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Chapter 9 Another Threat

 

Gunnar liked to look on the bright side. Yes, he worried plenty about things going wrong — that was what motivated him to make sure Bills was fine after all, and thank goodness he was! — but he wasn’t one to take it too hard when complications arose or mistakes were made. That was life for you.

So knowing Iye escaped because of what Gunnar believed were special constructs didn’t bother him much, unlike the majority of the myiths. He understood their fury and apprehension at such an astonishing turn of events, but what of it? There wasn’t anything they could do about it, and besides, their goal of evicting the troublesome smog out was achieved. With the Smogherald not around, the magical smoke it left had completely dissipated.

I’m sure the dragons will manage to round up that Iye anyway, he thought. The snake looks like he’s looking for trouble with that Smogherald.

It was those ethereal creatures with the floating hands and feet that got him anxious. Those cannot be some long-lost myiths or cryptids. And I don’t think Iye made them either, something about that doesn’t add up. Who did make those, and why did they help him out?

That sounded like a plot beyond Gunnar’s simple mind, so he chose to focus on the current task at hand: collecting the smog-repelling balls, retrieving the refined magic samples Iye apparently stored in some kobold’s half-ruptured mushroom house, and enduring Bill’s rant.

“Like what part of ‘don’t play the hero’ didn’t you get?” he was saying, dramatically waving his hands. “Simple four words, and yet you run straight towards a dragon with a magic artifact ahead of everyone else! What were you thinking?”

Gunnar barely paid attention, continuing to pick up the fallen spheres until he could carry no more on his person. Deeper pockets would be handy right about now. And look, there was that Ismat-construct’s helper Jakyra, fuming in a corner for some reason. Whatever got into—

“Gunnar, I’m talking to you!” Bill twisted the young dwarf around, a bit of a feat since he was broader than him, and locked eyes. “Did you hear a single word I told you? What you did was stupid, you could’ve gotten yourself killed!”

“I know.” Gunnar raised his hand before Bills could flip out. “And if I didn’t do it, that smog-making criminal might have escaped after killing an old, brown dragon.”

Bills went quiet at that. Admittedly, Gunnar had wanted to ‘play the hero’ and fight Iye, though he didn’t think his battleaxe’s dig aspect could actually do serious damage to something like a raised magic artifact. But still, seeing that elderly dragon get hit by huge spores from afar was what set him off. Dragons were lucky to have their scales — a dwarf struck by the spores of the infamous banger mushroom would get a concussion at the very least.

“Fine,” Bills said, rubbing his healing ointment on himself before dabbing it on Gunnar’s face, patching up cuts. “I can understand that. Seriously kid, you look after everyone too much, though I appreciate you coming down to be at my side and all.”

“I can handle myself, Bills. I learned from the best.” Gunnar elbowed his brother.

Bills returned the elbow with a smirk. “Now that’s insult to injury. You know I don’t like the battleaxe and that I teach people about the fist and the sword, which are far superior. But eh, seeing you’re not a mangled mess, I’ll admit I’m proud of what you did out there.”

Gunnar thanked his brother, his thoughts relocating elsewhere. In hindsight, attacking Iye’s Smogherald artifact was wise of him. The battleaxe wasn’t capable of breaking it in one go even with the side effect of its aspect, but Iye now had to spend extra time repairing the damage. And repairing an artifact, though less resource-intensive, was more difficult than creating it in the first place.

Chief Herod asked him about what he did to the Smogherald earlier. Apparently the damage done was enough to somehow paralyze the last groups of smog monsters, their bodies frozen in place and contorted expressions on each of them. Probably the consequence of harming a high-level magic artifact.

Gunnar was loving this battleaxe. Shame he couldn’t keep it without getting a license, but whatever. Someone else should get a turn.

 


 

“If there’s anything I think we can accept without debate,” Brimir said with a dark chuckle, “It’s that Iye was saved by an infernal ex machina.”

“Rolled a Nat 20,” the dwarf chief Timothy muttered, causing a splash of laughter to ring out while Ismat scratched his head, getting the joke late. Jakyra too joined in, the humor helping to release her glum mood.

To say Jakyra was infuriated at Iye’s lucky escape was an understatement. There was nothing fair about otherworldly creatures intervening on behalf of that crook!

And she knew the others shared her mood. Throughout the trek back, Both the Dragon Crown members and the dwarven chiefs had kept silent. Same with Ismat, though she sensed that there would be quite a discussion once they resurfaced.

And indeed, once everyone had returned to the looming mineshaft entrance, arguments began amongst the three chiefs, Brimir, and the iron-hued metallik whose name Jakyra really should bother to remember. Ismat chirped in occasionally as they tried to make sense of what happened during the entire battle with Iye and what it meant.

Ulm and Fumnaya sat this one out with Jakyra. The summoned dragon guards rested in a corner, quietly talking to themselves, as did some dwarves Jakyra suspected were eavesdropping on the heavy discussion between their chiefs and the dragon king. To her perplexment, this included Gunnar and his older brother, backs laid against the rocky walls as if waiting for something. Perhaps they wanted an audience with one of the chiefs?

“Can’t believe someone would max out their luck stat,” Chief Herod mockingly said, bringing about a second wind of chortles.

It took some time for Jakyra to extract herself from her fit of laughter. This lighter tone was a welcome improvement to the grim, hot mess the discussion had been, with all sorts of ideas, possibilities, and gazes being fired to such an extent Jakyra felt her scales heat up. Fortunately, the spirit of making progress kept everyone civil enough to draw some conclusions.

One, Iye was attempting to make some artifact, likely for sinister intentions. Brimir noted the dragon had a rough, radical history and was exiled by his late father for failed crimes against the Crown itself. With his track record and grudge-filled mind, it wouldn’t be surprising if he intended to attack the dragon state or their allies, such as the mountain dwarves.

Two, those ethereals — the group chose to call the pastel beings ethereals — had to be constructs since they radiated mana, but it was impossible for Iye to be their creator. “It doesn’t match, the constructs Iye’s Smogherald artifact makes are too shabby,” Brimir had said, “and the magic used to make those ethereals seems too complicated. I’ve read his files enough times to know Iye’s not that advanced in his magic-shaping skills, being self-taught. Besides, why need the Smogherald if he has those?”

“And why would you assume he hasn’t learned the skill from someone?” Chief Barin pointed out.

“Because it’s rubbish. Iye’s criminal status bars him from getting tutors and leaves him as quick cash for bounty hunters. Plus, his files show he tends to either brush off or maim even fellow criminals who dare interact with him — it’s why I also reject the notion of him making deals to sell that Smogherald to other enemies of ours. He’s an extreme shut-in, unversed in raised magic creation, and whatever help he received today was from a third party interested in letting his plot succeed.”

That led to point three: said third party was a mysterious and dangerous group with malicious intentions towards dragons and dwarves. Jakyra wasn’t too sure on this one, but everyone seemed certain the ethereals were intended to prevent them from capturing Iye and thus allow him to continue whatever he was up to, maybe subtly help him too.

Ismat’s dangersense labeling them as threats fitted in with all this. The question was, who would be able to make all those ethereals and their unusual bodies? As the construct had put it, only so many people could have the talent to make constructs that cumulatively surpassed even him in grade. More information about the ethereals was needed anyway, so that was something to research.

Past that, everything felt like speculation. Right now Brimir, the iron metallik, and the three dwarves were trying to figure out what Iye wanted from the mushroom village he somehow invaded, be it particular materials, a place to cause some small-scale trouble, or just plain lunacy. Jakyra didn’t bother to listen, brooding over her battle with Iye and his minions yet again.

By now she reluctantly accepted the facts: even if she hadn’t messed up, those ethereals would’ve stopped her at the worst possible moment. Still, she had this itch that had she successfully knocked out Iye, or better yet, disrupted his portal gate, he would never have gotten out of there. Sure, the ethereals would then probably fight for real, but that would allow Chief Herod to use Fracture Beam on them while the rest of the group reorganized themselves and counterattacked.

Okay, horrible way of thinking. That would certainly increase casualties from none whatsoever to a handful if the ethereals got serious. And besides, couldn’t they bring Iye into the rifts they warped in from if he was unconscious?

So Iye escaping was beyond her power. As it was, Herod brought up the dwarf Gunnar and the damage he managed to inflict on the Smogherald, which would force the dragon to either scrap the item or waste time repairing it. Better than nothing, she supposed, but I’m not content with it.

What brought her down was something else. Iye properly trounced me.

Jakyra’s brain fizzled at the very memory of getting jabbed in rapid succession whilst her attempts to return the favor were denied by Iye’s blocks. It was like he was my foil in combat! He’d be a match for Wynn’s elite guards, the way he effortlessly held me back.

Not that she wasn’t a match herself. The simple problem was, Jakyra couldn’t get the chance to back off and resort to different approaches or trickery, like Iye did when dispatching poor Fumnaya. Her fists were like hammers, but his were a flurry of daggers.

Well, I didn’t really use my fists, just one measly claw attack, but Iye stinging me like that stings regardless. As if to prove her point (and overdo the wordplay), her wounds resoundingly stung her until she grimaced. I demand a rematch.

Her gaze swept towards a thin, bespectacled dwarf in the distance, running towards a bemused Herod with a letter in hand. “Chief,” he panted, “Not sure if this is a bad time but the phoenix network just put in an alert message and I came to send you a copy directly. All the other major chiefs of the Dwarven Circle of Elders have been sent one of these to their residence—”

He stopped, realizing Chief Timothy and Barin were present, then identifying the dragon king Brimir and bowing his head. “Ah, my dearest apologies for my rudeness, sires. I didn’t know we had a visit from the Dragon Crown, but I take it the phoenixes will send you your own copy. Chief, may I as your humble secretary have permission to hear the contents?”

Herod held his hand as if to signal to wait, opening up the letter. The mood became overly dry, Jakyra noticing Ismat’s confusion as everyone’s faces lost their character. Alert letters, messages from the phoenixes sent to the governments all over Fantasmyth, tended to be about sensational events of international value that required urgent attention. This should be interesting.

It was more than just interesting. Chief Herod did a cursory scan before his gaze froze over. His pupils seemed to vibrate before he squinted and ran his finger over the words, his lips turning in such a way that Jakyra couldn’t differentiate it as either a smile or a frown. Brimir and the iron metallik dragon gave each other uncomfortable glances while the secretary fidgeted in place.

Chief Herod put down the letter slowly. Ismat stared at the dwarf’s gaunt face before a hoarse, troubled laugh came out his throat. “Oh no,” he said.

“Herod?” Chief Barin said as Ismat’s strange reaction made everyone put on a demanding expression, except for the twitchy secretary. Jakyra had experienced enough of Ismat’s unusual observations to know something huge was up.

“No way to put this simply,” Herod said, “but an elven tribe, some trolls, and even a few phoenixes have put in a warning. Recently they had run-ins with strange, pastel-hued constructs with disembodied hands and feet.”

By some bizarre sorcery, dead silence reigned over the group. It was to the point where the other dwarves and dragon guards were stealing apprehensive glances, with Jakyra certain that a drop of water could be heard in the disquiet. Dang, the ethereals already made a dramatic entrance elsewhere on the continent?

Ismat was still grinning like his life depended on it. “Bane of souls,” the iron metallik whispered, “we’re in deeper waters than we thought.”

“Time for me to retire,” Ulm said, Fumnaya shaking her head while a few snorts went around. The secretary gave Herod a probing look before thinking better of it, deciding to retreat to another corner to give some privacy.

Brimir sighed, massaging his head. “Sounds like the ethereals are chaos sowers. So much for believing they were simply plotting against dragons and dwarves. Doomsknights’ Dusk, maybe?”

“Doubtful,” the iron metallik said. “No one’s heard from them in years, and those ethereals don’t match their style. As it is, this might be a new threat altogether.”

Shame. Jakyra wouldn’t mind it so much if the ethereals came from a well-established, crazy organization like Doomsknights’ Dusk.

Talking ensued as the letter was further examined. Though no details about what scuffles the ethereals had gotten into with the other myiths were divulged, nor what their goals were, it was understood they were alarming enough for said myiths to inform the phoenix network. Masterfully crafted, they weren’t to be taken lightly, and further reports should be given if anyone encounters them.

“So they’re trouble,” Chief Barin concluded. “Guess we better file a report and dig into the matter soon. We may have a new danger to all of Fantasmyth on the horizon.”

With murmurs of agreement made, the talk relaxed into more casual matters. Jakyra sank her head into her thick body, finding the situation ridiculous now. What started as a third party protecting Iye from behind the scenes had evolved to a sinister newcomer in Fantasmyth’s rogue gallery. History was being made here.

This problem is now above me, she thought. I’m just an intermediary for Ismat, what have I to do with an intergovernmental threat?

That reminded her. She was now Ismat’s intermediary, and Ismat was a defense construct who was bound to the Dragon Crown’s command, right? Funny how priorities made that the least of her troubles today, what with the excitement the Blodoggs, Iye, and ethereals brought. Sauda would have a fit.

Well, being forcibly brought into the military for ‘defense duty’ and whatever other miscellaneous work Ismat and Brimir would expect her to do didn’t sound too bad. It effectively terminated her self-sufficient, wandering life and made it more complicated for her to constructively annoy the magic out of the Dragon Crown, but fine. She would just have to make the best of her situation.

Not that the job of being Ismat’s intermediary and his apprentice in a sense sounded constantly demanding. Maybe she could come to enjoy it, even use it to get on the nerves of the Crown more efficiently and with less backlash. Bonus points if she could get her hands on magic stuff to fight bad guys with.

“My liege,” Ismat spoke up with a raise of his head. “Would you say evil runs rampant in Fantasmyth?”

Jakyra found something about the wording unsettling, like Ismat was trying to steer the conversation back into the matter of Iye and the ethereals. “Evil ran rampant, not runs,” Brimir said with a similarly concerned face. “Ignoring the ethereal situation, things are relatively peaceful. I’ve heard of a few matters here and there, but those got quelled or died out before anything major came of them.”

“Why do you ask this?” The iron metallik dragon bluntly said, a scowl deforming his expression.

“I am a defense construct. Shouldn’t I know these things?” Ismat returned the scowl with a confident, lopsided smirk reeking of something devious. “But never mind that. I think it’s time I cleared up the tension between us and introduced my… sales pitch.”

Before anyone could speak, he hastily added, “I believe I owed your majesty questions about my intentions after regaining my fire magic, so allow me to explain. As I said before, I am willing to assist the dragons out of goodwill, but I desist being under the beck and call of your government. It’s not simply bias, but also the result of some enlightened thinking I’ve had for a long time.

“King Brimir, taking care of threats to the Dragon Crown is no longer enough for me. I request the right to my independence and the assembly of a group of myiths under my tutelage, ones who will combat the enemies and dangers of Fantasmyth itself.”

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About the author

SaadTheConjurer

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Bio: Peace be upon you.

You've met a madman with a fondness for ducks, striving to write high-quality stories.

Currently writing a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic on fanfiction.net and AO3 (not posting it on Royal Road just yet). Needs to write more original work sooner or later.

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