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Gavreel frowned at the creature that slithered before him, leaving a trail of inky goo on the crystal floor. It was making a terrible mess. He drew his sword; kaleidoscopes of color leapt from the blade and swirled around Gavreel’s tall, shining form, making the cowering creature before him recoil as if in pain.
“What are you doing here, Ponéros, you miserable worm?”
Ponéros, prince of the dark world of Skot'os, did look a bit like a worm that had just been run over by a car. But he had taken an extremely bad beating from the Prince Warriors, so it was understandable.
With great effort, Ponéros pulled himself together, re-forming a head with eyes, a nose, and a squiggling hole that acted as a mouth. A single, tentacle-like arm popped up from the goo on the floor.
“I . . . demand . . . an audience with the Source!” Ponéros's voice sounded like the gurgles of a plugged-up sink. It made Gavreel’s ears ache.
“Request denied.” Gavreel raised his sword to strike. But then he stopped and turned toward the crystal staircase behind him. The staircase led to an enormous throne, upon which sat a ball of flame so white-hot it looked like a burning star, its light stretching endlessly in all directions. Smaller, twinkling lights spun in the flame’s orbit, each one humming a note that joined the others in perfect harmony.
Gavreel was still for a long time, listening to the glorious music emanating from the throne. A huge golden lion lying at the bottom of the staircase swished its tail and stared intently at the unwelcome visitor mucking up the floor.
Finally, Gavreel turned back to Ponéros and lowered his sword. He sighed. “State your business. You will be heard.”
“My business is this,” said the gurgling voice. “I demand a rematch.”
The lion sat up and licked its lips.
Gavreel almost laughed, his eyes blazing. “A rematch? You are no match for the Prince Warriors. Haven’t you seen that already? There is nothing you can do to penetrate their armor.”
Ponéros made a strange noise that might have been a snicker. “Perhaps not. But this war is not over. In fact, it has just begun.”
“You’re wrong, worm,” Gavreel said. “You have no idea how wrong. You will see. When the time comes.”“I have nothing but time.”
“Wrong again. Your time is just about up.”
Just then a great darkness passed over both Gavreel and Ponéros, and the colors ceased to shine. The lion leapt to its feet with a low growl as another figure appeared. It was small, yet it cast a long, dark shadow that seemed to consume everything it touched. Ponéros shrank back as the shadow approached, gathering himself into a ball, so he looked like a slimy armadillo.
“Come no closer!” Gavreel’s voice lost its light tone. He raised his sword. Lightning burst from the white flame on the high throne. The figure retreated just enough so that its shadow did not touch Gavreel or the lion. Yet it remained on Ponéros.
“Does it make you nervous to have that one so close?” Gavreel regarded Ponéros with disdain. “Then you’d best be gone.”
“I’ll go,” Ponéros replied, more than eager to leave now. He uncurled himself and began to slink away from the figure with the great shadow.
“But do not doubt. I will return. In Winter.”
Part 1: A Time For Everything
Armor of Lies
Ponéros was delighted.
He gazed upon his new creation, a Forger far different from the other Forgers in his army, those slave-soldiers who guarded his stronghold and fought his wars. He decided to call him Thayne. The perfect name, he thought, for the one who would destroy the Prince Warriors once and for all. Thayne was bigger, stronger, and smarter than any Forger before him. He had something else the other Forgers did not.
A suit of armor.
Ponéros’s Weavers had spent eons crafting this armor to make it stronger and more resilient than the armor of even the most powerful and experienced Prince Warrior. Thayne’s helmet was fused to his body armor, so thick it could never be separated or infected by the call of the Source. The helmet had a long, gleaming scythe, sharper than any sword, set right at the top. Around his waist, Thayne wore a Belt of Lies made of a magnetic metal that would repel any Prince Warrior’s sword. His heavy breastplate was riveted to the belt, protecting the orb in the center of his chest from ever being pierced. His boots were so massive they could crush ten Prince Warriors with one small step.
Ponéros could almost taste the victory to come.
But that was not even the best of it. Ponéros had another surprise in store for his enemies. A weapon more devastating than any he had made before. The armor of the Prince Warriors would be useless against it.
He called it Askalon.
“We are ready,” Ponéros said, savoring the moment. “Just in time.”
Ponéros slid off his throne and moved to the portal of his new lair, which lay at the bottom of the boiling sea in the deepest crevasse of Skot’os. A better hiding place than the skypod he had previously occupied, which had been too easily discovered by that turncoat dragon Tannyn. No one from Ahoratos, not even Tannyn, would ever find him here. It was only temporary, anyway, until Thayne invaded Ahoratos and secured the Mountain of Rhema. Such a defeat would be so debilitating to the Prince Warriors that they would certainly never rise again.
Ponéros opened the portal, but the boiling sea did not flow in, held in check at his command. Huge, reptilian creatures with snakelike tails and spiked heads glided by, swift and silent, yellow eyes piercing the murky depths. Ponéros reached out to touch the edge of the acid-green water, causing a stirring among them. Another creature swam into view, one with the same snakelike tail as the rest but with a more streamlined body and green-gold gills that fanned out like wings on either side.
The creature slid into the bunker and raised itself upright, balanced on its coiled tail. Two small flippers on its body suddenly grew into long, tapered arms, ending in sharp talons. It bowed its spiked head and peered at Ponéros with slitted yellow eyes.
“Master,” whispered the creature in a soft slithery voice. “What do you require?”
“Sybylla, you are looking lovely today.”
The creature tilted her head slightly in silent acknowledgment.
“Gather your children,” Ponéros said. “Take them to the boiling pool, under the mountain. Make sure no Prince Warrior passes through.”
Sybylla closed her eyes and nodded her head. “Your will be done.”
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