Bearly In Charge
Nexus GM
Smoke and flames choked the skies around the normally placid Isle Elysia; the clanging echoes of steel meeting steel merged with the dying screams of good men and women in an ode to the perils of hubris. The once utmost indomitable bastion of a world spanning order dedicated to everything that was right—indeed the literal center of virtue in the world—was faced with imminent destruction, an annihilation borne from a failure not of arms, but of heart.

They thought themselves the ultimate paragons of righteousness, that merely by their proclamation the war was won; they felt that vigilance and alertness was something reserved for their enemies, the ones that time and time again they had vanquished.

Peace was theirs, had been theirs, for generations that were increasingly harder to count. No harm could come from enjoying the fruit of long fought labors, no reproach to be found in a well earned rest upon one’s laurels.

They were wrong.

The air crackled and shuddered with raw energy as the fierce fighting continued, magic coursing through arcane channels seeking to rend and tear on one side, to bolster and protect on another.

They were losing, and their wards were nearly exhausted. Aeldric stood upon the ramparts above the inner courtyard, eyeing the horizon during a brief interlude in the frenzied slaughter of old friends turned hostile. Blood and sweat ran down his graced armor, and he could not be certain how much of it was his.

He felt them out there, reaching closer; a mass of malevolence and disdain so pure as to be tangible. Aeldric intended to use his particular powers to reinforce their wards, his hands already moving towards the sky as his mind turned to beseeching thoughts, but it was too late.

A world rending crash reverberated through the temple of the Elysian Vanguard, accompanied by hair raising harmonics just outside the threshold of sound as the leylines of power in the wards were severed. An unnatural twilight—here and now at noon—darkened the sky, as a hush briefly fell upon both the righteous and the wicked Vanguard members.

Out of the silence came a sound out of everyone’s most primitive nightmares. An antediluvian keening that spoke of more than death, more than decay. A sound that resolutely refuted the existence of hope and happiness, a roar that mocked thoughts of warmth and comfort. The sound was a death rattle wrapped in a mocking laughter covered in a wrathful roar. It was the cry of a horror beyond comprehension, an invitation unto madness.

Out of the aberrant noon-time darkness came what could perhaps be called a creature, provided that the mind behind the declaration be not quite sane, and was not at all versed with the natural order of a just and orderly world. It’s features revealed themselves in flashes, as if the light surrounding it was loath to illuminate it’s frame. At least six-legged or perhaps armed, for on three pairs of corpulent appendages it stood. Each one seemed not quite the same: matted fur on one, dirty scales upon the other, yet another covered in ineffable slimy secretions. Some cloven, some clawed, one revoltingly similar to an old man’s feet.

Atop it’s impossible extremities was a roughly cylindrical trunk laid on its side forming it’s torso. Roughly, because it was not quite possible to properly distinguish its shape beneath a roiling mass of what could be short flailing tentacles, or tongues, or something else entirely that did not invite deeper thought.

A triangular head strangely devoid of features save a gaping razored maw protruded out of its body, with skin the tone and texture of rotten letter. It might have had two eyes, or perhaps eight or as many as a hundred; It was impossible to count them, for they seemed to never be in the same place second to second.

Upon its back were two outstretched leathery wings, easily filling the extensive courtyard and brushing against the ancient walls. Behind it dragged the barbed tail of a scorpion, it’s venom leaking and melting the stone it fell upon.

Ground to head it measured fifteen feet of height, screaming void of a mouth to barbed tailed stretched on for roughly thirty-five feet.

That was all that Aeldric had time to measure, as it suddenly jumped towards him and his companions, Taro and Rolando.
Another time, the creature’s hideous and in places bizarre visage might have prompted a witty remark from Taro upon its ugliness. But as the abomination loomed towards them, the only thing to pass through the young warrior’s mind was to wonder if this would be the foe that finally claimed him.

He moved without thinking, the shadow of the unnatural gloom giving him an escape route. His form became blackness, then sunk into the dark, only to reappear by the creature’s flank as it crashed down a great limb where he had been moments before, rending the stone asunder.

Taro’s grip tightened on the bloodstained sword in his hands. It felt heavy with the weight of the lives of those he had lived, laughed and loved alongside for years. It was their blood that dripped from the cursed blade and stained his face alongside tears.


Would it be so bad, if he died now? What was left for him if he survived? What was left for anyone? He took in what was left of the battlefield - those comrades in arms that still lived. That still fought.

He grit his teeth. As long as the people that had taken him in fought on, he could not let despair claim him. If he fell, it would be fighting to the last by their side.

This time, when a horrific tendril swept by towards him, he met it. His form flickered as it passed, and in the next moment he was upon it. Shadows from his body clung to the rubbery flesh, keeping him locked in place even as the appendage swung around. With a snarl, he slashed outwards with Kuroakuma, and severed it.

The tendril fell to the ground with a crash, cut clean in two at its midpoint. The half that remained writhed and flailed upon the creature’s torso, before it shrivelled away into a dry, withered husk and disintegrated.

Taro rose again from the shadows a few feet away from the severed section, which still wriggled and twitched where it had fallen. In the next moments, it began to warp, its tip splitting into a serpentine pair of jaws while a pair of nightmarish antennae erupted from it. But before the newly forming serpent-creature could finish its metamorphosis, Taro thrust his blade forwards. In a tide of darkness, a beast of spectral fur, teeth and claws rushed outwards from the weapon, forming a horrific maw that extended around the fallen tentacle and snapped down upon it. An instant later, the shadowy beast was gone, shrinking back into the blade and leaving not a trace of the tendril-creature behind.

The young swordsman’s eyes flicked back to the aberration from which it had come. It hardly seemed to notice the wound. “You’re gonna take some killing, aren’t you..?” Taro muttered, heaving a sigh before launching back into the fray. “Watch out for anything that comes off of it animating!” he yelled to the two others engaging the beast.
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As Taro shouted his warning, a twisted claw erupted from the abomination's body to replace the tentacle that had been severed. And even before it had fully formed it came crashing down towards the rampart where Rolando still stood. This time the powerful blow brought the length of rampart beneath his feet down in an explosion of stone and dust that momentarily obscured Rolando's fate.

The swift swordmaster was already clear of the crumbling debris though, and he appeared seemingly from thin air only feet from the towering behemoth. And no sooner had his feet touched earth that he let loose with a single upward sweeping slash of his rapier.

Though the blade never struck its mark the air itself seemed to extend the slash, and those closest would feel the gust of air and power behind the blow as the invisible force struck the abomination and ripped open a long gash down one side of it and severing two tentacles along its trajectory.

The spray of vile fluids turned acidic almost instantly, but Rolando was already gone seemingly vanishing once more only to appear in the air above the behemoth. The moment he flickered into view he brought his rapier back down smoothly sending another cleaving slash toward the creature.

Despite the sheer speed of his movements being all but invisible to the naked eye, Rolando's perception of that moment in time slowed to an almost surreal crawl, and he could swear that the creature raised countless eyes to look up at him with a deep guttural laughter. The sensation was for a moment only, and no such laughter had been uttered out loud by the beast, but the soul shaking sound lingered and pierced straight to the heart of the stony warrior. It was almost enough to shake him from his focus. Almost.

Another spray of bodily fluids fell short of their mark as he vanished once more and the sizzle of acid could be heard spattering the earth around the beast.

This time Rolando appeared beside Aeldric.

"Those blows should have left it quartered," he warned grimly.

Beside the creature, the two severed tentacles writhed and lashed the air with frenzied intentions.
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In the scant moments before the end of his life, Aeldric was reminded of his purpose.

Throughout the entire ordeal of the day, he had fought like a blind man as his world collapsed around him. Unable to reconcile the fact that his failure in leadership had led to such a decline, he fought former brothers and sisters in arms with a heavy heart. Where once in his youth stood a fierce warrior, a hesitant bureaucrat had settled.

He had barely been able to defend himself, coasting on the reflexes of long held experience, his will not enough to summon even the full power of his armor, let alone channel the Light.

In the scant moments before the end of his life, Aeldric heard two voices.

One seemed to whisper from a distance, in a tongue he’d never spoken before. In it he heard gleeful enjoyment for the sorrows of the world, and a triumphant exaltation in a mission about to be fulfilled.

The other was the mild reproach of a parent who expected better, wrapped in the comfort of endless forgiveness. It spoke clearly and loudly. It reminded. It kindled.

Just as Taro’s warning reached him, and Rolando vanished from view, the abomination lashed out towards Aeldric’s battle stained form with it’s bestial stinger, aimed to pierce him through and end the once fearsome avatar’s life.

An explosion of light surrounded Aeldric’s at the moment the horror’s appendage connected with his armor, and as it faded it revealed the fully armored form of Aeldric the Lightbringer.

Gleaming and burnished otherworldly plate mail swirling through with ethereal hues, shined with a light that did not come from the unnaturally darkened sky as the creature retracted it’s now stingless tail, the end of which now ended in a cauterized stump.

Aeldric indulged in a few experimental small stretches—needless, as his body confirmed that the power of old coursed through him once more—while in his head the faint voice roared in mild displeasure.

A hundred spiked tentacles burst from the horror’s back and flew towards the ramparts where Aeldric stood, moving with an unnatural writhing grace as they sought to block all possible angles of escape.

As the manna of the gods of light coursed through his body gracing him with fortitude beyond his mortal ken, he raised his notched and pitted greatsword. A nearly broken weapon, blunted with the day’s use and two strikes from shattering. A pitiful showing against the demented force headed his way.

With some trepidation, Aeldric dared to call, and The Light answered. A power as far removed from the power in his body now as his strength was to that of an ant’s, Aeldric’s sword ceased to be a sword, and became an instrument of smiting retribution.

In an explosive flurry of motion, Aeldric fended off all of the attacks the creature aimed his way. Never wavering, never slowing, never tiring. Eldritch tentacles were consumed in bursts of light as they were cast into non-existence. Aeldric sliced through them now with a sword made of pure Light, a blade whose edge ended far beyond this world, fashioned of a power directly anathema to the horror’s substance.

Yet for all that, the creature didn’t seem particularly perturbed with the loss of a hundred tendrils. A brief look in between assaults confirmed to Aeldric what he feared. The same uniform mass of flailing seemed to cover the thing, all of it naught but a light probing to see if Aeldric was paying attention.

“It’s directly manifested...here in the world, how. Light’s love, how,” he thought in dawning horror. He’d incorrectly assumed he faced a mere, if particularly twisted, voidkin. But with a renewed connection to the Light, he knew better.

He couldn’t feel such raw power coming from himself, such unfiltered Light, if it wasn’t diametrically arrayed. The thing wasn’t made from the void, it was a channel to the Void.

Something or someone was channeling it whole cloth from Void, just as he channelled the Light through his blade, and they seemed far more adept at it than him.

With grim determination not to fail his charge, he launched himself from the ramparts in a superhuman leap, an explosion of light smiting the almost casual tentacles in his path as he landed before it in the courtyard.

In his usual barely perceived flash, Rolando appeared almost at the same time as Aeldric saw the fruits or lack thereof from the fleet footed warrior’s efforts. Aeldric nodded at Rolando’s grim proclamation. As he quested his eyes seeking Taro, he replied.

“It’s far worse than it seems, than the thing that stands before us,” he frantically said. “TARO! Come, we have to hit–”

Aeldric’s shout was interrupted by a disgusting old man’s foot suddenly darkening the feeble light above him and Rolando as the abomination moved to crush them underfoot.
The darkness cast over the light, however, also provided an avenue for the shadow to rejoin it. As the hideous appendage descended, the dark beneath it rippled, as Taro emerged from it as though breaking the surface of water. The very shadow itself rose with him, it seemed, as once more a manifestation of fur, fangs and claws erupted out from the sword at his side in a rush of blackness.

Forming a colossal shadowy maw filled with nothing but writhing shadow, Kuroakuma - glutted on the darkness of dozens upon dozens of corrupted souls within a short span of time - surged up with a mighty, echoing roar and engulfed the descending foot. For a few moments, the darkness of the creature seemed to blend with the darkness of the spirit, but then with a horrific crunch, the maw snapped shut.

The void beast reeled to the side as its limb came away a stump, the entire lower half of it cleanly severed and utterly consumed by the spirit that then rapidly shrunk back into Taro's blade. It lingered only long enough for a pair of gleaming red eyes to cast him a withering look, as though to say: 'I can't believe you made me eat that', before it was gone entirely, leaving only the still-rippling shadows about his sword in its wake.

"Uhg," Taro grimaced, muttering to himself. "That left a foul taste in my mouth."
While Taro took care of the imminent overhead thread, Rolando was swift to react to the secondary - though far from lesser - threat of the abominations ever shifting and writhing form. With seemingly effortless ease the swordsman ducked and weaved through an onslaught of rending claws, flailing tentacles, and acidic blood. Every attack of a striking appendage was met with the blade of his sword cutting clean through. Those aimed for him where smoothly dodged, while those aiming for his companions where struck down mid-air.

Brute force had failed to fell the beast, so Rolando's strategy swiftly shifted to one of defensive countering to free up his allies to suss out a weakness or to formulate a more concerted plan of action that would be more effective than hacking the thing to piece, bit by bit.

Overhead there was a brief glint of light and the hiss of acid spattering upon the metal hilt of his rapier - the only warning given before the barbed tail suddenly struck down through the flailing mass. Rolando's fighting style that relied heavily upon reflex and instinct left him leaping backwards in a cloud of dust and stone as it crashed into the flagstone where he had been standing moments before. It bought him a moment of counter attack though as the tail embedded itself so deeply in the earth that it had become stuck.

As Rolando's slid backwards, his boots dug into the ground to launch him back forwards once more. As he closed the distance between himself and the barbed tail, his sword served as a conduit and became sheathed in the warriors own life-force energy so as to greatly enhance it's offensive capability, while also warding it from the corrosive acids that coated its surface.
Aeldric didn't get the chance to acknowledge Taro's pithy genius in the face of death before the creature was upon them again. Upon seeing the beast's barbed tail strike at Rolando—the same barbed tail he had burned out of existence—He knew things were dire and he desperately needed to confer his strategy to his teammates, or else they would be overwhelmed. The speed with which the creature imposed it's own reality in their space was beginning to frighten him, as perhaps the only person in the world who truly understood that this attack wasn't even really focused upon them.

They were not even significant enough to be considered mere ants within the true arena that the fight took place upon. This wasn't just an attack on them as an organization, some menial evil but still firmly terrestrial threat. Or at least a threat from a realm they could hope to stand against. He'd fearlessly take on a devil or god of Void. But not the thing itself. If he'd been asked before today, he wouldn't have thought it possible for so much Void to actually directly manifest in the world. Something deeper and beyond his understanding was under way, and he was beginning to fear for his ability to measure up to it.

He could feel it just on the edges of his perception, the titanic struggle as the axis of existence teetered in the impasse between an immovable object and an unstoppable force. The grinding roar of the engines turning the world threatened to drive him mad as he felt It cry out to him, demanding he do his duty.

The Shard of Light beneath the temple, the literal embodiment of the Light intersecting through the world called out to him to take his place in It's name. But all Aeldric could feel was the approaching tide of Void. An ocean of nothing, a roiling abyss, the final death of hope was descending upon him, and his meager Light.

With a bestial roar, Aeldric threw his great-sword ahead of Rolando, it's infusion of Light having it not merely fly true, but fly as fast as Light itself can permeate the world, instantly obliterating the horror's tail in a burst of light.

It only took a second for Aeldric to turn his gaze towards the aberration's main body, but in the time he saw it before it launched itself upwards on outstretched wings he noted that it's quite intact tail was lazily swinging from it's backside.

As bizarrely egg-like sacs began to detach from the monster's underside to land all around them, Aeldric motioned for his comrades to close the ranks.
as written by Dashmiel, Tiko, and Script

Scowling, Taro fell in at Aeldric’s side, eyes tracking the void beast as it flew. “This thing is rejuvenating faster than I can even notice it’s injured,” he hissed. “How are we supposed to fight that?”

Rolando too was swift to trust and respond to Aeldric’s direction and fall in close. It went against his instincts to keep moving, but his trust in Aeldric was great.

“It’s almost like time winds back, or stops,” Rolando answered Taro.

He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something wasn’t right.The abomination moved with discernible limitations on speed, and yet it seemed aware of Rolando’s movements that typically far exceeded the capability of most creatures ability to track him. It was almost as if the creature wasn’t perceiving the world the same as its physical actions suggested.

As the three stalwart warriors united upon the battlefield, the egg sacs around them began to burst, disgorging their vile contents even as more sacs continued to fall all around them.The air surrounding them was thick with a fleshy miasma as more and more of the things fell down from the main creature. Their falls being punctuated by unnerving splattering sounds as some of them simply burst into malformed putrid puddles of half-imagined stillborn horrors. But from most, things stood up.

Out of them came all manner of unheavenly spawn, in a myriad of shapes and forms that only a madman would find reason in. Some of them didn’t even seem possible under the universe’s rules, nevermind the question of how they were managing to move towards the trio with murderous intent. Tentacles galore of course, but also claws, beaks, hair, far too many appendages, not enough appendages. The only uniformity to the things seemed to be the fact that none was alike.

“We can’t kill this thing the way we’ve been attacking so far, it’s not strictly real,” exclaimed Aeldric as a thing looking like a mosquito crossed with a blood clot launched itself upon him. With his sword out of his reach, Aeldric simply punched the thing somewhere roughly in it’s centermass, causing it to explode into a flurry of light.

“It’s not a voidkin! It’s literal Void, being shaped, we mus–,” Aeldric continued, having to stop mid-breath as he felt another creature dash up from behind.

The creature - a clattering monstrosity seemingly composed entirely of serrated bone blades - was intercepted by a blast of shadowy magic, launching it backwards before a volley of further such bolts slammed into it midair, tearing it to shreds. Taro lowered his hand, that briefly still smoked with traces of magic, before looking Aeldric’s way. “We must..?” he prompted hurriedly, turning to parry away the lunging spines of another creature in the same moment.

“We must,” replied Aeldric within the midst of an explosion of light that marked the demise of yet another creature. This one he decided not to look at too closely in a misguided attempt to force his brain to decipher the mess it was.

“Seek out whoever is weaving them. But to do that, we have to get a second to breathe,” he continued as he dodged an attack, confident that the thing’s path towards Rolando behind him would take care of it. “I can’t gather enough Light to dispel that hideous thing up there with all of these constant attacks, we need to mop up these small ones and then you and Rolando need to damage the big one quickly enough that I get a pause to end it.”
“Clean up crew, got it,” Taro nodded swiftly, slashing a wave of black force out through a charging creature before spinning his blade in his hand, reversing the grip in order to plunge it into the flagstones below. “Hear that, Kuro? Make us some space.”

The sword in Taro’s grip fluctuated with darkness, pooling around the ground where its blade met stone, then rolling up in a tide. As the swordsman crouched, one of the void creatures - a raging bull with what looked like the back of a metallic porcupine for a head - barrelled towards him in a charge. Instants before it reached him, the darkness erupted outwards, once more forming a great maw that closed around the beast and swallowed it whole.

This time, though, the maw didn’t dissipate. Instead, it was followed by a great mane, as a creature that was part leonid, part goat, with a skeletal face and bony black wings, poured forth from the sword. Standing near fifteen-foot tall, it loosed a frightful howl, spreading its wings wide as it lunged forth into the fray, claws savaging through more of their foes. In the next instant, rolling blackness erupted from its maw in a cone, the shadows consuming several more creatures in their path.

‘Ah, chaos abounding and a lax leash. Were these meals not so devoid of content as to be pointless, I would claim this day a glorious one,’ the rasping, echoing voice of Kuroakuma played directly into Taro’s head.

“Stop enjoying yourself and just clear the way!” Taro snapped, drawing the sword up to fend off another attacker.

‘By your command,’ came the reply, dripping with sarcasm. But as bidden, the yokai drew back onto its hind legs, and let forth a piercing howl. From its cry, crackling chaotic energy radiated outwards across the battlefield like ripples. Where it passed harmlessly over Taro and his companions, the void creatures it touched had barely a moment to react before their bodies seized up, and whatever passed for a head upon them burst, scattering their forms to the wind.
Rolando said little as the swarms of void creatures continued to erupt around them. Attempting conversation would only lead to disjointed sentences with words seeming to originate from various directions. Given the stakes at hand, and the dire nature of the battle they faced, the distraction to his comrades wasn't worth the normal quip and humor his allies knew him prone to in moments of seriousness.

The sharpness of his narrowed eyes, the flash of steel, the billow of cloth, a sudden rush of air. His movements became little more than momentary flashes that swiftly gained momentum and created a vortex of death around his allies. Many egg sacs seemingly burst open before they ever touched the ground, helping to stem the arriving flood while Taro and Kuro thinned those closest.

Even the joint effort could only hold back the onslaught for so long though. As corpses of mangled and mutated bodies lay twitching and writhing in a ring, those beyond the swirling vortex of blades only grew denser until they appeared little more than a sea of black writhing forms clambering and throwing themselves forward with rampant disregard for the grisly end they met.

While Rolando held back the sea, and the last of those within the vortex fell to Kuro, Taro had perhaps a moment to redirect his attention towards the monstrosity above to distract it for Aeldric.
The swordsman took his chance. Darting forwards, he leaped into the air in the same instant that Kuro swerved around to catch him, simultaneously providing a launch pad to send him flying further towards the monster and dissipating into smoke that was reabsorbed into Taro’s blade.

Mid-air, Taro brought the weapon around, muttering a phrase beneath his breath as he flew. Moments before one of the void creature’s great limbs intercepted his flight, he vanished.

In the next instant, six shadowy copies of him appeared around the beast, each of them sweeping outwards with their copy of Kuroakuma. The blades of smoke and shadow seemed to extend outwards as they struck, each carving a swathe through the monster and leaving behind a smoking trail. Black magic crackled around the impact points, as an instant later the six deep cuts exploded outwards, hemmoraging the creature’s essence.

Taro reappeared on the beast’s far side, skidding to a halt on the ground and spinning about to extend a palm towards it, launching a barrage of bolts of dark energy into its flank, each exploding on impact and blasting it a few feet away, great extremities carving gouges in the ground as it skidded.

The creature’s focus was momentarily drawn to the far side of the battlefield where Taro was crouched, panting and readying the last of his and the sword’s magical reserves for if this plan didn’t work.

Aeldric had his window.
With the moment of silence Aeldric gained from his companions, he paused to listen. He could feel the rising crescendo of darkness that gathered closer to them. He opted not to focus on that, for that was not what would help them in this situation. Light and Void. Void and Light. That was the crucial point. That was the all important thing he had to consider. Void and Light. The two were ever supposed to hold each other in balance. Thus it stood to reason, he had to be able to tap into an equivalent amount of Light.

While Rolando's blistering moves placed Aeldric within the eye of a furious storm of steel; While Taro's crackling dark magic made the air thrum with power...Aeldric knelt down. Down closer to IT.

It stood directly beneath them, not even a scant hundred feet beneath the earth. Within the deepest chamber of the Temple, beneath the Well where their eternal souls gathered to perform their most sacred duty, It laid. The Light, or at least a Shard of it. But a literal piece of the Light. The fulcrum where their whole world's force pivoted, physically gathered in a humble vessel beneath them.

But that was only one Light's vessels.

As Aeldric knelt, he made peace with his past mistakes. He accepted that he'd grown lax. He admitted that it was his lapse in vigilance that led to the events of this day. He owned his failures, and avowed they'd never come to pass again. And in so doing, he heard it. Down in the marrows of his bones, it resonated. The trilling of a million birds, the gurgling of a billion brooks, the crowing of infinity of life.

With self doubt cast aside, Aeldric did as It demanded. In a burst of divine glory, Aeldric burst into fucking Light.

Shimmering with a brilliance that nothing could stand to look directly upon—If only for a moment—Aeldric ceased to be a man, and became the Light's Avatar.

An explosion of Light ascended from where he knelt as he flew through the air, free from the bond's of gravity. In an instant Rolando's burden was lifted as countless rays of light burst from Aeldric's scintillating body, each one seeking one the creature's spawn faster than they could form.

At the apex of his ascent, Aeldric let out a cry of cleansing fury, and his form vanished altogether as he himself became a burst of Light, aimed directly upon the creature that hovered above them. With a crash that echoed creation itself the monstrosity exploded into nothingness, annihilated out of the half existence it dared to take. Motes of crystallized light slowly twinkled out of the air where it used to be, as Aeldric slowly descended back to the ground.

The overwhelming Light faded from him somewhat, enough that he no longer radiated the backdrop of reality itself. Nonetheless, his armor had never seemed quite so fine, his poise had never before seemed so solid. The Grandmaster of the Elysian Vanguard had done a poor job, but here now stood Light's Avatar.

Aeldric now embodied all he was ever meant to be. Alas, it was only to last for a moment.

Out of the very foundations of reality, a howl resounded. It's ferocity was such that no words could do it justice. There simply was not a mortal understanding available that could lend meaning to the way the very nucleus of existence trembled. In an instant, everything changed, and their world was lost. They simply had yet to realize it.

"To the wall, more of them come!" shouted Aeldric. Filled with power, he rushed to the walls, easily leaping atop the ramparts surrounding Nasazura's Rest, confident that his compatriots would follow behind. Aeldric stood there with Taro and Rolando, and beheld the Fall of the Light.

There no longer was what could be construed as a horizon. The masses involved, and their sheer scope simply threw the mind into a reeling blubbering at any attempt to encapsulate those numbers. Aeldric remembered seeing a disturbed nest of ants in a jungle expedition long ago. He remembered being fascinated into a standstill as untold millions of individual units swarmed out of the ground to blanket the earth before him.

This was something like this, but so much worse.

As far as his eyes could see, side to side, they came. An army of darkness, their passage distorting the air above them. These were not human thrall's to greed. These were not voidkin's made corporeal. He felt them, just as he felt the creature they'd fought before. This was pure void, shaped with a purpose, a singular purpose.

Their end.

Whether it was millions or merely hundreds of thousands made no difference. The ground they trod upon was no longer visible under such a concentration. Worse; as he looked closer, he was able to discern hundreds like the creature he'd just slain, marching through the throng. Aeldric's newfound light began to flicker and wane as he contemplated the end of all that he knew. It was at that moment that he tried to look beyond, and saw it.

First he beheld the disgusting old man's feet as they took a step and flattened Mt. Goyal. He'd climbed it's summit in his youth, it stood a full twenty thousand feet in height. Higher still, he sought it. Boggingly humanoid it was, if discolored. "Skin" the shade of a mottled bruise yes, but what he was seeing were certainly legs. Up and up, where his mind reeled and simply refused to acknowledge. Into what must have been the stratosphere but was now a mere word for a pointless boundary; there was it's torso. Aeldric's neck joints popped as he looked towards the shoulders, and there it ended. For he could not bear to countenance that face.

Without a doubt, that was the source. That was where he felt his antipode lurking. That was the Void's Champion.

With knees threatening to turn to jelly, Aeldric screamed: "To the Well! Retreat!".
A moment of fleeting triumph followed so suddenly by utter despair. As the three of them took to the wall together, Taro beheld the landscape of what had once been a world now swallowed by the writhing forms of the void, and let his sword arm fall to his side. Weariness that had been offset by sheer determination and adrenaline was suddenly a lead weight upon his body. Sorrow at what he had lost, pushed aside in favour of striving to lose no more, took him in a wave.

There was no hope.

When the monstrosity of fathomless size crushed a mountain in its entirety beneath one colossal foot, he realised that he was not the only one who was afraid. Within his blade, Kuroakuma - even ancient and terrible as he himself was - quaked with the realisation of his end. No form of immortality and reincarnation could save him from this.

He barely heard Aeldric's call for retreat. What did it matter? Where could they go that this doom wouldn't reach them? The world was lost. So what, at this point, were they even fighting for?
Beside Taro, Rolando's sword tip hung low as the same sorrow was reflected in his own eyes at what lay before them.

If not for Aeldric's words, he might have simply remained where he stood and let the oncoming flood wash over him with the steel of his blades taking as many of the void creatures with him before he too fell. But Aeldric’s words offered purpose in an otherwise hopeless situation. The well.

He looked to Aeldric and offered a nod as he moved to follow after him, but it did little to dispel the sorrow from his eyes. Their own fate was sealed, as was that of the temple. But perhaps, perhaps they could alter the fate of the world that would survive them. Generations of Vanguard souls lay within the well ready to be called upon. Perhaps they - and the shard - could turn the tides where they had failed.

"Taro," he called out as he and Aeldric turned to run for the temple. "There's still time to reach the well."

His words were strangely cool, calm almost. He had accepted their death. All that remained now was to follow Aeldric. One final act to atone for the hubris of the Vanguard.
Hearing his own name, Taro was jarred out his his stupor enough to turn to face his companions - for all he knew, the last two other survivors of their entire order. Did it matter if they reached the well? Could even those many generations of warriors turn the tide against that?

He supposed it was all they had left.

Wordlessly he nodded, and followed after them.
Overhead a massive shadow blotted out the sun and gusts of wind sent rocks and rubble tumbling along the ground around the trio. As they climbed the steps to the temple entrance, a plume of thick purple miasma struck the doorway, billowing in all directions. Those that remained within the temple entrance - friend and foe alike - would be subject to the toxic fumes that cut off Aeldric and the others from entering the temple.

At their back a ground shaking impact left vibrations spreading cracks through the stone stairs beneath their feet. The source was that of a massive purple dragon that let out a deafening roar in their direction as it widened its stance and dug its claws into the stone beneath it.

The once majestic creature was well know to those that stood before them. Rynhart. The corruption seeded within the former grandmaster had left him among the first of their order to fall to madness. A low hiss left more of the purple miasma leaking from the corners of his mouth as he prepared a second blast.
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With a heavy heart, Aeldric turned away from the blocked entrance to the temple, and beheld what remained of whom he once called friend. "Taro," he said with a trembling voice forlornly, "Clear the mist, I'll take care of Rynhart." The world shuddered, reality threatened to bursts at the seams.

They did not have time for a drawn out confrontation.

While Aeldric's will hovered somewhere only slightly above utter despair, he nonetheless was still brimming with more power than he had the capacity to quantify. The shock and awe of their enemy was indeed, specifically arranged to prevent this realization. While Aeldric's lack of imagination was no small part of why they'd lose this day, Rynhart's appearance was but a small thorn sent to saw the edges of an already gaping wound.

With a weary sigh and eyes that stared not into the moment, but backwards into a shared past, Aeldric raised an open palmed outstretched hand towards Rynhart. It was a cruel twist that such a long and storied life could end so quickly and that it be forced to do so at his command; the air around the once awe-inspiring corrupted dragon brightened swiftly. The taint of the void around it was quickly eradicated as a massive shaft of pure Light washed over the dragon.

Within moments, his old friend was no more. For a fraction of a second, Aeldric thought he heard a peaceful sigh. His heart began to lift infinitesimally, and a ray of hope threatened to skip free. Then his gaze lifted a few inches, and he beheld a mottled shin filling out the horizon.

Aeldric quickly turned back around, ready to continue the mad dash into the temple depths with his companions.
Taro grit his teeth, wincing and turning his eyes away as Aeldric struck down the mighty dragon. While he'd never had the chance to grow close to Rynhart himself, he'd heard stories enough of the grandmaster to respect him, and had spent more time around his sister, Rhea. Who could even say what had happened to her, in all this mess?

There was no point contemplating it now.

In the moments after Rynhart's vanquishing, Taro raised his sword, and once again the spirit within burst forth. Kuroakuma's maw opened horrifically wide as he emerged from the blade, diving headfirst into the miasma and drawing it inexorably into his gullet. The smoke swirled into a vortex for a few short moments, before the last of it trailed away and the devouring demon's jaws snapped shut. The spirit huffed, a slight puff of purple smoke emerging from his nostril. The next moment he was formless once more, receding back into the blade.

They pressed on.
The mad dash into the temple was punctuated by the crumbling of the building around them. Large chunks of rock and marble rained down around them as entire sections of the temple succumbed to the battle outside. All around them lay the bodies of the fallen, but the battle had spilled deeper into the temple halls, and to the very heart of the temple. The inner sanctum.

The ornate door and its intricate weave of enchantments already lay open, as it would seem others had the same intentions as Aeldric. The one that had spear-headed the push to reach the Well of Souls lay prone upon the floor with a gaping hole seared straight through her chest. Throughout the room Vanguard battled against Vanguard.

Only a few still stood in defense of the temple, and not a grand-master among them. The despair in their eyes turned to a flicker of rekindled hope at Aeldric's arrival.

"Go!" Someone shouted to them. "We'll buy you time!"

The descent to the Well of Souls below would leave the lavish temple halls behind in favor of rough hewn stone steps and winding tunnel deep beneath the earth.

Even the well itself lacked any of the flare of the temple above and appeared nothing more than a simple ring of polished stone encircling a small pool of azure blue water. And yet one could feel the weight of the souls within its waters, and sense the wailing despair as the battle that raged above drew soul after soul into its waiting pool. The souls of the fallen. Those sworn to defend the temple, and the Light even beyond death.
It was with a heavy heart threatening to succumb to guilt that Aeldric led the way past the last remaining line of defenders and into the depths of the temple. As the carved and filigreed bas-relief laden walls gave way to rough primordial stone, Aeldric reflected on his past mistakes one last time. If only he'd been more like the stone around them, and less like the masterworks that decorated the temple, perhaps they wouldn't be in these dire straits.

He did all the could to keep the despair from showing in his face, but he knew all of the souls who ever graced their order wouldn't be enough to stave off their end. Even if they had the combined force of all the paragons that had ever graced their numbers, multiplied hundredfold...it still wouldn't be enough. Aeldric wasn't leading them to the Well of Souls to attempt a last stand in the company of their fallen members.

He sincerely doubted he'd even be able to rouse them, surely they'd be able to see through him and behold the stained heart that beat upon his chest. They'd know it was his apathy and irresolution that diluted the once proud Elysian Vanguard to the state where the day's events were all but guaranteed.

No, it wasn't the Well that he sought.

While every member of the Vanguard knew they were on Light's side, and every Grandmaster was aware of this fact in quite a literal fashion, only the living Elder was privy to the fact that it was here, right under their feet, where Light resided. From the moment Taima's soul rose from the well and chose him to succeed her 25 years ago, he'd known.

Beneath the Well of Souls, nestled deep within a heart of stone and sunken within the azure waters, rested The Shard. The theology of it was ever still in dispute—particularly since it was all discussed either in hypothetical terms among their scholars who didn't know they had a real example to base their theories on, or else it was a one sided chain of thoughts passed Elder to Elder throughout the ages in the Elder Memoirs—but the fact remained: however Light chose to work, when it passed through the physical realm, it had to pick a point in space to do so and where it did, a literal part of it remained.

It was The Shard that pulled Aeldric, leading him deeper into the bowels of the earth. It was The Shard that had been speaking to him all throughout the day. It was The Shard he'd most keenly disappointed this day. But, as he well knew, if anything could be said to hold redemption and forgiveness for his laxness...it would be The Shard.

Before long, the trio of battered heroes found themselves with no further passage downwards. They stood with all of their combined doubts, hopes, and concerns before the Well of Souls. It was a simple cavern of naked rock, with the well scarcely more than a ring someone had given a rough polish to. The deep azure waters of the Well served as the chamber's only decoration, their vivid color a stark counterpoint to the earthen tones all around.

The well was boiling.

The normally placid waters churned and heaved, a pearly froth crowning the azure waters of the Well. The atmosphere within the cavern was a palpable feeling of oppressive weight. Even if it had been their goal to go about rousing the stalwart shades of heroes past, they wouldn't have been able to.

The souls of the Well were already locked in their own struggle in Light's name. Beyond mortal eyes they fought, literally boiling their essence away from any hope of celestial recompense in defense of the Light. Quietly and unsung, the spirits of the Elysian Vanguard burned themselves into nonexistence in the execution of their duties, the ultimate expression of their Creed.

Aeldric felt the barest whisper of their titanic struggle, and it threatened to bring him to his knees. As a undertone to it all, he heard Light's call, beseeching him to do his duty. But what could he do? Had he not proven himself incapable? Was he not living proof that the Light could err? A failure of an Elder, a farce of a Champion. What hope did they all have, if any of it rested upon his shoulders?

Suddenly, the waters of the Well heaved, and exploded outwards, accompanied by a powerful burst of light that cast their shadows starkly behind them.

As the light faded and they could see again, they beheld a figure.

Imposingly tall it stood before them, almost cresting seven feet in eight. Covered in crimson scales, sporting razored fangs within a dragon's maw, and with a expansive set of impressive wings outstretched menacingly, Taima the Storm stood before them.

At the sight of his predecessor, Aeldric's spine stood a bit straighter. There was simply too much history there for it to be otherwise and whatever his inner turmoil, the instincts to not disappoint the monumental draconian highborn had been drilled deep within his psyche a long long time ago.

With an assessing eye, she glanced at the assembled trio. She was never one for frivolous words, there was no space for inane pleasantries in her, not when there was work to be done. None of them would have expected otherwise, so it was without a hint of surprise that they greeted her matter of fact address:

"The world trembles. You have lost this day, Void darkens our world," declared Taima in a gravelly voice, laden with the ethereal echoes of the spirit world.

"This is but a battle in the eternal war, your duty is not done. There are other worlds than this one. Go forth, and fight. Do not repeat your mistakes, Light be with you."

She cast her gaze to them all, and alighted it finally directly upon Aeldric, as she held an outstretched hand.

As she opened her palm, Aeldric's essence shattered into a million pieces.

Rolando and Taro only beheld Light, something akin to mere illumination, if magnified a million-fold from what the description of illumination could be said to be. A shining beacon that did not melt the eyeballs out of their skulls only because the Light protected its own. Nevertheless, the cascade of power before them left them insensate. No matter how often Aeldric would try in the future to explain the next few moments of their lives to them, he'd never be able make justice to the glory they stood before at this moment.

To Aeldric however, it was so much more. He felt himself torn asunder, melted, evaporated, thoroughly obliterated by the Light. Little more than his core consciousness remained as he felt himself recast. He knew he'd never be able to properly do justice to this series of events, not if he grew to learn all of the words in all of the worlds.

He who was held as the wisest in their world, who stood in councils with literal gods, who thought that to channel Light was to know It, was rendered speechless as he was ground to ethereal dust.

He felt as his spirit was severed from the chains that held it to the yoke of creation. He quivered in pain as his body was reformed; old clay mixed in with new and lumped back together. He groaned as his mind was expanded, new pockets hidden within. Groaning, Aeldric floundered amidst the shimmering Light that flooded the cavern as his being was smashed together.

Somewhere within him, diffused and slumbering for the time being, he felt the Shard.

"Go, and do better this time. Become the warrior I chose to lead the fight," whispered Taima in his mind, as somehow, somehow the light around them gathered even more brilliance. It was a torrent of Light so powerful that it burned away all it touched, save the trio of warriors.

All around them, the backdrop that formed what they thought of as reality was set alight, burned to a cindering crisp. They stood not within a cavern, with feet solidly on the earth. Blind as they all were, they would not be able to see behind the Veil. Just as well, these things were not meant for eyes such as theirs. Better that the Light gently shepherd them to where they needed to be, they had no need to see this place. Not yet.

Minutes, hours, aeons. Time no longer could be measured, not in mortal terms. In time, however, they arrived. Light's brilliance began to gently fade.

Sensations rushed in towards them. Senses began to sense once again. They could feel upon their skin. They could smell the world around them. They could see.

As Taro, Rolando, and Aeldric opened their eyes, they beheld....somewhere else.
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