"Okay. Let's do this. Let's go get Heloth."

Noca's words were those of inspiration. The shining door beckoned to the trio, and they followed its call.

"All together," said Saya, and they pushed the door open effortlessly, hands sliding over the untarnished decorum.

The one detail that glared out of the chamber was almost blinding: a shining door, looking to be made of pure gold, was at the end of the fifty-yard hall.

The chamber was colored golden-esque. The rectangular stones which comprised it were a light tan color, quite similar to the door opposite them, and sparkled with flecks of gleaming silver.

The ceiling was high, rounded off by magnificent arches ending with half-pillars at the walls. All of this was lit by a single, large torch burning with black, white, and clear flame hanging from the ceiling.

"Heloth's division…" Miko said in awe. "Truly a sight to behold."

"And Heloth himself…" Noca said, gaze locked onto the northeastern corner of the chamber.

And from the shadows stepped the shining figure of the tale, the legend, and the most powerful of all the guardians.

Heloth.

Clad in thick silver armor from the top of his neck to the soles of his feet, his presence was an awesome one.

His movements were fluid and graceful, much like the long golden hair that swept down from his head, nearly two feet long.

Heloth's face was kind, looking as though it were filled with laughter even through the frown placed upon it.

"You've made it."

His voice didn't seem to fit his appearance. It wasn't deep at all, nor did it have an air of command. It seemed…casual. Eager to speak. Colloquial.

"Which means…my friends have been defeated."At the raising of a steel-glovedhand, a portalof shining white opened above him,depths holding unknown wonders.

Or perhaps, fears.

"I must say, the three of you fight skillfully," Heloth told them. The thin portal above his raised right hand was beginning to widen. He closed his eyes.

"Skillfully enough to defeat sorcerers and incredibly talented combatants like my friends in battle."

The portal was taking shape, thin near the bottom and wide at the top, bright light shining even more forcefully from its unknown reaches.

"And now you stand before me, the last impediment before your goal."

The portal flashed brilliantly once, and as the light faded, Heloth's hand closed around a weapon shrouded in blackness.

His eyes opened and he smiled halfway, the blackness of his weapon fading like the light had, to reveal—

"The Diamond Blade," Saya breathed.

The thick, double-edged sword was clear like the flames above, obscuring all features on the wall behind it in the swirling light contained by the gargantuan blade. Its handle had curving steel of a deep red huethat wrapped snugly around Heloth's hand. The sword had been customforge for him and him only many, many years ago.

He lowered the four-and-a-half foot sword until its tip brushed the ground, staring at the three of them with his features unreadable.

"Don't look," Noca whispered as quietly as possible, so as to avoid Heloth's overhearing. "But I have an idea."

"What were the battles like?" Heloth asked, a note of sadness in his voice. He surveyed the three of them, then lowered his head slightly. "How did they fare?"

"They were challenging," Miko answered, slowly inching to the right, his moves barely noticeable. "Your companions possessed great dexterity."

"I would expect no less of them," he said.

"Saya, to the left. Conceal…" Noca's mind was whirring.

"Who died first?" He asked suddenly. "Morta or Nerid? Who was the first to fall?"

"Nerid was the first to be defeated," Saya said. "Morta's reaction was…quite powerful." She slid slowly to the left.

"As it should have," Heloth nodded thoughtfully. "To lose one's love is more painful that the most grievous wound."

"Indeed," Saya said, eyes wanting to water but finding themselves void of tears.

Noca was now hidden behind the combined bulks of Miko and Saya, slowly and quietly reaching back for her bow.

Heloth took no notice, eyes still hidden byhis wavy blond hair. He made only the smallest of movements as Noca continued along her course.

Bow in hand, arrow in other. Noca's breaths were shallow and quick as sheslowly brought the arrow up to the string.

The arrow was nocked, being pulled back—

Will he hear the string stretch? Can I hit him? Will he die?

No time for doubt—she had to do this now. This arrow would be the downfall of the man known as Heloth. Noca's eyes narrowed.

"Clear!" Noca yelled, bow locked onto Heloth as Miko and Saya jumped out of the way.

Tsew! The arrow flew too quickly for Heloth to react, the steel head slicing throughhis silver armor and burying itself in Heloth's neck until only the tail and a few inches of the shaft could be seen.

He fell, not uttering a sound, his mighty sword dropping from his hand and clattering to the stone a foot away.

The three were upon his fallen body in a flash, prepared to administer whatverfinishing blows were necessary to silence him.

Heloth did not move.

Something was very wrong, and Noca was the first to notice.

"There's no blood!" Noca realized, kneeling over the body and eyeing the arrow and wound. "Nothing. Not even a drop on the ground. What the hell is going on?"

"A pity. I had hoped it would be able to last longer than that."

A voice from nowhere sounded, seeming to fill the entire room. It seemed…evil. Taunting.

Familiar.

Noca's fear from the mysterious lake was reinstatedacutely as she turned.

She was right. It was him.

Her brother was standing behind the trio.

"A clever girl you are, Noca. Or perhaps lazy, not even going to a true battle."

"What are you doing here?" she asked, fearing the answer.

"I shall provide your demise in my creation's stead," he said, ignoring her question. From the black sheath emerged his long blade of many scratches.

"Noca, who is this?" asked Saya, who had turned with Miko and was looking at the man.

He was dressed in dark green, his long blade held in his left hand and a black sheath hanging at his belt. This was discarded violently, flying into the wall and cracking the stone with the forcible impact.

Noca's teeth were gritted in anger, so much that her words were barely heard. "My brother…" she said, bow forgotten and dropped to the ground. It sat next to the 'Heloth'.

"Your—"

Miko's sentence was cut off as the man ran, fast as light, to appear in front of Miko and cut him swiftly and powerfully across the chest.

Miko's face changed to an expression of shock as he fell backward, hitting the ground hard with blood and his sai being expelled from his body.

"Stop it! Get away from him!" Noca cried, swinging her staff at the man.

It did not connect and, as quickly as he had attacked Miko, he was back in his original position, blood dripping off of his blade and staining the stone beneath him. He was smiling in evident pleasure at the slaying of another.

"My, my," he said, looking at Miko, who did not move. "For the ones who defeated the noble guardians, you do fall quickly." He laughed mirthlessly and eyed Noca. "You're next, little sister."

"Prepare yourself, Saya," Noca said to her, eyes on her brother.

Saya, still shocked by Miko's ridiculously quick defeat, steeled herself and tensed her daggers. Who is this man? And, more importantly…has he the Flame?

Again, so quick, the man ran to Noca and slashed.

Noca was barely able to twist and avoid a deathblow, the tip of the blade tearing the cloth around her midriff and slicing her ever so slightly. The staff cut at where her brother had stood.

So fast! This is insane! Saya thought as he slashed at her face. She slid low and to the side, springing forth and aiming for his legs, which disappeared as soon as they had arrived.

"Brother, what have you done?" Noca shouted at him, who stood over Heloth's imitation.

"At least you two are quicker than that fool," he said, gesturing at Miko. "Maybe you'll last at least a minute."

"We can't sit and wait for him to attack us," said Saya. "We have to get on him now!"

Noca nodded. Can't let my guard down, and there's no time for questions. I have to take him down once and for all.

"Rai-Jitsu!" Saya yelled, the lightning crashing onto stone as the man disappeared from sight.

"Where—ah!" Noca yelled, arching her back as the sword was drawn across it, spinning only to encounter empty space.

"I can't even see him!" Saya yelled, constantly twisting and turning as he whipped past her, drawing bloody hairlines and furrows in her skin.

They stood, back to back, eyes constantly catching onto blurs of motion only to close in pain as they were cut, again and again. Their blood stained the ground and his blade, his derisive laughter filling the air.

"Rin-Jitsu!" Saya yelled, fire washing over the wall. She winced as a slash ran across her thigh.

"He's…just playing with…us," Noca said weakly, eyes beginning to lose focus. "How can we beat one…who has the power of the…Flame?" She cried out as the sword ran across the side of her neck, cold steel made warm by the continious feast of blood it was being fed.

"We can—" Saya began, cut off by a slash that cut her across her mouth. She tasted her own blood with revulsion.

Asthe ambientslashes weakened them, the pair sank to the ground, back to back and eyes half closed.

Noca's staff drooped and thenfell from weak, hanging fingers, dropping to the floor softly. No… she thought, vision flashing vibrant shades of red as her eyelids, dripping with blood, concealed her eyes.

Saya held her daggers as strongly as she could, hands shaking uncontrollably as muscle trauma took its horrid effects.

He stopped and looked over them, Noca and Saya sitting on the floor and sinking lower, Miko's body next to them and unmoving.

"Perhaps I'll let you bleed to death," he told them coldly, watching as the red pools around them spread.

They were beginning to fade from consciousness, vision blurring and fading as their blood dripped to the floor.

"Or should I keep you alive to torture you?" He ginned sadistically. "Wouldn't that be fun?"

Tsew!

An arrow!? Flashed through Noca's mind the second before it made contact.

Thock!

"Arrgh!" He cried, spinning and searching for the attack's origin.

"Heloth!" Noca cried out.

The true Heloth stood over the shell like a sentinel, Noca's bow in hand and looking horribly battered but determined. He let another shining arrow fly from the magical bow, its radiant trail flying toward their assailant.

"How many times must I kill you?!" Her brother screamed, snatching the oncoming arrow from its course and tossing it to the ground like a twig.

Heloth raised a hand; Noca, Saya and Miko were pushed along the floor until they were against the back wall, as far from her brother and Heloth as possible.

Another flick of Heloth's wrist caused them to be encased in strange energy. Their wounds were being mended before their eyes, flesh stringing together like torn cloth being mended!

"You are a treacherous and dark hearted fool," Heloth spoke, his true voice deep, powerful and capturing. "And you shall not escape this dungeon with your life." He knelt, grasping his Diamond Blade from the fake's hand.

"You will never defeat me, Heloth!" He cried, ripping the enchanted arrow from his back and flinging it to the floor.

"No, I won't," he smiled, eyes drifting to the pair at the wall. "But we will."

With that, Noca and Saya stood, no longer weakened and holding their weapons with malicious intent.

Noca was standing confidently, a small smile gracing her features. "Brother, yourvoctory is something that wasn't meant to be. You will be slain by my hand."

He started to run at the guardian at her words,his rippling speed causing a breeze to flow through the room.

Heloth raised his hand once more, and Noca's brother stopped in mid stride.

Glowing power, shining brightly and with force, was being pulled from the man's body.

His back arched, and he was lifted into the air as thestrength was pulled from him, unable to cry out or make a sound.

"You are undeserving of this power," Heloth said as he drew it from him. "You will have it no longer. The final blow will free our creation from your wretched soul."

"No!" he cried. "No! You can't do this…the Flame is…mine…" he sank to the ground and rested on his hands and knees, black hair falling around him and concealing his face.

"He's helpless," Heloth told them. "I leave the rest to you."

Noca walked up to him slowly, mockingly, Saya alongside her.

"Noca? He is yours," Saya said.

"He has injured us both," Noca said, "in more ways than one. You had best get a nice hit in there." She smiled.

"Make it hurt."

Saya's crushing upward kick caught him in the face, knocking his whole body up until he rested on his knees. Blood leaked from his broken nose, shards of his demolishedteeth dropping to the ground.

"And now, brother…" Noca said laughingly, taking a few steps backward and raising her staff. "Taste the steel."

The staff whipped through the air magically, whistling as it cut the wind and the head off of the evil incarnatebefore them.

"The deed is done," said Heloth, eyeing the two-pieced corpse with loathing. As he watched it, it disappeared, fading into nothingness and leaving only bloodstains on the ground.

The death of their assailant instantly jerked the pair back to reality, Miko's body filling the whole of their vision as the sprinted over to it and knelt.

Noca pressed her hand against the wound, still seeping blood. Her head rested against his sullied chest.

He wasn't breathing.

"Miko!" she cried. "Miko…come, now…you can't be...you can't..."

"Your friend's wound is quite deep," Heloth spoke, walking over to the huddled pair. "Fatally so, I'm afraid."

"He is…gone?" Saya said brokenly, voice strained. "But…we have come so far! He can't be dead! Miko!"

Miko's closed eyes stayed in their condition, his body losing its natural warmth and growing cold beneath their shaking fingers.

"I'm sorry," said Heloth. "Truly. I, too, now know what it is like to lose a dear friend."

Noca was unable to cry, so great was the shock. He had been so full of life, ready to do battle. Ready to win, to accomplish his and their tasks.

To get The Eternal Flame.

To make the empire proud.

To change the legend.

And make it their own.

Regret. The strongest emotion of them all.

"No regrets, right?"

"Right?"

"No regrets."

His words echoed in Noca's mind. "No regrets…" she said softly. "No regrets, Miko. I'm so sorry."

Unbeknownst to the duo, lost in their sorrow, Heloth had raised his Diamond Blade. Bringing it downward, he shattered the stone where the man had once knelt.

And up rose the article of legend.

The Eternal Flame.

Noca and Saya turned their heads as bright, shining light washed over them.

And from that light came the power.

It was indescribable. So much power, the pair could feel it flowing through their very fiber. Power fueling confidence, fueling strength, fueling life.

Utter, pure, unrefined and unchecked supremacy was what became a part of them. Overrun with the Flame's fuel. The ability to crush stone with the faintest tap. The ability to fly through the air, to jump hundreds of feet. The ability to do whatever they wished.

"Ah!"

Saya and Noca turned once more.

Miko, coughing, was beginning to sit up. The gigantic slash across his chest was disappearing, fading into regular skin, the cloth piecing above it. He pulled himself upward, shaky arms supporting his body.

"What has happened? What—ah!" Miko was cut off as Noca's arms wrapped around him, her head resting on his shoulder.

"Noca—?" Miko said, clearly bewildered.

"Miko, you're alive!" Noca was crying now. "Alive!"

Saya smiled with watery eyes, glad to see that he was back.

"Noca, Saya, what happened? Is—is…that…?!" His eyes were wide and locked onto the irresistible sight before him, which danced and shone.

"Yes, young ones," Heloth told them. "What you see before you is the Eternal Flame."

It was incredible.

The Flame was all the colors of the rainbow, and yet, none at all. It burned like true fire, dancing and sending multicolored sparks into the air, but it was just that. Fire. No base, no wood or pit beneath it. Entrancing, waving, shifting and morphing before their eyes, surrounded in bands of bright light and floating in the air, the Eternal Flame was a veritable nexus of omnipotency.

"I…Noca, Saya…this is…" Miko spoke, mouth agape and words failing him.

The three stood, watching the flame as Heloth walked over to it.

"My victors, you have truly earned this reward. I will leave you to your own devices—do with it what you wish. As for I…" Heloth smiled in a melancholy way. "My time is finished on this world. I will join my friends in the Heavens."

"Heloth, thank you," Noca said gratefully.

As his back turned to them, they saw the symbol burned into his armor.

A circle, with a line cutting it directly through the middle. The sign from the bow. The sign from the sai.

Their weapons had been created by none other than the master before them.

"I am glad that you were the ones to obtain this accolade. Please, use this power nobly."

With those words, Heloth vanished in a haze of purple smoke.

"Noca, Saya…I'm very confused," Miko told them. "What happened? I remember up to before the fight with Noca's brother, and then…"

"Miko…" Noca said. "That…that can wait. I do not wish to speak of it now." She cleared her throat. "Let us focus on the matters at hand! Our triumph!"

The three huddled around their goal, unable to believe what was before them.

"I wonder…" said Saya, looking troubled. "What of the guardians? What caused them to do this?"

At her words, the three's minds were flooded with images and sounds.

Erun, Heloth, Morta and Nerid, all standing outside of a large castle, their visages the same. They seemed a bit younger, however. In their late teens, perhaps.

They were nobles; each was a child of a king. The royalty of Korana.

The quartet was frustrated. They were forced to remain in their own districts, but they had secret meetings where they laughed and enjoyed each other's company.

One day they were caught, resulting in severe punishment. This unfortunate event led to the first warring of the districts.

During the turmoil, the four fled the city.

"I can't stand this anymore!" Heloth had said once they were far away from the city's gates, noises of the battle still drifting to them. "Our lives our surrounded by tension and politics. We have no say in anything!"

The feeling was mutual.

"What can we do?" Morta had asked. "Once they find we are gone, everyone will blame everyone else."

"We can escape," Erun said. "We don't have to go back and take responsibility for their foolish actions."

"And leave the city to be demolished?" Nerid exclaimed. "Leave our families to be killed?"

Heloth looked slightly ascetic. "Sacrifices must be made. I will not have others live my life for me."

"You're a fool!" Said Nerid. "This was a stupid, precipitous move and you know it!"

Morta put an arm on Nerid's shoulder. "Nerid, this isn't his fault. Had he not suggested it, I would have done the same."

Nerid looked into her eyes and sighed. "Fine, then. I'll accompany you, but…what are we going to do?"

"We need action!" Said Heloth.

"Damn straight," Erun said, and they laughed.

"We need to fight. A war is a bit much for now—not to mention the repercussions of us returning. But, if we can draw warriors to us…" Heloth trailed off. "Were the rest of you taught sorcery as well?"

"That's my specialty," Erun had mentioned.

Morta and Nerid both answered in the affirmative.

"Right, then. We can make a prize…"

The friends entered the Forest of Korana, and there they went into a heated discussion.

"It's a good idea," said Nerid. "Excellent."

"I'd like to see the people who could beat us," said Morta.

"We need a base," Erun had mentioned. "A place to put this Flame."

Heloth said they could use the city's dungeon. "If we can set it up, it would be perfect. A trial. A pre-test."

"We have to keep this quiet for a while," Nerid said. "Lest the city come looking for us."

Heloth nodded. "Right. Then, my friends, let us begin."

They were brought back into reality as the images faded.

"Incredible," Saya exclaimed. "That was just my rhetoric, and yet…"

"This flame possesses wisdom and power untold of in the legends," Miko said insightfully. "We should explore its depths, learn all we can."

"And the empire?" Noca smiled wryly.

"We should have privilege to this before they do," Miko said.

"Yes," Saya nodded. "But…it's a shame the legend will die."

At that moment, and idea permeated their thoughts. It seemed absurd, ridiculous, and even sacrilegious.

"Please," Heloth had said. "Please, use this power nobly."

Nobly. With good intentions. What better way to use it?.

The three spoke, spirits lifting at the words:

"The legend will live on!"

EPILOGUE

And thus the legend was shaped anew. The guardians were slain, the victors making the ultimate decision.

The legend lives on, indeed. In this case, however, there are new guardians.

Guardians whose names will go down in history.

Noca, Miko, and Saya. The novel guardians of the Eternal Flame.

Shall one challenge their might?

And, most importantly…

Shall that one prevail?

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The end has come, and the sequel is up! If you liked this and want to find out what happens next, then go check out The Eternal Flame: The New World!