"You can only come to the morning through the shadows." – J.R.R Tolkien
Martarj and Zarak spent that night in silence, the only part of New Riza visible being the tip of the highest ruined skyscraper.
"So, what are Damekiirs?" Martarj asked at last.
"Talking to me again, are we?" Zarak snapped. He still had not gotten over the previous night's events.
"Yes, we are," Martarj snapped back. "So?" Zarak sighed and fished his portable laptop out of his pocket. He scrolled through various images, and quickly averted his gaze when he arrived at the image he was searching for. His head still turned away, Zarak handed it to Martarj. It took Martarj barely a half-second to register what he was looking at, close the lid and leap back, dropping the laptop in a similar way to Zarak had done with his binoculars.
"Holy crap!" Martarj cried as he leapt back. "Holy crap on a sti – holy crap on several sticks! You're kidding me, right?" Zarak shook his head, the image ever burned into his mind. They had scared him even more than the Diablos Servants. Their faces were likened to a slug's, many different stalks sticking out at different angles from the eye sockets. They had long, pointed noses, so even though they were blind, they could smell almost anything, even fear. On their brow stood two small slightly curved horns and their heads were riddled with bright purple veins, easily visible against their taut green-yellow skin. They had separated teeth that were wickedly sharp, to strike fear into the hearts of their prey.
Their prey was anything that moved.
"So why are they here?" Martarj asked.
"Damekiirs are aliens from the outer regions of the Dark Sea, where the hand of the Zhitoran Empire does not reach. Wherever there is death and despair, the Damekiirs gather. And they must have been very pleased to find a beastie like Zhitorinor. They're probably all over the planet by now. Problem is, I dare not go into New Riza until the break of dawn, and even then it is a huge risk. For Damekiirs are strongest in the dark. They reach the height of their power when the main source of light for a planet is veiled. In other words, an eclipse. It's very rare in Zhitorinor, of course, due to the fact that we have twin suns. It's even rarer in the first part of the year because there are fewer moons,"
"Good thing it's the first part, then,"
"There are two moons currently in the sky, so an eclipse could still happen,"
At the break of dawn, Zarak and Martarj made sure that they were ready for the quest into the ruins of New Riza. Zarak loaded his rifles with the remaining two packs of ammo from his coat and set them to auto-fire while Martarj fitted a black mp3 player into his helm, all in silence. They were both dreading going into a ruined city full of bloodthirsty, evil aliens from the furthest reaches of the universe, and were afraid that they would throw up if they opened their mouths. As they were walking, Zarak managed to speak while throwing one of his rifles to Martarj.
"Take it," Zarak said. "If Damekiirs were able to be killed by sharp edges, they would have died out millennia ago. Their lives are but half-lives, undead, if you will. Some say that they are mutants, the last vestiges of a race similar to ours, warped because they wanted to live forever without the magical means. They were technologically advanced, of course, but technology can only help a person for so long. Like with magic, there comes a limit."
"I.e.," Martarj continued. "You can't defy gravity, disintegrate an overly large being with a bolt of light, destroy half an army, etcetera."
"Exactly my point," Zarak said.
Zarak didn't like this, skulking around his own streets like a wanted criminal, but it was necessary. Although Damekiirs had an aversion to light, they did not avoid it at all costs, and should they be seen by too many Damekiirs, it was goodbye Zhitorinor. So, keeping Zarak's guns close to their chests, Zarak and Martarj ran through the streets, passing burnt cars, ruined buildings and, much to Zarak's grief, the odd blackened humanoid skeleton.
"I've been meaning to ask you…" Zarak said in a low voice, so not to alert the Damekiirs to their presence, as they ducked into a well-lit alleyway. "Isn't Eris a female name? I was under the impression that Eris was the goddess of warfare." Martarj snorted.
"Eris insists that in the eyes of Paneris, the god of nature, all beings are the same. So, he does not make distinction between male and female names. Anyway, it's not his real name. Names have power, and we do not like mortal beings to have powers over us. We only reveal our name to a person we wholly tru – is it me, or is it getting darker?" It was indeed getting darker, but that was impossible, it was the middle of the day. Martarj started to look up, but Zarak stopped him.
"The suns could burn your eyes out," Zarak stated. "Look at the reflection on the metal of the gun."
The pair twisted the guns so that they could see the suns. And there, right on the edge of each and fast covering them were black voids… the moons. It was an eclipse. Then something dripped on Zarak's rifle. It was a thick, clear liquid that rolled down the metal and onto the black pavement.
It was saliva.
Making sure to avoid looking at the suns, Martarj and Zarak looked up. And there, standing on the side of a building, was a Damekiir, seven feet tall, hissing, and its tear-shaped nostrils flaring as its blind eyes writhed all over the place. Its head then jerked down – it had smelled them. Releasing a chatter of automatic gunfire, Zarak and Martarj managed to reduce the Damekiir to a hole-ridden corpse. But other Damekiirs had heard the gunfire, and the eclipse was complete, and New Riza was bathed in darkness.
Bestial roars sounded throughout the city, and the clack of the hind talons of the Damekiirs against the pavement came from all directions. Thousands of them… millions. And they were all hunting the same prey; Zarak and Martarj. Without a word, they ran as fast as their legs could possibly carry them. Already, through the dimness, they could see that the Damekiir that they thought they had killed was now rising; the bullets were not affecting it at all. So they ran through the streets, close to blind, not knowing where they were headed, millions of bloodthirsty beasts after them. But as they did not know where they were going, they soon came to a dead end. It was the very centre of the city, and there stood a once-mighty cathedral, all of its amazing glory destroyed by the fires of Mizeroth. And from every direction, they could hear the fast-approaching click-clack-click-clack of the Damekiirs' talons. Zarak and Martarj went the only way they could go: into the cathedral.
It was the place where they were to make their last stand. And it was where Zarak would bring Zhitorinor back to life.
Martarj tuned the sliding steel doors to not open – it should buy Zarak enough time to revive Zhitorinor. Zarak walked up to the altar and bowed reverently to the eight moons that were the sign of the Zhitoran religion above the stain-glass window now covered by the steel on the doors. Zarak took the life-giving ruby-centred pendant from the silver chain around his neck, just as the pounding began against the doors. Backing away as fist-shaped dents appeared on the metal doors, Martarj yelled:
"Come on! They're getting in! Bring New Riza back to life, quickly!" Zarak looked around the altar, and then saw it: a small engraving, the exact size and shape for the pendant. Zarak made to put it in, but then stopped. A voice, the voice of the woman that had saved him and helped him bring back the suns began to yell. Zarak listened and despaired. He had brought them to their deaths without thinking.
"I can't," Zarak said, his head bowed.
"What do you mean you can't? Of course you can!" Martarj was really panicking now; a dent had appeared in the space between the two doors, and a spindly, clawed hand had appeared in the larger space it had made.
"If I bring them back, then what? Martarj, what is all over the world, right at this moment?" It took a mere moment for Martarj to figure it out.
"You mean… the Damekiirs."
"That's right. If I bring Zhitorinor back, it will only meet its doom again at the hands of the Damekiirs. Imagine that, over one hundred billion people, stepping into the day, and then being devoured by the Damekiirs. The whole world, instead of dying in a tide of fire, will be murdered in a tide of blood. Entire families will be devoured, and the races of Zhitorinor will run. But there will be nowhere to run. Zhitorinor will fall, and the dead of the Dark Sea will rise. And even if we survived the slaughter, even if we managed to drive them away, then what? Hmm? The buildings are destroyed – we would live as refugees with nowhere to live. So, we can't win. If the Crusaders were still alive, they could drive the Damekiirs away. But they aren't. And brought back, they would be unprepared. It would be a massacre."
"So we can't win, no matter what we do." Zarak paused, sorry to say what he would.
"No." And on that word, the doors crashed down, crushing the burnt floor. And there, on the other side, hissing in triumph, were the Damekiirs, trampling one another in an effort to get to the prey first. The pair cocked the guns to shoulder height and fired, the flaring laser bullets illuminating the darkness. The sudden brightness hurt Zarak's eyes, and soon it just became flashes of white and black. There were so many of them that Zarak and Martarj could not possibly miss. But even though many Damekiirs received normally fatal wounds, they did not fall.
They continued to swarm over one another, their sharp teeth showing as they stretched their lipless mouths wide. After what seemed to Zarak like a whole hour of shooting, but what must have surely been a mere minute, both firearms clicked empty, the last two packs used up. They were defenceless.
Zarak holstered both of the guns and started stepping back, Martarj following. And as they did, the Damekiirs advanced even faster. Martarj gave a sigh of resignation, and quickly flicked off his top armour in a fluid movement, and from underneath, two black feathery wings shot out. Holding onto his armour with one hand and a stunned Zarak with the other, Martarj broke the glass with his armour and shot out of the cathedral and into the sky, much to the agitation of the Damekiirs, who answered to the escape of their prey with enraged roars.
But Zarak thought nothing of this. For though the eclipse had passed, the world still seemed darker than ever before. The danger had passed…
But a storm was coming.