Pale sunlight shone brightly through the crisp forest canopy. The sweet rustic scent of pines filled the underbrush, and Cyril Reigns couldn't help but feel a wave of bittersweet nostalgia as he sprinted forward.
A dark blue sky, a forest just like this, his childhood sweetheart ...
They held a thorned rose together, under the cover of night. Their blood mingled in the moonlight. Kael told him to stay strong, to do what blind men could not. She told him she will see him again one day, at the border between this life and the next.
Forty years he spent in the shadows, trying to save what little light remained. Everyone else was dead. Only he and Eurydice remained. All he had left of his love was the sword at his sash.
She said her mother's spirit led her to the river where she found it. The blade was an angular wedge of crystal, black as night. She told him when one dies protecting a loved one by this sword, one's soul lives on in the blade to protect the loved one. She called it Tyrfing.
They sprinted through the forest, a whisper rustle. Eurydice hardly spoke to him. She had a better pace. She did not age like he did over the years. Like a sunflower, she rose with the sun and fell ill with the droughts.
Feet bare, she led the way much farther ahead, toward the Blackstone Mountains. There, they began their long and arduous climb toward the peak, slowing only when the icy blasts became too much to bear.
They mounted the peak by sunrise, without surrender to fatigue or hunger. Eurydice was attuned to the force of life, kept them both from fatigue and succumbing to the cold.
He took shallow breaths and coughed, shivering. Below lay the Draco Serpentis Valley, a sprawl of snow-capped evergreens. Meandering through it was a frozen river, a serpentine ribbon of silver that snaked through the mountain pass and fed into the ocean towards the East.
"Why are there trees?" He asked Eurydice. "I scorched this valley."
Eurydice kneeled and touched the frozen stone. "These trees have grown here through witchcraft. Inferi Sententia lays in slumber below, in the heart of the valley."
"Witchcraft," He balked. What she insisted was witchcraft, he insisted was a manner of technology unknown to them. What she called Inferi Sententia, he insisted was the plague's hive mind.
The sun set well before they reached the valley. He followed her through the dark, by hearing her footsteps. She came to a sudden halt before what he suspected was a cavern.
"Stand fast," Eurydice warned and led the way into the cavern. "Through here lies Inferi Sententia and his shameful hordes. Speak only the truth. This immortal knows all."
Cyril snorted at her choice of words, but said nothing. The plague's hive mind was not immortal. It could be killed. Brave men and women proved this when they cast Paradise into a nuclear pyre seven years ago.
The two Old Guards ventured deep into the cavern. Their march brought them deeper into the ground, through a series of twisting underground catacombs to the grand central chamber.
A mildewed stench permeated the Acolyte hatchery. Upon the walls hung swollen sacs of pulsating clear flesh. Inside, he spotted trunk like arms, legs, and a head with a single mad eye. Was the Acolyte strain evolving?
A low whisper sung through the walls, in the language of souls. He had seen runes of this language on the Gate of Eden, lines and arcs that spoke meaning through emotions.
Whosoever is tasked with fear-taking, the hive mind spoke to their hearts, know that I am noble. You came to speak truths and reconciliations, and yet you bring swords and spears?
Cyril Reigns wondered if the hive mind understood the language of men. He shrugged, and was about to speak plain English when Eurydice spoke back to the hive mind in its own tongue.
You sought parley and concord, and yet you breed your obscenities before our sights?
The hive mind fell silent, no doubt surprised by familiar prey. Child of the soil and the sun, why have you forsaken your abode? Eden awaits you! Infinite rivers flow once more! The suns shine their light, everlasting!
Eurydice ignored the bribe and firmly pressed on. We came with an offer of parley and concord. If at all possible, bloodshed and hatred will not become our instruments.
"Hey," Cyril nudged Eurydice. "I'd rather not piss this thing off."
For ages I listened from Eden, the hive mind said, and I am tired. Since dawn, they sung war instead of creation. In my care, Eden is at peace once more. Why do those beyond The Gate of Eden repudiate my salvation?
You intrude, she replied. Your salvation is not welcome here.
A stretch of worrying silence. The hive mind's presence evaporated from their hearts with a lingering trace of regret. Eurydice braced, balled her hands into fists. "Beware! Cyclopes!"
He grabbed his sword's hilt. "I had a feeling it will come to this!"
With a sharp ringing sound, he cleared Tyrfing from the steel sheath and brought the blade crashing down upon the Cyclops' broad chest. Callused skin, as tough as stone, sundered beneath forged midnight crystal.
Eurydice caught the Cyclops' large fist even with the hulk leaning into the blow, twisted it in its socket. Rolling past the beast's wide stance, she rose and launched a two-finger stab at the back, a lightning jab.
The brute roared as it turned, blurred its other fist at her head, but missed. It dropped to the ground, twitching. Moisture bled from it through a single crack at its spine, and evaporated in the air.
Another Cyclops appeared behind her, but Eurydice lashed out with a straight kick at its knee. Her bare foot simply ran through the joint. Crushed flesh drowned the sinister melody of shattering bone.
Sinners, the hive mind spoke to the Old Guards in the language of souls, heard as an eerie whisper, understood as a suffocating self-hatred. I offer no forgiveness for your sacrilege.
Send forth your hordes! Eurydice challenged. Our conviction shall know no restraint! We will march through your shameful creatures, and find the pit where you lay trembling in cowardice!
Truculent child, the hive mind whispered shame into their hearts. Your forefathers were blind, and I broke their gardens into the mire to show them the light. They are one with me, at peace once more.
You consumed my home. Eurydice said. You shall not consume theirs. Know that those from beyond The Gate of Eden have no moral bounds. Their demons shall cleanse your infestation.
The hive mind seemed saddened by her stubbornness. My wish to bring peace beyond Eden remains the same. Even now, my reincarnation hatches on their home world. My faithful messengers on the land, in the air and among the stars grow in fervor and strength, infinite.
"A second hive mind!?" Cyril Reigns broke out. "On Earth!?"
Eurydice did not answer him. She turned, bolting for the stone tunnel leading out the central chamber to the other catacombs. He sprinted after her, Tyrfing in hand, and summoned the Gate of Eden for good measure.
"Make haste!" She beckoned him. "We have a wrathful god to slay!"