Spreading its wings to catch the ever-present wind, the young serpent rode it upward into the clouds.
Having gone high enough, it tucked in its first two pairs of wings and dove, using the third pair on its tail to steer and control its trajectory.
Like a pitch-black bolt, the young drakall shot straight down toward the forest, using its newly enhanced senses and vision to close in on something moving in the undergrowth.
Breaking through the opening in the canopy, it spun and unfurled its wings, instantly halting above its prey. With a powerful roar, it sent shockwaves outward, throwing up the leaf litters on the forest floor and stunning the small hog that had been too busy digging up roots.
Running on instinct, it quickly coiled around the stunned hog, tearing at its throat with razor sharp fangs.
Within moments, the stunned victim had stopped squirming.
Grasping tightly onto its catch, the young drakall began beating its wings once more, lifting itself—and its prize—into the air.
In the midst of preparing a breakfast of wild greens and wolf meat, Kaidus watched as the youngling returned with a small black boar dangling from its mouth. Judging by its size, the boar was about the same as the kavaks from a few days ago, only rounder. Yet, the youngling was carrying it with little to no signs of discomfort or struggle. Gliding over to him, it dropped the kill by the fire and swooped over onto his shoulders.
“Good job, Zirus.” He smiled, looking at the bloodstained drakall. With a thought, the sheen of red liquid that was covering the serpent began sliding off, revealing the glossy black scales underneath, and a small red gemstone on its forehead—where the green stripe began.
“Kruuurrrrrr!” The youngling flicked its tongue out in quick successions before leaving him and slithered down to lie beside the fire, to watch the food cook.
Just like the previous day, it was adhering to his rule of eating when he eats.
-Two days prior-
“Do you want to come with me?” Kaidus questioned, holding out a piece of meat to the young hvaral.
It was not yet evening, but they had already left the village of Reigun far behind, and were having an early dinner.
The young serpent flicked its tongue twice before taking the food with a quick striking motion, then jumped onto to him. “Kuuuurrrrrr.”
Slithering across his shoulders, it coiled itself around his left arm once more as it ingested the wolf meat.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Grabbing at the black coils, he pulled the serpent and it unraveled, allowing him to pick it up. Docile and completely still, the youngling’s head was arched back and leveled with his own. Its two golden eyes were staring back earnestly, as if not wanting to be left behind again. “What should we call you?” Without answering, it simply gazed back at him.
“Ah, I got it.” Setting the serpent on the ground, Kaidus knelt down on one knee. “Trust me on this, alright?”
With his knife, he nicked his left thumb and allowed a bright red bead to form. By his will, power swelled up from within himself and coursed into the single droplet of blood.
Seeing the action, the youngling began vibrating as if getting ready to flee or defend itself.
“Don’t be afraid. I need you to trust me.” Kaidus repeated, dropping the knife onto the ground and pulling back his powerful aura to show that everything was fine.
Bringing his left hand toward the serpent, “By the gilded laws, intangible and forever bound in eternal darkness. Zivas, nal’ en aelires.” He drew a glyph in the air with his thumb, tracing along an invisible path. “By the blood that flows within me, by my name and my will. Aran zuc inoss.” He pressed his thumb against the young hvaral’s forehead. “As one who rides my wind, I name thee Zirus, Arbiter of the Skies.” With those words, he swiped his thumb upward, sealing in the name with blood.
Like a potent spell, a name in itself was a very powerful form of magic. More so, when the two are combined. By binding his own will to the name, then binding the name to something that willingly took it, it would allow for some form of connection between them both. Although a simpler binding compared to the one used to bind his spirits, it was all he could do, for the youngling was not a spirit. He was uncertain if it would work due to their recent encounter and the lack of trust, but it was worth a try, seeing what had occurred in Reigun.
“SHRRAAAAA!!!” Immediately, the young hvaral began hissing and thrashing about. “KRRAAAOOOOO!!” It howled painfully as the blood upon its forehead began emitting a silver light.
“Don’t fight it!” Kaidus called out as he observed the process.
His magic was rushing throughout the serpent and becoming one with it, strengthening and empowering it. He felt his mana merging with the young serpent, fusing and reinforcing the creature’s own. He watched as the light began shining even brighter, distorting and drawing in more light from the atmosphere.
“KRAAAAAUUUUU!” A powerful roar came through from the serpent and the light quickly vanished. As everything subsided, before him was the young hvaral, staring up with confusion and surprise.
Upon its forehead, instead of the bloody smear, there was a vibrant blood red gem in the shape of a tear. The serpent’s two golden eyes had turned silver, giving its elliptical pupils a reddish polish that appeared as if they were on fire. A glossy luster ran along its pitch-black body, almost like a thin film of protective mana and exuding power.
As it opened its wings, all three pairs fanned out majestically, glistening transparently in the sunlight. With a sharp and focused visage, it turned to look at its wings in wonder.
“Zirus.” He spoke and the beast turned to him once more, lowering its head—bowing. “Fly.” He commanded.
“KRAAUUU!” Zirus roared, and with a single stroke of its wings, took to the sky.
With a face that displayed irritation and resentment to everyone around him, Ralfus marched through the large Vatenger manor, moving with a brusque and angry pace. A piece of cloth hung over the right shoulder of his finely tailored clothes, concealing his missing arm underneath.
As usual, each and every person he passed felt like they were staring at him, ridiculing him for what he had lost. Yet, such things were not what was infuriating him this time.
“Young master! Young master Ralfus!” A woman’s voice called out to him as he passed an intersecting corridor.
“What?!” He shouted, turning to a servant that was running in his direction.
“A-apologies, young master.” The woman quickly lowered her head, unwilling to meet his gaze. “Your lord father wishes to see you in his study.”
“Can’t you see that I just got back? Go and tell the old man I will see him later at my own leisure.” He replied bitterly.
“T-the lord insists that you go see him upon your return, young master. He’s been waiting since noon.”
‘What does he want now?’
Without knocking, he opened the door into his father’s study. “What is it?”
“Ralfus. Come sit down.” Lord Aelod Irusia Vatenger promptly answered, gesturing to a seat across from him. Putting away his quill and moving the letter he had been drafting to the side of the table, he pulled out a small leather-bound book. “Sit down.” He repeated, glancing up to see that his son had yet to move.
“Just tell me what you want and let us get this over with.”
“Very well, I hear that you have been traveling to the common wards quite frequently. What are you doing there?”
“That is none of your concern, father.”
“Why do you care? Just keep sitting there as you’ve always done.” Ralfus retorted with contempt. He had not forgotten what the old man did, and he could not get over the fact that his father had stood idle, while the person who took his arm was still walking about freely.
“If that is all, then I will excuse myself.”
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Lord Vatenger stood up. Opening the leather-bound book, he flipped to a page he had marked earlier and slid the book across the table. “What is the meaning of that?” He questioned.
Upon the pages of the open book were lines of numbers, detailing and recording any withdrawals made from the Vatenger treasury, and by whom.
“What is the meaning of what?” Ralfus answered, ignoring the ledger and not moving a step away from the door.
“Katin tells me you’ve been withdrawing from my coffers. What in the world could all that money possibly be going towards?”
“Is that what this is about? You call for me over such an insignificant amount?”
“Four thousand and three hundred erns within two turns, and you call it insignificant? Tell me what you did with all that money. Right now.” A hint of anger was starting to appear on lord Vatenger’s face.
“What I do is my own business, Father.”
“You will tell me, or by the gods, I will never allow you another metal bit!” Lord Vatenger exclaimed, glaring at the disrespectful son before him.
“… It’s been used toward my own pleasure. There, satisfied?”
“Whores and drinks, father. Must I give you the names of the brothels I frequent? Should I present you the titles of my favorite drinks too? What more do you want me to say father? That I spend my time between the legs of common wretches?”
“Don’t lie to me!!” Lord Vatenger stepped from behind his desk and stalked toward his son. “You think I believe you could have spent this much money on cheap whores and wine alone?! You will cease this frivolous spending of MY money! You hear me?!”
“Do you hear me!?”
“… Yes, father.” Ralfus replied, unwilling to look into those eyes filled with anger.
“Secondly, you will either keep learning magic from Master Izua until you are of use, or I will find a use for you. Not only that, until I can trust your judgement again, you are no longer allowed to draw from the family coffers.”
“You- You can’t do this to me!”
“I can’t do this to you? Who do you think you are boy!?” Lord Vatenger gave his son a stern scowl. “And you will fix that attitude of yours. Your disrespect towards your mother and myself, even your brothers. All of that will change, or you will start earning for yourself. You are a man. Start acting like one.”
“Kuh-!” He gritted his teeth, holding back his words. ‘Each and every one of them! All working against me!’ The voice in his head screamed, adding to his irritation. Yet responding in anger would not help him in the least. “… Have it your way.” He replied, returning an angry glare. Without waiting for his dismissal, he turned around and left the room.
He had known that it was only a matter of time until Katin, their treasurer blabbed to his father.
Thankfully, the clueless fool had not pressed him beyond what was said.
By using the contacts provided by his benefactors, he had been employing rogue mages—unaffiliated with any lords or guilds—from outside of the city, all to assist him with his ordeal. The money had been used to pay for the expenses of those mages, and to bring them into Ferrent.
But as usual, as if the world itself was working against him, the mages would report their findings for a handful of days, confirming everything with him, then suddenly vanish.
Having traveled to the 6th ward earlier, his contact this time had failed to show up as well. Four times he had set his plans in motion, and four times he had been disappointed. Even after waiting half a turn between the third and fourth attempt, the results remained the same.
The job was simple. Any of those he had hired were capable of such a task, yet nothing had occurred to the family. It was as if the greedy bastards had taken the advance payments given to them, and simply fled the city without leaving any clues behind. Either that, or they were captured by the Mystiks guild before following through with the job. Regardless, he could no longer find any traces of them.
‘Do I really have to fucking do it myself?’ The question resounded in his head as he made his way to his room. He had contemplated such actions before, but knew that it was too risky, especially within the walls of Ferrent. The boy and his family were well-known because of the arms competition, and he also knew that they were quite close with the wealthy Varath family. Should the Varath and their resources become involved, it could mean trouble for his own house.
He needed to speak to his supporters again, and try to see if they could help in any way or form. As it is, he would be out of a means soon, and with it, his vengeance.
An older gentlemen sat by himself at a table, eating lunch quietly while watching and listening to those around him. Merchants who had been allowed into the inner wards were talking with unwary nobles, discussing deals and making offers, trying to pass off bland and useless trinkets as relics and decors. He saw as couples flirted within the establishment, far from the prying eyes of their own families. He caught minor lords complaining to one another about the upcoming Rinol, and saw guards on break drinking away with friends. Along with various useless gossips, it was overall an uneventful afternoon.
With the door to the inn always in his line of sight, the person he was expecting eventually trudged through the doors. Ralfus Vatenger, a hateful young man whom he had been given the displeasure of working with.
Wearing extravagant clothes and holding his head high like the noble’s son that he is, the young man headed straight for his table.
“Afternoon, master Vatenger. Care to join me for lunch?”
“I didn’t come for idle chatter, Urixx.” The young man replied with an irritable voice.
“Well then, please proceed to my room. I shall be up shortly.” The young man glared at him, then stalked up the stairs.
Instead of following after finishing his lunch, he called for a drink and sat at the table, sipping until he felt like moving.
Urixx. The name was not his, for he had no names and had never required one. He was but a shadow, one that moved by another’s command. The only reason why he had been given the name, was because it would be inconvenient otherwise.
Like all shadows, he was without family or friends, and like them, his only purpose was to move as his master willed.
“Took your time there didn’t you?” A voice filled with impatience greeted him as he entered the room.
“I would never. To even think of such a thing, it pains me.”
“Well master Vatenger, how may I serve you this time?” Urixx enquired, making a respectful bow before moving over to sit on the bed.
“All those mages you’ve found. They’re fucking useless.”
“Again?” It was the 5th one already. The first two mages were a pair, but after their disappearance, they had settled on lone mages in order to cut the cost a bit.
“Obviously! Why else would I be here?!” The young man cried out, standing up from his seat.
Urixx narrowed his eyes. “Must I remind you that this meeting is something that never happened?” The anger in Ralfus’ face quickly mellowed upon his reminder, and he sat back down. “Now then, what is your next move?”
“… I know I’ve vowed not to involve you or your master, but I need your help.”
“Yes, I remember. And what exactly would you need my help for?”
“I- I have lost the freedom to draw from the family’s resources. With what I have right now, I am unable to hire another mage.”
“Is that so? That is unfortunate. Will our little partnership end here today?” Urixx replied, goading the foolish boy.
“Of course not. I will have my revenge! Everywhere I go, I am reminded of this- this abomination that I’ve become!” Ralfus exclaimed, lifting up the flap on his right shoulder to display the empty sleeve. “I am a laughingstock!”
“Your voice.” Urixx cautioned.
“It doesn’t matter if it no longer looks like an accident. Find me someone who would do it for the amount I have left.”
He fought down a smile. Everything was moving in the direction he had hoped for. “And just how much do you have?”
“Two hundred and seventy-four.”
“You wish to hire someone to blatantly attack a family in the middle of the city with a measly two hundred erns? Not counting the involvement of the Mystiks guild, such an offence would be a death sentence for whoever did it. And that’s IF you get lucky. Should the guild get involved, and make no mistakes for they will,” Urixx paused to make sure the fool was listening. “If the attacker or attackers were to be interrogated, the line would lead straight back to you. Have you thought of that?”
“Then what am I supposed to do?! Do it myself?!”
“You are a mage. Are you not?” Urixx grinned. “Though I would not advise you on it. The mages you’ve hired happened to be quite reputable. For them to keep disappearing like this, something must’ve happened.”
“Ar-are you’re telling me the guild has…?” There were signs of uneasiness in Ralfus’ voice as he trailed off.
“I don’t know, but it certainly is a possibility.”
“Your voice, master Vatenger.”
“Who fucking cares?! I am without any options!”
Another grin. “Now, that is not true.”
“W-What do you mean?” Ralfus’ face lit up, and his anger immediately turned into curiosity.
“What I mean is, there are always options.”
“I don’t have time for riddles, Urixx. Are you going to tell me or not?!”
“You didn’t hear this from me, but Lord Alzin Varath will be heading to Gravas in the next few days. If I am not mistaken, it is for some sort of trade renewal.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Think, master Vatenger. Wherever the lord goes, his guards goes with him.”
“Guards… the father.”
“Indeed. Gravas is at least a day and half’s ride, and around this time of the year where the frost will start setting in soon, who knows what sort of desperate people are outside of these walls, ready to cut a few throats for a handful of coins?”
“Outside of Ferrent… w-we could make this look like a robbery gone horribly wrong. A bandit attack.”
“Now you’re thinking. It would be well out of the guild’s immediate influence, and if you wish to increase your chances of success, why not join in on the attack yourself? None of the Varath guards are mages, and someone of your abilities should be able to handle them. If you hide and attack from a distance, it should be a simple matter. Don’t you think so?”
“If it is an ambush outside of Ferrent, then… it is quite possible.”
“See? There are always options. You just have to find them.” He could see the young fool trying to form a plan in that head of his.
“Urixx. Do you know when they are leaving?”
“I believe within the next five to six days.”
“Tch. That’s quite soon. How fast can you round up some people for me? I don’t care who, anyone willing to go through with this is fine.”
“Ah, as it just so happened, there are quite a number of hoodlums lined up for such unsavory tasks. Shall I introduce you to someone?”
Urixx sat alone in his room with a smile plastered on his face. The clueless idiot was undoubtedly running about, trying to locate the contacts he had provided. Like a mindless horse being driving toward an object, everything was too easy.
Although the mysteries of what happened to the five mages were quite daunting, such setbacks did not concern him nor his master.
They were but opportunists, using the vengeance of another to fulfill their own agenda.