Once Phealea stepped into the Blasted Lands the snow came. It was gentle at first and then it became a blizzard and whited out the world to the mage. Phealea balled her fists at yet another delay and with a sigh she continued on. After a few paces the snow died back to a gentle fall and once again she stood at the edge of wide chasm with a shadowy ice throne sitting alone. A bridge of skulls rose from the impossibly dark depths and settled before. The bridge was nearly complete with new skulls added to its construction, more orcish skulls and a elven one.
"You are so close... just a bit more." A sweet voice echoed on the cold wind.
"Ah, so you are the one that has been sending these to me. Tch, it is a good thing that I come for your essence, for I tire of these delays." Phealea scoffed.
"You were weak then, dearest. You are strong now, powerful. You still hold the grudge that you could not control me, but now you can. You can take from me anything you wish. I will submit to you without the shedding of blood and guide you to your true destiny." The sweet voice hinted.
"You? Help me? Surely you jest? Some pained attempt to safeguard your own existence? It matters not. I will defeat you, bend you to my will, and then crush you. " Phealea said matter of factly.
"You can not. Your mortal heart allows me power over you still. Frozen as it may be, I can snake my way through the ice and fine the fire in your heart. But I seek not to fight you, only to allow you to ascend. To topple Zenedar and make his power yours. Then you can use me any way you like. With me in your thrall you could control the hearts of your foes. Make them fight for you, for no mortal is resistant to temptation." The voice said, dripping with a seductive tone.
At that Phealea stood upon the bridge of skulls and lowered her head in thought.
The wind warmed slightly as it gently caressed the mage's face. A light scent was carried on the wind, a sweet scent Phea could not immediately identify. "Ah yes my dearest... I can sense the ambition and power that dance in your thoughts. With me your dreams can become reality. Everything can be yours, all you must do is take the next step. Those who stand in your way, those who cast doubt on you. I know why you hesitate, but you can overcome it now."
"Oh, I am interested to hear what stays my hand. I would advise you to plan your next few words carefully." Phealea said as she crossed her arms.
"Ah, the ones you call family. You slow your progress because of them. Even now you have aided them when it took away from your own studies. You must hide yourself from them as you fear their reactions. They stand in your way, emotional attachments. Kill them and break the bond. Only then can the chains that bind you be broken. Freedom will be yours." The voice almost seemed to giggle in a bit of sadistic glee.
Phealea weighed the words in her mind. She frowned as the logic began to piece itself together. She was strong yet she stayed her hand and held herself back. Her mortality was becoming more and more of a burden, she reasoned. The voice giggled again.
"Now, come and summon me. We shall break those chains together my dearest!"
As Phealea stepped forward she felt a soft tug on her cloak. She turned quickly and blinked at what she saw. Talula gripped the end of her cloak and frowned deeply at the mage.
"Miss Phea! What would Master Tai say if he heard this talk?" Talula said in a scolding fashion.
Phealea sneered and balled her fist. "Who cares? There are more important matters at hand."
"Well, you care for one." The gnome said flatly.
Phealea looked as if she had been punched in the stomach. She frowned at Talula. The wind began to pick up and swirl around the mage and the gnome but became silent as Talula spoke again.
"You do and you know it, Miss Phea. You care about him and he cares for you. All this blood and shadow stuff is gonna blind you. You iced your heart so you could prove yourself to the Tong. You feared they all would lose respect because of your fear of the Dark Portal. Though deep down you knew that no one would think less of you. No one but yourself. You try too hard sometimes. Ya know my Uncle Ezra once said, "If you try too hard, the ensuing rapid thermal combustion will incinerate more than your eyebrows." I think that means something like if you push yourself too far bad stuff happens." Talula said with a calming sound in her voice.
Phealea felt Talula's grip tighten, almost protectively. Talula tilted her head down so her hat would cover her eyes. "So please Miss Phea. Don't lose yourself. Come back to us, we all miss you. Please don't abandon us. It would make a bunch o' people cry." The gnome said quietly with sadness flowing from her small little voice.
The wind howled as if in protest. The voice hissed at the gnome. "Silence you miserable little wretch. It is because of you Mistress Phealea remains chain. You shall die along with the Tigers and my mistress shall be freed."
Phealea raised her hands to the frozen sky and screamed. Her cry shattered the winter wasteland and sent her reeling back reality. With a huff she looked about the red desert in which she stood and realized she was standing in the glowing circle near the orge encampment. She narrowed her eyes and extracted the softly glowing purple crystal from her pack. She quickly uttered a dark curse and smashed the gem in the circle. The winds picked up and that sweet smell floated in the air. Soon a beautiful woman appeared before the mage. Long raven hair, held out of the woman's eyes with large horns. A swift tail brushed gently in the red sands of the Blasted Lands as her cloven feet crushed small rocks under them to dust. The succubus smiled warmly at the mage.
"It's been a long time, Mistress Phealea. I am glad you have the skill to work with me now." The succubus said cheerfully.
Phealea narrowed her eyes and quickly threw out her hand. A quick lance formed of ice crashed into the succubus who stumbled a bit and smiled wide.
"I tire of your games Syyla. You beat me once when I was younger and weak. But I no longer deny what I am and your time has come. I shall cut that silver tongue of your's out and feed it to your Nathrezim master before I take his heart for my own!" Phealea said roughly as she readied her next spell.
"My dearest, you were destined for the dark arts. You just fail to realize it. You were so good back then, but then you went crying back to your precious arcane magic because you could not handle me. You would have become a powerful warlock had you stayed with us." Syyla said with a ever present grin.
"And be a weakling serve of the Nether? You are a fool Syyla, and I will kill you, then Zenedar is next." Phealea spat back.
With a powerful motion of her ragged wings the succubus pushed herself off with great speed at the mage. With lethal skill the succubus whipped out her whip in an attempt to catch the mage about the throat. Phealea quickly dropped her spell and raised her right hand to stop the whip. The action came a breath to late and she only managed to trap her right hand against her neck as the whip wrapped around her and tightened.
"Still weak." Syyla said in a high pitched voice, mimicking the sound of Talula's voice.
The succubus constricted the whip around the mage causing blood to drip from Phea's wrist. Syyla frowned as her senses picked up something. She darted her eyes to see a odd night elf sitting on a near by rock, seemingly as happy as a little girl. The two locked eyes for a moment and then the night elf shook her head gently.
"Well, it was fun while it lasted." Nightshade said with a loud sigh.
It was then Syyla realized she relaxed her grip when she looked at the night elf. As she turned back to Phealea was gone. She turned about to catch sight of the mage but to no avail. Syyla turned back to the night elf to see that she too was gone. It was then a soft hiss pierced the air near her hand, which then went numb. When Syyla looked down her weapon hand was no longer there, instead sat a now bleeding stump. The demon howled and winced as she saw a large dark panther with its huge paw resting on top of her fallen hand. She growled angrily at the panther and began to take to the air.
"Too late." A cold voice said from behind her.
Phealea slowly came back into view as her invisibility spell faded. Her hands a lit with the power of fire. As Syyla attempted to gain more distance between her and the mage, Phealea finished her spell and sent the large ball of flame into the flying succubus. The ball slammed into the demon and sent her back to the ground covered in deadly flames. The demon writhed upon the red sands and then fell still as the flames still cooked and charred her once perfect skin.
Phealea dusted off her own hands with a look of disgust upon her features. She then loomed over the fallen succubus and looked down with a thoughtful look in her eye. She frowned and kicked the dead demon and turned her back again.
Nightshade took back to her lithe elf form and licked her hand of the demon's blood with a smile.
"That was fun, but the hearrrt is rrruined. Can not extrrract it's power." Nightshade stated as she finished with the last of the blood on her fingers.
"The demon annoyed me and its little bit of power is like chaff in the wind to me. I do not need it." Phealea said as she gazed toward the Dark Portal.
"Then what is next?" Nightshade asked curiously.
"Endgame. Bring the gnome to Hellfire Peninsula. There we will find our prey and there this all will end." Phealea said softly giving Nightshade a glance from over her shoulder.
Nightshade smiled wide and nodded. "Yes, wherrre it all will end." She said with a cruel tone.
"Hmm, indeed" Phealea offered Nightshade a thin smile and then turned back to face the portal. "Two days we will begin out there. I have some things to attend too till then. Do not be late." With that the mage once again faded from view, becoming invisible.
Phealea looked down to see Talula standing at her side.
"Glad you did not go through with that ugly business." Talula said with a warm grin.
Phealea frowned as she could feel a bit of warmth course through her as she turned away from the gnome.
"Shut up, Lula." She said softly as she crossed her arms around herself. Her eyes welled up but she was quick to push them back. That horrible feeling of regret had returned to her and it dug itself deep.
Phealea stood motionless on the corrupted earth of Hellfire Peninsula, gazing across its befouled land with her arms crossed and a thoughtful look in her eyes. This is where she had first started the Ritual of the Froze Core and iced her heart, and this is where she intended to finish it. Her emotions has caused her major, unneeded mistakes in judgment and they only seem to be getting stronger rather than weaker. She scowled as Talula's word continued to ring in her head. "Please don't abandon us. It would make a bunch o' people cry." She took in a deep breath to push back the thought and then her eyes locked on to her target. The large dreadlord walked about the peninsula surrounded by infernals and imps.
"Is that him? This looks like the fun will be dealing with his frrriends." A sweet voice purred from behind.
Phealea turned slightly to look at Nightshade from the corner of her eye. She narrowed her eyes when she saw a large bag being dragged behind the druid. In response to Phealea's reaction Nightshade smiled wide and pointed to the bag.
"She is sedated. No need for you to worrry." Nightshade said with a most charming smile.
Phealea scoffed and turned back to the small precession of demons. "Deal with the infernals and the imps. I will deal with the Nathrezim myself. I do recall him being a bit stronger." She said with a thin smile. "Then again I was different then."
Nightshade flashed a wicked grin and dropped the bag she was held. In a instant she took to shape of a large panther and melded with the shadow. Phealea watched the stalking cat prowl away and narrowed her eyes again. Phealea then called upon her protective wards, with a slight change. For a moment her body burned with an intense heat before it faded again. She flexed her fingers and smiled to herself before she then made her way to the soon to be battlefield.
Nightshade could not help but lose herself for but a moment in the infinite chaos that swirled about her, it made her feel almost at home. It was when she heard the giggling of a few imps that she snapped back to what she was doing. In a instant she crushed and sliced open the fiery imps with her large claws. She then turned focus on the infernals near by. She narrowed jher glowing eyes and took to her large bear form and charged the first one knocking it from his stony feet. As the second one charged in she turned to meet the demon. A rocky fist smashed into the side of her face hard causing blood to fly between her fangs. She only smiled and reared up on her hind legs and brought her massive claws into the infernal . The demon stumbled backwards and quickly attempted to bring it's fist into the large bear again. The druid took the hit again with glee and brought her weight to bear again in another powerful swing. The infernal cried out and shattered into thousands of rock shards. She then turned to face the recovered infernal as she licked the bits of blood on her nose.
Phealea watched the battle with a small bit of interest. She turned to look at the dreadlord or finally decided it was time to destroy the pest of a druid. He began to channel upon his power of shadow but before his spell was finished Phealea threw out her hand and broke his spell matrix with a simple counter-spell. The demon turned and growled as he looked upon the mage, hate burned hot in the dreadlord's eyes. Unable to cast spells for the moment he used his powerful wings to leap into the air in a attempt to quickly close the distance. Phealea merely sighed and began her spell.
The dreadlord was caught off guard as a swift bolt of frost slammed into his chest armor. The armor cracked and his joints began to tighten and freeze. He growled as he landed far short of his goal. He began to close the distance with his long legs as fast as he could. He was to slow to dodge the next two frozen shots, which again slammed into his armor on his chest causing his body to shake with a icy pain. Then as he stood mere inches from his prey he smiled as he assumed he could smash the delicate girl with a single swing from his claw. He was disappointed when his claws caught the icy shield that enveloped the girl. It was then the girl reached out to the demon's chest and the power of flame pulsed between her hand and his armor. The quick, intense heat shattered his now weakened and frozen armor, exposing his chest. The dreadlord scowled as the mage then threw a large shard of ice through one of his wings, rendering it useless for the time being.
With a roar he began to call upon his dark powers to engulf the girl in shadow, but before his spell could leave his lips Phealea held out her hand and sent raw arcane power into the dreadlord, sending him reeling to the ground. Before the red dust could clear the mage was unto the dreadlord's chest and ice began to spread over his limps and then his head, leaving only his chest exposed. With that done she went to create the magic circle.
Nightshade took her night elf shape once the second infernal lay shattered at her feet. She called upon her powers to mend the wounds she had received and then she gathered the bag she was carried. She gracefully made her way to the mage and her prize. Nightshade smiled and set the bag down gently upon the red dirt.
Phealea made a small gesture and the three boxes appeared around her, each one glowing with dark energies. Phealea made her way over to the bag and looked to Nightshade briefly. "Go and open the boxes so the magic can flow properly between them while I prepare the gnome." She said coldly as she knelt over the bag.
Nightshade offered Phealea a wicked smile and made her way over to one of the boxes. She bent down to open one of the boxes and then stopped herself just inches from the box. Something was off about the box. She studied it for a moment and then saw the rune that told her everything... a trap. She turned to face Phealea who was staring back at her with icy eyes. A gnome lifelessly hung in her grasp, with the hat rolling on the ground. Each of them saw a familiar look in each others eyes, a planned betrayal.
"Where is Talula?" Phealea asked with a razor sharp edge to her voice.
"A trrrap on the box, you intended to frrreze me." Nightshade said quietly.
The two women rose from their spots and gazed deeply into each others eyes and again something familiar flashed between the two, the look of a killer.
"Yes I did, you see I made a promise that I would extract your heart and place it in a box. I intend to make good on that. Now you can tell me where Talula is or I will extract the information from your screaming mouth." The words left the mage's mouth with nothing but promise.
"Funny, I wanted you to keep yourrr hearrrt so I could brrreak it prrroperrrly. " Nightshade purred.
"Enemies it is then." Phealea said with a thin smile forming on her face. "I will allow myself to enjoy this."
Nightshade locked eyes with the mage and smiled wide. This was going to be fun.
Phea raised her arms and a ring of frost burst forth, trapping the nightelf where she stood. The mage moved out of reach and hurled a ball of sharp ice at her enemy. Nightshade saw the bolt coming and swiftly melted into the form of a large bear. The deadly spell smashed into the druid's head and lodged bits of ice in her shoulder. Nightshade broke free of her frozen bonds. She made a strange growling noise and Phea felt her body tingle. Colorful lights swirled around the mage and she felt vulnerable and exposed.
"End this quickly," she thought and looked up at the sky. She spoke words that caused her lips to go blue and frost to cover her lower jaw and cheeks. A single snowflake fell, followed by a blinding cloud of sleet and ice. The ground grew slick and Nightshade changed shape again. The dark panther charged the mage. A half-forgotten, cocky grin crossed the young human's face knowing that the druid would never be able to stop to make her attack on the frozen ground. She began the chant that would summon Douroon.
Nightshade had other plans. Anticipating the slick footing, she charged past Phea and spun. Razor sharp claws raked across the mage's lightly armored back drawing both blood and a cry of pain. Phea's concentration was broken and she quickly encased herself in a block of ice to regroup.
Nightshade shifted back into her true form and circled the mage, looking for a weakness in the wall of ice. Phea took the respite to regain her focus for another summoning attempt.
"What a pity it had to end this way. " Nightshade panted, trying to catch her breath. "Yourrr orrrc, Nerrrok, is dead. Yourrr Tigerrr family will despise you and hunt you down. I shall finish them off one at a time. Von will beg to come back to me and I will tearrr out his hearrrt. Yourrr poorrr little gnome will neverrr be hearrrd from again. You can rrrest comforted to know that she'll die verrry painfully."
"Tell me where she is or I'll find her myself and hand her the dagger to remove your heart," Phea said flatly from her protective shell. The scratches on her back throbbed.
"What makes you think that she'll even forrrgive you," Nightshade laughed. "You'rrre the rrreason she belongs to me now."
"You don't know her. Lu will understand." The mage closed her eyes as a silent war began in her mind. Did she want Talula back to make everything right or to finish the ritual?
Nightshade laughed again. "Yes, and I'm surre the lamb underrrstands the slaughterrr. Those concepts are forrr hunterrrs like us. Not sheep like them.""
"You and I have nothing in common Druid. We share one last experience and will be me ending you." Phea readied the frost bolt, sensing that her ice shield was beginning to fail.
"You think you're so superrriorrr. That you'rrre betterrr than me. But do you know what, mage? We walk the same path. We thirrrst forrr the same things. You'rrre just like me."
Nightshade walked over and grabbed Talula's hat. She waved it in front of her triumphantly.
"You arrre exactly like me."
The protective block of ice shattered as a jet of flame leapt from Phea's hand. It passed through the hat and engulfed the druid. Phea looked at her own hand in surprise. The cold voice in her head drowned out the druid's cries of pain. "Press the feelings down. You are the Ice Princess. You can freeze the whole world."
The mage turned to see Nightshade's burned and bloody form change into a black raven. Phea rained shards of ice on the retreating bird, then could only watch as it disappeared in the sky. She walked over to the burning remains of a brown hat. It was ruined now, like her plan. Like Lula. Shaking the thought from her head she turned back to her prize. I can still finish this. There is still time. Drawing her blade she took a step toward the downed demon then heard the soft sigh at her elbow.
"Still trying to leave us, Miss Phea? Come on. What are you doing?"
Talula stood beside her, white-blond ponytails blowing in the hot wind of the Penninsula. Phea looked down at the knife in her hand and said nothing.
"You know what? You go ahead and finish your ritual. Freeze your heart and become all powerful. You think that's going to earn you respect with your sister? You think you're father's going to suddenly love you and be proud of you? Those people are fools. Sometimes you have to choose your family. You think Miss Krelle or Miss Taai or Kya could respect you more than they already do? They all love you like a sister. You think any parent could be more proud of you than Master Tai and Lady Kennia? They look on you as a daughter. If you're going to just throw that all away to impress some nothing humans that don't see you for who you are, then Fel, Phea. I don't even wanna know you."
Little feet padded around to the far side of the dreadlord and then the gnome was gone.
Phealea looked down at the fallen dreadlord as once again Talula's words seemed to endless rotate in Phealea's mind. Her dagger was poised high in her hand as she started down at the chest of the dreadlord but she could not move. Then the snow began to fall gently.
Phealea sat on her knees amid a frozen tundra. A long bridge of skulls stretch before to the shadowed throne of ice. Phealea stared at the skulls with wide eyes as if in shock. "The skulls of those who I killed to come this far." The realization struck her as swift and as painful as the druid did. She looked down at her own hands for a long time as the voices of her friends began to echo through the frozen wastelands. The voices seemed to blend together as they grew louder and louder until silence reigned for a short time.
"Phea, you okay?" She heard Kya ask.
"You know we worry about you, Phea." She was sure that was Kennia.
"Hey, don't push yourself too far." That was Krelle.
"Phea, ya okay? Want me ta knock on some wood fer ya?" Only Taai would say that.
"Do you need any help Miss Phea?" Phea swore that was Von.
"Phea, you know I don't think I would trust any mage's portal except yours. You know we trust you." Tai offered her his confidence.
"Don't lose yourself. Come back to us." Lula's voice once again echoed through the tundra.
The voices then faded away and she was left alone with the throne before her. Phealea focused on the throne and then her eyes widened as she saw the throne begin to crack.
Phealea's senses were thrust back into reality and her arms felt weak. The claw marks on her back ached and she began to feel numb. The dagger fell from her hand and dropped harmless to the red dirt. Phealea rose to her feet like a ghost and looked up at the chaotic sky above her. She felt the shard of ice around her heart pulsate and then disperse. Her eyes went wide, her hands clasped the side of her head and she began to scream.
Her wailing echoed off the valley walls as she stumbled away from the dreadlord. All of her pent up emotions began to flow back into the mage which sent her reeling into chaos. She screamed as loud as she could as she feel back to her knees, her hands gripping her hair tightly. She felt lost, confused, sad, angry, and hurt. She closed her eyes tight to help her focus but only more pain flowed into her mind. The chaos around her only fed the emotional pain that grated in her head. The magic energy she had contained within herself began to fluctuate and arcane magic seemed to leak from the mage. Random explosions of arcane force began to happen as Phealea fought to cease the mental pain.
She turned her head to the sky and let out one last scream as a torrent of energy escaped from her and destroying the frozen body of the dreadlord and much of the earth around her. The eldritch boxes glew brightly and then exploded destroying their contents. Her hands dropped to her sides and the frost mage helpless slumped onto her side. She could not move and her vision had become blurry. Everything seemed to swirl in front of her as she took long pained breaths. She coughed as a figure appeared on the horizon. Her hear had dulled and she was unsure of what was going on about her. She smiled slightly as her vision began to fade until the darkness claimed her.