Chapter VII: Defeat
The light burns alone. Hamish thought as he channelled Spirit. Fires he once felt across the Hollow had sputtered and died with the retreat. He grimaced at the thought, remembering the moments of panic and pain as people died either in battle or in flight from the advancing forces. The power of channelled Spirit was a double edged sword. It gave each person affected a piece of his will, but it also gave him some connection to each person in the Hollow, marking each death in his heart.
But the fire before him kept burning, and its light protected those that remained. He would not allow it to go out, even as the enemy bared down upon them.
It was then he heard it. A cry from within the square–a scream he recognized.
Selene. She is in danger.
He felt the presence of his companions nearby and prayed they could assist, but it appeared that the battle was thick and none could break away to aid her.
Indecision filled him. He could not act, lest the fire go out, but he could not allow harm to befall his friend. After all she had gone through, and the oath he swore, he would not allow her to die here.
As he struggled internally, he sensed her shift suddenly. She was flung through the air at great speeds, speeds she could not survive.
Hamish reacted before his mind could stop him. He broke his concentration and rushed towards her.
The fire went out soon after.
The world was a blur as Selene flew through the air. She braced herself for impact, and whatever else may come. Instead of a cold wall, Selene felt two arms grab her tight, then pull her inward.
In spite of the impending doom, Selene could not help but notice a familiarity in this embrace.
A moment later, she felt the crash of the wall, but it was not enough to stop her flight. The world spun about her as she slammed through another wall before finally hitting the ground. Their momentum was finally stopped as they hit a third.
Then the world went black.
For a time, there was nothing. Then whispers rose to the surface of her mind. They were of an alien tongue, one she did not understand, but recognized. They were the same whispers she heard beneath Lendrigol, in that cavern that was hidden from normal sight.
The whispers then began to coalesce.
Your mind…harder to access than anticipated.
It appears you yet live…
It was the Firstborn.
I do? Selene thought, genuinely surprised.
The Firstborn ignored her and continued.
…but you have failed to stop Lendrig from claiming his prize.
Then, as if in a dream, her perspective shifted as darkness gave way to light. Her sight adjusted, and she realized she now hovered above the Hollow. Below, she could see the Governor’s estate, shrouded in that wall of ice and wind.
Something then shifted in the flow of the wind, and slowly, it began to dissipate.
As it gave way, she was able to see the square, and was surprised to find that all the fighting within it had ceased. Both sides now stood still, transfixed on the sky above. If Selene did not know better, she would have thought they were looking at her.
They do not see you…
The Firstborn said in answer to her unasked question.
They see me. You are but witness to my sight.
Selene gasped, Wait…so you’re in the sky?
No, but my eye sees through the Veil, and they can see it.
So it’s like the eye from my dream… Selene thought, stunned.
Yes…and no. You did not foresee this, you saw the rebirth…the return of the Igryss.
Before Selene could respond, a familiar cackle filled her mind, causing her blood to run cold.
This has been…enjoyable. Lendrig said, barely containing his mirth,as water began to coalesce in the square. Soon another throne formed, then Lendrig stepped out. You all fought well, but now…it is time to end this.
The mists, hanging above the Hollow, cracked like thunder.
Gargantuan tentacles descended around her, reaching toward the Hollow below.
“Stop,” a voice called out. It was quiet, yet it held an authority one could not deny.
It was Argent. The eye shifted, and it revealed him, holding a shortsword against his own throat.
Lendrig cackled, Clever. Is this your final gambit?
“It is,” Argent answered, “You will allow these people to leave this place unhindered. If you don’t, you’ll have to find another of my people to bleed for your ritual.”
Lendrig cackled again, Intriguing. Let’s say I accept this offer. What of the key? I will not allow it to escape my grasp.
“It is near,” Argent stated, “I will show you once everyone is safe.”
Very well, I did consider allowing some to escape, if only to spread the word of my return. A few more won’t hurt. Besides, the fear will spread quite quickly with the few that remain.
“Stop!” Merus called out, “You cannot do this!”
Lendrig turned from Argent to study the newcomer, his eyes gleaming with sadistic mirth.
Oh, you have spent much time with the key, Malenai. Lendrig purred, And why would you deny the offer? Do you seek to kill these people needlessly?
Merus struggled to maintain his composure as he stared down Lendrig. Then he spoke, “You only promise a stay of execution. Eventually, all here will die by your hand.”
Lendrig stared at him a moment, then laughed. You are perceptive, or perhaps know me too well. Yes, this is but a stay of execution, but it’s a fair bargain. You all are allowed another day to sputter and grovel in the land of the living. Possibly more, if you’re quick enough. The world is a big place, you might be forgotten amidst the masses. It’s your best chance.
Merus’ breathing grew ragged, as if Lendrig’s gaze put him under a great strain. He bit his lip, but continued, “What of the world, and our children?”
Why do they matter? The world can burn for all I care, so long as it gives me what I want. And the children…will be allowed to live, if only to ensure the mortal races are always available. One must nurture the seed to ensure a good harvest, after all.
Lendrig’s cackle echoed through their minds.
Merus’ eyes darkened, his words came stronger this time, “I would rather die than allow you to treat my kin as livestock, monster.”
Very well, Lendrig said casually.
In an instant, he was upon the aging Malenai Governor, lifting him into the air limply.
Lendrig stared at him a moment, considering his options. While I could use a meal, your mind is far too clouded by the key. I’d rather not taste my own thoughts, so this will have to do…
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Merus convulsed, foaming at the mouth. Lendrig dropped him, allowing him to thrash upon the floor. The sounds of his sputtering breaths as he choked filled the square until he finally stopped moving.
All was then silent as soldiers and citizens stared at him in horror.
If Lendrig had lips, he would likely be grinning. Etch the memory into your minds, citizens of the Hollow. Spread word of my return, let the world know that there are no more nations, no more kings. I and I alone am now the ruler of land and sea. Should they seek to avoid my wrath, they will need to offer me a hundred sacrifices within a twelve-month. Should I not receive word of these sacrifices, I will drown their people until there is nothing left. Am I understood?
Lendrig waited a moment, then nodded, Good. Now hurry along, any nation that does not hear from you will not know they need to provide sacrifice. Would be a shame if an entire civilization died on your watch.
He then turned to Argent, Bring me the key, and then we will depart.
The vision of the world darkened, and Selene’s heart sank.
Why show me this? she asked, confused.
So you know what must be done. Lendrig has gone to the Hall of Heart, so that he can complete the ritual for the rebirth. You will find him there.
Images of tunnels and passageways flashed through her mind until it stopped at a massive door, marked with a strange rune in the center. Somehow, she knew that was what the Firstborn called the Hall of Heart.
The Firstborn continued.
You will find little resistance, as he awaits your arrival. Do not tarry, lest the ritual reach its completion and force our rebirth into servitude.
If Lendrig is there, how do we stop him? Selene asked, annoyed, It’s not like we managed to kill him last time.
You will not face one of the Chosen he controls, he will be there in body, and his power will be beyond your capacity to deny or overcome.
Selene was about to respond, but the Firstborn did not give her time to respond.
But he has weakness still. It is one he shares with our kind. Our mental abilities give us power over creatures great and small, but there are those we cannot affect. The unintelligent, or those whose mind is overcome by Heart. Should you find his domain, remember this. It will save your life, and grant us the freedom we so desperately crave.
What about your “rebirth?” Selene asked, Won’t this stop it from happening?
Yes, but we would rather remain separate than be subsumed to his will. We have existed for eternity, we will await another to bring about our rebirth.
I see…. was all Selene could manage to say.
We have now done all we can. Now awaken, and end this.
Slowly, Selene felt herself stir.
Looking around, she found she was now laid out on a cot, wrapped tightly in a blanket.
Bleary eyed, she looked around, trying to remember what had happened.
Then it all came flooding back.
Panicked, she pulled off the blanket, searching her body for signs of injury.
Surprisingly, she was fine.
Hamish, half asleep on the ground next to her, began to stir. Blinking the sleep away, his eyes widened when he saw her staring at him.
“You are awake?” he said, as if his mind were still processing the information. He then jumped up excitedly, “You are awake! Jezran, my friend, she is awake!”
A moment later the wizard burst through the door, eyes wide, “She is?”
His eyes then met hers, “She is!”
As fast as the wizard appeared, he left in an equal haste.
“Y-yes, I am…awake…” Selene said, confused, “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, no!” Hamish said, assuringly, “You just were flung through walls. Tried to protect you, but…you did not wake up. After everything, we all feared worst.”
Selene thought for a moment, remembering the familiar embrace, “You…caught me?”
Hamish grinned, and nodded, “Was close call. Almost did not make it.”
Selene stared at him, stunned. Looking at the half-orc monk, you would not think he had just crash landed through a wall. Outside a few scrapes and bruises on his face and some tearing of the robes, he looked fine.
Hamish eyed her after a moment’s silence, “You alright, my friend?”
“Thanks to you, yeah,” Selene said, mystified, “I feel like I owe you now, this is the second time you’ve saved me.”
Hamish grinned, “No need, my friend. Promised to keep you safe.”
Selene felt heat rise to her cheeks and nodded. She knew there was no point in arguing.
But I will pay you back, Hamish. One day.
A moment later, Ari burst into the room. Rushing to Selene’s side, she soon found herself pulled into an embrace. Pulling back, Selene could see Ari had returned to normal.
“I’m so glad, you’re okay,” Ari said, teary-eyed, “After everything else that’s happened, I don’t think I could bear losing anyone else.”
Selene processed her friend’s words for a moment, then jumped, “Wait…so Argent was actually taken by Lendrig?”
Ari tilted her head, “Yeah…how did you…?”
“No time to explain!” Selene said, leaping up from her bed, “I think I know where Lendrig took him and…I think I know how to beat him.”
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