Black-Legion

The Black Legion

To let you know who the Black Legion is, I will first tell you who I am. As a youth in the Scout village of Seclu, I was faster and better with a blade than any of the Pathfinders, those of us training to become Scouts. I hold the village record for the youngest daemon kill, at the age of ten. I slit the creature’s throat without it seeing my face—an honorable Scout kill.

As a young warrior I earned my first tattoos hushing enemies with Cloque the Scout. My first scars were long faded by then. It was after a hundred missions that I was asked to join the Black Legion—as a squire. It was an honor I accepted immediately and with great humility.

That is the Black Legion. A squad of elite warriors who dignify those lucky enough to serve next to them in any capacity. Descended from the Five Disciples and proven worthy of that lineage countless times, they hail each other by nicknames that refer to their bloodlines: Unum the Black Legion Martyr. Dyad the Black Legion Smith. Troika the Black Legion Engineer. Tetra the Black Legion Scout. And the leader of them all, Quintan the Black Legionnaire, for whom I squired.

We squires did the hunting, gathering, and worked together to ensure the weapons and armor were ready for the next mission, which usually took place while the blood from the previous was still congealing. Just keeping Quint’s battle axe sharp took most hours out of my day, due to its surface area and frequent use.

Our missions included targeted assassinations, infrastructure sabotage, snatch operations, and annihilating most any target of opportunity that happened across our path. While the Black Legion discussed the latest incursion and planned the next, we squires whispered about how much damage such a small squad was bringing to the Hellbourne’s cause. Imagine our shock when we learned these were just practice for the true mission.

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The Black Legion was formed as the very tip of the spear against the Hellbourne, and Quintan was the apex of that tip. Each member could have led his own elite unit, but Jeraziah and Ophelia wanted a weapon that could drive deep into the daemon heart, and these men worked together like the gears of a finely tuned machine.

This was evident during the first mission I squired. We had followed the snotter paths away from Watchtower into Darkwood Vale, seeking a Dampeer who was hanging half-eaten corpses from the canopy as a means to attract more daemons to the region. Troika was fond of a saying—“If the Black Legion seeks you, so does the grave”—and that was our design if and when we caught this Dampeer.

Tetra found his tracks the second day, snagging the trail from a careless footprint left near the still-warm body of another Scout, his weapons shattered and used to skewer him in the ultimate affront to our kind. Tetra showed no emotion, but even I, new to these men and their actions, knew this had sealed the Dampeer’s fate. We found its camp the next night, a fetid nest of skins slung in the low branches of a great oak, the ground lumpy with at least a dozen snoring Imp soldiers. We listened to the Dampeer finishing its latest meal before we pulled back to gear up.

Tetra found a small clearing for us and pulled himself into a nearby tree to keep watch. We squires pulled massive plates of armor from our packs and handed them to Troika the Engineer, who strapped them to Quint, building an ironclad titan from the ground up. Dyad the Smith checked each piece for flaws, chinks, anything that would leave Quint vulnerable. As the Legionnaire ducked so Troika could fasten the horned helm that weighed nearly as much as he did, Unum the Martyr began praying in a low voice, his bladed staff touching Quint on both pauldrons, shield, and finally the great battle axe, set into his giant fist by my own hands.

Quint was ready. He faced the Dampeer’s camp and waited, his breath steaming from the helm while Troika fell in behind and to his left, the Engineer’s flamethrower hissing. Dyad stepped behind Quint’s right flank, double-ended hammers resting on the Smith’s shoulders, the iron spikes like stalagmites rising almost to my chin.

Unum took his place a few paces behind Quint, forming the last point of a diamond. He was the assault team’s rear guard and healer, ensuring no daemons slipped in to hamstring the other three while he monitored his brothers for wounds that needed tending.

I worked to keep a calm exterior but felt my heart pounding. I looked in the trees for Tetra the Scout, and should have known better. Another squire, this one named Noru, born among the Sang-Las, nudged me and shook his head, slid his hand in a curve. Of course—we’d see Tetra coming in behind the enemy.

Unum planted his staff in the dirt and placed a hand on Troika’s shoulder, then Dyad’s. They in turn each put a hand on Quint’s back, as high as they could reach, and tapped the armor. Quint moved forward. Troika and Dyad followed, then Unum, his staff ready. They advanced at a steady pace out of the clearing, through the bush and into the Dampeer’s camp.

The squires spread out and trailed behind. We each carried a quiver of short spears that in a pinch could be thrown like javelins, but were meant for close-range sticking, ideally into the hearts or heads of those Hellbourne in the throes of death from a Black Legion wound.

I will admit to you, I was nervous breaking from the thick cover into the camp. I had seen the aftermath of what happened when Legion warriors went outnumbered against the Hellbourne—the remains were rarely enough to fill one grave. As I was about to learn, numbers don’t mean much when the Black Legion is involved.

Quint waded into the sleeping daemons. His axe went through three necks before one of the imps woke and loosed a shriek that brought the rest to their cloven feet, claws and teeth bared. I braced for the onslaught, and instead stood and watched while the camp became a butcher shop.

Quint used his shield to knock two imps aside, where Troika painted them with his flamethrower. The imps seemed not to notice, at first. They were used to fierce heat from within, but I had seen Unum bless the fuel in Troika’s pack, watched it turn from a thick blue fluid to a glowing yellow. Whatever it was now, within seconds it made the two imps scream and curl into piles of ash.

Quint planted his axe into the skull of an Imp and used the sagging body to corral three more to his right side. Dyad killed the two on the edges with his hammers, left the weapons buried while he slammed his helmeted forehead into the face of the third and ducked so Unum could spear the stunned daemon with his staff.

Troika lobbed a grenade over Quint’s head into the Dampeer’s nest. The creature howled and flapped its leathery wings, swooped from the nest as it shattered in a burst of flame and shrapnel. The Dampeer clung to a mossy tree trunk on our left and coiled its legs, ready to launch from the high ground. Then some of the moss shifted and became Tetra’s trench coat as he slid his sabre between the Dampeer’s shoulder blades and out its chest. The Dampeer shrieked and slashed at Tetra, who was already gone.

At the same time, the last three imps sprang onto Quint, scampering over his armor and yanking at the seams, tugging on his helm. Quint turned to Troika. The flamethrower covered Quint in a blossom of fire for several endless seconds; when Troika released the trigger, the Legionnaire stood in smoking armor. The imps were gone.

The Dampeer wiped a handful of blood from its chest and flung it at Unum, who pointed his staff at the creature and began to pray. When the Dampeer leapt from the tree to attack the Martyr, the combination of Tetra’s wound and Unum’s magic slowed it, giving Quint enough time to step into the Dampeer’s path and cleave it shoulder to hip in mid-flight. The pieces fell in a pile and released a foul stench.

Quint, Troika, Dyad and Unum stood back-to-back in the center of the camp, scanning all directions. A few moments later Tetra stepped from the shadows and gave the all-clear sign. I followed the other squires, spears ready, to make sure all the imps were dead. None of us sullied our blades that day. We slid the unused javelins into quivers and began to gather weapons and armor from our warriors. Quint was covered in sweat beneath his helm. He took a long pull from the waterskin I offered, breathed deeply of the night air and surveyed the carnage.

“Not bad for a minute’s work,” he said.

I believe it hadn’t taken even that long. Noru carried each piece of equipment to Dyad, who examined them for damage. When he ran his hands over Quint’s chestplate and pauldrons he gave a dry chuckle and nodded at Troika. “Cleaner than before we started this little party, thanks to your candle lighter.”

We cleaned and packed everything while the Black Legion conducted what they called a “hotwash,” a brutally honest conversation about what went wrong and right during the raid. When they were done we squires turned for the trail we’d taken from Watchtower.

“Not that way,” Quint said. “We are unanimous. From here on, home is where we stand.”

Dyad looked at the piled Imp corpses. “Nice furniture.”

“We will not return to friendly territory until our mission is done,” Quint said. “Or we die in the effort.”

Tetra grinned. “You think we’re going someplace friendly when we die?”

“Dying is not allowed,” Unum said.

Quint lifted my pack and handed it to me.

“What is the mission?” I asked.

He grinned. “Apologies, but on the unlikely chance some daemon gets hold of you, we can’t have you spilling more than blood. Onward.”

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The earth quickly lost color and sustenance as we traveled east, the smoldering volcanic crown of Krula darkening the horizon before us. We executed a half dozen raids like that against the Dampeer, but only when Quint and the others saw no chance for a Hellbourne to escape and spread word of our presence. Many times the daemons passed within inches of our hide, clueless how close they were to becoming gut piles.

On one occasion, Tetra the Scout returned from his patrols and showed us the distorted footprint on the back of his hand.

“Wretched Hag,” he said. “Never even looked down on her way by.”

It bothered me that we allowed these daemons to go about their business unharmed, most of them traveling to the front lines to kill our Legion brothers and sisters. When I said as much, Unum addressed all of us: “It is Sol’s decision who lives and dies. And our mission is more important than slitting a few throats. Our discipline will see us fail or succeed.”

I kept my gob shut after that.

We encountered the first enemy patrol the next day. Slipping past them was a child’s game—these were weak and stupid imps used for simple tasks, and no Hellbourne truly expected any man or beast to venture so close to Hell’s Keep. The spires and merlons of Maliken’s dark city showed to the south as we continued northeast for days, our provisions shrinking.

At dusk of the fourth day we wove through the cover of large blackened boulders and piles of ash and rubble. Tetra was scouting ahead, as usual, and we emerged from a shallow gully to find him waiting for us on a loose berm.

Dyan hefted his hammers. “Trouble?”

“I hope so,” Tetra said. “We’re here.”

On the other side of the berm the land dropped away into a pitch black crevice that split the earth open like a wound. Smoke and an acrid stench drifted from its depths while daemons from every level of the underworld scurried up the charred walls along worn paths. I believe I heard screams echoing, but it may have been the wind.

“The Scar,” Quint said.

And so it was. The epicenter of the Hellbourne’s Second Corruption, from which they poured forth to murder, burn, and destroy Newerth. I knew of no Legion warrior who had seen it since the cursed day it opened.

“Our mission is to attack this?” I asked.

Quint winked. “To close it.”

The blackened stone cliffs of the Scar were sheer, sharp, and grew hotter with each inch we descended. Sweat cut through the soot Tetra had smeared over our hands and faces, but the vanish spell he cast kept our profiles and scent obscured for the most part. We were tethered together except for Quint, who refused the rope, saying his weight would pluck us all off the wall should his grip fail. He was right, but we wanted him on the tether anyway.

We reached the first level and found a shallow cave in which to rest and wait for dawn, for our eyes could not pierce the blackness below. I knew the sun was finally rising when I saw a Quadropod Tremble climbing toward the surface on the far wall. I wondered what its mission was, or if it even had a sense of such things. Either way, my arm itched to fling a javelin through its carapace.

We continued down, the walls growing closer as we neared the bottom. We passed dark, gaping tunnels in the stone, bored and burrowed deeper into the underworld, so many that I was reminded of an anthill I had accidentally stepped into as a child. If whatever festered within decided to emerge, we would make a convenient meal on a string.

The sun was almost directly overhead when we touched bottom, our boots disappearing into a pile of dry, scorched bones. Our hands were torn and cramped, my cheeks raw and blistered from scraping against the hot stone. The top of the Scar seemed leagues away, our beautiful sun just a pale disc through the smoke. I spotted daemons scuttling up the walls above us, emerging from tunnels closer to the surface.

The heat and stench of sulphur and rot was overpowering. Troika the Engineer broke out gas masks with charcoal filters and I breathed in deeply, the smell of old leather a welcome relief. Through the lenses I watched Dyad sniff the air and spit. He handed his mask back to Troika.

“Compared to my forges,” the Smith said, “this place is a dewy blossom.”

Unum also refused his mask. “I will not hide my face from Sol. His purity will sustain me.”

Quint said, “I doubt he’s visited here lately.”

The Martyr tapped his staff on the bones. It emitted a soft glow, lighting the way forward. “Let us change that.”

He led us along the base of the Scar in patrol formation, though in which direction I could not say. He stopped several times and bowed his head, turning left, right, his eyes closed. Then a message or order would arrive, unknown to the rest of us, and he would press on along the twisting gorge.

When Unum found the mouth of the cave I mistook it for a right turn along the Scar wall, so large was the opening. He lifted his staff and showed the opening, clogged with bones so ancient some of the skulls belonged to creatures long extinct on Newerth.

“Here,” he said.

We all suited up and helped Quint into his armor and helm, then he and Dyad stepped forward with axe and hammers and went to work. Most of the bones turned to dust, and I was again thankful for my gas mask. We followed Unum through the gray cloud and into the cave, which had walls much different than those of the Scar. These were rounded and smooth, almost polished, giving a weak reflection of the light from Unum’s staff.

The passageway angled down and narrowed until it was barely wide enough for Quint to walk with his shoulders squared. The heat intensified. I was boiling within my leathers and light armor—the temperature within the gear worn by the Black Legion must have been merciless. The orange glow at the end of the tunnel became visible long before we reached it, and when we finally spilled into the cavernous magma chamber the heat was unbearable. The pool of molten rock writhed and burst with noxious gases I could smell even through the mask.

Unum’s face turned a deep shade of red and the sweat on his brow began to steam. “Brothers, we are deep within Krula. If you have had the misfortune to encounter a Magmus on the battlefield, this was his birthplace. Sol has guided us here, and tells me this: if we destroy this chamber, we will close the Scar.”

Troika scanned the domed ceiling of the chamber, the smooth pillars carved ages ago by magma rushing toward the surface. His eyes landed on the liquid rock and he grinned. “We collapse this place, we’ll trigger an eruption above. The lava will flow into the Scar, perhaps over Hell’s Keep as well.”

I unsheathed my blade, ready to do what damage I could to the chamber.

Troika laughed. “No, lad. We brought something else.”

He detached a steel box from the bottom of his flamethrower pack and carried it toward the magma pool, as close as he could get without bursting into flames. He set the box at the base of a massive pillar. Dyad pulled one of the rings off his beard and handed it to Troika, who placed it in a round groove carved into the box. It was a perfect fit.

Unum removed a sunburst disc from the head of his staff. Troika set it atop the ring and twisted clockwise, locking it into place. Quint reached into his enormous helm and extracted a round set of interlocking gears nestled within a small frame. The top was solid metal with an odd-shaped keyhole in the middle. Troika slid the gears inside the ring and disc, the keyhole exposed.

Tetra plucked a button from his trench coat and dropped it into Troika’s palm. The Engineer slid the post of the button into the keyhole and checked with his brothers. “We are ready?”

Quint pointed his axe at the tunnel. Tetra disappeared into it, scouting our escape route. We stacked up near its mouth and watched Troika, who still knelt at the box. Quint gave him the sign. Troika turned the sunburst disc in a full revolution, then a tad more, and pushed the button.

The disc began to ratchet counter-clockwise. Troika stood and hurried toward us. “I recommend speed.”

Unum lit his staff and led the way into the tunnel. He took two steps before he froze, staring up the passageway at Tetra running full speed toward us. Past him, the tunnel squirmed with black shapes and red eyes, growing larger. The Hellbourne had found us.

We cleared a path for Tetra, who burst from the darkness and loped up the side of a pillar before landing softly, then Quint stepped into the mouth of the tunnel, axe ready. Dyad and Troika took their spots at his elbows, and we squires spread behind them with our backs to the magma.

Unum was near his place on the diamond, but he did not set himself for battle. “The first dead daemon will block the tunnel. Each one after seals us in for good.” He nodded at the box. “Until that wakes up.”

Quint didn’t turn around. “Don’t tell me you believe we’ll survive this.”

“Not for a moment. But I believe in miracles, too.” The Martyr bowed his head and began to pray.

The sound of the Hellbourne grew louder. Amid the racket I heard the telltale clacking of an Arachna somewhere in the tunnel. I didn’t think I had any sweat left, yet the javelin threatened to slip in my hand. Then I saw the white ribbons hanging from Unum’s staff twitch, as if a breeze tugged at them.

Unum opened his eyes and looked across the magma pool. “Follow me.”

He walked past the ticking box toward the molten rock. We squires stood fast, until Tetra, Dyad, and Troika followed Unum. Their squires fell in behind them. Quint stayed at the tunnel, so I did too.

“Go with them,” the Legionnaire said.

“No.” I had never disobeyed an order before. To be fair, I didn’t think I’d live to see any repercussions.

“I’ll block the pursuit. Go, see what Sol has planned for you.”

“When I face him, it will be standing next to you.” I slid another javelin out, one in each hand. They were worthless for slashing, but maybe I could skewer some daemons together, make their job a tad unpleasant.

“Quint!”

I turned and saw Unum standing on a narrow ledge on the far side of the magma pool. There was a fold in the stone wall next to him, another passageway, and one by one the rest of the Black Legion disappeared into it. My master still stared into the tunnel.

I said, “If we leave this entrance unguarded and pull the Hellbourne in, more of them will die.”

The horned helm shifted a fraction as he turned to catch me in the glowing eye slits. “Lead the way.”

I ran after Unum and the rest. The wave of heat from the magma was a physical presence. I pushed into it and saw the way across—dark stones barely breaching the surface of the molten rock. I did not hesitate. Unum’s healing prayers echoed off the chamber walls as I sprang from stone to stone, my boots bursting into flame, all the while hoping Quint was a step behind me.

I landed on the far side and smashed into Unum, who spoke a word to extinguish my burning boots. Then he tossed me into the mouth of the passageway before I could be crushed between him and Quint. The Legionnaire thundered onto the ledge and braced himself against the wall with his axe as the first daemon erupted from the tunnel. It was the Arachna, followed immediately by a swarm of imps and warlocks. Quint faced the Hellbourne and backed into the cramped tunnel, pushing Unum and me deeper in.

I glimpsed the daemons wading into the magma with no ill effects and, for a moment, my blistered feet and legs envied their flame-cured hides. Then I felt the wind coming from the far end of the passageway and my spirit wilted. I stopped and could go no further. I spoke over my shoulder to Unum. “Do you feel it? Heat so fierce it seems cold.”

Unum barked a laugh. “It is cold, son. Now keep moving before we’re stains on Quint’s boots.”

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He was right. We followed the black, twisting tunnel until a faint purple began to paint the stone walls. We emerged in another cavern twice the size of the first, ice-cold and free of magma. Upon realizing the source of the chill, however, I would have welcomed more blisters.

Tetra, Dyad and Troika stood in a line with their squires behind, all of them facing the far side of the chamber. A woman stood there, staring back in utter astonishment. I stepped next to Noru the squire, who tilted his head at her and wiggled his eyebrows. There was no doubt she was beautiful—perhaps the loveliest woman I had ever seen—but his timing was suspect.

Behind the woman, the entire wall of the chamber was missing. Where it should have been, a rippling purple wave framed an opening to some gray, barren landscape I did not recognize. No sunlight fell across its surface.

I looked to Quint for orders. To my surprise, he turned to Unum and said, “This is yours.” Then he faced the tunnel and the growing sounds of our daemon pursuers, his axe and shield ready.

“Valreia,” Unum said. “Whatever you are doing, if it must be done here, hidden away even from your own kind, it cannot be wise.”

So this was the Riftwalker. She smiled. “You speak of wisdom, Martyr, though you seem to have wandered far from any path where Sol can help you.”

Unum smiled back. “And yet here you are.”

I didn’t realize Tetra had gone missing until he appeared behind Valreia, his sabre resting across her throat and his pistol in her ribs. At the same instant, Troika raised a field of energy around them. The Riftwalker tensed with pain.

“You will take us from here now,” Unum said, “or let our ashes spend eternity together.”

The explosion was deafening. The ground trembled and sent me reeling as stones shook loose from the walls and ceiling. Quint kept his feet and held his shield steady to deflect the flames and bits of daemon that spewed from the tunnel. A wave of shimmering heat followed, then the first spray of magma appeared.

Unum told Valreia, “Work your magic or burn with us.”

The Riftwalker nodded, her eyes fixed on the molten rock. Troika killed the energy field and Valreia raised her staff. The rift on the far wall vanished, exposing the fissures spreading from the explosion. Quint stepped backward toward us, the magma rolling faster. It would fill the chamber within minutes.

Valreia spoke in an alien tongue and slammed her staff against the quaking floor. A new rift appeared, this one much smaller, purple lightning crackling around a window to charred terrain. I cared not about that, for beyond it was one of the greatest sights my eyes have beheld: Newerth, the sun setting over jagged peaks far to the west.

Troika led the way through, his flamethrower hissing. Dyad herded us squires in next. Passing through the rift felt like walking into a wall of wet cobwebs. I scrubbed at my face and came away with nothing as fresh air slapped into my lungs. Fresh by comparison, that is—we stood on the volcanic slope of Krula, high above Hell’s Keep and the Scar, and the sulphuric winds seemed pristine after the magma chamber.

Unum and Quint stepped through the rift, then Tetra, easing backward to ensure Valreia was the last one out. Glowing magma pulsed closer. A sudden rush from the far tunnel pushed a wave through the rift, where it splashed near our feet and burned into the stone. Valreia cracked her staff against the ground. The rift disappeared, severing the wave of magma and leaving it suspended in midair. It fell into a steaming puddle and began to darken as it cooled.

“I’d kiss this cursed ground,” Dyad said, “if I wasn’t certain it would poison me.” Then he knelt and kissed it anyway and came up spitting.

Tetra still had Valreia at sword and gunpoint. She appeared calm, but her large blue eyes could not hide the fear behind them. Tetra looked at Quint through the lenses of his gas mask and waited for the order.

“Release her,” Quint said.

Tetra stepped away but kept the pistol level and ready.

Quint asked Unum: “What is your judgement?”

The Martyr closed his eyes and bowed his head. The stone beneath our feet seemed to rise and fall, as if the volcano were taking a deep breath. I exchanged a concerned look with Noru, but Unum prayed on with no concern. Finally he looked upon the Riftwalker.

“Valreia, your aid in our time of need will serve you well in the afterlife. How well, I cannot say, but I wish you everlasting peace.”

Quint raised his axe. The Riftwalker tried to meet her death with a smile.

“Hold!” Troika said. He pointed at the peak of the volcano. “You may hate me for it, brothers, but my infernal device did its job well.”

The ground shook again as lava erupted from Krula’s mouth and spilled over the rim in a wave taller than any tree I’d climbed. It rushed down the slope toward us, blotting out the sky.

Valreia laughed. “Will you beg to be saved again, holy man?”

“No,” Unum said. “Our mission is accomplished. We shall meet Sol with our heads high.”

We of the Black Legion nodded at this. But the Riftwalker was not prepared for death. She stumbled away across the slope and raised her staff, poised to open another rift for herself, then looked from the approaching lava to the base of the volcano. Hell’s Keep and the Scar would soon be engulfed by the tide of destruction. I do not know if it was terror that drove what she did next, or concern for her fellow Hellbourne. I cannot say if she felt the way I would have, looking upon the Hidden Village and The Capital, had they been on the brink of ruin. But I am certain her actions will haunt all of us.

As the lava surged toward us, Valreia shouted again in the exotic language and drove her staff into the rocks at her feet. A rift tore open below us, spreading across the slope in each direction. Purple forks stabbed from its edge as it widened and replaced our view of Hell’s Keep and the Scar with a void of blackness that seemed to drain Sol’s blessed light from around us. I saw something huge and pale slide away from the opening, then Quint was shoving us all away from the lava’s path, saying, “Our work may not be done after all.”

Valreia followed, the lot of us scrambling over loose stone as the vice closed. Dyad bellowed in the tongue of his people, and the Smith’s magic drove us forward in a manic burst that put us clear of the lava. Valreia latched onto Quint’s back and the Legionnaire carried her to safety, though I doubt he felt the extra weight. The Riftwalker sprang away and watched the lava course into the dark void, vanishing from the face of Newerth. It shared none of its burning light with the realm on the other side. Instead, whatever lay across the threshold seemed to sap the lava of its deep glow.

Unum aimed his staff at Valreia. “Close it. Now.”

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“I cannot,” she said, her eyes locked on the rift. It was much wider than the lava flow; the fringes seemed to be a window into nothingness. As we watched, a glowing purple tentacle emerged from the blackness. I first took it for a dense tongue of lightning, but it moved slower—and with intention. It touched and tested the rocky surface of Newerth with glowing, pulsating suckers along its length. Then the rest of the creature followed, a purple terror with wicked claws and a single glowing eye that glared at us. It seemed to be escaping whatever damage the lava wreaked on the far side.

Troika lifted his flamethrower. The creature hissed and bolted from the rift, shrouded in a black cloud. I caught a glimpse of purple legs and tentacles as it slipped into a crevice along the volcano, then it was gone.

Unum said, “What was that thing, Riftwalker?”

“I do not know,” Valreia said. Her voice shook.

“Where does this doorway lead?”

“It…it is the Great Rift.” Her mouth opened and closed. “I must summon the Elder. This is…beyond me.”

Then she gasped and disappeared in a tiny rift that snapped open and shut, a blink of the eye, just before Tetra’s sabre could pierce her heart. The Scout held the stance for a moment, then shrugged and dropped his sword into its scabbard. “I thought if she died, maybe her damned door would too. Worth a try.”

“More coming to the party,” Dyad said.

Something with an armored leg as big around as an oak stomped on the other side of the rift and paused. The face of a giant insect peered through, blue eyes glowing and a mouth busy with mandibles. As the enormous leg crossed into our world Quint said, “Time to move. We must get word to the Legion—of our failure, and this new disease we’ve unleashed upon the land.”

We traversed the southern face of Krula, away from the flowing lava and the black rift and whatever it birthed. Quint called a halt under an outcropping as the sun finally set. The only lights we could see were the fires of Hell’s Keep below us.

Unum said, “Beyond those fires lay the Great Waste. Then Darkwood Vale, Death’s Cradle, and the Forest of Caldavar.”

Troika said, “All of it teeming with any number of Hellbourne. Looking for us, now that we let that Riftwalker slip away.”

Dyad nodded. “Toss in whatever crawled from that stinking Great Rift, and I’d wager even Tetra wouldn’t try to make it across.”

“You’d lose,” Tetra said.

“We will make it across,” Quint said. “Our brothers and sisters must know of this new evil that hunts us all. And we will not rest until this Great Rift we brought upon Newerth is closed.”

He hefted his axe and shield and started down the slope toward home.

We followed.

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