The veil of eternity warped before his eyes, and the old man haggardly fell onto unlikely footings. As if alive, the endless fog parted around him, revealing the haunting and familiar world of white.
Unable to contain himself, Loryl Valtus Toraile, Supreme Commander of Tal’hrus stumbled onto all four. “Haaa… haaa…”
He had managed to escape.
His body was drained and there was now a numbing sensation in his arms and an indistinguishable fear within his chest, but he had avoided certain death.
“Haaa…. Hahaha… HAHAHAHHA!”
His own laughter echoed through the air as his mind lingered on the uncertainty of what he had just encountered.
The curtain of memories suddenly drew him in, and the desolate world quieted itself.
A sea of mana, deep like an infinite night.
Dense and suffocating, it had overflowed with a purity the likes of which he had never felt before.
A regretful smile, plastered onto the weathered face of an old friend.
An unresisting gaze that blankly stared back as he clawed into flesh with anger.
‘I am not who you should be worried about.’ A beaten voice.
Within the depths of the unending darkness, something else had existed.
A conscious, a veritable will amidst the flood of intangible mana.
Two silver eyes gleaming with death.
“Haaaa! Haaaa…” Taking deep breaths, he struggled to regain himself.
Having hastily pulled his mind from the depths of his own memories, he could feel his body trembling as more questions flooded his thoughts.
“S-Seraxs…” The name quickly brought him back to his frantic escape.
In its attempt to protect him, the light spirit had been ruthlessly torn asunder and its luminous body devoured by the abyss.
“Kuh… I- I was chosen. This cannot be possible!” He voiced, digging bloody fingers into the ground in frustration.
Whatever the darkness was, it had overwhelmed the combine strength of himself and the light spirit.
Hunched in silence, the fog slowly returned to coil about his body, and, ‘Hahahahah!’ A light laughter began weaving itself through the air. A mocking tone, it was one that had known what would happen. ‘Hahahahah!’ It flowed alongside the ever-shifting fog, ridiculing him for having been soundly beaten and forced to flee.
‘Hahahaha! HAHAHA!’ Growing louder and louder, the bemused laughter quickly devolved into one of anger and humiliation, deriding him in his own voice as the knowledge of failure and thorough defeat became paramount.
“SILENCE!” The old man hollered and two blades of wind quickly slashed apart the fog around him, instantly culling the voices.
“I… I am still alive!” He spat into the white haze as the shattered mirror reflected itself in his mind. Collecting himself against the unknown fear, he forced himself back onto his feet. “This is not over. Not yet!”
-Ferrent. 3rd Ward-
Adalina wordlessly stared at the smoke rising throughout the Shorza district.
The darkness had vanished almost as swiftly as it appeared, leaving a stilted silence in the air as if to imitate the morning’s dawn.
All the roaring flames around them had been extinguished within the unnatural night and glancing around the area, she spotted dozens of eyes that were filled with panic and horror.
She turned to Reanne, only to see that the woman was trembling.
“Y-you know what that was?” Reanne whispered, her face white and filled with terror.
Noticing that she was still holding onto Reanne’s arm, Adalina withdrew her hand and took an unsteady step back.
“Adalina!” Reanne cried out, her voice a pitch higher than usual.
Recalling the image of the mage’s lower body disappearing into shadows. “I. I think so…”
“What was it? What just happened?!” There was fear in the woman’s voice.
“I don’t know.” Adalina replied as the same questions settled into her thoughts. Without paying further attention to Reanne or the people around them, she looked toward the direction of her home.
The uncertainty of her children’s safety surged into her mind once again, and without saying another word, she ran.
“Anise!” Adalina screamed as she neared the residence.
To her right, she could see just how far the flames had come, easily adding to her anxiousness. “Sylvia!” She cried out, calling out for the young lady who had been asked to stay behind with her children.
“Sylvia!” Reanne’s nervous voice echoed behind her own.
As they neared their destination, she easily spotted where the fire had latched onto the rooftop of their house. The side of the building where her own bedroom was located was charred, but the flames had yet to consume much of anything else. “Anise! Sylvia!” She shouted again, racing toward the front door.
Reanne’s arm grabbed her from behind.
Almost stumbling as she turned back around, “Momma! Momma!” The shrill pitch of a young girl’s voice caught her attention.
It was coming from within a crowd of people standing around the center of the road.
Worries and fear dissipated and she rushed toward the group, breaking through the circle to find the young girl also calling out for her.
Behind Anise, Sylvia was standing next to Axel and holding a crying boy in her arms.
Adalina raced to her daughter, tightly throwing her herself around the bewildered girl.
After a tight embrace, she gently pulled away. “I’m so sorry. You all must have been terrified.” She apologized, quickly looking the girl over to make sure that her daughter was unharmed.
“Momma, I was not scared!” Anise pouted instead.
Adalina held down a chuckle, and glanced over to where Sylvia was standing.
Lady Reanne was already next to Sylvia and was embracing the young lady’s head in a tender hug.
“Sylvie brought Axel out and I brought Lance.” There was a proudly look on Anise’s face.
Her fears quelled, she turned back to her daughter. “Anise.” Adalina whispered, keeping her voice between the two of them. “Was that Hasen?”
The girl’s eyes immediately lit up in excitement and wonder.
Her tiny mouth opened as if to regale the triumphant tale, but, “Pardon me.” A voice interrupted them from their right side. Adalina turned to see a patrolman standing next to them.
“Are you the girl’s mother?” The man questioned.
Four others stood behind the man like they were making an arrest, but none had their weapons drawn.
Taken aback at the sudden inquiry, “I- I am…” She replied, trying not to sound too nervous.
“Apologies if I have startled you.” The guard lowered his head, “We just wanted to give our thanks to the young lady and see her to her parents before resuming our duties.” He clarified. Behind the guard, the four others also lowered their heads graciously.
Adalina turned, only to realize that the crowd of people were watching them. Whispers were circulating through the spectators, and their eyes were all focused onto Anise as if they had all just witnessed a miracle.
The shouting and screaming from before had died down, and the presence of guards and knights were becoming more prevalent as they made their way back.
“Are you going to tell me again that you have no idea what that was?” Lord Varath questioned, turning to glance at Troyle.
Battered and bruised, they had fumbled through the unnerving darkness and managed to move in the general direction of his manor.
To his side, Troyle opened his mouth but said nothing.
“Does it have something to do with your son?” Alzin added, quietly waiting for an answer.
The first time he had inquired about it, there was the issue of a noble’s son and the murder of his guards to worry about. Seeing that Troyle was just as confused as he was at the time, he had dropped the topic.
Yet there it was again, emerging from Troyle’s sword as it had done before.
An entity with strength enough to overpower someone as reputable as Lord Valk Torkux, one of Ferrent’s Five Flames.
“He… Kaidus had called them his familiars.” Troyle finally spoke, his voice low and filled with its own questions.
The word struck him. “Familiar?” Alzin repeated, unsure if he had heard correctly.
“Yes.” A soft confirmation.
‘A familiar…’ The thought resounded in his mind and Alzin Varath slowed his steps.
Though he was but a powerless Mahj barely capable of invoking the simplest spells, such knowledge pertaining to the world of magic had not eluded his curiosity.
It was impossible for just any mage to summon a spirit into the physical world as a familiar, and from his research, it was known that spirits never bound themselves to those they deemed unworthy.
A black mass of cloud, ripping apart korgas on the outskirts of Ferrent’s farmlands.
The memory came rushing back. He had suspected something then, but had never questioned what it was that they all saw.
Alzin suddenly stopped. ‘Troyle said familiars.’ The implication of the word dawned in his mind as the blinding night flooded his vision, bolstering the claims.
The child was truly an outlier.
‘I implore you to let this notion of marriage go, and allow the future to unwind as it will.’ Like a rainstorm, the words poured down onto the spark of determination that had suddenly burst to life again within his thoughts.
“My lord, should we rest?” Troyle’s voice came from ahead.
Disposing the silly notion again, Alzin looked forward. He had fallen a few good paces behind. “Ah, yes. Sorry.” He apologized and lowered his aching body to the ground.
By the time they neared his manor, much of the disorderly panic had ceased. The explosions had already stopped sometime during the fleeting darkness, and the fires flowing throughout the ward had all but vanished.
“M-my lord?” One of his guards rushed over to them as they approached the manor. Covered in dust, the man looked shocked.
“Lenard?” Alzin called out, but stopped and stared with wide eyes at the broken mansion.
Half of the manor’s southern wall by the main street had been blown apart, along with the fences and trees before it. The kitchen itself could be seen from the outside, and its foundations looked upturned as if something had emerged from underneath.
From the slightly elevated kitchen, a crack had appeared, creeping along the outer walls and moving toward the north side to where the circular library was located.
Overall, the manor looked like it was leaning to its side.
“My lord, you cannot be here. You must-” Before Lenard could finish, from the wide open front doors, two men stepped out. Robed in white and red, they were mages of the Mystiks guild.
“You are Lord Alzin Varath?” The younger of the two mages questioned.
Staring back at the two mages that were moving toward them, “I am.” Lord Varath guardedly answered, unsure as to what was happening.
“Then that red headed swordsman must be your guard Troyle Paltos.” The mage stated, shooting a glance at Troyle. “You are both hereby under arrest for treachery, and the death of Lord Knight Commander Ravon.”
‘Fuck.’ His mind cursed, having failed to realize that such a thing might happen because of the misunderstanding.
Clenching his fist tightly and brimming with fury, Huin Xoras Ravon stood before his father’s corpse.
In a show of respect, the guild mages had personally brought the body back to their estate.
‘Take your group and reinforce the gates to the 13th ward. Do not let anyone pass even if it is King Sarjace himself.’
The old man’s last words sounded in his mind for the hundredth time as he stared at the dark spot on his father’s chest. The servants had already removed the old man’s armor and redressed him, but blood was still oozing out.
“I should have come with you.” The pain in his fist did not help to ease his regret as he thought about what might have been. “Protected you as you would this city.” His gaze fell upon his father’s face. It looked like the right side of the old man’s face had been dragged through the streets, and just the thought of the pain filled his mind with anger.
A hand warmly slipped into his fist, and Huin turned to his side.
His wife had returned.
“How is she?” He mindlessly questioned, barely recalling what he had seen upon arriving back home.
“She cried herself to sleep.” Kellian’s sullen whisper seemed distant as it meandered through the space between them. “Did you know she secretly bought that suit of armor piece by piece so that we wouldn’t notice?”
“I did not…” His mouth gave an instinctive reply as he continued to silently stare down at his father.
Seeing the pain in his eyes and hearing the anguish in his voice, Kellian quieted herself and stood beside her husband, unable to say anything.
“The old man was always talking about his age… always asking me if I would take over as head of the family and become Lord Commander in his stead.” Huin eventually broke the silence and lowered his head painfully. “But I… I would always reject the offer, telling him that a stubborn old man like himself would live for another fifty years. For it to be so soon…” He paused, and the fury of his father’s death swiftly returned.
Not wanting to show his wife his anger, without finishing his thought, Huin turned and walked away.
With his sword still strapped to his waist, he made his way toward the stables.
The mages had said that someone was there during his father’s final moments.
He needed answers.
Lips quivering with anguish, “I found him…” Master Hamin Quinz, Summoning instructor of Zorin Academy infused mana into his shaking voice and willed the message throughout the ward.
Not long after relaying his discovery, two others arrived atop the large warehouse.
Falling to his knees before the stone seat, Zaele Lacaur, the youngest of the masters within Zorin lowered his head to the floor in anguish.
Eyes burning with anger, Keral Leblazi, master of subjugations quietly stared at the bloody body laying atop the crude seat.
They were too late.
Before them all, was the frail body of Nylen Gvius Daz Jozion, the grandmaster who had presided and watched over Ferrent for the past half century.
Unmoving and with a number of bloody wounds in his neck and body, Ferrent’s Malizur was dead.
A good stride from the body and fallen onto the roof, was a glass shard oozing with an incredible amount of mana.
Walking through the endless fog, the old man eventually came upon a desolated valley.
It was a place he had trekked hundreds of times before, and keeping pace, he soon arrived at a pristine wall of white situated against the side of a small cave.
With a thought, a small orb appeared before him and the wall shifted, revealing a tunnel.
The old man stepped inside as the wall closed behind him.
He walked in silence, bypassing a number of rooms until finally reaching an intersecting corridor. Following the path, he soon arrived at a large cavernous chamber with a single ray of light shining through the ceiling.
Halting his steps, the old man swiftly scanned the shadows.
There were others within the room.
“What is the meaning of this?” He questioned as the spacious chamber was illuminated to reveal three of his mages.
Three of the masters.
Standing beside each other, unlike their usual cowed selves, the three were assessing him carefully.
“What is this?” The old man repeated.
“We did not think it possible… but seeing you here, it must mean that you have failed.” One of the three answered, his voice deep and thickly accented.
“Dargras…” The old man gritted his teeth and straightened himself. “And what is it that you intend to do, seeing my failure?”
“You have always commanded excellence from us, master. I would think that the same should apply to even one as venerated as yourself.” Another voice chimed in, a woman’s voice.
“You would have me punished, Sura? Stripped of my command?” He glared at the woman.
“Yes.” The third voice asserted.
“Is that so?” The old man snarled and mana erupted around him. “Do you think you can take my place, Allus? What about you, Sura? Or you, Dargras?” He inquired, and the three masters held themselves like statues.
“No one can take your place, master.” The man named Allus finally replied. “But failures cannot be tolerated. You should know that.”
“Who said that I have failed?” He swiftly countered.
“Ferrent still stands, does it not?”
“I do not answer to you, Allus. You answer to ME.”
“That’s true. Whether you succeeded or failed does not matter. All that matters, is that you are weakened.” Allus replied, dismissing the inquisition and exerting his own mana outward. “Because once you are gone, we will truly be the masters of our own domains. Do it.”
Mana surged through the ground beside his legs and with a thought, the old master quickly leapt back using a wind spell.
Commanding his own mana, he willed it and a blade of earth shot forward as white roots burst from the ground.
Slashing through the roots, the earthen blade slammed into a wall of stone as Dargras and Sura finished their own incantations.
More mana filled the air and the old man willed his own to solidify into a barrier.
*Pssshaaa!* A bolt of lightning surged at him and was absorbed, while another whisked by and crashed into the wall behind him.
Another outpouring of mana could be felt coming from the three and he quickly expanded his barrier as more bolts followed.
Resisting the incoming barrages with his arms, the ground underneath his right foot softened and he kicked downward, sending a shockwave throughout the chamber.
Ahead, the three immediately attempted to stabilize themselves.
Using the opening, the old man willed his mana into the ground and clawed upward with his arms, calling forth a jet of water where the three were standing.
“Surround him!” Dargras’ deep and commanding voice boomed through the room.
Seeing the three evading his attack and then dispersing from their fortified positions, the old man quickly released his mana barrier.
With a thought, his mana coursed to his right side and ignited.
Resisting the urge to flee, Sura, one of the three masters quickly invoked her own magic and a wall of light emerged before her. Barely finishing in time, “Guh!” she was blown back by the suddenly fireball as it exploded, incinerating her defensive spell.
The old man quickly drew himself back as four frozen spears soared toward him. Halting the projectiles in midair with a wind vortex of his own, with a swift motion, he launched them back toward Allus.
“Ugh!” Something else slashed at his side from behind, and he quickly turned to defend against the wind as it twisted back toward him.
“Now!” Dargras screamed, and even more mana began filling the cavernous chamber.
Sensing the combined magic. With fleeting steps, the old man quickly fled back to the tunnel he had entered from. Pushing forth all his mana, he hastily formed a barrier before himself.
The chamber rumbled, and a number of metallic vines burst into the room.
Coiling down from the ceiling and erupting through the ground and walls, they all shot forth toward him, slashing and piercing at his barrier.
An excruciating pain shot through his body, and he looked down to see the bloody tip of a sword sticking out of his chest.
“HAHAHAHA! I can’t believe it worked!” A laughter filled with excitement came from behind, a voice he knew too well.
“UhHHHhk! Ughak!” Spitting out blood, his face twisted in anger. “N-NARSHON!” The old man roared, and in the single instant of losing his focus, the metal vines ripped through the barrier and wrapped themselves around his body.
“To think that one of the great master of Tal’hrus was felled by a simple sword. How unbelievable! Kuahahah!”
“*Cough!* Na-Narshon…” The old man spat as the agony of death screamed in his mind. He had known the upstart was ambitious. Yet for such a thing to happen, it was as if fate had already designed for him to perish this day. “Yo-you… *COUGH!* was this your-”
“I can’t take all the credits.” Narshon gleefully responded. “The idea of freeing ourselves from your grasp came from Kaval after all. My credit was only in persuading the others to see reason in her reckless proposal.”
“Uhghhk-GAHAKK!” Throwing up the blood in his mouth, he could feel more swelling upward and seeping out through the metal constraints.
“You don’t know how long it took me to persuade them.” Narshon’s voice continued. “None of us would dare to defy you if you were at full strength, but this Nylen you are always so wary of… I got to thinking you know, and then I began to wonder. What if he was a more skillful mage? What if you did not come back from your expedition to Darsus? Even if you did come back, what kind of state would you be in after fighting a Malizur?”
“Ku- Traitors! UGH!”
The sound of footsteps came toward them.
“Kaval’s scheme had always intrigued me, but it wasn’t until you volunteered to sail for Darsus that I saw the opportunity.”
“Enough of your blathering, Narshon.” Dargras’ deep voice interjected. “We’ve held our end of the deal. Put him out of his misery so that we can go our separate ways as planned.”
‘Put me out of my misery?!’ His body tensed, and anger filled the old man’s lungs as the vines tightened. “F-Fools… the *Cough!* the lot of you!”
With such a wound and having used up most of his mana in Ferrent, there was no way to break through the compounded bindings.
‘I have seen this world’s true master.’ Nylen’s words echoed in his thoughts.
‘You are the master of Tal’hrus. This cannot be your end!’ Another voice screamed. There was no other path but death.
Painfully slowing his breaths, the old man closed his eyes and refocused his mind.
“Narshon! NOW!” Dargras’ voice boomed through the room.
The agonizing pain in his chest instantly disappeared, and the cluster of mana that was slashing for his head on Dargras’ command instantly dissipated.
With a thought, the metal vines binding him shattered like brittle clumps of rocks and the old master fell to the ground.
“Haaaa…” Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes to see black smoke rising out of his mouth as power swelled into his deforming body.
“It’s too late! Run!”
The four masters quickly scattered away through the tunnels of the chamber.
“KuH!!” Jerking his head to the side, the pain from his chest filled his mind.
‘The true harbinger… another… age of magic.’
The fragmented words continued in his thoughts, and “Grahh!” He groaned, trying to hold in the pain that was now splitting his mind apart. “Then I… Guu-ahh! Haa… I shall… await their- ARGGH!!!” A searing pain coursed through the hole in his chest. “ARRIVAAAAL!” The old master roared as his mind fractured, and the primordial mana of Lagus consumed his dying body.
Something stirred within the darkness, and the forgotten city came alive as thousands of luminescent scales began pulsing with a snow white glow.
Twice it had felt it: an unknown strength rivaling the heralds of old.
Originating from that of the mortal realm, the power had broken through its eternal dreams the first time, waking its subconscious mind from a prison of tranquility.
This time, the mysterious presence had shaken its mountains and fully awoken it from its slumber.
Opening its blood red eyes, it looked down upon the ruins of the once beautiful city as its body began shrinking.
Razor sharp claws withered as it shrunk, falling off as pale white arms took their places. Two Majestic wings retracted into its back and its body shifted, distorting into that of a lesser creature.
“Nnnnnghh…” It moaned in triumph, having finally completed the transformation.