Watchers and Observers
The ground quaked as masses of black clashed within the massive hall.
“No fool,” Erik’s voice filled the room, as the two twin Black Drakes duelled.
“Vary your speed, if you keep moving at the same top you’re capable of then your enemy will get used to it and outmanoeuvre you! And you, you’re too aggressive, you’re inattentive. Pay attention to your enemy’s movements, watch, listen, sense, counter!” He’d shout out derogatory exclamations at them as the two massive lean beasts of dark scales simply swiped at each other faster than the air around them could reassemble.
As the rest simply stood by his side, each within their own humanoid form, they spoke not and moved not.
Vemm rushed in as told, varying her speed to suddenly evade to the side as her brother Grylrag charged at her the exact same as he had earlier. Grappling onto one another, the two serpent-like drakes tumbled over each other senselessly.
Already was Erik’s expression twitching from watching their horrid form, thanking whoever opened the doors at that time as he turned to face them. Snapping his fingers, “Take break…” He mused as he walked off, the twins falling limp and exhausted behind him.
Finding Kayle, Nerick and Ivyieth entering then, “Did you call for me Eldest Brother?” Ivyieth immediately regarded him with a polite bow.
“Just you and Kayle really, but I think it’s good that you came too Nerick…” Erik said as he collapsed into a chair of obsidian, taking a deep breath before returning to them.
He seemed to be growing weaker by the day.
“Why? What’s up?” Nerick asked, noticing now that there was no longer any sign of white upon Erik’s body, all that remained was the slight blue in his eyes slowly being taken over by crimson.
“I have a diplomatic mission for Kayle and Ivyeith, but they’ll be going far, very far.” Erik explained as he glanced at Kayle.
“I…can’t do that unless I’ve been there before.” Kayle mentioned.
“Do not worry about that,” Rising back to his feet Erik then turned to Nerick. “This place I’m sending them to…It might be safe, but it can also be the most dangerous place on Faetera. Nerick, as lord of the Wyvern Knights, I need you here with me. But, if you have any objection-”
“I’ll be going along with Kayle then.” Nerick immediately answered sternly.
Causing Erik to chuckle, even if weakly. “Then take Ivara as well with you, but I must warn you, in this place nothing is what it seems.” Turning to Ivyieth then, “She will be your guide.”
“Guide? Where am I going?” Ivyieth asked with a raised brow, “I’m not going away from brother am I?”
“You’re going home Ivyieth,” Erik answered, “As an ambassador of the Empire, I ask you to deliver this message to the Fae Kingdom of Pepputia.” Handing her a small dark grey envelope, Erik sighed weakly as he sat back down.
“I’ve sent others to Seeri, New Druv and S’Sern already…But you’re my only hope with this.” He mused, his expression growing solemn, Erik briefly lost himself to his thoughts.
Going silent for several moments before returning to his senses.
“If it’s you, then someone might care.” He added.
Ivyieth glanced over the envelope, almost black yet grey with golden inscriptions on both sides. Recognising them as Fae runes, her gaze rose to meet his. “If it’s for Eldest Brother, I will do my best.” She said, pumping her chest and cheeks with both pride and resolve.
“Then, we have no time left to waste.” Erik said as he took another object out from his seemingly infinitely spacious pockets. A bright yet dark feather, almost transparent in form.
“That’s…” Nerick recognised it.
“The Dark Fae’s wing feathers, I found a couple lying about after you were done with it.” Erik grinned widely, “With this, and Ivyieth’s memories, do you think you can?” then asking Kayle as he handed her the feather.
“Maybe…” Kayle guessed, taking the surprisingly rough feather carefully into both hands.
“As a seer, they will respect and be wary of you there, Kayle keep watch on everything.” Erik said before turning to Ivyieth, “You will be welcomed back, but remember what you are, Dragons are rarely welcome there.”
Then finally turning to Nerick, his eyes hardened. “The journey will not be as perilous as the destination, Fae are born tricksters and illusionists, be careful.”
Meeting his gaze, Nerick’s eyes too narrowed. “Give us a moment?” He said, gesturing for the other two, they both stepped away briefly.
As Nerick turned to face them both, he gave his back to Erik who now watched the young Black Drakes at the centre of the hall.
“First Zentha, then Makaela, then Ascal…Now us, why are you sending us all away?” Nerick spoke what he’d been holding onto, unable to put his finger on the answer, he knew something was amiss.
“Because dire times require…dire measures.” Erik whispered, sighing as he did. “Do you trust me, Nerick?”
“You gave me everything, you made the me of now.” Nerick said without a second moment to think, “I’d give my life for you.”
“Then trust me in this…You don’t want to know what comes next.” Erik then said turning to grasp the large Djinn’s shoulder, “Nerick…I’ve sent many to their deaths before…so why is this time so different?” Erik asked, clenching his chest then.
Nerick paused, at first unsure how to answer, he instead decided to let his memories of another person he knew speak in his stead. “Because this time, you’re you.”
High Above Sinroz
A rift opens…
Reality tore, the crack surging with energy as tendrils of white flames pulled it further apart.
Allowing through two ethereal beings, as they continued to hover all too high up in the sky.
A male and a female, both very similar in appearance to the other. Both had pale skin, snow-white long hair kept almost too perfectly, and two fluffy fox-like tails.
Their ears though, where none of the above, if only pale skinned. Pointed like an Elf’s, their ears grew longer even.
“Welp, here we are, so where’s the party?” The male mused, glancing about at the continent below.
“It hasn’t started yet!” Said the female, giggling with great amusement as she too stared down.
Both of their eyes, previously a bright silver, suddenly shone blue.
“So we just wait?” Asked the male.
“Yeap, looks like we’ll just have to observe from here, Kalix.” The female sighed.
“Yo, Kaisley. You sure we can’t just…mess with a few things?” Kalix grumbled.
“Dad would kill us, bring us back, and kill us again.” Kaisley warned, “We’re just here to watch, report back what happens, so he can decide on his fate after.”
“Hah, shall we start with watching him first then?” Kalix asked.
“Nah, there’s another he told me to check on first when we arrive…” Kaisley mused, turning her gaze then to the north of the continent where a fog of violet and black spread far and wide.
Turning to follow her gaze too, the expressions of both Spirit Beasts then turned into a wide grin.
“Oh yeah, that’s gonna be entertaining to watch.” Kalix mused.
Chapter 64: War
Kailu faded through the thick jungle, a wisp of shadow silently leaping from crooked branch to branch, as nature all around him twisted and coiled. An amalgamation of trees, he was simply unused to seeing.
Yet adapt he did. It was his duty, after all, to move as silent as the wind.
As part of Ascal’s small task force, his first command was to locate the enemy amongst the thick foliage.
Having no use of his eyes as the jungle’s formation of greenery hid all, alongside the thin layer of mist.
Having no use of his ears, as the jungle’s very sounds rose above anything else.
Kailu could only rely on his other senses, feeling through the terrain with his mana, as he expended the tendrils of shadow out from his over-sized scythe and into his surroundings.
Kailu soared above the jungle, seeming like a rush of pure darkness, he moved unnoticed through the night.
Until, suddenly he paused.
Stopping over one branch, Kailu began retrieving all of his tendrils, two of them pulling with an entangled Bestia. What had caught his attention in the first place.
Eyes wide and wild, the bearman struggled against the darkness.
But his ferocity fell silent, as Kailu took shape.
Wielding his massive black scythe one-handed, it’s very material shifting, as if formless in nature.
The Bestia met this young Xilfir’s cold eyes, as they studied him back.
As the tendrils suddenly tripled and tightened.
“A border watch,” Kailu mused in elven, “Which means that.” Looking then to the direction he had caught this prey from, Kailu knew where the enemy encampment began now.
The crack of bone and tearing of flesh suddenly resounded from nearby him, sending many critters and birds scurrying off below. The Bestia was dead, left limp after the tendrils of raw darkness had pierced into his body.
As they now slowly absorbed him, equipment and all the corpse disappeared into the darkness, leaving nothing behind.
“A mere snack, before the feast ahead…” Kailu grinned, expectation colouring his expression, as he stared intensely ahead. He felt it, the hungering within his weapon, the need for more blood to be spilt.
It urged him forward, it whispered sweetly into his ear.
(“There, they lay. Unknowing, unprepared. Thousands to feast upon, thousands to absorb.”)
He ignored the voice.
Turning away, he felt the scythe enrage within his grasp, as its tendrils now turned and pointed at him.
Yet a single glance sent the darkness scurrying away like the animals below.
Kailu did not take orders from an inanimate object, he was free, and no being was about to change that.
(“I am the master, you the weapon.”) Kailu told it, and it responded not. (“I am in control.”) He thought, resolved, as the tendrils rushed back inside the scythe.
Kailu returned to shadow then, denying the scythe it’s lust for blood as he moved away but kept tabs on the direction.
Moving quickly and erratically as to not be followed, Kailu made his way back to their own campsite.
Ascal spread open the blank piece of parchment before himself, a quill and tub of ink nearby, he listened closely to report after report from the scouts he had sent out to the surrounding jungle.
His hand, moving expertly across the paper, he drew what he heard and mentally constructed.
Leaving out most of the jungle’s terrain, Ascal formed himself a very basic map of the enemy’s surroundings in accordance to their own position. Closer than he thought they had come to the encampment’s edge, the enemy knew of their arrival, but not of their numbers or position.
Of that much, he was sure.
Which only meant one thing to Ascal.
“Hah, she did it. No Zrosian shinobi, no counter scouts accounted for.” He mused with a chuckle.
“The General accomplished her mission?” Kailu asked as he stood nearby, alongside seven others, each of them standing within a small cave hidden beneath one of the larger species of trees which make up the jungle.
They had brought little with them, ink, quill and paper alongside their held equipment and some sustenance for the journey here and back. Everything else the Xilfir made out of the land around them, from traps ready to be set down to chemical constructs with capabilities not even Kailu wished to tamper with.
“It seems so,” Ascal answered with a wide smile, unsure of Makaela’s safety, still he fully trusted her in surviving. Turning to his men then, Ascal glanced over them all.
There were only three dozen of them in total, seven capable of quick and silent movement. Some chemists Ascal had hand-chosen, left to their tinkering deeper within the cave. While the rest were mostly hunters and simple soldiers, currently out in the jungle around the cave, gathering key resources or keeping watch.
“This…is what I’ve got to work with.” Ascal mused out loud, as the scouts stood at attention, all but Kailu who leaned his back into the cave’s wall. Seemingly bored, Ascal knew how attentive this child was.
Watching and analysing every little thing around him, Ascal understood why Kyrenic took the boy in as his prodigy.
(“His personality could use some work though,”) Ascal thought, glancing at the moonlit entrance then. (“Nothing better than a mission against impossible odds for that I’d say!”) Grinning widely, he turned to the rays of light sneaking their way through the tree’s roots and into their cave.
“Gentlemen, let’s begin.”
Trudging through the remaining bushes and low roots, Dastan groaned as his pike’s blade got stuck in a bunch of vines, pulling and pushing then to retrieve his weapon as the rest of his company marched on.
“Should’ve held it high brother, we told you so.” Chuckled his squad mate, Teni, humanoid in form yet serpentine in appearance. The man marched on, as did the rest of Dastan’s company.
Dastan himself was of the wolvine breed, born and raised under the banners of Keye, he marched not just for his clan but Zidao and Dabangui as well.
Glancing about himself as he recovered his pike, Dastan briefly took in the sight.
Wolf, Snake and Bear, each clan marched as one.
All in the name of Zrosa, all in the name of expanding their country’s power and reach.
It was a sight to behold to Dastan, young as he was and only freshly entered into the military body, it filled him with pride.
Banners of each clan held high, as companies of beastmen marched in formation around large monstrosities of armour, some large enough to hold entire towers on their backs.
As mages ahead bent the terrain aside, the thick roots and branches bending out of the way as the ground flattened into a path for the soldiers to march upon. The very trees creaking as they were pushed and bent, allowing the large beasts of burden through as well as the cargo they pulled behind them.
“Oi, move it new blood!” Growled one from the next company over, as Dastan now stood in their way.
Being pushed forward by two shieldsmen, Dastan had no choice but to rush away, returning to his unit in a hurry and to re-join the formation. Before his officer in command noticed him.
Yet, suddenly the marching stopped.
Glancing down the long line of rank and file, Dastan could barely make out the small unit of mages, having stopped before two large trees that stood in their way.
He glimpsed the tendrils of magic leaving the caster’s fingers, delving into the earth just like earlier, yet no matter how hard the ground shook…
The trees moved not.
Until, suddenly they did.
As the dark brown bark shifted to a bright marble white.
As roots rose from the ground, branches bent aside and wide…
As the two trees turned, revealing the crooked grins morphed into their sides.
“Treants!” One mage shrieked, a word Dastan and everyone else was all too shocked to hear this far away from the Dark Forest of Zidao.
Only able to watch, as the roots entangled around each mage, piercing through their barriers with terrifying ease.
Blood splattered before them, the entire unit of mages wiped out within a single moment’s breath, as the roots squashed them into pulp.
Dastan froze, eyes wide he stared at what remained, at the pools of flesh and blood still leaking out of the Treant’s grasp.
Horror filled him, as it had occurred so quickly, so simply…
He took a step back, almost dropping his pike as he shook in his boots.
“Footsoldiers retreat!” Commands bellowed out, snapping him out of his terrified daze, Dastan glanced back just in time to catch a glimpse of them.
As the armoured beasts rushed by, twice his own size and ridden by a Bestia warrior each, the cavalry unit charged. Growls and roars filling his ears, as it was joined by the accursed creaking of wood, sounding like a burst of wicked laughter.
The beast-riders separated into four squads of ten, leaping into the common trees, they surrounded the rampaging Treants.
As roots tore men apart.
As branches swiped down, sending entire companies flying into the jungle nearby.
“Those…they’re not normal!” Teni mused outloud from Dastan’s right, “They’re not from Zidao!” He urged on as their entire company fell back, speaking with their squad leader who stood watching the clash. A bear-men of great size, Jian pushed Teni aside.
“Retreat, leave it to the beast company, this isn’t our specialty!” Jian bellowed, glaring then at Dastan who also stood by.
Feeling a chill crawl up his spine then, Dastan turned and ran back with the rest, forming a good distance between the deadly Treants and them while still retaining a formation around their beasts of burden.
Dastan, having been the last to join the formation, begrudgingly ended up joining the outer wall of bodies.
Gaining himself a clear view of the battle, as armoured packs of direwolves pounced from branch to branch, tearing at the Treant’s fleshy bark. Whilst their riders stuck hooks wherever they could, throwing then the other spear-end of the rope into a nearby tree where their companions stuck it steadily into bark or ground.
Slowly they bound the Treants, a tiresome process of affixing bindings and recuperating those that failed, all the while evading massive branches riddled with spike-like bark and long agile roots searching to strangle and squash.
The process then quickening as a new unit of mages made it to the front, rushing past Dastan’s merging of companies and given a ride by a different company of beast-riders. The Treants now stood no chance, as even more beasts rode their swiping branches, all the while expert mages cast earthen spells to bind their roots in place.
Dastan watched, his previous sensation of horror replaced with resolve, as the seemingly unstoppable monstrosities where held down through the joined co-operation of Keye’s riders and Dabangui’s scholars.
Nothing like how his squadmate, Teni, was feeling at the time. As the serpent glanced all around them, frantically searching the trees and bushes for…something.
Dastan was about to reproach the man for his anxiety…
But as the last movements of the Treants came to a stop, Dastan realised just how foolish he was in feeling relieved.
As a dozen a second, small explosions echoed out from the surrounding jungle.
Puffs of smoke rose up into the air, following glistening objects being shot up into the sky by what Dastan could only guess were small-fire cannons.
Dastan knew, that the next few moments were ones he’d never forget.
As the spheres of what seemed like half glass and half metal, rained down all around them.
Shattering on contact with anything but the mammoth’s fur, chaos filled Dastan’s surroundings then.
As the liquid within splattered all over his company, Dastan and a few others managing to evade being splashed as they rushed away.
Turning around, Dastan felt cold at the sight, as the unmistakable scent filled his and each of his comrade’s nostrils.
Before him stood over four hundred men and women of Zrosa, drenched in a dwarven concoction only known as…
Liquid Dragon Fire.
The panic and horror he saw within their eyes, etched itself into his memory.
As the first flaming arrow shot out of the jungle far to his right, right from where the flasks had come from.
Dastan wishfully believed that it would never hit its mark.
Not at that range…
Not from that far…
His hopes, died there and then.
As the chaos around him fell silent.
And the world before him, was lit up aflame.
A blaze of bright green filled his purview, as shrieks of agony filled his ears.
Bodies, melting within the flames, trudges through others.
Dastan watched frozen in absolute terror, as men and woman he knew burned alive.
He watched, as their hair dissipated into nothingness within the first few moments.
Their skin, melting away like cheese over a campfire. Falling off and charring away, revealing the crisping flesh beneath. Their eyes, previously filled with pain, either melted along the skin or burst like bubbles of red and white liquid.
As they clawed at themselves, and each other.
Trying helplessly to snuff out the flames.
Dastan could only watch.
As Teni crawled towards him, half aflame, it slowly spread along his body.
Unable to speak as it had charred out his throat, still the man somehow managed to reach out to Dastan’s standing form.
Falling limp briefly after, dead and burning away.
Dastan felt his gut wrench, as everything he had eaten that day rose out all at once, splattering forward into a shower of brown and yellow. He fell back, stumbling onto his ass Dastan emptied his stomach onto what remained of Teni.
It only urged the flames further, as they rose and burst out at the new surface.
Scaring the living s*** out of Dastan as he quickly crawled back and away, sniffling and panicking, the prideful warrior was left as nothing more than a wrecked mess of a boy.
Stumbling up, he turned about, ready to run.
Only to find himself faced with what the horrific scene had made him forget.
The two Treants stood tall over a splattering of corpses, both beast and Bestia.
The mages and beast-riders had been wiped out, as all too quickly the goliaths of wood and leaf charged right into his direction.
Stomping down, root after root as legs, the Treants barrelled down the path.
Sending a shiver visibly flow through Dastan’s body, he was snapped out of his daze only as the massive mammoth behind him stomped down mere feet from where he stood.
Falling back once more, Dastan watched as the mountain of ablaze fur charged, moaning in agony with each step…still it met the two Treants with the full might of its gigantic body. Pushing one aside with its humongous tusks, it then grabbed the second with its just as large trunk, as either’s roots and branches coiled around its legs and face.
Ballistae and bowmen fired from the tower that was built upon its back, barraging the two Treants as their branches reached out to grasp the construction.
It was a clash of three titans Dastan had no purpose joining, feeling insignificant and utterly terrified, he instead rose up, turned about…and ran.
Ditching his pike and rucksack, Dastan ran as quickly as his bestial strength allowed him. Faster than any common human, he ran away from both them and the flames, rushing into the jungle.
Dastan trudged through the intertwining roots and branches, pushed through the bushes and other foliage, as everything around him seemed to be clinging, grabbing and holding him back.
Tearing at his clothing.
Pulling at his armour.
It only added to the panic within Dastan…
As suddenly, he pushed through and into a small clearing.
A thin river flowed beneath his feet, briefly pausing the jungle’s extreme thickness and giving Dastan respite from the feeling of claustrophobia…
But not everything else that he felt, as finding that brief moment to pause, once more Dastan found himself keeling over and further clearing up his belly.
The sound of his vomiting covering for the rustling of leaves that came from behind him, as the dark figure which now loomed over him went unnoticed by the young soldier.
“It seems as,” Kailu mused, as his massive black scythe snuck into view, resting at the man’s throat.
“This isn’t your lucky day.”
“W-Wai-” Briefly Dastan managed to speak out, cut off as the blade tore through his entire neck.
Cleaving his head cleanly off his shoulders.
Kailu stood over the fallen corpse, laying within its own muck, he glanced away from it in disgust as he fully expected the sounds which followed.
As dark tendrils grew out of his weapon, engulfing the body and head whole before absorbing both.
“That man s***, pissed and puked all over himself, yet you still devour them?” Kailu mused with a disturbed tone.
(“Demons stuck for eons within a weapon, with their power of self sealed away, cannot complain about what meal scurries into their maw.”) The Scythe mused within his mind.
Rolling his eyes then at the sound of shattering bone and tearing flesh, as the body was sucked into the thin tendrils of flowing darkness. “Just…hurry up.” Kailu could only restrain himself from gagging and adding to the river.
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