“Saren.” A voice spoke atop a tall mountain peak, accompanied by the clap of thunder. At first, one man stood alone, his back straight like a spear. His eyes were sharp, staring off towards the distance. After the voice spoke, however, there was another figure standing next to him, the Lightning Master.
“It’s been a long time, Kishi.” Saren spoke calmly. “I take it you’ve discovered their disappearance, as well?”
Kishi nodded his head, a fierce expression on his face. “Those bastards… They’d rather abandon our race than share the ancestral land with us.”
Saren gave a small, simple nod at his words. “Without them, we can only cross the ocean if we cooperate. Building a bridge to cover the distance is simply foolish, as is trying to set out alone. We have to gather all of the clans, and make a decision”
“You have a plan?” Kishi asked in surprise. Saren was always able to keep his head better than him after they both began cultivating their respective paths. The way of lightning was to act quickly, while the spear could stand straight and await an opportunity. In a way, they had both become embodiments of these ideals over the years.
“That’s right. We can’t afford to continue making voyages back and forth. Your elders might be able to cross the sea in a flash, depending on the techniques they have trained, but that would leave you with too few chances to obtain a legacy. So, I have spread the word to call for a gathering.”
”There, we will decide who will stay, and who will go. Those who leave will be establishing new homes in the ancestral land, while those who remain behind will have to survive with only the legacies that they have until now.”
Lightning seemed to crackle along Kishi’s skin fiercely as he heard that. “You want us to abandon everyone like those Water bastards?”
“If you abandon them or not is your choice.” Saren spoke, his voice still calm. “If you or your people wish to return at some point, that is your decision. However, we can no longer keep our focus on this small island.”
Kishi was naturally a bit annoyed at calling this ‘island’ small, as it had been where their people had lived for over two thousand years, since recorded history. Even so, the size of it was enough to easily accommodate their numbers several times over. Given that the dwarven clans mostly lived in mountains over the last two centuries, the plains and forests had become nearly devoid of people.
“The meeting will be held at midday tomorrow, at the ruins of the old castle. I’ve already made arrangements to ensure that all clans would be able to send representatives.” With that, Saren fell silent, as if there was simply nothing more for him to say.
Seeing this, Kishi let out a growl from the back of his throat, his form flashing and vanishing just as quickly as it had arrived. If this gathering was going to go as he had said, then Kishi needed to prepare his own clan for it as well.
Far across the sea, the Water Clan were not have as peaceful a time as everyone imagined. Rather, they were locked in a heated battle of their own. Blood began to stain the ground, a hundred lives lost in the short day that they had been gone.
Currently, they were in battle with a giant many-legged insect. It looked to be a massive centipede, twenty meters long from end to end. Its back was black, specks of white covering its chitinous carapace.
This was one of many from what the Water Clan had begun to call ‘star beasts’. They were creatures that were naturally capable of cultivating to a certain degree. It was obvious that they walked a more feral path than those of the dwarves, but it was a powerful path nonetheless
The Water Master Durak stood at the forefront of this fight, doing his best to shield his clansmen. At the very least, he wanted to provide time for them to escape. He could tell that this beast was a Master in its own right, able to stand toe to toe with him, and even inflict injuries on his body.
Durak’s arms were bloody, green liquid dripping from the wounds. He knew that he had been poisoned in their previous exchanges, but raised no complaints. His ki fueled his body, the starlight shining around him. Nine stars hovered behind him, scattered in a seemingly random fashion. Yet, overlayed over those stars seemed to be nine raindrops.
With a shout, Durak thrust his arms forward, striking at the mandibles of the charging beast. The air around him grew thick, specks of water forming. This was the first time that Durak had ever pushed himself to the very limit for combat. He had never had a reason to do battle against another Master level enemy, and he had the feeling that he may never get the chance to do so again.
The light around his body did not dim over time while the water gathered, swirling around him in countless drops. Rather, it only grew brighter. “Rain like falling daggers.” He whispered hoarsely, feeling his voice starting to leave him as his body was flung back by the brief exchange with the star beast.
The water around him began to react at his words, rushing towards the centipede. Finally, its own aura of light began to appear around its body, forced to absorb the impacts. Even so, scattered wounds began to appear, blood starting to leak out and cause the creature to let out a screeching hiss.
Only two elders had remained behind with Durak. Jana and Abin, the notorious pair who rarely agreed on anything. Now, they worked together to provide what little support they could manage. Their stout bodies struck at the beast from the sides, their hands slapping against its hard shell as they passed one another.
Only a master could gather their stars to form special techniques, but there were some things that even the elders could do. While the attacks inflicted no real harm on the star beast, the light around it dimmed, having to fight back their ki with its own.
While they distracted it, causing the star beast to turn its body to face the elders, Durak’s nine stars began to shift again. This time, the image that overlapped them appeared to be a large wave. “Hammering wave!”
He lunged forward, landing on the back of the creature. His two palms slapped downwards, striking the carapace of the centipede. Unlike when the two elders attacked, this time the light briefly flickered out of existence. Cracks began to spread across its body, black blood oozing out.
However, even as it roared in pain, turning and running to the distance, Durak didn’t move from its back. Rather he slowly stood up, a serene smile on his face. Gradually, a tenth light formed behind him.
Durak felt power flowing through his body, but he paid no mind to that. He was an old man even before the fight. And now that he had the poison of a star beast flowing through him, he could feel his life slipping away. Yet he burned brighter than ever, using his own remaining life as the fuel.
He had long theorized what constellation he would create when he manifested his tenth star. But it no longer seemed appropriate. Each star held its own secret. Whether it was the rain, the waves, the vortex, or the storm. This new star, he felt it deep within himself, was red… blood red. And with it, he almost instinctively knew what constellation he could create.
“Watch my final performance.” His voice rolled out, entering the ears of the two elders. “And learn from it. Behold… the river of blood.”
After he said that, the ten stars behind him all flared with a red light that seemed to engulf his body. He had a serene smile on his face, even as cuts appeared along his person, blood gushing out. More and more, more than one body should be able to produce, until he literally exploded in a torrent of red.
This red flood lifted into the sky, guided by the last will of Durak, and crashed down against the star beast. Water is patient. His words echoed into the minds of the two stunned elders. It tears apart mountains and valleys. It crosses the land to strike at its heart. Through time and patience, water can become the ultimate destructive force. Never forget this.
When the red tide washed away, the star beast was left dead. Its legs twitched here and there, but it was able to make no proper movements. Its hide had been… the only proper word could be severed, but even that did not seem fitting. Eroded, maybe? Wiped away as if by a dreadful force, beaten and battered thousands of times over at the cost of Durak’s own life.
Tears began to gather in Jana’s eyes, and Abin moved over, gently placing his hand on her back. Durak was the master of the Water Clan. He was the one who could keep them safe amidst the dangers of the ancestral land. And now, he had fallen to a bug.
However, they began to feel something else, besides their grief. Within their own hearts, they began to understand. Although it was not as big as the star that Durak had gathered, a single dot of red light began to appear within the inner sky of both of these elders. If they lived long enough to cultivate it…
Abin was only a step away from becoming a master himself. He and Jana had been Durak’s first students, and had learned everything that he was able to teach them. “We have to go back to the clan.” He whispered softly, earning a broken sob from both his rival and oldest friend.
It was at that moment that they heard a roar in the distance, in the direction that the clan had retreated. Their faces paled, imagining the worst as they rushed off. If another star beast of that level appeared while Durak was gone, it could slaughter half the clan before they put it down.
When they arrived, they saw twenty elders fighting against five silver wolves. Each of the wolves had deep, black eyes. From their appearance alone, it seemed like they were star beasts, causing worry to build up even more. If all of them were at the centipede’s level… there was no hope for the clan.
Thankfully, their worries were dismissed once the first of the elders struck out. From how much damage the beast took, it was clearly not a ‘master’ level beast. At most, it would only be an elder. Jana laughed, a broken, confused laugh pouring from her lips. She didn’t know if she should celebrate that the clan was okay, or worry that they could be extinguished at any moment.
As she collapsed to her knees, Abin simply stood next to her. Unlike Jana, he let out a long sigh of relief. A powerful urge filled his body, knowing that the only way to keep the clan safe was if he could fill the void left behind by Durak’s passing. But first, they needed a home.
Abin’s eyes turned towards a distant mountain range. At first, Durak had wished to move further along the land, finding a mountain nearer the sea to settle in. He knew that it was too dangerous to settle in the open due to the star beasts, and even more so to settle in the ruined cities, for fear of the other dwarves. But now… there was only one mountain range in sight, and it was the only option left for the Water Clan to survive. They just had to make it there in one piece.