After some minutes of walking deeper and deeper into the dark cavern, Isyd Wybrany decided to turn back. He had done enough scouting to see that the way ahead was safe and that the [Taint] in the air was kept at a minimum. His companions would be able to survive it.
The only light present in the cave was the one Isyd held in his hand, a Lightsphere that was like a sun in the oppressive darkness all around him. Thanks to its light, Isyd was able to make out the stairs carved in the very stone ahead of him. Like everything else in the cavern, it was overgrown with tendrils of vegetation, weird plants of a dark purple colour and green flower petals that seemed to be withered until someone approached them closely and they trembled and opened at the touch. The whole cavern had an alien feel to it, but Isyd had come to expect it by now; everything that was touched by the Obcys felt otherworldly and wrong.
The air around Isyd trembled and a white figure appeared above his right shoulder. It was a young woman with long straight hair and a curious expression on her face. As one could expect of a ghost, she was floating a few inches above the floor and was somewhat transparent. She was barely visible in the dimness of the cave.
“Are you done yet, Isyd? Can we go already? I don’t like this place…” the woman said plaintively.
“We’re almost done, Naeht.” the young man answered her with the calmness of a parent talking to a child. Despite looking like an adult, Naeht tended to act more like a teenager most of the time. Right now, she was pouting at Isyd.
“You always say that! I thought we were ‘almost done’ three weeks ago!”
“The Battle of Waving Plains was our last battle against the enemy forces, but as I explained to you before, we still have to make sure that we end the War once and for all. It is here that the Queen of the Dusk came to hide to heal her wounds. We must kill her while she’s still weak and alone. Only then will we be able to go home, Naeht.”
To go home. This was the goal and dream of Isyd and his companions, but they all knew deep down that it was an illusion. They had no home to go to. The War was won, but the cost had been too high; mankind was on its knees and Ziemia was left barren from all the fighting. The War between the Humans and the Obcys had lasted thirty-five years in total. Thirty-five years since the Rifts had opened between the two Worlds. Thirty-five years since the armies of Obcys had come pouring out of the Rifts from the Elseworld into Ziemia. Thirty-five years of conflicts between the Holy Alliance of Humans against the Obcys race, deform, monstrous and mindless creatures of the dark. Thirty-five years of horrors, violence and carnage, and the results were deplorable.
It was estimated that as high as eighty percent of mankind had been decimated by the War or its consequences. The survivors now lived in small patches across the lands or under the Holy Banner, the last bastion of humanity. In addition to that, sixty percent of Ziemia was deemed forever destroyed — either sunk beneath the waves, ravaged by non-stopping volcanoes, touched by the [Taint] brought by the Obcys or simply cursed by powerful [Spells] still active even decades after the Artysta who cast them passed away.
Three weeks ago, the Holy Alliance of Humans had led its last battle. The earth had quaked, thunder had fallen, and hundreds of men bled as they fought to crush the last nest of Obcys. The Battle of Waving Plains was a victory for the human forces, the final victory that they needed. The Rifts were closed, the Obcys were no-more. The only thing left to do was to destroy She who was at the head of it all, She who they called the Queen of the Dusk, the last Queen of the Obcys.
Then, Isyd would be able to rest, at last. No matter the lasting consequences of the War, Isyd had at least the comfort that they had exterminated all the Obcys scums. This, in his mind, made everything else worth it.
“Let’s go back,” he said to Naeht, still hovering above his shoulder.
His boots squeaked on the dirty floor as he turned back and he kept his Lightsphere toward the ground to make sure that he did not trip on an overgrowing branch or protruding stone. The cavern was a complex arrangement of small, round caves that served as nodes from which departed several narrow hallways. Thankfully, Isyd had memorized the way back but even without that, Isyd could almost have retraced his steps just by following the sensation of decreasing [Taint] on his skin. It led him back to his companions.
“It’s me,” Isyd announced as he turned off his Lightsphere and approached the gathering.
A [Light Ball] had been cast in their midst and illuminated the four other people who had accompanied Isyd into this network of caves. The two who were kneeling to the ball of light were the twins Edmyn and Felyn. Against the wall stood guard a giant in plated armour, a bearded, bald man called Wolteh and further in the shadows sat the lean figure of the Great Artyst Kazian. All four of them were part of the Twelve Holy Generals, the leaders of mankind during the War. The Holy Generals had been the only beacon of hope for many people and had stood out like blazing suns amidst the darkness of the Obcys’ invasion. Now, those four had sworn a vow to see the War to an end by killing the Queen of the Dusk.
“You are back so soon, Isyd!” Wolteh said with his booming voice.
Wolteh Yaruur was the largest man Isyd had ever seen in his life. In any gathering, the man stood at least two heads above anyone else and his arms were as thick as Isyd was large. This physic was only to contrast with the warm heart of Wolteh who always had a smile and a joke to lift the moods of his troops. For that, his men called him General Wolteh, The Laughing Titan.
Isyd smiled at his friend.
“I did not want to stray too far, Wolteh. The way ahead is safe.” Isyd turned to Edmyn. “Are you doing better, Edmyn?”
The man gave him a small smile. “I am doing alright, don’t worry. I can continue.”
“We do not know what awaits us ahead, Ed,” his sister said at his side. “It is best you stay here if you’re too hurt.”
“I’m fine, Sis. ‘Tis but a scratch, I’ve known worse.”
Edwyn had been injured by some nasty instance of [Taint] during the Battle of Waving Plains; his head was wrapped in several layers of bandages with a red splotch where an Obcys had bit his right ear off. The bleeding had stopped, but the [Taint] prevented proper magical healing of the wound, despite Isyd best efforts. Felyn was right to be worried about her brother, but at the same time, Isyd was confident that such a wound was far from enough to kill Edwyn. They both were famous and hardened warriors whose names were whispered with awe; everyone had heard at least once of the tales of Edwyn Sunchosen and Felyn Moonblessed, as people came to call them.
Finally, there was the Great Artyst Kazian of the Winds, the most powerful Artyst alive. The old man was draped in the traditional robe of those who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of the Arts. His stern face was angled at Isyd and, as per usual, he did not seem happy to see him there.
“I shall always be amazed by your ability to withstand the [Taint] without consequences while greater men than you succumb to the vileness in a matter of hours…” the Great Artyst drawled sarcastically. “How do you explain such a thing, young man?”
Isyd gave the geezer a tired look. It was not the first time the old man had asked him about his abilities, but he was usually more subtle about it. Plus, it wasn’t like Kazian did not know how Isyd could do what he could; all the Holy Generals knew, in a roundabout way. Without knowing the details, they were aware that Isyd was different from the rest of them.
They could guess what the Obcys had done to him.
They had seen his body without his clothes and they had heard the rumours of the horrors the Obcys used to subject the humans to once they caught them at the beginning of the War. This was enough for them to put two and two together and move on without asking too many questions. Apparently, Kazian did not have this decency.
As usual, when he was forced to think about his past, Isyd’s skin started to feel itchy under his bandages and he readjusted the gloves on his hands. He had decided to ignore Kazian’s rude question, but apparently, the Great Artyst was not done with him.
“You must have great talent to have survived through the War, at the frontlines no less! Tell me once more for I seem to have forgotten: which Academy did you go to, young man?”
This again was a rude question. It was judged impolite to ask people about their life before the War. And this time again, Kazian surely knew the answer. This time, however, Isyd humoured him.
“I did not attend any Academy, Wise One,” Isyd answered.
“No Academy training? And yet I’ve seen you using the Arts with familiarity… Are you sure you’re not lying to this old man?”
“I failed to show up on the registration day of the Academy. I was too afraid to go through it. Instead, I apprenticed as an assistant Craftsman. This is where I learned all I know about the Arts, in addition to the time spent on the frontlines amidst genius Artysta such as you, Wise One. You were a great source of inspiration in what and what not to do, in how and how not to be…”
The old geezer did not miss the veiled insult. Isyd could hear Edmyn laugh under his breath behind him. Kazian was about to say something more, but Felyn interrupted him.
“Leave the man alone, Kazian. Enough of this chit-chat already, I say we continue our quest. I’m looking forward to going back home already.”
“Home? What do you think you will find there?” Kazian snapped. “The earth is scorched, the waters are poisoned, the sky is covered by ashclouds and it has been years since anyone has seen the Sun. Even if we go back home, there will be still a lot for us to do.”
“More reasons for us to hurry instead of talking then, don’t you think Kazian?” Felyn said.
They picked up their things and resumed their progression deeper inside the cavern; Isyd walked at the front with the [Light Ball] levitating in front of him, followed by the twins then the Great Artyst and finally Wolteh at the rear. Nobody was talking. The Holy Generals were experienced soldiers and they were well aware of being in enemy territory. They were ready to react at the smallest sign of an attack. Isyd... Well, Isyd was more relaxed than them. He could feel the [Taint] growing stronger, but nothing that betrayed the presence of Obcys.
After long hours, the troop finally emerged into a wide grotto. This cave was so large that it was hard to believe that they were still deep beneath the earth. Plus, this cave was illuminated. The walls and the ground were entirely covered by some sort of ivy plants on which grew small buds of fluorescent green. Against the darkness of the cave, it almost appeared like a starry night sky, as none of them had seen for years. In the centre of the cave was a distorted tree that had obviously been corrupted by the [Taint] given its purple bark, its fallen leaves, and how twisted and wrong it looked. From the branches hang something, an unmoving black shape, slick and oily. The body was covered in a kind of carapace that bore signs of blade injuries. The limbs were limped by the side and the head was only discernible by those gemstones that served as eyes.
Isyd took in a shaky breath. He could have recognized the Queen of the Dusk anywhere. His companions had come to the same conclusion because they silently fanned out behind him as they drew their weapons.
“It is her,” Edmyn said. “You all know what to do.”
Isyd nodded but was distracted. Something was wrong. In the presence of the Queen of the Obcys, the [Taint] should have been way higher. How could this be?
“Let’s end this!” Kazian said at his side. He brandished his staff and called out. “[Communion of the Minds]!”
A circle of light appeared around the heads of all the Holy Generals, everyone but Isyd.
“Wait!” Isyd began, but it was too late. As soon as all their minds were connected by the magical spell, speaking was no longer necessary for any of them. They were dedicated to their mission. Like one man, the four Holy Generals attacked the Queen of the Dusk at once.
Felyn Moonblessed was the first to reach her. The winds swirled around her and her blade shone with a silver light as she thrust forward.
Her brother was right behind her. His palms were opened as she rushed at the enemy.
“[Whips of the Damned]!” he called and two whips of flames spawned in his hands as he brought them down on the Queen.
Their combined attacks touched the Queen of the Dusk without giving her a chance of evading. The carapace cracked against the Windblade and hissed at the touch of the flames.
Then, nothing else happened.
The Queen did not resist nor cry from the pain. Her body dangled on the branches and then settled back. Silence fell between all of them. By then, Kazian, Wolteh and Isyd had caught up with the twins who stared at their sworn enemy in confusion.
“Why is she not doing anything?”
Kazian approached closer but carefully. He stabbed at the unmoving body with two [Spells], then stepped back.
“She’s already dead,” the Great Artyst said.
“Well, all the better. I didn’t want to fight anyway!” Wolteh said.
“Did she succumb to her injuries?” Edmyn asked.
“It would be the logical conclusion,” Kazian said.
“It is not the case,” Isyd intervened.
He had also approached closer to the corpse of the Queen and was examining it attentively. Of them all, Isyd was the one most familiar with the Obcys. It was the reason he’d been chosen to accompany the Holy Generals in the first place. The carapace of the Queen did bear marks of her injuries but her green blood seemed to have clogged them all. It shouldn’t have been able to kill her. His eyes finally landed on the lower part of her body and his breath caught.
The Queen of the Dusk had been impaled by a thick branch of the tree. It had gutted her through and through and the dark bark was still wet with the Obcys blood. Isyd showed it to his companions.
“What does that mean?” Felyn said. “What happened to her?”
“I do not know,” Isyd said. “I–”
He stopped midsentence as he felt his skin itch beneath his bandages. He knew this sensation all too well.
It was the [Taint].
“Watch out!” he shouted.
He was too late.
Comments (0)See all