Unloading his belongings at the foot of the bed, Kaidus leaned his xeberite sword against the nightstand and took a look around the small room.
A sweet scent wafted through the air, coming from a jar of dried leaves in the corner, masking the odor of old sweat and vomit not too uncommon in such places. Not including the bed, the simple room had a table upon which the jar sat and two chairs, but nothing else.
He opened the window and new aromas drifted in along with the explosive livelihood of the outside. The sky had already gone dark and night was upon them, but as it was in most cities and towns, the night life had only just begun.
Looking up at the dark sky, he recalled Zirus’ cries when he instructed the youngling to stay behind in the woods outside of the city. The incessant growls, two silvery eyes filled with distress and abandonment, and the powerful grip on his left arm as it refused to separate from him. It was truly like a child, all the way down to the endearing selfishness.
Without much thought, he extended his right arm out the window and snapped his fingers twice, adding it to the discord of noises outside. Quietly watching the sky, barely any time had passed before an elongated form even darker than night emerged in the air, diving directly toward him.
With two silver eyes glowing dimly and not making a sound, the young hvaral stealthily descended before his window. Landing upon the outstretched arm, it quickly slithered up to his shoulders.
“Shrraa!” It hissed with delight before making its way off and onto the cold stone floor.
“Well done.” He smiled, seeing Zirus darting back and forth between the few items in the room. The youngling had been circling over the skies of Maverus ever since evening, and had been patiently awaiting his signal while flying high and staying hidden from sight.
It turned and made a content growl, then with a beat of its wings, leapt onto the table in the corner of the room and began sniffing the jar on top.
Poking and prodding around the room, it eventually settled down and climbed onto the bed, coiling itself into a pile of dark rings.
Seeing that Zirus had calmed down, he focused his vision toward a large silhouette that was alight with specks of torchlight in the distance: Maverus Castle. A grand structure, it was built atop an expansive and elevated part of the landscape that overlooked much of the city. Also surrounded by a wide moat, it towered above the rest of Maverus like a looming giant.
Unlike Ferrent which was fragmented into thirteen different wards, Maverus was one large open city. A thick layer of high rising stone fortifications encompassed the whole capital: from the isolated castle near its center, to both lower and upper Castletown, along with the slums and vast amounts of farmlands. A large river flowed from the northwest, forking and splitting the city in multiple divides as it traveled through to the east. The castle and wealthier upper town was located in the north where the river enters the city, the lower Castletown and markets taking up the center and eastern side where the city gates were located, whilst the farmlands and slums secured the south. The inn he was currently staying at was in the southwestern side of the city, bordering a fork of the river that separated the farmlands and slums.
Although the distinction between rich and poor was blindingly obvious, the city itself was peaceful enough, save for the unusual atmosphere that echoed with an air of dissonance and dread. The residents were uneasy, and he had taken notice of the many minute nuances or actions hidden beneath the people’s contrived cheerfulness. A hesitance here, hushed whispers there, an awkward stare that stood too long, or the abrupt and suspicious silence upon the appearance of a stranger.
Closing the window, Kaidus moved back to his bag and took out the five rings he had obtained from Eril. It’s been eight days since then, yet none of the remaining four had called for their master. ‘Have they finally caught on?’ He wondered, gripping the cold metal rings in his hands. From what he had seen so far of Tal’hrus, it was quite odd that they would remain silent for so long.
The sound of light footsteps came through the hallway outside, and he quickly stowed the rings away in his pocket before walking over to the door. “WHOA!?” A man cried out in surprise. The man was one of the inn’s few servants and was carrying a tray containing his dinner, along with a sizable cut of cured meat that he had ordered from the kitchen earlier. “That was quick. I was just about to come down.” Kaidus spoke, feigning amazement.
“You’re in the Golden Leaf, young master. We have the fastest services around here.” The man replied with a proud grin. “Now, if you could please step aside, I’ll set this down for you.”
“That’s alright, I’ll take it from here. Thank you.”
“Oh. Sure.” The servant carefully handed him the tray before taking a step back. “If you need anything else, please feel free to ask.” With a quick bow, the man turned around and walked away.
“Zirus.” He called after closing the door.
Reinvigorated by the sight of food, the youngling quickly rushed over to him.
A thin fog had risen by the time the city quieted down. Obstructed by the mist, the moonlight shining through his window gave off an eerie shattered glow.
Having rested for a while after dinner, he was once again strapping on his sword and donning his cloak. Zirus who had just woken up moved sluggishly by his foot, but the look in the young drakall’s eyes showed that it would not be left behind.
He was not planning on staying in Maverus for long, and if Tal’hrus would not call or come for him, then he would try to find them or flush them out. “Let’s go.” Opening the window, Kaidus leapt out of the room with Zirus following closely behind.
Sitting up on his bed, the man vacantly gazed at the wall of the large empty room. Although exhausted, he could not sleep, for his head was overflowing with thoughts that refuses to be extinguished. His mind sought peace, but his hopeless situation cycled through his head, adding to the endless pain and exhaustion.
Mindlessly trying to keep himself from thinking too much, he attempted to focus his attention onto the lucent rays that were constantly changing and twisting as they penetrated the thick mist outside. For how long he had been staring at it, he did not know.
“Are you the king?” An unknown voice inquired. The voice was different from those always shouting in his head, and it rang with a powerful tone that completely dominated the multitude of voices, silencing them into oblivion.
Having regained control of his mind, the man turned and blankly stared at the individual standing in the shadows. He had failed to notice the intruder entering the room and could only guess as to how long the man had been there with him. “… Are you here to kill me?” He replied, unconcerned and uncaring about what might come next.
“Is that what you were wishing for?” The voice answered, and the intruder stepped forth into the dim moonlight. The imposing figure he had envisioned in his mind vanished and in front of him, was a young man.
“You… who are you?” He questioned.
While the physical appearance was unlike what he had imagined, the boy’s two dark eyes pierced right through him.
“I am merely a traveler seeking answers. I am here, because my journey has brought me here. That is all.”
“Answers?” The man paused and lowered his head wearily. “Then you are in the wrong place… I am afraid there are no answers for you here, young traveler.”
“That remains to be seen. Now, are you the king?” The boy repeated once more.
“Am I the king?” Closing his eyes, a peaceful tranquility fell over him. He was indeed the king, yet circumstances dictated otherwise. “What good would that answer do for you?” He enquired without showing any signs of fear or emotion. “If you are not here to kill me, then I beg you to leave me in peace, so that I may wallow in my own solitude.”
“I am looking for some mages. Specifically those who fought during the war.”
‘Mages? The war?’ He looked up and carefully examined the boy, trying to discern why the child was after such information. “For what purpose?”
“My own.” A swift answer.
“A child of the outlands? Or perhaps a survivor seeking revenge?” … He waited, but the young man did not answer. “I am sorry for your loss, son. I don’t know what you are after, but if you were lucky enough to have survived this long, do not throw your life away.”
The young man took two steps forward and peered down at him. “A country ruled by fear. Children without parents. Families without security. And lords without morals. I had come to kill a tyrant, but all I see is a man at the end of his ropes, restless and troubled by actions he cannot control.” The child spoke solemnly, as if it were true. “Your eyes show me that you are a man who is ready to forsake everything. Tell me what I want to know, and I shall rid you of your guilt.”
“Huhuhu…” He laughed a dry, unamused laughter before locking eyes with the boy again. “Is that so? What would a child like you know? I will not call the guards, so leave whilst you still can.”
“Krruuuur!” Something growled angrily, and two small silver eyes peered out from under the boy’s hood. From inside the cloak, a large serpent—even darker than night—slithered out, settling itself atop the boy’s shoulders. In a single flare of motion, two pairs of wings shot outward, catching the moonlight like a thin translucent veil as the serpent proceeded to reveal its fangs.
“!” Seeing the beast before him. It was not a large snake, but a fledgling drakall.
“There’s no need to get angry, Zirus.” The boy’s voice wrapped around the room and the beast quickly drew back its head along with its wings. “Forgive him, for he is still young and unlearned in the ways of human interactions.” The boy apologized, his voice resounding through the air once more. “Allow me to explain myself. I am looking for a group of exceptionally skilled mages, belonging to a powerful organization. I’ve been told that one such group joined your side in the war. Perhaps you might be able to help me?”
“Tal’hrus…” His eyes widened at the boys words, and he whispered the name before he even thought about it.
It was because of Tal’hrus that the revolution had succeeded even after constantly being overwhelmed. It was because of them, that he was in the position he is today. Yet, it was also because of them, that the country had spiraled and devolved to the way it is now.
Catching what he had said, he looked up at the child. Two silver eyes glowing with an otherworldly aura were now staring at him from under the hood. Obscured by the shadows, the boy’s lips curved upward and he saw something else in the seemingly innocent smile, something that made his skin crawl.
“Where are they?” The young man questioned, and the three words thundered in his ears, compelling him to answer.
Having revealed what he could remember of those who joined his service towards the end of the revolution, he also proceeded to give up the locations of three he knew about: a woman who had rallied many to his cause and was granted the title of Countess. His personal advisor, whose job was to watch and keep him under their thumbs. And lastly, a man who was granted the now slave town of Garnikul.
“I heard two other men were bestowed titles. Who are they?”
“How did you-”
“That does not matter. What matters, is whether they are a part of Tal’hrus or not.”
“No… they are not. Count Rais and Count Validare were two of my most trusted allies. Their titles were bestowed upon them, so that they might be able to do what I cannot.”
“Might I enquire as to what that is?”
“To muster up a large enough force so that one day we might take back what is rightfully ours.” He replied.
His fate had been sealed the moment he was crowned King, but it was not so for the others. Their positions were the only things that he could grant them, and even then, it was still a risky maneuver against their watchers.
“I see. Thank you for everything.” The young man made a thankful bow and turned toward the door.
“Wait.” He called out, and the boy stopped. “Just what is it that you are planning to do, now that I have answered you?”
The boy turned to him with a cold and detached expression. “I plan to start a fire. One so large, that the insects of Tal’hrus will flock to it. Once they have gathered, I will burn their wings and watch them squirm.”
A cold chill ran down his back, but he dared not show any signs of fear.
“How about you my lord? What will you do, now that you know what I am planning?”
Without waiting for an answer, the boy walked to the door and left his chambers.
As soon as the young man vanished from sight, the voices that had been silent all this time surged back into his head.
Light was beginning to pierce through the horizon, signaling the end of night as he arrived near the northern border of Maverus.
‘This is it.’
In the air, he stared down at the structure below. The large building was more of a fortress than anything else, and the fortifications along the outer walls only helped to reinforce such observations. Watching quietly from above, he saw a handful of guards moving throughout the building and grounds, going from one end of the fortress to the other in practiced rotations.
Just as he had done earlier when entering the castle, he descended upon one of the guards.
“Hands up.” He commanded, holding his sword against the guard’s neck whilst keeping himself hidden.
“P-Please. Please don’t kill me. I- I have a family.” The man quickly raised both hands and held his torch high above his head.
“Any sudden movements, and I cannot promise you anything. Do you understand?”
“Now answer me this. Who is the lord of this manor?”
“I beg of you. Please.”
“I will not repeat myself.”
“H-His Lordship, Master K-Krain Olivas. R-Royal Advisor to his Majesty, King Luraj.”
It was indeed the right place. The guard had confirmed the name of the advisor, and all that was left, was to find the man himself. “Where is his chamber?”
He pressed the blade closer against the man’s neck. “Speak.”
“T-third floor. Long hallway to the l-left.”
“Thank you.” His mana gushed outward, enveloping and forcing the man unconscious.
After hiding the body in a vacant room, Kaidus carefully and quietly made his way through the fortress, eventually arriving at a large double door located on the third floor. Exactly as the guard had told him, it was at the end of a long hallway without doors or windows.
‘Masssster…’ Zion’s voice called out in his head.
‘I know.’ By his will, the door slid open and he walked inside.
Like the hallway leading up to it, the room was pitch black and without windows. Four small stones protruded from the corners of the room, glowing weakly and emitting traces of magic. Without even thinking, his own mana flooded the stones and the room instantly lit up.
A flaming spear suddenly flew at him from the left side of the room and he stepped forward, smashing into the flames with a mana shield. “Don’t be hasty.” He calmly called out to the man that was already casting another spell.
“-Kiras! Em Eradas!” Power manifested in the center of the room as the man invoked.
Without calling for his spirits, his body exploded with mana. Power that had constantly been contained and restrained burst forth, overwhelming and disrupting the spell that had been invoked. His mana devoured the incomplete magic until there was nothing left, but a room overflowing with his own.
“Impossible!” A surprised cry came, and the man made a mad dash for the north wall of the room. With a quick incantation, the man threw himself against the wall and it shattered.
A splash came from below, and as he was about follow, one of the five rings began to glow.