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Day Ten: Victory

Thalen skidded backwards, his glowing green sword the only thing between him and a quick death at the hands of Praetor Essen. Even so, he knew death would not be quick. He had humiliated Essen. He had bloodied Essen. He had ruined all that Essen had tried to build and saved countless lives in the process.

“You’ve already lost, Praetor,” he growled, flexing his claws to get a better stance. The marble was softer than most people imagined, and he gained a grip with ease. “Killing me won’t win you your kingdom back.” He stood straight and flicked blood off the blade, which cast an eerie glow over the shadowy throne room. “It won’t bring your daughter back to life -”

“You will never speak of her again!” Essen lunged, Ektrakhal, the Reaver of Souls burning as it slashed. The air itself hummed with each attack, and it was all Thalen could do to get Endiel up to block. When the two struck, thunder rolled through the castle. It was a battle that would be passed down for generations, no matter who won. They had been fighting for only a few minutes, but like all battles, it felt like so much longer. The throne room was decorated by the blood and bodies of Essen’s praetorian guard, soldiers who would have been unbeatable against any other adversary. Thalen’s need was greater than theirs, however. Whether it would be great enough to finally slay Essen was not so certain.

“You lowborn, dogshit BEAST!” Essen pressed forward. “You are not worthy to speak her name-” SLASH. “To remember her-” SLASH. “To hold her in your THOUGHTS!” His blade sang as it tried to find an opening in Thalen’s defense. All it would take is one opening….

Essen surprised him with a kick to the hip. Thalen howled and dropped to one knee, his hip feeling like it had been filled with crushed glass. He lost his grip on Endiel and it sliced into the marble floor before its inner light faded. Out of his hands, it was merely crystal again.

Ektrakhal was at his throat, and Essen grinned madly, tears running down his dark and stony face. His eyes glowed red with the eldritch fires that granted him his power and his immortality. “I should have killed you the first time we met, mongrel,” he growled. Keep talking, Thalen thought. All we need is another mi-

The blade dipped and slid with ease into Thalen’s chest, taking his breath from him as it did. The pain was excruciating – not just the physical agony, but the tearing and rending that began as the ancient blade began to live up to its name. Thalen could feel himself, and the souls of his fathers, drawn into the blade. His claws pistoned out and in and out again, scoring the floor, but to no avail. There was no purchase he could gain against this kind of attack.

“You’re finished, mutt,” Essen whispered. Even at arm’s length, it carried. “When I’m done with you, all your friends will find will be the mindless husk of the Wharven they once knew. Right before you kill them for me.” He twisted the blade. It didn’t speed up the process any, but it added to the pain.

Thalen screamed, and it reverberated through the throne room. By the time it got back to him, however, he had turned it into a choking, rusty laugh, driven by the pain and the foreknowledge of what was to come. Though the very motion drove the blade deeper into his chest, he made himself laugh. He forced it out.

“Why are you laughing,” Praetor Essen asked? He gave the blade another twist. “WHY?”

He couldn’t hear Thalen’s whispered reply. The Wharven had so little breath left as it was, he could barely spare enough for a last word. “Tell me!” Essen howled, lifting Thalen up by the blade. With terribly smooth slowness, Thalen slid down the long, crimson sword’s blade until he was only a breath away from his killer.

“The… Starheart… lives.”

Praetor Essen’s face froze. “No,” he said. “You’re lying.” He twisted the blade one more time, but Thalen didn’t respond. His last breath had wounded far more deeply than his crystal blade ever could have, and now he was done.

Essen dropped the dead Wharven to the floor and pulled his blade out. “Hostehal!” He stalked back to his throne, calling for this secretary. “HOSTEHAL!!”

The room shuddered as an explosion tore through the lower levels of the tower. He ran to his throne for the Crystal Scepter, but, like the Wharven’s sward, the light had gone from it. “No,” he said again, spinning around. Crystalline lights throughout the room were blinking out, their pale energies drifting like smoke through the floor. To the Starheart. In moments, the only thing illuminating the room was the light of explosions from below, shining through the windows. Flashes of red, of indigo, of colors that he’d never heard before, accompanied each subsequent explosion, and great chunks of marble began to crack and fall from the walls and the ceiling. He dodged one that was as big as a horse, and then another that nearly took off his head.

He slid Ektrakhal into the scabbard at his side and ran to the window. A great curtain of energy was rising up the tower, burning away at its impenetrable stone walls with alarming slowness. This was what the Wharven had come up to accomplish. This is how he had won. That Nestari bitch he traveled with must have given her blood to the Starheart, forged the link. He howled and nearly put his fist through the wall, shards of stone spraying across the room. He swept back to his throne, ignoring the ceiling collapsing above him, and took the Crystal Scepter in hand. Maybe he could take it back.

Maybe his blood could override hers.

He reached out and caught a piece of masonry as it fell, not even glancing at it. With all his strength, he squeezed it until it split, cracking like a broken bone. Blood started to drip from his hand, and he let it fall on the scepter. By all rights, that should re-forge the link, give him the power to stop….

The crystal atop the scepter began to glow weakly. A thready, pink glow, tainted by his blood. “Yes!” he yelled, unclenching his fist and smearing his bloody hand against the crystal. “You haven’t won! I can still have my victory!”

The scepter exploded, shooting slivers of crystal into his face and chest. Essen screamed and dropped the scepter, clawing at his eyes. One of them was destroyed, a quivering shard jutting from it. With his other eye, he could see a spirit-form coalesce in the center of the room. It gathered unspeakable energies around it and stood twice as tall as he did. As he watched, he came to recognize her.

Parriel. His daughter.

He held a bloody and broken hand up to the figure, who stood in the center of the room unaffected by the tremors and the ongoing destruction. The ghostly entity glided over to him. “Parriel,” he said. “You live.”

She took his chin in her hand and tilted his head up so as to look at his face. Her smile was sad, rueful. “Yes, father,” she said. “Through the Starheart I live.” She looked around, stood back, and looked back at him. “But you, father….” She put her hands together in front of her, palms nearly touching. A bright and terrible light began to condense there. “You do not.”

The wave of energy that had been consuming the tower burst through the floor, creating vast holes of opalescent nothingness as it rose. Essen’s screams were picked up and echoed, amplified, and then overwhelmed by the building destruction that consumed him. As he died, the Great Spire from which he ruled was utterly devastated, exploding in a rosette of unspeakable energies that was seen for many hundreds of leagues away. Throughout the kingdom, the night sky was bright, and a mad amalgam of hope and terror, freedom and agony tore across the land. Essen’s Unmade soldiers fell as the instrument of their animation was reduced to nothingness.

As the wave passed, silence fell on the Southern Kingdom. Whatever had happened there was too much to speak of. Some wanted to celebrate, to bang drums and finally dance in the streets, but feared that it might be too soon. Others wanted to mourn, to cry and tear their hair, but knew that it was too late. Some paid it no mind – after all, one ruler was much like another, and in the end it didn’t matter. Others laid plans for their own ascendancy.

One, a Toriian child, picked her way over the rubble of the Great Spire, her steps light but well-chosen. The white chunks of stone and marble were still flickering with otherworldly energy, but it avoided her touch. No one called out to her to stay away, to go somewhere safe, and she wouldn’t have listened if they had. She knew nothing about what kind of ruler Essen had been, or what kind of sacrifices had been made to bring him down. All she knew was that something amazing had happened here, and it was of the utmost importance that she find out what it was.

Pieces of masonry rocked as she jumped from one to the other, her long legs and feathered tail giving her balance. As she reached the top of one pile, a stone shifted, revealing the leather-wrapped hilt of a sword. The wrapping looked like it had been done ages ago, by someone who had probably re-wrapped it a few times already. It was dark from where it had been gripped, and showed years of use.

The girl gingerly put her hand to the hilt, as though the sword beyond it might jump up and stab her.

Nothing happened.

She grabbed it then, tugging it out from under a block of stone. As it touched the air, the slender crystalline blade burst into green incandescence, illuminating her and her whole surroundings. She stared into its light, and a grin spread up from the corners of her beaklike mouth.

“Cool,” she said.

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  1. December 11, 2011 at 3:35 PM

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