Glyph awoke to the sounds of birds tweeting above him. Lifting his head from the stone tabletop, he peered upward through the canopy of tree limbs to see the last rays of sunlight drifting away. He rubbed his face, then stood from the table and made his way toward the site of the portal. There, he found Amos and Albast hard at work magically carving ancient runes into the sides of the cliff, steadily concentrating on each detail etched into the stone with every pass of their hand. Amos noticed Glyph’s approach and lowered himself down to ground level. Just watching the man levitate struck Glyph as being unnatural. Now that he was fully trained, witnessing Amos’s power in action was something Glyph would just have to get used to.
“So how’d it go?” Amos asked, as he took a long drink of water from a wineskin bag laying in the shade.
“Well, considering what I had to tell them, not too bad. The girls aren’t talking to me just yet, but I imagine they’ll get over it soon enough.” Glyph explained as Albast came over to join them.
“And the portal?” Albast questioned as the wrinkles in his forehead bunched up slightly.
“Morracor and Miatsu should be assessing the continental pylon by Priam within a few minutes. They understand that time is of the essence. I’m not sure if they’re driven more by the idea that we need them here, or by their desire to reunite with you.” Glyph said to Albast.
Albast nodded. “That is precisely why I did not want them to know until the time was right. I knew they would stop at nothing until they found a way here to see me.”
Glyph wondered briefly how much the old man had seen of the Drayden prophecies. He had said once that if the prophecies were revealed to Glyph that he would be happy to discuss his interpretation of them. Perhaps that offer still stood, but how should he broach the subject. Something told him that Amos should not know of his discovery, at least not yet.
“You okay?” Amos asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Glyph replied. “How’s the portal going on this side?”
“Fairly well, all things considered.” Albast replied. “One more day should do it.”
“What about Tsach, any word?”
“I’m afraid I have had little time to check on the Demon Lord’s progress.” Albast said. “And it has only been an hour since you left.” He added.
“Oh right. It’s a bit confusing for me now. I must not be as used to it as I was, the curse I mean. Do you think you can handle this without me? I’d like to go check up on our friend across the river. At least I might be able to see what he’s up to.” Glyph responded.
“I believe we can make do, but I warn you, Glyph, the world has changed in the last few months; people are desperate. You may not like what you see there. Perhaps Amos should go with you. I could spare him for the evening.”
“Alright. You up for that, Amos?” Glyph questioned the former detective.
“Anything to get me away from these blasted runes.” Amos said with a smile. “Just let me suit up.” Waving his hand, a bag appeared at his feet, and he began to change into his black S.W.A.T. gear. A few minutes later he was ready to go.
“Remember what I told you about the colors. It will give us an indication on how close Tsach is to defeating our protection.” Albast spoke.
“I got it.” Amos said and slipped into his shoulder holster.
“You still carry guns?” Glyph asked.
“They come in handy sometimes. As my teacher here is so fond of saying ‘It’s easier to use something that already exists than to try and create it’.” Amos replied.
Albast nodded, “Don’t stay too long. I’m sure Tsach is looking for you, so unless you’re ready to fight him now, I wouldn’t get too close. His power is even greater than when you last met, so please be careful.”
“That’s alright.” Glyph answered him, as his own form shifted into that of a Hexzu warrior. “So is mine.”
“I’ll try and have him back by midnight.” Amos said and winked at the old wizard, just as Glyph caught Amos under the arms in his stony grip and hoisted him skyward. Glyph always enjoyed the ascent into the late evening sky, as he had done so many times before in his past two years of training. Arching his back, Glyph pumped his wings in great arcing swoops as he easily shot upward at a severely steep angle with Amos in tow.
After reaching dizzying heights, Glyph hovered for a short moment before banking to the West and gliding effortlessly on the eddies and currents of the prevailing wind. Within half an hour they were sailing over the Appalachians, and watched the sun set as they passed across West Virginia and into Kentucky. Four hours later, Glyph could just start to make out the Mississippi on the horizon with his Hexzu vision, allowing him to see over long distances even at night.
“I’m taking us down.” Glyph shouted to Amos.
“Make sure we’re at least three miles from the river when you touch down, and come in low. I don’t want to be spotted.” Amos answered him.
Glyph descended in a wide circular curve some twenty miles from the river and began skimming the treetops. Minutes later he lowered Amos into a wheat field a few miles out.
Amos quickly scrambled toward the tree line, and motioned for Glyph to follow. Glyph morphed back into his normal shape while he ran, as he hurried to catch up. Amos was crouched down about ten feet into the wood line when Glyph arrived.
“What gives?” Glyph said as he came crashing through the underbrush.
Amos put a finger to his lips and emitted a terse “Shhh” sound. Glyph remained motionless as they both listened. After a moment of hearing chirping crickets and the breeze blowing through the trees, Glyph shifted his weight to one side, snapping a small twig under that foot. Amos shot him a look, then held up two fingers. He followed it with one finger pointed at Glyph and made a looping motion, then pointed at himself and gestured straight through the brush. A moment later Amos silently crept forward, leaving Glyph there to ponder the meaning of Amos’s bizarre behavior. A few seconds passed and Amos was gone. Glyph gathered he must have seen something, but for the life of him he couldn’t tell for sure.
Deciding he should at least attempt whatever it was that Amos had been trying to sign to him, Glyph made his way back out to the field and began a low crawl through the tall grass in an arc in the same direction Amos had gone. He continued this way for several minutes before he stopped cold, hearing a strangling noise off to his right as if someone had just used a garrote on a large cow. Seconds later he heard a guttural chortle, and something large thudding its way across the ground toward him. Popping his head up above the grass Glyph saw a large bull charging full speed in the shadowy moonlight. Glyph drew his sword instinctively, then quickly rolled to one side hoping to avoid the bull completely.
“Kill it!” Amos’s voice telepathically lit up the inside of Glyph’s brain. Glyph hesitated for a moment, then leapt to his feet. The startled beast tried to veer away, and it was then that Glyph recognized it for what it was; a Grull. Thrusting the tip of the King’s Sword to the left as he took a step the same direction, Glyph deftly slid it through the Grull’s ribs and out the creature’s back. With a swift twist of the sword, he flayed open half the beast’s body as the brilliant white blade swung free. The Grull took several more steps before crashing to the ground. Glyph stared at the twitching carcass, still taken aback by the sudden turn of events. Suddenly Amos’s form appeared over the dying Grull and he swiftly cut its throat, silencing the creature’s death moans.
“Put that away!” Amos hissed quietly. Glyph immediately sheathed the sword, remembering its propensity to draw unwanted attention. “Help me drag this thing into the woods.” Amos said as he flung two of its legs together and started to tug on it.
Glyph took a few steps closer to them and placed his hand on the dead body. “This is easier.” He said. The dead Grull became partially transparent along with Glyph’s hand, and with a slight push, he sunk the beast through the ground until it was completely out of sight, then withdrew his hand. The only trace left of the skirmish was some trampled grass and a puddle of blood.
Amos stared up at him. “That could come in handy.” He said approvingly.
“And it takes less energy than teleporting it off somewhere.” Glyph added.
“And a hell of a lot less than dragging it into the woods. Come on, let’s dispose of the other one.” Amos replied.
A few minutes later and the deed was done. “How are there Grull on this side of the river? And how did you know those two were even there?” Glyph asked.
“The protections Albast and I put up are magical, in that they keep out magical beings. Grull are about as non-magical as you can get. The demons have been ferrying them across slowly since they got here and realized they couldn’t cross. The number of Grull is getting quite large on our side, but without the demons to drive them, they’re also fairly ineffectual.” Amos whispered to him. “Albast taught me to enhance my senses. I use a small trickle of power and can boost my hearing, smell, and vision more than ten times that of normal.”
“Now that could come in handy.” Glyph said softly, and Amos smiled, and then motioned for Glyph to follow him.
They made their way steadily toward the river, Amos steering them this way and that until reaching the water’s edge. Amos waved his hand and whispered, “reveal” Then looked over at Glyph. “They’re upstream several miles. My guess is they’re trying to cross a bridge just north of Perryville.” Then he tapped Glyph on the shoulder and pointed out at the water. Glyph could see a rippling wave making its way toward them.
“What is that?” Glyph asked reaching for his sword.
“That is our magical barrier, at least one of them.” Amos declared as an enormous eighty-pound fish broke the surface of the water and glided up onto the small rocky beach.
“A catfish?” Glyph questioned as Amos walked over and touched the slippery fish. A moment later the fish convulsed and regurgitated a baseball-sized crystal out onto the ground. Amos picked it up and studied it carefully. “This one’s okay.” He said as he placed it back into the catfish’s mouth and pushed it back into the river. “The ones to the north are about to be broken, though. The demons could be crossing the river and marching eastward within a few hours.”
“That’s too soon. We have to have the gate open before then.” Glyph whispered back.
“It can’t be helped. You heard Albast, Tsach is most likely there. There’s nothing we can do but head back.”
“Like hell! If we can slow Tsach down any, then that’s what we have to do. If they’re crossing by bridge then we could at least destroy it. The demons could teleport across of course, but it would still slow down the bulk of their army.” Glyph explained.
Amos hesitated for a bit and rubbed his eyes. “That’s it, and then we head back?”
Glyph nodded his agreement in the pale moonlight. “Alright.” Amos said. “Let’s do this.” They made their way swiftly upriver, moving as stealthily as possible but still making time. About an hour and a half later they were in sight of Chester Bridge. Glyph could barely make out the other side of the river, but could tell by the bright burning fires that a massive force was on the verge of the crossing.
“There’s at least fifty demons there working in unison, and more are pouring in from the West every minute. It looks like they have sectioned off this portion of the river with some sort of magical net. It’s taking all of their combined effort, but they are succeeding in breaking down the force of the crystals here.” Amos told him, peering out across the river. “So what’s your plan? At this proximity, they’ll know we’re here as soon as we use our magic.”
“Then we’ll get as close as we can, use magic to destroy the bridge, and run.” Glyph replied.
Amos shot him an ominous look. “That’s your plan.” Amos said with a pained expression. “You know, just once, I wish your plans had a bit more detail.”
“Yeah, I know.” Glyph said as a large grin spread across his face. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”
They inched their way closer through the scrub brush that lined the river. Amos, using magically enhanced vision, reported that their end of the bridge was heavily guarded by the specially-trained Grull. Glyph could see some of them patrolling the area with their magical machineguns in hand.
“Where are all the people who live here?” Glyph asked quietly, as he stared off further into the tiny nearby town.
Amos tapped his shoulder, and when Glyph turned his head, he pointed further under the bridge upsteream. Glyph almost wretched when he saw it, a mass of human bodies, men, women, and children piled up next to the water’s edge.
“Try not to think about it.” Amos replied. “Just focus on the task at hand and remember, these Grull don’t run. They fight to the death, every time.” Amos whispered. “What we need is a diversion of some sort.”
“No, let’s just get it done. Cover my back.” Glyph said thickly, and then vanished. A moment later he was standing amongst the Grull at the end of the bridge. With one quick twist of his body, a ring of white energy swelled out around him at lightning speed, blasting Grull bodies hundreds of feet through the air. A second later Amos appeared beside him.
“Shield!” Amos called out as a dome of blue energy flowed over them. “That was subtle.” He deadpanned, but Glyph had already started walking out onto the bridge. Bullets began bouncing off the shield as Amos scurried to catch up.
“Finally, a bridge I can destroy.” Glyph said to himself. Raising his hands as he walked, the bridge began to tremble and shake.
“Well if they didn’t know we were here before, they sure as hell know it now.” Amos exclaimed. Cables began to snap as the upper supports of the suspension bridge began to wobble back and forth. “Uh, Glyph.” Amos said behind him, but Glyph was already concentrating on breaking the support columns from within. Cracks and pops filled the air as stone and mortar began to spew outward from the bridges main masts. “Glyph.” Amos said again more urgently, but Glyph ignored him and concentrated on delivering the final blow. The bridge was breaking apart into sections now, as the main supports began to topple into the river. “Glyph!” Amos shouted now.
“What?” Glyph shouted back.
“Look!” Amos yelled, and pointed toward the other end of the bridge. An enormous dark shadow moved toward them across the span. Its speed increasing as it came toward them. As Glyph let out his final release of energy in the bridge’s pylons the shadow took on a serpentine appearance. Fierce yellow eyes the size of cars formed on its snake like head, and bright red fangs formed across its open obsidian maul. The shadowy serpent stopped half away across the swaying bridge, and coiled itself tightly with blackened puffs of shadow forming a rattle the size of a tractor-trailer, that sounded like massive helicopter blades, and moved the air around them from a hundred feet away.
“I knew you would come Glyyyph. You have made this sss-o easy. Shall I kill you now, or allow you to go on believing you have a chance of defeating me?” The gigantic shadowy snake bellowed as the bridge began to buckle upward.
Amos leapt forward and looped his arms around Glyph, and began to pull him back toward land, while still feeding power to the shield that surrounded them.
Glyph’s hatred boiled over at the sight of the Arch-demon’s presence on Earth.
“You fucking baby-killing bastard!” Glyph screamed as he struggled to free himself from Amos’s grasp. “I’m coming for you, Tsach!”
“It is I who am coming for you!” Tsach replied, and in one blinding motion struck out at them. Two enormous red fangs ripped through Amos’s shield on contact. One of the teeth sliced through Glyph’s shoulder and into his upper chest, then recoiled just as quickly, leaving snapped ribs poking out of his body.
Glyph screamed out as the pain of the severed flesh and bone coursed through his body. Blood began to pump out of his chest as he collapsed into Amos’s arms. There was a bright flash and a moment later he was staring up at the stars. Glyph’s head rolled to the side, and he stared through blurry eyes across the top of a nearby building. Amos had teleported them there. “God damn it!” Amos was repeating over and over as he worked feverishly to repair Glyph’s wound before he died from lack of blood. Glyph could hear the thunderous crash of the collapsing bridge over the sound of his heartbeat pounding in his ears.
“Come for me now, Glyyph!” Tsach’s amplified voice filled the air. “I will find you, and I will kill you! Your destruction will make me a God, and nothing will stand in my way!” Glyph heard Tsach bellow in the distance, followed by his maniacal laughter.
“I told you this was a bad idea, but does anyone listen to me? No, they go off half cocked and get themselves killed.” Glyph could hear Amos saying. He could feel the other wizard pulling something from his pocket, and then passed out.
“Glyph. Glyph, can you hear me?” Glyph heard Albast’s voice from a distance, then much closer. “Glyph?”
“What?” Glyph said coming to consciousness and flailing his arms and legs about at an unknown assailant. Then his eyes fluttered open and he could see Albast and Amos looking down at him.
“It was fortunate you thought of using the teleporter I had given him earlier. A few more minutes and the poison would have been irreversible, even if you could repair the physical damage.” Albast said to Amos.
“I recognized the poison. It was the same stuff that killed Drayden.” Amos replied then glanced down at Glyph. “You stupid son of a bitch! You nearly got both our asses killed!” Amos shouted angrily.
“Now, Amos.” Albast chastised. “What’s done is done, and you are both alive.”
“Barely.” Amos retorted.
“Wha- what happened?” Glyph asked trying to sit up.
“What happened? You and your ‘I’m coming for you Tsach!’ is what happened. And speaking of what happened, what happened to ‘let’s just destroy the bridge and run’, huh? What happened to that?” Amos berated him.
Glyph felt as if he had been hit by a truck, and rubbed his aching shoulder. “Oh yeah, that. I don’t know what came over me. I just felt so angry when I saw him there, I guess it just got the best of me.”
“I’m none too fond of him either, but I’m sure as hell not going to stand there shouting and making a target of myself. You have no idea what you’re up against, do you? This ain’t the friendly neighborhood Tsach you caught off guard in the desert with a hand grenade, Glyph. This is the new Tsach. He’s practically a god now, and if he kills you, he will be!” Amos spouted off.
Albast raised one eyebrow slightly and cast a sidelong glance toward Amos.
“That’s what he said, anyway.” Amos said catching Albast’s glance, then turned and stormed off.
“What’s eating him?” Glyph said as he finally managed to sit up.
“Apparently you are.” Albast replied. “Just let him cool down awhile. He’ll snap out of it.”
“Well, thanks. I guess Tsach is still more powerful than I am. I don’t have a chance in hell of winning this, do I?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Your power is just different than his, but certainly no less potent.”
“What good is it if it doesn’t help me defeat Tsach?” Glyph questioned.
“It will, Glyph. When the time is right there will be nothing that can stand in your way.” Albast told him.
“How do you know? Amos seems to think Tsach is going to defeat me and become God of the cosmos.”
“Hmm, yes, that’s interesting isn’t it? Anyway, I know you will succeed because I believe in you. I have confidence in who you are as a person, and that is what makes all the difference. This battle has been destined for thousands of years. I have dedicated my life to its cultivation, and through every setback there is a glimmer of hope that forms stronger each and every time. Your determination and strength have been unwavering. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, you prevail; and no matter what happens, you have always been willing to take that step, that first step, and you have been rewarded with victory. Even if you, yourself, aren’t sure how you did it. This is the true source of your power; it is the core of your being. As long as you are willing to stand for what’s right, and put yourself on the line for the good of others, hope will never be lost, and truth will prevail.”
Glyph thought about what the old wizard said for a few moments. “You have the answers to all of this, don’t you?”
Albast laughed as he helped Glyph to his feet. “Answers are only as important as the question proposed to find them. Ask the wrong one, and the answer may lead you to a different outcome.”
Glyph looked at him cynically. “Then what is the force that drives us to this point? What is it that can produce these prophecies and guide the destiny of millions to bring us to this, or more specifically that brings the battle between me and Tsach to a head?”
Albast appeared surprised by Glyph’s sudden interest in the forces of destiny in the universe. The ancient wizard smiled and shook his head. “I do not know. You may as well have asked the origin of life, for all the difference it would make. But… I was hoping you could introduce me to whatever it might be when this is all said and done.” He replied and then winked at Glyph. “Now, if you’re done waxing philosophical for the moment, I should remind you of the meeting you had planned.” Glyph looked at him quizzically. Albast smiled. “To update the President on the current situation.”
“Shit. You’re right, I had completely forgotten. I better get to it, I suppose.” Glyph said and began to make his way back toward the hotel from the portal. Before he had gotten too far, Albast spoke up again.
“Glyph, what you did tonight was admirable; foolish maybe, but very admirable. By collapsing that bridge, you bought us another twelve hours before Tsach will be able to ferry enough troops across the river and begin his march eastward. I believe it may be enough time for us to get this gate operational and get some troops of our own.”
“Thanks.” Glyph replied and continued down the wide trodden pathway through the trees. He wasn’t sure why, but somehow his conversation with Albast had made him feel a bit better about everything. By the time he reached the hotel, he was exhausted. The poison hadn’t killed him, but it sure had weakened him a lot. Of course it might just be the fact that he had almost died. Stumbling into his room, he lay on the bed for several minutes resting, but soon his resolve bolstered and he sat up to retrieve the Divinare crystal. Placing his hands to the cool smooth crystal, he thought of the President, and within moments found himself outside of a large steel door in a hallway that looked like the inside of a submarine. Glyph phased through the door and passed into the room where the President and General Eddings sat chatting comfortably.
“President Bradley?” Glyph called out, hoping not to startle the pair. They both leapt from their seats, each with a pistol in his hand trained on Glyph’s blazing blue aura.
“Mr. Young?” Eddings questioned.
“Yes it is. I’m sorry to have startled you.” Glyph replied.
“Everything startles me now-a-days, Glyph.” The President proclaimed and holstered his firearm. “It is good to see you again…I think.” Bradley said eyeing up his strange glowing appearance.
“Yes, I’m not really here. It is an ancient form of long distance communication used on M’atra. I told you I would give you an update, so this is it. Tsach and his hordes have breached the magical protection on the Mississippi. They’re crossing from Perryville, Missouri into Chester, Illinois by ferry, and will be ready to march eastward in about twelve hours.” Glyph informed them.
“Wonderful. Do you know where they are headed?” Eddings spoke up.
“I have an idea. My hunch is they’ll head straight for the portal. The last thing they want is to allow reinforcements to arrive from M’atra. Ultimately, they’ll go wherever I am.”
“Is the portal open yet?” President Bradley asked.
“That’s just it. Albast seems to think it will take at least twelve hours, maybe more, before he can attempt to open it. The simple truth is if Tsach is able to mount an attack before our forces come through the portal he may very well succeed in stopping our plans.”
The president nodded, and rubbed his forehead, then finally looked up at Glyph. “Is there anything I can do?”
Glyph thought about it for a moment. “Perhaps. If you haven’t already, I would have all your remaining troops form up on the western escarpment of the Appalachian Mountains. Pull them in tight; say from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas. Make sure you can follow the demons’ movements away from the river to get a better idea of where they’re headed.”
“That’s an awful lot of ground to give up. Wouldn’t we be better off trying to stop them at the Mississippi?” Bradley asked.
“No. You’ve already told me you are no match for them, and I believe you. If they don’t encounter any resistance they will become overconfident, and that will make it easier to track their movements. We will be able to better coordinate our resistance when they try to cross the mountains, and we’ll know where the demons plan on crossing by the direction they take from the Mississippi. It’s a bit old fashioned I realize, but it may be our best chance.” Glyph explained.
“Use the high ground. It does make sense, Mr. President.” Eddings interjected. “We would be able to see them coming, and in plenty of time to prepare an ambush.”
Bradley nodded slowly. “I would also like to send some of our men to your position, Glyph. Tsach may send his elite forces ahead to keep you from opening the portal in a timely fashion. At this point it seems as if any delay may keep you from opening the portal at all.”
“We would also like to be able to contact you if our plans change.” Eddings added.
Glyph hadn’t considered it, but the President was right. Even if Tsach knew they would die, he might send some of his forces ahead to delay them. ‘If we are too busy defending the portal then we won’t have enough time to complete it.’ He thought.
“I would welcome any assistance you can spare.” Glyph answered.
“I will see to it that my forces fall back to the mountains, Glyph, but I would remind you that if Tsach agrees to open discussions for a truce, I will be obligated to attempt that route; no matter how much you believe it to be a doomed venture.” The President stated.
“I understand, Mr. President. Please let me know if you hear anything, and I will update you again tomorrow evening, unless something happens before then.” Glyph said. He nodded at the two men and pulled his hands away from the crystal.
Standing up from the bed, Glyph unstrapped his sword and laid it on the dresser. He looked himself over in the mirror and realized how old he looked. Technically, he hadn’t changed at all for the last five years, but Glyph could see it when he stared into his eyes, just as he could when he gazed into Ishea’s purple eyes. His mind had aged, even if his body had remained the same. Glyph shook off the strange feeling, undressed, and crawled wearily into bed. Sleep came quickly, and nightmares of the cloudy black rattlesnake biting into his chest soon followed.