The City of Locked Doors, Chapter Five, page fiveMature

The wild, ravenous, plague-stricken animals fled before Noir as he traversed the forest, their bulbous eyes rolling savagely in a feral haze of maddened fear. Noir let they flee; Brigadier already knew he was here. The trees, ground, and even the animals, began to take on a colorless, bleached hue, warning him that he was drawing near to Brigadier's location. Eventually, everything became wholly white, all except for the veins of corruption; they stayed their venomous green color. He scowled, and the Almas swarming around him in all their thousands began taking perches on the white trees and earth, turning them black beneath their silken wings. He found Brigadier a mile further into the forest.

He stepped into the white clearing with its bone-like textures and slouched onto his right foot, tacitly burying his hands in his pockets as the Almas parted around him and took up perches on the trees behind him. Brigadier looked over to him from a throne of stacked skulls, her faded military garb bleached even whiter than her surroundings. "Hello Noir." She twisted about on her mound and faced him. The bony, serpentine appendage that grew from the back of her skull twined lazily and hefted a cracked oxen skull, lifting before her so she could inspect it briefly before smashing it against the ground.

He glanced at the smashed skull and ignored how the ground trembled underfoot, "I'm surprised Lazarus let you out, Brig." He glanced around, noting the spectral figures beginning to materialize in the trees, "Of course, that begs the question why? Why did you ally yourself to him in the first place?"

She crushed another skull, this one human, "Because he had a plan to kill the two of you and Lock and Key."

His lips quirked upward, "Did you really think such a brutish attempt would actually succeed?"

She broke off her inspection of a weasel skull to glance at him, her vibrant red eyes contrasting her dark blue lips, "It worked didn't it, at least partially." She placed the weasel skull carefully back onto the mound.

Noir inhaled sharply but forced his temper to subside, "Clearly it didn't work well enough." His hand emerged briefly, motion to himself and mocking her with his presence.

"One of you is better than two, Noir, and now there's no one to resurrect you if you die."

Noir threw his head back and laughed. "Do you really think you can kill me?" He looked back at her and smirked, "You can't kill gods, Brig."

Her eyes tightened, flashing angrily against her pale skin, "You're not immortal, Noir."

His smile saddened, "I will outlast this world and all of her Tyrants, Brigadier, and that includes you."

She straightened upon her throne, the saber she wore sheathed on her hip rasping quietly across the skulls, "And you'll be alone for all of eternity now." The gleaming blade slipped easily from its sheath as she levered it toward it, "Even if I die here, I think I prefer this result to the both of you dying."

"Death is far too malleable, and life far too uncertain for you to ever truly believe something is dead."

"Alighieri is gone, Noir, his soul destroyed by the fire: there is no bringing him back."

"You are blinded by the road you have always seen, Brig, unable to see the roads that surround you like branches on a tree. Death is too easily breached to be permanent."

She smiled and swept her saber down, "Do not fear your future, Noir; I will end your misery here." The ground shuddered and rocked, flinging the skulls of her throne everywhere and uprooting trees. A moment passed and everything that was dead into the forest woke from its shallow slumber. Skeletal hands erupted the earth, followed by insects, beasts and even roots from the countless dead trees. Specters also took shape, a sea of ghostly figures born of orphaned memories and lingering pain. The last to rise were the soldiers. They crawled from the earth with half-decayed fingers, their torn bodies clothed in sullied rags that had once been uniforms. Thousands, tens of thousands, broke the surface and stood, their Shadow-Steel weapons unsullied from the decades that had passed since their burial. They turned on Noir as one and leveled their weapons.

 He glanced at the surrounding hoard and scowled. This is going to be such a pain in the ass.

The End

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