Published at 2nd of April 2024 01:31:40 PM

Chapter 68

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Thunder boomed over the cliff overlooking what would be known as the Demon War. Vethyeans and demons alike feared the battle overhead. Not only was a giant furiously pounding another to death but the very skies were shifting with each clash between Aisha and Aeraza. The frequency of metallic clanging rose with every passing moment. Lightning fast cuts surrounded the demon king before he could react. Some landed while others were blocked by a constantly shifting Great Sunderer.

“You truly are a worthy opponent, Aisha Ilphelkiir. Though your growth only puts you on par with Kharim. I do not foresee my defeat,” Aeraza said.

Aisha kicked off his chest and made space before responding. “He was enough to defeat you. And with how obsessed you are, I have a feeling you haven’t grown very much past the person who lost a millennia ago.”

“That sharp wit of yours is definitely different from his. All he spoke of were ideologies and the good of the world.”

“He understood his duty better than someone forced into it,” Aisha replied through grit teeth. “That choice led to him allowing you to curse our world. I have the weight of that curse on my shoulders. It won’t happen again.”

“You’ll do much worse than letting me return to this realm. Have you forgotten that only I know where both halves of the Ring of Planes is?”

Aisha tried to look over her opponent but he rushed forward to stop her. Their weapons clashed as the dance started anew. Both of them could only see immediately in front of them. They, however, were not the only ones on that cliff. Kargon finally calmed down after beating Atlas to death. Rage had overtaken his mind upon seeing so many comrades die in an instant. Blood dripped off fiery fists as they pulled away from shattered stone. With nothing holding Atlas’s corpse in place, it slid off the cliff. A heavy thud accompanied its landing on the ground below. Kargon paid it no mind. The battle beneath him took precedence. Aisha and Aeraza both moved too quickly to see when attacking. However, there were moments of conversation where both of them paused. Vibrations made Aisha hard to track completely but no such thing protected the demon king.

Maybe that was why Kargon couldn’t take his eyes off the being that threatened their lives. Every part of him looked out of place in this realm. Horned beings were commonplace yet Aeraza’s looked like they didn’t belong on his head. They appeared to violently tear through his skin before curling back and extending to his back. Hair spiraled around each to keep it out of the demon’s face. Jewels were strung along it like the walls of Sariel’s cave. It seemed too gaudy for someone as prideful as him. That was when one of the rings caught Kargon’s eye.

The giant face didn’t do much to improve Kargon’s vision but the shining accessory looked peculiar. It shouldn’t have fit over the horns but they had been shaved down to accommodate it and others near it. Looking closer revealed that the points where ornaments attached looked wounded. It could have been because of Aisha but these weren’t cuts. They appeared to be small pricks that hadn’t fully healed. Looking between all the many rings and chains pulled Kargon back to the shining piece. He was sure it was incomplete. Like half of it was missing.

He lost track of it as the warriors began fighting again but kept his eyes peeled. The more Kargon looked at the ring the more sure he became. Now it was only a matter of retrieving it. The astral form was too slow to grab such a small item. Even if he tried, Aeraza would likely cut the giant apart. The best option was to steal the ring up close. Though their natural difference in height would make that a challenge. But with Aisha pulling the demon king’s attention it might be possible to sneak the ring away. Getting a grip of it was all Kargon could think of.

The bigger issue was his current astral creation. As powerful and useful as it was, it posed an issue when tacking small foes. Control wasn’t natural. Kargon still wasn’t completely sure how he was completely still while floating inside. With the fierce movements of the giant, he should be moving too. Thankfully, Aeraza wasn’t focused on the still giant towering above him. Splitting his attention wasn’t possible if he wanted to defend against Aisha. Kargon took the opportunity to familiarize himself with the astral giant. Meditation was the best option but it had to be fast.

Flaming fingers curled and he felt the sensation on an unmoving hand. Demons below struck his giant legs which tickled his real feet. The feeling inside the head of the giant was like a gelatinous cube. Though movement wouldn’t be possible inside such a creature. Kargon was able to will his body to float inside the giant. It couldn’t pass the neck but every part of the head was possible. It dawned on the monk that his flames always had the capacity to change their density. The astral giant was created from unleashing all the mana he had. There was no reason to assume it operated any differently.

Kargon planted both giant arms on the cliff. Another clash ended and he watched Aeraza shift in place. This time Aisha engaged first. The giant pulled its head back with Kargon floating with it. It was difficult but he kept an eye on the battle below. It took a while but eventually they separated. No movement occurred from the flaming behemoth as the fighters clashed again. The next time they separated, Kargon saw what he was waiting for. Aeraza opened his mouth to speak. The giant violently rocked its head forward like a headbutt. At the instant it had the most speed, it lost all density and launched the monk through its forehead.

Sharp wits caused Aeraza to look up. The plummeting firebrand was too slow to land a hit on the demon king’s torso. It was a foolish attempt. Kargon counted on such an estimation of his skills. As his target stepped forward to dodge, the monk struck the horns. Pain surged through his right fist. In that moment he saw the decrepit, charred black husk where his muscular arm once was. It wouldn’t last if he went all out. With that in mind, he ignited his arm and shattered the end of Aeraza’s horn. A kick shot out as he landed on the ground. Shifting weight allowed him to dodge an incoming strike and retaliate with a left-handed punch.

The display did little to amuse the demon king. With a mighty swing of his left hand, he slammed Kargon’s face into the dirt. Tightly gripping the monk made it feel like drills were piercing into his head. Arm outstretched, Aeraza lifted the interloper to eye level then stared daggers at Aisha. Kargon pushed through the pain to turn towards his friend. A warrior looked back without betraying a hint of emotion. That was to anyone else, at least. Kargon saw a twinkle in the fierce swordswoman’s eye. Questions were racing through her head as to why her best friend would interfere in such a way. Part of her doubted his trust.

“You shattered my horn even upon missing an attack,” Aeraza said. “I commend you.”

“Th…anks!” Kargon choked out as blood dripped from his forehead into his eyes.

“That does not mean I forgive this intrusion. I hate those who interfere in my battles.”

Kargon grinned like a fool at the demon king. “Then… you’ll really… hate this!”

Mustering every ounce of strength left, he lifted his right arm. Immense focus and ignoring pain was needed to uncurl his tight fist and let loose the ring lodged into the blackened skin. Chunks of flesh peeled off and showered the ground like burnt wood. Amongst the flying blood and gore was the shining half of the Ring of Planes which Aisha caught out of the air with her free right hand. Aeraza turned sharply to feel his horn and it was clear what the monk’s goal was. With a fierce swing, he threw Kargon across the cliff. The sound of bones cracking rang in the air as he collided with a remnant of the demon castle. It was close enough for Kargon to keep watch on the battle through bleary eyes and a fading consciousness.

Aisha furiously tore her own half of the ring off her neck. There was no preamble or magic binding that stopped her from fusing both pieces together. The demon king hesitated as his adversary examined the combined Ring of Planes. Through the small circle their eyes met.

“It would be foolish to send me away,” Aeraza said. “My troops and I will simply return after gathering strength. Don’t be rash as your kind are wont to be.”

With a smooth motion, Aisha moved the ring into her palm and squeezed it.

“I won’t deny that my kind are rash. One of them let you talk until you were able to cast a curse. I’ve done my research, you need to be approaching death for that to work,” Aisha replied confidently. “But it’s not just Kharim. The Arcanum Order left tools of mass chaos around as a contingency plan. All they did was lock them in magic boxes as if their enemies couldn’t break in.”

“You are wise beyond measure, Aisha Ilphelkiir. Come, let us continue this battle.”

“Hold on,” Aisha interjected. “I didn’t deny that I was rash. If this ring exists, you will use it. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose. Vethyea will be unrecognizable the moment you get your hands on it.”

Aeraza’s eyes widened for the first time. “You can’t mean-”

“I said you’re never coming back. I mean to end you and any hopes of you returning, right here.”

Aisha threw the ring only inches in front of her. It took all his power for Aeraza to try to get within reach. It was so close to his fingers. Then the lightning struck. Valefor cut down on the ring with enough force to shatter the metal. A clean split could have been possible but invited too many unknowns. The chosen one intended to end any hopes of using the Ring of Planes ever again.

“You fool!” Aeraza roared and swung his sword at a clear opening. The force tore apart the nearby landscape. It wasn’t the strength he normally used. To Aisha, it seemed like a last resort.

Her reaction was swift and precise. Deliberate steps quickly brought her closer to Great Sunderer. Measured focus let her see its shifting form before the change was complete. Thunder clapped as she brought her blade into the mess of malleable metal. Violent shattering rang out as the two legendary blades clashed. Pieces of Great Sunderer blasted away. Before Aeraza had the chance to figure out what happened, Aisha struck again. The demon’s sword was no match for the lightning fast onslaught. Hesitant steps pulled the demon king back. In his hand was a hilt and flecks of black steel. Valefor had sundered his blade.

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