Chapter 0:

Prologue

Deep Within


Standing in front of the man she adored, A girl, about 18, looked concerned at her very distressed boyfriend, about the same age.Bookmark here

They had been meeting in secret, unbeknownst to the boy’s parents, who disapproved of their relation due to the girl’s upbringing.Bookmark here

Except for some reason, she could tell today that he was not being his usual loving self.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?” the boy hesitated to answer. He still hadn’t looked at her curious eyes.Bookmark here

“I hate to say this, but…” he said, finally gazing into her eyes.Bookmark here

“This isn’t working out…”Bookmark here

Although the girl was getting an idea of what he meant, she hoped that he meant something else. “What do you mean?”Bookmark here

Slightly annoyed with her obliviousness, the boy sighed.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry…”Bookmark here

The sadness in the girl’s eyes was palpable, her eyes tearing up.Bookmark here

She knew what he was going to say next, and it was the last thing she wanted to hear.Bookmark here

Her heart and mind began to race, desperately scrambling for anything she could do that would make him change his mind.Bookmark here

She had waited her whole life for this, she couldn't lose him now.Bookmark here

“Wait! Let’s work something out. Please!”Bookmark here

Feeling like continuing with this would only lead to further heartbreak, he decided to leave.Bookmark here

The girl chased after him and then stopped. She started to sob as he walked away, leaving her behind. Bookmark here

And thus, as she cried, her heart broke in two. Only to be mended by true love. But... that doesn't exist, so she became bitter.Bookmark here

There laid the barony of Nightingale, a small portion of the kingdom of Adagis and resting atop of a hillside.Bookmark here

A manor so opulent and imperial, this was the residence of the Baron Mariner Nightingale.Bookmark here

Mariner was a fine man, with long blonde hair, blue eyes, and a mustache with a goatee. His height was about 180cm and he wore a purple and white jacket, with white pants, a black shirt, black boots and a black hat with white trims and a purple strap.Bookmark here

Mariner was cautiously plotting for the benefit of his overlord and subjects. The Queen had requested his expertise on a matter of utmost importance.Bookmark here

It had been many months now that a valuable resource had been encountered on the small County of Macrani that bordered Adagis. They became a coveted target for greedy eyes of all kingdoms who were adjacent to the minuscule nation. Surrounded on all sides by those who sought their wealthy natural resources, the County of Macrani began diplomatic discussions of their vassalization with anyone who would accept as well as protect them.Bookmark here

After many days of deliberation with several representatives from several kingdoms, the discussion had been narrowed to being vassalized by two of the most likely candidates: Adagis and Aragonsha.Bookmark here

Despite such progress being made, and so as to prevent a conflict between the various nations surrounding the county’s land, negotiations had turned into a stalemate of dialectics. Many concessions were being made by both sides without a clear victory in sight on the diplomatic side of things. Mariner’s mission was to finally end the deadlock and allow for the vassalage of the extremely valuable lands of Macrani. His kingdom and Barony had suffered heavily in the previous years. Bad harvests coupled with droughts and poor industrial outputs due to a variety of factors had left the kingdom on the brink of famine, with many nobles having to provide for their subjects with their own riches to avoid countless deaths. One of the many reasons why discussions had stalled was the fact that Adagis was a kingdom of human supremacists. As a result, the county, which consisted solely of fairy inhabitants, were reluctant to accept them as their new rulers. On the other hand, Aragonsha also had its own downsides.Bookmark here

Despite how inclusive their society was, they were known for their incredibly authoritarian king. He was known for confiscating his subjects' lands under centralized rule. Many fairy nobles feared that their lands would be taken from them on the outset of a deal being struck. Many positive arguments still sprung up, such as how the Adagian soldiers were some of the most powerful in the land, showing how they would be most capable of defending their new subject’s land. With concessions being made daily and deadlock ever present, this could not stand any longer. Adagis was reaching an economical collapse in the future, but the Baron had a plan. As Her Majesty’s spymaster, he had not been chosen out of the many noble figures of the kingdom on a whim, or for political gain. Mariner Nightingale was a master of deception, ensuring the security of the kingdom from all kinds of hidden foes, magical countermeasures, and defensive maneuvers. His expertise as a strategist was needed now more than ever. He thought to himself as he looked over the documents on his table. “Father, all preparations are ready…” said a willowy figure with long blonde hair that had pink tips. She was dressed in graceful clothing composed of a dark blue shirt, black pants, and brown boots. She also had heterochromia iridum, one eye being blue and the other being green. The girl’s sleeves reached her gloves on her delicate hands as she handed one last missing document to the spymaster. “Thank you, Syvis."Bookmark here

He patted her head. “With this, we are finally ready to meet the mortician guild. We know where they are at last.”Bookmark here

“Are we supposed to kill them, father?” The tone of her voice was non-threatening, somewhat kind and almost ironic.Bookmark here

“Not this time, daughter dear. This time, we gain much more from making allies out of them. We just need to meet and discuss an agreement.”Bookmark here

In a sort of mocking tone, Syvis responded.Bookmark here

“It really would be a shame if these discussions ended up going nowhere like the vassalage.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you know me better than to let that happen, Syvis. Queen Nicolette may be a very competent and strong-willed lady, but I’m afraid that is well beyond her reach given our background.” The spymaster grinned ear to ear as his eyes glistened with excitement.Bookmark here

“This will work, because I am to offer the guild something so enticing that they cannot possibly refuse.” As if pausing to collect his thoughts, he remembered to ask one more detail. “… Has our captive been properly starved?”Bookmark here

Syvis smiled. “Not only that, but I have already selected a target for him.”Bookmark here

“Very good. Now… let's go.”Bookmark here

Proceeding to board their transport, the two made their way towards the location of the guild of Morticians…Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

Deep within the kingdom of Adagis, this secretive group had taken up residence in one of the many foggy swamps that dotted the regions. An aspect of the geography that had always made any would-be invaders of Adagis pay dearly in any attempt at maneuvering inwards towards the more populated regions.Bookmark here

With the terrain proven impossible to traverse in their vehicle, they opted to proceed on foot further into the misty depths.Bookmark here

As they began to track towards a location where it would be most likely to find any vestiges of the guild or a potential camping ground, gusts of smoke could be noticed in the background. Far too much smoke to imagine it were a campfire of some sort that the guild members would be using for their daily lives.Bookmark here

No, it felt like they had been attacked. A stillness in the air could be felt by the pair. They glanced at one another, understanding what had most likely occurred. Their steps were hastened in hopes that there were still survivors of the guild at the camp.Bookmark here

The camp had surely been ransacked. Several tents, makeshift houses, and wagons had been torched.Bookmark here

The guild members appeared to still be alive, or at least some of them. With the sudden appearance of the flamboyant pair, the guild members sprang into action, preparing whatever weapons they had at these new interlopers.Bookmark here

Syvis greeted this reaction with much of the same preparation for a skirmish, whereas Mariner remained unfazed.Bookmark here

“Most illustrious members of the guild of morticians, please be at ease. We are not a threat to your order.” As he said this, he slightly bowed.Bookmark here

A robed figure slowly walked outside of cover in a reverent pose, with her cloth adorned in a manner which formed a rhombus.Bookmark here

“And who might you be?”Bookmark here

“I am Baron Mariner Nightingale II. I come to you with a proposition of conciliation. And this is my daughter, Lady Syvis. As you can see, my intentions are pure, for I come unarmed. I merely wish to have a word with you. And what might your name be, Guild Master?”Bookmark here

The guild master, visibly surprised that the baron would know about their customs enough to recognize her robes, quickly responded after telling her congregation to stand down.Bookmark here

“I am Nizagal Avira, third guild master of the guild of morticians.” Looking over her shoulder to the ruins of the camp, she sighed and continued…Bookmark here

“But, as you can see, we aren’t able to talk at the moment. We’ve got a bit of a… situation to attend to…”Bookmark here

“Who caused such mayhem?” asked a noticeably impatient Syvis, while still showing enough reverence as to not be disrespectful.Bookmark here

“We sadly do not know. All that we know is that they were a powerful raid in camouflage uniforms… We could not see a single identifying factor about them. At first, we believed the kingdom of Adagis, themselves, would be responsible. However, with your arrival, this is clearly not be the case. They burned their own dead, too, so we could not find anything on the ones we killed.”Bookmark here

Mariner paused before responding.Bookmark here

“… If they came at you so well prepared, were they looking for something? Given how coveted you are by all the kingdoms, due to your magic and ability to reverse the aging process. Surely they wanted something important.”Bookmark here

“How perceptive of you, Mariner. Perhaps you were also interested in this same item, then? You seemed so sure of yourself when you asked that.”Bookmark here

“The Gehena Stone…”Bookmark here

“Right you are… I suppose you were after it, too.”Bookmark here

“Consider this a vote of confidence on my part, as my intention in coming here was to finally turn your order of morticians into a vital part of the kingdom of Adagis. I’ve spoken to the Queen and she’s willing to accept this on the condition that the stone be delivered to us, her representatives.”Bookmark here

Slightly aghast of this revelation, the composure of the guild master was truly shaken. The baron offered her people something that they were constantly weary of. Security at last. An almost visible smile could have been noticed, were it not suddenly replaced by a more somber look with the realization that they did not have the stone to trade for such a favorable proposal.Bookmark here

“You’re too generous… But we no longer have the stone.”Bookmark here

Syvis’ face filled with confidence. “We will take it back for you, and then we can easily make this deal work for both our benefits.”Bookmark here

Her father added to her statement. “Correct. As a show of good faith and that we mean what we say, all you need to do is point us in the direction of your assailants and tell us as much as you can about them.”Bookmark here

A much more invigorated Nizagal then spoke energetically. “As far as we know, there were at least 20 of them.” Looking further away to a few members, she called for them.Bookmark here

“Jolon Hyuko, Mordecai Riktor, and Ramin Vaniro.”Bookmark here

The three responded in unison, almost as if rehearsed. “Yes, Guild Master?”Bookmark here

“You three are to go with the baron and find the bandits. Mordecai, you saw which direction they went, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes, Guild Master...”Bookmark here

“These morticians will serve you well, Mariner. Take whatever weapons you may need.”Bookmark here

Mariner looked around at some of the other morticians carrying lifeless bodies away.Bookmark here

“I understand, Guild Master, I am sure they will be most useful.”Bookmark here

“Then, good luck to you. It is good to finally meet someone who wishes to find common ground at least.”Bookmark here

“It will be my pleasure.” He bowed.Bookmark here

With a wide berth, the group set out towards where they could find the raiders.Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

This was unknown terrain to the baron, but with his three guides, this would surely give an edge over their opponents. The morticians knew these swamps; It would not take long to find them. Much further away, a group of armed soldiers made their path through the muddy undergrowth. Some of them, clearing the fog and water from their trail to make their mobility faster.Bookmark here

One of them, a brownish, tall man with an orange beret on his head inspected the item in his hand. A small rhombus shaped stone adorned in silver. The man grinned to himself at this newfound treasure.Bookmark here

When at a moment's notice, one of their own suddenly fell to the ground, followed by a loud booming sound from a nearby rifle.Bookmark here

“AMBUSH!” shouted the man to his astonished subordinates as they ducked for whatever cover they could find amongst the trees.Bookmark here

The officer thought to himself. “This can’t be! How could the morticians have intercepted us this fast?”Bookmark here

They were down to thirteen soldiers, now. He had to come up with a plan fast.Bookmark here

“Troops, control the mist for cover! Those of you who do not use water magic, defend the ones who do while they shroud our presence!”Bookmark here

“Yes, Sir!” shouted the soldiers in unison, following the officer’s plan to try and get outside of the swamp without more casualties. As they moved and expanded the fog, shots kept being fired blindly at the soldiers.Bookmark here

A soldier fell to the ground, screaming in pain from a gunshot wound to the leg. As she fell into the water, another soldier picked her up and tried to move his wounded comrade. Suddenly, a bolt made of what seemed to be shadows pierced them both, killing them in an instant.Bookmark here

The officer, noticing this, ordered with a shout.Bookmark here

“Leave any wounded behind! We are too close to our extraction point!”Bookmark here

The soldiers did not seem too pleased with such an order, but understood what was at stake.Bookmark here

“Burn the swamp!”Bookmark here

The perplexed fire sorcerers among their ranks complied in an instant, torching mangrove trees to shield their beleaguered forces. One of these soldiers noticed a slight glint from the side of his eye, almost like glass, and immediately emptied his weapon with fiery rounds. The target screamed in pain and then stopped as life left its body.Bookmark here

“I got one of them!” said the soldier, fueled by the adrenaline of that moment. Suddenly, giant corpse hands pulled him deeper into the swamp waters. This proceeded to happen with several of the soldiers near him.Bookmark here

On the other side of the wall of fire, Mordecai and Ramin had just finished the necromantic spell to cause some of the soldiers to be pulled underneath the swamp. Ramin slammed her fist in frustration on a nearby tree.Bookmark here

“Dammit! We lost Jolon! He was such a good shot!”Bookmark here

“Now is not the time to grieve.” said the baron with a clear annoyed tone.Bookmark here

“Our foes are still on the run. And now, they have blocked us off with a wall of fire.”Bookmark here

“Leave that to me, father.” said Syvis as she held out what seemed to be an archaic blunderbuss and empowered it with a shadowy aura. She fired it at the mangroves in front of them, opening a massive hole in the fiery tree line.Bookmark here

The concentrated projectile came out as a sphere, vaporizing anything in its path, including one more unfortunate soldier. The officer’s quick reflexes allowed him to dodge the massive sphere, which would have surely killed him as well.Bookmark here

“Men, the enemies have opened a breach! Fire everything towards that gap!”Bookmark here

Like clockwork, the soldiers began unloading every single round of bullets and magical spells they could conjure up at the newly opened gateway in hopes to kill their ambushers. After a while, all of the firing stopped. Everything was silent…Bookmark here

All animals had escaped from the massive source of all the noise, all that could be heard was the wind and the sound of sloshing water.Bookmark here

“Stay sharp, men!” the officer shouted. He knew they were probably still alive somewhere.Bookmark here

Having taken cover from the massive amount of fire power thrown their way, the two morticians and the nobles laid low, making sure to keep hidden.Bookmark here

“Blasted water is ruining my clothes…” said the baron, looking down at his soaked attire.Bookmark here

“You clearly are nobility...” said Mordecai, sort of shaming Mariner.Bookmark here

“You just survived an attack that would have made anyone die in an instant, and yet you seem more worried about your clothes?”Bookmark here

“A man needs to have priorities, kid.”Bookmark here

“Don’t call me kid. I’m 130 years old…”Bookmark here

“Oh, pardon me. You act too much like a teenager despite your facial hair, I just assumed…”Bookmark here

“You must be an idiot if you assumed that, I clearly look like a middle aged man…”Bookmark here

“Can you two quit with the banter? They’re still trying to kill us." Ramin interrupted, clearly irritated by how the two were handling the situation. She was honestly impressed by how they could keep such a light-hearted attitude in the middle of a battle. Well, except Mordecai. He always seemed kind of depressed.Bookmark here

“Shhhhh!” ordered Syvis, as she crept slightly outside of cover to take a look at their enemies. They had made much progress while they tried to fend off their attackers. With the trees cleared through that massive hole, Syvis proceeded with a hushed tone.Bookmark here

“I can see their vehicles.”Bookmark here

“What, you mean that they’re close to escaping? asked Mordecai.Bookmark here

Syvis thought to herself and then had an idea.Bookmark here

“You think you can summon another one of those corpse hands from the swamp?”Bookmark here

“We can't. Me and Ramin are pretty tired after that one, granted we can still fight.”Bookmark here

“Well, I guess we will have to do something else, then.” said a gleeful Mariner.Bookmark here

The soldiers were exhausted after that massive engagement.Bookmark here

“Sir!” spoke a voice through the radio.Bookmark here

“We're down to eight of us. From what I could see, we have only killed one of the enemies.”Bookmark here

“Yes, I can tell we’re in a shit hole, sergeant. That’s nothing new. But we’re very close to the vehicles. How many fire sorcerers do we still have left?”Bookmark here

“None, sir…”Bookmark here

Fuming through his mouth, the officer calmed himself down as the sergeant explained their status.Bookmark here

“We still have four humans who can use water magic, including me, only one human sorcerer who can control rocks, and three leprechauns.”Bookmark here

“It'll have to do.”Bookmark here

“We cannot keep doing the same strategy of using the mist to mask us. The enemies only use that to know where we are...” He paused.Bookmark here

“Drown them...”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, sir?”Bookmark here

“We are to channel all of this swamp water into a tidal wave. We will get the rock sorcerer to cover us while we concentrate the spell to cover our escape for good.”Bookmark here

“Yes, sir.”Bookmark here

“GO, GO, GO!!!”Bookmark here

As the orders were given, the remaining soldiers began scanning the perimeter while the rock sorcerer started raising a large wall, despite how exhausting that would have been. The baron noticed something different about this approach. The soldiers were talking about how some of them were taking cover behind the makeshift magical wall.Bookmark here

“We need to stop them, quickly!” he exclaimed in a very unconcerned tone.Bookmark here

“What is it now?” asked Mordecai.Bookmark here

“They are going to try and drown us.” said an equally unconcerned Syvis.Bookmark here

“They’re right. Look!” said Ramin, as she pointed towards the running water that was converging behind the stone wall.Bookmark here

“We need to flank them. If we kill the one making that wall, the wall might fall down and we can have an easy shot towards them.” said Mariner, grinning.Bookmark here

“Sounds like a plan.” Syvis agreed.Bookmark here

“I will stay here and shoot at them when the wall falls down.” said Ramin.Bookmark here

“Very well. Syvis, help her and suppress those soldiers while me and Mordecai try to get around them.”Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

As the spell progressed, the officer and the sergeant were feeling the strain alongside the other two sorcerers while bringing about such a massive spell with so little manpower.Bookmark here

“INCOMING!!!” shouted one of the soldiers, as Syvis and Ramin started opening fire from their hidden positions. Syvis’ blasts produced very loud cracks on the stone wall. Seeing the flash of their weapons, the soldiers opened fire back at them. Syvis repositioned herself to avoid their fire while Ramin continued to suppress the enemy soldiers.Bookmark here

When Syvis reached her position to fire back, a stray bullet hit Ramin in the shoulder, making her grunt in pain. Syvis began firing at the soldiers while Ramin tried to move as well.Bookmark here

However, as she did, she ended up getting hit again. This time on her thigh. She fell down behind one of the mangroves in pain. Syvis kept firing, unaware if her partner was safe or not.Bookmark here

Ramin crawled despite her pain and continued firing. The wall was starting to look very thin after all of the attacks that had been thrown its way.Bookmark here

The rock sorcerer was starting to pass out due to the massive amount of effort he was putting up.Bookmark here

“Almost theeeeeeere…” he said with a strained groan. Suddenly, a shadowy blade-like object appeared behind him. Syvis was controlling it. With a swipe of her finger, the blade severed the head of the rock sorcerer. As his body fell, so too did the earthly barrier.Bookmark here

The sergeant immediately ceased his spell casting to bring out a concentration of mist to protect his officer and comrades without cover.Bookmark here

The soldiers who were not conducting the spell began taking cover amongst the vegetation again. One would find herself shot in the arm, dropping her weapon as she began making sharp stakes of fool's gold, firing it at her targets.Bookmark here

Without knowing exactly where her attacker was, she eventually got shot by another round from a nearby mangrove. The two other leprechauns conjured up pocket dimension portals as more sources of cover. Two of the water sorcerers ended up getting pierced by a shadow bolt, leaving the entire strain of the spell for the officer, who screamed in agony as he continued on.Bookmark here

“NOOOOOOW!!!”Bookmark here

With a mighty roar, the officer unleashed a massive wave of water, engulfing large parts of the swamp in front of the casting spot.Bookmark here

Syvis, noticing this, immediately attempted to dodge the gigantic concentration of water that came her way.Bookmark here

Ramin, having been shot so many times, sadly was not able to move and proceeded to shoot out as many bullets as she could, in hopes to kill one last soldier. Her last bullets struck true. The sergeant was hit in the chest. And with a blood curdling gasp, the sergeant fell to the swamp floor as the water drowned the hidden mortician.Bookmark here

The officer was beyond furious that he had lost so many soldiers. He shouted to the last two remaining leprechaun soldiers.Bookmark here

“We have to leave, now! Run for it! I will cover us as best I can with the mist. Use your portals to prevent their bullets!”Bookmark here

The soldiers, still shaken from the massive spell, hastily followed the order and made their way towards escaping. The spell had shaken a large portion of the swamp, even Mordecai and Mariner, who were not in the direct line of of fire, lost their footing and had to recover their senses.Bookmark here

By now, the soldiers had reached one of the vehicles. While four in total, they would certainly be going home with only one.Bookmark here

Mordecai hastily made his way towards them, slowly but surely, hoping for openings to fire from Mariner. Syvis and Ramin were nowhere in sight.Bookmark here

“Were they killed by the spell?” he thought to himself, feeling the stress of possibly being alone in battle.Bookmark here

He could not dwell in such thoughts, now. He was so close to finishing off the ones who had assaulted his guild and stolen one of their most valuable relics.Bookmark here

The officer got into the driver’s seat as the two other soldiers made their way into the mounted machine gun and the passenger’s seat respectively. Mordecai fired on the wheels of the vehicle as well as another one of the soldiers, who fell from the door-side of his seat towards the ground.Bookmark here

The officer quickly jumped out from his seat towards more cover, while the soldier on the mounted gun began opening fire where he thought the shots had come from.Bookmark here

Mordecai attempted to evade the gunshots, but with the machine gun’s heavier caliber rounds, he had to constantly get to new cover whenever it was destroyed. He had to conjure up several corpses to trick the soldiers with their silhouettes.Bookmark here

The officer got into another vehicle, when abruptly, a shadow bolt hit the engine. The mounted gunner immediately set off a chain reaction that caused it to explode. Many of the transports keeled over as the officer used his last efforts of magical prowess to shield himself and his own from too much damage.Bookmark here

Mordecai made his way towards the overturned vehicles.Bookmark here

He did not do that, that last shot was surely from the baron.Bookmark here

“Heya, kid!” said a soaking wet Mariner, as he held his unconscious daughter in his arms. Their hats were missing from their heads.Bookmark here

“I think we got them all, right, kid?”Bookmark here

“I told you... Don't call me kid..." he irritatedly said before noticing Syvis.Bookmark here

Is she dead…?”Bookmark here

“Oh, she will be fine. Trust me, she has gone through far worse before.” He chuckled.Bookmark here

Mordecai had to admit that even he could not be that nonchalant at all times. That fact honestly scared him about Mariner.Bookmark here

“Go fetch us the stone, will you? I have to find a place to let my daughter rest.” said the baron, as he continued carrying his daughter.Bookmark here

“Wait, what about Ramin?”Bookmark here

Mariner froze with his back turned towards Mordecai. “I am afraid she's dead…” he said coldly.Bookmark here

“Her sacrifice was not in vain, we have the stone now…” He continued to walk towards a place to set down his daughter.Bookmark here

“I also need to find my hat…” he said from further away. Mordecai slowly made his way towards the vehicles. The one that exploded was still on fire and he could smell the pungent scent of the wreckage as well as burnt flesh. He covered his nose as he approached, setting down his rifle on a nearby tree stump.Bookmark here

The stone had to be with the officer in the orange beret. He just had to find his body somewhere among this convoy of vehicles.Bookmark here

He then began hearing grunting and a metallic clatter from one of the overturned vehicles. Out of it, came the officer, orange beret still on. Despite his massive upheaval, having set his rifle far from him, Mordecai had to use magic to fight the last survivor of the task force. He conjured the bones of the exploded soldiers into several deadly projectiles towards the officer.Bookmark here

Through the mist, a quick shield of ice formed, blocking the many bones. This must have been a very hard spell to cast. When the officer moved his icy shield from his face to look at the mortician, that was when Mordecai froze in place.Bookmark here

He could recognize the officer from his time in the kingdom of Aragonsha during his youth.Bookmark here

It was Artem Galanov… He remembered his blue skin as it reverted back to its natural color.Bookmark here

With the disguise slowly fading, Mordecai recalled all the horrible memories that permeated in his mind about the tall ice troll. The monster who had caused him such terrible suffering and pain, standing before him. He couldn’t do anything but stare in horror. He was completely lost in the terrified feeling he felt back in those days.Bookmark here

“You bastard! You were the one responsible for this! I have no idea how you damned necromancers did it, but you’ve got another thing coming if you think you can take me down!”Bookmark here

Mordecai offered no response, still shocked. Artem seemed to not recognize Mordecai, that was the plan after all. It's why he died his hair black with blue tips, why he grew out his beard. He made sure he did any and everything to become unrecognizable to him.Bookmark here

“Nothing huh? You little self-righteous prick… Too good to even say something in return? Well, fine. I’ll make sure you die a painful death for the lives of my men that you’ve taken! And after I’ve delivered the stone, I’ll come back and make sure every single one of you accursed guild members die!”Bookmark here

As Artem finished his speech, he used his other arm to cast an immense ice spike out of the fog, hurling it with tremendous speed towards Mordecai’s motionless body.Bookmark here

The baron tossed himself to push Mordecai out of the way, firing a shadowy blast from his staff towards Artem. It shattered his shield and stunned the ice troll in the process. Taking cover behind one of the overturned vehicles, Mariner spoke in the same nonchalant manner.Bookmark here

“They did not have any hostels in the swamp, but I’ve found a nice tree to leave Syvis under.”Bookmark here

He looked back at the ice troll who began causing the fog to expand further around him to prevent projectiles from hitting him.Bookmark here

“Besides, I found my hat.” said the baron smiling as he pointed towards his damp headwear.Bookmark here

Mordecai was still motionless, deep in thought.Bookmark here

“WHERE ARE YOU?! YOU COWARDS! FACE ME LIKE REAL MEN!” Artem screamed.Bookmark here

The baron looked at Mordecai, trying to find any wounds, but he found none.Bookmark here

“Mordecai, what’s the matter?”Bookmark here

Mariner looked at Mordecai’s face, still filled with terror. The absolute look of petrifying fear. Mariner caught on that Artem must have done something truly horrifying to make him so afraid.Bookmark here

The Baron stood up, now with a grim look on his face. Whatever kind of terrible deeds were concluded by this man, it was time to put him down for it.Bookmark here

With a hit of his staff on the ground, all of the fog subsided with a vast gust of wind. Artem and Mariner faced each other. Appalled by this power, but still confident enough, Artem began to speak.Bookmark here

“So, this is why I’ve been seeing so many shadow bolts during this raid… Well, if it isn't the lowly and disgraced Baron, Mariner Nightingale.”Bookmark here

Mariner kept staring at the ice troll with a face of mild disappointment, but an inner hatred for whatever deeds may have been committed by his opponent.Bookmark here

“I was beginning to suspect this was your doing. Duke Artem Galanov, as usual, uses brute force to achieve his goals rather than having any finesse. You are indeed a despicable spymaster, you blue bastard.”Bookmark here

“You’re one to talk. As the one who betrayed his own family for his own gain, it’s quite despicable in its own right, no? I have come here for this stone. The king of Aragonsha would be most pleased to know it is under the control of his spymaster. I may even get the county of Macrani as a reward.”Bookmark here

“If you were a good spymaster, you would know it was all a gigantic fraud. And I suppose this is why King Rigal would want the stone.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I know it was all a set up, Mariner. But in the end, you will remain disgraced and a shell of your former self. How laughable, a former duke, such as yourself, turned into a lowly baron. Fate works in mysterious ways, don't it? Besides, I’m not after the stone for the king’s sake. I’m in it for my own gain. The king does not even know I’m on this mission. I’m telling you this because I’m sure you have no way of winning against me. I have the stone and I will use it to attain as much power as I possibly can. I will impersonate kings and manipulate all to my will!”Bookmark here

“And you call me a sham, you power hungry fool.”Bookmark here

“Don’t act as if you wouldn’t do the same, Mariner…”Bookmark here

Artem surrounded his entire body with ice in a manner of protective armor. Not having to disguise himself, this much more powerful magic ability was much easier to manifest.Bookmark here

“Never.” said Mariner, as he charged his staff with dark energy, aiming at the icy behemoth.Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

Artem threw one of his sharpened icy arms at Mariner, who formed a pendulum of shadows. He then reverted the trajectory of the projectile, causing it to go in a semi-circle in the air, almost hitting Artem from behind had he not dodged that attack.Bookmark here

“You sly dog.~ Using my own attacks against me.”Bookmark here

“It pays to be cunning against brutes.”Bookmark here

“I’ll show you cunning.”Bookmark here

A large ice spike projected itself from the swamp’s water towards Mariner, who opened a portal, causing the spike to be met with a void of nothingness on the other side.Bookmark here

“You know, you could have done something like this while we were killing your troops.”Bookmark here

“My disguise was more important. It’s not my only ability, but their lives were not as important as my identity.”Bookmark here

“Your callousness disgusts me…”Bookmark here

“No more than your affair with the queen of Adagis…”Bookmark here

Mariner finally showed some kind of worry in his eyes. How could Artem know this? It had been something Mariner prized so much to keep hidden from the public eye, but to know this hated enemy knew of it terrified him. He assumed that this must have been how Mordecai felt.Bookmark here

“You know, maybe I will let the nobility of Adagis find out about it. Surely some drama always helps spice up the reign of a queen, right?” A dark grin grew across Artem’s face as he stepped backwards, giving himself room for his attack.Bookmark here

“Now, I really cannot let you live, Artem. You see, I was hoping to bring you in alive. Maybe interrogate you a bit, but now I see you are too dangerous to be left alive.”Bookmark here

“Nyohohoho~! How adorable! Then, come at me, baron! As duke, I’m superior to you in every way.”Bookmark here

With that last bit of condescending self-righteousness, Mariner charged at the ice troll, staff in hand being held as a spear. Artem fired several ice shards at the charging baron. Mariner did his best to deflect and dodge them whenever possible, but they were innumerable.Bookmark here

It was only inevitable that some would strike him. One hit him on his shoulder, another lodging itself in his upper chest. Finally, reaching his foe, the baron forced his spear-like staff on the joint of the frozen troll’s shoulder and then jumped off, ricocheting himself from his target.Bookmark here

Artem was confused. He just lodged his staff on the joint of his shoulder with visibly no effect whatsoever, not even denting his armor, despite the point of impact or the force of his leap. Artem mockingly laughed. “You see, you must be crazy to think you can pierce my armor!”Bookmark here

As he said that, the end of the staff opened a pit of shadows, slicing Artem’s still reinforced arm clean off. The duke let out an ear piercing yell.Bookmark here

The heavily breathing and injured Baron finally smiled, reveling in his attack’s success.Bookmark here

“I will kill you!!!!!”Bookmark here

As the one-armed troll charged at full speed towards the baron, firing even more shards, he approached the bleeding Baron who seemed to be very annoyed at his opponent.Bookmark here

Syvis suddenly warped in with the help of her shadow magic, standing in front of her father and opening a rift towards Artem’s arm. She then opened an exit rift near his head.Bookmark here

His arm went straight into his own head in an instant, his own armor being the reason for his defeat. Syvis, closing the rifts, cut the other arm as it was lodged in his head. His body slowly fell to the ground with a loud thunderous crash. Syvis looked at her father, excited and drained as her father smiled at her.Bookmark here

“Not bad.” said the baron smugly.Bookmark here

“Hmph.” Syvis said, pouting.Bookmark here

“I am joking, my dear daughter . Thank you for saving my life.”Bookmark here

“That’s better.” she hugged her father with a smile.Bookmark here

“Ouch! Mind the icicles, dear.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you have had worse, you will make it.”Bookmark here

Mariner chuckled.Bookmark here

“Yes, now be a dear and take the stone for your old man, will you?”Bookmark here

“Right!” She exclaimed with a giggle, prancing towards the ice-enclosed remains of Artem.Bookmark here

A much less troubled Mordecai slowly inched his head out of cover to look at the two Nightingale nobles and asked in a shaken tone. “…Is he gone?”Bookmark here

With the collar being snapped from the now damaged head of Artem, Syvis used her magic and levitated it. The two said together looking at at Mordecai:Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Mission accomplished.” Syvis added.Bookmark here

“Are you alright, lad?” asked the baron to the mortician looking towards Artem who had been killed by the two nobles.Bookmark here

“I'll be fine… better even...”Bookmark here

“Excellent. Then, I do believe we have a guild master to show our spoils to and...” He paused in thought, repressing his smile.Bookmark here

“Condolences to be paid...”Bookmark here

“Yeah... I'll just prepare their bodies for a proper burial.” said the mortician.Bookmark here

“I believe this belongs to you.” said Syvis, levitating the stone to Mordecai and dropping it in his hands.Bookmark here

“For now… Hopefully. Technically your guild master has yet to say yes to my proposal.” Mariner said.Bookmark here

“Right, thanks again, Mariner...”Bookmark here

Slightly jabbing Mordecai, a noticeably crossed Syvis looked on.Bookmark here

“...And thank you as well, Syvis…”Bookmark here

“Oh, don’t mention it. It was nothing, just another day in the life of the nobility.” Syvis said with a slight smile.Bookmark here

“Yeah… Sure.” Mordecai said, not really feeling the joy that Mariner and Syvis were feeling.Bookmark here

“I really could use a doctor though. Help me out, will you, dear?” said Mariner, holding onto his staff and gritting his teeth.Bookmark here

“Now what?" asked his smiling daughter, as she offered him some support to walk.Bookmark here

“And now, things go along... Just as planned… Oh, and I also found your hat.” said the baron, mimicking his daughter’s grin and gently putting the drenched hat on her head.Bookmark here

“Gee... thanks...”Bookmark here

The black rhombus shaped stone glistened in the hands of Mordecai, as the group made their way back to the camp.Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

Two weeks later, in the kingdom of Aragonsha, a shadowy figure of a man snuck into the royal palace.Bookmark here

As he headed to the king’s chambers, the king was sleeping and unaware of what was about to happen to him.Bookmark here

The shadowy figure slowly and carefully opened the door to the royal chambers. Surprisingly, the door creaks didn't wake the sleeping king. He then headed inside. As he walked towards the monarch, the king woke up, startled by the commotion. He turned to see a shadow of a man and his heart jumped into his throat.Bookmark here

“Huh?! Wh-who are you?! How did you get in here?!”Bookmark here

With an unsettling smile, he stepped out of the shadows, revealing himself. He was a man about 193 cm tall. He had neat, slicked back ginger hair, pale skin, and pink irises with an orange ring outlining them. He also wore a white suit with a belt around his left arm.Bookmark here

His smile revealed that he was, in fact, a vampire. A smile so sinister, that you’d be surprised if he wasn’t hunting for blood.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry... It’ll all be over soon…”Bookmark here

After saying that, he pulled out a knife. The knife shined in the night as the king stared in horror. Bookmark here

The king finally began to recognize the vampire after being blinded by fear.Bookmark here

“Derek?! Is… Is that you?!”Bookmark here

The man put his hand over the king’s mouth, shutting him up. He whispered into his ear with an unsettling smile.Bookmark here

“Shhhh… Just relax…”Bookmark here

The night grew quiet as blood splattered on the windows of the king’s chambers.Bookmark here

◆◆◆Bookmark here

"PEOPLE REFUSE TO SEE WHAT LIES DEEP WITHIN..."Bookmark here

-june-
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