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Published at 2nd of April 2024 01:31:42 PM


Chapter 66

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The sound of grinding stones could be felt in the bones of every Vethyean on the battlefield. It was too loud to ignore but upon seeing the shifting castle many opted to turn away. Some wished with all their being they were imagining the slow transformation. Others knew they had no chance against whatever the structure turned into. Winning the battle against the enemy directly near them was more likely and thus deserved more focus.

Such ideas weren’t welcome in the mind of Kargon Meliamne. Ever since defeating Elmud, the monk had focused on killing any demon within reach. Cauterized wounds burned with each ignition. The mutated flames were slowly turning back to normal but some aftereffects overstayed their welcome. For every moment flames wreathed the monk’s body, more skin peeled and bubbled on his right arm. Thus he had returned to small, explosive attacks without turning into an inferno.

That was until he saw the demonic castle’s panels shift. It was a mere second before the first grinding stones but that was enough for him to break into a sprint towards the cliff. Every extremity worked to carry him over the demons in his path. Attacks levied against him were tools to cross over large areas. However the enemy grew smarter over the length of battle. They purposely spaced out to force Kargon to push farther. At first it was a blessing as he soared over hundreds of monstrous forms. But then his many platforms randomly spaced out. He didn’t mind having to land and get to another.

Kargon searched for his next launching point when he realized how deep into the crowd he’d traveled. The massive group he easily bypassed now worked as a wall that blocked his allies from getting to him. Those surrounding him moved slowly with coordinated steps. Rather than swinging wildly they attacked with simultaneous efforts. The monk fought back without hesitation but his focus was split. The castle’s base just lifted and legs were protruding from underneath. Aisha might be strong enough to handle it alone but not while also fighting Aeraza. There wasn’t a doubt in Kargon’s mind that he could distract the behemoth. How he’d do it was still anyone’s idea but the least he could do was try.

But that would come later. The onslaught of attacks pounding on him needed to be stopped. Endless attacks meant some were bound to get through. Frustration and anger clouded Kargon’s mind as weaklings were able to land easily avoidable hits. Negligible wounds were quickly closed as the monk retaliated. He was more annoyed by bruising from repeated strikes that he couldn’t heal. Adrenaline kept him going but with no end in sight it felt daunting. Nevertheless, Kargon would not succumb to doubts. All he had to do was hold out until an opening presented itself.

It came in the form of a curmudgeon Owlkinn crashing down on top of a demon. Silver spirits matching his form followed suit. Half a dozen monsters were cut apart by talons or smashed by the end of a staff. Master Avant himself landed directly next to his student and blasted away three nearby enemies with an astral fist.

“I’ve found him!” he cawed loud enough to be heard over the commotion of battle. Kargon stared at his master as the elder said, “Rest for a moment and gather your strength.”

“I need to stop that thing,” Kargon replied.

“We are well aware of what your goal is. Allow us to carve a path.”

Master Avant seemed almost relaxed as he swatted away his foes. Astral spirits emerged from his being with each strike and attacked other nearby monsters. It was more effective than Kargon alone but not enough to clear the way. But the master wasn’t one to lie. Nor did he ever refer to his spirits as “we.” The realization helped Kargon notice monsters flung into the sky. Once multiple were airborne, a beam of light pierced through all of them and only corpses remained to plummet back down. The cleared area was drenched in moonlight as Makani floated over it. Rage was evident on his face as magic flowed around him as freely as air. Bloody spikes and waves tore through enemies that targeted the mage. Crimson claws protruded from Albert’s knuckles and summoned forth magic once controlled by Rusty. Deaths were a given during war but the unknown loss of a friend weighed on the monk. It made it more crucial that he reach Aisha before she got overwhelmed.

Monsters involuntarily separated as their ranks were scattered. It took a few seconds for Kargon to mentally map a path before he rushed past his master. The elder sighed and took the sky to keep an eye on his student. Only seconds passed before his aerial view was needed. Demons made way for larger allies who eclipsed the swift monk. With minimal effort they hindered the way. Kargon halted to a stop once again as shadows rolled in around him. Part of him hesitated at the sight while another recalled stories from his party’s journey. Slowly, he lowered his guard against the haze around him then looked towards the sizable monsters ahead.

Lumbering movements turned completely rigid as the shadows crawled up myriad forms. Steel flashed for split seconds as Freckle appeared from the smoke before vanishing just as quickly. Blood and viscera exploded forth as targets fell to the ground. Some could still move but the halfling had already distanced herself further into the crowd. Kargon stepped forward to kill the dying beasts but was stopped by a beast by his side. Spike had sharpened blades all along his body with smoke pouring off him. Like a choreographed dance, he weaved through the crumbled demons while slicing away their last bit of life. The large hedgehog made a point of focusing on each monster before dashing to the next. It gave Freckle an opportunity to throw a large quill in front of Kargon.

“Your master says those should be a good starting point,” she said with a smile before continuing the slaughter.

Kargon looked between his short ally and hovering master. The corners of Master Avant’s beak curled into a smile as he tilted his head towards the slim rods. Dead bodies didn’t move in obvious patterns and would be more trouble than they were worth. Regardless, the master’s demeanor proved this wasn’t a test. It was simply the only thing he could think of on short notice to help his disciple. One who happily took the gift and pressed forward.

With the help of the barbatos leaders, more Vethyeans were able to push into the demon army. The cliff remained distant from the battle but was easier to approach for Kargon. Quills were running dry yet allowed the monk to pick up speed. Few monsters could mess up his path as silver silhouettes dropped from the sky to assist him. While carrying him wasn’t an option, Kargon couldn’t help but question why his master didn’t drop to the ground and help him. But that didn’t matter as much as figuring out how to get to the top of the cliff. A launch like before might work but even if Vofric was around, it would leave him completely vulnerable. Such a risk wasn’t worth an easy ascent. If all else failed, Kargon would climb the rock face. Enough momentum would make it possible to get halfway up before needing to do the hard work.

High pitched whistling pulled Kargon from his reverie. Crashing down in front of him was being clad in unrecognizable mahogany armor. A rain of arrows followed their landing and pierced through over a dozen surrounding monsters. Shockingly, each one that missed ricocheted off the ground and collided with a further enemy. Their movements made it clear they were magically tracking the demons. The bow-wielding warrior turned towards Kargon. Familiar green scales on her left half brought a smile to the monk’s face. Without a word Sariel nodded at something behind him.

Pressure from an incoming creature could be felt without turning. Anyone unfamiliar with the sensation would be forgiven for fearful shudders. Instead, Kargon’s smile grew wider as a dwarf mounted owlbear rushed past him. An ear-piercing roar came from deep within Avant. Gravity surged and sent any creature deemed an enemy into the air and on a crash course far away from the group. Once it was clear no one was near, Vofric leapt off his ally and ran to Kargon. The monk grunted softly as his friend’s palm pounded into his chest. Pain and exhaustion washed away near instantly. As much as it was appreciated, Kargon had to stop the paladin from using his remaining mana. Glowing eyes couldn’t hide how tired Vofric was from the long battle.

“Just heal some of my internal injuries,” Kargon insisted. “You need your energy.”

“But you must get to Aisha. The healthier you are, the better.”

Vofric’s eyes were trained on the monk’s burned right arm. Skin was peeled away and muscle was beginning to char. Healing could only do so much given the power of Kargon’s magic.

Vofric sighed softly as he rebuilt the monk’s body. “I sense a diminishing curse.”

“A parting gift from Elmud,” Kargon replied.

“I can slow the burns but if you are not careful, you will lose your right arm.”

“If I hold back, I’ll lose Aisha.”

The conviction in Kargon’s voice normally impressed Vofric. There was no way to argue the statement so he just focused on healing what he could without expending the last of his mana.

“Sariel, I like the new look,” Kargon said casually.

The dragon scoffed. “You needn’t compliment me to ask a favor. And no, I do not see a clear path ahead.”

“Likewise,” Master Avant said as he landed near the group.

Avant barked something and tilted his head. It took a moment of consideration before Sariel translated.

“He believes it may be possible to spread out the enemy so you can press forward. However, there is no need.”

“I’m not going to let Aisha face that thing alone!” Kargon yelled while pointing at the transforming demon. By now it had revealed its muscular arms and the central tower was fiercely shaking. There was no knowing how long that would last.

“Obviously, Kargon. Give me a moment,” Sariel said and stepped away. She knelt down and studied something in the dirt.

“We must remain here to assist the Vethyean troops,” Vofric explained. “But we’d be damned to let you press forward without us by your side.”

Kargon nodded, then sighed. “I’m still not entirely sure how I’m gonna stop that thing, anyway.”

Avant trilled and nudged his master. The monk knelt down to meet his familiar’s gaze. The owlbear chirped and cooed in soft tones ill-fitting the battlefield. But their message was surprisingly clear to the panicking monk.

“Doing what feels right seems like solid advice but I don’t know how much a punch will help,” Kargon said as he rose to his feet and firmly patted his pet’s head. “Doesn’t mean I won’t try it.”

With an excited bark, Avant pushed his head against the monk’s palm. He was no longer a cub but the habit never went away. Both felt a connection whenever they were in this position. Maybe that was why the blue glow that passed between them felt more powerful than usual. Fatigue from a lengthy battle washed away as Avant’s song blessed his master. Following Vofric’s healing, Kargon felt almost as good as when the fighting started albeit with many bruises all over his body.

“Find what you were looking for?” Kargon asked as he approached his elven ally.

Sariel grunted and gestured for him to stay back. A focused thrust of her left hand plunged it into the ground. Seconds later, roots burst forth and climbed high into the sky. Emerald energy guided them towards the cliff. The massive bridge did not reach the cliff but easily went over most of the remaining space between the group and Aisha. Though none said it, the bent vines and roots reminded them of Balur.

“The climb looks to be unavoidable,” Sariel groaned.

“This’ll help plenty,” Kargon said and stepped onto the bent trunk.

Sariel stood up and stepped back to join Vofric and Avant as they looked towards the monk. Though they had to stay behind, Kargon felt their presence with him. He took the first steps forward but was stopped.

“Hold on, Kargon,” Master Avant barked as he stepped past the party and towards his student. “It’s rude to ignore allies who came to send you off. I didn’t follow you simply because your friends required a beacon.”

Kargon blushed, “Sorry. I-”

“I am aware of what is on your mind. Lest we forget you are my disciple.” The master’s eyes fluttered briefly but he remained stoic and continued, “My prized pupil. Take this with you.” He shoved the bo staff in his grip at Kargon.

The younger monk hesitated but slowly gripped the weapon. “I’m not very good with weapons. Are you sure?”

Master Avant pulled the staff back and sighed. With a flick of the wrist, it shrank to fit in his wrist. He stepped closer to Kargon and tugged at the sash on his hip. A small loop in the center was loosened to fit the rod before being pulled taut again.

“It will amplify your astral magic. I am not foolish enough to expect your battle tactics to change,” the master said.

“But don’t you need this? How are you going to keep fighting?” Kargon protested.

Master Avant pulled a small rod from his hip and flipped it like a coin. In mid air it grew into a bo staff which landed back in his hand.

“Do you take me for a fool who would leave myself unarmed?” he asked with a smirk.

Kargon would’ve defended himself if not for the earth shattering screech erupting from the behemoth as it finished transforming. All its flitting eyes searched for a target. It was obvious who they would go for if given time. While everyone on the battlefield heard the scream, only Kargon heard the following one. A collective shout that pushed him to move.

“Go!”

Kargon sprinted at a speed he’d never produced in his lifetime. It might not match Aisha but few could hope to catch the monk. While no flames clung to his body, burning footprints were left behind him. The fury of the small infernos set pieces of the path ablaze. Kargon couldn’t help but feel terrible about burning the gift his friend had provided. But she wouldn’t care as long as he reached their leader. Blue energy trailed off his body as his steps turned to mighty lunges that propelled him ever further.

It wouldn’t be long until Kargon reached the cliff and needed to ascend. There was literally no turning back with the pyre chasing after him. But instead of focusing on the wall, his eyes were focused on the lumbering monster. Hundreds of eyes were bearing down on the woman Kargon loved. Killing intent was a norm in their lives but the otherworldly hunger of the giant was daunting. The only way to turn that attention to him was a display of power. Such an idea felt foolish and impossible.

But Aisha could do the impossible. She was facing Aeraza and based on her stance, she was holding her own. This was some sort of show of power from the demon king. It was to show a difference in their followers. Such a thought infuriated Kargon beyond reasoning. Fundamentally, he knew Aeraza was wrong. But the rage came from the fact that someone was insulting Aisha’s beliefs. One she was so confident in that she left her allies in charge of leading the charge into a war. Not even a giant could stop Kargon from proving Aisha’s trust was placed in the right people.

The word stuck in his mind as the end of the vines drew close. There was technically more than one giant on the battlefield. Though, Kargon was only half. But he clearly held the full power of one. Based on Velana’s letter, Zigon sacrificed everything for his love. It wouldn’t do for his son to do any less. 

A sensation of pressure called from the miniature staff Master Avant provided. Twinges of pain trickled up Kargon’s arm but a golden glow kept them from overpowering his senses. Faint embers trailed off the firebrand and grew in ferocity with each step. He clenched his fists tightly and focused on the inner flame his master often complimented. Though even Kargon didn’t realize that the inferno he visualized was significantly greater than what Master Avant had seen.

With a mighty leap, Kargon escaped the burning bridge. Magnificent flames wreathed his entire body. Instead of stopping an inch off his form, they continued to grow. Expansion was almost instant but the rate was unbelievable. Legs that towered into the sky stood over demons that once looked down on the monk. They landed on the ground below and sent a flaming shockwave across the fields. Limbs made of nothing but fire stretched for hundreds of feet. Anything nearby felt the temperature rise as the form settled. Atop a blazing torso rested an infernal head with a flaming eye wrap that resembled the warrior within. Floating in place of a brain was Kargon, fully ignited, with glowing eyes that gathered vision from the form he manifested. The flames that destroyed the bridge were sucked into the flaming astral giant and created a belt similar to that which his master provided.

If any part of the form surprised Kargon, he hid it well. The monk didn’t question why he could stand within his flames. There was no worry as the flesh bubbled and peeled at the tip of his right hand. Instead he stared at the titanic monster across the cliff. Its massive fist traveled slowly towards Aisha. Kargon put out his left hand and blocked the strike. Both giants slowly turned to make eye contact but only one had confidence in winning the fight.





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