“Holy fuck!” Tiff shrieked as we jumped out of the way, avoiding the Halfling’s attack. I gasped as I landed on my knees, scuffing them. I ignored the pain, looking back and throwing an invisible shield over Tiff, whom Aidan was targeting. Upon realising that I was protecting her, Aidan turned on me, growling like a beast and leaping at me. His fingernails had grown quite long; jagged and sharp, they scared me and I was forced to jump back to avoid getting raked in the face.
“Damn it!” I threw up my own shield, and flinched as Aidan slammed into it, snarling and tearing at the invisible barrier. “I don’t want to hurt him!” I yelled as looked back at the others, who were frozen with mortification. “Help me, damn it!”
“How?!” Nathan yelled, his voice getting Aidan’s attention. “Oh fuck!” He threw up his own shield as Aidan leapt at him, slamming into and scrabbling against it. Nathan panted, blinking in surprise, and said, “We can’t hurt him! He’s one of us...!”
“We have to subdue him somehow!” Lydia cried as she protected herself and Hailey from another attack. Tiff had come to my side, terrified and trembling. “We have to stop this insanity!” She hugged Hailey closer; the Halfling girl was shaking just as badly as Tiff was, indicating how afraid she was, but there was also a strange gleam of determination in her visible eye. She obviously had an idea; I could only hope that it would be helpful for Aidan.
“Aidan!” Soren suddenly yelled, stepping out of the shield he had wrapped around himself. The feral Halfling turned on him, hissing and growling. Soren couldn’t help but grimace. “Aidan... please... Please, calm down. We’re your friends, remember?” He put his hand over Aidan’s heart and looked him dead in the eyes. “We just want to help you.”
It didn’t seem to work. Aidan snarled again and leapt forward; Soren failed to put his shield up in time. Within seconds Aidan had grabbed Soren’s arm and yanked; I heard flesh tearing, muscles and tendons snapping, and Soren’s humerus being pulled out of its socket with a sickening pop. He then left the arm to dangle uselessly, connected only by some scraps of skin and muscle, and tore at Soren’s face with those razor-sharp claws, causing the Nephilim to scream in pain as his flesh was ripped from his muscles, his muscles were shredded from his bones, and his eye was ripped from its socket.
“Soren!” I screamed. Bile rose and filled my mouth with a bitter taste, but I forced it down and ran over to Soren, throwing Aidan off my injured comrade before pulling up a new shield. He leapt forward in fury, once he’d recovered, and slammed into the shield as I tended to Soren’s arm. Unable to do anything for his face, I grimaced in disgusted worry as blood gushed down onto the charred ground below.
“Damn it,” I muttered, furrowing my brow as I thought of spells that would close up his wounds, or at least stop the bleeding. “I didn’t realise his Demon side would be so brutal...”
“Neither did I,” Soren admitted, voice pained. He winced as I gently touched the wound’s edge, then looked up as he saw Hailey step away from Lydia and the safety of her shield. “Hailey, no, get back to safety!” he cried, eyes widening in horror as the Halfling girl stepped towards her male counterpart. But she didn’t seem to hear him, and faced Aidan dead on, trembling but determined. That was courage if I’d ever seen it.
The Halfling boy turned to her, and bared his teeth before crouching and readying himself to pounce. Yet Hailey didn’t back down; she simply said, “Enough of this, Aidan!” I could tell that she was going to do whatever it took to stop him. “You’re being controlled by an outside force; you must fight it!”
What?! I blinked in shock. He’s being manipulated...?
I didn’t get to ask what Hailey meant, for Aidan leapt at her, snarling and growling hungrily for her blood.
Aidan’s attack made me gasp, but what made me fall silent in sheer amazement was the fact that Hailey grabbed him telekinetically, forcing him into a perfect paralysis; his only movements were his blinking and his breathing. That was a stronger mental hold than even the Tharul could ever manage, and I was absolutely astounded by it.
“Woah,” Tiff breathed, approaching me, eyes focused on Hailey and Aidan, who was attempting to struggle in Hailey’s unbreakable hold. “Incredible...”
“Incredible as it may seem,” Nathan said in a guttural tone, walking over to us and watching, “she is risking everything by doing that, using the powers afforded to her by the blood of her Angel parent.”
No wonder Aidan seemed to be more aggravated by her than the rest of us; she had no Demon blood to ‘contaminate’ the properties of her Angel blood, unlike us Nephilim…
“Huh...?” Tiff furrowed her brows in confusion. She didn’t realise what I did. “What do you mean?” She looked over at Hailey and Aidan. “She’s not going to lose herself like Aidan has... is she...?”
Lydia stepped over to us and shook her head before beginning to help me with Soren. “Not quite,” she mused as she tried to stop the blood. “She will just be unable to handle the changes, which will drive her insane. She won’t become vicious, just so depressed that we would have to keep a constant watch on her, lest she get her hands on rope or anything particularly sharp.”
I became tense as I became aware of the implication in her words. “Oh gosh...”
Nathan snorted sadly. “Not only that. Her bones will begin to hollow, and she will eventually sprout wings. Yet her body will not handle the transition due to the Human blood flowing in her veins.”
“What the fuck?!” Tiff gave him a horrified look, wincing at the snarling and hissing coming from Aidan. I looked over to see that Hailey was staring at him, trying to subdue him, and I shuddered at how unaffected Aidan seemed to be. I was bought back to the conversation at hand when Tiff choked, “Sprout wings?!”
“Yes.” Nathan looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Wings will push out of the flesh on her back. It’s going to hurt.”
Tiff went to say something else, but was interrupted a shriek resounded through the air. We all whipped around just in time to see Aidan break free of Hailey’s hold. Hailey was doubled over, crying out, clutching her head and digging her nails into her temples. As she crumpled to the ground and fainted, Lydia gasped in horror.
Ceasing healing Soren, she ran over as Aidan went to pick Hailey up, only for the Demon-born Halfling to turn to Lydia and viciously backhand her. She cried out, stumbled backwards, tripped, and crashed to the ground. She threw her hands out to try and catch herself, and received Aidan’s foot right in the middle of her back. Again she cried out, slammed her head on the ground, slumped, and passed out.
“Oh shit,” Soren breathed as I finally worked out a spell to use on his shoulder and face. I carefully began chanting, watching the muscles on his arm knit together. I was doing all that I could, although I was well aware he would need to see a proper healer if he was to regain use of the limb. His face was potentially beyond even an Angel.
“If you’re thinking of helping, Soren, you can forget it,” Nathan growled as he took in the expression upon Soren’s face. “With that injury, you’d only get yourself killed.” He then leapt forward to try and take Aidan down. The Halfling turned around and snarled before socking him hard in the face. Nathan flew a good distance away, unconscious before he hit the ground.
“Fucksticks,” I cursed, realising I would have to go fight him. Hailey wasn’t exactly able to help, and Tiff would get killed if she attempted. So, reluctantly, I ran forward and summoned a blade made of white light to my hand. I got close enough within a few seconds to slash at him, but he anticipated my action and jumped back, glaring at me with an animalistic ferocity. I grimaced as I held my weapon in front of me, two hands gripping the hilt, my eyes narrowed, and my feet shoulder-width apart, one slightly positioned in front of the other.
“So,” Aidan hissed, the first thing he’d said since he’d started this siege of his, as he extended his hands so his claws were on full display. “You think you can beat me, Firstborn?” His voice was guttural and deep.
“I don’t think I can,” I admitted. “But I don’t think I can’t, either.” I kept my face perfectly smooth and watched him. “I don’t want to hurt you, Aidan. You have to fight whatever’s controlling you!” If there is indeed something controlling you, like Hailey said... I thought to myself.
A dark smirk tugged at the corner of his lips, but Aidan said no more as he leapt forward to attack me. His attempt to land a blow on me failed as I parried his claws, and he jumped back to steady himself. Taking advantage of that fact, I propelled myself forward with my Magic and swung my sword at him, yet he sidestepped, and I missed. He dodged each time I sliced at him, but in turn I moved out of the way each time he attempted to cut me to ribbons. I grunted as I parried a blow that was aimed right at my gut, then attempted to bring my blade down on his arm. The scales that were slowly growing on his wrist, however, were hard enough to resist the edge of my sword and it bounced harmlessly off, causing me to stumble backwards briefly before I steadied myself and continued fighting.
The fight dragged on. No matter what either of us did, we couldn’t land a blow on the other. Stabbing at Aidan was pointless because he kept dodging; slashing at me was equally as futile as I either jumped out of range or threw up a shield.
Finally, though, Aidan dropped his guard and failed to dodge. My blade bit into his hip, causing blackish-reddish blood to spurt out and a screech of agony. He was distracted long enough for me to slam the pommel of my sword’s hilt into his nose, smashing it and dazing him. He fell backwards and smacked the back of his head against the dirt, groaning and falling unconscious, his head lolling to the side.
I panted a little bit. Regaining my breath as the other two Nephilim began to awaken, I dispelled my blade, and Lydia limped over to my side once she’d gotten to her feet. “What do we do with him?” she asked, a hand pressed to her back and her voice laced with pain.
I looked back at Soren, to ensure he was okay, to see him sitting down against a tree. “We cast sedation spells on him, and go to the dome,” I replied, looking back at Lydia. “It’s the only thing we can do.” I turned to Nathan. “Nathan, I need you to cast your most powerful one on him; we have to keep him knocked out for as long as we can.” I sighed and brushed part of my hair back behind my ear, looking at Lydia. “Can you tend to Soren?”
She nodded a bit. “Of course.” She headed over to the injured Nephilim, kneeling beside him and checking his wounds more.
“What are we doing with him afterwards?” Nathan asked, using a quick spell to heal his nose. It did little for the bruising.
“Leaving him here. I know it’s a terrible idea, but we have no choice,” I sighed, feeling regret pierce my heart. “We have to find the Eversortorix.” It’s imperative... Ryval may know how to break the seals.
Nathan nodded. He walked over to Aidan and knelt beside the fallen Halfling. He chanted something in a low voice, pressing his palm to Aidan’s forehead. A glow spread from his hand briefly, quickly vanishing before Nathan stood, the deed done. “Let’s go.”
He began walking towards the dome after gently gathering Hailey and holding her to his chest. The rest of us followed and left Aidan behind, an action that made the regret in my heart strengthen. Lydia stayed alongside Soren to ensure he didn’t start bleeding again.
As I walked along I kept my eyes averted and my mouth shut. My guilt and sadness was eating at me. Tiff, although she attempted conversation couldn’t get a word out of me, and after a good while she gave up.
We finally reached the dome, and I couldn’t help but tense as I laid eyes upon it. While it looked like nothing had changed in the millions of years it had been untouched, I knew it had been tampered with, and I grimaced a bit before saying, “Soren, stay back with Tiff and Hailey, okay?”
He nodded shakily, lumbering over to a tree, Nathan following and setting the still-unconscious Hailey beside him. Tiff followed them closely after giving me a worried look. I tried to send her a reassuring one, but I’m pretty sure I failed as Nathan, Lydia, and I slowly approached the dome. I summoned my sword and held it tightly as we moved close enough to hear anything coming from inside. And I could hear something that sounded very much like Demonic chanting. Shit!
I touched part of the wall. The section opened agonisingly slowly, and I stepped inside, telling the others to remain outside for now; I would call them when I figured out how broken the seals were. If they were broken to the point where extraction of the weapon hidden beneath was imminent, I would need the others to hold Ryval off while I got the Eversortorix from her grasp. I hoped – prayed, even – that she hadn’t been able to figure out the dual-layered protection.
But my hope was shattered as I saw the seals almost broken. Ryval was standing in front of them, eyes blank as she cast a breaking spell. She didn’t even manage to string together a new sentence, however, as I psychically took hold of her and threw her face-first into the dome’s wall. She screeched as she slammed into the stone, then collapsed to the ground, dazed. Nathan and Lydia ran in, alarm clear on their faces, as I released the Demon woman. “If she moves, you have to stop her! I’ll get the Eversortorix!”
“Right!” Lydia replied as I ran over to the centre, just as Ryval managed to struggle to her feet. She snarled viciously, eyes gleaming with malicious intent; it was apparent she was on the path down to being completely psychotic. I flinched a little as I took a glance at her, grimacing as I stopped in the centre.
“You always find a way to interfere with my plans, don’t you, daughter?!” Ryval snapped viciously as she took a single deliberate step forward. Writhing shadows and flickering flames began to lick at her feet, and her hands curled into fists as she began to shake. “I’m getting very tired of this!”
“Yeah, well, we’re getting sick of you trying to massacre everyone, so it’s a moot point.” I raised my sword and growled at her. “I won’t allow you to get your mitts on the Eversortorix.”
Ryval was silent, for a time. Then her hands uncurled and fell to her sides, a smile lighting up her face as I heard ragged, heavy breathing. Nathan, Lydia, and I looked over just as Aidan staggered in, and I covered my mouth with my free hand, eyes widening.
Aidan’s arms were covered in scales from his shoulders to the backs of his hands. His eyes were a blazing yellow, and he was twitching as if he had no control over his body. His teeth were like tiny knives in his gums, and I swallowed in utter shock. There was absolutely no way he could have possibly been awake…! .
“What is he doing here?!” Lydia hissed, horrified as she watched him twitch.
Nathan was furious and bemused. “The enchantment should have kept him asleep for hours...!” he growled, not sure what to do.
Ryval laughed; I could hear the madness in her voice. “Aidan here was far too easy to put under my control,” she mused, smirking as well as confirming Hailey’s earlier comment about Aidan being controlled. “I can do with him as I please, including breaking any and all enchantments others place upon him. For all intents and purposes, Aidan is my puppet, and you can’t do a thing about it.”
I felt my blood go cold, and I began to tremble with anger. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t detected it beforehand.
“Release him!” Hailey suddenly yelled, her rage clear in her voice. I jumped, having not been aware she’d awoken, and turned around to see her standing at the entrance to the dome alongside Soren and Tiff. Her hands were balled so tightly blood was dripping to the ground, and I could feel some sort of energy being summoned; Hailey appeared unaware of it, however.
Ryval’s smirk grew, and a shiver went up my spine. Something’s wrong...! I wanted to cry, just as the Demon woman hummed, “As you command,” in a dark tone. She summoned something small and bullet-like to her hand, and threw it hard at Aidan; it shot through the air too fast for any of us to react. The moment it touched his forehead it exploded, and his head was blown apart with it. I heard myself scream as blood, scraps of flesh, shards of bone, and blobs of grey matter simply flying everywhere. Gore splattered all over Ryval and all over us. Yet all we could do was stare in absolute mortification as Aidan’s body collapsed to the ground, making a wet thud as it landed. Where Aidan’s head had once been was now just a bloody stump, and smoke was rising from it.
I swallowed thickly. Nobody moved. Hailey begin to cry in shock. Tiff whimpered and began to repeat the word ‘no’ over and over again. Soren was silent, as were Lydia and Nathan.
I snarled, after a while. I was absolutely seething, horrified and appalled that I was related to the very woman who had just murdered one of my friends. “Why the fuck?!” I yelled as I looked at Ryval. “Why the fuck did you kill him?!”
She chuckled darkly in response. “You merely asked for me to relinquish control,” she purred. “You never stated in which way you wanted me to free him.” A smirk twisted her face, but it dropped away as an angry growl rose from Hailey’s throat. Ryval stepped back as a golden glow began to emanate from underneath Hailey’s fringe.
Beams of white light pierced through the stone dome and rained down on Ryval. She screeched as the light seared her flesh on contact, and tried to avoid the beams, but they seemed trained on her. I looked over at Hailey and discovered the reason behind this; she was glaring directly at the Demon woman, forcing the beams to follow her wherever she went.
Finally, Ryval decided to flee. No wonder; the way things were going, if she stayed she would perish. Teleporting rapidly to safety in a sea of green flames, Ryval escaped horrifically burned and likely nursing her wounded pride. She had underestimated Hailey, possibly due to the Halfling girl’s heritage; most Angels did not use their anger to attack and preferred to pacify.
Once Ryval was gone, and the beams stopped, Hailey collapsed. Tiff scampered over and caught her before she hit the ground, frowning when she noticed Hailey’s breathing was weak. “Shit...,” she whispered as Lydia approached. “Is she going to be okay?”
Lydia grimaced anxiously as she knelt beside the pair. “I have no idea,” she admitted, pressing the back of her hand to Hailey’s forehead. “I’m not sure what we can do for her… It’s bad enough that Soren is injured, and we can hardly do anything for him…” She looked back at the aforementioned Nephilim, who was sitting against the wall, Nathan squatting beside him and making sure he was alright.
“Shit…,” Tiff murmured again, furrowing her brow.
Knowing there was very little I could do to assist Hailey, I went to the very centre of the dome and stopped directly in front of the almost-broken seals. I exhaled heavily and closed my eyes, raising my hands so my palms were facing the sky. Beginning a low chant, I felt a surge of Magic and my palms began to glow. Once I had gathered enough energy, I knelt down and pressed my hands to the damaged runes, still murmuring the words of the spell as the sigils shattered, crumbling into nothing.
“Sai?” Tiff inquired, watching me as I began to incant another spell, one that removed the dirt that covered the Eversotorix. Giving no reply, I searched the deep hole with my mind, and once I found it I pulled out the giant cannon.
The Eversortorix’s radiant power stunned me briefly. The weapon was a combination of Angel and Demon forgery, like most Nephilim weapons were, but this one was built differently. It was styled from the brutish weapons the Angels and Demons had used before the Heaven-Hell Treaty had been instated.. I had seen these weapons before, and they were utterly terrifying, capable of doing exactly as the Eversotorix was. Except they had all been destroyed a few months after the treaty had been declared, hence why Ryval had sought the Nephilim’s weapon instead.
“That’s the Eversortorix?” Soren choked as I took the cannon from the air and hefted it onto my shoulder. Turning to him, I saw that his face was almost white; he looked terrified, and he certainly wasn’t the only one. Nathan and Lydia looked horrified while Tiff was trembling as she gazed upon the weapon.
I nodded. “Yes. This is the weapon the Firstborn hid during the Nephilim Massacre. Nobody except for the Firstborn ever actually saw it, did they?” I looked at it, cocking my head. “And no others will ever see it again. I am going to destroy it.”
Lydia frowned. “You... sound a little reluctant to do that.”
I turned my back to everyone and looked up at the dull, grey sky. “Because I am, for many reasons. Not only is this one of the last artefacts of my generation, but it’s built like the weapons the Demons and Angels used to use before the treaty was arranged. And you know how notoriously difficult those were to destroy.”
Nathan huffed. “Difficult? You mean almost impossible.”
I turned around again and nodded at him. “Exactly In fact, it can only be destroyed in the forge of its creation, or a stronger one.”
“How about we venture up to the forge hidden in the mountains?” Lydia asked, gesturing to the towering peaks in the distance. “The old stories say the Eversortorix was created up there.”
Everyone was rather surprised by my instantaneous reaction. “Why not?” Lydia asked, blinking. “If we can destroy it up there—”
“We can’t,” I interrupted gently. “Traversing those mountains is a perilous task even for a Firstborn. I can’t risk taking anyone up there. Soren’s injured, Hailey’s unconscious, and the oxygen up there is thin. Couple that with the ash, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.” I looked towards the mountains as I spoke about them. “Why do you think that forge ended up abandoned in the first place?” Nobody answered me, and I sighed as I returned my gaze to them. “The forge was – is – too dangerous to get to. It would be better to go to the forge in Heaven.”
Soren frowned weakly. “Uh... why?”
I gestured at him. “I don’t know if you realised this but you’re missing half your face. The healing that needs is beyond our power. That, and Hailey needs aid. She’s weak and we need to know exactly how her Angel powers will affect her Human body.”
Soren paused, mulling my words over in his mind before nodding. “Right. Good idea.” He looked at Hailey, rue in his eyes, before glancing over at Aidan’s body. “But before we go, we should at least...”
“Bury him,” Nathan finished quietly. “He deserves to be buried.”
I nodded. “You’re right. He does. He was our friend; he didn’t deserve to die so tragically.”
Nathan met my eyes and nodded weakly. He stepped over and picked up the body, and I indicated to where the Eversortorix had been buried. Understanding I was saying to bury Aidan there, he used his Magic to lay the corpse in, stepping back once the body was out of eyeshot. I set the Eversortorix down and stepped over, biting my lip before carefully filling the hole and covering the body within. It wasn’t much, but it would do. The dome would act as a tomb, at least, and I felt a bit better about burying him here knowing his place of rest would at least be marked.
Not much was said as we left the dome. Nathan carried Hailey, Lydia stayed with Soren, and I walked beside Tiff. I kept the Eversortorix upon my shoulder, having picked it up before leaving. The place we had entered Tutum was soon within sight, although the portal was closed. Not that that mattered; I didn’t want to go back to Hell, although it did occur to me that Diablo needed to be informed as soon as possible. That was something for another time, though. Right now, we had to save our living friend and get Soren some treatment.
With one hand I quickly opened a portal, and waited for the others to go through before me. I paused just before heading through the vortex, looking back at the dome in the distance with sad eyes. I’m sorry, Aidan, I thought, tears springing to my eyes unbidden. You never deserved to die. With that thought lingering in my mind I headed through, the portal closing once I stepped onto Earth.
We had ended up at the safehouse near Iris’ shattered grave. Lydia pulled out the crystal orb that would take us to Heaven, and reluctance seized me. I didn’t want to take the Eversortorix there, but I didn’t have much choice unless I wanted Hailey to die, Soren to be in pain for the rest of his life, and the Human race to be obliterated.
After asking if everyone was ready and receiving confirmation from all conscious party members, Lydia activated the orb. Bright light enveloped us, and I felt air rush around us all before we were standing in the beautifully carved marble streets of Heaven. Yet it was as if we had been expected. A crowd of stunned, frightened Angels surrounded us... and amongst them stood the one person I knew would help me destroy the Eversortorix.