Chapter 26: An Empty Throne

Ehedus and Baha, the two gods within the World of Transition, allowed for its denizens to acquire abilities most suited to their predetermined traits. Some emerged with a body meant for combat, and others for what many called utility or support. A few among them could participate in war, to a certain degree at least, while others helped from a distance. Morrigan Fae fell into the latter.

An appraiser of the ninth-tier, Morrigan gaped at what was presented by a Suntarian guard. She scratched the back of her head and later reached for a peculiar pouch, which seemed emanate a strange form of aeter. It resembled something from her past but remained veiled with an odd sense of unfamiliarity. Her fingers slipped through to extract what appeared to be bone and ash; that’s all there was to it.

Now atop the table, Morrigan whispered to summon the unknown, characteristics that might have evaded the common eye. It surprised her, even after a second evaluation. With a sigh, she returned to her seat and made an entry of what was uncovered.

“Where did you come upon this?” asked Morrigan, addressing her messenger.

“I was given this as proof to a certain message,” informed the guard. “But we needed confirmation to take action; the guards aren’t meant to move through the words of a commoner.”

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“That’s interesting to hear,” said Morrigan. “Could you perhaps be so kind as to describe this commoner?”

“He appeared to be a mercenary, same as any other in our world,” said the guard. “There was also mention of an agreement with the Three Pillars, not that we took it seriously.”

“That’s not what I had asked,” said Morrigan, with a frown. “Describe your apparent commoner.”

The guard shuddered but maintained his calm to continue conversation. With a gulp, he said, “He was a little different – skin as black as a moonless night, and eyes of an amber colour.”

“And why did you let him pass through the gates?”

“He offered a Letter of Quest Completion from the Elder of Basaraa Village,” said the guard. “It was enough to authorize passage; after all, completers are supposed to report the outcome of any quest posted through the kingdom.”

“I suppose the guards aren’t as incompetent as I had assumed them to be,” remarked Morrigan, with a scoff. “If you must know, the bones do belong to that of an Elder Undead. Move your soldiers as is necessary.”

With a nervous bow, the Suntarian guard moved the bones into the embrace of its pouch. He strode towards the door, but paused, overcome with curiosity. The guard turned, unsure of his decision to venture further into conversation with the appraiser.

“You are free to ask what’s on your mind,” mentioned Morrigan, noticing the guard’s indecision. “An answer, isn’t that what you desire?”

“My apologies,” said the guard, with a low bow. “I simply wish to understand the reason behind your comment; you would not have made it for any ordinary person.”

“I’m not sure if you’ve received message about it yet,” said Morrigan, with a smile. “The Three Pillars, they call him a Half-Lord – an empty title indicative of future combat potential.”

“And what could that be?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Morrigan. “But if I had to make a remark, I would add that the boy is nowhere near ordinary.”

***

Gale offered nothing more than a vacant stare at what appeared to be an empty throne; it floated a little, aeter-held and made of stone. Behind it, rested a weapon – a halberd – maintained for combat and of excellent quality. It emanated an odd form of aeter, something from beyond the World of Transition, and with enough power to infiltrate the boy’s mind.

For a moment, Gale felt his body surrender to what remained locked within the halberd. It tugged at the soul, actively at first, but then retreated – chased away by the boy’s mind of tranquillity. Gale shook his head, overcome with reminiscence; the effects reminded him of something familiar. But as he steered mind towards memory, the door opened, snapping his train of thought.

“Well met, Young Lord,” said a voice. “It’s been far too long since we last met.”

“Ser Zane,” said Gale, with a bow. “This is a surprise. I was expecting Lord Bloodseed.”

“A lot has changed since you first embarked on your quest,” revealed Zane. “If I have to put it simply, war is upon us – unlike any other.”

“I came prepared for such news,” said Gale. “This world, it seems to have changed over the last couple of months.”

Zane raised an eyebrow, puzzled by the boy’s response. He scratched his chin and took a short step forward, eager to understand the latter’s growth. With a whisper, the blacksmith summoned a spell from the depths of his memories, often used for the sake of assessment. He navigated towards the boy’s core, but identified, instead, a form of defence beyond the spell’s infiltrative capacity.

Strange; the boy is hiding something, unwittingly even,” thought Zane. Aloud he said, “You claim the world to have changed, how so?”

“I smell death, everywhere,” said Gale. “It’s foul. I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, my encounter against an Elder Undead on route to the Kingdom of Suntaria.”

“Yes,” said Zane, with a nod. “And I’m glad to find you unharmed from the same. We didn’t expect it, their existence away from Shadowmere.”

“Shadowmere?” asked Gale, curiously.

“I forget that you are still new to our world,” admitted Zane. “Let me explain from the start. Shadowmere is a prison, a region far beyond the control of any mortal within the World of Transition. In your time away, the seals that maintained its seclusion came apart – a manoeuvre guided by Relictan hands.”

“I suppose your concern is with what or who was inside,” guessed Gale. “It’s unlikely for Relictan forces to have stirred Godvildian tension to such a degree.”

“That’s a sharp observation,” praised Zane, smiling as he did. “Shadowmere is set to fade from its position as a prison tomorrow; in front of it stands an army of the Elder Undead, the largest I have ever seen, eager to begin march upon single command.”

“This isn’t a war, then,” said Gale, with a frown. “I’ve seen it firsthand, the power of an Elder Undead; and now you talk of an army?”

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“A severe problem, indeed, and there’s more – two large Relictan forces, spread apart to divide our forces and weaken assault at Shadowmere; fortunately, we do have a plan,” said Zane. “Lord Bahrain will remain here to defend our kingdom, while Aaron Heart marches to Minerva. Masura Bloodseed and I will head to handle the situation at Shadowmere.”

“And what of your omission – the other half of the Relictan army?”

“It’s headed to Raskas, a place of significant importance,” said Zane. He paused to erase doubt from mind, and added, “You’ll be in command of the forces we’ll be sending there, for the city’s defence.”

Gale considered the weight of what was said, an odd decision given the kingdom’s military strength. He maintained calm, and chose to respond with a question instead, “What of the other Army Generals?”

“You’ll be accompanied by one of them, someone under Lord Bahrain’s command,” informed Zane, with a smile. “We are aware of your lack of experience in commanding an army, but Akshay and Masura hold your combat potential in high regard. General Conatus is a smart leader and greatly respected among his peers, but his abilities on the field of battle pale in comparison to your own.”

“Is this perhaps another experiment of yours?” asked Gale, a grim expression on his face. “The stakes this time, they’re different.”

“Nonetheless, it is a future we wish for you,” said Zane. “But even before you make a decision, there is something I seek to reveal to you.”

“And what might that be?”

“The circumstances of this world, and the consequences of remaining allied to our cause; I do not desire your involvement through ignorance,” said Zane. With a sigh, he raised an arm and pointed to the empty throne behind the boy. “There’s also a story to be told, of a man who once ruled the entirety of the World of Transition, almost – King Ceraunus Antiochus.”


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