Dawn , The First Day
He stood amongst smoke and concrete and corpse, everything stinking and burning and dying all around him. He vomited several times before turning back to the pit of cyan plasma that now engulfed what had once been the parking lot of his apartment complex. His body ached and his back burned with terrific pain, but he could somehow feel the energy of the world swirling and gathering within him. He wondered if this was what it meant to be a god. What the hell was that plasma?The plasma bubbled before him, full of life and power. He took a deep breath, and dove in after Duke. Duke was heavier than Ryouta, and had already been exposed to the cyan substance for an extended period of time, so too much more might kill him outright, if the news reports were at all accurate. He placed him somewhere safe before diving back in after Ryouta. The stuff burned his eyes a little.
When he had finished attempting to bandage his friends’ wounds, he rolled onto his back and tried to catch his breath. He coughed up some of the cyan plasma, and nearly vomited again. A dark voice echoed off the walls of the crumbling building behind him, calling out his name.
At last, the caller stood before him, black wings and horns stretching up towards the heavens. A noseless face with dark red skin and piercing orange eyes glared down at him menacingly. He struggled to look up at it, too scared to lower his gaze.
“Northran Lazarus Lel.” The dark voice chimed again, this time from the red being before him. It cocked its head to the side a little.
“That is you, is it not? Northran Lazarus Lel? Descendant of Arthur Pendragon and True Heir to the Mortal Throne?” the being asked, prodding him with a three-clawed hand.
“Y- yeah.” North managed, weakly. The thing placed its hands under him, and flipped him onto his back.
“Ah, good. I thought so. Your manaburn is massive. Good old Pendragon blood, always exceeding my expectations.”
“Ok, ok.” North said, pulling himself to his feet as the pain subsided, “Northran Lazarus Lel is my name, but I don’t know what the hell this Pendragon stuff you’re going on about is.” In response the red-skinned thing cocked its head and raised a black eyebrow.
“Dammit Stark.” It muttered. “I told you not to do this. I TOLD YOU, DAMMIT.”
“Stark? My dad?”
“Yes, your silly father, Stark Lazarus Lel, currently the Once and Future King. I repeatedly told him that it was his duty to educate you on your lineage and teach you what was expected of you.”
“And who are you again?” North asked, still bewildered from the earthquake and the dip in the plasma.
“I suppose I am getting ahead of myself,” the creature admitted with an exasperated sigh, “My name is Samael, Demon of Death and Patron Spirit of the Pendragon Line. I’m here to act as a sort of spirit guide or mentor for you, as I have done for many of your ancestors, including your father.” Samael extended his clawed hand, and North shook it apprehensively.
“So… I’m a descendant of King Arthur?”
“Indeed you are, though I cannot provide you with unchallenged proof.”
“And I’m just hearing about this now…. Why?” Samael grunted in frustration as North asked.
“Your father. Stark never wanted this for you, wanted to avoid putting you in danger simply for existing. However, young sire, it seems your destiny has caught up with you anyway, doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a burning, writhing sensation crawling its way across your shoulders and down your spine, I’m guessing, like something’s there that wasn’t there before. More than that, you can do more than see me, can’t you? You feel me, in your mind. Your consciousness is expanding. You’ve become a manite, and have the manaburn to prove it.”
“Back up a minute. What?”
“A manite – a human that’s been exposed to the liquid form of the Suul.” Samael gestured at the bubbling pools of cyan plasma around them. “And your manaburn, the thing on your back. Here, turn around.”
Down North’s back and across his shoulders, he could feel the intense burning sensation Samael had mentioned, as well as the writhing. It was unsettling for a moment, like something was invading him, and then he felt what must have been the truth: a warm sensation and a sixth sense that pushed past his own body and into the world around him.
“Am I a psychic now or something?” he asked, excitement beginning to creep in over the fear.
“Or something.” Samael replied. “You might have noticed the rain’s a little odd this morning.” The demon waved North’s gaze up to the gray skies and the thousands of swords falling from it. They hit the ground with a metallic clang before disappearing into wisps of green or blue ether. North was mesmerized.
“They stink of you.” Samael said. “Those blades are yours and yours alone.” North’s eyes lit up.
“Man, the guys aren’t going to believe this when they wake up.” North said, ecstatic.
“No, I suppose they won't.” Samael said.
"Wait," North said then, "if I didn't know about it then..."
"Yes," Samael admitted," it is a rather large secret - and through the centuries I've worked hard to keep it so. You stand now at the edge of a decision, Northran Lel: what will you tell them, and how long will you wait to do so?"
"Well, if it was a secret, I'll keep it as one," North said, "God knows that if I told Ryo and Duke, they'd go pretty crazy."
"I suppose so, kid. Not to mention, there's a war coming - against the Demon Hordes of the Blacklands."
“I’m not a kid. I’m nearly twenty-four, you know. And I figured you'd say something like that.” Samael laughed at him.
“And I’m more than twenty-four thousand. If you’re lucky, you’ll make it to twenty-five with that attitude. Now come on, if you figured that much, you'll need to be prepared; we’ve got some basic swordplay to practice.”
“Your friends will be alright. You must learn to defend yourself, if you’re to face the storm that’s coming.”
“And you're sure I'll be able to face it?” North asked.
“The demons that have arrived here are led by the Demon Emperor Belial - he's ruthless, powerful, and infinitely cunning. Trust me, you’re going to need every bit of training I can give.”
Four Weeks Later
Vassago’s spear ground against his hand, trying to push through, insistent on it. North’s skin held though, sharp as any blade could ever be. He shoved his arm forward suddenly, forcing the demon backward. He’d baited the trap perfectly, just as Samael had planned, and while he regretted involving his friends, the Demon of Death was right - he needed them just as much they needed him. Maya was lying on the ground behind him, her eyes wide with fear and confusion and pain. Ryo had dropped his rifle, and Duke was staring too, unmoving.
“Are you going to stare, guys, or get moving so I can do this?” North yelled. Duke pulled Maya from the ground and punched Ryouta in the arm. North turned his attention back to Vassago, and a sword shot out of his arm to land in his hand. As soon as the blade was in his hand, Vassago was on him again, massive arm muscles shoving the red spear forward with brutal force. North dodged to his right, ducking under Vassago’s follow-up sweep and bringing his sword up along the shaft, which didn’t break under the force of his blow. Vassago leapt backwards, and landed on a piece of up-heaved stone, his clawed feet digging into it. He called out a challenge in an old tongue North didn’t understand, and then held his spear out before him.
“I am Vassago, the Third Spirit, Seeker of the Hidden, Declarant of Time, Prince of Prophecy, 3rd of the Demon Lord’s Lieutenants, and Lord of the Stoneborn.” Vassago said, giving North his true name and stylings. North was honor-bound to answer in kind.
“My name is Northran Lazarus Lel, Blood of Arthur, Heir to the Mortal Throne. But you can call me the Scion of Blades!” Another sword appeared in his off-hand (the left), and he charged at the old demon, the whites of his eyes glowing the same lime as the iris and pupil. Their steel met with a loud crash as the Stoneborn began to surround them. North jumped, vaulting himself over Vassago’s head and coming down behind him, nicking him in the side with his right-hand sword before the demon could turn to swing the spear down. North dodged again.
“This is no time to play, boy!” screamed Vassago, anger smoking from his azure eyes. “Where is Caliburnus? It is a grave show of disrespect to face me without it!”
“I don’t have it,” North admitted, “nor do I have the power to summon it.” The young man sat then, frustrated. Vassago lowered his spear and sat as well. North hands began to move in strange patterns, his fingers weaving in and out as strange glyphs appeared in the air, moving with them. He clapped his hands together, and as he slowly pulled them apart, two blades materialized between them, one atop another. All of North’s mana was concentrated into his hands, forging what he had named an 'Extant', a permanent sword that was much more substantial than the ones he usually generated. The Extant manifested as two shortswords made of a mysterious red steel traced with emerald designs. The handles were wrapped in bandages for better grip. When he finished forging it, North looked Vassago in the eyes, and held the blades up for the demon to inspect.
“It may not be Caliburnus, but it’s more than enough to take you out.”
“I’m impressed,” the old demon admitted, “Even Arthur’s blades never looked so beautiful.”
“So you did know Arthur, then?” North asked, curious.
“Of course I did, Scion of Blades. I am the ancient enemy of your house, after all. Stand now, and face me as you truly are.”
The ground rumbled, and the Stoneborn began to back away from the Demon Lord and Scion. North’s eyes were glowing again, and a Blade Storm the likes of which he’d never made before erupted from the ground. They bowed to each other, and the duel began in earnest.
Azrael arrived just in time to see the blades erupting from the ground to swallow North and the old demon, blue smoke heralding his coming. Ryo could still see them through the blades as they danced, spear to swords, sparking and sliding and biting. It was hauntingly beautiful. Vassago’s spear slid into North shoulder, and blood erupted from the wound for a moment before tiny swords stitched it closed and the fight continued. Around the duel, the Stoneborn stood motionless, as though transfixed.
“He lied to us.” Azrael stated. “He has been lying to us this entire time. The blades… why would he…”
“The answer is simple, brother.” The voice was dark and menacing, and Ryo turned to see a demon with red skin and black horns, leathery wings rising into the air. Azrael tensed, and the hair on the back of Ryo’s neck stood up; Duke lifted his daggers into a defensive stance. Maya’s eyes were still wide and watery, and now the fear in them was more potent than ever.
“North is the descendant of King Arthur, and that is a terrible weight to bear. We did not wish to ask it of any of you to help him. This will be his war, not yours.”
“That is their choice to make, Samael!” Azrael yelled. “He told us all he was powerless. There was no mana in him, not even a shred.”
“Then you missed all the signs, brother. While you were teaching these children, you let him wander the streets unescorted, unsupervised. His mana swirled around you constantly, and you knew nothing. You are a fool, Azrael, unfit to call yourself my twin.”
With that, the red creature with black wings disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
He flipped one of his swords into a reverse grip to block a thrust from Vassago’s spear, and leapt up to dodge a second. Landing on the spear’s shaft, North ran down it, angling his standard-gripped blade for the old demon’s face. Blue eyes flashed and the spear was gone from beneath him.
“Excellent!” yelled Vassago, “Not even Arthur himself fought like this!” The bladestorm moved with them as they battled, keeping the world out and them in. Vassago’s three-fingered hand twitched and runes appeared across his body. Fire shot out from him, enveloping the combatants.
North’s skin stung as he rolled under the main burst of the flames. Flame magic was dangerous stuff for most, but his skin was losing more and more of its normal properties every day as the blades became ever more a part of him. The flames that ran across his back tingled, and his hair refused to burn. His shirt, however – his dark green t-shirt with a golden symbol from his favorite video game – disappeared into ashes, tossed on the wind. His rage flared as he came up off the ground, twisting both of his blades around and bringing the one in his right hand up and into Vassago’s stomach. The red blade slid in soft and smooth, as though Vassago, Lord of the Stoneborn, Declarant of Time, Prince of Prophecy was nothing more than butter. A strained gasp escaped the demon’s lips as the blade in North’s left hand whipped into his right elbow, forcing him to drop the red spear. Black blood began to pour from the wounds in huge spurts, and North let go of the twinned Extants as the bladestorm stopped abruptly.
“Not… even… Arthur…” Vassago gasped, his voice filled with anguish.
“Arthur was just a man, Vassago.” A voice said. “And this boy has become more. I know not how Belial managed to breach the barriers between worlds, but I do know this: The Seals are unbroken, the Trumpets are silent.” North hadn’t even noticed Samael’s approach. Azrael was with him, the two approaching as Vassago fell to his knees, his eyes wide and confused.
“Samael… brother… what?” Vassago managed.
“The Hour has not come, Master. How did this happen?!” Samael demanded as he caught the demon and cradled him in his arms. Vassago did not answer, but lifted a clawed finger to point at North, standing above him. North instinctively reached his right hand down to the demon, unsure of why.
Vassago’s clawed hand wrapped around North’s wrist, and the runes that had once circled his body began to travel up his ashen arm, pale lime glyphs in some tongue older than time itself. The script crawled up North’s arm, blazing a path of fiery agony as it traveled. The glyphs circled themselves on his bicep, and the pain brought North down to his knees. Vassago pulled, and North’s face came close to his.
“I was Vassago, the Third Spirit, Seeker of the Hidden, Declarant of Time, Prince of Prophecy, and Lord of the Stoneborn. Everything I am, everything I was, passes to you, Blood of Arthur. Waste it not.”
If he had been asked forty-thousand lifetimes ago, he would’ve said that he would never die. He stared up at the scared human who had taken his life from him as his black blood continued to pour from him, and decided that if he had to die, this was the best way – to die in combat, battling a worthy foe. Though the human was pale and small, his power was immense. Arthur, if you can hear me, there on your sacred island where you sleep, your blood has done well.
Vassago had performed the rites, realizing that he’d never spent enough time learning them properly and silently wishing Deimos was there to receive his gift. He’d sent the young demon away to the south, to take control of the construction of the first of The Towers. Samael and Azrael were there before him, Samael begging him for answers he didn’t have. He was certain of one thing and one thing only: Belial could not be trusted any longer. There were too many things he did not tell Vassago, too many quiet glances to Raum and Asmodeus that spoke of more than just conquest, that hid intentions that might shake their universe to its core. He hoped he had not failed Deimos the way he had failed Belial.
Forty-Eight Thousand lifetimes of men have I stalked the Blacklands and White Ciy, training those younger than me to rule and be ruled. To fight and conquer and destroy. I am Lord of the Stoneborn, the Prince of Prophecy, and yet I know nothing of what Belial has done, or intends to do. I am the elder of so many, and have lifted high the few that were worthy. Out of us all, only Eluciel and Abriel were older than I. My brothers, what have I wrought? He had seen many things in those lifetimes, from the births of planets and stars to the births of lowly Kings of Men. He’d forget it all for a chance to see little Uriel and Azazel playing in the courtyards of the White City again, in a time before the Schism.
That was the wish he held as his soul turned to crystal and his body to bright orange light. When he was gone, the crystal fell into Samael’s hand. Somewhere, in a different epoch, a different dimension, he watched Eluciel and Abriel’s children dance around a white courtyard, their laughter filling the emerald skies and echoing off the Great Tree.
Vassago was vaguely aware of the rites Samael performed on his crystalline soul, could hear the words as the younger demon pressed it into the hands of the Scion of Blades, the Blood of Arthur. He wanted to scream, suddenly, to tell Samael to find Deimos and pick up where he’d left off, to continue his work, but the time for such things had passed.Vassago was home.