Chapter 40: In Victory & In Retreat

In risen sun, the blades fell – a surrender that led to the confiscation of all things precious. Weapons and horses removed, the Relictan army now stood depleted of four thousand soldiers – substantial and powerful still, but of weakened hope and morale. They moved as prisoners, shackled and stripped of armour, with hearts chained to fear. Their eyes moved in unison, at the demi-humans that had mobilized into an army; it scared them, the darkness that cloaked their skins, the shimmer of amber in their eyes.

Gale noticed it, the stench of defeat – something permanent, rooted. It eased into a sense of accomplishment, marred only by the oddness of the people around him. His comrades averted their eyes upon sight even, in unease of the unknown; it plunged Raskas into a state of silence, in spite of what could only be described as a victory worth song. But with thought pushed from mind, Gale returned to the barracks to reunite with General Conatus.

“Well met, Half-Lord,” said Conatus, with a smile. “How does it feel to add Raskas to your growing tale of heroics?”

“Happy at first, I suppose,” said Gale, truthfully. “Your people don’t take too kindly to heroes.”

“I’ll be honest, I never did see anything quite like it – an army of demi-humans under Godvildian banners,” said Conatus, kindly. “You’ve let them inherit your blessing even; it’s natural for the people here to look upon you with fear, and perhaps a little bit of respect.”

“I saw an opportunity after having slain the Hearth King,” revealed Gale. “And the perytons, well, I haven’t bound them to my will as I did with the goblins; we share a give and take relationship.”

“Quite the monster you are, already,” said Conatus, slowly. He paused, and then added, “Well, as much as I would like for us to continue, we have a guest waiting. I didn’t want to meet with her without you; so, shall we?”

Gale gestured for Conatus to take lead, and followed at a gentle pace. His mind traced to the people around him, soldiers in conversation – a few about their intent towards retirement, and fewer still their desire for bloodier combat. A younger group fell into laughter when in discussion about something almost inaudible; it cleared through the steps – a comparison against the Swords of Suntaria.

“It’s an impossibility to most people; I was once like that,” revealed Conatus, reading the Half-Lord’s mind. “Don’t let it bother you too much.”

“Urgency,” said Gale, without thought. “I sense no urgency in this world; the people here, they are content with their limits.”

“That is true,” admitted Conatus, with a sigh. “But that’s for the chosen few to worry about; our gods allow room for impossible growth, but not everyone is built to seize that opportunity. Isn’t that what separates us from those of legend?”

“It was like that before as well, in my old world,” said Gale. “Uncles and aunts with stories of dreams unfulfilled, pulled into jobs merely accepted and not loved; some hated it even. I suppose there is some truth to your words, General – not everyone is built that way.”

Conatus slowed with his steps and eased to a halt; he turned, with his arms behind his back, and leaned to gaze into the Half-Lord’s eyes. With a smile, the Godvildian General pulled away and returned to path. He then requested for Gale to follow once more.

“There’s nothing wrong with what you desire, Half-Lord,” said Conatus. “If it means anything, I do believe that you’re more likely to make it than most.”

“Where would you place me, presently?” asked Gale, out of curiosity.

“That’s an interesting question; well, the early stages of the seventh tier perhaps?” said Conatus, uncertainly. “You meet the necessary requirements, of course.”

“Combat potential, something best measured in association with an individual’s ability to manipulate high tier magic, at least that’s what I was told,” said Gale, in remembrance of a conversation with a fallen comrade. “Given that definition, I would assume placement into something higher; and yet, you assess my potential to the seventh…”

“Somewhat accurate, yes,” said Conatus, stifling a laugh. “But you’ve oversimplified the matter; it’s measured on multiple parameters – tier of magic, aeter volume, efficiency, and a combination of physical attributes even.”

Gale lowered his head in thought, in search of a moment within memories, of when he battled against an Elder Undead on route to the Kingdom of Suntaria. He weighed it against the parameters mentioned, in a hum, and then frowned when near conclusion.

“In truth, I’ve thought about it several times,” revealed Gale. “And it’s bothered me as well, my aeter volume – its negligible growth since my arrival to the World of Transition.”

“From what I tell, you categorically fall into what we call wielders; your aeter reserves are usually limited for internal enhancement,” said Conatus. “Your strongest magic, however, is outward; it’s rather combat inefficient. I gather you don’t know much about aeter conditioning, or anything else for that matter?”

Gale raised an eyebrow at the comment, and then laughed out loud, “True, I am a bit of an idiot when it comes to all of this. Though, it is interesting to see this side of you – humour, who would have thought it ever?”

“You’re rhyming!” said Conatus, with a laugh. He steadied, and then added, “To your point, I first noticed it when you summoned your army of demi-humans via spatial doorways – an extreme decrease in your aeter volume; I’ve also heard the stories, about your battle against a dragon at the Bridge of Souls with the use of magic at the tenth tier.

“I’ll admit that your talent far exceeds anything I may have seen since the formation of the Three Swords of Suntaria, but you grow disproportionately, and at a dangerous pace. It might even cause your death someday.”

They halted in front of a large door, with guards on either side, and soldiers across the hall. Conatus gently touched the wood, splinters against fingertips, deep in thought. He requested access from the guards and then opened the door, but only in part. With a turn, the Godvildian General closed the door in haste, abruptly, and caught the Half-Lord by surprise – a hand on each shoulder.

“What surprises me is that you were raised under the guidance of Ser Zane, of the Three Swords of Suntaria even,” said Conatus, suddenly. “This isn’t something they would miss, and yet here you are, growing untethered; Half-Lord, there’s more to your command here than meets the eye. I have a proposition for you.”

Gale held his tongue through words spoken, careful to not disrupt the Godvildian General, and even more so the latter’s train of thought.

“I can teach you; in times of war, you are what we could best describe as an asset of high priority – someone indispensable,” said Conatus, eager in tone and heart. “But there is a condition to it, my knowledge.”

“And what might that be?” asked Gale, slipping away from the General’s grip.

“I wish for you to help me access my ceiling,” said Conatus, in earnest. “Your divinity, I want you to grant me your divinity as you did with the demi-humans.”

***

As a part of the Godvildian Empire, Varia marked the map of Mioverold as a vast, almost unending desert with sun bleached sands, mountain-framed mesas, and golden-rock canyons. It accommodated a mostly dwarven population, dividing into Old Varia in the east, with rugged and barren lands, the Blue Lagoons in the west, with water and fertility, the Duneless Sanctuary in the south, with caves unchecked, and Mineralium in the north – rich with natural resources.

But the region’s relevance depended mostly on Minerva, a city located along the north-western ridges of Mineralium. Built almost entirely of sandstone, the city impressed with its three-tiered architecture; the Walls – for soldiers and masons, the Floats – for researchers and academics, and the High Towers – for the rich and influential. It represented a point of governance for the subregions of Varia, led by a council of cold and enigmatic leaders.

“I would love to return here once more, Warden Adal,” said Aaron, with a smile. “At a more peaceful time perhaps, without the threat of war.”

“You worry us with your words, Lord Heart,” said Adal. “Have we not shown you a good time during your stay here?”

“Nothing of the sort.”

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They stopped at an iron door; Aaron watched as Adal commanded the stationed guards to allow them access to the world outside. It opened with a loud creak, the doors, and into a flat, roofless platform. Aaron followed, with Adal in the front – a proud commander, charged with the city’s defence. Once at the edge, their eyes settled onto the invading army – their retreat, in fact.

“The illusion of a threat,” said Adal, scornfully. “How cowardly of the Relictan people.”

“I believe there’s a thin line between that and being smart,” said Aaron, in praise of the opposition. “We should celebrate not needing to send soldiers to battle.”

“We live and breathe for war, Lord Heart,” said Adal, with a smile. “There’s no celebration to a bloodless night.”

Aaron laughed in recognition of the remark – uttered with neither thought nor responsibility – but with eyes reflective of disdain. He held tongue, nonetheless, given the dwarven commander’s status within the desert region of Varia.

“Do we have any information about the commanding officer of the invading army?” asked Aaron, easing feigned laughter to a halt.

“A Relictan Lord,” said Adal, immediately. “I believe his name was Roland.”

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Level-headed and smart,” thought Aaron, with a grim expression on his face. “How unexpected.


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