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The Master and disciple pair from the center of the continent stood upon a wall of the gorge and watched as the Snow Lions returned with the two banners in hand. Leading them were Castor, Alphonsus, and most importantly, Leon.
“Master, may this disciple ask a question?”
“No need to be so formal, go right ahead.”
The normally stiff and exceptionally formal disciple took a deep breath and relaxed a little. He’d been learning under his Master for thousands of years now—an enormous abundance of time for the two to get comfortable around each other—but the old habits he made during his early years of instruction were hard to break.
“Is it… wise… to let that one grow without interference, given his heritage?” the disciple hesitantly asked while nodding at Leon.
“It’s fine,” replied the smiling and completely unconcerned Master. His tone was light and cheery, but there was a hidden edge to it that only someone like the disciple who had spent so much time around him could pick up on. He dutifully shut his mouth and didn’t speak up again.
But, intimidating his disciple into silence was the farthest thing from the Master’s mind. In fact, watching the progress Leon was making had lit a spark in him, reminding him of the last time he had faced down those of his lineage, the last time he had felt truly alive.
Nearly eighty thousand years before Leon was born, a great storm had appeared on the edges of the sea in the center of Aeterna. From the moment the plane had come into being, that sea had always been supernaturally calm. Not even the tiniest of ripples had ever been seen on its surface.
But that storm changed things. The storm itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for the people who lived at the edge of the sea; the Master who lived in the great stone tower in the middle of the sea would occasionally call forth rain and wind on a whim—though the vast majority would have no idea it was he who brought them. However, it soon became clear to those few who knew of the Master that this wasn’t one of his whimsical moments, as the wind turned into a howling gale and the sea began to roil and churn, kicking up enormous waves that crashed upon the beaches and swept away anyone who hadn’t gotten to safety out into the sea to drown.
The Master, sitting in his usual place at the very top of the stone tower, didn’t bat an eye at the cataclysmic storm that gradually surrounded the sea. Not even when pitch-black clouds rushed in to encroach upon the miles-high tower did he react. These clouds brought with them a torrential downpour, but not a single drop of rain ever touched the tower, or the man sitting at its summit.
It was only when he felt the rumble of distant thunder that he finally reacted by cracking the tiniest of smiles and glancing out to the horizon. In seconds, that distant thunder arrived, accompanied by hundreds of immense bolts of lightning, striking from the highest and thickest clouds onto the lower reaches of the tower.
Behind the still-calm Master, a man suddenly appeared. He was clad head-to-toe in gleaming golden armor—or at least, armor that appeared gold at first glance. With the tiny movements that accompanied his breathing, the color seemed to shimmer between various shades of white and gold, as if the armor contained the Thunderbird’s lightning sealed just under the surface. This sealed lightning was so strong that even the Master was impressed as felt his hair start to stand on end.
This man clad in golden armor had youthful features and seemed as calm as if he were out for a relaxing stroll. His mouth was tilted into a smug and confident smirk that, with his grand attire and entrance, showed all the arrogance of a proud and powerful king.
The Master didn’t need to turn around to know who this man was; the Storm King himself had finally come to pay him a visit. His subordinates had conquered the nations of Aeterna more than fifty years prior, but the Storm King had only arrived six months ago, during which time the Master had been sitting atop his tower, waiting for the King to come.
There was a brief silence. The Master was in no hurry to speak, and the Storm King clearly wasn’t, either. After more than a minute had gone by with neither one acknowledging the other, the Storm King’s pride could no longer contain itself and he broke the silence.
“Do you know why I’ve come, Grave Warden?” The Storm King’s voice barely rose beyond a whisper, but the Master had no trouble hearing him despite the constant thunder.
The Master turned to the Storm King and smiled good-naturedly. “There’s only one reason for a man, even a king as strong as you, to come here. You want something that belongs to me, something that the Great Lord Khosrow himself bestowed upon me to fulfill my mission. You now defy his last order, coming here to claim it for yourself.” His tone was upbeat and carried no hint of malice, but the killing intent that radiated from his body was profound and immediately wiped the smirk from the Storm King’s face.
“You’re not wrong. I’m here for your Universe Fragment,” he said, calling upon his own killing intent to clash with the Master’s. When the two killing auras met, they seemed to carve all in existence in two. The clouds overhead split and the entire tower was cracked in half. The auras were so strong that weaker mortals on the beaches who were still fleeing the storm died on the spot, while even the most powerful of Aeterna’s mages in the area felt their legs go soft.
The Master chuckled to himself. “Hehehe… Truly audacious! To take my Universe Fragment would be the gravest mistake you could ever make! Not that I would let you, of course…”
“You don’t have the power to stop me,” responded the Storm King, his hand moving to the sword at his hip. His weapon was magnificent to behold, crafted of the finest materials in the universe and covered in so many arcs of lightning that many of the details in the blade were difficult to discern, even for the Master. Every so often, a new arc of lightning would spark from the handle of the sword, causing another bolt of lightning to fall from the clouds and smash into the tower.
“You already have two Universe Fragments, though you only brought one of them,” said the Master, nodding his head to the Storm King’s sword. “You shouldn’t be so greedy.”
“How did you know about that?!” demanded the King in response, a look of surprise briefly appearing on his face before being replaced with intense fury.
“I’ve been around a very long while, you foolish boy. The treasures of the Thunderbird were once quite well-known, even if their fame has become as faded as the Primal Age they helped shape.” The Master’s nonchalant smile grew wider and he closed his eyes and turned his head to the sky. “You may not have brought the Storm Diamond, but I would recognize the Iron Needle anywhere.”
The Storm King hadn’t thought it possible, but it seemed the rumors he had heard about the twelve Wardens of the planes that made up the Divine Graveyard were true. These mages were some of the oldest humans that yet lived; they were survivors of the cataclysmic conflict that left all Original beings of the Nexus dead. All the Gods, Devils, and Divine Beasts that had been born in the Primal Age had died in those wars, leaving the Nexus for the ascended humans to inherit.
‘No. It’s impossible he could be so ancient. He may be old enough to have heard about the clan’s treasures, but he can’t be from the Primal Age, no one can live that long!’ the Storm King thought to himself, talking himself back into confidence.
“You’re quite knowledgeable, Grave Warden, but simply knowing about my weapons won’t save you from them. Make with the Universe Fragment, or I will call upon all the strength I possess to level this plane.” The King intended to leave it there, but after a moment of thought, he added, “And don’t try to threaten me with talk of the Great Lord. The dead don’t frighten me.”
“… I suppose that’s all that needs to be said…” said the Master. It was clear from his demeanor that he had no intention of handing over what the Storm King demanded of him, so the King’s hand went to his sword.
Before he could draw, the Master serenely closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He savored this last moment before the battle began.
As soon as his eyes opened, the storm that battered the island vanished so quickly it was as if it had never been there to begin with. The Storm King wasn’t deterred, though, and didn’t hesitate to draw his sword and strike out at the Master. A lightning bolt of such cataclysmic power had covered the blade that even the Master felt apprehensive about taking it head-on, leaning to the side to avoid the attack.
The Storm King’s attack missed by a hair. The Master’s smile grew wider when he felt the lightning’s heat, transforming from mere good-naturedness into excitement.
The Master pushed his palm out, slamming into the Storm King’s exposed chest. His attack did no damage, only impacting the armor plate a little, but the King was also forced back several steps.
Neither side waited for the other. A spear materialized in the Master’s hands while the Storm King’s eyes flashed with lightning, sending a shockwave at his opponent. The Master held out his empty palm and stopped the shockwave with ease, but it had taken his attention away from the Storm King.
The King had taken that opportunity to use the incredible speed of lightning to appear behind the Master almost instantly, striking downward with his sword.
But the Master wasn’t taken by surprise. He twitched his hand and the pommel of the spear shot up to block the sword. The sword stopped dead in its tracks, but the lightning within it surged through the spear. The Master immediately dropped the spear and summoned a stone wall from the tower to block the Storm King’s attack.
The stone tower began to twist, turn, and sprout massive growths as if it were a living tree, all according to the Master’s whims. The Storm King lost his footing as the tower beneath underwent a titanic transformation, but it only took him a moment to right himself and launch himself into the air.
The stone branches that had sprung from the tower pursued him into the air, hurtling toward him with more than enough energy to crush his body between them. However, the Storm King swung his sword several times and the stone branches turned to dust under the weight of his lightning bolts.
Hovering in the air, the Storm King raised his arms and called another storm, darkening the sky with multiple layers of deep black storm clouds.
The Master’s smile grew even wider as the wind picked up and he felt the first few raindrops of the coming downpour. He threw his head back and laughed, before five enormous pillars of rock burst out from the ground surrounding his tower, each so gigantic as to dwarf his gargantuan home. These five pillars bent like fingers, converging on the Storm King in the sky.
The Storm King looked down on these rock pillars with disdain, waving his hand and summoning a dozen lightning bolts to descend upon each from the waiting clouds, crushing and splintering the pillars and sending the debris crashing back down upon the island.
But the Master was unharmed by the falling boulders. All it took from him was a single thought and all the broken rocks momentarily froze in the air, then suddenly rushed together forming a stone giant so large that it shook the island with its first stumbling steps before it found its balance.
It only took several seconds for the rocks to form the giant, but that was enough time for the Master to appear on its head and for the Storm King to send more lightning bolts from the heavens. Unlike with the rock pillars, the King’s lightning had no effect on the giant, which straightened up and stood so tall that the Master’s tower only came up to its waist. The giant raised its hand and swiped at the Storm King far faster than its size should’ve allowed.
The Storm King raised his sword and struck out at the giant’s hand, letting the strength of the Iron Needle in his sword flow outwards. Unlike with the Storm King’s previous attack, this had the intended effect; the giant’s entire arm all the way up to its shoulder shattered and was blown away by the wind.
But, when the Storm King looked back to the giant, the Master had vanished.
In that instant, the Storm King felt something as heavy as the heavens impact him at the point where his right shoulder met his neck, knocking him out of the sky. He hit the ground so hard he nearly broke the island in half. Foreign magic ran rampant through his body, but the Storm King gripped his sword a little tighter and his own power quickly stamped out that invasion.
But he was far from uninjured. His shoulder had fractured under that blow and he could barely lift his sword arm. He clenched his teeth and switched his sword to his left hand.
When he glared upward, he saw the Master smugly smiling down at him, wielding the colossal war hammer that had knocked him down into the dirt.
“Give up, young man. You can’t win here,” the Master said.
The Storm King spat out a mouthful of blood that had risen from his throat. His powerful healing factor was already at work fixing the internal injuries he had just sustained, but it would take a few minutes before he would lose the taste of blood. He took a deep breath, summoning every ounce of magic power he possessed, and shouted, “I’m not done yet, Grave Warden! I will have that Universe Fragment!”
Right on cue, the sky filled with lightning bolts beyond counting, all falling upon the Master hovering in the sky above his tower.
The stone giant raised its remaining arm to protect the Master. The lightning bolts peeled apart the stones and boulders on the surface of its arm, but none touched the Master, who barely even looked up. He kept his eyes on the Storm King.
Massive spikes erupted from the ground at the Storm King’s feet, stabbing at his legs. These spikes were made of raw diamond, and yet they broke upon contact with the Storm King’s armor. But, they still trapped his legs and prevented him from moving.
As the Storm King raised his sword to destroy these diamond spikes, the lightning that filled the sky ceased and the remains of the giant’s arm fell to the ground, sending a shudder through the entire island. Then, the giant raised one of its legs and stomped down at the Storm King.
The earth shuddered, while the Storm King found himself buried in a mountain of rock, unable to move and barely able to breathe. Despite this, the Master far above didn’t let his guard down. He watched the foot of the stone giant, waiting for the Storm King’s response. He was certain the King hadn’t lost quite yet.
The Storm King relaxed his body and took as deep a breath as he could manage. Things had gone far worse than he had feared, but his pride made him refuse to stop. He felt the Iron Needle in the hilt of his sword vibrate and send a tiny wisp of lightning magic into his palm, calming his racing heart and steadying his breathing.
The Master knew the Storm King’s next move was coming, as the gale that roared in his ears and the rain that already threatened to flood the cities on the coast of the sea intensified.
Lightning suddenly surged through the giant’s leg and burst up into the clouds. The giant finally fell with the destruction of its leg and the Master didn’t bother to raise it again. Instead, he turned his attention to just over a quarter mile away, where the Storm King hovered. His body was battered and his armor broken, but his eyes were filled with fighting spirit, reflecting the quiet joy the Master felt in fighting a strong opponent.
But his duty came before his entertainment and the fight continuing wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone, so the Master said, “If you continue, you won’t find a pleasant end. You’re bloody and injured, while I’m yet untouched. Stop this and you have my word that you and your clan won’t be harmed until the Nexus finishes its Reconstitution.”
The Master desperately hoped the Storm King would realize his situation and lower his weapon. He greatly enjoyed a good fight—especially after his eons of isolation—but he enjoyed making new friends even more.
His hopes were dashed when the Storm King painfully smiled and raised his sword again. The Master sighed and prepared his war hammer.
The power and violence of their next few attacks and counter-attacks put their previous attacks to shame. The entire plane rumbled and quaked while the storm spread, bringing near-total destruction to almost everything within a thousand miles of the central sea. Floods were widespread while great fissures opened up and swallowed entire cities. The wind ripped apart even the sturdiest of stone buildings and random lightning strikes killed thousands.
Lightning fell like rain upon the island beneath the battle. The tower was completely levelled, and the sea boiled from the heat given off by the bolts, in spite of the torrential freezing rain.
The battle finally ended when the Master crushed the last bits of armor covering the Storm King’s chest and broke every rib in his body. The King fell from the sky, but he didn’t rise again. The Master waved his hand and the ground opened up, swallowing the Storm King.
The Storm King managed to emit enough lightning to blast the dirt and stone off of him, but then he was faced with the Master plummeting down like a meteor. The Master slammed his hammer into the Storm King, bringing an end to a man who possessed power comparable to that of the Gods and Devils.
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