Zion’s laughter resounded disconcertingly through the air as it exploded outward into the raging tempest. Unrestrained and infused with the purest of mana, it swallowed the restless storm that had been thrashing about, halting it instantly.
Body parts and fluids that had been picked up prior–by Roln’s magic–violently crashed down to the ground, showering the area with more carnage. “Such Arroganccccce….” It hissed indignantly as it swam through the air.
“W-Who?!” An unnerved Roln who had been jolted awake from his drunken dream state questioned, uncertain as to why his own magic had suddenly disappeared.
“I Ammmm The Wings Of My Masterrrrrr… The Everssssstorm That Ragesssss Eternalll… The Silence of the Innnnvisssssible Blade.” Gliding around the mage, it drew on the blood seeping into the ground and a thick sheen of mist began rising into the air, covering much of the large square.
“What are y-!?”
Taking form in front of the mage under the cover of the misty veil, a partially formed arm grabbed the man’s neck, lifting him into the air. “I Ammmm The Unyielding Winnndddd. Youuuu Dare to Desssssecrate My Domainnnn With Such Trickssss?”
“GRAAAAA-!!” Roln released a cry of agony as an unknown force smashed into the side of his torso, breaking a few ribs. The bloody ligaments of the shapeless limb quickly became fully formed as it drew in more blood from the surrounding and rose up to cover his mouth, stifling his screams.
“The Masssster Has Permitted Me Thisssss Moment. Do Sssstaaaay Aliiiive… I Do Not Wisssshhhh To Dissssapoint Him.”
“Mmmmmmm!?!?!” A muffled howl as his knees were bent inward. His body unwilling to move, Roln helplessly stared into the terrifying visage of an entity not of the mortal realm.
Many of the prisoners watched Kaidus carefully as he returned to the four wounded men. Fear permeated through the air and upon noticing the focus of their many gazes, he quickly pulled his hood over his head.
Although he had trained himself to be in complete control of his own body, that single aspect was the one thing he could not wholly restrain.
A remnant of his true self. The shine of his true lineage. The silver of House AnDargus.
Try as he might: an unconscious lapse of judgement, the exertion of power, linking with the spirits, and heightened emotions… they all served to reveal what he really is, what he had been branded.
Paying little heed to people who could never truly understand, he leaned down to the pitiful looking men at the end of their ropes.
“It doesn’t look good, but they’re still breathing.” Kaidus whispered beneath his breath as his mana coursed through one of the men. Directing his magic to heal the wounds and internal injuries to prevent death, more mana surged into the body before he promptly moved onto the next man. Within moments, the four were no longer gasping for air, but soundly unconscious against their cages.
‘Master… There Are Others Approaching.’ Vishan’s clear and displaced voice echoed through his mind.
Sending out a thin wave of mana, he detected footsteps approaching from the eastside of the plaza. The newcomers were moving carefully and quickly, while trying to conceal themselves with magic.
“Let us see what they are up to.” Leaving the prisoners chained, he scanned for Zion’s location through the thick mist and beckoned the spirit to stop.
It did not.
‘Zion.’ Kaidus repeated, immediately suppressing the wayward spirit’s power.
“GRUAAAH!!” Another agonizing scream as Roln was thrown onto the adjacent stage. The wind spirit swiftly returned to take residence in the cloak it had formed earlier, and
the thick mist slowly condensed before falling to the ground.
“Huhgu! Guuuu!!!” Struggling atop the platform where he was thrown, Roln was twitching and gasping for air.
‘As Have Youuuu Commanded…. It Yet Livesssss.’ The wind hissed, and Kaidus turned to walk toward the incapacitated man. ‘Master.’ It was Vishan who had spoken again. Another warning.
The intruders had not come to watch, and had acted.
Kaidus immediately braced himself and the red cloak completely wrapped itself around him as the ground shook. A fissure opened up underneath his feet. ‘Vishan!’ Kaidus directed, quickly expelling his mana outward to shield those around him as he was swallowed up.
Bursting up through the ground as intense flames erupted around its master, in a gush of light Vishan flickered upward, riding alongside the flames and containing them into a fiery pillar.
With the destructive fire and earth magic somewhat contained, Kaidus began drawing in the excess mana that he had expelled in the rush. A bolt of mana suddenly honed in on his position and he looked up to deflect it, but something swooped by and negated the attack. ‘Zirus.’ The youngling’s presence came to a stopped above him. Although he had left the young drakall to hunt on the outskirts of town, it seem to have picked up on the danger and came to help.
“Enough of this.” Kaidus whispered his irritation as he raised himself out of the hole with earth magic. The thought to extinguish the flames flashed in his mind, but another idea occurred to him and he slowly closed his eyes.
‘Massssterrr. Allow Me Insssteaddd…’ Zion contended, begging to be unleashed once more.
“It is a good chance to test his limits.” Kaidus replied, focusing his will and mana into the red gem on the youngling’s forehead. Bracing himself once more, within moments, “KRAAAAUUU!!!” A deafening roar shattered the flames and blew the pillar of magic away, leaving nothing but a smoldering wall of pure white smoke in its wake.
With the sound of tired wingbeats, the serpent swooped down in front of him. “Well done.” He complimented, staring into the two silver eyes that were looking back up at his own for approval. “Krrrraaa!” Baring its fangs in exhaustion and pride, the young drakall launched itself onto his shoulders and promptly slithered into his cloak. As Zirus moved to situated itself around his left arm as usual, ‘!?’ an all too familiar mana signature pulsed outward from within his pocket. One of Eril’s rings had begun to glow. ‘!!’ The fury within him flared up at the knowledge. “… Leave the one with the ring.” With a stern word of command, Zion once against rush forth through the smoke, following his will.
Stalking toward the broken Roln who was painfully gasping for air, “The mana lingering around this place. Is it yours?” Kaidus questioned, and his voice weaved through the silence that had gripped the plaza.
“W-Wh- haaah… haa… W-what are… you…?” A broken inquiry came amongst pained breaths.
“What or who I am, is irrelevant. That symbol on your shoulder. It is the emblem of the Scarlet Shields, a chapter of the 10th ward Mystiks Guild.” The man’s eyes lit up as he stated the affiliation. “Sworn to protect and serve Ferrent, never venturing outside of its walls. One of its three final defenses.”
“Y- *cough! COUGH!* y-you… are from D-Darsus…”
“With your skills, I cannot deny the fact that you may have once been a mage of the shields. Why a former or possible member of the Mystiks Guild is all the way out here, lording over a slave town such as this… that question had intrigued me. Yet with what’s occurred so far, it looks like I have already found my answer.” Kaidus reached down and grabbed Roln by the collar. Pulling Roln up to face him, “what is a former member of the Mystiks guild doing in a town ran by Tal’hrus? Why would their agents try to assist you?”
Roln grimaced in pain and kept his mouth tightly shut.
“Answer me. You have already betrayed one master, another betrayal will mean nothing.”
“F-Fuck YOU! *Cough!*”
“Don’t misunderstand. I already know the answer. I just wanted to hear it from your own mouth before I send you on your way.”
Roln painfully turned to look at the emblem on his shoulder, then back to Kaidus. “A-are you here… Haa *COUGH!*… to bring me back? *Kak! Cough!*” Roln replied, spitting out a little blood. “T-they send a child t-to bring me… to justice…? Haa….hahaha..!! *cough!*”
“Your delusions are quite enlightening, but I am neither affiliated with the guild nor do I have any such plans to take you back. I had simply saw something curious and thought to inquire about it. It is why you are still alive and not your partners.” Kaidus replied coldly, his eyes not showing a single hint of remorse or delight about what he had done.
“K-kill- *Hahk!* guhhh.. aaaAA!!!!” Roln began pounding on his chest painfully with his broken arm.
Kaidus quickly infused a bit of mana into the man to alleviate the pain, and Roln’s eyes turned into shock. “You have thrown your pride as a protector away, yet you still keep such a thing on your person. It is laughable and insulting to the Scarlet Shields.” Kaidus replied with a dry insult, and the man’s shocked face instantly darkened.
“P-pride? Haaah… someone like you… Kuh- dare to speak to me of… pride?” Roln retorted, glaring back angrily as he fought for air. “My pride… has never wavered. Guh- haaaa… contrary to what you have said or may think, it has only grown stronger. This symbol,” Roln replied firmly, his pupil darting to his left should, “is but a reminder… of my past. *cough!* an acknowledgement to the mistakes of my youth. Of a purpose without passion… Haaah-haaaah… a devouring flame that has been constrained from satiating its hunger! In time I will rid myself of it as I have rid myself of Darsus and that damned guild! *COUGH! Cough! HAAAK! Cough!*”
“And where will that hunger lead you?”
Glaring back up at Kaidus, “P-Power… Freedom!”
“So you say, yet all I’ve seen is greed and oppression.”
“Ha… ahahah!!! *COUGH!* hahaha… is it not the same for you?” Roln immediately retorted with a pained smile. “All that power… against someone like me. Ahahaha! You a-are… an abomination!”
“You brought this upon yourself, don’t try to blame me for what happened.”
“That matters little, and you *cough!* ha… know it to be true. You and I… we are quite similar.”
“We were.” Dropping the man to the ground, Kaidus reached into his pocket and pulled out the handful of rings he had confiscated. With a thought, they rose up from his hand and into the air, hovering above Roln. The man’s face once against dissolved into disbelief upon realizing what they were. “These belonged to Eril. These three, I took from the others whom I had the pleasure of crossing paths with. The Countess Belinde, the King’s Advisor, and our unfortunately friend.” Kaidus glanced back at the charred body behind him.
“T-t-those can’t be r-real… Master Eril cannot possibly be…”
“Deny it all you want. It is the truth.” Kaidus replied and stared down at the bewildered man. There was fear in his eyes, along with a glint of understanding. It was a look he knew well. The man was keen enough to recognize his own position. “Whatever it was that caused you to turn from the Mystiks guild does not matter to me. As a former member of your caliber, I am willing to give you a chance to obtain your ultimate goal.” Kaidus’ smiled inwardly. In Roln’s confused eyes, he could see the glint of understanding blossoming into interest. “Bring Tal’hrus to me, and I shall satisfy your hunger with power unimaginable.” By his will, Roln’s broken body rose up off the ground. Placing a hand on the man’s shoulder, Roln began screaming out in pain.
“W-what am I supposed to do?” A terror filled Roln questioned weakly while testing his arms and legs.
Kaidus looked up to the man who was now standing a head and a half taller than himself. “There are five rings that belonged to Eril. It stands to reason that there are five people with the counterparts to these rings. I myself have three of them. You will find the other two for me.”
“You have already obtained three on your own. W-why do you need me?”
“I have obtained countless of these rings in the past few years. The problem is that I cannot use them without dispelling the enchantment placed upon them by their creator. Unfortunately your Master Eril is no more, and your friends with the knowledge are quite tight lipped.”
“Y-you want me to… this is insane! They would never trust me once they hear about what happened here!”
Picking out one of the rings, Kaidus flicked it over to Roln. “Tell them that your unit leader fell to an assassin. That he entrusted you with the ring and you managed to escape. And this,” taking out a silver ring of his own make, Kaidus tossed it to Roln. “It requires a simple incantation. Keep it with you and notify me if you succeed or are in trouble.”
Gritting his teeth, Roln reluctantly took the rings. “I do this… i-if I do this, what is there to stop you from killing me afterward?”
“There is nothing to stop me, and no one to stop me should I wish to take your life. Let me make that perfectly clear. My advice to you, is prolong that life and hope I find it useful.”
“You said- you said you’ve obtained countless rings. Why me? W-why make me do this instead of someone else?”
Kaidus looked up to the man. The confident and impeccably dressed mage from earlier was no more. Instead, standing before him was a frightened man with dirty hair wearing an ensemble of torn and dirty strips of bloodstained clothes. “A test of faith maybe? Or if it’ll help, think of this as my sentiments toward a fellow mage of Ferrent.”
Roln looked down at the ground, terrified at what may happen should he not comply. “I-.. I understand…”
“You have until I leave Malpaars. I will find you then. Now get out of my sight.”
On the opposite side of the plaza–near its outer limits, “No! Get off me! Let me go!” The silence that had shrouded the area shattered as a woman’s voice tore through the air.
“What- what do I call you?” Roln questioned carefully, unwilling to look at the disturbance.
“Impatient.” Kaidus replied coldly before turning to the commotion. Someone was running in their direction, followed by a number of people. Beside him, Roln’s footsteps began hurrying away.
Turning from what was happening, he focused his attention to the large cages around the plaza. Most of the prisoners who had been trapped and left behind were staring back, their eyes filled with horror. “Free them.” He ordered, and the sound of metal bars being sliced apart, along with shrieks of terror and chains falling to the ground echoed through the hushed atmosphere.
There was no use in staying any longer. Kaidus turned and walked away.
“Kaidus!!!” A voice cleaved through the noise of the prisoners. Behind him, the woman from earlier was being roughly handled by her pursuers. She had long arms and there were metallic plates upon her head that shimmered every time she turned her face. A kovus. Out of breath, the woman was trying to push her abductors away but even as a kovus, they were quickly overpowering her. “Kaidus! Hel- ugguuu!!!” One of the men wrapped his arm around her neck in a choke hold and the others grabbed her arms and legs.
“Vishan.” As soon as the words slipped out of his mouth, the three men lurched backwards and began screaming as blood spurted out of their arms and legs. Dropped to the ground, the woman started coughing but quickly got up and began racing toward him once more.
It was Narissa. The dress she was wearing had a large tear on its side and she was running while trying to keep it from falling apart. “K-Kaidus…” She voiced while gasping for air as she neared him.
“What are you doing here?” The cold tone of his voice caused her to freeze in her steps. In her eyes, he could see that they were the same as everyone else. Fear, panic, terror, and apprehension, all visible with a single glance.
With a slight hesitation, she picked up her steps and hurried behind him. “T-thank the gods it’s you! P-please help me!” She spoke quickly, her voice filled with what almost sounded like hope.
Two more men arrived and began checking up on the three who were bleeding on the ground. They then looked at Kaidus and Narissa.
“I remember you warning us not to come here. If you knew what kind of a place this is, why are you here?” Kaidus questioned, turning his head to Narissa. With her holding tightly onto the seams of her dress, the upper curves of her body left very little to the imagination and he quietly looked away. “What happened to you?” He queried, releasing the bloodied cloak of air before taking off and handing his gray cloak underneath to her.
“Talk abo- t-thank you.” With a surprised smiled, Narissa quickly wrapped the gray cloak around herself. “I’ll tell you everything later. Please, you have to help me.”
“Lady Narissa! Please return with us!” One of the men shouted.
“Lady? I thought that was behind you?” Kaidus gave Narissa an inquisitive look and she frowned.
“It’s a long story, but please. Please come with me.”
Seeing the trouble in her face and hearing her anxious tone, “lead the way.” Kaidus replied, keeping his eyes on the men who had been after Narissa.
Following Narissa and the guards who had been sent to escort her back, they soon arrived at a large house not far from the plaza.
“I see no ropes on her. She came back willingly?” A kovus man holding his forehead with a wet towel questioned the guard as they were led to an extravagant living space.
“M-My lord. This is… how do I-”
“What is it? And who is that?” The kovus man questioned, looking at Kaidus.
“I came to ask you one last time, Shiar. If you will not help me seek revenge, then at least tell me where their remains are. You owe everyone that much!” Narissa interrupted angrily without allowing for any introductions.
“I don’t owe you anything, but I will thank you for coming back to me.” Shiar replied, looking away from her as he held onto his forehead. “Svas, take her away and throw that child out.”
“…” The guard looked to Kaidus but did not move.
“Svas, are you deaf? And why are you alone? Where are the others?”
“M-my lord. Elburg, Bein, and Trence are currently… incapacitated. Lerak went to get some people so they can bring them back.”
“Incapacitated? What in the world are you talking about? By what? Who?”
“Shiar!” Narissa demanded again angrily.
The guard looked nervously at Kaidus once more, and then turned back to his lord. “My lord, I-I think you should really comply with Lady Narissa’s request.”
Taking the towel off his forehead, Shiar quickly crumbled it into a wet ball and threw it at the guard. “You think?! I think I’ve already told you to do something! What are you still doing here?! Get rid of the boy and take Narissa away!”
“Narissa. He’s clearly not in the mood to listen to reason, much less comply with your pleas.” Kaidus spoke, his voice tired and unamused.
“M-my lord! Please!” The guard quickly pleaded, stepping forth in between his lord and Kaidus.
“Out of my way.” With a simple push, he shoved the guard away and Kaidus stepped toward Shiar. “Some people cannot understand reason, and I tire of these pointless exchanges.”
“I don’t know who you are, but get the fuck out of m–?!” Shiar clammed up and began scratching at his throat. His eyes clouded and started bulging out as if something was constricting his neck. “-PUAH!!!! Haaahh!! Haaah!! *COUGH! COUGH!* W-what the fuck?! What did you do?!”
“You ready to talk?” Kaidus questioned. The man simply stared back, his voice all but lost. With a thought, the man began grabbing at his throat again.
“Kaidus! That’s enough!” Narissa cried out from behind, her voice filled with panic.
“Last chance. Are you ready to talk?” He questioned once more, and the man eagerly nodded his head. Kaidus released the hold.
“KU-AAH!! *HAAA! HAA! HAA!!!*” Breathing and coughing painfully, Shiar shrunk back upon his seat.
“I would not waste any more time if I were you. Tell Narissa what she wants to know, or I will interrogate you. You WILL not enjoy it, and your riches will mean nothing.”
“I caakkkk-nkkkt taakkk.” A barely understandable answer came out.
Kaidus move forward and Shiar jerked up in his chair. “I must’ve crushed something. Don’t move.” Placing a hand on the man’s neck, Shiar grimaced excruciatingly as he quickly healed the damages.
“K- W-what do you want?!” Shiar replied, terrified and surprised at what had just occurred.
“Where are my parent’s remains, Shiar? Who killed them? Why?”
“Answer her.” Kaidus goaded from the side.
“I don’t know…” A hesitant answer.
“You said that you knew. You said you found out what happened to Alxrea.”
“I know what happened at Alxrea. That is the truth. But I can’t tell you where your parents are, because I honestly don’t know.”
“Y-You- damn you Shiar! Why would you lie about something like that?! They could still be alive! Why would you deceive me?!”
“You know perfectly why I lied to you! You would have ran off to search for them, getting yourself killed in the process without knowing if they are still alive or dead! I would rather have you locked here with me, than allow that to ever happen!”
“Don’t try to twist this into something else while using me as an excuse, Shiar. I’m sick of it! The idea of caring for another being does not exist within you, and you know it. Your words are hollow, and I will NEVER fall for them again.”
“Stop it! I did not come here to listen to another one of your confessions, or to hear you beg. Tell me what you know, and hopefully this will be the last time we see each other.” Narissa replied adamantly, her anger clearly visible upon her face.
“… if that is how you truly feel, then I give up.” Shiar slouched on his seat and quietly stared vacantly at the seat opposite him. “It was over a year ago… the King’s men found out that your father was smuggling weapons for the Liberation Army. To punish him, they captured everyone from Alxrea as collaborators. From what I found out, he had been doing it for a few turns before getting caught. By the time news reached me and I got to Alxrea, the village had already been seized and its people long gone.”
“You can’t be serious… mother, father, Agleis… everyone…” Narissa’s legs buckled, and she slumped to the ground.
“Stay here Narissa… with me. I can treat you well. I can give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
“Everything I’ve ever wanted?” She snapped in disgust and stood up. “I want my parents. I want to know that you do not have a cellar filled with women. I want to know that you are not a heartless piece of shit who could do something like this to me after I came to you for help!” Leaning forward, she slapped Shiar’s face, leaving a large hand print. “I want you to know that we are now strangers. Never look for me. Better yet, don’t even think about me. Live your life of luxury and die a fat monster wallowing in wealth like you’ve always wanted.” Standing up, Narissa turned to walk away.
“Where are you going?! Don’t do anything stupid Narissa!”
“The stupidest thing I’ve done, was coming here to ask for your help. What could be worse?” She retorted harshly.
“I’m serious!” Shiar got up from his seat. Holding onto the throbbing side of his face, he quickly moved in front of Narissa. “I didn’t want to tell you, but you need to listen to me for once!”
“Narissa! LISTEN! I did not come into my wealth because of luck, and I hope you know that. In these years ever since leaving Alxrea, I’ve built a modest- if not extensive array of information networks. It was how I caught wind of you. How did you think I found out that you were hiding in Eegas?”
“You fucking pervert! I should-”
“Listen to me!” Shiar shouted loudly, silencing Narissa. “A couple of nights ago, we caught wind that the King’s Advisor is dead. Assassinated over a fortnight ago. And lately, words have been coming in that there are strange movements happening down south, as well as to the north and northeast. Provisions are being bought up, farms are being seized, and young crops have already been negotiated and paid for. There are even rumors of conscriptions happening within the south. The whole of Malpaars is stirring, and the whispers are saying that something big is going to happen very soon.”
“Something big? What for? This cursed country just got out of a damned war. Why would there be another?”
“I cannot say for sure, but all signs are pointing towards it. Best course would be that the lords are merely making a show of strength, but who knows. What I’m trying to say is, if you are really going to look for your parents, please wait until things have settle.”
“…Out of my way. I’m leaving.”
“Shiar. Get out of my way.”
Reluctantly moving to allow her to pass, Shiar returned to his chair, defeated and exhausted.
“It was a pleasure to meet you. Please excuse the intrusion, and I apologize for taking such forceful measures. It was necessary, and I am sure you can understand.” With a curt bow, Kaidus excused himself.