“Do you see them?” Asked one of the four mages, wearing ash grey cloaks and robes while wielding blade-ended staves.
“See them? I don’t even sense them! Blasted darks!” swore another, walking the edge of the thick barrier of mana that surrounded them, throwing knives and arrows covering the ground around it.
The four of them glanced about, each one watching their own direction while each tapped into the barrier around them, enforcing it. Each though was panicking, they had no idea how many were surrounding them. Then there was that surge of power followed by an ear-piercing roar, it had each mage fully on their toes.
The lead mage, the one wearing all kinds of magical amulets, rings and bracelets, suddenly slammed his staff into the ground. “The mission failed, watch, I’ll transport us back!” He nervously whispered to his colleges in a vain hope that their foes couldn’t hear. Quickly he began tracing a magic circle into the rotten earth, taking a few cloth bags out of his robes he also dropped items to feed the ritual.
He froze midway through, as the screeching of wyverns filled their ears.
Two of the winged beasts crashed down on either side of their barrier, eyes glowing a bright gold as they snarled ferociously at them. The lead mage quickened his efforts at creating the magic circle beneath himself, his hands trembling as he dropped crystals and bones.
“Sir?” One mage noticed the man’s agitation, the lead mage pitied his ignorance, all of them. Only he knew what that roar was, only he knew what monstrosity watched them.
Grimacing as he finished the circle of runes, the lead mage raised his staff before slamming it down-
The barrier shattered as dozens of golden tendrils of lightning pierced through, sparking about in chaos, hitting each mage several times before they fell to their knees paralyzed.
“N-No…” the lead mage mumbled as he stared off into the forest surrounding the clearing they lay in, sensing from where the spell was cast.
He watched as Erik stepped out of the shadows alongside Makaela, Thea and Nerick. The latter glancing around at the mages in confusion while Ivara’s reptilian eyes narrowed, locking onto the lead mage with great interest.
Erik’s expression was furious as he gazed at the lead mage, “You betray your kind, you betray your blood’s promise?” he asked in elven before suddenly blinking into existence next to the stunned spellcaster. Erik crouched down next to the would-be assassin, grabbing hold of his hood before raising it off his head, revealing the male Dark Elf beneath.
“You forget your ways and my teachings.” Erik hissed as he grabbed the elf’s face with one hand, “I can smell the blood of your own brethren, the stench is all over you. You’ve killed brothers, you’ve killed sisters.” His eyes meeting the rogue Xilfir’s through his fingers.
They glowed fiercely, the golden light turning into flames as they tendrilled back and around his head.
“I beg not for forgiveness from a monster.” The rogue Xilfir spoke back in defiance. ”Your teachings brought us only hate from the other people. You promised glory, you promised safety and a higher meaning. You only brought us despair.” He spat, hatred within his tone.
The flames that covered Erik’s eyes suddenly dissipated, revealing his deep blues. “So instead of strengthening your resolve and fighting through the hardship, you gave in to the pressure, you became this abomination you are now?”
“There are many like him, master…” Makaela added, looking away as she stood by the other two, not daring to look at the rogue. Her expression full of disgust.
“Is there now?” Erik said in sarcastic amusement, “Then let this one be the first to be purged.” he hissed, “I absolve you of your sins, for the pain you are about to feel is like nothing you’ve ever imagined. Dark Arts; Black Script; Flame of Agony.” as his hand suddenly became engulfed in a pitch-black blaze.
The dark flames engulfed the Xilfir’s body, as he shook and squirmed about, screaming at the top of his lungs as the ethereal flames penetrated his body and burned him, yet not. The fire was like any other vicious flame on his skin, but it did no damage, the blaze even touching his bones and organs yet not leaving a single burn as it filled him with agony.
Erik stood up and away from the shrieking elf, ignoring him entirely while approaching the nearest underling. Hood already removed from having fallen, this one was a human? No, from looking more closely Erik recognised the furry and long ears. This one was a half-beast, half feline from the looks of it.
The woman stared at her agonized companion, eyes wide in fear as she trembled. Her face paling as she came under Erik’s gaze.
“He will die, slowly, painfully. Now you have two choices, die through a method much more horrifying than his own, or I shall let you die quickly and painlessly.” Erik told the Beast-woman, “Which would you prefer?” he asked, staring the terrified mage straight in the eyes.
She did not respond, the ear-piercing shrieks numbing her mind.
“You would rather die quickly and painlessly, no?” Erik urged on, crouching before her to stop her from seeing the squirming Elf. She weakly nodded, “Good.” Erik said as he snapped his fingers before her eyes.
The shrieking ended, followed by the sound of choking and bubbling. The woman glanced at the other two, seeing Xilfir standing above them, blades sunk down into her companion’s throats. Her eyes wandered back to meet Erik’s as a golden gleam filled them, “Your choice saved the other two, yet that one still agonizes.” he said before standing out of the way.
Showing her that the lead mage was still alive, squirming still from the pain but some cloth was shoved down his mouth, his shrieking turned into muffled screams.
“Do you wish for his pain to end? Do you wish to not suffer like he has?” Erik asked as he stood above her, “What I want from you is simple. Answer my questions, truthfully, and you will not.”
The woman nodded again, this time more nervously than before. Her shocked mind catching up to her current situation.
“First question.” Erik said, as suddenly the flames covering the rogue Xilfir dissipated, leaving the elf laying there in trembling relief. “Who are you.”
She glanced up at him, still trembling, her short ginger hair and furry feline ears full of dry dirt, her green eyes wide and skin pale. Yet this one showed no mercy, not a drop of pity in his eyes as he solemnly gazed down at her. “S-Shizuka.” She stuttered her name out, freezing entirely as the two wyverns suddenly loomed over her, nuzzling their snouts into Erik’s palms.
“I care not for your name, Bestia.” Erik said harshly, “Who do you work for, who contracted you.” Suddenly the lead mage began screaming once more, black flames relighting themselves all over his body.
Shizuka tried to crawl away, but her body was still numb and paralyzed from the neck down. “I-I’m from t-the dark sorcerers guild!” she responded in agitation, glancing between the two fierce beasts as they allowed this man to pet them, and her agonized superior.
Erik glanced back at Makaela, “An Illegal guild of magic casters, master.” she explained in elven.
“Hm,” Erik hummed in thought as he turned to look back at the feline bestia, the rogue xilfir’s muffled agony growing silent once more in the background. “What was your purpose here, and who hired you, Dark Guild.”
“I-” Shizuka was about to answer, but shut her mouth before she could. She stared up at Erik, asking herself. Who was she more scared of? This man? Or the guild?
“P-Please…E-E-nd…En-d me…” The lead mage mumbled out in pain, the cloth gone from his mouth. Shizuka turned to look her superior in the eyes, bloodshot and crazed as tears drenched his face.
Then the flames returned, sending his body into a seizure as he shrieked in pain, a choked tone as his throat grew sore from the shouting.
Shizuka’s eyes widened, “W-we were sent to kill the Lady Selene before she reached Sinroz, and…to slow down Druvia’s progress on recuperating land.” she decided she feared this man more, “But I…don’t know who contracted us.”
She spoke truthfully.
But Erik did not believe her, “An honourable deed, to protect your employer even through death.” Erik said with a haunting tone, as he raised his right palm towards her. “You’ll find that honouring that secrecy, has a price.”
“Let turmoil take over as your mind breaks under the chaos of your own imagination.” he began to chant. Shizuka glanced up, meeting Erik’s eyes as hers filled with terror. This spell was supposedly worse than what the rogue dark elf was going through.
“W-Wait please…” She begged.
“Let agony define you, as your body’s senses reach new heights of pain.” But Erik continued to chant, his eyes hollow and emotionless, boring through her.
“I don’t know! Please! I-I don’t know!” Shizuka continued to beg, reached out towards him even as tears began to form.
“Hell is a terrifying place, yet what you are to witness, is beyond even it.” Erik finished his chant, a misty blue light forming out of his hands. It tendrilled slowly down towards Shizuka’s face. “Dark Arts; Dreamweaver School; Personal Abys-”
“Erik, stop.” Thea suddenly said, appearing between him and the young mage, grabbing his arm while pointing it away from her. Thea’s expression was pale as she stared into his hollow eyes, she was undoubtfully scared of what she was witnessing but could not stand around and watch any longer.
“What…are you doing?” Erik asked with a raised brow.
“She said she doesn’t know, is this really necessary?” Thea asked back, his fierce gaze causing even her to sweat nervously.
“Necessary? Now that depends on the outcome you wish for. And I, wish for the utmost truth out of this sewer rat.” Erik responded with a harsh tone, “Would you prefer if I asked nicely? Maybe even pay her to get the information out?” his words were sarcastic but his tone far from it.
Thea glanced back at a terrified Shizuka, the paralysis dissipating as she slowly dragged herself back. “Is this how you plan to continue doing things? Fear and torture?” Thea snapped back at him.
Erik’s eyes widened, not in surprise or fear, but instead anger. “Fear is effective, and torture is nothing more than a means that I shall gladly use against those that wish harm upon me.” He snarled, his draconic voice filling Thea’s heart with dread.
But she did not back down, “A-and is that what your elders taught you? Is this the worth you give to people’s lives?” she asked with a low tone, anger filling her own voice.
They continued to glare at one another, Erik’s eyes narrowing at her words. He glanced behind her, at Shizuka who stared up at Thea with tearful eyes. There was a gleam in her stare…a slight hope, was he the monster in this? Was he in the wrong?
Erik still didn’t understand, wasn’t this bestia plotting on taking their lives just a few moments earlier? His gaze returned to Thea, “Why do you protect her, she was sent here to kill you.” he asked.
“Because people’s mistakes shouldn’t define them, I define my father by what good he did not by the mistakes he made. Do you want to be defined by your mistakes, Erik? Or by the actions you take to fix them? By the good you do?” Thea sternly responded, causing Shizuka’s eyes to widen in shock, unable to hold her tears back any longer.
“I wish to believe that if my father had lived, he’d have realised his mistake, he’d have returned to the man he once was. He would’ve worked for the good of the people, not for his own selfish beliefs.” Thea then said, her gaze lowering as she felt her heart clench. Glancing back at Shizuka before continuing, “She’s made mistakes, but that doesn’t define who she is. We don’t know her circumstances, Erik, you don’t know her reasons.”
A long, tired sigh exited Erik’s mouth as he turned to look at the now dead Xilfir to his left, one of the wyverns poking the body curiously with its bladed tail. The dark elf having died from the insanity that broke his mind, blood spilling out of his ears, eyes and nostrils.
“But isn’t that wishful thinking? That someone’s mistakes shouldn’t define them? No Thea, I do not wish for my mistakes to define me, but alas they do.” He turned to face her again, “Every action I take, every word I say, every moment of our existence. They all define who and what we are.”
Erik dissipated the blue light that had formed around his hand, “But you are right about one thing. No, I do not know her reasons nor her circumstances. But is that enough to excuse her actions? Is it Thea?” he asked, stepping closer to her. “What if it was your sister, what if Kayle was the target then. Would not knowing why, be enough to excuse her death?”
Thea stared back into his deep blue eyes, “I don’t…” unable to answer his harsh question.
Erik sighed once more, “You cannot save everyone, I’m sure you’d choose your sister over this seemingly random individual any day. Thea, the line between necessary and moral by your standards, is blurry at best.” he sternly said before glancing down at Shizuka, the beast woman whimpering away under his gaze.
“You wish to save this fool? Then so be it, her life is in your hands!” Erik exclaimed, turning away from them. “But if she betrays me, and I will know if she does…” he trailed off, glancing back at Thea with fury in his eyes.
“You’ll be the one to kill her.”
Continent of Sinroz,
Port City of Ai’sen
The cloaked figure traversed the smouldering streets, holding tightly onto their hood and cloak, glancing about as the people of Ai’sen went about their daily routine. Bustling with traders and carts, the streets were also loaded with citizens shouting out offers at tradesmen, items, people, and bags of coin exchanging hands more times than the eye could count.
Blacksmiths hammered onto their anvils outside, the heat too much to work indoors. The sound of hammers striking heated metal barely audible among the shouts and calls.
The figure pushed through the flowing ocean of people, almost pulled away by the crowd, but they fought on.
Until finally they reached their destination, a building not much taller than the others but three times as wide. Sandstone walls and thick wood lining it, supporting the building’s structure. Two double doors on the front, more people entering than exiting at this time of day.
The figure climbed the brief stone steps before entering the place, finding themselves in a very familiar and vast tavern. People drank and celebrated for seemingly no reason other than that they enjoyed doing so, the tavern’s ale being the best in the known lands.
The cloaked figure struggled through the drunken mercenaries, merchants and workers as stripped slaves moved about. Holding up large trays of drinks and snacks the female slaves were one of two races, either bestia or xilfir, Halfbeast or Dark Elf. Mostly naked other than some pointless straps of cloth and silk hanging from around their neck, wrists and thighs.
The inebriated customers pulling and grabbing at them as they passed by.
The cloaked figure, not without a great struggle of pushing and evading, made it to the other end of the tavern. Leaning onto the bar as he slapped his right palm onto the wooden surface several times, finally catching the barmaid’s attention.
“What do you want?” the short muscular woman, a dark-skinned dwarf, asked with annoyance as she approached the man.
The cloaked figure said nothing, but instead reached into his cloak. Gaining many eyes on him as he pulled something out, the hired muscle watching very carefully from the side. Yet their gazes moved elsewhere as they noticed what he did pull out, seemingly a common copper coin, yet bent in a strange and very recognisable way.
The barmaid’s eyes widened at the sight. “Yes, come.” she then said, her tone utterly changing. She ushered the cloaked man around the bar and through one of the many doors behind it, one that none of the servants used.
“He’s in room 52.” She whispered, before slamming the door close behind him.
The cloaked man wasted not another moment, climbing down the steps before him as the tavern’s shouts and cheers slowly grew silent behind him. The descent was long, taking him several minutes to reach the bottom.
But once he did, briefly glancing back he noticed that the stairs behind him were completely gone. Replaced instead by a dead end, a flat stone wall.
He pressed onwards, passing by several dozens of doors along the corridor until finding the one, room 52. The man lowered his hood, revealing a wolfish bestia with grey eyes, black hair and ears. He knocked, five times in rows of two, before the door was opened for him. Merely glancing at the stationary guard who opened the door, he immediately kneeled once out of the door’s way.
The man lay kneeling before a massive underground stadium, magically lit through enchanted crystals that covered the rocky ceiling. Rows and rows of observers lay below, thousands of people screaming and shouting as they watched and placed bets on the two fighters within the ring.
Bloody and bruised, cuts and wounds covering their bodies. The two warriors breathed heavily as they stared each other off, a tall dark elf wielding two scimitars facing a burly bear bestia heaving a massive warhammer.
Above the observer stands was where the cloaked man had entered from, a balcony laying several dozen meters high. No staircase or ladder taking up to it, only the single door the wolf bestia had used to enter.
Before him was a raised throne-like chair, three slaves holding refreshments and snacks to its left while two other naked slaves sat on the armrests, leaning into the man within the chair. A long, braided silver beard, sleek dyed blue hair, one dark violet right eye and one pale white left. The man wore fine and thin silk clothes, red and ember in colour to match his sun-darkened skin.
Neither fat nor burly, and neither skinny. The human man was in perfect shape.
A human woman stood opposite of the servants by his chair, also wearing fine silk clothing. She had short black hair and piercing green eyes, a beautiful dancer’s body shown off by her specially made clothing. Yet the iron collar that lay around her neck, marked her as just another slave.
Noticing the cloaked bestia’s arrival, “Al-Salem, master, they bring news.” the woman said with a melodic, gentle voice.
“Hm? Speak.” The man said with a gruff voice but not turning around, too busy grabbing and fooling with the two slaves that caressed him in return.
“Master Al-Salem, great warlord, terrible news I bring!” The wolfish man exclaimed, “The Druvian dark guild failed the contract, contact with the four sent was completely lost.”
Al-Salem’s motions slowed down as his interest in the two slaves dissipated.
“The mercenaries have reached Gilded Rock, and Lady Marchioness Thea Selene has…” The messenger faltered.
“Has? Has what!?” The warlord demanded, pushing aside the two slaves and off his chair as he rose to face the still kneeling messenger.
“I sincerely apologise! We’ve lost track of Lady Selene! She has disappeared, master! Truly I-” the messenger’s plea was cut off, as Al-Salem suddenly kicked the man aside with great force. Slamming into the balcony’s side, the messenger groaned in pain before glancing up at his master.
“You…lost her?” the warlord asked, gazing down at the messenger with fury in his eyes. “I’ve told you, if Selene makes it to Sinroz then everything…Everything! Will become more complicated!” he bellowed, mana infusing his voice and assaulting the bestia, pushing the man deeper into the stone and crushing his body with an invisible force.
“Find her, kill her and bring me her body as proof. While you’re at it, kill the sister too. With Fjorn gone, they are in utter chaos…and must remain that way until I have seized their claim!” He slammed his fist through the wooden throne, bashing chunks and splinters aside.
The messenger nodded furiously, “Yes! Y-Yes master! W-we shall! We shall!” he begged while turning back into a kneeling position.
“I am Ramzi Al-Salem,” said the warlord as he turned back to the arena below, “On my name, I shall make you perish if you fail me again.” he warned before raising his right hand up while making a strange gesture, the bestia messenger suddenly rising up into the air behind him.
Choking, the man was choking as he hovered, while the door opened on its own.
Ramzi gazed down at the arena just as the dark elf slashed open the Bestia’s gut, the large man falling back into the sandy ground with a loud thump. “Actually…since when do I give second chances?” he mused, before abruptly sending the messenger flying off the balcony.
The man screamed in terror as he fell, the crowd growing silent as they watched. He fell, squirming and lashing about before hitting the ground below, falling upon the dying half-bear. The sound of shattering bones echoing throughout the arena, before the crowd began cheering once again.
Ramzi smiled to himself, he was a man that loved entertaining the crowd. “Shahla, bring me the assassin’s pact. Tell them…I have an offer for their services.” He told the collared woman, who silently bowed before leaving his side.
Returning to the arena below that only kept getting louder and louder as the people shouted for more, Ramzi gripped the balcony’s stone railing while leaning off. “Silence you bloodthirsty pigs!” he bellowed, mana infused with his voice, allowing it to take over the entire room.
The stadium grew silent at his words, tension and expectation filling the air. “So, I hear you wanting for more!?” he asked, a deafening response coming from below. “Then feast your eyes upon this next match up!” Ramzi announced with arms wide, as within the arena one of the larger metal doors were pulled open by dozens of chained slaves.
“You all know and love it, the beast that has owned the monster brawl for the past decade! I present you our hairy champion! The manticore!” Ramzi said as a large monstrosity barrelled out, a massive lion with grey bat-like wings chained around its black hairy torso, a dark brown scorpion’s tail and all too thick claws.
The beast roared out, and with it the crowd cheered. The creature’s almost man-like face glancing about in annoyance and anger. The slaves rushed out of its way and into smaller doors, hoping to reach before it noticed them…one tripping over the ropes as they went.
The manticore finally noticed the slaves, and seeing the fallen boy its eyes widened. Without even a snarl, the beast pounced onto the young slave, gulping him up in one go. Crashing through the sandy ground for the small morsel it gained, and like the starved beast that it was, it then charged at the others.
But it was all too large to reach into the small doorways.
“As for today’s competitor!…” Ramzi continued, grinning widely as the opposing gate was pulled open. “A new arrival, found slumbering in the northern jungles, hiding for who knows how many centuries!” he announced, watching as the green scaly creature proudly stepped out.
Smaller than the manticore with chains and thick iron bracelets surrounding its reptilian body, etched with runes to negate the creature’s magic. Yet they did nothing to deny the beast’s majestic atmosphere, head held high as it gazed up at the balcony, its bright green eyes filled with intelligence the manticore lacked.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the last of its kind, a creature once regarded as the most powerful race on Faeterra!” Ramzi exclaimed with excitement, even gesturing down at the beast.
“I Ramzi Al-Salem, present you…The last Dragon!”
The crowd cheered louder than ever.