CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

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     Marcus woke to the snarls of a sleeping beast and the moon and stars shining brightly down upon the landscape around him. 

     The Black Shuck lay lazily with its arms out stretched on top of Marcus' legs. He was pinned and slowly burning. His legs felt like they were on fire.  He tried to softly squirm out from under it, but it was no use. Even the most delicate movement was returned with a supple growl.  

     By the looks of the landscape, he thought he may be in the Companions territory, not far off from the Scourge. He could see the silhouette of Northern Mountains from where they rested, and he heard the screech of an owl nearby hunting it's prey. 

     Why the beast had let him live was troubling. It could only mean one thing; The Earth Builder wanted him for himself. He twisted and squirmed fruitlessly one last time. Though surprisingly he stayed calm. He wasn't afraid of the Earth Builder. He had ended him once, he could end him again. What troubled him more was leaving Avos behind to fend for himself. 

     It's no use human. Marcus heard the thought in his head. He was startled when he looked over at the beast who was now staring straight at him. It lifted its legs and let Marcus sit up and back away up against the nearest tree. Marcus rubbed his legs, he was surprised his skin was still intact, only a surface burn. 

     The Black Shuck stood up on all fours and began slowly walking around Marcus and the tree. This close to Marcus, the Black Shuck could communicate more readily in the common tongue, at least telepathically. You know what's coming? You know who wants to see you?

     "I do," answered Marcus. 

     Then we wait. It paused for a moment. Was he waiting for Marcus to respond? His mind turned to the battle. He remembered how easily the City Defender's had taken out the Soulless once they knew how to defeat them. He had felt a sense of hope before the Shuck took him, a sense that everything was going to be ok, that they would be able to defeat the Soulless, get the scrolls and see Avos resurrected in time to defeat the Earth Builder. He had thought the Light was shining on their faces. 

     Don't get your hopes up, you fool! The Shuck stopped in front of Marcus and barred its teeth. Do you really think that the first to rise would be the last? The strongest? The undead Earth Builder is still weak. They were merely my pawns, a distraction. Pity they all burned, but that won't happen again. 

     "You can read my thoughts?"  

     The Black Shuck stepped up closer to Marcus. It put its face right up to his, laughed a growl and opened his jaws in a mocking grin. It snapped its jaws with a loud crack which made Marcus jump back and slam his head against the trunk of the tree. Marcus tried to stand and move away but the hit had made him dizzy. The Shuck grabbed hold of his Marcus's ankle with his teeth before he got too far and began to pull him through the dirt.

     Come, he's awake. The Shuck twisted his head around and bit at the side of his back. It looked like there was a pocket sliced right into his burning hide which bulged with it's contents. 

     Suddenly, the air in front of the beast became distorted.  A large oval shape began to appear in midair. It danced like waves in a shaken tub. Marcus recognized what it was; a portal. He hadn't seen one since before the Shattering, while he was still Primordial. Now he knew how the Soulless had gotten to Bolster ahead of the Earth Builder. The Black Shuck had gotten his paws on a Portal Stone. They must have made some sort of deal. What was the Black Shuck getting out of it?

     The beast walked through it, pulling Marcus with him. Marcus felt like his skin was being pulled off his body. An enormous amount of pressure seized his skull. Just as it felt like his head was going to burst, they were through and standing at the mouth of The Scourge. 

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