The blood in Alf’s veins ran cold, and an image of Carlos’s destroyed town square filled his mind.
“The blood oaths?” the vice champion asked as he turned to look at the out of breath champion. “What are—”
“Are you certain?” Drake asked, overriding the vice champion.
Zaphaniea sucked down another lung full of air and snapped, “Would I have half killed myself getting here if I wasn’t?”
Drake nodded. “Well then, we need to leave at once.”
As the gruesome images from Carlos permeating his mind and fear threatened to overtake Alf, the ancient words rose in his heart, ‘For God hath not given me the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ Grabbing a hold of the words, he pushed aside the terror rising in him and strengthened his resolve. Now was not the time nor place for fear.
“No,’ he spoke up, his tone wavering. “We need to stay and prepare to fight.”
Drake and Zaphaniea turned to stare at him as if he had lost his mind.
“Think about it,” Alf said. “There are hundreds of skilled fighters right now. We can take them.”
“Fat chance. There’s three of them and they have an army!” Zaphaniea exclaimed.
Olivia’s eyes grew wide as Zaphaniea said the word army. “An army? Then what about the people in the city?”
The grand champion threw her arms up in frustration. “Dragon spit if I know, and I’m not sticking around to find out either. We need to go! Now! They’ll be here in fifteen minutes tops.”
The eldest of the three sisters laid her hand on Zaphaniea’s shoulder, and the frantic champion seemed to calm down a bit. “Now think calmly, are your certain running is the best course of action?”
“Of courses it is. We get massacred if we don’t.”
That’s right, Alf thought. Zaphaniea can see the future. “Wait,” he said. “How come you didn’t see this coming?”
“I am not all knowing,” she said in irritation, tossing her hair behind her head. “And I don’t have time to explain that right now. Let’s get out of here!”
“I’m not going anywhere,” the vice champion said, reasserting himself back into the conversation and stepping forward. “If someone’s attacking my arena, they will have to go through me.”
Zaphaniea rolled her eyes, and Olivia frowned. “Your arena?”
“Ya, his arena. His father is the owner and he’s his son. No one is supposed to know that, and that’s why he wears that stupid mask.”
“It’s not stupid! It’s fashionable and cool.”
“Whatever, it’s stupid and ugly,” Zaphaniea spat and turned to Alf, grinding her heels in the grass. “Let’s go already.” She glanced back at the warrior in green. “You can stay mysterious vice champion if you want. I hope you have a nice funeral.”
Alf looked from Zaphaniea to the vice champion. Zaphaniea said if they stayed they’d be massacred, but she’d also just said she wasn’t all knowing, which meant there might be a chance. Alf closed his eyes. The sound of thousands of voices echoed above him from the stands, and the sound of laughing children penetrated his ears. In the natural, maybe they were right. Maybe they should run, but…if there was a chance… He straightened his back.
“I’m not going either,” he said. “There’s tens of thousands of people in this arena, and if we leave there’s no telling what might happen to them.”
Drake grabbed his wrist and Alf looked at him. “Alf, I know I made you leader of this expedition, but do not let your sentiments get us all murdered. Use your mind. What do you think will happen if we do manage to kill three blood oaths and beat back their army?”
Alf stopped and thought about it. “Vackzilian will send more,” he said after a moment.
“Or worse, Vackzilian will come himself,” Drake said. “And if he does, many more will die, including all of us.”
“True,” Alf hung his head.
“Wait.” Olivia interjected. “Drake might not be right. This is a prominent city in his Empire, and these people are now his subjects whether they know it or not. I doubt he will go around killing them for no reason. He’s not stupid. He has to be sending his men here for a purpose. If we can give him what he wants, or make it impossible for him to get it, they might just leave.”
“Emperor?! What do you mean Vackzilian’s the Emperor?” The vice champion asked, his normally calm voice raised several decibels in alarm.
Drake waved his hand dismissively at him. “No time to explain,” he said. “Olivia, if you make it impossible for him to get what he wants, then you will bring down his wrath on this city.”
“Well, if it means saving a lot of people’s lives, it may be worth giving him what he wants,” Alf offered, hating the idea as he said it.
“I’m what he wants!” Zaphaniea said turning on him. “You going to hand me over?!”
Alf stumbled several steps back and raised his hands in an attempt to ward off her wrath. “No. no. Forget I said anything.”
“Hmm,” Drake muttered. “That might be a viable option. If we all attack her at once we might be able to subdue her.”
“WHAT!?” Zaphaniea blurted.
As if to mimic the thunderous expression on her face, the once clear sky started to fill with dark clouds, and a strong breeze started rustling the banners flying in the arena.
“He’s just teasing,” Olivia said. “At least I hope he is,” she continued as she gave the boy a stern look. “But if Vackzilian is after you, it would seem our only option is to run.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying from the beginning!” Zaphaniea said jerking her arms. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Not so fast,” Olivia put up her hand. “We need to make it so they know you’re running.”
Zaphaniea froze. “I’m not liking the sound of this.”
“You have a plan?” Drake asked.
“I do, and it might just work, but first, I need to know two things from you Zaphaniea.”
The grand champion narrowed her eyes and tapped her foot impatiently as the wind continued to pick up. “What do you need to know?” she asked, her voice heavy with suspicion.
“Does Vackzilian know what you look like,” Olivia asked, “and,” she pushed several strands of hair behind her ear as it whipped about her face, “are you capable of casting the final level of holy magic?”
“I’m sure he does. My posters are all over the city,” Zaphaniea laughed, her tone bitter as she jerked her chin in the direction of one of the giant banners advertising her matches. “And no, I can barely cast the second level, much less the final.”
The dark clouds continued to climb above them, and Alf sidestepped a meat skewer zipping through the air. “What?” he asked in surprise. “But you’re so strong and powerful. How come you can only cast the second level?”
“Ha,” the vice champion laughed. “That’s what I was saying earlier, she’s not strong or powerful. She’s just got one of the rarest spells in the world and the ability to see into the future. If she ever ran into someone truly powerful like Vackzilian, she’d be toast.”
Zaphaniea put her hands on her hips. “That’s not true!” She looked down. “I… I just spent all my time and energy perfecting my main spell. That’s all.”
“Hey guys,” the youngest maid interrupted them. “I don’t know if you’re noticing this or not, but the weather is taking a turn for the worse and I got a bad feeling. If we’re going to do something, we’d better do it fast.”
“She is right,” the eldest maid said. “Let us discuss this while on the move.”
Alf nodded in agreement. He didn’t feel like becoming a shish kabob anytime soon. “Ya guys. Let’s discuss this as we leave.” He looked at the grand champion. “You know how to follow me right?”
“Okay then. Every one! Let’s go,” Alf said as he started to jog towards the arena’s exit.
“Finally!” Zaphaniea huffed in exasperation as she and the others began to move across the ground via Traverse Wake; well everyone but the vice champion, that is. “You have to mentally choose to follow me,” Alf called back at him.
The man’s masked face stared blankly at him as the crowd started yelling above the wind for the match to start already, and the harsh cry of seagulls echoed from the walls. Undoubtedly, they had no clue what was heading their way. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I’m not going with you. If you don’t succeed in drawing these people away, it’ll be up to me to defend the arena. You go. I’m going to stay and see about forming some type of defense, just in case.”
“Good idea,” Alf called back. “I’d stay and help you, but…” he looked towards Olivia, a question in his eyes.
“My plan can’t succeed without you,” she affirmed.
He turned back to the warrior, “God speed to you vice champion, and may the wind ever blow in your favor.”
“The same to you,” the vice champion said with a flourishing bow. “You’ll need it if these people are anywhere near as strong as you think they are.”
Dirt and turf swirled into the air, and in the blink of an eye, the warrior clad in green disappeared—at least, to everyone else’s eyes; Alf saw him run past him, salute, and jump over the twelve foot wall and into the stands.
His farewells finished, Alf picked up his pace as he darted for the field’s exit and into the undercroft of the arena. As they entered the stone corridor, the pulsating wind, and the sound of the crowd faded away, replaced with the beat of his footsteps as they echoed in the circular cavern.
“What’s our course of action?”Alf asked over his shoulder.
Olivia scratched the back of her neck. “Since Zaphaniea can’t cast the final level, I guess I’ll just have to cast it through her.” She bit the bottom of the lip and said to the grand champion, “It will be hard on you, and will likely put you out for a few hours, but if all goes well we might just be able to pull this off. Are you okay with this?”
Zephaniea shrugged, “As long as I survive, I’m good.”
“You are planning to use Zaphaniea to draw them away from the city and capitalize on Alf’s speed to escape?” Drake ascertained.
Olivia nodded. “As soon as we are out of the arena, and you or I see any sign of the blood oaths, I’ll begin to channel cast holy magic’s final spell through Zaphaniea. Her flying, and the light from the spell, should draw the attention of the blood oaths. In the meantime, Alf, you’ll need to keep running for the city’s exit as fast as possible.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Alf said.
“Let’s hope they can’t outpace us or teleport like my father’s bodyguards,” Drake mumbled.
Yes, let’s, Alf thought. “Which city exit should I take?” he asked as he approached the arena’s entryway.
The group looked towards Zaphaniea and she shrugged. “Last time I looked, they were heading for the front gate,” Zaphaniea replied absentmindedly.
As Alf emerged into the oncoming storm, and an unsuspecting city, Olivia yelled above the roaring wind, “Zaphaniea, I need you to mentally mark everyone and everything as allies, except for anybody affiliated with Vackzilian.”
“I’ve already done that.”
“Alright. Since this will be your first time seeing or casting the final spell, you should know that it actually gives you wings to fly.”
Alf glanced back to see Zaphaniea smile, “I know, I saw it a few seconds ago.”
Having someone around who can see the future is going to take some getting used to, Alf thought to himself. He weaved through the carts and busy thoroughfare unnoticed as the vendors, selling to the people still standing in line, rushed to tie down their belongings and seek shelter from the impending rain.
Olivia nodded, seemingly undisturbed by the strange answer. “Good. By the time you’re in the air, you should understand the nature of the spell and how to use it. I need to warn you though, I am going to use my medical knowledge to force channel cast it through you, and the strain on both of us, and especially on your muscles, will be tremendous. I have no doubt you’ll be in excruciating pain by the end of the spell, but you’ll have to push past it and finish all the way to the end. And no matter what, don’t stop following Alf.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got all that already,” the champion rubbed her hands together. “I can’t wait to rain down some hell on these blood oaths. Vackzilian has wreaked havoc upon me and my family, and now it’s time for some payback.”
Dy’Ixion gazed up at the massive warehouse casting long shadows over the teleportation stone, and his dark skin shivered with anticipation. Soon, he thought. Soon.
Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply of the sweet smell of oncoming rain and opened his arms. Wind from the Emperor’s summoned tropical storm grabbed at his dark robes and tore at the dilapidated buildings surrounding him, moaning and hissing at it weaved its way between the alleyways and broken window panes.
Vackzilian’s seemingly infinite forethought had made this the perfect staging area for Dy’Ixion’s grand victory. Once a thriving hub of commerce, now this area of the city was all but abandoned. Due to Vackzilian’s teleportation fees, for the last twenty years the usage of Glandledale’s massive-sized teleportation stone had declined. Now wild vines choked the life out of once well manicured trees, while weeds and cracks riddled the once pristine pavement surrounding the square.
It was a scene of desolation and abandoned dreams.
The stone lit up and Dy’Ixion’s gaze dropped back to the teleportation stone as another group of thirty men teleported in.
Excitement welled up in him.
This was it.
Revenge would soon be his.
After all his years of suffering…
“It’s good to be free,” he cooed.
Once upon a time, Dy’Ixion used to be a powerful mage in the Imperial City, but he was wrongfully stripped of his position and thrown into jail. The new Emperor, knowing the truth, freed him, and Dy’Ixion had willingly and happily committed the blood oath pact to Vackzilian. Now he was an all-powerful blood oath, sworn to Vackzilian himself, the new Emperor and soon to be ruler of the entire world.
At last, I’ve received my due homage after three years, he thought. Three long, laborious years in prison—all for finding a stupid dark magic scroll.
You didn’t just find a dark magic scroll, you used it on a rival mage and almost killed him, a long suppressed part of this conscious screamed.
Dy’Ixion shrugged. Humph. The snot nose survived didn’t he? But did the Emperor care? Nooo, he threw me in jail for life.
Stop lying to yourself, the voice continued. It was more than fair. You attacked the poor mage with the intent to kill. It wasn’t your first infringement either; the Emperor warned us repeatedly to stop messing with dark magic.
A frown spread across Dy’Ixion’s face and slowly morphed into a scowl. Whatever! The past didn’t matter anymore because now he was the most powerful of all of Vackzilian’s men. And soon, he thought, I will be ruler of my own country.
We’re his slave! We will rule nothing, the other part of him contradicted. You’ve sold our soul for momentary pleasure, and now Vackzilian will suck us dry like the land around his tower and then toss us aside. We are nothing but a tool!
The scowl on Dy’Ixion’s face morphed into outrage. “Enough!” he screamed out loud. “I am Lord Dy’Ixion, servant of Vackzilian, soon to be ruler of the world. I will not let some harebrained idea of morality control me!” Spittle flew from his lips and his body heaved in anger. He would not be corrected. Not even by himself.
His sudden outburst drew the attention of his men and they eyed him warily, their postures mirroring their obvious distaste and fear. Dy’Ixion straightened his back and glared at them until they turned away.
No one was going to ruin this for him. No one!
Pushing away his demons, he cleared his mind and brought his attention back to the matter at hand. He had been sent by the Emperor to collect the grand champion, and this time, he would not fail, not like last time with Carlos. Not that it had been his fault the mayor had decided to blow himself up.
One of the two other blood oaths underneath his command lumbered towards him. The red light of the setting sun cast an eerie glow on his bald head, and his black uniform sucked in the surrounding light, while his cape flapped imperiously in the wind. Just like him, the other two blood oaths had been freed from Victiles Island, a small isle where the Empire sent its most hardened criminals.
The man, if he could be called that, came to attention and saluted. Lifeless eyes stared out at him from a deformed face, and misshapen muscles strained against the creature’s bruised purplish blue skin as his arm crossed his chest.
Dy’Ixion didn’t know his name, nor did he care. As far as he was concerned, the freakish looking creature in front of him was fodder, just like the rest of his soldiers.
You look just like him, the voice from earlier echoed in his mind.
“Report!” he barked, slashing his hand and dispersing his wayward thoughts once and for all.
“All the men are through the teleportation stone. Also, the Emperor wants us to scour the city and bring back anyone of significant strength or talent.”
“I was already planning on doing that,” Dy’Ixion spat.
Raising the ground beneath him, he stood in front of the assembled soldiers and lifted his voice. “The Emperor has sent us to secure the grand champion and the arena. You are underneath my command and any infractions on your part will lead to immediate execution. Is that understood?”
The soldiers shifted nervously.
“Good. Now, those good at lightning or water magic, go secure all the city’s openings. Kill or disable anyone who tries to get in or out, no questions asked.”
The men stared at him as if waiting for something. “Now!” he snapped.
Approximately a third of his men broke off, leaving him with over three hundred.
“Bunch of retarded toads,” he muttered in disgust.
He turned his back on the remaining soldiers and raised his voice above the wind. “We’re headed straight for the arena. Once we arrive, your first objective will be to close off all exits using earth magic. From there, we shall systematically eradicate any resistance and secure this grand champion.”
“Now,” he said, motioning with his hand, “Follow me.”
Dy’Ixion led his underlings in a quick march down the barren street and towards the arena. As they left the abandoned part of the city, the roadway began to bustle with life. Buildings gleamed with vulgar light, and tasteless, colorful paper-lanterns, swung back and forth in the growing wind. Despite the oncoming storm, riffraff flooded into the streets, filling up every alley and walkway. With gaping jaws, they stared at the oncoming army clad in black and quickly made way for them as they passed by.
Suddenly, rain started spattering and pouring from the sky, and people darted for shelter.
It’s about time, Dy’Ixion thought.
But as the army neared the arena, a massive charged shield erupted from a tower high in the sky and enfolded the entire city, protecting all underneath it’s glow from the wind and rain. Sheltered in its protective blue light, the creatures left their shelter and the nightlife began to flood the area once more. Tourists swirled into the streets, further congesting the road and making it impossible for them to get through.
The emperor’s storm was supposed to clear the path and make it easy for them to accomplish their goals, but this city had weathered quite a few of Vackzilian’s odd weather patterns without ever once paying his protection fees, so such complications were to be expected.
“Out of the way. In the name of The Emperor!” The blood oath to his left shouted in annoyance.
At his words, the crowds came to a standstill. The sound of merrymaking ceased, and the people’s brows scrunched as they gazed at the purplish freak in bewilderment.
The blood oath’s face contorted in hate. Angrily, he swung his arm to the side and spittle flew from his mouth as he screamed, “Are you deaf!? I said out of the way. In the name of the Emperor!!”
His shouting proved in vain, however, as more people crowded the road, shoving and pushing in their attempt to observe the odd phenomena.
The army was forced to a complete halt.
Dy’Ixion took a deep agitated breath. “Enough is enough,” he snarled.
He raised his right hand above his head and charged a fireball infused with dark magic between his index finger and thumb.
The onlookers watched in amusement as the swirling black fire increased in size until Dy’Ixion, with murderous glee in his soulless eyes, swung his arm forward, launching it into their midst.
Black death blossomed and engulfed those closest to it, instantly killing several people. Women and men cried out in pain as the resulting dark cloud spewed forth and swallowed them, sucking out their life force and leaving them to fall lifeless to the ground.
Dy’Ixion breathed deep of their energy and his mouth curled in ecstasy, his now jagged teeth cutting his lips as the last of his victim’s energy flowed into him.
With an ear-numbing silence, the sound of merrymaking came to an abrupt end, and the crowd stared in disbelief. Their faces paled; their eyes widened. Like deer in bright lights, the people stood frozen in their tracks.
Once more, Dy’Ixion raised his hand and a black fire swirled to life above his palm.
As if someone had flipped an unseen switch, the most powerful impulse known to mankind swept over the crowd, and as one, they turned to flee, tripping and trampling over each other in their mad rush to escape the lunatic.
Pouring the energy he’d just devoured into his second attack, Dy’Ixion tossed it into the roiling, scrambling mess.
The ensuing explosion shook the ground as it ripped a circular hole in the side of a nearby hotel, killing those unlucky enough to be in range and knocking down several of the soldiers behind him.
Screams of panic and hysteria caressed Dy’Ixion’s ears like a grand symphony of chaos, while the sulfuric scent of black magic wafted in the air, and he sniffed in appreciation as the last of the city’s citizens disappeared from sight.
“Ah, that is more like it.”
The blood oath to the right of him broke out in maniacal laughter. Grabbing his stomach, and wiping a tear from his eye, he said, “That was hilarious. They ran like frightened cockroaches.”
Dy’Ixion smiled a cold, sinister grin. “Yes, it was rather effective wasn’t it.”
Tossing his head, he jutted his chin forward and signaled his army to resume its march. It was time to move.
The road now empty, the soldiers preceded to the coliseum unhindered. An air of evil hung about them like a cloak as they marched forward, and the smell of fire lingered in their garments. All that could be heard ringing in the barren streets was the sound of marching feet, each foot pounding out the sound of death as they made their way forward, and as the last of the sunlight faded, a red haze of energy emanated from the three foremost figures.
Finally, rounding the last building in front of the arena, Dy’Ixion signaled a halt.
The large plaza before them swarmed with thousands of unsuspecting pleasure seekers and hundreds of carts carrying all manner of goods, while long lines stretched out in front of the grand, circular building.
Dy’Ixion lifted his hand high above his head and felt a shudder of anticipation run through the blood thirsty men behind him as they spread out into formation.
This is going to be a glorious slaughter, he thought to himself as he brought his arm down.
With an earthshaking roar, his army rushed forward to fall upon the civilians.
Those who saw the murderous soldiers charging towards them screamed in terror and tried to run, only to slam head-long into the concession stands and wagons which had brought such joy mere moments ago.
Dy’Ixion’s fingers twitched in excitement and his eyes widened in anticipation. This was it, the beginning of his grand rise to power, and the prelude to his revenge he thought. But right before his soldiers fell on their victims, a blinding light pierced the darkness, freezing everyone in their tracks.
Hiding his eyes behind his arm, Dy’Ixion stared towards the light to see a beautiful woman with large, snow-white wings erupt from its source and shoot into the sky.
A second later, a large beefy man, off to the side of the arena, pointed up. “Look! It’s the grand champion,” he yelled. “She’s come to save us!”
Dy’Ixion’s eyes flicked to the large poster hanging from the coliseum, then back to the flying woman. “It is the champion! Bring her down, but don’t kill her, we want her alive,” he shouted to his men.
His army leaned back and tossed their hands skyward, filling the air with hundreds of wind scythes all headed straight for the grand champion.
Well, this will be easy, he thought as the massive onslaught shot towards her, but right before the attacks struck, the wind scythes turned around in midair and headed straight back for his army. The blood oath to his right grunted as he channeled a shield around the militia, while the other blood oath shot four crystallized ice spikes at the grand champion’s wings.
The spikes shrieked as they raced through the air at impossible speeds and should have ripped the champion’s wings clean off, but inexplicitly, and without any perceptible movement, she swerved, letting the ice spikes pass harmlessly by. Then she raised her hands, and a giant beam of light shot straight through his ally’s shield, shattering it and smashing into the ground right in front of Dy’Ixion, and eviscerating two of his men as it billowed outwards into a sphere.
At the exact same time, walls on all four layers of the arena pulled away to reveal fifteen different groups charging massive fireballs. As one, the groups released their volleys.
As the flames rapidly approached, Dy’Ixion dodged to his left side, avoiding the champion’s attack as it continued to increase in size, and dashed forward. Throwing up his arms, he channeled a new shield around himself and his army. The balls of fire careened into his red-tinted shield with a sizzling hiss, and Dy’Ixion ground his teeth as the crimson fire wrapped around the barrier like a giant blanket. For a second, Dy’Ixion held the fire at bay, but under the tremendous strain, the shield began to crack and buckle. Seeing the impending danger, the two other blood oaths raced to his side and added their strength to his.
The crackling and buckling stopped, and gradually, the ocean of fire faded away.
Dy’Ixion gazed out past the remains of the flames to see the walls of the arena already back in place, and the grand champion speeding away at an alarming rate, her beam of expanding light still impacting on his shield.
“They knew we were coming!” he hissed angrily. “You two, retrieve the grand champion. I’ll take care of the insurrectionists.”
The other two blood oaths channeled their own shields and took off running after the flying woman.
As their shield interposed itself between the grand champion’s attack and him, he dropped his shield and turned his attention towards the coliseum.
The structure provided a perfectly defendable position with four layers of varying height to attack from. Thick, magically hardened earthen walls offered the ultimate defense, and in less than a minute, those walls would drop again, allowing the defenders to launch a second volley of fireballs, one he wouldn’t be able to defend against without his colleagues’ help.
A blood curdling, eerie smile crept across his face. “You think you have the upper hand don’t you, but I’ll show you the power of a blood oath!” he roared as he reached his hands out towards the arena walls and channeled energy into their earthen depths.
A bluish-black energy flowed from his hands and sunk into the earthen structure. As the energy permeated the wall, he curled his fingers and yanked his arms back and to the left. With a terrible rumble, the entire side of the arena curled and ripped away, smashing into buildings and tourists standing in its way.
Stripped of their covering, the people inside the arena stared in dumb bewilderment out at Dy’Ixion and his army.
Dy’Ixion sneered back at them.
Without their precious wall, he could easily see the fifteen groups charging their half-finished attacks.
Raising his right hand high into the sky, he slammed it down with all his might.
People screamed and walls crumbled into dust as an invisible force smashed into the group closest to him, crushing them into the stone floor. Their half-formed fireball exploded inside the arena, erupting like a an active volcano spewing forth its deadly contents. The flames devoured its casters as it flashed outwards and set off the unfinished spell of the group next to them.
Like a chain reaction, the flame’s grasping jaws engulfed group after group as each successive fireball exploded; until finally, the entire side of the arena billowed in a blazing cauldron of bubbling lava and melting rock.
Dy’Ixion cackled in triumph. Hundreds, if not thousands, had been instantly killed or fatally wounded in his single attack.
He raised his voice and addressed his army. “Charge in! Kill all who oppose you and take the rest prisoners.”
With an ear-deafening war cry, his army flowed forward like a raging river.