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Then you'll enjoy the Culao family's dynamics
Hmm... I really didn't think of that. LOL I suppose you're right and she would act that way. ^^
Yep, I'm planning to write a snippet of what happens to the group in the next book so you'll know what they've been doing after this mission.
---------- Post added February 11, 2014 at 07:06 PM ---------- Previous post was January 23, 2014 at 06:38 AM ----------
Wow, it's has been a little over a year since I started writing The Enigma.
Anyway, I realized that I got the year wrong for a few chapter so I'm too lazy to fix it here and in my blog, but it has been fixed for the final version.
Chapter 20: Revolt
“What is the meaning of this!?” The Kasama glanced up from the table to find a very vivid Kahlin glaring at him. They were currently in the king’s private quarters, looking at the scattered papers on the table. There was a map of Soleri to determine the best strategy to crush the rebels as well as reports on their current situations. The crown of Ishara lay on top of the pile that was already read.
He looked at Leomas sweetly. “It appears that your brother is launching an attack on you.”
The Kahlin scowled. “I know that! But how was it possible that he and his army were able to appear here out of thin air like that? You promised me that I didn’t need to worry about him because I’m the Immortal King reincarnate!”
“And you won’t, Kahlin Hessin,” he reassured him. “Based on the reports, your men outnumber his. By the time we’re finished talking, Theann’s army would be defeated, and your brother captured. Everything is going smoothly.”
Leomas looked at him doubtfully but nodded. “You’re right. I shouldn’t worry. Theann was always jealous of me and would do anything to seize the throne.”
“Of course, he would. I did warn you about him, didn’t I?” The Kamasa smiled. Ever since he managed to “convince” the ruler of Ishara, he was able to run things without anyone trying to undermine him. It was really nice to have a powerful man under his thumb.
“And for that, I’m grateful,” the Kahlin said as he sat down next to him and offered him a glass of red wine. When I see that little bastard, I’m going t-”
All of a sudden, the door slammed opened and a servant staggered into the room. “Your Majesty, I have terrible news!” he gasped, holding onto the door knob for support. “Your army is being overwhelmed by the enemy!”
“WHAT!?” Leomas stood up with a start while the Kasama continued to sit there, sipping his glass. “But how?”
“I-I-I’m not sure, my lord,” the servant stammered. “According to General Farid’s messenger, they were engaging the enemy when another half appeared right behind them and ambushed them. They’re surrounded!”
Leomas sank back down in disbelief. “Impossible! How could they get around my army without being detected? I have all of the secret passageways monitored!”
To make things worse, an explosion was soon heard somewhere in the castle. “The enemy is in the castle!” someone screamed as another explosion was heard.
“If they’re here, then…” The Kahlin’s eyes widened when he realized what it meant. “If Theann is so eager to get the throne, then he would have to pry it away from my dead hands! Get the royal guards and rest of the soldiers who are still here. Tell them to hunt those intruders and kill them on the spot. Spare my brother though; I want to personally execute him myself.”
The Kasama gulped the rest of his wine and stood up. It seemed that his new tool was no longer beneficial to him. What a pity. He rather enjoyed this luxurious life. “I better leave you alone so you can concentrate on the battle,” he said, patting Leomas’s shoulder as he walked away. The young man nodded absentmindedly as he stared at his crown, which glistened in the sunlight.
Smiling, he walked down the hall, making sure to avoid the area where the fighting seemed to take place. Along the way, he bumped into Xyrem, who was waiting for him. “Is everything in order?” His bodyguard nodded. “Good. Then find Ithani and tell her that we have overstayed our welcome.”
Tristé dodged another fireball before she swung her whip at the offending Isharan who launched the attack on her. It wrapped around the man’s arm so she pulled him forward. “I think you deserve a little break,” she told him as she punched him in the face. As he collapsed to the ground, she looked around for her next opponent. All around her was chaos. Men fought against each other as they tried to defend or breach the palace. It was hard to discern between friend or foe.
As she looked to her right, she noticed that Kahzin Theann seemed to be holding his own as he clashed swords with one of his brother’s men. Even though the prince seemed too gentle to be in battle, he was a capable swordsman. She should figure not to make any assumptions. As she was about to look away, something caught her eyes. A soldier was trying to sneak up behind the young prince and attack him. Alarmed, she immediately scrambled over to his location and swung her weapon. Luckily she managed to bind his legs, causing the man to topple over. At the same time, Theann managed to defeat his opponent. When he heard the ambusher grunt, he turned around and saw what happened. He quickly kicked the man, rendering him unconscious, and looked at her. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” she replied. “Now are we…”
Before she could even finish her question, a boulder almost fell on top of them. They turned to see a new squad of soldiers had arrived. They didn’t give Tristé or the others any time to attack because they launched another elemental attacks at them. “Hide behind the pillar!” Theann ordered as he ducked behind one. The Duermon quickly followed suit; she was just in time because she just barely dodged getting hit by a shrapnel. A few weren’t as lucky though; their bodies lying on the ground, crushed underneath a pile of rubbles.
She cussed as another guard launched another earth attack at them. She flinched as pieces of the pillar where she was hiding behind shattered. Dammit, those elemental stones were annoying! Too bad she couldn’t use her demonic fire against them; otherwise, it would make this battle a whole lot easier. But then causing mass panic wouldn’t be a good thing, would it? Looking across from her, she noticed that Theann and seven of his soldiers were having trouble as well. She peered out and quickly counted around thirty men attacking them – a little extreme, in her opinion, to get one man. At this rate, they’re going to get crushed.
“Tell me why we’re doing this again!?” she screamed over the loud ruckus. Even though he had explained to her why, she still believed it would be easier if Hessin just opened a portal to the throne room instead of sending them on the other side of the palace.
“It’s because we’re going to lure most of the guards over here! Since my brother is going after me, I’m going to be used as bait. Once we get majority over here, Hessin is going to open another portal to the throne room, where I’ll confront Leomas without worrying about anyone interrupting us,” he shouted, repeating what he said before.
“I guess that makes sense,” she shouted back, “but where the hell is he?”
A sudden burst of bright light answered her question as their attackers screamed out in surprise. Since she didn’t expect it, Tristé blinked her eyes rapidly until they were back to normal. Theann was doing the same thing as well. She could hear Hessin calling out, “It’s safe to come out now.”
Stumbling out of her hiding place, she looked around to see their attackers lying unconscious on the floor. Behind them, Hessin, Kian, and ten soldiers stood, facing them. Istra flew around the room, making sure that there weren’t anyone lurking in the shadows. Rubbing her eyes, she griped, “Dammit, next time warn us, why don’t you?”
“My apologies,” Hessin replied apologetically. “I didn’t want to alert them that we were behind them.”
“Whatever.” She turned to the Kahzin. “So how many times are we going to do this?”
Glancing at the unconscious men, Theann answered, “As many times as it takes. We’ve only taken down a quarter of the opposing forces, so we have a long way to go. How is Sarina doing, Kian?”
“According to Thiya, she and her group are doing well. They’re having a little difficulty reaching the dungeon but it’s manageable,” Armita’s brother informed him.
All of sudden, Istra swooped down and warned, “They’re coming.” Sure enough, they could hear shouting, which was getting louder and louder. Hessin quickly opened a portal so he and the others could hide to get ready for another sneak attack.
As they got into position, Theann smiled at her as he withdrew his sword. “Ready for round four?”
She scowled at him as she got her whip ready. Eyeing warily at the approaching royal guards, she retorted, “Do I have a choice?”
“Quickly, this way!” Chiara said, escorting a group of frightened servants into a room. They nodded and immediately entered the room, which was full of other servants and innocent bystanders. While she ushered them in, Armita and Owain were the lookouts, keeping watch on either side of the hallways for any trouble. Talic was with her as he guarded the door and watched the people go in. Meanwhile Cuzo walked back and forth between them, sniffing the air; his ears stood up, alert and focused. In the distance, they could hear the sounds of explosions. Hopefully Tristé and the others were all right.
As soon as the last person went inside the room, Talic peeked into the room and asked, “Is everyone all right?” After getting an affirmation, he continued, “I’m going to close the door. Once I do, I want you to immediately lock it. No matter what, stay here until the battle is over. Understand?”
After they heard the lock clicked, Chiara and Talic motioned the others, who fell back and joined them. “Okay, we’re finished on this floor. Let’s go to the next one,” Talic determined as they headed up the stairs.
Since Kahzin Theann didn’t want any of them involved in the combat, he requested that they find any civilians and lead them to an area far away from the fighting. That way the Bartheomos members wouldn’t break their vow of getting involved in a country’s affairs, and tension won’t built between Kreesia and Ishara. Nevertheless, they still had to be cautious. Kahlin Leomas had banned Bartheomos from the country after all so if any of the guards spotted them, they’re in trouble.
Chiara gripped her wand tightly as Armita peeked around the corner before she motioned the coast was clear. They quickly hurried down the hall and hid whenever they heard footsteps. If they belonged to a servant or another civilian, they would reveal themselves as Bartheomos members and quickly led them to safety. If any soldiers went by, they would stay hidden though they were almost caught a few times. Luckily Chiara just cast a sleeping spell on them though she did flub a few words due to nerves so the others had to fight the guards to knock them unconscious.
As they continued leading the civilians to safety, the witch felt uneasy. She would have thought they would facing some more difficulty, but they weren’t having any problem at all. It was as if this was easy. Too easy. She voiced her concerns to Owain, who dismissed her fears. “It just means that Theann’s plan is working like a charm,” he reassured her as they ushered a group to a room.
“I guess so,” she said dubiously, “but we haven’t encountered any Velscendus members yet. Didn’t Theann say that the palace was crawling with them? I thought we would bump into one of them by now, but we haven’t so far. So where are they?”
He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. Chiara noted that he seemed troubled; most likely he didn’t think about that fact until she mentioned it. Feeling more anxious, she looked around the hall and prayed that they weren’t running into a trap.
After the umpteenth time, Theann looked at the unconscious men around him and announced, “I think that’s good enough.”
“You think?” Tristé replied sarcastically, maneuvering around the bodies on the ground. She estimated that there was more than hundred soldiers lying underneath her feet. “Now can we head to the throne room?”
He nodded. Turning to Kian, he said, “It’s time for me to confront my brother. Kian, gather the men and tell them to get ready.”
“Understood, my lord,” Kian said, bowing his head and placing his hand on his chest, before he headed over to his men and directed them.
While that was happening, the Kahzin told Hessin, “As soon as everyone’s ready, I want you to create two gateways; one in the throne room and one outside the throne room. There would be soldiers standing guard there so Kian and the others will keep them occupied while we meet Leomas.”
The Immortal King nodded. “I’ll send Istra ahead so we can determine how many guards are there.” He gestured to the water spirit, who transformed into a bird and departed straight away.
“Thank you.” He looked back at her and continued, “You better get ready as well. Knowing my brother, he’ll have a few of his Royal Guards lurking inside the throne room so be on the lookout for them.”
“And you better watch out for your brother. If he’s possessed as I suspected, he’ll be able to use demonic powers,” she warned him. “Remember: he’s not your brother at the moment so beware because he would try to toy with your emotions.”
“I know,” he said softly and walked away. She felt pity for the young prince. Imagine having to fight against your brother, whom you loved so dearly. That was hard enough as it was, but the most difficult part was that he despised him all because someone influenced him to believe that way. Tristé couldn’t fathom how much pain that Theann was going through right now, and she didn’t want to experience it. If she had to fight against her emperor or even her new friends, she didn’t know what she would do in that situation.
Just then something flew past her, interrupting her thoughts. “There are around thirty men guarding the door to the throne room. Among them, I counted eight summoners so be careful,” Istra informed them. Her gentle voice echoed through the empty hall as she fluttered all around them.
Theann scowled. “We need to get rid of them first, but their summons will protect them at all cost so the upcoming battle will be more difficult. And are there any in the throne room?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t see anyone else but Leomas unless they’re hiding somewhere. He’s just sitting on the throne.”
“Then he’s expecting us.” The Kahzin turned to his ancestor. “Kian is going to have more trouble than us so he’ll need the most help.”
“I agree,” Hessin said. “Istra, I want you to stay with Kian and the others. Support them whatever possible.”
“I will,” she promised, “and don’t do anything foolish either.” Her master just smiled, which caused Tristé to worry a little bit. Even though Hessin was very helpful, he was headstrong. But then, he’s immortal so he could be reckless. She, on the other hand, couldn’t afford that luxury. After all, she promised Owain that she would take good care of his sister’s body.
“Preparations are finished, my lord,” Kian declared, walking toward them.
The young prince nodded. “Good. Yuveas, open the portal.” As his ancestor prepared to open the gateway, he reminded the others, “Don’t forget that we’re going to incapacitate them. I want to minimize any bloodshed as much as possible. Now let’s take back our home from those who intends on destroying it!”
They cheered and as soon as the portal was opened completely, charged ahead. Peeking over the soldiers, Tristé could see a row of soldiers blocking their way; they were tensed and alert as they stoically guarded the throne room. Among them were two fire spirits, a water spirit, four wind spirits, and an earth spirit. They seemed prepared for anything – except for the fact that a group of soldier suddenly appearing right in front of them. They shouted in surprise, but they recovered quickly. One of the fire summoners ordered his spirit to attack; she obeyed and quickly sent a wave of flame at the first row of Theann’s supporters. Screaming, they crumbled on the floor in pain. The stench of burnt flesh filled Tristé’s nose, and she wanted to gag. This was as bad as or even worse than any battle she witnessed in any Succession Wars.
“Istra, heal them!” Hessin ordered so the water spirit immediately went through the gateway and casted a healing spell. However, just as she finished casting the spell, she was attacked by an earth spirit. She dodged a rock launched at her and charged at her opponent. Meanwhile, Kian and three of his men focused their attacks on a summoner, who sent her water spirit to repel them. Unfortunately, Tristé didn’t know what happened next because the gateway shrank and closed. Before the needle ring could fall onto the sandy marble floor, Hessin grabbed it and began the process again.
While they were waiting, a concerned Tristé turned to Theann. “Are you sure Kian and the others will be all right?” she asked. She could still smell that horrid stench and gripped her whip tighter.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine. I have complete trust in them. Kian is one of the best warriors in Ishara after all,” he replied with a reassuring smile. Nevertheless she still worried. True, Kian did have Istra with him, but it was one elemental spirit against eight spirits.
“Ready whenever you are,” Hessin said, holding the blood-encrusted ring.
Unsheathing his sword, Theann took a deep breath and ordered, “Do it.” His ancestor tossed the needle ring into the air, revealing the throne room on the other side. Hessin had positioned them so that they would come out on the right bottom corner without being seen. They entered the throne room, careful not to make a sound. But then, it wasn’t really necessary. The sound of clashing swords and explosion could be heard on the other side of the room; at the same time, the belligerent cries of the Quentis birds broke the silence. Tristé couldn’t imagine trying to think with that racket.
As soon as Hessin got through the gateway, he quickly shrank it and put the needle ring into his pocket. Then they crept quietly and hid behind the column. Leomas must have expected them because he spoke, “I know you’re there so you might as well show yourself, Theann.”
“Don’t be alarmed! I’m a member of Bartheomos, and I’m here to help. I’m going to lead you to a safe place so follow me,” Talic reassured three frightened servants, huddling together, as he showed them his badge. Nodding, they hurriedly stood up and followed him. As he escorted them down the hall, he could hear the sounds of battle close by. They were currently on the same floor as the throne room, which meant that there were more soldiers in the vicinity so they have to tread carefully. After hearing another explosion, he wondered if Tristé and the others were all right.
Nevertheless, he needed to focus on the task at hand. In one of the intersections, he joined up with Owain, who seemed to be leading a group of nobles. “Any trouble?” the Lycian asked as they sprinted side-by-side. Talic shook his head. “That’s good to hear. Come on, Armita and Chiara are waiting for us.”
As they headed back to the women, they found some more civilians and added them to the group. At first, they sprinted down in silence until Owain finally spoke, “You know, I think Chiara’s hunch might be right. We haven’t encounter any Velscendus members so far. Do you think they’re hiding somewhere?”
“Maybe,” Talic replied, looking back to make sure that everyone was still together. “I highly doubt they fled because they didn’t have time to escape so they are probably still lurking around.”
“Then we better be careful,” Owain agreed and lowered his voice. “Hopefully Ithani isn’t possessed. I don’t know what Armita would do if she is.”
The Eireneridan thought for a moment. Before they met Tristé, they would have thought that the soul of the possessed human would be gone forever, but after learning the truth, they realized that they had a chance. Unfortunately they faced a problem. While Tristé had agreed to relinquish her hold on Adalynn Tolbert once she finished her mission, the Possessor Duermon possessing Ithani wouldn’t likely be so willing especially if she is a Velscendus member. He answered, “I’m sure we’ll find a way to free Ithani if she is. Knowing Armita, she won’t give up until she finds a way.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” They continued in silence until they reached their destination. When Armita saw him coming, she looked relieved; she was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to handle escorting the civilians due to his health.
“Quickly, come inside!” she encouraged as the Isharan citizens hurried past her and into the room. As soon as the last person came inside, they gave them the same spiel (“Lock the door and stay in the room until it is safe”) and shut the door. They quickly dashed over to a corner to hide and take a breather. No sooner did they do that when more soldiers ran past them as they headed over to the throne room.
After a brief moment of silence, Chiara spoke up. “Now what?”
“I think we got the last group so we need to wait until the battle is over,” Talic replied and rubbed his chin in deep thought. “Too bad we can’t help out or otherwise…”
All of a sudden, Armita jerked her head up. “Ithani!” she shouted. Startled, Talic looked at where she was staring but only saw long, black hair disappearing around the corner. Before anyone could stop her, Armita sprinted after her.
“Armita, wait!” Owain yelled, but she didn’t hear them as she turned the corner. Cussing, Talic threw caution to the wind and chased after her. He could hear footsteps following behind him, which meant that the others were giving chase as well. They hurried after Armita, who had a good head start. Talic could see the back of her, but she was getting farther and farther away. It didn’t help that he was slowing down due to the fact that he hadn’t fully recovered.
“Intruders!” a voice behind them shouted. Talic cursed underneath his breath as soon as he heard it. Halting, he turned around to see five Isharan soldiers standing behind them. Owain and Chiara drew out their weapons though they seemed unsure on what to do. On the other hand, Cuzo looked ready for battle.
“What should we do, Talic?” Owain asked worriedly. Talic looked back, but Armita was nowhere to be found.
“It looks like we have no choice,” he answered as he went into a fighting stance and faced their opponents.
“Looks like we don’t have a choice,” Theann muttered as he stepped out into the open. Tristé hastily chased after him and stood on his left while Hessin did the same on his right side, making sure that the young prince stood between them so they protected him. Before they went their separate ways, Tristé had promised Armita that she would make sure that Theann would be safe no matter what. As they walk down the aisle, the prince whispered from the corner of his mouth, “I want to talk to him by myself and hopefully convince him to surrender peacefully so don’t get involved just yet.”
Tristé and Hessin agreed in silence as they continued walking. During the time, the Duermon focused on studying the ruler of Ishara. The young prince depended on her to determine if his brother is possessed, and she intended on doing a good job. High above them, Kahlin Leomas sat on his throne and glowered down at them. A golden crown, which has points shaped like sunrays, sat upon his head and a golden scepter with all four elemental stones was on his lap.
Leomas was a handsome young man with his chiseled looks; he looked similar to his brother except that his face wasn’t as soft as Theann’s. He wore an olive green military coat with gold embroidery on the sleeves, black pants and boots as if to prepare himself for battle. However, she was surprised to discover that his eyes were lucid and focused. For a crazed king, he seemed rather… calm. It contrasted to the scene in the back of the throne.
The Quentis birds, now pitch black as night, banged furiously against their cage as they tried to break free. Some would land on the bars and poked their beaks through as they tried to bite anything within reach. Their shrieks gave Tristé goose bumps; it was as if they were thirsty for blood. That wasn’t the only thing that bothered her. Before she could warn Theann, Leomas spoke.
“Welcome back, brother. I figured that you would try to sneak into the throne room while keeping my guards occupied outside. I am a bit curious though on how you managed to do it,” he sneered once they stopped at the bottom of the steps. He had to speak in a loud voice to be heard over the cacophony behind him.
“Leomas…” Theann began, but his brother slammed his scepter hard on the ground, silencing him.
“My name is Hessin! I’m the Immortal King reincarnate, and don’t you forget it!” he shouted; his voice echoed through the room. Tristé looked over at Hessin from the corner of her eyes to see his reaction. However didn’t show any though he did stiffen a little bit. He was most likely irritated that the Kasama tarnished his name like that. The Kahlin didn’t notice because he was so focused on his brother. From his eyes, pure hatred for his brother could be seen. The Duermon couldn’t understand; how could Leomas suddenly despise his brother after all those years? How was the Kasama able to poison his mind?
Leomas closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he spoke again, “To be honest, I’m rather surprised that you didn’t bring your dog with you. “Instead, you brought in a lowly soldier and a girl. A mercenary, I presume. So where is he, hm? Is he out there fighting my men right now?”
“Kian is not a dog, Leomas,” the Kahzin replied softly.
His brother interrupted, “Hessin.”
Undeterred, Theann continued, “He’s our friend, and he only joined my side to help you, Leomas. We don’t want to hurt you. Don’t you remember how we used to play with each other when we’re little? You, me, Kian, Armita, and Ithani. I don’t know what lies the Kasama told you, but we do care about you. Please, brother, remember.”
“That was then, brother,” Leomas spat. “Back then, I was so naïve; I thought everyone was my friends, but I was so terribly wrong. First Armita abandoned me in my time of need. Then you and Kian were secretly plotting against me behind my back, waiting for my guard to drop down before taking the throne, which is rightfully mine. Luckily the Kasama showed me the truth before it’s too late. Now I can put an end to it.”
“You’re wrong! We didn’t plan on overthrowing you, Leomas,” he said, shaking his head. The Duermon had to admire how composed he was in spite of everything. If she were in his position, there would have been a shouting match. “You left us no choice but to do it once you send Ishara into a spiral.”
“Don’t be foolish, brother! Look at the Quentis birds! They changed ever since you allowed the Kasama and his group refuge here! They are now black due to the chaos you’re allowing in the kingdom!”
An enraged Kahlin Leomas abruptly stood up and screamed, “They’re only black because you made them that way! I realize now how foolish I’ve been. At first I thought I could persuade you to see things my way, Theann, but I see that it’s futile. If you so desperately want the throne so badly, dear brother, then we should fight to the death for it.”
“Brother, please listen to me! You’re being unreasonable,” Theann yelled, but the Kahlin refused to listen. Instead he pointed his scepter at him and shot a gust of wind, knocking him to the ground. Alarmed, Hessin and Tristé rushed over to him and helped him to his feet.
“DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME THAT!” Leomas screamed as he pounded his scepter on the ground, causing a minor earthquake with the green elemental stone. His face now showed cold fury. In the background, the Quentis birds became more agitated and their clanging against the cage bars became louder. “I AM NO LONGER YOUR BROTHER! I AM THE REINCARNATION OF HESSIN, THE IMMORTAL KING! ALL WHO DEFY ME WILL FACE MY WRATH! FIGHT ME, THEANN! LET US SEE WHO THE BETTER RULER OF ISHARA IS!”
Groaning, Theann gingerly stood up and looked at his brother. He was about to stagger up the stairs to confront his brother, but Hessin stopped him. “Don’t push yourself,” the former Kahlin told him, but the young man shook his head.
“I need to save him,” he said, staring at Leomas sadly. “That isn’t the brother I know. He is possessed, I’m sure of it, and I’m going to free him even if it costs me my life.”
“Theann, wait!” Seizing the prince by the arm, Tristé breathed, “He’s not possessed.”
“Flutius maxime blu. Meudis vertus juv,” Chiara chanted as she moved her wand in a circular motion. Soon a mudslide appeared, covering the Isharan soldiers’ legs and slowing down their movement. Then it was Owain and Talic’s turns to strike. They charged at the immobile men and attack. The former used his bow and knocked his opponent on the head while the latter rammed his quarterstaff into a soldier’ stomach.
Meanwhile Cuzo lashed onto a soldier who was about to use an elemental stone against them. While the enemy was distracted, Chiara cast another spell to knock him unconscious. “Zertis,” she said and soon he was fast asleep. She and Cuzo continued their teamwork; he would distract the Isharans while she cast her magic.
In the blink of an eye, the skirmish was over. The soldiers lie slumped to the ground, defeated. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Talic looked at the others. “Is everyone all right?” They nodded. “Good. We need to catch up to Armita; we lost a lot of time already. Cuzo, led the way.”
When he heard her words, a stunned Kahzin Theann halted and spun around. “What did you just say!?” he exclaimed.
“Your brother is not possessed,” she repeated.
He stared at her as if it was the first time he ever saw her. “Leomas isn’t possessed?” he asked in disbelief.
“He’s not possessed,” she told him again in a terse voice.
“Are you sure? How can you do know?”
“Of course I’m sure!” She was getting a bit peeved that he was doubting her. “All Possessor and Parasitic Duermons have a sixth sense that tells them if there is a Duermon residing in a human body. That way we know which host to avoid so we prevent any… awkwardness.”
Glancing back at his brother, he determined, “Then the Kasama must have bewitched him somehow.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked worriedly.
“Fight him,” he replied, gently shaking her hand off him. “Like I said, I’m going to free him. Yuveas, don’t try to stop me. That is an order. I need to do this on my own.”
Hessin opened his mouth to object but relented once he remembered that he agreed to follow his order. “Be careful, Theann,” he only said.
“I will.” As he climbed up the stairs, he drew out his sword. “Brother, I accept your challenge. Let’s find out who should rule Ishara.”
The Kahlin smiled as he walked toward him. “Let’s; though it’s so obvious who the victor will be.”
Then, without warning, he aimed a stream of water at his brother. Surprised, Theann stumbled down the stairs before he regained his footing. Not giving him a chance to recover, Leomas next activated the earth elemental stone, causing the floor to asunder and Theann to fall down to his knees. It was followed by a gust of wind, throwing the young prince down to the bottom of the stairs. Confident of his victory, the Kahlin sauntered over to him and bragged, “It looks like the gods are on my side, brother. Now accept your fate and die.”
Out of instinct, Tristé wanted to run over to him to check on him, but Theann shouted, “Stay back! I can still fight.”
She felt Hessin place his hand on her shoulder as he whispered in her ear, “Listen to him. He knows what he’s doing.” She looked back at him, surprised that he wasn’t concerned by his descendant’s fate, but he gave her a reassuring look so she reluctantly stayed put.
Watching the whole scene, Leomas let out a boisterous laugh. “You still want to fight? You should have accepted their help. But then you have always been so stubborn, Theann, and that will be your downfall.”
“Maybe,” he agreed as he put his hand inside his shirt, “but it has helped me as well.”
He quickly pulled out a fire elemental stone and raised his hand so that it was right in front of Leomas’s face. A sudden burst of light flashed from the red stone, blinding his older brother. Swearing aloud, Theann’s older brother covered his eyes as he staggered backward. Theann didn’t waste this opportunity; he stood up and swiftly slammed into his brother. Leomas tumbled hard on his back with a loud thump, which knocked the wind out of him. At the same time, the Isharan crown fell off his hand and clanged on the marble floor before stopping a few centimeters away.
Theann walked over to his brother and pointed his sword. “It’s over, Leomas. Give up and let me help you.”
“Not yet. I’m not finished yet,” he snarled and pointed his scepter at him. The red elemental stone glowed like a sun. He then aimed an enormous fireball. Tristé could only watch with terror. There was no way Theann could avoid that hit. Just when it was about to hit, Hessin suddenly raised his hand and the fireball burst into tiny lights. Before the Kahlin could react, the god quickly gathered the sparks, transformed it into a javelin, and threw it at him, knocking his scepter out of his reach. A stunned Leomas could only gape. “Wh-what is this?” he stammered in complete and utter shock. “How could a lowly soldier easily stop it? I am the Immortal King… I am supposed to be unstoppable!”
“Leomas, you are not the reincarnation of the Immortal King because…” He glanced over at Hessin and continued, “This man is him. You are my brother, Leomas Soleri Ostrom – no one else. Not the Immortal King or whoever the Kasama made you believe you were. I don’t know what he did to you, but I will free you from his hold.”
The Kahlin barked out a bitter laugh and slapped his brother’s offering hand away. “I see what this is – a mockery of my divinity! The world had turned against its back on me. If I can’t have the throne, then no one will!”
Before anyone could stop him, he pushed Theann out of the way and rushed over to the throne. However, he didn’t try to reach the throne – he was heading to the cage holding the carnivorous Quentis. The three then realized what he was planning to do; he was going to free the birds, and with the state they were in, they would kill any living things on sight. “Leomas, wait!” the prince screamed, scrambling after him. Unfortunately the Kahlin didn’t heed him at all and reached his hand toward the latch.
“Ithani, wait!” Armita shouted as she pursued her sister down another corridor. However, Ithani couldn’t hear her since she was still far away. Determined, she forced herself to run faster to catch up. The only sounds she heard was her voice and their footsteps. It seemed like no one else was there except the two of them. It was as if they were the only ones who exist in the world.
They continued that way; Ithani’s racing ahead with Armita’s chasing after her. Ithani would turn this way and then that way as if she was in a rush. Undeterred, Armita followed after her without slowing down; no twists and turns would stop her from reaching her sister. Just as she thought that they would continue like that forever, Ithani stopped at an intersection. Screaming with all of her might, Armita said her sister’s name, “Ithani!”
This time she heard her. Turning around at the sound of her name, Ithani gaped in shock when she saw her. “Armita?” she asked.
All of a sudden, another voice said, “Ithani, what are you doing?” Two men then appeared from the left, causing Armita to halt a few meters away. Upon seeing the Velscendus insignia on their clothing, Armita realized that they were members of the cult. The taller and bulky one grabbed her sister by the arm and yanked her while the shorter one growled, “We need to leave now!”
Ithani nodded slowly even though she still stared at her. Based on her reaction, Armita thought she would refuse and run toward her. Instead, she followed the first man and disappeared around the corner. Stunned, Armita stood there at first but quickly gave chase. Running after them, she called out, “Ithani!”
The remaining Velscendus member turned around, causing her to stop once again. He wore a red-and-gold robe, and his physical features were that of a Sendoan. That was when it occurred to her that the person she was facing was the Kasama himself. Realizing that she recognized him, he smiled at her before he fled. Just seeing that creepy grin on his face caused her blood to freeze. Nevertheless she recovered quickly from her shock and followed after him. However, when she stopped at the intersection, she looked around and couldn’t find Ithani nor the Kasama anywhere. They have disappeared from the face of the earth.
Just as Kahlin Leomas was about to move the latch, he suddenly crumbled to the floor. Next to him stood Hessin, who managed to knock him out by hitting him on the back of his head; the gateway still opened behind him. A tensed Tristé let out a sigh of relief and collapsed to the ground. Meanwhile Theann slowly walked over to retrieve the Isharan crown and looked up at his brother – or rather the Quentis birds in the background. The once-berserk birds were now sitting on their perches silently and covered their heads in their wings. Their black feathers fell to the ground as they molted their old feathers and grew white ones instead. Without looking back at her, Theann said quietly, “Tristé, open the door and let everyone knows that the battle is over. Ishara is at peace once more.”
Hello, o began reading this some time ago and i really like this story..... i was wondering do u have an artist to concepts or create a manga from this...i believe it would be very popular....
No, I haven't really thought of that tbh. I do have some character designs in my head but other than that, nothing really.
---------- Post added March 16, 2014 at 01:00 AM ---------- Previous post was March 02, 2014 at 03:53 PM ----------
8 more chapters to go until the second book is done~
Credits go to goldb for suggesting a name for the Lashival ^^
Chapter 21: The Next Step
Talic looked around as he and the others headed to the throne room. Once word spread of Kahzin Theann’s victory, the opposing army automatically surrendered. Soldiers who fought against the prince and his supporters were corralled together; their hands were behind their heads and their weapons seized. Others were tending to the wounded or patrolling the palace. Meanwhile the palace servants and staff were allowed to go about their business once they were searched and questioned. The nobles were also allowed to go free, and majority went to see the new ruler of Ishara to pay him homage.
They also had other reasons to go visit him. “I hope we’re not late,” Chiara commented as they hurried to the throne room.
“Nah, we should be fine. They should know that we were far away from the battlefield so it would take a while to get there,” Owain reassured her. “Besides, if they were worried, they would be sending people to look for it though I have a feeling that Tristé would be running around the castle to search for us.”
She giggled. “I can imagine that. She doesn’t want to admit it, but she is a softie inside.”
“Shhh! don’t say it aloud! She might hear us! Who knows what she would do with then!” he replied in mock horror while the witch continued giggling. He then turned to look at Talic, but he wore with a serious expression on his face. “Do you think everyone’s all right? I spoke with one of Kian’s men, and he told me that there was some causalities.”
The Eireneridan nodded. “I’m sure that they’re fine. They have Yuveas with them right now. Anyway, we better hurry; they’re probably waiting for us. Kian had requested that we give him a report so he knows what the situation is.”
As he was talking, he glanced over at Armita, who was still despondent. Most likely as she didn’t want to give her brother the bad news. When they finally caught up with her, they found her standing helplessly in the middle of the hallway, and they immediately knew why. He had placed his arms around her and listened as she explained what happened. A chill ran down his spine when she told them about how she encountered the Kasama though he was relieved that she wasn’t harmed or worse, captured.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get her back,” he promised her. She gave him a small smile but didn’t say anything before she looked away. Talic felt frustrated; he knew that she was being hard on herself for not getting Ithani back because she believed that she failed her family, but he had no idea what to say to make her feel better. Deep in thoughts, everyone continued to walk in silence. The only sound they heard was the cheers outside as the people of Ishara celebrated that their homeland was freed from Velscendus Cult’s clutches.
Soon they reached their destination. The soldiers guarding the entrance to the throne room welcomed them in before shutting the doors again. As they entered the room, they noticed how calm the atmosphere was; unlike what was going outside. Kahzin (or rather Kahlin) Theann was sitting on the throne with the scepter on his lap and speaking to the nobles, who wished to congratulate him. In the background, the Quentis birds chirped and fluttered around in their cage. At a corner where they were out of sight, Hessin, Kian, and Tristé were murmuring with each other as they guarded a tied-up Leomas, who sat looking at the ground, while Istra fluttered around them. As soon as they saw them coming in, Kian and Tristé immediately went over to see them, leaving Hessin to guard the prisoner.
“So how did it go?” Talic asked, lowering his voice so not to disturb Theann’s meeting.
“Better than I thought it would, though there were some casualties. Around eleven of my men were killed and seven were injured. It could have been worse if it wasn’t for our good friend, Yuveas,” Kian answered and looked at the Immortal King thoughtfully. “You know, it might be a good thing that he’s still around. Maybe we could use him to remind future rulers not to endanger Ishara’s future. If they do, he’ll show up and ensure a better Kahlin to rule the land.”
Tristé scowled. “Don’t give him any ideas. He might even take that offer if he knows about it. Not to mention he has other duties besides keeping an eye on his homeland.”
“You’re probably right; wishful thinking on my part.” The Isharan captain then went straight to business. “So how was things on your end? No problem, I assume?”
Talic and the others shook their heads, but Armita took a step forward. Bowing her head in shame, she told her brother, “Kian, I saw Ithani, but I lost her. I don’t know what happened, but I caught up with her when the Kasama took her away. I’m so sorry.”
Kian didn’t say anything at first as he stared at her in disbelief. Finally he gave her a comforting pat on her shoulders. “At least we know that she’s okay so don’t be too hard on yourself. You did your best. We will get her back, I know it. Besides I’m glad that you’re safe; I don’t want to lose two sisters.”
She just sighed and shook her head. “I guess you’re right, but it’s that… I was so close! Well, what’s done is done. Anyway, let’s change subject. How’s Leomas?”
As soon as the former Kahlin heard his name, he perked up and looked around to see who said his name. Once he recognized who it was, he smiled broadly. “Why isn’t it Armie? The Kasama told me that you would be back to see me and he was right.” he sang happily. “Did you miss me, Armie? Because I missed you.”
The way he spoke crept out Talic. He could see Armita was frightened as well; she took a step back. Out of instinct, he placed himself protectively in front of her and noticed that Kian did the same as well. He also noticed that the others had their hands on their weapons just in case Leomas would do something rash. Meanwhile Hessin quickly had Istra use her power, in which she sprinkled some water on the former king, causing him to fall asleep. After they were sure that he was unconscious, everyone relaxed. Kian finally spoke up.
“As you can see, he’s not doing well.”
“Is he possessed?” Chiara asked worriedly, glancing at the unconscious Leomas.
Tristé shook her head. “Surprisingly he isn’t. However, I think the Kasama must have used some kind of magic on him.”
“So what will happen to him?” Owain wondered.
“Yuveas is going to take him back with him. He believes that Lady Aundra might be able to figure out what’s wrong and hopefully restores him back to normal,” Kian explained.
Talic nodded. “That sounds like a good plan. And what will happen to him then? Will he still back to rule Ishara?”
Kian hesitated before he admitted, “We’re not actually sure. Theann wouldn’t mind stepping down, but several of the nobilities wished for him to stay as ruler. They felt that Leomas had been compromised by the Velscendus Cult and because of it, had alienated the people. However, if we can prove that he wasn’t himself, and then maybe he can win back the people, though I highly doubt it would happen. Many in the country still blame him for allowing that cult leeway.”
“And if he isn’t able to rule? What then?”
“We’ll set him up in one of the summer palaces, where he will be taken care of for the rest of his life. Theann loves his brother dearly so he’ll make sure that no harm will come to him,” he replied simply.
Just then the doors opened again, and Sarina came into the room with her summons. As soon as Theann saw her, he immediately stood up and bowed his head to his guests. “Thank you all for your well-wishes. I’m sure you must have a stressful day and wish to head back home to recuperate. We can continue to discuss Ishara’s future at a later time.” The nobles, sensing that he wanted to have some private time with his military supporters, immediately agreed and left, leaving Talic and the others alone. As soon as all of them were gone, the new Kahlin went straight to business. “Were you able to free all of the prisoners? And what were their condition?” he asked Sarina as he sat back down on the throne.
“Yes, my lord,” she replied. Talic immediately sensed that they were still on official business in spite of the fact that they were the only ones there. “All are doing well, though some were malnourished. Many are being treated right now, and those who are in good condition already went home or stayed here since they wish to speak to you about the future of our country.”
“That’s good to hear. And your men?”
“My team and I did face some resistance, but we managed to quell them down. There were a few minor injuries, but other than that, everyone is fine.”
“I see…” Theann muttered. “Did you manage to capture any Velscendus members? If so, I wish to interrogate them to determine what the Kasama did to my brother so we know how to treat him.”
Sarina shook her head. “Unfortunately we did not. However, some of the prisoners told us an interesting story after we freed them.”
“Oh? And what could it be?” Theann asked curiously, leaning forward.
“They said that apparently the Kasama had ordered his followers to leave the country around the time Ishara declared war on Eirenerida,” she explained. “From what I’ve been told, they’d been leaving in droves.”
“Huh, that could explain why we didn’t encounter any of them during the battles,” he muttered, rubbing his chin. He then turned his attention to Kian. “Did General Yusorya or the others report any Velscendus Cult sighting while they were battling outside the city? Maybe they saw a few of them fleeing.”
Kian shook his head. “No, they said the same thing, my lord. They didn’t see any members of the cult, but then they were in the middle of battle so they didn’t really pay attention. However, Armita did bump into the Kasama while she was getting the civilians to safety.”
“She did, did she?” He looked at Armita this time. “Are you certain that it was him?”
She nodded. “Yes, my lord. I’m positive since he matched Tristé’s description of him.”
The new ruler of Ishara didn’t say anything, and Talic sensed that he was lost in thoughts so he asked, “Are you troubled, my lord?”
“Yes, I am,” he admitted and leaned back on the throne. Looking up at the ceiling, he continued, “Why did the Kasama order his followers to leave Ishara immediately after my brother declared war? He knows that they were safe in the capital since Leomas granted amnesty to them, and that no one would dare attack them. If Tristé’s assumption was true, the Kasama should be satisfied that he finally got to control an entire nation and do whatever he desired. So why would they leave if they have everything? It was as if he knew that this was going to happen so he wanted his followers to escape beforehand.”
“What are you saying, my lord?” Kian inquired.
“What I am saying is that I think that the Kasama wasn’t really interested in ruling the land, and it was all set-up to distract us but for what reason?” He looked down at Hessin, who looked surprised. “Do you have any idea why?”
“I’m not sure either,” the Immortal King responded honestly but thought for a moment. Looking at Sarina, he asked, “Did any of the prisoners overhear where the cult was going?”
She shook her head. “Unfortunately not.”
“Hmmm… I wonder….” He glanced at Talic and the others before he returned his attention to Theann. “I will need to head back to see Kejuta immediately. If what I’m assuming is true, then this is a dire situation.”
“Understandably,” Theann agreed and stood up. He bowed his head and added, “I want to thank you for everything. Because of you and Istra, we were able to seize Ishara back from that repulsive cult’s hold. If I may be so bold, may I request something? I know that you promised my ancestor that you would no longer be involved in Isharan politics anymore, but the country still faces several uncertainties. There is a possibility that there are still some who follow the Kasama and would do anything in their power to undermine me. At the same time, there will be some tensions between my brother’s supporters and mine so there are bound to be some conflict. If you don’t mind, would you come back and help me stabilize the country?”
Hessin didn’t say anything at first as he looked at Istra hesitantly. Talic understood why; the water spirit was displeased when he first got involved in the civil war so she was probably won’t be happy about this either. However, she just smiled at him so he answered, “Of course I would help. Besides I need to come back here to tell you about Leomas’s condition. As a matter of fact, I have a colleague who would be quite useful to determine if anyone is trying to sabotage you though she is currently busy at the moment. I’ll write to her about it though I highly doubt she’ll respond anytime soon.”
The new Kahlin looked pleased. “Thank you. You are always welcome back here, Hessin.”
“Thank you. You will be a great leader, Theann. You have proven that to me so don’t think otherwise.” Hessin bowed his head in gratitude before he looked at Talic and the others. “Take care. I wish you a safe journey.”
They nodded. Chiara stepped forward and requested, “If you don’t mind, would you please give Lady Aundra a message? Tell her that I’m doing well and learning a lot.”
“Of course. I’ll tell her that you are making her proud.” He then created a portal to an unfamiliar place; there were several white columns with banners hanging on the walls. After he lifted Leomas up from the ground and carried him on his shoulder, he gestured to Istra to follow him. Looking back at the crowd one last time, he bided them farewell. “Until then.”
After he disappeared from sight, Kian spoke up, “I’m going to miss him. He was very helpful to our cause.”
“He was indeed. It was good thing that he was on our side; I would hate to face him if he wasn’t,” Theann agreed. Looking out the windows, he mumbled, “It’s getting late so all of you must be exhausted. You can stay here as my guests if you like.”
Before Talic or the others could accept his offer, Sarina intervened. “If I may interrupt, my lord,” she interjected. “When I rescued General Culao, he learned that there were some Bartheomos members who were involved in getting noncombatants to safety. To show his appreciation, he wishes for them to stay as his guests at his palace until they’re ready to leave for their mission.”
“Oh, I see.” Theann looked at them thoughtfully. He smiled at Talic, which caused the Eireneridan to be more vigilant. “Well then, I guess I don’t have any say in the matter. If General Culao wants you as guests, then you will be his guests.”
Armita’s face turned pale as a ghost. “We cannot accept, my lord,” she protested. “My father is surely exhausted from being imprisoned so we shouldn’t impose on him. Besides my mother would likely wish to spend some alone time with him.”
“Don’t be silly, Armie,” her brother admonished. His eyes seemed to twinkle with mischief as he spoke, especially when he looked at Talic. “You know Father. He refuses to take no as an answer so you might as well accept the offer.”
“Yeah, Armita. It shouldn’t be that bad,” Owain agreed.
“To be guests of the renowned Culao family is considered an honor according to Lady Aundra,” Chiara commented.
“But you don’t know anything about my fam…”
Triste shrugged. “Everyone considers their families to be messed up so what? Besides don’t you want to see your family?”
“That’s true, but…”
“Oh, come on, Armie!” Kian exclaimed. “Your friends want to come, so you might as well accept the invitation.”
“B-b-but!” She looked at him with dismay but sighed. “I guess we don’t have a choice then.”
“I’m glad that you decided to accept his offer. I’m sure he will be a gracious host to all of you,” the Kahlin said jovially and looked at Kian and Sarina. “Would you and your subordinate join them as well, captain?”
“Regretfully Sarina has to stay here to ensure His Majesty’s safety,” he replied. “However, I will accompany my sister and her friends. After all, I haven’t seen my parents for several weeks now and I’m sure they are worried about me.”
Theann nodded. “Understandably. It’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to visit because I’m sure it would be entertaining. Please send my regards to your parents, would you?”
Talic looked at all of the Isharans suspiciously. They know something, but they wouldn’t say what it was. Whatever they were planning, it was on his and Armita’s expense. Tilting his head toward Sarina, he mumbled from the corner of his mouth, “You’re just using the excuse of protecting Theann to avoid seeing Armita’s father, aren’t you?”
She looked at him innocently. “I have no idea what you are talking about. Protecting the newest Kahlin is the highest priority, not attending a family dinner. Besides having dinner with General Culao once is plenty enough. Isn’t that right, spirits?”
“That’s right. We don’t want to meet that man ever again,” they echoed, nodding their heads fervently. Talic stared at them for the longest time. True, Armita had warned him how strict her father was, but was he that terrible?
“Well then, we should be going now,” Kian declared, beaming. “Father really despises it when his guests are late so we better hop to it. Come along, sister. Stop dragging your feet now. You don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of your friends now, do you? You too, Talic. After all, all of you need to make a good impression. Otherwise, it wouldn’t do you any good. Once Father decides he dislike a person, he’s going to make that person’s life a living hell.”
As they walked down the path to the Culao house, Armita spent the whole time lecturing Owain and the others about her father and his peculiarities. Although she spend most of it focusing on Talic. “Now, Talic, whatever happens, do NOT argue with Father. He has a fiery temper and once he kicked out one of Ithani’s ex-boyfriends because they had a disagreement,” Armita reminded him while he nodded absentmindedly. “Remember he believes women do not have any say and that it is the man’s duty to defend her from any slights. He also…”
Owain watched the scene and shook his head. To be honest, he didn’t know what the fuss was all about. His uncle was strict when he helped his mother raised Adalynn and him so he was sure that General Culao was probably the same. “It shouldn’t be that bad, right?” he asked Cuzo. The tamed wolf just wagged his tail and gave him a broad grin so he took it as a yes. Amused, he patted Cuzo on the head and looked straight ahead. Tristé was walking slightly ahead of him with her head down. Most likely she was trying to figure out the Kasama’s plot so she didn’t want to be bothered. At the same time, Kian was leading the way while he was having a lively discussion with Chiara about Isharan customs. Even though the Isharan didn’t seem to be paying attention, he kept giving quick glances at his sister and Talic while she was advising him and smiled.
After a half an hour, they arrived at a large mansion made out of white stone. The soldiers standing guard at the gate gestured them in and they stood at the bottom of the steps. “Wait here. I’m going to tell them that we’re here,” Kian told them before he disappeared inside the house.
As soon as he left, a nervous Armita spun around and faced everyone. “When you meet my parents, don’t be alarm if Kian and I act… strangely. And whatever happens, don’t make a scene,” she begged them.
“Oh, it shouldn’t be that bad,” Tristé retorted.
The Isharan looked at the Duermon exasperatedly. “But you don’t know my family! It’s somewhat… dysfunctional.” Before Owain or the others could question her more, she hissed, “Here they come! Remember to be respectful no matter what!”
Everyone looked up to see Kian had come back with two older Isharans, whom Owain assumed to be Armita’s parents. Gulping nervously, Armita whispered, “Follow my lead.” She then proceeded to climb up the stairs so they followed her.
While they were walking, Owain noticed that her parents were watching them like a hawk especially General Culao, who narrowed his eyes at them as if determining if they were worthy enough to be in his presence. A sudden uneasiness slowly entered his mind.
He was a tall man who seemed to have his body chiseled out of stone. His peppery hair and beard were well-kept (most likely he had trimmed it after he returned back from prison). He wore his military dress uniform. It was an olive green coat with black collars, cuffs, and shoulder straps with gold epaulettes as well as black pants with double-wide golden stripes and black boots. Pins of various sizes and shapes were pinned on his chest and proudly proclaimed his accomplishments. On the other hand, Armita’s mother, who had a slight built, wore the traditional Isharan women’s outfit: a deep purple sarong dress with golden chrysanthemum embroidery with matching slippers. She had her graying hair pinned up in a bun.
As soon as they reached the landing, Kian spoke up in a solemn voice, “Mother, Father, these are the people who helped us restore Ishara to its former glory. This is Chiara Rosling, the next Kreesian ambassador, and this is Adalynn Tolbert, a university student from Lycia. And these are the Bartheomos members whom Sarina informed you about, Father: Talic Nagoma, Owain Tolbert, and of course, your daughter, Armita. Everyone, allow me to introduce you my parents: General Karis Culao and his wife, Otiyil Culao.”
“Mother,” Armita said, stepping forward and grasping her mother’s hands with both hands. She then proceeded to greet her in the Isharan custom by kissing her on either side of the cheek.
Otiyil returned the gesture and then placed her hands on her daughter’s cheeks. Although she showed no expression on her face, Owain noticed that her eyes were misty. “Armita,” she said softly.
His friend just smiled softly, but her smile faltered when she turned to her father. She walked over to him and bowed her head. “Father, I have come home,” she informed him. Instead of giving a warm welcome, General Culao slapped her in the face, causing her to turn her head away. WHACK! Owain flinched in spite of himself. Even though he didn’t experience the impact, the loud sound made him feel like he was the receiving end. It must have been a hard slap because General Culao’s hand was bright red and there was a welt left on Armita’s right cheek, where he slapped her.
He half-expected Armita to fight back because that’s what she would usually do; she was the type who wouldn’t let anyone push her around. However, she just took a deep breath as she shuddered and turned to look at him again without saying a word. As soon as she did, her father said bluntly, “So the prodigal daughter has returned but not with the other one. You are such a disappointment.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Father. I promise to do better,” she replied quietly and bowed her head with shame. Owain could only gape. It was strange to see Armita so… meek. He turned to see if her family would do something to stop this, but they just stood there, stone-faced. What was going on here? Bewildered, he look at the others, but they were equally stunned (especially Talic) as he was. Even Cuzo, who would always attack anyone who hurts Talic’s friends, just sat there and whimpered. The wolf must have known that Armita’s father wasn’t someone who gets frightened easily.
“Kian, show our guests their rooms and make sure to inform the servants that they should be properly dressed for dinner,” General Culao directed his son, who just nodded. Satisfied, he headed back but stopped to look at them again one last time. He lingered on Talic the longest and scowled deeply before he disappeared without saying a word inside the house with his wife. As the others followed them inside, Owain wondered to himself if Armita was right in refusing the invitation.
Talic shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he and Owain waited for the women to arrive for dinner. They were sitting at the dining table, where they were having small talk with Armita’s father and brother. Armita’ father sat at the head of the table while Kian sat to the right of him. Talic sat opposite of the latter, and Owain sat next to him. So far everything was going well. “So, Talic, how long have you been in Bartheomos?” General Culao asked.
“Seven years, sir,” he replied politely.
The elderly man nodded. “I see… And what is your plan for the future? Are you planning to continue this nomadic lifestyle for a while?”
“No, sir. Due to my injury, I think it best that I settle down,” he answered. “After this mission, I am thinking of going back home and getting a job at the Bartheomos headquarters there. I would be close to my family and still be able to support them.”
“I see…” Armita’s father nodded his head again as if he was approving what he was hearing. “And what kind of job would you be interested in?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I’m leaning toward preparing new recruits.” As he answered the question, he fretted on whether he was saying the right answers to the general’s questions. He felt like he was a bug with a boot hanging above him and one false move meant that he was squashed. He wished Cuzo was there for support; his old friend would lie on his feet and looked up at him with encouragement. Unfortunately, the Culao family didn’t want any beast inside the house so his companion had to stay in the courtyard. Hopefully Cuzo didn’t mind.
He also noticed that General Culao kept asking him a lot of questions compared to Owain, who just sat there quietly unless spoken to. Kian didn’t say anything either; whenever Talic glanced at him, he would just look back at him, still stone-faced, and sip his glass of water. Ever since they came to the Culao home, he and Armita were acting odd. When they first met, Kian was cheerful and welcoming; but here, he was cold and unmoving. Besides being very respectful to their parents especially to their father, they were very obedient and accepted his criticism even when it was unreasonable. Talic recalled how Armita warned them about the drastic change in their dispositions and wondered if Kian was acting the part just to please his father.
While he was pondering those thoughts, General Culao commented, “I would think you would pick a loftier goal, but preparing others to be outstanding citizens is noble indeed. I would love to talk more about it with you, but it looks like the ladies have finally arrived. We can discuss more about it at a later time.”
Talic looked over to where the elder Culao was pointing and stared with amazement at the sight. Armita wore a bright magenta sarong dress with gold stars that accentuated her curves and slippers; gold and rubellite jewelry adorned her body. Her long, black hair was braided and wrapped around her head like a crown. A sheer magenta veil, which was held up with a hair brooch, was pinned to the bottom of the braid. Tristé and Chiara wore similar dresses albeit in different colors (red and pastel green) and simple jewelry, but he found himself focusing on Armita, who immediately blushed when she saw that he was staring at her. He couldn’t help it though. Throughout their years together, he only saw her in her travelling attire and had never seen her in a formal dress. To say that she was stunning was an understatement.
It seemed that Owain was awestruck as well but for a different reason. “It’s been a long time since I saw Adalynn in a dress. It’s so weird to see her wearing one now!” he gaped, causing Talic to pay attention to the others. Sure enough, Talic noted that she seemed rather uncomfortable wearing it compared to the other ladies.
The women immediately took their places at the table. Armita’s mother sat at the other end of the table while Armita sat to her left and Chiara sat to her right. Tristé sat between the Culao siblings. Once everyone was seated, General Karis declared, “Now that everyone is here, let’s enjoy the meal, shall we?”
Dinner continued without a hitch. For the first course, they were served chilled cucumber soup followed by a simple salad. Next they were served lamb crown rack with potato pavé, saffron rice, and sautéed watercress. Surprisingly, the conversation was still pleasant despite the tense atmosphere. Unfortunately for Talic, it was about to change during the main course. It all started with an innocent question.
“So, Owain, have you read the newest biography of Bartheomos’s first commander?” Kian asked curiously as he cut into his slice of meat.
He swallowed “No, I haven’t. Is it good?”
“I highly recommend it. It painted Passeck in a different light compared to Ackus’s portrayal, and I found it an interesting read. This Dom fellow is quite detailed with his writing that I actually found myself to believe that I was actually there. In fact, I find myself believing this Dom’s portrayal of Passeck to be more authentic. Maybe you should check it out if you have time.”
His friend coughed especially when he recognized “Dom’s” name. “Y-yeah, maybe I will. Thanks for the recommendation.”
“I always find Passeck to be a fascinating man,” Karis said abruptly. “His struggles in life and how he learned to handle them are admirable if you asks me. From being an orphan on the street to being forced to being a child warrior to being the leading commander of the Isharan army to finally becoming the first leader of Bartheomos is an extraordinary feat in itself. I couldn’t imagine how he was able to do that without giving up. He knew how to use his talents to climb up the ranks. Speaking of which, I’ve heard that Kahzin Theann is going to give you a promotion, Kian.”
His son nodded. “That’s right, Father. I’m going to be a major now.”
General Culao looked at him approvingly. “As expected of a member of the Culao family! Before long, you will take over my place and command the Isharan army. It’s nice to know our family name won’t be as tarnished as it already has.” He glared down at Armita, who looked down at her plate with her shoulders slumped as she set her silverware down on the table. “You would have done great things in the army if you haven’t run off like that. Now look at you! Going around the world and working like a slave! And for what? To look for that ingrate!”
“I’m sorry, Father,” she mumbled. Talic stared at her, baffled yet again. Why wouldn’t she tell him her reason for looking for Ithani?
“Your apology isn’t going to cut it,” he replied curtly as he continued to eat. “When words spread throughout the capital on how you defy me, it was the talk of the city! People would gossip about the Culao’s disobedient daughters and question your mother and my parenting skills. Your mother and I were humiliated for weeks that we couldn’t dare leave our home without people talking about us behind our backs! Did you even think about the consequences of your actions?”
“No, I didn’t. I’m sorry for bringing shame to you and Mother.” Seeing her timidly accept that verbal abuse started to irritate Talic. He looked at her and wanted to scream at her to stop acting so servile and be honest with her father. Nevertheless, he forced himself to be quiet though it took great restraint. On the other hand, Armita’s family didn’t seem bothered by the old man’s tirade while Owain and others looked uncomfortable.
Karis retorted, “Of course you didn’t. You never do! I thought I raised you better to think before you act! Or maybe you forgot in that pea-sized brain of yours?”
“I’m sorry, Father.”
“If you didn’t leave the army, you would probably lead your own squad just like Kian. Instead you left to go off on your merry little hunt!”
“I’m sorry, Father.” Talic was getting sick of hearing her apologizing for doing nothing wrong and was about to open his mouth to defend her. However, Owain quickly tugged his sleeve and motioned him to be quiet. Remembering how Armita begged him not to cause a scene, he shut his mouth and grinded his teeth with frustration. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed that Kian was staring at him intently as if waiting for him to do something.
“And how long have you been looking for that sister of yours? Five years, was it? What a waste of time! You should know within a year or two that it was a futile effort.”
“I’m sorry, Father,” she whispered softly.
That’s why you’re a stupid young girl who is ungrateful for what your mother and I have done for you and…”
Talic finally had enough. Ignoring Owain’s tug on his sleeves, he stood up and slammed his hands on the table, causing the dishes to rattle. “That’s enough!” he yelled, glaring at a startled Karis. “I don’t know why you feel that your daughter is such a disappointment, but I want to let you know that she isn’t like that! Through my years working with her, I always find her to be reliable and dependable. She never complains no matter how hard the missions are and always lends a listening ear if my comrades or I need one.
“Her skills and intelligence had helped my team in many missions. She’s always cool-headed if we’re facing a dire situation, and she will never give up even if it looks like everything is hopeless. And the reason she is looking for Ithani is that she knows how much you love her so she is willing to give up everything to see you be happy again though I don’t know if you care since it looks like you don’t appreciate her efforts! You may think that Armita is an ingrate, but in my honest opinion, you’re the one who is ungrateful!”
As soon as he said those words, he realized that he made a grave mistake. An eerie silence filled the room as everyone stared at him with their mouths agape especially General Culao. The general looked taken aback that someone actually dared challenge him no less insulted him. However, his expression quickly changed from being shocked to that of cool fury. He glared pointedly at Talic as he gripped his knife and fork tightly in his hands. It dawned on the Eireneridan that it wasn’t a good idea to lash out at someone particularly one who was holding a knife in his hand. Nevertheless he refused to back down and stayed standing up, returning the old man’s glare with a leveled one of his own.
The others looked back and forth at the two of them as they waited uneasily for the eruption to occur. Owain quietly moved his chair closer to Chiara to avoid any possible damage; on the other hand, Chiara and Tristé looked ready to bolt at any given sign of a fight. Armita and her mother appeared to be ready to get out of their seats as well though most likely to restrain the two men. Kian only appeared to be calm though his arms were tense. After a tense moment, Karis Culao dropped his utensils on his plate with a loud clank and stood up in a huff. “I can see when I’m not being appreciated,” he blustered as he stormed out of the room.
Everyone else stared at the doorway before Kian wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood up as well. “I better go check up with him,” he said hastily and chased after his father.
Talic still stood there, unsure of what to do. He turned to look at the others uncertainly. Otiyil gave him a disapproving look while the others looked at him as if they have never met him before. On the other hand, Armita regarded him with displeased expression on her face and mouthed, “Apologize.”
He knew that it was the right course of action since he did insult his host, but a part of him refused to let him budge. Instead he shook his head and sat down, ignoring the dismay look on her face. Why should he apologize? He wasn’t in the wrong. After all, he defended the person he truly cares about, and he wasn’t going to let anyone including her own father belittles her like that. For the longest time, everyone sat there without saying a word before Kian returned a short time later. He apologized for his father’s abrupt exit, informing that that General Culao had retired to his room for the night but encouraged them to continue eating. As they finished their meal, Talic sensed a slight change in the atmosphere though he wasn’t sure it was for better or the worst. Either way, a sense of heightened uneasiness gnawed at the back of his mind. Even though he stood up for Armita, he knew that he had messed up any chance of getting onto her family’s good side.
Shintra looked up from the book he was reading as soon as he saw the gateway opened. “Sorry I’m late,” Oraji said apologetically as she entered the room with his dinner. He was surprised to see that the Ilmarian of Nature came into his room by herself; usually she would have either Marika or Zentran accompanied her. That was odd, but then that would mean this was his opportunity to strike.
“That’s quite all right. All of you have been lately due to what happened,” he told her, setting his book aside after he placed his bookmark in it. She nodded as she placed the tray on the table right in front of him. He looked at his food disdainfully: chicken cutlet, green beans, and a roll. It wasn’t food fit for a king, but it would do. As he began chowing down, he asked curiously, “Is Kejuta still upset with me?”
Oraji, who was busy getting the dishes from lunch, stopped what she was doing and stared at him. “To say that she’s upset is an understatement,” she said dryly as she continued to stack the empty plate and utensils onto the tray. “I would say that she’s still furious.”
“But she’s not furious enough to seal my power away,” he mused. Ever since Kejuta found out that he had let it slip about the Lashival to his former men, she had banished him to his world without any means of leaving. He figured that he would be stuck there until she finally cooled down, which won’t likely happen any time soon. She probably thought she was punishing him by forcing him to loiter around with nothing to do. Unbeknownst to her, he didn’t need a needle ring to further his plan.
Smiling at the quiet Bisahan, he began the next step of his plan by saying an off-handed comment. “You know, I found what you and Lanskas are doing as very honorable,” he said, leaning back in his chair.
She looked at him confusedly. “Ensuring that life is being sustained in Samara is honorable indeed but, it’s simply our duty.”
“Of course it is,” he agreed, “but that isn’t what I’m implying. What I am saying is that I found it noble of you to try to find a way to save the Lashival without killing him though it would be nobler if you do so openly.”
As soon as he said those words, her face turned pale. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she protested weakly. The Ilmarian of Souls beamed inwardly as he knew he got her.
“You’re a horrible liar, you know that.” He sipped his glass of wine as he enjoyed watching her slowly panic. “It’s quite obvious to me that you and that priest are opposed to Kejuta’s decision to hunt down that threat based on your reactions after Resphyr’s death. I had a feeling that you two were up to something and secretly observed your actions ever since. Imagine my surprise to see you actively opposing her though surreptitiously. Tell me, does Pendance know about this? I can’t imagine what he’ll do if he finds out his girlfriend is going against his mother’s wishes.”
“Don’t you dare tell him!” Oraji pleaded. “He doesn’t need to get involved with this.”
Shintra gave her a reassuring look and placed his drink back on the table. “Don’t worry, dear. I won’t tell him. Rest assured, your secret is safe with me.”
She looked at him wearily. “What do you want from me?”
He smiled. Although she can be naïve, she did have good sense. Standing up, he walked over to her and pulled out a slip of paper. Handing it to her, he began, “I am interested in getting these plants. Unfortunately they’re quite rare or nearly extinct. However, due to your ‘expertise’, I’m sure you’ll find a way to retrieve them for me.”
She skimmed over the list before she looked back to him again. “And what are you going to use them for?” she wondered. Due to her training with Marika, she probably recognized some of the plants were used for medicinal purposes while others were poisonous. Not to mention, they knew that he had some medical knowledge.
“Nothing dangerous. I just want to try some experiments.”
Oraji looked at him suspiciously but wisely didn’t say anything. She knew that he has the upper hand on her. Instead she said, “I better leave. Kej is having a meeting with everyone else on what to do with the Velscendus threat and I’m already late as it is.”
Ah, so that’s why the Ilmarian of Nature was by herself. The Ilmarian of Fate was most likely racking her brain trying to figure out how to get rid of the threat but at the same time, help her puppets achieve their mission. “Yes, it’s best that you should hurry then. Don’t want anyone to suspect anything.” As she was about to toss her needle ring in the air, he then added quickly, “Oh, don’t tell your partner about this deal. We don’t want to get more people involved in this mess.”
She nodded and quickly rushed out of the room. Shintra smiled as he watched her disappeared before the gateway closed. He knew that she wouldn’t tell Lanskas about this since she wouldn’t want to entangle him. Out of all the Ilmarians, she was easy to manipulate due to her innocent and gullible nature. Feeling rather pleased with himself, he went over to a cabinet and pulled out the small bowl full of that strange, magical liquid. He then stared at the image of Samara and pondered where he should cause mischief for Kejuta.
“If you hadn’t rushed over to Ishara and ignored my messenger birds, you would have known that the Kasama was after the Lashival and warn Talic and the others!” Torryn listened gleefully as an irate Kejuta yelled at Hessin; she was still vivid at him due to his rash actions. For once, it was nice to see the old fart in trouble. Her twin brother must have felt the same way because he was trying his best not to crack a smile.
Nevertheless, that self-righteous prick didn't seem bothered by her rant. “You know that I won't just sit here and do nothing while that man destroys my homeland,” he argued.
“And that was what he was expecting!” the Ilmarian of Fate fumed. “He had Kahlin Leomas declare war on Eirenerida because he knew that it would get your attention, which was why he lured you over there. Because of that, I had to focus majority of my attention to Ishara instead of on him. Once he knew it, he led his followers out of there since he knew that we were preoccupied. Now he has a head start over the Bartheomos members!”
Before Hessin could say a word, Istra quickly spoke up. “I’m sorry, Kejuta,” she said, bowing her head apologetically. “I tried to tell him that you wouldn’t approve of his actions, but you know how stubborn he is.”
The spirit’s master scowled at her before he turned his attention to the Ilmarian of Fate. “While it may be true that I was tricked by the Kasama, I still would have gotten involved no matter what. Even if we focus on that man, you know that he would have Leomas do something devastating to divert our attention from him anyway. Instead of worrying about two issues, we might as well as get rid of one distraction so we could have our full attention on the one major issue.”
Torryn grinded her teeth. Dammit! That old fart did have a point. Even Kejuta must have realized it too because she just sighed. “I suppose you’re right,” she admitted but warned, “However, next time you need to read my messages instead of ignoring them.”
“I will, I promise,” he consented.
Marika cleared her throat. “Now that issue is solved, we can focus on the problem at hand.”
They were currently at Welvaria attending another one of Kejuta’s meetings. After she had found out that the Kasama and his underlings knew about the Lashival, she had been meeting the other Ilmarians (well, except for Alethea, Shintra, and Kejuta’s children) nonstop as she frantically tried to figure out what to do. So far, she hadn’t found a perfect solution. Torryn just kissed her teeth. “Since you won’t let us kill the Lashival, why don’t you let us assassinate the Kasama?” she pointed out. “Weiss and I can easily sneak into his camp and kill him without anyone knowing it.”
The Ilmarian of Fate shook her head as she fidgeted with the Chains of Destinies. “Unfortunately we can’t. He is still important since he is one of the determining factors of whether or not Talic and the others will be successful in their mission. I just need to find the right Chain to ensure that as well as preventing the Kasama from causing too much trouble.”
Torryn huffed, annoyed, and slouched with her arms crossed in her seat. That woman was still hung up about letting those inexperienced Bartheomos members kill their target. Her twin must have sensed her frustration because he signed, “Be patient. We’ll get to play with him soon.”
Just as he was signing that, a gateway opened and Oraji stepped out. The Ilmarian of Nature seemed flustered as she set a tray full of empty plate and silverwares aside before taking her spot. Heh, she probably thought everyone was upset that she was late, but they just ignored her since they knew why. The Ilmarian of Judgment clenched her fists. That damned Duermon! What the hell was he thinking telling outsiders of the Lashival? Didn’t he promise that monster to her brother and her for their enjoyment? If she see that Duermon again, she’s going to demand some answers.
“So what are we going to do then?” Zentran pondered. Torryn wanted to sneer. After she and Weiss decided to join alliance with Shintra, he informed them that the Sendoan declined his offer, which didn’t surprise her at all. He was too infatuated with Alethea, who obviously won’t side with them, and most likely didn’t want to go against her. Wasn’t it so obvious that the Aerian didn’t care for him and see him as a pest? She did ask the angel about her opinion of Zen, but the Ilmarian of Truth just gave a vague reply by saying that he seemed nice though Torryn did hear a sense of annoyance.
Kejuta didn’t answer at first before she finally said, “Nothing for now. This will have to be a wait-and-see approach. However, we can focus on decreasing the amount of men in his disposal. I know that you want to kill the Kasama, Torryn and Weiss, but you wouldn’t mind getting rid of some of his followers, would you? There are a few of them who hadn’t joined up with his group yet so we might as well get rid of them before they do. Does that sound reasonable?”
The twins glanced at each other for a moment and nodded. “Sounds fair,” Weiss agreed. “Do you want us to start right now?”
“The quicker, the better. The less men he has, the better the odd for us to win.”
“Good. I was getting bored.” Torryn jumped up from her seat and immediately opened a portal to Samara. As she and Weiss left Welvaria, she turned around and waved. “We’ll be back, Kej. Come on, Weiss! It’s time to go hunting!”
Rask 12, 2583
“Man, I'm ready to continue our mission!” Owain said, and Talic had to agree. After three days of staying at the Culao mansion, everyone especially he was relieved to be leaving. Ever since the dinner debacle, he has been on edge whenever he was in General Culao's company. Surprisingly, the old man didn't mention anything about the incident and acted like nothing happened, though the Eireneridan detected a slight coolness. Instead Karis Culao would carry on, asking him questions about his family, his work, and his future, which Talic answered politely. Whenever he did, he would provide subtle hints, praising Armita to show how much she was an asset to the team.
During his time with Armita's father, Talic knew that it was the perfect opportunity to apologize for making a scene at dinner, but something in his head told him not to do so in spite of his friends' urging. So he hadn't even offered a simple apology at all even on the last day of their stay. Although he began to wonder if that was the best thing to do.
“Leaving so soon?” The two men looked up to see Kian approaching them. They were currently waiting out on the front porch. Owain was sitting on the steps while he was leaning against one of the columns. A wagging Cuzo lie at his feet.
“Not yet,” Owain replied, shaking his head. “We’re still waiting for the ladies.”
Armita’s brother nodded. “I ran into them on my way out. Tristé and Chiara are waiting for Armita, who is with Mother at the moment. It may take a while since Mother always acts sappy whenever one of her children is leaving somewhere.”
“Oh, I see.” Talic could imagine Otiyil’s eyes being misty as she hugged Armita and bid her farewell. “By the way, why are you here?”
“To see you off, of course, though I have to leave shortly. I need to go check on my men,” Kian chirped. Based on his perky behavior, he was back to his usual self. “Father would have been here as well, but unfortunately he has a meeting with Theann about the nation’s security. He likes to apologize for the discourtesy and sends his regards.”
“Understandably. Theann has his hands full.” To be honest, Talic was somewhat relieved. Just one more minute with that man would stress him out.
“I will,” Kian promised as he handed him some documents. Talic looked through them while Owain looked over his shoulder. One was from the new Kahlin, which gave them permission to travel to the desert. Another granted them unlimited amount of supplies for their journey, and the third paper was a royal decree, which stated that they were to be given camels. However, the one that piqued his interest was a folded piece of paper. Curious, the Eireneridan unfold it. It was a sketch of a young man, who looked around Armita’s age. He had gentle look on his face and seemed affable due to his small smile. His hair, which partly covered his eyes, was in an undercut style. Underneath his picture was the name, Bobbas Veltez.
He and Owain must have looked confused because Kian explained, “Armita asked me to help find any information about the person you’re looking for. Since he’s interested in traveling to the Loredan Desert, he needed to get permission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so I went over there. Sure enough, they had a file on him and one of the requirements was that they had to have a picture of him just in case something happened to him so they can identify him. I had them make another copy so you can use it. It will make things easier for you.”
Talic looked at him, stunned. Not only did they finally get a good picture of their target, they even got his name. “I don’t know how to thank you,” he said gratefully. Kian just brushed him aside.
“It’s not necessary. Just think of a token of appreciation for what all of you did to help save this kingdom.” He must have heard something because he turned back to the house and said, “It looks like Mother has finally decided to let Armie go; either that or Armie convinces her. Anyway…”
Kian held out his hand and Talic took it; it was a strong grip like the last time. Then he shook Owain’s hand as well. “It was nice meeting you, Talic and Owain. Have a safe journey and take care of my sister for me.”
“We will and good luck to you too, Major Kian,” Talic promised and added, “Would you please tell your father that we thank him for his hospitality?”
“I’ll make sure to let him know,” he said and was about to head out before he abruptly turned around. Taking Talic by the hand, he said, “Before I forget, Father has a message for you.” He leaned toward him and whispered in his ear, “You passed.”
A bewildered Talic could only stare back at Kian, who smiled broadly at his reaction, before he walked away. The Eireneridan watched him walk down the path before he burst out laughing as he suddenly recalled what Armita had warned him. Alarmed, Owain looked at him and asked, “What was that about?”
“Armita was right; her family is dysfunctional,” he only said as soon as he calmed down, which probably confused the young man even more. It was a good thing that he did because Armita and the others arrived.
“Goodbye, Mother,” Armita whispered softly as she embraced her mother. Otiyil nodded and hugged her tightly before reluctantly letting go. She then gestured to Tristé and Chiara to follow her down to the others. Without giving a glance at Talic, she said bluntly, “Let’s go.”
He nodded and led the way. No one said a single word until they went through the gate. “Is she still watching?” Armita asked underneath her breath. Talic glanced back before he shook his head. That was when she breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. Even though I love my family, I couldn’t take acting so subservient much longer.”
“Armita, you’re back to normal!” Tristé squealed, hugging her friend from behind. “I thought the house was cursed or something since you and your brother were acting strangely. Don’t you ever do that again!”
“Umph! Tristé, next time give me a head up when you do that! I did warn you, didn’t I?” The Isharan grunted. “My parents especially my father expect us to behave that way whenever we come home. That’s why Kian and I are rarely home.”
“Well, I’m glad that you are back, and I’m sure everyone else is too,” Talic said with a smile. This time she returned his smile. “Anyway, we better hurry. We need to get supplies and prepare for our journey to the desert.”
As they hurried to the bustling city of Soleri, Armita looked at him anxiously. “I hope my father didn’t turn you off with his antics,” she said.
He thought for a moment. When he first met Karis Culao, he found the man to be unbearable and overly strict; a man who had unrealistic expectations and high standards for his children. But now he wondered if it was all just an act because General Culao wanted what was best for his children. “No, he didn’t,” he reassured her, “though I know why Sarina doesn’t want to visit your home again. Next time, if your father offers his home to us again, we’re going to decline. Once is plenty enough.”
FYI, I now have a website to archive my stories. I'll be using it instead of my dreamwidth account from now on
In case you're wondering what a mutouh looks like, I drew a quick sketch which you can see here.
Chapter 22: The Loredan Desert
The Kasama closed his eyes and smiled as he listened to the desert breeze blowing outside his tent. It was nice to be somewhere peaceful where he could relax and think. While he did enjoy his stay in Soleri, he knew that it wouldn’t last long. After all, he knew that those so-called Ilmarians’ attention would soon be on Ishara once Leomas declared war on Eirenerida and provided haven for him and his men. Once he had learned that Kahzin Theann’s men were outside the city, he discerned that they must have at least one Ilmarian (most likely the Immortal King Hessin) helping them and determined that it was time to make his escape. Those fools probably thought they could have captured him, but they didn’t expect him to have a needle ring in which he used to leave.
He smirked just thinking about that new toy. Although he was displeased when he heard that his men failed to capture Shintra, he was still satisfied that they managed to steal that boy’s needle ring. With that in his possession, he could easily travel anywhere in the world, which meant that he’ll always be one step ahead of his enemies. However, he was somewhat troubled. While he was under that bastard’s spell, he had learned about the Ilmarian Kejuta’s ability to control one’s fate. With that power, she could easily manipulate his moves so for some odd reason, she didn’t use it to capture or kill him and his followers. Why was that?
The sound of his tent flap opening disrupted his troubled thoughts. Opening his eyes, he turned to see Xyrem waiting at the doorway. “Come in,” he said bluntly, offering him a goblet of wine. His second-in-command nodded and came over to sit next to him as he accepted the cup. “Is the camp secured?”
Xyrem nodded but added, “One of the scouts noticed that woman is still following us. Are you sure you don’t want anything to be done with her?”
“Ignore her. Her qualm is not with us,” he replied simply as he leaned back on his chair.
“If you say so,” his friend said doubtfully. “We have another situation though – Ithani is missing.”
He then looked at the Kasama to see his reaction to the news. Instead the leader of the Velscendus Cult just calmly sipped his wine and shrugged. “I had a feeling she would,” he said simply, placing his cup down on the table. “Ever since she ran into her sister, she was acting very strange. I had a meeting with her about it earlier today, but she reassured me that everything was fine. It seemed that she was lying to me then.”
“You’re not going after her?” His confidant raised his eyebrow, confused.
He nodded. “She won’t cause me too much trouble. Even if she reveals my plan to anyone, it would be too late for them to stop me.”
“Then you won’t like this news.” Xyrem leaned over and looked at him grimly. “Talen is missing as well.”
This time he did react. “Since when?” he whispered dangerously, sitting up.
“No one knows for sure, but it could be around the same time as Ithani. Do you want me to do anything about it?”
“Gather a group of men and find that little pipsqueak,” he demanded as he stood up from his seat. “Tell them to not stop searching until they find him. When they do, tell them to bring him to me. I will personally punish him for his insubordination.”
“Understood,” Xyrem said, bowing his head. As he was about to leave, he stopped and listened to the breeze. “You better enjoy this peace now. I have a feeling that it’s not going to last for long.”
His comrade nodded and exited the tent. Alone once again with his thoughts, the Kasama stared absentmindedly into his goblet of wine. Something told him that the next few days were going to be quite busy, and he needed to prepare for it.
“Are you positive it was Duermon magic?” Kejuta asked. Ever since Hessin had brought Leomas back to Welvaria to have him cured, they had waited patiently until the former Kahlin fully recovered. After three days, Aundra had sent them a message informing them that Leomas was ready to talk.
The Ilmarian of Magic nodded. “Based on my analysis, it was. The magic cast caused the victim to be ‘mesmerized’ and then the user would give him suggestions. In this case, Leomas was led to believe that he was you, Hessin.”
“So it’s similar to Shintra’s power?” Kejuta asked, narrowing her eyes. If it was true, then it confirmed that Shintra was in cahoots with the Velscendus Cult despite his denial.
“Not quite,” Aundra replied, shaking her head. “Shintra’s magic alters the soul so that the person becomes another being while this one just controls the person like a puppet. And unlike Shintra’s, I can undo the damage.”
“I see,” The Ilmarian of Fate noted. While that confirmed that he wasn’t the one who “corrupted” Kahlin Leomas, it still didn’t let him off the hook just yet. “So where is Leomas?”
“Right over there. Marika is with him at the moment,” Aundra replied as she led them to the bed where the Isharan was resting, “Unfortunately whoever cast the spell on him accidentally or purposefully used too much that it addled his brain so I had to use the ceraphilis flowers to cure him.”
She then motioned them to stop as she pulled the curtain aside. “Marika, Kejuta and Hessin are here to question Leomas,” Kejuta overheard her said. She could hear the Ishan said something softly before Aundra peeked her head back. “She said that you can come in, but it has to be short. Leomas is still exhausted from his ordeal.”
Kejuta nodded and followed Aundra inside. Leomas was sitting up on his bed with Marika standing at his side. He must be exhausted because he looked haggard and there were bags underneath his eyes. However, his eyes were alert and they stared curiously at her and especially at Hessin. “Good evening, Kahlin Leomas,” she greeted the king. “Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Kejuta, whom you most likely known as the All-Mother, and this is Hessin, whom I sure you already recognized.”
He nodded and bowed his head. “I have. I am honored to be in your presence,” he said politely. However his face fell. “I don’t deserve it especially what I did. Because of the Kasama, I caused my people to suffer. I don’t deserve to be Kahlin.”
“Nonsense! You weren’t yourself,” Hessin objected vehemently.
“That may be true, but I allowed myself to be exploited by that fiend.”
“Then you remember what happened?” she questioned.
“No, Lady Aundra informed me after she cured me,” he confessed. “To be honest, everything was just a blur to me after that meeting. I could only remember bit and pieces.”
The Ilmarians looked at each other with a worried look. If he couldn’t remember every details, then he wouldn’t be that helpful. “Could you tell us what happened in that meeting?” Hessin finally asked.
“Of course.” Leomas took a deep breath and began, “The Kasama came into the room with his entourage of his most favored followers. He then introduced himself and told me that he was pleased that I had decided to grant him an audience with me. I sensed that he was mocking me but chose to ignore it. I demanded to know what he wanted, but he just said that he will tell me later. First he wanted to show his gratitude by having one of his followers perform a dance. Imagine my surprise to see Ithani there. Before I could say anything, she began to dance so I had no choice but waited for her to end.
“While I was watching her performance, I kept a close eye on the Kasama, who just smiled at me, while he tapped his feet to the music. The way he looked at me should have alarmed me, but I just was oddly calm. I don’t know why, but I just was. However, I began to feel faint and had troubled concentrating. All of a sudden, I heard the Kasama speaking.”
“Do you remember what he said?” Kejuta asked.
“Somewhat,” the young man responded. “I can only remember his telling me that I was the reincarnation of Hessin and convincing me that my life was in danger by the people around me. Normally I would just laugh at such preposterous claims, but for some strange reason it all made sense to me. He sounded reasonable when I listened to his spiel and I actually felt that I was Hessin. He then promised that he would protect me, if I followed his orders. Frightened, I agreed to his offer. Once I did that, I don’t really remember much else, I’m afraid.”
“It’s all right,” Kejuta reassured him. “You’re still recovering so don’t push yourself. If you remember anything else, let us know.”
Leomas nodded but suddenly frowned. “Wait… I remember one thing though it’s probably not useful. The Kasama was interested in the geography of the Loredan Desert. I don’t know why he would be interested in that land since it’s just sands, but I did give him a map of that place anyway. It isn’t much; sorry.”
The Ilmarians glanced at each other with a knowing look. What the former king had said confirmed their worst fear – the Velscendus Cult knew where the Lashival was heading. “Thank you, Leomas,” the Ilmarian of Fate said finally. “You have been very helpful. We better let you rest now.”
“No, I should be thanking you all. Because of you and everyone else, I was freed from that fiend’s control,” he disagreed. “Once Lady Marika determines I’m ready, I’m going to make sure to help my brother in any way possible.”
Hessin arched his eyebrows. “Then you’re not interested in ruling Ishara again?”
“I caused division among my people so I think it’s best that Theann will be Kahlin instead,” he explained, shaking his head. “I’ll announce my abdication as soon as I am fit to return to Ishara. Hopefully it will appease my supporters and lessen the tension. If not, I’m sure Theann and I will find a way to compromise with them. Ishara must stand united after all.”
“That sounds like a good plan, Leomas,” Kejuta agreed. “Your intentions are very noble and selfless.”
“Thank you, but I’m doing this for my brother as well. He did everything in his power to save me, and I intend to do the same for him. This is how I’m going to repay him and atone for my actions.”
“And I’m sure you will. Take care, Leomas.” Kejuta nodded and motioned to the others to leave. As soon as they were out of hearing distance, she proceeded to the task at hand. “So it is confirmed that the Kasama knew that the Lashival is somewhere in the Loredan Desert.”
“It looks that way,” Aundra said. “So what should we do?”
The Ilmarian of Fate thought for a moment as she viewed the different Chains of Destiny before she answered, “I’ll have Zen try to delay them by causing a sandstorm near their location. That would give us a chance to give Talic and the others a heads-up as well as a chance to encounter the Lashival first.”
“Sounds good,” Hessin agreed, “but who is going to warn them of the Velscendus threat?”
“I will,” Marika volunteered, stepping forward. “I know the area very well so I will be able to find them quite easily. Besides it’s around the time for my monthly check-up with the Ishan tribes. Just tell me where the best place to bump into them and I’ll be ready to go.”
Kejuta nodded. “Thank you. I know I can depend on you. As for their location, I think I know where to tell you to go.”
Toov 18, 2583
“Hey, Chiara?” She turned around to see Owain looking at her. His forehead was drenched with sweat and his head covering was damp. “Can you do that mist spell again? It’s getting hot again.”
As they were traveling through the arid land, the Kreesian had used her magic to make their journey a little tolerable. She had refilled their canteens whenever they got empty, summoned a gentle breeze, or created shade to protect them from the blistering sun. The others were extremely grateful for her help, but they especially loved it when she created a mist to cool them. She silently thanked Lady Aundra for teaching her magic. Without the goddess’s help, who knows how much of her Unison magic would improve?
Tristé gave him a level look. “Stop treating Chiara like she’s some kind of summon doing your bidding,” she scolded and turned to the young witch. “Hey, Chiara, if he keeps pestering, let me know and I’ll teach him a lesson.”
Owain scowled at her in return. “Excuse me? If I remember correctly, you did the exact the same thing a few moments ago. How is that different from my asking?”
“It’s all right! I don’t mind at all,” Chiara interrupted hastily before the two erupted into a fight. After calming her nerves, she chanted, “Alldres pluero wego. Flutius pinaes blu.”
She made sure to say the most powerful wind spell first before using the water incantation. Second, she needed to use a minor water spell; the last time, she accidentally said a powerful water spell and disaster struck. Instead of a mist, they had a downpour, which caused the sand to be mucky that the camels had trouble moving. Feeling awful for her blunder, Chiara quickly used a fire spell to quickly dry out the mud though it did take a long time for the water to evaporate completely; she was sure that everyone was irritated by her, but no one said anything harsh. Talic just admonished her, reminding her to be careful when she said her spells.
Before long, a nice mist filled the air, causing everyone to sigh contently. “That feels so nice!” sighed Armita, and everyone agreed. It was refreshing all right. Even Cuzo seemed to smile when he felt the cool water particles on his fur.
They continued traveling through the desert when Owain suddenly asked, “Where is the closest village by the way?”
Talic unfolded the map that was given to him by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to him, it was supposedly the itinerary of their person of interest. “A few kilometers from here,” he answered a few minutes later. “We’ll probably reach it by tomorrow night or so…”
Before he could even finish his train of thought, the ground below them started to rumble. Startled, everyone froze and looked around, wondering if they were experience an earthquake. All of a sudden, the earth seemed to explode, causing the sands to fly everywhere and knocking everyone fall off their camels, who in turn panicked as they stumbled to the ground. They quickly stood up and scattered. Coughing as she slowly sat up, Chiara barely comprehended what happened when she realized that a shadow towered over her. Her jaw dropped when she found herself face-to-face with two enormous beady eyes staring back at her.
“EEEEKKKK!” Owain immediately was alert as soon as he heard Chiara’s shriek. When he saw what frightened her, he knew why she screamed. An enormous creature, which somewhat reminded him of a hermit crab except it didn’t have any claws, stood in their way; he estimated that it was around ten meters tall. Its large, black eyes moved this way and that as it examined them with intense scrutiny while its thousand tiny tentacles wiggled in the air. However, he wasn’t concerned about that – he was more worried about the spikes on its yellow-speckled spiral-shaped tower shell.
His assumption was right. The monster must have finished sizing them up because it suddenly spun like a top and charged at them. “Get out of the way!” Talic ordered and dove out of its path. Owain didn’t need him to tell him that; as soon as he saw that it was heading straight toward them, he ran. He noticed with great relief that the others were safe as well though Chiara barely escaped on time. The spinning top nearly nipped her feet. Seeing that it missed its targets, the creature buried itself beneath the sand and disappeared. However, no one relaxed at all.
“What in Samara is that!?” Tristé demanded, standing up quickly as she looked around the desert.
“It’s a mutouh,” Armita replied with a grim expression. She drew out her weapons while still eyeing the desert floor so everyone else did the same. To be honest, Owain thought it was rather pointless; he couldn’t determine where the weak points of the creature were so he would be wasting arrows if he shoots at it.
“A mutouh?” Talic stared at it before he looked back at Armita. “I remembered reading somewhere that they are considered an Ishan delicacy. This one is huge!”
“Their babies,” the Isharan corrected. “This one is an adult. Most likely there is a nest nearby so it probably trying to protect its young. It thinks that we’re trying to steal them.”
“No wonder it attacked us. I would be pissed too,” Tristé muttered underneath her breath. Owain echoed that sentiment. While he didn’t blame the mutouh for its aggression, he still didn’t want to get killed by that thing. Forcing himself to focus, he scanned the desert for any strange occurrence when he saw it – a barely thin thread moving in the sand. He pointed at it and shouted out a warning.
“Over there!” As soon as he said those words, the mutouh quickened it pace and burst through the sand. Realizing that it would be futile to face it head-on, everyone ran.
“Climb on those rocks!” Talic yelled as he led them to some boulders sticking out from the ground. Armita and Owain were the first ones to reach them so they stood at the lower level to help the others up. Tristé came up right after them followed by Cuzo, who didn’t need their help and deftly leapt onto the rock. On the other hand, Talic and Chiara were still a few meters away. From his viewpoint, Owain could see Talic was running straight toward but abruptly turned around and sprinted back.
Confused, he was about to yell at him that he was going the wrong way until he noticed that the Eireneridan was heading toward Chiara, who was hobbling. All of a sudden, she fell and rubbed her left ankle; her face grimaced in pain. That was when Owain realized that she must have twisted it when she dodged the mutouh’s previous attack. Talic luckily reached her in time and scooped her up as he hurried back to the rocks. Unfortunately, there was no way they could reach the safety of the rocks on time. The mutouh was catching up to them.
Knowing the urgency of the situation, Owain hurriedly climbed to the highest point of the rocks, got his arrow ready, and aimed at the approaching creature. “Armita, do you know its weak points?” he asked quickly.
Armita nodded. “There is a hole on the top of its shell where it can breathe. You have to aim through there to hit its body, but I’m not sure if you can reach it from here.”
“I might as well try!” he retorted. He aimed his arrow up in the air and shot. The arrow launched in a projectile motion but came up short as it landed in the sands. Cursing, he changed his aim slightly and launched another arrow. This time it bounced off the shell. Dammit! He almost got it. This was getting frustrating.
“Come on, Owain! You got this!” Tristé encouraged him before she turned her attention to the Talic and shouted, “Hurry! You’re almost here!”
Knowing that everyone was depending on him, Owain took a deep breath and regained his composure. He concentrated really hard and aimed at another spot where he estimated the mutouh will be. Focus, Owain. Don’t rush it, he said to himself. He could see the monster was almost upon Talic and Chiara so with no time to spare, he launched his arrow.
He watched with abated breaths as the arrow soared in the air. Based on its path, it looked like it was going to hit its mark. Below him, Armita or Tristé gasped once they realized it as well. Meanwhile Talic continued running toward the safety of the rocks as the mutouh pursued them. As the arrow continued to fly, it began to tilt and moved downward. It’s going to hit, Owain thought as he gazed at his arrow heading straight down at the desert creature. I got it this time.
Unfortunately, fate wasn’t on his side. Instead of hitting the mutouh’s weak point, the arrow just hit the edge of the opening and bounced off. Upon seeing that the arrow missed, Owain cussed underneath his breath while Armita and Tristé groaned. On the other hand, the mutouh continued his pursuit, unaware that it was almost killed. It had almost caught up with Talic and Chiara, who were slowing down.
“Don’t give up, Owain! Try again!” the Possessor Duermon screamed, but Owain knew that he didn’t have enough time. That last attack was his best chance of saving his friends. He could only watch helplessly as the mutouh was about to descend on them.
Talic could feel the swirling sands upon his back and knew immediately that the mutouh was close by. Cursing in his head, he forced himself to run faster and ignore the pain in his legs. “I’m sorry, Talic,” a teary-eyed Chiara whispered as she clutched the front of his shirt.
“Don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault that you’re hurt,” he told her, forcing himself to sound calm in spite of the panic he was actually feeling. “Everything will be okay. See? We’re almost there!”
“But your condition!”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.” However, he wasn’t all right. He was out of breath and started to stumble. Even though he has recovered from the poison, he was still not in top shape. If he were healthier, he would probably reach the rocks in time. Now…
All of a sudden, he heard a huge explosion behind him and felt the sand hit his back like hails. Startled, he slowed down and turned to look out of instinct even though he knew that wasn’t a wise idea. What he saw caused his mouth to drop. The mutouh was on its side and couldn’t move at all. Its tentacles flailed around the air as it squirmed, struggling to get back up. The explosion must have knocked it over, but who did it?
That was when he heard yelling and before he knew it, a group of desert dwellers appeared. They ran past Chiara and him, ignoring their presence, as they descended on the hapless beast. Their spears were at the ready. As they dashed by them, Talic noticed that there was something different about them – their skin was the color of the tan-colored sand and scaly as an armadillo. As soon as he saw those features, he recognized their savior was from the Grandehi Tribe, a strange people whose skin was made out of scales and only inhabited the Loredan Desert.
The mutouh, upon sensing its impending doom, didn’t give up without a fight. It immediately thrashed its long tentacles at its attackers, sending sands flying all over the place, as it tried to get up. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter the Grandehi tribesmen. They easily maneuvered around its long arms by dashing one way before going another way. A few even jumped on top of them and jammed their spears into the limbs, causing the mutouh to wail out in pain. Finally, it managed to pull itself up and tried to make its escape.
But it was too late. Five of the men already reached its shell and began climbing up by using the spikes as footings. The mutouh tried to shake them off by spinning, but they refused to let go as they slowly climbed to the top. One nimble man was able to reach the top first and without any hesitation, threw his spear into the narrow hole. The mutouh writhed in pain when it felt the deadly blow. Before it died, it tried one last time to get revenge on its killers. As it toppled to the ground, it tried to crush the tribesmen, but this time, the men jumped off the mutouh and ran out of the way. A geyser of sand sprayed up on in the air as the creature crashed onto the powdery ground.
Talic could only watch in awe. The attack only lasted about five minutes! Not only were the Grandehi tribesmen agile, they were sharp-witted. They were able to predict the mutouh’s attacks and avoid them with ease. To say that he was impressed was an understatement.
“Talic! Chiara!” He turned around to see Armita and the others running toward him. Relief was clearly on their faces. “Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” he reassured them, “though Chiara hurt her ankle.”
Owain looked concernedly at the witch. “How’s your ankle?”
“It’s throbbing, but I think I’ll be all right. I just need to cast a healing spell and it should be all better,” she replied, grimacing in pain. She nudged Talic, gesturing that she wanted to get down so he carefully set her down. She leaned against him as she hopped on her good leg and tried to get her wand out. Unfortunately, she lost her balance and stumbled to the ground, which caused her to yelp.
“Hey, take it easy!” Tristé said, alarmed, and helped up her back up. “You don’t want to aggravate it more.”
“No ‘but’,” Armita interrupted in a stern voice. “You’re going to rest. I think we’re safe from any danger at the moment thanks to them.”
They glanced over at the Grandehi Tribe, who were too busy cutting chunks out of the mutouh and laying the meat on a blanket to dry. Others were breaking the spikes off and placing them into a basket; most likely they were being used as tools. “It was a good thing they came at the nick of time,” Talic commented. “Who knows what would have happen?”
Everyone nodded in agreement. “Maybe they can help us? After all, they have lived in the desert their entire life,” Tristé suggested. Her eyes gleamed with curiosity that Talic wondered if a small part of Adalynn had influenced her.
Before he could answer, he noticed a small crowd of women walking toward them. All of them except one had scaly skin; she was dark-skinned like he. She wore an off-white tube top with pale orange lining as well as matching pants and beige sandals. A belt with rings that dangled when she walked hung loosely around her waist. She covered her head with a pale orange scarf, which blocked the sun’s blistering heat. In her right hand was a khakkhara that hold similar rings that were on her belt.
While the other women went over to help the men prepare the meat, the stranger stopped right in front of them. “Hello,” she greeted them with a warm smile. “I was hoping to meet with you. My name is Marika, and Kejuta had sent me down to see you.”
Finally get a somewhat clear idea as to how the Kasama manipulated Leomas against his people. Is it a common duermon magic or something?
And on the other side, we see Chiara being bullied into using her magic for rather trivial things. She's so soft And that fight against the mutouh was quite well depicted. The desert people are very swift to be able to keep it from hitting them.
Now we'll get Marika meeting the group next chapter, I wonder exactly how she'll give the info on their target...
Aren't you curious on the woman who is following the Kasama?
What? She's just being nice! But I guess you're right; they are using her.
Chapter 23: That Person
Armita watched quietly as Marika examined Chiara’s injury. “You don’t need to do this, Lady Marika!” Chiara protested, wincing whenever the goddess touched her sprained ankle. “I can just use a healing spell to make it all better.”
“Nonsense! I am a healer so this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Besides I don’t mind at all,” Marika replied. “Now stay still while I finished up. Hmmm… your ankle isn’t broken, so that’s good. It’s just swollen so a little ointment should assuage it. Pass me that bottle, will you?” Owain reached over to his left and handed her a small canister. She opened it, scooped up some white goop, and rubbed it gently on Chiara’s ankle. “There! Now don’t put any pressure on it for a while, and then it should be good to go.”
“Thank you, Lady Marika,” the witch said, bowing her head politely. “You didn’t have to do this.”
The Goddess of Healing smiled. “Like I said, I don’t mind. You can use your healing spell once you feel ready for the task, but right now, all of you must be famished, so let’s eat! The Grandehians were nice enough to prepare a meal for you, so you don’t want to appear rude.”
The group was staying with the Grandehi Tribe to rest before they continue on their journey. The desert dwellers provided lean-to shelter, which were made out of animal hide and some large sticks, to protect them from the sun heat. Colorful straw mats were placed on the ground so they could sit there instead on the hot sands. In the middle of the group were bulbous plants that stored water (though while refreshing, it left a bitter aftertaste) and a shallow bowl full of steamed baby mutouhs. Armita had eaten a few and thought to herself that it reminded her of the seafood that she ate when they were visiting Talic’s family. She realized that she misses Sookan’s cooking and wondered if Talic was feeling the same way. In contrast, Owain barely touched his meal.
Their hosts were very friendly people; they would drop by every so often just to make sure that they were taken care of. The adults would gesture to ask if they needed anything since no one except for Marika understood their language, which were clicks of the tongue. On the other hand, the children would peek their heads shyly to look at these curious humans. Armita could only shake her head. It was amazing how these people managed to survive the hot days and cold nights in the desert. During her military training, she and a few of comrades had to do an excursion to the desert for a few weeks, and she couldn’t wait to head back to the much cooler land of Ishara.
They ate in silence at first until Marika finally said, “I’m sure you have questions about the man you’re after.”
Armita glanced at the others and decided to ask her question first. “When the All-Mother first gave us this mission, she mentioned that you have tried numerous times to take our target’s life but failed. Why is that?”
The Goddess of Healing took a moment before she answered, “As Kej and the others mentioned to you before, whenever we killed him, his soul would always come back, reborn and reincarnate, no matter how hard we tried. Since we immortals couldn’t defeat him, we are assuming that perhaps mere mortals can. After all, he used to be a mortal.”
“A mortal? So he is similar to you?” Owain questioned. She nodded.
“In a way. The only difference is that when he dies, he doesn’t retain his memories unlike my colleagues and me.”
“So he’s a god, but he can die and be reborn as a baby?” Talic deduced, and Marika assented. “I have a question – why don’t you just destroy his soul? It’s simple, isn’t it? Just snatch it up and crush it with your bare hands. I’m sure that the Goddess of Life and the God of the Dead could do it.”
The Ishan shook her head. “Unfortunately we tried, but that failed. For some reason, he isn’t a part of this world’s life cycle.”
“A part of the Samaran life cycle? What do you mean by that?” Tristé asked. Before she could answer her question, a sudden wail was heard throughout the camp. Alarmed, everyone except for Marika looked around, expecting an attack.
The Goddess of Healing gave them a reassuring look. “It’s all right; there is nothing wrong,” she assured them. “As for answering your question, I think it’s better that I show you instead of explaining it. Let’s go outside and see what’s going on.”
Tristé shielded her eyes to prevent herself from being blinded suddenly by the sun and looked at what was going outside. The Grandehi women and children were on their knees, grieving as they threw sands upon themselves. They stared up at the sky; tears stained their face. Then, a small group of men emerged from a tent. They were carrying a stretcher with a dead elderly man, whose body was covered with a light cloth. The men walked silently by the women and children, who immediately stood up without a sound and followed behind them. Along the way, more of the tribe joined in. As they went by them, Marika motioned them to follow so they did. The solemn procession continued in complete silence until they reached a dune, where six mounds were resting.
As soon as they reached their destination, the men gently lowered the stretcher and began digging a hole by using magic to manipulate the sands. Once they were finished, they placed the body into the shallow grave and covered it with the sand. While that was happening, the spectators stood there and watched without saying a word. However, when they were finished, the women began to sing a song, but instead of sounding mournful, it sounded hopeful. All of a sudden, Chiara, who had healed her injury beforehand, tugged her sleeves and hissed, “Look!”
The Duermon looked at where the Kreesian was pointing and her eyes widened with amazement. One of the other mounds had started to shake; the sands were slowly stirring as if something or someone was trying to dig out. One of the Grandehi tribesmen noticed and alerted the others, who immediately started digging. After several minutes, they reached the source and pulled out… a baby. The girl let out a loud wail and squirmed as if trying to get used to blinding light from above. One of the women scooped her up and carefully cradled her until the baby was assuaged. A joyful cry then rang out as the Grandehi tribe headed back to the village with their newest member.
Silence filled the air once more. Tristé and others walked back in silence, contemplating on what they had witnessed, until Marika explained, “I’m sure you have wondered why you don’t see any Grandehians outside of the Loredan Desert, but this is why. When the old gods, Merzak and Versen, created them, they wanted someone who would take care of this land for all eternity. They created the Grandehi Tribe in a way that they have to depend on the sands to survive.
“Whenever one of the members in the tribe dies, they are supposed to bury their ‘dead’ in the sand. However the person isn’t actually dead – he or she is actually hibernating. During that time, the body will de-age until it becomes a body of a baby. When it reaches that point, the soul will wake up and life will begin anew. From my observations, this cycle usually lasts around three to five days. In order for this to happen, the Grandehi Tribe needs the sands to start the process. If any of them dares leave the desert and dies, he or she won’t be able to come back.
“The person you’re after has something similar to that except he doesn’t need any sands to be reborn. He has his own life cycle in which he dies and be reborn again as a baby. That is why Adia and Pendance aren’t able to destroy his soul.”
Tristé thought for a moment before she asked, “So you’re telling us that ‘this person’ doesn’t need his soul to be purified or anything and he just simply goes back to Samara whenever he likes?”
“That is correct,” Marika confirmed. “I suppose his life cycle will be similar to yours as well. As soon as your host’s body begins to rot away, you don’t die per se. You just seize another body and begin living a new life except you retain your memories. However you and your Parasitic and Possessor brethrens can die if your host gets killed if you are still inside it.”
Chiara nodded. “I think I get it now. He’s like a quasi-immortal like Tristé then. He can live forever, but he still can be killed unlike Lady Aundra and you.” The immortal assented. “But I don’t understand why you want Owain and the others to kill him. Why can’t you ask the Gods of Retribution to do it instead?”
“They did try, but he still keeps coming back. Kej has theorized that perhaps he needs to be killed by a mortal being in order to break the cycle. After many considerations, she concluded that all of you would be best choice for the job.”
“Speaking of which, you mentioned earlier that the All-Mother told you that you would meet us here. How does she know?” Talic asked curiously. That had been bothering for quite a while.
This time the Goddess of Healing didn’t answer immediately. She paused as if she was thinking of the best way to answer his question. Finally she answered, “When our predecessors died, they left us immortality and certain gifts that would help us maintain this world. Some of them like Oraji and Lanskas are quite obvious while others are not. Even though I am known throughout the world as the Goddess of Healing, I’m really known among my colleagues as the Ilmarian of Worlds. I’m in charge of making sure the world is safe and sound by traveling to different places to check on them. The people of Samara only called me by my other name because of the medical treatment that I provided during my travels. I am sure you’re aware of Hessin’s needle ring? Well, I was the one who gave it to him and the others.
“As for Kejuta, her gift is the ability to see the future of each individual. She can see different probabilities and determine which future has the best outcome for everyone. Unfortunately, she can’t see everyone at once because she’s only one person. And to answer your question, she saw that not only this is the best place for me to meet you, she also foresaw that you will get your next clue here.”
“Really? Do you know what it is?” he wondered as he dug into his pouch to retrieve the piece of paper with their target’s image. Unfortunately, the paper fell out, and the breeze blew it away. Dammit! That was their only clue to their target! Panicking, he reached out to get it but only his fingertips touched it as it fluttered lowly near the ground. Just as he was about to lose hope, a Grandehian boy used his foot and stepped on it, stopping it from flying away. A grateful Talic sprinted over to him with the others followed behind.
As the boy was about to hand it to him, he frowned and stared at the picture. He glanced up at Talic strangely before looking at the picture again. All of a sudden, he started clicking his tongue excitedly as he pointed to the picture much to the Eireneridan’s bewilderment. “He’s saying that he recognizes that man,” Lady Marika interpreted.
Talic and the others spun around. “Wait! He knows that man!?” Owain exclaimed. She nodded. “Can you ask him if he know where he was last?”
The goddess nodded and communicated with the boy before she replied, “He said that they saw that man a few weeks ago. Apparently, during his stay with them, they told him about a village southwest of here so he decided to change his itinerary and headed to that place instead. According to him, that person should be there still.”
“That’s great!” Chiara cheered. “Now we know where to go and get him.”
“It is,” Marika agreed, “especially now you have a chance to get him before the Velscendus Cult does.”
“Hold on! What do you mean the Velscendus Cult is trying to retrieve him?” Tristé demanded, narrowing her eyes at the goddess.
“The Velscendus Cult ambushed two of my colleagues and revealed that they are intending to capture your target for their personal use. Not only that, they also stole a needle ring to use,” she replied. “When Kej questioned Leomas about the Kasama, he revealed that the Kasama had gathered intel about the Loredan Desert, which means that he knows that your target is here. As you can see, it was a good thing we met here because otherwise, you would be heading in the opposite direction like the Velscendus Cult.”
“That would mean we have a head start then!” Owain determined. “Come on, we better hurry before they realize it!”
“Agreed,” Talic concurred. “We need to get our belongings and leave immediately. Let’s hurry back to camp.”
After everyone gathered their supplies, they were about to head out when Marika stepped in front of them. “Allow me to help. I can get you easily to your destination; I believe I know where to go.” She yanked out a needle ring from her staff and looked at the Grandehian boy. She pointed southwest and the boy nodded. Without hesitation, she pricked her finger and covered the metal ring before tossing it in the air. A gateway appeared, showing another part of the desert. “I had placed you a kilometer away from the village so not to alarm them. Just keep on going straight and you’ll arrive there soon enough. Go now!”
“Thank you!” Talic said appreciatively as he turned back to thank the goddess. “How can we ever thank you?”
“You can thank me by getting rid of your target before the Velscendus Cult gets to him,” she replied simply as the gateway closed shut.
As soon as they stepped through the portal, they looked around at their new surroundings. They were still surrounded by sands though it seemed different. The air seemed cooler though it was most likely there was a savannah close by. “Is everyone here?” Talic asked, looking around. Everyone nodded so he continued, “Let’s head out then.”
For the rest of their journey, they traveled mostly in silence as they nervously anticipated finally meeting their target. He and Armita took the front while Owain and Tristé took the rear. Chiara was in the middle, and Cuzo kept walking back and forth between them. An hour later, he could discern that they were approaching a village. “We’re almost there,” he informed the others. He noticed that Armita looked troubled. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” she sighed. “It’s just… I realized that I forgot to ask Lady Marika about Leomas’s condition. You probably think I’m a horrible friend for not asking.”
“No, I don’t,” he said firmly. “We were distracted over the fact that the Kasama is after our target as well. Besides I’m sure that Lady Marika knows and will tell him.”
“You’re right, I guess,” she said, patting her camel. She then leaned toward him and whispered, “Do you think you can do it?”
He didn’t need to ask her what she was meant by that. “I’m not sure,” he confessed. “I’ve never had to kill anyone before. You?”
“As a soldier, I was trained to kill only when necessary, but…” She hesitated. “… I’ve never killed any civilians so I don’t know if I can. I’m sure Owain and Chiara are the same way, though I can’t say about that one.”
Talic glanced back at Tristé, who was muttering something to Owain. The Possessor Duermon had declared that she would be the one to kill their target if they were too “wussy” to do it. He had to agree with Armita’s assessment; Tristé seemed like the one to do the dirty deed. However, it would mean that she’s going to do it in Adalynn’s body, and he was positive that Owain wouldn’t let that happen. If his sister was caught killing their target, she would have a difficult time proving that she wasn’t herself. “I’m sure the All-Mother has thought of something,” he told her. To be honest, even he wasn’t sure how the All-Mother was going to help them solve their dilemma.
“I know, and I hope everything turns out well,” she said anxiously before she lowered her voice even further. “That wasn’t what bothered me. Remember what Lady Marika told us about the All-Mother and how she has the ability to see the future? The other gods and goddesses had told us previously that she had personally chosen us for the job. What if…”
“What if what?” he asked. Talic felt a pit in his stomach once he realized what she was implying.
Nervous, she swallowed and continued, “I’m saying what if the All-Mother had Ithani run away so I would join you and Owain on this mission? What if she foresaw a future where Ithani joined the Velscendus Cult and decided that future? If she hadn’t run off, I would have never left the army and joined Bartheomos. If so, then does it mean Ithani is in danger because the All-Mother put her in that situation?”
At first, Talic didn’t know what to say. Armita did have a point and even he began to wonder whether or not the assembly of his team was coincidence. “I’m sure she wouldn’t intend your sister’s life to be in harm’s way,” he began slowly as he squeezed her hand in support. “Maybe she saw a future where we’ll save her?”
“I hope so.” However her tone sounded doubtful. Not knowing what to say, Talic just looked ahead without saying a word. They continued walking in silence until they reached the edge of the village. By then, it was late afternoon. After they secured their camels, they entered the village. At first, the villagers were cautious around them since they rarely received visitors but later relaxed once they realized that they didn’t mean any harm. A woman, whom Talic assumed to be the village head, stepped forward and raised her hands in a welcoming manner. “Greetings, visitors,” she spoke in the Isharan language though she still had a thick accent. “Welcome to our humble village. My name is Lyate, and I am the leader of this village. How may we help you?”
“Thank you. In fact we need your help. My colleagues and I are from Bartheomos and are looking for someone. Have you by any chance seen this person?” he asked, handing her the picture of their target.
She inspected the paper carefully before handed it back to him. “Indeed I have. He’s actually here. Let me show you where he is.”
Lyate then motioned them to follow her so they did. Along the way, Talic looked around. Most just went about their business though they stole some glances at their direction while a few smiled to them warmly as if to welcome them. It seemed like a friendly village, and he could see why Bobbas Veltez might have been interested in coming there.
They continued on their way until their guide led them to a clearing. Even before they arrived there, they could hear the sound of children’s laughter and a young man’s speaking. “Wait a minute, I’m supposed to grab the stick first before I can toss the rock at the target?” Talic heard him said and stiffened up. Whoever was speaking didn’t have an Ishan accent, which meant…
“He’s over there,” Lyate announced, pointing to a young man, who was swarmed by the village children. It looked like they were trying to explain to him one of their favorite games though he had a little difficulty grasping it. Bobbas Veltez looked exactly like the description – a gentle and friendly young man with Ankan features.
After thanking her, Talic and the others walked over to him. Their target didn’t notice them at first until one of the children tapped his arm and pointed at them. Bobbas stopped what he was doing and looked at them curiously as he waited for them to come. As soon as Talic was within arm’s reach, he stopped and said, “Are you Bobbas Veltez?” The man nodded slowly so he showed his Bartheomos badge. “We’re from Bartheomos, and we’ve been looking for you.”
“Bartheomos, you said? Why in the world would you be interested in me?” Bobbas wondered as he scurried around his hut, moving stacks of papers and other junks. Owain and the others maneuvered around the tiny room carefully as they tried to avoid tripping and bumping into things. An unsure Chiara was about to sit down on a stool, but he quickly rushed over there. “Don’t sit there just yet!” he told her hastily before removing some more stacks of papers. “Okay, now you can sit down. Sorry about the mess. I wasn’t expecting any guests or anything.”
After stepping over another pile of notes, Talic answered his first question, “We have received words that the Velscendus Cult is after you so we have come to retrieve you before they do.”
That was the lie that they have conceived in order to gain that man’s trust. Owain mused to himself dryly that technically they were telling the truth. Thanks to Lady Marika’s information, they now knew that the crazed cult was after their target; however, what he didn’t know was that they were sent to kill him. Upon hearing the news, Bobbas halted and turned to look at Talic incredulously. “The Velscendus Cult is after me? Why me? I’m just an anthropology graduate student!”
“We’re not sure,” the Lycian replied while thinking, actually we do.
The Ankan just shook his head and continued moving his belongings out of the way. “Now where is it?” he mumbled underneath his breath.
“Do you need any help?” Chiara offered as she was about to stand up again.
“No, no, no. It’s fine,” he reassured her, waving his hand. “I’m just looking for… aha! I found it.” He held up a small bottle that was halfway full of small pills. He then opened it and tapped out two pills, which he gulped down.
A concerned Armita walked over to him. “Are you feeling ill?”
“No, I’m fine. It’s just…” Bobbas paused to swallow another pill. “Whenever I feel stressed, I always get these migraines. Lately it has been getting worse; that’s why I’ve been taking more of my medicine often these days.”
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Tristé asked dubiously. “If I have a headache that severe, I would talk to a doctor.”
“I’m positive. I’ve been having them since childhood, so I’ve gotten used to them. Most of the time anyway.” He shrugged before clearing his throat. “Anyway, sorry for getting you off topic. So what do you recommend we do?”
“We think it’s best that we head back to civilization where we can protect you easily. You can stay at one of the Bartheomos headquarters until your life is no longer threatened,” Talic informed him.
Their target raised his eyebrow. “I’m assuming we’re leaving immediately then?”
Talic nodded. “The sooner, the better.”
“I understand. Let me pack up some of my belongings first.”
“All right, but pack lightly. We’re in a hurry and don’t want to risk the Velscendus Cult catching up to us,” the Eireneridan reminded him. “We’ll wait for you outside the village.”
Bobbas nodded as he looked around the room, stumped, as if deciding what to pack. Talic motioned to Owain and the others to leave as he opened the hut door. As Owain walked toward the exit, he noticed that Tristé was still standing there. “Come on, Tri- Adalynn!” he called out to her, but she waved him off.
“You guys go on ahead. I’m going to help him pack up,” she told him, walking over to the Ankan. The Lycian looked at her, dismayed. Don’t tell me that she is planning to kill Bobbas Veltez right there! It would be too obvious who killed him! She must have known what he was thinking because she turned around and shook her head. Nevertheless, he wasn’t at ease.
“It will be all right, Owain,” Talic reassured him. “Come on, we better get out of their way.” Owain nodded and reluctantly headed out. As Talic closed the door, he quickly stole a peek and saw that Bobbas was having a conversation with his “sister” as he was showing her an Ishan craftwork.
By the time Tristé was finished, the sun was about to set. Who would have thought it would take so long to do a simple task? But then there were so many interesting trinkets lying around and she (or rather a part of Adalynn) didn’t want them to go to waste. Hurrying to the others, she mused to herself that they were probably fretting by now. As soon as Talic and the others saw her approaching them, they gave her an apprehensive look. “Where’s Bobbas?” the Eireneridan asked quietly.
“Oh, he wants to thank Lyate for allowing him to stay in the village,” she replied matter-of-factly. “It should be quick so he should be here any minute now.”
Owain looked relieved when he heard the news. “Oh good! You didn’t…”
“I didn’t what?” She looked at him, affronted. “For the gods’ sake, Owain, I’m not an idiot! I’m not going to do the deed here when there are a lot of eyewitnesses! I know better than that!”
“Shhhh! Not so loud!” Chiara hissed, looking around nervously. Luckily, there was no one close by.
The Duermon just sniffed but took a deep breath to calm down. “Besides, I remember the plan, and I’m not going to risk ruining it by killing him due to impulse.”
After several debates and deliberations, they had decided that they would complete their mission in the desert. After all, the Loredan Desert was a perfect place. No one really traveled there except for a few Ishan tribes, but even they haven’t explored every kilometers of the place. That meant that they could easily kill him without risking being spotted by a bystander. As for the killing, she had volunteered to do the deed. While Bobbas Veltez is asleep, she would sneak into his tent and use her demonic flames to burn him alive until he’s nothing more than ashes.
No one talked at first as they slowly comprehended what they were going to do. They were going to do something that went against all that they stood for. “When should we do it?” Armita finally inquired.
“Not tonight,” Talic answered. “We’ll have to wait a few days until the coast is clear. Are you sure you want to do it, Tristé?”
“I’m sure,” she declared but her face fell. “I think anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Owain wondered.
She sighed. “I mean I really want to avenge my creator’s death by killing his murderer, but dammit, he’s such a nice guy. The whole time I was helping him pack up, we were having a lively conversation about our anthropology studies and families. Apparently his parents fled from Anka so he would have a better life. He was also explaining to me Ishan cultures and customs, which I think your sister would find fascinating. I think if Adalynn meets him, they would be great friends. I hate to admit it, but I don’t know if I can do it now. I bet all of you feel the same way too.”
Tristé looked at them to observe their reactions. Based on what she saw, they agreed with her. Owain looked especially relieved; no doubt he was glad that his sister’s body wasn’t going to be used to kill someone. Nevertheless he looked worried as well. “If you can’t kill him, then what should we do?”
“I’m sure we can think of something,” she said, trying to reassure him. She bit her lips in frustration. Dammit, why couldn’t Bobbas Veltez be a douchebag? It would make things so much easier for her; now they are stuck in this situation. Approaching footsteps alerted them that their target was here.
“Okay, I’m all set now,” he said, oblivious to what happened. “Is everyone ready to go?”
“Yeah, we’re ready,” Talic answered. The expression on his face didn’t betray what he was thinking. The Ankan nodded and followed them out to the Loredan Desert once more. The journey was mostly uneventful. No one really talked since everyone was pondering in thought, though they did make some small talk. However that changed during the late evening.
They were making their way past some dunes when Owain noticed something suspicious. “There’s something down there,” he observed, pointing down at two lumps.
Bobbas put on his glasses and peered down. “It looks like two people,” he noted and became alarmed. “I think they need help.”
Before anyone could stop him, he urged his camel down the sandy hill. “Wait for us!” Talic shouted, urging his camel to chase after their target. Cursing underneath her breath, Tristé followed suit as the others did the same. As they hurried down to the travelers, Tristé could see that they were an Isharan boy and woman. Why were they traveling in the desert especially without any supplies? By the time they reached the bottom of the dunes, Bobbas was checking on them. The boy seemed all right; he was alert as he stood on his knees and rested. He seemed more concerned on his companion, who was lying unconscious in Bobbas’s arms because he kept urging her to drink the water that the Ankan offered. As she came closer, the Possessor Duermon became alarmed once she recognized the boy. It was Talen – the very same boy who was supposed to guard her when she was a prisoner in Wellsborough. What was he doing here? On the other hand, she didn’t recognize the woman at all though she seemed vaguely familiar. She wore a ruby and gold dress with matching jewelry, a flowery headband, and ruby anklets. Who was she and how was she connected to the boy?
However, Armita knew who that person was because she leapt off her camel and rushed down there as she gasped, “Ithani!?”
---------- Post added May 12, 2014 at 08:43 PM ---------- Previous post was May 01, 2014 at 08:40 PM ----------
Chapter 24: Ithani
“How are you feeling now?” Talic watched quietly as Armita offered another cup of water to her sister.
Ithani accepted the offer and smiled. “Much better thanks to you,” she said after taking a sip. “If you hadn’t spotted us, we would be goners.” She frowned slightly. “Armie, what’s wrong? You look like you’re about to cry.”
“I’m just glad that you’re all right,” Armita told her as she wiped her tears and gave her a reassuring smile. Ever since they discovered that one of the ailing travelers was Ithani, Talic had noticed that Armita had a look of awe and hope as if she was shock that her sister was actually sitting next to her but worried that it wasn’t real. That was probably why she was keeping a close eye on her; she didn’t want to risk losing her sister again. The Isharan cleared her throat and added, “You should rest. We have a long journey ahead, and I want you to be fully rested.”
After making sure that Ithani and Talen were all right, they had decided to make camp for the night. While Armita was tending to her sister’s needs, Chiara had prepared a fire for them at the same time, Owain and Bobbas had set up camp; they had placed the tents so the opening wouldn’t face the cold desert wind and had the camels stayed close by. Mats and blankets that were bundled up so they could be used as pillows were arranged around the campfire. On the other side, he, Tristé, and Cuzo kept an eye on Talen, who sat across from the Culao siblings. They made sure to keep separate from the two sisters. The young boy didn’t seem pleased with this arrangement, but he didn’t protest.
As everyone then had dinner and prepared to turn in for the night, Talic wanted to get some questions answered. Looking at Ithani, the Eireneridan asked, “If you don’t mind, I have a few questions. Why were you wandering in the desert?”
The young woman looked at him and replied, “I was fleeing from the Velscendus Cult. Ever since I met the Kasama in Sabin, I realized what he was doing was wrong. He has such thirst for power and would not hesitate to hurt anyone who opposed him. That wasn’t why I joined them; we’re supposed to spread happiness everywhere, not chaos. When I tried to leave the first time, he threatened to hurt my family and promised that he would make them suffer if I did. I was so afraid of him because I know what he is capable of and what he might do so I stuck with him. I had to obey his orders lest he fulfilled his promise and watch him helplessly destroy my homeland. I swear that I didn’t know what he was planning with Leomas and I regret not doing anything to stop him. However, that changed when I saw you.”
Armita blinked in surprise when she realized that her sister was staring at her. “Me?”
She nodded. “When I heard you call my name in the palace and saw you standing right in front of me, I realized how foolish I was. Because of you, I was able to break free the Kasama’s hold on me and planned my escape. He must have sensed something was amiss because he requested to see me alone and questioned my loyalty. However, I managed to trick him into thinking that there was nothing wrong so he didn’t question me any further. Once I did that, I made my escape. While no one was watching, I stole some supplies and made a break for it. Or so I thought.”
Armita’s sister glowered at Talen, who returned her even stare. “Imagine my surprise to see him blocking my way. At first, I thought he was going to alert the Kasama of my misdeed so I was planning to run him over with my camel, but then he gestured that he wanted to come with me. I was reluctant to allow it as I was sure he was there to slow me down so the others could apprehend me, but at the same time, if I didn’t, he would surely run back and raise the alarm. So I reluctantly let him join me, and we’ve been traveling like this for several weeks. Unfortunately we got lost in the sandstorm and then my camel died a few days ago, so we had to walk the rest of the way. Our misfortune did not end there, as soon enough we had ran out of food and water. By then I thought we would be goners, but luckily we ran into you.”
Looking at everyone, she bowed her head gratefully. “Thank you for helping us. I am eternally grateful. I owe you for everything.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Owain replied. “We’ll just glad that you’re all right and that you were able to escape from the Velscendus Cult. I bet Armita is especially happy that you’re safe and sound. She has been worrying about you.”
Ithani turned to her sister. “You have, haven’t you?” she asked softly; Armita just hugged her as her reply. “I’m so sorry for making everyone worried for my stupid actions.”
“It’s all right now. We can go home together and you can apologize to everyone then. Father is going to be so thrilled to have you back,” she reassured her.
“He would, wouldn’t he?”
Talic coughed slightly to get their attention. “I hate to interrupt, but how far away was the Kasama’s camp when you fled?”
Ithani paused as she thought for a moment. “I’m guessing around thirty miles away, but…” She shiftily glanced at Talen, and Talic immediately knew what she was implying. The boy was an unknown factor. He still could be working with the Kasama and was sent to track her down so they could easily recapture her. But then he did help them at Wellsborough, but who knows what has happened to him since then? Most likely he was brainwashed into becoming an obedient follower once more.
The boy was acting suspicious after all. As soon as he saw them, his eyes widened once he recognized who they were. And as the group spoke amongst themselves, Talic noticed that the Isharan boy kept eyeing Bobbas and frowning. Remembering Lady Marika’s warning, the Eireneridan wondered if Talen was displeased to discover that they had retrieved their target first before the Kasama did. Talic looked at Cuzo to see his reaction; after all, his dog had a good sense of character. The tamed Kallian wolf didn’t seem threatened by the boy though he looked at him warily.
“I understand,” he answered finally as he gave a look at his team. ”Anyway, I better let you rest. Talen, why don’t you come with Tristé and me? We have some more questions we like to ask you privately.”
He had decided that the Duermon should come along and interrogate the boy since she was still on her mission to capture the Kasama, and the boy may know something that could help her. At the same time, he needed her expertise to determine if they were dealing with any Possessor Duermons. If they were, then they needed to eliminate the threat.
Tristé nodded knowingly and got up on her feet as she pulled Talen up. The boy didn’t seem thrilled because he kept staring at Ithani, but he followed them. As they were getting ready to leave, Owain, knowing what he was planning, exclaimed, “Oh, look! It looks like the fire is running low. We better get some more fire woods.”
“You’re right,” Chiara agreed. “Come on, Bobbas!”
Standing up, their target looked at them, confused. “What are you talking about? The fire is fine. Besides we still have plenty of fire elemen-… OW! What was that for!?” he exclaimed after the witch elbowed him on the side. However he realized what they were planning when he noticed that the two of them gestured toward Armita and Ithani. “Oh right! I supposed you’re right; we do need some more fire woods. Well, we should hurry before the fire goes out.”
Armita gave them a grateful look. She knew that they did that so she could spend some time alone with her sister and catch up. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll take care of the camp while you’re gone so take your time,” she called out.
“We will,” Talic replied with a smile as he led his group a little distance away for a little privacy.
“So what do you think?” Tristé whispered once they were out of earshot. They had made sure that Talen walked ahead of them. Cuzo walked right behind him just in case he did something rash; just one growl would warn the boy from doing something stupid.
Talic looked around and answered quietly, “She could be telling the truth. It could explain why she was still with the Kasama after the palace incident. Perhaps she was really frightened of him and feared his wrath. The only question I had is why the Kasama didn’t go after her if he had threatened her before? We now know that the Kasama has a needle ring so he could easily send men after them. Have you checked to see if any of them are possessed?”
She nodded. “She’s clean. I didn’t sense any Duermon present in her body.”
Her friend looked relieved. “That’s good to hear. I don’t know what Armita would do if Ithani was. And the boy?”
“The boy on the other hand…” The Duermon studied Talen and shook her head. “There’s something strange about him. I mean, I think I can detect a slight Duermon presence but I’m not sure. Some form of magic is interfering with my sensing.”
“Some form of magic?” Talic asked, alarmed. “Do you have any idea what it could be?”
“Unfortunately, no. Chiara might know, but she isn’t here so I can ask. So what do you think we should do?”
“If you’re thinking about killing him, don’t. We still need to figure out why he’s here and what he’s up to,” he warned her.
“Not to mention why he helped us before,” she added, remembering how he let her escape.
“Agreed. Anyway, I think this is far enough.” Walking over to the boy, he gave him a stick. “We have a few questions that we like to ask you. I know that you can’t talk so I want you to write your answers in the sand. Understood?” Talen nodded though he kept looking nervously back at camp, which they pretended not to notice. “Good. First question: why are you here?”
The boy hesitated before he wrote down:
Tristé and Talic glanced at each other. Well, that confirmed that suspicion. “Why are you following Ithani?” the Duermon questioned. Talen again hesitated so she repeated her question again. This time, he answered:
A gut feeling
“A gut feeling about what?” the Eireneridan asked.
Something odd is going on here
The Possessor Duermon snorted. “You can say that again. There is something odd here, and that is you. Why did you let me escape back in Wellsborough? You must have a reason.”
“Important? For what?” she asked incredulously. The boy squirmed as if he realized he revealed too much and refused to answer so she decided to ask another question.
“You seem to recognize the Ankan who is traveling with us. Do you know anything about him?” The boy shook his head vehemently. “You’re such a liar! We know you know who he is. Let me guess; the Kasama ordered you to follow Ithani so you can report her whereabouts to him. Then you happened upon us and lo and behold, it’s your lucky day because the person that your leader is after is with us. Now don’t you deny it!”
Nevertheless, Talen shook his head yet again, which angered her. “You little pipsqueak!” she snarled as she raised her hand, but Talic held her arm.
“Calm down, Tristé! You’re not helping the situation,” he hissed in her ear. Irritated, she huffed and forced herself to lower her arm. Talen watched the entire time without showing any expression on his face. The dark-skinned man then turned his focus on the boy. Speaking gently, he said, “You know more than you’re letting on, don’t you? It’s all right; we won’t hurt you, I promise. We just need to get some answers. Now I need you to tell me the truth. Why did you help us in Wellsborough?”
For what seemed like hours, Talen just stared at Talic, who returned his stare. Tristé mused to herself that it looked like the boy was debating with himself on whether or not he should talk. Finally, he sighed and wrote down his answer, which stunned both of them:
Because I know about your mission
“Do you think they’ll be all right?” Chiara wondered, looking back at Talic and Tristé’s direction.
Owain looked back as well before he turned his attention back to her. “I’m sure that they’ll be fine, but who knows? We don’t know what the boy is capable of, and he could be a trained assassin for all we know. But don’t worry; Talic and Tristé are skilled fighters, and they do have Cuzo with them.”
“That’s true, but I have a bad feeling something terrible is going to happen,” she confessed. The Lycian gave her a reassuring pat on the back.
“Everything is going to be fine. I’m sure you’re nervous because of our mission.”
The ambassador-in-training glanced over at Bobbas, who was preoccupied rereading some of his notes that he carried in his satchel. He sat a small distance away from them so they were able to have their conversation without worrying about his eavesdropping. “I guess so,” she mumbled. Her hands slightly trembled as she gripped her wand tight.
“So what are we going to do now? Are we still going ahead with the plan?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Since Ithani is here, it changes everything. We don’t want to kill him when she’s around. Not to mention we have to worry about that boy and his motives for being here. At this rate, we have to take him back to Ishara.”
“But if we do, then it would be more difficult for you to complete your mission!” Chiara protested.
“I know, but what can we do?” he replied. “We now have two people who aren’t involved in this with us! If we kill him now, they will know for sure”
“What if you kill him using subtle methods?”
“You know, poisoning him. We can always say that he’d gotten ill and died as a result.”
“Not a bad idea,” he noted, “but we’re dealing with someone that even the gods couldn’t kill. What if he has immunity to the poison? That wouldn’t help us at all.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that.” She brought her knees to her chest and rested her head on them. Just thinking about their dilemma made her more anxious so she decided to change the subject. “You know, I’m glad that Armita is reunited with her sister.”
Owain agreed, “Me too. It had been rough for her since it took her so long to find her. Imagine searching for five years! I have to admire Armita for not giving up.”
“What do you think they’re doing right now?” she wondered as she glanced back at camp. She could barely see the glowing light from the fire.
“I bet they’re talking right now,” he said as he laid down on the blanket that they brought with them. “Anyway, let’s relax for a bit since they do need to catch up.”
The Kreesian nodded and laid down as well. Looking up at the night sky, she felt calm as she continued her conversation with Owain while they waited.
“Armie, are you all right?” Startled, Armita shook her head and looked at her sister’s worried face. “You were talking to me but suddenly you’re quiet. You kept smiling at me though it looks like you’re daydreaming.”
Blushing slightly, she admitted, “Sorry, but I was wondering if this is a dream or not. I have been searching for you for so long that I worry that you’re not actually here.”
Ithani smiled and held her hands. “See? You can feel my hands holding yours. I am here, and I’m not going to leave you ever again.”
Still smiling, she stood up and began to dance slowly. Armita said concernedly, “Ithani, you shouldn’t be moving around like that! You almost died out there, and you must be still weak.”
“I’m all right, Armie. I was just feeling antsy from sitting around so I just want to move around for a bit,” her sister replied in a sing-song voice.
Knowing that her sister was going to be stubborn about it, Armita didn’t bother to argue and watched Ithani performed her little dance. She shuffled her feet in a circular motion as her arms swayed in the night breeze. After a few minutes, she finally decided that it was enough. “Sit down, Ithani,” she said gently as she patted the spot next to her. “You’re making me dizzy now.”
Instead of sitting down, Ithani ignored her and asked, “After I ran away from home, you quit the army and joined Bartheomos to look for me, right?”
“That’s right,” she replied. Armita touched her head. Just watching Ithani dance was making her head spin for some reason.
“You defied Father for my sake?”
“I did.” Armita was getting slightly irritated. Her sister was dancing faster and faster without stopping, which further aggravated her light-headiness.
However, Ithani didn’t seem to notice as she inquired, “So you searched for me for five years doing everything in your power to get me back?”
“Of course I did! I told you that already! Why are you asking me that?” the older Culao sister wondered. Annoyed, she tried to stand up so she could get Ithani and forced her to sit down. Imagine her surprise when she realized that she couldn’t move her body. It was as if it was lead.
Meanwhile, her sister stopped and looked up at the sky; her back was toward Armita. She stood like that for a moment without saying a word as she ignored her older sister’s yelp of confusion. Finally she spoke. “I asked you those questions because I wanted to know one thing,” she said as she turned her head back to look Armita, revealing red glowing eyes. “Are you willing to kill your friends to help me?”
As for Talen, you'll see ^^
Chapter 25: Dalenthi
Armita was stunned. Ithani was possessed by a Duermon but how was it possible? “Wait… wh-what?” she managed to sputter in confusion.
Her sister just smiled as she walked over to her and smoothed the hair out of her face. “Shh, it’s all right, Armie,” she shushed. Armita winced as she tried to pull her head back; those red glowing eyes terrified her. “Don’t be frightened; it will all be over soon. Now if you don’t mind…”
She lowered her arms to Armita’s side and pulled out her weapons. Walking over to the camels, she calmly stabbed them in the necks. They cried out in pain before they slumped down to the ground. “Don’t want anyone following us,” she explained simply as she looked back at her older sister, who watched helplessly.
Finally Armita found her voice and demanded, “Who are you and what did you do to Ithani?”
“Ithani” kissed her teeth and shook her head. “What are you talking about, Armie?” she said, smiling widely as she spun around with her arms akimbo. “I am Ithani though not what you expect. I am a Duermon possessing her body.”
“I don’t understand. Tristé didn’t detect any Duermon presence in you, or she would have said something,” she mumbled confoundedly.
The Duermon laughed as she continued spinning. Armita felt herself becoming woozier but couldn’t do anything about it. Her body still refused to move. “Of course she wouldn’t be aware of me! She’s one of the old breed; I am a new type of Duermon.”
“A new type?”
“I am a Dalenthi, and we came into existence by pure accident.” Her “sister” halted and looked around warily before she continued; “I’m sure I have plenty of time to tell you my story. They will be too busy interrogating that insufferable brat and keeping an eye on the Lashival.”
Armita blinked. “The Lashival?”
“You’ll learn soon enough, but right now aren’t you interested in who I am?” The Duermon smiled as she began to sway again. “Several centuries ago, I was just a typical Possessor Duermon – a nobody. I was just barely surviving in this world when I heard words of a wonderful place where I can get host bodies without risking my life. Eager for a better life, I rushed over there, not knowing of the price I must pay.
“The Humanistic Duermon who was in charge of that city had the ability to manipulate souls. As soon as I agreed to offer the host body what he desired, he immediately used his magic to make me into a submissive slave. For years I served that heartless bastard without any question until a certain day. Somehow he managed to get himself captured by those fake gods, who forced him to remove his loyalty and obedience spell on my brethren and me. Once we were aware that we were free from his control, we were vivid to say the least. However, that wasn’t the worst insult that he left us.
“Before he headed back with his captors, he ordered our potential hosts to go back to live in Sendoa, leaving us without any extra bodies for us to use. Angry, we protested, asking him how were we supposed to survive since some of our current hosts were about to die out? You know what he said? That bastard simply said, ‘Learn to cohabit with each other’ and left us there. At first we were stunned by his cold response and didn’t know what to do. We all just waited, hoping that he would return to us but he didn’t. A few from our group finally left, though most of us stayed. For centuries, we were so dependent on him that many of us couldn’t remember the old ways of retrieving bodies so we stayed in that place, unwilling to accept that our easy lifestyle was gone.
“However, we tried to make do. While the Possessor Duermons were able to slow down our host bodies’ from rotting, the Parasitic ones could not. One by one, they wasted their bodies until desperate, one of them forced his way into a possessed body. Both Duermon battled for control as my comrades and I watched in horror, not knowing what was going on. The only thing we saw was that the body was writhing in pain. Finally it stopped and the person stood up with a smile on his face. While his glowing eyes confirmed that he was a Duermon, we couldn’t detect his presence at all. Curious but fearful, we asked him which Duermon was he? He smiled and told us that he was new breed – a perfect Duermon breed.
“We were baffled by his answer and demanded an explanation. He then explained to us what happened. At first the Possessor and Parasitic Duermon struggled to gain control of the host. They fought each other until the latter decided to eat his brethren as well as the host’s soul. However, the Possessor Duermon continued to put up a fight. Even though he was being devoured, he used his ability to gain control of a person’s soul on the Parasitic. Not only was he still able to gain control of his host bodies, he also gained both Duermon and human characteristics. He could use the Parasitic Duermon’s ability to devour the human soul but at the same time, use his takeover ability to absorb the soul into his so the soul wouldn’t be destroyed. Then he was able to avoid detection by using the human’s presence to mask his existence. In other words, he merged all three souls together though he was the dominant one.
“We listened with amazement and decided to follow suit. We flung ourselves upon our Parasitic Duermons and forced them to merge with us. Sure enough, he was telling us the truth. Not only did we gain complete control of our host bodies, we also had the capability to live amongst the humans. Thrilled by that thought, we decided to call ourselves a new name since we were a new being: Dalenthi. Soon we spread words to other Parasitic and Possessor Duermons living around the borders and they eagerly joined us as well. However we were still without a leader until he showed up one day.”
“The Kasama”, Armita mumbled. Her body was beginning to feel like lead and it was hard for her to move even her fingers.
“Ithani” nodded. “He appeared before us along with a small group of men. He had heard about our miraculous existence and wanted to learn more about it. However, he declined becoming a Dalenthi, telling us that he had a plan. First he asked us if we were still bitter about how our former master used us and then abandoned us to our fate. We answered with a resounding yes. He then asked us if we were interested in getting revenge on him. Intrigued, we nodded and listened intently as he explained how we could exact our revenge. While the Kasama was under that man’s spell, he was asked to find a certain person with the ability to kill a god; a person whom the gods called the Lashival. Our former master wishes to use him for his own intentions, but since we are no longer in his service, we could use that weapon against him and those other fake gods. If we have the Lashival, we can force them to do our bidding. Imagine the possibilities!
“In order for it to work, he said that we needed more people. ‘Since humans are so gullible, why not start a cult?’ he proposed. ‘We can promises things that appealed to them, such as riches and happiness?’ And we could easily hide our presence, he suggested a few groups go around the world and recruit new members by promoting eternal happiness. Once we got them, we could offer them trinket boxes, which actually contained the souls of the Dalenthi. That way, we will be able to build an army to fight against those fake gods as well as search for that weapon. After saying his spiel, he asked us if we were willing to join him and his crew.
“We readily agreed and accepted his offer. Just the thought of making that asshole bow before us motivated us! However, we were suspicious of why he and his men refused to become one of us. Smiling, he told us that he figured we would ask so he explained that he knew that Emperor Janaam Acesta would suspect that he was our former boss so he needed to assuage him. After he convinced the emperor that he wasn’t him, he would join us.”
“So that’s why Tristé believed that he was a Possessor Duermon because he was,” Armita realized. “He must have become a Dalenthi when he made his escape through the Jaquan Mountain Range. That would explain why Prin and the other exorcists didn’t detect him and the other Velscendus Cult members!”
“Right again,” “Ithani” corroborated. “He waited until then since he knew the exorcists had set up traps there. While he was busy causing mischief in Idilarys, we would preach the words of the great Kasama and at the same time, we would secretly bring over the trinket boxes. After he arrived in the other side of Jaquan, he joined up with us. Then the next stage would begin. He would summon small groups to meet with him and offer them those trinkets. Those foolish humans were so eager to be rewarded that they accepted them without questions.” She chortled. “Well, they didn’t expect us to suddenly pop out and take over their bodies! One by one, our hosts fell to our grasp. The best part was that no one suspected a thing!”
“When did Ithani…?” Armita couldn’t dare finish her train of thought. At the moment, she felt numb. Her sister was possessed the entire time; neither she nor anyone else was aware of it.
“Become a Dalenthi?” her captor finished and smiled, showing her bare teeth. “When she met the Kasama in Sabin. Oh, don’t be so upset about it. Your sister didn’t put up a fight at all since she was ready to offer her life for the all-mighty Kasama. After he learnt about her past and her powerful family influence, he realized that she was a perfect fit for me because she corresponds perfectly to my power.”
“Ithani” nodded. “That’s right. I have the ability to mesmerize potential hosts. Once I have them in my power, I can make them be willing to do what I ask of them. Combined with your sister’s dancing talent and my hypnosis power, I was able to ‘persuade’ anyone to the Kasama’s cause.”
Armita gasped as she recalled how Kian told her that Ithani was at the meeting with Leomas. “Wait, that would mean-”
“Correct. I was the one who influenced Leomas,” she snickered but frowned. “Unfortunately I used too much on him so that addled his brain a bit. Well, I’ll try to be more careful with you.”
The Dalenthi sauntered over to her and cupped her head. “You see, we had learned from one of our sources who escaped getting killed in the Kallia Forest that Tristé had joined forces with three Bartheomos members. We didn’t know who they were until our chance encounter in the palace. You see, we figured out that you must one of the Bartheomos members that my comrade had spoken of since we deduced that Tristé would have immediately followed up to Ishara once words spread. Once I confirmed your identity, we made other plans.
“After we made our escape, the Kasama knew that the so-called All-Mother will focus her attention on him since she was now aware of our plans. She would be distracted into delaying him, he decided to send me ahead to retrieve the Lashival first. We made up a story about my wanting to leave in case I bumped into you and your colleagues along the way. Then, when no one expects it, I was supposed to kill all of you. Unfortunately, that brat Talen was suspicious of me and decided to tag along. Oh well, I’ll deal with him later.
“Anyway, everything was going according to plan until that sandstorm hit. Lost, I didn’t know what way to go so I picked a random direction and headed there. It was a good thing too. Not only did I encounter your group, you had the Lashival with you. How ironic that we would meet like that! Perhaps it was fate,” she mused and looked at her thoughtfully. “You know, I did plan to kill you, but I think you could be useful to me. After all, I hate to see good help wasted and I don’t want my big sister to get hurt.”
“You’re not Ithani! Don’t you dare call me that! I’m not your big sister,” Armita snarled angrily as she tried to lunge at the Dalenthi futilely.
“But I am Ithani. I’m just reborn into a better specimen,” she insisted as she backed away. “Your comrades were so nice to let me have some quality time with you. By the time they get back, you will be directly under my power. You will help me capture the Lashival and bring him back to the Kasama. It’s a pity that I didn’t have one of those trinket boxes with me. You would have been a great asset for the Kasama. Oh well, I’ll just have to bring you with me and then we’ll be together forever.”
She laughed merrily as she began her dance again. Panicking, Armita struggled to move but to no avail. “Don’t bother resisting, dear sister,” the Dalenthi purred, dancing faster and faster. “Just relax and close your eyes. Everything’s going to be all right.”
Desperate, the Bartheomos member tried to open her mouth to scream for the others, but her mouth wouldn’t move. She was feeling light-headed, and she could barely think at all. Her eyelids were feeling heavy as well so she slowly closed her eyes. The last thing she saw before she was succumbed by the darkness was that “Ithani” had stopped dancing and was grinning triumphantly at her. Her red, glowing eyes pierced into her mind.
Sitting up, Owain stretched his arms and announced, “Whelps, I think it’s time we headed back.”
The others nodded as they stood up and stretched as well. By then, the sky had become slightly darker. As they headed back to camp, Chiara asked, “Do you think Talic and ‘Adalynn’ are done questioning Talen?”
Owain shrugged. “Who knows? Since they’re dealing with a member from that cult, they’ll probably take a little longer.”
“That reminds me,” Bobbas said, rubbing his chin. He looked at Owain curiously. “Why is your sister interrogating that boy anyway? She is a civilian, is she not? Shouldn’t you be the one questioning him instead of her?”
Oh crap! They had forgotten about that part! “Um… you see,” he began as he quickly tried to think of a lie. “Well, for her dissertation, she decided to study the influence of cults and their effect on the population. When we found out that the Velscendus Cult was after you, we decided to bring her along due to her expertise on the subject. Talic wanted her with him since she knows how to deal with those types of people.”
The Ankan looked at him with amazement. “She’s doing her research on cults!? She didn’t mention that to me at all,” he muttered.
“Errr… yeah. She wanted to keep it top secret because you know how crazy some cults are,” Owain replied hastily.
“I understand; they are after me for some odd reason,” Bobbas replied wryly and shook his head. “Still I’m impressed. Maybe I can discuss with her about her findings. I think it would be fascinating to say the least.”
“It would,” he agreed. Now he just had to give Tristé a heads-up so she wouldn’t be confused about when talking to Bobbas. They continued their small talks as they returned back to camp. Heading toward the camp fire area, Owain shouted, “Hey, Armita and Ithani! We’re back!”
However, as soon as he saw the Culao siblings, his instinct told him something was amiss. First of all, Armita was acting strange. She was standing with her shoulders and head slump as if she was a marionette. Second, she was holding her butterfly knives. Why was she holding them? They were in no immediate danger. Not to mention, why was there blood on them? Lastly, her sister was standing with her back toward them as she ignored them and continued muttering something to her sister, who didn’t react at all.
Chiara must have noticed as well because she asked concernedly, “Is Armita all right?”
“She’s fine,” Ithani replied; her back still toward them. “We just took a little walk around camp and decided to tidy up the place. Isn’t that right, sister?” Armita nodded slowly; the only sound Owain heard was her heavy breathing.
Alarmed, he inquired, “Wait, what you mean you tidy up the camp? Everything was set up fine.” He, Chiara, and Bobbas rushed over to the tents and gasped. The tents were trashed and all of their supplies destroyed. That wasn’t the worst of it – all of their camels were killed.
He heard Bobbas gasped behind him. “What in Samara happened here!?” the young man exclaimed.
“Oh…nothing much.” They spun around to see that Ithani and Armita were standing closely behind Bobbas. Too close for comfort. The younger Culao sister smiled sweetly at them. “I just wanted to make sure you won’t be able to follow us. Right, Armita?” The older sister nodded again.
Owain looked at them, befuddled. “Wait, what are you talking about? What’s going on, Armita?”
Ithani kissed her teeth as she cupped Armita’s chin and moving her head back and forth. “Unfortunately, my big sister can’t talk to you right now. She’s too busy following my orders and one of them was not to talk to you.”
“Orders?” Chiara wondered.
“That’s right. She only obeys me now since that’s what sisters do,” she confirmed and bared her teeth. “And here’s one now: Armita, retrieve the Lashival for me.”
As soon as she said that command, Armita’s head suddenly shot up. While she wore a determined look on her face, her eyes were glassy. Before a surprised Owain or Chiara could react, she quickly rammed the handle of her left butterfly knife into Bobbas’s stomach and then hit him on the back of the head with the other when he buckled down in pain, knocking him unconscious. Before he could even fall to the ground, Ithani caught him in her arms. “Thank you, Armie!” she said in a singsong manner as she clutched their target tightly like a doll. “You make your sister so happy now!”
At first Owain stared at the two Isharans in shock but he quickly overcame his bewilderment. “What are you two doing!? Tell me what’s going on here!” he demanded angrily.
“You want to know, do you, hm?” Ithani let out a boisterous laugh and stared at Owain and Chiara, who were taken aback by her appearance. Her red eyes twinkled as she looked at them, amused by their reactions. “Well, my dear sister and I are going to take our friend over here and bring him back to the Kasama.”
“You’re a Duermon!?” Chiara gawked. Ithani just smiled condescendingly at her. “B-b-but how? Tristé would have…”
“I would like to tell you, but unfortunately, I don’t have much time. You see, the Kasama is waiting for me, and I don’t want to keep him waiting,” she apologized mockingly.
Owain quickly pulled out his bow and aimed an arrow at her. “Like hell I would let it happen!” From the corner of his eyes, he saw that Chiara had done the same.
She just laughed. “I figured you would say that so I decided to keep you busy.” Clearing her throat, she shouted in a terrified voice, “Armie, please protect me! They’re trying to kill me!”
Armita turned to look at them; her face was now distorted with fury though her eyes were still glassy. Without any hesitation, she stepped in front of her sister so Owain couldn’t take a shot. Then she quickly lunged at them and began slashing at them, leaving them no time to defend themselves. At the same time, she made sure that she was still between them and her sister so they couldn’t have a chance to strike the latter. “Stop it, Armita! Don’t you recognize us?” Owain pleaded desperately as he used his bow to block another fierce attack.
“It’s us, Owain and Chiara!” as the latter was positioned behind Owain, to protect her. With the attacks coming in quick succession, she didn’t have time to cast a spell or two. “We’re comrades, remember?”
However she was relentless in her attack against them, while Ithani crackled. “Don’t bother pleading for your pathetic lives! My sister will hunt you down until you’re dead!” she taunted as she slowly dragged Bobbas away from the fighting. She then cried out again, “Armie, they’re trying to hurt me! Help me!”
As soon as she heard her sister’s cries, Armita increased the intensity of her attacks, attacking them with quicker slashes. “I must protect my sister,” she mumbled numbly, continuing to swing her knives at them.
Owain flinched when he felt the blades made several slices on his arms. Though the wounds were shallow, they still pained him. However, he felt his endurance was slowly ebbing away. His knees were feeling wobbly, and he was losing his grip on his bow. Armita must have sensed it too because she suddenly did a roundhouse kick, which connected and hit him on his right side.
“Oof!” he gasped, landing on top of poor Chiara, who yelped with surprise. Rubbing his sore side, he glanced up to see Armita staring down at them with her blank eyes. She pointed her knives down at them as if she was waiting for permission to kill them. Sure enough, it came.
“You got them where I want them!” Ithani praised her older sister. By now, she had dragged Bobbas to a safe distance where they couldn’t reach him. “Now kill them before they could have a chance to hurt us!”
An obedient Armita nodded and began to thrust her knives at them. Out of instinct, Owain quickly used his body as a shield to hopefully lessen the impact on Chiara and squeezed his eyes shut as he waited for the first stab to occur. It didn’t happen though. Instead, he heard a metal clang as if her knives struck something glass. Opening his eyes, he saw a strange barrier, which must be what Armita had hit, and a pair of black boots. Confused, he looked up to see whose boots do they belong to and could only gape at the sight before him. Right in front of him was an Aerian.
He was stunned. The whole time he had thought that the fabled winged people were just myth, but lo and behold, one was standing with her back toward Chiara and him. She had long, white hair that fluttered in the wind. She also wore a blue-and-white playsuit and knee-high boots; from his view, he could see that armor covered her arms and legs. In her hands was a blue-and-gold winged spear. “An Aerian?” a baffled Chiara gaped.
However, the Aerian’s attention was on her opponents especially Ithani. After her attack was blocked, Armita had leapt back and placed herself in front of her possessed sister, who seemed amused. The mind-controlled Isharan had a wary look on her face as she posed in a fighting stance and stared at the angel. “A Duermon?” the Aerian wondered aloud, staring at Ithani with her red, glowing eyes, and got into a fighting position as well.
Ithani smirked. “I was wondering when you’re going to show yourself, Aerian,” she taunted as she tightened her grip on their target. Upon seeing Bobbas captured, their savior tensed up. “I see that you noticed my ‘friend’ over here. I can’t wait to see your face when the Kasama uses him against you and those imposters!”
“As if I’ll let you get away!” the Aerian retorted and charged at her.
The Duermon smiled and as soon as the Aerian was close by, screamed, “Sister, protect me! The Aerian is trying to kill me!” At once, Armita jumped in the way and blocked the attack. Without any hesitation, she swung her knives at the Aerian, who was forced to back away. Nevertheless, she refused to give up and attempted to reach Ithani again. Each time, Armita would stop her and countered. During the battle, Owain was able to see the front of the Aerian and was frightened by what he saw – the visor that covered the top half of her face had hundreds of red eyes. They would look this way and that way; some would blink as if they were actually from a living being.
Meanwhile, Ithani just crackled as she watched with amusement at the angel’s futile attempts. The whole time Owain and Chiara could only watch in amazement that they didn’t notice Talic and the others arrive behind them until they were right next to them. “Are you two all right?” Talic asked as he and Tristé helped them up. Cuzo guarded in front of them, watching the battle unfold in front of him; his fur was straight up as he made a low and dangerous growl.
“We’re fine,” Owain answered and glanced over at Armita and Ithani. He then noticed that Talen wasn’t with them and began to panic. What if Talic and Tristé were under a spell as well? “Where’s Talen?” he ventured.
Tristé pointed over to the Aerian. “Over there. Apparently she was disguised as that boy the whole time.”
“We were interrogating Talen when he or rather she suddenly blurted out, ‘There’s something wrong’ and hurried back to camp before we could stop her. Imagine our surprise to see Talen changed into an Aerian right before our eyes,” Talic explained. He kept looking over at Armita with a worried expression. “What happened? Why is Armita fighting her?”
He and Chiara shook their heads. “I don’t know, but Ithani is actually a Duermon in disguise. She managed to brainwash Armita to do her bidding and now has Bobbas!” the Kreesian exclaimed. “What should we do?”
Talic didn’t immediately answer. Owain noticed that he wore a grim expression and realized that his friend was afraid that Armita’s mind was lost like Leomas’s. They needed to find a way to break Ithani’s spell but how? He couldn’t attack her because Armita would use herself as a human shield. At the same time, they couldn’t risk falling under the spell too.
Luckily for them, the Aerian made their decision for them. After parrying with Armita, she found an opening and used her spear to knock her opponent off her feet. Then she quickly created bindings made out of light and shadows, which she wrapped around Armita’s arms, legs, and waist to restrain her before she could jump back to her feet. A furious Armita cursed as she struggled to get free, but the angel ignored her as she knelt down. Touching two fingers on the Isharan’s forehead, she muttered something underneath her breath. Armita’s eyes widened as her body jerked before it relaxed as she fell unconscious. Owain breathed a sigh of relief; it looked like Armita will be all right. Talic must feel the same way since he immediately ran over to her to check on her. “I’m going to see if she’s hurt,” Chiara said hastily, hurrying after him.
All of a sudden, he heard laughter. Shit! He was so busy watching the fighting that he forgot about Ithani. Turning around, he was shocked to see her holding a needle ring. She has it in her person the whole time!? What happened next shocked him. Still laughing, she pricked her finger, coated the ring with her blood, and then tossed it in the air, creating a portal to another part of the Isha desert. Wait a minute; he thought only the gods could use the needle rings! The Aerian most likely thought so too because she stood there for a moment, stunned.
Seeing their reactions, Ithani smiled condescendingly. “While I enjoy meeting you all, I need to go. The Kasama is waiting for me after all,” she apologized as she backed slowly into the gateway with her prisoner in toll. She looked over at him and the others before she added, “By the way, thank you for the lovely present. The Kasama will be most thrilled to have him as our guest of honor.”
Upon hearing those words, the Aerian quickly overcame her shock and went into action. Before Ithani could enter the portal, the angel created a magic circle below her feet, preventing her from escaping, and flew at her with her spear aimed at the Isharan’s heart. Instead of being terrified of her impending death, Ithani just smiled and raising her hand, said, “Since Armie couldn’t do a good job of delaying you, I guess I’ll have to do it myself.”
All of sudden, the Aerian cried out in pain and crashed into the ground. Alarmed, Owain and Tristé ran over to her as she slowly got on her knees while clutching her left arm. “Are you all right?” he asked, helping her sit up. Even though she looked like she was in agony, she nodded without looking at him. Her armor was sinking back into her skin at the time so he was able to notice something glowing under her clutched hand and realized that it was a Velscendus Cult insignia tattooed to her arm. That was when it dawned on him what happened before; Ithani must have used it against the Aerian to cause her intense pain. Looking back at Ithani, he was dismayed to see that the barrier preventing her from escaping was gone, and she and Bobbas were now on the other side of the portal.
“Ha ha! Nice try, Aerian!” she taunted as the portal slowly shrank. “I hope you like my goodbye present for you! But don’t feel be that upset. My master will be coming back for you and end your sad existence once and for all once we have complete control of the Lashival!”
Cursing, the Aerian pushed Owain’s hands off her and attempted to perform one last attack. With all of her might, she threw her spear at the possessed Ithani, but it was too late. The portal closed shut, and the weapon hit nothing but air. Frustrated, the angel collapsed to the ground and pounded her fists to the sand. Owain could only watch helplessly. Their target was taken away right in front of them, and he was now in the hands of a dangerous enemy.
Yeah, I planned that line since the very beginning since I know that would get the readers' attention.
---------- Post added June 20, 2014 at 08:53 AM ---------- Previous post was June 04, 2014 at 03:17 PM ----------
Chapter 26: An Explanation
“This is not good. I need to tell Kej about this,” the Aerian muttered as she immediately began writing her message. After the ordeal, everyone was just sitting there, stunned and exhausted, as they tried to recuperate from the battle. Chiara was tending the still-unconscious Armita while Talic held onto her protectively with her head resting on his lap. His worried expression was still on his face. She and Owain sat close by with the winged newcomer after searching through the camp for anything that was salvageable. On the other hand, Cuzo prowled around the camp just in case the Velscendus Cult decided to return.
Intrigued, Tristé watched quietly while the angel created a messenger bird and sent it away; during that time, she observed that the Velscendus insignia that was tattooed on the Aerian’s arm appeared to glow brighter, but it dimmed once the letter was sent. She didn’t realize that she was staring until the winged woman turned to look at her and asked bluntly, “Do you need anything?”
The Duermon scowled. That was one reason she disliked Aerians; they always acted high and mighty. “Actually I do, Talen,” she replied dryly, “though I highly doubt that is your real name so what is it?”
The Aerian looked at her reproachfully but answered, “It’s Alethea, and may I ask what’s yours? Kej hand told me a little about you, but I didn’t know your names.”
After a brief introduction, Owain asked, “How do you know the All-Mother, Lady Alethea?”
“You don’t need to be formal with me. Just call me by my name,” she insisted, still rubbing her arm, “and to answer your question, she’s one of my colleagues.”
“So you’re immortal then?” Tristé determined, and Alethea nodded. “Huh, makes sense. That would explain how you’re the only one to survive that tragedy long ago. Just one question: since you know about us, why didn’t you reveal yourself to us? If you have, none of this might have happened.”
“I was on a mission and didn’t want to jeopardize it. I also didn’t want to risk endangering your lives,” she explained. Her face faltered. “At the same time…”
“You weren’t sure we would capture you and turn you in to the Sendoan government,” the Duermon finished. The look on Alethea’s face confirmed it. “Jeez, you should know to trust us. I mean, if your friends do, shouldn’t you?”
“If you constantly worry about being put into a cage, you would be wary of everyone as well, Duermon,” she retorted dryly but flinched as she tightened her grip.
Worried, Chiara walked over and checked up on her. “Are you all right?” she asked as she gently pried the Aerian’s hand off her arm. The insignia still gave out a sinister, soft glow as if it was alive.
“I’m fine,” she claimed though she did grimace. “I’ve gotten used to it since the Kasama and his followers used it on me all the time. I always wonder why he enjoyed tormenting me, but since it now confirmed that they’re Duermons, they probably knew my secret.”
Tristé nodded. She had known some Duermon whose ability was to detect Aerians’ presence; most likely some of the cult members had that ability too. Owain looked at Alethea curiously. “Wait a minute; you didn’t know that Ithani was a Duermon as well?”
Upon hearing that question, the Possessor Duermon frowned. It still bothered her that she wasn’t able to notice that Ithani was possessed. If she had, then none of this would have happened. Armita wouldn’t be used as a pawn, and Bobbas wouldn’t have been captured. Alethea shook her head.
“No, I didn’t though it may confirm Kejuta and my suspicions.”
Suspicions? Before anyone could ask her, Armita began to stir. Everyone turned their attention to her as they waited cautiously for to wake up. Would she immediately start attacking them as soon as she regained consciousness or…? Alethea must have sensed their uncertainty because she told them reassuringly, “It’s all right. I managed to restore her back to normal using an Aerian counter spell.”
Everyone especially Talic looked relieved. “Then she’ll be all right?” he inquired and smiled at her confirmation. They watched as Armita’s eyelids began to flutter before she opened slowly her eyes, which was no longer glazed.
She looked at Talic with a confused look on her face as if she was wondering why she was resting on his lap. “Wait… what?’ she began to ask as she slowly sat up. She glanced around to see that everyone was looking at her but stared at the longest time at the Aerian. No doubt she was amazed to see the fabled being right in her midst.
“It’s all right now, Armita. Alethea is one of the All-Mother’s colleagues,” Talic reassured her as he squeezed her shoulders gently.
The Isharan relaxed for a moment before she bolted up with a frantic look on her face. “Ithani is possessed!” she blurted out as she tried to stand up, but Talic stopped her.
“We know,” he told her softly.
“But where…?” She glanced around the disheveled camp as her eyes scanned for her sister.
“Gone, and she took Bobbas with her,” Owain said grimly.
Before Armita could ask them what happened, Alethea asked, “I know this is shocking for you, but we need to know what happened. Can you tell us what happened while we were away?”
Chiara listened attentively as Armita recalled what happened at camp and shivered. Just the thought of being incapacitated and bewitched to do another’s bidding unnerved her. That wasn’t the only thing that frightened her. “So you don’t remember what happened after she bewitched you?” Alethea asked.
Armita shook her head. “No, nothing.”
“I see…” She looked over at Tristé. “Based on her description, the Duermon impersonating her sister is a Mesmerizer.”
“I agree with that assessment,” the Duermon assented, nodding her head. The others looked at them, confused, since they had no idea what they were talking about so Chiara decided to ask.
“Um… excuse me, but what exactly is a Mesmerizer?” she inquired politely.
Tristé answered, “Remember how I have the ability to create demonic fire? Every Possessor Duermons have a certain power that they can use. Mine is demonic flame, and it seems the Duermon who is possessing Ithani has the ability to mesmerize humans. She can hypnotize people to do her biddings though most Mesmerizers I know use their power to lure hosts to their colleagues so they could ambush them.”
“Then she’s mostly the culprit who brainwashed Leomas,” Talic determined, rubbing his chin, “but that wasn’t the troubling part of Armita’s story.”
Knowing what he was implying, everyone nodded. A new Duermon breed that could hide its presence would be troublesome all right. Once words of their existence spread, mass panic would surely ensue. People could easily accuse each other of being a Dalenthi without any proof, causing innocent people to suffer. “Did you notice anything suspicious while you were at their camp?” he asked the Aerian.
She nodded. “Whenever a new group of the Kasama’s followers arrived in the camp, he would welcome them into his tent for a private meeting. I was never allowed to attend those meetings, but I noticed that their behaviors seemed different afterward though I didn’t have proof. That is when they most likely get possessed by those Dalenthi.”
“Couldn’t you try to sneak into his tent and look around?” Owain questioned.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t. The Kasama had at least one man keeping an eye on me all the time, which was why I couldn’t message Kejuta or any of my colleagues until now,” she said. Shaking her head, she smiled wryly. “Knowing her, she probably worries about me. She’s going to be relieved to finally hear from me though she wouldn’t be happy with the bad news I sent her.”
The Bartheomos members looked concerned, and Chiara didn’t blame them because she felt the same way. All of them had failed their mission, and now the Velscendus Cult has the very weapon that could kill the gods. Finally, Tristé finally spoke up. “So why were you infiltrating the Velscendus Cult anyway?”
Alethea hesitated before she answered, “Like I said earlier, Kej was suspicious about that cult and requested that I infiltrate the cult to learn more about it. She found it strange that Kasama was able to recruit so many followers that quickly and believed that one of our… colleagues was behind it. She asked me to find any evidence and report my finding to her as soon as I did.”
“A colleague? Which one?” the Duermon wondered. Chiara was curious as well; she racked her brain, trying to figure out which gods have the influence to start a cult but failing. The others looked stumped as well.
“I’m sure you know about him from your emperor,” she replied. “He was the person who almost ruined the truce between your people and the Sendoans.”
Tristé’s eye widened as she abruptly stood up, which startled everyone, and exclaimed, “Hold on! Are you telling me that man is the same as you and that you’re working with him even though he’s a criminal!?”
“I’m not happy about it either, but I don’t a choice in that matter,” Alethea said tersely. “If our creators wanted Shintra to work with us, we have to accept it.”
The Duermon didn’t seem pleased with her answer because she crossed her arms and gave an even stare at her. She started to protest when Owain interrupted, “Tristé, do you know who she’s talking about?”
“Somewhat,” she huffed, sitting back down again. “I know a little about that person based on what my emperor told me. According to him…”
As Tristé told her story, Armita felt a slight shiver running through her spin. It was bad enough being a mindless puppet, but to have your very own soul be twisted so much that you are no longer the same person? She felt Talic squeezed her hand as a sign of comfort so she squeezed his in return. No doubt he was troubled as well.
“Ever since then, Janaam has been searching for that man in order to bring him to justice. In fact, Shintra was the one whom we believed to the Kasama at first,” the Duermon concluded. She glanced over at the Aerian. “If that man is with you now, why don’t you hand him over to us? He needs to be punished for his crimes.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t let you do that,” Lady Alethea replied. “Shintra’s too dangerous, and he may use his powers to turn you against your friends. Rest assured, Kej had already punished him for his actions, and he had to prove himself trustworthy to my colleagues in order to his power once more. However, if there is any evidence that he is plotting against us, Aundra will seal his power away permanently, and with the existence of the Dalenthi, I might have proof that he is.”
“So you’re telling me that you’re willing to work with a criminal even though he’s dangerous!?” the furious Duermon shouted, glaring at the Aerian.
The winged goddess just looked at her calmly and replied in a terse voice, “Look, I’m not happy about it either. He’s the reason why I’m the only Aerian left, and I will never forgive him no matter how many apologies he sent me. Unfortunately, Kejuta decided to give him another chance, and that’s her final decision.”
“Wait, so the story that the Aerians were killed by the gods because of their hubris was a lie?” Owain blurted out without thinking. As soon as he said those words, Armita knew that was a bad idea. Sure enough, Lady Alethea gave him a withering look, which caused him to shrink back in his seat.
“That story is a flat-out lie, most likely fabricated by him. The real cause was that he corrupted a group of Sendoan soldiers to launch a massive attack on my people in order to get rid of them,” she spat. “In fact, I bet he was the one who told the Sendoan government about my existence. They were about to discontinue their hunt for me until someone told them that I was still around so they renewed their search.”
Chiara gave her a confused look. “But why?”
She rolled her eyes. “Over something petty. He was upset that I knocked him unconscious in front of everyone when we captured him and vowed revenge on me.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“Not really. He can’t use his power on me so I should be fine,” she reassured the witch. “Besides, he’s not a fighter so he can’t beat me up.”
“What do you mean by that?” Armita asked curiously.
“Aundra had cast a protection spell on all of us that would prevent anyone from using us as weapons,” she explained. “Likewise some of my colleagues’ powers can’t be used against us to prevent any one of us lording the others.”
Huh, that made sense. If some unscrupulous governments found a way to control the gods, who knows what they would do? “I have a question though,” Talic began. “Why would he want to create a cult that wanted revenge on him?”
Lady Alethea shrugged. “Maybe it’s a cover-up so it looks like he’s innocent while he secretly captures the Lashival.”
“The Lashival? Isn’t that the name ‘Ithani’ used to call Bobbas?”
“That’s correct. That is the name we gave to the weapon that has the potential to endanger the world.”
“But why would he be interested in Bobbas? Doesn’t he know that he can get killed?” Chiara wondered.
“Oh, he’s aware all right, but I’m positive that Shintra is still interested in him. Kejuta and I suspect that he wishes to use the Lashival as a way to blackmail us to do things the way he wants,” she replied and added, “It should be fine though since he can’t use his magic on him.”
“What do you mean?” Talic inquired
“Because the Lashival has a similar protection spell like me,” she answered matter-of-factly.
Talic frowned slightly; it bothered him how the Aerian didn’t call Bobbas by his name and referred him by his title. It was like she viewed the Ankan as a weapon, not a human being. Tristé seemed upset as well but for a different reason. “Since he is so intent on capturing Bobbas even if his life is endangered, why don’t you let him?” she argued. “If he’s dead, so be it. At least you don’t have to worry that he might backstab you.”
“Tempting as it may, but I can’t let that happened,” Lady Alethea replied, shaking her head.
“Why not? He’s dangerous and will most likely abuse his power again. You might as well let him face the consequences of his actions,” Tristé retorted. “Besides, didn’t you say so yourself that he’s the one who caused the genocide of your people? Then you can get your revenge that way.”
The Aerian glowered at the Duermon. “Even though it pained me to say this, but I can’t let him get killed that way.”
“So you’re defending the very same person who killed your family and friends!?” the Duermon said with an accusing look in her eyes.
“No, I’m not and don’t you dare imply that!” Lady Alethea shouted as she stood up and glared at Tristé furiously. The Possessor Duermon stood up as well so she could stare eye-to-eye with the angel. Realizing that their tempers were flaring up, Talic began to stand up to try to defuse the tension in the air. The others probably had the same idea because they were doing the same as well.
“Calm down, you two,” the Eireneridan said, standing between them. “I’m sure Lady Alethea has a good explanation, Tristé, so let hear her out.”
For a moment, Tristé glowered at the Aerian before she grumbled, “Fine” and sat back down with a huff. Talic then turned his attention to the goddess, who looked at him for a second and sat down without saying a word. Satisfied that everything calmed down again, he sat back down though he made sure he was between the two.
“Now then, care to explain why you can’t let this Shintra person die?” he asked.
Instead of answering his question, she looked at the Duermon curiously. “Remember the old saying, ‘The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land’?” Tristé nodded so she continued, “That is the main reason we exist. Without our blood, the world will not exist. Do you remember the incident that happened on the Yuzema Festival several centuries ago?”
The Duermon nodded. “Somewhat. The sky was cracked, and there were several earthquakes if I remember correctly. I also heard rumors that the seal on the Shuvyrals was broken. Now that I think about it, something similar happened at the end of the Caeculum War. Are you telling me those events are connected?”
“In a way,” she confirmed. “And what did you learn after the first incident?”
“Our creators were dead….” Suddenly, Tristé’s eyes widened with realization. “Wait a minute, are you telling me that one of your colleagues was killed by Bobbas?”
The Aerian nodded. “I could never forget that day because I was there when it happened.
He killed a man named Resphyr and would have killed all of us if we didn’t stop him. While some of us were fighting, the others tried their best to save Resphyr but couldn’t. As soon as he took his last breath, the earth reacted violently. Those earthquakes and the cracking sky would continue if Aundra hadn’t told us that we needed to offer our blood to the land to assuage it. But if none of us was around, then…”
She paused before she pleaded, “Do you understand now why I can’t let that bastard die? It’s too risky to let the Lashival kill him and then try to defeat him afterward. During the battle, we barely escaped with our lives, and I don’t want to experience it ever again! I will never forgive him for what he did to me, but I can’t let my hatred for him risk endangering the world or my friends. It would be selfish of me to focus on revenge. Please understand that I’m not condoning Shintra’s action; it’s just that I have to think of the world’s welfare.” She then added, “Besides, I want him to suffer, and he can’t if he’s dead.”
“I guess you’re right,” Tristé conceded reluctantly, “but you better keep an eye on him. I know his type, and he won’t change that easily.”
“I know,” the Aerian promised and smiled. Talic felt relieved; at least those two seemed to put aside their differences. Now they can focus on rescuing Bobbas.
“Since we cleared that issue, we need to find a way to retrieve our target,” he announced. Looking at the goddess, he asked, “Tell us everything you know about the camp.”
“The camp setup was that the lowly members’ tents were located on the outskirt while the higher-ups’ were in the inner part. The Kasama’s tent was placed in the center, of course and His second-in-command, Xyrem, stays in the tent next to his,” Alethea began. “The last time I was there, there were over tens of thousands of followers in the camp though there could be more by now.”
“Did you know that he had a needle ring?” Talic questioned, and the angel shook her head.
“No, I didn’t. To be honest, I had no idea how or when he got it,” she admitted.
“Is it because the Kasama was keeping a close eye on you?” Owain wondered.
She nodded. “That’s correct. Whenever I try to sneak out to read Kejuta or another of my comrades’ messenger birds, one of his men would catch me and activate that damn tattoo as soon as I opened them,” she grumbled as she rubbed her arm. “I swear, I’m going to celebrate once I get rid of this thing.”
“You can’t get rid of it?” Armita asked curiously.
“No, I thought that it would disappear once I got rid of my Talen disguise, but I presume wrong” she sighed irritably. “I guess I’ll have to ask Aundra to remove it from me.”
Chiara perked up. “It’s magically imprinted on your skin then?” she asked excitedly as she rushed over to the Aerian and studied the tattoo. The Isharan thought to herself that the angel’s words must have piqued her interest.
“Yeah, they started that practice a few months ago.” Alethea flinched slightly as the witch muttered some enchantments, which caused the tattoo to glow a sinister light. She looked at the Kreesian hopefully. “Do you by chance know how to remove it?”
After a few minutes of studying the tattoo, Chiara shook her head. “Sorry, this magic is too complicated for me. It’s probably some form of Duermon magic, and I don’t know that much about it. Maybe Tristé does?”
“Sorry, can’t help you there, I’m afraid. I don’t know any magic like that,” the Duermon apologized.
“Then is it a new form of magic? Since the Dalenthi is a new breed of Duermon, maybe their magic is different,” Chiara theorized.
“I guess that would mean Lady Aundra can figure out what to do.” She turned to the Aerian. “Sorry, Lady Alethea.”
“It’s all right. I’ll survive,” the goddess reassured her.
“So how were you able to disguise yourself as a boy without being caught and why that disguise?” Owain asked.
“As the Ilmarian of Truth, I have the ability to change my appearance to whatever I choose. I decided to disguise myself as a boy because I heard rumors of what they did to the women and didn’t want to risk it,” she explained.
“The Ilmarian of Truth? Wait, does that mean…?”
She nodded. “Correct. I can also discern if a person is lying or not. A thread that only I can see will appear if someone is telling a lie.”
“Then…” Armita immediately knew what the Lycian was thinking – now he would know for sure if Tristé would keep her promise of returning his sister back. The Duermon must have the same idea because before Owain could finish his train of thoughts, she interjected.
“Hold on a minute! You don’t believe I’ll give Adalynn back her body, do you?” she accused him. “All this time, I helped you on your mission, and this is the thank I get!?”
Owain replied defensively, “How am I supposed to know you’ll keep your promise?
Tristé narrowed her eyes. “Are you implying that since I’m a Duermon, I’m not trustworthy?”
“That is not what I’m implying! Stop putting words in my mouth!”
“Wait, what’s going on?” Alethea asked, looking at the two Tolbert siblings curiously.
Armita sighed as she explained, “Tristé promised that once she finishes her mission of capturing the Kasama, she’ll leave her host body.”
“Did she now?” The Aerian’s eyebrows arched up as she gave the Duermon an inquisitive look. “You actually make a promise that you intend to keep?”
“Of course I did! Once I make a promise, I keep it,” she snapped.
Alethea stared at her for a moment before she shook her head. “Unbelievable! You actually are telling the truth,” she muttered.
“Wait, she is?” Owain asked excitedly and the Aerian nodded.
A vindicated Tristé gloated, “Ha! Told you! Now I’m expecting an apology.”
“Jeez, sorry for doubting you, Tristé,” he mumbled sheepishly while she smirked at him.
Talic cleared his throat, and Armita had to smile. Based on how loud it was, he was getting annoyed that they were going off tangent. “Now that’s clear up, we need to figure out the best way to rescue Bobbas without getting caught.”
No one spoke at first until Alethea said, “I think I know a way, but it’s risky since we need to have perfect timing.”
“Going into the enemy tent is always risky, and we don’t have a choice in the matter,” Armita replied, remembering her time in the military. “What’s your plan?”
“Well… remember how the Dalenthi was able to use the needle ring to make her escape? What if…”
---------- Post added July 11, 2014 at 02:21 PM ---------- Previous post was June 20, 2014 at 08:53 AM ----------
Chapter 27: Pursuit
“Have you sent everyone my message?” Kejuta asked Marika as they rushed down the hall. The only sound that was made was the pounding of their footsteps echoing down the empty hall.
Marika nodded as she kept up with the Ilmarian of Fate step-by-step. “I had. I informed them that the Velscendus Cult has the Lashival and told them to hurry to the Loredan desert immediately.”
“Good. Reiterate to them that this is urgent. Knowing Alethea, she will try to delay the Kasama before he makes his escape, but she won’t have much time.” Her friend nodded again and began writing another letter. While she was doing that, Kejuta mentally cussed herself.
At first she was so relieved to finally receive a messenger bird from Alethea after over a year, but that quickly changed when she found out the bad news. How could this happen? She was sure that she had thought everything through; once the Bartheomos members had taken care of the Lashival, she would have Armita be reunited with Ithani. None of the Chain of Destinies had foreseen this catastrophe. But then, she didn’t really focus her attention on the younger Culao’s sister since she wasn’t as important compared to the Kasama. Out of habit, she fidgeted through them again as she tried to figure out how to get out of this mess.
Up ahead, she could see Aundra waiting for them at Welvaria. She was standing right in front of the large bowl containing the celuiquore. “I came here as soon as I got your message,” the Ilmarian of Magic said as soon as they were close by. “Do you know how they got him?”
Kejuta shook her head. “Not yet. Alethea just said that the Velscendus Cult got the Lashival, but I’m sure I’ll get more information from her soon. While we’re waiting, we’re going to try to pinpoint the exact location of his camp.”
Aundra raised her eyebrows. “You’re not going to ask Shintra for his help?”
“No, why should I?” she replied tartly as she waved her hand over the foggy liquid and produced a map of the Loredan Desert. She was still livid over the fact that the Ilmarian of Souls had blabbed to his former men about the Lashival. That information was supposed to be privy to the Ilmarians only; if the whole world knows about this dangerous weapon, who knows what they would do? Now their current situation had confirmed her biggest dread – the Kasama is going to plan to use the Lashival against them.
“Since he knows who we’re dealing with, I thought that maybe he could tell us more about what he knows,” the Ilmarian of Magic suggested, shrugging her shoulders. “Besides, his power might be helpful for us here.”
Kejuta grinded her teeth. Aundra had a point but she stubbornly refused to acknowledge it. She doesn’t need that Duermon’s help right now or ever! “He already told us everything about the Kasama and his thugs. Besides he might cause us more trouble,” she snapped.
Aundra just shook her head and grumbled something underneath her breath; the Ilmarian of Fate swore that she heard “stubborn old mule” but chose to ignore. Right now she needed to focus on finding the Velscendus Cult.
“I just got a message from Alethea,” Marika announced. She read the letter and added, “Based on the encryption, she sent it to everyone.”
“What did it say?” Kejuta asked while keeping her eye on the map.
“She wrote that we’re dealing with a new type of Duermon, who called itself Dalenthi. Apparently it is a mixture of a Parasitic and Possessor Duermons’ souls and it devours the soul of its host, taking over the body. She also claimed that she couldn’t sense a Duermon’s presence at all and warned us to be careful.”
“A new Duermon?” the Ilmarian of Fate muttered and gripped the edge of the bowl. Even though Marika didn’t seem to notice while she was reading Alethea’s letter, Kejuta noted the Aerian’s implication – Shintra was involved somehow. That definitely was enough for her to not trust the Duermon. “Did she write anything else?”
“Yes,” the Ilmarian of Worlds acknowledged, “she also provided us the location of the cult’s camp.”
“Then tell me where it is,” she said.
“Good. It looks like they’re still camping here,” Alethea muttered, glancing down at the Velscendus Cult’s camp below. Armita and the others looked down as well. They were currently on the cliffs that abutted next to the camp. From the high activity in the camp, it seemed the cult was getting ready to head out soon. They were coming in and out of tents as they gathered supplies and placed them in neat piles on the ground. Out of habit, the Isharan looked around for her sister but had no luck. There were so many people bustling around, that there was no way for her to spot Ithani.
“It looks like there’s around 100,000 people down there,” Talic muttered and turned to the Aerian. “Are you sure you can handle all of them?”
The goddess nodded. “I’ll be fine. I just need to buy enough time for you to complete your mission and escape before anyone notice. Even if I am captured, I’ve been trained to prepare for any torture that the Kasama might intend to use on me. Besides, I already messaged my colleagues our exact location so they know where we are. Do you have my needle ring?” Talic opened his fist, revealing the precious tool. “Good. Don’t lose it now or all will be for naught.”
Armita swallowed her throat nervously as she recalled the Aerian’s plan. Since the Dalenthi would sense her presence, Alethea had decided to use herself as bait. As soon as she determined Bobbas’s location, she will tell them before launching an attack on the camp, leading them to believe that she was after the Lashival. While they were distracted, she and the others would use Alethea’s needle ring to make a gateway to Bobbas’s location. There they would kill him before the Kasama could use him for his personal gains.
While many agreed with the plan, there were some objections.
“And what about the Kasama and his followers?” Owain protested. “Surely the All-Mother would want to do something about them!”
“They’re too dangerous; we don’t know very much about the Dalenthi so I think it’s too dangerous to confront them now. Rest assured, I already informed Kej about them, and I’m sure she’ll know what to do,” she said simply. “Right now you need to focus on the Lashival and the task at hand.”
“Wait, are you telling us that we need to kill him right then and there!?” Tristé exclaimed.
Alethea nodded. “I rather have him dead instead of risking having him captured again. Remember that Kej has given you this mission for that very reason and you need to fulfill it.”
“But are you okay with it due to your Aerian Oath?” the Duermon countered. “Aren’t you supposed to protect humans instead of kill them?”
She hesitated before she finally answered, “My Oath doesn’t have anything to do with it. Please believe me that it bothered me that I have to turn a blind eye and let a man die, but if it is to save the world, what choice do I have?”
Armita wasn’t aware that she was daydreaming until she felt something on her forehead. Startled, she jumped slightly and realized that Alethea was standing in front of her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” the Aerian apologized. “I just wanted to place an incantation on you to prevent any Duermon magic from affecting you.”
“Oh. It’s all right,” she replied sheepishly. She stood still as the goddess placed her index and middle fingers on her forehead and mumbled a spell. A slight shiver ran down her spine. “Thank you.”
Alethea nodded. “I’m not sure if it’ll work since we’re dealing with a new Duermon breed but better be safe than sorry, and I’m not sure those necklaces of yours will prevent possession.”
The Aerian was about to walk away so Armita interjected, “Umm…may I ask you something?” She stopped and looked at the Isharan curiously. Taking a deep breath, she asked her question, “Is it possible for my sister to be saved?”
Alethea looked at her and didn’t say anything at first. Finally she confessed, “I’m afraid that it’s impossible. From on what you have told us, your sister’s soul had been devoured by the Duermon, which means that she’s no longer with us. There is no Aerian spell that I’m aware of that can undo that atrocity. I’m so sorry.”
Armita’s heart sank. She knew what Alethea said was true, but a small part of her didn’t want to believe it. She glanced over at Tristé, hoping that she would disagree, but the Duermon shook her head as well. “Sorry, Armita,” she whispered as she came over and hugged the Isharan. “If there is a way, I would bring her back in a heartbeat.”
She didn’t say anything. All her efforts were for nothing, she concluded. What was she going to tell her father? The news might kill him! He would be devastated to find out that his “little dancer” was now possessed and there was no way for her to come back and probably blame himself. The others must have sensed that she wanted to be left alone because they gave her some space. Right now she needed to figure out what to do.
While Alethea finished casting the protection spell on the others, everyone else was trying to keep occupied as they waited restlessly. Owain kept checking to make sure the string on his bow was taut, and Chiara muttered spells underneath her breath. Talic leaned against the stone wall and gently stroke Cuzo’s head; even though the wolf seemed to be resting his eyes, his ears were perked up. On the other hand, Tristé stood near the edge and kept watch on the camp. Her fingers rubbed her whip as if they were itching to fight. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Armita staring off to the horizon and felt sympathetic toward the Isharan. She’d hate to be in that situation, she thought to herself.
“Done!” Alethea announced after she cast her magic on Cuzo, who just sneezed. Turning to the Duermon, she said, “I know that your kind’s magic don’t work each other, but would you like me to put the protection spell on you just in case?”
At first, Tristé looked like she was going to decline but answered with a shrug, “Might as well. I don’t want to risk it.”
She stood still as Alethea placed her fingers on her forehead. “Since Aerian and Duermon magic are the exact opposite of each other, I don’t know what will happen when I cast it on you,” the Aerian warned. Tristé swallowed nervously as the angel mumbled the spell; the Duermon visibly shuddered but seemed fine otherwise. The Aerian must have noticed because she asked, “How was it?”
“It was fine,” the Duermon reassured her but shuddered again, “though it felt like a thousand needles were stabbing me all over my body.”
Rubbing her arms, she looked down at the camp below again and saw that Alethea was doing the same. It looked like the Dalenthi were still packing up though there were a few who looked around nervously as they sharpened their weapons; from her distance, they looked like tiny ants. “Do you think she’ll be up to it?”
Alethea didn’t need to ask her whom she was implying “I’m sure Armita will be fine. She’ll just need some time to accept that her sister is dead, and the person she’s facing isn’t her – just a Duermon wearing her skin.”
“Is that how you view me?” Tristé mused.
“Back then, I would,” she admitted with a guilty smile, “but now… I’ve met some Duermon and realized that not all are bad.”
The Duermon looked at her interestingly. “Oh, you have? Since when?”
“During the last Caeculum War,” she answered. “Kej had sent me there to ensure the safety of Lady Cissa.”
“She did? Then why I didn’t notice anything suspicious? I would think for sure I would spot some discrepancies.”
“I disguised myself as a new recruit, which was why you probably didn’t notice. In fact I even met you.”
“You did? Which one were you?”
Alethea gave her a bemused look. “The one you called the ‘dumbass girl didn’t know what she was doing’.”
“Wait, you were that girl!?” Tristé felt her cheeks flushed with embarrassment, which caused the Aerian to chuckle. The Duermon stared at her, miffed, but laughed as well. Who would have thought Aerians aren’t that uptight? “You’re a strange one, Aerian, but I like that. Too bad your brethren weren’t like you.”
Alethea became silent suddenly, and Tristé immediately regretted what she said. Way to put your foot in your mouth! she berated herself.
“I think I understand what Armita is going through,” the goddess whispered. “Even though I am technically the only Aerian left in this world, the Fallen are surely still around. Some of them were comrades of mine, but the laws dictated that I must kill them if I see them just because they exist.”
“Hey, you don’t have to obey that stupid law anymore,” Tristé pointed out. “You can make up your own rules and decide to spare them, right? Maybe talk to them and convince them to work with you?”
“You’re right,” she admitted and sighed. “It’s just that my people’s laws have been indoctrinated to me since childhood that it’s hard for me to let go. As for your suggestion, it may work with some, but based on reports that I read, many won’t be willing to work with me. They despise their former comrades because our wings aren’t tainted like theirs.” She must have noticed something was happening in the camp because she looked down and said, “We better get ready. We don’t want to waste any time after all.”
She closed her eyes as her armor emerged out of her body. Triste watched with great interest before she commented, “Your armor is very interesting. I don’t know why, but it looks vaguely familiar for some reason.”
“It must be your imagination,” Alethea replied rather hastily. “My armor is one of the powers given to me after I become immortal.”
The Duermon looked at her strangely but just nodded. She suspected that the goddess was hiding something, but decided not to say more on the subject. Alethea must have a good reason to keep it a secret. Instead she glanced down at the people below and asked, “So now what?”
Alethea gave her a grim look. “And now we wait.”
The Kasama smiled to himself as he studied his guest, who looked rather bewildered at the moment. Bobbas Veltez wasn’t how he envisioned the fabled Lashival to be – lanky and weak-looking, which was very disappointing. But then, looks can be deceiving. Waving his hands in a friendly gesture, he welcomed his wide-eyed guest. “Welcome, Mr. Veltez,” he began. “Allow me to apologize for my associate’s rude method in bringing you here, but rest assured, it is for your best interest.”
“Best interest? Kidnapping me is considered in my best interest!?” Bobbas retorted as he eyed the men guarding him warily. “I know that you’re after me, and I would like to know why!”
“To protect you, my dear friend,” he replied simply. His green eyes glowed from the light of the lantern.
The Ankan looked at him incredulously. “Protect me? I don’t need any protection from the likes of you! You’re the dangerous one here!”
“Am I now?” The Kasama chuckled as he sipped his glass of wine. “Is that what those so-called protectors told you that was their mission?”
“Do you know why they actually came for you?” Bobbas didn’t say anything, but there was a curious glint in his eyes so he continued, “But first, tell me your opinions on the gods.”
“The gods?” The Lashival looked stumped for a moment before he answered, “I don’t really have any opinion on them. Why?”
The Kasama barked out a laugh. “Oh, they have a strong opinion on you! You see, they feel threatened by you and wish to kill you!”
Bobbas looked at him incredulously. “Threatened by me? That’s preposterous!”
“Is that what you think, hm?” The Kasama let the silence fill the air as he refilled his glass of wine. “You don’t know this by now, but you’re a powerful being who has the power to kill a god!”
“That doesn’t make any sense! I’m just an ordinary man.”
“Are you now? If so, why would those Bartheomos members go after an ‘ordinary man’? It wasn’t to protect you but to kill you.”
The Lashival’s face turned pale. “That’s a lie. I know about that organization, and they’re forbidden from killing anyone,” he whispered. However, the Kasama continued.
“In fact, the one who tasked them on their mission is the All-Mother herself. She requested that they hunt you down and strike you dead before you can do the same to her.”
“Lies! They’re all lies! You’re trying to trick me!” an enraged Bobbas accused as he rose from his seat.
The Kasama looked at him calmly. “But I am telling you the truth. That is what Ithani found from her sister, which was why she had to bring you here for your protection. Otherwise, you would be dead by now.”
“But Adalynn wouldn’t…”
“That girl is a fraud,” he interrupted. “She isn’t Adalynn Tolbert as she claimed. She is actually possessed by a Duermon named Tristé, who intends to help those Bartheomos members to kill you. She plans to lure you into a sense of security before killing you in your tent as you sleep.”
Bobbas’s face turned pale. “That’s a lie. You’re lying,” he breathed as he slowly sank down into his chair. Irritated, the Kasama bit the side of his mouth to prevent himself from saying something vulgar after hearing those same words again. He was dealing with a dangerous being and wanted the Lashival to be on his side.
Instead he gulped down his wine and stood up. He motioned Ithani and Xyrem that he was ready to leave so they went and opened the tent flap wide for him. As he headed straight to the exit, he turned to look at Bobbas one last time and said calmly, “I know that the information I gave you is overwhelming so I’m going to leave you here so you can collect your thoughts. Just think about what I say and what I can offer you.”
With that said, he and his men left the Lashival alone with his thoughts.
“Now.” As soon as Alethea said those words, she went into action. Swooping down at the camp, she created numerous amounts of magic circles below the feet of several unsuspecting Dalenthi and activated them to explode, killing them instantly. At first, the crowd looked around the camp confusedly as they scattered everywhere until someone pointed out to the Aerian flying toward them. Soon shouts could be heard as they regrouped and prepared to battle her.
“Let’s go,” Talic ordered. With his colleagues standing ready behind him, he coated Lady Alethea’s needle ring with his blood. After imagining the Aerian’s description of Bobbas’s location, he tossed the needle ring in the air and watched with abated breaths as it hung in the middle of the air. Hopefully it works or else the plan was for naught. Soon after, the needle ring expanded, revealing the inside of a dark tent. As they started to head through the gateway, he reminded them, “Remember this has to be quick. As soon as we’re done, we’re going to make our escape. Got it?”
They nodded and crept into the tent without making a sound. Talic blinked his eyes until he slowly adjusted to the darkness. It was a large tent full of poufs and cushions. An expensive Isharan carpet was on the floor, probably used to prevent the feet from getting burned by the hot sands during the daytime. A small table with two chairs was in the middle of the room; a small lantern full of fire elemental stones that was barely activated and several empty glasses were on top of it. At the corner of the room was a small bed with several pillows. There he spotted Bobbas, who sat on the bed with his head looking toward the ground.
Worried, Talic hurried over to him. “Bobbas, are you all right?” he whispered as soon as he reached him.
At first he thought the Ankan didn’t hear him since he didn’t move or say anything. Remembering what happened to Armita, he leaned over and touched Bobbas’s shoulder cautiously. That must have woke Bobbas from his stupor because he finally turned to look at the Eireneridan. With a passive look on his face, he asked softly, “Why are you here?”
“To save you, of course!” Tristé hissed. She gently nudged him. “Now come on! We need to leave before the Kasama realize that we’re here!”
However, he pushed her hand away, which surprised everyone. Giving her a hard look, he said, “So you’re not here to kill me then, Adalynn or should I say Tristé?” The Duermon’s shocked reaction must have confirmed it because he laughed bitterly as he shook his head. “By the gods, he was telling the truth!”
“Who did?” Talic asked, gripping his quarterstaff tightly.
Bobbas stood up angrily and snapped, “The goddamned Kasama, that’s who! He told me why you’re actually here. You weren’t trying to keep me safe – you’re trying to kill me!”
“Don’t be ridi-” Tristé started to exclaim but closed her mouth when Talic placed his hand in front of her. He realized that it was pointless to lie, and he might as well tell the truth.
Looking at Bobbas, he asked, “It’s true that we’ve been asked to kill you, but did the Kasama tell you why?”
“Of course he did,” he retorted and pointed at Armita, who looked surprised. “Her sister found out and told him everything that she learned.”
“Then you know why we were asked to do the deed?” he responded.
“Yes, because the All-Mother supposedly asked you to do it!” he said sarcastically, raising his hands in the air. “Apparently I’m a threat to the gods so they want to kill me. Ha! Me? I mean, look at me! Do I even look like I can kill anything!?”
No one dared to answer him. Based on Bobbas’s reaction, he was having a mental breakdown. He has a crazed look in his eyes as he looked at each of them suspiciously whenever one of them make a move – even if it was a simple step. It didn’t help that some of them had their hands on their weapons, ready to strike.
All of a sudden, Bobbas groaned and held his head. “My head…” he mumbled. Before anyone could say anything, one of the glass goblets shattered, which caused Chiara to squeak with surprise.
“Shit, this isn’t good! He doesn’t have his medicine with him!” Tristé hissed and snapped her fingers to create her demonic flames. However, their target must have sensed it because the pillow next to her burst, causing feathers to fly everywhere.
Talic immediately sensed that they were in a volatile situation and realized that he needed to defuse it. However, he needed to be delicate about it as one wrong move and they’re dead. After all, they’re dealing with someone whom even the gods feared, and they didn’t know what he was capable of.
Slowly kneeling down so that he was looking at Bobbas in the eye, he asked, “Did the Kasama tell you that he and his followers are Duermons as well?”
Bobbas looked at him and shook his head. “No, but if they are, why didn’t one of them try to possess me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they want to trick you into believing that they have your best intentions in mind,” Talic admitted. “Did the Kasama also reveal the deal that we made with the All-Mother before we accepted the mission?”
The Ankan stared at him, but Talic refused to look away. Finally he replied, “No, he didn’t. Not that it wouldn’t matter anyway.”
“But it does matter,” the Eireneridan insisted. “Do you think we would forget our oath when we joined Bartheomos? It is true that we accepted the mission, but we only agreed to find you, not to kill you.”
“What’s about those two?” Bobbas demanded, eyeing Chiara and Tristé warily. “They’re not in Bartheomos so they don’t have to take the oath!”
“That may be true, but they didn’t join us initially for that reason,” Talic replied as calmly as he could muster. “Chiara accompanied us so she could learn how to be a good ambassador for Kreesia and learn more about the world. As for Ada- Tristé, she was sent by her government to capture the Kasama because he tried to kill the ruler of Idilarys.” Before Bobbas could say anything, he continued, “Do you think we want to kill you? We’re not bloodthirsty murderers or anything like that. From what we've gathered of you, you’re not a murderer or a criminal either. You’re just a simple anthropologist who unfortunately got caught up in this mess.”
Standing up, he sighed and rubbed the back of his head. Lady Alethea wouldn’t like what he was going to say next, but he had to do it. “How’s about this? We’ll promise that we won’t kill you as long as you’re not a danger to anyone around you. But! If you show any sign that you may cause bodily harm, we will strike you down. Is that a good enough deal?” he proposed, offering his hand.
Bobbas looked back and forth at the extended hand and Talic as he debated whether or not to accept the offer. Amidst tense moment, Talic could see that his comrades were nervously waiting as well. Chiara gulped as she clutched her wand while Tristé grasped her whip so hard that the muscles in her arm flexed. Meanwhile the other Bartheomos members held their breath as they watched the proceeding; Cuzo, on the other hand, sniffed the air and looked around the room.
Finally, in what seemed like ages, Bobbas made his decision. He was about to shake Talic’s hand when suddenly a familiar voice rang out, “I wouldn’t do it if I were you.”
“Do you think it’s wise to leave him alone like that?” Xyrem questioned the Kasama as they walked around the camp.
He nodded. “It should be fine. You saw what his reaction was when I told him the true intention of the Bartheomos members. He’s in shock and in no state to leave.”
“And do you think he will join us?”
“I think so. I’m positive that he’s going to accept my offer and agree to help us. If not, well… we do have other ways in persuading him,” he replied with a smile that bared his teeth.
Ithani wrapped her arms around his and leaned her head against his shoulder. “And what about the Bartheomos and that blasted Aerian?” she purred. “We should head back there and capture them. Those humans would be perfect hosts for our comrades.”
“It won’t be necessary, my dear, because…” he reassured her as he stroke her soft, black hair. Suddenly an explosion appeared at the edge of camp. Looking toward the direction of the smoke, he smiled; his green eyes glowed vibrantly from the explosion. “…they’ll be coming to us.”
Without any hesitation, he headed toward the blast and didn’t bother to see if the others followed him or not. While everyone else around him was either fleeing or charging toward the battle, he was walking calmly. Even though he appeared to have a stoic expression, he was feeling rather thrilled inside. As he was getting closer to the battle, he could see the Aerian fighting his men with ease.
It was quite impressive in his opinion. She would keep his men away by blasting her with her magic and pierce those who came close with her spear. However, the thing that intrigued him the most was the fact that she seemed to know where his men were at. Even when one of them tried to sneak up behind her amidst the chaos, she would stab him with her spear without even looking back. It was as if she has eyes on the back of her head! Other times, if she was getting overwhelmed by his men, she would fly out of the way and take her fight somewhere else. After watching for a while, the Kasama decided that he had enough. He already lost a large amount of men from the battle and didn’t wish to lose any more.
Smirking, he slowly raised his hand and pointed at the Aerian, who was too busy fighting a Dalenthi to notice. Suddenly, she cried out in pain as she dropped her weapon and collapsed to the knees; the Velscendus insignia shone brightly on her left arm. Seeing that she was in no condition to fight back, his men seized the opportunity and pounced on her like a cat attacking a mouse. They quickly grabbed her arms and restrained her before she could react. Pleased with the results, the Kasama sauntered over to his newly acquired prisoner. Along the way, he flipped his right hand toward Xyrem and motioned to his second-in-command to hand him his sword, which he did.
As soon as he was right in front of the Aerian, he halted and smiled down at her. In return, she glared back at him defiantly or rather those red eyes on her visor did. That somewhat disturbed him since they looked so alive, but he brushed that notion aside. There was no such thing as a living armor, he reminded himself. “Welcome back, Talen,” he told the Aerian mockingly. “I see that you decided to return back to us.”
“You…” she began to spat but cried out when he abruptly stabbed her in the shoulder. As the blood spilled out of the wound, her armor slowly disappeared inside her body including that disturbing visor. Now two blue eyes looked back at him instead. However, she was no longer staring at him insolently; she was in too much pain to even think about doing that.
“So that is what you actually look like,” he mused while he watched with great interest as her blood droplets hit the ground and sprout into ceraphilis flowers, which immediately started to heal her wound. He then yanked the sword out so hard that her body jerked back before it lurched forward.
The Aerian slowly lifted her head and halfheartedly glowered at him. She would have tried to stand up, but his men held her down hard to ensure that she would stay put so it would appear that she was kneeling to him. Panting, she snarled, “You won’t get away with this! My friends know about your plan and will stop you.”
“And I’m counting on it,” he replied sweetly. He then proceeded to stab her below the rib and slowly twist the sword, causing her to scream again. Her agonized shrieks sounded like music to his ears. His followers must have shared his sentiments because they were rubbing their hands with glee or encouraging him on. “You see, I figured out that you alerted your comrades that I have the Lashival and told them my location. Then you’ll try to delay me until they arrive to stop me. What you didn’t know is that you’re leading them into a trap. Once they arrive here, they will encounter their death at the hand of our creators’ downfall – the Lashival. And with your deaths, I’ll be the one who control the world. And you know what the best part is? Unlike Shintra, I will keep my promise and finally ensure that no Aerian will be left in this world so feel honored that you’ll be the first of your comrades to die tonight.”
Startled by the commanding voice, Tristé jumped slightly and looked around the room to see that they were surrounded by Dalenthi. Where did they come from and how come Cuzo didn’t notice their scent? She glared at the Dalenthi who spoke and snarled, “Hursa, you traitor!”
“Long time no see, Tristé. It’s been awhile,” he greeted warmly. “Now if you and your friends would be so kind and raise your hands.”
Knowing that they had no choice in the matter, they reluctantly did as they were told. As their captors searched their bodies and seized their weapons as well as Alethea’s needle ring, the Possessor Duermon demanded, “Since when you became a Dalenthi?”
“After that debacle in Wellsborough,” he answered as he pocketed the needle ring. “You should try it, Tristé. I feel more alive and powerful after I did it.”
“Sorry, but I’m going to decline,” she replied dryly.
Hursa just chuckled and turned to Bobbas. “Oi, are you all right? Good thing the Kasama asked me to keep an eye on you or otherwise you’d be a goner.”
Bobbas looked at him, baffled. “He knew that they would be coming for me?”
“Of course,” he said, nodding his head. “The Kasama is quite smart like that.”
“But we didn’t even notice you at all!” he exclaimed.
“We used some magic to hide our presence and scent since we know that your so-called rescuers have a mutt with them,” Hursa answered as he looked at Cuzo, who growled at him. No doubt the wolf was indignant about being called a “mutt”. The Dalenthi frowned and directed one of his men, “Make sure to muzzle that one. Oh, and be careful of his bite.”
The man didn’t seem thrilled to be chosen to do the dirty deed, and he gingerly went over to the dog with a piece of rope in his hands. “Make sure your mutt don’t bite or else,” he warned Talic. Cuzo snarled again but backed down reluctantly when he saw his master gave him a disapproving look. Pleased, the Dalenthi went straight to work and bind the wolf’s mouth shut as well as put a leash on him much to Cuzo’s displeasure.
“So what’s going to happen to them?” Bobbas asked worriedly.
“Nothing bad,” the Dalenthi reassured him but looked at them gloatingly, “but they are still prisoners so they will be treated as such. They will be brought before the Kasama, who will decide what to do with them.”
The tent flap suddenly opened, and another cult member appeared. He whispered something in Hursa’s ear, which caused the traitor to grin widely. Turning to the anthropologist, he stated, “The Kasama asked for your presence, boy. He said that he wants you to meet someone.”
Owain eyed the crowd nervously as he and the others were led to the middle of the campsite, where all of the Velscendus Cult gathered. As they walked by, the cult members crowded around them and taunted them by rubbing their hands gleefully as if they were waiting eagerly for them to become Dalenthi like them. “Move aside for the prisoners!” Hursa proclaimed, pushing anyone who got in the way. Meanwhile, if he or someone was walking too slowly for their captors’ taste, they would pushed them roughly and jeered at them.
After a few minutes of being pushed and shoved, they reached their destination. Owain could see Ithani, who beamed at them, standing next to an unfamiliar Isharan, who was stone-faced. However that wasn’t what horrified him. The Kasama stood with his back toward them since he was preoccupied with someone, and in his hand was a blood-stained sword. In front of him was a bloodied Alethea. Sweat dripped from her head as she panted heavily. She was on her knees with her arms held straight out by two Velscendus Cult members; her skin was a deathly pale due to the heavy loss of blood. Tiny ceraphilis flowers grew underneath her. As soon as she noticed them, her eyes widened with shock as she realized that they had failed in their task. “Dammit…” she breathed.
The Kasama must have seen the stunned look on her face because he turned around and seemed pleased to see them. “Ah, so you must be the ones that the gods sent to kill the Lashival!” he exclaimed. His green eyes seemed to sparkle as he spoke. “I heard so much about you from Ithani. It seems that you’ll be staying with us for a while so please make yourself at home. Something groundbreaking is going to happen soon, I promise.”
“You…” Tristé started to growl, but Hursa whacked her hard on the back, causing her to stumble. Angry, Owain was about to confront him, but his guards gave him a warning glance so he stopped.
If the Kasama noticed, he didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he turned his attention to Bobbas and pointing to Alethea, told him, “Remember how I told you that the gods want you dead because they fear you? Well, I manage to capture one of them.”
The Ankan gaped at her with amazement. “An Aerian? But I thought they died out centuries ago!”
“This one didn’t because as you can deduce from the ceraphilis flowers growing around her, she’s immortal,” the Kasama said simply. He then walked over to Alethea and pulled her head up by the hair. She grunted and glared angrily at him. “See how she looked at you with fear when she realized that you’re here? It proves that you’re a threat toward her and her colleagues. Kill her now and show those gods what you’re made of! If you don’t, then you’ll wind up dead. Now let me see your power!”
Owain began to panic. Would Bobbas actually kill a god right in front of them? His friends must have felt the same way too because they eyed at the Ankan with abated breaths. The winged goddess refused to look at her potential killer and kept her eyes on the Kasama instead. In what seemed like eternity, Bobbas stared at the Kasama before he said one word, “No.”
The Kasama gaped at him incredulously. “Excuse me?”
“I said that I’m not going to kill her,” he declared.
“Why not? She and her colleagues have been trying to kill you for years now!” the cult leader demanded.
“Because…” Their target took a deep breath and glanced over at Talic. “I’m not a killer.”
Owain and his comrades breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like Talic’s words had reached Bobbas. On the other hand, the Kasama wasn’t pleased. “Since you refused my gracious proposal, I guess I have to force you,” he said coldly. His green eyes gleamed brightly with a cold fury. “Seize him.”
Before Bobbas could react, two Dalenthi grabbed him by the arms and dragged him toward the Kasama. The Kasama motioned another Dalenthi, who possessed a little girl’s body, to come forward, and she walked over to Bobbas, carrying a small trinket box. “What are you doing?” the Ankan asked, struggling to break free.
“Making you one of us,” he replied simply as all of the cult members’ eyes began to glow a bright red except for his, which remained green. Bobbas stopped struggling and stared.
“Wait… you’re Duermons?” he asked in disbelief.
The Kasama nodded. “Of course, and you’ll be joining us soon. Once you do, I think you’ll be more reasonable with me, but before I do that, I need to do something.”
Turning his attention back to Alethea, he lifted her head up and placed the sword against her throat. “Don’t want you to interfere after all,” he said sweetly and deftly slit her throat, killing her. Next to Owain, Chiara screamed and covered her mouth in horror before the Aerian’s body collapsed to the ground; a wave of ceraphilis flowers burst from the ground.
“Oh, don’t be alarmed. She’ll be all right since she is immortal after all. Now then… where was I? Oh yes,” he mused and motioned the girl to open the box, which she did. Slowly a glowing white wisp with red eyes emerged from it and made its way toward Bobbas.
As soon as Bobbas saw the spirit coming toward him, he began to panic. “No, stay away! Don’t come near me!” he screamed, trying to break free to no avail while the Dalenthi held his mouth open. Owain could only watch the scene frozen in his spot. There was nothing he could do to stop it, helplessness enveloped him. He could hear Tristé cuss close by, but other than that, silence. It was if the whole world stood still as they wait for the inevitable to happen.
That was when it happened. Owain wasn’t sure what he saw, but he was positive that Bobbas did it. Just as the wisp was about to enter his mouth, Bobbas’s eyes glazed over and a bright light appeared, blinding everyone. When everyone’s eyesight was restored again, they were stunned at what they saw. The Dalenthi’s grabbing Bobbas’s arms had let go of them as they were too busy rubbing their eyes. The girl also dropped the box, which lie opened at her feet. As for Bobbas, he looked around the camp, confused. His eyes were still an amber color much to Owain’s relief. As for his would-be possessor? There was no trace of the Dalenthi.
“What happened?” the Kasama demanded, storming over to the girl. His red eyes glowered down at her frightened face.
She looked at him and stammered, “I-I-I don’t know, my lord.”
The crowd muttered uneasily as they debated on what they saw. Something big occurred, and they didn’t like it one bit. The Kasama’s bodyguard one the other hand, was unfazed. He simply walked over to the box and examined it. “Well, Xyrem?” the Kasama demanded.
“I don’t know how, but I think he somehow managed to rip the two Duermons’ souls apart and kill them,” Xyrem answered.
“Impossible! We made sure to perfect the merger so there was no way to undo it!” he exclaimed in disbelief as he stared at Bobbas uncertainly. No doubt he now realized that he was dealing with someone dangerous.
“Like I said, I don’t know,” he replied calmly as he walked over to Bobbas, who still looked stunned at what he did. Without any hesitation, he whacked the Ankan on the head, knocking him unconscious. “But one thing that I do know, he’s too dangerous and might ruin your plans. We need to get rid of him.”
The Kasama looked at him, appalled. “Get rid of him!?” he screamed derisively. His red eyes glared at Xyrem. “The very thing that gives us an upper hand over those so-called gods? Don’t be ridiculous! No, I won’t allow that happen! We’re going to take the Lashival with us until we’ll figure out how to control him. Everyone, get ready to leave!”
Xyrem looked at him curiously. “Are we leaving, my lord?” he inquired.
“Of course. We need to move out immediately since that Aerian told her colleagues our location and we’re not ready to face them yet. It’d be a different story if the Lashival was more reasonable,” he replied gruffly. “Since we now have two needle rings, we will use them to make our escape. Hursa and I will open gateways to two different locations and go to the other side first. While we’re busy leading everyone to safety, I want you and Ithani to keep an eye on things over here. Understood?”
“As you wish, my lord,” Hursa said, bowing his head. He motioned to a few of the cult members, who quickly grabbed the unconscious Bobbas and tied him up before dragging him away. At the same time, another pair of Dalenthi grabbed Alethea’s limp body and did the same.
While the Kasama watched the preparation, Ithani moseyed over to him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “And the prisoners?” she asked coyly, looking down at them.
He stared at them as if he just noticed that they were there for the first time. Owain gulped as he watched the leader examined each and every one of them; he had a gut feeling what the Kasama’s answer would be. Finally he said with a shrug, “What else? They seemed to have healthy bodies so it would be a waste to not use them. We’ll take them along with us. Once we’re at our new location, we’ll convert them to our cause. That Kreesian girl will especially be useful since she has valuable information on the gods. You’ll be in charge of them then.”
“Thank you, my lord!” Ithani beamed happily. “See, Armie? We’ll be a family again, and your friends can join us too!” she squealed.
“Shut up. You’re not my sister so don’t you dare say that we’re family,” Armita snarled, but her “sister” just giggled.
“Come on! Get a move on!” Xyrem shouted, urging the Dalenthi to hurry up.
Meanwhile the Kasama walked over to Hursa. “I’m going to send the Lashival and Aerian with you because the All-Mother would most likely suspect that I would have them” Owain overheard him say. “After we get everyone out, I’ll have Xyrem go with you while Ithani will accompany me. It’s probably best if we don’t contact each other until those gods stopped looking for us. Once things settle down, I’ll send you a message to tell you where we can join up again.”
“Sounds like a solid plan,” Hursa agreed and motioned the Duermons holding the Lashival and Alethea to come with him. He pulled out a needle ring from his pocket and began to prick his finger, drawing blood. “I’ll go on ahead then.”
“What are we going to do?” Chiara whispered to him anxiously as she watched the procedure. “We can’t let them take Bobbas and Lady Alethea!”
“I don’t know. I wish I did though,” he replied honestly, eyeing the cult members surrounding them. First of all, a large crowd of Duermon (and who knows what they were capable of) separated them from the other two prisoners. Second, they were outnumbered so there was no way they could escape with such a large group standing in their way to freedom. Even if they somehow manage to escape, they were in the middle of the desert without any supplies. The only thing they could do was to hope and pray for a miracle.