Kaidus awoke to the sound of whispers and childish voices coming from the outside.
Through the slits cut into the walls of the hut, dim streaks of light were coming through, announcing the day’s beginning. He sat up and waited for his eyes to adjust to the faint light before standing up.
Vick slept across from him on a bed of straw, covered with a blanket. Their chat with the elder the previous night had been very long and tiring, and Vick had fallen asleep as soon as they were shown to their beds. Snoozing with his mouth open and looking very comfortable, it always amazed him how the man could sleep anywhere without a care.
The house they were in was a small hut much like the elder’s: four walls with a shabby roof that could definitely use some improvements, and bereft of any belongings. It belonged to the man named Pelwin—the one he had held at sword point during their first meeting—and his family, but was allocated to them for the night.
Without waking Vick, he left the shelter.
A flurry of children scurried away as he opened the door. A few of the adults who were already out and about turned in his direction briefly, before going back to whatever they were doing.
He had slept later than he wanted to, and could see that the morning fog was already thinning. Nearby, the red and yellow glows of cooking fires were scattered throughout the village in patches of color. A delectable odor wafted through the air and his stomach began to grumble, reminding him that the last thing he ate was a snack while they were following the soldier back to the Countess’ camp.
As he looked around, for some reason, the children that had ran away were gazing back in his direction. A few were watching him while others were waving and making hand gestures.
He turned to see a young girl peeking out at him from the side of the hut. She looked like she wanted to run and join the others, but couldn’t because he had caught her. He smiled. “Hello,” he greeted and walked toward the little girl. “What is your name?” She stared at him without moving or uttering a word. “It’s okay if you want to go to your friends. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” He reassured with a soft coaxing tone and saw her eyes lighten up.
“M-Mira.” She meekly replied.
“Mira huh? It’s a beautiful name.” He was surprised that she even answered. “I’m Kaidus. Nice to meet you, Mira. Do you live here?” He gave her another friendly smile and tried to make conversation.
The girl nodded and slowly stepped out from behind the corner of the house, revealing a stitched up dress with patches of dirt where she must have fallen frequently. At least two to three years younger than Anise, the girl had dark hair and her two beady black eyes stared back at him curiously, reminding him of his little sister.
“What were you all doing?” He asked, feigning ignorance.
“P-playing…” She replied with a low voice.
“That so? What were you playing?”
“Umm… Uh-… Are you okay?” She questioned, seeing that he meant no harm. “Lirell said his daddy saw you fall from the sky. Are you hurt?” She added, looking up at him inquisitively.
“I’m fine.” Kaidus replied with a chuckle. “Mira, do you know where the elder’s house is?”
She nodded at his words but something caught her attention and she ran away. Kaidus followed the young girl with his eyes, only to see her running to someone that was already walking towards him. It was Fera, the elder’s daughter.
“Good morning.” The older girl greeted nervously as she arrived with Mira on her heels. “I’ve come to call you both for breakfast.” She spoke with a tense smile, half afraid and half thankful.
“Good morning,” Kaidus replied, returning a curt nod. “Please allow me a moment to wake my friend up. It seems he was very tired.” Kaidus stepped back into the house as she informed him that she would wait.
Vick had been right about his comment of Fera the previous evening—upon their first sighting. She was quite striking, in a modest sense. While she wore plain clothes and although her brown hair was tied in a simple fashion that draped to her front, her gray eyes—unlike her father’s piercing gaze—gave off a warm and gentle aura. They also accentuated her lovely face and easily drew the attention of those looking at her to them. He was surprised to catch himself glancing in her direction every now and then, while Vick on the other hand, was ogling her all throughout their talk last night.
As he walked back to the straw beds, Vick was already sitting up and looking at him. “You are going to tell me about everything that happened last night, and whatever it is you are planning to do from here on out. I know you love your secrets, but mythical drakalls are one thing. An organization comprising of ruthless mages? That’s something very different altogether.”
The older man gave him a stern look and he could barely hold in his laughter.
“Stop it. That’s not like you at all.” Kaidus reminded, and Vick’s façade easily fell apart.
“Was it that transparent?” Vick’s tone and demeanor quickly changed back to his usual blithe self.
“It was. The way you furrowed your brows, you were trying too hard.” Kaidus grabbed his cloak from on top of his rucksack. “Get ready. We’ve been called to breakfast.” He informed as he strapped the xeberite sword to his waist.
“Seriously though. That bright light last night, flying through the air before I passed out, and this hidden agenda of yours. What’s really going on, and what exactly did you learn from that magic academy?” Vick replied, getting off the pile of straw.
“Later.” Kaidus grabbed his rucksack before turning back to Vick. “Lady Fera is waiting. Also, don’t forget to bring your belongings. We’ll be leaving after.”
A large group had already gathered by the time they arrived.
It was the same place that he had descended upon the previous night, only now, it looked like an outdoor picnic with roaring flames and full on cooking pots out in the open. Logs lined the ground, designating a seating area and many people were already enjoying their food.
Breakfast was wild tuber stew, roast hog and snake slathered with syrup from the nearby talapruss trees, and insects. To wash it down, they had broth concocted from the bones of a large flightless bird that the villagers called a sahanish.
“Did you both had a good night’s rest?” The elder hobbled over to them as they were eating.
“Yes. Thank you for your hospitality.”
“We did. Definitely beats sleeping on the ground.” Vick gave a cheerful smile.
“I’m glad,” The old man replied. “I see that you both brought your possessions. Will you be leaving soon?”
“We’ll be leaving shortly after breakfast. We had not intended to stay the night, but it was a much needed bonus.”
“I see…” The old man took a moment and reached into his sleeves, pulling out a letter. “Forgive my impudence and selfishness after all you’ve done, but might I trouble you both with a favor?”
“What sort of favor?” Kaidus looked at the letter then to the old man’s face.
“I know that the politics of this country does not concern you both, but might I ask you to deliver this letter to the Liberation Army? They’re probably looking for, or assumed us to be dead, seeing how Vernigale suddenly disappeared overnight. It’s been almost a turn since we’ve lost contact, but I would like to let them know of our situation.” The elder handed him the letter. “Only if you happened to run into them of course.”
“Are you sure? Who’s to say you were not merely a convenient and expendable asset in their struggle to regain Malpaars?” He questioned.
“Whether that is true or not, is trivial in comparison to what is at stake. I understand that it is foolish, after all it was our involvement with the Liberation Army that landed us in this mess, but they are our only hope for a better Malpaars.”
“You are willing to risk your life and everyone here again? Even your daughter’s life?” He questioned, staring firmly into the old man’s eyes.
“I am not, but if it means a better tomorrow for them all, then I am willing to get on my knees and beg for assistance.”
“I…” The old man’s eyes were unwavering, yet he could see the turmoil within.
“Look at this place, boy. Does this look like a life worth living? Always on the run, always afraid for our lives, and eating whatever we can scrounge off of the forest? What would it mean to all our children if this was their way of life in the future?” The old man paused and turned away to look at someone. “My daughter… already a grown woman, she should be having the time of her life. In a better world, she might already be living peacefully with a husband and family of her own. Yet instead of that, she is taking care of a crippled old man who can barely walk, and living in this squalor, not knowing what her future entails.” The elder turned back to them. “Please. My daughter deserves better than this. Everyone here deserves better than this life. If the Liberation Army hears of our situation and sends help, then it would be worth it.”
“… I understand. I will deliver your letter if we happen to encounter anyone.” Kaidus took the letter and carefully slid it into his rucksack between his map and papers.
“Thank you.” The old man lowered his head gratefully. “I do not know of your purposes in these lands, but please watch yourselves out there. Good fortune to you both, and may the blessings of the gods be forever in your favor.” The old man turned to move away.
“Lord Shradech.” Kaidus spoke, halting the old man.
“If I may make a suggestion, move everyone south of Imvera. It will be slow and will take some time, but the forests there are thick with vegetation and it doesn’t look like anyone’s ventured there for quite some time. You should all be safe there for a while. This place here may be safe for a few more days, but I wouldn’t count on it staying that way for too long. I will also let the Liberation Army know of your relocation if we encounter them.”
“You… You came through the southern woods of Imvera?” The elder looked at him, face filled with surprise.
“Who- No… Never mind. I will let the others know and see how they feel. Thank you for telling me.” The elder limped away back to his daughter, leaving them to enjoy their food.
With a handshake and a brief goodbye to the elder and Fera, they left the forest village. They departed without inquiring about the fate of the Countess, but he made sure the elder knew that she was a mage. The information seemed to have surprised them, but it did not matter as he had already sealed her voice.
“Well, you got something you need to tell me? We’ve got quite a long road ahead, and I would love to hear it.” Vick interrogated as they were walking through the forest and had put quite some distance between them and the village.
“Hm? No?” Kaidus returned a puzzled look as if unable to understand what Vick was talking about.
“… you brat…” Vick shot him a displeased look. “At least answer this: finding this drakall of yours was just a front wasn’t it? And I was right when I asked you about it in Aristolk.”
“No. That is still the primary objective of this trip. Only now, my secondary objectives have crawled into the open, and you happened to be caught right in the middle of everything.” He gave a wry smile. “I didn’t think I’d have to reveal my hand to you this early, but I had no other choice, given they were members of Tal’hrus.”
“Hah… primary, secondary objectives… You think you know someone, and then it turns out, you don’t at all.” Vick sighed and gave him a look as if seeing him for the first time.
“Don’t say that now. As you said yourself, you know me well, and to that, I must agree wholeheartedly and acknowledge your sharp observations. It’s just that I also have other facets that you are unaware of. But overall, I am still myself, so there’s no need to be giving me that look.”
“… It’s like I’m not even talking to a kid anymore. Act your age, damn you.” Vick protested, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him jokingly. “Little Kaidus! Are you in there?! Where did the wide-eyed little boy full of questions go?!”
“Stop it. That’s disturbing.”
“Disturbing? You can fly! And who knows what else you did with that light that almost blinded me.”
“You know, if you want to see how it feels again in the air, all you have to do is ask. There’s really no reason in guilt tripping me into offering just because I withheld it from you.”
“So you knew?” Vick’s face instantly changed into a grin. “Kaidus. I want to fly again.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Vick replied with excitement.
“Fine. Just remember what happened the last time.” He started around, looking around for an opening in the forest canopy.
“I didn’t know what was happening then. This’ll be different.”
“Over here.” He called for Vick, and the man walked over to him. He grabbed onto Vick’s arm. “Wait, what are you doi- AHHHHH!” A scream rose through the forest as he threw Vick into the air and launched himself up after.
Zion caught them as they broke through the tree tops. As their momentum settled, he saw that Vick had already fainted.
His face a mask of impassivity, Nylen Gvius Jozion silently read through the reports before him. After finishing, he took a quick glance at the four people sitting around the table before going through the reports one more time, careful not to miss anything.
He was sitting in a large meeting room within the 12th ward Mystiks Guild headquarters.
Around him were two of the Guild leaders.
Thaxxus Baelius V. Terinthier, head of the 11th ward Mystiks Guild. A large and imposing man with a magical talent that overshadows even his large stature.
Velix Austil Natarus, head of the 10th ward Mystiks Guild. Not yet in her fifties, she was the youngest in the meeting, and one of the most powerful mages in Ferrent.
The third one, Darvont Elutus Kalzorr, the head of the 12th ward Mystiks Guild was currently away with the expedition in eastern Darsus.
The other two sitting at the table were the headmasters of Ferrent’s magic academies.
Headmaster Juris Hillinad Yzeria, of 12th ward’s Tiokin Academy. An old woman only a decade younger than Nylen, and a mage of exceptional abilities.
Headmaster Aira Zonus Hale Engarte of 10th ward’s Hvsen Academy, and another powerful mage, she had become the headmaster of Hvsen barely a decade ago.
Before each of them were three reports. Two about unusual encounters in eastern Darsus, and one from the very heart of Ferrent itself.
After Nylen finally set his papers on the table,
“This one from Drend. You’re positive about it?” Headmaster Juris who had been waiting patiently was the first to speak. Filled with astonishment, her thin wispy voice moved softly throughout the room.
“I have no reasons to doubt what Drend, Geras, and Mal saw and heard.” Thaxxus stoically replied. “What I’m worried about, are those words. They gave me a very strange sense of foreboding, as if this was only the beginning of something larger. Not only that, a spirit like this can only mean one thing.”
“Yes…” Headmaster Juris looked down at the documents before her. “And these other two. You’re thinking they’re the same? That all three might be the resurgence of the legends spoken about in Zulgia’s Lost Tomes?”
“That is the conclusion we’ve come to. Although for three to suddenly emerge at the same time, it is unheard of. Even the ancient texts had never recorded a period of time where more than one ever walked our world.” Velix replied, her voice wavering between uncertainty and reverence. “Darkness, Light, and from the look of Captain Prim’s report, perhaps Wind. Although the guild is hesitant about labeling them ‘Lords’ as the texts have, there is little room for doubts, seeing what two of them did.”
“A dreadful shadow, a being of light, and dark flowing liquid that hovered and flew about. All speaking with voices of their own… How many people know about this?” Headmaster Juris continued with her enquiries.
“Very few. Only those who witnessed the events, and those of us in the upper stratum of the guild are privy to it. We’re certain Lord Kalzorr can stop it from…” Thaxxus began explaining about the level of trouble such information would bring about should it be leaked.
The resurgence of a mage capable of commanding an Elemental Lord would definitely overturn the known alliances of the seven continents. Whoever can obtain the mage’s alliance would tip the balance of power significantly.
Lounging in his chair, Nylen was listening as he connected the records in front of him to what he knew. He had always wondered how the boy did it, but could never figure out the missing factor tying together the mystery. With the addition of Prim’s report, all the pieces of the puzzle was clicking into place.
“Has one of our own finally done the impossible in this time of conflict?” Headmaster Aira wondered, spreading out the three pages before her.
“Unlikely. We would have known if one of ours was capable of such a thing. Also, the coveted title of Dvitus has yet to be claimed.”
“The summoner wouldn’t necessary have the strength of a Dvitus would they? What if it was a powerful…”
As he listened to the discussion between the four, ‘titles are not what I am after.’ Words that had been spoken to him years ago emerged into Nylen’s mind like a broken echo. It was another piece of the puzzle, helping to reinforce his assumptions.
“Master Nylen?” Thaxxus suddenly questioned, and the others turned to him.
“You’ve been awfully quiet, old man. Very unlike you… you’re hiding something aren’t you?” Headmaster Juris inquired knowingly.
“Please give us your thoughts, grandmaster.” Velix added, looking to him.
Nylen looked at the four faces staring back at him. After decades in each other’s company, it was no surprise they had seen through him so easily. “Hah… Right… I guess it’s time I shared what I’ve been keeping to myself for the past few years.” He straightened up and sat forward on the chair. “I shall disclose it to Darvont when he comes back, but this discussion is not to leave this room. Understood? Not even to the Royal Court or anyone outside of this conclave.” He looked to the others. After getting their confirmations, he began once more. “Thaxxus. Although you’re on the right track with your investigation, seeing this, it’s better to stop now while you’re ahead.”
“Grandmaster?” Thaxxus shot the old man a befuddled look. “Haaa… Nothing gets past you it seems.” He smiled, understanding what the old man was talking about.
“Many things elude me.” Nylen pushed his three reports forward. “If not for these accounts, I would still be lost. It was a job well done and I commend your tenacity, but anymore and it could be problematic for us.”
“What are you two talking about?” Headmaster Aira questioned.
“Their surveillance operation. The reason why Drend, Geras, and Mal were all in the 3rd ward together even though the guild’s been stretched thin.” Nylen replied.
The other two headmasters turned in confusion. “Surveillance? On who?”
“A young girl. The unusual events within the 3rd ward were because of her.” Velix answered straightforwardly without circumventing the issue.
“What!? That’s impossible!” Headmaster Aira exclaimed.
“You’re saying a young girl did what every mages for the past eight hundred years could not?!”
“The line separating possible from the impossible blurs, when you consider who she is.” Thaxxus’ deep voice broke through the air of doubt.
“He’s right, Aira.” Nylen reinforced the statement. “Anise Paltos, the younger sister of one Kaidus Paltos… I assume everyone here knows who he is?”
“The sister of that young man?”
“Yes,” Thaxxus affirmed. “If the brother had already awoken his power at such a young age, then surely it’s possible that the sister too has awoken. Only, she might be an even rarer case than her older brother.”
“The sister becoming a mage is still quite possible, but it is not the girl.” Headmaster Nylen quickly refuted the assumption. “I too had the same line of thought, but that was before I saw these reports. The names spoken confused me and I’m uncertain whether they are indeed names or delusions of grandeur, but this line that Drend quoted. ‘He shall be. The judge.’ It is very specific. The spirit was not talking about a girl or a woman.”
“It’s an elemental. What does it know? The chances that it mistook the girl for a boy is quite plausible.”
“Yes, but there is a better explanation. One that ties all of this together.” Nylen took a deep breath and sat back on his chair. “You see, I saw the boy recently. Suffice to say, he had grown since he left my academy almost five years ago. Grown enough, to be mistaken for a man if he was observed in the dark. Also, this part here where Prim wrote about the man calling to the spirit. Of course it is merely a conjecture on my part, but such a thing as manipulating your voice could easily be done with magic. I also know for certain that the boy demonstrated voice magic to our Lord Knight Commander Gelrin, upon the commander’s visit to the Paltos house years ago.”
“Grandmaster, you’re insinuating that the boy is… that can’t be…” Velix spoke, but trailed off into thoughts.
“I am, but that’s not all. I had always wondered how he did it, and now it is clear. The answer lies again, in what Captain Prim’s team saw. Flying magic. If he could truly do the impossible and take to the skies, then I believe my theory is correct.”
“But that does not account for all three spirits. Where does this third one, the elemental of light fit in?”
“Why not?” Nylen questioned, looking back at the large man across from him.
“Because there were- No… that can’t be…” Thaxxus’ eyes widened at the answer he had come upon. “They can’t all possibly belong to the same mage… could they?” He was unable to believe the words coming out of his mouth.
“While you were investigating the girl, I had Zaele deliver a mock request to the boy. Did you know that he left Ferrent over a turn ago?” Nylen paused then smiled, seeing the realization in the other’s faces. “Yes. Right before all this began. It is too much of a coincidence that three such beings would suddenly appear, following the emergence of someone like him. You said it yourself. The line separating possibility and impossibility blurs, when you consider who it is. Do not doubt what you are presuming. A storm is coming, and the legends are possibly upon us.”