The Storm King

Chapter 1028 - Back to Aeterna

True to his word, Ambrose returned to the stone villa after only a day. Leon had long since finished his chat with Nara by then, and after having left the man to continue resting, had taken to exploring the villa.

It was a remarkable building, having been constructed on a tiny plane amidst the Divine Graveyard. Leon found it surreal to stand on the edge of the plane, his toes curling around the lip of the island, his eyes staring out into the endless abyss. Stars in numbers beyond counting dotted the Void, each one orbiting its own plane. An uncountable number of planes existed out there, too, though bereft of such light.

‘How many times has the Nexus undergone Reconstitution?’ Leon wondered. ‘How many pieces of former Nexuses have been blasted out into the Void and now exist as planes?’

The future of his Clan lay out amongst these stars. One hundred thousand years sounded like an immense amount of time—and it certainly was—but the foundations of a powerful Clan were laid in the planes. A long-lasting Clan could hardly be built in a place that periodically destroyed itself.

And yet, it was to the Nexus that he would first take the Thunder Kingdom. That was where they would find their legs amidst the universe. It was there that they would find the resources they would need to return the Thunderbird Clan’s hegemony to places like Tiryns, Kypros, and Minos—the most important planes in the former Clan’s domain.

It was all out there, in the Void. With a single step, he would be amidst it all.

“Be careful over there,” a voice said from behind.

Leon didn’t turn around; he knew who was there, and he also knew that the man was unlikely to take offense if he remained standing where he was. “I’m quite sure-footed,” Leon replied.

“Be that as it may,” Ambrose said as he took a position at Leon’s side staring out into the endless black Void, “it would be damn hard for you to return if you were to slip. Damn hard.”

“I think I could find a way,” Leon stated.

“You have not even yet achieved Apotheosis,” Ambrose replied, his tone a little chastising. “You do not even know what lies out there.”

“I’ve done well so far,” Leon stated. “I now have the support of many powerful and competent people.”

“How much can they help if they’re far away? How much?”

Leon smiled and didn’t directly answer. “Have you any advice?” he asked. “For being out there, I mean.”

Ambrose’s brown eyes scanned the Void, undoubtedly seeing it in ways that Leon could not yet. “It is chaotic,” Ambrose stated. “Millions and millions of planes, many with men and women living upon them. Many more with all kinds of monstrous beasts hostile to human life. Interplanar wars are common in more densely populated planar clusters. Most planes of any significance owe at least nominal allegiance to some power in the Nexus, though most retain some level of autonomy. So long as their tribute flows, the powers that be don’t generally interact with them much, focusing instead on the problems found within the Nexus.

“We are relatively isolated here in the Divine Graveyard. Despite our proximity to the Nexus, we are not oft disturbed. I prefer things this way, keeping a deep buffer between my home and the problems of the rest of the universe. I much prefer this state of affairs to the alternative.”

“Understandable,” Leon stated. “Any news about Planerend?”

“None,” Ambrose replied with a scowl. “None. We have no idea where he’s fled. None. And out in the vastness of the universe, he has no shortage of hiding places.”

“How will you search for him?” Leon asked. “Your duties demand you remain here, don’t they?”

“I and some of my counterparts have apprentices. All have achieved Apotheosis, so they will venture out into the Void and seek our errant prisoner. He will be found. He will be found.”

Leon slowly nodded, quietly hoping that Planerend would be. He had enough on his plate without worrying about a Primal Devil coming after him, too. Though, for some reason, he doubted that he would get off that lucky.

“So,” he said after a moment’s silence, “what now? For us, I mean.”

“Now,” Ambrose replied, “I return you and your people to your homes. Oh, and take this.” He retrieved another silver twig from his soul realm and gave it to Leon. It was small, more akin to the one Leon had been given during the five days he was given before heading to Arkhnavi. At that thought, he couldn’t but feel some guilt; he wondered if he could’ve found some way to prevent Planerend’s release if he’d had another five days to work with.

With a sigh, he banished the thought. What was done was done; not much point in dwelling upon it unless there was a lesson to be learned there, and he couldn’t see one other than using it as a reminder not to waste time.

‘If only I was a prophet,’ he sarcastically thought.

He focused instead on the future. He had a monumental task ahead of him, which the Grave Warden helpfully reminded him as he elaborated on the twig.

“I will return you to Aeterna, and you can go home to your Kingdom. Use that twig to come back to my tower, and we can speak at your convenience about my promise to take all of your people to the Nexus. I fully intend to follow through on that promise. Fully intend. When you’re ready, no matter if you wait five years or five centuries, I will follow through on that promise. Just snap that twig and come to my tower whenever you want. Just snap that twig.”

Leon nodded and said, “Thanks. Might be a while, though.”

“Take all the time you need. All the time.”

Leon pulled the twig into his soul realm and turned back to the Void.

Ambrose studied him intently as the silence between them stretched. “Is… something on your mind, Leon? Your thoughts seem heavy…”

Leon smiled bitterly. He glanced at the Grave Warden but didn’t answer until his golden eyes turned back to the Void.

“What would you do, Ambrose, if someone dangled something in front of you, something that you’d craved all your life? But this someone demeaned you, rejected you in the past, and demanded that you give up things you love in order to take this thing you’ve long craved.”

“Quite the hypothetical,” Ambrose replied. “Quite the hypothetical. I suppose my response would depend on the exact circumstances, but I know my place; I wouldn’t lower myself, debase myself, just to acquire what I want. I do not think I am a proud man, but I still have pride. And my pride, scant though it is, is worth a great deal to me.”

Leon’s eyes lingered a moment on a red star twinkling in the sky. “My thoughts align with yours. It offends… it would offend me if someone were to dangle a prize in front of my face, only to snatch it away when I don’t immediately bark on command. Still… if it’s a real shiny prize… there might be some regret in not obtaining it.”

“Keep your chin up, Leon,” Ambrose said. “In my long life, I’ve suffered many indignities. In the end, a prize you’ve earned, even if it’s more modest than one you haven’t, will always be worth more than a prize only given to you. So whatever might be offered, I would recommend you to not take it if there are strings attached. Don’t take it. Earn it yourself. Take it from this old man: the path to the least regrets and most happiness is to be your own man, not to sell yourself to those who don’t value you. Turning something you may desire down may hurt, but if it comes at a cost too great to pay, you’ll be happier in the long run for not taking it. Much happier.”

“It seems… that we are still of the same mind about it,” Leon said as he finally took a step back from the edge of the plane. “I’m ready to go home, Ambrose. How is this going to work; Mari’Kha will be coming back to Aeterna with me.”

“Ah, wonderful! Wonderful! My plane will only be richer for her presence! Richer! Well, let’s head back to the great hall and we’ll speak on the subject more.”

Ambrose turned on his heel and led Leon back into the villa, heading back to the dining hall where Ambrose had first welcomed Leon after he’d regained consciousness. The other three still in the villa were already there waiting, with Mari standing there looking equal parts eager and nervous, Tir’Anu seeming rather calm though with an undercurrent of anxiety, and Ard’Nara standing as firmly as he could, though he was leaning on the table for support.

“Lele!” Mari called out as they entered, her face lighting up in excitement.

“Mari’Kha,” Leon answered as he walked over to the group. “Ready to see Aeterna?”

“Yep!” she answered, though her voice wobbled slightly.

Leon clapped her on the shoulder and stated, “We’ll be working on arks, and when we reach the Nexus, we’ll have access to greater resources. In other words, Mari’Kha, you’ll be able to return to Arkhnavi in the future. This isn’t goodbye forever.”

Mari visibly relaxed. “Yeah. Yeah. Thanks, Lele, I don’t mean to be an ungrateful bitch about this…”

“Think nothing of it!” Leon looked around the hall, his eyes narrowing slightly at not seeing something rather important. “Do you have your Ulta suit? It didn’t get left behind in the ark, did it?”

“No, I have it,” Mari said with a laugh. “The ark’s fucked, though; I ain’t gettin’ back in that fuckin’ thing!”

“The ark is quite valuable,” Ambrose cut in with a good-natured smile. “It flew with the great armies of mankind as they threw off the yoke of the Primal Gods and Devils so many millennia ago. It may be severely damaged, but my friends and I took it into our possession. It will fly again. It will fly again. To allow anything else would be unthinkable for such a venerable machine.”

“Good luck repairing it,” Leon said. “We weren’t gentle with our treatment of it.”

“Neither was Parnavi,” Ambrose said. “It’s no matter. It’s no matter.”

Leon nodded gratefully, then turned to the other two in the hall. “How’re you doing, Ard’Nara?”

“Better than I was a few hours ago, Leon Raime,” Nara replied. “Ready to return to my wife and my people. I have been too long absent. A King ought not be absent from his people for long.”

“Indeed,” Leon agreed. He held out his arm and said, “Though our acquaintance was short, it was an honor to fight alongside you, Ard’Nara.”

“Likewise, Leon Raime. Should the gods smile upon us, we shall meet again.” Nara clasped Leon’s offered forearm.

“I would like that.” When they released the other, Leon turned to Tir’Anu. “The same goes for you, Tir’Anu. I should like to see you again, if possible.”

“May Mandious, Lord of All in Heaven, will it so,” Tir stated. “I will pray for you and your people, Leon. Though… they may not need it, if the quality of their King is anything to go by.”

Leon grinned and outstretched his arm to Tir. The old monk clasped it as Nara did, and Leon said, “You’re a good man, Tir’Anu.”

“No, I’m not, Leon. Not yet. I may never be a ‘good’ man, but I will never stop trying to be one.”

They released their forearms with one more respectful nod, and Leon turned finally to Ambrose.

“By the way,” he said, “where’s Serena? I couldn’t help but note her absence. She didn’t die or something, did she?”

“No,” Ambrose confirmed. “My friend who acts as the Warden for her home plane simply took her home early.”

Leon slowly nodded in thought. “That’s… well, none of my business, I suppose. Still, I might’ve liked to wrap things up with her. Get some closure.”

“The universe may conspire to allow you two to meet again,” Ambrose stated. “It may not, too. The future cannot be seen.”

“If only it could, then we might all live without regrets,” Tir said.

“If only it could,” Ambrose repeated. “Now, I’m sure you’re all eager to return home! You’re all eager! Allow me to send you all on your journeys!”

Leon gave Tir and Nara one final nod of respect before, with a snap of his fingers, Ambrose sent them home. Spheres of blue-tinged darkness surrounded them, and when the spheres dissipated a moment later, the two men were gone. Ambrose then turned to Leon and Mari. It was their turn, now.

“Where will we find ourselves?” Leon asked a little nervously.

“I will return you to your palace,” Ambrose stated. “Where else would I put you? Where else?”

“Can you send us to Elder Hall? I would prefer to give my people at least a little bit of warning that I’m returned instead of just appearing in their midst.”Finndd the new𝒆st 𝒏ovels on n/𝒐/velbin(.)com

Ambrose agreed, though Leon had to give him more specific directions to Elder Hall, as he wasn’t entirely familiar with all the various buildings around Stormhollow.

“Very well, I’m ready,” Ambrose said. “Prepare yourselves.”

Leon glanced at Mari, who, despite still smiling, had gone rather pale. “You’ll be welcomed,” he said. “There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I think I’m gonna worry anyway, Lele.”

He softly chuckled. “I get it. New place. Will take some time to adjust.”

Mari hummed in agreement, and Ambrose asked, “Are you two now ready to head to Aeterna? Are you ready?”

“Yes,” Leon replied.

“Sure, yeah, fuckin’ of course,” Mari stated. She might’ve continued if Ambrose hadn’t snapped his fingers, causing two more spheres of blue-tinged darkness to appear around them.

All around Leon went dark as he felt the cold and the pressure of being sent into a teleportation tunnel. It was an easy thing for him to travel to the other end, and in a flash of light, he appeared standing right in the center of the Elder Hall.

He breathed deeply, noting that Mari wasn’t yet there. But above him were the frescoes of the Thunderbird and the Ten Tribes, while around him was the hall he’d become familiar with. The benches around the dais were empty, but the trees around the silver and blue magic lanterns were active, and there were a few guards near the door.

These guards zeroed in on his position almost as soon as he appeared, and sprang into action. They drew their weapons and lunged forward to contain the intruder that he assumed they thought he was, only to halt in their tracks after a moment, recognition dawning on their faces.

In a moment, they fell to their knees while in a flash of light, Mari appeared next to Leon looking decidedly uncomfortable.

“Fuuuck that was unpleasant!” she complained before noting their surroundings and the armed guards who looked like they were conflicted about whether they should confront her or continue kneeling to their King.

In Aeterna’s common tongue, Leon told the guards, “Please inform your superiors that I’ve arrived. Mari’Kha here is no threat.”

The highest ranking of the guards immediately replied, “Yes, Your Majesty!”

The guards sprang to their feet to follow his orders, while Leon smiled at Mari and said in azurian, “Please be patient. There’s a lot that’s going to happen now, but just bear with me.”

“Uh, yeah. That, can do,” Mari said in Aeternan common, her lips still struggling a bit with the language despite having as perfect of an understanding of the language that Leon could give her with the Rumble Stone.

She took a deep breath and crossed her arms across her chest while Leon shifted his attention. Now that he was back on Aeterna, then that ought to mean…

All it took was a cursory look at his soul realm, and he felt the connection he had with Maia. Already, he could feel her attention upon him, and as he sent her his love, he could already feel her magic senses, and those of dozens of others in the city, washing over Elder Hall.

[I’m back,] he said to his river nymph Empress. [Give me a couple minutes and I’ll come straight home.]

Maia didn’t so much respond in words as she did in feelings. He could feel intense excitement and deep relief, both emotions strong enough that it seemed Maia was at a complete loss for words, and sending the emotions was simply faster.

At the same time, Leon projected his magic senses. His power pulsed out over the city, and he could see it all. The Tribal districts, the districts for the city’s residents, and his palace. He could see the Heaven’s Eye Tower that was taking shape, already about fifty feet all, and he could see several relatively small units of the central army training on the assembly fields to the city’s south.

Within his palace, though, were the people he most wanted to see. Most of his friends were there, as were all of his ministers. Iron-Striker, the Jaguar, and Ipatameni were there as his Chancellor, Marshall, and Steward respectively.

But of them, he focused on five people. He could see Anzu painting under the guidance of an instructor; Maia was standing on the edge of the large pool most of her lesser nymphs had taken up residence in, all of the emotions she’d sent to Leon reflected in her expression; Valeria was with Nestor studying enchantments; and Elise and Cassandra were in a meeting with several diplomats who appeared to be from the mainland.

Almost all of them had noticed his return, and just to make it clear, Leon reached out to their minds with a simple message.

[I’m home.]

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