The sea breezes howled over the cape. Wild waves crashed against the wharf’s seawall. At the far end of the mountain ridge that crossed the rocky peninsula lay a castle. Beneath a dreary sky, three figures headed for the castle came to a stop, one after another.
The first was an old man, cloaked in a brown robe. His clothes were decorated with an intricate pattern of crimson and deep blue. From his sleeve protruded a wooden staff. His hood concealed a dignified face wrapped in a turban. The other two figures looked to be his followers. One may have been forty, the other a young lad awestruck by the castle. After looking up at the leaden clouds above, then toward the rust-colored sea, the old man gazed down at the fishing village beneath him.
In the central square of the village lay a destroyed, abandoned trawl. The hearty voices of fishermen were nowhere to be heard. Several badly damaged smacks were tied together in the inlet, where they floated calmly, deserted forever.
"What is this world coming to..."
A sudden gale pulled back the old man's hood.
"The king is waiting. Let us make haste," the youngest reservedly suggested.
The eldest silently pointed his staff at the vast ocean. It then slowly floated across the village, further beyond, until it came to a halt above an inaccessible, rocky island. Despite the thick layer of clouds that blocked the sun’s light, a single ray of light managed to seep through and faintly illuminate the island’s austere, barren rocks – and built directly into them was a hellish stronghold.
"That is the prison island Bellsaddce, built at King Badorrer’s demand... An ill-advised demand, I might add..."
"Please mind your language, Sage. Modesty would be most befitting before the king."
This time it was the forty-year-old follower that spoke.
The sage scowled at Bellsaddce with an expression so grim it rivaled the atmosphere of the island itself. He stood motionless until his followers urged him to continue on.
The waves continued to crash, and the sea breezes continued to howl.Return to top
Chapter 1: The King & the Prophet
The Earth turns as Heaven decrees.
And so long as it turns, never shall the wickedness of man perish.
Time and again, man has cast open the gates to ruination in pursuit of ambition.
Some seek power, others long for fortune or immortality.
Some will not rest until they possess all three.
The Root of Omnipotence – the same source of power once possessed by the guardian dragon of Vittoria – was not sought only by the fallen king Bistalle. Just as the hole leading to old Vittoria opened in northeast Banourd, the prophet Benedicte was invited to the royal castle of the land of Bundevia, which bordered the vast ocean. Halfway along his journey to the kingdom, Benedicte began to feel a pervasive sense of malice enveloping him, like the haze that cloaked the land.
Though once a great ruler, as the king of Bundevia’s vitality waned with age, so did his majesty and power. His heart's hidden unrest manifested as ostentatious acts of tyranny, of which the prison island of Bellsaddce was emblematic.
Badorrer sat upon his throne, awaiting his visitor’s arrival.
"Thank you for coming, O great prophet."
"Indeed, I have come…as -you- desired," the old man responded somewhat curtly.
"My, my, it seems Our request has upset you. Do forgive Us. A little bird had told Us that the great prophet Benedicte had come to Our humble land of Bundevia, and so We thought it only fitting to give him a proper welcome. We would very much like to borrow his power."
"Hmph…My power? I must first ask you a question." Benedicte looked into the king’s cloudy eyes. "Upon my arrival in Bundevia, I saw little of the land that used to promise flocks of seabirds soaring over immaculate beaches and a serene sea. It made me wonder whether this sudden change is, perhaps, retribution from Heaven for the indiscretion of the land’s monarch."
This statement, an unequivocal critique of the very king that sat before him, turned all officials and soldiers in attendance ashen. As they stood breathless, the prophet continued:
"Rulers the world over hold countless desires, so what is it that you desire, King Badorrer?”
"Ah, great prophet, you speak with ease. Our wish, naturally, is to live forever and rule as We do."
"You are twisted by your dark designs. Tales have spread of even innocents being imprisoned on your prison island. Are you not aware that Heaven, earth and sea wail? They lament the crimes of a fool who seeks to upend the proper order. The power to control all creation is not for man, but Heaven and Heaven alone.”
"Crimes? Those seeking to break with the status quo are ever vilified. Their true judgment shall be left to future generations… But moreover, We have a claim to this power."
King Badorrer smiled coldly and made a beckoning gesture.
”Bring Us the book!”
He was promptly brought a finely bound book, presented on a crimson cloth laid on a blackened tray. The king took the book in his hands and held it so Benedicte could get a glimpse of its writing.
"This ancient text has been slumbering in the treasure room. It appears to have been transcribed by hand countless times... This manuscript is over three hundred years old."
One glimpse was enough for Benedicte to conclude that it was written in ancient Vittoric. Upon noticing his reaction, the king asked the old man: "Are you familiar with the tale of how the nation of Vittoria was buried overnight?”
"Unknown though it may be to common folk, it is widespread knowledge among our kind."
"It has been most worthwhile to summon you."
"I have made no assurance that I will lend you my power. If you know why Vittoria fell, you know that its ruler’s depravity is to blame."
”We most certainly do. It is written here that Vittoria was, tragically, cursed when it tried to obtain the Root of Omnipotence. However, if proper precautions are taken and proper methods utilized,* there should be nothing to fear in trying to draw out its power."
"You intend to ask that I divine a way for you to claim the power of Vittoria?"
"Precisely. Bundevian historians have thoroughly studied this book, and concluded that Vittoria and Bundevia are but two branches of a single older civilization. Furthermore, a thousand years ago, Our nation engaged in trade with Vittoria, and shared in the fruits of its great prosperity. We have the right to revive the power that was once such a blessing upon Our land."
The king feverishly described the history that his nation shared with Vittoria. It seemed that just thinking about it was enough to make his heart pound with excitement.
"Is that not mere fantasy?"
"You may believe so, but We now have two firm reasons to believe it holds some truth. First, there’s the fact that texts, like this one, written in ancient Vittoric have been found across Bundevia. As Our ancestors determined, this language is identical to the Dark Words, an archaic Bundevian language now long extinct. And more recently, this language has even been discovered in the depths of Bellsaddce, making Our hypothesis more credible than ever before. Second, found alongside this book was a statue, dating from antiquity. The book includes one paragraph about the statue."
Narrating as if he were conveying a revelation from the Gods, the king recited a passage that he had clearly committed to memory: "When the Root of Omnipotence awakens, the statue shall shine forth with light -- and after one month, the light will fade again. Its power will then have been resurrected somewhere in this world."*
Benedicte’s eyes glittered slightly.
"Where is the statue now?"
"It is enshrined in the highest floor of the tower. The statue is wooden, and carved into the shape of a coiled dragon. Touch it, and you should be able to learn the whereabouts of the Root."
"King Badorrer. Heaven’s imposition of fate is unwavering. It is not something I can perceive in its entirety, nor can it be altered by the hands of man. If you will keep that in mind, we can proceed with the divination if you so wish. But know that all of you present will have to accept this warning: The king lives under the illusion that he summoned me here himself, but it was the will of Heaven that led me here. If you, too, wish to learn the location of the Root’s power for the sake of the king’s ambitions, then I will divine it to demonstrate the dark path he walks. Is that acceptable to you -- to all of you?"*
King Badorrer returned the ancient book to its tray and rose from his throne. In complete silence, he and Benedicte moved across the red carpet laid out by the soldiers and headed for the tower, where the ancient statue awaited their arrival.
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Chapter 2: The Ancient Statue
Only the king and Benedicte entered the room at the top of the tower, while aides and soldiers waited outside the door during the ceremony that would follow. In the center of the silent room, a faint light emanated by the statue illuminated the pair’s faces. Benedict kneeled to get a closer look at the statue. He reached out to the light with both hands while shielding his eyes. The closer his hands came to the statue, the more he felt a certain malleability in its radiance.
"What’s happening?" King Badorrer asked.
"This radiance... The statue is undoubtedly resonating with the Root’s power. Extraordinary power is leaking out…”
In response to the king’s question, the prophet concentrated so intensely it brought forth a deep furrow between his eyebrows. Putting his hands together, Benedicte imagined he was holding an orb of light between them. He would peer into the orb with his mind’s eye, whereupon an oracle would be bestowed upon him.
All he could see was darkness. In that darkness, he could feel something deep underground.
"Darkness... It’s underground... I learned that it’s somewhere underground. That would certainly substantiate the legend of Vittoria’s fall…”
The prophet threw open his hands. A dazzling ball of light appeared, floating, in the room. Orbiting it were numerous smaller balls of light. They sped up and became brighter with each revolution. The moment Benedicte’s spirit was stilled, the air in the room began to vibrate, and an intense light suddenly gushed forth from the statue.
An image took form in Benedicte’s mind.
The elegant castle walls of Banourd, on a moonlit night... The tranquil surface of a great river reflected the resplendent moon, and it was for such marvelous sights that Banourd had come to be called--
"The land...of the blue moon..."
"...The blue moon?”
Next, Benedicte saw a swordsman.
"I can see a man. Nothing has happened yet, but he will come to wield the sword in which the power is sealed... And the sword... In truth, it's a mighty force merely disguised as a sword..."
The prophet uttered these words as they came to mind.
"Who is this man?"
"I don’t know... However, fate will bring him to Bundevia... Not now... In two years, yes... He will bring back this power from Vittoria and ultimately wander into Bundevia. However, the Root of Omnipotence itself is no doubt hidden away even deeper. The sword is a mere fragment of its power..."
Suddenly, Benedicte groaned bitterly. Channeling a vision requires unimaginable focus, and he had reached his limit. Like an over-burdened thread finally tearing, the power that had filled the room suddenly vanished, along with his orb of light. The room returned to its former state, illuminated only by the statue’s original, faint glow.
Benedicte’s shoulders slumped, and he was forced to catch his breath. The strain was only exacerbated by his advanced age.
"That is...what I…could learn."
It was when Benedicte fell silent and collapsed to his knees before the statue that the king finally spoke again.
"I see. I must thank you for your efforts." From behind Benedicte’s back, he grinned, drew a dagger, and then slowly plunged the dimly lit blade into the kneeling prophet’s side until Benedicte silently collapsed.
"Now then… The book tells Us the use of the Planet Buster… Two years hence, that swordsman will carry it when he wanders into our precious Bundevia…”
Badorrer felt an irresistible urge to laugh and did so most audibly. It was this absurd expression, perverted in ecstasy, with which he greeted the one to lead him to power.
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Chapter 3: The Wandering Swordsman
Some two years later...
A man walks through a desert, wrapped in a cloak to protect himself from the harsh rays of the sun. A longsword hangs diagonally across his back, above the cloak. The sword boasts unique decorations on its fan-shaped guard.
The man's name is Ares. He is a bounty hunter, and often hunted himself. He is a man who leaves everything to fate, a mercenary and bodyguard wrapped into one, and a man who follows no credo. The combination of his swordsmanship and the insatiable bloodthirst that emanates from his ripped body -- and it should be mentioned Ares’ physique is only medium-sized; he is certainly no giant -- fuels the frightful reputation that precedes him among bounty hunters.
Ares stopped on a dune, barely able to see what laid before him.
He had arrived at the desert bordering Bundevia. The hills of sand obstructed his field of vision. There was not a single sign of civilization to be seen or felt. He had run out of rations. His wandering through the desert had slowly started to take its toll. His feet were moving forward, but he could no longer remember the path behind him. The utter monotony of traversing the desert on foot was stupefying.
Fivelria, Banourd, Verun... Ares had always walked his own path. Every now and then he had his reason to take a detour, usually in pursuit of a bounty. No matter the occasion, he had always managed to push through, and so it was that he had been trudging through this desert for almost three days.
But the desert had been uncompromising. No matter how long he walked, there was no end in sight - nothing but yellow sand as far as the eye could see. It was as if this sea of sand was there to tell Ares that his luck had finally run out. Had he had fellow travelers, they would have known what Ares was going through and shared his fatigue...but imagining companions is an easy trap for lonely people to fall into.
His feet were heavy. If he had turned to look for his footprints, he would have only seen two lines trailing behind him.
He could do little more but brace himself and collapse into the sand, at which point he realized that he had sorely underestimated the extent of his fatigue. He couldn’t help but smirk in self-mockery.
Sandstorms soared as if tracing the dunes in front of him. Amid the sounds of sand and wind, he could faintly hear something else. The sound of hooves kicking up the parched sand. Then a neigh. The sound of armor rustling... He wasn’t sure whether it was reality or a hallucination. Ares tried to catch a glimpse of the top of the dunes, forcing his eyes into a tremor.
But there was nothing, only sand.
And just as he concluded it had only been a hallucination after all, a band of horsemen stormed onto the dune right before his eyes. It was a unit approximately ten strong. They lined up on top of the dune and looked down on the fallen Ares. Though it was hard for him to say for certain, each of the soldiers looked to be equipped with cloaks to shield against the sand and sun, fully prepared to traverse such a desert.
(I have to fight...!)
Even in his exhausted state, Ares instinctively reached out for the longsword on his back. But it took him so long, he became annoyed with himself. Grabbing it, unsheathing, everything he did felt like a series of disjointed movements rather than a fluid action. When he thought he was finally ready to face his opponents, he realized he couldn’t bear the weight of his sword.
One of the cavaliers held up his right hand. On that signal, the rest of the group came down the dune, heading for Ares. Their shouting, as if they were going to cut through a sandstorm, reverberated as the horses’ hooves spread the scorching sand. Ares pulled himself back on his feet and held his sword above his head, ready to defend himself…
But he had no strength left. He was exhausted, as if the very sand beneath him sapped his energy through his toes. Despite his will to stand and fight, he fell to his knees while staring at the approaching cavaliers. Resistance would be futile. His consciousness began to fade again, and his body felt like lead. He couldn’t move, as if he had been put under a spell.
(I see... This desert has been...)
The moment he realized that he had never had any chance at escape, his consciousness completely faded. With a dull thump, he collapsed onto the sand. A cloud of sand his size spread out from around him.
The cavaliers expertly gripped their reins and surrounded the fallen Ares.
"Examine his sword," said a man who looked to be the commanding officer.
The others dismounted one by one and gathered around Ares. One of them picked up the sword Ares had dropped and studied it with deep interest.
"So this is the Planet Buster," the only cavalier still mounted said.
Were Ares to have seen this man’s face, he would have smiled bitterly. It was Karl Caless, a wandering staff officer for hire…and an old comrade.
"Show me his face."
The soldier pulled Ares up by his hair so Karl could get a good look.
After a moment’s thought, Karl smiled calmly.
”Put him on your horse and and take him to Bellsaddce."
In accordance with the officer’s command, Ares’ hands were bound with a straw rope and hung over the saddle of the last horse.
Even now that Karl’s prey had fallen victim to the Desert Barrier cast by a Bundevian mage, his mission -- stealing the Planet Buster and dragging Ares back through the desert, unconscious -- didn’t sit well with him.
The world continued to turn for Bundevia, just as Heaven decreed.