Chapter 11: Turning Wheels

thunderous battle-cry erupted from the other end of the Bridge of Souls, and the Relictan forces marched ahead. They had little to fear, knowing the undead had reduced the opposition to a mere handful. The odds were in their favour.

“Quite the dire situation, is it not?” said Akshay. “There is nothing to worry about though. He is here.”

The Relictan army rushed into full-sprint, eager in their quest for victory. Not a hindrance stood before them until the heavens itself crackled, hammering a pillar of darkness onto the centre of the bridge. It thinned away to reveal the form of a strongly-built man, intimidatingly large — attired in clothes as dark as a moonless night, and armour well-suited for flexibility.

“Sorry I took so long,” the man apologized. “I’ll handle the rest.”

“That’s fine,” said Akshay. “Do with them as you see fit.”

Wary of the stranger that now stood before them, the Relictan army switched to a position of defence. It matched, according to the reports from their lords, the description of a man — short, dark hair trimmed around the temples and a ruggedly impressive face — they were to avoid no matter the situation. A clutch of the soldiers stepped ahead nonetheless, weapons braced and ready for battle.

“Should I even bother warning you lot?” asked the man, scratching his stubble. “Not that you would heed counsel anyway.”

True to the words uttered, the Relictan forces charged, driven by nothing but the impulse of cornered animals. The man assumed a stance of combat, beautiful in its form, commanding a portion of his energy to come to aid. It gathered in the palm of his hand, volatile and wild.

Aspect of the Naraka: Obliterate,” the man whispered.

The Godvildian soldiers stood blinded by the after-effects of the spell and had no choice but to wait for their vision to return. When it did, they gaped — faces plastered with expressions of fear and bewilderment — at the landscape absent of Relictans. Nothing had remained, not even a trace of their existence. The man stretched his arms, visibly bored.

“I believe introducing you is appropriate?” asked Akshay, looking toward the man who had rescued them from the jaws of defeat. “You haven’t been around for about three hundred years, after all.”

“Suit yourself,” the man said, shrugging his shoulders.

Akshay turned to find his soldiers in line, waiting with eager anticipation for him to disclose the identity of the man.

“Knighted by Suntaria as its Pillar, known by legend as the Asuran Ghost, blessed by Ehedus as the Embodiment of Darkness,” announced Akshay, proud in his approach. “Masura Bloodseed, the Shadow.”

***

Escanor watched the battle unfold from a distance, ending in the erasure of his army from the plane of existence. He breathed a huge sigh of relief, thankful to have avoided the radius of Obliterate — the very magic that lent to the Godvildian victory. But despite the expectation of defeat, the loss bothered him.

“This isn’t going to be easy,” thought Escanor. “Masura Bloodseed’s combat-class exceeds what was reported. And Akshay Bahrain is nothing short of his legend. They haven’t softened.”

The Noxun Lord lowered his head, burrowing deeper into thought. He took solace in knowing that his experiment had at least resulted in the death of General Aayush Khanna, a name even feared amongst the Relictan Lords. But then stood the matter of the boy, a strange existence on the battlefield — a singularity, unpredictably powerful.

“I can’t seem to recall such a description in the reports delivered,” thought Escanor, tilting his head to one side. “And he appears to be capable enough to use Celeri Rosio, but that shouldn’t be possible.”

Escanor swiped his palm against the air in front of him, much like his summoning of the dragon. A door appeared — crafted by magic, vacant, and endlessly dark. He casually strolled in, the door creaking to a shut behind him.

***

Akshay Bahrain rested his shoulders, free from the stress of battle. He stood at the gates of Suntaria, a powerful kingdom known for its size and military might. The kingdom stood along a river with fertile lands and houses protected by trained knights outside its walls.

To Lord Bahrain, everything in Suntaria ranked as magnificent — from its glorious, precise architecture, to its economic policies, to the people, and even its air — fresh from being surrounded by plains and thick forests. As was customary, the patrol at the gates sounded the horn to announce the arrival of Akshay Bahrain, the kingdom’s beloved son.

Children raced to the caravans, eager to greet the victors. It was something Akshay embraced with unconditional warmth — fanning the flames of ambition that carried in the eyes of his people. Contrastingly, Masura spent much of his time inside the caravan beside an unconscious Gale, choosing to avoid public interaction.

On their way, Akshay affirmingly nodded to the smiths at work around the open forges at the foot of Arce Caelesti, the King’s Castle located at the heart of Suntaria. It was a positive sight, smiths — some of whom were over a thousand years old — hard at work to earn the right to use the Arce Male, the Castle’s divine forge.

Masura and Akshay disembarked with the latter’s soldiers carrying Gale to meet a familiar face. Few understood the significance of their meeting, something that had last occurred over three hundred years ago.

“Well met, Masura,” said Aaron Heart, smiling as he did. “I see you haven’t changed in appearance.”

“I am of the same opinion,” said Akshay. “Then again, none of us really did change since we last met.”

“How is it that you two always manage to irritate me?” asked Masura, scratching the back of his head in annoyance. “I’ve told the both of you to not become too friendly with me; it’s why I left.”

“You don’t mean that,” said Akshay, laughing aloud. “But it really is good to have you back.”

“That’s right,” said Aaron. “You’ll have to explain to us properly over drinks; the reasoning behind your sudden departure. We don’t like that you left us out of it.”

Masura looked at the only two people to match him in rank in the World of Transition; it wasn’t just a position. They had grown together, fought together, and failed together. It was through that journey that they had each managed to awaken a unique magic within them, a power that transcended their other comrades in the Ehedus branch.

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“That’s right,” whispered Masura. “I did miss having your faces around.”

“What’s that?” asked Aaron, raising an eyebrow. “I couldn’t hear you.”

Masura raised his head, hiding a smile, as he said, “It’s good to be home.”

That’s right, to Lord Bloodseed, Aaron Heart and Akshay Bahrain were brothers forged by bonds of battle and time.

***

A few months past the battle at the Bridge of Souls, the Relictan Lords gathered at an unfamiliar place far from their lands. Strange creatures slithered to the music of tormented cries atop soil devoid of fortune and love. Lightning, coloured terrifyingly black, struck close to the trees with an odd sense of precision, rare in its desire to set them ablaze.

Most people thought of the forbidden land as a fortress, masking as a mysterious forest to keep outsiders at bay. There were those that ventured in, brave in spirit, but to never return. The chronicles from the Great War called the location Shadowmere, an existence that most fail to comprehend. But to the Lords that governed the Relictan race, the place held strategic meaning.

As far back as history could remember, Shadowmere represented a prison — one that held no more than a single prisoner. Caesar led the group, studying the iron gates that had rusted through the years.

“The magic keeping this place sealed makes Shadowmere a world of its own,” explained Caesar. “It allows entry, but not the option of exit; fairly complicated for just one person.”

“Isn’t that why we desire his freedom?” asked one of the other lords present at the scene. “This is essential for us to recover what was lost in the Bridge of Souls.”

“I didn’t think of it as a mistake given Escanor’s involvement,” said Caesar. “I apologize for not having heeded your council, Rahu.”

“As long as you understand, Lord Caesar.”

Caesar walked along the circumference of the forest, finding tall pillars marked with magic that resembled what barricaded Shadowmere from the outside world. They reached the gates once more, having counted four.

“You’re a lot like your sister, Rahu,” said Caesar. “Efficient, strong, resourceful even; but the two of you have a knack for getting on my nerves.”

Rahu bowed in silence, acknowledging that his remark may have offended, “My apologies, Lord Caesar.”

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“As long as you understand,” said Caesar, cold in his demeanour. “But that aside, I trust you know what comes next?”

“Four locations, heavily guarded; our goal is to break the seals around Shadowmere,” confirmed Rahu. “Don’t worry. We’ll be attending to it personally.”

“Let’s not fail then.”

“Understood,” the rest of the Lords said in unison.


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