Under the rule of Mallan Argonaut, not many feared the shadows of Themistokera. Hope consumed them instead, a light that brightened with optimism. But it was never perfect, not even during an era of peace and stability. Just as people gravitated towards the light, some migrated to the depths of darkness. And among them, one chose to disrupt normalcy within Themistokera.
It took two years for King Argonaut to agree to a meeting with the representatives of the great alliance between the Godvildian and Noxun Empires. Zane represented the Godvildian half of the coalition, while Ceraunus accompanied the former – a representative of his own people.
As the Godvildian Lord dressed in preparation of a meeting with the king, the shadows stirred. It navigated in harmony with Aeterna, camouflaged as a part of the darkness. Zane remained oblivious to the threat, even as it emerged – with soft steps and in silence. Its hands stretched for the neck but hesitated under threat of discovery.
Zane heard the sounds himself, chatter from the nobles of Themistokera, outside his room. In time, the curtain of silence settled into existence once more, and with it – the shadows. It reached for a dagger – sharp and enchanted – as the Godvildian Lord approached, lowered in guard and without thought of danger.
At the turn, the figure sprinted with haste, cloaked in invisibility. With the dagger in hand, it grabbed Zane without mercy, cold in its approach. And then, nothing happened.
“I’m thoroughly amused by the gesture, Inaya,” said Zane, unflinchingly. “Didn’t your king ask you to remain within Caradus Castle?”
“But I desired your company, Zane,” said Inaya, with a soft voice. “Are you not happy to see me?”
“I did not say that,” said Zane, turning to gaze into Inaya’s eyes. “I’ll always be happy to have you by my side, former princess.”
The Godvildian Lord pulled Inaya by the arm, holding her in a gentle embrace. He noticed the little things – the indecipherable smile, features that likened to a god, and a soul that shone of brilliance and strength. For a moment, Zane wondered what it meant, to hold a woman he considered a plateau above his own standing. In front of her, it didn’t matter – neither race nor reputation.
Inaya often noticed these thoughts; it urged her into the initiative just the same. She touched his cheeks and then slowly moved her hands to the back of his head. With a gentle tug, she spurred Zane to lower his head and meet her lips for a kiss.
“You should probably inform King Antiochus of your delay,” said Inaya, in a whisper. “An hour is all I ask for, for enduring the trip to Themistokera.”
“That’s a small request,” said Zane, with a smile. “I’ll inform the Noxun King of my delay, by two hours; for enduring the trip to Themistokera, and for infiltrating my quarters without notice.”
“What can I say; we make a good pair,” said Inaya. “And didn’t I mention something once, when we first met, about how there would come a time when titles between us would no longer matter?”
“For some strange reason, even back then, I believed you.”
Mallan Argonaut stared at the food in front of him, radiant with colour and perfectly aromatic. He felt a certain degree of pride at the sight, to have known the people behind each of the preparations. Across the table, he noticed Ceraunus Antiochus, the Noxun King, eager to put food into mouth.
“Do you want me to send someone once more?” asked Mallan. “I can see that you don’t want the food to stale.”
“It’s fine,” said Ceraunus, raising a hand in protest. “Lord Zane should be here soon.”
“Let’s wait then,” said Mallan. “But I’m not one for a quiet atmosphere. Would you like to talk about something else in the meantime?”
“Why the change of heart?” asked Ceraunus, pouring himself a glass of water. “When the alliance was first formed, two years ago, we sent message requesting discussion. At the time, you chose to turn us both down.”
“To be honest, I was inclined to say yes,” said Mallan, truthfully. “But I advised myself against it. You see, I’m a cautious man. In a way, I wanted to understand the state of your desperation before I agreed to anything. Now I know.”
“Having Lord Zane on our side certainly does help with trust, does it not?”
“That it does,” agreed Mallan. “I must admit, however, that it’s rather surprising for the man to have not arrived by now.”
Moments further into the discussion, an attendant arrived at the table, bringing with him the second guest. Ceraunus noticed his friend radiate a strange aura of happiness; he paused thought, and then frowned, having realized the reason behind the Godvildian Lord’s delay. King Antiochus cleared his throat and hurriedly asked for Zane to lean to his side.
“Please don’t tell me that it was because of Lady Inaya,” whispered Ceraunus. “She was supposed to remain in Caradus Castle for the sake of governance.”
“She’s on her way back,” said Zane, softly. “I’m sorry about not making it on time. Did I miss anything of significance?”
“Nothing of any importance,” assured Ceraunus. “But Lord Zane, I’m deeply disappointed. As happy as I am to know of your relationship with Lady Inaya, I request that you not overlook other matters of importance.”
“I never did imagine you scolding me,” said Zane, stifling a laugh. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“You’ve changed a lot since our first interaction,” said Ceraunus, resting the matter of his comrade’s delay. “I’m happy; you’ve begun to appreciate our people more as well.”
With a smile, Zane turned to address the King among High Humans, apologizing for his impunctuality right after. The three men lunched, engaging in idle conversation; but as the feast ended, Ceraunus ensured redirection to the reason behind their meeting – the end of Mioverold.
“Do you believe this, Lord Zane?” asked Mallan, after having heard the Noxun King’s prediction of the future.
“I’ve seen it myself, I’m afraid,” said Zane, wearing a grim expression on his face. “It was a window into the future, through the eyes of the world’s creator.”
“Is there any way I could see it?” said Mallan, curiously.
“That’s simply not possible, King Argonaut; I apologize for that,” said Ceraunus. “As harsh as this might sound, Seraphina only functions upon contact with an inheritor of the world. Lord Zane is cloaked in the divinity of Ehedus, and Baha appears to favour me just the same.”
“It always boils down to our blood,” said Mallan, shrugging as he did. “Well, not that it matters. Us, High Humans, are the best there is when it comes to production or manufacture. I’ll disregard your worldly weapon’s insult, King Ceraunus.”
“But what of your position, King Argonaut?” asked Ceraunus. “I’m eager to understand if you’d join us in combating this problem.”
Mallan pondered over the words of the Noxun King; he rested his hands on the table in front of him, without expression, and later scratched his chin. After brief thought, he responded, “Let us assume that the threat is real; I’m more inclined to believe it given the Godvildian Lord’s reputation anyway. But how do we combat this; is there a plan, or at least at least a semblance of it?”
“We do have a plan in place, yes,” said Ceraunus, with a firm nod. “Our primary concern is the vitality of our people, and the constant need for war to stabilize Mioverold.”
Mallan gestured for his Noxun counterpart to continue.
“But it is possible to change the laws of this world, from a place called the Altar of Seraphina; if we mirror Earth and its laws, for example, the world should somehow repair itself,” explained Ceraunus. “The problem is in accessing the altar.”
“Is it even of this world?” asked Mallan.
“It’s beyond the Domain of the Gods, in a place higher than where Ehedus and Baha resides,” said Ceraunus. “The only way to access it, however, is through the Mimicry of Gods – great magic that far supersedes the tenth-tier even.”
Mallan raised an eyebrow, puzzled by what was mentioned. He turned to Zane with the same expression but refocused to the narration after some reassurance from the latter.
“The magic will allow for a person to replicate the aura of a god, granting him enough power to access the altar and change our worldly laws,” said Ceraunus. “According to Seraphina, it’s the only way.”
“How is it that I’ve never heard of this?” said Mallan. “Also, there’s this other thing that’s been bothering me for a while now; why exactly do you need Lord Zane and me? You’re more knowledgeable than the both of us, at least with the predicament at hand. Given the urgency, it would have been perfectly natural for you to have acted on your own.”
“Three worldly inheritors, their vitality, that is what I desire,” revealed Ceraunus. “The magic is more of a method to refine our different aeter proportions into something more singular. And upon consumption of the finished product, it will become possible for one of us to wield the powers of a god, albeit for a short period of time.”
“But we don’t have three worldly inheritors,” reminded Mallan. “You had mentioned it yourself.”
“This is true, which is what makes this magic impossible to perform,” said Ceraunus, smiling as he did. “Through the course of history, there’s never been a moment with more than two inheritors of the world. But the magic specifies vitality, and you – King Argonaut, you stand a warrior just as strong as us, an equal. That’s why we need you.”
“I’ve verified this as the truth, King Argonaut,” said Zane, encouragingly. “Will you stand with us?”
Mallan raised an arm, requesting silence. He weighed his duty as king into his considerations, and the repercussions involved regardless of the decision made. With some clarity after thought, he said, “I have two questions; answer them to my satisfaction, and I shall agree to your alliance.”
The two visitors gulped, but nodded, urging for the ruler of Themistokera to continue.
“If the magic refines our vitalities, what happens to us after the world resets?” asked Mallan.
“We will lose our abilities to manipulate aeter, all of us,” said Ceraunus. “The Mimicry of Gods is forbidden, a sin. But that is a sacrifice that Lord Zane and I are willing to make.”
“The second question, then,” said Mallan, almost immediately. “Who wears the godly aura once refined, and how do we ensure that this person doesn’t manipulate the world to his benefit?”
“It’s a matter that requires serious consideration; I wanted your opinion on the matter as well, King Argonaut,” said Ceraunus, addressing the first part of Mallan’s question. “As for your other concern, well, it’s a leap of faith.”