Glyph opened his eyes, and as the hazy redness disappeared, he could still see the afterimage of the girl he had shot. It seemed the urge to kill her had won out in the end after all. Lowering the AK-47, Glyph tried to relax; his heart was pounding a mile a minute. He walked over to the stone table and laid down his weapons. He felt pretty good now that he thought about it, and wished he could see the look on Bogg’s supervisor’s face when Bogg had to explain exactly how Glyph had gotten away.
Glyph began to chuckle silently to himself and unhooked the grenades from his vest. He heard Ishea get up and begin to walk towards him from the back of the cave.
“You seem to be of good spirits.” She said as she neared the table. “And in fair health for once.”
Glyph could see her looking him over for injuries, noting his freshly blood-soaked clothes. “Yeah, things worked out pretty well this time.” He said.
“Did you do as I asked, Glyph?” Ishea questioned, cutting to the chase.
Glyph’s smile faded from his face; a distant look of horror flickered in his eyes for a moment, then vanished. “I tried.” He said lamely.
“You tried.” Ishea said flatly. “But you did not succeed.”
He could see her eyes getting wet, and instantly felt like a lump of shit.
“And did you really try?”
“Of course I tried.” Glyph said angrily. “You think I like to kill people?”
Ishea turned away from him. “I am no longer sure, Glyph. It hurts me to see you like this. Doing these evil things, it sickens me.”
Glyph stammered. “I don’t like it, Ishea! Okay? I don’t like it at all! I don’t know how many times I’m gonna have to tell you, but I don’t have a choice. It’s the only way I can use magic here, and without magic I might as well find the nearest Grull and fall on his sword now!”
Turning to face him, Ishea stared into his eyes. “You are wrong, Glyph. There are things going on here that are beyond you and I. Our choices could be more important than we realize and, I would think, that by making the right ones we shall prevail.”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at–.”
“Yes you are! You do not want to see it, but you know it is there. You are faced with choices Glyph, and the choices you make could be more relevant than any action you might take. The outcome of the battle might hinge on our state of mind instead of the sharpness of our swords…You need to look inward and face your own demons, or you will end up losing yourself, and everything I once knew you to be.”
Spinning quickly on her heel, the tips of her hair whipped across his arm and chest. Taking a few steps, she teleported away. Glyph sunk down onto the slab bench, and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. Things were already not going well; somehow he was sure that telling Ishea he was doing it all for her, so he could protect her, would have made it worse. ‘Choices, it always comes back to that doesn’t it?’ he thought.
“You did the right thing, Glyph.” came Drayden’s voice from the shadows. He stepped out into the light, and was carrying something long in his hand. “Do not worry for Ishea, she will come around. I take it things went well on Earth?”
“If you want to call it that. I killed ten times the number of my last hour.” Glyph said solemnly. “I should have plenty of magic to use against Cruix.”
“Excellent! Well done, Glyph.” Drayden said, sitting opposite him at the table. He put the cloth wrapped object onto the table in front of him, and pushed it toward Glyph, smiling. “I brought you something.” He said and nodded for Glyph to open it.
“Long has it been since I have held the King’s Sword in my hand. It is my honor to return it to you.”
Glyph pulled off the cloth to reveal his sword underneath. “Fantastic! How did you get it?”
“I searched the armory for it earlier this evening. Apparently Cruix could not find any worth in it, the stupid bitch. Not that it would have done her any good since it only works for you.”
By now Glyph was standing; swinging the blade through the motions that Toban had taught him all those years ago. “It only works for me?”
“You did not know? Surely you have heard of its history?”
“Well, yeah, a little. Wasn’t it given to the king of Kivastor as a gift or something?”
“King Kivas yes, the first king of Kivastor. Given to him by King Komei. The sword contains certain magical qualities that, among other things, only work for the current king of Kivastor…can you activate it?”
As if to show him, Glyph brought the sword up in front of him, and was about to try, when Drayden put out his hand.
“Save it, save it for Cruix. I can no longer enjoy seeing it the way I used to.” He said, indicating his eyes with his hand.
“I think you can see more than you let on.”
Drayden laughed. “Much more.” He paused. “Well I suppose if you are uninjured, you no longer need me hanging around. I will leave you to sleep.”
As Drayden started toward the entrance of the cave, Glyph glanced up at him from the sword. “Drayden…thanks.”
“My pleasure. Now rest, morning is quickly approaching, and we must be at our best for the battle with Cruix.”
Glyph nodded, and Drayden seemed to pick up on it and departed the cave. Lying down on his stone cot, he pulled the thick leathery animal skin up around his shoulders and hugged the sword to his chest. He began to think about M’atra, and the time he had spent there, the friends he had made. How he longed to see Toban, Kahula, and Covat again.
The thought brought back the painful memory of King Lukret’s death, and his last words to Glyph. ‘Read the prophecies, Great One. You are more important than you know’. If only he had some to read, or even just a glimpse at the Tapestry. Suddenly he remembered the scene of Ishea walking across the red desert. That came true, he thought. Ishea risked her life to come to Degruthras for me; she traveled to the pillars of Sa Saran to bring me back.
Glyph sighed at the thought of Ishea. ‘How many more will have to die?’ She had once asked him. He didn’t know the answer then, but now he did. “Too many.” Glyph said aloud. “Too many.” He rolled over and tried to block the flood of images of the dead in his mind, and finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.
“Glyph. Glyph.” He heard his name spoke and opened his eyes. Drayden was there nudging him awake. Glyph sat upright and Drayden thrust a plate of eggs toward him. Standing, Glyph took the plate, walked to the table and started to eat. Drayden looked like a man with a lot on his mind as they sat in silence in the predawn hours. Finishing, Glyph began to reload his magazines with ammo from the duffle bag. As he finished reloading everything, he realized the ammunition was starting to run low. ‘Oh well,’ he thought. ‘That will make it harder to kill people on Earth.’
Glyph slid the magazines into both Glocks, cocked them, and put them in their holsters. He looked over at Drayden, who had risen to his feet.
“It is time.”
“Alright.” Glyph said, “Give me a minute.” and proceeded to rip the shredded sleeves off his jacket. Quickly slipping it on, he grabbed a half dozen grenades and began to fasten them to his chest. He thought about leaving the duffle bag behind, but it was all he had, and for some reason it just didn’t feel right. Flipping the AK onto his right shoulder, he slid the strap of the bag over his head and shifted it to his left side. “Let’s go.”
As Glyph and Drayden exited the mouth of the cave into the enormous cavern, they could hear the beating of wings in the darkness. Grot and two of his warriors descended into the light of the torches on the rock landing.
Glyph heard Ishea clear her throat off to his left as she popped in out of thin air.
Grot bared his teeth in that wicked scowl that passed as a smile. “Are you ready?”
“One moment.” Drayden said, as three animal skin bladders materialized at his feet. He handed one to Ishea and one to Glyph. “Water.” Drayden said, and strapped the third to his waist.
Glyph quickly followed suit, and as he finished cinching his straps tight Ishea produced three small vials.
“Here.” She said to Glyph.
Nodding, Glyph reached over and took one of the vials. “Thanks.”
Drayden grabbed the other, then Grot signaled, and the two Hexzu moved behind him and Ishea. Then Grot moved in behind Glyph, looped his forearms under Glyph’s armpits, and began to flap his stony, thin, bat-like wings.
Slowly they began to rise upward towards the tiny opening near the top of the mountain. With a final burst of speed and a quick spin to keep their legs from hitting the sides, they burst out into the predawn twilight. Glyph could see the faint reddish glow of the two suns of Degruthras emanating across the landscape from the mountains in the distance.
They flew across the giant canyon the Hexzu called ‘The Chasm’ towards the city of Okrune, the chill wind whipping through Glyph’s hair as they swooped in close to the ground to avoid detection. They weaved quickly in between the small mountains, finally coming to rest behind an outcropping of rock on the west side of the city near the sewage drain.
Drayden tilted his head to the left and held up his hand. “We must be careful, there are still search patrols out looking for Ishea.” He paused a moment. “It is clear now.” And he jumped from cover and made for the sewer.
Ishea quickly followed. Grot motioned for one of the Gargoyles to go behind her, then turned to Glyph.
“The sewer?” Grot whispered, flaring his nostrils.
Glyph stashed his black bag amongst the rocks and glanced back at Grot. “Don’t worry, Cruix won’t care what we smell like once she’s dead.”
Grot stifled a laugh and followed Glyph across the sandy patch to the entrance of the sewer pipe. The Hexzu had to stoop low in order to enter the drain.
They were able to make decent time at first, but after a short while the drain became smaller and Grot was forced to crawl on his hands and knees to the entrance of Drayden’s secret tunnel. Once there, Drayden slowly waved his hand in a circular motion, and the wall opened up in a spiral fashion to reveal the downward slope. Drayden stepped in and several lights burst on and hovered behind him to light the way for the others.
Reaching the bottom, they emerged out into a dungeon cell. As Glyph stepped out of the tunnel he could hear Drayden saying, “It is great to be home” sarcastically. He was already at work opening the door, as Grot came squeezing out into the room flexing his wings. The door opened, and Glyph could see a Ghoul hovering around the pillar at the center of the large chamber.
Leaping into the room, Ishea shot an arc of lightning into the ghoul, who quivered mercilessly. Brown blood began to pour from its nose and mouth as Ishea continued to fry him.
Finally, Drayden put his hand on her arm, and she ceased, a curious mix of revenge and pity briefly crossing her face. Glyph was pretty sure that was payback.
Glyph drew his sword reflexively, yet yearned for the grip of the AK strapped to his back. Reaching into his pocket, Glyph pulled out the vial of energy elixir and slugged it back, noting Drayden and Ishea both did the same.
They all moved silently into the main torture chamber and approached the steps at the far end. Glancing at the pillar where the smoking Ghoul lay, Glyph saw a female demon strapped to it. Her head hung down, black ooze dripping from a wound on her skull. He couldn’t keep himself from staring at her nakedness, and how the tight chains bit into her flesh as they kept her securely in place.
He wondered briefly why they would be torturing one of their own, but quickly dismissed it as Drayden took the lead climbing up the spiraling stairs. The way was surprisingly clear, and what little resistance they met was quickly silenced.
Topping the stairs, they scurried down the long passageway towards the main hall. As they approached, Drayden waved his hand and sudden confusion overcame the two demon guards. One began to walk into walls, and the other kept looking under his chair every few seconds. Like a swift executioner, Glyph slid his sword quickly across the throat of the one by the wall. A suddenly powerful sensation swept over him as the lesser demon breathed its last breath, and flopped to the ground. Turning, he saw Grot cleave the skull of the one in the chair; the sound of splitting bone filled the quiet air for an instant.
“What is that?” Glyph whispered to Grot, pointing at his weapon.
Grot held his weapon up for Glyph to look at. It was the shape of the number seven, made of polished stone the thickness of his thumb, but ground to razor sharpness on both edges, and was nearly three feet in length.
“Vorka. It is a traditional weapon of my people.” Grot replied.
Ishea, Glyph, Grot and his personal guard quickly followed Drayden into the opposite passageway. Drayden slowed about half way down the hall, and made the next right into a short hallway leading to a smaller room. Inside the room was another wide staircase leading upward. Here he signaled everyone to stop.
“These stairs lead to the top of the temple. There will be a large hall about fifty feet long. We will follow the hall and enter an enormous room. That is Cruix’s outer chamber. Her inner chamber is beyond the large obsidian door in the far wall. The door is protected magically, and I doubt we will be able to penetrate its defenses.” Drayden said. “Are we ready?”
“We are.” Grot said, answering for everyone.
Silently, they crept up the demon-sized steps to the top, with Grot and his guard leaping and gliding up five and six steps at a time. Columned openings from floor to ceiling lined the length of the wide hall, affording Glyph views of the whole city as they all moved silently forward.
The curtains at the entrance to the outer chamber were drawn back and tied. As Glyph stepped through, he felt like he was in an amphitheater. The room descended in a semicircle of steps to the open space below, lined with six stone daises. There were several daybeds with cushions positioned throughout, and what Glyph could only describe as a Japanese sand garden. The rest of the floor was made of polished black marble tiles, including a pathway that bisected the combed sand garden. At the end of the pathway along the back wall was an obsidian door and beside it, an enormous gong with a large brass hammer mounted to the side. Glyph silently cursed the enormous steps as they jumped from one to the other until they reached the bottom.
Glyph caught his breath and stole a look at Ishea, who now wore the expression of someone being led to her death. Then he turned to Grot. “I think it’s time we lured her out. Grot, go ahead and give the attack signal, it’s all or nothing now.” Grot pointed at his guard, who instantly took to the air, sweeping in between two pillars and plunging into the morning twilight.
A minute later, as Glyph stared up at the ring of steps from the lower level of the chamber, he heard the blast of a horn ring out. The sound lasted for about a minute, and he instinctively took cover behind one of the daybeds.
A small trickle of sweat wound its way past Glyph’s eye and onto his cheek. They had only waited about another minute before they heard the answering cry of another horn in the distance. The attack had begun; all that was left was to wait for Cruix to emerge from her chamber.
A moment later the scurrying hoofs of a Grull were heard descending the circular steps behind them. Crouching in their various hiding places, they waited in silence as the Grull ran up to the gong beside the obsidian door. It sighed heavily, then removed the hammer and struck the gong three times, before retreating some distance from the door.
Without warning, Cruix’s insubstantial form passed through the door and solidified in front of the cowering Grull. Her short robe billowed in the slight breeze from the upper windows.
“What is it, that you disturb me from my sleep?” Cruix shouted angrily.
As if to answer her question, another horn blew in the distance.
“What is that? What the drek is going on?” She demanded.
“My Queen! My Queen! The Gargoyles are attacking.” The Grull urgently called out.
Cruix leapt violently toward the Grull, snatching him up in one hand, and lifted him up face-to-face with her.
“The Gargoyles are what?” Cruix hissed at him.
“Attacking.” The Grull said meekly.
Cruix stared at him blankly.
“They wage war against us, my Queen.”
Cruix let loose a blood-curdling scream of rage. Then with a flick of her wrist, she blasted the Grull through the air and into the wall beside the door. The force of the energy blast squashed him like a pancake, as the sides of his body ripped open, spraying shredded muscle, bones and organs like a high-pressure power wash.
“Ahhgghhh!” She screamed again.
Cruix began to cross the distance to the steps when Drayden suddenly appeared in front of her. She stopped short, her eyes glowing red.
“Ahh, my dear Cruix.” Drayden said.
“What have you done old man?” She roared, spittle flying from her mouth. “What is the meaning of this?” She spat at him.
“I am afraid your time has come.”
“You old fool! You know nothing!”
“I know more than you think.” Drayden said, as Ishea, Glyph and Grot all stepped out of concealment.
“You! I should have known. The Great One and The Guide, how touching.” Cruix said, mocking them.
Glyph sent the trigger to the sword, and he could feel the rush of energy build around the blade as it shot to life. Immediately the sound of a dull grinding chainsaw burst into the air, as the blade turned blue! Even Ishea stole a glance of surprise at the color of the sword.
Glyph could feel nothing but cold emanating from the blazingly blue blade. Raising his free hand, Glyph brought forth a fireball, and let it fly off towards Cruix. Ishea’s lightning was faster and blasted her right shoulder, sending her spiraling out of the way of Glyph and Drayden’s attacks.
Instantly a red energy shield covered Cruix. Glyph could see her robe fade away and be replaced with her leather bodice and vest. She tied her hair up behind her head as the wound to her shoulder slowly faded away.
“Bitch!” Ishea yelled, and began to send energy-draining lightning spraying across her shield. Cruix looked unconcerned, and continued her preparation. Ishea held the spell like she had earlier on the Ghoul.
Glyph turned to Drayden, “Can she weaken Cruix that way?” he shouted.
“Not without great cost.” Drayden answered.
Spinning back toward Cruix, Glyph raised his sword and charged her shielded form. As he reached her, Ishea was forced to break her attack to avoid striking him. Glyph swung at the shield with all his might. The blade passed through the shield like it wasn’t even there. It flew by Cruix, missing her face by a few inches, and almost made Glyph, who had been braced for impact, lose his balance.
Cruix sprang to her feet, staring at Glyph in disbelief.
Glyph brought the sword back toward Cruix, whose form suddenly blurred, causing Glyph to miss a second time. Taking a few steps back, Glyph tried to shake the blurriness from his sight but couldn’t.
Before he could think of a way to counter Cruix’s effect, he was hit by a wave of energy, propelling him across the room. Glyph tried to rotate, but could only manage to turn his arm and point at the ground, shooting energy blindly in an effort to cushion his impact. Glyph hit the edge of one of the surrounding stairs with a thud, cracking several of his ribs.
“Shield!” Glyph called out, angry with himself for not using it before. Ignoring the pain, he ran back to the battle, where he could see Ishea steadily holding Cruix at bay by magically melting the floor beneath her feet.
Drayden took advantage, by spinning a rope of blue sparkling energy up the demon’s arm and shoulder like a spider’s web. Smoke poured off Cruix where the rope touched her, and she howled through clenched teeth as it burned into her muscle.
Grot was standing and staring in awe of the power being exercised before him.
Reaching out with his mind, Glyph snatched a stone dais and swung it in an overhead arc straight for Cruix’s captive form.
Tilting her head up, Cruix screamed at the column moving toward her, which exploded into dust about twenty feet away, and pelted them all with fine gravel. As she turned her head back to stare at Glyph, Drayden’s rope was turning from blue to red. The rope began to unravel from her and entwine itself around Drayden’s arm. As it wound up his limb, the rope morphed into a blood-red serpent, which sunk its fangs deep into the blind wizard’s flesh.
Glyph rushed forward even faster, gunning straight for Cruix, determined to strike the deathblow, when he was suddenly engulfed in smoke. Thick white smoke blocked his vision and started to choke in his lungs. Tears began to stream from Glyph’s eyes as he came to a swift halt. Glyph moved his arms in a circular motion, calling the wind. Quick gusts of wind rushed in from all sides of the outer chamber’s upper windows, sped down the steps, and pushed all the smoke high into the air.
Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Glyph fought back the urge to cough, fought back the pain in his ribs, and immediately started for Cruix again. Drayden had frozen the snake around his arm and shattered it against the ground. Ishea was flashing a complicated set of hand maneuvers as Cruix waved her hand and the floor released her feet.
No sooner had Cruix taken a step, than vines began to sprout from the floor, growing exponentially, wrapping around Cruix’s leg up to her waist. A forest was literally exploding around her; the branches of trees, doubling in thickness every second twirled around her neck and arms.
In a matter of seconds, Cruix was covered in the constricting foliage.
“Hold her!” Drayden shouted, but it was too late.
Cruix’s form blurred and disappeared.
“Where did she go?” Glyph yelled as he came sliding to a stop in front of the small jungle.
“She has changed shape!” Drayden said cocking his head and listening.
Glyph saw a mouse scurry out of the mini-jungle and run past his leg, when the realization of what Drayden had just said hit him.
Spinning on his heel, Glyph saw the bolt of lightning flash from Cruix’s hand as he brought his sword up in front of him. The bolt struck the sword and was absorbed in a flash of white light.
Ice began to creep up Cruix’s leg. Steam erupted from the point of contact and Cruix screamed as if she were being burned alive.
Glyph jumped into the air, bringing the sword straight down for a cleaving strike. Cruix reeled back at the last second and the glowing cobalt sword sliced into her chest. Stepping back, Glyph expected the spray of black blood. Instead, Cruix laughed as the wound instantly sealed itself, and the ice cracked and split at her feet.
Cruix took to the air just as Ishea’s lightning flashed by, missing her by inches. Grot shot up after her, flying straight upward with his Vorka point leading the way.
Swooping into a wide arc, Grot moved to intercept the Demon Queen. She spun as Grot slid in to strike, slicing the ends off her hair and the chain of the amulet necklace around her neck. As the jewel dropped, Cruix made a desperate attempt to catch it, but missed.
Screaming in rage, a large saber formed in her hand as she swung at Grot. Trying to dodge back, Grot did not compensate for the length of Cruix’s blade, and was about to lose his head when her arm became encased in ice.
Glyph kept the stream of ice flowing, as Drayden directed his own column of ice towards Cruix. The two streams of ice collided with Cruix, engulfing her in a cloud of steam. Glyph could see Grot somersault backwards out of the way of the now plummeting ice block.
Cruix’s form hit the ground with a crash, and before she could move, Ishea, with inhuman speed, was on top of her, thrusting her boot knife into Cruix’s chest up to the hilt. Shouting something Glyph did not understand, Ishea made another hand motion and teleported off just as Cruix blasted them all back with such a force of energy it almost broke through his shield. Several of the nearby pillars cracked and blew out onto the steps, littering them with rubble. Sand was flying everywhere, scouring the room.
Pulling the blade from her chest, Cruix launched it back at Ishea, who swatted the weapon out of the air with a flick of her hand. She redirected its flight an instant later, and the knife flipped end over end in an arc, and slid back into the sheath on her boot.
Drayden laid out a dazzling spell, creating spheres of flashing-blinding lights that popped in front of Cruix as she shielded her eyes.
Cruix kept touching the wound on her chest, which despite her best efforts would not heal. Black blood seeped from the puncture, forming a black spot on her leather bodice.
Glyph ran in and took another swing, taking advantage of her momentary blindness. The blade ripped into her upper thigh as she twisted to get away, flaying her muscle to the bone.
Cursing, Cruix spun and whipped Glyph across the side of his head with her tail, knocking him into the sand of what was left of her garden. Grasping her leg with one hand she limped backwards toward the obsidian door of her inner sanctuary.
Swooping down from above, Grot swung hard with the Vorka, only to be met by Cruix’s energy field. The blast flattened Grot in mid-flight and flung him to the ground so hard he shattered the tiles and cracked the stone block underneath.
The floor began to shake, as Glyph pulled himself into a standing position. The side of his face stung like hell, and was already beginning to swell. Drayden was chanting some mantra, and Glyph was fairly sure Grot was dead.
Suddenly the ground heaved upward under Cruix’s feet pushing her backwards. The floor turned fluid in front of her. A column of stone and tile shot up, blocking her path. As Glyph raced back toward Cruix, he saw the column sprout arms and legs. As the head formed, the giant rock elemental swung its fist down on her shield. Cruix jumped to the side as the creature swung its other granite arm at her.
A hint of panic crossed Cruix’s face as she scrambled to get away from the enormous rock creature, whose fists and arms now resembled giant sledgehammers. The Elemental pounded Cruix’s shield in a scissor-like fashion as she tried to flee.
Just as Glyph moved in to intercept Cruix, she vanished. Glyph skidded to a stop and quickly looked around. The Elemental spun and started across the room.
Ishea was now exchanging lightning blasts with Cruix on the other side of the room. Glyph teleported there in pursuit without thinking; it was so much easier this way, but it did expend a lot of his energy.
Glyph reappeared beside Cruix and thrust the blue blade at her once again, sticking it into her left shoulder.
Screaming, she backhanded Glyph to the ground. Before Glyph could react, he was struck by lightning that Cruix released upon him. Glyph convulsed with shrieks of agony as his muscles felt like they were being pulled from his bones and the skin on his chest began to boil up and char at the point where the blast had hit him. It stopped suddenly as Cruix raised her shield to defend herself from Ishea’s attack. Glyph tried to move away, to scoot himself on his back toward the steps, but nothing happened. He tried again and with great effort his legs began to slide him slowly across the ground.
Suddenly the elemental appeared over Glyph, and a giant stone hand came down and pushed him quickly out of range of the immediate battle. To Glyph’s dismay, the maneuver gave Cruix time to attack. As Glyph forced himself to sit up, he saw the red blast of energy burst through the rock creature’s back. It wobbled for a moment, then the entire stone block lost its cohesion, and the elemental crumbled into a pile of rubble and dust.
Glyph glanced around for Drayden. He found him a short distance away shaking and swaying on his feet, a small stream of smoke rising off the back of his robe. Glyph watched as Drayden sank slowly to his knees, then glanced back at the heap of rock and tile.
“No!” Glyph screamed as he forced himself into a standing position. ‘I must help Ishea’ he thought, though his entire body was in phenomenal pain. He took his first step back toward the fight when his leg gave out from under him and, with his arms moving too slowly to catch him, fell flat on his face. Fighting back the agony, Glyph lifted his head up to see the fight, and he could tell Ishea’s shield was faltering.
“Fuck!” he screamed, and willed his arms to lift him off the ground once more. Pulling himself erect again, he realized it was too late. He watched in horror as Cruix suddenly appeared behind Ishea, grabbed her around the neck, and both of them vanished.
“Fuck!” he wailed at the top of his voice, then collapsed to the ground and passed out.