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148. Darkening Horizons

An ethereal creature came crashing down at me. The image of a Dragon tore apart the earth, shredding through the ground, blending it into mud and spraying it into the air. A [Flame Burst] pulled me to the side just in time. I barely avoided the attack. It was the kind of Skill I expected a [Hero] to have. Not some random Kobold man!

“[Wrath of the Old Gods]. Hrmph, so you survived its fury.”

Zix strolled past the carnage he had wrought, casual, ignoring the falling debris and dust around him, each nonchalant stride bringing him closer and closer to me. I growled, activating [Ember Core] as he came to a stop ten paces away from me. With that single Skill, he ravaged half of the area, turning it into a cratered mess jutting out with the occasional spiky rocks and rubble, poking out like shattered teeth hiding in the sand.

The crowd was deathly quiet now; the damage Zix inflicted upon the land was enough to even instill fear within the watchers. I couldn’t see my companions from where I was standing, but I had no doubts that they were clutching at their chests and worried for my life.

I shook my head, dusting myself off.

“That makes no sense.”

I steadied myself, facing down Zix as he loomed over me. He was large for a Kobold. His scales were the same color as the night. But that didn’t matter. I tugged at the threads at my fingers as I spoke out.

“You’re saying that you want to kill all Humans just because a few of them are doing bad things?”

“No.”

He let out a mirthless laugh. It sounded more cruel— the kind of chuckle I’d expect from a wild Demon. The flames girdling the arena cast a sheen over his obsidian body; the fire danced in his eyes, flickering, swaying, reflecting a burning hatred in them.

“I do not simply wish to eradicate all of Humankind. I will bring their [Heroes] to their knees, tear down their monuments to both Spirits and Demons, and cleanse the Mortal Realm of all the heretics who dared challenge the Cult of the Old Gods.”

I blinked.

“That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”

“Perhaps, but it is the only way the world—”

He didn’t get to finish. Once again, Zix was so caught up in his own words, he let his guard down. I dashed forward as the Star Forge came into existence right behind me. Its twinkling form shifted. It contracted, then began to expand as I lashed out at the Kobold man with a [Barrage of Cinders].

Bracing himself, Zix held up his arms in a cross. But I pulled away at the last second. [Flame Burst] yanked me to his right as the enlarged Star Forge snapped down at him. The warped orb of fire began to twist and turn, spiking out from all sides as a significant chunk of my mana disappeared, before it finally combusted.

The blast shot up out of the ground like a white spear. One that consumed everything within it, incinerating even the ghost of the ashes caught within the flames. It lit up the night sky. A beacon for all those around Unarith to see.

But that wasn’t all. I stepped back from the raging inferno and unleashed a cone of blue flames into the mix. The blazing wave washed over the earth, turning it into a deep black. If this arena ever had arable soil— if it ever was capable of growing crops— it was no longer the case now.

It’s a good thing Zix talks a lot. It was something I noticed, even back in Ghostlight. He enjoyed hearing himself speak. It was something that resonated with me. The sound of my own voice was alluring, especially when I wasn’t in my Mortal Form. And I often made the mistake of speaking too much in battle.

But I wasn’t the one making this mistake now.

I was grinning. I created a kusarigama, ready to strike whatever burnt remains of a Kobold came stumbling out of the flames. But the smile soon slipped off my face. My tongue receded back into my mouth as I saw the obsidian-scaled Kobold walking out of the fire. He halted as my magic dissipated. His robes were entirely burnt off, the wound in his chest still there. And his body was singed, covered in light burns. But otherwise, he was unharmed.

I stared at the High Zealot as he showed a grin of his own.

“H-how…?”

***

Edithe couldn’t believe her eyes at what she saw. She just witnessed Salvos let loose some of the most powerful magic the Demon had ever cast, only for Zix to shrug it off with only a few scratches to his body.

The red-haired woman knew it was magic above Salvos’ level. She knew that Salvos could only conjure such powerful flames that quickly thanks to Daniel’s boon. But it wasn’t enough to even come close to killing the Kobold.

“That’s fucking bullshit!”

Daniel glanced her way, startled by the sudden outburst. Edithe didn’t feel embarrassed. She couldn’t help but curse. That was because she saw something only she could see. Perhaps Salvos might be able to discern it if she really looked for it. But Edithe highly doubted that was high in the Demon’s priority list right now.

“What is wrong, Edithe the [Mage]?”

Xidra stepped up to the red-haired woman’s side.

“What’s wrong? You tell me what’s wrong— how the fuck does Zix have a dozen different layers of spells protecting him against fire?”

“Does he?”

“And it’s not just regular spells. They’re Skills! They have to be Skills. There is no way he was able to cast magic that uniform so many times over himself.”

Edithe watched as Zix leapt at Salvos. The battle in the arena resumed after the brief interlude. The powerful magic from Salvos had taken many of the onlookers out from their immersion from its intense heat. But now, they were starting a soft chant. A susurration that was slowly spreading through the crowd of Kobolds surrounding the arena.

It pissed off Edithe. Why were they all on his side? There had to be some supporting Salvos, right? Well, if they were present, they were being awfully quiet. Maybe only Xidra and the few guards from the Risen Dragons were actually rooting for Salvos.

And they were here, far to the side, almost entirely separated from the arena.

“That is… an interesting observation.”

Xidra’s voice drew Edithe’s attention away from the fighting. Zix was relentlessly pressing Salvos with powerful strikes. The Demon managed to avoid most of them, but failed to rally any sort of proper counter attack which could harm the Kobold. So, they were at a stalemate.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

The tone of Xidra’s voice clued Edithe in that something was amiss. Xidra crossed her arms, her face twisting to a scowl.

“Zix the [Warrior] may be powerful, however he lacks the capacity to cast such magic. His Class is a variation of a [Monk]. He draws power from his own will. He does not use mana or magic in the sense which you are describing. The same goes for his evolution. My nephew can attest to that.”

She glanced over at Hoxle, and he nodded.

“Yep. We’re [Dragonets]. Well, I’m just an ordinary [Dragonet] since I haven’t gotten past Level 40 yet for it. But even if he somehow reached Level 100 for his evolution, I don’t think he could’ve possibly been given a super [Mage] kind of an option along the way. We’re a very physical Subspecies, you see.”

He flexed an arm and spread his wings out wide. Edithe ignored it, instead looking at the arena in anger.

“That damn cheater!”

She stomped a foot on the ground right as an explosion resounded in the background. Zix took to the skies, avoiding the blast of rock and debris that hailed back down from the blast.

“He’s using others’ Skills— no, artifacts too, to give him his extreme fire resistance. Does that bastard not know honor?”

“I mean, we did cheat too, but, uh…”

Daniel spoke in a small voice. Edithe glared his way, promptly shutting him up before he could continue.

“We have to tell Salvos about this. The only way she’ll be able to defeat him is if she fights him without using her magic.”

She started forward, only for Xidra to put a hand out.

“Assisting a combatant during the Trial of the Scales is strictly forbidden by its rules. You will violate the sanctity of this duel if you speak up.”

Edithe frowned as the chanting in the background grew louder. She wanted to argue— but time was running out. Salvos only had half an hour before [The Will of the Hero]’s effects came to an end. And while the duel hadn’t raged on for that long, the Demon was given the Skill before the fighting started.

“Both Zix and Salvos have already broken the rules to this stupid duel. And if their damn chanting is allowed, I don’t see why I can't just shout a few words too. I’m going up there, Xidra the [Herbalist], and with all due respect, you can’t stop me.”

Shaking her head, Edithe stepped past Xidra and shoved her way through the retinue of guards boxing them in. She was going to expose herself by walking out, but she didn’t care. Salvos had to win this. After all, the penalty for losing was death.

***

Zix zipped through the air, coming straight for me as I loosed a white Refined Blazing Bolt his way. I backed away from his flying figure. He barely paid heed to the attack. The fire splashed off his scales like I was pouring some hot water over him. It burned him, yes. But it wasn’t even coming close to killing him.

Something was wrong. I could tell, something was just not right about this.

He struck the earth like a falling star. The impact sent me stumbling back as he drew himself back to his feet.

“You are nothing more than a heathen, lost in your ways, believing the foolish lies of the Risen Dragons. There is no salvation for you. Your only redemption is death.”

Zix charged me, once again accompanied by a Dragon at his tail. It was a different Dragon from before. While the previous one had silver scales, this one was crimson in color. These were not real Dragons. Merely projections, created from his Skills. But it didn’t matter. They brought with them their might, and that was enough to send a chilling fear down my spine.

I desperately threw myself away from the attack. The Kobold man moved as if he was a lance being thrust forth. He didn’t turn or pull after me. The image vanished as he stopped right by the flames marking the edge of the arena.

I panted as I picked myself up from the pile of rubble I landed in.

“Why do you keep calling me that? I’m not a heathen!”

“Oh?”

He spun around to face me.

“You claim not to be a heathen, yet you fight for Xidra. You even work with the scum of Humankind, despite their repeated acts of heresy against our Gods. Tell me, how can you make such a bold assertion with such a straight face?”

“It’s true! And it’s Xidra the [Herbalist].”

I glanced over to the side, searching for my companions. I narrowed my eyes as I spotted a small scuffle happening close to the area. A familiar red-haired woman and black-haired man were standing there, caught by a crowd. It looked like they were being escorted by a few of the Risen Dragon’s guards, but were swarmed by a dozen members of the angry audience. Although most of them were too low leveled to do anything against either of them.

“Salvos!”

Edithe called out, waving an arm as she bounced up and down right by the wall of flames.

“Stop using fire magic against Zix— he has multiple layers of potent fire resistance magic protecting him!”

I paused as the words slowly registered in my mind. There was a roar— more Kobolds swarmed my companions at her words. They were shouting, crying loudly about cheating. Edithe fired back with her own accusations as she shoved Kobolds off her.

Zix made an irritated sound.

“Hrmph, outside influence? During the Trial of the Scales? Truly, the Risen Dragons have never fallen lower than today.”

“You say that, but aren’t you cheating too?”

I could feel the effects [The Will of the Hero] waning. I had to settle this fight now. I just had to bait Zix into another monologue—

The obsidian-scaled Kobold leapt into the air, carried higher and higher by the single, flapping wing at his back. I watched him ascend above even the tallest minaret in all of Unarith. Heads turned. Eyes were fixed on the black dot in the sky.

“Did you think that trick would work three times? Surely you must have expected me to learn about your antics by now.”

“That’s no fair! Come back down here!”

I was about to create another bow and arrow, but stopped myself. Instead, I picked a large rock off the ground— one about the size of my head— and tossed it his way. He drifted to the left of it almost indifferently as it missed him. Even though I threw it as fast as I could!

“This world is filled with wrong. It flows with sin and evil and death. There is much left to cleanse. But I shall fight for what is just. For all that’s right, for all that’s good. I shall do what I must. Until I take my last and final breath.”

An idea crossed my mind. I just had to toss the rock faster so that it would hit him. I created a pair of chains and hooked it around a piece of debris that was my size. Zix continued, but this time, there was power in his words.

“[Calamity Shall Come, The World Will End, So May The Old Gods Give Me Strength].”

His voice boomed throughout all of Unarith. It drew the attention of the angry crowd that was trying to swarm my companions. Xidra’s eyes snapped wide open. Gasps left the mouth of more than a single Kobold.

“That is… a Grand Skill. His evolution— did it already reach past Level 100?!”

Someone whispered. Was it Xidra? I wasn’t sure.

Then darkness seemed to brew over me. I thought it was just clouds floating over the stars and the moon in the sky? But it wasn’t. It was a shadow. One that grew larger and larger over me.

Zix morphed. His arms and legs began to misshapen. Part of his limbs seemed to retreat into his now-bloated body. Then his back curved forward into a hunch. A crooked shape that continued to extend in length. His wing, once alone, was now joined by another. And they spanned twice the size of his new body.

He was… he looked like a Dragon.

“This is but a peek into the divine power of the Gods! Sing me your hymns, oh little girl. Cry, scream, and beg for forgiveness. Perhaps you will be shown mercy in the afterlife.”

 

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A note from MelasD

The last bit spoken by Zix was written in Iambic Heptameter. I'm trying to experiment in writing in more diverse styles, so apologies if it came across as awkward or amateurish as it was my first time.

Here it is in stanza form:

This world is filled with wrong. It flows with sin and evil and death.

There is much left to cleanse. But I shall fight for what is just.

For all that’s right, for all that’s good, I shall do what I must.

Until I take my last and final breath. [Calamity

Shall Come, The World Will End, So May The Old Gods Give Me Strength]


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