Upon hearing the words. "You must rest," it was as if the fighting high that she built up for herself had burnt up in smoke. Although-- as much as she would like to assist on the battlefield, she herself was on the edge. The impact of falling earlier was lessened by her resilient draconic body, but she definitely wasn't at top fighting form, she believed. Moreover, she was basically holding flaming wooden trash in her hands, and actually thought she was going to fight with it. Perhaps the hazy smoke made her believe such crazy things yet. . . something was nagging at the back of her mind that she could have been able to do it.
But-- she was a guest in their house. The common footsoldier. She wasn't even a full Soulbringer, just a plain, illiterate, above-average village girl that they so happened to save from tearing the Aselengardian countryside into pieces. Listening and asking for orders were just a common curtesy-- especially if it came down from the people who kept her fed and housed. Besides-- it didn't even pay back all the debts of gratitude, wishes, time, and effort they put in every day. A person like her, an outsider, a leech, a stranger, could never fathom such a struggle.
This rush of guilt and despair followed her before-- immediately after transforming into. . . that beast a few years back, only to heighten as she exited that transformation. However, something snapped her back this time-- her eyes widening as she looked up into the cloudy sky, and from her point of view, golden orange flames and smoke try to jump higher and higher surrounded that image-- but despite being in the center of a great fire, she only cared about imagining the white puffs parting ways for her to cast down its light-- accompanied by that voice. . . Who's was it? What even was that? How did it even know that much about her. . . and why was she so comfortable telling what it wants?
Her musings were interrupted by Hakon's movement--
Hákon Strickland said:
"If we survive, I would like to see in helping you come to terms with your "nature". If you see it fit to do so."
What were they risking? Was it something worth dying over? What did they have that let them dethatch themselves from continuing to live? Unlike her who desperately wished to live another day based on. . . based on what? Was it her "nature"? Was it wrong of her to ask for another day--? Or perhaps they were waiting for her to join them in giving up their lives for some folly? And her. . . nature. . .? Is it innate? Is it given? But isn't that the same...? You're given traits by one's parents right--? But who did she have to call her own parents? She always had thought that she was just the daughter of those two small-time farmers. But-- she looked different compared to them. She didn't share their features... so that makes her different? Yet-- they looked past that. Why?
All these questions continued to swirl around her head like a hurricane-- all of which began as soon as she left the eye of the storm at the forest. This was the one aspect of hers she always hated-- inquisitive, reflective, introspective. . . yet she doesn't remember picking up a single day inside of a schoolhouse. So how does she know this? Was this what that voice meant by the "first seal?" That can't be... she had these thoughts well before today... but she can't figure out how. It was as if by instinct and feeling-- that she could continue to press forward.
It was by instinct that she learned to fight. Perhaps training was what helped her hone her senses, but before entering the Cathedral, she became an unbeatable warrior of the town all by just following what made sense to her. She spear she wielded then felt natural to her-- the footwork and motions all blended and flowed into one another like a poem or a song. The slicing of the air, the tensing of the muscles, the rush of excitement that comes from fighting to live-- all of it came from within her.
The first time she began to fully encompass each step was when she was locked up in solitary darkness. Staying up from dawn to dusk practicing with a spoon or a fork, she could actually visualize herself holding a spear. She could "see" its length relative to her room, she could adapt to the close-quarters by imagining herself break through the wall or snapping it in two to give her a second blade. Without any outside expectations, she could finally clear her thoughts and focus. Just as she imagined this smoldering stick, for the first time she could feel those tiny sparks that would create a flame actually ignite for once in the world around her.
. . .
Lost in her thoughts, she didn't even realize her own body was moving. She hoped she said some words of good regards to Hakon before ditching him to let him do what he needed too, but she probably just nodded and went away without telling them where she would walk off too next. Alternatively, she could be having an out-of-body experience fit for someone who has escaped death numerous times over. Or maybe, it was the fumes she inhaled playing tricks on her mind, accelerating her thinking to keep up with the previously looming threat of becoming ash.
Again--! Again she feels as if an invisible hand is guiding her movements. Her eyes darting around the wooded forests, the flames behind her lighting the way under sunless sky and illuminated clouds. She felt her eyes wander, looking for a place to rest. She could not possibly rest where she remains right now, the flames remain too close and will eventually jump out to meet her. She needed a place high-up and a perch that won't possibly be touched by flames. There. in the corner of her eye, something glimmered-- it was a plateau... no, perhaps bluffs of rocks? Didn't matter-- it was high and far away from the fighting that she could plant her feet and rest upon. But-- it was soo high up-- she couldn't see herself walking all the way out there.
Yet, this continuing sensation of being on auto-pilot never failed her, as she could feel a gust of wind lifting her off high off the ground. Wings once again sprouted from her back, flapping downwards to give her some vertical height, and then she dived down to soar over the battlefield. She could spot three Soulbringers she could recognize-- Zeviene, Sariavyn, and Siara. All of them fighting their hardest for... the mission? The cause of the Soulbringers? What even was that--? Did she even stop to pay attention to listen? This was Regalia territory, but what does that even mean? Did Hakon just drop her information they expected her to know out of nowhere? Could they trust her with that? Or perhaps it was his way of looping her in now that his head could be on the chopping block?
She knew who the Soulbringers were. Maybe. In her eyes, they were the elite force that was united under the princess of Aselengard. She knew their warriors, and dreamed of sparring with them-- but she always thought they would easily outclass someone like her, and would never ask to spar with them. Right? Right? Right? It was as if this moment was breaking down all the fundamental things she took for granted. In her self-absorbed quest to remain alive, she never put herself out in front of others, hiding behind a cold, disciplined, and indifferent exterior. Yet-- it was putting into practice her ideas of fighting to live that she truly becomes alive. Her shock at Hakon coming to save a wretch like her, the disgust she had for herself when Siara even bothered to visit her down in solitary confinement, only to be an outward mess, the cries and pleadings she made, begging for her own life at the hands of others, as if she needed their permission to live.
Landing upon the shiny landing pad that she picked out for herself, she remained standing, observant of the battlefield below-- she witnessed waves of people fighting for something of their own volition. They were a people who had come to their own conclusions about life and what it means to continue of living. They were fighting for land, for pride, for glory, or revenge-- all base emotions and feelings that make one alive. She wanted so badly, then, to take part of that kind of feeling. Yet-- she always found herself spared from the fighting, put aside for later like a child waiting to receive punishment.
No— she thought to herself, there was no way she was going to lay down and continue to remain dormant. She wanted to prove she was alive, right? So what will she do—? A sign, right— people usually leave their marks upon the world one way or another. It had to be something that everyone could see— she already created a wildfire, but people stayed away from that. She needed to make something that would make her valuable, indisposable.
She could finally regain hold of her own mind and body. She recovered enough to no longer require a support to simply remain standing. Ironically though— what was going to come next was definitely going to push her over the edge. If she were to perish thereafter, she would die with a smile, finally content with herself... right?
Manifesting her armor once more, she fully realized in her mind her preferred weapon, the crescent blade that she treasured so— using the one she was given at birth as a focus— she began to wince in pain, the her body aching from forcing a second transformation back-to-back, but she took on the Herculean effort to struggle against her own body. Planting the spear into the rock— a brilliant light covered her, to protect her dignity as her limbs transformed, amassing in size, the same scales that tried to take her over before now consuming her entirely. The red armor that protected her falling to the ground, disintegrating into ashes, all that was revealed underneath was a towering red dragon who looked up to the sky.
“Scream. Scream into the heavens so that they remember your name.”
Damnit— that voice again. Was it that being who was guiding her on autopilot? Did her out-of-body experiences originate from them? It didn’t matter either way— as she felt two distinct sound waves reverberate from her mouth, the ripple visible to the naked eye as it traveled through all that her eyes could see. It even reached the clouds above, those gray, stormy masses, parting them aside to reveal the sun’s rays. They began to extend down to the Earth, highlighting the three Soulbringer combatants who were facing the main enemy force. It’s brilliance shining for a brief moment, as the following phrase was delivered to them— as if she were telling them directly in their heads—
“You have heard my Lament— with it, you encumber my wish. Your hands are infused with mine fiery will. Your blows with mark targets with a great flame which will errupt shortly thereafter— and the Mandate invoked demands your continued survival.
May my flame’s warmth fuel your actions and it’s wisps clean off your minor wounds from your flesh.”
Finally— she got that all off her chest. Decompressing back into her human form, she clung onto the spear that she planted into the ground, she knelt down and collapsed face-first onto the rock. Perhaps that single magic spell would be insignificant in the long run— but it was proof of her existence nonetheless. Embracing the oblivion that came with unconsciousness, a smile forms on her face as she closes her eyes.
His hands had stained enough of blood. The souls that he had perished from the battlefield was enough for his soldiers to advance through the enemy's fortress. The tide of the battle was beginning to favor the Vragathian forces, as he had hoped since his introduction into the skirmish. With the other high ranking Integrity Knights scattered across the forest slaying dozens of soldiers on their own, Velhyndr found himself alone surrounded by lifeless bodies, all slaughtered and sent to the Hell below by the same blade that he held firmly in his hand.
The Knight continued onward, disregarding the corpses that laid dormant over the burning forest. He walked without rest, forever marching his presence towards the enemy's fortress, engulfed in hellfire manifested from the depths of Sitra Achra. A slayer-class warrior who utilized a special type of magic. Rewarded by his Emperor to wield the "Purgatory", an Astral Armament that enchants its user with the ability to use Vile Hellfire, and the item embedded into his broadsword — using its devastating heat to ward off the knights that had found their enemy approaching the fortress, only to become ashes.
Velhyndr Zeratus, the Chevalier of Retribution. A knight previously decorated by the Dark Hero to compete against Alynx Barbatos in the spot for glory, only to respectfully decline his offer to become a walking hellfire against Aeslengard. His motives unknown, and their history was a mystery of its own.
If Sirus Thorvein couldn't stop his advance, he would never allow the Soulbringers to cease his journey for revenge.
And now, as he walked towards the burning forest caused not by his magic, Velhyndr ceased his steps in front of the two Soulbringers that had became an obstacle in his path, and raised his sword to eliminate them.
"Soulbringers." Velhyndr announced his presence to Hákon, and elaborated no further.
The Knight raised his broadsword and charged an attack, his weapon engulfed with large amounts of hellfire.
And in a moment's notice, Velhyndr unleashed his attack as the sole Soulbringer found themselves with the decision of being sliced in half by the broadsword's phantom attack, or dodge to live another day.
An appalling dark magical power brimming with unbridled flames had startled the poor familiar, beads of sweat starting to fall from his forehead as he redirected the wyvern's flight towards the source of the crimson aura. Without having to guess the identity of the enemy, Gunther knew that only an Integrity Knight with a designated persona could radiate such intense aura, opposed to the casual foot soldier that practiced only common magic.
"Siara, Sariavyn- I'm going to need you to join Hákon, and reinforce him for their upcoming fight." The marsupial ordered through the magic circle that had allowed him to communicate with the others telepathically. He had no doubts that the three of them together could take care of the threat below, but he wasn't certain. He had considered Endymion's reinforcement but it would've been too time-consuming.
Their primary mission was to find the King and retrieve him safely back to the sanctuary, but as the situation was slowly becoming worse for the Soulbringers due to the sheer amount of Vragathian presence, he was starting to think that this battle was a lost cause.
He had already suggested a tactical retreat to the lords that commanded the troops from the fortress, and his advice did not fall on deaf ears, as they respected the archmage that once had saved countless men from their cruel fate.
"Endymion, we're going to have to take it up a notch and start searching for the King ourselves. My sensors are spotting his energy somewhere east from your position, but it's fainting from my radar... He's injured, and if we're lucky, we may find him alone instead of being surrounded by the integrity knights."
The Aeslengardian princess woke up in a daze, slowly blinking herself awake as she wondered when she had fallen into another slumber. The dull pains still ached throughout her body, a kind of pain that she would learn to endure and get used to, along with the intricate patterns of pale rose gold that decorated the ceiling and greeted her when she would wake up for the nth time. With her right hand, Yutera carefully hoisted herself up from the bed, her left used to wipe away any sleep that remained within her system. She would figure that this would become her daily routine, to cycle repeatedly between the realm of sleep and the realm of the living, dreaming of her dead comrades, past lives, and current allies, and giving commands to the Remnants Soulbringer, until perhaps one day she would wake no more. The idea perturbed her, but would she really have a choice to do much else, as long as she was confined by the immobility of her own legs?
Yutera assumed today's agenda would be no different, having anticipated the Remnants' return, only to be disproven, to be frozen in place as she set her eye upon a least expected visitor: her ex-fiancé, Sigurd. Aside from his black and red attire, he looked no different to her than the youth that had engaged her, though deep down she knew he was just as different from his old self as the moon was the sun. Even so, he looked not a day older than when he departed from the Remnants, not even after the passing of 200 years. She had imagined countless scenarios of when they would meet again in the hopes that he was truly alive, where he still held his delusional fantasies and warped intentions, yet in all of the locations she would expect him to be, he appeared right before her in her bedroom while she was still powerless to fight or escape.
She imagined, upon meeting him again, that a flurry of emotions would erupt from inside her—rage, fear, hatred, shame, embarrassment... sorrow, pity, love, longing, forgiveness, as long as he were to rectify his misdeeds... all surfacing from where her most burdensome emotions were locked away—yet in this moment, she felt nothing. She just stared. She stared, perhaps so intensely at him that she would be able to bore a hole through him, until she regained awareness of her situation and her surroundings, and started to scream.
Although her legs were not functional, her vocal cords would at least be of some use, or so she would think.
Yutera called over and over for the guards to come, to seize the hero-turned-madman that was still in her sight, but none would arrive by her side. As the princess came to the thought that the guards would not be able to miss the notorious figure's obvious appearance, he would confirm the idea that they had all been disposed of, exterminated, dead.
the chevalier of virtue
In the heart of the forest, a young albino adolescent scurried about in search of the "King" of Astral Armaments, otherwise known as the currently injured Sirus Thorvein. She scoffed at the thought, that such a weak and foolhardy old man was once deserving of such a title, but she believed now that the Astral Armaments rested contently in the hands of its rightful ruler, the Dark Hero of Eden. She couldn't—no, she would not—allow for the stupid old man to escape from her grasp and take control of the Armaments again, nor would her superiors allow her, either. She would prove to herself and her higher-ups that justice would be served, and one of her first steps towards achieving that objective would be to capture Sirus and end his life for good this time.
Scarletta sighed in frustration as she ran, internally scorning herself for looking away and getting distracted by the large forest fire long enough for him to disappear from her sight. He won't get away this time, she thought to herself, smirking as she imagined the praise she would receive for ridding of the man, as relatively useless as he was. In order for that to happen, she would have to find the right time and place to kill him, but that time and place, for her, was now. After all, what better place would make for an imminent, untraceable death and a quick burial than the isolated woods?
It seemed, however, that the Soulbringers had gotten to Sirus first. A man cloaked in blue robes with tousled brown hair and an undersized marsupial had found him seeking refuge beneath a large tree before she had been able to find him herself and perform a final blow to his head. Fortunately, they were fools enough to listen to him speak while he lay wounded, rather than to immediately bring him aid, which allowed for Scarletta to eavesdrop on their conversation as she hid in a nearby bush.
"...stral Armament... the underlying cause of her weakness," he sputtered, coughing from the deep wound Scarletta had inflicted upon his body just moments before.
"The on-only way to disable its effects... is for its original owner to disable it. However, if this happens... not only will she be cured from her ev-everlasting weakness, she..." he coughs again, "she will no longer be immortal, and she... will be vulnerable to any offensive advance."
In hearing this, Scarletta grinned, knowing exactly who he was speaking of.
"Vulnerable, eh? We'll see how vulnerable she can get," she muttered to herself as she began to chuckle, unaware that her quiet remark had drawn the attraction of the blue mage and the dwarf-sized mascot.
As the Guardian of Forests walked, he noticed that his companion Mei had abandoned him. His thoughts drifted. He was back to being the small boy who cried for mommy and daddy, the one before the creature of Nature. His memory hazy. All he could remember were the faint smiles on their faces, the ivory banners with star-shaped crests, and the armour, shiny chrome. Then the night came upon his castle. The ebon darkness of the sky strangled the castle with monstrous strength. The young boy shot up in his monarch-sized bed. His eyes glazed over, limply throwing away the fluffy blanket on his body. The frail child, hypnotized, began to walk. Unaware, unwilling—the boy opened the door to his room. Even though the pitch blackness of the hallways obscured his vision, it was as if the child did not rely upon it. The guards, butlers, and maids were still up and about, but the newly awakened child evaded their sight like a skilled hunter.
The bridge today had been lowered for nightly transport, so Hákon had used this fact to his advantage. Thus the boy wandered into the unending forests, never to return.
Hákon paused as he gazed upwards to the blue sky. It has been an unquestionable amount of time. Regardless of his sentiments, Hákon knew that his duties must not end. To guard the forests, whatever it takes. Although... Seeing the destruction wrought by Mei, he wondered whether the Regalias would be willing to broker deals with him. It was obvious that they would; less opposition the better, however, Hákon would need to grow even stronger than now for them to consider him an opponent worth bargaining with.
They've had two-hundred years to grow, but they shall soon learn that to Nature: that time frame is a grain.
His footsteps suddenly stopped. Hákon sensed another presence. Then it strolled up to him. Hailing him as a Soulbringer. He had come face to face with an integrity knight!
Hákon's burnt spear stood weakly. It would not be useful for this fight. The built-up of thermal energy in the knight's sword was an obvious attack. One that Hákon stood and looked at as an adrenaline rush slowed time down. The Lord of Trees bent his knees then leapt into the air, twisting his body in synchrony to spin in the air. The spin would serve for him to jettison the spear—not towards his enemy, surprisingly. The spear was shot out of sight into the greener areas of the battlefield.
Hákon landed then stared at the Knight; he walked towards the nearest tree that wasn't touched by the red flames. "Knight of Integrity." He identified scornfully. The tree, Hákon selected, is not old. He estimated it was three years without checking. He whispered. "I thank you, young one: you will be reborn." Hákon then shattered the tree's base with a low kick, turning his left foot to help him with power. The cracking and breaking of wood had a satisfying sound, like that of an axe meeting it.
His arborous prosthesis grabbed the tree and lifted it. Hunching it over on his back, Hákon turned sharply to face the integrity knight. Eyes filled with blood-curdling rage. He had held back his anger with Mei, but now? Now, he will EXERCISE HIS FURY!
After so-kindly executing the Vragathian soldiers Endymion had been holding down, Hákon seems to have vanished into thin air. Well- no, that's an exaggeration. Endymion's pretty sure he's gone to investigate the source of the sudden wildfires threatening to engulf the edges of the dry forest. Endymion himself would be concerned but he's got a sneaking suspicion that the fires are merely announcing the late arrival of one of their- er, more flammable companions, upon the battlefield. Good -- there are more Regalia forces here already than anticipated, and the Soulbringers could use all the musclepower they can get to hold off the Integrity Knights until Thorvein can be located. That is, as long as Mei is able to escape Hákon's wrath on behalf of the smoking trees first, Endymion thinks wryly to himself.
Speaking of the missing king-- Endymion's just removing his cloak and letting it fade back between the open threads weaving this dimension (against the red and smoky backdrop that is quickly replacing the already sparse forest, his shifting-sky silhouette sticks out like a sore thumb), quick feet continuing to tread a path through the trees, when Gunther's voice rings loud in his head:
"Endymion, we're going to have to take it up a notch and start searching for the King ourselves. My sensors are spotting his energy somewhere east from your position, but it's fainting from my radar... He's injured, and if we're lucky, we may find him alone instead of being surrounded by the integrity knights."
"Affirmative," Endymion says out loud. He orients himself east, as directed, and begins to quicken his pace. Thorvein, injured... If ever came a time for Lady Luck to be looking their way, it would be now, he supposes. Endymion slips away into the weaving trees and moves to meet up with Gunther and, hopefully, the king -- and no one else.
Whatever a shock it was to find Sirus halfway to bleeding out, it was near forgotten upon hearing the words he spoke next.
The Astral Armament. The flower blooming from Yutera's eye, reminiscent of a lily in appearance alone. That is what has kept Yutera ill; that is the reason for her prolonged weakness, which so often leaves her confined to merely her bedchambers. Her sickness is artificial -- and it had been given to her by Sigurd, all as part of a plan to keep her useless and immobile, at only the cost of her mortality.
It seems... barely comprehendable, really, to consider Sigurd toying with the mortality of his once-fiancée so readily. Though Gods know Endymion is no expert in the affair of love, nor have his only experiences with ended kindly, so who's to say? But every time he is reminded of- of current circumstances, of the way the story had to end, tragic and confusing and yet still without resolve, he can't help but think, perhaps I knew Sigurd once. At least, I believed I did. But with every action he becomes further and further unrecognizable. If I were to witness him before me today, could I still see in him the same man I was once proud to call my companion? The thought makes a strange feeling swell in his throat, and he swallows it down as he tears his gaze over to Gunther.
The marsupial had always been close to Sigurd in a way unlike anyone else, as his familiar. Endymion has often wondered how he had reconciled with the situation. Had he ever expected this outcome? Had there been signs for him to witness? Did--
His train of thought is cut short by the muffled sounds of a voice, of laughter, from somewhere nearby.
Endymion does not turn his head to look. Instead, he stills.
"As charming as this setting is, I think," he begins, voice lowered a bit so that only his two companions may hear, "...it would be wise to continue this discussion elsewhere, before anyone else decides to crash our little reunion."
Then in one fluid motion, Endymion twists himself around, forming a spear of ice out from his canteen and lobbing it at the underbrush, roughly in the direction from which he heard the voice.
Time crept on. In waves, the enemy pushed their assaults on Sariavyn and Siara. But by steel and magic, they prevailed, in wait for the true threats. Which had yet to come. Had the plan gone amiss? Anxiousness grew in her even as she stood her ground. By now their presence must be known to the enemy commandants, if not for the little show she had put up, then the prolonged disruption of the enemy’s formation they had enacted for some time, but why had they been lingering out of sight? Not out of fear, that was certain. Then for what wicked purpose?
From the corner of her sight, a cavalry band took the momentary preoccupation for a breakthrough: the steeds and their terrible riders galloped towards the fiery wall she had erected to safeguard a moment’s respite. Though startled, the girl came to her senses, she swept her hand in a quick motion and the fierce fire grew roaring to the sky. It ignited the beasts as they passed, bit through their skin and their bones, throwing their masters to the ground: in smouldering fleshes and sharp cries they sprawled by her feet. As the battle-healer beheld life slipping from the men she had slaughtered, the gruesome sight of their death became engraved in her eyes like a branding iron mark, and by icy formless hands, it gripped her heart and wrinkled her face in the dark mental pain. But she shrugged it off with a trained numbness, as she did always – hiding it in a safe corner as one more to the collection, never to be corrupted nor forgotten – and thus turned her gaze from the dying creatures.
Then came Gunther’s message. From its tone and the abruptness of its arrival, she knew at once his news would be grave. Her fear was not unwarranted: they were to aid Hakon in a face-off with an integrity knight. And he was supposed to be searching for the King while Siara and the others drew those very knights away! They had failed their mission mortally – now Hakon’s life was in danger, and she was to give wings to her feet!
Her panic wasn’t born from a lack of faith in the Coile Custodian, but she held no such faith in the ways of fate. One misstep and that’s all it’ll take to invite doom.
So she sprang from her post, crying for Sariavyn’s attention. But she went alone. The slayer would do fine – she herself a beast of war. Siara though, she had no long strides or gift of wings: her physical exertion could not rival a trained soldier, much less to race the integrity knight to her ally’s side. Yet deep in the enemy’s line as they were! Forlorn seemed her hope to make it in time.
But only after a few strides she had found her hope anew: a breathing life. Among the fallen beast of the enemy cavalry, a great stallion lay, burning but alive. His skin contorted by the flame, his lung drew black smoke and eyes glazed over, but alive still he was, for clearly she felt a spark deep within, though it waned and elusive, his time counting. She quickly set herself to work: her magic traced his damaged organs, his fractured bones, then the lost tissues and the torn muscles. By the by, Siara wrestled consciousness back to the poor animal’s mind and spirit to his feet. He then stumbled up, and puffed out some black smoke – the last of his suffering. True black was his coat, blue his eyes, and his brawn bursting with vigor.
Thereupon, Siara came to the stallion and scratched its neck. In his simple way, the animal rubbed his muzzle on her face. Taking the gesture as his approval, she at once swung on his back and directed him to the forest. After her wall of fire was quenched, she needed only to nudge. In slow trots then full gallop he rushed down the surrounding enemy and sprang like an eager arrow.
The stallion’s head was all too clear now – clearer than ever it had been. The moment his new rider came to ride on his back, from her a strange energy coursed through his veins. He found not only the strength of his war-torn body, but also his youth, magically restored. No, more than that, he felt his hooves could beat the length of the world! He felt again a foal on vast green meadows, whence however far he sprang the land stretch further still under his feet, and he never knew of tiredness. How is this if not a blessing of the highest divines! He was tough: no metal-clad human could touch him, but he trampled on them; he tore through the land of clashing men and slaving beasts, bringing fear and awe to his brethren and the two-legs alike. He felt his gallops invincible, and he knew he was more blessed than all the horses that had walked the earth. All by the being – the divine being on his back. In his primal mind, he envisioned his tributes, if such things were of use to such a one, in most glorious services he would render his benefactress, all to ever be in her favor. What then is a little sprint?
On his back, Siara was busy weaving spells after spells: enhancement for her steed’s speed and protection, fear to the enemy’s heart and fire to clear her path. Though her eyes fixed on the burning forest, she soon noticed the movements of Aeslengard banners. “We are being routed,” cried she, “the battle is lost.” As clearly their commanders had sounded a retreat, the soldiers were to pull out. Fear crept in: a troop cannot withdraw in front of such opposition without taking significant losses. Then she must do what she could to aid the retreat. So she rode along the frontline on the Vragathia’s side, breaking their formation to the best she could while still heading in the direction of the forest. She rained fire and hexes of fear down the Vragathia. The enemy was plunged into chaos where she passed, but she had not the time to check how helpful was her aid to the Aeslengard’s retreat. Time was running low.
“Run now, run! I fear we are late, but hope is in speed! Run!”
And like a storm, they did sweep through the battlefield, fast approaching the place where the true battle awaited. As they emerged from the lines of men and entered the forest, their speed was slow by the thickening trees. And soon, a scorching heat reached them from far ahead. At once, Siara leapt from her steed, broke her fall with a feather spell to lighten her landing.
She turned only briefly to bid the stallion farewell: “If ever our paths cross again, I shall repay my debt in full! But now you must go, your battle is over, but mine is come!”
The stallion lingered still in the same spot as she left. Moments later, a sharp sound of a tree being shattered finally chased him away.
When Siara arrived, drawing her breaths heavily, Hakon was already heading into battle with the enemy. The integrity knight brought hell in his greatsword and a threatening aura worthy of his title. But before she could fully assess the man, he had unleashed his phantom strike without warning.
Of course, there is never the leisure to tell if a victory is possible, she needed only to fight with all she had, with or against whoever it might be.
In what little window of time she had, the girl conjured a two-layered ward right in the strike’s trajectory, hoping it would break or at the very least dampen his assault.
It took naught but a few seconds for Annelia to tell that Vragathia's forces had the upper hand. The other Regalias had practically made a sport of laughing at the Integrity Knights--perhaps such was to be expected, given how warped their ideas of strength and power had become after possessing their stations and abilities for as long as they had--but having expanded the Sovereignty's borders alongside the Knights herself, Annelia had long compared their competency to those of the average footsoldier many times over; the forces of Aeslengard could only struggle against the onslaught, with the Soulbringers themselves remaining the one wild card in the midst of battle.
The sound of rushing wind drew Annelia's eye from the battle, her attention landing on a young, winged girl as she touched down upon the plateau. The Knight's gaze narrowed in suspicion. The stranger was a Soulbringer, that much was clear; her injuries betrayed her former place amongst the forest blaze, and her overall state made it clear that she was attempting to retreat.
One seeks solace already, Annelia thought to herself, unpromising.
Suddenly, a wave of heat and light washed outward, forcing Annelia to narrow her eye further as the injured girl began to shift in shape, her body growing and changing as scales overtook her clothing and a great mane of spines overtook her hair. Squinting through the glare, Annelia's eye widened in concentration as she locked her focus fully upon the dragon, slipping her sword an inch from its scabbard in preparation.
One draw. That was all she would have needed; the beast's head would have come clean and free from its heavy neck, split in half by a rush of force and light. It would not have been the first time.
Her training and years of battle immediately smothered her reflexes, locking her joints in place as cool logic quickly overrode more base impulses. The young dragon's attention remained focused elsewhere as she let loose a wild cry up into the sky, parting the clouds as light shimmered down upon the battlefield. Slowly, Annelia pressed her blade back into its sheathe, rising from her ready stance as the transformation dissipated, the form of a dragon peeling away as a young girl was left upon the ground instead. The wind resumed blowing in its prior direction, brushing away the heat that had momentarily clouded the small plateau.
The Vexknight's plate clinked lightly with each step toward the fallen girl, removing one of her gauntlets and kneeling as she placed a palm upon the fallen girl's chest. The soft rhythm of life pressed through the Soulbringer's clothes, prompting a light sigh as Annelia moved to stand and reaffix her armor. There is potential in this one, Annelia mused, scanning the downed warrior quietly with a once-more narrowed eye. The stranger could not help but remind the knight of some of those she fought alongside in their earlier years. Unrefined. Hasty. Sloppy. But, her potential could not be denied--even if it was not quite at the level of what she had hoped to see, let alone what the Regalias themselves were capable of, even in those bumbling, far-away days. Perhaps the others will show similar promise.
She looked back out to the battle raging below, shafts of light descending upon the various Soulbringers scattered throughout the forest as a result of the dragon's rallying cry. Another burst of heat and flame ravaged the forest, cutting through trees in a wide and wild arc as greenery fell away, revealing scorch marks and smoke and further fanning the flames as the forest continued to burn. Annelia let out a slightly-amused grunt. She did not need to see the wielder to know exactly what weapon had caused that cataclysmic strike. In a battle of this magnitude, where Velhyndr was, Scarletta was sure to follow--though she was of course far more targeted, far more precise, subtle, in her own machinations. Annelia lidded her eye, the young soldier's visage briefly flashing through her mind's eye in perfect recollection. Her dedication, her dogged focus, her unwavering sense of duty--she succeeded in many places where many of the other high-ranking knights failed. All that Annelia could fault her for was her thinking, her untempered zeal forming her greatest fault. Often, Annelia had thought her the perfect foundation for a properly-honed replacement, were her mind to be even more sharply focused. Such a project, like so many others, would have to be tossed to the wind, now.
...What a waste.
She glanced back to the unconscious dragon-shifter upon the ridge, her invisible hair and cloak tossed by the wind as she turned. She did not want to interfere unless she had to, out of the hope that she might prolong her delicate, undiscovered neutrality for a moment longer. Were she to engage Vragathia, there would be no act she could play or falsehood she could spin that would smoothly reingratiate herself to her former station.
Yet, the Soulbringers had barely fought, and they were already pushed to their breaking point, with one no longer able to stand.
Annelia closed her eye, thinking calmly upon the ridge, before deciding to try and thread her cursed needle once more. She raised a hand, extending her arm toward the unconscious girl as a light glow emanated from her palm, mimicked by a similar light that began to rise from the fallen figure. She could barely feel the depletion of energy as mana rushed from her overflowing fount to the dragonspawn's empty pitcher, her glove snapping shut into a tightly-clenched fist as the light died away, her presence still shrouded upon the bluff.
That should be more than sufficient. The girl's injuries would not have healed--at least not by Annelia's hand--but perhaps the brief granting of energy would be enough to cause the girl to rise. All that remained was to see what she might choose to do with her renewed consciousness.
The roads were different these days. Different smell, different taste, different people. Be it on a major trade route or an abandoned country road, you'd sooner find a pack of enforcers than a friendly face in this day and age, and you could hardly walk five feet without having to worry about a Vile Beast attack.
Enough to do in a woman's head, it was.
Yulianna had been on the road for a matter of weeks now. Well, she'd been on the road for months, actually, but she'd been on this specific one for a matter of weeks. She'd had the fortune for her first duty as a Soulbringer to be one that played to her strengths: Reconnaissance. Even in their transformed state, Yulianna still knew the roads of Eden well. The arterial system of cobblestone and gravel had provided her essential passage between the countless towns that littered Eden during her adventuring years, and her familiarity with their many winding routes and saved her from arrest many times in the years since.
Even now, so many years after the awakening of the world, it broke her heart a little. How her intimate familiarity with this great unchanging network of roads, with something she almost considered a companion, now had to be used for such dreary things as this. No longer was it good enough for her to just plan out whichever route would make for the best tour, now she had to search and hide and listen and stalk her way across the countryside, with her head cast over her shoulder the whole while.
This was the first big lead she'd caught. It was rare to hear tell of the Regalias, those dark shadows of the fallen Hero's Guild, walking amongst the mortal folk of Vragathia. Their pawns, the Integrity Knights, seemed to serve as their eyes, ears and arms within the realm of men. So it had been strange when she'd heard tell of one of them venturing across the Vragathian countryside. The rumours had been scarce, almost if sightings of the woman had been little more and a series of shared delusions, but Yulianna's gut had told her that she was onto something.
She'd followed the rumours, those of a lone, solemn woman, venturing across the countryside atop of steed branded with the emblem of Vragathia. A woman bearing with her a sensation of ancientness and danger, and resolve even more than that. They'd reminded her more of myths than the trail of a human woman, but she supposed that a myth was exactly what her quarry and her ilk had become in those two hundred years of war and solitude.
In the distance, Yulianna could sense conflict in the air. An earthy aroma of ash kissed her nostrils, and she could hear the distant chime of barked orders and heavy footfalls. The Integrity Knights, no doubt, were the culprits. She'd tangled enough with those of their ranks during her recent travels to be able to spot them from a mile off, but rather than seeking to avoid them, today she was far more curious as to who they were waging such a dire-sounding conflict with.
Yulianna's quarry momentarily flitted through her thoughts, but even if the Knights had been foolhardy enough to engage her, she doubted they'd be able to hold their own against a Regalia long enough for the battle to deepen into such a deep state of severity. Inversely, she had little knowledge of anyone other than the other Soulbringers capable enough to hold their own against the Knights, which really narrowed down the pool of suspects. As far as she knew the Soulbringers didn't have much business this deep into Vragathian territory, but it wouldn't surprise her if there were secret operations throughout Vragathia, fought with espionage and wits rather than bare-knuckle brawls.
Then again, given the state of affairs, if this was supposed to be an espionage mission, something had clearly gone very wrong.
Yulianna had started to make her way towards the commotion when something else had caught her eye. Frankly, it would've been very hard for it not to. It had all the fixings of something important: yelling, fire, shouting, and god rays. Atop a nearby plateau, faint wisps of smoke wafted into the air, highlighted beams of sunlight that peaked out from a newly formed split in the clouds. Compared to the steadily growing column of soot just a bit further yonder, it was a dainty show to say the least, but Yulianna did not fancy herself to be the heartless sort of lady that could leave a screeching girl be.
Her approach to the plateau was swift. With the Integrity Knights keenly focused on whatever the other commotion was, it was easy to avoid their gaze. The odd dip and the occasional dive was all she needed to stay incognito. She did her best to maintain a similar level of stealth while scampering up the cliff itself, but her travel gear made it into an impossible task. With each hop she took, the supplies in her rucksack clattered against each other, and her club made its own presence known whenever the rest of her gear remained silent.
As she approached the plateau's summit, Yulianna's movements slowed down as much as they could, and she peeked her eyes over the cliff's edge. Amber-brown eyes darted to and fro, sweeping across the stony floor as Yulianna assessed the situation, and then huffed a sigh of relief. It looked like she was the first one here.
"Hey! You alive over there?" Yulianna whisper-yelled at the top of her hushed voice, hoping to stir a reaction from the plateau's lone denizen. When the girl's body didn't stir, a flush of worry rushed through Yulianna's body, and she quickly hauled herself up onto the cliff. Now wholly discarding her illusion of stealth, Yulianna's gear merrily clanged against itself as she scrambled over to the girl's limp maybe-corpse.
When she reached her side, she dropped to her knees, laid her head against her chest, and then relaxed. She was still breathing, at least. As she drew back from the girl's body, Yulianna's brow slowly rose in astonishment. She was no expert in the medical arts, but even she could tell when someone had been through the woods this badly. For goodness sake, the girl was smoking.
The wanderer-woman, clad in her many garments, cast her gaze over to the tower of smoke rising out of the forest below. It didn't take a genius to do the math on how the girl had ended up in such a state, but she'd never been a fan of math.
"Hey hey, smokey-lady!" Yulianna spoke, this time with her voice unbidden, and made an attempt to shake the girl awake. "Wakey-wakey! Your friendly travelling saviour has arrived! Mind filling her in on what's going on around here?"
The sound of wood clashing against wood reverberated throughout the small training ground set aside by a small village. It was nothing more than a cobbled together fence surrounding patches of grass, gravel, road, and dirt. Set against the walls were an extra row of sticks, literal sticks, the longest and most wieldable makeshift polearms imaginable. Truly, this was an amalgamation of the village's spare resources at it's finest. A row of militiamen remained at the side, looking onto the fierce sparring match. Each one of them wasn't necessarily "special" or "unique" per say, as they usually came from: the extra sons of farmers and tradesmen; paupers seeking a roof to sleep under; or bored husbands wanting to get out of the house once in a while to attend training. Apart from them, stand a man whose age mandated that he rely upon a cane-- and another figure, more young and brisk, standing more firm and attentive-- the former's obvious successor. Both of their eyes set on one thing--
A young girl dueling it out in the center with a grown-ass man.
She was perhaps no bigger than a school boy, nor any older than a blossoming teenager, yet she possessed the power and technique to fight on even terms with her opponent-- which should come to a surprise to all those around her, yet none of them seem perturbed, because at this point-- a showing like this was a regular occurrence. Supposedly-- by showing how even a child can stand up and fight, what does it make all of the men standing still and watching? Less than a child? Babies, even? If that line of reasoning was supposed to motivate the crowd of bumbling idiots to strive to become any better, it certainly has not worked-- but she wasn't going to let that get in the way of killing some time.
The young girl continue to dance with her spear-- matching blow for blow, dodge for dodge, mimicking the middle-aged man that was faced in front of her. Twirling around, making sure each knock of her spear met the mark of her opponent. The older combatant grew more frustrated-- tired of playing this game of patience with the child, he shoved off the younger, putting some distance between the two. Clasping the spear with both of his hands, he charged forward, hoping in the heat of the moment, some fear would take hold in the young girl's mind in response to such a large body rushing forward. However-- much to both of their dismays, she simply jumped to the side, using the height difference to her advantage, getting low and using the spear to side swipe at his legs. Unable to react in time, the older man landed flat on his rump, with the young girl stepping on the stick he wielded, pressing her foot against his chest, snapping it in twain, and the tip of hers straight at him. The older combatant looked out to the eyes leering upon them, disappointed in him, bemused by the young girl--
"That's quite enough, Mei." the old sage clapped his hands. In that instance, Mei relented, removing herself from applying any pressure on her sparring partner. Why was everyone quiet? She could see others flap their gums as if to make the motion of speaking, yet no sound resonated from them. She remained still, not wanting to grab any more attention that she already had during that fight but--
"Surprised--?" Again-- it was the master-at-arms of the village speaking, or at least, the sound came from his direction, yet something was off. She turned her head to look behind-- only to see a light emanating from the geezer's eyes and mouth. A chill was sent up her spine, as she could see longer hair fall over her eyes, brushing that aside-- she saw herself once again in her present battle uniform-- suit and tie, with a golden dragon embroidery stitched to its side. She took up her actual blade, replacing the shoddy wooden stick she held, readying herself. The blank stare of the possessed figure did not even waver-- as if to dismiss such a paltry threat.
"You can't recognize me yet. . ." the old man frowned, saddened by the hostility shown.
"Look around you, child. You are trying to look for words to put in the mouths of others, just to regurgitate it for you--
Did you ever think once that... this all is just a lie--?"
Mei hastily looked back at the enclosed space, it was the same dirt, same gravel, same pavement and road-- but suddenly there was a red liquid splattered in a line-- The same young girl who had held back against her opponent out of fear of overpowering them had a pitch-black aura surrounding them, their eyes red and fangs came to bear-- blood dripping from their spear. The older version of that same being quickly dropped their own spear, covering their mouth and looking away-- wanting to avert their eyes from it.
"Interesting. You instantly go for the worst possible scenario as soon as doubt fills your mind. You believe that a simple skirmish like this could end up like that. Are you also sure that's what happened? It could have been much more mundane that that. Perhaps you bested him brutally-- and you scared everyone around you-- but most certainly such a noble and merciful being such as yourself would never move to kill, right?" Mei's eyes flashed back one again toward her old master-- or what should have been, but--
"H-Hikari-" Mei stammered, gazing upon the new form this shapeless voice appeared to take, as a blood-stained and fire-scorched girl, yet their pupils were a lifeless yellow-- their voice taking on the same monotony through its changes. Twirling around, the younger girl's flowing skirt rising and expanding up in the air as she rotated, taking a bow at the end, the possessor of such a body looking at their arms, wanting to bask in the temporary youth it was granted, checking out what was given to it--
"So that's who you think of when I bring up that-- Is she the most beloved thing to you--? If you can even call her one--" the pondering spirit jumped up onto the cobblestone wall that surrounded the make-shift training ground, crossing their legs, getting comfortable as they continue to get lost deeper in their thoughts. "But are you certain she's genuine too?" As if on cue-- a certain house near the training ground erupted in flames, black smoke rising to meet the clouds.
“i’M hErE to HelP—!”
“iTs mE, hiKarii—!”
“i WanNa ProTecT yoU—!”
“stOp rUnNinG aWayYY!!!”
That same scene again from before-- a partially transformed Mei burning down everything around her, chasing after Hikari-- right? But she didn't hear her talk back. No-- the rampaging dragon was holding something... a skull? What? She turned her eyes back towards the voice, only to see it as a lone boney head with bright glowing eyes floating in the air, looking down upon her.
"This skull was part of the decaying corpse of the first family you slain. You ate the rest of their bones out of hunger, but somehow managed to manifest life over and over again just to feed yourself. Did you not even wonder why your foster parents never worked? You never thought that far did you--? You could never make such recreations of life-- only to mimic and emulate their feelings an--
Why are you looking at me like that? You're shell-shocked over such benign intricacies? Or perhaps you don't believe my words either. Indeed, there is a possibility that I'm just pulling your leg. Your family could very much be real and you could have tragically killed them in that flash fire long, long ago. No matter what though-- you're still uncertain. You're not even speaking up to deny me. Or perhaps you yourself believe you have no right to even speak? No right to think and no redemption in sight? Is that why you cannot move your mouth on your own? Or perhaps I'm the conduit that you've made in your mind that allows such introspection? You've always needed someone else to tell you what to do, right--?"
From the skies plummeted a miniature version of a certain Cathedral, condensed and compressed, the most important part of it that mattered at the moment was the ground underneath it, crumbling open only to reveal a jail cell from the prisoners' perspective, bars facing outward. A certain young mage (Mqueserasera
), looking inward to the cell, staring right at Mei. From her right, more smoke emerged, a trees sprouted only to erupt in flames. A certain custodian (Worthlessplebian
) of nature jumped forward, their spear still scorched from her own actions, the only distinct difference being the yellow light in their eyes. And from underneath emerged a familiar set of bluffs-- the very ones that she is currently resting upon. An illusory figure (_Line 213
) had given her some of their energy as to somehow rise her up, clearly pitying the struggle the young girl was going through. A second person (The One Eyed Bandit
) was shaking her body awake-- both of them staring at her with the same dead eyes that all four of them seemed to share.
"Oh yes, them. There's people waiting for you outside this mental landscape that you've retreated too. They are wishing for you to stand up, to encumber their hope and meet their expectations. You think you just so happen to remember these things all the time? I believe that this is where you try to work things out, to play with your cognition to get your facts straight." The sitting skull emanated a brilliant light, transforming into a fur-coated, long-hair, red-eyed girl that Mei was all to familiar with, and backflipped onto the height of the plateau behind her-- the mage and the protector of the forest joining up so that all five apparitions were standing, looking down upon the simple girl below.
"No matter what though-- you really are something," the possessed Mei spoke, manifesting her armor once again, flames erupting around her to form armor that covers her body. Gesturing towards the imitation of Hakon, a stick manifested out of nowhere, and using the same trick as before-- a long spear with a curved blade at the end was made. "This kind of magic, the kind that you're putting into practice right now-- rewrites reason and logic, you know. You make armor appear around you because you believe you possess it. You spawn fire because you believe you are like an untamed wildfire. I'm pretty sure you don't even possess those fancy "wish-weapons" yet you were a tough match for a party of such armament bearers--"
"Oh-- and when you were falling from the sky, ready and willing to accept death? If I hadn't intervened, I'm pretty sure you would have gladly accepted your fate. You only sought to live after I rebuked your lack of courage. You keep on listening to outside voices and let them define who you are, and this wonderful power that manifests within you makes it so. When you crash landed upon the ground, a fall like that would have certainly incapacitated you for more than week-- yet in mere minutes, you rose up, still simmering from that passion, you stood up ready for combat. Yet-- this mere tree-spawn told you not to continue onward, and you bought his words at face value. Because you allowed your words to override your will, you became increasingly tired and flew away to rest.
You possess power, my dear, perhaps even the greatest that other beings could only dream for-- It's more complicated that that of course-- but still! You're so weak-willed that you would allow others to dictate your life. Truly a wonder, isn't it~ Or perhaps... there's a different reason you allow this to happen?" After such a long, drawn-out rant the doppelganger began to stroke their chin as if to put the pieces together-- as if they were trying to make sense of the gears that were turning in motion.
The real deal, however, had long since been shell-shocked. Wrath and envy-- these resentments imbedded within her-- eyes wide and streaming with liquid-- The two layers of her teeth grinding against one another-- the jaw of her mouth tightening, the pressure of it threatening to crack her teeth. As thunderous cumulonimbi gathered under her-- a warm light parted through the clouds, emanating a warmth for the first time-- seemed so agonizing for her. It was a small taste of power (_Line 213
), like a little kiddie treat meant to cheer up a crying child. Her pride igniting, a layer of shame beginning to wash over her. Her eyes igniting a darker, more volatile flame up towards sky, meeting the glowing yellow eyes of her "other" self.
"You're being asked to rise once again and serve. Will you answer the call like you always do--? Gonna get angry? Throw a temper-tantrum and claim some more worthless lives? How stale. For a---"
. . .
Mei couldn't catch onto that last part, her eyes fluttered open to be greeted by the gray clouds that she parted for just a brief moment. She could feel a shaking sensation beside her, obvious as that was the force that woke her up-- but she could feel something rising from her throat, doubling over, she was coughing and hacking-- breathing frantically as madness fell upon her-- Shoving to the side the kind person (The One Eyed Bandit
) who had the unfortunate circumstance of shaking her awake, Mei clutched her own chest as she spewed forth that same light that was transferred to her-- as if to reject what was given-- she clutched her head, her red irises consuming the rest of her eyes in fury, frantically and blindly looking for who gave her a speck of power--
"i rEfUsE tHis pItY apParItiOn!" "wHeRe aRe yOu? i wIlL sHoW yOu tRue LigHt!" "sToP hIdiNg- oR i'Ll CoMe tO yoU! "i WiLl Rip YoU inTo ShREeDs!"
Whether the true culprit responded or shown themselves, it probably didn't matter-- as she began to transform again-- this volatile cycle of turning draconic and human the core of her struggles-- her screams and cries a common feature for Mei at this point, engulfed in wildfire-- the same warmth that inflicted her wounds was now forming the basis of her plated armor. Her wings expanded outwards, wanting to take flight again, wanting to leave proof of existence again, wanting to prove wrong that damned fickle voice that haunts her-- From her hand, she condensed flames into a line to form a fiery spear, similar in form and shape to what she was familiar with-- Before pushing off the rock she landed upon, leaving a great mark upon it, fracturing it so that she could take to the skies. From above, a fiery column began to form around her as she tightened up-- the tip of her spear leading out in front-- as around her-- the body of a flaming dragon began to form. It took on a serpent like body, processing only a tail, a body, and a head as it weaved its way across the sky.
"wHerE aRe yoU? wHerE aRe yoU? wHerE aRe yoU?" she echoed out throughout the field in madness, her voice reaching from the plains below to the forested heights above. In her rage, fire formed within her mouth as she began to chuck flames down upon the ground, indiscriminately targeting anything that moved. Fortunately-- the smaller amount of allied personnel still fighting proved advantageous, as her few strikes upon the center of the battlefield struck chasing soldiers-- still, Mei couldn't make such discretions right now. Unsatisfied with the silence or perhaps the refusal to hear others right now-- she descended from the skies, wanting to crash into as many living beings as she could right at that moment, appearing from behind the pursuing enemy force.
Caked in flames and ash, an entire pillar of flame and fire spread out in a large radius around her, clutching her spear as the serpentine dragon she formed seemed to come out of it. A gust of wind spread the fire around her as she opened her wings up, ready to chase down the poor soul who had driven her insane, sending forth her flames and fury to maddeningly consume all around her. A stark contrast between the flickering ember that she was mere moments ago-- to the blazing wildfire that presented itself into the fray.
Annelia's lone eye swiveled to the edge of her post as another presence announced itself, climbing over the far edge with distinctly human effort. Still shrouded by her magic, Annelia let out a low hum of curiosity, pulling her cloak more tightly around her as the wind briefly intensified. From the way this new figure rushed to the other, it seemed safe to assume that they were a Soulbringer as well--or at least one that would call them their ally.
It was a strange sight, nearly alien, the way that they coalesced around one-another; she had seen it on the battlefield as well, normal soldiers on both sides rallying to the wounded, pulling their friends and comrades back from the brink of the fighting in hopes, however futile, of granting them succor. It was a level of companionship that had been absent since the fracturing of the fabled adventurer's guild and the ensuing centuries of battle; perhaps, in the early years of their final campaign, there had been such things, birthed from worries that the demon hordes would overrun their mortal forms, that too many of them would fall, forever crippling their ultimate goal. That was a time when each hand was worth the world, their numbers smaller than the parties that would strike out into the world to fell Eden's beasts and help its people. Now...
Now there was no need for that compassion among the survivors of that two-hundred years. The need for such things vanished after the final hall in Sitra Achra had been cleared, and the bodies of those alongside them had been bathed in the most unearthly of blood. With strife came closeness. With closeness, victory. With victory, solitude; hatred; folly; malfeasance. The Festering of Ire, Annelia had always described it; as their ascendancy clashed with their mortality, the stronger battering against the weaker like so many stones upon the edge of the ocean, their changes only visible over the course of hundreds of years, they shifted into inert beings, creatures that could only stew in their misgivings, alive until the end of the world, no better than those they replaced.
Ironic, Annelia had always thought, that her campaigns of conquest alongside the footmen of Vragathia would be the things that let her keep her sanity.
The innocent who had rushed to the defense of the fallen was shoved aside in a blur of motion, the dragon-girl rising in a mixture of confusion and anger as her senses returned to her. Even before she spoke, her movements and her posture made the changes in her mind clear--the Vexknight had seen such things before. If anything, these losses of the sense of self were nothing if not telltale, nothing if not the same changes she had seen befall Vragathia's most pitiful power-seekers, their steely-eyed ambitions consuming their morals before animating their spiritless husks in the truest mockery of self.
"wHeRe aRe yOu? i wIlL sHoW yOu tRue LigHt!"
"sToP hIdiNg- oR i'Ll CoMe tO yoU! "i WiLl Rip YoU inTo ShREeDs!"
If such a mild offering is all that it takes for your mind to break, then mayhap I've been naught but naïve, the Knight thought as the great wyrm shot into the cloudless sky, raining fire on all sides as it arced toward the enemy lines, seeped in madness. A lack of control--that was something she had long considered intolerable. Those with the potential to do great things and the lack of desire to mediate their minds, what were they if not Vile Beasts? Many were intelligent, despite the name, capable of trickery, of tactics, and in some instances, even of speech; demons, too, were no different, makers of promises, bargains, gifters of power, changers of the world. What made mortals special was their ability to choose their own paths, in defiance of their natures, of their surroundings, of their minds. Willing subservience to one's basest impulses was not merely detestable--it was a sin against the temple of the Self.
Her mind reached out toward the only other presence upon the plateau, her stern, even voice echoing nearby, yet without direction.
The Knight's form remained shrouded, invisible to the eye and the senses. She drew her blade in preparation, splitting her attention as she glared ahead at the raging beast, her internal visions beginning to manifest externally to the eyes of naught but the dragon.
Your companion's sense of self is fragile. Your visage must anchor her once more to the familiar, or she will kill you all.
Should the others pull away to deal with this new threat, your goals here will be tossed to the wind.
In the chaos, the Integrity Knights will be poised to strike your champions. They will kill them.
It must be you that goes.
Her blue eye widened. From the plateau to the field, the will of her mind made manifest. Soldiers fled while some still fought, the back of the battlefield descending into needless chaos. Yet, to Mei, what may have once been the rage of battle became an inky, smoke-like blackness, the void stretching out, upward, downward, the presence of ground being the only point of orientation in that sudden nothingness.
You disordered fool,
came her voice, echoing through the darkness as if it were in the midst of a great cathedral. In an instant, the darkness gave way to the ruins of a great welcoming chamber, an overgrown throne, open to the sky, sitting in the midst of fallen stones and broken stained glass. Tattered banners of a kingdom long gone flapped in the nonexistent wind, footsteps echoing behind the dragon as the sound of approaching armor clinked lightly in the silence. Yet, were the dragon to turn around, they would be met with nothing at all, the footsteps now approaching from a new, empty angle.
You've a mind of glass. As it shatters, you refuse to collect the pieces, leaving those around you to tread upon the shards.
I ask you, girl--what reason have you for cutting the flesh of others?
Darkness fell upon Mei's eyes-- as black mist descended upon her, she blinked hard, trying to see if the pervasive wisps entering her vision would just go away. She could still feel the warmth of her flaming plated armor against her body, the crackling of flames the only thing she could hear in the solemn transition--
"aNOTHEr vIsiON? i grOW TiREd--
iSs tHaT yoU APpaRarITON? dAMN tOo mAnY sPirITS And VOiCEs cALl out to mE-- whHYY DO SO MANny seEK MY ATEntTIoN?"
She called out into oblivion-- her voice traveling as far as her ears could pick up. First when she fell, second when she was asleep-- and now a third time, when she is now being tormented another pathetic joker-- she definitely wasn't up to play another game of twenty questions with them to figure out what's wrong with her. She tried to push back against the magic that plagued her mind, clutching her head and taking several misguided swipes throughout the air with her curved blade. She could see small creases beginning to form in her vision, only to be smoothed over and reinforced the instant she made the distortions.
"The weight of this ego is too great for us to push back against at this time-- especially when you've recently opened The Gate of---... I will try to wake the someone up who can help you-- but... you're on your own for now. For now, you mustn't give away the game just yet--" a monotone voice ringed within her head. Again, static filled her ears as some of the words and jargon she was told didn't seem to mesh well with her. Great. So this isn't her fairy godmother/father making another surprise visit, but a completely different angry spirit that she apparently pissed off. Riight-- Because voices in her head totally don't know each other. Didn't this being just condescendingly prattle off about how she had the ability to manifest her will upon the world too? Why is the shrink who keeps assessing her staying quiet all of the sudden-- did she really do something that bad?
She tried to continue moving forward, to search through the darkness, but she felt herself being restrained-- six chains of various colors and designs held her limbs in place-- one on each hand, each leg, and her waist. They were invisible, ephemeral chains that bound her, and remained unseen, even to the most keenest of eyes. Mei could feel a draining sensation pour out from her body, as if the great reservoir of energy she relied upon was suddenly drying up. She winced and growled, trying to free herself from such chains-- She howled out again, sending out a similar shockwave that could part the clouds, her crying and yapping turning into hoarse, pained yelling as she could feel her armor being pulled off her-- revealing the same girl that laid dormant on the rocks. Her fiery anger and searing vengeance tempered by such a draining exercise.
Around her revealed an empty throne room, fragments of rock crumbling down onto the ground. Glass pane windows shattered, overgrown shrubbery and flora encroaching upon the now defunct symbol of power. Foreign flags and banners surrounded the young village girl, who knew not, nor care not-- for any earthly trifles or power struggles. Whatever vision she was supposed to be looking at, Mei concluded that it was of little important to her. But before long, a small clink could be heard echoing from the distance-- growing louder and louder as a person approached her. A voice then echoed throughout the halls, taunting her--
Unknown Voice said:
You've a mind of glass. As it shatters, you refuse to collect the pieces, leaving those around you to tread upon the shards.
I ask you, girl--what reason have you for cutting the flesh of others?
After the voice finished its little admonishment of her-- she could not help but express indignant disdain for another intervention within the crevices of her mind. Her red eyes dead tired, exhausted of the mental strain that it taxed upon her. The voice proclaims her to have such a fragile mind-- yet, for whatever reason, she could no longer sputter any more anger out at the moment-- her emotions drying up, replaced with the flat, monotonous voice of a certain other pestering spirit...
"Are you going to claim my life over it? Condemn me to burn in the fires I've started? Or perhaps something much worse-- to force me to weather out this storm of agony I seem to carry around me? To carry on 'living' on my own volition and to grow 'stronger' from it?" she spat out, her once gentle voice becoming jagged and coarse, as if her de-transformation hasn't been fully completed. She huffed, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes-- she was totally done with dealing with more random voices that only serve to torment her. Yet-- if perhaps she hadn't had those previous two encounters, she wouldn't be able to comprehend what was going on, and she would continue going on her crusade to hunt and crush the apparition who pitied her, and gave her a small amount of light just to wake up.
But-- why did she continue to claim the lives of others? Why does she continue to fight on, to carry on her struggle to... do what exactly? Prove that she's alive? Cry out into the heavens and demand justice? What was it that she was trying to accomplish? She simply chained herself off to being a mere Cathedral Guard a few moments ago. Yet-- there were people who knew her, who could maybe identify her, and who wanted to help her. Yet-- she rejected all of that-- Why? Did she not agree with their cause? Or perhaps she had personal qualms with abetting such people? This feeling of uneasiness, unsureness, it was suffocating. She had yet to decide for what cause she fought for-- she was ignorant of the world around her, and lived happy and content as some farmer's daughter.
Yet-- by instinct, she found the prowess to fight. By some divine intervention or magical equivalent thereof-- she survived a mile-high long fall upon to Eden-- only to go berserk out of confusion. She claimed that she chooses to live to that great voice in the sky, but she now has to deal with the consequences of actually living. Even now, as the chaos and confusion she brought upon to the world in the few brief moments she treaded upon it-- she was only a harbinger of destruction that tore life to shreds. She had the destructive force to bulldoze down all that stood in her way-- but in the way of what?
"I... do not know... why... I fight." she painfully concluded, each word seemed to be wrung out of her-- as if she were denying the validity of the words themselves. It dawned upon her that throughout all of this-- she was doing nothing but flailing a bladed stick aimlessly. Setting fire to flora flamboyantly for fun. She was no better than a girl playing with her dolls and toys, playing grown-up as she manifests her armor from nothing.
"B-but, I must. I need to keep living onward. I'm compelled too. Yet-- if my life were to be stopped short right now, I can't feel any fear that comes with not knowing what comes after that. I'm not even a Soulbringer-- just some dumb, average, boring, peasant girl that they picked up smoldering in flames. Yet-- I'm supposedly given the power to make manifest anything I want--"
Her rationality seemed to return to her, as the distressed voice cooled over into a more mellow and somber tone--
"Before now-- I simply did as I'm told-- I take orders from the Captain, and praise from my peers. I've exchanged control for comfort-- and yet, after I fall straight from the sky and given reins for the first time-- I didn't know what to do with it. If these are my last words-- I suppose it's a shame then. A shame that I didn't really get to enjoy the fragment of freedom I had, even if for a couple minutes."
She looked down at the ground, counting the blades of grass that formed underneath her, as she took a seat on the ground, humming to herself as the clinking sound behind her grew louder and louder. Her red, dead eyes looking up at the throne before her, focused on the uncouth shrubbery that entangled it-- she could feel a warm, comforting feeling swell up within her, lulling her peacefully away from the struggle of existence, letting out a sigh of relief as she waited whatever judgement this ghost had for her-- A different small voice echoed within the confines of the audience chamber, pronouncing the result of such introspection--
Two miniature clouds of soot and ash freed themselves from Yulianna's eyelashes as she fluttered them in surprise. Her ass ached, her eyebrows had been almost scorched off, and she'd only just barely managed to tumble back fast enough for her hair to not get lit on fire.
Currently, she sat on the freshly singed plateau floor, staring down at the burning serpent which had been birthed from the girl that she'd presumed was in distress.
"So much for that..." She muttered, and then hauled herself to her feet. From below, she heard the sort of shouting that was typical of a Vragathian strike force. Orders barked with a houndish fervour, intermixed with shrieks of panic at the oncoming, firey terror that sought to reduce them all to ash. Intermixed with those were the incoherent ramblings of the terror itself, crying out to the heavens in defiance of some phantasmal force of which Yulianna had no reckoning of.
Honestly, she felt like she was a little out of the loop. But regardless, a big, fearsome monster had been put in front of her, and there was only so many courses of action she could take in that situation. The Vragathians be damned, she had no idea what the girl would do if left to her own devices. That was assuming she was a girl at all, too, but for the time being Yulianna was willing to afford her the benefit of the doubt.
Yulianna reached to her back and then produced the Banalis from the depths of its sheath. The feel of its cold, black steel under her fingertips was a familiar one, now more than ever in these times of war, as was the hefty weight of the oversized weapon. She twirled it between her fingertips with practised ease, and then poised herself to leap at the girl-turned-monster when she made her next pass. Seconds ticked by, each one dense with tension, and her entire body coiled in readiness. The serpent edged closer, closer, and then closer still, and a mere moment before Yulianna dashed and sprung from the cliff's top, the space around her erupted with sound.
A phantasmal voice boomed into her eardrums, announcing its presence with all the subtlety of a marching bad. It called Yulianna to arms, urging her to go forth and do some sort of cryptic work. It was the second time today that Yulianna had been scared out of her socks, but at least this time it was figurative. She'd been yelled at before, lots of times actually, but being yelled at from inside her own head was new. It took her some time to process the sudden assault as her senses, as well as the idea that she may well have just gone insane.
At least she'd never be lonely again.
"Alrighty..." She huffed to herself. This was all way, way too much thinking for her. "Okay, loud-lady in my head, I'll go uh, anchor her with my visage, whatever that means." Spoke as she departed from the plateau, parroting the illusory voice's grand intonations as she went.
By the time Yulianna had broken from her stony perch, the fires of Mei's tantrum had died down. The serpent had vanished from the skies, and was replaced a dwindling ember of a girl, sat nestled atop a patch of grass. Yulianna broke into the clearing within which Mei sat from above. She'd taken a path through the treetops to reach the girl, and now sat perched above her, if for no reason than to avoid another incident.
"Hey there, hot stuff!" She called down from above, announcing herself with a cheery intonation entirely unbefitting of the situation at hand. "You're not gonna blow up on me again, are you? I only have some many eyebrows to lose."
How long had it been since he stepped foot onto this very land, appreciating its beauty from the soil that blessed it. The Hyperion Sanctuary remained untouched of violence and destruction, hiding away from the bedeviled world below, like the heavens that once prevailed in the endless skies before the invasion of humanity's greatest malevolence. It was certainly beautiful; an ideal society with only the most qualified of individuals had the privilege of living here, working to support the Soulbringers, and be blinded from the truth that laid dormant below.
The sanctuary was told to be impenetrable from evil. Its origin and fables implies that the island symbolizes that good always triumphs evil, no matter the situation, as humanity was blessed with the rare ability to decide the correct morality - whatever that meant. The ancient philosophers of Eden had always fascinated and puzzled the young hero. How the aged fools could believe and tolerate such conjectural lies was beyond him to understand, nor was he interested in hearing of their endless paradoxical debates.
Sigurd severely hated the sanctuary, and as he manifested his Herculean Blade to destroy the entire haven with a single pierce through the earth below, he froze and contemplated his actions, only to calmly disengage and take a deep breather.
The Dark Hero silently treaded into his enemy's territory, his face veiled with his infamous raven mask, identifiable purely due to the scarlet lining brimming with vile mana.
The guards fought bravely, raising their swords against the impossible. Each attempt was met with thorough slashes across their torso and lower abdomen, leaving its corpse with wounds protected by divine markings, as no blood ruined the glamorous halls that complimented the sanctuary's beauty. To say that he felt remorse would've been a statement made only by the fool that still thought that Sigurd was an individual of empathy. He cared not for each strike he committed against the poor souls, as he saw their existence to be nothing more than an obstacle that got in his way of completing his self-given objectives.
Alas, after slaying nearly every guard that existed in the sanctuary, Sigurd found himself standing besides his sleeping fiancé, cursed by the Astral Armament that he planted within her empty eye socket in hopes of her giving up her endeavors.
He secretly wished for her to accept defeat. Even after declaring her as his enemy, Sigurd felt empathy only to his beloved, and only to her. The centuries of spending time with his Regalias, brutalizing the vile beasts and encapsulating the divine gods hadn't made him anymore apathetic than he usually was. But the Aeslengardian princess was special, and no matter how long time had divided the two, Sigurd couldn't find himself to raise his blade to the sky and slash her throat.
Upon seeing her awake, Sigurd blankly stared at the terrified princess.
"You look as lovely as ever, Yutera."
"Calling for your guards won't do you any good. The Soulbringers that you trust so dearly will arrive shortly - I'd like for us to talk before they arrive, and I promise no more blood shall be shed."
Velhyndr's stoic expression hadn't left his face after the forest guardian had dodged his phantom attack. It simply made him lose his patience, having been delayed far enough by the Sartauron King that attempted to stop his rampage across the battlefield. The red-haired integrity knight charged another attack, but not before setting his sword low, studying his target.
He took the moment to note his height and armaments present on his gear, as a proper warrior should before engaging in a serious battle against a foe who may be more reluctant to die than the average footsoldier. But to Velhyndr, he saw no threat other than a tree that he carried as his weapon of choice. He could only think of one individual that would find such action to be hysterical.
Velhyndr circled his enemy with caution, and during his observance he had recognized another group of hostiles approaching the field - two individuals with aura that was abnormal. A certain strength had come to reinforce the guardian, and Velhyndr exercised caution before deciding to engage, with a sudden step forward that engulfed his entire body in flames.
The Integrity Knight jumped upwards into the air pass the tree's surface, charging his attacks from above before he rushed towards the ground in almost untraceable speeds, targeting the other soldier that had come to reinforce the man with the tree - a woman with dark clothes that could only insinuate a mage.
If he was going to battle a warrior one on one, he did not wish to entertain the idea of having to deal with a mage in the background, and thus had decided to target her foremost before anyone else had the chance to become the next victim to his Astral Armament.
Such pathetic selfishness. Arrogance, running so deeply as to be confused with your very being. I spoke of your uncontrolled flames, and the pain caused by those who are forced through its ashes.
You, on the other hand, refocus their suffering on yourself, and reflect on why you 'fight.' Your thoughtlessness will be your undoing, as it has been that of so many, many others.
The footsteps finally gave way to a presence as they stopped at Mei's side. A vision of youth stood within the chamber, form dappled with the light from shattered stained glass. She seemed no older than Mei did, her skin a mere shade darker than her already barely-blonde hair, both a mere stone's throw from white. Donned in a simple training tunic, the billowing shirt tucked into her trousers, she looked up at the broken windows, their majesty forever lost, as the pieces were nowhere to be found. Her hand rose from her side, resting atop the pommel of her sheathed blade. The voice returned--though the figure did not speak them.
The place in which you stand was birthed of such thoughtlessness. One of countless sons of the rampancy of impulse. Look about you; what is there to be redeemed here? To be salvaged?
You may say the stones, the cloth, whatever fragments of precious metals. But those do not matter.
The cultures, the lives, the histories of this chamber and those within it. Those are forever gone, swallowed whole by frenzied emotion. Perhaps you will see this place again, in time.
The girl looked off to her side, staring over Mei as the ruined atrium fell away, walls crumbling into standalone stones, before those in turn crumbled into dust. The ravaged throne sunk into growing grass, and wherever Mei did not look, the frenzy of battle, frozen into a single frame of time, revealed itself when she did. The subject of the woman's gaze was none other than Mei herself, soldiers around her consumed by the dragonesque fire leaping from her weapon.
Look upon what you do here. Your mindlessness. Do you see how your self-centered indulgence leads to the suffering of those unrelated? How the troubles of your own mind are forced onto others, postponing your own confrontation of them?
It was only then that the figure spoke, looking down to Mei as her hair billowed slightly, untouched by whatever had frozen the rest of time. "That is not something that this world can afford any longer. Not from the Regalias of Qliphoth, and not from you. Tread lightly, lest you doom yourself to be cut from their same cloth," she stated, her voice softer, less stern, more youthful than that which echoed throughout the vision, as if still in possession of some latent energy, some unfulfilled potential.
In an instant, a new voice filled the scene, Yulianna's call cutting through the once-serene vision like a knife, the sounds of war and chaos accompanying her. Were Mei to look to her fellow Soulbringer, the apparition that had spoken to her a moment ago would be gone, the last of the vision to fade, all that surrounded her having long returned to reality outside of the reach of Mei's senses. Whatever protection might have been momentarily afforded was gone, the two fighters once again alone at the edge of Vragathia's lines.
As the picture-show of illusions carried on within her mind, the young girl who looked on had clutched their legs, holding them together and dragging them inwards, resting her head on her knees. She had listened to the apparition's prostrations of her own arrogance, thoughtlessness, lack of rationality, and self-centeredness. Yet-- she stood still, unreactive-- uncharacteristically so, for a creature who appears to have poured out their bottled up emotions for the world to see.
Why? Why not now? Of all the times to explode and blow off any steam-- why can't she do so? Why can't she bring back the same level of spark and flame as she did once before? She wanted to feel the high of rage and anger overcome her, to feel the satisfaction from slicing and dicing, burning and scorching others into the ground. That's what she just did moments ago! That was her "will--" an emotion that she had so closely clung on to for most of her life. The Will to Live. The Will to Stand Up Straight. The Willingness to Kill. The Willingness to Die. Was that not enough then?
At the end of the spirit's long tragedy about the dangers of wanton fury and mindless passion, she had heard something that brought her out from her still stupor--
Strange Voice said:
"That is not something this world can afford any longer. Not from the Regalias of Qliphoth, and not from you. Tread lightly, lest you doom yourself to be cut from their same cloth."
That name. If she were a normal Soulbringer, such a name would bring dread and anger to her, knowing full well that the person who may have just talked down on her may hail from the mighty halls of power in this world. However, Mei still remained blissfully unaware of the full situation-- uninterested in the tales of adventurers splitting off and the tragedy that ensued. No-- her interested was piqued by that word-- "Qliphoth--" as if she was supposed to pay close attention to it, to scrutinize and discover more about it. Where did this curiosity originate from? Was it intrinsic to her? Why did such a word evoke this faint, yet distinct feeling?
Yet-- wasn't this kind of thinking dangerous? Wasn't she just lectured to think about the plight of others as well? Was she warned not to give into such impulses again? That the world-at-large can't afford it because of its poor, poor state? Yet-- she was told by the very first voice that visited her today, that she wasn't even capable of having such feelings! That she just let herself be rolled over like a doormat for others to step upon, while she would just grin and bear it. Must there be moderation in one's will? Who is this voice to be the judge of that, then? Why are they so qualified to dictate to her as to what is necessarily the correct amount of ego one should possess when living upon this world? The pain and rush of such thoughts caused her head to throb, instinctively clutching it with a hand.
As she got lost in her musings, the world around her seemed to return to normal-- the visions and illusions that were draped over her eyes were now unveiled-- only to reveal the battlefield and dying cries fleeing into the forest. Surrounding her were the seared corpses of men she had slaughtered and the scorching battle standards they carried. She was rested and nestled against a tree-- as she got up on her feet to try and seek out the Soulbringers again, a voice called down to her from up high.
Stranger's Voice said:
"Hey there hot stuff! You're not gonna blow up on me again, are you? I only have some many eyebrows to lose."
She had turned her attention upwards, stepping back away from the tree as to get a better view of this new speaker. It was the same girl she had just recently tossed aside when she threw up the light the apparition gave her onto the stones of the plateau. A twinge of embarrassment struck her as she adverted her gaze from the good Samaritan.
At least some people can remain kind during times like these.
"Sorry about that!" she had hollered back up to the visitor, beginning to mirror-move the upbeat tone the stranger took with her. "I had a bit of a rude awakening, and had to get it out of my system-- thanks for shaking me awake though! I might have been out for the count there."
"If you don't mind me asking-- what brought you around here? Did you see or hear anybody else around me while I was asleep?" Mei couldn't remember much else from when she had gone berserk when she had woken up in front of the stranger, thus-- remained oblivious to any conversation or introduction prior to that.
At the battle’s commencement, Siara found herself stunned by the enemy’s sudden tactic: she had scarcely traced the fluttering flames following his leap to the sky, and when he was there, his altitude high above the forest roof puzzled her. Too late did she realize his intention, and less than a second’s fraction was given for a counter, which amounted to almost nothing at all. Her instinct and combat experience both gave hasty counsel: no fleeing now – much too late for that. Were she given sufficient time, a more elaborate counter could be sought, but she had not the requisite leisure nor the nimbleness of limbs and mind for that. She wove a spell, but a simple one, which provided neither contrived ward of multiple layers nor clever tricks.
As the knight shot down from high like a blazing sun, burning branches, cracking boughs, Siara spread her arms, palms opened to the sky, and hoisted. Following her movements, mighty mounds rose and formed a dome peaked above her head. Broken roots groaned and dirt rained down on her grimace as she compressed the structure into one solid mass. Not enough, she was aware. Earth was not her primary element, and her inexperience had manifested in the numerous flaws in the dome structure. But it was profoundly foolish in the first place to meet a knight head-on in open combat. She could only hope to obscure his vision if momentary, then dodge the strike a mere moment before the impact.
As expected, her feeble defense was cloven asunder with ease – the knight’s downwards movement was barely hindered. And soon, she felt the burning hot metal tear into her abdomen. The strike dragged across her torso, at one point cracked one or two ribs. Luckily, the cut was not too deep: she found herself in one piece intact as she rolled away, aided by the shock wave from the knight’s landing.
The smell of her charred flesh and the shattering pain dispelled briefly all her thoughts. Her constitution was not built to endure if only half a direct blow from an enemy of that magnitude, nor was her mind clever enough to devise so quickly a plot to shrink the disparity in offensive power. But pain – pain is her dominion, endurance her one single virtue in physical strife.
She checked a sharp cry by sinking teeth in her lip. Blood was drawn, limbs were forced to erect again their master. Just as soon she banished all panic, all mental demands for relief, and all other weaknesses of the mind. Her determination was only further hardened, nay, trite words: she felt as if she could, at that moment, withstand all of hell’s eternal pain condensed and lashed out in one strike on her flesh body.
Already the formula of time-reversal magic was forming in her shining right palm. Quickly she isolated the area of burnt flesh down to the molecules, then she fixed her bones, her organs, and her flesh.
Now some distance from the knight, and with more than a few seconds at her disposal, Siara wove some spells in earnest. First, she thrust her free hand at the vague center of the circle encompassing the three combatants. Small rocks were crushed first, grinding and buried their way to the ground. Branches groaned and cracked and fell en massed, while leaves rained in straight lines, no lending their ways to the wind but were compelled into a hasty race to the ground. No living or un-living thing was excluded from the gravity spell. Movements would feel sluggish, twofold heavier.
Then when she'd been fully healed, Siara conjured a number of protecting wards about her, with as many layers as the following events would allow. Then what was left was to pray that she had benefited Hakon by diminishing their enemy’s extraordinary speed and not the contrary.
Yulianna squinted her eyes as the girl below recollected herself. At the very least, she seemed to have regained her wits, and in her experience, big monsters tended to not have much in the way of wits to begin with.
"Aha!" Yulianna laughed from above. What had brought her here was a bit of a mouthful. "Well, you know. Knickknack, paddywhack, stalking a genocidal lunatic... Something that is not going well, by the way." She let out a huff as she recalled the purpose with which she'd infused the last month past. Her quarry certainly lived up to her reputation as an illusion master to say the least. If Yulianna were to be honest with herself, she was on the verge of giving up at this point. Maybe the rumors she'd latched onto had just been rumors after all.
"Yousel-" Yulianna's voice raised again, and then caught in her throat. The creaking of branches and rustling of foliage followed her aborted sentence, and then the woman herself dropped from her perch without warning. Roadworn boots stomped into the ground before Mei, flattening grass into the mud below as the whole weight of both the other woman and her oversized weapon crashed into the forest soil. Yulianna almost fell to her knees under the force of all of her gear simultaneously trying to continue on their way to the ground below, but she managed to steady herself before making a bed of the mud and soil.
"Sorry about that. Talking from above you like that felt weird as heck." Yulianna cracked a wider grin, and then thrust her hand out at the other woman. "Yulianna. Call me Yules. Or Anna. Or Yulianna. Nice to acquaint with ya. What brings yourself to these parts? If you couldn't tell, these don't exact seem to be the safest of woods right now." Though, then again, this girl hardly seemed to be the safest of people, either. "You wouldn't happen to be able to elucidate this ignorant lady as to why, would you? I just kinda stumbled on in myself."
That wasn't exactly the whole story, but Yulianna figured that it was enough for now. Despite her disposition, she wasn't quite enough of a fool to trust a stranger wholesale, especially when they'd just exploded in her face.
"Seriously, the last ten minutes of my life have been more confusing than all of my teenage years put together. First I see you falling out of the sky, then you explode on me, then a loud ghost yells at me..." At least, she hoped it was a ghost. "And, well, I'm sure you're more familiar with that fire show of yours than anyone, right?"
If the blazing wildfire within Mei was supposedly to be her in her purest, rawest form-- the woman who hastily introduced herself to her seemed to be a more controlled light-- bright, but not brilliant-- yet impactful and beaming nonetheless. The carefree attitude she seemed to carry, even after plummeting a smaller height down towards the earth was something Mei thought was a wonderful thing to have as well-- albeit a twinge of envy flared knowing that letting it all go like that was clearly not possible for someone like herself.
As the smiling stranger dusted themselves off and offered her their hand-- she couldn't helped but be reminded of the folks she lived with back in her own village-- the cordial, kindly, sweet mannerisms that those folks had-- unburdened by anything other than the basic desire to subsist off the land around them was a simple life they took on as farmers or minor tradesmen. The smiles they bared, the glee and freedom in their speech-- why then, upon reminiscing upon what would be a simple warm fuzzy feeling she would receive, feel so c o l d and d i s t a n t ? Even now, she couldn't help but feel as if something was off--
When she was near that tree worshipping sage (Worthlessplebian
), she could feel the determination and resolve fester within him and she made sure to follow suit-- standing up, prepared for battle-- only to be dismissed and told to rest. She didn't want to abandon him, but she felt that if she were to stay-- she would only be a detriment to his fellow Soulbringers. The words of that booming and overbearing voice (_Line 213
) that informed the woman in front of her that she would be a caustic distraction for them, only served to make her feel more disgusted with herself more than the strange apparition appeared to be with her.
And here she is now-- greedily accepting this kind stranger's kindness, as if it were an invitation to wear the smile she bears upon her own face. It was so eerie how easily such pronounced egos and personalities were imprinted upon her, as if they were stage masks for her to wear. Yet-- when she wore one of her own fashion-- she could see it from below on the faces of the soldiers-- she could make out the faint traces of the apparition watching her, however that was possible, she still couldn't comprehend, she could see it even now, with the weariness that this stranger bears to her--
She was a monster to them. At present, she isn't acceptable nor worthy of interaction, let alone acknowledgement. They wanted her gone-- her flame to be crushed into embers and smothered out into nothingness. So why then-- why does she continue trying to fit in? Why can't she just don the d i s t a n t and c o l d mask that she made for herself? Why must she abide by their rules? Why must she take into account the feelings and objections of others?
In the midst of her thinking, she saw a hand being offered out to her, accompanied with a smile that traveled from ear-to-ear. As if she were following some script, she tried mirroring that smile with a little one of her own-- uncharacteristically so-- for the so called disciplined and stoic castle guard. Such is the fires of kindness, I suppose-- infectious and all consuming to even the iciest of souls. Mei happily took on the handshake-- reaching out with her left, hooking her fingers before taking her right to clasp on, shaking firmly--
"I'm Mei-- it's a pleasure to meet you. To be honest-- it's kinda embarrassing hearing my end of the story--" she started, rubbing the back of her neck with her right hand, eyes darted off to the side-- "I crash landed after falling up waay high from above the Cathedral where I'm normally stationed-- and as soon I saw the green of the grass, wings sprouted on my back which made a would-be fatal crash into something more survivable-- I think I caused the forest fire that everyone's attracted too now." Mei looked far off into the battlefield, the vengeful, desperate flames that characterized any wildfire blazed on-- consuming leaf, grass, and tree alike.
If he does survive, having him (Worthlessplebian
) help me contemplate my true nature might be useful. But-- how do I approach the topic of the little voice I only heard? Because the one the woman in front of me and I heard and the other one... they're definitely distinct-- I just hope my mind wasn't playing tricks on me then.
"I was fleeing the scene and wanted to take a moment's respite before I was forced awake-- and you had to see me hurl-- and go berserk--" she paused a bit, waves of regret flushed over her as she was remembering what had happened-- "Sorry you had to see that--" she ruefully expressed-- she wasn't naïve enough to blissfully think that she didn't claim anyone's lives during that stunt-- after all, the corpses were in front of them. The guilt of which was now being processed after her entire episodic tantrum was over.
"I don't really know what's going on here though--" she lied, or perhaps, gave a diluted truth-- she really didn't know what the Soulbringers were doing here. But-- she didn't know where the loyalties of this humble stranger lied-- so she wasn't really about to give away the cover of her superiors to some random stranger, even if she did owe her some kindness. Although-- she did drop the hint about Yurtviel as bait. Although, she was uncertain that if this woman really wasn't on her side-- that she would be able to flee in her current state. Especially when that voice seemed to seal away whatever power saved her before.
However-- Mei feared that if she were to forcefully open up the Gate again... she would instantly lose her mind again, as the image of the heavy chains that bound her for a brief moment weren't even capable of calming her down-- only serving to enrage her even further until her manifested armor was forcefully removed. She was basically at the mercy of this woman right now-- seeing as that supposedly "almighty," and "awesome" power that voice braggadociously advertised to her wasn't a realistic option to Mei right now.
"I was wondering if you could escort me to the nearest physician's house to have them check me out-- I don't know if anything has been damaged-- Unless you'd want to remain here to let this hellish battle cool down-- Or maybe you're intending to join the fray yourself?"
Much to Hákon's chagrin, the knight rushed towards his fellow Soulbringer. He leapt over him with the agility of a cat and the speed of a diving falcon; The Guardian of Vegetation had so wished to do battle directly. This pompous weed thought otherwise as if this flaming migraine thought his companions could interfere with their duel. Hákon grabbed the tree with his human hand then spun rapidly, kicking up dirt and grime. Strickland's blue eyes tracked the knight, just barely. His speed is certainly immense, not one to be underestimated. Another sight of annoyance that he spotted was Siara Ashworth getting struck by the fiery blade. He felt no worry, no sadness, no remorse for his companion. If she died from that blow, she died; however, Hákon had his doubts about the fatality of the strike. The Forest Guardian moved his right leg back, bending it along with his left. Quickly, he moved the tree to rest upward on his shoulders.
The muscles in his body prepare for pain unimaginable. The ground cracked beneath him as Hákon propelled himself towards his enemy. Flying at him, he lifted the tree above his horned head. The muscular threads in his arm and chest prayed for mercy while the mechanical tissue in his arborous arm fastened itself. The moment to strike fast approached, Hákon's bestial senses hastened—receiving information faster than any average human.
It should come as no surprise to him when the very pressure in the air shifted. A weight caressed his body. Slowing down... Magic, Siara's magic. In trying to aid him, Siara inadvertently slowed him down. No matter, Hákon thought. If he's slowed then his enemy is slowed too, and he got within range to do what he needed to do. Hákon swung the mighty tree towards the knight. He jumped just enough to have the knight be at the very end of the impeding tree. Like a sword, the far side of the tree moved faster than the part closer to Hákon; if it connects then the Integrity Knight would be bashed heavily.