Runic - Aeonian Overture

The realms float about in the neon cosmos of mystic forces long thought to be extinct, a universe known as Ambright where mana and technology can transform entire cities into prosperous empires. However, war has left many with a past haunted by those who lost their lives, as such the case with Glave Octus. He, a veterans's child of the same war that took his sister away, embarks on a journey to rediscover his bloodline. It will be a long trek that will take him deep into the underworld dungeons and lawless cities of Grove, the urban realm where he was born.

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7. Chapter 7 - Strawberry Twins

 

 

"Greed never fails to motivate."

-Bufar, head of the law and task forces in Grove-

....

Heron's palace, with its smog guzzling spires rising to tear down the suns, its dark steel exterior, and even darker creations like the Strixix made from fake mana and forbidden alchemy. Guards posted every corner, watching for any unwanted movement. All of it was situated on a island that could engulf an entire city. Mejis had neglected to send any map makers this far out in Grove. The two reasons anyone would know there existed this industrialized sanctuary overlooking the ocean was either dumb luck or they were brought here as prisoners. Heron easily claimed household on this establishment shortly after being exiled by the Valkyries who safeguarded unauthorized actions by rogue tyrants, like himself. That was decades ago, yet still, In these forsaken lands there was one simple truth that was all too apparent: time was torture. Its passing was a harsh guarantee, steady, unvarying, and infuriatingly unsympathetic. It could be seemingly warped or delayed by those with the right power, but in the end it flowed unrelentingly. Nothing could stand in its path. Those who had tried were no more. 

And In these dark sections far away from the main trinity of cities within Grove, this bitter truth of unyielding time was all the more evident. Time moved at an agonizing crawl, and every day it was the same trials, the same hardships, and the same torment. There was nothing to provide an escape or relief, nothing to do but sit as time was slowly, steadily stolen away.

The only remnant of this king Heron's once massive battalion were the Skayzers, a maleficent group of Zealots and Templars who roam Ambright in secret under his rule. They were the king's last breath that reminded of a time where his power could reach far into the cosmos, and do what he wished, whenever it was necessary. They lived within this forgotten palace, and if not, could be found in hiding among the realms.  

Somewhere within this palace, a distant rumble echoed across the barren structure of stone and brick, and in response a lone figure turned her gaze listlessly toward a faraway point in the horizon, where she could faintly see a flare of red and orange light as some outlying smoke stack erupted, just one in an endless cycle. Barely a second later the girl released a disinterested huff and looked away again. Despite the long eyelashes and white skin, she would've appeared human, but her hard, harsh red eyes and orange feather shaped ears glossed as indication that she was something else entirely. Those eyes flickered like drops of blood over the smoky skyline through the window pane, the distant glow casting an odd tint on her long crimson hair and her royal violet robe, lips drawn into a scowl, and her stare across this land became irritable, unamused.

I can't wait to leave this hell behind me, she thought. I can serve Heron better that way.

Nevertheless, despite the agitation and restlessness that plagued her, Uriel knew inside that this long wait was only temporary, for things were about to change with her master's plan to bring peace.

By this point she should have been used to letting time slip by. She had spent the last several years serving Heron, after all, sealed inside this enormous structure like some devilish maid, but still it drove her practically to insanity. She was free from her past life, and all she wanted was to be able to do something, something to help the king that wasn't inside this building. It didn't matter what it was, so long as it gave her an outlet for all of the pent-up energy and boredom, but in this place there was nothing. Even training gave her no relief, for it was nothing more than a pathetic substitute for the real thrill and excitement she craved.

Uriel huffed again and promptly rose from her recliner in the downstairs portion of the palace, unable to bear sitting still any longer. Ever since being released from her captivity, she had been unable to remain in one place for any prolonged length of time, as if she feared that if she didn't move about she would find herself frozen once more, trapped. The girl's pace was agitated along the sharp ridge line that overlooked the endless waters, with Heron's chamber room in mind. The king had called Uriel to talk about something, for what was foreign to her.

It has been long enough, she gritted within her mind. What use is there in delaying it any longer? We should act now. Maybe this meeting is about finally capturing Wilva's air. Maybe I finally get to go out and have some fun.

Lost in her agitated contemplation, she didn't even realize where her wandering had already taken her, until she looked up and saw the low cave opening a few meters down, its walls metal and lined with large bolts. Uriel paused uncertainly, unable to decide whether to feel the tight grip of fear or a tinge of excitement. She knew what would be found within, but then again, there wasn't really any choice in the matter. Disobeying orders meant swift punishment.

The girl inhaled slowly and exhaled sharply, calmed, and entered the dim passage, moving slowly so as to allow her ruby colored eyes to adjust to the gloom. The dim, familiar sallow purple glow of the plum colored crystal veins in the walls caressed her body, accentuating their shade, and something about it helped to ease a small amount of the growing anticipation, though not by much. She paused for a brief moment in front of one such crystal formation, staring into it before lifting a hand and brushing her fingers against the cold surface. The twisting patterns of light seemed to pulse at the contact, and the girl felt a small tingle run up her forearm as her own body reacted to the energies trapped within.

Strange, the ways things are connected, she mused.

Uriel shook her head to bring herself back to the present. Turning, she resumed her slow trek down into the cave. It was only a few moments more before the rough metal walls fell away to reveal a low, circular chamber, the same dark crystals casting their sickly light throughout it, leaving only the twelve hollows recessed into the walls concealed in darkness. These hollows were bare and empty, save for the one to the right of the entry passage which was where she had gathered together a makeshift bed of dry, brittle sheets and pillows to sleep on. The cramped space was hardly large enough for any eighteen year old, but in this place, options were scarce, and besides all that, she was going on nineteen years anyway. Maybe it was time to ask for an upgrade from the less than comfortable sleeping quarters. She had earned that much, hopefully.

Uriel hardly registered these sights at that moment, however. Her eyes were drawn solely to the hulking black figure sitting hunched over the stone ring in the center of the room.

As she stepped into their cave dwelling, Heron gave a low, rumbling sigh and slowly straightened. His back was turned, so she couldn't see his face, but the rolling of his powerful, bladed shoulders as he leaned back from the ring denoted the tension he held within. As he straightened, the shifting lights that had filled the ring like the surface of a rippling pool warped and dissipated, leaving only hard stone in their wake. The girl realized that her master had been viewing something through the ring, but whatever it was, he hadn't liked it. She felt herself growing wary as she cautiously approached, her hands giving a tiny shiver that wasn't from the temperature.

Uriel stopped when she was a few paces away from the man with the segmented torso and pale skin, now at an angle that allowed her to see his face, that had demon jades for eyes. It was as she had suspected. His vicious and malformed mouth was set in a grimace, accompanied by a dangerous pale blue light in an angular lined pattern that riddled on his body.

"Problem?" she asked, after a moment spent considering her words carefully, then abandoning all pretenses and electing to simply be blunt.

Heron sighed again, now a deep rumble that she could practically feel through the air. The pores on her body grew tense as she sat awaiting his response, every sense alert for a sign of danger. If his anger were to be sparked, she wanted to be ready to flee under the cover of the inevitable wrath at an instant's notice.

"Glave continues to elude me," her master replied finally, the decrepit man's gaze not shifting from the empty ring. "The images still turn out a blurry haze."

His tone had been calm when he'd spoken, despite the tension in his huge frame. He made it sound like nothing but an inconvenience, though Uriel knew that it must be much more than that to him. She knew the yearn her master bore for the events that transpired during the war, and this setback couldn't be sitting well with him one bit.

"That shouldn't be possible," she remarked after another careful pause.

"No," Heron agreed. "And yet I am unable to even glimpse him. Some deep, ancient power blocks my ability to reach out with my magic and detect him, but I know not what."

The girl frowned, growing on edge. "A threat?"

"No," Heron said again. "This power holds no edge of danger in it. It is a covering, and nothing more."

The girl hugged her arms, and grunted, her own eyes hardening and drifting toward the ring. "Too bad."

She sensed his gaze shifting onto her, and the girl quickly lifted her eyes to meet it. The significantly taller man's expression was as difficult to read as always, and she couldn't guess what he might be thinking. She could only wait for him to speak, which he did only a second later.

"Your eagerness for control is refreshing. Don't worry, you will get your chance to test your new abilities soon enough. For the time being, though, you must be patient. You are not a Skayzer yet."

Uriel wanted to make some sort of retort, to say that she had done nothing but be patient for longer than should have been necessary. She was sick of being patient, and wanted the chance she had been craving for well over a year, to flex her body again and cast volley upon the lands as she once had. This remote outskirt away from everything else was not where she belonged, and sitting idly was not part of her purpose.

Uriel kept her mouth shut, however, knowing that such remarks would gain her nothing in the long run. She was no fan of restraint, but when it was necessary, it was necessary, and only hoped it wouldn't be necessary for much longer.

A long moment passed in silence, but at length a new question entered the her mind as it raced for the right words, and she looked up at her master again. "Are you waiting for Glave to show himself before acting?"

Heron immediately shook his head. "It is of no importance if he emerges from his place in Forktown or not. No, all that matters is timing. The circumstances must be set right before proceeding."

She frowned again. "But the longer we wait, the more our enemies will notice, like Mejis. Would it not have been better to strike while they were still weak, and Glave was still very young?"

"That's why I asked you here. Peace is like a disease, eroding the strength of those foolish enough to believe it can last. Since I've been unable to directly locate Glave myself, I'm about to send two of my best Skayzers on a mission to get him, and drag his body back to this island. I predict that the two Strixix that were previously sent after him will not prevail. They are taking too long."

Uriel gazed up at her king in surprise and excitement. "I'll get my things ready."

Heron turned around for the first time, revealing a corpse long since worn by battle and burning, shirtless, only brown baggy pants and boots. His eyes dulled as if what the girl said was the most disappointing thing in the entire universe. "You're not one of the Skayzers who's going," he said. "Remember, you are not qualified yet. Think twice about it."

"Oh." She trailed off. "You mean, those two."

"Is there a problem?"

"No sir! It's just that, uh, Kugo and Linus are always bickering among themselves. With all due respect, I don't think they'll work good together." Uriel stepped forth with renewed confidence. "My detection radius with mana far exceeds both of them. I could find Wilva's son and bring him back before the next rotation! Please, you don't need anybody else for this task." She waited for a reply, but the more time drew on, the more she regretted speaking out of turn. This time, the silence that transpired with no answer was like hot thick mud, for the rotting man's lack of words spoke louder than words would have. His silence always made her blood turn the cement. His Majesty never, ever talked unless it was needed. Nothing was wasted with him. Not a breath, nor stride, not even his crude fighting style, the many times she'd witnessed it at certain parts of her training. Nobody else had mana like his own. It made her skin vibrate when Heron took the energy in from the air to use it. Now, his glare was what she noticed the most when she finally got a response.

"Uriel, show me your weapon."

"Sir?"

"Now."

"What does that have to do w-"

"Question me again and I'll send you to the underground lab." Heron narrowed his eyes to thin blazing pinpoints. "Now, show it to me. After all, It is the reason I called you here."

Uriel shuddered at the thought of going to that murky underground lab, where she would certainly be sprawled out on a comatose table and be electrified for half an hour. Thankfully, that line of punishment had never happened to her before. She reached in the wide sleeve of her rode, and took out the weapon, a dagger, her hand pulling and unsheathing it enough that the silvery steel slid out into view.

"Now, take a fighting stance, any kind you prefer."

This was a borderline trick question, for there was only one form of combat Uriel had completely mastered. She was being tested, even now. She adjusted the dagger around in a reverse grip, and lowered into a defensive posture, holding the blade in front, the other arm stretched back, ready to react.

"That's correct," Heron said, overtaking the silence with a deep baritone vocal. "You must feel the stance you've taken. Allow your mind to encompass the surrounding air."

Uriel, more alarmed than before, focused and lowered her stance slightly. Why in the world am I being ordered to do all of this? she thought.

"Now let that concentration become the focal point of your blade. A weapon is sharpened by the user's mind." Heron suddenly lurched over and tilted her chin up. "Stop staring at the ground." He carried on, "Draw your mana into the dagger, and let the energy flow."

Even though the reason was unknown, Uriel knew what she had to do. Driving mana through inanimate objects proved difficult each time. The process itself was not supposed to be painful if it hadn't been for that blasted bruise on her arm. It was result of a failed sparring match with a stone training drone. A failed block to the side had left a serious injury, and the impact had almost broken her arm. However, she couldn't let the pain take over now. Heron was waiting intently. With a sharp inhale, she sucked energy from the air and carefully funneled mana through her bruised arm with a muffled yelp, and directed it into the blade. Seconds later, after concentrating, flickering flames gushed out from the dagger's hilt, wrapping the blade completely in a bright blue coat of pyre.

"That's correct", Heron repeated with more command. The fiery weapon was a display so powerful, so flamboyant, radiant, ripping the space in light, but deadly all the same. "I know you've mastered Anduril's abilities," he continued. "However, that's all you've mastered. Like I said, you are far from ready to leave my sight."

Uriel wanted very much to say "You're wrong" or "No, I am ready" but that would not earn the much wanted respect at all. Anduril was the name given to her dagger. Its power obviously was fire, blue fire that expelled bright neon light when mana was poured into it. The enigma of her mana was that it was flammable, so when it passed through her skin to be used, it kindled into a charged body of flames, and what made it unique was that this fire could be focused to a great measure. "

"Please, give me a chance to prove myself," she finally said, giving a worrying glance at her arm. It was starting to tingle, already growing numb as energized air pumped in and out of each and every fiber.

It was Heron's turn to step forth. "Fine. It's only fair that you show me how far you have come. Remember, maintaining optimal footwork is crucial in every offensive tactic you may use in combat." He closed his eyes, and continued calmly, every word flowing like a heavy dose of venom. "Now that you've taken the correct stance, come at me as much speed as possible. Don't be afraid and hold back. Your task is to not let me take away your dagger, at the same time attempting to land a blow on my body. Understand?"

"But..." Uriel trailed off a second. "Why am I doing this? What if I actually hit you?"

"Don't ever let that stop you. Pulling punches will only result in you getting killed, and don't question me again."

After affirming with a sharp not, she launched off the back leg, the flashing steel point bolting towards her opponent like a laser edged spear. Heron easily pulled away from the blade's linear path. His eyes followed the girl's arms, hands, and feet, not needing to glance the weapon itself. His feet swiftly moved to a quick jolt in acceleration and waved an arm to seize the flaming steel. Uriel jerked away from his reach and stepped heavily back. She tried again to land a successful hit but Heron's shifting movements made dogging look effortless, free, and calculated. She couldn't help but to get lost in those movements that appeared twenty moves ahead of her own. Every second, his pale blue skin blurred in the dim light of the chamber, the translucent background of the crystals surrounding them, reflecting their sparring match as soft silhouettes. Heron stretched his arm out once more, but with such speed the only thing Uriel was able to see was the ultrasonic flash of his strike. A pinch found her wrist, and the dagger thudded to the ground. The flames stopped. Confused, she opened her hand to see it was suddenly empty.

"Too slow." Heron picked up the dagger and handed it back. "Combat sorcery requires you to be at your one hundred percent, all the time. Training your body is easy, but if your head is not completely focused, it's all for nothing."

Uriel thought she might even smile at the advice, but that smiled faded when a firm grip found her wrist. Punishment? Recognition? It wasn't clear. It never was.

"You may have the right foot work, but your aim is lacking." The king's constricting grip directed her dagger to his own neck. "Here," he said, the blade a hair's width distance from cutting into his flesh. Then the blade was moved to the space above his chest, the hole of his throat. "And here." He did the same to the shoulder, forehead, and lastly, his stomach. The whole time Uriel tried not to wince at the stinging twinges coming from her arm, forcing a straight and concentrated stature. Her expression dropped more when the grip was released, and Heron turned around, averting his attention back to the stone ring. She had failed, and not only that, she had failed in the light of her ultimate authority, the one of power.

Curse my soul, I wasn't prepared.

"Aim at those points," Heron finished, looking down into the empty void of the ring, "It will make you a lethal fighter. However, like I said, you are far from the level I need you to be before leaving my sight. Now, go and fetch Kugo and Linus for a meeting within the grand hall immediately. Are there any other problems with my orders?"

The girl nodded silently, stiffly, and after awkwardly standing still for a time, she rushed to the intercom mic to call upon the two requested Skayzers.

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