He should have been awakening this moment. This raging torrent of power felt exhilarating. Waves of ecstasy had been drowning his thoughts, yet a cold clarity sat at the core of Furos’ mind and his flesh stood firm.
Intriguing. What was the key for such an occurrence? For years he had known he was truly beyond any mage born in the remaining human kingdoms. Beyond any mage born in centuries, perhaps even a thousand years.
Was it the void in the air tonight? The two odd presences that shone like beacons through the void? Or was it the third presence twisting the unruly void around a knot of shimmering cold?
Keldin had taken a mortal wound. The new emperor’s presence had been falling into pieces before it vanished behind the veil of void. He pushed the thought out of his mind, fearing that letting those emotions take control would mean his end. However, he had crossed his limit already. Why was he not changing?
These thoughts and desires lingering in his mind, were still his own. He should have been changing into a demon king to bring destruction upon this city. He wanted to. He had always hated the royal capital. The capital chained you and devoured you. Only Furos had taken hold of it and diverted the raging river of power around him.
Beyond his own power and beating heart, he could hear rumbling coming from the direction of the Ebon Spire. The two beacon-like presences were hurrying towards that ruckus. Without warning, everything fell silent. Furos was left wondering why he was on his three remaining limbs, just staring at the ground. The raging flow subsided and still nothing happened. There were other beings right near him. Why was nothing happening?
More faint rumbling from the direction of the spire made Furos move his head gingerly. He felt old and tired now. He had an overwhelming urge to scold the idiots in this room for not ending his life. Someone’s feet shifted on the rubble as they were circling around him. Enough was enough.
With a heavy breath, Furos pushed himself into a sitting position. And with more difficulty he stood up. One last pang of regret throbbed inside him. Somewhere under all this rubble was Naivir’s final resting place. At least Lord Sool would not get to display his friend’s body.
“Well? Is this all you have?” He shouted at the Alyar and the Crux mage. Beyond the two, Sool and the other mage of the Crux appeared. Sool was brushing dust off his attire.
There was no better time to strike now that his opponents were confused. The Alyar had even taken a step away from him. But the flow in Furos’ veins would not obey his command. No power came from the palm he had thrust towards his opponents.
The Crux mages looked at each other and resumed their assault. Bewildered, Furos could do nothing, but cover behind his remaining arm. This had to be it. He felt the power assault him, yet nothing followed. Hesitant, he lowered his arm and looked around him. The surrounding debris had been pushed around and small dust clouds were slow to disappear.
“What is this?” Sool shouted. The Alyar had ceased her assaults entirely and was looking at Furos with curiosity. Having survived once again, Furos could not help but feel angry at his show of weakness. He had covered in the face of death. How many times had he risked everything without fear in Tristen? Then again, what did he have to gain in this situation?
“Cease!” The Alyar witch shouted at the mages. “That will not work.”
“Didn’t he awaken? What is this?” Sool demanded again.
“It doesn’t matter. He is mine!” The Alyar declared.
She brandished her blade and prowled around Furos. What to do with this one? She would not assault him with inner power again. Furos did not have any weapon at his disposal. He had never needed anything besides his own power. Desperation had come now. He thrust his hands forward and gestured more drawing on the memories of his abilities. Nothing happened, and the Alyar was slowly approaching as Furos was backing away from her.
If he wanted to, he could walk backwards all the way to the Ebon Spire. What else could he do? Furos was not a runner these days. Out of spite, he stopped abruptly and tried to draw on his power again. The Alyar flinched and slowed down for a moment. Yet she was still coming. He would not beg! Furos would not beg for his life! Should he stop and let her do as she wanted? He had really made room for himself to walk backwards, Furos mused.
“Kill him! Stop playing with him!” One of the Crux mages kept up with the Alyar. Piles of rubble and half-destroyed walls made it impossible to see where the other mage and Sool were. Soon, Furos would run out of room.
In the blink of an eye, the Alyar was upon him. There had to be a wall behind him. He might not have been a runner, but he was by no means an old, weak man. Age had not brought upon him the frailty many had been cursed with. Furos ducked and dodged to the side. He could feel the blade cutting through the air near his head.
Furos was ready should an attack come, but the Alyar put distance between the two of them again.
“What are you doing? Kill the fossil!”
“He is not some hapless infant!” The Alyar shouted with fury. She was angry and distracted.
Furos quickly stepped to the side as if to rush the Alyar. She flinched again and pulled back in a defensive posture. What was she afraid of? Furos grew angrier himself. He was of no threat to her, she could have ended his life in moments if she would not hesitate. Now a part of him had regained the most idiotic hope he would come out of this alive.
So, they stared at each other, locked in this ridiculous battle of wills. He had never had to resort to such a pathetic display. If you held power, you needed to use it, no matter who stood before you. He realised another small part of him was calling out for help, for the end. When had fate ever listened to anyone? He gritted his teeth at the thought.
Without warning, a wall of silken cloth appeared to have emerged from the wall towards the Ebon Spire. It tasted of awakened power. Bitter like pus and warm like a mouthful of cinders. The ground began to rumble again and would not stop. The tremors increased in intensity by the moment.
Moments later another wave of silken void brought freezing air with it. Furos knew that presence but it should not have been possible. The Emperor was dead! Was it Seldin? He ignored the distracted Alyar and Crux mage and made a run for it.
“He is getting away! You hapless freak! Are you listening?” Furos heard a few sliding footsteps on the rubble and then the sounds of someone grunting and falling. He did not really care what had happened. How could Akresh and Balaar have been released from their prison?
Several shining presences were fighting something terrible. Furos hurried as fast as he could, seeking a way through the ruined halls. He cackled a manic laugh. In his mind, he had just been scolding the builders for not having finished the renovations around the Ebon Spire. The royal capital was always against him in every way possible.
Looking through the windows, Furos could catch glimpses of something large and writhing in the plaza. He could not see the Ebon Spire any longer. It had disappeared. The tremors caused in the plaza were now hampering Furos’ attempts to find his way through the damaged buildings. Scaffolding was rattling loose and falling apart. New cracks were forming and all around him, small pebbles were falling from the groaning structures. They might bury him alive.
But Furos needed to know. He heard sounds of a larger collapse ahead of him and the sounds coming from the plaza got louder. Another wall had collapsed, revealing a gaping hole in the building’s outermost walls. Furos gritted his teeth as he ran through the crumbling opening. A few pebbles struck him and something larger landed right next to him but thankfully he appeared unscathed, through the waterfall of dust.
His eyes stung from the dust, but there was no mistaking the cursewood roots churning up the plaza. Someone powerful had awakened here. The air above was shimmering and clouded with thick mist. He saw waves of ice and blood-tinged power, fighting side by side. Even the living memories in Furos’ possession did not hold such a magnificent display of the flow.
Two others fought here. Both buried deep amidst the writhing roots. The first unleashing some sort of veiled power very similar to the gloom emanating from the cursewood being. That one was holding back yet.
The second was much more savage. All manner of energies and elements danced around this one. Even primal elements pulled from the void itself. Everything in that one’s path was ruined and torn into pieces. Despite its great power, this one was struggling. What Furos had thought to be lust for battle at first was a careless and desperate fight. The might of its power and fierce determination was the being’s only saving grace.
Another vicious mass of roots was gathered around a third presence. The blades had to be there, although distorted, the cool veil pushed aside the bitter gloom. Furos wanted to see more, but the one wreathed in void was causing more and more devastation with each moment. It sent large pieces of earth and other debris skyward and into the buildings around this plaza.
He was an insignificant insect here. His presence would go unnoticed and so would his life. The beings here would trample over him by accident. Furos was forced to retreat inside. Before he could enter the relative safety of the building, he saw the Alyar standing inside, looking at the scene unfolding in the plaza.
Her mouth had drooped open, and she did not seem to notice Furos. The Archmage threw a couple of wary looks at the damned elf but she did not acknowledge his presence. Furos ran past her and further into the buildings. The sounds of the raging fight muffled behind him and new sounds of collapsing buildings became alarmingly obvious.
He fled the ruined gallery surrounding the spire. A panic was slowly swallowing his mind and he could not understand where he was at first. More importantly, where were all the inhabitants of this city? The streets in the high city were abandoned. Furos stopped to catch his breath. A dream-like haze surrounded everything. The flashes of power and tremors failed to dispel this illusion. He was out of ideas once again.
Why had he been spared? Him of all people? Furos had been leaning against a pillar. Pushing away from it, he almost stepped into the river canal. Furos walked alongside the river as the fight around the spire continued and had gotten more intense. But all of the devastation raining from the skies was contained around the buildings of the Ebon Spire. Ahead of him, he saw a couple of small boats on the water’s edge. Nobles used those for joy rides in the high city.
Furos stopped again, not realising what was wrong. The fight had died down. He could hear a faint shrieking and a steady wave of cool, fresh air drove away the heavy gloom. Furos breathed deeply, the cool air reinvigorating his tired mind and body. Until he realised the cool air was burning in his nostrils and mouth. His breath had become visible. He started shivering uncontrollably. Furos covered his mouth with his sleeve and jogged further away from the Ebon Spire.
Without warning, something wiped him off his feet and pushed him to the ground. He scraped the side of his head on the rough cobble.
He lay on his back for a few moments, trying to understand why he could not grab one of the blossoms in his hand. The flower was right there, under his hand.
Fear gripped Furos once he understood what had occurred in front of his eyes. The Mark of the Other One had blossomed once again.
Furos’s body felt heavier than ever. It took him a great deal of effort to stand up. And the sight in the heart of the city made his head spin. For a moment it felt as if he were a giant himself, standing equal next to great blossom. It had caught his gaze and it would not let him go. Furos was shivering and shedding tears, unable to move a single step.
He waited for it to vanish. For the un-day to disappear. Instead, long offshoots were sprouting from its base and forming into long sword-like leaves. With a flash, something erupted on the tip of each leaf and Furos was cut loose from his trance. He turned and ran this time; it did not matter that the breath burned in his lungs and his old body threatened to fall apart. Several faint shrieks reached his ears, but he did not want to know what was happening. The power that had been unshackled in this city terrified him.
But there were limits to Furos’ abilities. His feet got tangled, and he came to a halt, landing on his knees and hands. His ringing head was calling his name. When someone tried to touch him, Furos yelled in panic and tried to scurry away from his attacker.
“It’s me!” Seldin’s face came into focus and his voice ripped through Furos like a blaze.
Breathing heavily, Furos felt his eyes well with tears and he wept. He let himself be pulled on his weak feet. Navvar’s daughter was there, too. Seldin kept speaking about something. Although angry, it was obvious, the boy had shed tears himself. Navvar and Tulsa were taken? No, they were dead.
They carried Furos to a group of familiar people waiting in boats. Teresa kept talking about demons on the great blossom’s leaves.
“Don’t. Do not look at the great one. We do not deserve it. We do not deserve the power we have held.” Furos realised he was speaking.
“Get a hold of yourself!” Seldin slapped Furos, but he felt nothing. “Get in the boat, I need to go back to find Keldin and father!”
Seldin was barking orders and arguing with the remainder of Keldin’s ministers. Two of them were uncannily quiet. Furos looked at the unmoving body of Jelar and the frozen figure of Orhan kneeling over him. Only tonight had the both of them been properly introduced to him. The dark-skinned giant of a man had been very talkative. He had been nervous. Furos had told him not to worry so much and his friend had shared the Archmage’s encouragement.
Tennver and Cleo were arguing with Seldin. The two of them insisted on leaving, but Seldin begged them to wait. He would not be gone long. Furos was sitting in one of the boats now and saw Seldin jump ashore.
“Under the bridge! Wait for me! I will bring them back.”
Furos was about to open his mouth when two voices shouted out in desperation. Seldin’s pained shriek made Furos wince. There was a scramble in the boats to get back ashore again. Furos saw Noelyn and Agmar up on the walkway. He would have rather sat in the boat, motionless and away from it all. But he too made his way out of the boat.
“I told the three of you to find him! I told you to find anyone who you could! He was alive! I know he was!” Seldin was enraged, shouting at the two ministers. “I told you two, and Doldir!” In front of the kneeling Prince lie the newly crowned Emperor, Keldin the First.
Seldin made to touch his brother, but he stopped. He winced and although he tried to hide it, Furos saw the Prince crying. “My Prince. Doldir turned on us. Doldir turned on the Emperor. He killed him.” Noelyn placed a sword shattered in two next to Keldin. Doldir’s sword. Shattered the moment it had turned on its master. Agmar held the Emperor’s sheathed sword.
“I need to find father!” Seldin growled through tears. He stood up but Furos grabbed Seldin’s shoulder in a firm grip before he could flee.
“Naivir has found his final resting place. None will disturb him there.” Furos felt his voice weak and tired. He nodded towards the towering blossom at the heart of the city.
Seldin tried to pull out of his grip, but Furos would have none of it.
“Let me go! I need to find Sool. And Doldir.”
“Doldir is dead. Killed by the Crux mages.” Agmar said with a husky voice. It was uncanny how much older the young minister suddenly seemed. “He got what he deserved.”
“Lord Sool was with us.” Furos tightened his grip on Seldin’s shoulder. “In there. Where the great one’s mark blossomed. Agmar, Noelyn, and Doldir found me under assault. And then your brother found us all. He came for us.”
“You were the strongest Furos! Why didn’t you save them?” Seldin hissed through tears.
“Come on. We need to go. We won’t have the luxury to stay here for any longer.” Tennver grabbed the Prince from the other side and together with Furos they led Seldin to the boats.
“The twins.” Furos realised who else was missing. “Where are they?”
“They saved me and Jelar.” Orhan said with a hoarse voice. He too was holding back tears.
An ashen-faced Orhan helped Agmar lift the dead Emperor into one of the boats. Before setting off, Furos observed Agmar put the Emperor’s blade in Seldin’s lap. It was an awkward gesture, the Prince did not seem to notice it. He simply stared at the boat where his dead brother lay.