VP BK I, CH 1: The Void Prince

Chapter One: The Void Prince

There is a glaring nothingness in The Void, an emptiness so complete that not even darkness could exist. There was no light. No sound. No air. No essence. No time. The Void was as it is, as it was, as it will be, as it always. So empty that it even lacked vacuum. Then, things changed– Spontaneous creation.

Things began to be. Worlds were born, asserting themselves. They grew, they languished, and they recovered. They became ill again only to improve, and so the cycle went, until at last, they died and were once more consumed by The Void. In time, countless worlds would be born even as countless more died. Being nothing more than empty space, The Void was immeasurably vast. It held them up, filled the gaps between them, and did more than even the gods could fathom. Myriad worlds hung in it like jewels in the emptiness. They were created from it, and when their destruction came, they returned to it.

The only things left were strange echoes of what they once were. Empty as it was, The Void held many of these. Everything that is. Everything that is no more. The intangible and the unidentifiable. Echoes of what once was. Echoes of what will be. Echoes of what could be and echoes of what should never be. 

Hanging in this space was Aelius, present where no mortal should be. He stared unblinkingly into it all, unable to do anything else. His mind was constantly filled with images of what he perceived, a small fraction of the events that played out in front of him. Even so, it broke due to the strain. There was just too much. Again and again, it broke, adopting the cycle of creation and destruction before him. He watched as a giant made of stars hammered an entire plane into being, weeping at the beauty of creation; the beginnings and ends. He was moved by the plight of worlds and their heroes. Aelius was unaware of how long he remained there as there was no time in the Void, no true measure of distance. He just hung there, A Watcher in the Void.

Aelius woke up with a start. His body thrashed for a few seconds before his mind finally caught on to the fact that he could actually move. Afterwards, it was just a matter of regaining his bearings and ignoring the already fading nightmare. He knew where he had been, what he had seen. Instinctively, he knew them to be more than just dreams. They were memories. Repressed memories that slipped loose and impressed themselves on his mind when its guard was slackened by sleep. Sadly, this knowledge did nothing to stop his heart from racing. Every time, he woke up was like the first, like he was breaking free again.

He was unable to remember much, consciously. His dreams, like those of others, vanished like morning mist under the noonday sun when he woke, leaving little if anything behind. As for his memories of the Void, he had none. Surprisingly, he was thankful for that. He might not remember the events, but he could remember how it felt. Thinking about it, even now, made him shiver. Aelius was not sure he wanted to remember or that it was even safe to. The bits that came to him in his dreams were mindboggling enough.

Unfortunately for Aelius, his actions had not gone unnoticed. A couple of guards had caught his actions.

“What do you think he sees that causes him to freak out so?” one asked his colleagues.

“Who knows?” the other responded. “The young master has a lot to think about.” 

“Probably!” the first acknowledged. “Mayhaps, he’s just tired of sleeping. He did just wake up from a four-year nap.”

“He was in a coma!” the other pointed out.

“Same thing really”, the first joked before adding. “I hear Lord Titus’ position might be in danger because of this debacle.”

“It is not our place to speak about that”, the other guard stated succinctly.

“Is it true, though?” he asked again, ignoring his companion’s straight-laced manner. The man pursed his lips and refused to speak.

“I think it is”, he ended up answering himself. “It’s the only explanation for why a Council member like him will be sent to this backwater place”, he reasoned.

“Also, I hear he cost the clan dearly in that fiasco with the…”

“Nngh!” his partner grunted to silence him.

The man either ignored the sign or did not understand its portent and continued, “I mean, I understand where the Lord was coming from. Don’t get me wrong here. His only child had just been maliciously harmed, nearly killed!” he stressed. “All by a love rival with his would-be-daughter-in-law being complicit in the matter.”

“I would want justice too but attacking your in-laws in their clan holdings surely wasn’t the way to go about it. Why, if the clan hadn’t intervened, I doubt he would have gotten off so easily. I mean, the Lord of the Fiery Sword is powerful, but he’s just one Soul Nascence cultivator. The Patriarch of the Durand clan is said to have touched upon the dao. There was just no way he could have won.”

By this point, his compatriot was trying to distance himself from him hoping to make it clear to those he knew were watching that he was in no way involved with the disaster beside him.

“Sending assassins after the love rival when the clan had not only decided but also announced that we’d step back on the matter was just foolish. The boy had already been claimed by The Blade King. Even for the Yanartas clan, there are limits. Then, there are the resources he commandeered to see to his son’s recovery. Seriously, the whole aff…”

“WILL YOU SHUT UP?” his partner snarled at him in a low but tense tone.

Aelius tuned them out when the smarter guard began to rebuke his colleague. His spiritual sense snapped back to him like stretched rubber. It was an uncomfortable sensation and spoke to how little use it had gotten since his ‘nap’. He was beyond rusty.

“How should I punish the loudmouth, young master?” his manservant asked. 

Ordinarily, Aelius would have thought something up. Either something novel or a tried and true display of cruelty that would ensure that no serf would deign to insult him and his family so. However, he found that he could not do so this time. He simply could not muster the effort. 

‘What was the point?’ his depressed mind asked. ‘That wouldn’t stop the gossipping, especially since everything they said was true.’

He had been shown up by a love rival. Some useless commoner who had only come to his notice when Aelius noticed his over-familiarity with his betrothed. At first, he had ignored the gutter rat. He was not even worth his time. Then, this commoner inexplicably gained admission to their sect and began to associate with his beloved more and more. Alarm bells went off in Aelius’ head, and he quickly took measures.

Unfortunately, every scheme he put into play not only backfired on him but also served to increase the other’s renown. The one time he acted personally; he was not only humiliated but also painted as a petty, insecure and, worst of all, incompetent bully. He planned to deal appropriately with the boy when he was done with what was to be his greatest achievement and contribution to his sect: a ritual that could seek for and connect loose spatial realms back to the prime plane. However, somewhere in the middle, he realised something was wrong. He barely had time to catch a glimpse of his hated foe when everything went white, and he woke up a moon ago to find out that four years had gone by.

“We have to do something!” Nerys told her husband. They were looking out of a window into the yard. There their son Aelius lay on a lounge chair somehow looking more listless than he did when he was in a coma.

Aelius was clearly depressed. It was like he had lost all purpose in life. He did nothing all day but lie around, and his mood was damper than a rug in a river. There was no life in his eyes, no spirit in his body and no joy in his heart. It broke his mother’s heart.

Her Aelius was not like that. Her son was bright and fiery, arrogant even. He was the type to swagger into a room and expect all attention to be focused on him. He thrived on it. He was handsome, eye-catching and flamboyant, prone to grand gestures. Perhaps it had to do with the way he was raised. As the only child of wealthy, renowned parents, he had always been the centre of attention growing up. Not to mention, he was a genius. There were very few times he failed to surprise his parents and never a time he did not make them proud. To see him reduced to this was disheartening to those who cared for him.

Not for the first time, loathing burned in Nerys’ gut for the people who had done this to her beautiful boy. That she was the one who proposed and secured the betrothal that had caused all this did not escape her. She hated herself for it. Nerys had always thought Belle a good girl. She was a little dour but still a fitting match for her son, and yet that evil tart had conspired with her lover to kill her baby boy. 

Sensing his wife’s emotions, Titus put his arms around her and hugged her tight. 

“Don’t worry!” he said comfortingly. “I know what to do.”

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