Tziech found it ironic that the cold numbness that had been killing him was the only reason that he survived that explosion of energy. Whereas that energy was heat and violence, the cold in him was stillness and silence, acting like an anchor that kept him on track in the midst of a storm.
Still, his wounds… were not mild. And the exposure to that violent energy had done him no favors in terms of life expectancy. It was a testament to the physical power of his body, more than anything else, that he maintained even a flickering spot of life after that explosion.
The world around him was silent and still, and it reminded Tziech of the Sprrigits’ Frozen Globes, that were generally landscapes in small glass spheres that you could shake and spread glitter or miniature snow over the scene. Around Tziech, the ground was oddly… cleansed, most of the strange mist in the area destroyed. The sky was free of the mechanical crows.
The large floating crystals had turned into wisps of light like clouds that drifted across, the only movement in a dead place.
Only 10 seconds after the strange energy reaction ceased, there was a flicker from the crimson pillar, and the Thief once more appeared, her face twisted in too many emotions to understand easily. Her face was a marsh of inner conflict, but when her eyes located Tziech, all that fell away and she gasped softly, rushing to his side.
Tziech wanted to say something, reassure her, give her a clue that he wasn’t fine, obviously, but he was as well as could be expected. All things considered, Tziech held no unwillingness in his heart towards the Progenitor’s use of them. This world had been cleaned out through the process. When he was given the powder, the Progenitor’s Voice was very clear of the danger.
Also, she specifically looked Tziech in the eye and informed him he likely wouldn’t return from this mission. Tziech said nothing, just holding her gaze.
To Tziech’s surprise, two fat tears ran down the Thief’s face, dripping and touching his ripped leather armor.
“You can’t do this to me.” The Thief said softly, holding onto the edges of his clothing.
In his mind, Tziech always had a strange suspicion that there was… a possibility, a possibility only, that he and the Thief could be… could be something. That they could step away from their roles in the larger world and just be themselves, let nature take its course… perhaps raise a family…
Ponderously, Tziech blinked. The Thief blinked in response, then smiled bitterly at him. “I can almost hear your voice. Finish the job, you seem to be saying. And you are right. This… the Progenitor didn’t want this. He didn’t want our world to be invaded by his enemies.”
The Thief produced a spear, covered in tightly interwoven runes, and pointed it at the sky. Then, forcing her energy into it, it began to emit a suction force. Those wisps of clouds in the air were slowly drawn downwards towards it, swirling towards the tip of the spear. For several long minutes, the Thief stood there, intently focusing, dragging these… remnants into the spear.
Tziech found it oddly peaceful, the world floating downwards, drawn into a singularity, before vanishing forever.
‘Will I go there, when I am no more?’ Tziech wondered, staring at the point of the spear. ‘Such an end, to drift along with the migration of clouds… is truly a gentle way for death to take me.’
But before he allowed the insistent tugging at the edges of his consciousness to pull him away, Tziech reached up, moving his left hand. It took everything he had inside of himself, moving slowly, raising and reaching towards the Thief’s back, who continued to diligently absorb those wisps of clouds.
Tziech did not want to distract her, but he did not want her to leave this place without… a reward was the wrong word, and she would never consider it a gift. Even a token of remembrance was a moniker that would likely have the Thief furiously kicking down his gravestone. But…
Well, maybe he simply wanted to touch her, one last time.
His outstretched fingertips brushed the back of her cloak, lightly, and something passed out of him then, a core of energy that had been donated to him by the Progenitor. It was a powerful thing, that let him move without fear through the Aether Thrall’s lines. Who knew how it would manifest for the Thief, but now, at least, she would be well prepared for what was to follow.
Then his arm dropped, such a noise that Tziech briefly worried the Thief would be distracted, but it seemed the labor of absorbing those wisps was enough to cover up the noise. Satisfied, Tziech looked meaningfully down at his right hand.
His palm was cracked, a black circle of flesh in the center of his hand. Even now, he could watch thin tendrils of black corruption spreading from that central region, writhing outwards like eels.
He clenched his hand. This gift… he would take to the grave. The Progenitor might safely bare this… but it is far too much strain for a person to support on their own. Leaning back, Tziech closed his eyes, and his mind shifted to another place.
In that brief dream, his adoptive father continued to hold out in the fight against the demons that lured him towards the bottom of a bottle, and after a dinner of hot, spiced trout, he talked long into the night to Tziech. The subject was war, due to a passionate homily done by one of the Progenitor’s pastors that Tziech’s father had heard earlier that day.
“It’s ridiculous,” Tziech’s father said, his mouth wide and expressive, “The Progenitor doesn’t allow war because he wants war, he allows it because he wants us to live. It’s not a matter of seeking martial perfection, but freedom. Only by having the choice to do evil, will the true core of life show through kindness and generosity. It will show staunch faith in the face of temptation and bitterness. Respect and honor. Humility and patience-”
His father paused, giving Tziech a meaningful look. “What is it? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Tziech, King of Monsters, speaking from the body of a child, smiled a very sad smile at the dream version of his adoptive father. “This is what I’m fighting for, you know. So that people like you… will live to see their strengths define their lives. You know what they told me? Your guard friend Tomlin? That you were gambling to send me to the Imperial Academy. And when you lost-”
But he was cut short, and suddenly he was Zeke only, held in the arms of his adoptive father. “Bah, what business does a child like you have acting like an adult? Look at me, Zeke. I promise I’ll always be there for you. I’ll protect you.”
Then his father hugged him, and even in his dream his skin was warm and smelled of the coal dust that clung to everything in that Spriggit city. A part of him wanted to fight, but another, larger part, knew that there was no victory in a struggle, on this day. Zeke closed his eyes.
Sometimes, things simply ended.
As Randidly stepped over the cooling magma, he felt a strange sensation of deep sadness, that stopped him up short, before they walked to confront the remnants of the Stagbat. He searched inward, but he was unable to figure out what the source of the feeling was. As he was a profoundly stoic person, generally, to feel so emotional, so suddenly…
“Is something wrong?” Alana asked, stopping next to him.
Randidly shook his head. “No. But let’s be careful from here. Annie? What does it look like?”
Hopping next to the rest of the group, she frowned at her leather shoes, when they began to steam and bubble against this barely less than molten rock. “Not great. Its wings were burnt off, and its body is charred, but there are seven of those grey energy balls floating around it. The highest we’ve seen was three. I suspect it’s concentrating its power. And also… the edges of its wings are healing. It will take a while, but-”
“Then we move fast.” Randidly turned and regarded the rest of the group. They looked bloodsoaked and bedraggled, but he had to imagine that they didn’t look as frayed as he did. The fight against Cyndra and the Creature’s mental attacks took more out of him than he would like to admit. But still, after winning what should be a decisive strike against the Creature, Randidly didn’t mind blowing Inspiration in order to ground the flying Stagbat. He had only witnessed it fighting for a brief time, but…
Its mobility was a problem. So Randidly took drastic measures.
What he hadn’t expected was for it to be able to overpower Randidly’s spell enough that it could survive. But he supposed it would simply be too easy if they had been able to finish everything off with an Inspiration empowered spell.
The rest of the group followed Randidly as he approached. He considered warning them away, or telling them they didn’t have to follow him if they preferred to stay out of the line of fire, but Randidly suspected everyone knew that, in their hearts. In addition, no matter what they were to each other, or what they would be again when they left this Dungeon, they had fought side by side for this past month, at a level that none of them had experienced before.
No one would shirk their responsibility now.
The Stagbat seemed to be waiting for them, laying on the ground, legs under it. When they approached, it stood, and although it faltered once, when it reached a standing position it stayed steadfast. It was uglier than Randidly had expected, with a weeping face sewn onto its back, its fur stained by blood and weird green alchemic liquids.
Its eyes were thin and malevolent, but its mouth seemed to curl into a grin as they arrived. It opened its lips and brayed, a sad, sickly noise akin to an off-tune note.
“Let’s put this out of its misery,” Randidly grunted. Then he leaped forward, drawing his spear.