Chapter 20 – Collapse

The three met up at the side of the Plateau, coming to a halt right above the hole in the ground that Ares had made only a few days ago. Once Behmet realized how he had the enemy boxed in on three sides, he gave the command for a slow advance, fanning out his forces to block all escape routes.

Still, his formation was slow in forming. His men were staggering into the clearing behind; all clearly exhausted by the extreme chase they had just undertaken, and not a one among them looked to be in a good mood.

This gave Ares and his fellows time to confer. “You’ve got them all?” He asked the two of them, through Orca. Both Sloan and Alastor nodded, both breathing too hard to speak. “You timed it pretty well,” Ares continued, to which Alastor responded by screwing up his face.

“You took your sweet… time in getting here,” he said, surveying the oncoming enemy, as they closed ranks and blocked all paths of escape.

“Hey! My master did the brunt of the work here, Al, don’t you dare criticize.”

“I told you…” Sloan wailed, taking hold of Ares leg and shaking violently, “I’m no good at this…”

“Fatty, you get yourself together right now!” Orca unreasonably demanded, but the halfling just kept letting his tears flow, “Everything is just as master Ares want it to be, so you shut up and try and look manly!”

 While they were wagging their tongues, Ares was carefully watching the approaching enemy, waiting. His eyes fell on Bann, who was right by Behmet’s side, his blunderbuss trained on Ares as he came closer. The man had taken the time to put his hat back on, and his washed-up face was once more hidden in shadow.

“So, this is it, Construct?” Said Behmet, his razor-edge teeth gleaming in the light of the two suns as he came close enough to hold a conversation, “This is where you make your stand against us? Do you think the Elvans of old will save you from us?”

“Be careful, Behmet,” Bann hissed, his aim securely on Ares, just waiting for the commands to shoot, “They’ve gathered us here for a reason. Don’t waste time. Take them, now!”

“Oh shut up,” Behmet snapped, drawing a long and slender saber from his side and waiving it at his own comrade, “Whatever this is, we will crush their resistance through superior numbers.”

“Don’t test my patience,” Bann said, his voice now cold enough to make Ares’ inside freeze, “Keep your promise.”

“Fine. Close the formation and prepare to take them down,” Behmet called. His brigands obeyed, stepping within reach. “Any final words, Construct? No? No scathing promises of revenge, or a vow to never let me obtain my goals?”

“We just don’t want to bore you,” Orca called, her voice full of delightful confidence.

“Oh, so there really is a plan here? Well, do spring whatever trap you think you’ve got over us,” Behmet laughed as the brigands came within reach of Alastor’s stick. “Where’s your little lap-dog, huh? Is it going to appear from behind, or something? You think that is enough?”

Ares and Alastor stood shoulder to shoulder, with Sloan behind them, waiting for the first enemy to take the initiative to fight. Ares kicked a stone down the hole. They were ready.

“My little King, here, already made your fox run away with its tail between its legs,” Behmet continued gloating, “Nothing’s gonna change, even if you—”

“Behmet,” Bann warned, cutting the boss off, “Stop talking and do it!”

An eruption from the ground behind them made everyone jump, even Sloan who knew it was coming. Just behind the king, a green beam split the ground and raced up into the air. Mowing its way sideways, the beam traced a straight line behind the enemy, until it finally came to a halt.

Unscathed, the brigands first stared at the line behind them with disbelief. This was soon followed by laughter, as every brigand was unable to contain their glee at the failed surprise attack.

“Hahaha,” Behmet laughed, holding his sides, “Was that your move, Construct? How pathetic. I expected more.”

“You’re wrong, Behmet,” said Alastor, showing his teeth, “This is our move.”

From the thicket behind them, Kari jumped out into the clearing and raced towards the brigands; red eyes gleaming and ghostly fire hovering around her.

“Bah, I told you it would not be enough with an attack from behind,” Behmet said, as his — and everyone else’s — attention was drawn to the oncoming attack. With a thought, the lizardman directed the king to turn around and face the oncoming foe. Bann was faster though, quickly taking aim and firing his blunderbuss at the oncoming menace.

‘Are you done mapping it, Orca?’

“Aye aye, Master, We’re all clear!”

Kneeling down, Ares put his hand to the ground right at the edge of the hole beneath him. Closing his eyes, he focused.

“Wait, stop the construct!” Bann’s hissing voice tore through the anticipation of Kari’s ambush. Behmet turned to look over his shoulder, his eyes constricting as he saw Ares’ action.

“Wrong move, idiot,” Orca giggled, just as Ares unleashed his newly acquired skill, [Pulse], at the exact spot that Orca had indicated as the optimal point for his purpose.

‘I’m counting on you, Orca!’

“Yes, sir!” She responded in a happy snap, and began calculating the frequency and strength of the pulsing kinetic waves his skill unleashed, forming a resonating pattern of constructive interference that made the earth below his enemies tremble and shake violently.

It began as a minor vibration, while they were still attempting to form lines of attack to either sides. Quickly it escalated into a rumble, then a vigorous shake, and finally a violent tremor akin to a major earthquake.

Caught unprepared, the brigands first attempted to keep their balance before they realized the futility of the attempt. One by one they threw themselves onto the ground; the only one keeping himself upright was Behmet atop the King, even as the massive lizard stumbled to regain its balance.

One unfortunate humanoid, with a big snout instead of a mouth and a wide girth that made an impressive pear-shaped form, was unlucky enough to be caught in one of the dinosaurs stumbles, and was instantly crushed by the massive weight of the beast. Barely a squeal escaped it before nothing but guts and bones remained recognizable.

Cracks in the earth formed in a triangular pattern from where Ares had initiated [Pulse], to the line behind Behmet’s men that Ender had burned into the ground with its own attack. Some of the brigands tried to cross over on the other side, but Kari arrived in time to swat them back, keeping them in the crumbling zone.

Ares watched as Bann turned towards him, identifying the both the source and solution to the problem at once. “Get the construct,” he hissed, and the closest brigands obeyed. Staggering across the rumbling ground, the brigands closed in and attacked, but were blocked by Alastor.

Sweeping his stick back and forth, the daemon leveled out sweet punishment to his former captors. With his foothold relatively stable at Ares’ side, Alastor had all the advantage he needed to fight several opponents at once.

“Fools,” Behmet growled, gaining his feet atop the stumbling dinosaur and jumping towards them. Bann was forced to jump aside, as the giant lizard finally lost its balance and fell upon its side. The massive weight suddenly hammering into the ground was the final blow.

As Behmet sailed through the air, the downed Dragon punctured the ground and fell through, causing the rest of the tiny crust to collapse. The entire earthen floor broke open like an ice-crusted lake breaking apart in the warmth of spring. Opening its maw and swallowing them hole, the earth accepted this delightful offering to its depths.

“Watch out,” Alastor called, regaining his own balance and pushing Ares away just as Behmet landed. The lizardman struck out at Ares, but Alastor was faster. There was only a small area that had not collapsed around them yet, and Alastor almost managed to push Ares into the pit below.

With his saber raised, and standing on only a small sliver of ground, Behmet flashed his teeth and stared into the depths beside him. “You got one over me, Construct. I admit I was careless, but in the end you still failed.”

Ares gained his own feet, carefully avoiding the crumbling ground beside him, and took a fighting position. He was about to move in for the attack, when Alastor said, “Get Sloan out of here, Ares. He’s mine.”

Looking to the quivering halfling at his side, Ares had to admit that the halfling was only in the way now. Behmet did not allow them time to plan, and immediately attacked with his sword flashing. Alastor intercepted the attack with his stick and yelled, “Go, now!”

With one hand, Ares grabbed Sloan by the collar and raised him up into the air. “Wh-what are you doing, m-master Ares?” The halfling croaked, looking at the chasm beside him. Without as much as a flinch in his expression, Ares flung the halfling aside, to where Kari was still standing.

“Take care of Fatty for us, little kitty,” Orca called. Kari flashed her teeth in response, letting Sloan hit the ground beside her without doing anything to slow his fall.

“What are you doing?” Alastor called, between fighting off the lizardman’s vicious blows. Ares gave no response, as he charged at the cliffside, setting off on the steep incline to circumvent Behmet, landing behind him.

“Oh, two against one, then?” Behmet grinned, his smile only growing wider, “Aren’t you supposed to be fighting fairly?”

“Baah, my master does not need to follow your rules,” Orca called, “And beside, you’re the one who cheated to begin with; using that many people against us, it’s downright rude!”

“Master, eh? I’m looking forward to dissecting all of your secrets, Construct,” Behmet said, his yellow eyes growing colder.

“Get out of here, Ares. You don’t know what he’s capable o—”

Alastor’s warning was cut off when Behmet initiated an onslaught of attacks to both sides. Even Ares had a hard time keeping up with the saber, as Behmet flung it around like it was made of air. Using [Edge], he blocked to worst of the attacks, but he found no opening to attack himself.

Likewise, Alastor was soon pushed into a corner, and his weapon quickly proved unable to handle the strain of fighting against steel. The stick he had been using until now was chipped and torn, and when Alastor used it to block and especially heavy overhead-slash, the whole thing broke into two.

The blade continued, though, scoring a deep gash across Alastor’s left eye. Blood instantly poured out, filling the daemon’s eye and making him flinch. Ares immediately attacked, trying to draw Behmet’s attention away from his wounded companion.

The lizard grinned and obliged, saying, “Oh, you seem strangely concerned. Could it be that an awakened construct actually has feelings for such a low creature as that?” While speaking, Behmet carelessly waived away Ares’ attack, using his longer reach to keep Ares contained.

From deep within, Ares growled, his torn voice producing something like a twitching scream. Behmet laughed and pushed Ares further back, scoring cuts everywhere on his body with a simple twist of the wrist.

Even with all of his systems, and all of the warnings on his HUD, Ares was simply unable to keep up with Behmet. As he fought the lizardman, Ares could feel something like lifeforce pulsing around the opponent, only it was much different.

A force like fire surrounded Behmet, increasing his speed and power to such a degree that Ares’ artificially enhanced sight saw nothing but flashes of the saber. Completely pushed back, with the Plateau cliff at his back, and a deep hole at his side, Ares was unable to do anything but defend his vital points, while Behmet increased his damage meter.

Damage at 90%

Multiple defenses are reaching critical state

Engaging sentinel mode

No! Ares fought off the system through sheer will, refusing to give in. He would not allow himself to become that killing machine again, not even if he had to die.

Unable to override user autonomy

Sentinel mode has been put on standby

“Hahaha, look at you; an awakened construct of legend, and you cannot even make me break a sweat!” Behmet laughed, scoring another blow across Ares’ chest. Silvery liquid began pouring out from the wound, filing into his red markings.

In a last ditch effort, Ares tried to kick the lizardman, hoping to force him down the the hole behind him. Like a snake, Behmet sidestepped the blow, scoring another blow to Ares’ outstretched leg. “No no no, we’re not done playing yet, Construct!”

Behmet raised the saber for another blow when something hit him in the back. The stick had little force to it, but it was enough to grab the lizardman’s attention. Following it up, Alastor charged at Behmet without any regard for his own safety.

“Pitiful daemon,” Behmet sneered and turned in a flash, piercing through Alastor’s shoulder with his saber. With one eye closed, blood staining half his face red, Alastor’s one good eye shone with crimson fury. Instead of coming to halt, he threw himself at Behmet, ignoring the weapon lodged in his shoulder.

“BEEEEEHMEEET!” He screamed, grabbing his opponent’s sword arm and jumped. With his legs, he locked the lizardman into a deadly embrace, and the two of them tumbled to the ground; tumbled toward the abyss.

Ares jumped as well, managing to grasp Behmet’s foot before they keeled over the edge. He crashed into the ground, his entire mechanical apparatus groaning, but his hold was firm.

“Let go, Ares,” Alastor said, gasping from the pain in his shoulder, “He’s too strong to fight!”

“Yessss, Construct,” Behmet chimed in, his voice now slithering like a snake, “Let go of me. Let your friend here drop to the bottom; sever your ties and be the monstrous being you were meant to be.”

Ares gritted his teeth and closed his eyes to focus, using ever inch of strength in his body to begin reeling the two back up. “Don’t listen to him! You’re not a monster. I’ve seen your honor; now let go, so that you may see mine!” Alastor said, pleading and desperation in his voice.

“Too late,” Behmet laughed, his voice so childishly amused that Ares at first did not recognize it. Opening his eyes, he saw two lumps unfurl themselves at Behmet’s back, growing long and wide to either side until they took a recognizable shape.

With wings like a bat, and a wicked smirk on his scaly face, Behmet pushed off. Ares had no time to let go, before he was flung over the edge of the hole, all of them tumbling into the dark.