Ascension: Emri, The Unclean
Emri sharpened her swords for the third time today. The scrape, scrape, scrape of stone across the blade was pointless as they were composed of metal so rare that it had no name. They wouldn't get any sharper, and they would never dull. The strokes were ritual, a habit instilled in Emri from millennia ago before she was The Soulslayer, The Unmaker, and most recently: The Demonsbane. It was something to do while she and her sister were stuck in the mountains waiting out a storm that seemed to go on forever.
A few weeks ago, Emri was relaxing in the Void Capital, Nihila, meditating, bathing, drinking, and training. Then some Timestream Seer started ranting about a vision she'd had. The Void Council looked into it and found evidence that a particularly powerful individual was mucking up reality. Now Emri was on top of a mountain, in the middle of a blizzard, looking for some mad god, who was taking his damn time to show up, and -Five Hells- she hated the cold.
The two were camped by a cave high up in the Banshee Mountains, a range of narrow black stone spires, with deep lightning shaped cracks in the sides. In the winter, when they filled with snow, the cracks looked like scraggly white hair. The harsh winds that blew through the range created a never-ending howl, which gave the mountains their name. Today, however, the cry of the mountains was joined by three other sounds: Thoom! Thud! Rumble!
Emri's sister, Zinta, the famous Spike Vixen of the south, drew her spikes from a pair of black gauntlets, that were both portals to the Void. Zinta would reach into the void with her fingertips, slide out daggers of hardened energy, and hurl them from the brink of the cliff.
Thoom! The glowing violet darts rocketed across the chasm. Thud! The spike split the stone of the distant spire. Rumble! The mountain shook, and a wave of snow crashed down. Four avalanches and counting, that was the game. Just something to pass the time.
"I hate these mountains," Emri said.
The snow was now flying horizontally across the sky as the blizzard worsened. The wind screamed, a high-pitched and unending howl. Frost clung to the edges of Emri's helmet, and the frozen air began to sting. "Sister," Emri called out, "Get inside, we've got another night here before the storm clears."
Thoom! Thud! Rumble!
"Let's go," Emri shouted, leaving her sister to follow. Emri had chosen this cliff because it had a large cave where they could camp. The flames of the small fire she'd made inside the cave were dwindling. Emri crouched beside the fire and threw on another piece of semi-dried wood. A weak crackle and a few more flames sprung up. A cold wind blew through the cave, sending a chill down her back.
Zinta stepped into the cave and took a seat beside Emri. She wiggled her fingers close to the flames.
Emri held out her blades and rolled them over in her hands. Flickering light reflected off the rare metal. She took a pursed her lips considering the weapons.
"Something on your mind?"
"Yeah," Emri said. "Why do you think they call these "Emri's Sting?"
"Who knows why they do anything?"
"It just seems underwhelming," Emri said. "A sting suggests that they're an annoyance. The last demon I stung with one of them had his guts pulled out right in front of his weeping mother."
Zinta smiled and nodded, lost in the memory for a moment, then she shrugged, "I don't know. Why do you care?"
"Just thinking about all the names they'd given us over the years."
Zinta stood. "They like names," she drew three glowing spikes from her gauntlet, tossed them up one after another and began to juggle. "They're only human."
"I like 'em too." Emri said, "Well, some of them. They're a reminder of what we've done over the-"
The mountain shook and bits of rock fell from the ceiling. Zinta dropped her spikes and steadied herself, hands out wide.
A look of frustration on Emri's face, as the rumbling continued, and she turned her eyes to Zinta. "I told you not to play avalanche," Emri growled. Then a wave of white powder crashed down over the mouth of the cave. Snow billowed toward the sisters, nearly snuffing out the flames, and the grey sky disappeared as the entrance filled with snow, trapping them inside. The trembling slowed, then stopped.
Emri stuck her blade into the stone, "Now we're going to be digging ourselves out of here all night!"
Zinta threw up her hands, "Calm down, sister? At least we can get some sleep without having to hear the howling of those winds."
"I don't like being slowed down."
"Slowed down?" Zinta said. "We don't even know who we're after. This whole task feels like wasted time. It's been four days and the only dangerous creature I've seen in these mountains is you," she snorted. "I feel like the Council sent us here to get us out of their hair for a while. They don't like having you around, you're too powerful, it makes them nervous."
Emri shook her head.
"What?" Zinta asked.
Zinta stepped close to Emri, getting right in her face. "What aren't you telling me? Do you know who we're after?"
Emri slid her swords into their sheaths, stepped around her sister and sat by the fire.
"Huh! You do know," Zinta gasped. "Why haven't you told me? Is it the Lifebound?"
"No." Emri huffed, "You think I'd freeze my ass off for some tree-hugging little Vineweaver?"
"Who is it?"
Zinta's eyes narrowed. "Which monk?"
"Just a monk."
"Which. Monk?" Zinta bit off each word.
Emri poked the fire with a stick, "Adayu," she said.
Zinta's face went pale. "As in the god, Adayu?"
For a moment, Zinta just stood there wrapping her mind around what she'd just heard. Then she pulled three spikes from her bracers, "I'm done," she said. "I'm going home." She hurled a spike at the pile of snow covering the entrance. The spike ripped open a fist-sized hole, continuing out into the mountain range beyond. She turned to Emri shaking a spike like a finger at her, "You're a madwoman, and you lied to me."
"This is why I didn't tell you."
Zinta launched another spike, made another hole. Once again, the mountain rumbled.
"Five hells!" Zinta hissed, she turned to Emri. "I don't think you're grasping the reality of this situation."
Emri folded her arms, "Of course I am."
"No, you're not. There is literally no reality to this situation. Why did you say yes to this?"
"We've never killed a god before."
The cave rumbled again. Rocks fell, Emri nearly toppled over, catching herself on the wall. A moment later it was over.
Zinta locked eyes with her sister, "I like living, Emri. I don't want to be ripped apart or blinked out of existence or transmuted into something else, or any of the other infinite horrible things Adayu could do to us."
"Think of it, sister," Emri said. "We've wounded them, crippled them even, but we've never killed one. I figure it can be done and that's actually worth the name."
"We don't even know if he can die."
"Everything dies. Plus, if the Council read the Seer's prophecy right, then he's losing his mind. Sounds like the perfect time to spill some god blood." Emri said, clenching her fist. Emri closed the space between them. "Sister, when they write our names in history they will know us as Emri and Zinta, The Godkillers!"
Then something hit the wall behind them, and the stone wall cracked. It began to distend in their direction, the cracks widened and white smoke began to billow out from the splintering wall. The stone glowed red like coals in a forge. The heat appeared in spots at first, but then it began to spread until the cave was illuminated in an orange-yellow glow.
"Something's hitting it from the other side!" Zinta shouted, and the two stepped back.
There was another crash against the wall, and chunks of smoldering rock crumbled away. The two watched as something long, metallic pierced the wall, then retracted.
"What is it?" Zinta asked, but Emri didn't respond, she kept her eyes focused on the wall, and snapped her facemask shut.
The blade pierced the wall again. It pressed all the way through, twice the length of a human arm, curved like a scimitar and red hot. The thing shook from right to left, ripping open a massive hole in the side of the cave. Dust and smoke filled the room, as red-hot crumbling wall rolled toward them.
"Adayu." Zinta's words echoed through the cave. "Was that a sword?"
A loud roar and a beast pushed its way through the gap, dust, and smoke swirling around the hulking creature.
"No," Emri said, "It was a horn."
Zinta stepped close enough to see the beast. It looked like a bronze statue in the light from the glowing coals scattered around the cave. The monster's flesh was covered in plate upon plate of bronze colored metal. It was like some terrible wizard had stitched together army's worth of shields. The monster stomped its feet and the cave shook. It swung its huge, featureless head back and forth. Zinta couldn't see a mouth or nose, not a single eye was visible. The burrower just stood there waving its red hot horn at the two of them. Orange magma dripped from some somewhere beneath the layers metal like drool.
Emri drew her swords and channeled the Void. Dark energy flowed through her veins as she allowed her consciousness to fall into oblivion. The void dripped like sweat from her pores. A purple-black liquid light flowed in lines down her flesh. It coalesced along her arms, legs and abdomen, coating her body in a viscous armor. She leaped forward, toward the monster, and with each step, the armor rippled.
The burrower dipped his head, the edge of its horn came dangerously close, and Emri twisted to one side at the last minute and slashed down across its armored head. Sparks flew as Emri's blade found nothing to bite into. The cave filled with the screech of metal on metal.
The monster twisted its whole body in one quick turn, batting Emri with the side of its horn, launching her into the wall. Her swords clattered across the floor. The viscous armor sizzled from the heat of the horn. This beast might be big, but it wasn't slow.
Emri looked up, saw her sister climbing the wall behind the monster. The void was cloaking her like a shadow, and she whipped her spikes down at the beast. They harmlessly danced across its metal body.
The beast snarled, raising its head to face Zinta clinging to the wall above it. Then it unhinged a jaw, hidden under armored plates and coughed up vomit of boiling magma.
Zinta dropped to the ground, rolled out of the way, the beast turned with her.
Emri was back on her feet, and behind the borrower. There were a few spots where the beast looked soft, places where its metal hide grew out from the flesh beneath.
Emri snatched up her blades and leaped through the air, a boost of void energy gave her incredible speed, she came down stabbing her swords, right between the plates. The monster roared, and magma sprayed all along the wall.
"Got you!" Emri cackled, beating the blade down with her fist, like a spike into the ground. The burrower screamed, twisting about, and coughing up more magma. The cave was heating up, snow melting, turning to hot steam.
"Hold on sister!"
The beast was kicking like a bull, shaking Emri's frame like a rag doll. Its heavy stomps sounded like thunder and Emri held on tight as the monster tried to crush her against the wall, slamming its side into the stone over and over again.
Zinta circled the burrower looking for a way to help her sister, but the bucking monster moved too fast and too erratically for an attack. She didn't want to risk hitting Emri with one of her spikes.
Emri tried pulling her body onto the burrower's back but the beast kicked, nearly throwing her off. "Help me..." the beast bucked "...kill this thing..." bucked again "...now!"
Zinta threw up her hands in frustration, "How?"
"I'm going to open this wound..." It bucked again, "You're going to stick your arm inside."
Zinta moved back and forth with the monster as it bucked and turned. She drew a few spikes and tossed them at the monster's feet, tripping it up. The monster stumbled forward.
Emri laughed, and drove the twin sword into the wound. She wrenched it open and black blood poured out of the wound, thick as oil and hot as hell. Its armor began to crumble exposing a large gory target. "Now," she said, and leaned back, giving her sister room.
Zinta launched herself forward, violet energy bled from her gauntlets, coating her fist and arm. She closed her eyes at the last minute and drove her hand deep into the wound. The burrower howled and bucked. Zinta was stuck in the thing, being rattled back and forth, void energy the only thing keeping her from breaking part.
"Spikes," Emri roared. "Spikes!"
The back of the monster exploded, purple spikes of energy flew in every direction, along with shrapnel of bone and metal and meat.
The burrower's screaming shifted turned into a gurgle, the beast's collapsed armor scraping against the stone floor.
Emri wheezed, felt the Void quiver under her skin.
Zinta had been knocked into a nearby wall, a plate of the monster's armor had shielded her from most of the gore, except for her dripping arm she wasn't in bad shape.
Emri, on the other hand, was laid out on a pile of steaming gore. She sat up, shoved a pile of monstrous guts to the side. It slopped to the ground. Emri lifted herself up and black ichor dripped down from her to the ground.
Zinta let out a burst of laughter, then quickly silenced herself.
"What," Emri grunted.
"We better find Adayu soon. Otherwise-"
"Otherwise, what?" Emri whipped a long trail of gore from her arm, turned and raised a brow to her sister.
"Oh, you know." Zinta paused, "Your next name will be Emri, the Unclean!"
Emri whipped gore at her sister. Zinta deftly stepped out of the way and continued to laugh.
"I hate these mountains," Emri mumbled, then she sat down and pulled out her whetstone.