Book III - Chapter 7

 

What feels like a long time ago, though, I once asked someone a question.

Not because it mattered at the time, or I felt there was a special significance. I asked it simply because wanted to know the answer they’d give me.

If you were a God, what would you do?

Innocent curiosity, soon usurped by providence.

Still, I’ll ask it again.

If you were a God, what would you do?

No matter the answer, in all likelihood, there would be alignments. I know them well: these common themes, where preconceived constructs of morality find themselves already established. Always pushing for someone to land on one of two sides.

Good, or Evil?

For all those who seek good in the world, I know there are people who would bring pain to others. At worst, in a purely malicious sense, at best- to ease their own suffering. Those who keep in their anger simmering by the day, restraint barely held in check, if only by their lack of options to release it.

If they had power, what would they do with it?

No matter how these two opposing forces would choose to see it, I believe that there's already a common-ground. Good or bad, it’s all the same in the end. If handed untold power, they would use it.

After all: wouldn’t you?

……………

Chapter 7

[Talia]

Monsters, in the City of The Emperor.

Years ago, just the notion would have made any man throw their head back in laugh. In the Dungeons or beyond the walls that protected this bastion of mankind, maybe these things might roam. In some regions, more than others, certainly there were monsters afoot. But, in the legendary City of The Emperor? Perhaps, it might be interpreted a joke of poor taste- or, for those with less humor, an offense to the honor of the First King, himself. The City of The Emperor had stood strong since the Empire was founded. How could a monster possibly find its way through to the strongest fortification in all the Empire- over walls hundreds of paces tall, guarded by the Royal Soldiers?

As the creature’s claws cut deep into the stone, and jagged teeth dripped with saliva heaved out a might roar, it seemed that Talia had found an answer to that question. For an instant, she even felt the urge to run.

Just like anyone else, the feeling was present there: in the form of fear, urgency, and terror. When faced with a creature twice her size, with jaws that could tear her, limb from limb: these were instinctive reactions to the sight of danger. Not even an veteran Adventurer could crush them completely.

Still, in this particular instance, Talia felt she came close.

Enveloped in an [Aura of strength] her mace swung down. The sound of bone giving way to blunted steel greeted her, soon followed with a heavy kick, as her boot threw the creature’s back down to the depths it had crawled out from. It screamed in agony, fading off into the black depths from whence it came- just in time for another to take its place, screeching on its emergence from the crevasse now opened in the street’s center.

As often seems to come with combat, Talia found control spiraled out of her grasp from there. While she would have been more than capable of dealing with one monster at a time, dozens of them, coming up along a rather lengthy line of fissures, was slightly too much to ask, and her attention was soon overtaken by a rather large set of gnashing teeth.

All down the line, this same circumstance was repeating. Cracks and breaks in the stone, shaken apart by the tremors rebounding through the earth to spit out further beasts. Giant lizards, to massive centipedes, quickly taking to the surface. The bells rang out from far off towers, accompanied by shouts and screams.

Luckily, she wasn’t alone.

A knife cut through the air. With a wicked spin, the blade flew past her, taking another emerging threat between the eyes. Screaming in pain, a large reptile turned to face its agressor, dagger sticking out of its face like a horn, before the weapon was kicked in- to fatal effect. Graceful as a cat, Tuth landed beside its corpse, two more knives sprouting in his hands: each glowing a particularly nasty shade of red. Behind the man, another voice was chanting, loudly.

By the honor of the First King’s embrace, I call down from the heavens his fire.

Not of smoke and flame, but the gift of the sky, and all its violence.

Wicked beast of foul death, be smited by the lance of justice.

From the air, the glowing scent of burning descended, with a loud crash. One, twice, thrice: the bolts of faith fell to meet their targets, as the boy, Dren, stood tall: weapon raised above his head.

[Smite]

Crashing down to meet their foes, Talia watched as the lesser miracle was performed to perfection. From a safe distance, Dren’s command brought violence, known only to a rare few of the Faith. From his call, the magic burned like flaming javelins, thrown in arcs to the sky. While each casting seemed to stagger him, all three landed as intended- and several monsters met their ends. Talia would have been impressed, if she didn’t have to fend off a the next several creatures that had come up directly afterwards. Each swing of her mace took another down- but there were many more.

Soon, she found herself being driven back.

Though she could overpower the creatures one at a time, there was no organization to the numbers pooling out of the ground. Like blood from a gushing wound, it was just an overwhelming volume. For every terror Talia’s mace struck down, more replaced them. In the distance, she could hear shrill voices, of people less equiped and less experienced, meeting similar threats. Whatever was happening, this was no isolated incident.

“Ha!” Both hands gripping her weapon, she blocked a lunging bite, catching mandibles on the steel, before twisting to shatter them, spinning to take a blow on her chest-plate. Bringing her arms down with a shout, the mace crushed chitin, as she turned to intercept the next threat. Her gauntlet landed a heavy punch, throwing it back.

As Dren summoned another round of [Smite] from the air, Talia caught sight of Tuth- just as a ferocious lizard tackled him to the ground. Knives flashed: several almost mystically appearing in the beast’s neck, but the weight had pinned him. Rushing to throw the corpse off of the man, Talia lost track of the fissure for a second too long.

One instant, she was rolling a dead lizard off of a grateful Tuth. The next, she was coughing blood and half concious, crouched beside a crumbling wall.

“By his wrath, wash away the wounds that bind me.”

“Burn the wickedness that threatens this life.”

Talia felt the pain lessen beneath her chant, as her hands reached blindly for the mace, but finding nothing. In front of her now, Dren stepped up, giving just enough time for Tuth to scramble in before dropping a [Barrier] into place. Talia watched as the layers formed, a frosty mist of glowing light, raised up in an efficient cresent to the wall. Outside it, Talia saw what had given her such a heavy blow.

The beast was mayhem itself.

Among the bodies, where dozens of monsters lay dead or dying: one creature remained to tower over the rest. A seemingly endless number of legs, ends like spears, broke the stone beneath them, as it skittered out to the sunlight. Bright red, the carapace gleamed, while two long strands of antenna flung about, like heavy rope whips. Friend or foe, it cared little. One lesser threat, a lizard, disappeared in a mist of gore, as the centipede swept over it, turning towards the shelter of Dren’s Faith magic, to lurge forward with terrible speed.

"CRASH”

The impact shook the ground, threatened to topple the wall behind them, and send dozens of spider-web fractures all along the spell. Still, planting his feet firmly to the ground, Dren raised his mace with two hands, pressing back as massive mandibles fought for purchase against the spell’s translucent glass. The shattered layers began to fade, enveloped by new portions of the spell, as Dren took a step forward, then another: pushing the mighty creature back.

Though the creature had far from lost interest, the show of strength ended, as it circled, thick legs smashing effortlessly through the wall as it tried to get behind Dren’s spell. Crushing stone and bricks aside, it let out a screech of anger, finding the [Barrier] had formed in a perfect dome, regardless of the building’s presence.

Aggressively, the monster began to curl about, many legs slipping atop the [Barrier] as it continued to search for weakness.

“Where’s the Guard? Talia shouted, as the grinding noises along the spell grew louder. “Doesn’t the City have troops to deal with this?”

“On the edge of the slums? They don’t leave the center districts!” Dren replied, shouting between verses of his chant. “Especially not since the Emperor flew West!”

“Light.” Talia cursed.

Beside her, Tuth shook his head, daggers spinning about fingers in both hands, anxiously. It seemed he’d been scraped up more than Talia had realized.

“Craaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Outside the [Barrier], the centipede had all but encircled their defence. Moving rapidly, curls of its body had begun to block out the external sources of light, while its legs attempted to pierce their defenses and massive pincers clattered above it all.

“Don’t worry.” Dren replied. “We just need to hold out for a few more minutes. Our Guild is just down the street. Help will come.”

As if in response to his statement, the earth shook again. Talia issued a short hymn, once again stabilizing the ground around them, as further buildings suffered under the strain. The unmistakable sound of stones crashing down greeted them, and the centipede broke from its circling- crashing through another wall as it left.

Nearby, a wall fell to the street. Bricks and stones thrown wildly as the monster plowed onward, unconcerned.

“If help doesn’t come, how much longer can you hold?” Talia asked.

“Depends on what it does. I can keep the spell going for awhile, as long as it backs off.” Dren answered, breathing heavy as he took a knee and planted his weapon firmly into the sand. “How about you? After healing so many people today, I’m suprised you can fight at all.”

“I could be in better shape.” Talia admitted.

Beside them, Tuth looked bloodied in more ways than one. Despite his readied posture, the man was clearly covered in wounds from the previous engagement.

“At least the ground is closing up.” Dren noted.

Talia looked, confirming he was partly correct. Though the streets still bore heavy scars from the fissues, as the quake continued many of those seemed to be collapsing in on themselves. Whatever unstable breaks reaching down into the Dungeon, far below the bedrock, resealing with plumes of sand and dust.

“Finally.” As the latest earthquake finally came to an end, Dren relaxed, standing back up with a smile. “Seems like the worst of it is over.”

Then, several blocks down the street, a building exploded, as the giant centipede emerged once more, turning in their direction.

Dropping one of his knives, Tuth put a hand to the bridge of his nose, shaking his head with a sigh.

“That’s not my fault, Tuth.” Dren muttered, in response. “There’s no way that’s my fault.”

Talia watched as Tuth sighed again, this time pulling free the largest dagger, from a sheath on his back.

“Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” The centipede was gaining speed. Using the distance to pick up momentum, its front segments were rearing up, reading for a heavy strike as it charged.

“What if I said I could get us help, right now.” Talia asked.

Dren and Tuth looked to her in surprise.

“How?” Dren asked.

“There’s a price.” Talia answered. “It can be heavy.”

“Is it coin?” Dren looked back towards the charging monster, now only .

Beneath their feet, the monster’s pace was drumming like thunder. Dozens of legs smashing the stone of the street as it quickened its approach.

“It’s not coin.” She answered.

“If it’s not coin, then I think it’s fine.” Dren replied. Setting both his hands on the mace, leaning forward- as if to brace himself, as the [Barrier] began to glow brighter. “How about you, Tuth?”

Spitting out what might have been a molar, Tuth nodded.

Outside the [Barrier] the giant centipede had picked up tremendous speed now, smashing aside any an all obsticles as it charged towards them.

“Do it.” Dren agreed, readying himself once more for an impact against the [Barrier].

“Understood.” Talia took a knee, bowing her head, as if in prayer.

“Spirit, I call upon you.”

“We, three, will pay the price. Humbly, I request a miracle.”

Planting her palm against the soil, already she felt the pull. Against her skin, her bones, mana was draining. Beside her, she saw Tuth drop to his knees, eyes wide with shock as the toll was extracted from him as well. Dren gasped, the barrier beginning to fade: his source of magic no longer capable of sustaining it. All, while in the air, something began to form.

Ghostly, as if made of a substance with no solid mass but mana set aflame. Stronger, the shape grew until it floated before them: a torch of brilliant light.

Then, it spoke.

“So be it, Faithful one.”