Back in the safety of Mictlán, Sara and most of the group were asleep in a rundown barrack.
Leon woke to the sound of the faintest whisper. Raising his head slightly he saw Nedim across the room sitting on his bed.
Making very little noise, Leon got up and went over, “You okay there?” he asked.
“I was praying,” Nedim said, opening his eyes.
Leon sat, “Does it work?”
“It helps.” Nedim replied.
After a moment, Leon said, “Horrible, what happened to those people.”
“I agree, but at least when the dead are cut down here they simply rise from the ground elsewhere.” Nedim pointed out.
“It’s convenient if anything,” Leon said, “We should be getting ready to go. There’s nothing we can do here.”
Just then there came a knock at the door that woke most of the group. Leon answered.
It was Arloff, “You must see Lilith.” he said, stepping aside to reveal the throne room behind him.
Everyone gathered around Lilith, “Have you ever wondered what, or who, opened those portals from the Shadow Realm?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Leon said, “I’ve never seen how it’s done. No one knows.”
“I do,” Lilith smiled, “Ever since the invasion began I’ve been sending my own people into the Shadow Realm. They haven’t had much success, but an hour ago they saw this.” she said, waving her hand to create a live image of the Shadow Realm in front of the group.
The only thing that could clearly be seen was Eris, a hairless female with a large set of raven wings hovering in midair. Her skin seemed to be made of black latex and her face was almost completely featureless, aside from faintly glowing red eyes. Holding her hands out, a huge green portal opened up.
“Who is she?” Sara asked.
“I don’t know,” Leon said, “I’ve never seen her before, but eyes like that should mean she’s a Myrmidon.”
Lilith clasped her hands, “You know what that means!”
“Yeah,” said Leon, “We may be able to stop this.”
“The next time she opens a portal,” Lilith said, “I can open one near her location. If you can track her down and kill her, this could all be over.”
Leon turned to the group, “If anyone would like to back out, this is your last chance.”
Hurok laughed, “Let you take all the credit! I don’t think so!”
“I think that means we’re all in,” said Janah.
“Arloff will go with you,” Lilith said, then sensing another portal, “Well, what have we here? She just opened another one. There’s no time to lose. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Leon answered.
Lilith opened a portal. Leon went first, followed by the rest.
Arriving next to a shoreline with a nearby valley, Sara was astounded at the sight of the Shadow Realm. Stuck in perpetual twilight, the rocky landscape was a mix of black and blue hues. A full blue moon dominated its starry sky and even more so, a giant colorful world with rings circling it.
“It’s beautiful,” Caycee said in wonderment. Without warning, she suddenly fell to her knees screaming in agony while clasping her head. Her brain felt like it was on fire as visions of what once was filled her mind.
Tomel ran through the woods as fast as an eight-year-old could. The treetops were so thick that little light made it through. He looked back to get a glimpse of the creature giving chase. With his breathing heavy and his legs burning with exhaustion, he weaved between trees and around rocks until stumbling and tripping into a clearing.
Sitting up as quickly as he could, Tomel turned to see an animal with the head, wings and front legs of a giant eagle, and the rear quarters of a lion suddenly leap from the woods and land above him.
“Emei!” Tomel playfully whined as the baby, dog-sized griffin licked his face.
Emei jumped sideways and ran in circles, squawking.
Tomel got to his feet, “Come here,” he said, eyeing the griffin intently. As Tomel mounted Emei, he looked toward a nearby cliff and took a deep breath.
It was at least a thousand feet from the top of the cliff to the ground below. Galloping on Emei, Tomel stopped at the edge and took a long, hard look.
The view was amazing, nothing but land as far as the eye could see. Mountains all but filled the background. A marvelous white city of gigantic proportions lay in between.
Tomel gulped nervously, “This is it.”
Looking down the cliff, Emei also seemed anxious.
“Alright, Emei,” Tomel said, “We can do this.”
Taking a few steps back, Emei crouched, wagging his hind end before running full speed to the edge and leaping over.
Falling headfirst like a rock, Tomel held tight, “C’mon, Emei, fly!”
Emei spread his wings, struggling to stay stable. No matter how hard he tried, it was difficult just to flap them because of the wind.
All it took was a strong gust to send both careening out of control.
Holding Emei with a death grip, Tomel cried out in terror. The griffin shrieked as he tried to right himself, but it was impossible with Tomel. As the two were sure they were about to meet their end, a much bigger griffin swooped them up.
Carried back to the top of the cliff and dropped to the ground, Tomel and Emei looked up to see their savior and its rider. Against the backdrop of the sun, it was difficult for Tomel to see who the adult male in hoplite-style armor was.
The rider dismounted and removed his helmet.
“Uh-oh,” Tomel said upon seeing his father, Krios. He slowly got back to his feet, looking down in shame.
The large griffin cawed loudly at Emei.
“Easy, E’Ralc.” Krios said, petting his griffin, “Tomel, you mind telling me what you were thinking?”
“S-sorry, Father…” Tomel muttered.
“You almost got yourself killed,” Krios said, “How many times do I have to tell you that you have to wait until your griffin is older before he can fly? His wings aren’t large enough.”
“I... thought he was ready,” Tomel said, “I’m tired of all my friends telling me I’m not a real Corinthian if I can’t ride a griffin.”
Krios kneeled and hugged his son, “If I hadn’t tried the same thing with E’Ralc when I was your age, I’d kill you myself.”
“You jumped off a cliff, too?!” Tomel asked.
“Dear no,” Krios answered, “It was a dirt mound no higher than nine feet. I ended up with a broken arm.”
“I guess I overdid it,” said Tomel.
Krios stood, “You’ve got some brass, son, I’ll give you that much.”
“Are you gonna tell Mom?” Tomel asked.
“Ha,” Krios laughed, mounting E’Ralc, “She’d never let you ride again.”
The two Corinthians rode across the grassy clearing and over several hills to a farm, where a woman was hanging clothes.
Krios wasted no time running to his wife and kissing her, “Sasha.”
Sasha smiled, “I knew you’d return.”
“We did it,” Krios said, holding his wife, “We won.”
Filled with joy, Sasha squeezed Krios as hard as she could.
Out of nowhere, a faint gust of wind suddenly came over the family followed by the sound of distant thunder.
“Dad, look!” Tomel said, pointing. The city he’d seen earlier was visible, only this time there was a huge black sphere floating high above it.
“Krios, what is that?” Sasha asked.
Blowing in the direction of the sphere, the wind gradually became much stronger and constant. Lightning tore through the sky. The clouds formed a hurricane-like effect as they were absorbed into the sphere.
Krios looked on in horror, “No.”
The city below was in chaos. People ran in terror as the life around them was sucked up. Plants of all manner, birds, insects, domesticated and undomesticated animals were all being taken. Even the blue sky appeared as if it was being ripped apart. Buildings and the rocks they were made of seemed to be just about the only things not affected.
Tomel cried out, “Dad, what’s going on?”
Inky black streaks began to radiate from the sphere, though not in some random fashion. The ink chased after the Corinthians. Those touched by it fell in agony. Writhing in pain, their skin turned to a light gray. Hair, nails, and any clothing took on the same black color as the ink. When they opened, their eyes were green with a faint glow.
Krios could see the dark storm that had enveloped the city was quickly spreading out in all directions, “Tomel, grab Emei!” he said, jumping on E’Ralc and helping Sasha up, “We have to get out of here! Follow me!”
The griffins took off running just as several streaks of ink reached the farm. With the wind blowing against them, it was difficult to make any headway, especially for Emei. After a quick sprint downhill, they made their way as fast as they could between the hillsides, where the wind wasn’t as strong. It was a desperate run, as the ink traced their every move.
Seeing the ink rapidly closing in, E’Ralc fell behind to nudge Emei ahead.
Tomel looked back, and it was then he realized there was no chance. No hope. Whatever was happening, his whole world was succumbing to it.
“Tomel, keep going!” Krios yelled, then spinning around at the sound of Sasha screaming – the ink had snared her.
As Sasha fell, Krios grabbed hold of her with one hand, but it was too late. The momentum pulled them both down and the ink wasted no time to catch and turn him into the same monstrosity.
Unwilling to abandon his caretaker, E’Ralc turned and roared at Krios′ suffering. A streak of ink splattered across the mighty griffin’s chest, causing him to reel and transform like the Corinthians; the lion half becoming gray, the bird half turning black.
Tears filled Tomel’s eyes. Emei cried out as he tried with all his strength to move forward, to no avail.
As Tomel had feared, the dark storm steadily swept through everything in its path, consuming, expanding in an ever-increasing circle, until his entire world was but a shadow of itself.