Outside Askanar Castle, the sounds of footsteps and yells were getting closer and closer. The threat of the Players and The Coalition barging in uninvited was still present, and time was ticking.
"Castarossa, stay here and make sure that the prince and the Sphere of Temporea are safe. See to it that the ritual is not interrupted at all costs."
"It would be my honor, Your Majesty," Castarossa replied with a wide, almost fanatical grin.
Luke, on the other hand, only had bitterness in his heart as he struck the protective barrier with a punch. While his fist was repelled easily, his sudden outburst was enough to get the king's attention.
"Why would you not speak to me?" he shouted. His chest tightened and his eyes grew hot. Faced with his father's indifference, he was finally driven to tears.
For a moment, Luke saw his father's expressionless face stir, but the moment was not as kind.
With a blast of intense, white-hot flames, the enhanced door of the throne room was completely blown away, revealing a small group of people clad in fine armor and weapons, most of which were Materia-level equipment.
The vast majority of them had a small, rectangular-shaped speck of pure light on the center of their forehead.
The Players. They finally broke through.
Luke glared at the intruders, and among them, he immediately caught sight of the human who started it all. The person who united the Players and the other two races against the Asherii.
With long, black hair that flowed down to his shoulders and deep red eyes paired with blood-red armor that covered him from head to toe—his mere presence on the battlefield struck fear in the hearts of many Asherii.
The one leading the Players and The Coalition of three races was the ruler of all humans.
The Flame Indomitable—Alastaire Arvenhail.
"There you are, Gallius. The Enemy of All himself, hiding in his little throne room," the king of the humans said as he strode confidently inside. "I thought you had already run away."
"Alastaire. I see that you have brought your filth with you," the king of the Asherii replied coldly—staring down the king of the humans and the Players behind his back.
"Look at all the loot in this place. It's definitely worth eating nothing but chips and noodles for the past few days and grinding out my Virtus."
"Yeah, and it only took us like what, a hundred or so respawns? These motherfuckers are tough. I even had to skip Philosophy today just to see this storyline through!"
"Hah, what a nerd. Who even attends philosophy classes anyway?"
"Shut up, dickwad."
Luke raised an eyebrow as some of the Players laughed and jeered despite the tense atmosphere.
It was almost disturbing how the Players treated the bodies of the guards that were slain outside the throne room, stripping them clean out of any possessions like a pack of rabid dogs. One he even caught kicking a dead body with a shout of frustration right after she picked up the dead guard's spear—crushing the corpse's head to pieces.
Despite the chaos unfolding behind him, Alastaire said, "Filth? As far as I am concerned, they are the ones who helped me the most in my quest to bring your kingdom to its knees, and soon, your horrid race to its extinction."
"Extinction? You dare speak of the Asherii's extinction?" Castarossa shouted out of the blue, attracting everyone's attention.
Luke, along with everyone else in the room, watched as Castarossa revealed a manic smile on his face. "Before you stands the moment of your demise! We will once again bring glory never seen before in history to the Asherii!"
"Your Majesty, it is done!" One of the magi exclaimed, interrupting Castarossa's demented monologue.
For the first time in his life, Luke saw his father smile. The Sphere of Temporea beside him then burst into pieces much to everyone's surprise, and a Declaration made out of pure light appeared above all of their heads.
The Sphere of Temporea has been destroyed. Update to Version 2.0 will be implemented in  seconds.
Version 2.0? Is that some sort of code?
Luke was confused, but when he looked around, he saw that the Players were even more confused than him. Some were panicking, even.
"An update? Right in the middle of the storyline?"
"Damn it! We'll be forcefully logged out in a minute!"
"Let's wipe out these shitheads while we still can!" One of the Players shouted as he waved his sword impatiently. "We'll just split the loot when we come back tomorrow!"
Amidst all of the clamoring, Alastaire gritted his teeth as a Player whispered something in his ears. He then looked at the shattered Sphere of Temporea on the ground, shaking his head.
"I commend you, King of the Asherii. I was not aware that your kind had a Materia that could forcefully send away the Players at your disposal. A shame I couldn't use it for the benefit of my people."
Luke grinned—his image blurred by a concealment spell from within the protective barrier. The human king's guess was interesting, to say the least, but it was a relief that he didn't know what the sphere was truly for.
And although Luke did not know why Alastaire came to that conclusion, he suspected that it had something to do with every Player's reaction to the Declaration that showed up right after the Sphere of Temporea shattered.
Gallius scowled at Alastaire's words. "Even now your greed blinds you, human. But then again, that is exactly what I expected from someone who allied with these lunatics and the other races just to take the land and riches of my people."
"Enough!" Alastaire shouted as he unsheathed his weapon—a golden greatsword with a crowned lion engraved on its hilt. Its elegantly grooved blade shone with a mysterious aura that only a high-class Materia could have.
The king of humans then pointed his greatsword at Gallius and shouted, "Your reign of terror is over! The Asherii shall be the masters of this realm no more!"
Luke watched as his father and Castarossa drew their weapons as well. The five magi around him exhausted all of the aether stored in their Animus upon activating the Sphere of Temporea. With their naturally low Corpus stat, they were all pretty much fodder for the Players to pick off.
The battle finally began.
Being untrained in the ways of combat, Luke could barely see what was happening right before his eyes. Castarossa and his father were simply too fast for him to keep up, and so were the Players who attacked both of them relentlessly.
"Dibs on the items this one has!"
Luke's ears twitched—alerting him to the presence of an elven Player that managed to sneak past his father and Castarossa. The elf took one look at the barrier and went straight for him.
The elven Player slaughtered the powerless magi who tried to stop him with forked lighting, vaporizing them in an instant.
Luke took a step back from the edge of the barrier just in case, but the elf did not even manage to come close as he was struck by a stream of black flames from behind.
The Player's slowly-melting face made for a chilling sight, but still, with a wry smile as he looked right at Luke, the elf said, "A one-hit kill? This...sucks."
The Player then burst into countless fragments of light, only to be resurrected once again somewhere, Luke assumed.
Luke turned and looked at the man responsible for his attacker's demise—his father who seemed like an unstoppable force on the battlefield. The unarmored king was fending off Alastaire along with killing several Players in between exchanges.
The Asherian Conqueror.
The Great Devourer.
The Enemy of All.
Such Epithets were fitting for only one being in the history of Elyssia.
Gallius Kerril telos Ragnarossi, King of the Asherii.
Luke couldn't even begin to imagine just how much souls his father consumed to gain such strength.
 seconds left until version update.
"Damn it! I don't want to lose this raid and try all over again after the update!"
With an annoyed growl, a Ferrian Player waved to the people around him. The others nodded and pooled their aether with a long, rhythmic incantation to cast a massive spell that Gallius and Castarossa immediately detected.
A giant ball of fire materialized above the large group of Undying, raising the temperature of the room several degrees beyond what was normal.
Luke's mouth gaped as his eyes widened in horror.
This spell is one of the forbidden and sacred Elven elemental spells! How in Deus's name did they learn to cast Ifrit's Breath?
"You think we wouldn't realize that you're protecting whatever is inside that stupid barrier? Well, try and protect it now, you defective cows!" One of the Undying exclaimed as the others laughed with him.
After quickly realizing their enemy's cunning plan, Gallius and Castarossa shook off their attackers and immediately dashed in front of the barrier protecting Lucius. They both started to invoke a defensive spell according to their affinities.
"Gaia, protect us! ‹Titan's Wall›!"
"‹Spire of Shadows›."
An enormous wall of rock and iron rose from the ground as soon as Castarossa finished his invocation. This was followed by a much smaller, circular barrier of pure darkness invoked by Gallius.
Despite all this, however, Luke knew that there was no way that two hastily invoked defensive spells could hold off a high-level destruction spell like the Great Salamander's Breath that took several magi to cast.
His suspicions were immediately confirmed when the ball of fire above the Players suddenly morphed into the shape of a giant serpent's head before moving forth and melting through the rock wall Castarossa invoked—the flames barely even faltering.
"This is it, boy. You will lead our kingdom to glory in the past, just like the king's prophecy foretold!" Castarossa exclaimed as Gallius struggled to maintain his spell against the opposing spell's assault.
Luke scowled at the old man's delusional plea. He went through so much just to keep his anger and resentment for the man throughout his time in the castle that it was almost unbearable.
With the time winding down, Luke smirked as he finally let every ounce of his restraint go.
"I do not know why such a prophecy was even made, but you are mistaken. I don't plan on helping the one who killed my mother, after all."
"Wh-What? Boy, you—"
Luke gritted his teeth as he glared at Castarossa. "I knew it was you. I always have. You wanted no loose ends so you killed her before you took me away. Just like a true Asherian would, am I mistaken, master? 'Take what we want, and damn everything that stands in our way,' I believe were your words."
"B-But the king's prophecy!" Castarossa turned towards Gallius. "My King! This boy cannot be the savior in your prophecy!"
With his mouth agape, Castarossa gazed at Gallius who remained silent, then back to Luke before gripping his mace tightly. He scowled as if he had finally come to a startling realization.
Luke could not help but smile upon seeing the look on Castarossa's face and continued, "I am not Luke Kerril telos Ragnarossi, the Prince of the Asherii. You never broke me ever since you took me from my mother, Castarossa. I have always been Luke Fontaine, son of Esmeralda Fontaine, the Hero of Veldrendil!"
"You ungrateful half-bred cur! You dare betray the Asherii for a bitch's death?! Fine then, you may see her at once!" Castarossa's eyes reddened as he infused his mace with what aether he had left and swung at the barrier—fully intent on breaking it, along with Luke, apart.
Luke's eyes narrowed as the attack that should have come, did not. To his surprise, his father who had been defending him and the barrier from the flames stopped casting his spell and threw his ivory longsword right at the enraged Castarossa's back—killing the old man instantly.
"Wh-Why? The barrier of our magi would've held up anyway..." Lucius asked dumbfoundedly as the smile on his face slowly vanished.
"You have your mother's smile," the king said with a wide, toothy grin. "Live wise, my son."
Gallius then turned around and shielded the barrier and Luke from the flames with his own body.
Luke could do nothing but watch helplessly as the flames slowly consumed his father right before his very eyes. Unknowingly, he shed tears for the man that he barely knew as he was finally taken away from the battlefield by a flash of light.
The last thing he saw was his father's smile—toothy and a bit goofy just like his mother used to tell him as a child. It was something he refused to believe after finding out the truth about his father's identity.
However, after seeing the smile that he had never even imagined he would see his entire life, Luke finally realized that the way his mother described his father's smiling face was correct right down to the very last detail.
His mother never forgot, and neither will he.
The destruction of the Sphere of Temporea has been confirmed.
Updating to Version 2.0...