Sitting beside a small campfire, Kaidus wordlessly stared at the silver ring in his hand while thinking about his family.
The sky had already gone dark, but the memories of what happened earlier in the day were still fresh on his mind and weighed on him heavily.
Everything that had transpired felt all too familiar. The senseless destruction, the helplessness of those who survived, and the unmistakable loss that seem to always meander through the air after such ordeals. He did not know how many had perished in the carnage, but it was undoubtedly up in the hundreds. After seeing such devastation, he did not dare to stay and watch the mourning process, for he understood what was to come.
Thinking back on everything.
Had he left Vick after learning of the Tal’hrus master’s location, such darkness would have never befallen the now ruined city.
Recounting his activities for the past ten days, the two dozen or so girls that he helped in Karpes surfaced in his mind. “No.” Speaking the word out loud, he stopped himself before he could compare the lives of two dozen girls to the lives of hundreds. It was impossible to save everyone, and he knew it. Had come to terms with it. He had done what he could and freed those who were still alive. The rest was up to them.
Yet, such things had never sat well with him.
Through the sound of the crackling fire, by his will, his mana surged into the ring in his hand.
-Darsus. Ferrent’s 3rd ward-
Anise sat in the wooden tub, watching with a cheerful smile on her face. Whenever her mother was not looking, she would submerge herself and blow bubbles before bursting out and giggling at her own antics.
Beside her, Adalina was trying to bathe a squirming Lance who was crying because he had been doused with water.
“Anise. If you are done, go and get dressed. Your father still needs to wash.” Adalina instructed, seeing the girl playing.
“But Momma, I wanna stay until the water is cold.” Anise protested, immersing herself up to her nose.
“It’s already cold. Any longer and you are bound to get sick.” Adalina replied, gently patting the babe in her arms to quell his cries. “Stop dallying and go. I still need to reheat the water for your father.”
“Now, young lady.” Adalina instructed sternly, holding Lance to her chest and patting his back while reassuring him that she was not talking to him.
“Kay…” Anise stood up and began shaking her hair.
“Anise? What is that?” Adalina questioned, seeing the faint light coming from one of two rings on the girl’s translucent necklace.
“Hm? AH-! Secret!” Clutching the rings with one hand, Anise grabbed her drying cloth and dashed out of the washroom while butt naked. There was a spring in her steps and a smile on her face as she darted up the stairs.
“Hasen. I’m alone now!” She exclaimed as soon as she closed her door. Grabbing the yellow one-piece dress that was laid out on her bed, she began pulling it over her head while keeping an ear out for her brother’s voice.
“Kai!?” She questioned, thinking she had heard something.
“Are you alright? What was that noise?”
Her brother’s voice came through the silver ring and her face lit up with delight. Even though she had just talked to him a few days ago, she was overjoyed to be hearing him. “Uh-huh! I’m okay.” She replied cheerfully.
“You sound happy. Did something good happened?”
“Wanna tell me?”
“Hehehe. I’m talking to Kai.” She answered.
“Haha. Is that so?” A warm chuckle came from the ring along with her brother’s kind voice. Yet within his usual tone, there was something else. A distant tinge of sadness, as if he was about to go somewhere even further away.
“Are you okay Kai?” She questioned, having heard the small drop in his voice.
“I’m fine. I just really miss you all.”
“We miss you too!” She exclaimed happily.
There was another chuckle. “Thanks. Is Lance there with you?”
“Momma and Lance are taking a bath.”
“Kai?” She spoke, trying to think of how to cheer him up.
“Um you know… my… my birthday…” She answered timidly, trying not to sound too demanding.
“Yes, of course. The 12th of Kinu wasn’t it? Wow, you’ll be nine soon huh?”
“Uhn.” Pleased that he remembered, a smile appeared on her face. He had been gone for almost two turns already, and her 9th birthday was fast approaching. “You know… if you come home, you can see me and Lance, and Mama and papa.” She added sheepishly, trying to induce him to come home.
Her brother laughed. “Indeed, and I will. Just not yet. Sorry.”
“Because I haven’t found you a present yet. Remember? I promised you I’d bring you something good when I return.”
“Oh. Hehehe. Okay.” Her smile turned into a teething grin at the mention of a present.
“Hm?” She replied eagerly, having already forgotten about trying to cheer him up.
“Ah, no. Nothing. You know that I love you right?”
“Uhn! I love Kai too!”
“I’m glad.” Her brother’s voice had perked up. “Are you all going to bed soon?”
“Well then, I best be going. I just wanted to hear your voice before you all went to bed. Please give Mother and Lance a hug for me.”
“Hehe. You’re weird Kai.”
“UHN!” She gleefully replied, and the glow from the ring immediately faded.
With a smile on her face, she left the room to go give her mother and baby brother a hug.
Closing his hand around the silver ring, there was a smile on his face.
The girl’s innocent laughter, her cheerful exuberance, even her worried voice had calmed him down. As much as she adored him, he loved her for it. Just knowing that his family was safe and sound gave him peace of mind, especially after everything that had occurred.
Tired and unwilling to keep pondering about the unfortunate event, Kaidus erected himself a small earthen shelter and crawled inside.
A low piercing howl screeched through the air, waking him up to total darkness.
As his eyes adjusted, he saw that his campfire had already gone out, but the crescent moon was still high in the sky. There were sparsely any trees to hide him as he was camping on a mountainside, but such things did not concern him.
Sitting up, Kaidus perked his ears and listened quietly. He felt Zion’s wind moving about like a twisting breeze—ever watchful whilst he slept—before hearing the shrill cries of a creature in the distance, and the sound of barking along with another howl.
Reaching for the Xeberite sword beside him, the wind stormed to his side like a protective shield.
There was another yelp and in the darkness, he spotted a dozen pairs of glowing yellow eyes moving in the distance, running down the mountain side. Still groggy and with no reason to investigate as they were not coming for him, he went back to sleep.
“Cadrians?” He noted the horns on the two wolves and bent down to examine their carcasses. “No… these are much smaller…” Voicing his thoughts out loud as he looked to the second one.
Slim and agile looking, although they had forward pointing horns like cadrians, the creatures were merely a third the size of a normal one. Yet, their horns denoted maturity in such species. His eyes fell upon a very peculiar trait. “Iron-tailed kavaks…” The name came to him upon seeing the slick and metal whip-like tail on the creatures.
Turning one over with his hand, it was cold to the touch. There was a deep gash on the left side of its stomach along with a twisted hind leg, while the second appeared like something had taken a bite out of its neck. He had stumbled upon the two carcasses while following a trail of blood earlier in his hunt for breakfast.
They had probably died sometime during the night but with the cold of Fulta, they were still looking quite fresh. Taking out his knife, Kaidus began cutting off the legs for himself. Thankful for the stroke of luck, he took out a small string from his rucksack and tied the eight legs—each barely the size of his forearm—together.
‘Massssterrr.’ Zion’s voice resounded in his head excitedly.
‘What is it?’ He thought back.
‘A Beassssst Of The Sssssky. They Who Ride My Windssss.’
Kaidus immediately arched his head upward, recalling the last time the spirit notified him of such a thing. There was nothing in the air. ‘Where?’ He questioned.
The breeze around himself began changing, picking up small pebbles and leaves before twirling them into a tube in midair and flying off.
Following Zion, the spirit led him to a grisly sight a short distance away. There were three more dead kavaks on the ground and it felt like some sort of deathmatch had taken place there. Dried blood covered a good amount of the area and just like the previous two, the three kavaks had been killed in similar fashion: broken neck, legs, deep wounds, and weird coiling marks.
Zion zipped away, moving behind a row of large boulders.
“Hssss!” Something made a menacing sound as if to deter the spirit.
Quickly running over to the rocks, Kaidus stared in shock at what was lying before him.
Within the crevices of a large rock, a sleek and beautiful snake was coiled up and hissing weakly. Not just any kind of serpent, it was a young hvaral.
With pitch black scales, it had a silver underbelly and a single greenish stripe that ran from the snake’s forehead, all the way down its back to its small three-pronged tail. The creature was bleeding and he could see puncture marks along its coiled-up body.
It glared and hissed back at him, baring a mouth filled with razor sharp fangs. Judging by its size and the lack of horns and a mane, the thing was probably still a youngling, not even yet a juvenile. Carefully scanning its body, he found where its three pairs of wings should be extending from. Yet, two of them were nothing but scarred stubs, and the last pair—by its tail—was frayed and mutilated.
“They were chasing you…” The howling and barking of the previous night were quickly explained. He looked over to the kavak carcasses then back at the youngling before him. The serpent had probably killed off a few of the small wolves and scared away the rest. Looking at the creature’s condition, it had sustained too much damage and would undoubtedly die in a few days.
Kaidus reached into the crevice and the serpent lashed forward, sinking its fangs into his hand. With a grimace, he strengthened his arm with mana and grabbed the young snake’s body, pulling it out of the hiding spot.
The thing coiled weakly around his arm as if to strangle him, but he could feel the strength draining from its exhausted body. “What happened to your wings?” He questioned, seeing that the creature would never take to the skies again even if it survived its injuries.
“Kraaooou!” Instead of a hiss, it roared angrily, sending a weak and shrill shockwave into his ears.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He replied, holding onto it firmly. He had seen how large they could get, but the youngling in his hand was barely the length of his left shoulder to the tip of his right arm. It still had hundreds of years left, and he could not allow such a majestic creature to wither away so pointlessly on the ground.
With a thought, he began infusing his mana into the serpent. Although he had never tried healing an animal before, drakalls were creatures that had mana within their bodies, and he was quite certain it would be fine.
He felt his mana flooding the defiant creature on his arm and willed the power to mend and heal. Before his very eyes, the serpent’s hold on him lessened. Its mouth released his hand as if understanding what he was doing and arched its head back, staring up at him curiously.
With another infusion of mana, he began the second phase of the healing process. It was something he had never dreamt he could do, and had kept it secret ever since finding out about it.
The beast began thrashing as if in pain and sunk its mouth into his forearm again. Bearing the pain, he watched as bones burst forth from the scarred stubs—where its wings had been torn off—forking into long lanky structures. Around the bones, flaps of skin started forming, growing in length and conglomerating into leathery transparent wings. Within moments, three pairs of dusky wings were unfurling and stretching into the air, and the serpent settled down, releasing his arm.
Surprised, the beast instinctively began flapping its newly regenerated wings. With each beat, the weight on his hand lessened.
“KRAAAUOOO!!!” A lively roar came from the small creature and its body vibrated as if preparing for flight.
Watching its wings, Kaidus threw it into the air as it began to flap once more.
The hvaral instinctively grabbed onto the wind. With powerful wing beats, it began rising into the sky until it disappeared from view.
Kaidus watched with a smile on his face until the slender shadow vanished into the clouds.
Walking back to the three kavaks that were on the ground. “Thank you for the breakfast.” He bent down and began skinning the wolves with a content smile on his face.
Having an abundance of food, instead of leaving the area, he went back for the other two kavaks.
Adding them to the three that he had already gutted, skinned, and parted, he was busily building a second wooden structure to hang and cure some of the meat.
As he worked, “Krau! Krauuuooa!!” Something roared, and Kaidus looked up to see a snake-like silhouette in the sky. With a puzzled face, he watched as it closed in on his position and saw that it was the young hvaral from earlier. Pitch black with a green stripe and a silver underbelly.
The beast descended next to his smoking fire and turned to look at him briefly, then tucked its precious wings away alongside its body. Arching its head, it began taking bites at a few of the strips of meat that he was smoking before curling itself next to the fire, looking exhausted.
“… Hah… okay…” He stared with a befuddled expression, seeing the guest that had suddenly decided to join him for breakfast.
Moving toward the serpent, it shifted its position and stared back at him cautiously. “What are you doing back here?” He questioned.
“HSSSSS!!!!” It hissed warily, arching its head back in an aggressive stance, reminiscent of the large hvaral that he had met during the rjus.
Backing off, he walked over to the small pile of raw wolf meat that he had sliced into thin strips earlier. Grabbing a handful, he brought them to the snake.
It watched him carefully, then hissed again when he lowered his hand, even lashing forward and baring its fangs to warn him.
Dropping the handful of meat before the youngling, he stood back and watched. The beast simply stared back warily. “… What do you want?” He inquired curiously. After a short staring contest, he gave up and moved back to whatever he was doing.
After finishing the second structure and with another fire to smoke the remaining wolf meat, he looked back to where the hvaral had descended earlier. It was still there.
“You’ve been up in the air this whole time, haven’t you?” His lips curved upward into a smile, understanding the thrill of such freedom.
Beside his first smoking fire, the bundle of black coil was sleeping peacefully.
The handful of meat he had placed before it earlier, gone.