Reflex drove Haradeth to shield his eyes against the blast. It was an absurd reaction – unlight darkened the room, not illuminated – but reflexes far deeper than logic drove his hands up. The cavern erupted with sound, a deep bass thrumming that shook the very walls. Some force was emanating from the beam, and Haradeth felt his feet begin to slide across the stone floor as it pushed him away from the point of impact.
Forcing himself to overcome those reflexes, Haradeth lowered his arms.
If he’d been fully human, the darkness would have been overwhelming. However, Haradeth had hunted with the wolf, stalked with the cougar, and raced through the trees alongside owls. His eyes were perfectly able to pierce the gloom, and what he saw filled him with dread.
Synit had been pushed back against the wall by her own blast. It held her in place, unable to move. Even Bix had stopped in her struggles against the unlight prison to stare in wonder at the display of power in front of them. Theognis should be nothing more than a stain on the wall right now.
Instead, he was standing there, one hand held out. Synit’s unlight beam was far broader than the lumcaster’s hand, but as it neared Theognis it was narrowing to a point centered in the middle of his palm. The veins in his arm were budging, his eyes were wide and bloodstained, and his clothes and hair were whipped backwards from the same impact…but he did not budge from where he stood.
Synit’s antenna were flapping in the force released by her blast, and a black fluid that Haradeth assumed was sweat but just as easily could have been blood began to ran from her pores. Inch by inch, her beam began to shrink. Theognis’ lips curled into a triumphant snarl as Synit weakened. “You tried,” Theognis said. The words were strained and he had to spit them through gritted teeth, but there was no mistaking his tone – Theognis was certain of victory. “But it’s time to come home, Synit. The Council of Nine is quite interested in hearing about your… misadventures.”
Synit screamed in defiance and the beam widened again for just an instant. Theognis took a step back, and black lines began to race up his arm. That’s it, Haradeth thought with a surge of excitement. You’ve got him!
Then the unlight beam winked out, and Synit collapsed to one knee. Theognis’s triumphant grin returned to his lips, yet he had to clutch his arm against his chest. “You do not know what you’re doing,” Theognis said in a tone that was meant to be calming, yet every word ached with suppressed fury. “I have your best interests in mind here.”
“Flath. A. Cactus,” Synit spat the words into the floor, bringing her arms up under herself. They quavered with the effort of trying to lift her torso. “You…are as bad as them.”
“You are blessed, you spoiled child.” Theognis didn’t try to hold back the fury now. “You were granted a form fit for gods, and you spit on that legacy with your defiance. You will be brought back to your forbearers and taught the error of your ways.”
“Every moment of my life…is pain. You expect gratitude?” Synit finally managed to push herself up far enough to work her knees under her body. Her entire body was shaking, and Haradeth was less certain that black fluid wasn’t blood as it began to run from the corners of her eyes.
“I expect acknowledgement of what you are.” Theognis began to stalk towards Synit.
“I’m a failure. You have your proper halfbreeds now. What do you need me for?” Synit’s hands began to change shape again, morphing into elongated blades like the ends of scythes.
Haradeth knew he had to move, but didn’t know what to do. Theognis had managed to hold off an attack on par with blasts that had felled gods. Trueborn gods, not godlings like Haradeth. Dragons had fallen to those beams. Castles had broken. Theognis had held it off with one hand. How could Haradeth hope to match him?
Bix was grinding her sawblades against the unlight cage again, and even though her form was alien, Haradeth could feel fury radiating off her every motion. Could even Bix defeat Theognis? Could anyone?
You have to try, Haradeth thought, glancing around the chamber. If unlight couldn’t harm him, perhaps a more mundane method would be needed.
Haradeth’s eyes fell on a scepter with a head of solid gold. He reached out and grabbed it. It weighted as much as a child.
Theognis was getting close to Synit, and she was backing away from him, her eyes growing wide with terror. She slashed at him with her arm blades, but her motions were shaky and uncoordinated. Theognis created a shield of unlight on either side of his body, and they moved to intercept her attacks.
Haradeth charged, holding the mace above his head. It was nearly enough to overbalance him with its sheer weight, but Haradeth was able to keep his steps steady and silent. He closed the gap and swung with all his might, bringing down the immense mass squarely for the back of Theognis’ skull.
Theognis flicked his good hand just before the impact, and an unlight shield manifested in the way of Haradeth’s blow. The head of the scepter bent under the impact, soft gold deforming into a flat surface. The unlight shield rang like a gong and detonated.
The sudden force sent Haradeth flying backwards and made Theognis stumble forward. Synit twisted under his grasping hands and used the bladed hands to skitter awkwardly across the floor. Theognis snarled and lunged for her, but he was off balance from the impact, and he only managed to grab one of her antenna. Synit twisted her head and screamed as the antenna was torn free of her skull. Black fluid poured from the wound. “You,” Theognis said, snarling and turning to face Haradeth. “You are going to die for that. Slowly. Painfully. And begging for mercy.”
Haradeth responded by hurling the scepter with both hands. Theognis didn’t block it this time, instead just leaning towards the side so it could fly through open air. It clattered down the hallway and tumbled into darkness. Theognis snapped his fingers, and an unlight cage like that one that had Bix enclosed fell into place around Haradeth.
“Now. Where were we?” He turned to face Synit. “That’s right.” He tossed her antenna to the ground. “You were going to come with me back to our masters so you could beg their forgiveness.”
Haradeth beat his fists against the unlight prison. His blows were as effective as Bix’s sawblades, which is to say they didn’t seem to accomplish anything. Synit couldn’t move any faster than she was, and Theognis was able to start closing the distance between them by simply walking.
We lost, Haradeth thought.
Just at the words went through his head, a beam of arcfire shot out of the darkness. It caught the edge of Theognis’ outstretched hand, and he hissed in pain and pulled the limb back.
Armin emerged from the gloom, flanked by Ossman, Lorathor, and Aldredia. Theognis turned towards his new attackers and spat. “You. I thought you’d learned your place, Armin. You are nothing compared to me.”
“You’re probably right,” Armin said, the arcwand still aimed for Theognis. “But I don’t need to match you for power to send you straight back to the shadow.”
Theognis smirked. “I have your two strongest members trapped. What could you possibly do to me?”
Armin brought the arcwand up to his eye, sighting down the barrel. “Let’s find out.”
With that, he pulled the trigger. Theognis threw his hand up to catch the blast, grinning.
That’s when Haradeth noticed Armin’s eyes, a pair of burning eclipses blazing to life.
Theognis howled in pain as the arcwand beam cut a neat hole through the palm of his hand.