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Chapter I: A Ritual’s End
Lendrig began his dark work immediately. The False Heart pulsed at a faster rhythm as its colour changed from green to a pale blue.
Argent, still unconscious, suddenly spasmed. There were no wounds on his body to draw blood, yet the thrumming of the False Heart seemed to draw something out of him. Moonlight was slowly drawn out through his eyes and throat. A muted cry escaped his lips as the steady stream of light flowed out of him. The False Heart’s light brightened as it absorbed his essence.
Tears welled in Ari’s eyes as she continued to strain against the power holding her down, yet nothing could be done to free her from her spot.
Hamish did not look. His eyes were clamped shut and a stream of quiet prayers came through gritted teeth.
That was when mists in the room began to move.
At first, it was indistinguishable from their natural movements. Then they began to congregate in the corner.
From within, movement could faintly be seen.
Then they appeared.
An army of brooms, pots, pans, mops, and all other assorted cleaning instruments marched toward them. Each one was armed in some capacity. Whether it be a handle sharpened for cutting, or brooms whose bristles had been set ablaze by arcane fire.
The sight was enough to attract Lendrig’s notice, but he did not stop the ritual.
What manner of trick? Is this a game? Fools I can simply… Lendrig’s words faded, as he realized, Where…where is the mind? I sense…but how?!? No one should…NO!
The cleaning instruments turned, now advancing toward the Magus.
Panic filled Lendrig’s words, fear dripping from his once confident voice. No…no…no! Guards!! To arms!! Protect me from these filthy constructs!
The shadows beyond the chambers shifted, but no aid came.
Mops were the first to strike, their bodies smacked into the crystalline structure with a wet slap. Soon, the crystal began bubbling from a strange corrosive element. The blazing brooms then followed, lighting the corrosive element ablaze as the pots and pans began chipping through the crystal encasing the murky waters and Lendrig himself.
Squids leapt from the pool and attempted to defend their master, but there was little they could do. There were no minds to dominate, and their bodies were far too weak to defeat wood and steel. They were no match for the unthinking, unfeeling, assortment of cleaning and cooking instruments of war.
Lendrig, in his panic, stopped the spell and lost focus as he desperately attempted to defend himself. Soon, they no longer felt the power holding them to the floor.
Ari felt the vulnerability first. She leapt to her feet and raced towards Argent with reckless abandon. Dodging through the assorted cleaning instruments assaulting Lendrig, she began whispering an incantation. Ice grew on her fingertips as frozen blocks rose from the ground below her as she ran, raising her up to Argent. She thrust her hands, now coated in ice, towards the tentacle holding him. It began writhing as the ice spread over it. When it became too much, it let go of Argent and retreated back into the mists above them.
As Argent fell, Ari jumped from the ice and caught him in the air before crashing into the ground. Before they hit the ground, Ari’s body, once flesh, softened into snow. Her snowy form splattered against the ground, but it managed to cushion Argent’s landing. Ari’s body quickly reformed, checking over the unconscious elf for any further damage.
At the same time, Hamish made his move. Freed at last, he did not hesitate. Chains shattered in an instant as he raced toward the False Heart.
Selene felt the weight lift off her body, but she could do nothing but watch as Hamish leapt forward. His movements through the horde of cleaning constructs were so light and fluid, Selene scarcely knew if he touched the ground. It was but a breath before he reached his destination: the False Heart.
With a great and piercing kiai, Hamish’s fist slammed into its center. The crystal cracked, and light began to seep through. Again, Hamish struck, and more cracks followed.
The False Heart continued beating, unaffected. Selene swallowed as pools of sweat beaded her brow. The pulses thrummed through Selene’s body, affecting something deep within her, something long buried.
A question she refused to ask finally came to the surface. One she had ignored since the very beginning of this journey.
What if…all of this was just a pointless chase to the edge of the world?
It was followed by another thought, far simpler, but that made it all the more difficult to ignore.
What if…nothing makes it better?
The questions seared into her mind as strength filled her legs. Selene rushed forward, toward Hamish and the pulsing Heart. No plan, no idea what she was doing. She only knew that she had to do something, anything. As long as she continued to run, she did not need to answer that question. Not yet.
I just wish I knew what it was…
What I’m looking for…
And what I hope to find that will make this pain go away.
Hamish readied a third blow. His fist almost seemed to glow with a faint aura as he pulled it back. The strike was no different than any other, yet the difference in effect could be seen the second it slammed into the crystal for that final time. Cracks extended until the whole structure was at a breaking point, until finally…
The False Heart shattered.
For a moment in time, everything froze.
A powerful pulse of arcane energy shot from the False Heart as it broke beneath Hamish’s fist. Shards shimmered in the blue light as the crystalline heart broke into countless pieces.
Lendrig, previously lost to panic, fell silent.
The only one unaffected appeared to be Ari, so lost was she in her attempts to apply first aid to Argent.
The cleaning hordes continued their assault, but Lendrig no longer seemed to care.
The voice in their minds no longer held the same gravitas or power. Now, it was practically a whisper. Impossible.
Power pulsed from the thrumming mass of wrinkled flesh. Now the mists took upon a new shape, slowly retreating to the further corners of the chamber.
Voice rising like the tide, Lendrig spoke again. Do you…have any idea…what you have done?
The mists climbed the walls to the ceiling, appearing as a curtain of mists.
Lendrig continued, his voice rising to crescendo, You…ruined…EVERYTHING!!
His voice boomed as the air filled with the salty spray of sea water and the stench of drowned, decayed flesh. The mists, hanging on the wall, appeared to open as a torrent of sea water flooded the chamber.
There was no time to react before the waters reached her. Slammed by the crashing waves, all was chaos as a mighty current began pulling everything but Lendrig out of the chamber. Selene struggled to keep her head above the raging waters. From the corner of her eye, she spotted what looked to be Ari holding tight to the unconscious form of Argent. They were gone an instant later, sucked through the inky black curtain of darkness hanging over the entryway.
“Ar—Ari!” Selene sputtered as water tried filling her throat from the moment’s distraction.
There was no reply but the roar of raging waters.
She expected to meet the same fate, but a strong hand wrapped tightly around her waist.
Turning back, she could see the strong figure of Hamish, fighting to swim against the current.
“I’ve got you, my friend,” he said, remarkably calm, “Please, hold to me tightly, I need both hands.”
Selene nodded and quickly grabbed hold of his torso with all her might. Both hands free, Hamish quickly swam to the nearest wall. It was a battle between Hamish and the current the entire way. Luckily, Hamish appeared the greater between the two.
Breathing heavily from the effort, Hamish sucked in enough air to release a great shout as his hands slammed into the stone wall. The force was enough to create a handhold as both hands sank several inches into the stone. Forcing his feet to the floor, Hamish braced himself against the surging waters. From here, Hamish was a stone against the tide and would not budge. Selene, struggling to hold on, wrapped her legs and tail as tight around the stoic half-orc as she could.
Water continued pouring through the room as an endless current flowed through the tunnels and Halls of the city beyond. Eventually, the portal shut.
The waters finally subsided.
Strength left them both as the waters in the chamber receded. Selene let go and collapsed on the ground, unable to move. Hamish as well appeared greatly fatigued. He breathed heavily as he simply laid against the wall, his back to her.
Alive and in one piece, Selene was about to feel relieved.
Until she remembered where she was.
The weight of Lendrig’s power fell upon them, pinning them in place.
You…YOU DID THIS. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?!? Lendrig bellowed, his words shaking every fibre of her being as she could do nothing to escape him.
YOU SINGLE HANDEDLY RUINED ME, YOU PATHETIC WRETCH. WITHOUT THE IGRYSS, NOTHING WILL STOP HIM NOW. YOU HAVE DOOMED ME.
Selene was buried, crushed as her mind was filled with nothing but the reverberations of his screams. She could not think, she could not comprehend, and everything was numb. In spite of that, she still felt a cold, wet tendril as it wrapped around her torso. It lifted her into the air, before it began retreating back into a small opening near the top of Lendrig’s crystalline structure.
No…no…I mustn’t lose focus. Time is short, but I may yet overcome this. All…all in good time. Lendrig spoke, as if to himself. It seemed to help calm him and regain some sense of control, though the burning rage and hatred could still be clearly felt as he turned his attention to her.
For now, it is clear I blundered, Malenai. I underestimated your capacity for damage. I suspect that is why you were brought here in the first place, but no matter. The Firstborn revealed my weakness to you, I imagine? Yes, yes…but what of the rest? Surely your Master did not simply intend to leave me defenseless against him? No…you must have more…but they are still buried. No matter, I will have the answers I seek once you are subsumed.
The tendril slowly dragged her within the structure. Selene’s mind was in a haze, still reeling from the raw emotion of Lendrig’s rage. She only barely managed a breath before she found herself underwater once more.
The numbness faded, and Selene noted the water inside was disturbingly warm within the structure housing Lendrig.
Air quickly failed Selene as her lungs began to burn and darkness began to grow across the edges of her vision.
You know, Lendrig spoke as if whispering into her ear, There was a time I planned to leave you a rotting corpse. But now…you will serve as sustenance for me and my offspring. Not a scrap will go to waste, and I am sure your mind will provide me something to chew on while I determine the next course of action. Perhaps it’s better this way.
Darkness engulfed her vision. The last thing she saw before everything went black were the squids drawing closer as she was pulled toward Lendrig’s gaping maw.
A moment later, she was on the ground again, coughing and spitting out a mouthful of water. As she desperately refilled her lungs with air, she saw an equally soaked Hamish hanging over her.
Smiling weakly, Hamish was about to speak when Lendrig cried out.
YOU DARE DEFY ME, TRAVELLER!? You have no right to take what is rightfully mine!
The smile vanished, quickly replaced by a grim expression of fierce resolve as he quickly spun to stand in front of her.
“She…is…my…responsibility,” Hamish said through gritted teeth, taking a defensive posture between her and Lendrig. “You…cannot…have…her!”
Lendrig cackled at his words, So you are a fool, then. Fine, you will be devoured by the Firstborn first. Then I’ll have my meal.
Mists clumped together on the ceiling above them. Soon, they gave way to the glowing green eyes of the Firstborn, followed by countless tentacles descending from the ceiling.
Turning back to Selene, Hamish scooped her into his arms and ran to one of the corners closest to the exit.
“I will keep you safe, my friend,” Hamish whispered as he set her back against the wall, “But if strength returns to you, run. No need for both of us to die here.”
“What? No!!” Selene cried out, grabbing his arm before he could turn away, “You—you can’t just…”
“Is alright,” Hamish said, gripping her hand, “I do not fear death, lived good life. But you are so young, so much more to see.”
“B—but,” Selene stammered, desperation filling her voice, “I…”
“I am glad I met you, Rieta,” Hamish said as he pulled away, grinning broadly, “If I had to die for someone, I am glad I die for you.”
Tears swelled into Selene’s eyes as she desperately reached for him, “H—Hamish…no, I—”
Before she could say anything else, he had turned away and raced forward. He now stood between her and all the power of both the Firstborn and Lendrig.
The nearest tentacle, thicker than a man’s torso and longer than the Admare, shot toward him. Standing his ground, Hamish struck the tentacle with his palm before it reached him, redirecting its force into the ground before him. The force of its crash shattered the floor, debris flew into the air as he struck the tentacle again with his other hand, now tightened into a fist. The blow sent the tentacle back up into the mists above as the Firstborn roared in pain.
Another attempt met the same end, forcing the Firstborn to shift tactics.
While he appeared to repeat the same attack, another one reached for Selene. Hamish dodged the attack and quickly moved between her and the new threat. He managed to catch it with both hands before it could reach her. His heels dug into the floor as he tried desperately to hold it back from its target.
He managed to stop it mere inches from her, straining with all his might.
“HAMISH!” Selene screamed, tears falling, “DON’T DO THIS, PLEASE!”
Hamish managed to glance back, a smile touching his face. His voice was strained as he spoke between breaths, “Is…alright…I will…keep…you…safe.”
Sensing an opening, another tentacle struck Hamish, wrapping around his exposed torso.
The monk gasped as the tentacle’s grip tightened around him. It lifted him high into the air. The mists hanging above them darkened, as if swallowed by an endless darkness, with a singular light appearing at its center.
It reminded Selene of their escape through the city days ago, when Hamish threw a Baresch into a similar pit.
She now realized the pit was but the blackened throat of the Firstborn, waiting to consume all that entered.
Please…Firstborn. Selene thought out, frantic, Don’t do this….we can still help you.
For a moment, silence.
Then it spoke.
You…have done enough.
The False Heart is destroyed, we are safe until he repairs it.
Now…he will be preoccupied.
Another will not be made for some time.
Thank you…for your service.
Its grip tightened on Hamish’s torso, forcing him to cry out in pain.
“HAMISH!!” Selene screamed.
“You…underestimate…a Brackva…devil,” Hamish spoke through pained breaths, “I may be mortal…BUT BY THE SPIRIT, I AM STRONGER THAN MOUNTAIN.”
A blue aura surrounded the half orc, the aura grew around him and began to expand, forcing the tentacle to release him. As Hamish landed on the ground, the aura grew beyond him, taking on the shape of a figure’s torso in silhouette. There were no distinctive features, but it seemed bound to his will. Its movements matched Hamish’s as he fell into another defensive stance.
The Firstborn paused, studying the new power Hamish revealed.
“COME DEVIL,” Hamish bellowed, “LET US SEE WHO IS GREATER.”
Then the true fight began.
Tentacles came from every angle, currents of water erupted beneath him, trying to get him off balance.
Hamish was unfazed.
His eyes were shut, but he was not blind. With preternatural foresight, he flowed through the assault in precise, guided steps. Those that came near him were thwarted by simple steps and calculated strikes, redirecting attacks toward the floor beneath him. The silhouette behind him was a flurry of motion, acting as a shield against the greatest of the Firstborn’s onslaught.
As the stone floor continued to shatter and more debris flew through air, Selene could not help but remember the story of Brog as he stood against an endless tide.
All to protect those that could not protect themselves, whether it be a small port town of no renown, or, in this case, an orphaned thief from a faraway land.
The assault continued, but an agitation grew in the strikes as Hamish continued his defense. Eventually, it became clear no clever tactics would undo the monk.
Only sheer force would be enough to break this shield.
Four tendrils slammed down from the ceiling above Hamish. Seeking to crush him in a single blow. Each one was caught by a hand of flesh or Spirit.
A battle of strength began, as the tentacles continued their attempt to crush him. The pressure increased, forcing Hamish down into the ground. Struggling against the weight and force, he fell down to one knee. Stone beneath him cracked as the force began to break apart the floor. The silhouette flickered, struggling to remain above the floor. It appeared this battle of strength was not one even Hamish could beat.
He bowed his head, his jaw clenched.
A low growl filled his throat, barely heard above the cracking of stone but increasing in volume. Sparks of spiritual energy danced across his body. The brief specks of light highlighted the brawn of his physique, but it also seemed to enhance its magnitude. His body was built out of stone, but his will was iron.
And it would neither bend nor break.
His eyes shot open, burning with resolve. The low growl rose into a mighty kiai. With a great heave, he rose back to his feet, the ground shaking beneath him.
The silhouette, once flickering, now appeared opaque as it too rose up again. Then Hamish twisted his body and grip on the tentacles, and began to pull.
Realizing too late what Hamish was attempting, the Firstborn struggled in vain against it as the tentacles grew taut.
The mists above bent inwards, giving all the appearance that Hamish was about to pull the roof down upon them. The walls shook as, slowly, the Firstborn’s body was pulled through the mists.
The blackened pit descended as the Firstborn roared in a mixture of anger and pain.
Hamish, with a fearsome grin, laughed heartily, “What is matter, devil? Too much for you? Fine. Return to dark Abyss, and never return to harm the innocent! If you don’t…”
Hamish gave a sharp tug, eliciting another cry from the fearsome beast, “Understand?”
The Firstborn said nothing, but it no longer struggled against his grip.
Taking that as agreement, Hamish released the Firstborn and without hesitation, it retreated back into the Abyss.
Hamish watched them intently as they disappeared into the mists above, and continued to watch until nothing but the mists could be seen.
A sigh escaped his lips as he turned to look at Selene. A small, toothy grin on his face, “Are you alright my friend?”
Before Selene could respond, the whole chamber shook.
Hamish’s smile vanished as he looked up. The Firstborn was not yet done. Tentacles shot out from the mists above, but their target was not below. Their aim was directed toward the ceiling, directly above Selene.
The chamber shook as the ceiling gave way to the assault, earth and stone crashed down.
Selene tried to move, but found that Lendrig’s power rooted her in place. She could not move an inch to save herself.
All she could do was close her eyes and wait for the end.
Instead of stones, she felt strong hands suddenly wrapped tight around her before she felt herself hurled through the air.