Everything was chaos. I relished it.
As it screamed through the air, my mace sung stilted hymns of discord.
And discord was beautiful.
Soul warband carried me ahead on a wave of destruction, scattering the enemies before me and lowering their defenses. Without their usual formations, the enemy had no allies to shield them or slow my advance. Every adversary fought me unaided, his steel alone against mine.
They dropped like flies.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
I laughed as I cleaved into the enemy’s flank, bone and cartilage snapping with every swing of my weapon. My shield rolled a blade off with ease, slammed in to stun the attacker, my mace arcing in to finish him off. A kick snapped out to put the next charr off balance. My arm fell. A crack of metal, a death knell, a body dropping. Moving on to the next.
Soul was fighting all around me, but I was not aware of their movements. I was fighting beside them, not with them. Conjunction didn’t matter. Blood mattered.
And there was so much of it.
This was the main body of the enemy forces. The body that was shielding the Nightmare Court from me. The body that stood in the way of my hunger, my revenge.
I would snap its spine.
I ceased to pay attention to the workings of the warband entirely. My flow of battle took me in a different direction than them, and soon I found myself alone in a crowded alley of charr and courtiers. Surrounded.
There were at least threescore of them. I had no backup.
Threescore was nothing.
As I ran towards the closest courtier, I let go of my restraints. I snapped my chains.
I forgot Kahedins and everything he’d taught me.
I forgot Katryn and her companionship.
I forgot the mission.
For the first time since my birth, I fell back inside my Dream.
It was all I knew.
I didn’t see living souls in front of me, but only the dead and dying, the tortured and the torturers. I saw my family—my mentors, my parents, my brothers and sisters—all those who had created me by corrupting the Dream. I saw those who had killed me, over and over, before I had ever been born. I saw those who taught me to lust for power, to delight in driving a blade between a pair of ribs.
I saw everything I had ever hated manifest before me.
I forgot light existed in the world.
I became death.
I was lightning. I was an earthquake. A hurricane.
Fire spread everywhere I moved. The end of days.
The bodies piled higher and higher around me, and I gave no ground.
My mace fell like the judgment of the heavens, the scales of death. Green flame burst from its every impact, devouring flesh light acid. My will was immutable, unshakeable. It demanded sacrifice.
Panting, leaning forward, my weapons hanging down below my knees, like an ape. Blood coating every inch of my armor, my exposed flesh. Bathing in blood, drowning in it.
Blood dripping down, red and black, onto dead grass between the cracked stones.
They were all dead.
I straightened, looking up and down the narrow avenue that had separated me from my allies. There was not a single body stirring. I was alone with dozens of corpses.
There was still fighting to be had.
I waited, tilting my head to the side as I listened for the echo of battle. Soul warband wasn’t far.
I began to move towards the sounds, but paused mid-step through the street.
A new charr was standing in the middle of the alley, reinforcements bristling behind them. Ornate shaman’s robes covered their fur, draping low between the legs and on either side of the muzzle, augmented with metal plating that appeared to be more for show than armor. The charr was lithe, muscular but tightly wound, the body of a dancer and of a fighter.
This one was female.
I had no more time to think about it as she began casting, her male minions rushing forward to buy her time to finish the spell. The air began to lose warmth, even at this distance—she was preparing powerful water magic. Overhead, a mammoth crystal of ice began to form. She was going for overkill.
I stepped forward to meet the first charr and snapped a kick out, crushing his armor into his stomach and effectively gutting him. My right mace caught a descending scimitar on its haft; my left came across to snap the swordwielder’s neck. Both weapons moved left, catching the next charr in the forehead and shoulderblade.
The frost began to fall. It was much too large, much too close.
I rolled back, an insufficient distance to clear the shrapnel’s blast radius. The charr all knew it, and they began to howl in triumph—except for the shaman. She simply stared.
As the crystal began to crash again the cobblestone, I summoned a green aura in both hands and threw it forward. Its force crashed against the shattering magic, forcing the ice to erupt in one direction. The howl of victory turns to a cry of pain as the entirety of their shaman’s spell was redirected at them.
The shaman’s teeth were bared.
The magic faded, leaving only the two of us in the street, newly decorated with more of her allies’ corpses. I rushed forward, throwing several orbs of green light ahead of me. The shaman twisted and sidestepped each attack, but she gave no ground as I closed distance.
My maces arced in—and were repelled as a thin sheet of ice appeared before her.
My brow furrowed, and I threw all my weight behind my next swing.
The ice didn’t crack.
Her hands began to weave, and I threw up a magical defense of my own. A torrent of water broke against my ward, and as soon as it passed, I wrapped energy around my mace and swung again.
Rather than see if her defenses would hold, she vanished in a crack of thunder, a thin trail of blue lightning revealing her path backwards. I sheathed my left-hand mace and drew my shield, using it to cover my head as I chased after the spark.
When she reappeared, a shockwave filled the alleyway, pushing me back and off-balance despite the shield. I went with the momentum, spinning around in time to leap over a missile aimed at my legs. I enveloped my mace in an aura and threw it forward, magical force lent to its force. The shaman barely had time to conjure another frost barrier before the mace crashed it—and cracked the shield. Her eyes widened.
I rushed to meet her, slamming my own shield against hers, shattering it entirely and knocking her back. My mace leapt to my hand from the ground and I swung again with all my strength.
I gritted my teeth in anger as she vanished in another crack of lightning, circling behind me. I turned to meet her, spinning the mace haft in irritation. She reappeared—without a shockwave this time—and waited for me to make the next move.
Instead, a fireball blossomed on the rooftops and exploded at her feet without warning, enveloping her in smoke and fire. When the dust settled, she was still standing—unharmed, as a thin layer of ice was covering her entire body.
Another charr dropped down from the rooftops and charged her, howling with fury and throwing fire with every step he took. It was one of Kaenes’ warband—Zanst. Every bolt he launched, the shaman countered with water or ice. Magic erupted and flashed with abandon, and soon the entire alleyway was filled with smoke. Despite her best efforts, she was being forced back along the streets.
And then the massive norn materialized from a side street behind her. He swung his mammoth blade like it was no heavier than a twig, seeking to cleave her in two. She ducked below the swing, turning to cast a bolt of ice into his stomach. Fast as lightning, his blade reversed and carved a path towards her head. In response she became lightning, teleporting out of the deathtrap between the norn and Zanst.
And into the deathtrap between Zanst and I.
I rushed in as the fire mage began to cast. As I reached the shaman, she and I were surrounded by a towering ring of flame. She wouldn’t be teleporting out again. Her hands darted through the air even as I closed, and by the time my mace was arcing towards her, a thick sphere of ice had enveloped her like an egg.
I swung again, and again, and again. The ice began to drip underneath the sweltering heat, and cracks appeared wherever my mace landed.
And yet the shaman did not appear afraid.
She muttered something under her breath and began to cast again.
“Norn!” I called. “Crack her shell!”
The colossus leapt through Zanst’s fire, ignoring the singes on his armor and skin, and began to hack away at the ice.
The charr grinned and finished casting. Instantly, the ice began to reform as quickly as we were destroying it. And then it began to expand—rapidly—forcing us back, forcing us through the fire, forcing us out. Zanst’s firewall was extinguished in an angry hiss and I was thrown back on its surge, rolling painfully along the pavement. On the other side, the norn had managed to retain his feet.
I climbed back up, ready to rush back in—but the charr wasn’t moving. She stood, staring at the cathedral Caleb and Ayroh had identified as their target. I followed her gaze up the pillar of light as it began to grow brighter—and launched five beacons into the air. I lost sight of them as they were swallowed by dark clouds.
I turned my attention back to the shaman and locked eyes with her. She hissed at me, despite an expression of pure delight on her features.
“Dragon take you all,” she said, her claws weaving another spell beneath her orb of ice. A fountain of water gushed to life beneath her, lifting her high into the air. Zanst began casting, firing fireball after fireball after her—but with another crack of lightning, she vanished from sight.
I smashed my mace against the side of a building in frustration and walked over to my allies. “Let’s go. The fight still rages in the main streets, yes? Lead on.”
The charr didn’t answer, staring only where the female had vanished.
“I don’t think the fight matters anymore,” the norn said.
“Nothing matters anymore,” he said solemnly, pointing over my head. I turned, facing the cathedral once more.
In time to see a massive, unholy dragon spread its wings underneath the beam of light. It launched into the air, slowly, slowly gliding. Every moment, ice formed beneath its wings and fell to earth. I could hear the cacophony even at this distance.
“Let’s go,” I said, rushing between two close-set buildings. Katryn.
Behind me, I heard an explosion, and a smoking charr flew over my head like he was launched from a catapult. Zanst landed on his claws one of the buildings, and after a moment he called down to us.
“I can see the legionnaire! He and the human are still alive—they have the child!”
So Ayroh had succeeded—but it was still too late. The norn took the lead before me, guiding me back to the main force of Soul warband. They were still engaging Flame Legion, who had worked themselves into a frenzy of victory.
They didn’t understand that they were dead, too.
So focused were they on Soul that they didn’t notice Ayroh and Caleb come running past them, shouting retreat. Instantly, the entire warband broke off and followed. Ayroh passed the child into the norn’s arms and began to cast with both hands to slow the Legions down.
It was unnecessary. They didn’t give chase—they turned to stare in worship at their new god.
They all died as ice crashed over them, uncaring and unforgiving.
I shoved my way through the pressing ranks of charr until I was at Katryn’s side. I reached for her hand—
We’re all going to die—
“Where’s Caleb?!” She cried.
“He’s with Kaen—” I began.
He wasn’t there.
“Ayroh! Where’s Caleb?!” I bellowed.
He didn’t answer.
I turned to stare back at the dragon. It was closing in on us—the ice was gaining.
And then an arrow was let fly from the rooftops. Blue fire rippled across the dragon’s skin, and it roared in pain. It swerved—away from us, towards the arrow’s origin.
Another arrow. An explosion. Another.
Ayroh understood what was happening. “Regroup!” His voice rang out. “Back at the cathedral! Take the high ground.”
Katryn was yelling, clawing at me, trying to go back. I wouldn’t let her go.
I could see him, even as I pulled her back. His bow was glowing—it grew brighter and fiercer as the dragon closed distance with him. Ache was still standing beside him.
And then the Fury breathed.
Haze poured between its jaws like a waterfall, enveloping Caleb’s building entirely.
When we could see again—
Caleb was still standing.
He fitted another arrow to his bow and fired it deep into the dragon’s eye. It burst into fire, causing the dragon to writhe in pain and howl. Its twisting sent it crashing into nearby structures, and its front claws reached out for Caleb.
He and Ache turned into mist and passed between its talons.
They reformed on top of different buildings, splitting its attention. Hungry and stupid, the dragon snapped its head towards Ache.
Another arrow prevented it from ever reaching her, snapping the Fury’s head off to the side to crash into the streets. It whipped around, seeking Caleb, but he became mist again. Frustrated, it returned attention to Ache—to catch another explosive arrow before it could touch her.
Every time the Fury moved for one of them, an arrow was fired and they vanished into their mistforms.
Bathed in blue fire, roaring in pain, the dragon whirled in rage. Its tail scythed through the buildings around it, crumbling them into dust. Caleb reached for the amulet around his neck—
The magic failed.
The tail smashed through the stone.
The rooftop gave way beneath him.
The building toppled backwards.