Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Astiroth kneeled before the Madame, his head bowed in reverence. She stood over the man, her intense gleaming red eyes staring at him.
“How fairs the vessel?”
Astiroth lifted his head, his confident smirk evident as his black eyes shone with excitement.
“He grows strong with each passing day. I have never seen such ability before. He will serve your plans well, Mistress.”
“I will decide that. Bring him to me.”
Astiroth nodded as he stood, gesturing out to the fog. “Dante, my boy… come.”
There were a few heartbeats of silence when, from behind a gravestone, an adolescent boy stepped out into view. He appeared no older than thirteen years. His skin was a dark-gray, and his black eyes resembled the most profound depths. There was no shine of youth or innocence in those eyes.
His black hair was unkempt, spiking in various angles with his bangs dangling over part of his dark gaze. The boy wore only a pair of pants and what appeared to be a ragged tunic on his shoulders.
"This child will be the death of thousands," Astiroth said without hesitation. "Dante possesses two natural elemental powers, and his headcount surpasses those thrice his age. Dante shows no mercy.”
Madame Medri stared at the young boy, studying his expression and body for a long while. “I wish to see this for myself.”
She snapped her fingers, and a strange creature hobbled up beside her. It was hunched with large growths growing along its back and arms. Long, spindly fingers ended at sharp points for nails. Its bulging eyes, far too big for its head, glanced this way and that.
The Madame pointed a finger at Dante as she commanded to the creature, “Kill him.”
The creature’s eyes darted this way and that before it landed on Dante. With a howl, it bolted forward, wildly flailing its arms around to strike the adolescent. Dante did not move at first, and for a moment, it appeared as though he would not. A flash of warning in Astiroth's eyes forced the boy's feet to step forward. As the creature neared, Dante’s form turned black as he disappeared into the ground. The creature stopped, whirling around to spot its target. Its body stiffened weirdly, holding its breath as it stood near to its tip-toes. It gurgled before large black spikes erupted from under its flesh in several places, splatters of blood flying across the dirt.
It stayed still in its death throws for a moment longer before a shadow crept from under it, letting the body topple to the ground. Dante reemerged to solid form once more, only to receive a sharp punch to his face from his father that sent him sprawling. Astiroth towered his son, pulling his whip into his grasp as he repeatedly struck Dante’s prone form.
“You dare to hesitate? Stupid boy, I will make you pay!”
Dante scrambled to his feet, letting out a loud scream of anger and agony as he grabbed his head to hide from Astiroth’s merciless whipping. He thrashed about until a withered hand reached out to grab the young boy by the scruff of his neck. He was forced to look into Madame Medri’s red eyes as she glared at him.
"Silence," she hissed.
Dante thrashed a final time before going limp, his expression blank once more. The Madame released her grasp from the child as she turned to look back at Astiroth.
“He still needs work. Should you fail in his training, I will make you suffer.”
Astiroth sneered but bowed his head in understanding. “Yes, Mistress.”
The lich turned back to Dante. “Leave.”
Dante did not hesitate as he walked off into the graveyard, the angry glare of his father on his back as he left.
Dante never knew where to go, aimlessly exploring the grounds of the cemetery unless he was called upon. He would attack random creatures that wandered into the graveyard or beat random gravestones to give himself some means of entertainment. Dante grew in this environment, so he knew of nothing else. There were times he wished he was somewhere or someone else, but those thoughts were fleeting. He knew this was his life, as his mother and father both told him on a near constant basis. His soul purpose was to be a vessel, nothing more.
As he walked, a small voice broke his concentration, "What are you doing out here?"
From behind a nearby dead tree, a petite figure stepped out to reveal itself. A girl stood beside the old trunk, her strange orange eyes glowing in the dimness of their surroundings. Even in the darkness, Dante could see her irises swirling slowly in a clockwise motion. She appeared a year or two younger than Dante. Her long black hair fell around her pretty face, and although it was dark outside, Dante could see large curved horns protruding from the girl's scalp, arching to a point in front of her forehead. Dante turned to the girl with wide eyes before sinking into a shadow to hide, though where he hid was much darker than the rest of the shadows. The girl stepped forward, wearing a ragged and torn dress.
She gave a tiny grin as she spoke, "You're silly... I can see you."
Dante did not move, trying to blend in harder into the shadows, hoping the girl would just go away. The darkness only grew darker for his efforts.
The girl looked down at her dress, unsuccessfully brushing the dirt from the ragged fibers. "I haven’t seen you around here before, but I haven’t been here for long..." She paused for a moment. "That lady with the red eyes... she's scary. I dislike her. But she says I have to stay here."
Dante stayed still for only a moment before his head slid out of the shadow, looking at her before he spoke, his voice hushed, "... I have to stay here too."
Xenlia lifted her eyes to look at him. "That lady says it is because I will be useful when I am grown up. I do not know why, though. She never tells me how I'll be useful. I hate it here. Why do you have to stay here?”
Dante remained hidden, staring at her through his wild hair. "They say I am a vessel... a weapon." He glanced around as if waiting for someone to yell at him for revealing such information.
"A vessel for what?" she asked, a puzzled expression on her face. "How are you a weapon?"
Dante shrugged. "I don't know, but I'm always fighting, killing... or being beaten."
"They sound like mean people..." said Xenlia, lowering her gaze for a moment before she asked, "What's your name?"
"... Dante," he whispered, afraid to say it too loud.
"Dante... My name is Xenlia. Have you ever thought of leaving?" She turned her head to look far beyond the foggy forest. "I have, but I have nowhere to go."
Dante followed her gaze before shaking his head as more of his body slipped out from the shadow, still cautious. "No. My father said he would kill me if I left."
Xenlia looked back at him. "I don’t remember my mother and father. I remember nothing before coming here." She contemplated the idea. "When I'm bigger and stronger, that's when I'll leave this place. No one can stop me." She gave a big smile at the thought. "You should come with me!"
Dante looked at her, shrinking from her suggestion. "I can't. The red-eyed lady and my father would kill me. They say others in the outside lands would try to kill me too because I’m a monster."
Xenlia shook her head, her long black hair swishing back and forth with the motion. “You don’t look like a monster to me.”
Dante looked to the side for a moment, his head lowering as he spoke, "I'm not in control of myself, though. Especially when I’m angry or sad."
"But you can be if you practice," said Xenlia.
Dante lifted his clawed-hand, rubbing the back of his neck. "Practice? What kind of practice?"
"When I'm sad or mad, or I want to cry, I focus on something around me. You need to find something you can focus on too to practice so you won’t lose control."
Dante glanced about his surroundings. He owned nothing except his torn, ragged clothes. His gaze dropped in defeat. "... I have nothing."
Frustration bubbled in his voice, his breathing heavier before he reached up to grab his head, fighting his own ire as his sharp fingers curled into his scalp. He jumped in surprised when Xenlia reached out to take his hand from his head, pulling it down to give it a light squeeze as she held it.
"Focus on me," she said, encouraging him to look into her eyes, a gentle glow emitting from them. Her orange eyes appeared to stop their eternal dance for a moment before they spun in the opposite direction.
Dante growled, resisting for a moment before his black eyes connected with her. His hand squeezed her tight as his other remained pressed at the side of his head. Xenlia squared herself with him as she reached up to take his hand from his head, holding them both between them.
She kept her gaze locked while speaking, "You have me now. We have each other."
Dante held stares with her again, this time his whole body going still as if in a trance. His grip loosened in her hands, his face expressionless once more. Xenlia gave him a little smile as she nodded.
"See? From now on, when you feel that way, just focus on me. When we are not together, just think about me. That will calm you down."
Dante looked at her for a moment longer before speaking, "What if that doesn't always work?"
"I'll find you to make sure it does," she said with confidence and a nod of her head. They could hear the voice of Madame Medri from far off in the distance.
A brief look of fear crossed over Dante’s face as he pulled his hands away from her, turning to the direction of the voice. Xenlia glanced in the direction of the lich as well before looking back at him.
"If you need me, come find me. I will always be right there. Promise." She pointed toward the dead tree. With that, she leaned in to give his cheek a light peck. "That's how you give a promise," she explained with a grin before she scurried away into the fog.
Dante's eyes widened as he lifted a hand to graze the spot where her warm lips pressed. He never experienced a sensation like it before. Dante watched her disappear into the fog, his eyes never leaving her as she skipped away.
Prince Kyvan Andurth, now a grown man, inhaled through his nose, taking in the heavy air around him before exhaling between parched lips. His eyes remained closed throughout his short meditation, the small crackles of burning candles the only sound in his ears. He let his eyelids slide open to stare at the ritual ring set before him. Prince Kyvan shrugged off his black robes, the servants behind him, carrying them away without a word.
They stripped him to the waist, his pale skin reflecting off the torchlight that hung off sconces from the dungeon walls. His bare feet padded across the stone ground as he stepped up onto the pedestal of the necromantic ritual display. He turned his pupilless blue orbs to view a cloaked figure standing off near the shadows of the room, watching him.
Kyvan said nothing as he moved to lie flat on his back on the stone floor, ignoring the shivers that ran up his spine from the sudden chill that came over him. He stared at the ceiling as he continued his meditative breathing, focusing on it as the cloaked figure inched towards him. A white skeleton hand lifted, holding a thick black book.
"Are you ready, Prince Kyvan of Etias?" the Reaper asked.
With a slow nod, the king moved to open the large book to a specific section. He raised his free hand as he chanted in an ancient Archean language. Kyvan hissed between clenched teeth as an invisible force pushed his head further against the stone pedestal. He felt a deep pressure in his chest as his fists clenched to the point of whitening knuckles.
He tried to close his piercing blue eyes, but something forced them back open again as he let out a scream of pain. The lich raised a long blade attached to a pole - a scythe, the curled deadly tip catching the glinting torchlight. This scythe was designed different from his own, with a second smaller blade attached to on the pole parallel to the larger knife.
In his agony, Kyvan turned his blue eyes to stare at the weapon. The skeleton lowered the tip of the blade to Kyvan's forehead, and the moment the metal contacted his skin, his body lurched backward. His eyes turned a solid electric blue, similar shades of colored light emanating from his mouth and nose.
Wisps of vapor poured from his eyes and mouth, an otherworldly screech resonating from deep in his chest. The Reaper did not flinch, holding the scythe against the prince's forehead with determination. The blade shifted in color to match the same hue that came from Kyvan's features. Blue mist swirled around the edge like a hand grabbing hold. Blood trickled along the prince's forehead as the sharp edge of the scythe cut into his skin.
As quick as it began, it ended. Kyvan's body went limp as his eyes closed when the light disappeared from them. The monarch raised the scythe up, the swirling blue light still glowing within the blade.
"Take the prince to his chambers to rest," the Reaper commanded. From the shadows, the servants stepped out to help the unconscious man, carrying him out of the room. The ancient lich examined them take the prince away, and from beneath his hood, two piercing orbs of light burned in the darkness cast by the cowl.
A long oak table stretched across the room to provide enough seating for the twenty members of the Elders, the advising council for the king. Each Elder was a voted representative for the various races among the realms. They sat in their usual seating arrangements, everyone's eyes at the skeletal figure at the head of the table.
The Reaper, his glowing red eyes staring out at them, leaned back in his chair and pressed the tips of his bone fingers together in contemplation.
"What do you wish to ask me?" the king asked.
"Your Highness, we must ask... Prince Kyvan? You did not choose your son, but your grandson, to succeed you as the heir. We wish to know the reason behind your decision."
The Reaper turned his hooded head to look to his advisers one by one though none would make direct eye contact with him.
"I have my reasons for choosing my grandson to take my place on the throne. Those reasons are mine and mine alone. If I share them amongst you that will be my prerogative. Until the day comes, I expect you to accept my will without question. Is that understood?"
"Yes, my Lord," the group said in unison as they bowed their heads in respect.
"Good, now leave me."
Without another word, the group left the Reaper in the gathering hall alone at the head of the large table to contemplate on his thoughts. For near an hour, he sat, his gleaming red eyes staring off into nothing as he pondered the events from earlier.
A soft knock on the door broke him from his concentration. He knew who it was before the woman entered. However, she felt the need to announce her presence, regardless.
"I apologize for disturbing you, Father," Lady Syllia, Kyvan's mother, announced as she swept into the room. Syllia married the Reaper's son, Xanthus, many years prior through an arrangement made with a nobleman, the beautiful woman having grown surrounded by the high society of Dragonbreak, Etias’s capital city. Though not his daughter by blood, the old lich was fond of Syllia as if she was his own.
"Apologies are unnecessary, Lady Syllia. Please, sit," the specter gestured to the seat beside him. The elegant woman obliged, sitting straight as she looked at him with a worried expression.
"I am concerned about Kyvan. Did he do well in his transition?"
The old lich anticipated she would question the ritual performed earlier. It would worry any mother about their child when dealing with such a stressful transformation. It was a ceremony which sealed Kyvan's soul with his phylactery, though it had been hundreds of years since its last execution.
"He did," the Reaper assured her, reaching out to pat a bone hand against hers. "There is no need to fret."
Lady Syllia relaxed as the tension in her shoulders released. "I must admit that I am still uncertain about your decision with his being the heir."
"I understand your apprehension," said the Reaper, not bothered by his daughter-in-law's questioning. "Kyvan is a powerful necromancer. I do not doubt his abilities to take over as king when the time is right."
"When will that happen?" Lady Syllia asked, her hands wrung together in her lap.
"That is still yet to be decided."
The Lady of the castle let out a heavy sigh as her shoulders slumped once more. She feared she would never rest as Kyvan was in the throes of his ascension. Or worse… what if Kyvan never brought an heir before something tragic happened?
"We must find him a wife, so she bears his son soon," Syllia perked at the idea, giving a bright smile. If the Reaper had any eyebrows to raise, he would have done so then.
"I would imagine that would be more stressful to the prince than entering lichdom," said the Reaper. "Let him be, Syllia. Kyvan will enter a union and become a father when the time is right."
"No, Father... he is the only bloodline left. He cannot dawdle on something as important as this," said Lady Syllia as she stood to her feet. "And before he ends up impregnating one of his whores."
The Reaper sighed and shook his hooded head. "I will leave this debate between you two."
He waved a hand to dismiss her. She bowed once more and left the room.