Instead of heading north to the merchant’s guild, Kaidus made his way back south to where he had met Captain Ardan that afternoon. Locating the mercenary tavern had taken longer than expected, and being in familiar company, he had lost time to the drinks and stories in an effort to keep up with propriety. With the obsidian token still in his bag at the inn and the sun lowering itself beyond the horizon, the trip to the merchant’s guild would have to wait.
Whether it was due to the previous night’s incident or because of the increased patrols, the trip back was very different from the feigned livelihood of the previous evening. The number of people out and about had lessened significantly, and many of the stalls were closed already.
A sweet and delectable aroma accosted him as he passed by one of the few that were still open, quickly reminding him of how long it had been since his last meal.
“Good evening.” Kaidus greeted, addressing a spindly middle-aged woman.
“Hm? Hello there,” she replied with a surprised smile, glancing up from her chair. “Care to buy something, young man? They’re all freshly roasted.” The woman added energetically.
Perusing the goods on the table between them, he started to feel hungry. The simple meat skewers were varying bite sized chunks of glazed meat, while the birds and rodents seemed to have been filled with what looks to be more meat, herbs, and spices. The knowledge that Zirus had not been fed since lunch earlier and was bound to be hungry as well, quickly made his decision for him. “How much?”
“Small skewers are one ern, larger skewers are one and four kuis. The stuffed birds and rats on that side are four each, but for you, I’ll make it three.” The woman answered pleasantly as if she was doing him a favor.
Fishing out four double bits and two single erns from his pocket, he placed them on the table. “Two of the larger skewers and two birds please.”
Halting what she was doing, the woman began picking out his order. With practiced motions, she soon handed him a wrapped bundle.
“Thank y- uagh!” A silent shriek of fear and pain assaulted him from within as he took hold of the purchase. ‘?!’ The visage of the youngling’s distressed face manifested in his mind.
“Are you alright?” The woman questioned, but he did not answer.
Without thinking about where or what he was doing, mana coursed through his body and the wind immediately obeyed, whipping around his vicinity. Clutching what he had just bought in his hand, he surged into the air as screams came from all around him.
Zirus’ cries became more prevalent in his mind as he approached the inn. The youngling was in pain and through their connection, it was quite clear that it was in danger.
Smashing through the window, “Zirus!” Kaidus shouted, turning toward the beasts’ inaudible howls of agony.
Near the bed, hundreds of bloody tendrils the thickness of fine hair had wrapped themselves around the young drakall’s body, twisting and constricting it while digging under its scales to penetrate flesh. Glowing dimly in the youngling’s bound mouth and caught in between its fangs, was a pale white seed the size of a man’s thumb.
Rushing over to the struggling serpent, Kaidus grabbed at the seed.
As soon as he came into contact with it, more threads shot forth coiling around his hand and digging into him. Remembering the last time such a thing had occurred, he immediately began infusing his mana into the voracious item. The tendrils quivered, then instantly retracted from his hand. Pouring even more mana into it, the dim glow intensified and the bloody threads started recoiling from the youngling, merging back into the now blood-red seed.
“Krurraaaaa!! Shrraassss!!” A bloody Zirus shook its body and leapt backward, hissing angrily from under the bed without taking its eyes off the sinister object.
“Hello?! What happened in there!?” Someone shouted from the door, having heard the crash.
With a thought, the wooden door melded into its frame, preventing access into the room. Turning his attention back to the seed in his hand, Kaidus continued flooding it with mana. Not letting up, he kept at it until the threads started wrapping and fusing themselves into the glowing orb. Until it had hardened and all that was left, was a dark red object barely the size of his thumb. Hot but not unbearable, the glow had vanished just as it did the last time. “Just what were you- …?” In the midst of admonishing Zirus, something pricked his finger. Looking at the seed in his hand, there were now three little crimson spikes protruding from it, almost like three horns. “It’s changing every time it feeds…” The words unconsciously left his mouth, leaving him stupefied.
“Shraaak!” Zirus screeched and broke him out of the captivating surprise.
Looking to it, the youngling had curled itself defensively underneath the bed and was shaking.
“Zirus…” Whatever disappointment he had for it vanished, upon seeing its sorry state. The floor around the youngling was painted with streaks of blood and he could see that the serpent’s head was still bleeding from a handful of tiny puncture wounds. Placing the seed in a shirt pocket, he took steps toward the young drakall. “Come here,” he calmly coaxed as more shouts came from the other side of the door. It snarled cautiously, not edging forward. “I am sorry. I should not have left something like that in there,” he knelt down beside the youngling. “Come. Let me see to your injuries.”
“Gruuuu…” Slowly and painfully, it slithered out from beneath the bed, revealing a body slathered in its own blood from head to tail. A number of cuts ran along its body, and on its wings where the seed’s tentacles had pierced through, tiny perforations were forming. The only thing that remained unscathed, was the gemstone upon its forehead.
‘It would have killed him…’ The truth was all too clear as he inspected the wounds. Gently stroking the young drakall’s body, Zirus shuddered as his hand ran over the many scales that were almost pried off by the vicious tendrils. “… Hold still.” He instructed, willing his mana into the youngling.
With a sharp cry, Zirus closed its eyes as flesh began repairing itself and scales regenerated. Baring its fangs, it painfully took the magic into its body and within moments, was looking reinvigorated.
The blood covering its body had caked and with a careful swipe of its wings, Zirus easily blew them off.
The sound of more footsteps came from outside. “City guards! Open up!” Someone bellowed and began hammering on the door with force.
Glancing around the messy and bloodstained room, “We’re leaving right now.” He ordered, grabbing his belongings and picking up the parcel he had dropped upon entry. With everything that had occurred, staying any longer would be troublesome.
Not waiting for another word, Zirus sprang up onto his shoulders before propelling itself through the broken window.
Placing two green fers onto the table as compensation, Kaidus swiftly followed behind.
Far enough from the city, they descended along a small tributary that fed into the larger river flowing into Maverus.
Exhausted from its ordeal, the young drakall had fallen asleep after devouring what he had bought for it.
Sitting quietly beside Zirus, Kaidus silently watched the flames of their campfire, contemplating about the earlier events. Taking the seed out, he clutched onto it tightly and held his fist over the fire.
The small object had been able to overpower Zirus. It was dangerous, and the amount of mana required to pacify its hunger was growing. Should it keep developing at such a pace, it would one day require everything he had, just to protect himself.
Thinking back, try as he might, he could not understand what it is or why Zeeke had given it to him.
His fist loosened as thoughts about dropping it into the flames came into mind.
“No…” Kaidus slowly retracted his outstretched arm, unable to go through with it. “I will bring you back to Zeeke…” He spoke out loud to solidify the thought as he rolled his thumb over the three horn-like spikes. As dangerous as it is, there was a certain intrigue within him to witness the truth of it. He looked to the slumbering pile of black scales beside him, then pocketed the seed.
-Two days later-
Guided by Vishan, he made his way through the slums of Tirtha to a stone house on the northern side of the town. Shabby and looking quite run down, it was much like those around it–unimpressive and blending easily with the surroundings. The only thing that set it apart from the others, was the nearly undetectable magical seal emanating with power from within.
Approaching the door, a freezing chill washed over him and Kaidus stopped in his tracks. “The Frozen Edge indeed…” His muttered, remembering the man who had fought him as an ice monstrosity.
Hidden alongside the containment seal for the nyzacus shard, was a barrier to deter trespassers. By his will, his mana flared outward, swallowing all traces of the man’s barrier.
The inside of the house was surprisingly simple and ordinary as well.
Far from a base of operations for an organization like Tal’hrus, it had very little furnishing and could barely pass as a home. Ignoring everything within, he headed straight for the back where the seal was strongest: a windowless room that was devoid of anything.
Within, there was no mirror shard to be seen yet he could feel traces of the ancient magic that it exuded.
Kaidus smiled. It was very reminiscent of Zavon’s sealed room where he had obtained the first shard. Placing a hand against the back wall where mana seemed to concentrate, it was freezing to the touch and undoubtedly the seal of the deceased master. Closing his eyes, he focused his mana outward, fusing itself with the already present enchantment. His hair began glowing with streaks of silver and the false wall of ice started crumbling, revealing another room within.
Sitting atop a simple desk in the hidden room, was a broken crescent shard overflowing with power.
-Elsewhere in the world-
The air stank of rusted metal and waste, mixed with a rancid odor that would most certainly induce vomiting. Along with the horrible stench, came the sound of crazed hollering’s and pleas of mercy that echoed through the darkness.
How long they have been there, the inhabitants did not know. It was a place where no light could reach and a world where night and day was synonymous. It was a timeless darkness, one that crushed the mind and will of any who lingered too long.
Each who were brought there spoke of the whiteness they were forced to trek though. Of a dead forest that was shrouded in serene fog, and of white silence intertwining with beautiful death. Many even claimed to have witnessed the madness that whispers to them in the cold nothingness, telling them they were no longer of the mortal realm.
*Kchek!* the sound of a lock being undone reverberated through the darkness and a small orb of light manifested in the air, revealing a vast dungeon holding hundreds of terrified prisoners. Bruised and broken, many were chained to the walls and ceilings, while others were held to the ground beneath immovable metal bindings. Those who had given up stared blankly forth at the light, while others shouted out senseless ramblings, having lost their minds.
As the orb of light hovered through the dungeon, it stopped at a cell a short distance away from its point of origin. Within, an aleithian man stood in silent solitude, quietly listening to the screams.
Tall and robust, the man had a sharp and aged face with two golden eyes that reflected the luminescence of the orb. Though much of his features were like that of a human, instead of hair, feathers protruded from his head, slicking backwards like a magnificent white crown. His neck and upper torso too were also lined with a feathery cloak that ran along his shoulders to his back–to where two majestic wings extended.
Unlike the others who had been brought there against their wishes, the man was there of his own volition. The endless screams of despair aided to drown out his thoughts, and the eternal darkness itself was the only thing that calmed his savage thirst for blood.
Following the orb, three cloaked figures arrived at the cell.
“The master summons you.” A voice spoke, unlocking the cell door.
“M-master?” A grin erupted across the aleithian man’s face as the other two walked inside and chained his arms and legs before ushering for him to follow them.
As the four left, the orb of light vanished, allowing the darkness to instantaneously swallow up all corners of the dungeon once more.
Instead of four, a lone silhouette walked out of the faintly lit passage. With an anxious gait, the figure rushed toward the center of the cavernous hall where the master was waiting.
“M-master! You have n-need of me?” A man’s strident voice stuttered cheerfully, echoing about the room almost like a child’s laughter. Stepping into the single light source at the center, the aleithian man’s two arms and legs were no longer chained, but covered in blood. Half his face and torso were also dyed red, and he looked delighted.
Standing on the periphery of the light, the old master calmly stared at the winged man. “… How many times must I tell you? My servants are not your play things.”
Sensing displeasure, the man immediately got on both knees. “S-sorry master. I could not h-help myself. Hehehe. The blood… they called for m-me.”
“… Enough with your senseless drivel and gather yourself,” the old man scolded, seeing the change already happening in the unstable man. “You will comport yourself in my presence, or I shall never allow you back into that hole.”
“No!” The man cried out pathetically, “P-please! The blood d-did it! It t-told me to do it!”
“Then the blood better cease this indiscriminate slaughter, or else I will throw you out with the rest of the failures.” The old master threatened, glaring into the man’s two golden eyes.
“Y-yes. Yes! Yes m-master!”
“Hah… Do you know why I summoned you?”
“I k-kill for the master. I always kill for the m-master.” The man replied with an innocent smile.
“Yes… That’s right. Do you recall how you begged me to send you back to Darsus?”
“!?” Eyes bulging with excitement, “D-Darsus?! Yes! Send me! I will g-go now! I w-will kill them!”
The old man’s mouth curved upward into a smile, seeing that there were still some memories intact. “Good. I leave for Darsus tomorrow. You will accompany me.”
“Hahaha! Yes! I go b-back… I f-finally go b-back… Hehehe! Darsus!” An eerie grin appeared on the aleithian man’s face as fractured memories of the past returned to him.
“Master,” a deep voice spoke and a cloaked figure stepped toward the light. “Will you not reconsider this decision? There is no need for you to go personally.”
“There is, and no, I will not reconsider my decision.” The old man looked to the four who had emerged once more after the witless aleithian was dismissed.
The man lowered his head. “Then at least allow one of us to accompany you as well. That thing should not be allowed outside of this realm. It is savagery made flesh, and I fear it might turn on you given the chance.”
“Allus.” The room went silent. “To whom do you think you are speaking?”
“I did not-” The old master stepped forward and the man immediately closed his mouth.
“Do you think I am so old that I cannot defend myself? That I need ANY of you to come to my rescue, much less that mindless abomination?”
“No, master.” The man named Allus replied instinctively.
“Then know that your worries are unnecessary.”
“Of course, master…” with a low bow, the man stood and backed up to line with the other three.
“Anyone else wish to share their opinion?” With an irate tone, the old man slowly scanned the four. None stepped forward. “No? Then we are done here. You all know what you have to do. Dismissed.”
Watching the four leave, his hands shook with fury. First it was Zavon, and now even Eril and Kaval were absent.
None of his masters would ever dare to avoid reporting in. They all knew better.
Something else was happening, and he could only think of one person with the blatant audacity to challenge him.
“Kukuku… I don’t know how you are doing it, but your interference will end soon enough.” With a sardonic smile, the old man turned and walked away.