Chapter 36: Returning to the Present

When the story ended, a spell of silence blanketed the throne room of Arce Caelesti. Gale heard the breaths, his own – disruptively calm. His eyes shifted to Zane, and slowly, to the unoccupied seat within the room. He searched for answers, some from the story, and some through the effort of his intelligence. It stood there, the halberd that tore down the walls of Mioverold – walls that once symbolized the world’s stability and peace.

Gale understood it, the story, and the purpose behind its narration. It existed to offer him clarity; a story that spoke of the death of his people and the fall of his king, of lost love and a desperate Godvildian soldier battling against indecision. He realized it, the significance, and how it meant for him to choose the course of his future. With a deep breath, he relaxed his shoulders and pointed at the halberd behind the throne, wearing a mask of curiosity.

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“It’s a reminder, to caution us against action that might jeopardize the safety of our people – the world as a whole,” said Zane, offering answer from expression. “This is also the safest place I could think of, Arce Caelesti of the Kingdom of Suntaria; Ceraunus Antiochus will need a lot to break through our defences.”

“An army of Elder Undead should suffice,” estimated Gale, grimly. “Should we not gather everyone at Shadowmere, to halt the revival?”

“I’m afraid that this world isn’t as simple as you make it out to be,” said Zane. “Politics, it is a delicate thing. Raskas and Minerva are important, as is the Kingdom of Suntaria. While we are certain – to a certain degree – of the Noxun Grandmasters’ position in this war, we can’t be too careful. There are forces determined to destroy the Godvildian Empire, and chaos, it’s their path to that success.”

Gale lowered his head, deep in thought, and with a frown on his face. He realized the existence of a difference in their perception of time, him still being new to the World of Transition. To the boy, his experiences had aged him – significantly, from performing his role as a soldier of Suntaria at the Bridge of Souls to becoming a Half-Lord, having battled creatures of legend. It explained his sense of urgency, an earnest desire to compete with those that had existed for over a thousand years. But with that thought in mind, he wondered if it made sense for him to lead an army at this stage in his life within the transitional world.

“I suppose I must agree, Ser Zane,” consented Gale, with a sigh. “But are you sure you want me to lead an army against the assault at Raskas, even with General Conatus by my side? I believe you classified the city as important.”

“In an ideal world, you would have had the chance to grow in a controlled environment – guided every step of the way,” admitted Zane. “But that is simply not the case; with the awakening of Ceraunus Antiochus, Mioverold will soon be plunged into instability. We are short on time, and the threat is nothing small. I’ll be honest, Gale; we need you to grow fast, perhaps faster than names of legend, even.”

“But most of all, you wonder if I still wish to remain loyal to the Godvildian Empire?” asked Gale. “It’s easy to infer from the story alone; your choices led to the extinction of the High Humans, after all.”

Zane felt his chest tighten; he held his breath and then sighed in resignation. It was an important moment for both him and the boy, a decision fated to alter the course of Mioverold. With a shrug, the Godvildian blacksmith nodded, in agreement, and gestured for an answer from the Half-Lord.

“It was over three thousand years ago,” said Gale, scratching the back of his head. “I stand where I stand presently because of you, your people; in many ways, I am yet to understand this world fully, but I do understand the concept of loyalty.”

“You needn’t say much more, child,” said Zane, echoing admiration. “I only wish Mallan had managed to live long enough to see you, and your growth.”

“You are too kind,” said Gale, lowering head and body to bend the knee. “I hope that I don’t disappoint at Raskas, then.”

With a smile, Zane raised both arms and clapped – a signal meant for those stationed at the exit. The doors creaked at first, and then opened with hesitation, allowing passage to a group of soldiers – on guard – at the other end of the threshold. They marched in unison, with a fully-armoured soldier at the helm, and stopped at an arm’s length from the people inside.

“Not everyone is aware of the details behind the Great War,” whispered Zane. “Most of the rooms at Arce Caelesti is shielded with magic that prevents those on the outside from listening in – a necessary precaution.”

“Your story is safe with me,” assured Gale, in a whisper also. “But I suppose you stationed them here in advance? Why put your soldiers through that?”

“We are rather short on time,” explained Zane. “And we perceive our existence differently, maybe only a little. In a way, we’re all bored already.”

“How convenient.”

At the time, a loud thud forced both men to abandon conversation and focus on the soldiers in front of them. It urged Zane to raise hand and command them to ease.

“We have prepared the lightning chariot as requested, Ser Zane,” said the soldier in charge, with a voice that helped Gale identify the person as a woman. “General Conatus awaits at Raskas.”

“Thank you, Augustine,” said Zane, hurrying the boy to the front with a gentle nudge. “Here is the person you are meant to escort – Gale, a combat representative of Suntaria. He will be taking charge alongside General Conatus.”

With the words, Augustine turned her head to observe the person set to take command. She removed her helmet to unveil a face of divinity – skin that glimmered of an olive complexion, freckled across the nose, and with eyes of an emerald shade. Her hair fell as a stream would, with elegant grace, resting at the tips a little after her shoulders. Gale gulped at the sight, a beauty of unparalleled measure – someone without compare in Mioverold, at least from his perspective.

Augustine rushed with her words, almost, but paused upon second observation. Her eyes noticed the shade as dark as a moonless night, and hues of amber – strangeness beyond comprehension. She restrained immediate speech – with a frown – and turned to address her superior in the room.

“With all due respect, Ser Zane,” said Augustine, cautiously. “What gives this person the right to stand on equal ground with my father?”

“Don’t worry about it, Augustine,” said Zane, waving the complaint aside. “We’ve assessed his combat potential to rank on par with the Three Swords of Suntaria. He may be lacking presently, but it would do you good to associate with someone of his calibre. General Conatus is aware of the situation.”

“I fear that this decision might cause some unrest amongst the soldiers present at Raskas,” warned Augustine. “And to be honest, I do not think of him to be above my rank, even.”

At the words, Zane wore a troubled expression on his face and attempted to reengage in conversation once more.

“It’s understandable that you feel that way, Peerless Knight Augustine,” said Zane, addressing the soldier by rank. “Your status is unprecedented, even more so given your age, but Gale is worth our time and consideration. He’s the dragon-slayer from the Bridge of Souls, to say the least; there’s a lot more he has accomplished since then as well.”

“I…” stuttered Augustine, taken aback by the revelation.

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“And if that doesn’t suffice,” interrupted Zane, sternly. “Remember that he’s also an Argonaut.”

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