Chapter IX - "The Last Stand"
Casscadia scanned the dense forestry for the elusive white Bo Zell, carefully scouring Jackralvian’s previous positions, but spotted nothing unusual. For an ivory-colored Zell who may have normally been quickly detected within such dark foliage, the witch of doom became convinced he’d retreated. Considering him of little regard, her soulless Jee narrowed as she turned her gaze back to her fallen prey: Titan.
Only a stone’s throw away from the ancient brick tower (and her ballista--now out of ammunition), Casscadia cautiously stepped through the mud and chaparral and paced ever closer to the now helpless azure Zell Titan. The felled hero was nearly motionless; barely able to shift about, let alone stand--but he was conscious. His wear Jee swelled, flickering about, and his body wept thick streams of viscous blood.
But, Jackie had not retreated. Yet he fearfully watched from his hidden sanctuary amidst the dense brush, wondering if he should remain still, or take action and intervene. Once again Jackie stared at Titan’s trembling Jee, and as before, Titan’s subtle, commanding glance for Jackralvian to stay put was made crystal clear. At that moment, it seemed Titan would pass out, overrun by blood loss, stress, and drained stamina. His foggy Jee fluttered shut. Remaining silent, Jackie scanned the skies. No one. No help. And he dared not call out nor move--now, he could only watch...
Casscadia shifted, and stopped directly left of Titan’s body. There it was: the Amulet! Titan’s onyx medallion swirled with wisps of unknown power. Casscadia leaned in. She studied Titan’s face. Nothing. Stillness--silence. She knelt, allowing her just within reach of the Amulet upon his leathery neck. The way the chains were fashioned, Casscadia needed to snap them with her claws. She cautiously slipped two of her stiletto-sharp digits underneath the charcoal pendant’s chain... and slightly lifted it mere claws-lengths away from the giant azure’s throat...
Titan clutched at her neck!
Shocking Casscadia as if a lightning bolt had just flashed upon her, Titan’s huge right fist attached to her gullet like a snake’s fangs to its prey! Claws dug in. Casscadia was petrified, choking on thoughts doused in panic, drowning in endless waves of fear. Titan’s adrenaline-flooded gaze pierced...
“Y... you... are... a TRAITOR! Your... Zen’th was long ago... but... a far worse FATE AWAITS... Zell of DUST!!”
Casscadia’s paralysis permeated every crevice of her body, but, Titan’s grasp was faltering from his poisoned condition. She struggled for escape, still firmly grasping the Amulet, but finally lurched backward to freedom! The black medallion snapped from its chains, now fully in her possession. The death witch tumbled awkwardly through the air in reverse, and took to the skies with a blind, 180-degree turn.
“Not so fast, Thief Queen!”
Link rocketed forth in a multi-colored flash, startling the Zen’th Zell as she violently rammed her. The collision was precise: Link skillfully forced Casscadia to fumble the black dodecahedron mid-air, and in one fell swoop, the little Ys Zell zipped underneath to recover the Amulet!
Jackie felt a sense of hope coursing through his body as he witnessed his best Amal perform this feat of bravery. He almost blurted out: “Zi! Chi-Foi work, Link!”, but thought twice about revealing his position. Something was compelling Jackie to wait. To pause just a moment longer. But he didn’t know why...
Link--unable to carry the dark medallion’s weight--quickly tossed it down to its rightful owner at the forest floor. The Amulet partially sunk into the mud, a mere wing’s length from Titan’s crash zone. But his Jee remained barely open as they shivered erratically, and his wounds were ghastly.
Pairs of fighters, both bone and flesh alike had made their way into the area. Undead Ys Zell still swarmed. Casscadia fumed, ultimately focused on exacting revenge upon Link.
“Vile fly!! That Amulet is MINE!!”
Casscadia chased her to little avail: Link was far too agile. She was, in many ways, very different from her drone-like, undead adversaries. Linky had actual training with her relatively newfound family of Zell at Kessoshaero. She was treated not just as ‘Ys Zell’, but essentially as ‘Zell’ when it came to skill-building.
Just then, Scarlassh approached. The earlier ashen storm summoned by his Zen’th allies had begun to thin; soon to clear. Scarlassh noted this constraint, and hastily beckoned to the dark witch.
“Casscadia! Come ON! Quickly!”
But Casscadia was far too enraged, distracted and fully focused upon Link. She angrily swatted in utter futility as the little Ys Zell spun about, taunting the witch.
“Slllloooww, slow, SLOW! You ghosties need to exercise...”
Linky’s insulting remarks were a part of her charm, voiced only when she had an unwavering sense of confidence. Her conviction resonated, and Jackie began to abandon his own fears.
The artificial smoke screen had nearly dissipated. Scarlassh insisted that the witch heed his warning:
The dark sorceress paused, but soon enough, decidedly shot a glance back at the fallen Titan--helpless and vulnerable. Jackie’s adrenaline spiked; his concern for Titan now tenfold. However, Scarlassh and the others would wait no longer, and vanished into the horizon as the dark fog thinned out. Casscadia ignored this, and swooped directly over to Titan, landing nearby, claws fully extended. She was going to finish him. Titan’s strength no longer waned--it was gone. The poison flechettes had worked their due course, and the gargantuan fighter had already exhausted every last ounce of heroism he could muster. Even as the punishing toxicity brewing inside his veins burned, his wounds ran cold. Although he was still conscious, it was clear that his spastic, shaking tremors spelled almost certain doom. Casscadia smiled.
But, just as she closed distance, only paces away from Titan... the most curious and unpredictable event began to unfold.
Deep within Kessoshaero’s walls, Ziwalos’ six pointers aligned! All six aimed East: three and three...
“Stay... back... WITCH!”
Jackralvian’s courage summoned, he and Casscadia were suddenly Jee to Jee, wing to wing! He’d already intervened, having flown directly in-between Titan and Casscadia. But the witch was far more powerful and a veteran of actual warfare. The inexperienced Bo Zell was frightened beyond compare. Jackie knew that intervention might earn him certain death--but he could wait no longer. Milliseconds felt like eternities, and his nightmares froze his very thoughts!
There were worse things than mere ‘death’. He feared this, certainly--but his worst fear... was becoming one of them! Like Nitrozite. A Fate worse than death: transformation into a Zen’th. No remorse. No heart. No love. No soul. Just like Casscadia...
But the witch had faltered, stopping midway. And why? Because it was so very curious to her. Unexpected. Why... why would this small, pathetically underdeveloped Bo Zell even fathom the idea of facing her?! It was... shocking. Unnerving. Doubt began to seep into Casscadia’s Mea, but for only a moment.
Confidently, Casscadia lashed out with a screeching growl, slashing at the Bo Zell... yet he instinctively dodged. Casscadia’s mouth gaped, her entire countenance dumbfounded! A heckler from the crowd jeered:
“Can’t hit what you can’t JEE! Hah!”
Much like Bard, Linky never missed an opportunity to eek in a joke. Especially if it was at the expense of Casscadia. But the best part of this zinger was that Jackie’s confidence grew tenfold. And ironically, it was through laughter and joy even amidst panic and doom! Granted, Jackie’s inner strength to face up to the witch (with a sense of agility, no less) seemed to have come from elsewhere--somewhere, deep within...
Meanwhile, Raeniya was still neck and neck in a fight of her own, but happened to look toward the Ivory Tower of crumbling bricks. And there Jackie was: engaged in... battle? She could barely believe her Jee. Jackralvian floated mere wings-lengths from Casscadia! But, the witch was the one who seemed flustered.
Casscadia raked the air, missing again. Both white Bo Zell and Zen’th floated and hovered all about the decrepit observatory (which Casscadia had selected in order to guise her sniper shots). Jackie used the tower to his advantage, placing it in-between himself and Casscadia whenever he could...
...which gave him an idea.
As she made another attempt to strike him, he dodged once again, but flew upward, vertically aligned along the white spire’s aged stonework. In what seemed insanity, Jackralvian intentionally slammed himself into the column’s top! It crumbled, groaned and leaned. Primal rage persisted as Jackralvian roared, maniacally slapping his tail into the structure with such fury, he could only have been described as mad and possessed!
Boulders, debris and stone chunks tumbled downward. Jackie was--of course--above the rockfall. Casscadia, however, was victim to the gravity of the situation as the stony pieces plummeted.
Link witnessed all of this from afar, and her mouth gaped. She’d never seen anything like it--certainly not from Jacks. From her vantage point, watching Casscadia get pounded from an Armageddon of jagged rocks was immensely satisfactory. She didn’t pause for long, though. Link darted over to the abandoned obelisk, and helped launch brick shards directly toward the evil sorceress’s twisted face! Jackie continued to slam the crumbling stonework with his tail, shaking down more debris. Deluged and overwhelmed, Casscadia was unable to fly out-of-range. She attempted to shield her Jee--mostly in vain.
Just then, Raeniya bested her latest Zen’th Zell enemy with a few searing bursts and a back-flipping tail bash. She diverted her flight path to aid Jacks and Linky. As she arrived, she quickly sprayed a cone of Flam at the confused sorceress, taking caution not to set any trees ablaze. The falling stones from the Tower helped with Raeniya’s additional assaults on Casscadia: they extinguished minor hot-spots left upon the forest floor. Casscadia was at a distinct disadvantage; wounded and struck again and again as each moment passed.
Out of the haze of debris and dust, Scarlassh swooped in to guide Casscadia away, pulling her from the rubble. To his dismay, initially, Casscadia resisted.
“Nae, Scarlassh! The Amulet... I must--”
“It’s too late! We must retreat!! NOW!”
Casscadia reluctantly followed Scarlassh into the shadows and fog. By then, Dupree’, Llewelyn, Link, Raeniya and others were free to attempt brief pursuit, but there was no point. The battle was won, and it wasn’t prudent to give chase. Titan needed their aid! All the while, Jackie had returned to assess the azure giant. He crawled forward, frightened by Titan’s ghastly wounds. The critically injured hero of Kessoshaero choked and howled. But as he found the strength for calmness and clarity, he Spohs, staring at Jackralvian.
“Your instincts... led you to... aid me--even amidst great fear...”
“Stay still! I’ll get help!”
“Naess! There is no... Time.”
Titan clutched at his black Amulet... and offered it to Jackie.
“Take it! Trust your... instincts. But guard it, also. It will... help when all seems lost...”
“Nae, Titan! You can’t--you...”
Titan erratically sucked in a gulp of oxygen. His lungs sounded... wet. Heavy. Jackie was petrified. Link flew over, nearly frozen in shock. Leijimoto was not far out-of-range, and clamored to get to Titan’s crash zone.
“We all have our... Time... and, so shall you. Be at peace--at EyaySuust with it, Bo Zell. Some day, it shall set you FREE! Ta Nn’ Plok Jee Shulo... Vas Oos Zi Jee Taeuusah-ay...”
In human language, what Titan had proclaimed in ZellSpohs loosely translated to: “Just because you do not see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there”...
...but the true translation was not meant for humans to understand.
Leijimoto arrived, visibly horrified as Titan breathed his last. The great azure’s once vibrant colors faded, and Titan’s body slightly withered even moments after death. And so, Titan of Taelondria... was gone.
Leiji’s Eyayeli shattered into nothingness. The old patriarch’s Cyur sank into depths unknown. His Jee grew wide, teetering upon the edge of tears. His entire body trembled; his gaze, emptied. The old legend hadn’t felt this hopeless since the biggest eclipse of his soul: the death of Althe’aya. Titan was an Amal, a brother. His brother. A warrior and hero to all, but--HIS hero.
As the shadows and smoke of battle cleared, Dupree’, Llewelyn, Artemis, Raeniya, Link, and others gathered. None Spohs, but merely prayed, claws over fists. The shock and horror were far too massive for idle chatter. They mournfully surrounded Titan’s crumpled body, staring at what once was their greatest champion.
Time felt stagnant. Deep inside Kessoshaero, Ziwalos’ six indicators inched forth, but something was different: as if the ageless timekeeper knew of the fallen hero’s Fate. Steam, and machine-precise moments crept by, like sluggish, reluctant eternities. Jackie absently gazed downward to behold Titan’s dull, onyx Amulet with his silvery Jee. As Jackralvian cradled it, he realized how small the dodecahedron had appeared upon Titan’s long, sinewy throat, yet it was beyond over-sized for his Bo Zell claws. Jacks could hardly breathe; the shock was transfixing as he stared at Titan’s corpse... and his mysterious stone.
The sparse remnants of the Zen’th Zell’s dark magic evaporated, and the dusty redness of the previously obscured skies had finally cleared to blue. Violetta’s monstrous statue of Titan’s crystalline likeness loomed far in the background of Kessoshaero’s grounds, broken and shattered... as were the Cyur and Mea of all.
The ‘perfect’ and triumphant Sunsday... had become a hellfire of tragedy.
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by Matthew S. Carauddo
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~~~ BOOK I (first 9 chapters) ~~~
“Before I start, I must see my end.
Destination known, my mind’s journey now begins.
Upon my chariot, heart and soul’s fate revealed:
In time, all points converge, hope’s strength re-steeled.
But to earn final peace at the universe’s endless refrain,
We must see all in nothingness... before we start again!”
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