Chapter 38: Insight into the Future

It surfaced through the quiet night, the sound of a slow breeze – audible merely to those eager for the song. Atop dry leaves and short wood, a fire rose to the peak with the moon. It moved without restraint, the flames, at several parts of camp – a light to restless moths, an assembly of men and women driven toward battle and revenge. But they were meant to stall, to stay their blades into inaction, shackled by the command of their Overlord.

When the bottles opened, many succumbed to the merriment of alcohol, and when the bottoms dried, they retreated to the comfort of their tents. But as the sun peaked into their third day of encampment, stationed scouts emerged with news of change – a chariot, drawn by beasts and doused in lightning. In time, a small unit dispersed to investigate the arrival.

As the moon surfaced once more, the process repeated – bottles emptied, and soldiers dulled; but in the dead of the night, a vigilant scout caught sight of what appeared to be a red-tailed bird. In haste, it attempted to break free from range and flee towards the Godvildian Capital. With the winds gauged, the Relictan scout steadied his bow and pierced the bird via an aeter-enchanted arrow.

“I must leave for a moment,” whispered the scout, waking the soldier beside him. “Stay on alert; I won’t be too long.”

The scout slipped into the shadows and traced a path to the fallen bird. With his destination a few hundred meters away from camp, he frowned at the sight of life, a sliver. He averted his eyes – a palm over the bird’s head – and flicked his wrist to push task towards completion. He paused in consideration of a thought, but caved to his appetite, nonetheless, shoving the corpse into his mouth, and then down the throat.

With a cough, the Relictan scout uncovered a sealed letter; on closer observation, he scratched into a name – Masura Bloodseed. It made his arms tremble, the idea of having uncovered important information. He verified the seal once more, and then slowly opened the letter to read through its contents. His eyes widened in surprise, enough to move feet to camp, and in haste. Once within boundary, he relayed the news of his discovery to the commander in charge; a little later, he entered the largest tent on site.

“How did you chance upon this?” asked Jacquelyn.

“A red-tailed mellow,” informed the scout, head lowered. “I traced its direction to the Kingdom of Suntaria.”

Jacquelyn returned to the edge of her bed. She massaged her feet, lost in thought, and attired in a loose dress suited for the night. Her skin shimmered against the soft light within the confines of her tent, hair atop shoulders and a little over the forehead. She rubbed her eyes in frustration, puzzled by the predicament at hand. It fell to silence, the situation, but as Jacquelyn raised her head, she noticed her subordinate turn from her.

“I suppose this is your first time seeing me this way,” said Jacquelyn, resting chin atop palm – a smile on her face. “It’s refreshing to find someone so, well, honest.”

“My apologies, Lady Jacquelyn,” stammered the scout. “I did not mean to offend.”

“There is nothing to apologize about,” said Jacquelyn, dismissively. “But my indulgences are restricted to women; perhaps men as well, given the right circumstance.”

The scout merely bowed, unable to muster the words for a response.

“Well, now that you have gazed upon me, I suggest you make yourself useful,” said Jacquelyn. “You’re aware of the situation; what do you recommend of it?”

“If I may dare a suggestion, I recommend that we engage in passive combat against the troops stationed in Raskas,” said the scout. “I’m not sure how, but they managed to uncover our purpose here as merely an illusion – to divide their forces and keep them from a large assembly at Shadowmere. If they wish to retreat based on that truth, it’s better we rewrite said truth.”

“Not with our full force, but with enough to encourage a stay,” said Jacquelyn, slowly. “Very well, I accept your suggestion; thank you…”

“Sten, My Lady,” said the scout. “Not that you need to remember.”

“True,” admitted Jacquelyn. “It’s likely that I won’t.”

***

It echoed through the darkness, the sound of a stream – untethered, free from the restrictions of the world. As fingers moved through mud, it felt the touch of cold atop rugged surface; the winds blew through three directions – hot, cold, and with moisture. The animals, they crawled without urgency, slowed by the soil, frozen yet soft. It tore through the senses, a dimension that existed, and yet one that failed to take either form or shape.

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Gale blinked at the sight, an abyss on one end – dark and endless, and with normalcy on the other, an illusion – shrouded in malice and whispers of death. His body trembled, involuntarily, almost as if by design; the world, it toyed with its visitors. Sounds dampened with every step, and visions blurred at the crack of static.

In time, it settled, enough to permit movement. Gale took a slow step, cautious at first, and then with courage. He moved without thought, guided by a faint trace of aeter – an unknown that reeked of familiarity. After a long, directionless walk, the Godvildian Half-Lord reached what appeared to be the edge of the world, water across his feet, slipping into eternity. At a distance, he noticed the vague outline of a man, emanating power beyond measure or comprehension. Gale hastened an approach, burdened with curiosity, but paused at a restriction meters from the silhouette – a barrier.

“Who are you?” asked Gale, without a voice. He clasped his throat, puzzled by the situation at hand; but the silhouette moved, unhindered by the inaudibility.

It’s a strange world, is it not?” said the figure. “A dream, my dream; I’ve dreamt of this world for a long time now.

Gale felt overcome with a sense of familiarity once more. He watched the figure wade through the water, shrouded in darkness still, but closer this time.

It took a while for me to build this,” revealed the figure. “I suppose it was a little difficult, given my presence as a fragment amidst memories.

The aeter bled in excess from the silhouette, and Gale noticed it merge with the stream. He followed the trail, identifying similarities in its constitution with that of the world around him. Wild but with purpose, the aeter flowed in a singular direction – mostly outward from its point of origin; it formed with the figure at the centre, the world, distorted and without explanation.

Gale scratched the back of his head, in puzzlement, but eased into an expression of calm, in search of an answer. He paused at the persistence of a name.

“Was it my turn to come visit?” asked Gale, with a smile. “It’s been quite some time now, if I’m not mistaken; the battle at the Bridge of Souls, I think?”

How interesting; you appear to have stumbled upon a conclusion,” praised Bane, in acknowledgement of the Half-Lord’s answer. “I hope you don’t mind the world; there’s not much to do here – chained and underneath the depths of your subconscious.

“I wasn’t aware of your status as a prisoner in my body,” said Gale, apologetically. “But you’ve earned the right to fiddle around a little in here; don’t worry about it.”

Bane tilted head and pointed towards a sky overcast with dark, turbulent clouds – in a constant struggle to maintain form. It would break with lightning, dissipate, and then reform, repeatedly; some ruptured into momentary rainstorms even – corroding, upon contact, plants and animals alike.

It ends here, you know,” explained Bane. “This is the world, days from its destruction. It won’t be sudden, or easy; in slow progress, the water becomes hard to drink at first, and the air, well, it begins to work against us. In time, the flow of aeter reverses, poisoning our body into deliberate pain and eventual death. Food becomes inedible, the walls corrode, and we will stand here to bear witness to everything.

“Everything we’re trying to prevent from happening,” said Gale, slowly. “How far are we from this reality?”

I’m not sure anymore,” admitted Bane. “The awakening of that king, it changes things; and it’s also part of why you’re here.

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“Why I am here?” repeated Gale.

Bane raised an arm and touched the invisible wall that separated him from the Godvildian Half-Lord; his fingertips pushed past the restriction, tearing away at the shroud that had protected him – his flow of aeter. Gale watched the shadows take shape into something more humanlike. He then felt the palm touch his chest, cold, but absent any form of malice.

Your bloodline; he’ll find it no matter the distance,” warned Bane. “Ceraunus can’t stand it, the existence of a High Human, an Argonaut, within the Transitional World; not anymore, at least. And when he comes, I only hope that you manage to survive.

“What about you, then?” asked Gale. “You’ve protected me from adversity before.”

I’m afraid I won’t be able to summon enough of myself to stand a chance against the Old Noxun King; you are simply not capable of that feat yet,” said Bane, matter-of-factly. “This test, it promises to determine your worth to this world.

“But a test implies a chance – a chance at success,” said Gale. “And I’d rather not die a second time. You needn’t worry; I’ll wait until I am able to tap into enough of your strength.”

Very well; to reveal more would be to break the laws of our world,” said Bane, retreating arm to the shadows once more. “It is time you returned to the city. And I pray, dear child, that you prove my choice wise. I’ve only ever bound my soul to a mortal once; do not disappoint me.

“Well, if you’re going to put it that way, I might as well try,” said Gale, with a smile. “This is my world as well now; I hope to meet with you again soon, Bane.”

With a nod, the Godvildian Half-Lord turned to return to his world. He noticed the aeter collapse into a portal in front him; but as Gale passed through the threshold, he paused at the sense of something unordinary. He marched ahead, nonetheless, waking to the preparations of battle.

Would it be too much if I asked for five more minutes?” thought Gale, stifling a yawn. “I guess there are some things that just doesn’t change, no matter the world.”

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