“Tell me again why you swapped places with Tenmak?!” an Elf hissed to Arsha as the strike team continued through the Vaults.
“Let’s just say, I want to finish this personally,” replied Arsha. She held up her hand, signaling the team to stop. Her ears twitched as she heard a noise. “…Ones damn it!” she swore. “The enemy’s getting wise! We’re on a tighter clock! Set the charges!” The team set up detonation packs and keyed in the time it would take to detonate the charges.
“YOU WILL CEASE THIS BLATANT SABOTAGE NOW!” roared Intrag’s voice. He ran in, swinging his spectral sword and decapitating a few teammates.
“I don’t take orders from mere dictators or their tyrant masters!” shouted Arsha as she drew her sword.
“Tyrant?!” bellowed Intrag. “Oyed is a Titan!” He was surprised as Arsha’s blade stopped his. “What in the…?!” he spluttered.
“Orbak himself,” explained Arsha, “gave us the secret in how he blocked your blows and hurt you! He’s taught me how to enchant my sword so I can keep you at bay!”
“He reveals Under-realm secrets to an Out-realmer?!” roared Intrag. “Even more proof he’s unfit to rule!”
“Yet the people call him the greatest Under-king!” snarled Arsha as she swung her sword at him.
“Captain, all det-packs are set and primed!” reported a Troll.
“Endeavor, do you have a lock on us?!” Arsha called the Endeavor.
“Locked and waiting,” replied the transporter chief.
“Get us out of here!” ordered Arsha. The team was whisked away by multiple transport spells, leaving Intrag to examine one. He had enough knowledge to know what a clock was.
“…Ten minutes?” remarked Intrag. “You do not give us enough credit.”
“Start the countdown!” ordered Arsha to Malak once she returned to the bridge.
“Countdown has begun,” reported Malak.
The 10 on the timer went to 9, then to 8, then 7, and so on, leading Intrag to realize that the one who programmed the timers set it so that the minutes would go down in seconds! “OUT-REALMER TRICKS!” he roared. The charges then exploded in short order, destroying the foundations of the cathedral, and reducing the altar, Oyed’s main exit from his prison, to rubble.
Oyed felt the effects immediately, vanishing in a great deal of pain. Dr. Borg hadn’t been able to escape in time, so her new body was killed instantly. Scorpo received a message ordering all survivors to meet Dr. Borg in her newer body in the new base and begin construction on a new altar for Oyed. Once all survivors were brought aboard the Scorpion, the ship moved off. Unfortunately, the sea-water from earlier had affected the cloaking abilities, so they couldn’t cloak and escape. “Stupid Realmfleet!” grumbled Scorpo.
The Realmfleet ships were ordered to let them go so their respective medical crews could take care of any wounded. Sadly, Samuje didn’t survive the destruction of her ship unscathed. Marshii and her crew had to perform surgery as Samuje’s lung was damaged from a broken rib and her eye was gone. Arsha conveyed the news to Marianes and her family and they were devastated. They were glad she survived the battle, but knew Samuje would never be the same again. It took several days before Samuje received her prosthetic eye. During that time, Arsha ran a funeral service for those that lost their lives. The 11 Divine Ones that distracted Oyed were in attendance. Arsha stood at the altar and addressed the crew. “I see no reason in lying,” she began, “this day is a dark day. We lost too many good people. I know statistics will say that it was a small price. Well, I say this: even if only ONE person died, it would still be one death too many in my eyes. I’ve looked at the service records of each and every crew member of the Skyshell and can only wish I could have met them all in person, because they were good people. To the Skyshell’s survivors, I can only offer my deepest condolences. I only wish I can offer more.”
“Take comfort,” advised Mordek. “They died a warrior’s death. May we all be so fortunate.”
“You did NOT just say that!” hissed Falheem. She then addressed the mourners. “I can safely say that they have reached the Heights of the After-realm, safely in our embrace. They have asked me and my colleagues to tell you to continue living and fighting in their name. We must never let someone like Oyed win.”
“With all that said,” called Arsha, “we will take half a week to reflect. I would strongly advise visiting Thengo. As we finish our gathering today, let us end it in the traditional manner.” All in attendance stood, crossed their arms, and splayed their fingers, then turned their gaze to the sky.
“May you rest in peace, Oh Dearly Departed,” they chanted. “We shall continue to live in your name. Amen.” The mourners then departed and Arsha headed to her quarters. They were empty, so she took the time to think alone.
“Well, Arsha Royana,” she muttered to herself, “it took two major events to realize how much death affects you. So, what are you going to do? Well, visit Thengo, for one thing. Stop talking to myself for another.” Her self-dialogue was interrupted by her door chime. “Come in,” she called. Foresna and Gorfanth entered the large room.
“Arsha, I know this sounds like a stupid question,” began Gorfanth, “but are you all right?”
“I’ve been better,” sighed Arsha. “I knew I didn’t like the concept of death, but I never realized how much it affected me until today. It was bad enough that five Realmfleet Officers died last year, but having only a few survivors of a Reef-class skyship’s destruction? I was talking to myself out loud before you two came in, planning on what to do next.”
“What IS next for you?” asked Foresna.
“Visiting Thengo and putting on a brave face for the crew,” replied Arsha. “Lately, I’ve felt like I had no reason to find happiness.”
“Your bun HAS been looking a little naked lately,” remarked Gorfanth.
“Come on, Gorfanth,” chided Foresna. “It’s hardly your place to comment on her appearance right now!”
“If I said it in a derogatory manner, I apologize,” offered Gorfanth. “That was nowhere near my intention. I just meant that Arsha’s been given one crisis after another lately.”
“I can’t argue with that,” muttered Arsha. “I’ll see if I can get some leave time from…” her plans were interrupted by an alarm. “WHAT NOW?!” shouted Arsha. The three then heard a gulp and saw Sorsha by Arsha’s vanity, taking a small box!
“You again?!” snapped Foresna as he punched his hand, Gorfanth summoned his axe, and Arsha held one open hand behind her while the other was across her front. Sorsha then took out a communicator.
“Er, Jokorah, I don’t think it’s working!” she hissed into it.
“You’ve got five seconds to explain why you’re skulking around this ship!” growled Gorfanth.
“I…er…” Sorsha was failing at coming up with a plausible lie.
“I reiterate my future hubby’s question, what are you doing on my ship?!” snarled Arsha as she summoned teal energy balls.
“I’m not doing anything to your crew,” replied Sorsha. “I’m just here for the biggest concentration of mana to cure a blight.”
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you!” hissed Foresna. “Especially since she hasn’t been wearing her lucky rose and she’s been inundated with crises all week!”
“Oh, I see what’s going on,” chuckled Sorsha. “Too much mana nearby.”
“…Huh?” asked Arsha.
“You’ve been around too much mana for too long,” explained Sorsha. “I’d say you’ve been dosed with it for 100 years. So, the best thing to do is to drain off the excess mana. Pretty soon, you’ll be hallucinating Oyed’s resurgence or a Wraith. Over time, some people will start seeing him too, like the Giant Spiders of my home.”
“Hardly a hallucination if the Divine Ones distracted him while we destroyed his cathedral,” growled Arsha.
“…What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Sorsha.
“We just lost a ship to Oyed and his followers!” answered Arsha. “Last time I checked, the Divine Ones can’t be affected by any illusion that mortals either accidentally or purposefully conjure up! Oyed’s preparing to start the Final War!” Sorsha blinked in stark surprise.
Intrag opened his eyes to see himself in a void. He felt as if he was standing on solid ground. “Where am I?” he asked himself.
“The Depths, of course,” replied Oyed’s voice. Intrag turned to see Oyed in chains. He looked unhappy.
“My Lord, the battle is not yet over!” growled Intrag. “I shall return and…!” He didn’t get far as whatever passed for a floor vanished and he was left dangling from one of Oyed’s chains.
“Return?” hissed Oyed. “After you failed to contact the Giant Spiders? After you forgot the Wraith abilities I gave you? No, you will fade.”
“MY LORD! PLEASE! HAVE MERCY!” begged Intrag.
“Only Dr. Borg and her followers deserve mercy,” dismissed Oyed. He increased the chain’s surface temperature, burning Intrag’s hands, and forcing him to let go. Intrag fell through the void, his screams mingling with the rest of the damned.
The Giant Spider Trio scuttled through the jungle, a look of panic plain on their faces. “I can’t believe it!” whimpered the third. “I just can’t believe it! What’s gonna happen to us?!” The first Spider stopped and signaled for his friends to do the same.
“That cave over there,” he announced as his pedipalp pointed to a large entrance, “that will serve to hide us for a few days.”
“We may need to hide for the rest of our lives!” wailed the second. “We didn’t mean to go lax on our assignment! What will happen if Quaynus finds out?!”
“It was YOU!” hissed the third as he jabbed a pedipalp at the first. “YOU made us do it! It was YOUR idea!”
“Nobody’s gonna find out anything!” snapped the first. “Now stop your babbling and help me find some camouflage for the entrance!” The Spiders found leaves, twigs, and rocks and used their webbing to make a make-shift door for the cave. Once they were inside, they sat to catch their breath.
“We should never have been distracted!” moaned the third.
“All I wanted to do was catch the Elf!” protested the first.
“We were supposed to be on patrol for Intrag’s arrival!” snapped the second. “YOU wanted to get revenge on the Elf for embarrassing us at her home! ‘Our honor is paramount,’ you said! ‘Spiders need to establish dominance!’ Unless, of course, we forget our assignment and let our god fall! We were under strict orders to greet him and YOU had to go and get distracted by your stomach! Ooooh, we’re dead! Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh wh…?!”
“SHUT UP!” shouted the first. The cave then went silent.
“…I’m hungry,” muttered the second.
“Me too,” mused the third.
“Me three,” affirmed the first. “Stay here, you two. I’ll find us something to eat.”
“What do you have planned?” asked the second.
“I’m just scavenging, right now,” replied the first. “Maybe I can find some birds or squirrels. One word about either cinnamon rolls or subs and I’ll kill you both!”
“Hey, while you’re out there,” called the third, “try to find some nice, soft grass for us to sit on and be comfortable.”
“Yeah, yeah,” grumbled the first. He stepped outside and hunted for a good few minutes before coming back, hauling a massive tiger. “Check it out, boys! We’ll feast tonight!”
“Did you get the grass?” asked the second.
“Er, no, I couldn’t find any that was soft enough when I found the tiger,” replied the first.
“Maybe you should expand your search a little more,” suggested the second.
“No, I’m too hungry,” answered the first.
“Are you going to get the grass?” asked the third.
“Can we eat first?!” snapped the first.
“I don’t know why you say you’ll do something if you don’t mean it,” muttered the third.
“I meant it!” argued the first. “I just had enough on my palps carrying our dinner back!”
“You can get the grass after we’ve eaten,” directed the third.
“Thank you,” hissed the first.
“And try to find some water,” suggested the second. “We’ll need some water if we’re gonna hide here.”
“Yes, dear!” snapped the first. “Anything else?!” The cave was uncomfortably silent for a few minutes. After glaring at his friends, the first Spider took a sharpened rock, ready to skin and carve the tiger.
“You know, maybe the fur will be softer than grass,” mused the second.
“Now that I think about it, you’re right,” agreed the first. “I’m saving the pelt.”
“And, looking closer,” continued the second, “we’ve got enough meat to make subs.”
“I just wish we had the materials to make bread dough,” sighed the third. “We’d have had cinnamon rolls with them.”
“Just for that,” shouted the first as he tossed the tiger’s body at the second, “YOU can carve,” he then threw a pair of rocks at the third, “and YOU can start the cooking fire!” Both of his friends shook their pedipalps at him before scuttling off to their jobs. “Honestly, I have to do everything for you guys!” the first grumbled to himself.