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The apprentices grew concerned as Kuzari explained what had happened during the night. As he elaborated on how he escaped the other Contractor, they looked at each with confusion.

 

"That doesn't make any sense," said Adara shaming her head.

 

"What part?" Kuzari asked.

 

"The fox part," Odai shrugged his shoulders.

 

"There's no animal out here with that kind of power. I don't know of any creatures with that kind of power." Adara continued.

 

Kuzari rubbed his chin as he thought about it. He had just assumed that it was just local wildlife with a weird evolutionary defense mechanism. Hiding from predators is a lot easier if you could hide inside a pocket dimension and effectively teleport. It was how he made it alive at least. But if it wasn't just a random known creature than there was more going on. He had spotted it at two completely different circumstances so it couldn't have been a coincidence. It clearly chose to save him this time but not last time.

 

"I honestly don't know then. A blue fox that could manipulate space saved my life," said Kuzari giving up on trying to analyze what had happened.

 

Adara was still concerned about the situation, especially at the prospect of a Contractor working with Mas'Quin but Odai soon dominated the conversation asking for as many details about the fox as possible. The possibility of an undiscovered and powerful monster was alluring to the scholar.

 

The group did agree to move out quickly. The Mas'Quin were organized beyond anything anybody imagined, and they needed to report the info. They evaded the remaining patrol units with ease thanks to the detection spell. Kuzari was slightly hesitant about its use. It didn't take a genius to figure out he got caught by assuming there was not going to be anybody with a core in the lizard town. That they didn't even have intel of the small city existing before the mission was even more disturbing.

 

Kuzari didn't buy it that people back in Anastazia didn't know about it. Someone had to have been suppressing the information. He planned on finding as much as he could about Zator once he got back. The paranoid portion of his brain imagining all sorts of conspiracies.

 

Thinking of Zator brought back flashes of his fight. He was bandaged up again at this point, and between the exhaustive events of the night and the blood loss from his wounds, he was barely able to keep pace with his companions. It took a steady thin stream of shadow mana just to keep him going. I need to get stronger, a lot stronger. I was a little clever, but that edge had nothing against the raw power a real opponent like Zator brought to the table.

 

Kuzari sighed at the thought of his own inadequacy.



Night arrived as they settled down for camp. Despite exhaustion, Kuzari found it difficult to go to sleep right away, absorbed in his thoughts. He was slightly surprised to find Adara sitting next to him, Odai having already gone to sleep.



"You need to be more careful, you know," she said.

 

"I seem to not be given much choice lately. Feels like no matter what direction I head in, death looms over me."

 

"Grim talk for an initiate that has learned two spells within a month and slain a shaman on their own."

 

"Yeah but that's all from not being careful. Classic risk-reward tradeoff."

 

"Still, you should find more time to be happy, and ya know to take it easy."

 

Kuzari was starting to feel irritated. She didn't seem to understand that the alternative was just dying. He also didn't understand how she could be so helpful one moment and then get under his skin the next.

 

"And why do you care so much?" he asked.

 

"I just don't want to lose you again." She said, not quite realizing what she said.

 

Kuzari's face soured.

 

"You knew him, didn't you? Ralin. You had said he couldn't hurt a fly when we met too. Must have been closer than you let on."

 

Adara's face flushed red with embarrassment as she realized what she had said.

 

"Yeah, I did. We were friends...really good friends," she said while staring off into the sky.

 

"I have some of his memories, you know. But nothing about his life, or about you."

 

It was Adara's turn to be sour as she glared at him.

 

"And what is that supposed to mean?" she asked.

 

Kuzari stood up.

 

"It means I'm not him. I'm, not Ralin and you need to accept that sooner rather than later. " Kuzari retorted.

 

"I know that," Adara said with a huff, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear.

 

"Good," Kuzari said tersely before heading to his bedroll to get some sleep.

 


 

That night Kuzari dreamed.



Darkness stretched all around as he floated in space. There was a sublime nothingness to his world. Endless uncertainties unresolved and threatening to crush him from everywhere. Yet despite this, he felt at home.

 

Golden light broke the darkness, swelling from the depths of his soul. It formed the image of a coiling dragon, an ouroboros that ringed around his body. The darkness receded from the light revealing an endless plain of grass.

 

A second burst of golden light flashed above him, pushing the darkness back again and forming the shape of a glorious angel.

 

She had four wings stretched from her back, but did not need them to stay aloft in the dark sky. Her skin blazed a white fire in contrast to the ebony hair that hung around her shoulders. Her golden eyes shown with fervor. Silver armor tinged with black edges covered her form, giving her the visage of a holy avenger ready to smite evil wherever it chose to hide.

 

The angel was sheer majesty, and he felt compelled to both reach out and kneel before such beauty. It smirked, sensing his obeisance and in a flash, she was mere feet away from him, just on the edge of the serpent.

 

The dragon growled at her approach, and Kuzari was broken from his reverie. The angel reeked with the stench of Fate and alarms fired off inside his mind. He knew he was dreaming, but this encounter was more than that and possibly dangerous.

 

"Finally I've found you." The angel spoke with a sing-song voice.

 

"And who are you?" Kuzari asked with an edge to his voice, suddenly on guard.

 

"Talia, Contractor of Thetos." She sang.

 

Kuzari stepped back in shock. The angel was not only a Contractor like him but a Contractor of the same god! He was floored by the apparent display of power she had, invading his dreams like this.

 

She chuckled at his reaction.

 

"You certainly have some explaining to do newbie," Talia said, circulating Kuzari but not crossing the line formed by the golden dragon.

 

"Explain what?" He asked in confusion.

 

"How you resisted Challenge. And why the Oathbreaker's scent is on you."

 

"I have no idea what any of those means" he answered honestly.

 

"When opposing Contractors meet, they can be Challenged. A Challenge is to the death, and you cannot escape, weak or strong consequences be damned, those Contractors will fight to the death. Zator Challenged you. Hells it was the only reason I was able to find you."

 

Kuzari was even more confused. He remembered the weird compulsion to kill Zator, but it hadn't been strong enough to prioritize over his survival.

 

"What do you mean, find me? Thetos said he would send a Contractor to get me. What couldn't tell you where I was?"

 

"Oh no, not at all. The moment Thetos dropped you off in that body, he couldn't sense you. None of us could. You know Contractors are supposed to be able to feel out those of the same god, right?"

 

Kuzari was dumbfounded even more.

 

"No. No, I did not know that."

 

Talia chuckled again. That laugh was starting to get grating.

 

"Oh my, how interesting. Cut off from other Contractors, refusing Challenges that has to be driving Zaror insane by the way, did the Oathbreaker do that to you?" She asked with her eyes gleaming from amusement.

 

"You still haven't told me what the Oathbreaker is." Kuzari was starting to get extremely annoyed the way she lorded her knowledge over him.

 

"Good question." She laughed again.

 

Okay, he wasn't 'starting' to get annoyed. He skipped that phase and settled right into being angry. It showed on his face.

 

"Oh now, settle down newbie. The Oathbreaker is a Contractor, though nobody knows for what god. They don't seem to be playing by the same rules the rest of us are. It shows up, and all sorts of Contractor stuff goes haywire. Haven't heard of it messing with a Contractor as fresh as you thought. Can't help but wonder if you're in on it."

 

"I don't know what you're talking about. Zator is the only Contractor I've met before you, and he is Contracted to-"

 

"Modeus, yes, I know." She rolled her eyes, finishing the sentence for him. "Get to my rank, and you can listen in on the threads of Fate. Zator meeting you sent waves down the threads that can be listened to. As I said, its the only reason we managed to find you."

 

"Despite knowing exactly where I was dropped off? How dumb could you be not to narrow down my position?" He shot back, fed up with her attitude.

 

Talia glared at him. "Watch your mouth. You're a thousand years too early to be insulting the like of me."

 

"Oh please, what cliched nonsense. What era did you get plucked from?" Kuzari asked.

 

Talia huffed in response. He managed to get under her skin as well, and he couldn't help but form a grin. As far as he was concerned, she deserved it for the holier than thou attitude. Although she literally appears as an angel...

 

"The point is, somethings not right. You need to cooperate here before Thetos thinks you've defected somehow."

 

Kuzari snorted in derision.

 

"Defected? Can't do that, Contractor remember? Would think a god of all people should know that. I have more immediate issues to take care of. So either start telling me about all this Contractor stuff like Thetos said you would or kindly fuck off. I don't like you. "

 

Talks turned red from anger, literally red consuming her skin and wings. The golden dragon started to snarl at the angel.

 

"Your impudence stretches the limits of my patience. What would Eric think of his brother now?" She asked, deliberately prodding him.

 

Kuzari grew cold.

 

How dare she try to use my brother to make me submit?

 

"You need to leave." He said icily.

 

Darkness closed in around them, consuming the plains and bleeding away the angel's light.

 

The golden dragon grew large, becoming a vast beast looming over the two Contractors. It stared at Talia with primal hunger.

 

Talia stared at the beast with a flash of fear, her mouth moving wordlessly. The red bled away from her form before she winked away from view.

 

Kuzari had no more dreams for the rest of the night.

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A note from Madf0x

Tried something a tad different here. 


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Madf0x

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