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Cryopod Refresh 203: Jepthath's Resolve
Jepthath's visions shift again. Images of humans storming through underground passages, across vast, open fields, and climbing steep mountains flash by one by one. The sheer number of ascended beings boggles the mind, as more than a hundred thousand glowing-eyed warriors flatten the Earth with their heavy boots.
In one vision, fifty demon grunts unleash all of their might to try and stop three human warriors. They sling fireballs, hurl rocks, and charge into the faces of their god-like enemies.
The three humans easily overpower and cripple the entire demon contingent. They slap the heads off a pair of succubi, break the back of a giant demon Brute, and unsheathe shiny steel swords to cleave the rest in two.
Demons scream and wail. They beg for mercy, only for swords to lance through their skulls moments later. The humans wordlessly continue a violent rampage across the demon's territory as they hack and slice apart all in their path.
Unlike Jepthath's previous visions, the warriors now wear neatly sewn leather and animalskin clothing. Along with their swords, they also carry steel shields while wearing leather pauldrons for their shoulders. They appear far more civilized than in the previous visions, but equally fearsome.
I found myself surprised when the Archangel of Divination introduced me to the concept of metallurgy. Not only could she craft unique, mighty objects of divine origin, but she also went out of her way to teach my people the concept of forging our own weapons and armor. Most importantly, however, Camael gave me a personal gift. A weapon capable of uniting humanity's power and transforming us into an unstoppable spear against the demonic bulwark to the west.
The Dominion Rod.
Crafted from the finest enchanted steel, the weapon resembled a shepherd's staff, with a curved top, allowing a single brilliant gem in its center to shine like the midday sun. The divine weapon was not only sturdy enough for me to wield in melee combat, but even better, it augmented and boosted my Heroic power. It improved my mental control over my troops, preventing them from rebelling or disobeying. In addition to improving my mental control, it also equalized the strength of any who accepted my power. Nearly every warrior came to possess the same fighting power I did, making every individual capable of fighting Demon Dukes without any assistance. One warrior was often capable of slaughtering an entire Demon Den singlehandedly.
While Heaven struggled to rebuild itself, I put my power to work crafting cities, weaponry, and armor which would even the playing field against our demonic adversaries. With our minds and bodies united, we accomplished in mere years what would take later generations decades or centuries to accomplish.
I had no time to waste when it came to bringing about the end of demonkind. While my life slowly ticked away and my skin began to sag, doubts appeared in my mind.
How many demons still existed on the Earth? With their ranks thrown into turmoil, would I be able to find and kill every last Broodmother? Even if I did, assuming I couldn't locate the elusive Emperor of Providence, Lucifer, what did my efforts amount to? Once I died, she would reappear and rebuild the demonic army. All of my efforts would crumble to ash.
I loved my wife and children. On the Day of Ascension, when I seized control of the Dominion Rod and lifted humanity to its greatest height, I gave my deceased family names to honor their memory. Neilah was like a flower blooming within my heart. Even as I killed my way through tens of thousands of demons, carving a path across the land with their blood, I never forgot my wife.
However, the realization that my lineage would end upon my death spurned me to take a new family. I found another wife, a woman I later came to call Pierra, and lay with her whenever I found the time. She bore me several children, but no matter how I tried, I could not build a connection with them as I had my first family.
My second family came to represent my ultimate detachment from the trifles and joys of life. I tried to show them the same love as my first family, but I failed. After killing so many demons, it felt as if a part of my soul had died. I could no longer love another in the same way I once had.
Life is a series of ironic twists. I spent my whole existence fighting and killing demons, all to sate my bloodlust for them killing my family. When the chance came to savor a second life with a new family, I cast it aside.
Jepthath's tone turns melancholic.
I gave up my humanity, all so I could slay demons.
Do I regret my decision?
The vision darkens, revealing an underground demon lair, one dug much more hastily and crudely than any of the others before it.
Nineteen years after I made my pact with the Archangel Camael, and her brother, Raphael, I came upon an irresistible piece of intelligence from one of my scouts. We had finally pierced the depths of the Earth and found the hiding hole of Satan the Devil, as well as his cohorts, the Emperors of Passion and Providence, Belial and Lucifer. Having hunted down millions of demons and their broodmothers, and with my vitality running out, I decided it was time for an all-in attack.
I had the Devil cornered. The odds were high that he had set up a trap to bring me closer, but I didn't care. All of my pieces were in place. I brought an army of men thirty-thousand strong, each warrior capable of flattening a typical Demon Duke. It was now or never; my last chance to kill the one who had brought about the end of my family, all those centuries before.
Satan's doom was upon him.
"Keep close, Aaron," Jepthath says.
"Yes, father," A strapping young lad replies.
Father and son, Jepthath and Aaron storm through the crudely-dug Demon Den. Unlike the polished walls of the dens from years before, this one's design appears haphazard at best. The pitch-black hallways turn from left to right in random directions, causing anyone with a poor sense of direction to become confused.
However, thanks to the piercing blood-red-light emitting from Jepthath's eyes, he illuminates the path ahead with ease.
Hundreds of other warriors following in Jepthath's wake charge through the demonic hallways with reckless abandon. Their eyes, too, glow, but with a pure white color instead. Once or twice, the humans come upon an orc, a goblin, or some other monster, only to brutally end the unfortunate being's life before it can defend itself.
Aboveground, thirty human warriors and five lowborn angels use the power of Seer-Stones to pierce the Earth's depths. They envision the inner hallways, then transmit all the relevant information directly to Jepthath's mind.
Jepthath and Aaron pause for a split-second before a T-junction, where the path splits in three directions.
"If we travel to the right, we'll be able to cut across several broodmother dens along the way," Aaron says. He gazes at his father respectfully, waiting for Jepthath's input.
"No," Jepthath replies. "Our goal is to eliminate Lucifer. Once she perishes, we can take our time mopping up the Broodmothers. Five warriors will head down the right path, but the rest of us will go left."
"Of course, father," Aaron replies, as any thoughts of disobeying vanish immediately under the Dominion Rod's power. He spares a glance toward the weapon held in his father's grasp. "What if we should fall here, today, against the Emperors?"
Jepthath immediately heads down the left tunnel, shooting a remorseful glance at his son. "If I perish, you will inherit my power. The Dominion Rod is a weapon possessing enough Holy Energy that no demon will be able to touch it. Make sure you obtain my artifact and continue hunting the bloodskins. Until every last one is dead, our work will never be done."
Aaron nods. His muscular body stands in stark contrast to his youthful face, which oozes childlike naivete. With only a single glance at the lad, anyone would be able to tell that he has no business dealing with matters of war.
However, Jepthath pays little attention to his son's body language. Instead, the Shepherd of Men leads his warriors down various passageways, traveling as quickly as he can toward the large, inner chambers of the Demon Den.
"I understand, father," Aaron replies, his voice muted. "I will continue your fight even if you should fall."
"Good boy," Jepthath says, his expression neutral.
The father and son fall silent, having exchanged all the words Jepthath feels need to be said.
I cared little for my son, Aaron, Jepthath's inner voice says. At the time, I saw him as nothing but a tool — a weapon to combat the demons. Never once did I value him as a fellow human, nor as a beloved son. To me, he was merely the inheritor of my resentment. If I had to rely on him to kill my enemies, then all that meant was that I had failed in fulfilling my lifelong ambition.
In a way, I resented Aaron. I resented his existence, and how he had subtly come to replace my first family.
Of all the regrets I've come to possess over the millennia, treating my flesh and blood so poorly is what tears me apart the most.
I was a terrible father. No doubt, Aaron despised me.
Jepthath and Aaron slow to a stop as a flickering light appears in the darkness ahead. With their enhanced eyes, both humans pick out the figures of half a dozen Burner demons, all of them standing at the ready with spells half-casted.
Several fireballs come flying down the corridor. Before Jepthath can react, Aaron leaps forward and uses his shield like a baseball bat, swatting the flames to the left and right. They splash against the walls, causing the assault force no injuries.
Jepthath's vision-voice speaks. My body was not as young and virile as it used to be. In terms of physical strength, my son was my equal. In terms of speed, he was more than my match. I felt a hint of pride whenever I saw him fight, but that feeling always morphed into shame.
I was ashamed of my weakness. Ashamed that I had taken so long to exterminate the little blood-suckers.
Now, I gaze upon my son with pride, but back then, I was too stuck in my ways to appreciate my son's evolution into a fine warrior.
Aaron lunges forward. He and three other soldiers attack the low-ranking Burners, slaughtering them with ease. Aaron rips off the head of their leader and smashes it against a wall, turning it into a mess of blood and bone.
Moments later, he returns and places his hand on his heart. "Let us continue, father."
"You hesitated," Jepthath says, his eyes turning cold. "You could have killed those bloodskins five seconds faster, had you not paused to consider the flashiest method of dispatching them."
"I... I apologize, father. I will try to be more efficient next time."
"Don't 'try.' Do. You have to set an example for the other soldiers. They'll look up to you when I'm gone."
"I understand, father."
"Do you? I'll be the judge of that. Let's continue. The Emperor's lair isn't much further. If you slip up, they'll kill you without hesitating."
Aaron's expression turns slightly dejected, but he hides his emotions quickly, masking his eyes by rubbing his forehead. Moments later, the assault force of several hundred humans continues charging into the depths of the Earth.
"Stay sharp!" Jepthath yells. "Today, we finish this war! We'll kill the bloodskins and complete our quest of blood! For humanity!"
His soldiers shout in unison. "For humanity! For the Illuminator!"
Thousands of humans storm into one of the innermost chambers, its size comparable to a football stadium. The massive, recently excavated area stands nearly a hundred feet tall, held up by several hardened dirt pillars.
Inside, thousands of demons assume defensive stances as their human oppressors charge inside, swords and shields held at the ready.
Bael, the Duke of Pain, stands at the front of the crowd alongside Agares, the Duke of Reptiles.
"Don't let the bastards through!" Bael roars.
Jepthath's eyes flick past the wall of demons, toward a caved-in hallway leading deeper into the demon's den.
[We have to bypass this bulwark,] Jepthath says, transmitting his thoughts to his son and the other Legionnaires. [The Demon Emperors must be hiding inside the central chamber.]
[Cowards!] One of Jepthath's generals yells. [The bloodskins know only how to skulk in the darkness!]
[We must exercise caution,] Aaron says, a hint of worry in his eyes. [This might be a trap.]
[Indeed, it is,] Jepthath replies. He charges at Bael and raises his fist. [I would expect no less from these loathsome cretins!]
Bael meets Jepthath's fist with his own. The two warriors engage in brutal combat, using their bodies to their fullest extent.
Unlike a few years before, when Jepthath first used his newly acquired martial techniques, this time, Bael manages to hold his own. Bael receives more than his fair share of blows from the human king, but manages to land a few of his own. Each time Bael's fists strike Jepthath, the human king staggers backward. Having spent the last twenty years running from Jepthath's forces, Bael's combat capabilities appear to have sharply risen, forcing the human king to rely on his staff as a weapon.
It only takes a minute for chaos to engulf the chamber. Aaron and Agares meet each other in one-on-one combat; trading blows between the future leader of humanity and a grizzled veteran of the demonic species. Goblins adhere to the ceiling while hurling spears from above, trying their best to wound or distract the humans beneath them. Orcs leap into the fray while riding atop Hellhounds, using the double-threat of monster and beast to take out a few of the weakest human warriors.
However, it doesn't take long before the battle begins tilting in Jepthath's favor.
Jepthath ducks a punch from Bael, grabs the Duke's arm, and flings him over his shoulder. Bael spins through the air and lands amidst a six-man-strong contingent of Legionnaires, all of whom descend upon the Duke of Pain, raining their fists upon him mercilessly.
Agares uses his superior scaled defenses to absorb the youth's attacks where possible. At the same time, his claws slash and cut Aaron's skin when he gets too close.
Aaron cries out in pain as Agares rakes his face, ripping out thick, meaty chunks of flesh from his forehead to his cheek. Aaron staggers back, allowing three other Legionnaires to pounce at the Duke.
Suddenly, Agares gasps. Jepthath appears from out of nowhere and smashes the Dominion Rod against the back of the Duke's neck, sending him crashing into the chamber's floor. With Agares staggered, another contingent of Legionnaires begins whaling on him from every direction, suppressing his movements and forcing him to retreat.
"Aaron! Come with me," Jepthath yells, grabbing his son's attention. Both of them, along with a thousand soldiers, charge toward the caved-in doorway at the edge of the chamber. The demons and monsters behind continue trying to fight the ever-increasing stream of humans flooding into the chamber, but their forces are no match for an army of demi-humans, each individually as strong as a Demon Duke.
Jepthath stops before the caved-in hallway. "Stand back!"
He aims the Dominion Rod at the entrance, looks away, and shields his eyes.
A tremendous surge of mana wells up within Jepthath's chest. It transfers into the Dominion Rod, enters the magic crystal in its head, and morphs into a mountain-shattering blast of holy energy.
The entire underground tunnel system explodes with dirt and debris. Cracks rip across the ceiling as an earthquake rattles the planet. It takes more than a minute for the dust to settle, only for chunks of the ceiling to plummet from above, crushing anyone they hit.
"Let's move!" Jepthath bellows. He charges into the now-excavated tunnel, ignoring the rapidly building casualties outside. Hundreds of Legionnaires perish along with their demon and monster adversaries, but Jepthath pays them no mind.
My warriors were little more than expendable resources to me, Jepthath's inner voice muses. I only cared about their deaths before obtaining the Dominion Rod, back when I had to appease various tribal leaders to build my army. Once I received Camael's artifact, I no longer wasted my time fretting over such trifles. The moment they accepted my power, they lost their ability to protest.
Jepthath and his son charge down the hallway. They plow through dozens of Lords and even a few Barons, both groups doing their best to stall the humans for time.
Upon entering the next chamber, Jepthath and Aaron find themselves surrounded by a massive quantity of demons. Unlike the previous room, where some of the mightiest demon warriors stood their ground against the human invaders, in this room, they try using the narrow doorway as a chokepoint to crush the humans with numbers.
Thousands of fireballs rush at Jepthath the instant he enters. Instinctively, he activates the Dominion Rod to form a powerful mana barrier, causing the superheated projectiles to explode harmlessly at the doorway's opening.
Slowed by the Burner's assault, Jepthath and his fellow humans pause upon entering the second chamber. They take refuge behind their king as Jepthath easily repels the nonstop barrage of flames and hellfire from his mortal enemies.
Within two minutes, the Burner's fireballs drop off in both intensity and firepower. Having run out of mana, the Burners retreat from battle, allowing their allies to seize the initiative.
Once again, a horde of goblins skitters across the ceiling. However, unlike the previous room's occupants, these goblins share a variety of different skin colors.
The red-skinned ones, who somewhat resemble hornless demons, are far more aggressive than the rest. They leap from the ceiling like kamikazes and try to stab the humans to death with little stone knives. As Jepthath's warriors funnel into the chamber and engage in battle, they easily shrug off the limp-wristed attacks of the red-skinned goblins.
Yellow-skinned goblins join the fray as well. They pounce from the ceiling to the pillars and keep their distance from the humans, all while using makeshift slingshots to try and shoot the humans in their eyes. Several warriors howl in pain as tiny rocks zip unnoticed into their glowing weak-spots.
Finally, a much smaller number of black-skinned goblins ride alongside orcs atop their Hellhounds. These Obsidian Goblins appear virtually identical to the ones which appeared on Tarus II alongside the Hydra. With their iron-like skin, they act as tanks, allowing their fellow orcs to focus more on offense while they deflect and absorb attacks from the mighty human army.
Jepthath swings the Dominion Rod from side to side, using it as a club against any enemy foolish enough to step within range. He crushes heads, shatters shoulders, and sends waves of destruction surging amongst the demon ranks. Meanwhile, Aaron stays close to his father. Humanity's king and prince take out three Demon Lords effortlessly, eliminating troublesome foes before they can cause any casualties.
Suddenly, a deafening explosion ripples through the chamber, momentarily stunning all of the humans. Shax, the Baron of Shredding, leaps atop the back of a riderless Hellhound and rides the rampaging monster like a surfboard. He sweeps his fingers across his chest, acting as if he's going all-out while playing air guitar. Every time Shax's fingers move, sound-blasts fire from his body, knocking away anyone, friend or foe, who strays too close.
Shax's little sister, Murmur, the Lord of Emotion, rides atop his shoulders. She rests her chin on his head and sighs deeply, while occasionally aiming her finger at any humans who charge her brother. "Poke. Poke... poke."
Each time Murmur pokes the air, using the least amount of physical exertion possible, she sends a Legionnaire flying. Murmur's telekinesis proves unyielding, preventing anyone from landing a hit on her older brother.
One of Jepthath's generals scowls. "We have to kill that Baron!"
"No," Jepthath says, shaking his head. "He's nothing more than a distraction. Keep your eyes on the prize. I want our weaker reserves to keep him busy."
"Father, I can eliminate him," Aaron offers.
"Stay by my side, boy. You still have to prove yourself worthy of wielding the Dominion Rod. You'll have a shot at glory once we fight the Emperors."
"Alright. As you wish, father."
Shax begins headbanging, causing his frizzy white hair to leap back and forth. Each time, bolts of electricity fire from his hair's tips, jolting both enemies and allies alike who stray too close.
Because of Shax's headbanging, Murmur loses her comfy headrest. She frowns. "Brother... stop moving..."
Shax laughs. "Haha! No can do, little sis! I have to move to feel the rhythm!"
Murmur sighs. "...I hate 'the rhythm.'"
Shax, a dull-headed music-lover, continues blasting his intolerably awful music at anyone in range, while his sister protects him from ambushers. As they work together, Jepthath shoves his way past them toward the rear of the demon's army. There, he encounters another obstacle. A massive Hellhound, comparable to Cerberus, stands amidst a sea of Orcs.
The four-legged predator stands nearly thirty-feet tall. Its ten-ton body, starved of food, trembles with hunger. With the demons having kept the animal on a short leash, its viciousness is at peak rarely seen amongst other wild creatures.
"Gods!" Aaron cries out. "Is that Lucifer's transformation?! She's massive!"
Jepthath shakes her head as he grabs a shield from one of his nearby soldiers. "No. It is merely a starved mongrel. I'll kill it myself!"
Without issuing any orders to his men, Jepthath lunges toward the humongous creature. Orcs try to stop him, but he flings them aside with the ease of an elephant stomping mice. The king holds his shield up and uses it as a battering ram, turning anyone in his path to bloody mush.
Eventually, Jepthath arrives before the giant Hellhound. The monster snaps at him, trying to devour the warrior whole. Upon seeing the jaws of death approaching, Jepthath merely smiles.
[Oh? Hungry? Allow me to oblige.]
Like a man possessed by the Devil, Jepthath happily leaps into the monster's mouth while avoiding its teeth. The Hellhound slams its jaws shut, causing Aaron's heart to tremble. "Father!"
A moment later, the Hellhound's eyes bulge with pain. It opens its mouth and tries to spit the steel-clad warrior out, but Jepthath merely leaps into its throat.
[I think I'll stay for a minute, beast.]
An explosion detonates inside the monster's throat, causing its entire body to shudder. The Hellhound scrabbles back and paws at its face, trying desperately to vomit out the parasite it swallowed mere moments before.
Jepthath activates the Dominion Rod, sending a blast of mana throughout the wolf's organs. Moments later, the beast explodes, sending rives of blood and bone spraying in every direction. Jepthath leaps out of its body, covered from head to toe in its cooked entrails.
Aaron blinks. "Father? You're alright!"
Jepthath scowls. "Stupid boy. Of course, I am. Stop speaking nonsense! Now, let's get a move on. The final chamber awaits!"
Once again, Jepthath ignores the mounting casualties and advances forward with a dwindling number of elite warriors. By the time he charges through the final corridor into the largest, innermost cavern, he only has a hundred men following him.
Jepthath enters the final room and slows to a stop. Unlike the two before it, which were crudely dug and illuminated by the light of Legionnaire eyes and Burner fireballs, this chamber possesses hundreds of lamps stuck in the walls around the room. Its walls shine with polish, revealing the amount of care taken in its decoration. A granite throne sits against the back wall, where Satan sits atop it, smirking. Lucifer stands to his right, with a small contingent of mutated Hellhounds at her side. Each of her pets possesses bright red fur, giving them the appearance of fox-wolf mixed breeds. Their eyes crackle with electricity, revealing their elementally attuned nature.
"Haha!" Satan laughs. "Hey! It's been a while, kingy! Glad you could make it!"
Jepthath ignores Satan's taunts. His eyes flick first to Lucifer, then to the rest of the room, where tens of thousands of demons and monsters stand at the ready.
"Foolish humans. You've walked right into a trap," Satan mutters, yawning as he speaks. "Today... you die."
"I wonder about that," Jepthath murmurs. He scowls at Satan. "Unfortunately, oh, mighty bloodskin Emperor, no amount of trickery will ever defeat one who possesses the strength to withstand it. My men, go!"
Satan sighs. "A frontal assault. Why am I not surprised?"
Jepthath leaps into the air. He summons power into the Dominion Rod, then fires a blast of holy energy at Lucifer, intending to finish her off in one blow. Instead, Lucifer jumps forward, grabs a goblin, and hurls it at the human king.
"No, no, nonoNOOOOO!!"
The goblin shrieks in terror as it turns into a meatshield for the Emperor of Providence. The Dominion Rod's blast of energy rips the goblin apart and turns it into a blood-balloon, splattering the monster's innards all over Jepthath. By the time Jepthath manages to see past the fog in the air, Lucifer has disappeared.
Jepthath lands on his feet and swivels to look in every direction. He spots Lucifer engaged in combat with Aaron and rushes forward to help.
The Demon Emperor of Providence cackles evilly. Her deity-level body provides her with more than enough physical power to take on the human, but even so, Jepthath finds himself astounded at the sheer might behind each blow. Lucifer whales on Aaron, her fists striking his enchanted shield like sledgehammers. Aaron grits his teeth as the clanging of her fist sends out bangs whenever she lands a hit.
"F-father! Help me, please!"
Jepthath arrives just in time to save his son. He rudely kicks Aaron aside and sends the lad skidding to the side, just in time to avoid one final, deadly strike by Lucifer.
The Demon Emperor's fists strike the dirt where Aaron stood only a split-second before, summoning an Earthquake to shake the planet.
Jepthath stumbles backward as the ground tosses him like a sack of potatoes. He rights himself in midair and lands in a crouch, readying himself to charge again.
[Astounding!] Jepthath crows, begrudgingly praising the Demoness in his mind. [Lucifer has never possessed such power, not until she morphed into one of her animal forms! Where did she obtain such strength?!]
Shaking away his worrisome thoughts, Jepthath attacks Lucifer, turning his body into a tornado of muscle and pain. He swings the flat of his shield against her head, but she deflects it with the side of her arm. He fires a blast of holy energy at her via the Dominion Rod, but she bends over backward and narrowly evades the deadly laser.
[No, something isn't right,] Aaron says, transmitting his thoughts to Jepthath. [Look! Her movements are far too fast and fluid. We've faced Lucifer many times, father. That isn't her!]
Lucifer pounds Jepthath in his chest and sends him flying. Jepthath spins head over heels until he crashes into a rock pillar, bringing the whole thing crashing down. Just before 100 tons of collapsing rubble can kill him, Jepthath shakily raises his staff and summons another mana barrier to protect himself. He narrowly survives with his life.
"Kah! Damn... Aaron is right. That isn't Lucifer... it must be... the changeling!"
Jepthath bursts out of the collapsed pillar's remains. Not far away, five of his warriors work together to take down a pack of hellhounds. The mind-controlled Legionnaires snap each beast's neck, one by one, only for the Hellhounds to open their mouths and breath lightning upon the warriors. Electrical pain surges from their minds into Jepthath's, forcing him to sever the connection.
[Gah! Aaron, don't engage that Emperor in combat! She's not Lucifer! She's Belial!]
Across the cavern, Aaron battles Belial, using his comparable strength and speed to just barely keep up with her. However, with her stretchy limbs, Belial outmaneuvers the young man time and again, simultaneously batting him around like a kitten with a ball, while occasionally turning her fingers into knives to cut and stab the openings in his defenses.
Faced with the decision to save his son or to seek out the true Emperor of Providence, uncertainty clouds his judgment.
[Father! Help me!] Aaron cries out, begging for assistance.
Jepthath continues to hesitate.
"Where is she? Where did that whore hide? If I can't kill Lucifer, everything I've done today will be for nothing."
Jepthath chews his lip. From across the chamber, he hears a blood-curdling scream, then silence. The battles around quickly swallow up the sound, but the King's heart skips a beat.
Rallied by the terror in his heart, Jepthath pounces like a jaguar toward his son and Belial. As he leaps over the heads of surprised demons, Jepthath's vision lasers in on the figure of 'Lucifer' holding Aaron by his throat. She gazes at Jepthath's oncoming form and smiles.
"I have your son, human! You won't dare-"
"LET HIM GO!"
Jepthath howls in rage at the shapeshifted demoness, interrupting her mid-sentence. Belial suddenly realizes Jepthath isn't slowing down. She tosses Aaron aside and holds up her arms to protect herself.
Jepthath strikes the Emperor of Passion with stunning force. He sends her flying backward, then lunges again without pausing.
"I'll kill you! I'll fucking kill you!"
The image of his son's unconscious form held in the demoness's grasp etches into Jepthath's mind. By the time Belial impacts one of the side-walls, it only takes a split second before Jepthath arrives before her and begins swinging his fists recklessly, like a raging bull.
Wham! Wham! Wham wham whamwhamwham!
Jepthath's blood boils with fury. His wrath becomes a monsoon of destruction. Belial's strength, the mightiest among her people, only manages to suppress half of Jepthath's striking power. Each time he lands a punch, the human king breaks one of Belial's bones. Eventually, she loses her concentration and breaks her shapeshifted form, revealing her true appearance underneath.
Belial cries in pain. She tries to sidestep, to push away the king, and even to jump into the air, but he never lets up.
"Today, you draw your LAST breath!" Jepthath roars.
With one final punch, he swings his fist against the side of Belial's head, sending her careening to the left. She tumbles and twists for several seconds before coming to a grinding halt amidst a group of demons and humans.
Jepthath's blood-red eyes flash with insight. A sudden realization strikes him, and he whirls around to face Satan, who continues sitting on the throne without moving.
[Ah! As I thought! While I assaulted Belial, Satan didn't move a muscle. He would never let me injure his beloved mate! That must mean... the Satan seated there is a fake! Belial used her illusion magic to change his appearance!]
Jepthath grinds his teeth together.
[The aura leaking out of that demon is identical to any Emperor. 'Satan' must be Lucifer!]
However, even as this realization hits Jepthath, he pauses. The human king glances toward his son, lying motionless amongst a sea of enemies and allies. Several demons try to plunge their knives into his heart, but the nearby human warriors manage to shield him.
[You! General Kian! Take my son out of here! I'll kill the Emperor of Providence myself!]
[Yes, my king!]
Jepthath watches as one of the human warriors grabs Aaron, hoists the lad over his shoulder, and retreats, leaving only Jepthath and fifty-something other humans to fend off their demon opponents.
Jepthath turns to face 'Satan.'
"Haha... now, I've got you."
He lunges toward the eerily calm and confident demon sitting on the granite throne. Satan leans lazily against his palm, seemingly uninterested in Jepthath's incoming attack.
Jepthath grins. "Pretend all you want, but I know who you are!"
As he lunges toward Satan, the Devil yawns. "Oh, dear. Looks like this is the end for me."
Jepthath raises the Dominion Rod.
He swings it downward, aiming to crush 'Satan's' head into mulch.
To Jepthath's astonishment, he pulverizes Satan's entire body into a bloody pulp. The sheer strength behind Jepthath's swing sends a shockwave into the Earth's depths, destroys the granite throne, and sends shockwaves exploding in every direction.
Jepthath stands amidst the rubble, staring in disbelief.
"What? No... it can't be... Lucifer's body would be too durable to perish under such an attack. Was he really Satan after all?"
Suddenly, Jepthath's body teleports. He reappears not far away, back where he was standing moments before. Satan sits on the granite throne and yawns lazily.
"Oh, dear. Looks like this is the end for me."
Jepthath blinks in confusion. Hesitantly, he raises the Dominion Rod and lunges forward again. This time, he puts every drop of his strength into the attack, doubling his previous output.
"I... I won't fall for your tricks, bloodskin!"
Jepthath smashes Satan's body into mulch once again. He rattles the entire chamber, causing hundreds of tons of rock and stone to shake free from the ceiling and plummet to the ground below.
Jepthath breathes heavily. He stares at the rubble where the throne stood only a second earlier.
"I... I got him. He's dead now. The bastard can't have escaped death a second-"
Suddenly Jepthath teleports again. He reappears where he stood before, facing Satan as the Devil yawns.
"Oh, dear. Looks like this is the end for me."
Jepthath's heart trembles. "No... again? How? How is this happening?"
Faint memories trickle into Jepthath's mind. Hercules's words tickle his brain, as if trying to remind him of some terrible power, some awful demonic magic he must avoid at all costs.
However, no matter how Jepthath struggles, he can't remember what his former master once said.
"Something's not right. Why can't I kill the Devil?"
"Father... h-help me..."
Jepthath jumps in fright. He turns to his right, only to see a young boy lying on the ground amidst a pool of blood. Barely six years old, the boy is but a child, far younger than Jepthath's oldest son, Aaron.
"Daddy... it hurts..."
A little girl's voice reaches Jepthath, startling him again. He raises his eyes slightly to see a little girl, badly burned, crawling toward him. With her right arm and leg chewed off, she's a miserable sight, with an appearance so heart-rendingly sad that it brings tears to Jepthath's eyes.
"M-my... my children... how are they alive..?"
Jepthath takes a step toward the little boy, only to find an invisible mana barrier blocking his path. He stumbles backward in surprise, only to jump forward a moment later and try to break it with his bare hands.
"No! No!! Let me through, damn you! You filthy bloodskin bastards! How dare you desecrate the dead?! I'll kill you all!!"
Jepthath hammers the barrier with all of his strength. The harder he fights, the stronger it becomes. He breaks his fingers against the wall, but even then, he can't get through to embrace his dying children.
"My... love... help me..." A woman whispers.
Jepthath gazes at his feet. There, a face more familiar to him than his own looks at him with eyes full of tears.
Jepthath drops to his knees. He stares at his former wife's disfigured body, covered in even more gruesome burns and cuts than his daughter. Neilah coughs blood all over the dirt and lowers her eyes.
"You... you left us... to die..."
"N-no, I didn't," Jepthath says, as he touches her face. "I'll... I'll save you! I'll grant you my power! You'll be able to heal, you'll-"
Suddenly, Jepthath teleports back to his starting position. He stands and faces Satan once more, startled by the sudden change of scenery.
Satan yawns. "Oh, dear. Looks like this is the end for me."
Disbelief washes through Jepthath's body. He turns to look for his family, only to find that they're no longer there.
He's all alone.
"Neilah... my children..."
Grief wells up in the king's chest. He stifles his emotions and gazes at the Demon Emperor seated on the throne.
"You... you did this. Who are you?! Where am I?!"
Hardly have the words left Jepthath's lips before the chaotic battle surrounding Jepthath simply disappears.
The chamber falls silent.
Satan, still seated on his throne, chuckles.
"Haven't you figured it out, yet? Pathetic human. You revealed your weakness to me, not once, but twice, and you thought I wouldn't notice? Your love for your family allowed me to exploit your mind. Even as we speak, Satan is pushing through your warriors. He'll crush your head momentarily, take your power for himself, and win the war."
'Satan' disappears. He reappears a few feet away from Jepthath, only for his body to shift its appearance, revealing his true form.
Jepthath's heart skips a beat. The memories of what his master once told him come flooding back.
"Ah! You... you trapped me inside the Room of Torment!"
Lucifer cackles. "Hahahaha! Is that what you filthy fleshbags call it? My Demonic Trance is unlike anything you've ever faced! I could force you to endure a million years of pain and agony while only a minute passed in the outside world! Face facts, human. You've lost, and I've won."
Lucifer leers in front of Jepthath she cackles evilly, taunting him for his weakness and inability to see through her brilliant plans.
Jepthath closes his eyes and sighs. His understanding of the situation takes hold, calming his previously unstoppable rage.
"Aye. Had I known of your power beforehand, I could have protected myself. But now, I have only one recourse."
Lucifer smiles. "Yes. That's right... the only thing you can do now is... suffer!"
Jepthath winces as ten thousand knives fly at him from the walls, ceiling, and floor. They impale his body, sending waves of pain coursing through him.
However, the king merely shakes his head.
"I know what it means to suffer. These blades are nothing compared to what you showed me before."
Bitterly, the human sighs.
"You've left me no choice. At least now I can go out on my own terms."
As another knife impales Jepthath's eye, he smiles.
"Farewell, Aaron. My son."
The king summons all of the mana in his body to his brain, causing his vision to turn white.
The last thing he sees is Lucifer's look of disbelief.
"No... you can't do this! Nobody has ever escaped my trance! You filthy fleshbag!! You'll never-"
FOR RETURNING READERS FROM CLASSIC: Please use spoiler tags when commenting on anything that might ruin the story for new readers, especially if that information is based on your knowledge of Classic!
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>!This is what a spoiler looks like! Click it to reveal the text!!<
I’m thinking of removing the issue of prophecy from my story, but I fear that may create plot holes to come. Your thoughts?
Before there was anything, there was nothing but two brothers. These two brothers did not know why they were there or who made them. They only knew they had one goal: overpower the other. The two would fight relentlessly, one gaining the upper hand for a short time before the other took the upper hand, but neither would lay a scratch on the other. The brothers were Muno, the physical embodiment of all that is good, and Malu, the physical embodiment of all that is evil.
They fought for seemingly eons in an empty black void until finally they landed a blow on each other hat was so powerful that it created the universe, a perfect blend between good and evil, never mixing. Both wanted to rule their creation, but neither wanted to harm it. So, for once in eternity, the two worked together to create a separation between the universe and their fight. They called their new realm the Battlefield of the Brothers.
The balance of good and evil in the universe was directly affected by the brothers' fight. Whenever Muno gained the upper hand in the fight, the universe would be prosperous and peaceful, but whenever Malu gained the upper hand, the universe would be chaotic and filled with war. That's not to say that when it was prosperous there was no conflict or when it was chaotic there was no goodwill, just that it was mostly chaotic or mostly peaceful.
On a planet called Sirbio, on a continent called Iperios, there dwelled four distinct races: humans with their sheer numbers, elves with their powerful magic, dwarves with their skilled engineering, and orcs with their immense strength. These four races lived on the continent together, and lived in an uneasy and tense peace. Conflicts and wars broke out, and when they did, they were chaotic. There was one such war between two tribes of elves. One of the tribes called for the aid of the southern nation of Gentem, led by King Davius.
While Davius and his men aided the elves in their war, another fight was occurring between Muno and Malu, and it was dangerously close to the universe. Davius knelt down to tend a wounded soldier, when Muno accidentally sliced open a portal in the sky right above the battlefield, nearly three hundred feet in length. Malu seized the opportunity and quickly sliced of Muno's right hand. A single drop of Muno's blood fell through the portal and landed on Davius, granting him the supernatural and divine ability to heal nearly any ailment imaginable. Davius grabbed a rock floating in space and forged it into a new metal hand to replace his lost one. However, Muno realized that the hand that was lost had come to life and gained sentience. It had grown a single eye on the back, and it had gained the ability to see all time: past, present, and future. Muno named the hand Matorum. He decided to make Davius and Matorum his sons, and watched over them.
Malu, on the other hand, grew increasingly jealous of Muno and his two offspring. He decided that he would make his own. He tried for a long time but all of his creation destroyed itself. He realized then that the only way for him to make something was to destroy something until it had deformed into the thing he wanted to make. He looked onto Iperios and found a wizard named Muyum who was living on the northernmost point of the continent in a castle. Malu slowly began to corrupt Muyum into insanity until all of his thoughts were evil.
King Davius and his Queen Koravela had given birth to a son named Sirius, who grew to surpass his father. He was a gentle-hearted man whose healing abilities were more effective than Davius's. The elves who Gentem had aided gifted Sirius with a magic scepter that gave its wielder immense magical power. However, only him and those who followed in his bloodline could use it.
At the same time Sirius was born, another baby was born into poorer circumstances. She was tossed aside by her parents who could hardly feed themselves, much to the dismay of her older brother, Vivlio. Muyum found the baby and sensed great magical power inside of her, then he decided to train her to be his successor. As she grew, he slowly corrupted the girl to be more evil than him, more intelligent, and more powerful. He named the girl Vasilia. Soon enough, Vasilia, who had developed Stockholm Syndrome, finally betrayed and murdered Muyum and took over his estate in the north, in an orc nation named Istonik.
Vasilia had read the history of Iperios and all of the wars that had come before it and of the odd balance between prospering and chaos that cycled every thousand years. It seemed that every thousand years, there would be peace and prosperity, but as the thousand years ended, there would be chaos and war. She had also noticed the escalating conflicts between the four races and sought to end it. She finally judged that the only way to do so was for her to put them all under her subjugation and rule as queen of all the land. For years she prepared her campaign to take over Iperios, by seducing lords and ladies, kings and queens, with power and a seat at her table when she was ruler.
Before she was to do so, however, she wanted to make herself immortal so she could rule on high, as if she were an elf. There was a spell of immortality, and she planned to cast it on herself, her husband and daughter. She cast it first on herself, then watched in terror as her husband and daughter, the only two people she truly cared for, die. The spell would grant someone eternal life and youth, but in return, they must lose the people they hold most dear so they can untether themselves from the world. However, she became blinded by rage and grief. Soon, she had amassed an impressive force for conquest, and as she sensed that the thousand years of peace was coming to an end, she began her anger-fueled war.
She marched all the way south, taking over every nation in her path until she reached the nation of Gentem, where King Sirius ruled. He, wielding his scepter, and Vasilia with her raw power, fought hard for an entire long night before, as morning dawned, Sirius finally managed to overpower her. She knew he could not kill her, and that she could not fight him now. She had just enough energy to place a curse of barrenness on him so that when he died, nobody else could use his scepter. However, Sirius dealt his final blow to her as she was in the middle of casting the spell, making it incomplete. Instead of making his bloodline barren, Vasilia made it so that Sirius could only have one offspring, and each offspring after him could also only have one offspring. Sirius, however, was not aware of the curse at the time.
After Vasilia was detained, Sirius realized that she could not be killed at all. He decided to find a way to kill an immortal, but locked her away inside her castle. She could not step outside of its boundaries, else she would freeze into living stone forever. She was also forced to consume the bone marrows of humans, elves, dwarves, or orcs in order to maintain her youthful, beautiful form. Otherwise, she would devolve into this decrepit, half-human half-vulture hybrid. Sirius tasked the orcs of Istonik with watching over her while she was imprisoned in her castle. They dubbed her the "Vulture Queen", mocking both her failure to take over Iperios and her vulture-like form.
Sirius spent three years poring over the immortality spell, examining every facet of its weaving and incantation, how the spell layered together to make the soul and the body run forever, never breaking down or experiencing injury or illness. During the last year of his research, he and his wife conceived their first child.
During her time imprisoned in her castle, Vasilia learned that she had an ability that Sirius perhaps did not anticipate: she could communicate with vultures. She asked them to bring her food in the form of bone marrow, and then asked them to deliver messages to her original followers. She knew that since she could not leave, she had to take a new approach to taking over the land, a far more secretive approach. She decided to create a massive network of agents that would control and puppeteer the land for her, giving her a modicum of control over the land. Soon after the child was born, Sirius completed his research and created the blueprints for a weapon, a small dagger, that could harm and kill an immortal.
A spy sent Vasilia word of Sirius's success in his research, and she ordered him to be killed before the weapons could be built. As she began plotting Sirius's demise, there was a man from the far south who was visited by Matorum, who referred to itself as the Hand of Fate and told him of what would happen both in the near and far future, nearly a thousand years from now. He awoke to find his left eye missing, now on the back of his right hand, still seeing. He journeyed north to Gentem to find Sirius and tell him of what was to come. Many of Sirius's council did not trust the man, who referred to himself as the Oracle of Fate. Sirius was skeptical as well, but he decided to listen and have Vivlio, Vasilia's brother, write down everything the Oracle said.
The Oracle of Fate explained that a thousand years into the future, Vasilia would break free of her prison and reignite her campaign to retake the continent, but the returning long-lost heir of King Sirius, along with a man with a metal hand, would step forth to oppose her. The two would emerge after the man with the metal hand delivers the new Oracle of Fate to his followers. Sirius was troubled by hearing that his heir would be "long-lost" and need to return, and asked the Oracle if he could tell him why his lineage goes missing. The Oracle explains that he can ask Matorum questions about the future, but Matorum can choose which questions to answer. That night, the Oracle contacted Matorum and asked him for the future lineage of King Sirius, both the faces and the names of his future children. The next morning, the Oracle named off every single one of Sirius's future lineage, right up to a thousand years. It is here that Sirius learns of the curse, that he and his offspring can only have one offspring. However, he sees that after a thousand years of offspring, the one-line family tree breaks off into three new branches.
A spy sends Vasilia word of the prophecy and the lineage, but he cannot get a hold of the family tree, as Sirius has it locked away by Vivlio. She orders him to put her plan into action to bring Sirius down. He is falsely accused of war crimes, given a false trial, and executed. As Sirius is executed, Vivlio and the Oracle hide the copies of the lineage in the palace. Vivlio manages to escape, but the Oracle is found and killed. At this, King Sirius's scepter is touched by a rogue lord who wanted the power for himself. The scepter went berserk and released a great amount of energy, slaughtering everyone in the palace, then buried the palace. The scepter was not found, nor the page with Sirius's future lineage, but the prophecy of Vasilia's defeat and the heir's return was. As lords began fighting over the throne for Gentem for the next thousand years, the people began wishing Sirius never died and waited patiently for his heir to return in a thousand years.
Meanwhile, the words of the prophecy spread throughout the land, and people began praying that the heir and this “metal-handed man” would return soon, all the while not realizing that Vasilia is puppeteering almost every nation in the land. It took her two hundred and thirty years before she had finally gained an influence over every nation. Some nations she directly puppeted, but others her influence was very limited.
As for Vivlio, as he reached seventy years of age, he was suddenly teleported out of his home and into a mysterious place called the Library. The Library was a magical hidden place where one single copy of every single written thing in the world, and he has been chosen to become the caretaker of this place, an immortal kept alive by spirits known as the Librarian. He digs through the Gentemian files for a long time before finally finding what he was looking for: the future family tree of King Sirius. The faces and the names of all of his future children. He placed it in a chest where beside a fireplace where he knew it would be safe. He also found a copy of the blueprints for the weapon that could kill an immortal and stored them with the lineage. He knew, however, that he could not go out and find them himself, for if he left the confines of the Library, he would die, and a new Librarian would be chosen.
Meanwhile, outside of the Library, a cult was being formed around the prophecy, Matorum, and the Oracle of Fate. The cult was known as the Cult of Fate. At first their intentions were pure, but after seven hundred years they were corrupted by a fanatical leader who became convinced that he was the man with the metal hand (he wasn’t). He cut off his own hand and replaced it with a metal one, and then he went so far as to cast the spell of immortality on himself so he would outlive the three hundred years until Vasilia’s return. The spell was botched however, only binding his soul to his skeleton, and then to mention a lake of tar. The Cult of Fate soon congregated there as their center of worship, but the surrounding land slowly became corrupted by the man in the tar lake, who soon became known as the Dead King. The land was known as the Land of Fate, a dead place with constantly overcast skies but no rain, cracked, dry earth and petrified trees, and the water there is rarely drinkable. Only shrubs, insects, and small mammals can survive there, but even those are rare.
Fast forward a thousand years after Sirius’s death to the main events of our story, and we learn that the heir is a young woman named Irena, who ironically was a former handmaiden of Vasilia before she and two other handmaidens went rogue and rescued a lot of prisoners, including our protagonist Wolfgang, who is the man with the metal hand. He loses it on the field of battle, and the dwarves reward him with a new one made of metal and run by clockwork. It’s kind of a piece of crap, but it can at least hold a buckler. She also unknowingly rescues the new Oracle of Fate, a hunchback named Lukaro.
The three, after a long string of events, Matorum communes with Lukaro and dubs him the new Oralce of Fate, and tells him where he can find the Library. They journey to the place where Matorum said, and there they find the Library and Vivlio, who proclaims that Irena is the heir of King Sirius. They also learn that Vasilia has broken free of her prison and is now wreaking havoc in the north, slowly closing in on the south. Vivlio quickly gives them the copy of the lineage sheet and the blueprints for the weapon.
After finding the Librarian, the three find the Cult of Fate and Wolfgang delivers Lukaro to them, and he is made their new leader. The Dead King is enraged, blinded by his fanaticism, but the Cult of Fate doesn’t listen to him anymore and choose to make Lukaro and Wolfgang their new leaders. They abandon their leader to be left alone in his black tar lake for the rest of eternity.
Irena, now backed by the Cult of Fate, returns to the capital of Gentem, and convinces the people that she is the heir of King Sirius, and they overthrow the current monarchy and establish her as the new queen. Wolfgang trains with the Cult’s finest fighters to defeat Vasilia once and for all, and the dwarves, elves, and orcs all work together in forging the weapon, five small daggers that can pierce the skin of an immortal. The orcs procured the materials required, the dwarves shaped the metal into knives, and the elves enchanted the blades with their magic. They gave the knives to Wolfgang, who had them turned into fingers for his metal hand, so now they’re like claws.
Finally, after Gentem sends out a call for reinforcements, and gaining reinforcements form Wolfgang’s home nation of Nuen, the maritime nation of Bahari, and others, Vasilia arrives. She at first negotiates the terms of the coming battle with Irena and the others present. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that this is a trial. They judge her guilty of several crimes, and they sentence her to death. She scoffs, saying that she is an immortal and cannot die. They also know that they cannot kill her now, as she is at the height of her magical power. Even if Wolfgang wanted to kill her now, she would just blast him into fire or something. They had to wait until she was too weak to do magic for him to kill her.
The next morning, the battle began. Queen Irena herself went out with her army to face Vasilia’s while Wolfgang waited at the edge of the fields that surrounded the city for the sign of attack. As the sun set, Irena and her forces were forced to retreat into the fields, where Wolfgang and the Cultist’s fighters were waiting. They rose out of the wheat like ghosts and engaged the enemy forces. Wolfgang soon came upon Vasilia and dueled her, but she was a far better duelist than he had anticipated. As midnight fell, he found himself tired and world-weary, but still fighting her. He watched in terror as a massive vulture swooped down and grabbed Irena, then flew off and crashed into the roof of the royal palace. Fueled by rage now, he found a new fighting spirit and fought Vasilia more and more. An hour later, everyone was startled by a massive blast of green energy coming from the royal palace. Riding back out onto the battlefield on a white horse, wielding the scepter of King Sirius, her shoulder and arm torn to all hell by the vulture’s talons, was Queen Irena.
Irena was already a skilled magic user, so getting the hang of using the scepter was easy, it just took a lot of energy. Four three more hours she fought Vasilia before blasting her away into a nearby forest. Wolfgang tracked them down, hiding in the branches of a tree, watching the final confrontation. Vasilia was worn down, and Irena, bloody and injured but still standing, stood over her, proclaiming that she has been found guilty of several unforgivable crimes and was sentenced to death.
“You can’t kill me, I cannot die,” Vasilia scoffed half-heartedly.
“Oh, I’m not going to kill you,” Irena replied. “He is.”
Wolfgang leaps down from the trees and takes the glove off of his metal hand, revealing the daggers for fingers. Vasilia is too weak to use magic, so she must fight him through weaponry. The two duel, and Wolfgang finally lays a scratch on her face. Vasilia is shocked, having forgotten what pain I like to feel, and what her own blood looks like. She stares in terror as Wolfgang raises the metal fingers, revealing blood dripping down the tips.
Thrown into panic, Vasilia throws everything at Wolfgang, but he gets her on the ground by grabbing her around the ankles and pulling her down. She raises a hand to strike him, but he grabs her by the wrist and tears the arteries open. Finally, he plunges his hand down to grab at her throat, but her own hands stop his with surprising newfound strength. Slowly, Wolfgang’s hand inches down closer to her throat before he finally barely scratches the skin. Her hands give out, and Wolfgang tears out Vasilia’s throat. The Vulture Queen is dead.
This isn’t the complete story, by the way. There are a lot of details that I’ve left out because they aren’t important to the question at hand.
I remember recently reading a post that explained that stories motivated by free will are better than those motivated by prophecy, and I realized that if one took out the issue of prophecy in my story, the events would be fare more impressive. Doing so, however, would leave a few plot holes, like “How would Vivlio, or anyone for that matter, know that Irena is the heir of King Sirius?” or “If there is no prophecy, then what would the point of the Cult of Fate be?” See, Wolfgang is set to become a leader of the Cult of Fate and, when Irena becomes queen and he becomes her consort and her head of security, he will also represent the Cult in her court. But if that is removed, then Wolfgang is down to two roles in the end, which really isn’t that much of an issue.
I suppose that one option would be to limit the prophecy down further. Make Matorum only tell the first Oracle of Fate about Sirius’s heir’s returning and the demise of Vasilia and nothing else, leaving out the details of how Wolfgang would defeat Vasilia, but then I fear people would be confused as to why Irena wasn’t the one to kill her.
That’s all of the issues I can think of at the moment. What do you guys think I should do? Should I leave this as it is, remove the prophecy altogether, or just limit the prophecy a bit different?