The sage dropped the enormous volume upon the desk with a thud that echoed throughout the empty library halls. Only the dull flicker of the candlelight revealed the frown upon his pale lips. He was so close to realizing his goals, to finishing his preparations only to find himself in a dead end. The last few years had been spent tirelessly spanning the globe for the power and relics he would need. Alliances had been formed under false pretenses, power had been bought, taken and even stolen and his grand scheme to fix the mistakes of others had begun to take shape. But, now that he had reached the crucial moment, he found a single piece missing from the puzzle.
Brushing the dust off the tome he had just finished the dragon seal could be seen plainly, the beast's maw wide open revealing rows of sharp teeth. It was grinning at him, laughing at him. Slamming his fist upon the seal, he sighed heavily as he tried to regain his composure. A hand swept through the long strands of his white hair as his gaze looked up at the bookcases standing before him. It was here, at the guild's library that he had first realized the only way to save the world. In all the texts he read, it was evident he couldn't 'undo' the travesty that had occurred, that was impossible. Only the Goddess could change such a thing and as it was her decision to destroy the world in the first place, it was evident he could not rely on her to fix this mess. No, the sage realized, it would fall upon himself to find a way.
Standing, he took a step away from the ornamental desk he had been using the past months for his studies and looked instead upon a statue of the goddess that stood nestled between two bookcases.
"My dear, sweet Althena," the hushed words danced upon the air, his voice calm and yet it hinted at something that didn't match his tone, "what a sorry state you have left us in." A pale hand came from his robes to caress the statue's cheek, "if only you had chosen me in the first place, I could have saved you." Looking into the eyes of the statue he could feel a tear swelling up in the corner of his eye, "you have looked over us and protected us for so long. It isn't right for things to simply end like this. How will you protect us now? How will you prevent us from learning the mistakes of the past? How will you prevent us from repeating them?" His mouth opened as if to say something else when his whole body froze. It was public knowledge that the statue had been built with the library, but unlike every other statue of the Goddess, this one was not built for prayer, nor for healing. The statue before him was almost redundant, it served no purpose.
Taking a step back from the statue, his red eyes glowed for a moment as the thought bloomed within his mind. Holding his hand out toward the statue he allowed his natural magical energy to collect upon his palm. A sneer began to grow up on his lips even as his other hand brushed away the tear that never fell from his eye, "I couldn't save you from yourself, Althena, but I promise to you, I will save the people you have forsaken."
His eyes grew wide as he clenched his hand into a fist, compressing the energy that had gathered there before flicking his wrist toward the statue, opening his hand at the same time to release the spell. A ball of dark energy tore through the statue as though it were parchment, the spells of protection that had been placed upon it hundreds of years ago powerless against the dark spell that had just ripped through them. The library itself shuddered as the statue fell in pieces upon the floor, as if the very building protested to the act the sage had just committed. Kneeling, his pale fingers carefully sorted through the rubble and debris until he found a single scroll. Black wax sealed the parchment, imprinted with the mark of the Abomination. It was the seal of Zophar.
The sage placed the scroll within the folds of his robe before leaving the library with a hastened step. The streets of the city were empty as it was the middle of the night, but he knew there would still be one house that still had lamps burning. As the sage reached his home, he was not surprised to find the door already opening for him. His servant, Zhan, stood there as always, dressed in the simple clothes of his caste, patiently waiting for his return. To this day he could not remember how Zhan had found his way into servitude with his family, but he had come to know him like a brother. The fact that he was a servant of the household was a mere formality in his mind and in Zahn's mind as well, he suspected. As far as either were concerned, he was truly family.
"Should you not be resting Zahn? The entire city is asleep and yet you are still here waiting to open a door."
Zahn closed the door behind the sage as he entered before folding his hands in front of him, "with all due respect sir, not everyone in the city is sleeping. You are still awake, just as you have been for the past few months."
Without even a glance behind him, the sage made his way down the hall and to the left where his study waited for him. He wasted no time discarding various parchments and books from his desk. With shaking fingers he pulled the parchment from his robes and held it in his hand, his thumb running over the black seal that kept it close. Footsteps behind him told him that Zahn had followed him into the room, but he refused to turn to face him, "I appreciate your concern Zahn, but you know full well that I will not stop until I've done everything I can to change things." With careful fingers, he pried the seal off the parchment and began to unfold it upon the desk, "and tonight, I may have found the final piece to that particular puzzle."
A wave of relief swept over the servant as he had feared that his master's search would never end, "truly? You found this 'relic' you said you were looking for?"
The parchment displayed a rough map of the continent with several ancient landmarks scrawled in rough drawings that a child could put to shame. Yet, their direction and location were perfectly clear as was the subject of the map itself, "there are many relics in this world, my dear Zahn, but what I have searched for is a remnant of ancient times, a power long buried by those that claimed to be looking over our best interests."
"I'm afraid I don't follow, sir. Is this 'remnant' dangerous?"
"No more dangerous than a sword. In the hand of a fool, it will harm everyone around him including himself. In the hand of a master swordsman, it will harm only those the swordsman wishes it to. I assure you, Zahn, I am no fool. And with this, I can begin to set things right."
"I am certainly happy to hear that, sir. I hope this also means that you will no longer need to associate yourself with those from the Frontier. Those who live outside of the light of the Goddess cannot be trusted sir, you know this."
The sage traced the landmarks on the map until they formed a triangle, each point equal in distance to the other two. In the center of the triangle, a single mark was etched upon the parchment, a face with diamond eyes. Looking up from the parchment, he stared straight ahead at the window over his desk, his reflection staring back at him, "when the Goddess takes her light away from all of us, what will make them any different from us?"
"I understand what you are saying, sir, but I simply do not believe-"
"And you are welcome to your own opinion," the sage cut off Zahn's words and turned to face him, "but know that your words will not waiver mine. I will retire for this evening, but I will be leaving early tomorrow." A sweep of his hand across the desk found the parchment rolled once more and placed within the folds of his cloak. Walking past Zahn, he paused for a moment at the doorway, "should a guild representative arrive tomorrow looking for me, be sure to apologize for the damage done at the library. Tell them that I was tired and accidentally broke the goddess statue. You have my permission to give them any compensation they ask as long as it is within reason. Otherwise, I will speak with Lemia on the issue when I return."
Before the sage was able to disappear down the corridor Zahn took a hurried step forward, his words spilling out faster than he intended, "I'm going with you tomorrow."
"That is out of the question. You will remain here as always."
"N-no," Zahn stammered as he talked back to his master for the first time since he had known him, "I don't fully understand what it is that you are going to find tomorrow, but I do know that your search for this thing has changed you. You are not the same person you were a few years ago when all of this began. It scares me to see how much you are changing, sir and I fear I would be derelict in my duties if I were to allow it go any further. So, I have decided I will accompany you tomorrow."
The sage couldn't stop the smirk that inched across his face. Although he did not believe he had actually changed these last few years, it was just like Zahn to wish to find a way to place the blame upon himself. In the end, Zahn was almost too predictable for his own good. It was obvious, that anything the sage said wouldn't change his mind, "very well Zahn. I shall leave a note behind in case anyone from the guild visits tomorrow. We shall leave at sunrise. I trust you will be ready at that time."
"Of course, sir," Zahn gave a sheepish grin as he bowed his head, "and thank you."
Without another word, the sage hurried to his quarters to prepare for the next day's journey.
* * *
It took several days before they finally reached their destination. Zahn didn't even know the names of the towns and villages they passed through as they made their way to the desert. He had thought the journey would be good for both of them, that he would be able to get the sage to tell him more of what it was they were looking for, but if anything, the sage became more distant than ever before. He spoke as little as possible until the final day, when they reached the far side of the desert.
The large stone face was half buried in the sand, only one of it's 'eye's were visible - a large hole cut into the rock in the shape of a diamond. The sage asked Zahn to step back as he called wind to swirl about the stone head, brushing away in a few minutes the sand that had taken centuries to accumulate. Once the sand cleared, Zahn could see the stone face in its entirety. The two large holes stared ever forward as it's 'mouth' was wide open as if in a scream. A shudder ran down his back as he watched the sage approach the statue and begin to examine the stone slab that made up the 'mouth'.
"Impressive, is it not? An ancient ruin that a certain Goddess did not want anyone to discover." His fingers ran over the runes etched into the stones surface, "I don't know if you are aware of this Zahn, but there are only a handful of people in this world that can even recognize a magical lock as old as this one." Stopping his hand in midair, he could feel a pulse from one of the runes and began to follow its design with his index finger, "and even fewer who would know how to open it." Satisfied that he had found the right one, he took several steps back and paused only long enough to give Zahn a sly smile. "Luckily for us, in my years studying in the Guild's library I learned quite a few impressive," he searched for the right word, "tricks."
Holding an outstretched hand toward the door, he concentrated on the single rune his eyes narrowing. He could feel the energy holding it there and began to ebb it with his power, releasing the individual seals placed upon the rune itself until only the lock itself remained. Speaking in an ancient tongue that Zahn could not understand, the sage spoke behind clenched teeth as he continued to focus all his thought on the single rune and none other. Suddenly, his hand dropped as a low rumble began from within the statue and continued to grow until the stone slab began to move inward. The sage stood his ground, unwavering until the slab finally stopped completely, the entrance standing open before him.
With a swirl of robes, he walked over to Zahn where a large bag the sage had insisted on bringing sat beside the servant's foot. Zahn had been happy to drop the bag when they had reached the statue due to the fact it was quite a bit heavier than the small pouches of rations he ahd brought along as well. Once the sage opened the bag, he finally understood the reason for the weight. The sage removed one of the two swords and wasted no time fastening the belt it was attached to around his waist.
Only after his robes had settled around the blade, almost concealing it entirely did he look toward Zahn, "I brought one for you as well. I don't suppose you will take it?"
"I abhor violence, sir, you know that."
"I suspected you would say as such, but you should understand that I don't entirely know what waits for us down there. You know I will protect you, but for your own safety, you may wish to carry a weapon." The sage's eyes turned toward the statue once more, "there is no telling what might happen."
"Thank you, sir, but if it is all the same, I would prefer to take my chances."
Zahn's words brought the sage's gaze back to him for a moment, a soft smile only made his words feel more cryptic, "of course you would. Come; let us meet our fates with open arms."
Before Zahn could question his words, the sage was already making his way toward the entrance. Taking a deep breath, Zahn tried to prepare himself for whatever dark secrets might be waiting for them, but after a few moments he realized the cold shiver that had begun to run down his back the second he laid eyes upon the statue had yet to leave. Something in the back of his mind told him that he shouldn't enter the ruin, that he should turn around, start walking and never look back. But, the only thing on his mind was that the sage had already entered and whatever dark fate awaited them would still claim him even if Zahn left. That was something that he simply could not live with. Taking another deep breath, he made his way to the entrance and without even taking a glance behind him, he entered it.
At first, the ruin was almost black as pitch, only the light from behind him showed that he was in some sort of antechamber with only one exit directly in front of him. He couldn't make out anything on the walls, other than the fact that they appeared to be made of stone. The exit in front of him didn't show any light at all and as he approached, he wondered how he would be able to find the sage without getting lost. The flicker of a torch gave him his answer. Wondering what was keeping Zahn, the sage had doubled back and now stood only a few feet away in the corridor just ahead of him.
"Don't lag too far behind Zahn. We wouldn't want you getting lost."
Zahn did his best to hurry to the sage's side, almost tripping a couple times on the loose rocks that appeared to litter the floor around them, "I'm sorry, sir. It will not happen again."
"Quite," was the sage's only response as he once again began to move forward down a long flight of stairs. From what little Zahn could see, the walls appeared to be rather solid still despite its obvious age, only the odd cobweb or two.
"What is this place, exactly?" Zahn's voice echoed against the walls, the sound carrying on through the empty halls.
"It is an ancient temple, my dear Zahn. One built not to worship a Goddess, but rather to keep out those that don't."
"I don't understand what you mean."
The sage said nothing as he reached the bottom of the stairs and made his way into a large room. The light from the torch did not do the room justice, as the many drawings upon it's walls could only be seen in fragments in the dim light. A woman in robes upon one wall, four dragons upon another, a bleeding world on yet another, the amount of images alone was staggering. The ceiling above them was curved to form a dome on which a large mural had been made. Zahn never looked up to see the detailed scene it depicted. Even if he had, the light was far too dim for him to make out the visage of the Abomination swallowing the world.
Instead Zahn looked at the sage puzzled, a realization suddenly dawning upon him, one that begged a question, "Why did you bring a sword?"
The sage, who had appeared to this point to have expected every move Zahn had made, turned to look at him in surprise, "what did you just ask?"
"I asked, why did you bring a sword? You are the most powerful sage in the magic guild. Why would someone such as you need a sword to protect himself?"
A smirk played on his lips as he looked into Zahn's eyes, searching for something. Only the sage knows if he saw what he was looking for, "this temple was designed specifically to guard against magic users such as myself. Many of the ancient seals are still in place. There is no telling what would happen if I used any offensive magic in this place. It's possible my spell would simply fail to take shape, or would become something other than what I suspected, or in the worse case scenario, it would be reflected and cast upon myself. Therefore, I must rely on the swordsman skills I learned when I was younger."
"I'm sorry sir for questioning you, I was out of line."
Turning away from him, he stared further into the depths of the ruined temple, "no harm done. Let us move forward, shall we? Perhaps its time I told you a little more about why we are here."
Zahn nodded silently as he followed the sage down a corridor that took them out of the mural room.
"Have you ever heard of a being called Zophar?" the sage did not wait for a reply before he continued, "What am I asking? Of course you haven't. It's another one of the Goddesses dirty little secrets."
"Who or what is this Zophar?"
The sage paused as the corridor stopped at an intersection, but after gazing down each passage, he turned left without explanation and continued, "In truth, Zahn, I don't believe anyone knows the answer to that question with any certainty, not even Althena herself. There are some who claim that he is a God, the Destruction to Althena's Creation, a way to balance things. While that is not the popular belief, others have played with the notion that he is actually a remnant of the previous Universe, continuing what he started with the previous Universe. But, in the end the most popular belief is that he is chaos incarnate, a physical representation of destruction itself."
"And what do you believe?"
"Myself?" he glanced over his shoulder at Zahn before giving a dry chuckle, "I'm not concerned with what Zophar is. As far as I am concerned he is merely a footnote in my research, nothing more."
"What were you researching? This temple?"
The corridor they were following suddenly came to a dead end just as the sage about to answer, "Patience, Zahn. I was about to illuminate. Before I can explain why we are here, I need to explain the connection Zophar has with our dear Goddess." Holding his hand out, he touched the wall before him, the stone feeling cool to the touch. Without saying a word, he then moved his hand to the wall beside him and ran it forward as if to push his slender fingers into the corner where the two walls met. Instead of making contact, his hand pushed through the wall causing it to fade seconds afterward, "letís be thankful that they don't make illusions like they used to. Now, where was I? Yes, the connection between Zophar and Althena."
Although he didn't voice his opinion, Zahn could not help but notice as they pressed on down the hallway that it felt as if they were once again moving downward.
"Long ago, Zophar tried to destroy the Blue Star. This was during a time when we, the 'children' of Althena lived on the Blue Star and Lunar was uninhabitable. What little information I could find did not explain how or why, but when the Goddess destroyed Zophar, the Blue Star was inadvertently destroyed as well. Due to the fact that the Goddess has the power of Creation, I have my suspicions as to why this happened, but that is not important. What is important is the fact that Althena decided to save her children by making Lunar livable and moving our ancestors here. Zophar, however, apparently anticipated such an act."
"How is that possible? How would any being be able to predict the actions of a Goddess?"
"Perhaps he knew our Goddess better than her 'children' do," the sage finally slowed to a stop as he entered a small circular room. Two large doors stood before them, a large wooden beam barring them shut, "irregardless of reason, before Zophar was destroyed he sent a piece of his power to Lunar. Althena was not blind to his actions however and believing that he meant to corrupt Lunar as he apparently had done to the Blue Star, she erected this temple around it to keep it buried for all time."
Zahn's eyes narrowed as he stared at the large doors before them, "you mean, this 'Seed of Zophar', that is to say, you don't mean-"
The sage cut him off as he hung the torch upon the wall where a rusted metal hook was jutting out, "thatís right Zahn, itís behind this door."
Realization hit Zahn harder than a slap to the face, his eyes growing wide in horror, "you can't be seriously thinking of opening those doors? There is no telling what this thing might be!"
Unsheathing his sword, the sage made his way to the door until he was only a couple feet away from the wooden beam, "no matter what happens next Zahn, I want you to remember one thing." He turned to look at Zahn with a face he had not seen before, darkness behind his eyes that chilled him to his soul, "I told you not to follow me here." Before Zahn could fully comprehend the sage's words, there was a flash of steel and then the sage sheathed his sword. Zahn could only hold his hand out to the beam, willing it to hold even as the creaking sound it made told him his silent pleas were for naught. The beam broke in two, tumbling to the ground as the two large doors slowly opened. The torch light flickered wildly as a purple haze began to fill the room, the air growing heavy. Zahn closed his eyes as an overwhelming feeling of dread came over him. It was as if suddenly the feeling of misery itself was all around him, whispering to him, telling him of the pain in his life, his failures. When he could take it no more, his eyes shot open and he found that the feeling of misery had left, but his own dread only continued to grow as he looked at the scene before him.
The purple haze was now only in the center of the room, but it was not alone. Hovering in midair was a creature with no limbs, its body a pulsating ball of black ooze. Two large orange eyes looked between the sage and Zahn as a monstrous maw filled with hundreds of small jagged teeth widened into what Zahn could only guess was a grin. The haze covered the creature almost entirely, its strange properties creating the illusion the creature was transparent, making it appear to be merely a ghost or apparition.
After a long moment of silence, the creature finally spoke, "I am Vizarsh, servant of Zophar. I exist only to serve those who share my master's will. Those who believe themselves worthy of the power I possess must simply speak their name and an objective worthy of my master. Only one such as this may be granted the power of chaos itself."
Zhan staggered backward at the sight of the monstrosity, but the sage stepped forward without fear, his voice strong and clear, ďI am Ghaleon, Premier of the Guild of Vane. I have come here to seek the means of which to fix what Dyne has begun by allowing the Goddess Althena to die as a mortal. I demand you, Vizarsh, to grant me your power so that I can take the power that Althena is so willing to allow dissolve and replace her as the God of this world!"
The creature's maw spread wide at the sage's words, its eyes staring into him as if it was trying to look at his very soul, "That is indeed a worthy goal, Ghaleon. But, words can be said quite easily. In what way can you demonstrate your commitment to such words and prove you are worthy to wield chaos?"
Ghaleon turned his gaze to where Zahn had now backed himself up to a wall, the servant's eyes wide in terror and disbelief, "my servant, Zahn, has been with me since we were children. He is like a brother to me. I would gladly give my life for his." Drawing his sword once more, the sage walked calmly toward Zahn who stood there as if paralyzed, "and yet, to realize my goal it is his very life that I am willing to sacrifice."
Shaking his head as if to convince himself that what he was witnessing wasn't real, Zahn pleaded to Ghaleon with his eyes before he finally was able to speak his protest, "sir, you don't have to do this. There must be another way. There is always another way. Please."
Ghaleon looked into the eyes of the man who had trusted him his entire life and paused for a moment as he brought his sword point to the man's chest. Tears fell from Zahn's face as he continued to plead with him, but in Ghaleon's eyes his face blurred and shifted until it was no longer Zahn who stood before him, but Dyne. His best friend, the man who he had admired all his life and tried to model himself after now stood there, but he wasn't sobbing nor was he pleading. He was laughing at him. In everything they had ever done, he was always the better man and he knew it. He laughed at him for being so weak, for thinking he could be friends with him. Dyne had used him, betrayed him and the entire world. Ghaleon could see that now. It wasn't the Goddess who had caused all this, but rather Dyne, that traitor who dared to mock him now as he was about to gain the power he needed to stop the destruction that Dyne himself had begun. Yes, Ghaleon could see the truth clearly now and saw what he must do.
Zahn's lifeless body fell to the floor as Ghaleon sheathed his sword. The apparition jiggled with glee as Ghaleon turned to face it once more, "satisfied?"
A low chuckle echoed through the empty corridors of the ruined temple as the creature's eyes narrowed, "oh yes, that was quite entertaining. You have proved yourself worthy, Ghaleon. Step forward and claim my power for yourself."
Ghaleon did as the creature asked, a face of determination watching the creature as if waiting for it to attack him in some way. Such an attack never came. Instead, the apparition closed its eyes as the energy that covered it left its body and began to hover toward the sage. It only held there for a moment before Ghaleon suddenly found the purple haze covering his entire body, seeping into it. His eyes grew wide as energy and knowledge that he never even imagined began to flow into him. The power spoke to him, told him that he would be successful, that the world itself would belong to him. A grin swept over his face, a tear of joy running down his cheek as he could now see in his mind a glimpse of the future. A Lunar governed by order, nurtured by himself like a parent nurtures a child. It would become his shining utopia with himself governing over all things. It would be beautiful.
The creature, exhausted and spent fell to the floor, no longer having even the power to hover. With the haze now gone, its body appeared completely solid, itís breathing slowing. It grinned even as its life began to ebb, "my master will look forward to meeting you. His time may not be ready yet, but I have a feeling that you will help that along. Mark my words, Ghaleon, there is no plane of reality you can go that my master cannot find you. Not now that you have a piece of his power." The creature opened its mouth as if to continue, but with a look of surprise upon its face, nothing came out. It's time had run out and without a sound, the expression upon its face fell as its body went still.
Ghaleon ignored the creature's words, his mind reeling at the power he now possessed. Although he had not changed physically, he marveled at his hand in awe, as if looking at it for the first time. It wasn't his physical form he was amazed at, however, but rather the new energy that coursed through him. Energy enough to change the world. Power enough to even capture a dragon. But, it only seemed right to him that his physical appearance should change as well to reflect his new strength. It took less than a thought to do so, his robes thickening until they became armor of the blackest steel. A long flowing cape covered his back as a helmet covered every inch of his face. With this power he no longer had any reason to have Xenobia run things in his stead, but rather he could oversee operations personally. The masquerades could begin as the major steps of his plan could now take shape. It was only a matter of time before they would find the girl who could sing like a Goddess and then the dragons would be next. His grin was lost to the faceless helmet he wore as he turned to face the exit. The sage of Vane was gone now, no longer was he merely the Premier of a Magic Guild. Now, more than ever, he was a Magic Emperor.