Chapter Sixty-Three: Purification
‘She’s completely gone.’ I frowned and waved a hand in front of Arianna’s empty eyes. She should have retained some sense of herself after giving into my power, yet there was clearly no one home. Her shaking had subsided to a slight tremble. Aside from that and her open eyes, there was nothing to indicate that she was even awake.
‘I underestimated her qualms with this power,’ Sihix spoke, for once sounding genuinely concerned. ‘Hand her over—I will keep watch whilst you deal with this mess.’
Sihix appeared beside me on the branch and reached out expectantly, but I turned away from him and used my body to shield Arianna. The Lari’xan released a heavy sigh, giving me an agitated look.
“Nalithor, what can Arom and I do to help?” Erist questioned—I had forgotten she was even there.
“Combine your powers and strengthen the shield,” I ordered them as I shifted Arianna so that she was cradled in my arms. Her pulse fluttered with nervousness and fear no matter how close I drew her or how much of my power I coiled around her. ‘Just what happened to her to give her this degree of fear of light?’
‘Corrupt light,’ Sihix murmured, striding over and reaching down to prod Arianna’s cheek. I growled at the Lari’xan’s breach of personal space but my ayraziis remained unresponsive. ‘Were it all light, she wouldn’t have been able to stomach Arom’s shield all this way. His power is pure, therefore she is not affected by it. Years ago it would have made her skittish. However, she has grown since then. Fraelfnir’s presence has helped her understand the difference between pure and corrupt light.
‘I can’t tell you what happened to her, not without causing further issues. You will learn of it, in time. For now, I will carry her while you work. You’re going to need both hands for this.’
‘I refuse—’ I cut myself off and looked back at the fairy spring with a hiss. The aetheric goop bubbled and sloshed as if attempting to expel something, releasing a vile and unfamiliar scent into the air. Sihix took the opportunity to pluck Arianna from my arms and rest her within his.
The sight of someone else carrying her was nearly enough to make me lose myself to rage.
‘At least you and the puppy can agree on something.’ Sihix took a step back and out of reach. ‘Do you intend to swing that spear around while carrying Arianna with one arm? What if you drop her or your weapon in that muck? Even I won’t be able to subdue her peacefully if she comes into contact with that.’
I gritted my teeth and turned away from the Lari’xan. Arianna was mine to protect but Sihix was right. Protecting her meant keeping her from coming into contact with the source of corruption. To do that, I couldn’t bring her with me. I stole another glance at Arianna’s vacant eyes and then turned my back fully to her with my fists clenched.
Seeing her that way made my heart feel as if it were being crushed.
‘And it’s the fault of that…’ My gaze fell on the defiled fairy spring and the floating abode above it.
Heat pulsed through me as I observed the lethargic aether. The only hint of true light remaining was a faint glow filtering out of the windows in the building above. Yiltanys’ power had grown so weak that the light was no longer visible to the naked eye. I could only see it after shifting my vision.
It was like trying to spot a single spilled grain of salt. The lifeless darkness consumed everything around us, snuffing out every glimmer of light and power—even our own. No matter my own feelings toward light, seeing an Aledacian Forest in such a poor state pained me.
That foul, twisted power was responsible for making my ayraziis disappear within herself. I wouldn’t forgive them for their offense.
I closed my eyes and took a steadying breath. Losing control was not an option. Tearing into a place that required such a delicate balance of aether was far too risky. No matter how desperately I wanted to rip and tear… I sighed when the flames of rage began to rise within me again. The trembling of Arianna’s fear just beyond her barriers made it near impossible for me to restrain myself.
‘And who says you need to act with restraint?’ Sihix laughed. ‘You could stand to learn a thing or two from your ayraziis about giving in to darkness.
‘I told you that I would lend you my power. That offer is useless if you intend to deny the instincts that come with your role. I know damned well that you do not fear darkness, so why do you fear your rage?’
A grimace settled on my mouth. It wasn’t that I feared my rage, per se, it was more that I was worried about losing control. Arianna had lost control several times due to her role that I knew of, and it seemed likely that it had happened many times more before she came Below.
Even I had lost myself to instinct in the past when dealing with matters of Balance.
‘I don’t want to hurt her,’ I responded after a moment, keeping my back to the Lari’xan and my ayraziis. Seeing that bastard carrying her enraged me far more than the corruption in the forests did. It didn’t seem right for me to feel that way, but it didn’t keep me from it.
‘She gave herself and her power to you, did she not?’ Sihix commented in a bored tone. ‘You and I both know she’s too far gone to help—let alone interfere. The chances of you hurting her while you work are zero. She still senses this blasted light because you are holding back.
‘If you cannot perform as the God of Balance, then we will find someone for her who will.’
Sihix’s words cut me like a knife and stole my breath. Arianna was able to sense the corruption because I was trying to fight against our role? The Lari’xan would replace me if I couldn’t…
‘I won’t let that happen.’ I brandished my spear and narrowed my eyes, taking in the swaying throngs of people and creatures in the clearing below. ‘She trusts me enough to surrender everything to me even when consumed by fear. The least I can do is eradicate the very thing that has put her in such a state.’
Arianna’s life belonged to me and mine belonged to her. If truly unleashing my power and rage upon our prey was the way to protect her, then I would do so without hesitation. She had made it quite clear that she adored me—even my darkness, my rage, and my bloodlust. There had been many times where I was certain that she would fear me or be disgusted by me, yet her reaction had always been the opposite.
Even when I slew an entire tribe she had been attracted to me instead of repulsed.
‘There is no room for hesitation,’ I told myself as I closed my eyes.
First, I reached out to Arianna and allowed my darkness to engulf her completely. Her breathing and pulse gradually slowed, losing their erratic rhythm and settling into a pattern akin to sleep. Fear lingered beneath the surface but was quickly dissipating as she relaxed within my power’s embrace.
‘If that doesn’t quell the “puppy’s” doubts, I don’t know what will.’ I settled my attention fully on the scenery before me, carefully taking in every detail of the corruption. The people, the creatures, the house and its floating island, and the fairy spring. I knew my ayraziis wouldn’t let even a speck of such vile aether to exist—and neither would I. ‘Sihix, how long will it take for Arianna and I to recover after this?’
‘Three weeks if you are unlucky,’ Sihix began in a contemplative tone, ‘and perhaps a week if luck is on your side. It would be much longer if I didn’t help.’
‘And if she and I were not acting as separate deities?’
‘Then this would be trivial for the two of you to fix,’ Sihix answered without a drop of uncertainty. ‘Even with her fear, you could simply have her surrender to you and use her power for yourself—much as you are planning to do now.’
I frowned to myself but said nothing further. If a completed Balance pair was so powerful then it was no wonder the Lari’xan were growing impatient while waiting for Arianna to make her decision. Resigned, I summoned our mingled power around my hand and clenched my first several times, watching the aether swirl.
“Arom, Erist, maintain the shield around us,” I ordered them without turning my gaze away from the fount of corruption. “These creatures are going to get a taste of what happens to those who upset my goddess.”
I channeled our combined powers down the length of my spear, allowing darkness and my rage to consume my thoughts. Heat surged through my body, flames shot down my arms and legs. Black lightning crackled around my armor, jewelry, and weapons. What I had felt toward the God and Goddess of Blight paled in comparison to the fury the corruption in Yiltanys’ domain made me feel.
Not only was it wrong, not only were the creatures residing in the forest skewed, but it was a power that rendered my ayraziis paralyzed with fear. Her gaze as empty as a doll’s, her mind sealed off from all around her—even me. My thoughts couldn’t reach her, she had retreated so far within her own mind.
If destroying the corruption wasn’t enough, I would purge every living creature from the forest until Arianna felt safe again.
“Norhet’eln rhutlyr,” I commanded, watching the surrounding aether ripple at my words.
Our intertwined powers exploded, blanketing the immediate area in opaque darkness. The people below me screamed and attacked Arom’s shield, their strikes resulting in almost musical sounding chimes. A smirk spread across my face as they continued to struggle.
Their attempts were pitiful. They were pitiful. Even if they didn’t understand their place yet…they would soon. Only the Lari’xan stood above me and my ayraziis. ‘All else should kneel before us.’
I hefted my spear onto my shoulder and shadowstepped into the midst of the terrified creatures below. One turned to swipe at me with its claws and then stopped mid-motion. A strangled whimper left it before it turned tail and ran, plowing through the other gathered creatures. I fought down my urge to chase it, instead turning toward the fairy spring.
The creatures fled my path. Those who didn’t move soon enough for my liking were tossed aside by my darkness. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew the floating island above me was a distraction. Yiltanys’ heart was there, certainly, but that wasn’t what I had to cleanse.
‘Using darkness to cleanse…’ I chuckled to myself and pulled more of Arianna’s darkness to myself. Her scent made desire stir in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t strong enough to compete with righteous anger. Every last part of the forest, down to the smallest grain of sand, had to be purified before I could allow myself to indulge in my ayraziis.
I had thought that finally claiming Arianna might quell my appetite for her but I had been quite mistaken. The more I had her, the more I wanted her, and the more I wanted to do to her. I was addicted to everything about her and intended to make sure she was just as addicted to me.
Arianna’s power coiled around me on its own, still tinged with fear of the corrupted light but with a faint indication that some part of her was finally “present”. Her lingering fear brought my attention back to the task at hand—purifying Yiltanys’ domain. The more pleasurable things I had in mind could wait.
I came to a stop by the edge of the fairy spring and plunged my spear into it blade-first, sending a torrent of darkness directly into the murky sludge. Everything my darkness touched burst into flames that shared the color of my fire and Arianna’s. The creatures around me began their screams anew and fled, unaware of their useless struggling.
‘Yes… Entertain me more.’ I smirked and drew upon more power, this time plunging it so deep into the spring that it overflowed into the connecting streams. Our power surged through the forest at a breakneck pace, but it still wasn’t enough.
My spear disappeared into my jewelry, allowing me to cross my arms while I thought. Arianna’s power slid over my body with sensual motions, drawing close to places better left off-limits while I worked. Even in such a troubled state she seemed to know how to skirt just on the edge and avoid punishment.
‘I have to truly accept my rage—the puppy—don’t I?’ I examined my hand as if it were a foreign object, sensing a remaining well of rage within myself. That piece of me had been silent for the past while as it struggled to cope with Arianna’s assertions. Her arguments had nearly shattered its resolve to argue, and my own feelings about Arianna had weakened it further.
Even so, I was worried that that part of me could still rebel.
‘Could I truly give her over to someone else?’ I asked myself, knowing full well that I would only succeed at angering myself. ‘I waited so long to find her again, and with little hope that she would still care for me in any capacity. Letting her go now would be a betrayal to both her and to myself.’
Something within me felt as if it would break even at the mere thought of the Lari’xan giving Arianna to someone else. We had experienced levels of intimacy together that I had thought I would never be worthy of, and I still had more to give. There was no one else worthy of my power or my affections. We had shared power before, but not to the extent I desired.
I had been allowing my past to hold me back in so many areas of my life but especially with Arianna. Even though she had proved many times over that she didn’t adore or seek me for pedigree or status, I had always remained somewhat cautious. At the very least, I wanted the chance to put my concerns aside and show her the extent of my feelings for her.
With a simple thought I unleashed my power, Arianna’s, and felt Sihix’s rush to join us. Tri-colored darkness coated every part of the forest, snuffing out any traces of light from the flora and sky. Frightened wails erupted throughout Yiltanys’ domain as its corrupted children attempted to flee from our darkness.
If I wanted, I could have used that power to end the life of every creature within the blanket of darkness. Snuffing out their existences would have been as simple as a thought or a single word. The thought unsettled me. I had taken many lives in my years of life, yet none of it had felt so trivially easy. It was humbling, in a way, but also concerning.
Just what would Balance be capable of if unleashed with no restrictions against an enemy? I wasn’t certain I wanted to know, and I hoped that matters wouldn’t come to that. Ours was already the role of a monster, and my instincts told me that we could become creatures even monsters would fear.
‘Arianna?’ I murmured, reaching out to her. There was no response, but the sensation of her warm power against mine eased my concerns. Perhaps becoming something that even monsters feared was alright. As long as I had her I had no need for anyone else. ‘I will make certain she feels the same for me.’
I turned our darkness against the island floating a few dozen feet above my head and then took a deep breath. My senses were growing dull at an increasingly quick pace. Time was up—I had to finish the purification.
When our power lanced through Yiltanys’ heart a shrill sound reverberated through the forest. It wasn’t enough. I felt my knees hit the ground as I mustered one last shockwave of darkness, stronger than the previous attempts. Our power tore through the forest and its children with an ardent, blazing fury.
My grip on Arianna’s power slipped as my consciousness faded.
‘We will make certain you and your ayraziis remain safe…’