(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
On a large clearing in a forest near the town of Somerset, a group of tents, with men and women of various races, stood erect. In the main tent, a number of people had gathered. Lizbeth, Damien, Derrick, plus a burly man. He was a leader of the guild of Adventurers Damien hired from the Somerset’s Adventurer Association, to aid in the search for his missing son. The atmosphere inside the tent was tense, however.
“I apologize. There’s nothing we can do anymore.”
The burly Adventurer from Somerset shook his head. He sighed and gave meaningful gazes at the other occupants inside a large tent.
“Well then, I shall supervise the withdrawal process.”
As he lifted the flap to the tent open, the roar of the falling rain entered, reminding everyone present inside the terrible condition they had to work in.
The sound of the falling rain remorselessly echoed in the silent tent. No one dared to raise a voice, different reasons affecting their ability to speak for the moment.
After a long while, the first person to break the lengthy, uncomfortable silence was Damien. Rather than speaking out, he angrily slammed down on the wooden table in front of him that had a map of the region on top. The table couldn’t bear the brunt of the force, and got pulverized, shattering into million pieces.
The other two people present, Derrick and Lizbeth, didn’t say anything else. Their expressions were just as grim and gloomy. In Lizbeth’s case, she emitted a harsh aura deadly enough to frighten grown adults.
As for Derrick, he was slightly pale from the lack of rest. Ever since he defeated the assassins, he managed to get to Somerset with the survivors and urgently hired help to look for Kain. He took not a single hour of sleep as he searched for his nephew. Only when Damien and his wife arrived to join in, did he get a few hours to himself.
A week had passed by since then. The Monsoon season was in full swing, relentlessly dumping hundreds of liters of water on the world everyday. Visibility was poor, the footing was treacherous, and the constant lightning flashes threatened to strike those unwary men and women down below.
It was the worst set of conditions to search for someone.
The terrain made things more difficult; the overflowing river made it harder to launch boats to scour the bottom of the river. The surrounding forests around the river Anderlicht were vast, much more than that of Riverfield’s, and contained numerous Fiends.
The hired Adventurers couldn’t simply continue with the search. To them, a five-year-old boy would not have survived the fall from the cliff. And even if he did, the untamed wilds were teeming with one too many dangers. There was just no way he’d live through all that. As far as their feelings were concerned, this was not a rescue operation, but a recovery of a body.
Even that was hopeless. Owner-less remains were a free meal for the passing animals and Fiends. It’d be a miracle if a sliver of the boy’s clothing were to be found at this stage.
It was not unreasonable for them to give up and return home. This was an errand with no good end to it. Rather than spending more time on it, it was better to find another assignments for the Adventurers and earn “Request Completed” tokens that’d help them advance in the rankings.
Damien and Lizbeth, of course, did not believe their son was dead. They simply couldn’t. Derrick at first also thought the same, but with every passing day, he too had to concede the fact that the chances of them finding Kain alive was diminishing rapidly.
“I refuse to give up,” Damien growled like a wounded lion. “No. I will continue here. Damn it. There is the one sector we haven’t searched yet. He could be there, waiting for us at this very moment!!”
Damien clenched his fist so hard, his nails broke skin and slight amount of blood drew up. Not noticing the pain, he picked up the fallen map and tried to find another flat surface where he could place it. Only then did he see the blood stain.
Frowning, he wiped it on his leather chestplate, ignoring it for now.
“Look at this place over here. Originally we couldn’t go there, because it’s too close to the mouth of the Tetamus. But that’s the only area we haven’t searched yet. The river easily could have carried him there.”
“Yes, it’s possible. That area is dangerous, so if we’re to go there, we must prepare thoroughly, and quickly.”
Lizbeth nodded, her eyes shining with determination.
Her motherly instincts told her that Kain was alive and well, trapped somewhere terrifying and fighting for his life at every moment. Time was of an essence, but she didn’t lose heart. She just knew it, felt it in her soul that her son was still alive.
And she would do anything to ensure that. If that meant braving the dark, dangerous depths near the fabled and unexplored Tetamus Mountain Range, then so be it.
Derrick didn’t say anything. He had never worked a rescue detail before, and lacked experience in dealing with these types of situations. He was a soldier, a knight trained in the art of war, not of humane actions. So, he didn’t take the lead, nor did he readily volunteer useful-sounding ideas.
But even then, he felt compelled to voice his opinion.
“Hold on, you two. I wish to say something.”
He raised his hand and spoke in a firm, resolute manner. No hint of hesitation whatsoever in his voice.
“We don’t have enough people with us to attempt a search in that area. Either we hire more, or…. I advise against going in that direction.”
Damien shot him a sharp look. So did Lizbeth.
Undeterred, Derrick continued.
“The Fiends become exponentially stronger the closer we get to the Tetamus Range. The hired Adventurers are planning to return to Somerset. Us three simply won’t cut it. And remember, we all still have children to look after. Getting hurt, or worse, dying, will not help us, nor help Kain.”
“So, are you suggesting we abandon him?”
Damien spoke before Lizbeth could. But she was going to say something similar anyway, meaning there wasn’t a need for her to rebuke her distant brother-in-law.
“No, that’s not what I am saying. We need to hire more people. For a start, we need to rehire the current set of Adventurers before they depart. As long as there’s money, then they will still cooperate. Then, hire more to expand the scope of the search.”
Damien clenched his fist tightly. He knew this already. It was just that, he had spent a large chunk of his wealth on this operation. There wasn’t much left to hire more. Even if he called on his old acquaintances, it wouldn’t be enough to sustain the search for his missing son.
“Excuse me,” a young Adventurer entered the tent hurriedly, carrying a letter with him. “This is from a person in Lafayette, named Dawson. It’s marked urgent.”
“Give it to me.”
Lizbeth, who was closest to the exit, received the letter and quickly opened it. Before setting off to this part of the world to find their son, Damien requested Dawson to search for those men mentioned briefly during their conversation, the ones who were allegedly unfriendly with the Lomax family.
In return, Damien were to offer his fullest cooperation in regards to the mysterious, world-changing item Lady Valette supposedly had hidden with her. Of course, the item was now in Damien’s possession.
If the origins of the assassins were uncovered, then he was going to offer it up as the suitable reward. He was clearly grasping at straws. According to Derrick, who fought off the attackers, they were seemingly after Kain.
This revelation angered him much.
To send a squad of men proficient in murdering for his kid, he swore to find the men responsible and make them bleed, regardless of who they were.
He didn’t think it was a coincidence that those “unfriendly” men were present in Lafayette the very week his son was trying to get his Invocation talents appraised. It could very well be, but he didn’t want to take that chance. If it was a lead, then he’d pursue it.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t do that personally. He had to find his son first. Everything else came second.
Rosy was taking care of Kaleena and Katrina, here at the base camp. That was one less thing to worry about. Still, he left Riverfield in a hurry, leaving behind a chaotic village under the threat of the Monsoon season.
Well, it will be alright – those old village elders know what to do, in my absence. The village will be fine. Do not worry about them.
Damien believed in the elders. They were living there a long time before he arrived to take charge of the place. It stood to reason that the village would remain even if he wasn’t there to guide it. It was just that, he had left too hastily. He just hoped there weren’t any confusion in the village itself, what with their lord suddenly vanishing from his duties. He did leave a quick message with the sitting militia captain but, miscommunication did happen occasionally. Especially more so, when it was an emergency situation.
The letter from Dawson held a simple message.
Found an underground broker, extracted information encouraging. Tracking the group of assassins, perhaps from the Far West. Expect further communique.
“The Far West….” Lizbeth slowly murmured those words. She handed the letter over to her husband, before turning to the young Adventurer. “How many men and women are still in base camp?”
“Two dozen, my lady,” he replied.
“Hold them fast. I shall speak to them about extending their contracts.”
Before leaving the tent, Lizbeth nodded at Damien, and they exchanged a meaningful look. Damien trusted her to make the sound judgment so he could let her call the shots regarding the Adventurer issue. For now, he had to plan out their next course of action. One false step, and they’d end up wasting valuable time. That was not what he wanted.
“Look, Derrick, at this map. Over here, at this part.”
Damien pointed to the spot of clearing near the river on the roughly drawn map. It was near where the river exited from the unscalable cliffs of the Tetamus Range.
This unnamed river, cutting through the mammoth geological feature of the wall-like cliffs, was the only way in or out of the Range, unless one knew how to fly. Due to unknown reasons, the water was deceptively rough and didn’t allow anyone to easily approach.
The river flowed outward during most of the year, but only when it was the Monsoon season, the flow reversed. If Kain were to carry down by the river, then he could have ended up there, washing ashore.
As for the boy entering the Range itself, it seemed highly unlikely.
There was a strong whirlpool blocking the entry to the inner parts of the Range. The rotation of this phenomenom was such that, once swept up, one would end up getting spit out outside once more. When it rained this heavy, the whirlpool became even more obstinate, meaning nothing was going through there.
He believed His son was outside the Range. He had to. He felt that Kain was alive, so he had to believe that his son hadn’t been swept up in that crazy swirling pool of water.
Derrick narrowed his eyes.
The clearing Damien pointed at seem like a good place to land a boat and go ashore. If the weather played ball, that was.
Currently, there was no way they’d get there using the river. Going through the forest was the only way. From their current position, it was another full day of hard travel to get there, as long as Fiends didn’t interrupt the march.
Derrick felt this was wrong. No, not the desire to find the boy, but something else. He was not knowledgeable in search and rescue operations but, his logic told him that the boy couldn’t have landed on that place Damien was pointing at. And even if he did, that place was too close to the Tetamus Range. It was too deep into the forest.
It was too dangerous a place for a squad of well-trained soldiers, let alone a small child. If they were to go that deep, then it was no longer a rescue, but a recovery instead. On that basis alone, it made little sense to spend more coin to procure extra help, or endanger lives to find a dead person. It simply wasn’t worth it.
Before, it was a feeling of guilt stopping Derrick from saying it aloud, but he only now understood that this was a lost cause. The moment the boy fell in the water, he was gone. No way he’d survive that kind of fall, under that kind of conditions.
Obviously, this incident angered him greatly, as it highlighted his failures as a knight. He swore to protect, yet when the time came, he couldn’t uphold his oath. All he could do was to grit his teeth in self-admonishment.
But now, with Damien about to commit further into a desperate and foolhardy journey into the dangerous Tetamus Range, Derrick felt it was his responsibilities to stop this. And allow his cousin grieve.
To give him, and Lizbeth, time to accept their loss. To give them time to grieve for their son, and move on.
In this world, lives were cheap. Many people died in unjust ways. Whether it was done by the Fiends, famine, natural disasters, plague or in the hands of other mortals, lives were ruthlessly taken away everyday. Just because Lafayette and Riverfield were peaceful, that did not mean it was safe throughout the whole of the Empire.
Thus, people learned to accept the passing of their beloved ones as the matter of course, as the journey of the life itself. One was born from the Ether, and returned to it when dead. A cycle of life.
Derrick slowly grabbed his cousin’s shoulder.
“What is it?”
“….It’s time to go home now.”
“….What are you saying?”
“We’ve done all we could. There’s nothing we can do here anymore.”
“You’re giving up too early, Derrick. There’s hope. Kain’s alive.”
“Damien. It’s more than two weeks already. Kain’s…. It’s been too long. If he’s alive, then we would have found him by now.”
“You said it yourself. You never participated in a rescue op before. I have, plenty of times. I know what I’m doing.”
“In your experience, what’s the window for finding the stranded alive?”
“That…. That doesn’t matter, Derrick! I know Kain’s alive. Damn it, man. Do not question me, I know my son is alive!! I know he’s out there, shivering in the cold, waiting for his family to come and pick him up!!”
“Listen to me, Damien. Kain’s gone. He’s dead. Those assassins caused his death. Come to grip with the reality, of this situation!”
Angrily, Damien grabbed Derrick’s collar and twisted it.
“You better be careful of what you say beyond this point.”
Damien stared hard at his cousin’s eyes while emitting bloodthirst akin to a crazed lunatic, but then, he was startled at what he’d found in them.
He saw nothing but guilt and sadness. Something he never saw in Derrick before. He was an eye opener, for sure. Realizing this, Damien felt rather foolish.
What am I doing? Why am I getting angry at Derrick? He’s just trying to help me…. I just need to…. I need to find my son….
Kain’s smiling face flashed by in his mind. Then he imagined that he’d never get to see the boy again.
Damien let go of the hold on his cousin, suddenly losing strength in his limbs. He stumbled, and clattered into a crate of supplies with a bang. A wave of dizziness overwhelmed him in that instant, and he couldn’t see anything, his vision blurring into a fog. He fell butt first, unable to stand back up again.
Derrick hurriedly tried to help him, but he was pushed back. Damien just waved his arm about, shaking his head.
The banging noise brought Lizbeth back into the tent, her face full of concern. She noticed the state her husband was in, and immediately realized what had transpired while she was unsuccessfully negotiating with the departing Adventurers outside in the pouring rain.
She knelt besides him, and cradled his head. He was sobbing silently.
She too, began to quietly shed tears.
The Adventurers told her the hard truth. That her son was dead, that it was a fool’s errand to continue this search. They said it was time she stop denying the reality and accept the situation as it was.
Watching this scene, Derrick became even more angry. Not at the couple, no, but at himself, and at the men behind this murderous scheme. He swore, under his breath, to bring all those responsible to justice, if it was the last thing he’d do.
Lizbeth held her love in her arms and while sobbing, she whispered to him softly.
Dawson put down the quilt as he finished the status report, second of such letters he wrote today. One for Baron Lomax and his wife, and the other for his superior, back in Argos. He wrote the first letter earlier in the day and sent it via the messenger service in Adventurers’ Association. As for the second one, he had to delay it slightly, due to a slightly unexpected development, a windfall of sorts coming his way.
A small sigh left his lips, as he felt cramping on his shoulders. He took off the heavy and cumbersome official Agent Robe long before and had slipped into less conspicuous garments, but still, the stiff muscles found their ways to bother him. He hasn’t had a good rest ever since agreeing to find the culprits responsible for the assassination attempt. There were many matters to attend to even before this, and now, adding another one on top of the pile sure didn’t help out with his resting schedule. How could he not sigh, under this kind of situation?
Well, in the end he didn’t mind it, however. Such things came as the inescapable part of his job.
Besides, when he thought about it, he was not the one in a terrible bind.
Although he wasn’t there, Dawson understood full well that young Kain wouldn’t have survived the ordeal. Which was a pity, really.
He leaned back on the wooden chair, and thought back to the day he met the boy.
Dawson thought Kain had potential. For a five year old child, he certainly had an abnormally large Aeterna Pool. It was far too big, almost to the point where it didn’t seem natural. Trained Invokers would have been quite jealous, if it were known.
Special Agent Marcus Dawson was one of only a few people in the world who had learned a very special Invocation spell called The All Seeing Eye, belonging to the system of controlling Dark Elemental Aeterna.
At a glance, he could see the target’s Aeterna Pool, and if he spent a little more Aeterna, even the Elemental Affinity. In the entire Empire, those capable of casting this spell could be counted on one hand, Dawson being one of those fortunate few.
And after seeing through Kaleena’s Pool and her Affinities, Dawson was rather envious of Damien. To be able to produce two monsters in a row took some doing, like the gods intervening or the stars aligning perfectly at the exact moment. Or his seeds were just that potent.
These two children would’ve added a tremendous amount of firepower to the Empire’s defenses. A pity, then, to lose one of them under such a suspicious circumstances.
Dawson did some investigation prior to his arrival at Riverfield, and knew of the assassination attempt at Kaleena’s life over four years ago.
As he wasn’t assigned to the case back then, he couldn’t have known the finer details, but he wasn’t a fool to dismiss that incident now, seeing that Baron Lomax’s children were in the firing line once more. The evidence he compiled up to now, clearly showed that both of the incidents were connected, that it was done by the same culprits.
Now normally, he could have refused Baron Lomax’s urgent appeal to locate those men Dawson took care of. After all, it didn’t line up with his real mission, that of retrieving the Bagua Board. But his instincts as the Agent, built upon the foundation of two decades’ worth of experience, told him it’d be good to lend a hand in the investigation.
He felt that Baron hid things from him, but unsure of what exactly. The location of the board? Doubtful. Lady Valette’s likely whereabouts? Probably. And then, there was the matter of the case itself. His predecessor had no luck whatsoever in finding either Valette nor the Board for the ten years. So, Dawson thought that spending another few months currying a favor with a potential person of interest didn’t seem like a total waste of time. What were a few months, when already 10 years flew by? The Board, or Lady Valette, wherever they were, they could wait a little longer.
He slowly scratched his chin, wondering about the current time. It was in the middle of the night, every soul in the near vicinity fast asleep. With the exception of the Agents under his beck and call, of course.
He told his subordinates to notify him, once about 40 momenta, one hour in modern time measurement, had passed. By his own estimation, there were only a grain or two of sand in the hourglass left before the time limit was reached.
If that’s the case, then might as well.
Dawson stood up from the creaking chair, and stretched his shoulders. It was time, so he decided to move first. He checked his appearance and confirmed not a hair was out of place. He didn’t mind going bald, as he made peace with that ages ago. All the males in his family went hairless from fairly young age, so he had to resign himself to the fate awaiting him. Not like there was an Invocation out there to stimulate hair growth or anything….
Sensing footsteps on the corridor belonging to one of his men, Dawson stifled a yawn and carefully lifted the oil lamp, the only source of light in the dark, sparsely furnished bedroom, situated on the upper-most floor in an abandoned three story building at the outskirts of Lafayette. This house, plus the surrounding land, belonged to a small-scale merchant, who was in reality, a sleeper Agent planted in the city as a local operative.
Outwardly, it was a well maintained but unremarkable piece of property, one where not many passersby would give it a second glance at. Such a place was pretty much perfect for the kind of work Dawson and his men had to perform on a regular basis.
Pushing open the wooden door, he encountered his subordinate, just about to knock on the door.
Dawson smiled thinly, fully well knowing he timed it perfectly, giving himself a small spike of pleasure from seeing the bewildered facial expression of the Agent in front of him. This man was new at his post and wasn’t fully aware of his superior’s penchant for deriving happiness from unexpected places, mostly from the awkwardness of the others around him.
The two of them climbed to the lowest floor of the house, the basement, in complete silence. Even their footsteps failed to emit any kind of noise. Only when they reached the basement door, did Dawson speak up.
“Does he feel like chatting to us now, I wonder.”
Another thin, imperceptible smile appeared on his lips. He carried that as he pushed open the door and entered.
Below, the passage extended to a disused cellar, bereft of wines and alcoholic beverages. The empty racks cast sinister shadows as the lit lamp moved past, cobwebs strung across the shelves performing a demonic puppet show on the walls behind.
They stopped before a brick wall, flanked by broken wine barrels on both sides.
Dawson gave a simple nod, and the junior Agent beside him operated a lever, causing the wall to canter slightly.
Another darkened passage beckoned them in.
The smell of feces was noticeably strong in here. Those who were unfortunate enough to get dragged into this place tended to soil themselves regularly so that was to be expected, what with none of the trained Agents caring much about being hygienic. It also added to the atmosphere of fear, which was quite helpful in extracting information from the said unfortunate subjects.
They headed to the furthest chamber in the passageway, and Dawson knocked on the thick wooden door three times. When he heard an acknowledgment from beyond the door, he entered.
It was quite hot inside, the high temperature of the chamber being the result of torture based on flames, a large hearth spitting out scolding heat menacingly at the back. There were four men present, with two of them strung up on the middle, their limbs lifted up and chained up to the ceiling, their postures spread-eagle and faces down. Dangling on the chains, the recipients of the brutal treatment looked about half dead, their clothes ripped, their flesh caked in thick blood and bits of mangled flesh.
The other two present were, of course, the torturers, decked out in black leather aprons that were stained with dried and wet blood. Funnily enough, one was the torturer designate, while the other one was there as a healer. It’d do no good if there was an accident, and a valuable source of information ended up dying from too much pressure, after all.
“How are we this evening, gentlemen?” Dawson smirked softly. “Forgive my men from being impolite to your stations. It does come with the territory, unfortunately.”
He grabbed one of the tortured men’s head, and lifted it to take a better look at his eyes. It was half dead, distant. This man was barely breathing.
Dawson continued. “Now, you gentlemen of noble standings must have understood that we wish to talk to you urgently, and in earnest manner where there are no lies exchanged between us.”
Letting go of the limp head, Dawson moved on to the next man. This time, he saw a deep hatred in the pair of burning eyes staring back at him when he jerked the head of the second man.
Seeing this, Dawson couldn’t help but smile even deeper.
“How rude of me. I am well aware of who you are, but I’ve never really introduced myself, haven’t I.”
Discarding the bloodied head, he walked a bit away and stood with his feet slightly apart, hands behind his back. He noted that the second man locked that hateful gaze on him, refusing to yield to the weight of his own head trying to droop down.
“I see your fierce nature have not been weakened one bit, Sir Alistair. Well, it’s to be expected of a man famed with his sword arm. Although, you have met your match today.”
“Shut your mouth, you damn Agent dog!” Sir Alistair returned a heavy growl at Dawson’s taunts. “You, you are Dawson. I’ve heard of you. A loyal mutt of the Empire, never questioning and never wavering. A fool, in all purposes but the name.”
Dawson raised an eyebrow. “I’m honored that you know of a lowly person such as I. Well then, perhaps you can also surmise why you were treated so poorly by my colleagues?”
“How should I know? Your men just kidnapped me from my home. You even bundled my butler like some kind of unwanted luggage. I swear, I shall have your head when all this is finished!!”
Dawson chuckled. “Oh, my. Playing innocent, is it? Even though you’ve heard of me, yet you try to pretend your way out of this predicament. How disappointing.”
Alistair grimaced. “Again, I do not know what you are on about. Release me, before you escalate this matter any further than you have already!”
Shaking his head, Dawson gave a small signal to the torturer. The burly man pulled out a red-hot, scalding iron rod from the hearth, and began to sear the exposed back flesh of Alistair.
Sizzling sound of meat burning filled the torture chamber for a short while. Alistair bit his lower lip, stopping a desperate scream from escaping his lips, thereby denying Dawson from deriving some amount of satisfaction.
“Shall we get started then?” Dawson knelt beside the trembling head of Alistair. “Now tell me, honestly, what is…. The Children Of The Amber? And what do they, and you, want with Baron Lomax and his children?”
Hearing the questions, Alistair suddenly let out a laughter. It grew, until it became a howl.
Frowning, Dawson signaled his man again, and the hot iron rod worked its deadly magic once more. That put a stop to the uncontrolled, wild chortling quite effectively.
After regaining his breath, Alistair scowled. “Hahaha. I’ve never heard of anything like The Children of The Amber before. And Baron Lomax? Why would I want anything from a small time lord like him?”
Dawson shook his head. “You see, Sir Alistair. I’ve done my homework. I know for the last decade or so, an organization calling themselves The Children of The Amber had been active. I know that you are a member, and have been from almost the inception of the said organization. And then, there’s this.”
Dawson received a small dagger, not much bigger than a person’s finger, from his subordinate, and slowly waved it about.
“This weapon is coated with a fast acting poison, too fast for an Invoker to cast a healing Invocation. My men recovered it on you, as well as on your butler. Not to mention, on the men who led me to your doorstep.”
“What of it? I carry concealed weapons for my own self preservation. Many other do the same thing. Are you going to arrest and torture them too, because of that?” Alistair barked back.
“Not everyone,” Dawson smirked again. “Only those with the very same type of a dagger, as the one recovered from the assassin four years ago. At Baron Lomax’s residence, no less.”
Alistair’s face went rigid.
Back then, Damien requested help from the Lafayette City Garrison with the investigation. An investigator was duly dispatched, and this man kept various records.
The investigation itself went nowhere but every single step the investigator and Damien took were recorded, and Dawson was able to peruse them. In those records, he read the extensive report on the poisoned dagger the assassin used on himself. Since it was an unusual design on top of a prohibited chemical applied on it, the investigator tried to pinpoint where the blade was manufactured, as that seemed like the easiest way to track down and identify the culprits.
The dagger in Dawson’s hand was the exact same design as the assassins. It was too good to be a coincidence. As for the poison, he had yet to test it, but still, he was confident it was the same as well.
On the side of the slender blade, a small carving of a mountain, and a sun rising as its backdrop. Again, same as the one from the assassin.
“I suppose this mark on the side signifies The Children of The Amber, no? I’m not sure what it means, but for a murderous organization such as yours, you sure picked an inspirational motif.”
Alistair scoffed. “Hmph. Is that all you have? A trinket I picked up in a market, and some words from a disreputable source? With only that much, you dare to put your hands on me? You’re finished, Dawson!! Finished!!”
Dawson sighed tiredly. How many times had he heard such threats in the line of duty? Too many to count. And how many times did he yield?
None. Not even once.
With a signal, the torture recommenced. The scolding hot iron struck the exposed flesh of Alistair with vengeance, and his body twisted in agony. Dawson watched it with a calm expression, while glancing at the healer.
Nodding, the healer approached the second, almost-dead man and began casting Water Elemental Invocation. Healing spells belonged not only to Light Element, but to Water as well. The latter Element’s healing spells weren’t as potent, however, but to compensate, there were more Invokers with Affinity towards Water, meaning, low to medium quality healers were not that difficult to find in the world.
Oblivious to the healing of the other man, Alistair did his best to muffle the terrible screaming. His resistance continued on for a few momenta, until finally, Dawson raised his hand, a gesture designed to stop the pain and subconsciously increase a sliver of hope in his heart. A hope of survival, a hope of making out of here alive, and exact a swift revenge on the person who wronged him.
Dawson lifted Alistair’s head and stared deep into the flickering eyes. “Well, now. Sir Alistair, how about this. You tell us everything you’ve been part of, and we shall consider making a deal. Between us, of course. No one has to know, yes? As long as you can leave relatively unhurt from this ordeal, then wouldn’t you agree it’s a wonderful suggestion? Please consider it carefully.”
Alistair gritted his teeth, blood dripping from the torn lips. His gaze became hard enough to smash a rock if it could, the previous wavering dissipating.
Dawson simply returned an amiable smile, and continued. “Let us be more realistic, shall we? You’re trapped and being tortured. And no one is coming to rescue you. Your comrades, if you can call them that, have forsaken you. If you do not take my deal now, then I shall simply dispose of you, and find another member of the Children to interrogate. Like your friend from The Far West over here.”
The man next to Alistair shuddered, making a fearful expression. He shook his head, and whimpered. “No sir, no. Please, please spare me. I’ll, I’ll tell you everything you know!! I didn’t even want to join them in the first place!!”
“You!! You shut your mouth!!” Alistair blared out in fury.
Dawson calmly struck out with his fist. It was faster than eyes could see.
The attack splendidly connected with Alistair’s face, spraying blood and broken teeth all over the ground.
The second man grimaced even more, fear growing larger still in his heart.
“Now, good sir. Please enlighten me, as to what your organization’s purpose is.”
Dawson smiled thinly, as he slowly wiped the remnants of blood off his knuckles with a cloth.
Swallowing nervously, the second man opened his mouth hastily. “These crazy people want to topple the Empire!! It’s true!! They wish to bring forth the Fall Of Crystal once more, and bring ruination to Argos!!”
“Fall of Crystal?” Dawson narrowed his eyes. “What is that? How is that related to Baron Lomax’s children?”
“Lomax? Who? Oh, that man? No, it’s not him, it’s that Ravenswood woman’s bloodline they are after. They say she’s special. Her offsprings are supposed to be a bad omen. That’s all I know!!”
Hearing this, Dawson frowned. This confused him slightly. Disregarding the fact that the Five Founding Families were locked in some high level political intrigue which caused various deaths, the Ravenswood family hardly had anything that could be called a remarkable legacy or history.
But to go after that bloodline? To topple the Empire through that?
And what was this Fall of Crystal all about? It somehow sounded familiar, but at the same time, so alien and distant.
His expression darkened. “What about Lady Valette? What do you know of her story?”
“Valette…. She…. We… I, was told to find something called Bagua. She had hidden it. I don’t know what it is. I swear, I’m telling you the truth.”
Dawson’s frown deepened.
What the…. This is strange. The search for the mysterious object known as the Bagua should be a top secret matter. Only a few should be aware of the investigation. But a group of rebels knows of it too?
Dawson had to consider whether there was a traitor amongst their midst. A shadowy figure, acting against the best interest of his beloved nation. A figure very, very high up in the social status as well, not to mention holding a very important position in the government.
Before he could ask his next questions, however, a loud boom resonated throughout the torture chamber. The ceiling shook violently, and so did the dirty chains holding the victims.
At first, confusion entered his mind, but then, Dawson understood. He was under attack.
He exchanged grim glances with his men, and immediately shot out of the chamber, trying to head outside, only to meet a powerful surge of Invocation aura slamming into him. A strand of blood escaped from the corners of his mouth as he collided with the wall, destroying it.
Seeing this, the faces of the two chained up men twisted, one in abject horror, while the other, a sneer.
The walls of the basement began to crumble, the foundation of the house itself trembled, and before Dawson could gather himself up, the whole structure collapsed on top of him, along with his men, burying them all under the barrage of rubble in a noisy instant.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.