Thea traversed the Lair’s main hall with Makaela and Shizuka in tail, taking a look around and making sure everything was moving right.
Three days had passed since they freed the Ai’Sen slaves, and during those days the hall had been filled with tents, stone storage buildings and campfires. Since it was surprisingly cold inside, mostly if you had just come back from the dreadfully warm desert of Sinroz.
Which many did, as Zentha and Ascal made joint operations to steal cargo off merchant ships, small military convoys and other trading vessels between Ai’Sen, Lahihr and Abu Katra.
Although not being here right now, Kyllix had opened several portals from the hall and to Sinbeni, hiding the exits within the desert, hills or even abandoned buildings within each city. Giving them quick access to most locations around them.
But as Thea looked around the steadily growing encampment, all she could think about was how Erik would react when he woke…
(“If he wakes…”) She thought, and just as it came to her she chided herself for thinking that way.
(“He’s more stubborn than he likes to show.”) Makaela assured through their common bond, the same person they were speaking of. (“He’ll wake, and soon.”) She said, grasping the distraught Thea’s shoulder in support.
Thea nodded with a weak smile, (“Yeah, thank you.”)
“Now brighten up, we can’t have the princess giving her soldiers a sorrowful look.” Makaela then said, urging her forwards.
“Princess?” Thea repeated in question, raising a brow at the word.
Makaela smirked, “It was his idea,” she said before returning to their psychic conversation, (“Before we went after the warehouses, Erik told me the people will need a monarch to look up to. He said that it couldn’t be him, that he’d seem more of a tyrant than a ruler. He also mentioned that the Xilfir and Bestia will need to trust Humanity if we are to avoid a re do of the Xilfir Dominion’s first era…So you were and still are the perfect choice.”) Makaela explained.
Giving Thea’s previously weak smile some light.
Making Makaela chuckle, “If I didn’t know better, with that blue hair of yours and those golden eyes, alongside your above average looks. I’d say you were Fae.”
Thea glanced back at her with narrowed eyes, “Above average?”
“Don’t flatter yourself hun,” Makaela gestured at Shizuka with a smirk, who stood glancing in between them, “This kid looks better than the both of us thanks to a certain someone.”
Causing Shizuka to fluster and blush, “E-Ehh!? B-But I’m short and…not very strong looking like you two…”
Makaela suddenly pulled the spirit beast in for a hug, squashing a flustering Shizuka into her breasts. “Aw, all men like an adorable pale cat girl, even if you still have some room for development!” She said while snuggling into her ears, then pinching her butt cheek.
Causing the spirit beast’s eyes to go feline, as she hissed like one.
Makaela though only chuckled further as she pulled away, “Hehe, sorry, did I go too far?~” she continued to tease.
“I would appreciate if you did not smother my student to death.” Kyllix sighed as he suddenly appeared before them, glancing between Makaela’s mischievous grin and Shizuka’s tomato red face, her eyes seemingly swirling.
“Boo, you divines are no fun.” Makaela shrugged as she released Shizuka.
“I must be getting older than I thought then, I normally get the opposite.” Kyllix chuckled as he popped his neck.
“Where have you been anyway!?” Shizuka then exclaimed, “You still haven’t taught me anything…”
“Well between having to force a new God into the role of ruling over the dead, gathering a few others and questioning them…then having to beat the crap outta some of the livelier ones. Yeah, I’ve been a tad busy kid.” Kyllix explained with another sigh. “But hey if you’re ready to be squeezed dry, after I take a nap we can grab one of the other halls and get star-”
When suddenly a commotion caught each of their attention, as a crowd began to gather nearby the portals, large stone doorways with rifts inside them that lay around one corner of the hall.
“And what’s going on over there?” Makaela mused as she began towards the commotion.
“What now…” Kyllix groaned as he and Thea moved to follow.
“Dam-Hey! We’re not done!” Shizuka complained, running after them.
“Clear out,” Makaela said, pulling two xilfir apart as she tread into the crowd, her presence opening a path for their passing.
Reaching the commotion, they found Ascal already at the scene, kneeling before a badly injured Kyrenic and his squad.
“Ah, commander.” Ascal said as he turned to her.
“What happened here?” Thea asked with widening eyes as she glanced over the dreadblade’s missing arm and leg.
Kyrenic struggled to sit up, two of his squad members having to aid him in doing so. “I-I infiltrated the convoy as planned, miss.” He began to explain, “Inside I found months-worth of rations, portable blockade defences, cannons, ballistae and ammunition alongside hundreds of sets of armour and weapons…But they also had hostages.”
“Hostages?” Kyllix mused, “Dirty.”
Kyrenic nodded, “Xilfir, they’ve been tortured…I…I could barely tell them apart as so. I only had time to check one caravan, but if there is more inside each of the six…then there must be hundreds of them.”
“And you?” Makaela then asked, “What happened to you?”
“Umbra.” Kyrenic said in disdain, “The Pact’s Head of Shadow, was waiting for me inside, or followed me. I don’t…know, he was too silent, too fast. I couldn’t match that demon.”
“Hey, at least you got away old timer. Ever thought of hanging the cape up?” Ascal joked, gaining himself nudge from Makaela.
“No…I didn’t get away.” Kyrenic then said, confusing them all as he took out a scroll. “He let me go, to give you this.” He explained, handing the scroll over to Ascal.
Who opened the scroll, finding a small map of Sinroz within, and a mark drawn over it. “What is this?” Ascal asked as he inspected the map.
“The location we’ve been looking for, Warlord Ramzi’s Coliseum.” Kyrenic said, causing their eyes to go wide in surprise.
“Why would Umbra give you this and let you go?” Makaela asked with a grimace, “It makes no sense, it must be a trap or some ploy.”
“Or, the Pact wants us and Ramzi to take each other out.” Ascal then said, his entire expression suddenly changing as he gazed at the map. “Then they’d swoop in and finish off whichever side remains kneeling. At the same time, they’d take our attention off Lahihr, hoping we go after Ramzi instead of the reinforcement convoy being prepared at Ai’Sen.”
“And how did you presume that?” Makaela asked with a sigh.
“It’s nothing more than an elementary ploy, which gives us more information than they think they just gave us.” Ascal explained with an amused smirk, “This means the Pact thinks us weaker than Ramzi and his muscle, even with an army of xilfir and some bestia behind us, even with us Dreadblades and Dragon Knights. Maybe Ramzi has an unknown army of his own, I’m not sure, but it does tell us that Ramzi and the Pact are not common allies. He must be working underneath a different Devil than the Pact is.”
Kyllix chuckled, “This guy reminds me of someone,” he mused, “Yeah, Ramzi must be working for Xokith’s son, Brazath. The Assassin’s Pact I’d imagine are working for Azkel, daughter of Kurzan. Neither likes the other very much, and Azkel thinks herself crafty but Brazath is the real crafty one. Azkel is a Devil of ambition like her father, while Brazath…He’s an odd one. Xokith is a Devil Sin of despair but his son…Brazath is more akin to insanity than anything.”
Makaela took the map from Ascal’s hands, “This is…”
“Off the coast of Seeri,” Ascal added, “The complete opposite direction the convoy is going, over the water no less.”
“Then it must be a distraction,” Makaela said, closing the scroll. “We cannot afford to believe it.”
“Is it?” Kyllix then asked, as the scroll suddenly appeared in his hands, “No matter how good, the best bait is always a real one. Azkel knows that, and she has too much to gain from putting a wrench into Brazath’s plans. Which we don’t even know what they are yet. Remember that so far, we’ve only ever dealt with Azkel, and summoning the beast is her father’s ploy not Xokith’s.”
He handed the scroll over to Thea, who had been quiet since arriving. “What do you think, boss?” he asked with his usual mischievous grin.
Thea took the scroll, then opening it. She gazed at it for a few silent moments, before glancing around at them. “If they wanted to fully distract us with a fake location, then why send us to a private island? This land may be off the coast of Seeri but it is not part of it and neither Sinroz. Finding out who actually owns it can’t be difficult, we just need to ask the right person.”
“True, private land is rare and who owns said land, is surely well known among ship captains and diplomats.” Ascal agreed.
“So, what are we going to do?” Makaela asked before turning to Kyllix, “Can’t you open us a portal over there?”
The divine groaned, “Another one?…Nah, give me maybe five to six days and I’ll be able to. If I open another portal to a place I’ve never been to, without some rest, like I did with Alan two days ago? Then that’s about a week of time I’ll be cutting out of my remainder in this realm, and from the strain on my body, I’d estimate four weeks remaining in my stay.”
“And even if we hurry, that’s a…three-day trip by sea.” Thea added.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” Ascal mused in elven before standing up, “They planned this, timing the convoy’s leave with the approximate time it’ll take to reach the island. Zentha’s intel tells us that the convoy will be leaving in three days as well”
“And, we cannot be at both places at once.” Makaela grumbled as she glared at the divine.
“Then there’s a choice to be made!” Kyllix sprightly laughed, turning to Thea. “So what’ll be? Stop the council from reinforcing Lahihr, and save the hostages before they join the rest of the enslaved miners. Or, raid Ramzi’s place and possibly free the very last Dragon from whatever fate Brazath has in store for her.” He asked in a dramatic tone, as if narrating an epic play.
Thea considered her choices, her expression darkening as she asked herself, (“What would Erik do?”) those words being all she could think about. Until she met Makaela’s expectant eyes, realising right then, (“I’m not Erik though…”)
Thea clenched her hands into fists, strengthening her resolve before meeting the divine’s smirk. “Both, we cannot afford to allow the Pact have their way but we also cannot ignore Ramzi. We’ll divide our forces and go after both.”
“Ohohoho, coming up with a third option, good choice but now you’ll have to back it up with a plan. How will you divide?” Kyllix asked, a gleam of amusement in his eyes.
“I’ll go to the island with Nerick and Shizuka, you will be coming with as well just in case.” Thea explained before turning to Makaela, “The Dreadblades and their leaders, all their leaders, will stop the armoured convoy.”
But Makaela’s narrowing eyes told her that she did not agree, (“I’m not leaving you three to go alone to assault someone as dangerous as Ramzi. Ascal even said, the Pact thinks him strong enough to take us all on. Why the hell would I not come!?”) she argued through their psychic bond, as to not give either of them a bad face before the rebels that gathered around them.
(“Makaela, I need you to lead your people.”) Thea explained, (“The Pact will surely defend the convoy, you have to be there to assist them in case someone like Hunter or Etheria appears. We’ll have the divine with us, if anything goes wrong he can always intervene and put a stop to it. You felt his power more acutely than any of us, he’s stronger than even Erik and the Pact doesn’t seem to know that we have him.”)
But Makaela did not seem fully convinced, (“If anything happened to either of you…Erik would never forgive me.”)
(“And if anything happened to Ascal? Or Pyra? Or Zentha? Your brother and sisters? Would you ever forgive yourself?”) Thea asked, her resolved gaze meeting Makaela’s undecided eyes. (“Erik trusts you Makaela, I trust you. You trust in me too, don’t you?”) she then asked.
Makaela shook her head, (“Of course I do!”) she exclaimed, her expression one of a deep inner struggle. She then moved her gaze onto Kyllix, (“It’s him I don’t trust.”)
Seemingly reading both their minds, the divine acted as if he had been shot in the heart, but a mischievous grin grew on his face right after.
(“He’s not harmless, I’ll admit I have my own misgivings about him.”) Thea said, stifling a chuckle.
(“Then-”) Makaela tried to say.
Thea cut her off, (“But, he saved Erik, possibly saved all of us. And he has this aura about him…A fatherly one, I truly believe he’s on our side.”)
“Fine, as you say.” Makaela sighed, giving in. Then glancing around, “Speaking of Nerick…where did that fool go?”
“I-I haven’t seen him around in over two days?” Shizuka added, also realising.
“Oh, crap.” Kyllix then whispered, his grin faltering into an awkward smile. “He uhh…asked me to send him to a training hall before I left…”
“That was three days ago.” Thea said with wide eyes, as each of them turned to stare at the divine.
Kyllix flicked his fingers, and a balled up being appeared on the ground among them.
Armour and clothing tattered, scratches and bruises riddling his body, and revealing a trembling Ivara as he lay covering the poor wyvern with his body. Nerick glanced around with wide surprised eyes full of relief, “Is…Is it over?” he asked.
“The hell did you put him through?” Ascal asked in elven.
“Yeah, sorry about that mate, you’re still alive though so hey. Look at the bright side, you got some real training in.” Kyllix offered with an awkward chuckle.
Nerick and Ivara looked at the god with murderous eyes.
“Ah, right, kid you wanted to get started training huh?” Kyllix changed the subject as he turned to Shizuka, “Let’s do that, you can join up with your party before they leave alright?”
Shizuka raised a brow as she glanced at Nerick, crouching next to him. “Which…where you fighting this entire time? The Golem? The Spectres or the Basilisk?” she whispered in question.
Nerick’s wild eyes met hers, as did Ivara’s. “All the of the above?” he said in an exhausted voice, before reality spun around her.
Kyllix stretched out his arms, “Alright kid, let’s get started then.” He said as they appeared in another hall.
Shizuka was still processing through the shock of what Nerick had just told her.
“First, let’s take that sealing charm off you.” Kyllix said, and Shizuka felt a mild warmth over her wrist, snapping her out of her daze.
She looked down at her hand, “W-wait a minute!” she said as she saw the runes disappear.
“Nobody’s waiting kid,” Kyllix said with a wicked chuckle as she stood up and turned to face him, he was taking off his cloak and then shirt, revealing more muscles than she had ever seen on a person of his size. “Alright, let’s see how many times you pass out today. Well…Not that I’ll be counting!” he warned.
“E-Ehh!?” Shizuka shook her head as she stepped away, sensing the murderous vibes oozing out of him.
“Let’s start it slow, try to stay alive, and possibly awake too.” Kyllix told her, as he took a stance, stomping his right foot down and causing the ground to quake.
Suddenly the ground beneath them rose, shattering as pillars of stone grew upwards. Two in total, one of each of them. Shizuka had to try very hard not to fall off as she quickly rose with the pillar, peaking her eyes open when it stopped to find herself a mere foot away from hitting her head on the hall’s ceiling.
She dared a glance down, regretting that choice and immediately looking back up as her vision blurred from the chilling sight. She watched as Kyllix sat down over the little space they had around them, the pillars were very thin with barely any standing ground.
“Take care now,” His voice reverberated through her mind, as the pillars they stood upon suddenly parted away from one another, moving away from each other until they were several meters apart.
Shizuka had to grasp the pillar’s edges as to not fall off.
“Lesson one,” Kyllix said, as the pillars beneath them suddenly changed.
The bottom grew thicker, creating a hill beneath them, but the top where they stood on shrunk until she could barely fit both feet.
“I will not catch you if you fall, you will roll down all~ the way to the bottom, then you’ll have to climb back up.” He warned, as he stood on his right leg and with his left bent before him. His arms were crossed and his eyes closed, yet he stood perfectly in balance.
(“Not too hard,”) Shizuka thought, balancing herself over one leg and with her arms open wide.
“You must think this easy, yet why do you presume I’m making myself as small a surface as possible while you lay open wide and ready to be blown away?” Kyllix chuckled as he opened his eyes, the silver in them now glowing a bright white.
Shizuka watched as ethereal white energy burst out of his body, forming the upper half of a massive white fox with two tails all around him, yet its bottom was made up of dozens of thick tendrils that coiled around the hill beneath him.
“Balance yourself not with your body, but with your Spirit.” Kyllix said, as a strong breeze suddenly blew through them.
Shizuka felt it rush through her, as her entire expression paled white. She felt herself be blown off the hilltop, feeling her foot sliding off the stone, until finally finding herself tumbling down.
She fell, feeling the stone bruise her skin with every time she bounced off it, feeling it knocking consciousness out of her as she proceeded to roll down the rest of it.
All the way down to the bottom.
And when she regained consciousness, Shizuka was unsure how much time had passed.
Maybe a day?
She was too dizzy and in too much pain to figure it out. But there was another question that popped into her mind.
“Is he trying to kill me?…I might not survive this…” She groaned while trying to sit up, then seeing her vision swirl, she decided to remain lying down for just a bit longer.