THE WAY BACK
The Keeper looked on as the Forcemage stirred. He had been in bed and unconscious for two days, which was fairly standard after such a procedure. After some minor groans, the Forcemage’s eyelids slowly cracked open.
“Why am I in bed?” he asked.
“You have been through a lot,” said the Keeper.
The Forcemage took the offered goblet of water, drank it down, and stared at his benefactor. He was very old, and it felt like he was full of random wisdom, like a library had come to life. “Do I know you?”
“You did,” said the Keeper. “Once. You will again. Do you remember your name?”
The Forcemage shook his head.
“It will come.”
“What happened to me?…I’m sorry, I don’t know your name…”
“I have no traditional name. I am known as the Keeper.”
“Keeper of what?”
The Keeper shrugged. “Practically everything. Lore. Knowledge. Exposition. Mostly secrets. This is a keep, and it needs a Keeper.”
“To answer your first question…I’m afraid the answer is not a good one. You are a student at the Forbidden Citadel. We study the magicks of Danabrae. Each student is locked to a single discipline, the Arcanists seek knowledge, the Ascendants study the aether, and the Forcemages study war. It is strictly against the rules to study more than one discipline.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you, my friend, could not contain your curiosity. Your talent is beyond measure, and it showed in your studies. Unfortunate. You were caught in the Library, and not for the first time.”
The realization hit the Forcemage like a brick. “You stripped my memories!”
“Your core memories will return. Most likely over the next day or so.”
“You had no right!”
The Keeper smiled gently, though this was hidden by his flowing beard. “That is a debate for another time. Though the Headmistress has decreed that you take no more part in training here.”
The Forcemage flopped back down on the bed. “What is to become of me?”
“The City of Covenant is a mere six hour walk from here. Your core memories should return during your journey there.”
The Forcemage remained silent from then on. Though used to uncomfortable silences, the Keeper opted to be elsewhere.
Just off the Southern end of the walled city of Covenant stands the Forbidden Citadel, towering over the surrounding woods. It wasn’t really forbidden, but the name kept the visitors away.
From the top, you could see right into Covenant. On the other side of the tower, Pantheon, the Holy Mountain range dominated the skyline. At dusk, such as now, the light struck the water that fell from the mountains at just the right angle to instill the viewer with a sense of beauty and peace. The water would flow on, becoming the Everblessed River that protected Covenant from the demons of the Ahn-Het Forge.
Elara stood at the top, and waited for the night to come. She enjoyed the peace and serenity, and used this time for quiet contemplation. Soon, the woods would be teeming with wolves. Elara would listen to their howls. This is where she learned of the happenings in the forest.
Her heightened instincts heard the footfalls on the stairs behind her, identifying her visitor long before she heard his voice.
“Greetings, Headmistress,” said the Keeper. “I trust I have not disturbed your meditations?”
“Friend Keeper, you are never a disturbance,” said Elara. “What do you have to report?”
“Our curious student has been expelled,” said the Keeper. “He left for Covenant just after lunch, though he has not yet arrived. At least according to my little spies.”
“Regrettable. He was talented, but ultimately uncontrollable. Where is the golem?”
“Actually, there were three,” said the Keeper.
Elara raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. Where are they?”
“In the Library. Where we found him.”
“Keep me informed of any changes,” said Elara. “Anything else?”
“Velden is coming,” said the Keeper.
“This I know,” said Elara. “I hear the howls of the mountain wolves.”
“I was a young man the last time we saw Velden.”
Elara chuckled. Something she had not done for a while now. “You were never a young man!”
The Keeper nodded in agreement. “With that, my lady, I shall retire for the evening. Next time, I should think to catch you before you ascend so many stairs.”
Elara turned and raised her cowl. She waited until the shuffling of the old man was beyond her senses, and then closed her eyes. Within the silence, she became the forest.
Deep within the Library of the Forbidden Citadel stood three large Crystal Golems. Nobody was there to hear the soft, yet sharp sound, and nobody was there to see the tiny crack that had appeared on the chest of the middle one.
Dusk was softening the daylight as the Forcemage approached the walls of Covenant. The Shining City contained most of the humans in the area. For many, it was a place of pride and honor. For many others, it was a place in which you ended up.
A sudden dizzying fury held the Forcemage. It was like a thousand people all shouting his name.
It was a name he suddenly knew.
His memories started to return as he backed away from the city. The guards posted at the city gate noticed this and approached him.
“You have business in Covenant?”
The Forcemage shook his head, unable to speak.
“Come with us,” said another guard. “You look like you need help.”
Several men had surrounded him. Their words were kind, but their actions were aggressive, and the Forcemage did not wish to go with them. With a rush of energy, his will exploded outward, knocking every guard to the ground and sending each one several feet from him.
He suddenly knew what he was, and who he was. And he knew his path led not towards the Shining City. Instead, he turned West. His mind was ablaze with ambition, and his rage became his guide.
Of course, none of the guards opted to stand in his way.
Deep in the Library, a Golem lay shattered. The two that remained watched silently as the pieces of their fallen sibling melted into the aether.
There was a place where even the Wolfcallers of Covenant would not go. On the deep side of the forest lay the Pasik Valley, through which ran the Everblessed. It was once a mighty river, and though now down to a trickle of a stream, it still performed its holy function.
According to Father Artos, it was Kalnor himself that created the Everblessed. On one side, the deepwood, a sweeping path of forest that led to the shining city of Covenant. On the other, the Forge.
It was in the Ahn-Het Forge that the trees did not grow. The animals did not hunt. The sun only shone with a withering heat, and there was a stench of…something. The Everblessed protected the deepwood and beyond. Even now, nothing could cross it from the Blightland without the blessing of Kalnor.
The Ahn-Het Forge was a vast desert. An evil place, where the Promise was not kept. The Promise was a gift from the Gods, and that meant nothing here. Humans never came to the Forge unless they had no other choice. It was the final home of the banished and the broken.
The Forcemage had already walked to the point where he could no longer see the deepwood. The desert plain seemed impossible to survive. Ahead he could just make out the peaks of a range of ancient volcanoes.
The Forcemage knew he would find what he needed there. He walked purposefully through the Ahn-Het Forge. His mind was relatively clear, despite the rage he felt. They had stolen from him. He would return to take back the rest of his mind.
When he was closer to the edge of the volcano range, the Forcemage saw something in the distant heat haze. He expected this. A sentry. It was flying towards him, very low to the ground. For whatever reason, demons couldn’t fly too far into the air, but they could reach impressive ground speeds.
Dust billowed as the demon landed. It towered over the human in a way that suggested it had towered over many other humans. Most likely before murdering them with whatever was handy.
Right now, the demon had a very menacing spear in his giant claws. Rather, it used to be a spear. It had been…enhanced…with spikes and blades all over and around. It probably wasn’t a very good spear anymore. Hardly aerodynamic, but it seemed like an excellent and effective thing with which to bludgeon people.
“Stand down,” said the Forcemage. “I am Helion. I would see your master.”
The demon said nothing. The spear swung in a wide, unholy arc. That’s all it did. It stayed right where it was, as if stuck in an invisible pumpkin, three feet from the human’s head.
The Forcemage regarded the spear with as much contempt as he had for the demon. “No,” he said. “Put it down.”
The spear fell to the ground.
“Your master,” he repeated. “Now.”
Elara stood with the Keeper. Before them stood two Crystal Golems.
“He has taken some knowledge back,” said the Keeper. “I underestimated his ability.”
Elara sighed. “Helion has crossed the Everblessed. He is powerful indeed. I am sure he will survive the Forge. He has already encountered Scarros.”
The Keeper shook his head. His own spies had reported the encounter with the Demon Hound. While Helion lost the fight, he survived, and that is not something that anybody else could boast.
“We must shore up our defenses,” said Elara. “Helion will return, and who knows what he will bring?”
Raxxa’s patience was growing thin. The Riftgate that towered over everything in the volcanic crater he used as a home was still not complete. The Demon Lord had already drawn all of the energy that he could from the land, but on this world, land contained little and meant nothing.
He needed his army.
It took power to bring something through from his dimension. A being of Raxxa’s ability could not be here by anything other than the intervention of a God. Raxxa could bring through servants, guards…minor beings at best. Limited creatures with no brain and no sense of urgency or ambition. Every now and then, Raxxa would kill one to motivate the others. However, this cut into his already miniscule forces.
Raxxa’s presence here meant that the Gods wanted something of him. Raxxa didn’t really care what that was. The Demon Lord intended to bring forth an army to conquer the city, and use the power of Covenant to conquer this entire world. If the gods didn’t want that, he would then fight the Gods.
He did not expect to be fighting a human. At least, not today.
The smell hit Raxxa first. Sweat…fear…hope. Human smell. He turned and saw the source, flanked by several of his guards, none of whom were armed.
Everything about this was wrong. The guards should be guarding. The human should be dead. But this at least was different, and Raxxa’s perverse amusement was, to his mind, the only reason why the human was still alive.
“Explain,” he said.
To his surprise, the human spoke.
“I am Helion. I have come to help you.”
Raxxa sneered. Whatever amusement he felt had already turned to boredom. “Kill him,” he ordered.
Instantly, the demon guards turned to Helion. There were six of them now, having all been convinced to follow the Forcemage on his journey to Raxxa’s domain. They were no longer armed, but each of them could easily tear several humans to pieces within a few seconds.
The snarl had barely escaped the demon pack when Helion raised his palm. “No,” he said. Helion gestured to Raxxa. “Kill him.”
The demons then turned to Raxxa. Four of them stepped towards the towering Demon Lord, but they were the steps of a confused toddler rather than the confident strides of a hellspawned nether-being. One by one, the demons fell, each of them in a catatonic state.
“We appear to have equal control of your minions.”
Raxxa tilted his massive head. This was…unusual. He was not sure how to proceed. Raxxa had never met anything that could match his power.
“Impressive,” was all he could say.
Helion smirked. They were drones. Their minds were lumps of coal. Easy to crush. Easy to burn. Raxxa’s mind was more of a diamond. Multifaceted. Strong. Almost beautiful. He would have to proceed with more finesse than he was used to. He would have to cut, with precision.
“Killing me would serve you in no way,” said Helion. “You want power. I can tell you how to get it. Enough to open your Riftgate to a hundred worlds.”
“What do you want in return?” asked Raxxa. “To be spared?”
Helion gestured towards the pile of motionless demons. “Spared from what, exactly?”
“They stole me. They took what was not theirs, and I want it back. I want them to regret…everything.” Helion’s words carried his yearning for vengeance.
Raxxa drew himself to his full height. His physical dominance was unquestioned. A good part of Raxxa wanted to see how far he could throw this impudent whelp, but the rest wanted to listen.
“What are your terms?”
The Forcemage explained his plan. Raxxa had to admit that Helion’s scheme was compelling. In exchange, all he had to do is make a promise he had no intention of keeping.
The Keeper knew that a lot could be achieved in eight days. This morning, he received reports. Velden had reached the base of Pantheon and had actually been driven off by a Knight of the Dawn. Helion had not returned, but there was a large rise in demon activity on the Ahn-Het Forge. Worst of all, he had learned that the Dragonsong was coming to an end.
Humans were not attuned to the Dragonsong, and this was one secret that the Keeper considered his most important. How would people react if they knew they were part of a game of the Gods? The Priests of Kalnor celebrated this, but their message was lost in the religious teachings that were often ignored by the populace. Most people dismissed the Dragonsong as a rumor.
The Keeper knew this to be real. When the song ended, so did the game. The final battle would begin, and that battleground would be Covenant.
It had been eight days since Helion was exiled, and the keeper knew he would return soon. When the song was over. When the Everblessed ran dry. When the armies of Raxxa could finally cross.
Helion would return.
Raxxa surveyed the construction before him with derision and disgust, with is the way he usually surveyed things he did not personally make. Spread across the desert plain were several different construction sites. Each one, a structure swarmed with demons. They were possessed. They shared one mind, and it was not Raxxa’s.
Most of the constructs were nearing completion. The demons able to fly were tasked with bringing in raw materials, and the rest were constructing what Helion called “Siege Engines”. These were sleek and aesthetically balanced, which did not please Raxxa.
“Whelp,” yelled the Demon Lord when he saw the Forcemage. “How long will this take?”
Helion bowed to the towering Raxxa. “We will complete construction of the Siege Engines before the Dragonsong ends. We will be ready to cross the Everblessed immediately.”
“You are certain of this…Dragonsong?”
“I hear it on the wind.”
“And these machines? How is a mere construct superior to a demon?”
“With these machines, one demon becomes a hundred demons. When the Everblessed runs dry, we cross. We can destroy the Forbidden Citadel in minutes, and your march to Covenant will barely be interrupted.”
“I am not interested in this Citadel.”
“You will be,” said Helion.
“Explain,” said Raxxa.
Helion sighed. This was the fifth time. “The Citadel will attack your forces from behind if not dealt with. Add to that the fact that we made a deal.”
“Covenant must fall as soon as possible.”
“Then send your flying demons ahead to take out the archers. Covenant archers are known for their weakness and cowardice. Once they start to fall, they will run.”
Raxxa doubted this, but the words of the Forcemage started to make sense. The Demon Lord snorted. “I will return by dusk. I leave you in charge, human. Risk not my wrath.”
“Clearly, yours is a will that will bear no equal.”
Helion was fortunate that Raxxa did not appear to understand sarcasm.
It was a crisp Summer morning when the water stopped falling from Pantheon. Within an hour, the Everblessed stopped flowing, and the forces of Raxxa were lined up and ready.
Hundreds of flying demons, took to the air in waves, darkening the sky as they flew towards Covenant. This first attack would destroy their archer squads and send the humans into a morass of fear and disarray.
The ground shook as the massive Siege Engines started their journey across the riverbed. Each one crewed by a score of demons, and Helion riding atop the lead Juggernaut.
“To the Forbidden Citadel!” he yelled, and the demons…his demons…let out a mighty cheer.
The Knights of Elara were few, but strong. There were 12 in all, and they had spent the past two days rounding up every farmer, miner, and tradesman that they could. The Elaran Army (such as it was) stood ready at the gates of the Forbidden Citadel.
Elara watched from the top of the Citadel. They were not prepared, and she knew it. Their Forcemages were some of the best tacticians in Danabrae, but they were students. Undisciplined. At best, they could stave off an attack. Give Raxxa a bloody nose, and perhaps encourage him to attack the very well-defended Covenant..
She wasn’t at all sure how to deal with Helion. They had extracted most of his forbidden memories, but he was so powerful. Like most mages, his memories became crystal, from which the Keeper formed automatons. Elara had never seen a memory extraction create more than a single Golem, and Helion had created three.
One of Helion’s Golems had shattered by what she could only imagine as his sheer force of will. If he managed to break the other two, he would gain back the knowledge that they had taken from him. All of it. And with it, nearly unlimited power.
In the distance, to the North, Elara saw the dark cloud of demons flying in for the first attack. The Battle of Covenant had begun.
The army below was silent. Waiting. With nothing else to say or do that was even remotely helpful, Elara closed her eyes and became the forest.
The trees of the deepwood fell beneath the crushing weight of the Juggernauts, leaving mostly flat ground for the demons that ran behind them. The spire of the Forbidden Citadel caught Helion’s eye, and he felt excitement for the first time in many weeks.
He was looking forward to meeting himself.
Sweat had built up on his forehead as the heat from the fires within the Juggernaut started to overwhelm his body. He had not eaten or slept well in his days on the Forge, and he was cruising on adrenaline. He just had to keep up his control for another hour, maybe two.
The Elaran army could hear the rumbling getting closer. The Knights barked out orders, mixed with words of inspiration and wisdom. The armies comprised mostly of students and villagers, but they were all committed to the defense of the Citadel.
The trees at the edge of the clearing fell without ceremony as Helion’s Juggernaut burst through. Other trees fell as the flanking Siege Engines entered the battlefield and veered off to the sides. Helion’s Juggernaut stopped as he shouted an order, and a thousand demons poured through the treeline.
The screaming horde of nether beings charged directly at the Elaran army. This attack was supposed to scatter the ground troops, but Helion was surprised to see the exact opposite happen. With little regard for the obvious tactical disadvantage, the humans charged as well.
Helion finally understood what was to happen, but too late. Just as the armies were about to clash, a wall of blue fire burst from the ground and washed over the humans. Where it touched one, there was now a wolf, running full-speed to attack.
The wolves plowed into the demon ranks, dividing the nether soldiers, and threatening to overwhelm their superior numbers. Spared from the transformation wave were the Citadel’s Forcemages, who were now firing bolts of energy from atop the wall.
Raxxa bellowed with rage as he waded into the wolfpack. Helion tried to call him back, but the Demon Tyrant was too strong-willed. Instead, Helion ordered the Juggernauts forward, and ordered the War Machines to start their assault on the wall.
Within the Citadel, the Keeper felt the walls shudder from the assault of the War Machines. In his many years, he had not ever had to deal with a direct assault on the sage tower.
He had run the Citadel for countless years, and in all that time, he had accumulated nothing but knowledge. His eye fell upon the two remaining Crystal Golems that housed Helion’s memories.
And for the first time in a long time, he felt the spark of inspiration.
“Come with me,” he said to the automatons, and they obediently left the room behind him.
Atop the Citadel, Elara watched the battle scene unfold with rising horror. Her wave of transformation had worked in that it gave the ragtag group of farmers a fighting chance, but she felt the death of every wolf in her heart, and the tides of battle had turned. The Knights had failed to break most of the Siege Engines, the demon army had rallied around Raxxa, and the Forcemages were being plucked from the wall.
Her energy was all but completely drained. She looked towards Covenant, but her heart sank as she saw a flock of demons flying towards the tower.
The demons soared past her location, seeking their master. They circled down towards Raxxa, and Elara felt so very tired.
Helion concentrated his attack on a single part of the outer wall. It was reinforced with magic, but by no means impenetrable. The Elaran army was down to a precious few, and it would be little time before he saw the inner compound.
“Whelp!” bellowed Raxxa. The Tyrant stalked towards Helion, commanding the attention he deserved. “The aerial assault on Covenant failed! Their archers were strong and able! You lied to me!”
Helion knew that he had, but he no longer saw the need to pretend to be cowed under Raxxa.
“You are a fool!” shouted Helion. “You have not the wit of a goat.” Helion raised his fist, and every demon stopped, then turned towards Raxxa. “The last thing I want you to know before you leave this world is that you were outsmarted by a mere human. KILL HIM!”
The demons that flanked him turned towards Raxxa, brandishing weapon and tooth, but they dared not approach. Raxxa surveyed the sniveling wretches.
“Your parlor tricks do not amuse me, whelp,” he said. “My army would not dare attack their lord and master.”
“I wasn’t talking to them,” said Helion.
Without warning, a Titan ran from the trees. Before Raxxa could react, Velden swung his giant club towards the demon lord and, with a sickening crunch, sent Raxxa flying clear across the battlefield. The demon army stopped their attack and rushed to aid their fallen master.
Helion watched the demons swarm to Raxxa. He felt the chaos in their minds. With Raxxa now unhinged, the best thing for Helion was to dispense with the demons.
He gave their minds a gentle push. A suggestion.
Attack the city.
The nether army howled as one, and turned towards Covenant. Raxxa, having recovered from Velden’s attack, stared at the Forcemage with unbridled hatred before he too turned towards the Shining City.
Helion didn’t need them anymore. Helion had a Titan.
Elara saw the demons leave. Her confusion turned to hope, but she understood that Helion had control of Velden. The Siege Engines were silent as the demons controlling them had fled, but it was Velden himself that was concerning her the most.
Her army was in tatters. The wounded and the dead. Her knights were gone. Her wolves were gone. Her strength was gone.
The Lycomancer slumped to the floor. She barely had the energy to wait for the inevitable. Elara closed her eyes, became the forest once more, and she immediately touched a mind of fire.
With Velden towering over him like a good minion, Helion shouted up from the now silent battlefield. His voice carried through the crisp air, and Elara showed herself at the top of the citadel.
“Helion!” she yelled back. From her position atop the Citadel, she could see the inner yard. There were things transpiring, but Elara could not concentrate on that. The fire she touched was close. Elara had to buy some time.
“You know of what I seek,” said Helion. “I want what you stole from me!”
“We took back the knowledge you stole,” countered Elara. “Knowledge forbidden to you.”
“No knowledge is forbidden!” Helion shouted. “I will have what is mine!”
“You would destroy yourself.”
“Stand down, lady,” said Helion. “I have no wish to damage the Citadel. You cannot win.”
“I will fight you, Dominator.” Elara stood as defiantly as her strength would allow. It was close. Just a little longer…
“Fight me with what?” Helion laughed. “How many wolves have I slain today? How many more could you possibly send against me?”
“Just…one more,” said Elara.
And then it was here.
Scarros. The Demon Hound of Draka.
Helion turned his attention from the tower. He quickly scanned the skies, but saw nothing of Draka himself. The Hunter Dragon was elsewhere, but his hound was a formidable foe. Helion had faced Scarros once before, but this time…this time would be different.
“Velden.” Helion gestured towards the Demon Hound. “Kill it.”
Elara watched from her vantage point. She had always avoided Scarros in her mind, but the Lycomancer had become desperate. All she was able to do is put an image of the Frost Titan into the fire mind of the Demon Hound, but this was enough. His hunter’s instinct took over.
She looked down into the courtyard. The Keeper’s plan was almost complete.
Fire and Ice clashed on the battlefield, and the explosion of fury was exactly as one might expect when two fundamental opposites of nature collide. Scarros dodged Velden’s mighty swing, and clamped one set of muscular jaws on the arm of the Titan. Velden bellowed in anger and dropped his weapon.
No stranger to unarmed combat, Velden elbowed the second head aside, and quickly thumbed the first in the eye, causing it to let go. Mighty hands sought twin throats. Fire belched from slavering jaws. Velden wrestled the writhing mass to the ground, holding it from behind to avoid the burning liquid that spewed from the mouths of Scarros.
Helion released the titan from his bind as soon as the combatants started their fight. He knew Velden would fight better if not slowed by obedience to a superior mind. He approached the main gate of the citadel, which remained closed even now.
“Elara!” he called. “I seek entry!”
Elara called back. “Entry is forbidden to you.”
Helion smiled. “Nothing is forbidden to me.”
“You said you seek knowledge,” said Elara. “I told you that knowledge can be dangerous.”
“Open the gate, or I will have Velden tear it from its hinges once he is done with your pet.”
“As you wish, Dominator.” Elara waved her hand.
The magic seals vanished, and the gate started to open. Helion’s heart leaped when he saw the golems. Twin crystal automatons, standing in silent vigil, and holding his stolen memories.
His expression changed as the gate continued to open.
More golems. Four…twelve…thirty…a hundred…
The inner yard was crammed with them. Close to a thousand. All facing him, immobile.
“What is this?” he yelled, though he already knew.
“Knowledge,” said Elara. “All of it. You are not the first to access what was forbidden.”
Helion snarled. His mind reached out to the golems, but each was simply a sum of memories, locked in crystal. They had nothing he could bind. Nothing he could read. He had no idea which two contained the rest of his mind.
For the first time he could recall, Helion did not know what to do.
Velden was bruised, scorched, and bloodied. Scarros had tested him to the limit, and Velden felt fatigue setting in. Though he was thousands of years old, the Frost Titan had never known defeat, and he had fought everything this world contained.
But Scarros was not a product of this world.
Velden used his massive strength to flip the demon hound off his back. Scarros twisted in the air, landing safely on all four paws, about thirty feet away.
Velden steeled himself for the inevitable pounce, but it did not come. Scarros raised one head into the air, as if listening for something. Then each head howled alternately, as if having a conversation with itself.
Velden took the opportunity afforded by this distraction. He jumped forward, grabbing each of the two heads in his giant hands, and banged them together. There was a sharp ‘crack’, like a piece of flint hitting another, and Scarros fell to the ground.
The Demon Hound was not dead, but he would fight no more this day.
Velden sighed, picked up his fallen club, and stoically shrugged off his many wounds. He turned towards the Forbidden Citadel.
Helion was kneeling on the ground when Elara reached the courtyard. He looked up at her.
“You think you’ve won?” he said.
“Do you think I’ve won?”
Helion shook his head. “No.”
“You had no right,” said Helion.
“You took everything,” said Elara. “We took you in, taught you. We gave you chance upon chance, and when we did what we had to do…you came here on your petty vengeance quest, and you killed everyone!” Elara, normally a vision of control and austerity, was fighting a losing battle to hold back her tears.
“Nobody had to die. You stole my mind. I just wanted it back.”
Elara looked up, and saw the approaching Velden. “You are about to have that wish granted, it seems.”
Velden stood before the last two mages, in the middle of a sea of crystal golems.
Helion held up his fist. “Do nothing until I have determined which golems are mine.”
Velden looked at Helion with scorn. He then turned to Elara.
“Lady Elara,” he said.
She bowed her head slightly. “Frost Lord.”
Helion’s confusion was apparent. “I gave you no leave to speak!”
Velden stared down at the tiny human. “What power you have to command is gone, Forcemage. You have loyalty no more. I am my own master, as it should be.”
“Helion seeks knowledge,” said Elara.
“It is my right,” said Helion. “I appeal to you, mighty Velden, aid my quest to regain what she stole from me! Not a command, but a request.”
Velden nodded. Too late, Helion realized what was about to happen. “NO!” he yelled, but Velden’s club was already arcing towards the ground. It struck the earth with a sharp roar of an avalanche.
The first thing that mages learned at the Forbidden Citadel was every form of defensive magic. Both Helion and Elara summoned a shield to protect them from the shockwave caused by Velden’s crushing blow.
The golems were not so spared.
Helion watched in horror as every single crystal automaton broke. Within each, a core of memories glowed. In a matter of seconds, this energy would seek out their owner, and if they were no longer of this world, the closest mage. It would then fuse with their mind.
With nearly a thousand such golems, a sudden influx of such concentrated knowledge would be unbearable. Even split between himself and Elara, it was likely neither would survive intact. He looked to Elara…perhaps his former teacher might have a plan?
Elara had no intention of ending her existence this way. All her life she wondered if she would ever have the strength to take this final step. Now there was no doubt in her mind.
Her powers of lycomancy could transform any living creature into a wolf, and back. However, the curse of the Lycomancer was that she could never use her power on herself, because she would no longer have the ability to revert the change.
Unless of course, she had no intention of reverting.
Helion watched with horror as Elara’s features melted in a quick burst of blue fire. Before he could react, she had become a sleek, powerful wolf. He reached out to her, but Elara quickly scampered out of his way.
Helion was now the last surviving mage. And he finally knew everything. The Forcemage screamed silently as wave after wave of theory, insight, and wisdom twisted into his brain. The total sum of learning, accumulated across a thousand years or more, was his.
Helion had won.
Velden the Frost Titan, and the lady-wolf Elara both watched the fallen Forcemage twitching on the ground as his mind folded in upon itself. Elara no longer knew of this human, though she felt something like…pity.
“It is done,” said the Keeper, who had watched the whole scene from inside the keep. “Helion has won his memories back. He will speak no more.”
“The Dragonsong is over,” said Velden. “The Gods reclaim their own. What will you do, Keeper?”
“As I have always done, friend Velden. Learn, and teach.”
“The Battle of Covenant has started.”
“Will you go? Will you fight?”
“I will go,” said Velden. “I may decide to fight.” The Frost Titan turned toward the forest and slowly walked off.
The Keeper did his best to pick Helion up. The Forcemage was stiff in his arms, but still breathing. The Keeper would have to feed him to keep him alive, but there was not much else for him to do. The massive doors closed behind them, possibly forever.
Elara did not remain. She had spent almost her entire life in the Forbidden Citadel, but her wild instincts had started to take over. She wanted to hunt, and she could hear the song of a Wolfcaller as though it was directed at her.
“Help me,” it said. “Help me hunt a dragon.”