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A note from Cloudless Night

Hey there! I'm sorry for the delay, but with this, The 'Zero' arc is coming to an end. Sort of introduced most of the central cast, so now I can now relax and type away! The rest of the story will probably be progressing a teensy bit slower too. Mainly because I don't want to cramp an entire volume within 15 chapters again. I'm going to take a break for about a week before I release chapeter 1.01. I'll also try to be more consistent in my releases as well! Also working on a new cover page, it's taking longer than what I expected, main reason for the delay on the artworks, but it's nearly finished! 

 

-::- Lian -::-

 

My mind was fuzzy.

I opened my eyes sluggishly and saw… nothing.

The world around me was a complete blur, and it seemed that my hearing was affected as well. Blinking several times, I tried to clear my vision but to no avail. After a painfully long moment of concentration, my vision slowly came into focus, and the ringing in my ears dulled a bit in intensity. Eventually, I sat up with a grunt, glancing around me. I saw wooden planks, a couple of barrels and another body next to me. It was Rayola, apparently asleep. I studied her delicate features as I rose, her soft blue lips, her unearthly colour, her blinding white hair… everything stood out as I stared at her intently.

My concentration was broken as the floorboards below me shook, throwing me off balance and forcing me back on my knees. It was quickly followed by another similar bump. It was then, that I noticed where we were. Or rather, In what. I was inside a large supply wagon with around twenty square feet of usable space. Maybe I was wrong, but then again, I don’t trust my vision right now. I slowly moved to the rear end of as my hands slowly grasped the cloth that obstructed the view of the world outside. I pulled it back and blinked from the scorching rays of the sun that flashed on my face.

After focusing a bit, I noticed that we were outside the borders of the blighted lands, as was obvious from the lack of corruption in the magic around us. It was a tremendous relief. On further inspection, I observed that we were not among the adventuring group we arrived with, but rather, we were in the midst of the hero’s group, the knights of the Eternal Storm! I was flabbergasted. Why were we here? -

UGH!

My head pulsated in searing beats of pain that rose and fell in synchrony with my heartbeats. Suddenly, memories cascaded down on my already fragile mind, making my heard throb even more painfully. Images flashed before my eyes. I saw the undead centipede, the explosions, the explorer, the forest of pillars… the Abomination.

I shuddered as I recalled what had happened. We took off using the explorer’s levitation platform despite Nael’s protests just to be swatted out the sky as if we were but flies.

Then… the rest was fuzzy.

I crouched back to check on Rayola.

My hand hovered over to her forehead and I slowly placed it down to check her temperature. Why did I even bother? She was the same Rayola who survived an artillery spell! But as our skin made contact, my breath caught in my lungs.

She was cold.

My quivering hand hovered over her mouth to check her breath, but instead of the warm rhythmic circulation of warm air, I only found cold stillness.

I shot to her hand and brought her wrist into my palms and I grasped her delicate hand in every possible direction, checking for a pulse.

My heart raced.

It was cold…

Her pulse was dead, and she lay there, her arm cold against my warm skin.

I let out a cry of shock and despair!

My friend, Rayola, the girl who claimed to be unkillable was lying before me, dead beyond doubt!

I scrambled to the back, tears welling up in my eyes as my fingers started to part the curtain of cloth to alert the guards but I froze as I heard a groan behind me.

As I slowly turned around, I was startled by a loud crash, followed by a whole bunch of curses.

Nael was sprawled underneath Namiel, which was a pretty bad place to be in at the moment.

Our useless warrior was apparently indulging in a pretty indecent dream from what I could tell as he tried to grope Nael, who just woke up to the same and was now fighting tooth and nail to escape. He eventually weaselled his way out, breath ragged and with a horrified expression on his face.

He put a finger on his lips and threatened me to keep quiet. But he let it go as he inspected my unresponsive expression.

“What happened?” He asked, worry clearly in his tone.

“ Rayola’s dead.” I said in a hushed voice as I told him. They were friends from what I knew, and I didn’t want to be the one to break it to him but... I stifled a cry as I wiped my tears away.

He froze for a second before bursting out laughing and behind him, Namiel stirred, clutching his gut, before falling back into his stupor. Then her started to mumble deliriously about flowers. I was worried…

However,

Nael’s reaction was not something you’d hear when told that his friend just died. Was he still in denial? Eventually, he managed to calm down, but still spoke with mirth.

“Rayola can’t die even if she wanted to. I’ve seen it happen at least twice and who knows how many times she managed to pull it off when she’s not even around me. “

He stumbled over some crates and sat beside her, bending over and opening her eyelids. He inspected her dulled grey irises and seemed lost in thought.

“Her eyes aren’t glowing, which is worrying.” He eventually spoke with a frown.

The he continued

“ But her body’s fine so she’s definitely okay. I heard from her that she takes some time to recover from any injuries to her head so it may be that.”

I stuttered.

“But her pulse-“

Nael waved me away with his hand and added,

“Just consider it to be one of her quirks.”

I eyed him suspiciously, I wasn’t convinced, and I continued to stare as he seemed to be lost in thought. But eventually, I let out a long breath as I slowly leaned back against a barrel and I slid to the shifting floor. I was startled as Nael moved towards Rayola and with a sudden burst of speed, started to shake her as her head bobbed around.

It was almost comical to watch and just as I was about to step in, a glow orange lit up in her eyes and she kicked, sending Nael flying to the roof of the wagon before he tumbled back down. I winced.

“That looked painful.” Said Namiel as he woke up in my stead, staring at the two.

“No shit. You should try it, it’s VERY painful.” Nael replied as he clutched his gut.

"I'll pass" He replied.

Rayola had a frown plastered on her cold face.

“You know how lucky it was that I got knocked out, Nael? You of all people know I can’t fall asleep! You could have let me there for at least a bit longer! I almost saw a new memory in my dreams too… almost.”

Her frown deepened

Namiel just shook his head and addressed Nael.

“ I didn’t consider you to be the kind of person to lay your hands on a lady while she’s asleep, Nael. “

Nael glared daggers back at Namiel.

If looks could burn, Namiel would have been a pile of ash by now.

“You” Nael said, pointing an accusing finger at him. “Have no right to say that.”

“Why?” He replied with an inquisitive tone.

“ You violated him! ” I helped, grinning as the mood broke. Both their faces scrunched up. Rayola shot up, her face threatening to explode with laughter.

“Nael was? Oh shit! I gotta tell someone.”

She frantically searched around for a 'someone'. Her eyes landed on the curtain behind me, with the sunlight breaking through the small gaps in between. An mischevious grin broke across her face. But Nael reacted faster, and just as he dashed towards her, the wagon hit a bump, sending them both tumbling to the floor. The entire wagon shook and I heard curses from the front.

The wooden shutter at the middle slid open as I saw an unfamiliar, bearded face peeking through. Then in a raspy, obviously angry tone, the driver berated us.

“What in the name of Sol is going on back there! Keep still will ya? Just cuz the Hero told me to keep ya in there doesn’t mean that ya get a free license to wreck my property! Now stay put and lick yer wounds or get the hell out if ya can’t stay still !”

Then he snapped the shutter back with enough force to make me wince from the sound.

All of us got back to our seats.

“The Hero?” I asked.

“I remember fighting the abomination with him but everything after the explosion is fuzzy.” Rayola piped in.

Explosion? Was that the bright light that I saw just before I got knocked out?

Ugh…

I clutched my head as my it began to throb again.

“We’re back in the empire’s borders, so we’re safe for now… We won, you know. I managed to escape the Shockwave so I was there when Nirlam returned, shouldering both the Hero and Rayola here. Took a long time to get out of that stupid cluster of pillars though. A lot of people died by that point, but there are always deaths in a war. The journey back was pretty safe and despite everything, it was an astounding success. The Hero came back to his senses soon after and helped us into this wagon too.” Nael explained.

I let out a sigh of relief and I finally felt my body relaxing after so long.

Stretching my hands, I leaned back. My muscles ached so much that it felt hard to even lift my arms properly. The others probably had it even worse, having to fight in direct physical confrontation. Everyone except Rayola of course.

“Where’s Nirlam then?” Asked Rayola

“Probably with the Hero. Those two seems to get along well.”

She chuckled.

“He was so shy too, it was cute.”

My eye twitched. Cute? The first thing that crosses her mind when thinking about Nirlam’s menacing form was that he was… SHY and CUTE?

Nael shrugged it off.

Then we laughed. With relief, with humour, with joy, with a feeling of satisfaction, no matter how little we may have contributed in actuality, we laughed for we were part of the group that slew the Abomination of the Blighted Emperor’s court! We could now boast that achievement with pride!

And we smiled, through all five days of our journey,

We smiled, for we were victorious.

And fortune favours the victor.

 

.:: The Fort of the Lion’s Gate ::.

 

 

We were back at the fortified city.

We strode through the gates in worn garbs that bespeaks a long journey. Fatigue veiled over our faces, but our eyes wore a blinding gleam of pride. The noise hushed instantly. Every eye around us fastens on us with awe and gratitude. We had won an important battle in the Eastern War, and they watched us, as we returned triumphantly. Then, a few at the front placed their right hands before their chests, and nodded, a display shown only to those who earned their due respect. Then they rose as one, pumping their arms into the sky and started to cheer. The cheer rippled through the crowd till the entire city was alit with exclaimations of victory. It was a jubilant scene which I will forever keep in my heart.

One thing led to another and now here I am, in Regass’ Inn, drinking off my cup of Ale while my mind was lost in a daze. The excitement in the air was explosive and it would continue to be so for days to come. The city did not sleep, despite being so late into the night. There was excitement everywhere. Bards sang of our tales of glory, the townsfolk spoke of us in high esteem as they made merry unto a drunken stupor. And we who returned, either drank for our victory or to drown the memories of both what we had seem there, or to mourn those who had passed on.

I smiled.

I myself, received fame as well, even if I was guilty of my negligible contribution. Rayola and Nirlam, even more so. Tales were sung of Nirlam the Defier’s might, and songs of Rayola the Deathless and her fearlessness, her unyielding and tireless prowess in battle as they fought the abomination, found its way around. For those of us who knew the truth… I smiled as I stared at the girl as she sat beside me with her head in her hands chuckling with hints of madness. I was concerned about her strange behaviour, so I hugged her shoulders and teased her about her song, only to result in more mad laughter.

I sighed.

We were hogged down by a whole lot of people the entire day and we refused the ball since it didn’t feel… comfortable. The last thing I wanted after an entire week of struggle and death was to spend what little money I had left on fancy clothes just to put up faces in a vicious crowd. So The four of us, including me, Rayola, Namiel, and Nael were sitting side by side in a corner of the crowd, trying to blend in into the background. Nirlam went to the ball though. Something about not disrespecting etiquette. For us though, it was a bit hard to find a place free of the crowd.

Regass’ inn had a reputation for being excessively rowdy and it was famous for cases where things got out of hand. In the end, it was the last place you expected to find war heroes. Or maybe not. I can’t tell, but it seemed to work so far. Nael was crying over being forced to pay for the Levitation platform using the cuts in his own salary. The explorers were pretty strict like that. It also justified why they were called assholes.

I raised my mug to him.

“ Cheer up, dude.”

Nael raised his head from his slumped form, like a turtle extending it’s neck.

“Yeah. I need something to relieve my stress.”

He sighed, and rose up with an evil determination flashing in his eyes.

Uh-oh. Did I do something I shouldn’t have?

Probably. What else should I have done?

He rose up, grabbed Rayola by her coat’s collar, and dragged her away. He went a little further before beckoning me to follow as well. We waded through the sea of drunk drunkards who were progressive getting even more drunk like it was the end of the world. As ironic as that sounds.

Drunks everywhere, singing and wrestling and flirting and yelling over the entire ground floor. In the centre of it all, a table was upturned and two buffed brawlers were having a go at each other with a fists… well at least one guy was. The other was whipping away with a towel as if it was somehow superior to actually using his own fists. And with his training, it may actually be true… Maybe the guy was an expert at using flails or maybe he was a profession whipper?

GAH, forget it!

I diverted my attention back to Nael and yelled over the noise.

“WHERE ARE WE GOING?”

He raised his eyebrow.

“TO FIND NAMIEL, WE’RE GONNA GROUP UP AND PARTY!”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. Namiel? Wasn't he with us a few moments ago? Then an image flashed across my mind.

“I SAW HIM WALKING UPSTAIRS WITH A WOMAN, LET’S NOT DISTURB THEM!” I yelled back.

Nael froze. A frown broke across his face, and after a moment of pensive silence, his frown upturned into the most wicked, bone chilling and fiendishly diabolical grin I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a LOT.

We dashed up the stairs.

There were two rows of rooms with six each on either side. He pushed Rayola forward.

“You can hear better than all of us, which one is it?”

Fer face crunched up with focus and after a few moments, she pointed at a room at the end of the left row. She turned her face away from us and I SWEAR- I SWEAR on my elven armour, that she was blushing! It’s a bit hard to tell without the typical reddening or the change in colour at all in general, but her expression was unmistakable. We glided over to the end of the hall in silent steps and listened in. My own elven ears were not just for show after all! But then, I heard what was to be expected.

My face reddened as well as I heard a woman moaning in orgasmic cries which, in this situation could only signify one conclusion. Then I heard Namiel's voice, albeit muffled by the door.

“Why so unpassionate, my elegant orchid? Why does your wonderful eyes betray me? ”

“Ahhh, come on, enough foreplay, hasn’t it been long enough?”

“But my sweet rose, my beautiful red petunia! we must take things slowly so that we may indulge ourselves the entire night!”

I heard a shuffling inside.

“Ahnnn”

All of us cringed. Rayola frowned.

“Why the hell is he talking in flowers? How the hell did he succeed with such cheesy dialogues?”

My face was practically a blazing inferno of red at that point. Nael turned to Rayola.

“Precisely my point. Are we too late?” He asked.

She shook her head as she tuned in again.

“Not yet.”

“Ok then, come here.” They huddled together as he whispered something in her ear. Rayola’s face crunched up in obvious embarrassment.

“Why should I?”

“Just do it!”

“But it’s soo…”

“It’s FINE!, I can’t do it, you’re the one with a pretty voice, so go for it!”

“But I don’t want to!”

“What? Are you not BRAVE enough?” Nael taunted with mirth.

At the last jab, Rayola froze.

“OH, FUCK THEM!”

Nael rolled his eyes.

“ We’re here to STOP that from happening!”

She let out a sigh of exasperation.

“Ahn!” came a noise from behind the door.

Then her face hardened.

“ You know what, move aside, I’ve had enough.”

She stood in front of the door and stood still like a statue.

Then, she startled the both of us in a sudden fit of movement as she threw herself at the door and started banging on it.

“NAMIEL! HOW COULD YOU? YOU TOLD ME THAT I WAS YOUR ONLY ONE! YOU TOLD ME THAT I WAS YOUR WHITE TULIP! HOW COULD YOU!”

I heard a crash inside.

Then silence.

“IS IT TRUE?!”

An infuriated voice seething with rage bellowed.

“My bright poppy, you don’t have to listen to her lies, I’ve barely slept with anyone the last few-“

“Oh.”

Rayola started pummelling the door again, and It nearly cracked under her barrage.

“WHAT? IT WAS BARELY A FEW HOURS AGO! YOU TRAITOR! AND YOU, YOU’RE SEDUCING HER WITH YOUR SLY FEET AND YOUR STUPID FLOWERY WORDS AREN’T YOU”

Nael raised an eyebrow

“Feet?”

Rayola slouched back as I heard intense arguments from inside and a high pitched cry of pain.

“I started to hear their tomfoolery since the moment I stepped foot on those stairs. It was annoying to say the least.”

Then, her eyes perked up and then she dashed to the windows, broke the stabilising hook, clambered outside onto the railing beyond. She frantically beckoned to us and we followed suit, and she shut it behind us.

“Why are we out here?” I asked over the muffled noises of the party below.

“That woman’s hysterical right now and I don’t wan’t ANYONE to know it was me. ANYONE, you understand Nael? I don’t even know WHY I played along with your antics. And you.”

She pointed at me, put a finger on her mouth, signifying me to keep quiet, and then she drew the finger across her neck.

I gulped and nodded.

Nael sighed.

“Oh, please, if that’s going to work, I’ll shave off all my hai-“

I heard the door behind the window break as it unhinged from whatever shock it had endured. Things were getting messy back there. Then I heard a cry of pain and some stumbling along the hallway.

“who’s the repulsive raflesia that ruined my day!”

Namiel cursed again as he cried out in pain once more.

“My balls…”

We nearly broke out in laughter as he continued, cursing to the floor below.

Rayola grinned at Nael.

“Shave off your what, Nael?”

He stuttered.

“Ugh My- ah, yes, my leg hair!”

I shook my head.

“So is he always like that?” Asked Nael, ready to change topics.

“The flower thing?” I asked for more clarification.

He nodded.

“Well, he gets… creative when he comes in contact with alcohol. It just so happened to be flowers today. Actually, I don’t really know, I met him at a tavern practically a day before Rayola did, and there wasn’t really any alcohol on the expedition to begin with, so you know him about as much as I do.”

He shrugged.

After checking that the coast was clear, we clambered back inside and headed downstairs. Things seem to have escalated a bit since we came to bother Namiel. People were all over the place, in a one big, twirling tornado of alcohol and destruction. The Inn had earned it’s reputation justly. It would be a good idea to leave before things got out of hand on our end. However, just as we got down, Nael disappeared without a trace.

So much for a fun evening together, huh. I sat down on a bench and within a minute, a mug somehow landed in my hands. I took a drink and slowly observed what was happening around me.

I was starting to black out.

But after a few moments, my attention was snapped back as I noticed a commotion at the centre.

When I focused to see what it was, I saw Nael standing on a table, yelling to the crowd of adventurers. What startled me more than an explorer getting unhinged with alcohol was that he was leading a group of adventurers in a campaign against the association himself for the cut in his salary. Bit from his tone, it sounded as if they killed his parents or something.

“ sO, wHAt dId I sAY agAIn?”

“ThaT they were a bUNCH Of ScumBering ARsebadgers!.” A guy piped up.

Nael swayed around before fixing his posture again.

“ Was thAT Even a word? Did I really say that? Ah, yes, The hiGher ups are pissWizards, the lot of em! And then... and then...”

He started counting off his fingers before blinking and then he just surrendered to whatever mess he was counting and conceded in just throwing his hands up in the air.

“you know what? FORGET it! Fuck the explorers!”

“ Fuck da explorers!” the adventurers cheered back.

“ I always supported them, but what did they do? They cut off my salary! Just for breaking a teensy little flying dinner plate!”

“Fuc da explorArs” The cheered in a slurry mass once again.

“Like, what goes UP, has ta come DOWN right? Try throwing a saucer, and YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS? It goes up, it flies, AND THEN IT COMES DOWN! WHAT do you see when it lands? No, you don’t see a whole ceramiccc piece! NOOOO, YOU see PIECES of it! That’s why they should make it into a ball INSTEAD right? A ball bounces back! Or a BIRD for that matter!”

“Fuk da exprolars!”

Then in the corner of my vision, I saw two men standing over rayola. Both wore a dull blue tunic and had shaven heads, tanned skin, scaggly beards and magnificent moustaches. One had a broken baton in his hand and he spoke in a very heavy Eastern Empire accent. A lot of people spoke like that but I didn't notice it that much untill now. Then again, I was in the Eastern side right now wasn't I? Maybe I just overlooked it?

“Brotha, I didn’t mean ta do it!, I was just showing off my bashing skills and this chick just stuck her head in the middle.”

The ‘brotha’ bent down to check her pulse.

Oh shit, I forgot that Rayola was supposed to keep her true nature a secret. Or was it? I wasn’t sure if she had a pulse when she wasn't recovering in the first place… really got to check that. It probably was a secret right? I tried to think but my mind was still so foggy.

“Oh FUCK!”

“What's wrong brotha? IS she okay?”

“NO, ya dimwit! Ya KILLED er!”

“WHA- BROTHA! I don’t wanna go ta prison!”

“SHUSSSHHHHH, SHUSHSHSHH… see, everyone’s a bit, drunk right now, ya see, and so're we! No-one’s gonna blame ya. Just help me hide the body…”

Before I could stop them, A wave of drunks screaming “Fuk da explorars!” swept over me.

Just then, a guard came knocking at the door to see what the hell was going on in here. What he saw rendered him speechless. Alcohol everywhere. Semi-nude men and drunks pulling moustaches, women dancing and arm wrestling with buff folks who looked like they ate entire bulls for breakfast… and winning. The women on these parts were scary. Then there was the cult of adventurers chanting “Fuk da Explorars” as if those words were part of some grand ritual or something. There were also the occasional fools who were still brawling in the middle of the room despite everything and then… Say what, let’s just sum up by saying that it was pure chaos.

The brothers who were carrying Rayola saw the Guards.

“ OH FUCK! BROTHA, THE GUARDS 'RE 'ERE! ”

The ‘brotha’ with the club cursed at the precise moment where Nael was about to raise his slogan yet again. And so, the chant got promoted from “ Fuk da ExPLORars ” to “ Fuck da GOURdZ” and then they took the chant to challenge the agents of the law who where desperately trying to break the crowd apart while they assaulted them in their faces.

A drunk Captain of some sort signified by the badge on his chest, smashed a chair on a guard and yelled;

" RETREAT! FALL BACK! "

Then there was even more chaos.

It was safe to say that a bunch of drunkards nearly started a civil war within the fortified city.

I remembered climbing out of a window as things got messy. I ended up in front of a twelve foot wall. The stupid thing was blocking my way, so I took it as a challenge to my great self and I charged towards it.

Then my brain blacked out completely.

And I woke up in a mansion.

It was all fine and dandy… except for the fact that I didn’t know whose mansion it was in the first place, or why I was wearing a set of male clothes, which unnerved me as much as it should… or as to why I was in the attic of said mansion.

I sighed.

I just hope I could leave this place without getting arrested… or killed depending on whatever the hell I did while my body decided to ‘adventure’ as my mind fell asleep.

 

-x-

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About the author

Cloudless Night

Bio: Concept Artist, Camouflaged Cloud.

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