“Who the hell are you?”
Flare had met a lot of people and a lot of creatures in the decade of his life that he could remember. He had met people whose lust for blood was almost palpable. He had fought creatures whose strength could erase hills from the landscape. He had even met a beast with the ability to create a fire so bright and so hot that it rivaled the sun. But as he stared at the newest arrival to that chamber, he could honestly say it was the first time he recognized a power that frightened him – truly, deeply frightened him.
The man stood before the four teenagers in the room, giving off a feeling of immense importance and indomitable strength and power, even though he didn’t appear much different from any of them. Standing roughly six feet, with a lithe but sturdy frame, the man was draped in armor that seemed to be crafted of gold and silver. A short red cape attached itself to him at the shoulders, hanging down to about the middle of the man’s back, though the jagged, uneven edge of it suggested to all of the teens that it was originally longer. Golden locks of hair seemed to float around the man’s head, as if independent of gravity as they framed his ravishing, flawless face, epitomized by the man’s dazzling golden eyes that – despite the terrifying strength he exuded – seemed to glow with an indescribable kindness.
“My name is Lance.” The man replied as the room around them shook once more, quaking violently now from some unseen force. “You may also know me as the God of Life.”
“The Lance?” Ivy exclaimed, the green-headed girl sounding both alarmed and excited by the revelation.
“You’re joking, right?” The white-haired teen in the room scoffed, staring at the man with the same look of awe the Flare was watching him with.
“I am not.” The golden man replied, shaking his head gently. “Though I can understand the skepticism you all are feeling at the idea.”
“The God of Life?” Flare scoffed slightly, suppressing the fear he felt. “I’m not even sure I believe such a thing exists. So why should I believe you when you claim to be him? What proof do you have?”
“Absolutely none.” The imposing figure replied calmly, staring at the redhead with those cool eyes of his. “But despite that, you will believe me, and trust my words, because I can already see it in your eyes: the feeling of majesty – that sense of my being that is unlike anything you have yet experienced.”
The four of them were silent as they turned to look at each other, exchanging uneasy glances as they tried to see what this strange man was talking about. None of them were sure they could ‘see’ that feeling in each other, but they each knew that they were feeling it themselves, nonetheless.
“By bringing you four here, I have broken my most sacred of rules.” The man claiming to be Lance stated after a moment. “I have directly intervened in the lives of men. I have done exactly what I forbid any god or goddess to do, but I do not regret it. For I did it for a grander purpose.”
Another shock passed through the room as some unseen force shook the world. Flare recognized that the shocks were becoming more frequent, and much stronger as time went on.
Flare turned, staring at the blue-haired girl which had been the last non-god to arrive in the room. Somehow, he felt, as he stared at her, that she wasn’t as shocked by everything as the rest of them were.
“To save my brothers and sisters.”
The young adults in the room stared, flabbergasted by the response. On some level, the thought that he might be joking passed through their minds, but the conviction and sincere tone in the god’s voice made it difficult to believe that was the case.
“Okay… now I know you’re messing with us.” Frost blurted out a moment later, releasing a nervous chuckle. “This is some sort of prank, right? Or I’m just lost in some insane delusion brought on by my mind to avoid the truth that actually, I’m still back in the Ice Realm and about to die… right?”
“No.” The god shook his head gently in response. “None of you are about to die, though you very nearly did before I interfered.”
“I don’t understand…” Ivy laughed anxiously. “You want us… to save the gods!?”
“You’re insane.” Flare stared incredulously at the golden man in front of them. “You’re either just some crazy freaking guy who thinks he’s a god, or you are Lance, and you’re just some crazy freaking god. Either way: you’re insane.”
“I assure you my sanity is intact.”
“No, I gotta agree with flamehead here.” Frost added with a shake of his head. “You are a god. Your bothers and sisters are gods. We…”
The white-haired teen paused to motion to the four teens in the room wildly and randomly.
“…are humans.” Frost continued. “How the hell are we supposed to save you!? Shouldn’t it be the other way around!?”
“What could we possibly do for all of you?” Ivy asked quizzically.
“You all have with you a Mystic Blade.” Lance answered as yet another tremor rocked the room. It had become obvious to them at that point that the tremors were never meant to be a signal of someone’s arrival, but rather an odd coincidence. It was beginning to make Flare wonder what their true cause was, though.
“And you are all familiar with the story of how I created those blades, correct?” The god questioned, eyes scanning across the four of them.
“You crafted them from the essence of the other gods, didn’t you?” The green haired girl asked.
“I tore from them a portion of their power, and crafted it into the magical weapons you four bare, along with the other five that still lay elsewhere.” Lance replied with a nod. “By doing this, though, I inadvertently weakened my siblings. I made them less.”
Frost and Ivy turned to stare at each other as they both asked a question at roughly the same moment.
“Less than gods.” Lance answered them both, calling their attention forward once more. “They are much weaker – nowhere near the level they once were. While they are still more than human, I could not rightfully refer to them as gods any longer.”
“And you want the swords back.” Flare stated, clenching the hilt in his hand tighter as the thought of having to give it up came to mind. “You want to give them back their power.”
“No.” The God of Life was quick to reject the redhead’s suggestion as he saw the stunned and alarmed expression that quickly filled the eyes of these young adults. “Taking the swords from you now would have no point. The power they hold can no longer be wielded by a god. And it can no longer be removed from the blades – I locked their powers long ago to prevent The Dragon King from stealing their abilities, and that is one seal I can not undo.”
“Not that I’m not glad to hear that,” The white haired teen said with a sigh of relief, “but why not?”
The god glanced down at the Arctican, a concerned expression briefly painting over the calm that had coated his face since the man arrived. While only momentary, that sudden change in expression was enough to change the entire feel of the room – in that instant, the impalpable fear the four had been feeling increased tenfold, sending a shock through the group that forced tears of distress to all their eyes.
Flare lifted a hand the next second, touching at the stream of water running from his eyes, wiping them away as his body calmed with the return of the god’s peaceful demeanor. As he pulled his fingers away, he stared down at them, watching them shake – only then did he also realize his heart was racing in his chest, and his breathing was quick and labored. Though the god had been quick to correct his expression, the effects the four felt were not so cursory.
“I apologize.” The god stated, calm in his voice. “You surprised me. I had thought the Plant Bladesmen was the only one of you that was not experienced with their Blade. I can assure you the question will answer itself with time.”
“What do you mean?” The Arctican’s voice shook as he questioned the god, despite the upset tone he took. “I have plenty of experience using this thing!”
Frost turned, staring toward the flame-headed boy beside him, holding up his blade. “Do you know what the hell he’s talking about?”
The Flamian was silent a moment as he stared at the white-haired man beside him, unsure if he should say anything. He glanced quickly to the two girls in the room, wondering if they might have the answer as well. The puzzled look on the face of the girl with braids quickly forced him to realize that she was the Plant Blades-‘men’ the god had mentioned. Another glance to the blue-haired girl – and the stoic expression plastered on her face – was enough for Flare to realize that at least she was also aware of the god’s meaning.
“… You do know, don’t you?” Frost asked before Flare had a chance to decide what to tell him. “What is it? What’s he mean!?”
Flare sighed, scratching at the back of his head. He certainly didn’t feel right lying to this guy, and he was pretty sure the fool wasn’t going to take ‘you’ll figure it out eventually’ as an acceptable response. It was going against his better judgment, but he didn’t see much other choice.
“The swords… aren’t just endless pools of power and magic.” Flare stated, turning to meet the white-haired boy’s eyes. “Deep within the sword lies its… I don’t know, I guess you’d call it its spirit?”
“Huh?” Frost replied skeptically. “You’re pulling my leg.”
“He is not.” Lance answered for the Flamian, pulling attention back to him as the room shook once more – a little less rough than the previous few times. “When the blades were first crafted, they were simply vessels through which a mortal could summon the powers of the gods. But because of this, their powers could actually be taken away by someone who knew what they were doing.”
“Someone like The Dragon King…” Ivy thought aloud.
“Precisely.” Lance nodded, continuing. “In order to combat this, I did what I do best, and created Life. I infused the blades with an elemental spirit whose role it was to regulate the swords power, and ensure the energy it contained only fell into the appropriate hands. And since it made the blades, in a sense, alive, it also meant their powers could no longer be stolen – only given or borrowed.”
“So what is it that you want us to do, then?” Flare asked, getting back to the matter at hand. “Why’d you bring us here? What can we do to save your siblings?”
“The Dragon King has declared war on the gods.”
Once again, despite the straight face with which Lance spoke, every other person in that room wanted to believe the statement was a joke or a lie. The sheer preposterousness of the declaration forced Flare to let out a dry, disturbed laugh as he shook his head.
“He has grown incredibly powerful.” Lance continued when none of those before him spoke. “He has stolen from your blades incredible powers and strength of all the world’s elements. My brothers and sisters cannot stand against his mastery of the elements. And I… can only hold him off for so long by myself once they are gone.”
“So… I still don’t understand. What is it you’re asking us?” Ivy questioned the god dubiously, unsure whether she wanted to know the answer.
“I must ask you to perform a task that is beyond my right to request, even as a god.” Lance paused a moment, searching the expectant faces of the children assembled before him. Even as the master of Life, he could not be sure how any of these four would react to what he was about to say and he could not force them to do what he needed of them – or at least, he wouldn’t.
“I must ask you to do the impossible; I must ask you to slay The Dragon King.”
“Excuse me!?” Frost shouted suddenly, laughing manically the next moment. “Okay, I’m going back to the flamehead’s idea again: you’re freaking crazy!”
“I am aware of the audacious nature of my request,” Lance replied quickly, seeing the disbelief washing over his audience, “and I am aware of the preposterous result I am asking you to obtain. But you are the only ones who can do it.”
“How are we supposed to do something the gods can’t!?” Ivy acreamed in response, laughing much like Frost had moments before. “You just said you and all your siblings combined weren’t a match for him!”
“My siblings are weak!” Lance responded forcibly – he had to take control of the conversation if there was to be any hope. “And I am but one God against a Demon. But you four hold the key to everything – the legendary weapons I crafted for this sole purpose!”
“But didn’t people try in the past!?” Frost countered, shaking his head. “Didn’t nine Bladesmen confront him and fail ten thousand years ago!? With fully powered blades, I might add! So what hope do we have!?”
“I will tell you how to gain powers they did not have.” Lance replied, still remaining calm. “I will place you four together, back into the realms from which I stole you. There, your first task will be to slay The Creatures of the Gods.”
“Oh, great, and I thought you were asking for something difficult.” Frost replied indignantly, crossing his shoulders across his chest.
“By defeating The Creatures, you will regain the abilities of your swords that were stolen and then given to these beasts.” Lance continued, undaunted by the boy’s reaction. “But you will also gain the powers and gifts that my siblings originally granted them at the beginning of the world. By traveling from realm to realm you will increase your strength and power until the four of you can properly rival the strength of The Dragon King in a way I alone cannot.”
“What about the other Mystic Blades?” Flare spoke up, breaking his long silence. “What about the other Bladesmen?”
“You may meet them on your journey.” Lance replied. “And what you chose to do when such a time comes is up to you, but by one means or another, you will need their Blades in order to finish your quest.”
“Why not just bring them here, too?” Ivy questioned. “Eight is better than four, isn’t it?”
“They are not yet ready for this task, though they may be when you reach them.”
“And I am ready?” Ivy countered bitingly. “I just picked this thing up five seconds ago! I don’t even know how to use it!”
“I did not decide who was ready and who was not for this task,” Lance replied, shaking his head. “I left that judgment up to the spirits of the blades themselves. If you are here, it is because your sword deemed you worthy of it.”
“I know it is a lot to accept,” Lance stated, “but… You have been chosen to bare this burden.”
Myst ears twitched, a sudden familiar feeling flowing over the blue-haired girl as the god continued.
“You are the only ones I can trust with this task.”
A nagging feeling tugged at the back of the nymph’s mind – a feeling of déjà vu as she took a step forward, suddenly recognizing the voice as well.
“You are free to ignore this request, but doing so will certainly lead to your own demise. Be that as it may, you should still think wisely before agreeing. This task is no easy one, and your death may await you if you agree to help as well. But you are—“
“Humanity’s only hope…” Myst spoke up for nearly the first time since the god had arrived, drawing the attention of the entire room toward her as she did, but the girl didn’t care. She stared up at the golden man before her, eyes quivering as she remembered the dream from the night before – the only one to ever answer her. She had been dreaming of this moment – this very second. This was something important – something grander than anything ever before. She suddenly realized why she had been shown the vision.
“I’ll do it.” The words slipped past Myst’s tongue without hesitation as she stepped to the front of the group, nodding. “I’ll fight.”
“Are you nuts!?”
Frost and Ivy exclaimed in unison again, staring in utter disbelief at this strange blue-haired girl, watching her as if she were as insane as the god in front of them.
“I will too.”
Eyes spun quickly to the fiery haired teen as Flare raised his sword, sliding it back into his sheathe as he stepped forward as well. “As I see it, it’s the best option I’ve got.”
“Oh great. Insanity is apparently contagious now.” Frost threw his hand up in the air as he spoke, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I don’t think it’s insane to agree.” Flare turned, eyeing the strange white-haired man with a smile. “I think its crazy not to.”
“Weren’t you the one that said that guy was nuts to begin with, though!?” Frost countered, pointing to the god.
“I suppose I was…” Flare paused, trailing off as he lowered his eyes, trying to find the right words to explain – as he thought, though, the words came surprisingly easily.
“I don’t know how things work in your realms,” Flare raised his gaze, locking eyes with the Arctican before him, “but in my realm, we fight. The people of the Fire Realm have always struggled and fought for their freedom – fought for their right to live and survive. Not for ten thousand years have we stopped fighting. And when I picked up this blade, I inherited that fight. Though I never dreamed it would lead me to The Dragon King himself, if that’s the bastard that’s trying to hold me down – hold my village down – hold my realm down – then I’ll fight the bastard to my last breath.”
“I don’t know how things work in your realm.” Flare repeated. “But if you can really say you’re happy with the way things are there – if you can really say you have the life you want for yourself, and your family, and the children that might be yet to come – then I don’t blame you for turning away and heading back to your perfect slice of existence. But if I’m gonna die either way, I’d rather go down knowing I fought for a better world – for my friends and village! I’d rather be crushed under the heel of The Dragon King in a vain attempt to knock him down a peg, then return home to die in obscurity. At least then I can say I tried.”
Frost stared back into the flame-headed boy’s unwavering eyes, moved by the passion in the teen’s voice. He lowered his head, sighing as he thought about his father, and about his sister. A grin tugged at the corner’s of his mouth as the last moments he had spent in the Ice Realm came back to him – the moment he had decided to stand up against Kylma and The Leopard. He had already decided to fight – to free his realm from tyranny even if he had to do it himself. And now, he wasn’t going to be alone. What other choice did he have?
“Damnit…” Frost laughed as he raised his gaze, shaking his head as he stared at the compelling youth before him. “It really must be contagious. I’m in.”
Flare smiled back at the white-haired teen, reaching out to smack him on the shoulder as he grinned. That left only one silent member in the room: the green-haired girl.
Ivy still sat on the floor, near where she had first arrived, strange blade still clutched reluctantly in her hand as all eyes turned on her. Her focus, though, was on the tiled floor in front of her. But she could feel their eyes, piercing her with their gaze, demanding she form a response. She gritted her teeth, clenching her fists as she shook her head.
“I can’t do it…” Ivy flung her head up, meeting their judging eyes as she yelled out. “I can’t fight The Dragon King!”
Blank expressions stared back at her – no disappointment or disgust. No anger or resentment at her weakness. Just blank, emotionless stares from the lot of them.
“I’m not like you!” Ivy focused her gaze on the flame-headed body. “I’m not a fighter! I just got this dumb sword! I don’t even know how to use it! I don’t even know why I’m here! I can’t fight!”
Ivy clenched her eyes shut as she lowered her head, feeling guilty and weak. These people around her were strong – brave. They were willing to put their lives on the line. But she couldn’t do that… she didn’t know how.
The green-haired girl sniffled, tears beginning to flow from her tightly closed eyes as she shook her head. The sword thought she was ready? How could someone like her be ready for something like this!?
“Then I’ll teach you.”
Ivy opened her eyes as a hand rested gently on her shoulder. She gazed down at a pair of grimy leather boots and the tanned skin of someone’s exposed knees. The girl raised her chin, turning her eyes up to meet the gaze of the one touching her shoulder: the boy with wild red hair – Flare.
“If you don’t know how to use that sword, then I’ll teach you.” The man spoke, staring into her eyes. “If you don’t know how to fight, then I’ll teach you. But I guarantee that there’s one thing you do know how to do – and it’s the only thing you need to know right now.”
Ivy gulped, staring up at the man as he paused.
“You know how to stand up for yourself.” Flare stated firmly. “You know how to protect what’s dear to you. You know how to uphold what you believe in. Because if you didn’t, that sword wouldn’t have responded to you.”
The redhead pointed down at the blade she was still clutching. Ivy stared at it listlessly, shaking her head.
“But that’s not enough…”
“Yes it is.” Flare rebutted forcefully, causing the green-haired girl to raise her eyes once more. “The first time I picked up the Flame Sword, I didn’t even know how to swing the damn thing, let alone summon its power. All I knew was that people around me were dying, and someone had to protect them. So I lifted this blade, and I fought to save them. And the rest just came with time.”
“I’ve had my sword for three years…” Ivy turned as the only other girl in the room spoke, taking a step in her direction. “I’ve learned a lot about this blade in that time, but I hardly know how to control it fully. When my life was threatened, though, I called it to me, and I fought back. I don’t know how to swing a sword, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fight.”
“I feel like I should have something inspiring to say here,” Ivy sighed, turning to the white-haired brat as he began to speak, “but I don’t. I don’t have fancy words like flamehead there, or a pretty story like Ms. Silence here, but I do have a fancy sword, and something to swing it at. And that’s all I really need.”
“Besides,” Frost grinned as he looked down at the now tearless face of the girl, “If you’re brave enough to walk around in your nightie like that, you should at least be brave enough to stand for what you believe it.”
“It’s not a nightie!” Ivy yelled, huffing as she turned her face away, crossing her arms over her chest once more.
“The choice it yours, Ivy.” Lance spoke, somehow knowing her name. “I won’t force any of you into this, but all of you stand a better chance together. After all, if you refuse, I will simply put you back in the spot I took you from.”
“So you’ll leave me to die.” Ivy scoffed, turning to glare at the god.
“I will give you a fighting chance and put you at the bottom of that tower.” Lance shrugged, seeming indifferent to the idea. “The choice is yours.”
The girl sighed, lowering her head once more. Another tremor shook the room, seeming a lot closer and a lot stronger than the previous ones.
“But… what if something happens? What if I—“
“Nothing will happen.” Flare cut her off, patting her shoulder gently as he stood. “I swear on my life, that I will do everything in my power to protect you from harm – at the very least until you are able to protect yourself.”
Ivy turned her head up, staring at the strange redhead as he smiled, extending a hand down toward her. She was skeptical of the man’s ability to actually keep that promise. They would be fighting the most powerful creatures in the world – how could he be sure he could protect her when he might not even be able to protect himself!? But as she stared up into his fiery red eyes, she couldn’t help but feel that – at the very least – he meant every word he said. That this man actually believed he could keep any harm from befalling her.
Ivy sighed, stretching her free hand up to grip the man’s hand so he could pull her to her feet.
“I’m in. It doesn’t seem like I have any better choice, anyways.”
“Sweet!” Frost exclaimed. “I was hoping the exhibitionist would come! At least the views will be nice on this suicide mission, now!”
Ivy blushed, her face burning as she turned to glare at the boy. “Shut up!”
“It’s decide then!” Lance spoke as another powerful tremor shook the room. Pieces of crystal of the chandeliers hanging above began to clatter to the ground as they were tossed about violently. “Not a moment too soon, too.”
The four teens gasped as the ground beneath them began to glow.
“I will send you all to begin your task in the first realm.” Lance explained, holding out his hand to control the strange ethereal light that was gathering beneath the feet of the four teens. “Seek out The Creatures. Slay the Beasts. Retrieve the Mystic Blades’s stolen powers and continue to the next realms. Should you meet the other Bladesmen, take caution, and make your decisions wisely, but be sure to add their blades to your own.
“Wait!” Flare called out as the light below began to get brighter, filling the room and their vision.
“Stay strong. Stay vigilant. Don’t dawdle!” Lance exclaimed, ignoring the Flamian’s cry. “And good luck!”
“How do we…“ The light drowned out the world as Flare shouted his question, erasing the room from sight.