Chapter 20: The Coward Who Would Be King
Destruction; all that remained of the once great Ossyria was destruction. Clytemnestra fired upon Edelstein five more times after the first failed attempt, each progressively stronger than the last which thankfully was unable to get through with the addition of Helen’s power as well as the other mages that had come into the town. When even a 95% charge of the World Cannon didn’t erase Edelstein, Clytemnestra turned her frustrated rage onto Ossyria itself: Mu Lung, a once thriving herb garden was nothing but bitter smelling ash. The Minar Forest was now nothing but a vast wasteland of blackened earth, killing every living thing within it. The Dragon’s Nest became a glass sea, and the Islands that once supported Ludibrum were on the verge of sinking.
Despite their small victory of saving so many people, there were still hundreds, if not thousands more that were lost because they didn’t make it inside the barrier, The Master’s included. The people inside prayed that whoever wasn’t near the western most continent somehow survived the attack, clinging to one another for comfort.
“I still can’t believe she’s gone.” Jenny sniffled as Patricia sat beside her, keeping silent as she had no idea what to say.
“Neither can I.” Matthew said, his shoulders slumping as Yasmin, his mother came over to him and leaned onto his shoulders; she had been thrown under the barrier by Dances with Balrog just before it had made contact with the ground, standing with Matthew when he vanished from their sight.
“Excuse me, do you know where I can find the Empress?” a voice called. Jack looked up to see a group of people, ranging in age from a child to an elderly man.
“At the moment I don’t know. Can I be of any help?” he asked, trying as best he could to suppress his own feelings to help these people as best he could: he was after all, one of The Guardians.
“Perhaps; Can you explain why it is that so many people were lost? There was at least a few seconds before the world cannon was to hit Edelstein; my husband was among them!”
“A-a-and my wife and granddaughter! What about them?! Do they not matter as much to you?” an elderly man joined in soon followed by the entire crowd, all shouting questions and insults until Matthew and Nathan stepped up and unleashed a well controlled Dragon’s Roar above them as Helen began speaking.
“Dost thou think a spell of such power can be thought and brought to bear in an instant? The World Cannon is not a simple thing to defend against!” she shouted.
“You could have activated it later and saved so many people!” A person shouted, stirring the crowed into another bout of insults and questions.
“DID ANY OF YOU STOP TO THINK THAT WE LOST PEOPLE TOO?!” Dumia shouted, stomping the foot of her mecha hard behind the people, making them turn in fear to her.
“Did any of you know that I lost my grandfather out there?! Did any of you know that all the Guardians lost their parents?! DID ANY OF YOU STOP TO THINK THAT WE’RE IN THE SAME POSITION AS YOU?!” Dumia roared, tears streaming down her face as Vondra walked up to Matthew and Aran. Instantly the crowd quieted, looking back to them with less revulsion then previously shown.
“You mean, The Advance Masters are dead?” a child asked, holding a simple stick for a wand as Olsen stepped forward and explained.
“Yes, that is what we’re saying, The Advance Master’s were our parents if you recall.” He said, nearing the verge of tears himself. Lillianne, mostly known as Aran now, looked over to Matthew as Dumia and Vondra both stood next to him; she knew what it was like to lose a parent when her father, the true Aran, passed away a couple years ago and could sympathize with Matthew.
“I’m sorry for taking this out on you. I suppose I’m just looking for some way to…”
“I know. We’re all trying to cope.” Cygnus finished, catching everyone off guard.
“I am sorry for your loss, for all of your losses. It was a decision of mine to activate the barrier when I did because if I had waited any longer, the barrier would not have been strong enough to thwart the World Cannon, and even then it still had not fully strengthened.” She explained, rubbing her temple a bit. The crowd seemed momentarily satisfied with the information given to them, but there was still the matter of their sorrow and that eventually, it might come back in a negative way. Until then, this uneasy peace would have to suffice
With a heaving cough, Dureau lifted the giant slab covering them, somewhat protecting him and Mastema from where the World Cannon had hit. Mastema set her hands on the ground, stretching hard making her back crack a few times, and as she stood her hand brushed up against his, making a flood of heat come to her cheeks. Memories of her being embraced by Dureau for nearly a day as they hid under the stone came to mind, though most of it was to calm her nerves as she heard the explosions and felt the ground shake beneath them. After the initial attack was over, Mastema quickly calmed trying not to make it so obvious that she was no longer frightened.
“Are you alright Mastema?” Dureau asked when he saw her jerk her hand away.
“Y-y-y-yes, I’m fine.” she stuttered. Dureau stared at the wasteland all around them, shaking his head in disbelief: was this what he was following The Black Mage for all those centuries ago?
“We need to get to Edelstein; that seems to be where everyone was headed before the cannon was fired.” Dureau announced, taking a moment to think about where he needed to go, picking his way through the fallen trees and scorched earth with Mastema close behind. For what felt like hours they trekked, eventually coming to the sands of the Nihal desert sporting trenches of glass running all throughout it where the World Cannon had been fired.
“I wonder if Magatia survived.” Mastema commented.
“If it did, only a few walls will have remained.” Dureau commented. Looking at the sun, they found which way they needed to go and began trudging across the vast golden ocean towards Ariant where they would be able to get water to help them on their journey. However the abandoned town they discovered was much more broken down than Dureau had been told, thankfully with the natural Oasis still intact. After some searching, they managed to find a few water skins that hadn’t been damaged and filled them as much as they could, slinging them over their shoulders and starting out once more across the desert towards El Nath. As they walked, Mastema’s ears twitched, hearing something that sounded as if it were following them underground. From time to time she would stop, turning around to see if anything was there only to find that the sound had disappeared and the sand behind them appeared to have been shifted somehow.
“Mastema? Is everything alright?” Dureau asked, noticing her frequent stops and twitchy demeanor.
“I’m not sure; it sounds like we’re being followed, but every time I turn around to see if we are, the sound disappears.” Dureau lowered his brow; he too had heard the noise, but passed it off as just being Mastema’s footsteps in the sand. With a wave of his hand, Dureau instructed for them to continue while he heightened the amount of Agies he used, amplifying his awareness as they walked. They had only gone a few steps when something felt like it was following them, instantly making Dureau turn and swing his mace hard while a scythe plunged into the sands.
As soon as the blade stopped, a giant serpent burst from beneath the sands, but appeared to have been warped somehow. When the cloud of sand and dust had finally settled, the serpent fixed its gaze on Mastema, diving for her with mouth agape only to catch a mouthful of sand as it was thrown back when Mastema attacked with a wave of her own Ageis. It was only detoured for a moment, quickly regaining its baring and lunging at her again, this time met with Dureau’s more potent Ageis and hurled further away. When it returned again, Dureau slammed his mace into the ground making a forest of spikes spring from the ground and skewer the serpent, tearing it apart when it pulled back into the ground.
The two of them turned to leave, certain their pursuer was dead when a chilling wave of something emanated from the corpse. Mastema slowly turned around to see what it was and watched in stunned silence as the serpent Dureau had just torn apart healed all its wounds with a black glow while dark aura hung all around it.
“Dureau look out!” Mastema shouted, shoving Dureau aside as the serpent lunged once again, swallowing her whole in his place.
Dureau did nothing at first, trying to analyze what it was that had just happened in the few seconds that preceded, focusing especially on the look in Mastema’s eyes as she pushed him out of the way.
“Why? Why would you do something like that for me? Is there something that I have missed all these years?” he thought, watching the serpent turn its head up to swallow its mouthful before turning to him and fixing its gaze on him once more, gathering up its body behind it preparing to strike.
“I’ve always expected loyalty from Mastema, but to go this far, there must be something more that I haven’t seen; her eyes told of her worry for me, the same as when I returned to the Temple after finding my family killed. Have I really been so blind?” he asked himself, thinking back to everything that Mastema had done for him while in his service and more recently how he had seen her for so long: a subordinate. Lowering his brow, Dureau looked up at the serpent, anger blazing in his eyes, holding his mace beside him as it fizzed with hot Agies.
“You will return what you have taken if I have to slit your belly and take her out myself!” He shouted. He took a step forward when something wrapped around him hard and began to squeeze, hissing in his ear making his stomach turn as he heard the serpent salivating. As he struggled to break free, the grip on him only became tighter making stars begin to appear in his vision.
“Is this how it will end?” he asked, the last of his breath being pushed from his chest when the first serpent stopped, looking down at its belly where something appeared to be moving around under his skin. Another moment passed until the serpent appeared to writhe, throwing its head back as its belly swelled, then burst open as Mastema shoved her way from it, bounding over to Duerau and cutting through the bands of muscle holding Dureau.
“We’ll talk after Master! Right now we need to deal with these serpents.” She shot back, backing up to Dureau with her sword at the ready. Mentally Dureau sighed a breath of relief and straightened up, watching as the two serpents healed themselves and six more appeared from the sands around them.
“Tell me, why the World Cannon has ceased to function?!” Clytemnestra demanded as a group of mages examined a large cylinder rising from the Time Sphere into the Upper Clock Tower.
“From what it looks like, there is a conduit that had overloaded and fried. Remember, this stuff is old, and from all record of Ossyria, this is the first time that the Cannon has been used since the beginning of…” the mage was turned to skittering pieces of ash when Clytemnestra waved her hand across her vision where the mage had been before.
“I will only say this once, and I don’t want any excuses! Get the cannon working before I lose all my patience! I have been waiting for centuries and I am not about to miss what I have worked so hard for!” she shouted, instantly making all the mages work at an even faster pace, analyzing and repairing the damage to the Rue conduit.
“All this just to have a world you can rule Corus?” Clytemnestra asked, making The Mage sigh with an agitated breath, mentally turning to her where she appeared to be held in shackles on each of her extremities.
“All needs to be wiped away so that a new world can be built. I thought I made that clear to you!”He growled. Clytemnestra sadly shook her head as she looked into The Mage’s eyes.
“What made you hate this world so much that you would turn against everything that you and your beloved Minerva had created? What wrong have they done?” For a brief moment, The Mage appeared to have been shaken, awakened from a daze that he had been in for so long.
“I…” But the moment quickly passed and The Mage returned to his repulsive self; anger and malevolence returning to his eyes as he walked up to Clytemnestra and gently put his hand around her throat, squeezing slightly.
“If I had no need for your spirit to still live within this body, I would have eliminated you long ago. But seeing as killing you would be counterproductive, I’ll settle for putting you in eternal sleep.” The Mage smirked, holding his palm to her chest and sending a pulse of Black Magic through her. When the pulse had finished, Clytemnestra leveled her frightened gaze with his.
“Corus… you’re trying to fight this. It’s not you that’s… making you do… this. Who… are you?” Clytemnestra asked before hanging her head and slumping in the shackles that held her.
“I am that which Corus to foolishly accepted to rebirth this world. I am, Black Magic. The only reason I’m not going to completely destroy this world is because what remains of Corus’s soul is preventing me from doing so; creating a new world order will suffice.”
“How is that?” Crow asked, making sure that Starling was comfortable as she lay on what remained of a cot left behind in the now abandoned Leafre.
“Better; it still hurts pretty bad though.” Starling answered, shifting her position to pull her weight off the side where her gash was.
“Yoshumari is trying to contact the other Seraphim in hopes of calling one of their healers. He says that he could try and heal you himself, but that his knowledge of medical and healing spells is limited and he might not be able to heal you propperly.”
“What about the boy? The one who had his arms broken; it seemed as though he was able to heal his arms just fine.” Starling pointed out.
“I asked him about that, and he said those wounds weren’t life threatening. Though he did add that the bones were healed badly and would either have to be re-broken and set properly by a doctor, or would need to be looked at by a high level Priest or Priestess.” Starling nodded, trying to take a deep breath when the stinging in her side prevented her from doing so any deeper.
“Where is he now?”
“I’m right here.” Yoshumari responded, the sound of his wings shifting as he walked into the small room, taking Starling’s extended hand when she noticed he was covered in dirt and cuts.
“What happened to you? I thought you were going to contact the other Seraphim?” Crow asked.
“I was trying to, but a bunch of Battle Beetles infected with Black Magic charged me from behind. This place isn’t safe; we need to get to Edelstein, but I don’t want to move Starling too much and risk injuring her further. If I only knew more healing magic then perhaps…”
“Yoshumari, you know enough to heal my wound. I trust you.”
“Babe, I don’t have the same confidence that you do. Yes I may have healed Latimer’s arms, but that was a battle healing. I was never inclined to learn anything beyond…”
“I know you can do it my guardian angel: you won’t kill me. I’m too stubborn for that to happen.” Starling interrupted, squeezing Yoshumari’s hand.
“But I’ll leave a nasty scar; it might even hurt long after the wound has healed on its own.” Yoshumari protested, looking over the bandages that had been wrapped around her torso along with some healing herbs that hadn’t been destroyed.
“I know you’ll do the best you can.” She replied, sighing with content and turning to the ceiling of their small base. Yoshumari looked to Crow who nodded while he hung his head, fighting the voice in his head telling him that even attempting something like this was a bad idea. Holding his hand forward, he sent a pulse of mana into the air where a giant book surrounded with warm gold light appeared before him, flipping through its pages until it turned to what appeared to be a section of healing methods and boosting spells.
“Why would you need something like this?” Starling asked, looking to the book as it drew near Yoshumari to allow him a better view.
“Cupita, if I’m going to try and heal your wounds I want to get it right. Your wounds are in a place that to my knowledge needs only one slip, and you’ll die. You mean too much to me for that to happen: I failed once, I’m not going to do it twice.” Yoshumari mumbled, gently sitting Starling up, unwrapping her torso while reading over the book, turning the page to see a diagram of the human body. As he read, the diagram appeared to change until it showed a muscular system when he turned back the previous page, reading over the healing spell more intensely.
Crow watched with amazed anticipation when something caught his attention in the corner of his eye, seeing a giant bug eyeing them with dripping jaws. Yoshumari reached over to Starlings eyes, wiping his palm down to close her eyes and relax her while Crow carefully reached to his belt for his pistol.
“Don’t do it crow. I know it’s there, but it isn’t going to attack, it’s just a scout.” Yoshumari instructed as he held his hand over Starling’s wound where a pale white light grew between his palm and Starling’s skin, making her squirm a bit as the wound pulled the flesh back together. Crow kept his eyes on the bug that sat poised behind them, its mandibles dripping with dark saliva while making clicking noises. Just before Yoshumari was to finish, the bug turned and ran off, charcoal dust following its path when Yoshumari collapsed to the ground, panting hard after healing over the wound. Starling sat up and looked down at the torso to see her wound had been healed perfectly, save for a small scar from her belly button to her side.
“I knew you could do it.” She said, pulling herself to him and thankfully kissing the side of his head and hugging him close to her.
“I hate to break this up, but we need to move; those bugs are going to be coming back enforce and the most powerful of us is pretty weak.” Crow called, standing on the branch of a fallen tree where he could see a large cloud of soot and carcoal on the horizon. Yoshumari willed his legs under him, picking up a branch to use as a walking stick and began to move.
“Listen, I may have been able to close the flesh around Starling’s wound but it isn’t completely healed and neither of you have the power needed to take on these bugs, especially you Starling.” Yoshumari commented, stopping for a moment and holding up his hand, trying to activate his Nalcana but finding that it was weak at best. Crow and Starling reluctantly agreed to his commands and followed after him, making sure to keep a possible hiding spot in view at all times in case something were to happen..
“What are we to do Phantom? The people have lost their zest for life, and their will to fight against Clytemnestra is gone.” Mercedes asked. staring up at the sky with lost eyes.
“There is nothing that we can do. Not until we have found something for them to believe in.” Luminous replied, looking over the people from his perch atop the mayoral building where Mercedes and Phantom had joined him.
“Aren’t you worried about Lania?” Phantom asked.
“Yes, I am. But for the moment I think she is safe. Clytemnestra hasn’t targeted anything in Victoria as of yet, but that could change.” He replied, getting a far off look on his face as he turned to Ossyria. Mercedes hung her head as well, thinking to her family and kingdom in Ellul: would they be in any danger? It seemed that Clytemnestra had stopped her assault for the moment, but that could change at any time.
“What if we were to rescue Rhinne?” Phantom asked suddenly.
“From what The New Guardians have said, Rhinne has been missing for some time.”
“That’s impossible. How did she attend Evan and Mir’s memorial then?” Luminous asked when they noticed Olsen walking up to them along the peak of the roof.
“I couldn’t help but hear your conversation from the street. From what I remember, Rhinne almost appeared to be searching for someone to talk with but, every time she was about to something else would happen and she wouldn’t be allowed to speak. I think she had sent a small part of herself to us to ask for help, but was never given the chance.” Luminous pinched the bridge of his nose, mentally beating himself up for not noticing that Rhinne was in such need.
“That’s what we’ll do then.” Phantom announced, pressing a button on his sleeve as the pod for his ship came down.
“What about the barrier? You won’t be able to get out!” Mercedes reminded him until Luminous set a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m going with you, and I can bend the barrier to let us out. But I would like to ask if you could take me to Victoria first. I need to get Lania before anything happens.” Phantom nodded, the three of them soon standing on the bridge and the ship lazily heaving into motion, passing through the barrier with ease before steadily gaining speed.
“We should be in Victoria within a few hours. Get some rest Luminous, you look like you haven’t slept in a few days.” Mercedes said as the mage agreed and retired to one of the lavish guest quarters.
“A rescue mission such as this is rather bold of you. What’s changed?” Mercedes asked turning back to see that Phantom had relieved Renault of his duties for the time being.
“The world that I knew is gone, but its people are still here keeping the spirit of what Ossyria stood for alive. I was too much of a coward back then which is why I left you five at the temple. I’ve been given a second chance; I’m not going to screw it up this time.” Phantom replied, staring straight on ahead and he directed the Lumiere to the Temple of Time when something he said caught her attention.
“Five? Don’t you mean four? There were only five of us, remember?” Phantom lowered his brow, looking back to Mercedes with confusion written all over his face.
“Yes, that’s what I meant.” He said with apprehension.
“Did I imagine Eunwol being one of us?” he thought, letting Luminous off in Victoria before quickly guiding the ship through the sheer force winds surrounding the Temple and landing it gently within the main corridor. Upon getting out, they were met by Geridon who explained the situation to them after they explained why it was they had come.
“The only place that seems to have strong energy of any kind coming from it is near where Pink Bean had set up his throne room.” Phantom and Mercedes looked to each other and immediately began rushing through the halls, ignoring the guards and monks that tried to block their way, some of them being the unfortunate ones to try and stop the two of them. Even the three Guards of Time were no match for them, taking them down with little more than a wave of their hand.
When they finally burst through the doors leading to the very last room, both of them stopped only able to stare at the sight before them: Rhinne had been encased in a rough glass crystal atop a platform, surrounded by four towers with large orbs atop them. These orbs then had thick threads of power stemming from Rhinne, draining her power making the air all around them feel thick, making it difficult to breathe.
“Amazing isn’t it?” a voice wheezed, drawing their attention to the side of the platform where Arkarium pompously walked around it, staring at her with very near lustful eyes.
“All this time, and no one, not even The Mage himself knew what kind of power that she commands. With a single snap of her fingers, she could wipe a city off the face of Ossyria. It’s taken weeks of planning, but now that I have her, I haven’t even begun draining a tenth of her power; it’s amazing!” Arkarium hissed, his facial expression appearing to have become twenty years younger.
“You’re sick Arkarium. You tainted her with Black Magic; you tried to kill her for the gain of The Mage!” Mercedes shouted, slowly reaching for the bow gun on her belt.
“You still don’t understand! She was never meant to be a goddess! She was meant to be the one that would bring all of Ossyria into a brand new world! Ariel and The Black Mage both drew up a contract stating that very purpose!” Arkarium shouted, turning to the two of them, slamming his staff onto the ground.
“Areil? Areil has been gone for eons, and the Black Mage has only been alive for a few centuries! How could she have drawn up a contract?” Phantom hissed, making Arkarium pull a smirk across his face and shake head.
“I am amazed by your ignorance, Heroes. You have forgotten the fact that the Verus Vicis exists? Not many know about it, nor do they deserve to. But this entire world, all of Ossyria, is nothing but a lie, a phantasm; a single desperate woman’s dream!” He shouted, holding his arms wide with a wide grin across his face.
“What do you mean?” Phantom asked.
“This dimension didn’t exist before Areil’s desperate attempt at postponing the inevitable fate for Rhinne. Since there is no way for The Mage to use her power, he will then rule this world in its place and he will use her for that purpose!”
“Not if we have anything to say about it!” Mercedes shouted, grabbing her guns and firing a barrage of arrows at him which were then deflected when Arkarium swept his hand to the side, power blasting from the mouth of his cobra familiar, eradicating the arrows in a cloud of black magic. With a burst of mana Phantom shot forward, drawing his cane sword and disappearing in a whirlwind that steadily grew larger, drawing in anything that wasn’t tied down as he moved nearer. Arkarium smiled, holding out his left hand where a burning skull appeared, making his Cobra Familiar seem to swell with power before swing his staff forward followed by the cobra, hurling itself forward and striking Phantom hard with one of its wings on its hood.
Mercedes crossed her bows over her chest as bright glowing vines reached up her legs, down her arms and across her cheeks making the orbs in her bows glow even more intensely while green light surrounded her eyes, charging forward and firing off arrows that sounded like gunfire. Some of them were deflected by Arkarium’s shield spell, but a few of them made it through to his Familiar and disrupting the spell. Phantom pulled himself from the ground, growling hard as he pulled a card from his deck, finding that it was Jenny’s Eye of Arrows, slapping it onto the hold on her forearm before drawing out another card, this one depicting his giant Knight. With a burst of mana he hurled it forward, the hazy knight swinging its giant sword where Arkarium stood, only to miss when the old man teleported to another part of the room.
“Ancient spirit of the forest, hear my call and grant me your power for a time!” Mercedes called, as what a giant, glowing elk appeared behind her, rearing up while antlers flashed into place on Mercedes’ head before once again charging in. Phantom’s missed a swing making him put his cards away, holding his cane forward in the crook o his thumbs as mana rose into the air around him, forming a flame that burst into a crescent moon and stars, descending around him and making the same moon appear on his forehead.
“Let’s see how you like this you dirty snake!” Phantom shouted, drawing another card to see the elegant calligraphy written on it: Bad Luck Ward. With a smirk, Phantom pushed mana through the card making the spell within it come blazing to life, engulfing his body in a pale yellow light for a moment before he charged in, alternating attacks with Mercedes, keeping the old man on the constant defensive. If they could keep him this way before their mana ran dry, they could theoretically take him down easily. However as they fought on, Mercedes began to think their battle tactics weren’t going to work.
“I don’t get it! There’s no end to his mana! If this keeps up, we’ll never be able to defeat him and free Rhinne!” Mercedes heaved, mentally checking her mana level and guessing that Phantom couldn’t be much better off than her.
“I don’t think he’s using his own mana.” Phantom breathed, closing his eyes for a moment, activating the spell with his eye and looking over Arkarium and his familiar.
“How can you know that? Besides, he’s a mage. Luminous and Freud always did command a greater reserve of mana than we ever did.” Mercedes pointed out as Arkarium looked to be readying another attack spell, this one taking much more time to get ready.
“I know, but he’s using the mana of his Familiar. I remember Minerva saying once that if we chose to have a familiar, it would offer us a greater well of mana since they always had many times more mana than even the most powerful of mages.” As Phantom finished his explanation, the two of them split ways, avoiding as best they could the strikes of black lightning falling all around them, turning the cobblestone floor into bubbling black molten rock.
“What do you suggest?” Mercedes asked once she was able to get back to Phantom.
“We’ll just need to resort to either physical attacks, or our lowest form of attacks. But that could be a problem in your case since your arrows use mana just to activate.” Mercedes smirked, deactivating her Eye of Arrows and dismissing her Spirit Surge.
“I’ll be alright. I should be able to restore my mana just by using a basic attack.” She smiled, taking an extra moment to keep her gaze level with Phantom’s before stepping out from their hiding spot to face Arkarium as he searched for them. It would be a long time before that Familiar ran out of mana, but at this point it was their best and only shot.