B3 Chapter 16 – Second Chance

-Western Malpaars-

Emerging through the trail of the darkened forest, Inareh swiftly extinguished the orb of mage fire in front of her and reined her exhausted steed to a halt.
Fighting to hold back the fatigue within her own body, “We’ve finally caught up.” She voiced, swallowing the nerves in her throat as the sound of muddled hooves trotted tiredly to a standstill beside her.

In the distance and situated within the midst of what used to be farmlands, were hundreds of gray and brown tents alight with the glows of emerging bonfires. Littering the ashen fields, the army encampment was neither too far from the main road nor too close to the surrounding forests. Instead, they had shrewdly settled upon an easily defensible position with plenty of clearing around them.
Mobile barricades had even been pulled out to surround the perimeter of the camp, and a number of guards were already stationed and standing watch at all entry points.
Within the center of the massive encampment, was a large tent flying a gray banner with a black wheel and spokes.

“The Iron Wheel of Aravant… it’s Count Xaendis.” Aida spoke, voice filled with a tense sense of uneasiness.

Throwing a glance at the younger woman, Aida was staring intently at the army before them with fear visible in her eyes.
Not a fear of what they were about to do, but one of wariness in knowing what would happen should they fail to carry out their duty.
“They are more fortified than I thought… but I guess that’s to be expected from the Count.” Inareh tiredly replied, nudging for her horse to keep still as if it too knew about what was to come.

For two whole nights and two full days they had ridden with haste, stopping only to feed and rest their horses. Without so much as a conversation or a leisurely thought between the two of them, they had pushed themselves tirelessly in order to catch up with the slow-moving armies. And now, the value of their worth was finally upon them.

“Inareh.” Aida spoke, calling for her, “What now?”

“Now…” She felt her body shiver as her own exhaustion instantly vanished, replaced by the memories of a terrified man begging for a mercy that did not exist. “Now we do what we came here to do.” She answered, gently kicking her horse forward.

 

***

 

The sound of shouting and screaming within the night woke him from his slumber. Hot and drenched in sweat, Selbin Xaendis hurriedly push off the two thick blankets covering him and quickly sat up.
Even though it was the middle of Rinol, he could not feel the biting cold that should have latched onto his exposed body. Instead, the atmosphere within the room was quite warm, almost humid.
A string of unintelligible shouts entered his ears and, ‘What is happening?’ He wondered, glancing around the bedroom only to find that nothing was out of the ordinary.
The candles illuminating his lightly embellished chamber were still burning, signifying that he had not slept for long. Looking to the foot of his bed, the four chests filled with the bounties from the past three raids were still there, locked and untouched. The only thing that was odd, was the warmth that seem to pervade and settle upon everything.

“Kurtis! What is going on?!” He shouted, calling for his attendant as screams continued from the outside. “Kurtis?! Where are you?!”
But there were no answers.
“Guards?!”
Again, nothing.
Bitterly forcing himself out of bed, he quickly grabbed a robe from a pile of clothes and hurried out of the bedroom.

Exiting into the tent’s lounge where his attendant and two guards should have been resting, it was empty. Like his own room, the candles were still lit, but there was no one.

“Hurry!” “Over here!!” *BOOM!*
Clearer and more terrified yelling continued from the outside along with an explosion in the distance, and the temperature within the tent suddenly grew hotter.
“Garahhhh- aaagggaaaurrgg!”
The bloodcurdling gurgles of a dying man came from what could only be directly outside the tent, and he quickly turned toward the noise.

“Kurtis!” He shouted again within the well-lit room, yet all he could hear was the clamoring from the outside.
It was the sound of fighting, and a sense of dread suddenly befell his thoughts as he quickly hurried toward the exit.

Throwing the thick door made of animal hides open, he froze as his eyes fell upon the flames surrounding his tent. Rising high into the air and obstructing everything beyond, the wall of fire had completely encircled his tent, and only his.

“My lord! Run!”

A terrified cry came from his left side and he turned, spotting two bodies lying on the ground between him and the flames. One of them was wearing the armor of his two personal guards, while the other was undoubtedly his attendant.
With the towering flames at their back, “Ru- UgGGa!!” The silhouette of a man locked eyes with him briefly before falling to the ground, revealing a second slimmer and shorter shadow.

“W-who are you?! How- how dare you?!” Selbin screamed, not moving from where he stood in the doorway.

“You should have listened, my lord… should have returned to that wife of yours and continued to repress that greed.” An all too familiar woman’s voice, it was without malice or anger. On the contrary, it sounded almost sympathetic.

“L-Lady Inareh?” He questioned, seeing the figure moving from the brightness of the flames and approaching him. Protruding from her wrists, were thin blades barely visible in the flickering light.

“You’ve really fucked up… all three of you.”

“Wha- what?”

“As one of the first to answer my summons, you should know that I have no choice in this matter.”

“W-what are you talking about!? What did I do? Why are you doing this!?” He somehow managed to scream out in confusion amidst the cacophony of fear around them.

“Our master demands your head along with all those who followed you into your raids. I am here to fulfill his will.” The woman, Inareh, replied.
Behind her, her footsteps were now bursting into roaring flames and with each stepped she took, waves of smokes expanded outward from her feet.

“I- I marched upon your commands, and now you would deny me of what has been promised?!” Selbin swiftly retorted, almost choking on his own words, “How dare you?!”

“This is not what was promised… nor does it matter anymore.” Upon her words, the smoke surrounding Inareh suddenly lurched forward toward him.

“Hiiii!” Recoiling in fear, he stumbled backward into the tent. “No! no no no no!” Trying with all his might to crawl away, the sound of his own frantic breathing seemed to grow louder as the strength within his arms and legs waned. “Y-y-y-you can’t do this! I wasn’t the only one! I-” Whimpering and with no viable recourse in sight, he painstakingly reached out and grabbed one of the cast iron candlestands by the door. “AaaaGaaHHHHHH!”
A burning pain instantly surged into his left, forcing him to drop the candlestand.

 

 

Inareh quickly retracted her blade and, “NnnnnGGRAAAHH!!” The spindly Count screamed even louder as the deep puncture she had inflicted burst into life.
Instead of blood, a stream of crimson flames erupted forth from the wound like a geyser. Searing and scorching flesh, it wrapped itself around Count Xaendis’ legs, quickly immobilizing him.

Taking two steps forward to stand beside the man, a horrified face distorted by pain and agony twisted itself to look up at her. Mouth huffing and groaning painfully, the Count’s two arms had come together as if to plea for his life, while his eyes tearfully begged for mercy.

“We were all given a second chance, and you have squandered yours.” She spoke, voice calm and apathetic, “I do not wish to make that same mistake.”

The Count’s eyes widened and, “Please…” He begged between breaths as his arms shook in fear.

In a final act of mercy, she knelt down and thrust her hands one after another into the man’s neck, impaling him with the blades strapped onto her wrists.
His body convulsed as she did so, and she pulled her blades out, repeating it once more to end his suffering.

Bloodied but having accomplished the first part of their tasks, with a deep breath, she drew her arms and slowly stood up. Taking one last look at the Count, “Siridas En Firas.” She commanded and the flames that had been coiled around his legs instantly snaked upward along his body, devouring flesh and clothes alike.

The sound of panicked shouting and combat was still coming from beyond the circle of flames as she exited the Count’s tent. And with a thought, the scorching wall abruptly weakened as she restricted her mana flow, revealing dozens of people standing on the other side in confusion.
In the distance and past the baffled mass of soldiers, the stone walls they had erected to imprison the whole army was still standing. Aida’s mana as well, continued to surge throughout the camp as instructed.

Taking a good look at those on the other side, Inareh took a deep breath and willed forth her mana.
Power quickly began coalescing into her right foot and, “Inferno.” She invoked, forcibly stamping her foot into the ground.
From it, a gust of smoke blasted outward. Traveling forward and converging with the weakened flames, the two collided together and by her will, exploded into a sea of rolling flames, storming over all those in its path.

 

***

 

Southern forest.
“Hya-!” Elamara yelped out loud, tossing the morsel of meat that she was lugging into the air.

From where it was waiting, Zirus swiftly shot upward and effortlessly caught the piece of meat, swallowing it whole before landing back onto the ground. “Kaaararaaaa!” It snapped jubilantly, then quickly slithered back to the base of a tree that they had designated for their little game.

“You’re so fast!!” With a delightful shout, Elamara zipped back to a small pile of leftover meat that had been allocated for the young hvaral. Picking up another piece, she flew upward and, “Catch this too!” Shouted again before tossing it into the air.

Once again, Zirus sprung forth from the base of the tree and swiftly shot toward the snack like an arrow. Snagging it out of the air, it garnered another bout of joyful applause from Elamara.

Watching from beside the smoldering ashes of their campfire, a smile carved itself on his lips and Kaidus turned downward to the young spirit by his side. “You don’t have to wait with me. Go and play.” He suggested, seeing that her eyes were glued onto the game of catch.

“I- I’ll wait here with you.” Ulamara hastily replied, turning away from Zirus and Elamara as if caught in the act with a guilty conscience.

“Is that so?” He smiled, seeing her forcing her focus onto the pile of ash.

From where they were playing, “Watch this!” Elamara yelled with delight and began glowing as she flew upward with another morsel.
With a burst of mana, she launched it straight up into the air and Zirus quickly followed.

“Go on.” Kaidus encouraged, catching the young spirit glancing toward the noise.

Ulamara’s silver eyes turned to look up at him and with a bashful nod, “Then I’ll be back.” With a modest grin, she stood up and swiftly flew off.

Watching Ulamara joining Zirus and Elamara, the image of a young girl with fierce red hair along with an infant who was constantly in tears manifested within the depths of his mind. He felt his smile broaden and, “Siblings huh?” Looking at the three before him, it was almost like he had obtained another set of siblings. Albeit, a very different trio of them.
But much like Anise who tried to follow him everywhere and imitated his mannerism, Ulamara too, had taken a keen interest in everything he did. From sleeping next to him, to asking about everything he was doing, to what he was eating, and never straying far from his vicinity.
Elamara on the other hand, was still quite reserved about what was happening and had taken to Zirus instead. Yet over the past two days, he had caught her watching him on more than one occasion with curious intrigue.

More laughter followed from the twins and without minding them further, he returned his attention to the pile of ashes.

The young hvaral had managed to bring back a forest rabbit earlier that morning and they had all eaten breakfast already, but what he was really waiting for, was the furuce tuber that was roasting under the ashes. Having had nothing but meat because of the season, it had been a fortuitous event to have found the bulbous wild vegetable.

Scooping a tiny dollop of the roasted root for the twins to share, he held back his amusement as Elamara lost all enthusiasm upon inserting some into her mouth.
Ulamara too, appear to be equally as disappointed but forced herself to swallow what she was chewing.

“Hahahaha.” Laughing upon seeing their reactions, he proceeded to take a large bite of his own portion. “It tastes a lot better when you can flavor it with various condiments.” Kaidus quickly explained as flashes of the days spent feeding upon the tasteless root from Adalina’s fingers washed over his memories. Grinning, he wolfed it down as the two young phraes wordlessly stared at one another, undoubtedly wondering about whether to try more or not.
“It’s alright. You don’t have to force yourselves.”

“Is this really better with condimins?” Ulamara questioned, tilting her head curiously while looking at the mashed furuce in her hand.

“Condiments, and yes.”

“What is condiments?” Elamara added from her sister’s side as if they were both thinking the same thing.

“Flavoring. To give it taste-” A thought suddenly struck him. Seeing that this was the first time the two had wanted to try what he was eating, “Have you both ever eaten anything before?” He questioned, taking a good look at the two.
Though a form of spirits, it could be said that the phraes had the strongest bonds and relations with humans at one point. So much so, that their very forms and even parts of their way of life had altered to imitate that of humans.
Recalling how the two youngsters before him had been sheltered and raised within Trasevenesae, it was a wonder if they even had a baseline about the different tastes of the world.
Yet surprisingly, without even thinking about it, the twins both nodded back.
“Oh? What?”

“I’ve eaten leaves,” Elamara was the first to answer, “But those are awful and bitter. They leave a weird taste in your mouth. I prefer fresh sprouts, flowers, nuts, and fruits. Seeds too.” She listed.

“Not as much as Ela, but mother- mother once had me chew on some bark from the ancestral tree. And… and a stick…” Ulamara supplemented dryly, “They were supposed to help me with my-” ending her words, she summarily gestured at herself, obviously indicating whatever it was that had afflicted her. 

“I see.” Kaidus grinned, holding down another chuckle at the despondent expression on Ulamara’s face. “I can guarantee that it will taste better next time. We just need some sauce or salt and a pinch of spice.”

“Well what are we waiting for?!” An excited exclamation from Elamara, “You said that we were getting close to wherever we are going, right? I can’t wait!”

“We are.” Kaidus answered, cordially taking in her excitement, “It’s not too far now.”

“Do you think your human friends will like us? Do you think they’ll want to see us?”

Hearing the eagerness in Ela’s voice, “Of course.” He replied with a confident but curious anticipation, “But just to be safe, we’ll have you both stay hidden until I am certain. The tales that humans tell about the phraes are less than congenial and there are prone to be misunderstandings.”

“Like with you and our father?” Ulamara interjected.

“Yes. Until then, please conceal yourselves and do not venture away from me.”

A solemnness befell the two and, ““Okay!”” they both answered in unison before grinning at each other.

Cleaning the dried rabbit skin pouch that he had sewn together using two pelts and a handful of long thin sinews, Kaidus carefully placed his three mirror shards along with the crowned seed inside. Tying the mouth of the pouch so that its contents would not fall out, he made sure that it was securely tied to his waist and then looked upward to where Zirus, Elamara, and Ulamara were playing catch and go–an aerial game of tag– between the trees.

“Come!” He shouted to draw their attention and began rising upward himself as all three zoomed over to his side.

Breaking through the tree tops, he turned his gaze toward the eastern horizon as he climbed higher into the air.

In the distance and hidden within the sea of trees, was where the others were waiting for him. It was where he would finally have to explain himself to Vick, and where those he had abandoned had come together.
The camp as well, was also where he had decided to plan his next moves.

“Let’s not keep them waiting.” He whispered, surging forth into the sky.

B3 Chapter 15 – Glory of Kings

-Darsus-

Ferrent. 13th Ward. Royal Audience Hall.
“Is this all?” Sharpening his gaze, Sarjace J. Roulus Dalzon looked up from the report in his hand, “All these days, all the men under you, and this is everything your investigation has amounted to?” He questioned, carefully analyzing those kneeling before him.

“My apologies if your majesty has found my findings unsatisfactory.” With his head down submissively, a man wearing the red and white of the Mystiks guild relented, his voice flowing like still water.
Behind the man, four others were also kneeling quietly with their heads down.

“Findings? These excuses and pointless conjectures?” A swift retort, “Tell me. How is this possible?”

Raising his head, unlike the graying of his beard, two sapphire blue eyes glistened observantly from the man’s slender face. Expression unchanging like it was frozen, “We are also at a loss in that regard, your majesty.” Darvont Elutus Kalzorr, Head of the 12th ward Mystiks Guild answered, keeping his voice steady. “The various skirmishes throughout the city should have been our greatest leads, yet there is no residual mana for our seekers to trace. We have also been unable to find a single body, shred, or hide of our enemies. It’s as if they had all simply vanished into thin air during that brief night, guiding all our pursuits into futility.” Locking eyes with his king, Darvont kept his gaze still and confident, not allowing his king to peer into his thoughts.

“And that darkness?” Holding up the report, “A spell employed by the enemies to mask their retreat, was it? Does the Mystiks Guild truly believe that?”

“The very matter is still up for discussion and everyone has their own speculations, but the consensus seems to be so.” Darvont swiftly replied, “Assuming we are correct, it would answer many questions.”

“What of the questions that are unanswered?”

“We are still in the process of figuring that out, your majesty.”

“Hmph. So, no explanations on how this happened without your notice, no trails to follow, no names or bodies to bring to justice, and lastly… no answers or countermeasures for a spell that can consume this whole city.” Sarjace scowled with discontent. Narrowing his eyes, “Am I free to assume that the Mystiks Guild still knows nothing at all, beyond the fact that this was the doing of Tal’hrus?” He questioned, scrutinizing the five mages.

“… Yes.” Darvont answered and quickly lowered his forehead to the floor. “I am ashamed and have no excuses. For this failure, I will gladly accept any and all responsibilities.”

Sitting forward in amusement at the statement, “You?” King Sarjace snapped back, “You think you alone can shoulder the thousands of lives that were lost due to the guild’s negligence?”

“My king. It was my lack of foresight and vigilance that such wanton destruction found its way into our midst. As such, this fault is mine and mine alone. I implore you, please do not blame anyone else.”

Sarjace looked to the four mages behind Darvont, “And you four? What say you?”

“Sire.” Instead of the mages, again, it was Darvont who answered, “It was due to the efforts of the guild mages that we were able to minimize our losses. I hope that your majesty will show leniency and consideration toward his many loyal subjects.”

“My loyal subjects?” Scoffing at the remark, “Do you include yourself in that, my lord?”

“I do, your majesty.” An instant reply.

Discarding the amusement upon his face, “I find it humorous that you would.” With a callousness to his voice, King Sarjace stood up from his throne and slowly ambled forward, “Remind me again… WHAT is the purpose of the Mystiks Guild?”

“It- It is of course to protect and serve this city, your majesty.”

“And WHO does this city belong to?”

“…” Facing the floor, Darvont Elutus Kalzorr reluctantly closed his eyes, “This city belongs to you, your majesty.”

“Then would it be wrong to say that in a sense, the guild exists to serve me?” King Sarjace queried, looming over the mage.

“It would not, your majesty…”

“So enlighten me.”

“Yes, your majesty?”

“Why do you… my ‘loyal subject’, continue this farce?”

“Farce?” Taken aback by the question, Darvont lifted his head only to be met with a harsh glare.

“Do you believe me blind and deaf? That I cannot see what is happening within my own city? That I would not hear about what happens inside the confines of the Mystiks Guild?”

“Your majesty, I don’t understand.”

“But you do,” King Sarjace swiftly countered, staring down at the mage. “The whispers of treason that you have so carefully concealed and buried, going so far as to restrict even my own court mage from disclosing it… just where in this report is it?” He spat the words out and threw the pages before the mage. “To think you would dare to ask for leniency while withholding such secrets from me.”

“That?” Darvont calmly replied, keeping his facial expression in tandem with the tone of his voice, “Forgive me, but I did not deem such matters to be worthy of your majesty’s attention.” He carefully supplemented, lowering his head once more. “The issue was but a tragic misunderstanding on our part, and has already been ruled as such by those who were present at the time. Had I not ordered a decree of silence and the truth were to reach the populace, it would have tarnished the reputation of the Mystiks Guild and by extension, your majesty’s own. In these direst of times when your majesty must have the complete faith and trust of the people, I felt that the blunder of arresting and accusing two innocent citizens would only serve to complicate our situation.”

“… how considerate of you to have kept me in mind.” Releasing the intensity of his scowl, King Sarjace turned around and slowly returned to his throne. Sitting lazily back down on the seat, “Lord Darvont Elutus Kalzorr.” He named, projecting his voice as loud as possible, “For allowing our enemies into the city under your watch. For your inability to bring justice to the people… to the bereaved families of this fair city. I, Sarjace Jeziar Roulus Dalzon, hereby relieve you of your duty as Head of the 12th ward Mystiks Guild.”

“Y-your majesty!?”
One of the four mages behind Darvont cried out, their voice filled with disbelief at the sudden and unexpected ruling.
Yet with the raise of an arm from Darvont himself, the mage instantly stilled his tongue as the King continued in annoyance.

“You are to be restricted to the confines of your home until I have deemed otherwise, and you will no longer trouble yourself with guild matters. As for your replacement, I shall appoint someone else within the coming days. I thank you for your years of service, and hereby officially dismiss you of any further obligations.” King Sarjace commanded, voices resolute and firm.

“Your majesty, please reconsider!” One of the mages quickly begged, raising their voice anxiously.

“Were it not for Lord Kalzorr’s swift actions, many more would have suffered.” Another hastily spoke out, “If anything, it is the guil-”

“Enough. Ryvaas, Evier.” Silencing his subordinates, Darvont quietly looked up to his King and bowed his head once more. “Your majesty is merciful and magnanimous. I shall never forget your benevolence, sire.”

Clenching his fist, King Sarjace stiffly and irritably stood up as the double doors closed upon the opposite side of the large hall.

“Sire, how about some wine? I can have the servants bring a jar to-”

“No.”
Instantly rejecting his steward, he quickly made his way toward one of the side passages, halting as he reached one of the six large supporting pillars.
“Have your men continue observing the guild. I want to be ready for whatever they are up to.” Sarjace ordered, not turning to look at the presence that was now emerging beside them.

“And the target?” An unfeeling but prideful voice answered from the pillar. The shadow that had been cast on one side of it quickly shifted, revealing two dark eyes from within.

“Given the opportunity, finish the job.”

Eyes smiling at the ruthless command, “Of course, master.” The voice replied and vanished back into the shadows.

“Sire…” Lorhan whispered cautiously from behind as the presence disappeared, leaving them alone in the empty hall. “Is it really wise to trust one as such?”

“Trust?” Sarjace retorted, finally turning to look at the now vacant pillar. “I would be a fool to put my trust in such a person. Thankfully for us, it is coins he is after and not trust.” Reaching out, he touched where the man had been hiding within the shadows. Not a single shred of the man’s presence or mana could be felt. “And as you have seen for yourself, his skills are without a doubt second to none. To be able to conceal his presence from the famed Ice Sage of Dumierre… it is no small feat.”

“That- that is true, but I fear that this will only invite-”

“It is not up for debate, Lorhan.”

“I-… of course, sire.”

“Then enough with the second guessing.” Continuing his steps toward the side door, “I will be in my study. Have the royal secretary draw up a list of suitable mages within my court and bring it to me there. I wish to decide on the new replacement as soon as possible.”
Without waiting for a reply, he proceeded forth through the passage with all his dignity in tow.

 

***

 

1st Ward. Southern District.
Standing behind his lord, Troyle’s gaze slowly drew away from the sobbing widow before them and slowly settled onto a young boy standing beside the charred kitchen arch of the small residence.

The boy was clutching a leather vambrace to his chest and there was anger in his tear-filled eyes, yet the child did not make a sound as he watched his mother crying.  

“I’m sorry. I did everything I could.”

Lord Varath’s apology entered his ears and not looking away from the child, Troyle gritted his teeth, biting down his own anger.
Because of him, because of his complacency, the child had become fatherless. And now, the justice they had been promised would never come as well.

“I wish that my wealth and influence was enough, but they are not. And at this point, it would be detrimental for us to continue pushing further. I hope you understand.” Alzin Varath added, bowing low to the woman across from them.

“Y-yes… I understand…” Amidst silent tears, a feeble voice deprived of hope quietly answered.
 
“But that does not mean you both are out of options.” Alzin Varath continued. Not lifting his head, he reached into his cloak and pulled out a sizable pouch before presenting it forth. “This is for you and Adeim. I have made sure that there is enough in there. Enough until he comes of age.”

“M-my lord?”

“Please take it.” Alzin pleaded, keeping his head down.

Hastily getting up from her chair, the woman took hold of Alzin’s arms, “My lord, please. Please raise your head.” She entreated as she attempted to pull him up.

Seeing the woman panicking and his lord refusing to lift their head, “Yuralai.” Troyle spoke, interrupting the anxious widow, “Please take it.”

“But how can I-”

“Please. It is his lordship’s will. Do not hesitate.”

Her two dark eyes stalled onto his own as if searching for verification, and with a nod from him, “T-thank you. Thank you….” The woman reluctantly took the pouch and fell to her knees.

“No… thank you, my lady.” Alzin Varath softly replied before raising his head again. Fixing his posture on the seat and composing himself, he turned his attention back to the widow, “With that, there is something else I wish to ask of you, my lady.”

Seeing the sudden change, the woman quickly drew in her emotions, “Y-yes?”

“It is sudden, but I have decided to uproot my family elsewhere. Troyle here along with a few of the others have already decided to join me on this. If you are not against the idea, how about coming with us?”

Facing the window, he could not help but stare at the devastation around them as their carriage rattled back toward the 11th ward.

Thick lines of soot stretched endlessly across the sides of buildings and roads alike, designating where large flaming walls had been erected during the attack. In their proximity stood the crumbling houses that had been scorched black by the flames, and strewn all along both sides of the main road with no end in sight, were countless emergency tents hosting those who had been displaced from their homes.

The scene was a far cry from the last time they had visited the 1st ward, but seeing it, he could not help but feel fortunate for his own family’s circumstances.

“You’ve been eerily silent since we left Oris’ house.”

The words came from in front of him and Troyle quickly turned his focus from the outside to his lord.

“Mind sharing what’s on your mind?” Alzin added, staring back at him.

“My lord,” Forcing his own thoughts away from the devastation, “I… I’m wondering if this is the right thing to do?” Troyle calmly answered, holding back the myriad of other questions within his own mind.

“If what is the right thing to do?”

“Leaving like this.” He elaborated, “Oris and Kanaar, along with their families… they deserve better than this.”

“I know.” Alzin Varath replied, sitting forward solemnly, “But unless you are willing to set that thing in your sword free, then our options are pretty limited. Especially with what’s happened.”

Following his lord’s gaze, Troyle lowered his eyes to the two slim swords next to him. The weapon housing the familiar had reappeared by itself within the Varath manor upon their return, and they had not dared to question it.
“I… I am not.” He quietly conceded, recalling what it did to a room of mages. What it had effortlessly done, to one of the Five Flames.

“Then all we can do for them is offer their families some form of security, while looking after our own.” Alzin Varath replied.

“Yes, my lord.”

Seeing Troyle’s troubled expression and sensing the discomfort within the carriage, “Don’t look so disappointed. Let me just tell you now that this isn’t over yet.” Alzin Varath quickly stated, “We will bide our time for now and wait for this to blow over. Once it does, I will petition his majesty once again.”

“You will?” Troyle questioned, surprised at the unyielding resolve.

Turning to face Troyle, Alzin smiled. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m just unwilling to sit back and allow that ignoble and treacherous walking discharge of a man to get away with what he did.”

“Then I must apologize for thinking otherwise.”

“It’s fine. As a great man once said, ‘Anger and vengeance are powerful tools, but a true man must know how and when to employ their patience’. I might not be that great of a man myself, but I too, can be patient… if not persistent.”

“I’d say persistent would be an understatement.” Troyle quipped, finally forcing a smile out of himself.

“Hah? Yea okay, fair enough.” Alzin lightheartedly admitted with a grin of his own and leaned back, “I mean… just who wouldn’t be if they knew what I knew?” He replied while staring ponderously at the empty seat across from him.

“You gave your words. Don’t forget that.” Troyle swiftly reminded.

“I know!” With an exaggerated groan, Alzin Varath sighed and slumped further down his seat. “I know… which is why I’m regretting it so much right now.” He pouted, looking to be lost in frivolous thoughts.
And for the span of a few breaths, they continued in silence as the somber atmosphere returned.
Hurrying to sit up again, “Do you have any idea when he’s coming back?”

“I don’t. We have yet to receive a single letter as well.”

“I see…” Straightening himself, Alzin quickly returned to his usual poise, “I just keep wondering what might have happened had he been here, you know?” A frightened but overly curious smile crept onto his lips. 

And, “I do.” Troyle quietly concurred.

“What do you-”

“My lord. Do you think Kanaar and Oris’ widows will accept your proposal?” Troyle quickly interrupted, not wishing to dwell on the matter further.

“Hmmm…” Easily taking the hint, “Lady Aury has family here in Ferrent, so I’m not sure about her. As for Oris’ widow… I believe she was from outside the city. If either of them was to join, I think it will be her.”

“So a possible eight families.”

“Yes.” Alzin confirmed, “What about you? How are your preparations coming along?”

“A few minor things need to be accounted for and the house will have to be sold, but I have already acquired the service of the merchant’s guild for these very matters. Even if our escorts get here before everything is taken care of, my family will be good to go.”

“That’s great. Then I shall continue to trouble you.”

“It is part of the job, my lord.” Troyle replied, returning a wry smile.

B3 Chapter 14 – Twins II

The sound of sniveling began to silently reverberate around them as Ulamara’s breathing stabilized itself. Having watched over her carefully, the light from the young spirit’s body had already dimmed and the infusion of mana he had given her had also vanished, yet she did not wake. Instead, her body was beginning to curl up.

“Ulamara. Can you hear me?” He whispered, keeping his voice barely audible.

Her lips began twitching in silent grief and, “Please… please stay safe… *sniff*” As if pleading for the wellbeing of someone, tiny droplets of tears began to emerge from the corner of her eyes as she sobbed.

“Ulamara.” He gently reached forward and carefully wiped away a stream of tears, “It’s time to wake up.” He coaxed, willing for her to return.
And almost immediately, the young spirit’s eyes drew open.
Having accepted his will, no longer were her eyes a deep black like that of the void, they had also taken on the same silver as his own–just like Zirus.
She turned to look up at him and he smiled, seeing the dazed and confused look on her face.

Unsteadily pushing herself to sit up, “I- I had a dream…” The young spirit’s poignant voice slowed to a crawl as her eyes widened in surprise. Bringing her arms up, Ulamara began to carefully examine herself as if looking to confirm that they were hers.

“You fell unconscious.”

“I… Th- that’s right…” With a somber reply, more tears emerged to roll down her cheeks.

“Did you witness another memory?” He questioned, seeing her forlorn and melancholic expression. And without a word, she simply nodded.
“I see…” Unwilling to imagine what was going through her thoughts, he reached forward again and gently wiped away more tears. “Cheer up.” He encouraged, “Those are, but mere after images of withering dreams and not something you can control. Do not dally on them, as there are far better and more fortuitous moments to consider.” Her two silver eyes drew upward at his words and seeing her staring, he smiled, “The pact has been sealed, and we are bound. I will be in your care from now on.”

A joyous grin suddenly emerged upon the young spirit’s lips. “Yes!” and she quickly replied in affirmation, her grief all but gone.

Without another word. By his will, the three protective layers of light surrounding them instantly shattered into nothingness, revealing an exhausted phrae standing in the air–at the edge of the outer barrier.

“Ulamara!” Instead of the exhausted guardian, Elamara’s frantic voice rushed toward them. Flying past him, the young phrae descended down to her sister. “Wh- what happened to you?!” The young girl exclaimed.

“I… I don’t know.” Turning down to look at herself once more, Ulamara’s frazzled expression was evident enough of her own curiosity.

“You feel so- so different. And your eyes… how!?” Elamara shouted again, voice now filling with curious excitement.

Ulamara turned, looking up to him questioningly. “I think- hmmm… I think it’s because of what happened?”

Giving another smile in return, he slowly stood up from where he had knelt all morning, “Come,” He beckoned, extending an arm outward.
With an eager nod and then an apologetic smile to her sister, Ulamara rushed toward him and walked off the edge of the large chest.

“Ula?!” A frantic voice cried out.

With a surprising calm to her, mana burst forth from the young spirit’s body.
Wrapping around her like a gilded veil, Ulamara took to the air, flying upward effortlessly.
Overflowing with her newfound gift, the young phrae enthusiastically circled around him twice, before landing gracefully atop the palm of his hand like she had been flying all her life.

With her in hand, he turned around to face the other phraes, “Is there any objections to my choice?” He questioned, holding Ulamara in front of him for all to see.

The face of the young girl’s father twisted from anger to fear and helplessness, and on the ground behind the phrae, the others voicelessly turned to look at the elderly Shii with anxious expressions.

Yet instead of rallying them, the old phrae merely shook his head in resignation and flew upward to stand beside the twin’s father–Osfurun.
“To think I would see the day…” Eyes filled with wonder, the old spirit placed a hand on the twin’s father as if to console the defeated phrae before floating forward. Without taking its eyes off them, “The words of the Eternals have been spoken, and the bonds have been forged… these insignificant ones would not dare.” The elder spoke, lowering its head carefully, “The honored one may do as he wishes.”
And as the Shii did so, on the ground, the group of phraes looked to one another with bewilderment before doing the same.

Kaidus turned his attention to the father of his new bond. “I can see your distress. Let me assure you that nothing shall ever happen to your daughter. And should she ever wish for it, I will bring her back. You have my words.”

“H-how?” The troubled spirit questioned, his expression faltering as his eyes continued to stare at them, at Ulamara. “How is it possible that you know the bindings of the Eternals? Such magic should have… should be lost to the realm of men already. Just what- just who are you?”

An amused smile crept onto his lips, “You were not entirely wrong in calling me a destroyer.” He coyly answered, recalling what Ulamara and Elamara had said about them after his inquiry the previous night, “But do not think me the same as those dregs.”

“D-dregs?”

The deathly wails of thousands of phraes entered his ears, and he quickly shut them out. “What else would you call thieves who can do naught, but steal and claim the strength of others as their own?” By his will, the silver of his true lineage manifested itself once more.

Just like what happened the previous night, the inquisitive phrae quickly recoiled defensively. Its curiosity and pride instantly vanished, leaving nothing but fear and confusion in their place.
The others frantically took on defensive postures beside each other and their bodies began flaring with mana, but with a single look from the Shii, they all swiftly ceased their actions.

Hiding his amusement, he quickly dispelled himself and reverted his appearance. “Ulamara.” Addressing the young spirit in his hand, “There is something I must do before we depart. If you have any words for your parents and your kin, I suggest that you go and bid your farewells.”

Returning a questioning look and then an understanding nod, the young girl leapt from his hand and flew toward her frozen father.

 

***

 

Standing before her mother and father along with Elamara to her side, “I’m sorry.” She apologized, lowering her head as the apology left her mouth.

“Ulamara…”

Her mother’s voice swept by and through her newfound senses she felt a hand coming toward her, but it quickly stilled itself before reaching her head.
Sensing the hesitation, “Please forgive me…” She quickly entreated, keeping her eyes on her own two legs as the power coursing throughout her body continued to circulate from within the depths of her core.
‘Please… please say something.’ She begged within her mind. Yet as she stood with her head down, neither of them said a word.
‘Please…’
Feeling her own sense of self crumbling due to the silence, two arms suddenly wrapped themselves around her.

“What are you guys doing when Ula is leaving?!” Elamara’s voice snarled loudly. From her sister, there was neither hesitation nor fear. All that existed on Elamara’s face, was an envious smile and eyes filled with joy.
“Don’t bother with them!” Elamara exclaimed, directing a bout of irritation at their parents, “I’m happy for you. Just… please come back and tell me all about the outside?” Ela added, pulling her in tighter.

Elamara’s words that were filling with loneliness crushed her from within, and she powerlessly lowered her head onto Ela’s shoulders, “Nhn… I promise.”

“Ulamara…” A gentle hand finally settled itself upon her head and tenderly brushed her hair backward, “We should be the ones apologizing.” Her mother’s voice echoed into her ears.

Pulling away from Elamara, she looked to her mother.
There was sadness in her mother’s eyes. One, that was overwhelmed by guilt and hidden behind an immeasurable fear of the unknown.

“You have never been one to spin tales, and I should have believed you. To lose you like this… it is my greatest regret, and I am sorry. Can you forgive me?” An apologetic smile manifested upon her mother’s lips.

Rushing into her mother’s chest as her own tears spilled out, “Mam!” She cried out, embracing her mother tightly.

“We only wished to protect you. I’m so sorry.”
Voice trembling, her mother broke into tears as gentle fingers continued to tenderly brush through her hair.

“You have!” She sobbed as memories arose within the back of her mind, “You all have!” She added, forever grateful for the countless nights they had stayed up beside her as she writhed in pain from over exposure to the mana sustaining her. Thankful for how they had cherished her even though she had been nothing but a burden, a phrae incapable of utilizing the gifts bestowed upon their kind. Remorseful, for having blamed them for her illness on more than one occasions.

With a good cry, her mother wiped away her tears and she reluctantly stepped away before facing her father.
“Father…” She timidly addressed, ashamed at putting him through so much.

“Ulamara.”

“I’ve been inconsiderate and selfish. Please forgive me.” She quickly lowered her head again.

“So you do understand the nature of your actions…”

Hearing the disappointment and disapproval in his voice, “I’m sorry.” The words were barely able to squeeze themselves out of her mouth.

“I- haaa…. me too. I’m-… I’m sorry for not believing you.” Instead of further displeasure, her father sighed and his tone staggered into one of dumbfounded apology, “Your stubbornness… it reminded me of my own, and perhaps that was why I couldn’t believe what you were saying…” She could hear a tinge of guilt clinging onto his every word, “But alas, I see now that I was wrong… completely wrong.”

Hearing the solemnness in his voice, she glanced upward, only to see her father looking over to where the honored one was busy tying grass stalks together.

“I cannot stop you anymore, and you have already chosen this path so I will not ask why. But you… you should already know the reasons why our ancestors have sequestered us into this realm. Why our forebearers have always kept to themselves. So please… please take care of yourself.”

Mouth quivering with relief, she immediately prostrated herself and lowered her head to the ground, gracious for his love and care. “I will, father.”

“And… there is one more thing I must ask of you.”

“Yes, father?”

“Take- … take your sister with you.”

“Huh?!” Elamara’s shocked voice shattered the subtle atmosphere.

“Take Ela with me?” She echoed back, looking up in disbelief.

“*Sigh*… I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes… take Elamara with you.” Their father confirmed, his body language and voice having completely given up already. “The two of you have never been apart from one another for more than an afternoon. I fear she will end up sneaking out on her own to follow you regardless of what may happen. And you… you have never been without us either.” Turning to Elamara, “Go with your sister. Watch out for each-”

Before their father could even finish, Elamara had already thrown herself at him. “T-thank you! Thank you! thank you! thank you!”

 

***

 

Giving the bundle of grass that he had crudely strung together in front of him a final inspection, Kaidus pulled it up and wrapped it around his waist.
Long enough to encircle him almost twice, the grass skirt fell down to his knees and easily concealed his lower half.
“That should be good enough.” He remarked and turned toward the two young spirits who had been waiting patiently for him. “Thank you for waiting. Are the both of you ready to go?”
 
“Yes!” Shouting excitedly, Elamara swiftly flew upward to eye level with him.
Nodding brightly as well, Ulamara did the same and floated up beside her sister.

“Then I believe it is time we left these woods.” Giving them both a grin, he looked down to the pile of black coils that had been lying silently on the ground beside him. “Zirus.”
At his behest, the youngling’s eyes lit up and two translucent wings instantly shot upward. A single flap of its wings propelled the serpent into the air, and beating its two pairs of forewings in rhythm, “SHRaaa!” The serpent proudly displayed itself before excitedly rushing to settle along his shoulders.
“You have both seen him, but let me introduce you. This is Zirus, my traveling companion. He is a bit prideful, but he too has formed a bond with me.” Gesturing to the two young spirits, “Zirus, these are Elamara and Ulamara. They will be coming with us. Be nice to them.”

Having formally introduced them to one another, the twins quickly bowed their heads while Zirus arched its own curiously toward them. “Hssss!” And with a disinterested hiss, it quickly slithered to coil itself around his left arm as usual.

With the twins and Zirus accounted for, by his will, his three shards of the Nyzacus mirrors along with the crowned seed that he had picked up the previous day lurched upward from where they laid.
Leaving them to hover around his vicinity, he closed his eyes and focused his mind onto one of the three rings on his fingers.
As soon as he did so, the signal from Vick’s ring immediately responded.

Vick’s position was no longer where it had been the previous evening and judging by the distance in relation to his own, it was surely a good four to five days of careful trekking on foot.
Turning his attention back to the two eager spirits, “I’ve got our destination. We will take it slow so that you both do not exhaust yourselves, but please let me know if you wish to rest at any time.”
 
“I will.” Ulamara calmly answered back.
With a curious look at her sister, “Me too!” Elamara added as her excitement spilled out onto her face.

“Alright then.” Willing the mana within his body to gush forth, “Let’s go.” He spoke, and powerful gust swept him into the air.

“Ehhh?!?”
Elamara’s surprised voice resounded from below him as Ulamara giggled knowingly, zipping up to his side.
“Y-you can fly too?!”

 

***

 

-Darsus. Zorin Academy-

“Please… please give me a sign…” Master Keral groaned, having lost count of the numerous texts and documents he had boringly slogged through, “I beg you… anything will do at this point. ANYTHING.” He pleaded, quickly flipping through the texts in front of him without even skimming through them, before dismissing them onto a large pile behind him.

Ever since the attack on the city, he had spent almost every available moment seeking out what the deceased headmaster had been pursuing.
But even after hundreds of records, journals, books, and documents, his laborious efforts had borne little to no reward. The only thing that he could conclude from the seemingly endless pursuit, was that the old master had been researching history. And not just any history, but ancient history with a few texts going as far back as what has been deemed the Golden Ages by modern scholars.
Yet, having survived the trials of time via countless transcriptions and reiterations, the works before him now were nothing more, than fanciful tales filled with metaphors and idyllic visions.

“Why?” Keral questioned, slumping back into the seat. “Haaa….” With an exhausted sigh, he turned to look at the mountains of books around him before leaning his head back and closing his eyes. “Why did you not confide in any of us?” He groaned as frustration overwhelmed his thoughts.

As if on cue to disturb him, *Knock!* *Knock!* “Master Keral? Are you still in there?” A voice called out to him from through the door.

Hurrying to sit up properly, “Yes?! Come in!” Keral quickly shouted back, prompting the door to creak open.
Stepping into the room with a tray of food was Sven, the head of the deceased headmaster’s scribes.
“Is it dinner already?” He questioned in surprise, seeing the man out of his green and white scribe robes.

“Not yet, but I thought you might be hungry.” The man answered while carefully maneuvering through the mess toward him.

“That so? Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Sven replied, carefully placing the tray onto the desk. Taking a curt step back, instead of leaving, the scribe took a long gander around the room. “This mess… it really reminds me of him.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Keral quietly agreed, following the scribe’s gaze.

“Locking himself in here all those days. Forgetting to even eat, never even resting, and now…”

Seeing the desolate look on Sven’s face, “The return orders have not been sent out yet, you know? If you need more time to mourn, just-”

“No.” A swift reply with a grateful nod, “Thank you, but I am fine. It’s just… I’m so used to seeing him there in your very spot that it just feels surreal. Who would have guessed that he would be gone like this?” With a lifeless smile, “Anyways, my apologies for disturbing you. I shall return to my duties at once.”

“Nonsense, and thank you for the food.” Keral quickly answered back.
Yet as he watched the scribe open the door to leave, a thought suddenly struck him. “Sven! Wait!” And he shouted, prompting the scribe to halt before the door.

“Yes?”

“Do you… do you happen to know who usually brought the headmaster his food while he secluded himself in here?”

A questioning look manifested upon Sven’s face, “I did whenever I could, sir. Otherwise, I would send one of the others. Why do you ask?”

“I just- can you come back here for a moment?” He urged, and as the scribe made his way back toward him, “I need you to look around to see if there is anything you might recognize. Maybe a book that you saw the headmaster deeply curious with. Maybe he let slip a remark about something to you? Just anything that might clue me in on whatever it is that he was so fervently searching for.”

Quickly silencing himself, he watched as Sven proceeded to carefully survey the room.

After a long arduous moment, alas, the scribe merely looked back to him and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize anything here nor can I remember the headmaster taking a vested interested in any of these texts.”

“I see… thank you.” With a deep sigh and the hopes within him vanishing, he quietly reached forward and took hold of the spoon upon his dinner tray.
The answers he was seeking were nowhere to be found yet. At least he would not be searching for them on an empty stomach.

“Master Keral.”

“Yes?” He looked back up to the scribe.

“If you believe whatever the headmaster was doing to be important, perhaps there might be a clue in his notes?”

Eyes widening at the information, “Notes? The old man was taking notes?” He immediately questioned back.

“I’ve seen him scribbling on more than one occasion. He would never tell me what he was doing and would always try and hide them whenever I got close, but I remember seeing pages here and there whenever I would come to check up on him.

“I… I have not seen anything resembling notes around here.”

“Maybe he’s hidden them somewhere? If we’re lucky, maybe they’ve been buried under the books?”

“That- curses…” He grumbled at his own stupidity, “With all that’s happened and everyone so busy and away these days, I didn’t think it a priority to waste anyone’s time tidying up this room.”

“A handful of the scribes have already returned. If you’d like, I can call for them and we can spend the evening clearing and organizing this place.” Sven quickly suggested.

“Yes. Yes… that would be great.”

Before long, the crumpled corners belonging to a handful of beige parchments edged through the mountain of books they were excavating. Situated midway through the pile, it had probably fallen off the desk during the many quakes and shocks of the attack, and then gotten buried beneath even more books that fell after. 

Just looking at the corners, they could all see that they were the same type of papers that the scribes were using, and did not have any bindings or covers like all the rest.

Shuddering with excitement as he pulled it free, Keral quickly poured through the pages. “This… this is it. The old man’s notes…” He voiced in exasperated relief, taking in the familiar handwriting that had been scribbled throughout them all.

B3 Chapter 13 – Animals

Overflowing with a familiar warmth, ‘W-what is going on?’ Ulamara voicelessly questioned as her conscious slowly reassembled itself within a sea of nothingness.
‘Where am I?’ She wondered in silence, recalling the gaze of two silver eyes engulfing her with a fierce yet gentle tenderness.

“Was that the last of them?”
A man’s voice rang through her mind, coming in from just barely out of earshot.
Like a turbulent squall, it wrapped itself around her thoughts, evoking an endless array of emotions.

‘Who’s there? Who are you?’ She cried out, willing her eyes to open upon a blurred world like that of a transient mirage. 

“Yes…”
Through her newfound fears, she felt herself answering calmly as unknown desires reluctantly fought to hold themselves back.

“Then you know what to do.” The voice replied, and she could almost picture a smile upon the mysterious individual’s face.

‘What is this?’

“My lord…” She felt herself speak again and quickly realized that it was not her own voice, but that of someone else. Someone older, more mature, and much more capable. “I… I fear that this will be the last time we see each other. I just wanted to say that I am sorry…” She could feel a mountain of hesitation lodged within her throat as the words escaped.

“There’s no need.” An amused smile flashed within the intangible darkness, “Were I in your position, I would have made the same decision.” The man’s voice continued solemnly and nobly, “So whether it is you or me, there is nothing to apologize for. The safety of our people must come first and foremost.”

‘Huh?’
She had heard those words before. The upswelling of emotions now rising within her chest along with the tone of the man’s voice, it was all very familiar.

“Yes… you are right. Please pardon this one’s foolishness.” Another compliant answer came from within. Yet whoever it was, whoever she was, they were fighting with all their might to hold themselves back.

“Go on then. It is all up to you now.” The voice ushered in graceful tranquility.

Feeling the resolve within herself, within the body she was inhabiting waning, “Then I shall take my leave, my lord. I wish you well, and may the fortune of wars forever be in your favor.”

They were indeed words she had heard before.
Opening her own disembodied mouth, ‘And I pray that you and yours will continue to persevere…’ She quietly whispered within her mind.
 
“And I pray that you and yours will continue to persevere in what is to come, no matter the tribulations.”
Just as she had surmised, the voice spoke her thoughts.

‘A memory…’ Ulamara quickly calmed herself upon the realization.
She could not understand why it was happening again, but she was undoubtedly watching the final phase of her ancestor’s escape into Trasevenesae.
Experiencing the final divide of their kind from a world engulfed in chaos.

With a deep and gracious bow full of irredeemable regrets and admiration, the body of her host began to slowly float backwards.
She felt herself passing through a distortion that overwhelmed both her consciousness and core, and she quietly and calmly closed her eyes.

She had glimpsed them from the other side and the memories should have ended there, yet they did not.

As the emotions within her body continued to fester, she felt herself falling.
Opening her eyes again, instead of distorted darkness, a drab and dreary world expanded out in front of her as the light of a portal shattered into oblivion.

‘This is…’

The resolve upon her host crumbled along with their stoic façade, and they both stumbled onto the ground as fear and guilt washed over everything.

‘Great Mother…’
She instinctively voiced, sensing the overflowing anguish.

“Please… please forgive me…”
Her predecessor wept and she could not help but tear up as the Veiled Mother’s unfulfilled desires spilled out onto the open, becoming one with her.

 

***

 

-Southern Malpaars-

Keeping an eye out for the broken twigs and knotted plant markers as instructed by Slek, Vick easily made his way through the wilted underbrush of the dense forest.
Moving quickly, by noon and almost exactly as estimated, he found himself encroaching upon what could only be the outer borders of the new camp and settlement’s perimeters.

There were distinct signs of deforestation here and there, and before long, he spotted a forward sentry quietly idling beside a large tree.  

With their focus looking inward upon what could only be the camp, “Hey!” He shouted, engaging the guard’s attention as he closed in on them.

The man frantically turned around, and he could see that it was an unfamiliar youth possibly only a few years older than Kaidus.
“I-Intruder!” Yelping in surprise, instead of running away, the guard hurriedly angled their wooden spear toward him.

Instantly closing the distance between himself and the youth, he easily knocked the weapon away with an unarmed parry.

“HELP!! Intru- Uguuhn?!” The young man instantly dropped to the ground, one hand clutching onto his forehead.

“Are you daft?” Vick questioned, having smacked the youth with his knuckles, “If I was an intruder, why in the world would I call out to you instead of silently slitting your throat while you were daydreaming?”

“I-I’m sorry!!” The young man yelped again in obvious shock and confusion.

“If you are sorry, then hurry up and point me in the direction of Captain Biran.”

Still holding his forehead, the young sentry looked up apprehensively, “Who- who are you?” There was uncertainty mixed within the youth’s muddled curiosity.

“Do I need to hit you again?” He retorted dryly, making a show of his knuckles.

“Sorry! I- I don’t know where the captain is!” A loud reply, it was very much like that of a new recruit.

“Pick up your weapon and get up. Stop slacking off and keep focus or else it might not be the only thing you lose next time.” He swiftly admonished as the sound of footsteps came storming from the direction of the camp. Lifting his head, he spotted a group of armed men rushing toward them.

“Yessir…” Still frightened but a more understanding affirmation this time, the youth slowly stood up.

“Vick, is that you?” A voice called out from the group of approaching men.

Seeking out the voice, he spotted Diller, the unruly but tolerable man whom he had come to rely on since Esperen.
With wooden spears and makeshift weapons in hand, the group was ready for battle.
“In the flesh.” He replied, giving the man a dismissive wave.

“What happened?” One of the men questioned, seeing the expression on the young sentry.

“Just teaching our young friend here a lesson in vigilance.”
Calmly scanning the crowd, most of them he could recognize but like the young man beside him, the others were unfamiliar. An educated guess would definitely put them as a part of Lord Shradech’s group, but now was neither the time for introductions or pleasantries.

“You know this one?” One of the unfamiliar faces queried.

“Yes, he’s one of ours.” Diller answered, quickly dispelling the suspicion before turning back to him, “Where’s everyone else?” The man questioned, looking into the forest over his shoulders.

“There are matters to attend to, so I came ahead. The others should arrive before evening.”

“Matters?”

“What happened the other night, Diller?” He shot back, cutting directly to the chase.

“The other-” The man’s eyes widened, undoubtedly upon recognizing his inquiry.

Narrowing his own, “What happened? How many people were involved?” Vick repeated, adding on a tone of anger to deliver the weight of his words.

“I… I don’t know the details,” Diller paused briefly before opening his mouth again, “But it was two of the guards and three others from the Lord’s group.”

“Of course there were guards involved…” The strenuous words escaped his mouth and he could see the faces of those before him twisting nervously, “Fucking idiots.” He cursed under his breath as the news from the previous evening continued to salt his thoughts.

“Vick?” Diller spoke, face as confused as the others.

“Take me to the girls. I’ll hear what happened from them myself.” He instructed.

Having dismissed the rest of the men, he followed Diller through the camp, eventually coming upon a number of familiar faces.

Their Esperen group as a whole appear to have settled on the northern side of the camp, and he could see a number of simple wooden shacks and tents propped up haphazardly around the area.
Like their last site, there were a number of openings snuggled within the disorderly placement of living quarters, allowing for firepits to smolder and people to gather.

“Luce!” He called out, spotting a young girl carrying a bundle of twigs in her arms.

Turning back to them, the girl took a moment before her lips curved upward into a teething smile, “Vick! You’re back!” She cried out, rushing over to him and dropping some of her sticks in the process.

“I am. Getting firewood?” He cordially replied, stooping down to pick them up for her.

“Yes, and thanks.” The girl grinned, “You’re just in time for lunch! Come on, the others will be glad to know that you’re back!” She said excitedly before turning and walking ahead.

Passing a few more clusters of people, they soon reached the spot where their group was staying.

Consisting of around a dozen small tents to house their group of nearly thirty, the shelters were positioned in a circular manner to allow for plenty of spaces in between.
At the center and deftly moving around two flames, the elders Arleen and Darla were already in the midst of meal preparations with a few others. Some of the younger girls sat around a smaller fire to the side, while the boys ran about and played as usual.

Sensing an anxious gaze, he turned his head to catch Narissa watching his approach from the opening of one of the tents.
The Kovus woman’s eyes were telling him that she wanted to talk, and eager to oblige, he gave the girls a curt greeting before drifting toward her.

With an exhausted smile upon her lips, “You’re back. And good afternoon, Diller.” The woman greeted them both.

“Lady Narissa.”

Ignoring their exchanges, “What exactly happened?” He questioned, making it clear that he knew about what took place.

“So you’ve heard…” Narissa’s smile slowly vanished.

“I need the details. Where are the girls who were involved?”

Stepping aside, “I think it’s best if we talk inside.” Narissa quickly invited them to enter.

Foregoing lunch and storming ahead of Diller, he made his way through the camp once more, this time heading for the southeastern perimeter. Arriving at his destination, he easily spotted the mud hut that stood isolated from the rest.

Five armed guards were stationed around it with one standing on each side of the building, and two beside the lone entrance.
He could not see inside as there were no windows or gaps, but the crudeness of the structure along with the location and guards told him that he was in the right place.

Stopping a few good paces before the men, “Do you recognize me?” He questioned, imposing upon the two in front of the door.

“Y-yes sir,” One of the guards, a familiar balding man at least a decade his senior quickly acknowledged. “What can we do for you?”

Eyes melting through the door, “Bring those bastards out for me.” He ordered.

“S-sir?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself.”

“The Captain said to-”

“Are you going to bring them out, or will I have to go through you all and go in there myself?” Taking on an irate tone of authority, he stood steadfast before the guards.

“Yes sir… bring them out.”
The balding man reluctantly conceded and the other guard hastily began untangling the knot on the door.
Within moments, the other three had also joined in with each going inside to retrieve a prisoner from the hut.  

With scratches and scuff marks on some of their faces, two of the offenders were indeed guards he had seen before while the other three were unknown to him.
As they were pushed to kneel before him, he caught the grimed and dirt stained expressions of the two guards crumbling in humiliation. He had never spoken to them before, but knew one of them to be a laborer around his own age, while the other was an adept weaver in their early thirties.
Looking to the other three prisoners, they consisted of three young men, perhaps not even in their twenties.
None of them dared look him in the eyes as he stood before them.

“How dare you two abuse your positions?” He snarled, looking to the guardsmen before turning to the others, “How dare you all, when everyone’s safety is still so uncertain?”

“I’m sorry! I- I didn’t know!” One of the three young men cried out, “Please, I- I didn’t-”

In one swift motion, he lodged his right foot deep into the youth’s stomach.
The young man unleashed a deathly gasp and toppled to the ground, coughing and convulsing in pain as he pulled his foot back.
“I saw the bruises… I know about what happened. None of you are blameless.”
The other four visibly shuddered at his words along with the five guards.
Coldly lifting the side of his cloak, he drew one of his azurite swords.

“VICK!”
A commanding tone came from behind him, and he turned his head to see Captain Biran rushing toward him with Diller in tow.
“What are you doing?!” The blonde man shouted.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” He calmly answered, lowering his weapon before the five men while continuing to stare down the captain.

“What happened was an oversight on my part. For that, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“An oversight?” He stepped in front of the two guards, and the image of three young ladies bruised and sobbing as they recounted the ordeal entered his thoughts.
“Using their trust and the guise of assistance to take advantage of them while they were fetching water…”
With an upward flick of his sword, the sound of something wet plopped onto the ground beside him.

“GaaaAA!! My- My ear!!! F-Fuu-!! UGgghaaaa!”

“Roughing them up to silence them…” With another swift motion, the second guard clutched onto their right ear as well and began screaming as he towered over them, “None of you are getting away from this unscathed.”

“Vick please, let us wait for his lordship!”

Captain Biran entreated from his side, but paying no heed to the man, “There is an old saying that you get accustomed to as a mercenary. Zilas rahn ul’ nirafas famael.” He paused, allowing the words to sink in amidst the cries and groans of agony, “It roughly translates to: ‘Those who share my misfortune, are my family’.” Lowering the bloodstained tip of his sword before the group, “And yet in these trying times… instead of alleviating their woes, you all conspired and broke the trust bestowed upon you by those who have walked alongside you. By those who have shared your pain and your difficulties, piling even more onto theirs.”

“W-we… we are not mercenaries…” One of the two guards managed to eke out, their voice quivering painfully with each breath, “nor- nor are we soldiers! We are but… but simple men!”

“No… you are animals.” He retorted, glaring down at the man, “And as animals, there are only two options left for you.”
Four pairs of terrified eyes glanced up to him.
“Now, which one of you is Arnold?” He questioned, having gained their attention.

“P-please… *cough! *, please let me go.” A breathless plea came from the boy who was still gasping on the ground. The one that he had kicked.

“Is it you?” He coldly snapped back, ignoring the plea.

“Vick, please,” The captain interrupted, thrusting an arm between him and the five, “I know you’re angry and justifiably so, but isn’t this going too far?”

“Too far?” He spat the words out, making sure that the man understood his position when it came to such betrayal, “It was your negligence that led to this. If you wish to save them, step aside. Otherwise, draw your sword and slay them yourself, for I will not have Kaidus carry on this burden for you.” He growled back.
Glaring into the captain’s eyes, he could see the man’s defiance faltering.

“I…”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Please… h-he… he is Arnold,” The young man who was still groveling on the ground timidly pointed out, “It was his idea. Please, it was all his idea…”

Pushing the speechless captain aside, “You?” He looked down at the youth kneeling on the outside, and the boy quickly looked away. “You’re the little shit that lured them out there in the first place?” Vick leaned closer, taking a better look at the dark-haired youth before him.
Along with what appear to be a fist sized bruise, there were two long scratches running down the left side of the boy’s face, barely missing his eye.
“Just what the fuck were you thinking?” He groaned, clenching his sword even tighter.

The boy neither acknowledge nor gave a reply to his words, opting to stare mutely at the ground instead.

Straightening himself back up, he extended his sword forward and tapped upward on the youth’s chin with the back of his blade. “Look at me…” There was no reaction, but he could see the boy trembling, “Look at me!” He shouted, and the silent youth almost jumped as their frightened gazed turned to look up at him. “Open your hands and place them flat onto the ground before you.”

Shaking in fear, the young man slowly acquiesced and extended both hands out onto the ground.

“The betrayal of family is a serious crime.” Twisting his azurite sword into a reverse grip, he plunged it down into the center of the boy’s left hand.

“GRUAaaaaahhH! UnnnhhggggrrraaAAA!”
And sharp cries of agony tore through the area as he twisted his sword before pulling it out.

“Depending on how treacherous, it is customary within the mercenaries to take an arm… so that it may remind the fool of what they have done. A sentence, that shall forever deprive them of their livelihood and abilities.”
Lifting his sword once more, he plunged it back into the boy’s other hand and twisted.

“UGhnnNNNNN! A-hh… Aaaak- GAhhh!”

With a forceful tug, he easily withdrew the sword once more. “You may not be mercenaries, but your betrayals are paramount in the eyes of those you should have protected.” Stepping toward the other two youngsters, his sword flicked outward two more times, taking an ear from each as well.
“May this be a reminder for you all.” Pointing his sword into the forest, he stood firm before the five. “Now get the fuck out of my sight and don’t even think about coming back.”

“You… you can’t! We’ll die out there!” One of the two guards cried out.

“That is no longer any of our concerns,” He replied, gritting his teeth and holding back the desire to make an example out of one of them, “You can either take your chances with the wolves and whatever is out there, or I will bury you all right here. The choice is yours.”

 

***

 

Unable to do anything, Biran watched as the five men stumbled amongst themselves into the woods. Tripping and whimpering into the distance, as the last of them disappeared into the shadows, the mercenary turned and began walking back toward the camp.

“Vick.” He called out, stopping the man.

“What the fuck were you doing?”

“Huh?” Taken aback at the aggression, he quietly stared back at Vick.

“Don’t fool yourself. Just what exactly did you think was going to happen to them once Kaidus gets back?” Vick drew closer, “A slap on the wrist? A stern scolding maybe?”

“Whatever the lord does, it is not my role to question.” He calmly answered, keeping his thoughts from wandering.

“How very astute…” at the snide remark, a sullenness quickly drew itself over Vick’s face, “Then allow me, to tell you about what would happen had I not exiled those bastards.” The mercenary took another step to stand beside him, “For what was said to those girls, for what they did… if those idiots were lucky, they would be crippled for the rest of their lives. If they were unlucky though, you and I would be digging five graves for them.”

“Surely you don’t mean that the lord would-”

“I am not willing to find out, nor am I willing to burden him further because some idiots can’t keep their dicks in their pants.” Vick swiftly replied, the hostility within his voice mellowing slightly. With a resigned sigh, “Since you have already pledged yourself to him, let me tell you something that I have come to realize over the years and these past few turns.”

“What is it?” He cautiously questioned, not taking his eyes off the mercenary’s troubling expression.

“You may see him as a child, may even treat him as one at times… but don’t ever dare to think that he is a child. Make no mistake about that.” Vick warned, his voice rolling to a whisper, “Countless unfortunate men have already perished by his hands alone, and more so, fools who think they can take advantage of others. Injustice, is something that he has a very low tolerance of.”

Watching Vick leave, Biran quietly swallowed his pride.
The man was right. He knew very little about his new lord.
Looking down at himself, he calmly rested a hand onto the sword at his side as the liberation of Vilute flashed into the forefront of his thoughts.

B3 Chapter 12 – Treasures of the Phrae

Floating above the ground, Elamara quietly observed the slumbering human before her.
Sleeping idly without a care in the world, even though she knew he was a mage, she could no longer sense any trace of magic or malice coming from him. Even his daunting presence the night before had disappeared, and were she not looking at him directly, she would not have known that he was there at all.

“Kaidus Paltos…” She spoke his name, whispering it curiously.
While his appearance was that of a young male, he did not carry himself like those she had seen of his age. The feeling he gave off and the way he spoke, it was more akin to someone like that of their father, even an elder within the clan.

Looking to his side, her eyes fell upon Ulamara who was resting peacefully on a bed of grass.

The odd exchanges between the two resurfaced in her mind, along with her own inquiry regarding the human.
Thinking back, Ulamara’s answer had been promptly cut off by the person himself, and because of what was happening at the time, she had thought nothing of it.
Even with Ulamara calling him an “honored one”, the significance of those words had not truly dawn upon her until they were back home.

First it was the quarrel against the Shii about gifts from the entangled troves, and then with their parents for coming into contact with the human.
Ulamara, who had always been careful of what she was saying and had never been a cause for concern or disputes, had actively contended against their elders. And not just for an outsider, but a human. Then there was the portal and everything else since.
As unbelievable as it was, the sudden changes had undoubtedly come after their meeting with the person before her.

“Hmmm…”
Closing her eyes, the events of the previous night easily came to her. 

The human’s careful deliverance of them onto the ground.
His snap, bringing about the white world.
Their father’s petrified expression of helplessness.
The human’s brief introduction, followed by an intense resonance.
And then Ulamara’s effortless conjuring of a portal to send their father back.

The oppressive atmosphere that surrounded them then had been enough to keep her questions and curiosity at bay, but now, all she can think about was his true identity.
Rhultal Vox Treval AnDargus.’
The name echoed through her core, but she could not understand why he had given them a false name in the first place.
“Last of the An’Daralites…” She voiced curiously, incapable of comprehending what such words even meant. “Heir to the Silver Pla-”

“HHHsssss!”
The dreaded sound of a peeved hiss came from behind the human, almost frightening her out of the air.

Barely managing to catch herself, she quickly flew upward as two menacing silver eyes slowly slithered onto the human’s slumbering body.
Though she had glimpsed it in the darkness before, the creature was unlike what she had expected. Now stretching its two pairs of translucent black forewings into the air, it was not just an ordinary serpent, but a beast of the sky. Along its body, the serpent’s sleek black scales were gleaming with an odd and eerie luster.

Casually coiling itself into a pile on top of the human’s chest, the black serpent looked up at her, “Hsssss!!” And hissed again, before turning its attention to their surroundings.

Sensing the atmosphere around them growing denser, she quickly looked in the same direction as the beast.

Along the edge of the human’s crude camp, the soft light of dawn was warping and stretching. Subtle and transparent like a window, before long, a large phrae portal manifested into the world.

 

***

 

“Zirus… get off me.” Kaidus groaned, sensing that a group of new arrivals had intruded upon his makeshift camp. Not just one or two like the previous night, there were at least over a dozen new presences now.

“Krrarrrr!”
The youngling growled back, but slithered off as he sat up.

Looking beside himself, Ulamara was still sleeping upon the nest of grass that he had pulled together for the young phrae and her sister. Elamara on the other hand, was already up and in the air with a troubled expression on her face.

Following Elamara’s gaze, he easily spotted the group of phraes.
There were sixteen altogether, and they had all stopped at the entrance of his shelter like they were waiting for him. On the grass behind them all, he could see a large elongated chest made of intertwining roots and vines.

Osfurun, the father of the twins was with the group as well. Unlike what it had done the night before, the prideful phrae was now on the ground and standing with the rest.
Along with the guardian, two of the new arrivals also caught his eyes. They were overflowing with mana comparable to that of the twin’s father themselves, and the three of them together were unquestionably the strongest within the group.
Yet his attention did not stall upon them. Instead, he found himself watching an older phrae who was walking to the front of the assembly.
Looking at least a generation or two older than the rest, the worn phrae had a curved horn and a dark body that appeared to be shrouded in shadows. There was a sense of refinement flowing from the phrae, and with just one look, he could tell that it was the “Shii” whom Elamara and Ulamara had been mentioning in passing.

Catching his eyes, ‘Pardon our intrusion,’ The elderly phrae was the first to speak, ‘But am I correct to assume that you are the one who devastated this area of our forest?’

A melodious voice quavered in his mind like a ritualistic chant, and Kaidus calmly straightened himself before nodding, “My apologies.”

A surprised smile carved itself upon the elderly spirit’s dark face. ‘I am Zener En’Tildiarai, last of my Silteil and the Shii of this unruly brood. Might you do me the honor of giving me your name as you have my progeny?’

The sudden introduction took him aback, but with careful scrutiny, “I am Rhultal Vox Treval AnDargus. You may call me Kaidus Paltos, as bestowed upon me by those who have ordained me this body of flesh.” He replied, reciprocating the phrae’s sincerity.

Behind the old phrae, the group hastily took to the air as the grounds upon which they stood began shaking. Instead of doing the same, the elder’s pitch-black eyes lit up and the spirit strolled forward, walking through the soft light that was now glowing with an invigorated luminosity. ‘This is…’ The elder’s voice resounded with wonderment as it reached out to touch the condensing light around them, ‘It is as if the will of the world itself is waking…’

The old spirit’s voice continued but not wanting to interrupt, Kaidus quietly allowed the spirit to postulate.
He had usurped the twin’s father of all its magical prowess in their brief engagement, but this time, it was the result of Vishan’s excitement alone that had brought about the phenomenon.
Watching the old phrae taking in Vishan’s presence, the spirit suddenly ceased its amazement as if realizing something and looked back up at him.

‘Forgive me if I overstep, but what did you mean by your words?’

“It is nothing.” He answered, lips edging upward into a regretful smile upon seeing the curiosity on the spirit’s face, “Merely the unintelligible murmuring of fading memories, and nothing for you or yours to be wary of.”
He had thrown the name out there with the slimmest of hopes, but as he had expected, even an elder of the phraes did not recognize it.

‘Is that so?’
The phrae’s two dark eyes pierced through him, but did not question further. Turning back to the others, the old spirit nodded.

The whole of the group began glowing and mana oozed forth from them all without exception. Like a thick mist, their magics flowed and weaved together into a large visible sphere of varying illuminations before crashing down onto the large chest behind them.

Something anxiously grasped onto his fingers, and he turned to see that Ulamara had woken up and was now hiding behind his hand that he had set on the ground.  Elamara had descended to join her, and both were keenly observing what was happening with expressions of puzzlement.

With the unified cluster of mana conforming around the large chest like a viscous liquid, the elder finally took to the air and flew back to it. Placing both of his hands upon the layer of vibrant mana that had completely encased the chest, the elder’s dark body began to glow.
*PSSSSAAAAAAAA*
The sound of compressed air sizzled from the chest as the layer of mana surrounding it vanished.

“I see…” Kaidus voiced in amazement.
Leagues above what he had seen being taught at Zorin, the group of phrae had just performed a combination spell.
Utilizing the strength of their numbers, each of the phraes had formed a specific verse of the unbinding magic with their mana. The elder himself had unified all their spells within its body and acting as a conduit, channeled it further with his own to undo the seal on the chest.
It was a flawless demonstration of magic and being a form of spirits themselves, it was something that only the phraes could have accomplished.

“Is that the ‘entangled troves’ you two were talking about?” Kaidus whispered, looking down to the twins.

“One of the two chests from it, yes.”
Elamara answered and Ulamara nodded as the Shii and two others began flying over to them.

“Elamara. Ulamara.” Preceded by a low but effeminate voice, a female phrae did not stop in the air with the other two. Instead, she descended toward the twins. “Are the both of you alright?”
With long brown hair like fertile earth and a body the tone of ember sunset just like Elamara and Ulamara, the female was one of two that had caught his attention earlier.
Veiled in a thin shroud of reddish light, she was still overflowing with power even after what they had done.

“Mam!” Elamara exclaimed, hurrying forward to embrace their mother.

“Ulamara?” The older phrae questioned, her eyes seeking out Ulamara who was hiding behind his hand.

Unlike her sister, Ulamara returned a nod but did not move from her spot.

“Ulamara.” The Shii finally spoke out loud, his aged and collected voice reverberating through them. “I have deemed your ‘honored one’ worthy of our treasures. Do you have any further grievances?”

Without answering, Ulamara ducked behind his hand even more, obscuring herself from view.

“I shall take your silence as having no further grievances.” The elderly phrae turned, “Kaidus Paltos… son of men,” Lowering its head respectfully, “I have been informed about everything that has happened. Whatever your motives are, as an apology for what has been done and a show of gratitude for your mercy, you may take something you desire from what we have gathered over the ages.”

Looking to the now opened chest, he could see numerous items within.
The gleam of sharpened blades, armor from who knows what era, the top of an enchanted helmet, along with various undefinable magical artifacts.
“A treasure of the phraes, is it?” He questioned, and Ulamara tensed up.

“In exchange for my daughter.” The twin’s father brazenly stated, “Now undo whatever it is you have done, and see to it that our daughter comes back to us.”

Kaidus steadied his gaze onto the twin’s father. “As I have said before, you are mistaken. Ulamara is not a prisoner nor is she under any sort of enchantment.”
The young phrae clung even tighter to his hand upon his words.

From in front of them, “Ulamara, is that true?” The mother of the twins questioned, her voice quite surprised by the revelation.

He quickly attempted to move his arm aside to reveal Ulamara for them to see, but the young phrae would not let go. “Ulamara…” He spoke, easily drawing her attention instead. “Remember what you said last night?”

“…” The young spirit lowered her head, but still did not let go.

“Look at them. They have all come for you.” He added, reminding her of his words and her agreement to return, should they come to retrieve her.

“I… I want to… with… -ou…”
She dug her face into his hand, muffling her words.

“Ulamara?” Kaidus called her name again.

“I don’t want to go back. I- I want to stay with… with you.” She answered timidly.

“Haaa?!” Elamara exclaimed aloud and, “Ulamara, what are you saying?” The twin’s mother quickly and anxiously voiced, supplementing the confusion.

Peeking out at her mother, “I- I’m not going back. I want to stay with-”

“Ulamara.” Kaidus interrupted, instantly silencing her. “As I’ve said before, your emotions are not-”

“They are!” The young girl retorted loudly, her determination plain for all to hear. “They are mine and I know it! So please… please don’t make me go back. I don’t want to forget you.”

Confounded by the outburst, “Ulamara… look at me.” He instructed, and she tearfully turned to stare up at him.
Peering into her dark eyes, he could see her ironclad desires begging for him to allow her to stay by his side. It was a yearning, like that of someone who had found self and purpose. 
And unable to ignore her resolve, “It is not safe out there.” He calmly warned.

“It is if I’m with you!” The young phrae snappily countered, “Please, I can help. I can be of use!”

“Ulamara! Cease this foolishness!” Osfurun, the twin’s father shouted from where he stood within the air. “As for you…” The phrae hesitated briefly, “take whatever it is you desire from the chest, and begone from our forest.”

Still clinging onto his hand, “Please…” The young phrae tearfully begged again.

He gave the young spirit a smile, “… Your father is right. It is time we ended this and went our separate ways.” Her grasp upon his hand immediately loosened as her face fractured into sorrow.
“I may take anything I want from the chest, correct?” Kaidus questioned, looking to the Shii who had been silent thus far.

“Anything of your choosing.”

“Understood.” Slowly standing up, the young phrae’s disheartened arms left his own and she began weeping. “There is no need for tears.” He spoke, wrapping his hand around her instead and picking her up.

“What are you doing?” The twin’s father bellowed.

With Ulamara sobbing in his hand, he stepped toward the large chest and placed the young phrae inside it, setting her atop a folded chain mail. Without looking at anything else, “For the generous offer conferred to me,” He invoked, and in the chest, Ulamara slowly lifted her tearful gaze to look up at him. “I choose this child.”

““NO!””
Two voices screamed out in unison, their cries sending a shockwave throughout the clearing.

Unleashing his will, multiple layers of light immediately erected themselves around him and the chest.
“In the name of Eis’Murilzen, the First Mother,” He evoked, and Ulamara’s eyes widened as shock and anticipation made their way across her face, “I, Rhultal Vox Treval AnDargus, by the guiding hands of Cayadrin, Virulent Mistress of Bonds and Fates,” The mana within his body began to boil as he fortified his mind, “As the last of my name, I hereby invoke the Pact of Halasiens, Guardian of Eternity.”
His vast strength spilled out around them, and carefully reaching for the young phrae, “Ulamara En’Muryd, Spirit of Will and beloved daughter of Osfurun En’Kalinsor and Kelinthia En’Galite,” He recited, touching the tip of her horn and pricking himself upon its sharpness. “You, are now mine.”
At his declaration, the bead of blood that had emerged from his finger was sucked into the young girl’s horn and her body exploded with light.

With two black eyes still staring up into his own, “F-forever bounded by the roots of Dinasthirea, the E-Errant Tree of Wonder and shattered will of Lovis, I-I am yours.” She repeated, peering into his memories.

 

***

 

-Elsewhere-

Dropping the carcass of the hunter that it had been feasting upon, it turned its attention toward the horizon as its body of flesh shuddered with excitement. Bare and bloodied, a thin smile crept onto its beautiful womanly visage and the creature turned to its surroundings, only to confirm that their voices of disdain were now nonexistent.

Turning back to gaze into the distance, whatever it is that had freed it from its prison of dream had once again made their presence known. The silence of the trembling world around it was evident enough.

With a disinterested glance at the hunter, it calmly and tenderly began licking the blood on its pale and slender arms in an effort to resist the urge of reverting back to its true form.

B3 Chapter 11 – The Destroyer

-Malpaars-

Feeling the depression upon her sister’s side of the nest lessening, Elamara quickly opened her eyes and pulled herself into a sitting position.
In the darkness of their burrow, a shadow hastily stilled itself and stood frozen beside the wall.
“Ula?” She called out, only for the shadow to suddenly drop to the ground. “I know it’s you, Ulamara. Stop it already and come back to sleep.”

“No!” The shadow stubbornly answered and stood back up again. “This is my chance.”

“Chance? You heard the Shii. Mother and father too. We are not allowed to leave anymore.” She tiredly reasoned, wanting nothing more than to continue forgetting the day’s unforgettable events.

“That’s never stopped you before, why should it stop me?” A swift and defiant rebuttal, it was very unlike Ulamara’s usual passiveness.

“That’s…” Stumped by the truth, “Be- because I can open my own portals.” Elamara countered, plopping back onto the bed of fine fiber, “Who’s going to do it for you? Yourself? You can’t eve-” She quickly held her tongue.

“…”

Listening as Ulamara’s muffled silence shuffled itself along the walls and toward the doorway, “I’m sorry, okay? I’m really tired.” She apologized whilst trying to fall back asleep, “I’ll help you in the morning so just come back.”
There was no answer. Instead, she heard Ulamara pull aside the flap of cloth that is their chamber door.

“I… I can do it too, you know? I can feel it.” Her sister finally proclaimed.

“Feel it?” Repeating it in confusion, “You can’t just feel it, Ula.” She sat back up once more, only to see that Ulamara was already gone. “Ula?” She called, but nothing answered this time.
Begrudgingly getting up, she slowly shambled toward the doorway. Taking one look down the tunnel that connected to their parent’s burrow, “Ula?” Elamara whisper anxiously before moving in the opposite direction of their parent’s room.

Maneuvering her way through a large chamber for guests, she carefully descended a flight of stairs and soon found herself outside, standing before the ancestral tree in which they all lived.

“Ulamara?!” Elamara screamed as a tinge of fear instilled itself inside her.
Looking around, the echoes of Anah’thela had pierced through the veil separating the worlds and was illuminating her surroundings in streams of soft white glows. Yet no matter where she turned, Ulamara was nowhere to be found.
“Answer me!” Again, her cries were drowned by the silence of the night.
“… Where did you go?!” She shouted as her eyes anxiously scoured the darkness beyond.

“Ela?” Someone else answered her from behind.

Startled, she quickly turned to see their father coming down the stairs. “P- Papa? W- what are you doing up?” Elamara hastily replied, trying her best to sound innocent.

“What am I doing up? Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” There was an inquisitive but knowing tone to his voice, “Why were you screaming, and where is your sister?”

“She uhm- Ula was…” Locking her arms together guiltily, “we… I- I don’t know.” She relented, unable to come up with a plausible excuse.
His eyes narrowed and she quickly looked away as he began to slowly approach her. Yet without stopping, her father walked past her.

“Ela… go wake the Shii.”

“Papa?”
Glancing back at her father, his focus was on something else. Elamara quickly turned to look in the same direction and her eyes widened.

Shining in the distant gloom, there was a dim light flickering on the outskirts of the village—beyond where the wards of protection for the village had been set.

“Go now!” Her father commanded and a fierce wind hastily rushed him in the direction of the light.

Trying to do as she was told, her body quickly braced itself as a familiar sensation swept through her.
“Ulamara, you…” Eyes agape, she voiced in disbelief as a wave of primordial mana surged into Trasevenesae.

Unlike the careful bindings they all used in the creation of passages to the human world, the fabric of space separating the three realms itself had been punctured.

 

 

“I… I did it…” Ulamara shuddered as the words escaped her mouth.
Though it had felt like all the strength within her body was gone, she could not help but tear up as she stared at the beautiful window shimmering before her.
Shining brightly with the light of Lovis, it had not been opened by her sister or someone else, but by her own thoughts and her own desires.

“I-“ The memories of all the times she had spent in pain while others freely employed their gifts flooded her and, “I did it!” She cried out as the will of Dinasthirea continued coursing within her core. Only this time, it was without the excruciating agony that accompanied it.
The birthright of her kind that she had given up on so long ago was no longer a dream, but reality and she knew just who to thank for it.

“I can do this… I will do this!” Fighting back more tears, she turned around and took a final look at the large luminous ancestral tree in the distance.

“Ulamara!?!”

Her father’s voice pierced through the darkness and the events of their return earlier that day instantly unfurled within her thoughts. Glowering at the memory, she turned back and leapt into the portal without hesitation.

 

***

 

A raw rush of power spilled into the mortal realm and Kaidus instantly closed his mind.
Stopping his outpouring of mana and severing the links to his spirits, with a thought, the shelter of earth around him divvied itself to reveal the moonlit night.
‘What is it?’ He wondered, cautiously looking in the direction of the anomaly that had disturbed his meditation.
In the distance and beyond the perimeters of the clearing, there was a glow flickering upon one of the trees. “Hm?”

His curiosity was quickly extinguished as a small presence suddenly burst into existence, emerging from the disturbance.
Panicked but also filled with a sense of exhilaration and surprise, it stood motionless for a brief moment then, “AIIEEEEE!” It shrieked, sending a soundwave into the trees and across the clearing.
Like it was searching for something, as soon as the high-pitched scream reached him, the presence quickly altered itself. Became one with the mana surrounding it, another brighter light burst into life.

Not taking his eyes away, Kaidus watched as the light soared through the air, moving quickly in his direction.
The corner of his mouth slowly crept upward into an amused smile as it got closer and not wanting to be rude, he extended his right arm forward to welcome the tiny guest.
 
Encased in a layer of elegant flowing mana and glowing beautifully in the moonlight, Ulamara clumsily and frantically crashed into the palm of his hand, forcing him to catch her momentum with his body.

“Y- you’re still here!!” She shouted with excitement, and he could feel her heart-like core beating swiftly.

“Of course. Where else would I be?” He replied, pulling her away from his chest only to see how winded she looked, “That was quite the landing. Was that your first time flying?”

“Y, yes!” The tiny spirit answered gleefully. “I, I didn’t think I could, but I had a feeling. And then it- it just happened!” Still glowing radiantly, a euphoric grin had emerged upon her childish face. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Why thank me? I didn’t do anything.” Carefully observing the tiny phrae, it did not appear to look like his assistance had altered her body in any way.

Ulamara shook her head, “Nnn. You did though,” Placing both hands upon the center of her chest above her core, “I can feel it. This warmth… this fire that no longer burns me from within… thank you.”

Seeing the joy on her face, “Is that so?” He could not help but smile.
As a phrae, she should have been capable of utilizing mana at will. Yet, whether it was due to the particularities of her peculiar gift or something else, her core had been damaged.
All he had done, was reinforce it with his own mana. 

“Hehe!” The young girl returned a laugh and then as if recalling something, her elated expression suddenly drooped, “Um… Honored one?” Her way of speaking had also reverted back to being formal.

“Ulamara?”

“I’m sorry…”

“What are you apologizing for?” He questioned and her tiny mouth quivered, “Does it have something to do with you being here right now?”
Quietly looking at her, before she could answer, his attention was abruptly twisted toward the direction of the portal that was still glowing in the distance.

From it, another presence had stepped through into the mortal plane of existence.
A true phrae spirit, one capable of great magic.
Within moments of their emergence, the thick mana that was circling the portal was quickly absorb by the new phrae and just like Ulamara, their presence quickly latched onto the air and began moving in his direction.

Staring at the cluster of raw power that was approaching, “Who is that?” He questioned as Ulamara rushed to hide behind his fingers.

“Our f- father… Osfurun En’Kalinsor, Guardian of the Eight Glyphic wards.” The young phrae replied, each word quieter than the last.

“Your father, huh?” He echoed in intrigue as blast of winds announced the guardian’s arrival.

Stopping to hover in the air before them, two pitch-black eyes immediately locked onto his own. Carefully and cautiously assessing him, they naturally fell upon what was in his hand.
“Release my daughter, human.’
A voice filled with tense hostility suddenly demanded, directly assaulting his thoughts.

Humanoid in form, the spirit’s body was glowing violently with an array of translucent light while the might of Lagus spiraled around him in threatening forks of intertwining coils. About twice as tall as the twins, the menacing spirit stood with dignity and grandeur in the air like he was a part of it. Upon the center of the phrae’s forehead, his telltale horn was also emanating with a raw destructive power even more dangerous than his overflowing mana core itself.

Judging purely on magic alone, the phrae’s strength was comparable to that of a master of the three academies. And wordlessly staring in awe, Kaidus could not help but imagine how the filths of the old world would have coveted such a fine specimen.

‘I will not repeat myself again.’
The voice echoed with bitter fury and mana quickly converged within the air. There was a sudden flash and three large bolts of lightning descended from the night sky, striking the grounds behind the phrae.

Mildly surprised by the show of strength, Kaidus glanced behind himself and gave a dismissive wave with his free hand. Within the darkness, the young serpent who had been awakened by the display lazily turned its silver eyes away and buried itself in its body once more.
“There appears to be a misunderstanding. I do not know what happened, but your daughter is not my prisoner.” He calmly answered the wary spirit before him and raised the hand with Ulamara upon it forward.

“Ulamara… so it was you.” Unlike the one in his head, what came out of the phrae’s mouth was a wispy yet solemn voice. “I don’t know how you did it, but come. Let us go home.”

In his hand, Ulamara quickly clung onto one of his fingers, “I won’t go back!” The young phrae sharply snapped in defiance.

“W- what is the meaning of this?”

A stern question came from the phrae and he could sense a tinge of confusion in its voice as Ulamara shook within his hand.
Feeling how tightly she was clinging onto him, “Ulamara.” Kaidus spoke, keeping his own curiosity steady, “Whatever it was that happened between you two, let it go. Your father has come all this way to bring you back. Go with-”

“I’m never going back!” She cried out and tears began stemming upon her eyes. “They- they didn’t believe me! *Sniff!* N… No one believed me! They even called you a… a devious and scheming human after everything I told them!” She began to wail, burying her face against his finger.

“That’s why you’re doing this?” Ulamara’s father questioned, “You are being unreasonable because your request to open the entangled troves for this… this human, was denied?”

“I told you already! He- He is-”

“Yes, yes, your ‘honored’ one. I’ve heard.” Voice filling with impatience, the phrae stared down at his daughter, “Can you not hear how silly you sound? Enough with these childish fantasies. You and your sister have been spending too much time with the splintered ancestors…”

Ignoring the phrae in the air, Kaidus turned his attention to the trees again as another presence flashed into existence.
As if she had also sensed it, the young phrae glanced up at him, her eyes begging him for help.
With a smile, he brought her up to his face.
“Ulamara En’Muryd, beloved daughter of Night, sacred child of Dinasthirea.” He spoke, and her eyes glistened at his words. “Though fleeting it may be, it was my greatest pleasure to have met you and your sister. To have been shown such compassion and consideration, I am eternally grateful.”
Without minding the individual that was quickly approaching or the one hovering before them, he closed his eyes and nodded to the young girl graciously.
“But this must be where we part. For right now, your emotions are not your own.”
Her vigorous demeanor buckled and she looked as if she was about to cry again.
“Know that you are loved here. Go back with your father and sister. Give it a few days and these feelings should settle. Stay. Surrounded by your loved ones, in time, I too will be nothing but a painless memory.”

“NO!” Ulamara tearfully exclaimed, “I don’t want that! I don’t want to forget you…”

“Enough!!” Her father finally interrupted, his powerful voice thundering throughout the clearing. “You are but a child. You know naught of what you want. Do not trouble the human any further and let us go back.”

“Ula!!!” Elamara’s frantic voice screeched through the darkness.

Surprisingly unshaken by her father’s fury or Ela’s proximity, Ulamara’s two tearful eyes continued staring up into his own, “Please don’t make me go. It’s too sad…” She whimpered, sniveling painfully in between words.

“Ula!”

Finally arriving, Elamara rushed past her father and just as she did earlier that day, landed gracefully on his palm.

“Ula you dummy! Why!?!” Elamara cried out, embracing Ulamara.

“E-Ela?”

“You dummy! Dummy! Big dummy! I said I would help you tomorrow! Why did you come alone?!”

“*Sniff* Ela!” Releasing her hold on his finger, the young phrae quickly latched onto her sister.

Having not moved at all, “Elamara… where are the others? Where is the Shii?” The twin’s father queried from where he stood within the air.

Looking up at her father, Elamara stood up in his hand and moved in front of her sister.
Much like what she had done earlier that day, the young phrae quickly stretched her hands out to shield Ulamara.

With a resolute expression upon her face, “No one is coming!” Elamara shouted loudly. “Everything that Ula said, everything that happened today was true! And if none of you will believe Ula about her visions, then I WILL!” The young girl snarled bravely at her father.

“Both of you…”
The twin’s father spoke calmly and they visibly flinched at his tone.
“Even though I am the Guardian, I have always overlooked your transgressions into the overworld… do you know why?”

Neither of the twins answered.

“It is because your actions are the results of youthful curiosity, and had never brought any problems to the clan.”
The layer of thick primal mana swirling around him instantly dissolved into mist, leaving his glowing body behind.

“No, papa! You must not!” Elamara shouted.

“But it seems I have allowed your willfulness too far…”
Ignoring his daughter, the phrae’s body began to darken and his glow slowly shifted and surge into the tips of his arms and legs.
“You are both old enough to know our rules.”
As if a part of the night, starting from his chest, the phrae began vanishing as the light within him spilled out into the darkness.
“If you will not come back quietly, then I have no other options than to bring you both back even if by force.”
Having fully dissolved completely with the night, “And for that, I shall begin with your ‘honored’ one.”

“No! PAPA!” Ulamara screamed.

Feeling the air around him becoming denser, “I suggest you stop before you get hurt. I would hate for these young ones to be without a father.” Kaidus calmly warned, staring blankly into the distance as their surroundings grew even darker.

“Empty words from a human?” An odd wind swirled around him. “You may have deceived my children, but do not think you can deceive me.”

“You can’t even see the gifts bestowed upon those closest to you.” He retorted as his eyes darted to track the invisible phrae’s movements. “In that, you have deceived yourself.”

‘Y-you can see me?’

A voice filled with astonishment entered his mind and, “As clear as day.” He replied, thrusting his left hand out before trouble could fully manifest itself.
Catching the air, he willed it and the illusion that had been carefully constructed shattered, revealing Ulamara and Elamara’s father in his hand.
Gasps came from the two young phrae and without looking at them, he insipidly tossed their father back into the air.

“Y-you… you are not of men!” Disheveled and barely able to keep himself afloat, “What manner of deceitful beast are you!? Reveal your true self!” The phrae commanded, shock and fear aplenty upon his composed mask.

“For one who carries of the blood of En’ to be resorting to violence… Vasalus would be disappointed.” He casually replied.

“You dare to speak the Great Mother’s name? Who are you?!”

“Papa please!” Ulamara frantically shouted from where she was kneeling on his hand.

Bending downward but not taking his eyes away from the phrae before him, he lowered the two young girls onto the ground. 

““Please don’t hurt him!”” And they both pleaded in unison.

“There is nothing to worry about.” With a reassuring smile, Kaidus turned back to the father of the twins. “You wish to know who I am?” Reaching out with this right hand, *SNAP!*.

 

***

 

“This… this is…” Osfurun, Guardian of the Eight Glyphic wards of Nieleth trembled.

He was right.
The monster before him was not human, for no human could possibly possess such authority over the elements. With only a snap of its fingers, the night had vanished, replaced by a prison of white light.

No longer an unassuming and powerless human, a being of pure radiance was standing before him. What used to be black hair was glowing even brighter than the light surrounding them, and from the creature’s pale body, came an endless flow of mana.

He shuddered, and the image of a cocoon resting upon the very plains in which he was standing came to mind.
Oozing with terrible and incomprehensible power, even the elders of the clan had warned one such as himself to stay away.
He had thought nothing of it for such were the problems of the outside world, but now it was no longer avoidable.
“The Destroyer…” The words escaped him as his lips shook unsteadily.

“I am Rhultal Vox Treval AnDargus, last of the An’Daralites and heir to the Silver Plains of Andarg.”

The air upon which he was standing began vibrating as the creature named itself and like the night that had disappeared, all the mana within his body evaporated.

B3 Chapter 10 – Rings of Silver

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.”

“Then-”

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.

 

***

 

-Western Malpaars-

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.

“I-Inareh?”
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.”

“Lady Onarald…”
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.

 

***

 

-Southern Malpaars-

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.”

“What for?”

“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.

“Great.”
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.

“What?”

“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.

“I’m sorry.”

“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.

“Them too.”

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.”

“You promise?”

“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.

“Haa…”
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.

“Sylvie! Sylvie!”

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.

“Sylvia?”

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.”

B3 Chapter 9 – Twins

A tiny voice.
Weakened and filled with torment, it pierced through the sea of mana surrounding him.
Wrapped in sorrow and grief, the words lodged themselves into the depths of his mind. 

Instantly halting himself, Kaidus turned his gaze from where the small cat had vanished and looked toward the tree lines.
From where the voice originated, he could feel two distinct sources of mana dissolving within his own. Simple but defined and exceedingly dense, they were something he had not felt since the days of yore.
With a thought, he swiftly ceased the outpouring of power.

Reeling in all that he had exerted, he focused his mind and the visuals of the forest came flooding into his head alongside the images of two terrified and small individuals.

“You are…” Phraes. The word spoke itself within the confines of his mind as his lips curved upward into an astonished smile.

He had thought them to all be hidden away from the world after everything that transpired, but it seems that was not the case.
To catch them in in Malpaars, formerly Malpos and the heart of Phraen research, it was a testament to the times and how much the world has changed.

With haste, he rushed toward the trees to where the two weakened presences could be felt.

Upon a low hanging branch on one of the blossoming trees, he easily spotted the figures of two tiny humanoids barely the size of his fingers.

Their bodies wrapped in thin veils of mana and skin tones of fire like the setting sun, their outward appearances were that of children, possibly young adolescents. Protruding from the center of their foreheads, were small singular horns the same color as their dark green hair. Their eyes on the other hand, were pitch black like the void itself.
Lying atop one another, both were breathing heavily with one appearing to be in a state of unconscious shock. The other while still conscious, was painfully gasping for air.

His own eyes widened, seeing that not only were they young females, they were also twins, something that the Phraes of old had always celebrated and had greatly considered an omen of fortune.
Raising his hand toward them in curious excitement, the one that was still awake visibly recoiled at his actions and anxiously clutched onto the other protectively.

You’re killing my SISTER!’
The small voice reasserted itself within his thoughts and he quickly stilled his hands. Such desperation had been directed at him from such a small being.
“What are the two of you doing out here?” He questioned, immensely curious about their presence but not moving any closer.

The young Phrae did not answer. Instead, she continued to shake while holding onto her unconscious sister.

“Can you not find your way back to Trasevenesae?” He added, recalling the folded world hidden in between the shades of Lovis and Lagus.

At his question, the young Phrae’s eyes seemingly rose up to look at him in shocked surprise as her lips began quivering in fear.

“Hmm…” Seeing her discomfort and the state of her sister, he reached forth with his hand again, this time not hesitating even as the young phrae recoiled further.
With two of his fingers touching both of them, he willed it, and his own mana rushed into the two.

 

***

 

A warmth like she had never felt before was sourcing itself throughout her body.
Fierce but filled with a gentleness, it seared her insides, solidifying itself as a part of her while settling into the deepest crevices of her core.  

Opening her mind to the unknown sensation, from it, she could almost feel the stability of Dinasthirea, the Tree of Wonder itself. And like thick roots taking hold, it was strengthening her from within, reforging her mind and body alike.

Yet as she continued taking in the unknown warmth, so too did it take her into itself as fragments of its being began revealing themselves to her.

Bits and pieces of a time lost to the ages.
Visions of a life buried in sadness and regret.
Of undying hatred and love so profound that she could not help but take them in as her own.
Warped and twisted in emptiness but unbreaking, she saw the tumultuous warpath of the unknown being. She held onto the burdens they carried while hiding it behind laughter and immeasurable pride. She felt the loneliness that they felt, and while they stowed it away secretively, she could feel that it was never far from the surface.

Fear and sacrifices abundant, the memories were always moving toward a singular purpose. Even as the world itself turned against them, the individual continued striving forth, all up until their unfortunate end.
Then the nightmares.
Countless deaths filled with nothing but suffering in its wake. Always reforming, but never allowed the gift of being whole.

Drunk in its dreaded embrace, as the rush of life suddenly pulled away from her, she could feel the tears within herself gushing forth.

“What did you do?! What did you do to my sister?!”

Elamara’s frantic voice rang in her ears as the warmth receded, leaving an empty void in the depths of her core.

“You’re hurting her! You’re killing her! Give her back!”
Ela’s voice continued loudly, almost energetic even though her tone was distant and overwhelmed by fear. 

Feeling her own senses returning, “E-Ela?” She slowly opened her eyes as her sister continued raving, already forgotten about the discomfort in her body.
“Ela?!” She screamed, seeing that the branch upon which they were standing was no more. Instead, she was lying atop a large opened palm and her sister was nowhere to be seen.
What loomed before her as she sat up, was a face very different from the one she had glimpsed in her vision. Young but angular without the blemishes of age, instead of silver, it had two dark piercing eyes and a head of deep black hair.
It stared at her and though still in shock, she froze as their eyes met. In that instant, she knew the two to be one and the same.

“Feeling better?” It spoke with a gentle smile, voice soft and careful so as not to frighten her.

Ba-bump
Her chest throbbed as the insufferable anguish and pain she had just felt rushed outward.
Ba-bump
She clutched onto her chest as she wordlessly stared at the face before her.
The willpower it must have taken for one to be able to keep such fragmented agony together, it was something she could never dream herself to be capable of.
“Sniff! Ugnn- Ghh- uwaaaaaaa!”
For the person before her to be smiling, she could not help but break down and cry for his sake.

“Ula!”

Elamara’s voice shouted from behind but still in tears, she dared not turn to look back.
Instead, she heard as Elamara jumped from behind and could feel the winds changing as Ela rode the gust toward her. With a panicked landing, her sister rushed to her side.

“Ula are you okay?!” 

In tears, she could only nod and take hold of her sister’s embrace.

“How do you feel?” The face before them questioned again, his words dancing around them like playful wisps.

“What do you want?!” Before she could muster up the strength to answer, Elamara had already gotten in front of her. “You better let us go!”
With both arms out and in a protective display, she could see that Ela was attempting to shield her from the being before them.

*Sniff*. Drawing in the feelings within her chest, she reached out and took hold of her sister’s arm, dragging it back toward her. “E-Ela, s-stop it.”

“Stop? What do you-”

With a look of confusion on Elamara’s face, she quickly pulled Ela behind her and without rising from where she knelt, she carefully wiped away the tears upon her face. Correcting her kneeling posture, with both hands to her forehead, she lowered herself in a deep bow.
“A-as a descendant of Vasalus En’Nilthra, Mother of the Veiled Ones, *Sniff* I- I thank you for everything you have done.” She wept as the words escaped her mouth, unable to withstand the emotions that had been flowing within her kin for hundreds of generations.

“Ula?” Audibly confused, “Why are you invoking the revered ancestors?” Elamara questioned from beside her.

“He… *sniff* Ela, he is- Uguuu…” Incapable of forming further words, she could do naught but cry.

“I see…” The voice resounded with a soft-spoken surprise, “No wonder something felt off about you… to have inherited some of her abilities, how precious.” Instead of the concerned voice from earlier, the words now were regal in all their senses. Proud and incredibly noble, they drew her in and revealed to her a knowledge that she could only imagine.

Still bowing, she cupped her face with her hands and wept.

It was him.
The uncrowned king who had forged and opened the path to Trasevenesae itself, allowing them a place to exist in between worlds.
It was he who had aided their kin in their darkest of times, helping them when they were being hunted by mages for the sake of augmenting their own powers.
It was also him, whom they had abandoned in his time of need.

“I’m so sorry… *sniff* Please… forgive us…” She pleaded, not lifting her head as the shame of her ancestors flooded her through the fleeting knowledge.

“I…” The voice paused as if at a loss for words. “I am glad to see that our efforts had not been in vain.”

Instead of admonishing her for what they have done, his words gripped at her core and filled it with forgiveness.

Though ignorant as she was, after witnessing such memories, there was no going back.
The lies of the past. A debt that could never be repaid. A freedom given by one who is now unspoken of, and has been annulled from the very voice of their kind.
Had she not seen it and lived it herself, it would have been impossible to believe.

“Please do not cry.” The voice ushered, each word suffusing through her like intoxicating mist. “Such events are in the past. There is no need for you to trouble yourself over matters that have expired.”

“B- but…”

“It was the right choice. I destroyed the passage, knowing that they would not return. And your ancestors, knowing the perils awaiting them, did not look back.”

Hearing those words, she looked up at the deity before them. Her chest swelled and without so much as a word, she could not help but weep.

 

***

 

Fate.
It was something to be wary of.
Whether it be fleeting or permanent, the strings of fate connected people and spirits in various forms, even through time and space. And once said connections have been established, there was no escaping it whether it be for the better, or for the worse.

Like the hands on a timekeeper, no matter what, the hands would eventually align… Fate was one as such.
Existing outside the realm of control, it had always moved in unpredictable and erratic ways while at the same time, converging upon itself as if to correct order within the ever-flowing sways of the world.

And now, before him was one such example.
A young phrae. Not just anyone, but a carrier of the ancient En’ bloodline and capable of usurping its gift of resonance.

In her eyes, there was no secrets.
Before her mind, the nature of his true self can only be laid bare.
To her gift, he was but a terrified child afraid of loss and the darkness that continues to nip at his heels.

Looking at her, though she should be afraid of him, of what he has done, of what he is, the sorrow and pain emanating from her could only be described as pitiful. Not for herself or her kind after seeing what his memories had shown her, but for him.

“It is alright, young one. That is enough. As you can see for yourself, I am still here. Though in a different form and in a different time, I have been able to survive… even if not in the standard sense of the word itself.” He coaxed, gently removing all that he had infused into her, leaving only the grace of his protection behind.

“H- how can that be?” She tearfully spoke out against his words. “How can anyone be alright after all that!?” She cried out, her face a lovely mess of care and anger.

Kaidus smiled.
Looking at her state, she had undoubtedly taken quite the mental blow.
The lifetime of experiences that he had accumulated was felt by her in an instant, and it is a wonder that she could still function.
Her heightened emotions, the pain she was in, even her guilt. None of them were even hers, but she still wept for him.

“Thank you.” He replied, unwilling to reject her kindness. “Now wipe your tears. For such a fateful meeting, we should be celebrating and not grieving. Don’t you think?” He added and from within the palm of his hand, the young phrae slowly and reluctantly nodded.

“Okay! What is going on?!” The other twin finally interrupted, having found a lull in their conversation. “What is he, and why are you crying like that?! Is he not the Destroyer?!”

“Destroyer?” He echoed back in confusion and the young phrae looked up at him. Her eyes were still swollen due to the influx of emotions, but an innocent smile had made its way onto her lips.

“He- he is not. He is-“

“Ah. Where are my manners?” He quickly interrupted before the young phrae could finish. “You can call me Kaidus. I am, but a wandering mage.” He added with a smile.

Catching his intentions, the young phrae–though visibly disappointed, closed her eyes and bowed her head respectfully.

“He is what, Ula? What were you going to say?” The twin sister questioned, face skeptical but even more inquisitive than before.

“He is not the Destroyer.” A tone of assertion came from the young phrae along with a willful smile up at him.

“And you two are?” Kaidus finally questioned, returning a thankful nod of his own.

In his hand, the young phrae quickly pulled her sister to stand by her side. With her tiny hand to her chest, “I am Ulamara En’Muryd and this is my sister Elamara En’Muryd. We are the daughters of Kelinthia En’Galite and Osfurun En’Kalinsor.” She then bowed deeply. “We greet the honored one.”

“Ula?” The young phrae named Elamara spoke in confusion from beside her sister.

Looking upward, “What are you doing? You too!” Ulamara hurriedly grabbed hold of her sister’s arm and pulled her downward.

“Haha.” He chuckled at the display. “There is no need for such formalities. Just call me Kaidus. I am Kaidus Paltos, son of Troyle Paltos and Adalina Drallfus.”

“H-how can we dare do such a thing?” Ulamara exclaimed upon his words, her face red and abashed. “You are the honored one and should be addressed as such.”

“Huh? Honored one?” Abundantly confused now, Elamara spoke up from beside her sister, “He is?”

Kaidus chuckled again, seeing the young phrae pointing her tiny fingers at him. “No, I am-”

“Yes you are!” Ulamara exclaimed in contention to his denial.

Looking at her again, it was painfully evident that while she had consented to keeping his secret, she could not allow herself to further deny him of such a status. “Ulamara…”

“Please… please don’t tell me otherwise.” She begged, her black eyes sparkling like the deepest nights.

“Haa… very well,” He concede, seeing the unyielding look on her face, “but only between us.”

“Yes!”

With a startled exclamation of victory, the young phrae gave another series of thankful bows and he could do naught by look on with a defeated smile. 
Her sister Elamara on the other hand, was staring up at him, face even more confused than before.

“With that over with, I must apologize to you both.” Closing his eyes and lowering his head, “forgive me for putting you both through such terrifying ordeals.” He entreated, carefully moving them back to the tree branch from where he had found them.

“Are… are you leaving?” Ulamara questioned from within his palm. Not stepping off onto the branch, her voice was shaking with a shy hesitation.

“I must.” He answered, giving her another smile. “There are probably people wondering about what has happened to me and if I don’t alleviate their worries, who knows the kind of troubles they’ll stir in my absence.”

“But-“

“And I’d wager that there are those looking for you both as well.” Seeing as she timidly continued to stand atop his hand without moving, “Not to mention… I am not in the best state of dress either. All my belongings seem to have evaporated, so I must find a way to make myself presentable with haste.” He added jovially, having not forgotten about his less than decorous appearance.

“Ah!”
Neither shy nor embarrassed about seeing his nakedness, Ulamara quickly turned to her sister. “Ela, do you think the Shii would allow us some items from the entangled troves?”

Already on the tree branch and looking quite speechless, Elamara shrugged at the question.

Carefully climbing down his palm onto the branch, “Can you open the gate? I will go ask the Shii.” Ulamara spoke excitedly as if having thought up of something.

“Thank you, but there is no need for such. You two go on now.” He interjected, grateful for her consideration as he pulled back his hand.

“No!!” Ulamara cried out.

Without so much as a thought for her own safety, the young phrae suddenly rushed forward and flung herself from the branch toward him.

“Ulamara?!”

The twin sister Elamara screamed in panic and he swiftly reached forth again, catching the young phrae in his hand once more. “Y-you!” He exclaimed, shocked at her thoughtless actions. Yet instead of apologizing or explaining herself, Ulamara quickly wrapped her tiny arms around one of his fingers.

“Please wait! Please…” She entreated, her small voice breaking as tears began stemming upon her eyes.

Hearing the sincerity in her voice and having seen the selfless actions, “Ugh… I get it.” He conceded once more. Lifting her back to the branch, “I will wait here until the morrow. Will that be enough?”

The young phrae’s black eyes lit up as she nodded back in embarrassment.

With Ulamara back on the branch, he watched as Elamara plucked a leaf from within reach and waved it before them.
He felt as the thin veil separating the mortal plane and Lagus revealed itself before peeling away to unveil the hidden realm of Trasevenesae, the realm of the Phraes.

Holding onto her sister’s hand, with a final glance back at him, Ulamara stepped into the portal.

Having waited until the portal disappeared, he slowly made his way back to the clearing, back to where the aggressive little feline had vanished.

“Hm?” A bout of intrigue escaped him upon his arrival.
In his haste to the young phraes earlier, he had failed to notice but something had been left behind.

Cuddled in the grass was a small seed the size of his thumb.
Metallic in appearance, it was no longer the blood-red color of rust like before, but a dull green reminiscent of the feline he had fought. The horns were still there. Except now instead of three, there was a circle of them, almost like a crown. Further below the crown of horns, was something that could only be construed as a tail wrapped around the seed itself. Strangely, he could neither feel his own mana nor sense anything from it anymore.
For it to have survived through his outburst alongside the Nyzacus shards, it was definitely something extraordinary.

Picking the seed up from where it laid, he made his way back to center of the clearing to where he had seen the mirror shards.

B3 Chapter 8 – Stories

Destroyers.
An ancient label given to those of great power by their kind.
Unrivaled beings who held life and death within the palm of their hands, supported by
iron wills capable of shaping the world itself.

As a phraene, she had only ever heard from the preserved ones of a different time.
Of a different world in which men and their kind coexisted, living side by side, feeding upon the ambrosia of the world together.
A paradise, that came to an abrupt end upon the emergence of those whom they would later call Destroyers.
Stories of men and women, fallen due to their greed and insatiable lust in the pursuit of power.
Beings, who consumed and destroyed everything in their paths, ultimately forcing the division of worlds.

And though it was now a different world and they could not be certain if the being that was waking is one as such, like a fallen star, it had descended upon their lands and taken a piece of their forest with it. Even now, its terrible power could still be felt emanating from its cocoon of light. Unfathomable and limitless, it was a power that even the old ones had never felt before.

“Elamara, I don’t feel good. We should go.”
Her sister whimpered from beside her, voice terrified and tearful.

“Wait.” She replied, watching as the cocoon shimmered and resonated with the powerful pressure now erupting from within.

“The Shii warned us. We’re going to be in trouble if he finds out.” Another terrified whisper, loud enough for her to hear but soft enough that she could almost tangibly feel the fear within.

“Can you be quiet, Ulamara? Something is definitely happening.” She replied, eyes locked onto the gorgeous light that continued to pulse from the cocoon.

For nine suns she had come to watch the object against the cautions of their Shii. And now, something was finally happening. She was not about to miss it.

“Ela, I’m scared!”

Turning to her sister, “If you’re scared then go. Even if they are a Destroyer, it’s not like they can see me.”  

“But Ela…”

Seeing the look of worry on her twin sister’s face, “I’m fine. Look. I’m not scared.” Putting her hands to her waist, she puffed her chest out bravely. “See? Not even scared. And we’ve already warned everyone who came here, so no one’s going to get hurt.”

“I’m scared, Ela… and my chest… it- it’s starting again.”

“NNnn!!! You’re so annoying, Ula! Why did you even come?!” She exclaimed, seeing the sour look of creeping discomfort upon her sister’s expression.

“Please Ela…”

Deathly curious but not willing to endanger her own sister, “Fine!” Taking Ulamara’s hand, she reached down and plucked a leaf from the small branch upon which they were standing.
Fanning it once in the air, the space before them distorted as a translucent breeze began circulating in its place.
Fanning it a second time, the breeze halted and a small portal slowly manifested before them as the leaf disintegrated into ashes.
“Let’s go then. You first.”
Stepping aside to allow her sister into the portal, she turned to take one last look at the cocoon.

It was shining even brighter than before.

“Uhg! Ela! My- my chest!”

The sensation of her sister’s hand suddenly collapsing to the ground forced her to quickly turned back around.
Her eyes widened upon spotting Ulamara writhing before her, hands clutched to her chest.
“Ula? Ula!!”
She cried out in panic, seeing the agony upon her sister’s face.

“E-Ela! It- It hurts!”
Ulamara cried back, barely able to voice her pain.

“H-hurry! Get in the- no…” Looking up from where her sister was laying, the portal she had created was also disappearing before them. “Help!!” She screamed out, hoping that those beyond would hear her.
“Someone help!!” And like a whisper, her voice held itself to the daunting silence of the forest as a tidal wave of mana crashed through them both.

“AHHHH!!”

Ulamara’s agonizing scream drowned out her thoughts and she instinctively turned her terrified eyes toward the origin of the overpowering surge.
Holding her sister in her arms, she could feel her own lips quivering in indescribable fear as she watched the cocoon crack, shattering into millions of beautiful pieces.

 

***

 

The warmth that had invaded the void of his subconscious flared like a turbulent storm around him. Hot but not burning, it continued to weave through his limbs and hair like a nostalgic flame, caressing his body carefully and protectively.

Opening his eyes, in contrast to the dark and empty void of the nightmare, the illusion of an empty world encased in pure white radiance settled upon him.
“Haaa…” Taking a deep and liberating breath, by his will, mana surged forth into all corners of his very being, strengthening his body.

“Master.” A disjointed yet familiar voice, it caused the white world around him to pulse and undulate as if filled with indefinable exhilaration and reverence.

Carefully stretching himself in the air so as not to miss the most minor of injuries that might have occurred during his slumber, he mindfully extended his legs downward and commanded his body to the ground.
“Vishan.” Speaking the spirit’s name, the world of light that had been surrounding him splintered into millions of particles and then converged into a fist sized orb of pure white before him. “Thank you.” He voiced as he took in their surroundings.

Far from the dark and rotting forests that he had descended upon that evening, a verdant garden had sprouted up around them.
Thick patches of grass that was as tall as his waist littered the clearing alongside colorful flowers that bloomed in all assortments of shapes and sizes. Even small saplings and bushes that had no place in such a garden existed within the chaos, giving the clearing a disorderly feel.

Looking down at himself, his clothes had disappeared alongside his rucksack and everything within it. All the money he had been carrying, his xeberite sword, his utensils, the meticulously drawn map that he had been using thus far, even the communication rings that he had created. The only objects that he could still feel around him, were the three shards of the Nyzacus mirrors that he had been carrying around.

“There Is No Greater Purpose.” The orb pulsed, its voice vibrating visibly through the air in colorful refractions.

Taking his eyes away from their surroundings and his mind from the fact that all his belongings had vanished along with his sword, “How long?” He questioned, reeling in his senses and memories as recollections of the pain that evening slowly returned, reminding him of the outburst of uncontrollable power that he had unleashed upon his vicinity at the time.

“Nine Days and ten nights.” A succinct answer from the spirit as if it had been expecting such an inquiry.

Blatantly ignoring the emergence of a small curious creature that had begun prowling cautiously around them both, his eyes quietly leveled upon the luxuriant clearing of lush vegetation once again. “Nine…” He echoed as a bout of anger slowly crept upon his mind and mana continued to revitalized his body.

The torrent of power that day as Hasen pulled the ethereal darkness of Lagus into the lavender plane of existence, compounded by Feziel’s subsequent unsealing and fortification of the city in order to withstand Hasen’s might. In unison with a darker and more sinister element that had been biding its time within his very memories, the mental ambush had shattered the thin veneer of control upon his unsuspecting mind.

He clenched his fists, recalling just how close he had come to being consumed by the ghosts of his past once again.  
“Forgive Us, Master.”

Taken aback at the apology, “There is nothing to apologize for.” Kaidus replied, bringing up his fists. “It was my own weakness that forced us into this situation.”
Releasing the pointless anger, he closed his eyes and refocused his mind.
Like looking through a window, the incorporeal realm of Lagus manifested before his mind’s eyes.

Though an infinite plane of existence comparable to that of the stars in the sky, at a mere thought, the presence of his three wayward spirits immediately surged before him.
Taking a deep breath, their essences burst through the re-establish link that had been severed by the nightmare and coursed into his body, revitalizing it even more as his will continued forth upon them.
With a quick verification of their positions, without so much as another thought, he released the connection once again.

As if it had been waiting for a chance to strike, “GUaaarrRR! RaaAUR!” The sound of a condescending growl, followed by a sudden burst of familiar mana whipped forth at him from behind.

“Mas-”

Without waiting for Vishan’s interference, he swiftly blocked the attack with a mana barrier and turned around to greet his aggressor. “You’ve been waiting quite patiently… what are you?” He questioned, flinging the thick vine that had been coming at him back at the creature.

“GAuu?!” The small feline snapped in surprise before quickly leaping a considerable distance away.
With its posture firmly on all four, it suddenly lifted its head and arched its back. “GRRRAAUURR!” And roared, sending a powerful shockwave outward.
The coat of fine emerald green fur upon it glistened mesmerizingly as the shock washed through its body and then began glowing.

The grounds whereupon it stood suddenly burst into life with thousands of roots.
Pushing the small creature upward like a sovereign by its subjects, the roots began merging around the feline, eventually extending outward into long gaping arms of intertwining roots and vines. Coiling together and strengthening itself, large gargantuan fists dragged themselves out of the ground and the mass slowly uprooted itself as makeshift legs emerged with thick trunk-like vines.
Before long, an enormous root golem stood towering before him with the small feline at its core.

“Insolent.” The light crackled irately at the beast and quickly moved in between them.

But, “Vishan.” At his word, the light spirit halted itself and immediately dissipated. Unfazed by the abomination before him, Kaidus stepped forth.
Though he had been uncertain before, he could now feel his own mana surging within the small beast. Looking at it, it was neither angry nor bloodthirsty, but anxious. “You wish to test me with my own strength?” He voiced and extended his right arm forward. “Come.”

“RRUUUAAA!!”
The emerald green feline hollered from within and in contrast to its size, the golem instantly rushed forth. On all four like an animal with its gigantic arms clawing at the earth to propel itself forward, it shot at him like a moving boulder.

Moving his extended hand into a claw stance, he pointed all five fingers at the colossus. “Pierce.”
At his command, five rays of pure white lights tore into the golem, shattering and splitting apart the mass of moving roots as he twist his hand in midair.

“GRaaar!?!” As if crying out at the suddenly destruction of its extended self, the cat quickly abandoned its decaying husk and lurched into the air. Spinning forward like a vortex, thin vine-like tails emerged from its back and shot outward like razor whips.

Sucking in a deep breath, he immediately strengthened his arm with mana and changed his claw stance into a palm stance.
Easily evading the unrelenting ends of the cat’s tails as they spun down for his head, he instantly pressed his right foot forward and braced himself as his infused palm shot out at the beast before it could hit the ground.

Catching it by its side in the air, his thrust forcefully dug into the creature and sent it careening back against the foliage, leaving a small trail of uprooted and displaced plants in its wake.

“Now tell me… what did I do to incur this ire?” The words weaved themselves through the air as he calmly made his way toward the beast, bypassing a circle of dead vines that was already there by the time he woke up.

Beaten and while looking quite frightened, instead of submitting, “Grrr… GArrrr!” The small beast growled again and placed an unstable front paw forward as if to stand it’s ground.

A playful guardian flashed before his eyes, its menacing but proud posture all too similar to what he had just seen.
“I do not remember granting one such as yourself the privilege of my essence nor can I recall ever seeing you before, but… you do remind me of something… of someone else.”

“Grrrrr… Raaur!!” Another roar.

Though weaker than before, the shock rippled through the ground and ruptured the growth around the small beast, summoning another wave of roots and vines upward. This time instead of unifying into a golem, they rushed to the creature’s aid and began twisting protectively into a barrier of wooden spikes before it.

“You still wish to continue?” Slowing his steps to a halt, he stared at the recoiling beast.
It was undoubtedly as powerful as Zeeke, Zorin’s overseer, but there was something else about the creature before him. A presence of regality, a sense of comprehensive will and intuitiveness that easily overshadows the free spirited guardian.

A piece of the wooden barrier suddenly erupted, shooting forth its spike at him and barely missing his right cheek by a finger’s width.

“Hmm… Very well. Then I shall not stand on ceremony.”
Closing his eyes, he willed it, and power began rushing through every fiber of his being as the ground trembled beneath his feet.

 

***

 

Ulamara had always been extremely sensitive ever since she could remember. To their kind, mana was life itself, but to her sister, it was like poison. And the thicker the concentration, the stronger of an effect it had. Seeing her sister now and sensing it herself, she could no longer deny the being before them after witnessing its transformation.

With hair of silver glowing even more brilliantly than Anah’thela, the Phrae goddess of night herself and a gaze that could tear the world asunder, the entity before them could only be a Destroyer made flesh. From its body, power oozed forth like an untapped wellspring, rippling through the forest in waves of bright shadows and illuminating all it touched.

Even though they were already on the edge of the clearing, every breath that she could take suffocated her. Every strand of light she gleamed as they pass, blinded her. And every instinct within her body screamed at her, reaffirming that the stories from the preserved ones had not merely been tales, but warnings. Even now, without ever knowing or having felt it, the power that was completely overwhelming her could only be described as ancient… even primal.
Before her very eyes, was a being who commanded both life and death as easily as others breathed.

“I’m so sorry, Ula.” She sniffled, her words existing only in silence as she looked down upon her sister.
Face contorted in fear and pain, Ulamara had thankfully gone unconscious due to the excruciating burden upon her body even before the Destroyer took on his true form. And now she too, could feel the pain of her chest being ripped out. “I just wanted to prove to the others that I can be brave. I didn’t know this was going to happen.” She cried, feeling her strength being sucked out from her body.

In the distance, the Hirces of nature was now cowering before the Destroyer’s new appearance. As the Destroyer approached, the feline’s emerald green fur began radiating with a bright light and then without so much as a growl of resistance, the nature spirit’s presence completely vanished.

What did not stop however, was the crushing power that continued to exude from the Destroyer.

“Stop. Please.” She begged, witnessing the color upon her sister’s face draining as Ulamara’s essences continued to vanish.
“Please…” She pled as her own essences coiled and merged into the ever flowing will that continued to dominate all it touches.
“PLEASE! You’re killing my SISTER!!!” She screamed as the unbearable pain in her chest burst forth.

B3 Chapter 7 – Voices II

‘Have you already forgotten, Son of ***?’
A warm and serene voice, it whispered from within the dark recesses of his mind. Unknown and incorporeal yet terrifyingly familiar, “Remember why you who sought me out.’ The voice continued, caressing his whole body and forcing his senses into wakefulness.

Opening his eyes, his blurred vision slowly settled upon a vast expanse of nothingness.
Like a fog filled dream, the impenetrable darkness extended endlessly before him with no light or color existing within the impossible realm. As he focused his gaze, his uncertain eyes slowly and eventually fell upon a pale childish body materializing within the emptiness of the void.

He shuddered, realizing the body to be his own as a familiar fear began crawling upon his mind. Without thinking, “Wh-where am I!?” He cried out in panic, vaguely recalling such a desolate and suffocating realm.

Yet there was only silence as the question continued to resound within the depths of his mind.

‘Remember your Oath.’
The unknown voice entered his thoughts again and the darkness surrounding his floating body suddenly came alive. Emerging out of the void in globs of black viscous liquid, they poured themselves onto his motionless husk.
An overwhelming feeling of dread coursed through his senses as he watched what was happening and, “No…” He begged, willing the body before him to struggle, to fight back, to scream and claw itself out of the darkness that was consuming it. “Somebody! Help me!” He shouted again but before his eyes, his detached body remained frozen.

Terrified and confused, “HELP! Someone! Pleas- Hwak?!” His words silenced themselves and in the blink of an eye, he was no longer a simple observer but trapped within the body and staring up into an infinite abyss.

‘You are Beholden.’
The voice continued around him like a virulent haze, emerging from the abyss and entering him through skin and flesh.

“W-who are you?!” He shouted back in his mind and the dark realm warped, becoming an ocean of night beneath his feet while a blood red sky loomed overhead.
“What is this? Where am I?!” The terrified words surged out of his frozen mouth but just like before, no sound came out.

‘You WILL find me.’
Upon the voice’s declaration, his body was instantly pulled into the sea of darkness.

“MMM!!!” He screamed, holding his breath in tow as the endless abyss swallowed him whole.

‘I WILL be-…’

“No! NO!” He cried out in fear as strength returned to him and he willed his body to struggle, to fight for his freedom, “NO! N- ahK!” Something or someone had thrown him against a solid surface.
A sharp pain unexpectedly erupted along his sides, instantly forcing him awake as a foot drove itself into his stomach and expelled the winds out of his lungs.
Visions of the dream had already vanished and no longer was he sinking into a sea of blackened blood, but coughing and squirming on the grounds of a dimly lit hallway.

“You awake now milord?”
A man’s irate voice snickered dryly from above him.
Still gasping for air and confused, all he could do was hold his sides in an attempt to fight back the sharp piercing aches.
“Looked like you were having a nightmare again.”
The man added while he continued writhing on the ground.

“Did you really have to kick him twice?” Another voice. Guttural and heavy, the second man questioned unapologetically from beside the first as if sick and tired of what was going on.

“The little shit kicked me. If you think it’s unwarranted, why don’t you fucking carry him?”

Their voices rang pointlessly in his ears and he painfully edged his eyes upward, barely making out the silhouettes of two large men.

“Whatever. Let’s hurry this up.”
Returning a dismissive reply, the second man reached down and grabbed him, easily throwing him over their shoulder before proceeding to carry his aching body down a dimly lit hall.

With each step, surges of pain assaulted him as the truth of his dire situation slowly returned.

It was not long before they entered into a large dimly lit chamber with dozens of small square cells separated by thick metal bars.

“Look! AHHAHAHA!! The boy is still awake! You lot owe me half of your dinners!” A man’s excited voice exclaimed joyfully upon their entry.
“I did not agree to that bet!” Another retorted from across the room.
“Guards! When are my family coming to get me out?! Guards??”
“The brat just had to be conscious today of all days, huh? Just my luck.”
Two more voices added, following the echoes of the others.

Not paying any attention to the prisoners, the two guards carried him over to a small cell in a corner of the room and threw him inside, aggravating the pain in his body even more.

“Same time tomorrow, boy.” One of the guards stated before locking the cell door.

“Hugk! GU-…!” Clutching his aching chest, he instinctively clenched his teeth and kept his head down in order to not give them any further reasons to stick around and torment him.

“Food!! Guards, give us FOOD!”
“Boss! Please! I need something to alleviate my boredom!”
“That bastard Patrig attacked me first! I’m innocent here!”
“Shut up! Shut UP! SHUT UP!!”

The usual pleas and shouts continued loudly around him as the guards made a final check around the room and as usual, he too, continued to cower silently on the floor of his own cell while waiting for the guards to leave.

“Hgg… nnnhnn!”
Wrapping his swollen arms around his equally bruised legs, he painfully curled himself into a ball on the floor and lowered his head into his arms. *Sniff* The true nightmare of reality had returned to him and he painfully drew back his tears in an attempt to strengthen himself.

Though the memories of what transpired that day when he lost everything was still fresh on his mind, the world had neither stopped nor waited for him to grieve.

“*Sniff* Ugnnn-!” He quickly gritted his teeth, biting back the tears and pain that was shooting throughout his body.

He could neither recall nor did he know what took place after clutching onto his chest that horrible day, but thirty-four days have passed since he first awoke to being a traitorous prisoner.
Thirty-four days, since his old life of woeful ignorance died and this new life began.

‘Mother… Father…’
Lowering his head further into his knees, he drew his legs tighter around himself as his tears trickled out.

As the only survivor that day, he had been subjected to relentless days of interrogation for answers that he did not have. Answers, pertaining to the whereabouts of the mages who had vanished while massacring his household, along with everyone who had been inside the manor at the time.
That haze of memory had left him even before he woke, and no matter what, he could not explain how he came out alive.
Yet, being the sole survivor of the AnDargus house, he apparently still had his uses. The last of a fallen and traitorous house, made to stand witness as countless others who allegedly aligned themselves with his father are slaughtered and hanged, all in the name of their traitorous house and to take responsibility for it.

Even now with his eyes open, he could still see the hundreds of bodies swinging joyously together upon crooked gallows as if conversing and playing with one another. Once friends of the family and kind folks who had praised the generosity of his kin, their rotting corpses now beckon him closer as their hollowed eyes continue to observe and condemn his very existence.

‘Enough! PLEASE!’ He begged inwardly, wishing for the apparitions to disappear and leave him alone but as usual, they refused and continued swinging within the depths of his thoughts. “I’m sorry!” He cried out as more pain rushed through his throbbing body, forcing him to burst into tears once more. “It wasn’t me! It really wasn’t me…”

“Hey! Guards! The boy is at it again!” A deep croaky voice shouted angrily from the cell beside his.
“Let him be. Least the kid’s sorry about whatever landed him in here. Can’t say the same about you lot.” Another of the other prisoners replied.
“What’ve we got to be sorry for? I thought all of us in here are innocent?” Someone else quipped and a storm of laughter erupted through the cells.

“It wasn’t me… please…” Digging his fingers into his legs, he continued begging and whimpering as their hateful eyes continued to glare down at him.
‘Momma…’ He voiced within the depths of his mind, recalling her words that day. ‘I’m not strong. I’m scared and I can’t do this alone… please momma…’ Failing to hold back his tears, he continued to claw at his legs.

‘Be strong, sweet one.’
Her tender words softly reverberated in his head as if replying to his pleas.

“I can’t.” He sobbed back as his dirty and broken nails pierced skin, sending even more discomfort through his legs. “It hurts. Please… someone hel-”
Before he could finish his words, a sharp pain cleaved itself into the side of his head and the room suddenly shook.

“What was that?!”
“What just happened?!”
Voices filled with surprise overtook the room’s chattering but were quickly quelled.

Having exasperated the suffering within him further, “Ughk!” His tears swelled outward as he weakly pressed both of his hands onto the ground in an effort to brace himself. Already sobbing at his own pitiful state, a stinging pain shot through his arms and chest as he failed to push himself up.
 
It was just like that day.
Powerless, he had been unable to even pull himself toward his mother or father. Especially terrified of what was happening at the time, he had only been able to watch as they both perished before his very eyes.

‘Please! Please spare us!’
The cries of a stable hand who had escaped the slaughter that day, only to be rounded up and hanged with his whole family.
‘No! Why are you doing this?! Somebody help me!! Someone!!’
The wails of a young woman as she was dragged away into a farmhouse for the amusement of the soldiers occupying AnDarg.
‘Young master! Please do something! I beg you!’
The futile pleas of an elder who could do naught but watch as the emperor’s men slaughtered his village.

His father was right.
“Why?”
He questioned in resignation as the obvious truth from all those days ago continued to linger in his mind.

Had he the strength to oppose those who would slaughter his people, would things have changed?
Had he been strong enough to fight with his mother and father instead of sniveling on the ground like a useless child, would they still be alive?
The questions pierced through him like hot blades as regret and shame at having squandered his father’s efforts filled his mind.

“Kuh!” He tried pushing himself up again, only to fall flat back onto the floor as wounds old and new flared up in waves of agony. Unable to even raise himself up from his own misery, “W-why? Why am I so weak!?!” The words painstakingly clawed themselves out of his mouth as if to admonished himself for his incompetence.

‘…Power…’
A voice, one completely unlike his own thoughts answered him. Unknown and unnerving, it quieted and drowned out all the noises around him.

“!?” Taken aback, a cold chill suddenly swept through his body as an indescribable fear descended upon the sunlit room. The atmosphere had completely changed. There was no more bickering from those around him and within his own cell, he could sense the presence of another. Of something else entirely.
Without moving a muscle, he slowly stilled his aching body. “W-who are you?”

‘…Power… Strength…’ The unknown voice answered, its words repeating itself in his head like droplets of water as an unnatural darkness began enveloping everything around his proximity, leaving nothing but himself and his own thoughts.

‘…Power… Strength…’
And as if to prove itself, strength began flowing into his body.
The pain and agony he had been enduring thus far was subsiding with each breath and with surprised caution, he was able to slowly push himself up.
It was like a dream.
Looking around, all the other prisoners had vanished and he was the only one left within the darkening cell chamber. His body too, was growing healthier and stronger and it felt like he could anything.
“Who are you?! What do you want?!” He cried out apprehensively at the unknown presence and for an instant, the world froze as everything became dead silent.

‘… I Am… You…’
The shadows that had covered the room slowly began peeling themselves off the walls, corners, and crevices of the chamber. Swelling together into a thick pool of blood-red liquid, they swept along the ground, melding through the iron bars to rise up before him.
Observing it closely, the pool of liquid slowly shifted and transformed into a featureless silhouette of himself.
‘I Am… Power… Let Me… In…’ It commanded, stretching its dark fluid-like arm out toward him but never touching him. Almost as if it couldn’t. As if something was preventing it from doing it.

His pain and fears completely forgotten, he slowly edged his right hand forward to touch it.
‘Power.’ ‘Strength.’
The words spun in his mind and he lusted for them.
Though he could not tell what the entity was, the thing that he wanted was right there before him and all he had to do, was reach out and take it.

*ZHHHHNNNNNN*

A buzzing exploded around him before he could do so and just like before, his cell shook, destabilizing him and causing him to stumble against the wall.

*ZHNNNN* ‘Master.’

Another buzzing, followed by another voice speaking from within the depths of his mind. Fleeting and glowing within his mind’s eyes, the voice felt like rays of light raining warmly around him, prompting him to instinctively shrink away from the dark entity standing before him.

‘Begone, Caelfarion Whore of Elthe’ Myulnis…’
The new voice spoke again, pulsing furiously within his head as the very space between him and the dark entity began fracturing into cracks of light.

‘So you have come… **** ****.’
Completely different from before, the dark entity’s voice responded with what could only be annoyance. ‘Here to save your Master yet again?’ It questioned as it fell apart and hastily retreated back into to the darkness of the cell chamber.

‘You Will Not Touch Him…’
The protective voice pulsed, sending streaks of light out from within the small rifts into the cell.
‘Not Again…’
Followed by a larger burst of light, brightly illuminating the area around him.

And, “Uhk!? uuhAAAAA!” He screamed as the light echoed throughout his body, burning it from the inside out.

‘Hahahaha! Was that all?!’
The earnest and sincere voice that was offering him power moments ago was no more. In its place, an echo of vicious contempt.

Recoiling upon himself while enduring the burning from within, he begged for the pain to end, but it would not.

‘Master…’
The fracture pulsed, its voice within his mind again as if addressing him directly.
‘You Must Wake.’
It vibrated, shaking the small cell and sending more streaks of light everywhere as the burning within his body intensified.

‘Such futility. He is already MINE. As was before, and will BE.’

The burning within himself immediately vanished upon those words.
Turning in confusion to the direction of the dire proclamation, the room suddenly crumbled around him, revealing an endless void of darkness.
His body immediately froze and his eyes stood agape at what he was witnessing.
‘This place…’ It was just like his nightmare earlier. Like the forgotten nightmare upon that day of loss and slaughter.
The dark and viscous liquid that he thought had dispersed, were already coiled around him and pouring along his body like a second skin.

‘Come…’ The darkness beckoned sweetly and for an instant, he felt a compulsion to comply with its words.
An exhausted desire to just let himself go. To forsake everything and join his parents and brother in the eternal dream.

‘SILENCE, Unclean One!’
Piercing through his mind like a knife, the rifts before him pulsed angrily, rebuking the darkness. “We Have Not Waited All This Time. Countless Millenia, Only For You To Rob Us Of Our Master Yet Again!”

From the pulsating splinter, another torrent of light exploded outward and scorched his body, eradicating the encroaching darkness around him.
And for the span of a single breath, a sense of warmth and familiarity filled his body.
Within its warmth, there was an immeasurable sense of patience and loyalty along with such a fierce desire to be whole, that his body trembled as it swept by.
Though like a warm breeze that is calm and comfortable, it hid an anger hotter than that of any flames he had ever felt before.

‘Such delicate attempts… was that your best?’
The darkness taunted, its viscuous tendrils swiftly swirling around him again, enveloping his body once more as the light dimmed.
‘I too, have been waiting.’
From the darkness, thousands of other tendrils shot forth at the glowing fractures, suffusing through them and obstructing their light.

‘Master…’

The fractures pulsed weakly once more before slowly closing up as the darkness completely blocked them out. Before long, there was nothing but darkness once again.

‘It is time, Son of ***.’
The seductive voice whispered from within their depths.

Feeling the warmth in his body dissipating and witnessing the final glow of the rifts dimming in his mind, he powerlessly relinquished his senses and closed his eyes, allowing a different tranquility to overtake his body.

‘Yes…’ Words filled with triumphant glee surged into and throughout his mind. ‘Remember who you are. Remember why you sought me.’
An intense rush of mana stormed into his mind, strengthening his body while at the same time, eroding away his senses.

‘HAHAHAHAHA!! More! Give me MORE!!’
Distant echoes of his own degenerative laughter from a lifetime ago.
‘What have I…’
A vision of sin, witnessed and recorded by thousands of hollow and empty eyes.

‘Submit to me… for there is only US.’ Prodding at his mind, the darkness continued to overwhelm him. ‘We, are destined. We… are ONE.’ It spoke passionately while lodging itself into the vulnerable cracks of his memories and mind.

‘I am… sorry…’
The final words of a man who had lost everything in his pursuit of power and vengeance. Filled with nothing but hate and regret, they reverberated through him like the very blood in his veins.

“… is that so?”
Lips parting, his words thundered throughout the hopeless realm, instantly silencing the nonsense that was trying to lull him into oblivion.

‘No…’ Unlike the ecstatic laughter that was filled with elated hunger only moments ago, the voice shifted into one rife with surprise.

“I had believed the nightmare from all those years ago to be just that… a nightmare.” By his will, his frozen arm rose up and grasped at the layer of darkness that had wrapped itself around his face. “A simple memory of my imprisonment, a price for my selfish and shameless self to be walking about again after everything I’ve done… But it looks like I was wrong.”

‘We are already one! How?!’ The voice screamed indignantly upon his words.

Like removing a loose mask, he calmly tore the layer of dark liquid off and cast it into the empty void. “To think there was still a shard of you hiding within me all these years… all this time…”

‘No! You are MINE!’
The voice lashed back in anger.

“I am yours no more.” By his will, hundreds of tiny fractures just like the ones earlier ruptured throughout the empty void. From them, power surged back into his body as the dreamlike realm shook in opposition to his determination. “Depriving me of my memories and feeding me illusions again… how dare you.”

‘No! Your oath!’ The void screamed, its disembodied voice grating and hoarse. ‘You are-’

“I AM BEHOLDEN TO NO ONE!” He snarled and the endless night burst into light, burning away the layer of darkness that was still covering his body.
“But you… you need not worry, for I still remember EVERYTHING.”
Stepping upon the sea of nothingness, by his will, the unending abyss began falling apart around him.
“As per the sacred oaths dictated by fate, I will certainly honor our pact. And when I do, I will END you once and for all.” More cracks rippled throughout the unending realm, shredding apart the crumbling darkness and covering him in a sphere of light. “Mark my words, Lovik, for that is my new oath to you.”

Closing his eyes upon the trembling and crumbling dream, he willed himself to wake.