1

In the Necropolis

"Your Usurper is in quite some trouble, Mel. Is that why you called me here? To save him?" Medula stood before the belltower at the peak of the Necropolis.

There, beneath the pillar of green energy that fueled the entire Necropolis was the Death Lord. Gone were her usual regal robes of silky emerald and lavender. Instead, she sat there completely naked, her icy pale skin outlined in a torrent of falling teal energy.

Patches of emerald scales around her elbows, knees, shoulders, and cheeks as well as her two horns, curved back like scythe blades, seemed to take in the energy, glowing with bright green hue.

She sat cross-legged, hands together and eyes closed as the energy roared and crashed through her. She looked like a monk meditating beneath a waterfall, though instead of rushing water pouring through her head, it was unfathomable quantities of magical energy fueled from harvested souls and misery.

"And you are looking awfully thin," said Medula, eyeing Mel's bared body up and down. Normally, Mel was quite muscular underneath her baggy robes or, in her Shattered Bone stance, juggernaut class armor. In terms of physique, she fell just shy of Rella who looked like she shattered boulders between her thighs daily.

Now, though, Medula noticed, Mel had downsized. Her muscles were not entirely gone, but she only looked athletic, not at all like the proud, skull-splattering warlord she had once been.

"I am trying out a diet," said Mel with a smirk. "Do men not love lithe, slender bodies they can hold better than the hardness of muscles that outshines theirs?"

"Since when have you cared of what men think?" said Medula. She shook her head. "You are losing more and more of yourself. This reliquary of souls, though tremendously efficient - I should know, I designed it myself - is not infinite.

Nothing is.

You and Rella must give pieces of yourselves to keep it fueled. Eventually, there will be nothing left in either of you to kindle this realm."

"We can worry about that much, much later," said Mel. "If the Usurper perishes, then so too does this entire realm." She grimaced. "I cannot sense him any longer, but judging by his last moments, he has not been killed.

Or else this ream would have collapsed entirely.

No, he has been sent away. Far away. To another realm entirely. One far across the Between."

Mel took in a tired breath.

The Between was, as the name suggested, the space between realms and dimensions, with realms being larger than dimensions. Realms and dimensions were generally all self-contained bubbles of existence, but they did have proximity to each other that affected how easy it was to influence each other.

It was easier to think of realms like planets in space and dimensions like moons that orbited them.

The void of space, then, was the Between. The farther away realms were across the Between, the harder it was to make contact with them.

Mel's connection with the Usurper was extremely strong. Any bond that lived and died together - Soulbound Bonds, as they were called in Elduin - were like that. The fact that Mel could barely feel any hint of connection meant that the Usurper was indeed far, far away.

"What is with that look of longing?" said Medula. "You do not truly need him, do you? If he perishes now, then he simply failed your test to inherit your powers. And you are not shy of facing death. No, wait..."

The top of the Necropolis where they stood darkened, the view of the ghostly hills below fading away. It was as if a fog of dark had descended upon them, choking away visibility to its very last breath.

"Do you remember now?" said Mel.

"I do." Medula rubbed her forehead. "Dealing with this...restriction is tiring. Do you truly believe the Usurper can rise to the challenge? To challenge the Game, no, to break it entirely?"

"To be honest, I have no idea," said Mel. "But he is who I was bound to, and he did in fact kill me in the other realm when I failed, so he is not exactly incompetent.

Yet, to challenge the Game is an ordeal many times greater than simply facing me. To even speak about it is a difficult trial in its own right.

Were we ordinary beings, we would have been annihilated for merely even thinking of it. Even now, to even have discourse about it, we must make this awkward arrangement where I can speak only to you, but you are bound to forget everything."

"Ah, so this is why you were so lenient with the Usurper," said Medula. "And why you grant me leave of this realm. Once you are fully Usurped, the Usurper will inherit your knowledge of the Game, bypassing your bind of silence.

Then, he can seek me out. As he holds the essence of your being at that point, I will remember our plan. I will help him begin the Singularity of Undeath. He will challenge the Game.

What a complicated thing this is." Medula tapped her chin "And fraught with difficulties and uncertainties."

"No plan is ever perfect, but regardless, I do hate to see my efforts go wasted," said Mel. "I failed to challenge the Game, and thus, our realm was doomed. But it does not have to be so for the Usurper and his realm.

Or for all others."

"Provided the Usurper escapes this predicament." Medula narrowed her eyes. "As dire as the situation is, I fear you may have lost this bet already, Mel."

"No, not yet," said Mel. "That is why I have called you here. I can still sense the Usurper, however faint. He has been stripped of all mana, hence his imprisonment, but there are ways to fix this.

I myself cannot transfer power to him, far as he is across the Between, but you, Med, with your affinity with spatial magic, can do it. You can establish a link between me and him.

And once he Usurper gets my power, his little one can teleport him from his prison."

"This is nonsensical," said Medula. "The farther away the Usurper is through the Between, the less power we can give him. If he is so far you can barely sense him, we would need an inordinate amount of energy to-,"

"Look where we are, Med," said Mel. She pointed a finger up at the torrent of power coursing through her. "With the power of the Necropolis, it will be enough. If that is not enough, I will break my own essence down into raw mana."

Medula's eyes glowed bright red as she rapidly calculated roughly how much energy it would take. "No, not even close. The Necropolis will not suffice. You must break yourself down. And even with that, at best, across this Between distance, you will give the Usurper the equivalent a little light on a matchstick when he would need a bonfire."

"Sometimes, a little light is all it takes for the determined traveler to find their way," said Mel.

"It is not just that, Mel. If you take this step forward, if you sacrifice this chunk of yourself for the Usurper, you are sealing your fate. You will be too weak to stop him from taking over your being," said Medula.

"That was the plan, was it not?" said Mel.

Medula crossed her arms and gave a pointed stare at Mel. "I bound myself to you as you broke me of eternal servitude to the knowledge god. I always believe in equivalent exchanges. You broke me from unwilling eternal servitude, I grant you my own willing eternal servitude.

But you are making that eternity awfully short.

Will you not consider stopping your fight here? Before you are destroyed and absorbed like some common mana crystal?"

"Do you see me fighting now, bound quietly as I am here? No, it is the Usurper that is fighting. Carving his name into that world of his." Mel smiled. "The rise of a conqueror is always a wonder to behold."

"But he need not conquer you," said Medula. "It is still not too late, Mel. With your help, I can potentially break you free from this System. I can take you far, far away and let you have some peace. Peace you never knew. Peace you dreamed of.

Yes, that thing you are holding back will be set free, and with it, the System will consume the Usurper.

His world will likely fall. The knowledge in it lost.

But you will be safe.

And even if you do succeed, if by giving away all of yourself, the Usurper does earn the right to challenge the Game, how can you be certain he will triumph? Every struggle he has faced so far, even the struggle to conquer his world, it is all trivial in the face of the Game.

How far will he make it? He will face the wrath of both the Outsiders and the Uplifted. He may even risk awakening the Dreamer, and with that, all of existence-," Medula waved her hand dismissively. "Gone.

Tabula Rasa - the fated emptiness of the universe through chaos and entropy that all knowledge demons fear. It will be upon us."

"I know, I know. Every time you remember, we have this discussion," said Mel. She bared a fanged smile at Medula. "But you know what, I like it. It shows that deep down, in that icy heart of yours, you care about me."

"I do. I may not remember these talks, but I do remember our other ones. I know you dreamed of peace. Solace in a quiet end without fighting. I can give that to you." Medula grew quieter. "I want it for you."

"I know. But a peaceful end - it is, like you said, a dream," said Mel. "It is a dream I denied to countless many. I do not regret what I did, and part of that acceptance comes with the understanding that I too shall not go out into the dark of death with closed eyes of content."

Mel stood up, reaching her hand out to Medula. She smiled proudly. "If you care about me, Med, if you truly, truly care, then allow me to face my end with pride.

With the knowledge that my Usurper will take me, my body, my power, my everything, and finish what I set out to do.

For Mellicanthys the Chill Dread never steps back from a battle she began, no matter if she faces death or the cold, cruel, unfathomable forces of the greater universe."