Erik stood motionless, meeting the Spirit Beast’s calculative gaze.
Neither moved, neither spoke a word.
For several moments, silence filled the hall, as each other’s mana clashed.
Each of them was sizing up the other.
Each of them, was analysing their opponent and picking the best approach.
And as the sound of battle from down the corridor reached them, Hayato stepped forth.
A thin, cold smile on his face as he walked across from Erik, not coming any closer nor moving further away. “So, what should I call you?” He asked calmly.
“Your allies are out there, dying, falling one by one at the hands of mine…And you ask for my name?” Erik responded with amusement. “What game are you playing at, Spirit Beast?”
Hayato’s smile widened ever so slightly, “Ah…everything I do is a game. Every word, every step…I’m the calculative sort you see. As for those fools out there? I care not for what happens to those demons, nor the Fae for that matter. What I’m really interested in, is what is in front of me right now. A member of the most prideful race, turning his back on his kind’s law and form. Your story…It intrigues me.”
“You serve a Devil, but I sense no Hell upon you. What is your goal, your purpose here? You’re not from Faetera, that much I can tell.” Erik continued to question Hayato, whilst keeping an attentive eye on him.
Hayato chuckled coldly, “My purpose? Ah, well I have many of those, I guess it depends on the moment…And at the moment? My purpose here is…well, understanding you. As I will move on to understand Druvia, and Seeri…and Pepputia…and S’Sern. One cannot defeat what they do not understand after all.”
“A limited line of reasoning, with enough force anything can be defeated. Else the word ‘Overwhelm’ wouldn’t exist.” Erik argued.
“Only a Dragon would consider that in any way logical. I guess it doesn’t matter from which realm, what shape or form you take. Species alternate across every universe you see, but within they all remain the same, as you remain just another Dragon.” Hayato sighed.
“Just…another Dragon?” Erik repeated with an annoyed smirk, “I would be very careful of what you say next.” He then warned in draconic.
Causing Hayato to chuckle again, as the Spirit Beast stopped walking, then turning to face Erik with a wide smirk. “Haha…Careful of what? Do you think I fear you, Dragon? Do you know what I think of your kind? Foolish monsters, with more power than you know what to do with. In my home world, we enslaved your people. We bred you with other creatures, like the animals that you are, we forced you to birth farm beasts with your tough hides, useful wing netting and magical cores. Those beasts are all that remains of your blood, for the rest…we killed them all.” Hayato explained in a cold, indifferent tone.
Erik’s eyes widened with further annoyance, but he held his ground. For he knew, the Spirit Beast was only trying to provoke him.
“Hah…I guess you aren’t as easily provoked as most.” Hayato said, as his indifferent expression returned to one of amusement. “Then I’ll get straight to the point…I’ve been searching for someone…something…to compare myself with. Something powerful enough to give me a scale for my power, and since my people have killed everything else back home…I’ve travelled across realms to find that one thing. For a time, I had…and I sense his magical tracks here…Where is he? Where is Kyllix?”
Erik’s expression hardened, sensing the Spirit’s rising energy. “He’s not here.”
Hayato chuckled, “Then you’ll have to do.” He mused, spreading his wings wide and suddenly summoning forth a raging wind.
Winds on par with that of a hurricane, assaulted Erik, as he held his ground. As the very air attacked him, like sharp blades they slashed at his tough body.
“I guess I will.” Erik hissed back, as a mass of dark clouds formed overhead, spreading even more quickly as the wind blew them about.
The two of them disappeared, as a natural disaster formed within the cavern around them. A storm raged, as their forms seemed like nothing more than a harsh wind clashing with a tongue of lightning.
Followed by the distinct and overruling sound of thunder.
No magic but what they unconsciously released.
No spells and no chants.
Neither had time for either, as with every punch came back another, with every kick a counter.
They spoke not either, the time for words had long passed.
As Erik met Hayato’s overextended punch with a grapple, only to be lured into a counter, which he then turned into a counter himself…
All this occurring all too fast for the naked eye. Each of them moving at speeds beyond the human norm, as with every second they moved three to five steps.
With every moment, a fist clashed with an open palm, immediately moving into a counter or grapple only for it to fall apart and for each combatant to pull away into safety. Before the clash begun once again.
Neither outmanoeuvred the other, the both of them were matching in speed and where Erik had the upper hand in physical prowess Hayato matched it with the spiritual energy that naturally covered his body.
And while Hayato’s movements were fluid and unpredictable.
Erik’s attacks were the embodiment of power, ravaging his foe’s defences with raw strength while also holding a mountain’s steady defence.
As Erik’s fist extended forward, forcing Hayato to side step and avoid the unblock-able attack which warped the very air in its path. Hayato then continuing his movements into a spin kick, which Erik blocked with his other hand, the collision causing a clap of thunder.
For several long moments, they fought, a relentless motion of martial arts.
As finally, the fight unbalanced.
Hayato evaded Erik’s shoulder bash and ending up behind him, he then raised his hands up high and clasped them together before bringing them down harshly onto Erik’s back.
Hayato smiled, knowing that it must have hurt his wings and spine horribly. But Erik also smiled, as his tailed wrapped itself around Hayato’s left leg, turning the Spirit Beast’s smile into surprise.
Erik raised Hayato off the ground, as he himself spun, meeting the Spirit Beast’s face with his clenched fist.
Hayato was sent flying back, and suddenly the raging winds around them dissipated, leaving only a furious storm of raining lightning and bellowing thunder. The thunder blocking out any sound Hayato’s light body made as he tumbled over the shattered ground, but managed to regain his balance mid-flight.
He came to a sliding stop at the edge of the cavern, close to the broken gateway. Steadying himself, Hayato rose to meet Erik’s wicked grin with his own. “Not bad…for a Dragon…Where did you learn how to fight like that, in that form?”
Erik chuckled, “You probably wouldn’t know since your people killed everything…but this world has something called Lizardmen, and their martial arts with the use of a tail are exceptional. I’ve lived a long and eventful life, it seemed interesting, so I gave it a few hundred years of attention before growing bored.” He explained with disinterest.
“Hah…it seemed interesting and you just learned it? Living for so long must be so fruitful, if only my people made it past a couple hundred.” Hayato shrugged, as he wiped the blood dripping out of his nose.
“Yet you look down upon us. If anything, you should look up to us as if met with a God, you shortlived beasts.” Erik mocked.
“Gods? Creatures who are just as egotistical, greedy and simply vain? The only difference between you and a God is that one cannot be killed, only destroyed.” Hayato argued with great amusement. “You’re both equally foolish. You both fear our kind, and because of that fear we suffered…And because of that suffering, we destroyed them without mercy.”
Erik’s mouth froze open, he couldn’t argue with that. He himself knew just how selfish his people could be. He knew also, how Gods saw mortal beings. He couldn’t argue with those facts, but he wasn’t about to just stand and let him say whatever he pleased.
“You’re right. Gods and Dragons, both of us are vain. Both of us, are greedy and selfish. But then again isn’t that everyone? That’s just how the world works, that is how it has always worked…It just took your people longer to realise just how unfair life can be…It took me a while to come to that conclusion myself.” Erik sighed, “Yes, I’m selfish…So what of it? After all the shit I’ve taken, why the hell should I not be selfish? I deserve it, I deserve to be greedy. And I’m long done sulking about it.” He said with a wide grimace, as he spread his wings, his left lagging behind briefly as the sound of bone snapping back into place resonated out.
Erik grasped his sword’s grip, as his eyes suddenly shone a bright gold. Unsheathing the Underblade, released a green fog of screaming figures which engulfed him.
Hayato’s eyes widened as he gazed at the black blade, as he sensed each of the millions of souls which lay trapped within.
Erik raised the blade towards him, “You sense them, don’t you? The wicked and the warped within this blade…You’re about to join them.”
Anxiously Hayato chuckled, “To own much less wield such a weapon…Oh how you’ve gained my attention now…” He laughed, grinning widely as his eyes glowed a dim ember. “But I’m afraid we’ll have to finish this another time, my mission here is complete.”
“Mission?” Erik mused, changing his stance from being ready to evade to one ready to go on the attack.
Hayato opened his arms wide and shrugged, “Killing the uncharmed of course, I said I didn’t care for the demonic minions nor that weak Fairy, but I never said I wasn’t pushing for the same goal…” He chuckled, as a burst of wind spun nearby him, out of which two figures appeared.
Another Spirit beast with similar features to Hayato, but seemingly younger and female, held Shizuka at feather-point and restrained before herself.
“She was listening in from outside, brother. How should I proceed?” She asked.
Hayato glanced Shizuka over, “Oh…you were holding out on me, Dragon. I didn’t know you also had one of us on your side.” He said with a smirk, walking over to Shizuka to stand closer. “Well done Quinn, but she’s not of our tribe nor bloodline...I guess we can take her along, maybe convert her back into her place.” He said, glancing back to see Erik’s eyes narrow and his expression grow cold.
Hayato’s smile widened, “Oh, is she important to you? Ah…I know how to make an impact on you now then. My sister has your friend, and we will be leaving with her now…Our comrade, Dearil though is after the uncharmed…and whoever is with her.” He chuckled, sensing the flow of emotion within Erik and knowing that he had finally hit a nerve. “So either the uncharmed or someone who is with them…is important to you as well? Good…good. I love these sorts of games, so let’s play one! Which will you choose, Erikathyr? This tribeless Spirit Beast here before you now? Or them?”
Erik faltered briefly, staring a terrified Shizuka in the eye before returning to Hayato’s amused gaze. “Choose? I’m not choosing anybody, you stand before me right here and now, threatening my comrade…I will kill the both of you where you stand.” He warned with a furious tone, taking a step forth, but stopping as Quinn’s blade like arm-feather lightly cut into Shizuka’s neck.
“Dammit Erik…Don’t be a fool!” Shizuka suddenly exclaimed, grimacing as she tried to stand absolutely still. “The choice is obvious! Go to them! Go help Thea and Kayle!” She told him, then forcing a smile although her eyes were filled with fear. “You’ve done enough….you’ve done enough for me.”
Erik met her darkening gaze, but she looked away, unable to meet his eyes. “You’re the one being a fool.” He said, shaking his head. “I trust my allies, as you should trust me. So now…stand still…” He told her, her gaze rising with tears to meet his feral eyes. “While I burn these two into an ashen crisp.”
At the same time
Ivyieth reached the corridor’s end, putting Thea down but keeping the still unconscious Kayle within the cocoon of vines she dragged with. And as they came to a stop by the large locked doorway, sounds from the battle that lay on the other side came through.
“Damn…the camp is under attack too?” Thea asked as she took a kneel by the door, listening in to the battle. “We need to go hel-” she was about to say, but suddenly the entire row of rooms on their left were engulfed in a ray of pure darkness.
The battle between Nerick and Umbra was still underway and the three of them were still within range of the Fae’s attacks, although they at least knew that one wasn’t targeting them.
The walls and doors on the left were completely disintegrated alongside with whatever else lay inside those rooms, leaving a massive tunnel of stone that slowly regenerated itself.
Thea stared through the hole the darkness had made, seeing a raging battle between the rebels and a seemingly unending army of minor Demons. “I can’t just sit around…Dammit.” She said, standing up as she gripped her weapon more tightly.
“And do what exactly?” Ivyieth asked, rolling her eyes in annoyance. “The first hit you take will knock you out cold, Chosen or not you still need rest. Distracted and tired as you are now? You won’t survive a single minute out there. Elder Brother would want me to keep you alive, so you’re not going anywhere.”
“Bu-” Thea was about to argue.
But Ivyieth cut her off, “I will knock you out myself if I have to, I said I would keep you alive, not uninjured.” She warned.
Thea grimaced, frustrated at the thought. “Let’s…Can we at least look for Shizuka? She just ran off…” She tentatively asked.
“The beastie is with Elder Brother, that’s unarguably the safest place at the moment…” Ivyieth reasoned.
Thea sighed, “You’re right…it’s just that…Fuck I hate feeling so bloody useless!” she exclaimed, slamming the butt of her weapon into the wooden door behind her.
“Be appeased, Human, you won’t feel anything at all soon enough.” Hissed a deep voice from everywhere at once, as a crimson blaze suddenly lit alive before them.
A third Spirit Beast stepped out of the flames, a very tall male with dark-brown scaly skin, a bulky and densely muscles body, long dark red hair held up with a black string, crimson reptilian eyes and a thin black tongue which was barely noticeable as it would quickly slither out through his lipless mouth.
Ivyieth immediately stepped to stand between the enemy and Thea, raising dozens of bladed vines to form a wall of spikes before her. Wide-eyed, the drake glared at the Spirit Beast coldly…she hadn’t even sensed his approach!
And as she scanned his energy signatures with her senses, Ivyieth knew that her current state couldn’t stand a chance against this monster. Not for too long that is. “Run…” Ivyieth said, as she released the spherical cocoon and dropped it next to Thea.
“W-What?” Thea asked in confusion as she glanced at the mess of vines that held her sister.
“Take her and run!” Ivyieth exclaimed, raising her arms forth to which her vines responded by rushing into the Spirit Beast.
A toxic fog of green formed around her assault of plant life, as crystal blades that grew over them all descended down upon Dearil.
Yet…the Spirit Beast disappeared.
Then suddenly appearing behind the wall of vines…Appearing before a paling Ivyieth, as his blazing hand slowly rose to her face. In slow motion, Ivyieth saw her doom approach.
As she tried to step away, she tried to escape.
But he was too fast, the flames only kept getting nearer.
There was no escaping…Ivyieth realised, she realised she was still too weak. She had wasted her time here, instead of trying to get used to her new body as quickly as possible…And as the flame’s heat reached her skin, Ivyieth saw her entire life play before her.
Ivyieth saw her time of death knock at her door.
Then the crimson flames that were barely at her face, began to brighten…
The red was overtaken by a blinding gold.
And the Spirit Beast screamed in agony, as Erikathyr’s flames engulfed it.
Erik’s eyes turned murderous as he suddenly dashed to his left a few meters, then stepping forth as did Hayato to meet him.
But Erik wasn’t approaching them, instead…he stood his ground and opened his mouth wide. He breathed flames, gold and bright they burst out of his maw. A ray of fire he had been building up, slowly but surely forming in his stomach throughout his entire clash with the Spirit Beast.
Erik released that energy, sending out a breath of draconic flame that burned the very air it passed through and turning it into a black smoke.
The flames shot at the two Spirit Beasts, suddenly taking the form of Erik’s anger, taking the shape of a massive winged dragon with maw ajar and soaring towards them.
Hayato dashed back, grabbing hold of both Quinn and Shizuka by their shoulders, he pushed himself to move out of the blaze’s path. Quick like the wind, Hayato reappeared elsewhere and out of the attack’s way, holding Shizuka tightly so that she did not escape. “Trust in you? Hah…You were about to burn her alongside us.” He chuckled, but his laughter ended there as he noticed the draconic blaze barrel through the broken gateway and continue down the hallway.
“You gave me a choice to decide between two of my comrades, I picked the third option that I made for myself. You on the other hand when faced with the same choice…Picked your own skin over your comrade’s.” Erik hissed as the sound of an agonized scream came back from the hallway.
Hayato grimaced as he turned to face Erik, the Dragon’s eyes were wide and focused, a cold stare that cared not for their lives nor giving mercy.
Erik took a step forward, “You underestimated me, Spirit Beast.” He said in a hauntingly detached tone. “The price for that, will be your life.” Erik warned, raising his sword towards them.
“Big words, for one who won’t dare get any closer.” Hayato said with a wide grin, holding his feathers to Shizuka’s face as he held her close. “Maybe soon, we’ll get to see which one of us is stronger. But until then…I’ll leave you with this small victory. Yet…it would leave a foul taste in my mouth if I didn’t pay you back for Dearil…” Hayato’s grin widened, “We’ll be taking this one with us. Farewell, for now, Dragon.”
Erik’s eyes focused as he clenched his sword, suddenly charging forwards right then.
Dejal appeared behind the Spirit Beasts, forming out of the ground.
Then Fierv from the left, in a burst of flame the canine rushed at them.
And Voltru from above, encircling the air over them as the guardian turned into a storm, raining down lightning all around them.
As a blaze of enraged flame charged at them, as lightning roared and rained all about them, and as the ground beneath them rose to entrap them further.
They were surrounded, but only for a brief moment until Hayato released his winds.
The ground that rose was shredded, Fierv was sent flying back and Voltru’s cloud form was dissipated entirely. In their stead lay a hurricane of wind, a whirling of blades of air into which Erik dove sword first.
Slashing his way through Erik charged into the whirlwind, “Shizuka!” he exclaimed, as the winds dispersed…
But there was nothing, there was nobody around him…
They were gone.
The last thing he had seen, being Shizuka’s form, her hand outstretched towards him.
“No…” Erik whispered as the air around him settled, before suddenly trembling, as mana in the form of light oozed out of his body. “This…doesn’t end here…” He hissed, as he saw the rest of his comrades rush into the hall.
Ivyieth used her vines to carry Kayle still, and with them was Thea followed by Ivara and Nerick who dragged behind him a charred black Dearil. Coming in last was Makaela and her captains, alongside hundreds of tired and injured Dreadblade knights and rebels.
Erik turned to face them, his expression one of raw rage.
“How far have we prepared?” He asked Ascal, the Xilfir freezing as the Dragon’s gaze fell upon him.
“W-We were almost ready but…it will take a few more days to get everything sorted now…” Ascal responded tentatively in elven.
“Not good enough! Rest up and prepare your things, we leave tomorrow!” Erik exclaimed, turning to stare at where the Spirit Beasts stood last.
“Leave? To where?...” Thea asked as she looked around, “Where is Shizuka?”
Erik’s hand clenched around his sword, “They took her…but we’re going after them… It is time we go on the offensive. We leave tomorrow, we leave for Lahihr…If they’re not there then Abu Katra…It doesn’t matter, we’ll scour the entirety of Faetera and further if we have to…Nobody!…Nobody!-”
Quinn took a deep breath of relief, shuddering as she sat down on the strangely dim grass. Everything around them was dim actually, the land, the sky and the wisps of multicoloured spheres of light that hovered about.
They were in the Spirit Realm, a dimension parallel to that of the living…and the place they had escaped into to avoid the Dragon’s wrath. A wrath…a sense of burning rage that still lingered around where the rift Hayato had opened to escape through, which had just closed.
“That…That is not what we signed up for…” Quinn said in between hurried breaths, glancing up as Hayato forced Shizuka down to her knees with his power over air.
“Hah…that was exhilarating, that is what that was.” He corrected with a wide grin, casting a quick chant and summoning a set of magical chains made of ever-flowing winds to restrict Shizuka with.
“Brother, you’re crazy. We lost Dearil!” Quinn argued with wide eyes full of frustration, standing up to face her brother.
“Huh?” Hayato sighed as he turned to face her, his detached smile making her pale. “You mean to say you’re not up for this, Quinn? Do you wish to return home? I can continue on my own you know, and for the sake of our people…I will not fail like Dearil did back there.” He warned, his cold eyes set upon her.
“N-No I…I’m sorry, you’re right…Sacrifices need to be made…” Quinn responded nervously, glancing away from his frigid glare.
“Of course, I am, master chose me to lead this expedition after all!” Hayato said in response, chuckling coldly as his sister backed off.
“Hah…fucking idiots…” Shizuka mused as she listened to their conversation, briefly struggling with the magical chains having proved pointless.
Hayato turned to her, his cold glare returning to him, as he met her calm eyes. “Now now, that’s no way to speak to your captors.” He hissed, as the air around her suddenly became heavy.
But Shizuka still resisted, “You…You said that on your world, Dragons were hunted to extinction? Right?...But you yourself never actually faced one until now, have you?...Haha...Idiots, the lot of you...” she said in amusement, gaining herself a fearful look from Quinn as Hayato’s cold and thin smile widened.
“Perhaps…you would be so kind as to…clue these ‘Idiots’ in on just why you remain so calm? So…loyal.” Hayato asked, as he crouched down before her. “He’ll never find us here, not even you…You might as well be dead to him here.”
Shizuka chuckled, “You have…no clue, do you? No clue of the beast you poked awake. You think Erik is just another Dragon…it just shows how little you really know. You can run…You can hide all you fucking want. Hide wherever you think is safe, but nowhere is truly safe, and he’s coming. You can’t escape…Why? Why your face is asking me right now…” she laughed.
Shizuka laughed as Hayato’s annoyance grew further, rising up suddenly to then kick her aside. “Why? Huh? Why can’t we escape?” He asked with a frustrated grimace.
Shizuka yelped in pain, but even as she lay on the ground she continued to chuckle, turning over to look him in the eye with her own resolved gaze.
“Because nobody…Nobody steals from a Dragon, much less lives to tell the tale.”