Birdcage

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 16 (v.1) - Chapter XVI - Disappointment, or: the warrior duel

Submitted: September 10, 2019

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Submitted: September 10, 2019

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I crawled out from a pile of rubble and wiped off the dust. I looked at the pile of rocks that covered the entrance of the mine. “That’s fantastic,” I muttered.

 

A hand emerged from the pile of rubble. An arm and torso followed, and before long Firebrand stood in front of me. He snapped his fingers, creating a small torchlight. “You’re Zuckerman, right?” he asked.

 

I nodded and Firebrand walked past me, heading deeper into the mine. “Where are you going?” I asked.

 

“After Darkholme. I’m not sure what he wants with this mine, but it can’t be good. You can come if you’d like, but it’d probably be best if you stayed here and waited for the nights to dig you out.”

 

“Isn’t it dangerous for you to try and take on Darkholme alone?”

 

“Listen, kid, this guy is crazy powerful. No offense, but you aren’t going to contribute much to the fight. Hell, you might even die without accomplishing anything. But, it isn’t my place to tell you to stay behind. Like I said, it’s your decision.”

 

I drew my sword. “I’ve come this far, might as well see this out till the end,” I said.

 

Firebrand shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said.

 

A musty smell spread through the mine. Cobwebs and sleeping bats covered the ceilings. Occasionally we came across a forgotten wheelbarrow or pickaxe, remnants of the days before the Purge. But, for the most part, the tunnels were empty.

 

“We’ve been marching for ten minutes and haven’t encountered any monsters,” Firebrand said.

 

“Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked.

 

“Dark caves are usually filled to the brim with monsters. If this one’s empty, that means someone cleared it out.”

 

“By someone, you mean Darkholme, right?”

 

“Most likely, yes. I briefly saw some of Darkholme’s victims as I was approaching the mine. They’d been sucked dry, similar to victims of the Purge. I believe that Jericho has the ability to drain energy from his victims and use it to power his spells. For example, he most likely created the rock monster using energy stolen from the Knights he slaughtered. So, is it a good thing that Darkholme killed all of the monsters in these caves? If Darkholme can gain energy from killing monsters like he can from killing humans, it sure as hell isn’t a good thing.”

 

Firebrand bent down and places his fingers in a pile of dust. “Monster remains,” he said. “Darkholme’s definitely killing all of the monster’s he comes across.”

 

“Think on the bright side: if we follow these dust piles, we should be able to find Darkholme easily.”

 

“The problem isn’t finding Darkholme, it’s defeating him when we find him.”

 

“What do you think he’s after, anyway? Do you think he wants to sabotage the Reclamation Project?”

 

“Word from the wise, don’t try and understand the motives of monsters. Darkholme is a force of destruction that will kill everything in his path if he isn’t stopped. It doesn’t matter what he wants, it only matters that we stop him before he accomplishes it.”

 

“Of course, sir. I’ll make sure we defeat Darkholme, no matter what it takes.”

 

“That reminds me, I’ve got a question that’s been bothering me ever since we got into this tunnel: why did you go after Darkholme?”

 

“Because he’s evil and someone needed to stop him.”

 

Firebrand sighed. “Yeah, no shit,” he said. “That isn’t what I was getting at.”

 

“Oh, I see, you want to know why I didn’t run away-”

 

“I want to know why you abandoned your Squad.”

 

I stopped walking. “What do you mean?” I asked.

 

“Your friends were fighting a big monster and you left them to chase after Darkholme. How do you know they’re still alive?”

 

“I have faith in my Squad. Besides, Darkholme was getting away. I didn’t have time to help them.”

 

“Sure, but making sure your Squad was with you when you took on Darkholme would’ve raised your chances of defeating him immensely.”

 

“I didn’t think of that,” I muttered.

 

“Do you remember what I told you after I kicked your ass last year?” Firebrand said.

 

“People who win at the expense of their allies have no place in this world, right?”

 

“That isn’t just platitude dumb platitude about teamwork. Selfishness may pay off at first, but having trustworthy allies by your side is better in the long run. Strength in numbers, you know?”

 

“I understand that, but Darkholme was getting away. I didn’t have-”

 

Firebrand grabbed me by the shoulder and slammed me against a wall. “What was that for?” I said with a groan.

 

Firebrand pointed at a wall covered in runes similar to the ones at the entrance of the cave. “Dark magic runes, probably ones set to explode if anyone other than Darkholme gets close to them,” he said.

 

The two of us hugged the wall and slowly walked past the runes. “Keep your eyes peeled, it's likely that there are more explosive runes spread throughout these tunnels,” he said.

 

“Does he know we’re following him?” I asked.

 

“No, I think he’s just being cautious,” Firebrand said. “Fighting monsters, creating traps, navigating the tunnels, these things take time. We should catch up to Darkholme before long.”

 

We slipped past the runes and continued deeper into the mine. “You know, considering the delays Darkholme had to deal with, there would’ve been plenty of time to help your Squad and go after Darkholme.”

 

“I messed up, I admit it. There’s no reason to keep bringing it up.”

 

“What interests me isn’t what you did, it’s why. Why did you abandon your allies so you could fight an enemy you can’t defeat by yourself?”

 

I sighed. “To be honest, I wasn’t thinking,” I said. “I didn’t think about the Squad. I didn’t think about the gap in strength between me and Darkholme. All I could think about was how mad I was and how much I needed to kill him. It was like I was staring down a long hallway and the only thing I could see was Darkholme.”

 

“That isn’t good, Zuckerman. I get that you hate Darkholme-”

 

“He killed my mother.”

 

“I understand, but you can’t lose your head every time you see the man. If you go mental every time you so much as catch a glimpse of Darkholme, you’re going to get yourself killed. Or worse, get someone you care about killed.”

 

I didn’t talk for twenty minutes after that. We kept marching through the cave, dodging traps and chasing after Darkholme. “We keep going deeper and deeper,” Firebrand said. “If Darkholme was taking a secret path out of the city, you’d expect him to have headed higher into the mountains, not lower. My guess is he’s looking for something hidden deep in these tunnels.”

 

“What do you think he’s after?” I asked.

 

My question was answered shortly afterward when the two of us entered a large chamber deep inside the mine. This chamber was larger than any other we’d entered. Glowing silver crystals dotted the walls, illuminating the open room. A large stone doorway stood on the other end of the chamber, covered in the old chains and a large lock.

 

“What is this place?” I asked.

 

“I’d assume that the miners were working on this section of the mine when the died,” Firebrand said. “The glowing rocks are raw magic crystals. Be careful around them, raw magic crystals are very volatile.”

 

Suddenly, a bolt of dark energy shot out from within the room and struck Firebrand in the chest, knocking him back. Jericho Darkholme walked out from behind an overturned wheelbarrow and began clapping. “Well done, you didn’t get killed by my traps,” he said. “Unfortunately, that means I now have to deal with you myself.”

 

A fireball flew by my head. Firebrand ran past me, charging for Darkholme. “Stay down!” he shouted while throwing two more fireballs.

 

Darkholme put his hands together and fired a large blast of dark magic. Firebrand matched this with a burst of fire. The two attacks collided, creating a large explosion that shook the underground chamber. Firebrand rocketed out of the explosion, propelled by his flames, and struck Darkholme in the face.

 

Firebrand created a blast of fire beneath his foot, shooting his knee upward to strike Darkholme in the jaw. Darkholme grabbed Firebrand's leg and swung him at the ground like a hammer. Firebrand twisted around and kicked Darkholme in the face, freeing himself.

 

Darkholnme sent dark energy through his veins, supercharging his muscles, and punched Firebrand in the jaw hard enough to send him flying. Before he hit the ground, Firebrand created a massive inferno behind him, sending him through the air at Darkholme. Darkholme braced for impact. But, as he drew close to Jericho, Firebrand did something different. He created a blast of fire above him, sending him into the ground.

 

Firebrand emerged behind Darkholme and created a blaze that consumed Darkholme, completely covering him in flames. When the smoke cleared Darkholme sat on his knees, his skin covered in burns. Purple lightning flowed through Darkholme as his flesh regenerated. "That wasn't very nice," he said through clenched teeth.

 

Watching Firebrand and Darkholme fight was awe-inspiring. Two men, both stronger than a vast majority of all people, giving it their all in a fight to the death. Fire and lightning filled the chamber as two warriors dueled to the death.

Darkholme clenched his fist and surrounded it with violet lightning. Firebrand kicked Darkholme's arm, sending the blast upwards. A section of the ceiling fell down, catching Firebrand off guard and hitting him in the shoulder. Using this distraction, Darkholme fired a new blast at Firebrand's chest.

 

I drew my sword and charged into the battle. I lunged at Darkholme. He dodged and kicked me in the stomach. I swung again, aiming for his leg. He dodged and kicked my sword out of my hand. Before Darkholme could kill me, Firebrand blasted him away with a plume of fire.

 

Firebrand threw fireball after fireball at Darkholme, burning him and forcing him back. Darkholme ended up with his back against the chamber wall. One of the glowing magic crystals poked out next to him. Firebrand threw a fireball at it. The crystal exploded, gravely injuring Darkholme in the process.

 

"This is a bit more bothersome than I'd hoped," Darkholme muttered.

 

A storm of lightning surrounded his arms, spinning like snakes as it grew in power. Darkholme unleashed the lightning, sending two powerful blasts barrelling towards his target. Firebrand prepared to dodge before realizing that he wasn't the target. I was.

 

Firebrand few in front of me, using his body as a shield. The dark energy tore through him, slicing open his chest and crushing his ribs. Darkholme crawled to his feet and walked towards us. "A foolish choice," he said while wiping the dust off his clothes.

 

I raised my fists in a fighting stance. "It isn't over yet," I said.

 

Darkholme rolled his eyes and fired a blast of lightning at me, knocking me back. "No, it's over. You lose, I win, end of story," Darkholme said.

 

"I won't let you ruin the reclamation project," I said, crawling towards my sword.

 

Darkholme fired another bolt at me, knocking me away from my blade. "First of all, you can't stop me from doing anything," Darkholme said. "Secondly, what's the reclamation project?"

 

"The plan to reclaim areas lost to the Purge, areas like Stonecage," I said. "You're here to destroy this mine to stop from using it."

 

Darkholme rolled his eyes. "Don't assume you know my reasons for coming here, boy," he said. "I didn't know about this reclamation whatever until you told me about it."

 

"Then why are you here?"

 

Darkholme pointed at the large door covered in chains. "I'm here for that," he said. "It's hard, being the most wanted criminal in the world. There are a lot of assholes out there who want to kill you. I've been tracking down powerful magical artifacts lately, hoping to use them to defend myself. I heard a rumor that the miners of Stonecage found something strange deep within this chamber right before the Purge killed them. I decided to check it out for myself."

 

"You aren't here to kill us?"

 

"Oh, don't get me wrong, I am going to kill you. But that isn't my plan. It's more of a punishment for bothering me."

 

Darkholme ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. "I can't believe that you ingrates showed up as soon as I did," he said. "Either my information guy is trying to get me killed, or I'm the least lucky man alive."

 

"Maybe it's fate," I said. "Maybe the Gods above decided to bring us together so I could kill you."

 

"No, that's stupid," Darkholme said before shooting me again.

 

Darkholme walked over to the vault and fired lightning at the chains, destroying them. He pulled open the great door to find an empty room. "That's great, someone beat me to it," he said.

 

A fireball flew by and exploded next to the door. Darkholme fired a blast of lightning over his shoulder, hitting Firebrand and knocking him out again. "I thought I finished you earlier," Darkholme said.

 

He picked up a pickaxe and walked over to Firebrand. He brought the pickaxe down on Firebrand's neck, creating a splash of blood. He swung down again and again, beating Firebrand to death with the pickaxe. Each strike created a horrid sound reminding me of a fruit being stepped on.

 

I ran for my sword and Darkholme simply knocked me away with another lightning blast. "You're a persistent one, I'll give you that," he said while locking eyes with me.

 

Suddenly, all of the glowing magic crystals turned black, painting the chamber in shadow. A small candle, like the ones in my nightmares, appeared in front of me. I stopped dead in my tracks and began backing away. As I took a step back, my leg turned to dust and I fell to the ground. The decay spread through my body, turning my chest and limbs to dust. I screamed.

 

"Shut up!" Darkholme yelled.

 

I closed my eyes and pretended I couldn't feel the decay of my body. In this darkness, I heard a sound, like that of fruit being stepped on. The sound of Jericho Darkholme murdering Firebrand. The fire in my heart roared to life once more. This monster who had killed so many was about to again, and there was nothing I could do. I clenched my fist and, to my surprise, my arm reformed.

 

I ran for my sword, my body pulling itself back together through some method I didn't understand. I plunged the sword into Darkholme's spine, saving Firebrand. "God, today just keeps getting worse and worse," he mumbled before elbowing me in the face.

 

Darkholme fired blasts of lightning at the magic crystals on the walls, causing them to explode. "You know, I was going to be nice and only kill the two of you, but then you had to go and attack me," Darkholme shouted. "Blowing up these crystals should collapse this mine and destroy Stonecage. This is your reward for your insolence!"

 

I grabbed his legs and he kicked me in the face. "Stop getting in my way, brat!" he shouted.

 

"No," I croaked.

 

He kicked me again. But, the kick didn't hurt. I looked down at my arms, which were covered in green scales. An arrow flew by, striking Darkholme in the shoulder. Sterling, Cross, and the twins marched into the chamber.

 

"You know what, I don't have the patience to deal with this," Darkholme said while reaching into his pocket. "You win kid, you stopped me from destroying Stonecage by getting in my way long enough for your friends to show up. Congratu-fucking-lations."

 

Darkholme pulled a butterfly shaped broach from his pocket and crushed it. In an instant, he was gone. I hadn’t managed to defeat him, but Stonecage still stood.


© Copyright 2019 Casey Jarmes. All rights reserved.

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