Glyph just lay there. He knew what was taking place around him, without ever opening his eyes. He thought he would be happier, but he wasn’t. The thought of facing Drathus just sucked the life out of him. He almost felt like a traitor, turning his back on his life on Earth. Not that it had ever amounted to much anyway, it was simply a difficult thing to accept. It was like closing the book on a chapter of your life; sometimes it makes you happy, and sometimes it makes you sad. For Glyph it was both. Being equally good and evil is a bad mix. More of one than the other isn’t so bad, but walking the line just sucked ass.
Opening his eyes, Glyph saw Ishea standing over him as usual. He stared at her a good long time, watching her as she helped to knit his broken ribs back together. When she finished she glanced down at him.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing.” He lied. He knew the feelings he had for her were more than nothing.
“Are you sure?” she prodded.
“Yeah.” He replied, lifting his head to see the monks working on his knee.
Without uttering a sound, the monks finished and left the room. Glyph sat up, rubbed his sore neck, and found himself staring at Ishea again as she packed up her things. When she glanced over at him, he turned away as if he hadn’t been looking, and walked over to The Tapestry.
The scene it bore was distressing. It was a close up scene of Ishea, surrounded in the wavy blue light of the Divanare crystal. She was begging or pleading, he didn’t know which, but the expression she wore and the solitary tear that ran the length of her face spoke volumes. Everything around her in the background was dark, and try as he might, he couldn’t make out any discernable details of where she could be. Past, present, future, which was it? He wondered, as a chill crept down his spine from the back of his neck. Finding himself mesmerized by the image, he finally jerked away, focusing his vision across the room. Glyph had a strange feeling that things were turning south for him, and he didn’t like it. What were all these strange images that had been popping up over the last few days? Why were they being presented to him now? What did they mean?
“We’re holding a quick ceremony for Lukret, before his body is taken back to Muret. It will be starting shortly. Covat said they would wait so that we could attend.” Ishea informed him, breaking him out of his thoughts.
“Yes, of course.” Glyph said, pulling on his mail shirt.
Glyph donned the rest of his kingly gear, and made his way towards the flap of the tent. As he reached it, Ishea interrupted him.
Glyph turned around, and saw Ishea framed by her own image on The Tapestry at the far end of the tent. The sour thoughts he had been thinking, solidified into a black heavy lump above his heart. A feeling of dread fell upon him, and he just stared at her, and The Tapestry, in advancing fear.
“What?” He half barked at her, in an attempt to hide his thoughts.
“Oh, nothing. It can wait.”
Glyph turned quickly and left the tent, unable to cope with the emotions that had suddenly been wrought to the surface. Ishea followed in silence and they made their way toward the Torlean encampment. Shortly, they arrived at Lukret’s tent, and went inside.
Nearly everyone was there, at least those who hadn’t perished in yesterday’s battle. Covat stood, and began a long oration of some Torlean rite of passage. Lukret, to Glyph’s surprise, was propped in a seated position on a chair, doubling as a throne. How they got him to stay that way without falling to the floor Glyph couldn’t tell, but it occupied his mind as he listened to the continuing speech. When Covat finished, Toban stood and said a few words, followed by Kahula, then several others. Glyph, seeing the pattern, guessed he too would soon be expected to say something out of respect for the man. Ishea stood next and gave an eloquent speech from her heart about the end of one journey being the beginning of the next. When she finished and sat down all eyes turned to him. Glyph stood and looked around the room.
“I only knew Lukret for a few days, but in that time I came to know him as a friend. You have all honored him with true, inspiring words, tales of his deeds, and stories of his past. I have none of those things to offer. What I know of Lukret is little, but I can tell you this, he cared. He cared enough to give his life for something he believed in, something true, and noble. The mark of a great man is not in what he says, but in what he does, and for me, Lukret made that mark. I will not let his death, or any of the other fine men who gave their lives on this field of battle, be for nothing.”
With that said, Glyph took his seat. Covat stood again, and spoke a few more words, ending the engagement. They all filed somberly out of the tent and took to their mounts. Toban rode up beside Glyph, and began filling him in on the troop placement at the mouth of The Pass. As they reached the battlefield, there were still work details removing bodies of soldiers, burying them in mass graves while leaving the Grull to rot where they fell. The stench was foul, and made him gag more than once. Glyph could now see The Pass in the distance, and realized that most of the soldiers were already in place, anxiously awaiting Glyph’s arrival for their march through that gateway to hell.
As they approached the ranks of soldiers they slowed to a canter and began to ride in between them. Torleans, Barjons, and Kivans lined each side of the path leading to the mouth of The Pass. As they rode, soldiers began to raise their weapons; swords, pikes, and bows were all lifted high in tribute. Glyph felt an immense respect for these men, and the fact that they had faith in him was not lost. Soon a chant rumbled through the lines of men.
“Glyph, Glyph, Glyph, Glyph.” the soldiers chanted as he passed.
Glyph raised his own sword in response, and the warriors let out a deafening roar that echoed off the mountains. Turning slightly in his saddle, Glyph glanced back at his companions and noticed that they also had their weapons held high. They rode on like that for another half mile before reaching the entrance.
When they arrived, Glyph noticed some commotion in front of them. Several Kivans had wrestled a lone Grull to the ground. One of the men approached Glyph.
“Sire! We have captured a Grull. He claims to carry a message for you from the Demon Lord.”
Glyph turned toward Ishea, then back at the soldier.
“Let’s take a look.” Glyph said, and dismounted.
He walked several steps to the place where they had him pinned to the ground. Glyph studied the horned beast for a while. Its left horn was tattooed in some tribal pattern, and both arms were ringed with bands of iron.
“Alright, fuckface. I’m waiting.” Glyph spat at it.
The beast snorted, and its large bovine eyes began to track him.
“Lord Drathus challenges you …huff… to one on one combat …huff… in a place and time of your choosing.” The Grull reiterated what had been drilled into its skull.
“I see.” Glyph said, putting his finger to his chin and bouncing it softly.
“It’s a trap, Glyph. He is goading you into an ambush.” Kahula interjected.
“I agree, Glyph. This is highly unusual and suspicious.” Toban chimed in.
Glyph circled the Grull, and then gave it a swift kick in the ribs. “Pull him to his feet.” He commanded the guards.
With a struggle, four Kivans wrestled the Grull upright, holding its arms firmly.
“Tell Drathus I will meet him in the middle of The Pass, as soon as possible.”
“My Lord! You cannot!” Toban shouted, then quickly realized his place and calmed himself.
The soldiers pushed the Grull to the dirt some distance away from them as they let it go. The Grull huffed, got to its feet, cocked its head to the right, and ran off to inform Drathus.
“I know, Toban, but it’s meant to be this way.” Glyph replied placing his hand on his friends back.
As he spoke, it felt as if a weight had been suddenly lifted from his soul. Glyph smiled for the first time that day, and began to laugh quietly. Covat looked at him with unabashed respect.
“Will you be able to defeat him, Glyph?” Covat asked.
“I don’t know, Covat. It seems like everything has been leading me to this moment. I feel this battle will decide all. It’s why I’m here.” He replied. “This is ‘The Day of Reckoning’ after all.”
A silence fell over them for a moment.
“The plan here is simple. After I kill Drathus, send all of our men into Degruthra, and hunt down every foul creature that breathes.” Glyph told them coolly.
“What if you fail?” Covat wondered aloud.
Glyph turned serious. “If I fail, it will be up to Ishea to take him out. Even if I only weaken Drathus, she might be able to finish the job. Never give up hope.”
He purposefully tried not to look at Ishea as he said it.
“You will prevail.” Toban stated, fighting back his emotions.
“Or die trying.” Glyph added, looking him in the eye.
Turning, he swung up onto O’dista’s saddle, and watched them all as they stared back at him. Ishea moved her horse closer, and handed him a small vial.
“Thanks.” Glyph said, as he downed the contents like a shot of whiskey.
She looked at him, and gave him the smile. “Good luck, Glyph.” she spoke softly, as a tear rolled down her cheek.
Reaching over, Glyph wiped the tear from her face. He felt like his chest was about to explode, as his own eyes began to fill with water. Pulling back on the reins, he turned O’dista back toward The Pass, and began to trot down the path that wound its way between the towering mountains. After about ten feet he stopped.
“Ishea?” he called out, without turning.
“Yes, Glyph?” He heard her call back.
Glancing back, Glyph materialized a red rose, and suspended it in front of her. She reached out and plucked it from the air, then lifted it to smell the fragrance, as another teardrop formed in the corner of her eye.
“I love you.” he said, half turning in his saddle.
Before Glyph could turn back around, Ishea galloped up beside him, reached over with her free hand and grabbed his mail shirt. Pulling him in close, she kissed him hard. As she released her grip, she grinned, and stared into his eyes for a few seconds. Glyph reached down, took her hand, and gave it one good squeeze, while gazing back at her. Then he drew out his sword, kicked his heels, and rode on down the path toward destiny.
The sky grew dark the further Glyph went, and black clouds began to swirl overhead. The Pass was about fifty yards across with sheer cliffs on either side, like it had been carved by some ancient river. There was a crude path down the center, surrounded by scrub brush, stunted trees, and various sized rocks.
Nearing the halfway mark, Glyph dismounted, and sent O’dista back the way he had come. It was twilight now in the canyon; storm clouds had obscured most of the sunlight. Glyph began to sweat as he crept slowly forward, his eyes scanning the area. The trail wound around a large boulder, and as he walked past it, he saw Drathus standing on the far side of a natural depression in the landscape.
“Greetings, Glyph.” The Demon Lord called to him in a deep rumbling voice.
Glyph eyed it up. It stood a good twenty feet tall, and its massive chest was covered with an iron breastplate several inches thick. Tattoos of ancient runes covered its reddish-brown skin, and a large sword hung from a rawhide belt around its waist. Atop its head was a silver crown, the tips charred black by the bright yellow flames that billowed off the top of its skull. Giant ebony horns curled to each side, and its face was drawn tight and leathery, with patches of exposed bone in the cheeks and forehead.
“Whatever you say, Drathus.” Glyph replied, squaring off to the Demon Lord.
“Perhaps we could strike a bargain, you and I.”
“Really? You think so?” Glyph said sarcastically, feeling the turmoil inside him growing. “Perhaps you can suck my dick!”
The demon ignored him. Either the insult was lost in translation, or it just didn’t care. “Side with me. I could make you overlord of this world.” Drathus propositioned, half growling in its resonant voice.
Glyph laughed. “I already am, and I didn’t even want the job!” he yelled back. “So you can take your bargain, and shove it up your ass!”
Jumping back a step, Glyph pulled his sword and swung it in a long arc above his head. He held it there with both hands, and leveled the bright molten blade at Drathus.
“I could return you to your world, as if nothing had happened.” Drathus tried to persuade him, while drawing its own sword.
“I’ve heard that one before! I didn’t believe it then, what makes you think I will now?”
“Say the word. I have the means to make it happen.” Drathus told him.
“There’s only one way this ends, you evil fucking bastard! You’ve made my life hell! Now you’re gonna die, Bitch!” Glyph shot back, his body shaking with anger.
“You are making a mistake, Glyph.”
“Go fuck yourself!”
With that, the large boulder behind Glyph took flight and sailed at the demon. At the last second, Drathus hit the rock with his fist, obliterating it into a cloud of dust and flying debris. Thrusting out his free arm, Drathus started shooting lightning bolts at Glyph.
“Shield!” Glyph screamed.
The bolts impacted with a loud snap, and crackled fiercely as they slid across the top of the transparent blue dome now surrounding him.
Stomping the ground, Glyph sent a shock wave through the earth, pushing a column of rock up under the demon’s feet, knocking it off balance. As Drathus attempted to recover, Glyph swept one arm down in a low arc, gathering the wind, and forced it to move like a pillar into Drathus’s chest. The impact pushed it back another step, causing the demon to topple over.
Rushing forward, Glyph let out a yell as Drathus quickly rolled to its feet. As he closed in on the Demon Lord, the ground started to rise up under Glyph’s feet, forming stairs as he ran. When he had risen about ten feet, he leapt toward Drathus, blade first. Sidestepping at the last second, the demon managed to avoid the deathblow. Glyph, finding himself flying headfirst past Drathus about fifteen feet in the air, spun violently and cut deep into the Demon Lord’s arm. Completing the barrel roll, Glyph summoned a cushion of blowing wind that caught him a few feet from the ground. Jumping quickly to his feet, Glyph felt the whoosh of the giant sword as it flashed by his back into the ground. The impact nearly made Glyph lose his footing. Lunging forward, he started running toward the rock-face in front of him, trying to gather his strength.
He turned to see the demon crossing the distance between them in a few strides. Glyph managed to dodge the first volley of electric energy Drathus sent at him. Spinning his arm in a tight circle, Glyph conjured up a ball of energy and flung it into the side of the Demon Lord’s head. Drathus staggered to one side like it had been hit with a gigantic baseball bat, and let out a howl. As Glyph jumped in to cut the demon’s leg, it spun, catching him full in the chest with its trunk-sized tail. The impact knocked the wind out of Glyph, and slammed him hard, back first, into the rock face. Glyph slid to the ground gasping for air.
“You are no match for me, weakling!” Drathus bellowed. “I will slay you, then I will lay waste to these lands, and make slaves of its people!”
Glyph concentrated and magically reset his breathing. The anger began to build in his soul, and his hatred grew ten fold. Drathus leaned down to stare at him. Quickly lashing out with his sword, Glyph carved a line through the demon’s cheek. Drathus reared back and swung its sword toward Glyph’s head. Leaping to his feet, Glyph swung his sword to block. As their swords impacted, the red molten steel of his weapon sliced Drathus’s sword in two. Glyph ducked as the demon’s swing flew by, but the severed piece of blade raked across his back on its way to the ground.
Screaming through clenched teeth over the massive oozing cuts across his shoulders, Glyph put his back to the rock face, and punched his fist out toward Drathus. As he did that, a column of stone, four feet across, drove horizontally out of the mountainside and plowed into Drathus’s chest, blasting him backward about thirty feet.
Glyph stood there watching, catching his breath. Still breathing heavily, he began to slowly walk across The Pass to where Drathus had come to rest. Drathus was in the process of trying to stand when Glyph finally got there. The Demon Lord shook his head a few quick times, got to his feet, and turned to face Glyph.
“I don’t think so!” Glyph shouted at him, pissed off.
Glyph was sweating profusely now, though his breathing was getting easier. He was feeling somewhat depleted, and Ishea’s potion was having problems keeping up.
Drathus launched a few fireballs at Glyph, but stopped when it saw the molten sword suck them up before reaching him. Then, taking a few steps closer, the Demon Lord shot out another fireball towards Glyph’s head, and simultaneously threw the broken sword at his chest. Raising his sword to deflect the fireball, the pommel of Drathus’s massive sword slammed into Glyph’s chest and shoulder, the collision tossing him like a rag doll onto the dirt.
Finding himself on his back staring at the sky, Glyph realized several of his ribs had cracked, his shoulder was shattered and he could not feel his right arm. His sword lay several feet away. He shifted his body to try to and grab it, but waves of pain coursed through his arm and chest. Before he could try again, Drathus pinned him to the earth with his massive foot, and bent down to look Glyph in the eye.
“Hmm, if Ishea is anything like you, I will be ruling this world by tomorrow.” Drathus gloated, absently touching the small scar on its face.
Glyph tried to struggle but it was pointless, he was trapped. The anger he felt grow inside him at the mention of Ishea’s name, made him boil.
“Leave her out of this!” Glyph hissed, as his facial muscles tightened and contorted with rage.
“You need not worry, I will kill her quickly.” Drathus paused, grinning. “After I have my way with her.”
Glyph closed his eyes, and when he reopened them, they were glowing bright white. Drathus appeared shocked, and cocked his fist back to crush Glyph’s head, but it was too late. A domed shield surrounded Glyph, but this time it was white. The clear white energy field expanded quickly, lifting the Demon Lord’s foot away from his body. Drathus pounded on the shield several times, but Glyph was only aware of his bones knitting themselves back together. Standing on autopilot, Glyph felt like he was no longer in control, but was at the same time. With a thought, he sent Drathus flying off like a rocket to the far wall of The Pass, its limbs flailing about along the way.
Wind began to swirl around Glyph, slowly lifting him into the air, and carrying him in a long graceful arc to where Drathus lay against the rock face. Looking up, the demon could see the sheer hatred on Glyph’s face, and laughed.
“You will not defeat me!” Drathus screamed, trying to get to its feet.
“I beg to differ.” Glyph said calmly, but his words rang with thunderous overtones. Glyph opened his left hand toward Drathus as an unseen force pinned the demon to the rock wall. The demon’s eyes grew wide with terror, as he found he could no longer move. Glyph watched him struggle for several long seconds, taking it all in.
“Release me!” Drathus yelled in desperation.
Glyph laughed over the roar of the gale force winds now blowing around them. Drathus remained silent.
“Eat shit and die Mother Fucker!” Glyph yelled, took several steps back, and threw his arms skyward.
Suddenly, the earth shook, and the face of the mountain fractured. A massive piece of the cliff broke away, and slid down, crushing Drathus, burying it deep within the rubble. Glyph dropped to his knees in front of the pile, his eyes returned to normal, and he began to weep. His vision blurred for a moment, then refocused. He knelt there for what seemed like an eternity before hearing the sound of horses racing toward him. Struggling to look up, he could see Ishea and Toban dismounting and moving closer. Glyph let out a long sigh, and forced himself to stand.
“You did it, Glyph!” Ishea exclaimed, embracing him.
Glyph nearly fell over, but managed to stay standing.
“What happened to Drathus?” He heard Toban ask.
Turning, he put his arm around Ishea and saw Toban retrieve his dropped sword. Toban was smiling like a proud father as he handed it to Glyph. Glyph sheathed the weapon with his free hand and indicated the massive pile of rocks beside them.
“I dropped the side of that mountain on his ass!” Glyph told him, grinning.
Toban laughed. “Thank the gods you are alright.”
“Did you ever have a doubt?” Glyph asked jokingly, the release of pent up stress making him feel giddy.
“Never.” Toban replied, and helped Glyph walk back towards the horses.
“Go give the order, Toban. Tell the troops that Drathus is dead, and it is time to hunt some Grull.” Ishea said, beaming.
“It will be my pleasure.” Toban replied, and leaped onto his horse and galloped off.
“I did it, Ishea. It still doesn’t seem real.”
“Are you injured at all?” She asked, looking him over.
“I don’t think so, just exhausted. I think I may have healed myself.”
“You did what?” Ishea asked, getting that weird look on her face again.
Without warning the ground suddenly lurched, and the rubble over Drathus blasted outward, like some giant explosion had just occurred. As Glyph and Ishea started to duck, a large chunk of rock flew into Ishea, knocking her to the ground. Jumping down to shield her body from the falling rock, Glyph took several hits to his back and legs. He looked up to see what was happening, but too much dust still hung in the air to see anything. He quickly checked Ishea over for injuries, and found she was bleeding from her head, unconscious. She still breathed normally, though, and otherwise appeared to be okay.
Standing, he strained to see through the dust cloud, and had just decided to move forward to check things out, when a large fist drove into his body, sending him to the ground ten feet away. Glyph spat out a mouthful of blood and rolled onto his side. Grabbing a nearby rock, he dragged himself upright. A light wind began to clear the dust in the canyon, and Glyph could make out the shape of the Demon Lord crouching over Ishea. Glyph summoned his long bow. As it appeared in his hand he drew its cord back, an ice arrow forming. He took aim and released. The arrow punctured Drathus’s side and melted instantly, leaving a bloody hole behind.
Screaming, Drathus turned its attention back to Glyph, who was firing off more arrows. Drathus pounced onto Glyph with cat-like precision, knocking him to the ground again. Glyph seethed under his attacker’s weight, his anger growing hotter by the second. Drathus wasn’t fooling around, and started to pummel Glyph with its giant calloused hands. It suddenly stopped its attack when it heard the sound of horses and soldiers pouring down the canyon towards him. Drathus kicked Glyph to the side, bloodied and beaten, then stepped over to Ishea once more to finish her off.
Glyph barely heard someone scream “attack!” over the sound of his heartbeat inside his skull.
Rolling onto his chest, Glyph pushed himself up onto his knees and stared out through bloody eyes at Drathus, who wrapped his fingers around Ishea’s neck, choking the life from her. Suddenly, Glyph’s eye color flipped to bright white, and he stood up.
“STOP!” Glyph shouted, like a god from the heavens.
Drathus pulled its hand away from Ishea and spun to face Glyph. Ishea coughed and gasped for air, regaining consciousness. She caught a glimpse of Glyph covered in a white aura, with white eyes, and found herself unable to look away. Then, to her amazement, she watched as Drathus actually leapt away from Glyph, and started to run. With a wave of Glyph’s hand, a powerful unseen force flattened the demon to the ground. In an extreme effort, Glyph surrounded Drathus with his white translucent glow, and lifted him high into the air. Glyph spun quickly, slamming the demon’s body with tremendous force against the side of the rock face, spread-eagled, back to the wall, about half way to the top, for all to see.
The soldiers, led by Toban, Kahula, and Covat, had all stopped about fifty feet back, and were now transfixed by the scene unfolding before them. Ishea was in shock at the immense display of Glyph’s power, as she too could not take her eyes away.
“You…will…die!” Glyph’s voice boomed through The Pass.
His face contorting with rage and concentration, Glyph began to stretch the Demon Lord’s limbs, further and further apart from each other, and from its body at the same time. Drathus began to scream relentlessly, as its taut skin began to separate slowly from its legs and arms as they were being torn from its body. After the skin peeled back at its hips and shoulders, the muscles began to tear, and the wet snap of ripping sinew filled the air. Glyph dropped down to his knees; sweat pouring down his face and back. Then with an echoing crack, Drathus’s left arm was yanked from its socket, and flew out of the canyon and disappeared. A steady flow of black blood ran from the hole like someone turned on a faucet. Next went its right arm, flying away so fast you could barely see it. Drathus howled in agony, and began to beg and plead for its life, in between the screams of wicked torment. Finally the last of its leg muscle gave way, and both legs made a sucking, pop sound, as they were extracted from its hips in a storm of spewing black plasma, and shot down onto the canyon floor to be crushed into a thin film of sludge, faster than you could blink. Blood streamed out like a hose from Drathus’s gaping, gory wounds as Glyph released his hold, and the dying, limbless torso dropped in slow motion, landing with a sickening thud.
The white aura vanished and Glyph’s eyes returned to normal. Ishea rushed to his side to keep him from falling over as he teetered from side to side. A thunderous cheer rose skyward from the thousands of soldiers in The Pass who had witnessed the event. Toban rode up beside Ishea, and dismounted. Glyph’s eyes blurred and then refocused.
“What is happening to him?” he heard Toban ask.
“I do not know.” Ishea replied.
She looked over to where Drathus lay, and then back at Glyph.
“It is the curse, it has somehow linked him to Drathus.” Ishea suddenly realized.
Glyph’s eyes blurred again, and everything went transparent for a few moments. When his eyes focused again, Glyph saw Ishea staring back at him. He smiled, and as he opened his mouth to tell her how beautiful she was, the air was sucked away. The familiar darkness fell over him, as his mind screamed “No!” But it was too late. The curse was broken as Drathus exhaled his last breath, sending Glyph back to the world from whence he came.