Erik opened his eyes, finding himself standing within the Whispering Forest once more. Little seemed to have changed, destruction and miasma permeating the terrain all around him.
“Where…When am I?” Erik asked, as he glanced down at himself. His body seemed to have grown slightly taller.
“Merely two days past the one of your…second death.” Spoke a beheaded skull to his left, still wearing a Druvian helmet but most of the skin and flesh was ripped off.
Erik guessed it was Grim, what other skull would speak? “I do have one question though before I get on with this…third life.” He asked, a smile growing over his face.
The skull sighed, “What is it now?”
“Do you really think me a fool?” Erik asked as he suddenly spun about and kicked the skull off, helmet and all it flew.
“Wh-WHAAAT!?” The skull shouted as it flew off into the distance.
“I’m done with your games, God of death. Your ways failed me once, I am done listening, whatever good that way of learning would’ve done.” Erik winced as he put his leg down, the helmet was a hard kick.
Suddenly the dirt next to him rose, forming an expressionless humanoid face. “What do you mean you’re done listening!? I’m the one that revived you!”
“And?” Erik asked as he glanced down at the pile of dirt with bored eyes, “You’re nothing more than a librarian, Grim the Reaper. You gave me new life, but didn’t stop me, when I apparently did things you did not like? You obviously have no power in the mortal realm past possession of…dirt and bones?”
The face’s jaw dropped back to the ground, “What are you…”
“Do you have worms in your ears? I’m done listening to your pile of halfbeast dung, I don’t need your title, I don’t need your help. This world needs saving? Then I’ll save it, my way. Whether they like it or not, I’m what they have now.” Erik exclaimed with a grin as he raised his right foot over the pile of dirt, “Don’t meddle with mortal affairs? Please, as if I could go on watching these pitiful fools cluck around like headless chickens. You want me to guide them? Oh, I will, so how about you do the watching?”
Erik’s foot stomped down onto the face, squashing it back into the ground. He kicked the miasmic dirt about briefly before looking up, “Xilfir.” he hissed out in draconic.
“Master~ You’re back?~” Makaela purred in elven as she appeared behind him, leaning into his back while wrapping her arms around his waist. “Master! What happened to…your body~” she asked in glee.
Thousands of Dark Elves appearing all around them through bursts of shadow, kneeling unlike her.
“Five years growth, that bony bastard said? At least I feel physically stronger and more manoeuvrable.” Erik mused as he stretched out his right arm, he was much more muscular than before. Although to a Drake, he still felt puny and weak. “Two days have passed, what do you have to report?” he then asked pointedly.
Makaela’s body dematerialized to shadows before reappearing before him, kneeling. “All demonic activity in Druvia has ceased, all but the miasma that still permeates the land. The kingdom alongside the church is making preparations to cleanse the land as we speak. A-”
“Cleanse the land? With the church? Through what sorcery?” Erik asked in surprise, he was unaware that miasma could be cleansed other than destroyed through fire.
“Not sorcery, Master. Through Holy script.” Zentha explained from his right.
“What does holy magic have to do with anything? Fire doesn’t destroy ice, it simply melts it into water.” Erik said matter-of-factly.
“Ah but it is not holy magic!” Ascal exclaimed, “It is the very energies of the Gods which those old fools are given to manipulate! Not to be confused with the Holy School or God School, it is no magic which is why it is called a Script.” The flamboyant Xilfir explained, dramatically as usual.
“So, similarly to Devil Script where those abominations call out Hell’s energy. These priests do actually call down a God’s energy. Interesting.” Erik mumbled to himself, “I guess I should have paid more attention to their livelihoods. I was unaware this was possible…” he said while staring at Makaela, mainly her emerald Slayer armour.
“I am also very curious to test out a few more things with you humanoids…Your aptitude for draconic intrigues me.” He mused while stepping towards the seemingly trembling Xilfir commander.
“I-I am a-at your full disposal~” Makaela said excitedly, a heated blush over her expression as she felt Erik’s gaze.
“I am not done talk-” suddenly a face made of dirt burst out from the ground next to Erik, which he abruptly kicked into a cloud of dirt. Into Makaela’s face…which from her increasingly heating expression, she seemed to enjoy.
“Yes, Grim, you really are.” Erik said in annoyance, “Anyway…” he said, ignoring the utterly confused and surprised expressions of the Xilfir. “Anything else to report?”
Pyra grimaced as she noticed Makaela too busy dealing with her current feeling of mediocrity, (“Why is she blushing more!?”) she decided someone had to answer their master’s question. “King Druvia Sol wishes to meet with you, Master. He…demands your presence…” which she immediately regretted having to be the one to say that.
As Erik crouched before her, his eyes wide in fury. “Demands?” His voice made her shudder to the core, including everyone else nearby. “This…Human, demands of me?”
“I-I’m sure he meant no disrespect mas-” Zentha began to add before being interrupted by Erik’s wicked laughter.
“Interesting, this King must know what and who I am by now. Yet he still dares use such words? Interesting indeed.” Erik said with a chuckle, rising back to his feet. “Very well, I shall meet this King. Now, show me back to the city.”
Makaela then collapsed from the pressure, a pleased expression on her face.
“What’s her problem?” Erik asked with a raised brow.
“We ask ourselves that each passing day…” Pyra sighed.
“Nerick, don’t move.” Simon said as he and a dozen other crimson guard stood around him, swords unsheathed and pointed towards the man.
Nerick stood still, as the creature hissed and crawled around his waist. “Why me?…Just, why me?” He asked at the sky.
They were gathered outside the wall, helping with the efforts of cleaning up after the battle that had occurred two days ago. Nerick, was currently preoccupied with acting as a branch for a very annoyed wyvern cub.
“I’ll slice off its tail.” Said one mercenary.
“I’ll bash its head.” Simon said.
“Then it will just tear off my junk with its claws!” Nerick argued, his expression paling as he felt the wyvern’s claws grip around his thigh.
“Got a better idea then?” another mercenary asked.
“How about petting it?” Then offered a voice, as the wyvern suddenly flew off Nerick and onto the approaching man.
“Pet a bloody wyvern?” one mercenary said before all of them stepped away as it opened its wings and leapt.
They all turned to look at the man, a relieved Nerick included. “Erik?” he said, surprised to see him.
“Nah, that lanky mage?” Simon added as he looked the man up and down, he seemed too well built to be the Erik he knew.
“Magic, paladin. Magic.” Erik said as raised his right hand over to the wyvern that now rested around his shoulders, nuzzling into his palm.
“Know anybody else that can do that?” Nerick argued before turning back to Erik, “Where you’ve been? Kayle said you left for Sinbeni?”
“I was, but I had a change of heart. Must have missed me, I was on the battlefield after all.” Erik explained, going back into his act as a human mage. Wary of his humanoid form, and after what he had just told the god of death. Erik did not look forward to dying again, he wanted to be as careful as possible.
Erik also knew that the only ones that were knowledgeable of the fact that he was there as Erikathyr, were his Xilfir and maybe Thea. The King only knew him as the Xilfir’s Master and now as Erikathyr, not as Erik.
“Why do you wear different uniforms?” He then asked to change the subject, lowering his hand, the wyvern whining for more affection.
“Oh-Uhm, we left the army.” Simon answered, “Nerick, Kayle and Me joined the crimson guard mercenaries, we’re still unfortunately under Thea’s command though.” he then added jokingly.
“I see, where might I find Thea?” Erik asked, as the wyvern flew off him in annoyance and back onto Nerick’s waist, who almost tripped back in reaction.
“G-Get it off! Get it off!” Nerick begged as the wyvern started nibbling on his sword’s grip.
“Ah…Thea is at the command tent at the moment with SC Droy and other officers.” Simon responded as he stepped away from Nerick once more, “Big red tent with blue stripes, can’t miss it.”
“Y-Yeah, can’t miss it! Now can you please take this thing with you!?” Nerick continued to beg when suddenly the wyvern unsheathed his sword.
“I cannot tell it what to do,” Erik lied, “I’m afraid you’re just going to have to learn to keep it under control.” he was sure the creature would fall in line at his draconic voice.
The wyvern began waving the sword about, glancing around at the mercenaries as they raised their swords at it again. “This i-is ludicrous!” Nerick exclaimed as he watched Erik walk away with a sneer, the wyvern then looked up at him as he spoke, slamming the sword’s flat into his face.
Nerick fell back onto his ass from the concussion, dazed as the wyvern climbed up onto his helmet. Raising itself on its hind feet, it glanced about whilst aiming the sword within its jaws at the other mercenaries, as slowly they stepped away.
It squeaked, as if daring them to try.
Thea stood before the large map that lay on the just as vast table, a map of Druvia’s south-eastern half. “I still have many in reserve, I can form more groups if the church can provide more priests. It will still take several months to purify the entire area but if we make a quick sweep we can at least stall the miasma within two to three weeks.” Thea told the rest of the company present, mainly glancing at the Bishop, and King Sol who stood with the Arch Duke and General Henry on either side of him.
“Mhm, the guild is spread thin your majesty, we cannot offer more manpower than we already have.” Said the adventurer’s guildmaster, a tall man wearing an impeccable white suit, sleek white dyed hair and bright green eyes. A set of black glasses resting over his small nose, adding onto his stern gaze. “Employing more mercenaries is unavoidable.”
Sol nodded as he stared down at the map, “That begs the question though, what about Gilded Rock Fortress? We cannot send the army yet, it is still too early to leave the capital undefended. Your guild, Kai, is fully loaded with defending the church’s priests out there. And I know of no other mercenary group large enough to retake and hold Gilded Rock.”
“Hold from who, though?” Thea asked.
“Druvia is the largest continent in this world, many seek its land.” The Arch Duke explained, “Even our supposed allies.”
“We must retake our territory, and quickly.” Henry said with a grunt.
“Yes, we must. But we must also be cautious.” Sol added, “We mustn’t be greedy either, Druvia is a lot of land. Which is why I’ve devised a plan.” He said, obviously the youngest among these adults yet they all dutifully turned to hear him out.
“The military will send workers alongside assistance from the mage clans to repair Fort Balgor, while the kingdom will employ the crimson guard to retake and hold the abandoned Fort Gilded Rock further north. Both forts will receive supplies from Fort Cloud Spire in the far north of the border and Fort Swain in the far south.” Sol explained, “We have no choice but to send some of the military out, to aid in the purification of lands within the border. But, the effect of that can be lessened through the employ of other smaller mercenary groups and civilian employment.”
“Then I shall prepare my people to leave as quickly as possible, sire.” Thea saluted, prepared to leave.
“A-Actually, Lady Selene. I would ask something else of your person.” Sol then added, regaining her attention before she left. “Our communications with Sinbeni and Zrosa have reached an impasse, I’m afraid I relied too much on your father to deal with those two. I apologise, but I must ask you to go to Sinroz and play ambassador in your father’s place. Much of our resources come from trade with those two, and they are the two closest countries to Druvia.”
“Strengthening our alliance with them would ease the tension, Zrosians have hungered for more territory ever since the demons burned our flags off half of Druvian soil. The Sinbeni are no better either.” Droy said with a sigh, standing by her side.
“I understand…Indeed my father has caused a great deal of issues for the kingdom.” Thea said, her expression turning melancholic.
“I pose no blame, neither do I hold any hate of Fjorn Selene.” Sol suddenly said, gaining everyone’s attention once more. “Your father was a good man, he did what he thought he needed to do. The fault lies solely with me, I’m young and inexperienced. I couldn’t be the King my father was to Fjorn, neither can I excuse what has happened to your mother.”
Sol stood aside from the table, facing Thea he respectfully bowed his head while leaning slightly forward. His oversized crown, barely holding onto his hair. “I truly do apologise, for everything my rule has caused your family.” He said, causing many in the room to widen their eyes in surprise.
Kings did not bow.
“Please, your majesty. Do not bow your head to me…” Thea said, also surprised.
Sol did not rise, “Then, do you not accept my apology, Lady Selene?” he was doing more than just apologising. Sol was probing Thea for any hate she might hold for him.
“I-” Thea was about to respond, but a disruption outside the tent cut her off.
“You dare come back here!?” They heard Kayle exclaim, followed by the acute sound of a hand slapping though a cheek.
Kayle was waiting for Thea outside the command tent, a dozen crimson guard officers standing nearby. A solemn bunch, as most eastern people were. A hardy people, toughened from their history of conflict and war. Always living by the border of them.
She gazed about in boredom, thankful she could skip cleanup duty outside the wall but standing around with her current level of stress and anxiety wasn’t helping either. She needed to hit something, and as luck would have it…
Kayle’s eyes narrowed as she noticed Erik approaching the tent, his usual uncaring demeanour all over him. This man was different in her eyes now, a ruthless being that only helped them back in Beckton because he knew he could win. A heartless fool that turned tail and ran when he knew they couldn’t.
Kayle couldn’t say what happened two days ago, everyone was unsure as to why the Xilfir had aided them, and so was she. Everyone was also still terrified at the perspective of the Destroyer being back, if at least thankful that the Drake had an issue with the Devils.
Kayle was afraid,
Kayle was tired of it all…
But right now, Kayle was furious to see him back. “You…” Kayle mumbled as she began towards him, Erik stopping midway to the tent as he looked at her with a raised brow. As if questioning her anger, which only made her even more furious.
“You dare come back here!?” Kayle exclaimed, taking her left gauntlet off before striking her palm across Erik’s right cheek. His face having barely moved from the slap, her palm though felt slightly numb as she looked him up and down.
Erik was now covered almost completely with a cloak so his body wasn’t as visible as it was when he met with Simon and Nerick, having ben wearing what rags Grim had resurrected him with. The only thing Kayle might have noticed is that he was taller, which through her anger she did not.
“You run away and after seeing that you were wrong…you dare comeback!?” She asked once more, grasping her hand while taking a step back.
Erik’s calm and cold gaze fell upon her, he studied her briefly. Kayle felt like he was dissecting her through sight, the most minute glances covering her entire body before settling on her eyes. “I apologise if that is what it seemed like, I’m afraid I lied. I never actually left.” Erik said, causing her eyes to widen. “You and your people were relying too heavily on me, I felt pressured. I simply wished to dis-”
“Really?…That’s your excuse?” Kayle said, cutting him off. “You really think I’m going to believe this crap? No, Erik. You’re not going anywhere near my sister ever again. You’re just as bad as Klein!” Kayle said, reaching for her short-sword. “Come on then, bring me anybody that fought alongside you that day. You can’t, can you?”
Erik faltered at her words, meeting her eyes which were full of rage. He really couldn’t, not without giving away who he really was. And here? In the middle of a Druvian military camp? Killer of Azruxan or not, he was still the Destroyer.
Yet, he was saved from her questioning as a few people stepped out of the tent. “What is this commotion out here?” General Henry asked, glancing about before landing his gaze on the two of them. “Miss Selene?”
Kayle turned, letting go of her still sheathed sword. “I apologise for the disruption General, this man was just about to leave.” She coldly implied.
“Kayle? What is-” Thea began as she stepped outside, her eyes widening in shock as she saw Erik. “E-Erik?! You’re…alive?” she asked in surprise.
Henry, seeing that this was a personal matter, decided to head back inside.
“That I am, did you think otherwise?” Erik said with a smirk.
Kayle glanced in between them in confusion, “Sis? What do you mean?”
“You wanted someone that could prove where I was, Kayle. Why do you not ask your sister? She saw me.” Erik added.
Kayle’s gaze froze on Thea, “You…did?”
Thea opened her mouth but closed it immediately, what was she supposed to say? That she bonded with the Destroyer and that was Erik? Would Kayle believe that? Thea glanced around, this definitely wasn’t the place to explain these things either. Inwardly apologising to Kayle as she responded, “Y-Yes, Erik was with the mages below…” she lied.
Kayle’s eyes widened as her face flushed red, immediately she turned to face Erik. “I-I’m so sorry!” She apologised, bowing her head before him. “W-Wait so that aura…That was you wasn’t it?!” She then exclaimed, rising back to meet his gaze.
(“Aura?”) Erik mused, he did sense an oddity from the wall but he hadn’t cast any enhancement spells over the defenders?
“Y-Yeah, that was Erik!” Thea said as she approached them, “Just how he enhanced me back at Beckton!” she added in an attempt to craft an excuse.
Which Kayle completely bought into, opening and closing her mouth, unable to think of a response.
“I’m afraid it’s not something I can do all the time,” Erik continued with the obvious ploy, noting to himself to question Thea later but agreeing with whatever she had plotted. “It did cost my v-body five years of lifetime.”
The two then noticed that he had gotten taller, “F-Fi-Five years!?” Kayle stuttered in exclamation and surprise. “S-So you’re older than me now!?”
(“I already was…”) Erik wanted to say, “I guess so, as far as physical age goes.” he instead said.
“A spell that takes five years from the user? I was unaware you had such a mage in your repertoire Lady Selene.” said Sol as he, Drew and the Bishop stepped out of the tent. “I have had reports of a strange magic affecting our troops, but none of the mage clans could identify it. Might you introduce me this mage?” the King asked as his gaze fell solely on Erik.
“King Sol Druvia, ruler of Druvia within the continent of Druvia.” Erik said with an amused tone, meeting the boy’s gaze with his own, colder stare. The rest, Thea and Kayle included, bowed before Sol.
“Mage? Would you not show respect before your King?” The Bishop asked with a raised brow, seeing that Erik did not bow. Thea’s expression paled severely at this.
“I have no connection with your empire, neither have I made use of any of your kingdom’s services. I have no reason to prostrate myself before you.” Erik explained, surprisingly calm.
The Bishop was about to add onto that but Sol cut him off before he could, “It matters not Samael, the man has gained my respect if anything. Five years of his life he sacrificed for Druvia, that in my eyes is enough.” the King said, yet his eyes spoke of a different understanding.
Causing Erik to narrow his, (“This child…Interesting.”) he thought, holding back an amused smile.
Sol had figured him out.
“T-This is Erik Fireborn, your majesty. He is…not under my employ. Erik is the mage that aided my platoon defend the people of Beckton.” Thea explained with some agitation in her tone. “Erik is a hermit mage, he has knowledge of many magiks unknown to us, including being an expert demonologist.”
“Ah…the one that sliced off that merchant’s leg?“ Sol mused.
“Slaver, I believe would be more appropriate a word, sire.” Erik said, the last word somewhat hesitantly.
“Hm, yes I’m afraid the Sinbeni have a history with the Xilfir people. We cannot say much about it, politically speaking it is a taboo topic with them.” Sol explained, “But Sinroz is there and Druvia is here. I shall see to it that your crime is abolished, personally, that part of their culture sickens me too.” the king said with a sigh.
“Speaking of Sinroz, do you require any resources for the journey Lady Selene?” Sol then asked.
“No sire, the duchy can afford.” Thea responded.
“Drew, we have other things to attend to do we not?” he then turned to the Arch Duke.
“Yes, sire. Shall we be off then?” Drew asked while glancing at Bishop Samael.
The three most important men in the Druvian empire moved along, everyone still tense as they continued to bow. All but Erik, who calmly watched them leave.
“You have a death wish.” Kayle said as she rose back.
Erik chuckled in response, smirking as he noticed a crow watching him from afar. (“If only you knew…”)