Erik stood over the ring of runes he’d just spent several minutes drawing onto the ship’s floor, dropping the piece of red chalk he was holding before raising his right hand forward. Lighting surged out of his fingers, striking down into the special chalk and lightning up the entire ring with mana. “Done, I should be able to open a portal to my Lair now. But we won’t be able to return to Sinroz until the Orca makes it there.” He explained to the rest as they stood ready behind him, Nerick waiting for him to finish before picking up the still unconscious Ivyieth.
“About that…Kyllix tore open a few rifts into the Lair from Sinbeni so we could get around easier…” Shizuka said, causing Erik’s shoulders to stiffen, his eyes to narrow and his lips to twitch between neutral and a stifled grimace.
“He…did…what?” Erik asked, accidentally changing to elven. But his annoyance didn’t last long, he was too tired to keep it up, as his shoulders slumped moments after. “I’ll…deal with it later.” He then sighed, “I guess I should have done this earlier.” Before turning to Thea and raising his right palm open towards her.
“Huh? What are you doing?…” Thea asked awkwardly as he stood with eyes closed before her.
“Granting you access to the Lair,” Erik said as his hand suddenly glowed a dim gold. “By my name, Erikathyr, I grant you Theaviss, the key. Draconic School; Drako; Lair Access; Grant Chosen.” He whispered a short spell in Draconic, while turning his palm slowly upside down. And when he stopped, a jolt of energy burst out of his fingertips and into Thea’s right hand.
She almost jumped in surprise, raising her now glowing hand to inspect the strange runes that covered it for several moments, before slowly fading away.
“You can now open portals to my Lair, as long as you memorise and exactly construct the summoning circle that is.” Erik said, pointing down at the overly complex runic drawing on the floor.
“I…don’t think I will remember that.” Thea warned as she stared at the ring with wide eyes.
“I can remember it!” Shizuka offered, raising her right hand with enthusiasm, her eyes locked on Thea’s hand.
“Right, you draw it and Thea can open it then.” Erik said, ignoring the disapproving look she gave him as he turned away. “Try to open one now actually,” he then said, gesturing for Thea.
“Yeah…Open a hole through reality and space to another place far away…How exactly?” Thea asked, glancing at him as she stepped to stand outside the circle.
“Imagine a wall of cloth ahead of you, and think of your hand as a blade. Hold your arm forward, and while moving it like this,” Erik explained as he demonstrated a downward cut with his right hand, “Picture said blade cutting through the cloth.”
“Right…You might want to stand back…” Thea warned as she raised her right arm forward, Erik shrugged her words off but Nerick took several steps back. “Thanks for the vote of confidence Nerick!” She told him, noticing that he had.
Nerick saluted in response, wearing a snide smirk all the while.
Turning back to face the runic circle before her, Thea slashed her hand downward, frustrating clear in her expression as she did.
And reality, tore open, surprising even her.
She felt nothing touching her hand, but space ahead of her had clearly been torn open into a three-meter-tall rift.
“Choppy work but I guess it’ll do,” Erik mused.
“C-What do you mean choppy!?” Thea exclaimed in annoyance.
“You put too little mana behind it, it won’t last very long so best walk through while it’s open.” He explained.
“Y-You never told me I needed to put mana behind it…” Thea growled.
“It is a spell, I thought you could’ve figured that much out on your own?…” Erik offered with a raised brow. “Maybe I should’ve covered the basics when I lectured you about magic?” He then mused.
“No more…Please…No more of that…” Nerick pleaded, his expression paling at the memory. (“I used to think army lectures where boring…Erik’s not just on a different level…but a whole new plane of existence!”)
Ivara who heard his thoughts nodded in agreement with a low growl.
“Hmph, you speak of teaching us the basics, but not even you know everything about magic!” Thea argued, her expression reddening as the rift before her destabilized and closed, just as Erik had predicted.
“No, not even close.” Erik sighed, raising his right hand forward and opening a new rift. “Knowledge of magic itself is…scarce, not even us Dragons can say we comprehend the origin of Magic, of Mana. And then there are oddities like Spiritual energy, or Spirit as that God calls it. Or even…Miasma…Something we barely understand to begin with.”
Silence followed, as the mentioning of Miasma brought back the issue at hand to each of their minds.
And for several moments, silence prevailed among them as each drifted into their own thoughts.
“What do we do now?” Nerick asked, breaking the mould.
“About Brazath? I don’t know,” Erik answered, sighing once more. “Kyllix was right, that…thing…Even I cannot predict their next move. All we can do is wait, and prepare as best as we can. As for the Assassin’s Pact? Azkel must be getting frustrated at this point, so depending on their personality…Either they’ll do something very stupid, or pull out and retreat.”
“Retreat?” Shizuka repeated in question, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that the Pact has no use for Sinbeni other than as a staging ground. From what Kyllix told you, they’ve already sucked Sinroz dry off the Spirit they need, no? Druvia is obviously their main target, but there are more ways they can go after it other than Sinbeni and Zrosa.” Erik began to mutter quickly, seemingly more to himself. “Going by process of elimination, New Druv, Nurin and S’Sern will be the most complicated for them to collect. Drak’Mor, on the other hand, is basically impossible, what battle could ever occur on a wyvern infested land where only hunting towns exist?”
“That leaves…” Nerick mused as each of their hairs stood on end at the memory of Brazath’s warning.
“Dumatra, and Druvia. Conflict between any other race and Orcs or Giants…would be easy to set up for an organization like the Pact.” Erik said grimly, “But since Findri is back, the reclusive Giants wouldn’t dare do anything to upset her. Which leaves the Orcs, and by Brazath’s loose tongue I’d guess…we’re already too late.”
After several more moments of silence, “Which brings us back to the question…what now?” Shizuka spoke.
“We’ve set something into motion here in Sinbeni, it would be a waste if we left it to crash on its own. Druvia will have to fend for itself for a while, we still have things to do here to make sure the Pact does retreat from Sinbeni.” Erik answered, “To do that, we must agitate the very foundations of Sinbeni further. Lahihr, a place the Pact must be keen on defending, would be the perfect place for that.”
“Makaela expected the Pact to defend the convoy she’s after…I’m guessing that’s all gone through at this point.” Thea said, worry clear in her tone and expression.
“I don’t understand…Why is Lahihr so important? It’s just a mining town, wouldn’t Abu Katra be more of an important target for the rebellion?” Nerick asked.
“Lahihr is a mining town, a town full of slaves constantly being put to work under the constraints of being a slave. In front of the town’s entire populace, who are probably used to the sight by now.” Erik explained, pausing briefly for Nerick to catch up.
But Nerick just nodded his head, “And?…”
“And…” Erik sighed, “It is the very core of this kingdom’s slave business. Not the ports which transport and sell the minority of them, not the capital which has strict laws on where slaves are able to be seen or kept. But the mining town, where most of these slaves live, work, and are born. There are far more slaves being kept at Lahihr than any other place on Sinroz.”
“Oh…I get it now, so there’s more slaves there we could free and it is the biggest opportunity to increase the rebellion’s numbers.” Nerick mused.
“Simply put…yes. But not what I mean by the core of the slave business. Lahihr is the capital of the slavery business, the slavery culture. To the slaves, Lahihr itself is the ultimate prison. And to the Sinbens, Lahihr is the metaphorical ‘Mark’ or ‘Symbol’ of slavery.” Erik explained further, sighing once more with disappointment. “If we destroy that Symbol, which keeps so many slaves under its claws, it would crack the foundation of the slave market. A thought would come to everyone’s mind; ‘If Lahihr cannot keep the slaves in check, what can?’ and that would terrify many.”
As Erik explained, his image within everyone’s mind changed, as they stared at him with astonishment…or more akin to a cold chill.
“That is what we’re looking for, their fear. The one emotion all creatures are sure to falter before, the one blade that cuts all defences.”
His words, his meaning and process of thought…
It reminded them, of Erik’s past accomplishments once again.
(“So…this is why…Or how, he was able to make it that far?”) Shizuka thought to herself, swallowing the collecting saliva from her awe-struck daze.
(“That’s…terrifying? Or amazing? I honestly don’t know which…”) Thea thought as well, unsure If to be impressed or worried.
His words reminding them, of the conqueror that he was, and still is.
(“Mark?…Symbol?…I’m the only one who’s not getting this aren’t I?…”) All but Nerick who was still very much confused.
Hearing his thoughts again, Ivara hid her snout within her front paws, unwilling to tell him that he wasn’t alone.
“Either way,” Erik continued, “We should regroup with Makaela and the rest, If Kyllix really did open up the rifts in the right places, I’d guess that the Dreadblades will be returning to the Lair soon. We need an update on their side to know where exactly we go from here.” He said before stepping into the rift.
“Yeah…I hope everything went smoothly.” Thea mused with worry as Nerick stepped through the rift with Ivyieth over his shoulder.
“Hmph, as if that snake would be killed so easily, you worry too much Lady Thea.” Shizuka told her, nudging Thea’s arm with her elbow. “Don’t worry, I’m rooting for you.” She then whispered with a smirk, stepping through the rift before Thea could ask for her meaning.
But Thea understood her words perfectly, as her expression flustered. Stepping through the rift herself, “S-Shizuka!” Thea exclaimed as she appeared on the other side.
Her eyes then widening, as did the rest’s, each of them suddenly being met with a stone bound Kayle. The stone binding her was obviously magically bent, and kept her from making even the slightest movement. Her expression was pale, but her eyes showed signs of clear relief as tears rushed out at the sight of her sister.
“T-Thea!” Kayle cried out, “Oh g-god…P-Ple-Please…” she stuttered to speak, looking completely shaken.
Thea pushed through Shizuka and Erik, “S-Sis, what…What the hell happened to you?! Why are you here?!” she exclaimed in surprise, stopping before Kayle’s bound form and taking her weeping face into her own hands.
Erik waved his hand before himself, and the stone which bound Kayle disintegrated into sand, freeing her.
Kayle fell to her knees, her legs too weak and trembling to hold her up straight, but Thea caught her as she fell. Feeling her sister shudder within her grasp, Thea’s expression paled further as she helped her over to the nearby bed. “Calm down…breathe Kayle, breathe. Take it slow sis, and tell me what happened okay?” Thea spoke softly, embracing Kayle as they sat over the bed, and in turn, Kayle dug her trembling form into her elder sister.
Clenching onto her as if she’d never let go again.
“Heavens…you’re ice cold and so sweaty…Kayle hun, what happened?” Thea asked once again.
But Kayle did not respond, instead, she fully laid into Thea. Kayle wailed, screaming as she cried a stream of tears into her.
Thea glanced around the room, seeing that everyone else looked just as confused as she was, even Erik.
“Something…must have happened while I was unconscious.” Erik guessed as he stared at the both of them with narrowed eyes, sensing the stench of energy that permeated Kayle.
His eyes widened with fury as he noticed, turning away from them and raising a hand forth. “Reveal yourself, Dejal.” He commanded, and the floor before him rose to form a humanoid shape.
The stone being kneeled, “You have called, master?” it asked.
“Erik who is that?” Thea quickly asked, hugging her still shaking sister closer as she leaned away from the stone humanoid.
“Dejal, an Earth elemental, one of my Lair’s guardians.” Erik answered before returning to Dejal, “You have eyes in every room, and those bindings were akin to you. Explain.” He demanded with a sour tone.
Dejal’s earthen head nodded, “This one sensed a spatial distortion within your quarters as you lay unconscious. That human, appeared shortly after.”
“Teleportation?” Erik guessed.
“Unsummoned, unbound and even instant, teleportation.” Dejal added.
“Kayle is capable of that?” Erik asked, turning to Thea.
Who shook her head, “No…Not that I’m aware of?”
“A human couldn’t possibly live long enough to master something like that anyway…” Erik mused, turning back to Dejal with a questioning look. “Continue.”
“She did teleport into the Lair, master. But the human’s mind was being tapped into by another. I detected a bond to a demon within that one’s mind, a demon with high murderous intent towards your immobile body.” Dejal continued to explain, “I acted out of defence for yourself, master. I rendered her immobile, then tapped my own consciousness into their bond. Finding out that, the demon was a succubus who charmed this poor soul.”
“A succubus? No…No Kayle can’t be…” Thea’s eyes widened at the prospect of her sister being charmed.
“I broke the charming, worry not human, your sibling is unbound.” Dejal assured before turning back to Erik, “But I am unsure as to what happened to the demon, the charming was weak so they must have been far away at the time.”
Erik sighed with relief, “Lock down the surface, it seems as if the Pact has found our location…Have Fierv and Voltru awoken yet?” he asked the elemental.
“No master, the other guardians await your summons to awaken.” Dejal answered, melting into the ground right after Erik gestured for them to leave.
Erik turned to face Thea and her sister, the both of them looking far more distressed than either him, Nerick or Shizuka. “I’m sorry…” He said, “This…this is my fault.”
“And here I was hoping that you’ve grown some.” Kyllix sighed as he suddenly appeared from behind Shizuka, making her jump from fright. “His fault, her fault, their fault…my fault? Really does it matter who’s fault it is? Bloody hell, get over yourselves.”
“K-Kyllix! We…We saw you disappear!” Shizuka exclaimed in surprise after recovering from her previous scare.
“Ah…Let’s just say me and the big guy had a bit of a disagreement.” He said with an awkward chuckle, “Anyway, I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that the Dark Elves’ little desert heist went well. But I’ll let them give you all the details when they return, should be any hour now really if they hurry up.” He mused, then turning to Erik. “Seems like you’ve had a long night, eh?”
Causing Erik’s eyes to narrow with annoyance, “Seems? I despise that casual attitude of yours…” he hissed, “But…you did wake me up, so I guess I owe you on that front. Yes, we’ve had a very long night. I’m guessing you’re aware of what just let itself loose upon Faetera?”
“As if I’d not notice the malevolent creature that broke through the veil earlier,” Kyllix shrugged as he walked around Nerick, inspecting the unconscious Ivyieth. “Yes, I know that Brazath is here. Unfortunately, he’s your problem now.”
“The Avatar?” Erik guessed.
“In a way, that bastard’s always part of the problem. I’ll admit, their way usually works, but that doesn’t mean I like how it does things. We agree to disagree most of the time, but this time I have to admit I agree. I don’t have the time to hunt Brazath down, as much as I want to.” Kyllix explained with a sigh, returning to face Erik. “I’ve overstayed my welcome here, Kurzan has noticed my absence from home and will surely turn his sights upon it. I have to leave, and that means I won’t be around to help you anymore.”
“I see…That complicates things a bit, I was hoping to have your aid for just a bit longer.” Erik grumbled, glancing over at Thea and Kayle with some sorrow in his eyes.
Kyllix chuckled, “You don’t need my help, Erikathyr. You never did, my actions were inconsequential, all I did was progress things more quickly. Which in turn, might come to bite you in the ass later. So don’t you dare thank me, instead curse me, cause I assure that you will later.”
“Curse you? Don’t test me God, I know a few that would sting even you.” Erik warned.
“Oho, did the Dragon just use humour? Guess you have grown a bit.” Kyllix mused with a smirk, but that quickly died down, as the God’s expression suddenly turned solemn.
A rare sight.
“How about we give those two some space? I need to speak with you in private.” Kyllix then said, gesturing to Thea, and Kayle who’s cries had ended but still seemed slightly shaken by the ordeal.
Erik glanced over at Thea, “Will you be alright?” He asked, watching as she caressed Kayle’s hair, the sight filling him with guilt.
Thea nodded, “I’ve got her, Nerick and Shizuka can look after that one too.” She whispered back.
“Right speaking of which,” Nerick said as he moved to place Ivyieth down, seemingly just remembering he was holding her.
“I’ll…make sure the animal doesn’t try anything.” Shizuka said awkwardly while pointing at Nerick, giving strange glances at Kayle while standing far away from them.
“Bite me.” Nerick said with an annoyed groan as he passed by her.
“Oh, I will.” Shizuka hissed back.
Erik sighed, then snapping his fingers.
Causing Shizuka, Nerick, Ivara and Ivyieth to disappear from sight.
“I sent them to a duplicate of this room,” He explained after seeing Thea’s questioning look, “Succubae are…we’ll give you two some time alone.” He told her, and she silently nodded back in thanks.
Snapping his fingers once again, Erik and Kyllix suddenly found themselves in the middle of a rebel camp.
“Uh…When did this…” Erik muttered as he glanced around in surprise, his entire expression twitching with annoyance as ex-slaves turned to look at him with frozen astonishment.
“Ah, they forgot to tell you huh?” Kyllix mused as he stifled a laugh.
“I’ll…deal with this later…too.” Erik grumbled, snapping his fingers to move the both of them elsewhere again. “Here, this should do.” Erik said as they appeared in his armoury.
“Ah, quite the collection you have here.” Kyllix mused as his senses picked up all the doomsday level weaponry.
“So, what did you want?” But Erik was not in the mood, as he went straight to the point.
“Hmm, to warn you.” Kyllix said, while he peeked into the closest room.
“About Brazath?” Erik guessed.
“No, about your companions, and the road from here onwards.” Kyllix said, turning to meet Erik’s solemn gaze with his own.
“My companions?” Erik repeated in question, following the God into one of the halls, the Mer one.
“I wish to save you some anguish, Erikathyr, because I can tell you wouldn’t be able to handle more of it.” Kyllix explained, “The expression you had, the mood you are in now. You blame yourself for what happened to Kayle, as you still blame yourself for everything else. I know how that feels, Erik, I’ve been in your shoes before.”
Erik sighed, unable to deny his words, but unwilling to acknowledge them either.
“You saw them, afterwards…didn’t you? The fear, the frustration, it all flooded out the second they thought it was over. The moment they believed it was safe. My warning? It’s that your companions are nowhere near as strong as yourself.” Kyllix said with a shrug, “Now you might ask, what would that be warning you about? My answer would simply be; The future.”
“The future? I don’t understand.” Erik said, turning to gaze at his own collection.
“At some point in time, down the line…One of them will die.” Kyllix grimly said, turning to read Erik’s expression at that revelation.
“Is that a guess, or a fact you’ve seen?” Erik asked, smiling weakly as he met the God’s gaze, as Kyllix studied him.
“Call it a guess, call it a hunch. Call it whatever you wish, but the fact remains that your companions are weak compared to you. They’re weak, so they’ll search to improve themselves. They will wish to be stronger. But strength comes with a price.” Kyllix answered, yet seemed to be avoiding a straight one. “Let’s take each one into consideration. There’s Makaela the Dark Elf, confused and split on choosing between you and her people.” The God sighed, “You need to make it clear to her, which she should choose. It already almost got her killed once.”
Erik was about to respond, but Kyllix gave him no room to. “Then there’s my apprentice, Shizuka, newly a Spirit Beast. Possibly…one of the most dangerous beings in existence. Not to mention that, she’s too emotionally unstable to fully control her powers yet. Be watchful of her, Erik, she’s a ticking bomb that could explode at any given moment.”
Kyllix paced about, speaking all the while as he did. “Thea, your Chosen accomplice. Now I must say I was impressed to see…anyone use Aureiatic energy in this world…Seeing as Faetera is so flooded with Spirit that it shouldn’t be possible. Emotionally, as you’ve determined yourself, she’s also quite stable. Her allegiance, quickly transferred from her people to you as well…But,” he paused, looking at Erik as if waiting for him to continue.
“Thea is too caring.” Erik said, knowing all too well.
Kyllix nodded with a smirk, “To care for others, in of itself, is never wrong. But Thea…She falters, she thinks too much. If she knew the reality behind Demons and Devils…I’d have to wonder if she would even fight them…In short? Her heart is too big, and…Thea is just not fit for war.” Kyllix said with a sigh.
“And what am I supposed to do about that?” Erik asked, grimacing in frustration. Simply thinking of her, already gave him a massive headache.
“Talk with her, this occurrence with Kayle is the perfect time to open her eyes. I’m sure you know which words to use, but I’m also sure you knew that already.” Kyllix sternly answered, “You’re just too stricken with guilt to try, aren’t you?”
Erik nodded, but his eyes wandered off. Unable to give a straight response.
The God sighed once again, “Must I punch you this time around? Stand taller, Erik. Your current emotions are being heightened by your human form, but within you are still a Dragon. You’ve also gone through war once before, you know that you shouldn’t listen to guilt. Not as long as your convictions stand strong and right.”
“But I have to wonder, are my convictions, even right?” Erik asked, disdain clear in his tone, let alone his dread filled eyes.
“Second guessing yourself, will get you killed.” Kyllix warned, “What is right is decided by the morals of the majority, yet the majority rarely matter in times of life and death. You know this, so steel yourself boy.”
“Yeah, you’re correct.” Erik said, raising his gaze to inspect the closest weapon. A strange mixture of coral shaped blue metal and emerald gemstones.
“Lastly, there’s your party’s weakest link.” Kyllix moved on, “Nerick.”
“I’d say he’s on equal footing with Thea, and stronger than Shizuka.” Erik mused.
“You’d think, but the reality is that each of them fights for something. Nerick…He fights only for someone.” Kyllix began to explain, “Makaela fights for you, and for her people. Thea fights for her beliefs of right and wrong, and for the innocent. Shizuka…she fights to survive, and to protect the one who took her in. Nerick…You’re a tad dense with these things so I’ll guess you haven’t noticed at all, but that doesn’t mean I’m telling you either.”
“What does that mean?” Erik asked with a raised brow, glancing at the smirking God. “Tell me what? Who he fights for?”
“That is not for me to say, but as things stand…Nerick will do the same mist-” Kyllix paused, “Never mind, that would be telling you too much.”
“Telling me too much? Does that have anything to do with why you’re being so damn vague at times?” Erik asked.
And Kyllix’s smirk widened, “Time knows no master. We Gods can peek into it, but we can never change it, not as we’d like. I’ve been very careful not to make too big an impact in this realm for that reason, in fear of changing the timeline to one I cannot perceive its future. The Avatar is of the same mind, they might be the creator but that doesn’t mean they have power of everything.”
“You call it the Avatar, but they are simply a creator…They make, not own nor control?” Erik repeated the Avatar’s words.
Kyllix nodded, “It’s a bit more complicated than that, but yeah that’s a good way to put it. In any case, I’m not sure what you could even do to help Nerick. Not any more than you already have. The power you gave him, a brilliant choice for that man, yes but…”
“I cannot understand nor agree with you here.” Erik said, “Nerick may have a lot of room for improvement, but he’s strong within. Unlike Makaela, he knows where his loyalties lie. Unlike Shizuka, he’s a soldier, a warrior whose heart was well tempered by combat. And unlike Thea…Nerick’s moral compass is unobstructed and clear.”
“That much is true, but I’ll leave it at that. The rest is for you to notice, for you to…put into place.” Kyllix shrugged, “As a wise man, from another realm, once said; To know the enemy, is not enough. But if you know oneself, and the enemy…Then you mustn’t fear the outcome of a thousand battles.”
“Fearing the outcome is what the footsoldiers do,” Erik added with amusement, “Commanders don’t fear the outcome, we calmly weight it alongside others.”
“Ah, remember those words you just spoke. Therein lies more truth than you know.” Kyllix chuckled, “But I’ve used up enough time, I really must be going.” He said, turning to face Erik. “This is farewell, Dragon.”
“Ah-Before you go, I have one last question.” Erik then asked, also turning to face the God.
“Sure, but depending on what it is, I might have to be vague or even not answer at all.” Kyllix warned.
“You said before that the power Thea was using, was something called Aurei…ic?” Erik tried to pronounce the word.
“Awe-re-ya-tic, Aureiatic,” Kyllix corrected, “Or simply put, Aura. I’m not surprised that you don’t know of it.”
“Why? And what is it? I’ve been perplexed trying to understand that energy, almost as much as Spirit has confused the lesser races.” Erik said, demeaning others as to not demean his own knowledge, as any good Dragon would when asking such a question.
Causing Kyllix to burst into laughter, the God’s rough voice filling the surrounding hall with a rumbling echo. “It perplexes me of how throughout thousands of realms, Dragons and Dwarves hate each other so much, when you’re so bloody similar. Or maybe, that similarity is why you do? Hmm, food for thought. Going off topic there, apologies, what is Aura huh? Let’s see…”
And for the next several minutes, Kyllix explained in detail what Aura was.
Causing Erik to understand, just why Nerick would fall asleep halfway through each of his own lectures…