This is the final Golden Paladin recap! You can read Parts 1 through 3

Hesa and the Golden Paladin delved into the mana-storm, which was just as disorienting and unpleasant as they’d been told. But the Golden Paladin seemed to have some resistance to it, and was able to direct Hesa to fire her magical weapon at the conflux. She did, which caused a massive runaway magical reaction that destroyed the conflux — and the weapon.

Coming to their senses after the resulting chaos, the two of them found piles of bones outside the amberrock walls, many of them with obvious falling breaks. Hesa noted that those with falling breaks were mages.

The air belonged to the enemy, the Golden Paladin now knew. The evil mages had apparently been snatching up others with a connection to the Weave and dropping them just outside the wall to die, injured and alone, in the mana-storm.

The Golden Paladin deduced that Merlin was not only targeting Arthur with the mana-storm, but directly attempting to kill her. Arthur was an Ether, a quantum creature whose closest kin would be a soul with a personality. Ethers (and other Ascendent beings) had something called a ‘zone of influence’ where they could extend their power and personality in an aura around them. Ethers’ zone of influence left them vulnerable in that it was a two-way street.

Merlin was murdering people right outside her door so she’d have to bear their pain.

Arthur met the Golden Paladin and Hesa as they made their way back toward the Keep, and the two of them admonished Arthur on secretly shouldering so much. Hesa and Arthur parted from the Golden Paladin, who met Tiann’a outside the Keep. After updating each other, Tiann’a brought the Golden Paladin to an underground workshop and introduced him to Mattan, Master Crafter for Arthur’s Kingdom.

The weapon may have exploded, but it had worked. The Golden Paladin asked if more of the weapons could be made (as Tiann’a seemingly knew that he would), and Mattan said it was impossible because all the lenses had been destroyed after the war was won. The only remaining weapon had been Hesa’s personal rifle, which they’d used against the conflux. The Golden Paladin then questioned Mattan about materials and Mattan quickly picked up on what the Golden Paladin’s plan was — to make arms and armor that could neutralize magic, using amberrock (which had natural mana-absorbing qualities) and crystals.

The Golden Paladin shared the results of several days of nonstop research and work between the brightest minds of Arthur’s Kingdom with Hesa, which included armor that absorbed casted mana and could redirect it through a weapon, and the frame to a rifle. But he needed her input on how to proceed.

“How familiar are you with the weapons used in the revolution?” the Golden Paladin asked.

“Originally, the weapons used against us took a slave-mage’s mana and, eventually, their life, focused through a conduit, to fire a beam. During the revolution, Arthur and myself managed to get our hands on a shipment and tinkered with them. Through our efforts, the weapons were modified with a small disc of thaumium, the magic metal, focused by the lenses, to form a link with the target, which could then capture mana. The captured mana was stored in the body of the magus wielding the weapon.”

Together, they worked out a plan to recreate the weapons from the revolution, but safer and more stable, to take on Merlin and his army of mana-sick mages.

Before much work could be done, they were interrupted by a scout bearing the intel hastily gathered on the world outside the mana-storm — and it was a lot. The Golden Paladin and Hesa bonded over sorting through it with Tiann’a and a few other trusted individuals. Hesa told the Golden Paladin some things about her time in the rebellion.

“Our salute was originally the secret signal used by rebel slave-mages. You touched your shoulder to adjust your clothing. If someone else in the room did it as well shortly after you did, there were rebel-sympathizers among your group, and you could meet to organize later. Operatives slipped into groups of those still enslaved.” Her fingers hesitated over the pages, and her eyes went distant, though she kept talking: “The bravest among us volunteered to blend in, sometimes over and over, to disrupt mage-slaver activity or rescue the enslaved. Most of them didn’t see freedom.” Her fingers returned to their work, eyes refocusing. “We kept the signal not only out of habit, but to honor them. Our ‘military,’ such as it is, was formed out of the remnants of deeply-traumatized formerly enslaved people who won a war for their freedom and had no idea what to do with it.

“Arthur took on the burden of our day-to-day survival: how many crops to plant to support the current populace and the monitoring of said populace, the import-export of supplies with neighboring kingdoms, that sort of thing, because her expansive mind allows her to categorize those intricate calculations with ease. This is why the people named her King. She ensured our survival, in the very mundane definition of food and medicine and shelter and clean water, during those perilous first few years after the war. I took on managing our existence in an inherently magical world. Shaping magical instruction and utilization within our borders; laws relating to magic; the prevention, investigation, and punishment of magical crime. We shared military power, informally, with each other and the leaders of other kingdoms. But, until Merlin’s betrayal, our soldiers only had to handle the occasional skirmish with hill giants and wrangling escaped bovinus. That is to say, our military, while as well-trained as we could manage for defensive purposes, has always stood on ceremony alone. We didn’t need it to do anything else, yes; but we also simply didn’t have the expertise to evolve it. Now we do need it, and we still don’t have that expertise. That’s why you’re here.”

Five days after obtaining the intel, the first attack came.

The Golden Paladin scrambled his troops — but only four mages appeared over the horizon. After flying over the amberrock wall, they plummeted to the ground. The Golden Paladin had come to the conclusion that amberrock wouldn’t tolerate large concentrations of mana around it — such as those used by a flight spell.

The mages were captured and interrogated, but they were too mana-sick to be of much use, other than calling Merlin “Lord God” and that he had a “right-hand man” named Resh. Arthur ordered them to receive ‘the crowns’ — trillium headpieces permanently affixed to perpetrators of heinous magical crimes which brings on or accelerates mana-sickness.

Mana-sickness in mages is eventually fatal.

A few days after the attack, the intel was sorted and a meeting was called to go over what they had — and hadn’t — learned.

The primary reports of note included disappearances all across the Kingdoms, unauthorized high-caliber spells gulping mana, and unknown towers springing up in random places, heavily protected by confluxes and mana-storms.

In the meeting, they figured out that Merlin was more than likely attempting to corrupt a nexus by using mana he was stealing from people, conditioning it with blood magic, and forcing it back into the nexus.

The idea of a corrupted nexus was so horrifying that the meeting erupted into chaos. The Golden Paladin cut off their panic by summoning Alpha, and telling them his true purpose: to destroy the nexus Merlin was corrupting.

He also told them of some new intel he’d received: that there had been break-ins at ‘the armories.’ During the rebellion, the mage-slavers had made magically-powered machines that they used in lieu of foot soldiers. When the war was over, all attempts had been made to destroy the things, but due to their manufacturing, they were too volatile to be safely rid of. So they were buried deeply under the earth in various sealed vaults called ‘armories.’

Those armories, reports said, were now empty.

Merlin had once been enslaved before Hesa had rescued him. Now he had resorted to using the very tech that had been used to subjugate him and his kind long before.

The meeting was interrupted by the chiming of the early-warning system. A big attack was coming.

And this is where we pick up the story once again. See you next month with the continuation of The Golden Paladin: Land of Chaos!

N.A. Soleil is a portmanteau pseudonym of the two authors' names.

Land of Chaos is a serial novel that we'll pick back up after these recaps! You can read previous Metacosm Chronicles stories in past issues of Tumbleweird.