Chapter 3a: The Need to Protect

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Chapter 3a: The Need to Protect

Post  Neutral Contrast on Wed Jun 06, 2012 1:38 am

Past in Perspective - Part 1
Chapter 3a: The Need to Protect




“C'mo-... en, let... o!”

'Huh,' I wondered, 'Who... was that, so nostalgic.'

“Ren!... s is your ch-... ake up already!!”

“Hu-AH!” A swift and sharp jab to my side ensured that my slumber was to come to its abrupt end- as well as to my little sister's presence. Before being allowed the chance to roll off the sturdy, earthen bed upon which I laid in... Agonizing pain, she seemed reluctant to accept my awakening. By the time I was finally up and fully alert, the several, bloodied bruises in the shape of her small fists all along my torso served as an excellent reminder- Never sleep in on our birthday.

“You brought it upon yourself,” She spoke with a hint of smugness, “How you could possibly forget about your own inauguration!?”

“I'm relatively certain that a weapon isn't going to grow impatient with me, Ceci.”

“You're supposed to be excited, though!... hmph, I guess you 'would' be the one guy in the entire village who'd rather sit around with your nose in the archives instead of finding your own awesome sword or axe or...How can you not be excited!?”

In spite of the fact that we had only just turned 12, she definitely knew how to hit where it hurts- both literally and figuratively. By now, most children our age would have found their own 'Divine Tool,' and begun preparing for the village's annual Sinect- a competition of sorts between several accomplished warriors and arcane students throughout the world...Or, at least those who are aware of our humble oasis village in the midst of a searing desert. Not to say that we don't get plenty of competitors- in all the texts I've read, nothing comes close to its splendor in comparison- or even tourists. Nomads and rogues without nations pass through fairly often, along with the occasional foreign ambassador with their share of pets aiming for a chance at whatever it is the Gods have in store for their champion.

Though, I digress. In all honestly, I've never really cared much for practicing any form of combat, nor do I share Cecilia's complete obsession with martial arts. I can't say that I blame her, however, she certainly has talent- By this time just last year, she had already bested nearly all of instructor Rinain's most capable students, the ordeal left most of them demoralized to the point where some had even given up entirely. Unfortunately for the dear master, she's not quite old enough to be given tutelage... I suppose natural ability simply begets inspiration. As for myself, I'd rather approach things from a more scholastic angle. Perhaps I'll be able to help others out more effectively with knowledge rather than pure, brute strength- after all, Neph has her older brother, probably the most accomplished warrior to date in our village's history, and Cecilia's... perfectly fine where that field's concerned. What on earth would 'I' be needed to protect? “And it doesn't help that we can't use magicks...”

“Huh? Something wrong?”

“Nothing, just thinking aloud. Give me a bit of time to get ready, alright?”

“Whoo!” She donned a rather dramatic tone, with a bit of sarcasm for good measure, I imagine. “Today, my li'l big brother's gonna become a strong, rugged man! Who knows, maybe after all this is through even Neph'll swoon for ya!”

The amount of deep, masculine emphasis she put on the word 'man' left me feeling perturbed, though I imagine her intent was to make me react to Nephiri's name. “Hmm, yeah, could work. Who knows, when you find your tool, maybe you’ll become a bit feminine and finally grab Ezlein’s eye, eh?”

To be fair, I never said I ‘wasn’t’ able to hit some weak spots as well. Ceci’s face flushed red, probably with more fury than embarrassment. Marcus Ezlein happens to be pretty far up there on the snide scale, even went out of his way to ask an invalid for a day alone by the lakeside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cecilia more exhausted, pouncing through the door to give me the what-for about her success. At the time, I guess you could say I was overjoyed that someone other than Neph was willing to accept us, or at least until late that afternoon when I caught him and some others laughing about the ordeal and placing bets on my way back to the archive hold. The next day, Ezlein knocked at our door and, well, let’s just say he hasn’t been walking too well for the past two months- or lifting things, or really doing anything other than lying in the fetal position inside his family’s hut.

She punched a nice hole right through my room’s wall towards the outside, though it could be said that an opening directly next to your bed is a wonderful addition to any room. “Nothing spells a good night’s sleep quite like exposure to the elements, I like it.”

“That’s great, Ren!” The steam seemed to puff out of her mouth every time she started talking. “Just ask sometime and maybe I’ll put in a skylight to accompany it!”
“Ah! Wonderful, I do fear ever so much for the well-being of some of these novels when I have to read them next to a flame, let’s try to avoid causing too much damage to our home though, if you’d be so kind.”

At least some good seemed to be coming out of her meditative practices, Ceci just walked out of the room with a perfectly ominous, “You win this time,” as she rounded the corner. I reveled a bit in the moment for my third consecutive victory, and while I packed all the allotted rations and equipment for our soul search, I couldn’t help but to think of how Ezlein’s doing, and if he’s been making sure to change the sheets frequently after someone knocks on his door.

We left the house in the earliest hours of the morning; the sun hadn’t even risen high enough for our shadows to be cast along the stone-lined pathways. Something seemed a little off, though, outside of the fact that I was walking towards the village’s edge with naught but my sister and I carrying simple robes to be put over our nightclothes, and a single day’s worth of rations in the form of dry, crushed bread and water. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… Well, at least until it hit me. A good chunk of limestone nearly the same size as my fist cracked against my shin, as the ground rose beneath me in the form of a human just a few inches shorter than myself. The sand parted, and I lost my footing, while the creature stood tall before my fatigued, fearful eyes.

“I think you’re forgetting a bit of baggage here, you two.” Cecilia laughed hysterically at my blunder; I guess my streak of victories came to a premature end, just as I was beginning to enjoy it, too. Nephiri outstretched her hand towards me. However, being the mysterious, cool type you’d read about as the protagonist in some climactic story or other, not only did I not push her hand away and walk towards the sunset in a blaze of glory, I even accepted the offer and thanked her for the help. “Oh! I’m so sorry, Ren! I thought I got rid of all the stones before I hid…I had no idea that I’d missed so many, though!” She poked curiously at all the small bruises on my arms and stomach, almost would have sworn she was taking some sick enjoyment in watching me keep down the yelps of pain.

“I understand, they’re all-PRETTY!” And yet another victory, lost to the stinging pain of defeat… or maybe just pain, “But, as much as they might intrigue you, they’re not exactly birthmarks. Pl-PLEASE uff… Okay if that’s enough, I’d like to get this charade over with so I can lose some more of my precious sleep.”

To be perfectly honest, if it weren’t for her finding humor in my sarcasm, I’d have turned into a straight-faced bore long ago. There’s always so much joy whenever Neph smiles…


“Alrighty, let’s do this!” I pictured a fierce battle cry, but all that ended up hitting my ears was a more squealed impersonation of my sister’s already failed impersonation of a lioness. It might have taken more energy to keep my laughter in check than it did to get out of bed before being ground into a fine paste by my wake-up call earlier. It became far easier as the melody was sung however. For nearly two minutes, the ebb and flow of her voice seemed to slow down time. It was a soothing presence, almost like being tossed from the desert sands into a mellow beach, feeling the tides brush against my toes. The bruises faded away slowly as my cells multiplied and died at a rapid pace, completely invigorated by the tune- healing magicks, by far were always my favorite incantations to hear; every verse in a restorative magicks’ lyrics is always so positive and beautiful, the anesthetic is so powerful and yet subtle that it feels like you were never in pain to begin with, that it was always your imagination, and even more beautiful is the physical phenomena which accompanies it. With each, individual spell, a different type of rejuvenating light appears to act as the physical manifestation of an anomaly’s removal; shades of blue often accompany reparation-type incantations, while greener hues tend to appear for spells that aim to rid the body of foreign presences. The hues grow intense and, in my personal opinion, more splendid as a caster’s skill improves, and Nephiri definitely had a talent for it. As the bruises faded, however, so did the smile I was unknowingly wearing- today was definitely a day of significance, but whether it was for better or worse, I couldn’t help but to wish the times like these weren’t so numbered.

I rose from the grave and stretched out my shiny new epidermis, “Ah, just like they sent him to us. Top notch job, Neph!” Cecilia had to give her input, the anesthesia left me in far too much of a dubious haze to care, though. We walked towards the boundary line of the village- or rather, Cecilia and Nephiri were dragging me, at least until the numbness in my legs had faded… or at least, when I thought it’d be appropriate to say it had- And as we approached it, a column of flame abruptly halted us. The smokeless pillars spread from side to side, until they practically covered the entire village’s border; the sand shifted spontaneously beneath its searing pillars, yet no heat radiated from the flames themselves- a rather peculiar, and distinguished attribute. Nephiri and Cecilia seemed too busy looking at me with scorn to join me in a reactive backwards roll, unfortunately for me, but sometimes one must pay for having feline reflexes- it is both a curse and a blessing, one might say.

Disregarding the obvious death stares from my sister and friend, I prepared for the arrival of our new obstacle with a professional poise, my far-too-early-to-wake-up bed hair slicked back and ready for action, the pinnacle of calm and collected-ness lived through me, ready to take on any challenges that lay before us. The spiraling columns dissipated into the hot desert winds, and just behind them, stood directly in front of us-



-Nothing. Well, perhaps a very underwhelming baby scorpion a little off center, the little monster definitely seemed ready to prove itself, though I doubt that’s what my companions had hoped for. Their scorn turned to awe, however, when a weak vortex of sand shifted around in the ground nearby, rapidly growing until it was nearly our size. The sheer force of the wind caused the miniature tornado to explode as it changed directions.

To our dismay again, though. Neph and Ceci sighed contemptuously, and I feared for my life as the outlook quickly turned grim. “Wha- oh, well that explains all the… noise.” Yawned an exhausted, masculine voice behind me, saved by the apathy of this newcomer, I would’ve turned and shaken the man’s hand had I not known who it was.
“What the hell kind of friend forgets mine and Ceci’s birthday like this!?” I opted instead to shout; at least I intended to, until a very precise sweep to the back of my knees caused me to drop like a stone at the word ‘birthday.’

“YOU’RE not one to talk, Ren.” I may not have been able to see it at the time, but the chill of her stare practically gave me frostbite.

“It’s not like… I expected you two to leave so early.” It was almost surprising that he wasn’t falling asleep mid-speech. “Especially not with my breakfast, as-erm, jerk. Besides, it’s not like… your tools are going anywhere anytime soon.”

“What… are you talking about, Noire?” Nephiri spoke from beside my ever-dearest sister, who currently was using me as a very intimidating foot stand. I heard the rustling sand nearby, and quickly clenched up with expectance of what was to come- “…Ren, you know what this means, right?”

The innocent and deadly sarcastic tone was enough to send even the hardiest of men to an early grave, though I held strong… Well, until I heard the cracking knuckles just a meter above. The next several minutes could quaintly be described as a friendly, family dispute over the displacement of someone’s meal- I’d rather not go much further into detail than that.

As Nephiri took to reconstructing my mangled limbs, her brother took to explaining exactly why he’d come to interrupt my smooth escape. “Actually, I just came to get my breakfast. I already went through all this, hell if I’m gonna let you get away with making me eat these disgusting rations over a home cooked meal.” He donned a slightly more serious tone while I painfully did what I can only compare to sobbing against the authority of my manhood, “Now that I think about it, though, maybe I should be accompanying you three as well.”

“Please don’t.” I choked out, doing everything in my power to reinvent the calm and collected-ness of before.

“I suppose… I shouldn’t worry about it too much; not like Neph doesn’t have over a week until her tool shows up on our radar, anyway.” This part I couldn’t really tell whether or not he was actually speaking half-heartedly or not, though he seemed completely indifferent with all the yawning.

Noire’s grim sentiment refused to leave my mind as we began running for the first of our three possible waypoints. Before I knew it, the distraction had me accidentally running off of the stone path which Nephiri created as she ran, and I fell into the loose sands.

“Oh shi-!” The shifting twisted my ankle, though Cecilia kept running along nonchalantly. Thankfully, our little guardian angel was there to save the day. The hilarity hit me like a brick as Neph’s stone path came to a dead halt along with her-as well as my sister’s carefree whistling-and followed up with the jubilant noise of her following in my unfortunate footsteps.

“Wha-AH!” Music to my ears; the confused expression on our guide’s face was priceless.

“Ren, what… was that about?”

“Well, you see, the sand-it beckoned me. In its almighty wisdom, it told me ‘You must get your eight hours of sleep, hero of the sands!’ Naturally, I needed to oblige… There’s a lot of sand out there, Neph.” I replied with a forced bravado, you could just tell she was holding back a snicker in her attempts to remain the ever-serious mature one.

“Oh, really? Why’d it take me too, then?” Cecilia was fuming.

“Well, it either said that or something along the lines of ‘There’s a bun in the pantry, pick up three pounds of flour, aeromet strips for the evening meal, and ask the apothecary abo-“

“You’re just asking for a new set of limbs, aren’t you?... AND WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN MY ROOM!?”

“Not vandalizing it, as far as I recall.” By this point we had taken Nephiri to the ground with laughter, until she lost focus and the stone platform below her dissolved into the sand.

"Oof," It was like pushing her out of bed, Cecilia couldn't resist bursting out laughing, I even chuckled. With several minutes now properly wasted, our trio returned on its quest. I felt a little more at ease thinking on Noire's statement, opting not to stress over something so likely to lack any real importance.



"Well, this looks-"
"Like a complete waste of time?" I cut Cecilia off mid-sentence as we gazed upon the first waypoint- a simple monument dedicated to the practice of restorative and other beneficial magicks, as well as their primary matriarchal and patriarchal deities, ? And ?. We pushed aside the glowing stone slab to reveal a stairwell leading underground.

"For a dedicated healing monument, its proving grounds look really... Grim." Cecilia shuddered, now was the time to strike.

"It makes sense, though. Along with the rejuvenating father Chetai, his wife Lapis acts as the flipped side of the coin, healing the souls of the deceased." She paused to ponder over what I'd said, before donning a dour expression. "Wait... So, does that mean this... Is a-"

"Crypt? Yep." She paused again, completely frozen with the unfortunate realization. "Actually, never mind Neph. This is far from a waste of time. Why, I'm practically oozing with excitement!"

"That's gr-great, pff-" Nephiri's face was burning red with effort to keep from laughing at my sister's grave outlook, so I burst the bubble by chiming in.

"W-w-well, n-nothing like a dank... Dark pit filled with d-d-dead people t-to toughen up!" Cecilia ran into the stairwell without a second thought, rushing headfirst with her trademark lioness roaring impression.

"Battle cry, perhaps?" Neph asked with intrigue.

"No clue, don't forget our human torch, Ceci!" and so, Nephiri and I followed in my sister's footsteps, giving our own, fearsome declarations of war on the undead.

The halls of the massive, underground tomb were far from what we expected, to Cecilia's relief. Bright, floating orbs illuminated the ornate corridors, where the deceased laid inside beautifully designed coffins. Everything felt so comfortable and homey, we probably could have lived there and no one'd hear any complaints from me.

"This is ridiculous; the temperature is even nice and cool. Why do the dead get all the nice things?"

"Because they don't complain about it, Ceci."

"Hilarious, Ren." our back and forth stopped for a bit, something seemed off. "Ren... Have you seen Neph anywhere?"

We stopped dead in our tracks. "What the... She was here just a moment ago."

"We probably just got separated, man this place is huge."

"Alright, got your tag? We'll split up and search for her."

"Roger, don't forget to look for your Lliese, just in case." She pulled a thin, sturdy rope from a pouch on her belt, stretching it nearly a meter before placing a humming tag on the end. I followed the motion, and we slapped the tags onto the nearest wall. They let out a synchronized D minor, before a vacuum suctioned them against the surface.

Last thing I remember while searching was shouting "Nephiri! I dropped a sandal!" Down one of the endless corridors. Of course, it wasn't true; we didn't even have sandals for the trek. Just hearing a response was good enough for me, though. Her voice seemed blurred, almost censored, and suddenly the comfortable hallways began to contort. It was like they were being wrung dry from outside. The air grew heavy, just as my entire body made contact with the floor.

I'm not sure how much time had passed; I was awakened by my sister kicking my stomach, though. Apparently I missed quite a bit- the ornate halls of the crypt were suddenly dank and gray, and the enormous maze had somehow shrunken to a small, three room set no larger than a normal hovel.

Nephiri was with Cecilia, at least, so there was something to be happy about. Before I really got the opportunity to ask anything, though, the entire story apparently had to be thrown out. "Ren, what the hell were you doing sleeping all this time?!"

"Well, I-"

"When I found Neph, we went to pick you up, but your tag was missing! The entire place somehow turned into this really suddenly, too..."

"You should've seen it, Ceci's face was priceless!"

"Over this? It's just dark!" Neph and I completely cut off the story for a good laugh at my sister's expense. Ah, the memories.

"Shut it! I'll have you know the room next door is completely packed with skeletons and corpses!"

"It smells pretty rank, too." Neph chimed in.

"Yeah, and then we had to fight thi-" a steady quake served as a nice alert that her story was bound to be cut short. We all ran with our tails between our legs hoping that there wouldn't be a cave in.

After we found ourselves outside and safely on Neph's platform, Cecilia just decided against explaining the rest of the tale, opting instead to show me a set of bright, diamond-like braces strewn along the knuckles of a new pair of black gloves that she was wearing. Wrapped around the gloves' wrists and fingers were glowing bands of silver, almost perfectly matching her hair.

"Long story short, I'm the proud owner of these babies now!" she cuddled them lovingly, before slamming her fist into the ground. The earth shook viciously as a fissure split the ground before her in two. From the pits rose jagged, crystalline spikes, with a massive one at the end. The spikes shot out of the ground so quickly that I ended up losing balance before the vibrations. "Ehee, what do you say to a...Friendly spar, Ren?"

"As much as I'd love to oblige, I think I'll take a rain check this time. Congrats, though, those tools certainly fit your...Personality."

"Krau and Eutz, as gifts from the deities of life and death! Krau is the boy, the crystal edges it uses can either heal or perforate depending on my intent. For example-"

She smashed the ground in Nephiri's direction, surrounding her with the spikes. "Neph, crack off a chunk and bite into it! Ooh, but first-" she ran up to Neph, smashing right into her shoulder.

"Ah! Wha-oh, alright I get it." Nephiri took a hold of one of the spikes' ends, tearing it off like it was paper. Without even giving it a second thought, she bit into it. "Huh, not as crunchy as I expected, but... Eh, needs honey." the humor was all well and good, but I was left speechless. The bruise on Nephiri's shoulder began to fade beneath the watch of a gentle, blue light. It was the first time I'd ever seen anything magical occur under my sister's control... Before I knew it, I was apparently crying.

"Ren? Is everything alright?" Neph asked, naturally.

"Huh?" I wiped a tear from my eyes, desperate to create an excuse quickly, "O-oh, I'm fine-must be all the dirt Cecilia's tossing up."

"Blame me, huh? You're probably just jealous of how wonderful my tool is."

"Seething with envy, your highness. You know, the Lliese were originally founded out of some sort of necessity. Maybe yours just materialized first because your impatience is too powerful?"

"Dang right it did, and I couldn't be more proud!" she squealed and took off the mitts, hugging them excitedly before tossing them into the air. They disintegrated mid-flight, "Ah! So that's how I store 'em!"

"You never showed us what Eutz does though!" Nephiri cried out, disappointed.

"Oh, I was told not to use Eutz yet, maybe it's super dangerous or something."

"Makes sense if it's a gift from the holy matron of death. It probably slaughters innocents or something crazy like that."

Ceci blushed angrily, "Ren! She'd never give someone a tool that can do that!"

Honestly, I was a bit afraid of the concept. Lapis isn't exactly known for being the kindest among the deities, and for all we knew, Eutz could very well be a weapon meant to bring about the apocalypse. It didn't help to think about how we were a special case, either.

"Well, regardless. It looks like that took a bit more time than it should've" Nephiri raised her hand to the horizon, lining her palms up end-to-end several times, "I'd say we've only got four or five hours of daylight left, we better get down to business. The next waypoint's southeast of here, about two miles. Let's go!"

The sun burned my back all the way to our destination-a bleached white castle of sorts, several times the size of our home, and risen from the ground in sheets of mud and shale.

"This must be the monument to Sigrund, the deity of color and flame definitely has a taste for...Extravagance. It seems ironic that anything built in his honor can't retain any color except white, huh?"

"White is the combination of all colors, Ren." Neph definitely got me there.

"Touché, eight points. I wonder what we're even supposed to do here, though."

"Don't tell me you can't remember the trials set before Arcanis by the Seven! And now Cecilia got me, the desert sun must've roasted my head too much. She was right, though; tradition holds that everyone who comes into their own needs to overcome three obstacles, set forth by the deities just as they'd done for Arcanis before giving him power over the elements. They vary for everyone, depending on their strengths, but always remain in the same order-strength, intellect, and wisdom.

"Seeing as how you got your weapons before we finish, it must mean we'll need them at some point, stay on guard."

"Right, this trial should be a cakewalk for you, so I just hope there aren't any more... Komodos."

A small tablet was inlaid into the drawbridge's control wheel, keeping the mechanism from spinning. On it read a question, "magicks are derived from light, a spectrum entwined in their fervor. What is the color of night?" Nephiri read for us.

"This has to be some type of trick question... If night is black, it's the absence of color, right?"

"Yeah, and Sigrund doesn't have jurisdiction over the night... Maybe it's purple?"

"The question also involves magic. Maybe we're supposed to name the type of magic with a black or purple aura?"

My sister and Neph continued their process of elimination as I thought on the question. It had to mean black, but the only verses of that color are necromantic, and don't have any relation to ---. Definitely a tough question, but maybe the answer is simple...

"Rebirth." the thought just shot out of my mouth. Suddenly the tablet burst into flame, releasing the wheel and letting the drawbridge slam into place. To my dismay, I was the only who screamed bloody murder as my companions remained unphased.

"No, 12 points Ceci, let's just-err, let's go."

Beyond the palace entrance rested a small room with no doors leading on. Rather, three more tablets locked onto matching sets of gears were inlaid nearby each other on the wall to our left. Each had the same headline as the first, just questions about the colors of different magical verses. "The colors of season, depth, and creativity... Why are they all so vague?"

"Do you think that they're just really obscure references? This is a test of the mind, after all, the answers can't be things that we don't already know in some way." Neph hit the nail on the head; I don't know how I didn't see it before.

"Now that I think about it, the color of seasons, I remember one historical text that explained a lot about the weather's effects on different magicks. There was one incantation in particular which isn't howev-.”

"Selusce, iyin fuhr mitz lessat, noirez-noirez lutf. Dormeisce lau juran esfie, selusce nokaid!" Neph shouted excitedly, just barely sticking to a rhythm. "ah-err, the song of storms. Because the incantation summons the same gust and adjusts the temperature perfectly for an uninhibited thunderstorm, it's not affected by the changing weather. "


"Perfect, now you just need to actually sing it correctly and you can be on your way!"

Storm, hear my plight, hum the tune of thunder. Lightning emblazons the meadow, beneath your storm. Regardless of how it sounds, the song of storms is among the most basic incantations, and is used primarily for survival by providing water and a cover of shade. Its simplicity is its power, you could say.

Neph sang the environmental hymn, albeit a little off tune and tempo, but the resulting weather was enough to stir up whatever device held the tablet in place. It was crushed by a set of moving gears, and with it, a hidden door opened in the wall nearby.

"Excellent, now to figure out the color of depth-"

"Maybe it refers to a body of water or a crevice of some sort."

"Hmm…Ever read that children's story, 'a little too low for lilies' then, Ceci?"

"Oh! 'De't lemu droi, droi. Feli suun verh aks, de't lemu lesi?'"

"Exactly." the earth lowered for my path, my path. Below the sun's mighty gaze, from the tremor in the earth. Unfortunately, since we didn't have the ability to cast, Cecilia's words inevitably fell on deaf ears. Contrarily, we 'did' know the effects of the hymn, and all it took was a well-positioned strike from Krau to set loose the underground locks holding the second set of gears in place. The tablet broke into several small pieces at our feet, and another hidden doorway opened directly behind the first. All that stood in our way now was a massive, ornate doorway, dwarfing our other obstacles.

"All that's left is the color of creativity, then."

"Yep, no clue what that one'd be." Neph admitted guiltily.

"Not a problem, honestly it's just a tricky riddle. The answer's I'm the question, ‘ytiv, itaerc.’ Only one hymn begins with the cry for rebellion. Care to sing the hymn of inspiration for us, Neph?”

“Of course! Ytiv itaerc, lureusc int ductara mach tre. Ytiv lureusc, umf ver mach stoi zin!”

Become inspired, allies, arise for glory and see. Arise, allies, where enemies and victory await. A famous verse for any major conflicts in Arcanian history, often spoken by a flagman or the leader of our small militia, it was apparently taught by pilgrims back long ago, though I can’t imagine why they’d have any use for it. Waves of orange and yellow flew through the air, strung along by Nephiri’s words, entangling themselves around my sister and I. My muscles tensed up in reaction, it was like being transformed into some physically superior beast, ready to trample my enemies without hesitation. The immense strain on my physique might’ve caused some pain, were it not for the rush of adrenaline which followed, the entire experience was euphoric and, well, inspiring for battle. Unlike the other doors, however, nothing happened as the verse finished. There was no indication as to what, exactly we were supposed to accomplish with our enhanced bulk, and in my mentally deprived state of combat readiness, it was difficult to think on the subject.

After a few minutes of Nephiri contemplating silently while our brother/sister duo repeatedly smashed the ground as we sat, waiting for the sensation to pass, a burst of festive confetti suddenly shot out from the walls and ceiling- in my heightened state of awareness, I’m just surprised I hadn’t gone on a rampage right then and there. “Well, that’s unfortunate. But I suppose it’s to be expected when you’ve only reached the second checkpoint!” A sarcastically god-like male voice boomed through the room. “Fortunately, for your efforts, Sigrund has given me leave to tell you of a slight change in direction!”

Nephiri was flabbergasted, though Cecilia and I were just grinding our teeth in frustration. “Wait, does that mea-?”

“Very much so! This is Sigrund’s first apostle and paragon of euphoria, Siegmund!” A rather rude and abrupt introduction, but fitting for a champion known for his passion for art and battle. “My blade has been lit aflame in a brilliant, light blue! Now, be on your way young warriors, let your passion pave the way towards a glorious attainment in-!”

“Thank you, we appreciate it!” Nephiri returned the favor, rushing us out of there so as to avoid having Cecilia and I destroy the entire palace. After nearly half an hour of trampling the grounds around the castle, the incantation’s effect finally wore off, leaving the two of us utterly exhausted. Strangely enough, all I can recall of that time was a time when Cecilia had slain a Minotaur, but I could’ve also been delusional.

For the second time in this single trial, I was awakened after a calming rest. Luckily, it was by Nephiri’s voice as opposed to my sister’s foot this time around, but on the flipside of that coin, it was already late in the evening, and dusk in the desert is infamous for its dangers.

“Minotaur? I’m… not so sure about that, it was more along the lines of a cactus.” Appropriate, at the very least it explained Cecilia’s apparent hangover of sorts. “She went absolutely nuts, even bit a huge chunk out of it, like there weren’t any spikes or anything!”

“It… uwah, stop… talking, please.”

“The Yincel desert cacti; known primarily for their extremely potent, alcoholic juices. Water mixes with a fermented substance, watering it down just enough to be survivable, but I see it still packs quite a punch. GREAT GOING CECI!”

Narrowly avoiding what was probably the weakest, least motivated strike my sister’s ever sent my way, it only took moments for her to splay out on the ground again, absolutely furious at me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it absolutely hilarious, but Nephiri disagreed, opting to get her back on her feet immediately. “Fine, fine. I’ve had my fun, for now I’ll interpret Siegmund’s message.” It was pretty obvious, though. Without even uttering a word, we all understood it pretty clearly. “Erm, nevermind. I guess the trial of intellect ended before he showed up, after all.”

After the disappointing display from the test of intelligence, our group made it's way wearily through the desert at dusk towards the last waypoint up North. As we made it halfway, the sun sank into the horizon, depriving us of our most dependable guide.

"Ich zum hilite." Neph chanted quietly, summoning a small, faint ball of light above her head. We spirited across the sands in the pitch black of night, being certain to silence our movements so as not to draw the attention of the desert's nocturnal denizens.

"So, a test of wisdom... It could be anywhere."

"Too bad you slept in, Ren, but I'll be nice and let you take the credit for us being this late."

"Thanks Ceci, I appreciate it."

"Shh."

"Sorry Neph." We concluded in unison. To our misfortune, though, a change in the winds was already taking place.

We came to a dead stop as a small area nearby rattled noisily. Even dampened by the sand, the thump of a massive footstep leveled the dunes nearly a mile away, revealing a distressing, four-legged silhouette on the horizon. The creature stood at a height matching two hovels atop one another, and in the darkness, all its features remained hidden aside from a set of sinister, contorted eyes; slits of sapphiric irises surrounding their extremely dialated pupils.

Another massive step in our direction; Nephiri put out the weak illumination, and I heard her rustling through her pack, followed by the familiar click of an arrow being knocked. Cecilia's gauntlets glistened along their crystalline knuckles, "Ceci, put those away!" Nephiri whispered under her breath.

"But-"

"We have no chance against a dragon, sis."

"Bu... I jus... Fine." She began whipping her arms towards the sky to store the weapons, nearly giving Nephiri and I heart attacks. Were it not for both of us tackling Cecilia to the ground, it probably would've spelled our own death sentence right then and there. Luckily, the glint of her weapons' reflecting the moon was the only way I was able to notice a blade half-buried in the sand nearby.

Suddenly, the concept of losing Nephiri and Cecilia struck me, 'What if the dragon's already noticed us? How are we gonna get out of this situation?' The scenario played itself out in my head continuously for the longest minute of my life, until another wave of vibrations pushed through my lower extremities. Desperately, I pounced for the buried weapon, hoping to improve our odds of surviving by arming myself.

"Ren!!" Nephiri was understandably afraid, considering my actions held a great risk of endangering our lives, but her forced whispers seemed to drown before... Something. Regardless of what compelled me, my hands just kept digging through the cold night sands as if it was of their own volition. The vibrations of the dragon's footstep pulsed again throughout my body, now numb and tense, yet my arms continued to flail forward and back, scraping what they could from the pit with a stranger's dead hands. Another vibration, its footsteps grew louder and faster with each passing instance, the drums of death to my consciousness. A final, point blank vibration occurred, and I feared my discovery had come in vain, yet instead of the cold flames or the jaws of a rare ice dragon, a deafening silence enveloped me. My eyelids opened, revealing to me a brilliant, golden hilted spear lined with two glowing silver bands, circling the pole like snakes beneath the moon.

Something seemed odd, even despite the spear and the strange sensation that hit me, rather, "Wait, why's it silent?" to my left, the sands were still, almost devoid of life. It was like our presence was completely ignored by the environment, but then I looked to my right.

The dragon's massive jaw was wide open within a mere meter of my face, silently frozen in action, a statue of sorts. It was unsettling, no doubt, but nowhere near as scary a visage as Nephiri.

I looked down from the gaping maw twice my size to the sight of my friend, standing overhead a crouching, frightened Cecilia. Her usually deep brown hair looked almost aflame in random areas, sparked into the air from some force. The torso half of her poncho completely disappeared, replaced by a fierce breastplate, glowing luminescent red in ornate patterns to illuminate the rest of her upper body. It was a confusing, intense sight, but not fearsome so much as it was eye-catching. What left me shaken was a massive longbow, intricately designed and banded similarly to mine and Cecilia's weapons, but glowing gold and crimson, and pointing upwards, directly towards the dragon's skull. At the time, she wasn't facing me, though I feared what her expression might have been.

I tried moving as everything remained in suspended animation, but the strain of taking any normal action was a multitude larger than normal, and by the time I'd managed to lift the spear, I was completely exhausted of energy.

'If... If I don't stop... Whatever this is,' "Ne-Neph-"

In the last few moments of stagnance, an angelic voice called out a name, almost reluctantly. "Ël-Ëliche."

As it spoke, the air around Nephiri's bow warped, distorting the wind. The force grew in size and strength until, eventually, I felt as though it were tearing at the very fabric of space and time. 'Wait... Mother of- it all makes sense now! But-' "Neph!!" I accidentally shouted.

A sudden, brilliant spark emanated from the bow, as if in response, and as it sped through my predator's massive head, it also seemed to pierce the bubble holding time in place. A destructive-looking shockwave burst from the start of its pilgrimage, knocking the wind from my lungs, rippling through the bubble before causing the essence of life to explode from its shell. It took several moments of gasping for air to realize the fell beast was still frozen, but now in a literal sense. The towering behemoth was covered from wings to feet in crystalline ice at least half a meter thick, and with its mouth open for attack, it nearly resembled a cave, even. This was no time to be gawking, though.

Just below the beast's chin, Cecilia seemed to have fallen over, unconscious, but Nephiri was no longer standing. The longbow was tossed aside by her feet, no longer glowing as it had, and Nephiri, herself was huddled over my sister, clenching the sides of her forehead like she was having a headache.

"Neph? Hey, Ne-" I was cut off midsentence while running to them, knocked back by some force. Sand blurred my vision after the tumble, but what I saw afterwards will probably be engrained in my memory for life.

Nephiri slowly rose to her feet, covered in some type of red liquid. At random, her body seemed to convulse, letting out another blast like before, yet her feet refused to lose balance. It was like she was being possessed by... Something.

"N...Neph?"

The liquid abruptly splashed to the ground, yet it didn't sink into the sand. Her robes were completely replaced by some type of demonic armor... But what actually scared me was her expression. It wasn't a smile I was familiar with, the gentle, compassionate sentiment she usually expressed... There was something vile, almost like a bloodlust in her eyes, and the way she smiled... It was like all the ugliest emotions had put themselves on display. It was cruel, greedy, lustful- intimidating. This was definitely my friend's body, but there was no way Nephiri was there.

She chuckled with a really sultry, adult voice, and her voice seemed to rattle around inside my mind, trying to tear it loose. "Yes, my little gravickas?" the instant her sentence ended, another wave burst forth, but from the ground instead. The sand and earth caved in below her, it was like watching an intangible meteor strike, and although Nephiri contently floated above her own destruction, Cecilia was left to helplessly fall to its depths.

"Shi-CEC-!" the crater extended just enough to catch me, leaving me to tumble down along with her. To my relief, somehow I made it first and cushioned the impact, though it broke a rib or two in the process. "H-heh. Ho-ow?" though I'm not sure whether it was the answer, a swooshing sound followed by something crashing and disappearing into a wall of the crater served well enough as one for me. All there was left to concentrate on now was the demon controlling my friend, and nothing would come in my way.

"Renoris, take in your surroundings. Don't simply battle without awareness!"
"What- who's there?!"

"Ah, that's right. You probably wouldn't recognize my voice. Well, it's ---"
"Wait... Does that mean-"

"Oh, good, you've put it together! From what I was told, your sister was a bit troublesome for the periapts of life and death."

"Seems fitting... Wait, I should be far more concerned right now!"

"On the contrary! Calm yourself down, show interest in the whole of your settings, look for advantages."

"How fitting for a god who emphasizes basic human curiosity. Thanks, I suppose."

"More will be revealed in time, for now use this knowledge, capitalize on your own wisdom."

"I guess I'm not one to question the advice of an omnipresent being..."

Unfortunately, time spent talking led to my inaction, and above us, events continued to unfold, unsupervised. Neph dropped slowly to ground level, floating on the air as if it were water, and freezing my thoughts with that distinguishable, inhuman laughter. The clear night skies reacted as she dropped; foregoing peaceful clarity as ominous clouds swirled at the edge of my vision, continuing to form inward, finally promising an apex directly above her. The thick shroud cracked and rumbled with powerful thunder, and to top off the phenomena, the wind picked up at an exponential rate.
I could barely make out what Nephiri said as the flurry pounded on my ears and I held my sister in place. "This vessel can barely even handle this... Maybe I should just kill her after all."

That last statement sent me into a frenzy of fear and anger. Ignoring my wounds, I pushed Cecilia aside and clutched my spear. Pointing the blade at my friend, the heat of passion and confusion left me tense, almost numb with anticipation. "My Lliese... This tool must have appeared out of a necessity." I spoke, observing the weapon, distant and defensive. Clutching the shaft with my right hand, something shouted to reach out, and my left hand clenched, slamming into the earth of its own volition. Withdrawing my arm from the crater, a majestic kite shield was attached comfortably along my forearm. Their purpose became clear to me in that instant, "I definitely have something…that I need to protect!"

The being's smirk enraged me, and suddenly I found myself charging. From a slow start to a sprint, my voice felt as though it had risen, yet there was silence. A cadence of sorts overtook the air, my blade at the ready to strike, only the sound of my heartbeat drumming in my ears, the sound of combat. Headlong, I rushed into the impossible fight, uncharacteristic, and uninhibited.



It was purpose, that hot blood which filled my veins as the blinding light overcame the world. Purpose, and justice.


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