods as to how to control that... devastating amount of potential while under pressure.
As he spoke, one of the training videos drew Skarlthrax's attention - one dated only two weeks ago. The video displayed the young Secundus practicing enhanced unarmed martial techniques with adult members of a separate company - one Skarlthrax was not familiar with - before the youth was unceremoniously jabbed across the face with the claws of one of the operatives' bare hands, resulting in a splash of blood from the Zazane teenager's cheek - which proceeded to boil to superheated levels as it connected with the armour of another trainer before Secundus sent the operative that had injured him flying across the length of the room with a roundhouse kick in clear rage. Seeing this display of force a few of the attendants cautiously approached the youth before they were stopped in their tracks at the sight of a pair of long, serrated bone-like structures swiftly erupting from Secundus' lower forearms, which were almost immediately ignited with a bloody red aura that mimicked flame. Skarlthrax could hear some of the attendants trying to calm him, calling out and attempting to reassure him as the braver ones more cautiously took steps forward, before Secundus had made an attempt to either ignite them from afar on the inside - causing their blood to combust - or dice them to bloody shreds with swift, agile movements with his arm-blades. Seeing this devastation, members of the company he had been sparring with ran forward to forcibly subdue him before too many of the attendants were killed, shouting and yelling as they ganged up on him.
- Skarlthrax - ... The child is not in full control of his potential, as I had come to expect. Now I can see the reason behind desiring to attach his support to me.
- Rahtaba - They think you have a good shot taming him. That and you can always throw him at these Champions for decent results...I think.
- Skarlthrax - We shall see. If Secundus is to be subjected to inhibitors during the operation, then I will continue in facing the threat of the Champions directly - the child is too much of an asset to be lost on his first operation. ... And he is only a youth.
- Rahtaba - Just let us know where you'll be heading next and we'll drop him off at your LZ.
- Skarlthrax - Affirmative, sir. I will be in touch when possible.
The projection dissolved, leaving Skarlthrax in the university meeting room that he had entered, on his own, but with the voices of the rest of the group down the hall. Skarlthrax bent down and grasped the holo-projector from the floor to place it back upon his belt before contemplating momentarily, staring at the ground before he raised a hand to his face and rested it across the partial length of his snout and crest.
- Skarlthrax - Urgh... Who sends infants to fight?
Dralkithus' stench lingered in the reading room that Valeria had been taken from. The bookcases had been damaged by the shockwave Dralkithus had created in his departure and thus the floor had been scattered with books and storage drives. Phaelana indicated with her hand to Thakos that this was the room where Valeria had been taken, leading to Thakos to swiftly analyze the room from a visual standpoint with brief turns and flicks of his head. He walked into the room, humming quietly to himself as he made an attempt to concentrate his focus.
- Thakos - Everything feels... tainted.
- Phaelana - Dralkithus likes to leave the smell of rot wherever he goes it seems.
- Thakos - Must be the residual Descension energy signatures... Too faint now to possibly track, not fresh enough. ... Nonetheless, it makes attempting to distinguish the scents and traces of individual objects and features of the room slightly more difficult than it should be. Everything appears to almost merge into one another from a psychological standpoint.
- Phaelana - He left the room by creating a shockwave. I suppose it was both to throw Merdila and I out and mask any scent?
- Thakos - More than likely, I do suppose. ... I also suppose I must apologise, miss Phaelana.
- Phaelana - There must be something here.
- Thakos - I am not apologising because of that.
- Phaelana - Then for what, may I ask?
- Thakos - For getting you involved where you needn't be. ... For being partially responsible for the initial reawakening of the Champion Thevixuias alongside, even if I was not the expedition's recognised leader.
- 'Phaelana - What's happened cannot be changed. - she replied rather sternly, as though she tried to hide what she truly felt. Instead of focusing on Thakos she instead looked about the floor for anything that could have been Valeria's. - You were not aware of what was buried beneath the ice.
As Thakos opened his mouth to retort, he briefly stopped himself as he felt something brush against the ankle of his left foot; reaching down, his eyes attempting to focus through the Descension-tainted mess of a room, he allowed his fingers to wrap around what he felt to be a book of some form, different in its materials and structure to a standard academy-issued book - it was lighter and somewhat flimsy, as if to make it easier to carry. Lifting it from the floor, Thakos tossed the object in Phaelana's direction, tilting his head as he expected her to catch it. She grabbed it easily in one hand and looked at the cover.
- Thakos - Could this be something of hers?
Phaelana opened the front cover to see the words "Property of illu. Valeria Senteriman" hand-written on the inside cover. She tilted the book to show Thakos.
- Phaelana - A journal of hers perhaps?
She flicked though the pages, skim-reading the text. Her faced screwed up in confusion as she read it; even in this day and age, the language of scientists sometimes eluded the common citizen. Phaelana, not having a university education as Valeria did, wondered what Valeria had written about. Some time flicking though her eyes widened and she started reading aloud.
- Phaelana'" - "I can hear the panic from Elarsatos from here. Even as we escape the city the champions of the Aetomarchis make their mark. How many more cities before they decide they have enough? The more days pass the more I dread the Aetomarchis waking up. If these champions can convert an entire metropolis like Elarsatos, what could He accomplish?"
- Thakos - Definitely a journal. ... My apologies once again, I had not considered the fact you were not a major academic graduate; the terminology, documentation, and formulae featured in her findings may elude you. ... I mean no offence by that, as such matters are complicated.
Phaelana shrugged handed Thakos the journal.
- Phaelana - I've been called worse.
Thakos took a much more prolonged, analytical skim through the contents of the journal, registering and digesting the information held within its pages; a combination of personal records and subjective ramblings amidst factual analyses and the documentation of recent findings pertaining to the initial arctic expedition and expanding to include theories and hypotheses regarding the tombs of the other Champions. It was only in the latter half of the journal's contents did Thakos come across a particularly interesting find - an analysis of the symbology and imagery featured within the tombs of the Champions and how such associate with one another, alongside a miniaturized map that pinpointed each tomb visited thus far. Thakos' eyes widened in something akin to disbelief.
- Thakos - ... The locations of the tombs are not as random as we had first thought. They follow... patterns pertaining to distances, structural layouts, depths, widths, and lengths, etcetera. ... Valeria had undertaken study of the details we refused to grasp.
- Phaelana - Wh-what did she find in doing so?
- Thakos - Imagery relevant to pre-Drakon deific worship and religious practices and what may appear to be... some form of underlying map based on these findings.
- Phaelana - The tomb of the Aetomarchis was never marked on my map...are you suggesting the tombs point to where it is?
- Thakos - It would appear that Valeria has noted down your map and established a comparison with the continental formation of the present day. ... I am suggesting that not only has Valeria presumably located the tomb of the fourth Champion, but the final resting place of the Aetomarchis alongside. A... star or pentacle or a similar formation of such.
- Phaelana - Could the fourth tomb complete the picture?
- Thakos - I am assuming so, but we will require access to it. ... Phaelana, does your map point to the fourth Champion's tomb as being connected to the mainland from the coast?
- Phaelana - The map is thousands of years old but...Well no. Not that I recall.
- Thakos - ... Alright, good. I was going to note that if it was, then it is no longer. According to both your and Valeria's map, the tomb of the fourth Champion is located on an island some distance from the eastern coast of the continent - an island with a notable reputation as a former point of interest to authorities throughout Imperial history until its official isolation and quarantine in the aftermath of the Second House War.
- Phaelana - It would make sense, supposedly he was the most feared of the four champions.
- Thakos - The island was used on multiple occasions throughout history, usually in regards to civil conflict, as a base of operations for private and government-funded military resources, often building on top of the remains of its last visitation periodically. It is, according to Imperial historical documents, a former testing ground for archaic WMDs, including nuclear and antimatter arsenals.
Phaelana widened her eyes in horror at this news, shaking her head in disbelief at what she was hearing. Thakos, meanwhile, kept his eyes buried into the contents of Valeria's journal.
- Phaelana - No...All of that, within reach of a former king....This one has to be kept slumbering. Or even destroyed. We can't allow him to awaken!
- Thakos - ... It shan't be so simple, miss Phaelana. The island serves a... secondary purpose.
- Phaelana - ...As what?
- Thakos - During the visitations from the mainland, occupation often varied between several months to two years before the island was systematically abandoned. This is due to reports of staff and personnel suffering extreme bouts of psychological trauma which caused erratic, irrational, and extremely violent behaviour. ... These sickness-induced members of staff are treated as prisoners incapable of escape to the mainland while also incapable of working the machinery and software as they are, according to Grand Academy schematics, "dummy-proof".
- Phaelana - So the island was often used as an insane asylum after each occupational period?
- Thakos - Affirmative. ... And according to at least several reports, occupiers encountered the... supposed descendants of these prisoners in the lower-levels of the facilities they built on top of. These "descendants" were occasionally, but never officially, deemed a cause for the affliction of the seemingly contagious psychological illness due to hostile physical contact against mainland occupiers.
- Phaelana - It must be, Khovost. He must be driving the inhabitants insane.
- Thakos - Phaelana, if the inhabitants have been afflicted with a Descension-influenced illness that appears to possess contagious and infectious properties, as Descension often does... There may remain a significant obstacle for entry into the fourth Champions' chamber.
- Phaelana - We can't let that deter us. Its only a matter of time before the other champions work out where he is and if they head there, and if this madness is Khovost's doing, I doubt they will not enocunter such hostility.
Thakos sighed, closing the journal and placing it upon his belt as he glanced towards Phaelana, approaching her in order to approach the doorway that led into the outside corridor in turn. He had an expression of worry written across his face and Phaelana could see that, despite his certainty of the situation, he was uncertain of their chances.
- Thakos - ... I shan't allow another of their dreaded number to rise, miss Phaelana. I am no true warrior, but measures must indeed be taken into my hands if we are to win - if not, survive - this onslaught.
Temptation Made Manifest
Valeria's eyes fluttered as she began to rouse. The world was hard to see, various colours with patches of black. As her eyes adjusted she realised that she was in a tower block, with a city down below. Which city however she could not make out. She couldn't move, she felt exhausted, but the bed she lay on felt incredibly plush. As she tested it, the door opened to her shock and in walked an alien carrying a tray. On the metal tray, the servant carried a teapot, a few cups and a selection of treats. Valeria looked at the servant warily. She was dressed in a fine navy blue suit, the lapel a rose red and trimmed with a lighter blue. The servant set the tray down on a bedside table and bowed. Valeria, gaining some strength, leaned to her and whispered with worry.
- Valeria - Where am I?
The servant smiled.
- Servant - Why, the Mistress's abode! She asked for us to watch you as you rested
- Valeria - Mistress?
- Servant - Oh she'll be so overjoyed you have roused! She was waiting for you to wake!
- Valeria - Sorry, whose waiting?
- Servant - Mistress Valchoria
Valeria became paralysed with fear. The servant tilted her head in curiosity, not sure what she had done to trigger this reaction. She moved around, inspecting the catatonic Draconid dame. As the servant tried to assess what she had done, the doors were thrown open and strolling in with graceful, yet heavy footsteps and swaying her hips in an almost serpentine manner was Valchoria, the golden giant who had adorned herself in a glittering dress that dragged along the ground behind her. The servant turned to her master, unfazed at the interruption.
- Servant - Miss Valeria has frozen my mistress. Have I done something in error?
- Valchoria - Oh no of course not dear! She is merely afraid of me.
- Servant - But why would anyone fear you my mistress?
Valchoria stopped, turning fluidly and stroking underneath the servant's jaw, looking into her subordinate's eyes seductively with the golden spheres set delicately into the sockets in her head. She looked at her servant with an expression of pity.
- Valchoria - Those who do merely misunderstand, they treat my desires as something to be feared.
- Servant - They do not wish to be happy? They do not wish for all that you give?
- Valchoria - I never said their fears were rational. Merely that they exist.
Valchoria was trapped in her mind, almost seething but at the same time absolutely terrified; she was at the mercy of this ancient titan, she could do anything to Valeria and none would be the wiser. What were her goals, what were her desires, why treat her this kindly? After her playful treatemnt of her servant, Valchoria summoned the woman away with a wave of her hand, strutting over to Valeria and teasing a cake on the tray by dancing around it with her finger, leaning forward. In close proximity Valeria saw what she hoped she never would of these creatures: A smile. With her fingers she lifted the cake and held it near to Valeria, taking a cursory glance at it before looking back.
- Valchoria - It is a shame that such a beautiful thing should go to waste...
Somethign about Valchoria's gaze bestowed Valeria with motion again, she could move a little again, but was too terrified of her captor to perform any form of violence. She merely sat there, intimidated by the ancient's teasing.
- Valeria - ...Are you to kill me now?
- Valchoria - You? Ohoho no, I was referring to the cake.
- Valeria - Excuse me?
- Valchoria - Such a pretty thing, you admire it, you consume it, it brings you momentary happiness, you forget about it then it returns as something unsightly.
- Valeria - You can't taste it?
- Valchoria - Every morsel is like ash. I feel nothing, enjoy nothing. I wish to enjoy something. Yet when I invite in a poor, listless soul, I taste it!
Valchoria smiled again, inching closer and baring her teeth. Valeria leaned backwards, terrified as Valchoria began to lean over her, gesturing seductively as her fingers began to dance over Valeria's chest.
- Valchoria - There is a taste like no other! It's beauty persists within, It pleases me, and I can cherish it! Every mortal soul I take...I feel whole again!
- Valeria - I don't understand!
Valchoria turned her hand, resting a finger on Valeria's chest.
- Valchoria - Every soul I take...I feel whole but then empty again. It is not enough, it is never enough!
Valchoria looked at Valeria alert and backed off, realising what she was doing. She backed away and looked at her hands.
Valchoria was standing once more, looking at her hands feeling guilty. She was upset she let her emotions control her, let her frighten Valeria as she did. She clenched her hands, as if hiding some invisible blood. She closed her eyes and attempted to recompose herself. After several moments, she spoke again, relaxing her arms.
- Valchoria - I...I'm sorry. The hunger...it's endless. Endless hunger, but now I am free from my prison...I cannot sate it!
- Valeria - ...You seek the Aetomarchis to cure you?
Valchoria looked at Valeria with suspicion.
- Valchoria - Cure? No. Such a narrow-minded thought. My nature is not my curse. Only my hunger. I wish to know...how long before I can be whole.
- Valeria - I'm sorry...I didn't know. But...why approach me
- Valchoria - At first I only suspected, but now I know.
Valchoria moved towards Valeria, curling her hand out. Valeria was tempted to reach out, something compelled her, but when she did Valchoria reached out and wrapped her hand around Valeria's wrist and dug her claws in, drawing blood.
- Valchoria - Your blood, dear Valeria. Flowing through your veins, a trace of His valor. The ichor of my fellow champions will do nothing, for we are hollow. Empty. We wander as shells. You bear his heritage, yet your heart beats, your lungs swell...
- Valeria - Sometimes I wish I never opened Thevixuias' tomb.
- Valchoria - But why? You wanted to learn from the ancients did you not?
- Valeria - I didn't want all this death though! I didn't want cities to burn for my desire!
Valchoria' sense of compassion appeared to wane. She moved back, lightening her grip and letting Valeria's hand hang by her fingers. A somber frown occupied the champion's features as she began to glare at Valeria.
- Valchoria - You cling to what has been and you regret what you change. That is not how this can be solved. But you were not brought to do this alone, were you?
- Valeria - No...It was my professors, my colleagues, they encouraged me. They liked what I wanted to do.
- Valchoria - They let you walk this path.
- Valeria - Did they know?
- Valchoria - Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. Only they know.
- Valeria - ...Only they know.
Valeria began cycling the thought in her mind. This whole incident could have been avoided if her colleagues didn't enourage her, it could have never happened if she had not been swept up in the encouragement. The emotions surged, her eyes flickered as the pain rushed though her mind. As she struggled to come ot terms, Valchoria lowered herself, descending to her knees and wrapping her palms around Valeria's hands. She looked into Valeria's eyes, hiding a devious smile within.
- Valchoria - They drove you. You are here because you let them control you. He can set you free.
Valeria looked up and into Valchoria's golden eyes.
- Valeria - Set me free?
- Valchoria - Free me of my hunger, help us in our goal, be in control of who you are!
- Valeria - Be who I am...
- Valchoria - None of us sired scions while under His service. There is only one to blame for your blood.
- Valeria - Phaelana
- Valchoria - Lies upon deceptions. That is not her name. She stayed close because you are of her blood. She wants to use you, to destroy us.
- Valeria - ...And you do not wish that? What of the suffering
- Valchoria - The world will heal. We will make it better. But the harlot Phaelana, she knows what you are. She has kept close because she wants to use you.
- Valeria - I do not know who to trust.
- Valchoria - What do your instincts say?
- Valeria - Guilt. Deception. I was controlled by everyone.
Valchoria's hand had moved from Valeria's hand to her cheek, brushing her scales against Valeria's and providing a sympathetic look.
- Valchoria - Let them feel it. Let them know how guilty they are of their manipulation.
- Valeria - They deserve to see what they have unleashed.
Valeria smiled, as Valeria was overcome by the emotions she felt, Valchoria lifted another cake fro mthe tray. An affectionate look spread cross Valchoria's features as she offered the delicate, soft icing-covered baking product. Valeria cupped her hands and allowed for Valchoria to hand it to her.
- Valchoria - Regain your strength, miss Valeria. You deserve to live better.
That night Valeria returned to the fallen maglev. The snowstorm that had raged the night Thevixuias had overturned the carriage was just as bad on this night. She saw the open end of the carriage in front of her, the damage still apparent from when it was flipped and tossed around. But inside things were very different: Thakos, Merdilla, and many of her team all lay slumped inside. Merdilla's body was mangled and shattered while Thakos' was impacted multiple times. As she took steps forward, Merdilla moved her head.
- Merdilla - Where is ma' little leaf-chompa, miss?
- Valeria - Excuse-me?
- Merdilla - Mah brush-runna. Ma' littl girl. Did ya lie ta me?
- Valeria - I still want to fix this.
- Thakos - Then fix what you set loose.
Both Merdilla and Thakos glared from their broken positions, unsettling Valeria as their upset eyes pierced her mind.
- Valeria - I will. I'm trying.
- Merdilla - Tha slowa ya' move, the less I beleev ya.
- Thakos - This is your expedition. You are responsible for our well-being.
- Phaelana - And what you let happen to my home.
Valeria turned around at the familiar voice. Despite black scales and red eyes she recognised Phaelana's face. Out of all three, she was the most upset.
- Valeria - Did you think about the consequences before the chain that saw my home demolished?
- Valeria - It wasn't me who leveled it!
- Skarlthrax - No but you unleashed the monster who did. Just as you are guilty for this very incident.
Standing on the maglev car was Thakos, delivering that hostile expression he always gave her. He leapt down from his post with a loud thump, inciting a small tremor that Valeria could feel under her feet.
- Skarlthrax - You found Thevixuias' tomb. You did nothing to resist opening the tomb of Skarlthrax. The army unleashed came though the doors you opened. The city that burned, the tomb of Valchoria exposed.
Without noticing, Valeria and the others were now in Valchoria's tomb. The pool of melted gold slid down the stairs and trickled around them. Standing on ledges above, Valeria recogised the Royal Academy board that granted her expedition. Dressed in fine suits but their faces pale and their expressions hostile to her.
- Skarlthrax - This entire crisis all leads back to you, Valeria.
- Valeria - Stop it. - She was now becoming anxious. The guilt and shame was mounting, it attacked her again and again like a barrage of needles - Stop it now. It is not just me.
- Phaelana - But remove you from the equation. And none of this would have happened.
With those words, Valeria snapped. She no longer sobbed, instead she stood there coldly. Her face was sharp from tension; her feelings had now shattered at this final insult.
- Valeria - Would it. I am not the only guilty one
Valeria looked up to the directors with a hostile glare.
- Valeria - Remove them, and I would not have journeyed to the cold north. Remove Skarlthrax and I wouldn't have been torn from my decision to help the Champions. Remove Merdilla, and Thevixuias would not have attacked us. Remove Thakos, and Phaelana might not have joined us. - Valeria the nturned slowly to look at Phaelana with the most hostile of glares - Remove you, however. And I would not have the trace of demonic blood that so fascinates them. I bet that the Champions may be dead rather than waiting to wake.
The room began to shake as Valeria began to bear her teeth in anger.
- Valeria - Everyone is guilty. Me, you, everyone. You wanted ot make me feel terrible for my part, when each of you is to blame. Well I will be the one to set things right! I will right YOUR mistakes. - Valera repositioned herself in a bttle stance, clenching her fists and tensing her arms before finally shouting - I WILL FIX WHAT YOU accuse ME TO BE BROKEN!
With her words the roof of the tomb collapsed on everyone, and just before a large slab of the ceiling landed on her, she woke up. Returing to the bedroom she let out a deafening scream that cracked the glass, shattered lighting fixtures and threw table-mounted objects against the wall. But in the darkness she could make out an all-too-familiar silhouette; Valchoria stood in the door, the little light that was there glinted off her pearly-iridescent teeth.
- Valchoria - You have awakened. And we can begin.
Flushed, Valeria looked at her host with surprise. As she gathered her thoughts, the serpentine champion shifted towards her with the motions of her powerful tail.
- Valeria - Begin?
- Valchoria - The world is sick and aching. To heal it and make it better, we must break it. The Aetomarchis can cleanse the disease. You, will find him.
- Valeria - But my journal...I must have dropped it.
- Valchoria - You need it no longer
Valchoria moved close and gently rested a large palm on the crown of Valeria's head. With a nod, Valeria's memories of what she had written were rekindled. Every page she recalled, every note and diagram and every threat she had considered now collected inside her head.
- Valchoria - It is sorcery to my mind, what you have written. You are the link between the then and the now.
- Valeria - I understand.
The King of Blood
After a brief period of rest, the group roused as their AO-8, which had become something of a personal shuttle in these drastic times, arrived close to their destination. The shuttle had flown west, towards the archipeligos west of Miminas as this was where Khovost was said to rest.
The disembarking made the site evident; the air was quiet and on this small volcanic island was the remains of a military base. The team had landed a short distance from the base, a tactical move made in case either the Champions had beaten them to the site or if the rumours of crazed and bloodthirsty former occupants were true. Skarlthrax and Merdilla were the first to part from the transport, both with their guns raised in preparation for an ambush, while Thakos got out shortly after and extended a hand to assist Phaelana in departing from inside of the carrier. Phaelana accepted the gesture and walked out holding Thakos' hand. She looked out at the base, the observation towers and command tower poking just enough from the treetops to be seen. But even from this distance, Phaelana felt unsettled. The jungle was not dead though, exotic animals screeched and sang from the treetops and the wind blew though the vibrant red leaves of the canopy.
- Thakos - You look discomforted. Was the transportation so dissatisfactory?
- Phaelana - No, no. I am more concerned with what awaits us, is all.
- Skarlthrax - No contacts in range. Unless the enemy happens to be masking its Descension signature, we have landed in hospitable territory. ... Nonetheless, I would advise caution.
- Merdilla - ... Fer an experimental testing ground fer WMDs an' other nasty doo-hickeys, this place ain' in too bad shape. Ye'd think that a place like this weren' even under quaran-whatever.
- Phaelana - Quarantine?
- Merdilla - That's the word.
- Phaelana - Maybe the quarantine status is just for the locals?
- Thakos - The locals and any remaining assets and resources that were not destroyed in the absence of civilisation. I shan't lie when I say I was partially under the expectation of the island being heavily doused in fallout, or under the effects of environmental decay.
- Phaelana - I guess we're fortunate. For once.
- Skarlthrax - ... We have to move towards the coastline. I have to meet with reinforcements.
- Merdila - Yah. Backup would sure be nice.
- Skarlthrax - Captain, guard our flank, I will assume the front. Order the carrier to circle around on patrol and relay any potential signs of hostility. We must be swift.
Merdila saluted and move towards of the back of the group. As she moved into position she tapped her earpiece, sending the dropship ascending into the air as everyone began moving towards the coastline. Skarlthrax moved with an uneasy pace, growling faintly beneath his breath as if something was innately agitating him; his indifferent, cold demeanour had given way to a more frustrated expression of emotion, with Thakos noticing the evident transition in behaviour on the augmented Zazane's part following the overriding of his inhibitors. Soon enough, with Thakos laying a hand on his sidearm and walking ahead of Phaelana almost protectively, the group reached the coastline and witnessed the stretch of calm, tranquil beach. There was, to the confusion of everyone side from Skarlthrax, nothing to be seen aside from gentle waves and sand. Merdila looked behind her to the beach, suddenly confused as she saw nothing. She screwed up her face in confusion and d squawked over to Skarlthrax.
- Merdila - Err, yer backup's comin' soon, aye?
- Skarlthrax - Aye... They are off-schedule. These were the coordinates we were set to group at.
- Merdila - So wha' are we lookin' out fer?
- Skarlthrax - You will know when you see it-- ... Everyone, scatter! Now!
With a hard swing of his tail, Skarlthrax sent Thakos off of his feet and launched him to his far left, with the augmented Zazane quickly leaping to his right in a clear, unsettling display of panic, with his head directing upwards to look towards the sky; while it was faint to the others with the naked eye, there appeared to have been an object descending unto their position from directly above them, engulfed in an almost unnaturally red flame as it dashed through the clouds. Eyes widened at this sight, Merdila squawked in panic and pushed Phaelana out of the way as the object roared toward them. While Merdila may have had trouble moving her on her own, Phaelana got the message when she looked up and sprinted towards the treeline. Soon enough, the fiery object headed towards where they had been gathered some moments prior, yet, to perceptive eyes, it appeared to gradually be slowing its course, with the flames beginning to die down as its approach became almost intentionally slowed from observation.
- Thakos - ... I sense a high degree of Descension energy radiating from that object!
- Merdila - Are them bastards throwin' another super-rotter at us?
- Skarlthrax - No. This is our backup.
- Phaelana - ...What did you call for exactly?
The ball of flame had since slowed considerably and began to gradually descend towards the patch of ground at the centre of the scattered team, coming into contact with the earth yet not clearly burning any of the grass or dirt the embers happened to touch; in a brief moment, the large, fiery wisp vanished, and in its place was a figure - a young Zazane adorned in black and white hi-tech armour which resembled the set that Skarlthrax had worn - with his body crouched onto one knee and an outstretched hand resting on the ground. The Zazane youth's eyes were closed, and the pigmentation of his scales, which were a blend of darker orange and black, gave some way to a sense of intimidation. Skarlthrax folded his arms, tilting his head and snarling disapprovingly as the Zazane stood to his feet and opened his slightly illuminated red eyes.
- ??? - ... Good morning!
Merdila and Phaelana stood stunned, while Thakos looked on with a combination of curiosity and fear in his eyes. Merdilla raised her hand to wave uneasily.
- Merdila - Er...mornin'?
- ??? - You all look as if you had seen a spectre. The enemy is not on our position already, are they?
- Merdila - Nah er, we were jus' a little surprised by yer entrance.
- Skarlthrax - ... Agent Secundus.
Phaelana looked to Skarlthrax and pointed at the Zazane while expressing sheer confusion. Along with a touch of worry regarding how young the Zazane looked.
- Phaelana - Wait, is he our backup?
- Skarlthrax - ... Affirmative. I requested aid from my superiors and the rest of my company was occupied--
- Secundus - You don't sound too optimistic, miss. Why would I not be your backup? ... Is it because there is only one of me? Were you expecting heavy vehicles, strike forces, mobile weapons platforms--
- Merdilla - Now that ya' mentioned it. I would 'ave appreciated gettin' all o' that. So yeah,
- Secundus - Well, not to fear! Trust me, you will not be needing any of that since Agent Secundus is here--
- Skarlthrax - This is no laughing matter, Secundus. As your superior officer, I would appreciate if you did not treat and regard it as such.
- Secundus - ... And you might be...?
- Skarlthrax - Agent Protus.
- Merdila - Well it was nice knowin' all o' yah.
- Phaelana - That's not very optimistic. I say we erm-- Give him a chance.
- Secundus - Ahah, that's the spirit! Now, mind giving me a sitrep so I know what exactly we're getting ourselves into? The heads back at HQ only told me that the mission involves combating unsanctioned Descended with a side dish of undead.
- Merdilla - How are yah wit' tunnels an' caves an' creepy rotter-infested bunkers?
- Secndus - ... Caves? Tunnels? Bunkers?! ... Yikes, I had this armour polished recently! Gah, I knew this was a bad idea!
Secundus raised his hands to hold his crest in a brief display of worry and annoyance, groaning loudly while Thakos looked on with an expression of disbelief and exhaustion written across his face; if Zazane could sweat, he would have been soaking as of this moment from the bizarre, almost surreal nature of the encounter. Skarlthrax muttered an expletive beneath his breath, resisting the urge to take the youth by the scruff of his neck.
- Secundus - Gah, alright. It could be fun, anyhow. Plus it's not like this armour can't be cleaned later, it's just... I like it when it looks as fresh as--
- Skarlthrax - We've no time to spare with your issues, Secundus. As unimaginable as it may sound to your childish ears, there are matters far more pressing and severe than your appearance.
- Phaelana - We'd better get moving. We're not far from the base I don't think.
- Thakos - ... Yes. Yes, we should consider moving. And swiftly. Without fault... Please.
- Secundus - Ah, in a rush, are we? Well, suppose I can't argue with that! Besides, there are probably undead that are just waiting to have their arses handed to them on a platter.
- Phaelana - Yes....Thakos?
- Thakos - Y-Yes?
Phaelana walked towards Thakos and ran her hand down his arm.
- Phaelana - You seem to be this site's expert. Would you mind taking point?
- Thakos - Ah... A-Aye, yes. I... I will move ahead and find an entrance. There should be a passage or so leading into the underground within the site...
Thakos proceeded to trail off towards the base, mumbling to himself and appearing to disregard his surroundings as he made his trek, while Secundus tilted his head with intrigue. Before he could question the reason behind the scientist's behaviour, he felt a firm hand - Skarlthrax - clasp onto the collar of his armour and forcefully drag him ahead, an irritated look on the older Zazane's scarred and worn face. Secundus, meanwhile, appeared noticeably more fresh and prime than his elder superior, lacking any distinctive scars or markings on his upper body.
The trek though the jungle was thankfully uneventful. Despite the huge variety of life, none appeared to threaten or interrupt the group as they trudged though the undergrowth. Thakos led the team to an entrance that opened to a passage underneath an airstrip near to the base. The tunnel however appeared dark and the ceiling was only just high enough for the larger members of the team to move without bending down.
Fortunately, the various members of the team had brought the means to illuminate the tunnels, but as they descended they heard noises; growling, snarling and inaudiable voices that echoed in the tunnels. Thakos slowed his step and began to hang back, with Skarlthrax taking lead of the front while Secundus personally covered his flank, with a black, hi-tech blade in one hand and an anti-Essence round-bearing sidearm in the other, with the younger Zazane huffing as they travelled into the deep unknown. Phaelana used this opportunity to approach Thakos.
- Phaelana - Are you feeling alright? You've been different ever since Secundus arrived.
- Thakos - ... Skarlthrax was made to be the way he is. Whoever his employers may be, they are undergoing a similar, if not more rigorous, process with youths. ... The implications bother me... greatly.
- Phaelana - You worry of Descended soldiers?
- Thakos - Yes, I worry. How long has their existence been kept a private secret from the public? What shall happen following the defeat of the Champions? ... What if such monsters are to be used against us--
- Secundus - That's not very nice, now is it?! Gah, your manners are atrocious.
Phaelana gulped as she realised what just happened. She thought she had been discreet in asking.
- Phaelana - H-how well did you hear what we said?
- Secundus - Hm... I wasn't paying too much attention, actually, but what I did hear I heard with perfect clarity. Why, talking about old Protus behind his back, are you? Hehe.
There was then a more audible roar. At the end of the tunnel a Draconis collapsed to the floor. Moments later, another leapt to atttack it by diving to bite at the throat. The two Draconis wrestled with each other with a savage ferocity that most of the group had rarely seen in Draconis before. Skarlthrax extended an arm to gesture for the team to keep back, while Thakos looked on with a sickened, yet curious expression as per the savage and barbarous behaviour of the two feral Draconis ahead of them. Secundus perked an eyebrow and contorted his face into a disgusted cringe.
- Secundus - Now what's wrong with this picture?
- Merdila' - 'Ey shush or tha' rotters will 'ear you!
- Secundus - You're shouting as well!
- Skarlthrax - Silence, both of you!
The commotion brought the attention of the second Draconis, which tore out the first one's thorat as it turned its attention to the team. Swallowing the flesh as it seethed. Secundus huffed and pouted as he placed a hand against Skarlthrax's chest and shoved him back, walking ahead of the group to meet with the barbarian while placing his sword and gun back onto his belt. He cracked his knuckles and glared towards the beast with a disapproving glare. It glared back, watching him approach.
- Secundus - Excuse me, my good sir, but would you be able to help us? We're looking for a specific chamber that we believe may be found inside of your tunn--
- Draconis - None shall disturb Him!
- Secundus - ... Well, I see you're not a very happy chappy today, now are you? Hmph, well alright, I tried asking nicely. ... Tell us where your master's chamber is and I will make sure you wake up when I'm done with you!
- Draconis - ...You threaten me, little one?
- Skarlthrax - Idiot.
- Secundus - ... Well, I assumed you were going to out-and-out try to hit me after I said anything. I mean, I'd like not to fight since I've just got this armour cleaned and I'm sure you have other business to attend to.
- Draconis - You are annoying me now whelp.
The Draconis stood up, cricking its neck and clenching its fists as it stared Secundus down.
- Draconis - Run along, little hatchling. My tunnel is no place for you!
Secundus' eyes flared at the Draconis' words and he clenched his fists, his tone becoming more aggressive and angered as he struck a stance prepared for fighting, holding his fists ahead of him while beginning to raise his voice.
- Secundus - That's it! I don't appreciate being called "little" by anyone, especially not the cretinous likes of you! I may as well knock you into the next week for that remark, and I'll do worse if you don't tell us where the damned chamber is!
The Draconis, in a furious act of aggression swung its clawed hand to slash at Secundus' face, although it was quickly met with a swift roundhouse kick as Secundus twirled and delivered a blow with a terrifyingly unnatural amount of strength behind it for his size and look, a clear expression of anger on his face. The Draconis was sent flying across the tunnel, colldiing with the wall with the sickening crack of bone and the breaking of organs, painting the tunnel wall with tainted Draconid blood. Secundus approached the Draconis and reached to grab him by his collar with his bare hands, snarling while quickly beginning to lose his composure.
- Secundus - Now, my good sir, I won't ask you again! Chamber; where is it?!
The Draconis looked at Secundus with horror in his eyes, and with a partially broken arm it pointed the way it had leaped from. Nodding, Secundus threw the Draconis to the floor in an aggressive manner before dusting off his armour and brushing his forehead and crest, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths as he attempted to calm himself down.
- Secundus - Agh, so sorry you had to see that, it's not very impressionable of me to lose it like that in front of people.
- Phaelana - Well we...We forgive you.
- Secundus - Thank you. Now, this kindly gentleman pointed... that way, if I'm not wrong. That's also the way he came from, so I say we can expect to find more of this sort of thing as we get deeper.
- Merdilla - Are we gonna be approachin' 'em all polite-like?
- Secundus - Well, it's better to ask questions first in my book, but if push should come to shove...
Phaelana leaned to whisper to Thakos.
- Phaelana - Maybe this won't be so bad? He's quite polite and at least he's not mindlessly killing.
- Thakos - ... No, that is precisely why I worry. He proves difficult to read... and he knows it.
- Phaelana - I...I think I understand what you mean. When things don't go his way...he lashes out...like he did there.
- Thakos - And the most concerning aspect of his behaviour... is that we have yet to observe the extent of his powers. We know very little of Skarlthrax's own capabilities, let alone those of the youth. ... I have witnessed Skarlthrax uninhibited; Thevixuias was launched into Lake Drak without resurfacing before we evacuated the site.
- Phaelana - It looked liek it took little effort in kicking that madman.
- Secundus - Well, come along now, chop-chop! We haven't got all day to be standing around chatting, have we?
- Phaelana - You're right, Secundus. The base's problems started by drilling so the tomb can't be too far.
- Secundus - Oh, you know what? Don't bother with the formalities; from now on, you're free to call me Djozir Vedsea--
- Skarlthrax - Do not reveal your identity so freely, idiot! Knowledge is power and you are wasting it as if it were sink water!
- 'Merdila - Ta' be fair on tha' kid we know yer name too.
- Skarlthrax - ... Let us keep moving before we find ourselves ambushed. The sooner we resolve the crisis, the swifter I can rejoin my company.
- Secundus - Hmph, you do not have to be so sore about it.
- 'Merdila - He's allways been sour like tha'. Dun't let it bother yah.
- Secundus - You know, I must say, ma'am, that you have a most wonderful accent. It is so... unique and--
- Skarlthrax - MOVE!
Merdila covered her ears and nodded, with Secundus being taken off-guard and temporarily quivering where he stood. Thakos glanced towards Phaelana with a tired and worried expression before he accompanied the group in moving ahead, folding his arms around himself as if he had little idea of what to do with himself. Phaelana kept to the back of the group as the group traveled deeper. Strangely, while they caught the eyes of crazed Draconis, none of them approached. The tunnels reverberated with the animalistic snarls and grunts of the local inhabitants while the tunnel itself widened to create a more comfortable space.
As the group ventured further into the archaic catacombs and caverns that had been carved in ages now immemorial by the ancestors of the maddened natives, certain members of the group had began to notice peculiar goings-on in regards to the aesthetics of the caves they trekked through; notably, those few whom were not in possession of the supernatural, otherworldly powers wielded by individuals such as Skarlthrax and his accomplice, Secundus, could swear they were observing shapes and odd formations in their surroundings, including the likes of what one would assume to be "faces" carved into the very stone and bedrock which glared at the group, all the while the sounds of feral chants and animalistic snarls filled the back of their minds through their ears. The "scent" that was otherwise incomprehensible to the mortal members of the group rang foul in the noses of the transsapients present, reeking of an otherworldly smell that caused patches of their skin to itch and ache mildly.
And the group as a whole could register that they felt the underground network was beginning to shift from cold to uncomfortably warm. As the caves warmed up, Merdila began to pant while Phaelana appeared to feel nothing of the heat, but appeared to be getting irritated by something despite her best efforts to hide it.
- Merdilla - Whos' daft idea was it ta stick this ere tomb place in a bleedin' furnace?
- Thakos - The people of Miminas, I would assume... Eurgh.
- Merdila - Bit racist ain't that?
- Thakos - ... They were the ones that entombed the fourth Champion within this isle.
- 'Merdila - Yah but they also buil' a mega-city up north where its ferever dark 'alf tha' year.
- Phaelana - I guess they wanted him off the continent...
- Merdila - Could'a always put 'im somewhar he hated. If the ice-bitch loved blizzards and freezin' 'erself so much why'd ya put 'er in a block o' ice?
- Secundus - Mayhaps the Miminans reserved pleasantries even for the enemy? Who knows? ... My, my, I am getting far too irritated beneath this armour of mine. Mayhaps if I remove just a touch to give my skin some room to breath--
- Skarlthrax - Cease! It is not the heat of the volcano which you feel upon your skin, but the overwhelming stench of residual Descension energies. ... Yes, the network reeks of the foul stench. We must be durable if we are to persist and succeed.
- Merdilla - Ya sure it's not yer' own breath? All ah can smell is dead bodies an...what's that stinky rock tha' smells like bad eggs?
- Skarlthrax - Are you implying that I have no hand over my own capabilities, you drunken retch?! Take a good glance of yourself before you pass hypocrisy!
- Phaelana - Merdilla are you sure you're okay?
- Merdilla - Now that ya' mention it I'd like a nice cool beer.
- Thakos - I am truly astonished no one has made word of the carvings on the walls as of yet. Rather sophisticated for tribes of inbred madmen.
- Secundus - ... Carvings on the walls? I see no carvings. Have I gone blind or is the smell getting at your senses?
- Merdilla - You an' I musta be smellin' different cos all I smell is rotters who 'avent bathed in a hundred years.
Skarlthrax stopped in his tracks and turned to the rest of the group, a twitching eyebrow perked in concern as he overheard the words of his accomplices. In truth, he could even register a shift in his own behaviour, having grown more irritable since the conflict with the Draconis tribesman near the entrance of the caves. He clasped Secundus by his shoulder and squeezed it in order to get him to stop walking.
- Secundus - Hm?
- Skarlthrax - ... The stench is beginning to afflict you. It is beginning to augment and stimulate your senses in such a way as to provoke and agitate you. ... It is afflicting us all.
- Merdilla - And 'ow would you know? You're always grumpy!
- Skarlthrax - Because I have been trained in fields dealing with the physiological and psychological effects of Descension energy upon both mortals and postmortals; the symptoms that are presently being displayed show that if we do not act swiftly, we may befall a madness that shall drive us to harm one another... Starting with the mortals.
- Phaelana - That would explain the behaviour of the natives we have been seeing. If we don't finish our mission...
- Skarlthrax - I suggest that we should find a means to reach the upper levels of the base and allow ourselves some temporary distance from the stench.
- Merdilla - Wha' about facemasks?
- Skarlthrax - Mayhaps.
- Secundus - A facemask? To cover my gorgeous features? ... You must be demented if you think I would be so willing to cover my face with something so ghastly!
- Merdilla - Kiddo I 'ave been on otha' planets fightin' tha' enemies of the Imperi-whatsit, and when a commanding officer' ells you to cover yer' mouth with something, Great Forests ya may as well do it.
- Secundus - Ngh... Alright, fine, I suppose you are right. But that does not mean I have to like it!
- Merdilla - Neva expected ya ta.
- Skarlthrax - Did you bring facemasks for convenience?
Merdilla held up a finger to indicate for the others to wait and she searched her supply back, pulling out several metallic cords; standard-issue Imperial gas masks that created a transparent bubble over the wearer's face when adorned and activated. She tossed them to each member of the team after adorning one herself.
- Merdilla - Slip it aroun' ya jaw and ova' yer 'ead, press tha' button and presto, instan' gas protection!
The Zazane members of the team did as they were instructed, with Skarlthrax and Secundus having activated their masks much more swiftly than Thakos due to their training with such and general knowledge of Imperial protocol, while Secundus kept a keen ear open for the various paths ahead of them, attempting to listen to any indications of life or bizarre noises. Depending on preferences, he was in luck. While other tunnels emitted screams or roars, a third tunnel to his right gave off a stranger sound: Snoring. It was faint, indicating distance, but Secundus' ears could still make out the breating patterns of something roughly the size of Phaelana that hopefully was more docile than the rest of the tunnels' occupants. While the group was preparing their gas protection equipment, Secundus wondered towards the passage where he had heard the evident sounds of resting among the chilling screams and roars, surrendering to his curiosity, before Skarlthrax had noticed he had gone.
The only light that came from these tunnels had previously come from the group's illuminators. As Secundus wandered down the tunnel that perked his curiosity, there was a light near the end. Opposite a discarded lamp of contemporary design was a female Draconis resting peacefully against the cavern wall, near her were varied bones and half-eaten chunks of flesh. But despite her surroundings, the entity slept soundly. Secundus approached her, unsure of how to appropriately awaken the sleeping woman, before he inhaled a deep breath and called out to her from where he stood - roughly some meters from where she had been leaned upon the wall.
- Secundus - Erm... Excuse me? ... Excuse me, hello?! Ma'am?!
The woman stirred, but did not wake up. It was more likely she was adjusting her sleeping position than actually waking up. Secundus huffed and placed his hands on his hips as he walked closer to her, pouting slightly in frustration before he raised his hand and coughed loudly into it in such a manner as to make it audible. He then proceeded furrow his brow slightly and then clapped a single time, the sound echoing through the nearby passages.
With that clap the woman jolted her eyelids open and retracted the black membranes over her eyes to reveal intense red irises surrounding narrow pupils. She roused and stood up, extending herself to stand and loom over Secundus with a furious snarl, bearing savage serrated teeth at the Zazane youth. Almost casually, Secundus adjusted the collar of his armour and he perked a rather wide smile to hide his irritation, glancing up at the woman's face without even a hint of regret or fear in his eyes.
- Secundus - Ah yes, that woke you up. I hope you do not mind, but a couple of friends and I were passing through and we could not help but wonder--
Secundus' request was cut short when he was thrown to the ground. Pinning his arms to the floor with enough pressure to strain the material his vambraces were made from, the woman furiously glared at him.
- Draconis - Do not speak to me after disturbing my slumber like you did!
- Secundus - Ack! Urgh... M-My sincerest a-apologies, ma'am, but I was only m-meaning to a-ask for directions t-to--
- Draconis - I know what you want, whelpling. And my answer is thus:
Grabbing his arms, the woman lifted him up and while squeezing his right arm with bonecrushing pressures, she let go of the other and tossed him violently at a wall. Secundus yelped as his body collided with the sharp, supernaturally malformed stone, and while his armour absorbed much of the kinetic damage he felt unaccustomed to being launched and thrown like a ragdoll.
- Draconis - Disturb me again and I will break every bone in your feeble body!
- Secundus - Agh! ... Hmph, you know, I think I should be the one to tell you that it hurts when you throw people around like that for seemingly no reason when they are trying to be polite! ... Urgh. I said my apologies!
Secundus was yanked from his imprint in the wall and his neck was magnetically drawn into the woman's vice-like grip.
- Draconis - I am being rude? You woke me up. No one disturbs me like that unless like you they seek death!
- Secundus - Ngh... A-Are you... t-threatening me, ma'am? ... B-Because I think y-you will find... y-you shan't like it w-when you... t-trifle with me!
Clenching his fist and channelling his strength and energies into it, the Zazane youth launched his hand at the gargantuan Draconis' wrist and clasped ahold of it, attempting to overpower the giant with a confident smile on his face... which was swiftly wiped away when he found that he was struggling more than he should to release himself from the woman's fierce and deadly grip.
- Secundus - ... Ah, bollocks.
With a snort of hot air into his face, the Draconis thrusted her arm downward and swiftly slammed him into the ground, lifted him up, slammed him against a nearby wall and then tossed him towards the tunnel entrance. Secundus would have suffered less damage had he struck the entrance he was launched at, instead colliding with an angered and extremely frustrated Skarlthrax who brought his leg up to deliver a roundhouse kick to knock the youth's trajectory away from him and into the wall he was slammed into just moments before. The older Zazane glanced towards the giant Draconis and swiftly drew his assault rifle.
- Skarlthrax - Everyone, get back!
- Draconis - You...you brought accomplices to my home!
- Skarlthrax - Where lies the resting place of Khovost?! ... Our purpose here is to unveil its location, not to trifle with the natives of the isle!
The woman turned to glare at Secundus. Black vapour began to billow out of her mouth.
- Draconis - You! Remind your accomplices what I promised to do if you disturbed me again.
- Secundus - W-Was it... b-breaking every bone... i-in my body, by c-chance?
- Draconis - At first. Now it seems...that I must break every. bone. here.
Smoke further billowed form her mouth, engulfing her body, obscuring her from view.but expanding to cover a space in the air three times her volume. They could hear her growls and snarls from inside, and as the smoke coalesced, two red orbs appeared to glare down over the group. The cloud expanded sideways, but the ever-present sound they could hear was the sickening crack and shift of bone and flesh.
- Skarlthrax - ... Congratulations, Secundus. I call our benefactors for reinforcements and I receive a mobile death wish!
- Secundus - It was not my fault! ... Alright, maybe it was, but nonetheless, we have greater problems right now!
With an explosive roar the smoke dissipated in a shockwave to reveal in the woman's place, a creature best described as one of the fabled dragons of ancient Earth myth. She now stood on four legs, her wings had expanded to double their proportions, the two horns that swept bac kfrom her head had setended further, nwo covered in embossed vein-like structures her new appearance made even Skarlthrax look small. Skarlthrax backed away, raising his weapon so he could look through its sights, while Secundus swiftly leaped to his feet and clenched his fists in a defensive stance. Thakos, who stood near the rear of the group, drew his weapon as he looked over Skarlthrax's shoulder to observe the fiendish transformation that had unfolded before the group.
- Merdilla - Erm...That thing's bad right?
- Thakos - Very! That... That is a Demon Form!
- Phaelana - I don't recall any mention of this.
As the group stood in shock, the demon cricked her neck. Taking in a deep inhalation, it unleashed a jet of black fire from its mouth that hurtled towards the group's direction. Skarlthrax unleashed several rounds from his rifle before he allowed his body to engulf itself in his own ethereal, green flame in a sudden burst of energy, knocking back anyone who stood close to him so as to shield the group from the raw, uncontrollable amount of energy that had been launched at them. Secundus, away from the blast's trajectory, drew his Yrsalimarus-edged combat knife from his utility belt and threw it as if it were a dagger at the beast, baring his teeth.
- Secundus - Hey, over here! It is me that you were hoping to kill, not them!
The demon turned it's head and lifted a front palm, throwing it downwards in the hopes that she crushed Secundus underneath it. Meanwhile the combat knife he had thrown bounced off a large hardened scale. But unknown to her the attack was not completely pointless as it left a yrsalmarus-stained scratch on her side. Skarlthrax dashed ahead now that the demon's attention had been drawn away and unleashed a barrage of anti-Essence roads at the creature's front with his rifle, while Thakos shot at her from afar with his sidearm with rather diminutive rounds by comparison. Secundus almost buckled beneath the weight of the dragon's palm, a small crater left in the ground from where he had been pressurized, all the while crouched with his arms raised only barely above his head in an effort to evade being squashed.
- Secundus - How... unpleasant...!
Responding to this resistance the dragon pushed harder. She also fired a jet of fire in Skarlthrax's direction in an attempt to dispatch him. Merdilla shook her head to clear her mind and unloaded her shotgun from her back. She primed it and, darting to her left, fired a shotgun burst at the arm tring to crush Secundus, causing the demon to reel in pain and create a roar that shook the cavern. Skarlthrax found himself burned and his weapon charred as the stream of black fire collided with him, growling and muttering in his own alien tongue in regards to the raw, untapped power that the daemon wielded, and proceeded to shake off his damaged, burning armour as swiftly as he could. Secundus' claws became engulfed in Descension energy as looked upwards at the raised palm and lifted his arm; in a brief moment, what looked to be some form of spear, consisting entirely of sharpened bone as if it were a tusk, was launched from the young Zazane's forearm in order to pierce through the dragon's hand, with the projectile being engulfed in its own daemonic, fiery aura of darkened red. The impact released a torrent of black blood from the dragon's palm that covered Secundus, releasing a burning sensation as it settled. The dragon herself roared and flailed the arm around in pain, with no regard as to whether or not the assailant that caused the pain was still attached to it. The lack of control it had sent its collosal tail slamming into walls and flailing towards members of the group.
- Thakos - She will collapse the entire cavern if we do not exercise caution!
- Skarlthrax - ... You attempt exercising caution while combating a several-stories-high postmortal monstrosity! It is neither as simple nor pleasant as it may appear to you!
- Merdilla - Okay so 'ow do we stop 'er from throwin' a fit?
- Skarlthrax - Excessive damage to the body is the conventional means. ... There should be a vulnerability in her exterior armour which shall potentially allow us to target her innards. A Demon Form is effectively an vehicle driven by the individual at its core.
- Merdilla - Well she's not drivin' it very well!
- Secundus - Based on how large her Demon Form is, it is likely to not last much longer than some dozen minutes; the larger they are, the more raw energy they expel as a result. ... I am unsure if we can afford to wait for her to exhaust her reserves, however.
- Phaelana - By any chance what if this isn't her?
- Merdilla - Bad time fer philo-sophi-whatyamacall it lass.
- Skarlthrax - ... Wait. What are do you happen to be suggesting?
Phaelana ducked as the demon's tail almsot slammed into her skull.
- Phaelana - Look around you. Everyone down here isn't themselves. They're all being driven by Khovost's urges.
- Skarlthrax - That could potentially mean that based on how much residual Descension energy Khovost happens to have produced throughout the cave network, she could draw upon it so as to drive her Demon Form indefinitely. ... Just as it has afflicted her psychology, it could grant her additional power. An endless rage with no limit.
- Merdilla - Shootin' stuff in th' head till it falls over usually works.
- Secundus - I second that notion!
Secundus reached for his sidearm and released several rounds of anti-Essence fire into the Yrsalimarus-stained flesh wound he had afflicted against the daemon's carapace, aiming to add further damage on top of what he has already dealt without having to get too close. Skarlthrax, however, leaped towards the dragon's large head while green embers fluttered from his body, his eyes burning with the very same ethereal flame as his claws were outstretched. Sighting him in mid-air, the dragon opened its mouth and lunged towards him, a reddish glow could be seen down its throat, the light illuminating many of the serrated teeth nescled within her jaws as they closed in to bite down on Skarlthrax's flesh. Skarlthrax roared as he threw himself into the fiend's throat and out of the group's sight, all the while his body being engulfed in bright, supernatural emerald fire. Secundus paid no attention as he emptied his sidearm into the cracked wound against the dragon's armour, while Thakos stood frozen and mortified by what he had just seen.
- Thakos - ... Our hope has now departed from us.
- Phaelana - Did..he just dive into its maw?
- Thakos - Yes. ... Yes he did.
Allowing her quarry to slip down her throat, the demon looked to Phaelana and Thakos. It opened its mouth ready to release another jet of black fire but at the last moment twitched as it felt somethin in its side. It flicked its tail to swipe at Secundus, realising that somehow he had hurt her side which did not please her at all and thus warranted a blow from her colossal tail, which was followed by a shockwave that added to the damage she made to his body. Secundus was knocked off of his feet and slammed into a nearby wall, causing debris to fall from the ceiling and shake the cavern. He growled and allowed the flesh on his forearms to erupt into tatters as two, bone-like blades, blazing with a fiery red aura, burst through his muscles and tendons before he made an attempt to plunged their sharp, serrated, burning edges into the dragon's flesh, gasping for breath and release as he did so as he had felt at least some ribs collapse and shatter from within. The demon twitched again, her glee turning to horrified surprise as she began to realise what her latest meal was doing to her. In panic, her muscles began to swell but whatever she was doing it wasn't enough as her flesh began to rupture. She let our one final roar and fell on her side in a vain hope that if she could crush or destroy any member of the group now, it would have been Secundus.
- Secundus - J-Just my luck!
As Secundus prepared himself for the full, dead weight of the collapsing, daemonic mass, he felt his armour tugged and pulled to the side by Thakos, who managed to toss both himself and the youth away from the collision point of the gargantuan draconic entity; the effort caused Thakos to tiredly and panickedly huff while Secundus watched on in astonishment, his eyes wide and his body stunned; green flames erupted through the ruptured cracks in the dragon's armour, with the beast's underside - specifically its soft belly - beginning to rumble uncontrollably. Merdilla and Phaelana ran over to Thakos, and looked uneasy and worried when they saw what was happening to the giant's body. Phaelana looked the most unsettled, while Merdilla appeared to wince.
- Phaelana - Is that...what I think it is?
Suddenly, the giant dragon's belly burst, spilling burning, steaming fluids across the cavern's floor and releasing an almost unnatural stench, with the oily-substance partially ignited by the emerald fire that radiated from Skarlthrax's scarred, partially burned body; he stumbled from the beast's innards, dragging behind him the weakened state of the very Draconis that Secundus had awoken earlier prior to her transformation while the husk she had inhabited burned away into embers. He huffed and wheezed, his flesh covered in burn marks and scratches while the green embers that spat from his form began to die down and calm as he composed himself. Secundus looked on with an impressed expression written on his face.
- Phaelana - She looks...so vulnerable.
- Skarlthrax - ... That is because she is. Whether you expunge all of your energy while driving the Demon Form or having it be prematurely destroyed, you shall always exit its husk tired and weak. ... Now proves itself to be the opportune moment to interrogate her and confirm the location of the grave of Khovost.
- Phaelana - I...I suppose we should leave that to you gentlemen. Given where you came from
Skarlthrax let go of the large woman's hand and allowed her arm to collapse to the ground. He turned around to face her before uncomfortably crouching onto his knees, looming over her with a furrowed, agitated expression written across his damaged face, which slowly - and agonizingly - began to repair itself as part of the regenerative process. He had a softer tone in his voice, however.
- Skarlthrax - Where...? ... Where is the tomb... of Khovost?
- Draconis - ...the voice? The one who...awoke my anger? The one who...told me who I was?
- Skarlthrax - ... Yes. The one who fed your rage with his own. ... Where is it that his slumbering body resides?
- Draconis - An old silo...they...we...they dug down, found an opening into a cavern. These tunnels...they center on his slumbering place. He calls, he feeds us his rage...Silo...Silo Four roused him.
- Skarlthrax - ... Can we get into the main base from this cave network?
- Draconis - Yes...behind me. This chamber...central.
- Skarlthrax - You have my gratitude. ... You can rest now. Our group will have likely departed from the isle by the time you next wake.
As Skarlthrax finished up he felt her hand grab his arm.
- Draconis - His eyes...my eyes! Our eyes! He knows but waits.
- Skarlthrax - ... He sees through you?
- Draconis - I was...blessed. Don't know...why.
- Skarlthrax - There are others... like him. Seek, they do, to conquer the world and pry it from the grasps of your Paragon. ... The world has persisted since the era of your imprisonment and they seek to bring it to a stop.
- Draconis - There is nothing for me. Only hate.
- Skarlthrax - ... Rest now. May the world be merciful enough to grant you your peace as you deserve before you awake.
Skarlthrax arose from his crouching position and turned away from the weakened, elderly Draconis, gesturing silently for the group to follow his lead and move past the fallen demon now that she no longer served as a threat to their presence. Secundus followed eagerly, while Thakos walked besides Phaelana, glancing over the vulnerable Draconis.
- Thakos - ... My presence is required on the surface, dear Phaelana.
- Phaelana - ...What is it?
- Thakos - Once we uncover and gather whatever we must from Khovost's crypt, the entire isle must be erased from time onward. ... I can penetrate through the ancient encryption software using modern methods in order to access the self-detonation codes for the facility; explode every nuclear and antimatter warhead present and cause a meltdown to wipe the isle from the map.
Phaelana rested her hand on Thakos' shoulder out of reassurance.
- Phaelana - Legend has it Khovost was the greatest of the champions. He's caused so much simply by being unconsious that I dread to think what he is capable of when awake.
- Thakos - And that is precisely why I must destroy this island before his companions come for him. And to relieve the suffering of all imprisoned in these catacombs.
- Phaelana - I concur on that. I just hope he is weak enough that destroying the island will rid the planet enough of his presence.
- Thakos - Destroying even one Champion is a significant victory. And even if it may not serve us tactically... at the very least, his destruction holds the potential to deal a morale blow to the rest of those shyrak-damned bastards.
Phaelana nodded. But try as she might to hide it, there was a shred of doubt in her eyes. Thakos could not bear to bring himself to look through her, instead turning away to press onward, with Phaelana innately knowing that the Zazane engineer held his own troublesome doubts and worries towards his plans - but he would not allow them to blockade him from trying.
The group moved onwards, braving the depths of the haunted island base. While the tunnels behind them lad been labyrinthine, this tunnel was much more straightforward, opening out into an enormous domed chamber. Carved into the rock face were various etchings, weathered by the heat of what looked to be a magma lake at the far end. Among these etchings were peculiar depictions of a particular entity, one that repeatedly appeared amidst the remnants of the ancient art of old, with features that were shared across each occasion it was carved into the rock; six limbs, four of which were drawn in the style of arms with each clasping ahold a great blade in each palm, and what looked to be a headpiece adorned by a fierce, sharpened horns - a crown of some form based upon the art. They were carved to be larger than whatever other characters they were depicted with, to almost tower over them as if it were a giant. Skarlthrax and Thakos eyed the archaic etchings curiously, while Secundus rested his hands upon his hips. Phaelana did not look towards the carvings ,but the imagery filled her with dread nonetheless, while Merdila looked about the chamber, pointing her shotgun towards the more distant sections of the chamber.
When the group were done evaluating the art upon the chamber's interior, the younger Zazane passed a glance towards the lake of lava and molten debris and had noticed reinforced chains, appearing to have been forged from obsidian, extending from the ceiling and other corners of the room to meet with a rather intimidating visage of a statue, partially submerged into the lake; its abdomen appeared to have sunk beneath the molten depths while four arms were outstretched from its broad and mighty form, with its torso and limbs shackled and bound with chains. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the etchings on the chamber walls were carved in tribute to this statue, and the horned crown it was featured with almost seemed to merge into the skull and head of the beast rather than being a seperate piece - it did not appear to be removable.
As she was searching about, Merdila took notice of the Zazane's distant attention. She tilted her head to examine what he was doing. A moment later she called out to him. Releasing a squawk that echoed throughout the chamber.
- Merdila - Oi kid!' What yah' looking' at ova there?
- Secundus - This statue... It is very much like the creature shown on these walls. The chains and the statue itself appear to be made of molten material, likely some form of obsidian. How fascinating!
Merdila looked up at the titanic statue that loomed over the far end of the chamber. Her heart sank as she began to rememebr the other sites.
- Merdilla - Kid...Yah got any bangers on yah?
- Secundus - I am on my last reserves, but yes. Why, what do you have in mind?
- Merdilla - Tha' statue needs ta' be buried before tha' rotters show up.
Merdila turned around to the group and squaked to get their attention.
- Merdila - Ey! We need bangers ova 'ere! Lots of 'em!
- Thakos - What? I do not see any danger.
- Skarlthrax - Have you ascertained the location of the Champion?
- Merdila - That statue over there.
Merdila pointed to the gargantuan sculpture hanging half-submerged in the magma. Phaelana joined in having her attention led, noticing the edifice and gulping.
- Merdila - Thakos. Ev'ry one o' the otha' tombs had the rotter hidden somewhere right? The ice bitch was in a million pieces, the super-rotter was in a box and the gold bitch was buried in, well, gold. Right?
- Thakos - ... Correct.
- Merdila - Well...
Merdila diplayed her hands in a dramatic gesture to draw focus to the statue.
- Merdila - Ta-daa!... Where els' cou'd 'e be?
- Skarlthrax - Now that you have garnered my attention, I am sensing a... heavy radiance of latent Descension energy in the air. It was so strong, however, that I was unable to pinpoint a source to it.
- Thakos - One of the Champions has been trapped inside of a statue?
- Merdila - Maybe 'e had lava poured onta' him an' he stonified?
- Thakos - Fossilized.
- Merdila - Tha's tha word. Thanks.
- ??? - Yet not permanently...
A hoarse, raspy voice rang in the chamber, followed by a rough scraping along the ground. Emerging from the darkness of the tunnels were Thavixuias and Dralkithus, dragging with them the unconscious body of the tomb's guardian. Skarlthrax turned, sniffing the air and passing a heavy exhale as his eyes glanced over the Champions, absent of fear or shock but riddled with little more than hostility and anger. Secundus brought his gaze to the Champions and folded his arms, tilting his head as he analyzed them while keeping himself in front of the statue of Khovost as Thakos reached for his handgun.
- Skarlthrax - I had been anticipating your arrival.
- Dralkithus - None of you will interfere with the ritual to return our brother to life once more.
- Secundus - Hmph! These are the Champions I was informed of, Protus? My, they look as if they came straight out of some low-budget, decades-old horror flick for children!
Disguisted by this comment, Dralkithus took a step forward, followed by thousands of bettles that scuttled for Secundus. The Zazane scoffed as his muscles beneath his armour tensed and his eyes closed, as if to momentarily concentrate while he harnessed his energies from deep within, and threw his arms outward in a gesture of bravado while a wave of dark, crimson fire burst forth from body, charring and scorching the insects Dralkithus had silently commanded to subdue him within moments.
- Secundus - Mhm. Really? A millennia-old abomination with Descension powers and that was the best you could come up with? I do hope you're not joking with me.
- Dralkithus - You are...unfamiliar. Yet the Aetomarchis touched you all?
- Secundus - Oh please, you must come from the past if you think only the Aetomarchis can infect people with Descension energy. ... That and that armour of yours is so 200,000 years ago!
- Phaelana - Thakos...I think you were right.
Dralkithus snarled and drew his blades, rushing for Secundus at a phenomenal speed, whicy tore up the rock as he did so as he ran to strike Secundus with vicious slashes of his weapons. The Zazane youth began to grin as he watched the Champion dash for him and, in response, flicked his wrists; from his forearms, serrated blades of bone burst through flesh and a blackish red, fiery aura radiated around his form in preparation for battle. Skarlthrax, meanwhile, moved to flank Dralkithus as his attention was secured onto Secundus, who made swift evasive maneuvers to avoid being struck down and sustaining injury at an almost paranormal speed - a dexterity unseen even among the most athletic of young Zazane, easily challenging that of professionally-trained adults. While Secundus was fast, Dralkithus proved just as fast in exchanging blows between the two. He had become fast enough to dodge Merdila's shotgun blasts, with some slashes throwing the shrapnel back at her.
- Skarlthrax - Hrgh...! He has grown agile ever further! I can barely land a potent strike upon him!
- Secundus - Huh? You mean to tell me that we are not just toying with him?
- Merdila - Would all o' ya stand bloody still! I'm gonna quickly hit ya with shrapnel at this rate.
- Secundus - How about I help you take a good shot?
As Dralkithus swiftly switched between an offensive against Secundus, who was simply evading the Champion's fierce strikes, and a defensive against Skarlthrax which was quickly becoming an offensive at the current rate, Secundus moved to ram his bone-blade into the undead Draconis' foot while his free hand reached for his handgun in order to fire at the Champion at point blank range. As the blade moved towards the Draconis' foot he was suddenly engulfed in a cloud of noxious fumes that came pouring out of Dralkithus' mouth, accompanied by a gargled roar.
- Secundus - Urgh! Have you old-timers never heard of breath mints? That is absolutely disgusting!
From the distraction, Dralkithus used the opportunity to launch himself and tackle Secundus to the ground, his jaws salivating with strange substances as he hunched himself over the Zazane youth. Secundus' eyes widened as he saw the Champion lurch over him, and he turned his head to face Merdila and Skarlthrax while Dralkithus had him pinned to the ground with the full weight of his body. The older Zazane's limbs sparked with emerald embers as he moved to roundhouse kick the ancient Draconis fiend, while Secundus, glancing back into Dralkithus' eyes, pointed over the Champion's shoulder and feigned an expression of shock and awe upon his face.
- Secundus - Whoa! Is that the Aetomarchis over there?!
Dralkithus, despite his age and experience, fell for Secundus' trick, turning his head to see if he could spot what Secundus was directing him to. Instead of the Aetomarchis, the Champion only saw Skarlthrax's shin, engulfed in green flames, as it collided into his skull with tremendous force - enough to knock a train and the full weight of its cargo off the rails with ease. Dralkithus went flying, his razor-sharp claws making their mark on Secundus' armour as he was thrown across the room, impacting a far wall with enough force to shake the cave. He collapsed on the floor, weakened, but smiling. Secundus swiftly leapt to his feet, brushing filth and dirt off of his armour with a mildly irritated expression and glaring towards Dralkithus, moving to bring his hands together and crack his knuckles.
- Secundus - Look at what you did to my armour! Do you have any idea how much this costs?! They let me choose custom colours and decorations for it and everything, and now it's ruined!
- Dralkithus I care nothing for your armour...whelpling. No matter how proud you are, the Aetomarchis' touch screams for bloodshed, death, pain...and that is where you fail...
- Secundus - Hmph! Now you're really making me angry! And I assure you, pal, you won't like me when I'm angry!
- Skarlthrax - Do you ever fall short of breath, Agent Secundus? Have you never felt the need to simply shut your mouth and stop talking for once?!
- Dralkithus - Keep threatening me with violence, it is all that swims in your head. And for that...I pity you. But at the same time I am reviled that this is what you have done with the touch.
Thakos watched the scene unfold, almost dumbfounded by the ego and pride that drove Secundus to boast about himself, before turning his attention back towards the partially-submerged statue of the towering, abnormal Draconis giant; his expression went pale and he began to panic while he shook Phaelana's shoulder as he saw Thevixuias commencing her ritual while they had all been distracted with the fight. Turning her attention, Phaelana joined Thakos in panic. Pushing her feet against the rock, she took up a large piece and channeled it with Descension energy, running up and tossing it at Thevixuias with the hopes of distracting her from the ritual. The guardian began to rouse as the conflict ensued, seeing the unfolding chaos she was not sure what to do; help the champions or help her master.
- Thakos - Everyone! Thevixuias is commencing a ritual upon the statue!
Phaelana's rock was deflected by a disguised gesture from Dralkithus, who attempted to stand up despite his injuries. With the subtle gesture he sent the rock in Thakos' direction with the intent of silencing him. Thakos let out a loud, harrowing yell as he felt the rock collide into his body, breaking apart on impact and the Descension energies within causing the fragments to fly outward in erratic fashion; one such fragment had flown upwards and embedded itself into the Zazane's right eye while he was launched from where he had been standing, colliding with the wall of the chamber. Skarlthrax turned his head swiftly and watched the injuried Thakos collapse to the floor in a heap before glancing over to Thevixuias. Secundus, meanwhile, also took his eyes off of Dralkithus. Merdila joined them, panting as she tried to catch her breath from desperately trying to keep up with the Descended warriors. Watching Thakos soar across the room, she ran to his side.
- Merdila - You lot stop tha' rotter! Thakos'll be fine wit' me!
As Thevixuias had not been interrupted, the ritual was soon approaching its conclusion; the chains and shackles wrapped around the statue's form began to uncoil and loosen, gradually sinking the visage of Khovost further into the molten lava as its weight and immobility was unable to keep it afloat or drive itself to a solid surface. Those touched by Descension could sense its presence growing more unrestrained and overwhelming as the statue was released from its bouds, unceremoniously plopping into the lake and submerging entirely beneath its surface once its chains were undone.
- Phaelana - Oh... no...
- Secundus - Well... That doesn't look good at all.
- Skarlthrax - That is because it is not, Secundus! The fight was a ruse; we were left distracted by one of the Champions so that the other had the opportunity to commence their ritual!
- Dralkithus - Blinded by your bloodlust...It shall now be your undoing...
The magma in the lake began to bubble and throth, writhing as something seemed to struggle to the surface of the molten trap, with Thakos only being able to watch as he faded in and out of consciousness. Soon enough, a shape made itself evident; a bipedal figure doused with bubbling magma arose from the lake, stepping onto the rocky surface of the chamber while the molten substance began to messily drip off before collapsing onto its hands and knees, devoid of flesh and tissue while sporting the malformed, augmented skeleton of a giant Draconis which stood at almost twice the height of the rest of its fellow kin. As it threw itself weakly onto the ground, the creature's bellowing screams and roars filled the chamber alongside the sound of searing magma as it bubbled and popped while it then proceeded to attempt standing, only to quickly collapse onto its front once again.
The guardian, who watched in awe of all that was going on, stepped forward, mesmerised by the titan's form, she approached her skeletal master with arms wide at her sides, collapsing to her knees when she stood practically underneath him. Khovost, the Fourth Champion, glanced down at his guardian with curiosity, analyzing her as he struggled to prop himself upright and sustain himself before stretching one of his skeletal arms outward to reach for her with an open palm, screaming and howling in excruciating pain all the while. His clawed fingers came into contact with the cultist's chest, where he slowly dragged his burning, sharp, molten fingertips from her left upper breast diagonally downward to her lower right side. The searing temperature and the excruciating pain caused her to scream, but she kept her position, writhing as the pain rushed though her body but otherwise submitting herself to her master. Phaelana attempted to gather the others close, secretly recalling what she had last seen of this champion. Bringing forth memories of dread and blood.
- Dralkithus - The fourth has awoken, and as he does, so does the fate of Minos'Drakon begin to count down.
- Skarlthrax - Objective failed! Our options now are to either remain here and attempt to destroy the fourth Champion or regroup and retreat to strategize for later!
- Dralkithus - You only have one option, and that is to burn before the awakened!
Dralkithus announced what the group planned to do regarding Khovost's awakening in the tongue of ancient Draconis. Without Valeria, only Phaelana would have known to what Dralkithus spoke to Khovost, but everyone was able to tell that it was not a good thing. Thakos, his body battered but slowly beginning to recover from his injury at a standard Zazane pace, stood to his feet after having stumbled several times prior and laid a hand upon Phaelana's shoulder to grab her attention. Secundus and Skarlthrax both watched Khovost begin to attempt regenerating his tissues and fibers amidst still being coated by burning magma, although his lower jaw made movements as if to attempt to speaking in his old, archaic tongue - the same tongue he had drove his cultists mad with during his slumber.
- Khovost - [... My servant... Be... reborn...]
As if commanding her so, black smoke billowed out from the guardian's mouth and engulfed her. Like before the cloud expanded outwards, but this time the cloud expanded further than before, those intense eyes emerging from the smoke as the chamber echoed with screams and roars. With a blast from the epicentre, the guardian revealed herself in her new form: twice as large as before and posessing a more savage appearance, with brutal protrusions coming out form her shoulders and back. With pounding footsteps, the demon sized up the group, rippling her jaws as she growled.
- 'Merdila - I'm gonna have ta' say...retreat. Preferably as fast as any of us can go?
- Secundus - Agreed, I do not wish to have to stay back and fight that thing again!
- Skarlthrax - I shall call for an emergency evac to be awaiting our arrival on the coast! Make haste!
- Thakos - Ngh... I am afraid I must decline, Skarlthrax. There is... b-business here for me to attend to. I... I-I need to get to the c-control room...
- Phaelana - Thakos you are in no condition.
- 'Merdila - Everyone leg-it!
- Thakos - I am in... c-condition enough!
Phelana picked Thakos up and carried him while the group ran for the exit. Behind them the demon took in a deep inhalation, with everyone managing to turn a corner before a jet of black plasma erupted from her mouth and rushed to incinerate the archway. As everyone ran, the guardian made pursuit, snorting and huffing as it pushed itself though the tunnels.
As they ran, some may have noticed that the rock was getting softer, behind them the cavern walls were expanding to fit their pursuer.
- Phaelana - Thakos what in Dranvamus could you do at the control room?
- Thakos - I aim to... d-deprive these mongrels of an a-asset they could use against t-this world and the Imperium... You r-remember what I had said before regarding t-this... this island having b-become a former t-testing ground, do you not?
- Phaelana - For nuclear and antimatter warheads, yes. A military base built to store and launch warheads.
- Thakos - I cannot allow these bloodhounds to... to use this place a-against us. ... T-Tell Skarlthrax to i-issue an e-evacuation of the coastal and i-inner mainland territories while they are still a-able to...
Phaelana nodded as the group narrowly missed another plasma jet. Unlike before the deranged inhabitants of the tunnels kept their distance, perhaps frightful of the monstrosity their master had unleashed. This fortunately made travel to the surface easier, but the guardian was much more aggressive, trampling maniacs underfoot or crushing them into the walls as she pushed her way though the tunnels.
- Merdila - Ya had ta beat tha' wrong rotter's brains out!
- Phaelana - Now is not the time!
Emerging within one of the silos, Phaelana set Thakos on his feet, noticing that by now he might have regained the strength in his legs. The Zazane rolled his shoulders as he began walking again in an effort to find a control panel, grunting while he did as he walked; he could move effectively and would be able to sprint with some effort, but it nonetheless pained him to move his legs due to the injury he had sustained. Thakos groaned as he did, trying to look away from Phaelana as he reluctantly moved to distance himself from the rest of the group. As he headed for the control room, the rest of the group headed outside. As they ran across the base's main airstrip, the ground exploded before them, and emerging from the hole was the Guardian, surrounded by sizzling air as she gazed upon each one of them.
Rotten, rusted and grimy, the base's control room had clearly struggled to withstand the ravages of time. At one time this may have been a pristine chamber, with busy banks of computers and dozens of active orbital monitoring systems. But that was the past, and millennia of neglect meant that none of that existed now. Instead Thakos saw a command centre overgrown and partially rusted. The Zazane groaned as he made his way to the command room, irritated by the comparatively minor obstacles that he had been faced in the form of structural weaknesses and overgrowth although it kept his mind off of what was to come in the very near future. Thakos kept a firm palm on his handgun, a full round of anti-Essence ammunition locked into it in case of any close encounters; he knew the Champions could not afford to leave as of yet, for their newly-awakened brethren would likely still be recovering from his utterly dreadful state.
The room was arranged in two concentric circles of consoles that controlled a variety of functions, the section Thakos sought, warhead control, was on the left side of the room and fortunately remained in somewhat pristine condition. All he needed to do was arm and time the missiles to detonate. An easy task, but undoubtably one that would face complications knowing his luck. Taking a deep breath, Thakos approached the console that would allow him access to the warhead controls and proceeded to take a seat in front of it, left mildly discomforted by the seats that were once used by the Draconis scientists due to their size and generally degraded state. He left his gun in its holster on his belt as he activated the console with power being supplied from the backup generators, groaning and agitatedly mumbling to himself as he moved to set a sequence for the warheads - to which he found there were more than a few several dozen of them present on the island.
As he worked, a draft entered the room. Outside of his vision, the foliage that was growing over the control centre metal and systems was progressively frozen by means that there was only one explanation for. As his work progressed, the chill became much more noticeable, and the freezing plants emerged within the peripherals of his vision. As he was setting up the last parameters, Thakos was blown from his chair by an icy impact. Shards of ice cut into his flesh as he fell onto his back, causing him to bleed although such was not enough to keep him down as he quickly regained his footing, drawing his gun from its holster to clasp it in both hands, preparing himself for a confrontation.
- Thakos - ... You should be assisting your brethren, witch.
A large arm emerged from behind him and wrapped itself around Thakos, pressing him against an icy wall. A momentary inspection revealed however that this was no wall, but Thevixuias' body.
- Thevixuias - But I am! Dralkithus wishes these weapons, no mortal deprives us.
- Thakos - Urgh... And what then? You know not how to use these weapons; you've no idea of their purpose, their means of offense, how to even wield them properly.
- Thevixuias - Valchoria. She has learned. There is also always you.
Thevixuias lowered her head, openeing her jaws to reveal the brittle black tongue in her mouth which she passed the tip of coarsely over Thakos' head. Cringing in sheer disgust of the situation, Thakos positioned his hands in such a way to aim his gun upwards at an angle for his arms were pinned against his body and pressed onto the trigger, firing a barrage of Yrsalimarus rounds into Thevixuias' open maw in open resistance. Thevixuias screeched as the rounds buried themselves into the back of her throat. She pressed him more tightly against her chest, but when the rounds took effect her arm went slighgtly numb and she loosened her grip enough for him to be able to struggle free. Shoving her limb away from his body, Thakos desperately sprinted for the console, almost falling over the chair as he ran his hand over the console to finalize the parameters he had put in and confirm his intentions. Only moments afterwards did the blaring sound of repetitive beeping fill their ears and the room was engulfed in purple warning lights.
Thevixuias looked around and turned her attentino to Thakos, giving him a murderous glare, opening her mouth to let out a banshee's wail in his direction, enough force to throw him backwards. The Zazane was slammed against the console, destroying some of the hardware as a feint smile crawled its way onto his face amidst the flow of sounds which caused his ears to almost rupture.
- Thevixuias - A modest deal: Help find Aetomarchis. Release Aetomarchis. Or Minos'Drakon. NO MINOS'DRAKON
- Thakos - ... Agh, my apologies. I cannot hear you over this... this beeping noise. May I ask that... you come closer and repeat yourself?
Thevixuias stomped closer, looking furious and cracking the frost-rimed metal under her feet while doing so.
- Thevixuias - Help. Find Aetomarchis. Or NO MINOS'DRAKON! Betrayal of deal. Betrayal of loyalty. Minos'Drakon SHALL BURN
- Thakos - Ah... It was not worth having you repeat yourself. All I hear is... a steaming, hot pile of fresh krann dung spewing from that rotted maw of yours, corpse-hag.
The group had managed to evade the demon chasing them. They could hear the roar of the movement of an AO-8 dropship on apporach, and once through the foliage were able to see it flying in. Merdilla stopped while others ran ahead.
- Merdila - Hur...hurff...'Do ya decent-watsits eva' stop ta catch a breath?
- Secundus - Come now, sergeant! We've not got all day to be standing around chit-chatting! And to answer your question, no, we are quite capable of surviving without breathing. We only become exhausted once we start using our Descension powers, not our physical ones.
- Merdila - Yeah well can ya slow down a littl', ah feel like im about ta cough up me lungs!
- Phaelana - You can catch a breath in the dropship sergeant. Let's get on board before the demon makes it through the forest.
- Skarlthrax - ... Phaelana, where is Thakos?
Skarlthrax' question was answered when the base's klaxons began to blare, announcing alert status in the base. Skarlthrax's eyes began to widen as he clasped ahold of Secundus and began urgently attempting to drag him back into running towards the point of evacuation once it had registered to him what was going to happen.
- Skarlthrax - No... That damned fool! Has he gone mad?!
- Phaelana - It was either this or let the Champions have access to weapons of mass destruction. I just hope its enough to take the other champions with it.
- Secundus - You mean... You mean to tell me that one of our comrades has stayed behind to blow up the base, which just so happens to be... full of...
- Phaelana - ...Fission material and antimatter. Yes.
- Merdila - Hey flyboy 'ow fast can these things go again!?
- Phaelana - No point risking it, everyone climb aboard.
Phaelana leapt on board the dropship as it opened its doors, holding out her hand to let the others in. The dmeon's roar could be heard within the forest, causing Phaelana to shudder. Secundus dived into the dropship, rolling across the floor while Skarlthrax took Phaelana's hand and lifted himself into the vehicle before grabbing a spare rifle holsted on the nearby wall of the dropship and turning to look back towards the forests, priming and loading it in preparation. Merdila decided to join him by manning one of the assault cannons on the side, squinting as she psyched herself.
- Skarlthrax - Get us out of here! ... And request authorities within a dozen hundred mile radius of this place to initiate an evacuation to the inner mainland immediately on grounds of a potential Class 3 unnatural catastrophe!
The dropship lifted off, it was as they were reaching three hundred metres into the air that the demon appeared out of the canopy, her eruption out of the treetops left behind a blaze that spread across the canopy while she soared towards the dropship. Skarlthrax began firing upon the Guardian as it erupted from the trees and entered the airspace, growling loudly before glancing towards Merdilla and barking orders at her.
- Skarlthrax - Sergeant! Keep that damned fiend occupied! I have an idea!
- Merdilla - Yah gunna jump down it's gob again!?
- Skarlthrax - ... No. A better idea.
- Merdilla - Oh, right! Becuz tha' grossed me out las' time!
Merdila nodded and unleased a hail of anti-Essence gunfire on the demon, aiming in particular for its wings. The demon responded with a roar and a plasma jet from its mouth ,which narrowly missed the dropship's right side. Skarlthrax stood and moved to the back of the dropship, looking through the available spare weaponry before grabbing ahold of a missile launcher and proceeding to load it with several augmented anti-aereal projectiles, which based on appearance and payload differed in design to standard military equipment. Stepping near the open door of the dropship, the Zazane aimed towards the gargantuan dragon and launched a barrage of shredder homing projectiles in its direction once he had locked onto it, which had so just so happened to have been modified with anti-Essence technology.
The dragon roared in a deafening manner at the dropship, causing turbulence but nonetheless its attempts to evade the missiles were futile as several of them hit it the first time around while others looped around and hit it from behind. While weakened, it kept flying, but it was now more distant from the craft as the vessel prepared to enter supersonic. Severely agitated, Skarlthrax picked up two more projectiles which had been knocked onto the floor and swung his missile launcher away to free both of his hands; he picked up the missiles, one in each palm, and reeled his arm back as, with a clearly unnatural strength and precision, he threw the projectiles at the daemonic fiend as if he were a hunter throwing spears.
- Skarlthrax - Smile, you son of a bitch!
Detonating on the dragon's body the impacts sent it hurtling back to the island, and none too soon - sirens blared on the dropship, warning that it was entering supersonic velocities and the door slammed shut. Skarlthrax huffed as he watched the Guardian drop limply out of the sky from the dropship's view-port before turning around and taking a seat in the passenger section of the vehicle, sitting beside Phaelana as he appeared, evidently, somewhat frustrated.
- Phaelana - I decided the crew should know. I've asked the captain to set course for Miminas' western mountains. There's something we need to collect if we're going to weather the coming storm.
- Secundus - The mountains? What could possibly be there for us to use against those ugly mugs?
- Phaelana - Something that vanquished them before. I'll explain everything when we get there.
- Skarlthrax - The Champions have now all awoken... And they grow stronger with each passing day. I have reasons to believe they may be stronger now than they ever were before, what with them having managed to enslave an entirely new generation of followers and soldiers.
- Phaelana - There is hope. The time of the Champions did not have technology that could weaken or vanquish them. We will need a few preparations, but first; perhaps our destination is the time for all to be revealed.
- Skarlthrax - ... You had better hope to be correct.
Flying at supersonic speeds for a couple of hours, the group's drop-ship finally landed. Emerging from its cargohold, everyone looked around to see that they were in the mountains on Miminas' Western border. Looking westward the group could see higher mountains, for beyond them and the horizon lay the Krades desert. The dropship had landed on a slope, and Phelana was the first to emerge, moving with purpose up one of the inclines.
- Merdila - Well ya' said ther' would be sumthin 'ere ta beat th' rotters. So where is it?
- Phaelana - Inside the mountain.
- Merdila - So 'ow'd you know bout 'ere again?
Phaelana paused for a moment, before continuing up the slop and giving her reply. She scooped up a selection of stones and threw them at the rock face.
- Phaelana - I'll explain inside. Trust me.
- Merdila - Inside wher--?
The pattern Phaelana made triggered the rock to move. The face of the mountain split in a crack large enough for everyone and shifting out were two Draconis armed with spears and round shield. Merdila and Skarlthrax drew their weapons and aimed at the two emerging warriors. Phaelana turned and held up her hand in a desperate attempt to tell the group to stand down.
- Phaelana - Don't shoot, they're allies!
- Skarlthrax - Explain this, now!
- Phaelana - I will just put the guns down.
- Merdilla - Ya brought us ta' tha' middle 'o nowhere ta' hand us ovah to the Rotters didn't ya!
- Phaelana - Stand down and everything will be explained!
- Merdiala - Ah kranndung! 'Ow do yah really know so much?
One of the warriors called out. A powerfully built Draocnid warrior wearing silver-coloured armour trimmed with red paint. Its design strongly reminiscent of the military armour worn by Minosian soldiers of old: Segmented armour plates like the body of an armadillo that covered the torso, neck, hips and shoulders. His shins and forearms protected by metal plates. Emblazoned on his shield, bracers and grieves was an eye motif. In his sword-hand, a long spear twice his height, made of a resilient red wood and wrapped in a grey cloth. Tipped at the top was a point of forged steel that glistened with a purple highlight that shone though in the afternoon sun. His face however, was obscured by the crested helmet that adorned his head, crowned with a row of bold blue feathers.
- Warrior - Lady Tavaesenna, your visit was a surprise.
Merdila lowered her gun slightly.
- Merdila - Tar-what-now?
- Phaelana - Tahv-eh-senna. It's.... - Phaelana sighed, she realised she had been discovered now. WIth a deep breath, she answered. - My-- My true name. And these two, are Raviess, and Kotarus - Phaelana pointed to the warrior who called out and then their partner, in order to identify them - They are the custodians of the Aetomarchis' bane.
- Skarlthrax - Bane - Skarlthrax was now cautious - You mean to say this "Aetomarchis" has been killed before.
- Phaelana - Not entirely. But what lies inside is our best chance of ridding the planet of him forever.
- Merdila - This is jus' gettin' more an' more bonkers by tha' day.
Following their guides, the group were led into a large cavern that opened up to reveal a bustling town of functional rock-carved buildings. Lights flickered to illuminate the cavern while the sound of trickling water underlay the activity. When everyone saw Phaelana, they all sopped what they were doing and bowed their heads in respect to her. Secundus was intrigued by this odd behaviour, while Merdila was a little worried. Skarlthrax however, was far from impressed or curious. That's when he recognised the smell: Every one of them carried with them the scent of blood, a smell only people like he and Secundus could pick up that was characteristic of those who bear the mark of Descension. This put him on extreme edge; whoever these people were, many of them carried the stink of the taint that marked so many of his kind, but more importantly it was the smell that had marked the Champions and their favoured warriors.
The group were escorted towards a large carved-out temple in the centre of the town. Great stone pillars held the entranceway aloft, carved with warrior deeds and historical events. These carvings only mildly interested the group. Their most preeminent scientists were gone; Valeria was missing and potentially helping the Champions with their dark task, while Thakos had scattered his remains as atoms in the wind. As they moved though the square, Skarlthrax paced up to Phaelana.
- Skarlthrax - You had better explain yourself and everything, miss "Phaelana." What is this, how did it come to be and why are so many...tainted.
Phaelana rolled her eyes. But entertained her escort's request.
- Phaelana - Alright, well I may as well. During the Aetomarchis' campaign there was one potential champion that refused to bend to the Aetomarchis' command. Insted of bowing, the warrior fled, he gathered an army and to give them a chance of battling his champions, granted them each a portion of his blessing.
- Skarlthrax - Are these more myths passed down by oral tradition, miss "Tavaesenna"?
- Phaelana - We can expalin everything in the temple. Just be patient
Skarlthrax growled and maneuvered to stand in front of Phaelana, attracting the attention of the guards around him and Skarlthrax glared down at her with aggressive intent.
- Skarthrax - Alcanti is burning and you continue to dance around us as if we know nothing! Star texplaining before I have ot consider forcing it out of you!
- Secundus - Hey! Give her a chance to speak will you. And give her some air!
- Skarlthrax - Shut it, boy. I only want to settle this promptly.
Secundus clenched his fists at Skarlthrax's insult. Phaleana raised her hand and let out an exasperated sigh.
- Phaelana - The temple. Everything you all need to know can be explained inside.
- Skarlthrax - Fine. But any more tricks, and I will not apologise for what I will resort to.
- Phaelana - No more tricks, I promise you! The answers are all though that archway.
With a huff, Skarlthrax moved away and took steps towards the temple. As he walked though the crowd he removed a large cigar from his equipment pack. Clamping it between his jaws, the cigar ignited itself as he paced towards and up the steps, though a gargantuan set of archways.
The interiro of the temple was nothing short of a wonder: Great stone columns rose from floor to decorated ceiling, carved with plant motifs. The walls were decorated with great stories carvedi n the Minosian style, the ceiling depicted the great battles against the reign of the Aetomarchis. The floors and walls were smoothed and polished, and could be mistaken for marble or soapstone were it not for the more subtle signs in their texture. Lining the outside and fed by irrigation channels coming from a central reservoir in the heart of the temple, flowerbeds growing plants of a deep dark red or black colouration, nourished by the sunlight from a great opening in the ceiling. In the centre was the most remarkable sight; a great creature, far larger than any champion, lay curled aroudn the central reservoir. As everyone approached, it stirred. It moved its great head to look at the visitors, great eyelids rising to reveal two great emerald eyes the size of Skarlthrax's torso. Seeing the group, the creature smiled in a friendly manner, a gentleness belling his stature. He was evidently a Draconis ,though one of a size no one had seen before, and despite how his lungs must have been like furnace bellows, spoke softly.
- Kaleus - Tavaesenna! How wonderful it is for you to come and visit.
- Phaelana - It is wonderful to see you once more as well, Kaleus.
- Kaleus - And who are your friends? Have they come to commit already?
- Phaelana - No, no. Kaleus. Something much more serious. I am afraid after all this time, the Champions are waking up.
Kaleus friendly facade dropped in disbelief of this news.
- Kaleus - Impossible! You were always so attentive of your wards.
- Merdila -Pard'n me but your wards? Since when were ya a magician?
- Kaleus - They do not know, my dear?
- Phaelana - ...I was going to tell them.
- Skarlthrax - Yes. you were.
Phaelana cleared her throat and stepped in front of the group.
- Phaelana - I am sorry all of you were deceived like this. Kaleus and I, and a few others here, we lived to see the Aetomarchis run rampant across the continent. The champion we are here to awaken is, or was, my spouse. When it was decided that it would be safer if he were imprisoned, Kaleus and I established a cave and this order to safeguard his body until he is needed again.
- Kaleus - Tavaesenna was the one who marked every champion's tomb with arcane wards to stop the champions form waking up and creating the storm you say is currently happening...how though?
- Merdila - Ah... We may 'ave wrecked tha' wards when our science group wandered into the cold-bitch's tomb-thingy.
- Kaleus - So Thevixuias was the fist to awaken.
- Phaelana - Dralkithus was woken while I was laying low operating a nearby graveyard. He also awoke his mount which he commanded to destroy my safe-house
- Kaleus - Oh dear...I liked that Dralkithus the least. Such a vile and twisted man! To think he was one of High King Karonivus' more respected generals.
- Skarlthrax - Once Valchoria was woken up their campaign began fully. For the past few weeks they have been converting entire cities.
- Kaelus - Then we must act. Which wards are still intact?
- Phaelana - The Aetomarchis himself is the last to remain...though we may have succeeded in destroying Thevixuias and Khovost.
- Kaelas - You can never be too sure.
- Phaelana - That is why we've come, Kaelus. My husband is our last hope; we need to rouse him.
- Kaelas - Then you will need his heart. I can't quite remember where it is now but I vaguely recall some royal managed to seize it.
- Merdila - I think I know where tha' thingy might-- wait did ya just say "heart?"
- Kaelas - Without it he is but a dormant shell.
Merdila began twitching, recalling bad memories of the War of Claim upon realising that this hero, like the Champions, was essentially an animated corpse. Potentially vengeful at the living.
- Merdila - As in tha' thing that goes ba'dump ba-dump in yer' chest.
- Kaelas - That's the one
- Merdila - Then what tha' flyin' turds is it doin' outta 'is chest!?
- Phaelana - Without it, his body exists in a state of hibernation.
- Merdila - So...our plan for beatin 'tha' rotter king is...is to wake up a "friendly" rotter?
- Phaelana - That is our best chance
- Merdila - Am I the only one who dusn't think this is a' looney-bin barmy idea?"
- Skarlthrax - As much as I agree with this drunken excuse for a solider, I can barely keep up with these Champions. If this hero can subdue one of the sons of Zagdala, it's an insane option we have no choice to take.
Phaelana smiled and nodded in acknowledgement.
- Merdila - Am I suddenly tha' only one who isn't suddn'ly completely bonkers daft?"
- Kaelos - If your alien friend says he struggles to fight the Champions, then awaken the bane we must
- Merdila - Oh...fine, whateva'. I was shootin' armies of rotters in Minos'Drakon before tha' great war anyway.
- Skarlthrax - Did you intoxicate yourself as we were entering this temple?
- Merdila - Nah. I was slightly pissed by tha' time we landed.
Skarlthrax rubbed his crest with frustration and groaned, knoing full well the drunken bird before him was the only way they would get the heart.
- Phaelana - Give us a few days to prepare, Kaelos. We can collect the heart promptly.
Skarlthrax managed to find a secluded area of the sanctuary, setting up a few beacons he was surroudned by a hologtaphic projection of his handler's posting. Rahtaba, the Terratrix face of the Ixrix Institute for Skarlthrax hald a grave expression in his eyes.
- Rahtaba - Protus, about flaming time!
- Skalrthraz - Reporting.
- Rahtaba - Just...what in void's eternity happened!? Weather satellites are reporting an ash and toxin cloud emerging from the Khessorian archipeligo, while defense sattelites report several matter-animatter detonations. When we could see what just happened the island you ahd goen to had become a crater that began filling with water, and only now do you contact us. So I really what to know just what the fuck happened down there!
- Skarlthraz - Another champion, sir.
- Rahtaba - Are you saying you woke up a champion that can trigger annihilation detonations?
- Skalrthraz - No. The site Thakos informed us of possessed warheads of such design. He concluded that with the champion awakening, we had to destroy them by any means.
Behind his desk, Rahtaba buried his face in his hands the pressure he applied strongly suggested the stress he was under.
- Rahtaba - Protus...we're talking weapons of mass destruction here. You obliterated an island, caused an incident comparable to a meteor strike. If the installed anti-meteor countermeasures hadn't kicked in there might be more than an ash cloud heading straight for northern Miminas right now. If they haden't then congratulations for you might have caused a nuclear winter across Alcanti's northern hemisphere
- Skalrthraz - We performed as best we could given the circumstances. We had no time for a surgical operation
Skarlthrax growled, but did his best to hide the frustration he felt, the tension escaping his body in the form of deep, low exhalations though his nostrils. Understanding how hisagent was feeling, Rahtaba stood up from his seat, bending low to indicate submission and mercy.
- Rahtaba - Protus...I've got the Institute's leadership and the PDF breathing down my neck. We were worried your radio silence, refusal ot fix your implants and the explosion was sign you had gone rogue...did it do anything?
- Skalrthraz - Unconfirmed, too soon to tell. At best, three of the four were caught in the blast, along with hundreds of Draconis who haad been reduced to battle-thralls.
- Rahtaba - And the fourth?
- Skalrthrax - Location unknown, as is the illuminate Valeria.
- Rahtaba - Dropship pilot said that illuminate Thakos did not return to the droship...
- Skalrthrax - Sacrificed himself, sir. Someone needed to detonate the warheads before they were used against the Imperium. He was unable ot escape the blast zone.
- Rahtaba - Krandung...Where are you now?
- Skalrthrax - We found a shelter sir, currently recuperating.
- Rahtaba - At least you get a chance of a breather. How is your protege?
- Skalrthrax - Unstable. Unprofessional. He almost revealed his name and would not stop talking
- Rahtaba - How did he perform in combat?
- Skalrthrax - He was...competent. He was able to vastly outpace me and spoke as if he was not even exerting himself. Useful, as the champions grow ever stronger.
- Rahtaba - Well that's some good news at least...Would you mind sending us his armour's telemetry.
Skarlthrax scowled, but complied- using a device built into his gauntlet he collected the data stored in software installed inside Secundus' armour and sent it to high command. He folded his arms when he was done.
- Skalrthrax - I have an equipment request.
- Rahtaba - I'll pull some strings if I can but...what are you asking for exactly?
- Skalrthrax - Essence acceleration skins, adaptive layouts. We have a plan in place but when it comes to engaging with the Aetomarchis himself, thoseo f the team that use Essence will need support.
- Rahtaba - You're asking for prototypes.
- Skalrthrax - I know in-development designs have been tested, the institute was developing them shortly before my departure.
- Rahtaba - Fine. I'll see how many I can procure. If I can get these, you owe me Protus. The directors don't want you to have these, not yet at least so I'm putting my neck out.
- Skarlthrax - Hrmph, fine. Dsipatch the mto my telemtry signal if you can acquire them.
- Rahtaba - I can't make any promises.
Rahtaba ended the communique. To finally releive stress, Skarlthrax removed a cigar from one of his pounches. Respectful of the area he was using he walked out and jammed the cigar between his jaws. He needed only to put it in his mouth when it ignited itself and escaping from his mouth was a thick cloud of cigar smoke. Secundus was saiting nearby, arms folded and leaning against a wall half-asleep. When Skarlthraz approached, the pounding footsteps of the Zazane commando jolted Secundus awake. He looked up to his senior and current mentor with an awkward smile.
- Secundus - So...do they like how I'm doing?
Skarlthraz responded with a cold stare.
- Skarlthrax - Such matters are between your superior and your handler. You survived your first mission despite your recklessness, use that as a measure of how well you did.
Dusk for the Phoenix
As the best of Alcanti endeavoured their best to keep the demon king at bay, Merdilla and Skarlthrax entered the palace from the hanger bay. It had been a long time since Merdila had been here, and the chamber was strangely quiet save for a cadre of Blood Dragons who stayed behind to watch and defend the palace. While the PDF struggled, and with Secundus strangely missing, the two had one objective: In the imperial throne room, under the very seat of the paragon, the champion's heart still beated. To restore him, they needed to recover it, but that meant descending into the furthest section of the palace. A nusiance, yes, but such a design was logical as the emperors of day past, and present as was the case during the Great Andromedan War, that the paragons made their last stand should the palace ever come under siege. After disembarking, the captain of these Blood Dragons stepped forward, saluting the pair.
- Dragon Captain - Dragon Captain Kelsius, reporting sirs. We understand you need access to the deeper levels of the palace.
- Merdilla - Deep as ya can get, cap'n. Oh, also, that's "ma'am" to you, scaley.
- Skarlthrax - I never once thought I'd end up inside the walls of the estate of the Paragon. ... Especially under our current circumstances. It all seems so very surreal.
- Kelsius - With your permission...We could say the same of the conflict raging outside. His Majesty was evacuated with much of the administration, and a group of the throne engineers await you in the great hall.
- Merdilla - Aw, shame tha' ta good ol' Paragon ain' 'ere to greet us, but what ya gonna do, eh? I know if I was in 'is shoes, I'd git outta dodge too. Well, tell ya boys in ta throne room ta start takin' it apart so they can git at what's inside, cap'n.
Kelsius saluded and lowed his head in acknowledgement.
- Kelsius - My team is ready to escort you to make the pickup. Say the word and we will get you there as quickly as the palace allows.
- Skarlthrax - Once I have familiarized myself with the layout of the palace, I should be able to bring us back to the entrance within moments, Captain. That will allow for us to make a swift evacuation out of the city to rendezvous with the others.
- Merdilla - Speakin' of ta others... Cap'n, did a Zazane come by 'ere? Young, dark, bit short.
- Kelsius - I have not, for several months, no.
- Skarlthrax - Damnation. That means he must have gone off on his own again... Tracking him is becoming about as difficult as it is fighting the monstrosities outside.
- Kelsius - If you are hunting for someone of that description I can relay it to other Dragons. In case they take notice.
- Merdilla - T'anks, cap'n. Now, let's git to it an' not waste anymore time. Good men are dyin' out there an' givin up their lives so we can do this.
The Dragon Captain nodded, signalling to his soldiers to move. The group paced though opulent corridors, a comforting sight for Merdilla compared to the first time she ever visited, for Skalthrax it was a journey through an estate that made the one he was granted appear incredibly modest. Down they descened, occasionally passed by pairs of Blood Dragons on duty, making their way though the complex before arriving at the doors to the palace's great throne room.
With a swing of the doors the reveal was of a grand chamber, between pillars of gilded marble were raised barricades staffed by armed Blood Dragons. The throne at the very rear, small at first due to its distance, quickly became intimidatingly grand as they reached the foot of it, where a team of alien mechanics were working to pull something from the bowels of the imperial seat. There was heaving and groaning as they endeavoured to pull a large cylindrical container out from the bowels, coming to rest at a case.
For Skalthrax there was something ominous about this container, he could hear a tranquil thumping inside, the material of the cylinder itself let off some strange feeling, a darkness that hid behind the cylinder's ornate facade. Skarlthrax approached the container, his eyes narrowing as he came close to its presence and evaluated it, the faint aura radiating from it causing a chill to travel through his spine. From the heart alone, the Zazane could feel a great power in its otherwise dormant, barely alive state. The engineers acted almost oblivious to this energy letting out exhalations of relief that it was finally out.
- Engineer - Sucker was lodged in tight, must have taken us about four hours to get it out. You two here for the pickup?
- Merdilla - Aye, t'at'd be us. Ya mind takin' it for me, big guy?
- Skarlthrax - This power... I cannot even imagine the power of its owner. I can see now how this champion managed to overcome the Aetomarchis.
- Engineer - I'm...gonna pretend I understood what you said. Thing's insanely creepy though so I know a few colleagues who are going to be glad it's out.
Skarlthrax approached, taking the container and lifting it upon his shoulder without any implication of a struggle, even though the engineers had to use the strength of multiple people in order to separate it from the insides of the throne due to its weight. The engineers looked at the feat with surprise, but with all that had happened recently they all shrugged.
- Engineer - You guys sure you don't need a box or anything? We've got a storage unit that we keep spare canisters in over at the workshop.
- Skarlthrax - How much time would it cost?
- Engineer - Fifteen seconds, tops.
- Skarlthrax - ... Fine. We shall need as much protection as possible while we transport it out of the city in case our enemies close in to our position. But make it quick; there is no time to be lost.
Several of the team nodded, entering a hatch that they opened next to the throne. True to their word it didn't take them long to come back out with a large steel container, opening it up revealed a foam interior, with an indentation that fit the cylinder perfectly. They allowed Skarlthrax to put the cylinder inside before closing the lid and securing the latches, in the process dampening the dark aura that Skarlthrax could feel coming from the artifact.
- Kelsius - We had better move, reports from the Promenade indicate target is wearing at our lines.
- Merdilla - We gotta transport waitin' outside. Big guy, ya can teleport us or whateva back ta the entrance now.
- Skarlthrax - ... I do not want to use my powers around this heart. I do not know what would happen if I did with the immense amount of power stored within it. We will have to go the manual route.
- Kelsius - There are service tunnels the Dragons and staff use for expedited travel. We can use those if time is of the essence.
- Skarlthrax - Right. It will give me some time to attempt re-establishing contact with Secundus and gaining intel on his current location. I can only hope he has not fallen into enemy hands.
As they did, Kelsius' radio screamed with panicked comm chatter, tuning in to their frequency Skalthrax could hear that Khovost was breaking though the defensive lines towards the palace. As they neared a corridor lounge there were cries that Khovost was now on the palace grounds, a brief look outside of a window-screen revealed his presence quite clearly - what were immaculate gardens of crimson-leafed foliage were now black and scorched, marked with the bodies of mutilated fallen warriors. These bodies were not mutilated like the ones at the university however; their lacerations were savage, they were torn out of fury more than a desire to cause suffering. Skarlthrax growled as he saw the aftermath of the champion's brutality and clenched his fists in apprehension, baring his teeth while he felt that, even with the dampening effects of its containers, the heart that they transported through the palace began to beat faster and the energy within it begin to ripple. Merdilla, noticing Skarlthrax's reaction, pumped the barrel of her shotgun and huffed.
- Merdilla - I've a feelin' he can smell our cargo.
- Kelsius - Do you think that might be how he broke through?
- Skarlthrax - ... Hmph. It would appear that he gains strength as the anger and fear of those around him increases; the heart has sensed his signature, causing its impulsive feelings to emerge, and in turn, empower our enemy and alert him to its presence. The signature is small enough now that, in his current state, I doubt he can pinpoint us specifically, but he knows it is on these grounds.
- Kelsius - An alternative is he's worked out that when a Blood Dragon dies, his partner is thrown into a berserker-trance with a desire to protect the body of its fallen partner. If he gains strength from fear and anger, as you suggest, I hope he has not learned this weakness.
- Merdilla - No worries, cap'n; if he comes lookin' fer us, I'll gladly put him inta time out. He migh' be an ancient, enraged, supernatural immortal monster but he ain' seen the likes o' me when I'm really pissed.
The team passed though a large hall, not far from the hanger. In more peaceful times this lounge may have been used to greet guests arriving from the hanger nearby. As they took a few steps in something was wrong, there was a foulness in the air. But before a reaction could be performed by the group, the far wall split open. Glaring at them with two burning eyes, and using four trunk-like arms to pull the wall apart the great demon king snarled. His very visage threw Kelsius off-guard. In two of these four arms, he held great obsidian blades, but once emerging he fixated on the container Skarlthrax was holding. Noticing what it was, Khovost let out a furious roar that shook the room. Skarlthrax snarled in response, glancing at the container he held upon his shoulder before looking back towards the maddened tyrant that was Khovost, unsure of how to combat him and keep the heart safe in its vulnerable state - though it may have belonged to an archaic hero, it was still naught but a mere beating heart and a key to putting an end to the chaos around them. Before he could empower himself to fight, Merdilla stepped ahead of him, raising her shotgun and perking a grin.
- Merdilla - Took ya time, sweetheart.
- Skarlthrax - Get back. At his current strength, you stand little chance against him--
- Merdilla - Now since when did I start takin' orders from ya? Ya just hurry ta the transport; I'll keep this 'ere rotter busy. Besides, ya can get there faster than any o' us with that thing.
Khovost snarled. He pushed himself forward towards Merdila, bearing his teeth in a primal fury.
- Khovost - I have cleaved armies to reach you...little bird!
- Merdilla - Aw, really? Ya shouldn' 'ave. 'ow very considerate of ya. Ya bring me some flowers an' chocolate, too?
Skarlthrax growled, glaring at the scene with some fear for what was to happen next, although he managed to soon shake off his reluctance and hesitation to leave and began to continue onward to the hanger with the heart's container in hand, while its contents continued to fluctuate and pulse with growing, dark activity. The standoff was brief, as Khovost lifted one of the obsidian blades and swung it down vertically towards the Terratrix goading him on; with surprising reflexes, Merdilla rolled to her side and raised her arms - one with a grip on her shotgun as she pulled the trigger to send a forceful, sprayed blast of anti-Essence material towards the giant Draconis, one with an even tighter clasp around the neck of a bottle of synthetic glass, which she proceeded to remove the cap from with her beak before taking a swig of the alcoholic beverage inside. The two engaged in a frantic dance, with every swing, Khovost took a portion of the room with his misses, as Merdila darted acrobatically, scarring the behemoth with Essence shrapnel from her shotgun. This only infuriated the titan, who carved up the room in his bloodlust.
- Merdilla - Tell ya what, 'ere's some free advice; why don't ya try hittin' me? Ya got worse aim than I do afta nine shots of Paa'go and spirits! Or, ya know, ya could spare yaself the embarrassment an' just go back ta bein' dead already!
With a roar, Khovost slammed his hand on the floor, caving it in and opening up a hole into the hall below. Most of the floor collapsed, and what didn't fall in at first would have joined any furniture that slid from its position to descend into the pit. Merdilla squawked as she felt the floor give in from beneath her, and she could not help but drop along with the rest of the debris, and although it may have robbed her of her grip on her shotgun, she kept a firm hand upon her drink; she was not yet deprived entirely of her means of offense and as the floor was destroyed to reveal the room beneath them, she knew that she had succeeded in keeping Khovost, with all of his blind rage, away from the very key to defeating him and his allies. Khovost followed, as she hoped. Slamming down on the marble floor, creating a tremor and revealing his full and restored form: a small mountain of muscle in the shape of a four-armed bipedal Draconis, brandishing two long blades of obsidian. As the two scrambled to recover, Khovost's titanic foot descended on Merdila's shotgun, masking it under the demonic mountain with a screeching crack.
- Khovost - Your confidence betrays you, little hatchling. Your defiance has only fueled me. And as you die, your agony shall sate an eternal hunger for pain.
- Merdila - ... That... was my favourite shotty, ya big, rottin' oaf. An' the only agony I'm 'avin is listenin' ta you blabber on.
Setting her glass to the floor, Merdila reached behind her back and drew forth a pair of augmented and enhanced submachine guns, fitted with Yrsalimarus cartridges while she aimed the two of them directly at the great being that stood before her; due to his size, he was an easy target, and his vitals would be easier for her to attack. In a matter of moments, a hail of bullets were unleashed upon Khovost, aimed towards his face while she defiantly grinned.
The bullets screamed for their target, but mere inches from his skin they evaporated in flashes of light, Khovost smiling as he watched the tiny creature below him vainly attempt to scar him. The great mnster waited for the iniital realisation to sink in before he leapt to the attack, driving his swords to the floor. Merdila's brow had lowered and her grin transitioned into a frown as she drained her guns dry of rounds while bouncing about the great hall to dodge the great obsidian blades, throwing her guns to to the floor she reached for the grenades upon her person and threw them one after another at the beastly Draconis, before eventually resorting to her two handgun sidearms to unload on Khovost once again. None of the shots did anything as the two darted about the room, with Merdilla throwing everything and Khovost demolishing the once grandiose hall with his sheer bulk and the crushing power his blades provided. Merdilla was becoming frustrated at the lac kof effect her guns had and, realising that she would not be able to escape him if he charged for her now, started to become desperate.
- Merdila - Ngh... Ya think I'll give ya the satisfaction o' 'earin' me beg? Well, yer outta luck, but I got somethin' a lil' more interestin' ta say ta ya before I kick ya ass.
Another flurry came from the demon king as he expressed his unleashed rage, cutting two pillars into two pieces each. Evading the swings, Merdilla rolled along the floor and scooped up the bottle she had set down Merdila's smirk soon returned as she looked into the maw of the giant king, swilling it a swig of its contents around inside of her mouth, so as to savour the taste, and swallowing.
- Merdila - Ya might not be aware of it, but... I've already won.
- Khovost - You...what?
Khovost was suddeny confused, and he titled his head in response to such feelings. He had been so caught up in his bloodlust he had at this moment forgotten his personal objective.
- Merdila - Ya haven' figured it out by now? My lil' girl is smarter than this! Tell me, ya big rotter; where is the thing that ya were lookin' fer? I don' see it anywhere.
Khovost lifted his head and sniffed the air, worried at first, but then returning his attention to her. With a lunging dive, Khovost forced her to the floor and lay over her, the arm-sized teeth that adorned his jaws were on fully display as he rammed one of his swords into the floor inches form her skull..
- Khovost - A deception...
- Merdila - Agh... Well done, ya wanna sticker? ... I'll give it ta ya; ya bigger an' stronger than most of the rotters I've seen, an' by the trees, ya even look a lil' bit scarier than most too... but ya ain' half braindead.
- Khovost - Such a victory would not last. You do not fear death, I see.
- Merdila - Death? Bah, I've met with death a couple o' times. It don' scare me no more an' ya certainly ain' the most terrifyin' thing I've ever seen. What, ya gonna try doin' that "mentally break" thing on me an' keep me alive? I'm already a few screws loose in case ya ain' noticed. ... If anythin' though, there's one thing I'm gonna regret 'bout all this.
Khovost descended further, his great jaws now inches from Merdila's beak, looking slightly excited. The Terratrix simply took another swig from her bottle, her eyes glaring at the tyrant's own while she once again savoured the opportunity to drink.
- Khovost - Mockery will achieve nothing, little bird.
- Merdila - ... I'm gonna regret not bein' able to watch ya piss yaself as ya die when ya see how badly ya fucked up by comin' after me. That thing ya were lookin' fer? It's a heart; guess who it belongs to.
- Khovost - When he returns, he will die. We have grown, we are stronger. He has not.
- Merdila - Keep tellin' yaself that, rotter. Ya friend back on that island was lucky that she died quick, because when he wakes up, well... I've a feelin' he's gonna make sure ta finish the job as painfully as possible.
The captain took her last drink, finishing off the rest of the beverage in a single swig and throwing the emptied glass away from the two of them. While she appeared defiant and even grinned in the face of her demise, inside, her mind focused on how her young daughter, Lavlitta, who she had spent her life protecting, was going to be raised and how she would react to knowing of her mother's death. She focused back on the time that she fought alongside Paragon Uriel and her good friend, Vrom'Toorgh, against the undead horde that had previously arisen across Alcanti and how she had even faced off with them in a showdown within the walls of the very same palace she was to meet her end in.
The last things that would rush through her mind would be the memories of the times she spent with those she cherished, even as pain and aches rushed through her small, frail body in the titan's grasp. She glanced up at Khovost, chuckling to herself. She jerked her legs back and kicked Khovost in the snout, jerking his head upwards as she scrambled to her feet, positioning herself as if ready to box the mountain.
- Merdila - ... Well, what are ya waitin' fer? I've not got all day.
It was then the blows came. Not holding back, Khovost punched and stomped with full intent to crush her, the shockwaves of each impact with the ground cracked the marble and unbalanced her, eventually causing her to stumble. She rolled to avoid further punches until Khovost's fist finally landed contact, breaking her leg. Khocost delivered no mercy, pounding her body repeatedly with his fists until there was nothing left for her to pulverise, scattering her remains across the grand chamber out of primal rage. When the fury subsided, Khovost looked down at the stain and growled, a menacing rumble that echoed within the chamber before he vanished in a cloud of black smoke. The transport that had been readied to collect Skarlthrax and his luggage had already taken off from the hanger bay, leaving behind a scene of destruction across the city, while the broken, bloodied body of what remained of a Terratrix was splattered across the floor of one of the Paragon's halls, awaiting to be found by the remaining Blood Dragons and other staff.Captain Merdila Gilabi, saviour of Minos'Drakon, defender of the Paragon, and a true hero of the Draconid Imperium, found her final resting place among these halls, surrounded by grandeur and sacrificing her life so that others may live. Killed in action and in defiance of the enemy.
The political heart of the Imperium was a complex warren the size of a small city, but one part in particular held significant importance. As the promenade was bathed in the blood Khovost spilled, and as Merdila and Skarlthrax rushed to recover a champion's heart, there was another, although less bloody scheme afoot in the imperial capital.
Ditching his new companions to make haste, Secundus had gone to these halls - once the nexus of political discourse and the day-to-day management of an empire known i nevery galaxy, now empty - It was both expected and, to some, disgraceful that the politicians wer ethe first to flee the city. This however was a boon to individuals such as Secundus, who didn't have to worry about accidentally maiming some important flower of the adminsitration. The chamber of the Praetor's council was the worst smell, the kind he had come for. Inside Valchoria had forcefully summoned what adminiatrators she could, catching them remotely in their own homes using their own technology, and through abilities arcane she trapped them there for nefarious purposes. The Zazane watched from behind a doorway as he snuck towards the room she had taken position in, peeking into the room to spy on her and listen to her as she plotted and planned away to her heart's content whilst he awaited the perfect moment to strike. The praetors she had managed to summon, aroudn two dozen, were both surprised and intimidated by this creature that stood in the very centre of the house of the praetors.
- Secundus - Hehe, jackpot.
- Valchoria - I'm glad I caught you gentlemen, don't be frightened, because I offer a boon to you all.
- Praetor - Whatever you have in mind witch you can shove it back up your cloaca!
- Valchoria - You'll be first then.
Valchoria snapped her fingers and the praetor appeared in his seat, now even more shocked as Valchoria darted to him and coiled herself around his booth, smiling wickedly.
- Valchoria - You see, it's very cute how you all cherish your bloodlines. That drop of ancient blood flowing in your veins. You see...to me it's more important than some bragging right....far more important.
- Praetor - Whatever is cooking in that rotten head of yours, no deal! I will not be intimidated by vandals!
- Valchoria - Oh but it'll make your peers so jealous.
- Praetor - --It will?
- Praetor 2 - She's a succubus Galius, don't listen to her silver tongue!
- Galius - What could you possibly offer that will make others jealous?
- Valchoria - A charisma beyond compare.
- Galius - I'm interested.
Others could see it, but Galius was losing himself to Valchoria's charm. She closed in, a sweet smile spreading across her face as she tased him. She danced her fingers across his chest playfully a she spoke.
- Valchoria - All you need is a little waking up of your blood, and a little encouragement from me.
- Galius - Waking up...
- Valchoria - Here.
Her two fingers turned into a palm that suddenly buried themselves inside the man's torso. He screamed as golden sigils carved themselves on his body, illuminating themselves under the expensive clothes he wore. His eyes began to glimmer as he gasped in both pain and amazement.
- Galius - It is...like nothing...I have felt before...
- Valchoria - Embrace it. Lose yourself! Let me be your guide!
Suddenly, the wall behind them exploded as a wave of red, burning energy flew past them, barely missing Valchoria when it collided and causing debris, steaming and hot, to be shot across the room; Secundus stood in the doorway, one of his organic arm-blades outstretched and simmering with energy and dark vapour, while a confident smirk found its way upon his face as he had watched Valchoria charm and seduce the praetor. He took a step inside, casually leaning against a wall close to the door he had come through.
- Secundus - Oh, please, get a room you two.
Valchoria withdrew her hand, leaving the praetor to collapse into his chair. She turned around to see Secundus, a furious scowl marked her face as she took notice of the Zazane casually making himself known. The young warrior tapped his foot, folding his arms as he watched the Champion and his smile only grew wider upon seeing the anger on her face.
- Valchoria - This is no business of yours, whelpling!
- Secundus - Is that right? Last time I recalled, you're not a praetor either. Hell, you don't even look like a secretary. Too tacky for my tastes and, eugh, that perfume is too much.
- Valchoria - I am a queen you filth-bred abomination. Loved by billions and you dare mock me for encouraging more to follow me?
- Secundus - A queen, eh? Well, Your Highness, I suppose that if you don't call off your army and let the praetors go, then it'll be time for me to present to a king-sized arse whooping the likes of which you've probably never seen. I'll almost feel bad.
- Valchoria - And what if they want to submit to me? This dear man here seems quite satisfied with what I promise.
- Secundus - Please, you take yourself too seriously. There are many men who'd take a quick one-night stand if a woman proposed it. Besides, of course a load of people will be interested in you when you parade yourself as being as easy to get as you are.
- Valchoria - Tsk, tsk, are mockery and threats of violence all you are capable of? You are beyond your league opposing me.
- Secundus - Tough words for someone who prides herself on being a whore to get attention. You remind me of a certain chick who uses her looks and sex to get her own way.
Uncurling herself from the praetor's booth, Valchoria gathered a golden light within her claws, she moved at a speed that was unexpected for her size, darting to slash Secundus across the face. The speed was not what was critical, as if slapping him into a different room, Secundus found himself somewhere else, around him were Zazane twice his size, glaring at him as he stood in the centre of some form of Dojo. Secundus glanced around the room, scoffing at his surroundings as he assumed a casual pose and relaxed his shoulders.
- Secundus - Typical woman; tries to make me feel inadequate when she loses an argument.
- Valchoria - Do you know these Zazane?
- Zazane - I'm sure you can hit harder than that. I barely felt the last ten blows.
- Secundus - Hmph. Alright, I'll bite.
Secundus smiled again as he swung his arms, unleashing wave after wave of searing, devilish crimson energy in all directions, aiming to blow apart the environment around him alongside those within it as he wildly let his daemonic powers flow through him. In doing so he unleashed a torrent of blood, a hurricane that devastated the room. But as he reveled in what he was doing the others turned on him, charging to pile on top of him and press him against the floor while Valchoria watched. The blackness form the piling subsided, as he stood somewhere else - the tunnels underneath the old island base, scattered around him were the bodies of his companions - Skarlthrax, Merdila, Thakos and several others. Their bodies marked with jagged lacerations. Observing the bodies, Skarlthrax's head tilted limply, a scowl marked across it. Secundus shrugged his shoulders, almost bored as he kicked one of the bodies in an agitated fashion and looking around him to try and find Valchoria.
- Secundus - Is that seriously all you can do?
- Valchoria - You do not care for those you hurt?
- Secundus - I mean, I don't like collateral damage, but I barely know these people. I came here expecting a fight.
- "Skarlthrax" - Because that's all you want, isn't it?
- Secundus - It's what I was born to do. What I was taught, raised, and encouraged to do. So, may as well enjoy your work.
- Valchoria - That's all you are it seems. A weapon.
- Secundus - And a damn fine one, at that. ... Eh, bored now. I might go see what Skarlthrax is up to. The real Skarlthrax, that is.
Secundus turned with his hands in his pockets, exhaling agitatedly as he began to walk through the illusionary tunnels around him as, in spite of her efforts, Valchoria's warping of reality seemed to not have intimidated or bothered him much at all.
- Valchoria - Not the reaction I was expecting. But then again, you're a full man are you?
- Secundus - Eh? You're just not trying hard enough. I've been tested with worse simulations and scenarios back at HQ during training.
- Valchoria - Beaten, scarred, mocked, honed into something that will only kill. But you are a child soldier. Bred to kill.
Valchoria relented, allowing Secundus to leave through an opening back into the council chamber. Or at least at first, while this was a place designed for Draconis and thus featuring large furniture, Secundus emerged with in a chamber where the booths of the praetors loomed high above him. Looking back it was not the hole he made that he had passed through, but some vermin's hole in the wall. His brow furrowed, looking around and feeling somewhat unnerved at the sight of how everything had suddenly become much larger around him, and he felt that if his heart could beat, it would have skipped a couple of times.
- Secundus - ... Now this is... confusing.
- Valchoria - You grew up trained by these "Zazane", a few of them submitted themselves to me. And in understanding them I discovered something many Zazane have been raised to believe.
- Secundus - And that would be...?
- Valchoria - The discovery lies before you.
Valchoria made herself visible once again. Appearing in a flash right in front of Secundus, this time at such a scale that he was about as tall as her tail was thick. A gargantuan figure that stood over him like a mountain. The Zazane leaped back, looking up at Valchoria with a partially shocked expression as his body seemed to freeze, unable to move due to the surprise of her sheer size. He twitched and was left with his mouth agape, struggling to maintain his composure as he felt his confidence and dignity become slowly stripped away from him.
- Valchoria - What's wrong dear?
- Secundus - ... T-This is another trick again. I-In a short while, I'll blink and I'll be somewhere else, with o-other people...
- Valchoria - Then do so. If this unsettles you, let chance take you away from what frightens you.
After a brief second of consideration, Secundus lowered his brow and forcefully closed his eyes for some moments, focusing hard on the reality that he knew prior to the onset of her illusions and trickery, and he soon opened them once more in the hope that his surroundings and circumstances had changed. On opening his eyes, he was indeed somewhere different. Now standing on a building that at first glance appeared to be made of very large planks. That was until, Valchoria's hand entered his peripheral vision, sliding across the building's edge he realised he was now half the size he was before, and the building was in fact the podium in the centre of the council chambers. With him standing on its highest point. He almost jumped out of his skin upon realising that his perception and reality had been distorted even further, his attempts to resist her mental assault failing while he began to almost panic, trying to think of a means to break through Valchoria's methods.
- Secundus - Well... Should have expected s-something like this to happen...
- Valchoria - Chance has failed you, it seems.
Her voice was loud and booming enough to damage the eardrums of any normal individual, of which Secundus - fortunately for his ears - was not. Her grin only growing wider. He growled as he looked up at his opponent, clenching his fists and manifesting more demonic energy in his arm-blades as he focused on getting himself out of the situation before it turned any worse.
- Secundus - ... It's useless, isn't it? Trying to get myself out of this game... when you control all the rules.
Valchoria simply responded with a smile, folding her arms - of which the act of landing on the podium caused a mild tremor and she simply beamed at Secundus.
- Valchoria - The more you struggle dear, the more I learn of you.
- Secundus - Tell me, uh, miss... W-What do I have to do to forfeit? I-I mean... I feel pretty humiliated right now.
- Valchoria - You are close. Do you indeed regret challenging me?
- Secundus - Y-Yeah... Y-You really showed me...
- Valchoria - Then I shall be merciful. Deceive me however, and you may find yourself dwarfed by ants the next time you close your eyes.
- Secundus - D-Don't worry, I've learned my lesson. I-I should've known better t-than to challenge... s-someone like you, what with all your... experience and all...
- Valchoria - It pleases me to hear
Valchoria shifted her body, moving her hand towards Secundus. Wih a flick of her finger, he was catapulted backwards into one of the walls surrounding a booth. The impact made him blink, and when he opened his eyes in that split second he was slumped on the floor, now back ot a size he was familiar with while his body had damaged the area of wall he rested against. But above hi mwas a much smaller impact crater. With Valchoria still leaning on the podium, that wicked grin still on her face.
- Valchoria - Now run along little Zazane, before I change my mind.
Secundus stood and nodded, shaking where he stood before rushing away from the scene, aiming to rendezvous with Skarlthrax and the rest of his companions in the hope that they had picked up what it was that they had come for and were ready to leave the city with their transport. As he ran, he clenched his fists and gritted his teeth, embarrassed and agitated in retrospect of the situation that had unfolded before him at Valchoria's manipulative hands.
- Secundus - N-No one makes me feel inadequate and... a-and gets away with it...
Waiting until he had gone, Valchoria turned back to her initial quarry. Having to deal with the Zazane however had distracted her, and half the praetors she did have had disappeared. With the rest, she summoned a wicked smile and danced a yellow light within her fingertips. Much to the horror of the men and women she glared at with menacing eyes.
- Valchoria - Now...where were we?
The group returned in a sombre mood. They had what they had gone to retrieve but it had been at an immense cost. Phaelana and the elder Kaelus waited deep within the temple. When the group entered, she took one glance and feared the worst. Breaking off from her discussion she paced towards the group, Skarlthrax in particular. But when she looked at him, her eyes told him everything she wanted to ask. The Zazane shuffled where he stood, glancing away from the ancient, immortal Draconis so as to cease eye contact, while his general stance and manner was enough for her to know that he was discomforted and in a hurry; the container for their last, vital asset hoisted over one of his shoulders, the woman from another time knew that the weight of such equipment could not have bothered him to the point of uneasiness, thus something must have happened in Minos'Drakon for a warrior as powerful as Skarlthrax to return in such an aloof, distant state. Secundus was at his back, his arms folded over one another while his tail softly swayed above the brickwork floor and his eyes glanced away from his accomplices.
- Skarlthrax - ... We have the heart. For your sake, you had better hope this will work.
- Phaelana - It is Kaelus' duty to ensure he is preserved for the day he might one day be needed again. - she made a motion with her hand for the group to follow - Come, the sooner he returns to us, the sooner this nightmare can end.
- Secundus - ... Hmph, so you haven't anything to say? You haven't noticed that we're missing someone?
Phaelana stopped halfway down the hall and let out a heavy sigh.
- Phaelana - The true weight Skarlthrax holds upon his soulders and in his eyes tell me everything, child...I am as pained to her loss as much as you are.
- Secundus - How can you guarantee that bringing this guy back to life will put a stop to this? You all tried once before, now we're having to deal with the consequences of his failure. ... Even if the Aetomarchis' servants are defeated, they've built up another army of followers to carry on the cycle. How many generations along the line will it take until all this happens again?
Phaelana turned around to glare at Secundus.
- Phaelana - You have no idea how close to failing we were the last time. With your Zazane, with your guns and your assets, this cycle has a much greater chance of surviving my consequences than we were when he first emerged!
- Secundus - ... But you couldn't destroy him, even after you managed to put him down. How do we know it'll be any different this time?
- Phaelana - We lacked what you all have now. Thevixuias has yet to re-ermerge, that means you are already succeeding where we failed! When we buried them...we had hoped they would never be found. Not this time. This time. We will destroy them all!
- Skarlthrax - We'll not destroy anyone so long as we stand around talking. ... Merdilla bought us vital time to get this ritual underway so we can have a shot at bringing this incident to a close, so shut up and let's get this over with before her sacrifice is made in vain.
Phaelana looked to Skarlthrax and nodded, holding up her hand to recieve the container.
- Phaelana - I shall be the one to revive him. Hand me his heart, Skarlthrax.
The Zazane set the container on the ground, allowing it to land with a loud thud as the heavy, metallic object, influenced by the weight of its casing and contents, came into contact with the floor; in spite of the several layers of reinforced metal and damage-resistant synthetic material, Skalthrax's claws easily tore through the container as if it was made of paper, before kneeling and reaching inside to grasp at the contents that were hidden within. His forearms delving into ancient preservative fluids that had remained stale for an untold eon, Skarlthrax stood with another object clasped between his claws - a smaller, far more organic artifact that seemed to quiver and beat unnervingly in his hand, with a sickening aura of dark, forbidden energy radiating outward from its soft, shifting tissues. Secundus winced, his face contorting into a cringing expression as he saw his handler holding the asset that they had withdrawn from the Paragon's estate and its overpowering scent wafted through his nostrils.
Phaelana approached Skalrthrax and cupped her hands together to recieve the mass he held. Appearing largely unfazed by its disturbing existence. Without hesitation, the Zazane surrendered the object to her, growling quietly as he looked down at his soaked forearms and felt the presence of the accursed artifact even after it had left his hands. Phaelana accepted the object and walked towards the lake. As she approached, Kaelus moved his tail to allow her to pass.
- Skarlthrax - That power... What convinced him to turn away from the Aetomarchis when he was promised such strength?
- Kaelus - The Aetomarchis promised strength, but Tavaesenna promised her faith.
- Skarlthrax - And what of the others? If it was so easy to draw his acolytes away from him, how is it that they were not detracted by faith?
- Kaelus' - He once said he never knew anyone like Tavaesenna.
Clutching her champion's heart in her arms she swam to the bottom of the lake, where he rested in a dreamless slumber. A colossus of a Draconis, his powerful arms, adorned with thick, heavy chains arcanised with the dark powers that spawned him, were flatly stretched to his sides while his great wings and tail were pinned to the earth at the bottom of the lake, pierced by ancient blades and spears that had once been used to fell the old servants and soldiers that followed the command of the Aetomarchis. In the midst of the lake, its waters corrupted by the essence of the ancient warrior-lord, his corpse had remained almost perfectly preserved - for Phaelana, her old memories from when she assumed the name Tavaesenna, he had not aged from the day he was placed here.
In spite of how tranquil and peaceful the mighty Draconis appeared to slumber, however, there was but one example of evidence that served as proof for his deceased state; the flesh and muscle of his chest had been torn through and removed, split open to reveal the giant's shattered ribcage where a heart should have been present. In addition to the swords and spears that kept the hero's body pinned to the bottom of the lake, large hooks tore themselves into his upper body from beneath, essentially dressing the naked colossus in dreaded chains. WIth memories flooding back to her as she swam closer, Phaelana prepared to insert the heart into the open cavity. She took a moment to feel the torso of the colossus before gently slipping the organ into place. Pushing herself away once it had settled, she watched the resulting effect as she swam around to free him. With each hook she passed, she grabbed the tool by the implement and the base of the chain, and with swift yanks snapped each chain before extracting the implements and tossing them away. All the while keeping a close eye on the behemoth's torso.
Engulfed by the darkness of the corrupted lake, it was Phaelana's supernatural abilities that allowed her to see through the thick darkness that would have otherwise obscured the corpse of the sleeping lord from the sight of mortal eyes, yet one would not have needed the grace of accursed essence in order to have seen the eyes of the colossus swiftly shoot open, as if shocked with a sudden input of near-infinite energy, where once they had been calmly shut for forgotten millennia. A red, ethereal fire present in his glowing eyes, the warrior-lord's bottom jaw cracked open as the first sight his eyes had laid upon, piercing through the darkness, was that of his beloved Tavaesenna undoing the vices that kept him imprisoned away from the rest of the world. A harsh, raspy voice bubbled out from his maw as he made an effort to speak his first words since the end of the forgotten war of myth and legend;
- ??? - ... T-Tavaesenna... Y-You... live...
Breaking the last bonds she swam to him, floating above his torso where she rested her hands. She smiled to him, a relief so great that black tears crept out from under her eyes.
- Tavaesenna - Kavarrus...My hero. It-- It's been so long.
Almost breaking into tears she pulled herself forward, warapping her arms around him and hugging tightly. She was so overcome with joy she squeezed as tightly as she could and shut her eyes, while Kavarrus, reawakened into the world of the living, could only just crack the slightest hint of a smile as he struggled to move his limbs. To his perception of his surroundings, he was feeling an experience reminiscent of birth, for he awoke from a seemingly eternal, dreamless slumber into a fluid plane of water and darkness and would soon emerge to learn to crawl and walk once again. The warmth of Tavaesenna's body against his own brought him comfort within the cold, still water of the lake, although Kavarrus' mind soon drifted - his memories began to return, visions of his life before his millennia-long imprisonment, and the many horrors and nightmares he had witnessed.
His reawakening into the world could only translate to one thing in his mind, for he had made his beloved and their followers swear never to upheave him from his grave unless he was ever needed to fight once again; the world he had sought to save was endangered once again.
- Kavarrus - ... I-I... can feel him, Tavaesenna... The Sky-King... the Aetomarchis... F-For how long have... have I slept beneath this lake...?
- Tavaesenna - ...Since your resting, dear Kavarrus...The seasons have cycled themselves over three hundred and twenty thousand times.
- Kavarrus - ... T-This... is not our world anymore... N-Not the world that... I had left alone... The w-world in which... I had left you behind...
- Tavaesenna - It is not. The Aetomarchis, and his disciples still threaten it...Minosoras presently burns from their fury.
- Kavarrus - I do not belong to this world, Tavaesenna... and so... n-neither do they...
- Tavasenna - There are others awaiting you, Kavarrus. Allies. All four have awoken, only "he" remains sleeping.
- Kavarrus - ... I must act swiftly... I can feel my ties... to his essence, Tavaesenna... and soon... he shall slumber no more...
Above, Secundus leaned against one of the ancient pillars of the warrior-lord's hall, occasionally glancing to admire the sheer size and scale of the guardian Kaelus while Skalthrax's eyes were drawn to the floor at his feet - in his mind, the instance where Merdilla had offered her life to evacuate the forgotten heart played over and over in his mind, encouraging thoughts of doubts and causing him to question whether he had made the right decision to leave her behind. He knew not of the fate she was graced and could not be even be certain if she had died or not, for he had heard no reports of her body being found, and while he was trained and conditioned to forget the stresses of warfare and continue operating, it almost disturbed him how a mere mortal, fitted only with special equipment and no enhancements whatsoever, could face the monsters of forbidden history with such confidence and certainty in her actions.
- Skarlthrax - ... Kaelus. How many died fighting against the legions of the Aetomarchis before he was defeated?
- Kaelus - It was such a long time ago...But I remember cities burning. I remember cohorts felled by single champions. Tavasenna was right in our chances. She told me while you were away how you have designed weapons to injure beasts such as them.
- Skarlthrax - We're descended from the monster that terrorised the land of your time. There were many more of his kind across many worlds, each as destructive as one another and some even stronger than the Aetomarchis, and my ancestors thought we had put an end to them long ago. ... How many died taking up arms against him, mere mortals and peasantfolk as opposed to warriors enhanced with the dark curse you all possess?
- Kaelus - We were but a dagger-tip compared to the armies the Minosian high-kings sent to contain the Aetomarchis, his disciples and his armies. Those villages and towns that resisted - of which there were many - were razed by his soldiers...or the sorcery his champions wielded.
- Skarlthrax - ... Do you ever feel a sense of guilt for them? Knowing that you led many of those who can't stand before forces greater than them to their deaths? ... Leaving them behind to die to those same forces, alone and outmatched, while you continue to push your objective? ... Is it right to feel guilt for that, even if they are the ones who placed their lives upon the line?
Kaelus looked straight at Skarlthrax. And for the first time, he moved towards the Zazane warrior, causing the latter to take a step back as he was taken off-guard by the great dragon's sudden motion.
- Kaelus - Many times I was ordered to stem the tide of his soldiers, to spare a village from their crashing wave. I still remember their cries but I also remember what their bravery helped to spare. A cohort was sacrificed to evacuate a village and its farms. A thousand lives, for three hundred soldiers. To lead, Skarl-thrax, is to live with difficult choices.
- Skarlthrax - If reawakening this warrior amounts to nothing, then I have let people, who deserved no part in this feud among demigods and monsters, die for a lost cause when I could have saved them. ... But. You are correct; things shall be different this time. This world, and many worlds beyond, have dealt with, and are still fighting, monsters equal to and greater than the Aetomarchis. And now we have the weapons needed to put a permanent end to them.
- Secundus - I'd like to see that old bastard's face when he comes face to face with a semi-automatic machine gun packed with anti-Essence rounds for the first time. Hm... I wonder how Phaelana's husband will react to our presence. Surely we must look like this Aetomarchis fellow to you.
- Kaelus' - You bear some resemblence, yes. But I am sure he is still aware enough to tell you are not him.
The waters behind the great dragon surged as two forms emerged. Phaelana was the first, and carried under her arm was the great form of Kavarrus, emerging from the depths for all to see. And carried fully out of the pool by his beloved, who leant in close to him. Secundus stepped away from the pillar he had been resting against when he laid his eyes upon the grand form of Kavarrus, while Skarlthrax stepped back and analyzed the newly-reawakened warrior-lord of old Draconid lore. While nowhere near as gargantuan as Kaelus, Kavarrus as a behemoth that towered over Phaelana and the rest of her companions, standing somewhat shorter than the Champion Khovost when the group had encountered him in his chamber of magma beneath his island prison. The Draconis lord breathed heavily as air made its way into his ancient lungs, the first breaths he had taken in over 300 millennia, and he eyed his surroundings; eyes that almost burned from the light he was exposed to now that he had emerged from the cursed lake. Phaelana stood after attending Kavarrus and smiled to the group.
- Phaelana - I present Kavarrus Tarvaeus, the greatest obstacle to the threat of the Aetomarchis.
The Draconid lord swiftly doubled over and fell to his hands and knees, moaning and grunting as he proceeded to heave a large amount of black water and a dark, viscous fluid that reeked with the scent of corruption up from within his body and through his mouth and nostrils so that it formed a filthy, disgusting mess on the ornate brickwork of the hall's floor. The Zazane youth in his presence could not help but quietly chuckle to himself as he watched Kavarrus suddenly began to puke and vomit in front of them, while Skarlthrax found himself off-put by the sheer power of the aura that manifested around the ancient warrior so soon after having reawakened from untold millennia of deep sleep.
- Phaelana - Kavarrus is almost ready to assist us. Though he might need some time to adjust...
- Kavarrus - Eugh... I... I-I should have thought... more thoroughly about where I slept b-before... before I decided to go under...
- Kaelus - I'm sure you'll recover quickly, my lord Kavarrus.
- Kavarrus - You've not spent... three hundred and twenty t-thousand cycles logged with... such foul fluids throughout all the crevices of your body... Eugh. ... It is good, however, to lay eyes upon you once again, Kaelus.
Kavarrus recognised the voice of his companion certainly enough, although as he lifted his head to eye him up and down and analyze his gargantuan, draconic form, the warrior-lord faltered for a moment in contemplation as he seemed almost as speechless as his beloved's new companions were when they had first laid eyes upon him.
- Kavarrus - ... Y-You have done something... with your h-hair since I was last awake, dear friend?
Kaelus took a glance to understand what Kavarrus referred to, and merely laughed.
- Kaelus - A small disadvantage to such a long life, my lord.
As the group connected with the warrior-lord, one of Phaelana's lower-ranking followers ran into the chamber.
- Follower - Forgive my intrusion...The Aetomarchis' followers...They have found our sanctuary.
- Skarlthrax - ... Perfect. Just... perfect.
- Secundus - Oh, we've nothing to worry about. Now that our new friend is awake, I'm sure we'll be able to make them retreat without too much effort.
- Phaelana - No...He needs his strength. I do not detect His champions among them.
- Kavarrus - They must be awaiting their master's awakening... And I have my strength, Tavaesenna; I need merely to exercise so that I may adjust to fighting once more. ... What better practice than His damned occultists?
- Phaelana - The shuttle is outside...are you sure about this?
- Kavarrus - I have never been more certain. ... Why do I require a shuttle, however? Must you have me weave something? And if so, why have it kept outside?
- Phaelana - No, no dear. It is a transport. To help us get to his tomb quickly.
- Secundus - Think of it like a flying boat.
- Kavarrus - A flying... By the gods, what world have I awoken to?
- Phaelana - We can explain more on the journey.
Kavarrus stood tall and proud, rolling back his massive shoulders as he strided confidently ahead of his group of both new and old companions, his concerns for the state of the modern world pushed to the back of his mind as he brought his attention back to the more immediate matter at hand; the occult forces of the Aetomarchis had stumbled upon his tomb, thus he must now, for the first in time in 300,000 cycles, bring his fists and the power that flowed through them to good use.
The champions' warriors were already at the entrance when the group emerged from the temple. Seeing Kavarrus alive and walking gave a sense of hope to the settlement's inhabitants. There was cheering and enthusiasm, calls of joy as their lord had awoken from his sleep. Warriors not holding the barricade saluted to Kavarrus. No one dared say anything about Kavarrus' present lack of modesty. But for some, it may have been out of awe to see the Herculean form their lord possessed. The warcries of the cultists could be heard beyond the barrier, thousands of voices that echoed. The fragile security they had was broken when monstrous sarshan ridden by cultist cavaliers tore through the rock barriers to allow their allies to pour though into the sanctuary.
Skarlthrax stepped forward, reaching for a rifle in his possession as he watched the forces of the Aetomarchis, infused with the daemonic power of their otherworldly lord, make a maddened, bloodthirsty charge for the sanctuary, butchering and slaughtering any warrior that moved to oppose and halt their advance, while Secundus extended the organic blades in his forearms and perked a confident, sly smile as he made his way to the barriers so he could assist in beating back the tide. However, both of the Zazane, along with several warriors that were moving to reinforce the walls, were stopped in their tracks as Kavarrus walked ahead of them all, his powerful, demigodlike form radiating with power unseen for hundreds of thousands of years while he eyed the horde of savage cultists that assaulted his sanctuary - perhaps the last place in this new world that reminded the warrior-lord of his ancient past. Taking bold, powerful strides towards his opponents, a roar bellowed forth from Kavarrus' lungs, echoing outward for all to hear, followed shortly after by a stern, overwhelming voice just as loud;
- Kavarrus - Minions and fiends of the Sky-King; hear me! For I am Kavarrus Tarvaeus, High-King of Minosoras, herald of the very wrath of the gods, redeemer of corruption, and the very slayer of your foul, ancient lord! ... Awakened from three hundred and twenty thousand cycles of deep, dreamless sleep, I bear witness to a world still ravaged by darkness and the false god it stems from, for I find His army of madmen and cultists bellowing at my door! If you wish for your immortal souls to see life beyond your deaths, I shall grant you your sole chance to throw down your arms, renounce the liar that has seduced you with the promise of dark power, and cease this utter madness, else you'll only find your lives forever cast into the endless void by my hand!
Rather than deter them or send them running, Kavarrus' cries drew the cultists towards the colossus, brandishing their tainted weapons to strike his body. His mighty jaws bared and rage seeping from his maw, a dark, black vapour upon his breath, the naked giant clenched his fists and ferociously engaged; blades and spears shattered as they came to strike blows against his godly hide, shards of metal showering both the hero's allies and enemies like glittering rain as he made fierce, unrelenting motions with his bare arms, each empowered by unforeseen strength that could snap a coarlatus' spine to pieces with but a single attack. His colossal body moved faster than the cultists' mounts could anticipate, at the same time demonstrating strength and power matched only by their own ancient, dark lord, and flurries of punches were followed by a rain of blood, bone, and whatever remained of the armour those unfortunate enough to have crossed Kavarrus had worn at the time.
The giant's roars did not cease as he tore his foes apart, moving with supernatural grace and striking with immortal vigor, and while he killed swiftly, he did not kill painlessly. In mild contrast with the black and red worn by his opposition, Kavarrus' aura manifested as flames shifting between gold and black - light and dark - as his burning fury was mercilessly enacted. Cleaving like a plasma-torch through the cultist lines, Kavarrus came to act as a wedge to clear the hordes. In doing so he demosntrated the very stories that his companion had told; how lone champions could devastate entire cohorts of warriors on their own with little difficulty. Kavarrus' battle-frenzy carved a path to the gates as more and more warriors poured through the entrances they had made. As he watched, Skarlthrax heard Kaelus' voice in his mind.
- Kaelus - To sacrifice three hundred, to save a thousand. Our purpose has been fulfilled. Now, with lord Kavarrus you should fulfill yours.
Skarlthrax was quiet as he stepped forward, shooting at any cultists that had managed to miraculously survive the behemoth's ceaseless onslaught and using his serrated combat blade to cut down those that would seek to get close to him. Secundus disengaged the blades that spawned from his arms, folding them casually over his chest as he watched the battle turn quickly into a massacre while an impressed expression made its way upon his young face. He turned to Phaelana, nodding as he came to accept the extent of the immortal giant's strength.
- Secundus - I'm sorry I doubted you.
- Phaelana - You are forgiven. You would be amazed at what I have seen in my many years.
- Secundus - With power like that, it's a wonder if he fears anything. ... Why did he put himself away, if you don't mind me asking? Looks like he makes for a good king.
- 'Phaelana - He never wanted to be like the Aetomarchis. Good king or no, Alcanti changed after we sealed the monster away. ...We became different.
- Secundus - ... You going to seal him away again when we're finished with all of this?
- Phaelana - The first time it was his decision. On a world where space was an unreachable obstacle. Once the nightmare is over, he shall decide what our fate entails.
- Secundus - There's monsters to fight on other worlds, you know? People like him are needed to fight them. People... like us, I suppose. We all have this curse with us, after all. ... Then again, our societies are scared of people like us. Not because they don't understand, but because they do. They understand just about as much as we do. It's a wonder you were able to live in peace until we came along.
Phaelana was distant for a moment. She understood Secundus' words. But when she spoke next her mood was grim.
- Phaelana - It is a blessing...how little you know.
- Secunuds - Hmph, no need to be so rude about it.
- Phaelana - 'I'm sorry...That house was the most comfortable I had been for many years. But yes, they fear us for what we are. Perhaps we might find sanctuary on the periphery, where the mortals might ignore us. They have you, and Skarlthrax to protect them.
- Secundus - When this is all over, do you think you could ever reveal the truth to the rest of the Imperium? Just the Paragon, maybe? Uriel was close friends with a guy who also has our curse. It's gonna be difficult trying to cover all of this up.
- Phaelana - The paragon...maybe. He had a hand in returning my Kavarrus to me.
Phaelana looked up to see the hordes thinning.
- Phaelana - The sanctuary can clear the rest, we had better get moving.
- Secundus - Yeah...
The Sky King
The giant Kavarrus flew alongside the drop-ship, soaring high above Alcanti's central supercontinent. Looking down, Kavarrus observed in awe at the great tracks of irrigated land. Kavarrus and Phaelana explained to the others how in times past, this land had been dead. The ancients saw the endless dry expanse as a realm of death, the soaring temperatures and lack of rain coupled with the thousands of kilometres that separated Miminas from Ossilas created stories that no mortal being could travel further than a couple of hundred kilometres inland before their lives were claimed by the land.
It was this inhospitality that had made the desert the ideal place to bury the Aetomarchis. That was hundreds of millennia ago however, at a time when the Draconis personified nature as petty and emotional gods, beings beyond mortal perception. In the millennia since, engineering projects of monumental proportions mad this land ideal for developing large tracts of farmland. As Alcanti's population grew, so did the amount of this trackless desert that was occupied by the signs of civilisation. Eventually, this irrigated, tamed land stopped and the eternal endless deserts expanded beyond the horizon.
It was arguable if the climate-control systems were worth it inside the dropship: Valeria was most likely with the other champions, Merdila's remains were being prepared for the Alpenix Cluster, and what remained of Thakos drifted in the winds over Minos'Drakon. All that remained of the expedition were Skarlthrax and Secundus, Phaelana - overwhelmed by the return of her ancient love, rode on the old king's back with Valeria's journal held tightly in her arm. What was known of them, no one member of who was left were inconvenienced by sweltering temperatures, a lack of water or the punishing heat of the sun in these hostile central lands.
With Valchoria close to her side, Valeria descended into the caverns beneath the desert. Like other tombs of the immortal champions, the caverns descended deep into the ground. The Champions had arrived first, in securing the area and ensuring that none would interrupt them, their cultists populated the mausoleum in preparation. As Valeria was led in, she was hit with hesitation. A great stone table was positioned in front of a slab the size of a building. Taking in the size of this structure, Valeria stopped, unnerved by the magnitude of the sarcophagus.
Valeria was directed too look at the glyphs that surrounded the arch around the sarcophagus chamber. In awe, Valeria could not help but recite the carving.
- Valeria - "Bound I am for eternity forevermore...Until the day my blood unites with the blood of she who sealed me."...Phaelana wrote the glyphs, she sealed him away. But...why me.
- Valchoria - Is it not obvious, my dear?
- Valeria - Wel if the legend it cites is true, Phaelana's blood is needed to wake him up.
- Valchoria - She sealed him away, sealed us away, her own lover was entombed by her hand. Her followers vowed to stay in their monastery while she walked the encompassing plane. You...you smell of her dear Valeria
- Valeria - And this...I will awaken him?
- Valchoria - To end my hunger, to give you what you desire.
- Valeria - What I desire...what must I do?
They were interrupted when Dralkithus stomped though the entrance and approached the two of them.
- Dralkithus - Valchoria, I smell them. The betrayer and the witch approach.
- Valeria - "The betrayer?"
- Valchoria - Your friends are coming, Valeria. They want to destroy Him, incinerate his remains.
- Dralkithus - Proceed with the ritual! My legions will stall them until he awakes.
- Valeria - Wait!
Dralkithus had turned around and stepped towards the door by the time Valeria called out to him. He whipped around and stared at her with a scowl.
- Dralkithus - What.
- Valeria - Phaelana...I want to see her.
- Dralkithus - I wil lbreak her but...Fine. She can watch as the Aetomarchis awakes.
- Valeria - Thank you, general.
Dralkithus huffed and marched out. Valchoria moved her arm over Valeria's shoulders and led her to the altar, releasing a spreading warmth from her hand to ease the woman now fully under her spell.
Valeria was spread back-down across the altar. Raising a ceremonial dagger - an antique likely procured from from one of the higher-station of Valchoria's many acolytes, and marked with black patterns - Valchoria comfortably clutched hands with Valeria. With a drawn-out stroke, the dagger passed itself over Valeria's arm. With a scream that echoed though the chamber, dark blood ran from the wound.
Dralkithus looked up as he emerged from the tomb. In the distance he could see the outline of the AO-8 dropship. Moving to a prominent point, he was bent double from an outside influence. With a great gasp, some of his wounds closed, his scales festered and his muscles swelled. With gestures of the hand, great swarms emerged from the wounds in his forearms, realising what was happening, a disconcerting grin spread across Dralkithus's features. As if his body was shocked by lighting, Dralkithus threw his arms back and opened his chest up, releasing the loudest roar he could. From his body, a great swarm of filth and insects were launched from his orifices, propelled towards the dropship.
- Pilot - Buckle up everyone we have contact.
- Skarlthrax - Pilot, report!
Kavarrus could see. He felt a chill as the swarm expanded, hurtlign towards the dropship.
- Kavarrus - Dralkithus...
- Pilot - ...Oh hell BRACE OR TURBULENCE!
The clouds impact was like a blizzard of life, insects battered the hull and flew inside the turbines, the swarm was such great a volume that they were able to clog up the turbines and intakes. The swarms slipped between seams and chewed though seals, swarming the interior. Seeign what was going on, Dralkithus left no time and with a thrust of his leg, kicked one of the side doors off its hinges, sending the panel casscading to the ground.
- Skarlthrax - Everyone dive!
Grabbing Secundus, Skarlthrax jumped from the vessel, Kavarrus let out a roar that disintegrated the insects in a cone from his mouth, diving down and out of the swarm. Phaelana jumped form his back and as they descended the two of them released jets of fire from their mouths, engulfing the swarm.
When the swarm was vanquished, the group looked up. In the distance the dropship descended from the sky with a trail of black smoke.
- Secundus - ...What just happened.
- Kavarrus - Dralkithus. You spoke the Champions were under recovery.
- Phaelana - They were. I have not seen Dralkithus achieve such a feet since--
- Kavarrus - The razing of Katinus.
- Secundus - Come again?
- Phaelana - One of Dralkithus' greatest achievements was the collapse of the fortified city of Katinus. None of his soldiers were able to breach the walls. Instead, the Aetomarchis touched him, with such a link, he drowned the city in vermin. Thousands were devoured by swarms while rabid slikkids attacked survivors or devoured plants. For a week the swarms were rampant until at his command, they stopped.
- Kavarrus - If Dralkithus' talents are close to what he achieved at Katinus, then He is awakening.
Phaelana knew what this meant, but in her dread she kept silent.
Skarlthrax was more proactive however. As the rest of the survivors argued, Skarlthrax was moving towards the tomb. Looking skyward he saw soemthign descending from the sky. With a grin, and great bounding steps he approached the object's intended landing site. The object came down in a ridge not too far from him.
Approaching the impact sight he saw his objective: A metal capsule, still warm from its re-entry. Searching for a panel, he opened up the capsule and recovered several disk-like objects. Digging deeper his rummaging uncovered several large-calibre personal weapons, that for the first time in a while produced a warmth of excitement.
He returned to the group's landing site, as he approached he tossed each of the large capsules to the rest of the group.
- Secundus - Primus, what are these?
- Skarlthrax - Adjustable acceleration skins. Designed to amplify the wearer's postmortal talents.
- Phaelana - They're skins to make us stronger.
- Skarlthrax - To put bluntly. Thakos believed the Aetomarchis was a fourth generation descendent of Zagdala, which means our ultimate target is, to put with some inaccuracy, of demigod proportions.
- Kavarrus - Nothing crafted in the age of the high kings could scratch the Sky-King. But...this time we need anything to make sure the Sky-King dies permanently and stays dead.
The mausoleum could be seen from the ridge, masked Within the winding desert valley of the Deadlines. The champions had gathered soldiers and cultists in the thousands. The Aetomarchis was seen as a divine king, and the Champions were his heralds, for this, the land of the dead was their most sacred site.
Assassing the situation, the group realised that in order to get to the tomb, they needed to break the barricades the Champion's cultists had created. After some delegation, a plan was created: As the group's proven weapons of massacre, Secundus and Kavarrus were to break upon the barricade and absorb the shock of the armies that stood against them. It was to this task, the two of them were eager. Enveloped i nthe accelleration skins Skarlthrax had provided, the two of them prepared themselves: From his arms, Secundus erupted a pair of bone blades wreathed in fire from his forearms while Kavarrus charged his body, as if his skin was enveloped by a golden liquid.
It was then the two descended on the armies. Armed with the archame nergies that flowed though their bodies, the two entities carved a path of blood and broken bones though the Champion's armies. Secundus' blades sliced though entrail and weapon alike, the searing heat scorching flesh and melting steel while every blade that dared threaten Kavarrus' flesh shattered upon impact, opening the would-be attacker to punches and surges that would obliterate the hostile bodies. After breaking the initial lines, Skarlthrax and Phaelana followed with large calibre weapons.
The approach to the entrance was smooth as the two warriors carved a path of blood though the legions the titans had amassed. The tunnel down was in sight, but one obstacle made itself known: Barging though a squad of warriors, Dralkithus stood before the two warriors, his two kopis blades held tightly in his hands. A downward swing towards Secundus was stopped when Skarlthrax emerged, combat knife drawn, to block the two blades, pushing the blades away and delivering a hostile glare at the rotting titan general. Skarlthrax had a moment to turn to Secundus and commanded an order to the youth.
- Skarlthrax - The general is mine, run!
Having nearly avoided serious injury, Secundus could not retreat as his superior ordered. Clenching his fists and forcing the flames down his blades to burn with greater intensity, Secundus charged with a scream in Dralkithus' direction. For several tense minutes, the giant alternated between the two opponents, like the last time the three battled, he was able to hold back the two opponents. Every blow, every strike, every clash was resisted and countered as the entance became a dueling zone. Exerting his advantage in size and strength, several moments Secundus was sent aside while Skarlthrax foudn himself barely avoid severe blows. Even with the enhancement their skins provided, Dralkithus maintained an upper hand, the three of them moving at speeds that were almost blurred.
Phaelana looked up, worried at Dralkithus' new-found strength she noticed that peeking over the ridges were several dark silhouettes. Her mind flashed over the shadows, it dawned on her what these shadows represented.
- Phaelana - Kavarrus. The horizon!
Kavarrus tossed a few soldiers aside and looked over. As he did os, the shadows rose further.
- Kavarrus - What are those
- Phaelana - They look...like buildings.
- Kavarrus - ...Impossible. No, it cannot be possible!
- Phaelana - We need to get inside the mausoleum.
- Secundus - What's going on?
Secundus was able to quickly see the rising shadows, narrowly dodging one of Dralkithus' kukris.
- Phaelana - An entire city is ascending from the sand. It has to be him.
Kavarrus nodded and from a standing start he performed a flying leap, Skarlthrax and Secundus were able to lead Dralkithus from the entrance, and descending Kavarrus created a shockwave that threw dozens of soldiers back. Using this opening, Phaelana was able to dive inside the tunnel entrance, descending into the warrens below.
Valeria clutched Valchoria's hand tightly as she screamed. The tissue around Valeria's wound had turned black, the blood had stopped flowing, but what was left had discoloured into a thick black tar. Her muscles pulsed as dark fog coalesced around the altar, climbing up and seeping into her skin.
Her mind was a torrent of emotion and pain, the moment her skin was cut, the Aetomarchis had reached into her mind, or perhaps she had been submerged in the Aetomarchis' consciousness. Mere moments after she felt the sting of the blade, her mind was submerged in images of war, violence and death. After months of research, she witnessed first hand the era the Aetomarchis terrorised. His conquests and conversions flashed before her eyes, a continent on fire. She felt every blow ,every scar, every death blow. It was in this submerged state she fully understood him, why the Minosians feared him, why these titans surrendered themselves to him, why every effort was made to erase him from existence.
Through the Aetomarchis, each of the Champions appeared. She watched as Dralkithus threw down his sword before a massacred army, Thevixuias as she was pulled from the ruins of her village. Valchoria appeared frequently, giving him secrets and asking for riches and influence, she watched as the Aetomarchis effortlessly struck down Khovost, watching the old king transform from king to demon in an expression of submission to the stronger opponent. She came to understand what all of the Champions had gone through, what they had suffered. Finally, the memories focust on Kavarrus. Valeria didn't know him, but she knew where he fit into the mythology. There Phaelana tempted him from the Aetomarchis' side, she was responsible for imprisoning the sky-king, the words across the arch were hers.
Deeper she went, she passed the memories of the terror on Alcanti, catching glympses of the Aetomarchis' past before his arrival all that time ago. Through his eyes, she looked upon the great Zagdala, and although vague, his conquests rushed though her mind. There was no doubt now, the Aetomarchis was a Zazane: At some point in the distant past, the children of Zagdala walked the surface of the planet, the dark powers the commanded were as Thakos had suspected. In this one experience, all her questions on the past were answered. But all of her curiosity was dominated by Phaelana's manipulations. How every domino set up to lead to this moment had been of her doing.
As she struggled and writhed, the woman for which an anger burned had made it inside the central chamber. Phaelana kept low, avoiding detection as she crept towards the altar. Behind her, Secundus had followed, and once she was in position that's when she noticed he had followed her. He was hunched over, keeping low but with an eye on the ceremony.
- Phaelana - What are you doing!?
- Secundus - We lost two others who wanted to deal with these monsters alone. I...don't want it to happen again.
Phaelana was silent for a moment, her mouth open with guilt. With a breath she looked back to the altar. Valchoria continued to tend to the altar's resident as she writhed and screamed. In her mind a plan formed.
- Phaelana - We need to get to Valeria. If we can get her off the altar, we can break the ritual.
- Secundus - How do we do that with that...harlot with her?
- Phaelana - ...What exactly happened in Minos'Drakon as Skarlthrax and Merdila were recovering Kavarrus' heart?
- Secundus - ...I don't want to be reminded.
- Phaelana - You met her. Didn't you.
Secundus merely sighed., but Phaelana saw all the signs. She responded by reachign forward and grasping Secundus' hand, giving him a smile of confidence.
Valchoria comforted the transforming Valeria with massages. As the darkness took hold, the former Royal Academy scholar was becoming something else. Her scales took on a new shade, becoming darker while her scales became thicker. The horns that reached behind her head had grown, doubling in proportionate size. Down her snout, the flesh around her eyes had darkened and her hair, once a thick chestnut, faded into a coarse, charcoal grey. She more closely matched the giant caressing her, a quick gasp for air had doubled the volume of her torso. Valchoria looked on, grinning with eager malice as the transformations took hold, she leaned in to more closely observe her charge.
This was only brief, as a sharp whistle pierced the air. A screech loud enough to damage the ears of a number of attending cultists. Sharp enough to draw Valchoria's attention away from the altar. A scowl became a devilish smile.
- Valchoria - Well...I expected you to stand before me again.
- Secundus - Well I could not stop thinking about you.
- Valchoria - You are so sweet. But you are interrupting an important moment in history.
- Secundus - Well that is exactly why I'm here.
With a sharp gesture, Secundus launched a set of flaming bone shards in Valchoria's direction. She vanished as they approached her, causing the shards to impact against the sarcophagus. Secundus darted his vision, looking for her. She reappeared coiling her muscular tail around his body at such a strength he could barely move. Her seductive features vanished for a sharp, crone-like visage.
- Valchoria - YOU ARE BUT A CHILD, YOU DABBLING IN THE STARS' POWER IS BUT INFANTILE PLAY!
Secundus merely growled. As she was distracted, Phaelana was able to sneak around to the altar. Without Valchoria's vigil, she was sleeping, strangely calm after her torrent of pain. Phaelana crept up to her, careful not to disturb her as she looked over the large discoloured scar over the woman's arm, the tissue around it had turned black, the blood that remained was a glossy black, not like discoloured blood but closer to a dark syrup. As she moved closer to inspect the wound the arm moved in the blink of an eye, a large hand clutching Phaelana's throat.
Valchoria had woken up and was now scowling at her would-be rescuer, her features had pulled back in a vicious snarl. Burning like hot rubies her eyes created a piercing feeling in Phaelana's heart. She felt the sensation of the floor fade as Valeria sat up, baring her teeth and lifting Phaelana by the throat. Phaelana scrabbled to grip Valeria's arm.
- Phaelana - Valeria.
- Valeria - Everything I am...I see your claw.
- Phaelana - I didn't so anything I--
- Valeria - YOU LIE! The tombs, this mausoleum, even my blood is all. Your. Fault.
- Phaelana - Valeria, please!
Valeria only gripped more tightly. Then, the constriction stopped as Valeria was thrown across the room.
With every strike, Dralkithus grew fiercer. He continued to parry and take every blow Skarlthrax and Kavarrus harassed him with. His necrotic flesh belied its resilience and its ability to heal any open wound. Three inexhaustible warriors classed in an eternal struggle, each impact sent shockwaves that cracked bone and bruised muscle, but still on the three of them dueled. With a blade i neach hand, Dralkithus was blocking each strike even with a two-to-one matchup.
Skarlthrax had enough. Backing from the fight he entered into a trance, the high-tech skin he wore channeled the green flames that erupted from his skin into an intense green plasma that flowed like veins of pure light across its surface. With newfound speed, Skarlthrax returned to the fight, delivering new blows that created lasting damage. Skarlthrax demonstrated a new ferocity, pummelling his opponent like an enraged animal. Kavarrus watched as Skarlthrax delivered punch after punch to Dralkithus' skull, he realised that Secundus was out of sight, but so was Khovost.
That was before he noticed the shadow cast over him, turning around there the demon king stood. Times past, the two did not differ in height, but as the Aetomarchis stirred, Khovost loomed over his opponent. The warlord drew two blades of obsidian black steel from scabbards on his person, leaving a brief grace period before hurtling them downwards and narrowly bisecting Kavarrus. After leaping back, Kavarrus opened his wings and launched himself forward, generating enough momentum that he was able to knock Khovost backwards, following up the knockdown with a continual beatdown.
Secundus struggled but despite all his strength, Valchoria continued to squeeze him within the coiled prison she constructed with her tail. She teased him as he could feel his bones cracking.
- Valchoria - Such a shame your little distraction was in vain. Valeria is mine now, she has promised to help me, she is doing this to help me. You...you're in our way.
With what litle movement he could manage, Secundus clenched his fists, erupting the two blades from his arms. The velocity they emerged dug into Valchoria's tail, causing her to scream at a deafening level. With the pain she felt loosening her grip, Secundus continued to slice the flesh, enough that he was able to push himself out of the trap. As he jumped from the coils the floor, he found his fall lasting much longer than expected. When he landed, it did not take him long to realise what just happened. The distant position of the altar frustrated him.
- Secundus - Not again, not again.
Slowly turning around, the coils he had jumped from were now several times his height.
- Secundus - Should have expected this.
- Valchoria - You stand among giants, child.
- Secundus - Call me child. One more time.
Valchoria smirked. With a growl and a roar, Secundus let out a roar as loud as he could let out. He leapt upwards, and as he approached Valchoria's tail, used his claws to grip into her flesh. Now she was a mountain, Secundus resolved to fight her like one, she responded by flailing her tail, twisting about land coiling in an effort to crush him. Phaelana looked over, seeing Valchoria as she twisted and writhed about on the far end of the chamber.
- Phaelana - Valeria, all Valchoria cares about is her hunger. Her insatiable hunger isn't something she regrets.
- Valeria - She wants that hunger to end!
- Phaelana - She's enthralled cities, Valeria. Does that sound like a woman seeking an escape from her hunger?
- Valeria - When the Aetomarchis awakes, he can help her.
- Phaelana - She doesn't want help, Valeria! She wants power, she's always wanted power! Her hunger for souls is an addiction to power!
Dralkithus was slowing down. Skarlthrax was on the offensive, striking and pounding, refusing the warlord respite. A strong kick to Dralkithus' gut sent him backwards Savouring the final strike, Skarlthrax drew his combat knife.
- Dralkithus - You think...this is it? Once he awakes...We will once more be eternal!
- Skarlthrax - I don't intend for him to get that far.
Charging energies into the blade, Skarlthrax plunged the dagger as far as he could into Dralkithus' chest. The energies flowed from his hand and into the warlord's body, creating a searing pain throughout his body until such a point the body exploded into a powdered essence, scattered into the air. The dagger's blade glowed with a dark malice. Kavarrus meanwhile continued to battle against Khovost, each warrior delivering bone-cracking blows that produced impact shockwaves.
- Khovost - You were a fool, Kavarrus. Your ego, your lust for revenge.
- Kavarrus - I found my purpose, "brother"
Khovost gripped Kavarrus with one of his arms, lifting the smaller warlord up to eye level.
- Khovost - You have no idea how proud the Aetomarchis was when you surrendered to him. The Minosian Empire could have been his. He hoped you would march on the gates of Minosis and burn that heretical city to the ground. You could have built a shining symbol of his power where their infernal mountain lord dwelled. - Khovost began to punch Kavarrus repeatedly, challenging his unbreakable skin - But no. You. Refused. You placed love before Him. You let that witch control you. You let her seduce you. She cast you out. - Khovost dropped his victim and pressed a foot down on his back - You were a fool, Kavarrus. And when you abandoned his court...I smiled!
Khovost ground his foot into Kavarrus' back, pressing him further into the dirt.
- Khovost - With your decision to walk away, I knew the Aetomarchis would send me to erase you. Minosis would be mine as reward. Mine. After centuries of Minosian mockery their throne would. Be. Mine!
Khovost's stomping session was interrupted when a high-velocity bolt knocked him backwards. Standing with a large-calibre handgun in his grip and pointing it at Khovost, Skarlthrax snarled fiercely. Khovost was bleeding, something that surprised him, and gave hi mreason to hate this upstart opponent.
- Skarlthrax - Coronation denied.
Phaelana was able to push herself up, castign off some of the dust and rubble her landing had thrown up. Valeria was now climbing off the altar and approaching the sarcophagus that held the Aetomarchis' body. Valchoria continued to write about as Secundus climbed up her body, up her back and towards her head. As Phaelana stood up, Valeria took a moment to acknowledge her presence.
- Valeria - I finally understand your riddle.
- Phaelana - Valeria...you don't.
- Valeria - I could see your memories. All your years wandering, it wasn't just your beloved you are responsible for. The kings of Miminas saw what was in your blood. How many attempts did it take before the blood of the ruling classes were saturated with your tainted...filth.
- Phaelana - You think I wanted to give those obsessive slime immortal spawn? You think I wanted to terrorise the continent with my blood?
- Valeria - I think you wanted to forget what happened. You had power, they wanted it, you realised the only way to save yourself was to surrender yourself.
- Phaelana - You think probimg my mind gives you all the insight required to judge me!? My husband. My knights, myself, we were all feared. Those who didn't fear us saw a means to secure power!
- Valeria - How many died to your "children". And his heart...you let it tant every paragon for millennia.
- Phaelana - They stole it! I had no choice but to give it up I-- I made a mistake!
Valeria held the dagger firmly in her hand.
- Valeria - Is that what I am? Another mistake? Anothe child you didn't want? I will rectify your mistake! Only your blood will awaken him, and that is what I have...
Facing the stone slab, Valeria buried the dagger into her own chest. Her black blood sprayed its surface. As the dark substance stained the stone, the room shook. Outside the structure the others had seen continued to rise out of the ground. The mausoleum was the focal point of a dark city, and in the centre of that mausoleum's central chamber, the stone cracked. Two great hands, each large enough to clutch a car. Pushing the slabs away revealed the visage of a Zazane of titanic proportions. Six great spiralling horns reached back from his head, and across his skull were over a dozen closed eyes. Only three were open - one a glossy gold, one a stained bloody red, and one a sickly green. Pushign the stones away further, the Aetomarchis revealed the physique of a colossus, obscured by a growing armour of solid shidium, decorated with menacing patterns and dozens of faces.
A great shaking thud accompanied the entity's feet as they landed on the carved rock floor. Although hunched over, the demon was easily several stories high, but the mere act of standing up rearranged the ceiling, opening it out to the desert sky as he gave out a groaning roar. Valeria stood with open arms, this being's emergence halted the panic and fury of the battlefield. Outside, Kavarrus and Skalthrax took notice of the demon emerging from the ground, watching as a gigantic pair of wings unfolded, decorated in coalescing, dancing patterns of technicolour silk.
- Valchoria - After three hundred thousand cycles. He lives once again!
Secundus had used this momentary opportunity to plunge his blades into Valchoria's skull with as much strength as he could muster. Her scream shook the rock, causing cultists' ears to bleed - even outside, her banshee-like shriek caused pain to everyone who heard her. Through this pain and paying no attention to the feeling he was the size of her finger. He stabbed repeatedly, drawing blood with each savage retraction. He kept stabbing and stabbing, only prepared to stop when she did. By the time the Aetomarchis emerged, she collapsed, hurtling towards the ground, throwing Secundus forward who rolled forward, returning to normal size.
In his landing he had stared up at this new opponent, the Zazane-like giant that in his eyes was nothing short of a sun, a white burning light. And before him, arms open and in submission was Valeria, who almost broke into tears. For all he accomplished up to this point, Ecundus could not move. His eyes wide and wet with fear.
- Khovost - All you strived to stop, with his awakening, Alcanti will be reshaped. The ruin we have caused will be a footnote in the re-sculpting that shall commence. The city that surrounds us...is but a demonstration.
- Kavarrus - You've doomed the entire planet, Khovost!
- Khovost - We have only doomed it... to avoid the suffocating death it was falling towards.
- Skarlthrax - He's already dead, Kavarrus. You have a new target!
- Kavarrus - ...I was only barely able to subdue him the last time.
- Skarlthrax - You're enhanced, he's still waking up. Vanquish him!
- Aetoamrchis - Kah...var...uhsss...
- Skarlthrax - FINISH HIM!
Clash of Kings
Kavarrus bounded across the landscape towards the risen demigod. With black smoke emerging, he transformed into a form to better confront the Aetomarchis. In the central chamber however, Valeria looked back on Secundus, seeing him frozen and surrounded with Valchoria's embers. Phaelana attempted to approach her, but Valeria met her with a furious hostility. As she leaped to attack Secundus, Phaelana managed to grab her.
- Valeria - I only wanted to help her! I wanted to save her!
- Phaelana - Valeria listen to yourself
- Secundus - I did everyone a favour! That woman was sick!
- Valeria - Sick? She was suffering. I wanted to help her now get off of me!
- Phaelana - She tricked you, Valeria. She enslaved entire cities to her will.
- Secundus - I tried to stop her as she broke into the senate to make slaves out of senators.
- Valeria - Slaves...?
- Phaelana - She's a seductress. She loves the control her curse gives her.
- Valeria - She...doesn't worry about the hunger?
- Phaelana - It's what drives her.
Valeria looked back to Valchoria's remains. A moment of guilt - her guilt - washed over her. A great cry from above drew her attentino back to the giant that she had awoken. Looking up she could see that the beast and Kavarrus were in a vicious duel, exchanging blows. The great entity had erupted a pair of great bone blades, much larger in comparison to his firearms than the ones Secundus used. Skarlthrax was only able to catch a glimpse as he delivered the final blows to Khovost's worn body.
Standing above them all, Kavarrus and the Aetomarchis battled at speeds that defied their size. As the battle progressed, the two of them hit each other faster and faster, sending flesh and blood in large splashing portions descending, and delivering impacts that sent each other into buildings. The Aetomarchis' dark city was slowly demolished as the two giants stomped and smashed, the desert sun shining though their wings, illuminating the land in vigorous patterns. With a punch that caused Khovost's head to explode, Skarlthrax looked up, his brow furrowed as something felt off with the Aetomarchis, he almsot shared his dark red scales and his great bone blades with the young Secundus.
- Aetomarchis - You had everything, Kavarrus. When you were rejected, I gave you a purpose.
- Kavarrus - You made me a pawn!
- Aetomarchis - I lifted you from these vermin and this...is your gratitude?
Kavarrus tackled the Aetomarchis onto his back. With the use of his feet, Kavarrus attempted to break the Zazane lord's wings with several firm stamps. The Aetomarchis let out a great cry, a last move of the foot was caught and he pushed Kavarrus with sch strength as to send Kavarrus into the air. laying on the ground, the Aetomarchis loomed over him, aiming one of his arm-blades down.
- Aetomarchis - The truth is...you were all vermin. An entire planet of Foul, savage, shyrak-eating pond-scum. The blood, the burned hovels, it was all a blessing for what I saw.
The Aetomarchis proceeded to stab Kavarrus repeatedly, in the stomach, in the chest, with both blades, faster and faster.
- Aetomarchis - You. My champions. You were vermin when I found you, and you were vermin as you cleansed a continent.
He let out a great cry as a pair of needles pierced hi mrepeatedly in the black, climing all the way up his neck and to his head. Kaverrus lifted his legs back and delivered a thrusting kick that sent the Zazane demigod backward. Marching towards the beast, Kavarrus channeled a burning mass around his fists. He looked down, seeing that along with four fierce orange eyes, only one other eye was now open. Kavarrus fell to his knees, clutched the Aetomarchis by the collar, and like a jackhammer he pounded the Aetomarchis' skull repeatedly, eroding the armour and bone until his face was unrecogniseable, and he kept going, though the skull and to the brain. Punching and punching until the matter was but a paste
And then...he stopped.
Everyone gathered around the body. With Kavarrus stopping, the body was quickly repairing itself.
- Kavarrus - I lost count how many times we destroyed you only to see you return. No matter how thoroughly we destroyed your body...you would come back. Countless times, innumerable times. But before I abandoned you I learned one particular...talent.The millions of lives you stole, I plan to take yours.
Kavarrus rested his hands on the Aetomarchis' chest. He took several deep breaths, and began a peculiar ritual. The Aetomarchis began to panic - he could predict what Kavarrus was planning as light shone in the old king's eyes. As its intensity grwew, so did the Zazane warlord's hysteria, a frantic panic becoming the cackle of sinister laughter. Kavarrus could see the madness in the warlord's ethereal eyes as the final stages of the ritual emerged, showing in Kavarrus' body as great lights form his mouth, eyes and nostrils.
With only a brief warning, everyone except for Kavarrus vanished. The group reappeared near the crashed dropship, Moments later, there was an explosion, as if a nuclear device had been detonated at the site of the mausoleum.
The teleportation was not a comfortable experience as everyone was thrown to the floor, emerging from an ethereal place some distance from the ruins of the dark city. Standing up, Skarlthrax, Secundus, Phaelana and Valeria could see it before them; a bright flash followed as an explosion, a momentary star from within the dark heart of the ancient ruin, outshone the sun in the sky. Everyoen was far enough that they were merely pushed by the shockwave that folowed, but nonetheless everyone was stunned. As everyone looked at the distant flash, Valeria stood up, and with heavy fotosteps she tackled Phaelana to the floor.
Everyoen turned around to the commotion, Valeria had her hands wrapped around Phaelana's neck as her grip constricted the throat. Breaking from their trance, Skarlthrax and Secundus grabbed Valeria by the arms and were able to pull her off Phaelana and away, her newfound strength evident by their struggle to keep her from breakign their hold and diving back at Phaelana with teeth bared. In her struggle, she screamed and snarled with a primal fury.
- Valeria - I wanted to help them!
- Phaelana - Valeria listen to yourself! They used you, He raised a city by a ritual you made possible!
- Valeria - It would not have been possible if you were strong enough to end them! They would not have suffered hundreds of millennia in torment if you had finished them when you did!
Initially backing away, Phaelana began to snarl.
- Phaelana - You want to know what torment is, Valeria? You think I considered it cruel to trap them in their prisons?
- Valeria - They showed me everything, through his eyes I saw the entire truth! I saw him...the progenitor.
- Secundus - Who now?
- Skarlthrax - ...Zagdala.
- Valeria - you know...
- Skarlthrax - You saw the Aetomarchis' genetic memories. Most Zazane dream their parents' memories, but those with awakened Sin can see generations back.
- Phaelana - The Champions gave you half of the story, Valeria. Let me, and I will fill in the rest.
With nods from Phaelana and a look into Valeria's infernal eyes, Skarlthrax let go, prompting Secundus ot join him. Willing ot try, Valeria did not get up. Instead she lay on her hands and knees as Phaelana approached.
- Valeria - Show me, show me your lies. I...want to judge for myself.
Phaelana nodded, and rested her palm on Valeria's crest.
Images in Valeria's mind flashed, for the first she saw the ancient courts, there was outcry among monarchs, with some glaring in Valeria's direction. The next flash she found herself in the ruins of a Minosian city. With a terrible pounding, a monster emerged from the smoke - Kavarrus, fully submerged in the Aetomarchis' control approached her. Reaching out a hand however, the giant became docile. As the lighti n his eyes faded, they created another flash, showing each Champion as they were entombed, as each glyph was marked. A flash again, Valeria's arms were restrained by soldiers in ancient outfits as a Draconis in elegant attire approached, cooing seductive words. In another flash she found herself tearing into the bodies of monstrous Draconis warriors and statesmen. Exotic worlds, remote mountains, deserts, on occasion the shrine her beloved was entombed.
Phaelana lifted her hand from Valeria's head, the woman once thrashing and furious was now exhausted and visibly in pain.
- Valeria - ...H-- How many? How many... did...?
- Phaelana - In the veins of almost every highborn runs a trace of my blood.
- Secundus - You mean...
Secundus thought back to his disastrous first encounter with Valchoria, her fascination with them began to make considerable sense.
- Phaelana - Valeria Savarum of grand house Senteriman. I'm sorry.
- Skarlthrax - Disturbing as this may be, we have a development.
Kavarrus heaved himself from the floor, the air around him was thick with the fog of Shidium residue. One could not see far, but Kavarrus did not need to, initially he thought the battle over: The aetomarchis was but vapour i nthe air, a residue he hoped would be permanent. Taking some moments to confirm to himself what had happened, he began to chuckle, which developed into a laugh of joyous relief. Tilting his head back he let his laughter echo in the sky.
As he did so, more laughter joined him, not joyous like his but devious, mocking. The fog swirled, the mist becoming a small hurricane with him at the centre. In the centre of this storm something was forming the focal point of the laughter. Forming within the storm, the demon returned; an entity of Shidium plasma, gathering the fog into its body.
- Aetomarchis - How many times Kavarrus, have you destroyed me? And you never learn.
Kavarrus let out a jet-like roar in the demon's direction, shattering rock and blasting debris away from the funnel. But it did little to the entity forming within the fog. With a flick of the entity's wrist, Kavarrus was thrown sideways into a wall. Upon the impact, the entity floated down to rest their feet into the ground, burning his footprints into the rock.
Pulling himself out, Kavarrus turned around and with a snarl he stampeded forward, gathering energy around his fists he poudned the body repeatedly, slamming into the mass which distorted it and knocked the Aetomarchis about. After a flurry, the Zazane responded with a swing of his arm, on occasion it would miss, other times it would send Kavarrus flying backwards, burning him as the infernal plasma skin slammed against his body. In the heat of this fury, a duel ensued as both combatants slammed each other and unleashed their full strength in blow after blow, the impacts creating multiple flashes of light that shone though the fog and out beyond.
- Skarlthrax - The Aetomarchis.
- Phaelana - ...He came back.
- Secundus - Didn't we blow him up?
- Skarlthrax - Not severely enough.
From his pack, Skarlthrax pulled out a package.
- Phaelana - Every time we thought him dead, he would return a short while later. At the time we were unsure how or where.
- Skarlthrax - The city. That was his focal point.
- Phaelana - We were only able to penetrate his capital once.
- Secundus - What is that?
- Skarlthrax - If I told you, the Aetomarchis would learn.
- Secundus - So...what do we do?
There was a roar, Valeria stood up, looking furiously towards Phaelana. But looking back she could tel; there was no spell over Valeria, no trance the Aetomarchis was hanging over her, the anger she channeled was her own, and in that fury she ran to tackle Phaelana to the ground. Witnessing this, Skarlthrax primed the device and handed it to Secundus, keeping his attention fully on the two brawling Draconis.
- Skarlthrax - Get it as close to his body as you can. The closer it is to his body, the more effective it will be
- Secundus - Why me? What about Phaelana
- Skarlthrax - You wanted to prove what you can do. - Skarlthrax pushed the device twoards Secundus' chest - This is your opportunity.
Secundus gulped, but nodded. Indeed, this was what he had trained himself for.
With a leaping bound, Secundus landed in the centre of the fox. before hi mhe watched as two titans, one of flesh and one of fluid delivered shockwav-einducing blows to each other. it was hard to tell who was winning, but with the fog surrounding him it appeared the Aetomarchis was unstoppable. Secundus took another look at the package as it glowed softly - he needed to get as close as possible but whatever this was to rid the Aetomarchis, it would surely harm him and Kavarrus as well.
His thoughts were distracted when Kavarrus landed beside him.
- Kavarrus - What are you doing?
- Secundus - To be honest? Still trying to work that out.
Kavarrus let out a huff, both of them were able to jump to narrowly avoid a blast of plasma that hit where Kavarrus was once laying down, the two got back together.
- Secundus - Skarlthrax-- Primus send me in here with this. He thinks this is what we need.
- Kavarrus - I've worked it out, he's weakening. - he and Secundus dodged again, in retaliation Kavarrus cast a bolt of lightning in the Aetoamrchis' direction - Every time we destroyed him last time he would reform here. In this city.
- Secundus - And he'll keep rebuilding himself.
- Kavarrus - Not quite, I think he assumed this form out of desperation. He was not fully restored when awakened, this is his last defense.
- Secundus - So destroy the plasma?
- Kavarrus - Indeed!
- Secundus - How well have you been doing?
Kavarrus was caught by surprise as a large fist punched him from underneath the jaw, sending him flying upwards.
- Secundus - I'll take that as a "not very well."
The Aetomarchis stared down at the new foe he found in Secundus, brandishing one of the great blades of bone bound to his arms - which under his new form had solidified into a crystal structure - he lunged downward. Secundus flipped backward, narrowly missing as the blade impaled the ground. Secundus sued the opportunity to jump on the behemoth, the great demon warlord staring down at him. Secundus leapt to strike at the Aetomarchis' face, brandishing his own arm-blade to cut the demon's flesh. A the edge skimmed the great visage, it dissolved against the skin, leaving no wound no cut but leaving Secuntus with an inept bone dagger sticking from his wrist, the remains smoking where there was once solid bone. Secundus had barely enough tiem ot react when a great arm slapped him aside, throwing him into a far wall.
Kavarrus climbed up from his ditch, taking a glance to see Secundus clumped against the wall. Breaking his focus on the Aetomarchis, he ran for the Zazane, scooping him up as the Aetoamrchis launched a lance of plasma from his mouth at the wall. Kavarrus barely scooped Secundus up when the blast shattered the wall.
- Kavarrus - How are you feeling?
- Secundus - Like an angry koda just threw me around.
- Kavarrus - Not far off I suppose.
- Secundus - I thought you said he was weakening.
- Kavarrus - He's unstable. I think this fog is keeping his body together.
- Secundus - Skarl gave me something but I don't know what it will do. I presume it'll hurt him.
Kavarrus did not look pelased, but he understood the stakes were high. After finding somewhere secure, Kavarrus put Secundus down.
- Kavarrus - What is your strategy?
- Secundus - Skarl primed it before sending me off. Get close, ram...whatever this thing is down his throat. Problem solved
- Kavarrus - If it fails?
- Secundus - I'm staying optimistic.
With that, Secundus bolted. The Aetomarchis continued to cast his wrath upon the entire city, throwing plasma and lighting across the environment. The two warriors jumped and darted twaards the godlike figure, avoiding the hazards. As they got closer, Kavarrus ran in front, throwing punches as the Aetomarchis aroudn the legs. When the two were deeply in combat, Secundus stepped up, sprinting towards Kavarrus' back. With oen final bound, Secundus used his partner as a pringboard, dodging a large fist and grasping the king's lower jaw. The king responded by swaying his head about, hoping to throw the young Zazane off him.
Finding the right moment, Secundus lobbed the package inside the Aetomarchis' mouth, slipping it down his throat. He leapt off the king's jaw and tugged Kavarrus away.
- Aetomarchis - All that madness..when all poison dies in my body.
- Kavarrus - What was it supposed to do?
- Secundus - Maybe it needs a moment?
The Aetomarchis gathered plasma in his hands, glaring at the two warriors that stood in front of him, as he stepped forward he was interrupted when a cramp in his stomach lurched him forward. He looked down, spreading fron his wiast, the plasma that made up his body was dissolving. His body was breaking up, turning confidence to dread. With a great roar he appeared to spray a vapour into the air.
- Kavarrus - Now?
- Secundus - Okay now we run.
Screaming with what remained of his lungs, the Aetomarchis expelled a silver vapour into the air that cleared the fog. As soo nas they could, the two vanished.
Valeria unleashed all her rage on Phaelana, pounding repeatedly in the face and torso. Skarlthrax struggled to hold her back, grabbing an arm to which she flinched and punched him in the crest.
- Valeria - This sickeness, the curse, you condemned billions to this. I only wanted to help! I want to fix your mistake!
When Valeria appeared to have her prey helpless was when she struck back, Phaelana grabbed Valeria's fists, and while Skarl had struggled Phaelana - though shaking - appeared to keep their position locked.
- Phaelana - You think I did nothing in all those millennia? I knew what I had done. I accepted it, and with my freedom I fought to fix it all. - With a grunt, Phaelana threw Valeria over her head, boosting with a kick in the stomach. Using this opportunity, she stood up to glare down.
- Valeria - How...he blessed me?
- Phaelana - he blessed you but you are still a blunt instrument. You do not know your strength like I know mine. You needed him to control you. All his champions did
Phaelana looked up, the flashes had stopped emanating from the city and the fog of Sin was clearning. On the winds that swept over the group, Phaelana could hear a roar that told her everything. From the north, drop-ships and transports approached the outskirts of the site. As the mist cleared, hundreds of civilians could be seen emerging from the ruins confused and frightened.
- Phaelana - His hold has broken...It's over.
- Valeria - The curse. The blood in my veins...
- Phaelana - He will no longer whisper to you.
Kavarrus and Secundus appeared in a cloud of black smoke, both of them falling over. The three of them looked over to the embattled warriors and ran towards them. Phaelana was first to respond, wrapping her arms around Kavarrus and holding him tight. She was almost in tears over the reunion, to which Kavarrus responded by holding her in his arms. Lying on his back, Kavarrus saw Skarlthrax stand over him, to the east, the sun was rising, casting Kavarrus in silhouette over his junior companion.
- Secundus - So...Did I do good?
Skarlthrax appeared to grimace, but smirked and offered a hand to help Secundus up. Two craft landed near the group
- Skarlthrax - You were...effective.
- Secundus - I'll accept that
Secundus shrugged as response. Valeria sat on the ground. Her rage had subsided and through clear eyes she looked at the reunion, her attention turning to the way Phaelana and Kavarrus felt about each other. After offering her beloved a close embrace, Phaelana moved to approach Valeria. She offered a comforting hand on Valeria's shoulder. She was slow in responding to this act of comfort, but upon recognising she weakly brushed it aside.
- Phaelana - I'm sorry Valeria. I wish I could have prevented this.
- Valeria - No. I wish I hadn't been so...so stupid. I should never have opened that vault.
- Phaelana - Valeria...I have been running for much of my life. From the Champions, from kings and dukes who saw me as a source of heroic scions, perhaps even this institute of your friends could have an interest in me. I hoped I would never need to worry about some fool awakening the Aetomarchis and his servants again. I didn't think he could be ended permanently.
- Valeria - You were that convinced?
- Phaelana - Kavarrus...he was bound to him, they all were, even you were. Whenever we were able to subdue him, destroy his body, Kavarrus talked of whispers.
- Valeria - I hear no whispers.
- Phaelana - Which makes me relieved.
Valeria stood up from her spot on the ground. As soldiers wearing the colours of Alcanti's terrestrial defense force approached her, she lowered her head and raised her arms in submission.
- Valeria - My name is Valeria Sentimerion, illuminate senior of the Royal Academy's palaeohistory department. I request asylum int othe Royal Academy's Orovilus Program.
Skarlthrax gave a glance towards her as she mentioned these words. A large cigar was in his mouth, embers burning red at the end. But he gave her only a moment's attention, looking back on the ruined city as people were collected as the sun rose from the western horizon.
Several days later Elios Sarovus woke up startled form his bed. His memory of the past few days was hazy. They were feverish, frantic, and hard to recall. To clear his head he pulled himself out of bed, the sun shining though plate glass windows in his central Miminan apartment and though the tinted window of his bathroom. Running cold water in the sink, Elios splashed his face with water. After the third impact an image flashed before his eyes of a serpentine face, golden as the morning rays and eyes like stars themselves.
He gasped as he staggered back. The sink continued to flow with cold water as he pressed himself against the door. A few moments was all he needed; it was nothing, an afterthought from fading a bad dream surely. He resumed to wash his face, drying with a warm towel and applying lotion as he usually did from the medicine cabinet.
As he turned around to leave, something was in the mirror from the corner of his eye. That same face, smiling. Barely in his peripheral vision he barely thought anything of it. Only stopping to peek at the mirror but only seeing his own reflection.
He shrugged, and left the room to get dressed.