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“A strong-willed soul with fiery determination; it is what it takes to truly bear the burden of the Land Guardian.”
“Perhaps, but is it determination, or arrogance? It’s often difficult to tell which he happens to be.”
“You speak as if you know what he must go through. Painful visions scorch his mind. He hears the unsaid whispers of those that surround him, save for The Sea and The Twilight. He is unable to stop any of this. Would you not be difficult if you had to shoulder this burden and carry on?”
“You preach to me, yet you act as if we do not have our own hardships to overcome. I care not about-”
“The hardships of a mortal are nothing compared to that of a God! We face little compared to them!”
It was as if they thought they understood me. They all think they understand what it’s like. Even the few who bother to defend me.
Virion of the Land; arrogant, selfish, rude, conniving, loud, and a self-proclaimed heartbreaker. The nuisance that keeps Avandians from finishing their projects. The loud-mouthed Demi-God that is not afraid to tell someone what’s on his mind.
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, knowing there might be a way to prevent it because I saw it happen moons before it bloody occurred and yet nothing changed. I hear what they don’t say about me. Only what they wish they could. It hurts more when they don’t; sometimes I wish they would.
They only see Virion of the Land, Reader of Minds. They don’t see just Virion.
They don’t see me.
What is beauty, in the truest sense?
In its most basic form, it’s a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses that varies by individual. The qualities are irrelevant due to the case-by-case variance; no two creatures will enjoy the same things.
To me, it’s the rocky earth crumbling 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 as close as home.
Virion hardly considered 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 passersby thought Virion spared nary a thought for the planet, but those who bothered to understand him knew how to read him in a different light. Virion wasn’t nearly as uncaring as they thought he was.
He thought the world was lovely, at its core.
In the serene hours before the sun rose, while everything below him was still quiet and unmoving, Virion felt at ease. The creations that he flew past were the very ones he was sworn to protect, whether he liked it or not. If he was in the mood, he would do just that.
In his own way, he did; he just didn’t take the same actions as the other Demi-Gods. He chose to let the creatures of Avand suffer the consequences of the mistakes that were made; to reap what they sow. Virion chose not to fix anything unless it was severely dangerous to surrounding 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. Lucky for him, he had Xyrnys and Khythos acting as the main guardians for the many species below; while they were busy playing babysitter, Virion would act a fool.
His attitude toward the ‘caretaker’ side of his job lead those to believe that he was a carefree fool; Virion and the other Demi-Gods knew otherwise. He held sincere feelings toward the creatures that adorned the planet – far too much for comfort – but he knew too much to let them know. He heard their unsaid words and saw their possible demise. He couldn’t bear to get too close to them and hear their pained cries as he outlived them; to have their haunted souls follow him for many years to come. It was worse if it was a life that he may have been able to save.
To preserve what was left of his sanity and composure, he made himself as annoying and carefree as possible. It kept others at a safe distance; if he presented an unwelcoming personality, no one would want to become close to him. Unless Xyrnys or Khythos needed his help, he preferred to remain on his own.
That’s what Virion told them, anyway.
The world seldom found itself in true danger; the most recent event that came to mind was when a dark mage had managed to release a red-matter virus into the planet’s core. The virus had slowly started to eat at said core; if it had been left alone, the entire planet would have been wiped out. Between the three Demi-Gods and the two white mages – Leona and ShadowHeart – they were able to fight it back. Xyrnys was able to open a Void Timeline, and the five of them sent the virus into the Void to float endlessly.
The energy required to replace what the virus had drained the Demi-Gods, forcing them In Pura to recover their powers. The pair of mages that had assisted them vowed to watch the planet while they rested. It was only after the Demi-Gods’ return that ShadowHeart had learned that, somehow, her magic was gone. Virion secretly theorized that the virus was to blame; another thing for him to feel guilty for. There was currently nothing they could do.
Regardless, in the time of peace the planet was currently in, Virion took every opportunity he had to mess with Leona and ShadowHeart. With the Demi-Gods back in Avand, his wish was for the two to back off. He refused to let them stay close with the Demi-Gods. With him. Virion couldn’t handle another haunted soul.
Surprisingly, through his shenanigans and the high-risk shenanigans he put the mage and kitsune into, they never stopped respecting him. Though the paranoia never faded, he stopped resisting their company. He let them stick around. As strong as they were – especially ShadowHeart without her magic – they’d be okay.
As Virion continued to get lost in his thoughts, the sun finally peaked over the mountain before him, light flooding the earth below. The only matter to break 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 old Windberry himself. Xamchi was a humanoid 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 was forced 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 great 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 loudly, flying just out of reach to avoid the axe the redheaded dwarf swung nimbly at him. “Come now, my dear Windberry. There’s no need for such violence. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Windberry snorted, heaving his mighty, well-worn axe over his shoulder. “You’ve done nothing wrong yet; you’re always off causing 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 snorted, choking back a laugh 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 dwarven companion, but a lot stronger than his scrawny demeanor showed. “If you recall, you and Khythos broke a high-powered energy capacitor the last time you came around, and we need it.”
Cipher, the last of the trio, was a short and awkward scientist that was hardly seen outside his own workshop. He had long blond hair that was always kept tied back in some form and had shy brown eyes hidden behind goggles or thick-rimmed glasses. He was a decent fighter, Virion recalled, but didn’t bother with it unless he had to. He was the brains of the operation.
“A high-powered energy capacitor, you say?” He hummed. “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 from the alien in return. “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll go to the Caverns and visit Khyth to 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 spaceman could only look on in awe as Virion flew away from the compound. “You really must not have planned on visiting today if you haven’t broken anything. Reconsidered, have you?”
“Oh Olotl, no.” The Demi-God smirked as Xamchi and Windberry became smaller and harder to see “I just don’t have any notes prepared. I’ll be back soon, spaceman. I always come back, don’t I?”
“Virion’s in quite a good mood today, isn’t he?”
Upon seeing the lighthearted exchange between Virion, Xamchi, and Windberry, Khythos let out an annoyed sigh. “That may be, but he’s certainly not acting as he should, is he X?” The blue-skinned male had a heavy, gruff voice, matching his outer appearance. “Perhaps he should use some of that energy for something productive.”
“Ahh, you’re dreaming.” Xyrnys chuckled, her good eye holding a teasing glint. “Unless Glas and Coch happen to align, there’s no chance of that.” She smiled over at them. “Just relax, yeah? He’s just toying with them. He does quite a bit more than even he realizes – I know you’re aware.”
“Even though he says he doesn’t care?” Khythos shot her a side glance.
She scoffed. “Please. He’s a bit too attached to those idiots for someone who claims to distance himself from others.” Xyrnys shrugged. “Or perhaps I’m reading too far into it.”
“He’s a bloody Demi-God, X. Whether he cares or not, or whatever he does, it’d be nice if he pretended to act like he had himself together.” Despite his barbed words, Khythos’ facial expression remained neutral. Regardless of how often the two male Demi-Gods found themselves at odds with each other, Khythos found Virion slightly admirable. The humans, regardless of what they said about Virion, had taken quite a liking to the feisty Demi-God. They would never understand why he would keep a certain distance from them, but regardless, they enjoyed his company. Khythos envied the easygoing personality that Virion forged.
Xyrnys shrugged. “He does. Sometimes.” She looked down as Virion began to float away from Windberry and Xamchi. “Should I fire a light beam into him to get his attention?”
“No. I think he’s noticed us.” Khythos watched as Virion approached them, back facing them. “He’s just being obnoxious about it.”
“Me? Obnoxious?” Virion turned around as he approached, his face plastered with his signature grin. “How rude, Khythos.” The Land Demi-God eyed Xyrnys and Khythos quickly. “The whole family is back together again; it’s been quite some time since we’ve all been in one place. To what do I owe the pleasure of this joyous – yet unlikely – occasion?”
“Business, unfortunately.” Xyrnys frowned. “Olotl calls, and he never calls unless he wants something.”
Khythos hummed his agreement. “There was a pile of dead fish in my cavern this morning. They’re smart enough not to hop out of the waterfall – Olotl must’ve decided stinking up my cavern was easier than coming down and speaking with us face-to-face. We were just waiting for you to finish harassing the mortals.”
“Of course, Olotl wants something.” Virion huffed irritably and crossed his arms. “He probably doesn’t want to do his own work and is pawning it off on us. Again.”
“Virion, knock it off.”
“Oh, Khythos. So serious as always.” The blond poked at Khythos’ larger set of horns. “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. “Don’t get me involved in this. If you want to have one of your lover’s quarrels, fight amongst yourselves.”
The blue-skinned Demi-God began to grow irate. “Lover’s quarrel? That’s what you’re calling them now? We could be the last two on Avand and I’d rather send Virion into the stratosphere.” He huffed. “Makes sense, though. Your odd sense of romance started when you fell in love with-”
“I’m going to stop you right there before I slaughter you.” Xyrnys’ pink eyes glowed dangerously. “We agreed to let that go when it happened.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Talking to you two gives me a headache.”
“That’s rude.” Khythos shook his head, recalibrating his thoughts. They reunited for a reason – they needed to stay focused. “We’re getting off-topic. We need to get to the Silver Altar and speak with Olotl before he strikes us with lightning.” Without waiting for the other two to respond, he flew off into the distance. Xyrnys and Virion were close behind him, catching up quickly. “Let’s try not to cause any problems this time, okay?”
“Look. I didn’t even know I had a potion on me last time.” Virion rolled his eyes. “Let alone one that would spawn a wraith. Just let it go already. It’s not like it took us that long to get rid of it, right?”
“Idiot.” The Rhaeadran chose to tune out whatever Virion was retaliating with and simply lead the way. Whatever conversation the others were trying to engage him in was lost by the worry he was plagued with. The nature of Olotl’s summon was odd; on any other occasion, the Overseer would summon only one of them for whatever was necessary unless the issue was severe. He had to admit that Virion wasn’t completely wrong – Olotl often received tasks from the Grand Overseer that he couldn’t be bothered to complete himself and would request one of the Demi-Gods to do it instead,
All three of them, however? What was so dangerous, so private, that the three Demi-Gods had to gather and speak to Lord Olotl, The Overseer of Avand, so promptly? He had to suppress a shudder. Khythos wasn’t sure he wanted to find out.
“Khyth, have you even been listening to me?”
Virion’s persistent voice broke Khythos out of his dark, draining thoughts. “I apologize, your Highness, but I have a lot on my mind right now.”
“Interesting. You do use your head after all.” Virion laughed, continuing to do so even as he dodged a blue-tinted energy blast. “Hey, 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 monitored the playful argument between the two. “To be fair, you were kind of asking for it, Viri.” She glanced forward. “All right, we’re here. Assume prayer stance, you two.”
Khythos took prayer stance – sitting on his knees with his hands in the prayer position – and watched Virion do the same. Xyrnys landed in front of the two, her bare feet flattening the grass underneath. “We’re ready when you are, X.” The Rhaeadran’s voice was quiet.
“Right.” Xyrnys closed her eyes and held her hands in front of her, open palms facing the sealed door of the temple. “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 of Avand, we are granted safe passage to the Lake of the Starbelt. I, The Twilight, Keeper of Time, and Guardian of the Starbelt, pass this blessing to The Land, Reader of Minds, and The Sea, Mender of Souls.” Her body began to glow alight with several thousand tiny stars. “We have been granted safe passage in our rest. Let us continue. From here, our words become naught until the lake we reach. Our souls must be open; 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’s worn-looking appearance, the inside was near pristine; lit with gentle torches that had been burning since the beginning of Avand’s creation. Without a blessing – proving The Lake of the Starbelt’s safety, the temple was inaccessible. It was good to know there was no trouble nearby.
The center of the temple had a large, six-pointed, black-and-white star pattern that adorned the floor. There was a particular focus on the three black needles of the star, three white marble pillars sitting at the tip of each. The short pillars held three statues in different shapes and colors – a round, pink, nine-needle star, a blue seashell, and a sandy-brown colored stone – with designated areas for each Demi-God to kneel and touch the statues. A large marble torch with a silver burning bowl sat in the middle of the star, the endless fire burning brightly in a fierce display.
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 remains 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. "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."
"Indeed, it has. You three seem to have grown a bit since then. Has it truly been that long?" Olotl coughed. "Unfortunately, we don't have the time to reminisce. I do not bear good news." His gaze fell upon Virion. "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.
"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. "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."
"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. "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?"
"You may ask of them that only," Olotl responded. "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 "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."
"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.
"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 watch 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. Wil 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 stayed 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 fabricated 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. “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 appeared 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 need 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. 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 a superstition. 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?!
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?”
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?
A streak of pink, a flash of lightning. Another hole. Another missing heart.
Another frozen scream.
“Virion, please answer me!”
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 earlier 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 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 the deaths in the vision except for this one; I only know it’s someone we cherish. All the signs 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, showing 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 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?”
“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.”
“Xyrnys? Thank Olotl. We have a problem.”
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“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. “Wilrym Leomon just arrived at our door, half-dead. We need your help, or he’ll die.”
Xyrnys’ eyes widened in alarm. “Pardon?”
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.”
“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 allowed 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 question him, 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.”
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.
“Just a moment.”
Whose voice was that? Virion thought. Suddenly, all he could see was black.
“????, 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…?!
“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’m sorry, ???... You’ll have to wait just a moment longer…”
After the sorrow was pain. Bleeding. More sorrow.
And then, silence.
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 trying 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…”
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.
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. To whom would you consider yourself the closest?”
“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. 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 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’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.
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.
“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 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.
Perhaps, just for that moment, nothing truly was.
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