Chapter 95 - A King's Demand II

The Storm King was lying dead at the Master’s feet.  There was no doubt in the Master’s mind that he was dead.  Sometimes a mage might survive their body’s death if their magic body or something similar was able to flee in time, but the Master was far too experienced in these matters for that to have happened here.  The Storm King was completely, irrecoverably dead.

Or at least, that’s what he was in the Master’s eyes.  But the Master was familiar with a great many old myths and legends from the Primal Age that were filled with tales of resurrection.  Several of these tales the Master knew to be true, if embellished.  Those stories all had one common element: the body had to be mostly intact.

On a personal note, the Master would be quite happy to see the Storm King rise again; he found their fight to be quite exhilarating, after all.  However, the Master’s duty came first, so he sent his power into the Storm King’s corpse, liquifying all of his internal organs and ensuring that he would never walk among the living again.

Then, the Master turned his eyes to the Storm King’s sword.  It lay in the dirt just outside of the King’s reach.  The Master wanted a closer look at it, so he reached down to pick it up.  But, just as his hand was about to come into contact with the hilt, a tiny but extraordinarily powerful lightning bolt surged out and struck his hand.

The Master hurriedly withdrew his hand with a wince of pain, then gave a slight chuckle and said, “Fine, then.  Have it your way.”

In an instant, the sword became enveloped in enough lightning to nearly blind the Master.  The lightning didn’t last long, but it was still enough to completely disintegrate the ornate handle, pommel, and guard of the weapon, leaving nothing but the blade itself.  For the briefest of moments, the Master was able to see a long, thin protuberance in the blade’s tang—the part of the blade that the handle had been built around.

That protuberance was the Iron Needle, one of the single most powerful and valuable treasures of the Thunderbird Clan.  But before the Master could anything more than look on in wonder, the blade vanished with a blinding flash of lightning and a deafening clap of thunder.

The Master sighed at the lost opportunity and sat down, exhausted, on a nearby boulder.  The Storm King had given him serious injuries, but those had almost entirely healed in the first few minutes after the battle.  More importantly, much of Aeterna had been obliterated from the force of their fight and millions of mortals and mages alike were dead.

The Tower behind the Master had been split in half and was starting to collapse, so that’s where the Master started his reconstruction.  It took little more than a thought and lazy gesture for the Tower to return to its pristine, pre-battle state.  Then, working outwards, came the surrounding sea.

Almost a quarter of the entire sea had evaporated away from the lightning that fell into it, despite the accompanying downpour.  Again, the Master simply waved his hand and the sea was refilled to pre-battle levels.

Moving on, he stopped the earthquakes and dissipated the storm clouds that had continued flooding many low-lying regions of the plane.  There wasn’t anything he could do about the staggering number of dead, but he made sure the survivors could rebuild.

After solving these problems as best he could, the Master took the Storm King’s body and returned to the top of his Tower to wait.  The Storm King had brought hundreds of the strongest members of the Thunderbird Clan to Aeterna with him—in addition to the thousands of strong mages that conquered the continent in anticipation of his arrival years before—and none of them would be happy that their King, the strongest man in their Clan in the past thousand millenniums, had been killed.

Sure enough, after calmly watching the Thunderbird Clan’s forces gather under the Storm King’s children, the vengeful army arrived outside the Tower only a month later.  They numbered a mere five thousand, but each man was a powerful mage that even the Master couldn’t dismiss out of hand.  Plus, he also spotted a pair of demons among their ranks, one a mass of swirling shadows and the other a tangled web of roots and branches.

A dozen mages—the obvious leaders of the army—flew up to the top of the Tower to meet with the Master.  The Master took careful notice of the size of this group as there were a couple individuals who were conspicuous by their absence.

“Grave Warden!” shouted the man in charge.  He was the First Prince, the eldest son of the Storm King.  His looks were a near copy of his father’s, but he dressed in significantly humbler and less grand armor.

The Master took his time before acknowledging their presence.

“What could possibly bring all of you fine young mages here today?” he asked, feigning ignorance.

“You damn well know why we’re here!  You killed our father and King!” shouted a young woman with a fiery disposition.  She was the Storm King’s only daughter.  She was also the strongest of his children, but she didn’t have the patience for royal duties so she had quite happily supported the First Princes claims to the throne, which left her with more time to train.

She would’ve continued into a full-blown furious tirade, but the First Prince held up his hand, silencing her before she could start a battle too early with a poorly timed insult.

“My sister speaks out of turn, Grave Warden, but she isn’t wrong.  My father, our King, is dead by your hands.  We want you to return his body to-“

“Done,” replied the Master.  The Storm King’s body appeared in front of the First Prince’s entourage, who immediately began checking its condition after a moment of surprise.

The First Prince was more than a little flustered from the Master’s action; he had been prepared to fight for the Storm King’s body.  In fact, he had rather counted on the Master not returning it so the clan had a cause for war other than simple vengeance—not that they really needed one.

He stayed silent while his siblings and the Clan’s elders busily checked his father’s body.  There was some outrage from the obvious destruction of his organs, but the Storm King was still perfectly recognizable with most of his bones intact and enough of his residual aura that those inspecting him knew it wasn’t a fake.

But, there was still something missing.

“Where’s our family’s sword?” asked one of the younger Princes.

“It’s gone,” answered one of the elders.

The First Prince looked at the Master with a cold and serious look.  The Master shrugged, smiled, and said, “Don’t look at me, I don’t have it.”

He was actually a little amused that not once did they bring up the ravaging of the kingdom they’d built in Aeterna.  It seemed to the Master that they didn’t care in the slightest about the people they had subjugated here, though they had at least avoided pointless cruelty.  If they hadn’t and ruled the lands they conquered with an iron fist, then the Master would’ve been far more proactive, rather than choosing to simply wait for the Storm King’s arrival.

“We can’t leave without that sword, Grave Warden.  You must return it immediately.”

“Did you not hear me just now?  I.  Don’t.  Have.  It.”

The First Prince sighed in mock dejection.  “I wanted to solve this problem peacefully, but now you leave me no choice.”

“Ha!” laughed the Master.  “There’s no one here but me and all of you.  Who are you putting on that act for?  No one’s going to judge you for taking your vengeance!  Why bother looking for other excuses?!”

The First Prince frowned, as did his entourage.  They were obviously there to avenge the Storm King, but being called out on their actions wasn’t something they were used to.  No one would question their motives so openly if they were back in the Nexus.

And this only enraged the Storm King’s children further.  The First Prince drew a massive two-handed sword from his soul realm, and his siblings and elders took hold of their own weapons.  They fanned out and surrounded the Master, but he wasn’t particularly concerned.  He wasn’t as interested in playing with them as he was with the Storm King, so he’d taken some time to prepare.  With a single snap of his fingers, the ground around their army at the base of the tower collapsed and gargantuan stone hands burst from the earth, crushing many of the assembled mages.

Three stone giants made by the Master had been buried in anticipation of the army’s coming, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.  The First Prince had left the army almost literally standing on top of them, leading more than a thousand of the finest mages belonging to the Thunderbird Clan to their deaths.

Most of those who remained weren’t uninjured and were forced to contend with the stone giants.  The First Prince might’ve ordered several of the elders with him to support the remains of the army, but his group was far too absorbed in attacking the Master to spare much attention for what was happening below.

That attitude proved fatal to those still on the ground as the stone giants easily stamped them down like ants.  Even the two mages who held the contracts with the demons were killed, releasing both from their obligations to the Thunderbird Clan.  They immediately vanished, choosing to return to the Void rather than contend with the Master’s stone giants.  By then, only a few hundred mages of the army were left, throwing lightning bolts and striking out with their enchanted weapons.

At the top of the tower, the Master had easily dodged the attacks of the Princes and Princess, then smiled condescendingly at the elders.  Thick clouds had kept the central sea overcast for the previous couple weeks, and the Master had hidden tens of thousands of fist-sized rocks within them.  With a thought, he ceased holding them up and pulled them back down to Aeterna with great force.

These rocks hit the tower hard so hard they stunned the avenging party long enough for the Master to whip out his war hammer and instantly kill four elders.

“You bastard!” screamed the Storm King’s daughter as she lunged forward with all the speed afforded to her by the Thunderbird Clan’s command of lightning.  Unfortunately for her, the Master raised his war hammer by several inches and blocked her attack with ease.

The young woman stared daggers at him, but he only gave a slight smile in return.  She tried to push against his war hammer to knock him off balance or at least to pin him down for one of her brothers to strike, but she wasn’t able to stick with it as a pair of shiny black diamond spikes erupted from Tower roof and impaled both of her feet.

She cried out in pain, but she had bought the rest of her party enough time to recover and press the attack.

The Master blocked a flurry of blows from three angry sons of the Storm King and the four remaining elders that accompanied them.  The Thunderbird Clan’s most powerful warriors kept the pressure on, but the Master hardly seemed to care, constantly dodging and blocking with little effort.  He kept this going for another minute or so, keeping their attention on him rather than what he was doing.

In an instant, the perfectly level and smooth roof of the tower formed a great depression, causing the attackers to lose balance for a moment.  The Master took the opportunity to strike out and kill one of the elders with a well-placed blow from his war hammer, but that wasn’t the point.  The extra stone that resulted from the depression reached up and encased all of the combatants within a thick dome, preventing any escape.

Then, more spikes burst forth, killing the Storm King’s daughter to the horror of her brothers.  The dome began to slowly shrink, constricting them and causing great panic.

“To me!” shouted the First Prince, burying his grief at his sister’s death.  The other five rallied to him in the center of the rapidly shrinking dome.  They didn’t intend to try to break out of the dome; they knew that would be impractical at best and impossible at worst.  Instead, they retargeted the Master, who was standing near the edge and watching with great interest to see what they would do.

They channeled their magic and began conjuring great bolts of lightning to hurl at the Master.  It wasn’t too difficult for them to realize that attacking head-on wasn’t getting them anywhere, so they tried to engage him at what little range they had.  The Master created a wall of stone, blocking their potent lightning spears from piercing him, much to their rage and frustration.

The Master decided to stop playing and brought the dome crashing down upon the attackers with a tremendous roar.  He then leisurely returned to the top of the Tower—causing all the falling debris from the dome to miss him with a mere thought—and wait to see if anyone survived.

Once he came back out into the light, he curiously glanced over the edge to see how his stone giants were faring.  To his surprise, his giants had almost cleaned up the rest of the Thunderbird Clan’s army; all but a small handful of the strongest mages that had accompanied the Storm King’s avenging children were dead!  This small handful was about as capable of combating the giants as the rest of the army had been, and the giants quickly made short work of them.

From behind the Master came a loud explosion.  He knew that the collapsing dome wouldn’t kill all of his attackers, but he was surprised again to see no one but the First Prince limp out of the jagged and broken crater.

The First Prince glared at the Master with as much hatred and loathing as anyone was capable of expressing.  He could tell from his magic senses that everyone he had assembled and brought with him had been killed, including his elders and siblings.  Even his almighty father was dead, and all by the hand of the man in front of him.  Of course, he spared no thought to the reasons why they were now dead, or that continuing to attack the Master would be tantamount to suicide.  All he saw was red, spurring him on to attack the Master again.

But the First Prince was heavily injured and far weaker than the Master.  Even the most intense lightning he could call forth barely caused the Master’s hair to stand on end at this point, and his strongest sword strikes were blocked with ease.

“You know,” said the Master with a calm and relaxed tone, in stark contrast with the First Prince’s frenzied assault, “the Storm King had five sons if I recall correctly.  And yet, only three sons have shown themselves today…”

The Master left his statement hanging there, as it was clear the First Prince wasn’t in any state to listen to him, let alone answer with any coherence.  After a few more moments, the Master sighed and brought his war hammer to bear, dodging the last of the First Prince’s attacks and crushing his chest with a single blow.  He then followed through with a second strike, flattening the First Prince’s skull between his hammer and the Tower.

“I guess where they are hardly matters.  Not like I actually have to watch out for them, hehehe…”  After that final morbid chuckle, everything fell silent.  The Master cleaned up the mess that had been made and buried the entire army around the island.  They had at least given him a fine diversion, so he made sure to honor them.

In fact, his battle with the Storm King had been thrilling enough for him that he even built a small underground tomb for the man and his children, covering it with a massive boulder and a mound of earth.

Then, he sat at the edge of his Tower to watch what happened to Aeterna next and to wait to see if the Storm King’s remaining two sons would seek their own vengeance.  He barely moved for the next two millennia.

The plane collapsed into anarchy following the massive depopulation of the central regions and the destruction of the ruling class in most other regions.  Over time, these now-sparsely populated lands were resettled and the four empires that would come to dominate the areas around the sea were founded.  These nascent empires exploited the remains of the infrastructure built by the Thunderbird Clan to become the most powerful nations in Aeterna.

The massive storm that nearly wiped out all of humanity within the central regions was rather understandably blamed on the Storm King, who turned from a foreign conqueror in the stories told by Aeterna’s people into a genocidal maniac.  The few weak and isolated survivors of the Thunderbird Clan that were found were quickly put to death, leaving only a few small, secret enclaves scattered around Aeterna.  In less than five thousand years, a few of these enclaves were rooted out and slaughtered, but most of them lost so much of their records and supporting infrastructure that they could no longer awaken their blood.

For all intents and purposes, these scattered remnants were no longer members of the Thunderbird Clan.  They had become mere tribes of exceptionally reclusive lightning mages, wielding power far inferior to what their ancestors had.  The Thunder Kingdom in the remote region that would one day become the Bull Kingdom was the sole exception, as the Thunder Kings retained enough power and influence to both keep their Inherited Bloodline strong and to fight off the vengeful locals.

The Master watched as much as he could.  He wasn’t all-seeing, but he was able to come to the reasonable conclusion that the Thunderbird Clan had been wiped from Aeterna—the Thunder Kings managing to avoid his gaze by virtue of their reluctance to awaken the blood of more than two or three members of each generation.  But it wasn’t until the political situation had become relatively stable that he realized that there would be no more attacks on his island, and he finally went back inside for some much-needed rest.

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Back to Leon and the Snow Lions next chapter ;)

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Chapter 96 - Safety Measures

Chapter 94 - A King's Demand I