Chapter 36: The Floating of the Monolith
With construction nearing completion and the potent buds swelling on the Weeping Tree, Draug grew increasingly paranoid and dissatisfied with the protection the Monolith would provide. Throughout its construction he had been constantly revising his design, requiring more materials, more magical energy. Now, he directed his builders to dig even deeper underground, extending the Monolith’s walls far below the surface and inclining them inward, to surround the tree as fully as possible. When the builders excavated under the tree to do so, however, they found its roots withered, broken, and dead.
But the tree itself was somehow alive — in fact it was preparing to bloom. Draug realized it was surviving on starlight alone, untethered to the planet’s core, and he had an idea how to finally render the tree inaccessible to anyone but him. it would exhaust his vast stores of magical energy, but once accomplished, it would pay off a thousand times more. Draug sent his builders back under the weeping tree to fully encapsulate it, even across the bottom. It was an incredible feat of advanced engineering and powerful magic. Many workers died in the process. And when they were done, when the Monolith was finally completed, Draug killed the rest of them to protect his secret.
Finally, concentrating all the power of his remaining crystals in a single blast of magical energy unparalleled in Mythron’s history, Draug raised the entire Monolith and secured it permanently in the sky. The waves of magical disturbance this released caused a Great Disjunction that rocked the planet to its core, destabilizing the continents and setting them in motion. Weakened and spent, Draug was nonetheless awestruck by what he had achieved. All he had left to do was wait for the tree to bloom once more — and he would be infinitely more powerful than ever before.
Unfortunately for Draug, that was when Aq’Toth, leader of the Inxikrah host, ordered the attack on Aestaria.
Chapter 37: The Weeping Tree Blooms
The Great Disjunction almost dashed the Inxikrah offensive before it began. Though they had absorbed the skills of their vanquished foes, the Inxikrah were a subterranean race and, therefore, inexpert ocean navigators at best. The churning seas claimed a quarter of them. But those that landed fought ferociously, viciously, sweeping across Aestaria, consuming their victims and growing smarter each day. The Vermillion Legion, all but leaderless, was easily conquered. Though victorious, the Inxikrah were weakened by the battle as well. But when Aq’Toth unceremoniously dismembered and consumed Draug, he mind melded and learned of the impending blooming of the Weeping Tree of Eyos, and the great power soon to be released within the Monolith.
Having communed with the Weeping Tree, Valknu was aware of the blooming as well, and with Draug beaten and the Inxikrah weakened, he knew the moment to strike had arrived. He had no reason to suspect the Inxikrah knew the Weeping Tree was about to bloom, or the tremendous power its blooming would unleash. But he knew they must never be allowed to access it. If the Bloodbound could engage the Inxikrah, they would be triumphant. If they allowed the Inxikrah to access the power of the Weeping Tree, the Bloodbound would fail. The Second Empire might never happen. Instead, the Inxikrah would plunge the world into another age of chaos, a thousand times darker than anything Draug had inflicted.
It was sunset by the time the Bloodbound arrived at God’s Heel to head off the Inxikrah. The rest of the Magmar were already there. As they prepared for war, The Monolith hanging in the sky above them began to pulsate with color. The Star Lenses built to focus the light inwards onto the Weeping Tree now refracted it outwards instead in a brilliant display of iridescence that shone across the sky, illuminating all of God’s Heel in a fantastic display of coruscating lights. The Bloodbound felt buoyant, not just from the joyous nature of the spectacle, but as if gravity itself was undulating as well.
The Great Blooming had begun.
Chapter 38: The Battle of God’s Heel
For one joyous moment, the Bloodbound watched the Monolith illuminate the sky. Then the light revealed the Inxikrah army, assembling in the distance. Valknu was stunned. How had they mobilized so quickly? Had the somehow known the Weeping Tree was blooming? Before he could for a guess, a small band of lithe women-warriors approached from the rear. The Bloodbound turned to engage them, but their leader quickly said, “We come in peace. We come to help.” They were exquisitely beautiful, but not human, their skin as pale as moonlight, theit eyes and hair a vivid green. “Who are you?” Valknu demanded. “We are Abyssians, from Ixus,” said their leader, pointing her Vetruvian-crafted Tyvian sword towards the Inxikrah. “We were once like them; we know they must be stopped.” She described the brutality of the Inxikrah, explaining in great detail how they ritually consumed their victims to gain access to their memories and powers. Valknu now realized how the Inxikrah knew the Weeping Tree was blooming, and that the stakes of this battle would be far higher than he had ever imagined.
Valknu assembled the Bloodbound away from the Abyssians and shared what they had told him. He reminded them they were foremost the guardians of the secret location of the Great Tree Aperion. If any of them was killed and consumed, the Inxikrah could find the Great Tree. Hordes of them would sweep across Mythron, empowered by the Blood of Aperion. To win the battle ahead they must not only keep the Inxikrah from the Monolith, but they must do so without losing a single Bloodbound warrior. They must protect their comrades at all cost.
Then the Inxikrah charged.
The Abyssians and the Magmar fought alongside the Bloodbound, whose peerless magic countered the Inxikrah’s debilitating clouds of toxin. Throughout the night, Good’s Heel seethed with clashing combatants, a cacophonous cauldron of violence bathed in the extraordinary light streaming from the Monolith. As dawn approached, the Inxikrah finally broke under the combined might of Mythron’s champions, and so begun their retreat over the blood soaked ground, littered with the twisted bodies of their fallen. Valknu was torn: should he chase them down to secure Aperion’s clandestine location and risk leaving the Monolith vulnerable? Then, to his astonishment, he discovered not a single Bloodbound or Magmar or Abyssian had been lost. The Weeping Tree was safe – and so was the secret of Aperion’s location. The was was over
Chapter 39: Dawn of the Second Empire
AE 23,205 – 23,380
The Second Empire dawned over a world ravaged by war, fraught with climatic and tectonic instability, hobbled by chaos and evil. But there was also great optimism at the prospect of a New Age of peace and prosperity. After their victory in the Battle of God’s Heel, the Abyssians returned to Ixus and an uneasy coexistence with the Inxikrah. Many Bloodbound returned to returned to Deladriss Peake or the Chakri Monastery, but many more chose to live among the people of their ancestors, and to rebuild. As individuals, they possessed the skills, talents, and characteristics of great leaders, and in each nation, they quickly rose to high positions, becoming the pillars of a new, enlightened civilization.
They kept their identities as Bloodbound hidden, however. Being known to hold the secret of Aperion’s location could make them and their loved ones vulnerable to coercion from those desperate to possess such knowledge. Plus, the people had grown suspicious of magic and its practitioners, even the Bloodbound. The scarcity of crystals had removed magic from their lives. They associated magic with the evil of Draug and the Inxikrah and blamed it for the Great Disjunction. So the Bloodbound quietly went on with their lives. Many remained friends, united by their secret bond and by the positions they held in society. Their children did not share the Bloodbound’s special powers, but as their grandchildren reached adolescence, it turned out that many of them did – a fact that was also kept secret.
Over time, however, people began to reconsider their superstitions and fears regarding magic. Some remained cynical, but many leaders privately acknowledged magic’s essential role in rebuilding society. As people overcame their aversion to magic and sought to reincorporate it into their lives, the scarcity of crystals became a growing concern, perhaps even a threat to the planet’s hard-won peace and stability. Although many considered the Monolith a symbol of hubris and madness of rulers like Draug and Rasha, and even Sargos, it was the only remaining viable source of crystals. Floating in the sky, it rivaled Mythron’s moon in brightness and beauty, and was just as inaccessible.
Except to the Bloodbound.
Chapter 40: The Council of Mythron
AE 23,380 – 23,401
Enlightened by the wisdom and integrity of the Bloodbound and the Magmar, the newly liberated nations of Mythron agreed that war must never again roil their world. Nevertheless, the demand for crystals was a growing problem, and a Council of Mythron was formed to deal with it. In order to determine how much crystal energy existed and in what form, they knew they needed to explore the Monolith. But without the magic it contained, the Monolith was virtually inaccessible. Except, perhaps, for those who possessed extraordinary powers.
Several generations passed since the original Bloodbound quietly melded into the populace, and their identities had been so well hidden that the only way to determine those who were descended from them – those who shared the powers of the Bloodbound – was physical demonstration. A call went out for those who had been hiding their abilities to come forward and enter a contest of Bloodbound abilities – a Trial of Champions – based on intelligence, physical skills, and, most of all, magical aptitude. The contests were wildly popular among the people, uniting the nations in good-natured rivalry and diffusing the aggression of the more warlike contingents. The new Bloodbound were celebrated, a source of pride among their people, both because of their astounding abilities and the roles their forebearers had played in delivering Mythron from the Age of Darkness.
There were six winners, one of each the Lyonar, Songhai, Vetruvian, Vanar, and Abyssian, as well as Vaath, the Magmar. They were called the Senerei, in honor of the original Seven Stars selected by Kaon Deladriss’ Trial of Champions. They would be the first to venture inside the Monolith in the sky, the first to see what the great blooming had brought forth. Tens of thousands came to God’s Heel from every continent to watch as the new Senerei, powered only by their own magic, rose in the sky and entered the Monolith.
Chapter 41: The Birth of the Duelysts
Countless throngs of anxious Mythronians waited in silence for an hour until the Senerei finally emerged and descended to the surface. Each carried a crystal orb. They shone with different colors and intensities, but all were brighter than any known crystal. The Senerei delivered the orbs to the Council of Mythron and described the fantastic tableau inside the Monolith – the Weeping Tree ablaze with luminous crimson leaves, lit from above by the Star Lenses and from below by the crystal globes that carpeted the ground like snow, shining with an otherworldly light.
The council’s scholars determined that the Weeping Tree’s petals, unable to disperse, had piled onto each other instead, amplifying each other as they fused together to create the superlative crystal spheres – which they called Cores. The different depths and configurations led to different colors and power intensities, but even the weakest Core was thousands of times more powerful than the most powerful crystals. Each Core contained enough power to meet any nation’s basic needs for a year or more. But with the finite number of Cores, the Council needed to decide how they would be allocated among the nations. The variety of strength made a simple distribution impossible.
As the question of allocation dragged on, some in each nation clamored for military solutions. The Council members lamented how the good-natured rivalry of the Trial of Champions seemed like a distant memory. Then they realized there lay the answer − a contest. Once a year, each nation, or faction, would put forth a Duelyst − their Bloodbound − to compete for the energy-rich Cores. Each Duelyst would win for his nation a Core, but a Grandmaster Duelyst would bring home a Prismatic Core, the most powerful kind. The runner-up would win legendary orange, the second-most powerful. Third place would win indigo purple, fourth place cerulean blue, and fifth place emerald green. Sixth place would win crimson red, the least powerful Core, but still charged with more energy than any nation had seen in years. The past would be honored, the Bloodbound celebrated, and the peace preserved as the contest defused any lingering bellicosity.
And so was born the Duelyst Grandmasters and The Trial of the Cores.