Finally, we conclude Chapter 1 of Scars of the Sundering, book one: Malediction with our fifth preview. Good thing May has five Fridays! It’s almost as though I planned the whole thing.
Pancras realized Kale was in trouble when he caught a glimpse of the little drak dangling by his ankle but knew if he broke his concentration to help his friend, the magic he manipulated to seal the rift would be ruined and he would have to start over.
He repeated the words, over and over, pouring every bit of arcane energy he could gather into the rift. “Stenee pyealee, stenee pyealee.” He wasn’t sure the ritual would work. His experience with magical portals was limited to his knowledge of the portal in Drak-Anor. With the help of Delilah, he spent the last several years studying it off and on, and though he never tried to close it, he was confident he knew the theory behind the process, a theory he had, until now, not tested.
Kale sailed past him through the air and into the rift. Pancras’s heart skipped a beat, and it took all his effort to concentrate on the task at hand. If Kale was inside the rift when he sealed it, he would be trapped in the elemental chaos for eternity. He knew, however, leaving the rift open was far more dangerous to more than just one drak. It pained him to admit it, but closing the rift was worth the life of one drak or even all three of them.
The air crackled as lighting arced across the room. The kaleidoscopic colors gave Pancras a headache. He saw no sign of Kale but noticed Edric struggling with a veritable forest of toothed, suckered tentacles. Pancras felt the portal weakening. Its connection with the Mortal Realm was tenuous, at best, and with the magic he weaved around it, that connection weakened further.
As the wispy tendrils of shadowy smoke coalesced into a familiar, frightening demonic form, Pancras redoubled his efforts and ended the ritual. “STENEE PYEALEE!”
Splurrrt-woosh! Air rushed past them as the rift contracted, and then a sucking sound, reminiscent of viscous goo squirting from a wine skin, filled the room. Pancras felt something slam into him, driving the breath from his lungs. There was a flash of light, and then all was still. Edric’s sword clanged on the ground as the tentacles he fought vanished. The closing rift bisected the bloodmaw: the part in the rift gone, and the part still in this world mortally wounded. It slithered out of the hole in the ceiling and crashed to the floor with a grotesque, wet plop.
As he tried to catch his breath, Pancras fell to his knees. Smokey tendrils wafted from his limbs, growing more and more nebulous until they vanished completely. He no longer saw the shadow demon, but that was no guarantee he eliminated the threat. The dwarf was behind him, getting to his feet. He couldn’t see the drak. “Kale?” Pancras’s voice was hoarse and raspy.
Pancras walked around the bloodmaw’s carcass to find Kale curled up against the wall. The drak held his head and moaned. Kneeling down next to him, the minotaur put his hand on Kale’s shoulder. The drak’s scales felt hot, feverish, and uncomfortable to touch.
“Kale? Can you move?”
“Can I?” Kale lifted his head as if lead weights were attached to his skull. His eyes seemed different to Pancras, though they had not changed their outward appearance. “Yes, but I don’t want to. I hurt, Pancras. I feel like I’m burning up from the inside out.”
“It’ll pass.” He helped Kale to his feet. I hope.
“What now?” Edric poked at the remains of the bloodmaw with his sword. The angular blade sank into the carcass like a knife into a quivering pile of jelly. He grimaced and yanked it out, shaking slime off it.
Pancras looked around the room. There was still no sign of the shadow demon. “Let’s try to head back to Ironkrag. You dwarves can probably deal with any remaining beasties down here. I recommend collapsing these caverns entirely.” He figured the dwarves would ignore his advice, but he gave it anyway.
“They sent me down here to get rid of me. I’ll bet they never thought I’d come back.”
“Why is the room all twisty?” Kale held his head and staggered as he walked. Pancras reached under his arm and picked him up and was surprised how light the he was, given his propensity for ale.
“If nothing else, you have quite a tale to tell.”
The three made their way up the twisting tunnel back into the main chamber where Pancras destroyed the ghouls. The cavern was quiet and still, with only the phosphorescent glow of fungus providing light. Nothing stirred, not even cave rats, and by comparison to the cacophony in the cave earlier, to Pancras’s ears their breathing was deafening.
Kale’s body cooled, and by the time they returned to the tunnel leading to Ironkrag, he demanded he be allowed to walk on his own.
“I can walk! You can’t carry me into Ironkrag. We’d never live it down!”
Pancras lowered Kale to the ground before the drak squirmed out of his arms and fell. He kept a close eye on him, though, unsure of whether the effects of the chaos rift were permanent.
He took a deep breath as he saw the area of darkness at the end of the tunnel. “Let’s just get this report to the dwarves over with. Then we can go home.”