His eyes stared down at me, his mandibles slashing.
"Master!" whimpered Nathalie, squirming beneath me, trapped.
"Prince Meinard, you will release him!" screamed Kora, her voice shrill. "Now!"
Prince Meinard's head shook for a moment. Something pulsed in his chest, that hard nodule in the center of his thorax. It... twitched. Through the pain, I noticed it had... little legs buried into his chest. Ten of them. It was... separate from him. It reacted to my sister's words somehow. I didn't understand why but...
It had to be important.
I stabbed my dagger at it.
Chapter Forty-One: Desperation
My will slammed into Prince Meinard. I could feel it affecting a part of him, a small sliver that was from the Biomancer. It twitched and throbbed, but it didn't control him. I didn't freeze the bastard like it did the ooze. He kept tearing at my brother's guts. Sven's growls of pain rising above the crackling flames. The insectoid bastard was killing Sven.
And I couldn't affect the bastard. There was too much... human in him. A shudder rippled down my back. He wasn't created from scratch like the ooze was. Like the Paragon. The fraction of a monster in him wouldn't let me control all of Prince Meinard. I... I couldn't help my brother.
Pain clenched my heart. I had to help out somehow. And that meant...
"I'm sorry, Sven," I whispered. The Paragon was here. Maybe I could affect her.
The watery shield saved my life. Greta screamed at me.
I had a reprieve. I forced myself to stand. My entire body ached and throbbed. I shuddered, struggling to rise. Light bled through the cracks of my armor. The Paragon grinned at me, her mongrel face twisted in anger. I had to protect Kora.
My broken ribs screamed in protest as I moved. I pushed my semi-divine body to its limits. I grunted and snarled. My armor dug into my body. I staggered to my feet as Greta scrambled clear. She threw a wall of water between me and the Paragon.
"You have to run, Ealaín!" Greta shouted.
"No running," I growled, gripping my ax and war hammer, their light flickering and spluttering.
The Paragon slammed her fist into the wall of water. The flowing liquid blunted her attack. Her fist burst through but fell short of my face, droplets raining on me. She snarled and battered at the barrier. With a howl, she ripped through it, her misshapen breasts heaving at me. Water spilled over her face.
Her eyes stared past me at my charge. At my Kora. I didn't intend to fall in love with Kora and her family. I was just here to inspire her, to be her muse, and protect her so she could create art to enrich the world.
And this monster wanted to crush that.
I roared and slashed my flickering weapons at her. I screamed as the pain throbbed through me. My armor pressed into my chest. I groaned as my weapons fell on her. Ax slashing, hammer crushing. The Paragon lifted a bloodied arm, her iron-hard bones exposed.
My feeble attacks spilled off of her. The world swam around me. Kora screamed in the background, crying out orders. Her words were distant as a dizzying wave washed through me. Darkness spilled across my vision. I swayed.
I couldn't be weak.
My teeth ground together. I shook my head. I had to focus and—
The Paragon's fist slammed down at me. I crossed my weapons. The blow hit me. Threw me back. Water spilled around me, catching me as I stumbled. Broken ribs twisted inside of me. I tasted blood. It bubbled up the back of my throat. My breath wheezed.
"Stop!" Kora shouted, her voice ringing clear. I could almost feel her will rushing by me.
The Paragon's next punch slowed. It grew stuttered, like something seized it. Bestial passion spilled across her horrific face. She bellowed, head shaking. I shook my head, the Paragon's body trembling.
"You will stop fighting!" Kora shouted, her words growing stronger. "You will surrender."
"I... will... not..." spat the Paragon, her words half-choked. "You... are not... Father..."
I glanced at Kora. She clutched the amulet. Ruby light flickered between her fingers. She was... controlling the Paragon. It was... remarkable.
Greta snarled and charged in. Her watery sword slashed forward. Diamond droplets trailed behind her weapon. It wept her passion. She screamed, her hair dancing behind her as she slammed her blade into the Paragon's side.
The rage surged across the Paragon's face. Her fist lashed out, but Greta threw water before her, protecting herself. The Paragon's entire body shook like an old woman, palsy tremors rippling through her body as Kora kept shouting.
I howled, channeled my pain, and stumbled at her. I put every ounce of strength I had left into me. My hammer and ax swung at the Paragon. Knives of agony stabbed into my body. I stumbled at the misshapen thing. My weapons slammed into her chest, into her bleeding breasts. My hammer cracked into her sternum. My ax bounced off her ribs. Pain shot through me. I swayed.
My attack did nothing. Dizzying waves surged through me. My entire body shuddered. I stumbled and fell onto my back. I was dying. More blood coughed out of me. I had to fight. I had to get up.
"Kneel!" Kora ordered. "Submit!"
The Paragon roared, her entire body shook. She clenched her fist.
I had to finish her off.
I pressed up on an elbow, struggling to rise. I coughed blood. A wave of cold rushed through my semi-divine body. I focused on the Paragon and... I collapsed onto my back. I groaned as Greta charged, stabbing. Her sword slammed into the Paragon's belly.
The monstrous abomination howled. The Paragon head threw back. Her entire body shook. "Will! Not! SUBMIT!"
Her body surged forward. Kora gasped. The Paragon took a lumbering step towards me. She stood over me. Her foot raised up. It was so wide, her sole leathered and calloused. My vision focused on her. I had to move. I had to act.
Her foot slammed down.
"No!" screamed Kora. "Stop! Stop!"
The foot slammed into my chest with the weight of a falling boulder. My armor burst with golden light. A surge of agony crashed through me. I screamed out as I felt my chest cave in and...
My pain ended.
I rose free of my body. My spirit left my flesh. I gasped, stunned, staring down at my crushed corpse, my white hair spilling out of my helm, the weapons clutched in my black hands flickering out like dying candles.
I didn't hear Kora's scream of grief so much as felt it rippling through the air. I had a final glimpse of my wife, gripping the Biomancer's ruby, her blonde braids swaying behind her as such pain twisted her face. Red light flared from the amulet and then...
I left behind this world and entered the next.
My mother called to me. She beckoned to my soul to join her at her Adamant Palace. I couldn't help my family any longer. I wouldn't be there for Kora. For Sven and Ava. For Aingeal and Greta and Nathalie. Not even for Carsina.
My soul wept as diamond walls reared up around me and my mother's gentle arms engulfed me.
"Shhh," Rithi cooed, rocking me. "Your pain is over."
Bright light flared. My ears picked up Kora screaming in fright. I ignored her. I focused on my prey. I moved closer and closer to Shevoin as he dueled with Ava and Aingeal. Purple energy flashed through the air as I crept forward. I licked my lips, my tail hardly swishing from side to side. I just had to go slow. I couldn't attract his attention.
I had to wait for the right moment. I had no magic. I would get one opportunity to do this. To plunge my weapon into his back. Step by step. I just needed Aingeal to fend off his magic and Ava to keep his attention away from me.
My ears twitched.
Hooves thudded. Louder and louder. A horse charged.
I hissed, my armor swallowing the sound. My head whipped around. The leader of the soldiers, his cape streaming behind him, raced at me. He leveled a lance at my form, hard eyes glaring at me through the gaps in his visor. My back arched as I stared at the sharp, metal point of his weapon.
The lance shot beneath me. I glared at the commander. His charge carried him right into me. I cleared over the head of his horse, my katars punching forward. My triangular blades slammed into his steel breastplate. The force of my attack, augmented by my armor, combined with the speed of his galloping steed.
My triangular blades penetrated through his breastplate, cracked his ribs, and tearing into his lungs and heart. I crashed into him a moment later. I bounced off of him, twisting, my weapons ripping from his ruined chest. I spun through the air, the world blurring around me. My tail twitched, righting my body.
I landed on my feet like any good cat.
The commander crashed off his horse, landing in a clatter. The sound assaulted my ears. His horse kept charging, snorting. I glanced to the mage. I was only a dozen feet from him and—
He turned, spotted me.
"Las's putrid cum!" I screamed and leaped at him.
Fire fired from him. The air rippled. I screamed, crossing my arms before me out of instinct. I didn't want to be burned. I wanted to be protected. My katars flowed. The leather that made up Silence reshaped into a buckler.
The flames slammed into my protection.
Fire burst around it.
My body flew back. My mind rattled in my brain. I hit the ground. Rolled. Darkness flooded through my vision. My body ached. I groaned as I came to a rest against a metallic body. I smelled roasted flesh. My body throbbed and ached. My head swam. I struggled to keep awake, my eyes fluttering to stay open.
Darkness crashed down onto me, swallowing the pain of my burns.
"Zanyia!" Ava screamed as the lamia crashed into the ground, her body smoking.
I squeezed down my fear for her. Shevoin's attention wasn't on us. As Ava charged us forward, I gathered my evocation spirits. The orange balls quivered, eager to unleash destruction. They fed off my anger. Ava screamed through the feyhound's mouth as the beam formed before her open jaws.
The purple lanced out at him, the evocation spirits streaming at the mage. I would burn a hole through him. I would kill him. Poor Zanyia lay smoking. I didn't know if she lived or was dead. I just knew Shevoin had to die.
My energy streaked at him. The air warped, distorted. He... somehow made the atmosphere into a prism. My energy hit it and bent, streaking off at an oblique angle and missing him as he whirled around to glare at us. His face set.
Stone thrust up before us.
We crashed into it with a clatter of snapping twigs.
The pain dug into my side. Kora screamed in the background. Light exploded. All I could focus on was not dying. I stared at that vulnerable spot on Prince Meinard's armored chest. I just had to stab him, but his claws twisted inside of me. My arms spasmed.
My strength waned.
Darkness washed through me. Nathalie hammered her blade at the monster, her naked tits bouncing, her flames bursting against his back. But Prince Meinard ignored her. He stared at me, his mandibles clicking in delight. I struggled to gather smoke and smother him with it.
But my armor... He'd damaged my armor.
The smoke only sputtered and coiled about my hand.
"I am going to enjoy feasting on all your women, Sven," he growled. "I will dig into their innards. Like this." His fingers twisted in my guts.
I howled in torturous agony.
"What a sweet feast they will be!"
"No!" I roared. I had to do something. I had to stop him.
It wasn't Nathalie who shouted. Bursting through the flames, Carsina appeared in her leather work garb. She clutched the diamond hammer in her hand. She thrust it at me. Brilliant light flickered inside, scintillating with every hue imaginable.
Prince Meinard flinched before the purity.
The hammer touched my shoulder. Energy poured into Frozenshadows, reinvigorating the damaged leather. Darkness burst from it. An inky wave of umbral force exploded from me. I growled as the claws wrenched from my hands, the prince throwing back.
"Kill it, Master!" Carsina shouted.
She supercharged my armor. The shadows slid along my flesh, gripping me, giving me more strength. The darkness poured into my wounds, plugging up the bleeding, soothing away the pain. A jolt of cold exhilaration raced through my body. Every muscle spasmed.
Then I gained my feet with flowing grace.
I threw myself at Prince Meinard. My rapier became a dagger, the perfect tool. I fell on him as he shuddered on his back. I straddled him. I raised up the blade and slammed it down on that beetle. It was the source. I could feel it. The corruption twisting his body came from it.
"Pater's mighty cock!" I screamed.
My dagger slammed into the center of the beetle.
Chapter Forty-Two: Imagined Will
I twitched on the ground. The jaws of the feyhound were shattered, the right leg bent and twisted. The stone wall crumbled. Our souls shuddered inside the proxy. I felt the damage to the feyhound's body. Our connection wavered, grew tenuous. Aingeal's control over her spirits flickered as, for a moment, we were almost thrown back to our real bodies.
Shevoin stood over us, his magic surging at us.
Aingeal grasped her spirits in time to fend off most of it, but the life magic assaulted the wicker body. It twisted my proxy, shaping the wood. The more damage he did, the less chance I had to control it. Fire burst around us, seeking to devour us.
"No!" Aingeal growled, purple energy dancing around us, her will acting on the spirits.
I had to let us go. I had to return us to our real bodies. If the proxy was destroyed while we were still in it, the headaches would leave us both disabled. Aingeal could still fight in her regular body. I tried to pull us away.
Aingeal's will held us in place.
"No, we have to abandon it!" my soul shouted.
"Gods damned bastard!" roared Aingeal, her will throwing spirits, but his magic battered them aside. Wood creaked. The proxy's legs twisted together, the head unraveling. We were about to lose it. "Cernere's black fingers, I'll kill him!"
"We have to—"
A massive surge of constructive energy burst behind me. It washed across my soul. I felt it pulsing, begging to be used to fix, to repair, to strengthen something crafted. Something woven. Like the feyhound.
Carsina used my hammer on... on Sven.
I seized that power. My soul grabbed a portion and drew it into the feyhound. The power of my ancestor, Krab, spilled through my spirit and into Aingeal. She gasped, both our essences quivering together while the power surged through the feyhound, restoring the limbs, strengthening the body.
"Yes!" Aingeal shouted.
She wove her spirits. She fashioned them into a construct. I realized that was how the faerie's powers worked, what she was doing to the spirits. They were... part of the great machine of our planet. My eyes widened in realization. They were all the different forces Krab had layered into the world when the Gods created it. They allowed this vast machine to function. Everything from the weight that held us to the ground to the esoteric channels that allowed magic in all its various forms functioned because of these spirits. They were the power of the rumbling earth. The force of erupting volcanoes. The mighty storms and powerful winds.
They were all part of a vast mechanism that used these spirits.
And Aingeal repurposed them. She crafted something new out of them. The power I absorbed affected what she created.
I supercharged her magic.
The beam of purple lanced out from us as I controlled our repaired body. We rose. The mage wrenched up a barrier of adamant stone. I could feel his magic manipulating that same machinery, changing the alignment of the minute particles in the stone into a stronger matrix. Something that should withstand our attack.
But so much more force went into it. It was like I gave Aingeal a longer leverage, a greater fulcrum with which to move her force. Her spirits slammed into the barrier. The enhanced matrix shattered beneath her greater power.
I caught a brief glimpse of shock on Shevoin's face before Aingeal burned a hole through his chest.
"No, no, no!" I screamed, staring at Ealaín's crushed body. No one could survive that blow, not even a demigoddess. Her innards squeezed out around the Paragon's thick fist.
My hand squeezed so tight about the amulet. The faceted gems bit into my flesh as I glared at the Paragon. She broke through my will. It wasn't strong enough to chain her. I snarled now, anger bursting inside of me. A great rage burned through my soul.
"You killed her!"
The Paragon grinned at me and then took a step towards me. Another. Her fists flinched. Greta roared, swinging at the Paragon from the side. The monstrous, mongrel thing threw out a punch, crashing into Greta's chest. Only a last moment spray of water blunted the blow. She fell back in a clatter.
"Hand over my Father's amulet, and no more of your family need die today," the Paragon said, lumbering up the hill at me.
"You will submit!" I screamed, throwing my will at her. "You will kneel. You will fall to your knees and beg for my forgiveness!
"And never receive it!"
The soul of the Biomancer responded to my commands. It filled me with his will. I threw it at the Paragon with my words. They struck her. She grunted, shaking her head. Her steps slowed. Her muscles, many cut by Ealaín and Greta's attacks, flexed. Blood sheeted down her body but did little to slow her down. My will hardly stopped her.
She lumbered forward like she waded through thick tar. I was affecting her, but it wasn't enough. I seized that grief at Ealaín's death, that anger, and threw it into my words. I wrenched at the Biomancer's soul, drawing on his foul ego to chain his greatest creation.
"Surrender! Submit! Kneel!"
"You! Are! Not! Father!" she bellowed, her body slowed. She struggled to take her next step.
"But I have his soul!" The gem beat in my grip. My hand grew slick, blood pouring out of me, coating it. The ruby quivered. Scarlet flared through my finger. "You are my slave! My beast! Submit to my yoke!"
She froze. Her entire body trembled. Every muscle bulged, veins pressing against her skin. Her deformed face contorted. She roared. The ground trembled. Then she took a step forward, ripping through the bonds of my will.
How could I stop her? She was so immense. She had such a towering ego, such a powerful devotion to the Biomancer. Her eyes locked on my hand, on the ruby. She craved it more than anything. She fought through the pain of defiance and took another step towards me.
"I will eat your sister," growled the foul thing as my knife ricocheted from the beetle. "I will spill open her soft belly and root around in her. She smells pregnant... I'll eat your child."
"You putrid sack of Las's shit!" I bellowed and slammed the dagger down again. It bounced off. "You will not touch a single hair on any one of my women!"
"Greta has such big tits. I bet they will taste divine. I always wanted to play with them. I should have enjoyed her when fucking Ava!"
I channeled all the power flowing into me from the hammer. It was such a titanic force. It wreathed my limbs, supercharging my muscles. I honed the tip of the dagger into the sharpest point ever. The shadows flowed to my will.
"And Ava... My daughter..." He licked his lips. "How divine she shall taste. Maybe I'll fuck her one last time before I devour her flesh."
Wordless fury bellowed from me. My vision narrowed to a pinprick focused on that Las-damned beetle.
My knife arced down. He laughed. It crashed into the beetle. The sharp tip scored across the carapace and...
Caught in the joint where it merged into his thorax. The blade dug in an inch.
Prince Meinard spasmed. His mandibles clicked. Then his clawed hands lunged at me as I dug my dagger in deeper. Ichor spurted around my blade. To my right, Nathalie screamed, her flaming blade hissed through the air, her firm titties jiggling. She slashed into his left arm, knocking it back before it stabbed into me. Diamond flashed on my left. Carsina slammed the hammer into the other hand, smashing back the bastard's clawed fingers, protecting me.
I dug the dagger in deeper, prying at the beetle. Prince Meinard cried out in pain, his mandibles clicking together. His body shuddered. The legs of the beetle stretched as I used the dagger as a lever, prying the beetle from Prince Meinard's carapace. A segmented limb popped in a burst of sinew and chitin.
"No, no, no!" howled the insectoid monstrosity. "I can't die. I am King! The King! I serve Father! I will conquer the world for him!"
I pressed down on the dagger, leaning over him. I stared into his eyes, hatred burning. For my parents. For Katriana. I dug deeper, twisting, savoring the pain I caused him as flashes of my little sister exploded through my mind. Smiling. Laughing. Racing through the garden. Pink bower flowers—the same blossoms Kora tattooed into her body—in Katriana's hair.
More beetle legs popped at the joints. Cartilage and sinew tore. I pried it off of Prince Meinard. His body spasmed as the bug ripped free. Ichor spurted. The smaller insect landed on its back, severed legs twitching as it died.
I leaned over Prince Meinard. "My child shall rule your princedom!" I growled. "He shall sit on your throne. I have supplanted you. Your daughter loves me!"
He gurgled, ichor filling his gaping mouth. His eyes dulled. He spasmed a final time.
I needed more will. I had to be stronger. The Paragon closed the distance. Only twenty feet away. Fifteen feet. She lumbered forward, picking up more and more speed as her ancient will battered through mine.
I needed to... imagine myself with a diamond will. Adamant! My fingers danced. I still had my juices adorning them. I could still create illusions. I shaped one over myself. I merged it with me, creating a version of myself that had the will of... Queen Sidhe.
I channeled that regal faerie queen sitting upon her throne proclaiming her sentence upon Aingeal. My back straightened as my magic washed over me. I felt stronger, more powerful. I had the authority of thousands of years behind me. I was the daughter of gods. Cernere was my mother. Las my father. When I spoke, every faerie obeyed.
"Submit!" I howled. "Stop!"
The Paragon's next step faltered. Her face twisted with bullish rage. She snorted, leaning forward like a wall stood before her, a barrier she struggled to get past. Her feet remained rooted to the ground, her eyes glaring at me.
I had the will of ages behind me. I was Kora. A queen. The Paragon's queen.
She quivered. I realized this is what she feared. Why she never faced us open. She didn't want to be a slave to anyone but the Biomancer. And now she saw it. She realized she was vulnerable. That she had to submit. Her fists clenched. Her entire body shook.
She drew in her breath to scream her defiance.
I gained my feet and...
Ealaín lay crushed and dead, Greta sprawled stunned by her. Pain slapped me. I wrenched my gaze, sweeping it up the hill. Nothing stood between my sister and the Paragon. The hulking monster came closer and closer. She stopped, battering at an unseen force. Her entire body quivered while my sister...
She stood as regal as queen, her bearing imperious. For a moment, I had a flash of memory. I was kneeling before Queen Sidhe, my hands manacled behind my back, submitting to her dominion. I shook my head as the Paragon's roar rumbled across the entire mountain.
She was almost to my sister.
Shadows spilled off of me as I surged up the hill. My dagger became a rapier again. I would save my sister. The ruby light pulsed in her gripped fist. It spilled across her face as she spoke. The Paragon's knees bent.
"NEVER!" the monstrosity roared. She broke through the unseen force. She took a lumbering step towards my sister.
Kora didn't flinch. She stared up at the monstrosity, imperial authority spilling across her face. "You will kneel!" commanded my sister, her voice ice. "NOW!"
My steps carried me up the hill, the shadows sustaining my body a little longer. But the darkness spilled off of me with every heartbeat. I lost more and more of the umbral power fueling me. I didn't care. I just needed one strike. I aimed at the Paragon's lower back. Her kidney. I lunged at her.
The Paragon pivoted. Her fist, the size of a sledgehammer, rushed at my head while her body trembled. I couldn't stop my momentum. I raced up the hill to fast. There was no stopping that fist from crushing my head.
But I would save my sister. I wouldn't have to break her heart by abandoning her. Only by dying.
"No!" Ava screamed.
It all moved so slow to me. The fist falling at my husband's head. Sven stabbing at the paragon's back. The energy still spilled through me. The abjuration spirits streaked up the hill faster than they should possibly move. They blazed, purple streaks that crossed those hundreds of feet in a single beat of my heart.
A shielded formed beside Sven's head. The Paragon's fist crashed into it. The abjuration spirits held, protected my husband.
Aingeal saved me.
My rapier lanced into the stomach of the Paragon. It bit deep, driving up into her organs. She quivered. Her entire body trembled. She bellowed, staring down at me with eyes that burned with rage. Her fists raised up above her, clasped together, forming a mighty boulder to slam down at me.
"STOP!" Kora yelled.
Her words slammed into the Paragon. The thing's body went rigid as I ripped my rapier from her flesh. I stared at the figure, seeing the rents ripped across the monster's chest, the exposed bones of iron that had withstood Ealaín's attacks.
My rapier was a narrow blade. It could slip through ribs. I thrust at the chest of the frozen monster.
The Paragon snarled. Her entire body shook as she tried to move. To defend herself. My sister's will held her tight. My rapier sank into her chest, sliding past the protective bones, and finding the monster's heart. The thudding beat shook my blade. Her eyes bulged.
I twisted my rapier, destroying her heart.
She stood rigid, blood bubbling from her mouth. Her breath wheezed. She let out a final bellow, crimson spittle bursting from her as she fought my sister's will. It died into a gurgling moan. Her eyes fluttered.
The life animating her body fled. My sister's will no longer worked. The corpse collapsed into a limp heap on the hill. I leaped back as the bulk tumbled down the slope. I landed and groaned. A wave of dizzying cold washed through me.
My wounds attacked me. The last umbral energy left me.
I collapsed, blood bubbling out of the deep punctures to my abdomen. The world spun around me. I saved most of my women. My sister. They would live. They would have each other. This was easier. Just dying. I didn't fight it.
I wouldn't have to abandon them. I would uphold my promise to Rithi without breaking my sister's heart.
I wouldn't have to be alone in this world.
My eyes closed as I surrendered to oblivion.
To be continued...
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