Layette opened her eyes and realized she was laying down on the floor. She shook her head, easing her dizziness, and got on her two feet. Glancing around, she realized the sudden shift in environment. She stood near the front entrance of a grand ruined cathedral. The dark atmosphere of the Forest of Sorrows was absent. She had no memory of being in such a place; only remembering a sudden flash of light. Merlin and the prisoners were behind her, waking from their unconscious states, and also observing the immediate change of surroundings. Merlin came next to her and was in awe.

  “So… did we do it? It seems like freeing the prisoners made the curse go away! You did it, Miss Layette!” he exclaimed.

  “No, I believe it is far from over. We got to check on Aren, remember? Cast your spell and find him, will you?”

  “Right away!”

  Merlin once again used his magic to track down the Divine artifact, guiding the others into the sanctuary of the ruined cathedral. There, Aren and Archimedes were sitting down, looking up at the blue sky. The two noticed them coming and with a wave, Aren greeted them.

  “Hoy, you guys are late. Was hoping you would stop by and help us,” he began.

Only allowed on

  Layette saw dried blood on his clothing and face, grabbing her arm and looked away. “Right, sorry about that. It was because I took things slow that I wasn’t able to help.

  “Really now? I see you took my words into consideration. That’s good: being open-minded is one step closer to being a hero.” He got up, dusting himself off. “Beside that, you guys should leave. There’s something else I need to take care of.”

  “N-No, no way!” Layette pointed her sword at him. “You are still an individual carrying a Divine artifact! Even if you helped us, that won’t excuse you from avoiding the law.”

  “Hey, aren’t you forgetting something?” Aren pointed at the prisoners. “You still got to get them out of here. After that, then we can continue our business, okay?”

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  Layette’s face turned red and grunted. “F-Fine, whatever.”

  “Um, Miss Layette,” Merlin chimed in, “I want to ask you something.”

  “What is it?”

  “You coming here means that the Damorian command knew about the situation here. That would also mean there are troops along the way, right?”

  “You are right! With my disappearance, surely there would be an encampment at the forest’s entrance. Wait, I also have a map, so we can walk there ourselves!”

  The prisoners murmured, believing they are already saved from the horrors they’ve witnessed. It was best for them to meet their rescuers as soon as possible, so Layette went into her pockets. Her face stiffened up: she remembered Segenam had the map of their entrance to the forest. When everyone asked her where would the rescue group could be, her words became a jumbled mess.

  “O-Oh, I e-e-err. Well, y-you s-s-see, I-I m-may have… forgot.”

  “Forgot what, exactly?” Aren said.

  “O-Oh, um… I forgot the, um, map. So I do not know. How. I. Got. Here.”

  “You what?!” the prisoners and Merlin said out loud, making Layette cover her face in shame.

  “I-I-I r-rushed in here, okay?! I-I was so determined to save all of you and… look, it flew over my head so shuddup…”

  Aren shrugged, shaking his head. “It’s up to me once again to take charge. I would say to wait it out until they arrived, but it’s too dangerous to stay here. Guess we have to wing it.”

  “Wait, I can create familiars, yes! It can find the soldiers and bring them to us!” Layette piped up.

  “Sounds like a plan. Do your thing.”

  Layette summoned a fiery bird and threw it up. Everyone watched it soar into the skies and with a screech, it made its way to find Segenam. All they have to do now was to wait for their rescuers to find them. That would have been the case until everyone heard the howling of wolves. A dark mist came crawling out within the depths of the woods. It swirled in a violent vortex, forming into a giant werewolf-like beast. Aren widened his eye and clenched the handle of the Jeweled Sky, knowing what creature manifested before them.

  “All right, change of plans. We are running,” he said.

  Layette frowned. “Black blood… I think I had encountered the beast when freeing the prisoners. What is that thing?”

  “That thing is the Omega. Its kind literally ended armies with its ability to create wolves from dead corpses.” Aren furrowed his brows. “Fighting it head on is no option either. It has a special affliction that affects us, so we—”

  “So, that is what spawning those hellish fiends. I will end it here so it will not follow us!”

  “Don’t you dare—no Layette, no!”

  Layette condensed the Phoenix’s fire into her blade and charged at the Omega. She unleashed a flurry of strikes against the beast. To her surprise, it caught her blade with its finger tips, then snapped the sharpened metal into two. The creature raised its fists, punching her away. Her feet dug deep into the ground, and she withstood the blow by blocking with her arm.

  “Hah, you think that would hurt me? You got to do better than that!” she taunted.

  Her cocky expression soon faded when she realized a dark, oozing slime on her arm. It grew at a rapid rate, eating away at her flesh. The Omega watched Layette writhe in pain, laughing like a mad dog. Aren sucked his teeth, coming to her side. He took out a talisman from his pouch, chanting a foreign spell. The paper turned into dust and it burned away the dark ooze.

  “Merlin, Merlin, come here!” he commanded.

  “Y-Yes, sir!”

  “Can you dispel it, can you?!”

  “O-Oh, it’s a—”

  Aren turned to Layette’s wound, seeing her veins slowly turn purple. “Oh crap! Merlin, do it now, now!”

  “R-Right away!”

  Merlin frantically tried to cast magic to help. Unfortunately, nothing but sparks came out from his staff. Aren gritted his teeth, forcibly grabbing the staff from him, breaking the mana crystal on top of the scepter. Blue light surged into his body and he healed Layette’s wound. The darkened veins disappeared, and he sighed in relief.

  “I’m sorry, Mr. Aren. I’m not that good of a mage…” Merlin said, looking away.

  Aren shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Oh, sorry about breaking your staff: I needed the mana. You all right, Layette?”

  “Y-Yes… Ugh, I feel terrible. What just happened?” she asked.

  “That was Void Blight. Great Void creatures, like the Omega, have dark oozes on their body. Once on contact, it burns your skin like acid. That’s not the problem, though.” Aren furrowed his brows. “The Blight seeps into your wound and infects your body. Once it reaches to your head… well, let’s say you won’t be the one alive to control it.”

  He helped her on her feet, and everyone stared at the Omega. It formed Shadow Wolves from the dark ooze on its body. The creature commanded its brethren to charge. Layette used her Phoenix power to incinerate them.  It grunted and let out a piercing cry, manifesting more Shadow Wolves at its will.

  “I have enough power to stall it. Once I create something to obscure its vision, you guys take the survivors and run past it.” Aren threw the Jeweled Sky at Layette. “I trust that you keep them safe. Oh, and that weapon is special: don’t leave a scratch on it.”

  “Once again, I do not have much of a choice… Fine, I guess we will have to do it your way,” Layette said.

  Archimedes approached Aren and raised his head, wanting to join the fight against the Omega. He fought these creatures centuries ago, so his experience would be invaluable in such a conflict. Despite this, Aren shook his head and patted his shell.

  “No, Archimedes, you go with them.”

  The tortoise protested.

  “You know the ins and outs of this place. I trust you would guide them to safety.”

  Archimedes hesitated, then nodded. Aren faced off against the Omega. He taunted the creature, beckoning it to come at him. The Omega snorted, sending its Shadow Wolves to attack. Aren summoned magical orbs of light, shooting out beams to kill them. With a snap of his finger, the Omega was pulled into a ball of fire, which exploded. A massive dust cloud was formed, and he turned to Layette and the others.

  “Go!” he commanded.

  Layette, Merlin, Archimedes, and the prisoners ran into the dust cloud. The Omega roared, swiping the smoke away. It realized only one of its victims remained, but it did not care. The beast growled, staring at Aren with maddening eyes.

  “Read some books about you fellas. They say your kind is intelligent. Let’s put that to the test, shall we?” Aren gibed.

  The Omega opened its mouth. Words resonated into his subconscious, as if the beast was communicating to him through its mind. “fOoLiSh iS ThE WoRlD Of mAn. tO vIsAgE mE, aLoNe, Is tHe tEsTaMeNt oF MaNkInD’S StUpIdItY.”

  “Woah, it’s smart enough to speak! That’s a plus one.”

  “tHy WoRdS ArE nOtHiNg tO Me. ThEe ShAlT SeRvE Us, lIkE OtHeRs bEfOrE tHeE. ThE hOpE oF MaNkInD ShAlL FaLl!

  Aren smirked. “Yeah, yeah, I heard those words many times before. Let’s put your smarts to the test, shall we?”

  It had been a week since Layette’s disappearance. Upon hearing the news from Segenam, Morrison sent in a regiment to surround the forest’s perimeter. Three days after the soldiers set camp, the barrier was mysteriously dispelled. Now, Morrison was leading an operation to eliminate the shadowy-like beasts. Since the Forest of Sorrows had too much ground to cover, the Damorian force was split into platoons. There, the troops would begin their sweep and report their statuses through magically interfaced compasses. The operation soon took a turn, as many of the platoons reported heavy injuries from each skirmish. With casualties piling and the threat remaining at large, Morrison devised a plan: send in a smaller party to extract the Phoenix of Damore while using a large force to distract the enemy.

  Segenam was tasked to lead a rescue group to the center of the forest. As he moved up to the frontline, he watched as these demonic creatures tore and ate the flesh of whoever came up against them. His compatriots, though frightened, kept a tight formation as they advanced, killing the wolves. A group of Damorians were engulfed by a dark mist and were eaten alive. The mages surrounded the creature to burn it down, and it screamed in agony. The sight of this brought out the horrible flashbacks of the past which ignited a sleeping evil within him. A flash of orange soared across the sky: that was their signal.

  “Sir Segenam, that’s the cue. We must leave post haste.”

  “I agree. Let’s get this done so we can help the boys out later.”

  The party snuck past the major battle and headed deep into the forest. The group huddled close together as they heard the constant explosions and screams of their comrades. It wasn’t long before the sounds of conflict became muffled noises.

  “I’m going to scout ahead,” Segenam told them. “Keep it tight and have eyes peeled.”

  He leapt from branch to branch, picking up his pace. He scanned the area and luckily, there were no enemies waiting for them. In the distance, he spotted a fiery object in the sky: it was a bird made of pure fire. Layette was close!

  “Thank the Gods… She’s still alive,” Segenam thought out loud.

  The bird came close and chirped in a cheerful tone. It beckoned for him to follow it. Segenam went back to the rescue party, telling them she was not far ahead. Together, they followed the bird, and it led them to a waterfall. The critter chirped once more before self-destructing itself. Segenam peered over the cliff’s edge, trying to find Layette. It didn’t take long before he saw flames erupting to the sky. There, his sister was fighting against several Shadow Wolves while protecting a caravan of people. After finding a way down to them, he commanded the party to prioritize protecting the survivors.

  Segenam did not hesitate to enter the fray: he leapt from where he stood and, by an instant, killed one of the Shadow Wolves chasing Layette. Her eyes trailed to the side with eyebrows raised.

  “Brother, by the Gods you came!” she exclaimed.

  “Is that how you say thank you? Come on, let’s take them down like the old days!”


  With a flurry of cooperative strikes, the duo took down the horde of Shadow Wolves. One wolf came out from the bushes, but a giant tortoise smashed its body into the monster, making it turn into dark mist. Within under a minute, they slew all attackers. Segenam put his sword away and hugged his sister.

  “Never do that again, okay? Everyone was worried sick about you!” he lamented.

  “Sorry, sorry… I will try not to rush in again, but I make no promise.”

  “Rash as always,” Segenam chuckled. “So, there were people trapped inside here. Glad that you didn’t go sword-blazing like usual and saved them first.”

  “Oh, yes, I did, in fact, save them. It was all me and, of course, Merlin. No one else.”


  She turned to face the group of survivors. The rescue party were handing out rations to the hungry people, and one of them was tending Merlin’s wounds. Layette pointed at him. “That one. If it was not for him, I would not have made it out here. And Archimedes.”


  The giant tortoise from before came forward and nudged its head on Segenam’s body. It smiled to show he was a friendly animal.

  “You sure made friends along the way. Uncle will give them the recognition they deserve. Now, we must get out of here. The situation is looking grim.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Uncle sent a regiment here to deal with the threat. They are battling the creatures now, but I’m not sure how long they can last. With your help, we can push forward and end the source to all of this.” Segenam veered his eyes to Layette’s weapon, which gave off a sparkling green glow. “Nice sword… Where did you get it?”

  “Oh, it is from… Oh no, he is still there.” Layette stopped and turned around. “We cannot leave him. I got to knock some sense into that one-eyed freak!”

  “Are you serious, Layette? There is no time for that.”

  “We left someone behind so we could escape. I have to go back.”

  “There’s no way I’m going to let you hinder the reason we came here. Now come on, prioritize safety first!”

  “No, it would be unheroic-like to leave a person behind for my own needs! Merlin, can you still walk? I need your help to find him again.”

  Merlin could barely stand: he held onto his staff to keep himself up. The medic approached Segenam, shaking their head. “It is a miracle this boy is alive. The infection has gone deep and without treatment, he could die very soon.”

  “Can you heal it?”

  “No, sir. This requires the work of a Faith Healer. I’m afraid my healing would not suffice.”

  Segenam sucked his teeth. “See Layette? There are other pressing matters. We have to go, now.”

  Layette lowered her eyes and clenched her fist. Merlin limped to them and with a deep breath, he let out an enthusiastic shout: “Merlin Ambrosius reporting for duty, Miss Layette!”

  “There’s no way I’ll let a limping, dying boy out into the wilderness,” Segenam argued. “Stop being ignorant fools, you two!”

  The tortoise raised his head, lifting its front leg off from the ground. Though no one understood what it meant, Merlin realized what he was trying to say.

  “I think Archimedes is saying he would carry me along with Layette,” he said.

  “Don’t be stupid! How can you be so reckless when you are in such a state!” Segenam chided.

  “Don’t worry, he is a fast one and I’m sure we will catch up back with you guys no time!”

  Segenam touched his chin, not convinced by this decision. He accepted the fact that he won’t be able to change their minds. With an irritated sigh, he gestured them to go. He told one mage to lend their staff to Merlin and together, the three disappeared into the thicket.

  One soldier came up to him. “Sir, what do we do now? Command won’t be pleased to find out we let the Phoenix of Damore out again.”

  Segenam turned to him and grinned. “Well, lets tell Command Layette is doing Layette things. Come on, let’s get the rest out of here and rendezvous with the others.”

  The center of the Forest of Sorrows was nothing but barren land. The fight between the Omega and Aren raged on, as the two destroyed everything in their path, be it plants, trees, or nearby wildlife. With the burst of mana gained from the crystal he’d crushed, Aren could cast his spells with no side effects for a limited time. Explosions flared up in front of him as the barrage of spells continued to rain upon the Omega. The beast howled a thunderous cry, sending its dark mist to him. Aren dodged the incoming trails and closed in with a manifested sword made from his own mana. The Omega saw this and swiped him to the side with its claws. Aren felt the winds cleave past his face as he dug his mana weapon deep into the Void Beast’s arm. With a quick slash, the arm of the Omega was torn asunder from its body. It cried out in pain and unleashed its pack of Shadow Wolves.

  Aren sucked his teeth, backing off as he had to deal with the climbing numbers of wolves. Once they were dealt with, he realized the arm regenerated back and the Omega clenched its hand to test its strength. Aren approached the creature, slashing his weapon at the same arm. The impact shattered his mana weapon into pieces, and after seeing many more break, he backed off to assess what happened.

  The Omega cackled devilishly. “fOoLiSh mOrTaL, tHy sTrIkE ShAlL NoT WoRkEtH AnYmOrE. mInE OwN CoRsE GrOwS StRoNgEr wItH EaCh bLoW.”

  The Void Beast sent out its mist once again, which Aren avoided. It became more aggressive as the fight continued on, resorting to close-to-close combat. The flow of Aren’s mana was becoming smaller and smaller with each use, so he had to end the fight before his body would shut down. He touched his eyepatch, hesitating to take it off.

  If I use this, everyone would know of its power. Once everyone knows, He would find me. Crap. He bolted around, while the mist followed. Soon, it surrounded him and that was when he made his split-second decision. I have no choice: The Omega would keep regenerating if I don’t use all of my strength to beat it! That is your excuse, Aren Damoder!

  Aren stopped his movement, allowing the dark mist to pierce through his body. Blood splattered all over and a pool of red formed around him. The Omega laughed, seeing the Void Blight take over his foe’s body.

  “aNoN ThEe sEe tHe eRrOr oF ThY WaYs. FaLlEtH LiKe tHe rEsT Of tHy kIn, FoOlIsH MoRtAl.”

  The Omega stopped laughing when it realized the Void Blight’s progression was being reversed. Aren looked up, revealing his right golden eye. The dark mist vanished and a bright white flame burst out from his body. The cloudless blue sky was no more: thunder boomed from the blackened clouds above. Several silver circles of arcana formed around his right arm as he raised it. A holy light shined upon the Omega, and the Void Beast covered its face in fear.

Aren reveals his true power. (Artist: Claarin)

  “This is the power that saved the world. I, Atlas Reinhardt, shall give you the pleasure of tasting its glory. Feel the wrath of the Gods, MIGHT OF HEAVEN!”

  A star twinkled in the distance and shot a ray of light to smite the Omega. Gale winds surged out from the blast, lifting nearby trees from their roots. The explosion made a massive crater on the ground and set off wildfires to run rampant. When the dust settled, Aren checked the Omega’s corpse. Nothing from its body was spared and to that, he put back his right eyepatch to seal his dominant power.

  “It’s finally over.” His head started to spin. “Ack, what have I… done?”

  He fell to the floor, his body exhausted from the battle. Voices loomed in close, though he could not recognize them. His eye slowly closed on their own and darkness was the only thing he could see.

  The explosion from the Might of Heaven could be seen from distances away. It was from one vantage point a black hooded man witnessed such. His head turned to see the mushroom cloud rising to the sky while feeling the earth rumbling beneath him. This was the work of an individual who had the power to shift and bend the very foundations of this planet. It was this power the hooded man knew who was the one responsible.

  “There you are. So, you are alive after all these years… as it predicted.” A moon-shaped golden eye glowed from the shadows of the man’s hood. He grinned, facing the mushroom cloud. “The time has come. This world shall face its salvation soon enough.”

- my thoughts:
Updated (final no backsies [except for grammar]) / [3/4/2021] Fixed dialogue inconsistencies, tuned Layette's dialect.
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