The Hunter Rampage and his weary, bloodied mount faced the victorious Rift Predator and the green hard-shelled creature, which had left the Guild’s tribal warrior and his blowgun shattered in the dust.
I scampered back to the shelter of the volcanic stone and gasped to Jaru, “We must do something. These Riftspawn are on the verge of winning.”
The Corrupted Disciple hesitated. I do not believe it was out of fear; that concept seemed unavailable to him. I saw calculation in his burning red eyes, a weighing of the situation to see if there were any benefits to not intervening.
“If the Riftspawn win they will overtake Newerth,” I said. “Do you think they will falter when they come to your Scar and whatever septic blight lies within? They will spill into it like a sewer drain and show your kind what real darkness is.”
Jaru smiled. “Can you not see? The warriors who give themselves over to the Rift are clearly dominant. Those who resist its influence are found lacking.”
“The first Hunter remains standing. He—”
“He is being flanked as we speak. If you do not wish to hear his screams, cover your ears as you have your eyes. I gave myself over to the darkness once, and it has served me well. This Great Rift is simply the next tier.”
“That…that is madness.”
Jaru stepped away from the shelter. “Madness brought Maliken his great power. What might it do for me?”
The red orb rose from his palm and began to spin, faster and faster. Ahead of him the mounted Hunter’s head swiveled left and right as the two Riftspawn circled him, waiting to lunge. The Hunter Rampage glanced at Jaru and his spinning orb. He pointed his giant mace at the Corrupted Disciple, marking him as an enemy, and gripped the reins to charge when a green blob arced from the Great Rift and landed in front of him.
A tentacled, serpent-like head rose from the green mass and spat a viscous toxin at the Hunter’s face. He dodged the assault, barely, as the source of the blob dragged itself through the portal. It slithered into Newerth, shimmering with a sickly green hue, its long tongue testing the air. The hood around its multi-eyed face was flared, the razor-sharp tines growing from its arms slashing the air as it slid toward the Hunter, surrounding him completely.
A realization seemed to fall upon the Hunter, then resignation. He lowered his giant mace and patted the thick neck of the Riftbeast he’d tamed, a final display of gratitude. Jaru and the Riftspawn closed in. I rose from the shelter and pushed my cloak aside, a yellow aura building around my hands. I did not know if it would change the outcome, but I had to do something.
A roar filled the air, echoing from the black portal across the face of Krula. The Riftspawn halted, their eyes darting to the Great Rift. Jaru took a step backward toward me and nearly stumbled when a warrior clad in red and purple armor launched through the Rift, his battle cry growing to a deafening level. He landed next to his fellow Hunter and slammed his weapon, a pulsing red Riftbeast head with burning eyes and jagged fangs, against the ground.
The Riftspawn were knocked off their feet and scattered across the dust. Jaru careened through the air and crashed into the sheltering stone. He slumped to the ground and blinked at the new Hunter, this warrior who seemed to be rallying the Guild’s cause, and allowed his orb to dim and sink below his cloak.
I let the yellow aura around my hands fade as well. Jaru had not seen it, and still believed I was King Jeraziah’s Anointed Conciliator. Which I was, externally. If I could keep my true identity secret, I would. But if these remaining members of the Hunter’s Guild failed to stop the Riftspawn, I would do whatever was necessary.