[i “A strong-willed soul with fiery determination. It makes sense that it takes so much to bear the burden of the Land Guardian.”
“Is it determination or arrogance? There’s a fine line, and it’s difficult to tell which he happens to be.”
“You speak as if you know what he goes through. Painful visions scorch his mind. He hears the unsaid whispers of those around him, save for The Sea and the Twilight. He cannot stop any of this. Would you not be difficult if you had to witness all of this and survive?”
“You preach to me, yet you act as if we do not have our own hardships to overcome. I care not about-”
“We are not on the same level as a Demi-God! We face nothing compared to them!”]
[i It was as if they thought they understood me. They all think they understand what it’s like. Even those that bother to defend me.
Virion of the Land; arrogant, selfish, rude, conniving, loud, and a self-proclaimed heartbreaker. The nuisance that kept Avandians from finishing their projects.
They don’t see Virion of the Land; scared, lost, confused, hurt, rejected, and anxious. They don’t feel the pain I do when I see their passing and know there might have been a way to prevent it because I knew it was going to happen and yet nothing changed. I hear what they don’t say about me. Only what they wish they could.
They only see Virion of the Land, Reader of Minds. They don’t see just Virion. They don’t see me.]
[i What is beauty, in the truest sense?
In its most basic form, it’s a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses. This varies by individual. The qualities that are aesthetically pleasing are irrelevant due the case-by-case variance.
To me, however, it’s the rocky earth beneath my feet. The feeling of wind on my face. The mysteries behind the many species that inhabit Avand, and how their lives are lived out. The wonders of the universe. The warmth and welcoming feeling of love. I’ve seen a lot in the six-hundred years I’ve been alive, but for me, nothing comes quite as close as home.
Home is where the heart is, or so they say.]
Virion didn’t consider himself a sentimental person, but even he couldn’t deny that Avand was beautiful. Within its natural flaws – like anything else – beauty could be found. Discovery, mistakes, learning, natural disasters… All of it brought a unique charm to the planet. Many passerby thought Virion spared nary a thought for the planet, but those who bothered who understand him knew how to read him in a different light. Those who truly knew him knew Virion found Avand to be interesting and unique.
He would even say it was lovely.
In the serene hours before the sun rose, while everything below him was still quiet and still, Virion felt at ease. The creations that he flew past were the very ones he was sworn to protect. If he felt like it, he would do just that.
In his own way, he didn’t take the same actions as the other Demi-Gods; he chose to let the planet suffer the consequences of the mistakes that were made, and let the people reap what they sow. Virion chose not to fix anything unless it was severely dangerous to the life on Avand or damaging enough to the surrounding galaxies that Lord Olotl himself would rain fire upon him unless he helped repair the damage. Luckily for him, he had Xyrnys and Khythos to play babysitter for the distinct species below; while they were busy assuming the role of caretaker, Virion would act a fool.
His attitude toward the ‘caretaker’ side of his job lead those around him to believe he did not care, but Virion knew that was not true. He deeply held sincere feelings toward the creatures that adorned the planet – far too much for comfort – but he knew too much. Heard and saw too much. He couldn’t bear to get too close to them and hear their pained cries and he outlived them; to see their haunted souls follow them for many years to come. To preserve what was left of his sanity, he made himself seem annoying and carefree; it was just enough to keep him at a safe distance. Unless Xyrnys or Khythos needed his help, he preferred to remain on his own.
The world seldom found itself in true danger; the most recent that came to mind was when a dark mage had somehow released a red-matter virus into the planet. The virus had slowly started to eat at the core of the world, and the entire planet would’ve been wiped out. Between the three Demi-Gods and two white mages on the surface, they were able to hold it back. Xyrnys had opened a Void Timeline and sent the virus there to float endlessly. The energy required to replace what the virus had destroyed had drained the Demi-Gods, forcing them In Pura to recover their powers. The pair of mages that had assisted them, who called themselves Skylords, vowed to watch the planet while they rested.
Now, in the time of peace the planet was currently in, Virion took every opportunity he had to mess with the Skylords. Now that they had returned to Avand, the mages needed to back off. He couldn’t let them stay close to the Demi-Gods. He couldn’t handle another haunted soul. It surprised him that, through his shenanigans and the risky situations he put the two females into, they never stopped respecting him. The paranoia never faded, but he stopped resisting them so much. He’d let them stay. They’d be okay.
As Virion continued to get lost in his thoughts, the sun finally peaked the mountain before him, light flooding the earth below. The only matter to break through his thoughts was the sound of yelling from the ground below. Jarred, Virion stopped his flight to gather his surroundings. It was as he looked down that he realized he’d absentmindedly flown to Windberry’s factory, and the arguees were none other than Xamchi and Windberry himself. Xamchi was an alien with a terrible memory and a sturdy set of shoulders, and Windberry was a dwarf with a bad attitude and a good heart. They were his favorites if he had to choose.
Never one to miss an opportunity to fuel an argument, Virion slapped on his trademark smirk and flew down to the land below, landing gracefully between the two. “Good morning, lads. It’s looking to be a wonderful day, isn’t it?”
“What do you want now, Virion?” Windberry scratched his beard, his voice rough and impatient as he spoke. It was quite fitting for a dwarf.
“Calm down now, you savage beast! It looks as if a certain dwarf woke up on the wrong side of the rock this morning!” Virion cackled, flying just out of reach as the redheaded dwarf swung an axe at the Demi-God. “Come now, my dear Windberry. There’s no need for such violence. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Windberry snorted, heaving his trusted axe over his shoulder. “You’ve done nothing wrong yet; you’re always off to cause a scene. What games are you here to play now?”
Virion pouted, feigning an offended demeanor. “How rude. I can’t come by and visit my three favorite playmates without having a bigger scheme in mind?” He laughed loudly at Windberry’s eye roll. “How silly of me to assume you’d trust me. However, contrary to widespread belief, I’m truly here for no reason at all. I just… ended up here.” The Demi-God scanned the area and frowned. “I can’t remember his name for the life of me, but where’s the scientist? He’s usually bumbling around with you clowns.”
“Cipher’s inside fixing a machine.” The alien – Xamchi – finally spoke. He was much shier than his friend, but a lot stronger than he looked. “If you recall, you and Khythos broke a high-powered generator the last time you were here, and we need it.”
“Hm… A high-powered generator… Do you know what Xam? It’s not striking any matches in the ol’ memory here.” Virion knocked on his own head and winked at Xamchi, earning a grimace in return. “Here’s what I can do for you. I’ll visit Kyth myself at the Caverns and see if he remembers anything. Until then, however, I’ll leave you to whatever it was you were doing before you were blessed by the most beautiful Demi-God in Avand.”
The blue-eyed alien could only look on in astonishment as Virion began to fly away. “You must really have not planned on visiting if you haven’t broken anything. Reconsidered, have you?”
“Oh Olotl, no.” The Demi-God smirked as Xamchi and Windberry became smaller and smaller. “I just don’t have my notes prepared. I’ll be back soon, spaceman. I always return, don’t I?”
“Virion’s in quite a good mood today, isn’t he?”
Upon witnessing the playful exchange between Virion, Xamchi, and Windberry, Khythos let out an annoyed sigh. “He’s acting like an idiot, Xyrnys.” The blue-skinned male had a heavy, gruff voice, matching his outer appearance. “Perhaps he should use some of that energy for something productive.”
“The odds are against us, Kyth.” Xyrnys chuckled, her good eye holding a teasing glint. “Relax, yeah? He’s just having fun. He cares quite a bit more than most realize – I know you know that. He’s a bit too attached to those idiots for someone who’s trying to distance himself from others.” She shrugged. “Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.”
“I understand he cares, but he’s a bloody Demi-God. It’d be nice if he at least pretended to act like one.” Despite his barbed words and unreadable expression, Khythos found Virion to be slightly admirable. The humans, regardless of what they said about him, had taken quite a liking to the feisty Demi-God. They would never understand the reasons for his distancing, but regardless, they liked him. Khythos envied the easygoing personality Virion forged. “I think he’s noticed us,” he noted, eyeing Virion as he approached.
“Well, would you look at who’s here. The family is back together again!” Khythos noticed Virion still wore his signature grin. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve all been in the same place. To what do I owe the pleasure of this joyous occasion?”
Khythos hummed his agreement. “There was a pile of dead fish in my cavern this morning. They normally don’t hop out of the waterfall – Olotl must’ve decided stinking up my cavern was the best way to say he needs to speak with us. We were just waiting for you to finish harassing the mortals.”
“Of course Olotl wants something. He probably doesn’t want to do his own work and is pawning it off on us.” Virion huffed irritably and crossed his arms.
“Virion, knock it off.”
“Oh, Khythos. So serious, as always. You know just as well as I do that this is what he always does. Right, X?”
Xyrnys flew back slightly and shook her head. "Look, I don't want to get in the middle of your lover's quarrel. Fight by yourselves."
The blue skinned Rhaeadran began to grow irate. "You've an odd eye for romance, Xyrnys. We could be the last two being on Avand and I would never fall for Virion. Then again, you've an odd eye for a lot of things. When you fell in love with-"
"I'm going to stop you right there before I hurt you." Xyrnys' pink eyes glowed dangerously. "We agreed to let that go two hundred years ago. Talking to you two gives me a headache."
"That's not very nice." Khythos shook his head, though he was paying little attention to what she was saying. "We're getting off-topic. We must go to the Silver Altar to speak with Olotl at once." Without waiting for the other two to respond, he flew off into the distance, feeling them follow behind him. Once they caught up, he said "Let's try not to break anything this time, okay?"
"A guy accidentally drops a potion of regeneration and spawns a zombie in the temple one time, and someone just can't let it go, can he?"
The Rhaeadran ignored his fellow Demi-God and simply lead the way, tuning the conversation between him and Xyrnys out. Deep down, the suddenness of the summons worried him. On any other occasion, Olotl would only summon one of them for whatever was necessary, save for the Red Matter incident. Virion wasn’t completely wrong either – Olotl often had work he didn’t want to do and would request one of the Demi-Gods to do it instead. All three of them, however? What was so secret, so dangerous, that the three Demi-Gods had to gather and speak to Lord Olotl, The Overseer, so promptly? He had to repress a shudder. He wasn't sure he was ready to find out.
"Khythos, have you even been listening to me?"
Virion's persistent voice broke Khythos out of his dark thoughts. "I apologize, your Highness, but I have a lot on my mind right now."
"Wow, you do use your head sometimes." Virion laughed, continuing the motion even as he dodged a blue-tinted energy blast. "I thought you were a pacifist. And even so, didn't Serelyn teach you that friendly fire was rude?"
Xyrnys rolled her eyes as she observed the playful argument between the two. "Well, to be fair, you were borderline asking for it." She glanced forward and lowered her head. "Prayer stance. We're here."
Khythos took prayer stance as he lowered himself to the ground, Virion doing the same. Xyrnys landed in front of him, her bare feet flattening the grass underneath. "When you're ready, X."
"Right." Xyrnys closed her eyes and held her hands in front of her, open-palmed. [i "Beyond the wall before thee stand stone-colored statues three. Soon you sleep, then you wake in The Observer's frozen lake."] Raising her head and opening her eyes, she said "In the name of The Observer, we are granted safe passage to the Lake of the Starbelt. I, The Twilight, Keeper of Time and Guardian of the Starbelt, pass his blessing to The Land, Reader of Minds, and The Sea, Mender of Souls." Her body was then alight with several thousand tiny stars. "We have been granted safe passage in our rest. Let us proceed. From here, our words become naught until the lake we reach. Our souls must be open, and our minds must be free."
With solemn nods from himself and Virion, Xyrnys turned and lead the way into the ancient temple. For the outside looking worn down, the inside was near pristine, lit with gentle torches that had been burning since the beginning of time. Without a blessing, the temple was inaccessible. The Lake of the Starbelt was safe.
The center of the temple had a large black-and-white star pattern that adorned the floor, a focus on three barbs of the star where marble pillars sat. The short pillars held statues in different shape and color - a pink star, a blue seashell, and a sandy-colored stone - with designated areas for each Demi-God to kneel and touch the statues. A large marble torch sat in the middle of the star, burning brightly.
From her lead position, Xyrnys stepped forward. Her statue sat on the farthest end of the star; the point that can see all the other points. She knelt in the proper spot and glanced forward, her hands in her lap. Until the other two were seated, she could not start the meeting.
The next to move was Virion, who remained unnaturally silent during the entire process. His silence would have unnerved most; it was always amazing to Khythos how he was able to just… focus when he had to. Another reason to admire him. The Land Demi-God kneeled, facing forward into the burning statue, hands in his lap.
That left Khythos, who instinctively started towards his statue. The magic surrounding the object wrapped around his soul, tugging gently, as if it was guiding him along. He knelt at his statue, facing the direction of the torch in the room's center. His hands remained in his lap as he waited for Xyrnys to guide them.
Silently, Xyrnys motioned for Virion and Khythos to raise their hands in 'open prayer' formation. Her hands were closed in prayer formation. She slowly stretched her arms out, her hands staying closed, until her fingertips pointed towards the torch. The Twilight flicked her wrists, her open palms now outstretched towards the flame. With a rushed gust of wind and twilight, the fire was extinguished and the statues alight with their assigned color. Nodding in the newfound darkness, she placed her hands on the only spaces the statue was not alight. In order, Virion and Khythos followed suit. One by one, the Demi-God's eyes drifted closed, heads hanging low as their bodies bathed in a mysterious starlight.
As Khythos regained consciousness, he was bathed in an Everdusk-lit marsh, his bare feet dangling just over the cool water. He stood between Xyrnys and Virion - fully in their Everdusk forms - as they stood straight and tall. Though he did the same as he waited for Olotl, he noticed how much freer his Everdusk cloak was to his regular clothing - a white gi he wore covered by a black cloak. As usual, when not posing as a human, he wore no shoes. He'd nearly forgotten how nice his Ocean Wings felt as they began to float gently behind him. He could now feel the fullness of his more Rhaeadran traits - the gills, the fins, the Third Eye, and the fuller horns. They made him feel more complete.
Virion was not changed much - his Everdusk cloak was a pair of black trousers, a white undershirt, a red tie, and a black overcoat. His signature brown boots finished the cloak. His Everdusk form gave him wings of jagged stone; with no logical sense otherwise, the light, flaky rock has never let the sandy-haired male down. His hair was neatly cropped, only a slight change from his regular look. Virion's half-elven traits began to show, his normally rounded ears pointed neatly. On his forehead was a sandy-colored gem, a few strands of hair floating in front of it.
It was Xyrnys who changed the most in The Lake of the Starbelt - her Everdusk form jarring in comparison to her everyday look. Her half pale, half Shadow-cursed skin was now all a pale peach color, the only part of her body giving the Shadowborn curse away being the black and pink eye on her left side. Rather than her casual pants and overshirt on the mainland, she adorned a black dress with a brightly lit Starbelt lining. Her wings were thousands of stars from every timeline that existed, forming the shape of the wing. She wore no shoes, as she did in her casual look. Her long black hair was not tied back as usual and hung down in gentle waves.
Once the three were awakened, Xyrnys took two steps forward and assumed the prayer position. Virion and Khythos quickly followed suit; until Olotl appeared in whichever form he chose, they would not speak. They would send their energies to Olotl, to guide him to them.
The Chosen Three lowered their hands and raised their heads, seeing Olotl's Observer form before them. He was nothing more than a pair of giant, glowing silver eyes. Xyrnys stayed in her forward position, her arms raised out, as if creating a connection between the three in the lake and the eyes above. Virion remained in an offensive position; typical of the warrior of the three. Khythos remained defensive, ready to guard Xyrnys' open weaknesses as she remain unprotected. Though they were safe in the Lake of the Starbelt, this was a natural position for the three, and it was not something they could easily refrain from doing.
The silver eyes of The Observer, Olotl, scanned the three as Xyrnys created the connection. He expected nothing less from his planet's guardians, his fine creations. They had learned their roles well. [b "Xyrnys of the Twilight. Virion of the Land. Khythos of the Sea. I am pleased to see you all made it here in such a brief amount of time."]
"But of course, fair Observer." Khythos bowed solemnly, hoping he didn’t appear as if he was mocking Olotl. Xyrnys glanced at Olotl gratefully, while Virion mimicked his gesture. "To what do we owe the pleasure of this private meeting, Lord Olotl? It's been a long time since the four of us have gathered together."
[b "Indeed it has. You three seem to have grown a bit since then. Has it truly been that long?"] Olotl coughed. [b "Unfortunately, we don't have the time to reminisce. I do not bear good news."] His gaze fell upon Virion. [b "Dear Virion… The Land, Reader of Minds, I'm sure your soul has been at unease and your mind scathing these past few moons."]
Virion simply looked away, answering without saying a word. There was a dark look in his eyes.
[b "There is a dark, sickening power arising from the land of Lorne. The Blood Mages that work there seem to have created something even I've never seen. My planet is suffering for it. It is causing my spiritual body great pain."]
Virion looked like he was about to scoff, but as he knew how to behave, he carefully held his tongue. "The visions I am taunted with are dark, reek with blood, and are meaningless. I am scarred with these visions, and I know not what they mean. They may smell of copper and soil, but how are you sure the Blood Mages are the ones responsible? They've been nothing but a mild inconvenience in the past."
Olotl's bright silver eyes sent a chilling glare in Virion's direction, silencing him effectively. [b "I am not concerned with how inconvenient they were, Virion of the Land. I'm concerned with the visions we have yet to see clearly, and the stench that comes from the Land of Lorne. The only mages skilled enough to draw that kind of blood are the Blood Mages, for they made the sacrifice to access that power. I fear they are creating creatures that are not native to my planet, in turn hurting my planet and them. The pain makes sacrifice greater and more powerful."]
Xyrnys shrugged. "It's not impossible, but perhaps we don't assume it's them until we gather proof of this. Instead, we should assume a base nearby and follow the scent of blood, particularly if it's a blood scent we're not used to."
[b "That does seem more efficient. And if we find there's another species of mage on my planet, trying to harm it, we'll be having some words with that timeline."] The giant eyes closed for a moment. [b "What I have told you is all I know. I'm hoping that, with time, Virion's visions will become clearer and we'll get closer to taking care of this problem. I want you three to take to this region for now and keep an eye on the Blood Mages. Anything you find out needs to be relayed back to me as soon as possible. If you can avoid it, do not harm them. They may not fully realize the consequences of this unknown magic. Perhaps there is even no malicious intent."]
Khythos nodded his immediate understanding. "With a lot of ground to cover in this region, are you all right if we ask the Skylord Mages if they are willing to do border patrol for us?"
[b "You may ask of them that only,"] Olotl responded. [b "They are not permitted to engage in battle unless it is their own free will. Try to keep them to the skies, to track their location more effectively."] Glancing at his Demi-Gods, he said [b "I request your full cooperation until this matter is resolved. You three are to work together. If something goes awry, you may need to go to battle. Am I understood?"]
The three Demi-Gods nodded respectfully. "But of course, Observer Olotl."
[b "May the Omen of the Starbelt be with ye three. By my words, you are dismissed."]
The end of the meeting brought Xyrnys back into the dimly lit temple. Once she detected the return of Khythos and Virion's souls, she let go of her statue and held her hands out, re-igniting the fire in the center of the temple. The adjustment from dark to light was quick as she rose to her feet. She was back in her normal attire, Virion and Khythos much the same. With a swift hand motion, she pointed towards the temple entrance. Their allowed time in the temple was nearing its end; they did not want to overstay their welcome. Once her bare feet touched the soft grass, she slowly lifted herself off the ground by a mere few inches. Virion and Khythos positioned themselves behind her.
[i "The Frozen Lake is frosted once over. Our spirits have departed safely."] She bowed. "The door to the Temple remains sealed, the Lake of the Starbelt remains safe." Xyrnys took a deep breath before turning around to face the others. "Honestly wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't that."
Khythos nodded his agreement and picked at a peeling spot on his horn - an anxious tick he'd picked up as he grew. "We'd seen the different wavelengths in magic, but without having consistent readings, we weren't getting the full picture. We weren't feeling Lord Olotl's pain. If this truly is the work of those Blood Mages, we'll need to find out how they accessed this type of magic. This isn't their style of foolishness."
"That's exactly it, Khyth." Virion's sandy-brown eyes held a serious look - something naturally out of character for him. "This absolutely isn't their style of foolishness. Which would be a good enough cover for them to start something like this. Think about it." He clapped his hands. "Due to the Red Matter incident, the planet's core is recovering. That's news that went widespread. If they're taking advantage of the weakened core to make cheap sacrifices, it'd be a quick road to power.
Khythos said nothing but shifted his gaze to show his agreement. As he drifted off to deep thought, Xyrnys turned away from him and focused on Virion. "That's possible, but if that's even remotely true, they could learn magics that could rival Lord Olotl himself. We should work quickly. Is there any one of the Blood Mages that would want that much power?"
"I see no reason to trust any of them, if you want me to be honest." Virion snorted his displeasure. "If I had to choose, I don't really see Leomon doing something so tedious, even for personal gain. He's also rather helpful when he wants to be, and incredibly strong in his own right, His flaw is his lack of drive."
"Wilrym Leomon might lack drive, but not if there's a chance to strike rich." Khythos suddenly broke back into the conversation. "He's greedy and has been known to take more than he needs just to say he has it." He shook his head. "We shouldn't rule any of them out yet. Not until we've had a chance to assess the situation."
Xyrnys nodded. "Sounds reasonable. We'll need to produce a way to monitor them discreetly. Using our invisibility for extended periods of time takes a lot of energy; it's not the best method." She grimaced. "As for whoever tracks Entos, I want you both to be careful. I helped him learn his Shadowborn heritage and know what he's capable of. He's cautious, sneaky, and you can't trust him with anything, or a word that he says. He used to be so harmless, too."
Khythos grunted in irritation, "Unfortunately, they lose the right to being 'harmless' once they sign the Book of Bloodseals and commit taboo. Not even we as maintainers of this timeline understand everything Blood Magic entails; only that nothing good comes of it."
"Which is why we can't rule him out. He's just overly cautious, so he'll be the hardest to work with. We may have to use invisibility often with him." She crossed her arms. "Anyway, you mentioned bringing the Skylord Mages into this, would you like me to speak with Leona and ShadowHeart and fill them in?"
"If it wouldn't inconvenience you, that would be most helpful." Khythos nodded at her. "But you should take Virion with you."
Xyrnys grunted in annoyance. "Why am I being tasked with babysitting Virion?"
"I'm literally right here." Virion's voice dripped bitterly. "I hope you're not implying I can't take care of myself, Star Child."
"Enough, you two!" The Rhaeadran's voice was rough and impatient. "I am not implying that you cannot care for yourself, Virion." He took a deep breath. "I'm going to take on the task of tracking Wilrym Leomon, and I'd rather start by going alone. If we go after them all at once, they'll notice us sooner and become suspicious. Until further notice, we should start slowly." He turned to Virion, his face returning to a neutral expression. "Let's be honest, the Skylords will be more likely to believe Lord Olotl's message if two Demi-Gods present the information. Plus, you may need to help set someone straight."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Leona was romantically involved with Entos. They were together for a long time, before Entos began to delve into Blood Magic. Take heed that, while Leona kicked him out, she still cares for Entos. That may cloud her judgement."
"All right, that does make a lot of sense." Virion nodded as he processed the information. "Should we give any information to Windberry and his crew? Or contact Halafarin? I know he's in this region."
"For once, Virion is actually using his brain." Xyrnys turned to face Khythos, ignoring the huff of anger from Virion. "We'll obviously keep most of the information to ourselves, but just asking them to be on the lookout for any unusual sightings could prove useful. And, well, we all know how useful Halafarin can be. He knows this land better than we do; it may be in our best interest to inform him of Olotl's concerns."
The Rhaeadran huffed, rubbing at one of his horns. "The alien, the dwarf, and the scientist could prove useful. They're well known for their supply runs, so they wouldn't arouse suspicion for being in the area. We should leave Halafarin out for now, however. He's not as young as he used to be a thousand years will do that to a faerie, and he's also training an apprentice forest mage. The clumsy Tilud kid."
"Be nice, Khythos. Tilud's a nice kid. He's just young." Xyrnys crossed her arms but decided against arguing further. "If it makes things easier, I'll leave Halafarin out of it for the time being. However, if he comes to us because he notices something strange inhabiting his region and wants to know what, I can't lie to him."
Khythos nodded. "And I would hope not, X. We shall keep Halafarin and the other two spirits in the dark until they ask us what's going on. I should head towards Wilrym Leomon's place so I can talk to him."
Virion raised an eyebrow. "So soon? Leomon Solutions isn't that far from here."
"It still takes quite some time to shift to my human disguise. Will doesn't know I'm the last Demi-God or that I'm connected to you, remember?"
"Right. I forgot."
Khythos glanced at Xyrnys. "We should meet up again at Moonrise. Know of a good spot?"
"XyrnTech, the lab I built for the humans interested in technology expansion." Xyrnys handed Khythos a well-worn compass. "This compass is enchanted; it's programmed to remember the location of the lab. Just follow the needle and you'll be there in no time."
"Understood." He nodded to Virion and Xyrnys. "Take care out there and may the blessings of the Starbelt be with you."
Virion and Xyrnys returned the polite gesture. "And with you, Khythos."
When the Rhaeadran disappeared, Xyrnys glanced in Virion's direction. "We should get moving as well." With a sly smile, she added "You pretend to be Avand's own heart breaker, don't you? Where can I find Leona and Shadow?"
"That's an easy one." Virion laughed, raising an eyebrow. "Shadow's always on the move, but Leona sticks to Owl Island, which is just on the other side of the mountain. If we're lucky, Shadow will be with Leona when we visit. It won't take us long to get there."
Xyrnys rolled her eyes as Virion took off quickly - patience was not his virtue. With her Shadowborn powers, she teleported to Virion's location before replying on flight. "You'd better not get us lost."
“Of course we’re called to help because Olotl is suffering.” Virion rolled his eyes. “If it was one of us, he’d let it go until we were almost dead. Even then, he’d only help so he wouldn’t have to watch his own planet.”
Xyrnys sighed. “I can’t really argue with you there, but you should keep it down. He’s likely not paying attention, but you don’t want him to hear you.”
He just grunted and continued flying – he had more important things to worry about, anyway. How was he going to break the news to Leona about the Blood Mages doing terrible things? Normally, he didn’t care about the reactions of those he gave news or information to – he had no emotional or personal connection to them. Presenting Leona with the possibility that her former lover could potentially be destroying the world would be significantly more difficult. He wished he’d pushed them away when he had the chance.
Virion wished Owl Island would get further away as he spotted the outline approaching. He wasn’t quite ready to see the pain and suffering he was about to put Leona through once they informed her of the situation. Would she even believe them? Would she be angry? Upset? He wasn’t sure. The flight was silent; he was grateful that Xyrnys’ thoughts were one of the few closed off to him. Virion was far enough from the planet’s surface where he couldn’t hear the thoughts of others – the silence that surrounded him was blissful and would allow him to think more clearly.
Virion tried to recall one of his more recent visions, but all he could manage to remember was the coppery scent of blood and the tortured screams that pierced his ears. He was unable to see anything, unable to hear beyond the pained screaming, unable to feel anything. It infuriated him, not knowing what this recent recurring vision meant. As he mindlessly flew forward, he tried to dig deeper.
Suddenly, he felt a rush of warmth. It felt wet and sticky – blood, if he had to guess – and he realized he was stuck in a vision. Virion was still blinded; the lack of sight unnerved him more than if it had been any of his other senses. His sight offered him security, protection, and comfort. Without it, he had to rely on hypotheses and the senses that remained. Still, he was father now than he’d gotten before.
He felt suffocated with how quickly his temporary blindness terrified him. He felt his breath exit his lungs against his will; he found that inhaling was a lot more difficult than he remembered. All that mattered was breathing in and seeing something. Seeing what, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t care. He needed to see again. He needed to see.
And then, it was red.
Bright red light, more blinding than the sun, assaulted his vision before dimming slightly. Shaped spherically and shining with a reflected light, it sat in front of him. The screams he heard previously were louder now, as if they came from the sphere that was in front of him. What was this sphere? It was small, yet the aura was strong. He felt strong sorrow, pain, fear, evil… He wanted to run as far as he could from the small object.
Then the sunlight returned, as if the vision had never happened.
Looking up, Virion noticed Xyrnys was still flying in front of him. She hadn’t noticed his momentary loss of awareness; at the very least, he showed no outward signs. How long had he been locked in his own mind? Virion scanned the terrain; it had shifted from soft, green grass to moist, mud-laden grasslands. Owl Island was not far off. “Hey, X?”
The pink-eyed female spared him a glance. “Back with us, are you?”
Xyrnys nodded, looking forward once more. “I know most things that occur in the timelines, Viri. Our connection also tells me if something goes awry. Considering you remained on course and did not show outward defensive signs, I felt no need to stop you.” She chuckled. “Did you discover anything?”
Virion frowned. Xyrnys’ knowledge unnerved him sometimes. “Right. I was bothered that I knew so little about the visions I was receiving, and Olotl wasn’t telling me anything.” He scoffed. “What bothered me the most was how much I didn’t see. Visions are supposed to show me something, yet these ones only gave me the smell of blood and the screams of the dead. Nothing of merit.”
“This time was different.”
“Yes. I needed to see – I felt like I was going mad. I made myself dig deeper. It frightened me, seeing only darkness but feeling the sticky wetness of blood between my fingers. I needed to know why I was feeling blood.”
“Did you get your answer?”
He shook his head. “Not exactly, but I got something different. It’s a red orb-shaped jewel. Red like blood, filled with tormented souls of the damned. The very aura of the jewel seethed with hatred and reeked of vile intent. I’ve no idea what it is, but it must be the key to what Olotl was talking about during our meeting.”
Xyrnys frowned. “You took a significant risk. You forced yourself into a vision for a hint, Virion.” She allowed a sigh to pass her lips. “You remember when you did that same thing, five-hundred years ago? We still bore the forms of children, and our powers were new and fragile. That day, you almost didn’t come out of it. What if that had happened again?”
“It wouldn’t have. I’m more practiced at it now.” He waved off her concern. “I’ve done it successfully multiple times since then.”
“If you’re sure. Just be careful.” She turned away from the blond. “We’re here.” Lowering herself to the ground, she smiled as her bare feet connected with the soft grass. “Leona still takes great care of the land here.”
Virion nodded his agreement. “Yeah. I wonder how she manages without Shadow around all the time. Caede and Entos are gone now, as well.”
“Caede’s been dead for six years now; surely she’s had the time to adjust to that. As for Entos and ShadowHeart…” She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Their departures were much more sudden.” Stopping her travels, she looked up at a treehouse that had obvious, yet beautiful manmade additions added onto it.
Virion was always amazed at the differences of the land between regions – where Xamchi’s side of the Grasslands region was constructed of flat grass plains covered in oak and birch trees, Leona’s island was rich and lush, tall oak trees growing from the earth that made anyone feel like they could touch the clouds. The outskirts of the island were marshy, like the Marshland region, but got steadily drier as one travelled inland.
The owls that inhabited the island – native only to the island – swirled carefully around the treetops. Their song was happy and hearty; rich and pleasant. There was no birdsong quite like it outside of the island.
Virion could hear the happy chattering of squirrels within the tree branches, which almost brought a smile to his face. He refused to let Xyrnys see him enjoying such simple pleasures, however, and instead changed his focus to Leona’s treehouse. The balcony directly above them was crafted with stripped oak wood and lined with vines around the railing. There was a natural awning of leaves directly above the balcony doors, keeping the deck shaded, cool, and clear of most of the railing was unprotected; Virion was sure Leona just didn’t go out that far during a storm. “Shall we see if she’s home, then?”
“We aren’t getting anywhere waiting out here.” Xyrnys rolled her eyes good-naturedly and carefully flew upward, disregarding the ladder that led to the balcony. Virion followed swiftly behind her, hovering just inches behind. “Leona?” she called, opening the door. “Are you home? It’s Xyrnys and Virion!”
“I’m in the sunroom!”
“We’ll come to you!” Virion landed; there were too many delicate objects hanging from the ceiling to fly through. He heard the soft ‘pat’ of Xyrnys’ feet as they hot the wooden floor. Nearing the sunroom, he could feel the humidity wafting from it and thought briefly about removing his jacket. “Hey, Lee.”
The blonde woman turned to face the Demi-Gods, a book of purification in one hand and a diamond ankh in the other. “It’s been a long time since you’ve been out this way,” she finished her spell. “What brings you two out here?”
“Unfortunate news.” Xyrnys frowned. “We had a meeting with Lord Olotl this morning. He didn’t tell us much, but we wanted to ask you and Shadow a favor. Is she around, by chance?”
“No, she’s off assisting Halafarin again today.” She set her book down and the ankh on top of it. At the mention of the absent half-kitsune, she frowned. “She’s been unable to access her magic as of late; since she helped Halafarin banish the Flux from the forest, she told me. She’s been tending to the gardens. She returns weekly to trim the hedges and pull the undergrowth.”
Virion groaned, tipping his head back. “That’s another stop to make.” He shook his head. Anyway, Olotl did tell us that some odd magicks have been circulating through a few regions as of late, and it’s scarring him and this land.”
“Not just that, but Virion has been experiencing visions he’s never had before, and he’s having trouble understanding them. Olotl is certain that, one way or another, the Blood Mages are involved. We’re investigating.”
“I see.” Leona glanced down at the diamond ankh as it sparkled in the sunlight. “You’re talking about Entos, aren’t you?”
“Entos, Wilrym Leomon, and Theran Ocus. None of them are guilty until proven so, but they are all suspect.”
Leona looked broken. “I don’t see how Entos could do something so hostile to the planet. He turned to blood magic because he wanted to learn everything he could get his hands on. I refused to accept the heresy of its practice on this island and banished him, but he’s not a bad person.”
“We’re not even sure of their involvement, but Olotl won’t let us get a word in edgewise. Regardless of if it is, they could be completely unaware of the damage their causing.” Virion was growing impatient; Xyrnys sent him a look of warning in response. “We’re not specifically blaming Entos. I don’t give a damn if Olotl is in pain or not; I just want to get this over with so I can move on. We could use your help.”
“I decline. You may ask ShadowHeart – I won’t speak for her – but I refuse to see Entos suffer due to an accusation. Regardless of how blasphemous blood magic is, he’s not what you think he is.”
“It’s not just Entos, Leona!”
Leona stood her ground. “I decline. I’m sorry.”
“Enough, Virion.” Xyrnys grabbed his shoulder, shaking her head. “Just let it go.” She turned to the blonde. “If you change your mind, you know how to contact us. We’ll be in the Grasslands region for some time – stop by XyrnTech if you get the chance.
“All right.” She turned away from the two, picking her book back up and stepping away. “I’m busy, so I apologize, but you’ll have to see yourselves out.”
“I understand. Take care, Leona.”
Virion scoffed as he stormed out. “Fine.”
“Stubborn woman.” Virion practically rocketed out of the treehouse in a rage. [i “Entos would never do that. Entos is a good guy.] She needs to realize it’s not all about Entos!”
Xyrnys teleported in front of him, taking the hit as he flew into her abdomen. “Viri, settle down. She’s just speaking out from emotion. Do you remember how Jyn got when Theran Ocus left to practice blood magic?”
The sandy-blond male opened his mouth to argue but found no words. Instead, his face fell into a frown. “Devastated. The worst part being I foresaw it, and she didn’t believe me.”
“And she never would’ve. Emotions are more powerful than thoughts at times, and you of all beings should understand that.” Xyrnys’ tone was even, but gentle. “You feel more than your own; you feel all of those who you encounter. “Fear, love, happiness, sorrow, heartbreak… I know you understand.”
"Yeah, I guess.” Virion crossed his arms. “The difference between is us I don’t let those emotions get in my way, X.”
“You also did that to yourself on purpose – you pushed them all away to make it easier to be like that. She’s not the same.”
He huffed angrily and took a deep breath. “I know.” He circled around Xyrnys, floating in front of her. “In any case, we should see if Shadow is still in Halafarin’s Forest. Do you think we’ll run into Halafarin while we’re there?”
“Well, it is his forest.” She chuckled. “With Tilud around, though, who knows. Are you worried about seeing him?”
“Not worried, per say. I just don’t want to get him involved in this if I can avoid it. Khythos was right, as much as I hate to admit it. Halafarin is hearing fifteen hundred years old – I don’t want him to go to battle if we can help it.”
“You really must be worried if you’re admitting Khythos was right.”
“Knock it off!” Virion spat.
Xyrnys chuckled but said nothing further. Luckily, the journey from Owl Island to Halafarin’s Forest wasn’t a long one; she could see the overgrowth in the distance. Out of everywhere Xyrnys had been in her life, Winwydden was the only planet she’d seen with the vegetation that grew in Halafarin’s Forest. One of the species Olotl stole from another timeline was a Winwydden spirit and he used it to help populate Avand. Xyrnys had yet to identify most of the plants in the forest – it was truly one of a kind.
Khythos theorized Halafarin was part faerie, which would solidify her Wynwydd theory. The Wynwydden spirits were the only half-faerie spirits that cold live beyond a thousand years.
She lowered herself carefully, but so her feet barely hovered over the forest floor. There was a thick barrier of barbed vines that surrounded most of the area around the forest, deterring intruders. “Halafarin always did love his thorns, didn’t he?”
“He always loved throwing me into thorn bushes when he got mad at me.” Virion winced at the memory. “It wouldn’t hurt nearly as much now, but it wasn’t very pleasant back then.”
Xyrnys placed her hands on the barbs gently, and the vines moved aside as if they possessed free will. She allowed Virion to go in front of her and closed the gap behind her. The forest itself was dimly lit, spots of sunlight littering the forest floor. The immaculately kept grass felt cool beneath her feet, only a hint of dew left from the evening chill. Beyond the scattered wildflowers that littered the area was a neat corner of rosebushes, where quiet humming could be heard. “This way,” she motioned quietly, leading the way.
Virion followed, narrowly avoiding trampling the flowers. Though they could withstand quite a bit, Virion was not disrespectful. He owed Halafarin that much. “You sure?”
“Yeah, just beyond the hedges here.”
The two crept around the hedge, keeping themselves partially hidden. In the middle of the large rose bush sat ShadowHeart, humming happily as she trimmed overgrowth from the thick flower stems. The roses kept most of their thorns, only trimming the ones that proved dangerous or overgrown. “There you go,” the kitsune muttered quietly, caressing a rose gently.
“You seem chipper today, ShadowHeart.”
The black-haired kitsune nearly jumped out of her skin, calming when she spotted the two Demi-Gods. “You can’t scare me like that!”
“I mean, I can.” Virion smirked. “It’s just not nice.”
Xyrnys shoved the feisty Demi-God. “How have you been, Shadow?”
“Not terrible. It’s been difficult without my magic, but I’m getting by okay.” Shadow stepped out of the rose bush, her tail catching gently on the thorns. “The forest is getting overgrown. Halafarin has been busy with Tilud.”
“I’m certain the Flux has infected you somehow. Until it’s eradicated, we can’t release your magic.” The black-haired female closed her eyes thoughtfully. “I’ll look further into it for you; you’re a special case.”
“Thank you, Xyrnys.” Shadow bowed. “Not to sound rude, but why are you here? Surely there are more important tasks for a Demi-God than talk to a magicless mage.”
Virion sighed. “Right… We’re here on behalf of Lord Olotl. There has been a shift in the flow of magic, and we’re tasked to finding the root of the problem. He has reason to believe it’s the Blood Mages. We have no proof that it’s them, but they are clearly capable of committing heresy. Nevertheless, we are uncertain of their intentions, so we’re gathering information for now.”
She nodded. Her ears twitched as a bug landed on the black appendage. “I see. Did you consider talking to Lady Leona about this?”
“Don’t even bring it up!” the sandy blond spat.
The pink-eyed female chuckled dryly. “It’s a sore subject right now. Where Entos is involved with the Blood Mages, Leona is currently refusing to involve herself in the investigation. You’re not useless, however. You’re still a capable warrior, and you’re quite handy at driving an airship.”
“I could always keep a survey on the area.” Shadow stretched. “Though I should at least tell Halafarin I’m heading out. Should I tell him where, or are we keeping it a secret?”
“As much as I’d like not to lie to him, I’d rather not get him involved.” Virion crossed his arms. “He’s still a strong warrior, but he’s not as young as he used to be.”
“I’m old, not deaf, Virion. Remember where you are.”
Instantly, Virion bowed. Whether it was by instinct or respect, he couldn’t tell. “Halafarin. I didn’t realize you were nearby.”
A chuckle. From the bushes emerged a short, sunny-blond male. He wore dark-green apparel and had the mark of the Forest engraved on his forehead. Vines circled around both of his arms, and his bright green eyes held a mischievous twinkle. The true indicators of his age were a few age lines on his face and gray strands in his bright hair. “I’m everywhere, Virion. The forest is me, and I am this forest.”
“Why do you have to be so bloody cryptic?”
“What was that?”
“I said but of course, Halafarin.”
Halafarin smiled at his former apprentice. “Despite how much has stayed the same, you’ve grown quite a bit.” He turned to Xyrnys. “Lady Xyrnys. You’ve tamed the Shadowborn more.”
“It’s been a tough task. I appreciate you noticing.” Xyrnys nodded. “As much as I’d like to catch up, we really don’t have a lot of time. Lord Olotl requested a task of us.”
“And you’d like ShadowHeart to assist you with this task.”
“If you will permit us to do so.”
“Of course. It’s not my place to deny her if that’s what she wishes to do.” Halafarin smiled. “I would, however, like a bit more information before you go. I know you said you’d like to keep me out of it, but I’m morbidly curious.
Virion nodded. “We can spare a moment, but nothing more.”
The blond returned the gesture. “A moment is all I will take.”
Existing exhausted Khythos.
Not in the traditional sense, like humans. He didn’t require as much rest or food. Keeping the world at a neutral state, however, was exhausting. Virion did most of the fighting when necessary; Khythos preferred building defenses and using magic as an aid. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t fight. He just didn’t want to. Xyrnys’ tasks were strange; she defended Avand like he and Virion, but she also sought forbidden knowledge and defended timelines and the stars above. A knowing gleam always lit her eyes. Khythos was not jealous of this.
He had enough to worry about.
The Rhaeadran sighed as he felt the tip of his horns recede into his head – time-consuming as it was, his transformation was finally complete. Though he could still use his powers in his disguised form, he typically did not, only flying down from his waterfall-protected cave and then walking everywhere else. Khythos was the only undetected Demi-God on Avand thus far; only the Skylords and Xamchi knew who he was. He found it easier that way; rather than all three Demi-Gods being well-known, only Virion was around constantly, and Xyrnys occasionally. Khythos, however, was a mystery.
Even to himself, most of the time.
Following a short flight down the waterfall, Khythos landed gently on the dirt path that led to the lake it poured into. It felt strange to hear his shoes hit the dirt rather than feel the earth on his feet – it was almost constricting. The stones in the area would surely tear up his disguise, however, so it was a necessary sacrifice. At least Leomon Solutions wasn’t far, and his visit wouldn’t last long. Wilrym Leomon was secretive on the best of days, and only kept company around for limited periods of time. Better that than the alternative, Khythos reasoned.
There were a lot of small buildings in this area – Astruz’s slaughterhouse, Cliona’s bunker, Caede’s old fortress, and other failures and mistakes that had since been abandoned. Some damage from the biological virus the planet had been plagued by remained in the area, though the virus was gone and the area safe to explore. The three Demi-Gods glanced at the ruins with a strange fondness; they were the only reminders that the virus had even existed.
The virus. The planet was still weak from the virus. Could the Blood Mages be using that weakness to gain power? Were they truly that desperate? Khythos couldn’t bring himself to fully believe it, but it wasn’t out of the question. They were classified as true heretics for indulging in a practice that had broken free from a forbidden timeline; they had no rights to innocence anymore. Could just the three of them cause Olotl as much suffering as he claimed? The only other Blood Mages, Vaereda and a fifth that Khythos could not recall, had died shortly after they picked up the practice, having gotten too greedy early on. The remaining three learned from their fallen friends’ mistakes.
However, perhaps this was all a misunderstanding. Only time would tell.
Khythos could honestly care less about Olotl being in pain; he cared about the impact on the planet. Xyrnys would feel it if the planet suffered too much, and this it would eventually haunt Virion. Khythos would only get aftershocks – minor, compared to the other two – but nonetheless, he would be affected as well. It was better for the three of them to take care of it regardless of Olotl’s feelings. He would never tell Virion outright that he agreed with him; Olotl was shady at the best of times. This certainly wasn’t the best of times.
As he neared Leomon Solutions, Khythos was overwhelmed by the scent of magic and smoke. It was slightly grayer in this area – due to the pollution his workshop produced – but nonetheless, it didn’t appear to affect the wildlife. The building was tall, almost threatening, and built with brick burned black. It was well-lit on both the outside and the inside, likely to keep monsters and animals at bay. There was a stone path that led to the building which Khythos followed, kicking a loose stone as he did so. There were a few loose bricks on the path that could prove problematic – he’d be sure to tell Wil about them.
Khythos approached the large wooden door, using the attached knocker to announce his arrival. “Wil? Wil, it’s Khythos.”
“One moment!” The male’s voice was muffled beyond the door, but Khythos heard it well enough. It wasn’t long before Wilrym Leomon opened the door, a small smile on his face. It’s been a while, Khyth. How’ve you been?”
For as dangerous as Wilrym Leomon’s magic could be, he certainly didn’t look the part. Wil was tall and lanky, with a goofy-looking face. His hair was shaggy and blond, and his eyes slate gray with a mischievous twinkle. “I’ve been well. Sorry I haven’t visited in a while.”
Wil shook his head. “No, no, it’s quite all right. I’ve been busy myself. Come on in.” The blond moved his goggles from his eyes to his forehead where he normally wore them. “What brings you out here? I’m quite out of the way for you.”
“I was on my way to pick something up from Xamchi’s place, and you’re on the way.” Khythos scanned the main room carefully as he entered. “I like what you’ve done with the place. I remember when this was only a single floor.”
“Me too. I even have a basement now, thanks to Theran.” He cracked his knuckles. “Theran’s been around a lot more lately, really. Giving me more fusions to do.”
The Rhaeadran raised an eyebrow. “Fusions? I’m curious.”
“I knew you would be. I can’t spill too much or he and Entos will have my head, but there are these runes I created using a blood spell that can fuse animals and monsters together. It’s intense. It takes a lot of time and energy, though. Leaves me bloody exhausted at the end of the day.” The gray-eyed male glanced at him. “That stays between us, got it?”
“It’s safe with me.” Khythos nodded gently. [i A fusion of animals and monsters. Sounds like what Olotl was talking about.] “It’s interesting, honestly. It’s a shame you can’t be more open about it.”
“I know. What can you do?”
Khythos just hummed as he let the Mage continue with his work. Other than the trinkets that were created with blood magic, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Shelves, chairs, lit torches lining the walls…
Eventually, a black chest caught his eye, and he sauntered towards it. Something felt off about it immediately; a strange magic emitted from it. It felt interdimensional, and suddenly he regretted not having Xyrnys with him. If it was from a different realm, she’d be able to find which one it was from.
“Khythos, what are you doing? Get away from that!”
At the sound of Wil’s voice, Khythos snapped out of his trance and pulled his hand away. The static feeling ended instantly, as well as the feeling of madness. “Apologies. This was an interesting chest – I’ve never seen one made from a material like this before.”
The blond sighed. “It belongs to Ocus – I’m not sure where he got it. It creeps me out a bit if we’re being honest. I’d just as well leave it alone. He dropped it off here until he could make room at the old gathering place for it.”
“I see.” He nodded. Khythos stretched as he glanced out the window. The sun was beginning to set; the day had passed quickly. “I’m afraid I must be going if I want to make it to Xamchi’s before nightfall. Perhaps I could stop by before I head back to my territory?”
“That would be nice.” Wil nodded. “It truly was nice seeing you again, but I should get back to work anyway. So long, Khythos.”
The disguised Rhaeadran waved as he exited the industrial building. His face hardened once he was out of view, processing the information he received. He knew he would have to come back this way and learn more about everything he’d heard about. The runes, the mysterious chest, the fusions… It was all too strange. Wil didn’t seem to know as much as Khythos thought he would, and yet, he knew just enough to make himself useful.
The Blood Mages appeared to be the reason for the world’s peril, but to what extent? Ocus and Entos seemed to be flighty when it came to Wil; instead of giving him all the information, they just gave him menial tasks that made use of his powerful and plentiful magic. The blond, while normally greedy, was clueless and didn’t appear bothered by it. It seemed he was more comfortable being a follower as part of a group. However, if he was a necessary part of the process, why didn’t he know more than what was necessary to make fusions and runes? Why didn’t he know what Ocus was hiding in that chest, or where Entos is hiding out?
What was Wilrym Leomon’s true role in all of this?
“I see…” Halafarin’s eyes closed in thought. “I was worried something like this may happen. It’s been peaceful far too long.”
“There is no balance that must be maintained.” Xyrnys crossed her arms. “That is an old wives’ tale. The powers that be, whomever they are, must have a balance in their own hearts for the world to be right. Otherwise, there’s no need for terrible things to happen for good times to remain. You must know this.”
“Yes, I’m aware. It’s a peaceful notion, but alas, it’s not yet meant to be.” He smiled, unfazed by Xyrnys’ cynicism. “Regardless, I’m certain of one thing. The events you speak of are bound to happen; proper precautions must be taken to soften the blow.”
Virion scowled at his former mentor. “I’m sorry, Halafarin, but I stand by what I said. I don’t want you involved unless you’ve been threatened directly. You’ve aged.”
The faerie seemed offended. “You act as if Serelyn and Gaia have not – have you forgotten they are around the same age as me?”
“That is true,” Xyrnys agreed. “However, all three of you are of different races. Serelyn is Cefnforian; they stop aging at young adulthood and do not begin to age again until they’ve reached ten-thousand years old. Gaia is Cysegran; they do not age past adulthood at all and cannot die on their own. You’re different.”
“On what basis?”
“Other than your graying hair?” She hummed. “I had to some research to figure your race out, but you’re Winwyddenian. You’re half-faerie, half-elf. The elven blood in you is what has kept you alive this long. Because of this, Winwydds age similarly to Dwarves.”
Halafarin simply lowered his head in an awkward nod. “You’ve grown smart in your travels through time. Very well, then. I’ll stay out of this, to a point. I will avoid trouble, but if it finds me, I will not hesitate to fight back.”
Virion seemed relieved. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” There was a humorous twinge to his voice.
“I’ll be careful,” ShadowHeart promised. “I’ll see what Khythos found out at Wilrym Leomon’s place and see if we can use the information to convince Leona to help us.”
The forest spirit’s eyes shone in a strange way. “It won’t be easy, no matter what happens. Even if the best possible outcome is to come of this, I just have a feeling that a lot is going to go wrong.”
“Be that as it may, we’ll make sure that everything eventually goes right.” Xyrnys smiled gently. “With or without Olotl’s help. We should head out now – you know where XyrnTech and Xamchi’s place are if you need us.”
He nodded. “Yes. Take care out there, you three. Give Khythos my best when you meet up with him. Guard your souls carefully – you never know what will happen.”
Though the words sounded strange, the blond Demi-God did his best to push them to the back of his mind as he made his way out of the forest. He broke through the wall of vines, witnessing the start of Sundown, and took a deep breath. “It’s going to be a cool evening; it might even rain later.” Virion eyed the sun as it began to sink beneath the horizon. “Fall is on its way.”
“Halafarin said that earlier as well.” Shadow glanced at Virion. “Do you look for the closeness of the sun?”
“That’s a way to do it, but I look at the color of the clouds. It’s harder to tell during the day, but as the sun sets, the horizon takes on a specific set of colors. This isn’t coincidence. If it’s more orange than red, it will be warm, and vice-versa. If it’s pink in hue, it will storm. It’s a mixture of red and pink., which is why I mentioned the chance for rain.”
“Most Avandians and other species thinks it’s a tale from beyond the stars, but it holds true. Other timelines also share this trait.” Xyrnys nodded.
The young Kitsune listened on in interest. “There are so many things about the world I don’t know.” She then shook her head. “We’re getting off-topic, in any case. We’re headed to XyrnTech, right?”
Virion glanced her way. “Yes. We’re meeting Khythos there – we need to get the information he received from Wilrym Leomon this afternoon. With any luck, he’ll have something useful.” The half-elf shrugged, trudging forward. “Khythos is fairly efficient when he works alone; I’ll be surprised if he hasn’t learned anything.”
“I’m hoping he has solid evidence we can use to persuade Leona to help us.” Xyrnys frowned suddenly. “Did you feel that shift just now? I’m not sure what caused the change, but something’s happened.”
Virion raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain? I didn’t feel anything.”
“I’m certain I felt something. I just can’t be certain what it was.” The female stood a bit straighter. “It’s unimportant right now if you didn’t notice. Just forget I said anything for the moment.”
The male Demi-God was frustrated. He knew Xyrnys must’ve noticed something, or she wouldn’t have said anything. He just didn’t understand why he didn’t feel the same change. Between Xyrnys’ misplaced intuition and Halafarin’s strange choice of words earlier, something wasn’t adding up.
Then, it was more than frustration. It bubbled up into anger, threatening to spill through his entire body. How dare he be left in the dark? He was just as important as Xyrnys! Hell, Halafarin had noticed something was off, and he wasn’t even involved in this mission. What was wrong with him?!
[i A flash of blonde, the smell of white peonies.
A splash of blue, a scream of pain.
A splatter of red, the crashing of a corpse.
A bright glow, a spherical object, a pain in his heart.
What was wrong with his heart?]
“Are you okay, Virion?”
[i He looked at his chest, it was gone. A hole remained, empty, lifeless, bleeding.
A scream froze in his throat. It wouldn’t come out. Why couldn’t he scream?]
[i A streak of pink, a flash of lightning. Another hole. Another missing heart.
Another frozen scream.]
“Virion, please answer me!”
[i A wave of blue, a wall of fire. A third hole. The heart, gone.
He could hear screaming, now. Where was it coming from.]
“Can you hear me, Virion?”
As Xyrnys’ voice and face broke through the vision, the screaming continued. This confused Virion; nothing from the visions remained in effect once the visuals faded. As the screaming continued, the voice began to sound familiar. He then realized that the sound was coming from his own body. At least that would explain why his chest and throat were starting to hurt.
Upon this realization, Virion wrapped his arms around his torso and closed his eyes to calm himself down. His heart - it was still there… it was still there – was beating rapidly, pulsing in his ears and through his arms. He heard the roaring rush of blood in his ears and took several loose, shaky breaths to slow his heart rate. Xyrnys – or at least he thought it was Xyrnys – placed her hands on his shoulders to secure him. It was nice, grounding him to one spot. Though blurry, he opened his eyes and his vision slowly returned. The panic faded. The vision he had been haunted with was gone. He had returned to reality.
He was okay.
“What on Avand did you see that caused that kind of reaction?” Xyrnys questioned instinctively once Virion had steadied.
“I request a moment to process my trauma before I have to relive it, thank you.” Virion tried to be feisty, but his words were empty and tired. What had he seen, really? It hadn’t been much – flashes of light and color, meant to represent something or someone. The emphasis on the vision, much like the previous one, was what he could feel, what he could hear. The few things he couldn’t identify.
The peonies were a new, unfamiliar sign, as was the scream that followed. It was garbled and distorted, yet part of him felt as if he’d heard the voice before. It would haunt him until he remembered.
The flash of pink; Xyrnys. The wave of blue; Khythos. He wasn’t sure what the fire and lightning were symbolic of. Impending demise, perhaps?
Then there were the hearts.
The bloody hearts.
What did the lack of hearts mean? Was it a glimpse of their bleak future? How soon was this future? Did the symbolic elements between Xyrnys and Khythos mean more than just that? Who did they represent? Just trying to process the possibilities made Virion’s head spin.
“Viri, settle down. We can think about this later.”
As Xyrnys’ voice broke into his thoughts once more, he realized that he was now trembling slightly. It wasn’t as if he was cold, or frozen in fear – it was how his body processed the mental trauma his visions put him through. How long had it taken her to get through to him this time? “Right. I’m sorry.”
Xyrnys shook her head, a twinge of guilt in her eyes. “No, I apologize. I shouldn’t have asked you about the vision so soon after it ended, especially with how you reacted. I’m sure Khythos will be curious when we meet with him; he’s bound to have felt a reaction like that.”
“I’m sure he’ll try to mother me as well.” Virion tried to sound scathing but couldn’t bring himself to put his heart into it. Xyrnys and Khythos meant well – his visions weren’t easy to manage when they taxed him like this, but they did try. It was more than Olotl did – curse the bastard who gave him this cursed power. “Let’s hurry. I’m sure he’s already worrying a hole in the ground because we’re late.”
“I’m sure he is.” The female chuckled. “If you look really pathetic when we show up, he might not yell at us.”
Khythos let out a heavy sigh, glancing up at the starlit sky. The light from the moon reflected off his horns, giving them a slight glimmer. Worry gnawed at his insides; Xyrnys and Virion were running behind schedule. On any other occasion, their tardiness would have barely affected him other than a mild annoyance for having to wait. The flash migraine – which had gone as quickly as it arrived – had given him sudden anxiety. What had happened?
Unlike Virion’s ‘gift’ – he used the term loosely – the bond between the three Demi-Gods only allowed him a glimpse of what the other two were feeling. It was enough to know that Virion is – or was – in pain, but not enough to help him figure out the cause. He could feel Xyrnys’ own increasing anxiety as the seconds passed, but not the acute reason. He had nothing but his and Xyrnys’ anxiety, as well as Virion’s vague suffering, to base his hypothesis on.
To put it lightly, Khythos was concerned, and slightly terrified.
His anxiety level decreased slightly when he saw Xyrnys, Virion, and one other among them approach the lab. He recognized the female in the party – pale, black hair, blue eyes, and a fluffy pair of black ears atop her head. A Kitsune from the forest – ShadowHeart if he remembered correctly. Regardless, they had arrived alive and unharmed. The pain Virion had felt, while it may have been terrifying, hadn’t been real.”
“Glad to see you made it.” Khythos nodded to the trio as they neared. “A lot has happened today, so it would seem. Are you all right?”
“Physically, we’re fine.” Xyrnys nodded at Virion. “He had a vision on the way over here. Shadow had to help me ground him while he reacted adversely to it.”
Khythos nodded. “A vision would explain the flash migraine.” He hummed carefully. “Must’ve been a bad one. Are you prepared to speak of it, or shall we wait until later?”
“The sooner we talk about it, the sooner I can be left alone to process it.” Virion seemed anxious still, though his words were steady. “Let’s just… not do it out here, okay?”
“We could head inside if you’d like,” Xyrnys offered. “The only ones that’d be in the lab are the human Avandians. They’ll greet us, but otherwise keep to themselves and do what they’re here to do.”
“Good idea.” Turning around, the Rhaeadran lead the way, grateful he remembered the path easier than he thought he would. Once he entered, the human scientists inside did nothing more than wave or mutter greetings to them, as Xyrnys predicted, before continuing their research. He wondered, silently, if they knew who Xyrnys really was, or if they didn’t care and were happy to have the help. It didn’t matter to him.
“Let’s head to the top floor. There’s nothing up there, save for wiring and some old storage containers. No one will bother us there.”
Humming an affirmation, Khythos located the nearest teleporter and stepped onto the strange warp pad. The wall to his right had a panel with several silver buttons. Bypassing the others, he chose the one labeled ‘R’. Within moments, he was transported to a slightly dusty attic space, which was brightly lit and filled with organized chests and storage crates. Xyrnys, Virion, and Shadow filtered in behind him, the magical teleporter making a soft ‘whirr’ sound as each one arrived. “Right… Now that we’re all here… It’s good to see you again, ShadowHeart. You look well.”
The Kitsune smiled. “You as well, Khythos.”
“I hate to be abrupt,” Virion started, choosing a wooden box, and sitting cross-legged on the surface. “I’d like to get this over with. Before I start, were you able to get anything useful out of Wilrym Leomon?”
“Yes.” Khythos felt his gills twitch slightly. “He tried to be secretive, but he was more helpful than he meant to be.”
“At least you had more success than we did. Shadow agreed to help us, but Leona refused due to Entos’ involvement with the Blood Mages.” The sandy blond pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fool.”
He waved the irritation away with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “We anticipated the possibility; having one of them is better than nothing.”
Xyrnys nodded her agreement. “Exactly. Halafarin knows the bare minimum due to his inability to refrain from eavesdropping but has promised to stay out of it unless he gets dragged into battle.”
“And that’s if he actually keeps to it. He’s a stubborn old pixie.” Virion crossed his arms and sighed. His heart wasn’t into the barb; he truly was worried about his mentor. “I’m concerned that my vision may have to do with him. It reeked of death. There was also the scent of white peonies; those are rare, but they do grow in his forest. The scream I heard was distorted, but there was a flash of blond and the crashing of a corpse. I couldn’t see what the corpse looked like beyond a flash of color.” He clutched his arms loosely. “I was able to identify all of the deaths in the vision except for this one; I only know it’s someone we cherish. All of the sighs I was able to see match up with Halafarin.”
Khythos raised an eyebrow. “I don’t mean to backtrack, but there were multiple deaths? Virion, how many people died in your vision?”
“That would explain why we had to ground him.” Xyrnys left her mouth slightly agape as she processed the thought. “His soul was wounded; he could’ve managed on his own, but it would’ve drained him more. He felt too much with what, and who, he saw.”
“Indeed.” The Rhaeadran found himself picking at the peeling spot on his left horn. He knew he should just leave it alone so it could mend itself; he just couldn’t shake the anxious tick he’d always had but would never admit to. “If… you don’t mind me asking, who were these people, Virion? Who died in this vision that were able to tear your soul apart like this?”
The rambunctious Demi-God looked small as he lowered his head. Virion lifted his knees, resting his forehead upon them. His fists clutched his pant legs tightly. “I saw… a streak of pink, a flash of lightning, and a hole that showed me a missing heart. That one… was X.” He pretended to ignore the burning feeling of the sympathetic looks he was sure he was receiving. “Then… a wave of blue, and a wall of fire. A second hole and another missing heart… Khythos… That one was you, Khythos…”
“That’s two, Virion.” Khythos felt his heart skip a beat; what was scaring Virion so terribly? He was deliberately avoiding the last one. “Who was the third?”
Shadow placed a soothing hand near Virion’s leg, indicating that she was nearby. “Viri, it’ll be okay.”
He vigorously shook his head, never lifting it up from his knees. “No, it’s not okay. Everything feels wrong.” He took a deep breath. “I saw a bright glow, and suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced.”
Khythos’ eyes widened.
“Virion, it’s okay,” Xyrnys stated. “You don’t have say any more.”
“I couldn’t understand why at first,” he continued, as if Xyrnys had not spoken. “I didn’t see anything except for the light. When I looked down, I saw… nothing. My chest was empty.”
“Viri…” The Rhaeadran’s voice was low.
“My heart was gone… just like X. Just like Khythos. Just like whoever the fourth person was.” Virion finally lifted his head, his eyes threatening to spill unshed tears. “The third person I saw, Khythos… was me.”
Xyrnys’ motherly instincts kicked in the moment Virion shed his first tear. Part of her wished she could go back to the Lake of the Starbelt and ask Olotl what the hell he was thinking giving someone a power like this. Rationally, she knew she couldn’t; it wasn’t like Olotl would care anyway. He hadn’t had a vision this bad in a few hundred years anyway; they’d gotten lucky. Regardless, she remained alight with the rage of a thousand suns on the verge of explosion as she placed a hand on Virion’s shoulder and hugged him close. The moment wouldn’t last; Virion didn’t remain emotional for extended periods of time, but she knew he would be appreciative of the gesture. She didn’t need the ‘thank you’ she wouldn’t get.
“What bothers me the most is how much I still don’t understand.” Virion slowly moved away from Xyrnys as he began to calm down, keeping his face lowered. “The first person is still a mystery, and the person who caused all of this us unknown as well. I didn’t feel any auras for them.”
“As much as I had to say this, you’ll probably have a few more heavy visions before you find out.” Khythos clutched his cloak lightly. “You’ll get more information little-by-little, just like-”
“-like with Dark Lord Yzvan, yes.” The blond raised his head. His eyes were swollen, and his face stained with tears, but he overall looked more focused. Khythos hypothesized that the emotional outburst was holding him back. “Likewise, it’ll be just as unpleasant. At least now, I have dealt with the aftermath of heavy visions more than twice. Perhaps I’ll finally grow used to it.”
Xyrnys shook her head, offering a soft smile. “I don’t think so – I’m not sure it’s possible. If you did, you’d just stop feeling, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s the gimmick.”
Khythos snorted. “I can’t actually imagine you being emotionless, Virion. You may think you are, but you’re quite the opposite.”
The pink-eyed female chuckled; it was nice seeing Virion well enough to start an argument with Khythos. “Settle down, you two. Khythos, you said Wil gave you some information, correct?”
He nodded. “He was tinkering about in his workshop, as I thought he would be. I presented myself in my human form and he invited me inside like an old friend.”
“What did you see?”
“He had runes carved into the floor; I know they weren’t there the last time I visited. He was stationed at a workbench that stank of blood and death. Wilrym Leomon himself admitted that he is a Forgemaster of what they’re calling ‘Fusions’.” Khythos glanced at a flickering light on the ceiling. “Apparently, it’s the practice of using blood magic to combine animals and monsters. That’s what he told me, anyway. Theran Ocus has been assigning them to him.”
Virion’s interest peaked. “Wait, Wilrym’s taking orders from Theran now? I knew they were friends, and they worked together with blood magic, but Wil’s always preferred to work alone.”
“That’s what I thought. From what I found, however, he’s clueless when it comes to most of this. I find that more interesting than anything.” Khythos hummed. “It seems like Wil knows just enough to be useful, but not enough to betray any secrets. I didn’t ask him a lot, so I’m not sure that’s wholly the case, but I do have plans to visit him again when we’re done here.”
Xyrnys frowned. “Theran’s not a very secretive person, normally… He’s a terrible liar, too. Is it Entos’ doing? Theran and Wilrym could be working under Entos… Still, there’d have to be a chain of command… Entos as the leader, and Wilrym at the very bottom. That leaves Theran stuck in the middle.”
“Perhaps Lorne Castle should be our next stop, then.” Virion clenched his fists. “If we go right to the source, we can end this quickly. No one will miss Entos, save for Leona.”
“Virion, enough.” Xyrnys rolled her eyes. “We need to continue gathering information before we seek reasons to fight Entos. Let Khythos meet back up with Wilrym and gather more information.”
“I plan to head back to Owl Island,” Shadow noted. “While you three are gathering information, I want to try and talk to Leona on my own. If I present Khythos’ findings to her, perhaps she’ll open her mind more.”
“That’s a clever idea.” The other female nodded her agreement. “You should go with her, Virion. Shadow still can’t use her magic, and it’d be safer if you went along.”
Virion grumbled. “I’m not sure I’m really the person Leona wants to see right now. Why don’t you go instead? I can talk to Xamchi and the others here with Khythos when he gets back.”
Xyrnys shook her head, standing up. “You owe her an apology for overacting this afternoon. She owes you one, too. Plus, I’d rather ShadowHeart have backup in case she runs into any trouble.”
“…right.” He nodded, resigning. “We’ll head out at sunrise then, so I don’t tire her out.” He glanced at Shadow. “If that’s all right with you.”
Shadow glanced in Virion’s direction. “You don’t have to do that for my sake. Do what you must to make this easier on yourself.”
“I’ve already made up my mind.” Virion hopped off the chest he sat on. “Khythos plans to leave at nightfall – I’d rather us not be seen together while he’s in his human form.”
“All right. Sunrise it is.” Shadow sounded relieved.
“I’ll remain here and continue to look into our current theories, as well as the shift I felt earlier,” Xyrnys added. “Khythos can aid me once he returns from his errand. Hopefully, we can get an idea of what we’re dealing with before the problem gets worse.”
“I’ll head downstairs now,” Khythos stated. “I should start my transformation now so it’s ready before the moon’s peak.”
The Shadowborn nodded. Just as she opened her mouth to respond, her communication wristwatch began to glow. A scientist ID from the lower floors flashed on the screen, so she hit a button to answer. “Yes?”
[i “There’s an urgent call coming in from Xamchi. Shall I send the call through?”]
“Yes, please.” Xyrnys glanced at the others before looking back at the watch. Once she heard the call transfer tone, she said “Hello? Xamchi? It’s X.”
[i “Xyrnys? Thank Olotl. We have a problem.”]
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
[i “We’re all right, but we have a problematic case on our hands.”] There was some muffled shouting as Xamchi covered the microphone and shouted an order. [i “Wilrym Leomon just arrived at our door, half-dead. We need your help, or he’ll die.”]
Xyrnys’ eyes widened in alarm. “Pardon?”
From across the room, Khythos stopped and shifted his concern. “What happened to Wilrym, Xamchi?”
[i “We don’t know – he didn’t have the chance to tell us. He showed up at our door covered in blood and stab wounds. He said, ‘Help me’ and passed out right after. Cipher is doing everything he can, and Windberry is gathering supplies, but he won’t make it if you don’t help. I know you don’t like healing just anyone, but-”]
“Xamchi, calm down. We’re on our way.” Xyrnys took a deep breath. “Keep working on him until we get there.”
[i “Thank you. Please hurry!”]
“How could this have happened so quickly?” Khythos seemed panicked. “It must’ve happened right after I departed, or he’d never have made it here in that condition by now.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Xyrnys started. “But we need Wilrym Leomon. I don’t care if Olotl threatens to smite us – we’ll do everything we can to save him.”
Virion wished he could push the nausea aside.
The nausea from hearing the panicked thoughts in the room – the thoughts he did not consent to hearing. The upset of the vision that plagued him from earlier. The headache from the sheer amount of energy it takes to attempt to revive someone, especially when it fails. The dizziness from having to push forward regardless.
He knew Xyrnys and Khythos were feeling off too – the difference being they had a lesser burden at the current moment. Did they really, though? He thought suddenly? Perhaps Virion was just assuming they weren’t suffering. They could be in just as much pain, and he was simply being self-centered. Were the Ancients and the Avandians right about his selfish, rude behavior? Virion swallowed his discomfort, choosing to keep his turmoil to himself.
Wilrym Leomon had died just as they arrived to Xamchi’s base. The first revival had taken three minutes – and most of Virion’s remaining energy. Virion’s heart sank when Wil’s health declined again only two minutes later; try as they might to keep him alive, he died at the four-minute mark. Khythos was the obvious choice but was seldom allowed to be the first to revive someone. Olotl was a sick, twisted bastard, and he was sure they were already pressing their luck by reviving someone without permission. They’d let Khythos try last and avoid hellfire being reigned upon them.
Xyrnys was not a healer. Virion wasn’t either, admittedly; he was simply more practiced at it than Xyrnys was. Being the Keeper of Time, Xyrnys had no need to learn more than a basic amount of healing magic. Nevertheless, her best effort allowed her to revive Wil in five minutes’ time, and he passed only a minute after that.
Khythos, the Healer of Souls, was the best healer of the three. Normally, he was not permitted to heal anyone outside of themselves unless permitted to do so; the Demi-Gods had started to bend more rules as Olotl became more distant. With a hum, the Rhaeadran pulled Wil’s soul out of his body. The soul itself was cracked but still whole – something Virion or Xyrnys would never have been able to see, and the reason the previous revivals failed. A soft, sea-blue light shone from Khythos’ hands as he cupped the cracked soul, the pieces slowly and dutifully linking themselves back together. When he uncupped his hands, the soul looked brand-new. He placed Wil’s soul back into his body with practiced ease before enveloping him in a warm blue light. Slowly, Wil’s wounds began to heal. They did not disappear completely – Khythos did not often completely heal wounds – but healed enough to save Wil’s life. The light faded, and Khythos removed his hands.
The color began to return to Wil’s cheeks.
“Amazing.” Virion was always amazed by Khythos’ soul work; it was nearly enough to push his nagging nausea aside.
“Wilrym will be fine.” Khythos glanced over to Xamchi, who looked worried and exhausted. “You did well to manage his wounds for as long as you did. I was able to seal his wounds and rebuild some of his blood supply, but nothing further. He will wake in a great deal of pain; is there a place he can rest for a while?”
“Um… There’s an old outbuilding we lived in while we built the base. I can prepare a bed there.” Xamchi lowered his head. “I can’t begin to thank you enough.”
Virion nodded in response. “Xyrnys wasn’t lying when she said we needed Wil, but even so…” She glanced at his unconscious form. “I don’t think we’d let the guy die anyway.”
“What about Lord Olotl?” the alien questioned?
“To hell with Olotl.”
Khythos took a deep breath. “Relax. Regarding Wil, we can question him when he wakes. Unfortunately, I do not have the energy to change forms now, nor will I for some time.”
“I’ll do it, if you’d like.” Xyrnys offered. “Virion is Shadow’s escort to Owl Island, or I’d make him do it.”
“That would be preferable.” The Rhaeadran nodded gratefully. “If you need me, I’ll step in, of course. My identity remaining hidden doesn’t mean as much to me as finding out what the hell happened here.”
“Keep me updated, okay? Let me know when he wakes.” Virion glanced at the pair. “I’m going to head out now, since Khythos isn’t going anywhere.” He nudged Shadow. “Are you ready to go?”
“Huh?” Shadow looked up at Virion and nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’m ready.”
“Let’s go, then. I don’t want to travel during the day if I can avoid it, so I’d like to make it before sunhigh.” Virion walked out of Xamchi and Windberry’s base without another word, the early moonfall light touching his face. He swallowed back bile as a wave of nausea washed over him; he was grateful that the sun wouldn’t peak for a few hours yet. It would give him some time to figure out why he was still so dizzy before Shadow would be able to get a good look at him.
The black-haired mage kept up surprisingly well – she traveled often, and Kitsune could pass through rocky terrain with ease. Since Shadow’s magic had mysteriously vanished, she had been traveling on foot. She really did surprise him.
“Virion, are you feeling any better?” Shadow asked suddenly.
Virion forced himself to remain upright as an episode of vertigo slammed into him. “Much, thanks.”
“We could’ve rested more before heading out.” Shadow matched his pace easily. She wasn’t looking directly at him, not that she could’ve seen him in the darkness. “You three used a lot of magic to bring Wil back, and you were looking pale before we left.”
“I told you, I don’t want to travel during the day.” He swallowed. “Don’t worry too much; it’s a lingering after-effect of the vision I had earlier. I’ll be fine. I’m used to it.”
“You said earlier that you’ve only had that kind of vision twice. How can you be used to it?”
“There are different kinds of visions that cause these types of lingering reactions.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. Though the nausea remained, he began to think a bit more clearly. Was he being granted mercy? “It’s not the first time I’ve reacted like… this. The vertigo is nearly gone – I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.”
Shadow spared him a glance but nodded anyway. “Just tell me if we need to stop, all right? Unbelievably, even a Demi-God can feel weak sometimes.”
[i If only], he wanted to scoff, but he knew the Kitsune meant well. Virion would either recover and then have another vision or have another vision before he was able to. While neither was pleasant, he at least hoped he would get a moment of reprieve.
Just a moment.
[i “Just a moment.”]
[i Whose voice was that?] Virion thought. Suddenly, all he could see was black.
[i “????, what’s that?”
“Hold on, ???. Just a moment.”
Who are they?
“????, where did you go?”
“I’ll be right out, ???. Just a moment.”
Who are you?
“Are you sure we should split up, ????”
“We have to, ???. I have a feeling about this. Go and find ??????. I’ll be along. Just a moment.”
What’s going on…?!]
[i “Have you seen ????”
Who are these people? Why can’t they hear me?] He felt an intense sorrow pierce his chest, and he coughed violently. This sorrow – he’d felt similar before.
Virion looked around frantically, but everything was still black. The voices were monotone – he couldn’t tell if they were male or female. What was happening?
[i “????, no…”
“I’m sorry, ???... You’ll have to wait just a moment longer…”]
Khythos felt a tickling sensation on his face. Without giving it much thought, he lifted his hand to scratch at it, but was taken aback when it felt wet. He was further shocked when he looked at his hand and it was stained red. When had he started bleeding? He wasn’t hurt.
“Virion’s had another vision…” Xyrnys’ voice broke into his thoughts, and he glanced up at her. There were no physical signs of Virion’s trauma on her, but she was pale and horror-stricken.
“That would explain… this…” The Rhaeadran glanced at his blood-covered hand a moment longer. He mumbled a ‘thanks’ as Xamchi came around the corner with a rag. “Should we go find him?”
Xyrnys hesitantly shook her head. Khythos could tell she was fighting the urge to say yes. “He has ShadowHeart with him. He’ll be all right.”
“…All right. If I couldn’t feel his soul, I’d go anyway, but… it’s still intact. He’s not dead.” Still, Khythos pondered, what had happened this time? Had Virion been forced to suffer another vision so soon? He’d not had the chance to recover from the previous; hopefully Shadow could manage for them both. Virion wouldn’t be up for battle – or much else – until he was able to properly rest. “Why don’t we peek in on Wil?”
“Yeah.” The Shadowborn nodded along. Khythos could tell her heart wasn’t in it, but she hardly argued with him. The reason they’d split up was to get information from Wil while Shadow and Virion spoke with Leona. Though he would be weakened, Virion would have to fend himself. Khythos watched Xyrnys disappear beyond the door of the outbuilding while he remained in his spot outside.
It wasn’t long before Khythos heard screams of pain coming from inside, followed by Xyrnys’ panicked voice attempting to soothe him. No doubt Wil’s partially healed wounds were causing him agony. Xyrnys wouldn’t know how to handle the situation; Khythos would. He was torn, however; Wil was sure to recognize him by his hair and beard if he were to go inside now, but if things continued as they were, they wouldn’t make any progress. With the thrashing about he was sure Wil was doing, the mage would send himself into shock. Khythos didn’t have the energy to revive him again if he were to decline, and Xyrnys wouldn’t either.
His mind made up, he pushed his way into the small outbuilding, spotting Wil’s cot easily. Xyrnys was standing over him, trying to be gentle as she held him down. Olotl be damned – he was going to help Wil with what remaining energy he had. “I’m here.”
“Wait.” Xyrnys glanced at him. “What are you doing?”
“You need help; you won’t get anywhere like this. Olotl can fight me himself if he disagrees.” Though he normally avoided going against Olotl’s word, he was done playing the fool for an Overseer who didn’t care about a damned thing. Khythos shook his head, clearing his thoughts and placed his hands on Wil’s torso. The blond screamed at the new pressure on his stomach – the Rhaeadran did his best to ignore it. Closing his eyes, a blue light emitted from his hands and enveloped Wil’s body. It was a slightly different hue from the revival magic he used earlier – this was the same color as a clear night sky. “Relax, Wil. You’re going to be okay.”
Slowly, the screaming began to fade, transitioning to pained groans. Wil opened his eyes slowly, staring at the Rhaeadran. “Who… who are you? You…” He winced. “You look familiar…”
“…Khythos. My name is Khythos.”
“Khythos…?” Wil relaxed into the cot as Khythos removed his hands. His eyes still held pain within their slate gray depths, but he was much more relaxed than before. “I… always thought you were different. Now… now I know why.”
Xyrnys crossed her arms. She sent a sideways glance to Khythos but said nothing to him. Instead, she shifted her focus to Wil with a glare. “All right, Leomon. We helped you. Now what the hell brought you in here looking like you got ravaged by wolves?”
Wil scoffed. “I wish it was as gentle… as that…” He just shook his head. “It… it was nothing. Just forget it.”
“You don’t have that option. Wilrym.” Her pink eyes glowed dangerously as she stepped closer. “I got a panicked call from Xamchi asking for help because he was worried you were going to die. Windberry and Cipher wore themselves out working on you until we got here. Khythos gave up hiding his identity from you to heal you against Olotl’s word. Virion is probably passed out in a field somewhere because – between helping us revive you and the soul-draining virions he’s been having – he’s practically an Exiled Soul. You’re going to tell us what the hell happened, and you’ll tell us now.”
Khythos raised his hand. “Xyrnys, relax.” He pulled an empty wooden crate closer to Wil’s cot and took a seat. “Wil… Don’t think stupid of me. ‘Nothing’ wouldn’t have killed you three times over.”
“Three…?” The mage paled.
“Three. We had to revive you three times to get you to the state you regained consciousness in.”
“We need to know what happened to you. I planned to visit you on my way home, as I promised, but… that doesn’t matter now.” Khythos shook his head. “Please. Who did this? It would’ve had to have been someone crafty to catch you off-guard like that.”
“It was… Ocus. Theran Ocus…” Wil struggled to sit up, breathing heavily as he leaned against the wall. His unhealed wounds screamed in agony as he shifted. “He… showed up… shortly after-” He hissed in pain, grabbing his left side. “Shortly after you… departed for here.”
“Wil, lay back down.” Xyrnys switched from angry to concerned. “You’re going to agitate the wounds Khythos didn’t heal.”
He glanced over to Khythos. “He… he knew about you.. toughing that chest, somehow… I didn’t… know how at first. You didn’t… open it. Didn’t touch anything… inside… Now that I know… who you are... It all makes sense… Tainted…”
Khythos frowned. “What was tainted?”
“The items… in the chest… apparently… Ocus said… the items were tainted… Your magic must’ve… tainted them… and prevented them from being… used for blood magic. That’s my… theory anyway…”
[i That… could’ve been the pull I felt when I touched it. I must’ve been unconsciously destroying the ritual items…] “Perhaps.” Khythos placed a hand on Wil’s shoulder, pushing him back down gently. “Take it easy. I’m low on energy and can’t spare any more to heal you if you hurt yourself further. Olotl hasn’t scorned us yet for healing you, either – he’s either not paying attention or knows we need you.”
The blond took a deep breath and glanced at the ceiling. His gray eyes were tired and empty. “I wasn’t lying when I said… I didn’t know what was in the chest. I still… I still don’t… Ocus turned on me, blaming me for not… taking better care of his things. I think he was… under pressure or something… He never would’ve reacted… like that… over some items. Regardless… we got into a fight, and well… you know how that turned out. He’s still licking his own wounds, I bet.”
“I’m sorry, Wil.” Khythos lowered his head. “If I’d never been interested in that chest, this could’ve been avoided.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t… your fault. It was bound to happen… eventually.” Wil frowned and shrugged lightly. “I wasn’t… useful for much.”
The Rhaeadran bit back a growl. “Nonsense.” He stood. “You should get some more rest. Xyrnys and I will track down Theran Ocus and decide the next steps. I’ll let Xamchi and Windberry know you’re awake as well.”
“You… don’t think I’m lying?”
“Why would I?”
“I’m a Blood Mage. Just like Entos… and Ocus…” Wil glanced at the two Demi-Gods. “What reason do you have to believe me?”
Xyrnys sighed. “Honestly, we really don’t, but look at the state of you. I can’t see you taking a hit like that to try and fool us. We revived you too many times for that.”
“You also don’t seem to know as much as the others do.” Khythos hummed. “Which means either Entos or Theran holds the key to this operation. You told us more than enough for us to trust you for now.”
“Right.” He nodded, relaxing once more. “Thank you.”
Khythos turned out of the outbuilding, Xyrnys close behind him. As soon as he heard the female close the door, he felt his outer gills twitch with irritation. “His own comrade, someone who used to be his best friend, turned on him over some tainted tools… What could’ve been so bloody important that he had to-”
“Kyth, calm down. You didn’t know.” Xyrnys’ face fell. “Virion and Shadow will be able to track us when they’re done – why don’t we head towards Theran’s old base and see if he’s around?”
“Yeah, let’s do that.” The Rhaeadran’s blue eyes were filled with an unreadable expression. “I think it’s time we all had a talk.”
Nausea. Headache. Dizziness. The smell of rainwater. A damp feeling that penetrated his skin through his clothing, ghosting his bones. He was wet.
Wait. Why was he wet?
Virion opened his eyes – which took more effort than he initially thought it would – and took in the room. It was kept dimly lit by a lantern in the corner, but there were no windows to look outside. He didn’t need the visual conformation; he could hear heavy rain battering the room of wherever he was. He winced as he heard a crash of thunder; the sound did not help his drumming headache. It must’ve started raining on him and Shadow as they made their way here. His clothes weren’t heavily soaked, but they were wet to the touch and felt slightly weighted. Had he been asleep long? Had Shadow walked for miles through the pouring rain carrying his unconscious body?
Oh, Olotl. Where was Shadow? Was she all right? Some bodyguard he was.
Carefully, the blond rose, ignoring the creeping return of the vertigo. Two rough-hitting visions in a fleeting period would make staying upright tough for him until he was able to rest for a while. Hopefully he would be able to before he experienced another.
Through the dim light, he spotted the glimmer of a doorknob and pushed, blinding himself with the light from the next room. The headache worsened, reminding him that it, too, was still there, throbbing vigorously.
“Oh, Virion. Thank Olotl you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
Hearing Shadow’s gentle voice was enough to momentarily relax him – she was all right. Unfortunately, it was also enough to remind him how well he wasn’t feeling at the current moment, and he gagged. Ignoring Shadow’s concerned calls, he spotted the pair of glass doors that lead to the balcony and charged through them, running onto the rain-soaked balcony, and hanging over the rail.
Virion couldn’t tell if he felt slightly better because he vomited or because the pounding rain felt therapeutic; he was only certain he no longer wanted to do anything. He kept his eyes closed as he hung over the railing. The rain poured steadily, his hair drooping over his closed eyelids and plastering itself onto his face. The epitome of vanity, Virion of the Land, looked like a run-down mess.
“I don’t think he’s well, Shadow.”
Leona’s voice was the next he registered – all he could do in return was let out a small, barely audible groan. At least they’d safely made it to Owl Island, but that would’ve meant Shadow was burdened with carrying him the entire way. He’d have to apologize later if he remembered. The stress and anxiety of his burden caused him to vomit again, his stomach clenching uncomfortably. His thoughts were jumbled as he tried to block out the worried ones from Leona and Shadow. All he wanted was everything – the vomiting, the visions, his thoughts – to just stop.
Virion spat the remaining bile out of his mouth and lifted his head slightly. Shadow and Leona stood by the open balcony doors. The Kitsune looked worried, a frown etched into her face, and Leona’s brows were knitted in concern. “Stop looking at me like I’m going to die.”
“I really thought you were going to die, Virion!” Shadow snapped, bearing her sharp canines. “We were walking, everything was fine, and suddenly you’re collapsing onto the ground! You vomited before I got to you and there was blood pouring from your nose. You looked like a ghost; I thought something awful had happened and you wouldn’t make it.”
“I’m…” Virion hung his head. “I’m sorry.” He clutched the railing tightly as he coughed, which then turned to dry heaving. His body had nothing left to expel, yet it continued to try. Once the dry heaving spell passed, he said “It happens if I have visions and I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I shouldn’t have kept it from you. I’m sorry.” The guilt plaguing his mind did not help his symptoms, and he took a deep breath.
“You had another one?” The black-haired female’s anger melted instantly. “No, I’m sorry, then. I didn’t ask, and I should’ve known you were tired.” She then let out a half-hearted chuckle. “I was going to apologize for your clothes being damp; it started raining just as we reached the island. It doesn’t much matter now, does it?”
Leona hummed. “Why don’t you come inside, Viri? You should dry off and try to relax. Maybe you could talk to us about the vision.”
“I can’t. Not until I understand it better myself.” He shook his head. “It didn’t… make a lot of sense. Monotone voices with no gender, pain, and sorrow. That’s… all I understood. It’s the same pain as the first death.”
“The… first death?” The blonde female looked confused and concerned.
Shadow shook her head. “Not now, Lee.” She glanced at Virion. “You should come inside anyway.”
“I’m fine out here, thanks.” He pushed himself up and crossed his arms on the wooden railing, resting his head on his wet jacket sleeve. “I’m just going to get sick anyway.” He heard a crash of thunder; it was closer this time. The storm was picking up. “I’m… sorry if I was out of line before, Leona.”
“What’s done is done.” Leona just shrugged. “I’m sure I overreacted anyway.”
Virion chuckled dryly, saying nothing as the thunder crashed again. It felt as if the storm was right above them. If he got hit by lightning, it would kill him; would he recover faster if he were to return to the Lake of the Starbelt? He did heal easier in Pura. Khythos would not be happy to hear how he died when he repaired his soul, however.
“You’re not doing yourself any favors by keeping yourself in the pouring rain.” Suddenly, Virion felt himself being pulled away from the rail. He had to steady himself through the dizzying swirls his vision created as he was pulled from the balcony and back into the main room. He barely made out that it was Shadow who was pulling him along. “I know you can’t really ‘get sick’ like we can, but you won’t recover any faster by keeping yourself wound up. If you vomit again, we’ll get you a bucket. Take a deep breath, all right? Let us help you for a change.”
“I don’t-” He gagged as foul-tasting bile rose in his throat, but he forced it back down. He was exhausted. “I don’t want help. I can take care of myself.” His mouth held a foul taste and his tongue felt dry and heavy. Would his suffering ever end? Virion’s brooding was interrupted when he felt something soft connect with his face – a fluffy blue towel. “What’s this for?”
“To dry off with, idiot.” Leona rolled her eyes. “What do you think? You’re dripping all over my floor and stinking up the place.”
Rolling his eyes, he forced himself to bite back a small grin. While he still felt like he’d been run over by a herd of buffalo, the gentle barb was welcome normalcy. “That was rude.” He fluffed his sodden hair with the towel, using the wall for support to remain upright. The wool felt cool on his warm skin. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
“You didn’t even come here of your own volition. You were carried.” It was Shadow’s turn to roll her eyes, the bright blue orbs twinkling with a bit of laughter. “Just ignore him, Lee. We’re here on business. I wanted to personally request your help. We need you to help figure out what’s going on.”
“I just… I don’t know, Shadow…” Leona’s eyes drifted to a glass terrarium hanging from the ceiling. She looked small. Defeated. “I can’t… I can’t hurt Entos.”
Virion was plagued with her thoughts of Entos – the pain between having to choose between her love for Entos and helping the Demi-Gods. It caused the nausea to return and his headache to throb violently. He couldn’t very well tell her to turn her feelings off but he very well wanted to. He settled for sliding down the wall, sitting on the floor, and covering his face with the towel as he closed his eyes. The lack of light helped, at least.
“You didn’t hear what Khythos had to say,” she argued back. Shadow was never afraid to speak up, no matter to whom she was talking. “He visited Wilrym Leomon today and managed to get information out of him.”
The Land Demi-God briefly removed the towel, revealing one barely-open eye. “Wil doesn’t know too much; he only told him that Entos and Theran Ocus were assigning him the tasks of a forgemaster. Either Theran is working for Entos, or vice versa.”
Leona blinked. “What do you mean were? Don’t they still work together?”
“I’d assume not, considering Wil’s half dead at Windberry’s place right now.”
“Goodness. What happened?”
“Xyrnys and Khythos are looking into it. That’s why I’m here by myself.” Virion replaced the towel to his face. “They said they’d update me via the weird comm watches X’s scientists made when they got more info. We have a feeling he might’ve told Khythos too much when they met earlier today, and someone found out.”
The blonde sighed heavily. “I can’t imagine Entos wanting to hurt Leomon, but still… If he’s desperate to keep a secret…” Leona shook her head. “All right… I’ll assist you in any way I can. What would you like me to do?”
“You have dirt on Entos that the rest of us don’t. We can start there.” He lazily flopped his arm. “After that, we can track him down at his castle in Lorne.” His watch dinged, and he went silent for a moment as he lifted the towel to read the message on the screen.
“I do have dirt on Entos, but… It just doesn’t feel right to give it up.”
Shadow placed a comforting hand on Leona’s shoulder. “You’re doing the right thing, Lee. If we can help him now, we may be able to save him and bring him back home.”
She nodded. “I hope so.”
“Khythos just messaged me,” Virion interrupted, revealing half of his face once more. “He and Xyrnys are heading to Staram hideout to find Theran – it’s where he used to practice magic with Gaedulus and Vaereda.” He leaned back. “Wil woke up and once he settled down, he told them that Theran was who attacked him.”
Shadow hummed. “They’re allies, though… This certainly changes things… Very well, then. We’ll track Theran and Entos after you’ve had the chance to rest a bit. You’re useless as you are right now.”
“That wasn’t nice.” Virion huffed but didn’t argue otherwise. He knew Shadow was right; if he didn’t rest while he could, he could die, and Pura was easier to get into than out of. A break sounded nice, regardless.
[i The scent of white peonies wafted through the air.]
Peonies. Where was the scent of peonies coming from? A sharp pain stabbed through his skull as he processed the thought. Virion knew they didn’t grow on Owl Island; the ground was too marshy. With slow, careful movement, he pushed his vertigo aside and stood up, walking towards the balcony doors. The rain still poured in sheets, pelting the outside ground. The white peonies were symbolic; they were recurring in every recent vision. What exactly did they mean, and who did they represent?
“There’s been a shift again.”
Xyrnys glanced over at her blue-skinned partner, who had halted all activity. He held a distant look in his eyes. “Yeah, I felt it too. It’s been happening consistently over the past few moons.”
“Not that. This feels different from the rest.” Khythos shook his head. “This feels less angry. More… focused. Pleasant.”
“It couldn’t be regarding anything Entos or Theran, then.” Xyrnys crossed her arms, forcing her breathing to slow so it matched Khythos’ own. Her eyes slipped closed, and her vision shifted from darkness to strings of intangible light. The flow of magic and energy – every individual strand – was accessible to her. Khythos could feel them but could not see them like Xyrnys could. The strand he’d felt stood out from the rest, and the Shadowborn wanted nothing more than to reach out and grasp it tightly. It felt warm, like home. “I saw it. It’s familiar.”
The Rhaeadran hummed his agreement. “I thought so. Were you able to sense exactly who it was?”
She went to answer when the skies opened suddenly, drenching the two unsuspecting Demi-Gods with torrential rain. “No,” she finally answered. “I still sense it, but there are too many things around us interfering.” Xyrnys appeared frustrated as she opened her eyes. “The feeling it gave me… it felt like a warm embrace.”
“To me, it was like a field of wildflowers. Strong, resilient, and free.” Khythos glanced at her. “You must relate to them on a more personal scale if you compare them to such a warm feeling. Who would you consider yourself the closest to?”
“That’s what’s bothering me the most.” She moved her soaked bangs out of her face as she carried on, flying closer to the ground to avoid being struck by lightning. “It’s not an intimate warmth, but more of a gentle guidance.”
Khythos hummed. “Could it be Olotl?”
She shook her head. “Surely not! His magic wavelength doesn’t exist down here as a single strand, but as several thousand of them. Even if it was possible, Olotl doesn’t feel anything towards us.” Xyrnys listened to the thunder rumble as she let the feeling sink in. A wildflower. Strong. Resilient. Free. “I think it’s Gaia’s.”
“Gaia… It’s been three hundred years since you two have seen each other in person, and probably just as long since you’ve spoken.” The Rhaeadran glanced at the sky, flinching as raindrops got caught in his eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Not completely, but it makes the most sense. Perhaps she’s in the area for something.”
“It’s possible she’s felt what’s going on. She worked closely with Serelyn and Halafarin, after all.”
Xyrnys rolled her eyes. “Or Halafarin got grumpy and told her something, the spiteful old elf. He’s likely still sore with us because we’re refusing to let him get involved; perhaps this is how he’s involving himself.”
“We’ll find out soon enough; Serelyn will likely be along if that’s the case.” Khythos looked pleased – whether it was the prospect of seeing Serelyn again or the active rain was beyond Xyrnys. “We speak often, but I haven’t seen her in a while.”
She hummed, signaling she’d heard him, but had nothing further to say. The rain picked up the closer they got to Theran’s old hideout – Staram Fields. Was it foreshadowing or merely coincidence? The aura she was picking up as she traveled certainly pointed towards the former, though she couldn’t say it with certainty.”
“X, perhaps we should have Virion and Shadow meet us in this area first.”
The Rhaeadran’s suggestion arrived out of nowhere, though Xyrnys couldn’t find herself disagreeing with it. “That’d be wise – we can exchange information and see how Virion is fairing.” She wouldn’t admit it aloud, but she was concerned for the feisty Demi-God. Hopefully he was able to recover some energy and get his spunk back.”
Khythos nodded. “My thoughts exactly. I’ll send a message to him; perhaps they’ll avoid traveling until the rain lets up.”
“Unlikely, unless Shadow, and possibly Leona, have anything to say.” She rolled her eyes. Even when he wasn’t at his best, Virion was terribly stubborn. “The girls will have to convince him to stay put.”
The pink-eyed female landed in wet grass as the terrain shifted. The more forested area of Staram Fields allowed them better protection from the lightning, though they’d have to be careful to avoid flying into the low-hanging branches. It wasn’t a well-kept forest these days; since Gaedulus and Vaereda had died, leaving Theran alone, he’d not bothered to maintain it.
She remembered the landmarks well enough, despite how worn-down they were getting. The half-tree Vaereda accidentally created when learning to cast fire spells, Gaedulus’ broken runes, and Theran’s practice sketches carved into trees. What Xyrnys wouldn’t give to return to the days when the three mages practiced elemental magic and created art. She mourned the loss of their innocence.
There was no turning back now.
Theran’s base had seen better days; the outside was covered in vines and moss, and some of the windows had started to crack. It had been five years since Gaedulus and Vaereda had gone. Had it truly been that long since Blood Magic had tainted the planet? Xyrnys must’ve lost track of time.
In all honesty, it wasn’t the best thing for a Timekeeper to do.
It was still well-lit on the outside and the inside, signaling that Theran at least used the space. The light would keep night and darkness-dwelling monsters from inhabiting it; it was impossible for the rickety base to support him as a living space. He had to be using it for storage at this point, worn down as it was. The broken windows had been covered from the inside with wooden planks, only one on the front still open to the outside. Whether it was to keep the stuff inside protected or hidden was up for debate – what would he need to hide? “Did you manage to get a hold of Virion?”
Khythos hummed in the affirmative. “Yes. He will be along; he didn’t say if he was on his way or not. Typical.”
“That confirms he’s not dead, at the very least.” Xyrnys did a quick scan of the area. She didn’t see Theran in the surrounding vicinity, and she didn’t feel his aura nearby. It was safe to go inside. “Let’s go. I don’t know how much time we have here.”
The Rhaeadran nodded. “Right.”
Virion was tired, but he felt better overall.
He wasn’t comfortable keeping Xyrnys and Khythos comfortable waiting because he was exhausted. It took a bit of convincing, but he was able to reassure Leona and Shadow that he was fit to go. He was much better off; though he was still trying to keep the headache at bay, the nausea and the vertigo were gone.
Virion was fine.
He scoffed to himself. Fine was such a loose term. He could classify a natural disaster as fine and it’d take too long to identify the criteria to argue it. Did Virion fall under that category, though? Or had he gone beyond even that?
The rain was light but steady, the clouds in the distance promising that the storm was nearing its end. For Shadow and Leona’s sake, Virion flew close to the ground, keeping them sheltered in as much tree cover as he could. Leona flew on a standard White Mage’s broom, Shadow running along at a steady pace. Her lack of magic certainly did not put the Kitsune at a disadvantage. With their haste, they made it off Owl Island quickly, and were headed in the direction of Theran’s territory.
He did not miss this place.
Truthfully, Virion had never been to Staram Plains in person. He had seen it twice in vividly clear visions – once when Vaereda’s fate was determined, and again when Gaedulus’ was. He did not miss the dread he associated with the area. He hadn’t known how to find the two at the time to save them; could he have even if he had known? From what he’d heard, the two were mad with power and didn’t bother to think of the consequences.
Why was he thinking so hard? It wasn’t helping his headache in the slightest.
“If I remember correctly, Theran’s old hideout was located right in the middle of Staram Plains.” Leona’s voice was calm and confident. Was she attempting to soothe him? “It’s a thickly-wooded area and very remote – it’s likely how they went undetected with Blood Magic so long.”
“That’s why it’s also the best place to hide anything that needs to stay hidden.” Virion rolled his eyes. “X said there was a half-burned tree close to their base; if we find it, we’re on the right track.”
Shadow looked up. “Do you know why?”
He shrugged. “Honestly, I’ve never been out this way. My haunting grounds are closer to Xamchi’s base. I think Xyrnys mentioned a magic accident when Vaereda was still a young mage, but I could be wrong.” Virion left out that his knowledge of the area came from visions that still haunt him daily, fresh as the first day he got them. He would never admit a weakness like that. He was here on business, anyway.
“Hold up, there’s someone out here.” Leona slowed her flight, looking out into the thick trees. “Should I go take a look?”
“What? No, I will.” Virion pushed the uneasy thoughts out of his head and landed, hearing a soft ‘squish’ sound as he sank slightly into the saturated grass. “Stay here – I won’t be long.”
Leona sent him a look. “Be careful.”
He sent her a grunt of appreciation but didn’t bother taking it to heart. The aura he and Leona were feeling didn’t seem dangerous to him, but rather the opposite. It was wild and excitable, like an ocelot, roaming the jungle. Dangerous if provoked, docile if left alone. Just who was it? Why did it feel familiar?
As he slowly neared the source of the aura, a voice sounded “Is someone out there?”
The voice was female, soft like silk with a slight Eastern accent. [i A female voice with an accent belonging to the Eastern continents…] There were only two people he could think of, but the aura he was feeling was not strong enough to be the first name that came to mind.
He decided to risk the second. “Jyn?” he called out. “Jyn, is that you? It’s Virion.”
“Virion of the Land?” There was the sound of shuffling grass and shifting raindrops before a red-haired female emerged. Her eyes were as green as the grass itself, and full of wisdom beyond her age. “What are you doing out here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, J.” Virion crossed his arms. “You’re quite far from the East.”
Jyn nodded. “It’s strange out here. I forget that the leaves only turn four colors out here; it’s rather shocking when coming from Flora.”
“You’re avoiding my question.”
“You avoided mine first, Reader of Minds.”
Virion grunted. He heard Leona and Shadow shifting through the underbrush to catch up to him – didn’t they know how to listen? “If I had to hazard a guess – or listen to your thoughts that are rudely intruding in on my own – you’re here because Gaia and Serelyn got word from Halafarin about the ongoing investigation into the Blood Mages.”
“I hate when you do that.” Jyn shuddered. “Lady Gaia told me to keep it from you.” Glancing over Virion’s shoulder, she saw Shadow and Leona come into view. “ShadowHeart, Sister Leona, I didn’t know you two were here as well.”
“We’re traveling with Virion.” Shadow responded with a bow. “It’s good to see you again, Jyn.”
“Look, we really don’t have time to catch up right now.” Virion rubbed his temples, his headache returning vigorously. “You’re traveling with Gaia, aren’t you? Is she close by?”
Jyn shook her head. “No, she’s off investigating elsewhere. She didn’t tell me where she was going. She just told me to investigate this area or find one of you.”
Leona frowned. “Strange. Lady Gaia doesn’t like traveling alone.”
[i I’ll bring it up to X when we meet up, if Jyn doesn’t.] The male Demi-God shook his head. “We’re on our way to Theran Ocus’ old hideout. You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Good. You lead the way.” Virion turned the redheaded female around, gently guiding her in the right direction. “I’ve never been to this part of the forest and I don’t care to learn it. We’re meeting X and Khythos at the base.”
Jyn leapt ahead, hopping on her winged staff to take slow flight. “Don’t be so pushy, Virion. Follow me.”
He let Shadow and Leona get ahead of him and he took up the rear at a snail’s pace. Gaia had arrived, then. Serelyn was likely to show up. Halafarin was, as far as he could tell, staying out of it as promised. The smell of white peonies haunted him once more, wafting in front of his nose. He shook his head. If the peonies didn’t mean Halafarin, did they mean Gaia? It didn’t make much sense to him – unlike Halafarin, Gaia was still in a young body and was more than capable of taking a few hits.
[i It could mean Jyn…] He glanced over to the young redhead. Though Jyn was a capable white mage, she wasn’t as skilled as Leona or Gaia. She was more skilled in minor healing magic. Everything fits, but the blonde…
Was the blond streak there to signify his own death?
Khythos wasn’t expecting to find much when they entered the small, worn-down shack.
Between him and Xyrnys, they’d managed to identify a few runes – also finding a few they’d have to investigate further – and locate some materials used for blood magic. Nothing of use so far. Would they find anything here? Was calling Virion, Shadow, and Leona out here a waste of time? He didn’t bother putting much thought into it. It was done.
The rain had stopped; Xyrnys had gone back outside to look for any hidden entrances. It wouldn’t be unlike Theran to have secrets within his secrets; he’d always been crafty, even before his Blood Mage days. Khythos had chosen to stay behind and see if there was anything else of use within the base, and it was looking as if he’d hit a dead end.
Until a stack of papers under a broken lantern caught his eye.
With unfiltered curiosity, the Rhaeadran cast the lamp aside and took hold of the worn-out parchment. The pages before him had spells written in messy scrawl. Most of the spells were basic blood spells – binding a foe with runes, erasing memories, putting a creature to sleep, and using blood as a weapon. The last page, in a different handwriting Khythos did not recognize, had a spell he had only seen a few times in the past.
[i “Audite verba haec: audiat clamorem meum: spiritus ex alia parte. Veni ad me, conjuro te transire nunc divide magna.”]
The blue-skinned male read the words several times, tracing the letters slowly. A spell to summon the dead? There was no mistaking the handwriting was different and the page was significantly newer. Had Entos tried using this spell? The other handwriting was Theran’s without a doubt – did this belong to Entos? Had the spell worked? Who, or what, was Entos trying to bring back? Was he just trying to learn the spell for educational purposes? The Dead Summons spell was imperfect when written properly – the reanimated remained in a zombie-like body and couldn’t survive without a secondary life force.
Did Wil forge monsters for Entos specifically for this purpose?
“X told me I could find you in here.”
The suddenness of Virion’s loud voice caused Khythos to jump, sending the papers in his hands flying into the air. “I would much rather you get my attention more subtly next time, you rapacious rogue.” The barbed insult flew out of his mouth before he could stop himself; he instantly regretted saying anything at all.
Virion took a step back, unoffended. “Hey there, take it easy Kyth. I didn’t think I’d scare you.”
“…my apologies.” The Rhaeadran coughed. “There were some rather unpleasant thoughts going through my mind. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I can’t say it’s the worst I’ve been called.” He shook his head, chuckling a bit. “What’s got you so anxious?”
“I’m not anxious, per say, but take a look at this.” Khythos picked up the page with the Dead Summons spell and handed it to Virion. “This was written recently.”
He scanned the page, his brow furrowed in thought. “A summoning spell? It’s missing the protection runes and the chant to go with it. Either they’re confident that nothing will go wrong, or they have no idea what they’re doing.”
“Those were the only things I could think of.”
Virion scratched his head. “We should take it back to X’s lab and look into it.”
“Right.” He nodded and ticked the page into his gi. “It definitely looked strange. Something’s wrong with it.”
“I mean, it’s practically a sentient zombie spell. There’s a lot wrong with it.”
Khythos rolled his eyes but offered a quick smirk in response. It was nice, the slice of normalcy in this strange, hectic cycle of their lives. Virion was still worn down and Khythos was concerned, but for that moment, it felt like nothing was wrong.
“The spell is incomplete,” Xyrnys noted, glancing at the paper. “I can’t read all of it because I’m not thoroughly practiced in this particular language, but are you sure it’s a Dead Summons?”
Khythos nodded. “Certain. One can, theoretically, use it without the protection. It’s just highly dangerous, and normally backfires.” He hummed. “Which is why it doesn’t make sense.”
She scanned the page again with careful eyes. “Would protection runes vanish after a spell like this was used?”
“I’m not sure. Are you suggesting that they’ve used the spell already?”
“It’s just a theory.” Xyrnys set the sheet down. “It could also be a rough draft, or just for education, as you said earlier. Why don’t we see if Wil is feeling well enough to look?” Glancing around the room, she asked “Where’s Virion?”
“Rooftop. Said he’d nap better up there.”
Xyrnys rolled her eyes. “Of course he is. At he’s attempting to rest. We can talk to Wil without him.”
“X, how often does Gaia travel alone?”
Xyrnys turned to Khythos and narrowed her eyes as she absorbed the question. “That’s a specific question. Any reason?”
Khythos grunted. “Jyn is here without her. Who else does Gaia usually travel with now that ShadowHeart frequents these parts? You and I both know she doesn’t like traveling by herself.”
“She could have parted with Jyn to meet up with Serelyn?” Xyrnys didn’t sound reassured. “I haven’t spoken to her in a long time, as you said before. I’m not sure what her motives are.”
“Jyn didn’t know anything, either. We didn’t ask about Serelyn, though.” He stood. “We’ll ask her when we meet up with the others at Xamchi’s place.”
She nodded. “Right.” The Shadowborn exited the lab ahead of Khythos, glancing up at the roof. Virion had been through quite an ordeal in the past twelve hours – hopefully the rest would do him some good.
A rustle in the distance caught her attention, and she turned her head towards the forest. Xyrnys saw nothing immediately and shook her head. Convinced she was hearing things, she went to turn back when a tuft of blond caught her eye. It was only a glance, but it was familiar. Only one person wore their hair like that. “Viri?” she questioned. Hadn’t Khythos said he was on the roof? Curiosity catching up to her, she headed in the direction the blond had disappeared in.
“X?” Khythos’ voice was beginning to fade. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back. Just talk to Wil.” Xyrnys teleported away as Khythos called out to her again. Though she’d only ended up at the opening Virion had gone through, she would be able to catch up to Virion faster. She’d explain everything to Khythos later.
“Virion?” Her voice was loud but did not echo through the thick leaf cover. “It’s Xyrnys.” She spotted him brushing through some branches to the North of her; he didn’t even stop to move them out of his way. “Virion, wait!”
She teleported again to catch up to him, but he continued as if she hadn’t said anything. He didn’t even appear to notice she was there. Frustrated, Xyrnys teleported in front of him. “Viri!” The words faded into a gasp. The blond’s eyes were open but glassed over and unfocused. There was horror buried in his irises. Was he stuck in a vision? He’d never looked like this before.
Virion pushed into her, brushing past as she was knocked aside. He couldn’t see her in the dreamlike-state he was in or didn’t care to.
Catching back up to him, she grabbed him by the arm. “Where are you even going?” Virion just struggled against her grip. He would’ve woken up if she’d physically stopped him during a vision. This was something else.
Something, or someone, was luring him.
[i The grass before him was splattered with blood. Virion felt his heart race as he followed the splatter, anything outside of his point-of-view gray, bland, and out-of-focus.
“You’re getting closer, Virion. Keep going.”
The voice. Where was it coming from? As he followed the bloodied grass, which grew more gruesome as he walked, grew louder. If he continued this path, would he finally seek the answers he’s been after?
The path began to lace with stained, torn peony petals. Virion was close.
“You’re closer than you think.”
The voice knew how eager he was. He looked up and saw a faint green light. Had he seen green before?
“You can trust it.”]
[i Virion wasn’t sure how honest the voice was, but he was tempted. The words were like a sweet melody, wrapping themselves around his brain.
Something felt wrong. Visions didn’t feel like this. This felt almost pleasant. He wanted to feel frightened, but he couldn’t.
His boots became stained with blood as the terrain shifted to red. The grass was no longer visible, only a pool of blood with peony petals afloat the surface.
The green light was getting brighter, but he was still too far. He needed to see. Needed to] know.
Virion snapped out of his stupor when he felt a sharp slap sting his face. Hissing in pain, he whipped his head around to find the perpetrator. “X!” he growled, spotting the female. Her hand was still slightly raised. “What the hell was that for?!”
“I didn’t know how else to get you back!” she snapped. “A ‘thank you’ would be a good start!”
“For what?! I was so close to seeing what I needed!”
“You were being lured by something, Virion!” Xyrnys’ eyes burned into his. Her cursed eye looked as if it was alight with flame. “If I hadn’t stopped you, something likely would’ve killed you!”
It was only then that Virion realized he was no longer on the roof of the lab, but in the middle of the outlying forest. His face became taught with confusion. “When did I get out here? What are you talking about?”
Xyrnys took a deep breath as the male Demi-God started to piece the situation together. “I was stepping out of the lab with Khythos when I saw you head out here in my peripherals. If I hadn’t seen you, I’m not sure I would’ve noticed you were gone in time to save you. Your eyes were glazed over – that doesn’t happen during normal visions. You were being lured out here for a purpose, Viri.”
He felt tired as everything began to set in. “How could I… How could I let this happen?”
“Your defenses are down because you’re weakened.” She frowned. “We should get back. Khythos and I were going to talk to Wil about the spell.”
Virion shook his head. He felt an angry darkness in the pit of his stomach. “I think whatever tried to trick me is still out here.” A growl rumbled in his throat. “I don’t appreciate it when others try to get the upper hand on me.”
Xyrnys sighed. “I’ll go with you, then. You’re doing better, but you’re still too tired to handle a fight on your own.”
“Fine.” Virion lifted himself off the ground and took low flight through the forest, heading in the direction he’d been pulled toward in his ‘vision’. He felt his stomach twist into knots as he pushed forward. What was unsettling him?
He knew he was close when the smell of blood hit his nose.
His flight faltered as his vision blurred and he became lightheaded; he felt himself hit the ground and bounce forward a short distance.
“Virion! Are you okay?!”
Xyrnys’ concerned call reached him, but he didn’t waste the energy responding. Virion blinked slowly, his vision returning with each flutter of his eyelids. He looked down; he’d landed in a puddle of blood. If he’d been feeling better, he’d bother to make a fuss about his overcoat getting stained.
He just didn’t care right now.
Xyrnys appeared next to him, the telltale sound of a Shadowborn teleport giving away her arrival. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“…just got dizzy.” He stood, grateful that he was steady. Xyrnys wouldn’t say anything should he falter, but he didn’t want her silent pity. “What caused this?”
“We should go back and get Khythos…” Xyrnys sounded firm. “I ghosted him to find you, but he should see this, too.”
Virion shook his head. “You can get him if you want. I need to see where this goes.” He followed the trail on foot, hearing an anxious huff from Xyrnys. Still, she followed behind him. The air grew thick with darkness and the copper tang of blood. Someone was dead.
Who was it?
Distracted, he stepped on a stick, rolling his foot, and nearly landing on the ground once more. Luckily, he was more oriented and caught his balance. “What the hell?”
He looked back at Xyrnys, who bent over and examined what he’d tripped over. She held the stick in her hands – it was half of a broken wooden staff. “Gaia…” she whispered.
“Gaia?” Virion’s heart pounded. White peony petals. Blonde. Both fit Gaia. He continued along the path until he reached a tree, where a large pool of blood and stained tree bark confirmed his anxiety. “Damn.”
Xyrnys came up behind him, her face unreadable. “She’s…”
“Her heart is gone.” Gaia’s body was stuck to the tree with an arrow to her shoulder, a gaping hole in her chest. Her glassy blue eyes were half open, and her body stained with blood. “Her cheeks are still red.” Virion frowned. He touched her pale face. “She’s still warm. This was recent.”
“Whoever did this either wanted to kill you too or wanted you to see.”
Khythos’ voice registered, and Virion turned around. “Khyth…” He shook his head. “Are the girls with you?”
The Rhaeadran moved close enough to view the scene and nodded solemnly. “They’re coming in behind me. What happened here?”
“We’re not sure.” Xyrnys knelt closer to Gaia’s body, tying her scarf around the hole in her chest and pulling the arrow out of her shoulder. Gently, the Shadowborn laid her on the ground. “I’m sorry to have left so abruptly… Virion was being lured.”
“Understood. With what?”
Virion sighed. “Similar sights and sounds to what I was seeing in my visions… There’s no one here now, though. Whoever was doing it must’ve felt me wake up and took off…” He closed his eyes. “And now, Gaia’s dead.”
Khythos continued to scan the scene, the souls that surrounded him reduced to white noise. Gaia’s heart was missing – without it, he was powerless to revive her. Could he revive a Spirit even if her heart was intact? Regardless, Gaia’s killer had taken it – though he couldn’t imagine what could be done with it – and there was nothing he could do.
He stepped toward Gaia’s prone form and knelt, cupping his hands to preserve her soul. When Khythos was not presented with a soul, his brow furrowed. [i Strange], he thought. Did her soul depart on its own? Or did her killer take that, too?
They knew so little about Spirits.
The Rhaeadran shifted aside as Jyn rushed in, kneeling over Gaia’s body. “Lady Gaia… I’m so sorry this happened to you…”
“Come now, Jyn…” Leona and Shadow were behind her. The blonde placed a hand on her shoulder. “You didn’t know this was going to happen.”
Shadow nodded. “That’s right. Gaia didn’t let you go with her. You couldn’t have changed her mind easily.”
The mage wiped the tears from her eyes. “She must’ve known something was going to happen…” She glanced at Khythos, noticing the look in his eyes. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” He shook his head. “We have some things to accomplish here. Do you three think you can manage the trip to the Temple of the Observer alone? Gaia will need to be buried behind the temple.”
Jyn nodded. “We’ll be okay… Just call us back here if we can help, okay?”
“Of course. May Olotl be with you three.”
“And with you three.”
Xyrnys glanced at the two mages and the kitsune as they carried Gaia’s body off. Once they were out of earshot, she looked over to Khythos. “What aren’t you saying?”
He sighed. “Gaia’s soul is missing.”
“Damn!” Virion fired an energy beam into the ground. “If only I’d figured it out sooner!”
“There’s no-” Khythos barely got two words out before Virion took to the skies in anger. “He’s upset.”
“It’s not often his visions hit so close to his heart.” Xyrnys glanced at the sky in sympathy. “He’ll be all right once he lets off some steam. Anyway, you said Gaia’s soul was missing?”
“Yes. I’m not sure if her soul was stolen or it departed on its own. Spirit souls could work differently – I’m still researching them.”
“I’m not much help, unfortunately.”
Khythos stayed silent for a moment, and then said, “Are you all right?”
“What do you mean?”
The Rhaeadran huffed irritably. “You know what I mean. Gaia was your mentor long ago and you’ve looked up to her ever since. She’s gone now. You can’t tell me you’re not upset.”
“Of course I am.” Xyrnys grunted. “There’s nothing I can do now; why should I sulk about it?”
“You’re just planning to wait until you’re off on your own and can find somewhere to sulk. I know you.” Khythos gave her a soft look. “Talk to me.”
The Shadowborn sighed, giving in. “I just… wish we could’ve done something to prevent this. Maybe we could’ve.”
“And how could we have?”
She looked to where Virion had taken off. “Viri wanted to go straight to Lorne, remember? He wanted to have some words with Entos. The only thing that stopped him was me. I told him that it wasn’t a promising idea.”
“Do you believe it would’ve helped?”
“I don’t know, maybe. I couldn’t tell who was at fault for Gaia’s death; the stench of blood and blood magic was too strong to pinpoint a specific person.” Xyrnys looked away briefly. “Perhaps if I’d let Virion go to Lorne, Gaia would still be alive.”
“Or perhaps she wouldn’t be.” Khythos raised an eyebrow. “As you said before, you couldn’t tell who or what killed Gaia. We don’t know if throttling Entos prior would’ve prevented anything, or simply delayed it. What if Virion had died at Lorne Castle, and we hadn’t made it to him in time? I can fix a soul, but if both his soul and his heart had gotten stolen, he’d be lost forever.”
Xyrnys felt torn. She knew Khythos was right. She just couldn’t push the guilt she felt aside. “I know.”
“I think, despite the tragic events that have occurred, Gaia knew what she was doing. She was trying to buy us some time.”
“You think so?”
“I do. Gaia isn’t stupid, nor is she weak. She must’ve been caught off-guard or been put up against an incredible opponent to get to…” He drifted off.
“I guess…” Xyrnys sighed. “What’s the plan now?”
“I plan to see if Serelyn’s in the area yet.” Khythos rolled his shoulders. “If Halafarin didn’t tell her what was going on, she’ll know something’s wrong now. She’ll have felt Gaia’s death.”
Xyrnys hummed. “Halafarin, too. There’s no way he’ll sit back now.” She sighed. “I should find Virion and make sure he’s all right. I’ll try and drag him back to Xam’s place.”
“I’ll take care of Virion,” Khythos offered. “Why don’t you get back to Xamchi’s and see if Wilrym is up. He needs to know what’s happened; we need to know what he knew about it.”
“All right.” Xyrnys nodded. “Be careful.” Without waiting for a response, Xyrnys took to the skies.
[i “Maybe if I’d let Virion go to Lorne, Gaia would still be alive.”]
Though Khythos’ had been quick to soothe her in the moment, Xyrnys’ words bounced endlessly through his skull. While he was still sure that there was no certainty that Gaia would still be alive had Virion gone to Lorne, he did wonder if Gaia and Virion’s lives would have been exchanged. A life had to be lost today. Who’s it was depended on the cards.
Xyrnys played the cards the best she could. Gaia drew the lower suit. It would be the closest they could get to changing fate.
[i Fate]. Khythos never did like the word. He knew it was real and had seen the effects repeatedly; he disliked how, no matter what kind of person someone made themselves out to be, their last moments were set for them. Their crises were determined. They were made to believe that they had some form of control.
Khythos knew better.
[i Fate] was what brought Xyrnys, Virion, and himself into this world. [i Fate] was Xyrnys being burdened with the weight of time itself. [i Fate] was Virion hiding the pain he felt constantly behind a snarky façade. [i Fate] was why Khythos was constantly exhausted – healing wasn’t easy and seeing the souls of the departed and the damned was mentally draining. Fate was what hurt them. How was he expected to appreciate it?
Virion spits venom when the word is mentioned, likely for the same reasons Khythos grumbles about it. He will scream about how it shouldn’t be his [i fate to suffer for other people’s consequences when he did not ask to exist] and Khythos can’t bring himself to say anything. It’s not as if Virion is wrong.
Xyrnys didn’t talk about it much, and Khythos couldn’t blame her for it. Being the Keeper of Time is, as it sounds, time-consuming. It leaves her exhausted in the times he does see her – not only is she a primary guardian of Avand, but she is also expected to aid in other timelines as needed. The one-time she said anything to him about it, all she mentioned was it being [i unreasonable to expect her to take care of Avand and every other timeline’s planets as well.] He did not envy her.
Olotl preached it. Perhaps it’s due to being brought into the galaxy as an Observer and Creator, able to do as he pleased. He didn’t say much nowadays, as something had changed with him. Khythos couldn’t tell what it was, but it troubled him. Olotl was never caring to begin with – it’d grown worse as of late. He expected he’d hear of it soon enough – all Olotl’s problems eventually became theirs.
“Ah!” Khythos gasped in pain as his horns got stuck in a batch of dense tree branches. Having spaced out for the duration of his flight this far, he hadn’t realized he’d been flying low, and managed to get tangled in some tall trees. With a sharp tug, Khythos pulled his horns free from the branches, wincing as they yanked on his scalp. He rubbed at the base of his horns, the skin now slightly tender. He needed to stop spacing out when he flew.
“I haven’t heard that sound in four-hundred years, Khythos.”
The voice pierced the Rhaeadran’s ears. The familiarity of the genuine attitude and caring personality the individual possessed brought a small smile to his face. “I thought I’d grown into my horns since then, Serelyn. As you can see, I was sorely mistaken.”
The black-haired woman barked out a laugh. “I can see that.” She rolled her sightless brown eyes. “What brings you out here on your own?”
“I’m looking for Virion,” he admitted. “He took off in a huff after-”
“After what happened to Gaia?” Though she could not see him, Serelyn’s gaze was glued firmly into his own. “He must’ve foreseen it, no?”
Khythos sighed. “He had a handful of visions that did him a great deal of mental harm, but very few things were consistent. When he and X found Gaia’s body, he was angry. Angry and torn. The pieces made sense to him after that, and he took off.”
Serelyn nodded. “I see. I’m not sure it’ll help, but I’m not sure Gaia could’ve been saved. She didn’t know a lot, but she knew more about the situation than she let on. She was going to try and fix it before you three had to get involved further. You can see how that worked out.”
“Virion wanted to go to Lorne Castle to fight Entos,” Khythos suddenly blurted. “Do you think he would’ve saved her, had he or Entos lost their lives instead?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I’m certain we would’ve lost them both, and we’d be in worse shape than we are now.”
“You’re saying Gaia’s death was premeditated; Virion’s was avoidable.”
“It’s just a theory, but yes.”
“The Theory.” The word ‘theory’ was spat on reflex. Once he realized he’d retaliated, he used his cloak to hide his face. “Ah…” he broke eye contact with Serelyn and glanced at the trees. Why was he avoiding her gaze? She couldn’t see him.
The Sea Spirit glanced in Khythos’ direction with slight amusement. “Are you annoyed with my theory, Khythos? Do you have any better ideas?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to express irritation.” He put a hand over the gills on the left side of his neck, tracing their outline. He didn’t often express negative emotion, especially in front of his former mentor. “I just don’t like relying on theoretics.”
“I’m not fond of the idea. However, theories base facts. We have to start somewhere, and it certainly holds its own.”
“You’re right. My apologies.”
Serelyn simply nodded. “What brought the thought to mind, anyway? You’re not usually the type to keep ‘what-if’s’ in your head.”
“…Xyrnys asked me.” Khythos lowered his head. “She felt at fault for Gaia’s death because Virion wanted to go to Lorne and take on Entos. She told him to wait and gather more information. I told her what you said – that we did the right thing by holding him back. I just… wanted to be sure I didn’t tell her the wrong thing. I was unsure of myself.”
“That’s uncommon for you, but it makes sense, given the situation. Gaia meant a lot to everyone, but Xyrnys and Gaia were awfully close. I can see why you’d want to be sure.” The black-haired woman raised her head. Cloudy brown eyes scanned the skyline; the eyes themselves may have been unseeing, but Serelyn viewed things in other ways. The magnetic pull of the planet, the magic cores of each region, heat signatures… She was certainly not at a disadvantage. “What is your plan, now?”
“I need to find Virion. He took off, and I’d rather he not hurt himself. I was also thinking of perhaps looking at Wilrym Leomon’s place.”
Serelyn looked back in his direction. “Why for?”
“Wil and Theran Ocus got into a fight. Wil arrived at Xamchi’s base half-dead and collapsed. We had to revive him three times before he stayed with us.” Khythos crossed his arms. “I’m wondering if anything is as it was. Wil said the items Theran got angry about were ‘tainted’ and I want to see them for myself.”
She hummed. “Bring me along, then. I’d like to get a feel of the aura.”
He knew she wasn’t asking – he didn’t have a choice. “Right. Let’s track down Virion first. I might know where he’s gone to.”
Failure. He was nothing but a [i failure.]
Virion sat atop a cliff, looking into the large pool of water below. Beside him was a massive waterfall, bubbling wildly. The sound brought him a sense of peace, not that he deserved it. He’d let Gaia die. He couldn’t do anything to save her.
What good was his accursed power if it didn’t help him when he needed it to?
He laid back in the grass, glancing up at the sky. It was slowly shifting to evening, the sun painting the blue background with tinted hues of orange. His anger had faded once he reached the cliff, shifting to a drowning sorrow. What was the point of trying if all he ever did was fail? Surely Khythos and Xyrnys would get more done if he wasn’t involved?
Virion couldn’t get the crushed look on Jyn’s face out of his mind. The way her mind raced when she saw Gaia’s fallen form. The way her thoughts formed the sentence “Why couldn’t we do something?” Xyrnys had kept her face carefully concealed, but he was sure she was grieving, too. Would she blame him?
He was afraid to ask.
He turned onto his side, facing the creek that led to the waterfall. He saw fish hop out every now and again, uncaring of the swift current. Virion envied the fish’s carefree nature; what he wouldn’t do to just forget everything and be free. Follow the current and not care what happened next.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Virion flopped onto his back once more, staring into Khythos’ face. “I wasn’t aware anyone was looking for me.”
Khythos crossed his arms. “To be fair, you took off rather abruptly. Left us all quite worried, you know.”
“Oh, quit brooding. You may be able to see everything, but that doesn’t make you responsible for it.”
The Land Demi-God shifted his focus to the figure behind Khythos – Serelyn. It had been some time since they’d seen each other, but she was still fiery as ever. “What’s the point of showing me, then?”
Serelyn snorted. “I don’t have the answer for that. Neither do you. I could say it’s circumstance or I could say that Olotl’s a bastard and wants you to suffer. Either way, you couldn’t have stopped what happened.”
“Are you going to start preaching fate to me too, Serelyn?” Virion sat up, his voice dripping with venomous hatred. “What good has fate ever done for us?”
“Unfortunately, that’s the nature of our world. You know that as well as I do.” Khythos took a deep breath and put a hand on Virion’s shoulder. The other was practically vibrating in place.
He closed his eyes. “Of course I do. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Virion looked back up at Khythos. “I just don’t understand why I had to see her die three times if I couldn’t do anything to change it. Why did I have to go through such immense pain and agony three times in a row if this was fate? Does Olotl find this enjoyable?!”
“No one knows what goes on in Olotl’s mind.” Serelyn shook her head. “I’m not sure even he could have stopped it. Regardless, what’s done is done.”
Virion sighed. His anger faded. “So what are we doing now? Why did you even look for me?”
“Like I said, you worried us.” Khythos crossed his arms. “Likewise, you’re on the cliff above my temple. I have every right to be here.”
“It’s not my fault this waterfall is the best one.”
Serelyn rolled her clouded eyes. “If you’re done sulking, we’re headed to Wilrym Leomon’s place to look around. We’d like you to join us.”
“Fine.” He stood, brushing the grass off his pants and jacket. “Where’s X?”
“Stayed behind to talk to Wil. Before you took off, I noticed that Gaia’s soul was missing.” Khythos glanced at Serelyn. “Do you know anything about how Spirit souls depart after death?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry.”
Virion frowned. “Do you think they’re using the souls for a ritual? I’m certain the hearts are relevant because they keep coming up in the visions, but the souls are new.”
“We’re not sure, that’s what she wants to find out. In the meantime, we should see if there’s anything left behind at Wil’s place.” The Rhaeadran cracked his neck. “It might clue us in to what they’re trying to do.”
“All right.” Virion’s eyes flashed. “Let’s get this started, then.”
[b Chapter 6] Xyrnys hadn’t heard from Khythos, Virion, or the mages since they’d split up. Though she always assumed that ‘no news was good news’, she couldn’t help but feel something was amiss. Was it her conversation with Khythos? He wasn’t wrong; Virion would likely be dead had he faced Entos – and probably Theran – alone. Something should have been able to stop it, but the likelihood of them being able to do something was slim.
Gaia’s death had rooted itself into the deepest pits of her heart. Xyrnys had been looking forward to seeing the Sky Spirit again – now she never would. Regret filled her mind and spilled into every fiber of her being. Should she have visited sooner? Would Gaia forgive her in the Afterlife?
How was Virion fairing? She could only imagine the suffering he would endure – the worst outcome of his vision had come forth. Xyrnys wanted nothing more than to pull Olotl to the planet’s surface and throttle him until he begged for mercy, but alas, that was a dream that would never become reality. Virion would have to mend his own tortured soul repeatedly. Hopefully Khythos would find him if he wasn’t off trying to get himself killed.
As she made her way through the Grasslands, she shook her head violently. There wasn’t time for second-guessing.
It was quiet when Xyrnys approached the outbuilding Wil was staying in. She didn’t expect much noise; he was doing much better, but he was still recovering, and was likely using any time he could to rest. Without further hesitation, she knocked on the wooden door. “Wil? It’s Xyrnys.” No answer. She knocked again. “Wilrym? Are you awake?” She raised her voice the second time in case he was asleep, but still got no answer. Anxiety clawed at her stomach. [i Perhaps he just didn’t hear me…] Though something told her that wouldn’t be the case, she opened the door and let herself in. “Wil, I’m coming in.”
Looking directly towards Wil’s cot, she knew something was amiss. It looked as if there was a sleeping form in the bed, but the mage was not a heavy sleeper as of late, and the lump that rested in the sheets looked off. Slowly, she crept towards the cot, and her heart sank. In the mess of sheets and blankets was three pillows in Wil’s place.
Wilrym was gone.
“Dammit,” Xyrnys growled. She knew she should’ve placed Windberry outside to guard him. What did he have to gain by leaving now? He was likely to get killed if he went back. What were his motives?
Whatever they were, she had to find him.
Rushing out of the cot, she spotted Cipher carrying a box of broken machine parts to their storage shed. “Cipher, when was the last time anyone checked on Wil?”
“Olotl knows,” the mechanic responded simply, placing the box down. “I’ve barely been out of the bunker in days. Last I knew, Xamchi offered him some food a few hours ago.”
“Tell Xamchi and Windberry to keep an eye out for him. Wil’s gone.” Xyrnys’ eyes were alight with fury. “I don’t know what his intentions are, but I must find him. Let them know I’m going to track him down.”
Cipher nodded. “Right. Don’t get yourself killed.”
“Sure thing.” Xyrnys nodded to him and took off, teleporting to Wil’s last known aura signature. She ended up nearly five kilometers from Xamchi’s base, but Wil was nowhere to be found. It was a diversion, then.
[i He’s trying to throw me off…] She frowned as she teleported again, only hopping small distances as she did so. Xyrnys found small runes and splashes of blood in the grass and on trees along his potential path; it would lead her to him, but it would take her some time. [i Dammit, Wil…] Guilty or not, he was trying to escape for a reason.
As the Grassland plains merged into a hillier terrain, she managed to get sight of Wil. Though still injured, he was moving at a decent pace. Gotcha. Before he could disappear, Xyrnys teleported in front of him, causing him to crash into her abdomen. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?!”
“X-Xyrnys!” Wil looked terrified. She could tell he was in pain, moving at the pace he had been traveling must’ve been taxing. “I didn’t realize you were-”
“Answer the question, Wil.” Her eyes were stern. She grabbed his arm in a firm hold. “What are you doing out here? Why are you running away!?”
He avoided eye contact with her. “I can’t stay. I… I have to go back.”
Xyrnys’ eyes flashed. “Go back where? To the Blood Mages who tried to have you killed? What do you plan on telling them?!”
“Nothing!” Wil yanked his arm free. “I just can’t sit by and do nothing anymore! They’re going to find out eventually that I’m not dead! I can’t let Xamchi, Windberry, and Cipher pay for it!”
“…I see.” She took a breath to settle down. “Why didn’t you wait for one of us? We would’ve helped you.”
“You’ve helped me enough. You’ll just get killed too.”
“Like Gaia did?”
“What?” Wil looked up at Xyrnys, his eyes full of confused grief. “Gaia is dead? They… they told me they weren’t going after her.”
“What else did you not tell us, Wilrym?!” Xyrnys glared at the young mage. “You don’t think that telling us they were considering human sacrifices was important?!”
He shrank back. “I didn’t know everything – I didn’t think it would be helpful! It has something to do with a resurrection, but they were so vague it didn’t matter!”
“Of course it mattered! Even if we couldn’t have saved Gaia, we would’ve known something could possibly happen! Who are they resurrecting, Wil?!”
“I just told you I don’t know!” Wil sank to the ground, tears streaming down his face. “I’m sorry! I’m trying to go back so I can fix everything! I-I know I messed up but I truly don’t know anything else!”
Xyrnys knew he wasn’t lying; Wil was a terrible liar, and his reaction seemed genuine. “All right, I’m sorry. Where were you headed?”
Wil wiped his face. “M-my hideout. I don’t know if they left it intact, but Entos had Theran hide something there. If they didn’t take it, it could be useful. I could also see if there’s anything else that could be helpful…”
“If anything, you could’ve asked Khythos for help.” She crossed her arms. “Other than hiding his identity, he never lied to you.”
“I can’t ask for any more help. You already brought me back to life three times. What if something else-”
“For Olotl’s sake, Wilrym, you’ve already said you’re willing to help fix things!” She tapped her fingers on her leg impatiently, trying not to throttle the mage. “Don’t be so quick to throw your life away and let us help you fix things. You can wallow in self-pity and pay for your sins after we’ve stopped this!”
Wil looked up at Xyrnys. “All… all right.” He stood back up. “We should go. I don’t know how long I have until they find me.”
“Actually, dear Wilrym… you won’t be going anywhere…”
Slowly, Xyrnys turned her head. With a dark tone, she grumbled “Entos…” as she stared down the newcomer.
All she got in return was a grin. “Greetings. And good-bye.”
Virion shuddered, stopping in his tracks. A sickening feeling flowed through his veins, aiming for his core. He swallowed thickly, trying to brush away the feeling without much success. “Something’s wrong…”
“Hm?” Khythos looked back at Virion, frowning as he noticed the distress on the other’s face. “What’s going on?”
“I… don’t know.” His brown eyes were distant. “I just know that something’s wrong, or something will be wrong…” He clutched his head, trying to figure out where the feeling was coming from.
Virion could hear Khythos calling out to him, but he ignored it. Instead, he used every ounce of energy he had and focused on the dread that began to dig deeper and deeper into his stomach.
[i “You’ll never make it. Don’t even try.”]
It was the voice again. The one who’d tried to trick him. Only he was in control this time, and he wasn’t about to fail twice. As he dug deeper, he saw a flash of green light. A chunk of earth being torn from the ground. A cracked soul. There was only one person he could think of that could tear chunks of stone and bedrock from the ground.
Xyrnys. Was she close?
“Khythos.” He turned to the Rhaeadran. “Can you still feel X’s soul?”
Khythos nodded. “It’s intact. Why?”
“What’s going on?” Serelyn made her way back to Khythos and Virion, having traveled further ahead. “Is everything okay?”
Virion shook his head. “Whatever this feeling is, I know Xyrnys is involved.” He turned in the direction of Xamchi’s base – a good seven kilometers east – and took flight. “You two continue towards Wil’s base! I need to check this out!”
The Elven male ignored the protests from Serelyn and Khythos, continuing his flight path. He was relieved that Xyrnys was okay, but how long would she remain that way?
He refused to let anyone else die today. Not unless he died first.
Another flash of green light blinded him as he continued forward; he knew he was getting close. Virion slowed down as he felt Wil’s aura alongside Xyrnys. What was he doing out here? He was still injured.
The dark auras he felt next halted him in his tracks.
Entos was present; his soul was darker than it had been in the past, but Virion chalked it up to the use of blood magic. The second aura, however, was one he hadn’t expected to feel again. “Sanae..?”
Sanae, the Priestess of Dark Magic. Two hundred years ago, she had been on the verge of destroying the still-maturing Demi-Gods and claiming Avand as her own. Together with the three Spirits, they’d managed to execute her.
So what was she doing here?!
[i The resurrection spell…] Virion felt ill. Whoever had written the spell had done so with the intent to revive Sanae. While their true intentions were still unknown, if the Priestess is restored to her full power…
He could not let that happen.
Shaking his head, he flew towards the auras at a slower pace to keep himself concealed. He could tell that no one was seriously injured so far; as he grew closer, he saw Xyrnys standing in front of Wil in a protective manner.
Entos stood by Xyrnys, a confident look on his face. Where was Sanae? He could feel her… Where was she hiding?
“I’ll give you one chance to leave.” Xyrnys’ voice was stern. “I have no problem killing you here and now.”
"Why would you do that?” Entos shrugged, winking at the female. “You haven’t even seen my finest performance.” He pulled out a small red orb. The jewel pulsed a sickening blood red color. “It will, unfortunately, be the last show you ever see, so you really ought to enjoy it.”
Virion’s eyes widened. The red jewel he saw in the first vision… Was that it? It looked like it was made with blood. He watched as Entos cupped the jewel in his hands, a red glow shining from his hands.
Wil pushed his way around Xyrnys. “Just take it out on me! I’m the one who you’re after, right?”
Entos shook his head. “You’re just in the way now. Your forgeries were incredible, and for that, I am forever thankful. However, I’m after everything, and anyone who opposes me is in my way. So as I said before, enjoy the show, and good-bye.”
In the distance, Virion caught a green light. His stomach dropped. Whatever this green light was, it was heading for Wil. It would likely hit Xyrnys next. The color was the same as the one in his vision and in the trance he was put under. Without thinking, Virion flew down, headed towards Wil and Xyrnys. Even if all he could do was get them out of the way, he would not let them die.
Not this time.
Sanae stepped out of the shadows as Virion’s body connected with Wil’s – he pushed the mage into Xyrnys and knocked them both a few meters back.
He could only spare them a sad smile before the light beam hit him. At first, he felt nothing more than a tingle, and then it felt like wildfire spreading throughout his entire body. Virion felt it inside and out, coursing through his veins. He could hear screaming. It was his own; fitting, considering the pain he was now in. His vision was beginning to fade, his hearing turning to fuzz in his ears. The last thing he remembered was a brief relief from the pain, a ‘thud’ in the distance, and a panicked yell from Xyrnys. She was okay, then.
He didn’t fail this time. “I’m sorry, X…”
As his eyes rolled into the back of his head, the heard “Virion, no!” The sound rang through his ears, and then, blissful silence.
Khythos gasped as he felt a sharp pain in his chest; he had to stop mid-flight and take a deep breath. [i Something’s happened…]
“Khythos?” Serelyn stopped her flight also, sensing the Rhaeadran’s pain. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure, but it feels… dreadful…” He clutched at his chest, the rapid thudding becoming increasingly more painful. The pain suddenly stopped, but the feeling of distress remained. Something felt off.
Virion’s soul suddenly felt different. It hadn’t disappeared, thank Olotl, but it was weak. Khythos could barely feel it. What had happened? He knew he shouldn’t have let Virion off on his own!
“You’re not telling me something.” The black-haired female was growing impatient. “What happened, Khythos?”
“Virion’s soul. Something’s happened to it.” Khythos frowned. “I don’t get it. Everything was fine until now. What-”
Serelyn pointed in the direction they were currently headed. “Go ahead of me. You can fly faster than I can. Don’t worry about me; I’ll catch up. Whatever Virion was after, it wasn’t good.”
“Right. Please be careful.” Khythos looked back at the blind Spirit before taking off at an incredible speed, his eyes glowing in anger and anxiety. Who and what had hurt Virion like this? If he was dead by the time Khythos arrived, there would be hell to pay. He would personally see to it.
As he neared the source of his anxiety, he could hear Xyrnys fighting and Virion’s silence. Wil – what was he doing out here – was knelt behind Xyrnys, his staff in a defensive position. Entos was in front of the pair, blocking Xyrnys’ attacks, and there was another beside him, firing their own sickly green magic.
[i Is that… Sanae?] Khythos kept himself at a safe distance long enough to process the image. Though the redheaded Priestess before him was still slightly decayed, she had been successfully reanimated. The Dead Summons spell had been used to bring back Dark Priestess Sanae, and it had been a success.
There was a missing chunk of earth; Xyrnys must’ve thrown it to catch one of the two off-guard. Virion was – [i oh Virion…] – laying on the ground, his eyes closed and body mangled. His chest was still and was non-responsive to the chaos surrounding him.
Virion was dead.
Khythos felt anger bubble up in his chest – how dare Entos and Sanae’s zombified corpse do this? So soon after he’d started to recover, too… He took a deep breath. Xyrnys would handle the fighting for now. Virion needed his help.
He had to think quickly and summon a protective shield; Sanae had aimed a beam in his direction. “X, cover me! I need to revive Virion!”
“I’ll do what I can!” she called back.
Realistically, Xyrnys was already doing all that she could. She was at an unfair disadvantage. Khythos’ head snapped in Wil’s direction. “Wil, can you fight?!”
The male’s slate-gray eyes – slightly out-of-focus – snapped over to Khythos. His trance was broken. “When did you-”
“Never mind that!” he snapped. “Are you able to fight? Or defend, at the very least?”
“I… can do that.” Wil stood. “What do you need me to do?”
“Help Xyrnys cover me so I can help Virion!”
Wil nodded. “On it!” He hesitated only for a moment before moving closer to Xyrnys, shifting to a battle position.
With Wil helping her, Khythos was able to look away from the battle to tend to Virion. Carefully, the Rhaeadran pulled Virion’s soul out of his body, inspecting the damage. It was intact, but barely – was destroying Virion’s soul their intention?
Is that what happened to Gaia’s soul?
A blue light wrapped around the soul as he began to mend it. He inspected Virion’s body as time passed – he was covered in burns, and his insides likely fared no better. Virion would need to heal in the Lake of the Starbelt this time.
Khythos was livid now.
“Khythos, behind you!”
The Rhaeadran, still holding Virion’s mending soul, whipped his head around. An attack that both Xyrnys and Wil had not noticed until late was heading his way. Without use of his hands, he couldn’t summon a shield, and conjuring a Third Eye move would take too long.
Would this be it for him and Virion?
Serelyn’s voice cut into his thoughts; she’d finally caught up. Without further thought, he wrapped himself around Virion’s body, protecting it from further harm, as Serelyn launched her attack. Khythos peeked – she had summoned water from the nearby lakes and rivers, using force from her magic to deflect the beam that had been launched at him.
Once he felt it was safe, he lifted himself from Virion’s body. “Thanks, Sere.” Khythos casted her a grateful glance even though she wouldn’t see it.
“I’m just glad I made it in time and felt the attack coming.” Serelyn shuddered. “Is that… who I think it is?”
Khythos just nodded. “Yeah…” He removed his focus from Serelyn for the moment and returned to Virion. The final pieces of his soul had linked together, the soul shining brightly. Virion would recover. He only needed to return the Demi-God to the Lake of the Starbelt to finish healing. Khythos placed the tan-colored soul into Virion’s body, his hands glowing bright blue. “Pura,” he whispered. “Ad formam pura. Infra fundamenta lacus curare Starbelt.”
Virion’s body began to glow white as it took the form of thousands of stars. One-by-one, the stars disappeared quickly into the sky, leaving nothing but a silver-tinted shine in their wake. Virion was safe.
With Virion taken care of, Khythos allowed his anger to return. He whipped around to face the battle. Serelyn hadn’t moved any closer, choosing to stay close to Khythos in case he needed her for defense again. She hadn’t realized Virion was gone, then. Xyrnys and Wil were beginning to grow tired, especially where Wil hadn’t completely recovered. “Come on, Serelyn. Let’s finish this.”
Serelyn nodded, moving forward. “We need to take them alive, Khythos. We’ll make them talk first, and then they’ll pay.”
Entos halted his attacks, finally shifting his focus to Khythos and Serelyn. His eyes held a nervous look. “Who the hell are you? What do you want?”
“I am Khythos.” His voice was deep, firm, and steady. “Khythos of the Sea, Mender of Souls. I’m the third Demi-God of Avand.” His blue eyes blazed. “And you’ve made me angry.”
This time, it was Sanae who spoke. “Khythos of the Sea? The Demi-God I never got to meet in my first life, but the one I was most curious about.” Her grin was meaning. “It’s an honor that you’ve decided to finally show your face to me.”
“Shut up. What is your purpose here?”
“How rude.” Sanae scoffed. “Not even a ‘hello’ back? Regardless, I’m here to take my world; the world I was stopped from stealing two centuries ago. Entos here is helping me with my goal.”
Xyrnys narrowed her eyes. “How do you benefit from this? You do realize she’ll kill you once she’s done with you, right?”
“Don’t lie to me; she works for me.” Rythian glared at them. “You’re done for.”
Sanae hummed her agreement and held out her hand. “Now then, it’s time to say good night. It was nice seeing you again, Xyrnys of the Twilight. Once Virion of the Land comes back from the dead, I’ll kill him again. I’ll kill all of you until you stay dead.”
Khythos lunged for her; Entos blocked him with a well-timed wall of earth. It launched him back several meters as it connected with his stomach, leaving him winded but unharmed. He looked up to see Sanae attempting to fire a spell, but nothing was happening.
“What is this?” She snapped, glaring at Entos. “What’s wrong with my power?”
[i Her form is still imperfect… This is our chance…] “X!”
“On it!” Xyrnys seemed to be in harmony with him – both him and the Shadowborn female charged after the powerless Priestess. At the last possible moment, a potion bottle was thrown, blinding the two temporarily in a cloud of dust and smoke. “What the-”
“It’s a diversion!” Khythos used a basic spell to blow the cloud away; by the time it cleared, his worst fear was revealed.
Sanae and Entos had vanished.
“They’re gone…” Xyrnys punched the ground, sending a split through the center. “Damn you, Entos!”
Wil looked away. “I’m… so sorry. I… really thought I’d have some time before they’d try anything…” He looked to Khythos. “What’s going to happen with Virion?:
“Virion is going to be fine.” Khythos curled his hands in and out of fists to relax himself. “I mended his soul, but there was a lot of damage to his body. I had him take Pura and sent him to the Lake of the Starbelt to heal faster.”
“You’re certain you didn’t know anything else about the resurrection, Wilrym?” Xyrnys questioned. “Do you know who that is?”
“As I said before, I only heard rumors. It’s why I didn’t think it was important.” He hung his head again. “I don’t know anything about her.”
Khythos sighed. “That’s Sanae. She was a Priestess who was executed two hundred years ago when she tried destroying Olotl’s entities. Entos has now resurrected a powerful Dark Priestess and fed her with blood magic. She won’t be easy to take down again. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Wil shook his head. “I’ve been over this with Xyrnys already. I didn’t think it was important. I know I shouldn’t have kept it from you, and I’m sorry. I really am, okay?”
“He really does seem remorseful,” Xyrnys responded, stepping in to defend the mage. “He even started crying earlier.”
“He’s not a good actor, so I believe him.”
“As you should.” Serelyn nodded to him. “We need to focus on finding out where they’d go while Sanae regenerates. If we can take her out before her body is finished, we have a better chance.”
He looked away from Wil for a moment. “Right. We can’t do much until Virion returns; invading Lorne is out of the question until we’re all here.”
Xyrnys glanced at Khythos. “We should look for Theran. He wasn’t here. Why wasn’t he here?”
“Don’t…” Wil sniffed, lifting his head. His face and eyes were red. “I don’t want any of you getting hurt. Not anymore. Let me go back and talk to Ocus. I don’t think he wanted me dead or I wouldn’t have survived. He likely doesn’t know Entos came out here.”
“What if he did? What if he sees you and finishes the job, Wil? Out of the question.” Serelyn’s eyes held a distant, yet stern, look to them. “There are other ways to help; that’s my definitive answer.”
“Really, I’d rather-”
“Don’t argue,” Khythos warned. “We’ve revived you once already; don’t make us do it again.”
Wil just glanced away. “Fine.”
Khythos turned to Xyrnys. “I’m going back to my temple before we track down Theran; if I remember correctly, I have some handwritten logs from our last encounter with Sanae. I’m not sure what good they’ll do now, but it’ll be something.”
“Right.” Xyrnys crossed her arms. “I’m not sure where Theran’s hiding out; I’m sure he knows we were sniffing around his base. He won’t be hiding there.”
“And if Wil’s right and Theran doesn’t know that Entos came out here, he won’t be at Lorne, either.” He hummed, picking at his bloody horns again. “Where would he be, then?”
“Theran preforms sacrifices and harvests souls,” Wil replied. “He could be anywhere.”
The Shadowborn sighed and shifted towards Serelyn. “Let’s find a trail and follow it. We’re bound to come across something.”
Serelyn nodded her agreement. “All right.”
“I guess I’ll head back to Xamchi’s place.” Wil shrugged. “Leona and the others should be back soon – I’ll update them.”
“Right.” Khythos looked at the sky; it was mid-day. “We will meet at the next sunrise. That gives us time to travel and backtrack. Virion should be back with us by then, as well.”
“Sunrise it is, then.” Xyrnys glanced at Khythos. “Be careful, Khyth. We don’t know what we’re getting into anymore.”
“I don’t think we ever did, X.”
Khythos fastened his cloak on over his gi. The fabric felt cool on his rough skin – he felt exposed without it. The notes he found were tucked neatly in the pocket of his gi; though they weren’t as thorough as he’d hoped, they had some helpful information on the type of magic Sanae used, and what her weaknesses used to be.
Hopefully, something was still relevant.
As he flew out of his cave, the freezing water felt refreshing and revitalizing. It slid easily off his Fur Seal cloak, but his hair and skin remained damp. He was grateful the day was mild; the hot weather was too much for the Rhaeadran.
A rush of leaves and the smell of oak tree sap swirled around Khythos suddenly. [i Halafarin?] It was the only logical answer; Halafarin was the Forest Spirit and the master of everything that grew, and oak was his favorite. The Rhaeadran was mildly confused, however; what was Halafarin doing out here?
A glance into the sky confirmed Khythos’ suspicions; the elderly Forest Spirit was approaching gently on a cloud of swirling leaves and dust. “Halafarin!” Khythos called out, waving the elf over. “What a surprise. What are you doing here?”
“Khythos! Glad I caught you!” The Spirit leveled himself with the aviated Sea Demi-God. “I just ran into Serelyn and Xyrnys a way back. Have you seen Tilud?”
“He’s missing?” The blue-skinned male stopped himself from grabbing at his horns. “How long has he been gone? Did you two have a falling out?”
The blond shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. He’s only been gone for two days, which normally isn’t worrisome, but he’s been acting awful strange as of late. He’s been more interested in combining green and black magic, which isn’t inherently bad, but Tilud’s always been terrified of black magic.”
Khythos frowned. “Perhaps he grew out of it? Maybe he read up on it and is excited to learn a new skill.” He shrugged. “I haven’t seen him out this way, but I’ll keep my eye out. I’ll send him back to you if I do see him and scold him for worrying you.”
“Thank you. Try not to be too harsh on him; he’s a good kid. He’s just led a rough life up until recently.” Halafarin smiled sadly. “I’m going back to the forest to see if he returned while I was out; please let me know if you find out anything. Good luck with your quest; I’ll let you know if I see anything out of the ordinary.”
“Appreciated. Travel safely.” He watched Halafarin take off and frowned. A mage experimenting with several types of magic wasn’t unusual; why did Halafarin find it strange? Why would Tilud take off? Was he another victim of Entos and Sanae?
Was he just getting tired of being contained within the forest? Khythos couldn’t be sure – he hardly knew the kid.
The sun was starting to be blotted out by dark clouds; it was going to rain again. Hopefully, Xyrnys and Serelyn would find a good trail first. With both having enhanced senses for varied reasons, if they found a trail, the rain wouldn’t deter them.
Khythos, however, would be useless on his own. He needed to get back to them before they got too far.
He heard the rustling of leaves, a whipping sound through the trees, and a crash of thunder. The Rhaeadran turned to process the first two noises; his reflexes were too slow. He felt something wrap around his midsection and then toss him in a random direction. He didn’t stop until he hit a rock cliff, landing on a cliff ledge below.
The blue-skinned male stood, breathing heavily as he regained his bearings. [i What was that?!] The thought was barely through his head before a giant purple tentacle appeared at the cliff ledge; he was able to dodge it and fly to the top of the cliff. He glanced down to get a better look and had to immediately step back – the tentacle was aimed directly at his face.
As Khythos got a better look at the tendril, he realized it wasn’t a tentacle at all. It was a large purple vine with dark-looking barbs. What had created this? It wasn’t from any monster he’d ever seen before.
His answer appeared as a giant black rose peeked above the cliff’s edge, a small blond boy standing on the largest, sturdiest leaf. “There you are.”
“Tilud…?” Khythos’ eyes were wide; what was going on? “What in Olotl’s name are you doing? Halafarin is worried sick about you!”
“I’m sure he is. The old pixie doesn’t trust me.” Tilud’s words were barbed; his cold blue eyes betrayed his anger. “Is that why you’re out here? To find me and bring me home?”
“What? No, I’m out- Look, that doesn’t matter.” Khythos shook his head. “Halafarin is… Halafarin wouldn’t train you if he didn’t trust you. He wouldn’t look after you if he didn’t care about you. What’s gotten into you? What are you doing?!”
Tilud held one of the rose’s black petals in his hand. “I met someone that showed me who Halafarin really was. That he was holding me back because he was afraid of me and didn’t trust my background.” Blackened vines gently wrapped around his waist. “His magic proved useful, however.”
The Rhaeadran was dumbfounded. “Halafarin trusts you… Who told you that he didn’t? Was it Entos?”
“So what if it was?” The blond spat on the ground. “He makes more sense than that decrepit forest gnome could ever dream of. All that talk of peace and prosperity. It makes me sick. There needs to be a power balance; the power of blood and darkness can be that balance.”
“You’ve gone mad.” He shook his head. “Look, Tilud. I don’t want to hurt you. I can go back to Halafarin’s Forest with you. You can say you made a mistake, and we can try to fix this.”
Tilud aimed a vine at Khythos, which the Rhaeadran dodged easily. “I don’t want to fix this, fish brain! This is what I want! Halafarin was only keeping me from reaching my true potential – Entos will show me new limits!”
Khythos was torn. He didn’t want to fight – especially not Tilud. He knew how crushed the Forest Spirit would be once he found out about this. The blond mage, however, was set on violence. Khythos had no choice. With the salty ocean water that surrounded the cliff, Khythos summoned water to surround him. “In that case, I will show you no mercy. You chose this path.”
“I’m not afraid of a pacifist!” The black mage lifted his arms, summoning two large vines from the black rose. He shot them both towards Khythos. “You’re just a coward. “
The Rhaeadran used the water that surrounded him to block one of the vines, and his right hand to grab the other. With a huff, he froze the water in the vine, shriveling the appendage and causing it to fall of the plant. The other retreated back towards the rose. “I may be a pacifist, but I know how to fight. It’s a shame you have to learn this way.”
“Sod off,” the blond growled. “You’re all talk.”
“Then prove me wrong.” Khythos’ eyes glowed dangerously as the water swirled viciously around him. “Kill me, if you think you can.”
Xyrnys felt anxious as she waited for Khythos to return. Though they’d agreed to meet up again at sunrise, she knew the coming rain would bring him back sooner. His cavern wasn’t far from their current location – it wouldn’t have taken him long to catch up with them. Had something happened to him?
“You’re overthinking again,” Serelyn pointed out. “You’re breathing quickly. Are you worried about Khythos?”
“Hn.” Xyrnys chose not to confirm the woman’s suspicion. “It’s due to rain soon. He’s a terrible tracker; he’d usually try to catch up by now. I’m just hoping nothing’s caught up with him. We have enough to worry about.”
“I agree.” The black-haired Spirit gazed sightlessly at the sky. “I’m slightly unnerved at Halafarin’s news. Tilud’s never been the type to wander off on his own. I wonder what he could be up to.”
The Shadowborn shrugged. “I’m… not sure. I helped Halafarin find him and bring him back to the forest, but I’ve barely spoken to him. He gives off a weird vibe, but I don’t think he’s a bad kid. I hope he’s all right.”
Serelyn nodded. “Yes, me too.”
A crash of thunder boomed in the distance, and another spike of anxiety surged through Xyrnys. She stopped flying and glanced in the direction of Abyna Cliffs. “Was that black magic?”
“Yes.” Serelyn focused herself to the area Xyrnys was glancing at, allowing the auras to swim around her. “Strong black magic, filled with resentment and spite. I can’t tell who it belongs to, but there’s a weaker magic mixed in with it.”
“We’re too far off.” [i It’s in the same direction as Khythos’ cavern…] Xyrnys frowned. “We should take a look; I think something’s wrong, and Khythos may be involved where it’s so close to his home.”
“I do hope you’re wrong, but I fear very much the same.” Serelyn frowned. “We should make haste. Virion is still resting in the Lake of the Starbelt; we can’t afford to send Khythos as well.”
Xyrnys grunted her agreement and took off quickly, leaving enough of an aura trail for Serelyn to follow. The rain started shortly after they departed, covering part of Khythos’ trail, but Xyrnys held onto it as tightly as she could. She refused to lose it. She had failed to save Virion, but she wouldn’t lose Khythos.
Not if she could help it.
“The scent of black magic has gotten stronger,” Serelyn yelled from behind. “We’re getting close. I smell blood, too. Someone is wounded.”
[i Hopefully Khythos is okay.] The female swerved out of the way as a lightning bolt struck in her path; luckily Serelyn had felt it coming and moved away. Xyrnys saw a massive hole in the cliffside; she had a feeling Khythos was nearby. “There’s damage to the cliffs here,” she yelled. “I’ll head up! You search down here first and meet me at the top!”
“All right! Yell if you need help!”
She and the Sea Spirit separated, Serelyn touching the grooves in the cliff to try and sense the magic user while Xyrnys soared up the cliff. The thick, dark cloud cover made it hard to see; she nearly got her head caved in by an icicle spear that was thrown her way, several black rose petals stuck through it.
Ice spear. [i Khythos.]
Xyrnys glanced at the top of the cliff and gasped. Khythos, while still upright and active, was covered in wounds. He was still capable of fighting, but he would grow tired soon. His opponent took him by surprise. “Tilud?”
Both Khythos and Tilud snapped their attention over to her, her voice breaking their concentration. Khythos looked concerned – Tilud looked thrilled. “Oh look, I get to take out two of you!”
“What are you talking about?” Xyrnys snapped. “Do you-”
“If someone asks me ‘Do you know how worried Halafarin is about you’ one more time…” His voice was a low growl. “I don’t care what Halafarin thinks.”
“Entos has said something to him.” Khythos jumped out of the way of a vine. It was a sickly purple and green – Tilud was the black magic user? “Now he doesn’t trust Halafarin.”
“I never should have! He never trusted me!” Tilud shot some think vines at Khythos again, attempting to trip him up. “When I bring the corpses of two Demi-Gods back to Entos, he’ll know he made the right choice!”
Xyrnys flew over, firing a few light beams at Tilud’s feet. “Entos doesn’t care about you, Tilud. He’s using you because you have a lot of magic! Halafarin genuinely cares for you. We can get you the help you need!”
“I. Don’t. Want. Help!” Tilud whipped around, glaring at Xyrnys with crazed blue eyes. “I want Halafarin to [i suffer like I did.”] With the aid of the storm brewing around them, Tilud used his mixed magic to turn some of the rain into thorns, aiming them at Xyrnys. “I want you to suffer like I did!”
“Leave her alone! I’m your opponent!” Thinking on his feet, Khythos used water magic to freeze the thorns in midair. The small ice blocks dropped swiftly, shattering as they hit the ground.
Tilud cackled. “You’re both my opponents. I want you both to bleed.” He raised a hand.
Xyrnys teleported behind Tilud, wrapping one of her arms around his neck .”Khythos, freeze him-”
Time seemed to move in slow-motion. Khythos shot forward, and Xyrnys let go of Toby and started to jump back. Grinning, the blond lowered his hand, summoning two vines from the ground. One shot through Khythos’ abdomen, stopping him in his tracks as it tore through him. The vine dripped with blood.
The second one shot through Tilud’s forehead, killing him instantly as it pierced his brain. There would be no saving him, no getting information out of him. Xyrnys hadn’t managed to back up in time; her neck was level with the vine that shot through his head, piercing through completely. Her pink eyes were wide as her neck was penetrated with the vine; she scratched at the growth in panic as she tried to un-stake herself.
Serelyn rose to the top of the cliff, her unseeing eyes wide as she smelled the massive amount of blood. She didn’t know what had happened but knew that someone was hurt and no one was talking. “Xyrnys! Khythos!”
“Xyrnys!” Khythos’ voice was pained as he called out to her. His left hand was on the wound; he used his free hand to freeze the vine. He punched the ice, breaking himself free and falling to the ground. “Xyrnys, can you talk?”
The Shadowborn female opened her mouth, but only a sickening gurgling sound came out. Blood dripped from her mouth and poured from the wound on her neck, and it terrified her. Summoning all her remaining strength, Xyrnys swatted at the frozen vine, breaking the ice as Khythos had done. Tilud fell over as well, his body limp. Neither paid attention to him.
She could see Khythos struggle to his feet. “Hold on, X. I’ll be right there.” The Rhaeadran took a step and collapsed forward, landing on his wound. He cried out in pain; Xyrnys winced at the sound.
Serelyn approached the Rhaeadran quickly, following the scent of blood and the sound of Khythos’ voice. “Don’t move; I know you’re hurt. Stay where you are.”
Xyrnys opened her mouth again, the same gurgling sound erupting from her mouth. Her heartbeat picked up. She’d never experienced anything like this; would she be able to recover, or was she going to die?
“X, stop trying to talk.” Khythos’ voice was low; was he attempting to be soothing? “You have a hole in your neck.” He grunted, holding his wound as he dragged himself closer to her. “I’ll need to-” He cried out as he scraped his wound against a jagged surface. “I’ll need to heal you, first.”
“I said stop moving, Khythos. I need to get to you!” Serelyn’s voice was stern. Xyrnys could barely see her as she approached Khythos, as black spots filled her vision. “Can you heal yourself?”
[i I’ll need to do it for a wound that bad,] Xyrnys attempted to say, but her voice came out in spits and gurgles, as if she was drowning in her own blood. She was; if this was how she was going to die this time, she wouldn’t want to repeat it. The black spots in her vision began to increase by the second.
“Xyrnys, are y—still w-th --?”
[i Yes! I’m still alive! I’m still here! Serelyn! Khythos!] More panicked gurgling arose from her throat, resulting in more vision loss and wavering focus. It was for the better that she couldn’t speak – she felt as if she was going to die.
“Stay -w—e, Xyrn--. Khyt-o-, ca- you- Khy-h--!”
Something had happened to Khythos; that much was certain. Xyrnys wanted to ask, but she couldn’t. Her energy was spent, and she felt as if she was floating. Her pain had faded, and she was as light as air.
Death wasn’t so bad after all.
As Virion woke, he felt the cold shell of his Pure Form Chrysalis. His wings – feathers only in this form – were wrapped around him, which was still curled up in the Pura sleep position. He felt no pain – his body had mended completely
[i Strange,] he thought. [i I never wake on my own. Olotl’s always been the one to wake us from Pura…] Still, he knew he couldn’t just wait for Olotl to decide to show up.
He needed to see what had happened.
Virion opened his sandy brown eyes, the glowing orbs penetrating through his stone cocoon. The Land forcefully spread his arms, shattering the stone that encased him. The sandy blond emerged in a shower of pebbles and rocks, nude save for a brown ribbon that covered his eyes and mouth and draped over his silky white wings. The ribbon grew larger and enveloped the male, glowing bright brown. When the ribbon dissolved and Virion re-emerged, he was in his Everdusk form, fully-clothed with his stone wings. He felt brand-new.
But where was Olotl?
Virion didn’t much care to hear from the Observer, but his curiosity was peaked. Their creator never let them emerge from Pura on their own – if only just to scold them for being careless – but he was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t even sense the other from his spot in the Lake.
Nothing seemed out of place from where he stood. The stars were aligned as usual, the Lake was still, and the Temple stood, just as it always had. Virion scoffed. He was hoping to at least scold Olotl for the mess he’d gotten them into.
He had too much to do to wait around for their lazy Observer.
With a clap of his hands, a band of stars wrapped around his frame. He felt the pull of being removed from the Lake of the Starbelt, and within moments, he was in the middle of a forest. He grumbled. Couldn’t he have at least teleported himself to the temple? Xyrnys was always better at that.
He looked down as the last traces of his Everdusk form shifted away. His elven traits had shrunk back, his wings gone, and his clothes had shifted to his normal wear. He was Virion of the Land once more.
The Land Demi-God scanned the area, determining that he was back in the forest near the Abyna Cliffs. Why did he teleport himself all the way over here? Khythos’ cave temple was nearby, though Virion doubted the Rhaeadran was relaxing at home.
He remained still, however. Something felt… off.
Someone was coming.
The ‘someone’ in question torpedoed into him quickly as Serelyn came into view, likely not realizing he was there in her haste. The pair crashed to the ground. “What the hell, Sere?”
“Virion! You’re really back!” The blind Spirit had panic in her sightless blue eyes. “I need your help. Khythos and Xyrnys fought with Tilud and now Tilud’s dead and they’re both hurt badly. I don’t have healing abilities and Khythos and Xyrnys are both unconscious and I’m not sure-”
“Serelyn, slow down!” Virion grasped both of her shoulders. “Start from the beginning, slowly.”
Serelyn took a deep breath. “Xyrnys and Khythos are hurt; I need your help.”
He felt his heart stop. “How did this happen?”
“Tilud disappeared from the forest. We didn’t think much of it at first, but it turns out Entos got to him and he turned against us and Halafarin.” Serelyn looked over at the direction she came from. “I don’t know where Khythos’ injury is, but he said Xyrnys’ is in her neck. They’re both unconscious; I need you to heal Khythos so he can wake up and heal Xyrnys.”
“Where are they?”
“The… the cliffs. Abyna Cliffs.” She pointed in the direction she came from. “Part of the cliff is torn apart; I felt the ridges when Xyrnys and I found Khythos. You’ll have to help me get back there; I’ll know where to go once I can smell the blood again.”
“I know where the cliffs are. Khythos doesn’t live far from here.” Virion grabbed Serelyn’s wrist and pulled her along as he flew. “How long have they been out for?”
“Almost an hour. I used fabric from Xyrnys’ jacket to cover the wounds.” Serelyn separated from Virion and took flight on her own. “Let me know when you see Tilud’s body; I’ll tell you where to go next.”
Virion despised that he didn’t know what to expect. The worst part about going to the Lake of the Starbelt in Pura was his lack of abilities while he was there. To speed up the healing process, his abilities were temporarily suppressed while he was in Pura. He knew nothing of Xyrnys or Khythos’ condition or whereabouts.
He had to completely rely on Serelyn to guide him.
The aura of black magic was fading, but the sickly scent lingered. It was nearly suffocating; Virion took a deep breath to clear his senses. From his line of sight, he could see the damaged cliff. “Sere, the cliff is torn up here. Where am I going now?”
“Head to the top!” she yelled. He saw her fly upward.
Virion followed her lead, flying up the cliff. He inspected the damage to the cliff wall; what had Tilud summoned to do damage like this? As he made it to the top, he landed on the peak of the cliff and frowned. Tilud’s body lay on the ground, limp and lifeless. There was a dead, drying vine through his forehead, congealed blood around the entrance wound. A puddle of drying and congealing blood lay under his head, though the wound had stopped bleeding a while ago. His blue eyes were open and lifeless – even now, he could see unfiltered anger in the dead orbs. What had made Tilud so angry?
Surrounding Tilud’s corpse were pieces of shriveled vine; some covered in blood, others not. The vines were strangely colored; purple and green, with flecks of black. It was certainly a mix of green and black magic. When did Tilud learn black magic? He’d never get to ask, now.
“Where are X and Khyth, Serelyn?” Virion turned to the blind Spirit, who wasn’t too far off. She was staring at the nearby waterfall; perhaps she was waiting for him to announce his presence.
Serelyn snapped to attention. “This way. There’s a shallow cave not too far from here.”
Virion took off after Serelyn. He was then able to notice Khythos and Xyrnys’ soul signatures; they were weak but still alive. They were alive. Thank Olotl. The blond saw Serelyn move a batch of vines away from a stone, revealing a narrow cave entrance. Light filtered out from the small cave; it either had natural lighting, or the Sea Spirit had lit a torch for whoever was going to assist her. It wasn’t as if she needed the light, after all.
He wasted no time in entering the small cave. Laying parallel to one another were Xyrnys and Khythos – the Shadowborn on the left, and the Rhaeadran on the right. Serelyn had mentioned that the wounds were bad, but he’d not expected what he saw. Khythos had been pierced through the abdomen; the wound was still trickling blood through the messy wrap job that the Sea Spirit had managed. He gave her credit where it was due; it wasn’t as if she could see exactly where the wound was.
Xyrnys’ neck was pierced; he was surprised it was still in one piece. Virion could see pieces of her spine and was shocked to see her head still attacked. Some of the bone was crushed, but Khythos would be able to fix it easily. Would she survive long enough for Khythos to wake up after Virion healed him? Briefly, he considered healing Xyrnys instead.
The blond Demi-God jumped at Serelyn’s voice. “Don’t what?”
“You’re second-guessing yourself.” Her milky eyes grazed him. “Heal Khythos. You don’t have the healing capabilities to heal them both, and you could butcher the healing Xyrnys needs. Khythos won’t.”
He sighed. He knew Serelyn was right, and yet… “What if she dies before he wakes up? We can’t wait for another one of us to return from the Lake.”
“Right now, the wound isn’t fatal. Neither wound is. If I’d have been able to, I would’ve healed Khythos myself. You could accidentally kill Xyrnys if you don’t heal her right, and then she’ll have to go to the Lake to recover anyway.”
“…understood.” Without further hesitation, Virion leaned over Khythos and placed his hands on the open wound. Though the Rhaeadran grunted in discomfort, he did not wake. A pale brown glow emitted from Virion’s hands and enveloped the wound. It was much slower and less thorough than Khythos’ healing abilities, but it would suffice. His natural healing would take care of the minor damage and allow him to help Xyrnys.
Sitting back, Virion took a deep breath. The light faded, revealing that Khythos’ wound was mostly healed. There was nothing more that Virion could do. The blond took hold of the torn remnants of Xyrnys’ jacket, wiping the blood from his hands and then cleaning the area on Khythos’ abdomen where the wound was. “What now?”
“All we can do now is wait.” Serelyn sighed, leaning against the cave wall. “Unless Olotl himself comes down and heals Xyrnys on his own, we have to wait for Khythos.”
“Waiting…” The feisty Demi-God despised the word, and the action even more. He was not patient. “And you’re sure her wound is not fatal?”
“I am. I had to patch it up; I may not be able to see it, but I’m far from inexperienced.” The Sea Spirit seemed offended at the question. “I don’t have a better idea; I’m sorry. Gaia or the white mages would be able to-”
“Gaia is dead.” His words were laced with a deadly, dripping venom. “The white mages aren’t here. Khythos is still unconscious. I’m so sorry that you’re stick here with me, Serelyn, but I’m all you’ve got right now.”
Serelyn glared in his direction. For a woman with no vision, she had a glare that could freeze him in place. “Did I say there was anything wrong with you, Virion of the Land? Of course I didn’t. You’ve done all you can. I just wish there was more I could do, you stubborn boar. Jyn is a healer. ShadowHeart may not have her magic anymore but she’s great with natural cures. Olotl is a bloody Observer so he can do whatever he damn well pleases. It’s not all about you.”
“I know that!”
“Do you truly, Virion?”
Virion wanted to argue, but he couldn’t find the words. He knew he had blown things out of control; how did he go back? He didn’t want to admit he was wrong.
“Could you two… stop arguing for five minutes?”
“Khythos!” Virion was grateful for the Rhaeadran’s awakening; it prevented him from having to think up a response. Serelyn had a scowl on her face, signaling that the conversation was not over. He’d think of a response by then, hopefully. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore.” Khythos sat up slowly. His hand was on his abdomen, putting pressure on the spot where the wound was. “It’s healing fine, thank you.”
“Great. I hate to ask you to do something right after you’ve regained consciousness, but I need-”
“No, I know.” He turned to the Shadowborn. “Have you done anything?”
Virion shook his head. “I didn’t have the energy to. And someone thinks I would’ve killed her.”
“Virion!” Serelyn snapped. “Stop-”
Khythos snapped his head back towards the two. “Enough, both of you.” He glared at Virion. “With the severity of the neck wound, you likely would’ve healed it incorrectly. I would’ve had to break her neck to fix it if it had been set wrong, thus, having to kill her. We don’t have the time to waste.”
The Sea Spirit crossed her arms. “Likewise, I told you earlier that Xyrnys wouldn’t have had the energy as she healed to fix Khythos’ wounds.”
“No, likely not. Then again, both Xyrnys and Virion have surprised me with what they can manage.” It was clear that Khythos was unwilling to side with either of them.
Virion stuck his tongue out at Serelyn childishly. Khythos saw the motion – the other would not.
“If the pair of you could stop acting like children, that would be wise. You’re both beyond six-hundred years old; can you act like it?”
Serelyn sighed. “Apologies.”
“Whatever,” Virion scoffed.
The Rhaeadran rolled his eyes at them as he leaned over Xyrnys. “I need both of you to get along; your assistance is required so I don’t have to do this twice.
“Right.” The blond moved closer.
Serelyn seemed to give up her anger for the moment as well. “Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Khythos shifted Xyrnys’ body so she was lying completely straight. Her neck was adjusted just enough to straighten out any curves or imperfections. “Virion, I need you to hold her head still. Sere, if you wouldn’t mind putting all of your weight on her chest and shoulders, I would appreciate it.”
“She needs to be still, I take it?”
He nodded. “Completely. She’ll most likely wake at least once during the healing process as the pain fluctuates – if she moves her neck before the bone re-fuses, I’ll have to break her neck and do it again. It’s why it’s better that you healed me, Virion. I trust you’d have done your best, but we can’t afford to do this multiple times.”
Virion nodded, positioning himself at the female Demi-God’s head and holding it firmly at the sides. Serelyn followed his actions, feeling around to locate Xyrnys’ shoulders. She used her legs to pin down her arms, and her hands were placed firmly and Xyrnys’ shoulders. “We’re ready when you are, Khyth.”
“Brace yourselves, now.” The Rhaeadran placed one hand on top of the wound and pressed down firmly. “Steady.”
Serelyn stilled herself, remaining silent.
Virion kept his hands firmly in place, waiting. The blond watched as Khythos’ healing light enveloped Xyrnys’ neck. The first few moments passed in silence. Suddenly, Xyrnys’ eyes popped open, wide with anxiety. Her mouth unhinged, as if she was trying to shout, but all Virion could hear was a pained gargling sound. He saw Serelyn turn her head away; Khythos didn’t flinch. “Is she drowning?”
“No… Her vocal cords got severed during the battle, and there’s still blood in her throat as a side-effect.” Khythos relaxed slightly when Xyrnys fell unconscious once again. “However, it healed just fine.”
When Khythos moved his hand, the wound was completely gone. All that remained was a small x-shaped scar, which wasn’t unusual. Whenever they received a wound that could’ve killed or permanently disabled them, a scar remained in its place, as if they needed to be reminded. Was it Olotl’s idea of a joke? Virion didn’t find it very funny if it was, and he found his sense of humor to be warped.
“Thank you, Khythos.” Virion removed his hands from Xyrnys’ head. Hearing that Khythos was finished, Serelyn jumped off her chest, moving as far back as possible. It was likely she felt bad for the pain she helped cause for that moment. “Are you all right?”
“I’m feeling much better now, though I’m quite tired after that ordeal.” Khythos sat down cross-legged. “You arrived in decent time, Virion. How are you fairing?”
“I feel perfectly fine.” Virion was amazed – and infuriated – that Khythos was asking about his wellbeing. Khythos was [i recovering from a stab wound and he was asking about] - “Are you stupid, Khythos? You just got skewered, and you’re asking me if I’m okay? What were you even doing out here? What was Tilud doing out here?”
“I live out here, mutt. Remember?” Khythos glared at the feisty male. “And while you were taking your beauty nap, I was getting documents on Sanae’s last appearance. I can’t be sure how relevant they are now, but it’s a start.”
Serelyn stared blankly into the room. “Xyrnys and I were trailing Theran Ocus with the intent of Khythos joining us once he retrieved the papers. The scent of black magic is what distracted us, and we felt Khythos’ pain. We had to help. That brings you to the present – there’s nothing else to it.”
“Entos said something to Tilud,” Khythos explained again. “He didn’t say what, exactly – he was too angry and intent on killing me. It was enough to push his fear of black magic aside to gain that much power. Enough to make him betray us and Halafarin. He wanted an invisible revenge I don’t understand.”
“Once Xyrnys wakes up, we’ll gather together and make a new plan.” Virion knelt to Xyrnys’ body. “Your cave is nearby, correct?”
“Yes. I was thinking of heading there first, to heal faster.”
“Would you mind taking X with you? She could probably use the break too; the natural magic of your temple will do her some good. I can have Serelyn track Theran’s trail for me.”
Khythos nodded. “I will, as long as you’re both careful and you stop acting like petulant children.”
Serelyn and Virion glanced at each other but said nothing. Both looked embarrassed, knowing they’d been childish, but neither wanted to admit it.
The Rhaeadran chuckled, shaking his head as he lifted Xyrnys off the ground. He winced slightly as he got a spike of pain in his abdomen, but it settled quickly. He was healing well. “Be safe. We now know that the plan was to revive Sanae. The only one of them we haven’t seen yet is Theran Ocus – approach him carefully.”
“Right.” Virion nodded. “I’ve already died; we can’t spend more time than necessary healing in the Lake. When you two are feeling better, let’s meet back up at Xamchi’s place. We should get Wil and Xamchi up to speed anyway.”
“All right.” Khythos lifted for flight carefully, making sure he wouldn’t cause himself too much pain. “Until next time, Virion. Be well.”
Khythos embraced the surge of energy that charged through him as he flew through the waterfall barrier and entered his temple. The natural, fresh-water pool within the cave left a mystical aura in the air that never failed to lift his spirits.
He placed Xyrnys on a fur seal rug near the entrance. Khythos was sure she would join him for meditation once she woke, but he wanted her to make her way to the pool on her own. She needed to rebuild her strength after the injury she sustained. Silently, he wondered how she would handle the small scar once she saw it. It would likely bother her, but Xyrnys would brood in silence. It was how she’d always been.
Once he was sure she was still, Khythos made his way towards the pool. The cave’s natural magic – which originated from the crystals embedded in the ceiling and walls – was gentle and soothing; it would aid his recovery immensely. He draped his cloak on the wall by the door before heading into the large room, walking across the water’s surface to get to the center. Flaring his gills to prepare for the plunge, Khythos did a small backflip, diving into the dark water beneath his feet.
Khythos’ nostrils burned momentarily as his body automatically switched from nose breathing to using his gills. It was a welcome feeling; he hadn’t had the chance to do so since Olotl called them, and the rushing of the cool water on his previously dry gills felt like heaven. His gi handled the water easily, being made of a hydrophobic material that wouldn’t weigh him down while underwater. The Sea Demi-God opened his eyes, the fresh water hydrating his irises pleasantly. The glow of his sea-blue eyes was enough to guide him; he wouldn’t need light until Xyrnys decided to join him.
He relaxed as he felt his body energize the longer he swam through the lake, effortlessly moving with the flow of the water. Finally, Khythos found himself able to focus on his thoughts. What had Tilud managed to get himself into before he’d killed himself? What exactly did Entos and Theran plan to do with Sanae’s zombified reincarnation, provided she didn’t turn on them once she had what she wanted?
A rush of weak – yet stable – energy interrupted his thought process, and it dawned on Khythos that Xyrnys must’ve woken and come to join him. He waited for a moment, as she was likely finding a spot on the pool’s surface to meditate, and then surfaced slowly so he wouldn’t scare her. As his vision adjusted to the darkness of the room, he realized that Xyrnys’ pink eyes were the only additional light. “I’m glad you’re awake.”
“I had to practice talking for a moment before I came in here,” Xyrnys admitted. Her voice sounded scratchy; an after-effect of the wound, Khythos guessed. “I was afraid I couldn’t. I knew better than that.”
“You were scared. I can’t blame you, after a wound like that.” Khythos floated on his back, staring at the faint glowing of the crystals on the ceiling. “How are you feeling now, X?”
Xyrnys closed her eyes. “Much better now, thank you. I saw you momentarily, when you fixed my soul. I said thank you, if you couldn’t hear me.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t hear you, but you’re welcome. You got hurt trying to help me detain Tilud, after all.” He looked up at the female Demi-God. Her body had a faint glow to it as she absorbed the natural energy of the cave. “Virion and Serelyn are tracking Theran as we recover, and we can meet them as soon as we’re ready.”
“So Virion’s back, then. That’s good.” Xyrnys nodded. She glanced at him. “Has anyone informed Halafarin of what’s happened with Tilud yet?”
“Not that I’m aware of. We haven’t seen him since he let us know Tilud was missing, and no one has sought him out.”
“We’ll have to.”
“He’ll be heartbroken.”
“He’ll be more heartbroken the longer we avoid it.” Xyrnys glanced at the blue-skinned male. “We should track him down before we find Virion and Serelyn. They’ll both be fine, especially since Virion’s fully healed.”
Khythos nodded. He knew she was right. “Very well; we will task ourselves with tracking Halafarin [i once you’re back to full strength.] I know you’re still weak, and I’m not quite up to par yet myself.”
“That’s fair.” She hummed, removing her shirt, and tossing it onto the rocks. She laid back in the water and closed her eyes. Modesty had never been an issue – they were Gods and had nothing to hide. “I’m not too keen on returning to the Lake anytime soon.”
“Is there a particular reason.”
She blinked, glancing over to Khythos, who met her gaze. “Not really, just… I’m not sure if Olotl is telling us all that he can about the situation. How can we trust him and fight for him if he won’t tell us anything?”
Khythos frowned, glancing at the floor. “Do you think he’d deliberately lie to us? Maybe he doesn’t know anything.”
“Come on, Khyth. You’re smarter than that.” Xyrnys sat up, water dripping down her back. She hovered over the surface once again. “This is Sanae’s second time on Avand. Even if he didn’t know everything, he must know something. Did Virion tell you anything when you two spoke?” He shook his head. “It’s turning out to be strikingly like our first battle, when I went in Pura for the first time. He told us nothing. Olotl thinks this is a game because he’s an Overseer and he doesn’t have to do how own work.”
“Do Overseers in other Timelines do this?”
“I’ve honestly never met another Overseer, but I’ve met other protectors.” She stood, her feet ghosting the pond’s glistening surface. “We classify as ‘Protectors’. Most Timelines only have one, not three, and their Overseers are active in their role. The Timelines with multiple Protectors are organized very differently, because the planet is generally split into multiple pieces.”
“I wonder if the other Overseers know what Olotl is like.”
Xyrnys school her head, walking over to the rocks and picking up her shirt, As she slipped it over her head, she said “The Overseers cannot see each other unless they are in the Chamber of Overseers. The Grand Overseer, T’chi, may know, but I’m not sure there’s anything he could do, now.”
The Rhaeadran frowned, following Xyrnys out of the water. He took a breath as he switched to air breathing, his lungs jolting slightly from the recent lack of use. “We’ll have to talk to Virion about this, and corner Olotl if it comes to it. If he’s not telling us vital information, we could die.
Xyrnys just shook her head. “I think we’re just better off finding things out for ourselves this far in. Olotl may be our Overseer and creator, but it’s clear he doesn’t care much for our well-being.” She glanced over to Khythos, a dark look in her eyes. “Let’s head to the forest. Halafarin needs to hear the news about Tilud.”
“Yes.” He nodded his agreement. “We should also ask him about Sanae, as well. He’s seen a lot – he may know something, and we can certainly trust him.”
“His trail is fresh.”
The suddenness of Serelyn’s voice startled Virion. She had been eerily silent the entire flight; Virion had taken up talking to himself to fill the void. “Theran has been out here recently? Sure he knows by now that we’re trying to find him.”
Serelyn didn’t acknowledge him. “It’s mixed with another signature, but it’s hard to identify. Whoever is with him is trying deliberately to hide their trail.”
“And yet, Theran isn’t.” The blond hummed. It was strange, who would try to hide more than a wanted man. “How peculiar.”
“Perhaps. Or maybe the second person doesn’t realize Theran is in trouble.”
“Or just doesn’t care.” He huffed. “Keep following him. Whoever is with him needs to answer some questions as well.” Virion tried to hide his frustration as he continued forward; who else was out here? Hadn’t they dealt with enough this past few days?
Serelyn just nodded and flew ahead, her unseeing eyes closed as she followed the magic signatures closely. “It’s innocent, that’s all I can tell. Try to hone in on it. Ignore Theran’s – I can handle that. I want to know who’s out here.”
“I’ll try. I’m not good with following magic trails – that’s more Xyrnys’ thing.” Regardless, he tried to clear Serelyn’s thoughts – and Theran’s trail – out of his mind and focus his soul. He could then focus on the innocence the Sea Spirit was speaking of; it appeared to be pleading with something. Or someone. Theran, perhaps? It was too faint to tell.
Knowing that Serelyn could handle herself – blind or not, she was capable – he decided to investigate further. Virion landed just above the ground’s surface, hovering just before he touched the grass. He didn’t want Theran and the other person to know he was there.
The surrounding area told Virion that he was in Staram Plains. Theran was likely heading to the old base to fetch something for Entos, if that were the case. The sandy blond growled. He would catch the tosser red-handed and drag him back to X and Khythos.
He’d [i make him start talking], no matter what he had to do.
As Theran’s base can into view, he noticed small, dark clouds of smoke emitting from the roof. The telltale smell of burning wood singed Virion’s nose and he nearly ran towards the base. Theran was hiding evidence!
“Why did you do this in the first place, Theran?:
Virion ground to a halt. [i That’s… That’s Jyn’s voice…] Continuing, he slowed down and stayed hidden; perhaps he would learn something by spying on them. He peeked from beyond a tree he hid behind and saw Theran and Jyn standing in front of the burning base.
There was a pause from Theran. “I wanted to learn what this kind of power felt like. It was… beyond what I’d ever experienced.”
“And looked what it’s cost us.” Jyn crossed her arms, lowering her head. “Lady Gaia is…”
“I… I had no idea Entos planned to kill Gaia.”
Virion raised an eyebrow. Interesting…
“Did you know he was planning to kill anyone, Theran?”
The black haired male shook his head. “No, I promise you. I thought we were done once he got his… puppet.” He shuddered at the word. “I don’t like that… zombie… he’s brought in. It’s… why I’m doing this.” He turned to the base. “The spell he found that revived her was mine; he wanted to use it and I didn’t tell him no. If I burn my things and leave, I can start over and he can’t use my magic for awful things like this.”
Jyn frowned. “How can you not regret learning blood magic?”
“I… regret a lot of things. I don’t regret feeling the power I felt.” Theran tapped his foot nervously. “You… you should really get out of here, Jyn. I don’t want Entos or Sanae to see you with me.”
“And why would that be, Theran?”
Virion felt his blood freeze at the feminine voice. Though still shoddy-looking, Sanae appeared – seemingly from nowhere – and stood mere inches from Theran’s face.”
“I… Sanae. Why are you here? Where’s Entos?”
“Preparing a rite to restore my full power. Never mind that.” The redhead frowned. “You’re avoiding my question. I’m afraid you’ve said a bit too much, Theran. I don’t like talkers.”
“Do whatever you want to me.” Theran’s face was stone-cold. “Jyn has nothing to do with this. Leave her alone.”
Sanae grinned. Virion felt his stomach churn. “I think she has a lot more to do with this than you want me to know, Theran. Especially now that she knows our secrets. And, well… Killing you doesn’t feel like it would have the same effect.”
"Leave her alone, Sanae.” Theran stood in front of her protectively. “She has done nothing wrong. Take my life instead.”
“I can’t do that. I still have use for you.” The redhead shoved Theran away with inhuman strength. He hit a tree and groaned. Stunned from the blow, he did not move. “You, on the other hand…”
Jyn growled, backing away from the zombie. “Theran!”
[i I can’t let Jyn die like this… Theran may not be innocent, but she is…] Virion darted from behind the tree. Jyn! Run!”
In what felt like slow motion, Virion watched as the same green lighting that killed him headed for Jyn. Try as he might, he wasn’t fast enough to reach the blonde, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to conjure a clone in time. Instead, he witnessed the lightning strike Jyn, though she tried her best to run from it. The girl barely screamed before her body collapsed to the ground. The attack was over before he could process what happened, but it felt like it would never end.
“Virion of the Land.” Sanae sneered the name. “Did you come back to die by my hands a second time? It’s too bad I lack the power to do so but know this.” Her eyes glistened. “Your end is nigh. The next time, I’ll make sure you stay dead.”
“There won’t be a next time. I’m not letting you get away.” Virion hissed. “I’ll kill you again myself.”
She simply laughed. A piece of her decaying body flaked off onto the ground due to the heat from the burning base. “Is that so? I’m afraid today isn’t the day, Virion.”
“What-” He barely uttered the word before he felt a sharp kick to his abdomen. He was sent flying back, breaking through a tree before tumbling into a nearby bush. Though winded, he refused to allow Sanae to escape. Quickly moving from the spot he landed in and flying over, he hissed when he realized she’d already gone. “Dammit!”
Theran finally moved from the spot he’d landed in, his movements sluggish. Sanae had left him winded, but above all, she’d left him heartbroken. He knew Jyn was gone. “I’m… sorry, Jyn.” He walked over to her fallen body. She lay still, having landed on her front. He flipped her body over gently, though she could feel no pain, and held her close to his chest. “I never should have let you come here. I failed to save you.”
“That’s not the only thing you failed to do,” Virion spat. “Enough moping. If we’re quick, I can get her to Khythos and maybe we can still save-” The sandy blond placed his hands on her body to take it from Theran, and he froze. Something was wrong. “It’s gone.”
“Her soul… It’s gone.”
“Virion! What’s going on?!”
Serelyn’s worried voice broke through his troubled thoughts. She’d taken her time arriving, which was probably for the better. “Sere..” He shook his head. “Sanae was here. She escaped. Jyn…”
The Sea Spirit lowered her head. “Her soul was taken. No need to tell me – I can feel its absence. What could Sanae need a soul for?”
There was a moment of silence before Theran muttered “…the rite.”
“The rite?” Serelyn questioned.
Virion nodded. “I was spying on Theran and Jyn when they got confronted by Sanae. She did mention Entos preparing a rite to restore her full power.”
“You were right here and you didn’t help her?!” Theran grabbed a hold of Virion’s shirt and growled, getting into the Demi-God’s face. “Why the hell didn’t you interfere sooner?!”
“Get your filthy hands off me!” He shoved the mage away. “It’s not my responsibility to atone for your mistakes, is it, Theran? I stepped in when Jyn was in danger, and I feel awful that I was too late. However, it’s not my problem. It’s yours. You’re the reason that Jyn ended up in this mess, not me.”
Theran simply looked away.
“Virion, settle down. We can deal with this later.” Serelyn took Jyn’s body, which had been laid on the ground. “Let’s head back to Xamchi’s place. We’ll bury Jyn in Windberry’s flower garden while we wait for Xyrnys and Khythos.”
“Right.” Virion glared at Theran. “And you’d best believe you’re coming with us. You will tell us everything you know. You owe Jyn and Gaia that much.”
“…It’s not like I have a choice.”
“Sanae? Oh, yes. The Dark Priestess.” Halafarin sauntered over to a worn-looking bookshelf, shoving a few vines aside. “I offered aid in the battle that brought her down two-hundred years ago.”
Xyrnys nodded. “We know. That’s why we want to ask you a few questions.”
“We didn’t participate in that battle,” Khythos added. “And Virion wasn’t able to ask Olotl – he woke from his Pura form on his own – and we aren’t sure he’d tell us anything anyway. We were wondering if you had any information for us.”
“It’s a shame Olotl couldn’t say anything. He was there for the battle.” Halafarin shook his head and selected a book. It was leather-faced with a hand-crafted vine binding. “I have the spells we used against her in here, as well as what we used to track her back then. I’m not sure what use it will be now.”
“It’s more than what we have now. Was Sanae always a Dark Priestess?”
“No. We aren’t sure what turned her. Gaia suggested the Veneum Plague; Olotl wouldn’t provide an answer.”
The Rhaeadran snorted in annoyance. “Of course not. Did you or Serelyn have any theories?”
“We did not. The Veneum Plague was the only reasonable answer we could think of. If we had been able to do research on her remains, we could have confirmed it.” He shook his head. “She did exhibit some of the same symptoms that Cliona did; the irritability, the skin color change, the distortion… We just managed to get lucky with Clio.”
“That we did,” Xyrnys agreed.
Halafarin took a deep breath before staring the two Demi-Gods down. “You two didn’t come all the way out here just to ask me that. You come bearing bad news. Did something go wrong with Virion’s Pura restoration?” He narrowed his eyes. “Or does it have something to do with the new scar on Xyrnys’ neck?”
Xyrnys covered the small scar, looking away. “Virion is fine.”
“Then what are you hiding?”
“It’s just…” She continued to hold her throat, tightening her grasp in anxiety. “It’s about Tilud.”
“Tilud?” Halafarin’s voice raised slightly. “Did you find him?”
“We did.” Khythos placed his hand on Xyrnys’, prying it away from her throat. “By my cave.”
“Really? Where is he now, then? Surely you asked him to come home.”
“He’s dead, Halafarin.” The Rhaeadran felt the words slipping out before he could stop them. “We had to kill him.”
The elder stopped, blinking slowly. “…what happened, Khythos?”
“I couldn’t obtain all the details. All I know for certain is that Entos manipulated him.” Khythos picked at his horn, looking down. “I’m sorry. We didn’t have another choice.”
“Did you try talking to him?” Halafarin sounded irritated, his words a slow, menacing hiss. “Or did you just give up on him like everyone else.”
Xyrnys stood. “Halafarin!”
Khythos raised an arm to settle her. “X, it’s all right.” Once she visibly backed down, he said “Of course I did. X didn’t even show up until the very end, and she didn’t launch a single attack. It was just the two of us in the beginning, and Serelyn was investigating the magic in the area.”
“Then why wouldn’t you save him, Khythos?”
“He blamed you for his abandonment. He blamed you for everything. He said you didn’t trust him. I spent too much time trying to talk him out of it and X and I almost got sent In Pura in the process. In the end, the madness consumed him. There was nothing else that could be done, I promise.”
“No.” Kirindave shook his head. “When he landed his last attack – the one that killed him and crippled us – the vine went through his brain. There are two organs I need to revive someone – the heart and the brain – as well as the soul. Whether they’re in the body or not, if they’re intact, I can perform a surgery and revive them. Toby killed himself in such a way that it butchered his chance at revival. I would have, if I could have.”
“…I see.” He combed his fingers through his hair. “I knew there was always a chance he would… stray from me, but still… I wanted to save him. I wanted him to look Fate in the eye and show it he’d won… In reality, he’d lost the moment he was abandoned, and there was nothing I could do.”
Xyrnys shook her head. “Fate has never done any of us any good – Tilud would have had a chance if Entos hadn’t gotten into his head. He used his darker thoughts against us. I really am sorry, Halafarin.”
“Where is Tilud now?”
“Buried by the cliffs, where we battled.” Khythos stood. “Whether or not his intent was to harm us, he deserved a proper burial. He meant a lot to you.”
“Thank you.” He turned around, facing away from the Demi-Gods. “…if you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone now.”
Khythos bowed. “Right… Thanks for your help.”
“If we find out anything else, we’ll let you know.” Xyrnys turned and headed out of the forest, Khythos behind her. Once far enough from Halafarin’s chambers, she took a deep breath. “I feel terrible.”
“As do I. I’m certain he understands why we had to do it, but he’s heartbroken. As we knew he would be.” Khythos brushed the thorns aside as he left the forest. “I do wish I could have done more to stop Tilud.”
Xyrnys frowned. “Don’t go blaming yourself now, Khyth. It won’t do anything for us. What’s done is done.”
“I’m aware. It won’t make me feel any less sorrowful for the situation.” He sighed. “I don’t plan to let it get to me; I’m aware there’s no turning back. Anyway… Should we head to Xamchi’s place now that we’re done here?”
“Yes. I’m a bit concerned; we haven’t heard from Virion since we split up. Nothing feels out of place; something must’ve sidetracked him.”
“He’d better be all right, considering everything we’ve been through in the past few days.” Khythos rolled his eyes. “Come on, then. I’m sure he’s waiting for us. Hopefully he’s had some better luck than we’ve had.”
“Has Theran said anything to you since you brought him back?” Khythos inquired.
“Nothing.” Virion seemed frustrated as he paced back and forth. “He hasn’t moved from the chair in his cell block for hours. I was hoping one of you could talk to him.”
Xyrnys shook her head, glancing at the sullen male. “We could try, but I’m not sure he’ll talk to us without a fight. He came here with you because he had no choice. We can’t force him to start talking.”
“No, we can’t physically torture him.” She glared at the sandy blond. “He’s likely built a mental block to withstand that. We’ll have to wait it out.”
“We don’t have time to wait it out!” Virion snapped. “Gaia and Jyn are dead, and all I know is that souls are going missing and Entos wants to prepare a rite to restore Sanae’s power! Do you want more people to die?!”
Xyrnys teleported so she was directly in Virion’s face. Her nose touched his. “Of course, I don’t! Don’t tell me that Gaia and Jyn are dead; I already know that! What else-”
“Knock it off already!” Khythos grabbed Xyrnys by the shoulders and pulled her away from Virion. “Do you two really think acting like children will help us figure this out?” The female just crossed her arms and huffed, while Virion turned away. “We can-”
The sound of the teleporter activating interrupted Khythos, and the three turned around to face the sound. “I’ll talk to him.”
“I don’t know.” Xyrnys’ brow furrowed in concern. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
Wil shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. We haven’t spoken since we got in that fight. I just might get him to talk – he may not know I’m alive. I don’t think he’s stupid enough to try something with you three watching, in any case.”
“He has a point.” Khythos turned to Wil. “Are you sure you want to, though?”
Virion rolled his eyes. “Who cares if he wants to? He owes us this much, for being a part of this mess.”
“While he could’ve been a little nicer about it, I have to agree with Virion on this one.” Xyrnys nodded. “We need answers before we lose anyone else, and Wil may be able to get them. We can make sure he doesn’t get himself killed, but I don’t care if he wants to right now either.”
Khythos looked confused and defeated. “You two were just at each other’s throats and now... Never mind. Don’t be rude.” He handed the cell key to Wil. “We’ll be right outside, okay?”
“Right.” The blond nodded. “Don’t worry, Khythos. They’re right. I've burdened you all so much, this is the least I can do.” Turning away, he headed towards the cell block, his step confident but his eyes filled with anxiety. He hesitated as he turned the hey, but he soon found himself inside the cell, facing Theran’s back. “What have we gotten ourselves into, Ocus?”
Theran jumped, as if he heard a ghost whisper in his ear and whipped around to face Wil. His face was pale for a moment, but quickly straightened out. “Wil. Entos said you’d survived. I... wasn’t sure if I could believe him.”
Wil chuckled dryly, sitting on the floor. “I’m not surprised. After everything that’s happened, it’s hard to take anything at face value anymore.”
Silence fell between the two for several minutes, the only sound being the mechanical clicking of a machine in the background. There was unbroken eye contact between Wil and Theran.
Eventually, Wil broke the silence and said “You didn’t want to kill be, did you? Back at the workshop?”
“No.” The word was spoken quickly but didn’t hold any insincerity. “Of course I didn’t. I didn’t care about that stupid chest of items enough to kill you over it. Entos lost his mind when I told him the items turned black – that they were unusable somehow. He told me if I didn’t kill you, he killed us both.”
He nodded. “At least if I fought you one-on-one, with no one else around, I could make it look worse than it was and give you time to hide. I could tell Entos you were dead and hope he wouldn’t come looking for you.”
“It’s not like you didn’t do any damage, Ocus.” Wil scoffed, wrapping his arms around his abdomen. “I had to be revived three times. I died three times. Do you know what that’s like?”
“Save it.” Wil sighed, digging his nails into his arm. “It’s... a little easier knowing you didn’t want to kill me, and I get that you had to make it look believable. I can’t... I can’t say I fully forgive you for that, but... I understand.”
Theran sighed. “I know you didn’t come in here for that. Ask me for what you came here. The Demi-Gods want information, right?”
“That’s part of it. I do owe them that for saving me, at the very least.” He looked away. “I also want to know... is this really what we wanted? We got into blood magic for power. We were happy with what we had, but Entos...” Wil shuddered. “Entos never felt like he had enough. We were content without the blood orbs and revivals. We just wanted to learn how to enhance our magic. He always wanted to push limits we weren’t comfortable with, but... he was who gave us what we had. How could we tell him no?”
“Like I said to Jyn, I regret a lot of things we did. I don’t regret feeling powerful.” He crossed his arms. “I regret letting Entos control so much of my life that I let Jyn die for my choices. I let myself nearly kill my best friend for some items I didn’t care about. I pushed myself beyond my comfort zones for someone who is clearly going mad.” Theran threw his head back. “I wish I could go back and fix it. Make it right.”
Wil sighed. “We can’t go back, but we can help fix this mess. Just... please... Tell me what you know about Sanae. I don’t know what Entos told you – you know he didn’t tell me much of anything – but anything can help us get rid of her.”
“I wish I could say I knew a lot, but I really don’t. All I know right now is that Entos wants to prepare a rite to restore her full power. I only know that because Sanae opened her mouth and said something before she killed Jyn, otherwise I had no idea.”
“A rite? Like a ritual?” Wil tipped his head. “Do you know what he needs for it?”
Theran tapped his foot nervously, shaking his head. “No, not really. Jyn’s soul was gone when Virion collected her body; the souls must be important somehow. Otherwise, like I said, Entos never told me anything about the rite. He did mention something once about three powerful hearts, though.”
[i “...he did mention something once about three powerful hearts, though.”]
Virion felt his brain pound as Theran spoke, gripping his head as he groaned in agony. The hearts. Powerful, painful flashes of his previous vision blazed through his head, pumping through his veins like acid.
He tuned the voice out, trying to quell the pain in his head and push the vision away. He didn’t want to see them die again. He pressed on the sides of his skull, adding more pressure with each passing second.
[i “You can’t save them.”]
“You can’t even save yourself.”
“Shut up.” Virion scratched roughly at the sides of his head, as if he was digging the voice out with his hands. He didn’t register that his scalp was beginning to bleed; he didn’t care. He needed to get the voice out.
[i Suddenly, a light pink silhouette stood before him. “X?” Virion reached toward it, stopping short as a green silhouetted hand reached through its chest, creating a hole dripping with blood. The pink silhouette flashed Xyrnys’ face, and then flashed a different face. It was too blurred for Virion to make out, and it shattered before he could get a better look.
“You’ll never defeat me.”
Virion screamed, but no sound came out. He felt frozen; he couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. He just remained still as a blue silhouette appeared. He wanted to scream for it to move, but he couldn’t. All he could do is watch as the green hand ripped a hole into its chest, creating another bleeding, gaping hole. Khythos’ face flashed before him.
Again, the silhouette’s face changed, too blurred to make out. This time, it also changed color; whether it was teal or green, Virion couldn’t tell. It shattered too quickly, and he just wanted everything to be over.
He could feel tears falling down his face, but he still couldn’t move. Even as the hand tore through his own chest, pain rippling through his body and his mind, he just stood there, agonizing in silence. Virion only turned his head when he was finally able to, facing the green silhouette. Though blurry, he could tell who it was. It resembled Sanae.
“Hearts. Hearts and souls. Both create the ultimate power. Try and stop me, if you think you can.”]
The vision vanished, and Virion screamed, gripping his hair tightly and tugging as hard as he could. He barely registered someone trying to get him to release the vice-grip he had on his hair; all he could focus on was the pain and the bile that was rising in his throat.
“Virion. Virion, it’s Khythos. Try to breathe for me, okay?”
Normally, Khythos’ smooth, soft voice could bring him back to reality, but not even that helped as he lurched forward and vomited, a mixture of blood and bile landing on the floor with a sickening splash. He coughed, leaning into Khythos – he’d never admit Khythos had to support him like this – and took a few deep, ragged breaths. “I’ll… I’ll be okay.”
Khythos hummed. “Are you sure? Just take a moment to recharge. You can tell us once you’ve calmed down.”
“We don’t really have time for that.” Virion pushed away from the Rhaeadran. “I appreciate the gesture, but-” He swallowed back a new wave of bile. “We need to figure out what this means before this gets out of hand.”
“Okay, fine.” Xyrnys glanced back to Theran and Wil, who were now standing just outside the cell, before shifting her gaze back to Virion. “What happened? What did you see?”
“It was... like the last time I saw the missing hearts. It was you and Khyth at first...” He shuddered. “Something was different this time, though. You two were colored silhouettes, and at the last second, before the silhouettes shattered, the faces changed.”
“I’m guessing the vision didn’t let you see whose faces they were?” Khythos questioned.
Virion shook his head. “No. I saw yours and X’s, but... the faces they distorted into were too blurry for me to make out/” He coughed, turning his head away from Khythos. He spat a small splotch of blood-tinged saliva onto the floor. “Another difference was... I didn’t see my own heart be taken this time, even though my chest was torn apart.”
Xyrnys frowned. “What do you think that means?”
“I’m not sure. I did see Sanae’s face this time. It was distorted, but it was her. She said ‘hearts and souls. Power. Try and stop me.’ That was it.”
“I don’t think she’s directly speaking to you, but she’s obviously haunting you.” Khythos moved out of the way as a lab worker showed up to clean up the vomit. “The third heart being unseen has to be significant somehow?”
“Do you think it was Gaia’s?”
Virion whipped his head around, locking his eyes with Theran’s. The Blood Mage stood meekly beside Wil, barely making eye contact. “This is why they took her heart? It… it wasn’t for the summoning?”
He shook his head. “It couldn’t have been. Entos only needed the souls for the summoning. I wasn’t sure what he was keeping the heart for. I’m still not sure what the full plan is. I was only present for a small portion of Sanae’s revival, and I didn’t even know about the rite until Sanae said something right before…” Theran’s gaze shifted to the floor. “Right before she killed Jyn.” Wil moved away, giving Theran more space to move away from the cell, but he only hovered outside the doorway. “That’s all I know.”
“I hate to ask,” Wil started. “But where is Jyn buried?”
Khythos raised an eyebrow. “Why is that relevant?”
“I know Jyn didn’t present as strong, but…”
Xyrnys appeared to pick up on Wil’s thought process and nodded. “She had a lot of magic.” She glanced at Virion. “Where’s her body?”
“Serelyn recommended we bury her in Windberry’s flower garden. Her soul was gone when we buried her, but I don’t remember seeing her heart missing.” Virion lazily crossed her arms. “I’ll be honest, though. I didn’t think I’d need to look.”
“Who brought her back.”
Virion sighed. “Serelyn. I was so focused on keeping Theran in my sight, I didn’t want any distractions. He didn’t put up a fight, though.”
Theran looked up once more. “I had no reason to. That thing killed Jyn. I owe her nothing. You three may be annoying, but I’ll do whatever it takes to send Sanae back to the Underworld. Even if it means teaming up with you.”
“Once ShadowHeart and Leona have had time to mourn, we will revisit Jyn’s burial site.” Xyrnys frowned. “In the meantime, we need to look into the narrow leads we have.”
“I can take Wil and visit Halafarin,” Virion offered. “I know he’s still sore since losing Tilud, so he’s potentially a target. Plus, he’s a Guardian Spirit, and still strong for an old man.”
Xyrnys nodded. “Please. He probably won’t want to speak to Khythos or myself, considering we broke the news about Tilud to him. Plus, he’s closest to you.” She turned to Khythos. “I need you to do something for me.”
Khythos blinked. “Anything.”
“I need you to track down The Hunters for me and ask them if they’ve seen Entos and Sanae.”
“Why is that?”
“Theran said Sanae needs three powerful hearts, and she may already have two. Zaran is a werewolf and Brengem is a shapeshifter.” Xyrnys’ eyes were stern. “Vrodius on his own wouldn’t raise any flags; he’s just a mage.”
The Rhaeadran hummed. “Of course. May I ask why you can’t, however?”
“I have… something I need to look into.” She looked away. “I don’t know what answers I’m going to get, but I have a feeling I may need to hop timelines to do it.”
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more. I’m… not quite sure what I’m looking for yet, but I promise I’ll tell you when I find out.”
“Don’t worry; I understand.”
Xyrnys nodded. “Thank you.” She glanced at Theran. “Take Theran with you. It’ll keep him out of trouble, and you’ll have backup if something goes wrong.”
Theran just nodded. “Fine.”
“So… you won’t have backup then?” Virion glanced at the Shadowborn. “Will you be all right?”
“I don’t plan on getting in a fight.” She nodded. “I’m just seeking answers. If I get into too much trouble, I’ll back out. I’ll come find one of you when I get back, I promise.”
“May the Stars be with you then.” He nudged Wil and nodded to the door. “I don’t trust Olotl to have our backs anymore.”
Xyrnys took a deep breath as she watched the Demi-God take Wil and walk away. “Yeah, I don’t either.”
“When did you guys give up on Olotl?”
“Hm?” Khythos glanced at Theran, giving him a quizzical look. The pair hadn’t exchanged words since they left Xamchi’s compound; he hadn’t been expecting the question. “What gives you that idea?”
Theran shot him a knowing glance. “I’m not stupid. Virion literally said ‘I don’t trust Olotl to have our backs’. Sounds a lot like you three don’t trust in your savior anymore.”
“He’s not our savior,” he snapped. He then took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You’re right. It does sound like we gave up on Olotl, doesn’t it? Honestly, I don’t think we ever had faith in him at all. I think we just wanted to believe he cared about us.” Khythos scoffed. “As if. We only exist to take care of problems he doesn’t feel like dealing with. Why do you think we have powers other Demi-Gods and Protectors wouldn’t have?”
“I wasn’t aware you did.”
“Xyrnys mentioned it; don’t tell her I told you. I probably shouldn’t have.” Khythos shrugged. “Demi-Gods and Protectors in other timelines exist to observe and only intervene when necessary. They can’t do what we can. They don’t hop timelines, see visions, or manipulate souls. That kind of power is reserved for full-powered Gods and Observers.”
The Blood Mage cocked an eyebrow. “And no one decided to stop Olotl from abusing his power by giving you three powers like this?”
He shook his head. “No. Once the Grand Overseer assigns an Overseer to a timeline, all he does is wait for a planet to be created. After that, he does not intervene unless something is brought to his attention. Perhaps that’s what X is up to.”
“You all could’ve gone mad with power, and yet you still chose to do the right thing and protect Avand. I can’t say I would’ve done the same...” Theran looked away. The sky was a gloomy gray, as if reflecting the sadness in his heart. “Have you ever considered it?”
“Going mad? Plenty.”
“What stops you?”
“The serenity of life.” Khythos stopped moving, glancing back at Theran. “Perhaps it’s my peaceful nature speaking, but life is inherently beautiful. Take away the filthy things that humankind has created, and the core essentials of life are marvelous. Love, fear, happiness, sadness. I could go on. I don’t experience these things the same as you do, but I do feel them. When we fix the world, perhaps you should experience things differently. Try again.”
Theran looked away. “Jyn isn’t getting another chance. Why should I?”
Khythos didn’t answer; he wasn’t sure how to respond. He glanced out ahead at the grasslands and sighed. Theran was haunted by his demons, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to help.
Not until Sanae was dealt with, anyway.
“Do you really believe Sanae can be stopped?”
Again, Khythos was caught off-guard with the question. “Are you asking because you really want to know, or do you think we’re all going to die?”
He shrugged. “A little of both, I think.”
“I… don’t know. I’m not willing to just let her win, no matter what happens. None of us are. If we must die trying, then so be it.”
“So, you’ll die because of us as well, then? How does that make sense? The only one of us that won’t care when it happens is Entos.” Theran kicked a stone as he walked. “Idiots. All three of you.”
The Rhaeadran scowled. “Maybe. There’s also a chance that we win this. Then you can atone for what you’ve done. We’ll make sure of it.”
Khythos was surprised when Theran just nodded. “If we live long enough, I’ll hold you to it.” He looked up at the sky, stopping his forward motion. “For now, I guess Jyn would be happy enough that I’m at least trying to help.”
“Yeah.” The sea creature nodded. “I’m sure she would be.”
The Chamber of Overseers. It had been some time since Xyrnys had found herself here, within the space that was both open and closed off, yet she felt as if there was nowhere else she could go. Not with Olotl missing – and unsure if he’d even give them the answers they sought if they did manage to find him.
She was under-presenting; rather than have switched to her Everdusk form as she normally would have, she remained in her Land form. Xyrnys expected to receive a scolding from T’chi when she saw him – if he wasn’t shocked about Olotl’s disappearance first.
She was surrounded by beings that were supposed to be stronger than her; how surprised they’d be to find they shared similar strength and mystical powers. Some of the Overseers that passed were vaguely familiar, others newly created for Timelines that recently lost Overseers or had been newly created. More for me to keep track of, was a silent, brooding thought that Xyrnys couldn’t help but seethe over. It wasn’t T’chi’s fault – Timelines could form on their own, and he only created new ones when the need arose.
It was likely he didn’t even know the extent of Xyrnys’ burden.
Once she shook off the darkened thoughts, she continued her low flight through the Chamber. An Asgel Overseer she knew, M’yoi the Flyer – passed by, and Xyrnys waved her down. “M’yoi!”
“Xyrnys of the Twilight?” The winged creature turned to face her. Asgel beings had large colored wings – the size and color varied. Their faces had small tufts of feathers around their ears, which were small and rounded. Female Asgelans had longer wings than males, where males tended to have bigger, shorter wings. M’yoi had mousey-brown hair, the feathers around her ears and the color of her wings matching her hair color. “It’s been a while. What brings you here?”
“I need to speak to Great Lord T’chi.” She shook her head. “Lord Olotl disappeared, and I think he’s hiding something from us. Has… Olotl been spotted here?”
M’yoi shook her head. “I haven’t seen him since I’ve been here. How long has he been gone?”
“Virion had to be revived a few days ago. Olotl wasn’t in the Lake of the Starbelt when Virion broke out of his Pura chrysalis. We’re strong enough to break ourselves free, thankfully. The last we heard from him, he was asking us to track the Blood Mages. All he gave us was a handful of vague information and sent us on our way.”
“So theoretically, he could’ve disappeared once he tasked the Blood Mage issue to you.” The female Asgelan nodded. “Unfortunately, I don’t know where he could be. Perhaps Great Lord T’chi can help, as you think. He’s in the Overseer’s Hall, last I knew.” She spread her wings, fluffing out her feathers. “I need to return to Asgel; unlike Olotl, I care about my planet. I wish you luck, Xyrnys of the Twilight.”
“And you, M’yoi the Flyer.” Xyrnys bowed politely, seeing her fly off into the distance. Once the Asgelan disappeared, she continued her slow flight to the Overseer’s Hall. The stars that surrounded the Chamber of Overseers shone brightly, complementing the three moons that lit the sky. Rhew, Llos, and Gwair, the moons of the Overseers, added to the ominous feel of the Chamber, though it was nothing short of beautiful. She only wished better news accompanied her when she visited; she never had the chance to enjoy her time.
The Overseer’s Hall was beyond a set of tall, flame-lit torches. The pole was made of black marble laced with silver and the flame on a dish of copper. Xyrnys could see T’chi’s large form at the end of the corridor; he was alone but standing above a large book. He was lilely either recording another Overseer or looking into something else. She wasn’t sure what T’chi did when he wasn’t creating Overseers, but she knew his place was important.
“Xyrnys of the Twilight.” T’chi’s voice boomed, echoing through the room as she made her way through. She kept her head held high, appearing unfazed. “You are not in your Everdusk form. What brings you here, and underprepared, no less?”
The Shadowborn stood a few feet away from the Grand Overseer, bowing to him. “It’s good to see you, Great Lord T’chi. I understand that I’m under-presenting, and I do apologize for that. However, I think you’ll be more interested to learn that Lord Olotl is missing, and possibly has been for some time.”
The massive Overseer looked up from the pages of the book, sending Xyrnys a quizzical look. “Missing, you say? I was concerned when I learned that Olotl ended up... different... from the others, but I didn’t peg him as the type to just take off. What gives you the impression he’s gone?”
“Virion of the Land had to be sent back to the Lake of the Starbelt a while back. A battle went awry, and he had to recover.” Xyrnys looked away for a moment, trying to suppress the memory. “When he woke in his Pura chrysalis, Olotl didn’t free him. Virion had to free himself.”
“That is odd. A Protector should never have to wake themselves after being in Pura. Most of them wouldn’t even be strong enough.” T’chi frowned. “I feel as if there’s something else you’re avoiding, Xyrnys.”
She sighed. “We feel like Olotl hasn’t been truthful with us about a task he’s burdened us with.”
“I wouldn’t use that term if he didn’t just tell us to stalk the Blood Mages and vanish. He gave us vague information, and I have a feeling he knew more than he was letting on.”
“What do you know now?”
“Thanks to Halafarin, we learned that Dark Sorceress Sanae was killed two-hundred years ago by him, Gaia, Serelyn, and Olotl.” Xyrnys crossed her arms. “Olotl knew about Sanae and even if he didn’t know she was a part of this, he should have mentioned her. We weren’t strong enough during the first battle to fight her – we were still in our training assignments at the time. I knew blood magic came from the Void Timeline, which was the only advantage we had. If he could see – could feel – that the Blood Mages were making sacrifices, couldn’t he have felt the type of sacrifices they were making?”
“I’m not sure.” T’chi scratched his head. “You think Olotl was intentionally keeping this information from you?”
“I think he’s expecting us to fail, and he’s just hiding until the world ends so he can rebuild the world in a new image. Something like that.”
“If that happens, he’ll be reassigned. He has a duty, and he will not shirk that onto you. I’ll investigate Olotl’s whereabouts.”
“Thank you.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “Do you happen to know anything about blood magic, by chance?”
He shook his head. ‘There is no Overseer or Protector for the Void Timeline. I have no access to it for that reason. It only exists because it created itself. Nothing in that Timeline should have ever existed outside of it. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. You, out of everyone, should know that.”
Xyrnys tapped her fingers on her arm. “Yes, all too well. I appreciate your help, Great Lord T’chi. Truly. I will make sure I am prepared the next time we meet, unless you meet me on Avand.”
“What are your intentions now, Xyrnys?”
“Hopefully, finding some answers.”
“I can’t go into the forest with you, Virion,” Wil said meekly, stopping just mere feet from the thick entrance. “Halafarin will kill me.”
Virion rolled his eyes. “First off, you’re stuck doing what I need you to do. Second, no, he won’t. What happened with Tilud was Entos’ fault, not yours.”
“I was colleagues with Entos! He’s not going to just forget that! I may be trying to help, but he’s going to shoot first and-”
The half-elf took Wil by the shoulders and shook him lightly. “Wil, shut up for a second.”
The other male took a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“Halafarin is going to be upset; that’s a forgone conclusion. He may even yell at you. He won’t kill you. He’s smart, and he’ll hear you out. He’ll understand what’s going on, and that you’re doing your best to redeem yourself. You know you’ll never be innocent, and you’ll never claim to be. You’re trying, though. He’ll see that, too.”
“He was mad at Xyrnys and Khythos when he found out that Tilud killed himself during their battle. Are you sure?” Wil shrank back. “I was a direct cause of his madness.”
“No. Entos was. Unless you knew about it, and you’ve been hiding something from us this whole time.”
Wil shook his head. “No, of course not. I would’ve said something. No one said Tilud was supposed to be involved. I just feel like-”
The Demi-God slapped him on the shoulder. “There you go. You didn’t know. You were a Blood Mage, not Entos. As much as you may not like it, you were one of Entos’ puppets.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Always am.” Virion pushed past Wil and entered Halafarin’s Forest. Though the entire area that surrounded it was wooded, Halafarin’s part of the forest was guarded by thicker brambles, tree cover, and underbrush. He turned around, making sure Wil squeezed his way through the thick branches, before continuing on. The normally cheerful feel of the forest had a damp, sullen disposition, as if reflecting the loss of Tilud. Virion felt for his former mentor; Halafarin had done everything he could to save te boy, and likely felt like he failed.
He was all too aware of that feeling.
Virion picked his head up as he heard the leaves shift suddenly, spotting movement in the treetops. It didn’t take long to see Halafarin, sitting atop a thick, sturdy branch. “Halafarin.”
“Virion.” Halafarin’s voice sounded plain. Empty. “What are you doing here? Why have you brought a Blood Mage into my forest?”
“He’s here under my watch,” he responded. There was a twinge of warning in his tone. I need to talk to you.”
The Winwydd huffed. “If it has anything to do with Tilud, I have no interest. Did Xyrnys or Khythos send you?”
“Xyrnys sent me, but not about Tilud.” Virion crossed his arms. “Are you going to come down and talk, or stay up there and ignore me?”
“Are you joining the side of the Blood Mages that tainted Tilud’s mind?” Halafarin’s eyes were hard. “That’s the only reason you brought one here.”
Wil took a tentative step back. “H-Halafarin, I’m... sorry. I didn’t... I didn’t know what Entos was planning... I swear. Please... Don’t take it out on Virion.”
“I can’t take your word for it!” he hissed.
“Entos tried to kill me too, idiot!” Wil snapped suddenly. “Once he was done with me, he decided he could dispose of me like I was nothing. I’m sorry you had to lose Tilud in the process, but I had nothing to do with it, and neither did any of the Demi-Gods! I know I messed up, but by the Stars, Halafarin, I’m trying! I want to fix it! Now stop being stubborn and help!”
Halafarin only stared back at Wil, blinking slowly.
Wil stared back, and then stammered “I-I’m so sorry, I don’t-”
“Relax. You spoke your mind. I admire the tenacity.” Halafarin slowly lowered himself to the ground. “Very well, then.” He turned to Virion. “What do you need?”
“Have you seen or felt anything different since X or Khyth stopped by?”
“We have Theran.” Virion looked away. “Jyn is dead; Sanae killed her. Before Jyn was killed, Sanae mentioned something about Entos preparing a rite to restore her to her full power. Theran didn’t know about the rite until that moment.”
Halafarin raised an eyebrow. “And you believed him?”
“I wasn’t sure if I could, but-”
“You should’ve seen him.” Wil looked crestfallen. “He was crushed; he never would’ve let Jyn die for anything. Not even blood magic. And when I was talking to him, he just looked defeated. Jyn’s gone. He doesn’t care what happens to Entos or Sanae – he wants revenge. He barely cares what happens to himself if they pay for what they did.”
Halafarin nodded. “I remember his dedication to her. Theran left her because of the blood magic; he never stopped caring about her, from what I could tell.”
“He also said that Entos mentioned ‘three powerful hearts’.” The Demi-God crossed his arms. “I had a vision after that, and it wasn’t clear on who they belonged to anymore. The chosen subjects changed. Khythos took Theran to check on The Hunters, and I came out here to warn you. Serelyn is keeping her guard up, too.”
“I appreciate it, but I can-”
“-take care of yourself, I know. I just don’t want you to be caught off-guard. We already lost Gaia and Jyn.”
He nodded. “All right, thank you.” He frowned, furrowing his brow. “What is Xyrnys off doing?”
Virion shrugged, shaking his head. “I don’t know – she didn’t say. She only said she had no plans to get in a fight. Didn’t tell us anything else. Maybe you can answer a question for me, though.”
“Do you know where Olotl is?”
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