Thea immediately knew what she was up against.
The sound of something scraping along the ground and stone, the thought-disruptive hissing and the ever-present feeling that something was watching her.
Thea was on full alert, standing in the middle of the ruined city’s road. She stood still, awaiting their attack. Not watching, no her eyes were useless in this fight. Thea listened closely for the sound of something dragging along the dirt, for the hissing which changed direction every so often.
She listened, until the creature finally struck.
The attack came from behind her, the ruined building exploding into rubble as the serpent rushed through it.
Thea immediately leapt out of the way, holding her large gunblade ahead of her as the creature’s hard skin expanded, using her blade as a shield from the rush of spikes that passed before her. She caught only a brief glimpse of the large creature before it slithered back into hiding across the road.
A large serpent, comparable to a fully-grown wyvern in size. Its body was made of rock-like plates which expanded into thousands of stone blades as it spun on itself while lunging, although it was seemingly made of stone, the reality was that the Basilisk’s hide was on par with iron.
Expertly it slithered about the ruined city, shrinking its own body width to pass through alleyways and doorways, finding her blind spot before suddenly…striking once again.
A rush of expanding blades charged towards Thea as she turned to meet them, again leaping out of the creature’s path before using her weapon to protect herself from the long spinning blade-like plates. She landed several feet away, facing the creature as this time instead of rushing back into hiding…it turned to face her as well.
Thea closed her eyes, a tale it was but one that everyone had heard one or twice before.
A tale it was, but the basilisk’s magical eyes were also an undeniable fact of nature.
An abyss of dark green light spiralling within the serpent’s eye sockets, awaiting to be unleashed into its prey’s eyes. The creature itself was blind due to this power, but even then, nothing escaped its senses. Listening for her every move, smelling her fear and anxiety. Its tongue tasting the air, feeling her exact position through her body heat.
The basilisk was a keen and deadly hunter, known to prey upon even wyverns and other powerful beasts.
It loomed over her, snarling its massive jaw open. Its neck lined with black hair that hung down like a beard and trailing back along its head like a lion’s mane. Its fangs differed, from two main fangs on both jaws, long like blades and made to slit armoured throats. To the rest, smaller but many jagged teeth, like a shark’s.
Its body expanded to its full size. The plates of stone that acted like both armour and weapons lay open, vibrating with excitement whilst revealing the dark green snakeskin beneath.
It hissed, the sound penetrating into Thea’s mind, disrupting her thoughts and senses.
She knew she had nowhere to run.
Thea knew she couldn’t escape, she didn’t even know which side of the road was closest. Opening her eyes was suicide, turning away and running would prove just as pointless. She only knew that the creature stood before her, a cautious beast, awaiting her next move.
And if she waited much longer…
Basilisks were not known for their patience.
Thea’s mind rushed to a single conclusion, she couldn’t run else it would strike at her back. She couldn’t charge it, or its body would tear her’s apart. And she couldn’t wait any longer either.
So instead, she switched the hold on her weapon.
Sensing the movement, hearing her hands and weapon, the basilisk spun its body defensively. A whirlwind of blades and dust suddenly appearing before her, blocking Thea from rushing in to attack, and quickly advancing on her to shred her apart.
But Thea didn’t need to get close, gripping her weapon as she leapt aside.
“Flame Burst!” she chanted.
Her gunblade’s crystal core shone crimson as flames formed at the tips of each barrel, the flames spiralling around one another before suddenly bursting forwards.
Two projectiles of fire shot forth from her weapon, each colliding with the spinning serpent. The flames though were deflected away from the basilisk’s revealed skin, they exploded and spun with the creature, expanding and rising up its body with the movement.
The basilisk’s whirlwind of bladed-plates was lit ablaze, and turned against her.
Thea had evaded the first lunge but unable to open her eyes she stumbled on her landing, falling back as the serpent turned to adjust to her new position. It ended its spin, dissipating the flames that surrounded it, then lunged down at the fallen Thea.
Thea prepared herself for the crushing jaws that were sure to come down upon her, but never did.
“You may open your eyes.” Erik said, as he appeared before her.
She did, finding the basilisk frozen mid-lunge behind him, jaws wide open to devour her. Thea shivered at the monstrous sight.
“You were the first to fall, Thea. Nerick lasted longer than you, both he and Makaela are still going.” He said with raised brows, disappointment clear in his expression. “And you cannot say that either of you have been given a stronger foe, each I chose specifically for you and is of equal difficulty. Nerick…just failed, his mistake was not paying attention. Yours? You were too cautious.”
“Too cautious?” Thea asked.
“You waited for a born predator to come to you, this was your first fatal mistake. You allowed the basilisk to set the playing field.” Erik began to explain, “The second mistake was abandoning your sight completely, yes the basilisk is known for its petrifying stare but, it can be evaded by closing your eyes. Closing your eyes, not having them closed from the very start.” he said, followed by a sigh as he flicked his fingers.
The basilisk behind him was suddenly reanimated, and it looked away from them. It gazed off, its eyes slowly gaining in brightness before the energy within flashed forwards into a petrifying beam of dark magic.
“The basilisk’s petrifying sight is not immediate, it instead tries to hypnotise you as your eyes meet, which is impossible to occur if you do not let it. Fools who have fallen for it met its gaze and were either too afraid to look away, or simple creatures being mesmerized by the light within.” Erik said as he gestured at the terrifying serpent above him.
He then turned back to her as she rose to her feet, “Your third fatal mistake, was using the wrong element at the wrong time. When the basilisk spins it becomes a whirlwind of air, and what happens when you add fire to a turbulent breeze?” He said and the creature suddenly began to spin behind him, showcasing the attack in question.
Erik lifted his hand forward, palm open where a flame suddenly burst alive. He threw the magical blaze back at the still rotating monstrosity, and Thea fearfully watched as it lit aflame.
“It becomes a spinning breeze from hell.” Erik chided, “Also…You are my chosen, yet not once did you tap into that power. That weapon you hold is capable of withstanding so much more energy than the crumb you fed it. Your very senses can be enhanced if you tap into my mana, your body improved to move like never before. We have two months, and within that time you will learn each of these.”
Thea nodded, but her shoulders slumped. Nerick had lasted longer than her?…
“Again.” Erik then said, causing Thea to snap out of her daze.
“Wait wha-” She was about to ask, but realised Erik was already gone.
And so was the Basilisk.
The hissing, had also continued.
Alan glanced away from the three mirrors, the fighting within had just continued. Instead, he turned to Erik. The real Erik, who lay at the centre of the large room he had transported them both into. He watched the humanoid drake concentrate, sensing the raw energy pulsing through his body.
“You’re overdoing it.” Alan said, seeing the stress Erik’s human body was in. Veins of bright gold riddling his skin, pulsating with mana.
“No, not enough.” Erik snapped back, briefly opening his eyes and revealing them to be filled with blindingly bright golden light.
Alan rolled his eyes, he wasn’t about to argue with his captor over killing himself. “What are you doing anyway?” he instead asked, rubbing the marks that lay over his wrists and arms, caused by the chains and ropes that once held him. He might be free of them now, but Alan knew better. This was a Dragon’s Lair, there was no escape.
“Watching each room,“ Erik quickly responded, ”this one, theirs and the bestia’s. Controlling each foe, the Golem, the Basilisk, and every single Spectre.”
“To what end? Can’t you leave the control of all that up to the Lair?” Alan asked, knowing it to be true from his days being trained by Findri.
“To improve this body’s skill at mana manipulation.” Erik answered, the veins that lay all over his body and face now pulsating quicker.
“And the insane amount of mana running through your system?” Alan then pointed out, unable to block out his detection of the energy even if he tried.
“Expanding this body’s limit of mana usage, my soul contains so much yet this body can only handle so little.” Erik explained, “Are you done asking questions? Because I brought you here to ask you some more of my own.”
“Really? I thought you’d have brought me here to keep an eye on me.” Alan said snidely, “What do you wish to know?”
Erik took a deep breath, and suddenly all the veins over his body disappeared. In their stead an aura of dark gold lightning surged across his entire body, a continuous flow of energy running through Erik.
Slowly he began to move, breathing in and out all the while as he began to make strange movements. Almost like a dance but in slow motion, the energy that ran through his body seemingly stabilizing with each step.
Alan recognised the movements not as a dance, but instead as an ancient method of training one’s body, mind and spirit. Except, Erik was doing so in tandem with so much more.
“You’ve been back in this world for much longer than me, alive for longer than most too.” Erik began, speaking in between each breath. “Tell me, what races still exist, and where are they all located on Faeterra?”
“Hm…hard question right off the bat.“ Alan sighed, ”Well, some Humans, most Elves and some Dwarves are located in Druvia.”
“Some humans?” Erik repeated in question.
“The human race has severely increased in population since our time, we now populate not only the main continent but also three others. Sinroz being one, Nurin being the other, and a single tribe living on Pepputia alongside the Fae.” Alan explained.
“So you’ve discovered the treasures that lay beneath Nurin have you? And Pepputia? Those humans must be mad to live alongside those pests.” Erik chuckled.
“No,” Alan shook his head, ”Actually the Pepputians and Fae get along quite nicely, it’s just you Dragons who the Fae dislike really. As for Nurin…Yeah, you could say ‘We’ discovered the treasures that lay beneath that hellscape but…”
“But?” Erik repeated, urging him to continue.
“Nurin, the volcanic continent it used to be called. Now? Now it’s Nurin, the fortress kingdom.” Alan said with displeasure clear in his tone.
“Fortress kingdom? I’d be amazed to see any human civilization survive there, but a kingdom? You jest.” Erik said in disbelief.
“If only, no Nurins are real enough and so is their greedy kingdom. In search of more resources for Sinroz and Druvia, the two kingdoms formed a massive expedition to Nurin. This occurred after the Dragon Wars, after my resurrection…” Alan explained, his expression darkening as he did. “I was part of that expedition.”
“You were? Then pray tell how in the world, were they able to survive a week under those hellish conditions and thrive?” Erik asked.
“Human ingenuity and Dwarven engineering are how.” Alan answered, “It took months of work to even make it off Nurin’s shore safely, years more to perform an effective search but…We found it, beneath the cooled rock was more minerals than the Dwarves could dream of…and…”
“Mana crystals,” Erik added, “I fear I know where this story ends.”
Alan nodded grimly, “Druvia and Sinroz at the time were both out of mana crystal deposits, a mineral that can power magical weapons, tools and so much more…At first, Druvia drew plans to divide the spoils, and Sinroz was going to accept.”
Alan’s gaze fell as he reminisced,
“But instead…a third faction was born. Three present Marquises from Druvia, a trading company from Sinbeni and most of the Feline tribe of Zrosa banded together…and killed everyone else. They claimed themselves as Nurins, they hoarded the methods produced to survive the heat and volcanic eruptions to themselves, and alongside those methods they kept the land and resources around them.
The Nurins flourished in solitude for hundreds of years, the land which they stood on protecting them from invasion by either Druvia, Sinroz and…Hell. Not even the demonic armies that came later risked dividing their forces to attack Nurin which is a hell in of itself. No contact has been held with Nurin since then, nobody goes or comes from Nurin, all we know is that they’re there…“
“Conflict and backstabbing, why am I not surprised?” Erik mused, seemingly struggling now, his movements slowing down and the energy which surrounded him starting to destabilize.
“You looked winded.” Alan pointed out.
“Nothing is gained without hardship.” Erik replied with a grunt, regaining control of the sizzling electricity. “Continue, how fares Sinroz?”
Alan shrugged, “Divided, the council of elders was abolished a few decades back, and the kingdoms haven’t been the same since. Sinbeni and Zrosa lay in constant conflict, whether it be on land for resources or Zrosian pirates raiding merchants between Druvia and Sinbeni. At the same time, neither of them lay united. Sinbeni houses fighting for political power, each stabbing the other for the people’s respect and the profit which that brings. Zrosa, on the other hand, lays in complete tatters-“
Alan’s eyes widened as Erik suddenly lost control of his magic, the mana immediately running rampant. Bolts of lightning flashed all around him, forcing Alan to erect a barrier of ice to protect himself from the unrestrained energy.
Erik groaned in pain as he struggled to regain control, lightning running through and around his body, searing his skin and hair. His eyes laying wide open and shining brightly, electricity sparking out of them as well.
“Stop, you’ll kill yourself!” Alan warned.
But Erik only laughed, “Never, this is nothing but a small step I must conquer!” he exclaimed, clenching his hands into fists and steadying his stance. Erik forced his eyes closed and focused, continuing to breathe, continuing his movements too.
Slowly he regained some portion of control, the energy which damaged him before now flowing to counter the rest, healing the damage that was done whilst Erik contained everything else through sheer willpower.
“You’re insane.” Alan stated with disbelief, he was a chosen and even his body would’ve been destroyed by such magical bombardment.
“Insane?” Erik repeated, chuckling right after while resisting the pain that still plagued his body. “Far from it!” he exclaimed, smoothly transitioning from one step to another until he finally returned to standing straight.
The energy which surrounded him suddenly surrendered itself to his control, the lightning rushing to re-enter his body and within moments all of it had. Alan watched as Erik took one more deep breath, awestruck by the sight. Only moments before was Erik on the verge of disintegrating himself and the entire room with him.
“No, not insane…Maybe fixation.” Erik mused, turning to face Alan.
The adventurer took a step back in surprise as he saw, Erik’s eyes had changed.
Once the bright light that filled them faded it was clear, no longer were they the eyes of a human. Erik’s eyes were still blue, but were now…like a reptile’s slits. “No, this isn’t insanity which fills me.” Erik said, returning to his movements and resummoning his mana to flow with him once more.
He breathed, in and out like before. Now in complete control.
“But a Dragon’s determination.”
Grim lay within its darkened hall, sitting behind its desk of bones. Its left hand moving through dozens of scrolls, writing even as it looked elsewhere. The God of death gazed at three hourglasses that lay before it, empty from sand yet so important.
Within two of them, it watched a singular scene, both hourglasses showing the same one. it watched Erik train, through his eyes within one hourglass and Alan’s eyes within another. it had been watching both ever since it had resurrected them.
“Maybe you were too hasty, Grim.” whispered one invisible God.
“Maybe too cautious too.” hissed another.
“It matters not,” Grim said, “They both are nothing but minor pawns, the Destroyer’s actions and the Hero’s inaction will give us setbacks but alas, she stands with us, she is all we need to enact our plan.” it gestured at the third empty hourglass.
“True, they nought but side characters in her play. Yet, she must deal with them, before they alter the timeline past repair!” exclaimed a many-voiced God.
“She knows, she w-” Grim was about to say, but suddenly froze. “Preposterous!” it then exclaimed in fury, turning to face a ripple in reality that had formed nearby its desk.
The ripple suddenly expanded and tore into a multicoloured rift.
“You do not belong in this realm!” Grim exclaimed at the rift, as it rose from its desk.
A man flew out of the rift, wearing a hooded cloak of white fur. His eyes shone a pale silver while the rest of him, his skin, hair, two furry tails and vulpine ears were whiter than snow.
Grim stepped to the man, the God standing twice as tall. “Your very presence could ruin everything!” it shouted in agitation.
The man chuckled coldly, “You’ve failed twice already Grim, yet the big boss gave you leeway to keep trying. But, hell if I’m letting you screw up again.” he chided.
Grim’s eyesockets shined with a dangerous green light, “This is not your realm, devourer, you are not welco-” the God began to say, but suddenly Grim found that it could no longer speak.
“I do, am, and go where and when I see fit, and as I please.” The man hissed, his voice resonating throughout the room as suddenly a layer of frost formed to cover everything. His eyes, ears and tails also bursting afire, emitting a pure white flame. “Worry not, Reaper, I’m not going to mess with your plans. Not much.” he said with a cold chuckle, “But, you are always free to try and remove me.” he then challenged.
Grim’s eyes dimmed, the green energy that previously filled them dissipating.
“Hmph, so you do want to keep your job? Heh. Good, replacing a death god can’t be easy huh?” The fox asked with amusement, stepping around Grim and towards its desk.
“They left me to deal with this realm, not you.” Grim then said.
“They, couldn’t care less who fixes what as long as it is fixed. That is simply how reality works.” The man said as he reached out and grabbed one of the hourglasses, “Last I checked, you had only revived one. Now it’s three? And you say you don’t need help…” he teased whilst gazing through Alan’s eyes. “Interesting…” he mused before putting the hourglass back.
“What…are you up to?” Grim then asked, the God’s head then turning unnaturally to look at the fox.
“What I’ve been up to for the past eon.” The fox said, glancing at Grim with a wicked smile. “Helping.” he answered, before suddenly fading into another rift which closed just as quickly as it opened.
Grim sighed, turning its body to align with its head. “This…”
“This changes nothing.” hissed another God.
“Oh, now that the devourer is gone, you speak!” Grim mused in annoyance, then glancing at the third hourglass.
“No…this changes everything.“