By Jeremy Sung and Brian Stevenson
Art by Nate Baertsch
*SCROLL DOWN FOR NEWEST CHAPTER*
Art by Nate Baertsch
*SCROLL DOWN FOR NEWEST CHAPTER*
Chapter 1: A New Era
It is a time of great tribulation for Monkaa. In the nearly decimated once great Gearo Citadel the battle between Empyreus, Lord of the Gearo, and Umbreus, the Bloodlust Tyrant, reaches its climax. Across Monkaa rifts are opening and closing at a fevered pitch. The native Gohlem, many creatures, and very fabric of the planet are thrown in and out of these dimensional rips in the space-time, changing the face of the planet forever. All is silent at the foot of the Great Spire, the highest peak on Monkaa, in this calm before the storm. Suddenly and violently a rift opens above the mighty mountain and a halo of light emerges. Within the light an object becomes clear. A helmet. No, not a helmet…. a crown. The Crown of Light. The very crown worn by Empyreus. It hovers for a moment, still and seething with energy. In a streak of blinding pure light it is drawn like iron to a lodestone, rushing to the foot of the mountain.
Drawn to a modest unmarked pile of stones, to the grave of The Great Gearion, Lord of Light.
The crown strikes the burial mound like a comet, pausing for a brief moment, then is absorbed, almost hungrily, into the tomb below. There is an eerie silence that follows. A massive tremor begins to shake the earth, the ground pulses, the bedrock splits and the Crown of Light emerges, bursting forth within the grip of a mighty golden fist. A powerful armor clad figure rises on a beam of pure golden light from the very earth of Monkaa, bathed in a brilliant glow. He rides the beam slowly onto the ground and raises the crown high above his head. He closes his eyes and releases a scream of both anguish and joy so powerful that it shatters the rocks, stones, and ruins around the gravesite causing dozens of heartstones to be revealed. The golden figure strides forth across the landscape. Golden light pools in each footprint spreading like tendrils into the earth, seeking out the heartstones.
The first among the heartstones to fully form into a Golden Gohlem surveys his new body and the land around him noticing the large formidable being at the center of the life giving tendrils. He approaches the golden warrior and quizzically places a hand upon the symbol on the large one’s armor. The same symbol burns itself into the Gohlem’s golden hide. The Gohlem smiles, “Lord Gearion, you have returned to us. Much has changed.”
“Yes, it appears I have returned. What on Monkaa could be so powerful outside of the Lifespring itself to resurrect me? The memories are faded. The last I can recall is falling from the peak of the Great Spire with my dear son Empyreus in my arms after….” The Lord of Light gave pause, his eyes began to glow with fury, a fiery hatred burned within him, “…After my eldest, Penumbrus drove the Blade of Shadow deep into my back!” He grabbed the Golden Gohlem by the throat and lifted him into the air, “Where is Penumbrus? I must have my vengeance on that dark souled demon! And if the Crown of Light sought me out, where are my heir and my queen? What has become of Empyreus? Mistress Noiria?”
“Lord… Please… release me,” pleaded the Gohlem. “I can help you find them. There was a terrible battle. The Citadel was decimated. Attacked by a mighty army of shadow and blood. Many Gearo and Gohlem lost their lives. We… we can find answers there. Spare me to do thy bidding.”
Gearion lowered the Golden Gohlem to his feet. “Yes, the Gearo Citadel, Fandar Sun and the Lifespring will have the answers to these riddles. Such as, how is it that a Gohlem, newly formed of a heartstone that until just moments before was buried beneath the rock and stone, knows so much about what has transpired before his birth?”
The Golden Gohlem placed his hand once again upon the Gearo insignia on Gearion’s armor and a dark light emitted from the symbol, “My Lord, I believe I gained all knowledge when I touched your sigil. We can wonder the whys and wherefores as we march. First we must build you a legion to command should we happen upon any resistance.”
“Yes,” The Lord of Light concurred, “a mighty army to retake my kingdom, find my sons, and exact my vengeance upon the one who betrayed me.” He clapped a hand upon the Golden Gohlem’s shoulder. “You shall be my general. You shall be commander of my golden army. A general must have a name. I can’t be expected to call you Golden Gohlem among a brigade of your identical brethren. As my touch gave you life, so shall it give your soldiers their purpose, and a leader.”
Gearion stood back, raised his arm into the air, opened his large hand and exclaimed, “By the Might of Monkaa!” The air around his hand crackled and burned. A silver sabre in the shape of a falcon’s wing formed from his open hand. He cried out again, “Behold the Light of Gearion!”
He examined the blade, “Ah, feels good to forge again.” Then he looked upon the Golden Gohlem, “Kneel before your Lord and King.” The Gohlem obeyed. Gearion placed the sabre blade on each of the Gohlem’s shoulders then placed the point directly against the center of his Gearo symbol. “Rise and be honored. Rise and be named. First of my golden warriors! General of my golden army! Rise, Midas!”
Midas stood and smiled.
Soon the mighty golden lord and his newly named commander had a legion of Golden Gohlem following in their wake. The very beasts of Monkaa, from the largest and most fearsome to the lowliest gave way in awe. A steel herd of mighty wild vohrse had gathered in the camp. Gearion raised his Falcon Sabre again and the herd parted. Their leader, an enormous gleaming stallion strode forth and bowed to the golden lord. Gearion laughed, “Yes, this one is perfect. He’ll do nicely.”
And so Gearion, the Lord of Light and Midas shall lead this golden host toward the Gearo Citadel and the birth of a new era. Thus begins The Golden Age!
"All hail Gearion! Lord of Light! Emperor of the Gearo!" proclaimed Midas, his voice echoing throughout the ruins of the great hall of the Gearo Citadel.
Gearion dismounted from his large steel steed and strode over to the stunned quartet. "Palidar! Well met my old friend!" Palidar was speechless. "Fandar Sun! Greetings old one, even when the walls cave in around you, you refuse to leave this chamber, eh?" smirked the Lord of Light.
"Welcome back my Lord,” said Fandar Sun. "This is...a turn of events… a surprise… even I did not foresee."
"Perhaps your vision has been clouded by advanced age," chuckled Gearion. "Now where are my sons? Where is dear Empyreus? The common folk we encountered on our march told us that he has honored me well and bravely maintained the Gearo way of life. I wish to look upon him and give him praise!"
Then Gearion’s expression changed, as he seemed to swell with rage, his blazing red eyes burning even brighter, "...and where is Penumbrus. Or Umbreus as he now calls himself. That treacherous beast has much to answer for...."
Palidar had finally recovered his composure. "Empyreus is gone my Lord, as is Umbreus. You arrive in the aftermath of a great battle, one that almost ended Monkaa... We four are the only survivors of the Citadel battle. Many Gohlem have gathered to help rebuild, though the sons of shadow and light are no where to be found.”
“Nor brave Brutok,” added Flaw.
“Silence Gohlem!” sneered Midas. “Do not address the Lord of Light unless you are spoken to!”
“Easy, pal.” Flaw fired back. “I don’t know who you or King Goldie here are but we’ve all just been through a very trying ordeal and we’ve lost a great many comrades, brothers, and friends. Including Brutok! Without his sacrifice there’d be nothing left for your Lord to lord.”
“Infidel!” accused Midas as he forged a blade resembling a bat wing.
Flaw’s hand began to morph into a plated shield as he prepared to defend himself.
“ENOUGH!” boomed Gearion’s voice. “Midas, put that away. We are among allies here. Though I’m very surprised to see an Obsidian Gohlem wearing the mark of a Gearo. Usually they are so common and difficult to train. This one would be wise to learn his place. Do you have a name?”
“Flaw is my name, I am a warrior in the service of Empyreus, Lord of The Gearo,” Flaw answered.
“Well Flaw, my dear fool,” Gearion chided. “It appears that Empyreus is not here. The true Lord of the Gearo has returned to claim this kingdom anew. Another outburst like that and I’ll have you back in what ever hole you crawled out of.”
Palidar intervened, “Liege, Flaw has proven himself in battle and loyalty to the Gearo cause. He is just as valuable as any of a hundred Empyrean Elite or even my own Steel Brigade. He has earned his place.”
Gearion turned to Palidar, his eyes flaring up with the same burning hatred they filled with as he spoke of Umbreus. “Shall I begin setting an example with you, Palidar?” Then the golden lord composed himself and continued, “I’m sorry, this is no way to begin a homecoming. There is much to do, much to prepare. Come Palidar, fill me in on what has come before that I may have a better understanding of the players and their parts within my new empire.” Gearion turned and began to leave the chamber. "And have your minions continue the re-building process," he said, gesturing to Flaw and Ambro.
Palidar looked at his dear friends sheepishly, "My brothers, I..."
Flaw and Ambro smiled. "Go, fill in his lord high muckety-muck," whispered Flaw as Ambro stifled a laugh, "we 'minions' know our role." They rounded up the Glowstone Gohlem and moved them out to the courtyard to continue with their appointed task.
“Palidar, a moment please,” Fandar summoned. “I find it very peculiar that Lord Gearion did not even acknowledge Ambro in this exchange. One would think that if he was happy to see anyone it would be his once savior.”
“I too noticed that,” Palidar returned, “I also noticed how uncharacteristic his attitude toward Flaw was, and his seething hatred for Umbreus. I too may act out of sorts if I’d been stabbed in the back by own son, but I sense something very dark about our newly resurrected lord.”
“Palidar!” Gearion called from within the corridor.
“To your side, my liege,” Palidar called back. “Stay wary, Fandar. Things may not be as golden as they appear.” Then he disappeared into the next chamber with Gearion.
Soon the only two left in the ruined chamber were Fandar Sun and the Gohlem that had announced the arrival of the Lord of Light, Midas.
“And what is it that you would see done…. I’m sorry, what is it you’re called?” Fandar asked the Golden Gohlem leading the troops crowding the Great Hall.
The Golden Gohlem bobbed his head in reverence. "Fandar Sun, you are a living legend, old one. I am Midas, first among the new era of Monkaa, General in the Army of the Golden Gohlem, and humble servant of Lord Gearion. Perhaps we might confer, as Gearion would like a report on the state of the Lifespring.”
"Humph. Very well," sniffed Fandar, "I suppose this 'old one' is still good for something... This way… and don’t touch anything."
Midas barked several orders to his platoons of Gohlem then the two retired to the Lifespring chamber.
Empyreus floated and spun like a leaf in a gale, a mere idea in a maelstrom of possibilities. He had never taken a rift this far. He had hoped to take Umbreus and the Bloodlust power as far from Monkaa as possible. So he crossed as many dimensions as he dared, finally feeling his brother torn asunder as they grappled. In the process Empyreus had fully expended the power of the Crown of Light and felt it fall away from him, lost through one of the many side rifts that opened in his wake. All that sustained him were the remnants of Lifespring power he still carried, and his body still glowed with it, a pinprick of light in a sea of unending darkness. He could see Brutok’s battered and lifeless body in the rift space with him. He called out to him numerous times but the sound would vaporize and then crystallize into shards of stinging glass as soon as it left his throat. Empyreus tried to open an escape or return rift but he was still too weak, and quietly cursed under his breath. "Bolts and rivets!"
"Bo-olts… End… Ree-veets," an odd voice intoned.
Empyreus glanced around. Slowly a strange green glow coalesced before him. It sparked then pulsed and again Empyreus heard rough words, "Bolts. And. Ri-vets."
"Who...What are you? I am Empyreus, Lord of the Gearo. I need help,” the lost prince said.
The smear of light buzzed and hummed and suddenly winked out, leaving Empyreus and Brutok alone in the void. But again he heard, more clearly this time, "Bolts and rivets."
Chapter 2: The Golden Age Dawns
The Great Gear turns. Ever has it turned and ever will it turn.
Many turns of the Gear had passed since Gearion’s return. Soon the Gearo Citadel and the new empire of Gearion, Lord of Light began to thrive. More legions of Golden Gohlem were raised. Either from fresh heartstones or any Gohlem who wished to volunteer and receive Gearion's “Golden Touch”. The first decree of the new Lord of the Gearo was that the Bloodlust Walkers, who still roamed the countryside and wildernesses of Monkaa, be contained and captured.
On the battlefront, Palidar led the charge as demoted second in command of the army and soon the newly constructed prison-pens outside the capital teemed with Blood Walkers. He had not been to the Citadel for quite sometime. Each time he would attempt to return, Midas would give him new directives and new missions to carry out. Each time he was unable to hold council with Gearion, his suspicions grew stronger. The Lord of Light was cold and distant, bent on revenge. There was an all too familiar darkness about Gearion that Palidar feared would be their undoing.
In the capital, Midas led the armies from his war room. He had also usurped Ambro’s duties as chamberlain and saw to the day to day running of the empire. This left Flaw and Ambro, who both declined the Golden Touch, with little to do but periodically check in with Fandar Sun in the desperate hope that the Lifespring would grant them a vision of Empyreus' whereabouts. This day Flaw and Ambro were on their way for just such a to visit.
Flaw knocked on the chamber door, and when they did not hear the familiar "Enter my sons," he gently pushed the door open.
Fandar Sun lay wounded in a pool of blood on the chamber floor. His armor had been savagely rent and torn asunder.
"NO!" the duo cried in unison. Rushing to Fandar's side they desperately searched for any signs of life. The old seer stirred, but barely.
"Li-Life-Lifespring..." he stammered, and Flaw quickly but gently carried the battered old Gearo to the Lifespring. As the waters closed over him a softly glowing shell of healing energy began to form around him. Fandar drifted off into a healing sleep. Flaw thought he heard him mutter a few sounds.
"Gear..ion… Uh… Uh… Uhm…" And then he was deep in the healing trance.
Flaw turned to Ambro, "Will he survive?" asked the Obsidian Gohlem.
"I pray so," answered the former Chamberlin, "Palidar needs to be told of this. Immediately."
Flaw frowned, "... what about his lord high muckety-muck..."
Suddenly the door to the chamber burst open and four fully armed Golden Gohlem rushed in. "Arrest the traitors!" a voice bellowed and they closed in on Ambro and Flaw.
"RUN!" shouted Ambro as he fell into a fighting stance and formed his hands into a pair of spiked shields.
Flaw acted in kind and forged a large battle-axe. “I’m not going anywhere!”
"NO!" shouted Ambro, "Find Palidar! He’s the only one left that hasn’t taken that blasted Golden Touch. We need him here. His suspicions are bearing fruit. I’ll hold them back. I must stay to protect Fandar. GO!" The troupe of Golden Gohlem closed in on Ambro.
Flaw ran to the window, "I'll come back for you!" Then he burst through the window in a shower of iron and glass.
The Lifespring chamber, while on the ground floor of the Citadel, was ten stories of a sheer cliff above the great city marketplace and as he fell Flaw rolled his body into an armored wrecking ball and landed with a crash in the center of a potters stall. As he rose from the wreckage and began to apologize to the shopkeeper, he saw a group of heavily armed Golden Gohlem approaching from the far end of the street, pushing and shoving bystanders aside. Flaw leapt to his feet and ran in the opposite direction. There was a great commotion at the gate to Gearo City. Golden Gohlem bellowed and bullied trying to lock the city down as confused citizens, merchants and porters milled about in confusion. Flaw approached the chaos cautiously, knowing it was he whom they sought. Then he spied a pair of familiar figures.
"Ay! Let us through! We got bizniss in dat all!" grumbled Char.
"Indeed, we’ve done nothing wrong a’tall. We aren’t the Obsidian Gohlem you are looking for!" added Sooty.
"Lord Gearion's orders,” barked the guard. “All Obsidian Gohlem are to be detained and questioned, no exceptions!"
Flaw seized his chance. He leapt up on a cart full of polished crystal light spheres. "Looking for me!" he shouted as he unleashed his Glowstone power, blinding the crowd. With a mighty heave he overturned the cart sending light spheres into the street tripping the Golden Gohlem guards and creating even further chaos.
"Dat's our old friend!" cheered Char.
"Aye! Over here me Lord" shouted Sooty.
Flaw lowed his shoulder and barreled through the crowd toward the Obsidian Gohlem porters.
"In trouble again, eh, me Lord?" laughed Sooty, as a breathless Flaw reached them.
"We'll never outrun them...,” he panted.
Sooty glanced at Char. Char shrugged, “No use hidin’ dat all from him now! Mother says we help him? We help him.” With that the two porters joined hands and opened a blazing rift of orange flames around them. Then the trio disappeared, leaving behind a confused crowd and a platoon of frustrated raging Golden Gohlem.
"Speak Traitor! Why did you attempt to murder Fandar Sun!" shouted Midas.
Gearion sat on his throne and watched his general and chamberlain question the prisoner.
Ambro was a bloody, broken mess, held up by two burly Golden Gohlem guards, “Lord Gearion, I have been a loyal servant and friend. Fandar Sun is my teacher. I am Gearo through and through. I would never do anything to bring harm to the kingdom. You among all others should know this. Surely you remember the life bond you and I shared during the Vilhain Uprising. I sacrificed much to bring you from the brink of death so the Gearo could win that war. Or when the twins were only boys. I was their teacher. You and mistress Noiria entrusted me with their education of both shadow and light. Empyreus was my best pupil. Please, sire. I am Ambro. I am innocent. Flaw is innocent. We found Fandar in that state. He tried to tell us, warn us of something. He uttered a name… Um…”
Gearion leapt from his throne, “LIES!” and struck Ambro with the force of a rampaging Thresher Maw. “Until we learn the whereabouts of the one called Flaw this line of questioning is over! Now, where is that Obsidian whelp hiding?”
"He's unconscious sir," replied one of the guards holding the limp form of Ambro.
"Bah, take him to the cells," said Midas.
"No Matter," said Gearion, "the old man was of little use to me anyway. We have more pressing concerns. Alert our field teams to add this Flaw to the list of undesirables to be rounded up along with the Blood Walkers."
"Of course my Lord," obeyed Midas. "I will personally ensure that this murderous traitor is brought to justice."
"Excellent, my loyal servant. Be on your way. I have other important matters to attend," said Gearion dismissing the Golden Gohlem. “I ride for Castle Umbreus at dawn.”
“Castle Umbreus, my liege?” questioned Midas with a puzzled look. “Whatever do you hope to find in that dark ruin? I should ride with you.”
“What I seek is none of your concern,” Gearion hissed and his eyes glowed red. “Now go! Do as I have ordered and bring me this one named Flaw.”
Midas didn’t say another word. He merely smiled a long drawn smile, saluted, and took his leave to carry out the hunt.
Once Midas had left the throne room Gearion paced the floor like a hungry sand tiger. The things Ambro had spoke of roiling in his mind. The Vilhain Uprising, life bonds, Flaw, Fandar Sun, the sons of shadow and light, Empyreus and even the name of Umbreus before he had knocked the former chamberlain unconscious. All of this waging an anguishing conflict of dark and light within the mind of Gearion. A dark shadow crept into the chamber and surrounded The Lord of Light lifting him off the ground, sharp tendrils of dark energy found their way into the chinks of his golden armor, and his eyes burned blood red with fury. “I must find Empyreus. His final fate must be known to me,” the Golden Gearo King said in a voice filled with anger and darkness. “I was a fool to leave the Throne of Monkaa to one so weak. Umbreus. Yes, my eldest son. Umbreus is the rightful ruler of Monkaa. His return is exactly what this planet needs….” Then the cloud of shadow around Gearion dissipated, the dark tendrils withdrew, and he was lowered to the throne room floor as the chamber was once more flooded with light. In a more even tone the Lord of the Gearo muttered, “yes, I must find my sons… both of them.”
Flaw slowly regained consciousness. "What...what happened? How did we escape? I remember...fire...” he asked as he sat up.
Sooty and Char glanced at one another.
"I think you took a crack on the head me Lord, got dat all confused a bit," said Char.
Sooty added, "You saw us bein’ detained by them golden thugs and came to our rescue."
"You opened a glow rift with dat all power and saved dat all three," said Char nodding.
"That...that doesn't sound right..." said Flaw, still confused.
"No matter me Lord, you done us right once again, and dat all is all dat matters," Char said with finality.
"Besides," said Sooty, "you're a wanted Gohlem, but don't worry, old Sooty and Char will keep you safe and sound..."
Empyreus had wondered if he would see the strange green smear of light return or if it was just another one of those inexplicable moments one has while in rift space. He had almost drifted off to sleep when he heard a sound that was indeed all too familiar.
“Hrrrrhn…. Where?” questioned the deep boulder crashing tone. Brutok had stirred.
“Ah, there you are,” Empyreus said. “Welcome back to the living.”
“Hmmph, Jokes.” Brutok answered. “Always jokes. Where are we?”
“Trapped in rift space, between here and there. Only I’m not entirely certain where there is. I had hoped to drive my brother as far into the cosmos away from anywhere inhabited as I could,” The Lord of The Gearo explained.
“Umbreus?” asked the green behemoth.
“As we fired through the final rift out of the chamber, he shrieked and wailed as though his soul was being ripped from his body. He cursed us both profusely and tried to tear you apart. That’s a tough hide you wear. I can see why Palidar respects you on the battlefield.” He fell silent for a moment before speaking again, “Umbreus was vaporized it seems. His empty armor drifted along with us for a while but eventually fell out of sight.”
“Hurt him maybe, but that not kill him,” Brutok muttered. “Take us back. Home. Back to Monkaa.”
“I wish I could,” Empyreus said. “What small amount of Lifespring power I have left is the only thing keeping us from being ripped apart and vaporized like Umbreus was. I’ve lost The Crown of Light.”
“Not good,” grumbled the former Vilhain General. “Must return. Must find Noiria.”
“You really did love my mother didn’t you?” asked Empyreus. “More than a subject loves a queen.”
“She gave me reason to be,” confessed Brutok. “Umbreus made me believe Gearo killed her. Why I let him rule over Vilhain. Promised once Gearo defeated, Brutok could have peace. Foolish. I now have lost army. Home. Tribe. All that matters. Lost. If we survived,” contemplated Brutok, “possible Umbreus too.”
“Umbreus killed our mother, just like he killed our father. He very well almost killed us too. He is a madman but I agree his control over shadow rifts is just as powerful as mine over the light. I sense him still through the rift space. Somehow changed, altered but still alive.”
“Gearo, you are wrong,” Brutok said softly. “Empyreus not as powerful when Gearion die without crown. Without Lifespring. How Umbreus become so strong if Mistress was gone?” Brutok smiled through his dented and bloodied helmet. “My Mistress, Noiria, your mother… she lives.”
Suddenly the air around Brutok sparked and pulsed as he was enveloped in the green light Empyreus had encountered before.
“WHAT!?!” growled the green beast and then he howled in agony as the light shot through him and seemed to tighten around him. He then roared with anger. The light constricted and mimicked his roar. Empyreus tried to forge a blade or a blaster to fight off the mysterious attack but he didn’t have the strength. Then the rift space twisted and distorted and before his very eyes the strange cocoon of light around mighty Brutok constricted once more and imploded upon itself in a snap of energy taking the green giant of Monkaa along with it. All fell silent and Empyreus was once again alone.
Chapter 3: The Hunters and The Hunted
The Crayboth was lost. It had come a long way, across space and dimensions, via a rift to the world of Monkaa. It had adapted quickly, as its kind is apt to do, but something about Monkaa had affected it. It had started to develop self-awareness and intelligence uncommon amongst these odd little creatures. It had also become obsessed with flight. Early on it had been part of a small pack of Crayboth. A Monkaarian Eaglehawk, a mighty winged predator, hunted the pack. One by one the Crayboth had been caught and eaten. All save this last one. While it feared the great Eaglehawk, something in it longed to fly. Its skin had morphed and changed colors to mimic the big bird. This inadvertently saved the little creature's life without it realizing it. It now looked like an eaglet, and was safe from predation by the big birds that refused to cannibalize their own young. So the little Crayboth Eaglet wandered the countryside, vainly flapping its arms as it leapt off tree stumps and boulders. Eventually it found its way to a small Gearo village.
Unfortunately, it arrived the same day as Midas and a cadre of his Golden Gohlem hunters.
"Gather around simple folk of Monkaa!" cried Midas. "Your Lord Gearion has need of your aid! He seeks any information on the whereabouts of any feral Blood Walkers or the vile traitor Flaw, the Obsidian Gohlem!" Midas reached into one of many bulging sacks loaded on a cart he and his hunters had in tow. "And he rewards his loyal servants!" he shouted as he threw handfuls of valuable rare ore and sparkling gems into the crowd. "There will be wealth, food and glory for any that are able to help your beloved Lord!"
The crowd scrambled to pick up the scattered wealth and Midas grinned. The Crayboth Eaglet watched the commotion from under a nearby bench. It was very hungry and eyed the bulging sacks of fruit, root, and grain. Finally the crowd dispersed and the village square quieted. The Crayboth Eaglet made its move and stealthily crept toward the food-laden cart. It had just begun to bite into a nectarplum when Midas turned and saw it. "Well, hello little one," he said. "Don't be afraid. Hungry are you?" He reached down and offered the little creature another nectarplum. The Crayboth Eaglet hesitated but its hunger won out and it took the food, relaxing a little. "There, there. Plenty for even the smallest," he smiled.
Without warning Midas’s hand shot out and closed around the arm of the Crayboth. The little creature squawked and struggled in vain.
"You'd steal what is mine? MINE!!" the Gohlem shrieked, his face twisted into a terrifying rictus. Midas lifted the Eaglet Crayboth over his head, cruelly twisting its arms. "All. Is. MINE!" he shouted and savagely flung the little creature across the square and into a wall, where it struck with a crunch and fell to lay still in a heap upon the ground.
"Come. We've wasted enough time in this cesspool of a village. We'll be back later to finish the...test..." Midas hissed and turned to leave, followed by his Gold Gohlem hunters.
From the shadows a dark cloaked figure watched and clenched his fists in rage. If there was one thing Flaw was all too familiar with and despised it was larger creatures bringing harm to those that seemed defenseless and harmless.
Flaw threw back his hood as he took off the cloak he had been wearing. He leaned down to look at the poor broken little Crayboth. Its arm was twisted at an unnatural angle and its carapace was cracked and oozing a bit of blood. Flaw channeled his rage into Glowstone power and laid his hand on the horribly injured creature. Healing life energy flowed from the Gohlem's heartstone through his hand into the Crayboth Eaglet. The creature stirred. Its injuries didn't vanish, but the bleeding stopped and the carapace began to knit back together.
The Obsidian outlaw gathered up the little creature and wrapped it in his cloak. Carefully carrying the small bundle, he withdrew from the village.
“What a cold, dark and absolute perfect place for a fortress,” Gearion thought to himself as he walked through the gates of the abandoned Castle Umbreus. “I can see why this is where my eldest born took refuge from the light.” The high walls were sheer and black; the slick glassed stone looked more like the stacked bodies of Obsidian Gohlem than it did masonry of any sort. The courtyard and grounds were strewn with weapons and training devices. Much more a gladiatorial ludus than it was a palace. “Clearly the work of that jade brute my wife was so fond of,” he mused out loud.
“That jade brute is one of the few reasons you had a Monkaa to be reborn to,” said a voice from the shadows.
“Step forth,” commanded Gearion as he forged a silver falcon sabre in his hand. “I would see the man I’m about to slay for stalking in the darkness.”
“You can put that away my king,” said the voice as it stepped from the dark hallway, “you won’t be needing it. This place is abandoned and desolate.”
“Ah, Palidar, well met my old friend,” said Gearion. “A shame. I could use a good battle to quell the urges I’ve been having since my return.”
“Urges?” asked the steel clad Gearo.
“Yes, dark urges. The kind where rage devours reason and the desire for vengeance permeates the very fabric of my soul.” The Lord of Light stood still for a moment then snapped his head toward Palidar once more and clenched the hilt of his blade. “What brings you to this dark place? Midas did not order a search of this area, I would have been informed.” He lunged at Palidar, thrusting the blade straight at the steel soldier’s chest.
Palidar clapped his large hands together, catching the blade just inches away from the bright blue sigil on his armor. “Midas may be your General, my liege. He is not mine,” Palidar said dryly. He then crouched slightly and leapt into the air, summersaulting over his golden attacker. Still holding the blade flat between his hands he flipped and tossed Gearion into the black glass wall across the training yard. He then raised both arms above his head, the air around them cracked and sparked as his right became a spiked mace and the left a curved blade resembling the horn of a thresher maw. “I am here to investigate some information I received from mighty Brutok the last time I found myself within this terrible place.” He assumed a defensive stance and gestured to the fallen king to come at him.
“Humph, always the most stubborn of soldiers, you rusted old war vohrse.” The Lord of Light stood holding a long black spear in his free hand.” What information?” Gearion quizzically cocked his head to the side like a pup when it knows there is a plate of scraps upon the table. Then with a powerful heave he launched the spear at his former general with the force of a thousand sky wyrms breaking the sound barrier. It would surely find its intended mark.
Palidar deftly, and with speed unmatched by Monkaarian warriors a fraction of his age, stepped out of the path of the speeding projectile. With an uppercut of the thresher horn blade he snapped the spear in two and like a dervish of lightning spun to kick the broken tail of it back in the direction of Gearion. The golden king swatted it away with his sabre and doubled up on his grip. “Noiria, my king. Your wife, Mistress of Shadow.” Palidar explained as best he could recollect, “Umbreus kept her hidden away somewhere, alive if only just barely. Brutok, Lord Empyreus, even Fandar Sun all believed her to be dead at the hands of Penumbrus.”
“Noiria! Alive!?!?” He charged Palidar and burned with rage. The light and shadow both emanated from Gearion so intensely that Palidar could feel his own steel armor freeze and all at once burn with the heat of the suns. Gearion unleashed a flurry of attacks upon Palidar, lunging and slashing with angry and uncontrolled parries and thrusts of his flashing sabre. What had begun as mere playful sparring between two friends had escalated into a full battle of heated rage with Gearion as the aggressor. “Take me to her! NOW!”
The rage and darkness he could see in his king concerned and frightened Palidar as he used every bit of his battle prowess to defend himself against the mad randomness of flourishes and blasts. “She is not here, my Lord. The chamber where she was being held is as empty and dark as the rest of this dark place.” He blocked a downward slash from Gearion’s blade and with a kick to the chest Gearion fell to the ground. My Lord. Dear friend. Enough. I do not want to harm you,” Palidar pleaded.
Gearion laughed, a terrifyingly familiar laugh. Palidar shuddered. A pair of large raptor like wings forged on Gearion’s back and he flew at Palidar like a vicious eaglehawk zeroing on its prey. Palidar dodged the advance and swung his blade, slicing off a chunk of a wing. Gearion shrieked in pain and a vast shadow rift tore open in the wall of the arena. The golden figure disappeared into the dark tear and left the weary steel warrior bewildered and in awe.
Palidar bent down and picked up the shining silver tip of the wing he had sliced from his mad king. In his hand the metal tarnished and turned black and then into pure blood. “No!” he shouted. “It can’t be.” He whistled and through the gates a gleaming crystal stallion emerged. “Come, Qwartz! We must hurry to the Citadel. Make haste. In my absence I fear my suspicions have come to pass. RIDE!”
Time had little meaning in this strange dimension Empyreus found himself in. He couldn't tell if it had been moments or months since the strange green glow had either taken or devoured Brutok, but it had returned. This time he avoided speaking. Instead the lost Lord of the Gearo reached out a hand and attempted to touch the strange green smear of light. It rippled and distorted like a reflection in a pond. After a moment, it began to vibrate and hum and before his eyes the green glow coalesced into an exact copy of himself.
"How...?" said Empyreus.
"I am Empyreus Lord of the Gearo," said the strange green doppelganger.
Then it reached its hand forward, right into Empyreus' chest and squeezed. The Gearo felt as if he were drowning and burning at the same time. His blood froze and rigor set into his limbs. He could not move. He tried to cry out but the sound would not come. A bright and blinding light came over him and then he blacked out.
Chapter 4: All That Glitters
Flaw, Sooty and Char had been hiding in a network of caves near the village where Flaw had observed the cruelty of Midas and rescued the Crayboth Eaglet. The little creature had recovered thanks to Flaw's healing touch. It had grown quite attached to the Obsidian outlaw, and followed Flaw everywhere. The trio had also re-united with the young Glowstone Gohlem that Flaw had left with Sooty and Char after he had inadvertently turned it from a Blood Walker. It had grown into a strong and skilled warrior and had become quite adept at fighting off any feral Blood Walkers that threated its new family. Sooty and Char told Flaw they had taken to calling the young Gohlem by the name of Shadoh merely for the irony of it all. Shadoh had gone off to scout out the area and gather news, while Sooty, Char and Flaw waited at camp and prepared the evening meal.
"We can't sit here forever," grumbled Flaw, "Those golden thugs are everywhere, throwing wealth around. They may seem magnanimous, but they're hiding something. That Midas is worst of all." He patted the snoozing Crayboth Eaglet on the head. "No Gearo would treat a defenseless creature like that," he said under his breath, eyes still flashing with rage. Bolts and rivets, I don't trust them one bit, or our new emperor, Gearion. He's nothing like the true Gearo I know."
Sooty glanced at Char and sighed, "All in good time, right now the main thing is to keep you safe, and one step ahead of them golden brutes."
Char nodded, stirring the breadfruit stew they were preparing, “Aye, your Gearo brothers will sort dat all out. We need just stay low ‘til dat all time is right.”
"But Ambro is still a prisoner, I have no idea where Palidar is, and we're no closer to finding Empyreus!" said a frustrated Flaw. "At least those golden thugs are clearing the countryside of Blood Walkers...”
Just then Shadoh burst into the cave. He was breathless and had been wounded. “The village is gone. The villagers slaughtered," he wheezed.
"How?" asked Flaw.
"Blood Walkers, hundreds of them. Led by the Golden Gohlem, the one you call Midas,” answered Shadoh grimly.
"Report Midas!" commanded Gearion, Lord of Light and Emperor of the Gearo, "How goes our extermination of the Blood Walkers?"
"Excellent my lord! We have gathered the last of them in the prison pits and my Golden Gohlem are systematically culling the herds and entombing the bodies in the caverns below Gearo City," answered Midas.
"Superb," nodded Gearion, "Once we have rid ourselves of those mindless savage abominations Monkaa will finally be at peace and united in the Light. Then the search for my sons and beloved wife can resume."
Just then the door to the throne room burst open, and a steel clad warrior shoved aside the guards. “And just what do you plan to do with them once you find them?” Palidar had returned.
"What is the meaning of this!" shrieked Midas.
"The meaning, you gilded lap dog, is ending this madness!” shouted Palidar. “Flaw and Ambro are no traitors! They would never harm Fandar Sun!"
Several Golden Gohlem guards closed in and attempted to restrain the angry Gearo General. After several dozen had been laid out by the old warrior his fatigue from a long and arduous journey back to the Citadel had set in and they were able to best him.
"How dare you disrespect Lord Gearion in this way!" raged Midas.
"Gearion?” scoffed Palidar indignantly. “I knew Gearion. Fought for Gearion. Bled for Gearion. This… thing that sits upon his ill begotten throne is not Gearion. This is not the Lord of Light! Better that we address him as he was once known… Umbreus!"
"STOP!” boomed the voice of Gearion, rattling and quaking the very walls of the Citadel itself. “I allowed you your one indulgence at my dark heir’s former palace, Palidar. Even my love of a loyal old servant has its limits. The Obsidian Gohlem and the former Chamberlin must pay for their crimes. The issue is closed," decreed Gearion. “NOW, about your treasonous accusation…” Gearion held Palidar’s chin up and wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth with a thumb, “this too I will allow to pass, but only this once. You have refused my golden touch for too long. Tomorrow you will be anointed like the rest of the army that serves me. Tomorrow you take your place as a true Golden Warrior of the new Gearo under the command of Midas.”
"NEVER..." yelled Palidar defiantly.
"Enough,” Gearion laughed. “Another word and I will be forced to assume you were in league with those traitors, your former comrades. Is that what you want?" asked the stern Emperor of the Gearo.
Palidar remained silent and gritted his teeth.
"Good. Now Midas will take you to a holding cell where we can keep an eye on you until I have enough energy to bless one as strong willed as yourself with my golden touch. The two of you must learn to work as one,” Gearion ordered. “You will oversee the extermination of the remaining Blood Walkers in the prison pens. You look like you could use some distraction."
"You will never control my free will..." said Palidar seething with rage.
Midas grinned and led him out of the throne room by his restraints. Too weak to fight back, Palidar followed.
Palidar was taken out of the Gearo Citadel by Midas and down to the prison pits. Midas proudly showed Palidar how well constructed the prison was and how they could move the herds of Blood Walkers from smaller holding pens into a giant central pit. Palidar walked to the edge of the pit and looked down at the seething mass of Blood Walkers.
"They are nearly dormant now, as they've not fed in some time," said Midas.
Palidar nodded. "So how do you exterminate them? Starve them?"
"Exterminate? Starve? Why, Palidar, we don't do any of that at all..." Midas purred lasciviously as he came up behind the old Gearo General. "We. Feed. Them." he hissed.
With that Midas grabbed Palidar by the arm and with strength that Palidar had not expected hurled him into the Blood Walker pit. The Gearo General fell upon the ground in the deep pit and was set upon by massive herd of ravenous bloodthirsty monsters. As they closed in he turned and at that moment realized what he had feared since the day Gearion had returned to them. He had made a grave error in his accusation of The Lord of Light. Midas’ face began to melt and distort it became a molten pool of unformed golden liquid. Then it took on a more familiar form as the pool solidified and changed into a grinning golden skull...
Flaw, Sooty, Char and Shadoh surveyed the ruins. The Crayboth Eaglet rummaged about the wreckage in agitation, hissing and clucking. The village had been obliterated.
"It's totally destroyed," said Flaw sadly.
"Aye, there's no mistakin’ dat," agreed Char.
Sooty nodded, "...but somethin’ isn't right. It's completely destroyed. Feral Blood Walkers aren't this precise. This village and its inhabitants were methodically destroyed. This was a military strike.”
“You're sure this was Blood Walkers?" Flaw asked Shadoh.
"Yes," the young Gohlem answered, "I know Blood Walkers and there were hundreds here. I caught sight of it from the hills outside the village, watched them mop up and retreat, in silent orderly ranks, led by that horrid Midas. By the time I got into the village they were gone and it was too late to help."
Flaw looked at the Crayboth Eaglet angrily hopping around in the broken rubble. He remembered the terrible grinning rictus on the Gold Gohlem's face as he beat the small creature. Flaw gnashed his teeth, "There's only one being on Monkaa that can command Blood Walkers that way. Umbreus!"
Sooty and Char glanced at each other, not in surprise, but with knowing.
"The kid's smart, can't deny dat all," said Char.
"Yes, he doesn't miss a thing does he?" answered Sooty.
"Well, he don't know everything yet..." Char reminded.
Sooty smiled and nodded at his cohort, and with that the two joined hands and opened a rift of bright orange flame.
"You two! So I didn't imagine it!" shouted Flaw.
"Hush," said Sooty. "We are a story for another day. Right now your friends need you. You and Shadoh. We can rift you into Gearo City, but it's up to you to free Ambro, find Palidar, and stop Umbreus. Beware the misguided power of Gearion, but know he is not necessarily your enemy."
"Aye," added Char, "Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend." with those cryptic words Flaw, Shadoh, and the Crayboth Eaglet were sent through the fiery rift.
"The enemy of your enemy is your friend," said Sooty, "I like that brother."
"Well, it's true," answered Char "True for now at least."
Empyreus awoke and the strange green light doppelganger looked at him quizzically. He looked around and realized he was no longer floating in a black void, but appeared to be back in the Gearo Citadel. Or at least a copy of it created out of green light. The doppelganger spoke.
"You are Empyreus, Lord of the Gearo. We are the Veridiohm. We have no form. We are thought. We are energy. We are idea. We have heard the song of your soul. We take a form familiar to you. We create an environment familiar to you. We must gain knowledge from you. Why are you here?"
"I am lost. I fought a great battle against my brother, my enemy, and found myself here in your realm," answered Empyreus.
"We have seen this in your soul. We know how you came to be here. Why are you here now? What do you want? What do you intend to do? Tell us. Tell us that we may decide," demanded the Veridiohm tonelessly.
"I just want to go home," said a weary Empyreus.
"We know that is your desire. What is your intention? How will you affect the Futurestream? Tell us that we may decide," said the Veridiohm again.
"Decide what?" asked Empyreus in frustration.
"That we may decide if we must destroy you, Empyreus, Lord of the Gearo," answered the Veridiohm. "We know of rage. We know of destruction. We know of love. We know of betrayal. We know of war. We know of fear. They threaten the Futurestream. We learned of these things from the one called Brutok. We heard the song of his soul. He threatened the Futurestream."
“Where is Brutok?” asked Empyreus with furrowed brow.
"We destroyed the one called Brutok. Now help us decide if we must destroy you."
Chapter 5: Fool's Gold
Palidar had fought for hours but it was an impossible battle. He was in a pit full of hungry Blood Walkers. Had they not been near dormant from hunger, they would have torn him to shreds. As it was, it took everything he had to morph his limbs into weapons and armor to stave off the horde. His Glowstone power finally expended, the old warrior had been backed into a corner and was near the end.
Then a bright flaming rift opened above him and in dropped Flaw, the Crayboth Eaglet and the Glowstone Gohlem called Shadoh. It only took Flaw a moment to size up the situation and begin laying into the Blood Walkers, followed immediately into the fray by Shadoh. The Crayboth Eaglet had continued to evolve after the infusion of Glowstone power. Its arms blurred and morphed into a pair of strong wing blades, and it swooped through the chamber slashing back Bloodlust Walkers.
"Need some help old man?" chuckled Flaw.
"Ha! I was just warming them up for you son!" answered Palidar.
But soon the tide again began to turn against the heroes. "This is a losing battle!" shouted Shadoh.
Flaw was about to agree when he began to feel a pull on his soul, the link to the Lifespring suddenly pulsing with life. "Flaw, Palidar!" It was the voice of Fandar Sun, "use the Glowstone Gohlem! He is the link! Redeem them!"
Flaw looked at Palidar and the old soldier nodded. Shadoh seemed to understand what he needed to do and the three warriors joined hands. The Blood Walkers closed in and began to tear into them. Flaw and Palidar screamed in pain and opened up their link to the Lifespring, channeling their power into the young Glowstone Gohlem. He pulsed with light and a rift began to grow around the trio, expanding into the ranks of the attacking Blood Walkers. Each one caught in the rift was washed clean of the Bloodlust infection and they reverted back into their original forms, Gearo, Vilhain and common Gohlem alike. In Palidar’s weakened state the rift could not engulf the entire massive herd and once it reached its limit it snapped shut, whisking the three heroes, the Crayboth and the newly redeemed Gohlem away to safety and leaving a diminished but still deadly Bloodlust horde in their wake.
"It is done my Lord. The empire is free of the scourge of the Blood Walkers and your people are united in the Light!” announced a grinning Midas. "Perhaps you would like to accompany me to the prison pens and oversee the final extermination of the last of the fiends?"
"Very well, my loyal servant, lead on!" agreed a jubilant Gearion.
Midas grinned even wider as his plan was nearing completion.
Midas…. or more accurately, Umbreus thought to himself, “ How fortuitous it had been that his dear brother lost his precious Crown of Light within the rift and it returned to seek out the brow of its once bright bearer. It had been simplicity for his own disembodied spirit essence to take control of one of Gearion's newly born Golden Gohlem. It had been child's play to win the trust of the arrogant fool and use the darkness within to control him.” He mused in silence, “So easy to bend him to my will because the corruption from the Blade of Shadow that I used to kill Gearion still flowed through the Lord of Light. Using my father’s hatred and black urge for vengeance against me to turn even his most loyal of subjects into traitors. Poisoning his once healing golden touch to seize control of the empire and build a mighty army of both Golden Gohlem and Blood Walkers was a stroke of genius. Soon I will pitch that golden buffoon Gearion into the pits with my Bloodlust Horde like I did Palidar and snatch the Crown of Light from his broken and devoured remains.”
Umbreus led Gearion into the final chamber of the prison pens. With the power of the Bloodlust and the Crown of Light, and backed by an army of Bloodlust Warriors and mind controlled Golden Gohlem he would enslave all of Monkaa and then the entire cosmos. That heroic whelp Empyreus was either dead or lost across the dimensions, leaving everything for him to rule. It was perfect.
Just as the he was about to lead Gearion to his doom, a messenger interrupted them. "My Lord Gearion! There's chaos in the streets! Refugees have arrived from the outer provinces. They say villages have been razed by herds of Blood Walkers! Led by a Golden Gohlem! The common folk are confused and gathering in the street! There's talk of rebellion and rioting!"
"This won't do! Who is spreading these lies?" bellowed Gearion. "The tour will have to wait Midas!
We must deal with this!" With that Gearion flung open a rift and stepped into it. Midas followed, but not before impaling the hapless messenger for his untimely interruption.
Flaw, Palidar, and Shadoh stood surrounded by their newly redeemed army. The Crayboth Eaglet was perched on Flaw's shoulder. Their rag tag army was comprised of all walks of Monkaarian. There were crimson clad Gearo Honor Guard, stolid Steel Gohlem, gleaming Crystal Gohlem as well as former Vilhain in the form of Venom Gohlem, and the once enslaved Obsidian Gohlem, Granite Gohlem and other common folk of Monkaa.
"My friends," said Palidar, "You've all known the horrible power of the Bloodlust. You've felt its bite and indeed are still reeling from the effects, but you must stand strong..."
"Why should we help you Gearo?" interrupted a sneering Venom Gohlem Captain.
"Quiet villain! The Gearo Honor Guard stand with General Palidar, you'd do well to remember your place!" bellowed Toro, horned Captain of the Gearo.
"Thank you Toro," said Palidar. "Know this, now is not the time for old hatreds. You have all been betrayed and nearly destroyed by Umbreus. He would have sacrificed Gearo, Vilhain and Gohlem alike in his selfish quest for power."
"That's true!" said Flaw. "I was once a lowly crippled Vilhain slave! Palidar showed me that there is more to life than a sigil on your chest. There is loyalty and honor and family. We almost lost Monkaa to the Bloodlust. You standing here with us are proof of how close we came to losing it all. Now our world needs you. Umbreus has returned and plans to use the Bloodlust Warriors to crush our world once and for all! Lord Empyreus is gone. Mighty Brutok is gone. The Lord of Light, Gearion has been resurrected but his dark thirst for revenge clouds his judgment. Umbreus has complete control over him. We can't rely on Lords and heroes to save us. We must do this ourselves. We must do this together. We the people, the common folk of Monkaa. Are you with me?"
There was a brief pause and then a great roar of approval rose from the survivors.
"We march on Gearo City, straight to the gates of the Citadel! We must stop Umbreus and save Monkaa!" shouted Palidar as the small but determined army began its march.
"This is blasphemy. This is madness," said Gearion incredulously. “How can my people turn on me, their benevolent Lord?"
"My liege," hissed Umbreus, still wearing the guise of Midas, the Golden Gohlem, “the rebel army led by the traitors Palidar and Flaw approaches the capital. We must surround and crush them."
"No. As clouded as his judgment may be from my return, Palidar will remain loyal. They may yet see reason. I will take a force of my Golden Guard and parley with them. Hold the remainder of our forces in reserve my General. I will summon you if they refuse to surrender and accept my Golden Touch, and we will meet them in honorable battle," the Lord of Light and Emperor of the Gearo stated. “I ride within the hour.”
“Fool,” thought Umbreus. “Yes. Go parley. Waste your silly words of honor and loyalty. Distract them that I may surround all of you with my Bloodlust Army and crush you each and every one! This was unexpected but my plan will yet succeed. Such is the brilliance of Umbreus, Lord and Ruler of Monkaa!”
The two armies met on the fields before Gearo City. Palidar and Flaw led the Free Gohlem of Monkaa while Gearion, astride his mighty steel vohrse, led his Golden Guard. Monkaarian history will record the details of the parley, but suffice it to say that on that day there was little agreement between the righteous yet angry Free Gohlem and the noble but deluded Gearion, The two armies would have likely clashed had they not been interrupted by the ominous groan of stone and steel.
All along the base of the wall of Gearo City cleverly hidden gates were slowly creaking open. The tunnels behind them stretched down into the blackness. Slowly the tunnels filled with the glow of blood red eyes as rank upon rank of silent Bloodlust Warriors, once again under the thrall of Umbreus marched out and surrounded the Free Gohlem and the Golden Guard.
Gearion reeled in confusion, “What is this?!? Midas!” he called out. “There has been a breach of the prison pits! Gather your troops that we may quell these beasts!”
At the top of the wall Midas emerged. He grinned, a grin that split wider and wider until his golden face distorted, melted, and oozed away leaving only a grinning golden skull. On either side of him Bloodlust Warriors brought the bound and unconscious bodies of Ambro and Fandar Sun. Umbreus grinned and his hands formed into dark golden tendrils infused with the very shadow he had used to posses and control Gearion. He plunged the tendrils deep into the chests of his prisoners and pulsed with energy as he drew their blood and their very life force out of them. Umbreus seemed to swell and grow as his body was cloaked in shadow shot through with a bloody red light. When the dark cloud of corruption cleared, Umbreus emerged, his horrible Bloodlust power fully restored. A look of shocked realization came upon Umbreus’ gruesome visage as he turned to look at a barely conscious Fandar Sun. “Oh yes! Soooo many secrets you’ve kept hidden away old one,” he hissed. “So many delicious secrets… I must know more. You I will keep alive until I find this ‘chronicle’ you hide. But this one,” he turned his attention to Ambro. “This one I will kill completely.”
As he strode over to the guards holding Ambro he formed a cruel sickle in his hand. He raised it high and as he brought it down hard to deal a final blow upon the unconscious Gearo a blinding flash of golden energy shot across the top of the wall. Umbreus was sent reeling backwards.
Gearion had opened a rift and there he was on top of the wall astride his shining steed. He slayed the Bloodlust Walkers holding Ambro and scooped him up onto the saddle. He then turned towards Fandar Sun and in unchecked panic cried out, “FATHER!”
Umbreus shrieked with glee, “Father!?! This old husk is the one of legend? Fandar Sun is sire of the great Lords of Monkaa? He is the one known as the first Monkaarian? THE WEAPONEER?!?! Oh, yes. It’s all beginning to make perfect sense. SOOOO many delicious secrets. I must learn them all.” With a wave of his hand Umbreus sent a storm of black shadowy blades across the battlement knocking Gearion from his mount.
The Lord of Light fell in a daze as his vohrse reared and bolted for the gates carrying Ambro upon its back. "I've been a fool...” he muttered, “I've been a cursed and blinded fool..." burning tears of rage running down his face. “PENUMBRUS! THIS ENDS TONIGHT!” and he lunged at the demon he once called son and heir.
Back on the battlefield Flaw and Palidar readied for a fight. With a nod, the two friends, backed by Shadoh, the Crayboth Eaglet and their new army of Free Gohlem charged the Bloodlust Army. The fighting was fierce, no quarter asked or received. There were no rifts, no titans, and no redeeming glow of Lifespring energy. The magic had been expended. This was brutal hand to hand fighting pure and simple. Umbreus was unable to fully swell the ranks of his Bloodlust army. The Free Gohlem, having been released from the Bloodlust and bathed in the healing glow of Lifespring energy were now immune to the corruption. The Golden Guard, having received Gearion's Golden Touch was similarly immune. With Umbreus’ control over Gearion now broken, The Golden Guard joined the Free Gohlem in fighting the savage Bloodlust Warriors. The common folk and citizens of Gearo City were not so protected however, and soon Flaw and Palidar realized that they had to protect them, lest they succumb to the Bloodlust and overwhelm them all.
Thus what should have been a final battle became a fighting retreat. The Golden Guard fought in keeping the Bloodlust Army away from the gates, while the Free Gohlem guided the surviving citizenry to safety. But the Bloodlust Army would have yet won the day if not for a cruel twist of fate and misunderstood magics. While Umbreus had full control of the Bloodlust Warriors, if they wandered too far out of his presence they reverted to feral Blood Walkers, uncontrollable and useless. Such was the price of his battle with Empyreus. He still had the Bloodlust Power but it was diminished and not all encompassing as it once had been.
The battle between Gearion and Umbreus raged as the Gearo and Gohlem armies emptied the streets. Blow for blow they seemed to match one another. Gearion’s anger and shame clouded his ability to skillfully end the fight. In a final move of desperation he opened a rift and made a run for Fandar’s lifeless body.
He lifted up the High Cleric, oldest living Monkaarian, “Let’s get you out of here old one.”
Gearion heard his father utter words he’s hoped to never hear, “Gather the tribes… Magelok is free…” and as the Lord of Light nodded in agreement the dark tendrils holding Fandar tightened and Umbreus pulled on the old Gearo.
Gearion held on and began to enter the rift. Pulling with all of his might to save the sire of the Lords of Monkaa, the first Monkaarian. His own Father, Fandar Sun. Lord of War, the one legend calls The Weaponeer.
“I think not,” hissed Umbreus. “This one stays with me.” With that the tendrils snapped and pulled tighter. Fandar howled in agony. Gearion held on. Umbreus continued, “I have grown tired of this game!” He formed a long straight blade of pure burning blood and brought it down at the base of Gearion’s wrist, severing the golden hand tightly gripping Fandar.
Umbreus then blasted the Lord of Light backward into the rift and sealed it with a second blast of pure Bloodlust energy.
Umbreus refused to give up possession of Gearo City, more importantly he would not now lose his grip on Fandar and the Lifespring, so he was unable to pursue his enemies. As he retreated into the great hall of the Citadel a black cloud of pure shadow engulfed the city and solidified into an impenetrable field of darkness, sealing it off from the rest of the world.
And so it was the battle ended. Not in triumph or victory, but in a stalemate. The Free Gohlem and Golden Guard had saved the citizenry but lost the city and the Lifespring. The Bloodlust Army had won the city but was unable to exterminate their enemies.
The Great Gear turns. Forever has it turned and forever will it turn, and the heroes and villains of Monkaa would certainly meet again....
"Tell us why we should not destroy you Empyreus, Lord of the Gearo," intoned the Veridiohm. "Your kind is warlike, violent, you fight and fight with no resolution. Like the one called Brutok you are rage and destruction. The Veridiohm crave balance, peace, stasis. Your kind is anathema to us."
Empyreus paused. Then he replied. "You are ignorant," he said. "Lost. Your logic is flawed."
The Veridiohm pulsed, crackled and sparked, swelling in what seemed like rage, "We are the Veridiohm. We are above your petty motivations. We serve balance, peace, stasis. If you cannot give reason, you will be destroyed."
"Like you destroyed Brutok? Did you learn of rage from him? Or did you vent your rage on him? YOU acted in violence. YOU abducted. YOU destroyed. By those actions YOU contradict yourselves. You are not servants of peace and balance and stasis. Were you infected because of Brutok or have you always been as imperfect and as full of rage as those you have accused?" posed Empyreus.
"Perhaps you then are guilty as well. Should you destroy yourselves as you did Brutok, as you plan to destroy me, hmmm?" smirked Empyreus as he reversed the line of questioning upon his interrogators. "Would that restore the stasis? Would that protect the Futurestream? Or are you incapable of realizing the hypocrisy you are guilty of and will soon perpetrate upon another?"
The Veridiohm light constructs fizzed and popped and sparked, "We are the Veridiohm! We serve balance, peace, stasis. We cannot destroy ourselves! We commit rage, destruction, betrayal. We must destroy ourselves! Conundrum!"
Empyreus nodded, "Perhaps it is you who must now learn to accept change. You think you know of rage and destruction, but perhaps I can teach you of love, compassion, redemption and forgiveness."
"You would have us merge our consciousness with yours?" asked the Veridiohm.
"No," answered Empyreus, "You must right this great wrong that YOU perpetrated. You destroyed Brutok in arrogance and ignorance. You must now attempt to redeem yourselves. Perhaps through an act of selflessness, maybe even of sacrifice. Give of yourselves to right that wrong. Before destroying him you say you understood him, his rage, his destructive power. But you did not understand him. You must merge your consciousness with his using the song of his soul that resides in you now. You must truly hear it and see that he is not only rage and destruction, but honor and love and sadness and loyalty too."
The Veridiohm light constructs suddenly winked out, leaving Empyreus in darkness. It might have taken the space of a heartbeat or an eon, but soon a small green spark burst forth from the darkness and grew. Bones and muscle formed, then armor and finally a familiar spiked helmet.
The two Gohlem sat in a dark cavern, lit only by the soft glow of flowing lava. As they sat and bathed in the heat of the lava, the dusty, sooty, charred shells of the disguises they wore cracked and sloughed off. In their place stood two figures with deep orange veins of molten lava and skin of black volcanic rock.
"Oh it feels good to be rid of those disguises," said the younger brother.
"Indeed," said the elder. "Obsidian Gohlem are so...cold, I don't know how they can stand it..."
"My Sons," a soothing feminine voice from the Shadows interrupted. "You've done well."
The brothers smiled, "We only did what was best for the tribe, Mother."
"Always my sons," she replied... “Always”
Chapter 6: The Trial of Brutok
Empyreus smiled for within a matter of moments Mighty Brutok once more stood before him.
However, the jade behemoth was changed. No longer was he the familiar green and purple armored titan the Gearo had fought so many times through the eons. The Veridiohm had certainly resurrected him as Empyreus chanced they could, but he was not at all what the gleaming red Prince of Monkaa had expected. Now he was almost translucent, like a rare Emerald Gohlem. He was composed of the fabric and material of deep rift space. His armor pulsed and glowed with green energy, power circuits and runes channeling and focusing his new heart, veins, and organs.
Brutok slowly opened his eyes. A bright yellow light shone from them, bright and blinding like the suns of Monkaa. Empyreus stood at the ready, expecting Brutok to roar with rage and tear through their captors like a rabid fire lion. But that did not happen. The pulsing green giant surveyed his new surroundings and stretched his new limbs with a groan, not of rage or anguish but of joy and relief. He looked at Empyreus and it almost seemed as though he was smiling, “Lord Empyreus, Good to see you. Feared you lost in rift-space.”
Empyreus smiled back, “No, I’m afraid it will take a lot more than being lost to the void to do either of us in. It is welcome to lay eyes upon you too. I owe you a great debt of gratitude for saving me, for saving Monkaa. Come Brutok, it's time we found a way to return home. I have a feeling we are both sorely needed there."
"Wait," commanded the Veridiohm. Then twin points of glowing green light burst into view and coalesced into twins in the familiar form of Gohlem of Monkaa. "We are the Veridiohm," intoned the two Gohlem in unison. "We have corrected our mistake. The one called Brutok lives once again. We have shared of our energy and power to return that which we so wrongfully took away. However, we are sundered. For now our minds are awash with the confusion, contradiction and chaos that plague your minds. Flooded with the rage, destruction and chaos that you, Brutok, infected us with. You now must atone. You now must help us. You now must show us how to cope with these new sensations, these new conflicts we now suffer within."
"How?" asked Empyreus.
"Brutok serves no one," stated Brutok with finality.
"You will serve us," said the first Veridiohm Gohlem, eyes blazing with cold white light.
"Yes, you will give answer to our questions, our conundrums," added the second Veridiohm Gohlem, it's eyes filled with fathomless black darkness.
"You have corrupted the Veridiohm. You have altered us, disrupted the balance we crave," said the black-eyed Gohlem.
"You have corrupted us," added the white-eyed Gohlem. "You will now answer for this transgression. You are charged to redeem us, or we will all be destroyed. You will do this for the sake of yourselves, for the sake of those you protect, and for the sake of the entire Futurestream."
"Thus begins the Trial of Brutok,” the two pulsing green figures intoned in unison. “Stand and answer for your life, your actions. Sing us the song of your soul, that we may all be saved."
“Very well,” answered Brutok, “you may begin. What of my soul interests you?”
The first Veridiohm sparked and crackled, blurring briefly and then snapped into the form of a very familiar Gearo to both Monkaarians, Palidar. “You hate,” began the Veridiohm, “but also love this one? Explain.”
Brutok took a deep breath and the green energy that resembled the Gearo Citadel changed into a battle arena. The Palidar form leapt in the air, forged a broadsword, and attacked. Brutok answered with blinding speed. The green giant and the masquerading Veridiohm battled for several moments. Blow for blow in a wondrous display of strategic beauty. Suddenly they stopped and bowed to one another. “Ah, Palidar,” he began. “Once called Palidar foe, then friend, then brother, then enemy, then ally. Now unsure what I shall or may call him.”
“Why?” asked the Veridiohm.
“We have fought. We have quarreled. We have beaten. We have battled. We have loved. We have despised. We have forgiven. We have spared. We have hurt. We have healed one another more times than I remember anymore,” Brutok explained. “We have same goals. Methods are as different as shadow and light that we serve. Palidar is the closest to family I have ever had. Yet we do not agree. Best we remain on opposite sides. Keeps balance. We are warriors. We need each other. Fulfills desire to be better for us both. You ask hate, but also love? Not hate or love. Respect.”
The two Veridiohm faced one another. Their eyes blinked and pulsed in tune with a series of audible clicks and hums. Then the second Veridiohm sparked and with a loud pop assumed the form of a female, that of the Mistress of Shadow, Noiria. The form approached the glowing green giant and gently placed her hand upon his cheek. “Then this… this is the love we feel,” said the Veridiohm.
“Yes,” Brutok’s voice softened. “It is also where you will find sorrow and agony. Both born of that love.”
“Because of this one,” stated the first Veridiohm. It blurred and sizzled regaining clarity as Gearion, the Lord of Light. “Because of this one there is sorrow.”
“HAHAHAHAHA! No.” Brutok bellowed with laughter. A sound that took Empyreus by much surprise as he’d never heard the mighty brute laugh, or really ever seen him smile. “That one is a fool. With a fool dream. Shadow. Light. Separate for reasons he never understood. Maybe understood, only too arrogant. His dominion over one would not give same for the other. Maybe she just as foolish. Believed that dream.” Brutok bowed his head, “…told her …begged her. Did not matter. Gave him her heart anyway. Gearion not to blame for that.”
“Do you still love this one?” the Veridiohm wearing the form of Noiria asked.
“Never stopped…” Brutok answered very matter of fact. He paused a moment before continuing, “Enough! Next!” The rage in his eyes swelled and they glowed a fiery bright yellow.
The first Veridiohm glowed bright and blinding in response to Brutok’s sparked rage. Its body burned like an emerald fire. Fire that soon resembled flowing blood. When it washed away, the form of Gearion had given way to the gruesome Umbreus. The Umbreus Veridiohm was holding the form of Noiria in his grasp and seemingly absorbed her under her protests and screams of pain. Brutok’s rage ignited. The runes on his new body glowed and shot blasts of energy at the creature that was decimating his once queen and unrequited love. At that moment the second Veridiohm also took the form of Umbreus and both began to attack Brutok. The battle escalated. The pair of attackers then merged and their green energy bled into a blazing red. The being they formed resembled a Monkaarian but it was like nothing Empyreus had ever laid eyes upon. A cycloptic horror more terrifying than anything he’d ever seen. Even Umbreus at his most vicious with the Bloodlust consuming him could not compare to the beast that Brutok was presently locked into mortal combat with. Brutok was also like nothing he had ever witnessed. The jade behemoth fought with a fury so wild and unrelenting but with such precision and calculation that Empyreus could do nothing but stand in frozen astonishment.
He wanted to call out to Brutok, “none of this is real, only illusion”. The words would not leave his throat. He had never felt so powerless in all his life.
Suddenly and with a great crack of silver lightning all was once more calm. Brutok stood, fists clenched and teeth gnashing. The two Veridiohm had once again assumed the forms of Monkaarian Gohlem. Both Veridiohm stood staring at Brutok in awe. “The trial is concluded. He will serve the purpose we require,” the first Veridiohm said. “The song of his soul is stronger and more clear than any being we have ever encountered. We understand.”
“Indeed,” concurred the second. “He will surely be powerful enough to defend the Futurestream against that which they have set free. Verdict. Brutok as Novum Veridiohm you will remain.”
“Set free? What is going on here? You have heard the song of his soul. We are no threat to the Futurestream. We can help you defend it. We both command great armies. Let us go back to gather them so that we may aid you. Send us home. Send us back to Monkaa!” demanded Empyreus.
“They intend that, young Lord,” Brutok said with conviction. “As they heard the song of my soul, they shared theirs with me. The battle between you and Umbreus tore rift space apart. A great ancient evil has been set free from his prison far forward in the Futurestream. A timeless evil, greater than even Umbreus.”
“It is the sentence of the one named Brutok to travel with us to the end of the Futurestream,” the first Veridiohm stated.
“You, Empyreus, Lord of the Gearion will be sent back to Monkaa,” intoned the second. “Your sentence is far more crucial. You must not fail. Brutok, if you will.”
“What sentence? You’ve not tried me! What must I do to save the Futurestream?” Empyreus begged for answers. None were given. Suddenly a rift of green energy opened up behind Empyreus. It began to pull him in. He was still too weak to fully resist but tried with all of his might. “Brutok, NO!” he cried. “I can’t leave you here. We know nothing of what these beings speak of. We must return to Monkaa. Together.”
“We both go to Monkaa, young Lord,” said Mighty Brutok. “Learn well from your encounters. Your journey will be hard. You will be tested beyond your limits. Stay strong. Stay true.”
Brutok placed his hand upon the Gearo symbol emblazoned upon Empyreus’ armor. He clenched his fist around it, crushing the shiny silver plate, ripping it from the young warriors chest. He then leaned in close and whispered, “Gather the Tribes… Magelok is free…” with those final words he gave Empyreus a gentle shove through the rift.