Chapter 35: Draug’s Last Hope

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23,203 - 23,205 AE

With the Inxikrah advancing, severely limiting the supply of crystals from Ixus, Draug found himself on the defensive. His power was diminished, his enemies were emboldened, and the Monolith, now a symbol of his reign, remained maddeningly incomplete. For the first time, Draug felt the hot breath of defeat, like a cloud of Inxikrah venom on the back of his neck. In despair, with defeat looming ever closer, he went alone to commune with the Weeping Tree. And there he found an answer to all his problems. The Weeping Tree was covered in luminous, crystalline buds.

In Draug’s mind, this changed everything. Scholars of the natural record said The Great Tree of Eyos bloomed every ten thousand years. It had been barely four thousand since the last blooming, but no one knew how that would be affected by the removal of the tree’s Heartwood, centuries earlier. Although weakened by age and injury, the Weeping Tree was still unimaginably powerful. A blooming would release petals containing immense magical energy, perhaps equaling a third or even a half of all the crystals that had ever existed on Mithron. Draug was determined that his enemies, especially the Inxikrah, would be denied this power. And he was equally determined that he would possess it — all of it.

Facing a deadline that could represent his ultimate downfall or his supreme triumph, Draug redoubled his efforts to complete the Monolith, to fully enclose the Weeping Tree and the crystal power it would soon release. He told no one of the mana-imbued buds he had seen, and protected his secret by declaring the interior of the Monolith off-limits to anyone but himself. As construction accelerated, so did the imbalance of magical energy, causing increasingly erratic weather, wildly turbulent seas, and tectonic instability. Sensing Draug’s weakness, the Inxikrah pressed their advantage, accelerating their attacks on Aestaria. But Draug knew that he only needed to hold them off until the Monolith was complete and the Great Blooming took place. Then Aestari primacy, and his own, would be secured for millennia.