Chapter 2 - The Sage and the Key

Clint awoke and examined his surroundings quickly. He was lying in a small yet comfortable bed in a compact room. The window on the far wall was open, allowing the warm rays of the sun fill the room. "How long have I been out?" he thought to himself. The previous day was still uncertain in his mind. What had he witnessed in the village? Who were the Titans of the Vandal Heart? Where are the rest of them? The questions circulated his mind over and over, but he could not reach a true judgement. He didn't even know who had attacked the village previously. Everything was in disarray.

Looking at himself, Clint realised he was undressed and cleaned. His chest was bound in a large bandage. When he tried to move, the bones underneath the bandages ached. The pain would be unbearable for many, but Clint had no choice but to deal with it. His mission was just beginning and he greatly desired to seek consul with Kira and Zohar. He was going to need help. Professional help.

Calling upon his might, he swung around and placed his feet on the ground. Rising to a standing stance, he stretched his limbs. Hanging on the wall were his clothes. His sword was gone. The sword that had brought him through the Crimson age. The sword that had slain many evildoers. Broken. Destroyed by a single enemy. But it was unimportant. Swords could be replaced. Pride could not.

Quickly, he dressed and walked slowly towards the wooden door. He placed his hand on the gold doorknob and twisted it in his hand. Creaking loudly, he pushed open the door to reveal an alter before a huge crucifix. In front were rows of benches. Some villagers were sitting and praying. But only a few. There were only a few left who could pray. This village would never be the same again. But Clint vowed vengeance right there and then. He would not allow the deaths of innocents be in vain. He would stop this new evil, at whatever cost.

It was as this thought flashed through his mind that he saw his friends again. Kira and Zohar walked towards him from a door on the opposite side of the room. Zohar was dressed in his usual black robe and was aided as always with his long, wooden staff. From beneath his robe, a sword was visible hanging from the belt on his undergarments. Clint was surprised. He had never known Zohar to carry such a weapon. Kira looked as beautiful as always, wearing her strange travel clothes. A brown dress of sorts, Clint had always admired her flamboyance and her ability to disregard the opinions of others. Some of the many reasons he loved he so much.

Eventually they reached him, and Clint smiled.

"Are you alright?" said Zohar from underneath his long, white hair.

"Better than can be expected," said Clint, glad to see his old friend returned after a long time. "What happened to Joseph? Is he alright?"

Kira shrugged.

Zohar spoke assertively. "The titan is gone from here, as is the boy." "Wha." Clint was annoyed at his inability to protect the young traveller. "Were is the titan now?"

"He simply disappeared. It looks like that he was the Titan of Armour. It would explain the potency of my magic in the battle."

Clint looked into Zohar's face. He looked strange. Knowledgeable. "You know of these things, these titans?" asked Clint.

"Come, Clint," said Kira, "Zohar will explain everything soon. Follow us."

Clint nodded. Zohar and Kira turned and walked towards the door they had entered through with Clint closely following. His eyes wandered over the mourners. They would never see their loved ones again. This village was nearing its end. Soon, the people would move on. Refugees. Victims of war.

War.

They entered the room. Clint found himself in a square room. In the centre was a round table with chairs surrounding it. Zohar rested his staff on a wall and sat down at the table. Kira to sat down. Clint, following suit, did the same. He placed himself near Kira. He had a feeling that what he was about to hear would be disturbing.

"So," started Clint, "what is going on?"

Zohar looked at Clint. "As you know Clint, Grog and I have been travelling for two years now. Along that timeline, we have come across many different things. Treasures, creatures and, sometimes, great peril."

"I have been following your diaries," said Clint.

"It was good of the state to publish our journeys. Something that would have been impossible under the Spites regime. But about a month ago, Grog and I took our separate ways."

"I heard about that," said Clint, cautiously, "what happened?"

"We discovered that something was going to happen in two different places at the exact same time. Something very dangerous.."

* * *

A month earlier.

".whether we will travel together again is unknown. Our business is our own, and we must remain true to ourselves now. We will always be friends, and I'm quite sure this will not be my last entry. I just hope the readers of this paper will remain ever patient for our return. This is Zohar signing of."

Zohar sat up from the chair and looked at the letter on the desk. He had been living in Glasgow city for two days now, and was very happy with the hotel accommodation that he had rented. The room wasn't too large, but was big enough for him. Long had he desired to rest in a room such as this, with wonderful red wallpaper and soft, warm beds. After all, he wasn't getting any younger, and journeying was beginning to show its signs. But he could not rest for long. Things were about to change.

"Is it done?" asked Grog intently.

"Yes," said Zohar, "I can't say I'm happy about lying like this."

"Would you prefer mass hysteria?" asked Grog, rhetorically. "We have to take care of this quietly. You heard what that old sage said."

"I know," said Zohar subdued by Grog's decisiveness, "but lies. Lies are not good for anybody. Its what we fought to destroy."

"And now we must fight to protect that freedom," said Grog proudly, "it's up to us, Zohar. If we don't do this, then the life of the world is at stake. Can't you at least think of that?"

"You're once again right, my friend," replied Zohar, who began to place the document into the large red envelope.

"Then why are you arguing?"

Zohar sealed the envelope with a wax stamp. "I just didn't want to lie. Xeno lied to me, once, and I was thrown into a completely different plane of existence."

"Xeno." Grog's memory recalled the fight.

"So you see, Grog, I am not fond of them."

"I understand," said Grog, nodding, "I promise, I won't ask you to lie any more."

"That's good," said Zohar with a smile, "I wasn't planning on letting you anyway!"

The two shared a saddened laugh. They feared they might never see each other again, as the missions they were about to uptake were both highly dangerous and hugely unpredictable. According to their intelligence, they were about to face forces stronger than either had ever imagined.

Zohar stood up from his chair and thrust the letter at Grog. Grog grudgingly took it and looked at the envelope. He smirked.

"Your handwritings looking a bit off," he said, as Zohar picked up his staff, "you'll have to get that sorted if you wanna go to school my boy!" Grog laughed loudly to himself, but Zohar remained silent. "C'mon man, it was just a joke."

Zohar looked at the ground, his heart pounding with distress. "I know my friend. I'm just.afraid. This could be the la."

"HEY!" Grog interrupted, even louder than his laugh, "never say last! This is not the end! Believe me!"

"I want to, my friend, I want to! But when you can do what I can do, you have.visions."

"What visions?"

"When Xeno was my master, before he was twisted into evil, he told me that as my power increased, so would my visions." Grog looked at him, confounded. "Everybody has dreams, and these dreams can be interpreted. But the dreams of a powerful mage are not interpreted, they are believed. We see the future!"

"What? Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"Because it is mage law to keep what we see to ourselves. Only in the most desperate times do we reveal our premonitions. That is why I was always confident that Dolf would be defeated. Because I knew. And I know something will happen now."

"Tell me," pleaded Grog, "I must know what you see!"

"I will tell you," said Zohar, "For the vision itself was not wholly clear. It came to me last night. I saw our friends weeping. I saw a warrior dressed in kingly armour wreaking havoc upon innocents. And worst of all, I saw six knights, all dressed in heavy armour, worshipping the kingly warrior. I fear that one of us will fail."

"Have your visions always come true?"

"Nine out of ten of the time, yes."

"So you are never completely sure that they will come true?"

"I suppose, but."

"No buts!" Grog interrupted again, "If you're not sure, then they may not happen. I promise you now, I will not fail! Will you promise too?"

"I." Zohar looked at his friend. In all the time he had known him, Grog never looked so earnest. He could not disappoint him. "I promise."

Grog smiled and grabbed his sword and shield from a nearby wall. He hung his shield around his torso and placed the sword into its scabbard. With a nod, he turned around and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Zohar became melancholic. "Farewell, my friend."

* * * Before leaving the hotel, Zohar requested that the letter be sent direct to Shumeria as soon as possible by the hotel. With a bit of bartering, he eventually convinced the hotelkeeper to send, though it cost him a few gold pieces. But the money meant nothing to Zohar. It never had done. Zohar had never had any feeling or desire for material goods. He only desired peace, and was willing to give everything, even his own life, for it.

When he emerged into the city, he ignored it all. The hustle and bustle of city life, the children chasing birds in the streets, the stall keepers offering their trade. He just walked past them, hood over his head, thinking. Remembering. The sage in the dojo of this town had been dying this past week and requested to see the two travellers who were staying together in the Scarlet Hotel. When asked for a better description, he said:

"The men who helped put out the fire."

It wasn't long before two monks arrived at the hotel, requesting the presence of Grog and Zohar. Full of wonderment, they eagerly anticipated their meeting with the old sage. They arrived at the dojo soon after they had been met. Before they saw him, one of the monks warned them to not speak in the presence of the master. When they were brought in front of the aged master, he spoke:

"Long have I desired to look upon the emissaries of light. You are those of which I speak. One of you is surprised, yet the other content with this revelation. I know how you feel. I remember when an old man told my friend and me exactly what I'm about to tell you. Two thousand years ago, the holy prophet Toroah and his followers tried to create peace in the world. But before his death, he had realised that the world was not fit enough for survival. In his madness, he had six arch-mages of extreme power seal themselves in a hidden fortress. He then forged the mighty sword Vandal Heart and placed some of his life-force within it. He then scattered six relics, each representing one of the mages across the world. Shortly before his on death, he realised that the will of man wanted to survive, so he created two locks. One was placed on the southern most continent of the world, the other to the north. He granted the keys of these locks to his twin brothers, Mindar and Mistar. The placed the keys in there temples and asked what to do with them. Toroah told them that after every century that follows the day of his death, the two locks will open, unless they keys are placed inside before the moon disappears on that day. If they failed to do so, then the seven relics would awaken and take a host. Using this host body, they would travel to the fortress to awaken their true selves. Alone and leaderless, the six titans would destroy the world mindlessly, but under the control of he who wields the Vandal Heart, they would have enough power to resurrect Toroah, and begin the world anew. In just over a month, when the moon rises for the third time from now, the locks will open. You two must stop this from happening."

At this he paused and revealed from a pocket in his robe two keys, one gold, one silver.

"I place in your hand, mighty mage, the key of Mindar." He gave Zohar the gold key. "I place in your hand, brave knight, the key of Mistar." He gave Grog the silver key.

"This is a test of all men. If you overcome this task, men shall be given another chance. If not, then he who wields the sword of Toroah must have a mighty heart indeed, for it is he that shall judge us all. Finally, I want you to take this."

From the same pocket were he held the keys, he took out a roll of parchment, stained with age.

"This information may prove useful when the worst comes to the worst. Please, for the sake of us all, don't fail." And he died right there in front of them. To say the least, both men were shocked in some way or another, but both were now aware of a purpose. A young monk led them out of the room and gave them the locations of the two locks.

"Keeper of Mindar, you must travel north to the plain of sand. There, when the moon rises, you must hold the key aloft and await the judgement." Zohar nodded and concealed the key within his pocket.

"Keeper of Mistar, you must travel south to the ice glaciers. There, when the moon rises, you must hold the key aloft and await judgement." Grog looked at Zohar. Zohar nodded. Nervously, he placed the key within the bag he carried on his shoulder.

"Go now," said the monk, bowing, "the Ark of Toroah must not be allowed to rise."

They left the dojo soon after. As Zohar continued through the city, he recalled some of the things Grog said shortly after.

"How can the moon rise in two places on either side of the planet?"

"Why didn't anybody know about this before?"

"How old was that guy?"

"Were are the keyholes? Will they just appear?"

"What the hell is going on?"

Zohar had though the questions to be irrational at the time, but as he journeyed out of the city into the wild, he found himself asking the same questions to himself. He was scared. Something he hadn't been in a very long time. But he couldn't allow himself to disbelieve his task. Whether it be true or not, he could not risk the death of innocents, and he knew Grog felt the same. All that was left was hope.

* * *

The moon rose in the sky, just like the monk had said. All around him, the sand raged in a violent storm, though there was not a cloud in the sky. Zohar had travelled many leagues, and, finally, he reached the continent of sand. One of the few places he didn't travel to with Grog, Zohar had only ever heard about this place in books and diaries published in Shumeria. The drawings never did it justice either. It was much more frightening then the mage ever anticipated. As the moon reached its highest point in the sky, Zohar reached into his pocket. For a minute, he thought he had lost it, and that it had fallen out of his pocket as he had travelled. He was relieved when he finally found it. With all of his might, though the task required almost none, he retrieved the key from inside his pocket and thrust it into the air. At that moment, a bolt of lightning pierced the key and ran through his body. It caused him no pain, but he could not move. The bolt ran through his blood, filling him with knowledge and memories that were not his. For the moments he stood still there, he became different people. Those who had come before him. The many travellers who had preceded him over the centuries. The control of his body was granted to another.

Slowly, his body turned around. A small golden box, held in the air by an unknown force, bore the lock he sought after. After looking at it for a short time, he moved towards it. The confidence of his uncontrollable motions echoed not the danger in his mind. His hand lifted and pressed the key into the hole. His hand turned - the lock clicked.

Suddenly, the key disintegrated, turning into a powder-like substance. It slipped from his hand, and landed on the ground, mingling with the golden sand. The seconds that passed as he waited for something to happen seemed like lifetimes. His heart pounded, but his stance never changed. Whoever was controlling him did not share Zohar's own despair.

At last, a voice spoke form the heavens, piercing the sky with its roar.

"Who comes forth to accept the fate of man?" shouted the voice. It was unrecognisable, but seemed familiar in a strange way.

"I am Mindar, holy brother of Toroah and keeper of the Key of Flame," said Zohar loudly, though it wasn't his voice.

The box in front of Zohar suddenly began to shake violently. Zohar watched as it jittered about in mid-air, rumbling with an unknown rage. A bead of sweat ran down Zohar's face as he anticipated the contents of the box. He could only imagine death or disease or something equally as destructive emerging from the box. But the one thing he hoped for was for Grog to be doing the exact same thing, at that exact same time.

After about thirty seconds of rumbling and jerking, the box finally halted all activity. Zohar gulped. He was himself again. He was in control. Mindar had left his body.

The door swung open. Zohar blinked. Nothing. The box was empty, save for some powder left by the key. Zohar wondered if this was it. He must've succeeded, or something terrible would have happened around him, he thought to himself. Then, the voice spoke again.

"Failure."

"You gonna buy the watch or what?" said the merchant, reddened in the face. Zohar had been holding the small, golden pocket watch in front of his eyes for ten minutes. But his mind had been elsewhere for that time. He was no longer in the desert. He had failed.

"No, thank you," said Zohar placing the watch on the table in front of him.

"Damn timewasters."muttered the merchant as Zohar turned and walked down the market road. He recognised the busy street, the old cobbles, and the foul smell of horse dirt. He was in Kerachi, trade town and centre of corruption.

Suddenly, he remembered the parchment. Removing it from his pocket, he unravelled it in the street and scanned it quickly. Then he knew. He had to get to Kilioppi Village, and soon.

* * *

"Do you still have the parchment?" asked Clint.

Zohar nodded and removed it from his pocket once more. Laying the aged paper on the desk, he unrolled it. On the windowsill were two large ankhs on stands. He removed them and placed one on either end of the old document, keeping it open. On it was a passage and an illustration. The language was indiscernible to Clint and Kira, so Zohar read it aloud.

"The failure shall result in this: - the Vandalier shall decimate his home and awaken the titan of armour. He will sing the requiem for his life and awaken the titan of mage. He will curse those who roam the forest and awaken the titan of blade. He will open the door of hate and awaken the titan of flight. He will become one with the night and awaken the titan of shadow. He will raise the Holy Ark and awaken the titan of death. Then, Toroah will reawaken and mankind will be doomed."

The illustration appeared to be a plan of Toroah's tomb, with six discs surrounding a gold coloured disc. "The six are probably the titans, while the gold one is probably Toroah," Zohar explained to Clint and Kira.

"What does it mean, 'Vandalier'?" said Kira, with desperation and a tremble in her voice. "Does it mean."

"Ash."

"It all makes sense, now," said Clint, "Ash was born in Killiopi during the revolution. His father was killed with Arris, but he and his mother survived. He was raised in Shumeria, but this was his home."

"I know," said Zohar.

"You appeared in Kerachi, right?" said Kira. "Didn't you think to bring Diego? He could've helped!"

"I looked for him, but the keeper in his fathers store said they were both away on business."

"Damn!" said Clint. "What do the other things mean?"

"I 'm not sure," replied Zohar, "but I'm sure we'll hear."

The door of the room sprang open. The old priest was at the handle.

"Come quickly," was his breathless greeting, "we need your help!"