“You evade my questions, Sprite,” growled Intrag once everyone was in a safe place. “I routed the Gamfinar jungle, burned this particular Fae hive, yet you aid me.”
“I’m simply doing our Lord’s bidding,” replied Dr. Borg.
“Your Majesty, forgive any impudence,” urged Torsko, “but I must beg you to heed my advice; do NOT trust her!”
“If you can explain why, I WILL forgive your impudence,” replied Intrag.
“I made the mistake of trusting her,” answered Torsko, “and she practically sold me out to Realmfleet!”
“‘Realmfleet!’” growled Intrag. “How is it that the Realms put aside their differences?!”
“How much do you remember before you died?” asked Torsko.
“All I can remember,” answered Intrag, “is that stupid so-called ‘message’ from the Divine Ones and knowing it to be a trick from one of the other Realms.”
“You publicly challenged the message’s authenticity,” explained Torsko, recalling history. “The Divine Ones intervened and the High Orc Chieftain, Juggshu, killed you. That’s when your wife took command of the Under-realm.”
“Juggshu killed me?!” snarled Intrag. “After all I did to make all of the Orc breeds powerful?!”
“Your wife tried everything to bring you back,” continued Torsko, “even sacrificing Juggshu for a ritual, but she still failed.”
“My ancestors were once assassins,” interjected Dr. Borg. “Your son hired one of my ancestors out to kill your wife. After the assassin completed his work and was paid, your son claimed the throne.”
“Your ancestor killed my wife?!” roared Intrag. “If this is true, you will be the one to pay their debt!”
“I invite you to make me!” challenged Dr. Borg as the two charged at each other.
“ENOUGH!” boomed a voice. A huge cloud of black mist exploded into being, knocking everyone off their feet. As they picked themselves up, the cloud parted to reveal the upper torso of a man clothed in black. He had the palest of skin and his eyes were nothing more than black orbs with mist constantly seeping out of them. He wore a hat that was simplistic in its design. Everyone stopped fighting and knelt in the man’s presence. “Dr. Cytanek Yavenag Borg is under my protection, Intrag Emboramii,” rumbled the man, “as are you.”
“Lord Oyed,” greeted Intrag. “Forgive my impudence, Oh Titan and Father of Gods! I was unaware of the Sprite’s involvement in your plans!”
“I shall overlook this for now,” answered the man, Oyed the Destroyer. “I must say, after seeing the Realms’ current state, I’m still displeased with how my children do not truly repair them.”
“So you intend to start the Final War?” asked Intrag.
“Not yet,” corrected Oyed. “Dr. Borg has not yet built our armies up to do so. The Splitters remain a problem.”
“Splitters, Oh Terrible Oyed?” quizzed Intrag.
“Those who’ve abandoned the Divine Ones and think as you do,” explained Dr. Borg. “They’re divided by Realm and are determined to claim their Realm’s ‘supremacy’.”
“However,” remarked Oyed, “they declared you weak early in their founding, Intrag.”
“…They WHAT?!” roared Intrag.
“You see the dilemma,” observed Oyed. “I need them gone.”
“My Lord, forgive me,” called Intrag, “but how will fighting your battles benefit me?”
“I offer a greater empire in the Final Age of Unity,” promised Oyed. “You will live eternally and be the undisputed ruler of the Under-realm.”
“…You can make me an immortal king?” asked Intrag. Tormo gave a sideways glance to Intrag.
“It is an immense task,” replied Oyed, “one where I cannot afford to be distracted. That’s why I need you. The Splitters must be broken.” He turned to everyone. “You must each gather those within the Splitters that do not fully agree with the organizations’ goals and bring them to our side,” he commanded. “Can you try this?”
“I’ll do more than try!” declared Intrag. “I’ll succeed!”
“Splendid,” praised Oyed. “In the meantime, I must make my presence known. A fleet of ships is coming and I must put them in their place.”
“Captain on the bridge!” called Malak as Arsha entered the bridge.
“As you were,” directed Arsha as she sat in the Captain’s chair. “Shalvey, open a channel to the fleet.”
“Channel open, Captain,” reported Shalvey.
“All ships, report status,” Arsha called over the channel.
“Regatim, standing by,” replied the Regatim’s Captain, a male Naga named Yantar.
“Morkal, standing by,” called the Morkal’s Captain, a female Troll name Gekthoo.
“Bolmola, standing by,” reported the Bomola’s Captain, a female Zephyr named Shumfam.
“Hammer of Tongu, standing by,” answered the Hammer of Tongu’s Captain, a male Sprite named Ilmar.
“Twelegar, standing by,” relayed the Twelegar’s Captain, a male Orc named Jonshu.
“Belsnath, standing by,” called the Belsnath’s Captain, an Alraune named Orchid.
“Realmtrail, standing by,” reported the Realmtrail’s Captain, a male Centaur named Lentha.
“Forge, standing by,” answered Roozay.
“Skyshell, standing by,” called the Skyshell’s Captain, Marianes’ sister, Samuje.
“Drelda, standing by,” finished the Drelda’s Captain, a male Elf/Cecaelia Blender named Antorma.
“Is this all?!” protested Roozay. “11 ships?!”
“Somehow, Realmfleet felt it couldn’t afford more,” muttered Samuje.
“I was there when the order came down,” replied Lentha. “The only reason we have 11 ships is because we’re getting help from the Divine Ones.”
“So a Wraith is so dangerous,” remarked Arsha, “it needs divine attention.”
“Evidently, yes,” answered Lentha.
“So, which Ones are coming?” asked Orchid. Five pillars of red mist, five of yellow, and one of black appearing on the Endeavor’s bridge answered her question. “All five of the Fire and Lightning Ones and one of the Ending Ones?” The mist dissipated to reveal a male Dwarf in red, Mordek, a male Elf in red, Enfor, a male Human in red, Glaktem, a male Centaur in red, Shenfia, a male Kitsune in red, Pecktar, a Dryad in yellow, Morkal, a male Cecaelia in yellow, Entralg, a female Elf in yellow, Zalkii, a male Minotaur in yellow, Oldramor, a female Centaur in yellow, Foltrim, and a female Fairy in black, Falheem. Everyone knelt in their presence.
“We have no time to stand on ceremony,” called Entralg. “We have a dark matter to discuss.”
The Captains and Divine Ones assembled in the Endeavor’s conference room. A display of the island near the eastern edge of the Over-realm’s northern continent was projected on the table. “So, what intel do we have?” asked Arsha. Enfor stepped forward.
“Dr. Borg’s small army has set up shop in a cathedral dedicated to Oyed on the island,” he began. “They’ve set up a supply chain for mana extraction from the Gamfinar jungle.”
“That’s a pretty risky move,” remarked Ilmar. “They need vessels to cross the water between the island and the continent. Skyships are too exposed and boats will be easily bombarded from the air.”
“Not to mention the dangers inside the jungle,” rumbled Gekthoo. “Carnivorous plants that would eat a person of any size, bears that will only gore you then bury you to eat later, and let’s not forget that Intrag brought a horde of Giant Spiders to colonize the jungle during the War of the Realms.”
“And the Spiders are Sentina Spiders,” shuddered Lentha. “If Intrag’s involved, he’ll definitely get them to his side.”
“The Spiders’ ancestors, yes,” countered Roozay. “But we don’t know if the modern Giant Spiders would listen to him.”
“Besides, ghosts of all types can’t really manifest outside the Under-ream,” supplied Jonshu.
“If the ghost is using Oyed’s power, it can,” corrected Mordek. “If the Spiders see him, they’ll rally to him. Their ancestors deified him and made a whole religion around his return.”
“An appearance from him of any kind will inspire the Spiders to obey him,” supplied Entralg.
“Has he attempted a dialogue with them?” asked Yantar.
“Thankfully, he has not,” answered Mordek, “and he won’t be able to do so before the fleet gets to the island.”
“So we need to keep him occupied,” mused Orchid.
“Him AND Oyed,” explained Enfor.
“Your father’s manifested?!” gulped Arsha.
“Yes,” replied Enfor. “As long as a worshipper of his makes contact, he can freely escape his prison from the After-realm’s Depths. That is why we’re going with you on this mission.”
“We’ll occupy Oyed and Intrag while the fleet destroys the cathedral,” declared Pecktar. “With any luck, Oyed will be banished back to the After-realm and Intrag’s soul will finally fade into nothingness.”
“The cathedral’s sure to have ground forces,” remarked Shumfam.
“Then we need to use drone fighters to occupy the enemy,” called Arsha, “while our own ground forces destroy the cathedral from within.”
“If they get pinned down in there,” muttered Orchid, “there’s no way out for them.”
“To ensure the Realms’ survival and to make sure the Final War does not start so soon,” remarked Mordek, “we must all be willing to sacrifice.”
“I’M the Black Divine One here,” interjected Falheem. “I’M supposed to say that when I need to. It’s been 5,000 years too long since your grim and gritty makeover, droning on about sacrifice. Unlike the mortals in this fleet, we don’t exactly have families to lose if we fail.” Mordek’s face assumed a scowl.
“I know loss, Falheem,” he growled.
“Lord Mordek’s right, Lady Falheem,” called Arsha. “we can’t afford to go through the Final War. We need to strike now before the Realms fall to Oyed’s design.”
Over in the jungle, an Elf woman ran through the trees, stopping to examine a plant that looked sickly. “That’s no good!” she griped. She ran through the trees again and found mushrooms that were liquifying. “Another Tomnar mushroom patch gone!” she grumbled. Just then, a bird flew by and tweeted something at her. It took a bit of her hair in its feet and pulled it in one direction. “Easy! Let go!” she snapped at the bird. She followed it to a clearing where a small monkey coughed. “Johgo!” she yelped as she dashed towards the monkey. The monkey opened his eyes and held his hand to the Elf’s face.
“Sorsha,” he coughed. “I don’t…I don’t think…”
“Don’t talk!” directed the Elf, Sorsha. “I’ll get you home!” She scooped the monkey, Johgo, into her arms and dashed towards a small sled. She placed him in a small basket, then grabbed the handlebars and channeled magic into the sled, making it propel itself through the jungle to a small cottage. She stopped the sled, then brought Johgo inside. A bunch of birds clustered around Johgo as Sorsha gathered healing materials. “HEY! CLEAR OFF! GIVE THE POOR GUY SOME AIR!” she shouted. The birds scattered and Sorsha got to work brewing up potions. She checked over her notes repeatedly after several failed attempts. When she made a glowing, green potion, she held the flask up to her face. “If this doesn’t work, nothing will,” she muttered grimly. She held the flask’s opening to Johgo’s mouth and tipped it so the contents came out slowly. The monkey’s eyes then went wide and he shoved the flask aside before throwing up. The bile took a dark purple color as it landed on Sorsha’s floor.
“That was disgusting!” gagged Johgo.
“What are you complaining about?” grumbled Sorsha as she sighed in relief. “You’re alive, ain’t ya?”
“Yeah, but my throat’s burning!” replied Johgo.
“You know where the water is,” answered Sorsha. Johgo clambered his way to a small water cooler and got himself a cup. He opened the tap and filled the cup, then shut the tap off and drank the water. Sorsha got out a small dome and placed it over the mess.
“I swear,” muttered Johgo, “all I did was eat a small apple and it blighted in my mouth and made me sick! Name me one piece of magic that does that!”
“Not any natural magic,” mused Sorsha as she got a reading from the small screen on the dome. Her eyes widened in fear. “…Oh my, but it IS! It’s natural magic all right, but an old form of it. A dark, powerful, angry, EVIL magic.” At that moment, she became aware of footsteps outside her cottage. Though the windows were shuttered, the shapes of human-sized spiders were seen scuttling around her home! “…He’s coming back!” realized Sorsha. “Johgo, when I’ve made a path, you make a break for your troop!”
“But, what about you?!” protested Johgo.
“I’ve got ways of getting out of this! Now get ready to go when I say so!” ordered Sorsha as she charged out of her cottage and fired concussive spells at the Giant Spiders. After a few minutes of combat, a path was cleared. “GO!” shouted Sorsha. Johgo scampered off at top speed and made his way to the canopy. After a few more minutes, the Giant Spiders surrounded Sorsha, daring her to make a move.
“Little monkey all alone!” taunted a Giant Spider.
“Sending your kid away?!” laughed another.
“We had a treaty!” snarled Sorsha. “You would leave me and my friends alone and I wouldn’t interfere in your business!”
“Like we’re going to keep a treaty with feculent monkeys,” argued a third Giant Spider.
“Spell ‘feculent’,” snarked Sorsha.
“F-E-C…” began the second Spider.
“Quiet!” snapped the third as he smacked the second’s head with his pedipalps. He turned to Sorsha. “With Intrag returning, our treaty is null and void! The Final War’s coming and there ain’t a thing you can do to stop it!”
“No, but I can make sure my faction wins!” snarled Sorsha. The Spiders laughed at that statement.
“You don’t have the firepower to do so!” taunted the first Spider.
“Doesn’t she?” asked a voice.
“Go away, boy,” hissed the first Spider, not turning around to face the voice. “Don’t interfere in matters that don’t concern you.” The voice’s owner then smacked the Spider’s rear, angering the Spider and making him turn around. His angry demeanor changed to a fearful one as he saw a Forest Dragon in humanoid form.
“Who are you calling ‘boy’?” snarled the Forest Dragon.
“Hey, Jokorah’s looking where you are!” gulped the third Spider.
“You mean he’s looking where I WAS!” yelped the first Spider. “AM-SCRAY!” The Spider army ran into the jungle, nearly tripping over each other in fear. Once it was just the Forest Dragon and Sorsha, they spoke.
“Noticed anything recently?” asked the Forest Dragon, Jokorah.
“I had Johgo complain that an apple he was eating blighted in his mouth and made him sick,” replied Sorsha.
“His whole troop managed to get the same results,” revealed Jokorah. “I healed them all, but couldn’t find Johgo. I take it you healed him?”
“Yep,” confirmed Sorsha. “I also learned that the blight’s evil in origin. Given what I’ve heard from the Spiders, I’d say it’s the work of Oyed manifesting and bringing Intrag back.”
“I’ll do what I can to slow the spread of the blight,” declared Jokorah, “but we need a large source of mana to purge it.”
“I’ll see what I can scrounge up,” affirmed Sorsha as she dashed back into her cottage to grab her book, then dashed into the jungle to begin her search.