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Tales of Aion - Ascension - Chapter Five

September 21, 2009

Tales of Aion - Five-part Fictional Story - # 5

Tales of Aion is a five-part fictional story written by Michael Lafferty at GameZone. It traces the stories of two characters, one Elyos and one Asmodian as they move through the world and into a battlefield where the races collide.. It is a personal journey for each – Esala’ayni, the Elyos ranger, and Korasai, the Asmodian spiritmaster – from their re-awakening in the world to their acceptance of who they are and what their place is in the torn land.
 

The first story centers on Esala’ayni as she begins to realize what and who she truly is, with each step in the land of Poeta revealing more and more about her nature and her place in the Elyos society. The second story takes on the tale of an Asmodian and his paths and thoughts through his ascension to Daeva. Story three continued the path woven by Esala'ayni. The fourth story tracked the Asmodian, Korasai as he came to terms with his power and responsibility for the devastation he leaves in his wake.

 

Chapter 5 – Ascension

“In every war there are those who stand upright in victory, and those who are bowed in defeat. But who is to say that even those who are bowed are not victorious in some way.” – Commander Tharghast, Seventh Brigade, Elyos Legion of the Bright Blaze.

The land was bathed in the dull light of a perpetual state of twilight. A grayness stole the vibrant colors of life and tugged at the heart with undertones of despair. Esala’ayni saw more though. She looked at the land and realized the beauty it held. From the desert wilds to the snowy lands, Asmodae was remarkable.

It was supposed to be a scouting mission, but Esala’ayni knew, in her heart, there was more to it than that. Perhaps that is what she was feeling – the sense that what they were doing was, on the surface, something that was prudent, but yet was merely the veneer on what was truly going on here. If this was scouting, she could have handled it. A lone ranger stood a better chance of moving through undetected than a party of six, with heavy armor-clad warriors at the forefront. They were hardly moving in a manner that would allow the passage to go undetected.

Toward the forefront was Calinista, the leader of the party, a battle-hardened mage who, apparently, had been on these kinds of missions before. He seemed to know precisely where they were going without having to check for mapped landmarks.

This sojourn to Asmodae was not new. Elyos had been on raiding missions, and had sent messages to the Asmodians that even their homeland was not safe. True, Asmodian raiders had made forays into Elysea, and it was the back-and-forth raiding that went beyond the struggles in the Abyss and escalated the war to new heights.

‘Is this war truly right, or …’ the thought died there. She didn’t know how to finish it. Since she became a Daeva, Esala’ayni felt more burdened than she had when her path was not known to her. Moments tugged at her mind, souring the word ascension deep in her soul. The term felt inappropriate, she thought; this was, instead, a descent into something the Seraphim Lords had not intended.

She cast the thoughts aside and instead focused on the land around the party. They had begun a different ascent, one deeper into snow-filled lands on a path she was certain would lead to Asmodians.

- - -

Morheim is nestled in the snowy grasp of mountains – its heart as cold as the landscape surrounding it. The gray stone was buttressed up against the sheer rock of the surrounding mountains and since his appointment to this city, Korasai could not remember a morning, or even an evening, where there was not some falling snow.

He glanced upward at the gray overcast skies, the urge to spread his wings and challenge the heavens almost overwhelming him for a moment, but then he came back to his station, his duty, his oath to his people as a Daeva.

Long before he heard the alarm raised, Korasai felt something wrong with the wind blowing down from the pass outside the gate of the city. He closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the wind, seeking the answers it contained. As the days had wound on, as his power grew, Korasai’s bond with the elements of the world seemed stronger. The wind would whisper to him of trouble, of life and death; fire spat out hunger and fury with every lash of flame; water soothed him by calling him to relax in its depths, its cool embrace; and the land, the earth, urged him to remember his foundations in Asmodae, the strength of his heritage as an Asmodian and a Daeva.  

Now the wind told him of unrest in the pass, a sense of anger carried to him. His eyes opened as a horn sounded. There was a flurry of activity near the northwestern gates. People were shouting, terrified merchants were shuttering their shops. A passer-by was shouting – there was a squad of Elyos’ raiders in the pass.

Korasai glanced about, several Asmodians, Daevas at that, were retreating from the wall, pulling back. “Would you cower behind these walls, or take the battle to the invaders,” he shouted.

“Cower?” replied one of those retreating, “the walls are strong. Let them flail upon the stone and then return from whence they came in shame at their failure to fell this city!”

“You defer to stone?” Korasai asked incredulously. “Where is your heart? Where is your pride? Where is your …”

“Enough!” the other said. “Lead onto the field of battle, show your bravery before you question ours!”

Korasai restrained himself. Everything within him wanted to strike this one down, and it must have showed in his eyes. His lips formed the edges of the spell and then he put his hands into motion. He took from the wind and culled from the core of his own being the magic to summon a wind elemental. The one with whom he had been speaking looked slightly alarmed, but Korasai ignored him. If Elyos were in the pass, they would find at least one Asmodian not cowering.

He strode toward the gates, and others fell in behind him.

The path from the gates slopped upward into the pass and then disappeared as it ran off to the left. An assassin with Korasai looked at the spiritmaster, seemed to read his thoughts and pulled from the arcane the magic that allowed him to meld into the environment. Korasai held up a hand, signaling the others with him where to wait. The defenders of Morheim were only a handful strong, but this was their homeland and they would not allow it to go undefended. Besides the assassin and himself, there were two gladiators and a cleric.

The assassin, Xantos, was back moments later. “There are six of them,” he said. “They have pulled back from the hill and await on the stone overpasses that lead to the snowfields. Judging from armament and weapons, two mages, a cleric, two warriors and a ranger. The warriors are on the path below, the ranger, mages and cleric are above, on the overpass. The ranger may have seen me, though. She notched an arrow when I was near her range. Either she saw me or sensed me.”

Korasai nodded. He knew that if they delayed, they might surrender the upper ground in the battle. “Ok,” he said, “here is what we will do.”

His plan was hasty at best. The gladiators would glide down off the ridge and engage the Elyosian warriors, the cleric was to keep them in range of the healing spells, Xantos was to meld into the environment again, before they got to the top of the path where they could be seen, and then Korasai would send in his elemental to attack the ranger and hopefully keep the arrows from flying down on the gladiators. Xantos would then circle in and attack the cleric while Korasai would summon more elementals to attack the mages. The fight would be tough and they would know much in the opening moments of the fight. Either they would repel the invaders or mark the day with their own blood.

The small troupe cautiously approached the top of the path and spotted the invaders. With a yell, the gladiators called forth their wings and launched themselves into a glide path toward the warriors below.

- - -

Esala’ayni saw the defenders coming out to challenge them. They were so few in number. She readied an arrow. If these roles were reversed, she wondered, how many would stand by me in defense of our homes? And then it struck her – are we so different after all?

There was no time to ponder that thought, though. Death was coming on the wing; whatever the true reason for being in Asmodae was, it didn’t matter. Rage screamed across the snowy fields, blood would flow and souls would challenge immortality.

An elemental was charging toward her, but Esala’ayni didn’t give it much thought. Her eyes scanned for the others. She saw the spiritmaster. Out of range, she thought. There is something missing here, something that was nearby earlier. Why … Her senses went on full alert. What was seen was not nearly as worrisome as what was not seen. 

- - -

Steel sang as it hit steel, the mountains trembled as the Asmodian gladiators clashed with the Elyos’ warriors. A fire ball danced past one of the Asmodian warriors, but his eyes were locked on his Elyos’ counterpart. The mage in the center was busy, his robes aflame from attacks by elementals that seemed to jump from the air near him. The second mage prepared for a second attack when his gasp stole his spell’s cadence. He looked down and saw a blade withdrawing from his chest. Xantos spun his other blade and sliced the arm of the cleric.

Then the assassin stopped and looked down at the arrow protruding from his own chest. He looked up at the ranger, but her eyes searched elsewhere. Xantos’ blades slipped from his hands and he dropped to his knees.

- - -

It took a few moments, but she knew he was there – somewhere. Her eyes scanned the perimeter of the fight. He had to be close to maintain control over his minions, she thought. Those minions, the elementals, were the clue that a spiritmaster was nearby. Then she saw him up on the path, partially obscured by a bush. His arms were in motion, his lips moved and another elemental joined the fray. He was just beyond the range of her bow, but Esala’ayni had a solution for that. She had ignored the attacks of the elemental, biting and clawing at her armor. ‘Kill the master and the pet will die,’ an instructor had told her so long ago. And the master was causing havoc in several different areas. He had to be stopped. She launched off the overpass, wings blossoming from her back, arrow at the ready. She was gliding only a short distance but the moment that spiritmaster was within her range …

- - -

Korasai felt the danger before he saw it. His eyes had danced back and forth from mage to gladiators. One of the Elyos’ warriors was down but also one of the Asmodian gladiators was prone on the blood-stained snow. The wind whispered his name and he moved. The arrow hit him in the left shoulder. Pain seared his soul and he looked up, his eyes locked momentarily with those of the ranger. The redness that marked his fury faded for only a moment, then Korasai reached deeper within himself, deeper than he had ever dared before. He called forth the most powerful spell he knew, one that he had never tried and began to send it at the ranger.

- - -

It was only a moment, but in that moment, Esala’ayni saw the pain of the Asmodian, and his pain became her pain. She saw hope fade for a moment, replaced by fear, and then saw the fury begin to return. But the moment did not escape from her mind, it was frozen there. It touched her in a way she was not prepared for. Killing was merely a matter of separating oneself from identifying with the prey. If the prey was not a living, thinking, breathing creature, if it was an object, then killing it was not that hard. But the spiritmaster was living, breathing, thinking. He was capable of feeling pain, of feeling betrayal, of feeling rage, of feeling love. He was not something, but rather someone. Asmodians were a people, fighting for their homelands, for their lives as much as the Elyos did. One race was blessed with a purer land, a land of light but it was truly no less harsh than the darker world of the Asmodians. Atreia, the world, was merely the physical manifestation of the great division of her people. The world was split, shattered, just like the people.

The ranger had another arrow ready. This one would fly with deadly accuracy … if she could pull back on the bowstring. It didn’t matter what spell the spiritmaster sent at her, he would die with the next missile from her bow, but something deep within her restrained her hands.

Our world was broken long before it was physically rendered, she thought. And not one race destroyed it, but both. This is not how we should be, this is not the true will of our world. . In her mind she saw the Abyss, the shards of what was once a bit of the world. She was as much responsible for the chaos that overwhelmed the world as anyone. She felt the burden of her thoughts, but rather than drown in that, she saw something else, something she never realized.

‘I am a Daeva, I am immortal.’ Ascension, she realized, was not just the physical manifestation of her wings, her newfound abilities. That was physical inasmuch as the broken world was physical. There was something more profound here. To truly ‘ascend,’ she realized, she had to break with everything she held, even the physical nature. Did this mean to become part of the Aether? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Ascension was rebirth on a grander scale, not merely a physical transformation.

And then she saw it, saw the heart and truth of it. In that moment of self-awakening, the joy of it washed over her, freeing and cleansing her. Her bow lowered and she smiled, even as the flames from the spiritmaster engulfed her. The moment was bright, painful, not the joy and euphoria of transforming to Daeva, but the light gave way to darkness and then the pain abided and she saw a greater glow.

- - -

Korasai saw the ranger lower her bow, saw her stay her shot, even before the flames left his hand. He was startled. Why..? he wondered. He saw her smile, saw the flames hit her and saw her fall. It was surreal. What is going on? His mind whirled, thoughts cascading through quickly, questioning, wondering, trying to make sense of what he had just seen. It has to be a trick, a new spell, a new weapon! This was something the ranger had planned, perhaps she was not a ranger, but was really … the thought failed. No, this was something else. She knew something, something about him, about his abilities, about his spell. What was she playing at? What did she know? He expected to see her still standing, laughing at his pathetic attempt to kill her, but she was not standing. She had fallen. He had killed her, he had defended his homeland, he had … wait, why did she smile?

His eyes scanned the battlefield. Xantos was bloodied but on his feet; the same for the remaining Asmodian gladiator. The cleric with them was busy trying to mend wounds. Both the Elyos’ warriors were dead, as was one of the Elyos’ mages. The other two Elyos were wounded but had fled the field of battle.

The snow, once so pure and white was stained. There was no innocence in this place.   

They had defeated the Elyos, but what had they truly gained? Korasai thought. Hope? No, for this war was destined to rage on.

He pulled the arrow shaft from his shoulder and looked again toward where the ranger had fallen. He expected to see the body, but there wasn’t one. His heart started to pound hard. He spun on his heel, half expecting to see her standing behind him, ready to deliver a death blow. She was simply no where in sight. For the first time that he could remember, the rage within him faded and he trembled. Korasai fought to regain control of himself. None of the others had seen what he had, of that he was certain.

He dismissed his elemental. He felt as though his mind was on fire, his heart pumping flames through his body. He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to see this, he didn’t … what? What didn’t he want? His mind raced back to when he first found the book, cast his first spell, took his first life. I’ve killed so many, he thought. Reality hit him. I’ve become what I’ve despised the most! he realized. His eyes closed and a different pain rent his soul, not physical, but rather the pain of a spirit in torment, a spirit that finally felt the anguish of something greater than one being. He had no answers, but he knew that he had to find them. He turned back and headed up the path toward Morheim. There has to be something more than this.

 

Previous chapters in the story:

Chapter One  - The Despair of Innocence

The first story centers on Esala’ayni as she begins to realize what and who she truly is, with each step in the land of Poeta...

Chapter Two - Common Ground

The second story in the five-part series views the world from the perspective of an Asmodian spiritmaster named Korasai. 

Chapter Three - Infiltration

The Elyos ranger is sent on her first mission into Asmodae.

Chapter Four - Center of the Storm

The Asmodian spiritmaster is assigned to a team sent on an elimination mission.

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