Chapter 39: Echoes of Eternity

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Shadows marched on Sol’s Altar; a great horde shrouded in whispers and fog. Cultists in blackened bone armor stood next to corrupted paladins, their gem tattoos gleaming with sickly light. Shadow-marked figures were scattered throughout the ranks, their minds singing with nightmare. Dragons wheeled overhead, the fire that dripped from their mouths illuminating the horde below.

Eremot had come for the Xultan Throne.

The host had formed out in the swamps, as Eremot’s growing whispers claimed the terrified and weak-willed. Among them was Eloz, former captain of Xulta’s inquisitors. From him, Eremot had learned of Xulta’s defenses. The Listeners and their forces could not save every city, every village, so they fought a desperate retreat, paladins and mages buying time for their people to flee. One by one, the cities of Xulta—already weakened by the cult’s campaign of dragonfire—were lost. The land burned, and the light of the flames dwarfed Sol’s thin glow.

As the nightmare’s strength grew, the sun continued to fade. The air grew chill despite the season, and the cold nights were filled with stalking terror. The survivors gathered atop Sol’s Altar—closer to the sun’s waning heat—and stood defiantly between the nightmare and its prize. Whatever designs Eremot had for the Throne, they would not be kind to Xulta. He would not claim it without a fight.

The great plateau rose through the jungle, campfires dotting its surface like fallen stars. Halfway up the slopes, shamans labored with giants to shore up earthwork defenses as paladins kept watch above on gryffyn mounts. Near the top, artisans of Shavka brought freshly honed weapons to ranks of armored gladiators, and gleaming arrowheads to packs of anxious hunters. Gem-studded warriors stood alongside gunslingers from foreign caravans—veterans of the Shadowlands ready to aid their allies. Scarred strangers hid among their number too, desperate to free their brothers that had fallen to the gathering dark. The defenders worked in near-silence, the air heavy and tense as Sol loomed overhead.

Atop the summit, the Listeners looked out over the burning landscape. “The last time Eremot came for Xulta,” Ezuzi breathed, “he nearly succeeded.”

There was a snort behind him, and Woda cuffed him on the back of the head, knocking the gold circlet from Ezuzi’s brow.

“The fear you speak only feeds our enemy,” Grodov’s Listener said. “We face great odds, but…” his features hardened, “this is our land. The Ancestors fought and bled for it long ago, and the tales ofAali and the other champions show us that nightmares can be beaten.” As he spoke, the amber set in the bald man’s brow shone with a faint, stubborn light.

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