The house was just as Callum remembered it. A room with a table, a bed and a door leading to the latrines. Although, due to the fever, he did not remember very well what was happening around him, he felt a strong attachment to that place. This was where his father had given his life for his.
Callum snorted in amusement. Only a few days earlier he had had a "chat" with Death, in the true sense of the term.
“Callum, Jonah has arrived. We have to go."
He was pulled out of the flow of his thoughts by Rayla who gently squeezed his hand at Gren's warning. Callum smiled at her and together they headed for the door. Outside, they felt the crisp morning air on their skin.
Dawn lit up the small village, at that deserted hour, were it not for the occasional cat and the morning nightingales. A light and pleasant breeze caressed their faces, carrying the smell of the forest with it.
"Do you know what it reminds me of?" Rayla said.
“The dawn before the battle at the Spire. It was identical to this one. "
Their hands intertwined and she rested her head on his shoulder.
“It makes me think how meaningless centuries of fighting were. Elves and humans breathe, eat, and feel the same way. And we all share the same sky. "
"The Archway of the Worlds," Callum said to himself.
"And where did this come from?" Rayla said smiling.
"I don't know, it occurred to me."
"Oh, so now you are also becoming a poet, as well as an artist?"
Laughing, the two headed to the back of the house where Jonah was waiting for them; you could see that he had dressed in a hurry and his eyes were still very sleepy. Beside him were Amaya and Gren who, accustomed to military rhythms, had already woken up for an hour and were well rested.
Everyone looked down at the ground. There was nothing, just grass, maybe a few strands higher than another.
"Jonah, I don't want to be fussy, but there's only grass here," Callum interjected.
"It is not under our feet, but underground."
Jonah leaned toward the ground, holding the Primordial stone of the Earth in his hand. He put his hand on the grass and cast a spell.
Then they felt something under their feet.
The earth shook for a moment, before the entire clod on which they were standing lifted. In a hurry they climbed down from the boulder, which was now reaching a dangerous height.
The rock, rising, had revealed a staircase that spiraled down into the bowels of the earth from which a strong musty and closed smell came.
"Well, at least we're sure there's no water down there," Rayla said with a chuckle.
But Callum paid no attention to her, looking, as if enraptured, into the darkness of the cave. He felt an attraction towards that place, a powerful force that tempted him to get off that he barely resisted.
With a sleeve of his jacket he wiped the cold sweat from his forehead.
"Callum, are you okay?" Rayla asked worriedly, having noticed his paler skin and the tiny droplets on his forehead.
"Huh? Oh yes. I'm fine."
She didn't like his tone, it was as if he said "no, I'm not at all well, but I don't want to make you feel bad".
"Callum, you don't have to do it if you don't want to."
Callum turned and took her hand. He took two deep breaths and his expression calmed down and his skin regained some color. The Sky Arcanum gave several advantages, one of these meant that, by inhaling clean air, it was possible to increase the oxygenation of the brain and, thus sharpening senses, to think better.
“Thanks, Rayla. But I'm fine, it was just a feeling. "
Though she was unconvinced, she averted her gaze, which she had directed back towards the staircase. Even if briefly, she too had felt the pull towards the bottom of the staircase.
" We just have to get off, " Amaya signed with Gren translating.
The group, with Callum in the lead, cautiously approached the staircase. That was magic, and humans knew too little about it to be sure about anything.
Callum was about to step onto the first step when, inexplicably, he tripped over it. To keep himself standing, without thinking he put his hand on the rock. An annoying burn began to spread from the palm throughout his body, and Callum did not even have time to think that, suddenly, the rock that had risen earlier closed on him, dragging him into the darkness.
Viren narrowed his eyes as sunlight entered the cave. He was lying on the bare rock resting to regain his strength. It took time for the body to get used to breathing and being alive again.
He didn't even want to imagine what state his body was in when Claudia brought him back to life. His daughter was undoubtedly talented in Dark Magic, but he was starting to have second thoughts, remembering the vision he had had when she died.
Viren snapped his eyes open and sat up, gasping. He remembered everything, the Dragon Prince, Aaravos, the Shadowmoon elf, she pushing him off the spire causing them both to fall and then Callum, the king's bastard, speaking in draconic. What were the words? Manis, Pluma and… no, he didn't remember. And then the crash, without pain, only the world that suddenly turned black, as if someone had blown out the sun like you do with candles.
With difficulty he got up from his sitting position and took time to look around. Even if there was really nothing to look at. He was in absolute nothingness.
But then he saw her. His wife, as beautiful as the day she'd left him to return to Del Bar, with long brown hair wrapped in a braid and deep blue eyes that looked like lapis lazuli.
She turned, looked at him and smiled.
He didn't resist. He ran to meet her and hugged her, holding her tightly to him.
"Oh, Heid, how I missed you ...".
"I'm sorry, I'm not Heid."
Viren loosened the embrace and looked her straight in the face, incredulous: the one in front of him was in every way identical to Heid. The woman caught the confusion of the man, sighed and resumed the conversation.
"Usually I take the form of someone that the soul has loved, to allow a more pleasant passage to the afterlife."
Viren raised her eyebrows slightly as understanding touched her mind.
"You are ... Death," he said, in a beaten and sad voice.
"Exactly!" She said, in a strangely cheerful tone.
"So I'm dead ..."
"This too is correct."
Panic crept into his mind; he was about to open his mouth, but Death prevented him.
"No, your wife and children are fine."
Viren took a sigh of relief trying not to show it, then returned to his hard and composed facade. Death seemed to notice it, but said nothing, continuing to smile good-naturedly.
“You didn't have to worry about both of them. One of them died for me when he betrayed me. "
"And are you really that furious and amazed that I betrayed you?" Death asked, tilting his head to one side.
“Of course they are. He was my son, it was his duty ... "
"And have you ever really been a father to him?" she pressed him.
He was about to answer when a part of his heart, long dormant, spoke.
No, he never had been. Ever since Claudia learned to use Dark Magic, she had become his favorite. He had left Soren on the sidelines and neglected for a long time. He hadn't kept his promise to Heid. "Take care of them," she said. And he hadn't, he had neglected his son.
"I haven't been a good father," he admitted to himself.
When those words left his mouth he felt lighter, as if a boulder had been removed from his chest.
"And Claudia?" Death said.
Viren looked at the likeness of his ex-wife in the eye. He hadn't even kept the second promise, "Keep them away from Dark Magic."
It was as if that promise had been made to the wind. He had failed to teach it to Soren and had passed on to Claudia, oblivious to the fact that it was dangerous and corrupted the soul. He had done it out of spite of her, out of spite of Heid. And, in doing so, he had put his daughter on a bad path, which would eventually kill her. Even he wasn't sure how long he had left to live, maybe it was five years or less. And Claudia was much more tied to Dark Magic than he was. She considered it a game, he considered it a solution.
He was killing his daughter.
Awareness ripped through him, freeing him from another boulder.
"What ... what are you doing to me?"
“I'm having you do an examination of conscience; I'm freeing you from regrets. You will then be the one to choose the right path. Whether to go Up or Down. "
Death circled around him and whispered in his ear.
"But we're not done."
No, he wasn't done. The silly excuse of the "bright future for humanity". Maybe at first he had had such an ideal, but then it had become an excuse, a justification for his reckless actions. He had used the shadows of the elven assassins who were tasked with killing Harrow in order to set the Human Kingdoms against the Xadia. Thus he had murdered two of the five members of the Pentarchy, while one of them was seriously wounded and the young Queen Aanya of Duren was able to repel the attack.
Not to mention the fact that he transformed four entire human armies into legions of terrifying and depensitive creatures who lived to kill.
All this only for his thirst for conquest.
Now he felt light, his every regret, every mistake he had admitted was gone and this had made him lighter, but it had also made him feel infinitely guilty. He was ashamed of himself.
Death smiled, and said:
"I see we're done."
With a snap of fingers, a spiral stone staircase appeared, extending both up and down.
"I trust you will make the right decision."
He knew. He approached the staircase, ready to descend the step.
He turned to Death, who had now changed her appearance into those of a tall woman with an olive skin, very black hair down to her feet and beyond, pointed ears and very deep black eyes.
"Apparently, your debt has been paid."
As she said those words, dozens and dozens of blue bodies slowly appeared behind her, both elves and humans. Everyone turned to him, looking at him with hatred and contempt. Their gaze was like a shower of daggers crashing down on him. He felt responsible and didn't know why. All of them, with their heads bowed, walked in a row towards the staircase that went down, in silence.
“Thank your daughter for that. She took those poor fellows down just for you. Too bad, almost all of them had been virtuous and good in life. "
"What do you mean?"
This time, death chuckled: a much more macabre laugh than before.
"You'll find out when you're out."
A snap of her fingers and Viren saw the light again, not before hearing Death's last words.
"Make the right choices this time."
"Make the right choices," Viren said to himself. He looked around, to make sure that no one was there, and walked out of the cave.
Callum had tried for hours, in vain, to move the rock. Well, it had seemed like hours to him, actually it had only taken five minutes to tire him out. He slumped against the rough wall of the underground stairway, panting and drenched in sweat, and decided what to do. Going away was out of the question at the moment. All he had to do was go down.
"Rayla!" he screamed.
He heard the elf's muffled voice.
“Callum?! Everything OK?!"
"Yes I'm fine!"
"Don't worry, we'll find a way to get you out!"
He felt that strong attraction sensation again, now accompanied by an annoying ringing in his ears.
" All right," he thought, leaning on his knees and getting up.
"I'm starting to go down, Rayla!"
The answer was delayed for a few seconds.
"Are you crazy?!"
“Relax, Rayla! Nothing will happen to me! My father wouldn't have sent me here to kill myself! "
He had to wait a moment before the elf's voice reached him.
"Don't you dare die down there!"
"No I won’t!"
When he no longer heard anything, he began to descend.
The stairway was quite steep, being roughly carved in stone, but nothing unmanageable. The stairway of the Spire was much steeper than this one and on one side open into the void overhanging it down to the ground.
It was strange, the more Callum continued to descend the more he could see in the dark and the temperature, instead of dropping, rose in a warm and welcoming warmth. But the staircase didn't seem to end anytime soon and it wasn't linear at all. It changed direction continuously: it turned left and right apparently without logic, sometimes it even seemed to reverse direction.
Soon, Callum lost all orientation: he continued to seemingly descend into nothingness. It was all wrong. It often felt like he was walking on a ceiling rather than a floor, as he descended further and further down, up the endless staircase that stretched before him to the next turn.
He did not know how many hours he had continued to descend. He wanted to go up, go back and get out but strangely he felt that something was preventing him from doing so. And there was always the attraction and the buzz, static, like something that always sounded the same, regardless of distance.
And then he fell.
He felt the wind whip his face, as it did when he swooped down with his wings. He opened his eyes and was in the void. He was falling at very high speed towards nowhere.
"Manus. Pluma. Volantus” he said.
Nothing, his symbols on his arms did not shine, his wings did not open.
He began to panic. He tried again and again. Nothing.
“Am I really going to die like this? " he thought. " I'm sorry, Rayla I don't think I'll be able to keep my promise."
He closed his eyes, waiting for something. Even a crash would have been better than the endless fall.
But there was neither one nor the other.
The air stopped and he felt much lighter.
Callum opened his eyes and found that he was suspended in midair, a few feet from the solid floor of dark rock.
A moment later he was standing on the rocky floor, surrounded by nothing but darkness. Looking up, he encountered only a deep and alienating nothingness. He shivered. Being so far from the sky made him uncomfortable. He could sense the Sky Arcanum almost vanishing away from his body due to the distance from his primordial Source.
"Well ... let's go," he said, well aware that he was speaking to himself. He could still feel the powerful pull that had driven him down there.
Once again, time seemed to deform and space took on inconceivable forms.
Around him, Callum could hear hissing and other disturbing sounds. He didn't know if it was his imagination, but he had no way of controlling it.
Following this imaginary thread created by the trace of sounds, he reached a curious whitish spherical formation, which seemed to be made of a strange and fragile chitin.
Without thinking, he reached out and touched it ...
Aaravos heard a knock on his study door. He snorted in annoyance and with a wave of his hand the bolt snapped open.
“I pay you my respects, Master Aaravos,” said the boy in the doorway. He had black hair, pale skin, hazel eyes and was rather thin compared to his peers.
It was the third time in that month that Ziard had appeared at his door and it was now because he couldn't find any reagents, now because he had detonated something. But what could Aaravos do about it? Sol Regem, the king of dragons, had ordered him to watch over Elarion and the development of human civilization so that it did not go against the laws of Xadia. He certainly couldn't refuse an order from Sol Regem. Although his way of ruling was upright and just, the dragon was notorious for easily losing his temper. Furthermore, although Aaravos was several centuries older than Sol Regem, reincarnation raised considerable problems in the hierarchy. When he was the advisor to Prior Sidus, the first king of the dragons, Sol Regem had not even reached the age of two hundred and yet he was now an elder and powerful dragon, while Aaravos had lost much of his prestige.
Not to mention that Sol Regem continually distrusted him and the other Startouch elves. He regarded them as manipulators and only kept a Sunfire elf dog beside him who could barely channel his Arcanum to create a small sun; something that any Star elf would have been able to do after only fifty years, with enough effort. For this Aaravos had been sent as far as possible from Lux Aurea, into that sewer-city called Elarion.
“Ziard, what is it now? Do you keep failing in your alchemy? " Aaravos asked.
"Um, no ... I thought I found something that might interest you"
"Not likely" thought the elf. He had seen most of what this world had to offer and had doubts that a young man, even more human, had found anything of interest to him.
"Okay, go ahead," the elf said in a bored voice. He preferred to hurry up and finish signing the paperwork he had to send to the Council.
"You know we humans aren't connected to any Arcanum, right?"
"And therefore we cannot practice primal magic."
"This is also correct."
"But ... what if there were a way to" borrow "primal magic?"
Aaravos's eyebrows rose in amazement, while maintaining his calm expression.
"How did you get this" enlightenment "if I am allowed?" Aaravos asked curiously.
"I was watching archers training with bows and it made me think that if primordial magic is to elves like a sword that is wielded directly by a person, it could not be like an arrow for humans to cast with some kind of bow?"
Aaravos was flabbergasted. It could work. The theory was right.
He met Ziard's gaze, seeing the determination in the young man's eyes.
"We already have the arrow, we just have to find the bow," the young man said, spreading his arms with the palms up.
"You realize this is madness, right?" Aaravos said, turning more to himself than to the human, as a sly smile formed on his face and his hands began to itch with excitement.
"We won't know until we try," Ziard retorted.
Aaravos shook the human's hand without hesitation. But he hadn't seen it all yet.
"I have an idea of what the bow could be," said the boy with his voice full of trepidation ...
Gyntaf had his hands clasped behind his back as he observed the vastness of the world from Seachtù's Heaven. He was arriving. Sighing, he turned, hearing Aaravos's footsteps approaching.
"And so, humans have corrupted you to such an extent."
At that moment, Aaravos entered.
"What do you mean, creator?" he asked innocently.
“You stink of something… of Death and putrefaction. What did you do?"
Aaravos began to laugh softly, before his laughter took off. Gyntaf could well see that little was left of the elf's mental health.
"Nothing can be hidden from you, 'creator'." And this last word was spat out as if it were poison. "Let's just say that I made a little deal"
For the first time in his long life, Gyntaf raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise.
“Oh, Aaravos. Where did I go wrong?"
The Startouch elf did not answer, but began to recite a long spell in a language as ancient as it was powerful and the Miasma of Gahmracht massed around him.
Without delay, with the Sky Arcanum, Gyntaf created a shield of air around his body. That wouldn't protect him, but at least it would soften the blow.
But nothing happened.
Then a flash, and from Gyntaf's chest protruded motionless a gnarled blade as black as the abyss, at the tip of which was driven the first heart of the perfect being.
"You should have paid attention." Aaravos was behind him as he emerged from the shadow of the Son of the World.
Gyntaf's energy began to fade. Just as it had entered his body, the tentacle, moving as if it were alive, penetrated a second time inside Gyntaf's chest and came out taking the second heart with it.
" Adrǣfan "
A circle of light expanded from Gyntaf, knocking Aaravos back like a puppet.
" Sƿeord "
Two swords of light more than an arm long appeared in Gyntaf's hands, and he stepped into a fighting stance.
With a grunt of frustration, Aaravos brought Gyntaf's two hearts to his mouth and devoured them, thus learning the Arcanums of Water and Sky, then flew in the direction of his opponent making a horizontal slash, a very strong blade of wind and lightning.
But Gyntaf, raising his arm, created a wall of rock in front of him, blocking Aaravos's sharp gust and momentum.
This time he felt the movement and, turning abruptly, grabbed the black blade with one hand, in midair, a few inches from his chest.
“Twice the same trick. It doesn't work,” he said impassively.
But as he said these words, he felt an itch at his wrist and saw his veins turn black and fill with the horrid liquid from which the sword was formed.
He jerked his hand away, in which the sword made of light instantly reappeared, but now the poison was in his body. He felt a sharp pain in his chest and something digging inside him. A black worm slid out of his torso, with another Gyntaf heart on its sharp end.
Aaravos devoured that too. "You are weak to be a god."
Gyntaf had lost Sun too. He had only four hearts left now, not enough to stand up to Aaravos and the Void, the Eighth Primary Source.
He was left with only one chance of salvation.
With the magic of the Moon he escaped the sight of his opponent and, approaching the edge of Heaven, jumped, while Aaravos's scream of anger echoed behind him.
He broke through the earth's crust with the magic of the earth and returned home to the center of the World. He entrusted his Destiny to the Stars: he would be sent back when the Fates blew in favour of the world.
There, where everything had formed, he created an egg, harnessing the Sky magic which, over the course of aeons, had strengthened and condensed there; a Sky egg, crackling with the power of true Primordial Magic. The last of the Archdragons, the secret weapon against Aaravos, King Avizandum ...
In the Spire, Avizandum, the first Dragon Guard made up of the most powerful warriors ever, and the other four Archdragons, awaited the arrival of Aaravos, the King of Thieves.
Outside the Spire, the battle raged.
"Are you sure this will work, Phirytran?" Avizandum said to the Archmage of the Startouch elves.
"So there is not even certainty that it works?" Sol Regem retorted.
"With Prior Sidus gone, we can't count on all the archdragons."
“Queen Luna Tenebris, you will forgive me if I correct you, but each elf continuously emits the energy of their Arcanum; Aaravos already emits stellar energy on his own, so the presence of Prior Sidus may not be essential, although his absence could make it more difficult to trap ... "
An explosion from the mouth of the cave caused the Archdragons to turn. Aaravos had arrived. He walked in with a calm, measured step, but waves of power came from him with each foot putting forward the other.
“Ah, what a nice family reunion,” he said, still pacing the room. "And I expected better from you Phirytran."
"What you did is wrong, father."
"You killed what kept this world in balance. Do you know the consequences that this gesture of yours will bring? "
“The annihilation of the whole world, blah blah blah. Spare me the sermon, I have another Lord ready to welcome me. "
As Aaravos finished the sentence, a blinding light exploded in the cave.
" Quick , feed the key, " said a voice.
So they did. The dragons threw their mighty breath upon the cube and the star elves chanted a spell together. A beam of starlight shot from the rune, directed towards the cube.
In moments the light faded, and Aaravos was gone, and with him his armies.
Everyone, including dragons and elves, turned towards the trap they had set for the elf, the mirror created with meteoric glass. Beyond the mirror, a furious Aaravos pounded and screamed, the expression on his face a gruesome mask of anger.