"Is it power you covet? That which I can grant, but for which I ask this in return. Your being shall be my conduit. A tremulous plague I am, but great powers I grant. Do you accept?"

Malcolm woke up with a start, sweating profusely. He could feel his heart racing, the beating thrumming in his ears. The initial fear and panic subsided as he sat in his bed, completely still for a few moments as his mind tried to convince his body that it was just a nightmare, a terrible nightmare. When his breathing finally returned to a normal rate, he got out the bed. Moving about always helped him in these situations, their frequency had only increased over the last few years. His white shirt was soaked in sweat despite the cold air of the night, taking on a much darker appearance, almost grey. Having to wash his body linen was a chore he never liked, and this only served as a reminder of the same.

Looking for distractions to calm his mind, he scanned around his room. It was a standard room one could find for a night's stay in any tavern in a town such as this, though for its hefty price it wasn't exactly great. The sheets were old; one could smell the countless before who had slept on this bed. The blanket they had been so kind to provide was torn at the edges. The wooden interior was old, it was relatively clean and dry, but age was showing, and dust had settled in many places. The regional timber was well known for its aromatic smell, yet it could not stand the test of time, having faded to leave a musty odor in the room. Malcolm touched the walls, feeling the rough wooden surface on his hands, getting a slim coat of dust on his fingertips. He could feel the lifelessness, the once vibrant wood now a dried pale wall of lumber. The timber was harvested from Agruzia Tree, better known regionally as Zil's Duke. It was a rather popular export from the region, very popular in the capital.

Malcolm moved around a bit more, trying not to ram his feet into anything dangerous or unsavory as he navigated back to his bed in the darkness of the night. He sat at the edge of the bed, taking a deep breath. These dreams always brought certain emotions to the surface that he didn't wish to deal with. Even though physically his form had calmed down, mentally it was still a swirling vortex. A mixed bag of emotions he didn't like, solitude, regret, guilt, many others in this vapid mix. Breathing deeply for a few minutes, he finally calmed his mind down enough to possibly attempt a return to slumber. He got his feet up back on the bed.

BOOM!

An explosion suddenly took place, causing Malcolm to fall out of the bed with a start. Quickly getting back on his feet, he frantically looked around, trying to find the source of this flare-up. He felt a cool breeze near his right calf, realizing his under garments were torn. Great, another trouser lost, he thought to himself. Continuing with his task, he noticed a faint red light coming from the small window provided in the room, in the name of ventilation as the bar maiden had said at the time of showing him the room. He looked out the window, only to notice large fires had erupted outside, and town guards were running around with their weapons unsheathed. Malcolm knew at once what was happening, and ran for the door, grabbing his robes from the bed.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Few Hours Ago

Mesa, Agruzel

The town of Mesa is known for two things. Firstly, as a religious town located right in the middle of the capital and the holy city of Andrias, Mesa saw heavy traffic of pilgrims going on and returning from a holy pilgrimage to the mountain range just beyond Andrias, Tre'Toch. As such, the town itself was highly religious. Secondly, being situated right on the Artemidoros Passage, the trade route which spanned the length of the kingdom, the town saw a huge influx of foreigners and traders going to and from the capital, often staying a few nights in the town itself. This lent to a rather unique situation. Despite being a religious town, it was one of the few where one could consume or use alcohol for non-religious purposes. Even though obtaining a license to serve alcohol was hard to get and prices were high, the rich clientele comprised of mostly weary traders meant a vibrant tavern scene. One such popular tavern was the Rustic Maiden, named after and known for a penchant to hire a certain type of barmaids in terms of physique, a homely but robust one. Like all days, today was another busy day for this tavern.

The interior was what you'd expect from a tavern in a town. Like most buildings in this town, the tavern was made of Agruiza timber, reinforced at its foundation and supports with the regional rocks mined from nearby quarry. Inside the tavern, the naturally profound light brown colour of Agruiza had now faded and darkened with age and constant exposure to spilled alcohol. The tavern itself consisted of two floors. On the ground floor, the bulk of drinking and celebratory activities took place. A large rectangular room, a counter was placed along one of the shorter sides, behind which all the coveted alcohol and a burly, muscular barkeep stood guard. Wooden stools were aligned along the counter, fixed to the ground incase someone felt inclined enough to use them as weapons in a drunken frenzy. A large communal table was placed in the centre of the room, stools arranged and fixed to the floor to allow various village members and some of the more sociable traders to mix and mingle. Various booths were placed around fixed to the walls, allowing a preferred amount of intimacy and privacy for the more questionable trade activities to take place. Barmaids were frantically roaming around serving mead and beer, cleaning up messes and taking orders. The tavern saw enough business to require hiring a rather decent force of barmaids.

The barmaids were all dressed in a common garb. A one-piece tavern maid dress, comprising of a brown long skirt, a white shirt draped with a green cloth over it. The green cloth has a long cut around the neck, which tapered off into a small point near the mid riff. The edges of the white shirt were frilly, especially the edges around the neck, giving the barmaids a more robust appearance than usual. One of the barmaids was a lot slimmer than the others, her black hair stuck out like a sore thumb in a town where brown and blonde were predominant. Like most residents of the town, she had a light wheatish complexion, her smooth skin lending to her natural beauty. She just finished serving her latest order of drink when she noticed a peculiar figure in one of the booths. A long figure sitting in the booth at the far corner, away from the lively atmosphere of the bar. This is his first order and he still hasn't finished it, she thought to herself. Compared to most of the townsfolks, this stranger had a very pale complexion, and jet-black hair, a lot richer than her own hair colour. He was dressed in different clothes than others, A black vest with dull gold buttons in the front, his white body linen peeking out, and a matching pair of black pants. He wore black shoes, they looked rather expensive, but it was clear by their faded appearance that they had seen some rough times. The man sat alone, staring outside the tavern lost in thought, taking a sip from his mug from time to time. Curious and with a few moments on her hand, the barmaid approached the solitary man.

"A man with such a look on his face rarely ever ignore an escape in front of him," she said, moving her eyes towards the half full mug in the stranger's hand.

"I'm not really someone who appreciates alcohol. I'd say this is pretty strong, you rarely get such stuff in the cities," he said, taking another sip. His voice sounded heavy, a hint of weariness in it.

"Well you city folk can't really hold you liquor. We add a little extra to our drinks to make them worth our time," the barmaid said, taking a seat opposite the stranger.

The woman could see the man's face clearly now. An angular jaw with a roman nose, his face was clean shaven. He had deep brown eyes, a common feature in the east, where the capital was located. He was a rather young man, however the air around him instilled a sense of weariness and gravity. A sense of guilt was visible in his eyes, a pain. His hair, while a rich black colour, on closer inspection revealed strands of grey. It was clear he had been through a lot. The woman's features as well became visible to the man, an oval shaped face with a small nose, the big doe eyes gave way to a look of naivety and curiosity on the barmaid's face. She was clearly someone who had recently entered adulthood. Her voice was a testament to that, a high pitch somewhat reminiscent of childhood innocence, with a playful undertone.

The man looked into his glass, thinking about the earlier comment made by the woman. He could see very small bits and pieces floating around.

"I'm afraid to ask, but what is it exactly that you put in," he asked, a look of anxiety breaking his somber monotony.

The woman chuckled for a bit, looking at the perplexed man. She replied, "well Anash has blessed us with rains in the last few days, so Agruzia trees are covered in a special moss. Not exactly the most legal of things, but gets the job done for us townsfolk."

"The land and the wind burned under the bold sun.

A disharmony among the three, lack of restraint.

Another emerged, with him came eternal rains, soothing the heat.

A world lacking self-control, he brought discipline, and the fourth day began."

The stranger said these words, taking a big gulp from his mug.

"Amen. A believer of Zohian religion I see. Tell me preacher, what brings you to these parts," she said, placing both her hands on the table as she leaned a bit closer, a coy look in her eyes.

"What does anyone really covet? What do we look for? Meaning, and god. You could call me a bookish preacher, for research is my intent," he said, looking at the barmaid.

The coy look in her eyes was replaced by curiosity, as she continued to question him, "What sort of research are you doing now preacher? Even the gods have secrets?"

The man stared into his mug for a moment, before taking a sip. Taking a long breath afterwards, he spoke, "exorcism."

"Haven't seen someone mention that in a long time. What good is it to try in vain, they are already lost to the darkness," she said, a hint of incredulity and mockery in her voice.

A fresh round of drinks was served to the patrons, permeating the tavern with a strong smell of intoxication. Beer, mead, and wine for a select few, all mixed together to create an ecstatic odor, further intensifying the drunken state of most patrons. The stranger looked around the room for a moment, before returning his sights on the barmaid.

"I'd think the tavern owner would be aggrieved to see one of their barmaids idling about," he said, taking another sip.

"Oh, that won't be an issue, my father wouldn't mind it, he'd be relieved enough to know that I am spending time in his establishment, under the watchful eyes of his employees," she said, a playful smile on her face.

She suddenly got up from her chair, leaning closer to the stranger and extending a hand. She said, "I'm Anniese. It's common curtesy to give your name to someone you are conversing with."

"I'm Malcolm, Malcolm Tavoularis," the stranger said, shaking Anniese's hand.

"That's a surname I haven't heard around these parts, where you from city boy," she said, taking her previous seat.

"A town up north of the capital. I'd hazard a guess that I'm not the only outsider here, what made you interested in talking with me," Malcolm asked, putting his mug aside on the table.

"Most patrons I find are either drowning their sorrows in the bottom of a mug, or part of a celebration drowned in mead and beer. You seem different, not really in sorrow, but pain," she said.

"Well contrary to popular belief, living beings can experience more than two emotions," he said, continuing with his drink.

Anniese chuckled for a bit. She replied, "snarky, are we? What are you running from preacher?"

"Something you should also stay away from, maintain a good distance, from me as well," he said.

"Aww you're no fun. Such bleakness, one would think you came from the void before time itself," she said, getting up from her seat. Malcolm looked at her nervously, before taking a big gulp from his mug.

"you feel like talking, I'm always here," she said, as she went back to the bar counter.

A commotion came from the other side of the room. Incoherent singing and drunken dancing could be heard. A figure took center stage, flailing around in an intoxicated frenzy. This disorderly drunk was a woman, blonde hair reaching up to her shoulders, and fair skin indicating she was a traveler as well. She sounded rather shrill and imposing, thought the shrillness might have been a result of recent loss of inhibitions. Her attire was interesting. Unlike most womenfolk in the town, she was dressed in men's attire. A simple frilly white shirt, and dark blue pants with dark brown high boots. Her pants were held at the hip by a strip of leather connected to a scabbard. The scabbard was about 20 inches long, shorter than the average length of a sword. Only the hilt of the sword was visible, 2 inches long cross-guard and 5 inches long hilt. The cross-guard had a shiny glint, a light-colored steel variant, while the hilt itself was enclosed in dark brown leather. The pommel of the sword was absent, only a small length of the same steel variant jutting out of the leather cover. The scabbard shook around awkwardly as the woman drunkenly moved around in an attempt to dance, creating a scene and troubling the various patrons. Anniese quickly made her way to the disorderly customer, grabbing her gently in an attempt to guide her to the nearest stool.

"Come now Reina, that's enough drinking for you," Anniese said, trying to drag the smashed woman.

"No, no, no, wait…I think I….'m fine! Let's dance, hooray," Reina screamed, taking Anniese's arms as she spun her around, sending her crashing into a nearby patron.

Reina continued her drunken deliberation, haphazardly making her way around the room in an attempt to dance, the aged floorboard creaking under her constant abuse. However, her senses were not completely shot from inebriation, from the corner of her eye she noticed a gentleman dressed in black looking at her. Malcolm quickly realized this, turning his sight back to his mug, too late to help the situation sadly. Reina stumbled her to his booth, bending forward, her face an inch away from him.

"Eh! What're lookin' at *hic*. Nev' seen a drunk. By Zil, *hic* I'll show yer not mess with *hic*," she said, staring at the preacher beckoning violence.

Malcolm could see her face up close. An oval face, a small nose slightly turned up with thin lips. Her eyes, currently disoriented and half open, were emerald green, a sharp color clearly visible to Malcolm. The stench of alcohol was strong from her mouth, each syllable she uttered only reminded Malcolm of the fact and made him feel nauseated. Malcolm wanted peace, the last thing he wished for was attention, a fight was out of the question.

Drinking what was left in his mug in one swig, he looked at Reina for a minute. He finally spoke.

"At first, there was the void. Cold, dark, unfeeling void.

Nothing existed, for this was before time itself.

A figure emerged, to fight the darkness, he made the sun.

In undiluted despair, he brought valor, and the first day began."

"A preacha! You's my….my….*hic* my brotha! Come let's celebrate. My names er…Reina Mor- *hic*," she said, grabbing him by the arm, attempting to drag him with her to the middle of the room.

Luckily for Malcolm, and unfortunately for Reina, she failed to notice the stool in front of her. Moments later, a thud was heard, as Reina headed face first for the floorboards. With one final creak, the floorboard settled down as the young woman lay unconscious on it. Anniese, having recovered from her previous incursion, quickly made her way to the cataleptic body, picking Reina up as she guided her to a nearby empty booth.

"How did you know she was a Paladin of the Order," she asked, lugging around the unconscious Reina.

"I didn't, I'm a preacher, what else do you think I'd say," Malcolm said, letting out a chuckle. The alcohol they served in the local towns was indeed strong.

"Well in case you are interested, there is a scholar who lives a few blocks down. He can help with your search, knows all there is to know about exorcism. He used to be a preacher just like you," she said.

"I might as well pay him a visit. Do you have a room I can get for the night," Malcolm asked, as he made his way for the door.

"As a matter of fact, we do. We'll tidy it up for you. You can also find the goldsmith besides the scholar, looking at your necklace I'd say pay him a visit as well," Anniese said.

Malcolm instinctively grabbed the front of his shirt, tightly gripping the pendant underneath. The chain was visible around his neck, a dull gold sheen. The relaxed look on Malcolm's face faded, replaced by its previous sobriety and somber.

Opening the tavern door, he replied, "thanks."

-x-x-x-x-x-

Reina woke up with a start. The first thing she noticed was a pool of drool that had formed on the bar counter. The next thing she noticed was the relative darkness, evening had almost arrived and the sun was about to set. The last thing she noticed was a throbbing pain in her head, and she wished she had never noticed that. She massaged her temple softly as she looked around, only to notice Anniese mopping up the afternoon's share of spilt alcohol and vomit. Anniese looked up to notice the now awake, and visibly hungover, Reina.

"Rough day today? How many times have I told you not to go overboard. You city folk and your need to get completely sozzled. Your sword and armor are in the booth over there. I took the liberty of taking the sword away from you while you were smashed out your brains," Anniese said, continuing with cleaning the floor.

Reina looked at the mess in the tavern. Leftover bits of food mixed with bile and beer, truly a nauseating sight. Just thinking about this made Reina feel sick, the moment her nose picked up the smell, she heaved on the floor.

Looking sheepishly at a now angry Anniese, Reina smiled awkwardly and said, "Um…sorry."

"Just sit quietly in the booth over there, I'll bring you some honey-infused tea after I'm done with the mess you created, again," Anniese said.

A man suddenly rushed into the tavern, breathing heavily. He seemed to have run a long distance, trying to catch his breath.

"We're closed for the day, you can drown your sorrows in mead tomorrow," Anniese said to the man, visibly irritated by the recent set of events.

"Paladin…Help! It's…," the man said, trying to catch his breath. The terror and panic were visible in his eyes.

Without saying a word, Reina quickly went to the booth. First, she grabbed her armor, a shiny metal as malleable and soft as a piece of cloth. It glittered like silver, made of an alloy comprising of silver with a special metal. She put on the Cuirass, then a set of gauntlets followed by boots at last. It fit snuggly on her small form, custom made for her. The three parts of the Paladin armor each comprised of a few pieces of the metal welded together. The joints were coated by a dark grey steel variant, giving the armor pieces appearance of a silvery cloth pieces stitched with black threads at the seams. On the left breast of the cuirass, a large red circle was painted. On it, an image of the sun was present, colored white. The sun consists of a small circle in the middle, with eight rays diagonally radiating outwards, being broad near the circumference of the sun and tapering to a point at the circumference of the bigger circle. The tip of the radiating rays is slightly bent towards the clockwise direction. The symbol of the Order of the Radiant Solstice.

The armor fit snuggly on Reina's lithe frame. She wrapped the leather strap attached to her scabbard around her hips and rushed out to the field. The sun had finally set, and the streets were illuminated by the fire posts strewn around the town. Reina noticed the carnage taking place in front of her. A contingent of 10 soldiers were locked in combat with the intruders, not faring well against the inhuman raiders.

The trespassers were out-worldly in appearance. A misshapen humanoid shape, these attackers were covered with rough, black, coarse skin, their height similar to their targets'. Small spikes were jutting out of their skin at irregular intervals. One attack had a hunch back, one had a sickly right arm and bloated right arm, one had a broad chest while another had a chest as thin as its arms, it was a mixed bag of physical deformities. Their facial features were still somewhat similar to one another, glowing red eyes, mouth full of sharp teeth, distinct lack of a nose and ears, a bald head covered in the same dark rough flesh. These weren't any normal intruders, they were the children of the void, the impurity of this world, Dza Vho, and there were 20 of them.

"Men! Don't lose hope! Never give up," Reina screamed, as she unsheathed her sword.

The blade of her sword was smooth, straight and simple, made of the same metal as her armor, though a lot more stiffer and sturdier. A cutting edge on both sides, this blade was meant to be wielded by two hands. The width of the blade at its base extended a good length up the blade, tapering off into the tip after 18 inches. Reina closed her eyes and took a deep breath. A faint glow started to emanate from her body. Slowly the glow grew more intense, it light blue color now discernable. The armor and the sword started sucking the energy in, the metal pulsating with the excitement of a toddler. Within a moment her armor suddenly expanded, gaining a more full and robust appearance, a far cry from its earlier, flimsier appearance. The glow simmered down to a dimmer, more comfortable intensity, flowing around Reina's body. This energy was widely believed to be the essence of the world itself, the world lending its energy to rid the world of the void. A common weapon used by the Order against the Dza Vho, this energy was called Imperen.

Opening her eyes, she rushed into the crowd of Dza Vho grunts. Swinging her blade high towards her right as she charged, she cleanly cut down the first line of Dza Vho from the neck up, three lifeless bodies fell to the ground. She pushed her elbow back, hitting a Dza Vho grunt in the face as blue sparks flew out of her elbow. She thrust her sword in front, piercing an unlucky assailant in the abdomen and affixing them to the ground. Using the sword as a support, she swung her legs around, the hard soles of her boots striking the circle of intruders that had formed around her, sending them all flying back. Taking advantage of this commotion, the guards charged in, attacking the ranks of Dza Vho which were now in disarray. A few minutes after Reina had entered the fray, most of the intruders now lay lifelessly on the grounds. The guards cheered as the fight was over in the area.

Reina sighed in relief as one of the guards approached her. Most guards in the region wore a chainmail armor set. Standard steel boots, gauntlets, and a nasal helmet, also called Spangenhelm. The chainmail which covered the abdomen had a broad strip of red cloth attached to it vertically, covering a portion of the armor. A symbol was drawn on the cloth strip, A yellow colored bear, roaring and bearing its fangs at an attacker. The symbol of the Arktos Dynasty.

Unlike most guards, this man's armor had a gold border along the edges of the cloth, standard design for uniforms worn by captains of the guard.

"Still need me to clean up your mess it seems Varner," Reina said in a playful and mocking tone, looking at the approaching man.

"Well isn't that why we pay taxes to the Order," Varner quipped in response.

The two of them hugged each other, its always a relief to see a friend after an intense battle such as this. They looked around, judging the situation. The threat was not over, but this was unusual in its own right. The Dza Vho never ventured this far in such large numbers, something was not right about the situation.

"You're thinking what I'm thinking," Varner said.

"Someone's leading them," Reina replied in response.

They heard a huge explosion behind them, wooden debris raining around them as they turned around. A fire had spread out in the chaos, more Dza Vho grunts emerged, and among them a hulking monstrosity joined in. Unlike the garden variety they had been fighting till now, this one was at least 9 feet tall, and extremely muscular. His body was more regularly shaped, and covered in a black hard rocky armor, irregular and somewhat misshapen but effective none the less. Behind him a shadowy figure emerged, covered head to toe in a black cloak, his features not visible.

"What in Zil's name is that beast," Varner exclaimed, raising his sword in the air to single his men to get ready.

Reina also got her sword ready, focusing on her breathing to pump her equipment with a fresh supply of Imperen. She said, "I'm more concerned about the cloaked figure, he seems to be running the show here."

A deep, echoing and raspy voice came from the cloaked figure, "astute observation young Paladin. My capabilities and predilections would make me a priority. Of course, such a strategy hinges on whether you can reach me or not. For now, play with my pet, go fetch boy."

As he said these words, the lumbering beast charged into the fray, killing two soldiers in the blink of an eye by ramming into them. The other Dza Vho grunts took this as a signal to attack, descending on the guards and Reina. The huge monstrosity wildly swung his arms around, trying to hit the other guards after having breached their line.

"I'll take care of that big lug, you hold of the others," Reina said, charging towards the beast.

She slid on the ground, going under the beast as she slashed its right leg. The beast howled in pain, kneeling on his leg. Taking advantage of the situation, Reina leaped overhead the beast, thrusting her sword into the left shoulder, aiming for the space in the armor. Finding a foothold, she thrust her sword even deeper, standing on top of the beast as it howled in pain. The beast, however, wasn't going down without a fight. It swung its mighty arms around, twisting its body to shake of Reina. The soldiers ducked around, trying to avoid the thrashing beast, while Reina held on for dear life. Irritated, the beast jumped high, landing with a big thud on the field. The impact was enough to send the guards back a few feet, some on their backs others on their front. Reina couldn't hold onto the beast, and was sent flying back, with her sword still stuck to the beast. All the while the other Dza Vho attacked the helpless guards, tearing into them as they tried to get away. Reina kicked and punched the attackers away, blue sparks flying with each hit as the Dza Vho grunt recoiled in pain. Reina made her way out of the frenzied massacre; the smell of fresh blood being spilled was all her nose could sense at that moment.

"You seem a little overwhelmed. Perhaps rushing face first into danger isn't the best of tactics my dear Pally," the cloaked Dza Vho said, its raspy voice made all the more terrible by his sudden outburst of laughter.

"As is being careless and turning your back to someone," A voice came from behind the hooded Dza Vho, as a sword pierced his body. Black ichor came out, coating the steel sword. Varner stood with the sword in his hand, thrusting it even further, a smile on his face.

The hooded figure become silent for a moment, stuck in his last pose. It burst out laughing, this time even more intensely. With one cloaked hand, it grabbed the sword sticking out of his abdomen, and in one motion, pulled it through. The force was enough to cause Varner to collide into the figure and fall on his feet. The cloaked entity then turned around and grabbed Varner by the neck with its left hand, lifting him in the air.

"Imbecile, your insolence will lead to a gruesome and painful death, not just for you, but all whom you cherish," the cloaked Dza Vho said.

With one motion, it thrust its right arm into Varner's chest. Blood came out of Varner's mouth as Reina screamed in horror. The hooded figure then began to chant, a strange language unknown to Reina. Reina, still in shock, did not notice the beast come up from behind her and grab her in a bear hug. Finding herself trapped, she struggled to break free, as the cloaked figure continued chanting, a black glow with dark purple outline coming from its hands. The energy began to seep into the now lifeless body of Varner. As the process continued, bodies of the fallen Dza Vho and guards began to shake violently. In a few moments, bones violently ripped out from the lifeless corpses, spilling fresh blood and ichor on the field, emanating an odor which would burn one's nostrils. The bones started to converge at the lifeless corpse of Varner, dragged by threads of the dark purple energy. The bones reformed around Varner, creating a large vicious four-legged beast. This new monstrosity had four legs supporting it, a head with pointed ears, large teeth long enough to naturally come out of its mouth, a large snout, and holes with green flames where his eyes should have been. The creature was composed entirely of bones, with a small hole in his throat where the hooded figure had placed its hand.

"Do you like it, I call her Ostorider. Too bad you will miss all the mayhem and carnage she will spread. Come on girl, let loose," The figure said.

The Ostorider went into a frenzy, destroying anything it could see. Broken wood, shattered stone, and a growing fire, all came with the carnage the Ostorider had riled itself into. Soon it would reach the villagers, they had evacuated to the other part of town while the guards and Reina held of the attackers, but now only Reina was left. She knew deep down even her time was coming to a close, the tightening grip and the feeling of breathlessness meant she didn't have long before she lost conscience. The people in this town matter to her a lot, yet she felt helpless, guilt ridden as she knew there was nothing she could do. Varner had died senselessly due to this herald of destruction. Anniese, her name came to Reina, the poor girl had so much to live for, she would end up dead like the rest. Anniese's dead corpse flashed before Reina's eyes, a hallucination soon to turn into reality. In her last moments, all Reina could do was pray, pray to a higher power, pray to her god, the god of Valor, Zil.

A huge bolt of white light struck the beast, burning through his armor and causing it immense pain. For a split second, it loosened its grip, enough for Reina to free herself. She slipped out of the bearhug, again standing on top of the wincing beast. In one smooth motion, she removed her sword from the beast, decapitating it in the process. The beast's lifeless body fell to the ground as its head rolled away. Reina jumped out off the body, sending her boots into the skulls of two nearby Dza Vho. She looked around to see who helped her out in this unrelenting situation.

"You know I never got your full name," the preacher said, picking up a nearby piece of wood and striking a Dza Vho right in its head.

"Reina Moraitis, but you can call me Reina, preacher," she said, swinging her sword in a wide arc behind her, cutting three Dza Vho grunts into two from the waist.

"A man of god who can fight, I always reckoned preachers had a bark much worse than their bite. Girl! Looks like you have a new toy to play with," the hooded figure shouted, enjoying the mayhem laid out in front of him. He pointed the Ostorider towards Malcolm.

The Dza Vho monster charged towards Malcolm. Malcolm pointed his hand towards the beast and took a deep breath. A bolt of white energy burst onto the Ostorider. To Malcolm's horror, nothing seemed to happen to the beast, as she merrily charged towards the preacher. He jumped out of the way just in time, narrowly avoiding the beast. Malcolm tried to channel another surge of energy into the beast, only for her to shrug it off like an itch. The beast did not care for friends and foes alike, a few Dza Vho grunts' crushed bodies lying under it were a testament to that.

"Your paltry attempts at resisting the inevitable won't work preacher. That bolt is nothing but Imperen, and my girl is made of bones, a conductor. Every bolt you launch at her is harmlessly dispersed by her body," the hooded figure said, mockery and pride in his voice.

"Then I'll just have to cut it down," Reina said, making her way towards the Ostorider.

The beast charged at her in return, just what Reina wanted. The moment the beast was within a few inches of Reina, she swung her mighty front paw. Taking advantage of the movement, Reina jumped onto the beast's back. She thrust her sword into the beast, breaking a few of the bones that comprised of her back. The Ostorider winced in pain, wildly charging around in response, hitting anything that came its way, be it a fellow Dza Vho, a soldier, or structures and debris. Reina held on for dear life as the beast worked herself up into a frenzy. Despite her best attempt, the beast was too vicious, causing her to fall of the creature's back along with her sword as she rammed into a nearby building. Reina fell face first onto the ground, her sword lying besides her. The structure started to crumble from the damage, causing debris to break and fall on Reina. She instinctively rose her hands to shield herself from the debris, channeling Imperen into her gauntlets, thought it would not be enough. Malcolm noticed what was happening and directed his attention at Reina. A barrier of light formed around Reina, protecting her from the falling pieces of wood and stone.

"You're pretty handy for someone whose supposed to deliver sermons," Reina jibed at Malcolm, getting up with her sword in her hand.

To her horror, Malcolm was now kneeling, his hand on the ground as he gasped for air. Reina ran towards the priest but failed to notice the Ostorider. She was late, while she dodged the brunt of the force, her left side was caught in the Ostorider's path. Pieces of a broken cuirass and her now mangled left gauntlet flew around. She reached the preacher, but her left hand now hung lifelessly by her side with a bone jutting out. Her head wasn't in any better shape, bleeding from the left side with a gnarly cut, covering her eye.

"Get away from me, you'll end up dying if that beast charges our way," Malcolm said, still struggling to catch his breath.

"I'm not leaving someone to die. Come now," Reina said, putting her left hand around Malcolm's shoulder as she took his right hand.

The Ostorider was coming in, bearing her boney fangs at the two. Reina dragged around the now struggling Malcolm, who still seemed to be struggling. They would never get out of the beast's path in such a state. The beast was coming for them, almost in range to strike. Malcolm mustered some strength to form another barrier, but unlike the last one, this one was much less intense and flickering. The beast came into range, swinging her mighty paw at the two. Reina pushed Malcolm out of the way, she and Malcolm's weakened barrier taking the brunt of the force. Reina was launched into the air, flying quite a few feet back. Her cuirass was torn from the front, bits and pieces having fallen along the way. Blood was now coming from Reina's abdomen, she wasn't doing well. The Ostorider slowly made her way to the wounded Palladin, savoring the kill. Malcolm dragged himself towards her, trying to think of a way to help her. Her current odds looked bleak, and if he didn't do something, she and the town might end up dead.

"You were always a fool. Never thinking of the consequences of your action, nor exploring all your choices. A stubborn fool."

A deep and raspy voice, speaking to Malcolm inside his head. Malcolm retorted, "No matter what you say, I won't give you control!"

"An innocent lies near death, because of your inability. A town is at the mercy of your obstinacy. I do not care if you die, I will find another host. But, do you really think this is best course of action for you? Come on preacher, live a little. A noble cause justifies all means."

The preachers fell to the ground, unable to move due to exhaustion. There was nothing he could do in this situation, nothing except a very unsavory alternative.

"Weakness, you humans exhibit weakness. Under the guise of tenacity and stubbornness, your morals are nothing but a weakness. Let her die then, let the whole town burn. Or, do the smart things, and LET…ME…OUT!"

Malcolm knew his options were limited, he only had one choice left.

"Fine, lend me your power," Malcolm said, relenting to the demands of the voice.

Black ichor started to suddenly spew out of Malcolm's nails and mouth. The ichor spread over his body, slowly covering Malcolm's body. After covering a large portion of his body, the liquid started to solidify. As the liquid solidified, it gained bulk, causing Malcolm's size to increase. Malcolm slowly started standing up, the liquid forming into a proper shape. Malcolm's feet become covered by a thick black rough flesh, with sharp pointed toes. His right hand solidified into a large black fleshy claw, a spike jutting out of his elbow. The left hand did not get claws, it was malformed and ended up with stubby fingers. The right half of Malcolm's face was covered with the black flesh up to his temple. His left eye turned completely white as his pupil went into the back of the head, while his right eye was glowing red. His teeth had become sharp, just like the Dza Vho. Malcolm roared, a primal beastly roar, sending tremors through the ground.

"Now that is something, you are not a dreary individual as I initially thought. The town might survive after all. I'll leave the Ostorider in your care, I have business to attend to elsewhere," the hooded figure said, walking back into the flaming path it came from.

Before Malcolm could make a move on the cloaked Dza Vho, the Ostorider rushed into him. With his left hand, Malcolm stopped the beast dead on his tracks. The beast realized she wasn't facing a pushover and swung with her right paw. Malcolm easily caught it with his own right hand, and in one motion, ripped it off. The beast howled in pain, as Malcolm lifted her, throwing her behind him.

The beast got back on its three feet, still wobbly from loss of a limb. Malcolm raised his right hand up, and suddenly all broken pillars of stone started to levitate off the ground. Malcolm closed his fist, and the pieces of debris pierced through the Ostorider. Bones went flying around as the beast squealed, the once prideful roar now a cry for mercy. Half the beast's body was broken up, its hind legs not functional anymore, and its right front paw missing. She dragged herself with her only working limb, as Malcolm walked towards her. Malcolm raised his left hand, and a large piece of wood flew into it. Raising his left hand, he thrust the piece of wood right into the creature's skull, killing her once and for all. The bones comprising of her body fell into a pile, no longer held by any force.

The black flesh began to melt as the fight was finally over, becoming a lifeless pool on the ground as Malcolm stood there for a moment, breathing heavily. Reina witness the whole series of events, shock and fear in her eyes. Mustering up her strength, she got up, dragging her sword along the ground as she made her way to Malcolm.

"You are one of them. I can't let you live," she said to him, weakly raising her sword at Malcolm.

"You're in no state to fight, you need to rest," he said in response, walking away from her and the havoc that had transpired in the last few minutes.

"Stop! As a member of the Order, it is my duty…," Reina couldn't finish her sentence. She fell to the ground, lying unconscious on the ground, her sword a few inches away from her.