Chapter 21 – Final

Holding onto Behmet, Ares could only watch as the abyss opened up its maw around him, enclosing them in the encroaching darkness. The speed of their fall felt so immensely slow, allowing for several actions to occur in succession.

“BEEHMEET,” Alastor screamed, his feet still clasped around Behmet’s waist. The huge bat-like wings were fighting against the fall, trying to unfurl. The daemon leaned back and hammered his head into the lizardman’s chest, horn first.

Blood spurted and Behmet roared, “Mongrel!” He grabbed Alastor by the head and, in one forceful move, threw him away. The daemon lost his grip around the lizardman and tumbled into the dark.

Ares tried to grab him, but, the moment he lost his focus, a sharp tug forced his own grip to falter. Everything slowing to a crawl, Ares found himself staring up into the light above, where Behmet’s winged figure stood out in sharp profile.

Then there was another crash, rocks falling everywhere, and pain to match his first experience in his new body. For a moment his mind simply blanked out, and he barely registered the debris falling atop him, as he came to terms with the stunning waves of torturous reminders that he was in a very bad state, only exacerbated by his console an instant later.

Massive blunt trauma sustained – critical damage detected

Damage at 97%

Critical emergency status has been reached!

User synchronization rate too low

  • Threat of destabilizing unit connection detected

Engaging sentinel mode

Again, the system tried to do away with him, and again Ares resisted. He forced open his eyes, forced himself to stare up at the celestial being descending into the darkness from the light. Behmet’s figure was one of incredible grace, as he gently allowed gravity to take its due course, slowed only by the majesty of his leathery wings.

Unable to override user autonomy

Sentinel mode has been put on standby

Initiating self-repair protocol…

Warning: unable to complete self-repair protocol due to lacking energy reserves

Damage at 94%

Energy levels at 10%

In truth, he was amazed he was still somewhat functioning. He tried reaching Orca, but he only received static in return. Either there was no connection down here, or their connection had been forcibly cut when he fell.

He had no time to check through his console log, though. Shaking from the mental effort it took him, and the unreliability of his damaged body, Ares fought to gain his feet and survey the scene.

They were in the wide cavern below, the one he and Sloan had visited the day before. Now in the light, the place looked like it had been used for something once, but time and decay had managed to turn level floors into cracked surfaces, and the newly arrived rubble made it impossible to tell what purpose this place had.

Someone apparently still squatted in the place, though, as a choir of squeals announced the flight of hundreds of black shapes above; leathery wings flapping wildly to escape the sudden intrusion into this ancient sanctuary. Bat-like creatures, though larger than any Ares had any experience with from his own world, fled the scene of fallen rocks, dirt and limbs, fled up into the sunlight despite their supposed dislike of the source.

Swarming around Behmet in his descent, they avoided his much larger wings, making it seem as if the lizardman was their progenitor and they his loyal servants.

To complete the sinister scenery, Behmet let out a picture-perfect laugh of evil dimensions, echoing through the illuminated cavern, as he touched down on the cavern floor, wings still spread out wide. Ares ignored him for the time being, electing to complete his observation of their current condition.

Everywhere around him, limbs and bodies lay strewn about with abandon, soft moans and wreathing screams of pain made up the soundscape of the dank cavern, enough to even flay his artificial nerves.

The giant King lay completely still above several squashed brigands. The massive creature had probably been the greatest cause of death during the fall, however, it also appeared to have saved Alastor, as he had landed atop it and slid down its tail.

The daemon had not come out of it unscathed though, by the twisted look of one of Alastor’s legs. Instead of writhing in pain, Alastor was instead gritting his teeth and fighting to stand up and face his enemy.

“Drakkas,” Alastor hissed, staring daggers at Behmet. The lizardman repeated his laugh with even more glee, spreading out his arms and wings alike such their magnificence was clear for everyone to see.

“What do you think, daemon? Ready to kneel and submit to your superior?” Behmet’s taunting voice was filled with both scorn and complete certainty.

“You’ve sold your soul to the Dragons, Behmet,” Alastor said, teeth clenched, “You are only a dog now.”

With a noise from deep in his throat, Behemet sucked in air and opened his maw wide. The illusory fire around him appeared to condense around a single point within his mouth, and Ares could see strands of lifeforce feeding into the fire.

The eruption that followed was both entirely predictable and a complete surprise. A huge tongue of fire grew from the central point, exploding in Alastor’s direction. Even with his broken leg, the daemon still managed to throw himself behind one of the King’s leg, which took the brunt of the flame.

When the flame finally died down, Behmet straightened and, wiping his mouth, said, “Who’s the dog? Your kind has been dogs for so long you only know how to bark.”

Stumbling forward, Ares tried to get to Alastor, hoping to make common front against the enemy, when a shot of pure energy passed by his head, inches away from his ear.

Taken by complete surprise, Ares spun around to see a shape lying nearby on the floor with a pistol grasped in its shaking hand. He was lucky enough that the damage Bann had sustained made him unable to aim his flintlock pistols properly, but not lucky enough that the obscure gunner had simply died from the fall.

“Ahh, good,” Behmet said, laughing as he looked at Ares’ pitiful appearance, “You’re the one who wanted that monster, Bann, you deal with it. I’ll take care of the daemon.”

Cursing in his mind, Ares ducked down and tugged himself into an unsteady roll, his one arm hanging limp by his side from too much damage, just barely avoiding the shot from the second gun. Ignoring the pain still washing over him, Ares made two strides towards Bann, when he was intercepted by another figure he knew well.

The two suns were not quite at their zenith, so the light making it down into the pit only illuminated one side, whereas the other was still encased in shadow. Ares was the one in the shadow, while the figure before him was standing in the twisted light, which made the twig sticking out of his head a recognizable feature. Why don’t you just die, treeman?! He thought with fury, lashing out the moment he recognized the opponent.

With [Edge] he cut apart the opponent’s weapon, seizing him by the neck and raising him into the air. He wanted to dig his fingers into flesh and rip out his enemy’s throat; an uncharacteristic impulse brought on by the mad pain surging through him, and an effect of the bloody haze descending onto his mind.

While he contemplated bloody murder, a hit to his damaged side made him flinch and lose his grip on his prey. Stumbling back, Ares maneuvered to face his enemies, all three of them as it turned out. He recognized the little dirty creature he had been confronted by in the forest, and realized it had been a iron-knuckled fist that had forced him back.

Looking over his shoulder, he watched as Behmet approached Alastor with stoic demeanor of a ruler, wings spread out wide and fire pulsing between his teeth. He did not have much time.

Without thinking, a deep growl escaped his throat, a bestial and ferocious sound and also one of the few sounds he could manage. However he managed it, the sound had a clear affect on the two immediate enemies still able to fight. At least it seemed so from how they shied back a step before regaining their composure.

Bann knelt behind the two, fumbling with his pistols, and Ares decided not give him the time. With another of those deep growls he charged, spinning away when the dryad thrust out a newly formed spear, cutting it in twain with another use of [Edge]. His exertions brought down his energy to 9%, but he ignored the issue. There was only the flesh that he would rip into, and the hearts that needed to be stopped.

He struck out at the dryad with a desperate blow, uncertain of whether it would hit. He glanced his opponent’s shoulder just before the dirty brawler flanked him, forcing Ares to turn his attention. Only due to his speed, and with the help from his HUD, providing cues indicating lines of attack and ways to block them, did he fend off the assault from the small creature.

After the initial burst, the brawler began to slow down markedly, until Ares used a small opening, revealed by his HUD. Breaking the opponent’s guard with a quick upwards swipe, he dealt a devastating blow to the creature’s chest. Staggered backwards, the dirty creature nonetheless made a haggard grin, and it did not take long before Ares realized why: the man’s purpose was to buy time.

He barely saw the shot before it hammered into his lame shoulder, splitting the joint apart and leaving only a thin sliver of artificial tissue, from which the limb now hung dangling down his side. Another wave of agony hit him, as his console made no effort to hide that he was in a bad situation.

Energy discharge has overloaded energy circuitry

Unit integrity is reduced

Damage is at 98%

Critical damage: right shoulder joint is non-functional.

He was about to get another cue to let the sentinel take over. His mind a bloody haze, and fury now overwhelming, Ares lashed out at the system, bombarding it with his will. He was the master, Orca had repeated this so many times, how could he let the system take control.

I am the master! He roared in his own mind, and, surprisingly, the system acquiesced.

Conflict encountered:

User/unit synchronization is approaching 100%

Sentinel mode has been moved from standby to optional

Do you wish to engage sentinel mode?

That’s more like it.

Biting down the pain, Ares ignored the option that would release him from further torment, as well as release him from any hand in deaths he knew he would inflict. He would be the one to murder the hell out of these pathetic creatures.

Finally the one in control of the system, for the time being, he was back in the fight, having only spent half a second to come to his decision. With his right arm dangling from a thread of tissue at his side, he darted forward, knowing that he would only get one shot at this.

The dirty brawler was just getting back on his feet, and the dryad was holding onto one arm up with the other. The glancing blow he had dealt the dryad was apparently deeper than he had first thought.

He ignored them, knowing that they were not the greatest threat to his life, but only shields averting his attention from the most dangerous one of them — and now both shields were dented. Still encased in pain, Ares raced past the two while they were unable to halt his advance, going straight for Bann.

The obscure gunner was fumbling around with his pistols again, and Ares knew he could not allow the man a third shot. Within two steps of him, Ares kicked, lacing his feet with [Edge], aiming straight at the hand holding the pistol. Bann looked up, and for the second time Ares thought he saw something like eyes in the man’s otherwise washed-out face; eyes gleaming deep red and filled with murderous surprise.

The gunner twisted to move his gun away, but that cost him the hand that had been loading it. Paying the 1 percentage point that brought him down to 7% energy, Ares to cut the hand off in clean move.

Using his initial twist, Bann threw himself away, ignoring the loss and turned a full circle, once again aiming the gun straight at Ares. Ares assumed the worst and, using his outstretched leg as a counterweight, he jumped to level another kick at the gun. In this competition of speed, the margins would decide victory.

Ares saw the finger on Bann’s finger twitch, just as his feet touched the cold metal of the gun. He felt the blast whizzing by his scalp within inches of his forehead. Then they were both on the ground, scrambling for the top position.

Ares caught hold of Bann’s shoulders and threw him to the side, hoisting himself up so that he loomed above the strangely washed-out face of the gunner. With care, Ares forged his one good hand into a razor sharp weapon to pierce the man’s head, when voice rung out throughout the cavern and brought him to a stop.

“Enough!”

Still holding Bann down, Ares slowly looked to the side, to the origin of the voice, where Behmet stood bent down over a kneeling form, the sharp talons of his hand held to Alastor’s throat.

Even though the daemon had been badly injured, Behemt still looked to have suffered injuries while subduing him. Blood flowed freely out between the fangs of his maw, and the wound in his chest still bled profusely.

Alastor was also bleeding from his mouth, gargling with the dark ooze in fact. Behmet had one foot planted on Alastor’s broken leg, inducing further agony. Despite the pain he must have felt, the daemon let none of it show on his face. Instead, Alastor looked as if it was he who was about to deliver the final blow in this struggle.

“Get away from him, you cursed thing!” Behmet growled, a sentiment that Ares returned with a low, bestial growl of his own. It did not faze the lizardman. He just repeated his message while putting a bit more pressure on Alastor’s throat, forcing another slight trickle of black blood.

Ares looked down once more, his brilliant golden eyes shimmering with cold murder, but his mind worked furiously for a solution; some way to break the stalemate without losing everything. He had killed before, in fact it was his plan that had killed most of Behmet’s men.

Could he do it again, like this, in cold blood? His emulation points fought desperately against the cold computational logic that told him to ignore Alastor and cut down the enemies before him. It was the reasoning of a machine, the same kind the sentinel would have used, had he given in to the self-preservation protocol. Now, faced with a choice between fighting on and subjugation, what would he choose?

“D-don’t,” Alastor began, clearing his throat and ignoring the spear point that bore deeper into his throat with every minuscule move of his jaw, “Don’t give in, Ares… I will rather die, than live on in a cage!”

“Shut up, daemon,” Behmet spat, infusing as much hatred into the pejorative as he could manage, “You shut up, and don’t move an inch, or I will put a stake through each of your joints before I push it into your heart! Are we clear!?” He received nothing but a scornful glance out the corner of Alastor’s eyes in return, but the horned boy stayed silent. It was up to Ares now.

A cage, yes. Rather die than live in a cage. That is how it should be. That is a good decision, Alastor, a good way to live…

He was sad that he could not express his agreement with Alastor in this moment; with his throat producing nothing aside from growls, and Orca still out of order, he was as mute as he had been in the beginning. Instead he tried his best to convey what he could with a facial expression he knew was just static as always.

Alastor was right, it was better to die free than die in a cage, whether it be one of bars or one of flesh. With that in mind, he released Bann and stood up straight facing Behmet. He had found the solution.

“That’s better,” Behmet grinned and threw down Alastor onto the ground, producing a loud moan of pain. “It’s about time you learn some manners, Construct. By the Old Ones, you have nearly cost me everything… How’s the hand, Bann, can you stand? Good, then grab your gun and hold it to its head, so it doesn’t get any stupid ideas. Wither, Horris, look around the wounded, see if any can be saved. Deal with those that can’t”

The gunner did as he was told, placing the muzzle of his gun at Ares’ temple. The obscurity of his face resolved itself — for a slight instant — into a smirk.

Once the gun was in place, Behmet turned around to survey the situation, sneering at the dead and the wounded alike. The dryad and the dirty brawler followed his commands, walking among the bodies, but found no one able to stand. The lizardman walked over to the side of the King and kicked it hard in the stomach, eliciting a slight response.

“It’s not all bad then,” he growled and turned back to Ares, clicking his teeth together again and again in a disharmonious tune. With a slight limp he approached and circled around Ares once, before he came back to the front and faced him, slitted lizard eyes meeting cold gold.

Not yet…

“Do you know how much time it takes to get a good outfit together, Construct?” Behmet began, spreading his arms out towards the devastation around them, the many wounded and dead. “Do you know how much time I have invested in these men, in their skill and their cooperation? Do you know how many funds I have invested in these men that you have just crushed?”

The cold-blooded lizard eyes observed him carefully, but Ares just looked back with a gaze as hard as he could manage with a face that made no expressions. “No? Of course you don’t… But you will. Yes… I will have you work off your debt a hundred times over, no — a hundred times a hundred!”

Patience…

Ares met the lizardman’s stare, meeting coldness with coldness. Behmet’s grin only grew wider. Looking over his shoulder, Behmet smiled at the sight of his own wings. “These wings cost me a lot as well, however, it was a good deal. I am protected, you see, not by petty elvish lords, nor the pathetic remains of demons. My protector is one of the primal forces of this world, and he appreciates little monsters like you, Construct. When I am done setting up my own kingdom, I will hand you over to him, and he will reward my efforts handsomely.”

“Do not forget our promise,” Bann said, his voice a hoarse whisper at Ares’ ear.

“Yes, yes, you will get what you want, Bann. I keep my promises, of course. Once we’re out of this forest, you can do what you want with this monster as long as you return him whole.”

“Of course…” The gunner said, his voice a sinister conspiracy, “Let me shut him down. It will be easier that way…”

The lizardman showed his fangs in a vicious grimace and said, “I thought I made myself clear; that construct stays intact until I have gotten what I wanted. Now that the band is in ruins, my will is all that counts. Do you understand?”

Beside Ares, he feel the obscure gunner nod his head ever so slightly. A red gleam in the corner of Ares’ eyes, however, told him that Bann was not pleased with this decision.

“As long as you can take responsibility for your actions,” Bann said, his voice so low Ares doubted Behmet could hear him. The Lizardman was furthermore distracted when his two remaining subordinates approached, shaking their heads.

So close now

“All dead?” Behmet asked. Receiving no reply from the two, he growled and spat. Gesturing towards Ares, he said, “Take hold of the construct and find something to bind it down with.”

The dryad and the brawler looked at one another, before they finally approached the lizardman. “Yu… erm.. Yu a drakkas, boss? Yu serve them Dragons?” The brawler asked, dry washing his hands nervously; an odd gesture while the man still had the knuckle irons on his fingers.

Behmet looked lazily over his shoulder and revealed a good amount of shining teeth, as well as a good amount of bloody ones. “Ahh, in all the excitement I’ve let my secrets spill, haven’t I? Yes Horris, in fact I am an agent of the Great Dragon Nargol. Problem?” The brawler, Horris, dry washed his hands with even more fervor and looked over at the dryad, Wither, who just stared at Behmet with his mouth hanging halfway open.

Just one more step…

“N-no, boss… I.. I’ve heard good things about them’s Dragons… Nargol, was it? I jus… yu not gonna kill us now, are yu? Yu’ll have no problems from me!” That Horris followed up with a furious glare at the dryad beside him, who he prodded with a finger.

Wither jerked at the touch, and unwittingly took a step forward — rather than the huge step back he probably really wanted to take, seeing the expression on his face. “D-Dragons… Nargol… I’m not sure… I mean,” Wither sputtered, jumping between thoughts which he surely did not want spoken out loud, and nonetheless he appeared unable to stop himself.

“Is’ just too much, Boss… I don’t want no trouble with the Fanghunters… Don’t want no trouble from you either, but you see the problem, right?” Behmet looked like he was a snake about to uncoil and attack, his lips moving further and further into a snarl.

A gleam of light reflected of an object behind Behmet. Ares watched in amazement, a sudden impact caused Behmet to lose his step. Turning slowly, the lizardman revealed the object that had been lodged into his back. The little axe had been unable to do any real damage, only managing to pierce Behmet’s scales and cause a slight trickle of blood.

The lizardman’s response, however, was perfect. Growling, his entire attention was on the offender. Alastor was on his knees, breathless from effort, and Ender was by his side. The little kit’s mouth was open, with flowing streams of energy gathering between its jaws.

“You little…” Behemet screamed, completely lost to anger.

Now!

Even Bann was distracted by the sneak attack from the wounded daemon. With the threat of Ender’s attack looming, what could a simple construct with a gun at its head do? With a mere thought, Ares set the final move in motion, something he had been sure he would never use.

Mentally, he approved the action, confirmed it once more, and immediately a crackling ring of electric energy rushed through him and into the ground, where it was bound and redirected by something that Ares could not see, but that he could feel with every fiber of his artificial being.

“It’s doing something!” Bann exclaimed, pushing the muzzle of his gun deeper into Ares’ temple, as if to remind him that it was there. “Then shoot it!” Behmet growled, spinning on his heels to face Ares again, but this time the slitted eyes widened in clear shock and obvious recognition.

He stretched out a hand and yelled, “No, stop!” It was already too late.

Ares watched every millisecond in his heightened experience of time; saw how the ring below fanned out in an instant, encircling all the survivors, then rose up and formed a wall of flashing electricity in a cylindrical shape just inches away from Alastor’s outstretched hand on the outside.

The shock on the daemon’s face was clear, and Ares was surprised to find his own dead expression turned into the slightest of smiles. That only made the daemon’s eyes open wider, and his mouth opened to speak a single word, which Ares recognized before the sound ever escaped the boy’s mouth.

“No…”

Ares felt — more than he saw — the trigger of the gun pulled by his temple. The shot that should have killed him, instead blew up the entire muzzle right by his head. The energized shot was then pulled into the electric vortex spinning around them at light speed, which in Ares’ current sense of time was still a dizzying blur.

Moments later, a wide beam of green-tinged energy hit the growing chamber, further expanding it as it was absorbed by the process. Then, at once, every lightning bolt turned inward, towards Ares as the center-point, imploding the cylinder in on itself in a dizzying display of blazing white and glowing gold.

Yes…

Ability: [Final Discharge] selected

  • Warning: The unit will immediately shut down afterward, and user session will be forcibly terminated.

Do you wish to proceed?

Confirmation received

Initiating Final Discharge…

  • Checking energy storage… Clear
  • Building virtual discharge chamber… Clear
    • Virtual discharge chamber confirmed to a radius of 3 meters
  • Purging mana… clear
  • Building discharge chamber… clear
  • Building critical mass… clear
  • Imploding discharge chamber.. clear

Final discharge is complete

  • Lifeforms killed: 2 of 3
    • Lifeforce has been extracted

Unit unable to function with remaining energy stores…

  • Force shut-down in progress…
    • Shutting down user autonomy… clear
    • Connecting to origin… unable to confirm
      • Checking…
        • Origin is unresponsive
      • Resolving…
        • Infusing origin with excess lifeforce… clear
      • Reconnecting with origin… clear
    • Syncing user information through manascape… clear

Force termination of user session complete

Shutting down Emporial prime unit of the Warbringers

Welcome home, Samuel