Upon a Star: Chapter 57
Xelnos felt like the lowest of the low. After everything Reveen – his father – said, he couldn’t bring himself to tell him how he felt. But how could he? Just saying his name would have caused nearly everyone in the room to raise arms against him. Even though the Planar-Mage had spoken in parables, omitting every name, he knew what it all meant: the destruction of the past world, the birth of the Planars, his own birth… and that of Soner.
He dared not grasp at the truth that the Aspect of Magic – the Aspect of Creation, it felt more like – had spoken. If Soner was the Unwanted Child and suffered the division of his body, mind and soul into three… then what he had done to Karyana and her companions – even though Melothios had manipulated him – was unfair. How could he deserve redemption when his own flesh and blood had corrupted him into doing the unthinkable to so many for so long? Thousands upon thousands had died… all because he put foolish hope in love for someone so distant.
Asuna. Just thinking of her now made him suffer worse than the many truths he had heard less than an hour ago. He had seen in her some sort of hope for a better eternity, a chance for love… All of it crushed by one truth: the Planar of the Moon and Starlit Sky, the Alabaster Maiden, the one who had tempted him from his cage in the Underdeep and stood against him at the Final Plains… was his sister. Still, had Melothios’ corruption not vanished from it after the battle that nearly cost the Chosen her life, he never would have seen the glimmer of redemption. Still, he had been the host of too many wars and too much destruction. He was sick of his title and only wished for his role in the world to vanish…
Standing against the terrace rail, a butcher’s knife stolen from the kitchen, the former Planar-Demon, lost in his thoughts, looked at the horizon with a heavy heart. While he knew death of a Planar would bring the world closer to its end, he found no other possibility. He did not wish to live with all the guilt. Losing Aerona, the being he believed was his one chance at hope, was just one more weight on his shoulder. Letting himself drop against the rail, he turned out and hung his head low, a sigh as heavy as his grief escaping his lips.
“I know that look.” He heard as a pair of woman’s boots walked over to him. Given how low an angle his eyes were locking onto, he could not see much of the grey skin of the Grey Elf before him. “Either you snuck in the cellars and had too much spiced wine, or you got the fight knocked out of you.”
Xelnos closed his eyes for a moment, the hand holding the knife trailing close to his body. “You wouldn’t understand…” he said before feeling something hard strike at his hand, loosening his grip on the impromptu weapon. “Ow! What was that for?”
“You wouldn’t understand? Is that your best excuse?” the woman said as she crouched down next in front of him, giving a good view of her body… and the anger on her face. “The Planars have come down to see us, and all you can think of is dragging your sorry butt up here with a kitchen knife in hand?”
“Who cares about any of them…” the man said before feeling the woman’s hand against his face. Had she not added as much force in her slap, the sensation would have been pleasant. “Ugh… now what?”
“Look. I don’t know from which tribe you’re supposed to be, but we pay our respects to the Planars for giving us a chance when others turned us away!” Sayeth replied, her stern expression clearly visible. “You should be honoured that Reveen himself spoke to us, let alone came here in the first place!”
“You respect the Planars?” the man wondered, having trouble believing it. “What about Xelnos? Do you respect the Destroyer?”
“Do you even know the story of our kind?” the woman commented before taking a moment to sit down, her expression softening. “In the first years of the elves, everyone looked pretty much the same, save for hair and eyes. One day, some of the elves began to see themselves as more beautiful than the sun and the moon. Legends say that the Planars thought the elves were too arrogant and split them. Those who lived under the sun saw their skin darken to almost black, while those who lived under the moon had theirs turn pale as the moon. The elves begged forgiveness to the sister Planars, but when Progeny and Xelnos saw the new elves, they thought the colors were all wrong. So, the dark-skinned ones were sent to live in the night with the latter Planar, and the pale ones in the day-”
“That’s the most ridiculous story I’ve ever heard.” The Aspect in Surrogate form groaned as he shook his head, not having the heart to smile.
“I know, right?” she said before her expression softened further, a smile appearing on her face. “Glad to see there’s an elf out there who thinks this tale is stupid… even if you’re just another lackey.”
“Lackey?” the grey-skinned man retorted as he straightened himself, “I have a name, you know!”
“Did you know that Karyana told me the very same thing when we first met?” the woman said before giving the man a friendly punch on the shoulder. “Imagine that: I made her to be some runaway slave at first. Then after some time together, I felt like she was more than just a lackey… but I had my pride. It was when I almost got killed by that maniac that I realized she was something really special.”
“Maniac?” Xelnos replied, not sure what to think. In the current world, Pison had never existed… but with Panyus’ powers waning and the Toll of Demise, it was safe to say that his guess was as good as he thought. “You mean Iron-Chain Pison?”
“You know him, too?” the woman replied, giving the Planar the feeling he said too much. “I knew I wasn’t mad! No one else thought that someone like that even existed… Say, what did you say your name was, again?”
The Aspect of Destruction tried to dodge the question, his answer coming out half-thought. “I didn’t… but then again, neither did you.”
“Well, you’re snapping together better!” the woman replied as she looked at the Surrogate. “The people of my tribe called me Scythe, but I hated that name. I changed it to Sayeth. It’s not that different, but the moment I stopped being a rogue and learned to be a knight, people started to call me ‘Emberheart’, because… well… let’s say that it’s not just because of my eyes.”
Xelnos took a moment to look at the woman’s face for a moment. While she was far from Aerona, looking at her was… far from unpleasant. She looked strong enough to smack his Surrogate form around, but it showed just enough to make her look seasoned without taking any of her charms away. Her hair was opalescent and short, but framed her visage nicely and her eyes… As much as they reminded him of the fire pits of the Underdeep, there was a more gentle light coming from them. Examining her further, he noticed that, while Prolectae had not been incredibly generous with her, she was fair in many ways.
“I… um…” the man stammered, having trouble coming up with a false name to give the woman. “Y-you can call me… ah… zuh… zel…”
“Azazel?” the woman replied, thinking of the stammering as poor pronunciation. “That explains why you weren’t fond of saying it. I heard in the old ways that it was some ‘demon of jealousy’. How about I give you a better name?”
The man almost broke into laughter at the thought before letting out a relieved sigh. “Yeah, sure… I’d rather have a better name than some yellow-eyed demon…”
Sayeth took a moment to think before making a clever smile. “How about Mithos? You’re quite the mystery… one I wouldn’t mind spending time to unravel.”
The comment left the man startled and blushing. “I… wouldn’t go that far. There’s… some things I prefer not to delve back into. You see, I’m… I’m Xelnos’ Surrogate.”
It was her turn to be startled. “W-well… th-that’s… um…”
“Pathetic, right?” the man commented as he tried to get up, only to feel her hand hold on to his shoulder.
“Actually… I’ve been a Surrogate, too.” The woman commented before sitting next to the man. “I… I guess Prolectae and Panyus took a bit of a liking in me… just for a little while…”
Xelnos cocked an eyebrow as he slowly pulled her hand away from his shoulder, finding her skin much smoother to the touch. “I guess you know how it feels then. You get to see into their souls for as long as they stay in you. Frankly, if I could have refused, I would have.”
“Well, as his Surrogate, can I ask something to him?” the woman replied before moving closer to him. “Down there, in the Underdeep… I bet he feels lonely, right? You think he’d like the company of someone with a bit of spunk?”
“Y-you…. What are you talking ab-” the man blushed even further.
Sayeth made a teasing smile as she pressed a finger against his lips before planting a quick kiss on his forehead. “You’re easy to read, Xelnos. Don’t you think I know who kept us alive while we were locked in those glass jars like picked fish? Besides, you didn’t bat that much of an eye when Reveen talked.”
“So you know who I am… but you also know what I’ve done.” The man let out with a sigh. “How do you expect me to live with thousands of deaths on my conscience?”
The man’s answer came as the woman relaxed the corset that kept her armor in place, creating plunging cleavage that forced his eyes away from hers, a faint trickle of blood from his nose.
“I can help with that…” she seductively said as she wiped the blood from his upper lip with a finger and gingerly pressed it to her lips, tasting it. “See? People think humans and Planars can’t elope, but Reveen said it himself: Planars were humans. So why not? I bet you’re as curious to try as I am…”
“I… um… I guess I never really experienced what you mortals can-“ Xelnos tried to say before Sayeth pressed her lips against his own, her body leaning against his.
“I just have one last request before we… try…” she said before reaching for her belt and pulling out a dagger, her voice shifting to sultry and seductive to serious and threatening as she pressed the tip against his neck, just enough to draw a drop of blood. “If Kary doesn’t come out of this alive, you won’t either.”
Alban took a moment to look at Kaina while she slept, Allision refreshing the mousy brunette’s towel with a moist one. “It sure makes a lot to take in…” he thought aloud.
“Don’t I know it.” Turalyon replied as he looked at Laurinya’s bed, the blonde-haired woman also lost in Oerbus’ grasp. “It saddens me to think that Vokram is still alive after doing such… horrible things.”
Though both men were still recovering, Allision’s magic had helped them to their feet quicker. The problem now was getting the two siblings ready to aid should the oncoming battle go for the worse – something that could definitely happen. While the brawny ranger grew accustomed to battle scars and having to wait before going back to battle, something that he did not mind as much, the lanky wizard felt powerless.
“You should take it easy; the next war will be far from easy.” The larger of the two men replied. “Have something to eat and-”
“I’ll fine!” the battle-mage snapped back, trying to sound brave even though he was not at full strength. “I’m more worried about her.”
Alban grabbed a handful of dried dates and handed some to Turalyon. “That’s not like you to be such a worrywart. I thought you and Laurinya were… you know…”
“That’s just it…” the wizard said as he leaned against the bed rest. “I know Laurinya is unpredictable and likes to do things on her own… but truth be told, I didn’t join your party because the Order asked me to.” Noticing Alban’s confused stare, he knew he needed to let it out. “Back when she and I were at the Academy, I was a fellow student in her class. She always was a bit bossy and liked her solitude, but people did pick on her because of her temper. While she did things on her own, I was there. She really was a brilliant girl, and… and I saw her smile before.”
“Laurinya smiling… that’s something I never thought I’d hear about…” the ranger commented, finding the idea both intriguing and scary at the same time.
“Whenever we work together, I could tell something was bothering her, so we talked.” The tall man continued. “She’d talk about how she missed her family, especially her sister, and the fields of Warmcreek. One day, after our mentors taught us how to master teleportation, we went to visit the orchard she always talked about… and that was the first time I saw her truly happy.”
“You can’t take the farmlands out of these two…” Alban commented as he looked at the mousy brunette. “Kaina also talked a lot about that place, but I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the place. Maybe a few… okay, there was that Mage’s Tournament on Reveen’s Day where some quack messed up his instant meal spell. I swear, I asked him for a spread of ox meat, berry juice and apple pie… I’m almost sure he would have ended up with a spread of apples, berry pie and ox juice!” Both men made a disgusted face before laughing. “Yeah… and there’s also that time where old Sard had to make this huge sword for a customer. I really wanted that blade... and it turned out that I ended up getting it, too!”
“You miss those farmlands, huh?” Turalyon asked before stuffing a date in his mouth.
The rugged man let out a sigh. “Yeah… I guess I do.” He finally admitted. “I’m really getting tired of wars and fighting. Once Swordwall’s back to normal, I’m thinking of having someone else take over. It’d be nice to go back there, build a home… and maybe even start a family…”
The battle-mage took a moment to think about it. “I don’t mind being the Mediarch, but if I had to give up the Order or Laurinya… I don’t think I’d make it alone.”
“I’ll quote you on that…” the blond woman groaned as she wiped her eyes, taking a moment to get up to a sitting position on her bed.
The man was definitely startled. “Lauri! You’re awake!”
“You two speak louder than a snoring dragon.” She said before reaching for the bowl of dates on her bed table. “And what’s that?”
“Um… dates?” Alban replied, not understanding the obvious question.
“That’s not good enough! Tura, get me something to eat! I can’t get all my powers back if all I can eat are dried figs!”
Though the two men looks quizzically at one another, they felt that the woman’s strength had somewhat returned as she chucked the dried fruit at them, forcing them out of the room. Putting the bowl away, she looked in the direction of her sister. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah…” Kaina said in a half-awake sigh.
“I bet you also heard everything they said, right?” the emerald-eyed woman asked.
“Yeah…” the shorthaired, brown-haired woman repeated her sigh, this time of relief.
A knowing smile spread to both the women’s faces. “I’m sure you’d look great in a wedding dress, sis.” Laurinya finally said.
Kaina snuggled back into bed, a dreamy sigh escaping her lips. “Mmm… yeah…”
Luna opened the windows to let air into her stuffy room. Taking a moment to look at the desert city, she began to wonder about the oncoming battle. A knock on the door, followed by Laelynn’s voice snapped her out of her reverie. “Mother, may I come in?” she asked.
“Yes, come in.” the semi-Planar replied, not moving from her position.
The steel-skinned woman walked in and politely closed the door, cleared her voice and spoke. "Mother... is all of what he said true?"
“The truth has been kept hidden for far too long.” The lupine-eared woman answered as she turned around, a melancholic expression on her visage. “But yes, all that Reveen said was true.”
Seeing her mother – one of her mothers – look so sad made the man-made Planar feel bad. "It’s strange... when I came to be, I saw you... and everyone with you... like my Fathers and Mothers... and they all are. But now... I just wonder what to do."
The golden-haired woman placed a hand on the shorter one’s shoulder. “What does your heart tell you?”
Laelynn closed her eyes and placed her hands to the gem on her chest. “I can feel Mother… she’s sad and in pain…” Opening her eyes, her expression shifted to a worried one. “I want to make her better.”
“Then you should come with us and help, my steel angel.” the woman replied, trying to sound comforting though ending with a sigh.
The word made the womanly construct pause. “What is an angel?”
Luna took a moment to look back outside, seeing nightly clouds in the distance. “An angel is a creature born to aid everyone in need and fights the darkness.” She explained before reminiscing on the past. “Josephine used to believe in them when she was just a child.”
Laelynn tilted her head, trying to piece everything together. “Is Mother an angel?”
The woman was not sure if the Aspect of the Forge was speaking of Karyana or not, but she answered as if she did. “I don’t know what she is anymore… I need to speak with Demyan. Can you bring him here?”
“Yes, Mother… and thank you.” She replied before walking out, leaving the door slightly open.
Moments passed before the Magelord walked into the room. “You wish to see me?” Demyan asked, almost certain of the answer before even asking the question. “It seems like everyone has much to think about right now.”
The woman turned around, resuming her gaze at the nightly sky. “Were you aware of Reveen when he took over?”
“I don’t remember everything he said, if that’s what you mean.” the man commented as he walked into the room. “Truth is, I didn't feel his presence until Vokram came close to ending my life. The moment you, Dawn, Asha and I cast 'Second Genesis' in unison... I thought I was going to die. Instead, something seemed to... open in my soul, as if there was a lock that was smashed open."
Luna’s ears drooped as she tilted her head down. “He is back… and I’m scared of talking to him.” She nervously added. “The last time I saw her, I had my blade in his chest.” The woman’s stance twitched as one of her hands, formerly clenched into a fist, reached for her temple. “Ever since his eyes appeared, Lupa has woken in my mind… my soul… it feels like I’m being torn apart… I don’t know what to do…”
Demyan figured something like this would happen – the same result had almost happened with Karyana. Had she not worn the tiara before, her entity would have relapsed back into its two ‘sisterly forms’. “Just listen to me. Imagine your souls like a beer tap with three different faucets. One of them is open, and that’s you. The others are Lupa and Josephine. I want you to slowly close one and open another at the same time.”
“It… it hurts, Demyan… but I… I…” the woman spoke as she began to turn around, her eye color shifting until both eyes were now fully lupine, a familiar growl escaping her lips. “I want out!”
The Magelord took a step back and closed his eyes. "I'm glad you are still alive." He replied, his irises having shifted from brown to a glowing blue.
“F-Father?” Lupa said as she took a step back, wings scratching the wall. “Please… don’t hurt me… I’m sorry for all I did…”
“I should be the one to apologize, my dear girl.” The Planar within the man replied. “You have every right to hate me. I tried to give the world a chance... and I wasn't there for you nor your sister when they needed me. Of all things, you made me understand."
“But…” the woman sniffled before breaking in tears. “I… I understand now! You showed us why you did what you… oh, father…”
“I’m glad… and I know everything will be alright…” The Aspect of Magic said as he placed his forehead against hers, both hands on the woman’s shoulders.
Looking into the woman’s mind, she quickly found Lupa and mentally took hold of her before taking a step back. As an ethereal form equal in size to the Planar-Beast began to form then solidify, Josephine’s lupine features vanished from her body, leaving the two women separate from one another. As the human woman dropped to her knees, all that remained of Luna was the woman’s wings.
Lupa looked at herself as the rest of her body rematerialized, air filling her lungs. “Father… I don’t understand… I killed you… why do this?”
“Second Genesis is a prayer for salvation, my child.” Reveen commented as he walked over to Josephine, picking her up and placing her on the nearby bed, making sure the wings were properly folded. “You both deserve a new chance, a new life… and soon, we will.”
Demyan dropped to one knee, his mask falling to the ground. “Urgh… I didn’t know being a Surrogate was such a… pain in the head…”
“Mummy!” Sarah’s voice came from the other side of the door as the young woman burst in, soon followed by a relieved-looking Genevieve. “You’re back!”
“My little puppy!” Lupa happily said as she held the girl in her arms. “Thank Father I can see you again…”
Sarah took a moment to look in Josephine’s direction. “Lupa, what’s wrong with Mummy?”
“She’s resting.” The Magelord briefly explained. “Sarah… I want you to take care of your mother while we did with the Waiting Ones.”
“It shall be done…” Genevieve politely answered. “I am glad you sent Laelynn sent to find us…”
The Citadelan ruler picked up his mask before looking at the red-haired woman. “Where is Laelynn? I never sent that order.”
“I thought she was with you.” Lupa remarked, having a sinking feeling about all this.
“I thought she-” the man replied before letting out a heavy sigh. "We need to find her… now!"
Melothios used all the chaos she could spare to break a dimensional hole in her chest, reaching in with one hand as the other held it open. “Panyus… you held me down for too long…” the woman groaned as Karyana’s resistance fell to naught the moment she pulled a soulstone from her body. “And as for you…”
The chaos-driven creature looked at the gem the same she would have had she pulled out her own heart. “You resisted me well… but this body is mine again! I don’t need a weak soul like yourself to weigh me down!” she shouted before tossing the gem as far as she could.
Watching the hole in her abdomen close, she looked at the mass of undead corpses hulking towards Saberbia. “Waiting Ones who sought the one who would lead you! Listen to my voice! This world was once yours… and new souls have taken what was rightfully yours! Take it all back! Reclaim your lives! Reclaim your world!”
A ghoulish acclaim roared from the swarm of unliving humans as Melothios fired a spell straight down into the mass. “I will be the voice of your ruler, of your God! And I demand sacrifices!”
Melothios’ sardonic laughter became maniacal as an immense corridor of wind formed around her, its mass turning into a tornado that consumed bodies and decayed flesh, turning the beings the infernal force ripped apart into mortar and pillars to create the base of a nightmarish construction. “My Spire will stretch to the stars and drown the world in death!”