And then Vargen could hear it too; the chattering in the back of his mind. It was the amulet beckoning to him. It seemed the gods of the time stream were fickle indeed. They weren’t on the side of the so called Heroes of Bingle after all. He felt the promise of power being offered to him, that he could strike the orc before him with terrible force and be yet empowered further. Beneath the undulating avatar of blood a cruel smile curled across his lips as he swung for Uggo, the arm of the blood avatar swinging like a whip.
But it was a trick! The blow utterly failed to connect, and Vargen stumbled, reeling and off balance. His shout of fury came out of his lupine body as a deep, guttural growl. He should have suspected it, but he had let his desperation get the better of him. He had already been robbed of his master’s spellbook by this chaos magic, and his blood avatar was beginning to degrade again from the relentless attacks. His eyes scanned the tree line for any trace of his spellbook in vain; he needed to reconstitute his shell. He would need the power from the center of the coil.
Vargen steadied his blood form and willed it to carry him towards the center of the spiral of stones. But his attempt was immediately cut off by the orc, who swung his maul against Vargen’s chest with such rage that large chunks of the blood-shell went spraying off like a mist and Vargen stopped dead in his tracks. Vargen had no option but to retaliate.
This time the blow landed, and Uggo let out a pained scream as the blood came seeping out of his many wounds, and new sores and blisters spread across his skin as the evil necrotizing effects of Vargen’s magic took its toll. Uggo’s voice cracked and his vision dimmed; he saw his own blood floating away and mixing into the gruesome avatar before him. Uggo’s companions watched in horror as his skin seemed to pale, his eyes rolled back, then his hand went limp and his maul fell into the bloody muck of the forest floor with a sickening splat. Uggo was next, dropping to his knees, lifeless.
“No!” Fahima cried out, her emotion causing her hair to crackle with flame.
She had to help Uggo. She knew she could. The amulet would help her, as it had so many times in the past. She took a deep breath, steadied herself, then extended her hand toward Uggo. There was the familiar buzzing in her mind as she communed with the gods of the amulet. They would lend her their power. Across the battlefield the amulet dutifully answered, flashing and blinking twice, then Fahima could feel as most of her own life force left her body and raced away from her and into Uggo. It wasn’t the first time the gods had made her give up her own life force to aid another. It seemed almost cruel in a way; she felt as if she had precious little to give in the first place. But the whims of the gods rarely seemed to be well thought out.
Even as Fahima dropped to one knee, Uggo raised his head, looking up at Vargen hovering above him inside his blood avatar. Uggo could feel some strength return to his limbs, though not nearly as much as normal. In fact he was so injured now that some of the life force Fahima had channeled into him was unable to help; his fingers and toes were almost numb and his breath rasped in his throat. And that was when he felt something else from the amulet.
Everyone felt it, in fact. Most of the time, they could feel when the amulet was directing a blessing or a curse at them personally. They could almost hear the secret names of the gods as whispers in the backs of their minds. But other times blessings or curses emerged with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and could affect anyone.
Once again the amulet flashed and blinked twice, and Uggo suddenly felt a power unlike anything he’d ever experienced before all around him. All of his companions felt something strange as well, as if all the gods of the amulet were suddenly shocked at what they themselves had done. In the space of mere seconds that somehow felt like an eternity, everyone realized that the gods of the timestream had seemingly without care handed Uggo what was, in essence, a suicide attack - and Uggo had immediately resolved to use it.
It might have looked like reckless rage to those who could see it. Uggo started to rise slowly, his mouth open as if to scream, but no sound came out. Uggo felt something far more complex than rage, however. He lacked the words in the common tongue to articulate his emotions more often than not, and this feeling was something even the great poets or sages might find ineffable. But Uggo knew exactly how to express it in this fleeting moment; not through words, only through sacrifice.
Transcending his rage, transcending his battered body, Uggo rose up, covered in blood both his own and from the battlefield, clenching his hands tightly into fists that he swung towards Vargen. This was ecstasy. Blood. Battle. Honor. Sacrifice. Glory. Moments from now, he would be face to face with his ancestors once again. They would cheer. They would beat their chests with pride. If this final act was to be his destiny, then so be it. If he could break this coil, destroy the horrific avatar of blood that protected Vargen, then his friends could still win the day. But Uggo felt his knees weaken, and his muscles burned like acid and his breath choked in his throat. He could feel his friends and maybe the gods themselves begging him not to do it.
So much raced through his mind, but his hands were already in motion. He didn’t know if he could bring himself to land this attack with full force; and if he failed to do so, it could mean that it was just more wasted effort. He found that ecstasy was only thinly separated from despair. His fists were about to connect with their target.
And then, he felt it. Another whisper from the amulet. Before him, in his mind, flashed a scene from weeks ago. Near the start of their journey. There was Lily. Do this for her. Uggo could feel the strength coming back to his arms. He saw Lily’s smile. His legs steadied and braced for the impact. He could see Lily and the pigasus they had met, and that was what some elusive voice was trying to say to him, almost shouting through the veil between his world and the realm of the gods. “The pigasus, Uggo! Remember when we told you its name! There is power in that name!”
“Oh yeah, that word that when we say it means don’t hurt that thing,” Uggo realized in the last moment possible.
Just as Uggo’s fists connected across both sides of where Vargen’s face would be underneath the blood-shell, Uggo managed to almost breathlessly whisper the name, “Hamlet.”
What came next was shockwaves and flashes of light. The blood shell, hit from either side, rippled towards its own center, meeting there and ricocheting back, ripping itself apart as if it had been unzipped. Vargen was thrown fully into the center of the ring of stones, even as the shockwave that ripped his avatar apart continued to travel into the ground, throwing the blood skywards as if there had been an explosion. Uggo, despite having delivered a blow that should have shattered his own bones into dust, glowed like the sun for the briefest of seconds, then slid back through the roiling muck and fell to his knees.
Vargen lay on his back, appearing to float atop the mass of blood, before letting out a dazed moan and sinking out of sight. And then in a flash, all of the werewolves let out frenzied yelps and leapt into the center where he had vanished, disappearing as well.
The stones began to hum. The heroes froze, uncertain of what was to come next. The humming grew louder, and the stones began to move, circling the center and then closing in tighter as if being drawn into it. Siv and Lily noticed it first, from their positions farthest out, that the blood on the ground was receding, flowing towards the center of the clearing. Then the others saw it too as blood beneath their feet retreated, revealing green grass. Soon the entire clearing was exposed, the blood gone as if it had drained into the ground, with four werewolves lying prone in the center. Then, unbelievably, Vargen the werewolf mage rose to his feet, for the first time exposed.
It was the moment Siv had been waiting patiently for. The amulet gave him the option to guide his arrow without fail in exchange for a slight amount of pain, a price he was all too happy to pay. He gritted his teeth momentarily, then whispered, “Old dog should have learned to play dead,” as his arrow loosed from his bow.
Vargen was struck; he reeled back in shock and pain. He raised his hand to his wound briefly, ripping out the arrow and tossing it aside. He looked at his hand, and in disbelief realized that the blood covering it was now only his own. He looked up to see the orc rising to his feet.
Uggo picked up his maul, turned it around in his hands a few times to settle his grip. His palms and the handle were all slick with blood, he was still pallid and covered with wounds, but he was alive, clutching his weapon white-knuckle tight. He strode towards Vargen, looked him directly in the eye, and let out a contemptuous snort.
There was no longer any trace of a smile on Vargen’s face.