Kaidus’ eyes jerked open as a familiar sensation awoke him from his rest. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out the four metal rings he had confiscated a couple days prior and saw that one of them was glowing brightly.
Picking it up, without injecting his own mana into the communication ring, he sealed the mana coming from it. “Finally.” He spoke, looking down at all four rings.
Three of the agents had already tried reporting in two days before—after the decimation of the Tal’hrus base. Their actions had assisted in him locating one of them quickly, and he was on his way north to find the second one, while the third was somewhere in northeastern Darsus.
Holding the newly sealed ring in his hand, he closed his eyes and concentrated on it. Tracing the mana signature he had bound, a weak response came through, revealing that the third agent was lurking somewhere far to the south.
‘It’s in the opposite direction…’ He sighed, wondering if he should head south to deal with it first, or keep going towards the direction he was headed.
Looking at the position of the sun, it was still high noon. Hungry and unready to make up his mind, he stood up and surveyed his surroundings.
He had not paid any attention as he descended early at dawn, but in the light, he saw that the forest was covered in patches of wild evongrass—a type of edible plant that looks like ordinary grass, except for the red culm on the young plants, and its slightly larger size—and even the sleeping spot that he had chosen was a bed of the plant. “Looks like I need something substantial to go with my greens.” He smiled, seeing that he would not have to look far for his vegetables.
A ray of sunlight shone down on him as he relaxed beside the two birds that were roasting on a small flame.
Without a bow, he had used magic to bring down two small pegrils to add to the handful of evongrass he was steaming atop a rock bowl.
“Salt and spices… I have to remember to get some.” Kaidus reminded himself, looking at the bland dishes before him. He had spent the past ten days eating nothing but plain roasted meat and vegetables, and was beginning to miss the taste of Adalina’s home cooked meals.
As he sat, he began twisting the silver ring on his finger.
He chuckled, remember his conversation with Anise a few days ago.
That day, after taking care of the Tal’hrus base and getting plenty of rest, he had contacted his sister.
She began crying upon hearing his voice and started apologizing, asking for him to not dislike her. After calming her down, she explained that she had accidently spilt her drink on one of his books, and thought he would be mad at her. She tried to reach him to tell him and apologize, but without any answer, she thought he already knew. She assumed it was the reason why he didn’t want to answer and had been worried.
He recalled her sniffling tone, half crying, half cheerfully repeating his words of reassurance. He had comforted her, telling her that he was not mad about the book. He also explained to her that he was riding in the wagon with other people, and couldn’t answer.
He had lied to her about his situation, and about why he couldn’t reply, and with her childish innocence, she unconditionally believed him.
Looking at the silver ring, “Never again.” He vowed, speaking the words out loud, engraving them into his very being.
His world was an abyssal darkness, one plagued by death, and not a place someone like him could ever hope to escape from. His family were the only lights in that darkness, and he was prepared to turn the world against him once again, if only to protect their livelihood.
“…” After long careful consideration, “Feziel. Zion. Vishan.” He called out to the three spirits.
An orb of light appeared before him and transformed into a figure of pure white.
The liquid metal in his ring gushed out, merging together into a pitch black figure, one that gave the illusion of sucking in all the light surrounding it.
The last flew down from the sky, laughing and ready. An entity of wind stood alongside its brothers, barely visible within the forest.
All knelt before him in their humanoid form, as if understanding his thoughts.
Without any words, he dug into his pocket and pulled out three rings. The rings floated over to the spirits and were sucked into their bodies. “Follow the mana within those rings. Kill whoever it belongs to.” He commanded.
“By Your Will, Master.” Vishan stood up and reverted back into an orb, vanishing into nothingness.
“Another grand feassst! I ssshall thoroughly enjoy mysssselfff.” With a cheerful tone, Zion took to the sky and disappeared, leaving behind an echo of delightful laughter.
“Understood, Master.” Feziel stood up and transformed into a black snake. Raising itself up, it launched into the ground and burrowed away.
Kaidus sighed, hearing their excited tones.
The idea of sending them instead of doing it himself was a hazardous one, but it would take too long for him alone and could not be helped.
He had not planned for Tal’hrus to be so spread out, nor did he imagine it would take so long. His plan was to quickly root out the master, find the Nyzacus shard, and head to Port Aristolk, to get there the same time as the caravan. Yet with the four rings in his possession, he couldn’t just look away and leave everything to the Mystiks Guild.
If the information he got from the agent in Kerkhill was correct, then the handful that he killed at the base, along with the four agents corresponding to the rings would only equate to a third of those still scattered about. Without any idea of how many the guilds had taken care of over the past half year, he was unwilling to take the chance of leaving behind those whom he could find.
With plenty of rest and a full belly, he raced through the forest, keeping to the ground for a change. Animals scattered in his wake, and the activity reminded him of his countless days spent hunting in similar fashion with those of the mercenary guild.
He ran until he was exhausted.
Resting briefly, he would start again, pushing his physical limits. Without using magic, by the time the sun started to disappear in the horizon, he had already tired himself out and was looking for a place to rest.
With the three spirits doing his bidding, all that was left for him to do, was to wait for them.
The sound of running water came from beyond his position, and Kaidus pushed onward, bursting through the forest to arrive at a shallow stream.
“Kyaaaa! Help!” A voice screamed out in fright.
Looking towards the stream, a small skinny girl a year or two older than Anise was sitting in the stream, looking at him. The girl had a slender face and dull green hair that seemed to blend in with the darkening surroundings. She was drenched, having fallen into the stream.
“Forgive me. I was unaware there were others in the area.”
“W-who are you? Are-are you a bandit come to steal me away like daddy said?” The young girl questioned apprehensively, clutching onto the bucket in her hand as if to use it as a weapon.
“No. I am not a bandit. I am just a simple traveler.” He replied cordially.
“D-Daddy said that’s what bandits will say. They will lie so that they can steal children away from their family.”
“Then worry not, for I am not a bandit.” He repeated himself.
“Ema! What’s wrong?!” An older boy came running. The boy was around his own age, and carried a small hunting bow. “Who are you?! Get away from Ema!” He shouted, drawing his bow.
“Sorry, I’m a traveler. I was cutting through the woods, and didn’t know there would be people here.” Kaidus replied, holding up his hands to show that he meant no harm. “Can you please lower your weapon?”
“Ema, come here!” The boy barked, and the girl ran to him. “Are you okay?”
“Uh-huh.” The girl confirmed, hiding behind the young man.
“What are you doing here?!”
“Pardon my clumsiness, but the sad truth is, I’ve been lost in this forest for the past few days. I was following the sound of running water and somehow found myself here.” He kept his hands up as he attempted to mollify the situation.
“Lost? How does a traveler get lost, and is that a sword I see?”
“Well, as you can see, I am relatively new to this traveling thing. And this? It’s a fake. A deterrent to scare away those who would wish to do me harm.”
“Why are you in the woods in the first place? Wouldn’t it be easier to use the roads?”
“The roads? I’m not sure if it would be any safer. I’ve heard of many bandit attacks, and I don’t think I can last by myself in the open.” Kaidus replied, trying his best to convince the young man.
“…” The young man lowered his bow. “Sorry for the misunderstanding. We have also heard about attacks along the roads. Can’t really blame you for trying to avoid them.”
“Thank you. Say, if you don’t mind, would you point me in the direction towards Katilik?”
The young man raised an eyebrow at the question. “If you follow this stream north, you’ll come upon a lake. Once you’ve reached the lake, head east and you’ll eventually reach a road. Katilik isn’t too far to the north once you’ve reached the roads. It’d probably take you about fourteen days of walking from here though.”
“I see. Thank you very much.” He began walking along the stream towards the north.
Kaidus turned to look back.
“I- for some reason, I feel like you’re just going to get yourself lost again. We’re heading to Panelle. If you don’t mind riding in a cramped wagon, and would like some company, why not join us instead?” The young man hesitantly offered.
“Panelle? How far away is that?”
“Not far. Probably two days away by wagon.”
“Really? That would be great.” With a smile, Kaidus walked back towards the two.
After eleven days without anyone to talk to besides his spirits and those he was interrogating, it was a refreshing offer.
“As long as you help around the camp, I don’t think father would mind. I’m Jeor. This is my sister Ema. Nice to meet you.” The young man extended a hand forward.
“I am Kaidus. Honored to be in your company.”
He walked alongside the siblings, carrying Ema’s bucket of water for her as Jeor carried his own.
Surprisingly, barely beyond the stream and a small grove of trees, they arrived at a dirt road. There was a small camp by the roadside, and the group consisted of three small wagons. As they got to the camp, he saw that there were barely over a dozen people in the group. There were two men carrying swords, undoubtedly mercenaries hired to accompany the group. A young couple with a small toddler, an elderly couple, a man with his son, and Jeor, his sister, and their father.
“Who’s this?” One of the hired guards questioned.
“Found him lost in the forest. I thought he could use a helping hand.” Jeor swiftly replied.
“That so? You’ll have to take that up with your da then. If he’s not willing to pay us more for our job, the boy’ll have to leave.”
“What job? Nothing’s happened ever since we left Katilik.” Jeor retorted.
“It is the price we agreed on with your da. And you should be thankful nothing is happening, boy.” The man spoke calmly like a seasoned mercenary, before turning around and walking away to a skinny bearded man.
“I’m sure father will figure out something. Don’t worry.” Jeor reassured as they watched the mercenary talking with the other man.
After a while, the man walked over to them. “I send you both to get water, and you return with another mouth to feed?” The bearded man questioned. He too had a head of dull green hair like Ema and Jeor.
“Well, we couldn’t just leave him out there in those woods.”
Ignoring his son, “I am Cohen, the leader of this group. Who are you and what were you doing in the forest all the way out here?”
“His name is Kaidus, daddy.” Ema was the one to introduce him.
“Quiet, girl. Both of you go and put the water away. I want to hear from our friend here.” As the two siblings left, the man closed in on him. “Well?” The man stared at him suspiciously.
“I’m a traveler, good sir. I was in the woods because I heard I could cut through it from Kerkhill to Katilik. I was hoping to save–”
“You were in Kerkhill?!” The man spoke up.
“Were you there when it happened?”
“When what happened?” Kaidus questioned curiously.
“You don’t know?”
“Know about what?” He asked, feigning ignorance.
“Kerkhill is no more, boy. A man that passed us earlier this afternoon told us, after buying one of our horses and leaving his. The whole village has been razed to the ground.”
“I… I didn’t know. I left Kerkhill over fifteen days ago.” He lied.
“You’ve been lost in those woods for fifteen days?”
“Only for the past few days. I began to question my sense of direction after I ran out of food and became disoriented. Been having to eat wild plants.”
“That’s rough…” The man replied, watching him and assessing his story.
“Sorry. Umm… Jeor said Panelle was only a few days away right? I’m very sorry for the trouble. I had originally been planning to walk anyways, so I’ll be on my way.” He made a curt bow before turning to the road.
“… Wait, boy. My son’s already offered you his hospitality. If you’re willing to work… I guess I can pay for your fare. Gods know I can’t allowing a young man to wander these treacherous roads.” The man spoke and the suspicion in his eyes faded away. “What can you do anyways?”
“I’ve been taught how to scavenge and hunt, that’s something. If need, I can also help to stand watch at night. Lord knows I’ve been going with little to no sleep these past fifteen days and am ready for it. I’m also quite learned, and could help draft or read any letters that may need to be read or written.”
“A scholarly traveler are you? And the sword?”
“An ornament, to be delivered to a man in Katilik.”
“Katilik? Should you not be heading in the opposite direction then?”
“There is no urgency for its delivery. Only that I deliver it. I was hoping to get a horse in Panelle for the journey or join a group like this.”
“I see… well, how are you with handling animals?”
“Animals love me.” Kaidus grinned, remembering his first few jobs while at Droxxon Mercenary headquarter. He had been unable to do anything unless he soothed the animals with magic.
“I see. You’ll help feed and brush the horses. They’re to be fed in the morning and again when we break for camp along with a brushing. You’ll also help around camp and gather water and firewood. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes sir.” He gladly accepted the offer.
He was not proud about lying to such honest people, but there were no other options. He was in no rush, and still had to wait for his elementals to return. The job would give him something to do while he waited.
The beam of light moved instantaneously through the air, following the mana from the ring it had absorbed.
Its master had trusted it with a mission, and it would accomplish it without fail.
Arriving at the location where the target was supposed to be, there was already a battle going on, and it could not help but compare those beneath it to its master.
It watched as the insects struggled against each other, hiding and slinging bolts of magic at one another while a group of people ran at each other with metal weapons.
It was nothing like that glorious day in Veratoraliz when its master stood upon the corpse of hundreds of thousands, and fought until his dying breath. The terrifying memories of its master’s overwhelming might and use of magic against all those who claimed to be the strongest. The ecstatic and never ending spiral of blood and gore in that endless slaughter.
Ashamed of those who claimed to be the same as its master, Vishan descended upon the field.
Both sides froze as the mountain they were carving out with magic became a pure white world.
As blindness faded away, standing in the midst of their magical barrages was something unknown to them. An entity of pure white, humanoid in form, and lacking any features.
The entity strolled through the battlefield, swallowing up all magic that flew at it. Those stupid enough to try and attack it were torn to shreds, or cut to pieces as flashes of light erupted around the entity.
With purpose, it strolled over to the bandit’s side, moving towards a man who was casting magic with haste.
“Wha-What do you want?! Get away from me!” The man shouted with eyes filled with disbelief.
“My Master Calls For Your Life. I Have Come For It.” It spoke, and everyone froze once more.
With a wave of its hand and a burst of light, the mage was severed in half along with all those beside it.
Without further actions, the entity began to distort like a mirage before vanishing.
It bore through the earth, traveling through the rich mineral veins untapped by surface dwellers. It assimilated any and all metals into itself and grew as it proceeded towards its target.
Arriving at its destination, the black serpent had gone from a normal looking snake into a majestic Hvaral. It began spiraling upward through the earth, moving without worrying about the quakes it was causing.
Reaching the surface, it loosened its body and began thrashing. The ground easily caved in, and before its target could comprehend the danger they were in, it had already sunken their hideout into the earth. A part of the serpent broke off and turned into a smaller version of itself, moving through the building, searching for its target. Countless people scrambled about, shouting and running for their lives, trying to claw themselves out of a live burial.
The small snake headed straight for a chamber within the crude building where a man was already casting earth magic, trying to escape.
Without moving any further, the small snake’s eyes began glowing blood red. Its main head pierced through the walls and crushed the target before swallowing her whole. The small snake slithered over and fused back into its body.
Having accomplished its task, it coiled around the building, crushing it until there was nothing left before returning back the way it came from.
An eerie wind blew through the cavernous mountain, moving through the hundreds of caves and channels until it found what it was looking for.
Hidden deep in the mountain was a small passage, and beyond that was a secret hideout dug by magic. A single man was panicking, pouring magic into a small ring in his hands. In the room, he had stockpiled enough food to last him for quite a while.
“Found Youuuuu.” Something spoke.
“Who’s there?!” With a paranoid face, the man started looking around.
“Your masssterrr issss no morrrre.” Something hissed.
“Show yourself!” He shouted and began chanting an incantation for a fire spell.
Something slammed into his chest and pushed him against the wall of the cave.
“My masster ssssends his regardssss. It issss time you perisssh.” An unknown voice hissed, and began cutting him with razor wind.
“GUAAAAH!!!!” The man screamed, but there was no one to hear as he was eviscerated and cut to pieces.