On the darker side of the camp, one of the Elementals was not as asleep as she appeared to be. Silently, motionless through all of the conversation between Corundar and Azure, Lady Nix was awake and aware.
Awake, aware, and something she rarely was these days - emotional.
A cascade of feelings, burning through the range between fury to cold, ashen pity, passed through her heart as each word framed a friend's betrayal of them all and a mistake that might very well cost them all of their lives. The Master of Earth might not fear their former ally but Nix knew better. What Corundar lacked in common sense, Nix made up for in bitter reason. Right now, that power of deduction was pointing only one direction - death.
Nix knew death well. She was an incarnation of its most pervasive force; her power was negative energy, the dying of the light. In many ways, she was Akasha's opposite. In others, she was Akasha's other half. Together they created a circuit that gave both beginning and end to all things.
At this moment, she did not feel like a part of any circuit, and circle. She felt very alone and for the first time in years, very afraid. She'd not experienced dread like this when their father, Urathyme Liche, rose above them with all the destructive magic at his command. She had not been gripped by such panic as this when Vecna himself appeared before them to deliver his ultimatum. Even the presence of Tharuzdin, Mad God of Oblivion, did not leave her shaking as she was now. She was trembling, caught in the certainty that what Earth had done would be the burial of them all.
Once Corundar was back on his watch and paying her no attention, Nyx silently faded into her own shadow and transported a few hundred feet away into a larger one behind a rocky precipice. She needed to be alone with her thoughts; she needed to consider what was done, what was still yet to do, and wonder if there was in any way still hope. She feared the answer to that last question.
Years ago, she would have turned to her husband, the Gravelord, for advice. He was no longer with her; his existence had been the first to end with the rise of the new threat to Reality. He'd left to seek out a strange echo in the deepest parts of the Negative Plane and placed her in charge of their mutual control over all things Dark. She would never forget the moment she felt him in anguish. The moment she felt him die.
It tore at her heart and, until this very moment, she'd believed it had killed her inside. Since that instant when her soul had torn in half, she had truly thought she would never feel again. Even this quest to save Everything had been the result of inertia. Her companions were acting to preserve existence; she had merely been caught in their wake.
But now... Something changed. She was feeling. She was feeling too much. Hurt, betrayed, fury, sorrow, pain. When the Gravelord died, she had not wept.
Now tears were streaming down her face.
Was this all for Vertrius? No, surely not. She'd loved him, yes, but they all had. Was this because of fear? No. She was not afraid to die. In recent days, she'd almost wished it would happen just to make this terrible emptiness finally end. Was this because of Corundar? Not likely; she'd always known he'd someday do something terrible and doom them all. Stupidity as monolithic as his was an avalanche waiting to happen. This infuriated her, but his actions came as no real surprise.
Then why the tears? Why?
Troubled and bereft of answers, Lady Nyx did the one thing that always at least gave her another perspective. She reached back, drew her runeblade, and plunged it into the ground with its hilt jewels - its eye - facing her.
The voice was soft, like the whisper of a killer professing his undying love over the bloodied ear of his latest victim. "At last you want to talk, my Lady."
She sighed. "It had been a while."
"Indeed it has. Long has it been since we tasted blood but longer still since we spoke. We were beginning to think my Lady had forgotten us entire."
She knew Mancleaver's hungers. It had only been a short time since she'd bathed his edge in dragon's vitae but for her ravenous sword, even an hour could feel like starvation. She considered apologizing but decided against it. Mancleaver was as manipulative in his way as she was in hers. Their pairing was a constant struggle for dominance, one in which she could show no weakness. Ever.
"You'll feast again soon, beloved. Perhaps on the blood and soul of an old friend." It hurt her to say that, but she knew it to be true.
The metallic ring of her blade's voice echoed serpent-like as its tone became almost intimate. "Yesss, Vertriusss. We told you he would turn on us, my Lady. They all will, one by one. Even now the shade of the past comes to extinguish all light. All life."
She knew her sword had a power of prophecy, one it used very infrequently. Was it foretelling now? "What do you mean, Mancleaver? Are you seeing the future?"
"We see nothing else, my Lady. Each moment in your life is a past second in ours. Your heartbeat we hear only in echo. Every word we speak to you is, to us, a eulogy. Present and future are coming together very soon, my Lady. These days may be your last."
Nyx closed her eyes, nodding in agreement. She had been feeling the same way. Her power over destruction gave her something of a precognitive sense where death was concerned. Lately, that ability had been clouding her vision. Their demise was at hand. It was not unavoidable but the circumstances were inevitable. Soon, for better or more likely worse, they would all face the Void.
"Who brings our end, beloved?" She already knew the answer.
"We see a heart from the past, broken and reforged in ice. We see a traitor in your midst. We see a house divided and a fatal regret. Beware, my Lady." She had never heard her vicious companion speak so clearly or give up its advice so easily. The coming pain truly had to be dire if Mancleaver was being so helpful. "Beware the blaze at your back."
She nodded once and stood up, crossing the drained earth to draw forth her sword from it. Mancleaver always took a price for its aid; this night the barren circle of gray, now-lifeless soil paid for the augury. "Thank you, beloved. I will heed your..."
The blade twisted gently in her hand, nicking her cheek and drawing a touch of crimson in its own, homicidally affectionate way. "We could just skip ahead and kill all the men in their sleep. Let us start with the lummox, my Lady. There is much blood in him."
She couldn't help but chuckle darkly all the way back to camp...