The Way Back

Chardon was finally going home.

The field was an ocean of emerald blades. Giant waves travelled across the surface, each sliver of nature being blown by the wind to form patterns that only the sky could see. One such wave travelled towards him now, the ripple streaming towards him at a gentle but unstoppable pace. The tips of the grass brushed against the legs of his plate armour as the current washed over him. It was a perfectly peaceful scene, and once he may have seen its beauty. But today, it did nothing to quell the dark clouds that shaded his mind.

I’ve been here too long.

The thought echoed in his head. Did he believe that? No. Fate wouldn’t allow it. But he had stayed in this realm for quite a while, longer than he thought he would. There had been work to do.

His hands unconsciously tightened their grip: in his left hand, he held a shield, adorned with three golden crowns on an azure background; in his right, a sword with a blade of celestial silver, hand-crafted to be especially effective against demons. Steel plate, chainmail, and leather covered him from the neck down, leaving only the golden scales of his brow uncovered. The people of this realm had been surprised to learn that a Lohikaar, half-human and half-dragon, was one of their protectors. Apparently, his kind was extremely rare on this plane, and his draconic features often inspired fear rather than hope. Thankfully, news of his heroism travelled fast, and soon enough his monstrous appearance was overshadowed by his knighthood. But that had been many months ago. The war was behind them now, and Chardon couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t belong here.

“Chardon?” The concerned elven voice pulled him from his thoughts. Without turning towards the speaker, he answered the unspoken question.

“I’m alright, Ornali. Just… admiring the view.” He glanced around to see if that was a justifiable response. He decided it wasn’t; all he saw was an empty field. He moved on quickly. “Is Riavas ready?”

“He asked me to prepare you. The ritual is almost complete.”

Chardon nodded, absentmindedly.

“You know,” Ornali continued, “you could always stay here. It takes some time to get used to — I know that better than anyone. You could have a comfortable life here.”

“But I have responsibilities to fulfill elsewhere. I’ve told you this.”

Ornali sighed. “I know you’ve told me, but it’s still puzzling.” She went silent for a moment, taking in the landscape. She, too, was a stranger to this realm. Compared to her previous home, this place was so much more… alive. Once, that wouldn’t have been an appealing trait, but she was a different person now, in no small part thanks to the hero standing in front of her. Eventually, she made up her mind. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this, but I will trust that you’re making the right choice.”

Chardon turned and faced Ornali. She stood a few paces behind him, her simple yet elegant violet dress casually drifting with the breeze. Pale lilac eyes peered out from a slender charcoal face framed in stark white hair. The dark elf looked somewhat defeated, her usual graceful formal posture ever so slightly slumped over. At her waist, a black leather belt held the sword hilt that Chardon had given her, right before the Siege. That seemed so long ago.

“Thank you, Ornali.” Chardon paused, looking the dark elf in the eyes. “For everything.”

“I am the one who should thank you, Chardon. I only wish I had more time to express my gratitude. I will forever be in your debt.”

“That’s no way to live, Ornali. You’ve done more than enough for me. We’re even.”

“As you command, Sir.”

“I’ve no command over you, my Lady. I’m not one of the Falcons anymore — you hold much higher rank than me, now. I settle our debt as friends.”

At this, Ornali finally broke. A flicker of sadness touched her eyes, and her voice lost its calm control.

“You’ve done more for me than anyone has ever done. You saved my life, and gave me a new home, though I was your sworn enemy. Why?”

“Because it was the right thing to do,” Chardon said without hesitation.

“And now, you refuse to let me repay my debt by coming with you.”

“As I said, there is no debt between us. Even if there was, by coming with me you’d make my actions null. I am not returning, Ornali. If you really wish to honour my kindness, you will stay and look after the realm for me. Make sure our efforts were not in vain.”

“You purged the evil from this land. There is nothing more to do.”

“We purged the demons. Evil will always exist. Your duty as a knight is eternal.”

Ornali stopped at this. She considered his words, then regained her composure.

“Then my service to the realm is eternal.”

Chardon nodded, pleased with this penultimate lesson. There was just one more thing to teach, then. “You’ve done more for me than you know. Putting my trust in you was the easy part. You were the one who did all the hard work of proving me right.” Chardon smiled. “Never forget that. It’s the bonds between us that give us strength. Even a single knight alone fights with the spirit of their entire company.”

Ornali nodded and returned a sincere smile. “I will always be fighting by your side, Chardon. No matter what.”

“And I, yours.” Chardon settled back into his usual confident grin. “Come on, then. Riavas is probably wondering what’s taking so long.”

Riavas was waiting for them at the top of the hill. From a distance, it looked as though the wizard was practicing some form of martial arts. His feet were shoulder-width apart and firm in stance, perfectly still yet full of potential energy. He stood straight, shoulders back with both hands close in front of his chest, fingers twirling in a mystical dance completely foreign to both his observers. As they approached, he called out to them.

“Careful as you get close. If you walk in front of me, I may lose my focus. That would be bad.”

He didn’t need to remind them of the possible consequences of this spell going poorly. Riavas had spent an entire night before they left, plus most of the journey here, explaining all the numerous terrible ways in which the ritual might go wrong.

“I’m basically tearing a hole in the fabric of the plane. Tear too little, and the rift will collapse in on itself, meaning we’d have to gather new materials and start again. Plus, if I’m unable to control the collapse, it would release a tremendous amount of energy. Best case scenario we’re all blown backwards about 20 meters in a comical but painful fashion, worst case we’d all go permanently blind and deaf, assuming we survive. Sounds bad, but at least it’s over quickly. If I tear too much, the rift may get too large for me to close it. At that point, we’re at the mercy of whatever’s on the other side. If it’s demons again, I’m going to teleport both of you a thousand meters in the air and let you come back down the long way.” Chardon chuckled at this. Riavas reminded him of an old friend. Much of this world did.

Despite his warnings, Chardon was able to convince Riavas to help him, mostly by invoking the wizard’s natural curiosity. Riavas didn’t often get the chance to practice magic this powerful since the war ended, and he was beginning to suspect that his powers were weakening because of this. He could also tell that Chardon was determined to find a way back home, even if it meant tearing open a rift himself. Either way, this would eventually become Riavas’ problem, so he might as well do it the right way.

Now, with the trio gathered at the top of the hill, Riavas graced his allies with one final warning.

“When I open the rift, you better be ready. I’m not sure how long I can control the threads, and once one starts to slip–”

“I know.” The Lohikaar’s steel gaze said everything else.

Riavas let out a steady breath. “Alright. Here we go.”

Directing his full focus to the space in front of him, Riavas closed his eyes. Abruptly, his hands froze in place. Deep purple rune lines stretched through the space between his fingertips, cementing in symbols of summoning and travel. The runes simply glowed for a moment, as the wizard paused to relish in the moment. Then, his eyes snapped open, and he got to work.

Without disrupting the runes, he raised his right hand, and pointed his palm towards a point in the air a few meters in front of him, slightly above head height. The wind at that point stilled, and seemed to almost harden into a solid dot, a jewel of pure elemental air. Then, slowly, he began to angle his palm downward. As he did, the point expanded into a line, perfectly straight, reaching from where he started to the ground. Once the line was complete, Riavas brought his arm swiftly downwards, and the sky ripped open in front of them.

Both Chardon and Ornali nearly stumbled, as the breeze which had previously been meandering across the plains was suddenly yanked towards the rift. Catching each other, their eyes followed the wind’s path into this new void. It was filled with inky darkness that stretched on for several eternities. Rainbow mist poured around the edges of the rift, the clouds reflecting light from nebulas of colour, eons away. Near the ground, the long grass unable to refuse the wind’s call was drawn into the mysterious world. Upon crossing the threshold, the blades disintegrated into emerald dust and floated in spiralling patterns through the neon fog.

Chardon heard Ornali wake from her amazed stupor as she realized what was happening to the grass. But her warning went unheeded, as he had already begun to step through the portal. His vision filled with bright light, and his other senses attacked him: First, he was underwater, struggling to breathe, moving through thick bog; Next, he was thrown forward, heart racing in his chest and monotonous squealing in his ears. Frame after frame of destructive extremes threatened to overwhelm him. The single second it took to cross the barrier stretched into a lifetime, and he felt his consciousness begin to tear away from his body. Chardon closed his eyes, and cleared his mind, save for his one goal.

Destiny, fate, the force which controls gods; I am finally ready. Show me the way.

At this command, the mist beneath his feet hardened into grains of sand. In an instant, the space between worlds transformed in Chardon’s eyes, from a void devoid of form into an endless desert. He looked behind himself and saw Riavas and Ornali still standing on the other side of the planar doorway. They couldn’t comprehend what had just happened, but recognized the moment as their final goodbyes. Riavas simply nodded and smiled. Ornali waved, and then saluted, left fist over her heart. Chardon returned the gestures and turned away. He never looked back, and as such, never saw either of them again.

Chardon observed the great dunes that surrounded him. Despite the ground turning to sand, the sky above remained the same black void, dotted with pinpricks of white light and occasional swaths of colour. There was no sun, but there didn’t need to be, as heat rose off the perfectly shadowless sand seemingly of its own accord. Directly in front of him, empty footsteps laid out a pathway forward. Seeing no better alternative, he followed them. As he walked, he became more sure of himself. This was the path that would lead him home. This was the way back to Ner Montu.

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