Chapter 106 – It was Said
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Chapter 106 – It was Said.

The feeling, the change in atmosphere, it was the same, but a lot stronger. Ueana scrunched up her nose at the stench, potent enough that she could smell it, even though they were still flying above the trees, the swampy ground below just visible through the patchy canopy. She did not like it at all. They were going to find the same thing here, and probably, as Asher was hoping, its protectors as well. At least this time they would be better prepared, both with experience, and the addition of Coorie.

They had spent a day and a bit flying along the coast, the trip not too bad once she had gotten use to the smell of the sea, and the trees had retreated from the coastline somewhat, before Asher had stopped them, circling a sandy and rather inviting beach as she pulled out the ring and checked her bearings. A few hand signals that were easy to interpret, and they changed direction, heading directly towards the forests. Apparently there were some coastal towns in the Confederation that weren’t nestled in the trees, but they hadn’t reached any yet, nor had they spotted, or perhaps even been spotted by, any Sisters of the Wyrm. It was just them, the nature surrounding them, and whatever lay ahead.

This one was uncomfortably close to the sea, the trees quickly thinning out, the blackness of the swamp becoming the dominant feature. Skeletal trees, twisted and gnarled roots clawing their way throughout, clumps of swamp grasses and tussocks, thousands of insects, and a light mist creeping its way through it all. Bonebreaker flew in low, gliding just above the waters as Asher appeared to be looking for something specific, before he gained height again, banking around them, and then heading deeper in.

It was deceptive at first glance, but Ueana was certain that this one was larger, and a lot less friendly. Last time they had seen more than one patch of land, settling down on one that was sizeable enough. This time, there was none. Just a layer of water and mist, and the secrets it held, stretching out in all directions. Even the larger trees had given up on it, just their bare cousins remaining. Were there red eyes under all of it, or just in a certain section? Ueana realised that she had no clue. They hadn’t investigated the previous one thoroughly enough to have any form of basis, but on the other hand, Asher hadn’t tried landing in the water yet either, so perhaps the ring was pointing to a specific point.

The world seemed to get a little darker and a lot colder as a broken structure came into view. Perhaps once it would have been a temple or a castle, or something just as large and grand, a sizeable patch of dry land around it, but now it was nothing more than a collection of glossy darkened stones, the remaining walls no more than knee high in most places, debris strewn everywhere. And about to get a lot worse as it was the only patch of land that they had seen, and it was more than suitable. Stones disintegrated and broke under Bonebreaker’s force of mass as he landed, the rest of them following suit, Ueana trying to get Callisto to be a bit more careful. Sure, he was probably large enough to not care, but she would rather avoid any possible complications, and her familiar was on the same page as her.

It still wasn’t quite large enough for their familiars to be fighting at the same time as them though, not without serious issue at least. That was both good and bad. Callisto had done well last time even from a distance, but their familiars were also part of their strength, part of who they were. And if the superior demon turned up, they’d need every edge they could get. She did not want to suffer the same fate.

She almost expected it to feel a little different, standing at the water’s edge, gazing into its murky depths. The water was mostly still, small ripples from the occasional frog leaping from one leaf to another or diving into the water, and at a glance, everything was normal. But that was part of the illusion, the magic hiding the truth. They were here too, lurking beneath the water.

Stretching out, arms reaching for them, the red eyes glowing with an insatiable hunger as they clawed their way out of the water.

Ueana all but screamed, stumbling back from the edge, before the magic slid off her, gone as quickly as it had come. An illusion, an impression, part of what kept them hidden here. A threat of things to come.

She wasn’t the only one either, Fleur and Coorie standing there beside her, spooked, sharing a look between them. They’d experienced something similar at the ice city. The red eyes were definitely here, just beneath the waters edge. Their time hadn’t come yet, but it would. Asher and Armur remained standing at the edge, swords manifested, poised and ready.

“Come on already,” Asher shouted out into the waters, frustration and eagerness in her voice, a roar from Bonebreaker echoing her sentiment. “We know you’re here.”

The sound floated over the waters, nothing seeming to respond. Perhaps there was nothing here? But that didn’t make sense either. Why guard some, and not others, especially when it was known that ring had been taken. Or was this one not as valuable, even though it felt more oppressive than the other ones, the images from the illusion still fresh in her mind and making her shiver.

The atmosphere shifted slightly, everything becoming just a little bit more darker again, something breaking. Howls tore across the water as some forms raised themselves out of the water, slime, leeches and roots sliding off them, eyes glaring at them with intense hatred and a desire for blood. Demons. Four of them. The same species as last time.

“Is that all you’ve got,” Asher sneered, power flowing through her as she called on her magic. “Let’s do this.”

The familiars launched themselves into the air as Ueana called her magic to herself, reinforcing herself, her hair taking on her aspect, Fleur and Coorie doing likewise beside her, weapons forming in their hands. Demons were nothing to be sneezed at, even the ones that they had fought before. But a little bit of Asher’s confidence had rubbed off on her. These were not the superior demon.

One of the demons went bouncing across the water, Bonebreaker’s claws slamming into it, another swooping back as it attempted to avoid Callisto’s bursts of flame, pelts of stone zipping across the water towards a third. There was no point in not doing what you could before they reached you, even if it was just a partial distraction. Armur stood calmly beside Asher, her blade a fury of energy. Coorie was with them now, and while the lady knight might not admit it, having Armur’s assistance wouldn’t go amiss.

‘Please be careful,’ Ueana sent to Callisto. ‘This place still creeps me out, and Asher may be more right than she knows.’

We’ll make it through this. We need to. We all have each other.’ Another searing hot ball of flame slammed into the water, the demon almost twisting completely out of the way, the water steaming around it as a part of its hide hissed and bubbled. That was almost uncharacteristically sentimental of him, but she felt the same way.

“Let’s do this,” Fleur declared, the three of them bumping their first as one of the demons raced across the water towards them, arms dangling beside it, claws primed. They did indeed have each other.

A couple of shots from Coorie’s war-bow, bolts of energy tearing towards the demon, glancing off its hide but leaving a mark, and then it was on them, screaming in fury. A lunge from Ueana with a spear, the demon twisting off to the side, and into Fleur’s greatsword, the blade slamming into it as ice flared out around her. And then thrown off to the side as Coorie’s war-axe impacted, flecks of ash floating in the air, Ueana dashing up to it, thin blade cutting into it as it tried to balance, flesh searing from the intensity of the heat, Ueana then skipping back out of the way, to the sides of her lovers. The demon howled in agony and pain, glared, and then lunged straight back at them. A dance of blades and death, a flow of weapons, synchronised and in tune. If it wasn’t for the toughness of it’s hide, and its ability to seemingly be able to continue even when its blood was pouring from it, limbs torn and severed, it would have been over in a moment. A pause, a hesitation, as something seemed to take its focus, a fatal mistake, Ueana’s longsword going clean through its neck, the body collapsing to the ground lifeless as she gave a startled yelp, kicking the head off to the side.

The first of Asher’s targets was already dead, its body mushed up in a tomb of stone, its head also gone, the lady knight and Armur already fighting their second one. They worked together well, Armur’s talent more than impressive. The last of the demons though, it was still in the waters of the swamp, just hovering there, its hide black, smoking and blistering, Callisto having stopped his onslaught.

Something’s amiss. It just stopped trying to avoid them, as if...’

A roar of pain as something slammed into Callisto, throwing him down into the swamp, water surging out from the point of impact and flowing over the island on which they were standing.

“Callisto!” Ueana screamed out in panic, looking at her familiar.

Kitni is fine, just a little startled, and it is but a scratch,’ her familiar stated as he pulled himself out of the water, another rush of water as he lifted himself out of the swamp, blood pouring from his hide.

No, it looked a lot worse than that, images flashing through her mind.

Callisto roared, declaration of intent. A challenge. ‘Looks like we have more company,’ he added, his maw glowing with intense heat as he threw a ball of flames across the sky, the hovering demon easily avoiding it. ‘A rematch.

A very familiar demon, that sent chills down her spine. Viscous purple eyes with far too much intelligence, long clawed arms, muscles bulging out everywhere, legs with multiple joints. Oily deep purple skin, a forked tongue as it hissed in amusement at them, wings flapping lazily.

“Blooodsss of the Anciieentsss....” The superior demon. “We meeetssss again...”

A surge of power from Asher, a sickening squelch as something met its end in a gruesome fashion. “That’s the one?”

“Yes,” Coorie spat, her weapon shifting back to a bow, a bolt of energy loosely held in her hand.

Bonebreaker roared, Asher’s dragon flying straight for it. And missing, the demon vanishing as the air shimmered.

And reappearing right in front of her, claws tearing through where she had just been standing, an impulse causing her to dodge back out of the way just in time. The air sizzled, the demon grinning wickedly at her, razor sharp teeth bared.

“It’sss ssstroooong. Mucch pooweeeerrr...”

“And it’s not for you,” Asher declared, suddenly beside her, blade slamming into the demon, the earth around its feet deciding not to cooperate with it any more.

“Oneeess of theeemmm...” the demon hissed back at her, the blade stopped with its claws. A glint in its eyes, a shimmer in the air, and then it vanished again.

“Okay, this is going to be annoying,” Armur muttered, relaxing into a defensive stance, blade held loosely at her side, still glowing intensely with her power.

Don’t forget that we have an edge that others don’t.’

‘Watch yourself,’ she pleaded back. The demon had already hit him once, and left more than just a mark.

It’s you that he’s trying to toy with.’ But still, there was comfort in knowing that the familiars were watching their backs.

Cursing from Fleur as she was pushed across the ground, skidding to a halt with her back against Ueana’s. “That thing packs a punch,” she moaned, giving one of her arms a shake.

“It must be leaving a trace when it does that,” Asher stated as she lunged towards the demon, the earth shifting around it, hands of stone grabbing at its legs, spikes shooting forth with intent to impale. “It’s not like we’re a dull bunch.” The demon twisted, wings beating as it moved itself out of the range of the earth, claws blocking Asher’s blade with a grunt. And then a hiss of annoyance as Armur’s blade cut into its back, energy arcing off the blade and scouring its back. Another shimmer, and it was gone again.

Ueana’s eyes darted around the battlefield, trying to calm herself, to listen over the fierce beating of her heart. Asher was right. It would leave hints. All magic did. A shimmer, a hiss, the demon appearing behind Coorie. Except they did have all of the extra eyes, Coorie reacting before it had fully materialized, almost completely twisting out of the way, the demon’s claws only managing to shred some of her bone armour skirt. A grin on her face, swinging hard, black flames dancing on her blade as Ueana and Fleur dashed over towards her, a lunge from Ueana with a spear, tearing into its wing as it’s claws blocked Coorie’s axe, Fleur’s blade smashing into its face with a blast of cold air and throwing it back. They could do this. She had felt it, a flicker of something.

“Stupid Riidersss...” There was blood on its face, its expression twisting. And then it was gone again.

Ueana looked, searching. It was there somewhere.

“Armur,” Coorie stated, weapon shifting, two bolts streaking across the ground towards a space beside the rider.

The demon hiss as it materialized, swatting the bolts out of the way as it swung its other hand at Armur, leg kicking at her as the sword was torn from her grasp. Armur swore, trying to dodge back, claws tearing into her arm as the demon continued its attack.

“No, you’re the stupid one,” Armur stated through clenched teeth, her blade reforming in her hand, searing with power as she parried its claws, her follow up kick easily avoided. And then Asher’s blade tearing into it as shafts of stone tore through its feet, the earth shifting around it. But grasping at nothing as yet again the demon vanished.

But she could feel it now, its movements. It was bleeding, its trail more potent. And it was heading for them. Ueana tensed, feeding more magic into her weapon as she shifted it into a greatsword, flames dancing along it and along her, and along her bondmates. The shimmer in the air, Ueana judging the timing before she gave it her all, swinging hard. Straight into the arm the demon, a howl of pain, Fleur and Coorie’s impacting just after hers. A spray of blood, a chilling hiss, and then it was gone again.

A game of cat and mouse. Hunter and prey. This time it would be theirs. The rider would be avenged.

A roar from Lizabeth as it changed its target, balls of flame pelting down around them in retaliation, and then another attempted stealth attack, Armur easily deflecting the claws and drawing blood in payment. A swipe at Asher, claws raking Seashae’s side, teeth trying to tear at Fleur’s arm, claws reaching for their tails. More blood drawn on both sides, Ueana growling in pain as it cut into her hand, Armur obviously favouring one side more than the other as she picked herself up off the ground, Fleur’s bone bracers violently ripped from her arms, all of their skeon torn and damaged. The battle was taking its toll. But the demon was bleeding all over now, its vanishing becoming less frequent, its wings in tatters from Coorie’s continual targetting of them. But it wasn’t trying to run or flee.

“You are foooolsss... You haveee no clueee...” A lunge at Asher, a feint, its body moving in impossible ways as it tried to take a bite out her legs. A mistake on its part, stone surging up around the lady knight, her blade stabbed down with a surge of power, blood pouring out everywhere as layers ground against each other.

Asher took a step back, looking at the mess in front of her, limbs limply hanging from the edges. “May your soul rot in whatever hell you came from, if you even have one.”

“Well, well, well. A little band of would be heroes.”

Ueana’s blood ran cold as she looked up.

Crystal bolted upright, the feeling surging through her, panic sinking its claws deep.

Something moved around them, another of the ancients. Clocky’s eyes blazed as he doubled over, dropping to one knee, Fairweather leaping to his aid, her flames intensifying in worry.

“We have to get there. Now.” Clocky’s face was pale, a deep sense of urgency to his voice. He’d seen more than just something.

But she knew that already. They had run out of time.

“Babe?” Rachael looked at her, desperation just as clear on her face. They needed to get to Ueana, it had to be now, and there would be no outside help.

Arrays flared to life around Rachael, her soul-mate already pre-empting what she was going to do, pulling as much power to them as they could, violently ripping mana from everywhere and anywhere. Apart from living creatures though. They weren’t going there. Arrays flared to life around her as well, contributing to Rachael’s ones as she closed her eyes, focusing on Ueana’s connection. Present, vibrant, fragile but strong. But something was amiss. Something wasn’t right. Something else was there as well, something that should not be.

She could still sense the direction, the distance. It had changed, but not by much. But she needed more than that, knowledge that she did not currently possess, knowledge that was necessary, or she would be facing the agonizing pain of loss. And probably a lot worse. She looked, felt, sensed the connection, probing, trying to coax what she needed out from it. It was there, she knew that much, but it was being elusive, something that she wasn’t allowed to have, at least as she wasn’t at the moment.

But she still needed it.

More arrays flared around her as she reached out, to the magic that lurked at the edges of her awareness, to the nature of the shadow realm. She grabbed at it, holding tight as she felt it sear through her, burning, changing. Not her magic, nor her bond with Rachael, nor her sense of self, but something else. Her nature, what she was, reinforcing it. Crystal grimaced, trying to focus on what she sought.

And then it was there, the image crystal clear in her mind.

Another array flared to life, one that she had only used once before, and never before in this way. Not to this extent. She pulled the magic to her, wrapped it around her, and then around all of them, Tayja and Nerida included, and around everything.

She paused for but a heartbeat, brought it all into focus, and then activated the array, the world shifting around them.

Ueana stood rooted to the spot, fear washing over her.

There was no mistaking what it was. The sense, the impression, was all too clear.

What was a thing like that doing here? They weren’t a part of this world in that way, were they? Sure, she’d felt their movements, been touched by one and had a rather personal encounter with another, been gifted their bond. In fact she’d probably had far too much involvement with them, and gained a lot, along with the costs that were extracted, but never in this way.

Never in a physical form.

A beautiful lady floated there, in the sky, unconcerned about their familiars that were flying around her. A noble and attractive face, solid black eyes, long blood red hair that flowed down her back, her mouth twisted into a taunting smile. Six large white angelic wings on her back beating lazily, every single feather tipped red, her body covered in a tight flowing white silk dress, her legs more than a little bit exposed.

An Ancient, whose entire being radiated power.

And a deep, primal hatred.

“You must feel so proud, killing, what, seven demons, and avenging one of your comrades. Such a noble act. Such self sacrifice.” Words said with sarcasm, venom dripping from her voice.

“And who exactly are you?” Asher stood defiantly beside the still bleeding body of the demon, glaring up at the ancient.

“I am many things, but to you, I am The Spited.”

“This is not your world.”

“Oh but it is now. It is.” Another sneer, a pulse of power, the familiars pushed back. The ancient’s eyes washed over them, settling on Ueana. Attention that she did not want, Ueana involuntarily taking a step back. “You, you are her spawn,” The Spited hissed.

Ueana could feel power flowing within her, power from another, defying the ancient in front of her. Giving her strength. Enough at least to look at the ancient.

“What is it that you want?” Asher asked, her body glowing with power, more than Ueana had ever seen her use before.

“Oh, I believe that you have something that belongs to us. And your lives.”

“We do not bow to the whims of your kind. We forge our own paths.”

“Do you now.” Another sneer, and complete disdain.

A flash of movement, the ancient suddenly in front of Asher. “You’re wrong.” Arrays surged out around the ancient, power flowing from her, one hand stretched out, grabbing a hold of Asher’s hair. A roar from Bonebreaker as he surged down towards the pair.

“You will not win, demon.” Asher swung her sword, magic flowing around her.

“Oh, but I already have.” A flash of power, the scent of blood overpowering, washing over everything. Another roar, of anguish, of loss. Of death, Bonebreaker crashing to the ground, his body limp. Asher’s head, held on one of the ancients hands, blood pouring from the torn neck, the ring held in the other.

Ueana stood there frozen, her mind screaming at her to do something, anything, her body not responding at all, even as balls of flame slammed into the ancient, harmlessly bouncing off her side. She couldn’t hear anything, just a background static. They were all going to die. Her, Coorie, Fleur. Callisto, Lily, Seashae. Before they’d even had a chance to fully live their lives together.

Something changed. Something around them shifted, a craft and another dragon appearing in the air.

And another roar, filled with pain and the torment of loss.


She’d taken too long. Arrived too late, even with what she’d done.

A rider and dragon had died. To Arcane. And it was her fault.

Crystal roared again in anguish, pain tearing through her, clawing at her very being. At who she was. At what she was.

Power flowed around her, through her, arrays ablaze as she grabbed at more. She could feel it, dwelling there within her. The core of what she was. Of what they were. Her wings stretched out, strong, powerful, and very much real, her tail wrapped around her, her armour shifting, changing form, reflecting her. No longer arma dea, but something else entirely.

Another roar, a challenge, a declaration, Rachael there beside her.

“Her life was not yours to take Arcane.” She couldn’t hide it, the hurt, the despair. “Not hers, nor Bonebreakers.”

“I will take what lives I want,” Arcane sneered back, her face twisted into something that was as far from Velvet’s as possible.

Arcane moved, appearing in front of Ueana, magic flaring.

“No. You. Don’t.” Crystal shifted, appearing between the two, shield slamming into Arcane and throwing her back, magic burning off around them, Rachael following up, fist slamming into the ancient and pushing her back into the waters edge.

“They are not yours!” Crystal roared, the edges of her vision going red.

Another sneer, a hollow laugh filled with bitterness. “And what is it that you think you are trying to do? You had the choice, for a happy life. A choice that you rejected. And now, you will both pay for your treachery.” More arrays flaring to life around the ancient. Powerful magic. Magic honed to kill.

Crystal closed the distance, her sword materialising in her hand, biting into Arcane’s arm, drawing blood. Her sword, not Erstes Solas. A second sweep, Asher’s head freed, one of the other riders dashing in underneath to catch it, half submerged in the swamp’s waters. “A choice that was a facade. There was no true happiness there. Just a world under your control, the only of the ancients with influence, with any real power.” Rachael was beside her again, another blow, pushing the ancient even further back.

Magic surged towards them, dark, powerful, drenched with blood and fatal intent. Indiscriminate. Rachael swooped off to the side, Crystal bringing her shield to bear as more arrays flared to life under them. Theirs and Velvet’s. Arrays of protection and nullification. The magic slammed into the shield, washing over and around her, pain, anger, hurt. She could feel her skin split and burn, seeping through her reinforcement, her magic reacting, pushing back, pushing it away. She just prayed that the shields were protecting the others as well.

Focus on Arcane. Velvet knows what she’s doing, and the riders aren’t helpless. Shocked, stunned, distraught, yes. But not helpless. And you took the brunt of that.’

Rachael slammed into Arcane again, one punch, then two, a kick, a dodge, a parry with her fist, and then another strike, precise and true. Warriors blessing. Crystal beat her wings, surging in beside her lover, her blade swung with fury, digging deep, Arcane wincing, hatred filling her eyes. Another strike, Arcane trying to deflect the blade with her hands, something dropping from it.

More arrays flared around Arcane, her six wings beating and pulling her back, blood flowing down one arm. “They didn’t believe me, did they. They will come to regret this. And you, you have claimed for yourself a domain, from power that was never meant to be yours. I will take it all from you.” Another change in the magic around them, more arrays flaring to life. A hailstorm of power, indiscriminate, to wipe out the entire area.

she is the only one who regrets,

enraged by her own failings.

“No, that you won’t.” More arrays flaring to life around Rachael, the intent clear across their bond.

Magic surging around her blade, orbs of white fire floating around her, Crystal charging in again, her movement stopped as she slammed into Arcane’s wards. More arrays, more pulling on the power as it burned through her, tendrils of shadow coursing over her. She would stop Arcane. No more riders would die at her hands.

“The leylines are not yours any more.” Rachael declared as her arrays came to life, a shudder in the air around them as her lover wrested control of the leyline, mana surging around them, thick and heavy. Crystal pulled more of it to herself, wrapping it around her, anchoring it to her, and to the power of the shadow realm. Theirs, and not Arcane’s.

Yes, she had taught them this. Yes, she had feared them when the magic had settled. And right now, that was more than a little justified.

Crystal roared, the magic in front of her shattering, shards raining down around her, her orbs of light zipping through, circling around Arcane. The ancient glared at her, hand swiping through one of the orbs, shattering it as her skin burnt.

“You will try, but you can’t kill me. We cannot truly die.” Another twisted grin, her face a mask of death. “Mark my words, child, you will pay. This world, and all that you hoped for, will burn. And the others, the traitors that they are, leeches that have fed off my power for so long, they too will share the same fate.”

A flash of power, a wave of magic soaked in death surging out from her, and then she was gone.

arcane has left the building.

A reference only for them, tinged with sadness and pain.

Crystal turned, looking back at the others, a wave of tiredness washing over, blood dripping down off her armour as she slowly descended to the waters edge. Asher’s body laid there, the two parts joined back together, skin pale and lifeless. Bonebreaker was gone, his body evaporating back into the magic around them as they had fought, accelerated by everything that they had done in the fight.

She had only met them once, but the pain was very real. Landing, she knelt down beside the body, both knees on the ground, eyes closed and tears flowing as she offered a silent prayer. To whom, she had no clue, but the lady knight had not deserved this. Crystal looked up again as one of the riders approached. The only one that she didn’t recognise.

Who then knelt in front of her, blade stabbed into the ground, head bent down. “You look like us, but feel like them. May I ask who or what you are?”

She did not like this kind of attention at all. But the rider had asked, and there was only one answer that she could give, the magic still flowing through her.

“I, we, are the Guardian of Dragons, and Arcane will pay.”

And then she collapsed and blacked out, as everything that she’d done suddenly caught up and slammed into her.

Yes, I did shed tears while writing this chapter. The impact of her death will be felt.

The final chapter of this arc and of volume 3 (107 - Broken) will be out mid next week as per the usual schedule.

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