Chapter 25: Whispers of Movement

Day Two of Four

It was rare for the winds to play a different music, not many noticed. Those of a lesser fate continued their march into the progress of time, unaware of what had occurred. But Gale understood it, within reach of the borders of the Kingdom of Suntaria. The aeter, it had changed; and before him, stood the embodiment of that change. He didn’t particularly understand it, but there was hostility involved.

Gale unsheathed his sword in response to the bloodlust, against a warrior of the night. It formed in front of him, bones and flesh, clad in armour and with a magnificent blade in hand. A ghastly aura followed, dark and without compassion. It screeched, violently, and then charged – masterful in its form and balance.

In the moments that followed, an old memory surfaced from the depths of the boy’s mind. Gale remembered the aura and the bloodlust, not unlike what he faced at the Bridge of Souls. On instinct, he met the blade with his own, but buckled from the weight of the former. He stepped aside and frowned, having confirmed what it was that stood before him – an Elder Undead.

With a whisper, Gale manipulated his combat potential into a higher plateau. He attempted battle with the undead warrior once more, but failed in his efforts to make an impact. Another step forward, and the boy moved faster still, swerving to his adversary’s rear. He slashed away at the latter’s neck, but met with resistance instead – a powerful magic that hindered the progress of his attack.

What was it?” thought Gale, curiously. “Immune to any attack beneath the eighth-tier, I believe; how troublesome.”

The boy retreated to a safe distance and lowered the value of aeter impacting his body. He sheathed his blade, in time to watch the Elder Undead sprint on offense. With an arm raised, Gale channelled a significant portion of his aeter into sequence; he accessed the formula from his memories and unleashed it in one, fluid motion.

Activate Sequence: Corrosion,” whispered Gale, under his breath.

A wave of energy spread through the path as dictated by the sequence. The Elder Undead felt its feet weaken, and his speed suffer as a consequence. His legs crumbled, disintegrating a little with every step. In time, the warrior of the night could manage no more than a crawl. And then the winds changed direction, blowing past both Gale and the Elder Undead. Without emotion, the boy watched the latter fade into nothingness, carried by the embrace of a gentle breeze.

I won’t be able to handle another one,” thought Gale, having evaluated the condition of his body. “As convenient as it is, this magic isn’t the most sustainable form of combat; I need to reach Suntaria and report this sighting.

Gale returned to the path of his journey and began march toward the Godvildian kingdom with haste. His steps quickened with time, but slowed at the sound of wheels. It was a carriage, horse-drawn and of the Godvildian empire. After a brief conversation, the driver agreed to help the boy reach the Kingdom of Suntaria.

There’s no doubt about it; something has changed,” thought Gale, with a grim expression on his face. “I just can’t seem to put my finger on it.

***

A messenger stood in front of a large door within the hallowed walls of Arce Caelesti. Bound by the echoes of curiosity, she touched the cold wood, enchanted to defend against the strongest of spells. With a deep breath, she pressed against the door, releasing aeter to inform those inside of her presence. There was no response.

In her wait, she turned to observe a lonely corridor. Her eyes moved to inspect everything on display; there was armour from a forgotten time, weapons that had retired from combat, and stories of old victories. She smiled, proud of her Godvildian heritage, and turned to face the door once more. After another knock, it stirred, dissipating to allow passage. She knelt and later raised an arm, holding a message meant for those inside.

“I have news from Basaraa Village,” the messenger announced. “Would you like me to read it out loud?”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Akshay Bahrain. “Thank you for your time.”

Lord Bahrain broke seal and glanced through the message presented. He then handed the parchment to one of three comrades present.

“You were right, Masura,” acknowledged Akshay, wearing a smile on his face. “The child is golden; it’s good to know, given present state of affairs.”

“To be honest, I’m eager to hear of his experience with the Hearth King,” said Masura, once finished with the message. “We will also need to expedite his growth.”

“This is good news,” added Aaron. “But we must assess his fitness towards leadership. How about letting him take command of a unit of Suntarian Guardians?”

Amidst conversation, another stood in silence. He allowed for the exchange to continue, grow, and dull, raising an arm right after. The Three Godvildian Pillars snapped into attention, resting their voices to enable the man’s opportunity for speech.

“Is it acceptable for me to evaluate the boy’s path?” asked Zane. “Gale will have to make a choice, yes, but I intend to reveal all there is to know beforehand. Let us not push the child into a hasty decision.”

After consideration, the Three Pillars of Suntaria nodded – all in agreement of what the old blacksmith had proposed.

“Perfect,” said Zane. “How about we return to our previous discussion then?”

“Yes,” said Akshay. “My scouts from Arce Umbra have sent message of an army at Shadowmere, an army of the Elder Undead. I’m not sure how he managed it, but the situation is dire. Barring the four of us, I don’t see anyone else with a chance against the Elders. And the prisoner inside, well, I don’t see us coming out of this unscathed.”

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“What of Raskas and Minerva?” asked Zane. “Is it true that both cities stand under immediate threat of an invasion?”

“The army spurred into existence, seemingly out of thin air,” informed Akshay. “They appear to be Relictan; quite frankly, I do not know how they managed that.”

“What’s important is how we proceed,” interjected Aaron. Turning toward Zane, he added, “I suppose you would want to take lead at Shadowmere?”

“As tempted as I am, that is a call for our strategist to make,” acknowledged Zane. “I will move as you command me to, Lord Bahrain.”

As silence resumed, Akshay rested his back and looked over a map of the Godvildian region. He identified Shadowmere as a priority, but also considered the complications involved with forsaking either Raskas or Minerva. There was a lot at stake. The Godvildian Lord scratched his chin, puzzled at first, and then calm right after. He moved the stone-made pieces atop the table to different positions on the map, hesitant still.

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“This is going to sound a little harsh,” warned Akshay. “Raskas is under threat from an army twenty-thousand strong; as far as I remember, the city itself is defended by about a thousand soldiers. I recommend moving precisely four thousand soldiers from Suntaria to defend the city. Given our quality, I see the odds tilt to a balance, or not. I can’t tell.”

Akshay paused for a moment, plagued with indecision. He reconsidered what was conveyed, but refused to alter decision.

“Minerva faces pressure in the form of ten thousand soldiers; Lord Heart will add to the city’s defences and army – five-hundred strong. I recommend three thousand soldiers for the effort,” said Akshay, slowly. “What ranks as most important, however, is our effort at Shadowmere. For that purpose, I intend for Lord Bloodseed and Ser Zane to lead an army – thirty-thousand strong – against the Elder Undead. This leaves us with roughly twenty-thousand soldiers; they will remain here under my command, to defend our kingdom.”

“This appears to be more manageable than I had anticipated,” said Masura. “But what of Raskas; are you sending an army there for the sake of optics? Those numbers, they are far from favourable without a commander, quality or not.”

Akshay guided his mind to a recent memory, recalling a gamble of old. He wondered if Lady Fortune would court him once more, offering chance at another miracle. With a sigh, he dismissed all doubt.

“There will be a commander at Raskas,” said Akshay, unflinchingly. “It is up to Ser Zane to get him ready for the task.”

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