Chapter 20: Four Days

It was a door unlike any other, with scriptures just as unique – etched with smooth, flawless perfection. Aeter oozed from the almost non-existent edges, holding onto odd shades of a golden-brown color. Ulric couldn’t believe it, nor could he understand the magic it powered. He felt an unnerving pressure emanate from the door as well, resentful of the Relictan presence.

At a distance from the door, Ulric broke the vial from Argleton. It pulled him into a world of memories, of their painfully torturous demise – a quick flash. He redirected the aeter to merge onto what guarded the door. In time, the color altered, turning into something familiar and controllable. Ulric watched the pressure soften, drowning into a lull – weakened and calm.

The door shone through its scriptures, slipped, and then slid into what appeared to be a compartment on the floor. It granted Ulric passage into Gravestone Castle, the darkness and dust of an unexplored region. With his first step inside, the castle sent him a guide – a light that hovered with purpose. He followed it into a spacious room, walking past several sculptures, with a stone-cut table at the center.

A circular table, Ulric found that it could be turned to match the drawings on the floor. Each turn led to a stronger aeter leakage, spurring dormant magic to life. Ulric studied the flow, the complexity, and the opportunity for improvisation. With the core of the formula in place, he sought to rewrite the traditional code and change the magic with it.

Deep in thought, the Relictan paused upon sensing an odd aeter-field. It wasn’t from something inanimate; almost overpoweringly alive, perhaps. He sighed, and then returned to work. Eventually, Ulric heard armor against the stone-made floors – authoritative in its steps. He turned to face a familiar, handsome face. Should he have been relieved for it to have not been Masura? Ulric frowned; it didn’t matter.

“We can’t stand against you or your armies, at least not in direct combat,” admitted Ulric. “But there is a way around that. You might have guessed it already.”

“I don’t think you fully understand what it means to reallow him passage into this world,” said Aaron. “Even Zane couldn’t subdue him. And besides, what makes you think he will listen to you anyway?”

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“The Noxun Grandmasters, they’ve revealed to us the flaw in this World of Transition,” said Ulric. “You’ve tried to keep it a secret, and that jeopardizes all of us. Why, why do you refuse to even look out for your own people?”

“It’s interesting that you know,” said Aaron. “But panic breeds hasty decision-making, and they don’t often conclude with the best results. Take yourself as an example.”

“We don’t need to control him,” revealed Ulric. “All we seek is the idea of freedom, to not fear demise come tomorrow.”

Aaron responded with silence, tired in his expression. With clenched fists, his aeter-clad body radiated an aura that could’ve rivaled the brightest of stars. It grew, fierce and lifelike in its appearance – an aggressive yellow that scorched the stone. Ulric felt the heat and later witnessed the sculptures melt, crumbling against the might of a Godvildian Pillar. His robes caught fire, urging him to retreat to a safe distance. But the heat lingered, confined to room within Gravestone Castle.

Ulric returned to work his alteration of the formula, hasty and with an earnest desire towards completion. It was close.

And then it occurred, a distraction. Aaron appeared to tear away at the space in front of him, summoning the existence of a giant shield – ornate and ancient, imbued with magic from the earthen realm of gods. From behind it, Aaron unsheathed a sword and then equipped the shield. He slammed it against the stone-made floors, powering the hot, red crystal at its center.

Circulus Magia: Cultivate Parasite,” bellowed Ulric. “I promise to entertain, Lord Heart!”

The heat continued to magnify, and Aaron stood an embodiment of the Sun God’s wrath. He stomped his authority to subjugate any form of magic strange to his own, intensifying the heat of his aura through the process. With Ulric’s spell wasting away without effect, the Relictan Lord felt Aaron’s mere presence sear through his aeter-held defenses. But in retaliation, Ulric redirected focus toward Gravestone Castle, manipulating its formulae to his own benefit.

Axes that decorated the wall tore from years of rest to hover to Ulric’s side, their blades eager to cut into Godvildian flesh. For a moment, the Relictan smiled, proud of having gained access to Gravestone’s magic. He looked over to the table that he had worked upon briefly, and sighed, hoping that the maneuver would allow him enough time to aim for completion. It was a gamble.

With the swing of his arms, Ulric commanded the blades into a bold offensive initiative. They attacked from every angle conceivable but recoiled against the aura emanating from Aaron’s shield. The Godvildian Pillar clanked blade against shield, and then more rapidly. He swung his sword from a distance, releasing enough aeter to melt away the axes as well.

“When will those who stand against us understand it?” said Aaron, unfeelingly. “We exist to protect the World of Transition, not destroy it. You’ve doomed your race rather than ensure survival by not honoring the treaty in place.”

“It’s why we need him,” said Ulric, passionately. “We need you to understand that the flaws of this world are not simple enough for the Pillars to fix. Time, it’s no longer as luxurious a commodity as it once was.”

Aspect of Light: Incinerate,” whispered Aaron.

From underneath Ulric’s feet, a flame spiraled into existence, engulfing the entirety of his body in a pillar of fire. It was unlike anything the Relictan had ever experienced. His eyes dried first, and then the suffocation followed. Hotter, and then more, Ulric felt every breath scorch his nostrils, setting his lungs ablaze. It was slow, and purposefully so. Aaron preserved the Relictan Lord’s sanity through the pain, hoping that the process would allow opportunity for more information.

In time, the Godvildian halted; and at merely minutes from death’s door, Ulric was released from his suffering. Aaron extinguished the heat that had threatened Gravestone’s existence, even. He walked over to the Relictan – on the floor and beside the stone-cut table that had persevered through the former’s magic.

“Do we have people on all the locations, Lord Bahrain?” asked Aaron, telepathically. “This is going to be rather problematic.”

“Masura attended to Veilantiff as discussed,” said Akshay. “But the other locations had little to no activity; it’s odd, to say the least.”

“Maybe it was never their intention to reach all four locations,” said Aaron, slowly. “We followed the highest ranks, and then…split.”

“As I had mentioned previously,” interjected Ulric, using the last of his strength for words. “We can’t muster the strength to battle your kind, but there are alternatives. There’s always cunning, and that is something we do not lack in.”

“Gravestone Castle holds the primary seal, Aaron,” said Akshay, a hint of panic in his voice. “Ulric is correct. A four-way invasion was never required; they simply needed to rework the formula within the castle.”

Aaron turned toward the table and assessed the magic in motion. His eyes traced the aeter and its effect, thriving through a sequence far beyond his understanding. He hastily grabbed and slammed what was left of Ulric against the table; there was frustration, and the Relictan mustered a chuckle at the sight.

“I implore that you halt the progress of whatever it is you have done here,” said Aaron. “You will not be able to control what will arrive. We have seen what he is capable of; you have not.”

“It is a calculated risk,” said Ulric. “And besides, I do not see much benefit in listening to what you have to say.”

“How much time do we have?” asked Aaron. “Answer me and I will make your passing as comfortable as I possibly can.”

“I do not seek any pity for the choices I have made,” said Ulric, smiling as he did. “But to not see you panic, it would be such a waste. To answer your question, I predict four days. That’s all I could manage given my knowledge.”

Aaron managed to hold onto his calm. He raised his sword and then struck the Relictan Lord in his face, eyes as dark and unfeeling as that of an endless abyss. Blood spattered onto his armor, but he refused to stop, incessant with his attacks post death even. It became fiercer still, disgruntled, and then angry. When the sword struck severely into Gravestone’s near-impregnable floors, Aaron stopped. He sighed, chest heavy and overwhelmed with agitation.

“Return to Suntaria, Lord Heart,” said Akshay, having witnessed his comrade’s outburst. “Lord Bloodseed is expected to arrive shortly as well.”

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“Very well.”

***

Baasara Cave, an existence hidden within the depths of the forest – an area unchartered by even the most competent of expeditioners. It had become a stronghold with the rise of the Hearth King, an area of magic and mystery. Some of the goblins marched as foot soldiers, several rode boars, and then there were those that worked in the shadows.

Elementalists were caught and dragged to identify those with the aptitude for magic, forced into roles of being mentors for those that feasted upon their kind. He was different, this Hearth King. In time, the cave stood guarded by an army fierce enough to threaten some of the larger cities, even. But it was not enough. The Hearth King wanted more – a reign led by an iron fist soaked in blood, something absolute and unquestionable.

Unfortunately, anomalies did exist, amidst the group of women that the goblins had kidnapped to satiate their lust and avarice. He entered and slaughtered without mercy, leaving hundreds of corpses in his wake and in silence. Whispers began, for the murder began at night, falling into peace come sunrise. They called him a curse, the kind that arrived with a gentle hum of the musical kind. He desired urgent audience with the king, after all.

It was a night of the full moon, when goblin blacksmiths had gathered to work on weapons and shields alike. They heard the hum, and their eyes trailed to the darkness. Something emerged, almost as if flung, rolling to a halt. They recognized it to be the head of one of their comrades, torn from its body and bloodied. With a shudder, their attention returned to what grew louder with each passing second.

“Blackness, blackness…” whispered the goblins, crippled with fear. “He is here.

Covered in blood, the visitor waved, smiling as he did. He was close to the center, close to where the Hearth King resided.

“Would you be so kind as to guide me to your king?” asked Gale, polite in his request. “I seek to take his head.”


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