“Lynor! Take Sylvia and Kaidus into the barracks! Everyone else, with me!” Lord Varath commanded.
“My Lord! You should also go inside! We don’t know what’s going on over there!” Troyle quickly advised Lord Varath.
“I will not hide while my men are fighting for their lives! Gather those who can fight! We’re moving soon!” Lord Varath replied, then shouted at his men.
Unarmed guards quickly went inside to gear up.
Soon enough, a group of men were standing outside of the building, armed with swords, spears, and bows. Their group numbered 11 altogether: 5 guards who came in the carriages, 4 uninjured guards who were stationed in the building, along with Troyle, and the Lord.
“Lord Varath, please allow me to join you all.” Kaidus pleaded as the group was about to move out.
“I thought I ordered Lynor to take you and Sylvia inside?” Lord Varath spoke, surprised that he was still there.
Troyle looked at his son, and then turned back to Lord Varath.
“My Lord, please allow my son to join us.”
“You said yourself, we do not know what is happening over there, and you want to bring along your son?” Lord Varath questioned.
“Kaidus himself wants to come along. If there’s any chance that he could help, I will not stop him.” Troyle answered.
Lord Varath turned to look at Kaidus more closely. Seeing the child’s calm and unyielding eyes, “…Very well… I welcome your help, young mage.” He spoke, clarifying Kaidus’s role to those around them. The group of guard’s eyes lit up at the mention of a mage in the party.
“Let’s go!” Lord Varath screamed out.
“…master…” Hasen echoed.
“I know Hasen. I can feel it.” Kaidus replied in his mind.
Each step they took, brought them closer to the ominous presence.
By the time they reached the point of entry into the forest, the screams had stopped.
Like many other forests, this one was also thick with wild plants and tall trees that branched out and covered the forest canopy. While the interior of the forest was quite visible and could be traversed due to it being only the afternoon, there was something innately wrong about it.
“My lord, will you not stay here and wait for us?” Troyle spoke, sensing the doom up ahead.
“I will not repeat myself Troyle. I am coming with everyone.” Lord Varath replied, adamant about his decision.
“Very well. Kaidus, stay by the Lord’s side at all cost. You two will be in the middle.”
“Yes, father.” Kaidus obeyed.
As they were about to head into the thick forest, a rustling could be heard coming from within. It got closer and closer until at last, one of the guards burst out through the thickets.
“Ha… ha… r-run..!” he voiced breathlessly, before collapsing onto the ground.
“Darin!!” all of the guards shouted, running to drag him out of the forest.
Bringing him out of the forest and into the light, they quickly noticed something wrong with the man.
Darin was missing his right hand, his weapons were gone, his clothes torn, and his face bloody. His pants were ripped and there were teeth marks on his legs, his hand was bleeding out, and the man looked half dead.
“Darin?! What happened in there?!” One of the guards shouted at the barely conscious man as they set him down on the ground.
“UUAAAAAAHHHH!!!” Darin suddenly screamed out in pain, snapping out of his exhaustion. Everyone gasped as a red flame flared up and cauterized the bleeding hand.
“Wrap his hand up!” Lord Varath ordered.
Without waiting for a second command or looking to see who had cauterized the wound, one of the guards took out a long piece of cloth from a bag he was carrying, and started bandaging the wound.
“My lord, we need to take Darin and get away from here now!” Troyle spoke anxiously.
“No! Lea-leave me… run!” Darin shouted painfully.
“RAOOOOOOOHH!” a piercing howl shot through the air.
“You… must leave! *COUGH COUGH*” Darin cried out one last time, before he started coughing.
“Circle formation! Surround the wounded!” Troyle swiftly ordered the guards, sensing danger.
The group seamlessly transformed into a circle surrounding Lord Varath, Kaidus, and the wounded Darin. Many of the men had trained with Troyle, thus they knew him to be a capable person. No one questioned his sudden commands.
Even before the formation had finished, korgas started streaming out of the forest as if they’d been waiting for the signal to attack. Small brown wild dogs that were up to the knees of a grown man, with long snouts for digging up burrowing preys, and sharp claws that allow them to latch onto trees—for simple climbing.
“What in the world?!” A guard spoke out.
“This can’t be real!” Another one cried in distress.
Some of the guards were silently praying, while other’s voiced their thoughts about the surreal situation.
“Where did all these come from!?!” Another shouted.
“Larvus, Grenth, and Zinn…*sob* everyone… they all gave up their life so that I- *sob* I could escape!” Darin started shouting and crying.
By the end of the outpouring, the korgas outnumbered the little group at least four to one. Korgas were known to live in packs, but never beyond the limit of 10 to 15 due to infighting, and lack of food. Having at least 40 together in a pack, was an unprecedented number.
Unable to move because of the defensive formation and in the middle of the road, the group was easily surrounded with nowhere to go. The less experienced guards started panicking.
“Group up together, and close the formation.” A voice reverberated through the air. The voice spoke, as if to each of the frightened guards individually. Commanding yet gentle, one that calmed and soothed, echoing in their head even after it had vanished.
Intuitively, everyone took a step back to stand shoulder to shoulder—closing the circular formation. Their fear replaced by the calming voice in their minds.
Having surrounded the group, the korgas were cautiously waiting for a chance to attack. Upon seeing the sudden movements, the korgas at the front leaped into action.
Some of the guards brought up their shields to defend while those with bows let fly their arrows. Out of nowhere, a small hurricane burst forth around them, smashing away the korgas in midair and catching the arrows.
Everyone turned to look at the only person in the group who could have done such a thing: the dark-haired child in the middle of the formation, the young mage.
Only now, the child’s eyes were glowing dimly, and his previously black hair was flashing silver in the light of the afternoon sun.
His instincts were correct in telling him to come with the group.
Surrounded with no way out, Kaidus quickly took action before anyone could get hurt.
Using voice magic, he quickly calmed the terrified group of guards. With a single thought, he called forth the wind, and coaxed it into a protective wall around them. With another thought and his dominating will, hundreds of small earth spikes shot out of the ground, impaling many of the korgas. Without waiting, he sent a wave of intense flame outward from their position—in the eye of the storm—and incinerated everything around them. The korgas that were injured by the earth spikes and those too close, turned into ashes while the few in the back quickly pounced out of the way, and back into the forest.
Everything happened within seconds of each other.
“GRAAUUUUHHH!!” Another piercing howl from the entrance of the forest.
The flame that was surrounding the hurricane got cleaved in half, and the tempest faltered for a few seconds before picking up again.
“It’s here. It’s here!” Darin shouted hysterically.
Out of the forest came the demon that the farmers had seen. A large hound, even bigger than the kaltiers. Glowing golden eyes, a jewel-like rock on its forehead, fiery red mane, and dark black fur. There were also two small horns sticking out of its head, along with powerful legs that could very likely rend through flesh and bones.
“Master…” Hasen whispered. “It is… corrupted… please… let me…”
“RAAUUUUH!!!!” The creature howled again, cutting Kaidus’s questions, and his magic.
‘?!’ Kaidus was surprised.
A part of the wind shield got blown away, and he had to refocus his mana to strengthen it again. He refocused himself and stared at the beast with intrigue. The beast’s howl had the power and shock to blow away sustained magic. Even if momentarily, it could prove troublesome. ‘What do you mean corrupted?’ He shouted back in his head.
“Lost spirits… corrupted… unable… to return… to Lagus…” Hasen whispered back.
‘How is that possible?’ He asked.
“I… do not know…”
Yet seeing the thing in front of him, there was no denying it. The presence faintly resembled that of a spirit, and looking closer, the creature’s mane did not look fiery, but were in fact fire itself. The creature may have been a fire spirit.
“Stay within the barrier.” He commanded again. His childish voice weaving to everyone around him. Kaidus then took a couple steps forward until he was at the edge of the circular formation.
“Kaidus!?” Troyle called out to him.
“Father. Please stay here.” Kaidus replied before motioning for the guards to break the circle and let him out—not waiting for Troyle to stop him. The guards complied without a word.
Walking through the tempest and coming face to face with the corrupted spirit in front of him, it was all too real a fire spirit. The mane was emitting heat, the golden eyes burned with a yellow flame, and smoke was coming out of the beast’s mouth. Looking into its eyes, the beasts beckoned him, as if praying for release.
Around the beast, he could see that most of the korgas that fled in his fire attack earlier had returned.
“Hasen… free them all.” Kaidus ordered. “Everything returns to darkness…” He spoke quietly and solemnly, as Hasen unleashed its wrath.
He was hesitant to bring the child along, but seeing Troyle’s trust in the child, he had allowed it.
Now Lord Varath knew why.
Alzin Varath knew the child was extraordinary. He had seen for himself, a display of the child’s magic on their first meeting. But that was just a display, and he had his doubts about the effectiveness of a child when it came time for action.
He saw now, how wrong he was.
After easily dealing with the korgas that surrounded them, the child calmly walked out of the safety of the raging tempest, and confronted the fiery beast.
A mass of dark smoke manifested in front of the child, and shot forth at the beast. The beast quickly leaped backwards and blew deep red flames out, but the flames were consumed by the dark cloud as it moved forward. As if sensing danger, the beast turned around and attempted to jump back into the forest for cover. Yet before it could, the cloud had transformed into two arms and grabbed its hind legs.
“RAAAUUUHH!!! The beast howled once more, but the arms held tight. The cloud expanded and formed into hundreds of tiny daggers, then inserted themselves into the beast’s body.
Dark smoke started pouring out of the creature’s mouth, and eventually, the giant hound dissolved and vanished into smoke. The dark cloud then split into a thick mist and flew at the remaining korgas that were frozen with fear, consuming them all while leaving nothing behind.
Lord Alzin Varath and everyone watched, as the terrifying spectacle played out before them.
Having dealt with the problem, Kaidus eased his mana and willed the wind to disappear.
As soon as all magic ceased, he found himself staring at a group of bewildered guards.
Troyle stepped out of the group.
“Are you alright?” Troyle asked, not a shred of fear in him toward his son.
“Yes.” Kaidus answered, glad that Troyle no longer looked at him in fear.
“Did you know what that was?” Troyle added.
“It was a fire spirit. I don’t know what, but there was something wrong with it. I could see it when I looked in its eyes…”
“Thank you, Kaidus. I don’t know what would happen if you had not asked to come earlier.” Lord Varath came out of the fortification, and gave Kaidus his thanks. A glint of fear could be seen in his eyes.
A team with Troyle at the front was sent into the forest to look for remains of the deceased, while the rest waited at the entrance.
“WaaaaaUwaaaaa!!” Crisis averted; Darin began crying. “Those demons, they killed Zinn first! They were eating him, and I-I couldn’t do anything! Larvus got dragged off, and Grenth…*sobbing* H-h-he chopped off my arm so that I could escape from the mouth of that beast! *sob* He stayed behind so that I could escape!” Darin cried, recalling everything that happened in the forest. “He saved a coward like me!” guilt stricken; tears streamed out of him.
The small group waited in silence as they listened to the cries of their comrade, relieved that their situation had not gone the same route. Some of them turned towards the child that had changed it, their fear slowly turning into gratitude.
After a while, the forest team returns with three large bundles.
“We were able to find all three of them, but… there were only bones left.” Troyle told everyone.
“I see… bring them. We will give them a proper burial.” Lord Varath spoke gravely.
No one spoke on the trip back to the farm barrack.
“Lord Varath!” Lynor rushed out to greet them as soon as he saw them. “What happened?!” he exclaimed at the sight of Darin, and the bloody bundles.
“Lynor… now’s not the time. Please send word to the family of Grenth, Larvus, and Zinn.” Lord Varath ordered.
“Yes, my lord…” Lynor somberly walked back into the build to issue the task. He understood all too well, what notifying the families meant.
Lord Varath, Troyle, Kaidus, and Sylvia were all riding in a single carriage back to the Varath manor.
All of the guards that had gone with them were now stationed in the outskirts, and the only people returning were the 4 carriage drivers, and the four of them.
Being the good child, she is, Sylvia had not asked about the event of the day. They rode in silence until they reached the gates of the 11th ward before Lord Varath finally spoke up.
“I… I don’t know how to thank you Kaidus.” They all looked at the lord. Lord Varath had on a solemn and serious face, his usual playful demeanor gone.
“I have offered you my greatest treasure… my daughter… the gift of family and the riches along with it, but you have refused.” The lord spoke slowly and eloquently.
“Although it is something of a secret, I myself am also a mage. Though I lack the abilities, and my rank is the lowest of Mahj, I still considered myself someone of power. Today, I saw for myself what a truly powerful mage is. I now understand your refusal towards my daughter, and I can’t bring myself to take any offense at the refusal. For one such as you who will surely be granted all he desires, I can give nothing but my deepest gratitude for all you’ve done.” Lord Varath gave a sincere bow.
“Please raise your head, my lord.” Kaidus spoke in his usual calm tone. “I do not refuse because of my gifts. I refuse, because I will not be the shackles that binds your daughter. I will not keep her from her freedom, and rule over her life. I implore you to let this notion of marriage go, and allow the future to unwind as it will. Sylvia is a beautiful girl. I know that she will one day find a partner befitting her.”
“I understand…” Lord Varath replied, looking at the child who had put such thoughts into the proposal.
The four of them sat in silence all the way until the Varath Manor.
It was evening, and dinner had just passed.
In her room, Sylvia was thinking about everything that had occurred over the course of the day.
She thought about the morning and her carriage ride with the boy.
About the stories he had told her while on the ride, his expressions that lit up when she asked about certain things pertaining to magic, his serious face as he stared quietly toward the broken fields, and his calm coolness like those of an adult, which only made her more nervous around him.
She heard her father order them both inside the building earlier, but when she got inside, he was nowhere to be found.
Not only did her father take him into a dangerous situation, from what she heard, he was the one who saved her father and everyone else.
What the boy said on the ride home really caught her by surprise.
She remembered everything that her mother and father told her over the past year after meeting the boy for the first time.
At first, a small part of her was intrigued by the boy, but in her mind she was always fighting against her parent’s future designs. Lessons about being a proper lady, proper etiquette, engaging in conversations, reading the atmosphere, education, and even dancing lessons which she was bad at.
Everything, they claimed, was for her future with this young boy who she barely knew. She went along with it because she did not want to disappoint her parents, but what he said earlier today opened her eyes to why they were so adamant about it.
“I refuse, because I will not be the shackles that bind your daughter.” She quoted him. She was young, but she had been taught well—especially over the past year. She was not one who could not read the underlying message in those words.
She pictured his calm impassive face in her mind. “Kaidus” she spoke his name, and her face grew hot and embarrassed.
“I refuse, because I will not be the shackles that binds your daughter.” She spoke the words one more time, replaying the scene and his conviction again in her head. She smiled briefly, then remembered the words after that. “I implore you to let this notion of marriage go.” It had struck her hard when he first spoke it in the carriage. She had finally started to like the boy, and he even saved her father’s life. Hearing those words, it felt like a harsh rejection.
“You think you can catch him?” her father’s words after their first meeting interrupted the playback, giving her a little hope.
Her mind was made up. She got off her bed and went to look for her mother.
She had been watching the boy all day long. Next time she sees him, she would at least make him notice her. Marriage, or no marriage.
-In a different corner of the world-
An old man walked through a desolate forest filled with dead trees. Nothing grew in these woods, and not a single animal or insect could be heard. All it is, was barren grounds filled with gray lifeless trees covered by a thick fog.
Undeterred, the old man walked diligently along a path until he came across a small hut. Opening the doors, the inside was empty, save for a single burning candle on a small post. With a thought, the ground of the hut opened up, revealing a stairwell leading down into the earth. The old man gave another thought, and an orb of light ignited in front of him to slowly descend the stairs. The old man followed.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, the earth opened up into a large room. Seven hooded figures stood, waiting for him.
“Thank you for coming, master.” One of the hooded figures spoke out.
“What is the occasion for calling me?” a tense atmosphere swept through the room at his words.
“One of our familiars in Darsus has been destroyed.” Another hooded figure spoke up.
“Destroyed? Where in Darsus?” The old man questioned.
“The link broke outside of Ferrent.”
“Was it Nylen?” The old man immediately remembered an old enemy.
“We do not know, master. The link was severed and all traces of the familiar has disappeared.” The figure replied back.
“Interesting… I wonder if Nylen’s little play school has actually bore some fruits.” The old man pondered out loud.
“Master, what should we do? Should we send in another?” the hooded figure asked.
“We poke around any longer, and Nylen may notice something is up. Recall our scouts for now.” the old man answered. “What about the situation in Malpaars?”
“The revolution is going as we hoped. All that is left, is to wait it out, and see which side comes out on top. Both sides will be devastated regardless of who wins.”
“Perfect.” The old man smiled at the good news. “Give me the other reports.” He commanded.
“Yes, master.” The group of seven simultaneously answered.