Lakshman felt that he was standing on solid floor while feeling nothing around him. He wanted to open his eyes and found, to his surprise, that they were tightly shut and did not obey his commands. So, using his senses, he thought he was alone when, all of a sudden, a familiar voice spoke calmly to him.
“Lakshman? Lakshman, wake up. Open your eyes.”
Obeying the voice, Lakshman moved the muscles in his eyelids and found that he could finally open them. So, he slowly opened his eyes and looked in front of him, which was blurry. There was someone standing in front of him that he could not make out due to the blur, but it slowly settled and the man came into clearer focus.
“Engruat?” Lakshman asked, looking in surprise at the God of Energy, who was smiling at him.
“Good. I managed to work it out something,” replied Engruat, and he winked at him.
Lakshman blinked a few times in confusion and asked, “Managed to work what out?”
“Bringing you here, of course!” The God of Energy said energetically, gesturing around at the swirling darkness outside the circle of light that they were standing in. “I brought you to the Border Plane as soon as you collapsed from exhaustion,” he added, which instantly brought Lakshman’s into a sharp sense of the present.
“What?!” Lakshman exclaimed, looking alarmed at that piece of news. “This isn’t good! I need to return! The battle isn’t over!” He looked worriedly at Engruat and asked, “Take me back. The Calamity Titan could be doing far worse things in my absence.”
Engraut’s smile widened, and he said, “Relax. Time in the Physical Plane flows slowly compared to the Border Plane. It’s all to do with the senses. Besides, I believe you have business here as well.”
With that, he winked at the young man, who was looking confused while growing restless. Lakshman could not understand what the God of Energy had planned for him by bringing him to the Border Plane because he had no time to play around. The threat of the Calamity Titan still loomed largely on the world, and he was worried his might do something disastrous without him being there.
“Take. Me. Back!” Lakshman said in a firm voice, knitting his eyebrows to form a serious expression on his face.
To this, Engraut merely chuckled, but the one who spoke was someone that stood behind Lakshman, whom the young man did not sense until he spoke.
“That is no way to speak to a God, Lucky.”
The joking manner and the familiarity of the voice made Lakshman to freeze, his eyes widening in shock. Slowly, he turned around with the same expression on his face and laid his eyes on someone he thought he would never see again.
“’Hey, Lucky? How are you?” Asked Darian Ronald, a cool smile worn on his face while looking at his ex-student.
Lakshman briefly felt a loss for words before stuttering, “D-Darian…?” He began to walk slowly toward the man, whom he thought was dead, and he asked again, “Is that… you?”
“In the flesh!” Darian replied, and hesitated, realising that his choice of words was wrong and amended them by adding, “Well, in the spirit? I am dead after all.”
He shrugged his shoulders at the slight joke that he made before he was hugged tightly by his ex-pupil. Overcome with emotions, Lakshman quickened his pace and hugged his ex-mentor, whom he trained under for a brief period and was someone like a grandfather to Lakshman, despite the youthful appearance of the Sword King. Darian was momentarily amazed before he chuckled and patted the Phoenix Titan on the back.
“Calm down, Lucky. What’s the matter with you?” Darian asked, after separating from their brief hug. When he noticed that tears had formed in Lakshman’s eyes, he became a little stern and said, “Wipe those tears away! How many times do I have to tell you? A man never cries! We’re supposed to be the brace and courageous ones after all!” And he winked at him with a smile, showing the good humour of an old man despite his appearance.
Lakshman quickly wiped the tears formed in his eyes and smiled refreshingly at his former master before saying, “It’s good to see you, Darian! I’m glad to see you again since you… passed away.” Lakshman finished the sentence with the smile being replaced by a sad expression, and he said, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t be of any help.”
“Drop it,” Darian said, waving his hand in a gesture to disregard it entirely. “I did what I had to do to give you time to come out of your training and destroy those monsters. You did destroy them, right?”
He asked the last question with a serious look on his face, to which, Lakshman smiled and replied with, “Yes! Sevedant utterly destroyed.”
“That’s good to hear,” said Darian, nodding in understanding with a satisfied smile on his face. Then, with a slightly lowered expression, he curiously asked, “How did… Marilia take it?”
Lakshman saw that his ex-mentor was worried and smiled as he said, “She took it well. I think she cried for some time when she sensed your passing, and then recovered to calm me down as well.”
“Yes. Marilia has been a strong lady for all of my life,” said Darian smiling fondly at the memory of his wife that appeared in his mind.
The Phoenix Titan smiled and asked, “Yes, but I am surprised to see you here though. I thought you’d be going on your way to the Higher Plane.”
Darian nodded in understanding and replied, “Yeah. Actually, I was going to do exactly that and simply pass on from this place, be given the verdict of ‘Hero’ by the God of Judgement and can finally rest in Heaven. That all changed when the God of Energy requested me to stay behind to meet you.”
‘Eh?” Lakshman asked, looking surprised and glanced at Engruat, who smiled as he asked, “Why?”
“Well…” began Engruat and momentarily paused as if he was gathering his thoughts before continuing to say, “I had an inclination that maybe you needed some advice from someone wise, and since I don’t know where your parents are, I chose the next possible option; him. After all, he did train you to become stronger in the past, right?”
This made Lakshman narrow his eyebrows in shrewd suspicion and ask, “That’s true, but how do you know about it? I don’t think the Decisive Player would’ve talked with you about such details.”
Engraut hesitated for a fraction of a second before saying with a guilty expression on his face, “I… I was following you, of course! That’s right! I had been following you for so long, I practically know you better than anyone else!”
“You’re practically a stalker,” commented Lakshman, shaking his head with a humorous smile on his face. “I kind of understand why the other gods tend to keep you at a distance and treat you the way they do.”
Engruat became dejected and said, “Don’t say that! It’s part of my job of keeping track of things. Besides, is this the thanks I get for getting that man to wait here to help you sort out your internal discord with what to do with your brother?”
Lakshman instantly looked surprised and said, “Huh?”
“I’m confused,” said Darian moving the topic forward by allowing himself enter their conversation. “Who’s this brother the God of Energy is referring to? I was under the impression that Lakshmi gave birth to twins and that they’re both girls, so where did a brother come into this picture?”
He was looking intently at Lakshman, who hesitated for a few seconds, unsure about how to say it. Finally deciding to speak the truth, he began explaining about his time in the ancient times and went on to explain about their complex relationship that suddenly exploded into a war that permanently ruptured the relationship of the two brothers.
While he was explaining, Darian remained quiet and nodded his head every now and then in understanding. When his ex-pupil finished, he continued to remain silent as he thought about what he just heard before saying, “Mmm. This is intriguing. So, this brother of yours from so long ago has reincarnated now and is wreaking havoc on our world because his grudge towards you?”
Lakshman nodded and corrected his ex-mentor’s statement by saying, “Ah, it seems we had been reincarnating over and over the years since the first time we died, although, I have no memories of the time in between today’s time period and the time when I first became known as the Phoenix Titan. Anyway,” he said and waved his hand to move on from the unnecessary explanation of his past, “he believes I did something terrible to him and his wife, which is why he is so angry at me and wants to destroy all those that I came to love, respect and cherish.”
“He is actually being controlled by a higher being that tricked him into believing his brother was his enemy,” said Engruat supportively, giving Darian more explanation as to why the Calamity Titan was behaving the way he is.
They became silent and allowed Darian to think about all that he was told just now. As a Mythological God, Engruat cannot openly assist mortals of the Physical Plane, so his best option was to utilise other means to help them if he wished. In this case, keeping the more than 300-year-old warrior behind to advice Lakshman was the best option he could come up with.
“Still, where are his parents? I don’t sense their souls among the many that crossed the Border Plane, and I certainly don’t believe they’d choose to become ghosts just to remain attacked to their world,” thought Engruat to himself, bringing his eyebrows together to form a frown as he could not understand the mysterious disappearance of the parents of the Phoenix Titan. “There are only two other possibilities; one, they were either wiped out from existence and sent to the Unknown, or—!”
His thoughts were cut short when Darian suddenly asked, “So, what’s the issue? Just defeat him and problem solved, right, or is the issue bigger than that?”
Lakshman looked at him and hesitated for a moment before saying, “He’s my brother, and I want to protect him, but I also am getting frustrated each time he attempted to do something that would harm many people, especially hurting my family.”
Darian looked at him with a serious expression on his face and flatly said, “In that case; get rid of him. Kill him.” Lakshman widened his eyes in alarm as the Sword King continued to say, “He’s trying to kill your family, so you need to do what you must to defend them. You told me you did it in the past, so I believe you have the resolve in you to do it again if you have to.”
Lakshman stared at him for a moment in silence before saying, “True. I did it back then, but… I don’t want to do it again. He is my brother, Darian. My mother died protecting him, and I raised him, even going as far as to forsake the world and dominate it so that he could live in peace. That’s why, I want to save him this time!”
He fixed the deceased Sword King with a firm determined look on his face, clearly implying the firm force behind his resolve. Darian, after seeing this, smiled and nodded while stretching out a hand and patting him on the side of his arm.
“I’m glad to see you’re following through with the principles we taught you,” he said, smiling proudly. Lakshman smiled, but it lasted for only a brief moment before he looked sad, which made Darian to become concerned and ask, “What’s the matter this time? If you’re worried what he might think of you after all of this, then don’t fret. If he truly respects you, the older brother that raised him, then he will be very grateful for your hard work.”
Lakshman smiled a little at the reassurance Darian was giving him, but he was worried about something else, and he laid it out by saying, “Yes. I hope that will happen, but before that, I am worried about how to beat him. After all, he’s achieved his final transformation and attained a new level of power that far outstrips my own! In fact, the rest of the Nine Pillars of Power were defeated with relative ease!”
Darian raised an eyebrow in amazement and said, “Wow. So, it’s finally the difference in power and strength. Heh,” he said and snorted in exasperation. “It always comes back to the difference in strength, speed, skills, techniques and, finally, power.”
As he sighed and looked wearily into the distance, Lakshman blinked in surprise and curiously asked, “What’s the matter, Darian?”
“Ah,” began Darian, shaking his head, a small smile on his face. “This reminded me of the battle I was part of 300-years-ago, during the Human-Demon War. During the war, if I had gone up against the Demon Emperor on my own, I probably would’ve been defeated because he was unbelievably powerful and it took the combined efforts of me, Rumble and the Phoenix Emperor of that time, Frazer, to defeat him. It finally took Frazer sacrificing his life and using its force to destroy the Demon Emperor to ensure our victory.”
Lakshman looked very surprised and said, “You never told me that.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t want to install in you an idea that the only way to defeat an evil being is by destroying one-self first. It’s supposed to be a last resort, the final ditch effort to save the world, its people and whoever else you cared about. You were still a kid, who was innocent and obedient, so we didn’t want you to grow up the wrong way.”
“Yeah… Thank you for the consideration,” replied Lakshman, smiling at the Sword King before asking, “but the problem of my brother being more powerful and stronger than me is quite daunting, to be honest. That’s why, I trained my mind to come up with strategies to use my power in an effective manner in fighting him, however… things happened, and I’m in my current state.”
“I understand. War is, essentially, a place where schemes go awry, plans fail and death toll rises,” replied Darian, a look of understanding on his face while a sad smile appeared on his face. “It’s why I believe wars should never happen, preventing chaos, keeping destruction to minimal and continuing to prosper peace.”
‘Yes, but I’m not as powerful as I wished to be!” Lakshman said, his hands forming into fists as he clenched them tightly with simmering anger at his own uselessness, remembering is allies falling from the sky while looking thoroughly beaten up.
Darian looked at Lakshman, then at the God of Energy, who smiled softly, before turning back to face his ex-pupil. He finally understood the real reason why Engruat requested for him to advice the Phoenix Titan one last time before going on his way to the Higher Plane. Looking at Lakshman, the deceased Sword King realised that, with the worry of fighting the Calamity Titan, protecting his allies, and trying to save his brother, Lakshman had begun to doubt himself. He did not do it consciously, but due to the great destruction that befell the Nine Pillars of Power and how overpowered his enemy had become.
“No wonder he looks so frustrated,” thought Darian and smiled to himself at the high tension that surrounded Lakshman. “Well, I can’t leave him like this.”
“Lakshman,” he said, getting the attention of the Phoenix Titan before he continued to say, “a long time ago, someone told me this; to be strong, you need to be brave, to be weak, it means to suffer and to be smart, it means to be wise. After saying that, he told me that these three support each other in an entwined circle, which is what makes a warrior truly powerful.”
“I see. That does make a warrior a whole,” said Lakshman, nodding his head in agreement.
“Yes, and all of them are from within, where our true power lies. Don’t you get it, Lucky? You have the power within you to make you the strongest you could possibly be.” When Lakshman opened his mouth to ask something with a doubtful look on his face, Darian held up a hand to top him and said, “Frazer, the Phoenix Titan, was the one who told me these things, when the humans were low on morale because of the overwhelming strength of the demons.
Your power comes from within, not from someone or by using something! Our Gods have granted us all the power we need, with the only limitations being our bodies and our minds. So, search within yourself, find that sleeping power and rise up to challenge this evil!”
At the end of his speech, Darian chuckled and said, “It was actually a powerful speech, but I couldn’t remember all of it and gave you the summary. Still, it had plenty of meaning if you just paid attention at that time.”
He winked at Lakshman, who looked uncertainly at him, before saying, “Stop doubting yourself like whether you can save your brother, save your people, or maybe you need to kill your brother. They don’t serve any purpose and only work towards bringing you down. Keep a focused mind! You told me how intense your meditating was; well, it’s time you put it to good use because all the power you need is within you. Search for it. I’ve seen you do it so many times.”
Lakshman blinked at him in surprise, understanding that Darian was referring to his previous transformations. The reason that happened was due to him breaking the seals to unleash the locked powers, but the seals are gone. He had released the last seal two-years-ago and, so, he could no longer bring forth more power than he already possessed.
“Darian, my full power has been released for some time now, but I wasn’t able to transform even though I can feel it, but I don’t know how to reach it,” said Lakshman with a desperate look on his face.
The deceased Sword King remained silent for a moment as he thought about something before making a smile on his face and saying, “Lucky, tell me something. What does a phoenix symbolise?”
Lakshman thought briefly before replying, “Light and hope.”
“Yes,” responded Darian, nodding in agreement before asking, “So, tell me; did you give everyone hope? Told people that everything will be alright and that you’ll take care of things with your allies?”
To that, Lakshman looked surprised and said, “Yes. I always tell people to keep them calm and have some hope in the darkest of times.”
Darian nodded approvingly while saying, “Of course. It’s the best thing to do However, in doing so, they place their hopes on you. Think about it. You are the strongest warrior they know off and, in turn, place all their hopes of survival on you. So, have some hope in yourself and your situation, Lucky, and search within yourself to find what you’ve been seeking this whole time. This is because I believe you are the embodiment of the Phoenix the driving force of light and hope, and I know you can bring forth the power that will make a miracle happen like you did so many times before.”
As Darian finished, he smiled at Lakshman, who was making an expression of awe because he was deeply moved. He never once thought about these things in such a manner, which made him feel stressed and constantly worry about the uncertainty. The answer had been present to him in the face this whole time, but he had been distracted and kept looking in the wrong direction.
The Power comes from within.
Have some hope in yourself.
Do not doubt yourself and do what you must.
These three advices kept reverberating in his mind as Lakshman, feeling a sense of new energy coursing through him, smiled at the deceased Sword King. In turn, Darian smiled back at him as he understood, from the look in his ex-pupil’s eye, he knows what he must do next. He felt relieved and smiled while stretching out a hand and placing it firmly on his shoulder.
“Your doubts are cleared, and you know what you must do. Go now. Your people need their saviour back as soon as possible. If you’re still worried about saving your brother, then think back to what I told you today and let it give you strength so that you can fight on no matter how unreasonable the goal is!” Darian said and winked cheerfully at him.
Lakshman smiled back and moved forward to hug him one last time before breaking free and waving him goodbye. He turned towards the God of Energy, who merely nodded wordlessly as he understood a great change has started to come over the Phoenix Titan. This made him feel glad that he chose the right person to motivate him and point him in the right direction.
Lakshman waved a hand in farewell to his ex-mentor and Darian waved merrily at him as he watched the God of Energy wave his hand and caused a blinding light to envelop Lakshman before vanishing from sight
A moment later, Darian released a deep breath and said in a sad voice, “Man… I’m getting too old for this sort of stuff.”
“it’s your fault for using Saver Mode too many times to live longer,” commented Engruat mercilessly.
Darian turned to give him a severe look and said, “Lucky is right. You really are a stalker.”
“Gah!” Engraut said, feeling himself pierced by those words as if they were swords. A moment later, he recovered from the jap and looked curiously at the man before him, asking him, “Don’t you have any regrets?”
This time, Darian smiled widely and replied, “Actually… I had two; one wanting to meet my wife one last time and the second was to advice Lucky one last time. Thankfully, I advised Lucky one last time, so I’m ready to move on.”
When Engruat looked confused, Darian smiled and began to explain.
“I don’t want to appear as a transparent, untouchable figure in front of my wife because I want to touch her, to console her and to tell her to help these young ones to grow into fine adults. Even I have my pride as a warrior, you know? Anyway, from Lucky’s explanation, I can firmly believe she will do exactly that because, she knows, it’s what I would want her to do. That’s why, I’m proud to call her my one and only dearest wife.”
Engruat looked amazed and said, “Jena would be amazed and happy to meet a couple like you.”
Darian smiled wryly and said, “if Goddess of Love feel that way, then we should be feeling honoured. Anyway, it’s time I get going before you suddenly tell me to stay and test my patience.”
As he said those words, the darkness to the side cleared and shining steps appeared that led upward to who knows where. Darian glanced at it and then back at the God of Energy before clapping his hands together in an action of gratitude while saying his final words.
“Thank you for giving me this chance to meet Lucky. I am forever grateful.”
Engruat managed to chuckle humorously and say, “it’s both ways, my friend. You helped him when I couldn’t, so I am also thankful to fate of finding you here.”
The deceased Sword King stared at him in surprise before making a small smile on his face and turned towards the stairs. Slowly, he walked towards it and placed one leg on the first step, which made his entire body momentarily shudder as divine power surrounded him and began pulling him towards it. Feeling a sense of peace, he began climbing up the stairs and disappeared from sight before the stairs began to get shrouded by the surrounding darkness until it was no longer in sight.