In My Stead
This is bad. This is really bad.
Those were the only words in Brandon right now.
Brandon Hawthorne knew himself as a man of chance. But he always made calculated risks. Not crazy ones that involved fighting a spider demon in an unstable cavern! He narrowed his eyes and continued his advance. Adrenaline fuelled all the fibres in his veins as his body suddenly became lighter. Arkamedon roared and swung his fist at the pirate, snarling and growling. A smirk curved up Brandon’s lips as he ducked and slid past the feral swinging. With one twist of his body, Brandon swung down his gunblade and cleaved off the demon’s arm. The spider-demon howled in agony as it stared at its bleeding stump. In a fit of rage, it turned towards him with fury dancing in its eyes and rushed towards him.
“Foolish human! You are beneath me!” Arkamedon roared. “I am a king, you damned peasant!”
“One is not a king if he has to keep saying it all the time, dickstain,” Brandon sneered. He whirled his swords. “Come on, I’m trying to make you look good here! At least work with me, will you?!”
Brandon’s eyes widened when the arm slowly regenerated itself, replacing the arm that he had previously cleaved off.
“A little gift from the little bitch,” Arkamedon scoffed haughtily. He then pointed his new and improved left arm at him, revealing spikes protruding out of it. “The Curse of Death marked her and now it is mine!”
The moment the spikes shot out, Brandon quickly swung his swords in a circular dance. The Neptunian steel hummed in the darkness as the swords began to glow. Sweat poured down from his temple to his jawline. Adrenaline burned and fired up in his fibres. Despite the strain he felt in his arms, he had a cocky smirk on his face. The moment the next spike flew, he revved his sword using its hilt before spinning around and shattering the next few spikes with an explosive blast, shattering the spikes into pieces.
“Oh, that’s new,” Arkamedon mused. “So the little human can play.”
“Of course I can,” Brandon cocked his neck to loosen it. He scoffed with a haughty smirk. “Unfortunately, you’re the one sitting below my expectations.”
In a fit of fury, Arkamedon lunged at him with both his fists swinging. Brandon jumped out of the way and tumbled sideways, dodging the angry fists. The scorpion tail shot towards him as he whipped it back with his gunblade, hissing with steam. His eyes widened when he saw traces of poison on his sword, causing the water within it to evaporate.
“Aww, so there is a way to skin this particular cat,” he crooned with mocking grin. “And when I’m done with you, I’ll have you flayed as a pelt for my shoulders! Your skin will give such a nice accent to my kingly garbs.”
Brandon scoffed with a roll of his eyes. “And I suppose you want a necklace of dead sparrow heads as well.” He flicked his sword to throw the poison. “So, are we just gonna stand here and talk ourselves to death or are we gonna fight?”
Arkamedon lunged at him only to be blasted down by a larger gust of wind. Brandon’s eyes widened when he saw Samantha standing there with both her hands on her pendant. The stone in it suddenly swirled with power as her glare focused itself on the spider-demon.
“Puny king,” she growled. He voice becoming darker.
Brandon raised an eyebrow; since when did she speak with such an archaic tone? His blood chilled as the winds swirled in the caverns. He could feel all the power oozing out from her body with all his fibres screaming at him to run. When did Samantha get so powerful and so angry? He looked behind her only to see Beatriz’s battered form and Luke trying to knit her wounds together.
“An emotional burst,” Brandon shook his head. He lunged after Samantha. “That’s not gonna last long – !”
Samantha suddenly declared. “Chieftain of the Arachnos Arkamedon! Your crimes have poisoned the earth with the blood of a noble line! The earth cries for its vengeance! And now, you shall pay – the ultimate price!”
Brandon crossed his arms in front of him as he braved through the winds. Wind blades rushed and shredded through his coat. He could feel his lungs being crushed by the sheer pressure as he made his way towards Samantha. Her eyes were glowing and even her pendant had begun to glow bright. Her facial expression, contorted by sheer fury and anger, struck fear as she unleashed an unrelenting barrage of violet and violent winds.
“Lass!” Brandon hollered. “Sam!”
Unfortunately, his winds were forcefully carried away by the howling winds.
Brandon clucked his tongue in annoyance. The only time Samantha managed to unleash a spell was when she had been either terrified enough or angry enough. He groaned; why couldn’t she keep a calm head on her shoulders? Wasn’t that how most mages were like? He shook his head. She was a mage but not a battle mage. If she were a battle mage, he knew that she would have at least withstood the terrors and jitters of combat instead of using anger-fuelled attacks.
He continued braving through the winds until he reached the eye of the storm. Samantha stood there, enveloped within a sphere of glowing purple winds. Her pendant leapt and thrashed around as Brandon winced at the winds now focusing themselves on him and Arkamedon. Fuck, he growled. He could see the blades cutting deeper into his coat and now ripping through his flesh. His windpipe constricted as he choked and gasped for air. He struggled to keep conscious as his vision blacked out a few times. He shook his head. He had to keep going!
“If she continues any further, we’ll be buried with the city!” Brandon hissed. He tried hollering. “Sam!”
He wasn’t used to this. Seeing Samantha in such a distressed state was different. As much as he found her to be an airhead – constantly bumbling around and the sorts – he never did wish her any suffering. Save for that time she insisted she bring all her luggage, his conscience said.
“Well, she brought that upon herself.” Brandon groaned. The winds drove wounds into his face, driving a deep gash, slanting towards the left from his forehead past his left eye and until the bridge of his nose. “Shit...!”
He brought his gunblade up to shield some of the winds. But much to his surprise, the water began boiling inside his blade. He winced as the wind blades tried to push him back. Trudging at every step, he finally fought through the swirling winds and grabbed Samantha’s hand. Fear bubbled inside him when Samantha’s head slowly turned towards him with her glowing eyes. But the moment she saw him, the winds slowly died down as he gave her a reassuring smile.
“Sam, that’s enough.” Brandon tried to talk her out of it. “We need to fix Bea first before we crush the cavern.”
Samantha wailed at him. “But Bea is dead!”
“Of course, I made sure I drained everything out of her.”
Samantha and Brandon turned around to see Arkamedon slowly rising with his wounds sealing up. Thee princess’s and the pirate’s eyes widened when he stood up, with all his wounds gone and cleaned up. His eyes glowed brighter with a cruel smirk curving up his lips.
“I left nothing for that bitch,” he sneered. “The poor little whore can’t do anything anymore.”
Samantha shrieked. “Give Bea’s powers back!”
“Why should I? Watching her die and writhe in agony as I drained her powers satisfied me more than a thousand lying whores ever could!”
Brandon could feel her blood boiling as the winds around her began to build up in speed. He could feel all the anguish and pain in the winds. He could hear her cries trapped in her throat and the despair gripping her heart until it ripped it apart. He glared at Arkamedon again and this time, he removed the safety lock on his gunblades. It was no longer adrenaline that fuelled him but instead it was his own bloodlust and fury.
“Brandon,” he heard Samantha say.
Brandon turned around as a cold stare reflected in her eyes. He could feel his own soul chilling from her dead stare.
“Kill him.” Was all the princess said.
The pirate smirked. It was rare for Samantha to give a clear-cut, cold command like that. The last time she gave him orders like that was when they were in the arena and she was still panicking. But this side of her was different. He could even tell from the aura around her. It was then something felt odd. It wasn’t the usual jovial and airheaded aura that he normally felt. The one he felt now was like the weight of a thousand year burden dropped on his shoulders. It was as if all the magic from time ad memoriam had instantly thrown itself on his shoulders.
“Yes, milady,” Brandon bowed. He then turned his attention to Arkamedon. “Sorry, princess’s orders.”
Before he could mount an attack, blackthorn vines shot past him. Brandon staggered back as they snaked and wrapped around Arkamedon’s legs. Thorns sprouted and tore into his flesh as the vines tightened their grip around him. He howled in agony and struggled to break free only to see black roses sprout at several parts of the vine.
“Give my stupid curse back!” Brandon heard someone shriek.
Samantha and Brandon glanced back only to see a very angry Beatriz, gripping Luke’s shoulder. “Bea!”
Beatriz smirked with a dark glare. “Did you really think you could take that from me?! That’s my curse and my magic!”
Arkamedon gasped as his body began to violently shudder. The pores on his skin ruptured and his bodily fluids poured from every orifice in his body. Blood streamed from his eyes and his nose with his arms and legs gnarling and twitching. He gasped and choked for air as more black roses began to bloom. The thorns cut deeper into his skin as the vines constricted tighter. A sickening crack echoed throughout the cavern with his joints buckling from the weight.
“You... you bitch!” Arkamedon roared as his tail shot up and spewed poison.
Beatriz’s icy blue eyes shimmered with a fury dancing in her eyes. “Aww, poor baby wants to cry. It's not your fault junior ain't big enough."
"Please, I've been called worse!"
Brandon, seeing Arkamedon completely occupied, lunged forward. A smirk curved up his lips as he fired all the energy he had into his legs. The fibres in his body screamed as if he was on fire. But he ignored it and went straight for the demon. He drew both his gunblades once more and focused straight on Arkamedon. With the speed urging him further, he soon vanished and appeared in multiple places. Brandon smirked before sending an instantaneous burst of energy into his arms.
“Too bad my technique is the last thing you’re ever going to see.” Brandon sneered. With a quick flick of his arms and his wrist, both swords flew.
Samantha gasped in amazement. This was the first time she had ever seen Brandon’s technique up close. She had seen him up close but never at full power. He vanished from her line of sight only to reveal multiple copies of himself with both his gunblades singing. Her ears twitched as the song of the oceans overwhelmed the howling of the cavern winds. Soon, all she saw were the flashes of light originating from Brandon’s blades as pieces of scarred flesh fell to the ground.
“Now that Brandon has Arkamedon pinned,” she prepared to launch another spell. “I can take him – ”
“ – Wait!” She heard a strangled cry from behind her.
The princess turned back to see the Lady of Azaleth, writhing in agony. “Milady?”
“There’s something you can use to defeat him. It’s something I feel that you have more use than I ever will.”
Samantha gasped as the Lady of Azaleth coughed up blood. With a wave of her hand, the Lady of Azaleth produced a small ball of white mana glowing. The princess’s eyes widened when she realized what the Lady of Azaleth was proposing.
“That’s – ”
“The remaining magic of Azaleth. Yes, you can use it.”
Samantha shook her head vehemently. “But I thought only those of Azalethian blood can use it!”
“But you can.”
“Then tell me, how were you able to summon the glyphs to fight Arkamedon with?”
The princess froze. When she recalled using the glyphs, they were not their usual trademark purple. Instead, it bore the colours of the five elements: white for light, blue for water, red for fire, green for earth, and grey for air. She glanced at her hands; she had never done it that way before!
“Please! There is not much time!” The Lady of Azaleth begged. She turned to her servant. “Please fetch the ring! Immediately!”
The hunchback readily complied and fled the scene.
Samantha shook her head. “But what if the magic rejects me? Magic is not some dead thing! Magic is alive!”
“It will not reject you. I know this.”
“But you’ll die!”
The Lady of Azaleth smiled bitterly and shook her head. “Being alive for 400 years in the darkness, all I want to see is the light again. And you – you’ll be the one to do it in my stead.”
Samantha bit her lower lip anxiously. “Are you sure?”
The Lady of Azaleth nodded before noticing her servant bringing a box with him. “Thank you,” she nodded to the hunchback. “You have served me well.”
The hunchback bowed. “You honour me with your words, milady.”
“But our time is now at hand. It is her time now.”
“I understand, milady.”
Her servant approached her with box, opening it. Samantha gasped as she saw a golden ring with a pink stone sitting on its throne. Despite the years that had gone by, the golden ring showed no signs of tarnish. Engraved on the ring, there were ancient markings and the trademark designs of Azaleth.
“Please take the ring. It will go well with the pendant of Sofiene.” The Lady of Azaleth said.
Samantha snapped her head up. “H-how did you know...?”
“The magic of Sofiene leaves a unique trace. But Sofiene is only a part of you but not the whole of who you are.”
“... What do you mean?”
The Lady of Azaleth shook her head. “It is something that I cannot explain. Only time could tell.” She then shook her head and turned to her servant. “Quickly, we must begin the transfer!”
The hunchback nodded. “Yes, milady!”
Samantha gasped as they both began to chant. A glyph circle appeared beneath her with lights swirling around her. The mana inside her began to roil and tumble inside her. White wisps zoomed out from the cavern's crevice and made their way towards her. They danced and waltzed around her as she heard all the voices of Azaleth fill her ears and her soul. Suddenly, her view of the cavern was engulfed in a bright light. Lightning suddenly struck her as she was suddenly dragged into an abyss swirling in the cosmos.
“Whoa,” Samantha whispered in amazement. “Wh-where am I?”
She could see the stars twinkling and gleaming. As she was drawn into the abyss, Samantha yelped as it pulled harder and dragged her right through the void. She screamed in terror as she seemingly began to free-fall through the darkness.
“Where are you taking me?!” Samantha wailed. “Wah!”
She suddenly crashed on the ground with a loud thud. Her eyes widened when she found herself in a desert valley. She slowly sat up when she could hear the arid winds tear through the sandy grounds.
“Where is this?” Samantha asked. She looked around. “Hello?”
Nobody responded. The princess warily strolled through the desert valley until she saw houses. It was unlike anything she had seen in Sofiene. Primitive in design, they were cut into clear-cut stones and the sand was molded into a large sandstone. She continued walking until she saw an engraving on the desert ground.
“What is this,” she bent down and brushed away the sand. “Ah!”
On the ground, she saw an engraving of a beautiful woman harnessing the power of light through a rainbow. Her hairs stood on all ends as the eyes of the woman suddenly glowed bright and swirled all around Samantha. The princess yelped as the light consumed her as a voice echoed through the shining light.
“Do you know the Origin of Magic?”
Samantha blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Do you know the Origin of Magic?” It asked again.
The princess, startled, shook her head. “I... I only know that magic had originated from those who were was once known as The Ones Before. They were brilliant masters of magic and even created items that lived on as their legacy.”
The voice remained silent for a moment.
Samantha swallowed nervously. “Um, did I say something wrong?”
For the Origin was born in the past, it is by knowing this that you will also find yourself in the past.
Suddenly, the voice faded and a light engulfed her view again before returning her back to the present. She gasped and panted for air when she saw the Lady of Azaleth severely weakened and the servant lying on the ground, dead.
“May Azaleth bless you for she has always guarded all who are in her city.” The Lady of Azaleth breathed weakly. “Let the souls of Azaleth give you guidance. And let Azaleth see the sun through your eyes, after so... long...”
With that, the Lady of Azaleth passed away.
Samantha, breathing heavy, glanced back at both Brandon, Beatriz, and Luke who continued to fight Arkamedon. Her eyes widened when Arkamedon slammed his forearm against the pirate’s throat. Brandon coughed and hacked before tumbling over, clumsily regaining his balance. She glanced towards the ground when she saw Beatriz’s formerly missing limbs regenerating and throbbing. Her stomach churned as she saw every strand of Beatriz’s nerve and muscle shoot out of her wounded stumps to form new limbs.
“What?” Beatriz shrugged as she turned to Samantha. “Surprised that Immortality isn’t cut out on what everyone thinks?”
The princess shuddered. “I... I didn’t know you could grow back your limbs...”
“I can. Why do you think I don’t mind if someone cleaves my arms off?”
“Um, does that rule apply to your head?”
“... Hmm, you know – I’m not sure. I could ask Brandon to test.”
“Uh, I’d rather not.”
Beatriz snickered. “Yeah, you’d miss me too much if that experiment failed.” She then raised an eyebrow. “And what about you? You look like you had drugs and got trippy.”
Samantha glanced at her hands and shook her head. How could she explain to Beatriz what she saw when she herself didn’t know what happened? All she remembered was crash landing in a desert valley where she unearthed some weird engravings on the ground. “I... I don’t know.”
“There really ought to be some magic that can help synchronize brains when trippy shit like that stuff happens. You look like you ate a whole tray of space cakes.”
“You know – those cakes that are spiked?”
“Spiked? With what?”
“You know, weed.”
“Why would someone put weeds in a cake? That would taste terrible!”
Beatriz groaned. “Weed is a slang word for marijuana, you idiot.”
“Couldn’t you just have said cannabis or marijuana?!”
“It’s easier to call it weed!”
“But there are so many kinds of weeds in the world!”
“Yeah but I’m not referring to those kinds of weeds! I bet you even Luke knows what the hell weed is!” She rolled her eyes and snapped at Luke. “Luke, do you know what weed is?!”
Luke shrugged. “Isn’t that the stuff you smoke to get high?”
“See! Even he knows what it is!” Beatriz snapped before shaking her head. “Anyway,” she stood up, revealing that both of her legs regenerated. “Now for my scythe...!”
She extended her arm with a dark blue glyph circle appearing on her hand. Soon, the blood on her body began to glow and called her dark armour. Her jet black obsidian greaves materialized around her arms as her scythe appeared in her palm. A smirk curved up her lips as she whirled her scythe around.
“Nobody steals my magic and gets away with it!” She growled. The lady-in-waiting slammed her scythe on the ground before fuelling her body with all her magic. “Let me show you how it’s done!”
With a sudden burst of magic, Beatriz shrieked with her scythe whirling. Samantha watched Beatriz plough right through the vines and shredded Arkamedon with her scythe. The spider demon, clearly caught off guard by Beatriz’s sudden revival, let out a sinister growl.
“So you came back?” Arkamedon sneered and rushed towards her. “Let me have at you again! It brings me great joy to humiliate you a second time!”
Samantha then glanced at Luke, seeing him panting and gasping. She immediately squatted down and noticed his slightly rotting body. “Luke, you’re rotting!”
Luke chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, it’s just because I’ve been away from the water for too long. And the air down here is really dry plus the Doom Mana.”
“Oh right... Will you be okay?”
“Yeah. We might just have to double-time the battle a bit. And healing Bea took a lot out of me.”
Samantha nodded as she turned to Arkamedon. She glanced at her hands, feeling the swirl of Azaleth’s magic inside her. The princess couldn’t believe what she had seen. What was that desert valley? What were those engravings on the floor? Most of all, who was that voice and why was it asking her if she knew the origins of magic? She shook her head before feeling her mana bubble inside her. Her once purple coloured mana became rainbow coloured.
“This is all that's left of Azaleth. All its magic in my hands,” Samantha stared at her palms. Suddenly, a sharp pain hit her in the head. “Ah!”
The princess yelped inpain as all the knowledge of Azaleth was seemingly drilled and forced into her skull. Samantha’s eyes widened as all the information and knowledge of Azaleth flashed before her eyes. She saw the queen of Azaleth with her twenty four children, smiling and laughing. She saw the screams of terror as Azaleth sank into the ground. And standing in front of her was the goddess of Azaleth with seven streams of light in her hands. She then heard the goddess say:
As the sun rises and the world seeks a new dawn
Despair not to find hope
Shine, shine, light of the angels!
“... May virtues take flight and sin fall,” Samantha continued. Her eyes focused on the glyphs as she turned to Arkamedon. “I summon you, Azaleth!”
Suddenly, a bright light burst from behind her when she saw a young woman step out. Her eyes widened in surprise. It was the woman on the engravings in the desert valley! The woman stepped out with a long flowing white gown with her hair the colours of the rainbow. Her skin glowed fair with her eyes looking kindly at Arkamedon. The moment he saw her, his eyes narrowed with a sinister snarl.
“Azaleth! How dare you walk in my presence!” Arkamedon roared. “You should have died with the rest of the lot!”
Azaleth looked down on him with sad eyes. “Your hatred has twisted you. Your rage has given birth to a magic that should not have existed.”
Samantha’s eyes widened. He actually managed to create a form of magic!?
Arkamedon hissed. “It was I who was supposed to be king! Me! You should have never risen to the throne!”
Beatriz whistled and shook her head. “Someone’s got gender issues.”
Brandon rolled his eyes. “Someone’s got a stick shoved up his ass.”
Arkamedon hissed as the light shone brightly.
“You were once a good spirit, Arachnos.” Azaleth shook her head with a merciful look in her eyes. “My dear brother, your magic was beyond compare and your intellect and political flexibility was unrivalled. If you did not fall prey to your avarice and ambitious perhaps, you would have been king.”
“You will not address me with that name! I am King Arkamedon – First of His Name, Lord of all Arachnos!”
The light around her began to shine brighter as it illuminated the cavern. Samantha gasped when she saw streams of golden mana and white wisps flow around Azaleth as she stood, ethereal. Her blue eyes shined with a gentle touch as her delicate hands extended forward.
“Listen! Listen to the tortured souls of Azaleth,” Azaleth begged. “Let my magic give them voices!”
Samantha gasped when the wisps began to speak.
Set us free!
We wish to go home!
This must end!
I don’t want to live anymore!
All I want to do is see the light again. And you’ll do it, in my stead.
Samantha stared in amazement before noticing that Beatriz, Brandon, and Luke were in her line of fire. “Brandon, Luke, Bea! Get behind me!”
Brandon, Luke, and Beatriz darted towards Samantha as Azaleth summoned her wings. Arkamedon hissed with rage flickering in his eyes and summoned more of his magic. Dark blue flames whirled around him before they launched straight at Azaleth. The woman showed no fear as she deflected the fire with one wave of her arm. Samantha’s eyes widened as the fireballs just disappeared with a single strike.
“Wow,” Samantha gawked.
Beatriz shook her head. “Damn.”
Brandon shook his head. “Did I just see one of the most ancient forms of magic being performed in front of me?”
“No shit you just did.”
“Yeah but, I thought Summoner magic died out years ago!”
At that thought, the Dark Knight frowned. She then glanced at Samantha; where did she learn the Summoner magic? For all the years she spent with her, Samantha had never used summoning magic. She had used basic conjuring, basic enchanting but never summoning. She glanced at Samantha as she continued unleash Azaleth’s magic at Arkamedon.
“You won’t stop me!” Arkamedon roared. “You never will!”
Azaleth smiled. “Unfortunately, I already have.”
Despite all the Doom Mana swirling and launching itself at Azaleth, the woman’s expression became more serious. Several orbs of light swirled around her as it unleashed rainbow coloured lights crashing towards Arkamedon with its power shrieking and screaming. He staggered back and unleashed black tentacles, corrupted with the doom mana. Dark green and dark blue fires enveloped the tentacles before rushing to meet the lights head on. Arkamedon’s face paled; the Doom Mana stood no chance. It immediately dissipated the moment it touched the light and gave way for the light to rush towards Arkamedon.
“N-no!” Arkamedon gasped. He trembled as he unleashed more mana. “Stay away!”
Before he could cast a spell, the lights flashed and swirled around him. Samantha gasped as hands from the light began pulling at him and ripping his body apart. She clasped her hand over her mouth, preventing herself from screaming. Blood splattered on the ground as the wisps burned away the dark energies. As the dark mana swirled, it hovered right above Arkamedon’s burning and mutilated corpse. Suddenly, Beatriz shoved past Samantha and sailed towards it.
“Wait, that shit’s mine!” Beatriz hollered.
She sailed over a rock before opening her mouth to inhale all of the dark magic. The streams and clouds of dark magic sailed into her mouth. Beatriz continued to devour all the dark magic until Arkamedon’s hand shot out.
“That’s my magic!” He roared. “Leave my magic, you bitch!”
Samantha yelped as his hand shot out for Beatriz’s throat only to hear a loud gunshot. Arkamedon let out an agonized scream when he saw a red hole forming at the middle of his palm. The princess gasped and turned around only to see Brandon standing next to her with his gunblade emitting a small white curl of smoke.
“You could have shot Bea!” Samantha stared aghast, scolding him.
Brandon shrugged. “But I didn’t, did I?”
“You still could have hit her!”
“Again, I was aiming for Arkamedon and I happened to hit him anyway.”
Samantha frowned for a moment until Arkamedon’s cries ripped through the cavern’s walls. Her blood curdled and she flinched, clenching her fists tight. She had never attacked someone so brutally before! It was something new for her. The princess shuddered and looked at Azaleth who didn’t even flinch.
“Wasn’t he your brother?” She asked.
Azaleth replied coldly. “He turned against me. He killed people to get to where he was. Being my brother does not exempt him from my fury.”
Admonished was the only thing Samantha felt at her words. She then looked back at how Matteo and Santino did things and how things had rolled out. They brought on a civil war which had caused the deaths of many people in Sofiene. She remembered the blood and the strangled screams of despair of the citizens of Sofiene before she fled to Xychosia. She then glanced at the pendant before looking at Arkamedon. Could she actually do it? Could she actually sentence her brothers to death for their crimes?
“In life, you’re forced to make terrible choices.” Azaleth simply said. “But the best choices are the ones you realize that you regret the least.”
Samantha nodded slowly as Arkamedon was slowly devoured by the lights. Her body trembled at the sight of his flesh being ripped clean off his muscles with his fibres being shredded into thin threads. Blood seeped through the cracks in the ground with his innards splattering before them. His cries faded when nothing was left but a dried skeleton that shattered against the cold, stone, cavern floor.