IV. (RE)

Within the north-eastern parts of the Forest of Sorrows lied a fortified outpost. With wooden walls and subpar towers for defense, many would think this was a temporary place of fortitude. Since it was at the kingdom’s center, it had access to roads to every major city. The outpost was used as a gathering hub for many troops, be it the ordinary soldier or special forces. The home base would be called “The Royal Outpost”.

  It wasn’t strange for an important individual to come by, though today was different. The soldiers murmured and watched as a beautiful young woman past them. She had long braided red hair and ruby eyes: this was Layette Hawkwood, the infamous “Phoenix of Damore.”

  The major noble households of the Kingdom of Damore had weapons that sealed great ancient beasts of the past. Those who can wield such power are part of the Divine Circle, a group of individuals who are the king’s guardians. Because of a special circumstance, they chose Layette to be the wielder of the Great Phoenix: a deity-like bird creature who controlled the power of fire. Many praised her for her prowess in combat and was one of Damore’s best sword fighters. However, despite her natural gifts and achievements, she caused a lot of “accidents” because of her fiery temper. Her family sent her to the Royal Knights where she can be disciplined, yet it seemed even they cannot educate her proper etiquette.

  Beside her was her brother, Segenam, who was a former Royal Knight. Segenam had spiky red hair with a pair of red eyes, though it was hard to see them since he squints all the time. He, too, climbed the ranks quickly, proving himself to be good in both combat and tactical precision. Unlike his sister, who used the power of the Great Phoenix, he could manipulate holy and dark magic, earning him his once grand title of “Dark Paladin.” He abandoned his position to join the Adventure Guild after a mysterious incident years ago.

  The siblings are here by the request of their uncle, Commander Morrison, who was the third highest-ranking commander of Damore. Though Layette did not want to admit it, she was happy to see her brother again after years of separation. They made their way through the many tents of the Royal Outpost, looking for the “General’s Tent”.

  “You’re awfully quiet. Are you sure you’re my sister?” Segenam brought out.

  “Glad to know you are still the annoying brother I have always known.”

  “Feisty. She has a snappy tone now!” He put his hand over her head and smirked. “And she grew a couple? My sis’ became the beast everyone says she is!”

  “Can you, like, not right now? Uncle called us here for something, so it must be important.” Layette expressed her excitement. “Once I complete what he asked for, then I can do something else rather than paperwork for the Academy!”

  “Aww, look at her go, so excited for the job!” Segenam shook his head. “Seriously though, it’s been years since we last seen each other. I bet you missed me when I was gone.”

  Layette puffed her cheeks. Steam formed around her body and the surrounding soldiers backed away. “No, I do not.”

  “Haha, getting a little steamy there!” Segenam said, snickering.

  “Quiet, you.”

  “Now that I remember, I heard you blew up an entire building cause’ someone called you a small cutie pie. Then there’s that sparring match incident. Care to explain, Miss ‘Destro Lady’?”

  Her face turned bright red, the steam turning into a heat haze. “This ‘Destro Lady’ is going to burn you to a crisp if your pestering does not stop.”

  A drop of sweat fell from Segenam’s forehead. “All right, geez, relax. We are already here so don’t go rampaging in front of Uncle.”

  The two siblings approached a tall red tent. Many soldiers were in and about, and paperwork was being handled left and right. In the middle of the chaos was their uncle, Morrison Hawkwood. He fluttered his blue eyes as he gazed upon the signed papers. His combed back hair was drooping because of the sweat accumulating over his forehead, and he touched his thick jawline. Morrison smacked the papers with the back of his hand, telling his assistants to correct their mistakes, and then sent them away. It relieved him to see his niece and nephew, though the constant work did not give him any time to rest.

  “Give me a moment, you two.” Morrison gave papers to a messenger. “Take this back to Leonidas. I cannot confirm it. If those goblin cases are getting worse, ask the Adventure Guild to take action.”

  Another soldier came to report to him.

  “Don’t worry, tell command we will investigate everything.”

  He turned to Layette and Segenam, hugging them both. “Phew, work on top of work. Wow, look at you! Mister Hunter and Miss Destro Lady!”

  Layette frowned. “May you please, just, not? The name is torture already!”

  Segenam smirked. “Uncle. It’s been a while.”

  Morrison patted their heads. “Hoho, it has been. You two have grown and I’m proud.”

  “Uncle, I am not a child.” Layette stepped back, asserting a serious demeanor. “You requested us here so… here we are. What is so important that you called for us specifically?”

  “Straight to business, huh? That’s the Phoenix of Damore for you.” Morrison slumped in his chair when he sat down. “To be honest, I need enough of the serious business right now. This damned war is giving me those old man wrinkles!”

  “Heard there was a ceasefire between us and the Draconic Empire,” inquired Segenam. “It’s a shame. Ceasefires are the only thing that damned Empire will agree on.”

  “Prince Arthur, soon to be king, agreed on the behalf of his father. Now both sides must pull off their troops from specific areas. I worry the fight is still going on since the news did not go through in some battlefields.”

  Morrison waved his hand in dismissal. “Never mind that. Leave those things to your ol’ Uncle. Royal Knight Layette, Hunter Segenam, I have a task for you.”

  “Yes sir,” Layette and Segenam chorused, saluting.

  “Your mission is to survey the Forest of Sorrows. There are reports of missing people on nearby villages and sightings of devious abominations. It wasn’t an issue until Captain Rogers came to us two days ago. Said something about dark shadowy creatures and his men being devoured by them. You start your mission ASAP. Horses will be given to you at the stables. Dismissed.”

  “Yes, sir!”

  “And Layette, a word please.”

  Segenam snickered as he left the tent. “Oooh, someone’s in trouble…”

  Layette stuck her tongue out and folded her arms. Morrison gestured her to follow, and the two took a stroll across the line of tents.

  “How’s your father doing? He’s not doing anything bizarre, is he?”

  “He fares well, excluding the bizarre part.”

  “By the Divine, is he still on that ‘white-haired’ hero thing again?”

  “Seems like it. Sir Dagn reported someone like that a week ago, and it riled him up to the point of obsession.”

  “You know your father: he’s a dedicated hard worker when it comes to his passionate projects. How about your performance with the Royal Knights?” Morrison said with a smile.

  Layette looked away; her face flushed in red. “What do you think? It is, um, exemplary, as expected. Nothing went wrong, whatsoever!”

  “It’s horrible, right? No need to lie to me.” Morrison shook his head. “Layette, if you cannot adjust to the basics, then you won’t be a noble knight, let alone be a great hero.”

  “Like academics can prove someone worthy of being one! I can fight, that is all a hero needs to do!”

  “They require to be calculating, resourceful—”

  “An effective commander and diplomat. I know, I know,” Layette finished.

  They reached the stables, where the soldiers prepared horses for the two. Her brother was ready to leave the premise and signaled her to come along. Layette turned to her Uncle, who was looking down at her with concern.

  “Please do nothing reckless. I already saved your neck TOO many times. This is a scouting mission, only fight if you must.”

  “Got it. Fighting is an option, WHICH I will take.”

  “Layette…” Morrison said in a deeper voice.

  “Okay, okay, I will tone down. I am cool. Super. All right bye.”

  Layette ran to her horse, hopping in the saddle. The siblings snapped their reins and trotted out of the Royal Outpost. Morrison sighed, seeing them off. One of his associates came with her clipboard and waited.

  “Get a task force ready on the go to the Forest of Sorrows. I fear there’s more to this than meets the eye…”

  It had been an hour since Layette and Segenam left the Royal Outpost. It was a quiet ride under the sun. Segenam tried to break the ice between them, asking about the day or even how she was doing, but his sister seemed not interested in conversing. So much had changed over their five years of absence. She was a different person, in a good way at the very least. Layette was in the same situation, despite her distant expression. She had so many questions to ask of him, but felt it was not her place to do so. It took several small talks before the two had a proper exchange.

  “Hey, Sleeping Queen, getting tired already? I see you trying to sneak in a shut-eye.”

  “Being tired on the job is what a Royal Knight, such as myself, cannot display.” She grunted. “Like that would look good on my record.”

  “Record this, record that. I think you’re good the way you are. Then again, you were the one always getting those golden stars.”

  “A hero must be upstanding and ambitious. A slacker like you cannot understand such a concept.”

  “That hit too close to home. Fiery temper, coming from—”

  “The infamous ‘Destro Lady’?” She raised her brow. “Hmpf, so be it.”

  An awkward silence. Segenam was unsure what to talk about next, but Layette came at him with a daring question. “May I ask you something, Segenam?”

  “Ask away.”

  “Why did you leave?”

  “Leave what?”

  “The Royal Knights and… the family in general. I remember Mother being so sad when you left without even saying goodbye. What happened back then?”

  Segenam furrowed his brows. Though it was ages ago, he remembered as if it happened yesterday. The massacre, the piles of corpses, the guilt: it broke him to the point of insanity. He looked at his hands, and images from the past overlapped with the present. His hands trembled as he saw the vibrant red blood dripped from his fingertips. Only one word came into his mind, and it echoed repeatedly at the back of his subconscious.

  Blood. Blood. Blood.

  His hands closed into a fist and after a deep breath, he regained his composure. “Well… it was getting boring.”

  Layette expressed her suspicion. “You left because you were… bored?”

  “Imagine being the third highest-ranking General and all you do is paperwork. My job is saving people while making the coins. During that time, the registration for being a Guild member was ending soon, so I had to leave as soon as possible. Explained it to Father and Mother through the letter I’d sent.”

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  “No one told me about such, not even Father. Did everyone know except for me?”

  “I told wrote to Father to keep it a secret. Still, I’m surprised you didn’t at least ask Father where’d I go: it’s as if you didn’t care or miss me!”

  Layette turned away and blushed. “Do not say that. Whatever business happened between you and the Knights was your own. Of course, I missed you since…”

  “What’s that? I can’t hear you,” Segenam said, leaning his ear.

  “I will not say it again. Let us focus on doing the job, so I get the recognition I deserve.”

  “You got it, Miss, after all, I—”

  Their horses suddenly stopped, neighing in fear, and Segenam flew off his steed, landing face-first into the dirt ground. Layette dismounted from her stallion and helped her brother to his feet, and the two gazed at what was in front of them. A huge barrier swirled slowly, letting out shimmers of light while humming a soft, whirring sound of tingling glass. The forest within the mystical shield was mysteriously dark despite the sun pouring down its rays upon the woods. Someone let out a blood curling scream, and a nasty gargling snarl followed soon after. Only the sound of the tingling glass remained.

  “Is this the place?”

  Segenam took out his map and after a moment, he nodded. “That’s what the map says, so yeah. We are some distance from the center. The horses are spooked, so we have to walk there.”

  “You know, Father told me about the Forest of Sorrows. He said this is where The Grand Necromancer was sealed in. I wonder if such myth is true.”

  Segenam tickled Layette’s neck, making her jump in fear. He laughed as she fumed up in anger.

  “You idiot, do not scare me like that! Grr, stop messing around, perhaps?!”

  “All right, all right, Miss Serious. Come on, let’s get going.”

  The siblings roped their horses to the nearest tree and geared themselves. They gathered and prepared their equipment, facing the soaring magical wall when they were ready. Though it was clear they had to go inside, something felt off about it. Segenam thrust his sword into the barrier, only for his weapon to shatter into tiny pieces.

  “So, that’s what it is,” he said with a dumbfounded look on his face.

  Layette put her arm forward, palms facing to the mystical wall. “Analyze!”

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  Analyze is a Tier-0 spell but was efficient depending on the user’s strength. The stronger the person, the more information they receive about the object’s attributes, type, and effects. A white magic circle formed around her face and her arm, and she narrowed her eyes. A small screen popped at the side of her vision, showing its full description.

                                                                            [Spell: Seal of Fate, TIER-5]

                                                                                  [Type: Sealing Spell]

                                                    [Attribute: Holy, Divine, Inner Mana, Natural Mana]

                                                          [Effects: Imprison, Contain, Seep, Anti-Magic]

  Layette gasped upon seeing this data. A Tier-5 spell was the strongest spell mortals in this realm ever get to cast. It was impossible to brute force their way against a barrier this strong. She told Segenam about this and he touched his chin in contemplation.

  “Layette, if this is a Tier-5 Barrier spell, then there’s nothing we can do. We should go back and report this to Uncle.”

  “Wait, hold on! We came all this way just to go back? T-There must be a reason this barrier is here!”

  “Fine. So, we know it’s a Sealing Spell, with Imprison and Contain effects. It is also Anti-Magic. Come on, that’s like four red flags already!” Segenam folded his arms. “We have no time to waste. Uncle needs to know about this.”

  “W-Wait! What if the story Father told me was true? About June, about the Void possibly still existing inside?”

  “Those are bedtime stories, nothing more. If they are true, then it’s more of reason to leave.” Segenam shivered. “The ‘Bogeyman’ being possibly real is a scary thought.”

  “I, er, we may know the spell’s properties, but there must conditions to its effects, right? Let us check it out, yes, please?”

  He sighed. “If you say so. All right, fine, let’s investigate further.”

  Segenam threw a pebble to see how it would react. The small rock crossed through. A leaf fell from the treetops and it passed unharmed as well. He unsheathed his sword and tapped its tip on the barrier. The weapon shattered into several pieces and settled on the ground, red hot.


Layette tilted her head. “Did you figure it out?”

  “My sword is made of Paranium Steel. It is enchanted to fare against magic. And as you can see, Mr. Sword is in pieces. So, enchantments and other magical things are a no go.”

  “Most of my equipment is enchanted. If I were to go in, it would to venture off without such.”

  “Everything about this is too risky.” Segenam threw his shattered sword away. “All right, let’s head back now.”

  The two heard footsteps within the wall and they were on their guard. Layette saw a woman running for her life, calling out for help. Before the two could react, streaks of red light radiated within the forest’s fog. The woman was pulled back into the mist, then the sounds of tearing flesh and bones followed. It became silent again, and Segenam’s face grew pale.

  “By the Gods, what the hell is that?!”

  “Man-eating beasts and a spell that prevents magical things from entering or leaving… There’s no doubt about it.” Segenam furrowed his brows. “Those are otherworldly creatures. Must be.”

  “How do you know?”

  “It’s just a hunch. I have fought many beasts during my lifetime, and I’ve yet to see creatures like that popping out of nowhere.”

  Several voices came out from the fog. It was a mixture of voices crying for help and the snarling of beasts. Segenam made his way back to his mount.

  “That settles it. This is bigger than any of us. We are leaving, now.”

  Layette gave him the stank eye. “Are. You. Kidding. Me? There might be people in there getting slaughtered by those… things! There is no way I am leaving them there to die!”

  “That’s not the point you—remember what Uncle said, okay? Come on, we’re useless here until we get—”

  “Useless, you say?” A vein popped out from Layette’s forehead. “USELESS?! Fine, I will prove to you I am more than useless!”

  She cast her equipment aside and ran further into the forest. Segenam tried to catch her, but was repelled by the barrier. Even when he took off his gear, he was denied entry. His sister faded into the mist, the darkness enveloping around her. Layette was gone. He quickly got up, slamming his fists against the magical barrier.

  “Layette, Layette! You are such an idiot!” He saddled back on his horse and snapped the reins. “You better be alive when I come back!”

- my thoughts:
Updated (final no backsies [except for grammar]) / [3/4/2021] Updated again (fixed plothole, Layette's dialect, unrevealed MAJOR SPOLIER for Segenam's past).
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