The Black Stone's destruction sent waves of negative energy reverberating through the astral plane, surging through every dimension like ripples in a pond. The sudden withdrawal of dark magic crippled the Dark Lord's minions, slaying those birthed from it – like the Undead and the Fel Amazons – while leaving the others incapacitated and powerless. Without Darkstorm's bloodlust and the Black Stone's frenzied influence, the hordes of rampaging rogues and mercenaries were brought to a standstill.
Stormwind blinked hesitantly as the enemies surrounding him ceased their relentless attacks and fell to the ground. The Dragon had carved a bloody swathe through Terra Nova's city square, flailing with tooth and claw in order to secure a safe passage for General Alcazar and the others. He dared not use his fiery breath for fear of harming his comrades, and was forced to wade into the melee. His hide was riddled with impaled spears and fractured scales, and his leathery wing membranes were tattered and bleeding. Still, Stormwind's armoured skin spared him the worst of the damage, and he managed a guttural bellow as he scattered his foes with a flick of his sinuous tail.
"What happened?" Rayon asked, as he cautiously lowered his sword.
"They've...stopped," Mandible said incredulously.
The enemy remained silent and passive as the survivors gathered around the Dragon, bearing expressions of awe and wonder. Several stray arrows rained down from the city buildings before Gleeman and his archers realized what was happening as well. A stunned silence hung in the air as the survivors surveyed the spectacle, not daring to believe their eyes.
"It's over..." the General whispered eventually, scarcely believing his own words, "The Guardians did it...the war is finally over..."
"The darkness that gripped our foes has vanished," Stormwind said, his eyes sparkling.
Gradually, a tide of elation swept through the surviving soldiers, and a thunderous cheer rang out through the city square. Never had there been such rejoicing in Terra Nova's history; tears of joy flowed freely, and many soldiers danced and sang with glee. Even the Rakasha and Giant Mantises joined the revelry, lending their voices to the chorus of happiness and bliss.
"After so long...we finally have true peace," Captain Ashram thought, as he felt a lump rise in his throat.
Suddenly, a crackling portal yawned open in the morning sky, tearing a rift in the clouds with thunder and lightning. A tense moment passed as fear gripped the survivors' hearts once more, and their thoughts immediately turned to the Dark Lord.
However, what appeared from within the Shadowy Void was not Darkstorm; a majestic figure materialized in the air, borne aloft on crimson wings of righteous fire. It wore armour that shone like the sun, and its eyes blazed with might and glory. In its arms, it grasped a massive axe, whose surface gleamed with a golden lustre unmatched by any mortal creation.
"That's...Emcron!" someone cried, "The Ultimate Guardian returns triumphant!"
The survivors cheered anew and applauded as Emcron descended from above, and gathered around him with delight and admiration. So radiant was his countenance that even Terra Nova's ruins were set aglow by his presence. Up close, Eden's Will was even more magnificent than anything the soldiers had ever seen, and several of their number even fell on their knees before the Superweapon.
"It is finished," the Ultimate Guardian said, in a voice that echoed like thunder, "The Dark Lord has been defeated, and the Black Stone is destroyed; no longer shall such evil taint the world. Peace and freedom have been restored."
Within Emcron's body, the four Guardians beamed brighter than they had ever done so in their lives. Their naked souls had taken on sparkling, golden hues, as they basked in the mighty axe's aura.
"We've done it...we've actually done it!" Caelum cried.
"It's almost like a dream," Tirer smiled, "I can't believe this is all real..."
"It was all thanks to the ones who stood by us and offered us counsel," Cerro said, "We owe our victory to them."
Throughout the dimensions, the free people rejoiced as Darkstorm's minions fell in rapid succession. His bases and outposts, which had marred the land like foul scars, were razed to the ground, and the unholy monuments built to honour his name and vile image were torn down with a vengeance.
From the Duchess Cassandra of Kohl Ayer to the Grand Master Trachoma of Klamath, everyone partook in the universal celebration – not only of the Dark Lord's defeat, but also of the return of Eden's Will. Terror and anxiety were dispelled as the walls of doubt crumbled, unleashing a flood of emotions that fuelled the revelry.
"We have won a great victory this day," Alcazar said, as he turned to face the other survivors, "But let us never forget those brave and selfless individuals, whose sacrifices safeguarded our futures."
A solemn moment passed as the soldiers bowed their heads in reverent silence, speaking their departed comrades' names in their minds. No tears flowed, and no sobs were heard; everyone understood the honour that came with each courageous deed.
"The scars of the world will heal in time," Emcron said, "Tomorrow, we begin rebuilding our homes, but today, let us remember the dead."
None of those present noticed, but the Ultimate Guardian flinched ever so slightly as he spoke. Within him, the emotions suppressed by the brothers during the final battle welled up in a tide of grief. Their tears flowed freely as they mourned their loved ones – their parents...Lord Rotec...Colonel Tjandar...each loss was felt as a keen blow that wrenched their ethereal forms with agony.
That night, Terra Nova's populace gathered in the city square, having emerged from the caverns beneath the Western Peaks. Terra Nova's dead – as well as her allies' – were given a grand funeral pyre at the base of the Dimensional Gate, where they burned brightly in a final tribute to hope and freedom. The crumpled bodies of Lord Rotec and Lady Eleanor had been recovered from the ruins of Arête, and were accorded a special honour upon raised platforms above the main pyre.
The Guardians stood at the head of the congregation, facing the magnificent inferno. They wore traditional black robes of mourning, lined with strips of gold to mark their standing as royalty. Though the hoods of their robes were drawn over their heads, the glistening tears trickling down their cheeks could not be hidden.
"They lived as good people, and died as heroes," the General declared, raising a fist to his chest, "They will be forever honoured, even among their ancestors."
The brothers nodded silently, their hearts still wracked with sorrow. As the people lifted their voices in a solemn requiem, they turned their sodden eyes to the heavens, where the pyre's sparks wafted freely upward to mingle with the stars. For a brief moment, the heavenly bodies seemed to dance in tandem with the rising flames, shifting and rearranging themselves – and three familiar faces appeared.
Rotec, Avon, and Eleanor...they smiled upon the Guardians from above, their eyes twinkling with pride.
The apparition vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, but it left a lasting impression; whether they had imagined the entire vision or not, the boys' tear-streaked faces now wore thin smiles of joy.
A week after their triumphant return, the brothers found themselves gathered before Terra Nova's Dimensional Gate, just as they had nearly a year ago. They were clad in simple tunics and pants, but each now wore a silver circlet inlaid with the crest of Omna'Ir: four interlocking rings symbolizing the Elemental Lords who resided within their pendants. Their Elemental pendants still hung from their necks, but these were now framed with shimmering halos of holy energy that embodied the Life Stone.
Much of the rubble had been cleared from the city square, and a few buildings fortunate enough to escape major damage had even been repaired. The bustling marketplaces that used to surround the square had not yet been restored, but many of the usual merchants had already begun to move back into their old stalls.
The fallen rogues and mercenaries had been hauled into a makeshift prison constructed near the eastern docks, where they remained in a dazed stupor. No one knew how long they would remain comatose, but it was clear that they were no longer a threat without the Dark Lord's bloodlust driving them.
"The war is over, but we still have much work to do," Jezero said, "We accomplished our goal to fight for freedom, and our purpose now is to provide aid and goodwill to the other dimensions as they embark on the long journey of recovery."
"We shall do this as Omna'Ir's new sovereigns, and promote the union of our two kingdoms," the Guardian of Air added.
The Captain smiled as he gazed down at the boys; while they still bore the faces of children, their interaction with the Life Stone and Eden's Will had granted them maturity far beyond their thirteen years. They wore rings on their left index fingers, bands of gold so perfect and flawless that no mortal could have crafted them. Even with his limited abilities, Ashram could sense the divine power radiating from each ring, and was scarcely surprised when he guessed at their origin.
As the ancient Dimensional Gate hummed to life, Terra Nova's allies stepped forth to join the Guardians at the towering monolith's base.
"Our time has come as well," Murasame said, "The Serpent-Men may have been put down for now, but the desert still holds many dangers that require our attention."
"It has been an honour to fight at your side," Panthera bowed low, "but the forest calls us home, and my people await my return."
"Thanks to you, we can now mend the old wounds that have kept our races apart for so long," Mandible added.
As the soldiers bade farewell to their new comrades, the brothers caught sight of a lone figure at the front of the throng: a lithe, rusty-haired youth with deep green eyes.
"Where will you be headed, Stormwind?" the Guardian of Fire called out.
"I'll see where the hand of fate guides me," the Dragon laughed, "My appetite for adventure has not been satiated yet!"
With their preparations complete, Terra Nova's allies disappeared into the swirling vestiges of the Shadowy Void, until only the Twin Assassins were left.
"May the desert winds blow in your favour, Guardians of the Elements," Muriko said.
"You will always be welcome among us," Murasame nodded, "should our paths be destined to cross again."
The boys blushed as the Twin Assassins planted kisses on their foreheads. Leaving the Guardians with their blessings, the sisters vanished into the crackling portal as well.
Nearly a year ago, the brothers had been mere children, content with living life day after day with carefree bliss. They had forged a tumultuous path through many difficulties, and although they had not emerged unscathed, they had gone from strength to strength. They knew that their lives would never be the same again, and yet...they found no desire to return. They were Guardians of the Elements, and nothing could change that.
"What do you suppose will happen in the other dimensions?" Tirer asked, "More excitement and epic journeys, perhaps?"
"Who's to say?" Jezero smiled, "With our newfound powers, anything is possible."
"The answer lies in the future," the Guardian of Earth said, "The future of the free people, and the future of hope and peace."
"...Our future," Caelum added.
With their hearts brimming with anticipation, the four Guardians stepped forth – and ventured once more into the World Between Worlds.
Jagged streaks of lightning tore through the skies of the Ire'Null, while the ubiquitous clouds poured out their dark innards in a drenching rain of blood.
A vast crater interrupted a great mountain range that spanned a barren plain pockmarked with pits of bubbling magma. The torrential downpour seemed to have no effect on the parched landscape, for every drop of blood was hungrily sucked dry the moment it reached the ground.
Within the depths of the crater, however, a small puddle of blood had gathered, untouched by the incessant thirst of the earth. On its surface floated irregular fragments of a strange black substance, long rendered unrecognizable by the chaotic energies that saturated the blasted realm.
Gradually, the puddle began to stir, bubbling like a pot over a fire. The debris scattered across its surface swirled furiously, as if stirred by some unseen force...when suddenly, a blood-red orb burst into the air, glowing and pulsating with malevolent power.
The eerie globe circled the immense crater once, as if seeking something...
...Then sped off into the crimson sky, vanishing into the clouds with a flash of lightning.
Eight hundred years after the Great Conflict, a new land is discovered beyond the Azure Sea...a land of intrigue, secrecy, and adventure. Just as the new era has its heroes, so, too, does it have its dangers...
Guardians of the Elements II: Rise of the Heroes