As he stood upon the frozen city, an eerie silence drifted through the atmosphere, dampening the grievances coming from behind him. Listening, he could almost hear the silent screams of those who had perished through the stillness. His eyes scanned for survivors, but all he could see were the streets that were dyed with blood, giving the layer of ice covering them an ominous red sheen. Beyond where the soldiers had been standing, he spotted a pile of corpses in the distance, along with what looked to be two extinguished pyres—now covered in frost—with charred and scorched bodies.
“So much death…” Kaidus voiced out loud to hide his torment and sorrow. ‘If only I had gotten here earlier.’ Such thoughts entered his mind, but were quickly discarded. The reality was that he had failed to do so, and no amount of supposition would bring the dead back to life.
“Everything returns to darkness…” He clenched his fist, hoping to have brought some semblance of peace to those who were consumed in the madness.
After a moment of silence, with disheartened steps, he walked over to where he had sat Eril down. There was nothing left of the Tal’hrus master, but a pile of ash.
A gentle breeze playfully swept by and scattered the remains into the air, revealing five metal rings gleaming in the sunlight. “For so many to be lost because of a single person…” Anger flared within him briefly as the spiral of never ending carnage became all too clear.
‘Master.’ Vishan’s voice echoed in his mind and he heard the gate slowly creaking open. Three men cautiously stepped out.
By his will, the rings flew up to him. After stowing them in his pocket, he wordlessly walked away.
“P-please wait!” One of the men shouted nervously. It was the round short man whom he had seen earlier in the courtyard. “A-all those soldiers. Did you-”
He stopped to consider the question. “I did.” Upon his answer, the fear that the three men had been trying to conceal burst forth through their expressions. Disregarding such looks, “I am sorry for your loss, and thank you for your cooperation in relocating everyone earlier.” He gave them a polite nod of appreciation and continued on his way. They did not try to stop him this time.
Rounding the corner of the street, Kaidus began moving westward through the city. Someone had survived Vishan’s attack, and he wanted to see who it was.
Lying on the cold ground, Kaval was gasping for air as unimaginable pain assaulted her. She wanted to scream out and curse, but instead of doing so, she gritted her teeth and fought down the urge—lest she give away her position.
The last thing she could remember was running towards the western walls where she had infiltrated the city. Her plan was to conceal her presence and get out of the frozen realm, before using any magic to ferry herself to shore.
*Cough! COUGH!* She threw up the discomfort in her chest, and upon feeling the sticky liquid flowing down her chin, her eyes widened. ‘No! Not like this!’ Trying to turn her body and get off the ground, she could not feel any strength. Her arms felt scorched like they were melting, and pain was the only thing that came from her legs.
Her mind screamed, reminding her of what happened.
The pillars of lights falling from the sky, the overwhelming force within them, and the terrifying source of power at the center of it all. Even after molding her mana into a barrier, the light had torn it apart and crushed her. Using everything she had, it was just barely enough to preserve her life. *Ku-hauk!* Throwing up more blood, the thought of following after Eril terrified her.
With her awareness waning, Kaval began whispering an incantation, focusing her remaining mana into her earing.
“L-Layna… answer me…” There was no response, and the connection never went through.
Exhausted, she closed her eyes as she lay upon the ice, hoping it would help to dull the pain.
Uncertain about how long she had been lying there, she was jerked awake by the sound of light footsteps. In her weary mind, the silver haired boy was walking towards her. He had killed Eril, and was coming for her.
“So you are still alive…” An apathetic voice jolted her into wakefulness. She felt her body lifting off the ground and soon enough, she was standing face to face against the object of her fear. Once again wrapped in a blood red cloak, the boy stood before her, his hair shining a radiant silver.
“!!” She felt her face draining of all colors.
“Who are you?” The boy questioned.
*Kahaak!* She coughed, and the action sent shockwaves through her body. In agony, she forced her eyes to look down at herself. Her clothes were burnt, and her exposed flesh was discolored. Focusing on the discolorations, disgusting boils had erupted all over her skin, covering her voluptuous breasts and arms up to her shoulders. Her beautiful legs, beginning from her waist and going all the way down to her feet, were now nothing more than black crusts filled with pain.
Kaval began tearing up, recalling her efforts to escape the light that was trying to destroy her. “I-I had no-” She took a pained breath. “No part in this… please… save me.”
“…” The boy went quiet and two silver eyes looked back at her as if peering into her very being. Her life was his to do with as he willed, and he knew it.
“I beg you…” Kaval pleaded again, hanging her head submissively.
“The presence that diverged from all the others. The explosive mana that I felt earlier in response to my own magic… you are a mage of Tal’hrus.”
A cold voice slithered through the air and she lifted her head in surprise to see a distant look on the boy’s face. “N-no…! I-” She stopped, sensing the cold wrapping around her. She was without strength or control of her own body, and there was no way out.
“Do not try to deny your deeds,” the boy replied coldly. “I can still feel traces of your vile magic flowing through this city like a phantom.” The boy brought his right hand up as if to grasp at something in the air.
“NO!” Kaval cried out as the ice rose up from underneath her feet and twisted around her body like an enormous hand.
“I shall send you to join your master.” As he closed his fist, she could feel the ice tightening around her.
“STOP!!” Someone else shouted, and she let out a breath of relief as the boy turned around. Looking at the intruder, her hopes were quickly crushed, for it was the very man whom she had given to Eril.
“You have been following me… is there something you require?” The boy calmly questioned.
“Forgive me, radiant one.” The knight went to his knees. “My intentions had only been to seek forgiveness.” The man turn and glanced in her direction, giving her a hateful look. “But that woman… I beg you, please give her life to me.” The man lowered his head to grovel pathetically.
“Toward what purpose?”
“She… She has taken everything from me. My brethren, my life, my purpose for existing. I beg of you, allow me to claim her life so that my brothers and I may finally know peace.”
Kaval opened her mouth to try and refute the allegations, but she could not. The boy’s piercing gaze had caused her to lose her tongue.
“I have had my share of deaths today.” The boy stepped away from her and moved toward the knight. “I do not know what ensued between you two, but if you wish to see justice served with your own hands, I will not stop you.” From within his cloak, the boy pulled out a slim longsword and planted it before the knight.
She quickly recognized it to be Eril’s sword.
“No. Please.” Kaval begged once more as she watched the knight taking hold of the weapon and stalking towards her. She commanded her body to break free of the ice that was imprisoning her, but her limbs refused to move. Her mind in turmoil and without any strength left, she begged her lips to cast one last spell.
“GUH-!” Before she could, the man made a mad dash at her, piercing her throat with the sword. *Bluaarg!* the ice around her shattered as the blade was pulled away, and she fell to the cold ground, throwing up and choking on her own blood.
*Haaah…. Ha…* Breathing heavily, Biran dropped to his knees and dug the sword into the frozen ground.
The woman’s two violet eyes peered back as if to curse him, but all he could think about was the feeling as the sword impaled her. Lowering his head, a sense of triumph flowed through him for the small victory of having avenged those who had sacrificed their lives.
Memories of better days flooded him, and he recalled the faces of all those who had died on that fateful day. The captain who welcomed him into the imperial knight squad, Itnus, a family man who doted on his newborn daughter, the silent Malcus that got louder the more he drank, the imaginative Enain, and many more. All of their faces surfaced vividly before him and tears streamed down his cheeks, for he knew he had failed them all.
He had tried to deny the words of the detestable woman, but he could no longer do so. Having asked many of the survivors, none had seen the boy. Seeing the princess dead along with most of her knights, he could not keep pretending that the young prince was still alive.
With a heavy heart, he pushed himself up and turned to look at the entity behind him. The being who had saved them all from certain death; he who had descended from the sky and annihilated their foes in the blink of an eye. There were no other words to describe the existence before him, besides that of a god. It was as if Ethaer, the god of destruction himself, was in the flesh, standing in front of him.
Walking toward the young man, Biran fell to his knees.
“I am eternally grateful…” He lowered his head until it was touching the ground. “Please forgive me for not believing… and please excuse my decisions, for I no longer have a place in this world. I beg of you, allow me to stand at your side upon the fields of Aerlus, so that I may serve for all eternity.”
The sword’s sharpness dug into his hand as he grasped it by the blade. Biran looked up at the young man’s face one last time and twisted the sword around, plunging it into his own chest. Darkness and pain overtook him, along with a sense of freedom and comfort.
“If you do not have a place in this world, then strive to make one for yourself.” A voice resonated in his head as a refreshing feeling coursed throughout his body. The pain he had felt only moments ago had vanished completely, and instead of weakening before death, he felt his body strengthening.
“!!!” Biran sat up in alert. The young man stood over him, watching him with two glowing eyes like an unforgiving deity.
“He issss but a coward. A fool sssseeking essscape.” Something hissed, and the young man’s red cloak fluttered.
Biran began looking around for the source of the voice, but found nothing. His gaze quickly fell back to the person standing before him. “My lord, did you- why did you save me?” He could not understand how, but there was no point in asking if the young man had saved him or not. The answer was obvious.
“The question is: why did you try to take your own life?”
“I- because… I am a coward…” He fought to get the painful words out.
“That is a lie. I saw your courage as you defended your men from someone stronger than yourself. I saw your spirit as you helped those people earlier. The determination and resolution in your eyes were the reasons why I allowed you your vengeance. I know cowards. You, are not one.”
“Why? Why did you save me?” Biran asked again in anguish.
“The world is an ill-fated place. It is filled with evil the likes of which the vast majority of people will never understand, or see. Evil that lurks in the shadows, haunting and devouring those who wish to simply live. I know, for it was here today and you have seen it for yourself.” The young man spoke solemnly, his voice filled with powerful and unknown emotions belying that of someone so young. “You are one with the ability to protect. I could not allow you to throw your life away so easily.”
He wanted to laugh. He was unable to protect anyone and to hear such words, it was painful.
“I know naught of this field you speak of, and should you choose to take your life again, I will not stop you a second time.” The young man continued. “Yet, if your words were not mere bravado in your final moments. If you truly wish to serve, to make a difference, then death is not the answer.”
“You… Who are you?” Biran questioned with trembling lips. Although he disagreed with a part of it, the young man’s words rang true. He had also already pledged his life, thinking the boy a god.
A warm draft suddenly descended upon them, and the young man’s hair and eyes instantly went pitch black. Steam began rising and he watched as the frozen streets and buildings around them thawed out—almost immediately.
“I am Kaidus Paltos, a traveler,” the boy replied cordially. “And you are?”
“Biran Naingart…” The boy’s voice was soothing and compelling, and he answered without even thinking about it.
“Live, Biran Naingart. Live for those who have fallen this day, for the people who still needs you. Serve them in life, for there is only darkness in death.” The young man spoke and began rising into the air.
A sense of reverence flared up within him. As if all his misfortune had been guided by the hands of fate, all for this moment in his life. “Wait! Please!” Biran shouted, staring at the being who was returning to the serene fields of Aerlus. Two black eyes peered back down at him, and he knelt. “Twice you have saved this worthless life, even granting me the chance to fulfill my vengeance, a feat I had thought impossible.” He bowed, fighting back his emotions. “For that, I am eternally in your debts. My words were not empty, and if you would, please allow me to serve you. Give me purpose and use me as you will. My life is yours to command.”
“Your purpose is here. Is it not?” Kaidus questioned, looking back and hiding his puzzlement. He had saved the man without intending for such a development.
“Please, my lord. There is nothing here for me but death. Should I stay, I will only bring misfortune upon these people.”
“I am no lord, but first, please lift up your head.” He instructed, and the man looked up. Staring into the man’s brown eyes, grief, misery, loss, and emptiness gazed back at him. Eyes he had seen too often. Pain he knew too well. “You have seen what I am. What I can do. Do you not fear me?”
“I do.” The man named Biran answered with a firm voice and lowered his head again. “It would be foolish of me to not waver before someone such as yourself. Men worship and fear the gods for a reason, and I see that now.”
“The gods, huh?” Kaidus smiled blandly. “Unfortunately, there are no gods.”
“That look tells me you’ve had the same thoughts yourself.” He added as the wind swirled around him.
“My lord! Please!”
“I cannot give you an answer, for that choice is yours to make. Take some time to think about what you are saying, and what it means.” He calmly stared towards the eastern horizon. “Should your mind not waver in your decisions, may our paths cross again.”
Without lingering any longer, he shot eastward, moving for the capital.
Biran stood alone in the deserted streets of the ruined city with the young man’s words cycling through his mind.
The body behind him had stopped twitching, and he gave it a quick glance before walking away.
Everything had felt so surreal and he wanted to wake up, but wherever he looked, the reality of the city struck him.
Instead of heading back to the barracks, he dragged his legs through the southwestern sector of the city, moving toward the small house that he and the prince had been living in.
Without holding onto any hopes, as he feared, the house was nothing more than a pile of burnt wreckage. The house had collapsed, and the only parts that were still standing were three of the corners. Sticking out of the soggy ashes were his partially melted chestplate and helmet. After digging his way through indistinguishable debris, he eventually found the burned remains of a child in the prince’s bedroom, lying under a pile of rubble. “L-Lyal…” Speaking the boy’s name, he could do nothing to stop the flow of silent tears as he fell to the ground.
He had expected it, had known the woman’s words to be true the moment she told him, yet the pain did not lessen.
The young traveler was right. There were no gods. The weak die like animals, and those who prey upon them become engorged, empowered to continue their reign of destruction. He himself was powerless to do anything, but the same could not be said about the young man.
Gathering up the prince’s remains into his over shirt, Biran clutched them to his chest and shambled away from the house. Upon his grief-stricken visage, a determined glint flashed in his eyes.