We approached the city of Unarith from high above. The peaking minarets— towers that reached for the skies— looked like thin sticks poking out of the ground from this height. I felt the wind blowing on my face, and saw the sky like an ocean above me.
I had never actually seen the ocean; the most I saw was a portrait of it, hanging on the wall of an inn or a tavern. I have seen lakes— other bodies of water. But never the ocean itself.
Edithe told me that it was a beautiful sight: when the sun set over the line where the sky met the sea, an orange glow reflected off the water surface, sparkling, glittering like gold. I wasn’t infatuated with gold as Humans were. I didn’t see the value in it, other than when I was pretending to be a Princess.
However, I certainly thought that the vast sights to behold in the Mortal Realm were far more captivating than the blandness of the Netherworld. Everything about it was the same. Meanwhile, everywhere I went in the Mortal Realm, I would experience new things.
Like right now, I was experiencing flight for the first time. And so were my companions. The three of us were being carried by Hoxle into Unarith. He lifted me from under my arms while Daniel and Edithe clung onto his legs; he could have just carried us all in a hug, but it was too uncomfortable for him.
He didn’t enjoy too much physical exposure with others.
Daniel started, right as we began our descent to the Shrine of the Risen Dragons. The Kobold glanced lazily down at the Human man, his flight uninterrupted, his wings continuing their loud flapping behind him.
“Did the Scale Sentinels mention anything else about us? Any… specifics about our Classes or Levels?”
“Nope. Whatever missive they got must have been short— the Scale Sentinels don’t seem to know anything beyond where you were located, and that you were Humans working with our faction.”
“Well, that’s good.”
The [Hero] adjusted something around his neck. His Necklace of Greater Obfuscation. He equipped it after the sneak attack last night. I didn’t mind if he kept his Class secret from Xidra or Hoxle— they may have been my friends, but they weren’t his companions.
We arrived at the Shrine of the Risen Dragons soon after. Hoxle didn’t crash by some miracle, instead gently letting us off under its domed roof. Xidra stood there, waiting for us, her hands hidden behind her back.
“Salvos the [Mage], Edithe the [Mage], and Daniel the [Warrior], it is a pleasure to see you all again. Although, the circumstances are less than ideal.”
I returned the greeting just as a Kobold would. While it was now known that I was working with Humans, I wanted to maintain the guise of being a Kobold. Especially since more eyes would be fixed on me than ever before, and I may not even know it.
“Xidra the [Mage], I apologize for the situation we’re in. I take full responsibility for the problems that have risen overnight.”
I didn’t actually believe that. It just seemed like the appropriate thing to say. Xidra gestured for us to follow— Hoxle included— as she headed down the stairs.
“Yes, yes.The past night’s events have been… tumultuous, to say the least. But not unexpected. I have made some precautions in the event that this would happen.”
“What kind of precautions?”
I raised a brow. Xidra paused by a window. She nodded at it, and I peeked through. The Shrine of the Risen Dragons was located in the center of a large plot of land— it was surrounded by fields, tilled and growing with lush vegetation, the ones that produced a fresh and bountiful harvest.
However, the fields looked different from when I last saw it. I saw plants… moving? Daniel told me all plants moved. He told me that they were alive. However, I have never seen one actually crawl through the dirt, like a predator lying in wait for its prey.
It looked like a flower. Except, its petals formed a face. Its thorns reached out, digging into the earth like tendrils. It was bent over amongst the other undergrowth, about as tall as I was as a Kobold.
This wasn’t the only creature lurking in the fields. There were others. Most of them were smaller. They were even more well-hidden. I wouldn’t have noticed them if Xidra didn’t point them out.
“What… what is that?”
I gaped in awe at these tiny, little creatures. The Kobold woman smiled. A Kobold smile.
“These are my guardians. I have called upon them to protect my domain. To keep outsiders away from this shrine.”
“You can do that?!”
“It is a part of my Class.”
She explained, continuing down the stairway until we were just outside of her room. She pulled the door open, letting us enter before her.
“I am a [Hearthkeeper of Fauna]. It may not be a combat Class, but combat is a part of what I do as a leader of the Risen Dragons. To ensure the safety of my people, I must fight. And this is one way that can be achieved.”
“Are they… living things?”
“The critters you saw are not blessed with life, but are animated by mana. It is the same way Golems and undead can move. But my Nature Spawns are even more limited in thought. And their levels are not impressive. The highest among them is 40, while most are barely above 10.”
I stopped, turning to face the Kobold woman as she entered the room.
“Wouldn’t Zix be able to… just kill all of them?”
“That is very perceptive of you, Salvos the [Mage].”
She shut the door behind her. Hoxle didn’t follow after. He seemed to have stopped to cast a spell of some kind outside.
“My Nature Spawns are a precaution. They are not there to prevent an assault, only to deter one. I have other such deterrences, such as the simple barrier I had my [Runemages] set up around the shrine. And the small army of guards stationed right at the entrance, of course.”
The Kobold woman shook her head, taking a seat across from us on an orange wooden chair. A rounded table separated her from us. It didn’t have any refreshments— too which, good! I’d rather not hear my companions noisily chomping down on some snacks while we were having an important conversation!
“No— the main reason why the Scale Sentinels won’t be able to act is simple: the law prevents them from doing so.”
Daniel and Edithe blinked while I glanced between them, confused by their reactions. Xidra chuckled, making herself comfortable in her seat.
“I am aware that Humans view us Kobolds as relatively primitive. We don’t have castles or palaces as you do, nor do we have walls protecting our cities. But that is because we do not believe they are necessary. Nature itself can serve as our barriers. Look at where this city is located— there are no monsters lurking these plains, no armies marching down our borders. The Dead Zone guards our left, and the tall mountains watch our right.
“And if nature itself does not suffice, then magic can do anything that your walls can. That is the difference between Humankind and Koboldkind. We do not focus on creating the appearance of strength, we trust and believe in our strength, acting only out of necessity. Furthermore, we do not war with each other. Not in the same way Humans do.”
I cocked my head, asking the question both my companions probably had in their minds.
“Then how do Kobolds make war?”
“We clash in ideas. In philosophies. In beliefs. Not in land or power. When factions wage war against one another, they do not do it to lay claim over a shrine. It is because of ideological purposes. After all, ideas persist. They do not erode with time. There is a continuity with ideas that nothing else has. Ideas are true power.”
Xidra adjusted her robes, dusting it down, and taking a deep breath.
“Enough about that. I have requested to speak with both Humans for a reason. It is a vital one. One which I believe you should know. The reason why Kobolds and Humans have been in war for thousands of years.”
I raised my hand.
“What about me?”
“You? You can stay.”
I beamed, happily placing my hand on my lap, swaying like the hands of a broken clock as Daniel and Edithe took over. The Human man was first to speak.
“Hoxle… the [Diviner] mentioned something about the end of the world. He didn’t want to elaborate any further and told us we should save any questions we had for you.”
“Indeed. Not all of the younger generations are as invested in the scriptures of old. While Hoxle the [Diviner] may be aware of the basics about what is to come, he would not be able to give either of you answers that I would find satisfactory.”
“And what is this end of the world, anyways?”
Daniel crossed his arm. He was dubious. Or maybe suspicious; I couldn’t tell the difference.
“It is what it sounds like. It is the end of all things. The final days for every living being that walks the Nexeus. The deletion of the world. The Apocalypse.”
“I think I have heard about this before.”
Edithe leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. She glanced over at me and Daniel, beginning to explain.
“It’s in the history books. Well, some versions of some history books. There are various historians with various different accounts— regardless, I once read about this Apocalypse. It was cited to be one of the reasons for the first Kobold invasion of the Human lands. And that Humans were the root cause of it.”
For whatever reason, Daniel scowled and muttered something in English under his breath. Something about Humans… and destroying the environment?
Xidra faced the red-haired woman with a smile. Except, it was not a Kobold smile. She looked like she was trying to mimic a Human smile. I found it cute— endearing— but my companions were slightly horrified by it.
“That is correct, Edithe the [Mage]. But only to a certain extent. Certainly, Koboldkind had hoped to prevent the Apocalypse by invading the Human lands. However, that was foolish of us. That should have only been our final option. But we saw your Immortal King, and we were afraid. So, we attacked. We waged war when war wasn’t necessary. When talks— dialogue between our people— would have sufficed.”
“Wait, so you’re saying that us Humans were truly doing things that’s causing this Apocalypse?”
The Kobold woman tilted her head back, as if in thought.
“Causing it? Perhaps not. But exacerbating it? Yes. Your Species has wrought more than you know. And it is not something of the past. It is something Humans continue and will continue to do, unless stopped.”
Edithe frowned. While she definitely wanted to come into this conversation with an open mind, what she was hearing was probably hard for her to accept. If I was understanding this right— Xidra basically agreed that Humans, while not responsible, were very much contributors to this whole ‘end of the world’ thing.
The red-haired woman met the gaze of Xidra, almost challengingly.
“And what is the cause for this Apocalypse? What are Humans apparently doing right now that makes you say that?”
The First Dragonling; Xidra the [Herbalist]; the Kobold who I saved, and both mine and Edithe’s friend sighed. She got to her feet, staring at both Humans as she gave her answer.
Xidra’s voice came out in a whisper. It was soft. Almost distant. It was the way one would speak to a child when telling them the harsh truth. Edithe’s eyes grew wide, and Daniel’s hands dropped freely to his sides.
“With each summoning ritual your kind conducts— for every Spirit, Demon, and [Hero] you bring to this plane to carry out your selfish desires— you leave a hole in our world. While each is small, tiny in the grand scheme of things. They accumulate. And it will destroy everything that keeps the Nexeus intact. It will tear down the very fabric of our reality. When that happens, this world, and everything in it, will fall into the void. Gone, lost outside of time and space.”