Chapter 60:

Arieon the Wise

The Children of Eris

In the Holy Empire, there were two individuals whose power stood above all others: The Divine Paladin and The Divine Caster.Bookmark here

The Divine Paladin Lawrence was renowned throughout the world as a strong and virtuous warrior.Bookmark here

The Divine Caster Arieon the Wise, however, was a figure shrouded in mystery.Bookmark here

Arieon rarely showed his face or power to anyone outside of the royal family; he only ever appeared when the Holy Empire faced a great crisis.Bookmark here

Even when his research was released and praised, he remained hidden.Bookmark here

The last time anyone had seen him in public was at Prince Julius’s birthday celebrations in Themis half a year ago.Bookmark here

Now, out of seemingly nowhere, Kella had been invited to meet him at Elvast, a city state ruled by the Trú Elf faction in the Holy Empire’s territory. Bookmark here

What was even worse for Kella was that she couldn’t refuse his invitation and she had to immediately leave Pilgrim’s Post to speak with him.Bookmark here

She would have to miss her own brother’s funeral to meet with him.Bookmark here

Kaida had considered running away when her escort arrived so she could attend Connor’s funeral, even with the risks involved. Bookmark here

Those hopes were soon dashed when she saw who her escort was. Bookmark here

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kella,” Divine Paladin Lawrence greeted her with a friendly smile. Standing beside him were two Paladins. “This is Isabella and Christoph, two of my closest aides. Would you please follow us to meet with Lord Arieon?”Bookmark here

Kella said nothing and mounted her horse.Bookmark here

It was childish of her, but Kella refused to speak to any of her escorts throughout their journey, even when they spoke to her. Bookmark here

Do they even know that I’m missing my brother’s funeral for this? Kella thought, scowling at Isabella who was calling out to her. Telling me how much of a great honour this is. She scoffed. How ridiculous. Bookmark here

Once they were at Elvast, Kella was escorted behind the Elven Palace to the back of the city, outside of the walls to a luxurious stone mansion beside the Goddess’s Eye Lake. There were magical golems attending to it as if they were servants and guards.Bookmark here

They secured their horses in the stables and then entered the mansion itself.Bookmark here

It was a pristine, lavish place with high oak ceilings and walls, with beautiful ornaments, artefacts and suits of armour decorating every room. There were metallic golems cleaning the hall so that it was spotless. Bookmark here

Kella had never seen such luxury before and it disgusted her.Bookmark here

I bet I’m the only one in the empire that doesn’t consider this an honour, Kella thought with a small frown. I want to go home. I want to see-. She winced a little and hugged her arms as her loneliness threatened to consume her. I wonder what Allaric’s up to again.Bookmark here

She thought of the masked stranger she met under bizarre circumstances, she thought of his pain, of how isolated he had been, of the night he’d comforted her after she’d learnt of Connor’s death.Bookmark here

I want to see him.Bookmark here

“He’s waiting for us in here,” Lawrence said softly as he knocked on the double doors to their left. “Lord Arieon, we’ve brought the adventurer you sent for.”Bookmark here

“You sent for others?” Someone on the other side mumbled.Bookmark here

Another person chuckled and said, “Come in.”Bookmark here

Lawrence entered the room with his escorts and bowed to the elderly man on the emerald chair. Sat on a sofa beside him was a youthful looking man with black hair and teal eyes, and a tall scythe tied up in a cloth beside him. Bookmark here

The elderly gentleman was a bald, frail looking man wearing a battered white-gold cloak. He had milky-white eyes and both of his hands were resting atop a gorgeous wooden staff. Bookmark here

The sitting room that they were in was just as large and beautiful as the rest of the mansion and, in the centre of it, were three long blue sofas and a single green chair sat around a crystal table.Bookmark here

“Blessings of the Goddess be with you, Divine Caster,” Lawrence greeted.Bookmark here

“And to you, Divine Paladin,” the old man said with a small grin. “Come, sit down and drop all that formal stuff.”Bookmark here

Lawrence smiled. “As you wish, Lord Arieon.”Bookmark here

Lawrence, Isabella and Christoph sat down on one of the other sofas across from the younger man, leaving Kella standing uncomfortably in the doorway.Bookmark here

“Don’t just stand there, sit,” Isabella said.Bookmark here

“Don’t pressure her like that, child,” Arieon told Isabella. “You cannot force someone to do something that they don’t want to.” Arieon turned back to Kella and smiled warmly. “I’m sorry about that, but, please, do have a seat, Kella. It doesn’t feel right making you stand like that whilst we talk.”Bookmark here

Kella snorted and put a hand on her hips. “So, that doesn’t feel right to you, but stopping me from going to my brother’s funeral does?”Bookmark here

“How dare you-!” Isabella started to say, but her words caught in her throat. “…Funeral?”Bookmark here

Kella glared at her. “Surprised? Here I am, the lucky one in a million, chosen to see the Divine Caster of legend and all I can think about is how much I hate this old man.” She shifted her glare to Arieon. “I bet you knew, didn’t you?” She turned back to Isabella. “Did you know he died at the Shadow Tombs, in the arms of the woman he loved?”Bookmark here

“…I…”Bookmark here

“I don’t care what you have to say.” She shot a vicious glance at everyone in the room. “Any of you. You made me miss Connor’s funeral, I’ve shown my face like you wanted to and that’s it. I’m leaving.”Bookmark here

“Don’t you want to catch your brother’s killer?” The young man on the other sofa called to her, a stern expression on his face. “Don’t you want to make sure their sacrifices weren’t in vain?”Bookmark here

“Like you care.”Bookmark here

“Trust me, I know better than most what it’s like to lose those you love to monsters.”Bookmark here

Kella glanced over her shoulder at the young man as he stood up and put a hand on his chest. “My name’s Dante, the last surviving member of the Order.”Bookmark here

Kella narrowed her eyes and stared at him.Bookmark here

There were few in Aangapea who didn’t know of Dante and the Order of Monster Hunters. They were a legendary group who slayed dragons, behemoths, krakens and other gigantic, powerful monsters in groups as small as four. Bookmark here

Alone, they were stronger than a whole battalion of the Holy Legion.Bookmark here

As a group, they could’ve challenged the world’s armies and won.Bookmark here

Dante was the last commander of the Order before the Draconic Wars three hundred years ago where the order was meant to have been wiped out. Bookmark here

Thanks to them, many dangerous monsters went extinct in Aangapea, such as dragons and krakens, and most people thought the Order’s teachings had been lost to time.Bookmark here

Aside from the stories and the ruins of their old headquarters, White Rock, there was little left to prove their existence. Bookmark here

“I thought you were dead,” Kella said bluntly. Bookmark here

Dante smiled wryly. “Most people do. Even after everyone else was slaughtered, I survived. I stayed at White Rock all this time in my sorrow. You’re not at that stage yet, but you might be if you don’t get the satisfaction you need. Arieon wronged you, the Paladins wronged you, but I didn’t. At the very least, all I can and would ask of you is that you hear them out, hear why this old git made you miss your brother’s funeral and why he might have a way to fill that hole in your heart before it swallows you.”Bookmark here

Kella eyed Dante up, then cast a glance at Isabella’s guilt-ridden expression, then to Arieon who was still smiling warmly at her.Bookmark here

It made her sick, but she knew that the Divines wouldn’t bring someone in to lie about being the legendary Dante.Bookmark here

With a heavy sigh, Kella sat down on the last sofa and crossed her arms.Bookmark here

“While it won’t mean much, allow me to apologise to you for-”Bookmark here

“Don’t waste what breath you have left,” Kella hissed at Arieon.Bookmark here

Dante smiled a little and said, “Best get on to it, old man.”Bookmark here

Arieon nodded sternly, then lifted one hand up towards the ceiling and a large scroll floated into his palm. Bookmark here

“Exactly one hundred and twenty days ago, I sensed a great, dark disturbance in the Holy Empire,” Arieon laid the scroll out on the table. “Whilst I do not know what it was or what caused it, it was such a foul, disturbing energy that I couldn’t get it out of my head. In all my seventy-eight years as The Divine Caster, I had never felt anything like it before.Bookmark here

“I immediately began looking across the empire with my golems for any traces of that power, but found nothing. Then, I tried looking in my grimoires and tapestries to see if there was something in them that could give me a hint towards what I felt that day. Alas, I found nothing.Bookmark here

“That was until that day in Stonefall, the day of the first murders, the beginning of the Great Disaster.”Bookmark here

All the participants in the room, except for Dante, looked up at Arieon as he spoke. Arieon then took up his walking stick and pointed it at the map of the Holy Empire he’d laid out. However, it was covered in scribbles of events, dates, times and how long each had lasted.Bookmark here

“On the 26th of Mine-en, members of the Sons of Tartarus were slaughtered,” Arieon said. “The crime was so brutal and so foreboding that I began to investigate it further.”Bookmark here

“Just because of how brutal it was?” Kella whispered.Bookmark here

“No. Because of how unexpected it was. Anyone who lives in Stonefall surely knows of the Sons of Tartarus and what would happen should you cross them, yet they were gutted and strung up like pigs.”Bookmark here

“Which then happened again and again until the Sons of Tartarus were forced into hiding,” Lawrence added.Bookmark here

“It’s precisely because of that that I was so drawn into this case,” Arieon said. “My first instinct was that this wasn’t a usual clash between underworld organisations. There was something about it that left a nasty taste in my mouth. It reminded me of that presence I felt and the scar it left on my soul. Bookmark here

“So, I investigated the city as best I could and even went there in person.” Arieon shuddered. “It was then that I felt something truly disgusting.”Bookmark here

“What did you feel?”Bookmark here

“A great dark, evil power on those streets. During my visit, the city was caught up in a frenzy over the Great Disaster. As I was trying to break free from that crowd, for an instant, I felt that same dark essence again. I turned towards the roof of the cathedral but saw nothing there.Bookmark here

“Not wanting to dawdle, I left the city as fast as I could knowing for certain that whatever began in Stonefall was directly related to that presence.”Bookmark here

“You’ve been talking about that for a while now, but what exactly was it and how did you sense it?” Kella rudely demanded.Bookmark here

Christoph rose to reprimand her, but Isabella grasped his arm. He glanced at Isabella, then sat back down.Bookmark here

“He wasn’t the only one who felt it,” Dante said with a serious look in his eyes. “I felt it all the way at White Rock.”Bookmark here

“You felt it all the way on the other side of Aangapea?” Lawrence asked fretfully.Bookmark here

Dante nodded sternly. “It was a sickly, gross feeling, the sort you’d get from seeing the most terrifying of beasts, like a vampire or one of the great dragons of old. That sort of crawling dread up your spine that makes you break out in a cold sweat even in the safety of your own home, the sort of feeling that something is going to kill you even if you can’t see it.”Bookmark here

“And you felt that in Stonefall as well?” Kella asked.Bookmark here

“I most certainly did,” Arieon answered. “Whatever it is we felt four months ago is connected to the Great Disaster and, by extension, the murders in Stonefall and the destruction of Black Port.”Bookmark here

“If that’s the case, then how do we deal with this threat?” Lawrence asked. “Should I have the Paladins begin to investigate this matter exclusively?”Bookmark here

“As excessive as that may be, it might be necessary,” Dante chimed in. “The more people we have in Stonefall, the quicker we find the connection to the disaster and the sooner we take the bastards down behind this.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I agree-”Bookmark here

“Why am I here?” Kella demanded, glaring at Arieon. Bookmark here

Confused, Christoph said, “To avenge your family and friends?”Bookmark here

“Why me? Why not any of the adventurers who lost people that day? Why not the A-rankers we were friends with? Why not get the guild involved? They’d help out at the drop of the hat to avenge one of their own, especially if ordered to by the Divine Caster. Why just me?”Bookmark here

Arieon leant forward and smiled. “Because Themis herself told me that your destiny was tied to the Great Disaster.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“We Divines are often visited in our sleep by Themis herself, though sometimes it is for nothing more than a few words of comfort to relieve our burdens for a short while. Other times, it is to preach her warnings to the world. Some of the higher-ranking bishops also get these oracles from time to time. We Divines usually get one a week.”Bookmark here

“It’s as he says, Kella,” Lawrence said. “She speaks to us and guides us as we dream. Then, when we wake, we act as she wishes us to.”Bookmark here

“…And Themis herself told you that you needed me?” Kella asked slowly; Arieon nodded. “Why?”Bookmark here

“Who’s to say?” Arieon mused. “Who are we to question Themis’s teachings? Kella, you have been chosen by Themis to help us stop the Great Disaster and defeat the darkness lurking behind it.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“This is your destiny.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.