The wastelands of Desolation. Miles of land filled with nothing but sand and many of the deadliest monsters on the planet. Not even the gods themselves ever attempted to settle in this pit of death, and the few fools who did enter it in search of challenge rarely made it out alive. Although, the gods did still manage to find a use for it, albeit a rather archaic one. On those rare occurrences in which the gods decided that the death sentence was too kind, they would fly the criminal right into the heart of the wastelands, where there was little hope they would ever escape. All they would be able to do was walk until something killed them. Exhaustion, suffocation from the sandstorms, burning from the intense heat of the sun, being ripped to shred by the monsters, or as happened in many cases, taking the step into the next life by their own hands. This particular sentence, however, was different from all the rest. This time it was a god of royal affiliation being sent to his inevitable demise after committing treason, despite the fact that the sentence for treason had always been instant death beforehand. Whether one would consider it fortunate or not is of course up to personal opinion, but the heir’s verdict was altered at the last minute by the king himself. Dracellator wished to give Blade, the closest thing he had ever had to a son, a chance to survive and to redeem himself. The Council of Divitomae begrudgingly agreed, deciding that if Blade were to survive his time in the deadliest area on the entire planet, he would be pardoned of his crime, although he could never return to Divitomae unless he could defeat the king in fair combat. This was after all a worse punishment than death for Blade. He would be stripped of his title, his family, everything he ever worked and lived for, and the only way he could get any of it back was to defeat the god he looked up to most. And just to make the exile that little bit more painful, the council decreed that Ignita, the king’s daughter and Blade’s former betrothed, would be the one to take him into the wastelands. So it was that the next morning the two of them rode the king’s draconic beast, Umbrunae, into the wastelands, finding a relatively monster-free path of ground to land in so they could say their final goodbyes.
“This is so wrong”, sighed Ignita, trying to hold her tears back.
“We both knew this would happen when I killed him”, sighed Blade, looking into the never-ending sand. “But we both know what would have happened if I had let him live. We saved the world from destruction, and I think that’s a pretty damn good legacy to leave behind, even if nobody knows it”.
Umbrunae shrieked in panic, trying to get the couple to look towards the sandstorm that was fast approaching.
“I suppose you two had better get going”, said Blade, stroking Umbrunae’s head to calm him down.
“We could… Stay…”
“You can’t survive out there alone! After all we’ve been through, I can’t just let you die by yourself!”
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do. My purpose is served, but the world still needs you. You are the only one who can claim the throne after Dracellator to make sure my sacrifice isn’t wasted!”
Blade hugged Ignita tightly, tears streaming down both of their faces.
“I’m sorry it has to be this way”, he sighed.
“Just promise me you’ll at least try to survive”, sniffled Ignita, hugging tighter.
“You know that even if I do, we can’t be together unless I somehow beat your father”, chuckled Blade painfully. “But at least we still have this moment”.
Blade puller back from the hug and placed his hands on Ignita’s shoulders. He stared into her eyes and smiled, admiring how lucky he was to have had such an amazing partner. To have had someone who always stuck by him no matter what, who loved him so deeply, and who he loved back just as much. And then they kissed. For a few fleeting moments, nothing else in the world mattered. All that
existed was the two of them, locked in a moment of unbridled passion, feeling only their love for each other. Though of course, it had to end. Knowing she would never leave willingly, Blade pushed Ignita towards the claws of Umbrunae, allowing the beast to finally fly her to safety. He watched on as she ascended into the sky, beyond where he would ever be able to reach her again. To see her go was one of the most painful moments of his life, yet that kiss, that moment of such intense passion. That was what he would use to fuel him in his journey back to society.
With nothing else to do, Blade simply walked. He walked on until his shoes fell apart and his feet began to bleed, and then he kept walking. Through melting heats, through freezing colds, through sandstorms, and through countless battles with the monsters of the wastelands, Blade still carried on. He had to. If he was ever going to see his family again, if he was ever going to embrace the love of his life, if he was ever to reclaim the life he once had, he would have to make it to the end. The days passed slower than a freezing snail, all blending into one timeless nightmare. He lost all concept of how much time had passed, knowing only that it was more than he would have liked it to be. It could have been days, weeks, months, though it didn’t matter. To him, it only felt like eternity. His energy finally started to wane, his life slowly fading away. His sanity neared its end, slowly ebbing away with each laborious step. Even his once indomitable willpower now felt like it was grasping onto the edge of a cliff while somebody stomped on its fingers. He dropped to his knees, struggling to breathe. And that was when he saw it. The colour green. A plant, pushing its way through the sand to find the sun. Life. He was almost free. He just needed to get that little bit further and he could finally return to society. Although, this was anticipated by the jury that convicted him. Irked by the fact he had potentially been saved from the death they believed he deserved, a few jury members came together and concocted a plan. Even if Blade were to survive, he would be severely weakened by the time he reached the edge of the wastelands. He wouldn’t have a chance in a fight against a regular god, let alone a trio of well-trained mercenaries. An arrow to the head was all they needed. Too bad Blade was able to deflect it with his sword before it met its target.
“Nice to meet you too”, chuckled Blade, quickly activating the sense and flame runes on his sword.
“Nice ain’t da way we’d put it, mate”, snarled Turpi, loading another arrow into his bow while sitting atop Elinguis’ shoulder. “Dis is da end ‘a ya life”.
“Accept your fate quietly. This needn’t be painful for any of us”, pleaded Lakumi.
“What they said”, signed Elinguis.
Blade looked between his three opponents. He knew that if he were in perfect shape, this wouldn’t even be a challenge. Though the way he was in that moment, even just standing was tough. This wasn’t going to be an easy battle.
“So, who sent you?” he asked, trying to stall for time while he figured out a strategy. “King Dracellator? Legatas? That schmuck from accounting who always gives me the evil eye?”
“If ya want to know our sources, ya gotta beat it outta us!” growled Turpi.
“Aight”, said Blade casually.
Blade threw his sword at Turpi, exploding him off of Elinguis’ shoulder, grabbed it again in mid-air and slammed it into Elinguis’ shield, sending him flying backwards as well. His sense rune still activated, he easily dodged the shards of ice from Lakumi, then activated his strength and earth runes, using them to send a barrage of rocks over her to keep her still so he could finish her off. Even just this short burst of energy was enough to put significant strain on his body, so he knew he had to end the fight quickly. Though Turpi had other plans. Just before Blade went to end Lakumi, Turpi fired an arrow at his hand, impaling it and forcing him to drop his sword, followed by Elinguis charging and tackling Blade to the ground. The two gods relentlessly punched Blade, while Lakumi broke free from her rocky tomb and quickly threw the sword as far away as she could. Now Blade was both outnumbered and unarmed. Although, he wasn’t exactly outclassed. A punch from Elinguis blocked and countered with a punch to the face and a kick to the legs to trip him over. An arrow shot
from Turpi, casually deflected and redirected into Elinguis’ knee. An icy dagger from behind, stabbing into his back, his elbow slamming hard across Lakumi’s jaw. The mercenaries quickly jumped back up to their feet and regrouped. All three were wounded and struggling for air, just as Blade was. They realised that even while he was so close to death, there was a high chance Blade would be able to kill at least one of them, maybe even all three. They had to end the fight before he got the chance. Lakumi quickly shot ice towards Blade’s feet, freezing them to the ground, while creating a wall of ice behind him to hold him up. Before he could escape, the three all attacked at once, punching and kicking with all of their remaining strength. There was nothing he could do to counter them. No strategies, no weapon, no strength. He just had to take the pain of each punch, slowly breaking down his body. Slowly fuelling his affinity. When it finally reached its peak, he unleashed it all at once. A storm of purple energy erupted from his body, shattering the ice and knocking all three mercenaries to the ground. Elinguis quickly returned to his feet and punched Blade, only for his attack to easily be caught with one hand.
“But… How!?” asked an astonished Turpi.
“They said you had to be holding your sword to use that power…” gasped Lakumi.
“The sword is just a shortcut”, Blade smiled malevolently. “Perhaps if you had been better informed, you would have been able to survive this”.
Blade casually pushed back against Elinguis’ fist, breaking it, then kicked him in the ribs, breaking three and knocking him to the ground. Turpi fired an arrow, realising too late that Blade had already moved behind him before the arrow was even released. Grabbing his leg, Blade flung Turpi high into the air, jumped up to join him, then kicked him back down, burying him deep into the sand. Next was Lakumi. She simply cowered in fear as Blade slowly walked towards her, a cathartic joy filling his eyes. She closed her eyes as he placed a finger on her stomach. Closing his fist and pushing it forwards from that tiny distance was enough to leave her gasping for air as she fell to the ground. Blade then dug Turpi out of his hole and lifted him into the air by his throat.
“Tell me who sent you, or I will kill you all”, demanded Blade.
“We don’t know”, screamed Turpi, covering his face with his hands. “We never trade information with our clients in case something like dis happens! Please, just let us live!”
“What do you say?” asked Blade to Elinguis, clasping tighter onto Turpi’s throat.
“It’s true, we know nothing!” signed Elinguis. “Please let us live. We can be of great value to you!”
Blade’s face filled with murderous intent, a sadistic grin starting to spread across it.
“Then you will all die”, he growled.
“Wait!” pleaded Lakumi. “Hear me out!”
Blade punched Turpi hard in the stomach and threw him head-first to the ground to knock him out, then turned to Lakumi.
“You look like a god who likes a good time”, purred Lakumi.
“Just spit it out”, warned Blade.
“Fine. There’s a pub in the nearby city of Lutum called the Dragon Slayer’s Orchard. Meet us there this weekend and we will make it up to you, I promise”.
Blade felt his energy beginning to wear off. He was running out of time.
“Fine”, agreed Blade, trying to hide the fact that he soon wouldn’t be able to fight. “Grab the midget and the mute and get out of here before I change my mind. You won’t get a second chance”.
Lakumi smiled at Blade, slowly walking up to him and planting a cold kiss on his cheek.
“You won’t regret it”, she giggled, winking seductively.
Moving as quickly as she could so that Blade wouldn’t have much time to change his mind, Lakumi grabbed Turpi and Elinguis and summoned a tube of ice to allow them all to quickly slide to safety. As soon as they were out of sight, Blade collapsed to the ground. His energy was almost completely spent. All he could do was breathe, and he could barely even do that. After all his time in the
wastelands, after all his struggling to be free, he would die right on the edge of freedom. He closed his eyes and smiled. At least he wouldn’t have to suffer anymore.
“Ahh, I thought it was your energy I sensed”, said a vaguely familiar voice.
Blade opened his eyes and struggled to lift his head.
“You… You’re… Síondraga?” coughed Blade.
“And you’re the heir to the throne. All by yourself, in a place where nobody will ever be able to find your body”, snarled Síondraga, raising a hand and charging up a sphere of bright, purple energy. “I have long waited for a time in which I can do real damage to the city of Divitomae. With your death, the city will be left without an heir to claim the throne!”
“Your facts are a bit old buddy. I was banished from Divitomae a little while ago. They all think I’m dead already”, chuckled Blade. “Just do it. I’m already on death’s door as it is. Finish me off and get your damn ego boost”.
“Well… That changes things”, said Síondraga thoughtfully, lowering his hand. “What would you say to a chance of redemption? If you would serve the good Lord Ferumcertaele, I could be convinced to save your life”.
“Why would I do that?”
“We plan to defeat King Dracellator once and for all. Considering he banished you, would you not like revenge against him as well?”
Blade considered his options for a moment. He had brief encounters with Ferumcertaele and Síondraga before and had already grown a certain level of disdain for them both. But if they truly did plan to oppose Dracellator, perhaps they could be of use to him. They could be his only chance to get his old life back.
“Okay then. Save my life and I will serve your lord”, agreed Blade.
Without saying a word, Síondraga teleported Blade to the hospital wing of Lutum. With his energy completely spent, he passed out on a bed, where he would remain completely still and unconscious for several weeks. When he finally woke up, both his servitude to Lord Ferumcertaele and his quest to return to Divitomae began.
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