As Briksan backpedalled, less than a meter from Arduin and certain death, he concluded this was the end. But before the morbid thoughts crossed his mind as they usually did when he was close to death, Lillian’s scream pierced through the air. It jolted him out of his stupor.
Briksan’s eyes crossed the mass of Hellospike before him in less than a second. Clearly visible under the bright wash of the moon was a splash several meters past the middle of the river. Lillian had fallen into the river. Briksan’s heart beat in his throat. Shallow breaths passed through his nostrils. He didn’t think twice. He didn’t consider the rashness of his decision either. All he felt was the power of the urge coursing through his blood. In a moment, every trace of weakness vanished. Every wound sealed up. The world became redder.
Without warning, Briksan launched into the air, across the sea of Hellospikes who watched as he crossed overhead, and landed at the edge of the river. The ash of several Hellospikes flew in every direction. Briksan fixed his eyes where Lillian had fallen into the river and leaped again. Before he touched the river, he yelled at Sam not to enter the water.
Once Briksan broke through the surface of the river, shards of shock ripped through his consciousness. The water was so bone-clattering cold that Briksan slowly lost consciousness, and lifelessly fell deeper into Lephretes. The reptilian monsters swarmed him, biting off his skin, piece by piece. Pain ripped through his fading consciousness with each bite. Somewhere at the corner of his mind, it was settled. He was never getting out of Lephretes alive. He knew that this time, when he lost consciousness, he would not return. Though the urge waned, it was still enough to enable him breathe under water. The urge couldn’t help him. This was the end.
For a brief moment, through the flurry of the reptilians that feasted on him, Briksan caught sight of Lillian’s limp body in the distance. Huge tentacles clamped tightly around her body and pulled her deeper down the river. It was this surreal vision that changed everything.
The urge sparked within him, and spiked through greater levels in seconds. His body was so surcharged with the power of the urge, he felt he would explode. Few seconds later he exploded. The urge exploded through his body, causing a visible shockwave that rippled through the river. Everything within the blast radius including the tentacles was decimated instantaneously.
Briksan was fully alert, bristling with power.
He shot towards Lillian’s body.
The tentacles that once held her slowly descended the great darkness hundreds of meters below them, where it was attached to its host. The reptilians beyond the blast radius rushed towards them like a closing swarm of darkness. In the dark void below, there were flutters, screams, stirring the likes of tornadoes. Nanthos was rising.
Briksan grabbed Lillian and shot towards the surface and towards the barren land. He broke through the water, flew several feet into the air and touched down on the barren lands. Briksan laid Lillian on the black ground. Her face was pale, her breathing was shallow and her heart beat was faint.
Sam ran towards them.
Briksan took Lillian’s bag from him.
“My gods, is she alive?” Sam’s voice was tremulous.
“Barely,” Briksan responded without turning, feverishly rummaging through Lillian’s bag. He found what he was looking for. He opened the pouch and poured much of Daudeus potion into Lillian’s mouth and down her throat. The result was almost instant. She jerked and sputtered water out her mouth several times. After over a minute, the sputtering stopped and the color began to return to her face. Her breathing and heart beat improved.
At that instance, the sound of great winds emanated from the river. The sound carried with it flutters and screams—avian-like screams. It was the winds of Nanthos.
“Grab the bags,” Briksan commanded. He hefted Lillian onto his shoulder and ran into the black forest. Sam followed at his sides, carrying their bags. All around them were burned, leafless, black trees whose branches looked like thorns. The ground was black from the ash remains of wood and leaves.
Briksan ran as fast as Sam would allow. He knew from the start that they would not make it. Even when he saw the wind stirring inside Lephretes, he knew they would never make it away in time. His conclusion was cemented as fact when the first avian struck. It attacked them from above like a lightning strike. Briksan’s alarms went off; he knew exactly what was coming and where it was coming from. He realized they couldn’t run any longer; the winds of Nanthos had caught up with them. They had to stand and fight it.
He dropped Lillian on the ground, turned and slashed his sword upward. The descending avian was sliced into two equal halves.
Sam drew his weapon.
They both stood around Lillian.
This wasn’t going to end well, Briksan thought. Except some miracle of the urge happened—like it did when he fought the Latrogenes or when he was drowning in the river—they would fight to their deaths. They would actually die here.
The wind stirred around them, whipping black dust several feet into the air above them.
At first, the avians came in trickles; twos and threes. They were huge, hawk-like birds with sharp talons and fangs.
Then, the avians descended upon them like rain; in their thousands.
Briksan knew it was over for them that night. Sam knew this also. They fought with all their might, not because they could defeat the numerous avians, but because they knew they had no choice. They weren’t just going to raise their hands in defeat and get eaten by avians. No, they were going to take as many of these critters as they could take to their graves. It was neither bravado nor braggadocio. It was an innate character every true man of war possessed. It was valor. To die on the battle field, swinging your weapon at the enemy; not giving up in cowardice. It was valor that propelled Briksan and Sam to keep fighting the avians.
They fought in the dark, despite the bright moon. The winds had stirred a great darkness around them. Sam found it difficult to fight the monsters, until his eyesight adjusted to the low illumination. Then, he slew the avians in their hundreds, with the fierceness of a starved rabid animal as it tore at a scrap of meat.
For Briksan, with each avian torn apart by his sword, the urge worked up a storm within him. He killed many more. As time progressed, and the urge stormed higher, he obtained limited control of the wind. He bent it around his body and gave his attacks more hard-hitting power and his movements more speed and agility. Suffice to say that the avians died in their hundreds.
After what must have been an hour, Sam succumbed to fatigue. He collapsed on a pile of dead avians out of sheer exhaustion.
Briksan stayed up longer and protected Sam and Lillian. His body had started showing signs of weakening. The avians showed no signs of abating. They descended from above as fast as lightning with their fangs and talons poised to rip flesh apart. Briksan stood his ground near Sam and Lillian, hacking avians as the wind spun around him like a tornado.
It happened again, like it had happened when he had been attacked by the horde of sword-wielding Latrogenes. Briksan became one with the wind. The urge waxed so strong in him, it exuded a bright red shimmer through his body. Briksan became a spectator, watching as he hacked the descending bird-monsters. Every avian that missed his flaming swords got cindered on contact with the wind and the red shimmering barrier that surrounded him. And so the cycle went that the avians attacked him in great numbers and fell dead in even greater numbers. With each cycle, Briksan weakened. He knew very soon, he too would collapse to the ground.
Slowly, the avians stopped coming.
The rain of avians stopped, and they came by threes, then twos. Then they stopped coming entirely. The black dust-storm receded and the moon light penetrated his surrounding once more. The tornado that had whirred around him ceased. The urge melted away.
Briksan fell his knees to a bare ground. Every muscle in his body was sore. When he felt the bare ground on his knees, he looked around. That was when he noticed the huge wall of avians that had been stacked four meters high, encircling them in with a radius of about seven meters. Briksan had been circling Sam and Lillian because the monstrosities descended from all directions. He must have somehow whipped the avian bodies into the wall he now saw.
Although there was no scar or injury on his body—none that he could feel at this time—Briksan’s body throbbed with pain. If the avians had continued their attack for a while longer, they would have died.
The second day of their mission had ended, and they were still a long way from saving Rachael or the children. Their chances of saving Rachael and the children diminished exponentially every time they were delayed. And those chances were small from the beginning.
Briksan sighed and collapsed to the ground. Few seconds later, he fell into a deep sleep.
* * *
Somewhere at the bed of river Lehretes, Nanthos awoke. He awoke no less enraged than he was when the gods had imprisoned him there. He awoke with more fury, more hatred, more power. He awoke with the same purpose; to kill the gods and populate the underworld with the souls of all humans. Now he was weak, but he would get stronger. He had pulled back his finger, the Narrokks, to conserve his energy. All he awaited was a sacrifice, and then he would arise from the mire, the decrepit mud sludge of the river base. Once again, he would march on the home of the gods. Not to destroy the elder gods, but to destroy the gods.
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