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HeraldCover
Series: Nephthys
Name: The Herald of the Eternal Eclipse
Owner: Zombiejiger
Previous Episode: The Light of the Red Death
Next Episode: The Gravity Hound

CharactersEdit

  • Nephthys: An eccentric but heroic incarnation of Z.
  • Blackwood: A twisted incarnation of Z, transformed into a puppet of evil.
  • Necrobane: Z, the Titan Prince of Death.

Chapter IEdit

Night crept slowly across the land, the stars revealing themselves one by one. They twinkled over a small town that, at least under their light, appeared to be a ghost town. Of course the town was not abandoned, though population was sparse these days. Most people had moved away before the Second World War, and anyone interesting in moving in was dissuaded by the eerie mansion on the outskirts.

No one could say when the mansion, known as the Ruthven Estate, was built, or even why it gave off such a sense of wrongness. Some might suggest the rumors surrounding it as the reason, the tales of it changing appearance at random or the hauntings in the town in during the Roaring Twenties. Others would point to the odd caretaker, a young woman who appeared to have not aged a day over the last two centuries, if it even was the same woman.

In fact, all the rumors were true. The Ruthven Estate did change its appearance at times, though photographs refused to corroborate the evidence of the human eye. There had been a series of hauntings in the Twenties, which the caretaker had put an end to with one of the swords still hanging in her library. She was the same that had been there since the late Eighteen-Forties and looked not a day over twenty-three.

The caretaker’s name was Nephthys, a quite odd name for someone living in the Deep South of Georgia. Yet there she lived, veteran of the both the American Civil War and World War II. During the former she fought in disguise on the front lines amidst the bloodshed and chaos, while in the latter she lent her assistance overseas but out of combat. She was at home in death, and both conflicts provided her with plenty.

For Nephthys was not just immortal and blessed with eternal youth. She was a daughter of a higher power, an entity known as Z the Necrobane, Prince of Death. Despite such an ominous title, such grimoires as the Liber Necropolis reveal the intentions of the Necrobane. Z preserved the order of the universe along with others of his kind, two of which formed a group simply called the Trinity. Order, Chaos and Death.

Dark things crawl in the night, both on the small earth and through the silent stars. The Trinity occupied themselves with dealing with eldritch creatures, fiends with a penchant for driving mortals mad. Their favorite way of lending assistance was through the creation of incarnations, individuals with enhanced knowledge and skills specifically for combating evil.

On this particular evening, a darkness that had not been seen for a millenia was stirring on a small world, far, far away, a darkness that would require far more than just a single incarnation. Yet that is a story still to come, as Nephthys would soon find.

In its normal state, the mansion resembled a black and ivory version of Monticello with more windows. The stars gleamed through the domed glass ceiling of the Ruthven Estate’s library, giving addition light to the small lamp glowing on a desk. Propped in a chair by the little light, Nephthys sat reading a set of yellowed letters.

She had the appearance of a vampire straight out of a gothic novel, sharp featured and deathly pale. Her outfit consisted of a purple dress that also fit the gothic look, trimmed in black and featuring a form of leather corset, etched with an intricate pattern resembling a fanged maw. A smile lit her face on purple-colored lips at a memory from a lifetime ago.

Nephthys finished the letter and dropped it on the table onto a small stack. As she lifted another with a Rhode Island address, a third letter fell from her hands. Surprised, the woman caught it and frowned.

“You’re not from Howard…”

Indeed it was not. A symbol, the Eye of Horus, stood out in black on the white paper. A symbol with a Z for a pupil. Nephthys’ eyes widened in understanding as she hurried to unfold it. She began to read the letter to herself.

Something dreadfully wrong... my favorite incarnation... Favorite incarnation? That’s nice!” She glanced up at the stars then returned to reading. “Thanks! Apologies in advance… extremely important... leave when ready. Leave when ready? I guess there’s time like the present!”

She stood and turned out the light. Now the only light came from the stars above as she practically ran from the room. Nephthys ended up in her bedroom and unhooked a necklace shaped like the symbol on the letter from a stand. Pausing a moment to fix it around her neck, she started to reach for a green, black and purple striped scarf that would trip most anyone else who would attempt to wear it. She decided against it and returned to the library.

When she returned to the library it was bathed in a purple glow. The glow came from a wheel of purple fire rotating in the center of the room. Sparks dropped from it but did not singe the floor or any of the bookshelves. Reddish terrain could be seen through the ring, along with dust blowing in the wind.

Nephthys peered through the portal and began guessing locations. “Mars? No, I’d die as soon as I go through. Titan? Nah. No hints?”

The letter on the desk rustled with a breeze that only it felt. Nephthys started and glanced over, to see three more words than before.

One. Much farther.

“Farther? Well, no idea then.” A mischievous smile filled her face. “Only one way to find out!” She sprinted forwards and jumped, passing through the ring of fire. The portal faded as she passed through, and by the time she landed it was gone. A wave of heat rushed over her and she reeled.

“Glad I left the scarf at home…”

Crouching in the dirt, Nephthys began to inspect her surroundings. The state of the location dawned on her after a moment, and she sighed.

“I should have remembered to bring a sword…”

Chapter IIEdit

To say that the world was devastated would be an understatement. Destruction stretched as far as the eye could see, through the red light of the dying sun that dominated the sky. The air was stifling, causing to Nephthys absently fan herself to no effect as she inspected her surroundings. Aside from her footsteps, the only sound came from the wind shifting the rubble about.

Nephthys shaded her eyes and walked in a large circle, deciding where to go first. Finding some semblance of a road that looked to be some form of Main Street, she set off. All the buildings were crumbling, most having some form of vine growing up around them. At the sight of the vines, Nephthys’ skull began to pound. She shook her head to clear the pain. “I’m going to assume it’s just the heat…”

Continuing down the road, Nephthys passed more crushed buildings and debris the farther she went. It seemed that something had started from one end and slowly worked to the other, the destruction increasing as it went. A large building caught her eye; a relatively intact mansion that shared some architectural similarities to her own estate. She narrowed her eyes.

"Wait a minute…”

Picking up her pace, she hurried over to the door. She slid the door open, revealing a darkened hallway. A lantern, conveniently placed on a table, rested not far away. Nephthys lifted it and inspected it thoroughly before igniting it.

“Huh…”

Now with a light, she could explore the ruins with ease. Books littered the floor, interspersed with various random items. A bust of someone Nephthys did not recognize, a painting in a shattered frame and a broken statue that had been crushed when the ceiling fell in on it. Nephthys continued around a corner to find a flight of stairs that had been blocked off with rubble.

“Hmmph. That’s disappointing.”

A large wooden door down a hall drew her attention from the stairs. She started towards it, then noticed a massive gap in the floor. Pressing against the wall, she inched along the side, breathing as softly as possible. Once she was past, she moved up to her destination, being sure to avoid the large wood splinters that could throw her off balance.

Stepping cautiously, Nephthys slowly turned the doorknob and pushed the door open into a room with three massive windows set into the wall. As she stepped inside, she noticed that it seemed to be getting both darker and colder. Turning to head back out, Nephthys found herself in pitch blackness. She fumbled with the lantern for a moment until she found the knob, lighting the room in a dim glow.

“Hello, sister,” the voice echoed forth from the shadows clinging to the walls and windows. Nephthys started and lifted her lantern higher. “I heard you were coming.”

“Last I knew, I didn’t have any siblings...”

“Well, we’re both of the End. Maybe you’d rather call us cousins?”

“Show yourself and I’ll decide.”

“As you wish.”

A figure stepped out from the darkness, revealing a young man about Nephthys’ age. They were obviously related; same disturbingly pale complexion, same tall height, same amethyst eyes and dressed in a black. But that was where the similarities ended, for the man seemed wrong. Something resembling twisting black vines reached up from his shirt collar, across the left side of his face and up to his forehead. Instead of Nephthys’ black hair, his was snow-white.

One other thing caught her attention. A tattoo stood out on the newcomer’s right cheek, resembling an eye. The inside was black, save for for a ring that formed an eclipse. Tendrils coiled out from the edges, mirroring the vines on the opposite side of his face. The man smiled, causing the tendrils to appear to writhe.

Nephthys watched him apprehensively. “Yeah, siblings fits more than cousins. Although, you’ve obviously changed a good deal…”

The shadowy newcomer smiled, showing teeth like a shark’s. “For the better, I hope. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Blackwood.”

“Nephthys. Not to be rude, but what’s with the vines? They look like bad versions of my makeup, and I think they give me a headache…”

“Headache, eh? You really are my sister. I used to get those…” Blackwood’s eyes were suddenly solid black, like oil, before returning to violet. “Before I was healed.”

“Healed?” Nephthys stared at the vines on the man’s neck. “That’s healing?”

“Life from death. Death from life.”

“That sounds really cliche…” Nephthys smirked. Blackwood twitched.

“I was injured beyond healing in the cataclysm that caused all the destruction that you see. Then ‘He’ came, and ‘He’ healed me. Renewed me, strengthened me.”

“‘He’?” Nephthys frowned. “Who is ‘He’?”

The ink flowed over Blackwood’s eyes again and he lifted his left hand. The vines stretched and coiled across his hand, forming a set of oversized talons. Nephthys took a step back as the young man opened his mouth to speak. His voice seemed doubled and distorted, like a disjointed choir in a cavern.

“The one our father helped to imprison so long ago. I have an offer for you: join me as ‘His’ herald and claim what is ours.”

Nephthys snapped a Colt Dragoon revolver out from a hidden holster, aimed at Blackwood’s face, and fired. The bullet cut through him, yet seemed do nothing, slamming into the wall behind him. Her target burst into black smoke as the air shimmered like a hot summer day. Darkness covered the spot where he vanished.

“Sorry, no.”

“Don't resist, Nephthys.” Blackwood reappeared from behind his counterpart, causing her to send another bullet through him. The same smoke-and-shimmer effect appeared upon his disappearance. “I don't want to hurt you.”

“That's what they all say!” Nephthys snarled and shot a third and fourth apparition. “Go back to whatever pit you crawled from!”

Two more versions of the man vanished before Nephthys realized she was out of bullets. She slung the revolver itself through a seventh’s chest, dissipating him. Blackwood reappeared in front of her once again.

"I offer you one last chance. Become the herald, or go join our father in the land of the dead.”

Nephthys simply let out a feral yell and swung her lantern upwards. It stuck Blackwood in the stomach and passed up through him, light shining through his darkness as it cut up and out of his incorporeal head. To Nephthys’ surprise, he screamed in agony before fading. Upon her opponent’s disappearance, a ray of sunlight cut through the darkness smothering the room. In response, the darkness reacted, sliding away from the windows and out into the day. Just as the last sliver of shadow fled, Blackwood’s voice rang in the air, sounding both angered and amused.

“You made a grave mistake, sister.”

“Grave mistake, ha, ha, ha.” Nephthys rolled her eyes as she retrieved her revolver, “Don’t do gallows humor.”

Light blazed through the room, revealing a fallen bookshelf. Several tattered and scorched papers lay scattered around the shelf, most illegible. A series of pipes hung from the ceiling, bent and broken. One drew Nephthys’ attention, a glint of metal under a broken piece of wood. She kicked the wood aside and lifted up a blade, hooked like a sharpened question mark. She knew this weapon, the khopesh, as she owned a practical arsenal of them herself.

Nephthys smiled, for this might even be fun.

Chapter IIIEdit

“Come on!” Nephthys shouted, dodging a piece of rubble that came hurtling through the air at her head. “You can do better than that!”

After hurrying from the abandoned the house, she had set off towards a tall obelisk that she had spotted from the upstairs window. Now she was about halfway there, ducking under animated bricks that she assumed were sent by Blackwood. More chunks of stone lifted themselves into the air and rotated like mini hurricanes, darkness radiating from them.

Several of the projectiles spun towards Nephthys’ head. She paused, swore and began to run the opposite direction. The bricks slammed into the dirt around her, spraying dirt and pebbles across the woman’s face. Nephthys tripped and fell, smacking her face on a mostly buried wooden plank.

“Ow! Ugh, I probably should stop taunting him…” she groaned.

“You should.”

Nephthys glanced up to see Blackwood standing over her, smirking. Her hand flicked out, wrapped around a stone and sent it through her counterpart’s face. He exploded into smoke as Nephthys rose and started back towards the obelisk.

“Why persist? I’m just going to kill you when you reach the monument.” Another Blackwood materialized on a half-collapsed roof, pacing back and forth.

“Shut up!" A rock shot through his shoulder and he vanished.

“Haven’t you read De Vermis Mysteriis?”

Nephthys clenched her fists and glowered at the newest Blackwood. “I have read the Mysteries of the Worm. What of it?”

“It speaks of these days, the end of the light! The day ‘He’ broke free!”

“So that’s one of the ‘most hellish secrets learnt by early man,’ as one of my friends used to say?”

“Rather poetic, but in effect.”

“Hmm, interesting. I’ll have to reread it after this.”

“‘After this’?”

“After I kill you, I mean.” An overly sweet smile blossomed on Nephthys’ face.

Blackwood doubled over, laughing. “Nephthys, that was priceless!”

“Is this as well?” Blackwood stopped laughing and glanced up as half a brick flew towards his head.

He caught it.

“Oh. So you’re real this time.” Startled, Nephthys began to walk backwards. Her counterpart tossed the brick aside and sprinted forwards, catching his sister by the throat and dropping her to the street. She landed in a heap, momentarily stunned. Blackwood skidded past her and stopped himself, flexing his vine-covered hand.

Nephthys sat up and unhooked the khopesh from her satchel strap and pointed it at her opponent. Blackwood raised his eyebrows.

“Isn’t that my sword?”

“I found it in your living room, so maybe?” Nephthys shrugged. “It’s a nice sword.”

“It is.”

“Yep.”

“Are you always so…” Blackwood frowned and waved his hands. “What’s the word? Bizarre? Peculiar?”

“I like to think of myself as eccentric, thank you very much.” Nephthys sniffed. Her brother snorted.

“That you are…”

“Hey, I take pride in my insanity!”

Blackwood sneered. “I do too.”

The man pounced towards his counterpart. At the last second he flipped to the side, avoiding her blade while simultaneously ramming his fist into the back of her leg. Nephthys fell to one knee, wincing, while Blackwood rolled back into a fighting stance. Legs shaking, Nephthys stood and shot a venomous look at her opponent.

“Fighting in a dress is not fun.”

“Who would have thought?” Blackwood mocked, idly toying with one of the vines on his arm. His amusement was cut short when Nephthys jumped at him, khopesh ready to gut him. The sudden attack startled him and he exploded into smoke and heat.

“Yeah, run, you coward!” Nephthys called, waving her blade. Behind her a wooden plank began to levitate, twisted to the side, and launched towards her. At the last moment the woman spun and cleaved it in two. The halves flew past her, one smashing out a window in crumbling house. “Missed again!”

“Taunting isn’t very nice...” Blackwood’s voice hissed, fading in with the wind. Nephthys smirked, then realized the implications just as a shadow loomed over her. She spun on her heels and her jaw dropped.

A massive golem towered over her, constructed from bricks and rubble. It appeared vaguely humanoid, although it lacked any facial features and had a pair of spiked clubs for hands. Shadows slipped around its body and in and out of cracks. Blackwood’s unpleasant laugh filled Nephthys’ ears as she backed away, growling oaths to herself.

The golem slammed a fist into the ground, hurling rubble in all directions. Nephthys scrambled away, narrowly avoiding the shockwave. It swung again, breaking a wall down with the blow. Thankfully for its intended victim, the golem moved slowly. Just enough of an advantage to let Nephthys retreat and scheme.

“Fifty fifty chance it’ll work…” Nephthys muttered. She reached into her satchel and drew out a small green crystal. Spinning it in her fingers, Nephthys suddenly tossed it at the golem. It struck it in the shoulder and grew in size, the now-large crystal points ripping through the bricks and wood.

Her target locked into place as its arm and head fell from its body. They shattered back into debris when they hit the ground, leaving just the body with the crystals emerging from one half. Nephthys pumped her fist in victory.

Then the shadows surrounded the golem, more than there had been just a few moments before. It shook violently, shifting the crystal to the side and out of its body. A grinding noise came from behind a building, the sound of a large piece of equipment being dragged across the ground. The noise increased, a cacophony leading up to the explosion of a wall.

A large machine had been wrenched from the ground by the animated shadows, most probably a piece of industrial equipment. It jammed into the golem’s shoulder, forming a makeshift arm. The golem thrust its weapon into the ground and plowed ahead like a battering ram.

Nephthys yelped and dove aside, coughing on the dust and ash. Once the golem was past her, she stood and pulled a second crystal. This time she held it to the sky and began to speak softly.

"Din umbra mortis, revelus lux! Din umbra mortis, revelus lux!” Words in a form the obscure language known as High Cosmic, a dialect called High Gothic. From the shadow of death, discover light!

The crystal came alight, shining like a miniature star. Nephthys began to spin in circles, laughing as the golem approached. It was almost on her when she let the crystal fly. Like before, it struck home. This time, however, it exploded in a blast of light. The darkness holding the golem together burned away in the light, causing it to crumble back into rubble as the crystal expanded.

“Haha! That was glorious!” Nephthys celebrated.

“I am getting very tired of your little stunts…” Blackwood appeared in front of her, looking annoyed.

“Too bad. I’m enjoying myself quite thoroughly.”

“We shall settle this at the obelisk. I’ll be waiting.”

Before Nephthys could reply he was gone, a fading shadow. She shook her head, twirled her sword and set off towards the monuments in the distance. Blackwood left her alone this time, although she noticed that the shadows were sliding past her at a faster rate of speed than she could walk. Curious, she reached down and touched one as it slid by.

The darkness burned her fingers, stinging like acid. She sucked in her breath and removed her hand. Smoke trailed from her fingertips.

“Burning shadows?” Nephthys frowned to herself, thinking of the implications. None were good. “Could ‘He’ be- no, that’s impossible…”

She walked the rest of the way in silence, deep in thought. Soon she found herself standing amidst a row of waist-high stone wedges resembling uneven teeth. The tall obelisk stood in front of another row of stones which formed a ring around it.

“Did you know that I made all this?” Blackwood was suddenly perched atop the obelisk, the black oil covering his eyes again. Despite that, Nephthys could tell he was staring at her. “It’s all for ‘Him’! All this!”

Nephthys said nothing and simply stared at the man. Blackwood leapt from the monument and came floating down, darkness clinging to him like a cloak. Wordlessly he threw his arms to the side, the darkness cascading down to the ground. It rolled away like water, seeping into the stones around them. Both challengers readied for their final confrontation, both grinning madly.

Chapter IVEdit

Nephthys faced her counterpart under the red, dying sun. Ashes blew in the breeze as they stood among the stones and monuments just outside the smoking town. To Nephthys it seemed a mockery of the duels of the Old West, two gunslingers facing off in the dust at high noon. “So it begins!” Blackwood roared, throwing his arms to the sky. Now his voice seemed to be layered, several speaking as one. Nephthys found her eyes drawn to her opponent's left arm, which was now thickly covered in the vines. Shreds of cloth from his shirt hung down from gaps in the vines, which writhed and twisted in the light. “You rejected ‘His’ gifts, and now I shall end you!”

Blackwood leapt into the air, unnaturally high, and slammed his hand into the ground. Vines erupted forth and flailed towards Nephthys, who drew her sword and chopped through a pair of the cords that were aiming for her throat. Her blade hacked through a few more vines like a machete in the jungle.

The young man snarled and dove towards his opponent. Nephthys backpedalled as Blackwood lunged towards her face, claws extended. A boot connected with his chest, deflecting him aside and into a monument. He hissed like a snake and scrambled up to his feet as the dust settled around him. Brushing dirt from his clothes, he cracked his knuckles and straightened.

“Enough. How about a simple game of necromancy?” Blackwood bared his fangs again. He lifted his arms to his sides and splayed his fingers. Purple rings of energy appeared around each hand, decorated with the Eye of Horus with a Z for a pupil. Cracks covered the magic circle from which a violent red glow emerged. Every few second the symbol tattooed on Blackwood’s neck flickered on the rings, replacing the eye.

The ground rumbled slightly and the soft dirt exploded into the air. Skeletons emerged from the ground, lurching undead animated by Blackwood’s power. More and more undead rose from their graves, their bones tinted red by the sun. Nephthys thought back to her confrontation with Lanthorne, a living skeleton who fancied himself the Red Death, and sighed.

“Return to your slumber.” Sheathing her blade, Nephthys created similar rings around her hands and lifted them in front of the undead puppets. However, hers lacked the bleeding cracks and seemed to be far purer than that of Blackwood. The eye in the center flashed as the skeletons stopped in their tracks and shattered into pieces. Blackwood growled and lifted his hands, the magic circles spinning around his hands.

Shadows began to glide down towards the broken skeletons, wrapping around them and reforming them. In moments they were back on their feet, hands raised towards their intended victim. Nephthys shook her head. Fortunately, these dry bones lacked the cunning of some undead and would be much easier to put back in the ground.

Nephthys flicked her khopesh up and through one skeleton and into another. Removing her sword, she cut the arm from yet another undead. As they fell, the shadows lifting them seemed to slip off like wounded animals. Soon the skeletons were once again inanimate bones lying in the dirt.

“You cheated!” Blackwood howled, advanced once again. “There would be no weapons but Necromancy! Well, if you won’t play by the rules, neither will I!”

“You never said no weapons…” Nephthys muttered and readied herself for the fight. Her opponent summoned the vines down his arm and twisted them into a long, braided sword laced with thorns that ruptured out from within.

“Repent, sinners!” Blackwood spat the words, then smiled like a loon. “The darkness is here!”

“I know I’m crazy, but you-” Nephthys stopped speaking in order take the impact of Blackwood’s weapon. Her sword cut into the vines, causing an oily substance to bleed from the gashes. Blackwood growled and twisted his blade away, the vines constricting and loosening in time with his heartbeat. “My word, that is so weird.”

“You really do love to mock me, don’t you, sister?” Blackwood rasped, transforming his back into talons.

“Yes, yes I do,” Nephthys smiled. Her counterpart bared his fangs jumped atop a wall that had collapsed to the ground. He threw his hands to the sky as black energy coiled around his arms, lightning bolts made of shadow. For a few seconds the darkness was gone, then it tore out from his eyes. The lightning cascaded towards Nephthys before she could dodge, striking her and throwing her backwards.

The impact knocked the wind out of her and she lay still for a moment, gasping for breath. As Nephthys attempted to sit up, she found her gaze to be unfocused. Concentrating, she noticed steam rising from her skin and clothes. She winced.

“What in the Shroud was that?”

“A taste of ‘His’ power. Is it not glorious?” Blackwood was advanced on her again, leading her to pull herself up a little too fast. Nephthys’ head was swimming, whether a side effect of the overbearing heat or the last attack she didn’t know. Dazedly she lifted her khopesh.

“Not really...” Nephthys groaned. “Do you really want me to kill you?”

“Kill me? You can’t kill me!” Blackwood laughed. “I am immortal! I have inside me blood of Princes! I have no rival, no one can be my equal!”

“Wait, did you just misquote Queen at me?” Nephthys cocked her head.

“What?”

“You did…! It’s ‘blood of kings’ and ‘no man,’ by the way.”

“What?”

“Nevermind...”

“This is starting to bore me. Are you ready to die, sister?”

“Are you, brother?”

“No.”

“There you go.”

“A pity. Just give up, it’s not like you could actually kill me. ‘He’ won’t allow that,” Blackwood chuckled. “It is time to finish this.”

“Wait!” Nephthys held up her free hand. “If you’re going to kill me anyway, I want ‘His’ true name.”

“I don’t think so. Our father would hear, and we don’t want that..."

“You might not, but I-”

I wasn’t talking about you!” Blackwood cut her off. “Enough of this!”

Blackwood clenched his right fist and cut the air with it. Darkness crawled out of the shadows cast under the dying sun and made their way towards him. They wrapped around his legs and flowed upwards towards his eyes. The shadows merged with his eyes and Blackwood stretch. Before he could prepare his next attack, Nephthys cut upwards with her sword.

Her blade sliced through her opponent’s coat as he recoiled but left him otherwise unscathed. In turn Blackwood wrapped his vine talons around the khopesh and wrenched it out of Nephthys’ grasp. Oblivious to the lacerations in his hand, he tossed the weapon aside and smirked.

“That went well, didn’t it?”

Nephthys smiled back. “Actually, it did. I really do love this dress.”

With one smooth motion she slipped a pair of daggers from a second set of hidden pockets. She sliced towards her counterpart’s throat with one and thrust the other towards his stomach. Blackwood deflected the first but missed the second, leaving him to hiss in pain and fall back. Black blood stained through his shirt, looking not unlike a pen leaking ink onto a piece of paper.

Nephthys rushed for the khopesh lying in the dirt and snatched it up. She gave it a spin and faced Blackwood, who was breathing heavily. The woman began to walk towards her opponent, slowly and deliberately. Blackwood in turn took a few steps towards her, flexing his talons maliciously.

As she approached, Nephthys picked up speed and threw her left arm around Blackwood’s shoulder in a hug. Taken aback, he was not prepared for the sword that pierced his chest.

“That was unexpected…” Blackwood gasped, his eyes wide. A gleam lit in his eye and he threw his clawed arm around her, scratching the sharp vines across her back. He released his counterpart and they both fell to the ground.

“So we die together?” Nephthys asked, sitting on her hands and knees.

“Don’t worry, sister, it’s not a mortal wound. The next one will be...” Blackwood shook his head.

“How aren’t you dead?”

“‘He’ will sustain me through any wound, for I am the Herald of the Eternal Eclipse! You should have joined us, you could have gained true immortality!”

“Sounds too good to be true,” Nephthys frowned. “And there’s no true immortality…”

Blackwood howled and dove towards her, the blade still through his chest. Nephthys rolled aside, leaving her opponent to sprawl in the dirt. She lifted one of her daggers and slammed it down into the center of his back. All at once the scene changed.

The same shadowy energy that Blackwood had manipulated earlier burst out of him in a wave of darkness. The force from the blast hurled Nephthys backwards, causing her to leave a trail through the dirt. Blackwood screamed and lifted his hand, the vines fading to dust. He screamed again and twisted, rolling so that the red sun stood above his face.

Nephthys crawled back towards the writhing Blackwood, who had enough strength to look up at her. The blackness was gone from his eyes and the vines were faded, leaving only dirty trails across his face and arms. He opened his mouth to speak, and his voice was normal once more.

“Long live the Father of-” A ring of blazing purple flames materialized from nowhere, turning the man’s voice to a scream of agony. The ring closed around him and then was gone, leaving no trace of Blackwood in the dirt.

Nephthys gaped at the scorched ring in the soil. Behind her another ring appeared, less caustic and more controlled - another portal. Through the ring she could see the library of her estate.

“Finally!” She leapt through the portal and into the room. Here it was still night, and the stars were still shining down on her. The lamp was on, illuminating a letter on the desk. Nephthys tilted her head. “I don't remember you being there earlier..."

The woman hurried to the desk, wincing from the scratches in her back. She lifted the letter; a simple piece of paper marked with the same symbol on her necklace. Only one line was written on the letter, along with a signature, in sweeping, grandiose cursive.

I called him home.

-Z

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