Was I dreaming…?
Wager your life…
Are you ready?
Ronta-Onta was resting against the fence separating the dock-like platform and the waters that ran beneath Kazham. He was wildly animated, though Vorithas couldn’t make out what he was saying until he got closer.
“…out of the question!” the thought finished as he crosses his arms over his chest. His Galka companion, Dodmos, shook his head beneath the hood of his tunic. “But sir, the Rhinostery has been clamoring for results. We need to report something.” The exasperation in Dodmos’ voice was plain. Vorithas approached the two, pulling out the small tuning fork that Dodmos had given him on their last meeting.
“Tried again, Ronta?” Vorithas asked with a slight giggle in his voice. That earned him a glare from the Tarutaru. “Laugh all you like, Vorithas. The Prime Avatars are just that for a reason.” Ronta’s mood was plain, but Vorithas wasn’t here to talk. He was here to fight. “Anyway,” Vorithas continued, “I came back to give this new tuning fork a go.” That earned a grin and an approving nod from Dodmos. Ronta eased himself back to his feet, shaking his head but preparing a spell all the same. “I can get you to the Proto-Crystal, but this is a one way ride, Vorithas. You win or… well, you get the point.” Vorithas nodded, and Ronta unleashed the spell, whisking him off to the eastern side of Elshimo.
The heat was nearly unbearable, and it crashed down on him the moment he emerged in front of the Proto-Crystal. They were fascinating constructs. Great gems that radiated enormous power. Vortihas wondered how they had escaped notice for so long. He then shook his head, pushing the academic thoughts from his mind, looking to the tuning fork in his hand. It was supposed to awaken the Avatar asleep within the crystal.
As he did, he noticed the chamber that he stood in, gauging his tactics for the fight ahead. No wonder Ronta and the others keep losing. This space is pretty cramped for a fight. He took a deep breath and stepped up to the Proto-Crystal. No more stalling. Here goes. As he completed that thought, his hand struck the crystal with the small tuning fork. A soft ring swept over his ears and began to quickly intensify. He reached up for the Ruby that hung around his neck and noticed that it was vibrating as well, aiding in intensifying the sound. He staggered back as the ringing grew almost deafening. Suddenly, he grew dizzy – his vision blurred and the whole world went black.
A few moments later, or maybe it was a few hours – he really couldn’t be sure, his eyes fluttered open. He took a minute to absorb his surroundings. His eyes suddenly shot wide and he sat up quickly, realizing that the heat was gone from the air, though fire still raged throughout this new space. As if sensing Vorithas’ fear, Carbuncle spoke to him. Calm down, Vorithas. You were dragged to a reality bubble by the crystal. We’re in the presence of-
-OF IFRIT, PRIMAL AVATAR OF FIRE! A voice suddenly boomed over Carbuncle’s soothing voice. YOU DARE TO BRING A MORTAL – ALONE – TO MY REALM, CARBUNCLE!? Then a laugh accompanied the words, IS HE TO BE A SACRIFICE?! The familiar circle of light appeared before Vorithas, and Carbuncle leapt forth. No! We seek your aid! This mortal wishes to form a pact with you, Ifrit! Thunderous laughter echoed through the chamber. A PACT!? FEW HAVE DARED TRY SINCE THE MORTAL KARUHA DESTROYED HIMSELF WITH FENRIR’S POWER! DO YOU TRULY THINK THIS MORTAL WILL SUCCEED?! The voice roared. Yes! Carbuncle shot back. For a few moments there was only silence. Vorithas looked around slowly as he climbed to his feet, absorbing more of his surroundings. They were on an island, floating in a sea of fire. At one end, where he was now standing, was a mirror image of the Proto-Crystal he used to get here. On the other was a massive crystalline structure partially encased in rock. There was also a dais of sorts, just below the crystal.
The ground shook, snapping Vorithas out of his thoughts. He looked towards the dais, which had suddenly grown brighter. A massive figure sprang onto the edge of the raised platform. It was encased from head to toe in red and blackened stone, with claws on its hands and feet. Two great horns twisted their way from its head, and the beast as a whole reminded Vorithas of a minotaur. It crouched low and let out a roar, spewing flame from its mouth – the source of the sudden illumination. VERY WELL, THEN! the beast suddenly roared. And at that moment, Vorithas realized – to his horror – that the beast before him was Ifrit.
I ACCEPT YOUR CHALLENGE! DEFEAT ME AND WE SHALL FORM THE PACT! Carbuncle had warned him that all pacts were formed through a trial of combat, but this beast? How did he have any hope? Don’t worry, Vorithas. I’m here with you. He nodded, and drew his staff from his back.
Ifrit leapt from his perch on the dais down onto the larger section of the island, leaving a small depression as he landed. Carbuncle wasted no time in darting forward to attack Ifrit. The two locked in combat while Vorithas stood on the edge of the island, just watching. What am I supposed to do? He thought, watching the two Celestial Avatars trading blows. He knew his magic would be ineffectual, and his staff would be less than worthless. Summoners were conduits of power for the Avatars, but how did he provide Carbuncle with that power?
At that moment, Ifrit brought one massive fist down on Carbuncle – knocking the smaller Avatar through the air. When he hit the ground and rolled, he seemed to shatter into a thousand points of light. Vorithas stood dumbfounded for a moment before he reached inward for the phrase Carbuncle had taught him. He closed his eyes, trying to shut all else – especially the large, fiery Avatar hurtling toward him. The words came quickly, and the circle of light appeared before him. As Ifrit reached back with a fist, Carbuncle launched himself out of the ring, knocking Ifrit to the floor. Vorithas scrambled away from the two Avatars again, and he noticed something pricking the back of his mind. Once he gauged himself at a safe distance, he delved into the feeling a bit more. The feeling grew into a sensation that surrounded his whole body – and it was all at once hot and cold, light and dark, airy and solid, electric and damp. It was a feeling of immense power, and he seized on it.
The power strengthened his bond with Carbuncle, though it quickly grew to be overwhelming. He reached out his arms, looking for a way to diffuse the power away from him as several crystals manifested themselves – orbiting his body. They seemed to absorb the energy flowing from him, and eventually it became manageable – no longer overwhelming every sense all at once. Carbuncle’s ruby began to glow on his forehead, and one of the crystals shattered as light knocked into Ifrit, throwing him to the ground. Vorithas watched the event in amazement, and noticed suddenly that the usual creeping fatigue associated with Carbuncle’s assistance was not there. However, his magic seemed to have been channeled through the massive blast, so he gulped down one of the mana potions he’d brought with him – just to be sure.
During Vorithas’ introspection on this newfound power, Ifrit had gotten back to his feet and resumed attacking Carbuncle. Vortihas noticed that Ifrit’s shoulder was smoking and the stones that acted as his armor were cracked. He focused on the combat, reasoning out the brand new power. The crystals seemed to provide a quick burst of magical power to Carbuncle, though it required Vorithas’ magic to feed the transfer. Carbuncle took another hard hit and shattered his physical form. Vorithas again summoned him back to the physical plane, but it wasn’t quick enough for Carbuncle to save him from Ifrit.
Ifrit’s fist caught him square in the chest as it swept along the ground. Carbuncle burst from the circle as Vorithas rolled across the rocky ground and the two Avatars reengaged each other as he struggled to get back to his feet. Ifrit packed quite a punch! Another crystal shattered above him, and he felt the now-familiar drain of his magic as Carbuncle unleashed another burst of light at Ifrit. Again it hit him squarely but this time shards of rock crumbled away from him as he staggered back. Ifrit let out an enraged roar, bellowing fire into the air. The crystal on the dais resonated the sound, amplifying it.
ENOUGH! the beast raged, baring his teeth. ESCAPE THIS, IF YOU CAN! He leapt into the air, gathering the fire from the surrounding lake and wrapping it around his body like a cloak. The fires intensified and exploded outward, racing far faster than either Vorithas or Carbuncle could evade. As the wave washed over them both, Vorithas experienced a pain he’d previously never known. The fire felt as though it was searing his very soul. Through the fire, he could tell that Carbuncle had been greatly weakened by the attack, but he had to get himself healed or they would lose the fight. He reached into his bag and pulled out one of the healing potions that he’d brought, and quickly downed it, followed by a mana potion so he could get Carbuncle back into the physical realm. Ifrit was reaching back to finish Carbuncle again as Vorithas scurried across the island to get away from the two of them. He still hadn’t completely recovered from the wall of fire Ifrit had unleashed on them, but at least Ifrit seemed incapable of doing it again. A crystalline ringing told Vorithas that Ifrit had finished off Carbuncle, and would be moving in his direction almost immediately. He focused as he was running, and slid to a halt as he finished the phrase to call on Carbuncle. As Carbuncle leapt into the physical plane, Vorithas felt something wet against his skin. His tunic was soaked. One of his potions had broken. They had to finish this quickly. As his thought finished, the final crystal shattered as Carbuncle blasted Ifrit for the final time. The larger Avatar went crashing to the ground, rolling several times before coming to rest in a heap with several chunks of his armor smoking on the ground near him. Seconds after, the drain on his magic returned, and Carbuncle was forced off the physical plane. It seemed that the new power did not last forever, but the battle was over.
As Carbuncle vanished, Vorithas sat down and looked at the giant Avatar they had felled. Ifrit slowly stirred, and brought his eyes to meet Vorithas’. IT SEEMS I UNDERESTIMATED YOU, MORTAL. The Avatar rumbled, still loud but lacking the malice that it contained when they’d first encountered the entity. VERY WELL. FROM THIS MOMENT FORWARD, YOU MAY CALL ON ME FOR ASSISTANCE. The Avatar had crawled to his knees by this point, and bowed his head. The fire again enveloped him, but this time it slowly diminished until he vanished and the Proto-Crystal that led him to this space began to glow. When he touched it, a new phrase entered his mind and was seared into his memory.
King of Flames, bear down upon the enemy!