EVERYTHING HAPPENS THIS CHAPTER. Be prepared.
Some parts of the description of the Plains of Desolation might be disturbing to some readers (although if you've gotten this far you're probably fine) so be warned.
Chapter list: http://tanadin.dreamwidth.org/382.html
Map of the continent: http://tanadin.deviantart.com/art/
Plains of Desolation, Sixth Level of the Nether. April 5, year 788. Time instance 483Z.
Vengeance was ashamed to say that the first thing he saw of the Nether was the ground as he threw up all over it. Going through the portal had been more than uncomfortable, flipping his insides around and making him dizzier than he ever had been before. He leaned on the frame for support as Ujhin stepped through. He looked less bothered and only stumbled for a moment before shaking it off and looking around, Vengeance doing the same despite his churning stomach and burning throat.
The Nether, at least its sixth level, wasn’t as fiery as Vengeance had expected. It was dark, made of broken gray stones the shifted and gave way underfoot. It was too dark to see clearly, but what looked like blood seeped out from where the stones shifted. The ‘sky’ far above was black and empty, an unnatural void that quickly made Vengeance look back down around them. Walls encased them similarly to a cavern, only opening up to reveal the sky above. Gray flames burned in alcoves along the walls, providing faint light to see by.
Behind them, the portal went out.
“Well, that’s ominous,” Ujhin mumbled. “Should we get going?”
Vengeance felt the cold air of the unnatural caverns bite into his skin and he nodded, moving to stand closer to his friend. “Y-yeah. Lead the way.”
Ujhin shot an unimpressed look at him. “I don’t know where we’re going any more than you do.”
“I trust your judgement more than I trust mine.”
Ujhin slowly nodded, conceding the point, and led the way through the caverns.
Vengeance wasn’t sure how long they walked, seeing shadows creep past them and bones line the walls and floor. At one point a skeleton picked itself up, hissed at them, and strolled off down one of the paths. Several times, creatures with glowing eyes would watch them from the darkness, hissing and chattering and fleeing if they got close.
As they walked, Vengeance felt the unnatural chill dig into his bones and constantly rubbed the Heart of Pain, coaxing it to produce at least a little heat. Ujhin didn’t seem to mind the temperature, continuing to walk no matter what they came across.
Until, suddenly, they rounded a corner and the walls before them were gone, leaving only a wide open plain with a ground made of bones before them. On the other side, massive black doors stood against a wall of darkness, a few ghostly forms moving in around it and passing through it or into the fiery pit a ways to the right. It was too far to see what was directing them, but Vengeance had a guess that it was Mezeron, the owner of the rib that they carried in Ujhin’s bag.
Ujhin nudged the bones in front of him. “Lovely. They really know how to decorate, don’t they?”
“Was that sarcasm?”
“I’m a sarcastic man, Vengeance. Let’s get going before the bones decide to get up and fight us.”
Vengeance quickly scrambled after him across the field of bones. It was hard to keep his footing, breaking smaller bones underfoot while larger ones just shifted and threw off his balance. He swore and almost twisted his ankle a few times, but Ujhin’s steady pace forced him to keep up.
It took them thirty tiring and unbalancing minutes to cross the plain, but finally they stepped onto smooth stone and approached the Doors of Death. Several ghosts moved away from them, their forms translucent and their voices annoyed whispers that Vengeance couldn’t make out. In front of the Doors stood a skeleton of a gryphon, blackened and charred with yellow lights glowing in its eye sockets. Its bones were structured oddly, giving it a more natural bipedal stance than a quadrupedal one. Its talons were wrapped around an ancient scythe, the blade a swirling vortex of black and gray. It leaned slightly on the scythe, but stood up straighter as they approached. Three ribs were missing from its ribcage, broken ends jagged.
“You are living.” Its beak clacked and its voice rang in their minds- it had to, there was no way this thing could speak. “What brings you before Mezeron?”
“We bring you your rib that you granted the Ashenhorn Skullblades.” Ujhin reached into his back and retrieved the bone. Its broken end glowed faintly, as did one of the jagged breaks on Mezeron’s ribcage. He slowly reached forward and wrapped his talons around the rib, waiting for Ujhin to let go before pressing the two glowing spots together.
They flashed once, briefly, and the break was whole.
“You have returned my rib to me, and thus may bring one spirit through the Doors of Death to walk once again amongst the living.” Mezeron lowered his head to look at Ujhin. “Choose.”
“Vengeance will be the one choosing. I don’t know anyone.”
“You forfeit your choice to your companion?”
“Very well.” Mezeron turned his baleful yellow eyes on Vengeance. “Make your choice.”
Vengeance swallowed and glanced at Ujhin, knowing deep in his heart that his request would be denied but looked into Mezeron’s eyes and spoke anyway.
Mezeron clicked his beak. “He already walks, by Vallor’roth’s decree. Choose one who is gone.”
So Mira was right. He’s here.
He doesn’t remember me.
But he’s Samuel. He’s Samuel. He’s Samuel.
Ujhin didn’t seem to pick this up. “We’ll be traveling by boat,” he reminded him. “We’ll be going into unfamiliar territory, against an unknown enemy and raising Vallor’roth from the dead while curing the plague. I hope you know someone who can help with that.”
Vengeance’s stunned mind didn’t really consider what he said in response to that. The image of someone who could help hazily faded into his mind’s eye and he spoke their name, his tongue heavy and his eyes cloudy.
Samuel is with me. He doesn’t remember who is he.
But he’s Samuel.
He’s my Samuel. My best friend.
His thoughts were interrupted by Mezeron clacking his beak and nodding swiftly. “The choice has been made.” He turned to face the Doors of Death and pushed them slightly open, sticking his head within and cawing loudly. The sound echoed throughout the plains, making the few spirits around them hiss and draw back.
Mezeron stepped back, away from the doors, and watched as a single shape strode forward out of the darkness. They grew more and more solid the closer they drew and, as they stopped before Vengeance, their eyes snapped open and their form flashed with a bright yellow light, vanishing immediately from view.
“It has been done. You will find the one you chose at the point of departure.” Mezeron shut the Doors. “I will provide a way out for you. You will find the rest of your group awaiting for arrival. I…” Mezeron clicked his talons. “I wish you luck. My father cannot judge the souls of the dead, and thus, these are the last to appear before me until he returns from the war with the other Creators. If you do not succeed, this world and its corresponding dimensions will fall into ruin. You have saved us once before; you will do it again. The unwilling are often the best at saving the day.”
“Yeah, well, the unwilling are pissed and want the rest of eternity off.”
Mezeron’s eyes dimmed momentarily. “Perhaps we have more in common than you would assume.” His scythe glowed and he slashed a hole in reality, opening a rippling portal. “Go. You travel now to territories unknown by your mortal races. Tread with caution.”
“Thanks,” Vengeance mumbled. “Didn’t think of that myself.”
“Thank you,” Ujhin said sincerely. “I hope your father does well in his war.”
“As do we all,” Mezeron rumbled.
Vengeance took a deep breath, prepared himself for the inevitable upheaval of his insides, and stepped once more through the portal.
“Altair!” Vechs called. “Could you bring out the target, please?”
“On it!” Altair flipped around and flew into a nearby cave, vanishing quickly into the darkness.
Nozvalu circled the contraption while Vechs, Iirkolav, and Seth appraised his reaction. It looked almost like a cannon, with a lot of “magic and engineering bullshit” as Iirkolav termed it keeping it together. Within its barrel was some kind of metal spear, almost like a ballista bolt, with a jagged head glowing with energy that made them all feel very uncomfortable to be near. The device could be turned quickly by someone sitting in the seat behind it, easily aimed, and fired by pulling a lever. It took a second person to reload, but the process wasn’t as slow as a conventional cannon or ballista.
Iirkolav removed the enchanted bolt and replaced it with a normal one as Altair flew out of the cave with the target in his arms. It had a metal frame around it that glowed faintly green and, when Altair shifted to intangibility, he grabbed it in his claws while the rest of him passed easily through the target itself.
“You’ve enchanted that to affect intangible beings?”
“Altair figured out how to work it.” Vechs grinned proudly. “It only affects him, though, so it has limited uses. This lets us shoot at the target as he moves it around with no risk of hurting him, though.”
“I’d appreciate not getting shot again,” Altair called.
Iirkolav looked at Vechs, surprised. “Again?”
“We don’t talk about that.” Vechs’ grin turned sheepish and he cleared his throat. “Uh, anyways. You just sit down in the seat, aim, and fire. It took a lot of energy from the Hostiles to enchant that one bolt so we’ve only got one shot at this. I’ve been practicing shooting at these targets all day so I think I can hit a giant angry dragon.”
“That can turn intangible,” Nozvalu reminded. “She has strong force element powers.”
“We’ve got that covered. Altair’s coming with so that he can turn it intangible if need be.”
“You are not bringing a Hostile to the Infinity Hourglass.”
“Do we really have a choice? It’s not like they’re corrupted or anything anymore.”
Nozvalu hesitated, opening his mouth, but sighed and shut it. “I suppose not. Let’s see this in action.”
Vechs grinned and jumped into the chair, quickly putting his hands on the controls and turning the machine towards Altair. “Start moving around! Iirkolav, get ready with those reloads!”
“Aye aye, fucktain!”
“You said you’d stop calling me that!”
“Absolutely not. Just start shooting!”
Vechs took aim at the target and pulled the lever, firing the first bolt. Flames spurted from the barrel of the device and it glowed gold briefly before fading back to bronze. The bolt struck the edge of the target and with a tap from Altair, it turned intangible and slipped out, going back to normal before hitting the ground. Iirkolav reloaded the machine and Vechs took a second shot, this time hitting close to the center.
Vechs took a good ten shots, hitting almost every time. He grinned and pushed his goggles up his face when he was done, getting out of the chair.
“I’m impressed,” Nozvalu confessed. “And that enchanted bolt you have should definitely do some damage. I doubt it could kill her unless you hit her directly in the chest, so as long as you aim for somewhere else on her torso, you should just knock her out of the fight long enough for us to win.”
Vechs and Iirkolav highfived each other and Seth, who looked very proud of the machine he’d helped create. “Let’s show this to the others and then get ready for battle. We’ve got a war to win.”
A fate to upturn, a path to make.
The first thing Vengeance noticed when he came through the portal was that he was in the throne room of the Dalanian king.
The second thing Vengeance noticed was that Phyren was shirtless, standing on a table and pointing a fencing saber at Rend, who looked seriously annoyed.
“What the fuck,” he said, managing to startle everyone in the room. Ujhin stepped through the portal and blinked several times at the scene as the rip faded behind him, raising an eyebrow as the king turned and grinned sheepishly.
“Kalera is most of my impulse control and I want to fight Rend for being gone so long.”
“Please put your shirt back on, your majesty,” Nessy mumbled.
“There are children in the room, Phyren,” Rend grumbled, crossing his arms.
“Is one of them the king?” Phyren asked, grinning at him and jumping down from the table. He put the saber down and slipped his shirt back on.
“How did you get here?” Nessy demanded, storming up to Vengeance. “Where’s the one you resurrected? Who did you even bring back?”
“Mezeron helpfully opened a portal for us. They’re at our point of departure, whatever the hell that means, and I really don’t know who I brought back as I was a little preoccupied realizing that Samuel fucking Soares is kind of alive!”
Nessy blinked. “What?”
Woops shit. “Ujhin.” Vengeance turned towards the offending member of the party, who looked surprised.
“You’re Samuel Soares.” He grabbed Ujhin’s shoulders, looking into his eyes and shaking him slightly. “You’re my best friend. You died almost two hundred years ago after the death of your wife, Shred the Mainframe.”
A shiver went through Ujhin, his black eyes widening. “What? I don’t...I can’t…” He stumbled back, hitting the wall and flinching at the sound of his spear hitting the stone. “I’m not…”
“You are. You’ve forgotten, but…” Vengeance’s fists clenched. “Mira was right. I didn’t believe her, but she was right. You are Samuel. You’re what remains of him.”
The throne room was silent for a good twenty seconds before Endira deadpanned, “Well, shit, I could have told you that.”
“I don’t need your sass right now.”
Eclipse looked around at the strained looks of everyone in the group and cleared her throat. “Ooo-kay, should we just...get moving? We can deal with all these revelations on the way, right? We have an ocean to cross.” Nelvethia squeaked in agreement and nudged Eclipse’s leg with her head, wanting to be picked up.
“Right.” Vengeance shivered, feeling every tense muscle in his body force him to turn towards the exit. “Right.”
“I’ve provided a boat for you,” Phyren said helpfully. “And I know you said not to send any kind of crew, but I upgraded your boat a bit and you’re getting a crew. King’s orders. Sorry not sorry. It’s still fairly small and you’ll all lose your minds after a bit, but well, now there’s more sailors to make it crazier!” He grinned. “They can head back once they drop you off in the east, if you want, but first you have to get there and six people and a baby dragon are not an acceptable ship crew. You’ll need to take horses east to the port city of Terezon- who the hell made the capital city of Dalania not a port city, I’ll never know- but they’re waiting for you.”
“Thank you.” Ujhin nodded, still shaken, and took a few steps towards the exit.
“Thank you for your help, both of you.” Nessy bowed to the king and his advisor. “We’ll cure this plague. We have to.”
“I have full confidence in you. And thanks for bringing my advisor back, maybe I’ll stop stripping in the middle of the throne room.”
Rend groaned. They said their further goodbyes and set off, down the stairs and through the streets.
They had a long way to go.
Vechs wasn’t sure what he was expecting when Nozvalu teleported them to the Infinity Hourglass, but what he saw wasn’t it.
The giant hourglass in the center of a platform full of sand, alright. Smaller hourglasses and clocks floating around it, okay. The massive bronze dragon perched upon the hourglass, blasting flame and magic at oncoming groups of creatures that Vechs had never seen before, maybe. The smaller bronze dragon curled in the fetal position, bound in some kind of blue statis next to the hourglass, no. The unending galaxy stretched above them and bloodsoaked sands below, definitely not.
Davions fought with other humanoids, blue wings made of magical energy stretched behind them as they cast spells at Vechs’ relatives. A few bronze dragons darted around, shooting at black and purple dragons as they tore dark shadows apart. Several gryphon skeletons flew through the air on nonexistent feathers while undead swarmed the ground. Wolves made of leaves ran and leaped, snapping at what they could reach, while birds and other creatures of the air made of storms shot and swooped at them.
On the sands was the shadow of a massive dragon whose form Vechs could find nowhere in the sky. As he watched, its head ripped itself free of the ground below and reared up to snap its teeth where a floating human had been moments before. The human blasted bolts of magic at it and it sank back into the ground. A larger wolf made of tree bark- Moranaax, Vechs remembered- leaped at the human as well, but a second human knocked it aside with some kind of force energy.
Above them flew Alvaria, scales black and shining purple with furious violet eyes and sweeping wings. Her children flocked to her frequently, combating anyone who dared draw too close.
Vechs had never felt so much power in one area. Short of a few of the deceased Creators, they were all here, gathered at the Infinity Hourglass fighting against one another and their offspring.
The clashing forces threatened to tear Vechs apart from the inside out. He clenched his teeth and climbed into the seat on the device, motioning for Iirkolav to load it. Altair hovered behind him, taking in the carnage and shaking in terror.
One of the bronze dragons disengaged from the fight and landed next to them, immediately addressing Nozvalu in hurried Dranonic. Vechs’ grasp of the language had improved, but he wasn’t fluent enough to understand what she said or why Nozvalu changed to his dragon form with a whoop of joy.
“The children of Serthias have arrived to help us. This must be a sign of good things to come. Strike the blow, Vechs Davion! Cement our victory!”
Vechs’ eyes narrowed behind his goggles as he took aim at Alvaria. “Let’s do this.”
He waited for the voidclaws around her to disperse, took a deep breath, and fired.
A choice made.
Several things happened at once.
Alvaria’s head turned in time to see the projectile coming towards her and her eyes widened, her wings missing a beat as she realized the horrible energy that was on a collision course with her scales.
The shadow on the ground ripped its head from the sands, roaring something incoherent through the din of battle.
Altair yelped as a voidclaw dove towards them, opening its jaws and shooting violet flames.
And Norazdomu roared Alvaria’s name, leaping off of the Infinity Hourglass into the path of the enchanted bolt. A scream that silenced the battle and thrummed in Vechs’ head for what felt like eons tore itself from the Timekeeper’s throat as the bolt ripped through scale, bone, and muscle, driving deep into his chest and bringing the Creator down to the bloodied sands.
A fate changed.
“NORAZDOMU!” Alvaria folded her wings and dived towards him, even as the Timekeeper’s offspring screamed for their father and flew towards him. Seven dragons, five bronze, one silver, and one black, landed next to Norazdomu, and other than his ragged breaths, no one seemed to dare to breath.
“You idiot!” Iilthrid broke the silence as he hovered next to the weapon, eyes boring deep into Vechs’ soul and setting it ablaze. “Look what you have done!”
Vechs shrank back in his seat. The father of all Davions was furious with him. He had almost certainly killed Norazdomu. He had destroyed their chances at fighting back the corruption.
He hadn’t thought it was possible to fuck up more than he had with the Hostiles, but here he was, at that moment, the biggest fuckup in existence.
“Good.” Vechs looked up at the voice, eyes locking on one of the floating human creators. “Good. Take them down.” He focused magic in his hand and launched it at Iilthrid, and once again the battle began.
Vechs wasn’t sure why he let Iirkolav grab his hand and pull him to Norazdomu’s side, nor why the dragons parted to let him through. He wasn’t sure why Norazdomu was still breathing, and he really wasn’t sure why Norazdomu’s eyes were suddenly red instead of bronze, as they had always been. Hadn’t they?
“Why?” Alvaria demanded, snapping Vechs out of his hazy thoughts. “We are on opposite sides of this conflict. Why save me at the risk of losing your own life?”
“You know...how it was in the Kindled War.” Norazdomu’s voice came slower than before, his eyes half-shut and his breaths ragged. “Such an attachment...can never die.”
Alvaria’s tail lashed, upturning sand behind her and knocking an enemy humanoid off his feet. “You always say that, but you don’t mean it. You never do.”
“I do. I could not...act upon it.” Norazdomu’s claws twitched, creating furrows in the sand. “I mean it as much as I mean that you have been deceived. Jeb is not your ally. He...infected my daughter, and the world beneath.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why would I...lie, Alvaria? I am an old dragon who has….has seen too much.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, Norazdomu. Why would you frame him?”
“What would I gain? I cannot see the future, Alvaria.”
“Look at my eyes.” Norazdomu’s eyes opened further and he lifted his head slightly, allowing them to see his bright red irises. “They are the shade of war, the shade you saw when we first met, when we were whelps and no more than younglings caught in a war we could not understand.” He lay his head back down, smiling slightly as a golden serpent with batlike wings hovered by his wound, chirping worriedly.
“Remember, Alvaria. Those who speak with runes bring only corruption and betrayal.”
A phrase, lost in time and memory, brought to surface with blood and vow.
Vechs had no idea what the two dragons were talking about, but the words seemed to affect Alvaria deeply, making her rear back her head and snort. She blinked her eyes several times and looked up into the sky, looked up to Jeb, and bared her teeth, fury raising her scales and spreading her wings.
“Voidclaws! We have been deceived! Aid Norazdomu against the agent of corruption! Bring down the infector!”
The voidclaws disengaged from their opponents in a fluid motion, as if practiced, and turned to face their previous allies. Alvaria roared and took to the skies, pursuing Jeb across the darkness patterned with the cosmos.
“Did you do this intentionally?” Nozvalu whispered. “Did you know you could convince her this way?”
“No.” Norazdomu shut his eyes. “I, regrettably, didn’t think this through at all. Vechs Davion, I do commend your Hostiles on their efforts. This is very painful and would kill me were I not the Timekeeper of this instance.”
Vechs felt some of the tension melt out of his shoulders. “You won’t die?”
“I certainly hope not. That would shatter the time instance and kill you all immediately.” His eyes opened to slits. “Return to the Vortex. You should never have interfered.”
Nozvalu lowered his head and opened a portal back. Vechs waited for Iirkolav and Altair to both go through before following them, feeling a mixture of emotions and knowing that he wouldn’t sleep well, if at all, for a long time after.
It was the eighth by the time the group reached the Dalanian city of Terezon. They were admitted quickly into the city and directed to the docks, relinquishing their horses to the guards and walking down the deserted streets.
Vengeance was relieved to not be riding a horse, given his track record with them. He hoped that Baltbee remembered to do something with the two that he and Ujhin had accidentally left outside of his house, but he doubted it. It wasn’t a huge concern, anyway, it just made him wonder if his ‘dead horse’ count needed two more added to its number.
A guard pointed out their boat and left them alone, heading back to his post. Vengeance stepped ahead of the group, suddenly more sure of who had had brought back to life as they trailed behind. He walked up the dock and stepped up to the boat, noticing a few crew members already on board but his eyes only focusing on one. He froze at the edge of the dock, eyes locked on the gleaming metal horns, the massive battleaxe leaning on the side of the ship, the green eyes that looked up at him in amusement, the almost lazy grin that spread across her face.
“Get in, losers,” Zekara said, “we’re going sailing.”