Port City of Ai’sen
Thirteen days later
A dimly lit warehouse, crates and barrels with differing emblem-like marks laying painted upon them, filling it.
Within the warehouse’s centre lay a single table, three men sitting at it with two of them playing a game of cards. Each wore light armour and wielded several sheathed blades, not in the least hidden from view as their cloaks lay over a fourth chair.
The door on one end of the warehouse rattled and each of them reached for a weapon, but seeing that their comrade had entered two of them returned to their game.
“Stronov, you’re late.” Said the guard not playing like the rest, as he stood up and turned to the new arrival. “Where are the others?”
Stronov, similarly equipped but mostly covered by a dark brown cloak, quickly shut the door and moved to approach the others. “We were being followed Jackob, so we split off. I shook mine off, the others must still be trying.”
“Followed? City guard?” Jackob asked with a raised brow.
“No, they were too quiet, completely out of sight. Like a shadow at our feet, if Dane hadn’t sensed them none of us would have noticed.” Stronov said, lowering his hood to reveal a pale expression. “Something’s off, they were far more skilled than the city guard and the magic Dane sensed was dark elf, Sin Wyrms do not accept dark elves.”
The other two paused their card game, joining the conversation themselves. “If they weren’t city guard, and they weren’t council dogs, then who did we interest this fine day?” One of them asked jokingly.
“This isn’t time for jokes Tom, I sent Tucker over to tell the boss, now we wait and see.” Stronov grumbled.
“Dark elves eh?” The last man mused, “Only organization that weaponizes those slaves is the Assassin’s Pact, but why would Soul be after us? We’re just hired muscle for the Warlord.”
“Something might’ve gone off between the boss and the Pact, we don’t know and we don’t need to know.” Jackob said, sitting back down.
When suddenly the door opened again.
Each of the men turned to face it, some moving for their weapons as was a bandit’s nature, but when they saw nobody at the door each of them unsheathed.
Jackob signalled for the others to scatter across the warehouse, as he rose and unsheathed his cutlass. “Tien? Decker?” he asked, checking if it was one his other colleges. “Tucker?” he then asked once more, slowly approaching the still wide-open door.
The metal door suddenly shut close on its own, reverberating with the force and making Jackob’s ears ring with the loud sound it produced. “Gah…What the-”
All he saw was a flash of golden light before he found himself facing the warehouse’s ceiling, dazed as he lay on the floor. He tried to move, but then noticed that the same golden light was wrapped around his body, tendrils of lightning tied around him like rope.
Suddenly an unknown force pulled him up, letting him stand and see that each of his comrades also lay tied up in the magic, standing beside him and in line.
“This is…Dark elf magic!” Exclaimed a dazed Tom, before a sudden wave of electricity jolted through his body, filling him with agony but numbing his muscles. Unable to scream or move, as the pain filled him for several moments, then dying down.
“You shall only speak, when spoken to.” Said a chilling voice with a Druvian elven accent. Far from how elves spoke in Sinbeni, which was similar to how the original citizens spoke, having adapted.
Jackob and the rest glanced at Tom, laying limp and breathing weakly from the shock as smoke rose from his body. Most decided it was best to do as told, “F-F*** you…” all but Tom, who got a second wave of jolts.
“S-Shut it man!” The unnamed bandit said, regretting it immediately as he himself also received a wave of electricity.
The rest glanced away, their expressions paling as they dared now look at the torture.
“Must I kill someone to get some respect on this dry land?” The voice said, as suddenly a knife flew in from the shadows, embedding itself into Tom’s gut.
Tom screamed from the pain, his eyes going wide as the blade hung in his flesh.
“Because I will, and it won’t be quick.” The voice warned, finally gaining a source as the dark elf appeared before them.
Makaela approached Tom. Grasping the dagger with one hand and sinking it deeper, causing the bandit to scream out again, coughing out blood as the xilfir toyed with him.
The dark elf glanced to either side of her victim, pulling the dagger out and turning away. “You work for Warlord Ramzi Al-Salem, black market giant, partner with both desert bandits and pirates…correct?” she asked whilst taking a few steps away, so quiet that they did not hear a single one of them.
“W-We won’t-t-tell you s***!” Tom struggled to say, eyes wild with pain as the bandit resisted.
The dark elf turned around, a glint in her eyes catching their attention.
None of them noticing, until the sound of flesh tearing and bone breaking filled their ears.
Each then followed the sound, their eyes widening as they found Tom dead, the knife that the dark elf had recuperated from his stomach now laying embedded in his forehead.
“You won’t, not anymore.” The dark elf said coldly, pausing for a few long moments before chuckling, the sound sending shivers down each bandit’s spine.
Jackob turned to face the dark elf first, the Makaela meeting his fearful gaze with a maniacal stare. “Well? Shall you answer my question?” she asked, but none of them spoke.
They wanted to live, and answering that question would do the exact opposite in this line of work.
Each of the bandits hoped another would break, each resisted, waiting for someone else to answer.
Causing the xilfir to grin widely, “Ah, so that’s how it’s going to be.” Makaela said in amusement, “Then how about we play a little game!” She then said enthusiastically, two more knives appearing in each of her hands. “There’s three of you remaining, now let’s say every joint on your body is a target, and trust me I have enough knives. I will ask questions, if you do not answer I will choose a random target and throw a knife. If your answer is unsatisfactory, I will throw at two targets instead. If…perchance, I notice that you are lying? I’ll end your life. Easy no?” she said with a wide cold smile.
Each of the three bandits stared at her, weighing their current fear with what they held for Ramzi.
They knew from her tone, her act and lack of care for their lives, that she was not one to be trifled with.
“Let’s start with…a simple question. Each of you, tell me your names.” She asked, raising her right hand and one by one, she took aim at each of them.
And on cue, each responded.
Each of the bandits said their names, each wondering how cold-hearted this xilfir was to even ask. Killing an unknown enemy was one thing, but killing someone whose name you knew would weigh on anybody’s mind.
“Good, next question is my first.” She then said, waiting a few moments for them to answer.
But not realising soon enough that, that short phrase was her question, the bandits ran out of time.
Makaela’s left hand blurred with speed as she threw her knife, the blade whistling as it sliced through the air and then tearing into Albert’s left shoulder. The man screamed briefly, tears wetting his eyes as he tried to hold his voice in, pain reverberating through his shoulder.
“As I said, If you do not answer…” Makaela reminded them, “So answer the question, do you work for Warlord Ramzi Al-Salem?” she asked once more.
“Y-Yes…” Albert wheezed out.
“Ah, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Makaela teased as she raised her left hand forward, the blade suddenly flying out of Albert’s shoulder and into her grasp.
“F-F***!” Albert swore as new waves of pain filled him.
Makaela giggled, amused by his pain as she licked the blood off her weapon, wearing a seductive gaze as she met the terrified man’s eyes. “Next question, what have you heard of a…Dragon, in these parts?” she asked, her eyes suddenly turning dead cold as she glanced in between each of them.
Jackob and Albert glanced at one another, all but Stronov, whose gaze remained fixed on their captor.
Makaela wiggled the bloody knife in between her fingers, taking aiming at each of them, moving from one to the other.
“Nothing, Dragons have been extinct for a long time!” Jackob then suddenly answered.
“See?” Makaela sighed, as jolts of electricity suddenly filled Jackob’s body, “What did I say about lying to me?”
Jackob screamed in dire agony, his eyes and mouth going wide as he arched his back from the pain, until his voice was cut short. Yet he still seemed to be trying to shriek, but barely any sound came out. All but a choking noise as he shook and squirmed in place.
The other two stared at their tortured comrade, hypnotised with shock they gazed at his ugly but silent agony.
For several moments the electricity surged through the bandit’s body, and all the while he struggled, quietly he struggled.
Untill finally, moments after each of them glanced away, unable to bear the sight any longer. The electricity died down, and so did Jackob, the man going limp and lifeless.
“I promise you, he died, very painfully.” Makaela said in amusement, yet the thin cold smile she wore showed none of it. And her eyes, wide and mad.
Each of them knew, she was toying with them. This dark elf was enjoying every scream, every twitch, every drop of blood and jolt of pain.
This was just a game to her, they thought.
And they were right.
“I’ll let you in on a secret, worms.” Makaela said, raising her other hand and taking aim at the both of them. “You might have noticed that I am xilfir, and from how I speak, not from this continent. My master, wishes to know where this Dragon is, and we know from interrogating other colleges of yours that it is under Ramzi’s hold. They were helpful to point, but I killed them anyway. Why? Because they stopped being helpful, just as you have. Will you continue being unhelpful?” she asked, as they met her dreadful gaze.
“You told me your names, it is a little late for those two, but I shall return the favour nonetheless. I am Makaela Xilfir, High Priestess of the main branch family. You though, might also know me by another rather cute title of mine.” She said with a smirk, “Does, Queen of Thieves, ring any bells?” Makaela asked, causing each bandit to swallow their collecting spit in a quick gulp.
Makaela giggled, amused by their expressions. “Oh! Do not believe all the rumours about me, I am fair, as there is honour among thieves after all. And we are all among thieves here, aren’t we? I set rules, and if you follow them you’ll survive, as you two have thus far.”
Neither of them spoke a single word in response, they simply watched and waited, abiding by said rules.
“And oh, how much do I love obedient little dogs!” Makaela exclaimed, pleasure going through her expression as she toyed with her knives’ grips, ”Which you have been for now.” She said with another giggle, “But if you turn hateful mutts on me while we’ve had so much fun already…” her eyes suddenly flashed with the same coldness they had before, and the two knives in her grasp blurred with movement.
The knives flew forth, embedding themselves into the groins of each dead man beside the remaining two bandits.
Both men’s expressions turned ghostly pale by the sight.
“So, answer the question truthfully.” She said, her eyes immediately returning to their amused form a moment later. Two more knives appearing in each of her hands also. “Where is Ramzi keeping the Dragon?” she calmly asked again.
An hour later
Erik stood at the ship’s railing, watching the docks as the North Orca made port. By his side stood Nerick with Ivara around his neck.
Alan, lost in his thoughts.
And Shizuka, looking about warily.
“Thank you, captain.” spoke Thea as she stepped out of the ship’s cabin with captain Genus, “We’ll be here for a few weeks, I’ll be sure to add onto your payment with every extra day we end up staying.”
Genus grunted in agreement, “She’ll be docked and waiting, give ‘er some maintenance while you’re away. Ships are hard to keep, and not doing so can bring less than unsavoury issues.” He said, then standing at attention and saluting. “Have a safe visit, Lady Selene.”
Thea saluted back, “I’m…sure I shall.” She reluctantly responded, then turning over to the rest who were waiting on her.
“Well we’ve made it to Ai’sen in one piece,” Alan said with a sigh, “What’s next, ambassador Selene?”
“We’re here a few weeks earlier than they probably expected we’d be thanks to Erik,” Thea responded as they moved towards the ramp being raised onto their ship, workers down at the docks were rolling the machinery out by turning a couple levers. “So instead of them coming to us, we’ll have to go to the embassy ourselves and meet with the Druvian ambassador who stays here locally.”
“The Embassy? Ugh…” Alan groaned, as an adventurer he’s had to deal with the Druvian ambassador within Sinbeni before.
“Not on friendly terms with the embassy?” Nerick guessed with a smirk.
“No, they don’t exactly like my kind.” Alan admitted.
“Which kind? Pale human, immortal or dragon slayer?” Makaela jokingly asked, appearing out of nowhere to stand nearby Erik who turned to her.
“Report.” Erik said simply, before turning back to studying the city ahead.
“My dreadblades are still making themselves known to the locals, but word is a young Dragon took part in some shady underground arena.” Makaela said, pausing as brief rage ran through Erik’s expression.
“Continue…” Erik then said, still grinding his teeth.
“The arena, or the monster coliseum as the locals call it, is a legal event where the wealthy of Sinbeni go to pit their pets and slaves against one another. They bet on the winner, and many use their prized fighters to advertise products too.” Makaela continued her report, “The owner of this leisure, is Ramzi Al-Salem, ex-Warlord and blackmarket boss.”
“Ramzi…Al-Salem.” Erik repeated the name, a dangerous glint in his eyes.
“Do you know him?” Nerick asked.
“No, but he shall know me.” Erik growled.
“I’ve heard of him…” Shizuka then said, everyone turning to the new Spirit Beast, the sudden attention causing her to freeze up briefly. “I-I only heard rumours.” She warned.
“Rumours and myth are bits and pieces of truth.” Makaela said, “What did you hear?”
Shizuka nodded, “That he’s brutal, and his title as Warlord is nothing to scoff at, the bastard has killed more Bestia than any other Sinbeni alone in his younger years. He is also not just a master within the Sinbeni black market, but the global puppeteer in the slave trade.”
“All that and more,” Alan then spoke, “Ramzi is a chair holder in the new Sinbeni council. I also hear that he is in league with the Assassin’s Pact, and my sources have yet to fail me.”
“So, in the end it all comes down to this Pact…” Makaela sighed, “How shall we proceed?”.
They each turned to Erik, who was deep in thought for several moments.
“This council, explain it to me.” Erik then asked, as he began to descend the ramp and onto the docks.
The rest followed him down, as Alan started to explain. “The council was first founded after the Dragon Wars, but it fell apart after a string of assassinations that occurred during the failure at Nurin and was reconstructed at the arrival of Azruxan and his army.
There are thirteen council seats in total, each being held by an important member of Sinbeni’s society. Each are nobles of birth or their own making, but are all regarded as princes of the land.
Three of the seats though, are technically more important than the other ten. The crown seats they are unofficially called, as these three are regarded more as kings. These three individuals are actual landowners of Sinbeni, born through the families who claimed the land.”
They began walking down the docks, now following Alan as he explained. “Ramzi is a minor seat holder, but is good friends with one of the crown seats. Specifically, the noble who owns this here port of Ai’sen and all the land till over the next city, Lahihr.”
“Which gives him the freedom to mostly do as he wishes.” Makaela guessed.
“Well where being friends is not enough, passing a couple gold coins under the table is.” Alan added.
“I get the basic hierarchy,” Erik then said, “First though we shall meet with this local Druvian ambassador Thea must see and go from there. We also need to secure a base of operations, Makaela I shall leave that up to you.” He told the cloaked dark elf, “Xilfir aren’t regarded very highly in these parts.” He then added, noticing the glances they were receiving from locals.
“Agreed, I would see about procuring us a building…Although, I must admit I’m running a bit low on funds, Erik.” Makaela said with a sigh.
“How so?” Erik asked.
“The provisions we stocked upon, to last us the entire trip took a lot out of my pockets, that and the wyvern eats a lot.” Makaela replied, glancing at Ivara with some annoyance. “The move of Zentha and Ascal’s divisions took some of our treasury with as well, whether in the shape of actual gold coins or more provisions.”
Erik grimaced, both annoyed at the prospect of having to care for currency and at some of the glares the locals gave them once they entered the actual city streets. “How about setting up camp outside the city?” he then offered.
“That would be more work and probably cost more too, the warm climate within the city is nothing compared to the heat outside with the surrounding desert.” Makaela warned, “Although my dreadblades tell me there are a few rocky hills to the north, rumours of a pirate cove laying there.”
“Look into it, Etheria will know of our arrival and she will not wait to strike, we have a few days at best.” Erik said, and Makaela immediately disappeared right after, melding into the crowd they were met with in the city.
“We could visit the bank after this? I’m sure my father has some funds saved up here in Sinbeni we could use.” Thea then offered.
“What’s a bank?” Erik asked.
Each of them turned to look at him awkwardly.
“Ah…Right, there weren’t such things in our time.” Alan chuckled, “It’s a place where people store their money, their gold, silver and copper coins.”
“So, like a lair? Wait, why would you store silver and copper with gold?” Erik then asked.
“Because that is how the agreed currency in between the alliance is structured. A gold coin is equal to a thousand silver coins and a silver coin is equal to a hundred copper coins.” Thea explained.
“And no, it is unlike a Lair. A bank stores the money of several thousands of people all in one place, keeping notes of how much each individual has stored and requiring verification of their identity to access said funds.” Alan added.
“Sounds inefficient, couldn’t someone break in and steal as much as they want from several people at once then?” Erik asked in amusement.
“Well…they’re usually heavily guarded but, yeah sometimes thieves do manage to break in.” Thea admitted.
“Must be disorienting,” Shizuka said, “With everything being so different from your time that is.”
“We-My people are highly adaptable, this is nothing.” Erik claimed proudly as they continued to tread through the crowd.
“Ugh, how do so many people survive pushing against each other so much just outside on the bloody street?” Nerick whined after a few more moments, as he bumped shoulders with more people he ever had in his entire life, the street seeming abnormally crowded. “I feel like my skin is going to melt off with this heat!”
“Really? I don’t feel a thing.” Erik said, barely noticing the change in temperature.
(“Master whiny, warmth never killed a wyvern!”) Ivara added.
“Might just kill me though…” Nerrick continued to whine, wiping the amassing sweat off his eyes.
“I’ve been away for…years, I have to admit the heat is dreadful.” Shizuka admitted, also sweating a fair bit herself.
“Sorry…” Thea apologised, “I don’t feel it either…” she admitted.
“Good for you…” Alan then said weakly, surprising everyone as they noticed his skin already being sunburned.
“Is it?…” Nerick began but held his words.
“Yes, their bonds affect how temperature affects their bodies. But yours and Ivara’s isn’t strong enough yet.” Erik explained, “Also, hold your tongue, we aren’t about to announce ourselves, yet.” He reprimanded Nerick with a whisper.
They continued onwards for half an hour, struggling through as they followed Alan. Each of them bumping into others left and right as they walked these rough streets, all but Erik who had an eerie enough aura about him that the citizens avoided walking by him altogether.
An aura Shizuka was struggling to ignore, “Gah, Erik can you stop that?” she asked.
“Stop? You feel that?” the drake asked back in confusion.
Confusion which Shizuka felt, confusing her in turn. “I…I can feel your annoyance and just now I think you were confused?…” she said in surprise, slowly reaching up to hold her head as it suddenly started to ache.
“Shizuka?” Thea called out as the spirit beast fell to her knees, the rest gathering around her as walkers by kept their distance from them.
“Kid? What’s wrong?” Alan asked as they watched her ball up on the ground, eyes wide with pain.
Shizuka felt her mind exploding, over and over as her senses were suddenly overwhelmed. She felt everything, every slight bit of emotion of every creature within the city. Anger and frustration, happiness and joy. Each of their feelings bombarded her mind, even the confusion and fear that came from those around her, merging in her head yet she could barely tell each apart.
“What’s wrong with her!?” Thea asked, turning to Erik who kneeled down next to the young Spirit Beast.
“Her senses are being overwhelmed,” Erik said as he raised his left palm over Shizuka’s forehead, “Slumber” he chanted, causing her to suddenly pass out.
“What did you do?” Nerick asked.
“I put her to sleep, for now.” He answered while taking her in his arms, “She needs a calm place, let’s get out of this crowded path.” He told them before veering off towards an alleyway.
“Why were her senses overwhelmed? What was that about?” Alan asked as they followed him.
“I’m not entirely sure, but it might have to do with what she is now.” Erik said as they reached a side-street where barely anybody was walking through. “Xilfir, take her back to the ship.” Erik spoke in elven, to which two dark elves walked out of the shadows nearby.
He handed the unconscious Shizuka to one of them, “You have permission to enter my Lair, lay her to rest there.” He said, before the three of them faded out of view. “I told them to take her back to the ship, we’ll let her rest at the Lair for now. And I guess, we’ll use the Lair as a base of operations, although I’d much rather not.”
“Is she going to be okay?” Thea worriedly asked.
“Yes, although she’ll be disoriented when she wakes up.” Erik sighed, “I did not foresee her senses to be so acute…My draconic aura which I was using to keep the cattle out of my way might have ‘Opened her ears’ in a way.” He mused.
“Cattle?…” Nerick repeated with an awkward grin.
(“Cattle!?”) Ivara exclaimed through their mental bond, as her head rose up at attention. But seeing no prey around other than many not very tasty ones, (“Master, I’m hungry.”) she then whined, nuzzling her snout into Nerick’s hair.
“Shouldn’t we go back and wait for her to wake?” Thea then asked, “I mean, she’ll be scared if she finds nobody, and Makaela’s clansmen aren’t exactly chatty.”
“I’m connected to my Lair wherever I am, I’ll be there when she wakes, in a way.” Erik assured, “We have more important things to deal with, Thea there’s nothing wrong with caring for a cub, but that cub will have to learn to stand on its own feet one day.” He then told her, turning around to dive back into the crowd.
He then paused for a moment, “Well?” Erik asked as he glanced back.
“You don’t know where the embassy is, do you?” Alan asked with an amused smirk.
“If you insist on me finding it on my own, I’m sure I’ll be able to tell one pile of ash from another better than you, once I’ve charred this entire city.” Erik warned in annoyance.
“Sheesh, you have no sense of humour, do you?” Alan rolled his eyes as he took the lead once more.
(“Humour? What is that, master? Is it tasty?”) Ivara asked Nerick curiously.
“Err…I’m not sure how to answer that.” Nerick admitted.
“I…wasn’t talking to you, silver.” Alan said, glancing back at the still very strange looking warrior.
“Oh, I was talking to Ivara.” Nerick assured while gesturing at the young wyvern, realising they couldn’t hear her.
Thea and Alan both stopped to look at him awkwardly.
“Seems like someone else needs shelter from the heat,” Makaela chuckled out of the shadows, causing Nerick to spin about in surprise but seeing nobody he turned back to keep up.
“What? Seriously no, she talks!” Nerick argued as they continued on their way.
“Do you need a drink Nerick?…I have some water on me.” Thea offered as she looked at him with pity.
“Damnit, I knew this would happen!” Nerick groaned, “Erik you tell them, Ivara speaks to me in my head!”
“Sure she does.” Erik said, smiling wickedly as he walked beside him.
“W-Wait…she does, right?” Nerick then asked, confused and worried.
Erik chuckled, “I do have a sense of humour, I’ll have you know.”
Ivara made a strange screeching noise, (“Dragon very funny! Dragon play master for fool!”) she exclaimed in childish amusement.
Nerick sighed in relief, “Thea, I’m going to need something a lot stronger than water with these two…”
“Wait so, the wyvern talks?” Thea asked in further confusion.
“I’m more curious about whether that strange sound was just Ivara laughing or choking on something…” Alan said as he glanced back.
To which Ivara began hissing, her words causing Nerick’s eyes to widen.
“What?” Alan asked seeing his expression, “What did it say?”
“I can’t say…” Nerick answered.
Alan chuckled, “That bad?” he asked.
“Err…she isn’t quite done cussing you out yet.”