All Rights Reserved ©

Technographer Chapter 4

Technographer Chapter 4

The Empress

Subelements of magic can be created by combining multiple elements, this can be done when a mage possesses two elements and practises them to near perfection, examples of this are elements like Ice and Metal -’Advanced Elements in magic, Chapter III’

Liam’s leg quaked as the rough beast slouched it’s way towards him, it’s black eyes twinkling with malice. Liam lunged at Sam, grasping him by the shoulders and shaking him wildly “we must fly at once” he begged “please I can’t leave you all alone! Not with that monster! It killed Dom right? It’ll kill us all!”

Sam’s tired eyes panned around from Liam’s face to cast his eyes on the Beast. In a weak hollow voice, that held no fear he whispered “that’s not the one.”

“What? You mean there’s more than one of those monsters?” Liam asked in cracked voice, the Beast was striding towards them now, picking up speed to chase them down. Liam felt his legs tense up with fright, trapping him immobility. His hands were shaking violently and he clamped them together to stop them. We have to fight it Liam’s mind ordered his body, but his body was not obeying conscious demands anymore, it had forgotten that it was supposed to be a warrior and had become a rabbit shuddering in it’s hole. Sorry Master Vestal, sorry Hibernia I can’t fight a monster like that Liam lamented.

Sam’s two friends turned to face the Beast with fists raised, but they showed no sign of using their magic, they simply stood there, a futile wall against the incoming monster.

A white blur flashed past Liam’s peripheral, the roar of a slipstream that made his robes and hair flatten against his skin. A figure, moving at colossal speed, crashed into the Beast. Hugo had bolted into the fray, kicking the Beast in the solar plexus with both his feet. The Beast gave a dull grunt of pain as it was pushed back a foot with it’s claws scraping against the stone floor, but stood it’s ground. The Beast snarled like a big cat, snapping it’s fangs and lunging at his throat. The soles of Hugo’s metal capped boots, still pressed firm against the monster’s chest, pulsed with blue light, slamming the Creature with phenomenal kinetic force, blasting the two of them apart and sending the Beast crashing down the corridor, bellowing outrage all the way.

Hugo landed deftly by Liam’s side, his goggles pulled down over his eyes and knife in his gloved hand. “It’s hide is tough” warned Hugo, keeping his eyes focussed on the Beast as it howled and tried to roll back to it’s feet, “we need to use impact force to to keep it off balance and look for weak spots. Now what can you do?” Hugo asked, looking at Liam expectantly, waiting for him to leap into action.

Liam stared at Hugo like he’d seen something out of a fairytale, something he wasn’t sure truly existed except in the stories of war veterans. “A-are you?” Liam stuttered taking a step backwards “one of them?”

Hugo cocked his head “I’m sorry this isn’t my first language, do you mean ‘am I one of them’ as in on the monster’s side or as in a Technographer?”

“Oh shit you are one of them” Liam yelped taking yet another step backwards.

Hugo grabbed his wrist “ok, thats enough of the arch nemesis routine” he spat furiously “you and I have never met, and you don’t look old enough to have even fought against me on the battlefield so stop sniveling! Now, that monster is getting a second wind and you and me are going to kill it before it eats all of you and your friends. So I’m asking you again WHAT CAN YOU DO?”

Liam flinched, once again he felt paralysed by panic and dread. The Beast had found it’s feet and was striding towards them, spittle frothing from it’s wide angry jaws. Liam barely managed to stutter “water, I can use water.”

Hugo paused as he digested Liams words, then a wide grin broke across his face. “Atta boy” Hugo told him as he released his hold on Liam’s wrist “work your magic and pin him down, then I’ll work mine.”

Liam shakily raised his hands, letting magic flow from within him, spreading out like a net and dragging every molecule of water in the surrounding area to him in a rush of condensation. A violent wall of fog came roaring down each end of the corridor, forcing everyone to halt and shield themselves from a heavy gust. At Liam’s bidding the fog began whirling around the Beast, as if if binding it in cloth. The fog began to knit itself into shape, condensing into ropes of water that bound tight around the Beast’s limbs. The Beast snarled as it tugged at the watery ropes, it’s massive muscles pushed the strength of the ropes to the limit, forcing Liam to force more magic into the ropes water vapour, squeezing tighter than before.

Hugo pelted forwards, flying between Sam’s two goons, who had slumped to the floor after being knocked off balance by the the gust of fog. Hugo jumped an inhuman height over the Beast’s thrashing head, pushing off the ground with his bizarre boots. He gripped his knife with both of his hands, blue electricity splaying across the surface of the blade till the knife seemed to glow with it’s own light. He brought the knife down in a fatal stab, the lighting coated knife piercing through the strong hide like an axe through wood. The electricity from the knife blasted into the creature's back, causing muscles to thrash sporadically and the nervous system to scream in pain.

The Beast bellowed, shaking wildly this way and that like a bull tossing flies from it’s back. It’s rampage was so violent it struck it’s head against one of the walls, with a sickening crack, leaving a smear of blood behind. Quills began to burst from its back like countless deadly blades of grass. Hugo leapt from the Beast's back to avoid the onslaught of spontaneously appearing spines. Hugo’s leap took him to the roof where with another blue flash from the boots kept him lodged to the ceiling, hanging upside down like a bat.

Liam would’ve marveled at Hugo’s bizarre footwear if he wasn’t throwing all the power he could into keeping the Beast contained. It’s strength had exploded out when it was shocked, nearly bursting the bonds apart. Even now when the Beast’s strength had returned to normal Liam was struggling to keep control of the beast. The doctor not two days earlier had warned him not to push himself after his magical exhaustion. Yet here he was, fighting a changeling Beast alongside side a Technographer.

“Kid!” yelled Hugo from his perch on the ceiling, drawing a short pole from his belt “you’ve done your part, get all of your guys out of here! I’ll take care of the beast.”

Liam in between gasps for breath, replied “n-no I’m fine, we can kill it together.” Something was happening to the Beast. The flesh on the legs was changing, morphing from fur and quills to smooth and blubbery flesh.

“Don’t be stubborn!” Hugo yelled back, spotting the Beast’s changing skin “it’s shifting to evade your magic, flee and you can save the others.”

Sure enough the Beast’s flesh had changed to become slick and frictionless, slipping through the watery ropes like they were oiled chains. It took strides towards Liam, and the haunted and defeated mages, it’s wolf fangs bared and blood trickling down into its human-fox eyes. Liam could feel a palpable air surrounding the Beast: a desire for destruction and bloodshed. Liam could only assume with his most feral instincts that this was his very first encounter with that ancient spirit which was a sum of humanity’s very worst aspects: Evil.

Hugo shot down from the ceiling slamming into the Beast’s shoulder like a cannonball, causing the beast to stumble and falter, “run now!” he bellowed as he leapt backwards away from the Beast’s raking claws.

Liam scuttled to Sam’s paralyzed friends “let’s go!” grabbing them by the arms and heaving them halfway to their feet “you want to live? then get Samuel out of here.”

The two mages stumbled on their heels, staring at him with wide horrified eyes, they were still hollow with the terror of seeing their friend butchered in front of them. However they still had the semblance of control required to hurry away from Liam and grab Sam under the arms.

“No!” Sam yelled as his friends dragged him away, heels scraping the ground “we can’t leave Dom behind!”

Liam stooped low over Dom’s still body, Liam could feel the fading warmth in Dom’s skin as he lifted him off the ground. He was a deadweight and it took all of Liam’s limited strength to bear the burden, but take it he did. Then Liam turned away from the battle and lead the group of damaged, hobbling mages down the corridor, away from the pitch battle between man and monster.

Despite the weight of the spear and Isabel’s gear Igna found she could keep pace with Nathan as they weaved through Crowfang’s many complicated halls and corridors. At first Igna thought Nathan was slowed by his armour, but he moved far too fluidly and flexibly for it to be a hindrance. Then she thought perhaps he was slowing down for her, but then it seemed that he barely seemed to be aware of her as they flew through the castle. Then finally she reached her epiphany: he had no idea where he was going.

“Your leader’s to your left” Igna informed him from behind and Nathan obediently darted down the left corridor, “where did your friend go?” Igna called to Nathan “he just up and left us.”

“He probably caught sight of the enemy” Nathan replied without looking back, his gaze was always fixed straight ahead at his objective.

Igna stopped running, coming to a halt and glaring at Nathan as he heard her faltering footsteps and stopped in his tracks. “Wait what about us? We’re not going to fight off the invaders?”

“I’m not” Nathan replied “I’m going to get Isabel, then we’ll see about those invaders.”

“We’ll?” Igna demanded crossly “I don’t care about your friend, I want to save Crowfang!”

Nathan gritted his teeth “we are not a we. I will rescue Isabel and you can do as you wish. Then we -my comrades and I- will defeat the enemy.”

Igna balled her fist, feeling her nails dig into her hand “fine” she spat “your comrade is a floor up on the balcony, the master’s quarters is behind the ornate archway. Have fun” she told him bitterly what an arse she thought bitterly as she turned to leave him behind.

A shadow fell from the sky then. Nathan whirled to see a figure dressed in robes plummet from the floor above and land with an unsteady roll. Before Nathan could even venture to imagine what was happening, the figure had found its feet and had taken off at a mad sprint. These mages sure dress strangely Nathan marveled as the stranger vanished down a nearby corridor who puts yellow eyes on a hood?

With a crash of wood and the clank of chains Isabel landed on the balcony, the remnants of a chair she was wielding like a mace shattering to pieces as it struck the floor. Isabel shot a perceptive look around her, as if searching for a target. As she came across Nathan’s startled face she nodded assertively “the hooded guy” she ordered him in a voice pumped full of authority, “Nathan go after the hooded guy, he’s quick and slippery but you’re faster. Go!”

In an instant Nathan was in gear, blasting off after the hooded figure, leaving behind only the sound of a fast retreating “aye Captain!”

Isabel turned her attention to Igna “thanks for letting my men out” and after looking her up and down added embarrassedly “and carrying all my things.”

“Your soldiers are lazy and rude” Igna informed her, passing over the shield and spear with relief.

“So I’ve been told” Isabel replied with a look of annoyance crossing her face “you should probably head upstairs, your masters have been poisoned.”

Igna’s face went from looking pissed off to complete fury “tell me in your own time why don’t you!” she yelled as she sprinted past Isabel, towards the balcony. No time to take the stairs, Igna reflected as she jumped for the balcony, as her feet met the balcony she sprung off, blasting flames from her feet to create lift. Reaching out with her arms her fingers caught the brim of the balcony and in one strenuous movement she heaved herself up onto the upper floor. There she saw the remnants of the oaken door smashed off its hinges as if by a bull, the tables and chairs scattered and smashed about the room, and the most esteemed masters in all of Arcania face down on the floor. Igna dashed into the room, hovering low above the prone figure of Vestal. Placing a tentative on his breast, she felt the light quiver of life there.

“Redhawk” croaked Hortus weakly as he gently cradled Festus in his arms, and he beckoned to Igna to come closer.

Igna scuttled to the other side of Festus, taking him in her arms too. “Hortus are you well?” Igna asked in her best bedside manner, “did they poison you too?”

“No” Hortus replied with a shake of his head, ignoring for once the fact that Igna did not call him master “but the others they all drank it.”

Igna nodded receptively “I understand I’ll get them to the doctor.”

But Hortus shook his head weakly “no good, it’d take them one at a time, they'd be dead by the time look can get them there.”

“Okay I’ll bring the doctor here then!” she offered fretfully.

Once again the old master shook his head, “please take the burden of Festus. My magic may be able to aid them.” Igna lifted Festus from Hortus’ lap and let the master work his magic. The master placed his hand inside of a pouch at his waist and drew from it a handful of small yellow beans, rolling them in his palms he began to whisper hushed incantations, a faint green glow of light emanating from his palms “Arc of Nature- Path of Nurture: Purifying seeds” he murmured as he opened his palms to revealing a handful of faintly glowing beans. “Each of these contains anti-venom” he explained to Igna “It’ll place them into a sleep that will last a day or so. It ought to be enough to stabilise Festus, however the others drank more than him and they’ll still need a doctor.”

Igna nodded keenly “got it I’ll go get the doctor” she assured him pressing Festus firmly into his grip. “You hold onto him, I’ll be back in a flash.” With that Igna took off out of the room, leaving Hortus to administer his medicine to the masters.

As Igna leapt down from the balcony to the lower floor and pelted towards the hospital, she heard the sound of battle breaking out ahead of her: shrieks of pain, the clang of steel on steel, and most familiar of all the roar of flames. Igna gritted her teeth, she knew had to hurry but she couldn’t let her allies be butchered for the sake of their masters, medicine can wait, I’ll deal with this first.

Listen skulked silently through the Keep, moving silently from shadow to shadow and keeping her footsteps low. Her comrades had begun the rampaging massacre, and just as Mistress’ plan predicted it was the perfect cover for Listen to perform her assassination. It was Sight’s task to eliminate the current masters, it was her’s to remove the last threat, the ex-master Lavande from play. Listen’s ears were sharp as she listened to any and all sounds in her vicinity: the tiniest patting sounds her shoes made with each step, the sounds of each of her own organs grinding and churning within her, and finally the beating heart of the man who was stalking her. She’d detected her pursuer the moment he came within fifty feet of her, but she’d kept up her act of moving stealthily from spot to spot, never looking his way, never showing any sign of detection.

Slowly her pursuer was growing closer, tightrope walking up in the rafters, moving from pole to pole as silently as he could. As he grew closer Listen could ascertain more and more details about him. The sound of his footsteps sounded male, the sound of heavy leather striking his thigh revealed the sword he wore at his waist, and the light clinking of steel seemed to suggest he was wielding chains to bind her in.

I’ll stay put now, reflected Listen the moment he moves to strike I’ll cut him down. Then the hunter’s heart beat disappeared. For half a moment Listen simply halted, she couldn’t grasp how his heart could- Listen lunged to the side, barely evading the lethal arc of the hunter’s sword as it slashed at the nape of her neck. The sword struck the floor, making the horrific sound of ringing steel. With no time to think Listen continued to power backwards, drawing her two swords and lashing out with them like deadly scissor blades. Neither blade their mark but it formed a wall between her and her attacker, preventing him from rushing after her. Listen and her attacker paused before their next attack, analyzing each other’s features. The hunter was a young mage, he wore a long grey coat, his eyes were aglow, emitting a pale violet light and his hair had a distinctive blond cowlick.

“Who are you?” demanded Eric Djavulen, his face set in an expression of deep seated fury “and why are you attacking my Coven?”

Listen didn’t reply, instead she charged her opponent, raining down a pair of slashes at his head and neck. Eric brought his sword round in a two handed swipe, blocking the attacks mid flight. Then Listen swung her second sword back, keeping Eric’s blade in place with her right, and swung her left sword at his arm, aiming to cut it off with one strike. Eric deftly raised his robed forearm to take the blow. The sword struck Eric’s arm and broke through the robes, but rather than cutting deep into flesh the blade struck metal and rebounded, abuzz with the shockwave. Listen blanched once again with shock. In that moment Eric flicked his wrist, releasing the chain he had stashed up his robe’s arm, it wrapped around her blade and tugged it safely out of the way.

“Shadow burst” Eric breathed in a low voice, and a sphere of purple tinted darkness grew rapidly out of nothing in the centre of his palm, Eric slammed his palm forwards, plunging the shadowy orb into Listen’s solar plexus. The orb burst open, unleashing a wave of dark energy that washed over Listen, and sent her flying off her feet. The blast carried her through the air, sailing over the ground and into a wall, where shadow magic erupted in an explosion that kept her pinned against the wall like paper in a hurricane.

When the energy faded away Listen was on her knees with her left sword raised like a shield. “Ouch” she growled bitterly as she slowly clambered to her feet, “savour this moment of satisfaction, it will be the last one you enjoy.”

Eric stood in his place, whirling his chain tauntingly “leave my Keep at once and you and your companions may live” he warned in a harsh tone. Slowly, tentatively he began to allow his magic to come free from the shackles he placed upon it and a shimmering veil of dark energy hovered around his skin, magic swirling and spinning around him like a small cyclone of deep purple shadows.

“Your Keep? So, you must be the young master Djavulen.” Listen asked in a voice that sung of satisfaction “you're known as a great soldier, right? It would be a privilege to measure myself against one such as you. It’s a pity that our fight will be short lived.”

“Don’t be so confident” Eric replied “if you know of my reputation then you ought to know that it is folly to face me one on one.”

Listened laughed wholeheartedly “look at you! so confident in your abilities despite the fact your must surely know that you are known as the weakest of all the masters.”

“Weakest?” asked Eric, drawing closer to Listen, his weapon still raised “that’s subjective, after all wouldn't you fear the weakest in a pack of lions? Even if you defeated me what would do about the other masters?”

Listen didn’t reply, instead she smiled and began to advance upon Eric with her swords to cut him down.

Touch, with a wave of his hand sent another stream of fire at the scattering mages, as he threw another blast of fire into the relentless wave of flame and heat that he left in his wake. The whole chamber was in ruins, all that could burn was alight, and the stones were growing hot. The mages present couldn’t even think of fighting back, they were far too preoccupied with running for their lives and nursing their deep burns. One mage had conjured a solid rock wall up from the floor and he and a few mages had crouched behind it to take shelter from the inferno. Now Touch turned his attention to it, raising both his palms and hitting the wall with a continuous blast of fire. Taking on step in front of the other Touch grew closer and closer to the rock, pumping more power into the spell and upping the heat with every step. Heat began to seep through the stone as the rock wall began to heat up, making the cowering mages sweat profusely. Soon the stones would grow to become unbearable and they would be forced to flee from cover and meet Touch face to face.

Touch laughed gleefully at the thought, how fun it would be to set the mages alight and then proceed to do the same to any mages he came across. Just then a fist slammed into his ear hard enough to knock him off his feet with his ears ringing and hit the floor in a daze. It felt like he’d been kicked by a carthorse. Looking up through dazed eyes he saw a dark skinned young woman descending upon him, fast.

Igna drove her knee into Touch’s stomach with all her weight and strength, as Touch coiled up in a gasp of pain she swung her fist again. Her punch struck him in the cheek hard enough to loosen a tooth and cut her knuckle open, leaving a long smear of blood across Touch’s cheek.

Touch spat out a tooth, and gave Igna a look of outstanding hatred. “Who the fuck are you?” growled Touch, a trickle of blood trickling down his chin.

Igna gave a wide, snide grin “I’m Igna Redhawk. I’m the woman who’s got her knee in your stomach. Who the fuck are you?” Out of the corner of Igna’s eye she saw mages running for cover, scattering in every direction. I’ll hold him down till they’re gone then I’ll run for the doctor Igna thought.

Quick as a snake Touch clasped his hands together, making bright orange light burst out. Then in a wild shout he let out a yell of “eruption!” His whole body began to glow with staggering orange light, and blinding heat began to radiate from his body, a searing wall of scorched air that struck Igna full on. An explosion of flames blasted everything around Touch away with infernal force, sending Igna soaring far far away.

As the wall of heat and fire began to fade away, revealing Touch, standing on his feet wiping the now dry blood from his chin. “Fuck” he cursed as he rubbed gently at his wounds “that bitch knocked out my tooth, that ain’t gonna grow back.” Then as the smoke from the eruption began to clear he got a closer view of the devastation he had caused: the ground was hot and scorched black from his flames, the dead and dying he’d left in his wake were now certainly dead after the last blast, merely charred, curled up remains In particular that girl who’d struck him. She was at the heart of the eruption Touch considered there probably isn’t anything left of her now. All flammable objects in the chamber were aflame, creating a circle of terrific bonfires all around him. Then one of the Bonfires began to shift as the wood inside cracked and collapsed in on itself, and Touch could only stare disbelievingly as Igna walked straight out of the bonfire. She was clothed head to toe in her cloak of fire, and was making unwavering strides towards him.

Touch’s mouth was hanging open as he managed to splutter “you can’t… there’s only one fire mage in all of this part of Arcania.”

Igna absently brushed glowing splinters off her robes as she met Touch’s eye and replied “clearly I’m not from around here.”

Touch clapped his hands together again and his magic flared around him, the red flames forming into his own cloak.

“You're really so concerned about meeting a fellow fire mage?” Igna asked as she cracked her knuckles, preparing herself to fight “shouldn't you be more concerned about fighting water mages? cause we have a lot of those around here.”

“It’ll take a lot more than a splash of water to put out my fire” Touch replied, taking up a stance and readying himself to charge Igna. Just then he yelled as pain exploded in his back and he fell to one knee, a pure white arrow protruding from his back.

“More than a splash of water?” came a voice from behind Touch, Hibernia had entered the chamber from the upper galleries and was holding in her right hand a white, translucent bow, seemingly made of pure ice. Raising her left hand she intoned “Arc of End, Path of Sagittarius: Brace of Arrows” and four more ice arrows appeared in her hand. “I can do much worse than that” she promised, notching all four arrows and drawing back her icy bowstring.

Touch looked wildly between Igna who was consumed in her own personal inferno, and Hiberia who was wielding a bow which was impossibly made of frost. He knew for certain couldn’t face both at the same time, there was only one option left: flee.

Igna saw his next move coming and threw a large fireball at Touch, but he had already gone, diving out of the way and sprinting towards the exit. Hibernia launched a volley of arrows at him but he directed flames from his palms behind him, granting him a burst of speed that let him outstrip the volley of arrows. Igna pelted after him, mimicking his move and firing flames from her palms to increase her speed. Hibernia made to come after her but Igna yelled to her “I’ll take care of him! You rally the troops and get everyone under control; we can’t fend them off with everyone panicking! Oh! and send someone out to get the doctor to the masters! they’ve all been poisoned!” Then before Hibernia could respond, or formulate a question Igna had vanished from sight, tearing after Touch and leaving a trail of fire behind her.

Sight was crouched low behind a bookshelf, trying to catch his breath and keep his presence hidden. It had been one mad scramble to safety once Isabel and Nathan had started chasing him down. Nathan was fast enough to keep on his heels and Isabel was always there to lunge at him whenever he outmanoeuvred Nathan. Know he’d shaken them it was simply a matter of keeping quiet till they moved on so he could slink away and find Listen. He’d doomed all but one of the Masters, if he could aid Listen in the murder of Lavande then that would certainly be enough to keep master content with his work.

The sound of a footstep silenced his thoughts, he pressed himself against the bookshelf as if willing himself to be smaller, and he clutched his sword in his hand, ready to swing it in a deadly arc. Listening harder he could discern that it was more than one pair of footsteps approaching him that accursed pair he thought heatedly they followed me into this library. But he was safe he knew, Sight had received his name for a single reason: his impeccable vision. He could see clearly that he had left no tracks on the floor, no prints in the dust, no sign of his existence at all. Yet they approach he thought as fear began to rise from deep within him. He ceased his breathing as the footsteps reached the other side of the book case and halted. There was no sound of movement as he waited in absolute deathly quiet. Then the footsteps began again, but fading this time, drawing further and further away. Sight almost breathed a sigh of relief, but he daren’t exhale. Then he began to feel a shift in the bookshelf, the teeniest change in incline and the shifting of books on the panels. Eyes going wide with shock he scrambled up and away, his feet scratching and scraping at the floor tiles as he bolted away from the falling bookshelf. Sight was fast on his feet, but he wasn’t fast enough to escape the cascade of heavy leather bound tomes collapsing on him like a barrage of sea spray as the bookcase toppled down on him. Sight hurled himself away from the bookcase as it struck the ground with a resounding clatter, hurling a sheen of dust into the air.

Isabel watched bemused as Sight scrabbled on the floor rising to his feet from his knees, in the slow movements of equal pain and shame. Then she watched as Nathan rocketed into her vision, and delivered a missile-like kick to Sight’s side, knocking him off his feet and sending him rolling across the floor, holding his side in pain. Nathan’s heels emitted a trail of white jet plumes as he spun to a halt, grinding his feet to a halt against the floor. He’d revealed his trump card.

“A Pégase.” Sight rasped, still clutching his side in pain as he got slowly to his feet “you crafty runners were infamous during the war, now I get to see one with my own eyes.” Nathan blasted forwards, the jets in his boots firing and leaving a white trail behind him, he swung his foot like an axe, swishing it through the air. Sight swerved out of the way of the blow, feeling the breeze of the blow whistle by his cheek, and feeling the intense heat of the rocket singe his cloak. He backed up sharply, bringing his sword up to guard himself. Nathan and Isabel began to pace cautiously towards Sight with weapons raised till he was backed up against a bookshelf. Sight had the look of a wounded stag pinned beneath the wolves, its black eyes wide with the terror of experiencing the oblivion of death. He readied himself both in body and mind to charge the two, to plunge his sword into their breast, regardless of whether he escaped with his life.

Just as Sight was about to leap upon the two soldiers, a terrible crashing sound burst into their ears, the sound of crumbling stone and cracking mortar. A floor above them a balcony door burst open to the sound of splintered wood, and Hugo appeared, sprinting forwards and vaulting over the balcony. Hugo, barely even looking down at the abyss he was throwing himself into, leapt down at least seven meters and landing atop the bookshelves, slipping and falling from the bookshelf to the stony ground. However before anyone could move a muscle, a colossal beast burst through the balcony, tearing the door of its hinges, and sending both the balcony and itself crashing towards the ground. It crushed a bookshelf as it fell on its side with a huge thump. As bookshelves toppled down, the Beast was still active, scrambling towards Hugo, swiping at his prone figure with a long clawed foreleg, whilst inching itself out of the rubble of balcony and bookshelf.

All of a sudden Nathan was in motion. With no more reason to hide his gadgets he unleashed the hidden jets on his armour, blasting towards Hugo at inhuman speed. Letting out a powerful shout of outrage he plunged his sword forwards, piercing through the beast’s hide and deep into it’s flesh. “Back off!” he bellowed at the Beast, tearing his blade from its flesh as it roared in pain. The Beast reared back drawing itself back into the rubble, granting Hugo and Nathan the time needed to scramble to a safe distance.

“Thanks” Hugo breathed heavily as he warily stated at the Beast’s fox eyes. “I never was a great animal lover.”

Sight seized his opportunity and tried to dash past Isabel, but Isabel slammed him with her shield as he ran, sending him toppling to the ground, his sword skittering out of reach. “Don’t even think about moving” Isabel warned, putting her weight onto Sight’s leg and holding the point of her spear just above his adam’s apple.

Nathan stared at the massive Beast with a mix of horror and amazement. He’d never seen such a bizarre creature; it must surely be either an act of nature’s sublime power, or else created by a magical travesty. “Who created this thing?” he wondered aloud as it tossed and turned trying to shift the rubble from its back.

“That’s not all it does” Hugo warned, slumped on his knees and breathing heavily “it can change its flesh and form. It seems to be able to change its features to that of any living creature.” Sure enough the beast’s skin began to change, its fur retreating into its hide, its skin changing from the dull yellow skin of a hound to dark scales of a snake. It began to slither out of mass of stone, wood and paper, but with every shifting move the rubble pressed tighter against the Beast’s back, pinning it down. “Well it’s not going anywhere soon” Hugo said relieved. Nathan gently offered Hugo his hand, offering him a way to his feet. Hugo took his hand and got to his feet, rubbing his sores where he'd struck the ground painfully. “That thing is tough to take down I can tell you, I kept shocking but it made its skin harder. I start knocking it around; it goes blubbery and rolls with the hits.”

Isabel turned her head to inspect her comrades “still got all your limbs you two?” she asked playfully.

In that moment Sight struck. A spot of intense whiteness within the shadows of his hood burst out like a beacon. Alarmed, Isabel had barely enough time to raise her shield before a beam of white light blasted out of the hood, the light struck the shield and delivered a colossal payload of kinetic force that threw Isabel high into the air.

Nathan threw himself into gear again, drawing his sword and rocketing towards Sight. Nathan slashed wildly at Sight, but Sight ducked the attack and rolled out of way, snatching up his sword and readying himself for a fight. Nathan fixed Sight with a look of outrage “you! you’ve been holding back your powers all this time.”

Sight fixed his hood, making sure it was secure in covering his face. “Don’t be so hard on yourself” he taunted “I was simply waiting for the ideal time to eliminate the most dangerous foe. Now that it’s one on one it won’t take long to eliminate you and proceed with the mission.”

Hugo sprinted towards Sight, drawing another one of his knives from his belt, heaving it back to stab Sight in the back. “How’s this for one on one?” he yelled, blue sparks flying from the knife blade. Then claws bit into Hugo back, and a heavy mass of flesh slammed him to the ground. Whirling round Hugo swiped with his knife at his attacker’s throat only to have his hand halted by an iron grip. Pressing down on him was a wild looking man, with a mess of dark hair, and a maze of countless scars on his face and exposed torso. His eyes were a luminous orange and for pupil a horizontal slit: a fox’s eye. Shooting a glance back towards the rubble where the Beast should be pinned, thrashing and snarling like a lion in a cage. Instead the Beast was slumped lifelessly, its head completely missing. He’s the beast? Hugo thought in alarm he detached a hidden human body from his animal body. What is he? With no more time to think Hugo slammed as much power as his gloves could handle, blasting the Beast off of him with a wild yelp, sending him spasming into a bookshelf.

Nathan could pay this no heed however, for Sight had launched himself at him, lunging and riposting faster than Nathan could think. He was being forced backwards, retreating out of range of the sword with every step to stop himself from being skewered. Nathan hardly had time to react to the endless attack, all he could do was block and weave out of the way. Twice already he’d been struck, a cut on his flank and a long shallow cut across on his chest.

“That’ll leave a scar” Sight commented delightedly as blood splashed off his sword and Nathan threw himself further back out of the way. With that Nathan leapt up in the air, using his jets to boost him up to the top of a bookshelf. There he crouched low, nursing his wounds and surveying the scene: there was still no sign of Isabel, Hugo was scrapping with the Beast who seemed to have turned into a human being. This hooded guy’s not even trying he thought angrily to himself I guess I have to level the playing field. He reached into a pouch on his leg and drew out his secret weapon: a pair of tinted glasses.

Eric was locked in fierce combat, a brutal dance of clanging steel and savage air currents. It became clear to Eric within moments of the fight commencing that he was dealing with a true master. There were no flaws in his foe's actions as she began her dual bladed assault on him. Without the element of surprise on his side the fight was hers to dictate, but of course there were two more elements that Eric could rely on. “Gale swipe” Eric intoned as he swung his broadsword, Eric’s spell took the form of wind circling his blade, gripping the blade like an invisible hand which swung the blade with him. With the added strength of the wind guiding his blade Eric struck Listen’s longer sword up and out of the way. Listen tried to fall back to close her defence, but Eric wasn’t done. Bringing his sword down for swing he pumped more magic into his sword letting out of a yell “Wind Wrath!” a sudden intense tail wind seemed to grip Eric, an enchantment that let him burst forwards and with both hands bring his sword crashing down towards her neck. Listen caught the blow with her short left sword, but her defence was slim and Eric’s blade came dangerously close to Listen’s neck. Eric, in a voice more snarl than word, let out with one last breath “Moon Cleave” purple darkness engulfed his sword and flooded to the edge. The darkened edge struck Listen’s sword, and the darkness seemed to come alive as the swords met. The shadows bit at Listen’s sword attempting to slice the steel in twain like an axe through wood.

“Sip, Gula” Listen breathed in a rushed voice. As if on cue the shadows were forcibly dragged off of Eric’s sword, slurped up ravenously by the sword. Eric reflexively took a step back out of the struggle, drawing his sword closer to him and examining the surface of the blade. The magic he’d sent surging through the metal had vanished, both wind and shadow elements and been guzzled up.

“Sorry about that” Listen admitted stepping back and sheathing her shorter sword “Gula often get’s hungry and can’t help but gobble up my foe’s magic” she gripped her longer sword with both hands “your magic was quite tasty I assure you, in fact-” and here she drew back her long sword to swing and lunged forwards “Invidia might get jealous.” The longer sword burst out with white light, magic flowing through the blade just as it had for Eric’s. “Traitor’s Blade, Invidia,” as Listen swung the blade a wave of energy burst forth from the tip of the sword, forming a deadly crescent blast of energy that surged off of the point of the blade and through the air. Eric’s eyes widened as the energy swipe bore down on him like a blinding avalanche of magic power. Eric’s robes were torn asunder and blasted to smithereens as the wave ripped straight through them.

Tossing Invidia jauntily from hand to hand Listen inspected the damage. Her slash had blasted a trench of cracked stone a whole ten meters away from her, Invidia had done some truly terrible damage to the chamber. Eric’s cloak was lying in a tattered wreck, tore completely in two, a smouldering wreck, no sign of Eric himself however.

“I get it now” came a voice high up above Listen, Listen cast her gaze up quizzically but caught no sign of Eric. “Your power” Eric’s disembodied voice continued “it all revolves around the use of your swords.” Closing her eyes Listen quickly focused on the many sounds of Eric, with her power she could hear it all: the hushed music of his voice, the taut stretching of muscle, and the quivering of organs deep within his body.

Got you she fought triumphantly “share the spoils, Invidia” she whispered as she sheathed Invidia, it’s power flowing from the hilt, to her hand, where it the flooded through her body, before finally collecting in the muscles of her legs. The power exploded outward as she jumped, sending her soaring into the rafters where she landed, blades in hand, with all the grace of a ballerina and the lethality of a warrior. There was Eric standing across from her, his cloak gone and his hair bedraggled, the blond tuft having fallen low over his left eye. Without his cloak there was nothing to hide his dark steel breast plate, or the long chain wrapped around his arm.

“Those swords” said Eric “they’re not just magic swords are they. They’re sister swords, sharing a link of consciousness and magic.” Listen cocked her head curiously, motioning for Eric to keep hypothesising. “You aren’t just the wielder, you are the conduit too” Eric theorised “the younger sword” here he gestured at Gula “devours my magic spells, allowing you absorb the shadows on my sword slash, and survive the explosion of my shadowsphere. Then the older sword steals the magic back and throws it back to me, or else bolsters your own strength allowing you to jump inhuman heights. So tell me, am I right?”

Listen clicked her tongue disdainfully “not quite, though you certainly figured out a worrisome amount. I wish we had some people as bright as you on our mission, things would go over far more smoothly.” Listen seemed to be not simply staring into Eric’s eyes but at them “someone with talents like yours would fit right in.”

Eric grimaced “oh, so you’ve been analysing my powers too. That’s a pain, I’ve always been good at keeping it hidden.”

Listen snorted “the glowing eyes is a bit of a giveaway, there’s only one place something like that can come from: Project Lear.”

Eric raised his eyebrows “Project Lear? Now that’s something I haven’t heard of in quite some time. Not since they talented scouted me, and I said no. I see you took them up the offer.”

Listen’s eyes widened with shock and shame, she’d given away far more than she’d intended.

Eric nodded solemnly “yes well the evidence for that was shaky. However if you’d allow me, I’d like to take a stab in the dark?” Listen nodded slowly, eyeing Eric with a look of amused caution, as if she was really interested in whether he could truly pierce her secrets. For a moment Eric paused in cautious reflection before saying “I’ve never seen someone with wizard marks behind their ears before, I heard rumors of secret Project Lear attempting to create such an enchantment back during the war. So I guess it’s enhanced hearing, right?”

Listen clicked her tongue again “you're right, but you’re not right enough. It’s not simply a matter of improved senses, oh no. I hear everything; I hear the music of magic and the songs of souls. I hear beyond your voice and your telltale footsteps. I can hear your whole story, your mind and feelings are practically yelling out your feelings, your desires, and your ego.” Listen seemed transfixed by her own narration of her powers. Eric’s hands were growing tense as he gripped his sword harder and harder, feeling vulnerable as Listen plucked secrets from his head. Listen kept going, “but there’s one power I pride myself in more than any other. The one that serves my mistress better than any of her subjects: The Music of Rebuke. I can hear your guilt, your mind pleading for the forgiveness of your sins. I can hear your suppressed feelings, your complete, all consuming, perfect anger.”

Eric vanished. In a blink of purple light he had disappeared in an instant. Listen went on full alert picking up every sound around her, ready for anything. There! she found the beating of his heart, the rhythmic patter pumping out, not five feet behind her! Listen desperately threw herself forwards, too late to avoid Eric’s slash, her skin and muscle cut open. Blood spilling from her back she threw herself down from the wooden beam in a truly desperate attempt at escape. Then an iron grip whipped round her leg, clamping shut like a vice, leaving her suspended face down, high over the ground. The jolt of the impact sent pain shooting through her leg, looking up she saw that Eric had thrown his chain at her, using wind magic to wrap one end round her leg and the other round the beam, leaving her bound and caught. Eric raised his sword to swing, and Listen heard the magic surging throughout Eric’s body, readying to launch at her.

Listen raised Gula in front of her, ready to cut through any bolt of shadow Eric threw at her. As Eric’s swing hit it’s zenith, he lashed out with his empty hand, surging his magic to that palm and shooting out a spell. With no incantation Listen had no clue what the spell was, she saw no energy and all she heard was the rush of air. All of a sudden pain shot through her leg once more as an invisible knife cut a shallow, bloody, trench into her leg. Then pain shot through her pelvis as she was struck again, then again in her arm, and the worst pain yet came when the flurry of invisible knives slashed a diagonal line all across her abdomen. Blades of wind she thought as the swept Gula wildly in front of her, he’s killing me one tiny cut at a time.

Desperately Listen swung Invidia in a savage swipe, unleashing a slash of white energy which cut the wooden beam in two and let her fall. Plummeting towards the ground Listen struggled to wrench herself into position to take the fall on her feet. A spear of wind whistled past her, striking the ground and sending up a plume of dust to meet her. Listen desperately plunged her swords into their sheaves and threw all the power she could muster to Invidia grant me the power to survive this fall she implored. Magic surged to her legs mere meters above the ground, nullifying as much of the impact as it could. However even that was not enough to save her completely, she still struck the ground hard and her injured leg sent out waves of pain in response. Lying low on the floor she heard the roar of an incantation up above her, and with no time to draw her sword, she rolled out of the way as fast as she could. The sphere of purple shadows blasted into the ground like a comet, the shockwave lifting her up and throwing her away like a ball. She skittered across the ground, before coming to a halt in a pained heap of sore muscles and bleeding wounds.

Eric was plummeting towards her, his sword raised above his head for a swing, dark shadows of magic trailing behind it. “Nightsky Slash!” he bellowed swinging his sword down and unleashing a massive wave of energy at her. The magic crashed down on her as she turned wildly to face it. Immediately the blast spilled over her the ground like water, cracking, and tearing up stone tiles and sending them in all directions with the impact of the strike. Eric struck the ground with a blanket of wind forming under him cushioning the wall. To him the drop was like landing on a mattress. His spell had turned into an inky plane of shadows masking the ground, thrashing and tearing at Listen like a pond full of sharks. Shadow Magic by its very nature was dark and destructive, it was more than just an absence of light it was the very negative of light. Where light was instinctively nurturing and kind, the shadows were bitter and destructive, a seemingly alive and cunning element that wrapped around and attacked any matter it came into contact with. There were few mages who dared tamper with it at any level, there were far far fewer who natural inherited the trait from their clan and were trained in its use from infancy. Eric was one of those few.

The sea of shadowy magic began to halter in its churning and thrashing, the shadows instead began to turn in a wide circle, spiralling around the center like a whirlpool. Faster and faster the magic spun as it was sucked inwards to the center, vanishing in a single point. Eric looked on in irritation as the last of his magic slipped away and was consumed by Gluta, slipping down the blade and into Listen’s awaiting arms. Listen clambered shakily to her feet, her arms trembling as she held her swords up. Blood clung to her skin all across her body spreading patches of deep red across her clothes, and leaving many drops of blood in her wake as she stumbled forwards, leaning on one leg more than the other. She might have looked a wreck were it not for the buzz of power hanging about her, a white aura of power which Eric could feel prickle the hair on his arms. “Thanks for the snack” she breathed heavily “if you’d been patient and finished me off carefully I’d be dead, but you let your fury take over and guide your actions.” Eric said nothing; he’d thrown so much of his power into that attack to utterly obliterate her, now it had simply given her power. Listen carried on, satisfaction ringing through her voice “you keep all that anger bottled up don’t you. Keeping a cool, polite persona just to hide all that bitter anger you keep locked away. Master Eric Djavulen, perhaps you need a new name? I think Wrath suits you better. It’s far more appropriate.” Then Listen stopped and look of seriousness came across her face “you know the more I think on it” she informed him with an air of disappointment “the more I realise you could never have been one of us. You fight to alleviate the anger you have directed at an individual at everything you can excuse as an enemy, whereas I fight to make the world a better place.”

“I wasn’t aware that mass murder was making the world a better place” Eric growled icily. “What’s it all for?”

“For the Empress.” Listen intoned as if it were a plea to a higher power.

Eric breathed out, attempting to reign in the anger which had overtaken him and take control of himself once again. She's stronger than she was before, I can’t be reckless anymore. Listen began to stride towards Eric, her swords raised and immense power clinging to her like moss. He began to stride towards too, raising his sword and summoning up all the power he could. A dark aura began to hang about his skin, his eyes aglow with menacing light, this was it, the last offensive, and Eric could tell he wasn’t going to escape without spilling his own blood.

Touch and Igna were a cloud of wildfire weaving and clashing over the dusty surfaces of the library. Sparks and embers burst off of them, threatening to set the whole place ablaze. Touch threw spout after spout of fire at Igna, each one merely sliding over her cloak of fire. Igna in turn coiled her flames round her fist, letting the flames explode outwards with every blow she landed, producing shockwaves that knocked Touch backwards and made his ears ring. As Touch continually scrambled backwards out of Igna’s way, raising his arms and a shield of flame to ward off blows and heat. As Igna fired flames from the sole of her left foot, blasting herself forwards at top speed, chambering her other leg to strike out at full power. “Phoenix Talon!” Igna yelled sending magic surging to her foot, the flames coiling into the savage shape of the muscly and razor sharp foot of a falcon. Striking out with all her strength Igna slipped right under Touch’s guard and hit him straight in the stomach, the flames burst outwards in a blast of orange fire and light. Touch was carried off his feet by the spell, rolling backwards on the floor, clutching his stomach in pain. Igna halted the flow of magic to her leg, letting the intense waves of heat emanating from it stop and settle back down into the sheen of flames that coated her whole body. “I think it’s time you stopped fighting and accepted defeat” Igna reasoned, marching on Touch and pressing on his leg, holding him down. “I’m in a hurry and I’m gonna need you to tell who the hell you are.” Touch looked around sharply searching around for a way to escape, that was until Igna stomped on Touch’s knee, making him yelp and twist with pain. “Please don’t make me do that again” Igna pleaded in voice of both anger and pity “just tell me, who are you?”

Touch ground his teeth, his forehead creased with fury “Touch” he growled wretchedly “my name’s Touch.”

Igna grunted amusedly “nice name, not your real one.”

“I haven't answered to my real name in a long time” he retorted “it hardly means anything to me anymore.”

Igna nodded “now we’re getting somewhere, how many of you are there? why are you attacking us?”

Touch spat “Fuck that. I want to keep my head, if I was to give up our plans my companions would leave me bleeding in a ditch. After they’d killed you of course.”

Igna grimaced “with friends like that who needs enemies? You sure you’re fighting for the right side?”

A look of almost blissful satisfaction and hope came into Touch’s eyes, one which completely disarmed Igna. “The mission is worth all the suffering in the world, who cares if I must fight and even die alongside criminals and maniacs.”

“You better have a bloody good reason to attack us” Igna fumed vengefully “it better fucking be worth the deaths of my allies, or else you’ll wish you’d betrayed your companions.”

“We only want what your master refuses to grant us!” Touch growled heatedly, losing sight of himself for the moment “what our nation fought for for years, only to have it snatched away from us by cowards.”

“My master?” Igna wondered “you mean Eric? Master Djavulen?”

Touch laughed out loud, tilting back his head and letting loose a howl “that smallfry? Don’t be stupid, he’s probably lying dead in pool of spit and vomit at this point.”

Igna knew that Eric had not succumbed to the poison, but there was no need to let the enemy know that one of Crowfang’s powerhouses was still alive and fighting. “So it’s Archmage Crowfang you’re after” Igna deduced “he’s not around at the moment but I can take a message if you want.”

“Crowfang’s smallfry too compared to the real culprit. Hell, Crowfang could be our closest friend, after all he wants the same as us: to finish the job we started, but he’s locked in a cage by his master.”

Igna’s eyes widened suddenly as her mind made the leap “the king? You wish to kill King Francis? What has he done but bring peace?”

Touch snarled at her, jolting upwards so fast that Igna drew back her fist, threatening to punch his lights out before he restrained himself. “What has he done but make us weak?” Touch demanded in a hideous voice “he called to a halt a war we could’ve won, taken back the lands we lost to the Sage empire! Instead he ended the war calling it a stalemate when in reality it was a defeat.”

Igna pressed harder on Touch’s leg, shoving him roughly back to the floor “you know nothing!” she spat at him like he revolted her. “King Francis brought an end to the war that his brother began when he was king, a war that bankrupted Arcania and left Sage a battleground devoid of morality! Surely you were a soldier, how could you do anything but rejoice when the call to retreat came?”

“There’s no way you could’ve fought for Arcania” Touch shot back “how can you pretend to know anything about our plight?”

“I served no one in the war” Igna retorted “I had my own battles to fight, but I was there, I saw the last days of that pushing match you called your triumph. You can’t want that back.” Igna and Touch were locked in a conflict of voices and ideals, a fight neither of them were retreating from.

“Francis is weak” Touch growled, “he cannot lead the nation.”

“So who would rule in his place?” Igna demanded “you? replace the king with a maniac?”

Touch spat “I’m content to be a foot soldier for few, only those worthy of admiration, only those who can lead. I will not take the throne for myself, I will give it to the rightful Empress, the one who will make us great again.”

“So be it” Touch growled, clenching his fists and setting alight to them “I’ll burn you and your ideals away with this castle. Leave it as a message for Crowfang and his king, that the time’s come to begin the conflict again. You’ll be the smoke that warns off the coming war.” At once he and Igna lashed out at each other, each letting loose a fireball that exploded outwards, as the two infernos collided and spilled bright flames everywhere. Thrown backwards by the blast Igna and Touch staggered heavily, but the two fighters managed to keep their footing and managed to face each other down. Touch hurtled bodily at Igna, lowering his head and barrelling into her, his head slamming into Igna’s stomach. Igna curled up in pain, the breath knocked out of her, the tips of her boots scrabbling at the floor boards. Igna pushed back against Touch, putting all her might into matching his assault. Igna brought her elbow up and brought it down as hard as she could between Touch’s shoulder blades. He jolted with pain and his grip slackened round Igna’s back. Igna didn’t hesitate a moment, slamming her knee into the Touch’s stomach and throwing him to the side, keeping him at a distance.

As Touch tumbled away from Igna, there was a sudden clang like a simbel as Touch’s head clashed with the face of a shield. Touch fell to the ground clutching at his scalp and cursing bitterly. Isabel’s foot descended onto Touch’s chest, a weight like an anvil pressed firmly on his ribs, pressing them tight against his lungs. Isabel looked up at Igna and asked her “I thought you were taking care of your masters?”

Igna grimaced “I put it on hold, I got distracted by this guy roasting my comrades.”

Isabel nodded, a look of grim fury appearing as she looked down on Touch distastefully “you go take care of your business then” Isabel ordered “I’ll take care of him.”

Igna nodded gratefully, then looking round she asked “hey, where are your friends?”

“They’re dealing with their own opponents” Isabel replied “they’re big boys they can take care of themselves. Now get moving! You need to help your captains.”

With a nod Igna turned on her heel and took off running once again, shooting off further into the library, if she could cut through the library she could arrive at the infirmary faster. Weaving around a shelf Igna came across the smashed and strewn wreckage of bookshelves and countless shredded tomes. Havoc and panic clashed in the library, Nathan and Sight were locked in a furious flurry of clashing steel and violent blows, and Hugo was tangling with the Beast. The jets that were strapped to Nathan’s limbs were alight, aiding his strikes and letting him jab and swipe faster than what seemed humanly possible. Sight slipped in and out of the ways of Nathan’s attacks, deft as a leaf in the wind, though he did not posses lighting speed Sight avoided an early encounter with death by simply moving out of the way, slipping to the side as Nathan drew back to strike.

Hugo was wrestling The Beast’s human form, arms wrapped tight around the spitting and snarling figure, Hugo was clearly putting all his effort into holding his foe back, but it simply did not seem to be enough to hold him back. Light splayed off of Hugo’s boots, a buzz of electrons gripping him to the floor firmer than glue. The Beast, an inch at a time, was forcing Hugo back, bending his defence out of shape till he was caught helplessly, the tips of the Beast’s human fingers began to blacken, long dark claws sprouting and digging into Hugo’s arm, piercing his flesh and making blood trickle down his arms, to the sound of Hugo screaming out in pain. Nathan’s focus broke for a second as he heard Hugo’s shout, but he was immediately forced back into battle as Sight down on him.

Igna breathed irately through her teeth more diversions she thought as she changed course and hurled herself into battle. Orange flames coursed around her fist as she drew back her arm and threw herself bodily at the Beast, unleashing a punch of tremendous force and heat Igna struck the Beast full on the temple, catching him unawares and throwing him off his feet, sending overwhelming heat and pain through his head, senses that careened through his brain and sent him tumbling to the rocky floor, clutching at his head where Igna had left a scalded gash. The Beast snarled at Igna, leaping to its hands and feet and scuttling backwards to a safe distance. “This is such a pain” Igna fretted her fists raised up as she prepared for a fight, standing defensively in front of Hugo, who was clutching at the point on both his arms where patches of red were growing. Igna shot a cautious glance at him “you okay?” she asked.

“I’m fine, mostly” Hugo replied through his winces, “I can’t fight anymore though. I’m not even sure I could beat him even with my arms.”

Igna let out a sigh of annoyance “bloody great I guess I’m dealing with this weirdo too. Listen Hugo, you a fast runner?”

Hugo let out a light laugh despite his pain “you could say that, extremely.”

“Okay” Igna began, keeping her eyes locked on the Beast “head straight out of the library and up two flights of stairs, take a right and you’ll be in the corridor leading to the hospital. Get a doctor to go help the masters in their lounge, they’ve been poisoned.”

Hugo stared at her with his lips pursed anxiously, “should I be writing this down? How do I know which room is the hospital?”

The Beast hurled itself at Igna, pouncing on top of her and raking at her with his claws, Igna caught the Beast’s wrists and rolled backwards with him, somersaulting and ending up with her knees pinned on his shoulders. “Doctor Cornelius is a clumsy surgeon” Igna managed to gasp in between grunts of effort “in a calamity like this just follow the sounds of screams.”

But Hugo did not immediately run, instead he stood still and drew one of his knives from his belt, the Beast was still alive and kicking even if Igna had him pinned. One quick lunge he thought and I can end this.

“Hugo!” Nathan bellowed as he continued his violent assault on Sight “get going! she told you she’s got this!” Hugo cast his eyes over to where Nathan was fighting all out, throwing himself brazenly into his battle. Only then did Hugo take off, a flash of light burst from his foot, sending him sailing high into the air, over the bookcases and away into the castle.

Beneath Igna the Beast’s anatomy began to change once again, the skin shifting from a human’s soft surface to the slippery skin of a toad. The Beast slipped easily from beneath Igna, escaping her clutches and retreating away from her once again to stand hunched at a safe distance with fangs exposed.

Sight quickly stepped back out of way of Nathan’s attack, bounding far out of the way of the range of his sword. Sight came to a halt then, lowering his sword and raising his palm to Nathan, as if requesting for Nathan to stop his assault. Nathan, half stunned by his opponent’s antics stopped mid manoeuver, his blade still raised. Sight turned his attention away from Nathan to where the Beast and Igna were staring each other down, ready to spring into battle. “Scent” Sight told him in a demanding voice “stop this messing around, we don’t have time for you to play with your food, deal with her and we’ll move on with our mission.”

Scent turned his head to face Sight, staring him down with his bizarrely humane animal eyes “yes Sight” he managed to growl in a voice that sounded forced and guttural, as if it took serious mental effort for him to move his tongue and vocal cords to clumsily fashion words.

“He talks?” Nathan asked “what else does he do? Roll over? Beg?”

“Die for Arcania?” finished Igna “that is what you guys are all about right? Setting Arcania aright? Getting rid of the King?”

Sight turned his hooded face to Igna, and Igna got the feeling that if she could’ve seen his eyes she would’ve seen them boring into her. “You know far too much” Sight stated coldly “who talked? It can only have been Touch, perhaps Taste.”

Igna grinned despite herself “wow you guys really went all out with your naming theme, I’m assuming you brought along a Hearing too, where are they hanging around?”

“Scent” ordered Sight in a grave voice, as he raised his sword and prepared himself to lunge at Nathan once again “kill her quickly, don’t let her speak again.”

Scent turned slowly to Igna, cold predator eyes staring her down his feral mouth opened once more and in a guttural voice he growled the words “for the Empress” Scent pounced delightedly at Igna, his claws shooting out to the length of kitchen knives, his skin shifting from fleshy frog skin to rocky scales. Raising a palm Igna unleashed a river of fire over Scent as he dashed at her. He was bathed completely in her orange flames, wrapped in the searing silks of Igna’s inferno. Then Scent burst through the stream of fire, swiping savagely at Igna’s face with his claws. With hardly any time to react Igna threw her head back out of the way, but even then one of the claws raked across her face, drawing a line of blood from nostril to cheek. Scent didn’t hold back for even a moment, striking out with his leg and delivering a ferocious kick to her midsection that lifted Igna off her feet, and left her coiled up like a wounded animal. Scent struck out again with his claws bringing them down in a fatal arc at Igna’s throat. Igna struck out with her leg heavily at Scent’s forearm, pushing the deadly claws away.

Igna rolled to the side clapping her hands together and barking “flame roost” once again a cloak of flames surged up around Igna, forming into a shield against attacks. The flames flowed down Igna’s limbs, pooling in two golden pyre’s in her hands. “Goddamn shapeshifters” she cursed as Scent turned to face her, his new skin creaking like newly made leather. Salamander skin Igna thought heatedly he’s made himself immune to fire. “You are a clever boy aren’t you.” Igna teased him “you must not get a chance to try out that skin very often. I bet you think it means you’re safe from me.” Scent’s grotesque primitive face broke into an unusually human smile, the self satisfied smile of the victor. Igna raised her arms and took a step towards Scent “whatever, I work better with a handicap anyway.”

Then Scent darted away, not a charge towards Igna, nor a frightened flight, instead he shot off to the side tearing off towards the pile of rubble. Igna held her ground for the moment, Scent could be setting a trap for her. He scampered up the rubble and bizarrely dived head first into a dark hole. Igna lowered her hands, her head cocked to the side as she peered perplexed after her enemy. There was a long moment of nothingness as Igna stared, and stared still. There seemed to be some swirling mass of pink matter, punctuated occasionally with bone white shapes and a network of dark webs making their way to the surface before sinking back into the swirling mass precisely where Scent had disappeared into the hole, a pink mass that seemed to turning into a rough oval shape. Igna eyes widened as she grasped what she was seeing. Her stomach, already weak after the blow she’d been dealt, threatened to empty its contents as she realised that that pink and white swirling mass was Scent’s muscles, bones and blood vessels rearranging as they reattached themselves to the humongous beast carcass he’d abandoned. The carcass began to lurch forwards, two massive lion paws reaching out to dig into the mortar between the paving stones, and with gargantuan effort hauled himself out of the rubble, surging up like serpent rearing from the sea. The rocky scales spread out from Scent’s human head across the beast’s flesh, clothing the beast entirely in flameproof salamander scales.

Igna took a shaky step backwards, for a faltering moment she could only stare up at the terrible monster Scent had become, no, had always been. Then she her fire flared up around her, bursting out like the gold and orange flames of dawn. “That’s one hell of a handicap, but it won’t keep you safe from me.” Igna crouched low and began to feed more and more magic into her fame cloak, letting it grow even greater and brighter than before, an intense orange forming around pumping out more and more fire into a tornado of fire that swirled around her. “Allow me to show you” Igna insisted in a voice like stone “the burning heat of my resolve.”

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.