Chapter 9:

Shadow Takers

Six


A carriage slowly continued down the road as the sight of a large stone wall came into view. The young boy inside the carriage continued to stare down at his book as his father continued to drone on about the rich family pride that they were expected to uphold.Bookmark here

“You see my son, you are expected to carry on the Pynn family name, and do your duty. We pride ourselves on what we do. No matter what it is, we work hard to make it happen.”Bookmark here

The boy looked up from his book as the carriage stopped.Bookmark here

“Can I go with you on the trip down into The Pit this time? I want to know what’s down there.”Bookmark here

Looking over to his wife, the father of the boy turned to his son, and smiled.Bookmark here

“You’re thirteen. We were going to take us with you so that you could understand just what it is we do.”Bookmark here

As the boy closed his book, the carriage door opened revealing two young girls dressed in silver plated arm that stood out in the sunlight.Bookmark here

“Greetings, lord and lady Pynn,” one of the girl’s spoke in a polite but gallant tone.Bookmark here

“Nice to see you again, Ralyin. Are we ready to descend by the end of tomorrow?”Bookmark here

“We have almost everything ready. In the best case, we can move out by tonight, otherwise, we will likely have to delay it for one day.”Bookmark here

“Not a problem. See to it.”Bookmark here

“As you wish. Your living quarters have been prepared as well.”Bookmark here

“Ah. Thank you. We shall go, and inspect the other areas of the wall before we rest though.”Bookmark here

“What should I do, father?”Bookmark here

“Roam free, Aystaria. Best that you get a feel for the area that you will be visiting more often now. Xyia can accompany you.”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked upon the face of the girl before him. She was the same height as him, yet even though she appeared thirteen, she was actually in her late twenties. Her hair was as white as snow, and flowed down to her shoulders. Aystaria had always wondered why the few people he knew of white hair, always had one eye that was of red color. His parents had never explained why this was the cause.Bookmark here

Xyia smiled as she leaned closer to Aystaria, her relatively large breast coming clear into his line-of-sight. He was never afraid to talk to girls, yet being around Xyia always seemed to throw him off his thoughts. The lower part of his body seemed to feel the need to express itself too as Aystaria leered over Xyia’s body.Bookmark here

“Well, where would you like to go first, Aystaria?”Bookmark here

Aystaria’s stomach growled loudly as he held his arms to his stomach, and blushing slightly.Bookmark here

“I guess we should get you food then.”Bookmark here

Following behind Xyia, Aystaria entered into a small nearby house that served as the kitchen for food within one sector of the southern area. Xyia quickly made a small meal for Aystaria has he looked over the drawing of a map in his book. He had studied about The Pit through the various books that he had at his disposal. While all of them contained little information, there was enough to understand that it was a brutal place where only the strong survived or more likely, the suicidal went to die.Bookmark here

Every book written about The Pit always contained vastly different information which most often contradicted other information. Out of the possible thousands of different books Aystaria had read on The Pit, there was only one book that stood out to him. This book was given to him at the age of six. Aystaria’s father had given him a book entitled Abyssinia, which was supposedly a family heirloom that had been past down from generation to generation. The book had been, at least according to his father, in the family for over one-thousand years. It was bound in a dark leather that Aystaria always questioned if it was from another world. What always stuck Aystaria as odd, however, was fact there was no name of an author on the book to speak of. Only a symbol. Each page inside the book was made of a unique vellum that felt heavier than that of the average book. Even the type on the page looked as if the ink was not of the same world.Bookmark here

Yet, of everything in the book—from the tales of monsters to the artifacts that were uncovered—it was the unknown layers of The Pit that drew in Aystaria’s curiousness. Spanning six full pages was a detailed drawing of the layers in The Pit. In total, the map showed six layers. Each of them were different in appearance, and based on the notes that Aystaria had read many times, the first two layers were considered relatively safe. The Light Bearers had built different encampments, and settlements to allow the circulation of goods from the different layers. By the third layer, the landscape changed into a barren wasteland shrouded by a shadowy mist.Bookmark here

Aystaria had noticed in other books, the information regarding the third layer varied, however, almost all of them incorrectly described the third layer as being of rolling hills, and meadow lush grasslands. Most of the books would stop after the third layer, yet this one contained information on six layers. In the few years that Aystaria had been to school, he learned that something wasn’t connecting between this one book, the countless others, and the education that he had learned in school. Below the third layer, the book spoke of the fourth layer that grew trees that twisted in knots, and appeared as dead as a corpse. Within the depths of the fifth layer was a frozen lake that held small hot pools of water. Unlike the warm water of the hot springs throughout the world this water was said to boil a man alive. Only of note was an area that served as an oasis of sorts where the water was warm enough to bathe in. In the book, Aystaria had noted that there was said to be a stronghold described as being made of pure black stone. This fortress was appropriately named the Shadow Fort. While there was plenty of information on the layout of the fort, there was nothing as to who built it, owned it or if people were even living in it.Bookmark here

In the sixth layer of The Pit, is said to be cast in a veil of shadow so thick that one cannot see five feet in front of them without a lantern. Beyond that, there was little information as to what the six layer held other then a dark forest that was like an endless maze. It was stated in the book that a few had managed to get lost in the forest that had been dubbed the Wandering Woods.Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to read through the book until Xyia appeared with a plate of food in her hand. Serving it with a smile, she placed the plate down as she sat across the table from Aystaria. Without a second to delay, Aystaria shoved the food into his mouth—not even thinking about what he was consuming. Xyia looked over the book that Aystaria had on the table.Bookmark here

“Have you read that whole thing?”Bookmark here

“Twice now. Just making sure I can commit it to memory.”Bookmark here

“Why is that?” Xyia asked.Bookmark here

“In the event I don’t have this book, I want to have the knowledge on-hand.”Bookmark here

“But how do you know the knowledge in there is even correct?”Bookmark here

“I just have a feeling that it’s all accurate.”Bookmark here

Xyia smiled as she flipped through the pages of the books.Bookmark here

“Just a feeling?”Bookmark here

“Is that wrong?”Bookmark here

“Not at all. Sometimes acting on a feeling is good. It can save your life.”Bookmark here

Aystaria finished the last of his meal, and downed the cold mug of fresh milk. Wiping his mouth clean, he returned to his study of the book as Xyia smiled, and moved to sit beside him.Bookmark here

“You want to know a secret?” Xyia whispered in Aystaria’s ear.Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

“Everything in that book is true.”Bookmark here

“Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it, but how do you know?”Bookmark here

Xyia removed the small wristband around her left wrist revealing a black inked emblem of a dagger that was pointed downwards in a cracked skull, with six swirls surrounding it. Aystaria studied the emblem on Xyia’s wrist, and the one on the cover of the book. Both were exactly the same.Bookmark here

“Okay, you have my attention.”Bookmark here

Closing the book, Xyia giggled as she quickly ran off.Bookmark here

“Xyia!”Bookmark here

Heading for the exit, Xyia turned around, and smiled as she looked to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Catch me if you can.”Bookmark here

Giggling as she as she exited the house, Aystaria quickly got up from the chair, and followed after Xyia. He kept track of her position through the various people going about their duties, and assignments. Aystaria struggled to keep up with Xyia as she vaulted over the different wooden crates, and other objects that were stacked near buildings. Using one of the crates to spring off of, Xyia managed to get onto the rooftops of the buildings. Turning to see Aystaria carefully climbing up the stack of crates slowly, she Xyia couldn’t help but giggle as she sat down—waiting for him to make his way over to her. After getting up onto the roof, Aystaria appeared as if he was struggling to catch his breath. Falling to the ground, and looking up at the Aystaria continued to breath heavily as Xyia laid beside him.Bookmark here

“You are incredibly out of shape.”Bookmark here

“I… just didn’t think… I would have to be chasing you down like this. My body was sore from the journey just to get here.”Bookmark here

“Tsk. Tsk. Using that as an excuse? For shame, Aystaria,” Xyia said with a smile as she handed Aystaria his book back.Bookmark here

Aystaria opened the book, and looked through each of the pages.Bookmark here

“Hey Xyia?”Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“Tell me, did you write this book?”Bookmark here

Xyia giggled loudly as she closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“I couldn’t write a book.”Bookmark here

“Then… what is the symbol?”Bookmark here

“Your parents had planned to tell you, but I guess I can spill the beans.”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked to Xyia with anticipation.Bookmark here

“We are going down into the fifth layer of The Pit.”Bookmark here

“I take it we will be going to the Shadow Fort on that layer?”Bookmark here

“Yes. The Shadow Fort is home to secret unit that many do not even know exist.”Bookmark here

Xyia stood to her feet, and looked to Aystaria with a serious expression.Bookmark here

“You may have realized that white hair isn’t a common trait among us humans. We move faster, and are stronger than the average human. The reason for this is because we have are half-Ryizaviran.”Bookmark here

“Ryizaviran?”Bookmark here

Xyia pulled out a small black coin, and placed it on the ground.Bookmark here

“Try to lift that.”Bookmark here

Aystaria gripped the coin, and pulled only to find the coin was stuck firmly in place. For a few minutes, he tried his hardest to move the coin, but did not get it to move even one millimeter.Bookmark here

“How?”Bookmark here

“That coin is from a world beyond our borders, deep in the sixth layer. You can’t pick up that coin because you are just a human, whereas I am only half a human.”Bookmark here

“You said something about a secret unit. You’re apart of this unit?”Bookmark here

“Do you recall what your history books teach?” Xyia asked as she looked up at the sky.Bookmark here

“The Light Bearers are said to have kept the darkness of The Pit at bay from creatures not of our world.”Bookmark here

“It’s a lie.”Bookmark here

Aystaria stood to his feet as he hung onto the words that Xyia was telling him. He had always believed the world he lived in was hiding something, but now he was finally starting to understand.Bookmark here

“The truth is, we Shadow Takers are the ones that fight back the darkness. We enter into another world beyond the veils of light, and throw away the sun for what is on the other side.”Bookmark here

“Why is it people don’t know of your existence?”Bookmark here

“Because we’re monsters,” Xyia said with a smile.Bookmark here

“You don’t look like one.”Bookmark here

“Doesn’t mean others don’t see us that way.”Bookmark here

“Shouldn’t people know the truth though?”Bookmark here

“It’s better if they didn’t. Trust me, Aystaria. One day you will understand.”Bookmark here

“Can I join your unit?”Bookmark here

The question took Xyia by surprise before she smiled, and placed her hand on Aystaria’s head.Bookmark here

“How about you actually have the stamina to keep up with me first, okay?”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria couldn’t help but be amazed by the wonders of The Pit. Each layer they delved into grew increasing dark, and peculiar as the book had described. Xyia stayed close to Aystaria as she explained the various oddities that they came across on their trip down into the The Pit. The biggest thing that bemused Aystaria was the vague sense of traveling. Moving from one layer to the next did not feel like they were heading down, nor did it feel as if the transition from one layer into the next was noticeable.Bookmark here

After a few days had passed, Aystaria could feel the temperature in the air change as he noticed the snow on the ground, and trees. While it was a white land of beauty, he could feel his body shaking even though the large warm coat that had on. Seeing Aystaria shake from head to toe, Xyia smiled as she removed the black overcoat she was wearing, and placed it over Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Thank you, but won’t you get cold?”Bookmark here

“I’ll be fine.”Bookmark here

Aystaria could feel the heat radiating from the inside of the warm jacket. It felt as if it had been woven from a fabric not of this world.Bookmark here

“Wait, is this made from—”Bookmark here

Xyia smiled as she cut him off, already knowing where he was going.Bookmark here

“Yup. It is indeed.”Bookmark here

“How am I able to wear this though? That coin was impossible to move.”Bookmark here

“There are different types of material, and they all vary in grade. We use a simple star rating to determine the durability of the item. A one-star item is extremely durable, and lightweight to the point that a normal human can use carry it, while a five-star item is still durable but heavy.”Bookmark here

“So, that coin was a five-star rating, and this coat is a one-star?”Bookmark here

“Exactly.”Bookmark here

“Can you teach me more when we get to the fort?” Aystaria asked.Bookmark here

“Of course. In fact, if you look up there, you can see the fort,” Xyia said as she pointed up to a far off cliff.Bookmark here

In the distance, Aystaria could see a large fort that sat at the edge of a clifftop. He could see there was only one winding path to the fort while surrounding the rest of the area below was the frozen lake. As Aystaria exited through a clearing in the forest he could see the beauty of the frozen lake with his own eyes at the edge of the ground. Making his way over to it, he noticed a pocket of water that bubbled as if being heated from below. Before he could lean over to see the clear water, he heard Xyia shout his name.Bookmark here

“Aystaria!”Bookmark here

Grabbing him, and pulling him back as the water in the pocket shot up like a rush of liquid, Aystaria began to feel his heart racing.Bookmark here

“Let’s try not to lean of the deadly water, okay,” Xyia said with a smile.Bookmark here

“R-Right.”Bookmark here

Continue down the pathway, and up to the fort, Aystaria was amazed by just how big it truly was. A large gate closed off the outside from the inner section with two guards posted to keep watch. They both had white hair, and were dressed in black armor that resembled knight’s armor.Bookmark here

“Is everyone in this fort apart of the Shadow Takers?” Aystaria asked.Bookmark here

Passing the gate, and entering the courtyard, Aystaria was greeted by a large open area paved in stone. The snow had appeared to be shoved from the stone with small snowflakes still on the ground.Bookmark here

“There are some humans here that act as staff. Groundskeepers, maids, and some guards. But yes, most of the people here are apart of the Shadow Takers.”Bookmark here

“Exactly how many of you are there?”Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to follow his father, and mother until they came a large grand door. Upon opening the door, Aystaria was greeted by a large great hall that held many wooden tables with various Shadow Takers partaking in meals or off-duty activities.Bookmark here

“Um… a lot,” Xyia said with a smile.Bookmark here

The chatter of different voice echoed throughout the great hall as Aystaria walked down one of the aisles. He was more surprised by the fact that no one was paying him much attention, as if him, and his parents being there was nothing more than a normal occurrence. Deep down, Aystaria felt vastly intimated by the looks of the various Shadow Takers.Bookmark here

“Don’t be afraid, Aystaria. Most of the people here are nice.”Bookmark here

“Most? Great…”Bookmark here

“Relax, I’ll always be here to protect you,” Xyia said with a smile.Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to follow his parents through a nearby doorway at the back of the room that lead into a long hallway. Entering into another room with a crimson red door, Aystaria noticed that it was similar to the large dinning room at his manor. On the large wooden table were six candles.Bookmark here

“Aystaria.”Bookmark here

“Yes, father?”Bookmark here

“I want you to observe everything you see here today. Do not speak unless you are spoken to. Understand me?”Bookmark here

“As you wish.”Bookmark here

Aystaria’s father stood at the head of the table as he waited for a moment. After a few seconds of silence, Aystaria could hear whispers coming from the shadows. In that moment, he could see figures starting to emerge as six individuals sat down in the chairs with the candles in front of them. Aystaria leaned over into Xyia’s ear as he whispered.Bookmark here

“Who are they?”Bookmark here

Before Xyia could say anything, the echoes of a voice rang out through Aystaria’s ears.Bookmark here

“You know we can hear you, boy.”Bookmark here

Aystaria’s father turned to him, disappointed that he had failed to listen to him.Bookmark here

“Bring him forth,” one other voice said.Bookmark here

Aystaria carefully made his way over to his father as he stared upon the six figures sitting at the table. All of them were obscured by shadows aside from one girl who seemed a bit off.Bookmark here

“I take it this boy is your son, lord Pynn.”Bookmark here

“He is.”Bookmark here

“So you’re the son, maybe we could have some fun,” the odd girl spoke.Bookmark here

“Um… I’m sorry, what do you mean?” Aystaria asked nervously.Bookmark here

“I mean what I say, we can become newly weds today!”Bookmark here

Aystaria blushed at the words the girl spoke.Bookmark here

“Andateika! Cease your banter.”Bookmark here

“My bad, I’m sad…”Bookmark here

Andateika sat down in her chair hugging her knees to her chest.Bookmark here

“I apologize for her… odd behavior. Now, answer me. What is your name boy?”Bookmark here

“Aystaria, sir.”Bookmark here

“And why is it you are here?”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked to his father, but he did not speak.Bookmark here

“My father originally wanted me to learn what it was he did but…”Bookmark here

“But?”Bookmark here

“Ass!” Andateika yelled out.Bookmark here

“Andateika!”Bookmark here

Andateika giggled as Aystaria took at second to breath, and a smirk appeared on his face.Bookmark here

“I want to be a Shadow Taker.”Bookmark here

Silence fell in the room as Andateika herself even looked puzzled by what was said.Bookmark here

“Wow, you must be great in bed because you have a big head,” Andateika giggled.Bookmark here

Aystaria felt his face turn a bright red as he looked down to make sure nothing was showing.Bookmark here

“Anyways… lord Pynn, ensure your son is with you. He should at least see the world for himself.”Bookmark here

“As you wish.”Bookmark here

“You are free to go. Three days from now, make sure you are ready to leave.”Bookmark here

“Awwie, I don’t want Aystaria to go, please let me be your ho,” Andateika said as she jumped up from her chair, and wrapped her arms around Aystaria.Bookmark here

“You don’t make any sense, you must be dense,” Aystaria said as he pushed the girl off of him.Bookmark here

“You should know I’m really sweet, you can even lick my feet.”Bookmark here

“I’m not into that, but maybe I could rest my head in your lap.”Bookmark here

“I can meet you in your room, you will be my groom.”Bookmark here

“Okay, I think we done, I got to run.”Bookmark here

Without another word, Aystaria headed for the exit with his father. He felt his heart starting to beat as he realized what had happened in the room.Bookmark here

“Can someone explain what happened?” Aystaria asked.Bookmark here

“Xyia, take my son to his room, and fill him in.”Bookmark here

Xyia nodded as she grabbed Aystaria gently by the hand.Bookmark here

“Follow me, okay?”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria laid back on his bed as he looked up at the ceiling. He thought about everything that Xyia had told him. It was a lot to take in after only one day, but he enjoyed learning new things. Overall, he was excited to see this new realm beyond the borders of their reality, and meet with the various Ryiza in the new realm. The Ryiza were of two types, either a mindless creature that would kill on impulse or a sentient being that could understand emotions, dreams, and desires.Bookmark here

It was hard for him to imagine that Ryiza were alive, and wandering the streets of the cities throughout the world. He thought back to his friends, and began to question if they were Ryiza that could understand pain, love, and all the same emotions, and desires like other humans. Turning over onto his side, he closed his eyes as he decided to focus on what he would have to do for the next three days.Bookmark here

Over the course of three days, Aystaria studied in the fort’s library that held many books on the shadow realm that he had learned was called Enfieria. Every book he read he learned something new. He had even managed to find a book on the language spoken in the world of Enfieria. During that time he practiced what he had learned with Xyia, but by the end of three days he found that he was only able to speak the language at a basic level—just enough to converse.Bookmark here

On the day of the trip, Aystaria felt both nervous, and excited as he prepared himself to enter the world of Enfieria. With Xyia close to his side, Aystaria, and his family followed the group of Shadow Takers that would escort them to the shadow realm. They were tasked with reaching out to a small village, and to help them understand the culture of Temeraire in hopes of getting the villagers into a position of nobility.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, stay by me at all times. The world of Enfieria is not to be taken lightly. Do you understand?”Bookmark here

“Kyllä.”Bookmark here

Like the transitions to the other layers, Aystaria found it hard to tell when they had entered the sixth layer. Yet, he started to take note of the shadowy fog that had grown thicker within the forest. Before long, Aystaria realized that he was unable to see about five feet in front of him. The Shadow Takers appeared to know where they were going even through the heavy mist.Bookmark here

“Hey, Xyia?”Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

“How does this fog look through your eyes?”Bookmark here

“For us, the fog isn’t there for about sixty feet or so. That’s about the max distance we half-Ryiza can see. A full Ryiza can see about double that.”Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to follow just behind his parents as two Shadow Takers stayed ahead about ten feet ahead of them. The shadowy mist that surrounded the area didn’t seem to let up as Aystaria wondered when they would be entering into the shadow realm.Bookmark here

“We just entered Enfieria,” Xyia said as she looked to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Did we? It doesn’t feel like anything as changed other then the fact a few a bit sleepy.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, entering for the first time tends to do that.”Bookmark here

“So, what’s out there?”Bookmark here

“Woods at the moment. We won’t reach an open clearing for at least a mile or two.”Bookmark here

The sounds of a howling echo shattered through the silence as Aystaria covered his ears from the sound. Looking around, he noticed that each of the Shadow Takers had their weapons out, and at the ready. Xyia appeared alert as Aystaria noticed her eyes were scanning the area rapidly.Bookmark here

“Xyia… What was that?”Bookmark here

“Don’t stray from my side, Aystaria. Those were shadow wolves. From the sound of it, there’s at least fifty.”Bookmark here

“F-Fifty!?”Bookmark here

“If I tell you to run, then you run. Got it?”Bookmark here

“But what—”Bookmark here

“Just do as I say.”Bookmark here

Aystaria nodded as he remained close to Xyia. The sounds of the howling wolves grew louder as Aystaria tried to figure out where they would be coming from.Bookmark here

“Xyia, ten on the east side,” one of the Shadow Takers called out.Bookmark here

“I see them.”Bookmark here

Xyia turned to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Stay right here.”Bookmark here

“R-Right…”Bookmark here

Watching Xyia disapear into the darkness, Aystaria tried to recall any information he may of had read in any of the books. Aystaria could hear the sounds of a few wolves dying followed by the sound of a single scream from a girl. The rustling of leaves being trampled underfoot closed in as Aystaria scanned the area—to no avail. Out of the shadows, two wolves pounced at Aystaria’s mother, and father ending their lives with a quick ripping open of the jugular. Unable to feel his legs, Aystaria froze in fear as he watched his parents get eaten alive by the five other wolves that appeared for a feast.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, run!”Bookmark here

Even though Aystaria could not see Xyia, he knew that staying was a quick road to death. As he took a step back he could hear another howl that echoed throughout the sky. Running through the shadows with hardly any way to know where he was going, Aystaria rushed past many different trees, and branches to get around from the wolves. He could hear their footsteps as they dashed through the trees as if they didn’t exist. Continuing through the woods without even knowing just what direction he was going, Aystaria felt his foot snag on a tree root. Falling flat on his face, he could feel the pain in his face but also his foot. Trying to stand up quickly, he felt the pain surge through his left leg as he turned to see ten wolves all spaced out in an arc, and ready to strike.Bookmark here

As one wolf leapt forward to attack, Aystaria closed his eyes. In that moment, he heard the sound of a whimper before silence over took the area. Upon opening his eyes he could a dead wolf laying at the feet of Xyia, her sword plunged deep into the creature’s skull. Her arm had been mauled, but she still held her blade in her hand ready to fight.Bookmark here

“I refuse to let you die, Aystaria.”Bookmark here

“X-Xyia…”Bookmark here

With ever bit of strength she had, Xyia fought off the wolves managing to take some of the wolves before her wounds were starting to get to her. As she remained alert, she watched the six wolves as they circled around trying to throw her off guard. Taking out one with ease, Xyia tried to fight off two more but sound found herself bitten at the ankle. As she continued to fight off one, she began to realize that the wolves were getting smarter. While she had managed to take out one more wolf, one had slipped through her defenses, and pounced on top of her. In that moment, Xyia fought to keep the wolf at bay only to over at Aystaria, and smile one final time.Bookmark here

Aystaria turned away from the horror, but the screams echoed throughout his ears. He couldn’t open his eyes now as he didn’t want to face the truth that happened just a few feet in front of him. Even though he wasn’t ready to die, Aystaria knew there was no way he would be able to outrun the wolves. Yet, he was shocked at how silence the area was around him.Bookmark here

“Hey, are you okay?”Bookmark here

The voice was that of a girl who was kneeling down in front of him. As he looked up at the girl, he could see that she had long white hair with a braid that flowed down to her thighs with a black ribbon tied at the end. Her voice was cheerful, and her smile lit up the darkness like a candle. While her build was petite, and slender she didn’t give off any impression of being weak. She was dressed in a white short top that showed her bellybutton, and crimson red shorts. A pair of white thigh-high socks, and ankle-length blue boots completed the overall look of the outfit. The one thing Aystaria noticed was the mark on her left wrist. It was the same mark that identified all Shadow Takers.Bookmark here

“Y-You’re apart of the Shadow Takers…”Bookmark here

A cute giggled escaped the girl’s mouth as she twirled on the ball of her foot ending with a striking pose fit for a popular girl in school.Bookmark here

“Yiania Byalsheir, commander of the Shadow Takers Unit Six.”Bookmark here

“Did you kill all those wolves already?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about that, okay? You’re safe now,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

Without warning, Aystaria wrapped his arms around Yiania as tears flowed from his eyes. He could feel Yiania’s warming embrace as she hugged him gently.Bookmark here

“Can you stand?”Bookmark here

“I think I twisted my ankle pretty bad.”Bookmark here

“Not a problem.”Bookmark here

Aystaria was taken by surprise as Yiania lifted him in her arms like a gallant knight carrying a princess. He couldn’t help but blush from the feeling as Yiania carried him off with the rest of her unit following behind her.Bookmark here

“Make sure to grab those dog tags, Gorath.”Bookmark here

“Sure thing, commander.”Bookmark here

Returning to the Shadow Fort safely, Yiania carried Aystaria to small room that held various medical supplies atop different shelves. Placing him on the medical table, Yiania looked over to one of the girls.Bookmark here

“All of you can go. Myikaru, you’re up though.”Bookmark here

“Roger that.”Bookmark here

Myikaru had long hair that flowed down just past her hips with a small ribbon tied off at the left side—held in place with a needle. She wore a black cotton shirt button-up shirt with a white leather coat over it, and a white short skirt with black accents. A pair of black thigh-high socks with a pair of white knee-high boots laced fitted with purple shoestrings completed her odd getup which made her appear seductive, and sexy.Bookmark here

“Be aware that Myikaru has a fetish for everything.”Bookmark here

Aystaria started to blush as he watched Myikaru remove his boot carefully.Bookmark here

“W-Wait… I—”Bookmark here

Before Aystaria could say anything, he felt Myikaru’s warm tongue licking his sock like dog. His face quickly blushed a bright red as he tried to pull his foot away.Bookmark here

“Myikaru, would you mind being nice to the girl we just saved.”Bookmark here

“R-Right… commander…”Bookmark here

“G-Girl? But I’m— Ow!”Bookmark here

The feeling of Myikaru gently twisting his ankle made Aystaria whimper in pain for a second but soon after, he realized the pain was slowly starting to subside. Myikaru licked her lips like a hungry girl staring at a slice of cake. Without warning, she placed her face into his sock, inhaling the aroma like a scent of fine fragrance.Bookmark here

“Myikaru, if I have to remind you one more time, we’re going to have a chat later,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry… commander.”Bookmark here

Aystaria watched as Myikaru removed his sock, and pulled out a bandage from a nearby supply box. Myikaru couldn’t help but lust over Aystaria’s petite barefoot as she drew her mouth closer to his toes.Bookmark here

“Myikaru,” Yiania said in a sarcastic tone.Bookmark here

“I can’t help it commander. She has such beautiful feet.”Bookmark here

Shoving his toe into Myikaru’s mouth, Aystaria laid back on the table, and stared up at the ceiling.Bookmark here

“If you’re going to do that, at least bandage it properly. Also, I’m a boy.”Bookmark here

“Wait, really?”Bookmark here

Myikari jumped up quickly as she straddled Aystaria’s hips.Bookmark here

“What turns you on? Breast? Thighs? Ass? Feet?”Bookmark here

“How about you do the job you were told, and maybe I will tell you what I like later.”Bookmark here

Myikaru giggled.Bookmark here

“He’s a cutie. Can we keep him?”Bookmark here

“Down girl, I saw him first. You do your job,” Yiania said as she approached Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Yes ma’am!”Bookmark here

Like a trained dog, Myikaru headed back down to Aystaria’s feet as Yiania traced her fingers through Aystaria’s long hair.Bookmark here

“I see you’re not crying over the death of your parents, Aystaria.”Bookmark here

“So, you knew my name?”Bookmark here

“Well, of course. I knew your mother, and father. They were nice,” Yiania said as she crawled atop the table, and straddled Aystaria’s hips.Bookmark here

Aystaria stared into Yiania’s eyes. He noticed that one was of orange color while the other was a dark crimson red.Bookmark here

“So Aystaria, here’s a question for you. What do you plan to do now?”Bookmark here

“Well, I have no family. No home to go back too. Guess my only option is the join the Shadow Takers.”Bookmark here

Yiania giggled as she rested her head on Aystaria’s chest.Bookmark here

“You’re a bad liar. You want to express how you feel, yet, you’re using jokes to try, and play it off. It’s something all of us Shadow Takers do.”Bookmark here

“Is it now?”Bookmark here

“Mhm. Are you sure it’s what you want though?”Bookmark here

“I’m sure.”Bookmark here

“Right then, Myikaru, can you gather the others please?”Bookmark here

“On it, commander.”Bookmark here

Myikaru left the room within a flash as Yiania held out her hand.Bookmark here

“Follow me, Aystaria.”Bookmark here

After putting on his boot, Aystaria grabbed Yiania’s hand, and followed her down the hallway. The two of them came to a large black door after a few minutes that was grand in appearance. On it was the same emblem that Aystaria had seen on Xyia’s arm wrist. Opening up the door revealed a large open room shrouded in shadows. Aystaria could only see a lit candle sitting on the table along with a black chalice accented in a slight golden leaf color. Standing off to the sides were the other members of Unit Six, their faces showing no sign of expression.Bookmark here

“What is this place?” Aystaria asked.Bookmark here

“The place where you either live or die,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

Aystaria followed behind Yiania as she made her way over to the small alter in the center of the room. Looking around, Aystaria could see two chains that disappeared into the darkness. As Aystaria stepped up onto the small block that acted as the foundation of the alter, Yiania turned to him—her expression remaining the same.Bookmark here

“On your knees, please.”Bookmark here

“Something tells me this is how Shadow Takers are born,” Aystaria said as he watched Yiania chain his wrist down to the floor.Bookmark here

“That would be correct. We ingest the blood of the Ryiza, and we become half-Ryiza,” Yiania said as she pulled out her dagger strapped to her thigh.Bookmark here

Slicing opening her palm, she allowed the blood to pour into the chalice before finally turning to Aystaria, her smile never faltering.Bookmark here

“I hope you survive because I’d hate to have to kill you.”Bookmark here

Pouring the liquid into Aystaria’s mouth, the room went silent as they wait for the moment of truth. In a few seconds, Aystaria could start to few something twisting inside of his body. The pain felt like someone ripping out all the nerves from the inside of his body slowly. His screams echoed throughout the room as he desperately struggled to break free from the chains. He could feel his body was starting to change as it underwent the process of turning into a half-Ryiza.Bookmark here

Of the most noticeable, his long flowing hair changed into a pale color of snow white, while his left eye turning a crimson red color. Another scream left his lungs as he coughed up black blood onto the floor.Bookmark here

“Well… there went my lunch for today,” Aystaria joked as he tried to calm his breathing.Bookmark here

“Still can crack jokes I see, that’s good,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

Aystaria started to feel the pain in his body subside as he looked up to Yiania.Bookmark here

“Am I…”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Yiania said as she unshackled Aystaria.Bookmark here

Grabbing a small branding iron from the alter, Yiania placed it over the candle.Bookmark here

“There is just one more thing left to do.”Bookmark here

After getting the branding iron hot, Yiania turned to Aystaria, and pinned him down onto the floor. With a sadistic smile, she drove the iron into his left wrist, kissing his lips before he could scream out from the pain. Aystaria felt a mix of both pain, and pleasure as he tried to understand exactly what he was feeling. As Yiania removed the branding iron from Aystaria’s skin, she smiled as she ended the kiss.Bookmark here

“Well Aystaria, you’re all mine now.”Bookmark here

“I guess I don’t have a choice in this, do I, commander?”Bookmark here

Yiania giggled as she stood to her feet. Placing the brand on the alter, she grabbed her dagger, and dipped the tip in the rest of the blood. Carefully etching out the number six near the top of the brand on Aystaria’s wrist, Yiania smiled as she looked over to him.Bookmark here

“You signed up for it, so nope.”Bookmark here

Once she was finished, Yiania held out her hand with a cheerful expression on her face.Bookmark here

“Let me properly introduce you to the team.”Bookmark here

Yiania pointed to each of the members as she introduced them.Bookmark here

“We have Myikaru Haryune the Lewd, Gorath Ironblood the Brave, Orphina the Greedy, and Scarlett the Masochist.”Bookmark here

“I’m… not going to be able to remember all your names.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Aystaria. You’ll learn. After all, I’ll be training you,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Two years passed as Aystaria learned, and trained to use his abilities to there full extent. In a span of another four years, Aystaria had formed a bound with the members of Unit Six, and most noticeably his commander. He learned many things from her, from her unusual combat style to all the ways in which pain could be inflected. Aystaria felt pride in the fact that he had learned so much within the few years.Bookmark here

Aystaria continued to read through his book as he made mental notes of all the things he came across in the world of Enfieria. The banks just outside of the city of Athelas were considered one the most beautiful spots, yet not many knew about it the small area that was secluded. As Aystaria continued to read, he could feel the fingertips of Yiania playing with his long hair like a child.Bookmark here

“Commander…”Bookmark here

“I’m almost finished, Aystaria.”Bookmark here

“You put me in this top, and this skirt. It feels like you’re trying to make me into a girl.”Bookmark here

“But you make a cute girl.”Bookmark here

“Do I? So, are you into girls?” Aystaria asked with a smile as he looked to Yiania.Bookmark here

Yiania giggled as she looked to Aystaria with a shy expression, her face blushing slightly.Bookmark here

“I’m into you.”Bookmark here

Aystaria looked over the long braid that Yiania had done to his hair, tying off the end of it with a black ribbon. Taking the initiative, Aystaria pinned Yiania down onto the grass as he stared into her eyes. He couldn’t help but smile as he gazed upon her beauty.Bookmark here

“You’re truly a beautiful girl.”Bookmark here

“Tyhmä,” Yiania spoke in a shy tone, her face blushing a deeper shade of red.Bookmark here

Running his fingers through her hair, Aystaria noticed the golden hair clip that held back her bangs.Bookmark here

“I should buy a hair clip to hold back my bangs. They always seem to get in the way.”Bookmark here

Yiania giggled as she removed the hair clip from her bangs, and brushed Aystaria’s bangs to the side before clipping his hair back.Bookmark here

“There. Now it won’t get in the way of your beautiful eyes,” Yiania said with a smile.Bookmark here

A loud cough disturbed the tender moment between Aystaria, and Yiania as they both looked to see the rest of the team staring on.Bookmark here

“You two should get a room. Unless you plan to just do it here in front of us,” Myikaru said with a sly smile.Bookmark here

Yiania smiled as she looked back to Asytaria. With a fake cough she spoke in a sarcastic tone.Bookmark here

“Aystaria, the commander is not allowed to engage in such behavior with a member of her own unit. Please refrain from showing such lewd displays of affection in public,” Yiania said with a playful wink.Bookmark here

“So, in private is perfectly fine, I see.”Bookmark here

Aystaria smiled as he got off of Yiania, and helped her up.Bookmark here

“One week from now we enter Enfieria. All of you remember what’s going down, right?”Bookmark here

“You may have to remind Myikaru. After all she did seem to be fixated on me more than she should have,” Aystaria joked.Bookmark here

“That is true. I did stare at you with lustful eyes. Your body, your hair, your ass, your thighs, your legs, and feet everything was just so—”Bookmark here

“Repeating the plan then for the one who is too horny to listen,” Yiania said as she cut Myikaru off.Bookmark here

Drawing out a small map off the area they would be operating in, Yiania explained the basics of the plan.Bookmark here

“We will be conducting a joint operation with the rest of the Shadow Taker Units. Our target is the shadow lord. The locals call him Cyridel, who rules with an iron fist. Our mission is simple, kill him.”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria looked around the courtyard of the Shadow Fort at all the units that had gathered for the joint operation. He had grown to befriend a few of the other members such as Feldia the Formidable who was of unit one. While both of them were different in their views, they both respected each other. Another member he had interacted with was Sia the Face Stealer who had approached him with the threat of taking his face. Yet, before anything could be done, Yiania ensure that Sia kept away from her treasure.Bookmark here

Looking over all the unit commanders, Aystaria came to the realization that out of all of them, Yiania was the youngest of the them all. Being only twenty-one years of age, she was considered immature by many of the Shadow Takers. This did not stop her from pushing forward to the point many considered her to be a prodigy.Bookmark here

“So, Yiania, question for you.”Bookmark here

“What is it, Aystaria?”Bookmark here

“When this is joint operation is over, you want to get a room together?”Bookmark here

Yiania giggled as she smirked looking over to Aystaria.Bookmark here

“Of course.”Bookmark here

The single strike of a bell rang out through the area as all of the Shadow Takers turned to look at the balcony tower where a figure stood dressed in black.Bookmark here

“Tonight, the operation will begin,” the figure spoke as its voice echoed throughout the courtyard.Bookmark here

Aystaria leaned into Yiania’s ear as he whispered.Bookmark here

“That’s the commander over the whole Shadow Taker Units, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, he oversees everything.”Bookmark here

“Tonight, ensure that you do not fail. Now go!”Bookmark here

Like a swift fleet of shadows, all of the units made haste—leaving the courtyard empty with no trace of sound. Aystaria followed behind Yiania as they led the tip of the spear into the sixth layer. Rushing through the woods, Aystaria kept his eyes scanning the horizons for monsters while he continued to keep an equal amount of distance between himself, and the rest of the team. Like a pack of wolves, Unit Six moved deeper into the woods until Yiania stopped.Bookmark here

Aystaria could see the shadowy outlines of figures in the distance. In total, ten Ryiza were presence within his line-of-sight. Yiania turned to her team, and smiled. With a simple gesture of her thumb slitting her throat, everyone in the unit maneuvered to engage the Ryiza, and eliminate them as quickly as possible.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

Aystaria wiped the blood from his sword as he looked over the battlefield. Ten corpses laid still as blood poured out of them onto the ground. The battle had only lasted six seconds, yet this is what they were trained to do. Aystaria scanned the area around him as he tried to get a sense of where they were at within the realm.Bookmark here

“You would think after so many trips into this place, we’d have map or something,” Aystaria said.Bookmark here

“Considering we still haven’t been able to explore much of this world, we should be glad we have vague sense of direction, and time in this place.”Bookmark here

Aystaria scanned the area until he heard a voice in the distance.Bookmark here

“Did you hear that?”Bookmark here

“I didn’t hear anything.”Bookmark here

Without warning, Aystaria headed in the direction of the voice.Bookmark here

“Aystaria!”Bookmark here

Failing to listen to Yiania, Aystaria continued on through the woods as he grow closer to the voice that echoed throughout his ears. Entering into an opening clearing, Aystaria could see a little girl crying as she sat on a lone rock. She was of pale skin with long unkempt black hair that flowed down to her lower back. Her clothes were like that of a beggar’s with rips at random places, and covering down to her thighs. She’s crying? She must be a Ryiza that isn’t mindless, Aystaria thought as he made his way closer to the girl.Bookmark here

“Hei siellä, oletko kunnossa?” Aystaria spoke in calming tone.Bookmark here

As Aystaria placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder, he felt a chill run throughout his body. The fear of seeing a horrible disfiguration before him made his heart stop for a second. Shit, it’s not a sentient Ryiza, Aystaria thought as he tried to pull his blade from his sheath. Before he could act, the Ryiza let out an ear shattering scream that forced him, and his teammates that had finally caught up to him, to cover their ears. Without a chance react, Aystaria felt himself being pinned down to the ground by the screeching creature as he struggled to break free.Bookmark here

The swift strike of a flying dagger entered the creature’s head. Tossing the creature to the side, Aystaria removed the dagger, and threw it back to Yiania. Catching it at the hilt, she sheathed the dagger back into her thigh-hostler, and made her way over to Aystaria. Helping him to his feet, she looked at him with smile.Bookmark here

“You know what I have to do to you later, right Aystaria?”Bookmark here

“String me up naked by my…”Bookmark here

Aystaria’s body shook at the thought of what Yiania had done to him once before just for fun.Bookmark here

“Right… sorry commander.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’m just—”Bookmark here

Before Yiania could finish her sentence, she—along with the others—could feel the ground start to tremble under their feet. From out of the ground, Ryiza appeared by the dozens.Bookmark here

“I guess we’re going to have fun tonight, right team?” Yiania asked with a cheerful expression on her face.Bookmark here

Ana Fowl
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kazesenken
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K-J-Whitten
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TearDrops
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Bookmarked
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