Previously on Aetherius Saga…
Jon the Compassionate, Sage of Water, has traveled to his ancestral home of the Colsana Archipelago. There he undergoes the process of receiving a Neithan Mark, a tattoo that would tell his life story. But the process is an intense one that forces him to relive his past. Including his time as a slave on the Isle of Caldra where he worked in the mines to protect the other trophy children…
Hours stretched on like days as Jon worked in the mines. He was just one of many his age forced to transport any metals they could find. Realistically, only the Ciruseran were needed for such a job. But by forcing the young and old to work with them it’d wear them down. Gradually breaking their will and making it easier to corrupt them. Some broke the first day. Others were more resilient and it took more time and creative methods. Regardless, all were kept in the same lowly hovels. Grouped together in a dirty shack under the soldier’s barracks. It was packed to max capacity and even then if they attempted to escape, they’d find only a literal army awaiting them. The mines themselves were dark, cold, and wet. The sound of whips cracking followed but wails of pain echoed endlessly. The only protection they had was whatever rags they were given.
Jon’s body ached and his heart was heavy seeing all the hollow faces and broken spirits. If this was how they felt after the first day was it even worth attempting to keep hope alive? All they could do was take it one step at a time. As he curls up in a corner for the night he sees Amyerain and the girl from earlier curled up together no worse for wear. The one highlight of his day. Closing his eyes he drifts into sleep knowing he managed to help even if only for a single day.
The following days passed the same. Jon would be brought to learn from Sir Bagan and eventually be escorted to the mines. After the first day, it was becoming less and less because of Jon talking out too much and more of a tool to keep the others in line. While it was effective, Sir Bagan was growing increasingly annoyed by his efforts being undone by the child. He knew he’d need to break him if he had any hope of being successful in the long term. As the children are escorted into his tent, he sits waiting with three fully armed guards.
“Another day, another lesson. I hope you are all prepared.” Sir Bagan begins uncharacteristically cheerfully. “Can you guess what the lesson is today children? Today you’re going to learn about life. I’ve been spending my time teaching you about our glorious kingdom but you’ve yet to learn how horrible life can get. You’re all so young and have yet to experience real hardships.” his beady eyes scan the room slowly. “You’ve all been given a level of freedom because the Knights of Orion handpicked you. But at every turn one of you has brought us down. I believed sending him to the mines like a slave would’ve been enough to teach him his place. Sadly, I have failed. A lesser man would take it out on all of you but I believe in punishing the individual over the majority. From now on he will no longer be part of our lessons.”
“What?” Jon asks confused.
“You’ve been a failure as a student and terrible as a slave. But there is one thing you could be valuable for.” Without a word, he has Jon escorted out of the tent. “Don’t worry children. You’ll see him again but he’ll have learned how fate is a cruel unrelenting mistress.” his voice echoes with his Auras reappearance. It embraces the pair in a suffocating grip with eyes aglow. “Light is destined to be snuffed out.”
With no one to interrupt his lessons, he leaves Jon to his fate. For a month he worked in peace until Sir Fredrick finally discovered what had been done. Sir Bagan could’ve ignored him but this worked well for his purposes. The harem was a place he long since gave up visiting. At his age, there was little he derived pleasure from. Having to bask in the constant smell of sweat, fear, tears, and other bodily fluids were something he’d rather not indulge in frequently. Not to mention the cries of new people being brought in for their first time. Jon sat frozen in a corner, his expression no different from any of the others. The scars on his body had increased with the old ones being unable to properly heal with the new ones being applied daily.
“It’s been awhile, child. Have you learned your lesson yet?” He receives no response. “I’ll take that as a yes.” he reaches for Jon who slaps his hand away. Instinctively Sir Bagan pulls his hand back to deliver a backhand strong enough to draw blood and leave him face first on the ground. “If I didn’t have a use for you still I’d leave you here for the rest of your days.” Grabbing Jon by a handful of hair he drags him out and throws him into the sleeping quarters with the rest of the prisoners. He’d be the instrument to show them one of the fates that await opposition.
Jon’s body moves on its own and finds an empty corner to hide in. A spot where he could avoid as much contact with others as possible. Not that he needed to, everyone was actively avoiding acknowledging he was even there. The Highlanders, in particular, trying to mask their disgust. The only ones who would even look at him were Amyerain and the girl who inch their way closer to him.
“Um…” Amyerain begins trying to find the words to say. “A-are you okay?” he asks lowly receiving no response. Amyerain reaches slowly for Jon who pulls away from him. “I…we…” Amyerain mumbles. He could see a look in Jon’s eyes he had grown up seeing every day in the Everfrost Isles. Unfathomable hate and anger. “I’m sorry.” his words caught Jon’s attention. “If it weren’t for you trying to help us none of this would’ve happened.” Jon tries to speak but no sound comes out.
“Thank you.” The girl says creating a mental link between the three.
“You’re welcome.” Jon thinks back to her.
“Why did you do that for us? You could’ve stayed quiet and left us…” Amyerain asks.
“I’m the oldest. I was just doing my job.”
“But you just met us…”
“Shut up!” Jon lashes out. “I just did okay! Just…just leave me alone…” he curls up and retracts internally even more.
“Rose.” she says seemingly randomly.
“What is that supposed to me?”
“It’s my name…We never got introduced.”
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Because we’re family.” Amyerain smiles meekly.
“I don’t have family…” Jon retracts even more.
“Neither of us do either. But you’re the only one who cared about what happened to us.”
“Whatever…” After a few minutes, Jon thinks again. “Amyerain.”
“Your name’s too long…Make a shorter one.”
“Oh um…I don’t know…”
“Tell me when you decide on one. And maybe…you could talk to me when I’m brought back here. If you wanted anyway.” Jon hesitantly suggests.
For five years the cycle would continue. Jon’s days were spent in the harem while at night he was thrown back in with the other prisoners to appease Sir Fredrick. The conversations he’d have with Amyerain and Rose at night helped to keep him from being overwhelmed by all he had to endure. Each night they talked it slowly undid Sir Bagan’s conditioning. But the next day would mark the beginning of a new day. Tired of all the time being wasted, Lady Vanessa decided to take matters into her own hand. She had Sir Bagan and Genji gather Jon, Amyerain, and Rose together.
“I’ve been patient for years with you all. I’ve respected your methods up until now Bagan but no more. Our army doesn’t need weakness.” she leers at Rose. “It doesn’t need shady half-breeds!” She turns to Amyerain, the ferocity in her voice startling him. “And we don’t need someone who’s lost their manhood.” Jon lowers his eyes to the ground. “Sir Bagan was too generous in leaving your fate to the hands of others. Not letting you see what happened. Not anymore, there will be no weak links.” Grabbing Amyerain forcefully by his wrist.
“No! Leave him-” Jon’s attempt at defending Amyerain are met with a stern and steel punch from Lady Vanessa’s gauntlet. The spiked knuckles cutting his face and knocking him to the floor.
“Don’t think you can give me orders woman. They’ve been too forgiving of your shit but I will not.” she does as Jon asks and let’s go of Amyerain. Only to grab Jon by his hair and drag him outside instead. Throwing him face first into the sand and putting her greave on the back of his neck. “So what will it be? Should I show them firsthand what you’ve been doing?” Jon struggles under her boot forcing her to increase the pressure. His breathing became difficult and painful. “Everyone is so damned incompetent. No more playing favorites, burn the half-breed and skin the girl.”
“NO!” Jon screams as loud as he can.
“Even if you disgust me you have potential. All you need is a little push.”
Jon watched helplessly as his friends were dragged to a certain doom. Their cries broke something inside of him. His eyes glowed with Aether for the first time and it began to sing.
♫ Do you hear that sound? (You will fear…) ♫
The skies began to blacken and form rain clouds and the sea turned violent…
♫ Tearing through the wind? (When I’m near…) ♫
♫ Voice consumed in rage… (You will not escape…) ♫
“The hell…But only a…Sage could…” Lady Vanessa’s heart froze as the realization came to her. The same feeling all her soldiers and fellow knights felt in unison.
♫ This will be your end… (Succumb to your fate…) ♫
Lady Vanessa steps away from Jon in fear as he begins to stand. The Aether surged from his body like an inferno. His face was the calmest it’s been in years. Most had never encountered a Sage and only heard the tales. That the Aether would sing when they called upon it. That they’d alter the world around them to fit their needs.
“Leave them alone or I swear I’ll kill every single one of you!” his anger reached levels like never before. The rain becoming a wild hurricane.
♫ All those crimes you did commit… (You may try to run away…) ♫
♫ Judgement has arrived… (Beware of the wind…For I’m here…) ♫
As if in response to the Aethers song the ground began to swell and shake. The mines crumbled as a flood of Chernabog burst out from within. Each stood a massive 20 feet tall on 6 legs. The front legs were pincers large enough to bisect a horse in seconds. Its thorax was smooth and reminiscent of a crab. The soldiers scramble to try and combat the oncoming horde but it’s all for naught. The violent rain blinds them and made it difficult to get their bearings. In seconds the Chernabog began to overwhelm them. Easily cleaving through armor and blades, never for a moment stopping or targeting the captured and enslaved.
“Stand your ground and use your damn training!” Lady Vanessa howls with War Axe at the ready. She’d fought through the fire rain in Va’ Sif and a blizzard that lasted a week in the Everfrost Isles. She wouldn’t be stopped by simple rain. “Where the hell is Sir Fredrick?!” she asks Sir Bagan and Sir Genji who are nowhere in sight. “I swear I will have all your heads for this!”
Lady Vanessa battled the ravenous Chernabog with all her might. She was wholly unaware of the other issues that were being dealt with. In all the chaos, Sir Genji took the opportunity to attack Sir Fredrick in his supply tent. His Myurkyurian steel left a distinct cut across his former allies chest but did not kill.
“I knew we couldn’t trust you…Once a traitor always a traitor. Especially one of you Mooks.” Were the cut a few inches deeper Sir Fredrick would be holding his organs in place and not just trying to slow the bleeding.
“Do you know who I am?” Sir Genji asks, swinging his katana to the side to remove all the blood. His voice was soft yet consumed in rage. Strangely, the words seemed not to properly synch with his lips. As if there was another person talking for him.
“I always knew you could talk.” Taking a breath he readies his sword and shield. Without the element of surprise, he was more than capable of handling Genji one-on-one.
“My father was Tsuyasu the Ruby. You killed him during the Battle of Gray Peak. After days of tracking her, my mother was sent to one of your internment camps. I spent years waiting for the moment I could get you alone like this. All those sick orders I had to follow…all those atrocities…having to spit in the face of Okami just for this moment.”
“Get over yourself Genji. You’re nothing special. The whole world is shit so don’t act like you had it bad.” Sir Fredrick mocks.
“My name isn’t Genji! My name is Tsuyoshi the Emerald. And I’m here for revenge.”
“You Mooks are a spiteful lot you know that?” The repeated use of slurs stung Tsuyoshi but it wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. Throwing caution to the wind, Sir Fredrick swings his blade wildly at the traitor. He had dreamed of fighting and executing him for being a Myurkyurian. It never mattered that he changed side, just that he wasn’t born Highlander.
Tsuyoshi, on the other hand, was a patient man. He’d waited over 10 years for this moment. He wouldn’t give into his anger like Sir Fredrick. He steadied his blade and remained defensive. Parrying each swing that came his way. “I’d rather be spiteful than a monster like you. I’ve done many horrible things in your name but never once took joy in it.” The pair lock blades. “I already know what’s in your mind…All those sick things you’ve enjoyed doing…” he says without his mouth moving.
“Shit…Should’ve known you’d have to be a psychic to keep up with me.”
“Get over yourself, Fredrick. You’re nothing special.” Tsuyoshi scoffs with a smirk. Parrying Sir Fredrick and kicking him out the tent. “I never needed this to beat you. But I’ll enjoy using it to kill you.”
Everything he worked for built up to this moment. Using his telekinesis, he crushed every bone in Sir Fredrick’s body. Making sure to do it as painfully and slowly as possible before crushing him within his own armor. Sheathing his blade, he prepares to leave this cursed island. He had no reason to care about any of these people. The Chernabog would take care of them for him. Looking skyward he sees the Snow Aizr flying away from the Isle of Caldra. Her talons stained red and for the first time since being here, had a smile on her face. It seemed Tsuyoshi wasn’t the only one who got their revenge…
“Damnit to hell! Am I the only one capable here?!” Lady Vanessa yells, retrieving her War Axe from the caved-in skull of a Chernabog. Wiping water from her eyes she manages to make out Jon standing in the rain. “Sage or not I’m going to make you pay for killing my men!”
Jon remained silent as the rain raged and the sea began to churn inward. The Aether gathered in the skies and pulled it upward. The water coalescing and exploding into a serpentine form. Not only had he summoned and entire Chernabog colony, he summoned a Leviathan to his aid.
“I…I…” For once Lady Vanessa was at a loss for words. She never faced insurmountable odds before. “You win…” Roundly defeated, she throws her weapons aside. “Get this over with.”
The Leviathan did as she requested. Inhaling and gathering Aether in its mouth, it fires it in a powerful torrent of water. Consuming her in a flash of water that explodes high into the sky. Her body reduced to ash in an instant. There wasn’t even time to scream. With the army destroyed and the Knights no more, the sky calms and clears. The Chernabog returning to their colony. The slaves were now free to do as they pleased and with the Leviathans protection, they got to the mainland safely. Soon after landing Jon left Rose and Amyerain behind. His feelings were a confused mess before being enslaved. Having to deal with the pressure of being a Sage only added to it.
With his trance complete, the Neithan Mark finally takes form. While the brand burning into your skin was agonizing, having to relive all your painful memories was by far a worse pain. The tattoo itself covered his right shoulder and both the front and back of his right pectoral. A mix of wave-like lines and sharp angles dominated its design. In the center was the symbol of water surrounded by the symbols for the other six elements. He thanks the elder before leaving without a word.