The land was completely arid. The sandy soil was burning under his feet, the environment scorching hot despite it being the dead of night. It didn’t seem to bother Nash. In the distance, gusts of hot air formed huge swirls that raised great wispy clouds of dust and sand.
The sky was barely visible. Vapors were emerging from the cracked ground forming a dense haze under the sky. Above it the radiant stars crowned the night and shone through the mist. They sparkled silver like light reflecting on dust particles floating in the air, giving the place a disturbing and mysterious air.
However, nothing in this eerie panorama seemed to attract his attention. He was staring at the horizon where a large rock formation loomed.
Too easy... and boring.
He didn’t know what to expect here. They had given him the location of the place during his mission assignment, but the only other detail he knew was that it was an extermination mission. He knew that anything alive in this area had to be sheltered. There were not many creatures on this planet that could withstand the scorching surface temperatures.
Well, the sooner he could finish it, the sooner he could return to his personal affairs. Nash suspected that someone had infiltrated the central base but he had no concrete evidence of it - only some details he found suspicious and what his instincts told him. He needed to talk to his brother since he was the master mind when it came to strategy. Kirsan would know best how to use the information.
Nash took a step forward, but before his foot touched the ground, his body vanished leaving behind a trail of steam. When he stepped back on the sand, the rock formation he had been studying from afar was towering in front of him. There was a crack in the mountain wall a little further along, but it was guarded by two huge creatures wrapped in thick fabrics that blended in with the environment. Their large yellow eyes focused on him as the guards revealed their weapons.
Nash approached slowly with his hands up as he probed their minds. They didn’t have any kind of mental defenses and he accessed their memories easily. The sentinels were not part of whatever was going on inside the cave. They were just mercenaries native to the planet. The people who had hired them promised a generous amount of fresh water and food in exchange for guarding this place, but the guards had no idea who they where or what they had them guarding. At first it had seemed like a good deal, but now they were restless. Their job was to defend the entrance from any intruder but they didn’t see the logic of standing here, clearly visible to anyone who was looking. They knew they were an easy target. The young man agreed with them.
A sudden blast of hot air hit him, interrupting his slow approach and his thoughts. The nearest guard had hit the ground with his spear, activating the runes that were engraven on the wooden surface. The metal tip became so hot that it started to glow an angry red, making the weapon look far more dangerous.
Nash didn’t understand, but quickly language pouring from the guard’s mind solved the confusion, he had just been told not to come any closer. “We do not want to fight but we will do so if necessary.”
Nash brushed the blond hair out of his face and gave the restless guard a long look. He had been sent to exterminate, but these two didn’t seem to have anything to do with his mission and they clearly weren’t hostile.
“Get out of here and we’ll forget we’ve seen you.”
That helped him decide. Nash gave them a crooked smile and jumped in the air, flipping over the guard that had spoken. He landed between the mercenaries and struck them in the head with the back of his hands. Nash’s speed gave them no time to react, and a second later both beings fell unconscious on the sand with a thud. The spears slipped from their motionless hands as the runes engraved on the surface faded while crackling. Nash barely glanced back, and kept walking as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
There wasn’t much light inside the cavern, but his amber eyes adapted to the darkness without any problems, allowing him to see all the sharp spikes that covered the walls of the corridor. After some time, the sand gave way to an uneven and hard surface as he walked toward what looked to be the very core of the mountain.
Nash started to feel a powerful and pulsating energy in the air that couldn’t be natural. The tunnel opened into a huge chamber lit by torches. Inside he saw a triangle inscribed into a circle, drawn on the floor and surrounded by smoking symbols.
“So they sent me to stop an Evocation?” he thought as he watched from the shadows.
Nash knew of these kinds of rituals, but he had never seen anything like this before. But if they had assigned him on this mission, it would have been for a good reason, right?
An Evocation requires the participation of summoners, channelers, shields and, sometimes, a sacrifice.
The summoners use energy provided by the channelers to create a circle of power that is necessary to perform the ritual. The shields maintain a protective circle around the channelers to contain and stabilize the channeled energy in case of mishap. Sacrifices, when necessary, play different roles depending on the nature of the entity to be summoned.
However, he could see other components that he didn’t recognize.
He found the summoners first, although there were only three. Weird, there needs to be at least four for an Evocation to work. He observed that each one was located at each of the corners of the triangle, inside the circle, even though only the sacrifice (if required) was supposed to be there.
Then he saw the channelers, but there were six. Six! Those creatures had signed their death sentence. Using six channelers was prohibited. For some reason that nobody had been able to explain so far (because no one was stupid enough to experiment with that), using six channelers in any kind of ritual destabilized all the energy creating a chain reaction that destroyed everything within a several mile radius. Result: total annihilation.
There were three shields for each channeler, but they were protecting the circle instead of shielding the channelers. In addition, there were six other beings placed with their backs to the circle, holding stones of some kind that he didn’t recognize.
Nash stepped back, retreating deeper into the shadows. What if this was a trap? If he was right and someone had managed to infiltrate their base, it was possible the mole had altered his assignment to try and kill him. But why send him before the ritual began? Nash could disappear from here before the explosion hit him (which would undoubtedly sweep away the entire mountain). No... That didn’t make sense. He took a deep breath as he sorted out the information he had.
Three summoners, six channelers, eighteen shields and six beings holding stones and... Nash darted through the shadows to get a better look. Yes, there was also a sacrifice, right in the center of the circle, but it was lying on the floor and it looked like it was tied up, struggling in a futile attempt to escape.
Unbelievable, an involuntary sacrifice? Those imbecilic creatures were nothing but dead flesh. Even if he wasn’t there to kill them, they would still die during the Evocation. And in the unlikely event they didn’t get blown to pieces, all of them would be cursed for the rest of their miserable lives for using a sacrifice against their will.
As he maneuvered through the cave, Nash saw more creatures scattered throughout. Surely, these were more guards, eighteen in all. These beings had a strange obsession with the number three and its multiples.
“Well, maybe this won’t be so boring after all” he surmised, wondering what they wanted to summon and why.
The ritual itself hadn’t started yet, but the channelers were already gathering energy from the earth. Now he recognized the pulsing sensation he had felt before. Surely the group had chosen this place to utilize all the heat energy in the environment.
Stopping a ritual, whatever the type, is quite complicated, especially an Evocation. They require a great amount of energy. Every component must be stopped in the right order or the energy would destabilize in a similar fashion to using six channelers. In the end, everyone would be dead, including the one who wanted to stop the ritual.
Nash didn’t know what kind of Evocation this was, nor did he have any idea about the role of the ones holding the stones, so he had no choice but to wait and find out the right order to shut it down.
Maybe it was a trap after all, maybe the mole had sent him here hoping to eliminate him by using whatever these creatures were summoning. Or that he would die trying to stop the ritual. Or, ultimately, that the explosion created by the six channelers would kill him with the rest of them.
Nash let his consciousness wander through the cave to examine the minds of the creatures, but to his great surprise, he found absolutely nothing. It wasn’t that those beings had good mental protections that he couldn’t get past. He just couldn’t feel anything where their minds and consciousness were supposed to be. It was like they didn’t exist.
Nash was so focused considering all the possibilities that he didn’t notice when the summoners pulled some sort of parchment from their robes and began to recite a chant in perfect synchrony:
"Schna jaewa. Sihre zaino aseru roh. Zame sediss erussa shimou hibitowa roh ni zarassi ike ni, roh ameta zamorisau. Schoo Urus!"
Surprisingly, Nash recognized the language, however, it took some real effort to translate what they were saying - he hadn’t studied the language for a very long time - but if memory didn’t fail him, they had said something like:
"Time has come. Wake up endless existence. Those who were silenced, greet you and open the portal for your return. We offer our souls for your resurrection.”
The creatures were using the archaic language of the Durk, Servers of the Shadows, who had been condemned to extinction thousands of cycles ago, during the First Era.
This situation had become far more dangerous.
The Durk had been exterminated for good reason. The records that remained about them spoke of a cursed race, ancient forbidden powers and an age of darkness. If those creatures had discovered how to perform any of their ancient rituals, and were to carry it out successfully, everyone would be in grave danger.
The channelers raised their arms one by one, pointing at the sacrifice. Forming a triangle, their hands began to glow with the energy they had been absorbing.
The beings with stones started to activate them by drawing different symbols on the polished surfaces with their own blood. When the last stone lit up, the energy that the channelers were holding flowed to the sacrifice with a flash of light. A shiny silver dome began to form over the circle of power.
Nash allowed himself a moment to decide what to do. If the people in charge of the missions back at headquarters had known anything about the nature of this Evocation, they would have immediately informed their Lord. They certainly wouldn’t have sent him, at least not alone. This could only mean that an outsider had manipulated the information. But why give the mission to him? This was the kind of thing their enemy liked to take care of, but if the Guardians knew about this, they would be here and he would be dealing with a very different kind of situation. But for whatever reason, Nash was the one here. For better or for worse, he had to have enough power to stop them.
Amber light from the protective circle brought him back to reality. The amber was gradually covering the silver dome from the power of the shields, while the summoners traced in the air the dimensional runes that would open the portal.
Nash took a deep breath, he didn’t really have much of a choice there. Obviously, he had to stop the ritual before everything blew up or something diabolical emerged from the portal they were opening. This planet and its people shouldn’t have to pay the consequences for the actions of a group willing to die just to perform a cursed ritual. But to stop them he would need to use a considerable amount of energy and that wasn’t going to be at all pleasant.
He began to absorb the heat around him. Armor he wore under his clothes started to spread, covering his unprotected skin until only his eyes were exposed.
Nash clenched his jaw as he felt the first bursts of pain twisting each one of his nerves. He channeled vast amounts of energy which flowed inside of him, wrapping his body in a flash of burning light. The energy strengthened him, sharpening his senses and enhancing all his abilities. The process barely lasted a few seconds, but the pain made it feel like an eternity. Using his power always hurt... a lot.
When the torture was over, he let out the breath he had been holding without realizing. Wrapped in a halo of pure energy, he started advancing towards the first row of guards who were already running at him ready to fight. Nash took out the swords that were holstered on his back. As soon as he held the weapons they vibrated with force, becoming alive, a soft pearl shine illuminated the metal. He gave the guards a lethal look, his eyes were charged with golden energy that made them glow like fire, he was ready to kill.
The sacrifice was rising slowly toward the small crack of the portal that appeared above the center of the circle. The ritual was going too fast, Nash worried. He couldn’t waste even a single second.
Nash’s swords were bursting with charged energy. He sliced through the air, releasing a small explosion of light sending the guards to the ground engulfed in flames. Those participating in the ritual didn’t flinch as they saw the guards fall, but Nash could feel the terror in the air as he advanced towards them. He smiled under his armor, he loved that feeling of power and superiority.
The remaining guards leaped over the burning bodies towards the intruder, and Nash knew the real fight was about to begin. Not that any of those beings were a match for him, but killing them would take a couple of precious minutes.They had surrounded him and he couldn’t risk hitting the shield with his own energy. A few small explosions later, the last of the guards was engulfed in flames and Nash was able to concentrate on the ritual itself.
First, deactivate the shield.
Nash sprinted to the creature that had closed the protective circle and grabbed its head with his hands, digging his fingers into the hard, scaly flesh. The robe it was wearing immediately began to burn under his touch and the creature began to scream, but the shout died in the air when Nash broke its neck. A breach opened in the shield. He couldn’t use his powers to destroy the shield or the energy would bounce back at him. He had no choice but to do it by hand. One by one, he felled the creatures, with each death breaching the shield a little more. As the last one died, the protective dome collapsed, leaving the rest of the components exposed. With disgust, he wiped the charred remains of skin stuck in the armor that covered his hand.
Next, disable the stones.
The being screamed when it saw him at its side. The stone slipped from its hands and the rune inside flickered off. Nash felt how the energy that flowed through the nearest channeler diminished, perhaps those stones were energy enhancers, that would explain why the channelers didn’t let the energy flow until the stones were activated.
Nash stabbed the creature with both swords, said something under his breath and the metal began to vibrate with a soft hum. Opening its mouth, the being let out a cry of pain but it was completely drowned when two tongues of fire emerged from the metal of his weapons, reducing the body to dust. The infernal flames moved from body to body around the circle until the six beings that had held the stones were no more than a pile of scorched flesh.
Then, the summoners.
Nash glanced briefly at the center of the circle and felt worry spread through his chest as he saw how much the portal had grown. The atmosphere had become so charged with pulsating energy that small pebbles were floating in the air.
What if he couldn’t stop it?
He couldn’t risk destabilizing the energy feeding the silver dome any further. However, he could utilize the stone below. With a powerful movement he plunged his swords into the ground. The stone melted around the blades as his energy flowed through them, dispersing through the stone and cracking the ground as it searched the bodies of the summoners. When it came in contact with their feet, the energy raced up their skin until their bodies were engulfed in a swirl of light that burned their bodies in a matter of seconds. Their chant was silenced and the portal began to close slowly.
Finally, the channelers.
At that point, the cave had become a chaos of pulsating energy, smoke, flames and burning bodies.
As he had foreseen, the channelers began to lose control of the energy. Small tentacles of light began to creep along the walls of the cave splitting the rock, with several fragments beginning to fall from the ceiling. At this rate the whole mountain would fall down before the explosion killed them.
Nash felt absolute despair coming from the creatures. It was strange since he couldn’t feel their minds, but it was almost admirable how they remained firm in their position, even when one could barely breathe due to the smoke. The suffocating heat of the flames and the overwhelming charge of energy surrounding them all didn’t affect Nash, since he didn’t need air to survive, but he did need his sense of smell.
He took a deep breath as he sheathed his swords and channeled more energy through his body. Nash needed all the speed he could get.
Getting rid of the channelers was even more difficult than ending the shields, because, apart from having to kill them one by one in the right order, he had to do it without touching them. Otherwise, his body would automatically absorb the energy channeled. After all, that was his power.
Nash had the ability to absorb the energy from the environment and use it as he pleased. The more energy he absorbed, the more powerful his body became. The process was always very painful and although Nash could become indestructible in theory, his mind could only bear a certain amount of pain before collapsing. Surely if he touched one of the channelers the pain wouldn’t kill him, but it would put him out of action for a while. And the thought of a mountain burying him alive, followed by a massive explosion, wasn’t appealing at all.
Nash dashed to the center of the circle, his body barely a blur, while unsheathing a dagger that was strapped to his thigh. He jumped over a pair of flaming corpses and landed in front of the first channeler, plunging the steel into its chest. The being didn’t react, it didn’t make any sound as its life ended, and the channel of energy that flowed through it closed. Nash frowned, but didn’t stay to find out why the creature hadn’t reacted.
He counted mentally as the channelers fell to the ground, none of them shouted, none of them did a single thing when he stabbed them with the dagger.
When he reached the last one, Nash stopped half a second to look into its eyes and found a completely hollow look, it was as if they were already dead before he killed them... curious. Surely that was one of the many consequences of using six channelers, although who knew, no one who had participated in such a ritual had survived.
When he finished the last of them off, the sacrifice fell to the ground with a thud. The portal closed completely, leaving only a bright crack in space. Everything was calm. Nash began to move towards the sacrifice, when suddenly the crack began to collapse on itself, producing a deafening screech. Everything began to be pulled towards a small black hole that had appeared where the gap in space had been.
Nash cursed when he realized what was happening. He didn’t have time to react when he felt a violent tug that dragged him forward, making him trip over the body of the sacrifice. He fell to the ground. Both rolled closer and closer to what the failed portal had become.
All the energy that had been so concentrated in the center of the circle had been absorbed by the closing portal, creating the monstrosity that now threatened to absorb everything.
Nash plunged his swords into the ground abruptly stopping his advance. The sacrifice hit his face hard, its body had started to stretch due to the influence of forces coming from the black hole. Luckily for Nash, time didn’t influence his body, so he wasn’t turning into an elongated version of himself, but he couldn’t push the unfortunate creature aside since every fiber in his body was focused on clutching the swords. The pull of the gravity field caused him a type of pain he had never experienced before.
He had never been in a situation like this. How could anyone fight a black hole?
He also couldn’t escape it. If he tried to disappear from there, the gravitational field would absorb him like a grain of sand. So he did the only thing he could think of. He only had one chance and if it didn’t work, Nash would leave the world of the living.
He took a deep breath and let go of the swords. The dead weight of the sacrifice accelerated his advance but he managed to free his hands. They formed several seals while turning towards the dot of compressed matter that was the black hole.
His hands lit up, charged with energy, with which he created a box made of complicated geometric patterns that flew around the black hole locking it in time. Nash’s feet had been too close to the point where the matter began to collapse on itself. He automatically pulled away his feet, just in case, and after another complex movement of hands, the walls of the luminous prison flickered once and then disappeared, taking with it the black hole and all the energy that he had been channeling until that moment.
Nash briefly stared into the empty space. He was feeling strangely weak. His hands were still in the air, with an intense tingling spreading through his arms. He didn’t know where he had sent that monstrosity. With any luck, it would end up in the middle of deep space, eventually disappearing without causing any harm.
Nash took a deep breath of the hot air that was starting to fill the cave through the tunnel. The hole had swallowed everything that was there, even the heat, leaving the cave cold and in darkness. He rubbed his hands to get rid of the unpleasant sensation, then turned to retrieve his weapons, but his hand smacked into the body of the sacrifice.
Nash watched the figure warily as he stood up. He hadn’t seen anything coming out of the portal but he wanted to be sure nothing had entered that body. He carefully probed the edges of its mind and could clearly feel a fragile awareness, nothing more. He let out a sigh, everything was in order. Hopefully no more unwanted surprises would happen on this mission.
But now he wasn’t sure what to do with the sacrifice. Kill it? Surely it didn’t belong to the group of the Evocation but it was there. If something he couldn’t detect had entered that body, it could be dangerous.
Better not take risks. Nash grabbed it by the neck and lifted it up into the air. The hood slipped back revealing the face of the sacrifice. For a second Nash was paralyzed and the body slipped from his hands.
It was a female human!
What would they do with a human as a sacrifice? And how had they managed to take her to this planet without killing her?
Nash watched her closely. Her skin was irritated and red from the heat and she didn’t seem to be breathing. Maybe she was already dead... He crouched beside her. No, her heart was still beating, though very weakly.
His eyes stopped where he had touched her. The skin there was covered with blisters. It was disappointing how weak some humans could be. He had been holding back his energy as not to burn her... but of course, he thought it was one of those creatures, not a human.
“And now, what do I do with you?” he asked, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him.
“To kill or not to kill.” Nash smiled at the thought of how fragile life could be. “You can’t breathe huh?” He said watching her skin begin to pale due to the lack of oxygen.
With a sigh he moved his hands around her creating a bubble rich in oxygen similar to the atmosphere of the Earth. If he left her like that, she would die in a couple of minutes.
It would be so simple to kill her. She looked so fragile, so delicate. He just had to touch her again or just leave her there. Slowly he put his hand above her chest. Her skin immediately became irritated, but just as he was about to touch her, he withdrew all the energy from his hand.
Something inside him dismissed the thought of ending her life.
After a second of hesitation, Nash put his hand on her chest and both disappeared from the desolate cave.