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InTheAethr


Somewhere in the outer edges of existence, 200 years before the events of Invidere...


Triton and Ceto stalked cautiously through the grass field, the notion of impending doom still looming in their minds. The quaint village that sat at the base of the gravel mountain harbored greater horrors than any of them could have imagined. The two, still quivering in their boots and sweating profusely in their oversized battle armor, clutched their bloodied blades close to their chests. Whatever dark apparition had just attacked them, they saw no benefit in attempting to confront it directly.


A few kilometers behind them, their dozen comrades in arms lay dead on the ground, along with the countless innocents that they had been slain trying to protect. Some things, Triton realized, simply couldn't be rationalized or quantified. Some things were beyond mortal comprehension. Some things existed beyond his narrow perception of reality; they existed beyond time and space, beyond death, and beyond life. Some things could never be killed, and for a man who had devoted his life to worshiping death itself, this lesson was an especially difficult one to learn.


The two Knights had put much distance between themselves and the village in a short time. They were unsure if the still very much tangible screams and cries were the true voices of the suffering, or mere echoes of their misery, still reverberating in their fragile frames. Reality was an odd thing, Triton was sure of.


Triton and Ceto exchanged nervous looks as another range of sounds folded into existence nearby. It was a quiet, yet sharp crackling, accompanied by an eerie low hum in the distance. The massacre at the village had not involved fire; the only sensation either of them had recalled from the experience was that of ice cold chill. A quandary began to take shape. Valiantly investigate the sound, or turn back in an attempt to avoid what must be certain death? Triton ruled that behind them was only doom, while what lay ahead of them was a mixed bag of peril and salvation, or perhaps a combination of the two. After a short deliberation, Triton and Ceto accelerated towards the source of the new sound.


Their suspicions that fire was the culprit of the sound were proved as they came closer to their destination. A bright orange light came into view, and then the aroma of fresh ash and charred wood invaded their nostrils like pilgrims in an unholy land. The blaze before them was truly magnificent and terrifying. Soon, they stood on the edge of a great valley, the bottom of which was completely engulfed in a sea of fire, the likes of which neither of them had ever bore witness to.


The flames stretched out far as the eye could see, and the skies were choked with grim smoke that blotted out the pale moon. Not even its lunar waves could penetrate the thick black haze cast over the valley by the desolation. Strangely, though, some parts of the charred landscape before them had not been consumed by the flames. These dry patches of untouched land, though, were not comprised of the same grass and dirt the rest of the world was made up of, but instead something drudged up from the depths of the underworld itself, akin to red brimstone that might as well be the dried form of the tall flames they were surrounded by.


While gazing out into the endless desiccation, the two almost didn't realize the sea of flames before them split apart, revealing a safe path to travel to. Resigned to their destiny, the two Knights traveled the path into the haven below, ignoring the phantom wails still dancing in their craniums. A cave came into view at the very end of the path, with a gaping entrance and a faint purple glow within.


Triton entered first, followed shortly by Ceto, who constantly looked behind his back to ensure they weren't being followed. The split flames behind them reformed, swallowing up the dry spots once more. The only path for them to follow, now, was deeper into the dark cave. The ethereal magenta light was stronger now, strong enough, at least, to outshine the all-consuming orange outside.


The Knights finally arrived at the end of the cave, where an occult shrine sat in its lonesome against cavern's edge. The altar was decorated with a myriad of dark, ancient artifacts, including two candles that never seemed to run out of wax that were the likely source of the purple eminence. At the center of the shrine was a small quartz statue of a muscular man clad in ornate armor, brandishing a long, katana-like blade. The statue was engraved with the phrase Makrozoia.


A hushed voice, low but stern, began to address them. Try as they may to identify its source, its presence was at once everywhere and nowhere, and impossible to locate in the swallowing darkness. It whispered to them dark secrets and a warning of a prophecy soon to be fulfilled: a great spirit of doom was looming in the shadows ready to be unleashed upon the world to wreak untold destruction, and only the presence, restored to physical form, could put it back to sleep, as it was too weak to do so in its current incorporeal form. When Triton asked who this presence speaking to them was, it simply answered "Aquila's right and true king," addressing them from some dark place deep within the Aether.


The two men had heard many tales of both great and terrible kings of this realm, who spurned and fostered great horrors alike. One legend stood above the others, though - the tale of a benevolent centuries old king, the greatest in Aquila's history, who was cursed to live out all of existence as a hopeless spirit in the countryside, only to one day be awakened by a valiant hero so that he may permanently defeat the great evil that cursed him so long ago, and save the rest of the world in the process.


Triton and Ceto, bound by their obligation as Knights Thash to protect the lives of the innocents at all cost and their tendency to believe children's fables, swore their allegiance to the presence, to its great pleasure. The presence quickly commanded them to bring him a noble sacrifice from a nearby settlement which he might use as a new vessel to return to the mortal world with. The two Knights ventured to the nearby town of Aragon, rescued a nimble thief from the town's prison with the promise of great wealth, and presented him to the altar the next day, delighted to see that the flames had been quenched overnight.


The presence immediately stirred back to life and latched itself on to the rogue's body, though strangely, the panicked criminal had merely fallen asleep as a result of the ritual, and though he was not dead, he didn't appear to wake, even after repeated attempts by the two Knights to shake him back to the corporeal world. The presence addressed them once more, putting their concerns to rest. It explained that he did not plan to return quite yet, as such an act so early would be foolish. The presence explained that now that it had a body to possess when the time came, it would awaken at precisely the right moment in time when it is needed most, ready to stake its claim on the world once more - and it would have two immortalized heralds of his will to help him do so.


The presence, its voice slowly fading back into the Aether, commanded his two new servants to continue about their usual duties, never mentioning what had transpired at the altar lest their plans be for naught. Triton and Ceto obeyed, quietly returning to the hideout of the Knights Thash to tell their brothers of the apparent bandit attack at the village to the north, and how it likely was not worth returning there, as the bandits had been driven out.



Two centuries later...


The mummified body stumbled out of the cavern, the ability to walk slowly returning to him after the need to do so was done away with for so many years. Having not breathed fresh air, experienced the overbearing smells of nature, or laid eyes upon the vibrant colors of the world in so long, the first few moments of his new life were an overload of harsh pleasure. This body, he realized, was much different from the one he previously inhabited - weak, small, and agile, a stark contrast to his old shell. It would serve him nicely.


And so it was, twenty years, he forecasted, before the great awakening, he himself had risen from his restless slumber, now forced to compete in a perilous race against time to ready himself for the hardships to come.


Makrozoia knew his children were out in the world, still feuding over the barren wasteland they had inherited, and making the realm and all its people suffer for it. He was determined to put a stop to it once and for all. He had given himself as much time as he needed - now was the time for him to prepare.


Invidere will return.




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