Age of Death –
There it was . . . the Kandorian High-Bridge, the last road to Castle Kandor.
At last, she had reached her destination.
Her eyes were small and round, her pupils black pinpoints swimming in a pool of yellow. They took in the High-Bridge – the final obstacle in her century long path.
The bridge spanned a canyon hundreds of feet deep. Below it, serrated rocks littered the cliffs on either side. At the bottom, the churning river could barely be seen; a broil of foamy white liquid crashing through the rocky river bed.
The Kandorian Bridge was a gleaming structure of white metal; seven sets of flowing arches each a hundred feet long. Steel, web-shaped gussets connected the arches and tied them to giant support towers on either side of the canyon.
The infected filled the length of the bridge; a horde of growling, blood-thirsty monsters, awaiting her arrival.
From head to toe she was covered in blood, both black and red. The hair on her head was long, black and drenched in filth. Likewise, the smooth, silken layer of black hair on her arms and face was also soiled and sticking to her flesh. Her golden, form-fitting dress was torn and tattered, also soaked in the gore of her enemies. The gossamer train of her dress dragged behind her, leaving a bloody trail in her wake.
This world’s orange sun slowly set at her back. In front of her, a star-filled sky twinkled behind Castle Kandor.
How many had died for her to get here? How many had she killed . . ?
All of them . . . and the killing wasn’t even done.
No. Not yet.
She may have lost the long, hard-fought battle that had started it all, but she wouldn’t stop, not until he was dead. Nothing else mattered.
She stood at the entrance of the bridge, as if daring the undead to come to her. They came, howling for her blood. Just as the swarm threatened to engulf her, she covered herself in a thick blaze of blue flames, turning their charge into a storm of ash and fire. Those foolish enough to draw near were incinerated. Others, wise enough to sense an end to their corrupt immortality, tried to backpedal, but were swept up in the press of the throng and likewise shoved into the fire. By the time the mob learned its lesson and reversed direction, she was knee deep in a pile of ash.
They tried to flee, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t hide from her. She was a goddess. She was more powerful than any Makii, even after they had infected themselves with their ‘Dark Gift’. She not only shared their genetics, but possessed many new and powerful variants that allowed her to control more of the Oneness than any living being before her. The Makii thought that by altering their blood with the Plague they could achieve perfection.
But Dona’Cora was perfection incarnate. She was born with her abilities -- the ultimate achievement of evolution.
She was going to remind them of that fact. She would teach them all what it meant to anger a true goddess.
She could have burned a hole through the crowd from one end of the bridge to the other, but why waste the effort? Wisely, she conserved her power, lest the Makii try to force their ‘gift’ upon her later.
Dona’Cora melted the bridge supports instead. The western tower toppled. With an ear-wrenching groan, the entire High-Bridge slowly spilled into the canyon, the steel beams and supports bending like rubber as it fell. The forces of the Dark Army tumbled down it like a giant slide, disappearing in the frothy river below.
Dona’Cora drifted upward, covered in a halo of burning blue flame. In front of her, Castle Kandor loomed, a giant keep of stone surrounded by a curtain wall of pure steel. The wall was magic-wrought and never meant to fall – but fall it had. Somewhere inside resided her fallen lover, the God-King Thane. How she dreaded to face him again, she could only imagine what he had become. Her proud, handsome lover was most likely a demon now, his flesh desecrated, his soul corrupted.
She had failed to save him in time. But she wouldn’t fail him in this . . . not in this.
No matter what, she wouldn’t leave this world until she put him to death.
She flew over the canyon. Below her, the flailing bodies of the undead continued to spill into the river. Some of the stronger ones were able to pull themselves up the bridge and to the other side. A crowd of them formed at the gate, but she sent a wave of flames their way, scorching a clearing for her to land. She drifted to the other side, standing at the collapsed and bent iron gate leading to the citadel. The undead were all around her, snarling, clawing the air in her direction, but otherwise they remained in place, their rotting brains finally comprehending that attacking her was pointless.
Dona'Cora encountered no further resistance as she entered the keep. She sensed the Makii were still lingering in the area, but even they feared to challenge her, and rightly so. They knew her well by now, she had sent many of their kind to the true death through the course of the battle, and would do the same to any more that chose to bar her path.
She strolled through the citadel. The once luxurious entrance hall was in ruins. The round, marble fountain spewed blood; the gilded statues circling it were toppled. The castle had fallen many years past, but the signs of battle remained, the Dead Gods hadn't even bothered to clean their mess. Flaking stains of black blood marred the floors and walls. Skeletal corpses filled the hallways. What flesh remained to them was sunken and black, but beyond that, their clothing was the only part of them that hadn’t rotten away. The stench of death and decay clung to the keep, but Dona’Cora had grown so used to the smell she no longer even noticed it.
She ignored the remnants of slaughter altogether, well aware that her own blood-covered body was equally gruesome. She headed for the throne room, where he most likely would be found. Her flames led the way, searing a path through the corpse-filled keep. She cared not for cleaning up the carnage, but was more concerned that the skeletal figures were possessed by the Plague, and could suddenly rise up against her. She didn’t want to take that chance, so she turned them all to ash instead.
Dona’Cora left the hallways glowing red with heat as she moved through the castle. By the time she reached the throne room the entire castle was ablaze, its stone walls near melting from the magic wrought fire.
The giant double doors of the throne room had been torn from their hinges and flung to the floor. The force that struck them must have been incredible, for it nearly folded the solid iron doors in half. On a raised dais just beyond the broken doors, sat the Kandarian Throne -- a polished chair of black marble. Surprisingly, the Makii left the chair untarnished; every last jewel and precious gem was yet encrusted into the black marble.
Her God King hadn’t been so lucky. He sat on the throne, his clothing remained; he was dressed in a purple silk coat, a velvet surcoat and black satin mantel. A skeletal hand held a scepter with a large, perfectly transparent diamond at the end. Like the rest of the dead she had come across in the castle, the flesh visible on her dead lover was taut and black -- and very little of it remained. For the most part, his bones were fully exposed. His head was eyeless, hollow, and hung back awkwardly. A stain of black blood covered the front of his coat, and surrounded the throne as well. Some blackened flesh remained on his neck, as did a deep horizontal gash.
His right hand hung to the side, below it rested a jeweled dagger.
"So often this occurs . . . such a waste of life. To see it happen still saddens me.”
She was too absorbed in the horror of what her lover had become that she failed to realize the presence of the Makii, and that she was surrounded by them. There were dozens of them, and every moment more of them appeared, slinking out of the shadows.
“I offered Thane peace . . . immortality. What more could one want in life?” the speaker said, then sighed deeply. “Alas, in the end, Thane thought death was the better bargain.”
One of the Makii stepped out from the crowd, stopping just short of entering her personal space. He was strange (even for a Makii), it wasn’t just his manner of dress that was odd, but his physical features as well. There was something very familiar about him, as though they had met before, but she couldn’t put a name to his face -- and what an unsettling face it was. Surely if she had seen him before, the memory of the man would have been hard to erase.
All of the Makii were essentially human, and were often thought to be the progenitors of that race. But after they were infected, they became something altogether different; their skin was pallid, their eyes pure black. All of their hair eventually turned gray, their teeth and fingernails purple and black. Their veins grew swollen and filled with the dark, Plague infected blood.
This being was altogether different, even more gruesome.
He wore a stark white top hat on his head and a suit of matching color. His shoes were white as well and sparkling clean. Gloves of silk covered his hands, which were fixated on twirling the frilly white lace around his collar.
His skin actually had hue – though it was mostly purple and black, and it was stiff, as though it had been unnaturally stretched to fit over the man’s face. It was so taut, the simplest facial expression was impossible, leaving the Makii with a constant, emotionless stare.
And his eyes . . . they weren’t just black, they were empty.
He approached her without fear . . . without feeling, as though he was standing before a wall.
Dona’Cora tried to recollect his name (perhaps something with ‘annihilator’ or ‘death-dealer’ in it) but nothing seemed to suit him.
Desecrator . . .yes, that seems more fitting, she thought, returning the Dead God’s emotionless stare with one of her own.
She knew the Makii had a fondness of such titles, but Dona’Cora made a conscious effort to ignore them. Even if she cared enough to try, she couldn’t possibly remember them all, for according to the latest estimates, the Makii yet numbered around two million (Dona’Cora took great pride in the knowledge that she had played a large role in reducing that number).
Typically, their haughty titles were meant to strike fear in the hearts of the living. But no matter how well deserved the titles may be, Dona’Cora found them to be a childish indulgence. They merely served to foster the Dead Gods’ own immortality fantasies. But no matter how ominous their names, Dona’Cora put them to death just the same.
Honestly, she really didn’t care what the white-dressed Makii’s name was -- it didn’t matter -- he was soon to be dead and forgotten.
“I told Thane there need not be war between us, that we could be as brothers, if he only partook of the blood,” the Dead God continued, his lips cracking as he spoke. “What heights he could have risen to in our ranks? But in the end, he denied our gift. He took another path . . . When at last they realized the battle was over and they had lost, Thane, and the rest of his soldiers took their own lives."
The Dead God took off his hat and shook his head, as if in sadness – though his face was as impassive as ever.
“Even though we fought as foes, I admired his courage and power. In life, he was a valiant warrior, holding Castle Kandor far longer than we had anticipated. Had he been blessed with the blood, he would have been fearsome indeed.”
The Dead God was putting on such a credible show of sympathy that Dona’Cora half expected to see tears spilling from the pits where his eyes should be.
“His death is truly a great loss. But on behalf of my Brethren, we beg you, please do not hold us to blame. After all, Thane’s life ended by his own hand.”
Dona’Cora had seen enough of the Dead God’s act.
She burst into flames. Every inch of the throne room was bathed in brilliant blue light, leaving the Makii with no more shadows to lurk in. All in all, there were around fifty of the Dead Gods present. She wasn’t intimidated or afraid. Instead, she only found their pale dead faces pathetic to behold.
“You wish me to believe you are without blame in this?” Dona’Cora coldly stated, throwing her own fearless self-confidence back into the man’s face.
She was a goddess! These beings were but corpses.
“To believe you actually give a damn about him?”
Her halo flared even brighter. Her blue flames crackled and roared as they leapt from her flesh.
“There is only one thing your kind cares for, the Hunger. If truly you are sad, it is only because you were denied the blood of a God.”
The white-clad Makii was through pretending.
The man gave up the charade of mock sadness. He stood before her, calm, still, and utterly devoid of emotion. He replaced the hat on his head and raised his eyeless gaze to Dona’Cora.
"I see . . . We had hoped you would be wiser than Thane, Dona’Cora, and joined us willingly. It’s true, his blood would have been savored. But, judging on how difficult you have been to dispose of, I think yours will be sweeter yet. And I promise that with you, we won’t let a single drop go to waste.”
The Dead God slowly approached her.
As if oblivious to the fact that her life had just been threatened, Dona’Cora ignored the man, and turning to the others she said, "This isn't over. We will fight again one day, and when we do, I promise your lives shall have a permanent end."
With that, the Dead God came at her . . .
He was powerful! He moved so fast she could barely see him -- despite the vast amount of Oneness she held. But she didn’t have to see him. His actions were predictable; he was overconfident and moved too fast for his own good. He also underestimated her power. He never expected that she could do in an instant what took others hours. She opened a Rift right in front of her, right in the path of the Dead God. In the last second he tried to halt his momentum, but it was too late. His left leg was severed at the knee, his right arm vanished at his shoulder. His top hat was cut cleanly in half . . . so too was his head. What was left of him crumpled to the throne room floor. His leg, arm and face disappeared into the oblivion of the Black Door.
. . . So too did Dona’Cora.
The rift hovered in front of her; a pulsating tear in space and time. She casually stepped into it, not worried for a second about the fifty Makii she was leaving behind. It would be easy for them to track her . . . but she knew they wouldn’t. The Makii’s greatest weakness was their fear of death, and she had just accentuated it by making short work their white-clad leader. She was also confident they were wise enough to realize her statement wasn’t a boast, and that if they saw her again, she truly would put an end to their immortality.
Dona’Cora was a harsh, cold, arrogant woman. Only one thing in the entire universe had ever proven to soften her heart. But now the love of Thane was no more. She had failed him. As she drifted through the abyss, she had an epiphany. Her heart grew colder than ever, her power grew stronger.
The war was lost, her lover had died, but in the abyss she found a new purpose to her existence.
Dona’Cora left the Rift, entering a gray and desolate wasteland. The dense atmosphere nearly crushed her; the powerful wind nearly lifted her off her feet. Her power saved her from both. In the distance, a white sun burned the horizon. Above it hung a shiny black moon; a ball of melted obsidian glass.
Dona’Cora took a step toward the horizon and the hovering black moon -- her first step on a long pathway to vengeance.
In the millennium that followed, her every action became focused on fulfilling her threat of one day destroying the Makii. To whatever god that would hear her, she vowed that when next they meet, she would be the one who was victorious.
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