Chrono Shift Chapter 16

Shadow In The Desert

By Tool23X

It was very cold, and exceptionally dark, and a heavy layer of snow coated the ground. It was much deeper than one would estimate simply by glancing at the surface, and soft enough to allow objects to sink several inches into the sheets of frozen powder. There were no sources of light whatsoever in this mysterious place, not so much as a single faint star, making it impossible to even see the hand in front of one's face. This indicated the likeliness that a heavy cloud cover rested overhead. A shrill wind filled the air, howling with torrid ferocity as it swept across the ground, and blowing up drifts of snow, blanketing the landscape continuously.

Other than that, Seraph had absolutely no information about her surroundings. Her location, as well as the location of anyone who could potentially help her, remained a complete mystery. The young girl, still shaken from the recent events and trying to clear her head, brushed the cold frost off her dress as picked herself off the ground. She remembered the past few days quite vividly, but so much had happened that it was difficult to piece everything together. She felt extraordinarily fatigued, and found it impossible to concentrate on any one task.

"Augur…" Seraph whispered quietly, her soft voice being drowned out by the howling winds. "I've got to find Augur. He'll know what to do…" The girl took a hesitant step forward, and then stopped suddenly. She had no direction in which to travel, no information about where to go, and no landmarks from which she navigate. It was too dark to see, much less search for someone. Seraph held out her hand, hoping she wasn't too fatigued to make use of her magic. In an instant, a combustible exploded within her hand, and a blazing fire filled the area in the vicinity of her palm. The frozen ground beneath Seraph began flickering with a vibrant orange glow, and air was highlighted by the same light being given off by the flame in her hand. Seraph herself was shrouded in the bright shimmer of her makeshift torch. With her newfound visibility, she observed her surroundings, carefully looking over jagged brownish rocks which spiked out of the otherwise snow-covered earth. She also appeared to be on a trail, leading slightly uphill through a clearing. After a short deliberation, Seraph chose to follow the path through the ascending foothill, slowly trudging up the knoll while she desperately searched for signs of life in a desolate world.

Candor's experience was far from pleasant, as a set of difficulties hindered any progress she might make in her strange environment. Most prominent, she had severe aches all over her body, and there was a growing pain in her head. Other than that, she was troubled by the same issues that Seraph faced: She had no idea what had happened, where she was, or how she would get herself out of this mess.

It didn't take Candor long to locate an old tree limb laying on the ground, it's wood saturated with damp snow. Despite its general wetness, she managed to light it on fire. Soon afterward she planted the other end in the ground, giving her an overhead lantern from which to work with. If her predictions were right, someone would see the light in the middle of nowhere and come to investigate. With any luck, that person would be Seraph or Augur, or possibly Magus, or maybe even Gunner. She just wanted to make contact with someone that was on her side.

While she waited, Candor silently sat in the snow, deep in the thoughts that had been recently plaguing her. She had taken a severe beating from the battle with Nadir, partially from the physical attacks that had landed on her, but more-so from the deadly spectral magic which he had used. Candor was alone and afraid in the dark, very fatigued from fighting, and the world around her contained nothing but ambiguity.

Worse still, she had spent her whole life studying the concepts and theorems of magic, all to have her beliefs shattered by the powers of some mysterious foe. Everything she had been taught about the origins of magic had been a flat out lie. The existence of the spectral magic destroyed the myth of the Legend of Mammon. The spectral energy was supposed to have been used to seal away the great evil during the Dark War, but instead a great evil was using the prism energy in an attempt to destroy all humanity. Everything Candor had ever believed in turned out to be another falsehood, and in the despair of her failure and shortcomings, she dropped to the frozen earth, buried her face in her hands, and wept bitterly.

It was all just smoke and mirrors. Everything turned out to be yet another misconception or disillusion. Nothing added up, and it seemed to Candor that someone, or quite possibly something, had taken extreme caution to hide the truth from humanity. It was as if a shroud had been pulled over their eyes to blind them from reality. Regardless, the tired woman lost her train of thought when something caught the corner of her eye. Looking up from her crouched position in the snow, Candor saw a flickering of orange light not unlike her own fire. After a second of disbelief of her good fortune, she stood up and began waving her arms in the air.

"Augur? Augur!" Candor yelled, hoping to catch the attention of whoever held the distant flame. When she received no response, she attempted a different approach. "Seraph! Is that you? Can you hear me?" Unfortunately for Candor, she couldn't figure out who the person was, and her words were obviously not reaching the person.

The screams of Candor were lost somewhere in the howling winds of the bitter night, because Seraph never heard the shouting. After reaching a plateau in her climb, however, Seraph saw the light of a fire in the distance. Without even thinking, Seraph began rushing toward the source of light. "Candor! Augur!" she yelled at the top of her lungs as her feet sunk into the snow with each rapid step. "I'm coming!"

It was impossible to judge distances with the absence of landmarks beyond her sphere of light, and Seraph soon lost track of how long she had been running. All she knew was that sooner or later she would come across the flame, and she was getting closer with every step forward. Normally, Seraph would've become exhausted from this type of vigorous exercise, especially because of the uphill ascent, but right now she had no thought other than reaching the person by the fire as quickly as she could.

After an eternity had passed, and her breathing had become heavy, Seraph finally heard a voice break through the violent wind. Though the words were still indiscernible, the tone of the voice was quite recognizable. She had found Candor, and she knew that she couldn't be far away anymore. At long last, she collapsed to the ground at the feet of her former teacher, breathing heavily.

"Candor," the winded girl began. "I felt so alone. Thank God I found you!" Candor dropped to her knees to comfort Seraph.

"I know, Seraph," her mentor condoled. "I felt the same way. I was scared too."

Seraph looked up for a brief second. "Where's Augur? You haven't seen him?"

"Unfortunately, I haven't," Candor sighed. "But right now, I'm just happy that you're safe. At least we're in this thing together. I'm sure that Augur's all right, he knows how to take care of himself. We'll find him eventually." At least I hope so, Candor added silently.

"What about the others?" was Seraph's next question.

"You're the first one I've seen, and quite frankly, I'm glad," came the reply. "I have no desire to meet up with that Nadir guy again, and Gunner and Magus are both arrogant jerks. Although, I do admit that they'd make me feel a little safer right now …"

"It doesn't matter, Candor. We've been through so much…" Seraph declared. Her gaze met with the older woman for a long time. Finally, Seraph picked herself off the ground, opened her arms wide, and gave Candor a tender hug. "I'm so glad I found someone," the girl sniffled, a long tear dripping off the end of her cheek.

"I know, Seraph. I know," Candor replied, hugging her good friend and former student back. "Everything's gonna be all right now. We're together. And we're gonna find Augur, too."

Augur stood on a cliff, gazing backward at a snow covered mountain in the middle of a bitterly cold midnight. He stood on a rocky overhang only a few feet thick, and that slab of rock was the only thing that existed between him and the surface of the earth, more than a mile below. There was a lone tree, naked and likely dead, standing off to his side. Amazingly, although there was no source of food which it could grow on, the flora had somehow survived in the middle of a tundra for long enough to reach adulthood.

Augur turned around and peered over the cliff, staring into a much more disturbing sight. At the bottom of the mountain, an incalculable distance straight downward on the massive crag, stood an inexplicable phenomenon. There was a hole in the earth, and though Augur wasn't a good judge of distances, the diameter of the crater had to be at least the size Zeal Kingdom had once been. It was miles and miles across, large enough to be seen from anywhere on this side of the planet.

The crater appeared to be fresh, and some sort of activity occurred had recently occurred. There was a pit in which Augur couldn't see into because of his angle above the depression in the ground. The entire crown of the crater shimmered in a bright red, making it appear to be a molten volcano erupting as it dripped lava out its porous sides. Whatever had caused the scar on the face of the earth had probably dug its way far enough into the crust to break entirely through the hard crust and into the magma innards of the planet.

There was something else about the crater that made Augur feel uncomfortable. Some sort of dark energy hung between the falling snowflakes, saturating in the atmosphere around him like humidity after a warm summer rain. He could feel the black forces on all sides, assaulting his mind in some unseen form of evil. Strangely, the sensation felt familiar to him, and he knew that he had experienced the same dark energy somewhere before.

Yes, Augur had experienced this same feeling about five years ago, when Zeal underwent a series of destructive changes. It was the same shadow magic that had destroyed half the kingdom and separated the floating island into four smaller entities. It was the power of Lavos. Augur recognized it clearly after no more than a brief moment of thought. Lavos had some sort of influence in this world. He likely had rained a great devastation on the world when he emerged from his hibernation at the earth's core. The crater was the pathway used to enter the surface world, the throne the parasitic beast had been situated upon whilst he reigned the over dead planet.

Augur didn't know his whereabouts, but he did know that the world had been killed, and it had been killed because of his failure. He had spent the entire time since he regained consciousness wallowing in his own self pity. Augur spent his time deep in thought, reflecting on the battle with Nadir, realizing that he had come up empty handed. He had been miserably defeated, Nadir had obtained the Chrono Shift, and the world had been destroyed because of his incompetence.

"Ten years of my life," Augur reminisced, while allowing his toes to creep over the edge of the cliff he stood on. "Ten years, now gone… I took the ultimate sacrifice by coming back from the dead, and dedicated all this time to a cause. All it led to was complete failure. Now I'm stranded in the middle of nowhere, lost in a destroyed timeline, and the world has no hope. And it's all my fault!"

Augur had set his mind to a single frequency. It was thousands of feet to the bottom of the cliff at a bare minimum, a drop large enough to kill any man who jumped. It would certainly be enough for him to end his own worthless existence. And with one more simple step, Augur could rid himself of the pain he had caused the world, and forget the life which now bore a great shame. He could already feel the cold grasp of the reaper.

"My soul has become my second body. If I die, there'll be no afterlife for me. I'll be sentenced to spend forever in the depths of the Tesseract. I'll be stuck in a limbo of nonexistence, a worse fate than any hell…" Augur said aloud, remembering the words of the gods which had plagued him for ten years. He was tired of struggling.

Why is it so hard for me to take that final step off the cliff? Do all who take their own lives hesitate before committing themselves to the deed? Why am I stuck in this state of reflection, when I have nothing I wish to reflect upon?

Death Peak…

Augur didn't know where the words had come from, but they stuck in his head. It was a perfect name for the place, especially in his current state of mind. He didn't plan on spending too much more time here, however. Augur lifted his left foot off the ground, and felt his balance shift forward, gravity pulling him toward the chasm. The left foot now dangled over the edge of the cliff, hanging there without a companion. All Augur had to do now was lean forward, and nature would take care of the rest.

"Seraph, what's that up there?" Candor asked, pointing to the shadowy outline of a figure in the distance. It was barely visible in the darkness of the night, but the orange glow from their torches allowed them limited vision.

Seraph's eyes followed Candor's finger to what appeared to be some sort of overhang. "It looks almost like a person. You think it could be…" She trailed off, voice somewhat hopeful.

"Augur? What's he doing?" Candor wondered, before suggesting "I suppose we should go up and talk to him." With that, Candor slowly jogged up the slope toward the figure, cupping her hands around her mouth, and yelling, "Augur!?" Seraph wasted no time in doing the same.

Augur put his suicide attempt on hold briefly when he heard voices from behind shouting his name. His foot crept slowly back onto the edge of the rocky cliff, and he rotated his body so he could see where the voices had originated. It didn't take long to recognize the figures rushing towards him. Seraph and Candor had somehow survived the incident at the Ocean Palace as well, and had found their way to the same place he had. Still, their appearance wouldn't change the situation. Augur just found it a little harder to kill himself with his friends watching.

Seraph was the first to react to Augur's unusual position at the top of the cliff. "Augur, watch out! You're too close to the edge!"

"Stay back, Seraph. I don't want you to get involved in this," Augur calmly responded.

"Huh?" Seraph asked.

"I'm going to end this all right now. I've got no reason to keep going," Augur explained.

"Wait… What!?" Seraph gasped, quite stunned. "You're going to… jump? Augur, don't do it! You'll be killed!"

"That's the whole point, Seraph."

"No… Augur… Think about what you're doing," Candor interjected, still trying to get a grasp on the situation. "It's not worth it! You've got too much going for you!"

"Candor, you know I've always had a great deal of admiration for you, so with all due respect… Are you even thinking about what the hell you're saying?" Augur demanded. "What exactly do I have to live for? Take a look around you, Candor. We've failed, in every aspect of our mission. Nadir now has the Chrono Shift, the world has been destroyed, and it won't be long until the human race has been wiped from the pages of history. We don't know where the hell we are, how far away any sign of life is, or how we're going get out of here. The only thing we know is that it's over, and we've lost. So tell me, Candor. Tell me exactly what I have going for me. I'd just love to know!"

"You've got us, Augur. Isn't that something?" Candor replied.

"It's nice to have someone to talk to, yes. But that doesn't change what's happened. I'm a disgrace, and I don't deserve to be here," Augur sniveled.

"What does that mean for us?" Candor shouted. "Do we deserve to be here, or is it just you who has been disgraced."

"You should never have had anything to do with this!" Augur bellowed. "It was my mistake in pulling you two into my fantasy of heroism, because all I did was ruin your lives along with mine!"

Seraph was growing irritated. "Fine, Augur. Is that the way you see the world? 'Cause if so, then I'm coming with you!"

Augur took a step back from the edge of Death Peak. "You don't want to do that, Seraph. You don't want to follow in my footsteps."

"Why shouldn't I?" Seraph demanded. "Like you said, we've got nothing to live for, no hope for the future, and we've failed! I see no reason why I shouldn't end my life along with you."

Augur's eyes widened slightly with an astonishment, and he took another few steps away from the cliff. "Seraph, please… Don't do this to yourself. You don't want to be like me," he whispered.

"You see?" Seraph screeched. "You see what you're putting me through? Don't you do this to me, you asshole!"

Augur remained silent for quite some time. Finally, Candor broke the tension. "Augur, you say Nadir has the Chrono Shift. If he had it, wouldn't we all be dead already?" Augur was silent. "You see," Candor continued, "there is hope. If we can find out where we are, which should be as easy as waiting for daylight, we'll be well on our way."

"Besides," Seraph added, "Are you going to let that punk get away with the beating he gave you? Or are you going to act like the Augur I know, the one I admire, and strike back with as much intensity as you can? I've known you my whole life, and not once have you simply laid down and allowed yourself to be beaten. If you're still the man you used to be, then you're sure as hell not gonna give up on this one."

"Seraph, I've always had a bit of an ego," Augur admitted. "I make myself out to be greater than I really am. This Nadir, he's more powerful than anything I've ever seen."

"Augur, you've got good on your side," Candor reassured. "Nadir is inherently evil. You can't let evil win, Augur."

"I'm not so sure that he's really evil, Candor," Augur stated. "I mean, what really makes a man evil? Is it simply the cause he chooses? Because he follows a belief contradictory to what others accept?"

"Murder isn't a cause, Augur. It's just murder," Seraph explained. "What Nadir is planning is even worse: Genocide. And I, for one, ain't gonna let him get away with it. So you can make your choice, Augur. But I'm going after him, whether you're with me or not."

Augur gazed down towards the snowy earth, too ashamed of himself to stare into her eyes. "You… don't understand," he glumly admitted.

"Don't understand what?" Seraph demanded, somewhat harshly.

Augur took a deep breath of the cold air, and shuddered as the icy vapors entered his lungs and chilled his entire body. "When I was a little kid," Augur began, his voice shaky and quivering. He had a slight twitch in his upper lip. "I always dreamed of being some kind of warrior, to be a hero. I suppose every kid dreams of that when they're young. With all the legends about heroes and warriors and such, who wouldn't want a piece of the glory? Well, I was different from everybody else, because as they grew older, they all abandoned the delusions of grandeur when they realized they weren't plausible. Not me. I always thought that life had something special in store for me, that I really would get my chance to prove myself as a hero."

"Okay," Seraph said, simply to acknowledge that she was listening to his tale.

"Well, I had my chance," Augur continued. "I had an opportunity to become a hero. I was given a chance to save the world… to save the future! But I screwed it up. I failed. And now it's over. I've already had my shot, Seraph. And I just can't do it! I…" his voice trailed off into the frozen night as he spoke. Finally, he finished, "I can't be the hero."

"Augur, a hero doesn't have to be a legendary warrior, or a savior, or miracle worker," Seraph proclaimed. "All someone has to do to be a hero is to make a difference in someone else's life. Then, to that person, the difference maker is their personal hero."

"What are you getting at?" Augur asked impatiently.

"You've made a difference in my life, Augur," Seraph announced. "To me, Augur, you're already a hero. And it doesn't matter to me that you couldn't protect the Chrono Shift. I was there, too. I couldn't protect it, either. So I failed every bit as much as you did. And you know what? Whether you care to admit it or not, you're life made a difference to the world."

"Augur," Candor finally interrupted. "It's getting cold out. What you decide to do here, and now, is what matters most. So what are you going to do, Augur? Are you going to give up, or are you going to fight? We've already made up our minds about going after Nadir. What we need to know is whether you're with us. Please help us out, Augur, because we can't do this all by ourselves."

"Augur…" Seraph pleaded, sounding sincere and a little bit frenzied. "Do it for me, Augur… I need your help, because I don't think I can make it without you, fighting alongside me, struggling for the future with me. I'm asking you, Augur, don't leave me alone!"

There was a long, ensuing silence. Finally, Augur spoke, "Okay, I'm with you."

Augur, Candor, and Seraph had all been sitting around a magical campfire for at least an hour, calming their tensions and simply talking. The mood was still quite somber, and long silences were periodic, but the atmosphere was quite obviously beginning to change. Laughs came a little more easily, even though the topics of the conversations were typically serious.

Augur had begun conversation with a description of the things he had seen while staring over the edge of Death Peak, from the massive reddish crater to the sensations of energy he felt coursing throughout his body. Naturally, this sent Seraph and Candor to the top of the cliff to get a look themselves, to validate Augur's testimony. Augur remained behind, not wishing to witness the horrid sight again, and silently waited until the two girls came back with confirmation. When they walked back, gloomy and rather awestruck, Candor asked where everyone thought we were.

"What perplexes me the most," Candor began, "is that when we were sucked into that bluish portal after we fought with Nadir, we were obviously transported someplace else. How did we get from the bottom of the ocean to the top of a mountain?"

"That portal was some sort of a gateway," Seraph said. "And if everything Augur preaches in his usual revelations about the gods and such is true, then it's possible that history has changed."

"You've got it all mixed up," Augur corrected. "If history has changed so drastically, then either we wouldn't be here right now, or something else took effect along with it. All we know is that we're somewhere we weren't before, and things exist that didn't exist before."

"You mean like that giant volcanic crater at the bottom of the mountain?" Candor assumed. "I can't describe it, but I felt some sort of evil trying to get into me when I looked at it. It was an odd energy, but something I know I've felt before, somewhere."

"Lavos?" Augur guessed. "Because that's what came to my mind when I was standing up there. I don't know what that thing's doing here, but I have a feeling we're a long way from Zeal."

"That horrible power…" Seraph trailed off. "That kind of evil is something I never want to be associated with ever again! Why can't the world just be at peace with itself?"

"That actually brings up a question I asked a little earlier," Augur said. "What really does make someone evil? Are some people born this way, or is it a result of life experiences?"

Candor began to chuckle slightly, "Ah, the famous Nature vs. Nurture question. This has been debated for centuries."

"Well," Augur started. "What's your take on it, Candor?"

"It's a very difficult question. Personally, I like to believe that everyone has good in them, or that they have the potential to be good. Think about it: The gods are supposed to make the best of their citizens, otherwise it seems like a failure for them. Why would the gods want to create a world of sociopathic heathens?"

"So you're in the Nurture category?" Augur inferred.

"You can see people's actions change towards the dark side of things after their beliefs change, or when traumatic occurrences happen in that person's life," Candor explained. "Yeah, I think it's fair to say that evil is a learned practice."

"I don't agree with you, Candor," Seraph declared. "I look at people like Nadir, or even Magus, and know that I could never be like them."

"How do you know, if you've never walked in their footsteps," Augur asked.

"I'm not like them," Seraph answered. "I can't explain it, but I just know…"

"So maybe evil's in the eye of the beholder," Augur said. "I'm sure Nadir is exactly the same as all those other lunatics, killing in the name of God, because what they believe they're doing is God's work. In his mind, he's justified, but to him, the rest of us are evil."

"Well, personally, we can argue logistics and theories and viewpoints all day," Seraph said. "We'll never really know if it is a question of nature, or one of nurture. But when it comes down to it, that person always has to make a choice. There's a line crossed when someone decides to destroy, or maim, or murder in cold blood, and not one that's crossed easily. When the person makes the choice, they have to know that what they're doing is an unnatural act, even if they don't view it as a sin. Killing isn't like taking a walk down the street. You don't do it simply because you feel like it."

"Interesting, Seraph." Augur applauded. "That actually makes a lot of sense."

"Well, Augur, can I ask you a question for once?"

"Sure," Augur said.

"You know back there in the Ocean Palace when Gunner asked me if I was your girlfriend?" she hinted subtly.

"Yeah, what of it?" Augur responded.

"You simply said that we were good friends," Seraph quoted. "Why?"

Augur thought carefully about his response for a few seconds. "I guess I just wasn't sure what you'd want me to say about us… and, well, I decided to play it safe." After another pause in the conversation, Augur continued, "Why? Did you want me to say we were a couple?"

"No!" Seraph blatantly proclaimed. Then, shying slightly away from Augur, with her cheeks flushed red, she admitted, "Well, maybe…"

This surprised Augur, "I always thought that you thought of our date as nothing more than a date that night. That our intimate kisses were nothing more than customary. I guess I was wrong…"

Seraph smiled softly in the pale light of the fire, inched noticeably closer to Augur, and slid her hand across his, "So you have feelings for me, too?" Augur looked up, his gaze meeting Seraph in the eyes. No words were said, the two simply stared back at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Seraph again arced her lips upward in a smile, and this time, Augur smiled back.

Their tender moment was interrupted briefly when the sound of Candor's voice penetrated the air. In their infatuation with each other, Augur and Seraph hadn't even realized she had snuck away and taken another peek at the volcanic crater at the bottom of the mountain. Now, she hurried down the slope toward their resting area in a panicked state of frenzy, shouting and spewing incoherent phrases.

"Candor, slow down!" Seraph suggested. "What are you trying to say?"

"Come up to the peak!" Candor announced. "Something's happening to the crater!"

"What?" Augur yelled. Looking back at Seraph, he simply said, "Let's go." The two were on their feet instantly, rushing up the snowy cliff in the dark of night, following Candor to the top of Death Peak. The journey wasn't the least bit tiresome or drawn out in their heightened state of anxiety, and in no time they were standing at the very edge, peering over at the phenomenon occurring below. Strong gusts of wind assaulted the group, and the cold, rushing air stung their pale faces, but they paid no attention to it.

The sight below was quite incredible. Before, a molten mass had covered most of the area on the inside of the crater, but now there was an empty, hollow pit in its place. A tremendous rumbling from deep inside the earth continuously grew louder, and pieces of the planet began to crack open. Stretching outward from the volcanic cavern were spider-veins of lava rivers, breaking off into tributaries and crossing each other in a pattern of death and destruction reaching as far as the eye could see. The yellow-orange glow erupting from the earth's mantle flooded the lands and scorched the face of the planet. Piles of stones, large enough to be visible miles away, were shot high into the air as they were spewed by eruptions. In their place, layers upon layers of molten rock filled in the cavities created when the boulders were displaced by the explosions.

Augur felt strong tremors emerge from underneath the mountain, and he was immediately thrown to his back. Had he fallen the opposite way, he would have tumbled to the base of the mountain, where he'd have been swallowed by the expanding see of lava now flooding the earth. It didn't take long before Seraph and Candor dropped to the ground as well, also lucky to have avoided a disastrous death. Still, too intrigued by the events below, they crawled forward on their stomachs to get another view of Armageddon.

There was some sort of mound being created where the volcanic crater had once been. Instead of a deep depression in the surface, a glimmering reddish pile of cooling magma slowly built itself upward. Without warning, jagged edges ousted themselves from the structure, forming a spine-encrusted tower at the origin of the devastation. The menacing edges of the porcupine-shaped structure glinted menacingly with the faces of death.

Just as suddenly as the first spiked tower had risen from the ground, a second and third erected themselves at somewhat odd angles, their forms slowly molding into defined structures. In the far distance, even more of these peculiar high-rises shot high into the air, until it became a common occurrence to see several of them grouped closely together. Hundreds upon hundreds of the towers, gleaming with the red glint of apocalypse. They stretched out for miles in all directions, each one standing at a slightly different angle, eventually fading into nothingness beyond the horizon.

"That evil energy! It's overwhelming me!" Seraph screamed.

"Lavos? It can't be!" Candor reasoned. "There are thousands of them!"

No sooner than Candor had made that statement, a lone scream cried out from the middle of the city of spiked towers. The cry of pain and torment shook the heavens, causing the earth to tremor in agony. The gurgled, familiar cry of Lavos slowly faded into the night, until a second, nearly identical scream replaced it. A third scream of the same sound rang from a position far to the left, which was soon drowned out by a chorus of cries from the opposite side. Soon, they were surrounded by a concert of overlapping, deafening screams that split the eardrums and sang the anguished song of hell.

"The lavae are everywhere! Unbelievable!" Augur shouted.

"Lavos must've created a nest of offspring… millions of spawns…" Candor gasped.

The cries of the lavos spawns were slowly dying out, soon replaced by an immense detonation from inside one of the spiny towers. The tower was blown to pieces, replaced by nothing more than high velocity shards of jagged debris, imbedding themselves into the molten ground or other towers. Out of the top of the structure, however, a small, thorny sphere was propelled by the blast of the explosion high into the atmosphere, where it eventually disappeared the darkness of the eternal night. Another detonation sounded behind them, followed by few more off to the far side. All the lavae were following their leader, their towers exploding and the creatures themselves being blasted off into space. Augur, Seraph, and Candor were caught in the midst of a million reddish streaks, extending outward to the heavens as the lavos spawns began their destructive journey.

"So they just send their offspring to the far corners of the universe, to repeat the process," Seraph gasped. "It can't end like this!"

"They… They lied to me! Tajj, you said that Lavos had been destroyed in the far off future!" Augur cursed to the god that had forsaken him. "Damn you! Damn you all, you lying bastards! You put me through all that work, knowing I was doomed to fail!"

The air around them began to waver with the vast amounts of accumulated energy circulating in the molecules. Everything became blurry and distorted, as if looking at a reflection through rippling water. Then, from the same general area where the original volcanic crater had been, a new disturbance emerged. It was quite similar to the bluish portal that had sucked up the three heroes when they finished their battle at the Ocean Palace. The exploding radiance of swirling light tugged at them with an intense gravity, the way other had at the sunken Black Omen. The only difference was that this portal contained an eerie swirl of reds, whereas the other had been a bluish color. The other issue was that the blue portal had only filled the size of the chamber at the bottom of the underwater castle, but his red portal seemed to be engulfing the whole planet, swallowing it mercilessly.

The expanding red portal lifted large sections of the earth straight out of the ground, ripping the chunks of rocks to pieces and consuming them wholly as they slid beneath the translucent cloud of energy. Beneath the shrouded mask of the portal, large firestorms exploded outward from the center of the planet, creating an upsurge of fiery molten nickel that sprayed its contents across the land. The rocky sections of the Earth's crust were caught in the shower of hot, liquid metal. Here, they either melted into the molten fluid of the bleeding planet, or burst inside the bright, orange fountain of lava, sending their fragments hurdling through the air at every conceivable angle.

The magma blasts flared outward in an advancing wall of fire and rock, blowing the world apart section by section as the annihilation devoured more of the planet. The whole time, the enormous red portal, livid with transfusing distortions, stayed ahead of the hole in the Earth. The colossal pillar of molten rock, visible just behind the shield of the ominous red portal, approached Death Peak at increasingly swifter velocities.

It would have been impossible to guess how far away Augur, Candor, and Seraph were from the quickly advancing portal, nor was it really important. At a distance well over several hundred feet, however, the intense gravity pulling from the center of where all the destruction had begun finally overwhelmed them. The magnitude of the pull dragged Augur along the ground at the top of the mountain, leaving a trail of displaced snow where his body had slid over, and a cloud of white powder in the air behind him. Augur was sucked right off the edge of the cliff, where he tumbled helplessly through the air. He fell, but not downward. Instead, he was falling sideways, towards the gravity pit somewhere inside the eerie reddish portal. For what may have been as much of a quarter of a mile, Augur floated toward the spherical gateway at increasing speeds, until he crashed through the outer layers of the churning illumination.

Candor didn't even have time to react. Immediately after the portal had swallowed Augur, the pull of the gravity lifted her clear off the ground, as if a hand had reached out and grabbed her. She, too, began tumbling head over feet in a sideways fall toward the growing pit of the portal. Candor shot into the center of the portal like an arrow, penetrating the layers of energy waves easily until she disappeared from the world forever.

Seraph had managed to stay on Death Peak by clutching the lone tree on the mountain and holding on for dear life. With the portal behind her, Seraph's feet were lifted off the ground, and she simply dangled sideways from the tree, as the energy sphere attempted to pry her hands loose from the rough bark. The force of the phenomenon still grew stronger, even to the point where the reddish hues dimmed close to black, because not even light was managing to escape the intense gravity. With the severe distortions of the light spectrum, the entire world lost its recognizable shape. The force of the constant pulling from behind was having a negative effect on Seraph's brain, and she began to hallucinate strangely. Still, for the moment, Seraph was escaping disaster.

Until the tree snapped in half. Both Seraph and the dead plant were shot off the cliff like a rocket, plummeting deep within the portal until they were lost in the infinity of the unknown. A few seconds later, the portal swallowed the entire mountain, and Death Peak was covered with the bizarre red energy. Then, the explosions of magma hit. Erupting from deep within the core of the Earth, the incredible heat assimilated the snow on the mountain instantly. Immediately afterward, one of the enormous fiery bombs from the Earth's mantle detonated inside the mountain. Death Peak, a thousand times the size of the former Kingdom of Zeal, literally shattered. Untold billions upon billions of rock shards, none larger than the size of a coin, ricocheted off each other as the intense fires of the planet's core digested them. In the space of a single second, a mountain among the tallest in the world had been reduced to a molten mass of condensed, melted orange sludge, entirely collapsed under its own weight beneath the cover of the still expanding portal, which would seemingly go on forever.

Muffled underneath the rocky layers of the Earth, as well as the sound of the explosions, came the final agonized scream of Lavos. Lavos had spent his last 65 million years waiting for this moment, when he would send his offspring out into space and finally destroy the planet. He had rose to the surface a millennium ago, in the human year 1,999 AD, to destroy the civilization the humans had built, and to kill of the spirit of the planet. It was all in the purpose of making the Earth a perfect breeding ground for his spawns. The population of lavae increased a million-fold, all in preparation of the moment of the Earth's final destruction, when the lavos spawns would leave their home world in an effort to find other planets to infect. It was the cycle of life, and nothing was better adapted than the Lavae. It seemed almost as if they had been perfected by some divine power to carry out their purpose.

The final cry of Lavos rang on, as the Earth finally collapsed under the power of the limitless explosions and the constant hollowing of its insides. The billions of tons of rocks all collided at the center, where Lavos had made his home. Feeling the pinch of the extreme weight, Lavos sighed, admitting his life had finally come to a close, and released his final attack. The remains of the dead planet were quickly devoured by an intense white flash which, for at least a moment, glimmered more brightly than even the sun. Then, the Earth exploded in a great blast, sending its debris to the far corners of the star system. In less than a seconds time, flying chunks of rock from the former planet collided into the first moon at speeds well exceeding light. An infinite number of craters were dug into the face of the satellite until the entire front side of the white moon was corroded away from the multitude of catapulting particles. The smaller red moon was currently in position behind the white one, and escaped most of the damage, until a chunk of the Earth the size of a small continent was swung around by the first moon's gravity. It made a parabolic arc around the circumference of the white moon, and slammed directly into the center of the red one. The smaller moon exploded into about fifteen major pieces, with smaller particles floating in the wake of the destruction. Some of these floated outward, into the vastness of space, while others were shot backward, slamming into the back side of the first moon. Already damaged, the white moon also cracked into several pieces and broke apart. Now, anything with even a relative proximity to the Earth had been obliterated.

After it was all over, and the sounds of rocks breaking apart had faded, the final agonized scream of Lavos forever echoed throughout the universe. The resonance would linger for into infinity, like the presence of a ghost haunting its grave in the cemetery.

Chapter 17

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