Upon stained ivory, our souls are bound. Though our murky chains, none have found.
When heavens crack and fall to sea,
The painted slaves shall at last be free.
The the smooth stone of Alhama’at’s throne belied its age. The tall, imposing construct sported a simple design with harsh, sharp angles about the arms. The dull color of the stone was adorned by no decorations, no gems, nothing but the sheen of the stone’s polish to suggested any sort of magnificence. Alhama’at sat, as he often did, hunched, his fingers interlaced and brought to rest against his chin. His skin, grey from his long extended life, did not stir with signs of vitality. His eyes were shut, the thin ashen skin of his eyelids stretching over his narrow orbs.
Though Alhama’at’s body seemed by all reason to be inactive, his mind was not. His mind stretched out across the universe, seeking the knowledge that had long eluded him. How many eons was it now, since he had begun this endeavor? Even Alhama’at himself could no longer say. Time loses meaning when time is all you have.
The throne of his castle sat at the flagship of the floating network of landmasses that made up Altea. It, like his throne, was by all accounts fairly unremarkable. Plain, sharply cut stone laid with simple design work. No pleasantries.
In an instant, his eyes snapped open, yet retained a certain knowing calmness to them. An amused grin thinly crept across his pale, thin lips.
“Rachel.” from his mouth crept the word and the sound echoed throughout the room. Such weight was their to this single word that it shook the foundations of the structure, and small bits of dust fell from the ceiling. The sound permeated all within earshot, it resounded within them, piercing them to their soul.
“Yes, my lord.” the one called Rachel appeared quickly from a corridor, announcing herself with a respectful bow.
“We have a visitor. See that they are welcomed properly”
“What do you have in mind, my lord?”
“I want to see their power.”
“Understood, my lord.” Rachel proceeded to clap her hands together and then outstretched them in front of her. A large magical array appeared on the ground, forming just under her outstretched hands. Its lines shown with a pale, purplish light. For a moment, the array laid silent on the earth. Then all at once a shape began to emerge from the center. It started small and proceeded to grow incessantly larger, eventually taking the shape of a fearsome dragon.
“Nidhogg? Honestly, is that any way to welcome your son?” Lapis’ cool and confident voice preceded his arrival as he sauntered into the throne room from an antechamber. His smile matched his tone, but his eyes shone with a determined anger.
“And so you return. As I surmised you would. You have grown skilled at hiding yourself from me, these past few years.” Alhama’at spoke, but did not stir. His position on his throne remained the same, his voice just as heavy as ever.
“Master Lapis.” said Rachel, somewhat surprised.
“I must admit I am surprised that you’re still alive. When I was unable to locate you, I thought you dead for a time.” Alhama’at now spoke with eyes closed.
“Did you really think your son would die so easily? Sorry to disappoint you.”
“It appears you have dispatched members of my Seven Luminaries division.” Alhama’at said, opening his eyes again. “And no less than three, at that.”
“They hardly made for a good challenge” Lapis said a wide, toothy grin creeping across his face. He snapped his fingers and the bodies of three wizards appeared several feet in the air before clattering lifelessly to the ground.
“Lord Alhama’at. With these three defeated, only Luna and Sol remain able to fight.” Rachel advised, but Alhama’at paid her no mind, instead his eyes were focused on Nidhogg. The dragon had stood facing Lapis when the boy had entered, but since their conversation began the dragon had turned to face him, its true master. The creature’s eyes were glazed over, milky. With a roar it lept forward, threatening to rip Alhama’at in two with its jaws. Alhama’at inhaled deeply, and spoke a single word.
“Begone.” And all at once, the dragon had vanished. Evaporated as though it had never existed.
“Our time apart has done little to stem your petulant nature, boy. You can turn my creatures against me, but in the end, they are still mine.” Alhama’at spoke, his posture still unchanging.
“It makes little difference, father. Today, I’ve only come to greet you.”
“You have not come to try and kill me again?” Lapis scoffed at Alhama’at’s suggestion.
“No. I cannot beat you. Today that was proven to me once again. Instead, I have come to tell you this. There will come a day when someone can defeat you. And when that day comes, I will watch you die, and I will take your power from you.”
“You think this power is so easily taken? So easily carried? So enjoyably endured? Then you have learned nothing, as I knew you wouldn’t. There may yet come a day when I am bested, but it is of no consequence, the pages will turn again and I will have another chance, and another, for all eternity until our cycle breaks at last.”
“Tch.” Lapis clicked his tongue impatiently. “Ever the one to waste time with senseless riddles. Your age has addled your mind with nonsense. The people of this world know you are here, they think you are a threat, and they will come to stop you. I’ve already made sure of that.” Lapis sneered, proud of his apparent subtle manipulation.
“And in your overconfidence, you have seen fit to warn me. I suppose I should be grateful.”
“Yes you should, father. Farewell. When next we meet, I shall be standing on your pale, lifeless corpse.” Lapis took the edge of his cape and whirled it around himself, it constricted around his body and the mass grew smaller and smaller until Lapis was gone entirely.
“He does not pose a threat to our plan, as the others of this world do.” Alhama’at stated after a moment, his eyes once again closed.
“Forgive me my lord, but are you certain?”
“Yes, his goal is different from theirs, and even more meaningless. He wishes to be the one who writes the words upon the book. He does not realize that what he will write has already been written. The others however, can no longer be allowed to move unchecked. If we are to succeed, they cannot rewind time.”
“My lord, I would request that you leave the matter of Lapis to me.” Rachel bowed before Alhama’at at the request. For a moment, Alhama’at said nothing. His eyes then opened, fixed on the small pile of dead wizards Lapis had left in the throne room.
“I will not fail you like they have.” Rachel added.
“They have not failed.” Alhama’at corrected. “Merely they have revealed to us a twist in story. I am certain you shall not fail me, Rachel.”
“Thank you, Lord Alhama’at.”
“I believe it is time that I saw the would be medlers of this world with my own eyes and greeted them properly.” Alhama’at left no time for response. Without any spoken incantation, no flash of magic, he simply vanished from his throne as though he had been erased from existence. Rachel had seen this kind of movement before, it was only something Lord Alhama’at had achieved, and though she had seen it many times, to this day she still could not comprehend the true nature of such a skill.
“Master Lapis, I never thought you’d truly return. I’ll have to think of an extraordinary punishment for you.” Rachel murmured as she left the throne room.
Down on the earth below, Kaguya, having at last gathered the pieces of the shattered Magic Stone of the Moon that Grusbalesta had spent far too long lecturing her about, was making her way back to the Light Palace. Grusbalesta had been accompanying her part of the way, but the two had parted after a time, the sage citing that he needed to awaken the remaining members of the Six Sages that were still sealed away.
“Sheesh that guy sure is busy.” Kaguya said to herself as the Light Palace slowly drew closer into view. Truthfully, Grusbalesta had told her to wait for him until he returned, but either way they were both going to the Light Palace eventually, what was the harm in heading off to the palace first? She was getting hungry after all, and the promise of the palace’s catering outweighed Grusbalesta’s word.
Maybe it’s better if there isn’t a moon, she suddenly thought, stopping in place. Why did she need to return to her old self if everyone else was strong, right? She wasn’t entirely sure she was ready to go back to what she was. After all, there was no guarantee her current self would remain. What if she just...stopped being herself? The thought festered in the back of her mind and twisted her stomach such that she felt like she wanted to retch, but couldn’t muster the energy.
Kaguya stood fixed in her spot, her feet paralyzed as she gripped her head, tortured by the thought.
“I’m not ready to not be me.” She said, tears forming in her eyes. “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff going on right now, that bad guy Lapis is a problem too, but...with everyone’s help...I shouldn’t...I shouldn’t have to...”
Kaguya, distracted by her own indecision, didn’t notice the unusually tall, yet somehow still hunched over man, who had appeared as if from nowhere. He wore long black robes that concealed ashen pale skin and thin, yellow-orange eyes.
Fiethsing, Zero, Grimm, Lumia, and Pandora had all gathered in the large war room of the Light Palace. An immense and well worn map of the world spread out before all five who stood around the aged oaken table that bore it. They five agreed that it was time to truly start coordinating their actions. Things that seemed like isolated incidents were proving to be connected more and more with each passing day and they could no longer afford to act as independent agents.
The five had been discussing plans for some time now, talking over defensive and emergency evacuation procedures for the Light Palace castle town civilians. Thanks to Fiethsing, the elves of Amonsulle were willing to shelter them for a time, breaking a longstanding behavior of the elves of the forests not interfering with human affairs.
“If we were only so unified in peace as we are in crisis” Grimm lamented, Pandora laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“We should be thankful for the help, at the very least. Perhaps, once all of this is over, we’ll have a chance to cooperate further.” The queen reassured.
All of a sudden, Fiethsing, who had been looking as though she had fallen asleep, suddenly snapped to attention, slamming her hands on the table with a loud ‘thud’. Her actions immediately garnered the attention of the others, particularly Zero who looked more concerned than surprised at the elf’s sudden outburst.
Fiethsing did not say anything to the four, instead muttering to herself. Her eyes wide with realization, and fear.
“He knew I saw it, he’s early. He knew. He knew. He knew.” Fiethsing gazed outward as if looking beyond the room.
“What’s the matter?” Lumia asked. At the question, Fiethsing seemed to snap back to her usual self.
“Ah, I’ve got something I need to take care of real quick. Sorry guys.” Fiethsing cast a playfully remorseful look to the confused group. “And Zero...” she started. “I’m sorry, but...take care of the rest, okay?”
“S-sure thing, Fieth, but what in the world are you talking abou-”
“Gotta run!” Fiethsing dashed out the door, down the hall, towards the nearest open window. She leapt gracefully upward and out the window, but she did not fall. Instead she glided swiftly through the air as if the wind itself was carrying her.
“No, no, no, no.” her muttering returned. “Please be okay, please be okay.”
At such high speed it only took Fiethsing a short while to find Kaguya. Well, she wasn’t exactly sure Kaguya would be there, but it’s where he was, and she could feel him whenever he moved. If he had moved, and to a place so close to the Light Palace, it could only mean that Fiethsing’s vision was coming to fruition. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this early. She had thought this would not come to pass for a few more days. Could he have know what she saw? How was that possible? Please be okay. Please be okay. Fiethsing’s mind was fraught with unusual fret and disorder.
Soon enough, she spied two figures along a thin traveler’s trail leading back to the Light Palace. Some thin remnants of the forest it lead from obscured her view, but the sensation in her chest did not lie.
It was him.
Were it not for the still present danger, Fiethsing could have cried for hours over the relief of seeing Kaguya still alive.
“Ah! Auntie Fiethsing!” Kaguya exclaimed as she noticed the elf descending from the sky.
“Kaguya!” Fiethsing exclaimed, wrapping her arms tightly around the child. “What has he done to you?”
“Auntie, you’re hurting me.” Kaguya winced as Fiethsing gripped the girl’s shoulders tightly. Fiethsing turned to look at Alhama’at, who stood, hunched just a few paces away. He said nothing for the moment, and showed no sign of moving. In fact, his eyes seemed to be closed and his body so still, she’d mistake him for a statue. But the weight in her chest reminded her this was no fake. This was a terror like no other.
“He showed up just before you did.” Kaguya explained. “He’s a bad guy isn’t he. I can...feel it.” Kaguya tried to detail the sensation, but found it difficult to put into words.
“He’s very bad, Kaguya. The worst.”
“You arrived somewhat earlier than I had anticipated. An admirable feat.” Alhama’at spoke and his voice carried such weight and presence it left a ringing sensation in the ear.
“What do you want with her?” Fiethsing managed to shout back.
“She is a loose end, she is a key in snapping the thread I need to remain intact until the right time.”
“You mean you’re going to kill her?” The words cut Fiethsing deeper than any sword as they left her lips. Kaguya looked up to her guardian, fear and confusion in her eyes.
“Death is meaningless in a story that has continued without end. But I know that truth cannot sway your heart, little elf.” Alhama’at spoke now with eyes open, but his posture remained unchanged. His long shadow dragged across the earth coming to rest just at Fiethsing’s feet.
“A-auntie?” Kaguya asked. “What’s happening? W-we’re going to beat up the bad guy r-right?”
“Not this time, Kaguya.” Fiethsing turned to her adopted daughter, tears in her eyes. “This time, I need you to run away.”
“Listen to me.”
“What about you?!” Kaguya screamed, breaking into tears.
A sudden swell of force surged through the air, spiraling around Alhama’at. The large hunched man raised a wicked finger and a crackling jet of black lightning leapt from his hand to strike at Fiethsing and Kaguya.
In what seemed like less than an instant, Fiethsing erected a swirling barrier to guard the attack, but it did not prove entirely effective. It halted the bolt for only a moment, before shattering. The sparking black energy struck Fiethsing in the chest.
“Auntie Fiethsing!” Kaguya screamed.
“Interesting.” Alhama’at complimented, his hand still raised. “No one has ever survived my black lightning before.”
“I promise.” Fiethsing spat, as blood dribbled from her mouth. “You’ve never faced anyone like me before.” Climbing to her feet she again turned to Kaguya.
“Kaguya, thank you so much for the joy you’ve brought me. All in all, it’s been a pretty good run.” Kaguya opened her mouth to protest again, but Fiethsing quickly uttered a chant and a powerful surge of wind blasted Kaguya into the air, carrying her far away.
Alhama’at’s gaze remained fixed on Fiethsing. She felt the immense force behind his attention.
“Not going to chase her?”
“Not when you have revealed yourself to be a threat of equal measure.” Alhama’at answered.
“Guess I’d better get serious.” Fiethsing panted.
“No. It’d be much wiser for you to flee. You’d live a few seconds longer.” Another bolt of black lightning burst from Alhama’at’s hand. This time, however, Fiethsing was ready.
“Release!” She cried out and a strange ripple of energy burst out from her body. With a wave of her hand she unraveled the threads of magic constructing Alhama’at’s spell and it vanished just inches before connecting with her body.
The air around Fiethsing’s body surged violently, popping and crackling wildly with energy.
“Now this is truly remarkable.” Alhama’at’s pale face broke into a wicked grin. “I never imagined you would have learned to use the power of mana. Such talent is wasted on such a futile cause.”
“Shut up.” Fiethsing retorted, one arm now clutching her bleeding body. With another wave of her hand she pulled the air from Alhama’at’s lungs. The ruler of Altea stifled a noise as the wind left him, and his body shook slightly, but his posture did not change.
“Die.” Alhama’at spoke. Without air, without movement of his mouth. Somehow he spoke. The word jabbed at her mind, it tore at her body. Again, she coughed blood, but she held on.
Alhama’at took another breath, and again Fiethsing ripped it from his lungs. As she tightened the grip of her spell she formed a vacuum around the man’s head, hoping to pull all air, all the wicked life, that remained in his body.
“Die.” he impossibly spoke again, and again the word stabbed at her. The world spun and grew fuzzy for her, but she held desperately to life. Her spell, however, faded, and Alhama’at quickly recovered.
“Knowledge and skill.” He said. “Pulling at the weakness of my body knowing that your average magic cannot contest with mine. Tell me, Fiethsing of the Six Sages, what is it that inspires you to fight a battle you cannot win with such vicious fervor?”
“Love.” Fiethsing wheezed, barely holding herself up.
“Love.” Alhama’at repeated, now pacing slowly towards her, hand outstretched. “Honorable, to be sure. Fear not, Fiethsing of the Six Sages, I love all life too. That is why I will set us all free.”
With the last of her strength, Fiethsing lept backwards to distance herself from Alhama’at. This was it, she knew. This was the last of her strength. Her final chance. Ages ago when studying the nature of magic with Grusbalesta, the two had discovered that the air is made of small scattered objects. Little particles that filled empty spaces, breathed life into places where there was none. The two had theorized that with practice, wind based magic could be used to influence even these tiny particles. But such spellcraft had proved too difficult and too dangerous. That is, of course, until Fiethsing had discovered mana.
She gathered every last bit of her strength, and pulled upon the threads of ancient magic. She twisted and changed the particles in the air in a column around Alhama’at. She had to be careful not to cause a chain reaction. In an instant it was done, the particles had been changed to ones that gave life to explosive fire, and Fiethsing used the very last drop of her magic to spark the fuse.
All at once, the air around Alhama’at combusted in a concentrated, immense, azure explosion that shook the earth for miles around. The great plume of smoke that erupted spread out across the sky. Fiethsing fell to her knees, panting.
“Heh...heh...Kaguya. I’m...so sorry.”
After a moment, Alhama’at emerged from the great gout of smoke. His body scorched and injured, his expression wild with anger.
He outstretched an arm, grasped Fiethsing’s head, and lifted it up to his.
“Die.” He said once more, and the word struck the woman one final time.