Final Moments of the Fallen Gods

StoriesbyJurixe Apr 4th, 2013 47 Never
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  1. [ Kastalia ]
  3. War. Peace. Action. Caution. Go. Stay.
  5. Too much dithering, when the answer was as obvious as the sky was blue. One of Their number was in danger. What was there to quibble about?
  7. She had chosen to go, and with Lupus by Her side, tearing apart the alien planet and leaving destruction in Their wake, a rush of adrenaline cascaded over Her.
  9. They would find Hermes, and nothing would stop Them.
  11. A menacing Dala'myrr loomed in front of Her, and without even pausing to think She whirled in a flurry of mist-hued brocade, stabbing the sharpened end of Her white walking staff into its body.
  13. Blood fountained from the wound, and slowly She raised Her other pale hand, palm upwards. She watched with a savage satisfaction as blood bubbled up in the Dala'myrr's throat, causing it to flail wildly, choke, and finally collapse as the fluid poured in crimson streams from its gaping maw, spilling onto the sandy ground.
  15. Her bright eyes swept the area as She pulled Her bloodstained staff out and pushed the dead creature away. "Hermes!" She cried, but any attempt by the Messenger God to answer was drowned out by the crushing, powerful rumble of Shaitan.
  17. "Fools, running around like the mortal worms You coddle! Let Us show You how real Gods hunt."
  19. She tensed, sandy locks flying as She whipped Her head around. Agonised howls now rent the air as two tall forms loomed in the horizon, slashing at Lupus's werewolves with methodical efficiency. Behind Them, a thing of miasmic darkness approached, seeming to swallow the struggling lupines whole.
  21. Beside Her, Lupus let loose a reverberating snarl of rage and anguish at the demise of His loyal servants, narrowing His amber eyes. She tightened Her fingers around Her staff. Both Shaitan and Apollyon were the cruelest of all the Garden, and She knew that if She fell, there would be no mercy.
  23. But She had no choice. The time had come.
  25. "Stop!" She cried, Her voice awash in power as it resonated across the heavens like a thunderous cascade. "Such treachery against Us will not be endured!"
  27. A sense of excruciating, inexplicable torment swept over Her in response, but She stood Her ground defiantly as Apollyon's derisive voice answered, "We shall see about that, O Watery One."
  29. And suddenly His tall, lash-wielding form was there, right in front of Her, the ruby in His eye socket glittering with a malevolence matched only by His twisted grin. Before She could react, He swung His arm and whipped the barbed ends of His weapon straight across Her face.
  31. The sheer force of the blow threw Kastalia to the ground, crying out in agony as the sharp barbs caught and tore at Her flesh, leaving deep gouges across Her formerly unblemished features. Blood poured from the wounds, streaming down her nose and chin; She noted distantly that the front of Her beautiful gown was now spattered with red. Half-blinded from the pain, She groped around for Her staff, which She'd dropped when She fell - but it was lost.
  33. Apollyon advanced upon Her stricken form, but was momentarily thwarted by a dozen werewolves that leapt in front of Her and stood facing Him, growling ferociously - not for long, however, for the Horned God materialised next to His Twin, reducing the howling beasts to little more than bloody chunks of flesh and fur with a few swipes of His monstrous blades.
  35. Her staff, She thought, dazed from the pain but still struggling to move, if She could only find and reach Her staff-
  37. Then all the world grew silent, the deafening chaos of battle suddenly and inexplicably mute. With a great effort, She raised Her golden head, and was met by the sight of a shifting being of darkness and horror incarnate.
  39. One large, clawed hand extended from the miasma, reaching greedily for Her face.
  41. ...
  43. Upon Sapience, an otherworldly scream of pure anguish tore through the heavens, followed by a wave of intense, heartbroken sobbing.
  45. Flecked with blood, a once-white water lily wilted and crumbled into dust, the remnants of the flower dispersing into nothing upon the hot breeze of Krenindala.
  48. [ Hermes ]
  50. Pain. Pain everywhere. Where was He? He couldn't think. He didn't recall having this much to drink...
  52. Can't move. Hard ground. Something digging into Him. He had just enough energy to struggle - just a little. Something rattled. Chains. Bound. Can't move.
  54. Pain. Agony. Darkness. Hot, so hot. Sweat all over. Losing feeling in His limbs - been some time now. Blood, the coppery tang of blood. His own?
  56. Things growling, slithering around Him, near Him. Scrape of scale on stone. Memory was beginning to return. A gamble...a coin. That coin, that cursed coin, the blade that cleaved it in two.
  58. A low cough shook His wasted form, sending new shocks of pain all over Him from places He didn't even know existed. Despite all that, if He had the energy to laugh, He would have. Stupid gamble. He'd become too predictable. Shaitan had known.
  60. Centuries ago, He had won His own ascension to Divinity from Raclawice on a bet. But as all things, there was a duality in Luck's nature.
  62. Maya had said He had more influence over Luck than others, and that was true. But Luck could never really be controlled...not even by Him.
  64. The sombre thought dissipated as something crawled painfully in His chest, returning what remained of His conscious attention to more immediate concerns. Something didn't feel right - some deep wrongness in His body, something powerful, something...
  66. He was fading. He could feel it. Too much pain. He wanted to just let the darkness take Him...
  68. Screams, clashes of steel on steel in the distance. He couldn't focus. Some sort of battle or other, probably. Not important. Should it be important? Maybe...
  70. "Aha! I've found Hermes!"
  72. The bright, perpetually delighted voice grated on His ears and made His already pounding head throb violently.
  74. Ugh...Pandora...
  76. A flash of silver in the corner of His vision - then a sharp, white-hot shock, and pain, pain, excruciating -pain- burst all over His body. He writhed weakly in soundless agony; He had no voice left to scream. He could hear Pandora's shriek of pain, though.
  78. The scaly, slithering thing next to Him roared and charged off at something unseen - then it vanished abruptly, and Someone else knelt down beside Him.
  80. "It's Hermes! He' cannot..."
  82. The rest of the words were lost to Him, drowned in the haze of building agony. He couldn't focus, the pain was getting worse, and worse, and worse, bubbling from His very core upwards and outwards, His eyeballs felt like they were melting, every nerve in His body was screaming, perhaps He was screaming Himself, too, He couldn't tell any more, just let Him die, let Him die, let it end-
  84. At the height of His torment, a brilliant white light erupted from within Him, filling His vision completely. In His last moments, the Messenger had one startling moment of clarity, one final coherent thought:
  86. Heads you win, tails...
  88. I lose.
  91. [ Daedalus ]
  93. He was supposed to be the God of Balance.
  95. He wasn't supposed to fight these wars; just to make sure they didn't tip the scale too far.
  97. Yet here He was, He thought sombrely, staring dispassionately at the menacing, growling bulk of the enormous Dala'myrr before Him.
  99. When would His feuding siblings learn? Always They tried to tip the balance in Their favour - Good, Evil, Chaos, it didn't matter. Always He was having to step in when things got too out of control. And now this!
  101. Logos curse those power-mad Twins. He'd warned Them.
  103. Uttering a fervent oath, He strode forward, catching and hefting up the writhing, reptilian form as easily as if it were a feather. Ignoring its furious attempts to tear and maim Him, He gave a grunt of effort and hurled it away, using such force that it shot straight into the sky and disappeared from view.
  105. Sparing a quick glance for the slumped form of young, dark-haired Pandora, He decided that She was fine and hurried across the cavern, kneeling down next to the bound Hermes and examining Him closely.
  107. The once-handsome, lively God was no more than a shadow of His former self, now, all sparkle gone from His dull green eyes. Strange, faintly glowing chains looped and wound tight over His atrophied body, contorting His limbs into unnatural angles.
  109. "It's Hermes!" He called over His shoulder to His other divine siblings, still scattered upon the battlefield. "He's-"
  111. A sudden, hoarse cry of pain made Him whirl around, only to note with horror that something -inside- Hermes was glowing, swelling, forcing the God's flesh to strain against the chains -
  113. Overhead, the eerie, malevolent chuckle of Bal'met resounded, and panic the likes of which He had never felt before set in as the magic of the stricken God's bindings was revealed.
  115. It was a trap.
  117. "No...!" His cry of warning sliced through the chaos of battle, reverberating in the firmament. "He cannot-"
  119. Hastily He rose, turning and scooping the wounded Pandora up in His arms even as Aegis sounded the retreat, breaking into a frantic run, but He didn't need to look back to know that it was too late - too late-
  122. [ Matsuhama ]
  124. Wrenching His mace from the collapsed skull of a Dala'myrr, He stood and surveyed the chaotic battlefield for a moment.
  126. Blood stained His mace and black armour, some even spattering onto the left side of His red face. He'd gotten some of it in His mouth; He could taste its distinctive metallic flavour on His tongue.
  128. Something soft squished under His mailed boot - the lower half of an ormyrr, the top half sliced cleanly off and lost somewhere - Miramar's work, perhaps. He kicked it to the side with some force.
  130. And smiled.
  132. This was where He belonged. Discussions of strategies and plans were all very well, but that was more the domain of Aegis, His Brother, who liked to plan for sieges that could last for years - troops and battle tactics and cavalry and whatnot.
  134. A Dala'myrr lunged at Him from the side, and instinctively He swung His mace in a wide arc, the weapon colliding into the beast with such force that it crumpled instantly to the ground, dead.
  136. He? He lived for the heat of the moment, the jubilant instance when fist met jaw, when blade cleaved flesh, when every breath could be your last. Dancing the fine line between life and death, body and mind in perfect unison, painting the ground in swathes of red.
  138. A legion of ormyrr swarmed towards Him, but He infused His bloody mace with a portion of His power and slammed it as hard as He could into the rocky, wasted ground. Such was the raw power of the ensuing shockwave that every last ormyrr fell before Him, the closest collapsing an inch away from His black boot.
  140. The battlefield was what separated boys from men. Leaders from followers. It would spawn heroes and legends that would last through the centuries to come.
  142. Immortality.
  144. The ground trembled violently underneath Him, and He leapt aside just as yet another worm-like Dala'myrr burst from the rock and soil. With a neat pivot, He used the momentum to throw His weight behind His mace as He swung, crushing its skull with a well-placed blow.
  146. It had been a hard fight, but He was enjoying it. Not since the War of Humanity had He had such a challenge. They were winning, however, the ormyrr forces were falling back, victory was on the horizon. He could feel it.
  148. More and more ormyrr were rushing towards Him, sharp teeth bared in furious snarls; the heady mix of bloodlust and adrenaline pounded through His veins as He returned a savage, bloody grin of His own, swinging His weapon round and round in a deadly whirl.
  150. Come and get me, boys.
  152. His focus narrowed as conscious thought receded into pure instinct, allowing the familiar rhythms of combat to take over as mace crashed into ormyrr over, and over, and over in a macabre dance of death. He delighted in the morbid grace of His fluid movements, dealing out agony and slaughter wherever He touched, supremely confident in His own skill.
  154. The reptiles fell at His feet, first ten, then twenty, thirty, forty - He lost count somewhere around a hundred, but there seemed no end to the scaly tide, always another two ormyrr for every one that fell.
  156. Good.
  158. The lizards screamed all around Him, in pain, in defiance, Dala'myrr roared, wood crashed satisfyingly against scaled flesh, bones broke, blood flowed - utter chaos, but He was exultant, He was alive, He was the Eternal Warrior-
  160. Barely distinguishable in the midst of the cacophony, a distant shout rang out, but He took no heed, lost in the ecstasy of battle.
  162. Had He paid just a fraction more attention, it might have registered that the shout came from Aegis, His brother and general.
  164. He might have realised that the war horns were sounding a frantic retreat, not trumpeting Their victory.
  166. But He did not; and thus it was that when the blast of supernatural power hit, the Warrior departed the realm of the living - the same way all the legendary heroes He once favoured did.
  168. Fighting to His last breath.
  171. [ Miramar ]
  173. Upon the ravaged, sandy plains of Krenindala, two legions of muscular ormyrr marched forward in perfect formation, brandishing sharp bardiches and loosing jets of green flame into the air.
  175. A lone figure, garbed in robes of luminous white silk, stood silently before the advancing reptiles. One hand was clenched around the hilt of a sword resting in a ruby-studded silver scabbard, which the figure now drew out - revealing the weapon to be a slim, sleek blade.
  177. The ormyrr began to pick up speed as they broke into a run, but She was undaunted. Her azure eyes gazed unblinkingly at the oncoming horde, patiently waiting.
  179. Her voice, when She spoke, was low yet steely, carrying across the hot sands.
  181. "For aiding and abetting the divinity known as Bal'met..."
  183. They were a mile away now, thundering towards Her.
  185. " His crime of the murder of Kastalia, one of the exalted members of the Garden..."
  187. Half a mile. She could begin to distinguish individual ormyrr amongst the crowd.
  189. "I find you..."
  191. The pounding of feet upon ground was almost deafening, swords and shields clanging.
  193. Calmly, She lifted Her sword, pointing the wickedly gleaming tip towards the leading ormyrr.
  195. The ormyrr were but scant feet away, inhuman jaws bared in threatening snarls as they surged forth -
  197. "Guilty."
  199. Energy crackled down the length of the blade, erupting from swordpoint in the form of a focused beam of pure white light, slicing a bloody path straight through any unfortunate ormyrr who happened to be caught in its glare.
  201. Though the creatures immediately closed ranks again, the chestnut-haired Goddess simply swiped Her blade back and forth through the air, the accompanying beam trailing death and destruction wherever it passed. Soon enough, despite over two hundred ormyrr being present for the initial attack, at the end She stood as She had in the beginning - alone.
  203. The crackling aura around Her blade subsided as She sheathed Her still-pristine sword, Her austere expression cold as She strode across the bloodsoaked desert and stepped right over the still-twitching corpses.
  205. Justice took no pleasure in punishment; it was simply the way of things.
  207. There were so many of them, and they just kept coming - the forces of the Garden barely seemed to make a dent. It was progress, though, They just needed a little more time. She would bring all these treacherous murderers to their knees for their sins, them and their fell God-
  209. A panicked voice cut through Her vengeful thoughts, bellowing an order. "Fall back to Sapience! Now! GO!"
  211. She would have objected, but something about the raw fear in Aegis's normally unflappable voice made Her obey on instinct. Fleet-footed, She raced towards the link between the worlds; then only did She notice that something was very bright behind Her, and getting brighter - She felt a sense of paralysing dread -
  214. [ Apollyon ]
  216. Suffering was such a beautiful thing.
  218. For those too weak to withstand torment, they would be snuffed out of existence, and naught of worth would be lost; but for the right people, it would mould, shape, bring fire and purpose where before there was none; it would bring Strength.
  220. Now, however, Suffering was beauty; contorting His brother Pentharian's youthful features into a glorious mask of intertwined rage and agony as He stood opposite Him, hands clenched white-knuckled around His swords of Light.
  222. He closed His own slim fingers around His lash, longing to flay the expression off Pentharian's face, briefly visible through the Light that enveloped Him. It was such a work of art, every line and crease wrought by Him and His malevolent Twin over the centuries; its present owner so unappreciative of its magnificence.
  224. He smiled, and the ruby in His eye socket throbbed as the ever-present agony flared, but He welcomed it gladly. Perhaps He would do that, after Pentharian was dead. No - no, -before- He could slip into the void, of course. He had a special place reserved in His Ivory Temple for it...
  226. Cobalt sparks flew as He raised His lash, flicking it tauntingly at the radiant God. "You know the fate of the last deity to feel these barbs," He called out with a smirk, the cruel expression twisting His flawless features. "You have one chance to run before meeting the same end."
  228. Of course, Pentharian wouldn't, because what a blow that would be to His 'honour' predictable, this dull Righteous brother of His.
  230. Oh dear, He'd managed to offend Him, and now He was charging straight at Him, swords out as if it was supposed to resemble some kind of threat.
  232. Please.
  234. The heavens shook as They collided, and without missing a beat They traded blows; He wrenched Pentharian's sword away with His lash, but was ready for the retaliatory thrust, parrying it with His curved kris in an ear-splitting clash of steel on steel.
  236. So close were They, almost touching nose to nose as They threw Their weight behind Their swords, each struggling for purchase. He could read murder in the Light God's narrowed eyes, feel the pain and desire for vengeance like a tangible presence between Them, oppressive in its burning intensity.
  238. He loved it.
  240. "Your precious Miramar's essence strengthens Us as We destroy You. If only She were here to tell You what to do..." the Suffering Lord crooned, His features twisting and warping until, for an impossible instant, the pain-contorted visage of Miramar covered His own face.
  242. "This can only be righted when Evil is forced from this world! You must pay!"
  244. Mirth burst in His heart at His sibling's impotent rage, His dark chuckle resonating louder and louder even as His radiant enemy began a frenzy of more intense attacks - each as useless as the last, turned away easily by deft flicks of His weapon.
  246. Thus did the age-old battle of Good and Evil finally manifest in physical form, every strike and blow a deafening echo in the heavens, insults and curses flying thick and fast. The two Divine were almost a perfect match in skill and might; trading hit after hit, lash glancing off armour, red fog meeting bright beams -
  248. Ahhh...
  250. Agony tore through His body as the rays of pure light struck Him, searing through the corruption of His soul, but the pain was euphoric, was power, was strength, was victory - yes, more...more, -yes- -
  252. He was drunk on the ecstasy of torment, wild laughter ripping from His lips as crimson fog swirled in a torrent around Him, deflecting each powerful strike from the hapless God. The worthless upstart, it would be time to end Him soon but He was so amusing, so utterly enjoyable in His rage, poor little sad excuse for a Divine, how could He ever hope to oppose true Strength?
  254. What were those tiny tendrils of light - oh, the Shallamese were praying? Another derisive laugh echoed across the heavens. So weak, Pentharian, that You need Your foolish mortals to save You...pray all you want, little squirming maggots, still your God will die, still Righteousness will kneel to Suffering, and where will your Light be with no one to save it-
  256. In a single, smooth move, Pentharian roared and charged forward -through- the protective red fog, shattering Apollyon's kris with a blow and thrusting His shining longsword through His gut.
  258. He groaned in pain, disbelief clearly visible in His one dark eye.
  260. What? Impossible...
  262. A dreadful mix of fascinated horror and morbid anticipation washed away all remnants of His previous euphoria as He watched the slow ascent of Pentharian's fist to His eye level, thumb pushed outwards.
  264. No... -no-...this cannot be...
  266. Soon, His thumb was perfectly aligned with the blood-red ruby in Apollyon's eye socket. Without preamble, the God of Righteousness pressed down on the gemstone with all His might.
  268. Pain exploded, waves of it crashing over the Suffering Lord anew with every inch that the ruby sank into His flesh, radiating outwards over His entire body, blood pouring from the socket like a waterfall. He writhed and squirmed with every last bit of His energy, desperately berserk with agony -  He had thought He knew Suffering but there was nothing like this, nothing to compare this ultimate torment with, all His conscious thought could summon was one word - pain, pain, blinding, immeasurable -pain- -
  270. A tortured scream of pure anguish shook the world as Pentharian buried the gem fully in Apollyon's skull, in the next instance wrenching His gleaming blade upwards and splitting the God into two gruesome, gore-filled halves as it tore loose from the top of His head.
  272. Trailing streams of crimson blood, the limp body tipped over and hurtled downwards through the air, evaporating halfway through into black vapour that fell as oily rain upon fog-shrouded Mhaldor Isle.
  274. However, if any could have gazed upon the body in the split second before it dissipated, they might have caught a glimpse of the same strange expression on both halves of Apollyon's ruined face:
  276. A wide, bloody smile.
  279. [ Selene ]
  281. Ugh...
  283. Pain blazed through Her side as consciousness slowly returned to Her, dazedly reaching up to brush one coppery lock off Her forehead.
  285. What...happened...
  287. Her lovely emerald eyes opened a fraction, and the world swam in dizzying swirls for a brief instant before it slowed, and Her vision was gradually restored.
  289. She could make everything out clearly now, the marbled walls of the chamber, the gathered mortals, strangely all terrified-looking...and - oh -no- -
  291. Across the chamber, a terrible form of shifting darkness approached a large, mossy stone, upon which lay a smaller, unmoving body. Rumbling growls of growing anger reverberated around the spacious chamber, echoing off the hard walls and floors.
  293. Realisation flooded back in an icy wave as She struggled frantically to pull Herself upright, ignoring the pain.
  295. Lupus. Bal'met.
  297. No!
  299. Her head was pounding, and Her vision swam with spots from the overly quick movement, but She pushed Her discomfort aside as She saw black smoke curling upwards from around Lupus's vine-wreathed sanctuary. Born of Her tears, the once-gleaming silver flowers that had surrounded the stone were crushed and smoking. Bal'met had clearly attempted an assault; the protection had held, but only just.
  301. There was no time.
  303. Fumbling in Her ivory quiver, She drew out a glittering silver arrow, nocking it in Her famed Crossbow of Heartbreak.
  305. It hadn't failed Her yet, and She prayed that it might save Her again this time; yet somehow, in the deepest recesses of Her mind, She knew with a fatalistic clarity that this would be Her last shot.
  307. The heads of the shell-shocked mortal audience swivelled as one towards Her as She lifted the deadly weapon, pointing it as steadily as She could manage towards the snarling alien god. He turned to face Her as well, His anger subsiding briefly into derisive amusement.
  309. He loomed before Her, dark and monstrous, but strangely She felt nothing but a deep calm even as She tilted Her head to meet His hungry gaze.
  311. "Lupus is protected by My Love," She said, gratified to find Her melodic voice somehow steady. "That is far stronger than anything in Your miserable little arsenal."
  313. Her arms trembled from the strain of holding the crossbow still.
  315. Make it count.
  317. Taking a deep breath, She released the arrow, watching as it whistled through the air to pierce clean through the intruder. A brief flare of satisfaction as He roared in pain, the sound making the very stones of the temple shudder; then abruptly dissolving into cold fear as He rounded on Her in fury.
  319. Before the thought of running could even cross Her mind, His repulsive presence was beside Her, moving so swiftly that not even Her heightened senses had registered the shift in time. He reached one hand out, His clawed fingers - talons - closing around Her slender neck in a vice-like grip, jerking Her upwards off Her feet.
  321. The crossbow fell to the ground with a loud clatter as She struggled, choking and gasping, scrabbling desperately at His unyielding hand, clawing with Her fingernails but it was no use, no use, He was too strong, She couldn't breathe -
  323. The black spots from before began to appear in Her vision again, Her life slowly ebbing away with every breath She could not take. Distantly, She felt the cold air brush against Her skin, something smooth whispering against Her, falling; and knew somehow that Her silks were crumbling and sliding off Her body, unable to withstand the corrosive magic of Bal'met.
  325. Embarassment, however, was the last thing on Her mind as She realised with a cold certainty that She was going to die.
  327. As the last silken veil drifted off Her face, She turned Her emerald gaze to the sleeping form of Lupus below Her, barely able to see through Her tears, feeling more and more of Her power forcefully sucked into the humanoid vortex that was Bal'met.
  329. Lupus...
  331. I love You.
  333. Just before Selene expended Her last breath in a final, soft sigh, a single bright tear trickled down Her pale cheek with agonising slowness, eventually dripping off Her chin and falling towards the ground.
  335. This time, however, no silver flower bloomed to catch it.
  338. [ Indrani ]
  340. She panted slightly, clutching Her bloody side with three of Her hands as Her smouldering eyes raked the flame-wreathed form of the Child-God opposite Her, still swinging His burning flail.
  342. He was more dangerous than She had anticipated. Perhaps His misplaced Pride had some justification after all; but only a little, for was it not still His essence that flowed through Her? In this She had already bested Him, and He did not even know.
  344. She laughed, a low, throaty sound that rumbled across the sky. Though She was wounded and unarmed, Her scimitars wrenched away by Him in Their earlier altercation, She felt no fear.
  346. Pathetic little spawn of the rainbow Goddess.
  348. He hungered for the power She had stolen - the power that She now controlled, and the power He would never have. No one, Divine or mortal, was immune to the insidious, subtle power of Sin; though She had no sword nor shield, She did not need them, for He would destroy Himself through the strength of His Wrath.
  350. All around Them the war raged bitterly in the heavens, allies of Bal'met against the Garden - power against weakness - but when She raised a dusky arm to point directly at Him, Her words rang clearly through the mayhem for Him alone.
  352. "Feel the weight of your avarice, foolish child," She hissed, a single tendril of dark hair escaping from Her neat bun and plastering itself against Her damp cheek. "Even now You surrender to the Wrath You have embraced in the name of Strife, and I grow more powerful yet."
  354. She watched with derisive glee as the realisation appeared to sink in, His ice-blue gaze growing unfocused as the flail slipped from His grasp. Feeling renewed strength surge through Her, She slithered stealthily towards His stumbling form, Her ebon coils twisting and undulating hypnotically as She crept up on Him.
  356. He flailed and lashed out wildly, but She evaded His blows easily, a cruel smirk curling Her lips as She silently drew a serpentine kris from a hidden sheath. It was Her favourite, this blade, and the thought that it would bring about His demise was almost poetic - it was, after all, the very same weapon She had used to draw His essence so many years ago.
  358. She gripped His left shoulder tightly from behind, fingers pressing painfully into the wicked scar across His flesh, hissing in delight as She tenderly traced the sharp tip of Her kris beneath His chin.
  360. "You were but a babe when first You tasted this blade," She whispered, lips against His ear in a macabre caress.
  362. "And now..."
  364. Whatever She might have said next, though, would never be known - for in one swift motion, the apparently ailing God of Strife suddenly grabbed Her wrist and twisted it powerfully, brutally snapping it.
  366. Pain blazed through Her anew as She shrieked in rage, the kris slipping from Her limp fingers.
  368. The audacity! She would -
  370. A gleaming blur sliced towards Her, aiming just below Her chin; She had time only to register that it looked very much like Her kris -
  372. No -
  374. ...
  376. The decapitated body of the former Goddess toppled towards the earth, coils upon coils erupting into scarlet flames before it hit the ground, much like that of Her dead sibling Apollyon.
  378. High above in the Garden, Pandemonium lifted the severed head towards Him, smiling broadly at the sightless eyes.
  380. The God leant in close, whispering a single sentence just before the same crimson fire consumed it whole:
  382. "Pride always comes before a fall."
  384. [ Pandemonium ]
  386. Finally.
  388. After years - no, -decades- - of waiting, of plotting, of preparing - He'd done it.
  390. The usurper Indrani was slain by a combination of Pride and Her own kris - guided by His hand, but still Her kris, the one She had used to drain His power while He slumbered as a child.
  392. The irony of Her death was beyond exquisite.
  394. "I am Chaos and War!" He had roared, unable to contain His triumph. "I am Strife!"
  396. Mother would be so proud, wherever She was. He hoped Father had noticed; for surely the feint He had employed to draw Indrani in was a strategy worthy of the highest praise.
  398. As for His idiotic Twin, She could learn a thing or two from Him.
  400. Unfortunately, He hadn't been given much time to savour His long-overdue victory; His slaughter of the Sinful One had also been an act of divine Vengeance, and that had inadvertently further empowered Keresis, She who most understood His thirst for retribution.
  402. It was a pity. Under different circumstances, They might have been powerful allies.
  404. Fate, however, had other ideas; and thus it was that He found Himself staring down the crimson-skinned Goddess of Vengeance, She brandishing Her Blade of the Dreadlords, He swinging His burning flail in a familiar whirl of fiery menace.
  406. No tricks for this fight, for She had been the best of Shaitan's generals and had already seen Him best Indrani.
  408. They met in a furious clash of steel, Him trying to loop His chain around Her sword, but She whipped it out of range and slashed at Him fiercely; He leapt agilely out of the way and swung the burning spiked ball towards Her shoulder, but He was also just a little too slow as She sidestepped His attack.
  410. A scowl twisted His pale face as He backed off and stared at Her, panting slightly; She responded by baring Her teeth in a vicious smirk. An undercurrent of tension and energy hummed through the ether as Their gazes locked on each other, each trying to subdue the other by sheer will alone.
  412. He was strong, but for whatever reason, She was just that little bit stronger. Letting loose a growl of frustration, He wrenched His gaze away and swiped at Her with His flail; again She ducked, but He had been closer this time - the spiked edges had caught and tore at some of Her ebon tresses, throwing Her careful adornment into disarray.
  414. Thoroughly enraged now, She lunged at Him, and Their battle was one of the fiercest among the many that raged in the Garden, blade and flail flashing and dancing as fast as the eye could follow. Hordes of shrieking daemons set upon him, tearing and biting viciously with their claws, but even so they were nothing more than minor annoyances; Keresis was the real threat.
  416. He had no idea how many minutes, hours, perhaps even days had passed as They fought; distantly He thought He had heard some kind of shout, some roared answer, but there were so many creatures fighting on all fronts and He could not spare the time to turn away, for Keresis would -
  418. A large, ominous shadow loomed in the corner of His vision, and despite Himself, He turned.
  420. A...Dragon?
  422. He saw the monstrous claws swiping down towards Him, twisting neatly away to avoid them.
  424. Unfortunately, He did not see the gleaming black blade that plunged upwards into His body, disembowelling Him in an almost casual move; nor did He hear the anguished cry of Aegis as His son fell into the cold embrace of Death.
  426. Above His lifeless corpse, Keresis drew Her blade out with a sharp tug, a satisfied smile curling Her lips as She turned and stalked away.
  428. Thus was Vengeance doubly served.
  431. [ Melantha ]
  435. [ Melantha ]
  437. Brandishing Her Sabre of Dawn, Her incandescent Sister darted forward a few steps to confront a host of daemons in Her path. Suddenly, the ground rumbled and burst apart behind Her as a Dala'myrr erupted from the earth, shrieking in malevolent greed as it reared and lunged forward towards Mithraea's unprotected back-
  439. Without thinking, Melantha spun Her wrist and pointed Her sickle directly at the alien monstrosity, summoning a blast of verdant energy that brutally punched it away from Mithraea. Wise emerald eyes gleamed in satisfaction as She watched the bulk of the giant reptile soar helplessly through the air, landing with a thunderous crash some distance away.
  441. Golden fire flared as Mithraea decapitated the last daemon with a decisive swing of Her blade, then turning to flash Her a smile equal parts savage and grateful. She answered with a warm, encouraging smile of Her own, brushing an autumn-hued lock of hair back under Her woven hay hat as She did so.
  443. Change and Growth had always worked hand-in-hand, and that was no exception today. As the union flourished well in the harmonious realm of Nature, so did it also thrive in bloody splendour upon the ravaged battlefield.
  445. Just as the two Goddesses prepared to press on, a thunderous, bone-chilling cry resonated through the air:
  447. "SY..CAE..RU..NAX!"
  449. For a moment nothing happened; and then a massive, skeletal claw sliced easily through the boundary between the planes, ripping open the fabric of Creation to reveal a terrifying sight - the enormous form of a long-dead Dragon, all decaying sinew and yellowing bone.
  451. The huge beast roared in challenge, ponderous bellow shaking the heavens and turning the blood in Her veins to ice.
  453. But Ashaxei had been on Their side...
  455. A pointless thought, for the great white Dragon was no more than a crater in the sands of the Mhojave now. She had been formidable; but this monstrosity that Bal'met had summoned wasn't Ashaxei, was something ten times bigger, stronger, older - Sycaerunax, the Father of Dragons, who had sacrificed himself centuries ago upon Krenindala to allow his Dragon brethren to escape -
  457. Or so They thought.
  459. The expression of incredulous horror upon Mithraea's face as the Father of Dragons descended upon and tore apart Bal'met's enchanted prison likely mirrored Her own; They ducked instinctively as Bal'met leapt astride the undead Dragon and swooped over Their heads, but when Mithraea straightened, Her leonine features now held only a grim determination.
  461. "Come, Sister. We fight."
  463. She thought briefly of another wyrm She had fought, many years ago now, one born of evil and darkness just as this was. She had been Demeter then, but She had had to undergo Change - terrible, soul-crushing Change, but Change nonetheless - just like the world around Her, in order to defeat the Wyrm and save all that She loved from certain destruction.
  465. She had done it then.
  467. She could do it again.
  469. "I am with You, Sister."
  471. High above, the sun flared bright in response to Mithraea's ringing battlecry, Her lithe figure racing towards the huge Dragon, bright flames licking up the length of Her sabre.
  473. And She was right there beside Her, sickle flashing and whirling in anticipation as verdant vitality spiralled around Her matronly form, infusing Her with unimaginable strength.
  475. The menacing Dragon loomed above the Goddesses, but They were undaunted. Together, They struck at the wyrm's breast, the raw power of Nature combining with the dazzling fury of the Sun to deliver a powerful blow.
  477. The ensuing blast shattered numerous bones and tore at the crude framework of sinew that held him together; She knew a moment of elation, but it hadn't even made him pause-
  479. Five monstrous claws swept towards Her, too fast even for Her to blink-
  481. ...
  483. A shrill scream of pure agony pierced through the chaos of battle, and mortal onlookers could only watch in horror as the Father of Dragons wrathfully flung Her limp form through the air.
  485. It was in Her beloved Aerinewild that They found Her, lying sprawled upon the grass, tousled hair as red as the blood that pooled upon the forest floor.
  487. Perhaps they would have rushed forward, tried to rouse Her, tried to tend to Her wounds, tried to - anything.
  489. But then the leaves began to fall, one by one, red and gold and brown...
  491. And dead.
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