The deep breath hurt. Brendell's chest rose and fell, but it felt distant. It was somewhere else. Somewhere where he wasn't.
Where was he? He wasn't sure. Somewhere locked inside of a dream. Everything was black. There was no movement, nothing to focus on. He was trapped in an endless expanse of darkness. A motionless ocean.
His chest rose and fell again. It grew closer this time. His head, also distant, rolled to the side. The motion was delayed, like the ripple of a far-off stone thrown into the water.
His chest rose and fell again, this time something caught. Something didn't feel right. It was rough. And the incoming air scratched at him. He reacted, coughing. The action shook his body and brought back pain he didn't know he had. His head pounded with the sudden motion. His back was stiff and ached. His throat was scratchy.
Then the real pain hit. His hand hit something hard, and his head rolled back to its original location. He wanted to scream. Maybe he was screaming. He couldn't tell. But whatever he was doing, it brought on more of the coughs—coughs that shook his body and amplified all of the pain.
The world came back to him faster this time. Like the water was quickly draining from his sea of solitude. Each of his motions still pushed against the water, but less with each passing second. Then, the noise came to him. He could hear something, quiet but growing louder. It was chaotic and shrill. It was his own voice.
He screamed at the pain. He felt something on him, holding him down. Hands. Someone else's. Where am I? he thought. Wikith?
Just the name brought back the anger. He remembered. He remembered how he had worked with him for a time when under Malcolm's influence. He remembered when Wikith captured him and planned to use him as bait to lure out Lolan. He remembered Lolan, escaping. The fury of storms ripped through Brendell. With his sight not back to him, Brendell screamed louder and felt the current of lightning rip through and around him. The familiar smell of ozone filled the air.
The hands on him were no longer there. Good.
His body was coming more and more under his control. He moved an arm, slowly, but it did as he expected, feeling around the platform where he laid. He then tried his eyes. They opened and the sea of darkness was erased with piercing light. It hurt. His head pounded worse than ever before. He squinted, wishing his eyes would adjust.
He waited. The hands were still gone from him, no longer holding him down. He must have killed whoever it was. He hoped it was Wikith, or Malcolm. That's what they get for crossing him.
When his eyes finally began to understand the scene, Brendell could see he was in some sort of building. He sat up slowly, trying not to provoke the lion of a headache roared in his skull. He saw blurs and shapes at first, but they solidified into furniture and people. He didn't recognize them. There was a Human, and a Dwarf. There were others. An injured Saurian laid nearby. And a Hippo Beastfolk kneeled next to a person a little further on that was covered in blood. But they all stood still, staring at Brendell.
What is this? Are they killing people?
Brendell forced himself to stand despite the aches and groans of his atrophied muscles. He held out his arms to his sides, summoning more of the lightning that he had already called. The spark began to flicker between his fingers.
"Brendell. Stop," came a voice from behind him. It was muffled, his ears still adjusting, but it was familiar. Brendell turned to see Lolan, in his cloak, ready to fight back.
A mix of emotions flooded into Brendell's mind. There was anger, from growing up with the half-breed. Lolan took away everything he hoped for in life. He couldn't grow up like a normal Elf. He couldn't spend too much time with his peers for fear of them finding out about his freakshow cousin.
Then there was a feeling of camaraderie. Regardless of where they came from, or who they were, they did have a hint of friendship for the sheer reason that they grew up together. They knew things together that no one else did. They had been through a lot, even if they were on opposite sides for most of it.
"It's okay," said Lolan. "You need to sit down. You're still recovering. You need rest."
Recovering? thought Brendell. From what?
He tried to recall his last memories before waking up in this strange place. He remembered the cave. He remembered working with Wikith to surprise a group. He remembered Lolan was among them. Then, he remembered the flames.
Brendell tried to move the fingers on his hand. It felt like they were okay, despite some stiffness. Then, he dared a look down at his hand. In its place was a bandaged stump. He pulled it up to make sure he wasn't seeing it wrong. He wasn't. His hand was gone.
Brendell fell to his knees and screamed. A localized storm brewed above him, an accidental reaction from his outcry.
"Brendell, I'm sorry. It was all I could do to—"
"Stop!" shouted Brendell. He glared up at Lolan. It was his fault. If it weren't for him, he would still have a hand. It was his fault that he was here, among enemies, and permanently handicapped.
The storm grew larger and lightning began to flicker above Brendell's head as he pushed himself to his feet. Brendell stretched out his intact arm toward his brother. "This is all because of you."
Lolan shrunk back, but the lightning didn't strike him. Brendell held his hand still. There was something within him that stopped him. A nagging feeling told him that it was more complicated than that.
"It's the brainwashing," said someone else. Brendell turned to see a Dwarf. "Malcolm used mind magic on you. It's still lingering in your brain."
"What do you know?" growled Brendell, accusatory.
"A good deal. I have helped many Dwarves that were under the same effect. It will go away with time."
Brendell looked around at all of the people staring at him. Why were they here? Why was he here?
"Lolan took your hand. You're right about that," said the Dwarf. "But he is also the one who got you free of that cave. If it weren't for him, you would have either been dead from the collapse or still enslaved by Malcolm."
Brendell glared at Lolan, who looked back with his head lowered.
"Where am I?" asked Brendell.
"It's called Birdsbane," said Lolan. "These are the people trying to stop the monster that Malcolm woke up."
"Hah, how do you plan to do that?"
"We're not sure yet."
"And you're all..." Brendell paused, "...cooperating?"
"Yes. There is are bigger problems in the world. And through our time on this island, we've found that we can actually accomplish a lot together."
Brendell relaxed for the first time since he woke up. Lolan may be stupid, but he wasn't the type to lie. Still, the realization that he didn't have his hand hurt more than anything.
"Have you fought it yet?" Brendell asked, looking down at his bandaged stump.
"Yes. Once. It didn't go well. It was a lot stronger than we expected."
"Oh yeah? You won't beat that thing. You know this isn't its first try at destroying the world, right?"
"Yes, we've heard some. But we don't know everything about it."
"Has Malcolm taken control yet?" asked Brendell.
"No, we're not sure he will. It sounds like even his own people don't believe in him."
Brendell scoffed. "Arthur didn't think the monster existed either. Malcolm is going to succeed. He's been training for this his whole life."
"What do you mean? Do you know more about what's going on? We could use any information to help us take it down."
"Yeah, I heard things. Being among his elite defense units, he kept me and Wikith close."
"What do you know then? Anything useful against the monster?"
"I know that Malcolm is dangerous, maybe more dangerous than that monster. He has a notebook from Shayde Mortem and is a direct descendant. Shayde unlocked things about magic that people never fathomed before. He was a visionary, constantly testing and learning how to use magic in new ways. He discovered new types of magic. And all of that research, it's in Malcolm's hands. He's learning it. It takes time, but he is learning.
"Not just that, but he isn't the type to take no for an answer. If he says he's going to do something, he's going to do it. Every step so far, he had planned. He had meticulously sought out the puzzle pieces needed to bring us to this point. If he would have failed at any step along the way, he would have waited longer until he had the skills and people needed to succeed. So, yeah. He'll control that monster. It's only a matter of time."
Brendell looked around the room again. Now that his sense had fully come back to him, he could see his surroundings better. It was a church or some kind of decorative building with vaulted ceilings and colorful windows. The people around him were of all different races. There was a Treek girl and a Beastfolk close to her. There was an old Avian, standing a bit further back with another of his kind. Saurians, Gnomes, Humans, they were all there. And most of them were still staring at him, processing the words that he spoke.
"Where is Wikith?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Lolan. "I left the others to handle him while I distracted you."
The statement still sent a surge of anger through Brendell, but he pushed it back. Now was not the time to fight. He couldn't be sure how these people would react, and if they fought back, he would have a hard time escaping with his life.
"And he didn't die in the collapse?" Brendell asked.
"I doubt it," said Lolan. "He killed many of the people I was with that day. I would be surprised if he didn't survive."
Lolan looked down at the ground. There was something eating at him. Did he feel guilty for those deaths? He would. He always was a weakling.
"You said you heard things," said the Treek. "Did you hear anything else? Do you know how long until he gains control of the doom drake?"
"Doom drake?" said Brendell. "What a lame name. Why not call it something like death titan or the colossus?"
The old Avian in the distance made a noise, but Brendell couldn't make it out.
"Do you know when?" asked the Treek again.
Brendell focused on her. She was familiar—someone that Malcolm had hated. A nuisance.
"I can't know for sure, but he had planned to have it under his control within a week."
Brendell thought for a moment. He had so little left. He only had a single hand. His family probably forgot about him by now. And here he was in a mixed-race chapel in a city he had never heard of before. If he could direct his anger toward anyone, well, it was easiest to pin it on Lolan. But he was trying. Trying to not hate him, and trying to see the shared experiences as the closest thing to a brotherly relationship that he had ever experienced. So if he couldn't blame Lolan, Wikith was next, with Malcolm taking a close second.
"You said you're trying to stop that monster. Are you going out to attack it again?"
"Yes," said Lolan. " We plan to attack again in three days. But you need to rest. You're still recovering from—"
"I'm coming," said Brendell. "Wikith needs to see how much I've learned from him."