Extended Ending, Chapter 41

Chapter Forty-One

A True Father


Arius’ heart sank as he looked upon Contemno’s prisoner. “Father,” he whispered. Despite the circumstances, a pang of joy blossomed within his breast. Lodus told me what you looked like, but such a description cannot match what I see now. Through the grime that coated the man’s defeated face, there was a strong jaw, powerful blue-green eyes that sparkled with vitality, and a dominant brow that struggled to push away the authority of his captor. Arius’ mouth worked soundlessly, and everything in the castle hall blurred out save for his father. A radiating halo surrounded the man, and Guardus tried to say something. Arius only heard muffled words. While he watched his father, nothing else mattered. He lifted a hand toward his father, but then looked to Contemno. 

His uncertainty was resolved as time froze. The people in the room were suddenly locked where they stood, Contemno’s face in its smug mask, the Morgat’s sable robes, and even Guardus’ watchful eye on their enemy. Only Arius and his father were free to move.

The man shrugged off the Morgat’s grip, and the chains melted from his frame. Arius watched his father move toward him, picking up his legs with effort. Weakness clung to him, even in his timeless state.

“We don’t have long,” the man said, his voice strained. “My strength wanes as I sustain this dimension, but it is worth it.”

Arius’ feet carried him to his father. They embraced, and Arius’ eyes glistened with tears.

“Father,” he whispered again. His mouth failed to form more words. No language could adequately express his feelings.

“Hush,” the man said. “Save your energy to fight Contemno. I know you seek to reunite him with his elven past, but I fear the sorcery has taken root too strongly in him. Revenge clouds his mind and pushes all else away. But let us not mar the beauty of our reunion.” He held Arius back to look into his son’s eyes. “You have grown into a wonderful man, Arius. I still remember you as an infant, cradled in your mother’s arms and my arms as well. Those thoughts and the dreams I have had gave me the strength to fight Contemno. I have suffered, but you have lifted me from that suffering.”

Arius was speechless for several moments and then pleaded, “Why did you leave?” The inquiry came unbidden to his lips.

His father’s eyes dropped to the floor and a second tear wet his eye. “Contemno sent his Men after me. The Morgat that captured me ripped me from you.”

“Eldro told me of the story,” Arius whispered.

“Yes. I would never have left you or your mother willingly. Lodus warned me that the king had spies in our organization and that they had given up my location. So I fled, hoping to keep out of Contemno’s dungeon so that I might be with you and your mother one day.” His gaze wandered. “I never meant for her to follow me.”

A sudden tremor ran through Justis’ body. “I cannot maintain this much longer. We must return to the normal flow of time and continue as if this meeting never occurred. The secrets of the Summoners are guarded closely, and not a single soul may learn that we have the ability to enter the world of timelessness.”

“But Tialdo told me that it was impossible to alter the passage of seconds,” Arius asked.

“Summoners are the only ones I know who can enjoy that privilege. I also used my training to find you through dreams. Dreams are breaks and gaps in time, and it was a mere alteration of a certain rift to connect with you. I had searched for your temporal signature for what seemed like ages, and finally I found it. After our first encounter, though, Contemno must have discovered what I had done, and the torture grew worse, so I would not have the energy to create the link anew.” Another shudder racked him. “I am fading, Arius.” He repeated, “We shall resume as if we never spoke. Do you understand, my son?”

He waited for Arius’ nod before squeezing him close against his chest in a final embrace. Arius returned the gesture, his eyes shut. Then his father slipped away, sliding back toward the Morgat’s deadly grip.

“Wait!” Arius called. “When will we be able to speak again?” The answer already was plain, but he spoke the words regardless.

“I cannot say,” his father said. “I pray it will be soon, my son. I pray it will be soon.” Then he was wearing the chains of his captor once more, his mind pulled from the world of eternity. The crystalline landscape cracked and crumbled around Arius as the waves of time reclaimed him.

As if their meeting had never happened, Justis’ head jerked upright and a single tear formed in the corner of his eye. “My son.” His strength seemed to erode, and his muscles slackened against the Morgat’s grip. “I have wanted to see you ever since that day I was taken. I watched you grow up through what dreams the fates granted me, but they could not match our meeting now.” The jagged words tumbled from his lips.

Contemno watched his prisoner struggle.

“Now that I have seen what has kept me alive for all these years,” Justis continued, “I will not allow myself to be used against you. Goodbye, my son.”

Arius’ emotions broke.

Contemno looked at the Summoner and screamed, “No!” as Justis looked toward the sky. His eyes rolled back into his head. A pillar of green light rose from the prisoner’s body, rotating and swirling as the souls of previous Summoners twirled and danced in harmonic accord. A melody in the Forgotten Language entered the throne room, pausing time yet again, this time for everyone to see. The aura around Arius’ father brightened until it shone so brilliantly that Arius had to shield his eyes. The man’s soul lifted from his wrapping of flesh, carried by his predecessors upward through the pulsating column until it reached the ceiling and bled through into the sky beyond. The halo dimmed and died as the green pillar followed the funeral procession skyward, and Arius lamented. The silver band wrapped around his father’s wrist broke and flew upward, hurrying to catch up with its master’s soul.

Life resumed its normal pace, and anguish coupled with sorrow inside Arius as Justis disappeared into a realm beyond mortal reach. The bud of hatred against Contemno flowered into a thorn of vengeance. Arius clenched his hands, his knuckles grinding against their limits. 

The king turned to Arius. “You took the Summoner from me,” he growled softly. “I needed him for the summons.” 

Arius opened his eyes and spat. “You fiend! You killed my father!” He linked with Guardus in preparation for a magical battle, hatred searing the minds of both dragon and rider. Guardus roared his retribution to the heavens, causing the floor to tremble. Arius looked at Contemno, his eyes burning rivers of revenge, and said, “You will pay.” His fear evaporated, replaced by the insatiable desire for the king’s blood. “Tonight, you will die!”

With those words, he unleashed a ravaging torrent of energy that collided with the king with enough force to send him reeling backward. Contemno retaliated with his own stream of red, pulsating light, which Arius blocked while conjuring another attack to hurl toward the king. Contemno’s defenses were strong, though, and Arius’ energy was sapped with every magical parry. 

Meanwhile, Guardus tried to engage the king physically, but a barrier blocked the dragon’s advance. I can only fight him with magic, Arius said quickly, the strain of the battle already showing on his face. Guardus loosed an inferno from his maw, but the fire parted when it reached the king and passed harmlessly to either side. It distracted Contemno, however, and Arius scored a magical slash on the king’s arm. Contemno hissed and redoubled his efforts.

The Morgat tried to intervene, but Contemno howled, “No! He is mine!” The creature shrunk back into the shadows. 

After Arius’ initial burst of strength, his reserves drained rapidly, while the king showed no signs of tiring. Their feet remained planted as their minds raced to compensate for the lack of physical movement, phrases and spells whispered with attacks and counterattacks rolling off tongues moving with the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. The place in the stream of magic where Arius’ spells met Contemno’s drifted closer to the Ryù with every passing second. Arius summoned every ounce of his strength and Guardus, and thought of everything Tialdo taught him, but sweat soon poured from his face.

Guardus, Arius panted. I feel my life draining with ever increasing speed! I don’t know if I can pay this prezzo di vitale much longer. We must try using the spell that can control his mind.

He may be stronger than we are, though, Guardus cautioned.

We are a dragon and rider! We are stronger than he can ever be. I’ll lure him into seeking my mind. He paused as he pushed the intersecting beams of magic back toward Contemno. Then we’ll link, and I’ll use the spell that will allow me to control him.

Very well. Do it now. Nodding, Arius opened the barriers in his mind. The king smiled and dove for Arius’ consciousness, probing deeply into Arius’ thoughts.

Arius was jolted from reality. He knew not where he was, or even who he was. He was only aware of the blinding pain that streaked through his thoughts, blanking out his surroundings. He thought he heard the voice of a dragon, but denounced it as fanciful dreams. He heard many voices, and recognized one of them as Lodus’. His surrogate father’s voice interested him, and he was suddenly sitting next to the man on their carriage, rumbling down a familiar road.

Was it all a dream? he wondered.

Lodus laughed and held Arius’ hand in his own. He was dressed in white and was clean-shaven. His black hair was cut short, and his eyes radiated with life. The lines of age that had creased his face were gone, replaced by a pervasive glow. Arius looked down. His hand was much smaller than the other man’s. He must have been only ten years old.

Arius, Lodus’ voice echoed through his mind. Do not give up. I have faith in you. You may not be as strong as he, but you have something that he does not: compassion. It was not Cotias who ordered my death, but a rangūn that overpowered the elf. Do not relinquish your belief that Cotias can be saved from Contemno. You must return now and defeat the demon that rages inside Cotias.

Arius’ hand slipped through Lodus’ fingers, and his surroundings faded to black.

♦ ♦ ♦

Savatay gasped. The Morgat’s flesh was spongy and soft, and the putrid stench of its accoutrements wriggled up the elf’s nose, stinging his eyes and choking his breath. The creature was icy cold to his touch, and his muscles were soon leeched of all their warmth. The two combatants tumbled backward, the Morgat flinging its hands up with a screech.

Orthel needed no invitation to join the fray, and he smothered the Morgat along with Savatay.

The beast flailed, and its eyes glowed ever brighter. Savatay and Orthel wrapped their arms around the Morgat, pinning its arms to its sides as they grappled on the floor. The screech increased in pitch, and Savatay growled, tossing his head and grimacing. “You shall not best me!” he cried in return, tightening his grip around the Morgat’s body, squeezing the wriggling mass of slime as the creature fought violently to slip from his grasp.

Savatay! Orthel cried in his mind. It will use sorcery in a moment! What then will we do against this torment?

As long as we keep its hands pinned, it cannot channel its evil magic. Only through its hands can the Morgat direct its spells.

The Morgat redoubled its efforts, squirming and fighting against the elves’ embrace. “Fools!” it wailed. “Even two elves cannot match the strength of my kind!” In punctuation to its claim, it slowly started to pry its arms from its sides. The elves’ bodies were drenched with sweat, and their faces were nearly as red as the Morgat’s eyes. The laughter once more penetrated the passage and the Morgat’s eyes pulsed in their voracious glow.

With a desperate cry, Savatay let go of the Morgat’s body and he grabbed hold of the Morgat’s head. His eyes locked onto the crimson stare of the Morgat for a moment, and the death cries of a thousand victims whirled through his mind, the agony of their passing infiltrated his every fiber.

Then with a roar, he ripped the Morgat’s head from its body.

A black sludge poured from its neck, and its decapitated head shuddered in Savatay’s hands. The red glow of its eyes grew even brighter until Savatay had to avert his gaze. The body went limp beneath him but the head opened its mouth and expelled the loudest shriek yet. With the entire passage burning from the intensity of the Morgat’s scarlet blaze, the skull of the creature exploded, throwing the elves fifty paces away and blasting a hole in the wall.

When the dust settled, Savatay groaned and lifted himself from his sprawl. Orthel followed suit, putting a hand to his head. They crawled back to the site of their struggle and examined the wreckage. The Morgat’s body had crumbled to dust, and its head was gone. The blast had punched through the wall of the passage, revealing the hallway in which the elves had encountered the dungeon master. Savatay looked to Orthel and simply shook his head. “Come, let us make our way back to the throne room where we might find a way to help Arius!”

He sprinted up the steps with Orthel behind him.

♦ ♦ ♦

The head-splitting agony returned, and Arius grimaced. What was I…The king! I must say the spell! Maybe if I can control his mind, I can destroy the evil inside Cotias! But I don’t know how much vitale I have left it me. It may be the death of me, but I must try.

His sight was still blinded by pain. If I could but say the words! Guardus channeled Arius’ magic in his stead, keeping Contemno at bay. Arius searched his memory frantically as his life slipped further away every second he delayed. The longer it took, the harder it was to concentrate. Images flashed before him against the darkness: fires consuming cities, dragons tortured and killed. The span of Contemno’s power stretched in flickering scenes and the king’s strength grew with every dragon egg he tainted

Arius fell farther and farther from reality. Surrounded by blackness, plummeting down an endless tunnel, Arius yearned to let go. A pinprick of light sparkled miles above him, and he tried swimming toward it but couldn’t reach it. He was sucked down the tunnel, away from the light. The pain was subsiding, and with every pace he fell he succumbed to the call of darkness.   

♦ ♦ ♦

Guardus felt his link with Arius fading rapidly. Suddenly, Arius was prone on the ground, and the bond between them nearly winked out. His Ryù’s magic slipped past his grasp, and Guardus was alone, stranded with his enemies. His movements ceased in the moments following his shock, and the Morgat raised its hand, sending a bolt of energy toward Guardus’ shoulder where the armor was weakest. The red beam pulsed, and Guardus thought, It is over. We have lost. 

Just before it touched him, the doors to the throne room burst open and a contingent of elves led by Tialdo ran into the hall. The elf cried out and flung a magical shield around the grieving dragon. The red beam dissipated as it touched Guardus’ shimmering green membrane. The elves continued to pour into the room, numbering a hundred or more. Savatay and Orthel were among the soldiers, as well as Gerad, still carrying Arius’ satchel.

Contemno looked at the elves and snarled. “Just as you banished me, you come to destroy me.”

Tialdo spoke, “It is you who brought this upon yourself.”

“I who brought this upon myself?” Contemno repeated, incredulous. “It was Navarro and Faleor who could not see past their blindness. I read a single sorcerer’s spell from a book that I found in Exoter’s library! I posed no threat! They didn’t think that I could be saved. They insisted that Cotias had to be exiled for the good of the people. Well, I showed them what a mistake that was! I showed—” He stopped and pointed toward the soldiers. Guardus followed the trajectory of his finger. He was pointing at Kyra. “Who is she? Who is she?!”

Tialdo answered, “That does not concern you!”

Contemno’s face flashed, and his eyes were suddenly less black. “I know you,” he said, but his voice no longer held the disdain it had had moments before. “I know your mother. You share her beauty.”

“What do you know of my mother?” Kyra asked, still holding her sword pointed at Contemno. “She died giving birth to me.”

“She was my sister, Cotias’ sister. You are my kin: I can see it in your eyes.”

Kyra convulsed as if struck, but recovered quickly. “Then stop this madness. We can live happily together, you and I.”

“Yes, Cotias would like that,” he answered. But then his face convulsed, violent spasms contorting his features. “No!” A raspy voice demanded from Contemno’s mouth. “I will not leave! The elves must be destroyed! Destroy those who destroyed me!” 

“Leave me, demon! Be gone!” the same mouth cried.

“Never!” Contemno proclaimed.

Guardus growled. Arius is hurt, he told Tialdo. I can barely feel his life force. You must hurry.

Tialdo looked to Kyra. “I fear he will have to be destroyed. Arius is in danger, and we must reach him.”

Kyra growled, “Contemno is no family of mine.” 

Tialdo nodded. "Spellcasters! Link and prepare for battle!"

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