Authors: Eric Asher
Tags: #vampires, #demon, #civil war, #fairy, #fairies, #necromancer, #vesik
“We can fly over them.”
Mike shook his head. “They will shoot you down. Trust
me in this.”
“Oh, the demon is right,” the dark-touched said.
“Stand with me my family. Show the doomed to their end.”
Each of the hunched forms stood, stretching long legs
and longer wings. They looked like bat wings, but each was armed
with a trio of wicked-looking talons. The membrane stretched from a
slightly too long, human-like arm to the bones at the top of each
They looked delicate. I was certain they were
Shiawase walked to the front of the line with Vicky
at his side. He adjusted his sheath and crouched with one foot far
in front of the other. “Leave us or die,” the samurai said. “It is
your only choice.”
Mike’s hammer burst into brilliant life and Sarah’s
hands glowed red. She wore a smirk that made my skin crawl. Jimmy
crouched beside me, and his body exploded into a hulking golden
werewolf. When he breathed, it sounded like a roar.
“Through the middle,” Mike hissed.
The Burning Lands were lost to chaos. Mike charged
across the field, his hammer drawn to the upper right. Red
lightning stormed from Sarah’s hands, and her voice turned into an
unrelenting chant of the damned.
A dark-touched vampire landed a glancing blow on
Mike’s shoulder. It cost the vampire a leg. Shiawase drew his sword
and black light shot out in a wave, slicing through the fallen
vampire. The next time the creature moved, its head fell to the
I watched in awe and horror as the body picked up the
severed head and reapplied it to the stump of its neck. The wolves
barreled into the dark-touched behind Mike, tearing the vampire to
pieces before it could finish reassembling itself.
Another of the vampires arced over Mike. It was a
feint. The strike was never meant for the demon. The claw tore into
Maggie’s back and she howled. Vicky hit the vampire like a train.
Light exploded around her. Traces of black and red power wound into
her aura as bits of the vampire splattered across the field. Carter
downed the next as he moved closer to his wife and Jimmy tackled
Jasper bucked as I leapt onto him and grabbed his
neck. He shot forward, slicing through a dark-touched as he dodged
one of Sarah’s crackling lightning strikes. I didn’t want to leave
them behind, but this was our chance. While the others kept the
dark-touched occupied, we could breach the tenth fortress. Our
allies were more capable of taking care of themselves in the
Burning Lands than I was.
“Get us to the wall,” I shouted into the wind. I
screamed as something sharp and jagged ripped into my leg. I
glanced back and found one of the vampires attached to Jasper, his
claws in my calf. My first instinct was to grab the pepperbox, but
the angle was all wrong. I wrapped my fingers around the cold metal
of the focus and channeled. I was expecting the storm of power this
time. The golden beam shattered the vampire’s arm, and removed a
large piece of his head.
I cut off the power flowing to the blade. The body
fell slowly until Jasper whipped his tail, sending the dark-touched
barreling into one of its own.
Jasper curled his head down and barked out a dense
blue fireball. I reveled in the vampire’s screams, though I
couldn’t see the carnage below. The dragon pulled up, spreading its
wings and dropping me right in front of another gate.
I shouted as my injured leg took the brunt of the
impact. It didn’t matter. It was time to find out if Tessrian had
set us up. I slid the focus back into its loop and unsheathed the
Key of the Dead. I heard the battle raging behind me, smelled the
seared flesh and the sharp scent of sulfur that meant someone had
called hellfire. My gaze stayed locked on the gate.
This latticework of metal was modest compared to the
power-laced gateways of the previous fortresses, but it still stood
some fifteen feet high. A solid diamond-shaped pattern ran the
length of the gateway’s center. It left plenty of space for the
rune. I moved quickly, the Key of the Dead offering little
resistance as it sliced into the barrier. I cut the two upright
legs of hagalaz into the metal first and quickly joined them on the
Something screamed and groaned inside the metal, and
I stepped backwards. A sizzling blue light traced the rune before
shooting out across the lattice. The gateway steamed and hissed and
finally collapsed in on itself, slowly dissolving into the stones
My fingers flexed around the Key of the Dead. “What
the hell is this thing?” I stared at the dagger and sheathed
I turned back to the battle behind me. The werewolves
tore one of the dark-touched to ribbons, their fangs and claws
flashing in the fading light. I turned away when Mike crushed
another with his war hammer. It started pulling itself back
The things just didn’t die.
A shadow caught my attention. The dark-touched I’d
hit with the soulsword. It wasn’t moving. I stepped forward and
ground my teeth against the pain in my leg.
“Vicky!” I screamed. “Soulswords!”
I couldn’t be sure she’d heard me until I saw the
golden blades lash out. Two of the dark-touched fell to pieces
before they understood what was happening. It was the best I could
do, for now. I limped into the hall behind the fallen gate, hunting
Past the gate, within the tenth fortress, waited a
structure that reminded me more of the Royal Courts of Faerie than
any other structure. A series of four towering statues, each more
hideous and deformed than the last, flanked the pathway to a short
set of stairs.
I hurried forward, blocking out the pain of my
wounded leg as best I could. The screams and explosions of the
battle outside echoed through the dim chamber. I moved through the
shadows of tentacle-laden statues, past the ruptured humans carved
into their stony grasp.
The last stared down at me, and I half expected the
thing to move. Fangs like those of the dark-touched curved out over
its jaw, and spiral horns grew from its head. Nothing moved. I
pushed on. Darkfall was upon us.
The doors at the top of the short staircase looked
like wood. Large rivets stood out around the frame. Something moved
behind them. I drew the focus from my belt and channeled, slashing
through the door at an angle before kicking it in.
A slow creak filled the hollow space. Beyond waited a
throne, one of several positioned around the room. Something
breathed and huffed behind me. Small footsteps sounded in the hall.
A quick glance showed me Vicky and my hand tightened around the
“Damian Vesik.” The voice growled and screeched and
filled the air around me with unease.
The light in the room turned, like the corona of a
sun flashing in surges and waves to reveal the creature upon the
“You bring me my vessel? I am surprised.”
She didn’t look like the red-skinned monstrosity that
Philip had pulled into our world at Stones River, but this was
Prosperine. Of that, I had no doubt.
“Do you not speak, mortal?”
I looked up at the view through the ceiling: the sun,
nearly centered, nearly covered in black. Runes and knots wound
their way around the dome, circle after circle leading down into
Part of a ritual? Part of some Burning Lands
religion? It didn’t matter.
Prosperine narrowed her eyes and leaned forward on
her throne. “I will use the body of the child to kill you. It will
be a sweetness unlike any I have imagined. Your suffering will
become a legend in this hall, necromancer.” Her voice rose until it
screeched with madness. “Witness the Darkfall!”
I held up my right hand and closed my eyes. This
world was mine. Everything about this world was mine.
The chaff of a gravemaker sliced through my forearm
in a dozen places. The golden glow of the souls inside me lined the
wounds as my arm became a cracked, blackened mockery of itself. I
the power rushing through my ears, like a tidal
force set destroy a continent.
It was Vicky. The panic in her voice stabbed at my
“Don’t leave me.”
I focused on pushing the art down, keeping it from
consuming me, trying to find a symbiosis with it that I’d never
seen the Old Man achieve. It came with the thoughts of my sister
and my family. If I failed here, this battle would become theirs,
and they weren’t strong enough to face the Destroyer.
I turned to Vicky and opened my eyes as the
gravemaker chaff rose up to cover my neck. “I won’t, kiddo.” My
voice was rough, tortured by the bark-like debris cutting into
Prosperine charged at us, covering more ground than
physically possible in such a short time.
Terror drained the color from Vicky’s face. The child
who had lived through hell and died, only to be brought back into a
The burn of the gravemaker art crawled up my face,
surrounded my eyes and invaded my senses, but I held it in check.
“I just have to give the devil her due.”
The devil’s eyes widened as I spoke, as she must have
realized I was still me. She tried to backpedal, but I wasn’t
giving her an option. I stepped forward, oblivious to the pain that
should have been crippling my leg, and raised my arm. The world
bent to my will, and my arm shot forward, extended and bloated into
a charcoal nightmare.
“No! You cannot defeat—”
Prosperine’s protest cut off as her body slammed into
the throne so hard its back shattered. She pried at the bark-like
fingers throttling her body, finally snapping one of them off.
“You are not Anubis!”
I blinked slowly, forcing a new finger to grow across
her face. I raised my chin slightly, lifted the new finger and
split it into two. My arm continued to grow and expand as the stuff
of gravemakers, the essence of the Burning Lands, swelled to meet
I forced the split fingers through Prosperine’s eyes,
feeling the warmth of her substance around me. I closed the fist
until the fingers met my thumb.
“Damian,” Vicky whispered. “Don’t leave me.”
I wanted to. I wanted to become this thing, this
force of destruction. I could break nations with my every whim and
strike every evil from the earth, but that girl’s voice …
We’d failed. I’d failed her before. I’d never fail
“Hellfire,” I snarled in a voice that was not my
Vicky didn’t pause. She fell to her knees.
“On me,” I growled. “Light me.”
I saw the tears on the child’s face, but she did as I
asked. I felt the fires rise up beneath me. I felt the burn as the
hellfire slid into the cracked flesh of a gravemaker, and I laughed
as it flowed down my arm.
Prosperine struggled and screamed in my grip.
The orange blaze of hellfire merged with the
gravemaker flesh, and became something new. A part of me knew what
it was, knew what it could consume. The white spiral of flame was
soulfire. Forged of the lost soul of a gravemaker, ignited by
hellfire, it was all-consuming.
I felt it bite into Prosperine’s flesh, and I pulled
my arm back. Her face tore off in my hand, her charred flesh and
skull cracking against the floor. I used my arm as a conveyance,
pulling myself to her burning body, pieces of my arm peeling off
and falling away where they became unnecessary.
Still she was reborn. New flesh grew over her wounds
as fast as I could destroy it. Not even the soulfire was enough.
But what if Prosperine wasn’t with her body any longer, even for a
My face twisted and I raised my chin to a series of
clicks and cracks. Vicky screamed with the channeled hellfire. It
was now or never. She couldn’t keep this up, and neither could
I could see the shock on Prosperine’s face as her
spirit was torn away from her flesh. The empty husk of her body
fell to ash in moments, flayed by the blazing white soulfire.
“Stop,” I hissed at Vicky. She let the soulfire fade
before falling to the stone floor. The gravemaker body around me
sizzled and dripped and fell to pieces as I cut my ties to it. I
stepped from the muck and grime as it flowed away from me,
vanishing into the cracks of the floor once more.
The focus was ready by the time the last of the chaff
fell away. Blood coursed down my arms, but I paid it no mind. I
kept my gaze locked on Prosperine. She floated in space with a
silent, eternal scream etched across her lips.
I raised the focus, and opened the cavern of souls
hidden away inside my head. The beam of golden rage tore through
the structure behind the devil’s spirit. When it was done, only a
ghostly eye remained, floating toward the ground.
I held out a hand. I stared into that golden eye—and
perhaps imagined it—but I like to think it was terror I saw there.
I channeled a soulart through my hand and closed it around
Prosperine’s spirit. It hissed and popped until it vanished in a
streamer of smoke.
I turned back to the tiny voice. Vicky cried and
shook as a violent seizure wracked her body. A shadow crossed above
us. Darkfall was here.
I drew the Key of the Dead as visions of Sam and
Nixie and my family flashed through my head. I held it there for
one deep breath.
Vicky screamed, and I plunged the blade into my
My pack marks ignited into a ferocious burn and
pulled on the Ghost Pack, the spell surging through me. Carter and
Maggie and Jimmy graced my mind and smiled as they passed. It was
much more peaceful than the time Prosperine had killed them. I
caught flashes and snippets of their lives, their alliance with
Edgar, their love for each other, and Jimmy’s love for crispy rice