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Chapter 10

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“Few elements in the makeup of the Empyrean are as important or as overlooked as the Ardent. They serve as a constant reminder of the Empyrean’s fundamental purpose. An alliance founded on the defense of each other. They exemplify the spirit of the Empyrean. They are our heroes, and they are our living sacrifices, offered up on the altar of war.”

—A People’s Oral History of the Empyrean Alliance, Rosen Barvel

Sylvas fell.

There wasn’t enough time for his life to flash before his eyes. No time to think about the way that he’d been tricked. No time to look back at all the stories of him being the chosen one. No time for him to come to terms with the fact that he’d ended the world, led there by the people that he had trusted the most. 

Instead there was just the whipping of wind past his face as he fell towards the distant ground. 

Perhaps I’ll land in the courtyard where the others were buried. He thought as tears streamed from his eyes. Perhaps I’ll be back with them one last time. At least before the whole world turns to dust. 

Yet as soon as he finished that thought, his fall abruptly stopped.

“Nice try lad,” a deep voice from behind Sylvas’s left ear rumbled, “but we’ll take it from here now.”

Suddenly there was an arm around his chest, the limb clad in white armor inlaid with silver, its dull gleam showing it to be made of a material that Sylvas had never seen before and would have struggled to describe. But that was only the first of his surprises, for as he twisted in his savior’s grip he made out something that wasn’t exactly a man. It was shorter than a man, but much broader too. The white armor stopped somewhere about the not-man’s neck, letting a face which was just as broad featured as their body, and adorned with a fairly spectacular beard hang loose in the air. 

What? Who…” 

There were a million questions that erupted in Sylvas’s mind, but no time to ask them as they began to rise back upwards. Breath catching in his throat as agony pulsed from his injured arm, Sylvas saw that beneath the stout man’s feet there was solid ground, but only a little island of it, floating up to carry them to the tower’s top. Whoever they were, they had magic, magic that far surpassed Sylvas’ own. Yet before that discovery could spawn a million more questions, Sylvas forced himself into the emptiness of the Unburdened Mind so that he could escape the pain of his injuries. So he could say what needed to be said instead of blurting out an incomprehensible stream of nonsense. “The demon-god is coming through on the tower-top. We have to stop it.”

“Demon-god?” The bearded man repeated, before letting out a dry chuckle. “That’s an Eidolon, lad. A tier eight Leviathan Harrower if I’m scrying it right.”

“An eidolon?” Sylvas repeated as he tested the word in his mouth, ready to demand an answer as to what such an entity was.

Yet before he could a flash of movement caught Sylvas’s eye, prompting him to first realize that they were almost level with the top of the tower now, and second, that they were not alone. Coming into view on either side of them Sylvas saw that there were others in the same white armor as his savior. Some of them flew of their own accord, carried by the wind, while others were being lifted by a slab of stone like the one carrying him. Further out he caught even more glimpses of distant white in the shadows, all while magic shot out from all around them directed towards the lesser creatures Sylvas had seen erupt from the rift. 

Creatures Sylvas only now knew were called eidolons. 

They’re all mages…and they’re all stronger than me by far. Stronger than the greatest mage on Croesia. Sylvas thought as he watched them battle, each of them casting spells that he couldn’t even begin to comprehend. But where? Where did they come from? And how…how is it that they’re— 

“Hey, you. Ya still with me?” The gruff voice that had rescued Sylvas suddenly asked, its presence cutting through Vincent’s thoughts. “Command has a question. They wannae know just how that rift got cracked open. Were you lot experimentin with magic and things got away from ye all? Or were you lookin to call this demon-god from the get-go?”

“It…it wasn’t supposed to be that,” Sylvas immediately protested, his words causing the gravity of what he’d done, of what he’d unleashed, to threaten his focus. “It was supposed to be a ritual—”

“Of course it was lad,” his savior interrupted, right before uttering what Sylvas could only assume was curse. “And let me guess. Somebody, or something, gave you that ritual. Or maybe you lot found a place or ruin describing the right magics so you could summon it. I bet whichever it was, it told ya it was gonnae fix all your problems, didn’t it?”

It was a statement that despite his Paradigm, the active emptiness of the Unburdened Mind calming his thoughts, made Sylvas’s mouth fell open in surprise. “How could you possibly know all that?”

“Because we handle one of these…rituals at least once a month.” The man growled angrily as their platform settled onto the pocked top of the tower. “Sometimes even more if folks are on leave and we need to cover their sectors. Every time it’s a similar story.”

You…handle…” Sylvas started to say, only to find himself abruptly cut off by a loud, deafening wail that caused his heart to tremble. 

The very same wail he had heard from the Crimson King when the rift calling it into this world had first opened.

Oh, oh no. Sylvas thought as the being came into view, seeing that in the time since he’d been cast from the rooftop, the monster had almost hauled its entire body through the portal that separated its realm from this one. But not without cost either, Sylvas saw, for the chitin nearest to the blinding circle of light that was the rift had warped and cracked from being forced through too small a gap. Not that such a pain slowed the creature any as it fought to push through, it seeming to just be a matter of time until its whole bulk came slithering out. 

That was unless it was stopped, as Sylvas’s savior and all of those accompanying him immediately set out to do as they landed, each of them beginning to cast spells in rapid succession.

“Good, now stay clear lad!” Sylvas heard the man shout as he was unceremoniously dumped to the ground. “We’ll send this critter back into the void it came from!”

And then, as soon as those words left their mouth, a thick spur of stone erupted from the rooftop, launching itself upwards to knock away one of the Crimson King’s clawed hands that had thrust out in their direction. However, no sooner did the stone land, did it begin to flake away into nothingness as the demon-god’s, no, the eidolon’s, reaving presence shredded it apart. Not that such a thing even phased the mysterious white-clad mages as they cast again, and again. One spike erupted sideways to knock a second reaching hand aside, quickly followed by a second – its sharp point angling itself towards the center of the eidolon’s trunk like body as if it were a spear held at the ready.

For a moment, Sylvas couldn’t understand why the mage had chosen to stop the attack short, other than perhaps a lack of stone in the tower’s top, but a moment later, clarity arrived in the form of an explosion, as it so often did. Arriving unseen, one of the other white-clad casters had flung a massive ball of fire at the eidolon from behind, the flames washing harmlessly over its chitinous hide. Yet while they did little, the impact of the blast forced the massive creature downwards. 

Right into the awaiting spike of stone.

Screeching across the hard plate of chitin between the coils of legs for a span before finding a gap and finally driving in, Sylvas heard the Crimson King let out a deafening wail as the spar drove into its body. As it did, sprawling cracks spiderwebbed out across the eidolon’s patterned shell with bursts of bleeding light rushing out from within.

Rocked by the mind-numbing cry, Sylvas couldn’t help but flinch as another mage in white landed by his side, this one a woman far taller with him and waifish in build. Yet her sudden arrival wasn’t what stole his attention in that moment, rather it was her  sharply pointed ears and fine features, signaling that she too was of a people that he had never seen or heard of before. More too, she appeared to be no less of a mage than his savior, her white armored gauntlet gesturing sharply, prompting a gleaming staff to appear out from nothingness. Snatching it up, she wasted no time in taking aim, pointing the staff’s crystal tip in the direction of the Crimson King, all while beginning her own incantation. 

One that against everything he expected to hear, happened to be familiar to Sylvas.

Wait, she’s not— Sylvas thought in a sudden panic as he followed her aim, seeing that it was right for the center of the Crimson King’s body, the placement from her perspective no doubt guaranteeing a hit. However from his own painful experience before his fall began, Sylvas knew that it was the wrong place to strike.

“No, wait! Tell her to…” Sylvas’s warning died in his throat as the short man who’d saved him abruptly broke away, the very ground he’d been standing on rising upwards into a tall pillar of stone. The Crimson King had the advantage of height over all of them, especially the squat armored man in particular, so taking it away was imperative. Yet in doing so, it forced Sylvas to make a desperate move.

That move in question being to lunge towards the newly arrived woman’s staff and knock its aim to the side. 

Arriving right as the spell she’d been channeling unleashed itself from the staff’s crystal focus in the form of a bar of light, Sylvas had just enough time to see that he hadn’t been too late. That he had managed to shift her aim just enough so that when the light reached the Crimson King, only a small fraction of it touched the centermost scale of its body and was reflected every which the way, deeply scoring the stone it touched. Yet even so, it allowed the rest of the blast to bore a hole straight through its side.

But that was about all he was able to see, for the second time in as many minutes, Sylvas was then sent flying towards the tower’s edge by a mighty blow, causing him to roll end over end. The only thing different this time was that he had the wherewithal to catch himself on one of the raised platforms the short mage had left in his wake, instead of over going the edge. Granted, his ribs cracked on impact as he did so, but it was a world better than what the distant ground would have done to him.

“Do not interfere, Harbinger!” He heard the woman bark angrily as his head swam from the strike, threatening to once again pull him out from his focus. Yet with a mighty surge of will he forced himself past the disorientation and stared back at the Crimson King, seeing that the spray of crimson light pour free from beneath where the woman’s bolt had ripped its shell open leaving the whole thing quivering and immobile. Moreover for the first time since he’d laid eyes on it, the aura of terrible destruction around the eidolon seemed to retreat.

A weakness that all of the attacking mages wasted no time in taking advantage of as another fireball exploded across its back, bathing the tower with heat, and driving the eidolon further down onto the spike of stone that kept it pinned in place. It was enough to cause the cracks on its shell to spread out further and further, each break causing a brilliant crimson light to shine out from within.

That glimpse was all that Sylvas was able to see however, as a swarm of the flying monsters arrived yet again, blocking his view of what was going on as they swept by, raking at all the white-clad mages with their claws in the process. Fortunately, whatever the armor they wore was made of was resilient enough for the flurry of blows the eidolons landed to only stagger the mages, and not pierce through it, allowing them all to continue their fight. Then just as quickly as the swarm of insect like eidolons had appeared, they were gone, leaving Sylvas to once again find tall woman, her face now slit in three lines, across her lips, nose, and through one of her eyes. 

Yet even so, she looked perfectly serene and focused, casting with the same fervor he’d last seen her with. 

How? Sylvas couldn’t help but wonder as he stared at her. Already he had known that these mages were on a completely different level above up, if only for the fact that they were choosing to willingly fight the nightmare that he had spawned into the world. But to see that even with a ruined face the one mage didn’t so much as flinch in her efforts to do so only reaffirmed their superiority in every possible aspect. It was a realization that had him turning to look inwards at his own myriad injuries, Sylvas only then noticing that the pain that had wracked him since his casting of the ritual was gone. 

Ah, no, not gone! Just…numbed. He corrected himself after a quick probe of his arm told him otherwise, the agony prompting him to glance down towards it. The mana burns that ran up the length of his arm had stopped screaming their tales of devastation to his brain, but he was far from completely healed, the arm still hanging limp and useless at his side. But even so…it feels…better? And it’s not bleeding anymore. Did one of them cast a mending spell on me that I didn’t see? 

But whatever the answers might have been to that question, Sylvas once again had no time to discover them, for in the brief moment that his attention had wandered, the battle had shifted yet again.

“Fall to me!” He heard the tall woman shout, her voice’s commanding presence so potent that it practically caused the very air to resonate as it reached out to grab Sylvas’s attention. 

And for good reason too, Sylvas noted a second later as he spotted a renewed flight of the lesser, insect like, eidolons as they flew in to swarm the tower en masse once more.

This time, the woman was ready for their arrival, the butt of her staff slamming into the ground at her feet and causing a cage of light to burst out from its tip, surrounding her. As the fliers crashed into it, they burst apart into cubed chunks, spattering along the ground beyond her before beginning to dissolve away into raw mana.

“Gonna be comin in hot!” The familiar voice of the short mage abruptly announced from amid the chaos, prompting Sylvas’s gaze to launch itself back upwards, arriving just in time to see the man leap off of the towering pillar he’d been surveying the battlefield from.

Gasping as he saw the man begin to plummet downwards, for as second Sylvas thought that the mage had intended to strike out at the Crimson King, the massive eidolon having remained fixed in place by a constant barrage of explosive fire upon it. It was a fact even further reinforced by the great fist of stone that appeared in the mage’s hand as he fell, Sylvas immediately likening it to a fist falling from the heavens themselves, deigned to fully impale the monster on the spike it already sat upon.

Except that wasn’t where the mage landed. 

Instead, the man fell just short of the monster, his fist smashing into the stone floor of the tower’s peak, which promptly leapt up and outwards as if he had dropped a boulder into a pond. Rising up in a powerful ripple of magic made real, the wave of stone then launched everything upon it into the air, including the Crimson King, who was flung free of the thick spike that had pinned it.

It was a sight that immediately stupefied Sylvas as he watched the wave of stone rush towards him, the other mages before him either leaping over the wave or taking flight with magic. 

What…what am I supposed to do? He thought numbly as the ground beneath his feet abruptly lurched upwards.

Thereby sending him flying off the tower’s edge once more.

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