Chapter 28
The Crystal Knight

Pandemonium, Byrn; Anno Regis 1275

"We had suffered so much on the way to the final battle. Words cannot express how we felt when we finally met the root of the kingdom's misery face-to-face. The lives of so many rested on our shoulders, just as the deaths of many lay on his. There could be only one victor."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

The Omnimancer Kyrios was a tall, imposing man with ornate tattoos all over his face and clean-shaven head. His eyes glowed with the constant burning of pure magical energy trapped in a fleshly shell. He wore flowing white robes trimmed with gold brocade and an armored mantle embossed with the same designs as his tattoos. The ceremonial armor fused a breastplate with broad pauldrons and a horned frill in the back. The final touch was a long, royal blue cloak set under the pauldrons like a curtain.
He carried no staff or rod, no spellbook or reagents of any kind. None of the usual trappings of mages could be seen anywhere. It was clear that he was able to wield magic without foci, a rarity for humans unseen in those latter years.
"Welcome, travelers," he said in a voice that was both commanding and confident. Even without his powers, he could easily call people to serve him. "You have acquired the Crystal Pendants, but what do you think you can do with them? My powers go beyond mere elemental magic. Omnimancy encompasses all the magical disciplines. It is completely invincible. You have come a long way to fail."
"Like your apprentice, you underestimate us," Catherine said coolly, nodding to the skulking Brenok behind her. "We have not come here to lose. For all who have suffered and died by your wiles, we will punish you."
"Hmph," Kyrios sneered. "You could have been my right hand, girl... maybe even a queen..."
"A dishonor I can live without," she replied bluntly, her words dripping with venom. "We finish this... now."
Kyrios made a sweeping motion with his hand, bowing in mock courtesy. "As you wish..."
Kyrios raised his hand and a dozen small orbs appeared around him. The orbs slowly began to grow as he channeled energy into them. His young challengers were about to launch their own attack, but Catherine held up her hand to stop them.
"Continue to gather energy," she told them, "but do not attack until I say."
They obeyed, their energy manifesting itself in bright auras around them. All the while, Kyrios continued to channel energy into the orbs, which were now a yard in diameter. With gentle waves of his hand, the Omnimancer commanded the orbs to encircle the chamber from both directions. When they settled into position, Kyrios raised his arms high in the air. The orbs responded with an intense glow, brimming with power they could barely contain.
He stood motionless for a few moments, his eyes locked with Catherine's. His mouth twisted in wicked grin, but Catherine's stony composure showed no signs of cracking. Kyrios jerked his arms sharply downward and the orbs released all their power as beams of searing light.
In the split-second before the beams could strike them, Catherine only had time to shout a single word: "Now!"
Instead of releasing their energy in the form of an attack, the bodies of the five Pendant Bearers diffused into prismatic light and came together. The light solidified in the form a tall knight armed and ready for battle. From head to toe it was clad in armor of polished crystal, its sword clear and pure as flawless diamonds. The energy of Kyrios' orbs crackled harmlessly off the knight's armor and the Omnimancer laughed triumphantly.
"Ah, at last the Crystal Knight appears!" he exclaimed. "You have done well, young ones. I congratulate you on your achievement. However..." He wagged his finger like a sage scolding his pupil. "You obviously do not know the whole story."
As if it were heeding the warning of his words, the knight did not attack.
Kyrios continued, "What you have collected is but one set of Crystal Pendants, one among many crafted in ancient days, long before the first human even set foot on this world. For each set of Elemental Pendants, a Celestial Pendant determines whether the Crystal Knight belongs to the light or the darkness. The Heaven Pendant creates the warrior of light that stands before me. Its counterpart is the Hell Pendant..."
The Omnimancer reached into the collar of his robe and pulled out a pendant with a pitch-black gem.
"I knew your far-seeing powers would be valuable to me," Kyrios said. "You saved me the trouble of finding four adepts and unifying their spirits." He clasped the pendant in his hand. "Now I will take the power of the Crystal Knight for myself and become the invincible lord of this land!"
The Crystal Knight charged as Kyrios channeled energy into his pendant, engulfing his body in tongues of black flame. The glittering blade swung at his head, but the Omnimancer's body dissolved into a sphere of black light before it could make contact. The Crystal Knight glowed and four colored lights were sucked into the blackness, leaving only Catherine behind. Drained of her power, she fell to her knees as the black light took form.
The Crystal Knight of darkness resembled the Crystal Knight of light, but while the knight of light resembled fine diamonds, the knight of darkness was like rough-hewn onyx with menacing spikes and horns jutting out in all directions. A jagged, broad-bladed sword hung loosely in its right hand, ignored by its wielder. All the knight's attention, all its power, was focused on its outstretched left hand, clenched in a tight fist. It was as if its fist was the only thing holding back the riotous spirits of the other four Pendant Bearers. Catherine could feel it. They were fighting against the will of the Hell Pendant, fighting and losing. After a few tense moments, the knight flexed its fingers in a simple gesture of victory. Catherine's companions had failed in their rebellion and now there but one loose end left to be tied up. Looking down at Catherine with empty, soulless eyes, the knight slowly raised its sword to clear the final obstacle in Kyrios' path of conquest.
Catherine felt a sharp pain as someone pulled on her braid. A foot dug into her back to hold her in place. Apparently Brenok was not content to stand on the sidelines and simply watch the battle unfold.
"She's not getting away, master!" the apprentice cried. "Finish her and victory's yours!"
Catherine drew a bolt from the quiver at her hip and stabbed it in Brenok's leg. Kyrios' apprentice shrieked and let her go, but the black crystal blade was still poised to cut her down. Being torn from the Crystal Knight had weakened her, but Catherine's psychic powers were fueled by a different kind of energy. She summoned that energy to push herself clear of the knight's swing, the sword ringing loudly as it struck the stone floor instead of flesh and bone.
Calling up the power to stand upright, she charged at Brenok. With her crossbow in hand, she gave the howling youth a stiff blow with the stock that knocked him unconscious. Now that the only source of interference was out of the way, Catherine pointed at several of the nearby lamps and sent them colliding into the Crystal Knight. The knight effortlessly knocked the lamps aside with a broad sweep of its sword, but the distraction had given Catherine the opening she needed to strike back at Kyrios.
As with the Heaven Master, Catherine knew that her only chance of victory would come from within. She dove into the Crystal Knight's mind and prayed her intrusion would paralyze it. She was instantly barraged with a jumbled medley of images from the minds of her friends. Intertwined with Kyrios, their minds were inadvertently acting as a shield for the enemy. Even so, Catherine's presence was familiar to them after their adventures together and their wills did not resist her for long.
When she reached the core consciousness, her worst fears were realized. The core webs so deeply enmeshed with each other that she could not readily distinguish one from the other. To attack one would risk them all. She had no choice but to rely on her last resort. If she failed, her mind would be lost forever, but it would only be trading one destruction for another. She dropped her ego barrier, the very delimiter of her own consciousness, and allowed herself to be absorbed into the mesh.
Ekaterina Fyodorovna no longer existed as an individual, only as a part mixed into the whole. It was much like feeling of oneness she felt upon becoming the Crystal Knight, only the risk was that it could become permanent. Even in her diffused state, a flicker of her will remained. She carefully touched each thread to draw out individual consciousness. She spread herself along the webs of her companions and withdrew from the threads belonging to Kyrios. By then she had regained enough control to call out to them and pull them away from their enemy. She meticulously broke the bonds with Kyrios' mind and coaxed the others to attach to her instead. The power of the Hell Pendant was not enough to keep their unwilling minds fused with Kyrios' and they clung to Catherine's instead. The first was Mark, then Stefan, Olofer and lastly Ignatiy. As their bonds with her solidified, Kyrios' web was pushed out. Her plan had succeeded.
"It cannot be!" Kyrios howled, the tables turned against him in his moment of triumph.
The Omnimancer grasped his pendant and channeled more energy to override Catherine's power when the sword of the Crystal Knight cut cleanly through his forearm. Even as he was crying out in pain, Kyrios reacted quickly, sealing off the wound by turning his skin to stone. The Crystal Knight thrust at him, but the Omnimancer stopped the blade with his bare hand, the point only a few inches from his body. The blade did not yield to his grip, its cutting edge too keen for his stone skin. The sword simply sliced through Kyrios' hand and buried itself deep in his belly.
Kyrios was about to surrender, though. Electricity arced from his body to the Crystal Knight--a last-ditch effort to force back the unyielding foe--yet the blade only went deeper. His powers growing ever more unstable, Kyrios gritted his teeth while flakes of stone fluttered to the floor.
"I... will not die... alone..."
Light shone through the cracks in the stone skin and all Pandemonium quaked as a great explosion obliterated the entire ninth floor. Shaken to its foundation, not even the infernal powers that crafted the accursed tower could keep it standing after that blast. In a magnificent crash, the surviving eight levels of Hell on earth crumbled to the ground.
From the dust cloud that rose above the rubble, a shadowy figure appeared. It was the Crystal Knight. In one hand it carried Brenok, who was spared from the worst of the blast by falling unconscious directly behind the impervious knight. In the other hand it held the Hell Pendant. Looking to the horizon, it cast the hated thing far beyond the sight of any man. As soon as the pendant left its hand, the knight glowed and separated into five lights. The lights regained their human forms and the wearied Pendant Bearers turned to face the kingdom they had saved.
"Is it really over?" Mark asked.
For the young swordsman who had come so far since the attack on his uncle, their victory still seemed unreal. For the indomitable psychic who orchestrated that victory, the answer was simple.
"Kyrios is no more," Catherine said. "For now, at least, it is finished."
The five companions had stood in the face of unimaginable odds and emerged triumphant. The menace of Kyrios was gone and peace was finally restored. Though each of them had their own reasons for taking up the challenge, in this moment they all found victory.