The place that Irving had told them to go to was more ruins than fort. There were still walls, but part of the roof had caved in. They decided to seek shelter in the main hall for the time being and to build a fire to keep themselves warm.
They had to keep their guard up in the event that someone went looking for them. Lydia would be fading away soon, which meant that Alton wouldn’t be able to use her as a lookout. Even if she was a bad lookout who didn’t bother to notice that Irving had followed them into the third year dorms, she was still a lookout.
“I don’t believe I need to draw out any summoning circles or runes,” muttered Veximarl as he looked over the notebook again. He was squatting on the floor and had the book propped against a series of boxes.
Alton had just finished exploring the rest of the ruins. It looked like it had been used as a testing ground for the summer exams, and there was a stockpile of hay that had miraculously stayed dry. He dragged some into the hall so the mules would have warm bedding.
“I don’t know anything about golems, and I’m not going to start learning about them now. You’re on your own for this one.” Alton started to toss hay about in a corner and one of the mules immediately went to roll around in it.
In theory, Veximarl was to activate the soul gem inside the skull and then it would automatically turn on without the use of blood iron. The golem would access the energy from Tyrtain’s blood iron source and it would trap the dragon’s personality within the soul gem. They could ask their questions, Veximarl would remove the soul gem, and the golem would deactivate.
He decided to set the skull on the ground first. The corner where the roof had collapsed seemed like a good spot. Brushing aside some snow, he placed the skull down and lightly pressed a set of fingers against its forehead as he activated the soul gem.
The skull shuddered for a moment. Veins of ice appeared on the surrounding snow. They twisted about the skull and lifted it up in the air. Fragments of quartz shot up from the ground, cracking and snapping apart in the shape of bones. These floated about until the veins wrapped about them and them towards the skull. Next was the mud, seeping up from the ground and slowly clinging to the quartz and ice structure.
This was certainly a surprising turn events. Nothing out of the norm, Veximarl assured himself. It was only when the construct burst into flames did he begin to panic. He looked over to Alton, whose eyes had gone wide with horror, and a nervous laugh accidentally escaped his own lips.
“Don’t laugh like that! You always laugh like that when something isn’t right!” Alton gestured to the golem, who now had a dust devil forming about it. The flames were now wildly swirling about. “Deactivate it!” Veximarl looked off to the side. “You don’t know how to stop it?!”
Veximarl held up his spear defensively as Alton drew out his short sword. “Before you lash out at me again, I will warn you that I had not said anything up to this point because I knew you would say no to the plan.”
“Of course I would say no, you lunatic!”
“Calm down, Alton,” whispered Lydia. “Put away your sword... You’re going to startle our guest.”
Eyes flicking to the golem, Alton was shocked to see a fully formed man. He stood there in the nude, with mud-colored skin, and eyes carved from agate. His hair was a shade lighter than his skin and was long enough that it reached the midpoint of his back. The body he had appeared to be in his late twenties. He also appeared to be rather upset.
“... This is different,” he muttered at the trio. He took a step forward and had to brace his hand against the wall to keep from falling over. “... I do not like this.”
“Apologies, Tyrtain!” Lydia waved her hands about to catch his attention. “My name is Lydia Larkin. This is Alton Tuton and Veximarl Toval. Please try to not draw attention to me. Vex doesn’t know I’m here and I’m not going to be around for much longer.”
“I know exactly who you and they are,” he growled back.
What was he staring at? Veximarl looked between the golem and the space in the air he was speaking to. Maybe this was a weird side effect of being… Whatever he was. “Salutations, sir! My name is-”
“Prophet,” interrupted Tyrtain. “... And the other one is a siren.” He looked around the room and frowned. “What is going on?”
Alton shook his head and put away his sword. He didn’t like how much the old god knew about them. Tyrtain had clearly acknowledged Lydia as well. A sentient being and not a tainted beast had spoken to her. If they were to die here and now, at least he would die confident that he wasn’t merely imagining Lydia’s presence.
“Ah, apologies. We summoned you so we could have a chance to speak. There is a bit of an emergency going on at the moment, and we would like your assistance.” Veximarl tightened his grip on his spear and attempted to look like he wasn’t on the verge of a panic attack.
“Because Twist was reported missing. I am already aware. Why did you not use your archive pad?” Tyrtain frowned all the harder at him as Veximarl went pale. “That is the reason why I gave you full permissions and access. So that we could speak easily in the event of an emergency.”
“... Oh.” Veximarl pointed at him. “... Y-you’re the administrator?” Tyrtain nodded. “That does make sense, and yet I didn’t think it was possible.”
“Tria was the one who imprisoned me when she constructed that prison for Brayton,” he growled back. “Were you not sent out here to act as one of her maintainers?” Veximarl’s face twisted with confusion. “Tria has sent many to Braytons since her banishment from the Sky Region. Prophets and necromancers alike.
They take the initiative to contact me, and I report to them what needs to be fixed through their magic. It has been some time since the last appeared, and there is much to repair. I had hoped that you would be able to start on such work, but you had yet to speak up about it.”
Alton stepped between the pair. “Vex doesn’t know anything about that. We called you here because we thought it to be the only way for us to communicate.” Tyrtain slowly narrowed his eyes at Alton, but the squire was undeterred. “We need you to locate Sybil.”
Tyrtain considered it while he stretched out his limbs. Human forms were uncomfortable. “I will abide by the code of the current gods and grant each of you a single boon.”
“Find Sybil Twist,” said Alton without hesitation.
“Actually…” Veximarl took a moment to go over his thoughts. “While we have you here, I should let you know that Sybil has a special sort of sword. The Heart. She was under the impression that she was supposed to bring it to you for some reason?”
“You two would waste your boons on that miserable creature?”
Veximarl began to stammer. “If it isn’t to much trouble, I would also like to inform you about the slavers, as their presence may have not been entered into the Archive records.” Tyrtain gestured for him to continue. “We believe the same people who took Sybil may have taken several individuals from a caravan and have gone south to process them as slaves.”
“These are trivial tasks that humans are able to accomplish without my assistance. I am disappointed in your ambitions.”
Alton glared. “It’s not like we need you to move mountains. All we want is their safety.”
Tyrtain folded his arms. “My territory is vast and my reach spreads far. It will take several hours of meditation for me to locate her. You will rest until then.” He flicked a hand forward, and the stone floor formed into three stools. Gesturing for the two to sit, he took a seat at the third. “Have any new gods appeared to replace those foolish siblings?”
“None yet, no,” replied Veximarl.
A troubled sigh escaped Tyrtain’s lips. “These lands were once ruled by the prophets of the old gods. Brayton believed that a collection of the four bloodlines would be able to change the world. He gathered the purest of them to form his unit, and together they murdered Crea and sealed the gods within artifacts.
I was the last to be defeated, and it was from my blood iron that your precious barracks was powered. You would have to ask one of his traveling companions in order to understand their reasoning. They were the only ones who understood their cause.” He took a moment to stare at their confused faces. “I do realize that the majority of them are dead. That was nearly a thousand years ago.”
Veximarl caught on quickly. “Tria was one of his companions?”
“Bellia made the siblings vow to spend one lifetime as humans before they ascended to gods. It was during that lifetime that Tria joined Brayton’s unit as his blacksmith. She was the one that forged the Heart. She was the one that led the charge to defeat us.
The reason why Aeneas sought to find me was because I was always informed of Tria’s location, so that I may contact her in the event that the barracks was severely damaged. There is a village named Mire on the eastern end of the swamplands. If she has not moved in the past twenty years or so, she should still be there.”
“Except for the fact that the army has blocked off access from the swamps,” muttered Alton.
The news didn’t sit well with Veximarl. “It’s far worse than that. I have reason to believe that Tria is gone from this world. At least, momentarily. There were rumors that she suffered a horrific attack that left her without form. Necromancers still have their magic, but it is supposedly weaker than it was twenty years ago.”
“The miasma will flood these lands whenever the gods have abandoned their posts,” replied Tyrtain. “Miasma first appeared around this time three years ago, and it abruptly began to strengthen during the summer. Something has and is continuing the weaken the power of the gods. In order to find out why, you should seek to locate Brayton’s other living companion. Iath. He has an inborn wanderlust. I do not know of his location.”
Veximarl shook his head as he thought to himself. “There was a time when Sybil activated the Heart where she met an unknown man who didn’t give his name. He was mostly nude, wore a circlet, and she said that he seemed somewhat arrogant.”
A look of utter disdain crossed Tyrtain’s features. “... Yes. That would be him.” He shook his head. “He will no doubt attempt to contact Sybil again due to her ownership of the sword.” His hand began to shoo them away. “I will now meditate. Allow me time to rest.”
“Alton.” Lydia gestured to the next room over. She began to float that way and he followed. Veximarl tagged along as well, seeming to think that Alton was wanting to speak with him. “I’m going to have to go now, but I want you to know that you can trust Tyrtain,” she said reassuringly. “He isn’t going to hurt you.”
Trust the evil former god who once almost destroyed these lands in an effort to destroy humanity. The one who had been sealed away for a damn good reason. Sure. Alton flashed her a sarcastic thumbs up as she faded away with a smile.
“We had always assumed that the Heart was a valuable treasure, but to think that it was truly was Brayton’s sword,” whispered Veximarl.
One that had vanished when Sybil was kidnapped. Alton didn’t want to think about that now. “Why was he calling you a prophet?”
“I would assume he was referring to the lineage I inherited from my parents. Either my father or my mother. There are a few oddities within my bloodline,” replied Veximarl. He didn’t say anything after that.
Veximarl tensed up. “Alton... I understand that you have allowed me a great deal of trust and faith when you confided in me the truth behind your own heritage. However, this is the one matter of my past that I beg of you not to question.” Alton nodded slowly. The fact that Alton wasn’t asking anything made Veximarl feel all the guiltier about hiding the truth. “... My father was a very ill man.
He was obsessed with the accumulation of power. That lust of his drove him to perform a vile ritual. Many people died. My mother carried her share of sins as well. She...” Veximarl felt a lump forming in his throat at the thought. “Yet she was also sacrificed by my father. Lady Grulick saved me from sharing her fate… And I will live out the rest of my days attempting to be the good man that my father was incapable of being.”
Alton patted him on the shoulder, and Veximarl tensed up all the more. “You’re not your father, so don’t worry about it.” Veximarl nodded slowly. “Once we get Sybil back, what do we do with the Heart? Obviously, Bellia was one of the gods that was turned into an artifact. They are being kept in Fogbloom.”
“I’m not willing to do another ritual like this in order to revive them,” replied Veximarl quickly.
“Let’s never do this again,” agreed Alton just as quickly. This was a terrible idea. One he was hoping that they would not soon regret.
“Do you think it’s nighttime?”
Sybil looked over at Felix. He was staring up at one of the vents again but was unable to see if any light was coming through. “It is.”
“How can you tell?”
“I’ve lived underground for most of my life. You get a sixth sense for these sort of things.” Sybil turned her back to him and checked the pocket watch that was tucked inside her vest. “I would say that it’s fifteen minutes till midnight.”
“Really?!” Felix darted around her as she quickly stuffed the pocket watch back into her vest. “That’s amazing!”
Sybil looked off to the side. “Not really.” Someone who could cast magic like Felix shouldn’t be so impressed with such a mundane talent.
“No really! If I try to sense out the time, all I get is…” He closed his eyes and tried to think. Suddenly his eyes opened and his nose scrunched up. “I don’t get the time.”
“My friends are all much more impressive than I am,” quipped Sybil. The tips of Felix’s ears twitched eagerly. “Well, there’s Zaniyah. She’s really fast and strong. Chickadee is an elementalist, and I have another friend named Veximarl who… I guess he’s special in his own way.”
“... Whoa!” Felix said with wide eyes. Sybil had been fairly vague in her descriptions and didn’t think anything she said was all that impressive. “So you’re dating that Veximarl guy?”
“W-what?” Sybil shook her head. “No? What gave you that idea?”
“You said he was special,” he flatly replied.
“He’s just special as in he has strange and wonderful magic. It’s all very complicated and…” Sybil supposed they had all the time in the world for her to explain. “Vex has a special weapon that allows him to summon golems.”
“Wow!” It was hard to tell if Felix was actually impressed since he was just as enthusiastic as he was a few seconds ago. “So you’re dating Zaniyah?”
Sybil’s nose crinkled. “Why are you obsessed with who I’m dating?”
“I thought that’s all teenagers are supposed to care about. Falling in love is the most important thing you can do as a teenager. Then you can spend the rest of your life learning all the stuff you need to learn to be a proper adult and not have to worry about finding a mate.”
“By the core, who told you that nonsense?”
“By the core?”
“... It’s a saying where I come from.” Sybil shook her head. “It’s like…” Her face strained as she tried to think of what the outlander equivalent would be. “By Tria’s saggy tits?” That was one of the idioms that had become Zaniyah’s favorite phrase to say.
“... So it’s a curse word?”
“I guess it is but you won’t get in trouble for saying it,” muttered Sybil. “Anyways, who told you that nonsense?”
He had a sister? “Your sister is an idiot.”
“Yes,” he acknowledged her statement as though it were a well-known fact.
Sybil rubbed at the bridge of her nose as she thought. “Well, uh, love isn’t all that important anyways. I’m to busy with my studies to think about dating.” Felix stared at her like he didn’t believe her. “Alright, fine, there was this guy named Alton, but that wasn’t love or anything.”
Felix tilted his head to the side. “Why not?”
“Because I know what love feels like,” she replied. “And when I was with Alton, it didn’t feel like love.”
Felix tilted his head the other way. “Why didn’t it?”
“I don’t know!” Sybil waved her arms about. “Why are you asking me all these questions?!”
“Bored,” he replied.
Her love life shouldn’t be the entertainment for some kid. “Look, Felix, I was seeing someone before Alton. That’s how I know what it’s supposed to feel like when you fall in love with someone. I never felt that way with Alton.”
“My sister says that love isn’t supposed to feel the same for every person because every person is different. You’re not supposed to feel the same way for Alton as you did your old flame.” Felix waved his hands about as though he were conjuring knowledge.
“Your sister is quite the idiot.”
“... I’m going to sleep.”
“What? Already?” Felix was filled with immense disappointment. “But I want to keep talking. It’s not like we have anything else to do.”
Wrong. They had sleep. “The more sleep we have, the less energy we spend and the less food we eat,” she muttered. “We can talk more when we get up, but I want to hear more about you next time.”
“... Not much about me to talk about. Haven’t lived for very long at all.”
Odd way to phrase that he was young. “Tomorrow is another day and we’ll have something different to talk about then. If you can’t sleep, just try to think about what we’ll talk about tomorrow.” As long as they didn’t talk about Alton, it would be alright.