He started his training with a single breath. In, and out.
He could hear water dripping through a crack in the cave ceiling, dampening the stone floor until it gleamed against the darkness. He knew the holy patterns carved into the floor’s stone—proclaiming destinies and orbits. Even when he closed his eyes, he could see each lunar arc.
He made a few tentative swings with his blade. The moonstone felt solid in his hand, but remained ethereal, as if it wasn’t there. It was a magical remnant of the first convergence when the moon and its reflection in the spirit realm briefly touched across the celestial veil, and moonstone cast off by the union rained down on the world like tears.
Following their orbits, the two moons were forced to part.
Embracing his own orbit, Aphelios continued to train.His blade was now his breath, drawing faster and faster. His slashes followed arcs he had practiced for years until even he bled, training to the verge of self-destruction. Following his weapon, he twisted through the air. He slashed, parried—each attack flowing into the next. He closed his eyes so he would not need to see… would not remember everything he’d sacrificed to wield his weapon.
“Aphelios…” You see my face. My lip quivers, though my voice is firm.“Aphelios.” Reflected in my eyes, you see…
Aphelios stumbled as his moonstone blade flashed red and an image of an outlander passed before him. A vision? A memory? How many times had he killed to not know for sure? The blade slipped from his hand, and Aphelios soon followed—colliding against the floor with no weapon to lead him, losing grasp of his discipline.
It had all come back. Everything he pushed down. Every cut of his blade into his enemies cut even deeper into himself.
Alune… his sister. She’d reached across the veil. She’d shown him… but she’d been torn away.
Aphelios pushed troubled words he would never say back into his throat. His fingers tightened into a fist, only for a moment, ready to strike against the orbits and destinies carved into stone. But, hand shaking… he let go.
As Aphelios stood and swept back his hair, he noticed the moon had risen, its light shining onto a shrine he kept deeper in the temple. Calling to him, as it did whenever he was needed.
It was time. His faith would be rewarded.
The Lunari’s power was growing, phasing across the celestial veil. A magic of spirit, of the secrets within—for all of his training, Aphelios could not channel the moon’s power himself. But he would not need to.
He carefully prepared noctum flowers that he’d cultivated in the shrine’s pool, pressing their essence into a caustic elixir—the liquid glowing faintly within the mortar bowl.
He set aside his training blade and raised the bowl to the moon’s light.Then, without hesitation, he pressed the flower’s poison to his lips.
The agony is indescribable. The pain wraps around your throat. You cannot say anything at all…
Everything burns. You convulse in misery, you retch and cough as the poison flows through you, opening you to the moon’s power…
“Aphelios,” I whisper from my fortress, and my spirit brushes against yours. You sense my presence across the veil. You raise your hand, knowing that I am too far. That it is the pain you must hold on to.
You close your hand around it. It becomes your weapon.
I send it to you…
“Aphelios,” I whisper as I feel you cling to the poison that burns you away. Knowing why you make this choice. What I ask you to sacrifice… .
With a final lung-wracking gasp, Aphelios emerged from the cave temple into the night. His expression hardened as he fought back the wrenching agony, embracing it and leaving everything else behind him.
Mount Targon loomed above and below the temple, stretching in both directions.
The howling wind whipped up frozen wisps that shimmered as they faded, dancing with Aphelios’ scarf and buffeting his cloak. The light of the moon shone higher still. It would guide him.
It was her light, shining through the moon’s.
She’d given him what he needed.
Gravitum was more than a moonstone blade. In training, he had slashed, stabbed, twirled. To use this weapon, he would do the same—but his reach would be much greater. A simple thrust would unleash its power, his skill and her magic converging.
Firing the cannon’s black orbs toward a floating rock that was suspended by the Targon’s heavenly magic, Gravitum’s power slowly drew the island down. With a single leap, Aphelios began running atop the island, his boots casting small drifts of snow into the abyss. Each orb he fired drew another rock close, the floating monoliths colliding behind him as he leapt from one to the next, swiftly scaling a mountain that would take most people days to climb… if they attempted the climb at all.
Only the Solari, and those who sought power, held vigil here.
He passed their settlements below, each quiet and ignorant of the night. For years, he had wondered how Solari zealots could deny his faith’s existence, walking their paths to follow the sun, fearing darkness that only Lunari dared face. But his destiny was clear.
The zealots would be revealed by the moon’s light.
Aphelios leapt to a final island of stone and paused above a snowy clearing where a party of Solari had gathered, their weapons blazing. Burning Ones, the Lunari called them. By night, they scorched out heretics of the moon. By day, their priests denied there was anything but the sun. Beneath dark hoods, their faces were hidden by flame as impersonal as their judgment. They had surrounded a barbarian cloaked in crimson and steel.
The outlander he’d seen in his vision.The moon’s light stopped in this clearing. It stopped at the barbarian’s feet.
“Aphelios,” I say again. I whisper it to your soul and gather my magic, knowing the only words you want to hear.“I am with you…”
Aphelios dived off the rock island and plummeted into battle, the Burning Ones’ weapons blazing all the brighter as Gravitum’s darkness spread among them. Crying out in alarm, the Solari turned to fight, but found themselves bound to the ground by a black orb. Aphelios dropped the cannon, and a new weapon appeared in his hand.
“,” I whisper.
Landing from his descent without looking away from his enemies’ burning faces, Aphelios slashed behind him with Severum, the crescent pistol’s beam tearing through the island of stone. Terrified, the Burning Ones could only watch as massive slabs slammed down among them, cut loose by the energy of the waning moon.The survivors quickly spread across the clearing, lashing at Aphelios with their molten spears. Weaving between the blows, Aphelios continued to slash with Severum and reached out with his free hand to grasp one more weapon as it passed through the veil, knowing it would be there.
“,” I say to the night.
With a soaring arc, Crescendum cut through the throats of the remaining Solari in the clearing—Aphelios catching the moonstone blade as it twisted around and returned to his hand.In seconds, it was over.
The barbarian stands before you. He looks up, gratefully. Beside him, what the Burning Ones sought: a scimitar curved like the moon.
He opens his mouth to thank you, but he sees your expression twist, though you try to hide it. You fight the fear, punching your shoulder where the Burning Ones’ spears cut through your cloak. Trying to remember the pain. Reaching for it.
You don’t want to kill him. But you must.
Your face is too numb for you to feel the tears… Instead, you feel mine.
“Aphelios,” I say one last time, forcing my voice through the veil. There is a dizzying rush as our orbits bring us together.
Through your eyes, I see what moonlight reveals around the. Why it was abandoned.
We must find her. is running…
The crimson-clad barbarian lay in the snow among the Solari.
With a gasp, Aphelios fell to his knees.
He glanced up at the moon, listening for a whisper only he could hear.His expression dulled again. Without a word, he picked up the scimitar and walked into the night.