When Assar's heart stopped beating, a section of the ground collapsed with a bang, immediately drawing Drake's attention. He approached the hole with both swords drawn, his injured stomach hurting with every step. What he found was a ladder connecting to the ground floor, as though all the other rooms had been nothing but a dream.
Climbing down with two bodies slung over his shoulders would have been a challenge even for a vampire. And dropping down directly would surely have worsened their injuries, especially in Maximilian's case. Therefore, he hurried to Alyssa and turned her body over. Blood was smeared all over her face and kept on pouring from her crooked nose. Drake poked her slightly and leaned toward her ear. “Alyssa, can you hear me?”
Her chest rose and fell, but she otherwise remained unconscious.
Grabbing her left shoulder and steadying her head, Drake shook her gently. She groaned and reared up, then her eyes fluttered open. Both of them were bloodshot and didn't notice Drake at first, just staring at the ceiling. He pushed himself into their field of view and Alyssa flinched, reaching for her bow.
Drake clutched her hand before it could rise and backed away a little. “It's just me, Alyssa. Assar is dead.”
She squinted and blinked a couple of times. Then she turned her head and Drake moved aside, pointing to Assar's impaled body. A faint smile crossed Alyssa's lips and she pushed herself up, groaning in pain.
“Can you heal Maximilian? I'm not sure he's going to last otherwise.”
Alyssa raised her hands and glanced at them, eliciting a faint blue glow enveloping her flesh. “I should be able to, but my power's almost drained.” She spoke in a nasal tone, which made her difficult to understand. Swiping one hand over her nose fixed that problem, after causing a quick burst of pain that made her curse out loud. “Can you bring me to him? My legs feel a bit wobbly.”
Drake nodded and scooped her up, then dashed toward the other side of the room. Dropping her next to Maximilian, he took hold of Assar's body and pulled him off Elegnis. It plopped down with a wet smacking sound and dark blood began to stain the immaculate white ground.
You better make sure he's actually dead! Or at least give me the honors.
Drake nodded and raised Kal'ed voul'ch, using it to slice Assar's head clean off. The beast surged forth a second later and kicked the head across the room. It bounced off the wall and rolled back a couple of feet, empty eyes staring back accusingly. “Aw, and here I had hoped it would pop like an overripe fruit.”
Alyssa frowned but said nothing. Drake's words and actions made it more than clear who was in control. The beast didn't stay for too much longer, though, despite this being the perfect moment to drain both Alyssa and Maximilian before they could regain their strength. Perhaps it wasn't in the mood. Or maybe it realized that being selfish was not the best idea under the current circumstances.
Moments later, Maximilian rose groggily, his skin still pale. Alyssa had taken on a similar complexion, being drained of most her magic. “We won, huh? Didn't look good there for a moment,” said Maximilian, his voice quite weak.
“Yeah. And I couldn't have done it without you. So … thanks for everything.”
You gonna thank me too?
Sure … if you ever stop being such an asshole.
Not gonna happen! Life's too boring otherwise.
I've barely had a time to rest since Modera forced you onto me!
But you keep dashing all my chances to have fun.
Because most of your fun ideas consist of draining someone of their blood! Or turning them into a vampire.
Would the latter be so bad?
“You talking in your head again?” interrupted Maximilian.
“Yeah, and we're still getting nowhere. So let's get out of here. I hope you can climb a ladder.”
“I hope so too. But before we go”—he tottered to Assar's beheaded corpse and reached out for Abolitor—“I doubt he's going to have further use for this.” The sword dispersed when his fingers closed around it, taking on the form of crimson orbs that spiraled through the ceiling. Maximilian watched them with a frown, then turned toward the others. “Fine, let's just go.”
A clear and sunny sky welcomed them outside, as did a gaping hole separating the mountain range. The glittering ocean could be seen beyond, stretching for as far as the eye could see.
Maximilian dropped himself upon the top of the stairs, breathing heavily. Climbing down a ladder for more than a minute had drained what little strength Alyssa had restored. If not for all the snow and the chilly temperatures, he would have just laid down and slept for days on end.
“So … what now? How do we stop … whatever's going to happen?” said Maximilian breathlessly.
Drake slumped down next to him and shrugged. “No idea. And all the ones who might have known are already dead. But there has to be a away … unless Assar was lying.”
Alyssa joined them now, flanking Maximilian from the other side. “But that's more likely, isn't it? He was one of the only people who could truly have made a difference … being one of the Asen and all … but he chose not to. Telling you that there's a chance might just have been a joke to make us despair even more when the end draws close at last.”
Drake sighed and pressed his lips together, looking out over the ocean. A few moments of silence passed that way. And then he realized something. “The water isn't moving.”
Maximilian turned his head. “Huh?”
“I said the water isn't moving! And the wind isn't blowing.” He shot to his feet and stormed down the stairs, the snow crunching underneath his boots without making any sort of noise. The sky had darkened considerably by the time he reached the bottom. It's like the sun was running out fuel.
A tremor suddenly rocked the ground, causing Maximilian, who had followed Drake, to flail about. Alyssa, on the other hand, slipped on a hidden patch of ice and descended the stairs by sliding on her back. She rubbed it when she came to a halt, pain distorting her features.
Something burst from the ocean, spraying water miles high. Drake squinted and saw what seemed to be an arm. And tentacles. And eyes. All of which belonged to the same creature, a beast so massive that it could have been mistaken for an island. It roared with such deafening power that snow came tumbling down the mountains.
“What the hell is that?” yelled Alyssa.
“Regkier Nhoell … I would assume,” said Drake, then turned to Maximilian. “Isn't that what we saw after beating Dorr'n Selkesch?“
“I think so. But it's … bigger now.”
“It's still just a monster of some kind. So maybe I can beat it.”
That's when darkness fell upon the world, red lightning streaking through the sky. The temple flared up in its threatening glow, bits and pieces turning to dust. The mountains shared its fate, as did the beast rising from the ocean.
“The End of Time,” whispered Drake. “But why so suddenly?”
“It could have done so from the start. It simply chose not to,” spoke a stranger from close by.
Drake spun around, his weapons drawn. Yet all he saw was an old man dressed in a suit, a top hat resting in his fingers. “You're … the God of Destruction!”
The man nodded dejectedly.
“Then do something! Destroy that thing!”
“It's just a title, as I told you already. And even if it wasn't, I am powerless in front of this. I could perhaps delay it for a moment, but then it would erase me too.”
“Then what's the chance Assar was talking about?”
The God of Destruction took a few steps ahead and a cloak burst from his back, followed by his suit turning into armor. “Someone's coming,” he proclaimed and thrust his right hand to the side, catching Abolitor manifesting out of nowhere.
“The beginning of your true journey ... and the end of everything. So stay back and wait until the path reopens!”
“What path? What the hell are you talking ab—“
A sudden storm engulfed the land, turning darkness even darker and stealing all their breath. Something was coming from within, its malice almost visible. The God of Destruction flew to where it was and light erupted at the point of impact. Explosion streaked across the sky as unseen weapons clashed. The storm weakened in response and something rippled next to the Drake. He spun to the side and saw what seemed to be a doorway. One that faded instantly.
“What is going on here?” he screamed toward the sky. “I know there's more of you out there. So answer me, goddammit!”
Yet none of the Asen responded to his plea.
Without warning, the God of Destruction slammed down next to Drake, slithering right past him. Gruesome injuries covered his body, most of which would have sent a mortal into shock, if not killing them outright. He still staggered to his feet, turning back to face the storm.
“Who are you fighting?” screamed Drake.
“Someone you have no hope of taking down. So stay here! It can't be taking too much longer.”
Maximilian stumbled into his path before he could escape. “Neither do you, apparently. Especially not alone.”
“But I have to buy you time!”
“You didn't even last a minute before it flung you back here. So take me with you!”
Drake shot forward and clutched Maximilian's arm. “No! Are you crazy? If he can't win, then neither can you!”
“But I'm expendable, and you are not. You have to fix this mess that this other version of you caused. If me sacrificing myself can make that possible, then so be it. And hey, at least I'll die fighting, just like I had hoped.”
Maximilian smiled and squeezed Drake's shoulder. “Don't worry, I will give him hell. Or her … or whatever this is. So … goodbye, my friend. It was nice fighting at your side.” A flash of light engulfed his body the moment he was finished, erasing all his injuries.
Alyssa stepped up next to them. Drake watched her with quivering eyes, tears sprouting in their corners. “You're going too, aren't you?” he said, his voice nearly forsaking him.
“If there's still a chance to save this world, no matter how slim, then I have to make it possible. And perhaps in death I can meet with Feyadal again.” And so she too was veiled in light, both her body and her spirit restored to prime condition. She hugged Drake softly and then turned away, resolve shaping her features and magic sizzling in her fingers.
“Quickly now, before it's too late!” bellowed the God of Destruction and together they vanished in the storm, robbing Drake of any chance to say another word. He crumbled to his knees and stared into the unknown, large tears now running down his cheeks.
More explosions rocked the sky, now accompanied by beams of light and fire and magic being flung about. But even then it was obvious they couldn't win. Drake didn't need to see what was happening to realize that. He could feel his friends growing weaker by the second, could almost even see the injuries disfiguring their flesh.
And then Maximilian was gone. His lifeless body landed next to Drake, his bones protruding from his legs and his right arm ripped clear off. Drake howled in agony and raised him up, searching for the faintest glimmer of life. But his eyes were empty and his body had stopped moving.
“No, no, no, no, no...”
Drake pressed Maximilian against his chest and sobbed out his heart, rivers of tears running down his face. He remembered being chased through the castle, being used to dampen Maximilian's fall after landing in the mountains, being punched in the stomach for being an idiot … and he cherished every moment, because alone he would never have survived. Not without giving in to the beast and becoming a monster on par with Modera. Or maybe even worse.
A dull thud made him choke up, his head turning slowly. More powerful sobs wrecked his chest when he caught sight of Alyssa's mangled body. Her hair had been ripped off, her face had been burned, her limbs had been twisted, and her heart had been pulled free before being crushed.
Drake tried to speak, but he couldn't. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do. He couldn't even throw himself into battle and die with honor, because then their sacrifice would have been in vain.
The door from earlier suddenly reappeared, more visible this time, but fading still. Dropping Maximilian, Drake reached out to it. His fingers grasped nothing but air. “Come back here … whatever you are! Don't let their sacrifices be for nothing!”
Another body hit the ground. It didn't move either. The God of Destruction was dead.
Drake swallowed painfully and rose to his feet, his shoulders hanging limp. He was about to turn his head, but then thought better of it. He didn't want to stare death in the face. But he heard it coming closer, footstep after footstep crunching in the snow.
A crack like thunder rocked the sky and the door appeared once more, revealing itself to be a swirling portal held together by a crystal frame. A middle-aged man dressed in a white shirt and gray trousers jumped out, a blue coat fluttering behind him. Shoulder-long green hair framed his face, where piercing silver eyes stared back from.
“Who are you?” said Drake.
“I am Dante, one of the Messengers of Destiny. So follow me, quickly! This story isn't over yet.”
“But where could we possibly go? Isn't this”—he raised his arms, looking at the crimson lightning destroying the world—“everywhere?”
“Yes. But with all the barriers erased, we could finally open up a portal to the crux where all went wrong: to the Golden Age of Meceruun. Only there can the battle be won without time catching up to us.”
And so he yanked Drake through the portal, which faded almost instantly. All that remained was an unseen figure standing close by, its body surrounded by eternal darkness.
But the end of Meceruun was only the beginning...