The Guild warrior’s flags served his side well. His presence rallied the Hunter Rampage, and together they defeated the slithering Rift creature and engaged the remaining stunned Riftspawn in a fierce battle. The clash appeared evenly matched as Jaru crawled around the sheltering rock to relative safety.
I barred his way. “You brought me here to show how close we all are to extermination. And when we are at the tipping point, you shove us toward our doom.”
He looked up with his burning red eyes.
“Like this?” He tossed me aside with a flick of his hand, stood and leaned against the stone.
Between us and the growing Rift, the Hunter’s Guild continued to combat the Riftspawn and the purple tentacles trying to place more stalagnights in our realm. I was torn; aid the Guild or attempt to regain Jaru’s alliance against the creatures. And, failing that, keep my eyes on him to prevent him from attacking the Hunters.
He watched me rise and examine the fresh scrapes on my palms, then scoffed and said, “Tell me. Do all of Jeraziah’s Conciliators possess magic? No, save your protests; I felt the power you summoned. It seems I’m not the only one lying at this palaver.”
“I have not lied. Only allowed you to see what you wish.”
His eyes crackled with lightning, as did the red orb rising from his palm. “Now I wish to see the truth, and you will reveal yourself.”
I gauged the distance. If he could sense magic building, he would incinerate me at the first hint of a spell.
“Who are you?” he said.
I said nothing and did not move.
Our standoff was shattered when a four-legged purple creature as large as a wolf loped through the Rift along one of the tentacles. Its claws dug into the glistening flesh and left divots with each step before it leapt toward the Corrupted Disciple. He noticed my shock and turned as the Riftspawn collided with his chest. It seemed to have no eyes, only a gaping mouth with talon-like teeth and an exposed green brain that pulsated with excitement.
Jaru braced both hands against its throat to keep the dripping jaws from clamping onto his face. His orb whirled in a frenzied pattern above. Red lightning flowed along his arms into the purple beast and exploded, sending it tumbling backward through the air. The odor of burnt flesh lingered.
The Riftwolf landed in a heap, rolled onto its feet and shook itself and seemed coiled to attack again when a disembodied head floated through the Rift, a single glowing eye beneath the writhing mass of tentacles it sported for hair. Another four-legged beast followed it, this one the size of a horse, with a giant matching eye rolling within its chest cavity. It walked into Newerth, one hand a head-slicing pincer, the other a fixed blade as sharp as a needle. The giant eye turned to the purple wolf-like creature, as if to ensure its safety, then glared at Jaru and myself.
I was unsure whether this new entity was one or three, but there was no doubt it was unfriendly. It raised the needle blade and charged, the floating head and Riftwolf pulling ahead to spill first blood.
Glowing purple spikes and tendrils burst from the volcanic stone outside the Rift and shot in a straight line toward us. They erupted beneath the Riftspawn, causing a sudden halt to the charge. Between the three of them, two eyes blinked in pain and confusion.
A purple, clawed hand extended through the Rift and grasped one of the spikes. I was certain the Riftspawn were about to have a four-on-two advantage, and I was about to witness the downfall of Newerth. Then the hand pulled its owner through the Rift and relief crashed over me. This Hunter wore a hat and coat studded with collected Rift teeth and claws. His right hand held a wicked short sword emblazoned with the symbol of the Hunter’s Guild, while that giant purple left hand seemed to have been severed from its original master and attached over his own. It drew a wide-barreled rifle slung over the Hunter’s back and aimed it at the floating head.
The opening salvo in the final battle between the Hunter’s Guild and the Riftspawn was deafening.