COMPONENT 00: THE RITUAL
“I’m sorry my son, there is no other way.” The beastly minotaur said as he loomed over the helpless teenager.
The boy was tied to a small stone table, and in truth he was not so different from any other—Except of course for small, steer-like horns. Human and minotaurian blood ran through his veins.
He had only just found the way to the laboratory in search of his father—And how he regretted his quest now. All he could do was stare at the humanoid bull with terrified tear-filled eyes. Angon was terrified of Azteron, maybe because he had never seen a full-blooded Minotaur? Maybe because he didn’t understand that his mother had paired with a monster? Or it was quite possible that his fear derived from his so called ‘father’ attacking him at the door, knocking him unconscious and binding him above a glowing runic circle.
“I know…” The beast choked on his words. “I know you think I’m an evil minotaur.”
Azteron felt as if referring to his species would make him seem less threatening, but it only made the child’s eyes double in size. Still, he continued, “But you do understand what is at stake here, don’t you?”
Angon was in a total panic and looked around the room like a cornered wildcat. The laboratory was something out of a nightmare. The walls, floor and ceiling were made of packed dirt with loose vines curling out; grasping. The room had only a few pieces of furnishings; the large stone dais upon which he was bound and a lonely wooden table against the far wall—complete with vials of bubbling, colored liquids. The part that scared Angon the most were the jars filled with something dark and stagnant. He couldn’t help but fear it was blood.
“Am I better than our people?” Azteron asked in a low, guilt-ridden voice. “Am I no less murderous?”
He waited for Angon to respond, but he did not. Azteron continued. “My weapon is merely alchemy, while our kin use brute force and blades!”
“Please don’t kill me!” Angon suddenly pleaded. “Mother—the town—they’re all dead!”
Behind his customized bifocals Azteron’s eyes changed. They glazed over and a tear dripped into his fur. His wide mouth frowned. He hadn’t known—his old love and boy’s mother was dead. She was gone from the world—but that couldn’t change his creed. The Minotaur artificer had already made his choice.
Angon struggled as his father regarded him with despair. Such a young child, no older than thirteen winters—he would have had a full life ahead of him. It was truly a shame the ritual was to take all of that away.
“Please—Azteron!” A woman’s voice cried from the stairwell.
A shadow came first, followed by a petite, elven woman. She rushed down the groaning stairs and into the lab.
Azteron barely seemed to notice her, but reflexively his fingers curled around an oversized scythe leaning against the stone dais. The weapon had been meant for the ritual but he wondered if he would have to use its arcane properties on her as well—he could not be prevented from going through with it.
She stormed over to the seven-foot tall humanoid and promptly began slamming her fists into his chest.
It was intriguing to the great man-beast that she thought she could harm him. A tiny thing, he could easily snap her in half—But she was his best and only friend left in the world. The gods had taken everyone else.
“Silvia.” Azteron whispered. “My son must make this sacrifice.”
“You dare call him a son?” She screamed. “You’re about to murder him!”
On the table Angon had fallen unconscious. The serum was beginning to take effect.
“Was I not there when he was born?” The great minotaur challenged, his voice rising. “Was it not I that delivered him? It was not my fault I was forced to leave him and watch from afar. His mother became the princess of Angel’s Outpost!”
“Do not blame my sister!” Silvia cried and eyed his scythe—She meant to stop him.
Azteron, weathered from many-a-battle was too quick, and would not take any chances. His hand shot out and engulfed the woman’s lower arm. She struggled but his grip was iron, and he felt almost no resistance.
“Where are the people of Angel’s Outpost now?” He asked. “Angon told me! They are dead! The gods struck them down—just like before!”
“We can fix things.” Silvia desperately stretched out her fingertips, trying to grab his magical weapon.
On the table the boy began to twitch. Azteron took notice—It wouldn’t be long until the world would be saved.
“No matter how powerful he becomes.” She cried. “He can not succeed!”
“What makes you believe that, Silvia?” Azteron was calm, and he held her at arm’s length. “He has the stone hidden in his soul!”
The candles around the room flared and changed rapidly in color.
Silvia’s eyes widened. “You fed your own son the Philosopher’s Stone?”
She tried to throw herself towards the doomed child in a desperate attempt to prevent the inevitable.
“We need a way to fight.” Azteron smiled, gazing into his own mind.
Her tiny wrist slipped through his massive hand and she dove for Angon, screaming, “You can’t turn him into a weapon!”
Azteron’s voice was cold. “I already have.”
He watched Silvia get thrown back as a circle of fire rose up around his son. Inside, the silhouette of the boy was all that could be seen. Carnivorous flame consumed his flesh, muscle and bone—his very being. It took away Sedal’s boy—his boy.
“I’m sorry, my son.” Azteron had the smallest tinge of guilt. “I’m so sorry.”
The fire encroached the alchemical circle and rebounded. Something was wrong. The flames were not meant to leave the circle.
“Silvia, get back!” The minotaur cried.
There was a sudden explosion and Silvia looked up in time to see a ray of fire shoot straight for her. There was no way to stop it. The beam hit her and then she was gone—Just gone—Replaced by a pile of smoldering ash.
“Silvia! No!” Azteron screamed.
She was gone. She was dead. His friend hadn’t been meant to die. The last person he had on the face of Anhsook Del Iris, and she was killed by his doings. An insurmountable weight of despair fell onto his shoulders.
“Silvia…” Tears began soaking his fur.
He stood for a moment, his head hanging down—But there was nothing he could do—He needed to shake off the pain and embrace the cold-heartedness of his kin. But he just couldn’t become that again. Silvia had died and it was his fault; He wanted nothing more than to stop the ritual and save her and Angon’s souls.
Multiple rays of fire shot out in random spurts and everything they struck or even grazed was immolated. The room now smelled of burnt flesh and brimstone; the walls were turning molten. The ritual was ruined and he could not understand why. But what he quickly learned was he should not have taken the moment to grieve. He had waited too long—the ritual could no longer be stopped. It was a failure and no one would be left to stop the tyrannical rule of the self-declared gods.
Azteron cracked. He could not be like is kin. He fell to his knees and could no longer fight the sobs in his throat. The Philosopher's Stone was too powerful for a boy’s soul to contain. Azteron had spent his entire life in search of the legendary artifact, and after finally finding it, what was he to have done?
No—He couldn’t give up—There had to be something he could do. Azteron climbed from the floor using his scythe. The weapon had had the potential to alter the alchemical formula just slightly, but it needed more something more. He snatched a silver vial from the dirt and poured it down the shaft of the scythe until it ran onto the curved blade. A flame ray fired from the ritual circle and blasted straight through his horn. Azteron felt no pain, but the force jolted him off his hooves.
Standing back up, he used the scythe as balance. The Minotaur stepped forward and another beam sizzled through the air. He turned the blade and deflected the death beam, which burned straight through the only support pillar. With the absence of the wooden beam the ceiling began to give way; chunks of stone and dirt rained down and barricaded the only exit, but that was fine; Azteron didn’t plan on escaping.
With a great heave, he brought the scythe over his head. Azteron shed a tear for the world—if he failed, this was it. With a great roar he struck the core of the ritual circle, planning to use his own soul as a catalyst to fix what had gone wrong.