The wizard surfing the skies and raining death down upon the streets looked over his shoulder then signaled the others to move that way. Phalax began, along with the others, managing two feeble steps before he was frozen in place by horror.
Strength fled from him the instant he looked into his son’s eyes. Holris was terrified, pleading for his father to save him. A creature from the depths of hell stood several yards to his side, lanky arms nearly scratching the street with curved, dagger-length claws. This was the thing that had killed Holris, then murdered Felicia, his wife.
The knowledge that they were both dead did nothing to usurp him from his stupor. He still wanted nothing more than to save his boy and hold him again, to sniff his hair and rub his back, feel his tiny, fragile frame as he hugged him tightly. All his surroundings melted away as he lifted his foot to step forward. His foot came back down to the street and his knee ceased to do its job. He buckled and he staggered to a kneeling position, completely numb to the shock of striking the stone beneath him.
“Help me, dad!” Holris pleaded.
Steel peeled away from Phalax, exposing his flesh to the merciless weapons of those around him. If there were any threats, he didn’t notice them, nor did he care. He wanted his son to see his father, not a monster of steel.
“I can’t, Holris,” Phalax whispered weakly, his voice trembling. He tried to force himself up, but he couldn’t. There was no chance at action, there was only this moment, and existing was all Phalax could manage. “I love –”
He’d wanted to say that to his son at least once more ever since he’d been murdered. But the demon that had stolen Holris from this life impeded Phalax yet again. Glaring eyes, a sickening yellow glowing as though a furnace burned deep within, met Phalax’s own gaze. The infernal creature suddenly appeared behind Holris, a wicked grin rimmed by strands of thin, black hair belying its intent. It raised a clawed hand, talons flexing in anticipation of the kill.
Steel lost all meaning. All that mattered was that Phalax now had a chance to save Holris. He reacted before he knew what he was doing, springing from his knee in a burst of desperation. He heard nothing, nor could he tell if he was screaming in defiance of what was soon to come.
The gap closed. The strike came. Holris cried out in fear as shadows of his approaching death fell over him.
Phalax took to the air in a massive leap that carried him over Holris. His hands reached out, seeking purchase on the demon’s descending arm and neck. The grey flesh of the creature fell into his palms, then flitted away.
Empty street looked up at Phalax as he dove toward it. The demon had suddenly disappeared, as had Holris. There was little time to do more than simply understand that they had gone before Phalax slammed into the street. He pulled his arms in to hide his face just before impact.
Rock cracked against bone and scraped flesh. Phalax careened to the side as a raised stone caught the side of his elbow, forcing his slide to swing wide. He rolled across the street for a sickening moment before grinding to a halt. The whole ordeal left him dizzy and dazed, but he fought through it like a giant smashing its body against a mountain, regardless of which one would break first.
The ground continued to spin as Phalax stood, but he managed to wobble to his feet and spin toward where Holris should have been. The boy wasn’t there, nor was the demon, but Phalax couldn’t shake the notion that they were indeed somewhere. They had to be. He staggered to the side as a bout of nausea caught him. He threw his arm out wide to right himself and felt wrong in doing so.
Confusion claimed him when he stared down upon his arm, causing him to forget everything else, even Holris for a moment. From elbow to wrist was not a straight line, rather it bent awkwardly to create a wide V shape. The vertigo that spun the world around must certainly be affecting him still. He moved his arm closer to his head though, and it straightened not at all. He spun it around slowly, inspecting it, and screamed in pain and horror as it suddenly flopped over, his hand dangling with fingers pointed to the ground despite his arm’s horizontal position.
Steel poured from the disc in his chest and pooled at his arm, awaiting further command. Phalax gingerly pulled his arm closer to his body, his breathing now terribly rapid. His teeth rattling against one another, grunts escaping his throat, he gripped his lame arm and began to slowly spin his arm back around, guiding the useless part back to a straighter position. Bone clicked and slid along bone, catching edges. Phalax nearly fainted from the surreal sensation.
“Daddy!” Holris shrieked, a sound that drove nails through Phalax’s spine, numbing his body. He pulled his arm back in place with a final yank that emitted a loud crunch as bones ground against one another. Then, the steel shot forth and wrapped it in an immaculate embrace. Metal three inches thick ensured that the limb would stay in place.
Phalax turned to see his son surrounded by three demons, all of them with smiles plastered to their grey, lanky faces. One lifted its arm then plunged its claws deep into Holris’ stomach. Ice bloomed beneath Phalax’s chest and spread to his stomach and arms. He hadn’t been there to see them hurt. He’d only found them soon enough to say goodbye to Felicia, Holris already dead in her arms.
Felicia appeared from the air as if she’d been there the whole time, swinging a sword. The tip of it crashed into the skull of the demon spearing Holris. She pulled it straight through its head with amazing strength, fueled by her need to protect her son.
As Felicia burst away from the sweeping claws of the others and Holris fell to the stone, Phalax dashed in. They disappeared before he could reach them, just like before, the sword that had manifested from his hand passing through air.
Micale was a dozen feet away from where his family had just disappeared. “Where are they!” Phalax screamed at him.
Micale was yelling something, his arm outstretched, but Phalax heard none of it. He only turned to follow the man’s pointed finger, hoping to find Holris and Felicia in time to save them. He could take his son to Edmund and the wizard would heal him like he’d done for Eula. He could slay the remaining demons before they gutted Felicia too.
The demons weren’t there. Instead, a man made up of earth filled Phalax’s vision. He dismissed the creature, its body of clay, stone, and vines poised with a blade of obsidian lacking any meaning to him at all. He looked away, seeking Holris, and found them just as fire speared him in the ribs and somehow cut through his flesh to sear his insides.
Holris lay on the floor, panting heavily, tears falling from his eyes as he tried to understand the madness. Felicia ducked beneath the sweep of a demon’s claws then bolted at the other, running it through before it could bring its lanky arms to bear. She left the sword embedded in the creature and ran to scoop up Holris.
Agony tore at Phalax’s focus, causing lines and jagged shapes to fill his sight. He was suddenly falling, free of whatever had held him in place. Bronze flashed past him and he heard Micale through a blanket that dulled every sound to a murmur of wind. The beats of a drum sounded in his head, suddenly snuffing all other sounds. It crashed against his temples in a rhythm of two hard slams followed by a short pause.
Holris and Phalax locked eyes for a moment, tears falling from both of them. Felicia fought on, bouncing off a wall that didn’t exist. She stood between Holris and the final demon as it bore down on her. She had nowhere to go but forward. And she did. Straight into the stabbing claws of the demon.
In silence, Phalax watched his wife cry out as the claws dug deep into her abdomen. Despite the pain, she continued forward, into the demon. She drove it back with unexpected power until it tripped over something unseen and careened backward. Its claws left her body and she visibly gasped. Without a wasted moment, not even to inspect her own wound, she twisted and dove to Holris.
Felicia lifted him, blood spilling from her wound to splatter to the street. The boy cried out in pain and Phalax found his will to push through his paralysis. He needed to get to them before they left, or before the other demon did. He could still save them.
Steel covered him in moments, shapeless other than for his form. He was wrapped in it like a second skin and somehow, the metal lifted him. He cast his gaze down to see that several spears of silver extended from his chest and pushed against the street to lift him.
Micale was suddenly before him, screaming something into his face, blocking his vision of his family as Felicia stumbled past the demon. A sweeping rod of steel forced Micale away, tossing him several feet into the air. Phalax wasn’t sure where it came from, or how he managed anything at this moment. Nor did it matter.
The spears of silver moved like the legs of a spider, carrying his numb body closer to his family. Felicia had made her way past the demon, ran down their hallway, turned into their room, then slammed the door shut and ran to the corner where she lay Holris down, the boy still breathing barely. Despite none of the house being visible, Phalax could still see it all and it hurt his heart to think of it. The demon rose to its feet by stabbing at the invisible wall and pulling.
Phalax’s will became incarnate as the legs of steel moved him along quicker. He came upon the demon and a bestial need to slaughter it consumed him, igniting a fire unlike anything he’d ever felt before. Vitality flooded back into him as the drum song in his head picked up in speed and intensity.
The steel spikes melted away, depositing him onto his feet. He took one hard step toward the demon as it rose and the steel from his face peeled away. He opened his mouth and a thunderous shout escaped it, shattering the stone behind the demon, rattling the ground and Phalax’s insides. Dust and stone burst from the street like an erupting volcano. The demon, though, was completely unfazed.
It moved through Phalax as though he himself were just a figment of some imagination and plodded along with its gangly legs and rocking arms. Phalax darted for Felicia and Holris, intent on standing guard before him. He’d do something to save them. He had to. Something would work against the demon that had already killed them and he’d bring them back.
Felicia held Holris in her lap with one hand and a vase in the other. Phalax stopped before them and knelt down, intent on grabbing her thigh. His hands passed through her, though and he came within inches of her nose. Suddenly, she looked at him and whispered with frightening intensity, “Phalax! Run!”
His family disappeared, and in their wake was left a band of chaotic creatures made up of elements and animals. They came on in a wave that seemed unending, and Phalax was too disturbed to do anything other than stand and wait as they crashed into him. He hit the stone hard, but his steel kept him mostly protected.
Weapons, claws, and heels slammed against his prone form like a waterfall. He was moved with each pounding strike, until he lay on his back. All the while he took dozens, hundreds of ceaseless shots, he did nothing but imagine his family. He saw their faces, their agonized faces, and died inside all over again. Rage built in him, like it had when first he’d discovered his ability to generate deadly force with his scream.
He looked up through tiny eye slits as lightning, fire, steel, and waves of energy cut through the endless sea of enemies. With each one that fell, another two replaced it, trampling Phalax. He’d grown far too sick of the continuous ruination of his life by these gods. Beyond the trampling horde was Holris and Felicia, suspended in air as he had seen them in death, the latter holding the former, their eyes lightless and their heads listing to the sides.
Something snapped in Phalax, and he felt himself open up to a different feeling as though a wall of ice had kept a flood behind it and then had suddenly cracked open. The power of it all was funneled directly into his mind and his vision went hazy with the pressure building. He screamed to abate it, his raw emotion becoming a tool with limitless capabilities. Steel covered his vision for a moment, a liquid that shot from him in waves that sparkled in the sunlight. Then, he was looking up through a network of steel spines that crossed and split apart in infinite directions.
Phalax was slowly raised up onto his feet by steel spikes that pushed against the street. Liquid steel swam all across his body, anchoring the hundreds of stalks of metal to him. The drums in his head hadn’t quieted, but had slowed considerably. The spears raising him brought him higher, until his feet dangled at the heads of all those around him.
A field of corpses greeted him. Veins of steel spread out from him like a tree possessing thousands of thin branches, embedded in the skulls of perhaps a hundred. Lightning danced along his skin, fire raged beneath, and ice flooded his insides. The power he possessed craved an outlet.
The branches of silver morphed into blades then sliced through the skulls of those they held. They suddenly spun around Phalax in a whirlwind of death for a brief moment, the sensation of each creature being cut to pieces registering with him. He felt as each creature’s skin was split, its muscle fibers rent, and bones snapped in two. There wasn’t a single one for whom he didn’t individually and intimately relish in their destruction.
Phalax noticed that Micale stood amongst them all, somehow untouched by the steel and still unharmed as the blades spun around him. Micale’s armor which normally left parts of his arms, legs, neck and head uncovered seemed to now cover all of him. Quickly Phalax realized that it wasn’t his bronze armor that colored him so, but the crimson life of all the bodies he’d shredded.
The power left, lowering Phalax to a street now painted in blood. His feet touched down on the stones but were void of steel, as was the rest of his body. His heels crunched on bones, squished flesh, and slid on organs, slowly depositing him onto his knees. From there, he pitched forward into the gore.
The drums slowed even further, until, finally, two beats rang, so terribly far apart. Darkness closed in, painted within it an afterimage of Holris and Felicia, only this time, they were smiling. Had Phalax been able to, he would have smiled back. As it was, he merely accepted the blackness, slipping into its icy grip with resignation.