Nerick took a deep breath, feeling the sizzling energy flow through him with each heartbeat. A riveting feeling it was, mana flowing at his will, concentrating at his fingertips with a thought. He grinned widely.
“Enjoying the feeling are you?” Erik said, “Well don’t get used to it too soon, that’s just energy, next you’ll have to learn how to unleash it properly.”
“Y-Yeah…” Nerick said.
“And don’t falter either, knight.” Erik then said as he turned away, “If you falter, the ring will swallow you whole.”
Those words woke Nerick from his intoxicated daze, “W-What? What do you mean?” he asked, watching Erik leave the room. They followed, Nerick anxiously walking up to the drake. “What do you mean by falter?”
Erik rolled his eyes in annoyance, “Power comes with dangers, but I shall explain later. First, there’s one more stop we’ll be making.” He explained as they paused before the final room.
“Human?” Shizuka said, reading out the runes that lay carved above the large entrance.
“A pesky race, one human cannot be compared to another and as such, some humans tend to be…Different.” Erik said, leading them inside. “No race, not even the demons, thirst for power as much as some humans. Madness made these weapons, crafted by, through and with pure insanity of which their makers were sick from.”
Only three weapons lay within the room, side by side the three weapons lay engulfed in black tattered cloth, held together by crimson red chains etched with bright glowing white runes. They hovered in place like the rest, but the closer they got the easier they were to notice.
Each covered weapon was surrounded by a transparent barrier, runic inscriptions ever shifting and changing along the bubble of mana.
“The first,” Erik began as he reached through the barrier and held his hand high, the covered weapon hovering down into his grasp. “A blade like no other, crafted by Dwarven hands. Enchanted by the highest of Elven magic. Then cursed, by the human known to have begun the Dark Age.” Erik passed his palm over the chains, and they fell loose on their own. He uncovered the weapon, slowly as he turned around to face them.
Removing the cloth aside, a snow-white sword lay in his hand. Its sheathe and handle made from glimmering white reptilian skin. He unsheathed it, revealing the blackest of blades. “This is the sword of the vilest creature to ever exist, the first human, they also once had a human name. But, we who remember call him otherwise. We call him the Underlord, and this, was his Underblade.”
As he moved the blade further from the sheathe, greenish-black shapes formed out, like a thick fog. Within the fog faces would form, deform, and reform over and over again. “What you see are the souls that were felled by this weapon, absorbed into it, contained for all eternity to empower it.”
“That’s cruel…can you not release them?” Thea asked, staring at the blade with sadness unlike the awe on everyone else’s face.
Erik smiled, “No, the curse the Underlord put upon this weapon is not one I can remove with brute force. It is said only another human, one pure of heart, can. Now I do not know what it means to be ‘Pure of heart’, but you are human, are you not?” he asked her.
Thea could only nod, following his thought.
“Millions of souls lay imprisoned within this blade, even if you fail, do you wish to at least try?” Erik asked, turning the sword by the hilt and forwarding the grip towards Thea. “To try and release them of their eternal prison?”
“Y-Yes…” Thea said, eager to help as she reached for the sword.
“Then speak with it, and do not fail its test like I had.” Erik said.
Thea grabbed the sword, and suddenly her eyes rolled back, turning white.
“T-Thea?” Nerick said, seeing her suddenly frozen in place.
“What did you do to her?” Shizuka asked, stepping away from the sword.
“I did nothing, she’s simply speaking with the sword. Now we wait, we watch.” Erik explained, letting go of the weapon and backing away himself. “Succeed or fail, she won’t be hurt.”
Thea opened her eyes to find herself surrounded by darkness, unable to see, unable to even feel the ground beneath her feet.
She felt herself float, yet felt no liquid around her.
“You who would wield us. What is it that you desire?” Asked many voices at once, almost inaudible as they echoed in unison.
“Desire?” Thea repeated in confusion.
“We are power, we are strength. Do you wish for us? Do you want power? Is it strength which you seek? We are it. Do you accept us? We can make you strong.” The voices offered.
“Strong…” Thea repeated once more, (“To not fail the test where he had…”) understanding where Erik had failed. “No, I do not want your strength.” She answered.
“Are you sure? Sure? Sure?” The voices asked once more, the timing of each voice falling apart.
Thea felt the sword’s hilt within her hands once again, “Be free.” she said, letting go of the weapon.
“Is-Is That-That your-Your desire-Desire?” The voices asked, “We-We could-Could be-Be your-Your power-Power.” they offered again. The sword appearing within the darkness, clear as day before her. Offering itself to her.
“I don’t want power, if it is at the suffering of others.” Thea responded.
Suddenly the voices laughed, a reverberating laughter that pained her ears. Thea tried to cover them, the pain resonating through her head.
Slowly the laughter merged, the voices became one.
“You, would free, these creatures?” Said the voice, “You fool, these demons are imprisoned for a reason. You have not the strength to fell them, therefore they stay within ME!”
Her vision blurred.
Thea’s eyes rolled back to normal, and she immediately backed away from the sword. She let go of it, yet it remained floating in place. She stared at it, her expression pale, her eyes wild with panic.
“You failed.” Erik said, grabbing the sword by its hilt and sheathing it.
“What…What was that?” Thea asked.
Erik chuckled, “I never said what sort of souls were imprisoned within the blade, yet you decided to free them anyway didn’t you?” Thea nodded, raising her gaze from the weapon to meet his amused eyes. “I failed the blade’s test because I did not need the power it offered, you failed too…because you are too gullible.” He said, sighing right after as he picked up the cloth and chains.
“Too bad, this would’ve been a fine weapon for you to wield. The Underblade, also known as Hell’s Devourer.” He said whilst wrapping the black cloth around the weapon once more, the chain then suddenly wrapping itself around it of its own will.
“But…I thought it was made by the vilest of creatures?” Thea asked in confusion.
“Ha!” Erik laughed as he threw the covered weapon back into its barrier, it floated back to place. “The Dark Age was full of cruel and vile creatures, a time when history was not even recorded. All we know is what older races remember. Yes this weapon was made by the cruel, but it was made to kill something crueller.” He turned to face her, “Do not judge a weapon by its wielder, it is a tool and nothing else.”
Thea’s mouth lay open, but she did not respond. He was undeniably right, she was still too gullible.
Seeing no response coming from her, Erik turned back. “Fortunately, you’re my chosen. And I have more than a few choices to arm you with.” He said, walking over and then reaching into the second barrier.
The second weapon hovered down into his hands, much larger than the last, none of them could tell what it was until he unwrapped it. Removing the chains and then cloth, Erik turned to reveal a wide black case in his hands.
“Hover.” He chanted, allowing the case to float before him.
“What is that?” Nerick asked, seeing the strange grey markings that covered the case.
“This,” Erik said as he unlocked the case and opened it, “Is an other-worldly weapon. Its origins as vague as its use, it comes from another realm entirely. Tell me, what do you see inside?” he then asked, turning the case’s contents to face them.
“A staff.” Shizuka immediately said.
“No that’s a spear?” Nerick then said.
“I see a dagger.” Makaela said, unsure in her tone.
“I…see a gunblade?” Thea added, also unsure as they all looked up at a smirking Erik.
The drake seemingly enjoying their confused expressions. “None of you is wrong, this weapon takes the preferred shape their user desires. I know not where it is from, I know not how it was made but, this weapon will provide its user with the highest class of material and craftsmanship known to our world.” He pushed it closer to Thea, “Take it.” Erik said.
Thea stared at the weapon before her, confused still as she looked at it. The weapon’s colours were ever changing, its shape seemingly undecided. All her mind knew was that it looked like a gunblade.
Thea reached out towards the weapon, its shape stabilizing as she did. Its colours setting as well, as she took hold. Thea raised the weapon before her, and each of them now saw what she did.
The weapon, just like its name, was in part a sword and in part a gun.
Long like a rifle, but the stock was above the handle and trigger, switching the hold around the stock doubled as a hand guard due to its shield-like shape. Furthermore, the weapon had two barrels, each running along the face of a double-edged blade that lay in between them. Embedded into the blade and barely visible in between the two barrels was a long crystal, the weapon’s magical focus.
The weapon was mostly white in colour, not painted, but the metal itself was a pure white. All but the blade edges which were as blue as the crystal focus. The handle which was wrapped in silver leather. And lastly, the barrel ends which were slightly thicker than the rest of them, they were a dark blue.
Thea at first held the weapon like a sword, the barrels were not entirely cylindrical, they were mildly flattened towards the blade and shaped to cleave through the air with it. She slashed forwards with ease, the wind whistling past the weapon.
She then switched to a gun’s grip, holding the handle and trigger with her right hand and the stock beneath her arm. She placed her left further up from where the stock connected with the barrels, where the handle began once more right before the blade did.
She found that, if she raised the weapon to take aim, the stock would press down towards the handle giving her leeway to do so.
“How does it feel?” Erik asked, inspecting the strange weapon himself.
“It is…much lighter than my last one.” Thea noted, switching the weapon around from a gun-hold to a sword-grip and waving it around, checking its weight and balance.
“Good, it doesn’t seem very balanced for a sword but, I’d guess it is enchanted to be so.” Erik mused, “So, all three of you are armed. Now it’s time to learn how to use them.” He then stated, walking past a slightly disappointed Shizuka and out of the room.
Realising her own expression, Shizuka calmed herself. (“I’m not one of them, why would he give me anything? He doesn’t trust me, I don’t even trust him.”) She thought to herself, turning to follow them out.
“Give me a moment, I must create each room first…” Erik said, closing his eyes to focus.
“Create?” Nerick repeated in question.
“Dragons have full mastery of the space that makes up their lairs,” Makaela explained as Erik focused, “Erik could turn these few rooms into an impregnable fortress if he wished to. His powers here are doubled, his body is constantly healed too.”
“That’s…” Nerick found no words to react with.
“I’ve heard about that too, House Hold magic was it?” Shizuka asked.
Makaela nodded, “Like most Elves, like the Fae and the Mer. Lairs are a Dragon’s House Hold magic.”
“House…hold?” Nerick wasn’t following at all.
Shizuka sighed, “Really? Have you any magical knowledge at all?” the bestia asked.
Nerick shook his head, “I gained my army rank solely through mastery of arms.” seemingly proud of that feat.
Thea coughed, “It’s true…” pity in her eyes as she glanced away.
Shizuka and Makaela looked at him in disbelief, “Wow, didn’t even know that was possible.” Shizuka then said, “Well…uhh…House hold magic is like, a kind of magic that can only be cast by a specific group of creatures. Wood elves have their Treant summoning for example, well just like so, dragons have their Lairs.”
“Oh, I get it.” Nerick then said, gaining himself a pat on the back from Ivara’s tail.
“Done.” Erik abruptly said, and their surroundings were suddenly not what they just were. The corridor and rooms were completely gone and in their stead, was something much vaster.
Thea glanced around in awe, she now stood within a vast and open area, enormous even when compared to the first room. Plain stone walls and ceiling yet the ground was dirt and grass as if they were outside. But, she also noticed that, the others were gone too.
Erik solely stood before her, “You’ve all been separated into three different areas, and before you are copies of myself created by the Lair.”
Nerick, Makaela and Thea stood within a copy of the same room, an Erik standing before them.
“Here you will sweat, you will shed tears. You will bleed.” Each Erik said to the three of them, “I will crush your bones till they regrow like iron, I will shred your skin till it reforms harder than a wyvern’s hide. You’ve chosen to follow me, but I need you to be stronger than you are. I will sharpen your senses, iron out your toughness, hammer in the required mobility into your muscles’ memory. You walk into my Lair as knight, spearman and rogue. You will all walk out, changed, improved. You will walk out as champions.”
Erik raised his hands forward, and the ground beneath them quaked. Stone structures rose from the earth, surrounding them, mossy rock forming buildings and broken-down ruins. An arena, they thought, then each of them also noticing that they had lost sight of Erik.
“But before then, before you are ready, I must break you.” Erik said, his voice resonating throughout the area. His words, sending a cold shiver down their spine. “I hope you are prepared, because I won’t wait any longer. Watch your surroundings, listen, feel. I won’t spare moves, I won’t be holding back. For as long as this training goes on keep in mind that, I’ll be out to kill each of you.”
“I only hope you’ll survive. It would be a shame since you’ve made it so far.” He mocked, his chuckle echoing about the raised buildings. “Your training, begins now.”
Each of the three then felt the blood which ran through their veins, freeze solid.
Each, felt death itself approach.
Shizuka suddenly found herself within a small chamber, a room with a single bed, a desk with several dozens of books and two doors. Seeing nobody around, she checked through each door finding a bathroom with magical appliances and in the other a kitchen with the same.
“You will remain here for the remainder,” Erik suddenly said, appearing before her as she walked back into the main room from the kitchen. Causing Shizuka to jump in fright.
“R-Right…” She said, “I-I was hoping…” she then began.
“Hoping for what?” Erik asked with a raised brow, still distrustful of the bestia.
Shizuka coughed uncomfortably as she glanced away, “Nothing…” she then said, knowing she’d be asking too much.
“Out with it now, or forget about it entirely.” Erik said, briefly waiting before turning away.
“I…I was hoping I could at least watch miss Thea train…” Shizuka asked, causing Erik to pause in his steps.
Erik glanced back at her, pondering for a moment. “Hm, no harm in it. Very well.” He then said, closing his eyes to focus. As he did, the wall facing the bed cracked and shuddered. Its very material changed, from stone, suddenly becoming glass. He opened his eyes and turned to face the now mirror-wall. Placing his left palm over it, “Lair vision.” he then chanted.
The mirror then showed three separate moving images, a bird’s eye view of Makaela, Nerick and Thea side by side.
“There will be a two hour break every day in the afternoon, you may meet with each of them as they replenish their stomachs then.” Erik explained, “Other than that, this is where you’ll stay.”
“What about him?…” Shizuka then asked vaguely.
“Him?” Erik repeated, knowing who she was speaking of. “My Lair’s location is unknown even to my xilfir, nothing can be traced within, not even your curse mark. He may though, track you to the ship. But there, he will have to fight his way through the xilfir guarding it, even then he’ll have to hijack my portal…And even then…Let Himcome, you think vampires have a reason to be proud of their power? I’ll show the overgrown winged rodent what Pride and Power mean.”
Erik turned to face Shizuka, noticing her trying to hide her fear. Not of him, but of what hunted her. “Mark my words, assassin. I may be weak in body, but you are my chosen’s property now. And what is hers, is also mine…”
Shizuka glanced up to meet his gaze, just in time to see a fierce golden light surge through his eyes.
“And what is mine…well…Have you heard of what happens to those that steal from dragons?” Erik asked.
Shizuka shook her head.
He smiled, “Exactly.”