Over the next few days, I’m releasing the chapters in order, but if you can’t wait, please feel free to download the PDF, which has all five chapters and the afterword.
1 – The Forgotten Realm
A massive doorway slid into existence out of nowhere, erupting its light into the empty darkness. Two figures stepped out of it, their silhouettes leading them to an open area. Beyond their doorway’s illumination there was a great plain of short grey grass stretching far into a heavy gloom. Hundreds of giant glowing seeds shaped like wings floated above them, giving off a weak blue hue that hardly pierced the blackness around them. Each seed danced through the sky, spinning and descending gradually as though they were moving through water. The newcomers stood by their door, waiting.
A few minutes later, their ShiftDoor vanished.
Kane the Basilisk gulped as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the Forgotten Realm. The dark was terrible and cruel, feeling as though it were sapping the very warmth from his body. Still, he could sense an overwhelming amount of life around him. True, it was a different sort of life, but life nonetheless.
“And here they come,” said King Seltios next to him, breaking the silence.
The ground shook beneath Kane as he squinted his eyes, focusing on the darkness ahead. With only the weak lantern glow of the floating seeds, he could only make out a mass of darker black moving below the slightly less black. His master had warned him, but it hardly could have prepared him. A giant tidal wave of dark, shadowed men, women, and children moved toward them, making it hard for Kane to fight his impulse to immediately open a new ShiftDoor and flee.
“Void Wildlings,” Kane mouthed. Though he knew their proper name, it was hard to think of them as anything other than solidified shadows. Each of them looked like they had been thoroughly drenched in suits of darkness, encasing them from head to toes in a jet black. Only their eyes, which reflected the pathetic tinge of blue from the glowing seeds above them, were different. They were human, though. Humans who had been cursed with the bad luck of being born of men and women who had been banished into the Forgotten Realm. How many of them were just descendants of the actual offender? All of them, maybe. It seemed likely. There were simply too many. He looked them over, thinking deeply about the utter unfairness of generations of innocents who were condemned to this life through no fault of their own. This must have been why Seltios had brought him. To see them and solidify his resolve.
The horde of them edged forward, getting closer to the master and student. Kane looked at Seltios, unsure of what to do. Every now and then, a void wildling would tilt their head in his direction, staring curiously at Kane before getting lost again in the large crowd. There were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands.
“You should not fear them, young one,” said Seltios. He spoke softly, but his voice might as well have been a foghorn.
“I don’t,” Kane said. It was true, but he had said it too quickly making it sound more strained than it should have.
Seltios chuckled. “Really? I thought you might have a problem with them. They’ve always reminded me of ghost.”
“I’ve outgrown that fear, Master.” Kane put effort into sounding more convincing this time, but it was difficult to concentrate with void wildlings watching him.
“Outgrow the fear of ghost?” Seltios white eyes brows were raised, contrasting against his skin like a lit match. “Impossible! Ghosts are terrifying. Those who linger after death—the thought still makes my bones shiver.”
“You don’t fear anything, Master.”
“Untrue.” Seltios said, though he did so with a smile that didn’t completely reach his eyes. “Completely untrue. Now come. I believe they know we’ve arrived.”
Seltios took a step forward and, as soon as he did, there was a loud THOOMP as a great white flare was shot into the air two hundred yards ahead of them. Like the giant seeds, the flare stayed in the sky longer than it should have, floating with no hint of coming down anytime soon. It lit up the area, giving them a clear view of his surroundings for the first time.
Kane had been right about the number of void wildlings. There were thousands in the crowd surrounding them. Each time one of them moved it was like a splash in an ocean, breaking free for just a moment before joining with the mass of darkness again. Kane felt a sudden pinch in his stomach as he watched them. Against this many, it would have been hard to for he and his master to escape. The void wildlings didn’t seem all that interested in the two of them, anymore. They were more interested in the light, their glossy eyes reflecting it like mirrors. If Kane could have somehow stood above them, he guessed that it would have looked like he was standing above a sea of stars. Stars didn’t long for light this way, though. He could feel their yearning like a crushing flood. The void wildlings wanted light like the starving wanted food.
As Kane followed Seltios, the crowd split, clearing a path that led to a large structure ahead in the distance. They weren’t far from it, but there was an unnatural haze surrounding it making it less distinct than it should have been. Still, Kane could tell by its size that it was a castle. Master Seltios hummed a playful tune and stroked his grey beard as though this were a leisure walk on a sunny day. It helped loosen the knot in Kane’s stomach considerably, but it was hard to feel completely calm.
As they walked further another flare shot into the air with another loud THOOMP. The sound itself seemed to act like a catalyst for the entire area. All around them, the void wildlings, which until now had been entirely silent, began hissing and moaning as the second flare brightened the area even more. The light was making them livelier—more human.
THOOMP! A third flare launched into the air. It now looked like a clear night, being lit by three small, bright moons. Sudden laughter broke out to Kyle’s right, making him jump. What is going on?
“Look at what light can do to the darkness,” said Seltios suddenly. A great smile stretched across his face, his white teeth gleaming. “It amazes me every time.”
A new fit of giggles erupted to their left. A group of void wildling children skipped across the path, chasing each other. An older looking one, perhaps teenage girl, followed them looking frustrated. “Get back here,” she said. Her voice sounded so normal that Kane stopped in his tracks. He saw her move into the crowd; only the crowd wasn’t like it had been earlier. There was a loud buzzing of laughter and happiness around them now.
Some of them sat in groups, as though they were around a bonfire. Others danced and hollered in joy. There were groups of couples lying together; holding hands as they watched flares like it was a firework show. Children chased each other, playing tag and diving in between the groups of adults like it was all just a giant picnic. Kane found the teenage girl who had crossed their path a moment before. She was looking straight at him and, though it was hard to tell, she was smiling at him. She then turned from him, resuming her pursuit of the small children from earlier.
“Shall I leave you to chase after her?” Seltios asked, sounding highly amused. “However, you should know that this type of long distance relationship would strain even the best of lovers.”
Kane turned away from the girl abruptly, his face growing hot. “Very funny, Master.”
Seltios grinned, waving at Kane to continue following him. “I would let you, you know? You don’t have to follow an old fool, like me.”
“I know,” said Kane, fondly.
“You never used to be this calm when you were in the middle of a crowd,” said Seltios, changing the subject. “You’ve grown in the past two years. Though you try your best to deny it, Soul Gate Academy was good for you.”
Kane knew his master was right, but that didn’t mean he liked to admit it. He’d grown too attached to his life at Soul Gate Academy. He’d even made friends. That had never been part of his mission and he knew now that, even though he regretted leaving the way he did, he had needed to break his ties with them. Friends, he thought miserably. They’re not my friends anymore… There would be no doubt that he’d broken any bond they might have had with him. Hurting them, feigning cruelty that had teetered on the edge of insanity, and leaving them for dead. Kross the Monk, Kevin the Bison, Garnet the Scarlet Needle, and Kyle the Static would hate him now. It was for the best... He did his best trying to convince himself that he didn’t miss them. It would have been harder if I had waited… “If you say so, Master. I think I would have always been more useful to you in Dawn.”
“Nonsense. You’ve done more than I could ever have expected of you. You have no idea how grateful I am for what you did.”
Kane swelled with pride, “Thank you, Master.”
Seltios nodded. “Speaking of Soul Gate Academy—look.” He pointed at the structure ahead. They were now barely fifty yards away.
The haze surrounding it earlier had dispersed, giving Kane clear view of a castle bathing in the twilight. In fact, it looked like the castle he had spent most of the past two years living in. Stone for stone, the great wide keep looked identical. Even the two towers on each side, which had always looked odd since they were much taller than the rest of the castle, loomed over with the same impressiveness that he had always known.
“Wha—” Kane began, but he became distracted.
The castle’s grand entrance doors suddenly swung open. A middle-aged woman walked out, gliding toward them with quick, graceful steps. She was wearing a bright orange dress that was short in the front exposing her pale legs, but stretched out behind her to follow on the grass. A light blue shawl hung over her shoulders and her long silver hair swung behind her as though it were dancing. Every part of her seemed to glow as she smiled to expose her perfect white teeth.
“Seltios the Reaper!” Her smile grew wider as she reached them. “You’re on time! How completely unlike you.”
“I try my best to surprise you, Isabelle the Angelseer,” Seltios said smoothly. She offered him her hand and he bent down to plant a kiss on it.
“Oh please,” she took back here hand. “You know better than to call me by my full name. Belle, as always. And who do you have with you?” Her eyes twinkled in Kane’s direction.
He felt his face go red immediately. He had been expecting the void wildlings, though they were much more unusual than they had been described. Master Seltios hadn’t warned him about meeting with a beautiful woman. A slight twitch of annoyance for his master found the corner of his eye. He’d only told them that they were going to meet the King of the Void Wildlings. His own imagination had given him the idea that they were going to meet man covered in his own shadow like the rest of them, but perhaps with a crown. Isabelle the Angelseer was so unlike the void wildings that it made him feel question everything he’d just seen. What exactly is this place? He turned to his master in hope of some sort of answer, but was only given an almost devious type of smirk. He’d forgotten that Master Seltios was always deeply amused when it came to teasing him.
“This is Kane the Basilisk,” said Seltios. “I believe I’ve mentioned him before.”
“Ah yes. The adopted son.”
Kane felt himself go redder, as the annoyance disappeared. Seltios had taken him in as a child, but he’d never really thought that he saw him as a son. Though, he certainly saw him as his father. His heart felt lighter than air when Isabelle offered him her hand. He awkwardly shook it, too embarrassed to kiss it.
“Your name will change twice more, Kane the Basilisk,” she said as-a-matter-of-factly.
“Oh,” Kane dropped her hand, unsure if she was being serious. How could she possibly know? “I—thanks?”
“Leave him out of your fortunes, Belle.” Seltios said sharply. “He has enough to be worried about without you feeding him bits of the future.”
“Very well.” She scrunched up her lips, pouting as though she’d been denied a new toy.
“Is he ready to talk yet?”
“Of course, he’s ready,” Belle answered. “He acts as though he is reluctant, but you know he listens to you. He loves you like a brother.”
“And I him. We’ve been through a lot these past fifty years.”
Kane wished he knew more about his master’s history in the Forgotten Realm, but Seltios had never spoken of it before recently. In fact, Seltios had never even mentioned the existence of this realm. To suddenly find out that there was fifty years of history between Seltios and the other king nearly made Kane gasp in surprise.
“He still thinks you’re being hasty,” she added.
Seltios laughed. “Everything I do seems hasty to him.”
“True,” she signaled them to follow her. “Let me not delay your meeting any longer.”
Kane followed Belle and Seltios in, expecting to see the entrance hall of his former school, but the similarities stopped with outer appearance. The interior had no fountain with its floating water. Nor did it have a crystal chandelier that hung above numerous cozy couches. There were no tyros to give the place its normal lively buzz either. Kane let out a silent sigh.
This isn’t the same castle.
Unlike the outside, the vast room was brightly lit with hundreds of glowing tree roots that stretched across the walls and ceiling. They twisted into a thick, magnificent trunk that acted as the room’s centerpiece and main lighting. Isabelle placed a hand on the trunk. It began to untwist itself, quickly forming into the shape of a doorway. Through it, Kane could see a hallway lined with the same kind of lit roots. Neither Isabelle nor Seltios were fazed by this. As soon as the roots stopped moving, they walked through the doorway. Kane followed.
They did this three more times. Each time walking to a room with a bundle of roots that would then untwist themselves and form a doorway. Kyle became lost in thought. Though the interior was completely different, he couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of nostalgia come over him. It took strong self-control to stop himself from looking around for students. Specifically, his mind turned to Kyle. True, he’d be around Kevin and Kross longer, but they hadn’t ever been as easy to be around as the boy from the other realm. This place seemed to just remind him that he had turned on the best friend he’d ever had.
I should have tried harder to convince him…
I should have been more patient… then I could have explained it to him…
I should have—
He stopped himself. It was too late now. He’d left them all for dead. And Kyle the Static won’t forget that anytime soon, will he, you idiot?
“Lost in thought, young one?” Seltios asked.
“I—yes,” said Kane. “Even though this place is different, it brings back memories.”
“I expect that it does,” Seltios nodded. He did not press into the matter further.
They walked through the last root doorway and it took them to a grand set of doors large enough to fit two elephants side by side. Kane’s eyes shot wide open when Belle pulled the door open with ease.
“Please wait here a moment,” said Belle, sounding amused. “Would you like water or wine afterwards?”
“Some of the thornefyre wine would be excellent,” Seltios answered. “Are Jade and Leo around?”
“They’re out on a search, but they should be returning soon.”
“I see. I hope they do. Ice always makes it better.”
Belle nodded. “What would you like, Kane?”
Kane looked at his master, wondering if it was okay to try the thornefyre wine. He’d never had it before. Why not? “Uh… I’ll have the same.”
Belle smiled and without another word, she disappeared behind the door.
When the door shut, Seltios turned to him, frowning. “Wine?”
“Well…” Kane shrugged. He had drank occasionally since he’d turned sixteen, but it had mostly ever been a glass with meals. “Is it okay that I asked for it?”
“I—” Seltios cut himself off. “It is just that I’m still not entirely used to seeing that you’ve grown up. Half the time, I still see the child you once were. But you’re of age now.” He sighed. “A drink is fine, of course.” Silence followed.
Kane changed the subject. “Why does this place look like Soul Gate Academy? And what is with all the roots everywhere.”
“Think of this place as the second side to a coin,” Seltios stroked his beard as he often did while in thought. “Same coin, different engravings. The castle is just the outer ridges of the coin while the insides are free to be changed as seen fit by their caretakers. The biggest difference between the two sides of the Soul Gate is the fact that this side of the gate is held in one place by the roots. The roots are part of the Ending Tree, making sure that this place never leaves this exact spot. In Endera, the Soul Gate is free to move.”
“Ending Tree?” Kane asked.
“Another lesson for another day, Kane the Basilisk.”
Kane knew that Master Seltios only used his full name when it came to important things. Using it now meant that the Ending Tree was not something he wanted to discuss. This didn’t bother Kane. Focusing on the Soul Gate was more than enough to hold his interest. After all, his mission to infiltrate Soul Gate Academy had been foe the sole purpose of finding out all he could about the ancient gate. He’d never found out much, though. Only some of the Eternal Title tyros and masters were allowed access to its secrets. If he’d gotten that far, he would have likely known all of this already.
“Why didn’t you tell me anything about the Soul Gate on this side before I left?” Kane was careful to make sure he didn’t sound like he was angry. “I mean, it sounds like there wasn’t really much for me to learn.”
“There is always plenty for you to learn, Kane.” Seltios answered. “Your mission was to infiltrate and learn all that you could. The Soul Gate was your ultimate goal, but not your only one. I wanted you going into the situation with a clear, unsullied mind. It was the best way to verify a theory of ours.”
“What theory? And who is ‘ours’?”
“Mine and Albion’s.” He ignored Kane’s first question. “That is who we are here to meet. The King of the Void Wildlings.”
Kane decided to let it go. “And he’s your friend.”
“Like you heard earlier, he’s more like a brother. And you just met his wife.”
“So, she is the queen?” Kane certainly thought that she carried herself like someone important, but he wouldn’t have guessed she was queen.
“That’s how these royal marriages usually work,” King Seltios smiled.
“Why have you never mentioned them before?” Kane couldn’t help but feel hurt by this. If Albion was a brother to Seltios, then surely, he must have merited some sort of comment during the last ten years.
Seltios opened his mouth to speak, but stopped for a moment. It was an odd thing for Kane to see the closest thing to a father he’d ever known, the Master who’d taught him most of what he knew, and the king who had saved him, struggling to answer him.
“This realm is a damned realm, Kane,” said Seltios finally. “Most of the people who know that it exists never speak of it and that’s because there are consequences to doing so. I’ve seen a man forget who he was over and over again, others go mad, and, as you can see, most stay completely chained here forever. All for just coming into contact with this place. The darkness here works like a curse. It seeps into your bones, engulfing you, grabbing at your insides with an unforgiving, cold grip. I didn’t tell you of Albion and the Forgotten Realm, not because I didn’t want to, but because I feared the consequences of doing so. I still do, but to leave you ignorant of this place any further would be stupidity on my part. If we are to succeed, you must know what this place is. You must know about the Titans.”
“Titans?” Kane said. “You don’t mean—”
“The Titans.” Seltios nodded. “You just met one.”
Kane could hardly believe it. Belle had seemed so normal and Titans were supposed to have been legendary men and woman, created by the King Forgers, just as the Kota had been. And even less believed them to have existed at all.
“How could they still be alive?”
“They’re descendants, Kane.”
“Right,” said Kane, nodding. It had been a dumb question. The legends dated the original Titans fighting in the Alter War, which had taken place thousands of years ago and had literally altered the entire planet. It had only ended when the King Forgers had been wiped out and the Titans banished—to the Forgotten Realm. It made sense. Sort of. “Isabelle seemed normal, though. How do you know she’s a Titan?”
“She is. I’m sure she’ll prove it to you over the course of your acquaintance with each other. If things go as planned, you will both get to know each other well over then next year. And beyond that I hope.”
Kane looked at him, perplexed. “Would you mind telling me your plan before then?”
“My plan?” Seltios smiled. “You make it sound like I’m some sort of evil mastermind.”
“That’s what most of Endera thinks, isn’t it?”
“Something along those lines,” Seltios laughed. “My current plan is to meet with Albion and discuss the plan. You can wait till then, can’t you?”
“If I have to,” Kane sighed. “Why are we waiting, anyways? Your like brothers, aren’t you? Can’t you just walk in?”
“I could,” Seltios began rolling his shoulders and stretching, like he was about to go on a run. “But that would be rude. It’s likely that he is just preparing the room.”
“Preparing it for what?”
Kane’s heart began to beat faster. “Fight? But I thought—”
“It’ll just be a spar, Kane. We like to have a friendly match if it has been a long time since we’ve seen each other. And it has been ages.”
“I see,” Kane gulped. “Is he strong?”
“Very,” answered Seltios. “We go back and forth with the victories.”
If that was true, Kane knew that castle was at risk of being completely destroyed around them. It would have been different if Seltios was sparring someone weak by comparison, like Kane himself, but he had seen his master fight with strong opponents before and he knew from experience that it would have been wiser to invite a hurricane into the castle. A douse of fresh memories from the King’s Temple reminded him that a building crumbling around him was not something he was in a hurry to experience again. If Kyle’s lightning power hadn’t opened up a hole in the side of the temple, he wasn’t sure he would have been able to get out. The thought made him shiver. It’d been a close call. Too close.
“No need to worry,” Seltios grinned deviously—almost childlike. “The room will be able to withstand our fight.”
Kane doubted it.
Suddenly, the large doors both swung open, allowing a strong gust of wind to flow through as though a storm had begun. It pressed against Kane hard, making him adjust his stance to ensure he wouldn’t be pushed back. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Warm where it should have been cold; constant where it should have wavered and pleasant even with the weight of it nudging against him. As one might have guessed from looking at the elephant sized doors, the room was giant enough to fit in an entire herd. Another memory flashed in his mind. He’d seen a herd of elepalmaes before. They were summon beasts, but cousins to regular elephants. He remembered the day clearly. An elephant-palm tree hybrid. He could picture Kross the Monk scribbling his mad notes about them. What grade had he given it—gatekeepers, I’m a drag.
Like the rest of the castle, the throne room was brightly lit. Glowing roots filled the walls from floor to ceiling, except for the few gaps where there were doors. A long blue rug led the way to a throne big enough to fit three grown men and made from smooth wood that was a deep sepia color. Behind the throne were a fair number of coffee tables and comfortable looking seats that bore the marks of regular use. The greater part of the room was otherwise empty, making it, except for its size, look quite unimpressive to Kane.
The wind stopped abruptly before being followed by a deep, gruff voice, “Is he strong enough, Seltios?”
Kane looked for the source of the voice only to see a swish of color move across the room and on to the throne so fast his eyes could barely keep up. A giant of man now sat on the throne, nearly filling it completely. He was close to ten feet tall, wearing light armor that was black and specked with gold as though it was a stolen piece of the night sky. His shoulders were broad and his legs were as thick as tree stumps. His face bore no particularly memorable features, being clean and handsome, but there was something oddly powerful about it, as though it had been carved out of marble. What really made the King of Void Wildlings look extraordinary was the way his long auburn hair floated in the air above him like crimson smoke from a chimney.
“He won’t die, if that’s what you mean,” Seltios laughed. “I’d rather you didn’t test it, though, Albion.”
“That won’t do, Seltios,” Albion smiled widely. “You’ve got me intrigued now.” He disappeared again.
Kane lost him, searching the room for where he might reappear.
“Come on, Kane,” Seltios walked forward with little concern. “You are free to take out your Key of Throne Arms.”
“Uh—okay,” Kane followed, sensing that the titan king was targeting him. He couldn’t pinpoint where he was going to come from, but he’d been trained well enough to know when he should be on alert. He opened his palms, calling forth both halves of his Kota dagger. The two blades, which he’d only had for a few weeks, appeared in his hands instantly.
“Daggers?” Albion laughed. His voice all around them and above them. “I’ll use a gladius, then. A favorite of mine, young one.”
“Here you are,” Isabelle said all of a sudden. She appeared with a sword about the length of her arm. It was grey from hilt to tip as though the color of it had been completely drained. She threw with a bored flick of her wrist and it arched in the air directly over Kane. “Call me back when you boys are done. I’ll leave your other sword next to the door.”
In the blink of an eye, Kane felt a presence above him. He looked up to see Albion grabbing the gladius and immediately disappearing. Seltios vanished at the same moment, reappearing to the side of the throne to lean against it with a gleeful smile. Kane now stood in the middle of the throne room, realizing that he was about to spar with a titan. He gulped. And he happens to be a king, too.
He felt Albion’s presence pop into existence behind him, making him pivot around. Kane saw only barest shadow of the king as he disappeared again. Kane was reminded of how Master Logan had moved. Always disappearing and reappearing due to his immense speed. Few people could move like that.
Kane was one of them.
He amplified his leg muscles with a twist of his Kota. Albion reappeared to his left and Kane launched himself that way with as much speed as he could, but it wasn’t enough. Albion vanished again, reappearing behind him. Kane turned just in time to see Albion’s gladius coming at him from an underhanded swing aimed directly for his chin. Out of pure instinct, Kane lifted his daggers to defend the blow. The blades clashed with such force that Kane lost his stance, doing a complete backflip.
It was thanks to Kane’s training that he landed on his feet, but he lost track of Albion in the process. He’s fast—faster than Master Seltios—maybe even faster than Master Log—
“Don’t get lost in thought, Basilisk,” Albion came from directly above Kane. His sword leading his fall toward Kane’s head.
Kane dodge rolled out of the way just in time, only to hear the titan king slam into the ground with the force of a falling boulder. He whipped himself around, his daggers ready to defend against another attack, but Kane was caught off guard. Albion was smaller than he had been when he was on the throne. Much smaller. Kane guessed that he was probably only a couple inches taller than him now. What the—
Albion charged, his hair trailing behind him like a red ghost. He held the gladius in his right hand, swinging it mightily at Kane’s side. He blocked with both daggers, knowing that the strength of the swing could have crushed a pillar. It slammed into him, but Kane was ready for the force with a stance that held true. Albion followed up with a barrage of sword swings that took all of Kane’s concentration and strength to block.
Kane tried to back away, but Albion followed with quick powerful swordplay. There was little else to do, but try his hardest to make an impression. In between parries, Kane turned his Kota to unlock the best of his abilities. The first amplified his entire body, making him faster and stronger. The second unlocked his PsyBending ability which would make Albion believe he was seeing a large basilisk before him. The last turn was to unlock his MemoryBending technique that would lock any part of Albion that he could touch.
Kane launched his counter attack, only to feel his legs kicked out beneath him. He was then punched in the stomach so hard that he instantly dropped his Kota as the wind was knocked out of him. He flew backwards with such speed that he was sure that whatever he was going to crash into would break him upon impact. Fortunately, a strong gust of warm wind pressed into his back, slowing him down before that happened. He felt arms wrap around him gently before being placed on the ground. Master Seltios had caught him.
Kane blinked as his eyes watered from the pain. He gasped for breath, attempting to stand up, but Seltios sat him on the floor to lean his back against the throne.
“That’s enough, Kane,” Seltios smiled. “You did well. I think it’s my turn now.”
“He did very well,” Albion said from behind his master. “The snake was frighteningly real. And that unexpected gaze almost froze me. You trained him admirably, Seltios.”
Kane couldn’t help but feel good about the compliment. He knew it had been an impossible fight to begin with. Anyone who sparred on equal terms with Seltios was someone who was way out of Kane’s league. Still, the good feeling didn’t last long. Not with the mighty bruise that felt like it was about to start replacing his stomach.
“Here you are,” Seltios turned his hand, unlocking a medications technique that instantly made Kane sigh in relief. There was still some soreness, but he’d be able to watch Seltios’ match with Albion with little discomfort.
“Ready,” asked Albion.
Seltios stood straight. “Of course. Want to see the new scythe?”
Albion nodded, moving toward the door that Isabelle had used to exit. The sword next to the door had a hilt that was longer than entire gladius, but still just as grey. The blade was massive, wide as Kane and taller by a foot. Albion gave the sword a few wild practice swings, causing chunks of the floor to spray around the room with as much ease as someone might roll their shoulders. Well Kevin, I think I found someone who has more brute strength than you. He could almost hear, the nonchalant, “Ah!” Kevin would have surely replied to that with. He let out a silent sigh.
Albion began to grow—literally. Kane blinked, unsure if his eyes were working correctly. Albion grew, becoming the giant he had seen when they first entered. He blinked again, rubbing his eyes just to be sure. He’s taller than Master now. How? It hit him. This was part of Titan’s power. He guessed that modifications were being used without a key. Like a Kota, but internally. The King Forgers were something else.
Seltios turned his hand to call forth his Kota scythe. It formed, looking just as it had a few weeks earlier when they had found it. The long golden shaft extended until it met the silver curved blade of the scythe. Connected just above the curved blade was a small double-edged spearhead, making it look all the more formidable. Like Kane’s own Kota, it looked like it had been fused together with a large key, which Kane knew, was sort of the point.
Albion’s eyes grew bright, “The new weapon suits you. I doubt it will help—”
Seltios twisted the large scythe only once, before launching himself at Albion with a smile on his face. He was met with a parry and a good natured laughed. It became obvious to Kane how good of friends Albion and Seltios were. As their weapons met in the air with quick, powerful clangs, their smiles grew wider. This clicked in Kane unconsciously, shifting his thoughts to his friend, Kyle.
Kyle was one to smile in a fight. They had practiced together often, helping each other become better with their weapons which were vastly different. He could clearly remember the edge of Kyle’s Nodachi as it had often been aimed at his head. Another useless memory. He would have to work on making sure his thoughts didn’t wander.
Albion collided into the wall with such force that the whole castle shook. Segments of the wall fell, crumbling into a pile. A rhinoceros couldn’t have done a better job. It didn’t take him long to jump out from the rubble, smiling wider than ever as he charged at his master.
Seltios edged back, defending each slash from the gigantic sword. The sword could have split anyone in half just by falling. The way Albion swung it, made Kane think he could slice through a mountain if he wanted to. He didn’t know how his master kept blocking the blows.
It was during this thought that Kane noticed it. Each swing was now paired with a blast of wind. Too forceful to be natural; too direct to be coincidental. Snychroneity! The realization made Albion appear all the more dangerous. The use of the elements was not something to be taken lightly. Kane had learned that recently as well. Back to Kyle, again. His eye almost twitched. He refocused on the fight.
Seltios left no openings in his defense, seemingly unaffected by the wind. They slammed their weapons together, causing the air itself to vibrate. Sparks flew, then disappeared like tired fireflies. Each move became a blur, melting into their surroundings. Kane did his best not to blink, but it didn’t matter. They were moving so fast that it looked like they were teleporting every few feet only to bash their weapons into each other.
Albion suddenly jumped back, nearing the pile of rubble. He paused for a moment before the wind began building up, swirling the dust around him as his clothes began to flutter. The wind moved faster and faster, forming a small tornado which soon enshrouded the titan king. He hurled himself forward and his whole body rotated wildly fast sideways. The tornado followed, carrying him forward. He and his sword spun toward Seltios, leaving the floor carved out along the way.
Kane held his breath. One wrong move and his master could easily lose a limb. Seltios, however, stood his ground. He twisted his scythe weapon once, before throwing it at the oncoming Albion. Instead of the scythe spinning like windmill, it spun like an arrow. This was odd, but it mattered little to the oncoming attacker. It was knocked down, tumbling across the room violently like paper in a storm. Seltios then stepped forward, his arms crossed in front of him to form an ‘X’. His arms suddenly became enveloped in a magenta smoke. It was his aura.
Kane did not have an affinity with AuraBending, but he knew enough about it to know that it was normally invisible, only manifesting itself in the physical realm when it needed to take on physical properties. To see it otherwise, one usually needed to use AuraBending to unlock their own eyes. Controlling aura was definitely a useful technique, but Kane had other strengths. His mind reached to another memory of Kyle. He had used his own AuraBending to give himself a tortoise shell-like defense. His had been a dark orange. The move had birthed his friend’s first title: The Tortoise. Better than my first title, The Mouse. Kane almost smiled. Well, not by—what in the name of the gatekeepers is wrong with me? In truth, he knew the answer. They were the first real friends he’d ever had. He just didn’t want to admit that to himself.
A moment later, Albion’s attack connected, slamming into Seltios’s defensive aura which cushioned the attack from slicing him in half. Rather than bowling over his master, Albion continued to spin in place, hitting Seltios in between the crevice of his ‘X’ arms again and again. Every hit shook the room, pressing into Seltios and causing him to fall to his knees. He kept his arms up, though his aura began to diminish. Kane fought the impulse to rush forward, reminding himself that this was just a friendly spar. There was little he could do, anyways.
Seltios suddenly jumped back, snapping his arms behind him so hard that his elbows almost connected behind his back. Magneta colored vines popped into existence all around the titan king, flailing in his wind as though they were wild tentacles. They tangled around Albion before he realized what was happening. Seltios summoned his Kota back into his hand, twisting it with practiced speed. His aura sprang into action, tightening around Albion and putting a stop to his movement.
Kane stared at his master transfixed. Seltios had secretly laid it around the titan king during their fight, only manifesting it physically when the trap had thoroughly been set. It was AuraBending genius, pure and simple. Doing that level of fighting while setting a trap was practically impossible. Kane couldn’t even remember seeing Master Seltios turn his Kota enough times to lay his aura out in such fashion.
Albion grunted, struggling with effort to free himself. “Damn!” He laughed, taking his predicament with such good nature that Kane thought he might have just been told a particularly funny joke. “Gatekeepers damn this aura of yours!” He laughed again. “Let me down, you old fool.”
“I should leave you there,” Seltios said with a boyish grin. “Belle is always saying she’d like a nice centerpiece for this room.” He twisted his Kota and his magenta aura disappeared.
“She’d take me down right away, you know.” Albion tossed the sword to side, discarding it with ease. “She’d miss me too much.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” Seltios walked up to him, dismissing his weapon as well. They grabbed each other’s arms, in a firm handshake. “I hope I find you well, my friend.”
“I have recently suffered an embarrassing loss in front of an old friend’s son, but, other than that, I am well!” He nodded to Kane. “And the son had some fight in him too. You will be a force in the future, Basilisk.”
“No doubt.” Seltios smiled, the pride clearly reaching his eyes.
“Thanks,” Kane said, his face growing warm.
“Well then,” said Albion, changing the subject. “Let’s move this to a less destroyed room and we can discuss the reasons you’re here. I’m sure Kane would like to be included for once.”
“Yes,” Seltios said, hesitantly. They moved toward Kane beckoning him to follow. “It’s high time he heard the plan or at least part of it.”
Yes. Kane moved to follow. Something to take my mind off of them would be great.
The door they were walking toward burst open and a slight chill came into the room.
“Uncle Seltios!” A woman barged in, rushing to hug Kane’s master. “Mother just told us you were here. It’s been too long. I feel like you’ve planned your visits every time we’re out.”
Kane’s jaw dropped open. Before him was Garnet—no, not Garnet. An older version of her. His mind seemed to close off all the sound around him as he watched Seltios and the woman exchange greetings. There were some differences now that Kane looked at her closer, but it was far too little to be coincidence. It was nearly the same face, but with extra lines to them. Her thick red hair floated above her the way Albion’s did, but it was just like Garnet’s. She turned to him and Kane saw her blue eyes full of curiosity and then sudden understanding.
“Kane!” She said, excitement lining her voice as though she’d been given a gift. “The Kane.” She rushed ahead and hugged him tighter than Kane could ever remember being hugged.
“Uh-I,” Kane stuttered. Who is this woman?
“Let him go, Jade,” said Albion, sighing. “You’re squeezing the life out of him.”
She backed off, but held on to his shoulders and locked her eyes with his. “You are playing a key role in helping free us, Kane. The Titans will forever be indebted to you.”
Kane swallowed, feeling a strange lump fall into his stomach. Me?
“My daughter is correct, of course.” Albion agreed. “Though she is somewhat lacking in manners. She gets that from her mother.”
Kane saw it now. The slight likeness to Albion and Belle.
“What’s taking so long?” A smooth voice came from the open doorway, followed by a tall man. He had shoulder-length hair, jet black except for the single grey streak running to his left side like a river past his ear. His face bore scar from an ugly burn on its left side, stretching down his neck. He was dressed similarly to Albion, but Kane guessed that he wasn’t a Titan. “Seltios, it is good to see you.”
“Look, Leo,” said Jade before Seltios could respond. “This is Kane!”
Kane was instantly reminded of another person: Grandmaster Dante. No way. That’s—no way. Seltios offered no help. He watched Kane, grinning with obvious amusement.
“Nice to meet you, Kane.” Leo nodded to him. “I hope spending nearly two years in my father’s presence wasn’t too hard.”
“You’re Grandmaster Dante’s and Master Yvette’s son.”
“It is my curse,” he said, searching Kane up and down. “Are you all right?”
Kane’s mouth felt dry. What is going on? “I—“
“He is unsure how to react,” said Seltios, cutting him off. “You see, I never told him about you, Leo. Forgive me for that.”
“Not surprising,” Leo shrugged.
“And Jade, Kane is very understandably confused by you.” Seltios continued. “There is a young woman he just spent most of this past year befriending who looks very much like you.”
“What!” Albion, Jade, and Leo’s voices boomed together. Their confusion and absolute shock mixed with air making it icy as their gazes fixed on to Kane, obviously hungry for answers. He shivered. Was the air actually icy? I was almost the cause of her death.
“This—how can that be?” Albion’s voice had become soft.
“I don’t know,” answered Seltios. “I only saw her for a moment outside Dilu Village.”
“So, we have more to discuss than I thought,” said Albion. “Come. Isabelle will want to know and you must tell us everything.”
“We will,” said Seltios. “Kane and I will tell you all that we know. Admittedly, he probably knows more than I do.”
Kane tilted his head, trying to nod. His master dropped his hand onto his shoulder, guiding him to toward the door after Albion. It was meant to be a comforting gesture, but it felt hollow in this moment. He didn’t know where to begin—how to begin. He was the one with questions. More than he could count. They were piling up in him, making him wonder whether this was all just a dream. This was too many coincidences, wasn’t it? So what! He nearly shouted it at himself. Once they explain things, it’ll make sense.
It just seemed that no matter how much he wanted to stop thinking about his friends, everything seemed to bring his thoughts back to them. Get a hold of yourself, Kane! He gritted his teeth. If this is the weight I must carry, then so be it. I chose what I chose and I’ll keep going down this path.
Even if it kills me.
Kyle Demore and the Falling Moons – First Five Chapters
Copyrighted © 2017 by Samuel J. Vega
All rights reserved.