Spamming the backed-up chapters like a crazy person! Anyway, I’ve already drafted the next story arc so I’m slowly putting it to pieces. I might take a day or two to kind of create a full structure, so chapters might go dry again, but I’ll try my best to stay on the daily schedule from now on. Thank you guys for reading 🙂
CHAPTER XII – THE CURSED
“Should even the whole world pray and kneel, the graves would remain unhindered. Such is the cruelty of the living.” – Leer Swolth, ‘The Dead End’, Year 137 of Moon-Lyn Calender
Just as Yarrn said, by sticking to the main road, the group had rather safe journey through the valley and the mountain pass. They’d hear growls and cries of the beasts from time to time, and even spot a few in the distance, but none ever approached them. With Lyon’s help of magic and medicine, Eon was finally fully healed shortly after they’ve left mountain pass. The scenery beyond it hasn’t changed much, save for even harsher weather, and they continued on walking through their planned route. For this part of the journey, Elain had joined Lye and Lyon upfront, while Yarrn stayed behind to chat with Eon. She’d occasionally glance backwards, but most of her attention was on the surrounding wildlife, hoping that they’d meet a High Beast so she can finally become a Guardian.
About two hours away from the mountain pass, the landscape finally began changing; the crude tundras turned into raw rocks, scattered about with no care, and even further the group saw fields dyed white with snow. Most shrugged at the very thought of camping in the snow, but what caught Eon’s attention even more was a steep mountain to the east, a few kilometers off the main road. There weren’t any beasts screeching or orbiting the mountain, but he’d noticed sparks of campfire throughout the mountain. They were doused in fog so others hadn’t noticed them at all, and there were bountiful spread from bottom to summit. It almost looked as if there was a mountain-large village placed there, but nothing on their map indicated that anyone lived there.
Curious, Eon called out to the group and told them to follow him. As they inched closer, Yarrn was the second one to discern campfires beyond the fog, and shortly after the remaining three did so as well. Lyon was the most confused of all; as someone who had hoped to become a King one day, he had studied majority of the Kingdom in great detail – where are certain villages, what people and races inhabit them, what are the living conditions like and such. Roughly five hundred meters away they’ve finally passed through the thick fog and found themselves looking at a rather odd sight. Instead of a single mountain as they first suspected, they noticed several mountain rings inching in a crescent shape; but what was even more curious was that there were several large holes dug out at the sides. In addition, they could clearly see dozens of roads spiraling around, up and down the mountain rings, clearly man made, and even a few passing figures as they climbed or descended.
Lyon was barking at his brain trying to figure out which village was this, but nothing struck him within his memory. Although they definitely are certain unexplored areas around the Kingdom due to its sheer size, this place here was relatively close to Dawnfae and should have been noted decades ago – yet there were no records of it anywhere.
“What do you think?” Eon asked the young man who responded by shaking his head in disbelief. “Maybe we should just turn around and walk away?”
“They don’t seem aggressive though,” Yarrn said. “I don’t see any guards or even watchtowers around. Maybe they’re just nomads who recently settled here?”
“Are you an idiot?” Elain jumped at the opportunity to insult him. “To build a village as complex as this in the mountain must have taken a few generations at least.”
“Not if they used magic.” Lye added.
“You three stay here,” Eon said. Lye, Lyon and Elain immediately knew he was referring to them. Although all three wished to go as well, they said nothing and just nodded. “Conceal your aura,” he then turned to Yarrn. “We’ll just say we’re travelers who got lost.”
“Let’s hope they don’t chain us up.” Yarrn replied, smiling.
The two left the hiding place behind a large boulder and headed towards one of the roads that led upwards. Eon’s armor was completely destroyed without any hope of repair, so he was wearing simple leather pants and plain, white shirt, with sword neatly locked in a scabbard hanging on his side. Yarrn wore a black robe above his plain clothes, but didn’t put hood over his face.
They walked for nearly an hour upwards before meeting another person. At the crossing that had three roads lead in different directions, a woman was standing next to a human-sized statue, on her knees, praying. The statue was of an old woman, bare naked, with her hands covering her indecent spots. The woman had high forehead and lengthy hair, spiraling down to her knees, as well as a rather solemn expression, pointing downwards.
“…to grant me the strength and wisdom,” Eon and Yarrn caught the end whiff of the woman’s prayer. “To fight the difficult times.” the woman got up and bowed before turning around, jumping in a scare as she spotted two men standing indifferently just a few meters away from her. Her eyes quickly scanned the three roads and in panic she flung herself to the far right one, the one that was furthest away from two men.
“Hey, wai…” before he even had a chance to ask a question, the woman had already bolted beyond their sight. The road she took led even further upwards as it circled the far end side of the mountain. “Let’s follow her?” Eon asked Yarrn, dejected.
“Yeah, let’s follow a fleeing woman. I sure miss common sense.”
Their pace was slow but the strides were rather large as they followed the woman. The road that was so far rather wide suddenly shrunk, leaving enough place for barely a single person to walk about it unhinged. Eon led the way while Yarrn followed a little bit further behind. A single glance to his left had him coughing up blood; one slip and it was done. From this high up, they couldn’t even see halfway to the bottom of the dark abyss.
The road went on for a long time as it circled the entire left side of the mountain, moving towards the center on the other side. They had finally reached what looked like another cross section, but when they finally emerged on the clearing, they weren’t greeted by split roads: but by twenty armed people gritting their teeth at them. Behind the army was a woman that ran away from them, pointing her finger at the two. Eon and Yarrn weakly smiled; nearly all armed people were below level 10, but they were so exhausted they had no desire to fight.
“H-hello there,” Eon smiled as warmly as he could, awkwardly waving towards the group. “My name is Clay and this here is my friend Yarrn. We’re a pair of travelers that got lost, so we had hoped you could give us some directions.”
“Turn around and leave the mountain,” the man at the far front said; he had silver-colored hair and seemingly jaded eyes as he waged them. “There are your directions.”
“Can we at least rest for a little while?” Eon added. “The climb up here wasn’t that easy.”
“Who are you and what exactly is your mission?” the same man ignored Eon’s request and instead cocked his crossbow, aiming at Eon’s head.
“We already –”
“Cut the crap,” he interrupted. “We already know that you are a part of Ashtar family,” his eyes suddenly gleamed with conviction. “What? It wasn’t enough that you slaughtered our cousin village so now you came to hunt us down too? Too bad!”
“Alright,” Eon sighed, seeing as nothing he said would change these people’s mind. He had to force it. “You want to fight me?” he suddenly ended his Aura Concealment spell, drawing out his sword. Within a breath, all weapons that were pointed at him disappeared, and eyes of the conviction turned dim, veered by brutal fear.
“Y-y-you … Fallen …” the man muttered as he stared at Eon in disbelief. “Impossible!”
“No, no,” Yarrn joined in, smiling. “It’s very possible. Trust me.”
“You need to leave now!” another voice suddenly echoed out from behind the crowd; a person-wide gap suddenly opened up and through it came an elderly woman, holding a stick as she walked, half-bent over due to her age. “Either leave or kill us all immediately! We might already be dead anyway!”
“We have no intention of killing anyone,” Eon said, withdrawing his sword. “We’re merely confused as to why is there a village here out of a sudden.”
“It’s none of your business!” one had to give it to the old woman – she showed no fear as she firmly stationed herself just a step away from Eon, looking up. “You and your cursed race need to leave us normal folk alone already! To think you’d even proudly display your origins … have you no shame left?!” Eon had an expressionless look on his face, but confusion surged from within. They weren’t exactly hostile or aggressive against him – they simply didn’t want to have any connection to him from the looks of it. But Eon had already managed to conclude a few things from the scattered information he’d gotten.
“Your warding has been damaged,” Eon said as he cast Aura Concealment yet again. “Most likely a beast broke it at some point. My group and I will stay just outside the mountain until tomorrow to make sure nobody else spots you while you repair it. If you have anyone who can use magic, feel free to link his soul to mine; if anyone ever troubles you, don’t be shy.”
“Empty words from the damned!” the old lady barked as she turned around. “But don’t think we won’t take you up on that offer. Now get lost.”
Without pondering, Eon and Yarrn quickly began descending down the mountain, both processing the information they had gotten. Eon had quickly concluded that something was well off; extermination of the village, Ashtar family, going into hiding, cursed Fallen – all these bits and pieces flew through his mind at rapid pace as he tried to draw a conclusive fact about everything.
“Looks like your race isn’t as grand as we were led to believe,” Yarrn said when they were halfway through the climb they had made up. “It’d be best if you kept it hidden from now on.”
“Did you read up on the lore of the game?” Eon asked. “Anything that stuck out about the Fallen?”
“Strangely,” Yarrn said. “Out of all the races, the Fallen practically had no solid info on them. Even what was there was mostly written in the style of legends and myths surrounding them. Apparently, they’re the oldest race inhabiting the Meer continent and would mostly remain neutral in the conflicts of other races. There’s absolutely no information on their origins or even how they come to be nowadays. I didn’t really research that much, but hey, it’s better than nothing.”
“I should have just become a Demon,” Eon sighed. “Still OP, but at least I’d know for certain I’m the seer of evil so I’d act accordingly. Damn game creators…not only are the systems in place wacky, practically everything about this game stinks of kids designing it.”
“To be fair,” Yarrn said. “From what I figured, we’ve arrived in a pre-patches world. For instance, a month after game’s release, they added the first massive patch. From what I heard they nerfed base stats of nearly every High Race and that they even added more restrictions upon them, while heavily buffing the Low Races. None of that is present here though.”
Shortly after they’ve joined up with the three that impatiently waited behind a boulder and informed them of what happened. They quickly built a campfire and sat around it, preparing to endure the harsh night of the winter.
KINGDOM OF ASHLAND, CAPITAL ASHBORN
Dozens of figures stood at the sides as the two were kneeling in the dead center. King’s Hall was vast and spectacular in design, but most of the lights were extinguished, with only a few torches lighting up a few meters around the King’s Throne. It was raised up on a platform that was ten square meters large and was made of granite. The throne itself was several meters tall, wholly symmetrical and made of gold. The sides of the rising throne were shaped into blades, adorned with sapphires and rubies throughout, shimmering even in the dark. The person sitting on the throne was Ashland’s King, Theodore the Eight. He was a rather old man, almost one hundred and fifty years old, and his appearance reflected his age. His wrinkled face barely gave a way to his facial features, and from the distance he appeared to have his eyes permanently closed. His gray hair was hidden behind bejeweled crown, and his thinned and old body was obfuscated by a highly adorned robe, threaded in several prismatic colors and garments. He was leaning his head on his hand as he stared down the two that didn’t dare look up.
“You have failed?” he asked harshly.
“Forgive us my King,” the man bent even further as he spoke up humbly. “But his strength far exceeded our expectations.”
“Is that relevant in any way?” the King asked back. “Your mission was to scout out and kill the reported member of the Fallen. From what I understood, you have completely failed your mission and still dared to return to your homeland. Am I wrong?”
“N-no, my King.”
“Has my army grown so weak as to fear engaging in a battle of ferocity and death? If so, why am I even doing this?”
“Revered King,” one of the men standing in the shadows spoke up, joining the two who were kneeling. He merely bowed down before looking up and continuing. “Hannah and Ty are our two most promising youths, far exceeding all others in their age group. I’ve personally witnessed their prowess on several occasions and can attest to their capabilities better than the most. If the two had deemed their opponent extremely dangerous, then I’m inclined to trust them beyond suspicion.”
“I must be growing even older than I thought since my men dare even speak when not spoken to,” the King sighed, merely throwing a glance at the man that spoke up. “You two. Since Master Ghill trusts you so much, I’ll listen to you. Tell me, out of the best fighters in the Institute, who’s the closest to his supposed strength?”
“Forgive my insolence, revered King,” Hannah was the one to speak up now, finally gathering enough courage to look up to the King. “But I firmly believe that there is no one within the Institute or the Army who can engage in duel with this man with assurance of victory.” her words caused the entire hall to erupt into an uproar. Insults were flung like stones from slingshot at the young girl, and even the man that stepped up to speak up for them quickly returned to the shadows.
“How dare you insult our great fighters?!”
“Trying to excuse your failure using such shameful ways?! Off with your heads!”
“Silence!” the King’s voice silenced all others within moment’s notice. Despite his old age, his shout gave off powerful aura and no one dared question. “If what you say is true,” he then turned to the two who nearly began crying. “Then I have no issues with your inability to complete the mission. But, what you are saying is, and I’m sure you understand, unprecedented insult to every one of your colleagues. Do you admit to this?”
“Yes, my King.” the two replied in unison.
“Whether what you say is the truth or a lie is irrelevant – we’ll learn of it eventually. However, as a punishment for your words, you two will have to face each person who felt insulted by your words in a two on two duel. Do you comply?”
“Yes, my King.” the two replied after brief pause. Do I comply? Can I even reject you old fart? Young man thought inwardly, bitterness escaping his humble face.
“Report this to everyone whose status is above theirs,” he then turned to the men in shadow. “Whoever desires to wash the stain on their honor is to report in three days to the Colosseum, where the public will be able to enjoy the duels. That is all. You may leave.”
“Long live the High King!”
The two were taken by a duo of guards armored with silver and thrown in a dungeon beneath the palace. Even though they were offenders, they were treated with respect. Their cells were clean and had individual beds and toilets, and they would even be fed three times a day. They already envisioned similar outcome and thought they were well prepared for it, but it still stung. They knew, very well, that duels were merely an excuse for them to be beaten down to the doors of death over and over again, as a moral lesson to never do it again. They could do nothing but bitterly swallow the reality and hope at least some of their superiors would be kind enough to not take their words to heart – but they were also aware those were mere, wishful dreams of the imprisoned.