Hidden Triumph

Herothi cackled with glee.

One down, five to go.

His essence was bulging again with the new power he had gained from the elf-creature - the power that had been all too easy to obtain.

All Herothi needed was an ounce of jealousy, or spite, or hate, to claw his way into people's minds. He had seen grief and anger in Gray's mind long ago, since he had been chained up in that good-for-nothing king's castle. And Herothi had waited patiently for the anger to grow - as more allies had joined the Trinity, and Gray had felt more and more ignored, and unneeded, and frustrated that he couldn't do anything to avenge the poor goddess he had been so devoted to.

So Herothi had pounced - in that brief moment when he had been fleeing the Trinity and the Fire God, he had let a tendril of thought wash over Gray's mind, ensnaring his judgement and clouding his reason. All it had taken was a twist of the tap to release the flood of Gray's pent-up frustration.

And Herothi had now consumed all Gray's powers, including the ones to heal, which the Trinity had so unwittingly ignored. The spirits within him churned excitedly, as they swept across the Lake of Storms towards Ardus' grim, forbidding haunt on the distant shore.

Cynder stepped through the doorway in mid-air, to land right in front of Ardus' statue. Ardus was irascible, his iron fists clenched firmly upon the wings of his stone throne. His eyes glistened with sparkling sapphires, and the heart of Thunder remained intact, encrusted in Ardus' chest.

Cynder raised his voice.

"O, Brother of Heat and Light, Thunderhand Ardus, awaken! Answer the summons of your fellow immortal, for grave times do approach!"

The formal summoning over, Cynder waited impatiently, as Ardus' essence gathered from every corner of the room, slowly coalescing into the statue sat upon its grim stone throne, the odd crackle, spit or flash flitting across his face and hands.

Finally, when Ardus seemed fully awake, he spoke.

"Talk about a rude awakening."

Cynder relaxed at once - it was clear his brother hadn't changed.

"Ardus, this isn't a joke. I come with grave news -"

"Oh, grave news? My stony beard," chuckled Ardus, banging a fist impatiently on the arm of his chair. "It's not as often I get to sleep for more than a thousand years at a time. Why d'you wake me?"

"Because if I didn't, you might never have woken up," Cynder retorted, his eyes burning. "I know what you're like. You never move an inch off your throne."

"Well what do you expect?" said Ardus nonchalantly. "Are you made of stone?"

"Why haven't you assumed a human form, then, like the rest of us?"

"It's a one way trip, Brother. I'd much rather summon the storms from one seat of power than flit around all day throwing lightning bolts like some Greek god. And by the smell of your essence you've only just assumed your human form."

"The need is great, Ardus," said Cynder seriously. "All the Gods left must fight to save Karmine from eternal darkness."

Ardus frowned down at Cynder for a moment, then started to laugh uncontrollably.

"I've never seen you so serious since the dawn of time!" he boomed, clutching his belly. "Has Ismara been weaving a yarn of mortal folk tales into your head?"

"You want proof?" said Cynder quietly.

"Proof of what?" said Ardus, face still twitching with mirth.

"Look over there."

And sure enough, there was Herothi, gliding across the water like a liquid sea monster, great arms stretching out on either side crackling with ice. His blazing eyes were pure turquoise now, crackling with evil. The water of the lake had begun to spin up into Herothi's torso, disgorging ribbons of tiny icicles into the now freezing night.

"Oh," said Ardus, struck dumb at last. "I'd better get moving then."

And he moved faster than Cynder had ever seen him - grasping the heart of Thunder in his right hand, the stone figure stood from the throne for the first time in five millennia, the power of the heart enveloping him in fiery bursts of electricity that rippled across the contours of living skin - thick, wavy locks were sprouting like hairs on an onion left in the sun - before long, a man was manifesting from the monument of stone, skin flowing smoothly over rock, sapphires shimmering into azure eyeballs, nails spiking out of the fingers and toes.

After a mere ten seconds, the man-sized Ardus was stood next to his brother.

"So then, Fighting Maestro - what are the tactics?"

The End

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