“No, Tabri. I won’t let you face the undead by yourself. I’m coming with you.” Arsan was adamant. It still amazed me that he had laughed when I told him what I had done to Granden. He added that I should have lit the chair legs on fire too, to really scare him. That was just like my little band of misfits, always ready for a fight. I guess it came with the territory. Stubbornness was one of our traits too. He wasn’t going to back down.
“Fine,” I conceded. “You can come, but I will need you and Nell to hold off the Undead while I subdue Farenan.”
Arsan shook his head. “Agreed. You will need the distraction. Nell and I will hold off the undead army while you travel to the Underworld. We should be able to give you enough time.”
Tull had gone to see the Wind Tamers, to get a report on the undead army’s progress. When he had returned, he informed us that the fissure to the Underworld had become larger. It was large enough for me travel through. I couldn’t believe I would be jumping into a hole, practically dying while I was in the Underworld, and then hoping to come back to life when I reached the surface again. If I reached the surface again. I would have never imagined it in a million years, but that was my destiny and I was okay with it, although, there was a small part of me that was panicking. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind.
We were to leave within the hour, when the Wind Tamers could cut a path through the middle of the undead ranks wide enough for us to fight our way through with little resistance. It would give Arsan and Nell a better chance of survival. It was a good plan, but it was risky. It all hinged on my ability to use my magic in the Underworld. Was I strong enough to battle Farenan? I would find out soon enough.
There was a knock on the door. Tull reluctantly opened it, giving me a weak smile. Margo was there with news. “It’s time.”
I stood at the base of the mountain, the sun glaring on my back. Nell floated to my right in her mist form, flaming blade visible, ready for a fight. Arsan was at my left. The Artican black smiths had formed him a light weight vest of stone, molded with magic from the mountains lava. It was strong and would protect him. They had also made him a matching sword to his dragon dagger. Its handle was carved with an immaculate face and long body of the beast. I wondered how they had made such a beautiful piece in such a short time. Arsan fidgeted a little in his armor, nervous as was I. There was no turning back now.
I could feel the wind begin to pick up around us. The Wind Tamers were instructed to push the undead back and form a path for us to make our way through to the fissure. It would happen any second now. That would be our sign. I felt the slight change with my magic. The wind blew past us, toward the dead. “Alright then?”
Arsan nodded and lifted his weapons, ready for battle. I took a deep breath, the magic in my chest burning like a flame. “Right.”
A strong gust of wind pushed us from behind, a nudge from the Wind Tamers above. We took off running as fast as our legs would carry us, almost flying with the help of the breeze. It wouldn’t take us long to reach the first undead. They lopped along the frozen ground slowly toward us, intent on the kill.
The closer we came to them, the more hideous I found their features. Their skin hung from their bones, emaciated and pale. Open soars pocked their bodies, but no blood flowed from the wounds, only rotting flesh. Sunken eyes stared with no life behind them, only a lust for living meat. All these soulless bodies were living people once. They walked the earth just as I had. An eerie thought that I’m sure would haunt my dreams. I hoped I wouldn’t see anyone that I’d once known, but I didn’t want to dwell on the thought. I had a task to perform.
The first undead growled at us, a raspy exhale of breath, like a dry throat. It lifted its bony arms to grab at me. Nell’s sword moved swiftly cutting its head from its neck. The body fell to the ground in a heap, motionless, dead again.
And so the battle began. The Wind Tamers pushed the army back, creating a path for us. The ones that managed to limp close enough to us were cut in half or decapitated by the sharp blades of my companions.
The fissure was a few yards ahead, surrounded by the dead. They climbed from its depths, joining the ranks of the army. With every one we killed, two more emerged. It would be a difficult battle to get to the opening.
I pulled on my magic and flung the dead in front of me back. Their reek of death burned my nostrils and sent my magic wild. I controlled the burning, but barely. I was afraid of what it might do if I let it free.
Only a few more feet and we would be on the edge of the fissure. Nell took the head of a corpse that was inches from wrapping its boney rotting fleshless hands around my neck. There were so many bodies surrounding us, I felt like I was suffocating. We had to keep moving. With one blast of magic, I threw the army back fifty feet in a circle around us. The ones closest to the fissure dropped into the blackness without a sound.
“Jump, Tabri jump!” Nell’s voice echoed around me as she fazed quickly in and out of human form. I didn’t hesitate. I moved my legs as fast as I could toward the edge of the fissure, planted my foot on the edge, and launched myself into the blackness of the Underworld.
I was terrified. Wind whipped passed my ears, defining me from the intense sound. I was on my belly, falling into nothingness, waiting for the Underworld to claim me. When it did, I was not prepared for the change. My body shuddered and in an instant I felt my heart stop beating. I took my last gasping breath and gave over to death. The feeling was uncomfortable, to say the least. Being dead, it was like my body was being filled with mud. Every muscle was stiffening and tired. I fought the feeling to sleep as I feel.
A vision crossed my mind. Tull was in my head, calling to me, instructing me to stay awake. Nell had said this would happen. She told me the eternal sleep would try to take me and I should not give over to it. Fight it, she had said. I grasped onto Tull’s voice and held tight. Forcing my eyes to stay open, to pay attention to what I was doing.
The ground was looming up quickly. Instincts kicked in. My body righted itself in the air, lowering my legs so I landed on my feet. I hit the ground with a loud crunching of the rocks below my feet, a cloud of dust billowing out around me. I was in one piece. I was awake.
My body still felt like mud, but it was drying, hardening with every second I stood still. Tull was in my head again, telling me to find my magic. The burning in my chest was gone. I hadn’t felt it since my heart had stopped. I was empty without it, just another normal human being, no, not human anymore, dead. I was dead.
“Tabri, focus.” Tull called to me, in my head like a vision. “Remember what you are fighting for. Find your magic.”
My head was fuzzy, being dead played tricks on my mind. The last thing I remembered were my friends, fighting for me above. Nell, and Arsan my Caretaker, my friends. I remembered Ruan, who was waiting back in the mountain for word of our safe return, waiting for me to come home. I remembered little Pella as she watched us leave through the doorway to the outer world, her face was sad and scared. I had promised her I would come back. All these thoughts filled my head and for a second I felt a burning in my chest. It was small, but there.
I latched onto those thoughts, of the people that I loved, trying to bring back the pulse of my magic. It was hiding. It slowly crept into my chest, a small flame that was weak, feeble. This wouldn’t do. I needed my power to subdue Farenan. I had come this far, sacrificed my own life for my people. I wouldn’t fail now.
With my renewed conviction I pushed the flame through my veins. Its strength grew with every passing second, till it filled my body with fire. I let it burn, releasing its power through me. I wouldn’t hold it back this time. It longed to be free and I let it. I tested my body, my arms and my legs. The muddy feeling was being burned away with my magic. I had regained myself, ready to fight again.
I tested the blackness around me with my magic, searching for Farenan. I didn’t need my eyes to find him. My magic knew the way and I let it lead. Into the darkness I plunged, away from the light cast down on the ground from the fissure. I left the world of the living behind, welcoming the world of the dead.
Nell had told me to follow the flames, the red glow that emanated from the rocks around me. As I passed further and further into the Underworld, the heat grew. I felt like the blood in my body would boil, but my magic kept it at bay. This was where I was grateful to be an Artican. The ice in my veins cooled me. I was a creature of the cold.
The rocks glowed, fiery and bright around me. I was close, I could feel it. The burning in my chest was intense. It was the same feeling I had when the hellhound was chasing us, but this time I knew how to control it. I knew how to use it to my advantage. I promised myself I wouldn’t falter. I intended to keep that promise.
There was a faint burning smell, stone and flesh, wafting through the cavern. It was coming from around the bend. He was there, Farenan. There was no indication that he sensed my presence, but now was not the time for carelessness. I took caution and crept close to the wall, silently peeking around the corner.
A massive cavern lay before me, filled from floor to ceiling with red glowing rock. Heat radiated from the room, attempting to burn my flesh. It licked at my face and hands, but I wouldn’t allow it to touch me. Sitting at the far end of the chamber was Farenan. A hellhound sat to his left. Absentmindedly he petted its charcoal fur, leaving cinders across its back. The dog didn’t seem to notice, but that was where the burning flesh smell was coming from.
Farenan himself looked half dead. His jacket was torn and singed in places. His flesh was pale and sunken around his eyes. He didn’t have the putrid soars like the other corpses, but he hadn’t been dead long. It was his eyes that caught my attention most. They were black as night. Black like death. If I hadn’t been prepared, the sight of him would have frozen my body in fear, but I wasn’t. My magic laughed inside me. It was not afraid either.
In the center of the room was a globe. Farenan was watching the battle through the eyes of his undead minions on the surface. The vision flickered around from view to view, but the pictures were always the same. My friends were fighting, putting up a valiant effort. Nell’s sword burned through flesh and bone like it was butter. Arsan, my love, it pained me to see him. He was not a fighter, but his steal flashed in the bright light of day. Dagger than sword, dagger than sword. His attacks were barbaric but affective.
I needed to do my job quickly, before my friends were overrun. There wasn’t much time left.
With nothing but my magic to protect me, I stepped out from my hiding place. Farenan seemed shocked that I was there, but he sent the hellhound to attack without hesitation. He was a quick thinker. I would have to stay on my toes, stay one step ahead.
The hellhound sped towards me, with its unnatural speed. My magic begged to be set free. It wanted the pleasure of the first kill, to take the damned beast and lay it to rest once and for all. I was not going to stand in its way.
I held up my hand. A smile crossed my face when the dog froze silently a few feet away. It was suspended in mid jump. Its mouth hung open, teeth bared, wanting flesh to chew on. It didn’t move. It couldn’t move, not with the hold I had on it. I felt the magic surge through my veins. There was no end to my power. I could hold the beast forever like this, but time was short. What should I do with it?
The only way to end the hellhound’s life was to sever its head from its body. I really had no stomach for such a task, but it had to be done. With one twist of my palm, the beast tore in two. I let it fall to the ground, lifeless, death for the creature a second time over. Now, what to do with Farenan?