Taking a deep breath, Drake pulled the blanket away, revealing The Energizer. “As Rex said, this may enable us to beat the blood oath.”
Alf grabbed the side of the hole and hauled himself up. Wiping the dirt and blood from his palms onto his torn garments, he leaned in to take a good look at the white object in Drake’s hands. “What does it do?” he asked, the beginnings of hope and curiosity flooding his mud-smeared face.
“We don’t have time to go into the details, just think of The Energizer as an endless battery which will let us draw an infinite amount of energy from it.” Drake carefully shifted the heavy object so the others could get a good look.
Rex’s father leaned over and scrutinized the weird piece of machinery as he rubbed his beard. “So, a bottomless magic pool then?”
“Hmm, that does sound useful. But if my boys’ report on how strong this foul demon is, is correct, I don’t see how something like this can help us,” Mr. Havanger stated.
“That’s actually where you come into play.”
The older gentleman raised an eyebrow.
“Rex told me you’re a master at shield magic.”
A proud smile spread across Rex’s father’s face and his chest puffed outwards. “I am.”
“Can you reshape an existing shield and at the same time let allies in and out without turning it on and off?”
“I can, but that’s a tall order, and it takes a lot of energy. At most, I might be able to do it once or twice. After that I’d…”
Rex tapped the Energizer meaningfully, cutting his father off.
“Ah, I see. What’s your plan then?”
“I’ll tell you, but first,” Drake turned to Gerhard, “would you use the TAG to tag this?” He held out The Energizer to her.
The tall, bulky woman nodded and motioned to Katerina.
Katerina disappeared behind one of the medical drapes and shortly reemerged with the black, oddly-shaped trans-automatic geographer. She handed it to Drake.
Carefully balancing The Energizer on one arm, he tagged it then handed the small object back to her. “Thank you.”
She smiled, her white teeth shining brightly against her dark skin, then once again disappeared behind one of the curtains.
Drake turned to Rex’s father. “Using the energy from this thing, I need you to make the most powerful charged shield you are capable of.”
Mr. Havanger frowned then looked at The Energizer dubiously. “You just added a wad of frequencies to an already complicated piece of machinery. You sure that thing’s safe?”
“I am,” Drake assured him.
He huffed. “Alright, but I still don’t understand what you’re planning.” Cautiously taking the artifact from Drake, he placed his hand on the metal surface.
The ancient, battle-hardened warrior’s forearm’s hair stood on end as he drew energy from the artifact. A gentle hum filled the room, and a soft blue glow enveloped the device.
Drake sighed in relief; his assumption had been correct. With growing confidence, he said, “With the help of The Energizer, once the shield is up, you should be able to bend the shield to cover all of us at will.”
Alf’s eyes lit up in comprehension. “You’re planning on using the tactic that Kay used, aren’t you?”
“Indeed, with this, Traverse Wake, and as many people as we can get to help us, we will become a giant, armored, moving battleship.”
The unsuspecting trio fell to the ground, now nothing but white, lifeless husks. Dy’Ixion licked his lips and his eyes rolled back into his head in ecstasy as their energy flooded into him.
You’re a monster! some deep, inner part of him screamed.
He burst out in laughter, a trace of insanity lacing the loud, grating sound. With each usage of the dark magic, Dy’Ixion’s sanity gradually corroded away like acid eating metal. Part of him screamed in protest, concerned over the dark path he had embarked upon, but he pushed it aside without a care. “So what?” he said out loud as his wild, jagged eyes raked over the citizens huddled around the arena’s main entrance, staring in fear into the dark night in his direction. In his mind’s eye, he could see them shivering in terror from the screams of his prey, and his mouth twisted into a smile.
Don’t you see? the long suppressed part of him yelled, clawing itself to the surface. Your power has gone to your head! At this rate, you will destroy us!
Lord Dy’Ixion rolled his eyes. No! At this rate, I will rule all of Alfireá.
You will rule nothing! the voice echoed its earlier sentiment. If you continue down this path, you will lose your mind and your soul; then Vackzilian will put you down like a master puts down a rabid dog. You must sto-
“ENOUGH!!” Dy’Ixion screamed. “I will hear no more of this.” And with that, Dy’Ixion shoved the tiny voice back into the dark recesses of his mind, once again to be imprisoned in the bonds of his selfish ambition.
A small light flashed by his fingers as his time notification spell went off. “Ah, their time is up,” he purred.
Reaching out, he grabbed a handful of black flames slowly crawling up the wall of the building next to him, then tossed it to the ground as he channeled all of the life energy from one of the men he had just killed into it.
The flame roared to life, expanding into an obsidian blaze towering over him, and he strolled through the dark portal. The world shifted around him, and Dy’Ixion walked out onto the pile of dead solders he had massacred earlier. He paid them no mind as he stepped down and made his way to the edge of the crater. Mist and black flame hissed and seethed as they swished back and forth in its murky depths.
Perfect, he thought as he pushed a burst of energy into the ground. Once again, the earth beneath him surged upwards, raising him high into the sky. As the cold night air whistled past, nipping at his arms and legs, he scanned the horizon. Small black flames clung to every building surrounding the arena, ready to swallow his unsuspecting victims whole. The pillar finished rising, and Dy’Ixion stood amongst the heavens, observing his soon-to-be playground. The harsh cry of vultures and lonely whistle of the wind sounded in the otherwise silent night. Abandoned buildings stretched out thousands of feet around him, framed by agricultural fields, and in the far northeast, sat the arena bristling with lights and motion. Excitement surged inside him; his plan was in place, and now it was time for the icing on the cake.
Throwing his arms outwards, he spread both his hands and two fireballs exploded into existence at the tips of his fingers. While Dieiexion had been forced to learn earth magic to survive, fire had always been his favorite element; he loved watching things burn into little black cinders and drift away in the wind. Like a moth pulled to the flames, the scent of billowing smoke, and the uninhibited dance of golden flames, infatuated him. Now, with his mind unraveling with each usage of the dark magic, his inhibitions melted away. He watched in fascinated glee as he charged energy into the spitting balls of fire until each grew to the size of his head. Then he turned his attention to the golden lights of the arena far below. The trick is to scare the ants just enough that they flee the arena’s protection, but not too much that they overwhelm my traps, he thought to himself as he channeled dark magic into the beautiful crimson spheres. Blackness engulfed their flames, warping their color and enhancing their beauty. Dy’Ixion smiled, his yellowed teeth flashing in the moon-filled night; then leaning forward, he launched them at the open roof of the arena.
Silent as a hawk diving towards its oblivious victim, they flew off into the night, blending with the shifting darkness. As the flames reached the halfway mark, he activated the tachyons spell set and used it to form his giant shadow over the top of his prey.
Red eyes inside his shadow flared to life, and the scurrying insects froze in terror.
Every part of Dy’Ixion’s being reveled in the sensation as he projected his voice through the shadow.
“Your time is up!” he snarled. “Prepare to suffer the consequences!”
With a roaring hiss, his fireballs flew through his black shadow and rained down on the pathetic creatures. Thousands of citizens screamed in terror as they jumped over the railings and down into the arena in a desperate attempt to escape his obsidian flames. Turning his head and raising his hand to his ear, Dy’Ixion swore he could hear the plebeians’ horrified screams all the way up on his earthen tower.
“This is going to be easier than taking candy from a baby,” he said as he stomped his foot and his pillar started to sink back into the earth.
As he descended, the moist, tropical warmth once again embraced him and he breathed deeply of the scent of fire and death. Yes, he would consume the citizens one by one; then, once he was strong enough, he would swallow the arena whole, and when he was done, even Vackzilian would be powerless before him.
Drake stood in the infirmary in front of a scrying depicting his plan when Soul Knight erupted from the hole leading to the finished tunnel, shortly thereafter followed by a man Drake recognized as one of the X soldiers Zaphaniea had fought earlier. They raced over to Mr. Havanger’s side, and with dour faces, gave him their report. Seconds later, the X soldier produced a scrying and the older man’s countenance fell.
“We have to attack now!” his uncle thundered, marching towards Drake’s position.
“We can’t,” Rex argued. “The plans not ready yet.”
“Forget the plan,” his father said, wrapping a sheathed blade around his waist. “We’ll just have to attack with what we have. I hope to God it’s enough.”
Drake raised an eyebrow at the older gentleman.
“This is Claudius, leader of the X Soldiers. Go ahead Claudius, show them what you showed me,” Mr. Havanger waved his hand at the X soldier, then crossed his arms.
Claudius, an older gentleman—almost as old as Mr. Havanger—sporting a gladiator haircut and a short trimmed beard, channeled energy into his scrying and repositioned it to eye level.
In its image, black flames could be seen crawling up the side of Glandledale’s buildings. “The blood oath’s covered all the structures around the arena with this stuff. I think he plans on sucking the life from everyone here,” the X soldier said. “My men and I our trying our best to block all the exits and stop any one from running out into it, but that thing just paid another visit and the people are panicked. We’ll be overrun any second.”
Drake turned around to stare up at his now useless, elaborate plan. If waiting till everything was in place only meant a few foolish morons got devoured it wouldn’t be so bad, but with dark magic, things did not work that way; for every man Dy’Ixion killed, he’d get stronger, thus lessening their chances of success.
“We have to kill him right now, don’t we?” Alf asked, his face and arms now clear of the earlier dirt and grime. Someone had used a cleaning spell on him and handed him a new set of clothes, but the young High Lord still looked weary in the eyes, and his face shone with uncertainty.
Drake nodded and cast a meaningful glance at his uncle.
“All right,” Mr. Havanger clapped his hands. “Everyone into the hole. Let’s do this.”
As his uncle and his men piled into the newly formed exit way, Drake turned to the silver-haired maid.
“I and my sisters will stay here,” she said as if she’d read his mind. “If our shields fall, my sisters and I, along with the healers, will help carry the wounded into the tunnel and collapse it behind us.”
Once again, Drake nodded and turned towards the hole. They were all jumping into the unknown, and their chance of success hung on a tiny piece of machinery and a half-baked plan. It was sheer lunacy. God, if you’re really real, he thought, then we need your help now. And with that thought, Drake jumped into the hole.
Dy’Ixion stared at his array of scryings, his hands twitching in anticipation. Any second, hundreds of people would break through the barricades—and the pathetic fools trying to stop them from fleeing—and into the city.
“That’s it, just a little more,” Lord Dy’Ixion crooned. The earthen barrier blocking the front entrance of the arena crumbled, and a stream of souls trampled the soldiers desperately trying to stop them.
“Yes!” he shouted as the living tide flowed out over the plaza and raced for the alleyways. Like rivulets of water running down a glass window, they split into multiple columns and poured into the city.
Dy’Ixion cackled with joy as he threw his arms wide and the black flames clinging to the outlaying buildings roared to life, reaching out to engulf the fleeing mobs.
Suddenly, the dark night flared and brilliant, golden light swept over Dy’Ixion from behind. Startled, he spun around and raised his hand to block the light as a ship-sized shield, in the shape of a golden beetle, materialized in front of the mound of his dead army.
While his mind struggled to comprehend what he was seeing, the yellow shield folded in on itself and pulled back, revealing a swirling mass of red fire.
Spanning twenty feet in diameter, the molten sun blazed in a fiery storm of dancing red and blue flames. It was a perfect sphere, masterfully formed, and kept in absolute captivity. Dy’Ixion gazed in fascinated wonder, lost in its mesmerizing beauty as the indistinct figures behind it launched it straight at him. His jaw dropped open as the fire morphed before his very eyes: massive wings unfurled from its fiery depths, and a majestic head emerged with eyes of amethyst and feathers of amber. As the Phoenix, formed of living flames, rushed towards him, its azure beak opened in an ear-piercing shriek—and that’s when he saw the old man’s smiling face through the flames as the golden shield expanded back over his attackers. Absolute rage exploded in Dy’Ixion, and he snapped out of his stupor as he flung out his hands, hate and anger boiling through his system like hot lava racing through his veins.
Black mist surged up from the crater, answering his beck and call. The world screamed as the air all around him suddenly disappeared, and a massive, swirling black construct burst into existence between him and the oncoming Phoenix.
The fiery beak of the bird careened into the magical fabrication, and liquid flames splashed out and around the wall, burning deep grooves into the ground and igniting his clothes on fire. Milliseconds later, the heart of the fireball smashed into his barrier. To Dy’Ixion, it seemed as if the cosmos itself blinked out of existence as the world flipped and the implosion yanked him off his feet and sucked him headfirst into his impromptu wall.
“Noooo!” he screamed as the fireball inhaled what remained of the surrounding buildings, completely ripping them off their foundations. It drew them in and devoured them in an instant like a typhoon at sea swallowing ships whole. With all his might, Dy’Ixion reached out to his crater full of magic and pulled every last drop into himself, and feeding it into his black construct, he strengthened it as the searing heat burned into his skin.
Then the fireball exploded. Ripping his dark wall to shreds, it catapulted him up and out of the fire and hundreds of feet into the sky.
As he soared through the air, the flames on his clothes roared to life, and Dy’Ixion flailed helplessly in the dark night.
“Did we get him?” Alf asked as he eagerly looked over Rex’s shoulder, trying to see through the mostly opaque shield.
“No,” Drake answered pointing up at a blazing comet streaking through the air.
“By Eldrin’s teeth,” Mr. Havanger cursed and turned to Rex. “Son, don’t you let him get away!”
“Oh I won’t,” Rex declared as he took off at a dead sprint, and the world blurred around them once again.
Lord Dy’Ixion slammed into the massive, obsidian wall now surrounding the entire city. His lungs caved in, and his nose snapped as the impact knocked the air out of him and snuffed out the flames clinging to his clothes. As the world righted itself, and gravity took a hold, he started falling to his death. Desperately, Dy’Ixion dug his grotesque nails into the obsidian surface, scratching and scraping for all he was worth, but the black rock resisted his efforts, and he tumbled dozens of feet to the ground with a sickening thud.
He laid there, dark mist seething from every pour in his body, and his mind ablaze with hate. “I will kill that old man!” he screamed. “I WILL KILL HIM!!”
Slowly, he stood to his feet as he fed life energy into the black mist surrounding him. It sizzled and hissed as it wrapped itself around his body like a sinuous snake, healing his wounds and further altering his already twisted form.
Suddenly, the golden shield burst into existence in front of him and he felt the earth beneath his feet flare with power. “No you don’t!” he shouted as he slammed his fist into the rocky dirt and pumped his stolen life energy deep into the ground.
Thousands of razor-sharp earth spikes erupted around him like the jaws of an ancient predator. Whistling past his ears, they pierced deep into the wall behind him and shattered into thousands of pieces, narrowly missing their intended target. A ricocheting shard of rock ripped into the side of his face and dark blood gushed down the side of his jaw.
As the blood ran down his neck, he snarled and jerked both of his arms upwards. A wave of gravel and shattered rock surged towards the golden blur, but it vanished just as fast as it had appeared, and the deadly wave collided with a silo, clipping it clean in half. The tall, circular building toppled sideways, bounced off a neighboring building, then crashed into an already damaged aqueduct, causing it to collapse. Water and grains, dust and rocks spewed into the air and a small tidal wave washed over Dy’Ixion’s feet.
“You can run, but you can’t hide!” Dy’Ixion shouted into the abandoned streets, his enraged screams echoing off the domed buildings and mingling with the sudden silence of the night. “I will kill all of you. Then I will hunt down your friends and family and feast on their life energy.”
Silence greeted him. Angrily, he spun around, searching for his attackers. Suddenly, streams of blue wove about him, and the hairs on his body stood on end. Dy’Ixion’s eyes widened as he realized what his opponent was trying to do. “Pathetic,” he snarled and reached towards the ground with his right hand while raising his left high into the sky. A pillar as thick as his arm erupted from the cobblestones at his feet and shot up past him just as a massive bolt of lightning rent the heavens.
The blue stream crashed down into the pillar, blowing it to pieces as Lichtenberg patterns burned deep grooves down its length and into the water. A chunk of the exploding rock, larger then Diexion’s head, slammed into his chest and tossed him through the air like a ragdoll.
Bouncing off the wet pavement, he rolled to his stomach. Blood and water dripped down his chin as he crawled to his knees, and his eyes burned blood red.
“Enough is enough!” he roared as he pumped energy into the ground beneath his palm. The cobblestones split apart and soft earth embraced him as he sank to his elbows. Channeling a momentary shield around himself, he released his charge; the dirt pulled back, then slammed into him, and like a rock shot from a sling shot, he rocketed high into the sky.
Leaving the city far below, Dy’Ixion stretched out, and channeling energy into his eyes, he, searched for the old man and his worthless assassins. But they were nowhere to be seen.
“You think you can hide from me? Well, I’ll show you!” he screamed as he grabbed gobs of stolen energy and injected it into the air. Hundreds of wind spears formed around him, and with a jab of his hand, he sent them flying down into the city. Earthen shacks and small warehouses burst into clouds of dust and shattered stone as the first wave of his onslaught rained down with the strength of a category five hurricane. Suddenly, golden light blazed to life as his opponents were forced to pull their shield back up, bringing them back into full view.
“I have you now,” he cackled. Still soaring through the air, Lord Dy’Ixion reached out towards the ground and pulled. A massive pillar raced up from the earth to meet him, and he landed heavily upon it; rising from his crouching position, he reached towards the heavens. The moist air evaporated as he sucked it dry, and two, massive spears of ice formed in Dy’Ixion’s hands. Then, as if he were some ancient deity flinging thunderbolts from the sky, he hurled them down at the golden blur.
The first human-sized javelin missed completely, but the second slammed down right in front of his target and exploded in a shower of razor-sharp spikes. His attack tore into the enemy’s shield and sent it tumbling like a massive golden beetle rolling across the ancient pavement till it disappeared into a dilapidated bazaar.
Dy’Ixion snarled in frustration as his attackers rolled out of range. He briefly entertained the thought of chasing after them, but the old man was known for setting up traps. Instead, he’d make them face him on his terms, and this time, they would be the ones suffering in pain and agony. Clenching his fists in anger, he let the darkness seep out of him. Like a cauldron bubbling over, a black, boiling mist rolled off of him and tumbled down the pillar like a waterfall, flooding the land below.
That was a close one, Alf thought as he uncurled his body and massaged his bruised shoulders. When Dy’Ixion’s ice spear had crashed down in front of them and exploded, Rex, who had been running at full speed, slammed into the inside of the shield. Like a tumbleweed, he rebounded, sending them all rolling and bouncing as their protective barrier crashed through stand after stand of slum district merchandise until it finally came to rest in an old warehouse filled with ratty rugs.
“Is everyone all right?” he asked.
“I am thanks to you,” Drake replied. They both knew if Alf hadn’t shielded him with his own body, Drake might have ended up with a broken limb or two.
Alf shrugged. “It’s the least I could do for getting you into this mess.”
“True that,” the prince mumbled underneath his breath.
Climbing to his feet, Alf looked at his surroundings. Piles of rugs lay abandoned throughout the old decrepit warehouse. Dust bunnies danced in the moonlight streaming in through the shattered boards and gaping hole from their abrupt entrance. Their once strongly blazing shield now gleamed paper thin, glowing a soft yellow, and their impromptu army lay scattered about the interior of the oval-shaped barrier, their hands and feet sticking up in odd positions.
Rex rolled over and sprung to his feet, apparently unfazed. His already once replaced metallic mask was cracked down the middle, and blood stained the upper edges. To Alf’s surprise, he said, “I’m good. Where’s dad?”
“I’m fine son,” Mr. Havanger’s gruff voice came from near the middle of the shield. He untangled his limbs from a pile of groaning soldiers and slowly clambered to his feet. “This thing,” he tapped The Energizer floating in the air in the exact midpoint of their shield, “stabilizes the center of this monstrosity of ours. So I just hung onto it as long as I could.” The older gentleman scanned the fifty odd men that had come with them. “Any of you hurt?”
Several men opened their mouths to answer when Dy’Ixion’s voice boomed, cutting them off.
“Old windbag,” the blood oath snarled. “I dare you to stand and fight me like a man! Or are you too much of a coward to face me?”
Rex’s body stiffened and he spun around and shouted, “Follow me. We’re not safe here!”
A cloud of dust and rugs burst into the air, and rats scurried into the darkness as Rex took off. The front of their shield smashed straight through the back of the warehouse, and the golden glow of their barrier lit up the decrepit alleyway as they emerged from their hiding place. Pieces of trash littered the street, and the once nice looking buildings, after twenty years of disuse, now looked shabby and unkempt.
Rex weaved his way through the closely packed maze of earthen structures in an effort to put room between them and the blood oath.
As he ran, the downed men untangled themselves and Mr. Havanger said, “Help me with the shield. I’m getting too old for this.” As the older gentleman placed both of his hands on The Energizer, Alf nodded, moved to his side, and helped channel energy into the golden shield. As their energy fed into the barrier, it thickened and once more turned mostly opaque.
Rex slowed to a walk as they reached a safe distance. Glancing back he asked, “Well now what?”
Mr. Havanger leaned against the shield, his brows scrunched in frustration. “Honestly, I’m not sure. If I hadn’t seen that… that thing survive all those attacks myself, I would have never believed it.”
“I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’d give my left arm for the Death Ability right about now,” Soul Knight said as he leaned against the energizer and started healing a gash in his right elbow.
“You mean the black orb his majesty bequeathed on the Brockovich family?” one of Mr. Havanger’s men asked.
“What?” Alf asked turning towards the man.
“Ya, that’s the one,” Soul Knight said. “I wanted to destroy it, but now I’d love to give it a whirl on that dark mage out there, even if it cost me my life.”
Mr. Havanger wiped his hand across his forehead. “Can’t say I’d try to stop ya. I doubt it’d work though. That butler of theirs said he tried it on Vackzilian himself the day Alfonso died, and nothing happened.”
“Figures,” the man who brought the subject up spat.
“What are you guys talking about?” Alf asked again.
Drake grabbed his arm him and said, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Guys,” one of the young men towards the back spoke up. “I hate to play the coward, but I think it’s time we flee. Even the great Lord Eldrin would have a hard time with this demon. We don’t stand a chance.”
“No! We can’t leave that psychopath alone in this city with all these people. There’s no telling what he’ll do,” Rex exclaimed.
“That’s just it. We do know what he will do,” someone mumbled behind Alf.
At this, Alf forgot all about the death orb, or whatever Mr. Havanger and his men had been talking about, and said, “Rex is right. We can’t leave these people to face him alone.”
“That might be our only option,” Drake said as he enlarged the screen over his magic tattoo. “This is a feed from one of the spells I placed before our first assault on Dy’Ixion.” The picture clearly displayed an image of the blood oath standing on a pillar high in the sky as black mist rolled off of him. “As you can see, our intended target now has a perfect strategic position. That fog is dark magic, so close quarter combat is out of the question, and while he’s standing on that obelisk of his, enacting another sneak attack is not feasible.”
Alf studied the image of the angry blood oath on top of his rock formation. There had to be a way to approach him without losing the upper hand, he thought. “Wait,” Alf said as several memories occurred to him. “Maybe we can use that against him.”
Drake raised an eyebrow.
“Look how he is holding himself,” Alf said, pointing at the blood oath’s posture. “His muscles are taught, and his stance reeks of defiance. I’ve seen that same posture on many a noble, and I know what it means. I think if we challenge him head on, his pride isn’t going to let him move from that spot. We can use that against him.”
“Hmm,” the prince muttered as he shrank the screen back down to his eye level. “It’s an interesting observation, but not one without its flaws.” He glanced up at Mr. Havanger. “Your thoughts?”
“Normally, I’d agree with you nephew, but in this case, I think the boy may be on to something. I’ve dealt with many a dark mage in my day and they can be downright proudful idiots. It’s the dark magic you see. It eats away all their reasoning and leaves them power-hungry and crazy, not a bit of intelligence left, and from what I see,” Rex’s father held up his left hand and his black ring Ka’akah flared to life on his index finger. A small screen similar to Drake’s appeared in his palm and he closely examined the dark figure within it. “I’d say he’s far-gone enough that he’s going to be stupid and stand his ground. Of course, nothing’s guaranteed, but I’d be willing to bet my last crypto on it, if I was a betting man that is.
“In that case,” Drake looked at Alf. “What do you propose?”
Alf shrugged. “Another fireball?”
Drake shook his head and sighed. “You have much to learn about tactics.”
“A fireball is too simple,” Soul Knight agreed.
“True, we need something a little more unconventional,” Mr. Havanger replied. He turned to an indistinct figure hovering in the shadows of the golden shield. “Mad Dog, your specialty is overwhelming force. What do you suggest?”
Mad Dog didn’t reply; he just reached into his shirt, pulled out a spell book, and tossed it to Drake.
Drake snatched the flamboyantly colored notepad-sized book out of the air and flipped it open. “A modified version of the End of Life spell, huh?” He glanced at the Energizer. “We do have enough energy to make it work. Excellent choice.”
Claudius, the leader of the X soldiers, whistled softly. “I’d hate to be the one that cleans up these craters we’re leaving all over the city.”
The destruction of Carlos flashed through Alf’s mind and the image of Zachariahs’ dying face as he whispered his goodbyes. The mayor, his life-long acquaintance, had sacrificed himself using the End of Life spell to save the citizens of Carlos. Alf frowned. “But that spell kills the one that casts it.”
Drake held up the book and pointed at the complicated equations underneath the auto imprint line of the spell. “This one’s been modified. You see, this spell normally requires life energy to reach critical mass, b-.”
“Old man, I know you’re still out there!” Dy’Ixion’s voice boomed, cutting Drake off. “Three years ago, you destroyed my life, and now I am here to destroy yours. If you continue to run like the coward you are, you worthless, gutless swine, I’ll destroy the arena, then hunt down, torture, and murder every single last person in this city until I find you!”
The inside of the shield fell silent as the grave as the reverberating roar of the blood oath’s voice faded away. Then slowly everyone turned to look at Mr. Havanger.
The grizzled old warrior shrugged, “Don’t look at me. I’ve dealt with hundreds of nut jobs throughout the years. I haven’t the foggiest idea who this psychopath is.”
Drake nodded, “Quite understandable,” he said and jammed the spell tome towards Alf. “There is no time to explain how it functions,” he continued. “Learn the spell. You’re strong enough to be the anchor for it. The rest of us will feed you energy.” Tapping his Ka’akah, he dismissed the viewing screen then helped Mr. Havanger repair the soldiers’ formation so that each man held a clear line of view to The Energizer.
Alf hesitantly raised the book to eye level. He wasn’t entirely sure using the End of Life spell was a good idea, even if it had been modified. Every fiber of his being balked at the thought. When he was weak, death had been a constant possibility every day of his life, and he had come to terms with it. Now, though, he thoroughly enjoyed living. He loved being strong and the freedom and joy of experiencing new things that came along with it. Having come so close to death just a few hours ago had made him realize this, and the last thing he wanted to do now was die. He hated himself for it, but he knew what he really wanted to do was run like the younger soldier had suggested, and worse yet, the guilt over his earlier failure, and for the hundreds of lives he had snuffed out in an instant, beat down on him like a constant tropical typhoon. He did not belong here; he should not be here. This was not his world, he thought to himself as his eyes glazed over and he gazed blankly at the indecipherable page.
His mind drifted to Olivia sleeping peacefully in the coliseum’s infirmary, and he felt his heart ache to speak to her when suddenly, in his mind’s eye, she sat up, swung her legs over the edge of the bed, leaned forward, and said, “Alf, he that loves his life will lose it, and he that hates his life in this world will keep it unto life eternal.” She then looked at him, her large honey-brown eyes full of compassion, and said, “You don’t need me to tell you. You already know what you should do.”
The ancient words washed over him and he closed his eyes, swallowing hard. Ya, that’s exactly what she would say. He shook his head as he pushed aside the thoughts of self preservation and guilt and made himself think about all the people in the city. Like it or not, they were all now part of his responsibility. If he turned his back on them, and thought only of himself, Dy’Ixion would undoubtedly devour them all just like he said he would; so despite his own thoughts and desires, Alf stared at the book and said the command, imprinting the glowing spell work on his mind, then raised his right hand.
A tiny pink, glowing sphere appeared in front of his palm.
“Ah good, you’re ready,” Mr. Havanger said as he reached out towards The Energizer with his right hand and Alf with his left. A stream of crackling energy flowed from the device, through the older man’s arms and chest, and into Alf’s spell.
The others followed his example, and the small, diaphanous bubble instantly tripled in size as it grew. The spell swelled until it reached four feet in diameter, then switched from expanding in size to growing in brightness and intensity.
As the spell grew, the color of the sphere melded with the shield’s light, and a soft orange glow fell on everyone’s anxious faces. The meager group looked already bedraggled and weary. Their clothes were torn and their bodies bruised in multiple places. Mud and grime covered their faces and their eyes held mingled emotions of fear and determination. Alf’s heart tightened; he wasn’t the only one wrestling with feelings of doubt. If this spell didn’t work, they were out of options. The men exchanged looks and Drake waved at Rex. With a brief nod, the vice champion crouched and took off running towards where the blood oath now stood on his pillar of earth.
Dy’Ixion shifted impatiently, letting his dark mist billow around him. “This is taking far too long,” he muttered to himself. I am tired of playing hide and seek with these worthless peons, he thought as his anger and desire for revenge faded, pushed aside by an insatiable hunger for more energy. His eyes trailed off towards the arena. I wonder what would happen if I blew the whole thing apart. How many injured would just be laying there waiting for me to consume their life force?
As he thought about it, he grew to like the idea even more. Oh there wouldn’t be as many for him to devour, but the thought of easy pickings felt quite appealing, and there would always be other cities he could have later.
He was on the verge of deciding to do just that when, to his surprise, the glowing blur of his assailants shot around the corner of a building and came to a halt right on the edge of his dark fog.
A smile cracked his face. “At last, the shadow lurkers reveal themselves!”
As he spoke, the golden shield pulled back to reveal fifty odd men. Amongst their number stood three of the four Vackzilian wanted and the ever infuriating old fogey. The young man who had escaped his cocoon earlier raised a pink glowing sphere above his head and hurled it straight at him.
Dy’Ixion burst out in laughter. “Do you really think your measly spells will work on me twice?”
The magenta colored spell flew through the air. Light cascaded off its vibrant globe, mixing with the soft yellow glow of the moon and turning the entire horizon a disturbing blood red.
Like a maestro conducting a grand symphony, Dy’Ixion raised his arms and air rushed past him, whipping his clothes and sounding like the mighty crash of waves, as he drew the black mist up from below. The dark magic condensed into a gigantic, writhing mass circling in front of him. Then he cupped his hands together, and as he drew his arms apart, the dark mist swirled, forming into two, giant, concave half circles. Then as the pink sphere hurtled towards him, Dy’Ixion slammed his hands together.
The dual half-spheres solidified into dark constructs, and with only seconds left, clamped down around the oncoming spell, stopping it mere feet in front of him.
The spell flared inside its prison, and magenta light blossomed through the seams of his black cage as the pink sphere exploded with enough force to obliterate half the city. Dy’Ixion sneered and ground his hands together as he summoned more of the dark cloud up from the darkness below and fed it into his churning black fabrications.
Like a raging bull trapped in a pen, his attacker’s spell bucked, hissed, sizzled, and popped as bright pink rays broke free, tearing massive gauges in the surrounding landscape, but ever so slowly, the magenta spell shrank in size until it disappeared from view once more.
At last, Lord Dy’Ixion opened his hands, and the magical half spheres crumbled away. As they fell apart, a stream of black and blue energy shot forth, slamming into his chest. His arms flew forward, and he stumbled backwards as his body greedily consumed the captured energy.
Leaning forward, he relished in the sensation, then straightened and shouted with mocking glee, “Thank you, that was most delicious!”
Dy’Ixion’s lips curled into a smirk as horror spread across his attackers’ faces. “Now it’s my turn,” he cooed, and reaching out with both of his hands, his fingers crackled as a colossal strand of indigo lightning burst into existence. Flashing in the night, it raced down towards his unprotected foe.
At the last possible moment, the golden shield flared back to life and blurred as the lightning crashed down into it. As the thunderous beam continued to stream towards them, the giant beetle-like shield weaved and bobbed throughout the pot-marked landscape, and Dy’Ixion cackled as he chased it with his lighting while they fled for their lives.
Frantically, they retreated behind an earthen hovel, and his sparking mass of lightning cleaved the structure in two, leaving massive charred marks etched into the shield’s golden flanks. Still, their shield held. Dy’Ixion redoubled his efforts. Pushing all of the energy he had just absorbed into his spell, he watched the lightning bolt explode in size. He laughed maniacally as storm clouds formed in the air above him; strong gusts of wind rushed through the valley, and his lightning burned deep chasms in the land, but as it grew in size, the spell became too much for him to handle. The bolt of light cracked and frayed as it lanced out, obliterating and blowing holes in everything it touched.
Then electricity curled up Dy’Ixion’s arms, biting at his face and burning squiggly, odd-shaped holes in his clothes. In panic, he focused his full attention on dispelling the malicious current as it hissed, and popped, and spewed sparks in all directions. By the time the long deadly strands dissipated, his prey was nowhere to be seen.
Unthinking rage exploded inside him. He had been mere seconds away from his revenge and that cursed, unruly spell had stolen it from him. Dy’Ixion clenched his fists and roared in rage. “I will kill you! I WILL KILL YOU ALL!”
The lonely howl of the wind and the echoing sound of thunder was all that answered back.
“Fine!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “I’ll just destroy your precious arena!” He slammed his foot down and his pillar rose higher into the sky.
Dy’Ixion whipped himself around until he faced the coliseum; then forming a circle in front of him with his hands, he called forth his magic, and a crimson ball of fire sprung to life. He let the rage consume him as he liberally flooded stolen energy into the spell, determined to make it large enough to destroy the arena in one shot.
Alf crouched low beside Rex, and the others huddled around them. Rex had used the precious seconds they’d gained when the blood oath’s spell went awry to hide them in the destroyed silo. Mr. Havanger had quickly shrunk the shield and covered it with the invisibility blanket, hiding its glow and leaving them all unprotected. They were still alive, but Alf’s mind screamed in panic.
“He’s going to kill everyone in the arena!” he half whispered and half shouted. “Olivia and the maids are still in there.”
“So is Zaphaniea,” Drake stated gravely.
Rex stood straight up. “I’ll get them out.”
Mr. Havanger’s hand clamped on his son’s shoulder. “You’ll never make it in time. At best, you’d get caught in the shockwave.”
“We can’t just leave them there to die!” Rex exclaimed.
“There’s nothing you can do about it. None of us can stop a fireball large enough to destroy the arena,” his father said harshly as he stared into his son’s eyes behind the mask.
“Then we’ll just have to stop him before he launches it!” Alf blurted.
Drake grabbed Alf’s shirt. “We can’t. He’s at least three hundred feet in the air, and because of the dark mist, we can’t even get close to his pillar, much less him.”
“What if we destroyed his pillar with a fireball?” Alf offered.
“He would just form a new one. At most, we’d gain a few seconds. At worst, we’d die from his retribution.”
Alf’s face firmed in resolution; if they wouldn’t take action, he would. Ripping his shirt away from Drake, he stepped towards the silo’s opening, determined to save Olivia, no matter the cost. In one swift movement, Soul Knight stepped behind him, grabbed the back of his neck, and pressed his index finger meaningfully against his spine. “Don’t do anything foolish or I’ll put you under.”
The image of Olivia laying there helplessly on the medical cot in the infirmary burned deep into Alf’s mind, and his heart constricted in fear. She was going to die, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
No! That wasn’t true. He closed his eyes and turned his head skywards. Father in heaven, he prayed, I’ve made a mess of things. In my pride, I tried to use my own strength and power to put an end to this wickedness, but I am powerless before it, and Lord, I need you now. Please have mercy on us. Please forgive me for my arrogance, and please, please save Olivia and the others.
“We can do something,” the youngest member of the group exclaimed. Soul Knight loosened his grip on Alf as he turned to the lad who looked at least two to three years younger than Rex. “We tunnel to the pillar and break it down,” the youth explained. “Then we use our combined strength and The Energizer to keep him from reforming it. The fall should kill him. If it doesn’t, his own pond of dark mist should.”
Dy’Ixion bounced on his tippy toes in joy as he watched his fireball expand. Blistering waves of heat rolled off the burning sphere in undulating swells intense enough to burn the skin off his hide as it grew to monstrous proportions. In fact, the heat had forced him to form a protective construct around himself in order to avoid becoming a burnt shish kabob.
He gazed dreamily into the whirlpool of liquid fire growing in front of him. Soon, he’d be picking through the rubble, feasting on the wounded. Then he’d chase down the survivors and devour them too, and when he was done, all would quake in fear at the mention of his name, even Vackzilian himself.
Suddenly, his pillar shook beneath him, and with a sound akin to million of kernels of rice popping simultaneously, exploded into tiny dust particles. For half a breath, Dy’Ixion hung suspended in the hair, then his heart slammed into his throat as he plummeted from the sky. Like an eager puppy chasing after his master, the gargantuan ball of fire followed him down, and as Dy’Ixion’s limbs flailed about, he briefly lost control of his spell. His construct blew apart, and a stream of molten fire lashed out, searing deep into his left foot and evoking an ear piercing scream of pain.
“Aaah!” Dy’Ixion howled as intense pain ran the entire length of his body. Time seemed to slow to a halt as adrenaline pumped through his system; it careened through his veins and raced through the synapses of his mind. His thoughts cleared: the insatiable hunger lifted, and he used the brief moment of sanity to channel his energy down towards the ground. As his spell crashed into the decimated earth, hiding beneath his black mist, he pulled hard, commanding it to come towards him.
He tried again, but his frequencies bounced off the ground as if it were a mirror.
Twisting his head, he gazed at the land far below him only to see thousands of glowing red, earthen spikes pierce up through the shifting black fog.
Realization dawned on him. The filthy coward had played dirty yet again!
“I’ll show you!” Dy’Ixion shrieked as he twisted his body around, and with a mighty jerk, he yanked his fireball into position and launched it straight down.
Like a dragon roaring its revenge, the fire shot away, and the air boomed as it careened downwards. The miniature sun blasted through the dark mist and slammed into the ground. Instantly, it reached out, its flames of red and gold greedily devouring everything in its vicinity. All of Dy’Ixion’s obsidian fog vanished into its hungry maw, along with the silo, the remnants of the aqueduct, and every building within a hundred and fifty feet.
As Dieixon felt the inexorable pull from the force of the implosion, he swallowed and his eyes widened in panic. He had made a horrible mistake.
The sun exploded, spewing forth an expanding sea of fire that shot straight towards him. His eyes bulged, almost popping out of his head. Panic clawed inside his skull, its claws sinking deep into his psyche, and flailing his hands wildly, he channeled a shield around himself.
A wave of heat plowed into him, and with a resounding snap, his newly formed shield cracked. In sheer terror and desperation, he cast overflow, a spell which enabled him to supercharge another spell but at the cost of four times the energy. With overflow in place, he pumped every last bit of stolen life energy he had left into the shield surrounding him. The channeled shield solidified, becoming completely opaque just as the ocean of fire smashed into him.
He fell through the holocaust as it ate away at his shield until he could once again see through the thinning barrier. His jaw dropped open as he gazed directly at what had to be the most mesmerizing thing in existence, the absolute center of the explosion. The heart of the fire swirled and danced; flames of electric blue, pink, green, red and amethyst twirled around each other, weaving in and out of intricate geometric patterns. Dy’Ixion’s heart skipped a beat, and as the last vestiges of his sanity fled, he reached his arms out towards the heart of the fire.
A muffled boom echoed from above, and the earth shook, knocking Alf hard against one of the tunnel walls. Rocks tumbled towards his head, and Rex grabbed his arm, pulling him out of the way. As the ceiling started collapsing in on them, Mr. Havanger re-expanded the shield.
Rex gazed through the glowing barrier in confusion. “What in the world was…”
A second massive tremor sent all of them sprawling in the dirt. For an instant, the tunnel walls glowed cherry red, then vanished, replaced by a wave of emerald green fire. The green inferno bit into the barrier with unimaginable power, ripping its multi-facet layers of protective frequencies off one right after another.
“Enforce the shield!” Drake hollered.
The men scrambled to their feet and reached out for The Energizer. Blue streams of energy leapt from the white device to their hands, and they channeled it through their bodies and into the golden barrier. However, the green and yellow fire ravaged their shelter faster than they were able to reinforce it. Steadily, it peeled away the layers until heat radiated through the shield and pressed down on them in unbearable waves.
“Push harder men!” Rex’s father bellowed as he shrank the shield, bringing it in closer around them.
As one, the weary soldiers put their sweaty hands directly on the diminished shield, and with a mighty grunt, fed every last ounce of strength they had into it. Their power flowed through its structure, stabilizing the wavering frequencies and gradually increasing its durability, but as the fire raged for what seemed like eternity, the strain proved to be too much, and one by one the men collapsed from exhaustion.
Sweat streamed down Alf’s face and his muscles bulged as the veins in his arms swelled to the verge of bursting. “Hang in there!” he shouted in encouragement to the others. Groans of exertion were their only reply, and two more men dropped to the ground, utterly spent. The golden barrier dimmed and the sound of fracturing crystal reached his ears as a jagged fracture ran its length.
A sudden burst of light flared from The Energizer as Mr. Havanger drew an excessive amount of power from the device and tried to shore up the crack. The split faded, but the pressure proved to be too much on the older gentleman, and he fell limply to the hot, hard-packed earth.
I’ve got to do something, Alf thought as he watched his compatriots crumple around him. Think Alf. Think. What can you do?
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blue, shimmering light. The ice crystal! The half-finished water-gem had been the only part of Drake’s original plan the men had had time to start on, and it now lay forgotten, hovering over the shoulder of one of the collapsed men.
He spun around and grabbed the blue crystal. “Open a hole!” he shouted.
Seeing the translucent ice in Alf’s possession, Soul Knight’s eyes widened in comprehension. The warrior pushed his hands against the barrier then slowly slid them apart, and with a grunt, the quivering shield bent to his will. A medium sized hole appeared in its structure. Instantly, Alf charged forward and jammed his hands, with the cabbage-sized ice chunk, through the opening. Agony shot up his arms as his hands were burned by the raging flames. The smell of blistering flesh and boiling blood flooded his senses, and blackness threatened to steal his consciousness. Gritting his teeth, he pushed his way through the pain and blackness, and cast the spell.
With the sound of shattering glass, the ice crystal burst and a perfect, spherical wall erupted like a shockwave shooting out in all directions. The white, sparkling sheet of ice blotted out the fire as it rushed outwards, and with loud hisses and pops, the circular tsunami snuffed out the fire, cooling the ground and leaving nothing but a cloud of steam slowly rising in its wake.
Alf leaned against the shield, only semi-conscious as he stared at the vapor masking a ravaged land of ice and lava. It was done. Thank you God he whispered, when suddenly Drake grabbed his arms and yanked his hands back through the hole. Soul Knight faded into unconsciousness and collapsed to the ground as the gap in the shield closed with a hissing snap. Immediately, giant blisters formed up and down Alf’s fingers, and clear liquid oozed out of the sores while white bone peaked through raw flesh on his knuckles and wrist.
The heir of all of Alfireá carefully took Alf’s hands in his own, and he watched as a blue stream of energy almost as thick as his leg flowed from The Energizer into Drake’s small form. The ambrosial smell of healing magic blossomed in Alf’s nostrils and he gaped at Drakovian. “I didn’t know you knew healing magic,” he said, his senses returning. “In fact, I thought you said you didn’t.”
“If I did, that was a lie. I mastered it a long time ago using a device similar to The Energizer. Now be quiet so I can concentrate. Your burns aren’t too serious, but if I don’t heal the critical parts immediately, they will be.”
Once more, Alf leaned back against the shield and silently watched as the haze lifted. They sat almost in the exact middle of an oddly shaped, newly formed crater. On one side, Dy’Ixion’s fifty foot wall had partially melted down until the outer half formed a high ridge, while the inner side closely resembled something like the world’s largest ramp. The rest of the crater formed a jagged half circle, it’s pitted walls full of rivulets where rock had melted and flowed towards the center. The land looked as if Eldrin, the Great Dragon Lord himself, had descended from the heavens while breathing streams of fire and crashed headlong into the earth.
As he looked around, something stirring off to the left caught his eye, and he turned to look at it. A pile of moving ash fell away to reveal a blackish-blue creature clambering to its feet. As Alf’s eyes focused, he saw a form covered in tattered and ripped clothing standing behind the thin outline of a red, glowing shield.
His heart dropped out of his chest and his mouth went dry. Dy’Ixion had somehow survived. “Look!” he shouted, ripping his hand away from Drake and pointing at the blood oath.
One of the soldiers dropped to his knees in despair. “That’s not possible! I don’t… have any strength left,” the pale-faced man moaned as he fell face first into the dirt.
“Kill him now before he regains his balance!” Drake commanded.
Rex charged towards Dy’Ixion, however, his head smacked into the shield, and he fell flat on his back. He rebounded and rolled to his feet. “Father!” he shouted at the half-conscious form lying beneath The Energizer.
Mr. Havanger groaned in exertion as he tried to pull back the shield, but the poor fellow had reached his limit and the barrier only wavered. Three of the downed men beside him crawled over, placed their hand on his body, and added what little strength they had left to his. Inch by painful inch, the shield shuttered and started pulling back.
As the shield moved, Rex crouched, readying himself. Alf hunched down alongside his friend, his heart beating in his ears. He had nothing left to give; his mental strength was spent and his magical energy depleted. If he tried to form a spell now, it would explode in his face. He closed his eyes. Which meant his only recourse was physical attacks. As his thoughts solidified, the shield shrank past them, settling around the Energizer.
Rex shot towards the blood oath, and Alf followed him, ripping his shielded sword from his belt.
Dy’Ixion hit the ground just as the explosion died away. He bounced and rolled, his bones rattling and shaking as he came to a jarring halt. Somehow, his damaged shield had absorbed most of the impact. While falling through the fire, he had poured his remaining energy into it, and though the shield was now riddled with cracks, and on the verge of breaking, it was still intact.
He had survived!
He lay there motionless for some time, letting his mind and body catch up while he wrestled with his soul that seemed as if it were trying to leave him behind.
As the world slowly came back into focus, Lord Dy’Ixion took a deep breath and brought his knee up, and a pile of ash rolled off of him as he stood to his feet. He tried to take a step forward but his eyes blurred and he crumpled over as his body moaned.
“So hungry,” he muttered as he clutched at his stomach. His eyes scanned the barren land of ash and melted rock; there had to be someone out there he could devour. The soft golden glow of a shield caught his eye and he nearly leapt out his skin in joy as the weakened form of the old man and his peons came into view.
Forget revenge. He would simply take the old man’s life energy and use it to destroy all he cared for and loved. “Yess,” he screeched as he reached his arm out towards the exhausted men laying in the dirt. A stream of black energy issued forth out his fingers and wound its way towards his unsuspecting prey. Like a serpent on the hunt, its jaw opened wide, intent on its first victim when, all of a sudden, the green froggy man appeared right in front of him and thrust his sword straight at his head. Dy’Ixion stepped to the side, but it was too late. The blade crashed towards him with the force a hurricane rushing the shore…only to ding harmlessly off his cracked shield. Dy’Ixion snorted as the man’s own momentum carried him past him, but as the green man disappeared from view, the warrior from earlier appeared in his shadow, his arms pulled back and his glowing blue sword held over his head in a full on charge. With a mighty heave, the muscleman brought his shielded sword crashing towards his head.
Unlike the first attack, this blade didn’t bounce off.
The two shields collided with a mighty screech, and like a leaf blown in the wind, Lord Dy’Ixion found himself flipping head over heels and crashing down into the ash, flat on his back.
As he lay there in the ash stunned, a new crack ran the length of his barrier. Dy’Ixion’s fingers curled, and his eyes filled with rage. How dare they! How dare they! he thought. His stolen energy depleted, he siphoned off his own life force and cast his spell.
Ash and dust swirled as he mentally screamed in rage and air formed into a black construct before him. Quicker than the eye could follow, it rocketed towards the green man’s head as he tried once more to impale Dy’Ixion with his sword, but right before the construct crushed the man’s skull, the large warrior stepped in front of his friend and swatted it out of the air with his glowing blade.
Alf’s half-healed hands screamed in protest as the black mass slammed into his blade, jarring his arms and pushing his feet backwards. Gritting his teeth, he pushed through the pain and knocked the attack aside.
They could not afford to lose. Not now.
As Alf batted the wall away, Rex swung his upper body to the right, letting the diverted attack fly harmlessly past him; then grabbing his sword with both hands, the vice champion drove it straight down into the blood oath’s face with all his might. As his blade smashed into the shield, right between the creature’s eyes, Dy’Ixion’s deformed, withered face sneered up at them in pure hate, and sparks flew in all directions.
But against all odds, the beast’s barrier held.
“Move,” Drake’s voice shouted in their ears.
Rex back flipped away and Alf followed him via Traverse Wake. A millisecond later, another black construct, this one twice the size of the blood oath, exploded into existence and blasted right where Alf had stood.
“Don’t let him get up!” Drake’s voice commanded as the blood oath rolled to his feet.
Blood rage burned deep inside Dy’Ixion and black haze clouded his mind as he scrambled to his feet. They couldn’t defeat him. No one could defeat him! he thought as he siphoned yet more of his life energy and flailed his arms out towards his attacker’s.
The air exploded with a sound akin to thunder as a square-shaped wall howled into existence and shot straight at the green warrior.
Air and dust danced in front of the blood oath as another of the attacker’s constructs formed. Rex shot to the side, pulling Alf with him as he dashed straight for Dy’Ixion, and the rectangular shaped mass shot harmlessly past them to the left.
“I will kill you!” the blood oath screamed at the top of his lungs, spittle flying out of his mouth. His bloodshot eyes glared at them in the half-lit night, and he charged towards them, his feet shuffling across the melted land like a half-dead zombie determined to feed once more.
Rex skidded to a stop beside Dy’Ixion and pivoted on his leg, bringing them around behind the blood oath. “Not today!” he shouted as he jammed his sword down into the ashes and under the edge of the enemy’s glowing red shield. In a lightning quick move, he sliced up, twisting his body and pushing of the ground with his knee. Using his shoulder as leverage, he flipped the blood oath over the top of him and slammed the fiend into the charred earth.
Alf seized his opportunity, and mimicking Rex’s earlier attack, drove the tip of his shielded blade into the back of Dy’Ixion’s head.
The blue and red shields hissed and popped as Alf’s blade drove Dy’Ixion’s face through the melted crust. Still, the blood oath’s shield refused to give, and the red barrier flipped like an egg rolling end over end. With a cloud of grey dust, the monster landed on his back and sneered up at them as he cackled. “You can’t defeat me! I am Lord Dy’Ixion! No mere mortal can harm me!”
Alf stumbled back in disbelief, and the blood oath used that brief second to place his hands in a pyramid position and jab towards the sky.
“Move Alf!” Drake screamed, but it was too late.
A dust storm exploded in Alf’s face as two slender black walls snapped into existence over top of the blood oath. Dy’Ixion ripped his hands apart, and Alf went flying as one of the magical constructs slammed into him while the other one smashed into Rex and blasted him towards the northern face of the crater.
You must stop this! Dy’Ixion’s mind screamed. If you use anymore life energy we’ll die. Let’s get out here before it’s too late. Listen to me!! But the quiet voice in Dy’Ixion’s mind went unheard as the blood oath continued to feed off his life force, his greed and insatiable lust for energy turned upon himself, and with a crying whimper, his sanity snapped and all vestiges of normalcy fled, forever lost.
Alf bounced off the ground and slid to a stop next to Mr. Havanger. He gasped for air as he tried to scramble to his feet, but his lungs seized, his hands slipped, and he tumbled to his face in the cinders.
“Muhaaaahahah!” the blood oath shrieked, all semblance of sanity gone as the creature sprung to its feet. Black mist bloomed around Dy’Ixion as he dropped his shield and spread his arms. Pointing his left palm at Alf and his right at Rex, purple lighting sprung to life in the blood oath’s palms and Alf closed his eyes.
This was it.
It was over.
Suddenly, the blood oath let out a blood curdling scream.
Alf’s eyes flew open to see the horizon glowing like the sun as a holy beam, shining straight through the crater, burned giant, bloody gashes in Dy’Ixion’s back. His black mist swirled like a tornado as it desperately tried to form a protective barrier around him, and the blood oath spun around, his movements jerky and uncontrolled as he threw his hand outwards. Ash raced past him, and a black construct interposed itself between him and the beam.
Finally regaining his breath, Alf pulled himself to his knees as Rex charged towards the blood oath. With the beam diverted, Dy’Ixion turned his attention towards the vice champion, and once again, formed two more walls.
“You stupid one trick pony. Die already!” Rex hollered as he flashed stepped out of the way of the oncoming attacks.
Alf gripped his sword with his right hand and pulled energy from the golden shield laying on top of Mr. Havanger. Fire sprung to his fingertips as he formed a spell and painfully hobbled to his feet. Pushing through the weariness threatening to overwhelm him, he charged towards the blood oath, his mouth opening in a wordless war cry.
Dy’Ixion’s head snapped to the side, an unnatural gleam shining in his eyes, and raising his right arm, he formed a solid construct between Rex and himself as he pointed his left hand at Alf.
At that moment, the holy beam shifted from trying to drill through the barrier between it and Dy’Ixion, to Rex’s sword. The blade burned bright as day as Rex brought it down on the construct blocking his way and cleaved it clean in half. As it fell apart, Rex pole-vaulted through the barrier and kicked the blood oath’s left hand. The fabrication forming between Dy’Ixion and Alf dissipated as Alf released his fireball. With a sizzling hiss, the small sphere of fire crashed into the blood oath and exploded in his face, sending him flying backwards into the dust.
As Dy’Ixion hit the ground, a high keening sound of pain echoed in the crater; his black mist barrier shattered and burst into a thousand little pieces that floated off into the night sky, and the blood oath scratched at the dirt, foam and spittle dripping from his blackened lips as he tried to scramble to his feet. His blood-shot eyes looked akin to a wild animal in the final throes of rabies, and unintelligible garble issued from his destroyed throat as he rose halfway to his knees. Time seemed to freeze as Alf covered the distance between them in three large strides, raised his blade high, and with all of his might, brought his sword down in an arcing swing, and this time, he remembered to dispel the shield around his blade.
The sharp steel slammed into Dy’Ixion’s neck and cleaved his head clean off.
As the wind whistled through the crater, the soft thud of flesh hitting earth sounded as Dy’Ixion’s head thudded to the ground, and his body fell backwards.
The blood oath was dead!
Alf took one more faltering step and dropped to his knees. The battle was over and they had won. No more innocent people were going to die. “Thank you Father God,” he softly mumbled as he sagged to the ground, and the intense, heart pounding frenzy that had kept him going for so long drained away. Every muscle in his body ached; his limbs felt like wrung out dishcloths, and endless shivers of pain ran up his arms. He closed his eyes and pushed the discomfort away like he had trained himself to do all throughout his childhood. “Thank you Jesus,” he whispered again.
A noise far above him echoed throughout the bowl-shaped crater. He opened his eyes and looked up to see Olivia making her way down the jagged bluff. She scrambled over the cinder black ground, her rich brown hair streaming behind her, and her white clothes shining against the darkness. Alf smiled up at her, and the moon softly lit her angelic face as she smiled back and yelled out to him, “Is anyone hurt?”
His heart leapt in his chest at hearing her musical voice, and energy seemed to flow once again to his battered body. Slowly, and carefully, he pulled himself to a sitting position. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m not sure about Rex though. I think he may have a few burns from my last attack.”
Rex stirred from where he had been staring at the dead blood oath and popped to his feet. “Naw, I’m good.”
Alf stared at him in amazement. That guy must have nine lives, he thought.
“That’s good to hear,” Drake said from right beside him. The prince leaned forward and his dark blue eye stared in concern at Alf’s mangled hands. “Alf, however, is not. There is blood pouring from both of his hands.”
Alf glanced at him, then down at his fingers. Drake was right, there was blood. “Oh, I guess my burns must’ve ripped open,” he stated lamely.
Olivia ran the rest of the way over to him, knelt down, and tenderly cradled his damaged hands. Her long dark eyelashes fluttered in worry as she examined the bleeding burn marks. “How did you burn yourself this badly?” she asked as golden light emanated from her palms, and she started healing the worst of the oozing sores.
“Quick thinking and rash execution,” Mr. Havanger’s gruff voice answered as he hobbled over, holding The Energizer underneath his right arm. “He saved our lives, but didn’t have the presence of mind to channel a shield around his hands as he did it.”
“Dad, you’re up! How do you feel?”
“Like I just had all my guts pulled outside of my body, thrown into a washing barrel, and then jammed back into me.” Rex’s father glared down at the headless Dy’Ixion. “You know, it’s a miracle that it’s him lying there and not us.”
“Indeed, if Olivia hadn’t shown up when she did, things would have ended up very different,” Drake stated matter-of-factly.
Olivia’s shoulders hunched in concentration as she continued to use healing magic to repair the damaged hypodermis. With an expert touch, she coaxed Alf’s body to grow new dermis and epidermis layers of skin where needed. “I woke up, and the maids told me that you all went to fight without me, so I ran out here as fast as I could.”
“It’s a good thing you did lass,” Rex’s father said.
She smiled and shrugged. Alf thought he saw her face flush, but she hid it well underneath the guise of concentration.
“How is Zaphaniea? Is she still asleep?” Drake asked.
“She is. I really did a number on her, making her cast a spell that she couldn’t handle. Especially one that powerful.” Olivia finished with Alf’s right hand and motioned for him to turn around so she could see the other. Testing his newly healed appendage, Alf leaned on it and used it to scoot himself around. As he shifted, she said, “She’ll most likely be out for a few more hours.”
From his new sitting position, Alf had an unimpeded view of the beheaded blood oath. He shuddered as he stared down at the deceased Dy’Ixion. Part of him still couldn’t believe it was over. Subconsciously, he kept on expecting the headless corpse to rise from the ground, retrieve its head, and then say in that mocking tone of his, “Did you really think you could defeat me, the great Lord Dy’Ixion?”
Alf shook his head, shaking the image from his mind. The man was dead, and he…he had killed him.
Soul Knight limped up to the battered group, his black armor covered in dirt, and his ebony face smeared with ash. His dark eyes focused on the dead foe. “Still in conflict over taking a life, I see,” the battle hardened warrior said.
Alf glanced up at him, and the bedraggled men gathering behind him, and smiled, “Ah, well, you know.”
The stout warrior nodded, and to Alf’s surprise, Mr. Havanger kneeled down. He placed his fist over his chest and said in a grave tone, “This city owes you, my son, and your compatriots a great debt of gratitude.”
Heat flushed Alf’s face, and his cheeks turned red. “Not really. I didn’t do that much.”
“That’s not true. My men and I were at our physical limits, and were literally laying down on the job, when you and my son, who I couldn’t be more proud of,” he looked towards his son with eyes shining in pride, “killed this evil creature. You saved thousands of lives today.”
Alf blushed again. “Thanks, but honestly, I couldn’t have done it without all of you.”
One of the men reached down and ruffled his hair. “So modest.” With this sign of affection, the harsh air of worry and tension dissipated, and the rest of the men took this as their cue. They surrounded the two young heroes, patting them on the back, and hugging and congratulating them, as they reveled in the joy and knowledge that the battle was over, and by some miraculous intervention, they had all survived.