VII.1 (RE)

Aren couldn’t believe it. The person he was searching for came right into his arms. The visions he had seen brought him here, face-to-face to the proclaimed “destiny changer,” though it confused him on what to do next. He thought meeting her will finally answer the questions he had asked all this time, yet nothing brought him clarity. The visions never came back, and now he was standing still, being awkwardly silent. 

  Layette grunted. “So, no words for yourself, villain? You admit to the crimes you have committed?”

  Aren stayed silent, and she expressed her frustration.

  “Start talking! You were the one doing this, for sure!”

  “H-Huh? Oh, my head was in the clouds for a moment.” He put his hand out for her to shake. “Name’s Aren Damoder, nice to meet you Miss Layette Hawkwood.”

  “Yes, I know your name. We need no more introductions.”

  Aren scratched his head. “Right then. Uh, so what brings you here and why do you have your sword next to my neck?”

  She cleared her throat and spoke in a confident matter. “Aren Damoder, you are under arrest for the attempt of summoning a demon! Now, if you can—”

  “I’m sorry, what now?” Aren interrupted. “My ears are a bit squeaky from the BS I heard.”

  “No, I will not repeat it, you idiot! Stop delaying and give me your arms.”

  He shrugged. “All right, so what makes you think I’m trying to summon a demon? First off, I told those border guys I was trying to look for you. Then, they chased me to the ends of Dunia cause’ they believe I have some Mystical Shawl of Destiny!”

  A voice came behind from Layette. “B-But it is the Mystical Shawl of Destiny!”

Artist: Claarin

  Merlin stepped forward, pointing his staff at Aren. His scepter glowed in bright yellow. “See, I told you! He’s wearing it right now!”

  “Hey, keep that light down! We have to be careful around here.”

  Layette stared at him with suspicious eyes, but then noticed his clothing covered in blood. There was a gaping hole in his shirt and fresh blood dripped as if it was recent. Was he injured before their initial encounter? There was no Priest in sight, so how could he possibly heal? Even if he somehow healed it off, what gave him that wound? Aren noticed her eyeing him down, getting the idea of what she was on about.

  “There are monsters here: one of them almost killed me. They have a large force roaming around these halls, so I would like it if you don’t go flashing that magic around.”

  “O-Oh, sorry,” Merlin apologized.

  “Wait, where’s that guy with the mask? I hope he’s—”

  Merlin looked away. “He died protecting me.”

  “Oh, uh.” Aren cleared his throat. “Well, that’s quite unfortunate. I’m sorry for—”

  “I’m not angry at you, Mr. Damoder, but I’m not happy either. My emotions will not get me out of here, so it must remain suppressed. It is best if the topic ends here.”

  “Right. If you insist. Miss Hawkwood, a word please?”

  He gestured them to enter the kitchen, having a talk alone with Layette. Merlin was with Archimedes, who was staring him down with puppy-like eyes. The tortoise walked around him and after a nod, he licked his face.

  “An Ancient Boulder Tortoise. Wow, you guys are extremely rare in Damore. What brings you here, big guy?”

  As Merlin pet Archimedes like a dog, telling him he’s a good boy, Layette was still pointing her sword at Aren. She did not trust him one bit since he gave off a trickster-like vibe. Aren sighed and leaned against the wall behind him.

  “I cannot afford to waste any more time. What do you want?”

  “You gonna keep pointing that thing at me? That’s not the problem right now.” Aren shook his head. “Don’t trust me all you want; I just want to understand something.”

  “What is there that you need to understand? Are you daft?”

  “The reason why the heavens picked you.”

  Layette lowered her sword. “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me right, you are supposedly the one to change the course of history.” Aren walked close to her, pointing his finger. “But I don’t see any qualities that make you hero-material. Now I even have more questions than answers, once again!”

  “W-What is that supposed to mean? And what is this talk of me not being hero-material: of course I am! A commoner like you does not know what’s like to be in the hero business.”

  “Is that so? Then I have a question for you,” Aren replied, furrowing his brows. “Why come after me rather than saving those trapped in the depths of this place?”

  Layette expressed a dumbfounded look. “I, uh, do not know what you are talking about!”

  “You accused me of attempting to summon a demon. If that’s the case, it would mean there are people going to be sacrificed here, right? So, you risk their lives for a chance to stop a potential villain instead of saving them?”

  “W-Well, I thought you—”

  “Ah-ah-ah! Rule number one of heroism: always prioritize the innocent. Even if the villain is within your grasp, if there is someone in need, you have to go to them first.” Aren sucked his teeth in disappointment. “That’s like the most important rule and you clearly didn’t follow it. What’s the point of saving others if you let them die for your own glory?”

  Layette was flabbergasted, and Aren put a hand on her shoulder.

  “Exactly. That’s an assignment I expect you to get full marks on. No partial credit. All right, let’s get a move on!”

  “I am not done with you yet!” Layette exclaimed, standing in front of him. “Even if you may be right, that does not exclude my suspicion of you! I am the one in charge here and—”

  Aren put out his arms and raised his brow. “Okay, so tie me up.”

  “You will—eh?”

  “You said you are in charge, right? Tie me up, then.”

  Layette blinked several times. “I, um, did not expect that. Ahem, so be it, fiend!”

  Aren’s face darkened. “But if you do, those innocent lives will be your responsibility. Will you make the same mistake? You’re always on about your victory, but at what cost will it take to get there? Will you be able to sleep at night while hearing the voices of the ones you had failed?

  Layette stepped back, surprised to see Aren’s sudden transition. She felt a chilling sensation and shook her head after taking his words into consideration. The burden of keeping people safe would hold her back if combat ever ensued. Aren sighed and walked ahead of her.

  “Guess that leaves me in charge. Come on, I got a plan.”

  “Grr… Stupid little—whatever. You win this time. I will get you back for this,” Layette muttered. Her face turned red in embarrassment.

  Aren signaled everyone to follow him, peering out from the kitchen doorway. Silent met him and seeing it was clear, everyone formed a circle and he told them his plan. Since that Layette and Merlin knew where the survivors were, they will make their way to free them while Aren and Archimedes distract the soldiers.

  “It’s a simple plan. Questions?”

  Merlin raised his hand. “Y-Yes sir… Um, how can we trust you to do your thing? You ran away last time, and what if you leave us to die here?”

  Aren facepalmed. “Look just because I ran away before doesn’t mean I’ll do it again. All of us can’t get out of here if we don’t work together. Like I said to Miss Birdbrain over there—”

  “Birdbrain?! Ugh, out of all the things you can call me, birdbrain?!” Layette exclaimed.

  The corridors rumbled. A monster’s growl echoed throughout the castle’s chambers. Dust and gale winds flew past them, as if they were afraid of the unknown entity. Merlin raised his staff, casting Detect Presence to find the prisoners and Tracker to show him the path to them. The yellow light drew itself and it led to the source of the growl.

  “Looks like your shouting woke something up. It’s do or die time.” Aren gestured Archimedes to follow him, and the two ran ahead. “I trust you to follow the rule I told you about!”

  They disappeared after turning the next corner, and Layette blew a strand of her hair up and frowned. Merlin came next to her, tilting his head.

  “Miss Layette, what shall we do?”

  “We got no choice but to do what he says.”

  “A-Are you sure?”

  Layette expressed an irritated smile. “Y-Yes, I am sure. I will definitely not bash his brains out when this over.”

  The Grand Necromancer paced back and forth in front of his throne. With a firm grasp on his bony chin, he was contemplating. His ability to open the Void was a power like none other, and during his glory days, he could control every single monster rushing out from that dreadful place. However, him being sealed in the Forest of Sorrows also sealed his ability of controlling the creatures. He was too arrogant to see this and even though the Void creatures do not harm him, they still run rampant all over the forest, being unstable and out of control.

  What was more foolish of him was the release of the infamous Omega: a ten-meter werewolf-like beast able to spawn in Shadow Wolves through the corpses of its victims.  The Necromancer had given the monster the resources it needed to keep a constant supply of Shadow Wolves around, which would explain its neutrality to him. The Omega awoke from its slumber, and it was time he’d eliminated a potential threat once and for all.

  He called for June, who came with haste alongside her fifty soldiers. Using the rest of his powers, he summoned more skeletal soldiers, bringing a force of one-hundred-and-ninety-five.

  “All of you shall dispose this Omega being at once! June, you are to stay with me in case of their failure.”

  June kneeled next to the Grand Necromancer as his company of soldiers marched on. Once things got quiet, he continued to pace around, worrying about the situation.

  “If only the seal was released from this place, then that Omega would be a push over! Curses, all these years and I still can’t figure out what’s the source of that damned magic!” He slammed his staff down in resentment. “Gah, even that boy’s body was not found. Without him, I am left vulnerable against the elements…”

  “Aw, looks like someone missed me!”

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  Flame erupted under the Grand Necromancer’s feet. June snapped up and with blinding speed, was able to bring him away from the attack. Aren came down from the ceiling and Archimedes behind him. The Grand Necromancer grunted, surprised to see him still in one piece.

  “I see you survived. Pity, considering I was going to retrieve your dead corpse after I slain the Omega.”

  Aren furrowed his brows. “That thing is here? Well, it explains those Shadow Wolves running about.”

Only allowed on

  “Yes… it was becoming a problem once I realize the limitations of my current form. If I transmute myself into your body, then my power will be restored to its former glory. Which is why…” The Grand Necromancer raised his arm, pointing his finger at Aren. “Which is why you must die here, boy!”

  June came in at Mach-speed, slamming her sword down at Aren. Archimedes came in and deflected the blow with his shell, and the two faced off against each other. Aren stepped forward, twirling his chipped machete, and moved his hand toward himself. Dark aura swirled around the Grand Necromancer’s skeletal body, forming into orbs of dark purple energy around him. He pointed his staff at Aren and laughed devilishly.

  “You dare to face the one who ended the world, boy? You must be brave or stupid. Very well, I accept your request of dueling me, the Grand Necromancer!”

  Aren smirked. “Unfortunately for you, defeating villains is my speciality.”

- my thoughts:
Updated (final no backsies [except for grammar]) / [3/4/2021] Fixed dialogue inconsistencies, tuned Layette's dialect.
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