I: Prelude to Ruin
By: Talyn Gray
By the time they returned to Araius' room, they decided to forego the remaining classes. Though Lium had been fine when they'd left the Gates, he looked exhausted and almost sickly when they entered her doors. Without a word and only a grunt, he lay down on her bed and almost immediately went to sleep.
Compensating for my father's power must have drained him, she thought. Other than getting them into the Execution Ward, Araius had used little of her power, and wondered what to do until Lium woke up.
Heaven did not feel any different than when they had left her room to fix the Gates. Araius had expected something to happen when Lium's hands had touched the tree, had braced herself for some indication that something substantial had changed. But there had been no sign of change other than Lium telling her it was done.
She hoped now that he would return to normal; that the dark feelings of Hate and Violence would ebb from his nature. But Araius also thought that it might take some time before the darkness had truly retreated from him. It had scared her when he'd muttered that morning how he'd wanted to kill Aryden.
Suddenly, Araius remembered that she was supposed to have a fighting lesson with Aryden, and checking the time, she needed to meet him within the following minutes.
She glanced at Lium, but at this point felt that there was nothing she could do for him. Pulling a utility glove from a drawer, she softly kissed him on the cheek, and left.
She shuffled down the hallway, trying to be careful not to make too much noise as she traveled down to the training room. It was then she realized the hallway was void of sound. Even if there wasn't anyone in classes anymore, the hallways always still echoed of footsteps. A single footstep would echo unimpeded for miles. But there was nothing; as if the school had been deserted.
Gulping, she took a step forward and intentionally let the heel of her shoe hit the marble so that it echoed. As it echoed and reverberated all down the hallway, and an ominous feeling settled in her stomach.
With a breath and a shake of her head, Araius began walking again, the sound of only her own footsteps echoing through the corridors disturbed her.
Suddenly, just as she walked by a door to a classroom, it exploded with a bang and a shower of wooden splinters. A few of the splinters sputtered into her eyes. She yelled and jerked to the side in shock, narrowly missing the point of a red tinged sword coming across her neck. Araius' back hit the wall and without thinking summoned a sword of her own to numbly block the next attack.
Her eyes stung with the wood still in her eyes, and the more she blinked, the more red began to seep into her vision. Everything was blurry, and she couldn't see the face of whoever was attacking her.
"Who are you?!"
Her attacker lunged again without answering, and she dodged, but not in time to prevent a shallow cut along her side. With a small cry of pain, she whirled around and tried to attack, but her vision and aim was off, and she hit nothing but air.
Without seeing another option, Araius backed herself against the wall and held her sword protectively in front of her with one arm, while her other hand rubbed at her eyes. She thrust an energy barrier up, but for some reason, it flickered, and faded away as if she'd used all her energy. She tried another one, but with the same results.
Her attacker chuckled lightly, a sound that was distinctly masculine, and then he lunged forward again. Araius braced herself for an attack, ready to block, when a dark blurry smudge flew from the corner of her vision and embedded itself in the side of her attacker's neck with a dull thud. He fell, wheezing and shaking until another blur flew and finished the kill.
Breathing hard, Araius looked to the source of what she assumed to have been a dagger, not yet letting her guard down. A tall blurry form with a crown of golden hair ran to her, with only the sounds of his footsteps and her breath filling the halls.
"Araius, it's me," he said quickly, before grabbing her sleeve and pulling her into the next closest classroom. There were the sounds of him locking the door and he was before her again.
"Aryden?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"Hold still," he said, his voice breathless. His warm hand rose to her face, his skin barely brushing her brow bone. She saw ice blue light and winced in pain, but when his hand left her, her vision was restored.
Aryden looked like she had never seen him before. His clothing was torn and cut, his arms and face bleeding from shallow, precise cuts. Then it hit her that he was actually bleeding. Healers, with healing blood, healed seconds after injuries were made to them.
"Why are you bleeding?"
Aryden ignored her question.
"What did you do?"
She was again cut off when he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her against the wall.
"What did you do?"
His gaze was piercing and intense, unblinking as he glowered down at her.
"I took Lium to the Gates," she said without thinking. His eyes widened for a fraction of a second.
"What did he do there?"
"He fixed a hole." And then, because she felt a sudden surge of resentment at being questioned without explanation as to why Aryden was bleeding and not healing, at being held so tightly and painfully against the wall, and at being attacked in the hallway, she asked with more force, "What's going on?"
Aryden paused, then said quietly, "Heaven's been invaded by Hate and Violence."
Her mouth fell open. "What?"
"Not too long ago. By an army of corrupted gods. There's a strange energy undercurrent now, too," he added. "It makes me unable to heal myself, take longer to heal others, and practically nullify energy fighting. They're corrupting others here with words and dark energy. It was a bloodbath until Enarythe pushed any pure deity she could find into a sanctuary room. No one knows what's going on. They think the Gates have been compromised." When he said the last part, the light in his eyes shifted.
Her heart jumped to her throat and throbbed painfully, and she tried to swallow it to no avail.
"But…but there's no one in the hall. Heaven looks like it's untouched."
Aryden looked confused and let go of her shoulders to take a few steps backwards and answered, "There's blood all over the walls."
Then she remembered Lium still sleeping in her room and her heart rate increased ten fold. Tears of fear, guilt, and worry sprung to her eyes.
"Lium—" she said suddenly, and lunged for the door. Aryden quickly stepped in her way with the speed he was known for. "He's still in my room!" she exclaimed, frustrated when he blocked her second attempt.
"It's dangerous outside—"
"I need to get Lium," she replied defiantly, desperately frustrated. "Move."
"Why did you come here?" she asked forcefully, throwing her hands in the air.
He looked at her with annoyance, as if the answer should have been obvious. "You weren't in the sanctuary, and I had a feeling you'd be here. And that you'd be involved. We need to go there."
She paused. Araius knew she was in no position to order around someone who had come to save her, but she wouldn't leave Lium lying and sleeping helplessly on her bed while some corrupted deity came to drive a sword through his chest. Even thinking it made her heart crack and a tear fall.
"We have to get Lium," she said.
"He's a skilled fighter, Araius. He can get to us on his own."
"No!" she almost screamed. Then she stepped forward and curled her fingers in his clothing. "Aryden, please! You don't have to go. You can just tell me where the sanctuary is and I'll get him and I'll go there with him. He's sleeping in my room. His energy's spent from touching the Gates. He wouldn't survive if someone came in."
He watched her for a moment and shook his head. When she opened her mouth to protest he said, "I'll go with you."
Araius stared at him for a second and then closed her mouth and nodded. "Thank you," she told him.
They left the room quietly, and when she peered down the hall, Araius was able to see all of the blood spatters along the walls, some dripping and slightly brown. A metallic tang filled the air and she tried hard not to cough.
"Try and be as quiet as possible," Aryden instructed. "Listen carefully for any kind of movement. Everyone who's pure has already been evacuated."
She nodded and bit her bottom lip as they carefully made their way down the halls. It was eerily quiet, and she was grateful when Aryden gave her mental directions on how to get to the sanctuary if they were separated.
They made it to her room without anything attacking them, and she let out a shaky sigh of relief. She unlocked the door, entered, and almost cried in relief when she saw that Lium was still asleep in her bed. Aryden stood at the door while she walked over to wake him. Shaking his shoulders, he groaned.
"Lium," she called to his mind, "Lium, wake up. Heaven's been invaded."
His golden eyes snapped open and he got up so fast they almost butted heads.
"Something's gone wrong; we have to—there's a sanctuary, we have to go there."
"Okay," he said, sounding unsteady. "Okay, let's go."
He stood up, but teetered as if he were dizzy and sat back down again.
"My energy still hasn't…" he trailed off, worry wrought his face. "Do you think you can…I don't know, give me some of yours? I don't think I can stand."
Araius bit her lip and looked to Aryden, whose gaze was focused on the thin opening between the double doors of her room. Lium wasn't going to be any help if they had to carry him to the sanctuary while simultaneously being on guard for attackers. With the decision made, she held out her hand and he took it in both of his. She had to be careful with such a direct energy transfer in fear he would accidentally drain her instead.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and focused her energy. She felt it gather in her hands and then, like a suction was siphoned through to Lium. It pulled her and pulled her, and she thought, Enough, but it kept leaving. Enough! she thought, panicked, trying to stem the power flow. She stole back her hand, and the whiplash of not stemming it correctly made her head swim and her body sway.
"I'm sorry," Lium said in her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—"
She shoved him out of her mind because even that made her too dizzy. Taking deep, swallowing breaths, she stood back up, regaining her balance. She was fatigued now, and if they had to enter a fight, she wouldn't last long. But she would have to last long enough.
Lium stood and put an arm around her waist to help steady her, and because she had denied him access to her mind, he cast a deeply apologetic look.
They walked over to the door, and she didn't bother to see the reaction Lium had to having Aryden there. She didn't care. After shaking Lium's arm off of her, Aryden opened the door and they began the precarious walk with weapons drawn to the sanctuary.
They were halfway there when a dagger flew out of a partially opened door and almost imbedded itself in Aryden's arm. There was a battle cry and five corrupted gods exploded from the doors beside them and began to attack. Araius and Lium were separated by opponents, and she swung her sword to attack, but the god in front of her dodged easily and lunged. She threw herself against the wall, missing his blade. In the corner of her eye she could see Aryden trying to fend off the other three gods.
The god she was facing let out a blast of energy and she had no choice other than to let out her own ball of energy to counter it. It was small and flickered, but it was enough. There was an eruption of power, and feeling more drained and heavy than ever before, Araius summoned a dagger and flew it at his head. The god flung it to the side with another small blast power that burned through the knife and hit her with such force she was thrown against the wall, sword dropping with a clang. Before she even fell to the floor, the god was behind her, twisting her arms back and pushing the blade of his sword against her neck so she could no longer move. If she had more energy, she would have been able to blast him, but it was all she could do to keep from falling within herself.
Then the god jerked her body around and made her watch Aryden's losing battle with the other three gods. They surrounded him, taking turns lunging two at a time so he couldn't possibly defend himself, as if they were playing with him rather than fighting. Then all three of them were on him, brandishing their blades. Two of the gods grabbed him and the other god reared back with his sword and flung it into Aryden's right shoulder.
He cried out in pain and the gods that held him laughed cruelly as the god who held the blade twisted it and Aryden's body went limp. The tears were the last thing she felt before everything went black.
A/N: I'm so sorry this is taking so long. That's really all I can say. I thought I'd have this story done by the end of summer...and well...but we are more than halfway through! I promise! I'm sorry!