The glow of the ring pierced through his pocket, pulsing and emitting more mana than usual. With a thought, he released his own into the ring, fusing with the newly present mana and undoing the seal.
“Apologies Master! I- ug-”
A man’s panicked voice and the sound of splashing water came through the ring. With a confident stride, Kaidus stepped through the hole in the wall.
“-ive me, but this is an emergen-” The voice suddenly went quiet. “By the gods… what in-”
Below him, the drenched man was watching his descent. The man had stopped talking, and was looking up with confusion. Landing upon the ground, Kaidus took out the glowing ring and tossed it over to the man.
“What- no… that- this can’t be.” The man—Krain Olivas—muttered in disbelief, as his own voice echoed from the glowing ring on the ground.
“Why not?” Revealing the other rings, he threw them all into the air. The one that was still glowing on the ground jerked upward to join the others around him, and visible fear manifested on the man’s face. “You should understand what this means.”
“W-who are you? What do you want?!”
“Now that is amusing. Why is it that each and every one of you are curious as to who I am? Do all of Tal’hrus go about spouting their names and objectives when slaughtering the helpless?” He calmly replied, stepping toward the man.
“How do you know of us? Who sent you!? W-was it that ingrate Luraj?!? That- MMMM!!!”
With a thought, the man’s mouth locked up. “You had your chance earlier, but you chose to attack me and flee. It is now my turn.” He willed it, and one of the rings zipped over to him. “Here’s two easy questions. What is the unsealing incantation for the rings, and how many of you are left in this city? Tell me, and I will make this painless.”
“Kuh!” The man grunted upon being able to move his mouth again. “Asiran! Vor-!” Instead of answering, he hastily began a spell. Yet, “-GRUuaaaah!?!” A translucent spear burst through his chest. *Cough!*. From behind, a torrent of water had risen up from the pond, solidified into ice, and impaled him through the right side of his body.
“Over here!” The sound of yelling came from across the yard, along with the burning glow of a torch.
“Such loyalty is worthy of praise.” Unsheathing his xeberite sword, Kaidus stepped forward to stand face to face with the man. “If you don’t wish to answer, that’s fine with me too.”
“N- *Kuhak!* ug-” The Lord tried to speak, but could not as another spear of ice pierced him through the neck. Eyes welling with tears, the man attempted to retaliate by flailing an arm but failed miserably.
“Assassin!! Help!” Someone shouted from behind.
Turning around, a guard was standing there with a torch in one hand and sword in the other. “Stay your hands. My business is not with you or anyone else.”
“Murderer!” The guard screamed, edging closer without looking way.
Illuminated by the light of the torch, he saw that the guard’s faces was filled with shock and fear. Instead of watching him, the man was staring at the body suspended upon an ever flowing spire of water—rising from the pond and into the lord’s back. Catching the guard’s eyes, he could see that the man knew he was a mage.
“R-release the Lord right now!!” The man ordered, moving forward hesitantly while holding his weapon with unsteady hands.
“This is not your fight. Do not be so eager to throw your life away.” Kaidus replied, turning back to the dying man. Ignoring the guard, he leaned closer to the agent. “With this, you will serve a new purpose.” With a single motion, he thrust his sword into the man’s heart.
“Noo!!” The guard screamed.
“Lord Olivas?!” Others shouted, having just arrived. The dozen new guards quickly readied their weapons and surrounded Kaidus. “Don’t let him escape!” Someone shouted, yet upon seeing the state of their lord, many froze as whispers of terror shot through the chaotic atmosphere.
With a silent calmness, Kaidus reached down and removed the ring around the dead man’s finger before taking steps back onto the pond. Without any parting words, he surged upward into the air. The rings that were still floating about swiftly followed behind, along with a piercing howl that caused the guards to cover their ears.
The deed was done. All that was left, was to allow for words of what transpired to reach the ears of those who mattered. With their watchdog on the king gone, it might possibly force the remnants of Tal’hrus to start moving, to seek their master’s commands.
By the time the residents of Maverus awoke to greet the new day, he was already back in his room at the Golden Leaf Inn.
The seven metal rings swirled around the room, keeping Zirus busy while he stared at the map sprawled out on the table. Five rings he had taken from the man who called himself Eril the Frozen Blade, one from the Countess Belinde, and the seventh from the man he had just slain—the king’s advisor.
“Dolas Egregin…” The name rolled out of his mouth as Kaidus scanned the map before him. Of the three he was informed about, two were no more, and he was trying to ascertain as to which of the marks to the south of Maverus, was the slave town of Garnikul.
‘Master.’ A voice dutifully resounded in his mind.
“Where is it?” He questioned, not taking his eyes off the map.
The air ignited in the center of the room, and an entity of pure white manifested.
Upon Vishan’s appearance, Zirus quickly darted over to him, slithering up his arms to hide inside his shirt.
“The Shard Lies To The West. Unconcealed, But Hidden Behind Powerful Magic.” The spirit answered with a disembodied voice that resonated through the room, causing the dawn’s light to shimmer and vibrate. “Shall I Retrieve It?” It questioned.
“No. I will do that myself. Thank you.”
“By your will, Master.” As quickly as it emerged, Vishan dissipated and vanished.
He had ordered the spirit to seek out Eril’s piece of the Nyzacus Mirror upon their arrival in Maverus, and as expected, it did not take long for the spirit to locate the shard.
“Kuurrrr…” Zirus growled softly and cautiously, before slithering out from the opening in the front of his over shirt.
“There is no need to do that every time you see them.”
“Shrra!” It hissed as if to refute the statement, then yawned and launched itself off the table, flying up to the floating rings once more.
Feeling his own fatigue setting in, he quickly folded the map and tucked it away before moving to the bed. Seeing him do so, Zirus quickly flew over and nestled itself beside him. Morning has arrived, but it’s been a long night for the both of them.
A band of weary riders entered the 3rd ward gate of southern Ferrent. The cheeriness that they left the city with days ago was gone, and in its place, a somber and morose sense of emptiness.
At the front with two of his guards, Alzin Varath wordlessly rode through the streets, moving toward the 11th ward.
Good men had died, and the burden weighed on him heavily. He had chosen to employ them, had befriended them, had entrusted them with his life, and now they were dead. Two men in a single afternoon, with four more injured.
As much as he was their responsibility, they were his.
Slowing his horse, he turned back to look at the three who were tied up and locked in a cart behind them: two mercenaries, and a notable lord’s son—tied together like common criminals. They had been able to capture the lordling along with the two archers who were hiding in the trees, but lost the two men who fled.
“My lord should we-”
“No. Let them see.” Lord Varath replied, ushering his horse forward as a curious crowd formed around them, trying to get a good look at what was happening.
Behind, a second cart carrying the two dead men bought up the rear. Although covered with layers of cloth obtained in Gravas, the pungent odor of death easily persisted through the air.
“What do you think you are doing to my son?!” An outraged man, followed by an entourage of family knights rode out to meet them as they approached the gates of the 11th ward. Although fuming and looking less than dignified, the man’s fine clothes and status more than made up for his lack of composure.
“F-Father!” Ralfus cried out from his shameful position.
“My lord. How nice of you to personally come greet us. I see you’ve also brought company.” Alzin Varath greeted, looking stoically at Lord Vatenger. The man was as daunting as usual, but he was not about to give in to loud threats.
“Get my son out of there right now, Varath! Parading him around like an animal, don’t think your money will save you this time!”
“I dare say the same to you, my lord. Your son is in my custody on the grounds of conspiracy and murder. He and his accomplices ambushed us on the road, injuring my men and killing two of them.” Lord Varath countered sternly. “Perhaps you know why he would do such a thing? Or will you step aside and allow us to proceed, so that we may escort him to the proper authorities?” He questioned, not showing any signs of weakness.
“Murder? Accomplices?” Aelod Vatenger shot his son a sharp glance, and Ralfus kept silent. He then looked at the two brigands, then to the group of Varath guards. His eyes stopped upon a man with red hair riding beside his son’s cart. ‘It can’t be.’ Everything became clear upon seeing the man.
Ralfus’ disappearance for the past few days, the absurd amount of money that disappeared in the boy’s name, and the frequent visits to the common wards.
His insides turned at realizing what his son had done.
Almost trembling, he got off his horse and forced himself to move toward his son.
Two Varath guards quickly stepped in the way and blocked him.
“Father! I didn’t do anything! I didn’t kill anyone!” Ralfus shouted, trying to struggle from his bindings.
“You fool… I told you. I forbade you! Now look what you’ve done!” Lord Vatenger shouted, admonishing the stupid boy.
“My lord. Please step away.” Lord Varath spoke, turning his horse forward once more.
“… Release him.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Please release my son.”
“You know I cannot do that. Now please step away.” Lord Varath refused and directed his horse to move once more.
“Varath!” Aelod Vatenger shouted, returning all eyes to him. “I know our relations are… less than amicable, but I implore you. Please, give my son back to me.”
“This has nothing to do with our relations, nor is it because I wish to see you and yours fall. Two men were killed in cold blood because of him, and I will not rest until justice has been served. Not for myself, but for the family of my men who were unjustly slaughtered.” Alzin Varath replied solemnly. “Now step aside.”
“Father!! FATHER!” Ralfus shouted as the horses began moving again.
“STOP!” Lord Vatenger bellowed, and his family knights quickly maneuvered to block the gates to the 11th ward.
The Varath guards immediately readied themselves for a fight, and two of them moved forth to protect their lord. “What is the meaning off this?” Lord Varath questioned, keeping his aggravation from showing.
Instead of replying, Aelod Vatenger knelt down on his knees. “As a parent-”
“FATHER!” Ralfus shouted from the cart.
“-I beg you… please… he is my youngest son.” Lord Vatenger lowered his head. “If your claims are true and should this matter be brought before the king, you have my words that we will neither run nor hide. I will see to it that he takes responsibility for his actions, and I will provide the necessary compensations for you and yours.”
“…” Lord Varath looked to the Vatenger knights, then at his own guards. Both sides were prepared for battle, and it felt as if a full blown skirmish would occur—should he refuse. Yet, “I cannot. For that is not my choice to make.” He firmly replied.
“Is there no way?” Aelod Vatenger questioned, rising from his kneeling position.
“Troyle.” Lord Varath called out, and Troyle rode forward to join them. “You were the target of the attack and also the one who caught him. I’ll leave the decision up to you.”
Troyle looked to the graying lord who had been pleading before them, then turned around and rode back to the cart holding the prisoners. Getting off his horse, he drew one of his swords.
“What are you-?!”
“Noo!! No! What are you doing?!” Ralfus exclaimed.
“Cutting you free.” Troyle replied, sliding the sword in to cut the ropes binding the young man to the other two.
“Are you sure about this?” Lord Varath questioned after the Vatengers and their entourage had left.
“No. But as a parent myself, I cannot deny a man his child. Even if they do try to flee, it would only damage their name and house.” Troyle answered, watching the group leaving into the distance.
“… Perhaps…” The lord looked to the remaining two prisoners, then to the second cart, and a despondent expression appeared on his face.
“My lord. Please let me do it.”
“Be the one to relay the news.” Troyle replied, looking to the covered bodies on the cart. “The families deserve to know what happened directly from someone who was there.”
“… Alright. Take Petres with you. Reassure the families and please give them my condolences.”
“And Troyle. There’s no need to report after you two are done. Go home and take the next few days off. I’ll send a messenger once I’m done with everything on my side.”
“My lord? … Understood.” Troyle complied without digging any further. Unlike his usual carefree self, Alzin Varath’s conduct and attitude had completely changed. After almost a decade of working under the man, he knew better than to question when his lord was in such a state. Leaving Lord Varath’s side, he made his way to the back where the man named Petres was positioned.
Dirty and unwashed, Ralfus stood before his father, holding the side of his face with his left hand. The stinging pain on his right cheek was but a testament to his screw up, and the least of his worries.
“Do you understand what you’ve done?!”
“Y-yes father.” Ralfus meekly answered.
Against his outcries, the two men who were captured after him had blurted out everything to their captors: about who their target was, that he—Ralfus—knew about the Varath’s trip to Gravas and instigated everything, how they had waited for the group on the road, and how the attack was planned to look like an unfortunate robbery.
His fate had been uncertain, but now that he was home and within the walls of the city, the worse they can possibly do to someone like him was imprisonment, or exile. And though the Varath house was one of the wealthiest within Ferrent, his own Vatenger house was also quite affluent and had many powerful allies that could be called upon, should anything happen.
“No, I don’t think you do, for you’ve doomed us both!” Lord Vatenger exclaimed, staring angrily at his son. “When he hears about this, it will be the end of us!”
“GRRAAAH!” Aelod Vatenger turned and slammed an angry fist into the table behind him. “Who was it?!? Who put you up to this?!”
“W-what are you talking about?” Ralfus replied, shrinking back away from his father.
“Look at me!!” Aelod Vatenger strode forward and grabbed his son’s shoulders, pressing onto the stump where the boy’s right arm should have been. “Who put you up to this?!”
“Lies upon lies! I expressly forbade you to do anything like this! A coward like yourself would never dare to act on your own! Who put you up to this?!”
“I-… I am not a coward…”
“I am not a coward! I did this because- because you refuse to! It’s because of you!!!”
Ralfus quickly covered his cheek once more. This time, the gemmed ring upon his father’s hand had broken skin and he could feel blood trickling down his cheek. In anger, he glared at his father. “I am not a coward. I was not the one who got on his knees and begged to those below me!”
“You think that’s what I’m worried about? Groveling to that man? You ignorant fool.” Aelod Vatenger replied, holding his shaking hand that had struck his son. Taking a few steps back, he fell into his armchair. “We are well beyond that now. What this is, is a matter of life and death for the family. If this was truly your plan and yours alone, then I am afraid I can offer you no more protection.” He stated, watching his son through pained eyes. “You are a man now. Fully grown and able to shoulder your own responsibilities. When the time comes, and make no mistake for it will, you will own up to the consequences and save this family any more indignity.”
“W-what are you talking about?”
“…” Aelod brought his hands up and covered his wretched face to conceal the tears. He knew full well that he was sacrificing his youngest child, but there were no other options. What he had seen that night was still burned into the back of his mind: a constant reminder of what they were up against.
“… I am talking about your life, you stupid boy.”
‘You will stay away from my family if you know what’s good for you. Should you ever be involved…’ The warning rang in his head, almost as clear as the night he heard them.