Shadow Honor

Chapter 23

By Cynus

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Every step had to be perfect; every movement precise. There was no margin for error, and the ends justified the means. Surely it meant that he no longer had a soul, but nothing would stand in Grim's way of destroying the abominations; the lives that existed for no reason but to destroy life, not unlike his own.

The fog was already fading as the final word of the unbinding spell still echoed. 'Freedom'. That was what the Gor word translated to. It was ironic that such a word, which gave such strength to men, could also be the harbinger of their deaths, and that would surely be the case today.

As if to prove the validity of Grim's thought, the demon roared as the final trace of fog disappeared, only to be replaced by the dark smoke that rose from its flesh. The people in the plaza looked about in confusion, stunned by the roar and the acrid stench that filled their nostrils. When they recovered from their initial shock, they began to scream, and everyone attempted to flee the plaza at once. Everyone but Grim, though the panicked throng was doing its best to drag him in the opposite direction.

But not everyone was running away. He could see that the gladiators were trying to push through the throng to join him, and there were others doing the same, dressed in the black leather uniform that marked them as belonging to Salidar. None of these seemed to be making any headway until three, large, grey forms stepped out of the alleyways. Elroks had come to join the battle as well.

A smile formed on Grim's lips as he saw them. At least Salidar had been smart enough to send his strongest troops against the Ibrix, and lucky for Grim he spoke their language. All he had to do was make sure that they could hear him and he could bring them to his will, but first he had to get to the demon.

The demon swung about with its sword, slaughtering those who stood before it. It was facing away from Grim, and those near him were beginning to thin out as they made their escape. Grim was finally able to gain ground, but not before the demon had already slaughtered another twenty people.

Salidar's human soldiers lashed out with large whips, attempting to latch onto the demon's arms and pull him to the ground, but the Ibrix was too strong for them. With a mighty pull he ripped the whips from the grasps of the soldiers, flinging them to the ground. The Elroks moved in next, with even larger cords, and attempted the same strategy. Unlike the human soldiers, the Elroks were not pulled over and managed to hold the massive demon steady, though Grim knew that they would not be able to hold it down for long.

Grim took the opportunity to dash in, hoping that Salidar's troops wouldn't notice that it was he instead of the expected mage. One of the humans cried out as he approached and several of Salidar's troops moved to intercept him. Grim prepared to fight them off but was grateful when he saw the lithe form of Haeli jump in to his rescue, facing off against the soldiers with her sword. More of the gladiators rushed to his aid and formed a defensive perimeter around him.

"I need to get closer!" He shouted, and the gladiators needed no other instruction. They had fought alongside each other many times, and knew how their fellow fighters moved. Salidar's soldiers were well trained, but they were not equal to the task of stopping the gladiators' momentum, and soon Grim stood at the foot of the towering demon.

He could feel the heat emanating from its skin. Grim cursed under his breath as he reached out to touch the burning skin. Of all the demons to be freed and faced by him, it was an Ibrix, the most dangerous to a Fedain. He had to maintain his touch to damage the demon, but that meant he would be burned at the same time. He would have to constantly heal his own wounds while draining the life from the demon, and that would take a great deal of concentration, especially as Ibrix could heal itself from the life force of those it killed in the meantime. Someone had to make the sacrifice or the world would never be made whole. If that meant it had to be him, then he had made that decision many times before and this would be no different.

Before he could touch the demon, with a surge of adrenaline it tore free from the whips holding it bound, knocking two of the Elroks from their feet and pulling the third from the ground. The Elrok held onto the whip while the demon kept it clutched in its hands, dangling in the air as it tried to regain control of the weapon. Grim was forced back as the demon turned and used the whip like a flail with the Elrok as its head, swinging at the gladiators and soldiers who stood fighting before it. It followed the sweep with a downward swing of its massive sword. The sword slashed cleanly through the men who stood fighting in the plaza, and it then collided with the cobblestones beneath them. It hit with such force that the entire plaza shook, forcing Grim down to one knee as he lost his balance. To most of those observing, it was simply a horrific display of the demon's power, but to Grim it was a reminder that he had a duty to perform. When the dust cleared he glanced at the cobblestones that the demon had struck with its sword and noticed large cracks had formed across the ground, one of them extending far enough to break the line of the rune circle that held the demon bound. Now that the demon was free to move it would make his job of killing it much more difficult, but the cracks in the ground gave him an idea. Grim shouted to the Elroks in their language and ordered, "As your chief I command you to lure the demon to me!"

The Elroks glanced at him in surprised confusion until Grim ripped his shirt open and revealed the intricate knotwork tattoo of a lion across his chest. The Elroks noted the tattoo and gasped collectively, then without any further hesitation the Elroks jumped to attention and followed Grim's orders, as he dashed back across the cobblestones to where the demon had cracked the surface.

The Elroks moved as a singular unit and surrounded the demon, drawing large clubs from their backs as they ran. They clobbered at its feet to get its attention and then pulled back as soon as they had it, rushing to join the Fedain at his new location. The demon swung after them with a primal growl, cleaving one of them in half and knocking another to the ground. The third reached Grim and set itself up in a defensive position in front of him.

"When he strikes at you, get out of the way," Grim ordered, and was pleased when the Elrok nodded his compliance. "I can handle this from here."

The demon was sufficiently baited, and with another growl it swung down at the last Elrok standing. As Grim had ordered the Elrok to do, it watched the strike carefully and then jumped out of the way at the last instant, allowing the sword to collide with the cobblestones where he had been standing. Grim was prepared for the trembling in the ground that followed the strike and kept his footing. He looked at the ground and smiled, pleased that the cracks had widened even further.

"Now! Charge past me like you're fleeing!" Grim ordered. The Elrok looked at him and hesitated. "Do it! You can rejoin the fight after he reaches my position!" The Elrok nodded and continued moving, and the demon charged after him, its sword raising in preparation for another strike. As soon as its leg came into range, Grim jumped for it and landed on the ankle.

Grim placed his hands against the fiery skin of the demon's exposed ankle without hesitation, wincing as his flesh started to burn. He began to suck away at the demon's life force, channeling it directly into the blistering skin on his palm. He felt the leg shift as the demon realized what was happening and pulled its leg away. Grim released his touch to dodge backward, his movement barely allowing him to avoid the demon stamping down on the place where he had been standing.

Grim dashed in as soon as the foot came back down and repeated the siphoning process he had used the first time. The action was met with another stomp, which he again avoided. They repeated this sequence of Grim siphoning and the demon stomping two more times, and Grim noticed with satisfaction that each stomp caused the ground to tremble under the demon's weight, and the cracks in the cobblestones widened ever farther. However, the next time Grim dashed in the demon tried a different tactic, kicking out with its foot. Grim had been expecting another stomp and took the kick solidly to his chest, the flames catching his clothing on fire as he sailed through the air to land heavily on the cobblestones ten yards in front of the demon.

He rolled over several times to put out the flames before climbing to his feet to face the demon. The demon was no longer within his range, though Grim was certainly still within the demon's range. Grim looked up at the demon with a blank expression, though he was surprised that the demon hadn't finished him off already. For whatever reason, the demon was giving him an opportunity to recover, and Grim took it and used stored energy to heal the ribs that were broken when he was kicked.

"Slayer!" The demon growled, its rumbling voice echoing across the now empty plaza. Grim gritted his teeth at the title, which he had earned during the war. Only one man had earned the right to be called such by the demons, but he hated the title more than anything. What worse trait could a Fedain be known for than that of killing? "What a surprise," the demon went on, chuckling loudly, "Is it you who has brought me to this strange place? Have you gifted this offering of souls to me?" It bent its head down as it sneered at him. "When I take your head they will know that none can defeat me."

"The more you talk," Grim yelled at the demon, "the quicker you'll die." Grim charged forward as he shouted the last word, taking advantage of the demon being distracted by the conversation. Instead of touching the demon lightly as he had done before, Grim wrapped his whole body around the demon's leg, making as much contact as he could, to increase the effectiveness of his life-siphoning ability. His clothes ignited and began to burn his flesh, but he continued to hold on, healing his burns as soon as they occurred, using the energy he stole from the demon.

The demon howled in pain, and pried Grim from its shin with its massive right hand, but Grim had already done serious damage to its leg. The places where his skin had touched that of the demon now bore huge gaping wounds. Grim attempted the same on the demon's hand only to have the demon crush him within his grip causing him to black out for a second and stop the process. When he came to, the demon was glaring at him menacingly as if daring him to try the maneuver again.

Grim focused inwardly and stitched himself together as he rethought his plan of attack. He was losing this battle, and it had only just begun. If he could not think of a way to turn the odds in his favor then the entire city would be lost. The demon smirked at him, apparently thinking that the fight had left Grim, when a shout from above drew their attention.

"Grim!" Prism shouted from the back of the eagle he was riding toward the battle.

"The Dark Monk!" The demon growled at Prism. Chuckling, the demon claimed with pride, "I can kill you both at once!" Despite his predicament, Grim smiled slightly at the remark. Seeing Prism arrive gave him the resolve he needed. Realizing that nearly all of his clothing had already been burned off, Grim energized his entire body, siphoning from the demon's hand wherever his skin had contact with the demon's flesh. The demon growled and squeezed back, crushing him again with all of its strength. Grim knew he couldn't stand it for long, and the demon would win the exchange unless something changed.

To the obvious surprise of Fenri riding in front of him, Prism jumped from the saddle. Leading with his foot he hurled his body like a spear down at the demon's helmeted head. By the time he reached the demon his skin was coated in a silvery sheen, and when his foot collided with the demon's helmet the resulting sound was as if a large metal gong had been struck.

The demon reeled from the blow, its massive head swaying as it teetered back on one foot for a moment, causing another tremor to spread across the ground. Prism's attack loosened the demon's handgrip but Grim didn't take the avenue of escape that opened up to him. He held onto the demon's fingers and continued to suck away its life essence. The demon howled in pain and tried to shake Grim off, but it was already too late to save its hand. In a few seconds Grim had melted most of the demon's hand away, and he fell toward the cobblestones through the ooze that was left of the demon's fingers.

Grim expected to hit the cobblestones hard but instead found Prism waiting below him, holding his arms out to catch him. He winced as his now naked flesh made contact with Prism's metal bracers. While he was glad that Prism had spared him from injury, the last place he wanted to stay was in his arms, and hastily lowered himself to the ground

"Thank you," Grim mouthed with a quick nod, and then, without another word, he charged back toward the demon, with Prism right behind him, and immediately it was as if they had never been apart. They had fought alongside each other for so long, battling demon after demon, that knowing how the other one was going to react in any situation was second nature. Even though it had been eight centuries for Grim the memories of that time were still very real and there was no other person he would rather have fighting at his side.

While Prism veered toward the leg that Grim had targeted before, Grim aimed for the other one. The demon was still reeling from the pain of losing its hand, too distracted to notice their approach. It couldn't have worked out better, and Prism only needed a few seconds to deliver a devastating series of heavy kicks to the already wounded ankle. The demon howled in pain, drowning out the sound of its splintering bone.

The howl became a screech as the demon fell to one knee and Prism dodged out of the way. Grim took full advantage of the demon's proximity to the ground, and changed his focus from the ankle he had been aiming for to the demon's lowered knee. He jumped up and latched onto the demon's thigh, once again using his full body contact to rapidly melt away its flesh.

The eagle Knights charged in at the same moment, wave after wave flying past the demon's head, blades and spears striking as they passed. Unlike Grim or Prism's attacks, their movements proved to be little more than annoyances, as most of the weapons bounced off of the demon's thick helmet.

But the demon had been through enough. It dropped its massive sword with a thunderous clang that reverberated through the plaza. With its now empty hand it reached up and plucked one of the Knights and his eagle from the sky as they flew past, and then swung the unfortunate pair at Grim like a club.

Grim didn't know what was coming until it was too late to stop the siphoning process, and as eagle and rider collided with Grim's naked flesh they too fell victim to the effects of his abilities. Their smaller bodies melted away almost instantly, showering him in a mixture of blood and detritus. Grim let go quickly but the demon's strategy had already paid off. The incendiary film that surrounded the demon's leg ignited the iron-based blood that now coated Grim wherever it made contact, and he was suddenly entombed in flames.

He let go and rolled back and forth on the cobblestones, trying to smother the flames as best he could while using his energy reserves to heal his burning flesh. As the flames persisted, the demon growled and snatched another eagle out of the sky and squashed it like a piece of overripe fruit over Grim's rolling body, igniting more blood as it poured down onto him. Grim was starting to run out of energy, and the smokey flames were making it nearly impossible to breathe. It wouldn't be long before he was consumed by the inferno caused by this volatile chemical cocktail.

However, Prism was on the move to make sure that nothing of the sort would happen. He circled behind the demon, lining up with the back of its wounded knee. He launched into the air, delivering a strong kick to the back of the joint, causing the demon to buckle over as its knee was dislocated by the strength of the blow. But Prism wasn't done. He activated the tattoos that covered his entire body and were hidden beneath his clothing, coating his hands in silvery metal before switching his attention to the other leg, delivering a flurry of punches to the ankle joint, breaking it just as severely as he had the other one. The demon growled in protest as it righted itself, and swung its most recently pulverized victim at Prism, showering him with the fiery blood, instead of Grim.

Prism jumped back to avoid the liquid fire, but some still dripped onto his clothes as he darted away, igniting them almost instantly. He dropped to the ground and rolled to put out the flames, and came up in a ready stance as soon as the fire was out, expecting to find the demon already swinging back at him.

But the demon had other ideas. While Grim and Prism recovered, it regained its sword and raised the blade high above its head and aimed a downward thrust at Grim, who was finally able to smother the flames just as the sword began its descent. He felt the heat of the sword as he rolled to safety at the last instant, causing it to strike the ground next to him. The ground trembled as it fell apart, cobblestones disappearing into the cavernous hole beneath them. All of the demon's strength had been channeled into that final blow, and it had been enough to break through the already weakened surface and into The Shade below.

Grim scrambled to get away and managed to jump from the falling stones at the crumbling edge of the hole, scrambling quickly across the ground until he was no longer falling. The demon did not fare as well, and began to fall with the stones surrounding it. It latched onto the edge and managed to catch itself with one hand, but Prism was already there waiting for it, and with a powerful drop of his heel to the demon's hand, it released its grip and dropped into the cavern below.

It roared as it fell until a thunderous noise signaled its collision with the cavern floor below. Those still present in the plaza waited with bated breath for any sign of the demon. The silence lingered for a moment longer, until one of the gladiators began to cheer. The cry was joined by his fellows until Salidar's men turned on them with weapons bared, looking as if they were about to start the battle anew.

"Stand down!" Grim shouted, and the gladiators backed off, but continued to eye Salidar's men warily. The two surviving Elroks returned to his side and he gestured toward the group and ordered, "Break that up. We need to bring this back to order."

Just before the Elroks reached the group the drumming sound of large, flapping wings filled the air, and Grim turned back to the hole and growled in frustration. The demon burst from the hole in the ground, and the air displaced by its wings blew Prism and Grim down onto the cobblestones, preventing them from being able to reach the demon before it lashed out with its sword and cleaved into the large group of men and the Elroks who stood before it.

Grim watched helplessly as the demon then flew high into the air roaring triumph. While he had hoped that the fall would kill it, it had instead given it the time it needed to heal using the stored life force of those it had slain. He watched as the demon looked at the Knights flying nearby, sporting a wicked grin. It may not have been able to take on Grim and Prism, but the Knights would be easy pickings.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gorlan, Jushu, Obran, Tane. Alsha listed off the names in her head as she watched the demon pluck her Knights out of the air, only to have their bodies crushed along with their mounts in the most horrific fashion she had ever witnessed. This fight was going badly, despite the efforts of Grim and Prism on the ground. She had expected that it would be a difficult battle but this was a nightmare.

It seemed that every strike her Knights landed was completely ineffective on the demon's hide, and the only thing that diving in and striking had accomplished was leaving them open to attack. They had to come up with a different strategy and they needed it quickly.

And then the demon broke through into The Shade, falling down with the crumbling cobblestones as Grim and Prism watched from the side. There was a silence that settled over the city for a brief moment as her Knights circled high above the opening, waiting for any sign of the demon. And it came in a rush as the demon soared back through the opening and lashed out at those waiting above it, before launching into the air, and Alsha realized that time for planning had run out. The demon was heading straight for her, and the Knights circling above it, grinning like a child about to feast on a mountain of sweets.

"Keep your distance!" She shouted to those near her. They in turn relayed the order to those near them, but there wasn't enough time for everyone to hear the order. Only half of her Knights had been informed by the time the demon reached their altitude, and the rest continued to act on their previous orders. They dived at the demon with their swords and spears, war cries leaving their tongues to bolster their courage as they charged toward certain death.

The demon had its full attention on the approaching Knights and laughed as it brought its sword across in a great sweep, slashing through two Knights and their eagles, and then caught three more on the backswing. The rest of the contingent managed to close in on the demon without being struck, but just as before, their strikes did little damage to the demon's flesh, and it was all for naught.

One of the eagles flew too close to the flames dancing upon the demon's skin and its wings caught fire. Bird and rider spiraled toward the ground as the eagle tried to regain control, but Alsha knew that it was another soul lost. She scanned her remaining forces and realized who it had been. Kora. She was among the youngest of the Knights serving under her command, and would be mourned greatly by her comrades when this was done, should any of them survive.

It was time for her to move, and to do everything in her power to end this before more lives were lost. Even though the demon was massive, Alsha still had numbers in her favor, and her troops had been the first to arrive at the battlefield. Other companies would take to the air soon and reinforcements were bound to appear at any moment. All she had to do was buy them enough time.

But the demon could now meet them on its terms. While the eagles were certainly faster, the sheer range and accuracy of the demon made it almost impossible to approach while it was in the air. Alsha had to get it back on the ground where Prism and Grim could attack it again.

"I'm starting the next charge," She shouted to her nearby Knights. "Cover my flank and make sure I get in."

Alsha spurred her eagle into a dive toward the demon's right wing, watching the demon closely as it met her charge with a powerful swing of its sword. As the sword swung across at her Alsha jumped off of her mount and into the sky, pushing her eagle down. The bird flew under the blade while she passed above it, meeting her mount on the other side and landing gracefully in the saddle.

Those Knights following immediately after her were not so lucky, and several fell to the massive blade, but she would mourn for them later. She was beyond the sword for the moment, and that meant she had to make her strike count while she had the chance. Her trajectory held straight for the wing, and as soon as she reached the leathery membrane she jumped from the saddle again, with her sword raised high above her head in both of her hands.

She collided with the wing and sunk her sword in deeply, and then let gravity do the work by pulling her toward the ground, ripping her down the wing with steadily increasing speed. The demon howled as she tore a hole in its sensitive flesh, but in an instant Alsha was screaming with it. The iron in her sword reacted with the slimy chemical that coated the demon's wings and combusted, heating the metal of her blade very quickly and burning through her gauntlets. Only her discipline allowed her to continue to hold on, making sure that the tear in the wing traveled all the way to the bottom. As soon as she cleared the wing she released the blade, letting the red-hot metal fall toward the city below her. Her eagle swooped in to catch her but she had to try several times to grab the saddle, barely able to command her burned hands to work through the pain; she eventually managed to grip the leather and pull herself back in.

Alsha glanced at her hands to see how damaged they actually were, as she guided her mount with her legs. The heat had burnt completely through the leather that normally protected her and had completely destroyed her palms. Grimacing at the thought that she would probably have to keep on flying without using her hands, she took a moment to look up at the demon to survey the result of her strategy. The demon was favoring its injured wing now, and Alsha watched with satisfaction as another of her Knights followed her lead and mirrored her maneuver on the other wing while approaching the demon from behind.

He too let go of his sword as soon as he cleared the wing, and Alsha was sure that he had been burnt as badly as she had. He managed to catch his saddle quicker than she had, and flew down to rendezvous with her.

"Are you okay, Mika?" Alsha asked as he neared her, but she then saw his hands and they looked just as bad as hers did.

"Yes, but it was worth it," Mika said, nodding upward. Alsha followed his gaze and saw that the demon was struggling to stay aloft now.

"It still isn't enough," Alsha said with a grimace. "It's still winning." They were running out of Knights far faster than the demon was losing altitude, and Alsha wasn't certain she could force the demon back down to the ones that could defeat it, especially now that she was weaponless and unable to fight with her injured hands.

"What are your orders, Commander?" Mika asked as he hovered nearby.

Alsha glanced back down at Prism and Grim as an idea struck her. "Follow me," she ordered and then urged her eagle toward the ground. In seconds she landed beside Prism and Grim, taking a long look at the naked Fedain. He seemed familiar somehow, though she couldn't place from where, but she was sure that she would have remembered the intricate tattoo on his chest; knotwork formed in the shape of a lion's head. But whoever this enigma was, he had been fighting the demon and doing it well, and she knew where he was needed. Alsha turned to Prism and said, "Let's get you up there. You're no good to us down here, and you're the only one who knows how to fight this thing."

"Agreed, though I'm not the only one," Prism said with a nod. Inclining his head toward Grim. "Lady Alsha, it is more important that you take Grim here with you. He'll be of more use than me."

As Mika landed next to Alsha she said, "Then it's a good thing we can take both of you. Come on, there's no time to waste."

Grim and Prism nodded and climbed up on the mounts in front of their riders, before Alsha and Mika launched into the sky and headed toward the demon. The demon was starting to heal its wounded wings, and Alsha and Mika urged their eagles to even greater speed, hoping they would reach the demon while the odds were still in their favor.

"Let me see your hands," Grim commanded as they flew upward. There was something soothing about his voice that told her that she could trust him, and she extended her burnt hands forward.

She winced as he touched the marred flesh and almost pulled her hands back, but her hands began to feel better within seconds. Alsha could feel her flesh beginning to return to its usual condition, and in no time at all Grim released her hands, allowing her to withdraw them to her face in wonder. There was no sign of injury at all, except for the charred hole in the leather. Alsha knew he could heal, after all he was a Fedain, but he had done so faster than even Veil could.

"Thank you," she whispered in awe, "I owe you one."

"You're welcome," Grim replied, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "You can repay me right now by getting me to its face. It's time to end this."

Alsha nodded and followed his order, urging her eagle toward the demon. The demon took no note of them, busy as it was with the Knights that still flitted about its head and wings, striking at it whenever they could. Their attacks were as ineffective as they had been previously, though the distraction kept the demon from regenerating as quickly as it could, and also bought them the time that they needed to ascend to an altitude even with the demon's head.

Without any warning to Alsha, Grim leapt from the eagle as they flew past the demon's face, landing directly on its snout. The demon began howling almost immediately as Grim began to suck away at its essence. It released its grip on its sword as it clutched at its face. The gigantic slab of iron fell from the sky and crashed into the buildings far below, scattering debris in every direction.

The demon seemed to be trying to pry Grim from its face with all of its strength, but Grim crawled up inside its helmet and managed to hold on. Alsha watched with morbid satisfaction as the demon's snout began to melt away, and the demon's howls were cut short as it lost a tongue with which to scream. It was beginning to lose altitude as it fought with the Fedain, no longer able to focus on keeping its wings beating.

Mika's eagle flew within range of the demon's chest, and Prism looked as if he too were about to leap from the saddle and join Grim in tearing the demon apart, but before he could make his move, an invisible force struck the demon soundly, throwing it from the sky with tremendous force to crash into a mass of buildings below it. Alsha looked up in surprise, seeing that Neredos had arrived, dressed in robes that were unfamiliar to her eyes. She stared in awe as the King floated above the demon, supported by nothing but his command over the air itself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Prism smiled as he looked upon his old friend. It was about time that Neredos showed up. The king looked as he had eight hundred years before, his red and gold robes shining in the daylight as he stared down at the demon rolling about in the rubble, still trying to pry Grim from its face.

Neredos had brought reinforcements. Another two companies had been deployed and the majority of them were headed Prism and Alsha's way. They had arrived as previously scheduled, but the battle was already nearly over. Grim would kill the demon in a matter of minutes at the rate he was going. Prism's smile fell when he realized that if they had been properly prepared for this as he had suggested, far fewer of Alsha's troops would have died.

"Let me get down there to help," Prism asked Mika. Mika nodded and guided his eagle to dive, with Neredos following closely behind. As they reached ground level, Prism jumped from the eagle and rushed toward the struggling demon.

"Prism, let me handle this," Neredos ordered, gliding past.

"What are you planning on doing?" Prism asked. As fast as Prism was, he couldn't keep pace with the flying mage who could glide over the rubble that Prism was forced to climb over, and Neredos began to outdistance him.

"I'm going to put it back where it belongs," Neredos replied, the words were carried to Prism's ears through the air as if carried by the wind.

Prism hesitated as Neredos rose up above the demon and began to inscribe a rune circle made of white light in the air in front of him, a previously invisible tattoo on his hand beginning to glow with the same luminescence. Neredos was beginning the same spell that they had used to seal the demons in the pillars eight hundred years before; the same spell that had sealed Prism up with them.

"Grim!" Prism shouted in concern, realizing that Grim was still attached to the demon's face. Prism dashed toward Neredos and shouted up at him, "Neredos, Grim is going to be sealed up with the demon!"

"He can't stop it now, Prism," a familiar voice shouted from behind him. He turned to see Veil, carefully picking her way across the ruined plaza. She gingerly stepped over broken stones and corpses alike, seeming to regard both with equal disdain. "Even if he wanted to, the spell cannot be interrupted once begun. You know this."

"He has to!" Prism protested looking from her to Neredos, and finally back to the demon. The demon was standing again, stumbling around the rubble of the ruined buildings as it tore at its face with all of its quickly fading energy. What was left of the structures surrounding the plaza had now caught fire from the demon's flesh, and the area was beginning to be obscured by black smoke. Prism turned back to an unconcerned Veil as he insisted, "Grim's the only one who can stop the Vhor!"

Prism's hope was fading fast; Neredos was completing the spell, and grey fog began to billow out from his hands, funneling out toward the demon. The fog reached the demon and started to settle around its limbs, its light grey vapors replacing the black smoke. The demon went rigid as the spell took hold, freezing it in place. Within a minute the demon was entirely entombed in the fog, with Grim sealed along with it.

Neredos turned away from the pillar, considering the job done and flew back up into the sky, looking to see if any of the other demons needed sealing. Prism watched him leave, horrified by what had just taken place. Grim was now gone and Fasha was still on the loose. Where Neredos had saved the world eight hundred years before, Prism was certain now that he had doomed it.

"Well, well, this is working out better than I could have possibly hoped," Veil said unnervingly from Prism's side, causing him to turn toward her in surprise. As he turned he felt something sharp pierce his arm, and a very familiar sting enter his veins. He jumped back, staring at Veil in horror as he recognized the kris blade held in her hands.

"So it comes back to this," Prism growled, eyeing the blade warily. He activated his tattoos and forced the nanites in his bloodstream to slow the poison, but he knew it would only be a matter of time before it claimed him. The nanites were a powerful invention, and one that had saved him time and time again, but they were a relic of an age that had been destroyed by the demons, and even they could not defy the poison of the Vhor. It was the most insidious poison that the world had ever known.

Fasha shrugged as he let his disguise fail, no longer appearing as the beautiful Fedain woman but as Salidar's assassin instead. "It does," Fasha replied with a sneer. Nodding toward the pillar he added, "And now the Slayer can no longer save you."

"He'll be back," Prism promised, eyeing the assassin warily as he took a few cautious steps back. "You were always destined to die at his hands."

"You won't be around to see it," Fasha vowed, taking a confident step forward.

"So be it," Prism said with a nod, and settled into a defensive stance as he prepared to meet Fasha's advance. He didn't stand a chance, but he was going to go down fighting.




Author's Note:

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