Author's Note: Harr. And there we have it-this whole thing is drawing near to the end…and we're tying up most things…MOST things. You gotta leave a few loose ends around here and there, just in case you want to write a sequel.
Pathways of Darkness Chapter 29: Ending
"The fabric between worlds is thin, and in some points thinner than most. Surely all that is needed to rip the fabric asunder is a small bit of knowledge, and the application of said knowledge. It is thus rifts between the Planes of existence are born…who knows where else such a door may take us?" Hu'zzanti, twentieth Prophet-Magus of the Arcane Academy.
Bursting open, the door of Th'raxis' working quarters flew aside to reveal an extremely irate fire elemental.
Crimson child of the Sentinels, these mortals here tell me that you have refused to heed their words.
Unfazed, the Commander dusted off his regalia and stared up at the Elemental Firelord, curiously not managing to ignite any of the paperwork lying around. "They did not present sufficient backing for their claims. I cannot take action on a whim."
Hot on the trail of warm stone and burning pitch, the werewolves and Dragonkin entered the room in time to witness the confrontation.
Above them, the ancient being hissed a little as something sizzled within its form. Then I shall give you more than a whim…my word. Is that enough?
A seemingly indifferent shrug. "Perhaps, judging on the circumstances."
Maybe I should not have ceded so much power to you, Commander. Drunk you may be on the authority I have given, but…honour the agreement your ancestors made with me.
Yet another shrug. "I'll need more details."
And so Iryane had to sit through a much more lengthy explanation than the one she'd just received in the Core.
In all cases, a war machine is still a machine, no matter how you may look at it. Enmeshed into each other, gears whirr, thing which go "bloop" go "bloop", tiny little peons trundle along like ants, or in the case of such an appliance, lemmings. A tiny piece of dirt in the wrong place can seriously foul up any mechanical device as any decently qualified dwarven mechanic can tell you. Because of Bebu's Theorem of Nasty Stuff, grime is often overlooked.
L'zul felt like such a piece of grime- he didn't fit in anywhere, only serving to get in the way. Galvanized into action shortly after the "discussion", the whole of the Fortress was very much alive, the dullness of routine temporarily broken, for there was going to be a sight to see: the Red Flight on the offensive, after so millennia of being holed up in this cliff wall.
The black werewolf thought the reptiles behaved rather like Fra'ren, buzzing about in their hive, each not knowing exactly what on Arkon was going on, but coalescing into a single entity with one direction.
When Fyraxus had finished explaining, if Dragonkin physiology was anything similar to that of humans, Th'raxis would have turned a pretty shade of pink. Too bad…over the course of the last few days, strategies had been discussed, plots hatched, debates carried out, but nothing concrete had been done.
"Scouts dispatched over the last few days have shown increased activity of the Black Flight around Ik'liss," Th'raxis had explained earlier on, pointing with a long stick to a small board with pins and needles stuck into it. Actually, L'zul didn't know what those tiny tacks meant, so he didn't really care, but it wasn't going to be polite to demonstrate boredom in front of a horde or draconic humanoids, for fear of Really Horrible Things happening. "Sighted were groups of sappers, each squad backed up by a Deathguard or Infernal. Fortifying the area…"
While he was lost in thought upon the bench, what could have passed for a large, white dog loped up beside him and stared at L'zul in an odd way. Ignoring the newcomer, his train of thought went on…
"The whole place can be thought of as an inverted cone set into the ground. Flanked on two sides by low foothills, adequate cover can be taken advantage of, bolstering our initial advantage of surprise. It is unlikely that D'rakkor will be expecting an incursion, especially for a target so close to the Bulwark."
Absentmindedly, L'zul's slightly coarse fingers gently ruffled Iryane's once-mangy fur coat as she settled next to him, eliciting a soft whine as she closed her eyes. While it wasn't exactly show material, the pelt upon her did look a little more presentable than all those weeks before…
"It is likely that we shall approach as such in a pincer formation, creating a diversion making the center of the circle lightly guarded. Numbers are estimated at about two of them for every three of us, and such a tactic will be feasible. When this is in progress, a small team of interlopers shall be dispatched to retrieve this artefact."
Though Th'raxis hadn't specifically mentioned him, the dark werewolf had a bad feeling…
"If it is truly as dangerous to our cause as Fyraxus would have us believe, it is imperative that this tablet should be retrieved. Any squadron which is unoccupied should push towards the lowest point of the depression."
Whimpering slightly, the she-wolf settled upon the bench, tail wagging as L'zul smoothed out her head.
"Dismissed. This is the first push we have made in a long while, so make sure all drills have been performed, and instructions clearly given. Maintenance teams should be inspecting all equipment. Any whom fail…"
Interestingly, the open end served its purpose far better than any spoken threat.
At long last, the following day came, entailing with it an associated feeling of dread. Before the portcullis which barred the Scorched Lands from the rest of Arkon, the massed armies of the Red Dragonkin stood, with the Gold at their side, flaming elementals covering the rear. Banners flying amongst the multitude, L'zul gazed upon the situation he was now in, amongst the hounds of war.
"However did our original journey turn into such an adventure?" he whispered quietly to himself. "I did not mean to set off such a chain of events…"
Breaking his soliloquy, Garradan laid a hand upon his longtime companion's shoulder. "I've followed you for more than fifty Rounds, L'zul. Having known no other life, I still do."
"You were first one whom cared about me, even when I was still in a cage. While I may not have cared to meet you before your change of heart, if the tales about your past are true, I can only hope that in some way you have been redeemed, and not in the way the Noble Avengers claim," Iryane added.
Eyes wandered over the cracked earth and smog which lay beyond the Bulwark.
"Thank you for not abandoning me," L'zul almost gasped, before turning away and rejoining W'rmthalak, who was briefing R'eyortsed.
"Champion, I trust you to carry out your tasks accordingly. Because my success depends on yours, distract them long enough, draw as many of their number away from the place as possible. Work well with Te'remus and M'yav, cooperation is essential. Understood?"
Saluting crisply, the champion of the Gold Flight managed to nod at the same time, something which would have boggled the minds of most. "Sire!"
Noticing the werewolves approach, the Overlord greeted them with Grad. "Unfortunately, young D'raneor will not be joining us, those who have gained their wings so recently should not be asked to see such sights, but would I be right in assuming you three would like to come and join in the fun? " he asked with a toothy grin.
"I wouldn't miss it for magic-on-a-stick," the black werewolf replied, a long-absent feral glint returning to the centre of the pure-black iris of his eye. "And I doubt my friends here would, even if we are to be meat shields."
"He's right," Iryane confirmed, her silvery-white hair neatly tucked away where it wouldn't obstruct any fighting.
"Very good. Though I have no wish to harm my brother-in-law, it is essential that he be stopped…yet…R'xxra has told me enough of her growing years…can you imagine how horrible it must be, to betray every single one of your principles for so long in order to merely survive?"
Yes, came the glum thought. I was once like that.
A solemn sigh. "Truly, I wish that both he and his mother would repent, and see their errs, yet this time they have overstretched themselves, and forced my hand. Then again, what are good and evil but names for sides? Inside their minds, they probably think what they are doing is right…but enough of that. See for yourself the ones whom hold the tide of darkness from devouring all!"
And the werewolves saw what had been mobilised in so short a time. They saw the Aerial Assaulters, clad in scant more than cloth, for more would weigh them down. They saw enough artillery to level hills and blast trenches to smithereens, catapults and ballista at the ready. They saw rows upon rows of Firelords, poised to incinerate all who stood in their way. They saw the rank and file of the Red Flight, each knowing their duty to the world they lived in from the very moment of their Hatching far away from Fort Rez'kul, each immersed in a fanatical frenzy, male and female alike. They saw glints of gold dotted amongst the sea of red.
They saw it was good.
"How far is it to the Thin Spot?" Garradan asked.
"About two hour's march," came the reply.
There was no speech, no inspirational words to be given, but the atmosphere hung so heavy that L'zul was sure even one not of the Cursed Blood could smell it.
"To war, for our ancestors, for the Dragonlord, Dragonmother, and all they embodied! For Arkon!"
"To war!" the mail-clad footmen shouted.
"To war!" the gun-toting, goggled dive bombers screamed.
"To WAR!" every singe being exclaimed, a plethora of both physical and telepathic voices resounding.
Hurrying after W'rmthalak, L'zul, Garradan and Iryane followed as the Red Flight rumbled into action, treads pounding upon the parched, barren soil that marked the start of the Scorched Lands.
High above the fray Th'raxis hovered, surrounded by Aerial Aces. Pausing only to break open the barrel of his well-calibrated rifle and load more slugs and black powder in, the Commander fired time and again into the battleground, as did the airborne squadron around him. Nimbly dodging arrows and other projectiles aimed at them from the ground, one of them would occasionally spew forth a fireball, and watch it hurtle towards thr ground before making deadly impact.
With a bird's-eye view of the carnage that was taking place, Th'raxis could see everything. While the forces of the Black Flight were indeed in a vague state of disarray, there was something wrong…each jet of flame, each cry rising from the killing field, each explosive conflagration as a Red Dragonkin committed Serrar rather than fall to the blades of their enemies…the pain was nearly unbearable…just as the barren, cracked earth and perpetually hazy sky were…
This was the true reason why one hatched and raised for battle was so reluctant to wage it.
Leaping from the flint, a tiny spark settled itself on the rifle's stock.
Deep reflection is rather uncharacteristic of you, Th'raxis.
"Shoo, Fyraxus. You're throwing off my aim."
Your concern is admirable, Commander. Because you are able to feel for your charges, that makes you a more effective leader.
"I don't need a lecture now, Elemental. Yet every time…"
One of your kind perishes? A mere ten Rounds in this position, and you are already weakening…what have I gone through, deities, demons and mortals all alike persecuting those of the Elements. Forced to the Lady I held dear be left behind at the mercy of the Pantheon. Limitless ones dying…and yet I remain sane enough to speak to you now.
"Begone," Th'raxis growled, firing off another salvo at a group of Infernals on the ground, even as they hurled bolts of lightless flame up at him.
Forgive them, for although they know what they are doing, they believe it to be for the greater good. Yet the means can never justify the ends, for by the changing of the means, the very nature of the ends is inevitably altered.
With a ghostly sigh, the spark winked out, leaving the Red Dragonkin with his own thoughts above the field of strife.
"They've done it," W'rmthalak growled. "I still don't believe they managed to pull it off, but there it is."
Indeed, the majority of forces had been diverted to engage the marauding Red Flight, and pretty much token defences had been left behind-bad planning perhaps, or their adversary was confident whatever that was being planned could be pulled off easily.
Sending up a quick, mumbled prayer that that wasn't the case, the Overlord crawled downhill to their eventual goal, the werewolves Changed and prowling in close proximity. While the trip onward had been easy, especially since from the air they were nearly invisible specks to any Spotters of the Black Dragonkin, the Golden One saw flecks of green of the fangs and claws of his companions each time they slunk by-they'd been clearing the way for him.
Amid the smouldering and burning remains of various bodily parts, W'rmthalak crept onward and downward, to where fate awaited.
L'zul could feel the surge of adrenaline course through the wolf's form, causing the beast within to howl, a mixture of human cruelty and animal fury. Deliberately loosening his grip a little, the werewolf felt his rage surge.
It felt good, being able to take down those two-legged, winged lizards-three enraged, near-immortal wolves were more than a match for any they happened to stumble upon. Because they were expecting a visible enemy at least nine feet tall, short work was made of the unsuspecting reptiles, finding a berserk, dark-furred canine tearing away with tooth and claw…
Old times all over again, being able to lose oneself in the hunt, the human half mostly along for the ride, bestial strength tempered by human wit and bloodthirst.
Only this time, the dark werewolf was careful to exercise a little restraint.
General D'rakkor sniffed the air, snout raised. Something was not going as planned-he'd planned for such a contingency, with enough cannon fodder to hold the Red Flight off for long enough…they'd suffer their deserved fates for stalling his master for so long…
"If my trusted lieutenant tells me my Legions of Terror are losing a battle, I will believe him. After all, he's my trusted lieutenant."
As expected, Captain T'eremus hurried up to where he stood, greenish worry the colour dominating her crystalline eyes.
"General, we cannot hold off the Red Flight much longer. Having launched a full-scale invasion past the Bulwark, they outnumber us by a good measure-perhaps it is time to retreat?" she asked.
Looking at his second-in-command's battered and blackened body armour, D'rakkor nodded. "A little while longer, and we can fall back and regroup. A most unfortunate circumstance that the thin spot is located to close to The Bulwark. Do not fail me."
"All available forces are clustered to the east and south," came the reply.
Angered, D'rakkor hissed menacingly at his subordinate. "What?! Did you not keep the ring formation as ordered?"
"But we needed backup…"
"By the Devourer himself, a diversion, and you fell right into it. Make sure nothing slips through! Return to the formation initially given, or suffer my mother's wrath!"
When she heard this, T'eremus instantly took flight to relay the message.
"I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve."
Hurry, mother, D'rakkor thought. Hurry and use our superweapon.
Once, Ik'liss had been a pleasant lake, the gargantuan Arcane Crystal that stood there half-submerged…now the very center or the lakebed was parched, with yawning chasms filled with lightless fire, an eternal testament to the unholy energies which once had been unleashed upon Arkon. D'rakkor was not stupid, and had installed sturdy safety barriers to prevent anyone or anything from accidentally falling into the yawning chasms, in addition to the impromptu camp pitched nearby.
Behind him, the Brood Mother busied herself with the exceedingly simple ritual for one of such power-how so simple an invocation could have such far-reaching effects…
You have served us well, D'rakkor. The Legion is not…ungrateful to those who aid us against those proud fools. When our Master returns, and the Majordomo after that, he will see to it that you get your just reward. In the contrary, those who follow those pathetic weaklings have often been double-crossed and forsaken…
"It is my duty."
And you have performed it well, but watch your back. The Dreamer comes.
But I haven't had the chance to torment him yet! a lone voice cried.
Shut up! The very one who helped remove the seal upon the spell your mother is about to invoke. Hack him and his companions to pieces-you possess neither fire nor silver to finish them off.
Vaguely remembering something in the report about humans in the excavation site, the General grimaced, trail twitching in irritation. Stupid minions…
There is not enough time to recall your troops. Gather your personal guard and steel yourself! Defend your mother till our master comes through! We cannot aid you till Duffikus releases us from this imprisonment!
Swiftly grabbing his pike from the rack it was propped up in, D'rakkor called his escorts over.
"So this is the thin point between the planes," W'rmthalak whispered almost reverently. Under the rust-brown sky, the place could have been passed off for a salt flat, if not for the yawning crevasses which lead to only the gods knew where…
"Thhherrrre esss norrrr coverrrrr," L'zul noted, currently half-Changed. "They wrrrl see usss coming…"
"Then let them see us arrive."
Resolutely, black, brown and white wormed a triangle around the golden one before crossing the land bridge to the small island.
"W'rmthalak!" the General's voice rang out. "I'm sure we can work out something…"
"Dorrrn't rrreply," L'zul growled. "He's merrrrely stalling forrrr time."
"Quickly," Garradan whispered. "Before something more horrible happens."
As one, they charged, weapons drawn and at the ready. Taking great pride in their handiwork, the Red Flight had meticulously done all they could to polish up their arms before returning them…
"Engage them! Defend the Brood Mother!" the General yelled. Forming a straight line across the raised dais, the black-scaled, spined reptiles advanced, an impenetrable wall impeding the way across.
Slash. Parry. Dodge. Claw. Claw. Thrust. Evade. Take the hit. Deflect. Claw again. It was so like the way he'd fought so long ago against that mercenary, except this time, L'zul was allowed to go all-out.
Unexpectedly, W'rmthalak found his adversary blinking back tears.
"Thief," D'rakkor groaned, blocking the Overlord's swing. "Give me back my sister."
"R'xxra came to us of her own will-I was the only one willing to take her in. Because of the actions of your underlings, the Red Flight would have certainly slaughtered her if not for my intervention."
Running down the General's face, tears flowed freely from opaline eyes. In the briefest of moments, W'rmthalak felt pity for this being before him…
Is It possible for villains to truly love? While the Gods may not be benevolent all the time, does the reverse hold true for those who follow the Pathways of Darkness?
What are good and evil but names for opposing factions? Is it better to do the good thing, or the right thing? Are they the same course of action all the time?
Growling furiously at his opponent, the one who led the Black Flight wiped away salty tears with the back of one hand. "No! You must have done something to her, I cannot, will not believe my own kin would defect!" he roared, narrowly missing the golden Overlord's flank by a hair's breadth. "You can never comprehend the pain my mother and I went through."
"That is because you believe what makes people is what they are, not who they are. Upon the face of our world, there have been thousands who made-and still make that mistake," came the reply.
Those were to be the last words W'rmthalak would ever utter. Distracted momentarily in the process of rebutting D'rakkor, the shining reptile failed to notice the pike-head rushing up at an appreciable fraction of the speed of Ether. Rupturing under the sheer brunt of a sorrowful brother, scale mail gave way to leathery chest skin, which in turn was neatly skewered.
"Ektar, telmarris!" ("Die, scum!") the General roared triumphantly, pulling back his weapon in a spray of green blood.
Lungs punctured, ribs cracked, the Overlord keeled over, wings spread, foaming Ichor at the mouth.
Great is your concern for your family, but it is misplaced…
"If the hero runs up to my roof, I will not run up after him and struggle with him in an attempt to push him over the edge. I will also not engage him at the edge of a cliff. (In the middle of a rope-bridge over a river of molten lava is not even worth considering.)"
As mentioned before, D'rakkor was not a fool. While his presence at this place was unavoidable, stout safety barriers had been installed around the chasms to make sure nothing could fall in accidentally.
What he didn't plan for was how strong an angered one of the Cursed Blood could be.
Intercepting the Gereral's path towards L'zul, who was still holding off two Dragonkin, Garradan charged at full force. The brunt of the impact was enough to shatter to heavy wooden boards in addition to knocking the black reptile a good twelve feet in the proper direction. Desperately flailing at the air with his wings, D'rakkor was weighed down by both plate and the brown werewolf's death grip.
Man, beast and dragon tumbled into the seething, lightless fire below. So, so far below…
A few moments later, all that was left were corpses and the two remaining werewolves.
"Wherrre's the Brrrood Motherrr?"
Merely bared her fangs, Iryane shook her head. Fur tattered and torn, bleeding from cuts which covered her body like scales, and missing chunks of flesh here and there, she didn't feel like speaking right now.
The crone, K'arlith had vanished upon seeing her son's demise. In front of them upon a makeshift altar lay the tablet which had caused L'zul all this grief, all this pain…and above it, a swirling, half-formed rift…
"I'm sorry, but we encountered significant resistance, sire…" unnoticed, R'eyortsed and a handful of Red and Gold had arrived whilst the remaining two took in their surroundings.
Wordlessly, the white werewolf pointed to the cooling body of W'rmthalak upon the ground.
"Is there nothing you can do?" Iryane wheezed.
Turning over the still-warm corpse, the Champion of the Gold Flight gingerly lifted each eyelid in succession, gazing into each grey, glassy orb. Finally, he stood up, head bowed.
"When the last of the light dies, so does our soul. What of…"
Iryane gestured to the gaping breach in the wooden guardrail and the pit that lay beyond.
L'zul didn't hear those words. Mesmerized by the swirling colours of the portal, it somehow seemed wrong to him. The ritual interrupted, the tear between the planes seemed…awry, its recently smooth edges now fraying and growing…
Then the voice same, hushed and sorrowful.
"Get out of my head!" the black werewolf screamed. "Have you not done enough?"
Hear me out, it pleaded. I am not one of the Eight.
"I don't care!" Now R'eyortsed, Iryane and the group of battle-worn troops were distinctly staring at him.
The summoning MUST be completed. It is too lengthy to explain now. Go.
Possessed by some unseen force, L'zul stepped up to the altar, palms outstretched.
What drives this world we live in, one of my blood? Power. Sheer power!
Unable to control his furred form, the dark werewolf could only watch as he assumed the same position D'rakkor's mother had been in, paw-hands on the tablet of the Eight.
Terrified of losing the power I held through death, I wrought all of this upon Arkon, the voice continued.
Betrayer! Perhaps we should have kept you in our home, in close proximity…but the Master refused to listen to our advice…more disembodied voices chorused, voices which L'zul recognized.
Have more foresight then, the feminine voice chuckled bitterly.
Apparently, only L'zul was privy to this conversation, as the others stood, stunned momentarily as prismatic bolts of lightning laced through him into the tear between worlds. Gradually, the ragged ends of the rift converged upon each other once more, coalescing into a smooth oblong.
"Whrrrat arrre you doing?!" Iryane croaked painfully.
Speaking in a voice not his own, L'zul calmly gave the answer.
"Why, simply completing the invocation and bringing the Archdemon through."
Unable to fully come to terms with the message his ear-fins were sending to his brain, , R'eyortsed stood stock-still for a split second before regaining what remained of his senses, dulled by the recent battle.
My Liege's sacrifice will not be in vain.
"Cut him down!" the Dragonkin screamed. Realising that all that they had just fought for would be all for naught, what remained of the Champion's squadron dashed forward, notched and broken swords poised to strike down the black-furred, haggard werewolf.
It was too late. Interestingly, there were no appropriate effects, such as a distant clap of thunder, ghostly wailing, or even an explosion which threw everyone down. Instead, a small concerto played, followed by small clouds of sparkly dust as the twisting nether parted, leaving a clear, amorphous blob in its place before vanishing into nothingness.
This is the Devourer of Worlds? Iryane wondered. This seemingly harmless, shapeless jelly? This is the one who ruined most of central Alleria?
Nearly paralysed with fear, Gold and Crimson retraced their steps, transfixed by the sight before their eyes, the clear gel beginning to churn and fold, gaining a vaguely human form…
Damn, couldn't you have given me more notice? an angry mental voice responded. Clearly, the eight of you don't know how hard it is to pack in such a short time-Kazrak was running around like one of the gods, and I really hate to see my minions panic.
Alight with demonic power, the runes etched upon the tablet blazed a brilliant purple. Beware, Master! Before you the Betrayer stands!
Come again? It's been so long since I had magic-on-a-st-
It was a perfect anticlimax.
Empty, the wooden case fell onto the floor, clattering hollowly upon the earth as a blur of silver lanced through the air, striking the Archdemon's ephemeral form before it could fully take shape. T'zhag thought the Brightsilver dagger might have been useful in combating the forces of darkness, but never imagined it would come to this…
"I was the problem, and through my descendant, I will be the solution," said L'zul in the same mysterious tone. "Power rules all-and it evades your grasp today yet again, Duffikus."
Watching the gelatinous goo dissolve into nothingness, the being possessing L'zul made him throws his head back and laugh. "Yes, it is me, Devourer. When you refused to let me upon the Demonic Planes, perhaps you made a mistake…"
I will have my revenge…you can never truly destroy me…we shall prevail. We always have.
Evaporating, there was now void where Duffikus' corporeal form had once been. Dazed by the sudden spate of events, the silvery-white wolf-being found only enough strength to gaze upon the form beckoning her and R'eyortsed over.
"Come and help me with this," the feminine voice commanded, coming out of L'zul's mouth. Compelled by some unseen force to obey, both wolf and dragon struggled to pick up W'rmthalak's hefty warhammer, unsteadily yet purposefully advancing upon the runed tablet upon the altar.
The first swing sent cracks shooting through the stone plate.
Go on. Our master was right-you can never truly destroy us, the voices chorused, filled with a hate so ancient, it sent chills running through Iryane's soul.
Another swing, and the cracks grew.
You can only hold us at bay for so long, mortal. When your guard falls-
The third and last swing shattered the tablet, causing the soldiers to duck for cover from the flying shards spewing everywhere.
Greed will be the undoing of your world, lowly mortal.
Lust shall blind your hearts.
Peace shall not last long.
Pain shall be widespread.
Corruption shall foul the Elements.
Flames will consume all.
Prey you will be, prey for the Legion.
Sorrow will reign.
Our hopes, our dreams, our desires…
Wincing as the last of the ghastly wails died, Iryane turned to find L'zul crumpled upon the floor, strength spent, a silhouette by his side. Vaguely shapely despite being translucent , the apparition's head drooped, as if begging forgiveness.
"Whrrro arrre you?" the werewolf demanded, a trickle of blood running out between her teeth from some unseen source.
I am the one without a name, the shade replied before fading away.
Alone upon the small island, both dragon and wolf mourned their dead in their own unique way, their cries mingling with each other amid the utter desolation of the battlefield.
With a piercing shriek, R'xxra tore away from the room into the depths of Sunstone Sanctum.
"Don't go after her," Zh'ess urged, her face a mask of sorrow. "I am sure the Lady needs some time alone right now."
L'zul complied, keeping himself rooted to the spot, but Iryane began to protest.
"While W'rmthalak's mate may not be the strongest-willed of our kind, I am sure she will not do anything foolish, no matter how much she desires to join him," the Head Lorekeeper reassured, gazing down with shining eyes at the werewolves. "Young T'alnoth is probably the only reason she has to live, besides that, there is nothing left for her, having betrayed the Black Flight so long ago and still yet to gain acceptance here."
"Perhaps," Iryane mused.
"Which leaves one thing. How did you know that the ritual had to be completed? Fyraxus has been instrumental in helping us decipher the language of demons, and we have gained many insights...especially into this Tablet of the Eight. In their foresight, the Legion seemed to have installed a safety device of sorts into the spell-if it were interrupted at any point, the rift would simply have kept on growing, essentially making Arkon and the Demonic Planes one...the resulting catalysm..." the Lorekeeper's voice trailed off.
"So R'eyortsed mentioned in his report."
"Why did it have to come to this?" L'zul wondered aloud, gazing at the nailed Ironwood coffin which held what remained of the Overlord.
Shaking her head, Zh'ess stared out of a nearby window, wings neatly folded behind her back. "Why indeed? History has proven we cannot rely on deities nor demons to help us, all we have is our own strength, despite what religious folk say. Perhaps even the gods themselves cannot give us an answer."
"What a strange love," the dark werewolf sighed, ebony eyes still upon the coffin.
"W'rmthalak was the first, and one of the few who were able to see past the black scales which adorned R'xxra's body," Zh'ess replied. "He saw her interior, rather than her exterior, and it is my belief that their relationship blossomed from there. My condolences upon the loss of your friend..."
Waving away the expressed concern, L'zul sighed yet again.
"What happens now?" Iryane inquired.
"Probably, I will have to impose some sort of order upon the Gold Flight, considering I hold in trust the Overlord's power for the time being, till that bronze whelpling comes of age. Poor T'alnoth-forever living in his father's shadow…he must survive. The power vacuum that would be created by his death, accidental or otherwise, could cause the Tripartite to collapse upon itself. As to the other matters-" she gestured to the coffin- "I will handle them…you need not concern yourself with them. Don't you have more pressing matters?"
"Yes," L'zul answered.
"What would they be? Surely you are not denizens of the Arcane Academy, despite T'zhag sending you here with the Apprentice."
"We were looking for a home, before all this started with D'raneor's hiring of our services. Those of the Cursed Blood have been doomed to be eternal wanderers, and we were hoping to change that."
Briefly gazing at the sun before drawing shutters over the window, the Head Lorekeeper paced around her office in the Great Library.
"A home…a home…"
For the first time since they'd returned, a draconic smile lit up Zh'ess' face.
"Given the incredible rate at which your ilk heal, I think I can help with that. C'ole will not like it, the zrag she is, but at the moment I overrule her, and will aid you. Consider it a reward."
"C'intha, there's a strange one asking to see you!" came the shouted request across the arched dome of the Temple of Ar'zsha. Warily looking up from her duty at polishing the Altar of Dragons, the scrawny golden Initiate crossed the room to the shrine entrance. Who would call at this hour?
In front of her was D'raneor.
Overjoyed yet afraid at the same time, the priestess dared not look the one she'd fancied in the eye. D…D'raneor…what are you doing here? she asked, terrified of the reply he might give. The mage looked so more…more…weathered? Mature? Evidently, many things had passed before those jewelled eyes…
"I…I've been thinking, C'intha. Impulsive as this may seem to you, yet…" the brown reptile stammered.
"When I gained my wings, you nursed me, but…but there's more to it…the way you entered my mind…"
What, D'raneor? Tell me.
Trying to gather up his courage, D'raneor rolled up the sleeves of his robe before whispering his reply. "I shall not hold you any further, golden one. The Arcane Academy has offered me my place back, and has allowed me to drop the Enchanting Module and take up another subject. What I am asking you is to fly, despite you not having your wings yet, C'intha. Fly with me to the Academy, where they are more open-minded than here. Search your heart, C'intha…"
The priestess' mind reeled.
"…will you be my mate?"
This was what she wanted, a fairy-tale ending of sorts, but…there was fear, fear of the unknown…
I…I must consider this…think over it deeply…
Pulling the hood of his robe over his head so only the snout showed, D'raneor nodded. "I understand. Perchance I shall return some time later?"
Yes, please…this is not an easy choice…
Gradually swallowed up by the unlit corridors of Sunstone Sanctum, the mage vanished into the pathway of darkness, leaving C'intha alone, confused and worried.
L'zul surveyed the emerald green fields, shielding his eyes from the midday sun with a hand. Beside him Iryane lay in human form, sprawled upon the meadow, taking in the fresh noon air. Pleasant though the scene was, there was an odd scent that L'zul didn't quite recognize yet…
"It's finally over," she said, breaking the silence.
"Awfully nice of Zh'ess to lease a good chunk of fallow land to us…I can understand why you insisted on paying a tithe once we are established here…"
"Fyraxus was right," L'zul sighed, trading upon the grass with a boot. "I was looking for the wrong thing all along-there exists no place where we can live in peace, but we can create one, given the chance."
"So what now?" Iryane asked, tossing her silvery-white hair and letting it glint in the sun.
"Firstly, I'll have to contact some of my old…associates through the howl. We'll need their expertise with dealing on matters of working the land if this is to succeed. After that, I'll requisition some supplies from Sunstone to get us started…there's much I don't know about this, despite my age. Guess I'll just have to learn."
"And you can hang up Thernarr upon the wall."
"Perhaps for good."
"It changed your life, didn't it?"
There was no reply as the black werewolf gazed into the sky, lost in some distant memory.
Behind him, the white werewolf's voice rang out. "Well, there's one thing left to do."
"And that would be…?"
Leaping at him, Iryane Changed mid-jump, with the result of squarely landing on L'zul. Bowled over, he too, Changed instinctively. While the human half didn't initially recognize the scent which had been bothering him, the wolf half did.
A bitch well in heat.
Tumbling through the verdant greenery, darkness loved light, and was pleasantly surprised to find that she loved him back with a ferocity that matched his own.