Death was at his back . . . and closing in fast.
In front of him, a wave of blue flames scorched a path to the Black Door. Crackling as they leapt from his fingertips, the flames crawled up the ivory altar, found the Door and tuned it to his home. The Rift beckoned Davidian onward as if eager to devour him body and soul. It hovered before him, pulsating like a beating heart.
Death had him surrounded.
Hands – more bone than flesh – reached out for him . . .
Davidian dove into the Rift, leaving the dead hands to clench the air.
Thank the Gods, he thought as his soul spiraled through space. I didn’t think I’d actually make it.
There was peace in the Rift – and he enjoyed every moment of it.
The tranquility allowed him to clear his head and to ponder his errors – there had been many. He wondered what he could have done differently. Would it have even mattered? Could he possibly have changed the outcome?
. . . No.
In that brief moment of peace, he came to the conclusion that nothing could have saved them.
I did my best . . . and it didn’t mean a damn thing.
With that thought in mind, his tranquility came to an abrupt halt as the Black Door callously dumped him onto a Dead World.
He was home . . . almost.
Davidian cursed in pain as he landed on his back. Instantly the tremendous pressure of the world’s atmosphere began to crush him. He was only able to summon a thin veil of blue flames around his body, but it was enough to relieve the pressure, allowing him to get to his feet. It was a slow process. With every move he made, more vulgar and creative expletives filled his mind along with the pain. Thankfully he had saved his trusted blade, Alithia, and was able to make use of it as a crutch.
He carried the blade wherever he went, despite the fact that the Elders frowned on his use of the weapon. Even though the edge of black steel was blessed, they considered any weapon, other than the Oneness, an archaic method of combat.
But Alithia had saved his life several times . . . and many of those times had just recently occurred. To escape the latest Plague infested world, he had nearly drained himself of the Oneness. Lacking the ability to kill his enemies with blue flame, Davidian found the cold steel of Alithia more than an acceptable substitute.
So much for the Treaty, he thought, still not sure what the hell went wrong back there. Davidian was no rookie when it came to venturing into the Rift. He had been to many worlds, both living and dead. And had faced the Dark Army on countless occasions. But never before had he seen such a brutal, and blatant slaughter as that which he found on Torathius. So consumed by madness, the Dark Army even ignored the feast, preferring to revel in pure carnage . . . and chaos. The blood of the living, typically so precious and savored, was left to run down the gutters and bath the streets.
I reckon Dona’Cora’s gonna burst into flames when she hears about this . . .
He tried to take a step, but with the thick atmosphere surrounding him, it was like walking through a swamp. Not to mention, every motion sent a searing pain down his shoulder and back.
. . . If she hears about this, Davidian thought, beginning to wonder if he had saved enough of his power to make it home.
The Dead World he stood on wasn’t his home, the black moon that orbited it was. They dubbed the moon ‘The Sanctuary’, the home of the Elders and their Chosen ones. The only way to reach it was by piloting a pod; metal vessels designed to be powered by the Oneness. There was no Gate to the Sanctuary. The Dark Army could travel the Gate, but only the Oneness could power a pod. It was a simple, but effective way to keep the Sanctuary safe from the Plague, and it had done so for thousands of years. All Davidian had to do was reach a pod and he would be safe, but the Dead World harbored a lethal environment. Every second spent within it was incredibly taxing on one’s power – and Davidian didn’t have much to start with.
There were several pods scattered around the Rift, their egg-shaped metallic hulls shimmering like a mirage as the planet’s sun beat down upon them. The closest of them was roughly twenty standard feet away. But what normally would be quick stroll, now seemed like an impossibility, considering Davidian had failed to complete a single step.
I will make it, he inwardly cursed. . . . I have too.
He didn’t come this far to die on a Dead World.
Davidian looked up, his dark brown eyes peeking out from a mop of disheveled black hair. There it was . . . the Sanctuary, hanging in the sky; a half-moon sliver of metallic black.
It almost seemed close enough to touch. If he could just reach out to it . . .
He lifted his left arm. . . there was a loud pop. With the sudden jolt of pain, he nearly lost control of his halo of Oneness – the only thing keeping the dense atmosphere from turning his body into pulp. He struggled to focus his mind, actually used the pain as a focal point.
He regained his senses as the pain slowly faded. Clearly, before he did anything else, he had to assess his injuries.
He wore a jacket of black leather, the cuffs and collar dyed blood red. A diagonal tear ran the full length of the back of his jacket. The leather was cut clean, as if made by a razor -- so too was the flesh beneath, exposing muscle, tissue and bone. His left arm hung at his side, he once more attempted to raise it above his head, but only made it waist-high before his mind was awash in pain.
Davidian couldn’t see the injury, but could guess at its severity. Most likely, his shoulder blade had fractured or broken under the blow. The wide slice down his back was a flesh wound, but a severe one. He knew the wound was deep, but thankfully not deep enough to harm his spinal column or internal organs. All in all, nothing an Elder couldn’t heal, or even one of the lesser Chosen for that matter. If he was stronger, he could do it himself, but in his current condition he needed all the power he had left to guide his pod back to the Sanctuary; and the longer he spent on the Dead World licking his wounds, the less energy he would have to make that a possibility.
He gritted his teeth against the pain and trudged onward, one slow, excruciating step after another . . .
Davidian was a Savior. He had spent the last decade on the world Torathius, anticipating their scheduled destruction, as dictated by the Makii. He had found many on the planet he believed could prove themselves worthy as Chosen. But before he could fully vet them, the dead came – far ahead of schedule. That should have been his first clue that something had gone horribly wrong, but despite the unexpected arrival, Davidian did what he was supposed to do; he watched, and he waited.
He didn’t have to wait long, the Torathians were quickly slaughtered. The lust to kill was unprecedented, even for the Dark Army.
That was his second clue – this time he didn’t ignore it.
He went into action. Saving the world was an impossibility – he vaguely remembered an Elder teaching him that – so he went for the Chosen. To his credit, he collected five of them. It was when he tried getting them back through the Rift that things went from bad to worse.
They had been just kids. They could have been great Chosen, perhaps even Elders one day.
Davidian couldn’t save them . . . but before he focused on saving his own ass, he made sure they wouldn’t end up as slaves in the Dark Army.
In his blood-bath scramble to get to the Rift, Davidian even took down a Dead God. As Alithia slowly burned through the creature’s innards, he demanded to know why they had abandoned the Treaty. It was common knowledge that it was a benefit to both sides, Dead Gods and Elders. The Dead Gods had succeeded in devouring most of the universe, but their hunger remained. It would always remain, such was their curse. In order to keep them sated, in essence, the Elders created living planets for the Dead Gods to feed upon. And by doing so, they were allowed to save their “Chosen” from these worlds and bring them back to the Sanctuary. There, their powers could grow to create more planets for the Dead Gods to consume, and when they did, the Chosen who had been elevated to Saviors would venture out to collect more Chosen . . .etc . . . etc. And so it would go for all time – a truce (sort of). The truth of it was that the Elders were enslaved by the Treaty. They were allowed to live and propagate, so long as the Dead Gods were fed.
But the attack on Torathius was different than anything Davidian had seen, the Dark Army wasn’t the least bit interested in feeding, just slaughtering anything with warm blood in its veins.
Even as he twisted Alithia deeper, and black smoke curled from its torso, the Dead God said not a word. It simply stared at him, oblivious to the pain. When whatever sort of life the being possessed finally left, its eyes were as blank and empty as they had been the first moment Alithia sank into its stomach.
Something is wrong as hell, Davidian thought, remembering the creature’s dead eyes. I have to make it, I have to tell Dona’Cora.
He discovered reserves of power he didn’t know he had, and lumbered onward to the gleaming pods.
Davidian grinned, gaining confidence as he drew nearer. He was going to make it. He would get back to the Sanctuary and tell his tale. The Elders would heal him (make him strong as ever), and together they would face this unbridled resurgence of the Dark Army. With Alithia in his hands, he would make them pay for what they have done.
He stood in the shadow of a pod and smiled. He was about to send his power out and open a door in the vessel when another shadow appeared – eclipsing both Davidian and the pod.
His smile vanished. He would have recognized the giant tree-like silhouette anywhere. Of all the Elders, this being was his least favorite, and the last one he wished to see at the moment.
‘Ostedes, what in the dead hell are you doing here?’ he asked as the creature rounded the pod.
Davidian was also well aware of the being’s tremendous telepathic abilities, and knew Ostedes would easily be interpreting his thoughts – most likely had been since he arrived in the world.
The creature was a giant, nearly twice as tall as Davidian. Though his body and limbs were thin, he seemed deceptively massive, for each of his arms had over a hundred limbs that spread out from his body like branches. His feet were like roots, digging into the earth as he moved. Ostedes had no mouth, only a blank face with a pair of glowing white eyes.
Suddenly the being reared up, and grew larger still, his branch-like limbs stretching out and writhing in the air.
It was tough to tell through the hazy atmosphere, but he seemed even larger than Davidian remembered . . . and his eyes, it was rumored they turned white when the giant was angered, but now they shown like beacons. And there was something else . . .
Davidian, you damned fool!
He cursed himself. How could he have missed it?
Ostedes doesn’t have a halo!
Any living being without a shield of the Oneness to protect them would have been instantly crushed in the dense atmosphere, leading Davidian to a simple conclusion – Ostedes wasn’t a living being anymore.
He focused the Oneness, enhancing his speed. He had enough left for one strike – maybe. But it had to count.
Davidian disregarded his injuries and dove for the being’s trunk-like chest -- Alithia leading the way.
A hollow gurgle came from somewhere in the giant’s mouthless head. His limbs vibrated and twitched as Davidian came on, but they didn’t move to intercept him.
They didn’t have to.
The sound of his name reverberated through his mind. Davidian felt his body shutting down, his own limbs were no longer his to control. And there was pain, a solid wall of fire that prevented any rational thought.
But he was already in motion. Alithia was still heading for her target . . . the tip of his blade made contact with Ostedes chest and easily sank in to the hilt. The strike must have broken the giant’s concentration, for Davidian had his body back, the pain in his mind was but an echo. He landed on his feet and pulled Alithia free. A spurt of black blood accompanied the blade, drenching Davidian. He ignored the spray of viscous fluid and prepared for a second strike.
The only thing moving on the tree-like giant was its flailing limbs. His eyes continued to shine down on Davidian.
Perhaps he was mistaken, but it almost appeared like the bark ridges of Ostedes’ face had twisted into a grin.
Davidian grinned back. With his next strike, he planned to bury Alithia into the Elder’s face.
Smoke rose from Alithia’s edge . . .
. . . and from Davidian’s flesh. His face and body were suddenly on fire. The black blood was like acid, burning into his skin. He summoned what little power he had to stop it, but it was too late . . . and worse yet, the black blood wasn’t burning his flesh, it was burrowing into it.
‘Curse you, Ostedes!’
Davidian was being possessed.
His leather coat was speckled with holes from which his life-blood was pouring. The majority of the fluid had landed on his face, which was rapidly being eaten away, his tussled head of hair became a skull cap of white bone.
Alithia slipped from his grip, the entire length of blessed steel was pocked and rapidly disintegrating.
Davidian screamed, but he didn’t make a sound, his voice was swallowed in the dense atmosphere.
‘I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU, DAVIDIAN. I KNEW EVENTUALLY A SAVIOR WOULD COME, AND WHEN THEY DID . . .’
Even as his flesh melted away, Davidian summoned all the Oneness he had left, and prepared for one last attack.
But Ostedes took his mind, and with it his power. The branch-like limbs came at him, digging into his body.
‘SAVE YOUR STRENGTH. I HAVE NEED OF YOUR POWER. I AM COMING HOME, AND YOU WILL BE THE ONE TO TAKE ME THERE.’
The strange choking noise came louder from the giant. Davidian’s eyes melted from his head. Before the darkness took him, he realized the choking sound was Ostedes’ laughter.
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