With only the dim light of the moon to illuminate their path, the crew of the Maid Marie expertly navigated her through the pushes and pulls of the waves.
It’s already been eight days since they left Aristolk, and they would be approaching the hazardous waters of Malpaars soon. Each day took them one step closer to their destination, but along with it, a host of worries and problems as many of the ship’s crew were beginning to have doubts about the voyage.
“Are you sure we should not be turning back?” One of Narissa’s confidant questioned.
“… I am. I may have been too hasty, but we don’t have a choice anymore.” Narissa admitted.
She had talked to her two passengers, asking about their plans, but all she got was reassurance from the young man to not worry and words from the other man that they would be fine.
Her group was originally of Malpaars’ Trader’s Union, but ever since the revolution, they began smuggling people in and out of the country. It had been going well until the number of pirates started increasing due to the devastation of the country’s economy, and the new king’s rabid hunt for survivors of the late regime.
The smuggling had gotten so bad that most of those in the same line of work either gave up, or were captured in their attempts to bring people out of the country.
She herself was one of the former, hiding and moving from place to place without a home. She had been away for so long, that she jumped at the boy’s assertions and confidence in bringing her back to Malpaars. Thinking back on it, she was beginning to regret not investigating further into the issue. Vick, the older of her two guests, claimed that they were both skilled swordsmen, but she had yet to see any such evidence from the young man.
“You heard what they were saying at the harbor. No ship’s made it in or out of Malpaars for the past year. If we head northeast now, we can go to Rovtoss and keep ourselves low until we find a better chance.” The confidant suggested.
“No. Everyone we’ve requested help from has declined our pleas, and now, even Oritis has given up on returning. We’re on our own. If those two,” Narissa looked towards the ship’s bow to where a young man and a man were talking. “Can follow through with what they said, then this is probably our only chance.”
“But the crew-”
“I know. I’m scared too, but for some reason, there’s something different about this time. I can feel it.”
“Haven’t you noticed, Thea?” She looked to the woman. “We’ve had a tailwind ever since leaving Aristolk. If my guess is correct, at this rate we’ll get to Malpaars in another four to five days. It’s like the gods are giving us a sign to not falter and keep moving forward.”
“Now that you mention it…” The confidant looked at the two large sails. “But what about pirates? We’re bound to meet some sooner or later.”
“I don’t know…” The last time they attempted to get to Malpaars, they had lost a third of their crew and almost every ship that sailed with them. “We can only hope to not run into any, and if we do, to rely on our guests.” Narissa replied, turning her head to look up at the starry sky. Something in the distance caught her eyes. A flash of light, almost like a shooting star. “Thea, did you see that?”
“That flicker in the distance.” She pointed to the northern seas. “There was a light.”
The woman, Thea, leaned on the rails and squinted in the direction Narissa pointed. “Mmmm. I don’t see anything.”
“… must’ve been my imagination.”
“…” Narissa began rubbing her eyes, unsure if it was because of her own tired mind playing a trick on her. “Think I’ll go and get some rest. I’ll wake up Arjun and Donal for the night’s rotation, so help keep an eye out and make sure nothing happens.”
-Two days later-
“Come on Jakob, Is that all you got?” Vick taunted.
“Guh… Just you wait. I’ll have you licking the deck soon.” A large man replied with a grin, pushing himself up off the floor amongst a discord of encouragements.
One of the taller crew members, the man was an Aleith. He stood two hands width taller than Vick, and his light red hair flowed like a fiery mane. On his face were two yellow eyes with dark black slits, and on his hand, instead of fingernails he had claws. Large and muscular, the man still looked very intimidating even though his face was grimacing as he tried to keep his balance.
“That’s the spirit!!” Vick shouted, turning his body to prepare for an attack.
A small group of spectators were surrounding them and cheering for their crewmate.
The brawl was on the deck of the Maid Marie, and although in the middle of hostile territory, the crew was cheering and jibing with joy.
After having their morale drop to an all-time low ever since spotting signs of shipwrecks, their spirits had already recovered after only an afternoon. The idea of a competition had taken their mind off their worries, and their fears were slowly becoming that of hope and anticipation, as they watched Vick bring down their crewmates one after another effortlessly.
“GRRAAAH!!” The man called Jakob took three quick strides towards Vick and slashed with his claws.
Vick swerved his upper body to the left, easily dodging the attack. Using the opening, he twisted his body and planted a solid punch into the man’s right side. “Your swing is too wide.” He added as the man fell to the floor once more.
“Ugh… gods that hurts!”
“C’mon Jakob ya baby! Get up!” A man mocked from the side line.
“Guh… I’d like to see you get in here!”
“That’s a good idea. Let’s make it a two on one. Wait, no. Three on one.” Vick smiled and looked around. “Do we have another two volunteers to join us?”
“Hahaha! I’m in!” A stout bearded man with a large round nose eagerly joined in.
“Please don’t hold back on my account.” A woman a few years younger than Narissa also stepped up.
“This should be interesting.” Vick pronounced with a grin and lowered his stance, watching both of them and Jakob who was getting up once more.
“I’ll go first. You two can follow after.” The stout man instructed as he walked closer to Vick. “YAAAH!!” He cried out, dashing forward with his arms open.
Vick strode forward and kicked the man’s chest with his left foot. “!” His face twisted with a surprised smile as the man grabbed onto his leg.
“Now!” The stout man cried out, trying to bite back the pain on his chest.
“Hold on tight!” Vick exclaimed and kicked off with his right leg, twisting into a spin. He slammed his available foot onto the man’s arm and quickly freed himself as Jakob and the woman closed in on him. Catching himself with one hand, he kicked off of the man’s chest and pushed himself backwards, rolling away from the three of them before flipping up into a fighting stance. “That was too close. You’re quite robust.”
“You let him go too soon!” Jakob cried out.
“Too soon? My hands are burning!”
“Now’s not the time to be bickering!”
“Arguing amongst each other is detrimental in a fight.” Vick dashed towards the three. With Jakob being in front, he headed straight for the large man.
“Argh! Help me surround him!” Jakob shouted, and all three of them quickly fanned out beside each other. Seeing Vick running at him, Jakob instinctively brought up his arms to defend against the fist that was flying in his direction. He blocked it, but with blinding speed, another had squared him in the stomach.
After landing a clean punch into Jakob’s stomach, Vick charged and pushed the large man to the ground. He quickly turned to the side and dashed straight for the woman.
“Not so fast!” The stout man shouted, stepping in between them.
Vick cocked his arms back and with a palm strike, sent the man tumbling backwards. An arm reached out to grab him and he ducked, lowering himself to the ground while at the same time catching the hand before it could pull back. He yanked and slammed the woman into the ground. “All three of you would be dead if this was a life or death situation.” Vick stated as he got up to stand over the three groaning contenders. “Who else wants to test me?!” He added with a triumphant smile as a roar of cheers came out.
“…” Narissa stood in the back, watching.
Though she herself was on edge the past few days, seeing her crew so hopeful and lively once again reaffirmed to her that her decision was correct.
Jakob was their strongest member, and even after adding in Thea and Russel, Vick had taken down all three with ease, while unarmed. The thought of seeing him in a real battle was frightening, and she could not contain her anxious smile, knowing that home would be only days away if Vick could protect them.
Narissa looked over to the impassive young man who was quietly watching the fight. She wondered if the boy’s confidence and self-assurance was because he knew Vick would be able to handle the pirates.
Of the ship’s eighteen crew members, thirteen had tried their hands against Vick and lost. A good number of them were injured to some minor extent: a few bruises and aches, one had a broken finger from a fall, another dislocated their shoulder, and for everyone, what little pride they had of being a competent brawler.
As Vick was getting ready to go below deck for some rest, Narissa caught up to him.
“Thank you very much for what you did. We all needed something like that.”
“No need for thanks, Captain. I just wanted some exercise.” Vick grinned.
“They don’t show or talk about it, but everyone’s been on edge these past few days. They’re all scared.”
“I noticed.” Vick replied, staring back at the woman. “What about you? Are you scared?”
“Of course I am. The last time, we never even made it this far before we were swarmed by a fleet of pirates. Oritis- the man you met at the harbor was with us at the time. We barely managed to escape along with two other ships.”
“A fleet huh? Well, fear not. Kaidus and I will make sure this ship gets to Malpaars. He’s dead set on it anyways.”
The reason why she stopped him in the first place resurfaced in her thoughts. “That’s right. I wanted to ask you after seeing your fight earlier, but is your friend really a swordsman?” Narissa questioned curiously.
“That sword he carries around is not for show, that’s for sure.”
“Don’t let his looks fool you, my lady. That boy would best me in a fight of pure skills ten times out of ten. He’s also a mage, so if you factor that into it, I wouldn’t even be able to touch him if he gets serious. I’m only here because his doting father doesn’t want him to be traveling alone.”
“He’s that strong? And a mage?” Narissa furrowed her eyebrows, unable to believe Vick’s words. “Then why did you protect him that time?”
“Protect Kaidus? It’s the other way around. I was protecting the man going after him.” Vick quickly replied with a solemn face.
“You’re kidding… right?”
“Lying to you serves no purpose, Narissa. He may be young, but make no mistake: he is very dangerous. Be glad if you don’t see him in action.” Vick turned and proceeded below deck.
“A mage…” Narissa looked up to the ever bulging sails. She could not feel it, but there was definitely a tailwind pushing them forward.
“What the fuck!?!”
A man screamed out loud, unable to keep his confusion to himself as he fled through the 3rd ward.
His legs strengthened with magic, the man ran for his life, moving quickly and jumping from roof to roof.
Behind him, a darkness unlike any he had ever seen was chasing him.
Pitch black, the darkness was slipping in between the shadows of the buildings, moving as if it had a mind of its own. Following and closing in on him.
A member of the Mystiks Guild, he had been assigned the job of watching a young commoner girl living in the 3rd ward. He was to observe from a distance while concealing his presence and making himself inconspicuous. It was something he was very good at, and the reason why he had been picked for the job.
After fifteen days, he couldn’t understand why the guild had put such an ordinary girl under surveillance. Upon the morning of the sixteenth, everything became clear, and for such sudden clarity, the price was to be his life should he be unable to get away.
That morning, as he’d been doing for the past fifteen days, he simply followed the trio of mother, daughter, and infant. He presumed it to be another uneventful day as they made their way to the market, and didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary as he watched from the rooftops.
By the time he realized that there was another person tailing the trio, the cloudy day had turned into night, along with a sudden surge of mana.
He quickly cast light magic to illuminate the whole area, but it was ineffective. Concentrating his mana, he focused a blast of light towards the concentration of power in the street, catching the tail end of a pitch black mist engulfing a man whole.
Shocked and unable to believe his eyes, he had simply stared at the spot where the man vanished as the darkness dissipated.
Within moments, the hair on the back of his neck stood up as an unnerving presence closed in on his position. He saw as a pitch black shadow with an otherworldly presence appeared on the roof, and without waiting to see what would happen, he had bolted across the roof in the opposite direction with all his might.
Strengthening his whole body with mana, he continuously cast wind magic to help push himself from one rooftop to another.
Yet no matter how far he ran, the presence of death and impending doom followed right behind him.
Turning his head around to look, he could see the darkness jumping from one shadow to the next, nipping at his heels. The mana barriers he managed to erect around himself were shattering continuously, and he knew that should he stop for an instant, it would be the end.
“HELP!!” He screamed, knowing it was futile. He was still within the 3rd ward—the commoner ward—and the chance of assistance was miniscule. He began casting fire magic into the air, hoping someone would see the disturbance.
“Help!!!” He shouted again as his strength began to wane. He was nowhere near the 11th ward, but his exhausted body was giving out, and his mana, disappearing at an alarming rate.
“Asiran! Devos Nartias!-” He began making a last ditch effort, shouting out a summoning incantation. “-Azaras! Nevas OmiNuit!! Come Teremas!!” The world before him flashed, as his light spirit broke through the veil separating the spirit plane of Lagus and living world of Lovis.
He fell to the ground, having poured everything into the summoning.
“SSSAAAAHHHH!!!” He heard the familiar hiss of his spirit.
“Retreat… young one…” A raspy voice echoed from behind him, and his tired body began to shiver uncontrollably. Whatever was chasing him was sentient.
Suddenly, he felt the surge of two very powerful summons breaking through into the world alongside his own light spirit.
His body and mind exhausted, he heard a gasp while another person shouted his name.
Hearing the voices, he passed out.
“Foolish…” Hasen muttered, looking at the three elementals before it: a light serpent, a spike golem of earth, and a large torrent of water. Behind them were a man and a woman, cloaked in red black and white, and on the ground was the one it had been chasing.
It quickly recognized the colors the two newcomers wore, and understood that they were members of the city’s magic guild.
Emerging from the shadows, Hasen transformed into a figure of pitch black smoke. “Ingrates… my master… wastes his time… You all… undeserving… his altruism… betrayed…” Hasen stepped forward towards the three elementals. “Be gone… Younglings…” With a wave of its arm, Hasen forcibly tore open the veil once again.
“!!!” The two guild mages stared at the entity before them. Shocked, as a surge of raw primal mana came gushing into the world and was quickly sucked up by the darkness before them.
Instead of retreating, the water elemental lunged forward.
“So be it…” Hasen muttered, shooting its arms forward as clouds of dark smoke.
“Ildirus! Stop!” The man shouted, and the water elemental froze, dropping to the ground. “E-Enough… you are dismissed…” He added, and the spirit vanished.
Unable to calm himself, the man shook with fervor: half out of fear, half out of awe and exhilaration. He had seen his share of life and death situations, but the being before them was death incarnate. Although he himself was a high Malgin, just from hearing its voice and feeling the overwhelming presence, he knew it was beyond the three of them and their elementals.
“D-Drend…” His partner spoke from beside him. Her voice was filled with trepidation and terror, but he could sense she was thinking the same thing he was. Without replying to her, he took a quick glance at Geras who had fallen unconscious, then got down on his knees. “F-Forgive our folly and ignorance for not recognize one such as y-yourself…” He barely managed to eke out the words of apology. “… I- I know not of the betrayal you spoke of, but if it pleases you, I offer you my life… I-in return, please spare my c-comrades. They have done no wrong.”
“Drend no!!” The woman cried out.
“…” Hasen closed in and stared into the man’s eyes with its formless face.
The man gazed back up into it. “Your resolution… admirable…”
“GUH-!! UGUH!” *Haaah….!! Haaaaah!!!* The man’s arm suddenly went limp as a dark spike shot forth into his shoulder. Unwilling to scream out, he gritted his teeth and began taking deep breaths.
Before them, stood something out of the ancient texts. A force of nature that three pitiful mages could never hope to subjugate or escape from, and he knew it. All he could do was try to see if he could save his companions.
“Bravery… responsibility… power… Your actions… I commend you… My master will know… he shall be… the judge…” Hasen began suffusing into the ground. “You have… been warned…”
‘Master’ the word hit him hard. The being before them had someone it answered to. Curiosity overpowered his fear and pain, “W-wait! Who- who is your master?! Please!” Drend shouted at the legendary being that had come to life.
“… Master… Many names… Broken One… Enuria… Silvazae… Silver King… Conqueror… Rhultal… You know naught of him… But you will… soon…”