Midnight


-

Shura had left the awaiting sacrifices to stew in their own thoughts and fears. She was now sitting along the coastal cliffs, just beyond the
clearing that was to be used for the ritual. Her metallic mask had been removed, and tossed aside to land with a heavy clank on the rocks.

For the first time in days she could finally inhale the blood tainted air. She closed her eyes blissfully at the aroma, losing herself for a
moment in the rustic scent.

"You bring me interesting sacrifices, Shura."

Red on white eyes remained closed. Having served by The Great Evil's side for years, Shura was long since used to Neiarishta's way of
appearing out of nowhere. "Do they please you?" Her voice was slightly strained from disuse, sounding coarse and unlike her mind's voice.

"I find them to be a questionable choice." Neiarishta took a seat beside the Corrupted Mage, her cyan on red eyes gazing out across the
darkening horizon. "The Guardian was a requirement for this to work. The other three were not."

"So you wish to dispose of the others?" Shura slowly opened her eyes, glancing over at her commander.

"No." She drawled, a glowing paw thoughtfully tracing the lines in the rocks, "We can make use of them. The souls of a thousand Magics
combined with the souls of the others should be more than enough. And the two Wars, they shall enable me to rid this world of her
influence."

"I though you enjoyed her skills?"

"It is her Order I dislike."

"And you will remove them all along with the Shades? Will that work?"

"Do not doubt my servants, Shura. They can easily manage to work with this change while still gaining the same results." Neiarishta
paused, taking a moment to watch the three red moons as they began to unnaturally shift their locations in the night sky. "The Shades will
be gone. I will have my main form reclaimed. And this world will become mine alone."

Shura was silent for a pregnant pause as she too looked upon the moons. "Who would have thought the powers of Orcle and Nilerna
would aid you in such a quest."

"Irony can be such a humorous affair."


...*...*...*...

His body ached, his wounds still bled, and his head throbbed with the threat of a migraine. He should not have moved, it only caused the
pain to increase tenfold. Muscles twitched and shuddered as torn flesh was realized, and nerve endings severed.

He almost fell back upon the cold stone. Almost gave in to the wish for the impossible - the chance to finally die.

Over the years Sen had been wounded so often that he wondered how his body even managed to continue on. His wings had been torn
up, shredded in to pieces, broken in half, and ripped off many times. It was a miracle how they ever managed to heal and reform when a
skilled healer cast his or her magic.

But no amount of healing, no amount of time passing, ever helped to dull the memory of pain. Whenever he used his wings to take to the
skies, he felt trickles of pain where his mind remembered past wounds to have been. The ache seemed so real that once he had even
dropped from the sky as all concentration was numbed. He hit land with a gruesome snap as both of his wings were twisted in to awkward
angles.

After having healed up from the fall, and his wings been repaired, Sen couldn't get himself to take to the skies again. He was afraid that
another episode of remembered pain would overwhelm him. So for years he traveled on paw alone, just trying to build up the courage to
try again.

It was a full century later before he met his would-be mate. She had been so inspirational, so kind and carefree, that she had little trouble
convincing Sen to try again. He could still remember that day, when her green eyes glimmered with delight as he agreed to humor her.

The pain had returned, as he feared it would, but the shouts of encouragement from beside him kept him airborne. Kyoko had inspired
confidence within him, and Sen was able to ignore the ghosts that haunted his senses. It was only after her passing, many years later, that
Sen had stopped flying again. But this time it was not out of physical pain.

His heartache every time he remembered flying with Kyoko at his side. Her white wings, always aglow with an ethereal aura, and gentle
smile as she flew were forever imprinted in his mind. No matter how much he tried, he just couldn't get past it for a number of years after
her passing.

It took a couple generations before he ever flew again.

And now, there was a combination of physical and emotional pain that stuck to his wings. They were, and probably would remain, haunted
by the ghosts of a past Sen could never let go.

"Can you-" Reaper's question was cut off by the pain that vibrated through his wounded chest. His face was distorted by agony, and the
hunter let his words die off. He would not try speaking again.

Sen glanced down upon Reaper, and then at the others. He was the only one able to muster the strength to get up, the others were still left
in the positions they had woken up in. Unsure of what the hunter was going to ask, and unable to read the emerald eyes, the Guardian
sighs in frustration.

"How cute. You've moved since I last saw you, Guardian." Shura's sickly sweet voice didn't seem to garner the same effect on Sen's nerves
as her mind voice normally would. "I suppose you're becoming restless. How delightful."

He didn't have the energy to voice a reply, so he settled for a glare worthy of frightening death itself.

"Only a half hour to go, dear Guardian, and then.." She trailed off, offering a wicked smile. "Bye-bye."

When Sen's reply was only the continuation of his deadly glare, Shura seemed to lose interest. She turned her attention over to the
Neophytes beginning to check over each of the blood symbols. "A little late to be checking those things now, isn't it?" She asked
maliciously. Knowing she wouldn't be getting any reaction from Neiarishta's summoners, the Corrupted Mage left with a snarl of annoyance.

Sen watched her go, his glare still firmly in place, until at last Shura was gone from his view. He turned his gaze over to the Neophytes, only
to see a truly odd sight. The summoner who Shura had been speaking to was looking off in the direction she left, silver eyes filled with
confusion and contempt.

But summoners..

The Guardian openly gaped at the hooded Raveen. Even after the Neophyte had returned to looking the symbols over, added fixes, and
eventually wandered off, Sen was still locked in a state of his own confusion. What he had just seen...

It was impossible.

...*...*...*...

As Kiya descended the incline back in to the blue-lit cavern, she could feel every hair on the back of her neck beginning to tingle. Her paws
wanted to shift in direction and run back out of the tunnel, leaving the bloodied area altogether. Every inch she moved forward was another
ten feet she wanted to jump back.

Off to her side she could make out Hatuu, who for a moment looked as if he was trembling from fear. She swallowed a nervous lump in her
throat as she came to an absolute stop. There before her was the cause for the thick blood in the air wafting out of the cavern.

"My God.." Hatuu's jaw had dropped in horror at the scene, as his eyes roamed over blood-covered walls and shredded body parts. There
was blood everywhere. On the cavern's spiked roof, along the bed rocks, in the once-blue waters, and thickest against gruesome splatters
on the walls.

There was so much blood that Kiya was now fighting back the urge to vomit. Never in her life had she seen such raw gore. All around her it
looked like her fellow warriors had been thrown against the cavern walls at such a high velocity that they were smashed like bugs against a
windshield. Guts were still hanging from the points of impact, globs of blood still dripping from the fleshy mess.

Brains were splattered about, as were pieces of bone and what could have been someone's eye if it were still in it's socket, and not
squished and leaking milky-white fluid. A set of smashed jaws and organs was lying only a foot away from Kiya, who turned a sickly green
at the sight.

It took all her willpower to even allow her eyes to roam to the rest of the cavern. As more blood and entrails entered her vision, she could
only shudder back the desire to vomit. Her eyes pass to the middle of the cavern, hoping to find solace from all the violence on the walls.

Her gaze falls first to the dark waters, still managing to give off a blue light, which were swimming with the dark trails of crimson ink and
body parts. She went even greener at the sight of a paw hanging haphazardly off a rock, only a hair away from touching the liquid below. It
was covered in chunky blood, or possible organ bits, that glistened with an eerie glow from the waters.

Hatuu had moved forward, although Kiya had no idea how he had the strength to do so. She couldn't even think of moving another step in
to the cavern's midst. The sight was too overwhelming, it paralyzed her where she stood.

With morbid curiosity Hatuu stepped around the chunks of flesh and bones to get nearer the cavern's glowing waters. His paws were
becoming drenched in sticky crimson, and his nose was being raped by the scent of the dead. Blood was dripping down on him, from
somewhere up above, staining his silver mane with dark streaks of red.

Feeling detached from his own movements, the Smoke slowly got closer and closer to the water. Kiya continued to watch the Raveen, her
eyes full of revulsion. She couldn't understand why the Raveen wanted, or even needed, to get a closer look at this bloody mess.

As the Raveen reached down in to the waters, and tugged the lifeless body of an Ash to the pond's edge, Kiya could only stare. She hadn't
noticed a body - one still in one piece, anyway - floating in the water when she was looking before. A whole new wave of nausea hit her
then, as she watched a bloody mass of organs slide off the Ash's body when Hatuu pulled him clear of the water.

He moved him back far enough so that his entire body was now sprawled out on the rocks. There was no movement from the body. No rise
and fall of the chest, no blood dripping from any wounds.

And Kiya knew without even having to step any closer that this Raveen was dead.

Ruurak was dead.

She shot a questioning look to Hatuu, pleading with him for a cause of death. The Smoke could only stare wide-eyed at the Raveen, and
as Kiya followed the Raveen's gaze and settled her own on the Raveen's head, she understood. In that moment everything came full circle,
and she knew.

She knew Ruurak had been killed like Louunza. She knew the others had been thrown at the cavern's walls just like Sen and Uunagari had,
but with much more force. She knew that Morgalis had known this was going happen. She knew that three little holes decorated Ruurak's
skull.

As black sand blew in from nowhere, and a polished white mask formed upon the body of an all-black Raveen, Kiya understood even more.
In the instant it took a three-clawed weapon to slice in to Hatuu's skull, Kiya understood exactly why Ruurak had told Hatuu everything. And
as the Smoke's body fell, as Kiya suddenly realized Hatuu had been a Demon all along, she felt completely detached from the world.

And when her body was forced back by the wind of a sudden sandstorm, and when she hit the incline behind her, she felt nothing but
numb.


...*...*...*...

Zouu was once again perched in the high trees overlooking the coast. He was farthest away from the Demon group as he could be, while
still remaining in a close enough proximity to see what was going on. Hidden in the shadows of the dead trees, the Raveen watched the
activity along the coast with a growing sense of dread.

The Great Evil's summoners had all arrived only minutes ago, and were now doing their final preparations. There were three large
summoning circles, the one in the center Zouu knew to hold the Hunter, the Guardian, and two others. The other two were currently empty,
but Neophytes were already gathering around them.

As chanting began to rise from those encircling the empty ritual areas, Zouu stole a glance upward. His silver eyes narrowed at the
traitorous moons, which were perfectly aligned as if it was the Eclipse itself. The earlier sacrifices had been used to force the moons in to
that position, the alignment a requirement for the ritual.

Shouts of outrage cause his attention to fly back to the clearing, where Zouu was nearly stunned at what was happening. Every Demon in
the area who had a red crystal hung around their neck was beginning to turn to ash, as those two vacant ritual circles glowed a violent
white. The Great Evil had just used her only loyal Demons as a sacrifice, and Zouu's sense of dread only intensified.

The chanting summoners began to follow the Demons as sacrifices, and within minutes only a handful of Neophytes remained in the area.
All others had died in the rituals, and as these remaining summoners got in to position around the final ritual circle, Zouu could only watch
the events that were about to unfold.

He could not interfere. For if he did, he knew, that both Shura and Neiarishta would be upon him in a heartbeat. They would have no one
getting in the way of this.

No one.


...*...*...*...

Sen watched in horror as the Demons burned from the inside out, as those red crystals began to burn with the rage of a thousand suns. In
mere seconds each and every one of them was reduced to ash, and the crystals fell like large droplets of blood. They hit the rock with the
scream of breaking class, as millions of pieces were scattered over the rocks.

The Guardian had not been expecting Neiarishta to be so desperate. He had learned, during his stay with Morgalis' group, that The Great
Evil had lost Her influence over a good number of Demons. To so willing sacrifice those that she could still command -- it meant that Sen
had every right to feel the fear that was crawling it's way in to his mind in the form of a thousand voices.

He could only watch in stunned silence as the remaining Neophytes stepped up around the group, and took their marks. Red eyes stared
lifelessly back at him from behind deer-fur hoods, as the summoners began the Midnight ritual. The Guardian's lilac eyes whirled around to
take in each and every Neophyte as their Demon-tongue chanting started to rise in volume.

White energy was beginning to rise up from the blood symbols, and Sen could hear the muffled shouts of surprise from both Uunagari and
Reaper. Little waves of electrical energy started to bounce off the growing circle of white, with each passing second getting closer and
closer to the four trapped in it's confines. Lilac eyes came to rest on silver, and a desperate voice in the back of his mind told Sen to do
something.

Many voices agreed, urging the Guardian to do something - anything - to save them all. He could not stop the ritual. He could not free
himself from here. There was only one hope now, and as Sen's mind came to realize this he felt hopeless. He knew what he was about to
do wasn't going to work. What he had seen earlier was a fluke - summoners did not have emotions. They were mindless sacrifices to be
used however Neiarishta pleased.

But as ridiculous as the idea was, Sen knew it was his only option.

In the next instant he was taking a painful step closer to that deadly white energy, his eyes still locked with silver as the chanting continued.
"Listen to me-"

...*...*...*...

Zouu continued to observe the final ritual, the grip of fear now screaming for him to run while he still could. This wasn't his fight, he could
leave the area without any regrets. None of this concerned him, the Doomcry.

He knew it wasn't true. He knew that this did concern him, and that what this ritual was aiming for was something that should never come to
pass. Yet his paws would not move, his body wouldn't teleport, and he stayed rooted to the spot in his indecision.

The frustration of wanting to run, wanting to help, and all the while knowing neither choice would make a difference was beginning to cut it's
way in to Zouu's resolve. He forced his eyes shut, willing the images of the final sacrifice to go away, with no success. Even in his mind's
eye he could see that final summoning circle glowing with energy, he could practically hear those trapped within it begging for help. And for
a moment Zouu even imagines that one of the trapped has turned to the summoners for help, and he gives a rather clipped laugh at that.

Until he realizes, when he opens his eyes, that he hadn't been imagining that. The form which he could clearly make out as Sen in the
blazing light of the white energy, was screaming at the summoners to stop the ritual. He was yelling out that nothing is impossible, that even
a summoner could be free from slavery. It was a load of nonsense, in the Doomcry's opinion, yet he continued to listen to the insane
ranting of the Guardian.

With a gasp of wonder, Zouu was completely taken aback as one of the Summoners actually pulled away from the ritual circle, just seconds
before the time it too would have turned to ash - like it's remaining brothers were currently.

...*...*...*...

Sen only saw the shock in the silver eyes as the Guardian's words struck something within the Neophyte. Seconds later, as the chanting
had begun to reach it's climax, even the Guardian was left speechless when the summoner pulled back from it's position. But he was only
allowed a moment of stunned amazement before white light blinded him, and pain overwhelmed.

He did the only thing he could, and screamed out as the energy tore in to his body. A thousand screams echoed his own, and the world
became nothing but white.

...*...*...*...

The energy ripped upward, striking the atmosphere of the Ice Plains in a glorious display of power. It rippled across the planet, and a huge
wave of energy washed over everything. Every Valley, every mountain, every ocean and sea. Everything was engulfed in a painful glare of
white.

And when finally the screams have died out, a last surge of energy reached up to the bleached sky, and shattered the world.
.The Downward Spiral.