“Oh, no…” she muttered while realizing that the mountain pass was closed, but then also pondered about how Nom and his people reached Genesis.
“Go right!” Andrew shouted. “Nom knows an another way through!”
She nodded at him and went in the indicated direction, running along the mountain wall. For a second she thought she is imagining things, but when the stone vibrated a second time, she looked behind. The rocks came out of the mountain and slid back in just like a wave, with something advancing inside the giant peak. It passed her at an incredible speed and some yards away it sprung out like a baby from a womb, without leaving any trace of its passing. She expected the stone to explode and massive clouds of dust and pulverized snow to rise, but the creature delicately parted the wall and walked out elegantly on four giant hooves.
The entire Bastion army stopped in its tracks as Esseriss strode out carrying a Fallen with eyes like sapphires glowing in the azure light. The air smelled like fresh soil as a breeze blew Maar’s long hair to the side and reached the group, and Arlo was the only one to step forward and speak.
“You’re blocking the way. Shouldn’t you be somewhere else right now?” she asked with a hint of irony in her voice.
“She tends to do that,” Maar replied, dismounting and walking towards the half-angel.
“I was addressing you, my dark cousin. Isn’t there a Nilithar you’re supposed to protect?”
“The girl is safe, don’t worry. She…” he said jerking his head towards the horse-elemental “wanted me to come here. Why that is, I’m not sure I understand.”
Arlo turned her crimson gaze towards Esseriss and bowed her head and flexed a knee in something that resembled a curtsey.
“Greetings, ancient earth-spirit! Arlo Bloodfire is honoured by your presence.”
And well-met to you, young half-angel. I came with this Fallen one to warn you of great danger! Esseriss said melodically, while her crystal eyes reflected light arrows in all directions. Although it is a terrible thing to ask, I must request that you do not join the battle of Enoch…
“What?!” Thomas exclaimed. “But they will be overrun!” he added extending his hands in Arlo’s direction. “There’ll be a massacre!”
That is indeed a strong possibility, human. But not joining the conflict would mean less victims, less death for the demons to feed on. The dark ones are led by a one who feeds on destruction. The more die, the more powerful he will become.
“I cannot stand idly while innocents are slaughtered!” Arlo shouted, her eyes burning red.
What of the mechanical ones? Aren’t they innocent, half-angel? Esseriss asked.
“She does have a point,” Maar said miserably.
“And you?” Arlo questioned him. “Were you brought here to convince us to keep away?”
He was brought here to make a choice.
“Yes, you keep saying that,” Maar growled. “But you never told me what are my choices.”
Andrew fell to the ground, looking as white as the snow.
“Drew! Drew!” Thomas shouted, shaking him wildly.
“I’m okay…” the mage whispered as a circle formed around him.
“No,” said Ash. “No, you’re not, lad.”
Arlo looked at them then back at the elemental guardian and Maar with anger in her eyes.
“I have no more time to waste here! I don’t care for your prophecies and foreshadowing - we need to leave NOW! So do yourselves a favor and get out of the way!”
Arlo! - the telepathic voice made her jump.
“Tesla?” she asked out loud.
Yes, it’s me. Just listen: do not engage my people. I know how we can solve this. Keep the army away from the Meka!
“But they will be the ones leading the siege on Enoch. I can’t allow that to happen!”
Please, trust me with this. Flank the Fallen army and I will deal with the siege! Go now!
She just stood there, completely blank. The faith of the entire world depended on her choice. Her crimson gaze locked with Maar’s, pleading for an answer. She was feeling the full weight of the burden he carried with him for time immemorial.
“What was the message?” the blue-haired warrior asked calmly.
“…He said we must not attack the Meka, but the Fallen instead. This is horrible!”
“These are my choices, Esseriss? To tell her to attack one or the other?”
You’re fighting skills are not more impressive than your wisdom, young one. But there’s also a third choice: not to enter the battle at all. Whatever you decide, you must act quickly. I will support you all the way, as I am bound by my oath of loyalty.
Maar watched the broken half-angel, then his electric gaze scanned the entire contingent of ragged souls. They looked discouraged and already broken. And then there was those two humans… What were they doing on this plane?
“Hold,” he replied to Esseriss and joined the group tending the mage. He appeared truly ill, pale as one could get with his veins surfacing and turning purple and thin. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked Thomas.
“Drew somehow got us here to help your cause, but he has no anchor to his earhly body. It’s dying and destroying his projected spirit in the process.”
“So… he’s some sort of magician?”
“A wizard, yes. “
“Then he feeds on magic. Just like a vampire would feed on human essence.”
“I think so. I don’t fully understand his spiritual metabolism…”
“I do!” he growled and crouched next to the ill mage, taking his hand and putting it against his own chest. “Feed then, friend.”
Without even realizing he could do it, or even wanting to, flashes of blue light shot forth from the Nephalem and became absorbed by Drew, in the rhythm of his increasing heartbeats. The light rushed through his veins, making them shine like a complicated iridescent exoskeleton. In but moments, the wizard felt like a pure adrenaline had been shot directly into his bloodstream. With great effort, Maar removed his hand and stumbled back, looking quite dizzy, under the surprised eyes of everyone present.
“Wow!” said Drew. “That was amazing! Thank you so much!”
“Don’t mention it,” the Nephalem replied and turned to Esseriss. “Now everyone’s ready. Let’s do this before there’s no need for me to act.”
Have you decided?
“I did. And I choose neither. We will do this right. Listen up!” he ordered the mass of troops. “I am Maar of the Fallen Nephalem! And I’ve been fighting for so long to fulfill the prophecy of the Nilithar, I forgot what this was all about. It’s about freedom! It’s about casting aside all those who wish to control us! …I refuse to be controlled any longer! And I refuse to pick an option the Universe throws at me! That’s why, right now, we will march to Enoch and hit the ones that who really deserve it!”
“Wait a damn second!” Nom interceded. “I lead Bastion and none of these men and women will follow you just like that. What makes you believe I would even consider following a Fallen Nephalem?”
“Because,” Maar replied smiling. “When I said ‘we’ I didn’t mean your people, nobble one. I plan to go avoid all unnecessary combat - I need a few volunteers with me to help the Nilithar. If Innanna is freed, there will be no need for bloodshed. Arlo! You come with me! I’ll need you to hold off your brethren. They must not attack the Fallen.”
“Yes,” she said confused but happy with his plan. “Sounds good.”
“Good! Whoever else wishes to join us, is welcome to do so!”
“We’re with you,” Drew said and acknowledged the nod Thomas shared with him.
“We’re coming too,” Ash grumbled, poked by Mona.
“Then I will join as well,” Nom said silently. “I can’t have any of Bastion’s people fight our battle while I just watch.”
A loud rumble came from the army behind. Shouts of disapproval and concern overwhelmed the group. Maar stepped and and rose his hands in the air.
“Stop! Hear me out! This is the best plan we have!”
“No way we’re standing idle while Nom fights!” came a shout.
“Yes! We will not let him battle alone! I want to come too!” shouted another one.
“Looks like another puzzle,” Drew told Maar, joining him. “But consider this: why don’t you split the troops?”
“He’s right, Thomas confirmed. We can go in, secret agent style, while Nom leads the bulk of troops on a diferent front. Or at least stand by as back-up.”
“You are wise, warrior. Are you a strategist on Earth?” Maar asked.
“No,” Drew responded for Thomas with a smile on his lips. “But he’s the best damn chess player I’ve seen. You should consider his advice.”
“Very well then!” the Fallen said decisively. “Nom, you will lead your men to Enoch and observe the outcome of our effort. If needed be, attack the demon. We will go straight in.”
“No offense, lad,” Ash interrupted. “But how are we going through the blockade? There be your people, the Meka and the High who I’m sure won’t just open up their gates just to let us run in.”
“We’re not going through,” Maar said with a playful smile on his lips and jerked his chin at Esseriss: “We’re going under!”