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Chapter 11 — Omniguards

 

Jakyra was anxious. Her talons tapped the stone of the cavern she lied within, eyes closed in rumination.

Two days ago Ismat created an impromptu team of peacekeeping mercenaries she felt inclined to join (with the impression she had little say anyway as his intermediary), and Gunnar too was broached on the subject. His older brother kicked up a storm of dust at that, claiming Ismat was harassing the younger dwarf into something shady, but in the end Gunnar gave a ‘let me think about it’ response. The conversation also gave insight into the dwarf’s family and his interest in blacksmithing and magic tinkering.

Two days ago the pair flew to a flowing mountain pass surrounded by tree-sprawled hills and jagged outcroppings. A branching pathway littered with debris sloped up into the hungry mouth of a cavern, its faded interior shielded from the sun’s rays. This was the cave she now resided in, cleared since of rubble and choking dust.

And in those two days, Jakyra had given Ismat her lackluster knowledge about the history of Fantasmyth he wasn’t present for, the cultures of today, what she knew of the Blodoggs and her personal narration of the fight against Iye, and so on. She also disclosed some information about herself and her life, all which served to please the construct. He in turn explained his intentions for the team he was formulating and how the next three months would go.

Which led Jakyra to a predicament. After some discussion, Ismat confessed he didn’t have a solid foundation on how mercenary groups functioned or how to run them, crushing her morale. She still was psyched despite how suddenly this whole thing descended upon her, but she at the very least expected Ismat to be competent at managing everything. Unfortunately, his knowledge didn’t cover the specifics.

Not only that, but Ismat had other problems. Vague rumors of a revered draconic construct had exploded, the Dragon Crown trying to control the situation. Even without that publicity, being an unregulated magic artifact and therefore threatened by reviled magic hunters made it unwise for him to leave the relative safety of the cave. Combined with his need to conserve mana for now, his abilities were limited.

Luckily, Jakyra had a solution in the form of a friend.

“My worst nightmare, someone whose face I cannot read,” Ismat said with all the grumpiness he could muster. “She is an elf, right? A pity I can’t see her pointy ears since they’re covered.”

Jakyra opened her eyes, smirking towards a stoic Sauda. For a revered construct, Ismat looked at things like a curious monkey in a concrete jungle.

Sauda kept her silence, letting Ismat continue his rambling. “Childish height, but that has its advantages. Overly dark clothing, loose but not restrictive in movement, mysterious and inexplicable face — I know not my assassins, but she strikes me as one. Though I don’t think assassins wear clothes that resemble casual wear. Elves can see in the dark like dragons and dwarves, right?”

Sauda turned to Jakyra and stared.

In spite of the breezy winds fluttering in, Jakyra’s forehead burned like a miniature campfire. “S-she doesn’t see herself as an assassin, just someone proficient with daggers.”
“A rogue?” Ismat stroked his chin, murmuring to himself before shaking his horns. “Never mind. Sauda, was it? My intermediary tells me you would be interested not only in my operation, but also in lending it a hand.”

Sauda nodded. Indeed, Jakyra had spoken with her friend yesterday, explaining her situation, and for once the elf expressed shock at how chaotic things became. When she mentioned the trouble she and Ismat were having, however, Sauda readily offered her expertise. After all, this was practically her field, she knew its inner workings best out of anyone Jakyra knew.

“I see. As my intermediary’s trusted friend, I feel comfortable confiding in you my situation, though I believe she has already discussed that and more with you.”

Another nod. Jakyra understood Ismat’s intention to create a team of myiths of varying races, not mainly dragons, that would come to be protectors against the dangers brewing around the continent. Ambitious, but not much crazier than little ol’ me stirring a craze within the Dragon Crown, she noted.

Naturally she told Sauda this and the stakes Ismat had set with the Crown. “What I wonder is how you internalized this desire for this team,” Sauda said. “And in no less than a suspicious span of a day and a half, unless you were active before Dragon King Brimir gave you a sample of fire mana.”

Ismat’s eyes widened, a tug at his mouth turning it lopsided. “Quiet but decisive voice, observant…” he muttered, giving Jakyra an appraising look. “Half-active, if you would. I came out of Scal with only remnant mana and in a muddled state, letting my magic run wild until the king gave me enough mana to regain lucidity. I’ve always had dreams of doing more than protecting dragonkind, but only once I truly reawakened did I seriously plan this out.”

“Is this why you snapped at Brimir for an intermediary?” Jakyra asked for confirmation.

“For when I inevitably formed my team? Partly.” Ismat’s demeanor turned a shade of mischievous. “But this is a tangent. Remind me to tell you what it really means to be my intermediary later.”

Jakyra frowned. What, was there something convoluted about her role that he couldn’t explain right now? Way to seed anxiety in her heart.

But like her fears about her future with Ismat, that was a problem for later.

Ismat paced around the hollow a little as he barked out his thoughts. “Now I know if this is going to work we first need to build up a team and a reputation through completing jobs. If we can establish some prestige, people should be at ease with my occupation in the team, allowing me to more directly partake in matters.”

“Either way, we’ll be able to forge alliances and good deals, maybe even secure myself the raw psychic mana I require. This culminates in us completing one of my challenge’s tasks and cementing our position as—” he paused, a rumbling noise in his throat. “Well, skilled vigilantes is one way to put it. Am I getting anything wrong?”

“You think too ideally,” Sauda commented, “but I’ll take note of your thoughts. About that mana, you do realize who owns the corresponding pool?”

Ismat and Jakyra shared a knowing look. Jakyra didn’t really dwell on it before, but there was a slight complication between the construct and the unicorns. Sauda being Sauda, her sentence was just alluding to something more.

“Yes, I know who turned Scal into the equivalent of a radioactive wasteland,” Ismat said. “The unicorns.”

Jakyra shared a solemn nod with Sauda. Right, that.

“And I say again, old wounds stay in the past. Why, I think I would defect to their side had I not chosen to get over my bitterness for something that happened—” Ismat tapped his claw twice, as if issuing an order.

“A hundred and one years ago,” Jakyra said with a roll of her eyes.

“A hundred and one years which I spent buried away.” Awe pierced his voice, as if the construct still couldn’t get over how long he had been away.

Ismat went on to mention his thoughts on tackling the wager itself. Amongst the three choices he had, Iye was the simplest target. His broken artifact would leave a trail behind and his criminal status with the dragons was prone to Ismat’s passive dangersense, provided the distance wasn’t too great. The ethereals were too bizarre and unpredictable for now but would be kept an eye on in case. The Blodoggs, meanwhile, seemed like slippery bandits, although a good bait and trap might give them a chance to strike at their core. Three months wasn’t much time, but if used right, he believed they would get through in no time.

“But of course,” Ismat said, “I am not as well-suited as I wish I was at leading these operations, I don’t even understand how to set up a team. And besides, in the pitiful chance three months go by and I permanently become the Dragon Crown’s slave, it would be good for you to have some independence from your supervisor.”

“You want me to ground the team for you,” Sauda said.

Ismat sighed, stammering on this part. “I want you to organize and lead it.”

Jakyra got up on her claws in a flash. Woah, what?

“There, said it.” For some reason Ismat sniggered at himself, a wing on his forehead. “My tactical mind isn’t experienced in this regard. Moreover, I’m realizing that magical beings such as I cannot roam so freely, not without attracting unwanted attention that I cannot yet afford. It is far more sensible to have a myith in charge.”

The construct’s expression hardened as he tossed a glance at Jakyra. “And I’m told you would be a good leader for my team. Well?”

Sauda stood silently, the confident aura in her frame a bizarre match for Ismat’s. Accustomed as Jakyra was to the authority her short friend could project, a sense of marvel surged within her. Here the elf appeared to stand on equal terms with that giant of a draconic construct.

Sauda turned to Jakyra, the glint in her usually still, gray eyes brightening the cloak of darkness enveloping her. “Remember when I asked before if you were interested in a partnership?” she said.

The words refreshed a year-old memory inside Jakyra’s mind: Sauda, commenting on Jakyra’s battle skills, proposing they both go together in the mercenary business, and Jakyra politely declining. And for what reason? Out of fear of having to adjust to a new life and job.

How things had changed. “Is the offer still on the table?” Jakyra said with a smile.

“Shelved, but I can dust it off.” Sauda gave a curt nod to Ismat. “I will take charge with respect to your wishes.”

“So be it,” Ismat said with a bow of his horns. “And I thank you both.”

“You owe me,” Jakyra snarkily told the construct. After sacrificing herself for Ismat’s sake, it was only fair for her to tease him for it. “You owe me for doing you this huge favor.”

Ismat cocked his head. “I own you? That’s nice.”

That made Jakyra fume. Darn it, Ismat was twisting her words!

A sudden pull yanked her claw, and Jakyra found herself being led out the cave at Sauda’s hand, one of which signaled Ismat to stay put. “Personal,” she said. Ismat made a fuss but let them go.

Sauda perched herself on a rocky formation outside, leaning on it and staring at lonely clouds overlooking hills of gray, brown, and green, who in turn watched over the pass at their feet. A few tweets and the wanderings of a goatlike creature in the far distance served to add ambience along with the rustlings of the wind. The only thing missing was travelers, but with this pass rarely used, it wasn’t much to hope for.

“You said this would be your home?” she said as Jakyra came over, one claw grasping a chopped tree stump.

“It’s nice here,” Jakyra said with a grin. “Ismat said it looked like a good quiet area, not too far from civilization but still wild enough for a construct and her intermediary to claim for themselves, and I said it wasn’t too far away for you to come when needed. It’ll serve for now.”

A short silence came between the two as they observed a flock of birds rising into the sky, their bodies screening the sunlight for a fraction of a second. “I knew Ismat needed someone to rely on, but I didn’t think he’d put you in charge,” Jakyra muttered.

She lightly nudged the elf for comment, accidentally poking a metal blade inside the folds of her clothes. Because of course Sauda kept weapons (although licensed ones) on her person.

“I don’t mind being your master too,” Sauda slowly said, more focused on the view.

“Oh, haha.”

“Hmph. Me leading a team is a dream come true, ignore the rhyme. Maybe a tad beyond me, not to mention Ismat’s a heavy twist, but I will make do. Pray his intentions are as clean as he presents them.”

Sauda distrusted Ismat. Well, a little, but go figure.

“I’ll have to formalize this team and look into suitable jobs and recruits. You said a dwarf was in this?”

“Gunnar? I don’t know,” Jakyra said, holding back a rude laugh. “Ismat kind of shoehorned him into this, but he does seem genuinely interested in being part of a peacekeeping squadron. We’ll see how it goes.”

She brought her gaze towards Sauda, who responded by cupping her hands. Both pairs of eyes met, self-reflections within the others’ pupils as clear as daylight. In that moment, everything around Jakyra seemed to fade away, the two of them the only thing of importance here.

“Impulse?” Sauda whispered.

Jakyra felt her stomach grow as hollow as the nearby cave. Her face scrunched up, an awkward wheeze of shame slipping past her clenched teeth.

Impulse. A term that well defined her decision to stick with Ismat and partake in his goal to create a team of peacekeepers for Fantasmyth. As much of an influence other factors had, her motivation to best Iye dominant among them, it ultimately came down to her deciding to go with the flow. To do this without thinking things through.

Almost like how she got into her relationship with the Dragon Crown years ago. That started on a whim, but in time she embraced the position she put herself into. And somehow she made it unscathed, so what stopped her from being Ismat’s intermediary and a major member of his ‘vigilantes?’

“Are you really committed to this?” Sauda interrupted her thoughts.

Jakyra moved away from her spot with a snort. “You’re not going to gut me for following my gut feeling, or at least tease me about when I turned you down before?”

She knew what she was getting into: a call to adventure. Ismat had come out of nowhere and thrown her into a wild ride of a day, topping it off with a pathway to heroism. That basically was how the construct saw his squadron, as heralds of peace and harmony that would banish all evils. And Jakyra knew what a spiral her life would go into by playing hero.

That didn’t deter her.

“I am not missing out on being on a mercenary team with a freaking revered construct and my best friend.” Jakyra threw wholehearted conviction into her voice. “That sounds like more excitement and fun than the Dragon Crown could ever give me, with the added bonus of doing the continent some good. Count me in.”

With a flick of her body Sauda pushed herself off her rocky perch and leapt to ground level. She only nodded, but the spark in her eyes could not be missed.

The pair returned to the cave mouth, where Ismat lied. He paid them no attention, possessed by a dreamy look as he took in the rugged land sprawled in front of him. A sigh left his maw.

“Ismat?” Jakyra said.

The construct barely batted an eye. “Lovely, isn’t it?” came his voice, richer than usual. “This world, the beasts that inhabit it, the plants growing from within — it’s beautiful. I’ve known of its appearance, but knowledge will never compare to the experience. Without this physical form, would I ever truly understand why mortals appreciate it so?”

A grin plastered to his face. “This is what I seek to preserve. There are terrible things beneath the surface of this beauty, and the thought of such blemishes twisting the land gnaws at my magical heart. I wish to protect this whole world, to serve as its guards.”

A twitch permeated throughout his face, as if something had dawned upon him. “Yes, I have it! To serve as its guards, its Omniguards.”

Jakyra whistled. “Omniguards, Defenders of Fantasmyth. Catchy.”

“And terribly idealistic,” Sauda said. No balaclava could stop Jakyra from sensing the tiny smile the elf must’ve put on that moment. “But the name will serve.”

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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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