Mark of the Fool - C.855: Courage

Mark of the Fool

C.855: Courage
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The Ravener rippled with power.

Dungeon cores, by the number, swarmed from its black surface and into the waiting claws of its Ravener-spawn. The creatures darted away, taking the orbs from the lair and through the tunnels, transporting them so new dungeons could be built near their ally’s gates, or carried to the material world where they could make dungeons in Thameland.

The feeling it was having was invigorating. How many thousands of years had passed since it had revelled in its true strength, not having to constrain its full arsenal of apocalyptic monsters.

Yes, this would be the end of Thameland.

‘This is a trial you will fail,’ the construct thought as it drew on its vast reserves of power, transforming the Thameish fear into monsters spawned right from the peoples’ nightmares. ‘You will not be able to stop me. My armies are endless and yours are…are…’

The Ravener’s thoughts paused.

Something was wrong.

Something was very wrong.

Deep within its core, it could feel its power lessening as it spawned its many monsters and dungeon cores…but that should have been impossible.

The amounts of terror flowing from Thameland should have provided an endless tide of power for the construct to draw upon.

Yet, its energies were decreasing.

Why?

The Ravener reached out, probing its energies, discovering something so unexpected that its thought processes froze for a time.

‘The mountain of fear from the creator’s people…where is it? There’s very little flowing to me!’ It thought. ‘This is impossible! This is a time of culling! I have unleashed my most powerful servants, but the amount of fear coming from the mortals is low! Hardly any feeds me! What is happening?’

Frustration rose as the Ravener was forced to slow its output.

The flow of dungeon cores and monsters springing from its form slowed to a fraction of what it had been.

Meanwhile, the construct struggled to understand what had changed.

All the while, that stirring feeling that had started earlier…continued to grow, hovering just beneath its notice.

“I’ve never felt so alive!” an elven mercenary shouted. Laughing wildly, he stabbed his thin sword through the gaps in one of the eight back-legs of a Ravener-spawn—piercing its innards repeatedly.

With a gurgle, the creature toppled, and the elf—and the horde of raucous mercenaries around him—surged ahead, slaying at will, using weapons still glowing from the General of Thameland’s mighty spell. 𝔣𝖗𝔢𝖊𝔴𝖊𝔟𝔫𝔬𝖛𝔢𝖑.𝔠𝔬𝔪

Nearby, King Athelstan cut through four chitterers with a single stroke of his divine sword, leaping over their bodies and setting upon a gibbering legion. He balanced on the ooze-like spawn’s many shields, stabbing downward, his blade cutting through a stolen buckler, letting both Uldar’s divinity and the power of Alex Roth’s mighty spell devastate the monster’s essence.

The creature withered, dying with a wheezing cry.

Athelstan couldn’t help but grin as the power of the archwizard’s magic flowed through him. All around, the General’s elite mercenaries and Thameland’s soldiers had been transformed into efficient instruments of death by the spell; Army of Heroes.

They were stronger.

Faster.

Tougher.

They seemed unstoppable, and were driving the monsters before them, marching through the streets of Ussex, leaving broken Ravener-spawn in their wake. Above, Ezerak Kai’s monsters, as well as Alexander Roth’s summoned creatures, brought any flying Ravener-spawn out of the sky and to their deaths.

Circumstances had changed for the better.

Yet, for all the magical and physical gifts the General’s spell had granted, those things couldn’t compare to what it had done for the army’s hearts, minds and souls. When monsters threatened them, the soldiers did not baulk. When knights were stopped by powerful Ravener-spawn, their squires did not pause, quickly avenging their masters’ killers in turn.

No matter what the Ravener-spawn did, the courage of the Thameish fighters did not wither.

The king’s heart thundered in his chest, as steady as if he were riding through the countryside on a summertime hunt. Army of Heroes had enhanced their weapons and bodies with magic, but most importantly…

…it had freed them from the fear in their hearts.

With an unwavering smile, the king raised his sword.

“Onward! Onward to victory! For the Traveller! For Thameland!”

“For the Traveller! For Uldar! For Thameland!” his soldiers bashed their weapons against their shields.

Before them, the Ravener-spawn recoiled.

And the king’s smile broadened.

It was the monsters’ turn to be afraid.

‘To fear something?’ Registrar Hobb had said to Alex. ‘Well, that grants power to many beings in the universe.’

The young archwizard had never forgotten those words.

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“Army of Heroes is a ninth-tier spell that I took from Brightfire university,” he explained to his companions. “It’s an incredible spell for battle, since it turns armies of ordinary fighters into fearless ones, their weapons become powerful and magical, and it grants the wielder strength, speed, stamina, and toughness.”

He pressed his hand to his heart. “But it also fills a warrior’s heart with courage. The Ravener draws power from fear, doesn’t it?”

“Oh shite!” Cedric’s eyes went wide. “Yer bloody starvin’ it!”

“Exactly,” the General continued. “And if I’m right, that should buy us some time. Now, I couldn’t cast Army of Heroes on every soldier in Thameland, so the Ravener’s still going to have some fear to feed off of…but I bet it’s going to be a lot less than what it’s expecting.”

“As long as it doesn’t adjust its tactics,” Merzhin said. “Good thinking, Alex. How long will the spell last?”

“A few hours,” he said. “And I have enough power to teleport back there and recast the spell when it wears off, but if we’re stuck in combat at the time…”

“...you will not…be able to disengage…” Claygon said. “...you can’t…be in multiple places…at once…”

“As much as I wish I could be, you’re exactly right, buddy.” Alex said.

“Then we’d better hurry and shut those gates down,” Bjorgrund said.

“And find that corpse,” added hart.

“And the Ravener,” Alex finished. He gave the others a nod. “Watch yourselves, everyone. Regenerate your mana and keep yourselves safe.”

“Be careful, Alex,” Theresa said.

“I will,” he said. “If any of you run into trouble, teleport back here. Claygon, if you need back up, contact me. I’ll check in on all of you when I can.”

“Right, good huntin’,” Cedric said.

“Good hunting,” Alex replied, and teleported away.

Raising his staff, the young archwizard appeared a dozen miles away, flying high above a small lake situated beside an idyllic fae village. Below, he spotted tiny figures going about their business, seemingly without a care in the world, walking between houses shaped from giant mushrooms. Meanwhile, his people were fighting for their lives and dying.

Alex grimaced, fighting down a wave of anger as he cast invisibility on himself. In his hand, the aeld staff radiated waves of concern.

“I’m alright,” he whispered, conjuring an astral engeli. “Just have to remember to stay focused. Our kingdom’s gone on for thousands of years not knowing that its god was rotten: I have no idea if people here are just as oblivious to what’s really happening around them, so I can’t just start blowing up random fae.”

He turned away from the village, fixing his eyes on the astral engeli that appeared in front of him, quickly casting invisibility magic on her as well as True Seeing on himself.

“Greetings again, archwizard.” Her partly transparent form bowed. “What task do you require of me?”

“The same one we’ve been working on this entire time,” Alex said. “We still need to look for strong traces of divinity anywhere around. I need you to sense for it, and show me any you find.”

“Of course, archwizard,” she said. “Will you be summoning my kin to join the search as well?”

“Absolutely.”

The world slowed.

He cast Summon Astral Engeli five times, quickly following the spells with five more castings of invisibility. The five engeli instantly appeared, looking partly transparent to his True Seeing spell. He explained the task he had for the celestials.

“We’ll be splitting up,” Alex said. “I need multiple places searched.”

He spoke to the first Astral Engeli he’d conjured. “You and I will be going to the north, where that battle is—” The young archwizard pointed to the apocalyptic scene of lights and earth-shaking explosions happening in the vicinity of Aenflynn’s castle. “—There’s something I need to confirm there.”

“Understood,” she bowed. “We will serve you, archwizard, for we feel that your purpose is true…but I should warn you. There is a terrible cascade of violent divinity in that direction. To go there will be to risk your life.”

“And to also stand a good chance of ending all of the chaos consuming my kingdom,” Alex said. “We’re going, because we need to.”

“Very good, archwizard.” The engeli bowed once more. “I shall find the source of divinity for you.”

“Good. There’s going to be a lot of divine power being thrown around, but I want you to see if you can find the source.”

“Understood.”

“Then, we should go.”

Having the six engeli touch him, Alex teleported across Och Fir Nog, spreading them throughout the realm. Once he’d left five in different areas, he touched the first engeli he’d summoned, teleporting with her to Aenflynn’s castle…or at least a safe distance from the fae lord’s castle.

“By the Traveller,” he swore.

Ahead, a cataclysmic battle was taking place.

Baelin floated in front of a castle partly-shrouded in mist, casting spell after spell of the sort of magic that could shatter the greatest cities. The ancient archwizard raised both hands, conjuring devastating spells.

Storms of flame, light and force ravaged the castle walls. Orbs of utter darkness pulled in everything around them. He summoned mighty demons with one hand and powerful engeli with the other.

Against most foes, his assault would have meant Aenflynn’s end.

But he was not fighting most foes.

As Alex floated closer—the engeli by his side—he could see another figure floating above the castle.

There he was, Lord Aenflynn, but not an effigy this time, in the flesh, hovering in the air.

The Fae lord’s robes billowed in the wind as he waved his arms in complex patterns, his lips puckered, whistling magical tones. Air shimmered around him—brimming with divine power—ready to be unleashed with a harsh note and a swipe of his arm.

Waves of divine light rushed at Baelin, demolishing everything near, whether living or not.

The battlefield warped as Uldar’s power worked to shift reality itself.

But Baelin fought back, raising his staff, speaking words of power that resonated throughout Aenflynn’s realm, severing the waves of divine light and letting reality return to its rightful form. As Alex and the engeli came closer—still cloaked in invisibility—he could see the Fae lord grin.

“My, my, you are terribly strong,” Aenflynn laughed. “I am not sure if I would have much of a chance against you were it not for one very useful throne.”

“Thank you for your kind words,” Baelin smiled back, pointing his staff at the fae ruler.

A beam of dazzling light, crackling with force, shot from its tip.

Aenflynn waved a hand and whistled, making the beam strike an unseen barrier, then vanish.

“However, I do have the throne,” Aenflynn continued, giving another sharp whistle.

Alex watched the air around Baelin visibly contort, as though a bubble was forming around him. His form constricted—like he was being crushed—before the archwizard teleported higher in the sky.

“You do have the throne,” the chancellor said. “But you assume I have not fought gods before. I have. And I still live. I have crafted many magics to counter the sort of power you have stolen: too many think that deities wield unassailable might. Deities are mighty, but not indestructible, and their strength varies greatly.”

“It very much does,” Aenflynn replied, his voice oozing pleasantness. “But Uldar was very strong. He was no listless godling of commerce, or petty demigod of the harvest. He was a god of knowledge and battle, with his kingdom’s full support behind him. That is the power you now face. What I wield is not the strength of a puny god.”

“A fair point,” Baelin replied as easily as one having wine with an old friend. “But I am no puny wizard. I am a proper wizard, and I have slain mighty beings.”

“Have you? Ooooo, I am afraid, then!” Aenflynn laughed. “Then why don’t we end this reasonably? I am old and mighty. You are old and mighty. There is no reason for either of us to spend time, blood or our lives on a conflict in which we have no personal stake. I have no grudge against you. You have none against me. Leave this place…or even better, have a chat with me.”

“Indeed?” Baelin cocked his head. “Perhaps you are right. Let us go into your castle and discuss it.”

“Oh no. No, no, no.” Aenflynn shook his head. “That would take place at a later time. On neutral ground. I know better than to invite an archwizard into my personal bower.”

“Alright, this is far enough,” Alex whispered, stopping his engeli companion. “Please, tell me if you sense any sources of divinity nearby. Anything that could be fueling that fae’s power.”

The engeli paused for a moment.

Alex’s heart pounded in his chest. At any moment, he expected Aenflynn to turn toward him.

Then the engeli spoke. “Archwizard…I have found something. But you are not going to like what I sense.”

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