Chapter Fifty The Final Darkness
General Elezar had taken Dettri into the rainy sky in order to help protect his king from the hero’s assault. Loracaz still insisted that his father, now more wretched and torn than he’d ever been, could not be saved, and he chased him between the battlements at the four corners of the palace. Each time Loracaz got close, Velik and Gashar flew in to attack him, and though their attacks were nowhere close to being strong enough to hurt him, they did serve to distract him from his true goal.
Elezar was appalled to see what had become of his king, once so mighty and in control. He could see why Loracaz had already given up on saving the man, but it pained him to see the emperor fight so utterly and completely against the evil, only to be scorned for letting it attack him.
Vénes was hovering with Jza just beyond the landing platform, where the other dragons were resting when Zarrek found him. “Sorcerer, if help is what you truly came here to do, then now is that time for you to act!”
“What can I do for you, young prince?” Vénes asked.
“I know it will cause him incredible pain, but he’s already suffering,” Zarrek told him. “I need you to use your white magic to force Métius out of my father!”
Vénes looked to his Rrandah, exchanging a pained look with him, and then back to the prince. “Your Highness, I…”
Shu-Giri stepped forward when he saw that Vénes couldn’t finish saying it. “We would have done that a long time ago if it were at all possible, but that’s Métius out there. We’re sorry, Zarrek, but it simply–”
“Don’t say that you can’t. You can set my father free! What about the power of transference?”
“Trans–” Vénes paused and narrowed his eyes. “Zarrek, where did you hear about that kind of power?”
“Just tell me whether you can do it!”
Shu-Giri grabbed the sorcerer’s arm, shaking his head. “In order to transfer an entity as powerful as Métius, you would need…”
“Mages of each school of magic,” Vénes finished for him. “There are the fifteen mages of Kearr here…”
“I can ask Liriel to be the Zeah conduit,” Zarrek told them, his voice rising with his desperation. “Please, Vénes, you have to try this!”
The sorcerer drew in a long, uneasy breath. “Even if I were to act as the conduit of darkness, albeit a poor substitution, there is still the matter of the celestial conduit.”
Shu-Giri met Vénes’s eyes, shaking his head as realized who he was considering for the role. “He couldn’t. He would never…”
“No,” Vénes said. “No, it’s far beyond his abilities. Even if his daughter–”
“What are you talking about?” Zarrek demanded. “Who would refuse to help my father?!”
“Zarrek…” Vénes whispered, his voice breaking, just as he knew the prince’s heart must have been. Then, in a voice as sure and even as he could muster, “I’m sorry. The transference takes power that we don’t have, as well as the mages of all four alignments to act as conduits. We would do it if there were any chance at all of it working, but–”
“Curse you!” Zarrek screamed, turning Gashar away from them. “You’re no better than the rest of them!”
As the blue dragon carried the young prince away, Shu-Giri gave a sad sigh and asked his beloved, “Should we go with him? I feel as though we should do something more to help them all.”
Vénes shook his head, gazing mournfully into the distance, as though lost in thought.
“We could give Loracaz a barrier of Kearr’s protection…”
“I have considered it, Shu-Giri, but if we were to do that, Zarrek would assume that we wanted Z’Lé to be defeated. Besides, Loracaz has Jenh’s protection right now.”
“What would happen if you did try to use holy magic to force Métius out of him?”
“Think about it,” Vénes told his Rrandah as Jenh’s magic lit up the sky above the palace. “Métius wants to manifest his true form out here. Right now he’s using Z’Lé’s body as a gateway to doing that, but disrupting that–”
“You can’t do it, can you?”
Sighing, Vénes shook his head again. “I’m not a holy mage. I’m a sorcerer, and I’ve already put Kearr’s power on the forefront, out of balance with the others. Look what that does to you, forcing you to to immerse yourself in the other three alignments.”
Shu-Giri nodded, remembering the holy magic his sorcerer had used when they were back in Jzamneh Forest. He didn’t want to see his beloved consumed by that kind of power in an attempt to oust Métius that might not even be successful. “What about the ones who came from Ayafir?”
“They’re protecting the city from–” Vénes stopped, swallowing hard as he watched the battle in the distance. “What’s going on?”
Beams of silvery white light had shot up from the ground-level, all around the palace, casting such brilliance into the sky that it seemed as though dawn had come early. The rain still poured down, and lighting still pierced the sky, but now it was possible to see the black dragon as he flew in a frenzied rampage. He was charging after Jenh’s hero with ferocious growls and threats, his black wings flapping hard to keep up.
“Perhaps the white mages have already decided to try it,” Shu-Giri suggested.
“It may not be safe,” Vénes stated uncertainly. “Z’Lé is hurt so badly already…”
They could barely make out the red scratches that covered the black dragon’s body, dripping with dark crimson fluid. He seemed blurred, marred by shadows. Judging by the snarls and howls that echoed through the sky, he was in unimaginable pain, but he still battled to maintain himself.
Vénes nodded. “If they’re not careful, they will kill Z’Lé and release Métius. Surely they realize that.”
“So in the end, this really is a battle for Loracaz alone to fight.”
“He’s not alone,” he told Shu-Giri. “He may be the only one here with the ability to seal the Destroyer away, but he’s far from alone. Everyone has come together to ensure that this is a noble and honorable battle, that nobody throws their life away for nothing.”
“To die with glory and honor is to have lived a life worth remembering, they say. I never thought that a Jzamneh treasure hunter like myself would ever be witness to something like this.”
“Not many ever do,” Vénes told his Rrandah, holding him close. “I’m glad to have you by my side through all of this.”
Moments later, Loracaz crouched low behind the battlements of the palace, taking a moment to catch his breath. His father was moving faster with the black power surrounding him. Ever since the bats had bitten him, he’d acted with more zeal, as though he thirsted to destroy the prince and the hero that he was. There were times when Z’Lé stopped in mid-air and writhed with the pain of some great struggle inside him, and that was when Loracaz took the chance to gather himself and prepare for another strike.
What Zarrek knew, what his brother refused to so much as acknowledge as being possible, was that Z’Lé was resisting the Lord of Nightmares with every ounce of his being. His willpower was strong, but as much as he withstood Métius, there was no stopping him, no forcing him back out. The emperor knew that he was only delaying the inevitable, but he did it all the same. He couldn’t simply give in to the Destroyer; he wouldn’t give up, and he knew that he had to give Loracaz enough time to do the one thing he had to do in order to be rid of Métius.
Z’Lé himself was beginning to accept that it had to happen that way. It had been at least an hour, it seemed, of railing against the demon god, trying to keep him from using his body to kill the champion, and he knew that he couldn’t oppose him for much longer.
He’d hoped, at first, that he would be able to resist Métius, to force him back out, and thus earn his beloved Arialla’s favor once again. That idea now seemed like nothing more than a hopeless folly; Arialla would never embrace him with affection again. He’d come back only to say farewell. All that was left was to give Loracaz the time to channel Jenh’s power into the Drramin Luar, and the chance to strike the final blow so that Onsira could be safe again.
The Destroyer’s dark thoughts and evil intentions roamed through Z’Lé’s mind, stealing control when they could and forcing him into actions he wouldn’t have committed otherwise. He knew that Métius planned to send Onsira into ruins. He knew that the neighboring kingdoms would be rendered helpless, enslaved, and starving.
He could feel the utter hatred that Métius held for Jzamneh forest, the deep-seated desire to burn it to the ground. It went on like that, until all of Manastaecies was brought to its knees, save the black kingdom of Thiizav, where the Lord of Nightmares was worshiped and exalted.
Z’Lé couldn’t allow himself to be the reason that anything like that happened to Lorata. If he lost his life in protecting something greater than himself, then so be it. Arialla and Loracaz would never understand what he was doing, but that didn’t seem to matter to him anymore. He would writhe through the pain, keeping himself from being used by Métius to attack his son, for as long as he could.
“Do it, Loracaz!” Z’Lé screamed, the Elvan words difficult and thick with a foreign accent. “Use your sword agai–”
The pain worsened suddenly, and he couldn’t finish speaking. Instead, his words became a terrible growl. He breathed fire high into the night sky as Loracaz peeked around a crenelation at him. Then the blank dragon looked straight down at the prince, his golden eyes narrowed at him in hate.
“I will kill you!” he threatened in a voice that hardly seemed to be his own, and darted towards the rampart here the prince hid.
Loracaz leaped to the sky, as far as he could get from the dragon, his golden-green wings bright and wide. As he hovered above it, he saw that it was clinging to the battlement, its tail swinging wildly as he fought some internal battle. That was his chance. The prince rose as high as he dared go, gripping the Drramin Luar with both hands in front of him as he chanted the words that would summon Jenh’s power into his blade. It glowed with mystical shades of green and bright, pearlescent yellow, ready to banish the demon god once and for all.
The dragon looked up at him, eyes murderous with hate, and soared into the air after him. Loracaz managed to dodge that first assault, and turned to ready himself for the dragon’s return. He was ready to strike. He forced all thoughts of his father out of his mind, and focused only on the fact that it was Métius whom he was attacking. He was the hero; he was Jenh’s champion. This was what he’d been born to do.
Z’Lé plunged down towards the prince, spurned on by the overpowering will of Métius, diving at his greatest speed. His jaws opened, his claws reached out, ready to engulf Loracaz, to consume him, to rend him into nothing more than ragged shreds of flesh. Before his jaws could close around him, however, the tip of the Drramin Luar pierced the scales of his chest. It slid between his ribs, deeper and deeper, until it plunged into the dragon’s pounding heart. He screamed, unable to move his wings through the pain, and fell, grabbing onto the prince below him as he plummeted downwards.
Loracaz felt the claws digging into his shoulders and arms, but he didn’t pull back. He’d managed to stab the monster who threatened his kingdom, and had only to speak the words that would seal away the demon god. The dragon squeezed and wailed as he chanted, struggling as Jenh’s power wrapped around his body. Its teeth snapped at him and caught the winged pendant. It shattered beneath the immense power of his jaws, and the pieces drifted upwards as the two of them continued to fall together.
There was no time to cry out for the pendant. Loracaz focused only on finishing the spell even as his wings faded. The light that surrounded his body dissolved, leaving him and flowing into his sword in order to seal away the darkness inside the dragon. Blood ran down the blade, gushing down past the hilt and onto his hands. It was pure red, not marred by the blackness of Métius.
From the garden, Arialla watched in horror as they descended alongside the tower, falling helplessly as Z’Lé’s strength faded and he could not so much as move his wings. Loracaz could hear her screaming, could hear the blue dragons screeching as they followed, but was helpless to escape the beast that forced him down with it.
Sir Tikaj took Arialla by her arms, pulling her away from their descent lest she, too, be harmed. Gashar rushed Zarrek towards the garden, carrying him towards their father as he called out desperately for someone to save him.
Loracaz’s body slammed onto the ground where the cobbled path led to the tower. His head hit one of the larger stones, stunning him. Then there was an incredible weight on top of him, forcing the air out of his lungs. In his daze, he could hardly hear bones cracking, and felt too lost to wonder whether it was his ribs or the dragon’s that had broken. All he knew was that he couldn’t take another breath, that his mind was fading.
He turned his eyes to see his mother running towards him.
Why did her cries seem so distant when she was right beside him? It was so hard for him to keep his eyes open. Loracaz tried to reach out a hand towards his mother, to wipe away her tears and tell her that everything was all right, but he couldn’t. One hand was pinched against his hilt, and the other laid broken and trapped beneath the dragon’s belly. Neither could he speak. He could only listen to the fading sound of his mother’s words, her hysterical crying as she knelt beside him. Seeing his mother cry seemed to hurt more than his head, which only felt cold and wet.
His vision blurred as he felt himself fading, unable to comfort his mother. She was too beautiful, too kind to cry, Loracaz thought as tears began to run down his own cheeks. He’d saved Onsira from Métius, but who would save Arialla from her heartache if he died? He wanted so badly to tell her that he was sorry for not being able to survive the battle, but all he could do was look at her until his life-force gave out.
Darkness came to him, something different from what Métius had embodied, something silent and peaceful, something where there was no pain, no fear, no sadness. He would have given up all of that peace in order to stay with his mother, but there was no exchanging it. A moment later, he felt the embrace of his goddess. She enveloped him in her light and her warmth as she kissed his cheek.
“Beloved champion,” she whispered. Loracaz know somehow that he alone could see her. “You’ve done it; the Lord of Nightmares has returned to the Abyss. Come with me, my sweet hero, and let me soothe your soul.”
Prince Loracaz II, elder son of Arialla Antraius and Z’Lé Spyrytte, laid dead, crushed beneath the dragon that was his father. His eyes closed as Jenh carried his soul back to her realm, leaving his body behind for the others to mourn.
Vincent knelt beside the empress, wrapping her in his arms as she wailed. He held her tightly, letting her cry as he rocked her. Tamlin and Tikaj knelt down beside them, allowing the bard to comfort her as they themselves mourned their prince.
The rain pattered down around them, thunder rolling in the distance, but quieter than the unnatural lightning that had been striking earlier. The white light of the holy mages faded, giving way to the pre-dawn darkness whilst Arialla wept for her son.
Gashar landed a few yards away, Zarrek leaping from him while he was still inches from the ground. The younger prince saw what had happened to his brother, saw the blood pouring out from beneath his father and staining his mother’s gown, and gaped for a moment. Then he turned to look his father in the eye. Z’Lé’s breathing was heavy and labored, and the boy knew that he wouldn’t be able to take many more breaths.
“Oh father…” he groaned, stepping weakly towards the dragon’s head, which laid in the cold rain-soaked grass.
“Zarrek,” Z’Lé eked out. “Keflay elinvi.”
“Darrithi,” Zarrek said as he knelt beside his father, his tears mixing with the rain as he rubbed his snout. “Father, you…”
Gashar crawled carefully towards his father, wary of the elves watching him. He gave a mournful groan and laid against him. Velik was not long behind, and he, too, laid close.
“I made it back,”Z’Lé said, and then snorted. Blood gushed out from between his teeth and through his nostrils.
“Yes, father…” Zarrek said, choking on his words, “you came back. But you’re hurt.”
Groaning, Z’Lé tried to nod, but found his body too heavy to move.
“Zarrek,” a voice behind him said.
The young prince looked up at Mearrk’hal, who seemed to be watching him with pity. “What do you want, old man? Can you save my father?”
Mearrk’hal shook his head. “There’s no healing him from this. Give your farewells, young prince. Leave nothing to regrets.”
Zarrek gave him a hateful look, then turned back to his father. “I know that you resisted Him. I know everything, father.”
“I knew you would…” Z’Lé paused, groaning in pain. “You’re a good son, Zarrek.”
The prince laid his head on his father’s brow, feeling sobs start to overtake him. “I’m going to miss you, Father. K’have nats’lii!”
“Be a good ruler, Zarrek,” his father told him, his voice weak. “Be good to your people.”
“I swear it,” Zarrek sobbed, clinging to his father. “I’ll make sure everyone knows how noble you were, and what you did to protect Onsira.”
Z’Lé gave a weak moan before speaking his final words. “You will be a grand king one day. I bid you farewell, my son. K’have nats’lii… elinvi.”
After that, Z’Lé’s eyes closed, and his head turned to rest limply in the grass. When he knew that it was over, Velik sent a mournful cry into the air, Gashar following suit, creating a saddened cacophony that echoed between the palace walls. Zarrek wept for his father, refusing to leave him even when Mearrk’hal tried to pull him away.
The blue dragons took to the sky, flying to spread the word of what had happened, both to Jenh’s champion, and to the draconic emperor who’d given up his life so that Métius could be banished. The dragons whom they told informed their riders, and then other dragons, and the knights in turn gave the tragic news to anyone else they could find. By the time the first rays of dawn began to break over the horizon and the rain lifted, everyone in Jzifélan City knew what had happened.
High Priestess Liriel was taken to the palace in a black veil that reached down to her ankles, the edges laced with tiny emeralds and bits of amber. She was weak from crying, but she needed to be with Arialla. Plans were made to mourn and honor the prince who’d been lost, even as they wept together. Sir Tikaj, Sir Tamlin, and Vincent helped them with their burden of sadness as best they could, but they knew it wasn’t a wound that could be easily healed.
Mearrk’hal sat with the younger prince, staying silently by his side. Having lost everything that had once been dear to him, the shaman knew that there was nothing he could say that would help Zarrek. The boy brooded in his room, refusing to see General Elezar or anyone else besides the shaman. When Vénes came by to check on him, he cursed at him and ordered him away. Mearrk’hal insisted that he go and let the prince mourn in his own way.
In the days to come, news spread to the rest Onsira: Métius had been banished back to his Abyss, but the prince had also fallen in battle. In his last hours, Z’Lé had made a valiant effort to resist the demon god, ultimately giving up his life for the cause. Loracaz II, one of Onsira’s most beloved princes, had given his life to save the realm from the greatest evil of all, and his memory would be forever honored in the hearts and minds of the Onsiran people.
Thank you for reading, everyone, and Happy New Year!
Next month, watch for my science-fiction novel, No Distance Greater than the Stars.
Legends of Lorata Book Two: Traipsing Light and Shadow will start to be posted after the sci-fi novel is done.
Thank you again, and happy reading!