Two men stood atop the serene mountain, both unmoving in a white field of flowers. One was covered in a cloak that seemed to pull in the heat from the world around it as it billowed gently in the wind; the only identifying mark was a small crest on the left side of the figure’s chest, a golden sun being lifted into the sky by a white phoenix. Despite the freezing air, the other man wore only grey rags covered in a mix of green and brown stains from exposure to the elements. His long white hair was pulled back by the same band of cloth that covered his missing right eye. An unanswered question hung in the as the cloaked man still pondered his response.
In a voice barely more than the breeze blowing across the mountaintop, the man in rags spoke once again, “Well, boy, what’s your answer? Are you going to pursue this to the bitter end or let old wolves lie?”
The cloaked man, known as Tuldor, was still unsure of his answer as he thought to himself for a time, wondering if this was truly the path he wanted to walk. He had lost so many people throughout his unnaturally long life, and almost all of them were caused by the man in rags standing before him. The man who had been revered as a god for the past several thousand years, Annatar. So many people died because of the monsters that ravaged their world because of Annatar’s failures. He left the well-being of all life in the hands of a madman, High Emperor Malkon, while all but abandoning the people he swore to protect. Tuldor’s everyone Tuldor had ever loved had been put to the sword on Malkon’s orders, all because Annatar had left him in power. Tudor suffered through that pain for over two hundred years, and it was all because of Annatar’s negligence. The decision to strike Annatar down now should be a simple one, but Tuldor hesitated. Would he be fighting to bring Annatar to justice or for revenge on the man who had failed to save those he had sworn to protect?
Annatar spoke again, “You’ve been silent long enough, boy. This is the final time I’ll ask you, is this truly the path you wish to walk? After everything I have done to preserve the existence of everything you have ever known? Even if you defeat me here and now, what kind of ramifications do you think this will have? I’ve been fighting to safeguard this world since before the dawn of your civilization. I have fought against threats that you can’t even imagine. You think you’re the only one to lose something. I know what it’s like to lose everything; I understand your pain.”
Rage filled Tuldor’s heart once more, incinerating his doubts and eating away at the last semblance of hesitation. If anything of what Annatar had said was true, then he should more than understand why it had to be this way. Tuldor cast aside his cloak in a flash of golden flames and willed his mace into existence. With his cloak no longer suppressing his power, the atmosphere around the mountaintop changed. An unnatural heat built up in the air, threatening to both consume the world and rebirth it anew. Nearly anyone would have been pacified by the power Tuldor held at his command, and yet Annatar remained as stoic as ever, remaining still, unmoved by the display. Seeing Annatar stand there as if nothing had happened ignited an even greater flare of anger in Tuldor. Plant Life Across the mountaintop began to ignite for a moment as Tuldor teetered on the edge. However, he managed to suppress the raging inferno of hatred that swirled inside him.
After regaining his composure, Tuldor ignored Annatar for a moment and instead focused on the weapon in his right hand, studying it for a time in an attempt to calm and center himself. It was a magnificent mace forged with steel so black it seemed to absorb the light around it. The handle stretched out approximately three and a half feet before reaching its head, which rather than the traditional solid spiked head, was a cage of steel around the orb of golden flame that resided in the head of the mace. A flame that, like Tuldor, held a strength within it that could reduce the world to ash. Thinking back to all the battles he had fought with this weapon, Tuldor knew for certain that this was the path he was meant to walk. Tuldor’s composure broke yet again as his mouth twisted into a wolfish grin, and a manic look appeared in his eyes.
Tuldor screamed out, hurling himself off the emotional cliff he had created, “You Understand Nothing! You think just because you’ve done good for this world, I should forgive you for failing to protect my people? I was forced to watch as everyone I cared about was slaughtered before having my own heart ripped out of my chest! You can’t possibly imagine what that is like until you’ve experienced it yourself, and I’m not the only one who has suffered because of your incompetence! So many people have been forced to live in a world knowing that any day Malkon could decide to snuff them out! So to answer your question, this is about more than just what I want. This is what is demanded of me by all those who have been forced to endure the agonizing injustice that you allowed to be born!” As Tuldor spoke, golden flames erupted in a furious inferno, incinerating the plant life around them, beginning to melt the Earth beneath his feet. Despite it all, Annatar remained still, untouched, and acted as if nothing of consequence had occurred. The flames had spread with a fury that had never before been matched, and yet they could not proceed past Annatar as if they had met an unyielding barrier.
Annatar studied the man Wreathed in flame before him, peering through the blinding light that Tuldor emitted as a forlorn feeling filled him. He could not stand watching someone walk the same path of rage he had once walked. Annatar was silent for a moment longer before saying, “Very well, if this is your decision, I will respond in kind.”
Suddenly in a flash of silver light, Annatar stands before Tuldor, not as a broken man in rags but as a warrior adorned in full plate armor formed from a silverish alloy that, in contrast to Tuldor’s black armor, enhanced and reflected any light that touched it tenfold. In his outstretched hand, a long slender blade, sheathed in a white scabbard that was covered in pulsating red runes, had appeared. Annatar said nothing as the scabbard slowly and silently pulled itself away from the hilt, seemingly of its own accord. As the sheath slid up the length of the blade, the air seemed to hum with energy and magical power, and once the sword was fully revealed, the sheath flew to Annatar’s side and implanted itself into the ground as it awaited its master’s command. The blade itself was formed from a metal Tuldor had never seen before; it was pure white and glowed with a radiance that seemed to soothe both the mind and the soul. As he looked at it, Tuldor found himself being more and more enthralled by the magnificent weapon. That sword was simultaneously the most beautiful yet dreadful weapon Tuldor had ever laid eyes on.
Snapping back to reality, Tuldor spoke in a voice that dripped with malice and rage.”Fancy sword, but even with a blade like that, we both know this was decided long before it even began, and I am going to enjoy breaking you.”
“How right you are, but despite what you may think, the outcome will be very different from how you imagine it,” Annatar said as he leaped forward, initiating their furious battle.
Tuldor Lunged forth, intercepting Annatar’s blade with his mace. Their armaments met with such force that the ground they stood upon split asunder. From afar, it looked as if nature was at war with itself. Silver light and golden flames erupted from the point of contact as these two godlike beings clashed, illuminating the night sky with an intensity that surpassed that of the dawn. While the first blow may have split the Earth beneath them, the second unleashed a shockwave that would have flattened the mountain they stood upon had Annatar not redirected it into the sky, splitting the heavens above. Gripping his mace with both hands, Tuldor attempted to cave in Annatar’s skull with a blow from above. As Tuldor moved, Annatar shifted to the left ever so slightly as he deflected the mace to the right and sent Tuldor flying far off into the distance with a swift punch to the side of his face that would have been enough to take Tuldor’s head off if it wasn’t for his helm.
Dazed from the blow, Tuldor left himself completely open to attack as he soared. Not being one to waste an opportunity, Annatar moved with such speed that he didn’t just reach Tuldor before he crashed; he kicked him with enough force into the Earth that the impact formed a crater more than 100 yards in diameter. Seeing double, Tuldor could do nothing but lay there as his body repaired itself, staring at the figure garbed in silver floating hundreds of feet above him.
As his vision slowly came into focus, Tuldor noticed trees at the edge of his peripheral vision.
“There are no trees at the top of this mountain.” Tuldor thought to himself, failing to realize just how far away they had flown and still very much dazed from the blows. “This doesn’t make any sense unless…Where are we?”
Slowly bringing himself to his feet, Tuldor took a look at his new surroundings a molten crater littered with crushed and burning trees. Smoke and ash filled his lungs as he tried to breathe, He was still within the same mountain range, but the specific area was unfamiliar to Tuldor. From where he stood, Tuldor could see that even outside the crater, the trees had been nearly flattened, for how far he could not tell. Turning his gaze back to Annatar, who had stayed floating in the air, waiting.
“The bastards toying with me,” Tuldor thought. “Fine, I’ll give him reason to take this
Tuldor reached out with his mind and, using his magics, latched onto an infinitesimal spec of the fire that burned within the mace and brought it forth into the night. As it left, Tuldor forcefully willed the golden flame beneath his feet, where it began to expand exponentially until it reached the size of a large elephant, turning the ground where Tuldor had stood into molten magma. Tuldor began to rise into the night sky atop a glorious golden sun.
As Tuldor rose into the sky, Annatar called out to him, “Is that supposed to impress me, boy? After possessing it for two hundred years, you can’t even properly wield the weapon you’ve claimed. All you’ve done is show your limitations.”
Annatar’s words reverberated in Tuldor’s mind and seemed to echo in his ears, but not one to falter, Tuldor cried out, “You’re showing your madness now, Annatar; you can’t even begin to comprehend what my limitations are.”
Chuckling to himself, Annatar simply says, “Then show me.”
Having risen to the same heights as Annatar, Tuldor readies himself for battle once more. This time drawing forth dozens of orbs from the flame within his mace similar to the one he now stood upon but a great deal smaller. Spheres of flame approximately three feet in diameter littered the night sky around Tuldor, illuminating the burning forest valley below in a harsh golden light. Raising a hand, the spheres respond to Tuldor’s will and scatter across the sky surrounding the pair. As this happens, Annatar simply waits, unmoving, his eyes never once moving from Tuldor, awaiting his next action. In an instant, Tuldor propels himself forward just as he closes his outstretched hand, causing the flames he has conjured to race toward Annatar peppering him in a barrage of fire with the ferocity of a comet burning its way through the sky. As Tuldor approached Annatar, he felt the air itself seem to grow more dense, and he could feel himself slowing down as he neared Annatar as if he was moving through a liquid. Tuldor could do nothing but watch in growing horror as every bolt of flame grew slower until they reached a standstill. Annatar still not moving his gaze from Tuldor as he drifted forward at an impossibly slow pace, simply raising a hand, mimicking the same motion Tuldor had just used. Once his hand was fully outstretched, the flames changed from bright, intense gold to pale silver, Annatar had completely torn the flames from Tuldor’s control as easily as a parent might take away a child’s toy. However, unlike Tuldor, when Annatar clenched his hand shut, the flames simply dissipated into nothingness as if they had never once existed.
“As I said, you can’t properly wield that mace, even if you are more suited for its power than I was when I first forged it.” Annatar calmly states, his eyes remaining fixated on Tuldor as if he was a simple experiment. “Now your lesson begins.”
As Annatar spoke those words, hundreds of spectral blades, each a pale reflection of the sword in Annatar’s hand, appeared in the air around the pair. Each moment felt like an eternity as Tuldor awaited the inevitable, the air so dense now that each breath felt as if it was filling his lungs with water. Tuldor shifted his gaze to meet Annatar’s as he waited, wondering when the pain would come. The instant Tuldor blinked it happened; the blades flung themselves into Tuldor, passing through his armor as if it wasn’t even present, not cleaving it apart but acting as if it didn’t exist. As each blade pierced Tuldor, it instantly dissipated, leaving an open wound just behind his supposedly impenetrable armor. None of the blades passed were aimed at Tuldor’s head, just his torso and limbs, as if they were only meant to mutilate rather than kill. It wouldn’t be a lesson if it killed Tuldor. When the final blade had cut Tuldor, he was released from the power that had held him in place and fell to the ground below, back into the crater he had risen out of mere moments before bathed in the light of his own golden sun. As Tuldor fell, unbeknownst to him, Annatar slowly descended from the sky, awaiting Tuldor to arise again to continue their ill-fated duel.
Tuldor said nothing as he lay in the dirt as his body knitted itself back together, knowing the vast difference in power between the two of them. While he knew that Annatar could never kill him, Tuldor also knew that it would take centuries of constant battle before he could hope to slay Annatar. Tuldor fell into despair thinking of all of his own failings, failing to protect his family, failing to bring them justice, failing to save any of his people, and failing to lead those who chose to follow him. Was this truly the end he had sought? A battered, broken shell of a man rising up, again and again, to fight an enemy in a desperate attempt to claim vengeance on the man whose actions had caused all of this?
“No, this is not my fate. I will not let him subject me to any further humiliation; this is for my family, my people, and me. I’ll kill him in a single stroke.” Tuldor thought to himself, hardening his will as he called upon all of the power at his disposal and poured it into his mace, readying himself to deal with what would surely be a mortal blow.
In an instant, Tuldor leaped from the ground toward Annatar, who now stood only a few feet from where Tuldor lay. Tuldor moved in one fluid motion at a speed he had not thought possible, aiming his mace to hit Annatar’s neck and break it in a single motion. Just before it made contact, a smile reached Annatar’s face as he disappeared. In the same exact instance of his disappearance, blood splurted out from the inside of Tuldor’s elbows, his armpits, and the back of his knees. The first thing that Tuldor noted was that all these cuts happened in the exact same instance as when Annatar had disappeared. The second thing Tuldor noticed as he fell to his knees was that his helmet lay at his feet.
“How did-” Tuldor started to say as a sharp pain came from the back of his neck and he saw only blackness.
Annatar stood just behind Tuldor’s decapitated corpse and watched as it disintegrated, leaving behind only ash, armor, and a mace. As Annatar watched, the ash began to swirl where
Tuldor fell and took the shape of a man standing up tall, the armor arose, and the ash poured into it. Once the ash had filled the armor, a white flame erupted around it, not in the shape of a man but in the shape of a large bird of prey. As the flames dissipated, arms appeared where the wings had been, a torso where there had been only feathers of flame, legs where there had been talons, and a human head where there had been that of a falcon.
“And so the Phoenix of Carthac rises again,” Annatar says in a voice that only he could
“I will never stop fighting you, no matter how many times you fell me. I will never stop.” Tuldor’s voice calls out, not coming from the still resurrecting corpse but from the very air around Annatar.
“I know, which is why I do this,” Annatar slowly says, his voice slightly catching on his words before he begins chanting in a language unfamiliar to Tuldor.
As Annatar chanted, chains began to appear and bind themself to Tuldor’s limbs as he finished reforming, rendering Tuldor unable to move. Tuldor found himself unable to speak or produce even the slightest amount of magic as the chains buried themselves deep into the Earth. A feeling that Tuldor had not felt since his first resurrection filled him, a fear of death. Unable to do anything, Tuldor simply waited for the moment that Annatar would cleave his head from his shoulders once more. A moment that never came.
Annatar began to speak, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you. Even now, if I killed you now, you would simply reform. Not even my powers can stop that. Instead, I am going to share with you a few secrets and leave. Once I’m gone, the chains will disappear as if they never existed. We truly are so very similar; you’re walking the same path as I am, just further behind. You found that mace and your armor in the very temple that I forged them in, and you wield them in vengeance the same way I did. The two biggest differences between the two of us are that while your innate power is far better suited to wielding these armaments, you barely understand them and their power. After all, you don’t even know how they were made. Whereas I understood every aspect of them but could never truly bring out their fullest potential because of how unsuitable they were for me. The next major difference between us is that while I eliminated the evil that plagued me and chose to move past what it had made me into, you have chosen to wallow in self-hatred and anger for the world, assigning blame to all others around you long after you killed the true cause of your suffering. I will say this now; it was a mistake to allow Malkon to rule. When I left, he showed not a single spark of the madness that would claim him and in fact, I believed that he would surpass me in every way. I am sorry for what happened to you and your family, but I will not punish myself for doing what had to be done. Goodbye
Tuldor, you will not see me until I am needed again.”
With that, Annatar turned around and disappeared in a burst of light. True to his word
Annatar released Tuldor as soon as he was gone, leaving Tuldor in nothing but silence and ash.
Brenden T. Stock is currently a Creative Writing Major at Lindenwood University. When Graduating from Lindenwood University in Spring 2024, he will have earned his BFA in Creative Writing and a minor in both Game Design and Anthropology. He deeply enjoys writing and photography and is overjoyed to be featured in this publication.