Enormous shadows cut off their exit and the tunnel Jaxon left through. When the shadows fade, large walls stand in their place. Tayli appears in front of the brothers, his black eyes filled with amusement. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to fight powerful Rare Kinds, especially legendary ones that come around once every few generations. But don’t be fooled by those weaklings. Have you forgotten how many men I brought with me to Kellahn?”
Shadows rise from the earth, stretching from the shadows of the tall cliffs around them. The mountain pass fills with Tayli’s men, one thousand and five hundred men.
“We can handle a thousand men,” Kylii calls to Tayli.
Laughter echoes through the mountain pass and Tayli whistles loud and long. “I don’t doubt it, but we’re a group of shadows. We’ve been careful to keep our true numbers from the people of Kellahn. We’ll see how well you last against ten thousand men.”
Each man’s shadow splits and stretches far behind them. Numerous men and women materialize from the shadows filling the pass above, below, and beyond the sight of the brothers.
Both Daniil and Kylii whistle at the sight of the thousands of men, but before they can remark on it, the Shadow Watchers attack. Unlike the two hundred before them, these fighters are prepared and the brothers realize why. The two hundred men they fought before were sacrifices so these men could watch and learn about their magic.
The fighting stands equal as Daniil and Kylii manage to still surprise many of their new opponents with simple tricks, but soon they’re overwhelmed by the sheer number facing them. Soon they’re forced back against the wall of the pass and stare at the full force of Tayli’s Shadow Watchers.
“Da nu abana na pomise bei chayra to matter o fatter?”
Kylii smiles at his brother, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “Na on aido fabee mujeek?”
Shooting an odd look at Kylii, Daniil can’t suppress a nervous laugh. “Jei. Do you really think this is the time for that?”
“If we don’t we’re going to die.”
“And if we do…”
“We have to stop them. I never want to see Meah cry again.”
“I agree.” A solemn feeling comes over the brothers. “I wonder if Lii is still unable to talk?”
Kylii shrugs. “Not that we’d ever know. I never remember what happens after.”
They take each other by the hand and their magic grows stronger, filling them. They release it and the ensuing mixture of summer and winter creates a large storm, forcing the Shadow Watchers back. Two who’d been standing close to the brothers are killed instantly as they’re bodies are crushed by the sudden gush of wind.
When the storm calms a solitary figure stands where the two brothers had been, Lii. His skin glows with a mixture of gold and silver light. His eyes are both light and dark. There’s no shred of hair on his body and his movements are otherworldly, moving fast yet also slow.
The Shadow Watchers stare at the figure in awe. It’s a sight none of them have ever seen before. But as the solitary figure acts as though he doesn’t even notice them, they regain their courage. Perhaps they can attack while the being is still unawares.
Leaping at Lii, a gush of wind follows as he flies into the air, avoiding the men’s attacks. But he can’t stay above for too long and lands at the top of the cliffs in the middle of a group of men. They try to back away, but as soon as Lii’s feet touch the ground it freezes, trapping them. His strange eyes travel across each man’s face and the ice shoots up their legs, freezing them. He waves a hand at them and the ice shatters, killing them.
Others who weren’t trapped by the ice attack him from behind, but again he launches into the air and lands at the center of the pass. More ice appears beneath his feet, but instead of trapping the men’s legs, it causes many to slip and fall. As they land the ice melts to water and Lii carefully leans down. He places a hand in the water and it immediately boils. Those unable to stand fast enough are severely burned, some boiled alive.
The water evaporates and the wounded are left to die as the rest regroup to plan an attack. Lii blows a large gust of wind in front of him, creating a twister to pull the wounded into the sky and clear the ground of bodies. Men scream as they’re sucked into the sky, disappearing.
Holding a hand out in front of him, Lii holds his palm up to the sky and a ball of light forms. It’s blinding and soon Tayli’s men realize it’s a mini sun. Lii walks towards the gathered group of men holding the intense fireball in front of him, as though he were giving it as a gift. The men scramble to move away, but Lii stops walking and effortlessly throws the ball at them.
Panic causes many to shove their comrades before them as they leap into shadows or to the side. The ball of light hits several men and they disintegrate. The ball lands on the ground and eats through the earth, leaving behind a pool of molten rock as it buries beneath the earth. Lii points a finger at men still standing on the cliffs above and the ball of light explodes from the ground beneath them, disintegrating more men. The ball returns to Lii’s hand and disappears.
A shiver runs through the figure’s body and as he steps forward towards the last of the Shadow Watchers, he stumbles a moment. His expressionless face shows no sign of recognition, but Tayli’s men understand.
The magic is running out, Lii is losing strength. A new surge of energy rushes through the men and they begin a counterattack. Diving in and out of the shadows, they manage to close in on Lii. His odd movements have slowed, but as the first attackers appear from their shadows, he easily grabs them and either sets them ablaze or freezes them.
But his reactions grow slower as each fighter attacks, until one manages to land a blow, stabbing Lii in the shoulder. His hand immediately releases the man, but he kicks him, sending the Shadow Watcher across the pass and smashing into the wall with such force, he leaves an imprint in the stone. But every bone in his body is crushed and he dies instantly.
The Shadow Watchers know they can injure Lii and attack all at once. Wounds spring up all over Lii, a stab wound in the leg, a slice of flesh taken from his abdomen, fingers gone. But Lii shows no sign of feeling the pain and continues killing.
The last five men stand before Lii. He stands hunched over, his face aimed at the ground. Blood falls to the snow covered ground and the men attack. Each stabs his sword through Lii’s body, releasing a preemptive yell of victory as the figure’s body slouches more. They try to remove their blades, but the swords are stuck. Lii raises his head as Tayli walks forward.
“A valiant fight, but this I the end. Your strength is nearly gone. There’s no way for you to avoid death.” Tayli lifts his knife above his head, ready to bury the blade into Lii’s head.
Lii opens his mouth and screams. A powerful wave of magic explodes from his body and sends the men around him flying. Tayli pulls up a shield made of shadows that takes the brunt of the force and manages to keep his footing.
Suddenly, his shield shatters and Lii grabs him by both arms. He opens his mouth again, but a different feeling fills the air. Tayli screams as Lii releases a second surge of magic.
A blinding light shines from the mountaintops, seen from great distances. As it fades, Lii stands alone. His body’s ethereal light fades and his skin grows dull. The magic runs out and he splits back into Daniil and Kylii. They fall to the ground onto their backs, feet to feet.
Kylii tries to move, but there’s no strength left in his body. The wounds Lii sustained are mirrored on his body as well as Daniil’s.
“Daniil-li? You still alive?”
Taking a strained breath, Daniil answers weakly. “Barely. You?”
“Not for much longer.”
“Shit.” Daniil convulses and fights to stay conscious. He rolls onto his stomach, a feat that sends an intense wave of pain through him. He curses again, but forces his body to crawl towards his brother so he can lie next to him.
Kylii turns his head, even that taking a lot of effort. “Dying sucks.”
Daniil smirks. “If it didn’t, no one would be afraid of it.”
“Magic sucks sometimes. Why can’t it let us keep going?”
“That’s why it’s forbidden magic. You aren’t supposed to survive after using it.”
“Dad will probably be mad at us.”
Attempting to laugh, it only comes out as a grunt from Daniil. “You mean furious. He’ll…probably…” His voice trails off and he releases a breath.
Kylii stares at his brother’s empty eyes. “Yeah. He’ll probably kill us when he finds out.” He closes his eyes.