Chapter 3: Sacrifice

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Chapter 3: Sacrifice

Post by Raiden on Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:55 am

THE LAST GENERATION
Chapter 3: Sacrifice

“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.”  
Jean d'Arc

World FAYWYN, 7 Hours Left

Screams pierced the air as Eleanor’s world came crumbling before her. Soon enough, everyone she’d ever known and loved was going to be dead. All of them, gone. Nothing could stop it. The moment flames erupted from the schoolhouse she knew the situation was hopeless; they were even slaughtering the children.

The attack came without warning. Eleanor had been busy tending to the wounds of a group of adventurers who were passing through the village. They were an odd bunch, headed by a loud and drunk Vjalldaskarian with an infected head wound. She’d done her best – the simple healing spells taught to her by the village Elder had done their job – but the burly man had lapsed into an alcohol-induced slumber shortly after she had mended the wound. The rest of the crew filled her in, the Paladin telling a thrilling tale of a flight from the capital, complete with a daring rescue by the quiet young girl with a bow and the odd-looking old woman, who kept insisting that the meeting had been “destiny”.

The rest of the group were relatively unharmed – the Paladin had performed more than ample first aid upon himself – and they had retreated to the inn while they waited for the drunken sod to wake up. Mizo, the innkeeper, had treated them to bread and wine on the house (he had a soft spot for Eleanor) and they’d spent nearly an hour discussing the topic of the untimely death of King Raiden.

The quiet girl piped up at this point, “Our main suspect is a necromancer named Eric Grimm.” Looking surprised at herself, she turned her attention back to the food in front of her and began chewing quietly. Unbeknownst to the group, this was her first experience of alcohol and it was already making her head swim.

Frowning slightly at the girl, the man of the group added in his thick Finderan accent, “Aye. Necromancer.” He took the briefest of moments to spit on the floor with a grimace, “Enemy to all but themselves. He’s kidnapped Susana, the princess, and amassed an army in Hussfel Green.” Leaning in closer, he added, “We barely escaped with our lives, we fled the last few miles on horse-“

The conversation was interrupted by the sounds of a hunting horn and the low rumbling that could only announce the arrival of horses.

“Get yehself to cover, girlie.” The Finderan growled as he nocked an arrow into his crossbow. “Hana, Magda. Form up.”

Without even a second of hesitation, Eleanor ran to the bar and Mizo ushered her into the back room. The village had been attacked by bandits on a fairly regular basis in her short life, and Eleanor was used to dealing with the aftermath rather than fighting on the front lines. As a result, Mizo knew exactly where to take her. “Quick, get in.” He grunted as he lifted a heavy sack of grain to reveal a trapdoor hidden behind the bar. “Don’t come out until it’s safe.” He called over his shoulder as he picked up a battered and rusty looking sickle. Eleanor never saw Mizo again.

Without a moment to lose, the young girl leapt into the dark hole and closed the trapdoor above her head as the screams began. Moving through the darkness, tripping over boxes and cringing every time she heard a rat flee in terror before her, she came to a stop before a small gap in the foundations of the inn. Through her peephole she saw a multitude of armed men storming the village, killing without mercy. Buildings erupted into flame and the streets ran red.

Amidst the slaughter, Eleanor glimpsed the three adventurers fighting hard against the soldiers – the quiet one firing her arrows, the older woman firing bolts of purple lightning from her fingers to shock and burn her foes, and the Paladin bravely defending them with a large shield and crushing swings from his hammer. It truly was a sight to behold, but Eleanor knew it to be futile. Already, half of the village was dead and more were sure to follow. The human meat shield was dwindling. Unannounced, smoke belched forth from the schoolhouse, and flames lit the sky like a macabre funeral pyre for the village.

“We’re doomed.” Eleanor whispered, as tears brimmed in her eyes and she retreated from the light. Retching in the gloom, she fell to her knees and squeezed her eyes shut, attempting to block out the screams and cries for help.

Nothing. I can do nothing.

For nearly an hour she lay crouched in the murk, breathing heavily and waiting for the carnage to finish. When she finally opened her eyes, all was quiet. The only sound to be heard was the faint crackling of flame. With a deep breath, she climbed the small stepladder and hoisted herself from the basement of the inn, making her way outside... What awaited her brought on a whole new wave of nausea and a puddle of her own vomit joined the blood and viscera that paved the roads of Yamaku. Everywhere she turned, some fresh horror grinned back at her: severed limbs, heads, and blood. Organs, hair and ripped clothing. She recognized her friends, she mourned for her peers. She did not even bother checking to see if some of the less mutilated bodies were alive. The grim horde had left nothing to chance.

Except for one, as the young healer stumbled through the charred remains of the street she lived on, a small voice called out to her.

“Help… me…” Croaked a blood-soaked body crumpled against a water barrel. The garb was familiar, and Eleanor realised it to be the young girl from the group of adventurers. Around her lay the corpses of several soldiers, some of the first Eleanor had come across, and each sported some odd injuries. One had a swathe of angry red boils across his face, and another’s arm seemed to have swelled to twice its size.

Running over to the maimed girl, Eleanor immediately began to chant in Narcyllian and touched her hands to the girl’s face. Immediately, some colour returned to the girl’s cheeks and her breathing became less laboured. Diligently, Eleanor systematically searched the girl’s body for wounds and mended them, some were too serious to fully heal but she did the best she could to stop the bleeding.

After she had done as much as she could, Eleanor collapsed into a shivering heap and let out a groan. Performing magic took a lot out of her, and that was the single largest expenditure of her energy she had ever taken part in. Healing was a truly selfless art; more often than not a healer would die themselves while saving lives. After all, the fundamental law of magic was you give what you get. Healers essentially traded their life force to extend the lives of others.
Her head swimming, the child weakly extended her hand to the girl, “Eleanor.”

The archer looked up meekly and replied, “Hana.” Before bursting into tears. For the first time, Eleanor noticed that the girl was clutching onto a drinking horn that quite clearly belonged to the brutish Vjald.
“You were close?” Eleanor asked, not bothering to dance around the subject.

It took a few moments for the Hana to gather herself, but she nodded wearily and let out one final sniff. “We all were. We’ve only been together for a month at most, but we’ve killed and fought for each other.” She shifted to a more comfortable position and continued “Faywyn is betrayed. Grimm leads an army towards the capital and intends to destroy it. He’s convinced his followers that he is delivering justice to the land, but in reality all he craves is power.”

“How very wrong you are.” Calls out a cold voice from before the two, and they glance up to see a masked man of middle build with a large scythe hanging limply by his side.

Gasping in shock, Eleanor retreated backwards, tripping over the water barrel and spilling the contents across the street.  Hana also retreated back a few steps, but quickly drew a knife hidden in the folds of her cloak. The edge of the blade seemed to be smoking slightly. “Who are you?” She asked quietly.

“A stroke of misfortune for the pair of you, I’m afraid.” The man said, voice muffled through the mask. The mask itself was a pristine specimen: forged from pure silver with a teardrop inlaid with gold just below the eye. He clothed himself in black leather, and his jerkin bore the crest of Eric Grimm: a crown broken in two. “Lord Grimm has been liberating villages all across the country, saving the innocent and eliminating those loyal to the corrupt monarchy that is slowly poisoning this country. Your village has been sentenced to that fate: you admitted guilty to crimes against Faywyn when you accepted Tiber Hjork and his motley crew into your midst.”

Eleanor glances to Hana, who tightens her grip on the dagger at the mention of Tiber.

The Vjald.

“Grimm murdered the king!” Hana exclaimed, voice hoarse. After her outcry, she charged the man and attempted to stab him. Her blade was immediately caught by the crook of the scythe and flung off to the side. Overbalanced, Hana was then promptly struck in the stomach by the masked man. He had no normal punch, however, and electricity crackled across Hana’s midriff and was sent flying backwards, where she crumpled to the floor at Eleanor’s feet.

“No!” Cried the child, leaping over Hana to position herself in front to act as a shield as the stranger advanced upon his victim.

“Move.” He growled, a blue ball of electricity forming in his hand and arcing across the blade of his scythe.

“Don’t harm her! She’s done nothing to you!” Eleanor cried out, her arms flying to either side of her in a vain effort to protect Hana.

“Very well, then.” The man growled, and extended his arm, electricity crackling forth from outstretched fingers.

Screams pierced the air as Eleanor was forced to her knees, limbs jerking erratically. She lost all other senses, and all she knew was pain - she could feel her skin bubbling from the pure heat generated by the catastrophic onslaught. Her vision began to swim, and her world went dark.

When the pain finally stopped, Eleanor was sure she had died and passed on to whatever lay beyond. She opened her eyes but only darkness greeted her. No chorus of angels, no final judgement, nothing. Her first assumption was purgatory, but then feeling began to slowly return to her body.

I survived.

The first thing that assaulted her was the heat of her skin - burns. Easily fixed, and she tried to croak out the necessary incantations, but found her voice to be too hoarse and painful to continue.
As she lay on the floor, gasping for air through her singed lungs, she listened to what appeared to be a struggle. She heard the unfamiliar sound of flesh being sliced by steel, and grunts of pain. The struggle continued as Eleanor massaged her throat, willing the vocal chords to mend themselves, desperately trying to fend off certain death with only her fingers, when she felt a warm body slide next to her. “Drink this” came a weak but soothing voice, and Ellie felt a drinking horn press into her lips. She began taking greedy sips, a warm feeling spreading through her chest.

Still engrossed in gulping down the liquid, Ellie failed to notice the sound of the fight fade away into nothing. As she removed the drinking horn from her lips, she took a breath to attempt to speak again, but was interrupted by a cry from Hana:
“Tiber?!”

***



Just an hour earlier, the Bastion materialised in the forest North of Yamaku. Hawke stepped out first, followed closely by his new companion.
Inna stepped out of the Bastion as soon as Hawke informed her that it was safe, and she began to survey the surrounding area, “I assume we try to avoid contact with the local population, yes?” Inna asked Hawke as he struggled to extract himself from the Bastion.

“Yes - keep contact to a minimum. We’ll stay here as long as we can. We need to formulate a plan. Discuss our options.”

The pair wandered further away from the Bastion, exploring the surrounding woodland, looking for some clue as to the nearest place of refuge. After a couple of minutes of silence, Inna spoke up, “The way I see it, the only two options we have are either waiting for whoever is causing this to come find me. If I’m as important as you say, I’m sure they know abo-” Inna stopped, one ear cocked, listening to the ambient noise.

Taking the hint, Hawke dropped lower to attempt to hide some of his frame in the undergrowth while whispering, “You heard something?”

“I thought I heard a twig snap.” She said quietly, eyes narrowed.

The pair stayed stock still, listening, for a few minutes longer, until Hawke was confident that if they had a follower it had moved on.  He stood up and asked, “The second option?”

Inna took one last cautious look around, then returned her cool gaze to Hawke, “Fly your spaceship into the heart of the neutron star.”

Having already prepared himself to dismiss the second option, Hawke began to argue, but stopped once he properly processed her idea, “Fly the Bastion into the star?”

“Sure.” She replied almost instantly, not bothering to qualify her observation.

“Remember what I told you? You may be the key to solving all this. Flying the Bastion into the centre of a neutron star probably our best bet at eliminating our last chance”  Hawke said bluntly, an amused grin spreading across his face. Apparently, he had picked up a crazy as a companion.

“That’s exactly my point.” Inna called, as she moved further away from Hawke into the gloom. “The way you tell it, this thing is systematically searching out alternate worlds and destroying them. That can’t be natural. Have you noticed it destroying the solar systems, too?”

A bark of laughter permeated the otherwise tranquility of the forest. “You’re actually correct. No, it doesn’t. It just seems to focus on Earth.” He turned to face towards the young woman. “You sure you don’t actually come from TECH? Your brain would fit right in.” He asked with a laugh. His laughter stopped when he noticed the metallic odour of blood and the acrid smell of burnt meat. Looking to the sky, he attempted to find the source of the smell, and located an ominous black cloud in the distance. “I guess we should avoid that, if we’re trying to stay undetected…” Hawke mused aloud, turning away from the rising pillar of smoke on the horizon, only to find a blade suddenly pressed to his throat.

“You are not dressed in your usual attire, Vjald.” Came the calm voice that was attached to the body holding the scimitar digging between his collar bones. The accent was odd, and did not sound dissimilar to a Persian accent from Hawke’s homeworld.

The man before him had dark skin, with white, flowing robes wrapped loosely around his body. Strapped to his belt was a jewelled dagger made from some green stone, Hawke could only assume jade. He had to remember that alloys had not replaced raw materials in Faywyn.

“Tiberius, I’ve analysed the target’s posture and voice tone and I have deduced that he is not a threat, he merely wants information. “ AYAME suggested helpfully within Hawke’s head, doing nothing to alleviate the panic bubbling inside Hawke that could only come from having a sword pressed to your throat.
“I am not from these parts.” Hawke responded carefully, making sure that no sudden movements would cause an accidental rupture to his jugular vein. That seemed counter-intuitive.

“Tiber Hjork. Ward of the late King Raiden, Vjaldik descent. Travelling with Scott Vitch and two unknown peasants.” The man replied, casting his eyes around the scene. “Where are the others?”

Understanding blossomed within Hawke once he heard the description of the man he seemed to be posing as. He’d been mistaken for one of his own facets. A strange thought, but it made sense that the alternate versions of himself would look similar. Raising his arms to the surrender position Hawke began to negotiate through veiled threats, “I am not Tiber Hjork, but the world is in grave danger. He is simply another version of myself. You need to let me go and come with me, or you will die within the next few hours.”

His assailant’s face remained blank, and he merely raised an eyebrow in response to the sudden torrent of information.

In a last ditch effort, Hawke pointed to the sky, “Out there, there are other versions of you! I am another version of this ‘Hjork’. Out there somewhere will be another version of you, and your friends, and your par-” He was interrupted by his assailant swiftly sheathing his sword and dropping to one knee, his eyes wide in shock and hands outstretched to Hawke, as if in worship.

“Asharen.” The man choked out in a harsh whisper, and touched his forefinger and middle finger to his lips and then forehead.

Unsure of how to react, Hawke simply let out a small, “Errr…”

“The Asha’zin teaches the Ashadi that we are simply mirror images of ourselves, and we have ‘Asharen’ in the stars.”

“It appears we are not the first civilization to come to the realisation of the Multiverse, Tiberius.” AYAME interjected.
Hawke nodded and asked the kneeling man “The Asha’zin, is it a holy text?”

The man spat on the floor and seemed to curse in a harsh language, “We are no religious fools! The Asha’zin is the collective knowledge of the Ashad peoples. It brings together our values and principles.” The man once again glanced up at Hawke and repeated the strange gesture from before, “My apologies, Asharen. I pledge my word and my blade as a Vash’qar to your service, and vow to guard you throughout your quest to save Ashad everywhere.”

Taken slightly aback at the sudden role reversal Hawke simply nods. “Right… refresh my memory, Vash’qar being…?”
“Warriors that spread the word of the Asha’zin to bring enlightenment to those untouched by the Ashadi light.” Replied the man, who raised himself to his full height. “We show the world our prowess to spread fear and awe… while getting paid.”

Hawke nodded, then gasped in shock as a large piece of wood struck the mercenary around the head, who promptly redrew his sword and span on one heel, turning to face his assailant: Inna. Slightly dizzy, he choked out, “How dare you lay hands on me! I am chosen by the universe to guide and protect the first Asharen to visit this bless-”

“Hey, crazy, shut up” Hawke said with an amused grin, “She’s with me. I’ll make sure she doesn’t hit you again.”

Inna remained poised, the improvised club clutched in her clawed hands. “How can we trust him?” She asked through gritted teeth, and tensed up when the mercenary moved to sheathe his sword.

“I’m some kind of prophet, apparently.” Hawke grinned.

Confused, but content to let it slide, Inna rested one end of the club on the ground. “What’s burning?” She asked the robed man, jerking her head in the direction of the black smoke.

“Yamaku.” He replied, rubbing his head. “And, hopefully, Tiber Hjork and his band of idiots.”

Hawke and Inna shared a look of surprise, “Yamaku? That can’t be a coincidence.” Inna said flatly, and began to walk towards the village.

With no better alternative, Hawke followed behind and their new bodyguard followed suit. The silence grew uncomfortable after only a few minutes, and Hawke broke it with a question: “My name is Hawke. That’s Inna. What do we call you?”

“The Vash’qar reject names once they take the vow.” The Ashad replied, but added “We are simply known by our titles. Sein, the assassins, Torren, the infiltrators, and the Toshine, the sellswords, like me.”

“Alright. Toshine.” Hawke said to himself, and called forward to Inna, “Hey, Inna, ever see this guy on your homeworld?”

Inna glanced behind her, blinking away the few solitary tears that had escaped her eyes while thinking about her child, and took a quick look at the man. He was vaguely familiar, she felt like she recognised him from the school near her hometown. “He looks kind of like one of the students at the school.” She said, puzzled as she turned back to her path and continued to lead the way to the pillar of smoke darkening the horizon.

“That would make sense. Facets tend to present themselves in the same geographical location across the multiverse…” Hawke mused aloud.

“Facets?” Inna said, blankly.

“Oh, didn’t I mention? Seems to be a phenomena of the multiverse, the people populating all of the different parallel worlds seem to be made up of the same DNA as people populating our own planets. There are different versions of ourselves spread across the entire multiverse, each one a tiny bit different due to their circumstances, but essentially they are the same people.” Hawke explained, stepping smartly over a fallen tree.

Inna’s mouth formed a small ‘o’ in shock. “You mean to say that somewhere here there is another version of me?” She asked.

Hawke grimaced slightly to himself. He hadn’t planned on revealing this nugget of information yet, but he couldn’t outright lie to Inna. “Not… exactly. I’ve found multitudes of ‘facets’ - that’s what I’ve named alternate versions of the same person - for many people, myself and my peers included, but you seem to be an anomaly. As I told you before, you’re unique.”

At this point, the group heard Toshine once again fall to his knees in adoration. “The Asha’zin smiles upon me today!”

Startled, Hawke rounded on his heel and called for Inna to stop. Before him, Toshine was once again on his knees, performing the weird hand signs from before. “Don’t tell me, your book says something about her?” He turned to Inna briefly and said “He’s a gift that just keeps on giving, eh?”

Inna waited patiently for the odd man to begin explaining, “The Asha’zin mentions the Danaren, one who has no Asharen. It is said that the Danaren is the most affected every time the universe is reborn: her physical form remains but her story is altered drastically, each time moreso than the last.”

Hawke’s face grew drawn, and a shadow of worry passed over his face. “The universe being… reborn?”

The mercenary simply smiled and responded, “Yes! Our scribes never grow tired of telling this story. When The Multiverse becomes too chaotic, and worlds begin to bleed into one another, The Great White Star consumes them all.

Inna gasped, and whispered “The neutron star…” under her breath.

“It devours all living beings in the planet before spewing them out once more, fresh-faced and blinking in the light of a new universe. When The Family told us of this natural phenomena, the Ashadi were fascinated.”

Hawke threw his hands up and shouted “Hold up! How the hell do you know all this?! Who are “The Family”?”

Toshine continued, “The Guardians of the Multiverse. The only true god-like beings, if you will. They keep watch over the realms and keep things running smoothly. They wrote the Asha’zin and bestowed it upon the Ashadi. They visited Faywyn once, and came to us… they said nobody would ever believe the story, but you must!” For the first time, Toshine began to look fearful. “It consumes everything, boiling people alive and wreaking havoc… they said we cannot stop it.”

“The Family…” Hawke croaked, mind racing. He decided it would be best to just assume that they were real. How else would some backwards nation in a world trapped in the middle ages know of a neutron star and the Multiverse? Following on from that theory, Hawke began to evaluate the truth in Toshine’s closing statement. We cannot stop it. Why would The Family have told them that? And more importantly, why would they tell them of some anomalous facet that did not have any counterparts across The Multiverse?

“Then who can?” Inna asked before Hawke could open his mouth to ask the exact same question. She flashed a smile at the surprised look he threw her.

Toshine smiled and began walking once more - the edge of the forest was close. “The final story in the Asha’zin is the story of the Danaren. She is not consumed by the Great White Star and the rebirth of the Multiverse, while it moulds all of the other Asharen move seamlessly, the Danaren is rent in two and reformed, becoming something entirely new, yet remaining the same. The book said that the Danaren is used as a tool by the Star to mold a new universe”

“What if we turned the neutron star’s tool against it? Put you in charge, Danaren.” Hawke said with a smile to Inna as the trio emerged from the forest, Hawke looked towards the village to see a familiar face. “Dr Kinai?” He said aloud, before quickly coming to the conclusion that she was yet another facet.

From beside him came a heart-wrenching shriek, “ELLIE!”

The scream came as lightning burst forth from a third figure, and consumed the girl that Hawke assumed to be a facet of Inna’s daughter. The screams of a child are something no man or woman should be subjected to, but Inna, Toshine and Hawke were treated to a chilling barrage of shrieks from the young girl. Quick as a flash, Hawke darted forward and grabbed Inna by the arm and dragged her roughly backward. “She is not your daughter, Inna. She isn’t. Stay calm.”

It was useless, Inna fought and battled with Hawke, tears streaming down her cheeks as she continued to cry out to her daughter’s doppelganger.

***

This was Michael’s least favorite part of the job. Torture. Working for Grimm wasn’t such a bad deal - Grimm pointed him in the direction and he went on a killing spree, and in return he became rich. Sure, there was the odd village that put up a resistance but for the most part he drifted off into a world of his own and went into auto-pilot, slashing and carving his way through the wriggling mass of bodies until they stopped wriggling.

When the village did resist, quite often the resistance would be an up-jumped hero who thought the swordsmanship they learned from a passing sellsword or knight would be enough to combat the might of the Grimm Horde. Normally they were wrong. The first few villages Michael - or Misfortune as he went by among the ranks of Grimm’s army - simply used his magical power to obliterate the dissenters. Eventually though, he learned that if he made an example of his victims the rest of the village would lose hope and give up.

While he was sure that these two young girls were the last alive in the village, the one with black hair seemed a competent fighter. He deemed it easier to scare her into submission by torturing her friend. The speech he always gave went by without a hitch - rebellion, causes, lots of lying, but soon enough his cue had come: the younger of the pair called him out. In his experience, this was generally the best time to strike. Without a moment's thought, he unleashed a barrage of his infamous dark magic, charring the girls’ very flesh before his own eyes. It was a sight to behold, usually, watching the bolts of electricity dance across the bodies in a danse macabre.

This one, however, left him feeling sick to his stomach. She was barely out of childhood. All she was doing was protecting her friend… the appearance of what he assumed to be her mother did nothing to alleviate his conscience, either. Her screams were even louder than the girl’s. He decided to ignore the mother as a man dressed in odd clothes restrained her. He carried on the torture.

His favorite part started - the gasping. Usually his victims did not die directly from the lightning, more often than not they suffocated. The intense heat of a dose of black magic sucked the very air from their lungs, and before long the unfortunate soul was usually gasping for air, unable to draw one through their convulsions. The bad feeling forgotten, Misfortune licked his lips in anticipation as the lights in the girl’s eyes began to dim.

That was all quickly cut short, however, by the unfamiliar feeling of a blade carving through his forearm and dismembering it in one fell swoop. Before he could even utter a small “Oh.” his assailant leapt into view - dressed in traditional Ashadi robes, no doubt a member of the Vash’qar order - and once more arced his traditional scimitar, this time slashing Misfortune across the chest.

Deciding protecting himself was a good idea, Michael swung wildly with his scythe, but grunted in dismay as the man before him simply took one small step back - avoiding the curved blade - then darted forward and plunged the tip of his blade straight through the centre of his chest, sliding straight through the majority of his internal organs and emerging in a fountain of blood on the other side.

“Ah. It seems I’ve met my match, then.” He choked out.

“You had very poor matches before.” Growled the stranger, before removing his sword from Misfortune’s chest, and delivering a vicious chop and beheading the man. His head rolled twice before coming to a stop at Hawke’s feet, who had rushed over as soon as the fight had begun.

“Tiber?!” Cried Hana upon Hawke’s arrival.

Hawke let out a small grimace as the severed head rolled to his feet, mask still firmly attached. He glanced up at Hana and shook his head firmly. “No.” He released his iron grip on Inna’s arm as she rushed forward towards the motionless body of her daughter’s representation from Faywyn - judging by the shallow rising and falling of her chest she had fallen unconscious.

“Tiberius, she won’t make it. Vital signs are falling rapidly. Repair has been made but it was not enough.” AYAME chimed. Hawke thanked her internally, and continued, “Long story short, I am this Tiber, but from a different world. Same person, different background. You still following?”

Surprisingly, the young girl nodded her head. “Not the strangest thing that’s happened recently.” She responded quietly, and stepped forward, ignoring the steadily growing pool of blood gushing from the stump that once supported the head of Grimm’s attack dog. “You’re the Vash’qar that’s been following us since we left Scott’s tower?” She said to Toshine, who looked surprised. “I found your camp on my nightly scouting. I didn’t tell the others.” She glanced at his sword then back up to his face. “Your snoring gave your position away.”
Hawke interrupted, and said “Listen, I’m sorry about what’s happening here but this place isn’t safe for me or my companion. Or any of you.” He looked to Toshine too. “This world is in danger. The whole universe is. I need help, specifically protection as apparently I’m going to attract trouble wherever I go.” Hawke gestured to the odd-looking corpses that were scattered around the street then nodded at Hana. “Your work, I assume? Some kind of poison?” She simply nodded in reply.

Hawke smiled and nodded in approval, before calling over to Inna, “We need to go, Inna. We can’t stay out in the open, and we need to move closer to the Bastion in case we need to make a quick getaway.”

She didn’t respond. Hawke could see her body shaking as she clutched the body of the young girl. After a quick check with AYAME, Hawke’s fears were confirmed. The girl had passed.

He gently crouched down next to Inna, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “This isn’t your Ellie. It’s an Ellie, but not yours. She didn’t grow up with you, remember? Completely different mother. She wouldn’t have even recognised you.”

Inna looked up at Hawke, and she choked through her tears, “I know. It’s just… this has already happened to my daughter. I left her to die as soon as I ran away with you.” Fresh tears brimmed in her eyes and her sobs resumed.

“Inna, you can still save her. We need to get to that star. You heard what Toshine said, you could control all of the power contained within the star. Make it stop. Spare your world.”

Finally, the tears stopped. With a nod, Inna steeled herself and raised herself to her feet. “Back to the Bastion, then.”

Hawke smiled and allowed Inna to help him to his feet as well. “Great, now we need to get back and-”

Hawke stopped. He was interrupted by three things. Firstly, the sound of AYAME screaming in his head, “Tiberius, hundreds of vital signs have just sparked around us, get out of here!” Secondly, Toshine seemingly dropped dead of his own accord with a grunt of pain. Thirdly, the sky seemingly erupted and the baleful black eye of the neutron star blinked into existence right above their heads.

The next instant, Inna gasped, Hana rolled to the floor and grabbed a fallen bow and quiver of arrows, and a nearby corpse twitched and began to rise from the floor. Hana shouted, “Shit! I thought we had more time. This is how Grimm has been expanding his army so quickly, after every village he raises the dead to fight for him! We need to move, NOW!”

Not needing to be told twice, Inna grabbed Hawke by the hand and dragged him with her towards the line of the forest, skirting the apparent zombies and occasionally glancing up at the star above them.

“What… happened to… Toshine?!” Hawke gasped out as they ran as fast as they could back to the relative safety of the forest. By now, most corpses had gotten to their feet and were ambling towards the trio.

“Magic requires a sacrifice. Usually it is our own energy, but immoral mages can steal the life force of others. It doesn’t take much to enthrall a corpse, Grimm must be nearby and used the Ashad as a substitute for his own life force.” Hana explained, nocking and loosing an arrow directly into the forehead of the shambling corpse of a soldier.

“Makes sense. Energy cannot be created, after all.” Inna interjected, picking up the pace once they were on open ground. Taking stock of the situation, she made some quick observations and came to a grim realisation. Hawke was grunting loudly and slowing down. “Have you been hurt?” She asked.

“N-no...” He stammered, clawing at his leg. “My leg… I can’t keep up this speed for much longer.”

“Slow down. I’ll distract them. Go save the universe.” Hana said immediately, and stopped dead in her tracks and span, already nocking an arrow to let fly. “You said you needed protection.” She said in response to Hawke’s attempt at convincing her to come with them. “We won’t make it more than 100 meters. You need a distraction. I already pledged my life to fighting Grimm. Go.”

Before they could argue, Hana let loose her arrow and began sprinting in the opposite direction, shouting and firing more arrows at the steadily growing army of the undead.

“I didn’t even know her name…” Inna said quietly as they watched the writhing mass of corpses change course and follow Hana.

“She had a facet on my world. Dr. Chiharu Kinai. Brilliant mind.” Hawke said quietly, before turning back towards their destination. “Let’s go.”

The pair scuttled through the dense foliage, ignoring the moans they could hear behind them. Apparently the undead were no longer distracted. The pair tried not to dwell on what that meant.

The pair arrived at the Bastion in silence. Panting softly, Hawke accessed the terminal and gestured for Inna to go before him. They sat, Hawke silently having AYAME plug in the coordinates that would take them to the heart of the Neutron Star.
“I guess we’ll just play it by ear. We’ll get there and improv-” Hawke was interrupted by a quiet beeping noise. “God DAMN it.” He said, punching the wall of the Bastion.

“What’s wrong?” Inna said, fearing the worst. In her mind, she imagined the pair of them trapped in the Bastion as it was swarmed by zombies. She wasn’t sure if they’d be able to penetrate the Bastion or if they would die of hunger or thirst first.

“It’s gonna take a lot of power to get combat the gravitational pull of the star, power we simply don’t have. We’re running low.” He said gravely.

“Well… can’t we just hop to another world and refuel?” Inna asked, confusion thickening her voice.

“AYAME has already scanned the multiverse. There aren’t many planets left. Most of them are like this one, stuck in a time before electricity.”

“And for those that aren’t?”

“There’s only one.” Hawke said, refusing to make eye contact. “If you thought zombies were bad…”

Inna let out a bark of laughter, “What could POSSIBLY be worse than zombies?!”

Hawke met her eyes with a hard, serious stare. “Cyborgs.”
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