“Stupid! You knew this was going to happen! Why did you even come here?!” Narissa angrily scolded herself as she scrambled through the streets of Garnikul.
Barefoot and wearing a dress with a large tear on its side, her feet drummed against the stone pavement, doing their best to take her as far as they could from her naïve choices.
Onlookers ogled her but instead of embarrassment, she was filled with panic as shouts pertaining to her whereabouts erupted from behind.
Passing an intersecting pathway, she swiftly pivoted to her left, barely avoiding a man lunging at her from the side. The abrupt action caused her to lose balance and her body careened into the side of a cart. “Over here! She’s over here!” A voice bellowed as more shouting came through the crowd. With the sound of hounds also closing in, Narissa painfully turned for the alleyways. Yet as she did so, a wall of people emerged from within and blocked her path.
“You can either choose to come back with us, or we can drag you back by those pretty plates of yours. I am sure the master would not mind at all.” A man wearing a dark guard uniform called out as the group surrounded her.
“Kuh! The men of this country reduced to nothing more than lowly thugs without honor or pride, you all make me sick!!” Narissa retorted furiously.
“Honor? Pride? Look around you. Does this look like the sort of place where honor keeps you safe, and pride feeds you?” The man replied, gesturing to the dozens of hopeless slaves quietly observing her predicament. “Now come, or I fear I will not stop these boys from roughing up that pretty face of yours.”
She glared at her pursuers. “I am Narissa Unrigan, and I will not be forced against my will!” foregoing her shame, she took her hand off of the tear on her dress and readied herself for a fight.
“Well then my lady, have it your way.” The man grinned and made a mocking bow, then signaled the others to proceed.
“Unhand me you curs!” Narissa screamed, trying to shake off her captors as they dragged her through the house. Her lips were bleeding and her torn dress was only hanging on by mere threads, but she had taken down three of her subjugators before being overpowered. Brought to a staircase that led to the second floor of the house, she was held down and made to wait on her knees.
Some time passed before a kovus man wearing a brown robe appeared at the top of the stairs. There was a large stitching along the left side of the man’s head and on his forehead, barely below his protective plates, was a swelling the size of a fist where she had rammed her skull-plate. Slowly descending down to her, the man was grimacing with each step he took.
Unable to move or stand up, Narissa angrily glared up at the person whom she had thought was a friend.
“Why do you stare at me with such eyes after all I’ve promised you?” The man spoke, not looking away from her. Anger was apparent in his eyes, along with a glint of triumph and a coldness unlike his usual self.
“Fuck you, Shiar!”
“Is that any way to speak to me after what you did? You forget your position.”
“It is you, who has forgotten himself! How dare you do this to me!”
“How dare I?” The man closed in on her, taking a deep breath to dull his pain. “You come here seeking my help while offering nothing, and you expect me to put everything I have built on the line for you? For your vengeance?”
“They were our family, our friends! How can you be so callous!?”
“They were your family and your friends.” The man replied coldly. “I was always the orphan that your father took in, never the son or brother, not even a confidant! I slaved myself away as your father’s apprentice, and what did I get in return? Nothing!” *Guh!* he groaned in pain and held onto his head. “… No, that is not true. I guess I should be thankful for the skills he had imparted onto me.” A sinister smile appeared on Shiar’s face, and he reached out to caress her cheeks. Narissa quickly turned her head in disgust, but he held her jaws and forced her to look up to at him. “And now, I will have what I’ve always wanted.”
Seeing the hunger in his eyes, her body tensed up. “Please Shiar… please don’t do this!”
“It is already too late. You made your choice earlier, and I have made mine.”
“Please! This isn’t you!” She begged once more as she fought to hold back her tears.
“If I cannot have your consent as a proper woman, then I will take you like a slave.” Shiar replied, his voice devoid of any compassion. “Bring her to the cellar and lock her up with the others.”
“O-others?” Shocked, Narissa stared in horror at the person before her.
“You will learn your place soon enough.” The man smiled and turned toward the stairs.
“No! Shiar, please let me go!! Please!” She screamed, trying to break free from the vice-like grips as the guards dragged her away. “NOOO!!”
As if to answer her, the ground trembled and the house began shaking, throwing her to the floor. Decorative statues and large pieces of artworks furnishing the spacious hall came crashing down and cries of alarm echoed throughout the large house. Pushing herself off the floor as the unexpected quake slowly subsided, she spotted her chance for escape seeing that the two men who had been holding her were on the ground in a daze. Ignoring Shiar who had also fallen and was now yelling for the others to stop her, Narissa turned her aching body around and bolted toward the door.
Her eyes widened as she exited the building.
Not far away, a pillar of flame was shooting up into the sky amidst screams of panic.
Without staying to watch or waiting to be captured again, she ran.
-Earlier. In a different part of Garnikul-
A wave of mana surged through the air, irking and alerting the man from his pleasure. Like blood diluting in water, the unknown mana moved without reason or purpose, saturating the room with its presence.
Pushing the slave off, the man hurriedly sat up on the bed and looked around his chambers. “Master?” The slave questioned softly from his left side, her ecstatic face still yearning for more. “Leave me.” He spoke, his voice a broken calm.
“I-I’m sorry. Did I do something to displease you?” The slave queried, her beautiful face starting to panic as she stared back at him.
“Get out!” Unable to get rid of the uneasy feeling in his guts, the man shouted, forcing the slave to quickly get up and leave without even putting on her clothes.
Alone in his chambers, the man listened in silence, wary and confused about the unusual happening. There were only two other mages within the town and he knew them both.
The unfamiliar and unrestrained dispersion was neither of them.
His right hand instinctively reached up to touch the cool metal ring on his necklace and strangely, it calmed him. It has been half a turn since he was last contacted by the master, and the thought of reporting the disturbance surfaced in his mind. “No.” Releasing the ring, he got off the bed and began dressing. Something so trivial did not warrant the master’s attention, and he would deal with it himself.
“My lord, are you heading out?” His guards questioned as he walked toward the gates of his establishment. Magicless, it was no surprise they could not feel the mana floating about.
Without answering them, the man proceeded to exit the gates and they fell in around him, keeping pace with his own.
Focusing onto the source of the mysterious disturbance, he headed west through the town, moving toward the slave markets.
“Turus.” A voice called out and he turned to see a small woman stepping out from the shadows of an inn. Though only half his size, he could sense the skilled control she had over her gift, seeing the shadows slowly coiling around her like a dress.
“Agria.” He acknowledged and with a wave, dismissed his six guards.
“Do you know who it is?” The woman enquired, stepping forth to take their place beside him.
“No. Where is Rav?” Turus replied, continuing through the streets.
“Rav? That bastard should be overseeing the auctions right now.”
Turus looked ahead toward the direction of the central market—to where the man named Rav should be. It was also there, that the unfamiliar mana was coming from. A sense of foreboding slowly crept onto him but he quickly discarded it.
Three of them together, they were the eyes and ears of the Frozen Blade within Garnikul. They were the true rulers of the town, the overseers who were chosen to safeguard the lucrative trading of human lives and its prosperity. Their abilities were second to none amongst those of their ranks within the organization, and one or two wandering mages would do little to stand against them.
“… Let us go see what this is all about.” He replied, picking up his pace.
As the two of them neared the central plaza, another wave of mana surged through the air, smashing into them both.
A chorus of screams came from ahead and an enormous amount of mana suddenly manifested in said direction. “GRAAAAA-!!” Drowning out the screams, a bloodcurdling wail got silenced as quickly as it came.
“Rav…” Turus quietly whispered the name as cold sweat ran down his back. Catching Agria’s eyes, she was wordlessly staring back at him, looking as puzzled and alarmed as he was.
Cautiously making their way toward the unknown by pushing through a horde of terrified slaves and slavers, the truth of what was happening soon came into full view.
The plaza holding the bulk of the auctions was dyed red, and a number of bodies were on the ground, lifeless and unmoving.
At the center of everything, a crimson mist stood eerily in the afternoon sun, not moving or dissipating.
Seeing one of the slavers running by, “What is going on here?!” Turus inquired, grabbing the man by the collar.
“M-my lord! He- he killed them all!! Lord Roln is in there right now, b-but I think he’s in trouble!” The man hysterically pointed to the mist.
Taking a closer look, the bodies lying on the ground were those of their own slavers and guards. “Who?! Who did this?!”
“T-the red w-wizard, my lord. He-”
“GRUAAAH!!” A burst of mana manifested in the fog and Rav’s scream resounded through the air once again.
The slaver yelped in fear and took off without bothering to finish his words.
“T-this feeling…” Agria muttered with a petrified face, sensing the dreadful power that had materialized itself.
“It can’t be…” Turus muttered under his breaths. It was impossible for the master to be there and to be killing their own.
“What do we-” Before Agria could finish her sentence, Rav’s body shot out from the mist, flailing in the air briefly before smashing into one of the many auction stages lining the plaza.
The mist slowly condensed into millions of tiny droplets and fell to the ground, revealing a figure bathed in blood at its center. The overpowering sensation from before had vanished and the spacious area had gone dead silent.
“The red wizard…” Turus slowly muttered.
*Huhgu! Guuuu!!!* Although seemingly dead, Rav began twitching and desperately gasping for air. The unknown assailant turned and began walking toward him.
“We have to do something!” Agria voiced anxiously, seeing that it was not the master.
Turus turned to his partner, then to the person in the plaza. The stranger was not covered in blood as he had thought, but was wearing a red cloak that seemed to shift and flow energetically with each step.
A part of him wanted to retreat, yet his pride and position immediately denied the cowardly thoughts. Looking at Rav, the man was still alive and breathing. The element of surprise was also on their side, and Agria was with him. They needed not fear anyone else besides the master, and with each rational thought, he saw their chances increasing. “Follow my lead. We attack with everything we’ve got.” Turus instructed without taking his eyes off their target.
“Asiran. Vagal Eramus.” He quietly muttered and beside him, Agria began an incantation of her own. “Artua vis fradaeas, Tinal Ures Vaile,” bringing his right arm before him, he gripped it with his left and channeled mana into the arm. “Enaran Kusr…” His right hand curled into a fist as his mana condensed around it. “Zre enlun Emmaras Das!” Invoking the final verse, Turus slammed his fist into the ground. Alongside him, Agria had already invoked a similar spell, supplementing his magic with her own.
Mana swelled together and commanded by his will, the power of the gods burst forth into the world.
The plaza trembled as a large fissure appeared on the ground, traveling towards their target. Merciless, the earth swallowed up the unknown mage before they could react, burying the mage in a prison of stone.
With the first stage complete, Turus redirected the magic onto the second phase of the attack. The ground began shaking violently and a pillar of flame exploded outward from where the target had been buried, hurling molten rocks into the air.
Yet, something else was happening within all the destruction. “Agria!!” He shouted as mana began coalescing at the center of their eruption magic.
Noticing the same thing, Agria reached into her boot and pulled out a slim black dagger engraved with runes. With a quick incantation, she flicked the weapon upward into the air and it instantly shot toward the flames, aiming for the presence that was coming from within.
“What?!” She cried out in surprise as the dagger went against her imposed path. Instead of penetrating the burning spire, it had jerked upward and completely stopped moving.
Looking up, she spotted something in the air.
Drowned out by the spire’s burning light, an elongated silhouette with three pairs of wings was holding her dagger in its mouth.
A flying beast of sort, its two silver eyes were glistening brightly against the backdrop of the flames and its dark body was constantly distorting in the erratic light.
Catching her eyes, the beast jerked its head sideways and tossed the dagger aside before diving headfirst toward the ground. Twisting its body before slamming against the burning earth, “KRAAAAUUU!!!” A piercing roar erupted from its mouth, sending a powerful shockwave outward.
Shielding himself with a mana barrier, Turus managed to brace himself from staggering backwards. His ears still ringing from the shock, his unsteady gaze locked onto where they had combined their magic only moments ago.
It was impossible for such a small beast to have shredded the magic with a single roar, yet the fire had been extinguished and all that was left, was a wall of smoke. “?!” His thoughts froze. Amidst the smoldering veil where nothing but a crater should be, there was a lone shadow, rising out of the rubbles. With a shrill screech, the serpent dove into the smokescreen.
“Buy me some time!” Turus cried out, seeing what was happening before them. At his behest, Agria immediately stepped in front of him. Fumbling for the ring on his necklace, he began infusing mana into the object while muttering the unsealing incantation.
With a protective mana barrier already around herself, Agria invoked another spell of her own and the shadows around them began distorting. Like a river, the mass of undulating shadows flooded over to her in a stream of darkness to swirl at her feet. With a quick command the shadows rose upward, forming a dark but transparent wall.
“What the fuck?!” Turus shouted at the lack of response from the ring. Trying to calm his hysteric mind in case he had misspoke the incantation, he began the unsealing spell once more.
“Turus!” Agria cried out sharply as a torrent of mana exploded outward toward them.
An overpowering presence manifested before them and Turus looked forward, only to see a streak of red splattering onto his clothes. A line of dark liquid began flowing down Agria’s back and she went silent. “Agria!?” He called out, but there was no answer. Her guard was down, her shadow wall had dispersed, and he could no longer sense her protective barrier. Staring at her from behind, her upper torso slowly slid to the side and her lifelessly body crumbled to the ground. “No… this isn’t right…” He voiced in terror at the entity of blood standing before him.
Trembling and fighting to keep herself from screaming, Narissa tightly held onto her mouth while hiding behind a cage. She had thought to use the confusion and panic to her advantage, yet once again, she had made the wrong choice.
The plaza was a battlefield that was being fought by monsters, and she–in her desperate haste–had ran into the middle of it. The thunderous roar that shattered the flames had taken her hearing, and all she could do now, was cower with the slaves who were still chained to the cages.
She watched the dense smoke scatter temporarily, and her stomach turned upon seeing the female mage falling to the ground in two pieces. She felt her face draining of all colors while staring at the nightmarish creature that had emerged. Her mind screamed for her to flee. Yet frozen with fear, she could only stare as the bloody monstrosity slowly retreated backward and someone else stepped out of the smoke.
Narissa’s body shuddered and her mouth quivered at the sight of the young man who was calmly walking toward the older mage.