This battle was not like the last.
There was no hesitation, no holding back on the part of the white haired warrior mage. His spells hissed between his hand and his victims, smashing down the Lord of Oceans and Lady Darkness before they could even turn to react. Azure fell, shuddering and insensate as the magic ripped a terrible price in water from his fey form. Beside him, Nyx writhed in pain as a light as bright as gazing into the sun itself raged around her.
Corundar was the first to clear steel. "Damn it, Vertrius! Your quarrel is with me!" He charged across the broken field towards the pearlescent dragon and her deadly rider. "Leave them out of this!"
Vertrius murmured another spell, one that made his ancient blade shimmer from hilt to tip. "Fool," he spat as he leaped down to meet the juggernaut in battle. "This is no longer about you." He raised his blade to intercept Corundar's, an obvious challenge to the big man's strength. 'Pit your strength against mine,' his pose seemed to taunt.
And at the last possible second, he pivoted low, ducked the world-shattering strike and darted past Corundar with a blurring slash across the Master of Mountain's lower chest. Metal and blood sprayed around the edge of his flashing steel and as Vertrius came to a halt ten feet behind the massive titan, Corundar fell. First to his knees. Then to his face, bleeding out as the passwall energies continued to erode him from within.
This left only three. All women. All with a reason not to fight him.
Even as his blade dripped onto the ground, Vertrius saw them rise to defend themselves. Faile took to the air, bow in hand but no arrow nocked. Akasha was instantly wreathed in her armor, her faceplate conveniently covering her sorrowing eyes. And Byrne...
The Lady of Fire half-hearted raised her blazing axe. "You don't have to do this, Vertrius." Shifting one foot behind her in a passable defensive stance, she brought up her red crystal armor, its plates moving intimately over her form. "We wronged you. We know that. Let us try to help you."
Vertrius shook his head and passed one hand over a white gem-inlaid bracer on one arm. "Far too late for that, Byrne. I am quite familiar with the Elementals' help." In a flash of whirling crystal, ornate armor the color of pearls and moonstones appeared around him, concealing him entire. "I have found a new source of assistance, thank you. One that will actually keep his word to me."
It was Akasha that spoke next, her voice dark with derision. "Vecna? You are fool enough to trust Vecna?!"
Vertrius took two steps forward, a vicious set of pale crystal blades emerging over his empty left fist. "I never said a word about trust." He looked right into the slits where Akasha's eyes blinked away an eladrin's tears. "I have learned not to trust words, no matter their source."
"Enough talk then!" Byrne roared forth, igniting herself in a comet's fury and hurling herself at Vertrius. He could see that every part of her attack was wrong. This was not a charge, it was suicide. This woman wanted to end herself in a pyre of glory, making it look like she was giving her life to save her friends. If she killed him while she died, all the better.
He had other plans.
With a flare of moonlight, his wings emerged. Thin membranes of motile pearl, they flexed once and then took him backwards into the air. She chased after him, silently calling forth her own powers of flight. Gravity released its hold on her and she began to rise towards her foe, all her focus on a single exchange of blows. If both fell, the rest could live. Akasha could heal the others and they would survive. All it would cost is the life she no longer wanted...
...and that of the child within her.
Byrne's eyes widened. The baby! She... she couldn't do this! Not the baby; it did not deserve to die for her sin. No.
Having already raced forward almost to melee reach with the hovering Vertrius, she shook her head in horror and flew backwards as fast as flames would take her.
And a moment later, she was engulfed in the bitter, absolute cold of a dragon's deadly breath! Byrne fell from the air, hitting the ground heavily, frozen and encrusted with ice. Unmoving. Armor shattering away. Cold and still...
Akasha flew back as well, shock echoing from her glowing mask of light. "You'll... you'll kill us all."
Vertrius brought up his new sword, a hard won prize wrested from dead hands on a distant world. Looking down its jagged edge at the Lady of Life, he nodded. "And they say you're don't pay attention," he murmured in mocking condescension.
His words and the sight of Byrne's motionless body spurred the Bright Lady into a frenzy of action. Spells, one after the other, surrounded her and began flaring across the dark sky between them. A dozen bolts of healing light, anathema to the undead horror she now faced, streaked from her divine hands, each one strong enough to fell even the strongest of vampires.
As they neared his raised sword, light turned to shadow. Dark power coursed through him, the life energy changed by the magic of his weapon into killing necromancy. To his unliving body, they were the essence of existence itself. Flying straight at Akasha, sword poised for a killing blow, he darted left, blurred right, and suddenly came at her from behind! His lethal edge stopped a foot from her throat, sparking angrily against the curved blade of her own weapon.
"You forget, Vertrius," she told him coolly. "My chakram can block any single weapon, even yours."
Without a word, Vertrius' hair emerged like a living wave from beneath his helmet. A braid on either side lashed forward, diamond and adamantine points like the tails of wyverns hissing at their ends. Both drove deep into either side of Akasha's neck, each injecting a horrific toxin made from vampire blood and lich bone! She jerked once as he answered back, tone just as cold.
"Vyldravendis isn't my only new weapon, Lady Lost." His leg came up, foot turned as he kicked her away. His braid-blades tore free, trailing blood and ichor as Akasha plummeted to earth, light failing as she fell.
His wings flapped once more, keeping him aloft. Slowly he turned, eyes cast to the thin grey clouds and the woman who remained there. "Please," Faile asked with a trembling voice. She had an arrow in her hand but seemed frozen, unable to bring it to her bowstring.
"Please don't do this."