Blood Oath

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The Azure Savior

Though the sun is high in the sky as Maumolla treks through Lord Madine’s territory, it is impossible for her to see above the low hanging fog. Everything that could possibly have been seen beyond the seemingly endless swamplands is encompassed by the grey mist, making for a dull and un-enjoyable scenery. Maumolla is unconcerned though. She is not here for the sights, or lack there of. All she cares about is finding the lady Ardine.

She has been searching for months now having traversed almost all twelve of the lords’ territories. Her first stop after leaving Brecha and Brand in peace was Palinthia where she confirmed Kifflan’s death with her own eyes. The equally fake demigod Seamus did not even bother to burry the poor wretch after disposing of him. He was left lying in a field at the edge of the town amongst the scattered remains of several men and a gigantic fallen willow tree. All that was taken was his Arma, apparently used to stab its owner in the forehead, bringing instantaneous death.

Maumolla is not upset about his death at all, nor is she concerned about the missing Arma. It is not something she would want to absorb into her white metal staff. Arma Vec is better without the limitation of only being able to deal killing blows. Her only concern is that she may have just given the fake demigod Seamus yet another power to horde, making it all that much more difficult for her to defeat him, if and when the time comes.

For now she has put it out of her mind though. He saved her a lot of time and effort by ending Kifflan. All she wants to focus on is Ardine at the moment. From the previous Maumolla’s memories, and the stories she has heard whilst traversing the twelve territories, she can assume that Ardine is one of the more noble demigods. She chooses to forgo fighting unless absolutely necessary, and had only wielded her famous Arma for a hundred years before relinquishing it into the care of her most trusted vassals.

That is why Maumolla is here. She has heard stories of a town, called Joric’s Marsh, hidden in the swamplands of Lord Madine’s territory. Supposedly at least one of Joric and Pendral’s children still resides in the mysterious town.

The longer Maumolla thinks about the instructions she has received on how to find the town the more she is sure she has already passed it. It should be located at least a day’s ride past the ravine that marks the end of Lord Raldwin’s territory and the beginning of Lord Madine’s. She has already chosen to avoid setting foot in the border crossing town of Saltzden and arrived at the supposed location of Joric’s Marsh. The fog is too thick for her to see anything though.

“Hello!” she shouts into the mist, hoping that any villager nearby might here her. What she hears in response almost startles her. Dozens of voices begin to whisper amongst themselves, asking what the sudden stranger in their town could want. It seems Maumolla was right; she is already in the middle of Joric’s Marsh. “I can hear you!” she shouts again. “How do any of you get around in this terrible haze?”

“Quiet down, will you?” Someone growls at her. Maumolla spins around, coming face to face with an annoyed looking man wearing overalls and leather boots high enough to keep him dry if he chose to walk off the edge of the peninsula they are standing on and wade through the swampy waters. “Don’t make so much noise. Can't you imagine why a town would even be built in a place like this? We’re in hiding.”

“Hiding from what?” She stares at him in confusion. As effective as their foggy camouflage has been, it seems entirely pointless if she can simply stride into the center of the town and shout at them.

“I don’t rightfully know,” the man admits while stroking his chin. “It’s been so long since the founders died. We just all sort of follow their example. Unless a traveler really wants to find this place we mostly just let them pass through as if we weren’t even there.”

“Don’t they bump into the buildings or something?” Maumolla asks while glancing around. Now that she knows what to look for she can actually see the silhouettes of some of the town structures.

“Some say the town moves when you can't see it,” the man answers ominously. “Perhaps it isn’t really there unless you know it’s there.”

Maumolla is not amused by his gibberish worthy conundrum. Whether or not she is superstitious enough to believe him is not the point right now. She has a task to complete. “Can you direct me toward a descendent of the founders?” she asks in a hopeful voice. She is not sure she would be able to navigate in the fog by herself.

“Nay.” The man shakes his head. “Gortia and Mesil don’t like to be dragged into the problems of their parents. In fact, mentioning the founders without good reason is strictly taboo in this town.”

“What constitutes a good reason then?” Maumolla inquires.

“Being Helwin, Gortia or Mesil.” The man crosses his arms.

“Oh.” Maumolla frowns at him. She is becoming more and more annoyed with his evasive behavior. “Surely there must be something important enough to garner an audience with one of them,” she tries one last time to reason with him.

“Being Lady Ardine is a good reason,” he responds smugly. “So? Are you Lady Ardine?” He leans his head so he can get a better look at her white metal staff, which is still tethered to her belt by two leather loops.

“No, I'm obviously not Ardine, but I…”

“Lady Ardine,” he interrupts her. She tilts her head in confusion in response. “Do not refer to her as simply Ardine,” he scolds her. “She is the lady Ardine and will be respected as such.”

“Oh,” Maumolla is taken aback. She had not realized how seriously this town of fanatics worshiped the famous demigod. “Um, as I was saying, I have discovered an Arma and I could only think to bring it here.” She retrieves her staff and holds it out to the man.

“That’s not an Arma,” he scoffs while taking it from her. Immediately he shrieks while dropping it to the ground. “Good lord, that is Arma Vec.” He shakes his hand in an attempt to regain feeling in it. “Why do you have such a thing?”

“I found it,” she repeats. “If possible I would like to show it to Lady Ardine.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He finally seems ready to help her. “I'll lead you through the fog, just give me a moment.” He is still shaking his hand vigorously. He eyes Maumolla warily as she retrieves her Arma from the ground. He does not ask why she can touch it. He probably already suspects that she is the Violet Champion.

As the town is rather small, it is a short trek to the other side of the peninsula, where Mesil’s shop is located. Though she can not see the elderly woman at first, Maumolla can already hear the daughter of the founders humming to herself as she performs some sort of chore outside her shop. “How can you see in this?” Maumolla mumbles to herself.

“We’re used to it,” the man answers.

“Harrick, is that you?” Mesil’s high pitched voice calls out to him. “I'm hanging my laundry right now. You best not be here to peep at my bloomers again.”

“I weren’t never peeping at your old lady undergarments, woman!” He shakes his fist at her before she has even emerged from the fog.

“Oh, I see you’ve brought a friend.” Mesil eyes Maumolla up and down. “What exactly can I do for you, ma’am?”

“She’s uh… she’s lookin’ for the lady Ardine,” Harrick cups his mouth to whisper, as if something terrible might befall him if too many people hear him talking about the very demigod they all worship.

“Oh please, not another one,” Mesil groans. “I'm sorry but you’ve been misinformed. While it is true that Lady Ardine passed through here not too long ago, she did not stay. You’ll have to press on if you wish to pester our lady for stories of her conquests and such. She might have already left the marshes by now.”

“Wait, Ardine was here?” Maumolla’s purple eyes are shimmering with interest. “How long ago?”

“She left a few days after All Hollow’s Eve,” Mesil informs her. “If you hurry you might catch her before she enters the sanctum of Lord Madine’s territory. She’s on foot and not traveling alone. If you had a horse you might catch her.”

“I don’t need a horse,” Maumolla snorts confidently. She is more than capable of outrunning any steed with her unlimited stamina and obviously able to outlast one as well. Just like the previous Maumolla, she chooses to walk everywhere on her own two feet, a dangerous prospect for non-demigods. “Which way did she leave town?” Maumolla asks excitedly, already bouncing on her heels in anticipation.

Mesil raises her arm to point while continuing to stare at the strange woman whom she assumes is a fanatic. She catches a quick glimpse of her shimmering purple eyes just as Maumolla dashes off in the indicated direction. “It couldn’t be.” She shakes her head in disbelief. “No,” she assures herself.

It is almost three days before Maumolla reaches the edge of the swamp. The fog is thinner and she can see the town of Madenhime in the distance, along with Lord Madine’s gigantic stone castle. There is a large expanse of water between the edge of the marshlands and the solid plains where the more prominent citizens of Madine’s territory live. It is a lot more clear than the swampy water Maumolla has been trekking through.

Any normal person would be tired after a three day walk through a swamp. That is obviously not the case with Maumolla. It has been over five years since she was last able to close her eyes and sleep. Even if she could feel fatigue she could not rest. She must trudge on.

Although her never ending stamina is a source of great strife for her, it does have an advantage that is particularly useful at this very moment. Like Brand, whose connection to the other demigods through Genlock’s memories allows him to feel when they are injured, she can sense the presence of other demigods nearby. Right now, she can feel Ardine’s aura not too far away, somewhere in the expanse of water.

After taking a deep breath to calm herself, Maumolla closes her eyes and relaxes, allowing herself to sway in the breeze ever so slightly. She is letting her subconscious find Ardine on its own. After a few minutes of this she opens her eyes, staring off into the water at a less shallow area. She is almost positive that Ardine is there and she can guess that Ardine has sensed her as well.

It takes her another half hour to reach the deep drop off. What she finds is almost too amazing to believe. There is a circular block of ice floating a mere foot above the water with a hole in the center which leads down into the drop off. It is like an underground cave that has somehow not flooded. It is most definitely manmade.

Maumolla readies her staff before stepping over the foot high ring of ice and letting herself slide down the frozen well. It is a quite steep descent at first but eventually it tapers off until the tunnel is practically horizontal. Though it is dark, there is only one path to take.

Maumolla maintains a cautious demeanor as she creeps along the ice passage for several hundred more feet, eventually coming to a large encampment set up in a cavern made of rock rather than frozen water. She is no longer underneath the expanse. There must be land directly above her now. “Hello?” she calls into the darkness. She does not actually expect Ardine to answer but she can sense her presence. The Azure Savior is definitely down here.

The walls of the rock cavern are dripping with water but they seem fully capable of holding back the torrent of liquid threatening to pour in at any moment. The sound of voices echoing from just a little further into the cavern startles Maumolla. “Hello?” she repeats cautiously.

“Quiet,” she hears one voice hiss at the other. “We are not alone.”

“I'll go and see who has discovered us.” The sound of footsteps echoes off the walls as someone holding a lit torch approaches from the darkness. “Oh no.” Kalina gasps as soon as she sees Maumolla.

“What is it?” Ardine appears behind her. “Who are you?” She stares at the Maumolla dumbfounded.

“The-that’s her,” Kalina stutters while pointing a shaking finger at Maumolla. “That’s the woman who killed Turok. She still has blood on her clothes from where he cut her with Arma Tua.”

“So you’re the one to blame for the death of the Jade Behemoth.” Ardine frowns at her.

“Don’t act like you didn’t want him dead,” Maumolla scolds her.

“I don’t want anyone dead,” Ardine assures her. “What exactly have you come here for? From what Kalina has said, you appear to be quite noble. Surely you realize that I am an arbiter of peace. There is no reason for us to fight.”

“Choosing to remain stagnant is not the same thing as being on the side of righteousness,” Maumolla disagrees with her. “I've come to judge your life, Lady Ardine. You have lived for far too long already. Prepare yourself for real peace. Your long journey is finally at an end.”

“You won’t touch her!” Kalina pulls a long metal rod from underneath her robe, the same one Mesil gave to her in exchange for playing the role of the witch on All Hollow’s Eve. Without knowing what it is, Maumolla prepares for the worst, crossing her arms to cover her face and leaping backward into the tunnel of ice again.

Kalina twirls the rod over her head, turning the ice Maumolla is now standing on back into water, creating an opening for more water to pour into the cavern. In a matter of seconds it has flooded completely. The water rushing in forces everything else out, including Maumolla, Kalina and Ardine. All three of them have a brief moment to stare at each other as they float lazily at the bottom of the deep drop off.

Finally Kalina waves her scepter again, forming a bubble of ice around herself and Ardine which starts to rise toward the surface immediately, leaving Maumolla behind. The Violet Champion is resourceful though. She extends Arma Vec and pierces the side of the bubble, allowing herself to be pulled to the surface with it. The entire orb of ice is practically launched out of the expanse by the water as soon as it breaks through the surface.

Kalina is the only one of the three to land on her feet, helped along by two coils of water which slow her descent. Another one stops Ardine from impacting with the ground too hard but Maumolla is left to smash into the orb of ice, shattering it and accidentally being stabbed by several shards. “Oh, you survived that,” Kalina is genuinely impressed.

Maumolla rises to her feet almost effortlessly. The shards of ice protruding from her arms and legs have already started to fall out as her increased vitality attempts to mend her wounds. “You really are Maumolla’s successor, aren’t you?” Ardine coughs up a mouthful of water.

“That really hurt,” Maumolla spits at Kalina. It is not apparent if she is angry or not. It might appear to some as if she is having fun.

“You like that?” Kalina raises her scepter again, summoning another spiraling stream of water from the nearby expanse. It turns into a pointed spear of ice just before reaching Maumolla. In a split second the demigod raises her staff above her head and proceeds to twirl it fast enough to chip away at the frozen spear until there is nothing left.

“I didn’t come here for you.” She is glaring at Kalina in annoyance. Again any anger seems to be absent. Kalina raises the fallen chips of ice with another wave of her rod and starts to pelt her from every direction. Maumolla looks genuinely pained by this but she barely reacts. She allows the practically harmless flakes to scratch away at her skin as she marches toward the sorcerer.

Kalina’s eyes widen in shock as Maumolla promptly rears back and strikes her across the face hard enough to send her flying backwards into the expanse. She skids along the top of the water for several feet before slowing down enough to actually sink into it. Ardine, who has only just managed to stand up properly, watches helplessly. Being a demigod does not make her a better swimmer or capable of moving water like Kalina. All she can hope for is that the young sorcerer can somehow regain consciousness and save herself.

“Ah, where were we?” Maumolla turns her attention toward her intended target finally.

Ardine raises a shaky hand with Arma Kalo in it. Before she can draw the bow string, Maumolla extends the end of Arma Vec, attempting to stab her straight through the skull. She deflects the blade with one of the spikes near the handle of her bow but immediately regrets it as part of her Arma is promptly absorbed by the hungry white metal. Realizing how dangerous it is to be in close proximity to Maumolla, she spins around on her heels and runs in the opposite direction, trying to put as much distance between them as possible.

However, it is no use; Arma Vec can stretch faster than she can run and Maumolla has more than enough stamina to keep pace with her when her Arma runs out of length. There is nothing Ardine can do. This is her first real fight since losing to Corvic eleven years ago and she is already failing miserably.

With no other options, Ardine decides to go on the offensive. She draws her bow string back just far enough to launch a blue arrow, formed from her aura, high into the sky. Maumolla does not even pay heed. She stabs Ardine through the stomach with Arma Vec and begins to siphon the iron right out of her blood.

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning strikes the opposite end of the staff, traveling down its length until it reaches Maumolla’s hands, which it promptly sears to the metal. The electricity then shoots down into the ground through her legs, numbing all of the nerves in her body along the way. Both demigods stumble backwards away from each other, Ardine holding her side and Maumolla shaking violently from the electricity that has just passed through her.

“You really are amazing,” Ardine groans. “That attack can kill a dozen bloodsuckers all at once. I don’t think you can survive another one though.” Maumolla’s eyes widen in shock as Ardine launches another blue arrow into the air above her head. With more time to form it, this one is larger and the resulting lighting will be more powerful.

Without knowing what else to do, Maumolla stabs Arma Vec into the ground in front of her and leaps backwards just in time as another flash of lightning strikes it. The white metal exterior is seared black instantly and the ground around it cracks. Maumolla is actually knocked off her feet be the sheer force of it splitting the air. It is loud enough to cause both demigods’ ears to bleed.

Ardine does not waste this chance. Before Maumolla can even think of retrieving her weapon, she has launched another three arrows into the sky. Maumolla crawls along the ground as quickly as possible and touches the side of her staff, giving it a single command; grow. Instantly, it shoots up into the sky, bridging the ground and air like a ladder to the heavens. The next three bolts of lightning are all drawn to it.

The electricity has more time to disperse before it reaches the ground this time, lessening the adverse effects and making the lightning more docile. Maumolla has managed to render Ardine’s main attack completely useless at the cost of her own weapon. A slight smile spreads across Ardine’s face but it quickly fades when she remembers how Maumolla used to fight before she received her Arma. Surely her successor has the same memories.

Ardine steps back just in time to avoid getting punched in the face as Maumolla launches herself at her faster than a normal human can. Unlike Brand, no crater forms when her fist hits the ground but it is equally terrifying. Maumolla’s muscles are always in pique condition, capable of propelling her as fast and as far as even the Red Warrior.

As Maumolla recovers from her failed attack, Ardine launches another slew of arrows, this time at her opponent instead of at the sky. Maumolla barely manages to roll out of the way of each one as she scampers back to her feet.

As soon as she is standing again though, she is running, running straight at Ardine. Her fist impacts with the side of Arma Kalo, slicing part of her fingers open in the process. She is undaunted though. Her next three punches either contact the bow again, rattling it in Ardine’s hands, or miss entirely. She is attacking too fast and too hard to focus, but it does not matter. All it will take is one hit on Ardine and the fight will be over.

Maumolla is moving too fast now, not giving Ardine the chance to draw her bow string at all. Her heart beats rapidly in her chest as she searches her mind for a solution. Unfortunately she only finds one. She swipes at Maumolla with her bow like a sword, startling her into rearing back. She then drops her bow and grabs the sides of Maumolla’s head. Her eyes glow bright blue as she invokes the power of the Azure Savior for the first time in her life.

Maumolla screams while digging her fingernails into Ardine’s wrists and dragging them down her arms, ripping her flesh in the process, forcing her to release her. An echoing voice booms in Maumolla’s ears as she stumbles backwards. “What would you do? With the power of a god, what would you do?”

Maumolla can recognize it as the female voice that spoke to the original Maumolla in the river when she first received her power. “What did you do to me?” she shouts at Ardine.

“Oh dear. It didn’t work.” Ardine seems terrified. “Let me try again.” She grabs onto Maumolla’s head a second time and repeats the action that caused her eyes to glow. However it is weaker this time. “Damn it. I can't do it again so soon,” she spits angrily.

“Get off of me.” Maumolla kicks her in the stomach, sending her tumbling backwards several feet.

Again the echoing voice of her past accosts her ears. “I will bestow upon you the power to better yourself; the power to become more than a human. Do you accept?”

“No!” Maumolla moans, just like her predecessor. “I don’t want nothing to do with any of that.”

“Are you sure?” the voice is relentless. “Are you not dissatisfied with your life? Do you not want the power to leave it all behind? Then it is done.”

“What are you trying to do?” Maumolla strides across the field and steps on Ardine’s face. “Get out of my head.”

“It didn’t work,” the disoriented demigod groans. “You have too much energy already.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” she screams at her. “I haven’t slept in years. I just want it all to stop. Make is stop, please.”

“I can't.” Ardine pushes Maumolla’s foot away so she can stand up. “I tried but it won't work on you.”

“What is it? Tell me what it is?” Maumolla shakes her violently.

“It’s the power of the Azure Savior,” Ardine sputters dizzily. “I received it from Boris over two hundred years ago.”

“Who?” Maumolla stops shaking her.

“Boris, that was his name… or at least… that’s what I called him. He’s the god that gave me my power.”

“You met the gods?” Maumolla shakes her one final time.

“Only two of them,” Ardine moans.

“What did they say? Tell me!” Maumolla’s eyes are wide in desperation.

“I can't explain it,” Ardine whines. “You’d have to experience the memory yourself.”

“Fine, I'll kill you and take the rapture,” Maumolla surmises.

“Wait!” Ardine winces as Maumolla readies her fist, probably preparing to bludgeon the terrified woman repeatedly until she simply dies. “You don’t have to kill me.”

“Of course I do.” Maumolla doesn’t listen.

“Please, just let me show you,” Ardine pleads. “With your unlimited energy I can activate my power again, just watch.” Ardine grabs Maumolla’s hands and places them on the sides of her own head. Maumolla feels a sudden drop in her normally limitless stamina, the same way she does when she holds Arma Vec. Something is draining her. On the other hand she can see some of the color returning to Ardine’s face as she draws strength from her.

“What are you doing?” Maumolla tries to let go. Before she can a burst of blue light shoots down from the sky, encompassing them both.

“Here you go,” Ardine sighs weakly.

“What is this?” Maumolla’s eyes suddenly turn bright blue. In her mind a memory of Ardine’s is playing out in front of her. Her point of view is from Ardine’s but she can tell what she is, a little girl no older than ten. She is playing in the woods behind her village, chasing butterflies around in circles.

Eventually she stumbles into a clearing where two tall figures are standing, talking to each other. One is a man clad in fabulous blue armor and the other is a woman dressed in violet robes. “Who goes there?” the man shouts at Ardine, who screams and starts to cry in response.

“Oh look, you scared her.” The woman strides across the clearing and picks Ardine up. “What’s your name, little one?”

“Are-Ardine,” she squeaks. “Who are you?”

“Hmmm.” The woman tilts her head in thought. “Now that’s a difficult question. What exactly are we?” she asks her partner in blue.

“We are nothing as far as mortals are concerned. I refuse to even sully myself by telling this child creature my name.”

“You don’t have a name?” Ardine gasps.

“It seems not.” The woman pokes her nose. “Would you like to choose one for him?”

“Really?” Ardine is suddenly excited. “I know. You’re Boris, and you’re Clementine.”

“What?” The man in blue is taken aback.

“Oh dear, she thinks we’re the heroes from that game the humans play,” Clementine laughs. “How sweet of you, little one.” Ardine giggles proudly.

“Hmm, heroes, eh?” Boris is stroking his chin in thought. “What do you know about this game… Clementine?” he pauses before using his partner’s new name.

“It’s called wolf man, I think.” She begins to stroke her chin as well. “The children designate one of their own to be a wolf in human disguise and the heroes have to sniff them out.”

“Isn't that quite like those terrible bloodsucker creatures that look human while actually feeding on them?” Boris snaps his fingers.

“Except those creatures have no heroes to fear,” Clementine laughs. “They have no reason to hide and pretend to be human. It’s really quite boring.”

“What if there were heroes though?” Boris is smirking now. “What if we two heroes hunted down these… wolf men, for the humans?”

“You’re not seriously suggesting we involve ourselves in this,” Clementine stifles a snort. “We haven’t done anything to intervene since Doryan broke the rules and created the twelve territories. We’d need the permission of everyone else and you know what they will say.”

“What? What will they say? They are just as bored as we are. They will leap at the chance to play our game. All we need to do is make it more interesting. Each of them will get to play a different hero and the last of us left standing will be declared winner.”

“Are you suggesting we descend to the world and risk dying like Doryan? No thank you.” Clementine turns up her nose in disgust.

“Well, how do you suggest we play then?” Boris frowns at her.

“Let the little humans play the game. All they need are some heroes of their own, right?”

“You just said it yourself, humans are too weak to fight bloodsuckers,” he reminds her.

“Not with our powers they aren’t.” She smirks at him. He looks confused for a moment but quickly catches onto her meaning. A menacing smile spreads across his face as he begins to contemplate how to go about setting up his game. “Ooh, I do love when you are thinking,” Clementine giggles.

“Oh, this will be fun. Come, we must inform the others.” A beam of blue light hits the ground where he is standing. It quickly draws him up into the sky and out of sight.

“Where’d he go?” Ardine gasps.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about him.” Clementine sets her down. “All you need to do is touch that light. Go on, little one, start the game.” Ardine stares at her cautiously for a moment before obeying. She creeps across the clearing in much the same manner as when she was chasing butterflies. The blue light is still shimmering brightly when she reaches it. The moment she touches it the memory ends in Maumolla’s mind.

“You!” she shouts at Ardine as soon as her eyes focus again.

“What?” Ardine is startled. “I showed you what you wanted, right?”

“It was you. It was all you. You did this. Game? This isn’t a game. The gods think this is a game. Why would you do this? Do you know how many people have died? And your power; what is it exactly?”

“I have the ability to transfer the entirety of my stored energy to anyone I touch,” Ardine explains. “It is more than a normal human can take and would actually kill them. When I do it to a demigod though, it triggers a controlled release of energy in order to keep them from dying.”

“The rapture.” Maumolla’s eyes are wide in realization.

“Yes, I can trigger the rapture in other demigods at will. It did not work on you though. You must already have too much energy. It was like pouring water in an already full cup. The cup doesn’t break, it just overflows.”

“You could have done this to any of the other demigods?” Maumolla inquires.

“I guess I could have.” Ardine nods. “I just never thought about it.”

“Why not? Do you know how many lives you could have saved? All this time you’ve been able to stop them. You could have stopped Maumolla and you did nothing.”

“Maumolla was my best friend!” Ardine loses her temper for a moment.

“Maumolla was insane!” she screams back. “I recognized her voice finally. That other woman with Boris, Clementine was it? She’s the voice from the river. She’s the one who gave Maumolla her power.”

“Oh no.” Ardine’s face becomes pale as the realization washes over her.

“It’s you. It’s always been you,” Maumolla is practically sobbing. “You started it all and you alone could have stopped it. But you did nothing.” Maumolla punches Ardine in the stomach, causing her to keel over.

“It’s not that simple,” the now mortal woman tries to reason with her.

“You could have taken away Turok’s and Maumolla’s powers a long time ago.” Maumolla refuses to listen. Instead she kicks Ardine in the stomach again.

“You think I could have beaten either one of them?” Ardine almost laughs. “I couldn’t even beat you.”

“You could have tried! All you had to do was touch them and you could have triggered the rapture.”

“And then what?” Ardine screams while rising to her feet again. Her face is even paler than before and the grey streaks in her hair are growing.

“What’s going on?” Maumolla is confused. “What’s happening to you?”

Ardine runs her hands along her cheeks to check the wrinkles now appearing in her once flawless skin. “I'm old, child,” she sighs. “I'm older than you’ll ever know. My body should have perished a long time ago. This is what happens when a demigod loses their powers. It’s not a pretty sight. It’s certainly not something I ever wanted to put Turok or Maumolla through. Do you see now?”

Maumolla grits her teeth while turning away. “I don’t care. You should have still done something. You had this power and you wasted it.”

“Well now you have it,” Ardine reminds her. “What will you do with it?”

“What I have to.” She does not even hesitate.

“I will not stop you,” Ardine sighs.

Maumolla turns to look at her again. The rage has returned to her blue eyes. “Did you think you were forgiven?” she asks in a taunting voice. “Oh no, dear Ardine. You will pay for what you have done and what you failed to do. On my word I will make you pay.” She marches across the field to where she left Arma Vec standing up in the ground. The blackened shell of the staff flakes away cleanly as it shrinks down to its proper size again. Ardine gulps nervously as Maumolla touches it to Arma Kalo, absorbing the bow in a matter of seconds.

Soon Arma Vec has shifted its form to match, a great white metal bow with spikes guarding the handle. Maumolla pulls back the draw string while shaking her head disappointedly, pointing a blue arrow of light directly at Ardine’s chest. Rather than moving, Ardine simply closes her eyes, accepting her fate. “Goodbye, Azure Savior,” Maumolla whispers as she lets go of the string.

The arrow sails toward Ardine faster than the eye can follow but it never reaches her. Instead it is knocked away by a long slender icicle jutting out from the watery expanse nearby. Maumolla quickly readies another arrow but the ground suddenly starts to shake beneath her, causing her to let it go too early. Ardine and Maumolla both watch as a large spiral of water shoots out of the expanse, landing between the two of them.

Rather than soaking into the ground it begins to swirl around, drawing more and more liquid from the expanse, growing larger and larger. Maumolla backs up cautiously as it continues to creep towards her. Finally a small opening appears in the center, revealing Kalina inside. “Don’t you dare touch her!” she hisses in a raspy voice. It is obvious she has breathed in a large amount of water.

“It’s okay, Kalina,” Ardine whispers. “I'm aging too fast as it is.”

“What?” Kalina glances back at the demigod she adores. “No, it’s not fair. We only just began our journey together.”

“For you the journey is just beginning, but I have been on this path for years. I'm weary, Kalina. It’s time for me to rest.”

“But, but, but.” Tears are welling up in the sorcerer’s eyes. Maumolla raises her bow one more time with the intention of shooting Ardine. This enrages Kalina. “I said leave her alone!” her voice echoes as she sends the entire swirling encasement of water flying at her.

The moment the water touches Maumolla’s arm it freezes solid. She leaps backwards again and again, trying to avoid getting touched while smacking her metal bow against the ice until it shatters. She looks up in time to see another wave, which knocks her flat on her back. She scampers away from it before it can freeze her again but she is not fast enough. Her clothes begin to frost over, constricting her movements.

“Stop!” Ardine shouts at Kalina. “You don’t have to kill her.”

“Look at what she’s done to you!” Kalina wails while replenishing her water by drawing on the expanse again. Maumolla quickly realizes that she can not hold out when they are this close to an endless supply. She has to flee or she will be frozen solid and die. Kalina continues to splash the ground directly behind her with each step as she sprints back toward the marsh as fast as she can. She can not afford to miss a single stride.

Only when she is completely gone from Kalina’s sight does she stop. The sorcerer collapses on the ground sobbing and heaving, having expended more mana than humanly possible. She does not know how much of her life force she had to convert but she is already starting to fade from consciousness. “I’ve got you.” Ardine catches her before she hits the ground.

“Please, don’t go anywhere yet,” Kalina pleads. “There is so much I want to ask you. There is so much we haven’t done.”

“I'm not dying just yet,” Ardine assures her. “It will be a while before my organs begin to fail me.”

“Don’t worry, I'll find a way to stop it,” Kalina sputters. “I can freeze you solid and revive you later if I have to.”

Ardine jerks back in shock at her suggestion. She had not realized how desperate this fanatic sorcerer actually was. “You don’t have to do anything,” she shushes her. “Rest now.”

“But, but….” Kalina is still arguing as she falls asleep, completely exhausted.
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