CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

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Lucinde made her way back to the caverns. She picked up on a new life-force that seemed to emanate close El'Athan and his new draugs. She hadn't had any luck locating the source of the disturbance she felt earlier. She knew some sort of sacred Light magic was involved. It would have been the only way to ward her own magical advances.

The Black Shuck appeared before her as she walked up to the entrance of the caves, just as she felt something else entirely. Some sort of shift in the balance that held the Great Dark wavered. She felt for an instant, that if she let go of her own hold on the Dark, it would all be over. When the moment passed, she swallowed back her shame and ignited her fury.  She knew it was the Great Dark's rage that drove her, but she felt it all the same.

     The Black Shuck eyed her curiously as she marched towards it, fuelled by a hatred of failure. Even the beast backed away from the intensity of her gaze. She simply dug her heels in deeper until she was certain the Shuck would comply. It lowered its head as a sign of respect and awaited her instruction.

She grabbed a hold of its fur just above the neck and pulled herself up on top of the    demon as easily as she mounted a horse. Though her hand, thighs and buttocks began to sizzle, and smoke began to rise where her clothes had been, she did not waver.

"To the human," she commanded as she kicked her boots into the beast's haunches. The Black Shuck raised his front paws and let out a piercing howl and crashed to the ground. They took off at full speed down the stone corridor, the Shuck spewing lava from its nose in exertion. It speed to the charmer entrance, scraping it's back claws across the ground to turn quick enough to make it through. Lucinde had to duck her head to keep from knocking it off the lowered archway. As she looked back up, what she saw was not what she had been expecting.

El'Athan was combating what looked to be a small human with a crystalline sword. Upon second glance she realized it was a Grey One. This enraged her even more; how dare they interfere with her business on Valterra. El'Athan looked weak and near the end of his game. If he couldn't lay his hands on his opponent, he could not drain his life force. The Grey One seemed to have no problems deflecting the onslaught of rock and dirt that El'Athan drove at him. What a waste his second resurrection had been.

Lucinde saw the human still chained to the wall. Good, at least he hadn't fowled that up somehow. Then something else caught her eye; a scroll floating through the air towards Marcus. She stared at it for a moment longer until she realized how she had been duped. There were two figures in the ethers, shrouded in magic that was now waning. They were making their way towards Marcus. It was a woman and a young man. She could tell by honing in on the woman's aura that it was she who held the spell that let them travel here undetected. It was she who stood in the way of her and her human. She looked more closely, and a smile spread across her face.

The Black Shuck howled again, ready to devour whomever Lucinde commanded it to. El'Athan stopped short to look at Lucinde and the beast, as if just now noticing they had arrived. It was too late, he realized his mistake just as the Grey One's sword met his neck. His head dropped to the ground with a thud.

The Grey One howled. At first Lucinde thought he was celebrating his victory, but soon learned that was not it at all. He howled in pain. His aura began to change and the walls began to shake. He stood up a little straighter and stared at her, then she new. He had just been resurrected. He was now Primordial. The ground shaking confirmed he must have taken El' Athan's place as Earth Builder. The walls began to give way. Faeron looked towards Elise and Avos as they began to run towards Marcus. He fast-tracked ahead of them and made it to Marcus in under a second, ready to defend him. He still did not think Elise was vulnerable in her ether state, but he was wrong.

Lucinde noticed the two phantoms as they scurried away from her, but she had only to tap on the Shuck's thigh and it was on them in a single bound. The Beast moved right through them like they weren't even there. As Lucinde reached out for the the girl, whom she now wanted more than the old man, a black mist appeared and swarmed around the younger woman. Lucinde spoke a few words and her own hand turned to spirit which then clutched the girls arm.

In one moment, Avos' world was ripped away. He felt Elise struggle to hold onto him for only seconds before she screamed and was yanked from his grasp and tossed over the lap of Lucinde. He could only watch in horror as they all three turned and disappeared into nothingness. He felt himself float up into the air, aimlessly through the rocks walls of the caverns until he was shrouded in darkness.

"Nooooo!" was the last thing Avos heard before he opened his eyes and he was back in Bolster. The body of Elise lay unconscious in his arms. He must have tried with all his might to keep her with him, even here on the otherside.

"Elise! Wake up!" He shook her, but she did not stir. He lay her gently on the ground and put his ear to her chest. She was still alive! Her breaths were shallow and she did not wake when he urged her to again, but she was alive. He pulled her back up into his lap and wept there with her in his arms.

His Aunt Chloe had been banging at the door as soon as she heard him cry out. She burst into the room and began to fuss over Elise, checking her heartbeat and breath as he did, but Avos rarely noticed. He did not want to let her go. He could not. How had this happened?

That was when he remembered the elf, Faeron. This is his fault, he thought vehemently as a spark of rage awakened inside him.

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