It was tiresome; maybe even exhausting. There was a light, but it didn’t illuminate. There existed shapes, but almost nonsensical in structure. And then there were sounds, deafeningly silent. It resembled a realm that defied normalcy, or more accurately, a place unnaturally natural.
Strange in its origin, words appeared, shimmering in the darkness with a message of importance. It wasn’t a language Gale was familiar with, and yet, something he fully understood. A figure — almost translucent — approached the boy, faintly touching no more than his chest. It burned, intensely so, leaving the mark of blackened skin.
“A divine blessing, did I read that right?” thought Gale. “Goddess of the Black Night…”
The boy opened his eyes with some difficulty, his limbs frozen still. With his vision adjusting, Gale noticed the little things — furniture of fine make, masterfully crafted silver bowls, and wall paintings stroked with immense passion. As sensation slowly returned, he felt the bed that nestled his body, exquisitely soft and comforting.
Given Gale’s experience in the World of Transition, luxury was far from a commodity he had expected in abundance. And yet here he was, in a room that defined the very word. His head ached with patchy memories of a war that the Godvildian had almost lost.
“Did we win?” wondered Gale. “Then again, this room doesn’t exactly remind me of a prison cell.”
Gale slowly moved out of bed, groggy from his sleep. But something continued to hinder; it wasn’t weakness. His body felt out of place, new and almost overwhelmed. He looked at his hands, confused, and then startled. His eyes drifted to the only mirror in the room, long enough to grant him full view. He had changed.
The boy was taller, if only slightly, and more muscular than when he had first arrived in the World of Transition. He felt heavier, but not in a way that limited movement. But despite every change, none seemed to bother him more than the complexion of his skin, now as dark as coal, and also his eyes — a deep amber colour, blessed with somewhat of a coppery tint. He pulled his cheeks and sighed, realizing that the alteration was more natural than external.
“It’s just one surprise after another with this world,” thought Gale. “And then there’s this odd feeling that I can’t seem to shake off.”
With time, Gale found his body surpass the limitations of his past. Power surged through his veins, increasing by the second and almost infinitely so. But the rush was short-lived, dying away as the door opened behind him.
“You’re awake then,” said a familiar face. “The Hero of the Bridge.”
“Hero of the Bridge?” repeated Gale. “I don’t recall anything of the sort, Ser Zane.”
“You needn’t address a blacksmith so formally, child,” said Zane. “And Akshay is yet to stop singing of your exploits at the Bridge of Souls.”
It came back to Gale, an instant in time from when he held complete control of Aeterna. He could still feel remnants of the soul-fires from inside his body, some etched into permanence within his soul. The boy now stood in the spotlight, a song for the bards, just as Bane had called it — a declaration.
“Well, I suppose coming out alive from that situation does call for merriness,” acknowledged Gale. “Speaking of which, where am I?”
“This is Arce Caelesti, the King’s Castle of Suntaria, the strongest of the Godvildian kingdoms in this world,” said Zane in proud announcement. “And you have a lot of catching up to do, considering your two-week slumber.”
“Two weeks?” asked Gale, a little surprised. “This isn’t particularly comforting to hear.”
As an appraiser, Zane had sensed the change within the boy with greater clarity. In a world subject to infinite time, Gale projected what could only be described as urgency. It was growth beyond comprehension, a rarity amidst rarities — rushed and uncontrolled.
“I’m sure you have questions that need answering,” said Zane with a smile. “I promise to answer them all this time, given that I have the knowledge myself, of course.”
“How about my appearance then?” said Gale, taking a seat. “I can tell that this is more than just a little tan.”
“Very well,” said Zane with a nod. “In simpler terms, your change is a consequence of your existence in this world. But more precisely, the answer lies in a concept known as shared governance. Would you have happened to hear about this by any chance?”
Gale shook his head, perplexed in his expression.
“The realm you call Earth, and our world are but two within innumerability,” explained Zane. “They’re all part of an intricate web, and some worlds through the course of time, form a unique bond.”
“That would explain your desire to use our world for soldiers then,” said Gale, absent any thought of resentment. “But what does that have to do with governance?”
“The bond goes beyond merely traversing between worlds,” said Zane. “Your gods can freely grant protection or bless divinity onto our people, just as our gods can in your world. We learn from each other; our students learn some of your mythology and history in addition to our own even, but that isn’t limited to us denizens.”
“You say that the gods learn from each other as well?” guessed Gale.
“That is correct,” said Zane. “Ehedus and Baha don’t merely bless us with powers; they also bestow knowledge. It’s helped us in the past, looking at how your former world dealt with something similar.”
“And yet, it seems that we progressed in an entirely different manner,” said Gale. “It’s easy to claim the Earth to be more technologically advanced, for example.”
“Technology is a subjective word,” said Zane with a smile. “We discovered magic, and your former people uncovered what you seem to call science. Our interaction seems to have reduced ever since, but we still try to study from your former world’s progress.”
“But how does all this relate to my appearance?”
“When you meet certain conditions in this world, it is possible for you to gain favour with one of the gods from your former world — shared governance,” said Zane. “Now how the blessing itself manifests varies between gods. In your case, I’m unfamiliar with it altogether, unfortunately. But it’s easy enough to uncover through exploration.”
Gale looked at his palms a second time, puzzled still. Through the conversation, it appeared as if his body had adjusted to its newer conditions. The power, it was real. For all the strength he once felt, it paled in comparison to what he now wielded. He yearned to understand it fully.
“I hadn’t mentioned this before because there was no point,” said Zane, drawing the boy’s attention once more. “But with your tremendous growth, you should have received a blessing called the Eyes of Ehedus. Close your eyes and focus; it should work by itself now.”
Gale did as was asked without question, shutting his eyes in deep concentration. If anything, his thirst for knowledge was far from satiated. But it was more than that. The boy had noticed it during his stance in the Bridge of Souls, a maddening desire for power. At the same time, it didn’t feel entirely unattainable, almost as if all he had needed was for it to unlock from within him.
In his focus, a familiar effect tingled his mind. Words appeared in the darkness, more clearly than it had before.
Race: High Human
Blessing: Divinity from the Goddess of the Black Night
Description: Your ancestry has earned you favour from Kalika, a powerful goddess of the Hindu pantheon. Celestial conditions met with the Elder Undead sacrifice.
1. Black Night’s Skin
Blessing from the Divine Goddess Kalika has turned your skin black. Physical abilities are enhanced. Swordplay is enhanced. Effects will improve through growth.
2. Amber Eyes
The Divine Goddess Kalika has blessed you with her vision. You are now able to sense enemies and allies from a distance. Effects will improve through growth.
3. Resistance to Fire Elemental Magic
4. Resistance to Earth Elemental Magic
5. Black Tongue of the Wicked — ???
Blessing: Wielder’s Body
1. Formless Swordplay
Your former life as a gymnast enables free-flowing swordplay that requires no stance. Effects will improve through growth.
2. Heart of Tranquility
Ehedus was requested to help you observe the world from neutrality. You now possess the ability to remain calm despite your emotions. Immunity from Illusion Magic and Mind Manipulation Magic.
3. Body of Tranquility
Ehedus was requested to bless you with a body that feels no pain despite damage taken. Immune to Paralysis.
1. Celeri Rosio
High Humans are a race of master smiths, who perfected the art of absolute destruction. This magic is designed to corrode both organic and inorganic materials rapidly. A powerful Tier-10 magic, Celeri Rosio drains Aeter based on size and scale of use. It was invented by High King Castor Argonaut.
2. Eyes of Ehedus
Ability to view the Ethereal Guidebook.
“What is this?” asked Gale, snapping back to reality. “This is a guide; it’s like a game from our world. Am I supposed to believe this?”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” said Zane, stroking his beard. “This is how our world has always been. As I had formerly mentioned, Ehedus blesses us through worship, and the guide serves to help us adapt to our growing magic and skills.”
“But some of it doesn’t make any sense,” said Gale, regaining his composure. “There are undescribed abilities, and something about me being a High Human?”
“Are you sure?” asked Zane, his curiosity piqued. “A High Human?”
“We suspected as much,” said Zane. “I noticed it first with Noah Oblique, and Akshay’s account of your battle against the Elder Undead confirmed it all the more. It’s no wonder Bane chose you as its master; the sword itself was forged by a High Human, after all.”
“You’re explaining very little again,” said Gale, scratching his head. “And I would appreciate it if you didn’t ask me to go on some annoying quest to seek some answers.”
Zane laughed aloud at the comment, “As promised, I’ll explain as much as I know,” he said. “Wielders aren’t normally able to use more than enhancement-type magic or alchemy to complement their weapon-based skills, and yet, you hold in your possession a tenth-tier spell, powerful magic.”
“I happened to notice.”
“High Humans were a race of excellent smiths, unparalleled in that area of expertise,” continued Zane. “But Ehedus granted them no such favour with elemental control; in time, they started manipulating the aeter within their body to invent their own magic, the kind that did not require a god’s blessing — an innate ability. It made them a fearsome race, and an influential presence in the World of Transition.”
“Well, this is positively awkward then,” said Gale, slumping his shoulders in exhaustion. “Will you be shipping me off to their kingdom then?”
Just as the boy finished, however, he caught what seemed to be a faint glimpse of sadness in the blacksmith’s face. Zane appeared lost in thought, in remembrance of a time described in the books of old, a time that celebrated great and powerful kings. But more importantly, of a time from when this world held onto its former name.
“You needn’t worry about that,” said Zane softly. “The High Humans are an extinct race.”