Chapter 10: Hope is Never Silenced

The Godvildian forces pushed to the centre of the Bridge of Souls, barricading the enemy’s only path to some of the richest towns in the World of Transition. Heavy soldiers marched with shields pressed against their bodies, wave after wave. Despite being heavily outnumbered, they carried themselves with confidence, and with good reason. Akshay Bahrain stood behind them.

Aayush Khanna led the vanguard, clanking sword against shield, rousing the soldiers behind him. He wanted it louder than even the Relictan forces that stood before him. Archers occupied positions in the rear, ready to fire upon their lord’s command.

Gale accompanied Aayush at the front lines, fitting into formation without too much of a fuss. While the General did offer him heavy armour, much like what the others wore, the boy preferred his set of light armour. It made sense given his style of swordplay, the kind driven by fluid movement and athleticism.

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A little ahead, an aerial unit of enemy archers pushed ahead from the skies — armoured, winged, and with rotting flesh. Akshay raised an arm, calm in his demeanour, cautioning his soldiers for what was to come. The enemy was more than the Relictan kind; they held soldiers from the undead and in overwhelming majority.

“Tell me something,” bellowed Akshay. “Are you afraid?”

“No, my lord!” the Godvildian soldiers yelled in unison.

Gale immersed himself in the experience, even more so as the enemy archers pulled into position. In a moment’s notice, silence shrouded the battlefield in its entirety. Everything was heard, from taut bows to the arrows’ release. Gale’s eyes moved from left to right, finding the Godvildian soldiers unfazed. Arrows rained right after, by the hundreds, arching at the sky and toward them with deadly precision.

“Will the shields be raised?” asked Gale without losing much of his composure.

“Not at the moment,” said Aayush. “Your only job today, our only job today, is to wait for Lord Bahrain’s command and move accordingly.”

Gale looked toward the sky once more, and the arrows showed little sign of slowing down. But as the seconds passed, none of them managed to fall through to the ground. With a firm hand on his sword, the boy focused to find the arrows disappear mid-air, burning to ash upon descent. He looked back to find Akshay, veiled in a white, almost translucent aura.

Aspect of the Heavens: Wall of Transcendence,” whispered Akshay, an incantation to erect an impregnable shield around his army. “Nothing to worry about so far.”

Lord Bahrain moved his arms into a position of prayer, causing the winds to shift on either side of the bridge. It lifted a sheet of energy that clasped onto the enemy archers, crushing those unfortunate enough to have been caught in the attack. The aftershock disoriented those who had survived, and in swift command, the Godvildian archers fired.

Enemy soldiers fell from the sky, one after the other, crumbling as they did. With the skies clear, Akshay gave his General a reaffirming nod. Aayush Khanna marched his soldiers ahead at a slow pace, Gale by his side.

“I’m beginning to realize what it means to bear the mark of the shield,” said Gale with a smile. “Lord Bahrain is a remarkable commander.”

“Wars aren’t won by sheer numbers,” said Aayush. “But it’s a disadvantage you’d rather not be in.”

“No casualties on our side so far, at least.”

“Stand ready to march at full sprint on my command,” yelled Aayush to the soldiers that stood behind him. He paused, briefly, before turning to Gale, “We aren’t walking out of this unscathed.”

As the Godvildian soldiers inched ahead, the undead growled in nervous retaliation. Mist obscured the path ahead, but the boy noticed it clear in an instant. While Aayush ceased the march, Gale looked toward his General, a confused expression on his face.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” said Aayush, reassuringly. “Clouded Blindness is a second-tier spell that I find myself using in most combat situations. By design, it impairs enemy vision alone.”

“Isn’t that too convenient?” said Gale.

“I would call it nothing more than a temporary advantage,” said Aayush. “It’s a spell easy enough to break with focus. But that shouldn’t be the case with this army — undead soldiers driven mostly by misplaced vengeance and rage.”

Gale felt a little out of place. On one side, he could find similarities between the World of Transition and of a time in his former world — the middle ages. But he couldn’t ever remember reading about magical abilities or enhanced physical capabilities; those were words from fiction. Not anymore.

Impatience slowly crept into the hearts of both sides, with neither choosing to take the initiative on offense. The battle was at a standstill, but just as it is with any situation during war, everything changed. It started with a barrage of footsteps that had drummed into an echo, growing ever louder in its approach. The undead, they had made their move.

Lord Bahrain swung his arm in silence, and in command, the archers that stood behind him fired without mercy. Aayush waited for the arrows to traverse from above their heads and onto enemy soldiers — a massacre that favoured the Godvildian kind. When the last of the arrows had met its mark, Aayush unsheathed his sword and pointed it right at the undead.

“Show me what you’ve got, men,” bellowed General Khanna, “Charge. Charge. Charge until your weapon can cut no more!”

***

With their forces severely crippled, the Relictan General on field, trembled at the thought of defeat. It was his first time witnessing Akshay Bahrain in battle, and the latter was no man of fiction. His will wavered under the might of the Godvildian legend. But in that moment of turmoil, a shadow crept in from behind him.

Paralyzed from fear, the Relictan General lowered his head to find a sword thrust through his chest. He coughed, blood staining armour and clothes, and slipped from the blade without effort. His assailant tossed the weapon aside and shrugged, realizing that the Relictan soldiers had witnessed the murder.

“Welcome, Lord Escanor,” one of them stammered. “It’s a pleasure to have you here.”

Escanor stood above the soldiers in height, inches taller and broader around his shoulders — a man that often remained shrouded in darkness, anonymous to even the Lords he supported. With his face covered, he wore a blue long coat along with a pair of heavy gauntlets and boots. But despite all the mystery, there was little doubt about his Noxun heritage.

“I don’t ever remember the Relictan being this mannered,” said Escanor with a heavy voice. “But that aside, tell me why it is that not one of you chose to step into battle?”

“Under command, we chose to push the undead ahead to pressure the Godvildian surrender,” said the soldier. “We have them overwhelmingly outnumbered, and we wouldn’t have lost a single Relictan soul in the process.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Escanor. “Now I know that I wasn’t incorrect in my choice to slay the good General.”

Escanor levitated to a reasonable height, obtaining clearer view of the battle. The undead were crumbling under the Godvildian might, masterfully led by Lord Bahrain. He raised an eyebrow upon sensing something at a distance from the battlefield, a powerful force that was making its way towards the Bridge of Souls.

“There is Lord Bahrain, who lives up to his reputation,” whispered Escanor. “Aayush Khanna is holding up just as the reports had mentioned; the others were supposed to be insignificant. And yet, there appears to be one more of worth here.”

He looked back in the direction from where he sensed an approaching presence; it felt oddly familiar and threateningly so.

“That’s no ally of ours,” said Escanor. “Looks like we’re short on time here.”

He descended and walked to the front lines, the Relictan behind him and the undead ahead. Escanor clenched his fist with force enough to break skin. He controlled his blood, coagulating it to manifest a spear of significant length and power. Escanor tossed it without a moment’s hesitation and manipulated it through its ascent towards the sky. It changed shape, breaking and reforming into what appeared to be a door in mid-air.

“A sound strategy, but not something that would help us win against Akshay Bahrain,” said Escanor of the Relictan army’s choice to not participate. “I would recommend to either move forward and battle with a minor chance at victory or die at my hands with no chance at survival.”

The words left Escanor’s mouth almost unfeelingly, and the Relictan despite their overwhelming numbers shuddered at the thought. It was hard thing to do, brush their fear aside. Not when faced with a man that stood at the apex of the Noxun, a race that once rivaled the Godvildian kind.

Escanor pointed at the door he had summoned, gesturing a swipe with his finger against the air. The door trembled and opened, creaking across its celestial hinges. And then came a roar, monstrous and fierce. It forced the attention of every soldier present — the undead, Relictan, and Godvildian alike. Something was coming.

Not a whisper escaped in the moments that passed, and then the doors flung open, disappearing as they did. The skeletal frame of something disastrous, of something long forgotten emerged. It was the head first, and then claws — as sharp as they could be. Wings cracked the barrier that kept the dead from the living, the body following right after. There was little flesh, and the creature looked only a shadow of its former, majestic self. But that was only in appearance.

It roared once more, shaking the battlefield to a standstill. There was no question about it — it was a dragon, an unnatural presence that now stood long past its last sighting, long past its extinction as a race.

“Unlike the Relictans, I hold no motivation to capture the territories past the Bridge of Souls,” thought Escanor. “But the Three Pillars of Suntaria; if the Godvildian race is to fall in the years to come, now is as good a time as any to assess their battle power.”

***

Gale found himself cutting through the undead with relative ease. It was his first time in combat since the encounter with Noah Oblique. His body eased through the crowds, his sword — fluid and eloquent. Despite the blood and gore, the boy had begun to enjoy the beauty behind swordplay. Improvement urged for more, and the possibilities seemed nothing short of infinite.

“It looks like I’ve improved,” thought Gale, swinging the blood off his sword. “I wonder how long it will take for this battle to come to an end; it doesn’t feel like there’s any pressure from the other end.”

The boy looked on to find the Godvildian soldiers press deeper into enemy stations, facing little resistance through their assault. He felt the weight lift from his shoulders. With Aayush at the helm on offense and Lord Bahrain manoeuvring the defensive line of command, victory appeared to be well within sight.

And then it occurred — an irregularity that even Akshay Bahrain could not have fathomed. The dragon towered atop them, focused in its desire for destruction, and roared mightily. It shook the battlefield and the Godvildian morale with it.

“This is no ordinary, necromancer,” whispered Akshay, masking his panic. “That’s Titan Call, a seventh-tier spell, under the Baha branch!”

The Godvildian archers were quick to regroup under their lord’s command, firing arrows imbued with elemental magic. Lightning, fire, water, and wind — the dragon was hit with speed and precision until the combination of elements resulted in an explosion. The dust cloud swept through the battlefield, obscuring the conclusion of their assault. They didn’t have to wait.

Another roar followed, wings flapping, and the dust cleared. There was little damage. Akshay bit his lip, knowing that the being was what he had suspected.

“General Khanna,” yelled Akshay in a distance. “Fall back; that’s an Elder Undead!

Aayush clicked his tongue, visibly disturbed. He struggled to maintain a calm demeanour but rallied his troops nonetheless. Gale caught wind of the rising tension amongst the Godvildian soldiers — their chance at victory falling with it.

“What’s an Elder Undead?” asked Gale, following his leader in the retreat.

“Think of it as a classification of power within the undead,” explained Aayush in haste. “That spell just summoned the strongest there is, an elder — immune to any attack below the eighth-tier.”

“What about Lord Bahrain?” asked Gale. “Isn’t he someone who ranks within the tenth-tier?”

“It isn’t that simple.”

Akshay Bahrain clenched his fists, frustrated at his inability to assess the enemy necromancer. He opened his palm, energy swirling at his fingertips, taking shape of what appeared to be an hourglass. There was still a lot of time left.

This is my loss; I can’t believe it,” thought Akshay. “I don’t have enough left to initiate a spell above the seventh-tier. The timing, it can’t be a coincidence.”

The dragon, majestic in its form, inhaled deeply, tearing what little flesh remained around its ribs. Its back arched with a puffed chest while the Godvildian soldiers feared what was to come. Gale knew, at least he thought he did. His former world did portray tales of the dragon’s legend, a fire-breathing reptile hindered only by its author’s imagination.

“Here it comes,” whispered Gale, watching the beast furiously exhale.

A concentrated column of fire spiraled through the bridge, leaving little room for escape. Gale stood in awe of the mystically blue flame until his instincts whirred to life. The muscles around his legs tightened, urging the boy to sprint and survive. He overtook his allies, the flame close behind, obliterating everything in its wake.

At a distance, Lord Bahrain mustered a significant amount of energy within him, erecting wall after wall against the flame that had devoured nearly half of his army. It bought his soldiers time, barely minutes. Irked by the hindrance, the dragon strengthened its flame, marching towards the opposition in haste.

But Akshay held true to his position as commander; soldiers closest in proximity had made it to his side. They gasped for air, but felt the pressure lift from their shoulders, knowing that they had survived. It was all Akshay could manage, a barrier — strong, but limited in size. Gale had almost made it also when something changed. An odd sense of discomfort befell the battlefield; the flames had disappeared and the dragon with it.

Gale stopped on instinct, turning back to find the bridge clear. But the Godvildian Lord noticed, as did his second-in-command. The dragon had slithered underneath the bridge speedily to intercept the boy’s escape. Some stood completely mystified by the creature’s aberrant change in behaviour while others gulped in fear, realizing its motivation to hunt Gale.

Still inexperienced, the boy had failed to react in time. The dragon was already behind him, swiping its tail to launch him into the air. Gale felt his bones crack, defenceless in his position. He closed his eyes as the fire emerged. Fear swallowed his heart, only to dissipate once more and in its entirety. He laughed at his situation, unable to feel even at death’s door.

“I’m sorry, Gale,” said a familiar voice. “But I’m going to have to toss you to safety.”

Gale opened his eyes to find Aayush in front of him, veiled in a barrier of his own construct — cracked around certain parts already. General Khanna turned and kicked the boy towards his lord, his only choice given the situation.

“I suppose it’s time to move on,” whispered Aayush, relieved that he had made in time for Gale. “It’s a shame though; I would have loved to get to know you more, boy.”

Aayush felt the heat come through the cracks, melting the surface of his armour. Despite acceptance over his imminent demise, the Godvildian General resisted, stubborn in his desire to survive. It surprised him.

“Laughable,” thought Aayush. “All that talk about embracing death, and here I am clinging to what little time I have left.”

But for all his will, the flame consumed him nonetheless.

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Tears welled in the eyes of soldiers who had grown to respect Aayush Khanna, his leadership and ferocity in battle. Akshay grit his teeth, desperate in his role as a commander to stand without emotion. There was little room for it in the thick of battle, at least that’s what Lord Bahrain believed. And yet, in the heat of the moment, he couldn’t help but mourn the loss of a dear friend.

Gale willed himself onto his feet, dropping to his knees right after. He felt weak, bruised and with broken bones. He stood upright once more, dragging his feet to Lord Bahrain. Gale lowered his head, speechless.

“You needn’t apologize if that’s what you’re here for,” said Akshay. “Aayush saved you for a reason; I don’t hold it against you.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gale, tired in his voice.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” said Akshay. “The barrier won’t hold for long and given how determined this dragon is to see us all dead, I don’t see ourselves celebrating a tomorrow.”

An Elder Undead, that’s what they called the beast that now stood within inches of Lord Bahrain’s shield. It towered over the soldiers under protection, tongue out, almost mockingly. The dragon lowered its head, trying to push its way through the barrier. It met with stern resistance, but responded by smacking its tail against the hindrance, breathing fire to add to the pressure as well.

Akshay had begun to tire, nearly drained of his reserves. The soldiers had slumped their shoulders in resignation; it was almost over. Gale dismissively walked ahead, wondering if this was all he was meant to do even after having faced death in his previous world. Was this it? Was it just as Aaron had stated him to be — a boy chosen at random and without meaning?

“But you don’t believe that,” a voice reached to him. “You wish to fight against it?”

Gale looked around before realizing that the voice emerged from within his head. It felt strangely familiar, and at the same time, he knew it to not be thoughts of his own.

“Yes, I wish to fight against it,” said Gale, adamant in his desire. “There has to be a point; at least for the General.”

“Then look around you and remember how we fought against the Relictan,” the voice advised. “This is your coming, child. This is your echo to Mioverold; this is your declaration.”

Gale did as was asked, finding an abundance of soul-fires gather around the barrier. They struggled to come through, failing in their attempt. It was something Akshay noticed, a certain strangeness new even to someone who had lived for as long as he had.

“Have we given up, Lord Bahrain?” asked Gale, calmer in his tone.

“When I am no longer able to hold this shield,” said Akshay. “That is when we fall. I’ll continue in hope that a miracle pulls us through.”

“Would you believe that the miracle is in letting the shield down?”

“If I pull it down, I would need at least a minute to erect another,” said Akshay. “I don’t know what it is you’re suggesting, but are you willing to treat this as our final stand?”

“Yes,” said Gale, the weight of victory on his shoulders. “Lower the shield.”

Akshay closed his eyes, focusing on nothing but the boy. An incredible amount of energy gathered within him, its growth shrouded in mystery. But it failed to convince; despite Gale’s impressive presence, he didn’t nearly have enough to withstand an Elder Undead. Lord Bahrain hesitated.

“I heard you were a man of legend, my lord,” said Gale, looking over his shoulder. “Do the accomplishments hinder your trust in us?”

Akshay couldn’t help but burst into laughter. In his years alive, he had not once met a boy audacious enough to have talked to him as such. He lowered his head in resignation, accepting the odds that came with dismantling his barrier.

“It’s all yours now, boy,” said the Godvildian Lord. “Show me, no, show us a tomorrow to celebrate in!”

With his words, the barrier faded, leaving nothing in between the Godvildian soldiers and the dragon. But Gale proved his worth without a moment’s hesitation. It surprised both sides on the battlefield; the sight of soul-fires wildly gravitating towards him, swirling into a tornado. Gale borrowed from it, everything that Aeterna chose to offer.

His body felt an immeasurable amount of anguish with every soul-fire he accepted, living the lives of thousands in a matter of seconds and in quick succession. His mind eroded from dozens of emotions felt all at once, overwhelming even his inherent ability of painlessness and unemotionality. But he resisted, growing only in strength and ferocity. The tornado succumbed, the winds dying with it, until nothing remained.

Gale strolled to the dragon, devoid of fear, an absolute stillness echoing from him. It was a frightening sight, even for those within the Godvildian ranks. Akshay Bahrain stood perplexed at what had just occurred, a first even for him. The dragon tilted its head, curious about the boy. It sensed the difference. Falling back, the dragon roared at Gale, louder than it ever did.

“Is this how it’s done?” asked Gale, almost inaudibly.

“That’s right,” replied the voice from within. “This is your declaration.”

Activate Sequence: Corrosion,” bellowed Gale for everyone to hear.

The Bridge of Souls shook from the pressure of a spell that had gathered magic from the Aeterna, fearsome in its display. It started with the dragon’s legs — bone turning to dust, causing the creature to writhe in pain. The Elder Undead struggled to return to its feet, crumbling from all sides. It howled and roared through the loss of everything until a gentle breeze swept its remains off the bridge.

“What did I just see?” stammered Akshay. “That’s Celeri Rosio, a tenth-tier spell of the…”

Lord Bahrain wasn’t given a chance to finish with Gale falling to his feet, absent strength. Inspired by the boy’s heroic effort, the Godvildian soldiers rushed to his aid without command. They helped Gale onto his feet and retreated to Lord Bahrain’s side. But rest was to not come despite their victory against the dragon.

Thank you, Bane,” some of them heard the boy whisper, fading into unconsciousness.


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