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“The princesses nearly ruined everything, and Kenta’s behaviour was not quite what I expected. Regardless, let’s see how this dream plays out. Her mind is like a labyrinth; it will be no easy task manipulating it.”


Madia

The rustling of leaves prompted Madia to open her eyes, squinting as light immediately assaulted her vision. She shifted a bit, finding the ground she was laying on to be hard, yet warm. Her hands rested over her chest as a gentle breeze caressed her face.

With a groan, she rolled over and found herself atop a cliff. She rubbed her eyes a bit and glanced around to find her rather uncomfortable bed was positioned a short distance above a thick forest, where branches and trees swayed in the soft wind.

She winced as she sat up and stretched, arching her back as the slightest ache prodded at her. Sleeping atop a cliff, Madia? she thought to herself. Surely you could have done better than that.

The world around her shifted as a fog around her vision faded. Ah, a dream. Of course.

She stood up, brushing her long skirt free of any dirt and wrinkles as she once again reached her hands into the sky, closing her eyes briefly and letting out a straining, high-pitched moan. With a sigh, she dropped her hands and leaned forward a bit. She admired the view, as off in the distance she could see a city and a castle perched on a hill. If that’s Elra over there, I must be in the Eastern Mountains.

Sure enough, she turned around to find towering cliffs behind her. She nodded confidently as she once again set her sights on the castle in the distance. She stepped forward until she found herself at the very edge of the cliff and reached her arms out to the side.

“Let us see what my mind has in store for me today,” she wondered aloud.

As soon as this thought crossed her, there was a deep rumbling from the sky above. She narrowed her eyes, her mouth hanging open the slightest bit as she looked up. Red clouds suddenly began to stretch out from behind the mountains, like a violent tides as it soared overhead. Madia turned around and gasped as she felt an old feeling of dread wash over her. She took a step backwards off the cliff and backed up across the open air.

“A reddened sky? Not unlike what we saw during Mennic’s attack on Elra… I don’t truly fear something so extreme, do I?” she mumbled to herself.

But sure enough the billowing clouds continued and, indeed, seemed to pick up momentum. Madia spun around, her gaze locked onto Elra as she reached a hand out towards the capital. The trees beneath her began to shake and sway much more violently as the wind picked up. I’ll go to Elra. She closed her eyes and felt heat wash over her, and experienced a sensation like floating in water, before raising her eyelids once more and finding herself on the walls of Elra Castle. In the distance she saw the very place she had been mere seconds ago, the red sky reaching out across the air towards the castle.

“Madia! There you are!” Madia looked back to find Aevum approaching across the parapets, a deep mahogany staff in his grip. “It’s just like before! Mennic’s signature herald.”

Madia nodded in acknowledgement as she saw Flain running up the stairs onto the walls as well.

Aevum ran to meet the Keeper of Law. “Where is Cael?”

Flain went right past Aevum and even Madia as he called over his shoulder. “She’ll be here soon. She’s making sure the princesses are safe!”

Madia let out an anxious breath as she rested her hand to her side. At this point however she realized she was without a belt, and consequently, without her weapon. “Oh! Flain, do you have my knife?” she called after the blonde-haired man ahead.

Aevum tapped Madia’s shoulder. “Right here.” He handed her a small dagger with a violet jewel on the hilt. Madia nodded her thanks and rubbed her thumb perpendicular to the blade. Good, still sharp.

“If this is anything like Mennic’s magic, then we should expect an attack at any moment!” Flain shouted from further down the wall.

Aevum stepped up to the edge, his staff tapping the ground as he moved forward. “To think this sort of magic still existed…” he muttered.

With Flain and numerous guards now scattered across the walls, Madia revealed her nervousness as she locked eyes with the Keeper of Time. “How could it, though? Tuulin is the only other Dragonkind we’ve known that could use magic. As Keeper of Mind, he is limited to the same rules as I.”

Aevum bit his lip. “Mennic was in control of three of the four elements. If I remember correctly, he imparted some of his magic to Tuulin. What if Tuulin has all four and is attempting to, or even succeeded, in bringing Mennic back?”

Madia gritted her teeth. “That seems terribly unlikely. He shared Mennic’s magic, but never to the mastery of his King,” she reasoned. “No doubt Tuulin would have to perform an unbelievably dangerous and powerful spell to do so. If he is so recently awoken, he would have to acquire immeasurable amounts of-” she stopped herself as Aevum stared at her.

“Yes, by the laws of magic he would need to have access to some powerful reagents in order to bring back someone like Mennic; even Keepers have limits,” Aevum explained.

“But if all other Dragonkind are unfamiliar with magic… some of our own people must have helped him!” Madia realized, her expression darkening.

“My lord!” A voice called out from below the wall. Aevum and Madia simultaneously looked over the parapets to find a man below waving to them.

“The master magician reports that the school of magic is prepared to send aid!”

“Excellent, we may need them!” Aevum replied before turning back to Madia. “Listen to me, I think it would be wise if we went straight for the mountains and stopped this problem at its source.”

“But what if it’s a distraction? Should we not have someone here prepared to defend?”

Aevum shook his head. “Without all four of us, we cannot hope to succeed if Mennic has indeed been revived, and Elra cannot afford to be a battleground between Keepers once again.”

With a loud crackle, Cael suddenly appeared on the walls and skidded to a halt. “Ready when you are, Aevum! I’ve been itching to use my magic like this.”

Flain rejoined the rest of the Keepers. “Now is not the time to get excited. The stakes are far too high for you to be seeking a chance to show off,” he grunted.

“Nor is it the time to be bickering!” Madia pointed out.

“Aye, then let’s be off. Cael, take us to the mountains. We must be quick!” Aevum commanded.

“Understood. Everyone hold on!” Cael exclaimed as she wrapped an arm around Madia’s waist, causing the smaller girl to gasp in surprise. Aevum and Flain grabbed the sleeves of Cael’s cloak. In that moment, Madia found herself blinded by bright green light, and her stomach lurched as a screeching sound filled her ears, wind rushing around her so fast she could have sworn she was flying, before the light vanished and the Keepers found themselves on the same cliff-side Madia had awoken on.

Silence filled the humid air, and not a single breath of wind blew against the newly arrived Keepers; the atmosphere was dead and choked.

“He comes.” Flain glared as he looked towards the cliffs. Madia followed his gaze and watched with horror as a silhouette formed. What sounded like metal grinding against metal pierced the quiet as a man with long, auburn hair and enormous leathery wings materialized ahead of them. He released a deep, low growl which rose into a cry.

“Hhhhhaaaaaaaaa!” Torn black robes were slowly replaced by layers of gnarled armor as he dragged his feet across the ground.

“You destroyed my body,” his raspy voice spat. “Erased my soul…” pale amber eyes snapped opened. “But my work is not yet done,” his lips curled into a smile as he locked his sights on the Keepers ahead.

“Mennic...” Madia whispered in shock as her eyes stared in fear.

Aevum struck his staff into the ground ahead of him. “KEEPERS, on your guard!” he exclaimed. Madia jumped as she gripped her knife in her hand in response to Aevum’s call. Cael raised her hands as her eyes shimmered and glowed a vibrant green. Flain rolled his shoulders back and held his short-sword in front of him.

“Ah, Aevum. ‘Tis good to see you again,” Mennic mused as he reached his hand to the side. Madia winced as another grinding sound reached her ears as the Arden king reached behind his back, slowly drawing out a massive two-handed blade.

“I wish I could say the same for you,” Aevum replied.

Mennic sighed in irritation. “Oh come now, I was hoping for a friendlier reuni-” he never got the opportunity to finish the sentence. Familiar crackling filled the air and Cael’s presence vanished from behind Madia.

In that instant, Mennic’s armor rattled and he cried out in surprise as the Keeper of Magic struck him so mighty a blow with her foot that he nearly fell to the ground. Before Madia could process what was happening, Flain was sprinting ahead. His sword swung straight for their stunned opponent, before with another crackle Mennic’s form shifted and re-appeared in the air. Flain’s blade whistled through the spot where Mennic had stood, the man above still seeming confused by the sudden attack.

“I see some things never change,” Aevum said with a frown, locking eyes with their opponent. “You still talk far too much.”

“Well consider me impressed! You really have grown; all of you have.” Mennic beamed as he surveyed the situation. “Yet I’m afraid you’re all still children.”

“These ‘children’ have already struck you down once,” Flain pointed out from below. “Although it seems you had a contingency plan for that.”

The four Keepers had spread out now as they slowly strafed in a circle on the ground beneath Mennic.

Madia called up to him. “That was why you handed off some of your magic to Tuulin, isn’t it; so that he could bring you back if you were struck down!”

“I wouldn’t call figuring that out an accomplishment,” Mennic replied casually. His eyes twitched as Cael once again utilized her signature ability and materialized behind the Arden. He twisted around to strike back, but as he did so, Aevum was already in the air from the opposite side, and Cael once again was out of sight. Mennic hardly had time to react before Aevum’s staff collided with his head. Caught off-guard, Mennic spun out of control until he hit the ground.

Madia blinked and shook her head. They’re acting so fast; I can hardly track what they’re thinking! What is this strategy-? Madia suddenly felt disconnected as Flain made another mad dash across the stone plateau. Meanwhile, Cael let out a battle cry from above. Madia looked up to watch as the rocky mountainside shuddered and cracked, before dirt and rock tumbled down the steep slope. Mennic deflected Flain’s sword with his hand, a CLANG resounding as though his hand had turned into metal.

Just as quick as the blow was struck, Flain jumped high into the air as the rockslide overtook Mennic. Madia stepped forward, her blade drawn, but before she could do anything, Aevum landed a short distance ahead and struck his staff into the ground, causing a rumbling before she saw a bright orange light surround the rocks.

“I’ve got him in place! Quickly, we must finish him and find Tuulin before he can do this again!” Aevum called out.

With a flick of the wrist, Cael sheared the rocks off the side of the cliff, revealing Mennic below, a shocked expression frozen on his face as crimson light overtook him.

Aevum held his staff forward as Flain landed on the opposite side of the Dragonkind man, and Cael landed nearby. Madia shook her head, trying to keep up, before she ran forward and completed the circle around Mennic.

“Once more!” Aevum pulled one foot behind him.

“The Realm of Magic is open! Ready when you are!” Cael opened her palm towards Mennic.

Flain pointed his blade forward as Mennic visibly struggled, light beginning to enshroud him. “Now!”

Madia stuttered as she tried to find words, raising her knife as well.

Suddenly there was a crack like thunder among them as the ground shook. The red glow vanished from Mennic, and his wings flexed as he unleashed a cry of pain mixed with a mighty roar. Power coursed through Madia’s veins as the sky shifted and the clouds returned to their natural hue.

“This… no! I cannot go back-! My work is yet… incomplete-!” His eyes turned white, and Madia was soon squinting from the blinding light that erupted from the ground beneath the fallen king.

A ringing filled Madia’s ears and a screech penetrated the heavens like a blade cuts silk. Before long, the light began to fade, and the scorched earth where the Keepers had struck down their opponent smoked and glowed with embers; not even the slightest trace of Mennic remained.

Madia let out a sigh as the four Keepers lowered their weapons and hands. The sound of rustling leaves and wind returned to her ears as the air became crisp and cool again. “Is it over?”

Aevum shook his head as he stepped forward. “No, we must find and eliminate Tuulin, lest this happen again.”

“Madia, why didn’t you help us?” Cael asked as she panted.

Madia felt like a stone had hit her chest. “W-what?”

“Cael-!” Aevum snapped at the Keeper of Magic.

Madia looked back and forth between the Keepers. “What are you talking about?”

Flain bit his lip. “Well, you didn’t exactly participate in the battle until the end.”

Madia glanced at Flain incredulously. “Everything happened so fast, I couldn’t keep up.”

“She’s been caring for the princesses the last year, she hasn’t really been using her magic much,” Aevum defended her.

“Hmm, even so, at least a little illusion or plan would have sufficed. You seemed to have the plan covered, Aevum,” Cael acknowledged.

Madia dared to lock eyes with Aevum, who immediately avoided her gaze. He sighed before opening his mouth to speak. “It doesn’t matter right now, we’ve got to find Tuulin to stop this from happening again,” he insisted.

Flain stretched before sheathing his sword to his side. “Right, no time to waste. Let’s be off.”

Madia watched as Flain and Aevum began making their way along the cliff side towards a path just a short distance down the mountain. Cael paused a moment, looking over her shoulder at Madia and shrugged before chasing after the men ahead.

Madia dropped her knife to the ground with a clatter. It was her turn to be stunned now as she stood in silence, trying to comprehend the conversation that just took place. They’re right… I didn’t do anything. She thought to herself. Am I having a nightmare?

She let her eyes trail over to the castle across the woods, and then to the partial cloud cover above. This news about Tuulin truly has put me on edge, she wondered nervously.

“Madia?”

The dark-haired girl turned towards the path, seeing no one at first, before she looked down a bit and saw the silky blonde hair of Rell. The princess appeared anxious. “What happened?” she questioned.

Madia caught her breath before getting down on her knees, trying to stay calm before giving the girl a gentle hug. “N-Nothing. It’s just a bad dream.”

Rell placed one arm around Madia in return. “Oh, okay… don’t worry, Madia,” her voice softly whispered. The wind slowed and the forest beneath the cliffs calmed until almost everything had gone quiet again. Rell’s gentle words teased her ears. “I’m sure you’ll wake up soon...”

Rell suddenly pushed forward, and in that moment Madia felt a burning, piercing pain in her stomach. Her eyes shot open wide as she sputtered. “ACH-...”

Rell stepped back, her free hand now visible. Scarlet drops of blood lightly coated her fingers as Madia stared in horror. She looked down and saw her own blood rapidly spreading across her deep green tunic. She coughed as blood trickled from her mouth. She saw the handle of her own knife sticking out of her stomach. Rell kept stepping back, staring at Madia coldly and blankly as the Keeper of Mind returned her gaze with pain and terror.

“R-Rell… w-why would-” she choked, blood slowly turning her tunic brown as she stumbled away from the little princess. Before she knew it, her foot slipped as pebbles scattered across the plateau and she found herself plummeting. She got one last look at the child before she tumbled off the cliff, her eyes now seeing the forest below hurtling towards her, screaming wind filling her ears as everything around her began to go dark.

Dream… it’s a dream! It’s a dream, wake up… wake up-! her mind begged as the pain seared her stomach. Onwards she fell, far beyond where the forest would have been as flashes of colour began to fill her eyes. The sound of tumultuous waves reached her as she began to see images of dreams and nightmares against her darkened vision. Glimpses of magic shattering; a burning against her hand; the very earth falling away; a shimmering spear embedded in the earth, and a quill dipped in blood as she fell through nightmare after nightmare. Her vision only blurred further and further as she cried out desperately in her head. Hundreds if not thousands of voices wailed around her like a hellish choir. She let out a desperate scream as tears streamed down her face.

WAKE UP!!!

 

Madia cried out as she opened her eyes and shot straight up in her bed, her covers flinging off from her as the sound of rain above filled her ears, pattering on the roof above. She panted as liquid dripped down her chin. She quickly ran a hand across her face and then looked at her hand. “I-It’s just sweat, only sweat…” she gasped out, her chest rising and falling rapidly before she gulped, taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh.

She stayed there a moment, trying to recover from the vivid nightmare as she took in her surroundings. “B-bed, nightgown,” she muttered as she began feeling around her. She looked around the room. “Desk, chair, balcony.” She let another breath out as she fell back into her pillow, as it puffed up and around her head slightly from the impact.

“I’m back in my room. It’s over, it’s fine... everything is fine…” she whispered to herself as she calmed herself down.

Then she heard the footsteps rapidly coming from the door to her room. She let out a quiet yelp and sat up again as the door opened. “W-who’s there?”

“Madia? It’s Aevum, are you alright?” The familiar, yet muffled voice came through the partially opened door.

Madia nodded. “A-ah, yes, I’m fine… I just had a nightmare is all.”

“May I come in?” Aevum asked.

“Please do,” Madia responded.

The door creaked open as Aevum peered in, before he entered the room and pulled a chair over, his eyes narrowed in concern. “A nightmare? You haven’t had a nightmare in ages.”

“Yes… I think the stress has been getting to me lately. You know, with Kenta talking about Tuulin being back.”

Aevum nodded in understanding. “That would absolutely make sense. We’ve not had to worry about these issues for quite some time.”

“I thought I had left these fears behind me when I took it upon myself to care for the children, but…” She trailed off.

“You don’t think Rell’s paranoia has rubbed off on you, has it?” Aevum asked.

“No, I don’t believe so, trauma doesn’t really rub off, Aevum,” Madia said, giving him a funny look.

“Oh, right,” Aevum stuttered as he looked away, clearly a little embarrassed.

Madia couldn’t help but smirk a little bit, before chuckling softly. “Don’t worry Aevum, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I just need to try and interpret the dream like I used to, remember?”

Aevum smiled back. “Right, just don’t stay up too late thinking about it. You need to get rest too, after all.”

“Of course,” she muttered in response.

Madia paused for a moment as Aevum stood up and turned around, heading back for the door.

“H-hey Aevum?”

The Keeper of Time turned around. “Yes, Madia?”

Madia stared, looking at Aevum from her bed. “Well, have you ever died in a dream?”

Aevum hesitated. “Well, no I can’t say I have.”

Madia nodded. “I see. Thank you.”

Aevum tilted his head, but nodded and began to head out the door. “You’re welcome. Have a good rest of the night, Madia.”

“You too, sleep well.”

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Marcato

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