It was still late afternoon on the day before Ezekiel was set to head out on the Guild’s expedition to the new Ruins in the Desolate Lands.
Ezekiel had headed home after he and his friends had finished at the restaurant. He had tried to have a good time, but just wasn’t able to after having run into Aldor.
Luckily, it seemed that he hadn’t wanted to start a fight in the middle of the city. But Aldor’s words still had an effect on Ezekiel, as he knew he’d have to watch his back even more when he went into the Ruins in two weeks' time.
‘That is, if they even decide to wait two weeks.’ Ezekiel couldn’t help but think, as the possibility of trying to remove him as a potential problem before they even got to the Ruins crossed his mind.
He was surprised, however, when as soon as he got home, his father was waiting for him just inside. It looked like he had a fairly pleased expression on his face as well.
“We need to stop by the Church before you leave tomorrow. It seems like your fellow researchers have some gifts for you.”
After Warren explained what they needed to do, they left Evelyn and the twins at home to head over to the Grand Cathedral. Making their way into the back areas where Quentin Rudy’s workshop was.
Cautiously opening the door to the room that he hadn’t been in for over a month. Ezekiel entered when he confirmed there were no explosions, rogue spells, or other catastrophic events waiting to occur.
Standing in the center of the room, Lina, Quentin, Issa, Trent, and Merlot, are all waiting for him.
“Ezekiel!” Issa exclaims as Ezekiel and his father approach.
She dashes forward to give Ezekiel a brief hug before standing up and pulling him back.
“C’mon, c’mon, we have gifts for you!”
Ezekiel moved toward the rest of the scholars and researchers. They parted as he got closer to them, showing off the items that were on the table behind them.
“We all got you something that we thought would help you on the expedition.”
Five different items were laid out for him to see.
“Now, now, Issa, you can tell him more about your gift when we get to it.”
Lina’s voice stopped Issa from continuing, as well as brought her happy mood to a more temperate and calm tone as she brought Ezekiel to the table.
“Sorry, Master, I just got excited.”
Lina just nodded at her apprentice before turning to Ezekiel and Warren, who was looking amused and thankful as his son looked over the gifts.
“The first gift-”
“Is an invention of mine that I think will greatly help in making sure you stay alive so you can come back and help me with more experiments.”
Quentin’s voice cut off Lina’s as he finally couldn’t hold in his own excitement anymore and moved to show off the strange boots that were on the table.
“These boots have special enchantments that will allow you to run as fast as a Tier three Tempest Spirit for as long as you channel Void mana into them. But you’ll need to be careful, as there wasn’t any room for safeties, so it only goes at one speed.”
Ezekiel took the boots, placing them in a sack that Issa supplied with a nervous grin as Quentin explained his gift to Ezekiel.
“I’ll go next, I suppose.” Lina said, cutting off Quentin this time. “My gift is simple. A second life if you’re in danger. Should your body take enough physical damage beyond a certain threshold, this pendant will activate, and the seed inside it will flood your body with enough Life energy to heal any bodily wound you may have. It only works once, so be careful if you do use it.”
Ezekiel looked at the pendant in awe. It seemed to be a glass pendant at first, but then he realized it was actually amber, and in the center of the amber was a small green seed.
The moment he picked up the pendant, he felt a connection to it that he knew meant that it would only work for him, even if he lost it at some point.
He could also tell that it wouldn’t work if he broke through to Tier two, but that made sense, as a lifesaving treasure like this would be far too costly to have it work for a higher Tier being.
“Me next!” Issa exclaimed as she picked up and handed over her own gift. “These are special bandages I made by weaving fibers from plants I grew myself. They can be used just like an enchanted object. Just channel your mana through them and they’ll clean and help heal any wound they’re used on.”
Issa looked incredibly proud of herself. This was the first truly magical item she had made before, and she was ecstatic that it was going to be used to help a kid she’d seen make so many discoveries regarding the use and properties of the most elusive and unknown type of mana.
Turning to Trent and Merlot, Ezekiel was curious as to what they had gotten him.
“Sorry kid. Our gifts aren’t as impressive.” Trent said in a disinterested voice as he held out a simple sword that was resting in a scabbard. This blade is super tough, to the point that it shouldn’t explode, even if you channel a full step of mana into it.”
Trent wasn’t wrong. A tougher sword was nowhere near as impressive as his other gifts, but Ezekiel was still grateful all the same.
“My gift actually does the opposite.” Merlot said as he held out a relatively large pouch. “I figured you’d want an alternative to getting up close and personal with your enemies.”
Opening the pouch for all to see, Merlot pulled out a roughly one-inch-wide metal ball.
“These ball bearings will help with that. They’re enchanted to shatter if too much mana gets pumped into them, but only after three seconds of crossing the threshold. Which is about ten mana. There’s a hundred in total, but given where you’re going, that might still not be enough.”
He handed the pouch over to Ezekiel, who nearly threw it upwards as it was far lighter than expected.
“Ah! That’s the other thing. The pouch has a simple weightlessness enchantment on it, so it won’t weigh you down while you’re traveling.”
Ezekiel was at a loss for words. He’d only known these people for a few weeks, and yet they were all willing to give him gifts potentially worth hundreds of gold coins, just to try and help him get home safe.
“Thank you.” Was all that he could get out as he looked at all the gifts. “I also have a gift for you.”
Ezekiel handed over multiple copies of the notes and explanations for the meditation techniques he had been working on.
He had been working on these in his spare time since the day he had broken through. The notes for the centrifugal compressor were particularly detailed, as well as the warnings regarding the pressure his mind and soul seemed to go under when he broke through.
Everyone in the room was shocked, especially Quentin, as he instantly became enamored by the possibilities that could be achieved by using the figure of the compressor in enchanted objects.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay for too long after the gift giving, as the Scholars had their own duties, as did the apprentices.
Trent in particular looked fairly annoyed as left to go to his own workshop. Muttering about a waste of time, and how he didn’t see why he needed to be there for the gift giving.
So, Ezekiel and Warren made their way back through the Cathedral to return home. Only to be stopped by Merlot as they were about to cross the boundary line of the Cathedral.
“Wait! Wait up for a second.”
Merlot was panting as he reached Ezekiel and Warren. Having worked up a sweat as he wasn’t used to such physical activity, what with him being a researcher first and foremost.
“There’s one more thing I need to give you before you go. I was told not to say anything, as this involves the investigation the Church has been conducting, but I think you need to know it now.”
Warren and Ezekiel shared a look before turning back to Merlot, concerned looks crossing both their faces as they awaited whatever news he had to share.
“It’s about Trent. I think he’s the one who leaked the information on Ezekiel.”
The next day, Ezekiel had gotten up bright and early, regardless of the lack of sleep brought about by the conversation with Merlot the previous night, and he was now in yet another area of the city he’d never been to before.
Standing at the northwest gate of Harkem, Ezekiel was being fussed over by his mother as she and the rest of his family saw him off. Reya sat to the side on the street, watching with some amusement.
“You do everything you can to stay safe. Do you understand? If you need to, you run, and leave everyone else behind. The only thing that matters is that you come back here safe and sound. Okay?”
Evelyn was almost in tears as she checked over Ezekiel. Tugging at his clothes here and there as she checked the Rune work a few more times before he left.
He was wearing a form fitting suit under his regular clothes, both layers having been enchanted by his mother for protection, though there was only so much she could do given that they couldn’t get a properly fitted armor set for him in the given timeframe.
He also had the weapons that were given to him from the Church research team.
Along with that, he had a backpack filled with what could be considered as standard camping supplies. A small tent, bedroll, canteen, rations, a change of clothes, and a few other miscellaneous necessities, like tool kits for his weapons.
Shari and Drew were also there to see him off. Yennifrey and Riley weren’t able to come to see him off for unexplained reasons but had said their goodbyes the day before.
It was early enough that his friends and sisters wouldn’t be going to school for another hour or so. So, with sleepy eyes they also came forward to give him hugs, begging him not to leave all the while.
“Please don’t go, big bro!”
“Stay! Please -yawn- stay!”
Hearing his sisters begging him to remain in the city made him feel incredibly guilty, but Ezekiel knew that the cost of him not going on this expedition was too much for him or anyone in his family to pay.
“I’m sorry, girls, but I need to go. If I don’t, then Theo will need to leave, and if that happens, he’ll never come back.”
Wendy and Ellen looked incredibly conflicted as they thought about the possibility of Theo leaving forever.
“It’ll only be for a couple months. Who knows, I might even find something to bring back for you.”
The twins perked up at the thought of a gift, as did Shari and Drew.
“Yes, you two, that includes both of you, as well as Riley and Yennifrey.”
Shari and Drew looked at him as came forward and gave them both a hug. Shari nearly broke into tears, and Drew was in the same boat as their Spirits nuzzled them to give comfort.
“You make sure you come back!” Shari finally cried.
“Yeah! You need to tell me all about it and help me get stronger so that I can join a Guild properly in the future!” Drew exclaimed as he shrugged Ezekiel off.
“You got it.” Ezekiel said as he smiled. “I'll see you all soon enough.”
Ezekiel turned towards the gates to see his father discussing some final details with Naeri and Gerome. Theo was resting on Warren’s shoulder like usual.
Off to the side was also Garrad, sitting atop Brucey, who had grown to the size of a horse.
“So, north first, across the Upper Crossings Bridge, then east across the Turnbout River? Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave from the port and take the river up? Or even just cross the water now and make way up on foot? That should cut at least a few days off your travel time.”
Gerome looked affronted at Warren's comments regarding their intended travel route.
“If this was the first trip, or we were in a rush, maybe. But as it is, we’ve got a small outpost on this side of the river that we can use to rest and resupply at. The likelihood of running into Cruor or Umbrals is also significantly lower. Unless of course, you want your son in more danger than necessary?”
Warren flinched at Gerome’s accusation. His greatest concern was Ezekiel’s safety, but he also felt the safest thing for Ezekiel was to spend as little time on this expedition as possible.
“No. If this is a safer route then fine. Take as long as you need.” Warren finally relented.
Ezekiel was curious as to what had been grabbing his father’s attention.
He saw the map with the general outline of their intended route and tried to peer in closer. But, before he could, Gerome rolled up the map and stuffed it in his Void Pouch.
“Alright, I think that’s enough of that. You ready to go, kid?” Gerome asked.
“Yes!” Ezekiel exclaimed.
Gerome, Naeri, and Warren all gave Ezekiel pitying looks as they saw the excitement in his eyes.
There was caution there as well, and it was well hidden, but all three adults knew that it was there. But it was something that made them feel some relief at Ezekiel’s awareness of the situation.
“Wait. One last thing.”
Warren knelt down as he addressed his son in a low voice.
“Ezekiel, son. After seeing Aldor yesterday, I’m sure you understand just how dangerous this will be for you?”
Ezekiel nodded his head. His face was solemn as he recalled Aldor’s appearance the day before. Specifically, what he was wearing on his arm.
“Do not trust the Reaching Spires. They’ve made their thoughts well known to the City, and they will not be your friends. At no point should you be alone with them. If they ever take action against you, defend yourself, at any cost.”
Ezekiel couldn’t help but swallow nervously as he understood his father’s hidden meaning.
‘If they try to hurt you, kill them.’
He always knew that this world was different from his old one, magic notwithstanding, but it was things like this that remind him that the people of this world were also very different.
“... I will. I promise.” Ezekiel said, nervous, but utterly serious in his word.
Warren nodded. Not happy, but content that his son knew what he needed to do. Even if he didn’t believe that it was likely that Ezekiel would go through with it. Not at first, at least.
“Enough. We stayed back since I’m the one in charge of his safety, but the rest of our Guild’s that’s going on this expedition is waiting outside the city. Now come on. We need to go.”
Gerome’s voice was gruffer as he watched Warren say goodbye to Ezekiel, knowing that he would be the one to pay if they didn’t meet again two months from now.
“Also, those over-reaching bastards will need to get through me first! So, please have some faith. I’ll guarantee your son will be safe. Our contract states as much after all.
“Indeed. As touching as this is, I have my own destination I must be off to.”
Turning to Naeri, Warren and Ezekiel saw that she was also dressed for travel, but as far as they knew, she was not a part of the Church’s forces on this expedition.
“Don’t give me those looks. I’m not going to the Ruins. I’m meeting with an old friend. He just happens to be posted at one of the borders garrisons a little bit north of where you’ll the crossing the Turnbout.”
A look of understanding crossed Warren’s face as he seemed to realize where Naeri was headed to, but he didn’t say anything as he just nodded in acknowledgement.
“Then I hope your travels are good and swift.”
Naeri just tilted her head in thanks at Warren’s words before turning around and walking out of the city.
Gerome started moving as well, gesturing for Ezekiel to follow.
Ezekiel gave his father one last hug before turning and running to catch up to Garrad and Gerome. Brucey gave him a big sloppy lick as he got close before growing slightly bigger.
“Welp, time to go.”
Garrad huffed as he lifted Ezekiel, who yelped in surprise, up onto Brucey’s back before jumping on himself. Making sure they were both settled into the custom saddle like seats.
Gerome’s Spirit also grew to a larger size, and now there was a horse sized ferret standing next to them. He and Naeri climbed on quickly, and when all for were mounted, the Spirits dashed out of the city, Garrad and Gerome let out identical laughs as Ezekiel let loose a small scream at the speeds they were now moving.
Warren watched for a few moments before turning around to head back to his family before heading to work.
Only there was a group of people dressed in uniforms he didn’t recognize standing in front of him.
Further back, he could see several more speaking to Evelyn and the kids.
“Mister Luminance?” The apparent leader of the group asked as he stepped forward.
“Yes?” Warren was wary, and Theo’s hackles were rising. “Who are you?”
The man ignored Warren’s question. “I need you to come with us. Some accusations have been made against your wife regarding an altercation that happened roughly a month ago. As a member of the city guard, you are under suspicion of tampering with, and preventing an investigation.”
Warren shifted his stance in case things broke out into a fight.
“Under whose authority?”
Warren felt a chill run up his spine. He knew what event they were talking about, but there was no reason for the Count to get involved in a mere district guard captain’s personal business.
Warren’s voice was ice cold as he spoke. The tone and presence he were exuding made the group standing in front of him flinch nervously.
The leader of the group pulled out a piece of rolled up paper and handed it to Warren.
Taking the scroll, Warren grimaced as he recognized the official sigil of Count Forret. The orders were official. There was no way Warren knew of that could be used to falsify such documents.
Warren's voice was terse and angry as he rolled up the paper and handed it back to the group’s leader.
Walking with the group back to his wife, who looked just as worried and pissed off as he felt, Warren turned to look at Shari and Drew.
“I need you both to do me and Evelyn a favor.”
Shari and Drew turned to Warren, looking at him in confusion. They didn’t know what was going on, but they understood that nothing good was happening.
“Could you please escort Wendy and Ellen back to your manor, and stay with them? Perhaps let your parents know that we’re being arrested for trumped up charges as well.”
Shari and Drew looked scared, but while Shari wanted to protest, Drew just grew more determined. He understood that the nobles were making a move. They couldn’t go after Ezekiel right now, so they were going after his family.
“We’ll keep them as safe as we can. C’mon girls. Let’s go.”
Drew grabbed Shari’s hand before she could speak up. Though reluctant, Shari relented, and the two elder kids pulled Wendy and Ellen away, much to the two young girl’s confusion.
Theo and Reya nearly jumped to go after them, just in case. But a silent message and a quiet look shared between Warren and Evelyn held them back. They then started glaring at the group of officers sent by Count Forret. Annoyed that there were a bunch of fools taking up their precious time.
“Well then,” Warren said as he wrapped and arm around his wife’s shoulders, “Let’s go see what the noble courts want from us, shall we?”
Outside of Harkem, Ezekiel was holding on for dear life as the landscape seemed to blur as they ran at speeds that he related more to high-speed race cars from his previous life than he did to an, admittedly larger than normal, brown bear running at top speed.
Seeing this, Garrad reached forwards and helped Ezekiel readjust his position.
“Here. Hold on like this and put more weight on your legs. Use your mana if you must. Don’t just take the bruises if you don’t need to. We’ll start going slower when we catch up with the rest of the Titans.”
Heeding Garrad’s advice, Ezekiel found it much easier to sit as they made their way down the road leading northwest. Looking around, he was in awe at just how different the landscape was from what he remembered from his past life.
Having only lived within the city in this life, he didn’t know what it looked like in the world beyond the towering walls of Harkem.
He knew that the northmost portions of the city were either the Spirit Lands, or districts connected to them, but even the Spirit Lands weren’t really considered part of Erenon forest.
Much of the land to the south and west of the city was farmland, supplying Harkem with all its agricultural resources; and to the east was the Dressi river and Everclear Sea.
Since they had exited the northwest gate, they had left the city right next to the southern tip of Erenon. They would be passing through a bit of the forest before arriving at the Upper Crossings Bridge.
This was a massive bridge that was constantly guarded by a garrison of Willowbrush Imperial soldiers. If there were no delays, they would be arriving at the Upper Crossings later that night and crossing early in the morning.
Eventually, as the small party made their way up to the rest of the Wandering Titans’ Guild members, Ezekiel began to grow nervous as he thought about how he would be received by the rest of the Guild.
Brucey and Gerome’s ferret Spirit slowed to a more reasonable walk as they reached the rest of the party. Ezekiel saw that there were several carriages and wondered if he would be moved to one of those instead of riding on Brucey.
There were only around a dozen Hunters from what Ezekiel could see, and it didn’t seem like there were any that were lower than Tier three.
Ezekiel also notices that they weren’t all from the Wandering Titans Guild. There was one more Guild, this one with a gold-colored sash and a feather stitched into it. The Drifting Feathers Guild.
“Alright, kiddo, time for you to get into your actual ride.”
Garrad directed Brucey to one of the carriages, one with a Wandering Titans symbol on it. Opening up the door, Garrad picked up Ezekiel once again, and lifted him over to the carriage, dropping him off just inside the door.
“Alright, Ezekiel, your carriage mates are Tracy, Philip, Herend, Filia, and Nathanus.”
Garrad pointed to a woman with green eyes, and man with red eyes, a man with blue eyes, a girl with dark indigo eyes, and a man with gray eyes. All of them had a small to medium sized animal with them, but the bars on their sashes indicated they were Tier two, so their Spirits couldn’t change size.
“Hello.” Ezekiel said quietly as he moved to take a seat.
No one said anything as Ezekiel sat down.
“I can see you’re all getting along splendidly. Good. No bullying the kid. You got that?”
“Yes sir!” Each member of the Wandering Titans spoke up at Garrad’s prompting.
“Also, I know he doesn’t look like much, but he’s the one who discovered the new methods they're using to try and create Void mana meditation techniques. He’s also an amateur Enchanter due to his mother, who’s a Master level Enchantress.”
The Guild members in the carriage looked more interested in Ezekiel as this was explained.
“Did you not tell your own Guild members about me when you told them you’d be taking me with you?” Ezekiel asked in confusion.
He had figured that he’d have been the talk of the Guilds after all that had been leaked regarding his discoveries and position.
Seeing the more interested looks on his carriage mates’ faces, Ezekiel couldn’t help but think this trip might not be as bad as he had been worrying about. Hopefully.