A note from ShroudWolfe

♔ Shoutout to Kevin Green for becoming a Patron! ♔

Thank you to those of you who left a review over the most recent chapters. As promised, here's an extra chapter for the weekend.

Chapter 25: An Awakening Storm


The squeal of Jabal Boars carried over the unending tide of tusks that clashed against the lined formation of Jabal and Adamantine Shields. The roars of men and monsters carried up to the ramparts of Highguard’s fortress wall, where Delancy surveyed the defensive line under the command of Praeditus John Larkin.

At the front line, Shield Classes dug in their plated armor boots as they strained to maintain the barricade that protected their comrades and the thousands of defenseless refugees behind them.

“Hold the line!” The Commander’s voice sounded like a horn above the chaos. “Second Shield line, get ready to move up and offer relief to the front line. Offensive Teams take down anything that makes it through!”

The second wall of Guardians, Paladins, and even a few Destroyers who carried extra shields, moved forward in units of six with small gaps between them that would allow the first line to retreat. Behind them, more Destroyers, Duelists, Earth Mages, and Assassins waited for their chance to draw blood.

“Wait for the signal!” John bellowed with a glance towards the parapets where the City Guard Rangers and Mages prepared to offer a devastating distraction that would buy the Front Shield line time to withdraw. For a moment, the Phoenix Champion’s pine-green lingered on the Paragon’s figure above him, but then the Commander returned his focus to the waiting troops.

“They appear to be holding up rather well,” Xander Gaumond’s distant voice murmured as the Ice Magus moved to join the Paragon beneath the fluttering city flag. “Still, I’m surprised the Warden hasn’t turned this monster surge around yet.”

“The Warden is probably making the most of this opportunity to put her officers to the test,” Delancy replied with noted irritation. “As annoying as this Monster Surge has proven to be, the extra Dissonance Stones will come in useful—so why not.”

Xander nodded as he leaned against the wall to study the crowd of refugees packed tightly against the gate below. “I see why the City Guard and Sentinels had to come out of the western and eastern gates now.”

“Yes, our troublesome squatters panicked and mobbed the gate—as if I would let them inside my city because of a few rampaging pigs.” Delancy shook his head. “Imbeciles don’t even realize that they delayed and cut off the aid that could have spared a good many of them from being torn to shreds.”

“Perhaps they hoped the Paragon might finally take pity and allow them to enter,” Xander commented with a cold smile as he straightened.

“Perhaps it would have been better to let the Jabal Boars finish what they started and remove this unwanted burden,” the Paragon muttered darkly as he placed his Obsidian gloved hand upon the granite wall. “And how is our Seviner this morning?”

Xander’s steel-blue eyes narrowed as he glanced along the wall beside them to ensure the rangers and mages had missed the Paragon’s words. “She has recovered, thanks to the Blessing you sent. Your Air Mage, Consultus Naomi, escorted her to the Garrison Prison early this morning.”

“Good,” Delancy growled as he scowled at the battlefield below.

“Is it wise to let so many people know of Fallon’s—ability?”

The Paragon turned his blood-orange eyes towards Xander with a cynical smile. “I still remember the day you revealed Fallon’s unique ability to me. I remember thinking, ‘Here is a father who would trust his daughter’s life into my hands.’”

“I meant only to show my trust and loyalty, Paragon.”

“Indeed you did,” Delancy observed coldly. “But Fallon—does not share your trust or devotion.”

“She is intemperate,” Xander muttered with a faint grimace. “But intelligent enough to know where to draw the line.”

“All young people are driven by impulse at that age.” The Paragon smiled with a hint of amusement as he watched two boars thrust their way through the retreating front line. The Second Shield line quickly filled the gaps while the monsters who had slipped through were swiftly vanquished by earth spikes, arrows, and a Destroyer’s bloody Adamantine Claymore. “The sudden appearance of a Monster Surge so soon after Julian’s disappearance—bothers me.”

“The disappearance of your most trusted retainer is strange,” Xander replied in quiet agreement. “You sent him to the prison last night, did you not?”

“Yes. To deal with our—lingering problem.”

“And is the Grantham boy dead?”

Delancy snorted as he tapped his hand against the wall. “No. Major Kellan said the boy was still alive this morning when the prison guards made their round. He emphasized the boy barely survived what appeared to have been a knife attack. It seems the brat has a better knack at surviving than his father, but he’s still in bad shape.”

“I see,” Xander turned his steel-blue eyes towards the Garrison with a calculating expression. “Surely, if the boy is so close to death, you will find another opportunity.”

“Not soon enough,” Delancy growled. “Someone has already slipped word of the blind boy’s existence to Nolan Grantham. The bastards sent over two appeals already this morning. One demanding justification for his nephew’s unlawful imprisonment. The other requesting access for a physician to evaluate the boy’s health and ensure he has received proper treatment.”

“How did Nolan—”

“I can only assume someone at the prison told him after yesterday’s—disturbance,” the Paragon replied with a dark glance in the Praefectus’s direction. “Nolan is just buying time. My spies tell me the Lightning Mage sent his fastest rider to Dawnskeep with an appeal for the Emperor.”

“That is troubling news.”

“Yes. However, unfortunately, it would appear the messenger encountered a bit of trouble on his way through the Jabal Mountain.” The Paragon flicked a small clump of dried dirt from the wall down into the swarm of refugees below. “The road to Dawnskeep is perilous these days with rebels, bandits, and monsters preying on travelers.” Delancy rotated his jaw with a frustrated sigh. “A royal appeal for a blind mage? Bah!”

“Orion may yet see again,” Xander observed neutrally. “With Althea’s Blessing.”

“It is not his eyes so much as his tongue that concerns me,” the Hell Knight remarked as his fingers scraped across the granite stone. “Perhaps I should have taken that as well.”

“We must deal with this matter quickly,” Xander replied resolutely. “Nolan Grantham will only cause an even bigger fuss once he realizes you blinded his nephew.”

“Bah! That sodomite has been a thorn in my side ever since I killed his brother. Still, the fact that Nolan has remained in Highguard this long assured me that Asher wasn’t able to pass on any evidence of our movements to the Emperor or princes.”

“But you still believe Orion might know where those missing ledgers went?”

The Hell Knight’s blood-orange eyes turned from the chaos of monsters and men to the Ice Magus. “I doubt Asher was stupid enough to tell Orion everything directly, but your predecessor had a knack for discretion and deception. If those ledgers haven’t made their way into the princes’ or Emperor’s hands, they are hidden somewhere. I stopped every letter I could while you laid your trap for the bastard, but if Asher left behind some sort of insurance or fail-safe, my gut tells me that he would have left the key to his secrets with that boy.”

“I was certain I would find the ledgers among the safes he kept at the Merchant Banker’s guild,” Xander commented ruefully. “But after five years….”

The Paragon’s expression hardened for a moment, then relaxed with a rueful laugh. “Of course, Orion might not know where they’re hidden either. But I would rather exterminate any possibility than answer to her.”

Xander’s cold expression turned dark as he focused on the figure of Lieutenant Corbin below. The Guardian led his team forward quickly to fill a gap in the Shield Wall as a squealing Jabal Boar tore through the line.

“If I had used your daughter to interrogate the boy then—we would know for certain. But you saw how she reacted to Asher’s death.”

“Yes,” Xander muttered with heavy disapproval.

Delancy followed the Ice Magus’s gaze and watched as Corbin wove deftly away from the Boar’s sharp tusks. The Guardian spun with sharp precision as he brought his new Jabal Mace down on the Boar’s exposed neck. The Monster stumbled and shook its head. A nearby Destroyer took advantage of its stunned state and sliced through a front leg while an Assassin slid her dagger through the Boar’s back left tendon. The Jabal bore sprayed out a scream of spit and saliva before a ball of water engulfed its head. The liquid magic gave the beast’s neck a sharp twist, and the team stepped back as the creature dropped into the mud, defeated.

‘Looks like Larkin’s prepared a strong team to protect his son’s back.’

“Perhaps,” Xander suggested hesitantly, pulling the Paragon’s attention back to their conversation. “It’s not too late to—”

The Ice Magus staggered forward as a roar like thunder boomed across Highguard city. A sticky, heart-pounding ripple of long-forgotten fear fluttered through Delancy’s heart before he spun to face the cloud of smoke and dust that trailed above the City Garrison.

“What—was that?” Xander demanded as he leaned against the wall that faced the inner city. “H-how did a monster manage to slip inside the city unnoticed? And a powerful one at that?” The Ice Magus extended a hand to his side and formed an elemental staff of ice beneath his fingers.

“Look, City Guard!” the Commander’s voice boomed from the battlefield behind them. “The Boars are retreating!”

An encouraging roar of relief and satisfaction pulled the Paragon’s gaze to where the tide of Jabal Boars had turned, splitting around the groups of Sentinels fighting in their midst as the monsters retreated in single-minded fear.

“First a Monster Surge appears out of nowhere with no forewarning of any kind, then a high-tier monster slips inside my city to attack my Garrison?” Delancy grabbed the inner parapet, launched himself over the wall, and dropped down into the empty street below.

In the shadow of Highguard’s city walls, the Hell Knight Champion’s blood-orange eyes glowed like coals freshly drawn from the fire. Delancy didn’t look back to see if the Ice Magus would follow. He had no doubts the paranoid father would. Especially since Fallon herself was currently located at the Garrison.

‘This is too much of a coincidence. I should have killed that brat years ago—if it wasn’t for Lorenzo.’

Silas smiled as Phosphorus tightened his invisible tail around the prison bars. The metal barrier twisted and groaned in protest before the bars snapped like twigs beneath the Dementher’s strength. Inside the cell, lying on his back with a concerning lack of movement, was the objective of their bloody mission.

‘Is the Grantham brat still alive?’ Silas frowned as he stepped through the gap in the cell wall and moved quickly to check the pulse on the Lightning Mage’s throat.

“He isss alive,” Phosphorus hissed. “Merely unconsciouss due to ssstarvation, fatigue, and sssignificant blood losss.”

“Well,” Silas muttered as he pulled his fingers away from the weak and thready pulse. “That’s a problem for the First Prince to handle. I’m not a Mender.” The Warlock grabbed the unconscious Mage’s arm, pulled Orion over his shoulder, and stood up effortlessly. “He could stand to gain a few pounds,” Silas muttered as the Mage’s face dropped against his back. “But why is he blindfolded—”

The Warlock gasped out sharply as he dropped suddenly to his knees. Silas flung Orion from his back with a growl of pain as he clutched his chest and coughed out a fistful of black blood.

Dust fell from the cracked ceiling above the prison cell as a deafening roar echoed through the building. The dust curled and shivered around a massive serpent-like head with three horns above four translucent eyes that blinked from the other side of the broken bars. The Dementher shook the chalky particles free but retained its ghostly form as Phosphorus observed the coughing Warlock meticulously.

“Wha—” Silas rocked back on his heels and ripped open his robes. The sigil that marked his bond to Mammon burned and hissed with black smoke that trailed into the air before the Warlock’s confused teal-green eyes. “Phosphorus! Something’s happened—to Mammon. You must retrieve his gullveig quickly—”

“I cannot,” the serpent Dementher hissed sharply. “It hasss already been eaten.”

“W-what?” Silas spread his gloved fingers over the quickly fading scare. “By who?”

“By another Dementher.”

The Warlock’s face trembled with rage as accusing eyes turned towards the ghostly giant serpent. “Why did you not warn me? Why did you not help Mammon?”

Isss that really important now?” the malicious voice hissed tauntingly.

“You—” Silas raised a trembling finger towards a terrifying face betrayed by yet another cloud of falling dust. “No—this is your fault,” the Warlock’s expression twisted with grief and anger as his finger turned towards the unconscious Mage sprawled out on the prison floor before him. “You are lucky the First Prince wants the Grantham family behind his banner, or I would sacrifice you here and—”

The sound of stone crumbling and caving in above them made the Warlock flinch. Silas glanced about warily as the walls trembled but held while a crack spread ominously along the ceiling. “Is that Dementher still here?”

“The Dementher and their Warlock jussst left,” Phosphorus answered with a note of irritation as he attempted to shake off the dust that now outlined not only the giant serpent’s head but the massive, long body which extended down the hallway they had come. “We ssshould leave quickly all the sssame.”

“What? Why?”

“The Paragon that controlsss thisss city isss headed in our direction.”

“Blessed Thana! How close is he? No—Nevermind. Phosphorus, open a door back to Paragon Lorenzo’s palace!” The Warlock swore frantically as he grabbed Orion and threw the limp Mage over his shoulder once more.

“Sksss, sksss, sksss!” The Dementher laughed darkly. “Can you not open a door yourssself, Warlock?”

Silas activated [Infernal Gaze] and glared at the rebellious Dementher as he reached for the Grimoire inside his satchel. “You are still my familiar, Phosphorus! Resist all you want, but you are compelled to obey my orders!”

Four abyssal black eyes appeared outside the broken prison door as a long emerald-green tongue slithered through the bars towards the Warlock’s face. “Not for much longer.”

Silas flinched back from the Dementher’s venomous tongue as he raised the Grimoire threateningly.

“I do hear and obey, Warlock,” Phosphorus hissed viciously as a green spark sprouted in the air beside the Warlock and Mage that quickly blossomed into a swirling pool of glittering green magic. “One door to Emberlight.”

“Excellent,” Silas retorted with a smug snort. “You see how easy that was? There is no need for you to resist or mock me. I am your Master.”

“Arrogance is a poissson which laysss all ssstrong men low, Warlock,” the Dementher hissed as the serpent’s dark, verdant eyes and glittering, white scales flickered in and out of focus. “And you are not my true Massster.”

Silas clenched his jaw, but the rapidly approaching aura of an S-ranker provided all the encouragement the Warlock needed to jump through the door and escape.

The meticulously manicured lawns of Emberlight’s palace courtyard came into focus. A waiting party of armed Sentinels and servants stood in a circular formation around the drawn sigil upon which Silas and the pale Orion appeared. Two Consultus in Mage robes quickly stepped forward and hastily removed the unconscious Lighting Mage from the Warlock’s back as the boy’s grandparents rushed forward with worried faces and cries of distress.

“Orion! Oh, merciful Althea! You’ve come back to us!” The white-haired woman, Aria Grantham, placed her trembling hands upon Orion’s limp arm and face as he was laid carefully onto silk litter.

Silas ignored the stirring scene as he turned back to watch the door close with a foul, sulfuric hisss.

“Wait—Lorenzo! His eyes!” Aria’s sharp tone stirred the crowd with whispers of disbelief that fell suddenly, deathly silent.

The Warlock turned around as First Prince Sebastian made his appearance, striding through the crowd towards the Mages that surrounded Orion and his grandparents. [Infernal Gaze] lit up the Prince’s information with a single nudging prompt.

Sebastian Garbhan. Nucleus (Ingenium). Class (Mage). Rank (A). Level (87)
Arcane Mage Sebastian. Health: 907,216/907,216. Mana: 362,887.
Experience till next level: 1,786,392 / 2,077,000.
Status Effects: [Spell Master Aura] and [Cosima’s Wisdom].

Paragon Lorenzo Grantham clutched one of the litter’s wooden rails while his wife, Praeditus Aria, pulled the dirty blindfold away from Orion’s eyes—or rather—the scarred, melted patch of dull gray skin where the boy’s eyes should have been.

“Who has done this!” Aria whispered brokenly as her fingers trembled above Orion’s marred face. “Who has hurt my grandson in this way!”

Silas took a cautious step back as Lorenzo withdrew his hand from the litter and rose swiftly to his feet. The crowd of mages blacked away cautious as above the courtyard, a distant threatening rumble accompanied the storm that formed behind the Paragon’s menacing scowl.

“Now is not the time for anger,” Prince Sebastian cautioned as he placed a hand upon the Paragon’s shoulder. “We must get your grandson to a Mender. Paragon Lorenzo, you and your wife should stay with Orion until he regains consciousness. I will look into what has transpired in Highguard.”

The Arcane Mage’s amethyst eyes drifted over to Silas, who bowed courteously. The hairs on the back of the Warlock’s neck stood on end as Phosphorus laughed mockingly in the back of his mind.

‘It looks like I’ll be making another trip to Highguard. Just as well, I have a debt to settle with that Warlock and their Dementher.’

“I will trust you with this, for now, Prince Sebastian,” Lorenzo said gruffly as he lifted Orion gently in his arms. “But if you do not bring me answers soon, I will go to Highguard myself and rip them from Delancy’s throat.”

The Paragon turned, his wife, Warden Aria, followed close behind, still clutching the filthy bandages she had pulled from Orion’s eyes. Aria’s Sentinels hastily cleared a path through the courtyard towards the main palace while the Paragon’s soldiers resumed their posts and wisely maintained their silence.

Nearly every Nucleus Class present here wore the Lightning banner of the Grantham household, and with good reason. Paragon Lorenzo was one of the strongest three S-Ranked Nucleus Classes still alive in Orinthian.

‘Which is why Prince Sebastian wants the Paragon firmly in his corner when he makes his move for the throne.’ Silas rolled his eyes as he reached out a hand towards his chest to summon Mammon, then grit his teeth as he lowered his fist and stormed towards the back exit.

The scene of blood, guts, torn limbs and partially eaten corpses filled Xander’s view as he gazed down the prison hall. Paragon Delancy stepped through the mess ahead of the Ice Magus with barely more than a passing glance at the fallen men as he moved deeper into the prison.

Xander raised a handkerchief to his face to cover the nauseating smell and the haunting memories of a similar scene when he, his beloved wife, and the companions he had known all his life had found themselves suddenly trapped inside a Dementher Gate.

The hallway before him suddenly narrowed and darkened. Xander reached out blindly for the nearest wall as the voice of a younger, foolish Ice Mage echoed in his ears.

“It will be alright. I’ll get us out of here. All of us.”

They had trusted him—and they had died for him—one by one.

“Xander,” Delancy barked from the end of the hall. “Are you coming? The tracks split up here. These lead down to the lower cells, while the others appear to be heading to the roof.”

“I’ll check the roof then,” Xander replied grimly. He needed fresh air free from the scent of blood and ancient horrors.

The Paragon gave a single affirming nod. “Whatever we heard, I can’t sense it anymore. Perhaps it already left. Keep your guard up all the same.”

‘You can never be sure when it comes to a Dementher.’ Xander straightened and stared at the blood smeared across his hand. He wiped the stain and guilt away with his handkerchief and tossed the soiled cloth away. The sticky pool of death clung to his boots and robes as the Magus continued forward and turned towards the stairwell.

Xander could see the roof long before he finished climbing the stairs. Something had melted through the roof and floor, leaving parts of the stairwell unusable and treacherously unstable. Other sections of the limestone structure appeared to have broken and collapsed beneath some monstrous form of strength. The Ice Magus strengthened the weakened beams and replaced the missing steps with [Ice Structure] as he continued determinedly towards his destination.

Ice Magus Active Skill—Ice Structure
Allows the creation of basic fundamental objects such as furniture, walls, stairs, and enclosures.
Note: Constructed items have limited durability, especially when exposed to heat.

The roof door and its enclosure were completely shattered. Xander stepped out cautiously but saw neither hide nor tail of a Dementher or any other monsters on the empty roof. Instead, a very human, half-eaten body of what appeared to be a Consultus Mage—judging by the blood-soaked robes that remained—waited for him.

‘It’s not Fallon.’

Xander let out a slow breath of relief as he circled the corpse and continued his search. Another trail of bloody monster footprints led towards the collapsed end of the roof. Whoever the Dementher had been chasing, they appeared to have made their escape, although a small patch of blood suggested they had not done so without injury. The Ice Magus stared at the smeared pool blood for a long moment before he turned to follow another set of hoof prints that left scorch marks along the damaged structure surface.

“Smells like the work of a Dementher and their Warlock,” Paragon Delancy observed as he joined Xander on the roof. “Orion’s cell door was broken open, and there’s no sign of him.”

“He is dead then?” Xander asked numbly.

“No,” the Hell Knight Champion replied grimly. “No fresh blood. No signs of a struggle. A Warlock broke the bastard out.”

“It’s strange,” the Ice Magus murmured. “From the looks of this damage and these tracks, it would appear two Dementher fought each other up here.”

“After one of them ate most of Naomi,” Delancy growled. “Any sign of Fallon?”

“No,” Xander whispered with a weak shake of his head. “No sign of her.”

“If Naomi was up here, it's very likely Fallon was with her.” A low, dark chuckle slipped past Delancy’s lips. “So the Monster Surge was a ruse to break out Asher’s boy.”

“And Fallon?”

“If they killed her, we would have found her remains like all the others. Fallon is smart. She might have escaped back into the city—or perhaps they took her with them.”

Xander didn’t bother to question why anyone would bother to kidnap his rebellious teenage daughter. Instead, the Ice Magus rubbed a hand down his face and turned to face the Paragon. “What do we do now?”

Delancy tapped the hilt of his sheathed long-sword and sighed. “I’ll have to report this to Aemilia.”

The ice around Xander’s hand and fingers cracked as he tightened his fist.

“We may have to make our move sooner than expected,” the Paragon muttered as he kicked a chunk of broken limestone down into the open floor below.

“But—we’re not ready. We still don’t have enough—”

“That’s Aemilia’s decision to make,” the Paragon interjected. “In the meantime.” The Hell Knight extended his hand to a clear section of the roof as he cast [Hounds of Hell].

Hell Knight Champion Active Skill—Hounds of Hell (Tier IV)
Summoned familiars that will fight beside the Hell Knight Champion in battle or carry out their master’s commands.

Three snarling demonic mutts with four eyes, two tails, glowing red skin, and jagged skeletal spikes that trailed down their spines lunged forward towards Xander. “Hold!” Delancy ordered with a thunderous voice. The Hell Hounds skidded to a halt as they lowered their heads submissively but continued to growl at the Ice Magus. “Sit!”

Xander took a cautious step back as the three hounds sat on command and promptly turned their gaze towards the Paragon.

Delancy extended what looked like an old piece of bloody bandage to the snout of the first hound.

“You-you’re going to track them?” Xander murmured.

“Why not? If the boy is anywhere near the city, my hounds will find him and the Warlock.”

“But Lorenzo—”

“His grandson's illegal escape came at the cost of over a dozen City Guards and hundreds of other prisoners,” Delancy replied with a grim smile.

Xander shook his head. “If a Warlock broke him out, the chances of them staying anywhere near Highguard are too slim to even consider.”

“It’s not just Orion I’m looking for,” the Paragon replied as his blood-orange eyes turned towards the Ice Magus. “I’ll need some blood, a brush of hair or some garment of clothing Fallon has worn recently to track her as well.”

Xander blinked, clenched his jaw, and nodded. “You might want to start there,” the Ice Magus suggested as he pointed to the small patch of blood by the edge of the roof.

Delancy stepped towards the slightly smudged stain with a questioning brow. “How can you be sure?”

The Ice Magus glanced at the crimson pool that, to his discerning eyes, appeared to absorb the rays of sunlight that fell upon it. “Call it a Father’s intuition.”


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