Amidst the chaos, he could see no sign of the boy.
From the cages came the screams of the women and children, as families shouted for one another. There were commands being issued by both defenders and attackers alike and the sound of metal clashing came from all around followed by the deathly wails of dying men. The open plain changed as their captors began casting magic onto the unknown attackers, burning and destroying the landscape.
Those around Biran scrambled about, dragging him along. “Stop! Stop pulling!” He shouted, bracing himself and jerking back on the chain—pulling a couple people down to the ground. His voice fell on deaf ears and those who fell quickly got up and went right back to panicking, trying to hide from what was happening.
A whip cracked, and someone screamed from nearby.
Biran spotted one of the captors behind him trying to subdue those who were trying to flee. He glimpsed a chance at escape. With a burst of strength, he charged their captor before the man could turn in his direction. Towing a few of the prisoners with him, some quickly understood what he was trying to do and started running with him, pulling others along.
With a hard tackle, the captor fell on the ground and Biran jumped on top of the man along with the others.
Snatching a dagger that the man was trying to reach for, he swiftly jammed it into the man’s stomach as the others held the man down. “Get his sword!” Biran shouted, and another man pulled out the dying man’s still sheathed sword. He quickly slit their captor’s throat without any further resistance.
“He doesn’t have the keys!” Another man cried out, patting down the dead captor.
“Get to the cages then!” He commanded, taking the sword. He needed to get to the cages to ascertain the boy’s whereabouts and to use them to break the chains.
The group of men had seen what he did and quickly assented, stumbling and pulling one another as they tried to run.
“Kill’em! Kill everyone!” He heard someone shout.
Still chained together, they failed to make it very far before screams started coming out from those in the back. Looking behind him, the men in his chain of prisoners were being slaughtered mercilessly. He could see the helpless situation going from bad to worse and Biran gripped the sword tightly in his hand, ready to defend himself and those around him.
“Spread out and protect the prisoners!” A woman’s voice bellowed through the chaos. Two unknown riders quickly came up from behind them, dispatching the four who were slaughtering them.
Biran watched, as a squad of riders joined the battle. Fanning out through the battlefield, the riders moved swiftly, killing anyone not bound in chains. Armored in black and riding large horses, they took offensive magic head on without worry. The few who were shot off their horses by magic or other means simply got back up and continued fighting on foot. As if protected by the gods, the new mounted group easily dominated the battle and before long it was over.
Biran stared at the open plain that was now littered with dead bodies. There had been at least forty people herding them like a group of animals, keeping them prisoners, but those people were all dead. Unfortunately, they were not the only casualties. Some of the prisoners had also been slaughtered as a last-ditch effort by their captors. Men, women, and children lay in clusters, chained together. Some dead, some dying, while others looked on in horror. His heart sank, fearing that his young charge was one of the casualties.
Holding the sword that he had taken earlier, he watched to see what was to come next. What their fate would be with the new group.
Two armored riders dismounted and walked toward them. “Are you all alright?” A deep manly voice questioned them.
“Yes! Thank you! Thank you thank you!”
“Thank the gods we’re saved!”
The others around him started expressing their gratitude.
He could not do the same. His thoughts were on something else.
After being briefly informed of the situation by their savoir, they were freed of their chains and cuffs.
“Lyal! Lyal!! Where are you?!” Biran shouted, moving to the four large cages as soon as he was freed.
As he expected, they were no longer in Unotus. They were now in Malpaars, and from what they were told, had been bound for the town of Garnikul, a place that dealt in the buying and selling of human lives.
Their saviors also revealed themselves to be Malpaar’s Liberation Army. But liberating Malpaars from what, he did not know and he did not care. All he could think of was looking for the prince.
Many others were already ahead of him. With agony in their voice, they were all calling for their loved ones.
“Marilin! NO!!” An excruciating cry came from a man who was kneeling beside the body of a woman with a deep gash in her neck.
“Timus… my little… *Sob*” The sound of a grief-stricken father who was holding onto his young son’s lifeless body.
All around him, the survivors were grieving.
“Lyal!!!” He yelled again, fearing for the worst as he looked through the first two cages, turning over bodies. “LYAL!!” He continuously called out.
“Biran! Biran I’m over here!” Near the last cage in the back, a frightened young boy frantically answered his calls. The boy stood with a group of women and children who were still waiting to be freed of their chains.
Sitting on the grass, he watched as two piles of bodies were set ablaze as the sun began to set.
Many of them had spent the evening gathering firewood from the forest and moving all the deceased to give them a funeral pyre. The majority had been against the idea of burning the slavers, so those bodies were left to rot in the open plain.
As the pyres burned, the crackling and smell of burning flesh pervaded through the somber atmosphere. Those who retained their lives watched and cried, trying to pay their last respects to the deceased.
Biran sat, contemplating what to do next while the young prince slept beside him.
He was glad that his fears had not come true. He was thankful for the small stroke of luck after having endured all that hardship. He didn’t know what other trials the gods had in store for the two of them, but he knew one thing: they were both still alive. Although they were in a different land and had no idea where they are or where to go, ‘As long as we’re alive we can find a way to get back.’ He told himself, trying to reassure himself of their uncertain destiny.
Watching the flames dancing, he saw someone draped in black from head to toe walk up to stand between the two pyres.
“I am sorry for all your losses today,” A melancholic female voice resounded through to everyone, causing all eyes to fall on her immediately. It was the same voice he had heard earlier giving the command to protect the prisoners. “I know that many of you are distraught, and nothing can ever bring them back or fill the empty void their passing has created. Forgive us for being unable to save everyone. Forgive me for being too weak.” The woman made a deep bow.
“If not for this ambush, my wife would still be alive!” A grieving man stood up and shouted as he cried.
“My daughter… *Sob* She was only eight.” A woman cried, breathing heavily, trying to hold back her anger as tears rolled down her face.
A young widow who had lost her husband made a shrill cry, sobbing into her palms.
Filled with grief, those who had lost someone lashed back at the pitiful woman who was apologizing.
“I am sorry…” The woman replied once more, not lifting her head.
Biran watched as one of the armored knights walked in front of the woman.
“There is nothing to apologize for, my lady.” A man’s voice came through the dark helmet and he turned to look at those who had been shouting. “Your anguish is justifiable as your losses are indeed great, but your anger should not be directed toward my lady. If not for her, all of you would be moving towards a fate worse than death. She was the one who pleaded for this rescue after hearing words of your plight.” The man stepped forward and drew his sword. “For that, I Galefore Rvanius, first of her knights will not allow anyone else to further slander her benevolence.”
Those who had been shouting sat back down and wept.
“Please sheathe your sword, Gale.” The woman implored. The knight immediately complied and took a few steps back. The woman stepped forward and pulled back her black hood, revealing a gorgeous face with a broken horn protruding from her forehead. She was a Gveril, and looked to be in her early thirties. “I am Vernera Yufin V. Avarthias, First Princess and daughter of Malpaars late King Phaton Karlion Hars Avarthias. I know that words alone can never make up for it, but I too share your pain. I am sorry for your losses.” She lowered her head once again. Her voice, echoing a deep sadness.
‘The First Princess…’ Mesmerized by her visage, Biran could not help but stare blankly at the Princess.
Malpaars had recently gone through a successful revolution, one that came out of nowhere and lasted for two years, ultimately ending up with the execution of the royal family three years ago. For her to have escaped that purge, he was amazed.
“I know that many of you had no desire to be in this situation. To be frightened and powerless. To be bound and taken against your will to a foreign land and lose those who are dearest to you in the process.” The Princess spoke, looking at all of them with sadness in her eyes. “I want you all to know that none of you have any obligations to me for what I did. Those who wish to leave, I will not stop you. Those who cannot, are free to join me and mine until you are well enough to do so or wish to. That is the only thing I can do for all of you.” She paused and took a moment to look around. “As much as I hate to rest upon these cursed grounds, night is already upon us so we will be making camp here tonight. We will return to our place of refuge tomorrow. You are all welcome to join us.” She declared before walking way.
Along with four others and the young prince, they slept in a makeshift shelter of earth created by the mages. Biran spent half the night thinking.
Come the morning, a small group of men were given provisions before they went their separate ways. The majority of their group of refugees numbering almost eighty survivors joined the Princess and her entourage.
Five days later and after traveling through a large forest, they came to a large body of water. Enshrouded in fog, he could not tell if it was a lake or if they had arrived at the sea. The abnormal atmosphere gave it a bizarre feel as if something would burst forth from the water and attack them at any minute.
The young prince beside him held his hand tightly as they watched Princess Vernera approach the edge of the water with a group of mages. As the group began chanting incantations, the water began bubbling in a straight line and a path materialized on the surface of the water, leading straight into the fog.
“Everyone. Please follow me and do not veer off the path.” The Princess instructed before stepping onto the unknown surface with the mages and entering the fog.
Likewise: Biran, his young charge, and the others followed behind with the riders taking up the rears.
After another long walk without any visibility but the path underneath their feet, the fog began to clear and the sky opened up. In front of them stood a large city, floating in the center of the abnormal fog. At the gate was a group of people who were awaiting them.
Unlike the somber and silent past few days, the sound of cheerful laughter and shouting could be heard coming from the city. Looking to the city’s edge, kids were playing and splashing in the water. He spotted a couple derzul children swimming about and playing with gveril and human children.
“It is good to see you are safe, Princess.” A gveril woman greeted the princess upon reaching the gates.
“Sorry for always troubling you all.” The princess gave the woman a hug.
“My lady. The construction has been completed.” A stocky derzul man with a large upper body chimed in. “The men worked tirelessly these past twelve days and added a new section to the city as you wanted, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to accommodate all the new faces.”
“Thank you Usule. We’ll just have to keep adding onto the city if that’s the case.” The princess replied before turning back to look at the group. “I apologize for the unsettling trek. I know the fog frightened many of you, but is helps to disorient our enemies.” The princess turned to look at the sprawling city. “This is our home. Our base. I welcome you all to the Floating City of Vilute.”
A group of people were following the road outside of Ferrent and traveling westward. Riding in the front was a young man with pitch black hair wearing traveling leather. Beside him was a man with dark blue hair. Two riders followed behind them along with a wagon and another group of six riders in the back.
“… Elzeores’ theory of mana allocation via runes. Using his works, we now have everyday items that are imbued with magic, offering those who can afford it a convenience to their quality of life. What I aim to do is bring that to everyone. Not just the rich, but to everyone no matter where they live in Darsus with little to minimal cost and maintenance.” Larant spoke excitedly. “Imagine: A conductor that can siphon off the mana from Lagus like a mage. Using that mana, the device can power itself after its initial starting phase. Now take that conductor and make it so that it disperses the excess mana it siphons throughout an area to other objects that can absorb that mana.” Larant made gestures with his hand, noting a large circular orbit. “It won’t be like how it is now where mages have to consistently go around and power apparatuses that have ran out of mana, but instead, it’ll be a giant field of perpetual infusion that encompasses and fuels everything that have been inscribed with the same runes. Placed in villages and towns, it could power any apparatus that requires mana even if said places do not have a mage. Such a thing could revolutionize the way people live their lives.” Larant explained passionately.
“It is a grand idea, but have you considered the harm that such a conductor could bring? The mana from Lagus is very different from those in our own body. Anyone can absorb it as long as they know how, and it corrupts the mind if unpurified. What would happened if a mage decides to use it to amplify their own abilities for destruction considering the convenience, or if unknown problems arise due to exposure to the primal power?” Kaidus inquired, staring at Larant.
For the older boy to have come up with such an idea not just for himself, but for the betterment of the world, it was quite laudable. Should it bear fruit, it would be a great accomplishment. Yet, he knew all too well that one man’s convenience could always become another man’s weapon. He recalled the now sealed mirror shard in his room that was taken from Zavon.
“I… have not considered any risks. Hahahaha.” Larant laughed, giving him a teething grin. “But I can think about that later. As it is, it’s just a concept I’m working with. I don’t even know where to begin, and it may end up just being a transient dream.”
“Ha… the way you were talking about it, I thought it was a work in progress already.”
“I wish.” Larant grinned, looking at the road ahead.
Their group was on a hunting expedition. The New Year was here along with the rjus, which was why Larant was home. Lord Varath had been the one to organize the outing. A five days trip: two days travel to the Linoti forest west of Ferrent for a day of hunting.
Seven Varath guards accompanied them. Two riding behind Kaidus and Larant, one steering the wagon, and four others riding in the back with Troyle and Lord Varath.
They had just left Ferrent. Adalina, Anise, and Lance were staying at the Varath manor for the duration of the trip.
“Hey Kaidus. Did you hunt a lot when you were with the mercenaries?” Larant questioned.
“A couple times.”
“I actually used a bow most of the time when I went out. Some of the older mercenaries taught me how to use one.” Kaidus gave a wry smile.
“Hah. A mage hunting with a bow. How inefficient.” Larant chuckled.
“Will you be hunting with magic?”
“Of course. I didn’t spend all that time at the academy learning magic so that I can use a bow to hunt.” Larant quipped.
“I’m looking forward to seeing that.”
“Say, have you met any of the others ever since your return?”
“Jorva and the others?”
“I have not. Besides going to your place and that time I was summoned to the 13th ward, I don’t get out of the 3rd ward much. How’re they all doing?”
“I’m not sure. I heard that Prim was admitted into the Mystiks Guild right after the academy because of her talents. I think Lisin and Jorva also joined the guild by passing the Trial of Flames.”
“Any idea what Mirat is up to?”
“Afraid not. Last I talked to him was at the end of his 6th year. He said he would be traveling. Said something about taking your example to go outside of Ferrent and see where his magic can take him before coming back to settle down.” Larant replied, staring at the sky.
“I see. I wish him luck wherever he is.”
Another full day of riding later, they approached the dense Linoti forest.
In the darkness, a large and battered ship crashed onto Darsus’ southeastern shore. Signs of battle could be seen on the ship’s deck, and two of its three masts were missing.
Having grounded, the hull exploded and a figure wearing a black cloak strutted out of the opening onto the shore. The figure’s face was covered by a hood and all that was visible in the moonlight, was a confident grin on their face.
“Your master is back. The time has come for this land to be ravaged once again.” The figure spoke in a deep and powerful voice.
From behind the figure, a large group of people also came out.
“Virlah, Eshin, and Kain. Scout our surroundings. Make sure we are in a secure location. The rest of you salvage whatever you can from the ship for a temporary base. Burn whatever’s left with those rats still in there. We will wait until the next group is here before moving deeper inland.”
““Yes, Master Zavon.”” The group simultaneously obeyed.
The figure smiled.
The name was his. Unlike his predecessor, he would not fail the organization. It was only a matter of time before Darsus once again bowed before the might of Tal’hrus.