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"Gotta get away, Gotta run, I gotta leave!" These thoughts repeated in her head over and over again as the events that just transpired played on a loop inside her mind's eye.

The 'monster' appearing, Sheena evaporating into the pale blue lights, Agronok falling to dust, and the look of betrayal on Q-shan's face as he realized what she was about to do.

"I'm sorry!" Was all her fear clouded mind could manage as she fled and left him to his fate.

 As the walls of a large city filled her empty eyes, she snapped back to reality. She slid almost to a complete stop just outside the city's gate; prompting the line of people trying to get in to turn to her in surprise.

"Jeez, what's her problem?"

"Oi lady, watch where you're going!"

"Is she okay?" 

The crowd began murmuring as they watched her pant in exhaustion with wild eyes, disheveled hair, and tattered robes... Though she didn't even notice the last thing in her haste to get inside the city walls.

"Help... Please..." She muttered as she fell to her knees and used her arms to brace herself.

Luckily one of the guardsmen at the gate recognized her and came running to her aide.

"Lady Karen, What is it? What's wrong?" the guardsman asked while removing his gray-metal helmet to reveal a weathered face filled with frown lines, short gray hair, and a thick mustache.

"Monster..." Was all she could manage to say as the adrenaline began to wear off and inky blackness clouded her vision.

"Monster?" The guardsman asked. 

"Serpent..." she whispered, then her head fell forward and she passed out.

Dorian; the guardsman, lifted her into his arms and carried her through the gates in-spite of the protests from those waiting to get in.

"Hey, what about us!?"

"We were here first!" 

"That's not fair!"

One burst of outrage led to another as a cacophony of voices soon began to rail against the guardsmen at the gate.

"Silence!" Dorien roared.

Their voices died in their throats as the glare of the Captain of the city guard's anger pressed down on them. 

"The next person to open their mouth is barred from the city for another month." Dorian informed the men standing at the gate as he walked through the gates.

Once inside, Dorian made his way to the gate barracks and started barking out orders to the men under his command. 

"Karen returned without the others. I want a full regiment sent to investigate!"

"But sir, we don't have the manpower to-"

Dorian rounded on his lieutenant.

"Those adventurers are our best shot at killing Rajah and getting off this god-forsaken world! I don't care if I have to borrow men from the other captains, we will find them!" He roared.

Then, in a much quieter voice, he asked, "Do I make myself clear, lieutenant?"

The shorter man swallowed thickly and nodded.

"Crystal, sir."

"Then get on it... and tell the healer I'm taking her up to the holding cells until we can get this sorted out."

"Sir!" The lieutenant gave him a one-armed salute and left to follow his orders.

The barracks, much like the city it protected, was almost solely created by Earth magic. Millennia ago, back when the serpent lord Rajah first decided to start abducting people from the wider verse and imprisoning them on this planet. A young prodigious thaumaturge was one of the first hundred abducted.

Whether it was by design or accident, no one is sure, but this mage would become the hero they needed more than anything, as he alone used his knowledge to form the walls that protects them to this day. He spent the remainder of his life creating this city as a bastion for those Rajah had doomed to walk this planet.

However, not every battle was won so easily. The city had been lost to Rajah's serpents more times than they care to remember and each time it'd been changed by the loss... 

The statue in the center of the city is a prime example of this change. Rajah had his serpents build the statue out of nearly indestructible materials and enchanted to withstand damage even further. 

All of this was done to remind the people within its walls just who it was they served... And what would befall them if they disobeyed...


 Sunrise the next day

Karen's eyes fluttered open and she stared blankly at the ceiling. Her memories of the previous day were fuzzy, but she remembered enough to know where she was.

She sat up on the small cot she'd been placed on, which caused her blanket to fall off and reveal her bare chest... Which made the other person in the room uncomfortable in a number of ways.

Dorian cleared his throat and promptly turned his back on the nearly naked woman.

He'd taken to personally watching over her ever since the healer informed him of the status of her health. While physically fine, aside from being exhausted. The doctor did notice some skin discoloration near her chest and warned him of the potential meanings it could have; Poison, curses, and certain magic-related skills that were known to disrupt the delicate balance between exoteric and interior magical pathways. 

While not intrinsically fatal, Dorian was informed that whatever caused her condition would have killed her, had she been exposed to it any longer.

This simple fact worried Dorian far more than he'd like to admit. Not for any romantic reason or even for something as trifling as 'friendship'. No, Dorian was worried more about himself and the lives of his people, than the health and well being of a 'disposable hero', as he'd taken to calling her behind her back.  

"Lady Karen," He began. His words drew her out of her mental stupor and into the present.

"Please, get dressed and accompany me for a while... We need to have a talk."

"Hmm." Karen hummed.

She threw the blanket off of her legs and stood from the bed. The only covering she still had was a pair of loose breeches the doctor borrowed from one of the soldiers in the barracks. 

However, modesty wasn't a concern for Karen at the moment as her mind was still replaying her encounter with 'the monster', as she'd taken to calling the strange snake-man. 

When Dorian heard the rustling of fabric stop, he turned to see Karen wearing a simple, green tunic, also borrowed from the same soldier. 

"Ah, good. If you'll follow me, please." 

Karen robotically followed him out of the room and down three flights of stairs to an open courtyard. While normally being used for one on one combat drills, the courtyard was currently devoid of people... Save for one man wearing snow-white robes and a small silver circlet atop his head.

'The King', as most people liked to call him due to his choice of attire, actually wasn't even of noble blood. He was a lion beast-man; with orange-bronze color fur, a thick black mane, glowing silver eyes, and the heavily muscled body of a warrior.

"Tyrn? What are you doing here?" Karen asked with only the slightest hint of emotion in her voice.

 Tyrn glowered at her tone and a low growl seemed to vibrate his entire body.

"I'm here to clean up your mess, of course!"

Karen shrank back from his outburst, but her amazonian pride began to bristle at the insult.

"You'll die." 

Tyrn's eyes widened at her rather frank choice of words and he snorted in amusement.

"I've yet to find the monster capable of killing me." Tyrn replied in a serious tone.

Most people would have mistook Tyrn's words as a sign of pride or hubris... But Karen knew better. In the fifteen years since she'd met him, Tyrn had never lost a fight. 

It was rumored that he was the one originally meant to kill Rajah and free the people from its tyranny... But as a 'Titan'; a rare form of magical warrior that utilized small metal trinkets to enhance their bodies far beyond the limits of a normal warrior, he was simply a bad match for the lightning magic of their enemy.

Because of this, and the lack of support he received from the human controlled city, he was relegated to being a 'guard-dog' and only saw battle when the city was under direct attack.

Before Karen could open her mouth and say something to further escalate the situation, Dorian interjected with his proposal.

"Which is why I have decided to send three cavalry units with you when you leave."

"Can they keep up?" Was Tyrn's immediate reply.

"Of course, they are some of the finest men in my army."

Karen rolled her eyes and turned to leave.

"Lady Karen, a word... please?" Dorian said before she could take more than a few steps.

Karen stopped walking.

"I'm formally requesting that you accompany Tyrn to deal with this... creature. After your rather sudden appearance yesterday, I sent a regiment of soldiers along the road to find your party."

Karen looked over her shoulder and stared at him with an almost hopeful expression on her face...

"And?"

Dorian sighed and shook his head.

"We've yet to hear back from any of them. A group of mages has conjured crow golems to scour the road, but all that was found was scattered bits of armor and a few loose swords... I don't know how, but an entire regiment of trained soldiers don't just disappear into thin air."

Karen's eyes went dim and she continued walking away.

"I refuse to go after that thing... And you should alert the families of those you sent out that their husbands and wives won't be coming home."

After saying her piece, Karen left the courtyard and headed into the barracks to hunt down her equipment.


Torga POV- Same time

Torga was standing at the base of a large mountain range with the unconscious form of Q-shan being carried under one arm. He'd been lugging the dragon-man around since he'd finished questioning him yesterday afternoon and had simply told the dragon-man the truth... "If you show me where Rajah can be found, I'll let you go."

As an adventurer who'd pretty much dedicated the last few decades of his life to hunting down and killing the tyrannical serpent, Q-shan was very aware of Rajah's location... In fact, most of the population knew where he was. The serpent king's arrogance and penchant for taunting those he believed beneath him ensured that, as he openly bragged about where he could be found if anyone wanted to challenge him.

And why wouldn't he be arrogant enough to openly challenge anyone? He was considered the God of this planet and those he 'chose' were his subjects. 

Of course... It's not like he was stupid enough to 'choose' someone who could actually kill him, like say... Another serpent?

Just like Naunet and every other serpent king, Rajah was immortal to all but those chosen to challenge his title. 

It was for this reason that he'd been so openly arrogant for millennia and it's that arrogance, that ultimately, led Torga to his door. 

"Oi, Lizard!" Torga called out just before dropping Q-shan on his head, "Wake up." 

Q-shan opened his eyes and quickly scrambled as far away from Torga as his exhausted body would allow. 

"This is where I can find Rajah, right?" Torga asked as he surveyed the area.

 Q-shan's head bobbed up and down.

"Good, then you wouldn't mind waiting for me here... Would you?"

The ground beneath Q-shan rose and he was quickly imprisoned within a cage of bedrock.

"Wait here." Torga needlessly said as Q-shan tried in vain to break or bend the solid stone bars. "If it pans out and he's actually inside, then I'll release you."

"And if he's not?" 

Torga shrugged and walked past him into the dense canopy of trees.

"I haven't decided yet."

Q-shan slumped against the bars and slowly dropped to his knees while mumbling something almost inaudible...


 Meanwhile, deep inside the mountain...

"Will this actually work?" A shrill voice asked the two men standing beside it.

"Of course." Was the simple reply of the shorter of the two men.

"Then we have an accord. You get your criminal and-"

"You get to live another day?"

A high-pitched hiss vibrated the serpent's chest as it leaned down to glare at the short 'God' standing before it.

The serpent had pitch black scales, ember-like eyes, and a mouth full of rotten teeth... It was also one of the highest tier serpents found in the 'mortal' realms.

"Be very careful of your words, little god. I'm not nearly as nice as my old friend, Naunet and I won't tolerate it."

"The same goes for you, Demon Serpent. We only allow your continued existence because you're too much of a coward to use that power of yours... But if you start becoming more trouble than your worth,"  Carlas stepped into the light and a golden light began to emanate from his body.

"I'll personally make sure that you never live to see another day."

After saying his peace, Carlas and Arkos teleported away and left Rajah; The Demonic Serpentine Dragon of Thunder to stew in his hatred, alone...

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Kenaren

  • The insane snake handler

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