135. Northeast... or Southwest?
The world spun around me— I could feel the wind grazing against my scales. The still night was unusually bright, as if some sort of magic limned the shadows creeping in every corner, revealing anything hidden from sight.
I flew higher and higher, away from Unarith. I saw the minarets disappearing below me. Those tall towers which dared to reach for the stars were now nothing but specks in the ground. I was spinning, falling, soaring.
I could not move. I was stuck in place while the skies and the earth that shifted, moving me towards the Plaguelands. I saw the blight billowing up— it covered the vast landscape like a blanket of green. Such vile magic, produced from the flowers planted by Lilian.
Craning my head back, I took note of the direction I came from. Unarith was to the… southwest? That was right, right? So, I had to head northeast.
I continued sailing through the air, carried through the Plaguelands, seemingly empty of its previous undead inhabitants. That was because this was not real. It was not a representation of reality. It was a vision.
What do you see? a voice asked me. It almost sounded like my own voice— as if it were my own thoughts. But I knew the real speaker behind it.
Xidra the [Herbalist].
“I see… dead forests. Hills, as far as I can see. They look like rocks wrinkling the ground from this height.”
Pay attention. Look at your surroundings. Make out anything unique— anything you can use to lead you to your destination.
I nodded. Sweeping my gaze through the landscape, I tried to discern anything I could, a sharp and distinctive feature, piercing through the veil of blight for me to see. I spotted a small town. It was run-down, half of it eaten up by a blight flower field. Beyond it was a plateau— its cliffs were steep, running down its sides in an inverted angle.
What else, Salvos the [Mage]?
“There is a valley. The same place where we confronted Gexli. And… a fallen city.”
The city I first met Xidra in. Where the blight grew thin— its pressure almost entirely alleviated.
I was flying faster and faster. The magic sustaining this vision was coming to an end soon. I could see the mana threads holding it together dissolve, begin to fall apart. I had to get to the Scale Guardians’ treasures before that happened.
Zipping between the broken buildings, I began to lose track of where I was, or where I was even going. I found myself being tugged along, like I was wrapped in chains, being whipped around sharp turns, yanked further and further into the city. I glanced about, trying to reorient myself. What was in my surroundings? There was a tower. Was it a part of a temple? The rest of the structure around it lay fallen, however it could have been a grand place of worship once. Slightly to its left, right at the edge of the city, was a mountain. It stood tall— taller than any hills I had seen so far. But just as it seemed to reach its peak, it had a depression digging down into its center. Why was that?
I didn’t have any time to ask questions. Because, suddenly, I was falling. I descended— through rubble and earth, straight down into darkness. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was blotted out. It was not just dark. There also wasn’t anything to see.
It was just dirt and stone. This was not a tunnel. I was simply going through the ground. My body was not physical— not in a vision.
Everything was a blur. I had no idea what direction was up or down.anymore. I just let it bring me to my destination. I burst through a wall, finding myself in a massive cave chamber. It was damp, with visible moisture filling the air. There was a thin layer of mist, coming from the pool or lake that comprised more than half of the floor.
Most of the land stuck to the left, towards a tunnel that led up. And to the right was the water, with an island in the very middle of it. There, in the center of that small piece of earth, lay a body.
The remains of a Kobold poked out of the earth, most of its body buried under the sand and dirt. It clutched onto something at its chest. It was like a spear, except it had long, white feathers sticking out where the spearhead should be. Its color was pure, unsullied from the Plaguelands and from time itself. The long handle was golden, decorated with gemstones and runes.
It was the Herald’s Brush.
Do you see it? Xidra asked.
“I… think so? I don’t see the Totem of Incense though.”
Find it. It should be with—
The woman’s voice was interrupted as more words popped into my head. Gah! I don’t think I can keep it up any longer!
I desperately looked around the cave chamber. The Totem of Incense was supposed to be large. And yet, I saw nothing. There was nothing else here.
Sorry, aunt. I’m ending the spelll!
I reached a hand out as I tried to protest. But the world was slowly shattered around me. It fell like a curtain of glass, each shard tumbling down into darkness as reality took the place of what was gone. I blinked, rubbing at my eyes.
And I found myself at the very top of the Risen Dragon’s Shrine. I was at its roof, under the decorated domed ceiling. I sat up, glancing over at Hoxle. He was panting, bent over and clutching his knees.
“Bring me back!”
I exclaimed, pointing at him. He shook his head.
“No can do. You already pushed me to my limit.”
I glanced over at Xidra who had her arms crossed. I gave her a pleading look.
“Can you get him some mana potions? I couldn’t find the Totem of Incense!”
“I’m sorry. That spell is not constrained by his mana reserves. No— he had projected you to a far away location. Somewhere he has never been before. He has no connections to it. It is the distance and the unknown that strains him. Even if he tries again, this time you may not even get to the treasures of the Scale Guardians.”
Hoxle straightened and adjusted his robes. His exhaustion from before was almost gone. He held up a hand, clearing his throat.
“Nope. Sorry. I’m not using that Skill again. And even if you somehow convince me to use it, you’ll have to wait a day.”
My shoulders sagged.
“It matters not, Salvos the [Mage]. You have seen where to go. You have laid eyes on what you needed to. The Totem of Incense should be close. I trust that you will not fail your task.”
Xidra spoke placatingly, placing a clawed hand on my back. I scowled, instinctively poking at the scales on my neck out of frustration. Certainly, I had made sure to pay careful attention as the vision progressed. I just had to relay that information to my companions, then we would reach the treasures just fine!
I faced the Kobold woman, scratching the back of my head. There was no hair there— just rough scales.
“So… Daniel, Edithe, and I will grab these treasures. Then we return and give you your Totem of Incense, which you’ll destroy?”
“That is right.”
She nodded, explaining.
“Once you return with the Totem of Incense, we will destroy the totem in front of all to see. A grand ritual will have to be held. Dragon bone will be crushed, grounded to dust, and turned to a blaze which captures the former glory of the Old Gods: Dragon flame.”
I cocked my head to the side. She smiled, glancing up.
I followed her gaze. I didn’t see anything. Just the gilded ceiling, patterned with gemstones that almost seemed to glow, even in the dark. It limned the mural for me to see— I had previously thought it was a nonsensical design just to look aesthetically pleasing, but I now realized that the mural was incomplete. Before I could say anything, she turned around, gesturing for me to follow.
“Come, Salvos the [Mage]. It is time for you to leave and return to your companions. Tak your time. Gather yourselves. And when you are ready— when all of you are recovered and prepared for another adventure— you may venture into the Dead Zone, in search of our lost treasures.”
Xidra did not escort me all the way out of Unarith. She simply brought me out of the shrine, stopping at the double doors at the front, bidding me farewell. I focused my thoughts, repeating the directions from the vision to myself.
“Ok, first go northeast— no, southwest. Wait, no, I was right the first time. I think? Maybe it’s southwest. Yep, southwest. Alright, then when I reach the Plaguelands, look for a dead forest…”
My murmurings stopped as I glanced up. I narrowed my eyes, feeling the same sensation of before. That of being watched. [Passive - A Hunter’s Sense] warned me that someone was not-so-sneakily trying to tail me. Was it Zix?
I looked back, past the few other Kobolds filling the street. None of them seemed to be the culprits. Their colorful scales were quite clear during the day— and it was morning— so most Kobolds wouldn’t exactly be the most inconspicuous unless they had a Skill of sorts.
Pretending to know where I was going, I slipped down in between some houses and walked over a wooden bridge. I passed by some scarcely grown crops, stopping to gaze at some odd-looking plants. The Kobold man who owned the land came out of his house to greet me, and I respectfully inquired him about what they were for.
He told me that they were cyric cacti, for attracting the Jerker Locusts away from their other crops. I listened intently until I saw a flash of green bending over and entering a small hut-like building. I excused myself and hurried after the figure.
I pushed aside the drapes hanging over the doorway, entering the shop. A Cyclops man stood over a counter, turning to face me at the slight jingle of the bells loosely held by a thread at the curtain-tips.
Pausing for a moment, I corrected myself.
“Adan the [Trader], it is a pleasure to see you again.”
His one eye blinked as I walked up to the counter. He peered at me curiously, as if he had many questions. But eventually, he decided not to ask any of them.
“Salvos the [Mage], how may I help you today?”
I placed my hands behind my back as Xidra would, sweeping my gaze around the shop. The feeling of being watched was still there. I ignored it, focusing on what I could see. The display behind his counter was gone. It was the rows of hooks that held the Horn of the Caller I bought when I previously came here, right next to a side door leading further into the building.
The countertop was clear of goods too. In fact, most of Adan’s wares had been emptied— his stock was running low, and I was pretty sure he would leave Unarith soon. What was left were mostly generic goods. Potions you would find being sold by other [Traders].
I picked a healing potion off a shelf, as if inspecting it.
“I was planning on leaving the city soon— perhaps in a week’s time— to return to the Dead Zone. I am soon reaching my evolution, and I am afraid that my excitement may drive me to recklessness. Do you have anything that could possibly offer me extra protection in this shop?”
I shot him an inquiring gaze. The Cyclops man bowed slightly, speaking apologetically.
“I apologize, Salvos the [Mage]. As you can see, most of what I have brought to your wonderful city has been bought off me. All I can offer are the potions you see before you.”
I raised a brow slightly.
“Very well, I shall take them.”
Digging into my robes, I stopped myself from pulling out my coin pouch. That was definitely not what would be used by Kobolds to pay for goods. They did trades and bartering, not transactions.
My companions and I were running out of potions, so I did want to buy them off Adan. However, there was nothing I could give him. Nothing but what I had on me. And there was nothing I was readily willing to part with. Definitely not my Greaves of the Wanderer. Maybe my Ring of Lesser Protection. Or my Necklace of Obfuscation. There is also the Horn of the Caller, but that’s—
I paused as I felt at something else around my neck. It was a lesser-used artifact, thanks to it not being very useful, and not being able to be used a lot of the time too. My Amulet of Strength.
I produced the artifact for Adan to see, and gestured at the potion rack.
“I will take however many this Amulet of Strength can buy.”
He took a few moments to look at it, perhaps using a Skill to discern its worth, before he nodded and closed his hand around it. He gave me a number which I didn’t dispute, before grabbing an even spread of healing, mana, and stamina potions for me to keep.
I let him gently store it into my sack as I made ‘small talk’.
“I very much adore your wares, Adan the [Trader]. Doing business with you is always a pleasure.”
“Why, of course. It is my delight to be of use to you.”
I nodded, smiling as I stuck my tongue out.
“However, I was wondering if there was really nothing else you can offer me. Perhaps a kind of Draconic Scalemail? Armor that would greatly boost my defenses?”
“I apologize again, Salvos the [Mage], but—”
I glanced slightly to the back, the front door right at my peripherals.
“Surely there is something more here. Perhaps… in your back room?”
I glanced at the door, almost hidden behind the counter. He frowned and rubbed his chin. His mouth opened, but I spoke over him insistently.
“There has to be something valuable, no?”
His single eye lit up. He finally got what I was saying. He stuffed the last of my potions into my sack, finally amicable to my suggestion, as if he remembered a High Grade artifact he had been saving to sell at a later date.
“Certainly, there is more for you to see. If you, ah, just follow me to the back—”
“Tarba the [Rogue], don’t you think we should follow after her?”
The gray-scaled Kobold glanced back. He saw a younger man peering at him, the uncertainty evident on his face. He was Level 91— a high level for his age. But that also meant a lack of experience.
“Our target has disappeared into the back room. If we lose sight—”
Tarba held up a clawed hand. He felt at the dagger hanging by his waist— the poison already coated on its tip. He faced the younger man— the others behind him shrinking back at his gaze.
“Holdo the [Warrior], do you wish to compromise us by revealing ourselves to her?”
“No, that’s not what I meant—”
The younger man started, but Tarba glared his way. He was the one in charge of this mission— he had to prove himself to the High Zealot. How could he let a foolish youngling’s mistakes cause him to fail?
“We cannot follow after her. We simply stay put and continue to observe her.”
Hesitating, Holdo glanced back at the shop.
“But what if she already knows we’re here? What if she realized we’re following her?”
“That is nonsense.”
Tarba shook his head, looking back into the hut-like building. His keen sight allowed him to see clearly everything that was happening there.
“She cannot possibly know we’re here. She is too low leveled. Look, the Cyclops is returning—”
He paused. His eyes grew wide, and Holdo blinked.
“What do you see, Tarba the—”
Tarba did not respond. Instead, he burst into action.
In a single jump, he crossed the distance to the shop and circled around it. He felt the woman’s presence growing weaker and weaker. The others following him were not as fast, barely able to keep up with him. He was fast, after all.
He had been confident in his speed, which was why he decided his evolution at Level 100 should make him stronger instead. He would catch this woman before she even turned another corner. At least, that was what he thought.
How? Tarba turned corner after corner, his sense of where she was going growing fainter and fainter. I am Tarba, [Shroudstalker] and [Enforcer Wyrm]. A low leveled [Mage] shouldn’t be able to— He ran as fast as he could, finally deciding to activate his Skills. Shouldn’t be able to escape from me!
But it was too late. His footsteps slowed and he came to a stop, realizing he had lost her. She was gone.
I skipped my way out of Unarith, glad to have gotten rid of that uncomfortable feeling of being watched. The city was far behind me now— the potions I had bought from Adan filling my sack.
I found my companions where I had left them. Daniel was scribbling in his diary, while Edithe was casting a simple fire spell. The pair turned to face me as I arrived. They opened their mouths— and I exclaimed.
“It was northeast! I was wrong, it was definitely northeast!”