It did not take long for the duo to arrive in Nageki, Iris nearly blacking out from exhaustion and Arylos finally warmed up his muscles. The two arrived at an eerie silent ruin, the flames now fully consumed everything in sight leaving no sound but the crackling of the fire. Blood splattered against ruined homes and staining the land; a scarlet metallic mud caked Arylos’s boots. He could smell the blood and death in the air amongst the smell of soot and ash.
Iris came to her senses and stood up and beheld the destruction, the reality of the situation still beyond her.
Arylos turned to Iris, “show me where you killed that valkyrie,” he instructed her. She went ahead to near her house where she and Eir fought.
Except Eir’s body and the two other Templarians were nowhere to be found.
Iris’s confusion became apparent to Arylos as all that remained were smoking craters where their bodies remained; not a trace of the corpses that were there not even an hour ago.
Arylos drew his sword; he knew exactly what was going on. “You said you killed them, right?” he asked, preparing for what comes next.
“Yes, I’m sure!” Iris responded, mildly irritated that Arylos was questioning her.
“I’m sure you did,” Arylos said, keeping his head on a swivel, “but did you make sure they didn’t get back up?”
Iris almost slapped Arylos for the suggestion, but she remembered what her father’s sword was trying to tell her. “The Templarians in question are still a threat. Templarian biology prevents–”
“Oh no” escaped from Iris’s lips.
At that moment, a valkyrie flew straight down to Arylos and he parried the blow and sent her flying away. This valkyrie’s armour was similar to before, but now tattered and burnt. She appeared completely different, however; her skin a sun kissed tan and her build sturdier than before. Her hair is long and silver and her eyes green. This was someone completely different.
“Hello Eir,” called out Arylos, “I see my friend here gave you a new body; it looks good on you. How does it feel?”
Eir laughed, “I’m surprised you know me; I was told you were little more than a beast. But I appreciate the compliment all the same. The steering’s a bit off but I can’t complain about the flexibility.”
In an instant, Eir disappeared and Arylos blocked her blindingly fast attack. “In fact,” she said with a smile forcing her spear against Arylos’s sword, “I daresay I’m faster than before!”
Iris rushed towards the two, shortsword held high and ready to strike, but in the next instant, she and Eir were kicked away by Arylos. Arylos dealt a few parting blows to Eir, keeping her back.
“Stay back!” he ordered Iris, “this fight is mine now. Get the hell out of here!”
“Aww, how adorable,” Eir teased, lunging towards Arylos for another attack, “the monster’s got a bit of a soft spot.” Eir feinted her blow and punched Arylos, knocking him to the side with the force of a shockwave.
Arylos barely landed on his feet and parried further blows from the enraged valkyrie. “I must say,” she said, “I am glad you want my undivided attention.” Eir struck Arylos with the back of her spear, making him lose ground as she continued her attacks, each one ringing in the air like a bell.
The two fought almost equally, Eir able to return Arylos’s attacks and Arylos able to parry Eir’s bone-shattering strikes. Without pause, they kept at each other, sundering the air and ground with each strike as if each collision was an explosion of power. It was clear to Iris that this was the power of two inhumans.
After enough failures, Eir tried another skydiving attack only for Arylos to dodge and counter with an uppercut that was expertly parried by Eir, leaving Arylos’s right side exposed. Eir took her moment and struck forward with all of her strength, piercing Arylos’s lower rib cage, nearly impaling him completely. Arylos lost his grip on his sword and coughed up black blood. Even if the pain was something he could bear, this body was not equipped to handle Templarian steel.
Iris’s blood ran cold as she watched Eir pull out the spear and cut across Arylos’s back, knocking him to the ground. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run, she wanted to cry, but her body refused any command she gave.
Eir laughed maniacally as she stood over the fallen Arylos and drove her spear into his back. Arylos could only groan, pinned down and useless. All those compliments he gave his body about being a blessing in disguise bit him back hard. If he wasn’t bound in that flesh, this would be a simple matter.
Iris screamed Arylos’s name and began running towards him. Eir was confused upon hearing Arylos’s name. Did she just say “Arylos”? She thought, not quite understanding the situation.
“Get back!” Arylos barked at Iris, “I got this.”
Iris stopped in her tracks and Eir’s laughter ceased and she twisted the spear in his back, “what did she just say?” Eir questioned, “what the hell did she just call you?”
Arylos choked back blood, “Trust me,” he asked Iris, “I never said I was done.”
Iris nodded and Eir panicked and dug her spear deeper into Arylos’s back, piercing through his chest and into the ground, the ground now stained black, all to Arylos’s discomfort. Arylos decided enough was enough. Obviously, this body can’t keep up with a Templarian as much as he liked, but he would only have minutes in another form.
But minutes is all he needs.
Arylos began to laugh. “Tell me Eir,” he poised, “you were sent here, weren’t you? Meaning someone ordered you to come after me. Did they tell you who I am? What I am?”
Arylos’s red eyes began to glow, like glistening rubies in the night, and the fires surrounding the village raged and roared. A deep droning hum sounded throughout the air, as if reality itself was bending and twisting. Arylos’s laughter now resonates through the air, as if disembodied. Neither Eir nor Iris knew what was happening; for all they knew, Arylos was beaten.
The other Templarian soldiers from earlier arose from the treeline and watched in horror as Arylos’s body emanated a dark red glow.
Suddenly, all of the flames in the village, as if they had a life of their own, gathered towards Arylos’s body, consuming him in flames. Eir ran backwards, barely escaping the searing flames as they gathered in strength and intensity, concentrating on him as the fires of the village were slowly extinguished. Arylos slowly rose to his feet, laughing with a maniacal and diabolical laugh that resonated through the air. Four wings, black and red feathers made of stone and steel, sprouted from his back and the flames wrapped around him, forming another set made purely of fire. Burning orange runes, ever changing and flowing, covered Arylos’s body. With piercing and burning red eyes, he fixed his gaze upon Eir, now consumed by fear.
Iris recognised this. It was from a painting from the Dragon Wars; a dark shadow with four black wings enshrouded in flame standing atop a mountain of corpses, dragon and man alike.
Arylos pulled on the spear’s blade sticking out of his chest and pulled it through his body, oblivious to the pain as black blood poured from his wound. Once the spear was removed, Arylos admired the craftsmanship before throwing it to the side as the hole in his chest slowly closed up on its own.
At that moment, Eir understood what she was hunting. This wasn’t just a monster, this wasn’t just a creature, it was not an exile, he was all of that and more.
He was Arylos, the Titan of Fire.
Eir let out a blood-curdling scream and she tried to rush away from Arylos, trying to escape. Yet when she turned, Arylos still stood in front of her, expecting her to run, and struck her hard in the gut, knocking her backwards and hard to the ground, vomiting and expelling blood.
Arylos was not done yet. In the blink of an eye, he rushed towards the fallen valkyrie and grabbed her by the hair, pulling her to her feet. Eir attempted to punch Arylos but he was faster now, wrapping his arm around hers and pulling up sharply, fracturing her forearm. Eir screamed and tried a blow to the gut with her other arm but Arylos turned and hurled her over his head into the ground.
Arylos forced his foot into her chest and watched as Eir’s wounds slowly healed. “Heal all you like,” he taunted, his voice dark and resonating within Eir’s mind, “you will reach your limit. And I intend to find that limit.”
Arylos knelt down and dug his knee into her chest and like a boar set loose, repeatedly struck her; face, chest, anywhere he could land his fists, each strike blasting like shockwaves that could shatter stone.
The Templarian soldiers took aim at Arylos with their bows and let loose. Arylos saw this and reached out a hand, catching the bolts of pure lightning in his hand. He then turned his hand and began to close his fist. As he did, the soldiers began choking, as if some invisible hands were crushing their throats.
“Listen to them,” Arylos taunted Eir, “listen to them squeal, their gasps, their fading moments.” Arylos laughed.
Eir’s wounds slowly began to heal again and she lashed out her right arm for yet another punch, but was caught by Arylos with his free hand and he twisted it until it broke yet again.
All Iris could do was watch on as the creature her ancestors tried to stop millennia ago was now alive and well in front of her very eyes. The carnage, the bloodlust, the sheer depravity and his enjoyment of it, it was almost too much for her.
Arylos’s left hand grabbed Eir by the throat and lifted her up, holding her in the air by his sheer strength. “Answer me one question,” he poised, “and I’ll let the others go so long as they do not continue to anger me. Who sent you after me?”
Who? Not why? Eir thought, confused by his motives. Just the one question, right? But could she really trust the word of this thing? Eir’s arm healed yet again and she successfully landed a powerful strike with all of her strength on Arylos’s jaw, yet he remained where he stood, as if completely unaffected by the deafening strike.
“Please,” he growled in annoyance as his grip began to tighten around Eir’s and the others’ throats. He was getting impatient and his grip was like steel; cold and unmoving, force greater than the weight of a massive rock was now locking itself around Eir’s neck.
Eir choked back her pain, trying to speak and Arylos loosened his grip momentarily. With a hoarse voice, she whispered a single name.
Arylos’s demonic smile was replaced by a frown of disappointment and anger. Something about that name angered him to the point where he nearly considered killing the captive Templarians where they stood. Yet, even with his monstrous nature, he was still true to his word.
Arylos released his right hand and the force holding the soldiers was released and they fell to the ground, coughing and trying to catch their breath.
“As I promised,” he told Eir, “they are free to go. Even to return to Templarius and report what they have seen.”
Eir’s smile was only brief before Arylos’s rock-like grip tightened on her yet again. “And by what they’ve seen,” he growled, “it will be the example I’ll make out of you.”
Arylos threw Eir to the ground and he grabbed one of her clockwork wings with both hands.
Eir’s silent prayer was unheard as Arylos pulled with his otherworldly strength. Eir’s screams sounded through the air as the wings separated from her flesh, tearing muscle and sinew, pulling metal bindings out of her skin, blood pouring from her gaping wound as the wing was pulled out of her back, dangling muscle, blood vessels, and bone from the end. Arylos reached for the other wing and pulled it off in a similar fashion, a sight of horror as the fallen valkyrie fell to the ground, wingless and broken.
Eir’s last thoughts were of home; her family, the twilight sky of her world, the promise to her sisters that she would return, all fading away like the energy that flowed through her body, consumed in an endless black sea.
Arylos threw the sundered wings to the side and turned his gaze to the Templarian soldiers. The soldiers could only stare, shaking, unbelieving of what they just witnessed. Arylos only watched, waiting for them to leave or continue the fight.
One soldier was brave, or dumb enough to try. He reached for his sword and launched himself at the burning Arylos. With a few swift movements, Arylos disarmed and struck back the soldier in the chest, shattering bones and crushing organs whose blood came spilling from the soldier’s mouth. The soldier gave one glance to Arylos before his body started to glow a brilliant yellow light. Arylos scoffed and approached the glowing soldier and in a swift motion, twisted his head around, fracturing his neck.
The energy gathering around the soldier faded in a sudden blast before the soldier’s corpse fell to the ground in a crumpled mess. Arylos turned his gaze yet again to the others. They backed away and in bright beams of white light, vanished into the sky.
Iris slowly approached Arylos, who seemed more monster than anything else. Arylos breathed in rhythm and as he closed his fists, the flames surrounding his body were absorbed into his body and his wings retreated under his flesh again. Arylos fell to his knees, barely able to keep his breath. Iris rushed to his side, about to ask if he was alright, but he waved it off.
“I am alright,” he responded, catching his breath, “I am no worse off than the rest of your people.” Arylos rose to his feet, taking deep breaths. “You took them to the forest, correct?” he asked, “those soldiers came from the forest, we must find them. And fast.”
Iris took a moment before she realised what Arylos was getting at; the soldiers just came from where she evacuated the villagers; meaning something may have happened to them.
Arylos recollected his sword and the duo took off into the woods, searching for whatever signs they could. Iris searched for footprints in the grass to follow while Arylos smelled the air for blood to find survivors. Working together, the two eventually came to a clearing that bore a vision from Iris’s worst nightmares; a sight to chill her blood.
The clearing was littered with corpses of all genders and ages, the once lush green forest floor now painted red with blood. The cool air of pine and wood is now metallic and foul.
Iris was on the verge of tears as she searched the bodies, identifying each of them. Morn’r, Shinda, Mervos, Marbh, all gone, all dead and now one with the ground. Eventually, she found a familiar body. She turned the body over and found herself unable to hold her tears back as she locked eyes with the grey and lifeless eyes of Obo’e, clutching tomes to his chest that now bore ink of his blood and a hole through them where a blade pierced his heart.
She lost herself to her grief. All of her friends were dead, but what of her family?
“Iris.” Arylos called to her, his voice heavy and mournful. She looked over and saw him knelt down by a tree. With a wave of his hand, he beckoned her to come to him. She wiped her eyes and got up and approached him. When she walked to the other side of the tree, she found her father leaned up against the tree, the hole in his gut now crusted and black, but he was just barely breathing.
“Iris,” Gavan called out, his voice hoarse and weak, “are you there?”
Arylos took a step back and Iris replaced him by Gavan’s side. “I’m here, father,” she responded, her eyes welling up.
Gavan sighed as he laid eyes on his daughter and he cupped her face in his palm, “You don’t know how relieved I am to see you,” he said, tears streaming from his eyes, “to see you hale and whole, safe.” Iris shared an embrace with her father.
“What happened?” Iris asked.
Gavan sighed, “they found us,” he said. “There was little we could do. They cut us down, laughing all the while. I tried to fight back, but I could do very little.”
“What of mother?” Iris asked, her concern rising.
Gavan shook his head and glanced at Arylos. The two had a silent exchange of words.
“She’s gone,” Arylos told Iris with remorse, “she was the first who tried to protect the group.” Arylos gestured towards a corpse that lay behind him, only the feet sticking out from the bloodstained bushes.
Iris couldn’t believe what she was hearing. There was no way. Everyone was dead? Everyone?
“Now is not the time to feel sorry,” Gavan told Iris, “you still live, and that is more than enough. To know you are safe brings me peace.” Gavan handed Iris his sheathed blade, its brilliant hilt now stained with blood. “Take this,” he told her, “this was to be yours after my death. And it seems that day has come.”
Iris took the blade. She wanted to say no, reject it, tell her father to get on his feet, but reality was punching her in the gut. This was goodbye.
Gavan turned to Arylos. “I hate to ask this after what my ancestors did to you,” he began, “but I can no longer watch over her. Can I ask you to do it in my stead as you have done so far?”
Arylos looked to Iris who was still trying to take this all in. “As if you need to ask,” Arylos replied, “It was my fault this happened. Your people got dragged into a fight that was mine alone and now paid the ultimate price. As penance for that sin, I will watch over her as well as you have.”
Gavan smiled, taking solace in Arylos’s assurances. He and Iris shared an embrace once more, “I love you, my child” he whispered as his arms went limp. Gavan was no more, saving the last of his strength to make sure his child was safe.
Iris’s cries were almost too much for Arylos to bear. He meant what he said; this was all his fault, even if it was indirect. Iris may have been the one to awaken him, but it was his actions that led to the Templarians hunting him and Arylos should have stayed. If he had, he would have been there to stop the soldiers before things became deadly.
It was his fault either way, and he had to live with that. And bearing the sound of Iris mourning her dead family and friends was penance for that. His peaceful life he wanted was beyond reach now; he would have to live to Iris’s mercy.
Arylos approached a tall fir not too far away. He would have to make it up to Iris and intended to do so. He drew his sword and with a loud howl, he cleaved the tree’s trunk in a single strike and the tree came crashing down. Arylos then began carving at it, bringing it down to manageable pieces, leaving Iris to mourn in peace.
Within an hour, Arylos had built a series of pyres in the ruins of the Nageki and brought all of the villagers back to the village and placed them on a pyre. The last to lay were Gavan and Suki.
Once Arylos laid them down, he turned to Iris. “Please,” he asked, “if you can, tell me each of their names.”
Iris wiped fresh tears from her eyes, “what do you mean?”
Arylos bowed his head, “They died with no one to remember them but you.” he told her. “As my own personal wish, I want to know their names so at least I can remember them with you. If that’s too much or too painful, then you can say no.”
Iris shook her head, “No, you’re right,” she told him, “you’re shouldering this, so you deserve to know. And it would be a proper send off.”
Iris swallowed her emotions as she walked by each body and told Arylos their name, age, and what she knew about them. Arylos absorbed the information diligently, recanting each of their names as he walked past before ending on Nashonaru Gavan and Suki.
“112 broken souls,” Arylos began an ancient prayer, “112 souls, sundered in this world, I offer to the Sunless Sea. Adrift and at peace, may they rest. For if they never see the light of day again, may they instead rest under an endless twilight; a black and starred sky, like diamonds scattered on a gown blacker than night.”
Arylos conjured flames from his hand yet before he could light the pyres, Iris grabbed his burning hand. She said nothing but refused to let go. Arylos caught the message. He nodded and extinguished the flames and drew his sword and picked up a flint. These mortals died by divine hands using magic. They should not be cremated by unnatural fire.
Arylos struck the flint against his blade until it created hot flames in the wood of the pyre. He then carried the flames to each pyre and the two watched them burn until morning.