Take Up the Cross – CH3: Final Farewell

Familiar foes enter the room as Adris throws himself to the wall, flinging his pack towards the Emperor’s sarcophagus, ready to confront them. Five Xin’Reh soldiers take up aggressive stances facing him, their swords and spears faintly glowing, hinting at the aura alloy composing them.

Coppery, lamellar chest protectors and ceramic armor gleam in his flitterlight, with the full team of militant aura users completing Adris’ nightmarish day. The most dangerous one wears a commander’s sash with a green, leafless tree on a red background.


(Fuck you, you should be dead!)


Soldon’s adjutant menaces him, the ugly man’s beady eyes burning with anger as he points his green spear at Adris’ neck. When last Adris saw the man’s bruised but now healing face, Serras was thoroughly humiliating him in a one-sided brawl.

There’s hesitation in the man’s gaze, the anger not translating to a lethal bloodlust yet. He looks more inclined to try to…


Jumping between Serras and the threat, Adris prepares to charge in when –


“Lady Serras, we’re here to back you up.”


The leader.


“Capture him!”


Wearing Soldon’s colors, speaks.




Adris’ eyes glaze over, but then his nervousness disappears. The events of the past few minutes vanish from his mind, leaving only burning pain that refocuses him.


(Soldon’s soldiers never appeared. She was missing after the raid. They always found us. Facts that I was purposefully not connecting.)


The trap trail vanished with cleansing fire. She’d led them straight to him, guessing what the switch’s function was in order to bring her… reinforcements.


The Soldon guards receive Adris’ charge before his mind and body reach agreement.

Pulling free an aura tool shaped like a brass funnel and bearing the Emperor’s sigil, he puts the small end to his mouth and injects a third of his remaining aura into it through his breath.

Like the lightning augment, it changes the world.


The walls rumble and the air shakes with an unheard noise.


The soldiers buffeted by this silent discordance become staggered, their ears and eyes starting to bleed. Only the commander whose aura control is superior to the effect ignores its devastating noise, a brief distraction the only advantage conveyed.


Pouncing like a tiger, an audacious preemptive strike hollows out the eye of one of the guards, a spearpoint crashing into his brain and killing him instantly. Using the dead man as leverage, Adris rips his spear out to slash it into the backside of a nearby guard’s armored shinguard, the slicing point sweeping into tendon and dropping the cursing man to the ground.


Before Adris can land his feet, the commander thrusts his shining green spear for Adris’ chest. The man’s evil eyes show no hesitation now, for nobody left alive and upright still intends to capture Adris.

A piece of metal folds out from Adris’ sleeve, capturing the attacking spear and tying up like wrapping cloth around it, dropping the strike. When the commander circulates his aura, a shining burst rips the metal tool apart.


(Too strong!)


Thrusting forward again, a small, flying ball is already in the man’s sight.


Exploding into a blinding flash of light, the adjutant’s thrust goes wide with a jerk as a spectral, green-turtle’s mouth gouges out the entire area to the left of the retreating Adris.


(Could’ve just died quickly! Forcing me to use this, enjoy dying horribly.)


A paper circle is cast into the light, a string pulling the cloth to reveal a red disk that explodes in the airborne flames. Adris jumps to safety as the soldiers within an expanding red cloud begin to violently cough.


(Serras was behaving strangely? She was never good at hiding anything she was actively thinking about. At least the traps I re-activated delayed excessive reinforcements.)


This action carried out without Serras’ knowledge is the only escape rope offered to the trapped Adris.


(Five soldiers out of a detachment? Unlikely. More on the way. I need to run.)


Defeating five Xin’Reh in an instant used all of his deadly trinkets. Adris cannot use ambush and sheer force to kill them as Serras can, and only an ascended being could defeat a complex full of furious, trained, and well-coordinated aura users.


With these five disabled, time is left to take the antidote he carries and rush through the cloud, chancing his life to fleeing.


With escape just on the other side…


A thrumming sound is in his ears as he turns.

When he levels his spear and charges, only then does he realize he’s no longer in control.


(I can’t win.)


While his mind rejects the charge, his screaming body can’t. The logic he prides himself on has been murdered, replaced by an appalling, crumbling feeling of hatred.

With the short distance growing ever shorter, a woman’s face is stupidly blank as he closes.


Calculating his only chance for victory, a process that takes surprisingly little time, he begins his mental countdown.


([Rising Wave] loses to [Impossible Pivot].)


Serras, suddenly with steel in her strike as death approaches, draws an aura wave up from the ground with her blazing sword.

Adris’ right foot catches as it lands, his whole leg twisting inhumanly to drag his body into a leaping side roll. Shaking as the wave’s pressure passes by, he recommits to the insane rush after standing.


([Eternal Ice] would doom us all. The range dictates [Shadows Converge].)


Darkness comes to life in the room lit by the blinding flash, with Serras’ swaying body momentarily wavering as she prepares to charge with the horde of rushing shadows. Using a rare Acuity of Mind technique Adris had coincidentally learned from the Solar Ire sect, his body glows briefly before an expanding force of light rushes out.


With the sound of a ringing bell, all of the room’s shadows are dissolved.


Leaving Adris reeling from the feedback of the burst, Serras attacks even as her duplicates are consumed. A familiar blue aura winds up her sword, leaving her towering like a mountain giant preparing to squash him flat.


([Oceanic Might] will fall to [Flea Flicker].)


The blue-bound blade slams into the ground, absolutely pulverizing the space where Adris once was. The lithe man exits the other side of the huge cloud she throws up, escaping like a roach up the wall. His last trinket is flicked towards her as he climbs: a paper doll which unfolds like reverse origami, becoming a doppelganger of him that engages her.

Reaching the top of the room, he flings himself over to the Emperor’s sarcophagus as Serras chases the doppelganger in place of him.


Instinct fights against anger, the man preparing to end her life even as he wants to embrace her. His heart melts from the emotional stress and the aura rapidly draining into his spear to prime his ultimate technique.


(Why am I killing you, Serras?)


Wobbling and groaning, the wrenching sound of the raised spear accompanies a rush of un-attuned aura from the room. Using his body as a tuning fork, Adris’ peculiar constitution allows for his wife of sixteen years to become an impossibly lethal missile, sacrificing his internal organs and the deforming pole to accomplish Serras’ death.


(I don’t want to kill you, but also… I can’t not do it… It’s just…)


Betrayal is betrayal.




Nearing maximum saturation, he suddenly feels a terror that brings him back to the day of Serras’ awakening. Her body becomes adorned by a writhing cloak of red aura, droplets of it filling the air around her and hanging solid as the ground cracks where she stands.

The air in the room falls to the ground, weighed down all at once by a boiling sea, one the color of gore.


(Serras’ favorite.)


While she should be winded from fighting and traveling, she instead exhibits unbridled power, pathetically dwarfing Adris’ missile. The girl he thought he knew inside and out has depths of talent that he’s never glimpsed.

All this time, her enemies were only throwing themselves at a tidal wave hidden along the ocean floor ready to surface, a wave just as strong as what flows from the sarcophagus.


(You’ve never trusted me our whole lives!?)


A spear whistles, hurtled at a childhood partner. This abject fear and a total sense of betrayal can no longer be endured.

The screaming death carries all of his frustrations and outrage.




But… those emotions prove far too ineffectual against a true monster.


Blossoming in the air after dropping her sword, Serras’ unknown technique wraps out like a fly trap as she begins to dance. It snaps onto his spear in flight, the weapon being drawn into a vortex that whirls around the space she twirls in.


This all-consuming storm of aura that races around her increases the speed of the spear as it revolves, too, before she finishes her deathly dance by flinging her arms out.




Adris’ own spear flies like a ray of light, piercing through his chest and lodging him into the wall over the Emperor’s sarcophagus. The spear explodes his abdomen, piercing his spine and crippling him, before his technique explodes into the wall. Spectral blades stab him, too, though their damage pales in comparison to what follows.


A wave of crimson aura follows, guided like a frenzy of sharks along a trail of fresh blood. Red viscera coats the area as the aura storm churns, his vitality being painted across this canvas as the violent force washes over it.

Only his lungs, heart, head, and left arm survive the assault by some miracle, the rush parting at his chest.


Blood-filled eyes watch as Serras walks up, her seductive body lit by the vermilion doom weaving all around and licking off her perfect body.


Barely able to see after cracking his head against the wall, the whole room has become alternating pulses of white and black. The spear barely missed his lungs, but something within them burst, a heavy feeling lodging in his chest. Trying to breathe, he can’t feel the muscle needed.


(Hey, where did you learn that, beauty of mine? That was a good technique. A flower, divided into spinning petals of red flesh? You always had a good imagination.)


Serras’ receding aura still scrapes up the ground as it falters, leaving the woman staring at him as he dies. Concentrated on shutting off the pain, he can’t make out her expression.


(You hid how powerful you were the whole time. If you knew I had no chance, then why did you even play with me? What did you need me for?)


Every fight they’ve ever shared together now seems like a lie and a bit of a waste. All of his precious guile is equally pointless, given that she could overwhelm any single, non-ascended opponent Adris can conceive of.


(Guarding her back? Wasn’t I just hiding in her shadow, if this is how it was?)


The obsession he’d had with mastering his meager talents and supplementing them to stand at her side now seems rather pathetic, as the “whelp” he was taunting earlier just annihilated him.


(Our relationship was supposed to be… more than this…?)


All of the rage has vanished like smoke from an extinguished candle before he even notices.

Missing this potential the whole time, he can only blame his hubris.


Attempting to seek vengeance was the stupidest answer he could have arrived at, with Adris’ death being his fault entirely.


It’s just that when it came time to run, he couldn’t think of where to go.

Outside of the room and away from her, there’s nothing really waiting for him.


Only the barest, most devilish hint of a chance at winning goaded his breaking heart into action.



Mouth open to speak, only blood rushes out, falling like a gout to the ground below him. Wanting to ask why they traveled together, he desperately wonders what their partnership meant.

Like her, he’s not sure; but, he wants to believe it was once real.

In contrast to this hope…


(I hope that hit you in the face.)


… Adris is ever possessed by petty thoughts of vengeance and punishing transgressions.

Nothing, not even death, will cure it.

Always consumed by a feeling of rebellion against the impossibly strong, it’s those who can trample others without a consideration given that have motivated his entire life of careful retribution.


His mind boggles at how powerful she will be if she claims the Emperor’s inheritance.


(… My worst enemy was next to me the whole time?)




In response to his futile attack, he can make out a voice, still lovely to hear.


“I wouldn’t find the tomb. I wouldn’t know how to explore it. I’d never be safe.”


(That makes sense, but it’s not exactly my real question. Maybe I did it faster, but…)


She says more, but his head beats too hard for him to hear, the rush of aura to stabilize his body warping his mind. Using what’s left of his guts to breathe out air full of phlegm and blood, Adris offers his last thoughts.








That word is all he can manage before his withheld blood drains out of him to spill onto the sarcophagus below, an event like incontinence.


Then, he passes out.





Yer not much to look at, even after me trainin’ ye a bit.


The old mercenary eyed him with a look of disgust.

The boy had asked the man to tell him if he had talent, using work done for him as leverage for a friendly personal chat.

The mercenary was the only man the boy had ever respected in his youth and also the first aura user met by him.

When the boy had encroached on territory belonging to the man’s employers, he’d been beaten senseless for an hour to instill proper respect into him. Only a promise of a useful debt owed had saved the boy’s spiteful mouth from being permanently broken.


When were ye born, runt? Ye never said.


Upon having heard the date, the old mercenary laughed hysterically and regained a touch of ugly youth as he cried.


That’s great. The mix is excellent, too. I love it.


The boy was confused as the old man pulled out another bottle with amber-colored liquid. When the man offered him a glass, the boy jumped at the gift.

The two shared a drink… no, a friendly interaction for the first time.


Ye won’t make it if ye don’t learn any history, fool. Adris means starin the old scant tongue. Practically unchanged from when men were livin’ in caves.


Aren’t stars lucky?


Aye, if they shine on good times.


He then eyed the boy with some pity, rare for a man who had lived a life as hard as his reputation suggested. A drink and a compassionate look were the most the boy had been gifted in years.


Boy, y’were born on the anniversary of the day the First Bastard died. Yer practically a curse. A livin’ testament to bad luck.


The boy couldn’t speak, his hand having stopped in mid motion when he tried to drink from his own glass. Taking a swig himself, the man concluded his thoughts. 


Yer talent is weak at best, I’d wager. And yer name? Loosely speakin’, to base it on yer day of birth like the robes do for clanless bastards, it’d be: Adris fehl Dain.



“‘Star of ruin.’”





With thoughts lingering between life and death, an old memory is Adris’ last mercy.

A life becomes a flickering flame, leaving a crippled man kept alive by his own tenacity. Unnatural healing has reached its limit after exhausting his aura, with only his intact aura core preventing death.

With excruciating pain absent, he understands that his sensory-blocking technique has fried his nerves. No longer capable of drawing power in from the environment, only minutes remain, hard bought time he resolves to enjoy.


He opens his eyes, looking around, realizing that he is still embedded in the wall.


(A wonderful shot.)


At the center of the room, soldiers prepare the ritual, lit by candles burning in an orthodox pattern. A lot of them fill the room, with more likely lingering in the procession hall. The wrapped body in the center of the inked oval is the center of mystic characters forming the ritual.

Only, the air of the room is gripped with a feeling that Adris has never experienced before, memories of past ceremonies failing to match the imminent dread lingering here.


Soldon’s adjutant recites the litanies of the ritual. With pale, slightly mottled skin, the one man Adris wished to succumb to the ever-sweet red dust survives while looking only slightly ill.


(Serras remembered the parts I told her and even managed to fill in the ones I didn’t.)


Wearing only white ritual garb with her unsheathed sword laid before her, Serras kneels with her eyes shut, facing toward the sarcophagus wall that Adris hangs from.


(I’m a little proud of you for listening. You look beautiful, even if you’re a traitorous, murdering bitch.)


Her face is blank, behaving like always. The image of the raving Serras is like a distant memory or a bad dream.


(She thinks it’s too dangerous to move the body, so she’ll get what she can without being greedy. Very shrewd. You learned well.)


It had been an easy way to live that he’d taught her.

When instructing her, Adris’ own studies had favored immediate gain over future largess. Using his own aura to guide the development of others’ had been a novel breakthrough borne of that philosophy and Fatso’s assistance.


(It is also a form of suicide.)


The technique could empower others, but it also permanently scars the internal expanse, proven by him when his mediocre talents were snuffed at the start.

He’d never told Serras about where the support for her early training had come from.


(It is never permitted to appear weak.)


Even now, she is living proof of what he’d lost in order to obtain immediate strength, a sword maiden he had thought belonged to him.


(And I never told anyone how to do it, so I won’t even go down in history for it.)


With a unique constitution permitting such a technique, only someone that would bother to help another would find it useful; and, in a world full of people attempting to become ascended beings, betrayal is omnipresent.


(But I was forward thinking. And never wanted to ascend.)


Adris hated only living in the moment and wanted a future that was free of the designs of others. Taking Serras to this tomb was just a step toward a better future for both of them.

She was never supposed to…


But, now it’s just useless.

Unable to even spite her, now, all that’s left are petty feelings.


Reaching into his robe, or what is left of it, he searches for one of his wonderful trinkets with the only arm that remains functional. Using these because he cannot fight like Serras, a trickster’s game is all he’s ever had.


(But all my tricks are used up.)


The robe’s pockets have vanished, and with it the contents. Only a metallic object is felt, clinging to the pieces of his exposed ribcage. Pulling it out of his tattered robe, he holds it up while the guard commander intones the main part of the ritual spell.


The silver cross is beautiful. Not as beautiful as Serras, but shockingly unmarred, for its gleaming surface hasn’t a speck of dirt on it.


(She’ll be okay.)


Adris silently and scornfully laughs to himself as he gazes upon his protege.


(And I hate her for it.)


The girl he wanted to grow stronger, strong enough to survive even if he died, will live on.


(Apparently, I didn’t know her at all… Nah, I knew her all too well. I just wasn’t going to admit it.)


He thinks of the shame at not being able to see how powerful she will become.

The shame of not putting his spear through her ice-like beauty of a face.


(Ah, my wife.)


His favorite weapon was reduced to a twisted scrap of metal.


(I am a widower, now.)


If Adris had tears to cry, this would be a proper reason.

Full of spite, self-loathing, and sadness, Adris ponders useless questions as the adjutant’s voice rises.


(Why buried alive, oh noblest of Emperors? Did a wife do this to you, you faithless bastard? Surprisingly, women are quite strong when mad at you! I guess I’ll get to ask you, soon.)


The air grows heavy and baleful as the corpse stirs to life, power surging from it like tendrils where an absence of light manifests. They originate from a translucent, rainbow orb within the corpse located where a human’s aura core would be.

Serras’ skin begins to pale as the emanation from the corpse rises in intensity to move towards her, seemingly obeying and shifting with the chanting of the soldiers.


The aura of the Emperor is unique, for Adris has never heard of a dark aura.


(Is this what you found with your living death?)


Buffeted by the wind, his fading life focuses on their relationship one last time.



She was the butcher girl, always smelling like the same day he had met her, the only one to survive the group she’d been captured in.

He was the sold out scoundrel, clinging to any vain hope as yet another situation turned against him when his luck predictably soured.


But now?



Adris fehl Dain’s identity as [Serras fehr Almet’s Partner] is dead forever.

His identity now is [Nothing].


All that remains of this shattered, beaten persona are conflicting emotions.

The realization finishes off what was left of his struggle.


(I just wish…)


He grips the silver cross with the last of his energy, venting his frustrations.


(… that we could’ve escaped from all of this.)



A pathetic wish that he’s held onto for a long time.

Even when fleeing, never free.

Even before fleeing, catastrophes were the one gift life felt free to bestow to him…





The wind stops.


Feeling like he should have dropped the cross, he finds it still in his hands after reopening his eyes. Even if he tries to let go, it remains there.


As he dumbly waves the cross in front of him while trying to release it, the soldiers scream as arcing darkness fills the room.

It lances through them as they briefly glow before disassembling into flying, whitely burning chunks of flesh, their screams entirely consumed by the sonorous drone issuing from the darkness scraping the rocky room.


The rising night begins to turn from Serras, who falls back horrified as she watches it undulate and weave.

Finally noticing Adris, she is shocked to see him moving.


(Yes, I’m alive.)


Before she can begin the sentence forming on her lips, she’s blown away by a rush of power from the corpse. Unable to make out her fate as the room cracks with the pressure, the darkness becomes a winding coil which threatens to explode this stoney womb.


Suddenly, it streams violently toward the cross, the drone becoming an undulating cry of adoration when it strikes silver.


Space itself begins to warp as Adris feels his body fold up. Still intact nerves cry out in pain as they catch on fire, before even the pain is devoured by the droning abyss.


(Okay, I was wrong! Apparently, I have killed myself somehow!)


All light vanishes as the dark cascading from the cross envelops him completely, ending his silent screaming.


(Sorry, Serras. If I’m going to hell, I’m sure we’ll meet again.)


The world explodes with a white flash, as everything is unmade.





What he hears before the end are two voices.


One screams


“What did you demand?!”


in a fierce, groggy, masculine voice, full of unmatched self-importance flecked with horror.




The other,




infinitely more frightening than the first,



quips like an old scholar

from the nightmares of his cloister days,

mildly expectant and entirely congenial.




“Oh, good.

A fresh perspective!”






Name: Adris fehl Dain
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Male
Age: 3* (Deceased)

Occupation: Charlatan/Swindler; Xin’Reh (former); Soldier of Fortune (former); Bounty Hunter (former)
Discipline: Spear Veteran; Aura Warrior, School/Specialization: Self-Taught


[Piercing Death] – “Produces blade-like aura at the point of penetration, destroying a creature from the inside. Of no use if you can’t hit, it’s a mortally wounding strike, otherwise.”

[Flea Flicker] – “Bug-like movements which enable him to climb walls and move at high speeds. He cannot attack or interact with anything during these movements, only able to act once freed of his rapid rush. Hidden from everyone that Adris has not already killed, it is his ultimate escape technique.”

[Unnamed Solar Ire Technique] – “Stolen from one of the schools that hates him the most, with a ringing bell accompanying it, it devours all shadows around it. That’s it. It is made to consume darkness, revealing areas. No greater purpose. Why is it so oddly useful against Serras’ most favored technique…?”

[Tool Savant] – “Adris is a tool-collecting-and-utilizing fanatic. Most men would consider him disgusting for loving tools more than his own partner. Has so many tools that it can be said to be his true power.”

Disposition: Deplorable / Adaptable / Sarcastic
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Black
Hair: Black, with strands of White
Skin: Tanned


R-Value – “Please load additional feature.”


C-Value – “If all men looked like him, it might not be odd for women to think that the gods had painted the world in only the drab color brown? While not ugly, would he not exemplify the idea that ‘normal’ is perhaps indistinguishable from ‘undesirable’?”

“Does missing half of your body increase the rarity of what remains, thereby increasing its inherent beauty?”


“A rather plain-looking man wearing traveling robes, what he carries hidden is far more dangerous than his appearance lets on. A disarming smile, leads to you being suckered. A clever tongue, leads to your sorrow. Possessing quick wit and intellect, hubris and arrogance are certain to follow. Well known across the floating islands of Xin, but not by name, only by reputation. Owed many favors, but not with great joy, and certainly not love. The only person he seems to care about other than himself is his lifelong partner.”

“It can be said that Adris has done a lot of things in his life. Good, bad, evil, and unkind, all of what he has done has been done with the assumption that he will never have to worry about heaven or hell. Now that he’s lost the only thing he’s ever cared about, what is left? Perhaps he will get his chance to discover what it means to be free?”


“Well, apparently he is the protagonist. If he thinks he’s getting out of this alive, he’s wrong at least once. Was what was said about him correct? Perhaps…?”



Name: Serras fehr Almet
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Female
Age: 3*

Occupation: Manslayer; Xin’Reh (former/disavowed); Soldier of Fortune; Bounty Hunter
Discipline: Sword Warlord; Aura Warrior, School/Discipline: Self-Taught

Disposition: Chilling / Hateful / Nostalgic
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Black
Hair: Shining Black
Skin: Tanned


[Rising Wave] – “In contrast to neutral, unformed waves, this one was specifically designed by her to deal little damage, but have the highest kinetic impact. Useful for clearing the area.”

[Eternal Ice] – “A prison of ice which leaches aura from the one frozen within, killing them like a spider as it sucks them dry. Because it is not discriminate, in areas of high aura, it will expand until it fills the area, only crumbling when the aura within depletes.”

[Shadows Converge] – “Calling forth aura to create duplicates made of the very shadows around her, Serras is capable of engaging multiple foes at once. Truly, this is the pinnacle of her fighting style: overwhelming her enemy and butchering them without affording a defense.”

[Oceanic Might] – “Nothing more than a titanic club, there is no subtlety or style to this technique. It will simply absolutely destroy what it hits, like an ocean wave dashing a ship upon the rocks.”

[“Red Blooming Fly Trap?”] – “A technique designed solely to defeat Adris, it takes advantage of his signature attack to kill him with it. Can you feel the love she has for the man she’s always been with? Surely we would all feel complete if someone created a technique solely to end us with it.”


R-Value – “Please load additional feature.”


C-Value – “Her beauty is perhaps like the lingering and deathly frostbite of a frozen winter night? While you might seek out her slender, yet womanly, body, mayhaps all you shall taste is the dirt? Unless your name is Adris, in which case you still might taste your own blood? A solid, desirable nightmare clad in flesh, like moths, men are drawn, but is it the beauty that calls to them or the hatred underneath…? Is it any wonder that she has never married?”


“A cold beauty who rejects pleasantries, she seems more committed to her blade than to belonging to humanity. Why she follows Adris can be summarized by the tortuous path their relationship has taken to reach the tomb they are in. Though they fight like more than siblings, and have committed to the future together, perhaps there’s more to be said and little time to say it? If Adris is the brains, then Serras is surely… The only person she seems to care about other than herself is, oh… nevermind.”

“As it is, all of her misgivings towards Adris seem to be very old wounds that never had the time, nor reason, to heal. If even half of what she said was true, then what does that say about him? And herself…? I suppose we’ll never know.”


“Well, well, well, how the turn tables. Did you think she was the primary heroine? Though that might be interesting… sadly, the world is cruel to our protagonist. By the end, he will probably wish she was.”




Emperor’s Cross – “Okay, so it’s not so minor. Everything that was left in the Emperor… where did it go?”

First Voice – “While he sounds angry, he also sounds like he’s important, right?”



(Modified for rework.)


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