So the Beasts Shall Plague the Land No More
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The ground shook as flames filled the sky. The two armies clashed, and the sounds of grinding clockwork and inhuman roars blurred together. On one end behemoths breathed vicious poison, which rose up as smoke and dissolved into the air. Their opponents, however, no longer had to breathe. Their hearts of copper beat as their bodies of steel and iron marched forward, driven by nothing but faith. The mechanical giants under their command acted without hesitation, releasing rays of light and heat, scorching the beasts and the ground beneath. It was no place for mortal soldiers anymore; they had retreated far away several battles ago, and left the field to gods and monsters.

High up on the hills, a lone figure watched. The army of the Mekhanites was gaining ground, leaving mutated bodies still squirming in their wake. But Grand Karcist Ion only laughed. He had prepared for this; one more step before the summoning was done. He held his staff up high and emitted a chant.

Almost immediately, the space above the battleground twisted. There was a moment of silence. The flames here and there seemingly froze, but the next moment, they burnt higher and more viciously. A monstrous form appeared, its giant torso shifting with distortion, caught between this world and the next. It made the sky darken and the flames dance as a sick, unnatural feeling crawled all over the land.

The half-emerged Archon was shaped like a quadruped with a human torso stuck on one end, and a horned lizard on the other, covered with scales and plates of bones. This was far from its full glory, but as the faceless humanoid blinked its single eye and the dragon head called out, the fallen Sarkicites all stood up. Their broken bodies grew and merged into one another, forming giant masses of even more inhuman shapes. Soon, they began to cling onto the Mekhanite robots, their many hands and tentacles dragging the man-made giants down to the ground. Slashes and cuts did very little to the new abominations; they were instantly healed with tumors and in more disgusting forms.

Ion grinned as the Archon’s song echoed. He could feel every cell within his body pulsing with energy, and he could see the victory just ahead. A little more time before he could crush the Mekhanites, before his kingdom could stretch out and cover the world. Just as he had planned, the tide of metal slowed down as the wave of red flesh washed over them. Soon, they would be consumed and reduced to rust and ashes.

But then, he heard faint footsteps coming, and the Grand Karcist turned to look.

Bumaro trekked upwards, supporting himself with his large hammer. The Mekhanite priest was in a bad shape; his robes torn and stained, his motions dull, and his skin cracked with an unhealthy color. Even the metal implant covering the left side of his face no longer shined, but was blackened with the smoke. And every few steps, he stopped and coughed blood.

Ion watched curiously. Playing with his bone staff, he made no effort to stop the man. And as Bumaro finally reached the top, the Karcist spoke. “I see that you were caught in the fumes, Bumaro. You must have used a lot of help to get through the battlefront and make it all the way here.”

Bumaro responded, and surprisingly, his voice was steady and clear, of a mechanical monotone. “And their deaths are on your head.”

Ion only laughed, and stepped closer. “And you thought you could avenge them? With that rag of a body?” His voice suddenly darkened, coming out as something more animal and less human. “Just who do you think you are? I am now the Grand Karcist, Sorcerer-King of Adytum, and you are still just some petty priest of a… broken god.”

But Bumaro did not look at him. Clinging onto the hammer, he coughed out more blood.

Ion frowned at the lack of response. Shaking his head, he casually raised his hand towards the priest. “As much as I'm glad to see an old friend… You're not quite as entertaining as I thought. I have had enough of this.”

“You should have listened to your elders and gotten your body replaced with metal years ago,” The Grand Karcist mocked and tightened his grip into a fist, feeling the other's flesh yield under his power. “That way you might at least put up a fight.”

As Ion exerted his will, Bumaro’s skin cracked further under his command. The Karcist grinned with amusement and wondered if he should keep him and turn him into a trophy. But the flesh did not bend and merge as he intended; it started to degrade and peel off. Something smooth and shiny was underneath.

“What the—”

Bumaro did not give him time to react. Suddenly, he grabbed Ion by the hand, moving with more agility than he had previously displayed. A burning sensation shot into his hand, and Ion jumped back. A metallic color quickly crawled onto his skin, and something solidified in his flesh. He felt numb. To his horror, he could no longer command his hand as he pleased. In mere seconds, that sensation crawled upwards, reaching his elbow, but he acted swiftly. Turning his staff into a sharp blade, the Karcist cut off his entire arm. The thing dropped to the ground, landing with a loud thud.

He looked up to find Bumaro now standing straight and high, blackened flesh falling from his person. Metallic spikes protruded from underneath his clothes here and there, and arrays of clockworks now powered his movements. His fingers had elongated to resemble claws; all the mechanical parts seemed to be growing and retracting constantly, as layers of metallic plates stirred and moved. Bound by skin and flesh no longer, the Mekhanite stood with a presence that could choke out the air.

“Thought you were no advocator of hasty augmentation,” Ion said as he watched his former arm completely turning into a chunk of copper. A new one was slowly growing in place. “But I see you've gone far, even willing to infect people with this sickness.”

“I have consumed the Blood of God,” Bumaro responded indifferently, a large metal blade growing out of his wrist. “And you are no person, Ion. I see but a beast plaguing this land.”

Instinctively, Ion raised his bone staff and it clashed with Bumaro's newly formed blade. He had abandoned his hammer to pursue the Karcist.

“As for others… I will endure however long isolation it takes to put this under control,” Bumaro said as he forced the Karcist backward.

Ion had to throw away his weapon and conjure another, as metal and clockwork clung onto it through mere contact. In the next few seconds, he wasted several more weapons made of bone and flesh.

“You’ve changed. Releasing a metallic plague? I know how you Mekhanites love your holy secrets, keeping them hidden and secure. I doubt your elders would allow just anyone to know about this, let alone giving it to you,” Ion retreated, buying himself distance from his opponent. “So you must have stolen it and claimed its power.”

“I changed no more than you did, and I want no power for myself,” Bumaro glanced back at the battlefield. Poisonous fumes were spreading, forming dark clouds in the sky.

The words only went over Ion’s head, as he used the few moments to focus and try to call upon the Archon to his aid. But the angel of flesh didn’t even register his call. He realized seconds later as Bumaro made another slash that the song of the Archon was silenced, if only on his side. He felt again the presence from Bumaro as the space solidified around him. Something was restraining his actions, and the power he received from the Archon had been cut off.

So Ion let out a different chant. Immediately, three monsters of flesh rose from below the hills and surrounded Bumaro. Using their weight as advantage, they tried to squash their much smaller opponent, but it was no use. Now relieved of flesh and powered by God’s Ichor, Bumaro avoided most of the attacks, and wherever he was damaged, the metal only grew more excessively.

The monsters soon shrieked in pain as the cogs and levers made their way into their wounds. Their many mouths no longer bit and consumed, but screamed in agony. Ion, on the other hand, wasted no time to turn and run. He only needed to reach where the Archon could hear him, and the Mekhanite could be easily dealt with.

But he didn't manage to make it down the hill as a hammer flung towards him, striking him down. Bumaro had gone past beasts, which were now twitching on the ground and clawing blindly at the rocks. The Mekhanite too suffered damage, but unlike the beasts, he no longer felt pain. Not anymore.

Ion decided to turn and face him. He held up another bone weapon, but as Bumaro moved closer to confront him, several bone spikes shot out of Ion’s person, three of them piercing through the priest. But Bumaro didn’t flinch, and kept moving forward. His mechanical body slowly ate away the bones, converting them to be a part of it.

As Bumaro picked up the hammer, their fight continued. They exchanged blows and Ion grew agitated with every passing second. He grew extra limbs to fend off Bumaro’s attack, but this only made him more vulnerable to exposure. Before long, he had to spend all his energy to keep the metallic infection from spreading, and could no longer quickly regenerate or conjure more weapons.

There was a dull sound of metal piercing through flesh as Bumaro nailed Ion to the ground with the sharp end of his hammer. The Grand Karcist struggled ineffectually. This time, it was his turn to cough out blood. As Bumaro grabbed onto him, Ion decided to give up and focus attention to him instead.

“I've trusted you with aid and knowledge, but you only used that to commit great evil,” Bumaro held up his hand, and the blade attached to it shined from the flames on the battlefield. “I shall allow this no more.”

Ion gave out a mocking laugh, which was interrupted abruptly as the cold blade cut cleanly through his throat. The Karcist's head fell off. At the same moment, in the battlefield, the Archon let out a shriek. Space twisted once more, and its shapes suddenly blurred and faded. The flames died down, and the meat abominations collapsed back into individual mutated torsos. The Mekhanites regrouped and started to fight back.

Bumaro coughed, and blood trickled down, but this time, it was silver instead of red. He reached out and picked up Ion’s head from the ground.

The head was still breathing, but as the metallic illness crept upon his wounds, the struggle to regenerate was futile. Without a throat, Ion could no longer speak, but in some sharp, hollow tone, he laughed and laughed. His mouth twisted into a smirk and he stared at the one who had him defeated.

Bumaro ignored this. He walked up to the high point of the hill, where the three beasts had now ceased breathing. Holding the head up high, he spoke, but not with sounds a human can hear. And as if waiting for the signal, all the metallic giants moved into their pre-planned formation, and released fires and furies upon their enemies. Seeing this, the Mekhanites elders sang prayer and operated the devices they had prepared.

Between the dark clouds, lighting struck down one by one, in quick successions. Soon, they weaved a giant web of light, covering the sky. Before long, it was too blinding for human eyes to see and too deafening for human ears to hear, but the space twisted in a way that everyone could feel. Bumaro watched in silence as the clockwork in him ground and shifted, as his metallic fingers dug into the skin of Ion’s head.

And then, the light died down. The Grand Karcist was no more, and his army and his city were both gone. Banished from this reality to the next, through the same path the Archon had come from.

The thick dark clouds fell from the sky as raindrops, carrying what was left of the poisonous smoke down with them. The rain came swiftly as the final sound of thunder rang out, washing away the little residue of the horrifying Sarkic kingdom.

Bumaro lowered his arm, and in his hands, only a skull remained. And as the power of God’s Blood touched the last bit of it, the head of the Grand Karcist collapsed into fine metal dust, and was soon flushed away by the rain.

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