Zarekos stood with his hands clasped behind his back on the giant sword protruding from the forehead of his statue, the very image of smug confidence. In contrast, the black-clad ice girl pinned in place on her frozen platform by his stare had her hands raised in a defensive stance.
Ami knew she couldn't move or transport herself. She could read this right from Zarekos' soul-piercing eyes. The ghostly vampire was waiting for her answer, and he wouldn't like it. Even if she had been willing to work for a monster like him in the first place, she would have reconsidered the moment she saw how he treated his previous underlings. Unfortunately, the alternative seemed just as bad. If she died and ended up in the dark gods' realm, she could expect no mercy. How was she going to get out of this? Oh! Her beleaguered mind had almost missed the simplest solution! She could stop supporting the ice hand she was standing on!
With great relief, she felt the floating surface under her feet drop away. Zarekos appeared to shoot upwards as gravity took a hold of her and yanked her down. In a moment, the sword's surface would cut their mutual eye-contact. Ami was ready to teleport away as soon as the ghost's piercing, transparent eyes disappeared behind the obstacle. A jolt went through her body, making the water within gurgle as she stopped unexpectedly. Two ghosts had caught her! A deep chill that went far beyond physical coldness spread out from underneath her shoulders, where the pale apparitions were holding her.
Zarekos peered down at her from his perch, raising both of his eyebrows for a look that seemed to say "just how dumb do you think I am?"
The sound of her ice hand impacting the marble floor deep below shattered the tense silence. The sharp-edged ice splinters bounced across the lower floors, pinging off solid surfaces and shattering into even more pieces. It sounded as if a hailstorm was raging in the temple's depths.
Zarekos' patience ran out. "Such saddening stubbornness. Perhaps your successor shall serve to my satisfaction instead."
Ami felt unreasonable terror as the pressure bearing down on her rose, squeezing the life out of her as it constricted her chest and slowly, painfully suffocated her. She'd die at this rate! She should just surrender and serve him! She couldn't oppose a god! Wait. Even with her thoughts scrambled by the rising panic, those thoughts didn't feel right. Something was deeply incongruous about the situation. She tried to calm down, which wasn't easy when almost passing out from lack of air. Suddenly, she realised what was wrong. This body doesn't need to breathe!
"Well, vermin? What words will be your last?" The crushing force on Ami let up a little as the vampire ghost leered at her with a sadistic grin.
"Shut up, charlatan," a new voice surprised them both.
Ami would have recognised it even without seeing the owner. Through Zarekos' transparent form, she could see Marda's striding along one of the cross struts arching above the statue's head like a halo. What is she doing here?
"You insect, insulting-" Zarekos began, not taking his eyes off Mercury.
Marda burst into motion and jumped off the bridge-like construction into the yawning void. Ami would have gasped if her body was obeying her. The chainmail-clad troll grabbed onto the arm-thick chain holding up one of the hanging incense burners, which started swinging like a pendulum from the transferred momentum. Sparks flew from her gauntlets as they scraped over the chain's links while she slid down its length. As soon as her toes made contact with the top of the swinging incense burner, she leaped a second time. With a loud clang, her metal soles landed on the flat of the giant blade, and she crouched to cushion the impact. The enormous weapon quivered like a springboard from the impact. "I said shut up. I'm neither one of your spawn you can control, nor stupid enough to meet your hypnotic gaze."
Zarekos' expression remained bored even as the stocky troll strode without hurry toward his floating form. "Imbecile. I am a nascent god, immortal and inviolate!"
"Don't make me laugh. I know very well that the Avatar's mantle you are clinging to is the only thing keeping you alive. Without your minions, you would be powerless." Marda grinned, showing her uneven teeth. "I bet you can't even move from your spot."
Zarekos frowned "How did you kn-" His eyes went impossibly wide in shock, and he reared back as if he had been slapped "Kill her! KILL HER!"
Ami was suddenly free as the former Keeper lost all interest in her and caused the ghosts holding her to let go so they could streak toward Marda like pale comets. With nothing supporting her weight, Ami tumbled into the depths - only to bump into an ascending ghost on the way down. Her ice body cracked as it bounced off the spectre and flipped over, replacing her view of the ceiling with that of the floor. A white glow was surging up through the cylindrical tower like lava pouring from an erupting volcano. All the ghost in the temple flew upwards, rushing to their master's aid. The falling ice golem slammed into the wall of skeletal faces on her way down, smashing through the first and losing an arm from the collision. Ami, angry at being taken so easily by Zarekos' trick, abandoned the doomed body to possess a new one that she willed into existence behind him, on the bald head of his oversized statue. Below, she could hear the reaper bellow in fury as his prey flew off.
"Mercury! Destroy her, or she will destroy us both!" Zarekos howled with a terror-filled mental voice, all composure lost.
Through his transparent form, she could see Marda charge at him along the sword's blade, raising a white-glowing fist. Two wraiths fluttered behind her like banners, their limbs draped around the troll's neck and shoulders as she dragged them along. He's afraid of holy magic, Ami realised with vicious satisfaction. Behind Marda, the main force of ghosts spilled forth from the depths and flowed around the giant blade, grasping at the running troll's legs with rotting claws. Ami raised both hands, called on her dungeon heart's magic, and raked the front ranks of the attackers with sizzling lightning. In the flickering glare, Marda drew back her hand for a powerful haymaker, backlit by the arcs of electricity jumping across her pursuers.
"You fool have doomed us b-" Zarekos' terrified screech ended abruptly as a gauntleted fist flattened his face, which bent under the force until his skull caved in.
Reaching through his dissolving form, Marda clawed in passing at the crimson cloth of the mantle that had started drifting toward the ground, and kept going. A quick leap launched her off the giant sword that shook with each footstep, and onto the top of the giant statue's head, where Ami was waiting for her.
"Marda, you did it!" Ami cheered, glad that Zarekos was finally defeated "When did you get here?"
The troll rushed past her without slowing down, the red mantle wrapped around her armoured forearm flapping behind her. "They are all yours," she commented, raising a thumb at the wave of murderous ghosts about to crash down on them. "I quit!"
"What?" A minion bond shattered in the back of Ami's mind with a searing sensation, and she barely had enough time to process the troll's statement before the angry spectres were on her. Ghostly hands ripped and tore at her frozen body and swept it along. Ami was too baffled by Marda's sudden desertion to pay attention to the chains entangling her. Despite the fingers around her neck trying to strangle the life out of her disposable form, she managed to turn her head in the troll's direction. Where the bulky figure should have been, a flat, dark oval waved slowly in the air like a mirror that had been drawn on a piece of transparent wallpaper. The portal looked exactly like the one that Umbra had located on the trolls' island. With rising alarm, Ami noticed more minion links snapping. "Everyone, by careful! The trolls are deserting!" she transmitted mentally, alerting her employees to the danger. I better deal with this pile of ghosts before I break apart completely, she thought as water escaped through cracks in her shell. For an instant, the icy shape of her golem body lit up like a brilliant gem. A network of lines within glowed like a nervous system made of sunlight as it conducted raw magic toward the growing, golf-ball-sized speck of light forming above Ami's left palm. A flash of searing light and a thunderous rumble later, the majority of the leaderless ghosts had been devoureded by a rapidly-expanding fireball that blackened the polished cranium of Zarekos' statue. The ravenous survivors, buffeted and scattered by the shockwave, drifted through space in confusion. Since their prey had turned into superheated steam, they floated aimlessly until a new sound attracted their attention. Driven by all-consuming hunger, they launched themselves toward the source of the rapid, stomping footsteps racing up the staircase. The reaper's anticipatory grin widened as his hooves cleared four steps at a time in his haste to meet them.
The air in the command tent of the combined city forces smelled of overcooked meat, not that the enraged monsters within were at all interested in the fat-dripping and slightly charred contents of their plates. With two notable exceptions. The out-of-breath goblin messenger, who had just brought unwelcome news from the warlocks, eyed the meat enviously from where he stood forgotten near the open tent flap. To his great chagrin, he was downwind of a huge bile demon seated right next to the door. The rotund dignitary, whose gold-studded, intricate harness did not hide all of the near-spherical demon's many combat scars, kept shovelling food into his maw while shouting into the round. "How dare she?" he bellowed, spraying the table in front of him with half-chewed bits. "She pre-empted our revenge!"
"Silence!" the tallest member of the group shouted, banging his dark blue fist on the table hard enough that the flimsy wood splintered from his strike. The assembled creatures shut up, except for a few hotheads who quieted down one by one as the dark angel glared at them individually. With the two sole torches in the room right behind him, his red-burning eyes were the most prominent feature of his shadowed face. While not uncommon for the species, his were bright enough that there was some doubt on whether he was a Keeper or not. So far, he had declined answering the question, and no one had dared push the issue. "Good. Uncoordinated bickering will get us nowhere. Yes, Keeper Mercury has defeated Wemos. Yes, that means that she will have stolen everything he looted from us. But does it change anything?" He paused, taking a long sip from the skull-encrusted goblet standing before him while his associates grumbled. "NO!" Wine splashed onto his hand as he threw the goblet away. "This changes nothing! We still have the same army. We are still going to attack a Keeper! It simply isn't the same one!"
"She did not kill all vampires involved in the attack, either. The loss of face would be tremendous if we let this stand," a particularly muscular orc with a broken nose agreed, his mop of oily grey hair bobbing up and down as he nodded deliberately.
"The troops won't stand for it," a one-eyed hag wearing warlock robes cautioned in a high-pitched, grating tone of voice. "They were conscripted to destroy Wemos. They will not fight now that he is gone."
"I'm sure that some gold will change their opinion rather quickly," the dark angel pointed out.
"You suggest we pay them?" A knight-like warrior with too many spikes studding the shoulders of his black armour growled. His angry voice resonated within his horned helmet as he continued "This entire expedition has cost enough already! We were never going to make a profit, and there's no reason to throw good money after bad!"
"I don't think that money will be a problem," the angelic general answered. His black wings rustled as he moved them aside so he could lean against the back of his chair properly. "Warlock! Show them!"
"Yes, master! Immediately, master!" answered a voice from outside. A haggard, long-robed figure blocked out the light from the camp fires pouring in through the doorway. The wizard raised his feet high to step over the goblin corpse with a goblet embedded in its forehead and proceeded towards the table, a crystal ball clutched protectively to the chest. "The dragon, master?" he verified, a servile smile on his face that would not have looked out-of-place on an imp.
The shabbily-dressed magician deposited his scrying device in a central spot on the table, where it lit up as he closed his eyes and started muttering. The other monsters leaned in with expressions ranging from sceptical to curious. Eyes widened and gasps went through the room as they beheld the interior of Mercury's iceberg, where an enormous corpse could have been mistaken for a terrain feature at first glance. Despite her warlocks' best efforts to render the carcass into its valuable component parts, most of the dragon was still intact, and the damage they had done to the blue-and-green-scaled body was insufficient to detract from its awe-inspiring majesty. Even the bile demon stopped chewing for a moment as he beheld the sights in silence.
"Do you not think such a prize would be worthy of our attention?" the dark angel asked into the room, sounding smug.
"Are you insane?" A hooded dark elf jumped up from her chair and slammed her palms on the table. "You want to attack someone who managed to kill that?"
"The priesthood of Azzathra assures me most insistingly that their God places the blame for the creature's death entirely on Keeper Alphel's shoulders. Mercury is simply profiteering from the situation."
"Is that so?" The elf started snickering. "I wouldn't want to be in Alphel's place, then. Consider my objection retracted."
"Good," the black knight chuckled as he rubbed his hands. "We can make a statement by destroying Mercury, and might even make a profit from this yet!"
"Perhaps," the one-eyed crone allowed, "but only if we attack soon. Larger shares of the loot for everyone that way."
"Larger shares of the casualties, too. I would prefer it if we waited for our force to be at full strength," the orc disagreed.
"Don't be a fool! Do you really think the others are still going to show up, now that Wemos is dead?" the old woman mocked and let out a long, dry cackle.
"Who are you calling a fool?" the tall humanoid growled, muscles rippling under his pink skin as he went for his maul and lifted himself from his chair.
"Sit down!" the dark angel thundered. "It is decided. Get your troops ready immediately so we can strike at Keeper Mercury while she is still recovering from her recent battle!" he demanded, standing up as he spoke and casting a long shadow over the assembly. "Go now," he pointed at the exit, "the last Keeper on the Avatar Islands dies today!"
Ami transported herself back into the new command centre, where Cathy was already waiting for her. "All the trolls just left," the blonde announced without hesitation, "fortunately, they didn't make any trouble. Jered was the first to notice that something was wrong."
The weasel-featured man nodded. "I was just looking at the reserves waiting in the back of the room when one of them spat out a false tooth and crushed it in his fist, and that appeared." His dagger-filled bandoleer clattered against his breastplate as he lifted his arm to point at the luminescent apparition that wafted slowly in an unfelt breeze. The human-sized portal looked exactly like the one Marda had opened. "They all just jumped in."
"At least they didn't attack anyone," Ami said with heartfelt relief. The ethereal gateway floating in the far end of the command centre, guarded by three burly reaperbots, worried her deeply. If it was two-way, it could potentially deposit enemies straight within the dungeon. "What about the trolls out on vampire-hunting duties?"
"Same as here. Identical portals in three locations. I marked them on the map for you," Jered reported, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the stone table. "Do you have any idea why they chose this time to desert? What set them off?"
"I can imagine that they don't like our chances against the Underworld army," Cathy commented, crossing her arms. "They stay out of the battle, wait until the army is done and leaves, and then this continent is theirs without raising a hand."
Ami glanced at the location of the other portals and dismissed them as immediate concerns, since all of them were hundreds of kilometres away. "Where are they, anyway?" Ami asked as she dropped a few imps around the portal. On her orders, one jumped into the transparent oval, but passed right through the paper-thin surface without interacting with it. The other two started swinging their picks and digging out a pit underneath the phenomenon. Ami didn't think it would disturb the hovering gate, but at least it would make things harder on uninvited intruders. She turned her head to look at the acolyte who was waiting in the corner. "Snyder, can you activate it?
The redhead scratched the back of his head, messing up his neat bowl cut in the process. "Ah, well, perhaps. In fact, it is likely that I could. This seems to be some kind of hero gate. However, I could only pass through it myself, not keep it open for others. I strongly advise against that," he added nervously. "I would be going in blind, and I do not know what awaits me at the destination."
Ami briefly considered the benefits of sending him through and immediately retrieving him with her Keeper powers to find out where it lead, but almost immediately rejected that option. She had no guarantee that he would remain within range of her transportation ability, and the benefits were not worth the potential risks when she had alternatives that she could try first. "Show me Marda on the scrying screen," she ordered, turning to the closest of the water-backed glass rectangles lining the stone wall.
"Immediately, Keeper," the warlock sitting in front of it confirmed as he put his fingertips against the scrying device's silvery frame. Prompted by his touch, the cloudy fog within cleared to show not only the chainmail-wearing troll female, but also the rest of the missing troops.
"That's not one of the rooms on their island," Ami declared upon seeing the state of the walls. "The bricks are smaller and newer-looking than those in their hideout, and Umbra didn't report anything like that huge design on the ground." With great interest, the blue-haired girl leaned in closer to get a better view of the complex diagram that must have taken days, if not weeks to prepare. "You other warlocks, zoom out further and see if you recognise the landscape, please. I need to know where they are!"
As the magicians muttered affirmations, Ami waved Snyder to her side so he could have a better look at the twenty-six green-skinned creatures positioned in pairs around the arcane pattern. "Snyder, do you recognise what they are doing? It almost looks as if they are praying." For each duo of trolls, one of them was kneeling on the ground with closed eyes, his arms spread and his palms pointing toward the centre of the design, while the other stood behind him, hands resting on his shoulders. Each and every of them seemed focused on the crimson piece of silver-embroidered cloth lying in the very centre of the symmetrical pattern. The mantle of the Avatar, Ami thought, recognising the garment as the one Marda had pilfered from Zarekos' ghost.
"It bears a great resemblance to cleansing rituals, such as would be used to remove the taint of supernatural evil from a victim," Snyder said after observing the preparations. "This particular rite is not familiar to me, unfortunately. I can only assume that such a gap in my knowledge is due to this being a local, specialised variant of a more common ceremony. It may even have been made up on the spot to accommodate the presence of uneducated trolls." The redhead's brown eyes narrowed slightly as he inspected the layered, concentric circles inscribed into the mirror-smooth floor with white-glowing runes. "I am also baffled by the excessive amount of protective wards. They are inverted too, facing inwards. This is counter-productive to a cleansing attempt, since they will prevent the dislodged corruption from dispersing. They will instead trap it with the object that should be purified."
"Makes sense to me, and I'm not the acolyte here," Cathy commented. "Destroying the darkness is better than letting it escape into the environment."
"On this continent?" Snyder raised an eyebrow haughtily, "besides, I cannot think of anything that would warrant this many layers of protection. I assume a fully-powered Keeper could bust out of it, given a few hours, but-"
Ami's eyes widened and glowed a little brighter. "Um, they can't use that against me, can they?" she asked and started to sweat. The memory of Nero's spell was still fresh in her mind, and she didn't want to run afoul of more of that kind of magic.
"Unless you are a demon, you should not be susceptible to specific summoning spells," the redhead said and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Oh, look! Their efforts are starting in earnest."
Lines of glowing white crept inward like water running through furrows and reached the centre of the circles. As soon as the first thread of power touched the folded-up mantle, it recoiled and shot into the air, almost to fast to see. It unfolding in the process, and the trolls flinched as if they had been struck. The red garment fluttered in the air, hovering as if it was draped over invisible shoulders. A crown of black flame, spiky and jagged, slowly circled where a wearer's head would have been. Ami's eyes refused to properly focus on the emptiness caressed by the heavy fabric. Somehow, the nothingness felt painful to look at despite being empty space. "What is that?" she asked, not even noticing that she had lowered her voice to a whisper.
The acolyte shrugged his shoulders in confusion, but Jered took the opportunity to comment. "Whatever it is, it's bad enough to corrode the screen from behind all those wards!" the wavy-haired man muttered, moving his hands to his daggers by reflex. A patch of glass roughly corresponding to the mantle's image was going milky, obstructing the view of the shape within.
Forced to direct her attention elsewhere, Ami noticed the polished ground underneath the hovering cape wither away into sand. With some relief, she saw that the ruin did not cross the interior circle of the warding scheme. Still, the trolls were grimacing and bending over as they struggled to maintain the flow of holy power. In places, the glowing lines were even receding back the way they had come. The mantle moved, and a surge of power dimmed warding runes in a straight line that lead outward from the centre. The troll kneeling in its path keeled over, coughing up blood. Ami thought she caught a glimpse of broken ribs poking out through leathery green skin before the troll behind him rolled him aside so he could take his place. A dispersed, wider push bowled over three of the praying creatures at once, but they stirred a few seconds after their replacements had taken over for them. Ami, as an uninvolved observer, hoped that they were not hurt too much. To her, it looked as if the ritual was succeeding despite the setbacks. Some of the glowing lines were crawling through the air now, reaching like ribbons toward the fluttering mantle. Finally, one of the white bands coming in from behind managed to tag the fabric.
The mantle reacted the moment it felt the touch and whirled around to face the source of the holy energy. This time, Ami was sure she saw a distortion in the air as something invisible raised its arm. Both trolls in the path of the dimming runes went flying, trailing blood from deep lacerations. It was too late for the mantle, though. Where the first streamer of holy energy had touched it, one of the silver designs embroidered into its seams burned with brilliant light. Around it, dirty red flakes loosened in patches, revealing snow-white fabric beneath the coating of crimson. Exploiting the weakness, more ribbons of light struck home, accelerating the process. Ami was reminded of those washing agent TV adds where computer-animated dirt crumbled off magnified threads. In this case, however, the blood-red dirt was not falling to the ground. Instead, it gathered into a sphere underneath the floating crown, growing denser with each passing moment. Before the blob could do more than grow rudimentary arm and leg stumps, though, some critical threshold of cleansed to corrupted fabric was passed. A burst of silver fire consumed the rest of the stain and jumped over to the floating mass, which burned with a darting flame. The hovering crown disappeared last, snuffed out like a candle in the wind.
As the sweat-drenched trolls collapsed to the floor, Marda burst into motion. The rings of her chainmail reflected the last flickers of magic dancing across the diagram as she entered the design and darted toward the falling mantle. She snatched it out of the air before it could hit the ground and turned on one leg, stirring up the dust from the withered floor as she changed direction. In an instant, she was near the motionless form of the first of her warriors who had fallen to the corrupted mantle's attacks. With steady, gentle motions, she draped the garment over the body. To Ami's surprise, the still troll suddenly started coughing. When Marda lifted the mantle a few seconds later, no trace of the seemingly mortal wounds remained, and no blood marred the white cloth. While Ami watched, the troll's leader repeated the process for the other two soldiers who had been wounded during the ritual, with similar success. Was this the power of the Avatar's mantle? She wished hospitals had something like it. Perhaps she could learn how to emulate this power and bring it to her home?
On the screen, Marda was moving again. Ami watched in horrified fascination as the troll woman stripped off her chainmail piece by piece, revealing more and more of her green-skinned body with no concern for modesty. When the last piece clattered to the ground, she took the now pristinely white mantle and draped it over her shoulders. The garment was too long for the stocky troll, but as soon as it settled in place, her form stretched and straightened, flattening out around the chest area and gaining bulk around the shoulders. Marda grew until the silver-runed seam of the mantle no longer touched the ground. Ami gasped in surprise and covered her mouth, blushing deeply. She had gotten so used to the female Marda that she had almost forgotten the troll insisting that she was male. Thus, Marda's gender change only caught her slightly off-guard. The fact that the troll had changed into a short-bearded, human male who looked to be in his early forties came as a complete surprise. She caught a short glimpse of a well-muscled, if malnourished physique before she averted her eyes.
"The hell? She was human all along?" Jered muttered before something else caught his attention "Hey! That new armour the trolls are bringing him looks as if it has been nabbed from our forges! That's-" He fell silent when the man in the vision started glowing. First, his skin appeared only mildly fluorescent, but then the glow ramped up until the screen whited out. "Huh?"
"I have located them!" a triumphant shout came from a dark wizard to the right.
"Already?" With one arm, Ami shielded her eyes against the glare as she squinted at the other screen.
"Well, it's hard to miss," the warlock said with a crooked grin, though his eyebrows curved upward in fright. He tilted his head toward the column of searing white light towering over the horizon as it stabbed into the sky.
"Good job! Cathy, can you mark it on the map please? Cathy?"
The swordswoman stood still like a statue and had gone as pale as the many ghosts that haunted this realm. "Th-that's- It couldn't be..."
King Albrecht woke with a start, roused by the loud bangs against his bedroom door. The monarch rubbed his eyes as he sat up. Through the window, he could see the moon hang low over the horizon. Sunrise seemed to be still a few hours away, and he groaned. Still, his subjects wouldn't wake him if it wasn't urgent. Reluctantly, he got out from underneath the covers and fumbled for his royal slippers on the soft carpet. Of course, he stubbed his toe. "What is it?" he bit out through clenched teeth.
"Your Majesty! The abbot requires your presence! He has urgent news from the Avatar Islands!"
This was enough to drive the sleep from his mind. With great haste, he put on his ermine-edged bathrobe and rushed for the door. Outside, a red-and-white-robed acolyte waited, flanked by two palace guards. "What happened?"
"The Avatar! The Avatar has returned!" the acolyte reported with shining eyes.
"Is that true?" the King's breath caught. "Didn't that devil Mukrezar destroy his powers?"
"Temples all over your Kingdom are reporting his return! It appears that Mukrezar lied," the acolyte blurted out with infectious joy. "We should have put more trust in the power of the Light!"
"That is astoundingly good news indeed," Albrecht agreed with a large smile as he followed the black-haired young man. The return of the champion of Good would rekindle hope in the hearts of all the good folk of the world! "It doesn't sound like the kind of urgent message that requires an immediate audience with the abbot, however?"
"There's more! Our diviners report that Keeper Mercury appeared at his location!"
"What? Get me to the nearest crystal ball, NOW!"
The army of mixed Underworld creatures preparing for battle reeked of fear, and the usual boisterous noise of the camp seemed more subdued than usual. The news their warlocks had relayed a few minutes ago had spread like a wildfire, dealing a huge blow to morale.
"Comrades," a troll with a loud, nasal voice shouted from the top of a broken-off stalagmite that formed a natural stage. Many soldiers paused their activities to look at the greenskin. "No amount of gold could make this assault worthwhile! Not only does Keeper Mercury have a horned reaper," grumbles from the crowd forced him to speak louder, "but now the Avatar is loose there, too, and our illustrious leaders want to go up against that! We all remember what Mukrezar had to do to take him down, and-" he suddenly wrapped his arms around himself and shivered as a cold wind howled around him. It picked up in intensity, snapped off the icicle growing from his nose, and blew him off his perch. With a dull thud, the frozen body landed on the ground and rolled away.
"Don't pay attention to that coward," the black-winged form that had appeared over the crowd shouted. "Continue your preparations."
"Moron. Making himself a target like that," an orc grumbled to his neighbour, a male dark elf with pierced ears.
"Guy had a good point, though," the elf replied. "Especially about Mukrezar."
"Never was good with history," the orc hummed as he leaned down to fasten his bronze greaves. "How did he beat the Avatar?"
"Threw troops at him until the death toll was high enough to consecrate the area to Crowned Death and do a ritual to make his powers gutter out.
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