The Rising – Part Twelve – The Conclusion
By: Jeff R. Young

"Quick, find a way to block those doors," Mace commanded. He charged into the Temple, only pausing long enough to turn and hand his sword over to Cora. "Here, you'll need it,"

Cora pulled off her gauntlets and dropped them to the floor and took his sword hesitantly. He was aware she had little experience with swords, and the exotic single-edged blade must have felt strange in her hands. She was testing its balance with a few swings as Mace charged off through the Temple.

Gwent grabbed a wrought iron candelabra and shoved it through the handles of the door while Cora grabbed whatever large items she could manage to move and pushed them over to block the way. Together, they soon had a sizable amount of junk piled up, praying it would be enough.

Mace hurried to the front of the room and looked around until he found the stone alter the priests used for their ceremonies. It was longer than it was wide but had enough room for what he needed. Without a moment's hesitation, he pulled a red piece of chalk from one of his belt pouches and began the careful art of drawing the runes required for the spell.

The symbols had to be perfect. Any flaw in their design would ruin the power of the spell and thwart their chance to destroy the dagger. Twice he almost slipped while drawing the intricate lines, startled by the undead pounding and crashing against the door. Cora and Gwent had their pile of chairs, benches, and chests in front of it, but the sheer weight of the creatures pressing in was beginning to take its effect.

The sound of cracking lumber echoed through the Temple. Gwent and Cora both took a step back, raising their weapons and shield in preparation for the inevitable fight if the doors caved in.

"Mace!" Cora shouted, anxious.

"I know," He answered, his mind focused on his work. Another crunch echoed.

"Mace!" Cora yelled louder. She could see holes forming through the wood and the grizzly, decaying arms of the undead trying to poke through them. Several had managed to reach through even as the edges around the small openings peeled the flesh back from their arms, exposing the bone.

"I know!" Mace grunted back louder.

With the chalk, he connected the last two lines, finishing his work. He stood back for a moment, ignoring the commotion across the room to study his craftsmanship. Everything looked as perfect as he could make it. Having never done this incantation before, he could only pray it was right. He took the dagger from his side and placed it in the center of the runes.

"Gwent!" Mace called, gaining the dwarf's attention. "Bring your hammer!"

Gwent sprinted over as fast as his short legs could carry him, sliding to a stop next to the priest.

"When I tell you, swing with everything you have!" Mace demanded. Gwent nodded and dropped his shield then took the hammer in both hands, waiting for the command.

Mace closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and began to concentrate, ignoring the undead crashing through the door and Cora's constant demands to hurry.

***

Zythos sprang from target to target, destroying every creature he could reach. All who might have witnessed the elf's prowess would have known that Erus, the god of war, was with him then. With each swing of a sword, he made a more significant dent in the undead's numbers, making his way toward the warehouse door. But there were still so many, and he didn't dare slow his pace.

As the elf cut his way through several more monsters, he caught a glimpse of the door ahead. He spun around, intent on spurring his friends forward, only to find they were not there. Worry drove his swords as he fought back in the other direction, hoping to see either of them on the outer edge of the crowd. He expected to find Draven on the outside of the group where his bow would be the most useful, and Kenrith pushing his way through, perhaps slowed by the injury to his ankle. But as he drew further back from the door, the realization he could see neither of them enhanced the anxiety he already felt.

He broke through the worst of the crowd and hopped over the fallen corpses he had left in the wake of his initial charge, searching desperately for either man. There were moving bodies all around, but they were all undead. Dread grabbed him as he scanned each one, afraid to find either of the men had become one of the abominations. He worried most for Draven, who had been slowly deteriorating under the effects of the curse. When he didn't see them among the walking dead, he didn't know if he should feel thankful or more concerned.

Despite the thinned-out mob, Zythos still had to fight his way around while he continued his desperate search. Up ahead, a bit to his left, he found Draven lying face down and motionless. There were a few of the creatures walking near him, but they ignored the ranger, moving toward him instead.

"Draven!" Zythos cried. He charged forward, consumed by worry and anger, his swords chopping, shredding, and piercing anything in his way.

He was less than five meters from Draven when he had to block an attack from his right. He dropped low and twisted his body clockwise, coming full around to slash his right sword up through the creature's face, removing the upper portion of its skull at an odd slant. As the thing dropped before him, he caught sight of his other companion, Kenrith. He was flat on his back, his face covered in gore.

"No," Zythos uttered quietly, feeling dejected.

His fury renewed, he went to work clearing the area around Draven's body, finally giving himself some time to drop down next to his friend. He rolled the ranger over onto his back and looked in horror at what he saw.

The physical effect of the curse had consumed the entire left side of Draven's face. A spider web of black lines and the putrid color of dying flesh ran up under his blonde hair. His eyes were open but bloodshot, and his ice-blue irises were turning a milky white. Zythos pulled Draven up and cradled his friend in his lap. He reached to his neck to check for a pulse. It was there but was almost too faint to detect.

Zythos looked up and around, seeing the dead once again gathering and moving slowly toward him. There were too many; he couldn't defeat them alone. With his friend in his arms, the elf surrendered to the idea that this was it, they had finally pushed too far, and the end was inevitable.

"Zythos," Draven muttered weakly, startling the elf.

He snapped his gaze down. The ranger was, if barely, still aware. All around them, the dead were closing in, and Zythos, his chest heaving in exhaustion, knew he had little fight left in him. He had done all he could.

"Goodbye, my friends," Zythos whispered. "May the gods watch over you." He stared into the distance, holding hope that Mace, Gwent, and Cora would still find success.

***

Cora stabbed out with Mace's sword, piercing a creature's forehead that had pushed too far through a hole in the door. It dropped where it was, motionless, plugging the opening. She hoped it would stay that way as she looked back and saw the priest beginning the chant of his spell. Gwent, hopping from foot to foot in anticipation and anxiety, kept looking from the Mace to her, unsure what he was supposed to do.

"Ubus," Mace began in reverence, looking up toward the ceiling with his arms out wide above his head, his amulet held tight in his right hand. "Lord of death, guardian of souls through the realms of the afterlife. He who brings peace to the grieving and the fourth protector of the realm, I call upon you for wisdom and strength."

The undead assault on the entrance began to push the pile used to block the door back. The doors started to swing open a few inches, even as the timber continued to disintegrate under the barrage of pounding and clawing hands. Cora took whatever opening she could manage to thrust the blade through and around, destroying every monster she stabbed. But as they pushed in harder, she knew her attacks would not be enough.

"I beg you now," Mace continued, grasping his holy symbol with both hands, "grant me the courage and will to harness your gift of might to destroy the blight of death that consumes this city."

The talisman in Mace's hand started to glow with an inner white light, even as the door smashed in, and the undead began their charge into the Temple. As unskilled with the sword as she was, Cora cried out and went into a flurry of stabs and swings, doing whatever she could to stave back the flow of creatures. Gwent went berserk, fighting the urge to run to Cora's aid. He looked down at his shield and back to Mace.

Mace screamed out with pain and determination as a beam of light lanced down from the ceiling to engulf him in divine enchanted power. Tendrils of intense white magical energy crackled over his armor, like lightning from a storm. He still held his holy symbol high over his head, his scream turning into a warrior's cry as the magic pulsed into the amulet.

Cora's strength began to waver as she speared, punched, and kicked with fury. She threw everything she had into those attacks, but the dead kept coming, and she was losing ground fast. Gwent looked at the talisman in Mace's hand. Having pulled all the energy into itself, it glowed so brightly he had to look away. He focused on Cora, dismayed by the sight of her nearly surrounded by zombies despite her continued struggle to fight them back. Mace swung the symbol down, pointing it at the dagger resting on the altar, and shouted the words of the incantation.

"Au'tenna elea maska'lalaith au'," he screamed in perfect elvish.

The blinding light of magic inside the talisman erupted in a radiant, ray of force that wrapped around the cursed dagger. Mace held his ground as the white light assaulted the blade, which began to vibrate under the barrage.

Surrounded by the undead, Cora heard him shout the words of the spell, and as the whole Temple became illuminated in the bright light, she prayed she could hold for just a few more moments.

Over by Mace, Gwent stood in awe at the spectacle that was the spell. The dagger trembled under the great light, and the dwarf thought he had lost his mind when a roar of intense rage bellowed from the relic.

"Gwent, now!"

Gwent spun toward the altar and raised his hammer well over his head with both hands. He threw every ounce of dwarven strength he could into the swing as he leaped in the air and drove the hammer down. He slammed it down with such force that the dagger exploded into dozens of pieces, sending out a burst of dark energy, launching everyone in the room outward. Mace and Gwent slammed into the walls behind them as Cora was tossed towards the door.

Mace and Gwent sat dazed, but Cora remained unhurt, having landed on the soft cushion of decaying flesh. She instantly panicked and scrambled to stand. Only then did she realize the pile of creatures around her lay still. Nothing moved, and the only sound was the fading echo of the thunderous explosion.

Mace and Gwent shook off their daze and rose to their feet as Cora picked her way over to the altar and stared in awe. The dagger had been completely destroyed. Mace placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and noticed she didn't shy away from his touch. She looked up to regard him with a new level of respect glinting in her eyes. He offered her a weak and tired smile.

"It is done."

***

Zythos sat and watched as all the undead around him fell into motionless masses of rotting flesh and bone with mixed emotions. Mace had done it; he had destroyed the dagger. They had won, but any joy he should have felt was stolen when he looked down at the friend cradled in his arms. The physical effects of the curse had not vanished or even diminished, and Draven no longer tried to speak. He just lay there, limp, as if already dead. Zythos glanced across the way to Kenrith, and new weight of sadness washed over the elf. He had only known the man a short while but knew him to be a brave, steadfast hero.

Hearing the creak of an opening door, Zythos glanced back and saw a growing number of people exiting the warehouse. The ever-increasing number of emerging survivors was bittersweet. There were so many dead, yet so many alive.

"We did it, Draven," Zythos said as he squeezed his friend in a final embrace, hoping that the goddess of nature had allowed him into the forest of Dyn'ran where he could spend eternity in peace.

"Zythos, you're squishing me," Draven croaked, his voice weak, "I can't…breathe!"

Zythos looked down, his eyes widened. "You're alive!"

"Am I?"

"Mace did it," Zythos exclaimed. "He ended the curse."

"Oh, wonderful," Draven stated wearily, "Remind me to buy him a drink."

Zythos helped him sit up. The physical appearance was finally changing, and the lines of his veins were fading even as his skin began returning to its tan color. Draven sat there, gathering himself for a minute before looking back toward Kenrith. The ranger's frown spoke volumes, as well as the sudden sadness in his eyes.

"He wanted me to," Draven said, his tone filled with regret.

"Better not to suffer. You or I would have asked the same."

With his help, Draven pushed to a standing position and took a slow look around the city. Seeing people alive lifted his spirits slightly.

"Can you walk?" Zythos asked as he picked up the ranger's swords and bow.

"I think so, but you can carry me if you want."

"Maybe next time," he answered, handing the items to Draven. "Come on, let's go find the others."

***

Emotions were mixed when the two groups found each other. Everyone was happy to see Draven safe and free of the curse. Yet each mourned the death of Kenrith, especially Cora. She had known him for a long time. When she heard what actions, Draven had taken after Kenrith fell, she had wanted to be angry but knew he had saved Kenrith from a more gruesome fate.

During the time it took for the regiment of Temple soldiers to finally arrive, the group set about helping Caelfall come to terms with what happened. Mace performed his priestly duties, offering his prayers for both the dead and the living.

Now, three weeks since that fateful night, Mace walked calmly down the hall leading to Master Lucian's quarters in the Sanctum. He knocked lightly when he reached the door and entered as instructed.

"It's good to see you back and well," Lucian said after Mace bowed in greeting. "What of the others?"

"They are well," Mace answered, "Draven and Gwent trade battle stories, then Gwent argues with Zythos over tactics while Draven laughs at them both."

"So, everything is normal," Lucian chuckled.

"Cora decided to come back with us," Mace reported. "She has gone to the masters of her order to seek guidance. She seems unsure of her place in the realm. And the loss of her friend Kenrith has affected her greatly."

"I know." Lucian nodded a few times before turning back toward his cluttered table. "She came to me, as well."

"For?" Mace asked, tilting his head.

"What do you think of her?" Lucian said, dodging the question.

"She's a spirited woman. And a good fighter."

Lucian nodded again. "What do the others think of her?"

"Gwent and Zythos hold a great amount of respect for her. And Draven…" he paused, falling silent.

"It's Draven; I get it." Lucian raised a hand and smiled, then went on. "You'll be happy to know the soldiers we sent are doing well in helping Caelfall and Ravenwood rebuild and have even made contact with the dwarves in the mines. It might take a little time, but all should be set back to normal."

"The two lords who oversaw the region were among the dead," Mace informed. "A new leadership will have to be formed."

"Do you have a suggestion?"

"The heirs of the fallen lords seemed eager for the task if the people accept them."

"I'll pass that along to the general. She will know best about how to set things in motion," Lucian assured.

Mace sat quiet a moment, then produced a pouch containing the dagger shards. "And these?"

"They will be placed in a sealed reliquary and locked in the vault."

"Is there a risk of the dagger being restored?" he asked.

"I hope not, but the priests and scribes work to determine that."

"Our job is done then."

"Not quite," Lucian countered.

Mace was filled with intrigue, but he remained silent.

"You and the others have some training to do," Lucian continued.

"We're always training," Mace replied.

"That I know, but another could use the guidance," Lucian said, eyeing Mace carefully.

He merely raised an eyebrow in question.

"I've offered Cora a place among you, and she's accepted," Lucian said, the corner of his mouth lifting just a little.

The information stunned Mace, but as he considered the possibilities, he began to smile. He could not deny it was, in fact, not a bad idea.

THE END

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