The River Maiden! Starfall Chapter 3

Heart of Evil

"Your grace, you must awaken. The Royal Coronation commences bright and early, your grace." The chambermaid bursts into the room.

"You waited all night, impressive. However skilled you and your comrades think yourselves to be, you've lost the second you stepped into the Royal District. Bring them in!" My Thralls bring in six bloodied and bruised Casters. "Kneel them before me, secure the exit, and, protect the maid."

"Your grace, I meant no disrespect." The old woman wobbled to her knees bowing for mercy. I pay her no mind.

"So, you six brave souls decided to assassinate me as my son assumes power. Did you hope he would bring about a new era if I was out of the way?" Pacing back and forth, till my Thralls enter with wine and fruit, "I will not get in the way of the new leader of our great kingdom. His will is the foundation for our future." I take a cup of wine to the first Caster kneeling to him, "Toast, to your new king." Offering the wine, the captive turns his head, and allow my Chaos Magic to flow. I hold his face to meet my gaze. "Guards, collect their eyes, tongues, and then their hearts." The captive struggles against my hold, the man kicks and bucks, his eyes feel with rage, his face turns red, he screams curses at me, and then his eyes become bloodshot, he begins to foam at the mouth, I release him as his body begins to convulse and spasm, he begins to thrash about smashing his head against the wall repeatedly. I walk to the next captive, each of the remaining eyes wide with fear, this one much older than the rest. "Toast, to your new king." The old woman merely stares me down, but her courage was thin. I kneel to her meeting her gaze. She begins trembling, her eyes darken, she starts screaming and swatting everywhere, she gets up in a panic flailing about the room, till she looks to the window, then she dives through it.

I turn to the last four, "Father!" Bristal bursts into the room, "Why do you have so many carpenters in your room?" He says looking around the room.

"Son, this is the King's Room, it must be in pristine condition for the new king. Whatever you needed must have been very important for you to come barging in, what is it my son?" My eyes locked with the next captive, this one struggling to avert his gaze.

"Right, we've received word from the Research District, the Deep Forest is growing. Our forces were hit with an unforeseen attack, the ceremony must wait, and my people need me on the battlefield." Tears begin to cascade from the man's face, his sobbing ripples through his body. He tries to hold himself, but his embrace turns clawing. As bits of flesh drip to the floor, the man goes for his eyes digging them out, till they were bloody sockets. He takes a grip on each side pulling till a loud crack echoes throughout the room.

"Your people need you to lead them, gather the advisors and I'll meet you in the throne room." My son keeps his gaze on me as I pace between the last three.

Turning to leave, "but wait, the longer we wait & deliberate the more our people suffer." He turned, his eyes flicking crimson.

"My son, you are the king, your advisors can only help if you let them. Gather the advisors." He races down the hall to as if time itself was a precious commodity. I turn back to the captives; I kneel to a younger of the three, "Toast to your king."

"It might as well be poison." He spat at me, and before another heartbeat, his head was a gooey mess in my hands. "It is wine, the very ground you walk on doomed you from the start. Stand." I turn away from them to wash my hands, "March to your loved ones, kill them all, then return to me." The two captives and the maid march from the room with fresh streams of tears screaming for mercy, all of their suffering and pain pulsating throughout the palace. "Clean up my room." Thralls enter the room making quick work of the mess.

I take my time joining my son and advisors, making my way to the gardens. An acre of wasted training grounds is what they really are, with every new queen trying to impress the next and the ones before. It's all her fault. Every queen needs a painting, patches of grass, a ball, a feast, a holiday, and for what, a damn fountain, I thought pointing at the pile of rocks. Eons come and gone this mere statue of you is still as beautiful as I remember. Rules won't matter for long; I will have the power to free you soon.

"Father, I will be using the Guild of Aisha to get to the Battle District, a King cannot lead if he depends on the safety of walls and Wards. Divine Favor!" A ring of radiant light surrounds Bristal, and his crimson eyes turn azure.

Our eyes locked, neither he nor anyone should be physically able to wield Sacred & Chaos Magic. He draws his sword pointing it at the fountain, "Smite." I dash in front, but the attack never came, "the Research District discovered the Deep Forest is adapting to more commonly used Magic. I've always hated my affinity to Chaos Magic, so you can say I was motivated & determined to push the boundaries of what was conceivable. Smite takes time to activate depending on strength of the target." I turn to the statue; a halo embedded itself within the head of the sculpture. Light begins to splinter and crack the entire fountain, BOOM! A shockwave rips through the kingdom. The advisors begin convulsing, coughing up blood, eyes turning bloodshot, and skin turning pale. Bristal turns his sword to me.

"That fountain was a vestige of love for my queen, your mother. Through her, we have these walls and Wards to protect us from the Deep Forest. By forsaking her, you've forsaken your kingdom and everyone who survives on the crops of the Royal District. The fate of the kingdom is the same as the men at your feet." His sword doesn't waver, he's making no moves to advance, but leaves no opening.

"Who is your enemy? The Deep Forest has infected the lands, villagers are abandoning their homes, monsters and Guilds run rampant, and Chaos Magic requires emotion, and by the look of you, you've been collecting for some time. So I ask again, who is your enemy?"

"Of all my sons, you are the one the most like her." His sword illuminates with radiant light. "My enemy is all of our enemy, the Starheart, the very beings our Magic come from. The Starheart travels worlds spreading & gathering Magic, till gathering enough Magic to settle on a world to produce new Starheart. Follow me my son." I walk towards him. He lowers his sword and turns to the advisors.

He kneels to one of the advisors placing a hand on his face, "Serenity." His hand begins to glow, leaving glistening handprints behind. It was a strange sensation, feeling the loss of their power. It was as insignificant as I expected.

"What more can you do?" I lead the way to the King's Room.

"What is a Starheart?" He asks as we enter the room with the Thralls still cleaning and removing bodies, fear was clinging to him.

"The Starheart is where all the species of Fairy come from."

"Why does the Starheart want to kill us?" His eyes alert and honed on my every move, undeterred.

"The Starheart entered a world stitched together by a flimsy paper only honored in public and became like its people. War ravaged the land with the Starheart as some wicked grandmaster intent on forcing our world to gorge on itself. Magic used to be concentrated crystals and when the Starheart came Magic hailed from the portal it came from, King's Room!" The room and walls begin to bend and warp, fazing into the Dungeon. "Your faith in allies is naive. Stitcher, retrieve T32." The Aisha Guild can't see an asset or analyze a situation, I thought to myself, "what if I told you this room, this very space, was outside the very fabric of reality, what if I told the Dungeon not only houses my torture chambers, but a secret division of the Research District, and what if I told you I don't need to see you to see your fear?"

"Release." The Aisha Guild of four Casters appeared into view. "When you learn Sacred Magic you learn to see all emotion, Wishingwell." A halo surrounds Bristal and his group, emitting a glistening dome-shaped barrier, blocking their fear. Turning to his group, "Calm yourselves, he radiates Chaos Magic, any negative emotion will consume you and because of our proximity to him or even this place, so stay in the halo, as your King I will protect you."

The Stitcher returns wheeling the container holding the test subject. "This is T32; it used to be an infant till it was infected with Deep Forest. At first, it did not seem to eat, sleep, or tire." I introduce a spark of Elemental Magic; T32 starts to hiss, its body twitches and twisting till it lunges at the Magic. "What the Research District will soon discover, the Deep Forest is not adapting to, but feeding off Magic itself. The Deep Forest is the corruption left by the Dark Matter of that very first Starheart. I led a team and bested a God. My sword is still lodged in its corpse. There is still a Ward around the center of the Deep Forest, keeping the worst of it at bay. Some of the new Starheart and true soldiers were lost in that effort. Your enemy is that Starheart, because death was no threat to what I faced."

His eyes never leaving my position as I meld in and out of the darkness, nor does he leave the barrier, and in a dimension of my very creation, gambling with the cost of eternal suffering, and for me to not sense your presence, my boy, your mother would proud, "Why did you send my Guild away?"

"Many reasons, the Messiah were nearby weakened, Aya is a Starheart, her mother had no such power or lineage, royal in name mostly, probably buried near the village, and there was a new Master awakening; Masters will be necessary to have a chance at survival."

"Why are you threatened by the Messiah?"

"The Messiah is composed of some of the greatest Casters, and the leader of the Guild is Domineir Angelique, a Master who Bristal the Second tried to elope with. I hated every offspring, each one willfully stupid or weak, but this one and that cursed wretch of a Caster nearly destroyed us all. Domineir is an adversary one must approach with caution, while the rest may have worthy skill, they are but placeholders."

"How did you defeat the Starheart?"

"Iron, Masters, & Starheart. A mature Starheart is a power beyond comprehension, but with enough new Starheart, Masters, & the hubris of a God we made an opening and I charged sword first with true aim. The sword was made of Platinum, cutting through Magic. The Deep Forest probably grew from the blood of the Starheart. I've yet to receive successful recognizance.

"How do you forge Platinum?" I don't readily respond to his question. His Guild drenched in fear, but his Ward prevents from harvesting their emotions. I lift some of the darkness revealing hordes of Thralls; young & old looking, big & small, and all of them with twisted flesh & rusted weapons. Armed and alert his remain locked on my position, "what was my monument?"

"A festival of seasons passing."

Raising his sword, a single tear escapes his eye, "As your King, I hereby sentence you to exile for your crimes against the kingdom."

I approach him, shattering the Ward and wiping the tear away, "my son, do not waste your tears on me. I am everything your Guild warned you about. I became a monster to destroy a monster. One of the conditions of my immortality requires self-sacrifice, and by your very nature, I have no need or want to harm you, but returning to the Dungeon will meet that condition, King's Room!" The space around my son twists and rips, transporting him to the kingdom.

I approach the trembling Casters, each one paralyzed with fear as my Thralls move in. "Your king has forsaken you."

To be continued in the next chapter, Iron & Bone!

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