Chapter 35: 3,000 Years into the Past (9)

It flickered amidst the darkness – the soul-fire of Mallan Argonaut, bound still by the aeter remnants of Noxun restraints. But freedom, it was at hand; now possessed by a spell of inspiration, the soul-fire broke free from its limitations, returning to the aged path built by Aeterna. Untethered and without fear, the aeter essence had resumed its pilgrimage.

Zane watched the effort in silence, head lowered, and in prayer. He wondered if it would have changed anything, an early arrival that is. His aeter echoed with sadness, over the loss of his friend, his brother. It hurt him, the death. He shook his head, a knot on his chest, and refocused to the idea of vengeance. His eyes returned to Ceraunus, still amidst a process of recovery. It offered the Godvildian Lord some time.

With a sigh, Zane Morgul commanded the aeter from the depths of his heart – ancient in its formula and composition. It moved with a will of its own, lifelike, taking the shape of an ethereal armor, forged for the purpose of combat. From a distance, Inaya wept, overwhelm with emotions of relief and admiration. Her eyes witnessed the power of a god, Ehedus, resonate from a body made of flesh and blood.

It reflected a sense of calm, the aura of a worldly inheritor. Zane raised an arm when ready, and split the heavens on command, funneling aeter to a portal in demand of a trade. In time, his ethereal armor morphed once more, solidifying to replicate an arm of massive proportions, armed with a sword just as large.

“This brings back memories,” said Ceraunus, in a remark, now recovered. “It started here, all of it – this confrontation; how fitting that we conclude our relationship in similar manner.”

Zane refused to engage in conversation, aching from indecision, torn between his duty as protector and friend.

“It’s a shame, truly,” continued Ceraunus. “I had never imagined it, to be honest; that you would turn your back on me.”

“You turned your back on all of Mioverold when you accepted corrupt power, Ceraunus” said Zane, burdened with disappointment. “But now you force me to choose between emotions of rage and love.”

“Is it because I hurt your lover?” asked Ceraunus, casually. “Or, is this merely an act to compensate for your impunctuality?”

“I’ll never know,” admitted Zane. “But it’s pushed me enough to raise blade against you.”

“This is what it comes down to, then?” said Ceraunus, in a low voice, contemptuously. “Godvildian scum, all of you.”

“What?” said Zane, visibly puzzled by the remark.

“Did you only pretend to acknowledge me, like your people?” yelled Ceraunus. “Did it bother the proud Godvildian race, to have someone stand an equal to the mighty Zane Morgul? You must admit it, the disgust in their eyes – their tolerance of me, merely a consequence of my status as a worldly inheritor!”

In the moment of silence that followed, Zane found the weight in his heart ease to comfort. He peered into the soul of his once comrade, diseased with corruption and insecurities. It was different, to observe the now changed Noxun King.

“It’s funny, Young King,” said Zane, with a smile. “I once imagined bending the knee to you; it wasn’t a bad thought. When the Mimicry of Gods had failed all those years ago, Mallan and I discussed entrusting our next attempt to you. It wasn’t a hard decision.”

Zane felt his body lighten from burden but strengthen in resolve. His arm moved without effort, swiping against the air in fluid motion. The ethereal arm followed, a representation of Ehedus, and with it – the sword, immense in its potential for destruction. It played in the heart of the Godvildian Lord, the story of an affair that first started in Suntaria, now reduced to an encore stained with hatred.

Aspect of the Ancients: Hand of Ehedus!” bellowed Zane.

Ceraunus welcomed the challenge, fortified by his unification with the souls from Themistokera. His aeter magnified in response to the threat, radiating defense in the form of an aura – filthy and green. But the effort failed to make an impact, not with a worldly inheritor in front of him. With the mask of Ehedus, Zane guided the ethereal hand to rip through the Noxun impediment, shattering armor and breaking flesh.

But as the winds of the battle shifted, a change crept into the sands of reality. Zane noticed it emanate from his once friend, a modification in aeter quality. It had begun to merge, the corruption at first, and then all of Niall.

In that moment, Ceraunus commanded the fabric of time, bending it to complete transformation. He pushed towards safety, a pocket dimension that held against the Godvildian attack. Within the confines of the space, his body underwent a process of repeated destruction – a process of assured death. But with the veil of Seraphina, Ceraunus revived – consistently, and fully, every single time.

Towards the end, the Noxun King emerged a changed being – something beyond his status as a worldly inheritor. In the realm of reality, as time continued to flow once more, Ceraunus spread his aeter with corrosive effect.

“This is exhilarating, truly,” whispered Ceraunus, to himself, in disbelief. “I can feel it at hand, a revolution unlike any other.”

Ceraunus moved his aeter into a dance, fluid in its motion. It wrapped around the ethereal arm, and slowly ate away at its source. Zane watched it disappear, his strongest magic, falling under threat of Noxun disease. He detached from the aeter that strengthened the arm, in fear of an invasion, but in vain; something had made it through, strong enough to encroach the mind.

Zane froze, his limbs forced into paralysis; his thoughts – fading into darkness. And then it stopped for him as well, time.

***

It could have been described as drowning; heavy, suffocating, almost impossible to escape. Zane looked from left to right, stuck in a dimensional tear, in an aeter-made ocean. It was pure, sickening almost. He struggled to move his limbs, bogged by the density of the place, surviving merely on his ability to breathe through the space; it puzzled him. In time, he noticed a dark shade of blue, afloat and in the form of something familiar. It moved with intent, eager to guide, and touched the Godvildian Lord, offering opportunity for escape.

Zane exited the space into a desert, red dunes and with weather that threatened dehydration. With a cursory assessment of the region, he quickly identified the place as another aeter-made domain. He wondered, for a moment, if it was death – if this was his pilgrimage to Aeterna.

The blue light appeared once more, shifting the Godvildian Lord elsewhere, and almost whimsically so. It mirrored an island this time, wide, and with a small hut – nothing too far. Zane found his feet move involuntarily, without mental command, and his arms reach for the door. He entered the space, but noticed the straws distort to stone-made walls. It reminded him of Arce Caelesti, the throne room. His eyes remained glued to the floor, under threat from something powerful and fierce – far beyond the pressure from Ceraunus. It resonated authority, but under an aura of benevolence; an unexplainable calm.

I am sorry for being unable to show you my face,” whispered a voice. “You are still flesh and blood, still alive; the rules forbid me from it.

“And you are?” asked Zane, with a gulp.

How is it that even my son fails to recognize me?” said the voice, laughing aloud.

“Ehedus?!” stuttered Zane, without thought. “Well, this is interesting. Why pull me here now given the predicament outside?”

It’s regarding the predicament; I wanted to ask you something, with your permission, obviously,” said Ehedus, slowly. “I’ve broken a lot of rules to arrange for this meeting, which includes interrupting the flow of time in Mioverold – to protect you from Noxun corruption. Baha must be in the process of fixing it as we speak, but that’s not for you to worry about. You will be returned to an appropriate point in the flow, regardless of your answer.

“Must be important, if you went through all that trouble,” said Zane. “Very well, you have my permission; though it does feel a little odd, granting permission to a god.”

I’ve observed your group, the alliance, attempt the Mimicry of Gods and fail; everything in front of you, I’ve seen it crumble and turn to dust – your lover stands near the door of death, the defiant High Human appears to have fallen in battle, and you – you’re not too far from meeting the same fate,” said Ehedus. “And yet, you continue to fight. You fight a battle which cannot be won, against a foe on the verge of becoming a god. Why, why do you persist?

“I’m surprised you need to ask that.”

Zane smiled, helplessly. He relaxed his shoulders, recalling past conversations. It would have been easy, to submit to Ceraunus and accept fate, to become a pawn – a witness to the alteration of Mioverold, to cling to life. The Godvildian Lord delved deeper into his memories, his thoughts a muddle. He wondered if it was pride that urged him to battle, or the idea of revenge; there was little that separated his decision from the end of Mioverold and his people. But at a corner in his heart, an answer chose to rebel – an answer spurred by choice and freewill.

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“Ehedus, realistically, you’re right; it is a battle we’re fated to lose,” accepted Zane, with a shrug. “However, I find that I cannot stop. It’s a foolish decision, perhaps, but a decision that lends us hope – a chance. From the moment we’re born, there those that succumb to fate, and those that oppose it. You should know it better than anyone; after all, I was your choice, and I am your son.”

But it won’t be enough, not to change the fate of our world,” said Ehedus, grimly. “But it would be too cruel for me to deny my son a battle against fate; I called you here to understand if you had the resolve to defy my mother, our creator – Seraphina. And while we may not be able to overcome her pawn, her grand plan, we might be able to find a way to delay it.”

“I’ll stake everything on it, if it buys us time enough to think of something better.”

Then it’s time for you to return, Zane,” announced Ehedus, with pride. “You leave with the knowledge of my divinity, and with as much aeter as your body can handle. In return, I seek a price – your gate to Aeterna. Should you survive this battle, never again will you be able to access our power. You shall age, weaken, and perish in time. You will no longer retain your status as a worldly inheritor. This is a gift, and a curse; but I ask you again, now that you know, if you truly wish to accept it?

***

Zane opened his eyes into reality, cocooned in a sphere built upon the whispers of Ehedus. He relinquished the protection offered and returned to the ethereal armor, his magic. It battled against Ceraunus’ offense and held to purity despite the latter’s corrosive effect. The Noxun King noticed the change, not unlike his own – something comparable, on the verge of godly encroachment. He swung his halberd, a wave of destructive energy; it traveled with ferocious intent but dissipated mere moments before contact with the Godvildian Lord.

Ceraunus frowned at the sight; he struggled to understand the difference, and in time, realized something beyond the change on display.

“I don’t know how you managed it,” mentioned Ceraunus. “But I can see that you’re unable to sustain that power.”

“How astute of you,” said Zane, with a scoff. “Then again, there is little need for me to hold onto it, this power, for long.”

“You must know that I am invulnerable,” reminded Ceraunus. “It is the will of Seraphina; so, give it your best shot, I’ll take it, and then crush you right after.”

“Generous,” said Zane, with a smile. “I agree to the terms; it’s most favorable.”

The Godvildian Lord altered his aeter composition; the formula reflected the written word of divinity, the one bestowed to him. It took shape behind Zane, a glorious sight – bright and beyond earthly comprehension. But despite the display, Ceraunus paid little attention to the magic and its preparation, restless with impatience. It was his chance, after all, to best a rival, one that he had grown to despise.

In time, the formula appeared atop the Noxun King – pillars of light, four of them, in synchronization with a location far from Mel Ficarum. It struck Ceraunus across his limbs, and pried weapon away from hand; the pain, it was real. The Noxun King grit his teeth and attempted to break free from the magic, pouring everything into escape. It reeked of desperation, his struggle against the Godvildian Lord.

From a distance, Zane sighed, battling both fatigue and weakness. With the task far from finished, it surfaced – doubts, from the darkest corners of his mind. Everything hinged on his attempt to seal the invulnerable Noxun King, to put Ceraunus to sleep.

“Stop it, stop it!” barked Ceraunus, in vain.

Overcome with madness and rage, Ceraunus behaved as an animal would – pushed to a corner, and with failure in sight. He sacrificed an arm to disrupt the magic, splitting away from one of the four pillars. With blood everywhere, he chewed free another limb, earnest in his desire for freedom and success. As his limbs reformed, Ceraunus thundered towards Zane, reclaiming his halberd through the ascent.

The Noxun King hacked past the ethereal armor and cut flesh across chest. But the Godvildian Lord, he persevered. With arms apart, Zane embraced Ceraunus into incapacitation. It mattered, for the latter to remain trapped through the entirety of the process.

Aspect of Ancients,” coughed Zane, throat filled with blood. “The Weeping of Swords.”

Ceraunus raised his head and watched the heavens part with rage. It rained, blades everywhere, aeter-made and near impossible to avoid. Zane felt his grip weaken, subject to the offensive might of his own magic. He clung to consciousness, fueled by little more than his adrenalin, and in attempt to finish the sealing once more. It didn’t fail this time, the pillars.

With the odds of victory fading into nothingness, Ceraunus tore free, yet again, on instinct – tolerating the pain and agony. He thirsted completion, of the Mimicry of Gods; he yearned for it, to rule and suppress the hatred in Mioverold. Without the aid of his limbs, the Noxun King dug his teeth into Zane, his neck, absent any thought towards sophistication. But as the pillars faded from existence, Ceraunus felt something pierce skull, from both ears – daggers forged with precision, and enchanted with Noxun magic. He recognized the person responsible and spread his aeter with enough force to obliterate the assailant.

“You have two people to avenge now, my love,” whispered a fading voice.

Zane roared at the sight, numb to the trauma that now weighed on his heart. He refused to cry, and obsessively rekindled his once dissipating aura. With a second incantation, the Godvildian Lord summoned the ethereal blade of Ehedus and swiped arm to slash through a weakened Ceraunus. He pressed ahead, without thought of rest, and guided the pillars into formation.

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“Your people, they’re going to wage war upon your demise,” said Zane. “Rest assured that I will exterminate every last one of them, anyone willing to raise a weapon in your name!”

With the formula completed, Ceraunus reduced in form and intelligence – sealed in Shadowmere, a soul-fire. His aeter fueled the recovery of Mioverold, a source that prevented immediate destruction. At the time, it was yet to begin – the war that had ended the great alliance. But to Zane, it had already concluded.

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