“Hm?” Nylen Gvius Daz Jozion, Headmaster of the esteemed Zorin academy sat up on his chair and quickly adjusted his posture.
Having been awake for numerous days and nights slogging through every conceivable record he could get his hands on, something had finally piqued his interest.
Before him was a small leather-bound journal–the travelogue of a wandering minstrel, one of the assets that had come by earlier that morning from the Ravon Manor. “Where have I seen that before?” He wondered, staring at the passage before him.
Shoving a number of books aside, the old man pulled out a stack of notes that had been buried underneath.
Carefully perusing through the pages, ‘here’ he pulled a sheet out of the stack.
Scribbled upon the piece of paper were dozens of barely legible paragraphs containing sentences of intrigue, along with the literary source in which he had found them.
Skimming it with his marble finger, “Anarias… God of War… commonly depicted in white or silver… encased in both light and darkness.” The old man softly voiced out what he had been looking for. His eyes twitched at the metaphoric sentence that he had jotted down because it had intrigued him.
With the specific page of note before him, he turned his attention back to the journal.
Failure due to the decimation of their gods and places of worship…
‘Further.’ He skimmed down the page to where he had last spotted it.
Two of the most celebrated and worshipped gods at the time were Algaralnt, God of Fertility and Wisdom, said to have bestowed life upon Horuns itself… Yanaish, God of Pleasure and Sanctity, and beholder of the mother’s cradle…
‘It was around here…’ He thought, continuing further.
… Before their destruction the Eklevans believed that Ahnuriah, the God of War and Justice would return. That he would be born again, made flesh from crimson light to walk upon the world of men…”
“This…” Headmaster Nylen whispered, not daring to peel his eyes away from the passage before him lest the words upon it became his own delusions.
Anarias and Ahnuriah, both worshipped as gods of wars. Both seemingly affiliated with light.
The name had changed somewhat but the similarities were still there. His eyes darted to the notes then took another look at the cover of the journal. The two sources were each from a different era, copies of records from centuries ago and undoubtedly translated and transcribed over dozens of times, over dozens of languages and generations. For them to retain such similarities, he could not discard the coincidence.
“Enuria…” Nylen spoke the name that he had burned into the back of his mind from tireless days and nights of searching.
The name had been uttered by a Rhas of shadow, an unequivocally powerful one. For it to sound so similar to the names of gods long forgotten, there had to be a reason.
Born again, made flesh from crimson light to walk upon the world of men…
“Born again… Light…” He picked up the page of notes as his chest began drumming a sporadic rhythm. “Silver. Encased in both light and darkness…” His thoughts quieted as the beating in his chest grew louder and his marble arm began trembling. Recalling all that he knew of the child, “It cannot be…”
With the unsealing incantation in his head, he pushed forth his will and the ring hovering in the air immediately began glowing.
The spell that the woman had imparted was indeed the incantation needed to unravel Eril’s enchantments.
Within moments, the telltale sign of the ring’s purpose revealed itself.
“Master?” A man’s curious voice came through one of them. “I have been waiting. What would you-”
The ring quickly descended and he grabbed it, sealing in the unknown mana and severing the connection. “Perfect…” He clutched the ring in his hand.
“Why?” Inareh questioned from his left, “Why did you want the unsealing incantation if you were just going to destroy the enchantment?” There was confusion in her voice.
“You need not concern yourself with such things.” He replied.
The look on the woman’s face had been one of curious denial upon seeing Eril’s rings in his possession. Yet even after disclosing the incantation required to activate them, she had refrained from asking further and elected to keep silent. It was a small indication of her shrewdness, a trait he could use to his own advantage.
“Now that I think about it, something has been bothering me.” Kaidus turned to Inareh and the woman cautiously lowered her heard. “Lord Krain Olivas, the one who had been tasked with overseeing the king. The agent from Garnikul, this man who had just doomed himself, and you.” He listed the four of them, four of whom he had taken the enchanted rings from. “All of you were Eril’s most trusted, each of you bestowed with a purpose to carry out his will. Yet from what I have seen, none of you knew of your master’s passing. Why is that, and why have you not attempted to initiate contact with him yourself?” The question had been at the back of his mind ever since he took the rings from Eril’s ashes.
“The master was not one to involve himself with trivial matters and hated being disturbed.” Inareh replied, her voice careful but clear. “His plans had already been put into motion to be handled by the likes of us. We were only to contact the master if our lives are in jeopardy or we have been instructed to do so by himself.”
“Interesting…” Kaidus gazed at the ring in his hand. “I guess I cannot blame him, seeing the talented mages at his command. Barely a turn has passed since I was in Maverus and here you are, marching with an army already. I must say Inareh… I am impressed.” He gave the woman a wry smile. “Was that also one of Eril’s many plans that he had set in motion?”
“Then I must thank him for his impeccable planning, since it had served to bring about and hasten my own devices.”
“Your own?” Inareh looked up. “Then this was…”
“I knew Tal’hrus would not stand idle after seeing one of their key agents killed. It was also my understanding that Tal’hrus would be at the forefront should anything occur.” Kaidus slid the ring into his pocket. “Yet for us to be meeting so soon like this, it was not something I had anticipated and I have you to thank for that.”
“There is no need to look so miserable. You have inadvertently saved me a lot of time by taking preemptive actions and should be proud of yourself.” He stepped away from the woman and stalked toward Roln. The man had been kneeling by the entrance the whole time. “But you Roln… I cannot say the same to you.” He held out his right hand and dust began rising up from the ground. Winding about like a miniature storm, the dusts gathered within the center of the tempest and extended upward into his hand. Catching the rod of earth, it solidified into a sleek brown spear.
“No… please.” Roln pleaded, planting his forehead against the ground in a show of submission. “I was wrong. I wasn’t thinking. Please, please give me another chance!”
“Inareh.” Kaidus called to the woman. “Watch carefully, for there are no second chances if you dare to betray me or mine.” By his will, he silenced the man’s pointless groveling and forcibly contorted Roln’s body and head to look up at himself. “Our meeting was upon the tip of a spear. It is only right that our parting should be the same.” He lobbed the earthen spear into the air.
Splitting into a dozen thinner rods, earthen javelins rained down upon the man, shredding flesh and boring through bones.
“Have I made myself clear?” Kaidus questioned, not looking away from the gored and bloody corpse before him.
“C-crystal clear.” A horrified answer came from behind.
Silently contemplating the situation, “Of your mages outside, how many are scattered throughout the army?” He investigated as Roln’s terrified and lifeless eyes continued to blankly stare up at him. By his will, the two rings that he had given the man lurched up to him. Catching the rings, with a thought, the javelins that were propping the man up turned into dust again and Roln’s body slumped to the ground.
“Eleven.” A swift but uncertain answer.
“How do they compare to yourself?”
“I. My magic is superior, but they are each capable in their own right.”
“Kill them all. Prove yourself by severing your connections to Tal’hrus.” He ordered, turning around to catch the last of the curious changes in her expression.
“K-kill them?” The inflection in her voice easily exposed a hint of unwillingness.
“Do not misinterpret my mercy to you as leniency toward everyone.” He replied, peering into Inareh’s frightened blue eyes. “Just because you have made yourself useful does not mean that you are without peril. Should you lose what little worth I see in you, I will personally see to it that a clean and painless death is the least of your worries.”
“No. No no no, that… that is not what I meant.” Inareh was already on her knees with her head to the ground. “I- I swear to you. Even if I were to die, I will never be-betray you. Please…”
“Then you should have no problem in doing what I have asked of you.”
“Please.” The woman begged, not lifting her head “I beseech you. Please let me try and convince them first.”
“Convince them?” A curious thought arose in his mind. “To what end?”
“To yours.” She swiftly replied.
“No.” As quickly as her answer came, Kaidus denied her.
“Please!” Inareh cried out. “Though they are under my command on the orders of Master Eril, there are those who I trust with my life. If- if you would just show them your strength. Show them as you have shown me, I am sure they would also forsake their allegiance to Tal’hrus.”
“You fail to see why I am here. My purpose is to eradicate Tal’hrus. You are not an exception.”
“We- we are mages before we belonged to the organization.” She replied, her tone panicked but adamant. “We have always followed the strong. If you would just give them a chance, they will follow you as readily as they have followed Tal’hrus. The strong dictates the world, and none are without blood on their hands.” Her voice quivered and grew quieter. “Y-you should know that.”
Flashing across the room, he stopped and stood before her.
“Apologies!” Inareh quickly recoiled backward, keeping her head low.
“How trite. You offer me a band of blind and perfidious killers then presume to lecture me about the blood on my hands?” Kaidus retorted, “Perhaps I have misjudged your desire to live?”
“I. I did not become an agent of Tal’hrus to murder and steal.” She answered, her voice low. “We- many of us in the organization merely seek to relive the glory days of the golden age. It matters not who our master is, only that they have the strength to lead.” Inareh’s voice cracked and she quickly took a few quick breaths. “Some… some people joined Tal’hrus for the chance to flaunt their strength without restrictions and to indulge themselves. Others are coerced into the organization due to circumstances. Yet many more have joined because it is their only path for greater magic. Please.”
The vices of a young boy who clawed and fought, doing everything he possibly could in order to survive, in order to get stronger surfaced into his mind.
Sins of a life forged in the flames of vengeance, quenched only by rivers of blood.
Memories of times immemorial, vividly reminding him of those who had been forced against their wills.
Fragments of a past that echoed of the countless lives he had unjustly deprived in his path to reach his goals.
Kaidus clenched his teeth.
Ever since learning of the monster that was Tal’hrus he had always envisioned them as the enemy. A cold and unfeeling entity that must be destroy, if the world is to be at peace.
He had never bothered to view them as individuals and it had served to give him focus, to ground and keep himself from all that he had done.
They were an outlet, a means to unleash his unfulfilled anger. A way of alleviating the unrelenting pain within, and a temporary distraction from the never-ending regrets of the past.
Looking at the woman now, she was trembling as she begged for those closest to her.
“Go. Persuade your mages before I have a mind to see reason again.” He snarled, discarding any thoughts that tried to dispute him.
Not lifting her head, she rushed past him and exited the tent.
Standing in the spacious room, the thought of having made the wrong decision cycled through his mind. The willingness to follow after and release the woman from her mortal coil was there, but steeling his mind instead, he willed himself to calm down. “Vishan.”
A beam of light tore through the thick canvas of the tent and stopped before him. Forming into an orb, “Such Mercy Is Wasted On The Likes Of Them…” It pulsed, shining brightly in the air.
“If she can serve to deter others, it will save me the trouble of having to kill them myself.” Kaidus replied and took out the ring he had sealed earlier. Releasing it, the metal ring slowly flew into the ball of light.
“That Kindness Shall Be Our Undoing Again…”
“Is that discontent I hear?” He questioned, sensing an odd fluctuation in the spirit’s wispy voice.
“Nay. This One Is Merely Speaking Our Mind.”
“I see…” The spirit was right. It was echoing his own thoughts. “Vishan. Have you ever desired to be freed of my will?” He quietly queried.
“NEVER…” The orb pulsed, filling the tent with light. “This One Exists to Serve The Master. Our Purpose Has Always Been So, As It Will Forever Be. WE ARE ONE.”
Kaidus lifted his hand to touch the spirit but stopped. “Your sacred oaths may still hold true, but that life is already behind us.”
“It Matters Not How Many Lifetimes Pass. The Bonds Are Eternal.”
The orb began distorting and expanding. In the blink of an eye, a pure white shadow the same size and height as himself was standing in its place.
“To Free Us Would Be Our Doom.” The light spirit knelt. “Does The Master Wish To Be Freed of Us?
“Never.” Kaidus instantly replied without giving it a second thought.
“Then The Pact Stands…”
“… Sorry. I will not bring it up again.” He apologized, carefully examining the pitch white shadow of himself. As if to imitate him completely, the featureless silhouette even appears to be wearing a cloak.
“Uhnnn.” Someone else groaned within the room.
Turning to his side, it was the unconscious guard he had knocked out earlier. The man was finally coming to. “You may be on your way. I will deal with this myself.” Kaidus dismissed, his voice devoid of any previous sentiments.
Her soldiers surrounding the command tent did not stop her as Inareh passed through their encirclement. Though curious, the look in their eyes were reminiscent of her own with many of them having borne witness to the boy’s descent.
Bypassing the ring of soldiers, she headed straight for the tree lines where she had instructed the others to wait.
Voices called to her as she arrived. Hiding amidst the trees, two of her mages rushed over to her.
“You- you’re okay.” One of them stated as if they had been expecting the worse.
“Molrin. Ireese.” Inareh called out to them both.
The two of them were with her when the child descended and had seen most of what transpired. Not bringing them into the meeting with her, she had ordered them to flee should anything untoward occur.
“What is happening? What did that ‘thing’ want?” Molrin inquired, her tone seemingly dipping upon mentioning the boy.
“Help me gather-” Inareh paused as the child’s bloodthirsty eyes manifested before her own. “No… you both must listen to me very carefully.”
Fighting him was not an option.
His existence was what she and Tal’hrus itself had been waiting for–striving for–and she could not begin to imagine how such a young man could possess so much power.
His was an existence that should not be possible. Yet there he is, wielding magic like none she had ever seen before.
Like the stories she had grown up on, his explosive presence alone had evoked both fear and awe within her. Even after barely hanging onto her life, after being at death’s door, she still could not get the sense of petrifying wonderment upon his descent out of her head.
Kaidus silently followed the guard through the army.
Having fended against the frightened glances upon leaving the command tent, he was now the subject of curious gazes as they weaved their way through hundreds of soldiers.
From what he could clearly see, the army was an amalgamation of smaller forces, each with their own commanders and resources. Each group had their own spot in the march, and all were headed by Inareh’s troops.
The guard turned back and seeing that he was still following, proceeded to quicken his pace.
Kaidus followed suit.
Their destination was the body of the army that the man belonged to. He had mended and healed the man’s jaw and using the opportunity, was accompanying the man back with the hopes of persuading those who had unceremoniously left the assembly.
“We are here.”
The guard stated as they arrived at a large open wooden pavilion in the middle of the road, surrounded by soldiers.
Undoubtedly constructed with magic, four thick and solid supports held up the wooden canopy while three of the sides were covered with sheets of thick white cloths.
Inside was a bumptious woman whose long brown hair had already begun to gray. Leisurely sipping on a cup of wine, she was conversing loudly with two of the others who had left the meeting after her.
The woman’s face turned sour upon spotting them.
“What are you doing bringing him here with you!?” She quickly spouted toward them, moving to stand at the edge of the pavilion as soldiers formed a wall in front of her.
The guard stopped and gave a penitent bow from a distance. “I have embarrassed you, my lady.”
“I asked you a question, Varil.” The old woman scowled. “What is HE doing here?”
Seeing his cue, Kaidus stepped up beside the man. “I had come in the hopes of continuing our conversation from earlier. To see this to a favorable end.” He shot a glance at the two lords beside her. One of them had voiced their dissatisfaction earlier as well.
“You have come to the wrong place, boy.” The woman replied as wrinkles emerged upon her forehead. “That farce ended when I left. I thought I made that abundantly clear.”
“Please, my lady.” Kaidus gave a respectful bow.
“You wish to parley?” The old woman’s hawkish eyes narrowed. “What is it that you can possibly offer me?”
Taking out the small pouch that he had picked up before coming, he dug into it and pulled out the remaining seven green fers. “Lord Rellkye and two others had opted to take less than their shares. I am willing to confer their portions onto you.” He extended his hand and held out the green stones.
“You dare mock me?!” The woman screamed at him, her face furious.
“I assure you I am completely sincere right now, my lady. Had I something better that I can offer you I would but alas, there are few items of worth in my possession. Most are trivial and would be of little value to one such as yourself. Others, I cannot part with. This is the best I can do.” Kaidus lowered his head.
The sound of mumbling came through from the old lady and her mana surged outward. A twisting gale, it was aimed at his hand.
Keeping still, the wind blasted the green fers out of his clutches and onto the ground. A burning pain swam through his fingers where the vicious gust had shredded skin.
““Lady Onarald!?”” The two lords both voiced in surprise.
Ignoring those at her sides, “You don’t know how badly I wanted to do that earlier.” She sneered. “Leave whilst you still can. One way or another, we are marching forward.”
Still holding his right hand out, he willed it and the throbbing pain vanished. “I understand.” Flicking away the blood, “We shall do it your way.” Kaidus stepped forward.
The woman’s face jerked into one of distress and she stumbled headlong onto the ground, dirtying the fine gray and blue dress she was wearing. Her men who had been standing between them quickly rushed to her side and drew their weapons. Many began looking around for the assailant.
“You brought your forces under a mage like Inareh.” He continued, not halting at the orders to keep his distance. “Did you ever stop to wonder why she had conceded to my demands? Or were you blinded because you too, are a mage?”
The two lords who had been standing beside her looked confounded.
Surrounded by soldiers, the old woman was glaring back at him with an expression of anger and humiliation.
“I will repeat myself.” Kaidus turned his attention to the soldiers and infused mana into his voice. “Anyone who does not wish to die, leave now. As for those who wish to stay and proceed with this foolish endeavor, know that you will not live to see the sun rise.”
“Idiots! What are you waiting for?! Kill him!” The woman’s shrill voice pierced through the air and soldiers tentatively formed up.
“So be it.” Surrounded, Kaidus took a deep breath. “You are all free to flee should you choose to do so. I will not give chase.” Drawing his xeberite sword, some of the soldiers retreated a few steps at seeing the weapon’s eerie green glow. Holding the slim sword to his side, “Brace yourselves.” Mana coursed throughout his body and Kaidus closed his eyes as his hair took on the silver of Andarg. Gripping the sword tightly, he channeled mana into the weapon and slashed the air in a horizontal arc.
A burst of wind surged outward, emerging from the path traced by the sword’s tip. Kicking up dust, the sudden upheaval ripped the roads apart as it smashed into those in its path.
Soldiers screamed as their bodies were thrown into the air, and cries of panic erupted from those who had been fortunate enough to be out of it.
With a vertical slash, another gust of wind sliced through the dust storm, parting it and blowing the thick cloud away.
““I-t it’s a demon!”” Voices tore through the ranks as soldiers fled.
Trampling over each other in their escape, the sound of weapons being discarded resounded through the area.
Not paying attention to those who were fleeing, Kaidus strolled forth, moving past four broken poles that showed where the pavilion had been.
The storm had torn the structure apart and blown the canopy to pieces, leaving a mass of scattered and bloody soldiers strewn across the area of its attack.
Stopping before a woman covered in a thin layer of dust, “Well? Shall we continue?” He questioned, looming over her like the demon they made him out to be.
Barely conscious, the woman was on the ground with a look of dazed bewilderment.
Along with the scrapes and scratches on her face and dress, there was a broken piece of wood lodged into the right side of her torso. She groaned as she attempted to sit up.
A dozen others were rising from the attack and amongst them, were two who began stumbling away in a panic. Kaidus turned his gaze and the two froze in their steps.
“P-please! I will withdraw. Just please let me go!” One of them painfully shouted.
“You promised… you would not give chase. Please.” The other added.
“You will see to it that your other colleagues also come to their senses. I would hate to see such promising forces be without their leaders.” He replied. Releasing the binding hold on the two lords, they hastily scampered away. Turning his attention back to the injured men before him, “Are you all willing to die here today? If so, pick up your weapons and let us get this over with.”
“Whe- What are *cough* you all doing?! G-get back here!” The woman yelled as more of her soldiers fled. “You can’t leave me like this! You- you bunch of- I’ll have your- unGhhh!!” Recoiling in pain, she stopped to glare upward.
Standing before the woman’s bloody and windswept appearance, in her eyes, he could still see an irrational greed and lust for power. It was all too apparent the kind of person she is, and the desire to end her miserable life coiled itself around his arm, gnawing at him and encouraging him to strike.
‘I will end this war before it can begin.’
Kaidus hesitantly loosened his grip on the xeberite sword as Vick’s face and his own words appeared in his mind. “I will not kill you.” He spoke, forcing the words out as he reeled in his mana. “Depriving your men of their commander here would only invite chaos, and I will not have that. Not today.”
With a thought, the seven green fers that had been blown out of his hands earlier shot through the air and back to him. Willing them to linger in the air before the detestable woman, “With that said, shall we parley?” He questioned.
Kaidus watched as many of the scattered soldiers eventually returned and regrouped with their units.
Those who had fled into the forest were being called back, and others were already retrieving the weapons and equipment that were discarded in the confusion.
After collecting themselves and taking down tents that had been set up for the afternoon, small contingents of men began breaking away and withdrawing. Those who had been injure were loaded onto carts and slowly followed behind.
By the time the woman’s main force began retreating as a whole, it was already evening.
Kaidus waited until the stubborn woman’s carriage disappeared westward into the mass of soldiers, before slowly making his way back to the command tent at the front of Inareh’s army.
Awaiting him was a squad of five mages.
Standing around the spacious room, they were all cautiously watching Zirus whom he had left behind.
“SHRAAA!” The youngling hissed.
Shooting across the room to him, Kaidus caught the young hvaral in the air and it quickly slithered inside his cloak.
“Master.” A bloodied Inareh was the first one to speak. Stepping forward from the rest, she quickly knelt.
Seeing Inareh doing so, ““M-master…”” The other four carefully did the same, their faces grim and filled with uncertainty.
Similar to Inareh, all four had blood on their clothes.