Vishan quietly watched as their master picked up a piece of the Nyzacus mirror.
It could sense that something was different now, but calmly hovering in place, it simply observed as their master proceeded to casually inject waves of mana into the ground.
Stilling itself in anticipation, the atmosphere visibly changed into one of silence as a powerful will quickly took hold.
Waves of mana in their purest form slowly began rippling forth and, “Master?!” Vishan pulsed in surprise, sensing the undiluted power within. Virile and fierce, it could feel itself being strengthened just by proximity.
“Can you feel it?” Their master questioned, his voice surrounding them both. “This sensation. This freedom…”
The heavy atmosphere that was dispersing through them intensified and a small piece of metal ruptured through the earth, flying up into the master’s hand.
“The pain from all those times. The exhaustion, the lack of control, the invariable usage of mana. Almost everything that has been holding me back…”
Their master paused and all the mana that had been expanding around them surged into the metal upon his hand.
“I had believed them to be symptoms of this childish form. Problems that would deliver themselves with age… yet all of that was but a minor issue.” Closing his fist around the piece of metal, like the boundless sea, an even denser tide of mana exploded outward.
An ocean of abundance, Vishan swiftly took in the excess mana, reveling in their raw supremacy. And as it had given, so too now did it take from the being before it, for such was the potential of a true mage. One, comparable to those of the first ones themselves. A mage, with strength and fortitude enough to bind the will of the world.
Drowning in the incredible current of power, “The Ancient One…” It slowly voiced as their master’s words dawned upon itself, recalling all those times their brotherhood had stepped in to shield the master from himself.
“Yes.” Holding the mirror shard up to eye level, “A fragment of it buried deep within my subconscious. Seems it had been interfering and biding its time, waiting for the perfect chance to overtake me.”
Before it could even finish, “I have already dealt with it.” Lowering the shard back down, “Valathiirvanux.” A word of unbinding, and even more power gushed outward around them. This time, from the Nyzacus shard.
Coiling around its master as a protective shield, Vishan quickly locked in the primal mana that was blowing apart the already ruined garden.
Taking hold of the situation, their master quickly refocused the rampant power and imbued it into the newly formed objects within his hand. Sealing in the power of the shard, he opened his fist to reveal three new silver rings.
Sliding them onto his fingers, the rings began glowing as their master closed his eyes.
‘I have already dealt with it.’
The simple statement echoed through its very being as it continued to observe, reminding it of why it had sworn such loyalty to the person before it.
Watching their master now, the image of a man standing atop shattered grounds slowly manifested in his place.
With droves of lifeless bodies behind him, the image stood silent and watched as the sun slowly settled over the horizon, casting great shadows upon the jeweled city before him.
Shrouded in infinite darkness, his silver eyes shone brightly like moonglow as a deep shadow seeped from his own, spreading through the decimated field like a black flood.
Vishan pulsed, flickering brightly as the prelude to the conquest of Veratoraliz took form, replaying itself within the confines of its mind.
A memory, of the first time it had laid eyes upon a mortal with such fervor and presence. Something, it had thought impossible amongst the diluted bloodline of men.
Catching a few streaks of silver emerging upon their master’s black hair, it quickly pulled itself from the illusion and warped the light around them further into a denser shield.
“We… Shall Never Fail Again.” It pulsed as the overflowing strength within itself beckoned to be unleashed.
Filled with a sense of elation and surprise, “Krrraaauuu!” A powerful roar shook the sky, parting the clouds in its path as it pierced through the air like an elongated projectile.
An arrow of midnight, its two pairs of magnificent forewings coiled themselves along its sleek body as it soared, periodically unfolding only to propel itself forward.
Bloodied but having regained its strength from hunting, “KRAAAUUUU!” Zirus roared again, unable to control itself as its instincts honed in on the position of its master.
Passing forest after forest, it eventually arrived at the clearing upon which it had been repelled. “SHRRAAAAA!” It hissed in triumph, no longer sensing the beast that had given it so much trouble over the past handful of days.
Instead, what existed within the center of the clearing was its master in the flesh. Awake, and terrifying.
Inareh stilled her hands and looked across the table from herself.
The youngest of their group, Aida, had also stopped eating. On Aida’s face, she could see an expression much like the one she now felt plastered upon her own.
With a swift nod toward the stairs to her left, she released her spoonful of soup back into the half-finished bowl and stood up. Making sure that Aida was in tow, they quickly ascended the stairs, rushing into the small room that they had reserved in the back of the inn.
Fumbling through her blouse, Inareh hastily pulled out the silver ring that the younger woman had given to her days ago and, “!” quickly held her breath.
Even denser and more potent than what she could remember, the mana that is emanating from the ring was now visible. Coiling around the object like a thick colorless mist, it could only be described as hypnotic, even dreadful.
A hand tugged at her shirt from behind and she turned, only to see that Aida was equally as petrified as herself.
Within the palm of her hand, the mist swirled, never moving far from the ring but undulating like it had a will of its own.
Her mind quickly wandered, returning to the questions about how such a child could have achieved what countless generations of mages have only ever dreamt of. How someone like that, could have existed without Tal’hrus’ knowledge while hounding Tal’hrus like some rabid animal.
Aida’s words stuttered outward, instantly dragging her from her thoughts.
Reminded of her role, she hesitantly closed her hands around the ring.
“A… Asiras. Aeltahs. En, Validaltos…” The words flowed out of her mouth carefully as she struggled to pull them forth from memory. “Zitasdin, Rninas Avinir… Aentas.”
Speaking the last of the verses, beams of light pierced through the folds of her clenched fist and the frightening mana suddenly vanished into an overpowering silence. The connection had been established.
“Y-yes, master?” She spoke first in submission, trying her utmost to sound composed at the sudden and unknown change.
“Give me a report of the past nine days.” A voice commanded, firm but still familiar.
“Of course, master. Where should I start?”
“Your current position and the movements of the armies.” The voice replied as the ring flashed brightly.
Her mind ceased and her hands began shaking unwittingly as an overwhelming presence flowed forth from the ring.
Yet not daring to ignore the command, “A-Aida and I are currently in Karpes collecting information. We are awaiting words from Morkte before traveling north to Umoraok to join up with Molrin and Ireese. As for the lords and their armies, many have dispersed and retreated as per your demands, but…”
“But?” There was a sharpness to the tone.
“… there has been open raiding and pillaging parties from a few of the others.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, the air within the room felt like it was instantly sucked out.
“Whose was it?” The voice questioned with a calmness that belied the true terror behind them.
“A… a small battalion from Count Xaendis, and four raiding parties of around one hundred each from Lord Zyphere. Molrin and Ireese’s scouts have also sent words that Lady Onarald has beheaded a number of those who fled during your meeting with her. The lady has also sacked two large farming communities on her way back north.”
Like a completely different person, the presence and calmness were no longer that of a childish adolescent, but something else entirely. Something dark, lifeless, and inhumane.
“M-master?” The frightened word stumbled upon themselves trying to escape her mouth.
“There is no need for you and Aida to wait for Morkte.” A cold chill swept around them at his words, and the barren room began frosting up. “You will both immediately set out. Deal with those who have deigned it appropriate to discard my warnings AND my mercy.”
Her hand holding the ring began to tremble again and Inareh quickly braced it, barely able to contain herself. “Y-yes, master.” She quickly replied, feeling the hairs upon the back of her neck and arms standing up.
“Give no quarters. Report back to me once you are done.”
While they had all expected such orders from the child, to hear it with such coldness like ordering the slaughtering of animals, she could not help but shudder.
Even for Tal’hrus, the masters had shown some semblance of humanity, of care and passion while issuing their commands.
Yet the voice and presence that is before them was as empty as the room in which they were standing. Devoid of any emotions, all that existed, was the unwavering will of death.
Lowering her head as if he was standing before them, “As you command.”
As overpowering as it was, the pressure that had been weighing on the room suddenly evaporated and the glow from the ring vanished, relegating the object to nothing more than a simple accessory.
“Haaaa… Haaaaa…” Breathing deep sighs of relief, she turned to Aida, only to see that the younger woman was on the ground and the colors upon her face had been drained. “You heard him.” Barely able to compose herself, she quickly pulled Aida up.
Bringing up the rear of the large group with a few of the other men, Vick listened as the forest howled ominously around them. While those beside him chatted in quiet conversations over their sparse meal, his hands continued to rest upon the hilts of his azurite swords, ever alert for what may come.
From Yoriig’s initial report about hearing the voices of the forest, more and more had come in. Gossips from the refugees, talking about how the trees had spoken to them while they were circling the unnatural patch of forest. Foreboding words, warning them of the danger that existed within. Of a Destroyer who was waking.
All of them, coinciding with Yoriig’s own claims.
Even after leaving that part of the forest behind, he could not help but feel that something had definitely changed within the sea of trees.
“Kaidus. Where ARE you?” Vick grumbled, looking down at the ring on his index finger briefly before glancing around himself.
Once again, another noon had passed by and the ring had failed to glow. The sign had not shown itself for nine days now, and he could not help but worry for the boy.
Yet, lifting his focus and looking around, the hundreds of refugees before him would not allow him to depart. Having personally offered his assistance and being a mercenary, it was not within him to leave a job half finished.
“Vick!” A lanky man who was deftly moving through the group called out to him.
“Dalson?” Seeing the guard headed in his direction, “What is it?” He questioned as the man arrived before him.
“Words from Yoriig, sir. They would like you at the front.”
“Slek’s team has returned. I think they might have found the camp.” The man replied optimistically.
“Hmm… alright then. You stay here and hold my position until I get back.”
“Yessir!” With a fist to his chest, the guard quickly moved in to stand where he had been standing before taking nervous glances into the trees.
The forest itself seem to be stretching endlessly into the distance as he made his way to the front.
Two days prior, they had sent out an advance party to search for where the other group might have settled, and to see if they had managed to unite with Lord Shradech’s group.
Even though doing so had cost them much needed manpower and skills, it seems the efforts might have paid off.
Arriving at the front of the large group, Yoriig, who had been leading was already in deep discussion with Slek and the hunter Jonns, along with another spindly hunter named Cuuzan.
“Did you find them?” Vick called out, easily drawing their attention to himself.
Spotting his approach, they all paused to allow him to join.
“This morning, not far from here. Barely half a day’s travel.” The hunter Jonns was the first to answer.
Along with Cuuzan and Slek, with plenty of knowledge and experiences amongst the three of them, they had been the best team to send out.
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving.” He spoke, glad to finally see the end of their little excursion.
“Vick.” Slek grabbed him by the arm. There was an odd, almost dour expression upon the man’s face. “There’s something you need to hear first.”
“What?” Vick questioned, his own wariness on alert now.
“There was a problem. It has already been dealt with, but the Captain has instructed that you be told.”
Straightening himself, “What kind of problem?” He repeated.
“I don’t know who told them, but some of the men discovered where your group came from. Karpes, right?”
His eyes narrowed. “What of it?”
Taking a breath of concession, “A few of the more vigorous young men thought it appropriate to try and force themselves upon some of your girls.” Slek finally answered.
He could feel an anger rising within himself.
A group of young ladies, all sweet girls whom he had gotten to know over the past two turns. Unfortunate girls, who did not deserve such a thing to happen to them again.
“Who?” Vick questioned as a pair of silver eyes flashed before his very thoughts. “Give me their names. Take me to them.”
“Wait.” Slek hurriedly stopped him. “Nothing happened to them. The girls are fine. Might be a bit startled, but the guards got to them before anything unscrupulous could happen.”
“That does not absolve the perpetrators of anything.” Vick replied, staring down at Slek. His friendly demeanor from the past few days, all but gone.
“The Captain has already imprisoned them to await the lord’s judgement. He was worried you might do something, so he wanted us to let you know before we reached the camp… so that you may understand what happened.”
“Me? You’re worried about me?” He chuckled upon hearing who they were waiting for to deliver judgement. “Trust me when I say that I, am the least of your worries.”
“Uh… Vick?” Yoriig called his name this time. Unlike Slek’s apprehensiveness, Yoriig’s voice was filled with a questioning curiosity.
“On your finger, Vick.” Jonns specified.
“My finger?” Vick’s eyes lit up.
Bringing his hand up, the ring on his finger was glowing.
“Uwaaaa! You lied! You lied to me!” Anise cried, not caring about her tone of voice within the room.
“You… you promised me!” Though overjoyed at hearing his voice again, she could not help but pout tearfully without holding back. “But you lied!”
“I didn’t mean to, and I’m sorry.”
“You- you didn’t answer me! Papa was taken away and- and,” She sniffled, wiping away the tears as her chest continued to throb. “And Sylvie’s papa was taken away too! *Sniff* I was scared and you- you weren’t there! I tried to be strong for mama *sniff* and for Lance, but I- Waaaa! I was scared!”
“… I will make it up to you. I promise.” Her brother’s calm voice coaxed from beyond the ring upon her necklace.
Lingering about the room, his voice caressed her, helping to calmed her down.
“H-How?! You’re not even here!”
“When I come back.” There was an apologetic, almost regretful pause within his voice, “And even if I am not there, nothing will hurt you. Nothing can hurt you. You know that.”
She knew. She had always known he would never allow anything bad to happen to her. “But momma and papa… *sniff!* and- and Lance. Axel too…” She replied, remembering how terrified she had been that evening.
The explosions and flames had been nothing, in comparison to seeing their father being taken away. And though she had not questioned the first night, after the second and third night, it had been terrifyingly evident that something was wrong.
As usual, her brother’s words easily lifted the doubts and fears within her. “But… what about big sister Sylvie? And her momma and papa?”
“Kai?” She called out after his silence, unsure if she had said something wrong.
“… Of course, them too.”
“*Sniff* Okay… *Sniff*”
With her own fears all but quelled, Anise grasped at the ring upon her neck and held it close to her chest.
“Anise… I don’t know what may come next, but I need you to be strong for me again. Can you do that?”
Like new, she hastily wiped away the tear stains upon her face and, “Uhn!” quickly nodded.
“One more thing. Besides Sylvia, who else knows?”
Having completely forgotten about how she had divulged the ring’s purpose to Sylvia, a tinge of guilt struck her from within. “Sorry Kai…” Bashfully apologizing, she could not help but lower her head shamefully after what she had just done. “Are you mad?”
A chuckle came through the ring. “I’m not mad. I just want to know if anyone else knows about the ring.”
“How can I ever be mad at you? I promise.”
His words instantly eased her troubled thoughts and she smiled. “Only Sylvie knows.” Anise quickly answered.
“Then, can you go get Sylvia? I would like to ask her some things.”
Sitting in the backyard patio with Jillian, Sylvia quietly took in the somber atmosphere.
Vastly different from all the other times they had gotten together to snack and enjoy the mundane gossips of the inner wards with their mother and Adalina, this time, it was just the two of them.
Her attention upon a large crack in the stone fence that surrounded the garden, she could not help but stare in disbelief at how fast everything was changing around her.
“Do you think father really meant what he said?” Sylvia questioned softly, hiding a fearful reluctance.
“You know how father is. As far as I can tell, he’s not joking around this time.”
In contrast to her question, Jillian’s answer was quite blunt and filled with certainty.
Tilting her head to look skyward, her eyes fell upon the forking branches of the two Valune trees that were now looming over them like skeletons without flesh.
“You’re right…” She acknowledged, knowing just how stubborn their father can be at times. Quietly envisioning the beauty of the two trees as if they were in full bloom, “Jill,” She spoke without turning to look at her sister. “What do you think Losboros is going to be like?”
“Well for one… there’s going to be less suitors, that’s for certain.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.” Sylvia quickly shot back against her sister’s nonsense.
“How should I know? This is the first time I’ll be seeing it as well.”
Hearing the annoyance in her sister’s voice, “Why do you think Troyle agreed to follow father all the way to such a place?” She pondered aloud, recalling what their father had told them that evening upon his return. “With his reputation, there must be a host of others who would gladly take him in as their personal guard.”
“Maybe father bribed him? Perhaps he thought he didn’t have a choice after what happened? Who knows?” Jillian retorted, leaning her head back as well. “Why?”
“Just curious.” She replied, more uncertain about everything that was going on.
Their father’s decision to move east to Losboros, the birthplace of his forebearers, had been a shock to them all. Yet the decision had been made and no matter their reluctance or resistance, as daughters, they were powerless to stop it.
What was more curious though, was that their father had also somehow persuaded Troyle to do the same with his family. And while some parts of her were ecstatic to know that their two families would not part ways, she could not help but feel sorry for Adalina and Anise.
Thinking back, she could still recall Adalina’s hesitation when they all first heard the news about the move. Yet strong and tactful, Adalina had consented to her husband’s decision even though she knew that they would be abandoning the very place their son would return to.
Then there was Anise.
The young girl had been adamant about not leaving in fear of her brother never finding them again. Even after being coaxed by her parents for the past few days, Anise’s smiles had yet to return.
With endless worries circling her head, Sylvia quickly corrected herself upon her seat before taking a long sip of the sweetened fruit drink before her.
A sharp voice suddenly shouted for her from behind them.
As if to contradict what she had been worried about, Anise’s voice was filled with excitement.
Quickly turning around, she saw that the girl was dashing toward her.
And unlike the sullen and lonesome girl of the past few days, there was a wide grin on Anise’s face.
“Slow down, Anise. You’re going to trip.” Sylvia called out, standing up from her chair.
“Sylvie, come on!” The girl exclaimed, still beaming with excitement.
“What is it?” She questioned, surprised at the young girl’s drastic change.
“Come on! There’s something I need to show you!” Anise spoke excitedly and grabbed her arm.
“Can it wait?”
“It can’t. We have to go now!”
Hearing the urgency in the girl’s words, she released a soft sigh, “Alright then. Let’s go.” Waving to Jillian, she allowed Anise to pull her back into the manor.
Upon her bed was one of the rings that was always on Anise’s necklace.
Glowing dimly, she could see that it was the silver ring in which she had heard Kaidus’ voice from.
“Anise?” Sylvia puzzled as they entered the room.
Glancing back, she spotted Anise looking around suspiciously before closing the door behind them with a grin on her face.
Ignoring her question, the young girl rushed over to her bed and picked up the ring.
“Sylvie! Come on!”
Anise continued to usher her forward and, “What’s going on?” She questioned, unsure as to why the secretive girl was suddenly so eager to have her there.
Kaidus’ voice spilled from the ring, almost echoing throughout her room and she instantly stopped her steps. “K-Kaidus?” She frightfully answered, looking around to make sure that he was not physically there with them.
“My apologies if I may have startled you.”
It was the same tone of calmness and maturity as always. The very one, that she had gotten so used to. “No, it’s- I was not- I’m okay.” She fumbled in embarrassment, barely catching herself in the end. “Anise said she wanted to show me something. Is this it?” She quickly added, hoping to divert the attention from her clumsy response.
“I requested for Anise to bring you here because I have a favor to ask of you.”
The day of the attack on Ferrent rushed back into her mind.
‘But you have to promise to keep it a secret from everyone.’
Anise had said before showing her the ring.
“I won’t tell anyone. I promise.” Sylvia quickly replied, knowing just how important promises were to the two siblings.
“Thank you, but the favor I wanted to ask is for you to tell me all that you know about what is happening in Ferrent so far. Everything since the attack.”
“Everything?” She questioned as explosions sounded in her head.
Blinking, she could still see the darkness that had overtaken the city that day. Could almost smell the smoke and flames that had enveloped it, and hear the panic of the people. Even the bodies that laid about the streets while they were making their way back home to the 11th ward, were still there in her mind.
“Please. I know it may be hard, but I need you to tell me everything while you can still remember them.”
Shaking as she did upon that evening when they returned home to find that Troyle and her father had been taken away, she slowly clenched her fist and steeled herself. “Okay.”