Previously on Aetherius Saga…
Jon the Compassionate, Sage of Water, has survived an encounter with a Tainted Kraken. His attempt to purify it killing the beast and leaving a Black Prism behind. Upon his return to Poluyim he’s found by Cerise the Just, the Elven Sage of Nature. She convinces Jon to try and purify the Black Prism but all it succeeds in doing is putting him in a trance and nearly destroying the Elven Kingdom of Xanad in the process…
For all the destruction caused by Jon’s attempt to purify the Black Prism, the Kingdom of Xanad remained strong. Marceline’s Song of Healing was soon joined by a choir of Fairies throughout the Kingdom. Their combined efforts saving everyone who was injured. The Tree of Armon itself was capable of self-repair. In less than an hour, it was as if nothing happened. By sunset, everyone went back to their normal lives. The branches of Armon glowed with a special breed of Firefly bright enough to act as torches. While Cerise returned to her home, Jon walked through the trunk exploring the town alongside Tella and Storm. Guilt for what happened mixed and annoyance at being pushed into causing it by Cerise. He was content to just leave it alone until he reached Zam but he listened to her. Who knows how much worse things could’ve been if he couldn’t be contained…
“Out for a romantic stroll I see.” Marceline hums before sitting on Storm’s shoulder. “I know the perfect spot for you two where nobody would walk in on you.” she chuckles but gets no response from Jon. “So…mind if we talk? I do actually know a private place if you preferred it.”
Jon nods and follows Marceline. It takes five minutes of walking through the lowest parts of the trunks past all a small pond and hidden behind a large rock. Inside was a small path leading underground to a hidden bed of flowers. A singular beam of light shone in from a hole in the trunk and the walls glowed with luminescent moss.
“What do you think?” Marceline floats down to sit on a flower. “I worked hard to get the flowers just right.”
“It’s amazing.” Storm replies.
Jon smiles and begins to take out his sketchbook. “Thank you for bringing us here. Oh.” he pauses and stops himself from drawing. “Is it okay if I sketch this?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Awesome!” he begins to lose himself in his art only being stirred slightly by Tella sitting on his lap.
“What’s been bothering you, Jon?” Marceline inquires with uncharacteristic concern. “You’ve been a lot less…you since I last saw you.”
“Well, I got a Neithan Mark.”
“Oooo, show me! Show me! Show me!” Jon agrees and pulls down his tunic. She takes her time and scans every detail of the brand. “Wow…this is…” Marceline knew about the scars Jon had but she didn’t know about the causes for them. She just knew he never talked about it. A hug against his neck is the best thing she could think to do.
“Not that I’m jealous or anything but am I missing something?” Storm interrupts, thoroughly killing the moment.
“One day I’ll explain.” Jon reassures Storm.
“I’ll be sure to chew out Cerise for making you push yourself like that.”
“You don’t really have to.”
“I know but it’ll be fun. I’ll catch you guys later. Just make sure at least some of the flowers are left when you’re done.” With a wink, she flies off through the hole in the ceiling.
“Couldn’t even go five minutes without making a joke…” His brow twitched in annoyance. “Whatever…” Jon sighs. “Thanks for saving my friends. I owe you one.”
“Ohohoho, I was nothing!” he gloats proudly. Jon ignores him entirely and returns to his art.
After several minutes Jon finally completes his sketch of the flowerbed and Marceline. He made sure to draw her first in case she left. It was an easy matter of finishing everything around it. “What do you think?” Excitedly, Jon turns to show his picture to Storm but finds him nowhere in sight. “Storm?” He calls out before finally putting his tunic on properly and exiting the secret flowerbed.
Jon arrives at the pond to find it drastically different than it was earlier. The branches covered in thick webs from every direction. Only the pond itself remained untouched. Suspended above the pond is Storm. The webs entangled around his mouth, arms, and legs. His weapons trapped out of arms reach. Standing next to him is a feminine figure he’d never seen before. Her thin frame was a smooth brown hue with a massive grey “v” going from her head to her feet. Four massive pointed spider legs extended from her back and held her suspended above the pond. Two massive circular black eyes sat above two sets of smaller eyes. She sat with legs crossed and arms crossed as she awaited the Sage.
“I was wondering how long it’d take you to come out.” she says through an indiscernible mouth. Her voice deep and hypnotic.
“Sorry but I don’t think we’ve met. Also, I’d really appreciate it if you let my friend go.”
“Why not free him yourself? We both know you have more than enough power to do it.”
“So is that a no?” Jon asks flatly.
“You Sages never take anything seriously, do you? Always treating things like a joke. Like you can just do what you want when you want.” With a thought, the webs tighten around Storms mouth and neck.
Jon could easily end this in seconds. But hesitation took hold of him. Despite all the power he possessed, he was far from accurate. He didn’t know anything about this creature’s abilities. With all the webs he couldn’t call upon the animals around him but he still had one spell left. “Let’s just calm down. Storm didn’t do anything to you. I mean…he might’ve but come on…whatever he did probably didn’t have much of an impact.”
“You’re right. I just needed him to get to you.” Uncrossing her legs, she uses her large spider legs to land herself in front of Jon before they retract into her back. “You’re the only Sage who doesn’t stay stationary. You couldn’t imagine how dangerous that is.” her voice softens. She gently rests her right hand on Jon’s chest. “I could use that.”
Jon grabs her hand and stares annoyed at her. “Not interested in anything you’re offering lady.”
“Oh?” she tightens her webs around Storm once more. “Aren’t Sages supposed to protect the world?” Jon stands silently. “Good boy.”
“Just tell me what you want.” Jon swipes her hand to the side and looks away.
“I came to find you at the request of Emperor Guangli himself. He wants you to side with Myurkyuria. I on the other hand…” she leans in close and rubs her left hang along Jon’s side. “Well, it’d be a real shame if an accident happened to the Emperor and you happened to take over.” The shock on Jon’s face titillated her. “Think of it, a Sage as an Emperor could do way more good than just wander.”
“I could help a lot of people…” his voice unsure. “Will you let Storm go if I agree?”
“My word is my bond.” she whispers.
“Then let him go. I’ll help you.”
“Oh, Jon…” she runs her hand down to his lower abdomen. “Did you really think you could pacify me?” Digging her hand into his stomach she easily lifts Jon over her shoulder and throws him into the webs at the opposite end of the pond. Spawning her spider legs once more she walks towards him. “You could’ve followed me and become Emperor. Now you’ll just be another slave.”
“No way in hell am I becoming a slave again!” Jon winced as he tries to free himself from the webs.
“There’s no point in struggling. Not even you can break free.” Leaning forward she punches Jon in his stomach. He gasps in pain as multiple ribs are broken.
The pain made it difficult for Jon to breath. But he’s experienced far worse. “Heh.” Jon smiles tauntingly only to get a right hook to the face. His glasses cracking before hitting the floor.
“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?”
“No…it’s just you fell for it.”
“Fell for it…” The woman pauses briefly in thought.
In her frustration, the woman was blindly focused on Jon and failed to realize he was intentionally distracting her. The water in the pond moved slowly and precisely. Cutting the webs around Storm, returning his weapons, creating a platform for him to stand on, and also masking his incantation. His trusty sword and shield now sheathed in ice from his spell, Gelus Stigma. With a mighty thrust, he grazes the woman which is all he needed. A single cut from Gelus Stigma is enough to freeze the target. With no choice, she disappears swiftly. The moment she fades her webs vanish.
“That’ll teach her for messing with Storm the Red!” he boasts proudly.
“Storm…Mind getting me down?” Despite saving the day again, Storm failed to realize his ice had spread from the woman to Jon and trapped him against the wall. Even in success, he does so clumsily.
“Can’t you get yourself down?” Storm inquires confused.
“Sage of Water, not Ice.” He complains.
“Well then leave it to me! Impes Stigma!” his sword ignites in flames.
“Waitwaitwaitwaitwait! We’re in a forest remember?”
“Riiiiiight. I’ll be back soon then!” Storm declares whilst running off majestically.
Jon waits patiently for Storm to return with Cerise. Thoughts about the mystery woman are the only thing on his mind. All he knew was that she had ties to Myurkyuria. Beyond that, he didn’t know what she was or where she came from. He didn’t care for politics and with his wandering maybe she was part of a new species he just was unaware of. The injuries he got made it difficult to focus. Between the broken ribs making it difficult to breathe and the ice covering half his body, Jon had difficulty staying conscious.
“Least the ice is keeping me from bleeding out.” Jon halfheartedly muses. “Gonna need another pair of glasses too…” The injuries weren’t meant to be fatal but wholly disorienting. If he couldn’t catch his breath or stay focused long enough even the simplest spells would be impossible. It was a miracle he was able to focus long enough to use the water to free Storm at all. After 10 minutes of waiting, Storm finally arrives with Cerise and Marceline.
“I can’t even leave you alone for half an hour can I?” Cerise stares at Jon in utter disbelief. “Marceline…”
“I’m on it, Cerise.” Marceline sings the Song of Healing once more. It heals Jon’s injuries but does nothing to free him from the ice.
“I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. You are nothing but trouble Jon.”
“You’re not going to let me down before you finish chewing me out are you?”
“You’re damn right! How do you always attract trouble like this and how did you not even deal with her sooner?”
“I wanted to talk her down.”
“That is your only way of dealing with things isn’t it?”
“I can’t help trying to see the best in people! That there might be a chance to reason with them.”
“That’s a nice gesture but some people can’t be reasoned with Jon. We both know how awful people can get.” The joking nature behind her voice now completely gone.
“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.” Jon responds defensively.
“Fine then. What would you have done if Storm wasn’t a hostage? What would you have done to get her to escape if he wasn’t armed? What if he couldn’t stop her? How would you have stopped her without your glasses? Were you going to just let her turn you into her figurehead?”
“I would’ve found a way like I always do.”
“Bullshit! That isn’t an answer!” The Aether becomes violent as the two Sages emotions become increasingly heated. The blue and green Aether swirling and mixing like opposing river currents. Each trying to overcome the other. Storm and Marceline just remain silent and watch.
“What do you want me to say, Cerise?!” Jon cries. “I was wrong okay!”
“Not good enough Jon.”
“Then what the hell do you want me to do?”
“YOUR JOB!” Cerise snaps. “You’re one of the Seven Sages. You have a job to all of Zeratal. You wander like a child and never stay in one place. Helping a few at a time if it suits you. You’re the strongest of us all and you do the least. You don’t even know a single proper spell or how to use any that don’t require water to already be there. That pond over there?” she stops and points at the pond he used to save Storm. “You could’ve ended everything from the beginning but you decided to waste time talking. Being compassionate doesn’t mean being suicidal.” An uneasy silence takes hold as the Aether calms. Cerise uses her vines to free Jon easily and turns her back on him. “Find Zam, tell him about the Black Prism, and learn how to do something on your own.”
“Fine…” Jon replies lowly as he blindly searches the ground for what’s left of his glasses.
“I’ll get you a new pair of glasses but after that Jon? Get the hell out of my home until you get your shit together.”
Storm had always believed that the Seven Sages were steadfast allies and the best of friends. Tales of their greatness and how they changed the world together was always the first thought to come to mind. But that exchange was just uncomfortable for him. If he didn’t know better he’d think they hated each other. He never realized how they exemplified their namesake. Jon was compassionate and tried to settle everything peacefully. He acted with his heart and emotions over his mind. But Cerise seemed to only see things as black and white. Her time as a judge dulling her subjective feelings for objectivity almost exclusively. He shuddered at what the other Sages were going to be like…
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