High Humans, a race once touted as weak – a race once neglected, before the madness of Castor Argonaut, their first, true king. They rose in prominence and influence, and fell just as quickly, at least in terms of how time flowed within Mioverold. But Mallan, Mallan Argonaut was different – a cursed king with limitless talent, a genius amongst the best of his predecessors even. The world acknowledged it, enough to stir upon slightest command.
With a deep breath, Mallan mustered the aeter within the core of his body and the environment around him. Aeterna answered with the guidance of her soul-fires, allowing them the freedom to assist with the High Human’s quest, while the nimbus gathered to veil the regions under Noxun command, wrathful at the crack of thunder, and sharp with its display of lightning.
Mallan Argonaut took a firm step forward, rattling the architectural foundations of Mel Ficarum. He threatened eradication, not unlike the fate Seraphina bestowed upon his people. His frame crackled with electricity, foreign in its existence within Mioverold – flickering between darker shades of blue, an aura of immense proportions.
“I would understand if you chose to return to the embrace of your king,” said Mallan, lowering his voice. “But that choice, it is for you to make now.”
“Do we stand a chance?” asked Inaya, nervously.
“Ceraunus hasn’t managed to integrate the two vastly different aeter sources inside of him, yet,” said Mallan. “This is as good a time as any for us to subdue him. But there is one other thing – his show of hand.”
“Show of hand?” repeated Inaya.
“When nations go to war, they often hide something strong enough to turn the tide of battle in their favour,” explained Mallan. “In certain cases, however, it helps to show capability – mind games to either cripple or boost morale. I have shown him the extent of my power volumetrically, and if I know your king well enough, he will respond in kind.”
Inaya gulped, and slowly turned to face the man she once adored as a brother almost – her king, now corrupt in his ideals toward Mioverold. She waited, patiently, until the winds changed. The flow of aeter inversed from Mallan’s control, returning to Mel Ficarum; it rose with the soul-fires despite refusal from Aeterna, changing colour to a dirty shade of green.
In whispers, the response followed, and in waves of energy, Mel Ficarum shivered. Mallan and Inaya felt the flow rush against their bodies, overpoweringly dense and fierce in its effect. At the time, the High Human understood fully the magnitude of the threat in front of him – a monster, unlike any he had seen through the course of his time in Mioverold.
“What will it be, Lady Inaya?” said Mallan. “You are yet to align to a side.”
Inaya scratched the back of her head and then sighed in frustration. She slumped her shoulders, helpless in her expression, and said, “Under normal circumstances, it would be treason for me to stand by your side. But then again, this isn’t normal, not even in the slightest.”
“That’s good to know,” said Mallan, stifling a laugh. “Lord Zane is rather fortunate to have you as his lover.”
“Oh, do stop with the pleasantries,” said Inaya, feeling her chest tighten with anxiety. “Let’s just get to it and kill that tyrant of a king; as leaders, we still owe it to the people, to protect them that is.”
“I’ll be relying on you then,” said Mallan, with a nod. “Your skills are more suited to stealth-based combat; I’ll handle Ceraunus head-on, and leave you to cover for me should I come under threat. Does that sound like a strategy to you?”
“I can’t seem to think of any other,” said Inaya. “We are in agreement.”
“Good, good,” said Mallan. “But there is one other thing that I would like to ask of you; think of it as a necessary precaution.”
Inaya leaned towards her ally and nodded past the words exchanged. With a bow, she stepped away and retreated to the shadows. In time, the silence returned, broken merely by momentary crackles from the nimbus. The drizzle hastened, rhythmic and slow in its progression. Mallan met his adversary’s gaze, thunder and lightning behind the latter. The High Human levitated off the ground, reaching the heavens with an aura doused in murderous intent.
Mallan stretched his fingers, summoning aeter-made lightning – dark and blue – to manifest what appeared to be a halberd, not unlike Seraphina.
“Is that the skill of legend?” asked Ceraunus, without emotion. “This is my first time seeing it, your ability to create weapons from aeter.”
“The Armory of Lady Lightning, that is my magic,” admitted Mallan. “Would I truly be an Argonaut without magic foreign to Mioverold?”
“I will insist it once more,” said Ceraunus. “Join my cause, and you will be rewarded.”
“Your sister, or at least the person you respected as such, chose to side with reason over power,” said Mallan. “I don’t see any reason to deviate from my decision now.”
“It’s a shame – Inaya’s choice that is,” said Ceraunus, shaking his head in disappointment. “But I’m sure she’ll come around when Zane speaks with her.”
“And you believe Lord Zane to be on your side?”
“He is my friend.”
“So was I.”
Ceraunus scoffed at the comment, unable to deny the truth behind it. He closed his eyes in search of what was left of his humanity, a sliver or source to maybe help him change course, to return to the embrace of his brothers and friends. His body floated away from Mallan through the thought, just a little, dancing between decisions. He turned towards Seraphina, firmly in hand, and then strengthened grip, disappearing into the obscurity of the rain.
Mallan followed the flow of aeter, slow in its motion at first. In time, it offered clarity about the Noxun King’s decision – nothing to return from. The High Human turned in blind faith and swung his aeter-made weapon at what appeared to be nothingness, meeting blade mid-air, and in a clash that shattered the resolve of Mel Ficarum.
Their auras flared into magnificence, merely a flicker through the combat. Ceraunus attacked with relentless effort and the strength of a god, while Mallan evaded with foresight and finesse. Aided by his access to the Armory of Lady Lightning, the former king of Themistokera often switched between a variety of offensive tools – halberds to swords, spears to axes, knives to hammers, and more. It frustrated the Noxun King, but not more than his adversary’s depth to defence – forms of powerful protection, sturdy enough to defend against even the fiercest of attacks.
With slow, methodical, and deadly precision, Mallan tore away into the Noxun King’s defence, asserting dominance despite disadvantage. In moments of weakness, Inaya would often appear as a form of distraction – hidden amidst the darkest of shadows. It hammered against Ceraunus, the team effort, more than he had previously imagined.
“Your control over aeter is spectacular, King Argonaut,” praised Ceraunus, masking annoyance. “It makes me wonder; why did the Mimicry of Gods fail with you at its centre?”
Thunder struck once more, a roar to ignite a stronger aura than what was on display. Mallan dissipated his weapons on hand and retrieved the aeter into an even distribution across his body. His eyes burned with uncommon radiance, and from the outside, the High Human resembled every bit a god himself, clothed in lightning of immeasurable power and solidity.
“Us High Humans were never truly loved by this world, not with the blessings, not with the gods; but we never rested, deep in our hearts we knew that we held the potential to become more than the label of ordinary,” said Mallan. “And we did that; here I stand, your equal, and there you stand – struggling to cope despite all that power. You may be Seraphina’s favourite, the centre of the Mimicry of Gods, but I, I am an Argonaut, a proud descendent of the man that made your predecessors shiver.”
“Excellent,” said Ceraunus, with a wide grin. “But what does any of this boil down to? I’ll tell you, it’s endurance; you’ll weaken as I get used to my power. So, the question is, which one of us is going to break first?”
“An interesting gamble, indeed,” said Mallan. “Your strength against my technique, let’s clear all doubt.”
Ceraunus magnified his aeter production, faced with the challenge at hand. His aura darkened, adding strength to armour and sharpness to blade. He moved, only faster this time, to engage in an offensive demonstration meant to overpower the High Human. Mallan managed to remain elusive nonetheless, with strange but elegant footwork. He turned defence to offense on occasion, and within the blink of an eye even.
In time, the Argonaut exploited weaknesses, non-existent in form, and invisible cracks – in coordination with Inaya Antiochus – to slowly wrestle control away from the Noxun King. Mallan asserted his dominance by navigating aeter to manifest a trap mid-air, binding and incapacitating Ceraunus in what appeared to be aeter-made lightning. With a whistle, the High Human tore a portal open a little behind the Noxun King, allowing Inaya passage for an attack meant to end the battle.
As daughter of the former king of Mel Ficarum, Inaya harnessed the power from her once royal bloodline to enchant her daggers in a veil of corrosive darkness. She stabbed without hesitation, tears in her eyes, but dutybound to the Noxun people. Her aeter traversed through the entirety of Ceraunus’ body, lulling the latter into a curse of disease and decay.
“Chapter of Baha: Twisted Fate.”
Mallan remained motionless through the affair, spellbound at having succeeded in their efforts against the Noxun King. But at the same time, a part of the High Human’s heart refused to rest. His vision blurred, and the aeter around him spiralled – erratic in its behaviour. He exhaled into relaxation and focused his eyes, identifying a corpse, and then nothing right after. As his senses returned, Mallan noticed a portal open – different from his own, and with an unpleasant smell.
Inaya felt the winds whisper in her ears, and the warmth and stench of blood across her shoulders. She recognized the blade, the Halberd of Kings, and a sound that could be best described as a snicker. Her eyes turned to find Ceraunus, unharmed and raising his weapon once more.
The Noxun King swung, persuaded by his desire for blood, but tasted his own. He watched his arm part from shoulder – crimson blending with the rain. His smile corroded to an expression of momentary fear as Mallan appeared in front of him, shielding Inaya Antiochus, and with the aura of a wrathful deity. The High Human grabbed Ceraunus, by his face, and broke flesh without effort.
“I believe it is my duty to protect a friend’s lover; Twisted Fate, was it?” said Mallan, coldly. “I’ve read the Book of Baha, an ability to bend fate and reset time. It’s a shame that you can only use it once every two days; how immature.”
“Mallan Argonaut!” yelled Ceraunus, echoing anger and disgust. “I will not be bested by a mere High Human!”
“Easy there, Young King,” said Mallan. “I have a trump card of my own to unveil, something even a False God cannot escape from. After all, what kind of an Argonaut would I be to not avenge my race with this technique?”
Before his eyes, Ceraunus witnessed an aeter transformation – a formula of legend. It evolved from the lightning as it dissipated, a sequence that propelled the High Humans into prominence. The Noxun King remembered it, through the wisdom acquired from Seraphina, the power to surpass and supress a god even.
“Activate Sequence: Corrosion.”
Ceraunus felt the aeter within his body disintegrate upon command. It spread as a disease would, eating flesh and bone alike. Despite aid from Seraphina, the spell refused to relent, stripping away at the Noxun King until nothing remained.
In victory, Mallan felt the last of his strength disappear, and the tension of battle with it. His body fell towards the earth, devoid of aeter or protection. He turned to face the heavens, embracing the cold from a tearful nimbus. His pain dulled with the rain, and his eyes struggled to maintain vision. But another crack was all it took for the High Human to regain a sense of danger, another portal – in free fall with him.
A familiar face formed, devious grin and all; it stared down at Mallan, almost mockingly. The High Human watched an arm pierce into his chest – fingers around his heart. He grabbed the arm in a desperate attempt to fight for time, even seconds. His mind searched for solutions in haste, but failed in every scenario. He struggled to summon the aeter under his command, depleted entirely of his reserves. Nothing remained, nothing at all. And then he heard it, the heart of Mallan Argonaut – crushed without hope of recovery.
“I’m sorry to have hidden this from both you and Zane,” whispered Ceraunus, now fully formed. “But nothing from Mioverold can bring me harm as long as I wield Seraphina. I am the one chosen by this world’s creator, and I die only when she desires it.”
In his final moments, Mallan managed little more than a gasp. His head tilted a little, catching Inaya covered in blood and pain. It slipped – emotions, and the burden of the world, nothing mattered, not anymore. With a gulp, the High Human scripted a formula with the crimson from his chest, trading what remained of his body with Aeterna.
“Armory of Lady Lightning: Sphere of Protection.”
Inaya pled to the heavens for a response with aeter rattling into existence around her, a sphere just as Mallan had commanded. In time, a soul-fire emerged – magnificent in form and power, clad in an essence indistinguishable from that of a worldly inheritor. It flickered, and then travelled towards Aeterna, free from the burdens of Mioverold. But the sight, it frustrated the Noxun King.
Ceraunus gestured for the soul-fire to return with selfish desire; he extended the radius of his aura, subduing the essence of the once king of Themistokera. The pressure restricted movement, enough to disallow Mallan the comfort of death, sought often in the embrace of Aeterna.
“Please; I beg of you to stop, Ceraunus,” cried Inaya, stammering through her words. “King Argonaut deserves to return to the Cycle of Mioverold. Leave him be!”
With an arm raised, Ceraunus Antiochus scoffed, breaking into laughter right after. His blood boiled with excitement, at the thought of power, at the thought of a former king in the palm of his hands. He wondered if it would change him further, the High Human’s aeter essence; in the Noxun King’s first attempt, the soul-fire resisted consumption, and in the second – it weakened.
At the display, Inaya clenched her fists as a form of punishment, frustrated at having failed to dissuade Ceraunus. It crushed her, the sight of her king shrouded within the depths of depravity; she continued to plead, nonetheless. In time, her condition worsened – wounds open, and clothes drenched in the warmth of her crimson. With duller eyes, she managed to look towards the heavens, in despair. It was about to end, at least in her mind.
“I’m sorry for not having come sooner,” whispered a familiar voice. “Rest easy, my love; I promise to avenge Mallan – in protecting you, he’s left me forever indebted.”
Weakly, Inaya smiled as an ethereal sword plummeted from the skies, halting Ceraunus’ progress at devouring the soul-fire of the former king of Themistokera. Another followed, and then more – a storm that matched the rain; the shower ripped through the Noxun King without restraint, reflecting both anger and resentment.
Ceraunus followed Inaya’s eyes skyward, finding the caster of the spell – a worldly inheritor, loved as the son of Ehedus.
“You dare betray a friend, betray me?” said Ceraunus, in exasperation.
“Quiet, Young King!” bellowed Zane. “Upon my name, and for your sins, I swear to put an end to your madness; protection of Seraphina be damned.”
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