Alrighty, folks. This is it. The end. I'm every exhilarated about finishing my first actual Terras story, so I hope you guys have liked the ride so far. There may be an epilogue, even though I'll post this as completed, so keep an eye out for that. I really hope you like how this ends. Some people may not, I'll tell you that now, but I like my ending, and not to sound like a bastard, but that's all that counts for me. Enjoy, please, and thanks for helping me get this far.
The Sands of Redemption
Zeck raised his head and spat sand from his dried mouth. The wastes stretched out before him, a shimmering, silent expanse of yellow and blue. The only colors were the sky and the sand, and they seemed to mock his weakness, his mortality. Ha ha, Zeck. They seemed to jeer. We are infinite, we are forever. When you die and your bones crumble to dust only to become our shifting sands, we will go on. We are the Earth and you are an ant. Zeck shuddered convulsively and lay his head back in the sand. His wife's face burned in his mind, but the sun burned hotter.
This place was his tomb, he knew this now. So open, and so massive, but it was to encase him forever. The blue sky was his headstone and the shifting sands were his grave-dirt. He would waste away, his hope as dry and parched as his mouth, and be mummified by the sun. And Savle would slink away... The blood of Taisha still dried to his face and body, stuck between his teeth and his scales... Zeck's eyes slid open. Taisha did not just burn in his mind but fill it.
Her voice, her touch... Her kiss. He knew her then, as he always would. He also knew that she had been taken, and though he could not undo what had happened, he could make it right. In a way, he knew the reason he had embarked on this quest was slightly different than the one he told himself. What man chased down a young, and physically fit dragon? Only a madman, or a man who desired death. Yes, too full of honor was Zeck to turn his own gun upon himself, but cowardly enough to seek death in this despicable desert.
No. Death would be a mercy, but if I truly wanted to die I would have let Valisi take me, or even the zombie-thing outside Aeth. This truly is for you, my love. His mind again threw these conflicting thoughts at him, and he became wary once again of the two outside forces which seemed both to be aiding and hindering him. He would not have his mind manipulated by this negative force. The very force that cut a bloody path for the dragon Savle attempted to discourage him, and dissuade him when he was this close, and Zeck Liotis would have it no more.
He pushed himself up, and he felt a surge of rage thrown towards him. He did not ignore it, and in fact opened himself to it. It was then that Zeck fully unlocked what little telepathic abilities he hid within him. He saw his foe in it's weakest and simultaneously strongest point, in anger. In anger our strength becomes bottomless, but our minds become useless. This was so for the dark dragon that seemed to be floating in the nexus of time itself. Zeck's mind touched with it's, and it's mind touched with Zeck's.
He entered a world that he did not understand. The world between thought and reality. He saw it's face fill every corner of his mind. His eyes were open, and sand blew in them, but they did not notice. He was no longer in Terras. He was face to face with this monstrosity. He had thought Savle massive, but Savle was an ant to this beast. The great obsidian dragon opened eyes that were as big as crimson pools, and as cruel as the frigid embrace of Dekambra.
Mortal, mortal. It's mind spoke. You are more than I thought you were, truly. To even gaze upon my face is something I thought far beyond the reaches of even the great Umbrin, never mind yourself. It studied Zeck, who now seemed to stand on a pillar of nothing before it's great head. Tell me, mortal. How is it that something as insignificant as you is now breathing the same air as I, the darkness, the avenger, the King of Pain, Tornad?
Why is it... Zeck retaliated, That you will not leave me to my mission. I don't care who you are, what you are, or even when. I simply want to right the wrong which had taken my only. And I want you to let me do it.
The dragon's laughter was a sick rippling purr, like the rumbling of a storm-cloud on the horizon. Zeck, you pitiful fool. You know nothing of me, nothing of my power. I will forgive you your foolishness, but I will tell you that you cannot command me any more than you can command your Gods. Even they tremble in my shadow, as you tremble in theirs.
I don't care about your power. Zeck snarled through his mind. All I care about is hunting down your meat-puppet Savle and putting a bullet through his skull. If you have some dark plot invested in Savle, well then it will have to die with him. My dear Tornad, you compare yourself to my Gods? Well what would you say if I told you that if any one of the three dragons of Birth, Life and Death were to stand in my way, I would plant a bullet in their brains just the same.
Tornad laughed. My, my Zeck! His dark voice boomed throughout the darkness they inhabited. You are ever so determined! I fear it is time to give you a taste of my divinity. I am all that you fear, Zeck. All that you never want to see again hides behind my eyes. All things dark that crouch in the corners of Worlds Beyond lie in my tainted heart. I would like you to see them, mortal. See them and have your mind snapped like the tiny twig it is.
Zeck was driven to his knees as a stream of jet black flame erupted from the dragon's mouth and engulfed him. It did not burn though, oh no. It simply showed him things. Millions of images burned through his already fevered mind as he writhed; screaming before the great dragon. Taisha's severed head... Still clad in bonnet and soaked with mud, blood and rain... Staring lifelessly at him. His father, dead at the hands of a mugger when Zeck was only 9. Zeck could feel the blood of weeping from his father's cut throat on his hands now as he saw himself rocking his dead parent and weeping.
And other things... A man with a mouth of blood, glowering at him with eyes the color of icebergs... A mutilated, walking corpse, covered in bandages and broken glass, dragging the corpse of a tiny boy into a house surrounded by trees... A stone, circular room, filled with red mist and hideous creatures with horns, wings and smiles that made his blood run cold... These things burned through his mind like cancer, and as hope and sanity slipped away, something else did not.
Taisha. And not just Taisha... There was another dragon in the black with him. Not by Tornad, who was staring down at him and cackling like a man insane, but beside him. He could feel it's love for him as the terror ate at his mind, and he began to recover. He tilted his head to the side and he saw her. She was a black dragon as well, but her body was long and serpentine. Her eyes were a jade green that reminded him of spring. And when she spoke, Zeck's heart melted from the melody of her voice.
"These things are just fears, Zeck. They are real, oh yes, and very powerful, but they share one thing. They share this thing with you, with I, and even with Tornad." Tornad clearly could not hear this apparition, but he realized something was going horribly wrong. His laughter had trailed off and he glared warily down at the prone Zeck, who had ceased screaming and had even begun to smile.
"What is that, Medleose?" He asked the Goddess of Life, Love and Time.
"They will end." She whispered into his ear. "They will not last... Just as you will someday die and fade, these too will. Be they memories, monsters, or demons that consider themselves infinite, or even a goddess like me, nothing lasts forever. Nothing physical, at least. What will last throughout time is your love for the woman you have lost. Now rise up and push him from you, and you make him leave this world."
"I can't..." Zeck whispered back, as if to a lover in the dark. "I'm too weak... Too mortal."
"Yes, you are." She said solemnly. "But you're love isn't." And she was gone. Zeck slipped back to the blackness, and was aware of Tornad screaming at him.
"Tremble, mortal!" The dragon shrieked, in it's actual voice as opposed to it's mental one. "Cry and beg! Why do you not writhe?!" And when Zeck stood, Tornad's words became a wordless gargle of rage.
"You are fears, dragon?" Zeck said and closed his eyes. He opened them again, and the power Tornad saw there caused him to take a step back. " Then I am courage!What do you do when all my fear has departed?!" And Zeck closed his mind around Tornad's own enraged one like a vice. Tornad's own past assailed the dragon, mercifully unseen by Zeck. The horror's of what he had done as a demigod and his life when he too had once been mortal ripped through his arrogant mind and reduced him to a weeping, gibbering mess.
Zeck pressed harder, and he felt the dragon begin to slip backwards, no longer held in place by his strength in this black world. "No!" The wyrm screamed again and again. "You're weak, you're an ant!" His legs began to scrabble uselessly as he tried to stop his great body from slipping away. His inhumanely massive wings slid open with a sound like thunder, revealing the dark red membrane within, but it only caused him to tumble backwards. With one final scream Tornad was pushed over an invisible cliff, and as his howl faded to silence, so too did Tornad.
Zeck breathed out, and collapsed.
When he awoke, he was aware of the burning in his eyes. Zeck let out a cry and raised his hands to rub the sand from them. His mind reeled from his encounter, and his head throbbed dully, but he was alive. He was aware of something else, as well. Something that had been with him so long he could not help but feel it's abscence. The desolation was gone. In his heart, burning like a flame, was hope. Tornad's oppressive plague of desolation had weighed him down much more, and Zeck was astounded he had even lasted so long with it. He was consumed by physical pain and hardship, but with the emotional turmoil gone, it felt like nothing.
Once again Zeck stood, and no protesting voice raged against him. There was a voice though. A voice that said words he didn't need to hear to understand. Words of love, words of encouragement. Medleose remained, and this was her message. Go Zeck. She commanded firmly and gently. Your journey is almost at it's end. The blackened thing your world has become will grow bright again, and you with it. Zeck lowered his hand to his belt and withdrew the revolver, his last icon of sanity. Grimly he spun open the chamber and checked his bullets. There were five left, more than the one he would need to dispatch Savle.
And to speak of the devil, Savle jolted violently as he crawled on his belly in the dust. The dark voice of hateful command that had torn through his brain since he was a hatchling began to scream. Savle screamed as well as the voice he had thought was his own mind clamored and roared in some unknown protest. Savle tossed himself to the ground, weak and tormented. Soon there was silence, but that was the most terrible thing of all, wasn't it? And can you guess why?
The dragon was not insane, and never had been. All that he had done, and all that had driven him to these acts was Tornad. His mind had been overthrown and lied to, and now that his puppet-master was gone, his mind had snapped back to what it should have been had his life not been interfered with in the most terrible way. His sobs came soon after, sobs of regret, sobs of sorrow. His parents... All that he had killed in the name of an unknown master he had mistaken for his Gods... He now knew the man Zeck as a brother. A man not so different from him.
Yet Savle knew something else, as well. His madness was gone, but what else did he have left but the mission before him? He could see the citadel on the horizon, a great shimmering white building that offered forgiveness for his sins. He knew his real Gods still loved him, even through the atrocity, and he also knew he must finish his fight. He was a pawn, yes, but a loyal pawn that knew nothing but to advance. With a grimace of effort, Savle drew himself to his shaking feet and pressed forward, aware that his death followed closely behind.
Zeck did not know how long he walked, and he did not care. Time had become nothing. All that mattered was the ever growing silver glimmer on the dunes ahead. He had found Savle's actual trail only minutes ago. His belly had made an indentation in the sand and his tail had followed behind. Zeck could tell he was in pain, and was glad. Blood spots were in the sand every now and then, and Zeck hoped he had reopened the wound Zeck had left him with. With Tornad not there to heal him and tell him what to do, Zeck supposed it was possible.
His heart jumped as he saw the dragon approach the top of a large dune. he was much closer than he thought. The dragon was highlighted against the skyline like a beautiful painting. He saw the saphire eyes of Savle glitter and look back at him. Their eyes locked over the distance for more than a minute before the dragon seemed to flop over the edge of the dune. It was very weak. So am I... Zeck thought bitterly. But I will have my revenge. The time marched on slowly as Zeck proceeded, his bloodstained clothes weighing him down and his weak legs barely supporting him.
He was aware his mouth was dry enough to begin cracking, but on he pressed. If the Gods meant for him to live, he would get water, and if they didn't, they didn't. Zeck didn't care either way. He knew they watched his passage closely, but their full intentions were beyond him. What seemed like hours passed before Zeck reached the top of the very dune Savle had fallen from. Below him a large flat area, where a single large rock sprang up from the middle like a vast triangle. The dragon was nowhere to be seen. Zeck collapsed to his knees and tumbled down the dune, gripping his gun tightly.
As he slid to the bottom and slowly gained his feet, a shadow fell over him. Zeck braced himself and looked up. Upon the large outcropping of rock stood Savle. His eyes looked sadly down upon Zeck, and Zeck stared furiously back. Neither moved for a very long time. Zeck was struck by Savle's eyes. They had changed. The cold blue remained, but that insane glint he had seen in his dreams and nightmares was gone. Zeck's suspicions were confirmed, as the silver dragon finally spoke.
"Zeck." It said simply.
"Savle." Zeck returned. "You know my mission."
"And you know mine." The dragon sighed. "Even though I barely do."
"You are a puppet, dragon. You know this much."
"I was." Savle agreed. "The creature that plagued my brain is gone, as you may already know. What you do not know is how long he had been with me. Since long before your wife died at my weak talons... I will apologize to you, Zeck Liotis, but I am aware that it may mean little."
"I accept your apology, Savle of the silver. But we both have come too far for this to end so." Zeck displayed the gun to him. "One of us will leave here today. You survived this once, can you do it again?"
"Perhaps." Savle pondered and studied the man before him. "But the same could be said for you about me."
"Indeed." Zeck said softly and studied his feet. "But I would rather not think of it in that light."
"Then let the thinking stop." Savle commanded. "The time for discussion and pondering must end. We have but one final test, and the reward will be the successful completion of one mission." Savle looked back at the citadel. "Will I be forgiven, Zeck? Not just by you, but by the Gods? By myself?"
"You'll have to ask them." Zeck whispered. Savle heard him well.
"I will, Zeck. And I ask one more thing of you... Whoever dies does not matter, but if I am to die, I would like to die as your brother. What I have done to you is hideous, but what has been done to me is not so different. Tornad overthrew my mind like a weak government, and had he been absent I may be enjoying this sunny day with my parents instead of in this cursed place."
Zeck stared at the dragon, many emotions whirling through his head. The thought to simply raise the gun and blast a hole in Savle's head did more than just cross his mind, and as his arm twitched another thought ran through his mind. Taisha would have wanted him to forgive. To complete his task, yes, but not in cold blood. Yes, now Zeck knew why this was final test. It was not to kill the dragon, but to lay him to rest with the love of a sibling. A poor tortured sibling whose one last mercy would be death. Zeck also knew it worked the same way for himself in Savle's eyes.
"I forgive you Savle. Whether or not you forgive yourself is up to you. If you die, I will close your eyes as a brother, not a foe. I would hope you do the same for me."
"You needn't inquire, Zeck. You know I would. It would be my honor."
Zeck closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Then let this end one way or another."
"Yes. Goodbye, Zeck. In World's Beyond perhaps we will meet again." The dragon said with such respect that Zeck nearly allowed a tear to fall from his dried eyes. Then Savle's muscles tensed and he crouched. Zeck knew he was weak, but the strength for this final flight was still within the dragon's soul.
"I hope so." Zeck said, and Savle took flight. The sun glittered off of the dragon's wings as they extended and beat furiously. Savle dove from the rock with the agility of a cat and slid through the air like a knife. The membrane's of his great wings were the same color as his sapphire eyes, an ice-blue that seemed so out of place in these wastes. Zeck saw white flames begin to crackle in the back of the dragon's throat and knew that it was now or never. Zeck raised his gun and fired off a shot. The bullet slid through the air and through that brilliant blue wing. Savle barely noticed as the flames built, and Zeck felt desperation flow through him. Four bullets left. He fired off another that clinked off the silver scales of Savle's shoulder.
Taisha's voice entered his head then. Aim, Zeck. Aim for the flames. Zeck did so, but noted sickly that the flames now erupted like a great red geyser. A large plume of flame at the front was pushed forward by a thin jet-stream of crimson behind it. The flames rushed towards him and Zeck leveled his shaking hand and pulled the trigger. And he saw all.
The bullet rushed forward, through the whirling sands and screaming flames. It was engulfed, but it did not falter. In fact it traveled directly through the jet stream behind the main blast. All the way through this tunnel of fire it progressed, and Zeck stared in disbelief as the it tore through the top of Savle's mouth and blew out the back of his head. The dragon's eyes opened wide and faded, and Zeck had a moment to cheer to the Gods of above and Worlds Beyond before the flames hit him.
He screamed as his flesh boiled and burned. The pain was the most violent and terrible thing he had ever known, but it was also the sweetest. The revolver fell from his trembling hands and rolled away, untouched by the fire. His clothes erupted in flames and he noted with a kind of numb shock that his hair had as well. His hands blackened before his very eyes, and he closed his eyes against the intense heat, which had set ablaze his eyebrows.
He fell to his knees as the flames dissipated and his body screamed agony. A massive thud resounded from beside him as the dead Savle collapsed to the sand as well. Savle had died instantly, the bullet tearing a path through the center of his brain and destroying that which kept him alive. Zeck still lived, though the flames had reduced him to nothing more than a charred heap on the ground. He moaned thickly as the pain roared through his body.
Nonetheless, Zeck smiled. His tears pumped from nearly destroyed tear-ducts and he began to laugh. The sun did no longer burn him, and nor did his wounds. He was not dead yet. He had but one more mission. Medleose whispered his final task to him, and he nodded grimly to nothing. He would wait here in the sands. Eventually he would die, unable to sustain with his violent injuries, but not before something would happen.
What it was, Zeck did not claim to know. All he knew was that he had a task of his own to complete as well. With a scream of agony, Zeck pushed himself to his hands and knees. He lifted his nearly skeletal head to the great silver dragon which lay bleeding beside him. His most bitter enemy, and his most beloved brother. Savle's beautiful blue eyes stared ahead, glazed with death and filling with blood. Zeck groaned and began to pull himself towards the dragon's head.
It took him nearly ten minutes to close the distance of ten feet. Ten minutes of sheer agony as his body protested violently against his every movement. Medleose herself urged him to save his strength, but Zeck would not. He had made a promise; and it was to be the last promise he would ever make, and he would not disappoint that. Finally, his hands ran along bloody, smooth scales. Zeck looked into the dead eyes of the dragon and reached above, where he pulled down it's great eyelid.
He collapsed, knowing that another lay on the other side of the head, and began to pull himself by his ruined forearms once again. He pushed harder this, time, not only for the poor misguided creature before him but because the Gods themselves believed he could not. Medleose had become as a wasp in his ears, warning him that he may very well die. With a wrenching scream he tossed himself up at the remaining eyelid and slid it down as he himself collapsed, in agony.
His elbow crashed against something hard and he turned his ruined head to see what it was. His revolver dug into him. Zeck smiled and grabbed it. He looked up at Savle beside him, who, if not for the blood, appeared to be sleeping. "Good night, brother." He smiled, and the tears came in force. As he openly sobbed with joy and pain, he raised his hand to his chest and clasped the gun there, and while the sun slowly set over the Othargian Wastelands, Zeck Liotis awaited death, and the embrace of his beloved.