Aretherra: Prologue | Apophydon

Copyright Eric L Gardner © 2021

Prologue Book One
Created On: 07.19.2016


A long time ago in the middle age of man a great society lived in harmony with the Aed. These mortal men, known in modern times as the Elder Race, lived their days in peace, and prosperity spread across the surface of Areth. In the spiritual realm, existing in a different dimension, outside of space and the passing of time, the race of ascended beings known as Aed watch over the mortals and the planet from whence most of them came. Once men like the Arethians, the Aed ascended to their home, ÆDIXS CænctoruM, long ago, where they exist without physical form. Instead, the Aed are beings made only of pure consciousness, detached souls, supreme masters of energy and light, living in an alternate state of existence. Having mastered all known ancient magical powers and mystical ways, living in a symbiotic union with the energies from the planet’s core, they act as emissaries for the 12 tribes of Areth, who strive to master their powers.

In the dawn of spacetime, all known life was created, and once again, all was good. For the second time, the physical dimension was laid out and set into motion. An infinitely complex array of matter and energy; ever-expanding, swirling, and thriving. An endless expanse of stellar systems, galaxies, billions of stars, planets, and vast inconceivable distances, far beyond the comprehension of mortal minds. In the formation of this new universe, the creator harnessed the perpetual energy from the embers of the last known universe. At the center of it all, where the miracle was performed, in the eye of this newly created perfect new universe, brimming with life and billions of boundless possibilities; something seemingly insignificant remained.

We, the Aed, do not know if it was an afterthought, a mistake, a possible oversight, a minuscule cosmic leftover from creation itself. In all of our wisdom, we do not believe that it is possible for the creator of the universe to make such a mistake, or to ever err at all for that matter. Instead, we choose to believe that this was intentional. We believe that during the process of creating the universe, as countless stars were intricately placed throughout unimaginable depths of intergalactic space, as galaxies formed and systems began their rotations; one small spark of creation itself was left behind. A tiny piece of infinite energy, enough potential energy to power a million suns and a million souls for all of eternity, remained at the center of it all, the center of the known universe. The energy formed into a planet, the planet known today as Areth.

The Aed and mortal men alike are drawn to Areth because of the near-infinite power living in the planet’s core. Deep below the ground, rivers of energy emanate from the center, running along veins and through a network of passages, all the way up to the surface. This blue-purple substance pulsates and radiates the very same power leftover from the formation of the universe. At the surface, when the energy is seen in the daylight above ground, it appears as a bright and glowing blue-purple color. But if you followed a river of power from the surface, deep underground, the color changes throughout the journey to the core. The deeper underground you go, the closer you get to the center. The blue-purple brightens along the way until you reach the core and see that the energy there is devoid of color, a blinding blast of brilliant white light. This immense power emanates from Areth’s core radiates through the ground, up to and on the surface, out into the air, where it saturates and permeates every molecule in the atmosphere, affecting and changing every living thing on Areth.

The Aed has witnessed many strange and beautiful things resulting from the effects of Areth’s power. How the planet’s power affects each living thing is different from the next. The way that mortal men are changed, enhanced with powers and abilities, is different from how plants are changed and utterly different from the power that affects bird, fish, and animal life. At the same time, mortal men may marvel at the miracle of their manifestations of power. The Aed are the actual beneficiaries of the power left behind after the creation of the universe. If it could be said that Aed remains close to one place in the physical universe, then that place would be Areth.

As a collective, we are Aed. Some few Aed claim distinct identities as individuals among the Aed collective. These Aed who fixate upon their lives before Ascension, choosing to think differently, solely focusing on their pasts, represent an extreme minority among the Aed. They pose a threat to our way of life, our chosen existence. Most Ascended Aed remembers their past lives on Areth, where we enjoyed freedom, seek happiness and liberty living among our mortal brothers and sisters. Yet, only the extreme few Aed dwell on these thoughts and relish in the memories of their mortal lives. Thoughts like these are discouraged with Aed because they lead to envy, and on rare occasions, they ooze the will to take action. Strangely enough, with a seemingly endless bouquet of possibilities, an infinite and miraculous existence full of wonders, and the power to manipulate space and time, there have been some Aed who still marvel over the wonders of the mortal existence. There is much to behold on Areth; the Aed recognize its importance, rely on its magic, use and harness its power, and will forever seek to unravel its mysteries. (missing additional thoughts here, new concepts sets coming soon)

We exist in another dimension, a spiritual dimension, a place that exists with and overlaps the physical plane. The Aed have no corporeal form, although some of us once had a physical body, but chose to ascend to the next level of existence, leaving behind the crude shells of flesh and blood which were destined to die. The Aed is one, united and everlasting. Aed is forbidden to become intimately involved with mortals. Friendship, marriage, and other activities are expressly discouraged. With common goals, we seek the betterment of Aed and assist and protect our mortal brothers, who are the stewards of the planet, our homeworld, Areth. Together with the mortals, we seek enlightenment and to save Areth from those who seek to threaten and destroy our typical home. One of us sought to defy all that we hold dear in ÆDIXS CænctoruM. Envious of the mortal existence and consumed with rage, he became obsessed with acquiring power, here and on Areth.

One hundred years before the Great Event, there lived an Aed named Apophydon. Having taken the form of a man long before, he traveled the world for many long years, looking like and living among the tribes scattered over the land. His plan to live many days on Areth was met with considerable resistance from the Aed. Apophydon overcame this initial rejection when Aed learned that he was using his sabbatical to study the planet’s core, gathering critical research regarding the sustainability of its power. This was a lie. He had no intention of conducting a study and no interest in the core of its power.

However, Apophydon did want something else. He wanted something that he could not have in ÆDIXS CænctoruM, something that did not exist in ÆDIXS CænctoruM; Apophydon wanted someone. The someone that Apophydon wanted was one special mortal young lady living on Areth in the Northern Territory. Living in her father’s kingdom, Apophydon had observed her for many Arethian cycles, watching her carry out her duties and obligations as a young royal princess. Always from afar, Apophydon hid among the ordinary people when the princess was in public, and he masqueraded as castle servants and guards so he could watch her move about, living her life in her father’s castle. On several occasions, the princess crossed paths with Apophydon. On each chance encounter, while he fumbled for his words, a simple greeting, she offered him nothing but kindness and a polite hello. Apophydon wanted to run to her each time and throw himself at her mercy, expressing his love and devotion. However, something about her prevented any such bravado and hindered any such expression of love. Apophydon stood amazed by her.

The princess was the daughter of a rich and powerful mortal king, ruler of the Northern Reaches, and King of ________. Apophydon remained from a distance, astounded by her grace and beauty; he had never seen a mortal woman as perfect as she. The prism of his thoughts became entirely focused on her, a single beam of white-hot envious desire. Unlike Apophydon, her people knew her for more than her stunning looks. The entire kingdom admired how she carried the weight of her crown, as she gave to the poor, always serving others with grace and humility. Although to Apophydon, these attributes of her character were appealing in the form of love by association. He figured that if the kingdom loved the princess, they would love him too. Apophydon knew that if she were his wife, should her father agree to his terms, allowing a holy union between himself and his daughter, he would be the most fortunate man in the entire universe.

Like Apophydon, this king also was hungry for power. As ruler of the Northern Reaches of Areth, his lands stretched from sea to sea, comprising the most prominent kingdom on the entire planet. The mines throughout his kingdom were home to endless wealth, deep under his kingdom, vast deposits of crystals, gems, precious metals, and massive swaths of blue-purple ore, a powerful energy source that ran like rivers up from the core of Areth. So much power, so much wealth, so little humility had the king. He was the richest, most powerful king on Areth, but it wasn’t enough.

Hoping to secure additional land for his kingdom, the King allied with the king of the neighboring kingdom. Cape Narrows would be his, giving the king all of its natural resources, citizens to tax, existing businesses and industries to tax, and of course, the land, which increased his acreage by almost one-third. In exchange for Cape Narrows and a lifelong alliance with the king of the middle kingdom, king ________ promised his only daughter, princess _________. By royal decree, the princess of the Northern Reaches and prince of the Middle Kingdom would marry in a fortnight of the signing of the Cape Narrows Accord.

Ever watchful of the princess, Apophydon became enraged when he learned of the impending plan to marry the princess he loved to a lowly mortal prince. Apophydon, consumed by jealousy, fueled by anger and desire to have the princess for himself, set forth to execute his plan. In the dark of night, when Lhunoz was new, and only the distant stars dared shed their light upon Areth, he appeared in the chambers of the prince who was promised to Apophydon’s beloved princess. A light breeze carried the sound of the waves, crashing upon the rocks far below the castle tower window. The smell of the ocean clung to the air, mixed with the musty, burnt scent coming from the dancing flame of the sole candle lit next to the bed where the prince lay sleeping. Apophydon stood over his deep slumber, wicked hatred burning in his eyes, imagining that the prince, peacefully laying there on his back, dreaming of his princess, his beauty, his only love. Apophydon had never taken a life before, but at this moment, he was not conflicted by considerations of good or evil or doubt of any kind. The prince had to die so that he could have the princess to himself. When the prince was found dead, the Cape Narrows Accord would also be dead, and the princess would be his to marry.

Apophydon gently placed his right hand upon the prince’s chest and braced himself with the other against the edge of the mattress. The prince did not wake but lay like the dead; only his shallow breathing and steady heartbeat proved otherwise. Apophydon steadied himself, ready for the killing motion that would end this young man’s life, but to his surprise, he hesitated. He was unable to provide a reason for his inclination that resisted the murder of this young man. Instead, Apophydon’s thoughts went to the Aed, who as a collective not only believed that murder was wrong, they condemned such a sin, and the punishment was swift and absolute. As an Aed, Apophydon became conditioned to this way of thinking. His mind had been essentially programmed to not only vilify murder but also forever to resist the temptation to take a life as well. Finally, his mind switched its focus to the princess, and then everything became clear to him; he knew what he had to do.

With his hand still pressed against the chest of the sleeping prince, the air began to vibrate, seemingly shivering on its own accord. Apophydon’s hand then became semi-transparent and passed through the prince’s shirt, skin, muscle, and ribs until it found the heart below. Apophydon grabbed the prince’s beating heart and began to squeeze. He was trying to slowly stop it from beating, not crush it between his fingers. But suddenly, the prince opened his eyes and,
in a fierce act of desperation, grabbed Apophydon’s arms and attempted to fight him off. But it was too late, the damage was already done and what began as a strong act of defiance, became nothing more than pleading for his life. But Apophydon did not let go, he held onto the prince’s heart until it beat no more.

The prince was dead. Apophydon removed his hand from the prince’s chest, leaving no sign or evidence of an attack on his shirt or skin. Not even a drop of blood could be seen anywhere near the prince. Apophydon was confident that it would look like a heart attack or the result of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Apophydon basked in his shining brilliance as he walked toward the open doors leading to the balcony outside. He did not look back at the body, he didn’t need it but instead took a moment to revel in his victory. Apophydon leaned against the rail on the edge of the overhang, totally captivated by the stars he looked out upon an endless vista reflected in the ocean below until dissolving at the vanishing point of the horizon. There are no stars, there is no night, no ocean, and no beauty like this in ÆDIXS CænctoruM, Apophydon thought to himself. Apophydon disappeared from the balcony and in an instant, he was standing in the courtyard of the princess’s castle. He looked up to see the same stars hanging over the towers and battlements that surrounded him. However, this view was not as magical as the last and didn’t give him the same feeling of satisfaction, a sense of contentment and he knew why. Apophydon smiled because he knew that he had just taken the first step in winning the hand of the woman he loved.

In the days that followed the death of the prince, after the king and princess attended the royal funeral and the Cape Narrows Accord was officially disbanded, Apophydon could finally enact the rest of his plan to marry the princess. To accomplish this he had to accomplish something more difficult than ever, be granted an audience with the king. But the king had become increasingly paranoid, adding additional layers of security and sequestering himself within the deepest underground stronghold, he remained tucked in safely behind his towering castle walls. In a stroke of unwanted irony, the king’s caution was a direct result of the murder of his daughter’s promised prince. Given the fact that only the king’s most trusted advisors, guards, servants, ts, and family members were allowed to see the king each day, Apophydon had to improvise another way to meet with the king.

Apophydon was able to teleport himself in and out of the castle at will and this would be his secret weapon, the one thing that would allow him to formulate a strategy to see the hidden king. For two days he hid in the shadows, deep within the castle, lurking among the king’s people searching for a way to infiltrate the king’s secret quarters. On day three Apophydon grabbed the head of the king’s guard and left him tied up and gagged in a broom cupboard. The time had come for Apophydon to finally make his move and speak with the king. When he knew that the king was alone, he entered the king’s chamber and bolted the doors behind him, ready to present his case for marrying the princess.

At first, he gave little notice to Apophydon, walking across the room to where the king was sitting. The king sat behind a large, ornate, dark wood desk and quickly glanced at him before returning to his reading. Apophydon wasn’t surprised by the king’s nonreaction to his presence because for the moment, the king only saw his most trusted guard approaching his desk. Apophydon had taken the shape of the guard, still bound and gagged in a closet, and looked exactly like him. The king continued reading for another couple of e minutes, oblivious to Apophydon’s presence until he cleared his throat.

“Do you need to speak to me?” The king asked in a voice only, still absorbed by the pages of his book. Apophydon squeezed his eyes shut and instantly changed back to his appearance, no longer did he look like the king’s head guard.

“Yes your grace, I bring you what you have always desired, a precious gift beyond compare,e,” Apophydon responded in his voice. At fir, st the king did not register his voice, a different, alien voice that he did not know. Once the king realized that a stranger was standing in front of him, he put his book down and hurried toward the bolted doors. Apophydon was faster than the king, easily beating him and blocking any possible escape from this intruder the king hoped to make.

“Please don’t kill me, I beg of you. Please spare my daughter, my wife, don’t kill them!” The king pleaded on his knees before Apophydon. Apophydon gently picked up the king and took a step back, hoping to make himself less formidable.

“Your Grace, I’m not here to kill you. I am here to grant you unimaginable power. You will be the greatest ruler that Areth has ever seen.” Apophydon explained. The look of abject fear escaped the king’s face, replaced by a glimmer of joyful greed. He wore the look of a perennial loser, who just won a massive jackpot for the first time.

“Tell me, stranger, how will you make me even more powerful than I already am?” The king retorted with a sliver of apprehension.

“I am Aed. With my help, it will happen.” Hearing this, the king hesitated and then glanced over Apophydon’s shoulder with a knowing look.

“And what do you want from me in return?”

“I ask only for your daughter’s hand in marriage,” Apophydon replied. This was it, the moment he had pictured for so many cycles. He was so close now, he could almost smell her hair, feel her embrace as she held him in her arms for the first time. Apophydon waited for his response as he thought for a moment. Every second was excruciating. But the king was testing him. He was going to say yes the moment he learned who, rather, what Apophydon was. He was Aed and the king knew that this meant almost unlimited power from his perspective.

“Son, you have my blessing. You may wed my only daughter.” The king said with a beaming smile, the excitement on his face and expressed by his whole being was palpable, as the king could hardly contain his joy, his newfound friend that would make him more powerful than he could ever imagine. Soon he would be the most powerful man in all of Areth.

Apophydon knew that the king desired money and power above all else. He was confident when the king was given a choice between power and family, he would choose power. Especially a choice between a power of this magnitude, offered by an Aed, Apophydon knew the king’s answer before the proposition was made. His daughter, his one and only princess who he professed to love more than anything had a price, after all, Apophydon was so confident that the king would give his daughter to a mysterious stranger based on the verbal promise of vast mythical power, that he staked his very life on it. He knew the king, or at least he knew men that were similar to the king. Apophydon had known men like this, having seen their lives played out through the centuries, one sad story after another. Power, money, ey, and greed, desiring more power and money, over and over until the inevitable untimely death. A thousand graves, a thousand rotting corpses, empty in shallow graves, leaving this world naked and alone, with no money, no power, just as they entered, it to begin with.

Apophydon would rathehavead the events surrounding his courtship and wedding to the princess unfold in vastly different ways. He never asked to be trapped as Aed or to fall in love with a mortal princess from Areth, or for a promised prince to stand in the way of his love. These were his trials, his burdens to bear and Apophydon felt that he had weathered them to the best of his ability thus far. But there was one major trial that concerned him the most, one that could prove to be his complete undoing. After all, he had said and done to get this far, to win the hand of the fair princess, the most precious gift supreme from the king himself, Apophydon must now meet her for the first time, face to face.

The night before he met the princess for the first time, Apophydon did not sleep, save for an hour before sunrise, when he’s exhausted and sleepless body finally took over his willing spirit. He wasn’t used to the rigors of living in a flesh and blood body, this wasn’t a concern Apophydon, because he was Aed. In ÆDIXS CænctoruM he existed for unknown cycles, and like all Aed, Apophydon does not eat or sleep or take part in any of the mundane, yet essential daily activities and practices of life for mortals on Areth. But if he was to marry and live out his days in what he calls a “crude meat shell”, then he would have to learn to take better care of himself. Apophydon found that often he would forget to eat, sleep, or even answer- when nature urgently called.

Looking out, high above the manicured gardens and hedgerows of the castle grounds, Apophydon made a vow in the predawn silence. His whisper was heard only by the breaking mist leaving its morning dew upon the welcoming blades of verdant grass below his tower window. To himself, he swore that he would be a good and decent man for the princess. He would live out his days as a mortal, no longer would he be Aed. He would take care of his mortal body, no longer would he be forgetful or neglectful of his physical needs, he would make these a priority, second only to his wife. He would put his wife first, the princess, her health, happiness, love, support, and needs would be paramount above all else, second to none. This he swore upon his own life, both mortal and Aed.

The first encounter between Apophydon and the princess went better than anyone expected. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that the princess would be kind and gracious, even under these strange circumstances. But no one could have predicted the overwhelming success and instant connection that developed the moment that the princess and Apophydon first laid eyes on each other. The king stood at the far end of the courtyard near the two sets of double doors leading to the second dining room. Several guards, two butlers, and a few female friends of the princess were also in attendance, scattered about the open space. While Apophydon and the princess stood at arm’s length, they dared not touch, yet those who knew the princess could tell from her body language that she liked him from the start.

That night, Apophydon slept longer and deeper than ever before. He dreamt of the princess, of their love, their life together, their marriage, and their children. When he woke, for the first time since assuming the role of a mortal, he was truly happy. He couldn’t wait to see her again and he wouldn’t have to wait very long as he was invited for breakfast that very morning with the king, queen, and princess in the main dining room. Apophydon wasn’t used to eating that early in the day, but the foods of breakfast, smoked meats, eggs, and pastries made him a firm believer in this thing they called breakfast. But next to the glories of such an amazing spread of food, nothing could compare to seeing his promised princess in the morning. She smiled at him when he arrived. She laughed at his awkwardness as he circumnavigated the customs of dining with royals. She was nothing short of amazing and she was his. He was in love and he was happy, for the first time in his life, both mortal and Aed.

The following month leading into the wedding were glorious days indeed. Apophydon fell deeply in love with the woman with whom he previously believed he was already in love. Having the days and evenings with her, getting to know her, the real woman behind the princess mask she wears for the world, was an exhilarating experience for Apophydon. Most of their time was spent with a chaperone present, which he never complained about, not even in private, he was honored and overjoyed simply to be with the princess. With every passing day and each hour spent in her presence, he became more enthralled, more in love, and more amazed by her as a person, as a woman. She was noble, fair, kind, loving, honest, trustworthy, curious, highly intelligent, spunky, playful, and wrapping up all of these amazing traits, she was stunningly beautiful.

Amid a daunting list of admirable traits, there remained one part of the princess that Apophydon found completely mysterious. He could not figure out how and why this special lady, whom he felt lucky just to know, let alone be engaged to marry, had fallen in love with him too. All the signs were thereafter the first week of their courtship, she looked forward to their times together and was sad when they had to part. She welcomed his physical contact and would initiate her own by grabbing his hand or pecking him on the cheek. After years of watchful yearning from afar, the sleepless nights of worry and doubt, thinking that she would never love him as he loved her; all of it was useless in the end.

In hindsight, Apophydon realized that he wasted so much time focusing on the negative aspects of his life, all of the things he had done wrong in ÆDIXS CænctoruM and on Areth, the crimes he had committed, the people and Aed he hurt, in the end it only hurt himself. He knew now that holding on to the past, feeling remorse, allowing his conscious to play a role in his life was utter folly. If the princess and the king knew not of the things he had done, then had they ever really happened in the first place? Apophydon thought not! As he pondered this new life altering and life affirming reality of his, while sitting alone in his dark room late one night. He smiled at the relief he felt because a weight had been lifted from his back, one that had been there for countless years. His new life with the princess was a blank canvass. A perfect sheet of pristine white, on which he and the princess could paint a mural of their new lives. Never again would Apophydon let questions of right or wrong burden him. So he whispered a new promise to himself, one intended as an addendum to the others. He swore on his life that he would never again let the imposed morality of others guide him or inhibit his ability to survive and thrive as a mortal living on Areth. Apophydon fell fast asleep and after a restful night dreaming of the princess, awoke with a new outlook and attitude for his life.

The wedding day arrived and was over before Apophydon knew what was happening. Nothing could prepare him for the attention, the royal treatment, the pampering, the military-like precision and rigid execution of wedding plans according to the wishes of a young princess who’s dreamt of her wedding day since she was seven. It was all confusing and jolting to the nerves of a once Aed like Apophydon. But throughout the day, from the threat of the morning sun, when he didn’t know what to expect – until the eight horses pulled the shiny black carriage away from the castle grounds, and Apophydon had suffered through the royal onslaught of hundreds of guests and a million formalities and rituals; one thing held him together, his love for the princess.

After a glorious honeymoon spent on the smallest island of a chain off the coast of the eastern land. Apophydon and the princess returned to live in the king’s castle for the time being, as a married couple. They were given the top floor of the south wing, which having five bedrooms, three bathrooms, dining, two living, a kitchen, and it’s own servant’s quarters, was ample room enough for them to spread out and make a home for themselves, however temporary. The king was constructing a home for the princess a mile away, it’s construction could be seen from the north wing, from the billiard hall. Apophydon checked on it’s progress several times a day, fervently desiring a space to call his own, a real home he called it. But he was keen on one good fortune from this temporary arrangement, he was becoming an accomplished pool player.

Late one day a messenger arrived at the castle gates with an official letter from the King of the Eastern Coastal Region. The letter was addressed solely to the king, with explicit instructions that it was for his eyes only. After receiving the letter, the king did not leave his study for many hours and some wondered if he had remained locked inside for the entire night. The next morning was the first time that anyone saw the king again, he left his study, skipped breakfast and went for a long horse ride alone for the entire morning. Finally by lunch he put his family’s minds at ease, by showing up for lunch that was set outside on the terrace. He shared the contents of the letter with Apophydon, the princess and queen and asked for their council.

The King of the Eastern Coastal Region had sent a scathing letter that implicated Apophydon for the murder of his son, the prince. He went a step further by asking that Apophydon be handed over for execution immediately. Of course no one believed that Apophydon killed the prince or could ever be able to take a life. But secretly the King was very concerned over how his fellow king could have come to this notion. Apophydon would not be handed over and his father in law sent word to the King of the Eastern Coastal Region that no such thing would ever happen.

Following their honeymoon, the King put Apophydon to work as his personal representative to travel throughout his kingdom on missions of mercy. Apophydon was away for days and sometimes weeks at a time, hard at work in the kingdom for the king. Apophydon listened to the common people and heard of their troubles, their needs, and then with the power granted by the King himself, aided the people to the best of his ability. Sometimes he had soldiers scare off scavengers who would attack helpless farmers. Sometimes he would lower taxes to help the people deal with harsh times. Other cases involved helping to rebuild businesses or by simply providing enough food to live through another month. He loved his job and loved helping those who were less fortunate than he.

Apophydon and the princess moved into their home on the hill after six months time. Never before had they been more in love then they were at that very moment. Finally they had a home of their own and with every passing day they grew closer, their marriage grew stronger and eventually the princess grew in other ways as well. Nine months after moving into the new home, they welcomed their first child, a baby girl, and their love grew to wrap around all three of them. When she grew to be two years of age the princess was with child again and nine months later, around her third birthday, they welcomed a baby boy into the family. Apophydon, the princess and their two children had another two wonderful years together.

On the day of the birth of Apophydon and the princess’s son, word reached the King, whispers and rumors of a new threat in the neighboring kingdom. The King heard tales from his people at the home of a warlord waging a secret war against the King of the Eastern Coastal Region. Those who dared to speak out, those who were brave enough to speak of the dreaded warlord, referred to this man as Xyvaen the Annihilator and Xyvaen bringer of Sorrows. Even Apophydon was told stories of Xyvaen by farmers, barkeeps, maids, and other common people while traveling the countryside on his missions of mercy. Every tale ended the same way, where Xyvaen waged war against the Coastal Kingdom there was complete and total devastation, no survivors and no mercy. The King and Apophydon worried for the safety of the princess and the children, should this warlord turn his violent gaze toward their kingdom.

For five wonderful years, Apophydon and his princess remained happily married, raising their two wonderful children in their house on the hill. While rumors of the warlord still reached their ears, luckily the war had not reached their land. Given little evidence and no substantial proof, some began to wonder, the King included, if these were mere stories, tales meant to frighten foreigners, and effort meant to compel them not to enter the Kingdom of the Eastern Coast. Apophydon continued working for the King, taking him away for long periods of time on his missions of mercy for the people of the Northern Reaches, but he loved his work and took pride in his position. He hated every day spent away from his wife and children, but he knew that his work was important, he was truly helping others. When he arrived home, he spent every waking moment making up for time away from his children, what glorious and fun times they had together.

One evening Apophydon and the entire family were gathered for a formal dinner in the King’s castle, a nephew of the King of the Eastern Coastal Kingdom arrived with another message for the King. He demanded that Apophydon be handed over in three days time and if he wasn’t, the king would mount a full scale attack on the king and his castle to take Apophydon by force. The messenger added that the King of the Coastal Kingdom held the King directly responsible for the atrocities committed by Xyvaen the Annihilator over the past few years. He blamed the King and said that the blood of hundreds of his slaughtered people on his hands.

Incensed by the audacity of this message, the king killed the young messenger and had him sent back to the king as his reply to this blasphemy. In the following days much was discussed, more was whispered in empty corridors among the people in the King’s castle. But in all of the talk, words said aloud and those said in secret, no one once believed that Apophydon was the murderous evil man that the Coastal King had accused him of being. The Princess and King especially loved Apophydon, knowing in their hearts that he was a good and decent man, he could do no wrong in their eyes.

Apophydon was troubled and feared the worst. Ever since he arrived home after his recent trip, he had taken to secluding himself away, seeking his own council in these troubled times. Whatever the reason for this treachery, he knew that these lies and warnings from the Coastal King directly threatened his wife and children. He would not stand by and do nothing in the face of this great danger. He had no plans for giving himself up or admitting to slanderous falsehoods just to avert a war. But he wasn’t without options and armed with an idea, he rushed to the King with a request.

The King agreed with Apophydon, they would send the princess and her two children away to the King’s mountaintop home. A contingent of the King’s best soldiers would travel with her and keep her safe up in the mountains until this threat was either handled or over. At that time the Princess and the children could come home and be with Apophydon again. By the next morning they began their journey to the mountain home. Ten elite soldiers accompanied the three travelers who set out just after dawn. Apophydon cried as he kissed his wife, his daughter, his son and waved goodbye to them as they rode away. The King and Apophydon stood at the castle gate watching the collective centers of their universe ride away, both men trying not to cry in front of each other. Apophydon turned to the King, wiping a tear from his face.

“What now?” He asked.

“Now, we prepare for war my friend.” The King replied with fortitude that only a King of his stature could muster in a time like this.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Coastal Kingdom, it’s King readied for war. His enemy had killed his sister’s son and defied him at every turn. The King truly believed that Apophydon had killed his son and swore that he had proof of this crime. In his mind the decision to attack the King of the Northern Reaches was just and only a last resort. He had twice warned that King and asked that a murderer be handed over to receive justice. As far as he was concerned the Northerners had taken two members of his family and waged a secret in his kingdom. But soon it would all be over, he would dethrone the Northern King and rain hell upon their heads, finally justice would be his.

The Northern King and all of his forces readied for battle, in the castle and surrounding lands. He sent out spies days before and was just now hearing from the first of them to report back. One spy, who had a deep cover in the Coastal Kingdom, had arrived at the castle that day and requested to report only to the King. He told of a splinter group of the Coastal King’s best killers, who were sent out separate from the rest of the invading army, to the mountains to track down and kill the princess. Hearing this caused the King great concern, he hoped that it wasn’t true, he hoped that hey would not find her, but he couldn’t take the chance. Immediately he summoned Apophydon and told him the news.

Within the hour Apophydon set out on the road to the mountains to find his wife, hoping, praying that he would reach her in time, that he would reach his precious children before the enemies did. Apophydon raced faster as he was able down the lonely road through the northern wilderness. His thoughts centered on only one thing, his wife, his children and his only hope that the elite soldiers by their side would be enough to protect them until he arrived. But hoping was not enough, he had to break one of his solemn vows, he would unleash the power that he had kept locked away for so long, one of his powers of Aed. However he had never been to their destination before and these mountains were unknown to him, because of this he was unable to teleport directly to the side of his beloved. Given this impossible circumstance, Apophydon left his vehicle behind, and made his best guess at a safe distance in which to arrive. He then teleported blind as far as he felt that was safe and possible without rematerializing inside the solid rock of the mountainside.

Miracle of positive thinking, Apophydon thought to himself, or just blind luck of a desperate man. He stood for a moment, to catch is breath and gather his resolve, at the edge of the rocky hillside looking up the winding road that eventually lead to the King’s mountaintop residence. With no time to waste, Apophydon began sprinting up the road hoping to find his wife, but there was no sign of her, his children, their guards or any enemies as he climbed. Fear of the unknown, a chilling, nerve tingling fright consumed him with every climbing step he took. But he continued running toward the inevitable. Apophydon kept telling himself that she would be fine, nothing could happen to his princess, the most amazing, loving, honorable, and forgiving person he had ever known. No, no, no, she would be fine, the children will be safe. They most likely have arrived at the house, started a fire and are preparing a meal, or playing outside as the princess gets things settled inside. The guards will keep her safe, they’ll be safe, they’ll be fine. Over and over and over, Apophydon repeated these numerous thoughts, bouncing, screaming around his mind, drowning out his thundering footfalls as he continued to climb.

Without warning the road ended at a deadman’s cliff, straight down, hundreds of meters of vertical drop to jagged rocks far below. He must have made a wrong turn, there was a fork in the road and he should have gone right after all. Apophydon cursed himself because going right was his first choice and only after consideration did he choose to continue left at the split in the road. He raced back as fast he could, his thoughts muddled and confused, incoherent drippings of partial scraps of memories and choices spun around an endless loop in his mind. Had he been thinking clearly, unencumbered by the dread of his family’s safety, he would have teleported to the fork in the road and continued on the correct path toward his love. But he wasn’t thinking clearly, he was going mad with worry, mad with thoughts of what could be. He kept picturing the worst as he rounded the fork and continued up the right path.

Another half a kilometer up the mountain side he saw a gun laying by the side of the road. When he leaned down to pick it up, he noticed a blood trail that lead down into the woods off the right side of the road. Down the embankment Apophydon saw images that made his worst nightmare come alive. He grabbed his chest and gasped for breath. Laying a ways down the rocky bank were several bodies of the King’s soldiers. Crimson blood stained the snow, forming a path leading to the men below. Apophydon counted six men, meaning that hopefully the other four are still alive and protecting the princess and his children. Regaining his composure, he started running up the road again.

Surprisingly there were no additional signs of a struggle, a fight, no blood and not even footprints could be seen on the road ahead. The fresh fallen snow had erased any possible signs, clues for Apophydon to follow. The lack of information panicked him even more than had he seen blood or another soldier on the road. Without clues, there was no hope, but worse he continued to imagine a very bleak picture, a possible future awaiting him on the road before him. Apophydon tried to shake these feelings of hopelessness, but they continued to eat at him like a carnivorous man eating insects.

Apophydon continued up the road, putting as much distance between him and the pile of bodies he had seen, a sight that had shaken him in ways he didn’t expect. After walking up the mountain for another hour, his progress slowed by the blinding snow and bitter temperatures, he finally saw the house high above where he stood. Even at a considerable distance, looking through a thick blanket of falling snow, there appeared to be no signs of life at the house. He saw no lights, no smoke from the chimney, no guards patrolling the outside perimeter of the property. Surely they had reached the house by now, their lead was considerable and they would have double timed their final stretch given the death of over half of the protective detail? Apophydon thought to himself.

Apophydon ran up the final gap of road leading to the house. All the while he feared the worst, but more than that, if something had happened, where is the attacking force, where is the splinter group sent from the King of the Coastal Kingdom? Sprinting up the driveway, his eyes wide open, he hoped to see his beautiful wife smiling from a window or his amazing children run out to him, like they always did when he returned home after a long trip. But there was nothing of the sort, only bodies, two soldiers laying face down near the front porch that overlooked the grand vista of the valley below.

Apophydon stumbled over his own feet and fell onto all fours in the snowy grass. He looked up to see pools of frozen blood surrounding the two men. He fought to regain his footing and raced inside the front door, slamming it against the outside wall. He called for his wife over and over as he stumbled through the dark house. The temperature inside was as cold as it was outside the four outer walls, save for a few degrees given the bitter wind chill. Exasperated, blinded by crippling fear, disoriented and breathless by the altitude and from running uphill for so long, Apophydon made his way through the entire house and then back down the stairs towards the front of the house, when he tripped over a large obstacle between the base of the stairway and the front door. Laid out on the wood floor he groped around to push himself up again and realized that he had tripped over the last two soldiers. They, like the others, had died protecting his wife and children.

“I’m sorry.” Were the only words Apophydon could muster in the moment. He had to find his family! Where could they be? Why aren’t they here? Did they escape when the men put up a fight. He stood in the doorway, looking back upon the front great room and attached dining room and with his eyes adjusted he could see that a massive fight had taken place. Walls, furniture, even the ceiling had been damaged. Plates and glasses, papers, books and blood, among various other things were smashed and strewn all over the place. These men put up a grand resistance, Apophydon thought to himself. He then turned and run outside and called his family again, his voice echoing off the side of the mountain as he walked to the back of the house where there was no sign of them. He continued calling for them as he rounded the rest of the outside and toward the front. His loud calls were swallowed by the gailing wind and snow, his words barely extended 10 feet away from him as he approached the front garden which lead to the mountainside.

Although mixed with snow and barely visible, he saw a trail of blood leading to the edge of the cliff. Apophydon fell to his knees and began to cry. He looked back and noticed for the first time the snow had mostly covered a trail of blood leading from the front of the house all the way to where the ground dropped off for several hundred feet. Apophydon crawled on his hands and knees to the edge and stopped. He froze for a moment, keeping his eyes shut, as streams of tears ran down his face. He wasn’t sure he had the strength to look, the ability to open his eyes and see what he was sure he was going to see.

Finally he opened his eyes and peered into the depths of the wind driven snow, searching for the inevitable below. For a fraction of a moment, he had the tiniest spark of hope that he would see nothing, that his wife would call for him, somewhere behind him over his shoulder near the house. Instead all of his hope was obliterated and his life-ending reality was instead the only thing that he saw. About halfway down the cliff, Apophydon saw the bodies of his wife and children laying on top of each other, murdered and mutilated. It took every ounce of strength he had not to throw himself off the cliff. A sudden suicidal notion that felt very right, he could join them in the next life, all he had to do is crawl forward a few inches and that would be it. However, in his moment of immense sorrow, with the depths of his soul wailing out, there was one small part of him that wanted to live on.

Apophydon wasn’t sure where it came from, it certainly did not originate from any conscious thought coming from the front of his mind, no he was dead inside, every part of him wanted to die with his family. It would be so easy, the act of suicide. Come on, do it! Apophydon screamed out in his mind. But the unexpected hesitation, the sudden encompassing will to carry on comes from a deeper, more sacred, most holy, behind-the-curtain-type place deep within his soul. In the end, when the battle for his life was won, a victor stood with arms raised on the battlefield of his mind. The will to live consumed Apophydon and a passionate fire was ignited in his heart. He would kill them all, every man, soldier, spy that was remotely responsible for his family’s death would be slaughtered without mercy.

Apophydon’s Ritual by the Grave
ADD Apophydon’s ritual. A wordless, physical action he performs by their freshly dug graves. Something he does over and to their bodies before he commits them to the ground. This ritual, done in haste, with slurred, blurry speech and improvised ingredients and conditions was his last ditch effort to prepare his family for the afterlife, the next stage. In the back of Apophydon’s mind, he wondered, hoped, and secretly pleaded for this ritual to open the gates for him to find a way someday to fully restore his family.

Apophydon buried his family in the small royal cemetery near the mountaintop house. Their graves would forever overlook the mountains and valleys, he leaned on his shovel and gazed upon the stunning beauty of nature, the pristine majestic vistas that his family would look upon from their graves until the end of days. Later that day Apophydon crossed the broken and burned gates of his wife’s childhood castle. Piles of burning bodies, the King’s soldiers, servants, as well as women, and children sent thick black clouds of smoke into the night air. He could not believe the devastation he found throughout the castle, the mass destruction and death. Once again, as it was on the mountain, no sign of any enemy or attacker could be seen, only their handiwork of death remained. Apophydon felt sick, but his real concern was the King, was he safe and where was he?

Apophydon finally found his wife’s father in the King’s secret study. The door had been breached, the room tossed and wrecked, but no sign of the King. As he stopped and looked around the King’s secret chamber, he heard a faint knocking, as if someone was tapping their knuckles on wood. The sound was coming from the far right corner of the room, on the wall behind the King’s desk. Apophydon ran over and began to search along the wainscoting that covered the bottom half of the wall. A small horse voice called out,

“Apophydon, is that you?” It was the King’s voice. Apophydon, still searching for a way to get to the King, a button or lever or something.

“Yes, it’s me. How do I get you out of here?” Apophydon asked frantically. He could tell that the King was hurt by his weak voice and the trail of blood leading to that corner where the King was hiding.

“My desk, the picture of the princess. The button his hidden under the frame.”

Apophydon ran to the desk and moved the picture aside without looking into his wife’s image, he wasn’t ready for that. After pressing the button he ran back to an open panel revealing the King inside the wall.

“Hurry. I don’t have much time and this door is on a timer, unless you want to press the button again.” The King said while trying to contain his constant coughing. Apophydon helped him out of the wall and saw how badly he was injured. The king had three puncture wounds from three different swords, held by three different enemies.

The King told Apophydon that he fought with his soldiers to defend the castle until the end, but when all was lost, he hid away in hope that Apophydon and the princess would find him. A grave look took over the King’s face and he grabbed Apophydon with his only good hand.

“Where is my daughter? My grandchildren?” Asked the king. Struggling to stay conscious, his loss of blood was already staggering and no matter Apophydon’s efforts to apply pressure, to stop the King from losing more blood; the King knew he had minutes left to his life. The King gave Apophydon a piercing stare, his eyes boring into Apophydon’s, searching and pleading for an answer. But Apophydon with without words. With his focus locked on the King, Apophydon’s eyes told the King everything both mean feared when they sent the princess away in the first place. The King broke his gaze and closed his eyes. Apophydon held the King’s dying body in his arms and the two men cried in silence, sharing a universe of grief, a bottomless chasm of infinite sorrow. The King wheezed and continued to cough up blood which trickled down the side of his face and dripped on Apophydon’s sleeve. In that moment, no matter his greed and predictable self-interest, he looked down at the bravest, most loving mortal man he ever knew. The King loved his family more than anything and accepted Apophydon from the start. He always treated him like a brother, loved him like a son, shared and laughed with him like a friend and respected him as a man.

“Thank you.” Apophydon said quietly, breaking the eerie silence of the castle. The distant whisper of the crackling fires outside provided the only semblance of auditory ambiance, a reprieve from the King’s labored and staggered breathing or his coughing spells. The King cracked open his eyes, just enough to look upon Apophydon.

“Thank me for what?”

“For everything. For accepting me, taking me in, giving me a chance to love and provide for your daughter.” Apophydon admitted. He had wanted to say these words to the King for a few years, but there was never an opportune time.

The King reached up and held the side of Apophydon’s face with his hand. The King then opened his eyes wider and adopted the look that he was known so well for, the stern look of commitment, of power, of grave determination. Apophydon knew then that what was coming, his final message from his deathbed, would be monumental.

“She’s gone, my grandchildren are gone. Your wife is gone. Your…” The King stopped, looking at Apophydon, he couldn’t say the words, say that his children were dead.

“It may be too late for me, but you can go on. You must go on. Find them. Kill them, kill them all.” The King closed his eyes and lowered his hand to his wounds. Apophydon stared across the room, not focusing on anything in particular as he replied.

“ I don’t know if I can do that. I am not a soldier, I’m not a killer. I want revenge. I’d rather have justice, but I wouldn’t know where to start without you.”

“You must, you have to. There’s more to you than you even know. Since the day I met you, I knew who you really were, what you really are. Since then, through all of these years, you have become very special to me, just as my daughter loved you with all of her soul, I love you like a son.” The King responded in earnest.

“I love you too. You have been the father I’ve never really had. But I–” The King interrupted him, reached up and turned his face to his.

“Apophydon. You must become what you are destined to be. You are more special than you realize, more capable, and much more powerful than any man walking this world. You are destined to become one of the greatest beings ever to walk Areth or exist in ÆDIXS CænctoruM. Don’t forget who you are!” Apophydon was shocked by his words and confused by his message. What could he mean by all of this? Apophydon wondered to himself. The King continued.

“Apophydon. Find them. Destroy them. Kill them all!” The King’s hand fell to his side, seemingly more from gravity, than an act of the will.

“Okay. I’ll do it.” Apophydon said, wondering if the King was still alive. Just as he was about to feel for a pulse, the King turned his head away and looked out into the room. Apophydon pulled his hand back and looked down at the King’s wounds.

“My princess…Your, your children.” The King whispered, barely strong enough to form a complete sentence.

“Your Grace?” Apophydon asked.

“There must be a, must be a way to bring them back. With all of your power, with the power, the power of Aed. The power of, of, the power of Areth. There must be a way.” Fighting to deliver his final, possibly most important message to Apophydon, the King finally relayed his important message to his ears. Apophydon’s eyes grew wide, surprised by the idea on its face, shocked that the King would utter these things at all.

“I don’t think it works like that. I’m not sure it’s possible. The Aed have rules and resurrection, even attempting resurrection is expressly forbidden.” The King looked back, his eyes almost shut as he tried to look upon Apophydon’s face for the last time.

“Son, you must find a way to bring her back. You must…” The King’s body fell limp and breathed his last. Apophydon closed the King’s eyelids with his fingers and the King was gone.

Apophydon stayed in the castle that night, sleeping in a random, often unused guestroom. He wanted nothing to do with any quarters or space that his family once occupied. The next morning the teleported with the King’s body to the Mountaintop cemetery and buried the King next to his wife and children. After teleporting back to the castle again, he gathered the specially made weapons and custom tailored armor that the King had provided a few years back for one of his birthdays. Walking from the castle out to the gate to leave that place for the last time, he saw that the piles of bodies were still smouldering sending soft, lilting plumes of smoke high into the air, where they were carried off by the morning breeze. It looked to be another beautiful day in the North, but from his perspective, through his eyes, nothing was good, or may ever be again.

Apophydon was enveloped by darkness. He was setting off on a mission of pure revenge, one that would end the lives of countless cowards who had taken everything from him. There was no mercy in this mission, no people to aid, no comfort to provide and certainly no hope to be shared. This was a mission of death and while he felt inadequate, certainly not up to the challenge at hand, he would fight until his last breath, just as the King had defending his castle. Apophydon would fight these evil men until he vanquished them or he died on the battlefield.

Apophydon had been to the castle by the sea before, the place where the King of the Eastern Coastal Kingdom ruled from his shell encrusted throne. Because of this, Apophydon could teleport directly to the outer gates of the castle grounds. There he hoped to lie in wait and ambush the soldiers who took everything from him, as they were returning home from their own mission of death. Within a minute he was outside the castle walls and found a place to hide, up in some ancient trees near the gates.

After hiding in the tree for an entire night, he decided to change his plans and began using his elevated perch to scout the number of guards on the castle walls. A loud gong sounded somewhere within the castle and then a series of bells rung from the chapel on the far end of the compound. The guards that were on the wall for the entire night left their stations at the end of their duty and for a brief moment, before new soldiers replaced those who were exiting, Apophydon had a chance to sneak inside unseen. As the rising sun burned away the remnants of the night sky, the stars took their bows and would not be seen until the following evening. Apophydon jumped from one of the great limbs of the nearest tree onto the castle wall, his silhouette stealthily crept along the top of the castle wall, in a crouched position; a dark gliding mass against the pink and robin egg blue sky of early morning.

With his sword and shield in hand, he swung open the door at the end of the main wall and was greeted by none other than five replacement guards headed out to begin their morning rotation. He didn’t know if it was due to the sleep still in their expressions of surprise, the bags under their eyes, or if they had all drank too much yestereve and were grossly hungover, but Apophydon handily sliced through them within seconds. Climbing over the fallen soldiers, he ran down the stairs and was met by the guards who had just gotten off of their own shifts on the wall. It was clearly a changing room, a place for the guards to ready for their castle duties, and they were all in various states of undress.

Four of the soldiers had to scramble for their weapons, while the fifth still was in full uniform and was the first to challenge Apophydon. They dueled by the open door that he had just kicked open, but the skill of his adversary forced Apophydon back up the stairs he just ran down. In the narrow staircase they both fought ferociously, their swords clanged against the walls and rail every time each man defended against a jab, but the guard was getting the best of Apophydon and had him cornered on the landing, where the first flight of stairs stops before they turn ninety degrees before they continue to climb until the top. Sitting with his back wedged into the corner walls, Apophydon held his shield against the mighty onslaught of his enemy’s slicing and jabbing sword. He finally saw a possible weak area in the soldier’s attack pattern, which until then repeated the same rotating salvos of attacks. He lost his sword while they ascended to where they were now, it lay on the middle step of the first set of stairs. However,r he was prepared for this unfortunate eventuality. In a single impossibly quick movement, Apophydon unsheathed his long knife, flying his arm around the back of his assailant’s legs toward the back of his knees. His knife cut true and deep, severing the man’s tendons. The soldier cried out in pain and fell backward down the stairs, head first towards the changing room. When he hit his head on the stairs, Apophydon heard a loud crack, like the breaking of bones, come from the soldier’s neck. That was it, he didn’t move or do anything after that.

Apophydon could not figure why the others hadn’t charged up to meet him ye unless they were waiting for him to come down to them. Then with the element of surprise, they would easily best and kill him. He crept down and retrieved his sword from the middle stair and then made his way back to the landing, where he would regain his composure after losing his sword and almost losing his life to a single castle guard. He scolded himself to never let that happen again, no man should ever drop his sword. Apophydon sheathed his long knife, held his shield in front of his body, took a deep breath, hand stormed down the stairs into the changing room, ready for anything. The four men were long gone, along with the body of the man that broke his neck falling down the stairs.

So, they ran off to warn the rest of the castle. Apophydon thought. Those four men would have been the last small group he would have engaged alone. Now that the off-duty guards have joined the others, his job became much more difficult. He would now have to face large groups of trained, armed soldiers. Without the element of surprise and stealthy tactics, he could be surrounded during his first confrontation. This was something he had to avoid at all costs because fighting off ten or more attackers from every angle is nearly impossible.

Apophydon had one advantage though, the soldiers that ran off did not know that he had come alone. They would have assumed that he was one of many or possibly parts of a scouting party sent in advance of the full-scale invasion. The King would then deploy his men in a scattered formation to cover as much of the castle as possible.

Apophydon made his way to the top of the stairs and looked over the wall into the courtyard below. He smiled at the sight of men scattered in various areas, teams of two were the largest groups and most stations had only one soldier patrolling each area. He was sure that the men who invaded the North, who had killed his family, had not returned home yet. But this could happen at any time. Should they arrive while he was inside the castle, the odds would become overwhelming, as the returning force was made entirely of their best-trained killers.

Back inside the first floor of the castle, Apophydon dispatched ten men posted in even intervals down a long corridor. After running up to the first man, who he dropped and pulled into a doorway to hide the body, he shook his head at the thought that he was going about this all wrong. After that Apophydon began teleporting his way to each man, he covered each soldier’s mouth to keep them quiet,t and then he would stab them in the back. With every man, he ran his sword through their upper back, piercing their heart, the red tip of his blade then briefly visible, jetting out from the chest, before he teleported away. By the time each body hit the floor, he was killing the next soldier. In less than ten minutes, Apophydon had dispatched every man inside the castle, but the man he most wanted to kill was nowhere to be seen, the King of the Eastern Coastal Kingdom.

Apophydon then worked his way around the courtyard, silently and skillfully taking out every soldier before they knew he had materialized behind their back. For the everytwo-main team, he would kill one and then teleport to another soldier across the way. While the second man was leaning over the body of his teammate, he would pop in and take him out in a quick fashion. The soldiers on the top of the wall had no idea that their comrades were being killed behind their backs. They were commanded to give their full attention to watching outside the walls of the castle. As Apophydon was working his way around the top of the wall, a loud horn blew a distance down the road that leads to the castle gates. Apophydon laughed out loud at the thought that by the time the returning soldiers arrive, everyone inside the castle would be dead.

But then Apophydon had a chilling thought, he still had not seen the king or his sister or any women or children for that matter. Within seconds he was back inside and ran to the door that led down into the dungeons, figuring that’s where they hid the others when those soldiers ran off to warn everyone. Underground, at the bottom of a flight of creaky stairs, he found a large wooden door leading to the dungeon cells. Apophydon could hear a murmur of voices behind the door, the sound of a large group of women and children trying to remain quiet. Apophydon figured that the King was hiding with the women and children, such a coward, so he pounded on the door and affected the Coastal accent.

“It’s all clear your grace. The invaders have been killed and our men have returned from the battle in the North.” Apophydon yelled his false report.

A hush came over those inside and Apophydon could hear the low reverberations of a man’s voice speaking behind the door. The sound of a bolt sliding and a lock disengaging signaled that the King was opening the entrance to the dungeon. The door swung back to reveal the King of the Coastal Kingdom with almost twenty women and children behind him. He was still in his nightgown, smiling for a brief moment before he became frightened, seemingly recognizing Apophydon’s face. He attempted to slam the door shut again, but it was too late. Apophydon grabbed him by the throat and drove his sword through the King’s chest. After which he threw the King’s body aside and saw his sister holding onto a small child. Apophydon made a motion to strike her with his sword, but he stopped himself at the last second. He then turned, shut the dungeon door, and locked it from the outside, using the keys he had found on the guard at the top of the stairs.

Apophydon had no time to waste, he raced to the top of the castle wall and saw that the returning soldiers were almost to the gates. Fortunately, the gates were still closed, having been locked and secured following the King being forewarned against an incoming attack. For Apophydon, this was an advantage, the sealed castle concealed the fallen bodies left in the wake of his incursion. Plus it had the added benefit of keeping the returning troops from accessing the castle for supplies. This way, the approaching soldiers had only the weapons, supplies, food, and medical equipment that came back with them from their killing spree at Apophydon’s home.

Apophydon watched closely as the soldiers drew nearer to the castle, they were about a quarter-mile out and he confirmed that his suspicions were true. The King and his northern men fought fiercely and bravely, given the condition by which they returned. Apophydon saw beaten, injured men with downcast faces marching out of formation. Most of the archers had empty quivers, half of the men were missing shields, swords, or both and the vehicles that followed them were carrying piles of bodies, similar to the ones they left burning back at Apophydon’s adopted home. He couldn’t believe his eyes, how could this be the contingent that decimated his family and their elite guards on the mountain? Could these be the soldiers that took the Northern castle by force, leaving all but the King dead and burning in piles of bodies? For such an enormous victory, Apophydon was stunned at the number who returned badly injured or dead among the Coastal King’s army. Something about this looked wrong, it all seemed wrong, or off-balance. This wasn’t a victorious army dragging themselves to the castle gates, this looked like a defeated one.

Apophydon resigned himself to the fact that he may never know why these men looked so defeated. But he knew one thing for sure, above all else, these men were responsible for the deaths of his wife, his daughter, his son, his King. Some of them killed his family with their own hands. The rest slaughtered over a hundred people in the Northern castle. Together this group of soldiers killed his family, his friends, the soldiers who died defending his home, and scores of other innocent people who lived and worked around the castle. Although they were following orders, these men sought out and killed his family without hesitation. They murdered women and children, they were monsters and deserved to die like monsters! This was why he traveled to this cursed castle, this was how he will honor his wife and children and this was how he would fulfill his promise to the King, who made Apophydon swear to avenge his daughters and grandchildren’s deaths. These men must die in the most painful and wretched way possible. Apophydon smiled as an idea crossed his fertile mind, he knew exactly how he was going to accomplish this.

Apophydon had resisted using the full extent of his powers for many years while he was married to the princess and lived among the people in the Northern Kingdom. Although Aretha people with amazing gifts and extraordinary powers were commonplace in other regions of the world, most of the hardworking people of the North chose not to use their abilities. Superstition and rumors fueled a mindset, a belief system that discouraged the use of each person’s God-given power. Apophydon knew what he had to do and was confident that when the time came, the power of Aed would not fail him.

The small army of returning soldiers had reached the gates to the castle. They began yelling and banging on the great wooden doors with their fists and the butts of their swords. No matter how loud or how long they would demand entry through the gates, there was no one inside to heed their call. Apophydon feared that if the angry soldiers were kept from entering the castle gates for too long, they may attempt to find another way over the walls or through the gates. Apophydon had to prevent this at all costs, he had to attack them now if he wanted to maintain the element of surprise.

Apophydon teleported himself from where he was hiding on the top of the castle wall and rematerialized high up in the same tree he climbed to enter the castle the day before. From the great limb, he sat perched high above the crowd of soldiers, who were growing more restless and suspicious at the moment. Many of them were turned to each other or had gathered in small groups. Apophydon could tell by their body language and their flamboyant hand gestures, that his window of opportunity was closing fast. He imagined that any moment they would collectively scatter to seek out alternate ways inside the castle walls. If this occurred it would be exponentially more difficult to attack after they have come to a consensus that foul play was afoot inside the castle walls and Apophydon had mere minutes to act.

Ever since he saw the returning soldiers marching down the road toward the castle, Apophydon had planned on attacking these men in the same stealthy sword-driven way as he had everyone inside the castle. But now that the time had come for him to finally take revenge on the soldiers who took his family, the men who willingly killed without mercy, who murdered helpless and innocent women and children, he decided that they didn’t deserve the quick death by his blade. Instead, something strange came over him, like a sudden blast of hot air, as if he was too close to an open oven. Images and words were running deep within his mind, ancient symbols and spells flooded his memory, rushing to the forefront of his mind. Apophydon knew what he was going to do, as these things absorbed his immediate thoughts, they took control of his rational mind and in that very moment, he knew how he was going to kill these wicked men.

Apophydon stood up on the wide tree limb and glared at the men below. Hatred flowed through him, the fires of condemnation burned in his eyes. With his left arm outstretched before him, his index finger pointing down towards them, he drew circles around the entire group of soldiers standing in an oblong circle before the castle gates. Under his breath, Apophydon was quickly chanting a foreign language, several sentences over and over. Less than a minute later a two-meter tall ring of fire shot up from the ground, surrounding the soldiers with an impenetrable wall of searing flames. The men began to shout and scream up to the sky above. Apophydon chanting louder, continued drawing the shape of the flaming circle with his pointed finger.

The soldiers closest to the outside of the circle were touched by the flames, catching their uniforms on fire. But however they tried to put it out, the fire remained lit, consuming their clothes and then their bodies. These trained killers were screaming like frightened children as they burned to death and those who attempted to help them were also consumed by the fire. Soon every man who had the slightest contact with the unquenchable flames had been burned to death. The fifteen men who remained, most of them dressed in black, the splinter group who killed Apophydon’s family, rushed to the center of the ring in hope of staying alive, unlike their unfortunate comrades. However their faces betrayed their true feelings, the men in the middle knew that death was certain.

One of the men had been present-minded enough to look for the source of the flames and he finally saw Apophydon up near the tree. By the time he saw him though, Apophydon was no longer standing on the tree limb but was floating several feet away, between the tree and the soldiers below. The man pointed and yelled out “sorcerer” and when his fellow soldiers took note of their floating enemy, they trained their weapons upon him. The four remaining living archers emptied their quivers of arrows trying to shoot at Apophydon before they realized that their efforts were useless. Every arrow seemed to hit an invisible wall a few feet before reaching his body and their arrows bounded away, falling to the ground below. The soldiers looked upon Apophydon not with hatred but with fear and humility, as if pleading for their lives as a group.

Nothing would stop the inevitable that day, no word forty-footsie would give Apophydon pause or make him rethink his actions and give them amnesty. Apophydon stopped drawing the circle and formed a clenched fist, then he slowly pulled it in toward his chest. With this new motion, the circle began to shrink in size, getting closer and closer to the huddled men in the middle as his fist drew closer to his chest. As the flaming circle got smaller, the flames grew in height and intensity. Finally, when his fist rested on his chest, the roaring flames had consumed the remaining screeching and screaming men, until a single forty-foot tower of the fire remained. Apophydon opened his hand and lay it at his side, by this time he was standing on the ground looking across to the burned grass, the charred soil, the roasted castle gates. Not much remained after the fire, only a field of burnt black and a breeze from the shoreline blew and scattered what little ashes and smoke had survived, the remnants of a hideous group of evil men. Apophydon didn’t smile, but instead, he closed his eyes and turned his face up to the sky, enjoying the crisp salty breeze upon his skin.

Apophydon would never be seen again. For a long time at least.

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