The Alteisen Record: The Other Side (A Traces KHRP Series OC Story)



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Tyrant Raver

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Hello everyone, it has been a while since I last dropped in here. This story is based upon my OC, Alt which is currently on the roster of Takushi Rena's RP the Traces Series.

This story is set 20 years after the events of the Traces series, with Alt fully embraced his destiny and is now traveling from universe to universe.

The story will comprise of two main protagonists, Alt and the other one who will be introduced shortly. To see more of Alt and the others and the story so far, you can check out the RP thread itself. :) Anyway, thank you for stopping by and taking your time to read. I'll do my best to keep it lengthy and to-the-point. :D


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My name is Wolvenford Ragnaeus Alteisen XXIII; my friends call me Alt for short. The supposed heir of the prestigious and glorious House Alteisen, one of the most influential houses of my home world of Ernas. A humble mechanic, inventor, and engineer by profession and choice. Widely known to fellow warriors, as the fearsome, undisputed, the Black King.


I have travel far and wide, one world to another, searching for what truly is my calling. To me, I am happy being the ever-apprentice of Cid of the Radiant Garden Restoration Committee. Being placed on a high pedestal and riding on a high horse just doesn't cut it for me. I am ever the learning student and not the accomplished master. Such is the beauty of life I have fully embraced.


This is my story, lost in a world--in a universe encroached in a never-ending war of gods and men; mankind against the forces beyond. this is one of the many memorable journeys and by far THE most memorable. A grain of memoir in an epic, a piece of my immortal life worth reliving.


-----


Beforehand, Alt, under his wife's assistance via remote communication, surveyed and explored the deep ends of their universe. Wondering if there are other worlds to be discovered, untouched by the Lanes Between. He checked readings from his radar and star map left and right; searching for any energy readings that may lead him into a new world... or maybe just massive floating space debris.

"Alt, are you quite sure about this? Why can't you just take me with you?"

A voice, a female voice was heard aloud from his communicator channel. "Well, as much as I wanted to, sweetie. I can't." Alt responded, while still attending to the ship's readings and navigation. "Why not? You could have just modified that ship to be built for two." The female voice protested, indeed Alt could have. He may be an apprentice by title but his knowledge and skills in his field, far outshines Cid in every way and even Cid himself admits it but Alt always insists that he still has much to learn.

The black warrior chuckled, "Well yes, but we don't have enough resources provided for the schematics. We just have to make do to what we have." Alt can't deny the truth but as he mentioned, they are running short of materials. "Tell you what, once this is all done. What do you say we push that 'romantic getaway' into an earlier date? before work comes grabbing me again." He suggested to his wife, he has been away for quite some time now and this was the only thing he can think of as consolation to her.

"Well... If you say so--"

Before he could hear the rest of his wife's reply, the energy readings on his ship's navigation spiked up, exceeding the desired gauge. "Uh oh." Alt hurriedly attended to it. "Alt? What's going on?! the energy fluctuation's through the--roof--wh--" the anomaly became increasingly apparent as it began overloading his equipment and began affecting his line of communication.

"What the hell..."

Just as he feared, his gummi ship was charging straight on to an opening Warp Hole. "Tch! Dammit, how could I not saw this coming!?" Picking up the pace, Alt grabbed the ship controls in attempt to turn the ship around before the gravitational pull becomes too much. "Come on..." He primed the engines and set the thrusters at full burn propulsion. The energy became increasingly too much for the ship to handle that it began short-circuiting the controls and frying the the entire ship's system. Alt pulled the manual override switch and grabbed the wheel as a fail-safe and last option.

The Warp Hole, then opened in its full span in a matter of seconds. An abnormal instance, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The ship couldn't take it much longer. The energy radiated from the anomaly was so strong that it utterly destroyed the thrusters and propulsion system. Alt's gummi ship was built as an exploration ship after all and it can only muster so much.

"Dammit!"


Alt's situation turned grim, as he was pulled in by the immense gravity of the Warp Hole. He had no choice but to brace himself for the worst. Until finally, his ship was swallowed whole by the Warp Hole.

He held on, even with his ancient technology mechanical augmentations, it was quite an ordeal for him. As he entered the gateway, his ship was torn to scrap and asunder by the maelstrom of malignant energy storm inside. For the first time in a very long time, he was holding for his dear life once again. "Arrgh!" After what seemed like forever, his ship was hurled out of the energy storm and was now on a crash course towards a colossal blue planet just up ahead.

--------------------

Chapter 1: Dawn of War


Down on the blue planet a battle was going on, between the invading nation of Aldamas Empire against the opposing forces upon the territory of the Kingdom of Regulus.

Upon the open clearing on the forest nearby, a detachment camp of the first battalion of the invading forces can be found. Among these hardened soldiers was a young man in a white coat and gold hair. He dons the sigil of his empire, armed with a golden sword, and full black regalia under his white coat. The man stood exclusive to the other soldiers, who seemed to be preparing for an imminent attack against the opposing forces. He stood tall yet he looked very troubled and disturbed.

"Is there something wrong, Lord Hauer? The troops are ready. They await your orders."

An Aldamas lieutenant in full clad approached the young one and spoke of formality upon him. The young man was none other than the hero of Aldamas himself, Lord Drake Hauer or better known to them as the Golden Dragon. "Eh? Oh..." The young knight seemed distracted at the time, his head on the clouds and was barely attentive. "Are you alright sir? You've been pale and sickly as of late, the men are getting concerned." The lieutenant expressed his concern to the commanding officer. If he's to lead the advance force like this, it would affect the morale of his troops greatly. And in the battlefield, morale is a great deal and factor towards victory.

"I suppose an ill leader is an ill omen to anyone." Drake responded to his lieutenant as the cold breeze passed through, "My mind is restless these days. It keeps me awake these past nights... I have had little sleep these past weeks." He added, he may be of higher rank but he treats his men as his equal by opening up to them because he knew these men are much more experienced than he was. And they are the reason for his stature, and he recognizes every effort they make for him. "All soldiers are restless before and during battle, sir." His lieutenant replied.

Drake paused for a while, he can't help not to dismiss the matter that has been bothering him. He can't help but question the upcoming battle. "Cassius, is this battle really of worth? Is it really necessary?" The young knight asked for his lieutenant's opinion, not as an officer but as an old friend this time. "It's necessity is none of our concern. We have our orders to do battle, therefore we shall." A rather straight-forward but lenient answered came out of Lieutenant Cassius. He cannot blame his old friend, Cassius and the others were extremely dedicated soldiers for the empire. "Are orders the only thing that matters to a soldier? Can we wonder why or what's behind the order given to us?" Drake added. This was the matter that bothers him the most, he has been in so many battles. But this one in particular, he can't help but question it. "I wouldn't know, sir. I'm a soldier myself and never given it much thought." Even though Drake insisted to put aside formality, Cassius still responded as a soldier. A soldier with no point of view it seems. "If we do not fight now, then many more will suffer. Isn't that reason enough?" This was the best answer Cassius can muster, to answer his Lord Hauer's doubt.

"So these men must die so that others may live?"

"...Yes"

The young knight can't help but be sad, because this was the reality that they have to face as soldiers and as human beings. "I suppose it is human destiny to take lives of others to find what we desire..." He had no choice but face the reality head on. So without any further delays, Drake walked past Cassius and readied his golden sword. "Lieutenant, give the order to move out. We march to war!" The young knight declared, his mind made up and ready for battle. The lieutenant saluted and the battalion fell in line and moved out.

The Aldamas troops mobilized armed for war, their lines swarmed the forested terrain. Ready to face the enemy advance force head on.

Soon the once calm and misty forest was ravaged by war cries, the sound of steel clashing, flesh being rend asunder, and arrows flying. The Aldamas battalion easily overwhelmed the opposing forces through sheer numbers and resilience. Though the Regulus forces have the territorial advantage, because they knew the forest better than anyone do, they were still easily outmatched and out-armed by the Aldamas battalion. The Aldamas forces drove them back in a matter of moments.

"Ambush!"

One of the soldiers of Aldamas yelled from afar that alerted his comrades. In a matter of seconds, they were met by a shower of arrows from above and from the thick of the mist. This was the Regulus forces' height of their tactical advantage. The troops raised their shield up but they don't know when or where to align their defense because the rain of arrows were coming in at a random intervals. Soon, the opposition began turning the tide slowly as their ambush began clearing the ranks by droves.

"Haaaaagggh!!!"

With his sword ready and fighting spirit ablaze, the young knight, Lord Draker Hauer braved the the hail of death using his lightning-fast steps. He brandished his golden blade and deflected rains of arrows as he close the distance. He may have the visage of an inexperienced warrior but he was hailed as 'The Golden Dragon' for a reason.

Gaining momentum, Drake slid through the thick of the mist and with his blade at the ready. "Hah!" With a heave of strength, the young knight swung his blade, performing a powerful triple sword revolutions. The force generated by his attack was powerful enough to generate a strong gust of wind that blew the mist away. Together with the opposing forces hidden within the mist. The impact also took down a few trees, creating a clearing and utterly destroying what's left of the enemy's potential vantage points.


"The enemy's crippled! Hornet formation!!!"

Cassius pointed his sword forward and gave the field order. The hornet formation, one of Aldamas battalion's most effective battle formations. The phalanx units rushed forth to the front lines, and raised their massive tower shields forming an impenetrable wall. Not far behind were the arbalest units. They fell in line behind the phalanx and aligned their bows.


"Fire!"

The Arbalest units began raining bolts upon the crippled enemy units. A very decisive counter-attack. Since the Aldamas battalion are used to fighting in the open field, they used the clearing made by Drake himself as their opening. And it worked so perfectly. Not before long, the phalanx opened and the front line troops charged the opposing forces in retaliation. Their victory was at hand. Lieutenant Cassius and Drake stood side-by-side and overlooked their troops as they were close to winning this campaign.

"Huh?"
Before the young knight could sheathe his blade, he suddenly felt something that caught his attention. He looked at the other direction where it came from. "Hmm..." Curious, he decided to investigate.
"Cassius, have the men push on the enemy back. Take over from here, I must attend to a matter that needs my attention." The young knight ordered. "Yes, Sir." As soon as he gave the order to his lieutenant, Drake ran off to the other direction of the forest.

He did not know what or why, but Drake felt that something's out there requires his attention and time is of the essence. So he hasten his pace and sheathed his sword to get there as soon as possible.
---------

Not far off from from Drake's battalion, was another detachment unit of the Aldamas empire. Led by one of Aldamas' finest captains and Lord Drake Hauer's colleagues in the military, Captain Valf. Hauer's unit were the front lines while Valf's unit were the flank, tasked to hunt down stragglers that escaped the enemy front lines. They were also the reinforcements, if needed be but since Hauer's unit has the objective well at hand, they are to survey the area for any stragglers nearby. Make sure that the enemy is pushed back and not spread to prevent any more further resistance.

Along the way, Captain Valf, together with a squad of 5 men were chasing down a little elf girl who just happen to be in the area.

The poor little girl ran as fast as she could but her pursuers where mounted upon fast steeds armed with tall spears and clad in full armor. "Ah!" During the chase, the little elf girl tripped upon a rock and fell to the ground. The fall scraped her knee. She cried at the pain, it may be a simple scrape but she's just a little girl barely in her teens. She has a twin-tailed pearl-white hair, with a little white blouse of elven tailoring.

Not too long before tall shadows elongated and approached her with their blades drawn. Her pursuers had caught up with her.

"N-no... Please, I was just gathering food and got lost. D-don't hurt me."


In a stuttering voice, the little elf girl pleaded for her life. And it was true what she claims. She just strolling the forest when she just happen to cross the battlefield. She crawled back against the tree surrounded and nowhere to go. The Aldamas Soldiers looked at each other and then turned to their Captain Valf. The red clad captain stepped forward and looked down at the girl with an intimidating glare.

"I suppose I can show you some pity--"

For a split-second, the statement eased the girl but not long after, she was offered a false hope. "--I can make your death swift and painless, so be thankful." Added the Aldamas captain. With this statement, the little girl couldn't help but broke into tears. "Please no! I haven't done anything wrong." It was useless to plead now, with the soldiers now approach her with their blades thirst for blood.

The ruthless captain raised his spear and prepared to stab the girl to grant her a swift death. As he was about to commit a gruesome act, a stray yell from afar distracted Captain Valf's squad.

"Wait!"

The voice came from none other than Drake Hauer himself. The young knight knew something was going on at his back. He charged in and stopped Captain Valf from continuing this shameful and dishonorable act. "Valf! Why do you point your blade against a defenseless child!? Have you no ethics and sense of honor? This is a travesty!" The young knight protested against the captain's disgraceful act.

"You, of all people would question me? Our orders are to kill all who would oppose us. I am merely following orders I am told."

The ruthless captain spat, completely deflecting the young knight's protest. This made Drake angry, orders are not used as an excuse to kill innocents. "At any rate, she's an elf. If she lives, she may prove to be a great nuisance to us later. We must destroy evil before it takes root, yes?" Not only that Captain Valf is ruthless but also a bigotive headstrong murderer always ahead of himself.

"What? And what do pray tell this girl has done to deserve this? We fight soldiers and warriors not innocents who can't even defend themselves! And you speak of evil but can you not see that this action will serve the evil you were trying to eliminate?"

Finally, the young knight snapped. He knew there was something wrong with this battle--this war. He knew he was fighting and raising his blade for the wrong cause. And someone has to answer for this. "This war is full of bollocks. This is not a battle, this is massacre!" Drake yelled, this battle was completely going against the principles he has been taught with. Had he known better that his men were also killing civilians, he would have turned back on the life of a soldier.

"Too late for regrets, Drake! The history of our empire--no, of all kingdoms is built on war."

Captain Valf then turned to face the young knight and faced him eye to eye. "To deny that is to deny our existence!" The ruthless captain slammed the blunt end of his spear to the ground, reaffirming his disposition and principles before Drake himself. But to the young knight, this was utterly unacceptable. "No matter how much you hide your malicious intent behind those words, you can't hide the fact that this is all but mindless bloodshed." The young knight have just had enough, he narrowed his sight upon Captain Valf.

"If this is the justice the empire upholds--the humankind--then I refuse to be a part of it! I renounce my humanity!"

Drake, then finally brandishes his golden blade and pointed it to Captain Valf. If he can't persuade him by words, then he would have to affirm his wrongdoing by steel. And this was just the opportunity Captain Valf was looking for. "To take arms against me, is to take arms against the Aldamas Empire!" The ruthless captain roared and finally took stance, along with 3 of his men. Surrounding Drake in an instant. "This is your final warning, step aside and we could all pretend this never happened." The 3 soldiers drew their blades against Drake Hauer.

"Please... help me."

Trembling in tears, the elf girl called for aid. There was none other than Drake himself she could depend on this time. A call that won't fall on deaf ears. "Don't worry, m'lady. I will not let them lay a finger on you. This I swear." The young knight reassured the elf girl's safety. And finally an oath worthy of hope. The little girl smiled as she found a little comfort in his words.

"Apologies, Captain Valfield Odum, but I can't allow this act of disgrace escalate any further."

Without any more second to spare, Valf's men altogether charged at the young knight. Drake clashed blades with the men he used to train, so this could take a while and may prove difficult.

The soldiers were on a aggressive pace, not letting the young knight have his opening because they knew if they did, he would strike them down in one fell swoop. One soldier charged at him while the others try and flank him. Drake's enemy managed to catch him on a deadlock. As he was about to shove the soldier back to recover, another one joins in, reinforcing the lock making it a two-way deadlock. "Tch!" Drake grunted as he tried to overpower the two soldiers.

"Yaaah!"


The young knight was on high alert, he was certain that was Valf charging from his blind spot. He reacted quickly and crouched down. The captain's spear nearly impaled him but now the captain is now at the deadlock too. While still crouched down, Drake slid to the side and heaved. "Raaarrgh!!" With two hands on his blade, he broke the deadlock and was now locked on a quick close combat clash between him, Valf and 5 of his men. Using his quick reaction time and blade reflexes, Drake block, deflect and retaliate one steel at a time.

The pace of the deadlock increased with every second passed and then finally, an opening! Drake slammed the ground creating a powerful blast, enough to shove his opponents back. Wasting not anymore moment, the young knight launched himself forward and unleashed a cross projectile towards his opponents. The projectile was powerful enough to eliminate 2 of at the same time.

The Aldamas soldiers, then again prepare to deadlock him. But this time, it's not gonna work. Drake was now two steps ahead. With all his momentum now at prime, he deflected and with a swift maneuver and reflex, he countered the blow with a lightning-fast sword flash. The two soldiers were not far off, as they rush in, their movements were as predictable as the sunrise. As they close in, Drake clashed steel with the left then connects a kick to the gut to the other. He then connects a 5 hit combination of kicks and punches while holding his blade on a reverse grip. He quickly shifted and zipped past the two soldiers with a flash of speed. He performed a twisting sword flash. Drake was able to eliminate them with ease. All that is left was Captain Valf himself.

Lord Drake Hauer pointed his golden blade upon his opponent. And Captain Valf readied his spear for their imminent duel. "Please Captain, just leave this matter be. We do not need anymore further violence. Lower your arms and just be on your way." In a last ditch effort, the young knight tried reasoning with the captain again. With Drake decimating his entire squad accompanying him, it would be a good opportunity to convince his former colleague to retreat. "I thank you for generous offer, but my duty outweighs everything else. You brought this on yourself, Golden Dragon now I shall finish it! Hah!" Unfortunately, for the captain, it was too late now to turn back once steels have colluded with one another. It was worth a try but it seemed there was no other way to end it.

The captain charged ferociously towards Drake. The two clashed blades again. The young knight was quick on his feet but the captain makes up for it with his superb defensive skills and sheer resiliency. Using his thick pauldrons and gauntlets as means of blocking and counter-attack.

"Take this!"

Valf roared. He then unleashed a barrage of high-speed thrusts of his spear in a rotating motion, like a gatling gun. Drake did his best to evade every strike but it was so quick and was done at a random interval that he was barely keeping up with the pace. "Orya!!!" Putting all his strength on his right arm, he performed a straight, charging thrust. Drake evaded it but barely. The blow left a scratch on his cheek and the force was enough to throw his balance a bit, making him hard to recover. This was the opening Valf was looking for.

"Uwaagh!"

With quick reaction, Valf then pulled his spear back and used his pauldron to ram the young knight over. Sending him sliding through the ground. Drake grunted as he flipped and recovered. Quite impressive he must say. If it weren't for his armor underneath his white coat, he would have a set of broken ribs by that attack alone. Shaken a bit, Drake pulled himself back on his feet.

"You may be the Golden Dragon, once hero of Aldamas but my you're still a long way to go to defeat a veteran like me."

This the young knight can't deny. He may be the fastest fighter in the empire's military but Captain Valf far outmatches him with experience and skill. The elf girl gasped as she watched her protector thrashed to the ground. "Please get up! Don't give up, mister!" The little girl yelled, hoping to support her protector by cheering him on.

"Heh, thanks. That's just what I needed."

Motivated, Drake dusted his white coat and regained his stance. "Come on!" All fired up, Drake taunted his opponent with his blade raised and edge sharpened anew. "Humph! Getting arrogant are we? Well then I shall oblige!" The ruthless captain again charged with all his might performed his Gatling thrust. This time, it was in a quicker pace than before. Instead of dodging it, the young knight met the quick strikes with his own. Deflecting every attack dealt to him. "You can't match this!" The captain again pulled his spear back and again performed his charging thrust. The attack boomed like a thunderous blast of a cannon. Drake tensed his legs and flipped out of the way. "Hah!" As he was about to counter-attack with the pauldron ram, Drake darted backwards, evading it completely.

"What?!"

Much to the veteran captain's surprise. The young knight then twirled his blade and performed a spinning slam upon the captain's lower back where his armor is the most vulnerable. The shock from the blow sent from his spine, stunned him for a second. Drake landed on his feet on a prowling stance with his golden blade ready. With an unseen speed, he launched himself towards his stunned opponent.

Howling Flash!

Drake again performed one of his trump card. The Howling Blade, a high-velocity sword flash that comprises of three spinning sword swings in revolutions so fast that it looked like he was performing it in one swoop. This was the move he used earlier in the front lines where he cleared the mist and created a clearing for his troops to help them drive back the ambush.

"Uaaagh!!!"

With Drake's powerful attack, the bulk of Valf's armor was utterly obliterated and his spear sliced into three parts. The captain was defeated and lay incapacitated to the ground. The young knight chose not to kill Valf so that he could live another day.


He hurriedly went to the little elf girl's aid and helped her stand up. "Are you alright, m'lady?" Drake asked, with a heavy hint of concern for the little girl. "Yes. I-I just scraped my knee." The girl showed her wound to the young knight. He pulled out his kerchief from his coat and tore it to make a makeshift bandage. "There." He carefully applied the cloth to the girl's wound. "Come on, we must escape before the others arrive." Without any more moment to spare, Drake and the little elf girl made a dash for it with the girl ahead of him.

"Hauer!"

The ruthless captain staggered, the damage inflicted upon him was still apparent. The defeated soldier struggled to get up. "You fool... Why do this? You should have killed me. You will only doom yourself!" Captain Valf was bloodied and beaten but not severely, the damage dealt to him by Drake was intended to immobilize him. Drake stopped and turned around to face his defeated opponent. "Your concern is appreciated." This was the last words he said to his former colleague. The young knight had nothing more to say because it was made clear that he has made up his mind. Not before long, he ran to where the little elf girl went and left the beaten Captain Valf behind.

"... you're still too naive and soft to be in this battle. Watch your step or else, the darkness will swallow you whole."

Muttered Captain Valf, foretelling that this war was under the machinations of not the Aldamas Empire itself but something more sinister and more foreboding that any other kingdom exist in this world.

--------------------

"Grrr... Come on don't fail me now!"


The sound of short-circuiting consoles and sirens boomed within Alt's gummi ship. He tried his best to stabilize the ship and somehow crash the thing in an acceptable angle to minimize the damage that will be dealt.
-------------------


Soon, Drake caught up with the little elf girl and together they ran deeper in to the forest. Hearing a march of footsteps he quickly hid behind the tree and pulled the girl to his spot. He peeped from the other side to see an Aldamas regiment surveying the area just a few meters ahead. "It's not safe here, we should go to an another direction, lest they see us." As Drake was keeping watch, the girl suddenly tugged his sleeve. "Mister, look!" The girl pointed at a massive fireball descending from the sky. The young knight's eyes widened as they realized that this massive fireball was coming straight for their direction. "Move! Move! Don't look back!" Again the two hurriedly ran as the fireball the size of a house came barreling through the forest. The girl watched as the object from the heavens crashed through the vegetation, through the regiment's lines down to the farthest side of the forest. They would like to investigate but right now, escape is top priority.

After a long pace of running, they were finally far off the regiment's territory. But just when they were nearly out of the woods, a lone figure emerged out of the mists. A face most familiar to Drake.

"Y-You...?!"

"Oh-ho... A warrior must be prepared to spill his own blood, as well as his enemies. Right---brother?"

To be Continued...
 
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KingdomKey

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Onto the fun part!

My Review: I greatly enjoy this story from beginning to end. I found the cliff hanger to be the most exciting. I really like Drake for standing up for himself, and not letting anymore bloodshed be spilled after learning the truth. The intensity of the fight was astounding, and I greatly enjoyed all of your word choices to describe it. :D I hope he is able to handle fighting his brother after fighting once already against his former comrade at arms. I hope we learn the name of the elf girl, and I'm curious how things will go, once Alt emerges onto the scene?! Can't wait for another update!
 

Tyrant Raver

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Spoiler Spoiler Show


Onto the fun part!

My Review: I greatly enjoy this story from beginning to end. I found the cliff hanger to be the most exciting. I really like Drake for standing up for himself, and not letting anymore bloodshed be spilled after learning the truth. The intensity of the fight was astounding, and I greatly enjoyed all of your word choices to describe it. :D I hope he is able to handle fighting his brother after fighting once already against his former comrade at arms. I hope we learn the name of the elf girl, and I'm curious how things will go, once Alt emerges onto the scene?! Can't wait for another update!
Very much appreciated for the feedback. :) And yeah, Drake and Alt's path are about to cross. It won't take long not to worry. And the ones with the colored dialogue are potential main characters so expect the Elf Girl's identity in the next chapter to be revealed. :D
 

Tyrant Raver

The Dragon
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Chapter 2: Uncertain Allies and Dangerous Enemies

After learning the ugly truth behind this war, Drake Hauer had cast aside his blade fighting for a false war, a farce cause.



He believed that they were fighting for a just cause; but all they did was mindless bloodshed. Innocents' blood spilled and lives ended with a hate-filled sword. The young knight has had it, he can't allow his strength to be used further in malicious acts of violence.


Along the way, he had met a young elf girl, who was about to meet her end at the tip of Captain Valf's spear. Raising his blade against his former comrade, he went toe-to-toe against him and saved the cornered little damsel. As they make their escape, they come across a fireball from the heavens. A large molten object the size of a house, crashing down the forest; running through an Aldamas regiment in the process. It was the perfect distraction for them. They seized the opportunity and made their haste retreat.


They managed to lose the pursuing regiment. But before they can go any further, they were once again hindered. This time, they have come across a seemingly impossible obstacle...


"Zweifried..."


Drake gulped and swallowed, cold sweat now begin to roll on his gashed cheek. He did not expect to be intercepted, let alone by his brother.


Lord Zweifried Hauer, an older brother to Drake Hauer. At a young age, he trained under the supervision of the Emperor himself before he ascended into the throne. He was one of the strongest and wisest generals in the Aldamas military sect. When the Emperor ascended to the throne, he was promoted as one of his most trusted advisors. He was not only superior in combat experience but also well-versed in politics as well. Drake knew his brother was the last thing he wanted to go up against.


"Word has spread quickly, Drake. I suppose I'm the only one that can stop you?"


Zweifried approached the two slowly as his cape brushed through the passing breeze. Zweifried dons a full set of plate armor with a dragon motif upon its engravings and design; he shares the same blond hair as his little brother, although longer, and was slightly taller than him. Unlike the other captains and generals in the Aldamas army, his armor is well-ornamented to well-represent house Hauer upon the people beneath him. A wind of ill omen was upon Drake and the little elf girl.


"Let's not escalate this further, brother. Your presence impose that we are already surrounded."


Drake knew very well that his brother had an entire army at his helm; to go against him was futile in every way possible. Even if he manage to defeat Zweifried's men, he won't be able to defeat him because arguably enough, the young knight himself admits that he is still nowhere near of his brother's level when it comes to skill in combat. "I will come clean, I had disobeyed orders and made a mockery of our cause. I shall shoulder any punishment you have to give but..." Before continuing, Drake looked at the little elf girl who is now hiding behind his coat. "Please, let the poor girl go. She has nothing to do with any of this." He pleaded to his brother. Unlike his other colleagues, Drake knew his brother would listen what he has to say. Question is, how will Zweifried respond to it?


"And if I refuse?"


As expected, the question brought about a bit of dismay on Drake's part. It would seem the older brother won't have it any other way. "Then, I will kill you. If that's what it takes to protect her." Drake then drew his golden blade and immediately pointed it upon his brother. The expression in the young knight's face tells that his mind is set. If he were to die in the process then so be it.


"Hmhm... Stubborn. Just like dear father. And just like him, it will be your downfall as well."


The dragon knight struck a nerve on his younger brother. The mere mention of their father made Drake narrow his brows and clench his teeth. Utterly agitated by his brother's statement. "Very well. We shall see just how strong you have grown, brother." Zweifried then stepped aside. From behind him, heavy footsteps were heard.


As the footsteps came closer and closer, a tall and enigmatic figure emerged from the mist. A black knight donned in full armor. His armor had a very Gothic motif with skull and demonic-ornamented armor pieces. He had a long red, tattered cape and a full helm fashioned like a demon's head with yellow eyes peeking out his helm's visor. A demonic visage, he had a presence that was not of a human's but something else. The black knight had an overwhelming presence that the sight of him made Drake feel small. The young knight's expression turned grim as he laid his eyes on this seemingly formidable entity, standing next to Zweifried.


"No! You can't fight him! He has a guile that is not of a human being. Please, we have to run as far from here as we can!"


The elf girl felt it too. If Drake were to fight this black knight, he would get slaughtered without remorse. Drake paused, concentrating on the current situation. It would seem that Zweifried will not let his blade be stained by his brother's blood. Clutching his golden blade tighter, he narrowed his sight upon the Black Knight because he knew this warrior wasn't in the Empire's ranks. This terror of a visage will most likely be his opponent.


"--Run."


The young knight uttered to the little elf girl. "Wh-What? But..." As the girl was about to object, Drake turned his head to face her with a warm smile of reassurance. "Don't worry, m'lady. I'll catch up. I promise, I will protect you." He knew it would be impossible but he must do whatever it takes to protect the girl even if it costs him his life. If he were to die here, then at least he died doing something just and right.


"O-okay."


Backing away slowly, the elf girl then made a dash for the other direction. Before making it far, she made a one last turn to face her protector. "I'll be waiting for you--don't forget your promise!" The elf girl called. The young knight took stance and the girl went on her way.


The scene brought amusement to Zweifried. He could insult his brother's empty bravado but he kept it to himself. "Bold words, brother. But that girl can't go that far on short legs." The dragon knight crossed his arms, eager for how this short fight will turn out. "You will go no further of harming her--not while I'm here!" The young knight roared.


Tension built up. As Drake was about swing his sword, he was stopped by the sheer speed of his brother's lackey, the black knight. The tall figure drew his sword. A blade of bright crimson, red with blood lust, glistening with the might of a demon. Its hilt and grip was ornamented with twisted representation of death; with skulls and bones aligned together forming a hilt and grip. Gargoyle wings ornamented on the hilt and hand-guard.


Drake quickly shifted to defensive to block. As their blades clashed and steels collided, the impact of the black knight's swing exploded. The impact of the attack threw the young knight overwhelmed, sending a brutal recoil on his golden blade, leaving him open. Drake reacted quickly, he darted backwards and set a distance between him and the Black Knight.


"Tch! His strength... It's inhuman! I swear the force of that recoil. One more push and he can tear my arm off with his swings."


Clutching tightly on his shoulder. He can feel is joints ache, being put to much stress that one false move may dislocate his shoulder or worse. Again, Drake steeled himself and focused.


As his eyes met with the black knight's, the young knight's eyes widened as the formidable foe suddenly appeared at point-blank in a blink of an eye. Sword-arm at full tension and was about to swing his monstrous red blade. With a full force, Drake and the black knight clashed blades. The young tried his best to deflect his opponent's massive and lightning quick swings but he was being pushed back. The two zipped backwards with lightning-fast movements while clashing their blades.


The black knight connects a flurry of swings but was deflected by Drake's quick reaction time. The young knight began building up fatigue, he was barely keeping up pace against this foe. And it look like the black knight was not yet showcasing his true strength. At his mid-swing, the black knight altered his attack pattern and performed a two-handed swing. This swing was so powerful that it created an impact stronger than 10 hurricanes, enough to uproot the trees like they were grass.


"Aaagh!"


Drake was thoroughly blown away by the impact, sending his body flailing backwards. Before he could even recover, the black knight used his ungodly speed and connects a spear kick to Drake's gut. "Uuh---!" The young knight vomited blood as he was launched by his opponent's blow. His body was then smashed against a nearby rock formation; shattering his spine and ribs in the process. The black knight zipped through the terrain like an unstoppable gust of wind. Stabbing the young knight through the rock.


That was the final blow. Drake felt his lungs being filled and drowned by blood, and it was gushing through the blade of the black knight. His strength was fast fading, he dropped his golden blade and reached out his hand to the black knight. As the black knight's blade slowly pulled out of his body, Drake fell flat on the ground. Drowning from a pool of his own blood.


"..."


The bleeding young knight tilted his head to see a blurry vision of his brother, Zweifried standing over and looking down on him like a discarded trash.


"How the mighty have fallen. I find it hard to believe you were once royalty. Let alone, a royalty worthy of the House Hauer name. Such disgrace..."


The dragon knight came to gloat. He may be entitled as one of the most powerful warriors in the Aldamas Empire but such formality is at a face value only to Zweifried. Nothing but labels to uphold a piece of trash like his brother. "I could raise my sword to finish this... but you don't deserve that honor. You don't deserve a warrior's death. You will bleed to death and die in horrible pain like a traitor." Zweifried continued his look of disgust to his fallen brother, not even feeling an ounce of sympathy to his fellow blood. This shows much resent he has for his brother like he resents their father. "If you have anything to blame, Drake, then direct it at your own incompetence." With those parting words, Zweifried together with the black knight went on their way. Disappearing upon the thickness of the mist. Leaving Drake to his fate.


As the cold hands of death seeped up to claim their price, Drake began filling his thoughts with regret. "I... cannot even--protect a single elven girl..." He thought as a wave of negative emotions fill him before reaching his final minutes. "So... cold... So this is the feeling of dying." His vision blurring and life ebbing away, Drake was seconds away from being claimed by the god of death. "I couldn't keep my word from her. I couldn't stop him. If only--If only---" From a realm of darkness and death, the young knight suddenly saw an approaching beacon of light coming towards him.


"--If you only had the strength?"


The light then spoke, on a soft and calm tone. As the light drew closer, it formed a humanoid figure. The enigma was a female. She had a porcelain white skin, white as snow; a long, flowing, luminescent blue hair. She dons a white and gold garb with a breastplate and a set of gauntlets and pauldrons. She also has a pseudo cloth veil/hood that extends up to her back and is secured by the pauldrons. She has that presence that of a divine being


"Who... are you?"


The young knight asked the ethereal woman with bathed breath. "I can grant you power--power to make even the gods themselves fear you." As Drake's seemingly lifeless body was lifted up by an unknown force, he again asked. "Who are you?"


"I am Ymierre... and I seek to restore balance between light and darkness. To fulfill my task, I must seek a soul whose resolve rivals a thousand armies; whose radiance shines through the darkest void. A soul that will aid me in my quest. Your soul is such an example."


The lady of ethereal origin did not utter who she was or what she really is. Ymierre made it short for the young knight as she was aware that death was already above him. "If you refuse then you are welcome to do so... I will not force this fate upon you. This is will be in accord to your free will." Ymierre added, her presence and visage now at full view of the dying knight.


"And if I accept...?"


He can feel, that a subtle flow of energy began channeling through Drake's body. Enabling him to somehow have the ounce of strength enough for him to respond to Ymierre's offer. Delaying his fate for a bit longer. "Then you shall receive my blessing... But in return, you must pledge your soul unto me--including your future descendants. Their destinies will be intertwined for a greater cause. Now and forever more shall they be Vessels of Light." Of course, it would seem too good to be true that her offer comes with ramifications and consequence. "Now, choose your fate and choose carefully." And finally the time to decide is now.


Drake fell silent, thinking as hard as he could. Accept her offer and be blessed with strength beyond reckoning. But at the same time, sealing the fate of his future progenitors to this divine destiny. Refuse her offer and welcome death with open arms.


"I..."


The dying knight was back on his feet, stood up using every strength he could muster to hold his head up high in front of Ymierre. "I made her a promise... That I would protect her. But not only her, I want to protect others that will fall victim to this war--" He looked at the ethereal woman dead in the eye with his vision now clear and heart all made up. "--if this covenant will give me that power... The power to protect the weak. Then I--Drake Hauer solemnly give you, Ymierre, my life---and future of my soul!" With such resolve, bravado, and eagerness to help and protect others, the young knight had sealed the covenant and his fate. He was then enveloped by an aura of light, a manifestation of his soul. A light that the hands of death seek to claim. Like a star, the radiance emitted by his soul was other-worldly, like that of the sun.


"You have chosen well. Now, I shall bestow upon you--the light, the strength..."


The ethereal woman levitated from the ground and from her feet, a wide seal appeared. The seal had encapsulated both Ymierre and Drake. Ymierre channeled her power unto the young knight. The power had mended his wounds, and his armor. Now donning white armor underneath his white coat. Ymierre's blessing also restored and enhanced his strength, bestowing the young knight the power of light.


As the light faded, Drake was surprised at his newly-found strength. He can feel it rushing through his veins. He picked up his golden blade; now dulled by the previous encounter with the black knight. As he picked it up, the blade changed form becoming a blade of light. With a pure white blade with golden, and angelic ornamentation decorated from its handle and hilt. He sheathed his blade and looked at Ymierre.


"Let's go."


Drake said to the ethereal lady. Ymierre then nodded and then both of them ran on the direction where the little elf girl went. Hoping that the black knight or his brother hasn't caught up with her. As they traverse the forest, Drake noticed that the Aldamas regiment had moved out and were no longer in sight whereas earlier, the entire forest was crawling with them.


As they went further in. They suddenly stopped at a trail of bloodied and beaten Aldamas soldiers. This could be a grave sign for both Ymierre and Drake. As they proceeded a few steps further, the trail of defeated enemies all came to one direction, on to a nearby tree. To the young knight's horror, the little elf girl was sitting on the base of the tree. Completely unconscious. And what stood in front of the unconscious elf girl was a monstrosity of large proportions; standing over the elf girl and the beaten Aldamas soldiers.


The monstrosity stood 10 feet tall, easily towering both Ymierre and Drake. Its body consists purely out of armor and steel, with the "armor" itself is its skin. Its face is hidden and encased in a dark helm; and it has a hair entirely made out of velvet flames that stretches from the nape of its helm down to its talon-like feet. It boasted huge arms and fists ever-engulfed in flames; with noticeable purple glow that crawls up its arms like its burning white hot and the velvet flames on both his arms seem to be ablaze at a pattern.

It sensed the arrival of both the ethereal woman and the young white knight, so it turned around slowly towards them and crossed its massive, blazing arms.



"No... I'm too late."


Consumed with rage as Drake assumed this armored monstrosity had killed everyone on the vicinity, including the little elf girl. The young knight's scabbard sparked as he angrily drew his white blade. His brows were down and he glared at the monstrosity with extreme prejudice. "Halt, Drake." Ymierre held the glaring white knight's shoulder.


"Yaaaaarrgh!!!"


But as soon as she was about to tell him something of importance, The now enraged Drake shrugged her touch and came charging at the monstrosity.


As they close the distance, Drake swung his blade with such force that its pressure would be enough to cut through steel. Thanks to his newly-found power. But the monstrosity is not gonna take this by standing idle. In an instant, the white knight's blade was met with the monstrosity's blazing fist. The clash of steel boomed a thunderous impact. The impact of the deadlock was enough for the little elf girl to come to. But still barely conscious, she was still in a very heavy daze.


The fight ensued between Drake and the hulking monstrosity. Drake made no evasive maneuvers whatsoever, he was fighting a 10 foot monstrosity head-on. With punches sporting impacts that can flatten him like a dough, the white knight deflects every punches thrown like he was not exerting much effort at all. The changes in his strength were drastic.


The monstrosity then pulled his fist back and began channeling energy unto it. In an instant, he smashed the ground and unleashed a roaring underground vibration that grind the very earth; directly at the white knight. Drake then held his blade with two hands and charged directly at the attack thrown at him. "Haaagh!" Using his raw strength, he swung his blade down; literally cutting the ground projectile in half.


"Huh?"


Before the young knight can perform a counter-attack, he looked up. Only to see the monstrosity high up on mid-air about to deliver a double hammer strike with his fists. Even for his size, the monstrosity had surprising agility and speed and not just all size, weight and power. The blow connected and the impact exploded. The pressure of the blow was enough to cave the ground in. Then there was silence for a mere brief moment; dust clouded the battlefield.


As the wind blew over and the dust cloud subsided, much to the armored monstrosity's surprise, Drake had taken the full impact of the supposed death blow. Yet his body was still intact and no broken bones and from the looks of it, he blocked the blow with his blade with two hands. The monstrosity caught gaze on the white knight's glare, the glare of an angry god. Drake then shoved his massive opponent back and shifted stance. He was about to deal the killing blow to the armored monstrosity when suddenly--


"Please stop it! Both of you!"


A very familiar voice from afar. The two adversaries stopped at their tracks. The armored monstrosity immediately lowered his fists and stood up straight and then crossing his blazing arms. In front of him dashed the little elf girl with her arms spread out like she was protecting the monstrosity itself.


"You... You're alright. But I thought--"


Eyes widened and mixed with relief and surprise, Drake lowered his blade and sheathed it. "Vovin... He protected me." Easing up, the elf girl uttered the name of her guardian. The monstrosity itself protected her. "Where did you meet him? Where did he come from?" Now curious, Drake asked her what had happened to her during his ordeal with the black knight and his brother.


"I'm not sure."


The girl didn't know where to start, where to pick up to answer the young knight's queries. "All I know is, he appears whenever I'm in danger... I was surrounded by these soldiers then suddenly he showed up and beat them." That was the best explanation the girl could give to the young knight. Drake was a bit embarrassed that he attacked her protector, a guardian in his absence. "I see... My name is Drake Hauer. You have my thanks for your effort, I had kept my promise to her." The young knight approached the massive armored figure and gave his gratitude; assuming that the entity was capable of reason.


"My sole purpose is to protect my master. I only fulfilled my duty."


The entity spoke in a deep, baritone voice. Though his face was completely covered by the helm, Vovin spoke as clear as day. "Master? What manner of entity are you?" Now even more curious, Drake wanted to know what exactly is Vovin and where did he came from. But before they can proceed with the conversation. "Your answers can wait. If she was attacked, that means there may be still reinforcements to come." Ymierre spoke with an emotionless voice, but her point is clear. If the girl was attack that means, the regiment may come looking for the detachment unit. "You're right. Let us find safe shelter then we can brief what has happened." Drake then turned his attention to the little elf girl. "Let's go--uh..." It hit him, Drake never knew the girl's name all this time. "I do not believe I had asked for your name, m'lady." The young knight implied to know the girl's name before they can proceed.


"I'm... Elleina. My grandfather calls me Elle."


The elf girl smiled and softly said her name to the young white knight. "Elleina. A beautiful name." A small gesture of flattery coming from Drake. With this slight gesture, Elle blushed and bowed her head down a bit while looking to the side. She didn't know how or what to respond.


"Where do you intend to go?"


Asked Ymierre to Drake. Asking what would be his next course of action. "Hmmm... This way seems as good as any. With luck, this path will lead us to a nearby settlement." Unsure, the young knight looked far to the misty forests to determine which would be the right path to go.


"Don't worry!"


Elleina skip forward, utterly more energetic than before. "I've been through here many times. I know the way!" The girl was as upbeat as a child who just got her first candy. A fortunate turn of events for the party. "A fortuitous opportunity indeed. Lead the way, Elle." Drake was glad to have Elleina on board. With her help, they can reach the other side of the Misty Forest in no time. And since the Aldamas Empire regiments seemingly withdrawn or already advanced far from here, this would be their chance to escape without anymore incident. "Mm! Here this way!" With Elleina at the lead, the party had made their way out of the mists and further to the other side of the misty vegetation.


Drake, the young white knight with a newly-found strength; Elleina, the little elf girl and local denizen of the area; Ymierre, a mysterious woman of ethereal origins; and Vovin, the hulking, and massive entity that serves as Elleina's guardian. These individuals had their destinies intertwined, and path ahead would be dangerous. But so long as they stick together, they can conquer even the highest mountains and brave the raging rapids---


---For these are the individuals that will make my life ahead more meaningful along with others to come. They are an odd bunch but I'm no different myself. Next to the Restoration Committee, these people I held dear. I consider comrades; brothers and sisters---a wonderful family I never had. Worthy of my utmost respect.


--------------


As they progress through the woods, finally, they have made their way out of the Misty Forests. They came to a view of wonder.


Towering spires of rocks, mountain ranges that crawls through the entire land mass like a dragon's spine. Colossal, levitating rock formations that circle each valley, vales and grand canyons. Settlements, fortresses, towns and even kingdoms situated on the land, sea and even on the levitating rock formations. Races and species coexist with humanity with different faces, and of various culture. This is the ever expanding world of Arealia.


As the party made it out of the woods, they went to a path down to an another forest and then towards the wide road heading up to the ridges of a rocky valley.


Along the long journey, Elleina can't help but stare at Ymierre. She can sense very well that she was not human at first glance. She felt there was something about Ymierre was of a divine nature. "Uhh... Drake?" The little elf girl called the white knight's attention. Drake then briefly turned his attention to her beckon. "Ymierre, who is she? She wasn't with you before we split up right? Is she acquainted to you?" Elle asked, she somehow summed up her queries so that Drake won't be too confused to entertain her questions. "Uhh... I don't know how to elaborate. But she came to my aid when I was on the verge of death." Drake oversimplified his answer, making it sound unsatisfying to the elf girl's ears.


"Hmmm..."


Elleina pouted, and quirked an eyebrow to Drake's answer. Then after a brief pause, she suddenly gasped into an assumption. "Ah! Could it be that... that you two are--are..." Cold sweat began rolling down Elleina's face. "Uh... I think you're being mistak--" Just when Drake was about to butt in. "Mother and son?" Drake felt like he just been smacked with a paper fan at the back of his head. "Eh... heh--heh... No, Elleina. certainly not." With a drop of sweat, a nervous laugh, and an awkward, sheepish smile. Drake thought she was about to say that they were more than that. Ymierre, on the other hand kept silent as if not hearing anything at all and just looking directly forward; and keeping her emotionless face still. With her disposition, Elleina was too shy to get along with the ethereal woman. The little elf girl just can't gauge how she will get along with her.


The journey was long but they were nearing their destination because the settlement was just at the end of this valley. But as they progress further, they were greeted by a commotion. An incident familiar to both Elleina and Drake. The fireball from the heavens earlier, it ended up blocking their path. This was where the object crashed. The crash site caused the valley road to be blocked and obstructed.


"Huh? Huuuuuuh?"


Dismayed, Elleinor looked up and down to see how high the hindrance this debris was. "This is..." Drake approached the debris, the object was made out of some material he has never seen before in Arealia. Looking closer, it seemed that the colossal debris was made up of tiny blocks connecting together making up the entire mass. Maybe a ship?


"This must be the fireball that came from the heavens we saw earlier."


Even the elf girl recognizes it. Drake then began tapping the strange object. It felt hollow and not solid. Nonetheless, they must get through this obstacle but there was no other way around it. If there was, then it would take too long. "Vovin? I hope 'tis not too much to ask but, can you move this thing aside?" Elle asked for her guardian's help; seeing that Vovin is the largest and presumably the physically strongest.


Without any objections, the massive armored entity approached the obstructing debris while Drake and Elle stepped aside. Carefully, he dug his claws through the object and carefully lifted it aside. As the thing began to be lifted, the young white knight suddenly noticed an arm underneath the object. It was a person! It might be someone who just happen to pass by and get crushed by this thing that fell out of the sky.


"Quick! Lift it up!"


With a sense of urgency, Vovin used his raw strength to crumple the mass and then finally throwing it aside. He sensed that this person was still very much alive. As Drake was about to approach the pile of debris this person was trapped in; when suddenly, an explosion of dark power occured. And this power was coming from the person underneath the debris. The party slowly backed away, as they witnessed the person rose up from the debris.


This figure of great power was in all black feature. He wears a large collar jacket with torn sleeves. With a long coat that was hanging from his hips; fastened by three belts and leg armor. Pieces of black and red armor clasped unto his garment. He has sleek mechanical arms that is composed of black fiber sinews and muscle; covered with armor plates all connected together to form muscles made out of metal. And not just his arms, it would seem that he was mechanical in nature as well; made to simulate a real human body judging from his chest to his neck. An artificial being of advanced technology. Slowly, he walked his mechanical greaves towards the party with heavy footsteps. Even in broad daylight, they can't see his face.


Drake drew his blade preparing for the worst. Vovin and Elle were right behind him ready to support the young knight. Drake would only assume that this person was of the same origin as the black knight he fought earlier. As the black enigma stopped on his tracks, a crimson mask formed on his faceless visage. Made him look threatening than he already was.


"Elle... get behind Vovin. I'll charge first then you and Vovin will initiate a joint attack."


Drake devised a strategy against this crimson-masked figure. He fears this won't be easy, but with his newly-found strength, Drake may stand a chance. Vovin and Elle nodded in agreement.


"Yaaagh!!!"


With a burst of speed, Drake darted forward with his white blade at full swing. As the young knight close in, the figure drew his mechanical scabbard with his left hand. An advanced contraption that is conjoined by 2 scabbards; each houses two different Ultra-Frequency katanas. Drake prepared for a sword retaliation from the figure. They clashed steel, the impact exploded as his steel met with his. But to Drake's surprise, the black enigma didn't drew his sword but instead used his mechanical scabbard to block his attack.


"What?"


Surprised, Drake couldn't believe his eyes. But he didn't let up, he then attempted to put the crimson-masked figure on a high-speed deadlock. And the results were shocking, the figure was matching Drake's strength even with his newly-found powers. It felt like he was being toyed with. Every strike was being blocked with precision using the enigma's mechanical scabbard and even his legs. It felt like Drake's opponent knew where and when he will strike.


It was not before long before Vovin joins in the deadlock. Elle on the other hand, began channeling her mana. Charging her spell and waiting for the right time to strike. Vovin strike fierce as he delivered slow yet massive attacks against the enigma with high-impact blows conjoined with Drake's relentless barrage. Still the enigma were blocking and evading the strikes with predictability. And he's not even flinching to the impact being delivered by Vovin's massive flaming fists.


Both combatants darted backwards. "I'm ready Drake!" Elle giving the signal. Her spell was completely charged up. The hulking guardian channeled his energy upon his blazing fists, jumped up and delivered a massive double hammer fist. In the vision of the enigma, everything was in slow motion, as the attack came down towards him. He spun around and delivered an upward roundhouse kick to deflect Vovin's massive attack. As his kick touched the guardian's fist, he manage to redirect the impact upward. Sending Vovin to trip back, off balance.


Drake then came charging with lightning speed. Swinging his white blade forward in rapid succession. Unleashing a barrage of high-speed projectiles. The enigma saw it clearly, he then deflects the projectiles as they came through. Deflecting every last one of it thrown at him. But Drake wasn't finished, with boosted flash steps, he spun around with his blade.


Howling Flash!


He decides to finish it with one of his signature maneuvers, the Howling Flash. As Drake was about to connect his attack, he saw the enigma in a quick-draw sword stance. A counter-attack stance. Whether he connects or misses his attack, the enigma will deal significant damage to the young knight. To Drake's surprise, instead of the enigma drawing his sword, he caught the young knight's blade at mid-swing. A feint.

Normally, it would still apply an impact but there was none. It's like just one touch, the enigma completely nullified Drake's built momentum. Reducing the young knight's attack to a mere light tap. He could have drawn his sword but no. The enigma's eyes met with Drake's when suddenly, he pushed him with force enough to send the young knight flying. But fortunately, Vovin caught Drake at the right time, avoiding any damage.



"Haaaahh!!!"


Elle pointed her staff forward. Streaks of like began forming at its tip, eventually forming an orb of light. The elf girl held her stance and then shot the orb of light towards the enigma. As it drew closer, the orb grew bigger and bigger. The enigma then raised his right arm and opened his palm. The magic bolt was instantly dispersed like it was nothing.


"What? How in the..?"


Elle was surprised how easily the enigma dispersed her magic. No living being has the ability to neutralize magic. Running out of options, the party could only watch as the enigma walked towards them slowly. But Drake and Vovin held their arms high.


"Are you quite done?"


The crimson-masked enigma began to speak. Returning his mechanical scabbard pegged to his back hip. The menacing crimson mask of the enigma faded leaving his faceless visage left. "You are not from here are you?" Ymierre stepped forth and raised her hand, telling Drake and Vovin to lower their weapons.


"In fact, I am sure that you are not of this world... Tell me, who are you?"


Ymierre may have found a kindred soul or perhaps not. But judging from the battle, he wasn't even trying to attack the party. He was merely defending himself. And judging from his skills, if he had the intention of killing them, then he would have done it in a blink of an eye. "I'm sorry if I startle you guys like that. I never meant to pose a threat. But I was too overwhelmed that I released that power unintentionally." The faceless enigma apologized. He raised his head and the shade of armor covering his entire face was actually a full-on visor. The visor opened and his mouth guard and chin armor redacted to the side of his face. Revealing a very youthful face with red-pupiled eyes like that of a dragon. The pale skin on his face looks completely synthetic. Made out of a smooth polymer-like material.


He brushed up his white fringes and took a good look at the party.


"By the way, the name's Alt. I'm a drifter."

TO BE CONTINUED....
 
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KingdomKey

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This was a marvelous read. The fight scenes are my favorite part about this chapter. I'm also pleased to know the elf girl's identity now too. I actually find it amusing that after lifting the gummi ship off of Alt. that they'd automatically go on the offensive. Rightfully so, but still unexpected. I nearly thought that was the end of Drake. If he had died so soon, especially at the hands of his brother's companion the Black Knight, I would of raged. Okay, maybe not full on rage, but still, to see him go down like that was heart wrenching. Sometimes I feel like I'm reading an original story instead of a crossover or rp based fic. Which is also an impressive feat, and I'm curious about what will happen next with Drake and his companions now that they met Alt. the Drifter. :) The one person I am suspicious of is Ymierre. Entity's can really screw a person over, even if they give you power. Either way, I look forward to reading more of the The Alteisen Record.

OH! I never thought to ask you, Tyrant, if you wanted me to critique each chapter or not?
 

Tyrant Raver

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Many thanks for the feedback! :D Well, it will have references to Kingdom Hearts, that's the extent of the crossover intended. Depends on the plans for the future. I wanted to explore and expand more character-wise and the world of Arealia. :D

Well if you like, then feel free to critique. Because I'll be honest, I was typing this whilst at my busiest time. XD So I fear there are so many grammatical mistakes there.
 

Sumire

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Hmmm... So who is the wife? Is it Yuki? huh? huh? >:/

I'm liking it so far but I really don't trust Ymierre. Her appearance at Drake's verge of death, is a bit too convenient... Something's very snarky about that.
 

Tyrant Raver

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Haha no... Because that would be plagiarism. Unless of course I have your permission?

Alright sorry if it's taking too long. Chapter 3 is gonna be the longest chapter yet. With 2 main characters running around.
 

Tyrant Raver

The Dragon
Joined
Oct 3, 2006
Messages
2,200
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Location
7th Street, Cerberus' Row
  • Nothing's Like Before
  • Crafty Soul
  • Whirlwind Lancer
  • Writer of Writers
  • This is Halloween
Chapter 3: The First Step

Along the path to Elle's residence, the party had come across a seemingly tremendous hindrance; along the path, they encountered a crash site of an unknown object from the heavens which saved them earlier in the Misty Forests.


The object turned out to be some sort of a flying vessel, made to traverse the heavens and stars. And like all vessels, it was controlled by a pilot.



As they try to remove the obstacle out of the way, they discovered that the pilot was still there and very much alive. But this commandeer had a very threatening guile. A darkness reminiscent of Zweifried's lackey, the Black Knight. But different, it was much more foreboding and powerful like that of a god. So as an act of impulse, they attacked the pilot with extreme prejudice. But even with their combined efforts, the mysterious pilot just shrugged off their assault like it was nothing.


Then finally, through the intervention of Ymierre, they had learned that the enigma didn't have any malicious intentions at all. The pilot introduced himself as Alt, A drifter.


"So... You say that you're a drifter? What do you mean by that?"


Asked Drake, still with his sword drawn and still a bit jumpy because of Alt's darkness. A rather foolish question, but none can blame the young knight because he was set on a path on eradicating the darkness that now creep the entire continent. "Umm... A drifter, a wanderer? Ring anything? Look, I am truly sorry. I really never meant--" As the black warrior was about to hold both his hands up, he felt a sharp sting on his right arm. "Oh no." His entire right arm was mangled and wounded. Red luminescent matter oozing from the wound on his damaged mechanical arm; armor plates, burned and artificial sinews torn.


Alt held his right shoulder and examined the damage. It was only possible that his form earlier had temporarily fixed the damage on his right arm to block the young elf's magic attack. He was injured the entire time. "It might take a while for this to reconstitute." since he is a being of ancient technology, he can regenerate and heal this wound for a few hours.


---------


Alt's body is completely made out of ancient technology known as the Mantra-Tech frame. Mantra Technology was used by the Q'rch, the first beings of existence, to create the worlds existed today; other than their unparalleled strength. The frame comprised of his flesh, carapace, muscles, bones, right down to his blood and veins. His entire body is powered by the Mantra-Tech.


The only thing left that makes him his old self was his life essence. And his powerful heart; once radiates with pure unyielding light, now completely enveloped by darkness itself. But unlike the darkness that everyone feared, Alt's darkness is pure, and untainted. Darkness as the beginning, darkness as part of the balance.


Unlike his old and bulky cybernetic body, the Mantra-Tech frame was made to simulate a normal human body. Which means, he has a sense of touch, and most of all, he can feel pain he never felt before. Over the years, Alt spent his days trying to harness the capabilities of his Mantra-Tech frame. Now he can exhibit traits of the ancient technology beyond its intended limits and capabilities. Making Alt, the last living Artificier in existence, a living maker of worlds, a god among the eyes of any individual.


Being entrusted with this body was a great responsibility to him. A responsibility he took to heart and soul. Never to be a tool for destruction and chaos.


--------


"But where did you come from? Are you from the heavens?"


Elle then began circling Alt, eye-ing him from head to toe. Curious as a feline who stumbled upon an object it has yet to see. "Heh... heavens huh? Well, like your lady friend said, I'm not from here nor from the sky, no." Alt scratched his head, nervous to a fact that the people from here might start worshipping him like an idol or something. Like that of his past adventures.


Drake then approached Alt and sheathed his sword back. He reached out his right hand, "I'm Drake Hauer. 'Tis nice to meet you, Alt." The young knight, with his ever-present manners, introduced himself to the wanderer. Alt then shook his hand and raised his eyebrow, "Dragon's Fang." He suddenly uttered as he heard the white knight's name. Much to the confusion of Drake. "Pardon?" The white knight tilted his head a bit to the side, made sure he heard what Alt said correctly.


"Oh, sorry. Well you see, your name, when translated in my native language, means 'Dragon's Fang'."


Alt's home world is the rich and prestigious Ernas, their native language spoken there was called Ernaa. It has been said that many worlds borrowed words and alphabets in the Ernaa language. In his adventures, he has heard many synonymous words from other worlds' cultures and names written and spoken in the Ernaa linguistics. He likes to translate them to himself most of the time.


"I see, that's very interesting."


Alt had piqued the interest of Drake. And now it made a lot more sense to him since the House Hauer family crest is a soaring dragon. As soon as they let go of the shake, Alt took a look back at his wrecked ship. "Hmm... Seems like I won't be going anywhere for a while. And add the fact that I'm lost in a very unfamiliar place." A bit of lament on Alt's part because of the thought of his wife left behind and he will not be able to fulfill his promise he gave her just a while ago. The wanderer then turned to the party's attention.


"Well I don't have any place to go. So... If you will have me, can I go with you guys for a while?"


The wanderer was clearly out of options from here on out. He can't wander by himself and expect to find something of value. Right now, his best option is with Drake and the others. Drake then smiled, a gesture that he would take up Alt's offer. "Well we'll be happy to, Alt. But that darkness of yours..." Before Alt could answer, he immediately rushed back to the gummi ship's wreck. Searching for something in particular.


Sounds of metal bending, and scrap being rummaged were heard through the thick dust and smoke. Curious, Elle approached the part of the wreck where Alt had slipped in. But before she could go any further, Alt had immediately came out of the wreck with all the things he need. Some salvaged ship parts and metal scraps from the ship itself; a thick case/box that had the same attributes as his mechanical body and a hammer.


From the looks of it, the wanderer looked like he was carrying too much stuff in his hands, considering his right arm was still damaged. "Uh... Alt, are you sure you are fine carrying all those?" A string of concern from Drake. Judging from the size of the luggage, a normal person may be crushed under its weight. "Please let Vovin carry the rest for you." The little elf girl too was concerned. Despite not saying it, she felt ill-responsible for Alt's injury despite it's not her fault in the first place.


"Ah-heh... I appreciate the concern, I can manage this."


Alt was very flattered to the concern directed to him. Yes, they are apologetic but this was too much. "Don't worry, I had lifted heavier things than this during training. So shall we go?" All set to go, the wanderer followed the party's lead. The weight of his luggage caused his footsteps as heavy as Vovin's but that is of no trouble to him at all. As the party went on their way, Ymierre's sight was still stuck on Alt. Utterly taking a considerable interest to him and his nature. Even a divine being like herself can't fathom what or who he really was. It was like Alt's arrival was not part of the gods' grand scheme, not written in the Tablets of Fate. Like his very presence was an unexpected intervention.


After running through minor incidents, the party had reached the end of the valley. At last, Elle's home, the town of Alfeux was within sight. Elleina cheered to the sight of her home on the distance and went a few steps ahead of the party. Waving her hand towards the party to hurry up.


"Hmmm..."


A few paces later, Drake can't help but take notice of Alt's hammer. The hammer had gold trims and trappings with a thick shaft as a handle, and the head was an intricate design like that of Dremor and Rafiqi origins. The wanderer heard the young knight's hum. He turned his head aside and placed his attention on Drake. "Something amiss, Drake?" He asked. "That... Hammer of yours. Is that part of your arsenal? If so, then won't wielding a sword and that hammer be impractical?" Drake didn't held back with his queries. It seemed even him was curious about Alt's nature.


"Oh this? No, this is not a weapon. It's my smithing hammer."


Drake was surprised at his answer. "Your smithing hammer? That big? With a hammer that big it would possible to knock down a house in one swing. And you mention smithing--you know metalwork too?" The young knight uttered. He could not believe that the hammer was but a mere smithing tool, from the looks of it, the hammer was big enough to be a siege weapon. It reminded him of the Juggernaut Knights of the Aldamas Empire. An elite regiment of the empire that specializes in Siege and Artillery weaponry. They use mainly huge hammers to breach thick fortress walls to create an opening for the front lines.


Alt chuckled to the young knight's statement. It is true it would be impractical, even to him to wield such an odd combination of dual weaponry. "Oh yeah. I'm a crafter by profession and sometimes trade. My works help build homes and protect lives." The wanderer had spent his years making metal fittings and construction supplies aside from building intricate machinery. He had long abandoned crafting weapons ever since.


The night has fallen and the twilight's embrace blanketed the sky. They party had arrived upon the town of Alfeux.


------


Upon stepping upon the premises of the town, the party seemingly caught the attention of the entire village folk. But not in a bad way, they were rather curious to the lot, in a manner of speaking. The most notable member of the party that caught the most attention was Vovin. The elven folk stood in awe and amazement to see his very presence in their village.


Alfeux, although a small settlement by the standards of the elven community, did had its own grandeur. The town comprised of 3 avenues and 2 farms outside the residential area. Making use of the land's high grounds and cliffs. Unlike human settlements where they level the land to build houses and landmarks, the elves leave the soil and ground undisturbed; because of their belief that the goddess Aife blesses them with bountiful harvest. Making use of their architectural expertise, their construction doubles as a work of art and worship.


But the village folk aren't the only ones in awe. Alt and most especially, Drake can't help but take notice of the rich and peaceful environment this town has.


"So this is... Alfeux?"


For the young knight, this was the first time he had visited an elven domain; even if it is just a small settlement. Back in his childhood days, he has been taught that the elves are a xenophobic race that is a rising threat to humanity. He had been told that since they have arcane superiority over humans, time will come that they would decimate the human race off the continent.


But from what he had been seeing, he has realized that the elves weren't the magic overlords that he has been told. They were just like the rest of the humans, living peacefully through the calm and serenity of nature.


For Alt, this was the first time he has seen an elven society with such progressive arcane culture. He had encountered countless different elven societies and even sub-elven societies in his adventures throughout the Omniverse but this one fascinates him the most. It was like an image of an ideal elven community, in his regards nonetheless. But still, the town itself was a sight to behold.


"Is something wrong, Drake?"


Elle eventually took notice of Drake's stance. He was constantly in awe with the surroundings. "Ah! Well... Truth be told, never have I seen so many elves at once. Let alone a community." The young knight felt small and completely foreign to the town as they go further. With the war going on between the Aldamas Empire and the elves, he also felt uncomfortable. Just being there makes him feel the utmost unease. "Are there no elves where you live?" Asked the little elven girl to Drake with her eyes glued to him. Cold sweat dripped down his cheek, "W-well y-yes but... they are really rare on the Aldamas capital." The young knight did his best to answer with composure. He knew very well that elves in the capital were forced to work as servants and most of the time, slaves. "Oh... How dull..." Elleina pouted, hoping to ask a follow up what its like for elves like her to live in big cities.


Finally, they had come across an estate at the center of the town with a small manor-esque like house of elven architecture. And in front of the house, stood a tall mature female elf; with grey hair had as long as her elven-tailored garb, donning an erect headdress that signifies her caste and stance among the community.


"Grandma!"


Little Elleina immediately dashed towards the elven woman and hugged her tight; utterly delighted to see her grandmother again. "Oh! Elleina! I had heard of the empire's invasion upon our lands! We were worried sick about you. It's a bliss to see you safe." Likewise the elder was relieved that Elle returned safe and sound. The elven girl looked at the elder with eyes gleaming with happiness and eager, "Drake saved me! He's really strong!" Said the delighted Elle. The elder elven woman then turned her attention to the young knight and the party. Alt waving his hand with a huge grin on his face.


"Did he now?"


She then approached the young knight. Drake, becoming flustered, stood in attention. Afraid he might say or do something that will offend the elder. The elder then reached for the young knight's hands and shook them in thanks. "You have my gratitude for saving my granddaughter. Aife bless you, young lad. I am Mayani, elder of Alfeux." With the utmost glad, the elder had thanked Drake from the bottom of her heart. "Ah... Heh well... In truth, madam, you also have Vovin to impart your gratitude. He had protected Elle when I could not." Ever the humble individual, Drake respectfully declined all the credit he has given. After all, Vovin was there while he was incapacitated. "I see." The elder elf then turned her attention to the foreboding presence of the armored entity, Vovin. "Ah, but where are my manners? We have little but please come in for a while." Elder Mayani then invited the party inside the manor to settle down for the night.


Since Vovin can't fit through the door and more so, inside the house, he stood by the front and kept watch. Alt on the other hand, went ahead and explore the town for a bit; and not to mention, still carrying his heavy luggage with him.


As they entered the hall, Elle rushed ahead of the group. "I will go ahead and prepare us some delightful dinner. Please make yourselves at home." The ecstatic little girl then went on her way as she said. Drake, on the other hand was in awe. His head sway left and right to see the grandeur of the elven household. It was like small on the outside but magnified from the inside, elven architecture sure was a thing of wonder. He feels like he's inside a noble's estate in the capital.


They then reached the grand study where a series of archived books and the scrolls of the Arealian lore were organized and stored in a very strict, orderly manner. And at the center of the study was a grand fire place; lit by blue luminescent flame, an arcane flame, that lit the room as well as a grand chandelier. Ymierre and Drake sat on their respective chairs, watching the arcane fire's light before them.


Ymierre, the woman of ethereal origin, looked at the elder elf as she took her seat.


"Is she the only High Elf in this settlement?"


She uttered in a very direct manner, noticing the true nature of Elleina in the first place. With this sudden question, both Drake and Elder Mayani looked in utter surprise at this revelation. The elder threw her sight to the blue lit flame, "Yes... 'tis true what you say. Not only is she the only high elf in this town, but she was the last of her kind here in the continent of Albias." The elder reminisced how she found the infant Elleina and became her surrogate grandmother. The revelation piqued the young knight's curiosity, "But... according to the lore and Arealian archives, the High Elven race disappeared in Albias, 300 years ago." And he would be right, the continent of Albias was once ruled by the High Elven kingdoms before the human race set foot on this land.


It was said that the High Elves ruled the land under a benevolent rule. No matter what race, every individual had a place and a home upon the kingdom. They were the third generation of races to emerge in this world to wield magic that rivals the gods themselves, and even to some accounts, that the gods themselves blessed the High Elves by manifesting their true physical form before them. Making them the first race in many eons to have contact with the gods themselves.


Then when the Great Corruption occurred, the armies of the old god, the ancient dragon god of destruction, Razarach, rose from the fiery ground and brought carnage and destruction in their wake. The High Elven kingdom were locked in a seemingly unrelenting deadlock. But the dragon's army were tireless and unending.


So in order to prevent the dragon's army from progressing their destruction any further, they used a very powerful magic to utterly defeat the enemy. The magic was so powerful that it wiped the endless ranks of the destroyer's army; but at a very heavy cost. The utter entirety of their race was also decimated along with their enemies. It is said that there are still remnants of the High Elven kingdoms still walked among the common elven folk; but over time, their probable existence eventually was dismissed.


"High elves have a deeper connection to nature, arcane and the gods themselve than other elves. Perhaps that is why the rest of the world is in pain, our lands green and lush." Elder Mayani explaining the factor of the human/elven war. Many believed that the elves today still know the High Elven arcane heritage, and might use it against them. But in truth, the High Elven heritage is innate to high elves only and cannot be passed on through knowledge and letter. Because they alone can harness magic beyond comprehension.


"Then Vovin is a Praetorian summoned by your granddaughter."


Ymierre continued, this time revealing the nature of Vovin; the massive armored entity that serves as Elleina's ever-present guardian.
"Praetorian? Ymierre, what is this praetorian you speak of?" Again, the young knight's interest was piqued. "They are more commonly known as the Kin, familiars. But in Vovin's case, he is most likely a Praetorian-- a lesser divinity. They say that even among the high elves, only the most powerful and talented could summon such being." Said the elder, from what she known from the high elven lore. "Then the power within her, awakened when she faced mortal danger." Added the ethereal woman.


The Kin, are beings of divine origins. They come in all shapes and sizes, mostly serving as familiars to magi. Humans can summon a Kin but to a restrictive extent. Elven mages are the most common to summon a Kin to their whim; but it requires a great deal of effort in their part. Be they be human or elf. Praetorians are Kin of the highest rank, usually the right-hand entities of the gods themselves. In the High Elven society, most upper castes were powerful enough to summon them with exerting too much effort.


---------


Meanwhile, moments passed since Alt's temporary departure to explore Alfeux; still even late at night, the town never ceases to showcase its wonder upon one's eyes.


Reaching the end of the 3rd avenue, Alt stumbled upon an old, abandoned establishment. All of the houses and establishments were lit and lively all around town except for this particular place. Curious, Alt approached the dusty, cobweb-infested door. He pushed it slightly, and the door went creaking open. What presented before him was a dim-lit room with dusty wooden pallets scattered all over. He dropped his luggage aside and progressed further into the abandoned establishment.


As Alt went further in, he noticed that there were old, empty weapon racks, armor stands and metal fixings and tools. "Without a doubt, this was a smithy..." The wanderer uttered as he came across an elevated podium. From across he podium was a smelting cauldron of elven design. He ran his metal fingers upon the cauldron's contours and, "Wow, this thing can still be used. Still intact and still sturdy enough." Alt was in awe, this was the first time he saw an elven forge. He then circled the podium back and forth searching for something. "If the smelter is here---then where is the anvil?"


"--the anvil was lost to us."


Alt was startled at the notion. He looked behind him to see and old elf holding a lamp up. He then approached the wanderer with his crooked posture.


"Here in Arealia, when elves were to establish a settlement, we are blessed by the goddess Aife the gift to create a home. An Aetherian Anvil."


The wanderer stood by and listened to the old man's story, as he watched him go to the center of the podium. "As we were given the anvil, the goddess tells us to use it only to create and not to destroy. And with it, we have built our humble settlement from the ground up." The elder elf then laid his lamp to the side and sat down the side bench. "But on one fateful day, we have made a sacrilege that went against the plea of our goddess. Our town was besieged by the Aldamas Empire and we have no arms to defend our land.", "--And so you used the forge to create weapons and armor." Alt knew where the old elf was going. He could understand the dire situation they were in. "Yes... we had no other choice, we were overwhelmed and underhanded. We have driven the invaders off our land. But as soon as the battle ended, our weapons and clad were reduced to ashes in mere seconds. We rushed to the forge and there, we saw the anvil crumbled to dust before us." The elf bowed his head in despair.


"You only did what you had to do."


Alt approached the elder elf and placed his hand on his shoulder. "Sometimes, we have to go against all odds to protect what's dear to us." He then approached his large box case, and put it beside the working station. "Mind if I use this smithy for the night?" The wanderer turned to the old elf, cracking a smile. The elder blinked, confused to the permission asked, "Well... you can't forge without an anv---", "I brought my own." Alt said while patting his box case. "Well I don't see anything wrong. Let me light the cauldron for you, young lad." The old elf then went to the back of the cauldron, to pull out a dusty old cube.


The old man then placed the cube inside, and then watched as the cube float then suddenly bursting into a blue arcane flame. "Wow." Alt was in awe with the arcane fire. He reached out his black hand towards the flame, "What are you doing? Touch that flame, you will burn yourself! Arcane fire is hotter than a primal flame." The old man stopped Alt from doing something reckless.


Indeed Arcane fire is hotter than a normal flame. Most mages use arcane fire as one of their offensive spells. And one touch of the fire can burn through steel in an instant. Without proper Mana training, a mage can burn his/herself alive with the said spell.


"Don't worry, old man. I must feel the fires first before putting my steel into it."


And he did, as the black mechanical warrior reached his hand into the arcane flame, the old elf just pulled back and slightly closed his eyes. His hand was in, yet there was no hissing of metal being burnt, or smell of melting steel. Alt closed his eyes and feel the flame caressed his hand, like a soft touch from a lover's caress. Slowly, he took his hand out and saw the flame ignite from his hand, without actually burning it. The old elf just stood there in awe, no being alive can touch an arcane flame. Only the gods themselves.


"Ah... the fire is alive and I can feel its energy surging through."


Alt then closed his hand and blew the fire away. "Young man, a-are you a god? No individual alive has ever directly touched an arcane fire without being harmed!" Still in awe, the old elf implied to ask an explanation to the wanderer's feat. "Heh... Well maybe the fire was misunderstood for a long time. It just need to be nurtured and stoked. Arcane fire is the breath of gods in some cultures. Like all other things, it needs to be treated with respect." Alt then turned the octagonal dial on his box case.


"And I'm just like you... I'm just a humble blacksmith."


To the elf's surprise, the wanderer knew he was a blacksmith. Because Alt can already tell by the hands of the old elf. Rough and cracked like dry soil, and with slight burn marks at the back of his hand. Mark of a true blacksmith.


Immediately, the case folded out, revealing a portable console; advanced electronic tools and the likes. It was a whole portable workstation. Alt then detached a gold and luminescent red cube from the compartment of the workstation and placed it at the center of the podium; where the anvil used to be. He finally removed the sling on his injured right arm, to see it fully regenerated and healed. He pulled out his huge hammer and extended its handle.


"Hah!"


With one heave, Alt hit the cube placed on the center. As the hammer made contact with the contraption, the cube unfolded up and transformed into an anvil itself. A gold and red Anvil, glowing with energy. The wanderer then approached the console and started it, projecting an interactive 3 Dimensional hologram of schematics and design. "Let's get to work..." Alt cracked his knuckles and began drawing intricate schematics. The old elf just stood there and watched as Alt did his work.


---------


After eating their hearty meal and dinner; Elleina went to bed while Ymierre stayed at the study. Drake, on the other hand went atop the hall's balcony, pondering on what is there to come at the path he chose. After what had happened to him many hours earlier, he is left with many questions that would not let him sleep. It was all hard to sink in; him being given a second chance, Alt's arrival, and the forces of darkness everybody speaks of. The young knight didn't want to be doubtful but until now, he doesn't see any traces of any foul creature that plagues the land. But he is rather suspicious about the Black Knight he had faced earlier.


"Is it... rather alright for me to be here?"


Asked Drake as he sensed elder Mayani from behind him. The elder elf approached the young knight and stood beside him. "That was rather an esoteric question, young man." Replied the elder as she looked upon the twilight above. "My people... We have brought only suffering to the marches. I cannot imagine any of you are less than pleased to find a human from the Aldamas Empire in your peaceful settlement." The young knight said, heavy with grief and guilt for what the humans had dealt to the peaceful Mystic Marches.


The Mystic Marches are the lands beyond the borderlands of the Aldamas Highlands where the elves and other races were driven away by constant skirmishes and invasion campaigns of the empire. Survivors from the invasions often fled here to seek sanctuary, away from the empire's iron grip. But as the months go by, the marches are slowly being taken by the empire and it will be a matter of time before they conquer it. Once the Aldamas takes complete hold over the Mystic Marches, they would control the entire continent.


The elder bowed her head down and looked at Drake. "Of course, I can speak only for myself, but I think you may be mistaken." This made him turn his attention to elder Mayani. "'Tis easy for one raised in Aldamas to judge many through the actions of the few. 'Tis true that some of us may resent you, and your people, but not all. A nation--a kingdom is made up of many people, and each one has an opinion." The elder explained to the young knight the simple reality. True, some may judge you for a few bad apples but that doesn't mean the general would share the same sentiment. "That may be so, but I feel you have all suffered much at the hands of the empire." The elder might raise some points but the guilt still remained with Drake.


"Yes child, but for us elves we would rather move on with our lives and live upon the comforting light of our gods. We fight to protect our own, and not to the harm of others. This is what our blessed mother, the goddess Aife had taught us even to our High Elven ancestors. We would rather forgive than to be consume by vengeance. We raise our arms only to the forces of darkness and destruction; not to the people of this world."


Elder Mayani approached the young knight and placed her hand over his shoulder. "...and I can sense your eager to make this right. Respond to your own justice and it would do us all a favor. Not just us elves but all others as well." The elder was right, the least Drake can do was to straighten this conflict in his own way. That way he can prevent the empire from spreading further mindless violence to the region. "I am grateful for your counsel, Madame. Now I know what I must do, or at least the what would be my first step. I'll try to get some rest now for the night." Drake had at least caught a breath of ease. After thanking the elder, he went back inside and back to his quarters.


"A most curious young man..."


From the shadow of the moonlight, a voice hummed at the shadows behind the elder. A womanly figure, a silhouette appeared behind the elder elf. "Indeed. He is. His sense of justice is most honorable." Elder Mayani responding to the silhouette. "And the black clad that was with him earlier. He alone caught my attention, his presence felt so much different from the young knight. I'm curious to know where did he come from... Perhaps I should see both of them later on the morrow." The silhouette uttered, pertaining to Alt. "Do as you wish..." Elder Mayani replied. The night went on, and the dawn had shown its eternal light.


-------------


Drake awoke through the speck of ray on his face. Although it is only 2 hour sleep, it is enough. He had places to go and a mission to carry out. As he stood up from his bed, his well-toned and well-built torso a bit covered in cold sweat, he reached from his under-top. As he was about to put it back on, his family amulet hanged from his finger tips.


He clasped his dragon crest amulet and pondered how far he has gone. There is no turning back now, he is living on a borrowed lifetime.


"Hey Drake, I got you so--eh?"


Without knocking or any warning, the little elf girl walked right in carrying his white coat washed and ready, to Drake's room; and with the young knight not yet suited up. Eyes widened, Elle just froze where she stands getting a clear view of Drake's topless physique. "Ah, Elleina. Thank y--oof!" Before he could express his gratitude, his face was clobbered by the thrown coat. "I'm so soooorrrrryyyy....!" Extremely flustered, face red as an angry fire wyvern, Elleina came rushing out of Drake's room. "Elleina wait!" The young knight was about to pursue the elf but quickly decided not to. As people might get ideas. So, Drake suited up and strapped on his gauntlets and armor.


Drake regrouped with Ymierre outside the estate. Not uttering a single word to her, he's completely focused on what lies ahead of him now. They were then again greeted by Elder Mayani, who was sitting just by the porch beside them.


"Ah leaving so soon, young man?"


The elder elf approached the two. "Yes, I greatly appreciate the hospitality you have given us. But I do not wish to overstay my welcome." Drake greeted the elder with a fresh smile on his face, full of eagerness to move forward. "I do not know if I can change the course of an empire, but Aldamas has lost its way. What purpose lies before me now is to help it somehow, in my own terms, find its path once again." He then turned to Ymierre, who was eyeing him for quite a bit. "I have also made a promise to Herr Ymierre, that I must fulfill." The young knight added. The gesture of calling a lady, 'Herr' is a gesture of politeness in Aldamas to a lady stranger of a seemingly noble origin or member of a higher-caste. "I see. Ellis would be in deep sorrow of your departure. But asking you to stay would be too much." And the elder would be too, since Drake was the first human in years visit their humble settlement.


"Ah~ worry not for the high-elven girl, nor for the forces of darkness."


A voice from inside the house was heard. Drake and the others turned around to hear approaching footsteps. The figure finally revealed herself.


She was dressed in a very revealing, long leather garb, hand woven in a very decorative pattern of swirls with fur ruffles. She has a rather fair complexion but her body is riddled with ink, primarily on the right side, tattoos with a serpent motif. Hers is also don a very asymmetrical design with a long, kimono-like sleeve on her right arm and a gauntlet and spaulders on her left.


She dons a serpent amulet decorated on her collar. Her eyes are shut by two blindfolds. One strip of leather blindfold to each eye. And her hair is something to be curious about. Because each strand of her hair looked like a snake's tail. With her side-fringes looked like a rattlesnake's rattle tail.


"Who... are you?"


The immediate impulse of Drake to the... lady. Frozen, he had never seen an individual of a certain unknown race. The young knight was well-aware of the Elves, the industrially advanced, savage beast race of the Dremor, and the technologically-advanced, mystic race of Rafiqi. The sudden query however offended the serpentine lady quite a bit, "Humph~! One should introduce himself first before asking such question." Her eyebrows narrowed under her blindfolds. "It seems no one has proper manners these days~." She crossed her arms, and although she may have blindfold strips covering her eyes, one can tell that the serpentine lady is giving Drake an unamused look. Drake panicked a bit, forgetting his proper manners he had shown before. "I... Uh--apologize m'lady. My name is Drake Hauer." He may had a rough start but hopefully, this would make it up for the unintentional rude gesture he had displayed.


The serpentine lady then broke a smile and approached Drake, walking around him like she was inspecting him.


"I know. The Golden Dragon of Aldamas Empire, am I correct~? Do not ask how I know this--"


The lady then turned around to face them once more. "My name is Eurya. I am a seer. One of the Zmiya~" Eurya had finally made her introduction to the party. "A seer? Zmiya?" Ever curious, the young knight wanted to know more of Eurya and what she really was. "My eyes, just like my kind, we are blessed with visions of the future~. But such blessing came with a price from our god, Duenos; we cannot use our eyes directly when faced to other races." She explained, plain and simple yet ambiguous to what is the effect of a direct eye contact from them.


-------------


The Zmiya, were a seclusive, humanoid serpentine race. Not much known about their origins but the earliest archives suggest that they were created from the scales of the god of the underworld, the serpent god, Duenos. Like Eurya said, they were blessed by visions of the future since the god Duenos holds and guards the Tablets of Fate. Where the very fate of every individual was written. In exchange to the endless vision of the future, they were forbidden to share it to other races. So they had shut away their land from any outsiders.


In the ancient times, the Zmiya lived in seclusion from other races. Their land and their presence were shunned to the outside world. Until the advent of Razarach's army, where the entire world was razed by the endless army of the Dragon god. Overwhelmed and powerless before the might of the dragon god's army.


The Zmiya were driven from their homeland, going against their god's code in the process. They sought help from the High Elven kingdoms and with their combined strength, they had defeated the dragon god's army. But before they can celebrate, Duenos appeared before them, cursing the entire Zmiyan race with their eyes. Any direct eye contact from them can cause wild hallucinations that can kill an individual by mashing their psyche flat. The high elven army who aided them were driven off the land by fear, and the Zmiya lived in seclusion once again.


Though they live in their land in seclusion from other races up to this day, the Zmiya now often travel outside their lands to for commerce and trade purposes. Because of Duenos' curse, their vision of the future was now limited and sometimes none at all. Only the most talented of them can see, though still limited, very far into the future.


In terms of physiology, the male population exhibits their serpent nature by having patterned patches of scales throughout their bodies, along with skin. While the females exhibits a full head of serpent tails for hair. The adults, male and female, don serpent tattoos of various designs as sign of their devotion and worship to the serpent god, Duenos. They always wear blindfolds when traveling outside their lands to avoid the curse of Duenos from inflicting innocent individuals.


-------------------


"My visions of the future have made me numerous acquaintances in both Aldamas and Regulus."


The serpent lady then walked past the group, facing the horizon ahead. "Lady Eurya, so he is---" Elder Mayani reached out for the seer's affirmation. "Oh yes~ this young knight is the one from the vision." Confirmed Eurya to the elder elf. Beforehand, the seer and the elder talked of a departure of a warrior donned in white clad, and holds the power to vanquish the darkness; and with him, a seeker, a crucible of light and darkness. Elder Mayani then held Drake's hand as she approached him.


"Then allow me to showcase my humility, young man. If you seek to restore your home into its former glory, then you would need to see through its roots."


Drake then gave a confused look upon the elder elf.


"Recently, the gods have gave us a sign that the darkness had outweighed itself from the balanced and is now clawing its way through our realm. Lady Eurya came to us, and warned us of an impending catastrophe about to present itself; as told by the High Oracles of the Zmiya. And we had suspected that the darkness had sprouted its bud on the Aldamas Empire, and is now using the empire's formidable military power to set its wheels in motion."


The young knight bowed his head, "But I don't understand. Considering my homeland had fallen to the darkness, why didn't I see anything that solidifies this claim? Forgive me but I am trying to grasp what you are trying to state, but I can't see anything at fault rather than our own flaws of human nature." He didn't want to be rude, but Drake can't help but to be doubtful. Sure the empire may had lost its way, but blaming it to the foreboding darkness is rather too convenient for him; he can't help but to incline in realistic means.


"Lord Hauer~ My visions may be ambiguous but the blessing of Duenos is never wrong. I had tasted the darkness that taints the lands of Aldamas. Surely, you had encountered someone---unusual in your ranks before your exile~."


Drake was about to respond to Eurya's statement, when a sudden thought had struck him. "The black knight..." The young knight whispered. "Elleina felt it too. That threatening guise and the power he held and used to defeat me. Gods..." He slowly ran his palm at his face, then up his fringe. May not be concrete, but the most solid evidence Drake could think of is the presence of the Black Knight. He did not wore the battle standard of the empire nor the crest of House Hauer. The Black Knight just appeared out of nowhere on his brother, Zweifried's whim. "But if they are here in Albias continent, then what are they after? Why here?" Asked the young knight.


"Oh we know why the darkness had chosen Albias. Here in this lands lies a forbidden artifact, devoid from mortal hands." The serpent lady then narrowed her sight under the blindfold. "The Grip of Zorrkhan. An artifact that was once wielded by the Re'mon at the height of their power before the rise of the High Elven kingdoms. It was made from the scales of the dragon god of the blight, Gaurm Khan." Uttered the serpent lady with an apparent grimness on her tone. "The artifact said to hold the power to control darkness and release it from its bonds to the balance. This very power that the elder race of the Re'mon used to enslave the world to their grasp in service of their dragon gods." The elder elf added to Eurya's statement. This made the young knight go through a deep thought.


"But... Why me?"


Seems like Drake needs only one more reason left before he could proceed with this task. "Because you are the only one. The only one that holds the power to stave the darkness off the land." Replied Elder Mayani. Drake seemed dissatisfied with the answer; just didn't seem to justify the cause. "Consider this your first step towards your meandering journey, Drake. Accept their request." Ymierre approached the troubled knight and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Know, however, that I shall take care of matters once we retrived the Grip of Zorrkhan." The ethereal woman then turned her attention to the elder elf. "I understand." Elder Mayani nodded and agreed.


"Then it's settled! Lead the way, Drake~."


The sudden declaration of Eurya startled the young knight. "You wish to accompany us?" He asked the serpent lady. "Surely you do not expect the danger to keep me here? I may be blindfolded but my senses are surely better than yours~, and that is all." The serpent lady uttered with a slight hiss in her tone as she jut out her forked tongue in a split-second.


"The high-elven girl also comes with us." She added. "Wait, Elleina? But she has nothing to do with any of this." Protested Drake, disapproving the serpent lady's notion. "High Elves are the only ones who can sense the darkness before it manifests itself. And they are the only ones capable of handling the artefact besides the Re'mon. Elleina, is the only living high elf in the land." Uttered Eurya to the young knight. As sudden and rude of a gesture it may be, they would still need Elleina in their quest. The children of the goddess Aife, the high elves' other purpose was to eradicate the darkness and contain it within the balance. With their disappearance to the mortal realm, Elleina was the only viable candidate to accompany them.


The party then turned their attention to the door, to see Elleina, dressed and ready to go. Then following her, coming from the yard, was Vovin, her guardian. She then rushed towards Elder Mayani's arms. "Grandma, I'm sorry. But It is inevitable, this is the destiny I was called for. I'll take care of myself, I promise." The little elf girl said her parting words to the one that has been there for her always, and raised her like her own daughter. Elder Mayani then looked at the young knight, "Please take care of Elleina. Not for me, but for all of us." One last favor to ask Drake. "I swear upon the Knight's Enchiridion, I will." With resolve and affirmative stance, Drake reassured that he will protect her like he did before.


"Okay then let's---"


"Elder! Elder!"


Before the party could settle and be on their way, a frantic elf local came stumbling in. "Th-the smithy! I-it's alive--someone--" The local can't even form a proper sentence with either sheer panic or excitement. The party quickly took it as bad news. "Hold on, good sir. Please calm yourself. Lead us to it." The young knight attempted to calm the elf down. "Th-this way! Hurry!" Following the villager, the party set off down the 3rd avenue, to the smithy.


--------


Meanwhile in the smithy, the entire town of Alfeux had gathered around the old smithy. Hearing thunderous clamour of steel clashing steel, the hiss of a searing metal being cooled and unusual lights coming from the inside of the building. They had been hearing the noise all night but came morn, the noise was louder and more troubling than a behemoth stampede. None of the villagers would dare enter the establishment without being overwhelmed by an invisible force that pushes them back.


"Here! It came from over here!"


Drake, Elleina, Ymierre, Vovin, and lastly Lady Eurya had arrived at the scene. But as the party arrived, strangely enough, the smithy went to an abrupt silence.


The young knight took initiative and carefully approached the door. He then slowly opened the creaking, old door; the sunlight finally entering the room, illuminating the smithy's dusty interior. What Drake saw, immediately pushed him on edge.


He saw a hulking figure of pure steel with a huge right arm and no left arm; standing in front of the live arcane fire of the cauldron. As he took a step further, a sound of gears grinding and turbines being primed boomed through the figure. Series of inter-connecting red lines began to draw on the figure's bulky exterior. And then it happened, the figure's body of pure machinery began folding and compacting. Panels of armor and steel conjoining together, utterly assembling itself before Drake. As it went on, the figure shrank smaller and more compact. The bulk assembling into intricate parts then the intricate parts forming the body, both legs and the right arm.


As the assimilation and transformation was complete, the massive figure shrunk drastically into a more humanoid form donning a pseudo-medieval mechanical armor over his black leather garbs. He strapped in his coat around his hip, and reinforced it with bits of armor. And finally, the finishing touch, the weapon, a mechanical scabbard pegged at his back hip.


The mechanical figure sensed Drake's presence. He turned around to face the young knight. His head was a series of inter-connecting armor plates that forms a rather helm-like aesthetic. Visor glew red and a slight hiss of air from the jaw. The helm then opened its visor, splitting it to the side then over his head forming a pseudo-cap. And thus, the figure's identity was revealed.


"Alt?"


Drake said the moment familiarity hit him. "Drake! Ah didn't see you there. I was up all night working with this." Alt was behind the ruckus all along. He stepped down the platform and welcomed the young knight in his temporary abode. "What..." , "Well I'm sorry if I had you worried, I utilized all of my scraps into this armor. Well... I could have built another ship but I didn't have enough." Drake was speechless to the nature of the armor Alt had constructed. By the looks of it, from the aesthetics to the very nature of it. Not even the Rafiqi can build such a thing. "You can say, I'm carrying my ship with me. Heh." A rather light-hearted gesture from Alt. He is feeling rather jitty after every hard work. And still Drake was still speechless, in awe to see Alt's armor up close.


"Oh ho~ who is this curious man?"


Eurya and the party went inside the smithy as well to follow Drake. "Oh! Uh... Alt, this is Lady Eurya. Lady Eurya, this is Alt; we met him on our way here in the village." Shaking off his awe for a minute, the young knight introduced the serpent lady to the wanderer. Alt reached out his armored hand and shook Eurya's. "The name's Alt. Eurya eh?" The moment the serpent lady touched his hand, it felt strange. She was expecting a cold touch from the metal Alt's donned, but it felt warm just like a normal hand. "Something wrong with my name?" Lady Eurya raised her brow to Alt's notion. "Oh, your name is synonymous to the rare blossom, found only in my home world. The Eurya sprout, a rare flower that is as deadly to touch, but has the beauty unspoken when it blossoms under the twilight." Replied Alt. The serpent lady can't help but to be slightly flustered to his flattery, and this was the first time she was affected with such gesture. "Oh my~ what a sweet man you are." If this keeps up, it'll end up to flirtation. "Heh... I'm sure we can just continue this conversation on the road." Even Drake immediately felt awkward at the building tension.

"Oh yes~ and please do tell me more about yourself, Alt." As flirtatious as it may sound, Eurya was eager to know who is this wanderer was. She didn't say it but if she would have a physical contact to someone, she can see that particular person's possible future. But with Alt, she saw nothing. Nothing but blank, and it would seem that Alt's future was not written in the Tablets of Fate. She was sure that he was not human himself but what exactly is he?

"I'd be damned if don't comply, I'd love a good chat. By the way, where are we headed next?"

Alt asked as he wrapped his right arm with a black chain. "We head for the west beyond this forest. Then up the hills to the Dravian settlement of Ostvale. They can tell us where is the artifact's last resting place." Good thing Lady Eurya already has a lead. The rest should fall into place.


TO BE CONTINUED...
 

KingdomKey

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I imagine the cubes hold great importance in this world. Twice, we have seen them used for different purposes. For a moment there, I had thought Elleina was Lady Eurya. It'd have been an interesting twist if, the high elf girl could grow in her sleep into a more majestic being and speak to Elder Mayani's. I found it rather amusing for Elle to freak out at the sight of Drake's bare torso. She can be really cute. I'm amazed at the backgrounds some of these characters have. It doesn't take away from the story and adds to it. Short and sweet. Something I greatly appreciate, while reading this. Kind of curious to see what else Alt brings to the party after surprising them with his armor. :) I look forward to the next chapter.
 

Tyrant Raver

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Yeah I had to squeeze it in. I had feared that I may have gone overboard with Alt's backstory :p I may change Eurya's text color since, KHI only has limited set of swatches.

And they're not cubes, they're actually gummi blocks. XD
 

Tyrant Raver

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Chapter 4: Serpents and Dragons

After our own preparations in Elle's hometown, we head of west towards Ostvale. To a Dravian settlement on the mountains up ahead. We had met another member of our lot, Lady Eurya. A most curious lady donning blindfolds to hide her eyes from others; saying it would be dangerous for us to see her eyes. Such is the curse of her kind, I would insist her to let me see it but I won't. Because respect of other people's terms always comes first.



Along the way, Me, Lady Eurya, Elle and Drake had a very hearty and healthy conversation about the lore and geography of Arealia. And in turn, I share some of my experiences from other worlds and universes throughout the vast memoir of adventures. And to my surprise, they actually listen what I have to say! I feel like an old story teller in front of curious children hungry for a tale of epic travels and tales. Truly this world had a very vast amounts of wonders and secrets. Be they be bad or good, I just can't deny my sense of adventure; dying to explore every nook and cranny of this world. I had my notebook, jotting down notes on and off conversation. Recording my findings as I make my every step.


Vovin, he doesn't speak much. Elle told me, he appeared when she was in mortal danger. I'm guessing he's a guardian entity with the sole purpose of being Elle's ever-present protector.


Ymierre, I don't know what to make of her. She looks like she's always aloof; although she is of Drake's acquaintance, she always distances herself from us. I tried on 2 occasions to talk to her but... I feel like something was pushing me back away from her; like an invisible field that repels anyone from her, it's unnatural. Which puts me to a negative view that she's up to something. I had caught her more than one instance that she was staring directly at me like with that blank mannequin-like stare. Like she doesn't want me near Drake or something. I don't know what to make of her but, there is something telling me that she cannot be trusted. I can't outright say it, maybe I'll stick around more to learn more about her.


--------------


As the party continued their path west, the forest and vegetation became more and more rugged. A sign that they were nearing the mountain path. Until the road became riddled with crags and large root entanglements. Also along the path were ruined portions of an ancient city. The path they are now was Ostvale. A natural barricade made by the earth itself. Drake, Alt and Lady Eurya soon began traversing the crags by jumping from ledge to ledge; Vovin carrying Elleina on his large pauldrons with Ymierre just behind them. Alt performed a corkscrew flip as he landed on the tallest crag ahead. He used his built-in ocular monitor in his eyes to scout the path ahead. Eurya and the young knight was right behind him. "So I see a ridge of mountains and rocks ahead, what path should we take?" Yelled Alt from the top of the crag as he scanned the surroundings.


"Just keep going forward until we reach the mountain path."


Replied the serpent lady from behind. "Mountain ahead is Mt. K'Toa, the tallest crag in the continent. From atop it, we will find the Dravian settlement we're looking for." She added as she neared the wanderer's position. Lady Eurya, even when blindfolded, her sight taken away, she still outperforms the young knight and Vovin when it comes to agility and reflexes. Years of training and travelling with such handicapped had her mastered her surroundings. She relies heavily upon the air flow and ground vibration to determine her path. "So... are we... near our location." Said the young knight, utterly out of breath and exhausted. "Oh~? What is this? tired already Lord Drake?" Teased the serpent lady as she passed Drake. "Heh... I have to admit. This is different from the boot camp training." The young knight happily rode along Lady Eurya's tease. "Mhmm~hmm... Worry not, once we reach the foot of the mountain, we can take camp for a bit to catch our breath. The Dravian aren't going anywhere." Reassured the serpent lady to the young knight.


-------




The Dravian, a nomadic race of dragon-like humanoids. In the earliest archives, they said they were the children of the god of war, Vaolan; other contradicting sources states that they were direct descendants of the evil elder race of the Re'mon due to their dragon-like physical attributes. In the ancient times, they made their appearance known to the world, just 2 centuries before the fall of the Re'mon to the High Elven kingdoms. The rest of the world resented their presence because many suspects them from being remnants of the Re'mon. Hence, like the Zmiya, they lived in seclusion from the world.


They live mostly on mountains and atop the plateaus. Their tribes live in fortresses and strongholds, and each tribe has its own Patriarch/Matriarch or Chieftains. These chieftains are said to be the strongest of each tribe. The Dravian society consists mainly of warrior castes, man or woman as long as he and she can lift a sword. But make no mistake, they are the fiercest of any fighters of any race in Arealia. They also excel in smithing weapons of extraordinary materials, as their strongholds are usually built next to a cave or mine full of rare minerals. Kingdoms sometimes negotiate with them to have their own train their soldiers and sometimes enlist them into the Kingdoms' rank; but if and only if they have the blessing of their tribe chieftain.


Like the Zmiya, the Dravian also exhibit patterns of scale patches all over their body although more robust. Their hands are full-on armed with three digits of sharp claws, and hard dragon scales crawling up to their arm like a gauntlet. Same with their feet, armed with dagger-like talons. Although their heads are still humanoid-looking, including their face and complexion; they exhibit horns growing from their forehead. Females have horns that grow backwards and sometimes groove along the shape of their head, and even swirls to form a spiral. Males however have their horns growing forward. The length of their horns determine their age. And also, Females of the Dravian exhibit strong and long reverse-jointed, raptor legs; and even grow feathers on their elbows and spine. With the Zmiya donning serpent tattoos, they have individual war paints on their faces; made with griffon blood and plant paste as religious practice.


-------


"I can sense it, we're near--ah!"


As Eurya made her step upon the treacherous path, the rock she stepped on unexpectedly gave away; losing her balance in the process. The serpent lady couldn't recover and couldn't focus on her senses. As she fell, her blindfolds got caught along the root entangles on the way down, ripping it from her eyes. "Hold on, m'lady!" The young knight rushed to catch the serpentine lady but he didn't have time to catch his breath, he was still exhausted, hence he struggled to catch up.

Suddenly a black flash passed Drake, it was Alt. The mechanical warrior loosened the chains on his right armored arm and then shot it through the ledge. The pointed end of the chain pierced through the stone, and Alt swung towards Eurya; catching her at the right time. As she was in his arms, Eurya held on with her other hand covering her eyes shut. Alt pulled back the chain back to his arm and landed on a nearby wide ledge, Drake followed after. "Are you alright, Lady Eurya?" Concerned, the young knight rushed to the serpent lady's aid; still cradled on Alt's arms. "My... folds are gone. I can't open my eyes in front of you. And I think I just twisted my ankle." The serpent lady was in utter panic to regain her composure. "Don't move, I got ya. There's leveled land just ahead. Let's make a stop there to tend to Eurya." Alt said, helping Eurya up. As Drake saw Elle and Vovin from behind, he waved his arms to signal them. "It's okay, lady. Don't ya give up on me now. Here, I'll carry you to safety." He didn't know if that will bring comfort to her, but Alt did his best. "My apologies, I didn't sensed that loose rock as I made my step. I got careless." The proud serpent lady was utterly humbled by the incident. Her noble guile reduced to a hapless one, but that didn't bother Alt or Drake. "You don't have to explain anything to us. Come on." As soon as the little elf girl and the armored entity caught up with Drake and Alt, they head through the nearby leveled land ahead. Lady Eurya held on to Alt, still her eyes were tightly shut and her hand covering it.



Along the way, she had the urge to open her eyes because her lids were getting strained and tired. So, Eurya took a peek from the tiny slit between her fingers covering her eyes. And from her crystal-like velvet orbs, she saw the image of Alt. She quickly hid her sight of him. Because even when not on direct eye contact of the Zmiya, as long as a Zmiya is staring at the individual, the unsuspecting individual might still be inflicted by the curse of Duenos. She had expected an abnormal twitch by now from Alt but there was none. Maybe she didn't actually stared at him, Eurya didn't know.


The party finally landed on the leveled platform. Almost immediately, Alt brushed his scarf to cover Lady Eurya's head. "Okay, Everyone turn around. Lady Eurya lost her blindfolds, I'll help her. You guys stay put." The wanderer instructed. How convenient that there was a nearby corner gap. Alt assisted Lady Eurya in walking towards the gap so that she can put back her blindfolds. The gap was almost crammed yet was large enough to be a small cave with a dead end; or a den perhaps. It was dim but such inconvenience didn't bothered the wanderer at all. He and Lady Eurya sat closely, facing each other. He then took his black scarf and tore the ends into strips.


"Here."


Alt held the strips facing Eurya. "No! I can do it." The serpent lady refused the wanderer's aid, afraid that she might accidentally kill him. Because her eyelids were too strained to be closed any further. The only thing that stands between Alt and the Curse of Duenos was her hands. "You think you'll accidentally inflict the curse upon me, is that it?" He asked, still facing her. "Well as much as I want to turn around, there's no space in this gap. Unless you want a clear view of my ass." Alt jest, but he meant well, he has a reason why he accompanied Eurya to put on the fold. "I know you want to help me but the curse... 'tis not something to be underestimated. I don't want that to happen again..." With bathed breath, Lady Eurya pleaded to Alt. Almost in a sobby tone, remembering what she had done in past that haunts her. "Sounds like you have a story to tell me." Alt leaned back on the wall and crossed his arms. Willing to listen what the serpent lady has to say.


-------------


You had your share of a story Ser Alt. Then I shall tell you mine. Back then when I was still a fledgling, I was born outside our lands. My family were outcasts of the Zmiya and both were part of a circus troupe. Mother was a fortune-teller while father was a talented acrobat. I was a young stage helper.


In my younger years I have been warned about the inevitability of love. In our culture, we pick our partners through the compatibility of our sight to other Zmiya. Love was not a major factor but the point being, that I cannot have a better-half of a non-Zmiya.


But then I met him. A fellow stage hand. A human. At first, we were at odds with each other. But the more we teased other, eventually we developed feelings for each other. That was the first time, I truly cared about someone. And someone that cared for me. I'd do anything for him, yet my parents did not approve of it. They were concerned what misfortune would befell us both. Regardless, we continued to nurture our bond to each other. Until that fateful night.


We were foolish. He had wished to see my eyes, of course I heavily disapproved of it because of the Curse of Duenos. But because of his reassurance that his love will protect him from the curse, I trusted him and listened to him....


I wish I never did...


Next thing I knew, he was convulsing violently on the ground, clenching on his head--screaming to make the visions stop. The last vision I saw was his lifeless body, staring at me with a very horrifying expression on his face.


I ran away. The curse was above all, that was the last mistake I'll ever made.


------------


Alt placed his hands upon her hands covering her eyes. "Lady Eurya, I know we just met. But trust me when I say, that curse won't affect me. Why? Because I am already cursed, worse than horrifying illusions and plaguing ailments. I had suffered where any individual would just die. I had braved the depths of hell to the spires of the heavens, nothing in this universe will destroy me. Now... slowly." Alt asserted to the serpent lady, that he is immune to the curse. He is not human after all but an Artificier.


So, slowly, the wanderer eased Eurya's grip and gently removing her hands from covering her eyes. Her eyes still shut, Eurya then slowly opened her eyes. Although dim, her sight of Alt's face was clear as day. Her breathing became elevated, utterly surprised that she is in direct eye contact with Alt's red pupils making contact with her velvet serpent eyes. She could not believe it, it was like a dream; she, a Zmiya, making eye contact with another person, and with Alt not affected, not even a for a bit.


"H-how... is this possible?"


She kept asking to herself. "Hey. Hey, calm down. Stay with me here. I'm still here, no bubble mouth or whatever." Alt tried to calm the elated serpent lady. "You know, for someone who is blindfolded almost all her life. You have beautiful eyes. It's sad that only few can appreciate it." The wanderer then grabbed the makeshift blindfolds. And just when he was about to put them on Lady Eurya, again, she stopped the wanderer. "Wait." She said. "Would it be alright if I can stare at you some more?" She said softly to Alt. Alt smiled and bowed his head a bit, "Well okay, but my face isn't really my best asset. Heh." The wanderer joked. But he could understand, it must be rare for someone of her race to see the rest of the world other than her people. So he let her cherish it for a bit more. Eurya's hands and fingertips ran through Alt's porcelain complexion.


This was the first time in her lifetime for her to feel and see another person of non-Zmiya. She would only wish that her first love was like this. Minutes went by, both Alt and Lady Eurya seemed to caught in the moment, their faces drawing closer and closer upon the dim and the cram of the gap. Eurya's face became flustered and tilted her head slightly to the side and slowly close her eyes, as she drew closer to Alt. With just a pinch away for her lips to meet with his, Alt evaded. He placed his lips near her right ear.


"The others are waiting..."


He whispered as he placed the strips of blindfold on her hands. Alt stood up and made his way out of the gap. But not before turning around, giving Lady Eurya a slight smirk. The serpent lady then bit her lip, "Oh my~ playing hard to get on a lady? Oh Alt you sly devil~, you're my prey now..." She thought as she put on the blindfolds. Although disappointed and sold short on the moment, she suddenly developed a craving for Alt's attention. Completely discarding her curiosity and query on what is his true nature. After all, Alt was the first man to be seen by Eurya in a very very long time, and not get struck by the curse.


She got out of the gap; Elle and Drake ran to her. "Lady Eurya, are you okay now? I heard of what happened, can you still walk? We can make camp for now if you want." Elleina expressed her utmost concern for Lady Eurya. "Oh I am fine~ I can't jump now that I hurt my foot. But we can now follow this ravine to lead us to the Dravian stronghold that lies atop Mt. K'Toa." She can't let her injury bring the journey to a grinding halt, regardless, they have to move forward. She can't jump for now but Lady Eurya can still walk.


-------------


After that minor incident, the party proceed up the mountain path of Mt. K'toa. Geographically, Mt. K'toa is not classified as a mountain at all because it was not a land mass at all. It's a colossal crag, a single massive rock, towering from below to the ground up. And the only thing that keeps this rock from falling was the surrounding mountain ranges and land formations. This mountain also served as the primary landmark for sailors traveling from the western lands.


As the party proceed further, the mountain path became steeper and steeper. Drake now balancing his every step; Elleina, as always have Vovin carry her on his pauldron while he scale the earthen wall with his armored claws. Alt and Eurya just casually walking through the thin and steep steps with perfect balance; and Ymierre, walking on her astral glyphs. As they progress further, the skies and clouds were now in reach. The wanderer looked down from the steps to see that they were almost past the cloud barrier.


Then as the party arrived within the nearest proximity of the stronghold; settlement not yet in sight, Alt went to an abrupt stop. "Something wrong, Alt?" Asked Drake while catching his breath. Without saying anything, the wanderer suddenly rushed off ahead towards the stronghold ahead. He dashed through the cloudy mist, then suddenly found himself engulfed with thick smoke coming from the Dravian stronghold itself. As he drew closer, sounds of clashing steel and roaring engines can be heard. The wanderer hurried, he swiped his arm forward to clear the smoke and what presented before him was a terrible sight.


Dravian natives fighting for their lives against the Aldamas Empire military. Their village razed to the ground and with only a few survivors left, still fighting for their lives. The Empire had utilized their airships to arrive at the high ground and deploy their troops against the Dravians.


"Agh!"


A dravian warrior fell as his left arm was deeply wounded by his adversary. "Father! Father!" A young Dravian girl rushed to his father's aid. "No! I told you and your mother to get out of here--argh!" angrily uttered by the warrior. Before he can push his daughter aside to hide her, they were instantly surrounded by a squad of foot soldiers. As they marched closer, a dravian woman rushed in front of them, halting them from going any further. "No! Please we surrender, just don't hurt my husband and daughter. He can no longer fight. We're just ordinary locals." The woman pleaded to the bottom of her heart, begging for the soldiers to spare her family. "Your husband just raised his arm against the empire. It is imperative that he dies for it." The squad leader replied with a stern tone, eager to deliver the necessary consequence to the dravian's action. "Please... don't hurt him." Tears now streaming out, the woman cried before the soldiers. "I said move!" Infuriated, the squad leader hit the dravian woman with the back of his gauntlet. Knocking her aside, unconscious. "Mother no!" The little dravian girl rushed at her mother's side. If that was bare-handed, she would have just topple down, but that soldier wore a steel gauntlet; any person being hit by it is like being hit with a steel bar. Thus, she was knocked unconscious.


"Kill them. The child too."


The squad leader ordered. "Empire scum... You will pay for this. Vaolan will curse you humans." The dravian warrior tried to get up but his wound and pain won't let him so. As the soldiers drew their swords, ready to deal the finishing blow to the wounded foe. They were stopped as they noticed that they can't swing their blades. They turned around, only to see a figure holding their blades with his fingertips. Before they could react, the figure kicked the back of their knees; making them kneel then taking them out with a blow to their neck.


"Go!"


The mystery savior was none other than Alt himself. His visor closed from his pseudo-cap and armor plates align to form his helm. Covering his face completely. His face may be covered but inside his mechanical helm, he can see clearly without any obstructions; thanks to his advanced heads up display monitor within. Soon multiple crosshairs began popping from all angles in Alt's HUD. Multiple enemies coming from random directions.


Alt took stance and primed his armor. Soon 4 soldiers came rushing for him, swinging their swords at a very rapid pace like crazed berserkers. Alt evaded one swing at a time then with his quick steps, he closed the gap and aimed his strikes to his enemies' wrists to disarm them first. One of the soldiers rushed to perform a big swing; it was all too predictable. Alt blocked the soldier's attack by stopping his wrist, then twisting his stance to perform a roundhouse elbow strike to the torso. The impact was so precise that Alt was targeting his enemy's pressure points even in full-armor. He then slid his hand and grabbed his enemy's arm and used him like a meat weapon towards the incoming soldiers in front of him.


He struck his elbow to the soldier to his side, then Alt grappled and swung through his opponent's neck, breaking it, then connecting a high kick towards the incoming enemy to the right. High kick then another, bodies were flying and trashed left and right. The wanderer then grabbed a nearby soldier's head, balancing his entire body on his adversary like a one-hand stand. He swung his leg down and letting go of the grip, performing a rising somersault kick. Then while on mid-air, he changed his revolution as he fell. As Alt landed, he slammed his foot down, performing a stomp impact; sending his adversaries flying away like discarded trash. But he wasn't done yet. With his stomp, he absorbed the kinetic energy and channeled the impact from his foot unto his fist. Combining it with his innate energy or chi; condensing it into an attack.


Genkotsugan!


Alt swung his fist forward, the impact was so powerful that it created an air fissure. Then finally exploding through a forward impact that blew his adversaries off the cliff.


The Genkotsugan, or the Knuckle Bullet is Alt signature technique. One of the most powerful techniques of Alt's own martial art discipline. He had mastered this particular technique over the years that he had invented countless variations of the move. Even though he has already mastered all advanced and grand master even the forbidden techniques of his discipline, he transcends and pushes the possibilities further as he began branching multiple variations of each technique. The Knuckle Bullet or Genkotsugan, in its most basic, involves channeling built momentum from the practitioner's footing and steps then condensing it with chi. When performed, the technique unleashes powerful vibrations or impacts that can travel through any medium. Be it land, water, and even air itself. The condensed impact released by the attack creates a fissure of impact like shattered glass. The vibration and chi then magnifies the damage unleashed at the other side of the impact fissure.


As the surrounding seemed cleared, Drake and the others arrived at the scene. Weapons drawn and from the looks of it, encountered some adversaries of their own.


"Aldamas Vanguard has made it this far?!"


An uproar from Drake himself, recognizing the battle standard these soldiers don. Most likely, they were under the command of his brother, Zweifried. The young knight looked ahead as the party saw more airships coming to dock the plateau. He narrowed his sight to the incoming wave and swung his white blade. "Stand back, comrades. I'll take--" Drake was planning to face them head on but before he could assert himself, he was stopped by a grab on his shoulder. "Alt?" Drake turned around to face the wanderer. "You're telling me you're gonna do this alone? Hmph..." Alt's helm visor opened to reveal his eyes looking at him. "Sorry but I can't let you play hero here. This is a war you can't win with a single soldier." Alt heavily disapproves these kind of notions to warriors, he should know, Cloud and Leon like to do this alot. "No soldier left behind, Drake..." He added.


"Hehe~ What arrogance. How like a man, thinking a single hand could defeat impossible odds."


Spat the serpent lady from behind. As she approached Alt and Drake, she channeled her mana unto her palms. Slowly extending it to shape her mana into a blade. The mana materialized forming a floating greatsword made with raw mana and energy. "A mere human is hardly my equal on the battlefield. Look to your own safety before you concern yourself with others." Seems there's no stopping Lady Eurya either. She may have her injury from earlier but that won't stop her once she's in full focus.


"I... I will fight too!"


Called out Elleina, which caught the attention of both Alt and Drake. "M'lady, no. This is nothing compared to the Misty Forest. This is war." As expected of a person with the utmost concern to the little elf. Drake immediately disapproved Elle's initiative to help the party. And he is right, this won't be like the campaign at Misty Forest yesterday. The coming battle will be brutal and the young knight is afraid that he won't be there for sure, when Elle is put in danger again. "I am well aware of that. Hence I must fight! I can run and hide but that doesn't mean that I'll be safe." The massive armored entity, Vovin, approached the elf girl's side. "Besides, Vovin is here to protect me. And so are you two, Drake and Alt." Elle protested to Drake. Her eyes looking directly unto his, showing her determination to help and not be a burden. Eager to prove her worth. "Very well... if you insist, Elleina. I'm just concerned that I may slip again like last time." Indeed he is, he can't afford to slip now with the power he has been entrusted with. If he fails then he fails everyone; that slightest hint of self-doubt was holding him back. He then looked at the praetorian, Vovin. "Vovin, please. Do not let her come to harm." Drake said with conviction. The praetorian's yellow orbs met to his. "Understood." Vovin replied with his deep, baritone voice.


"Alright. Now that's settled--"


Alt then stepped forward, again closing his mechanical visor, and drew his mechanical scabbard. The wave of the Aldamas Vanguard were approaching fast, so he had to be brief. "Drake and I will charge in the front; Lady Eurya will be right behind us. Elle, you cover our rear flank, Vovin, protect the little girl from any enemy that might break through the lines." Alt kept the strategy short and simple but he knew it might not be easy as it seems. In a war, you must always expect the worst to come.


"Let's go!"


Drake pointed his sword forward and they altogether clashed with the incoming wave; with a fighting spirit of a charging army, they rushed forward.


With lightning steps, both Drake and Alt stormed the front lines as fierce as predators on a hunt. They tore through the lines easily, like two raging dragons. Alt using his mechanical scabbard as a heavy-hitting blunt weapon, or like a reverse-gripped Bo Staff. While Drake slashing through the lines with his white blade that leaves a flowing white trail like satin, in each swing of his sword.


Parry and strike, Alt strode through the battlefield with sheer precision and strength; using a very unorthodox style of fighting. Feinting his sword draw every time to distract the enemy and create an opening for him to strike.


The wanderer rushed forward parrying both blades from the soldiers in front of him. He then thrusted the end of the scabbard directly to his adversary's stomach; then connecting it with the other end to his enemy to the right. Stunned, both soldiers couldn't move for a split-second. Alt then jumped up, spun a complete revolution and delivered an aerial roundhouse kick. As he fought further, the battalion became more relentless... and so did he.


Alt's blows became more and more potent. Each strike was like releasing an invisible pocket vortex. Hitting any enemy in a fan-like area. He shifted his steps and stance and began unleashing quick, connecting blows. He spun around to deliver a spinning blow from his scabbard then a short kick connected. Then followed by a sudden powerful stomp that shook the ground, but he wasn't done yet. He redirected the impact up to a powerful rising punch. The attack sent his adversaries flying.


Drake on the other hand, heavily relies on his blade. His superb swordsmanship and his newly-found strength was to be reckoned with. This was the chance for him to what he has gained and what can his strength can do. Locked in a multi-deadlock, Drake demonstrated his blade reflex by parrying every strike that was directed to him. "Must. Move. Faster." Gritting his teeth, Drake begin to gain momentum. His swings faster and stronger. With enough strength to cut steel, as he out-cut the blades he clashed with.


The young knight continued his momentum, like a running engine of destruction. Left and right he zipped and danced through the enemy lines like a lightning bolt. With the built momentum, he began using his entire body with each swing, amplifying his attacks in the process. His body would have gave way by now but, he still felt full of energy and vigor to continue.


As he clashed with another wave; with a full swing, he performed a arcing cut, eliminating the ranks in front of him. But he doesn't stop there, he immediately connects it with another after another, gaining speed. "Haaah!!!" He then connects with a rising spiral slash.


Rising Impact!


Channeling his energy unto his sword, Drake slammed his sword to the ground as he landed. Creating a powerful explosion of energy, eliminating all soldiers in its wake. Drake just developed a new technique in the heat of battle.


The young knight took a moment to catch his breath, it took some effort to perform it but he was amazed what he can do. The possibilities, perhaps a matter best attended later, as another incoming wave of enemies fast approaching them. He took a quick scan of his surroundings. He saw Alt holding the ranks on his own just a few feet away from him. He inhaled deeply to relax his body and regained his stance.


From the front lines, a sizable amount of the invading wave went around the front. Avoiding the wrath of the 2 dragons devouring their frontal assault; attempting to flank the party on both sides. But the Aldamas vanguard didn't know that behind the two dragons, there was a serpent. Waiting to strike on her prey. As they went around, the soldiers were overwhelmed by a sudden searing projectile that decimated a hefty lot of them.


"Hmhm~"


Lady Eurya, held her energy greatsword and used it as not a melee' weapon but a glass cannon. And the serpent lady didn't even held her weapon on her grasp. It was floating from her grasp as she held her arm forward. Channeling her energy unto it, she uses her weapon as a magic catalyst.


"Eliminate the snake lady and her--argh!!!"


Before the lieutenant can issue his move order, they were struck by a velvet beam of energy fired from Eurya's blade. Soon the flanking units began gaining numbers and were gaining distance unto the serpent lady.


"Hmph~"


The serpent lady then jumped with her other leg and grabbed the energy greatsword on mid-air. She stabbed the sword to the ground and immediately released mass amounts of energy underground. Then in an instant, she summoned a number of astral swords from underground that impaled and skewered her enemies in the process.


With her sword returning airborne. She used her will to swing the huge blade, telekinetically to strike her foes without her exerting physical effort. She then brushed her long back-skirt, pulling out a Mana Pistol, and a short sword that dons a glowing velvet blade. Lady Eurya then waved her short sword, sweeping slowly across her face.


"Now you shall see how a master illusionist fight."


A glowing, velvet opera mask appeared on her face, utterly wearing it. Lady Eurya charged at the incoming wave of soldiers, with her floating greatsword still striking any enemy that gets in her way. As soon as she closed the distance, she disappeared before the soldiers then appearing in multiple directions at an almost lightning-quick teleporting by displacing her body from one point to the next. Before she teleports away, she strikes and shoots any soldier in front of her; and she leaves translucent, illusory after images of herself.


She was porting herself so fast and at random directions, the battalion was utterly confused to where she will strike next. Like a predator thinning out a herd of prey. The soldiers were persistent but little did they know, Lady Eurya has them where she wants them to be. She then appeared in front of them, with her back turned and her arms crossed nonchalantly.


Warp Shatter


The expression on Lady Eurya's mask turned to a grinning smile. She snapped her fingers, and in an instant, she detonated all of her after-images into a multiple chain blasts of concentrated energy.


Meanwhile, Elle and Vovin also had their share of effort to the battle. Elleina, juggling two elements all at once. Revolving two elements each from her left and right hand. From Fire to Air, Earth to Water. And her staff for magnifying the elements' effect. Vovin, on the other hand, serves as her impenetrable shield. Clobbering and pummeling adversaries that went pass Elleina's range.


"Haaah!"


Thrusting her staff to the ground, the elf girl summoned the element of earth and and fire. She condensed the two elements in front of her, creating a white-hot sphere of magma. She fired the sphere of magma on the air and the ball exploded into a barrage of fireballs; raining fire upon the approaching airship reinforcements.


She called upon the element of earth again. This time, arming Vovin with a massive earthen fist. The praetorian then rushed forward with his earthen fist forward, bulldozing through the enemy ranks like a war machine. Elle quickly waved her arms, channeling her mana and immediately shifting into water element. With the water element in her grasp, she easily manipulated the air moisture. Turning it into a bulky shard of ice. "Ey!" She then hurled the bulky shard telekinetically, and the shard exploded into sharp icicle fragments that decimated a drove of enemy ranks.


"Aah!"


One of the enemy soldiers gotten past her range and Vovin was still out in front. Fortunately, she dodged the strike just in time. Her adversaries then immediately went on pursuit of the little elf girl. Immediately, She summoned the element of air and used its power to hasten her steps. Eventually, the pursuing adversaries stopped on their tracks as they saw her actually running up, traversing the air itself. As Elleina strode through the air, she stretch out both her arms and began to channel her mana unto the element of air. She used her mana to charge then air particles, summoning a trailing electricity upon her grasp. She spun around and stretched the trailing electricity.


Lightning Whip!


Like a lash of a whip, she struck her pursuers with a powerful lightning strike. Decimating them.


-----


With their combined and coordinated combat prowess, the party was thinning the unrelenting waves of Aldamas soldiers; drove by drove. Together, they were unstoppable.


As Eurya, Alt, and Drake were holding the bulk of the battalion at bay, Elle and and Vovin, fought their way through the ruin to search for survivors. They lead every surviving dravian locals to safety while securing their exit. Moments passed, the party had almost sweeped the stronghold of the incursion.


"Vaolan grant you strength, thank you."


The injured denizen sighed as she was lead to safety by the young knight. "Save your strength madame. We need to get you all down to safety." Drake and Elle had gathered the survivors just outside the log barricades of the strongholds. While Alt and Vovin secure the area inside and Lady Eurya searching for stranded ones. The Dravian may be very stubborn in nature but they know how to recognize gratitude and good will. Such is the code of the god of war, Vaolan, that they revere. "If only our chieftain and the pack were here, we could have stood a chance against this incursion." Said the wounded warrior from earlier, holding his daughter and wife. "Your chieftain left you? But why?" Drake heard the statement and wished to know more.


"Days ago, she left because she caught wind of an incoming Aldamas incursion that is now approaching Ostvale. We volunteered to be the vanguard for the Mystic Marches; lead the defense together with volunteer soldiers. But we have never expected the empire would use flying machines to invade us, let alone find our secluded stronghold."


The warrior made it clear for Drake. The Aldamas Empire had used a diversionary tactic of false message, so that they can draw out the elite numbers of the dravian stronghold. Making them vulnerable to attack. Or maybe, the empire has also foot soldier battalions ready to meet the defense. However, Drake found it strange that the empire has made use of technology at their arsenal; when he remembered last time that the imperial cathedral was strongly against the utility of technology adopted from other races.


"Drake!"


The little elf girl came rushing towards the young knight. "This is dire. The mountain path had collapsed! How will we escort the refugees to safety now?" Panting heavily, sweat trickling down her face, Elle informed him of the situation. The party only know the steep mountain path to access the stronghold. "Wait!" One of the refugees called out. "We have a passage from our mines that leads down to the east side of the mountain. The chieftain and the pack had used that passage as they made their way down." Fortunately, the locals have a brilliant suggestion, they know their own premises. "Alright, sir. Lead us to it and we'll cover your flanks. Let's move out before reinforcements arrive."


And so Drake and Elle gathered the refugees and then slowly made their way back inside. "Stay close to the wall!" Their destination was through the mine passage that was just at the other end of the stronghold. Slowly, they creep through the earthen wall and held on to each other, watching each others backs and not letting anyone separate.


"Look out!"


One of the refugees called as they spotted two incoming cannon projectiles from the enemy airships. The projectiles blew through above them creating a rock slide of massive debris. The refugees covered their heads. "Elleina!" The elf girl suddenly ran in front and held both her hands up. With her will, she summoned the power of the earth to stop the falling debris from falling over them. The feat caused a great deal of effort on her part, straining her because of the sudden ordeal. "Yah!" She waved her arms forward, throwing the all the rock debris aside. "Oh..." Elle was dazed after the feat, the young knight rushed to her to keep her from falling down on her knees. The poor girl was drained, "M'lady, are you alright?" Drake asked as he turn to check on her. "Yes, I was just... overwhelmed---ah!" The little elf girl looked up and pointed to the massive debris about to crush them.


"Tch! Don't flinch!"


Drake then held her tight in his arms to protect her. As the young knight held the elf girl tight, her eyes widened and face flustered... again. She knew this wasn't the right time to be like this but she was surprised by a torrent of mixed, extreme emotions; she almost want to faint. "Drake...?" She thought as she felt Drake's embrace.


Suddenly a large shade swooped forth, and caught the massive rock debris. "Vovin!" Elle called out. With his colossal strength, the praetorian caught the debris just in time. "Mmmmph!" With a heave of strength, Vovin then hurled the debris towards the enemy airships, like a living catapult. Taking out two of them at the same time.


Drake then loosened his embrace, and faced Elle with a glad expression on his face. "Thank the gods, we're alright." The young knight sighed. The little elf girl on the other hand was so caught up in the moment that she can't even look at him in the eyes, her face was red as a tomato, and even biting her lip just so she could hide that sheepish smile. "Elleina? Come on, we have to move!" , "Ah! Coming!" The two then proceed without anymore delays and escorted the refugees to the mine passage.


"Okay, people, you go on ahead of us. We'll catch up with the rest of you at the foot of the mountain."


As all the refugees made it through the mines, Drake instructed them to go ahead. Since they have to secure the area for any more survivors before escaping the premises. "God of war bless you, lad." An old dravian woman reached out her gratitude to the young knight. And so they proceed and the two; Drake and Elleina returned to the battlefield.


The party made a clean sweep of the stronghold, searching for any more survivors before bailing out and meet up with the refugees down the mountain. While Alt and Vovin hold the line for any incoming incursion from the Aldamas army, the rest joined up and sifted through the thick smoke and dust.


"Drake! Look!"


The little elf girl shouted, almost at the top of her lungs; because of the air density in such altitude and the noise of battle. She pointed out on a distance, finding the last survivor of the incursion. Alerted, Drake and Lady Eurya rushed at the last remaining survivor. But only to found her surrounded, not by the usual foot soldiers they fought earlier but by 3 massively armored units, ranks of the Juggernaut Knights, one of the elite divisions of the the Empire's army.


The survivor was a wounded dravian girl. She was tall, slim yet athletically built. Unlike her other brethren, she doesn't have any visible markings or tattoo on her body. She has pale purple complexion and a purple-dyed hair; feathered and short. Her horns nicely curves back to her head despite being short.


She donned a latex-like dark wyvern leather as her inner mail; splitting from her top and her bottom. The top, fashioned like a blouse. On top of her wyvern leather suit were pieces of hard leather, armor pieces from top to bottom. Her right pauldron, gauntlet and leg piece are reinforced with carved ivory bone armor plates; for extra protection. All held together with straps and buckles. She was armed with sleek chakrams made with black-iron.


From the looks of it, she looked like one of the warrior caste of the stronghold.


"D-damn you humans..."


The wounded dravian uttered. Her body was bruised and injured, yet her fighting spirit was still burning as bright as the Eternal Flame of Vaolan. She would get up and fight but alas, her flesh was unwilling.


"You are much sterner than you look, I'll give you that."


Spat the juggernaut lieutenant. Looking down on her like a worthless piece of trash. "And to think you horn heads are better than us. Makes me sick to the core." Added the armored soldier, adding a racial slur, an insult to injury. This made the injured dravian girl's temper to sky rocket, blood boiling with resentment and anger. She slowly reached out for her weapon, a few inches away from her. But before she could touch it, it was stomped by the huge, steel greaves of one of the juggernauts. "Ah...!" She looked at the lieutenant to see him with his arms raised, ready to finish her off. The girl then just closed her eyes shut and prepared for the worst.


"Argh! What the--"


Before he could smash the dravian girl into a bloody mush, his grip on his hammer was struck by a hurling white sword. "Who goes there!?" The three juggernaut knights were alerted, they spread out looking at the thick dust cloud ahead of them. The hurling sword then passed through them and went in to the thick of the dust. As the dust slowly cleared, they saw the white sword again, this time it was being wielded. And from it, emerged the white knight, Drake.


"I-It's the Golden Dragon!"


Called out one of the juggernauts. With his glaring golden eyes, he slowly walked towards them. Then beside him, walked Elleina and Lady Eurya. Even the dravian girl was overwhelmed by the young knight's presence. Drake then lowered his blade and eased his stance.


"I have you cornered. Retreat and leave these people be. I don't want anymore blood to be spilled."


Again, with Drake, it's always wise to reason out with the enemies first. To him, killing an enemy whose devoid of will to fight is immoral. He follows a code of the battlefield and honor's the Knight's Enchiridion, a collection of manifestos of legendary heroes of old. "Hah! That's rich coming from a traitor!" Angrily retorted by the juggernaut lieutenant, his resentment towards their once Lord Hauer was apparent. "Even if we do retreat, it would be a death sentence to us by Lord Zweifried. Because of your treachery, all of our lives are forfeit!" It has been a while since Drake had any contact from the empire's regiments.


After Drake's supposed death, Zweifried consolidated his position and power on the empire's court. Making him the Governor-general of the entire Aldamas army. His brother now oversees the entire military strength of the empire, hence the rafiqi technology they now possess. He may have abolished the taboo that the Imperial Cathedral heavily enforced upon the human denizens of the Empire; and that is the forbidden use of things and practices adapted from other races.


"That's not true! Drake would never--"


Before Elle can protest, she felt Drake's hand on her shoulder. "No Elleina. They're right." Normally, Drake would be the first to protest but this time, he doesn't. Rather than denying, he had accepted the consequences of his actions. "But--", "I had mentioned before that I renounce my humanity, because I wanted to protect you--and all of the people that have been oppressed by the empire. Even if it means killing my former compatriots... then so be it; I shall carry that burden with dignity. I fight to protect the people of Albias." Even though the Juggernaut Knights outright blame their misfortune on Drake's act of treachery to the empire, his resolve remained strong. He has decided, and there is no turning back.


Drake approached the three massively armored knights and brandished his blade. "This is your last warning. Call off the incursion and leave this place be... or so help me gods, I will kill you." The young knight glared, with that glimmer in his golden eyes. The eyes of the feared, Golden Dragon.


"Kill them!"


The juggernaut lieutenant shouted. And they charged altogether at the combatants: Drake, Lady Eurya and Elleina.The earth quaked as they storm through, emphasizing how heavy their ordnance were. The three split up, one for each member of the party to do battle.


"Take this!" The juggernaut lieutenant went after Drake. Wielding his giant maul, he swung his weapon forward towards his adversary. The attack was slow yet very powerful upon contact. Drake slid around, circling the juggernaut to the back. "Hah!" Drake darted forward to deliver a spinning slash. "What?" As the young knight attacked his enemy's blindspot, his blade utterly bounced against the juggernaut's armor. "Ha! You may be faster than us but our armor is impervious to conventional attacks!" The juggernaut lieutenant slowly turned to face Drake. "Our armor can withstand even artillery fire!" Banging his breastplate, he bragged to the young knight their ordnance superiority. The juggernaut then slid his grip close to the head of the giant maul, rather than the other end; like a sledgehammer grip. This way he can deal with short-hand attacks, quick as well as devastating. He again charged at Drake, while delivering fast hammer thrusts at the young knight. While Drake goes on a deadlock, deflecting the attacks one by one; while searching for an opening. Within the deadlock, he avoids getting hit by the hammerhead, because being hit by it, was like being rammed by a cannonball.


-------------


Lady Eurya on the other hand, got her hands full. Her juggernaut opponent dual-wields a battle axe and a short hammer. Her strategy at the moment was circling her opponent by blinking from one spot to another. Dodging and performing quick strikes at a rapid succession. But her opponent's swing span conquers majority of his sides. She can't even summon her mana greatsword because she can't find an opportunity. The juggernaut's fast swings rapidly eliminates every mystic clones she generate. So she has no choice but to rely on her blade and pistol.


-------------


"Eeyah!" Elleina did her best to dodge her juggernaut opponent. Using the power of earth on her right grasp, then the power of air at her left. Her opponent was wielding a massive tower shield and a long mace. Hurling rocks and raising crags with the power of earth; then using the lightning whip and powerful energy blasts with the power of air. But her opponent easily shrugs it off using that tower shield and tremendous resiliency.


-------------


Drake flipped back then quickly shifted stance, darting forward to deliver a quick strike while avoiding his enemy's attack at the same time. As he landed, he tensed up his leg and darted back again. Relentlessly striking the enemy with rapid zip strikes. He chose to incline himself towards speed since that's his only advantage towards the juggernaut lieutenant; striking the inner defenses of his enemy over and over.


"Hahaha! You really think you can strike my armor down?"


The lieutenant mocked Drake's effort, shrugging off the young knight's attacks with ease. "Tch..." Drake paused for a bit, his hands and arms were now numb. It was like striking a stick against a solid brick wall. "Oooaagh!" Focusing his attack, Drake darted forward. While in mid-charge, he twisted his whole body like an incoming torpedo and performed a sword flash that directed it towards the rib area of his opponent. "What?" As Drake's attack connected, his blade's edge dug short on the lieutenant's armor; his sword is partially stuck. The young knight was wide open. As he was about to pull out the edge stuck on the armor, he saw an incoming punch flying towards him. He quickly pulled out his blade and blocked it, but was soon connected with a hammer thrust that sent Drake sliding through backwards.


It didn't hit him but he felt the full force of the impact, leaving him dazed for a few seconds. It may be short at a normal point of view, but it was enough for the juggernaut to make his decisive move. With a charging wake, full force, full swing, he swung his giant maul upwards with a force of a primed wrecking ball. It was too late to dodge, so Drake raised his blade up hoping to block it.


"Aaargh!"


The young knight was thrown by the sheer impact of the blow, dragging through the dirt. "You're finished!" The juggernaut roared as he charged to deliver the final blow. Seeing no movement from the thick dust, he had assumed his attack was enough to incapacitate the Golden Dragon himself. Raising his giant maul, the juggernaut lieutenant leaped forth taking his gathered momentum and weight on his weapon. As the giant maul hit the ground, the attack just exploded on impact. The impact would equate to a massive debris falling flat overhead.


"What?" The juggernaut lieutenant immediately felt something wrong. He felt the impact did not reached the ground at all. The dust cleared and the image of Drake stopping the giant maul by the tip of his white sword. His golden eyes glaring at his opponent, fringes brushing against his dust-smeared face by the slight breeze of the mountains. "This... is not possible." The look on the lieutenant's face turned grim as he was faced by this seemingly impossible odd. With that impact, no matter how strong your physical body was, you will be crushed by the impact. But here the young knight stands, like the impact did nothing.


With a heave of strength, Drake shoved the hammer head up and slowly went to stance, leaving his opponent open. He gritted his teeth in rage, focusing his innate energy upon his blade. Then in a blink of an eye, he darted forward like a raging 50 caliber bullet.


In a snap, Drake unleashed a full swing with a trailing zip of energy. The attack thoroughly overwhelmed his opponent, without noticing the attack had already sliced the giant maul in half. Then in multiple, lightning-fast successions, he connected a barrage of slashes upon the enemy. Stripping the juggernaut off his armor, leaving him vulnerable. His swings were so fast, that each time the lieutenant blinks, Drake was already in a different position. Dazed, head spinning and balance about to tip off the top; he saw the young knight above him, in mid-air about to deliver the last swing.


Rising Impact!


Instead of one complete swing down, Drake somersaulted downwards, delivering a powerful smash from his blade. The gathered energy exploded with bone-crushing impact; sending his opponent's lifeless body crashing through the dirt.


-----------------


Lady Eurya was still circling her enemy. The serpent lady blinks every time her opponent swings. With the unrelenting ferocity and speed of the dual-wielding juggernaut, Eurya did her best to stay out of his range of attack. Displacing with a blink of an eye from one spot to another, her after-images fading through a velvet vapor of magical residue.


"Hah! You tryin' to git me tired? I can dance all 'day woman!"


Bellowed the dual-wielding juggernaut, clashing both his hammer and axe like an alpha predator. "Hmhm~ Well~ I would love the gesture but I'm not dancing to your beat--I'm stalling you." Lady Eurya's tone has a venomous deceit unto it, like a scheming villain reveling on her captured victim. As soon as her opponent heard her voice from behind, he swung back but only to hit another after-image. "'Stall me!? For what!? Hah! What could you possibly do if I am well-fortified?" Again the juggernaut spat with his spit spraying inside his thick helm, like a rabid dog.


"This~"


Eurya appeared behind the thick of the dust with her arms brimming with purple mana. The juggernaut was about to charge at her but abruptly stopped; he saw the glowing trail of particles left by the destroyed after-images. The particles circled the juggernaut as Lady Eurya waved her arms, forming a magical glyph on the ground. "--turns out you, brash brute, is dancing to my music~" The serpent lady hissed as she completed the glyph, sealing the juggernaut within the vicinity of the magic circle.


The juggernaut struggled to move as he felt the magic slowly dragging his mass down to the earth. It was like he felt an unstoppable force was slowly pressing him down to the ground. The more he struggled, the more he weighed down. The table was set, it was time for the surgeon to initiate the cut. The serpent lady then raised her hand, stretched up, and began channeling her mana unto it.


Astral Impaler...


She then balled her hand into a fist and slammed it to the ground. From beneath the incapacitated juggernaut, jutted a cascade of spears that rose up from beneath, circling him, then suddenly, a massive astral blade erupted from the ground. Launching the juggernaut knight up high on the air.


"Oh!"


Lady Eurya then put her fingertip upon her lips, utterly forgetting one important detail she failed to mention to her opponent. "Didn't I tell you that I already have a dance partner~?" She chuckled to the gesture she made in utter delight.


Then from above, while her opponent was airborne, a black figure appeared above; hurling down like a lightning bolt. It was none other than Alt himself. The wanderer pulled his right arm, his fist back, and through his will, he unlocked one of the tiers of his Mantra-Tech frame. Gathering momentum as he close the gap to the juggernaut knight. Streams of red energy flowed right arm and in an instant, the mechanical bits of his armor and arm unfurled and began interlocking; transforming and arming his right arm with a bigger mechanical fist. Armor folds opened on Alt's mechanical arm revealing a thruster engine, then finally a revealing a rocket booster on the elbow and forearm area.


The boosters erupted a trailing thrust of red energy, increasing Alt's downwards propulsion by a hundred-fold.


Santsui Genkotsugan!


An devastating aerial variation of the Genkotsugan or Knuckle Bullet. Santsui Genkotsugan, or the Mountain Breaker Knuckle Bullet; involves the practitioner gathering as many tiers of downward momentum into one attack. The higher the altitude, the more momentum gathered, the more devastating the attack. The Chi then syncs with that momentum, to transform it into a powerful vibrating impact that usually pulses 3 times, mashing the opponent flat on the ground.


"Haaagh!!!"


Alt then slammed his opponent to the ground upon impact of the mechanical fist. As the first pulse exploded, the ground cratered. Then the second and third, the crater went deeper. Alt then pressed his mechanical fist one last time unto the juggernaut. The point-blank impact pounded his opponent to the ground like a dough smashed by a meat tenderizer.


Alt then slowly got up from the scrap and reverting his mechanical arm back into his armor. He looked at Lady Eurya as his helm's visor opened, his brow raised and a slight pout to his smirk. "Dancing Partner? Really?" Alt was slightly amused to the gesture to the least.


----------


The remaining juggernaut knight was on pursuit with the little elf girl. Elleina may be a little girl but when it comes to the art of arcane, she excels on par of an experienced mage. Add that to her athleticism, which she did not had the chance to be fully utilized yesterday before Drake came to her rescue. It took the regiment of Captain Valfield to use their steeds just to pursue her. Unlike before, Elle was in full focus on battle, not running for her life.


As she was being pursued, every opportunity she get, she barraged her opponent with beams of electrified mana and manipulating the earth to impede his way in any way possible. Be it be raising an earthen wall, turning the ground to mud, or hurling rock debris at him. The juggernaut just easily shrugs it off and bulldozes everything that were thrown at him by the little elf mage.


"Haaah!"


With concentrated inner and natural mana, Elle waved her right hand, still powered by earth element. In the process, she summoned a tall and solid crag wall; impeding her opponent's advance. Before she could let the juggernaut bulldoze through, she immediately summoned the element of earth on both her grasps. Slowly she swung her hands up then crossed her arms forward; then finally opening her palms.


Beneath the juggernaut, the earth he was stepping in caved and the rocks formed a constricting formation; crippling him. Elleina then planted her staff to the ground, summoning two floating boulders. With a sudden stretch of her arms, she pulverized the two boulders, turning then to smaller pieces but sharp enough to be shrapnel. "Ey!" She leaned forward together with her right arm; through her command, she fired the earthen shrapnel at her crippled enemy like a rapid-fire buckshot. Her opponent tried to raise his shield but his movement was limited by the crag wall, so he took the full force of the barrage.


While being barraged with rock shrapnel, the juggernaut leaned back then with a full swing of his mace, he demolished the wall in one swoop. "Ah!" Elle was shoved back by the impact, hitting her back against a nearby dravian totem. Elleina staggered to recover because of the shock from her spine.


The juggernaut's shadow grew long as he approached the debilitated elf girl, ready to deliver another strike. As he was about to swing, a massive flaming fist came flying through from behind the totem. Elle looked up to see a very familiar and comforting sight, "Vovin!" She called her ever-present guardian's name. The attack was swift and unexpected even for Vovin's size.


The armored entity then connected another punch. On his massive rhythm, he shifted his footing and then delivering a massive flaming uppercut that sent the juggernaut dragging back. Even with his shield up, the impact seem to penetrate even the thickest of armor. Vovin took the opportunity to kneel down for his master and help her stand up. Elle then looked at her guardian and nodded, thinking what Vovin was thinking. Their minds one and bond strong.


Recovering from Vovin's blow, the juggernaut immediately charged forth, swinging his mace and his shield raised. Though Vovin is larger, this juggernaut can go toe-to-toe even to enemies of Vovin's size. "Lend me your strength, Vovin..." Elle closed her eyes and focused. She felt Vovin's essence, and through her will, she tapped on to it. Lending her strength unto the armored entity. As she opened her eyes, both her eyes were lit like two tiny stars. She has the same eyes as her guardian's.


Vovin charged like a raging mammoth of flame and steel. With the wave of Elle's hand, Vovin raised his fist and then lands a blow directly at his opponent. The elf mage continued to wave her hands and the armored entity was following his punches with every wave of her arms. Like an over-sized marionette moving to the puppeteer's strings.


She then charged her grasp with the element of earth. With a swing of her arms, rock debris began attaching to Vovin's massive flaming fists. The fragments of earth piling up and finally forming crag gauntlets; arming her guardian with an element akin to her grasp. Vovin then channeled energy upon his crag gauntlets and then connected a punch then another at his enemy. Each punch he makes, summoned crag spikes rising from the ground.


"Hmmmph!"


Vovin grunted as he delivered a full-swing uppercut that launched his opponent up. Before she could let the juggernaut launch, Elle then swung her arms down. Vovin's crag gauntlets shattered as he connected a powerful aerial hammer blow, powerful enough to send the juggernaut knight's momentum downwards, shattering his armor and shield.


Finally, the party had defeated the last of the invading vanguard.


The party spread out; Vovin and Alt took point and secure the area for further incursion while Drake and the others went back to the injured dravian girl. In a hurry, Drake went to her aid.


"M'lady, are you alright? Let's g---oof!"


Aggressively, the injured dravian girl smacked the young knight with the back of her claw. Then she quickly got up and pulled out her chakram, placing the sharp edge on Drake's neck. "Hey!" Elle was about to retaliate but the disgruntled dravian won't have it, "Just you try, elf and I'll sever his jugular clean." The disgruntled dravian girl snarled, yet she appears to be out of breath. Her injuries were still holding her. "We were only trying to help! You'd be dead if we haven't arrive!" The little elf girl yelled, utterly trying to convince her that they meant well. "I do not recall asking for help." The dravian girl was stubborn, she utterly resented the humans for attacking their stronghold. Being saved by a human did not fazed her resentment.


"That is enough!"


Lady Eurya finally stepped in. "We meant no ill will against your tribe, and we expect nothing in return for saving you. We came here because we meant to see your chieftain. And this attack was out of our hands." It was blunt but that was the best she could muster. Seeing no sense in further violence, the disgruntled dravian girl finally loosened her grip and let the young knight off her mercy.


"And to what purpose do a rag-tag band have with our chieftain? We do not simply allow outsiders inside the stronghold unless--"


Before she could finish, the serpent lady pulled out a trinket from her pocket and showed it to her. It was a small vial with a runic character drawn to it, the runic symbol of blood. And containing the vial was a few drops of mountain wyvern blood. A proof of pact that Eurya was a welcomed outsider. "I knew your chieftain. I warned her of this imminent invasion, but the woman was too stubborn to heed my warnings." Lady Eurya had visited the K'toa stronghold before, she was acquainted to the chieftain herself; a rare honor for an individual. "She will fight even a losing battle, the fool! Were it not for her pride, this incursion would have been averted." And apparently she was not in good terms with the Dravian Chieftain, even so Lady Eurya holds the privelege and blessing of Vaolanic Shamans.


To acquire such privelege to be the audience with the dravian chieftain, an outsider must prove his/herself either in battle or a special favor. Usually these favors are near impossible to comply to; because they were mostly cryptic. The battles on the other hand are the most brutal, usually to appease the god of war himself. Completing these practice grants that individual to have a special blessing of the Vaolanic Shamans of the tribe and an eternal audience to the chieftain.


"Be silent, serpent! What do you know about her--about us anyway?!"


The dravian girl suddenly snapped. Offended to Lady Eurya's nonchalantly labeling their chieftain a fool. "Not much~. Memories begin to fade as the years go by~." Instead of being apologetic, Lady Eurya justified her stance on their chieftain. "But I do know the pain and suffering of being wronged and hunted far better than you." The serpent lady's expression turned serious, cementing her far more complicated disposition to the dravian girl. This left her with silence and loss for a response.


"Have you finished talking? The darkness draws near."


From behind, the calm and empty voice of Ymierre was heard. She walked passed the three and stood before the dravian girl. "We must leave, and soon." Sensing an impending danger ahead, Ymierre had insisted for the party to leave the ruined stronghold immediately, since they have nothing left to gain from the place. And the chieftain was nowhere to be found.


"You speak the truth."


Drake finally spoke his mind. "The rest of the army cannot be far behind. And if I know my brother, he has the bulk of the vanguard with him." Looking ahead, Drake set his eyes upon the horizon. As the gust of mountain winds finally blew the dust cloud enveloping the stronghold. Ymierre then turned her attention to the dravian girl, with her empty eyes. "You will come with us." The ethereal woman added, much to the dravian girl's surprise. "And what makes you think that?" Much also to her discontent, they saved her life but that doesn't mean she owes them hers. "Drake will need all the strength he can find to fight the Aldamas Empire." Ymierre responded. "You jest. You meant to say that the Golden Dragon himself, the hero of the empire is going against the full force of the empire's might?" Somehow the stubbornness of the Dravian lives up to her, because she was still strongly reluctant. "Poor humor. This knight is only taking advantage of you!" She went far to even wrong Drake himself, calling him a folly.


"You think he would fight and kill his own people--his former comrades simply to deceive the people of the Mystic Marches?"


Lady Eurya was the quickest to respond. "Humans, people I've met have done stranger, I will admit. But aren't you selling him a little short?", "Yes! Drake would never do something that bad!" Elle finally stepped in defense of the young knight. "He had sacrificed so much just so he could protect me, and he has been also wronged by his own comrade-at-arms themselves. We had saved the rest of the villagers knowing that we may die at any point, is that not reason enough to entrust us your life at least for a short while?" Elle did her best to reason out with the stubborn dravian. It was naive but she tried to put in a way that the dravian girl understands.


"Dravians are known for their sheer ferocity as warriors..."


The serpent lady stating the simple fact about the Dravian. "And there is strength in numbers." She concluded. "Drake has been charged with fighting the darkness and restoring the balance of this world. While his battle with the Aldamas Empire is a personal one... the forces of darkness are behind these incursions into the Mystic Marches. They cannot be taken lightly." It may have been true that the empire is the front of this war but the empire itself was being driven by the ones on the shadows; manipulating the fate of Albias so that the land itself would be ripe for the darkness to take hold. "The empire is merely a pawn, we are dealing with a very formidable foe ahead of us. More powerful than any of us can handle." Lady Eurya added.


"The darkness must be taken seriously."


Drake said as he held his sword, staring at his own reflection at its white blade. "When I fought the black knight, I felt a strange power." He then sheathed his sword and approached the dravian girl.


"The grunts and the empire are trouble enough, but the ones on the shadows have a power far greater than that of mere human or any race out there. Should they regain the strength they had, our world is doomed. I have sworn to fight back this darkness even if the doing of it should cost me my life. But before we can deal with this, there is something else that must be done. The empire threatens the lives of millions in Albias. They must be stopped."


Drake had stated his honest intentions to the dravian girl, sincere and pure. A knight rarely states his direction but Drake was ready to make exceptions. "And you think you are the one to stop them?" The dravian girl's brow raised, still doubtful. "No. Not alone. If you join me, you will likely face greater danger. If you say you cannot trust me, I don't blame you. Sometimes, my actions aren't enough to justify what my people had done to you to make you all suffer like this. I will say no more." Drake can't help but bow his head in humility, as he felt the weight of his burden that needs to be straighten out. He then slowly walked passed her and looked afar. "But promise me one thing: Do not be foolish and attempt to fight them on your own." Everyone fell silent to Drake's statement. From a distance, Alt heard what the young knight had said while still on the lookout. "Heh. He does have a point." The wanderer just softly muttered under his visor.


"The darkness is growing."


Bellowed Vovin as he narrowed his sight upon the horizon. Alt then jumped down from his vantage point. "Yep, we have a large armada coming for this direction. We have to pull back." The horizon was as they feared, filled with an approaching armada of airships. And at the center of the armada was a large cruiser-type airship, seemed to be leading the entire fleet. "But the villagers! Where will we take them from here?" Elle expressed her utmost concern for the villagers they had rescued earlier; whom maybe now waits at the foot of the mountain. "At Oakenstead. A hamlet just north of here; we can lead the villagers there for refuge." The serpent lady again was quick to suggest, a fortunate turn for the party.


Drake then turned his attention again to the dravian girl. "I cannot leave you here. I will not ask you to join me, but at least come with us for now--umm..." Drake suddenly stopped on his sentence, forgetting that he didn't know the name of the dravian girl. "Viora..." She said in a muttering tone but it was audible enough to be heard by the young knight. "My name is Drake Hauer." a polite response from the young knight, even managed to draw a warm smile towards Viora despite what she did. "Hmph!" The dravian girl was quick to look away, slightly flustered yet still stubborn. "Fine! But I'm only coming with you as far as Oakenstead, then I will pretend I never met you at all." She snorted, a very sour reception but Drake didn't mind.

The party was about to make their way out of the mountain, when Alt was still standing, facing the incoming airship armada. "Alt, make haste. We need to make our way down the mountain." The young knight called out for the wanderer's attention. Alt's visor opened and his helm formed his cap; he turned his head to face Drake. "Go, I'll keep the armada busy. If we leave altogether, we will be spotted in a heartbeat with that large of a force." Said Alt in a very serious tone. He is so far, very lighthearted upon Drake and the others. This was the first time, Drake saw Alt in such disposition. "But you can't fight them all at once! You'll be pulverized before you--", "I won't take them all at once. I'll just give this armada a good kick in the nut to slow them down. You guys go ahead, I'll meet you all at Oakenstead." The young knight tried to object but Alt was very insistent that they go on without him for the time being. In Drake's view, he thought the wanderer might be underestimating the strength of Zweifried's Vanguard. "But Alt--!" The young knight was about to protest when he saw a red glimmer on Alt's eye; a sign that he won't repeat himself twice. He found himself a loss for words, utterly intimidated. "...very well. Please regroup with us at Oakenstead as soon as possible. We will wait for you there." Drake then gathered the party and the dravian girl with him, and hurriedly made their way towards the mine passage.

"...I will aid you."

Vovin's voice boomed behind Alt. Normally his jurisdiction would be Elleina, his mistress only. But to volunteer for Alt's aid is very unlike him. "No. Your duty is the safety of your master. Go with them. They will need your strength more than I need it." Even to the armored entity, Alt still insist to do this task alone. He knew he was the only one capable of it. Without any objections, Vovin had left, climbing down the mountain with his armored claws.

The armada was fast approaching, and the party had made themselves to the path down the mountain. Alt was the only soul left at the razed stronghold. He then formed his helm with his cap and closed his visor. He channeled his frame's mantra energy and in an instant, he formed his huge mechanical fist. He raised his left arm and his armor extended to form another mechanical fist. Now he is armed with both fists, but he was not done yet. Machinery of his armor began moving, interlocking plates and displacing bits to form a bulkier armor. Including his mechanical greaves which gained a bulk and extra armor pieces; assembling mini mantra engines from his calves and transforming armor plates on the shin area. With this transformation, he gained a bit of height and significant bulk, turning Alt into a mechanical construct of ancient technology. One of the many abilities of his Mantra-Tech frame.

Alt then positioned himself on a prowling stance. His leg engines began powering up through his will and his whole mechanical body lit up with a red hot light, through the markings and trims on his armor. Gaining tremendous amount of momentum, he leaped forward with darting speed like that of being launched from a trebuchet but only with a hundred times more velocity.

"Raaagh!"

With sheer physical strength, he reached the first airship and punched through it like a bullet. Then as he took it down, he leaped to another. Taking down the armada's left wing, by destroying the airships one-by-one.

--------------------

"We are expected to dock the K'toa stronghold in 10 minutes."

The cruiser's captain declared upon the ears of his superior, Drake's brother, Zweifried. The dragon general was standing at the open deck of the massive cruiser leading the armada. "Good." Zweifried looked at his pocket watch, "Once we docked, have all the troops exterminate the denizens. None will be left alive." He calmly ordered the captain, he was on a urgent disposition but he kept his calm demeanor. A ruthless leader Zweifried is. He is the epitome and an example of an ideal Aldamas Empire leader, relentless and efficient.

"Sir! Sir!"

A panicking soldier approached the dragon general and the captain, sweat and breath running like he just ran up a hill. "What is it, whelp!? Keep you stance with you before Lord Zweifried!" The captain immediately scolded the soldier for inappropriate behavior, viewing it as utter disrespect before the general himself. This made the soldier straighten up, yet barely. "S-sorry my lord--but this is urgent. T-the entire left wing squadron is wiped out!" Not wasting any second, he deliberately told the bad news before his superiors. "What!?" The captain exclaimed, immediately he grabbed the soldier by the collar of his armor and pulled him closer. "Who's attacking!? Is there a mutiny within the ranks!?" Presumptuous, the captain uttered in disbelief because it's impossible for any enemy to take out their armada that easily.

"Incoming bogey at 12 o'clock!!!"

Shouted one of the deck hands. Before they could react, they saw one of their airships, wrecked and was now on a collision course with them. And atop that incoming airship, stood a mechanical warrior, Alt. Arms crossed and with a foreboding presence that caught Zweifried's attention. The wreck collided with the cruiser, sending it off-course, and crashing through the nearby airships around it.

Alt then reverted back his bulky armor into its normal form in an instant. Then using the inertia of the collision, he launched himself towards Zweifried. The dragon knight then brandished his long rapier forward and performed a flying thrust towards his opponent. Alt channeled his momentum upon his black fist and clashed with Zweifried's sword thrust. The clash exploded on impact, blowing away the soldiers and deckhands guarding the deck of the cruiser. The two shoved each other back then as they landed, they clashed again in a high-speed deadlock. Alt using his mechanical scabbard and Zweifried his long rapier.

As the wanderer spun and deflected the dragon general's attack, he suddenly sensed a powerful presence coming at him behind. And this one was traveling at godspeed; so as he was about to face Zweifried, he put his hand upon his katana's grip and slowly draw the blade out. As Alt slowly unsheathed his katana a burst of black energy radiated from his weapon, revealing the blade's form. The blade was dark as the twilight and radiates a red luminescence like blood. He used what momentum he has left to perform a spinning sword swing. As the sword swung forth, it left a trail of dark energy like an ink paint on parchment. Then as he turned, he just blocked the imminent attack of Zweifried's right hand man, the Black Knight. He who is responsible for Drake's fate.

Alt glared down at the Black Knight as their blades grind like an ear-splitting screech of metal being pressed together. With a heave of strength, he pushed his sword into a full swing, shoving the Black Knight back to Zweifried's side. As the Black Knight was about to retaliate, he stopped as he noticed his sword's blade slowly fell off its hilt; the sword itself was cut by Alt's twilit blade. "You are one exceptional warrior. Tell me, who are you?" Zweifried asked as he stepped forward, and ordering the Black Knight to stand down.

"Me?"

Alt then placed his katana on his shoulder, his visor opened and cap formed.

"I'm the one to give guys like you, a bad day..."



TO BE CONTINUED....
 

KingdomKey

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Damn, what a badass. Alt is officially my favorite character in all of this. Between fighting the Black Knight, Zweifried and the Empire its just...it takes my breath away. I loved the team work that was displayed between himself and Lady Eurya. Speaking of her, I love her fighting style. I love their chemistry. Too bad for Lady Eurya that Alt is married. lol. Drake sure does push himself a lot in this fight. I get the impression this is like a journey for all of them for one sole purpose. Elle may or may not come to terms about her crush not being suitable for Drake. I think there's a huge age difference but, I'm not sure. On the other hand, I still like Alt's perspective on everything thus far. I'm impressed he didn't get cursed by Lady Eurya. Although, I'm really curious about his past.
 

Tyrant Raver

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Heh, Well I'm glad you liked Alt's combat prowess. Unlike Drake, Alt is already an accomplished warrior and a war-hardened veteran.

At this point, this is Drake's first time adventuring. Despite him being a former military leader, he is used to travel in practicality with a bit of luxury. And this is also his first step of discovering his newly-found strength's potential.

And yes Elleina is under-aged compared to Drake. If I would say their official age, I would say Elle is about 12 years old and Drake about 21 years of age.

Oh and if it interest you, I would like to list their respective VA to aid you what their voices are like :D

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Tyrant Raver

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Chapter 5: Iron, Fire, and Blood

With the advance mission compromised, orchestrated by a lone wanderer, the entire aerial armada of the Aldamas Empire was sent into complete disarray. Their iron superiority, trampled like soaked paper with ease by Alt; they may now possess the technology they needed in warfare but compared to Alt's arsenal, they were still archaic and paled in comparison.

The wreck of the main cruiser now slowly plummets to the ground from the skies above; as the rest of the fleet had retreated. Aboard the airship, the crew made their hasty escape from the raging inferno that now grips the once proud vessel. A chaotic atmosphere on the highest of altitudes, enough to make a grown, classy individual to soil his trousers. Explosions and fire breaks out in every corner as the fuel pipes overheat, engines and intricate machinery cease their intended functions. Setting every nook and cranny of the cruiser into a hall of flame. A worst case scenario stemmed from Alt's feat of ramming a wrecked airship, head-first on to the iron starboard of the cruiser.

As the remaining crew of the ship hurriedly make their way out, three figures remained on board the deck. Three powerful figures on a brutal slash-and-slug fest. Two against one, these men's scuffle further wrecks the ship as it slowly plummets down to the earth. Sonic booms, impacts, and loud clashes can be heard from the deck made not by blown pipes and machinery; but the occurrence of their battle itself.

Using their lightning-fast steps and relentless barrage of steel against steel, Alt had sent the dragon general of the Aldamas Empire and brother to Drake, Zweifried in an almost never-ending deadlock. While Zweifried rained a thousand sword thrusts to Alt; the wanderer on the other hand, keeps his twilit blade sheathed and uses the mechanical scabbard itself as means of defense. Deflecting every thrust with accuracy. Whilst fighting misguided individuals or humans, he keeps his blade inside the scabbard; He only draws his powerful weapon upon creatures and beings of dread malice and tainted darkness. The battle dragged on, as Alt was matching Zweifried's pace and footing on battle. Showcasing his indomitable iron will and gratuitious amount of patience to restrain his power. In order to buy Drake and the others some time to escape the mountain just a few miles ahead of the flaming wreck.

Their attacks collide as Alt blocks a powerful entry by the dragon general. "While I am to be impressed, I noticed you are not giving your full potential." Said Zweifried, holding his stance and long rapier. "Judging by how you took care of my glorious fleet, you could have finished this any time now." Alt remained silent and focused, utterly ignoring what his opponent has to say. The dragon general broke a smirk as he saw Alt's gear dragon crest clipped upon his belt area.



With an exhale, Zweifried slid his right foot forward and with a shift of his stance, he swung and spun his long rapier upon Alt. The wanderer then caught the attack and countered with with a swat from his mechanical scabbard. The dragon general then launched himself forward at a nigh-point blank range and connects multiple strikes and swings from his blade. Alt then just went with the flow and matched his opponent's footing as he was pushed back by Zweifried's assault. These relentless strikes narrowed down to lightning-fast thrusts. Alt kept up with the abrupt change of pace, the shift and the attacks and the counter. Alt easily adapted to his opponent's rhythm and even feinting his; making it look like he was struggling, while still blocking at a same velocity and momentum as his opponent's.

Zweifried pulled his long rapier back, his stance sturdy yet motion fluid and fast. He slid his fingertips upon his blade; and with a straight momentum, he performed a lightning-fast, charging thrust with an impact burst so strong that it fanned the raging inferno surrounding them. Meanwhile, Alt kept his unwavering focus, he kept a straight eye to the incoming attack. He tilted his head to the side a bit, completely evading Zweifried's by an inch; and he wasn't even fazed by its impact.

"Hmph..."

Alt caught glimpse of the dragon general's expression, a drawing and taunting smirk. The wanderer's eyes widened a bit as he felt a surge of energy from his blade. Immediately, Alt deflects his opponent's blade and flipped to the side; evading powerful lightning strike that struck his original position. As he was about to recover, he saw the dragon general's lackey, the Black Knight, gathering dark energy upon its armored palms. It was so concentrated that the energy distorts the Black Knight's surroundings. It was only a matter of time before he could unleash it unto Alt. As he was about to land, Alt placed his hand unto his blade's grip from his mechanical scabbard.

One foot down and he drew his twilit blade. The Black Knight slowly pulled his stance back. As soon as Alt's feet touched the steel haul, his opponent instantaneously fired a compressed ball of dark energy; flipping side-wards, the wanderer evaded the attack then continue to dash to the opposite direction, circling the dark armored entity. While the Black Knight unleashed volleys of dark energy blasts towards Alt. The dark armored entity then held both his palms together; channeling his dark energy upon his iron palms, condensing sheer amounts of dark energy. Alt prepared for the worst, this might cause considerable damage to the already fiery wreck. He twirled his black blade and took stance on a
prowling position.

"Tah!!!"

The Black Knight roared as he fired a powerful blast of concentrated dark energy. Rippling, tearing, and melting steel in its wake. Tensing up his artificial muscles, priming his leg engines, Alt darted forward with lightning speed. Spinning forward like a torpedo, Alt brandished his black blade towards the hurtling mass of dark energy. He swung his blade on a acrobatic feat, the blade itself hit the mass like it was solid; cut through it like paper. While at the same time, dispersing its power to less. The split mass exploded behind Alt as it passed through him.

Alt's blade is of a unique and powerful origin. Forged and tempered with raw power and bathed in the flames
of a black sun in a distorted pocket universe. The blade itself was molded and sharpened thoroughly to cut through any material even at sub-atomic scales. The blade itself can cut through atoms and any form of energy if the wielder wills it. His blade, although of an unknown name as of now, was made to disperse and devour any medium and form of darkness. Each medium it consumes, it gains power and returns the source to the balance from whence it came to be. Encased and sheathed on a mechanical scabbard of ancient technology to contain and suppress the blade's power, Alt only draws this blade when fighting dark and powerful entities that threaten the balance of light and darkness. To use this against an innocent soul would violate the balance and would cause the blade to devour Alt himself if he's not careful.

As the Black Knight prepares to unleash another volley, Alt suddenly appeared at point-blank range, about
to swing his black blade. Immediately, the dark entity encased his armored arms with dark energy and blocked the wanderer's high-speed swing. Then the two went on a very brutal deadlock. Alt, wielding his black blade and the Black Knight, his bare hands.

The two then clashed blows with the impact pushed them both back, sparks fly from their feet as they came skidding back through the steel haul. Alt sheathed his blade and went on a quick-draw stance; he darted with the tremendous momentum. The movement was so fast the the dark entity couldn't follow. He struck the Black Knight at the chest area with the pommel of the blade's hilt; then spun around to deliver a blunt blow to the chin using the blunt tip of his mechanical scabbard.

"Ooooh...!!!"

The entity grunted on a warped, distorted cry. The Black Knight was sent flying up. Before the wanderer could follow up, along came Zweifried charging through with bullet speed towards him. Alt flicked a switch on his mechanized scabbard, triggering a mechanism that popped the bulk of the device, located near the hilt area of the scabbard, up forming an extra handle. Alt then met Zweifried's blows by swinging his sheathed blade like an improvised blunt weapon just like before.

Zweifried's combat and weapon strength comes from the reach of his long rapier. Although sleek and simple-looking when it comes to the blade, the steel itself has weight comparable to that of a greatsword's. Alt can see his weakness so clearly, but he chose not to exploit it. Alt shoved himself back using the impact of his enemy's attack. And just when Zweifried's about to retaliate, he felt a very soft whistle in the wind that passed through his cheek just about now.

"Huh..."

He ran his fingertips on his cheek as he felt a slight burn that drew on his cheek. As soon as he looked at his fingers, it was splotched by his own blood, the dragon general was cut by an unseen attack. "This..." He was speechless in disbelief, "Never in my entire life have my opponent drew blood on me!" A soft hiss of calm fury in his tone. "Well like they say, there is a first time for everything." Alt chuckled, laughing at the expense of Zweifried. Utterly humiliating his opponent. "Humph!!!" Immediately after Alt said his response, his senses took over and drew his sword in a blink of an eye. Revealing he just deflected another godspeed blow from the Black Knight. The dark entity was now wielding two crimson blades of different aesthetics while emanating a foreboding dark aura. The Black Knight slowly turned around to face Alt, revealing that the mouth piece of his helm was shattered by Alt's attack earlier. Revealing a pale-violet complexion within the helm.

"I had never thought that the Eiornhardts would have such a fierce remnant left in that house."

Remarked Zweifried, as he slowly regain his usual deadly composure. Surprisingly enough, that remark caught Alt's curiosity. "Iron heart?" The wanderer only uttered what he had heard. "You may have a slightly different crest but I recognize that dragon hanging on your buckle. I had thought every last one of you had been put down for treachery against the empire." The dragon general's venomous sneer to Alt, referring to the gear dragon crest he dons on his metal bandolier around his hip. Emphasizing the downfall of House Eiornhardt from the Aldamas Empire. "The fire, the blood, and the gore. Ah, more than a typical day, really. I made all of them kiss my feet before they met their end at the tip of my very blade. Their blood had given way to the empire's golden age." Zweifried spat venom after another, elating his disgust for the fallen house of Eiornhardt.The burning wreckage of the airship soon collided nose-first against the rocky and earthen exterior of the nearby mountains. Which means Alt's time on the ship was now up.

Drake, along with the party and the dravian refugees were finally distant from the impending catastrophe. Elleina helping the wounded and elderly keep up the pace; Vovin carrying the lot of the tots and little ones upon his shoulders and arms; and lastly, Lady Eurya lead the able-bodied men and women, most especially warriors of the tribe. The ground shook and quaked with a terrible tremor and the thunder of a massive explosion boomed behind them. The awe of sight of a massive fireball crashing through the mountains just miles away from them. The terrible spectacle made the group hasten their pace to Oakenstead.

"Dammit! Alt...!!!"

The white knight yelled as he feared for Alt's fate on those mountains. In a hurry and utmost concern, Drake quickly turned back and ran towards the explosion. But before he could go any further, he felt a force holding him by his shoulder. "No Drake, We can't." Said the serpent lady, disapproving the young knight's action. "But Alt needs help! If we don't--", "Drake, we all worry for him but the refugees needs our help more than he need us of the now." Eurya tried to be steadfast as a rock on a rapid stream. But like she said, the needs of the many matters more than the needs of one. Reluctant, Drake took a look back at the burning fireball. "Gods please keep him safe." He whispered as he and Lady Eurya raced back to the fleeing refugees.

As the last engine blew into a massive fireball, a stoke and the last kindle to the airborne inferno. Alt knew he had to go now or he'll have it worse than it already is. "Well as much as I wanted to kick you guys around some more, I still have a crowd to chase and places to be." As the wanderer sheathed his black blade, the mechanism on his mechanized scabbard triggered. As the bulky top portion of it popped and unfurled like a mechanical origami. Alt grabbed what looked like a handle or grip on the mechanism and twirled it on his grasp. Forming a large 1 foot hand-cannon. He pulled the trigger and the tip of its barrel erupted into a small blast that fired a mini cannon shell. And was directed at Zweifried
himself. Before the shell could close in further, the furious Black Knight went in and obliterated the shell with his bleeding
blades. The shell exploded and let off a blinding smoke. Before the furious dark entity could go after Alt, the wanderer was nowhere to be found. Vanished from the raging inferno.

"That's enough."

The dragon general ordered and immediately, the Black Knight obeyed. Sheathing his blades back. "We will proceed
with the plan. Return to the Citadel as soon as you have complied." With the task given and laid out, Zweifried headed towards the last safety pods and ejected out of the inferno while the Black Knight disappeared and carried out his duty.

Meanwhile, Alt landed on the slope of the mountain just a few meters away from the avalanche of fire from the
wrecked cruiser. Immediately, the wanderer darted himself down the steep slope, attempting to outrun the massive rolling debris of fire from the wreckage. It was still high up the ground for him to make it; with incredible speed, he rode through the dense air resistance as he made his way down the rocky slopes. Striding through it like a giant slide and using the downward momentum to hasten his pace. A feat this dangerous would have sent a normal individual rolling through the earth with shattered bones.

"Tch!"

Alt then saw the path ahead was cut off, and he reached the end of the slope only to be hindered by a massive
chasm. And worst, he was still nowhere near the foot of the mountain. With the rolling debris closing in fast, Alt needs to get off as soon as possible. Left with no options, he knelt down on the prowl and primed his leg mechanism. "Hah!" With enough momentum, Alt jumped off the cliff.

As soon as he was airborne, he quickly grabbed his metal bandolier and pulled off two pouch-like devices and attached it on his belt buckle. He flipped the popped switch on his buckle, turning it loose and finally removing it from his belt. Revealing that the buckle was a mechanism too. He held up the buckle and furled it, revealing two handles. Alt held on to the handles and pulled it apart; unfurling a wide span of metal frame that forms 10 feet wide. And from that wide metal frame, unfurled polymer flaps forming like a dragon's wings. A portable glider assembled in mere seconds. Alt attempted to stabilize and maintain balance as he made his flight down. "Hah! I didn't believe it would work this time!" He yelled, euphoric to the fact that his tool worked just as he intended it to be.

After moments of being airborne, he landed safely upon a nearby clearing just a few miles from the foot of the mountain. After landing, he separated the glider and revert it back to its buckle mode; clipping it back to his belt along with the two parts on his metal bandolier slung loosely over his armored hip.

"I know you're there. Might as well come out!"

The wanderer suddenly called out as he regains composure. He turned around and a figure emerged from the shadows of the forest canopy. "Ymierre--" He instantly recognized her even at dusk enveloped surroundings. Air suddenly went cold and unsettling as they laid eyes upon each other with both very threatening and deadly disposition. "You could have finished both of them--if you will it so. Why haven't you?" In a soft yet audible tone, Ymierre began to speak. "Well let's just say it is not my place and role to defeat them. I have felt it, they were meant to someone else." The wanderer chuckled a bit as it was revealed by Ymierre, his capabilities far exceeds that of a warrior. "Why do you not seek your passage back to your own world? I tell you this, Alt. You have no role to play here, nor do you belong in his destiny---" Wasting not one moment, Ymierre told Alt plainly and simply that he is wasting his time on this world or possibly in this
particular universe.

"Oh believe me, fate has brought me here for a reason."

Alt then gave Ymierre a very piercing glare with his red pupil-ed eyes; he walked towards the ethereal woman then slightly pass her. "True--I may not have a role in someone's destiny but I have my own. And it lead me here. The ever-turning wheel of fate is upon us always and everything happens for a reason. It is not written in some mystical tablet or some shit like that. It's universal, beyond you and the gods themselves."

Alt had asserted his case to Ymierre. Yes he is but an alien to this universe but there was still something in it for him. What is the extent of Ymierre's knowledge about him, he could care less. He will deal with the matters at hand and deal with the tainted darkness that corrupts this world well in hand. Ymierre said no more, she turned around and went pass Alt with her loose cloth sleeves brushing through the chilling wind. "This way, Alt." As the wanderer was about to follow the ethereal woman, he stopped in his steps. "...but know his, Alt. You may have your own destiny, but you cannot interfere what was meant to be." One last message from her before taking off. Alt scoffed and brushed it off, a gesture that she didn't need to tell him twice.

"Come on. This can wait."

Alt then suddenly grabbed Ymierre's arm, slightly tugging her to hurry up. The ethereal woman quietly gasped at the sudden gesture. Her dead eyes locked on to Alt's grasp on her seemingly delicate hand, while she was being lead by
him through the forest. Then she felt a warm sensation in her chest, he heart seemed racing and her cheeks slightly flushed. "Uh...Alt." She called but it was very soft and muffled by the wind. She couldn't explain what was going through her mind more than his. But this was the first time someone had touched her, not in a malicious sense but in a literal sense. "Alt." She tried but her voice couldn't reach his ears, her voice was too soft and inaudible at that moment. Alt then finally let go when they stumbled upon a road clearing with visible tracks.

"They've gone this way."

Alt observed the series of tracks carefully and noticed that the tracks were definitely from a crowd, possibly from the refugees; and among it were large ones that definitely belongs to Vovin.

Ymierre, still flabbergasted, seemed to be still distracted by the wanderer's earlier gesture. Her eyes laid upon her right hand, the one that he grabbed. She looked upon her hand like a newborn struck with immense curiosity. "Ymierre? Were you about to say something back there?" Alt suddenly asked the ethereal woman. "Uh? I...no--" Slightly flustered and utterly stricken by a mild panic, Ymierre couldn't make out what to say, what to respond Alt's query. "Huh. Could have sworn I heard something back there must be hearing things." The wanderer couldn't help but scratch his head, he could have sworn he heard a voice calling to him. But in truth, it was Ymierre the whole time, she just couldn't speak that much clearly after Alt's gesture.

Dismissing it, he stood up and looked at where the tracks lead. "Alright, they should be a few minutes away from us. We should catch up with them in a short while. Let's go." Taking the lead, Alt together with Ymierre went to follow the tracks to hopefully catch up with Drake and the rest of the party and the dravian refugees.
Not uttering anymore word, the ethereal woman just followed him quietly. Placing her right hand gently upon her chest and closing her eyes to feel her heart beating so fast like a stallion galloping. "What is this feeling? What am I--" She thought as a flood of uncertainty clouds her mind. "I feel uneasy yet light and warm. Is this what they call emotion?" Her eyes then laid upon Alt as they were walking together. She may not notice it but her face was beginning to turn to a mild blush. The more she deny it, the more the emotion blossom and she doesn't like it. Ymierre just held it all in hoping it would fade in time.


-----------


Oakenstead. A small lumber mill and village from the borders of the Regulus Kingdom. The village's denizens composed of mixed races from elves to humans to exiled dravians. All living in harmony and away from the judging eyes of the norm from the capitals. Here, they have mingled with each other in interracial marriages, living on a simple household community. It would would be blasphemous to others but to them, as long as they live happy and making do with their lives. All is well.The village was situated on a river bank, by the Whitescape River; where their lumber mill was established.

It was composed of about twenty to thirty households with a great lodge, being the village's point of interest. Their houses were usually made out of lumber and usually elevated at least 4 feet off the ground. Because come rainy seasons, the Whitescape River overflows and sometimes floods the bank.

Night has fallen, and the good lot were preparing to wrap up and call it a day for the mill. "Huh? What's that?" Called one of the workers seeing a series of torch lights from a dim distance, heading towards the mill from the forest road. "There's people coming! A whole lot of them! Call the chief!" Immediately the workers went to a commotion and called for the village head's attention to the approaching crowd.

Drake and the others and the dravian refugees had finally stepped in the premises of Oakenstead. They were welcomed
by the presence of the chief of the village and a handful of the household.

"Kind sir."

The young knight, slightly exhausted, tried to keep his composure before Oakenstead's chief. "Oh! It's not everyday we get foreign visitors here in our humble hamlet. Especially dravians." The chief was a surprised at the size of the company. He was told that there was a crowd but he wasn't expecting a whole population of a dravian stronghold. "If you don't mind, may we have a place to stay? These refugees had their stronghold--their homes razed to the ground by the Aldamas Empire." Raising this statement made most of the folk of Oakenstead gasp in shock and surprise. Their heads turning to each other and whispering unsettling thoughts, stirring quite the commotion. "The empire? A dire situation indeed. But we're but a humble folk, we don't have the food and supplies to accommodate them." Responded the chief. Even if they want to lend a hand, they can't accommodate a lot this many.

"Please sir!"

Elleina stepped forth. "We only ask for shelter, just a place to stay. We have a wounded that needs attention. I promise we won't be too much of a burden." The little elven girl begged, in an almost somber tone; extremely concerned to the dravian refugees. The chief then turned his head to his folk, Elleina's simple plea was enough to convince the people of Oakenstead. "Very well. Come, come. We shall prepare the great lodge. We can't promise a cozy place to stay--" , "No sir, much appreciated." Drake held the chief's pace and expressed his gratitude towards the gesture.

"Elleina, go follow the village head with the. We'll catch up with you."

The white knight instructed the little elven girl, to which she nodded in agreement and without any objections. Together with her ever-present guardian, Vovin, Elle lead the refugees and followed the chief towards their great lodge for shelter. From the looks of it, they were supposed to have a gathering. But due to the arrival of the refugees, they would have to compromise. After all, the people of Oakenstead, though small, founded by racial equality and integrity. While Lady Eurya and Drake stayed on the outside premises of the village.

It didn't took long before the serpent lady noticed the grief burdened to the young knight. "We should be at ease as of now. But you seem to have a different case. What bothers you, Drake?" She patted Drake on the shoulder to somehow lessen the burden. He couldn't help but sigh, "I'm still worried." He sat on a nearby rock with his hands both clasped together. A gesture of great concern. "We still haven't seen Alt since that incident on Mt. K'toa stronghold. I had sensed--" Before he could continue, a strong and familiar presence suddenly made itself known to both Drake and Eurya.

"--sensed what?"

A very familiar voice spoke from the gathering shadows of the night-cloaked forest. "Alt!" Both Drake and Eurya called as they saw Alt together with Ymierre walked forth into view. And as always, Alt wearing that wide and bright smile on his face while scratching the back of his head. Apologetic that they took a while to catch up. "Oof!" The serpent lady immediately rushed towards the wanderer and launched herself towards him; giving him a big hug. "--Eeech! Okay-okay-Eurya, You're grip--its choking me!" Taken by surprise, he didn't expect such gesture from her. It would seem that Lady Eurya herself was more concerned than the young knight is with Alt. "Fool! You had your dancing partner worried so much!" A bit of a playful tease, Eurya loosened her grip to face Alt. "Again with the 'partner' thingy... Ugh. Fine, I guess I should apologize to everybody for being late. Heh." The wanderer chuckled and feigned disgruntlement. He's relieved that everybody's alright and made it out to safety.

"But Alt, you faced a bulk of the empire's military strength! How did you survive?"

Immediately, Drake was in disbelief and awe that Alt made it out with barely a few scratches from the Empire's Aerial Armada. "Ymierre, did you came to his aid?" He immediately turned his attention to the ethereal woman since she accompanied Alt on the way to them. Ymierre fell silent, didn't utter a word; she seemed far distant than she was before. "Nah, she just found me when I escaped that wreck." The wanderer saved her a few words by speaking for her. "As for the Armada, lets just say they're still green on operating such machinery." Trying to be modest as possible, Alt knew that the armada tried to showcase their ordnance dominance but he took them down before they had the chance. "I see..." That was the only response Drake could muster from now. He wanted to know more but he thought it would be rude to pry any further. "Well then, let us proceed. Elleina went ahead of us to see to the refugees. Come." Lady Eurya then lead the rest of the party in the premises of the humble village by the banks.

Immediately after regrouping with Drake, Alt and rest of the party made their way towards Oakenstead's great lodge. The lodge itself was the first building and the founding stone of the village. Originally built as an armory of the Regulus regiment during the Dusk Century.The great lodge was built with logs of Ancient Oak, it was built to outlast a heavy storm, flood, earthquake and most known natural calamities that may befell the villagers.

Standing 2 stories and about as 4 times spacious as Alfeux's great hall. The great lodge of Oakenstead functions as the village's gathering hall for village meetings and hearings, gatherings and special occasions. It is also a safe haven for the community whenever the river overflows and floods their community.

Upon entering the great lodge, Elleina along with the other villagers helped set up the great lodge for the dravian refugees to shelter in. Alt and Ymierre together with Drake and Lady Eurya reunite with the little elf girl and the praetorian. As expected, the lodge ran short with space, but luckily the chief had the community to set up tents outside the lodge for the remaining refugees stay. With most common folk, they would decline even a single shelter for them. But to the folks of Oakenstead, this was no bother to them. Because their community was in fact, mostly made up of outcasts of society, who only wished to have normal lives.

Everybody did his/her part. Elleina and the majority of the maidens of the community helped prepare food and cushions for the refugees. Lady Eurya tending to the wounded; Drake and Alt see to every man, woman and child populace of the refugees. And even the enigmatic praetorian, Vovin himself, helping the little elf girl in her duties. The commotion took all night, from dusk till the brink of midnight. Most of them exhausted, including the little elf girl. She immediately fell asleep after attending to the last member of the refugee populace. Drake tucked her and used his white coat to keep her warm. Lady Eurya was still attentive to the wounded.

"Hmm?"

The young knight was about to head off to Alt and call it a day when she saw one dravian who seemed distant
from the others. Lone before the night-shaded undergrowth, shivering and in pain because of her wounds being exposed to the chilling night breeze. As he approached the loner, he instantly recognized whom it was. It was Viora, the dravian woman whom they rescued from the mercy of the Juggernaut Knights regiment of the empire. "Here--it is cold out here in the brink of midnight." Drake kindly offered the spare blanket he was holding on to the shivering dravian. Viora slowly tilted to the side, arms crossed. "G-go away!" Still stubborn and still very scorned of Drake's presence even tho he made an effort to lead her people in this haven. "You t-think you can earn our gratitude of such d-deed--pah! You and your kind did this... now we lost our home. We're all e-exiles." Even though she was stuttering, Viora expressed her hatred for what fate had befell upon her people. This made the young knight's heart sank, the guilt he felt for the horrible thing the empire had done to these innocents. "I'm sorry you feel that way. I could leave you alone but I can't ignore a wounded warrior." Drake then sat beside her and Viora kept her distance from the young knight.

"B-be quiet! Just because I'm a woma--wait... Did you c-call me a warrior?"

At this point, she tried to keep Drake as a person of hate. Persona Non Grata. The angry dravian girl was about to shift to another topic of conflict when she noticed that little detail. "Yes. I did. You are a warrior, a soldier with a solemn duty to protect her people." Drake replied. A warm aura, a welcoming presence and an unexpected gesture of respect for Viora. "Hmph!" She scoffed, even though deep within her she was flattered by it. Yet she still shuns him with a passion.

Just when the young knight was about to leave, he suddenly noticed the wound crawling from Viora's left arm. "Hold
on, you have serious wound on your arm. Let me take a look."
Drake drew closer to her and take a good look at her wound. "No! Leave me--ah...!" Viora was about to shove him off but she accidently moved her left arm; putting pressure on her wound, making it swell. The prickling pain of her wound made her hiss and bit her lip, cold sweat began streaming down her cheeks. The pain she felt rendered her whole body to weaken.

"Relax a bit. Hold on."

Immediately, Drake pull out a medkit he was carrying along with the blanket and took out bandages and some salve and
balm. The young knight carefully lifted her left arm. "Here hold my hand. This will sting a bit but bare with me." Drake said, not making any promises that it'll be a pleasant process for her. "O-okay." Viora faced him held his left hand. "Ready?" The young knight opened a bottle of sterilized water and gently pour it on her wound to wash it.

"AAAARRRGHH--mmmff..!!!"

Viora cried out but she fought through the pain as she tried to muffle her agony. As the water trickled down her wound, a terrible sting of pain struck her wound like being pricked with a thousand splinters. Tears rolling down her face as the dravian girl endured the pain, and gripped Drake's hand tight. "Hey hey, stay with me. It's going to be alright. I'm here for you." Drake lifted her head up to face him to offer a word of comfort. She simply nodded in reply. He then carefully dabbed her wound with the salve and balm.

It stung but not as much as the water. Drake was thankful that it was not an open wound. With the wound and bruises, Viora went through a rough patch with the Juggernaut Knights back at the K'toa stronghold. Viora on the other hand, finally gaining her composure she caught a glimpse of Drake working on her wound. The dravian girl should be angry right now but she wasn't. Even a forced angry impression, she failed to muster. So she just went into complete silence with a discreet appreciation.

"There, better."

The young knight finished up applying her bandage and finally faced Viora, eye to eye. Drake gave her a warm smile. "Hmph!" Flustered, Viora immediately turned away again from him. "Don't even think this changes my stance against you!" Slightly puffed cheek with head raised and eyes closed, she finally managed to shun the young knight. "Now go on! We have nothing to talk about!", "Well I would but you're still holding my hand, Viora." Chuckled Drake as he pointed out the fact that the dravian girl still has her grip in his grasp. "Ah! Hmph!" She snorted, nothing more to say on her end. Her face still away from Drake but unnoticingly blushing under the night's shade. "A pleasant night, m'lady." Drake stood up and sorted out the medkit.

Before leaving, the young knight again grabbed the blanket and draped it over Viora's shoulders. "Huh? Uhm..." Much to her surprise. As she went to face him back, it was too late. Drake had already left. She looked down and hugged her slim body with the blanket the young knight gave her. "I should be lamenting with our great loss but... that man..." She looked at the direction where the young knight had left. "I feel a sense of security and assurance in his presence. I feel like... I'm not alone." She looked up to the stars above and slowly feel the comforting night breeze blow through her cheek. With a slow, deep breath, she let out a soft smile upon her rough exterior.

Hours passed, the humble village befell by intense commotion had finally eased down. Alt and Lady Eurya lead the able-bodied warriors of the dravian refugees to volunteer themselves as patrols for the village. They had given them shelter, hence they must offer their blades in return; as stated in one of the doctrines of the dravians most revered, the god of war, Vaolan. They had made the village a temporary encampment but it would be of no consequence because Oakenstead itself was miles away from the frontlines of the battlefields. So if the Aldamas' military ordnance were to trespass Regulus Kingdom's borders, they would not even be noticed.

Drake on the other hand was wrapping up, about to sortie with the patrol along with Alt, placing the medkits and supplies to their right places.

"Hey Drake."

A familiar voice suddenly spoke behind the young knight. "Alt! I was about to join you--" The young knight dusted his garb and stood up. "We need to talk." Before the young knight could approach, Alt immediately stated that he has a query of importance. His tone was the same as he was back in the K'toa stronghold. With Alt's tone, the young knight's mood shifted to grim, he did not like Alt using that tone one bit. Alt's serious tone was akin to an executioner's, the last words you'll ever here before he befell the blade upon your neck. "W-well sure. What is it? It sounds urgent." Drake swallowed a bit as he approached the wanderer. Alt then lead Drake to a little walk along the small encampment. They passed through the dravian soldiers who did their rounds, watching over the village ever so vigilant; they would salute and wave to the two as they came across the two.

"So what is you're going to talk about Alt? Something bothering you?"

Curious, the young knight initiated the conversation with him. Alt looked up, "Well, remember earlier when I got left behind the front lines to confront the empire's armada?" He asked the young knight. "Well yes. I still can't believe you're still alive after that. Unscathed and almost unharmed!" The young knight couldn't help but express his amazement in that feat. Unreal and something of an impossible odd. Drake knew even himself can't do that, maybe for now but still something to be admired. However, that wasn't the matter Alt wished to talk about.

"... After I brought down several warships, I immediately went for the head of the armada. A fairly large air-cruiser. As I wrecked through on board, I was greeted by two men with incredible strength and prowess, with their blades."

Alt stated, the ordeal he went through. "Two men?" Interjected the young knight. "Yes. One that dons a dragon armor and one who is clad in black steel." As he revealed the first details, Drake's eyes widened. Those details were awfully familiar. "The one with the dragon armor has a blonde hair and had the same eyes as you. And the second one was the most unsettling. He wields a crimson blade that reeks of your blood. Drake, what say you?" Alt faced Drake while walking as the young knight was too. Drake's heartbeat raised and sweat rolled down his face, he felt like his heart was being gripped that couldn't help but sit down on a nearby tree stump.

"Zweifried... And the Black Knight."

He softly said as if his voice was dancing with with the night breeze. "So you do know them. I figured so." Alt looked down on Drake, crossed his arms waiting for an explanation from him. The young knight didn't have a choice but to tell him, his story. "Zweifried was my brother... We never saw eye to eye to each other. Even though I had high regards to him and his skill to lead. And the Black Knight, it all began with him." Alt then sat beside the young knight and patted his
shoulder. "It's okay, tell me Drake." He said. He may be still new to the party but Alt was willing to listen.

"To tell you the truth Alt... I should have been dead by now. I was killed by the Black Knight, his blade stained by my blood. My brother left me for dead, I died protecting Elleina. As the life ebb away from me, Ymierre came to my aid and offered me a second chance."


Alt's eyes narrowed as he heard Ymierre's name in Drake's story. "She gave you a second chance--but at what cost?"
He immediately questioned. The young knight was almost reluctant to answer, looking at Alt then bowing his head.
"In exchange, I would give her my soul and the souls of my descendants for it will serve her cause, until the day comes." Drake said with firm conviction, and with honest eyes. "What!?" Alt just couldn't believe what he just heard. He stood up and faced the young knight. "You don't even know who she is and what she was and you just blatantly entrusted her your life?" As Drake said his reason with conviction, Alt responded with firm objection. Believing that the notion was beyond ludicrous. The young knight then stood up and went pass Alt, overlooking the refugees from the elevated stance of the tree stump. "I wouldn't expect you to understand Alt. But I know this, you and I have been fighting for the same
thing. We protect the weak from the clutches of abusive..."
Drake clutched his hand and raised it slightly. "But this--this is beyond me. Beyond mortal understanding. This isn't about me. This is about them, and everyone else. If I am to be their protector then I must not be afraid to take risks and make sacrifices." The cold breeze hummed through Alt and Drake as they both oversaw the refugees sleeping soundly through the chilly night. Families still intact, and friends, comrades and kinsmen still united. "I'll make sure they won't suffer the same fate as I... Be they be human, elf, or any other race. Mortalkind deserves so much more." He finally concluded. The wanderer bowed his head slightly, his face
slightly shrouded by the shade. It was then Alt realized, Drake had suffered the same fate as he was in the past. He
saw the image of him through the young knight.

'He may be young. But he can pass for a war hero with that attitude.'

Alt thought, convinced that Drake's decision wasn't for himself but to others. He patted the young knight on his shoulder. "I can understand your selflessness, Drake. But what about your future children and grandchildren--descendants?" That was one loose end, he would like to inquire about. "I never wanted for them to get involved in this. If I can burden this by myself then I would in a heartbeat. I just hope, if they ever hated their great grandfather, I hope they'll forgive me..." He can't help but bow his head in worry, what fate would his future descendants will face. "You don't have to carry this alone Drake. You have us, to guide you on your path." At last a reassurance from Alt himself, because he understood where Drake was coming from. He should know because he also went the same path as his, many years ago in his youth. "Thank you, Alt. That's very comforting to hear." He expressed his gratitude and relief; relieved that he won't be alone to tread this dangerous path before him. After all, this is not the time to be a one-man army. Even the most powerful needs allies and comrades he can trust.

"Oh yeah, before we get all sobby here. One more thing..."

Alt removed the Alteisen Coat of Arms from his belt, the gear dragon crest. The last memento of Alt from his family, the House Alteisen back in his homeworld of Ernas. "While fighting against your brother, he saw my memento... He mentioned House Eiornhardt. Drake, what do you know of it?" The wanderer asked him while still holding on to his memento. Drake then saw his crest and took it from Alt's grasp. "House Eiornhardt... This crest. Hmm..." The young knight was curious to see the crest himself. He raised it to the moonlight so that he can see the crest better, like a jeweler to a precious stone. "Yes, this is identical! The dragon is the same from theirs!" Amazed, he couldn't believe that Alt's crest mirrored House Eiornhardt's coat of arms. Only instead of a shield that wraps the dragon, its a cog.

Drake returned the crest to the wanderer's grasp and took a deep breath. "Alright. Here's what I know about them... It may not be much however, but I shall tell you the details that I know of."

~~~~


The House Eiornhardt was one of the founding houses of the Aldamas Empire, along with my family, House
Hauer. They were the right hand of the Emperor himself, because the members of that house were cunning tacticians, and politicians of the highest caliber. They say the House itself was strong enough to establish a kingdom of their own but chose not to; because their loyalty to the empire is unwavering. They were a constant threat to the throne, but always disproven by them. Such is the game of the empire's court.

Until that fateful day, that supposedly a member of the house was accused and found guilty of treason. For conspiring with Regulus Kingdom. An offense punishable by death. I was away that time, training on the Iron Grounds when the the members of House Eiornhardt were executed one by one. All I heard was my brother Zweifried, who was a captain of the military that time, lead the raid upon the noble clan and the whole bloody affair. It was the most bloody chapter of the Empire's history.

Those who resisted were killed in cold blood. And those who were detained were tied, stripped on the citadel square for the whole public to see. My father, opposed the sentence given to the members of House Eiornhardt. Saying that the accusations were of no proof and had no basis whatsoever. But the sentence wasn't carried out by the dominion of the emperor's court--but by the Emperor himself. To oppose the notion, was to oppose ruler of the land himself.

It was an act punishable by death, but the Emperor was willing to pardon my father to his opposition. He was given a choice... To side with the court and the empire will turn a blind eye to the outrage, or side with the Eiornhardts and face public execution with them. Father stood by the Eiornhardts, he stood by his conviction that they did not deserve such sentence.

Hence... He died with it. Died with his honor assured. My brother despised father's notion, that he disgraced our house, but to me, it was the first act, my cog to my resolve. That was the beginning for me. The fall of House Eiornhardt, was the driving point of the Aldamas Empire to declare war upon Regulus Kingdom, and eventually, the conquest of Albias itself...



~~~~~~


"That is what I know about them. I don't actually have any connections within House Eiornhardt. For all I know my father had connections since he was the prime representative of House Hauer."

Drake had concluded his state of knowledge regarding this rather enigmatic noble house. "I guess the only way to find out my connection with them is to travel to Aldamas capital itself... but it would be too risky. I don't want to endanger you guys for the sake of me." Slightly dissatisfied, yet informed with new knowledge, Alt wanted to know more and dig deeper into this fallen noble house. But cost would be too great if he decides to blatantly waltz in a tyrannical-gripped empire capital.

"We will get there eventually, Alt, have faith."

The young knight patted his back, offering a light of reassurance to Alt. "You're right. This can always wait, first things first! I guess we can cross this one once we get there. Hopefully." Alt clipped back his crest onto his hip area. "Now come on, its time to wrap this up." The two would then together walk down the hill to regroup with the patrol teams and call it a day. It would be another busy day tomorrow so they best rest up. The dawn would bring new challenges to the table and new obstacles to conquer.


------------


The dawn has finally shown its face from the east as the moon fell to the west. It was but another day, yet a beautiful morn ripe for new adventures. The night breeze and slight fog dissipated and the dew-soaked vegetation sparkled before the rays of the gentle dawn.

Overnight, the refugees had encamped and established a temporary refuge upon just beside the premises of Oakenstead. The sick and wounded were transferred to the refuge, effectively emptying the humble village's great lodge. The able-bodied dravian warriors kept their patrol shifts; portion of the able-bodied men, women and children populace of the dravian refugees volunteered to help the community of Oakenstead with their logging and agricultural needs, as well as menial chores.

A fair exchange for the hospitality that the good people of Oakenstead. Naturally, Dravians would loathe to extend a helping hand to outsiders and exiles. Because their god's decree was to keep their strength and capabilities within the stronghold and by the stronghold only. If outsiders wanted aid, then they must give something in exchange, worth the blood and blade. Since their stronghold decimated and homes razed to the ground by the invading Aldamas armada, they are all exiles now. And for the many of them, it felt exhilarating and fulfilling to give something back without asking for a strict exchange.

As the party went to oversaw the encampment, about to discuss their next move, the outer patrol perimeter of
the encampment was struck with an unusual commotion. "K'an Drake! K'an Alt!" One of the dravian patrol guards came
rushing in to the main tent. Addressing both the young knight and the wanderer as K'an. The prefix of K'an in dravian culture is given to a person of great respect; similar to how the humans refer to knights and nobles as 'Ser' or Lord. The two were immediately alerted by the guard's arrival, in the tent also resided Elleina, whom just awakened from her tiring duty last night. "There's an elven messenger who wished to speak with you." Said the patrol guard. The two then looked at each other, and nodded. Together with the guard, they left the tent in utter hurry.

Drake and Alt were lead outside, a few steps away to a cloaked elf escorted by two dravian patrol guards. "Ser Drake! Ser Alt! I'm glad I found your encampment just in time." The elven messenger loosened his hood, sweating, breath running and extremely exhausted. The poor elf looked like he ran all night just to reach Oakenstead. The young knight held both the messenger's shoulders, just to calm him down for a bit. "Breathe easy, friend. What is it?" Asked Drake in a relaxed manner, telling the messenger to take his time coping up before telling anything. "I have a message from Elder Mayani from Alfeux." , "--From grandma? What is it? Are they in trouble?" Elleina overheard the name of her grandmother from the orderly elf's lips.

"Our elder had scried that an advance force headed towards Azalond Fortress."

"What!?" Yelled the young knight in disbelief. His yell had caught the attention of almost all of the dravian refugees in their proximity. "Who could be that foolish!? How many are there?" Drake's mood went from relaxed to a slight dismay and rage. "Whoa there, Drake. What's at that fortress and why the fuss? Care to fill us in?" Good thing Alt still kept his calm, it may sound something of a serious note and urgent action but he was curious to what consequence are they dealing with here. "Azalond fortress is one of the centers of military strength of the empire, situated here on the Mystic Marches. To launch a skirmish there would be suicide, and worse..." The young knight turned grim, turning his attention to the very concerned Elleina. "Invading Azalond Fortress will alarm the capital to launch a massive-scale assault upon the frontier that will endanger Alfeux and Oakenstead. We can't let that happen." Drake walked up to the elven messenger. "How many of a force we are talking about, friend?" Calming himself down for a bit, he looked at the orderly elf straight in the eye brimming with eagerness for more details.

"Approximately 5000 men, it seems. They are made up of well-armed dravian ranks. More are expected to arrive before they depart for the fort, however."

"Even so... Wait! That must be why they attacked the K'toa stronghold..." The young came up with a conclusion to all
this. The sky armada that decimated the stronghold not too long ago was but a cog to a grand machination. "What do you mean, Drake?" The little elf girl approached the young knight worried what realization Drake had. Drake then walked pass the group, looking afar the distance. "Aldamas' army is advancing all across the borderlands, not just the Mystic Marches. They wish to make it appear as though their army is spread thin, to draw out the dravians and attack the stronghold with an aerial armada. If I know the numbers, the empire would have absolute ground strength than its recently formed aerial armada..." Which means the en masse invasion campaign of the empire were upon them. The Dravians that resides on Mt. K'toa were a great threat to their advance because they would likely take out a bulk of the invading force that would ultimately cripple their campaign. A direct assault to the camp won't work either as the Dravians were strong together with their chieftain. So in order to eliminate the Dravians, they separated the bulk of the elite warriors of the K'toa stronghold and attack them at their most vulnerable. Like a babe set upon by wolves.

"Then their plan has worked."

Lady Eurya walked up to the group, dressed up, armored up and ready to go. "The K'toa dravians are moving before their preparations have been completed." Clicking her pistol and putting it back to its holster, the serpent lady awaited for Drake's act upon this matter. "They cannot possibly take the fortress with a mere 5000 men." Shaking his head, the young knight thought that the number was too few to launch a skirmish towards Azalond fortress. They are talking about a center of military strength of the empire. That would be like hitting a boulder with a wooden stick, or a hunter being pitted against an apex predator. "They must know this. Why do they move?" The young knight wondered. As the talk among the group went on, Viora happenstance that she walked by them.

"It would seem they have found allies, a band of mercenaries. Their leader, a striking figure, a woman dravian chieftain and a young male dravian whom is easily angered, but they seem to have confidence in their strength."

Continued the orderly elven messenger, as he relayed what's left of the information Elder Mayani wished to deliver. Viora heard the information, the dravian girl easily recognized the descriptions of the leaders. "Sister and brother..." She quietly whispered, with a discreet surprised look on her face. "I do not think that will be enough. The Empire's Army is not to be taken lightly." Drake approached the elven messenger one more time. "Thank you for the message. If you have anymore business or rest, you can stay here for a while. Until then, friend." The young knight gave the elf a good pat in the back for a job well done, but the situation still stands. So he and the rest of the party hurriedly walked back to the main tent to arm themselves for the coming march.

"So we're gonna go after this advance force."

Alt interjected as they made their way towards the main tent. "But granted we are to halt their advance, I wouldn't bet they're just gonna stop with a simple gesture." He stated to Drake with a hint of doubt. And he would be right, they are going to deal with elite dravian warriors; these are the fangs of the stronghold, halting them would be no less different than taming an enraged bull. "I know Alt, it would be risky but we must. Or else, everyone in the Marches will be in grave danger. The Azalond fortress itself would be their undoing." Drake clenched his fist, a gamut of brimming emotions filled his clenched fist. "These poor people had already lost their homes, the least we can do is save their Chieftain to give them hope. We must make haste, there may be still time to catch up with them." The young knight finished. The hope of bringing their Chieftain back alive, is a hope of rebuilding what was lost to them. They may had lost their home but their faith in the god of war remained unwavered.

Back in the tent, Drake put his white coat on and strapped on his armor. The party gathered the materials and weapons they needed and sortied out of the tent. As they went outside the tent ready to move out, a band of dravian warriors stood before them armed and ready. "K'an, we would like to go with you!" One of the warriors yelled, speaking behalf the entirety of the volunteers. That warrior was the wounded soldier Drake saved, along with his wife and child from the ranks of the empire. He was all patched up and recovered from his injuries. "We know our chieftain well and the Red-hand, they will not listen to outsiders, especially to humans. But we can convince them other." Drake was about to protest but in order to stop the dravian and mercenary advance force, they would need someone of their own kind to convince them to lay down their arms. The Red-hand is the right hand man/woman of the chieftain and considered the leader and strongest of the warrior ranks next to the Chieftain herself.

"Alright if you insist. If I want to minimize the violence then I would gladly accept your help, good ser." The young knight shook the dravian warrior's hand as a sign of trust, alliance and bond. "My name is Bulv, it will be an honor to stand by you to represent for the chieftain's presence, K'an Drake." The two brave men saw eye to eye as equal, disregarding their racial difference and finally work together to stop a common foe. This gesture caused a huge war cry and cheer among the band, a renewed iron morale under Drake's banner.

"Wait!"


A stray call for attention was heard behind the band of warriors. The men and women looked behind and made way for
her, Viora. The dravian girl, like the rest of the battle-band, was all armed with drakebone armor and scaled hide. Her left arm and shoulder covered with segmented bone plates fashioned as carapace while donning gauntlets and greaves; fashioned from the spine and skull of a drake. Her leather chest piece reinforced with pieces of ribs and cured scaled hide and a drake skull as an ornament for her pony tail.

"K'al Viora!"

Called Bulv to the dravian girl. Like the prefix 'K'an', 'K'al' is given to the most respected female members of the tribe. "I will come too." She then clenched both fists and bowed her head. "...but make no mistake! You still haven't proven yourself! I do this for me, not you!" Even though the rest of her people and the warrior caste now respects Drake and the others, she was still reluctant to address them as such. Though she knew herself, that they've done enough to prove their worth; but she will soon find out if they are worthy to face not just her sister, the Chieftain, but the Red-Hand too, which was her brother. Alt chuckled and walked past the party and the battle-band. "Your reasons are your own, missy. Pretty sure no one will question them. Now we must go, time is of the essence." Looking ahead, Alt sharpened his eyes and his senses as he felt in the air that something ill was coming to them and they best do this fast and to the letter. "I agree. Bulv, have we enough patrols to guard the encampment?", "I have gathered only the handful. The rest will resume their duty here to protect our wounded and the household of Oakenstead.", "Good, then we move
out."
And so gathering a small band of warriors, the party marched forth towards southwest road at the bend of the mountain; then to the road towards Azalond Fortress.


--------------

The band ventured out of the humble village of Oakenstead and towards Azalond fortress. The band of warriors comprised of the party, and Bulv's warrior-band. The rest of the warrior populace were left behind the Oakenstead encampment to do their hourly patrol duty, to guard the women and children, and the sick and wounded refugees. Their trek would be long as the fortress itself is situated upon the center of Titan's Cross; a massive valley crossroad to the south that leads to the Aldamas Homelands.

Along the journey deeper into the woods, they saw the nature of Arealia in its full glory. Fauna and exotic animals running about. From the large and massive herd Apatons; colossal herbivores, two to five stories high, sporting long necks and tails. And a set of heavily-carapaced limbs. The avian species of Akkoas, exotic birds with reptilian attributes even sporting arms upon its wings. Kelphs, the local deer fauna; Blups, one of the many porcine or pig species in Arealia that is either domesticated or dwelled in the woods; the Jackalopes, a curious species of hare that sports antlers. Alt just couldn't help but stare in awe to the world's very rich environment, it was almost mesmerizing. Even as he walk, he would constantly pull out his notes and record, draw and write his findings. It was quite an adventure indeed.

Azalond Fortress was built as an impenetrable border outpost by the empire to the south. This fortress had repelled countless invasions and based countless campaign's and skirmishes. Also the fortress itself was built at the center of a natural earthen fortress of Titan's Cross valley, as the watch-spires of the fortress towers over the cliffs of the convoluted crag and rock formations. Making it easier for the regiment to scout ahead beyond the borders of the Mystic Marches and the Aldamas Homelands.

A few hours passed, and the band reached the valley's massive entryway to the north. The entryway itself was impressive and was a sight to see. Upon the entryway's steps, two ancient mountain-sized colossi stood at the foot of the valley. These marvels were built by the ancient Re'mon a hundred years before the great war. And since then, these colossi had been long claimed by the land itself, with the cliffs and rock formation of the valley amalgamated with their earthen bodies. These earthen colossi depicts a large, muscle-bound humanoid wielding a tall axe while the other one wields a halberd; like earth-bound deific guardians that watch over Titan's Cross.

The Titan's Cross was once the largest river in Arealia during the primordial era. This changed when over the centuries, the land shifted and drifted to form the land of Albias today. There were theories that depict a much ancient civilization once resided upon the land, even before the tyrannical utopia of the Re'mon. It had been suggested but no concrete proof. But there are evidence--small patches of ruins that were much older than that of the Re'mon architecture ruins.

Today, the great valley of Titan's Cross houses towering spires of rock and crag. A countless cascade of peering cliffs that hang over high grounds or mesa like un-sculpted gargoyles. Massive canal-like canyons, formed by weathering and erosion. And sprawling below the cliffs, where the band currently traversing, a considerable amount of vegetation that even grows along the earthen formations; forming makeshift canopies and shades.

The name of the valley, Titan's Cross, came from a myth and folklore that depicts the canyon was the final resting
place of a being of colossal proportions. An unnamed titan whom the god of war, Vaolan had faced. And their battle had shaped the very land of Albias itself.

"Alt?"

Along the long trek, Elleina broke out a question directed towards Alt, while he was in the middle of writing his notes down. "Oh, Elle. What is it?" He closed his notes and placed it back to his loose bandolier belt, securing it in place. Noticing the elf girl was half-reluctant, uneasy, and embarrassed. "Well... you're a man--right?" The elf girl sheepishly asked, a rather juvenile question, she can't think straight with the matter. "I am? Huh... well that's news. When did that
happen?"
Alt humored, breaking a rather sarcastic response yet playful with his hands at the back of his head. "Sorry! I can't think straight! Ooooh!" Elleina puffed her cheeks while patting both sides of her said for asking such a stupid question. "Whoa easy! I kid--I kid. What is it you really wanna ask?" Alt tried to somehow calm her down, because she's taking it too seriously. With a sigh of relief, she gained some composure.

"I--I just want to know. What should I do if..."

She closed her eyes shut, trying to get the question off her chest, like a boiling kettle. "If...? Hey! Don't faint on me now." Still attentive, Alt gestured to her that it's okay to proceed and there's nothing to be ashamed of. "--if I think a man is special and--", "You want to woo him? Is that it?" As expected by the wanderer, he knew the little elf girl had someone of great admiration. Elle couldn't respond properly so she just nodded in agreement instead. The wanderer chuckled a bit, forcing his full-burst of laughter in.

"Well for starters, I'm not much of a go-to guy when it comes to these. But I think the best tip I can give is be more composed and don't be nervous."

A simple but straight-forward advice, but it is something Elle failed to grasp even to Alt himself. She couldn't help but draw a sad expression whilst her head bowed slightly down. "Yes. Good point." She said softly, flustered with embarrassment. "Are you afraid things won't go naturally?" Alt retorted, curious to what brought Elleina to ask such. "Why would they? Especially when I'm elf and... I do things like ask men if they're male. Gods.." The little elf girl grunted, disgruntled at her flaws. "Ah... don't sell yourself short, Elle. Race really doesn't make a difference here. It adds to your charm. You're a bit awkward. It's likeable." He said, pointing out the little elf girl's good qualities and not just for the sake of consolation. "Likeable... Ah..~" Cupping both her cheeks, the elf girl was flustered and squeed like the little girl that she was. Elleina was too vulnerable for compliments. "But didn't you just say that I shouldn't do things like that?" She looked at Alt with that sparkle in her eye, paying close attention to what the wanderer has to say. "Well the point being is, just be yourself. And besides, you're the woman; you should be the one to be wooed." Alt chuckled as he rubbed his armored hand on her head, like a big brother being playful to his younger sibling. "All right..." She softly said, looking back to Drake, who seem to be looking ahead and mighty focused at the moment as the band proceeded further into the valley.


----


At the eastern part of the valley, a thunder of five thousand steps marching through the rock-riddled canyon. This foreboding march was approaching the proud fortress of Azalond ever so closely and is picking up speed. Like a swarm of red ants making their way towards a rival colony. Numerous war banners, and battle standards waving through the dusty wind of the valley. A massive army of dravian warriors and a whole massive band of mercenaries marched with a ferocious and vicious gait.

The entire dravian warrior band, men and women, donned amalgamated steel and heavy drake scale armor; armed with 10-foot spears tipped with dravium spearheads, dravium blades and shields made from wyvern scales. Dravium steel is a lightweight alloy that they main use, a compound metal composed of Iron, Embersalt, and Dragon blood. The dragon blood helps the steel to be an enchantment catalyst, though to a lesser extent unlike Mithril; and the embersalt contributes to its lightness and durability.The army was led by three powerful figures at its head.

The first was the dravian Chieftain. A tall woman of 7 feet in height, her face covered by her armored helm and mantle of wyvern scales. Her feet and arms, having the most robust, natural scales covering the entirety of her limbs among the dravian band. Like a natural pair of gauntlets and greaves. And two pair of horns that protrude out of her helm; she had the most profound horns among her clan, as expected from the chieftain herself. She dons a full steel and wyvern scale armor that forms upon her body like a pseudo-corset and breast plate, with a slightly exposed abdomen for maneuverability and asymmetrical in design. It also came with dorsal scales protruded like spikes on her back. A skirt set with long, torn tassets; reinforced with large dragon scales, fashioned like loose leg-guards. Her mantle that covers almost the right side of her body. But instead of a cloth, it was a preserved wyvern's wing held together to form a cape-like arrangement.

Second was the Red-Hand, the right hand of the chieftain and leader of the warrior caste. He mirrors the chieftain's scales and horns but to a lesser extent. Also, unlike the rest of the caste, he dons lesser armor. He only had armor on both his arms yet more different than others. His wyvern scale armor was asymmetrical in design just like his sister, the chieftain; his pauldrons were wyvern scales, with the right ornated with a wyvern skull. He was armed with battle scale gauntlets with folding elbow scythes 5 feet in length each. These scythes were hidden upon the scale armor plates of his gauntlets, triggered with a clench of the handle, compacted near his wrists. The scythes were made with Embersalt and Red Mithril, a flammable catalyst which enables the scythe to be enchanted by fire spells and magnify it to a degree; without melting the blade in the process. The Red-hand dons a fit, buckled leather garb with a makeshift hakama with leather greaves underneath.

Lastly, the leader of the mercenary band. The band had no name, but this striking figure managed to gather these bloodthirsty misfits to form a sizeable army of his own. A shady character of a shrouded identity that seem to gain the favor of the chieftain with such a short time and effectively combining their forces to this march. He donned a slim leather armor overalls, with bullet bandoliers reinforced with steel plates. He had a bulky single pauldron on his left shouder and a gauntlet-like, bandage cast on his left arm reinforced with a stylized vambrace. Like he has an injury on his left arm but it looked like he doesn't. His identity was hidden under his red scarf and heavy hood. He is armed with not blades nor bows nor arrows but firearms. A customized rifle, and a pair of customized flintlocks.

Meanwhile, at the heart of Titan's Cross, Azalond Fortress. The Aldamas regiment stationed at the seemingly impenetrable fortress, they had been foretold of a possible dravian incursion since the wheels of the Aldamas war machine had started turning and was but a step further into fruition. Siege weapons and engines of destruction primed and regiments of soldiers and elites mobilizing throughout the fortress, in and out. The empire's forces left no stone unturned and no detail left behind. The front line battalions marched outside the gates to give the incursion a proper welcome, armed and ready for the worst.Then at the high of the noon, the sound of the fortress' warhorn thundered throughout the valley; the loud sound alerted not only the regiments at the fortress but also Drake's battle-band from the north.

"Enemy up ahead...!!!"

Yelled one of the scouts on the watch spires. The army of five thousand marching towards the fortress. All gathered by the top of the up-slope over looking the proud fortress ahead. Their elongated shadows almost tower over the front line defenders of the fortress. A collective of foreboding presences, to both dravian and mercenary ranks before the fortress.
Silence, dead silence, filled the grand valley as both sides stood before each other.

The hum of the valley wind, the howl of echoing earth around them and distant flocks of birds of prey were the only things that can be heard upon this silent standoff. Air becoming heavy like as tension build up by the minute, like an invisible hand strangling your wind pipe slowly and softly. By the minutes passed, the sun rises towards noon, the army's shadows shrink to where they are standing. And then, a single loud bang of a shield was heard upon the ranks of the army. One, two, then ten; the army altogether banged their shields forming a synchronized war orchestra. Making their presence known to their enemies, an epic gesture of battle intimidation.

"Al'gha ra..!!!"

The chieftain shouted, and the symphony stopped. A command phrase of the ancient tongue. "Gok'ra...!!!" She shouted again, and this time the army altogether assumed their stances. "Here they come!" The frontline captain yelled and the defenders of Azalond Fortress also went into battle stance. "Tar'ogara Vaolan...!!!" her voice boomed, thundered throughout the battlefield, and altogether, the army charged forth with all their might.

The army of five thousand stormed the front lines like a raging tide of teeth and steel. Soon, they clashed with the Aldamas forces in epic proportions. A thousand clamour of clashing steel rang through the grand valley of Titan's Cross. With gritting rage and ferocity the army immediately overwhelms the front lines. It wasn't long before the ringing sound of clashing steel and roars of raging war-cries were combined with screams of pain, agony and death. The dravian warriors mowed their adversaries down to a pile of blood and gore. This is the life blood of battle, the turning gears of war. A single full-fledged dravian warrior can take on a small squad of well-trained soldiers, imagine five thousand, a whole army of them rampaging through the battlefield in full strength and prowess.

While the dravian and mercenary ranks storm through and overwhelm the front lines. The three leaders of the assault slowly approached the battlefield. The Red-Hand looked at her sister, the Chieftain. Both nodded, signifying that it was time. The Red-Hand prowled into stance and with a sudden burst of speed, he pounced to the battlefield. Unfurling his elbow-mounted scythes, he rushed through the lines while still keeping his fast rhythm.

"Hmmph!"


Like grim incarnate, he strode through the enemy lines with fluid and graceful style of fighting. Slashing through any unlucky ranks of the empire's army who stood in his way. He spun forward, twisting his body, scythes unfurled, disemboweling three enemies at once. The front line ranks charged at him with pikes pointing at him. He took stance and slashed through the first pike then the next, advancing forward. Three pikes lunged forth, directly at him. He reacted quickly and jumped up, evading them; then he landed on the pike shafts and began running through them towards the wielders. He spun forward like spinning wheel of death, decapitating them with deadly precision. He landed with blood-soaked blades, he had already broken through multiple line of defenses, ahead of his compatriots and kin.

The Red-Hand looked ahead and saw a battalion charging towards him. The last defensive line of the fortress. He set his mind at ease for a moment. Then he channeled his mana unto his arms and scythes; materializing pure rage he enchanted his claws and scythes with fire attunement. Engulfing his arms with flames. "Haaah!!!" He darted forth while leaving a fiery trail behind him. He welcomed the charging battalion with a flurry of fiery slashes and explosive blows. Each swing of his arms unleashes a wave of scorching fire that made his attacks more potent and more deadly than it already was. With one swing, he easily swept through the lines like a raging inferno consuming a forest.

He spun around and kept going, weaving intense amounts of heat. Soon he picked up speed, and created a massive firestorm swirling through the droves of enemies. The casualties the dravian dealt was enough to send his enemies into disarray.

"There is no escape for you empire dogs!"

A grim voice echoed within the raging firestorm. The swirling mass of inferno then suddenly stopped and began disfiguring itself. The Red-Hand had molded the inferno into a large and condensed ball of flame. He held it up like a visage holding a tiny sun. The Aldamas soldiers panicked, dropping their arms as they saw their enemy's capability; in attempt to desert the battlefield. The Red-Hand then hurled the large ball of fire towards the fortress wall and through the enemy line. The mass of flame scorched through the earth as it flew towards its target and then finally exploded on impact; unleashing a fiery inferno upon the Azalond defensive lines and blasting through the most vulnerable part of the wall.

After that massive attack, piles of burnt corpses, and scorched debris were left; along with a massive hole on the fortress wall. The Red-Hand looked back to see that the army was still breaking through the enemy defensive line. He could go back but decided not to, he must press on to the heart of the fortress so that they can claim victory and send the Aldamas army running with their tails between their legs.

The battlefield was bathed in blood and steel and engulfed with clouds of dust from the valley. A vicious bloodshed enough to please the dravians' god, the god of war, Vaolan.

The Red-Hand proceeded to walk further into the fortress' inner walls, not knowing what is in store for him there. The heat of battle had him focused on the goal ahead but this made him vulnerable to what lurked behind the cloud of dust and shadow. As soon as his back turned, droves of silent feet sneaked behind the Red-hand like a pack of wolves stalking their prey behind the shadows and invisibility of the environment. These men were armed with longbows and donned lighter armor than the usual grunts of the Aldamas regiment. Carefully, they aimed at the Red-Hand, using the cloud of dust as their shroud. Then in a heartbeat, they altogether unleashed rain upon him.

The dravian sensed it in the air, but it was too late as he turned around to see a swarm of arrows fly towards him. Then in a blink of an eye, he found a full stretch of red cloth just brushed through in front of him. The red cloth flowed through the gust, forming an unlikely barrier that blocked the volley of arrows or at least greatly suppressing their velocity, enabling the dravian to somehow have a margin for a defensive maneuver. The Red-hand held his arms up and deflected the arrows that went through the cloth. The Aldamas scouts were startled, yet still focused as they prepared to fire another volley.

But before they can draw their arrows, from behind the red curtain, peered two flintlocks, red and black rained a hail of bullets upon the hidden assailants. The guns' barrel slides slid as it fired instant death upon its enemies; piles of empty shells ejected and bounced to the ground. The shots were pin-point accurate, all of the scout ranks fell with a bullet dug between their eyes. As the fire ceased, behind the red cloth, stood the hooded leader of the mercenary ranks wielding both his guns. He spun and twirled his guns up and about and put them back in their holsters. He grabbed his red scarf, and ring it back around his neck.

"Gods, if you're gonna charge ahead of us at least watch your back."

The shady mercenary spat with a significant sass to it, almost like an angry drunk-like manner. "Hmph... If I am to die by that moment then so be it. You may have the favor of my sister but you'll find me more different than--", "--than her, yes yes. It's the same shit you said to me earlier." Again, he spat, protesting the Red-hand's same detestation for him and his crew while walking in front of him. "...out of my way." The dravian lightly shoved the mercenary aside with discreet disgruntlement. The hooded mercenary shook his head, "Gush vitriol all you want, but its my part to watch your back." He sighed as he followed the disgruntled dravian into the inner wall of the fortress.

Back at the battlefield, the dravian ranks kept pushing the offensive forward and the mercenaries covered the flanks and long range scope of the field. The dravian chieftain stood proud before her warriors, her arms crossed while overseeing her army made progress. Then at the height of the advance, one of the mercenaries spotted some commotion from the fotress walls. "We've got catapults dead ahead!!!" Shouted one of the mercenaries as they saw the Aldamas army deploy their siege weapons. A line of catapults from the battlements and trebuchets from atop the watch towers. They're pulling all the stops now upon the army of five thousand.

The empire's siege engineers worked double time. Loading the catapults with gasoline-soaked boulders. The engineers rushed to their torches and lit the boulders aflame. With a pull of a lever, they launched the fireball into the battlefield.

"Incoming!!! Look out!"

Immediately the battlefield was bombarded with massive fireballs from the catapults and trebuchets. Finally gaining droves of casualties from the dravian-mercenary army. It was like a scene of the end times where fire rains down from the sky upon souls.They knew they would have siege engines, the invading army won't let this stand. The mercenaries quickly deployed a number of ballistae carts at high vantage points. The ballistae team aimed high and began firing an instant rain of death towards the wall and the battle field. "Shields up!" The dravian ranks drew their shields and raised it upward. Forming a shelter from the support fire, to avoid friendly-fire among comrades.

"Look out--arghhkkk!!!"

The rain of steel from the ballistae threw the siege engineers into chaos, like ants out of line. The unlucky ones were skewered, body and skulls punctured like cushion. Few survived the ordeal but many of them decimated. They have no counter attack against anti-siege weapons nor do they expect that the army would even have such counter-ordnance. But the Aldamas army still have many more men to fill in the gaps, treating their ranks as expendable like chess pieces. Many engineer reinforcements were nigh-reluctant to fill in, because they had families to come home to. But the order dictates that they do their duty to the letter or face death upon the hands of their superiors. Thus, the siege warfare continued.

The situation was dire and the dravian ranks gain casualties by the minute. Their army being met by human toys, an insult to the code of battle. This can no longer stand to the chieftain. She finally stepped forward, discarding her wyvern wing mantle, she stretched a bit and flexed her figure before the battlefield. Signifying that she was about to enter, she reached her hand backward. Two dravians pulled a heavy-looking luggage towards their chieftain. So heavy that it took two of them to drag it, and full-fledged Dravian warriors were 5 times stronger than a human being. With one last heave, they pulled the cloth-wrapped luggage to their leader's grasp. She gripped the luggage tight and with such less effort, she lifted the luggage with one hand and raised it up. The dravian chief then tore the cloth covering, revealing a long mace with a bulky head.

The mace's head was made with a pure mithril alloy ball reinforced with a dragon's skull. Its shaft was fabricated with elder wood and thick iron rods to help support the mace head that weighs a more than a ton. And all covered up with dragon bone ornaments, fashioning the entire weapon itself like a severed dragon's head.

As the dravian chieftain raised her weapon, the dravian ranks immediately caught attention like an alpha predator to its pack. With a fearsome stance, she jumped up with great momentum like being launched from a catapult. Whilst in mid-air, she rolled complete revolutions as she fell down; propelling tremendous amounts of momentum. Then with destructive impact, she slammed her mace to the ground creating a forward shockwave that trashed every enemy in its wake and path.

"Forever forward!!!"

The dravian chieftain roared as she pointed her weapon forth towards the enemy lines. The dravian ranks were immediately empowered with their chieftain among them in the battlefield, their morale greatly increased. They altogether let out a warcry then with renewed courage and morale, they stormed the battlefield with blood boiling as hot as a magma and bloodlust at its peak. Together with her people, her warriors, the dravian chieftain lead the charge. And like a raging mammoth, they mowed down the enemy lines with sheer ferocity. With each swing of her mace, the dravian chieftain easily obliterated droves of adversaries, because each swing delivers massive shockwaves and bone-crushing impacts that even the ground itself quakes and skids.

"Haaah!"

The dravian chieftain launched herself up at the incoming fireball from a trebuchet. In mid-air, she spun around and used the weight of her mace to build momentum. Then with a full revolution, she pounded the massive fireball and launch it back to towards the wall. The flaming boulder crashed through the fortress wall with amplified velocity from the attack. Demolishing a wide portion of it along with one of the watch towers.


------


"Oh gods. We are too late!"


Drake's party finally arrived upon the outskirts of Azalond Fortress. They were greeted by a cluster of clashing steel, explosions from the siege engines, blood and gore from the piled casualties from both sides. The band had arrived at the outskirts of the proud fortress, but too late to stop the impending bloodshed. Both sides had already drew their steel against each other, their blood now stains and fuel the battlefield. With a rain of fire and earth, steel and blood, the collision was at its height.

"Look out!"

Suddenly, a stray fireball from the siege engines came flying towards the band. With the size of that boulder, it could decimate the entire band in one fell swoop. "Everybody get down!" Drake brandished his white blade as he charged forth. He quickly channeled his energy upon the blade, summoning a beam of light from his blade. He spun to into a complete revolution and with a full swing of his blade, the beam of light bent as he unleashed an arc of light energy towards the fireball. The attack obliterated the fireball but was fragmented into a number of flaming rocks which were still deadly.

Vovin, stepped forth and used his massive body to shield the band from harm. "Here we go." Alt stepped on the praetorian's shoulders and launched himself into the fray. He pulled both his black arms backwards and breathed deeply. "Haaaaggh!!!" With a burst of ferocity, Alt unleashed a barrage of steel-destructing, explosive punches. He connects as the flaming fragments went into his range, like a point-blank machine gun fire. The heat from the fireballs made his black armored fists white hot like molten steel dipped in fire. This is because of his body, his body or frame automatically absorbs any form of heat and then use it as catalyst or power source.

With the last of the fireballs obliterated. The wanderer and the young knight both landed on the ground. Alt's both arms burning brightly, bright with white hot flames. As the heat subsides, the heat stored on his arms were channeled all over his frame of ancient technology.

"Well we're here, what's the plan? Charge right into the fray?"

The black clad wanderer heaved, overseeing the heat of battle before them. Drake just stood quiet yet he observed the battlefield to calculate what must be done. As did the other members of the band of warriors.

"Huh?"

Viora's sense suddenly quirked as she sensed two familiar presences among the warring ranks. "Sister--" Then her eyes widened as she turned to the other presence. "Brother! H-He's alone!" the dravian girl panicked as she sensed the Red-Hand's presence inside the fortress itself alone. But not noticing the other presence that was trailing the Red-Hand.

Without any more second thought, she rushed in and slid through the rocky slopes towards the fortress. "H-hey! Wait!" Drake immediately follow through, gone after Viora herself, condemning her sprung straight into danger. "Oh boy..." Alt scratched his head, both actions of the two would send the band into disarray. "Alright here's the plan. Elle, Vovin, and Eurya you guys go after Drake. Bulv, have your fellow dravians ready and we'll take the frontlines. Go! Go!" Since the young knight took off after the dravian girl, Alt volunteered himself to wield the lead. A shotgun order but it is better than falling into disarray.

So without any more second to spare, the group split up. The rest of the party going after Drake and Viora, while the warrior-band of Bulv and Alt strode through the front lines. The party strode through the rocky slopes, hot in pursuit of Drake and Viora. As they reached the bottom of the valley slope, Drake and the party finally caught up with the stray dravian girl. "Viora! What are you doing?" Almost immediately, the young knight grabbed Viora's arm. "Argh! Release me! Let go!" Aggravated, the dravian girl swatted Drake's grip off her. "I can sense my brother in there, alone! I've got to help him!" She was desperate and worried, her impulse lead her to this action. "Very well, but you must calm down. Running off will only put you in danger." The young knight said. Keeping his calm and cool even in the middle of the battlefield. "I don't need protection from the likes of you! I can take care of myself!" Still stubborn, Viora deliberately shuns the young knight's initiative to help her. "I'll take you to him, you have my word, but you'll need to come with me." Drake retorted, doing his best to calm the desperate dravian girl down. Viora bowed her head and turned around to face the fortress ahead.

"I cannot trust you. Without Ymierre, you wouldn't have been able to save anybody! Even Elleina!"

A sudden outburst of personal tirade, belligerency towards the young knight himself. Elleina overheard what the dravian girl said. She was about to interject but before she could utter a word, she was stopped by Lady Eurya; who was eager to know how the young knight will respond to this.

The young knight bowed his head, smiled and stepped forward. "I may not be able to save anyone, but I can lend you my strength, if you just stay by my side." Drake placed his armored hand upon her shoulders as he faced the mighty walls of the Azalond Fortress together with Viora. "I know you do not trust me, and you abhor humans. But I would like to help you--all of the good people of Mystic Marches just the same." He stated with conviction and with a pure heart, his tone and his stance were absolute. Viora was surprised as she saw and felt the truthfulness of Drake's words were, made her feel guilty of her sudden outburst earlier. "I... Fine. But I will see it that you keep your word." Finally calming down like a gentle stream, Viora finally came to. "I will, do not worry, m'lady" Drake smiled as he looked at Viora with his golden eyes. He then walked forward with his blade drawn towards the fortress. "I-I'm sorry..." The dravian girl was flustered as she muttered her apology regarding her unintentional outburst. "Hmm? You say somethi--", "Nevermind!!!" And so the two ran forth towards the fortress.

"What a ridiculous man."


Lady Eurya sighed a feigned disappointment towards Drake's response. "He merely had to tell her 'Be quiet and follow me'." The serpent lady rubbed her forehead to what the young knight could have done or said. Elle smiled and gazed upon the young knight, "But he didn't, and that's what sets him apart from others!" The little elven girl climbed up the armored entity's shoulders. "Come, Vovin!" And without further commotion, the party head off towards the fortress.


Meanwhile, Alt and Bulv together with the warrior-band ran around the frontlines, avoiding where the battle was at its peak. As the group ran through the cliffs towards the slopes, Alt saw the mercenary siege engineers with their ballistae, raining death upon the enemy lines. Immediately, he brandished his mechanical scabbard and twirled it around. He ejected his revolver handcannon off the mechanism. The very same one he used when he fought the Black Knight and Zweifried. The wanderer loaded the gun with 6 rounds of explosive shells and aimed it whilst running. He pulled the trigger and fired the explosive shell straight into every ballistae they came across.

"Hey Bulv!"

Alt called out as they traverse through the slopes down. "Yes K'an?" The wanderer caught the dravian warrior's attention. "We split up, I'm not really big on you guys. So you and the band go to the rear end of the dravian army. I'll go to the center of the lines and try to suppress both sides." Suggested Alt, formulating a plan in the heat of the advance. "All by yourself? But that would be suicide! You'll be outnumbered!" Bulv was all but shocked with the suggestion. Aside from the fierce siege and rain of death, dealing with both sides of the battlefield would tear someone apart like being oblivious in the middle of a raging storm. "I've been through worse don't worry. I've yet to dive in a battle I can't handle. Now go! The entire Marches are counting on us!" Before Bulv can protest, Alt hurriedly deviated from the path and slid through into an another direction.

---------

The party had reached the premises of the fortress with surprisingly no resistance at all. As they continue in, the halls that were supposedly brimming with grunts on their drills and routine were empty. The group would assume that most of the Aldamas army ranks were already on the battlefield; but Drake knew that even if that's the case there would be still heavy resistance inside. He should know, because this was his last stop before he and his lieutenant, Cassius, head for the Misty Forests where he first met Elleina.

As they reached the iron corridors to the armory and battlements, they were welcomed with piles of bodies of dead Aldamas army ranks. Gore and blood splattered all over the walls like someone's making a sick masterpiece. "I'm scared..." The little elf girl can't help but cower behind Vovin's protection.

The young knight observed the carcasses, they were fresh. Cuts were seared like charred meat and some even have huge bullet holes on ther armor. Most notably on their heads between their eyes. They are dealing with two formidable killers here, some victims of which were part of the Juggernaut Knights.

"Hmmm..."

Viora hummed as she sensed something odd. "What is it?" The young knight quickly took notice. The dravian girl browsed around the blood-splattered hall, "I can't sense my brother's presence anymore. I feel... Something thick, and foreboding that's blocking my natural bond to him." Viora said as she tried her best to pin-point her brother's direction. Dravian siblings are born with such strong spiritual bond, that they can sense each other's auras whenever they are near each other. Which contributes to them being a whole lot stronger in groups, because the bonds help them coordinate faster and better than everyone else.

"AAAARRGHH--Kkk!!!"

Suddenly, a loud screech and explosion was heard from the far side of the corridor. Leading down from the fortress' keep, the scream came from the bailey just below them. "Let's go!" The party hurriedly rushed forth, made their way out of the the corridors. As they reached the battlements of the wall, Drake suddenly felt an unnerving breeze. "Look out!" He dove in to push Viora away. A massive fireball from the front lines came crashing through the parapet, demolishing the wall that they were about go through. The young knight managed to save Viora but the demolished wall completely separated them from Lady Eurya, Elleina and Vovin; leaving a massive gap between them and the keep's passage.

"Drake! Viora! Are you two alright...!?"

Yelled the little elf girl from the other side of the collapsed wall. "We're fine! Don't worry! Are you lot alright down there?" Asked Drake from the battlements, as he and Viora picked themselves up from the ground. "Thank Aife... It seems we're stuck here! We can't get across the gap!" Elleina and the others were stuck from the keep. Looking down, it was a long way drop. "I can conjure up a way-bridge but the path is too far to reach!" Said the serpent lady as she tried to cite her incantation to summon an illusory bridge. It required a great deal of strength in her part to maintain a tangible way-bridge much more than extending its range. "We have no choice. Lady Eurya! Go around through the ramparts and we'll meet at the ward below!" Yelled Drake, at this point there was no choice but to split up. Since there was no other way around. "All right, be cautious, Drake!" , "Likewise! Now go!" Without anymore second to spare, the party split up. Drake and Viora made their way down the ramparts to the ward; while Lady Eurya, Elleina and Vovin made their way to the other side of the keep to join up with the young knight.

"P-please..."

The severely wounded Aldamas soldier crawled back as two shadows approached him. Beaten and bloodied, the poor unarmed grunt was in the grip of sheer terror. And from the looks of it, he put up a good fight. "I-I s-su-surrender... please just don't k-kill me...!" The fear of death was strangling him by the neck that he was stuttering off his helm. Tears and sweat soaked him face as one of the two figures approached him. "Humans... fighting with feign courage upon the face of the battlefield." The figure revealed his identity, the Red-Hand of the dravians. The menacing dravian then jerked his arm forward, grabbing the wounded soldier but his breastplate; with his claws punctured through the steel like a hook. "To step on the battlefield means to accept the gift of a glorious death. You cowards have no place in Vaolan's grounds." His eyes glared at the wounded soldier like a predator about to devour its prey. "P-please let me live... my daughter is waiting for me. I don't want to be in this place anymore... lock me up--do whatever y-you want! J-just please let me live." The soldier couldn't help but broke into tears, fearing he won't get to see his family again. "The moment you step on the battlefield, there will be no one waiting for you." The Red-Hand clenched his claws and unfurled his elbow scythe then imbued it with fire element. The sound of a roaring flame rang through the wounded soldier's ears as he was about to be released in the Red-Hand's mercy; with decapitation.

"Auvan! Brother!!!"

A strikingly familiar voice suddenly was heard from afar as it called the Red-Hand by his true name, Auvan. This made the iron grip of the Red-Hand loosen up a bit, and lower the wounded soldier at his mercy. Both Auvan and the hooded mercenary looked ahead as they saw Viora running towards them. But she was not alone, because she was accompanied by a young knight clad in white coat and armor. "Viora! Is that you?!" His eyes widened as he saw his younger sister, utterly surprised.

"Wait. The Golden Dragon... S-Ser Hauer!"

The wounded soldier easily recognized the young knight's presence. The Red-Hand looked at the wounded soldier as he called out the young knight's identity; with little effort, the red dravian threw the wounded soldier aside like bloody trash. 'Golden Dragon, you say? This should be interesting...' Thought the hooded mercenary. He had heard of the epithet before, that the one who holds the title always strikes fear and commands respect in the Aldamas Empire; but much to his disbelief, that title belonged to a green-looking knight.

"Your title means nothing! Now you're taking hostages!? Dishonorable scum..."

With a rage-filled fist, he unfurled both his elbow-scythes and took stance; believing that Drake was one of them and he had taken his younger sister to use as leverage against them. "No brother, this is not what it--" Viora attempted to reached out but it was too late, the scythes were already drenched in flames and now hungers for blood. "I would admit, this is not what I had in mind, but if this fella desires a fight, how can I deny?" The hooded mercenary locked and loaded his firearms and took stance too.

"Rrroooaagh!!!"

Darting fast, Auvan scorched through the ground as he zoomed towards Drake. At this point, they had no choice but to fight. Drake brandished his white blade and clashed steel with the fearsome Red-Hand of the dravians.

---------

Alt arrived at in the middle of the offensive lines of both sides where the heat of battle was way past its boiling point. This should be the part where he goes wild with blood lust, but instead, the wanderer eased up and relaxed his whole physical frame. He pegged his mechanical scabbard back to his back-hip and closed his eyes. He breathed easy and let his senses take over.

Zen Kankaku...

With his senses took over, he tapped into his innate power to augment his senses to heightened levels. Tapping into his Zen, his center of power to sense the battlefield around him. The Zen Kankaku is a Zen art of observation and sense, it gives the practitioner the ability to tap into the essence of your surroundings; allowing him/her to sense the presence of other beings even if they are hidden from view or too far see naturally. The user can also predict an opponent's move shortly before they can make them, thereby making it easier for the user to evade and formulate countermeasures against them. It appears that the more killing intent the enemy has, the easier they are to predict. Although, those who mastered it, like Alt himself, can predict future moves whether there are ambient murderous intents or not.

Slowly, Alt opened his eyes and everything in his vision seemed to all move in a very slow motion; like the entire world is swallowed by a massive time disruption. But in reality, he was moving so fast, that his mere walking is now equivalent of an individual running at full speed. Alt calmly walked through the slow-motioned environment, pushing opposing individuals, dravian and empire soldier alike, with just a tap of his two fingers. Moving at this speed will increase his blows by 10 fold. A mere tap would equate to being hit with a battering ram. As he passed through the both opposing sides' deadlock, he would jut his two fingers and hit everyone he comes across through their pressure points, temporary paralyzing them. At the same time, being sent flying and knocked back by the amplified momentum.

Alt searched around the battlefield, when he suddenly found himself surrounded by opposition from both the Dravian-Mercenary army and the Aldamas battalion. All of them with their blades raised, and ready to lunge at Alt any second. "Sigh..." He sighed as he scratched his head, "Listen, let's just drop the weapons down and back away. Nobody gets a piercing headache, and we all walk away happy from this. Win-win for us, yeah? Good deal right?" With a pathetic attempt, he tries to reason the bloodthirsty opposition like Drake does. Alt was never the reasoning type because he never had a very persuasive disposition to begin with. Oddly enough, both sides paused and looked at each other. 'Oh wow, it worked? I hope so...' The wanderer thought as he saw that his reason was getting through them.

"Get him!"

Apparently it failed, spectacularly. The surrounding opposition altogether jumped and charged at him. "Ugh... I think I need to look into negotiations 101 more." Much to his dismay, Alt may be a formidable fighter but he fails at the vocal department. If only he were as persuasive as his late father.

Ouzen...

Suddenly, all opposition fell, knocked out cold where they stand. Without Alt even lifting a finger, all surrounding 5 mile radius were either knocked out cold or abruptly fell on their knees and bums like they were whacked with a solid brick, flabbergasted. Alt had unleashed Ouzen, a powerful form of the Zen art. Ouzen or Complete Domination, this form of Zen, allows the user to overpower wills and spirit of others knocking them out around him/her. And when the victims of the Ouzen wakes up, they will have a very painful headache. Those who have a strong will and spirit can resist this Zen. Users who mastered this Zen form can knock people out in a wide mile radius and even knock single person out selectively; and put a huge strain on a person who can resist it.

"Ugh..."

The Aldamas Soldier, bloodied and beaten. His armor obliterated by the massive swings of the dravian chieftain's mace. His left hand, crushed into a bloody mess; painstakingly crawling to a nearby rock. He struggled as he sat up and lean on to the rock while surrounded by the bodies of his comrades and enemies. He looked at the high almighty sun and took a moment to savor the silence he hears from his now-deaf ears. Heaving painfully as blood drips down his wrecked armor from his mouth. He reached his right hand into his mail and pulled out a blood-stained locket. He opened it, revealing a picture of a beautiful woman dressed in a simple blouse and skirt. "I'm sorry... Marie..." The soldier whispered in his seemingly dying breath as he caressed the picture of the woman.

As he looked at the woman's picture, a tall, vicious horned visage approached him with quaking steps with her mace over her shoulders. It was the dravian chieftain, her talons dug through the soil as she makes her step towards the wounded soldier. "Please... give me a quick death. My honor is assured, dravian." The soldier bowed his head and accepted his fate and the dravian chieftain didn't questioned it. She raised her huge long mace about to deliver the killing blow. With a full force she slammed her mace with bracing impact. The dravian chieftain felt her mace's impact upon the poor soul. The impact blew dust all over the field, engulfing it with a cloud of sandy fog.

"...!?"

The dravian chieftain as in utter shock as the dust cloud cleared. Her huge mace was blocked by a black clad figure, the wanderer, Alt himself. That impact could have crushed bones and bent steel but Alt just stopped it with his bare hand. The dravian chieftain tried to get her mace's head off Alt's grip but even with both her hands, she can't. Even her with great physical strength among her people. Alt shoved the mace back and then connects a spinning back fist to the chieftain. She saw the attack coming, she tried to block it but she was easily overwhelmed by the impact of the blow. She was sent sliding through the dirt with considerable distance. The dravian chieftain's scaled arms were shaken by the attack, she blocked it but it overwhelmed her.

Alt took a moment to kneel down before the wounded soldier. He placed his fingers carefully on the soldier's jugular area, there was still a pulse, he was still alive. He then caught a glimpse of the soldier's locket and saw a picture of a woman. "I'm sorry buddy. You're not dying here while you still have something to live for and someone worth fighting for." Alt tipped his black cap as a nod of respect.

"And who are you?"

The dravian chieftain began to spoke as she leaned her mace over her shoulders. "If you are that human's comrade, you empire scum should know better not to trespass our territory!" She pointed at Alt, as she declared. Alt ignored her declaration and slowly stood up. "Who am I?" Alt cracked his black knuckles as he walked towards the dravian chieftain.

"I'm here to stop this nonsensical violence."

"What makes you think---"

"--or so help me, I will make you kiss the ground many times over until you do."



TO BE CONTINUED...
 

KingdomKey

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A whole lot went on in this chapter! Alt is still my favorite among the group. I like his fight against the Black Knight and Zweifried. I also like how Elle asked Alt for advice on wooing a boy. Speaking of said boy, Drake sure isn't noticing the infatuation of Elle or Viroa. I feel like there's a hint there with Viroa, but it might just be a love-hate type of relationship; where they both stay friends? That aside, Ymierre's deal with Drake is worrisome. I didn't think his own descendants would have to forgo their own souls to her too. Alt seems to know a lot about the ethereal woman to some degree. Or perhaps contracts? Otherwise, the background story with house Eiornhardt was an intriguing one. I imagine this is the fate that ties Alt together with Drake somehow? This was a fantastic read overall. I really look forward to seeing how Alt deals with this dravian chieftain. Wonderfully done overall, Tyrant!
 

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Chapter 6: Duel At Titan's Cross

A medium to suppress a charging army from further bloodshed... I would have to admit, just the sound of it rings impossibility. As much as possible, I want to hold my blade back and my hands clean, not to be stained by the blood of others. But like the old man once said, "A sword keeps others' sheathed" such is the teachings of the Alteisen Code of Honor.



No matter how much I deny it and change it, the reality still stands like a proud mountain. This was the reality, mother ran away from, what she refused to accept. Hence her self-exile, and her stroke of making the Jyuuken; an art of creation, mending and harmony. Hence my mantra, to use my abilities for the benefit of others without the use of force.And each day, I struggle to uphold that ideal--defeated in every turn. But I won't give up, because this is the least I can do to honor mother's memory, her battle and her legacy.


--------


The Dravian Chieftain and the Wanderer faced off in the middle of the battlefield. As the two saw each other eye to eye, the dravian-mercenary ranks seem to stop and couldn't help but peer at the two dominant figures standing on the battle-ridden ground. Even the rest of the Aldamas ranks joined in as they found the situation so curious that they would just stop and watch. The empire's army would pour reinforcements from Azalond Fortress itself but there was a separate commotion inside the garrison as well.


Soon, the bruised and battered soldiers gather round the two adversaries like audience to a colliseum match. The air became thicker than it already was, hearts pounding and sweats rolling, yet the two adversaries stood calm and steadfast.


"K'an Alt!"


Bulv was about to step in but he was too late. He immediately recognized his chieftain's bond. It was the Bond of Challenge, an aura that dravians project when meeting a worthy foe, an aura that can only be seen by other dravians like himself. But what surprises him, was over hundreds of years, they never saw their chieftain project such aura. This was the first time in an era did their respected lady chieftain manifest the Bond of Challenge.


Within a considerable distance, the chieftain slowly walked around Alt, observing her enemy from head to toe. It may not look like it but she was in awe yet puzzled with Alt's physical presence. The mechanical armor and even his body or frame of ancient technology, and the subtle glowing trims on his artificial musculature. Like Drake and other denizens of Arealia so far, she too found Alt such an odd fellow. She couldn't pinpoint if he's human, or any other race she could think of, despite her time in their world. Never she saw anyone like Alt, or anyone alive like him.


"Who are you?"


The chieftain asked again, despite the negative response of the question begot earlier. "You don armor not akin to other humans of any kingdoms and empires for that matter." The fierce chieftain dropped her mace to the ground, easing her grip on her huge weapon. The weight of her armament created a weak yet significant tremor around them. A gesture of intimidation by the chieftain herself. A fairly trembling intimidation, but Alt was not shaken by it one bit. He was still staring at the fearsome lady chieftain with straight eyes. Not glaring, not scowling nor brooding but just a look that can easily pierce through a soul.


"Who am I... is of no importance."


The two began walking slowly in a circle, like two predators about to duel. "--at least not yet." Alt said in a almost whispering tone, tipping his black metal cap slightly. "Because like I said, I'm here to stop the river of blood from flowing any further." He stopped at his pace and rested his black arm upon his mechanical scabbard, hanging from his back hip. "The imposing aura, the fierce gait, the strength. I would assume you are the head of this clan." The wanderer smirked as he went down to brass tacks on the lady chieftain. "You have a keen eye for a human." She chuckled, slightly impressed by Alt's observation. "Yes I lead the K'toa Clan, the mighty sword of our revered, Vaolan. If you are to stop us then you are wise to have approached me." Suddenly, the lady chieftain tightened her grip and slammed her mace to the ground creating a tremor that sent every individual with weak footing, tumble down to their hinds.


"But you will have convince me through your strength and blade."


She placed her mace in front of her and knelt down with her weapon. "Ok'alan!", "Chieftain!" This sudden gesture sent the men and women, warrior ranks of the dravian army into a panic fit, yet the mercenary ranks and even Alt were puzzled. The term "Ok'alan" in the old tongue is synonymous to Chieftain, this is their commonly used title as one gesture of respect for the one who leads. "Be quiet!!!" With a thunderous tone, and with one shout, she silenced the outraged crowd. This only shows how much power and respect the lady chieftain commands at her clan.


"If you are to persuade me then, I challenge you to a blood-duel!"


The lady chieftain proclaimed, with all her pride laid out in front of Alt.


The Blood-duel is the ultimate test of worthiness in Dravian culture. This is how they settle matters, towards outsiders. These duels are usually conducted by any member of the warrior caste. They do battle with an outsider and each blood shed are honored by their revered god. And depending on the size of the matter, it will also depend who will the outsider fight. Meaning the larger the matter, the stronger the member of the warrior caste he/she would have to face.


They can even challenge the Chieftain and the Red-hand. The objective of the duel are either to draw and inflict as many cuts as possible until the opponent can no longer take it; or to knock your opponent down until he/she can no longer get up. Usually, it's the outsider does the kneel and challenge; but in this case, its the chieftain herself that was offering the challenge.


Alt chuckled at the gesture, much to the lady chieftain's surprise. "Well ain't irony so adorable. I should be the one offering the gesture." He scratched his head, ruffling his spiky hair under his metal cap. "But, who am I to say no?" Alt slowly swung his left leg, sliding the tip of his landings through the dusty ground. Performing a very fluid Ba Gua stance. "A wise decision." said the lady chieftain as she rose from her knees and kicked his huge mace as she took stance. "I take what I can get. So shall I have this dance?" A slight tease and provocation by the wanderer as he took caution to wind of the battlefield. With a blink of an eye, the two clashed with massive impact.


----------------




"Rrrraaagh...!!!"


The Red-Hand roared as he unleashed relentless flurry of infernal attacks against Drake. The young knight struggled a bit on his opponent's pace because he didn't want to inflict serious damage to him, because he was Viora's beloved sibling, her brother. He was fighting on a sheathed blade, holding his strength back and careful with his every step.


Auvan launched himself forward, his elbow scythes blazing. Unleashing infernal barrages left and right, putting serious pressure on Drake. The heat generated by his scythes makes the attacks hard to predict, because it was making the air thick; the young knight couldn't read the incoming air current.

"Haagh!"



The Red-hand flipped forward and performed a twisting double slash. "Tch!" Drake barely blocked it, he can feel the heat searing through the steel of his armor. "Wide open!" Auvan growled as the roaring flames blazed through Drake's defense. The young knight didn't saw the incoming connecting blow. "Argh!" Drake was blown away by the Red-Hand's flaming scythe uppercut. As he tumbled away, he immediately regained his balance. Sweat dripped to the dusty ground, the heat was almost suffocating.


"You may as well give up, human."


Auvan approached the young knight with both his claws and scythes bathed in flames; a visage of an aspect of rage. "Drake--!!!" Viora was about to step up but was stopped by two shots fired in front of her. "Uh-uh-uh! I wouldn't do that if I were you, little miss." Said the hooded mercenary as he waved his gun in front of her. "Grrr..." The dravian ka'l twirled her bone chakrams and took stance. "Who are you anyway?! You have no business here, mercenary!" Growled Viora to the hooded mercenary, prowled like a wildcat to her prey. "I'm wounded, but me and your Chieftain had an understanding! Maybe I'll take her out to dinner tonight..." He cracked sarcastically, displaying his utmost crude humor. This made the already furious Viora, more agitated like an enraged wyvern.


"You will pay for your disrespect!!!"


With a single flash, she appeared in point-blank range with her body tensed and about to deliver an attack. The speed and the sudden movement was overwhelming that the hooded mercenary was startled for a split-second. He didn't felt anything, the movement of the wind nor footsteps; the dravian girl just appeared before him with a blink of an eye. "Oops!" The mercenary blocked her chakram with his firearm like a blunt weapon. Viora's attacks were as relentless as her brother, Auvan and faster too. Using her hand-to-hand skills, she connects a series of multi-connecting blows to her enemy like a deadly whirling dervish. The mercenary did his best to gain distance but she was too fast that she closes the gap in a mere snap.


"Hmph!" The Red-Hand grunted as he clashed blades with the young knight. "Please, I do not wish to fight you. I did not kidnapped your sister! Listen to what I have to say!" A bit frustrated and aggravated, Drake struggled keep his grip on his blade. He was struggling to pull his blade back, and with an opponent like Auvan, his life and the life of others was at stake. "You draw your blade, you risk your life..." Auvan looked at him dead in the eye, "The blade is for action, not for words. Now--fight!!!" The dravian overpowered the young knight and shoved him back. In an instant, he unleashed a string of rapid strikes like his sister, a fatal symphony of a fierce flaming scythe dance. Jumping and somersaulting from all directions while delivering fearsome, flaming strikes.


A formidable fighting style of the Dravians, the Vao-Zakon, which translates to Law of Blood. This fighting style involves fierce and relentless strikes in continuous rhythm. Every member of the warrior caste is taught and trained with this discipline. The main strength of this style is derived from sheer close quarter combat and deadlocks. The objective of the continuous rhythm and pace is to tire the enemy out, giving them no chance to strike back, retaliate or counter-attack.


The practitioner wears his/her adversary down until he/she torn the enemy into shreds. The fighting style itself requires a great deal of effort, focus and physical stamina as you deliver countless strikes, which favors the Dravians greatly, because of their extraordinary strength and endurance. Only the most skillful and the higher class of the warrior caste are able to do different variations of the said discipline; like Auvan who uses fire element in conjunction with it or Viora who uses unpredictable pacing.


Drake, using the extent of his fast reflexes, did his best to deflect and block everything that were thrown at him. Keeping his opponent on a very complicated and deathly deadlock. Keeping his opponent's flaming scythes at bay. Because he knew if Auvan did so much as to even scratch his armor, it would melt the steel right off from the intense heat.As the young knight clashes two to three strikes in a row, he twirled his blade airborne, catches it and plummets it to the ground. The ground exploded with an overwhelming force that was enough to push the Red-Hand back, breaking his rhythm in the process. "If fighting is what you seek and the only way to speak with then you leave me no choice. I will protect them no matter what!" Drake's patience had hit its limit, his eyes now emit a glow similar to when he's in the heat of battle. In an instant, Drake spun his blade and twirled it up, holing it on a back-hand grip.


"Hah!"


With a full swing, he swung his sword forward, launching a creeping blade projectile in the process. "Hmph!" As the Red-Hand saw through it, he channeled his energy upon his claws manifested upon the swirling torrent of flames. Then with a powerful blast, he fired a super-heated shock wave that countered the incoming projectile. As Auvan was about to charge in towards the flames and smoke, he was caught by surprise when the white knight, who came bursting out; full of fighting spirit than earlier and with his sword bathed in residual flames from his spell earlier.


The two clashed blades, but this time, Drake initiated the deadlock. The two adversaries clashed rhythms with Drake racing his pace against the Red-Hand. And slowly taking control of the brutal deadlock. "This strength..." Auvan thought as he took notice, "He wasn't like this earlier! Where did he--" Suddenly, his instinct shot up his head and senses. He bent back and stepped a bit to the side to evade. Completely throwing off his combat rhythm. Auvan evaded a full swing of Drake's blade in a mere split-second. Then as he met eyes with him, he saw a different gleam upon the eyes of the young knight. A fearsome gleam like a crippling glare of a dragon. The Red-Hand felt like he was fighting a different foe. Then a few seconds later, a loud crumbling noise was heard just a few miles from their position. Two watch towers cut clean in halves, by the massive cleave of Drake's attack. If Auvan didn't evade that, he could have been cut like meat.


Drake twirled his sword and immediately connects a number of rapid strikes. Slowly outmatching his adversary's rhythm and pace. "Rrroooaaagh!" Performing a complete revolution, Drake built immense momentum that it shattered the stone floor as his blade skid through it. The two fierce adversaries collided with force enough to shake the entire fortress to its foundations. Then with a powerful heave of strength, the fatal lock has been broken. Both combatants repelled each other to a seemingly stalemate. But the young knight having been disarmed, his white sword sent flying up above.


"Now I got--ooh!"


Just when the Red-Hand was about to take advantage to the disarmed and vulnerable Drake, his gut was stricken by a sharp roundhouse kick by the young knight. Using the same momentum as his swing, Drake delivered a powerful roundhouse kick with enough force to send his adversary flying back. "Argh!" The Red-Hand grunted as his body was slammed to the wall. The dravian was sent to his knees. With just one perfectly-placed strike, Drake managed to deal significant damage to the fearsome Red-Hand.


Staggering to get up, the Red-Hand laid his eyes upon the young knight. The shade of the collar of his white armored coat masked Drake's face like a shroud. His golden eyes peered through the blurred shroud, glaring directly at Auvan. Through the dravian's sight he saw nothing but the visage of a dragon's glare. He knew that moment, why Drake was heir-ed "The Golden Dragon". Auvan clenched his claws as it bathed in flames once again, his hatred and rage fueling the fire.


"I... refuse."


His blood boiling, Auvan's arms and scythes now bathed in steel-melting heat. Releasing intense amounts of heat that the stone it touches, charred, sparked, and melted into lava. "I refuse to be defeated!!!" Roared the Red-Hand, his eyes now emitting a fiery red glow. With an explosive aura, he unleashed powerful shock waves of fire throughout his surroundings.

Even though the terrain around them was now being mangled by Drake and Auvan's duel, Viora and the hooded mercenary leader continued their deadlock. A duel of speed, precision and adaptability. The mercenary using the crumbling floors as elevation and distance against the dravian girl, through melee', the mercenary reloads his guns. While Viora uses her rhythm to adapt through the environment as fast as she can blink.



The hooded mercenary aimed his shots at his adversary with pin-point accuracy, as he continue to gain distance with Viora. But as accurate as he may be, the dravian girl makes it up with her lightning-fast reflexes and instinct-based senses. She deflects bullet after bullet, it was almost predictable to her because she knew her enemy was aiming at her vital spots. As she make her forward step, she dart forward with incredible agility that she closed the gap between her and the mercenary in a blink of an eye. Viora then unleashed a graceful blade dance of continuous rhythm with her bone chakrams. She spun around to connect a high then a low swipe then a high knee connecting to a roundhouse kick. She was using her entire body as a weapon. The mercenary saw through the dravian girl's next strike and used its momentum to push himself away from her, gaining distance. He slid through the debris-ridden ground then clicked both his guns revealing long magazines loaded in each. He pulled both hammers and aimed.

"Let's see if you can dance for me, lady." He cracked a vicious smile under the shroud of his hood. The mercenary squeezed both triggers and fired a barrage of rapid fire shots that obliterated stone and debris. Viora's instinct kicked in, as the view of the mercenary came to cognition behind his flowing red scarf. She spun both her chakrams as it was too late to dodge it. She deflect the shots with a high-speed blade dance that was well-synchronized with the mercenary's attack. While at the same time, advancing and closing the gap between her and her adversary. Slowly but surely, Viora closed in with her rhythm unshaken. As she gain point-blank distance, she performed a spinning swipe of her chakrams that was met by the blunt blow of the mercenary's firearm. As both combatants about to connect another attack, their footing was shaken by the sudden explosion just not to far from them.

"Auvan, brother!!!" The dravian girl gasped as she saw her brother, the Red-Hand, at the peak of his rage. She worried when her brother is at this boiling point, he could destroy everything in his path, friend and foe, no one can tame his fires except for her sister the chieftain.



Infernal Gate!


With accumulated heat and intense amounts of mana, Auvan raised his flame-soaked arm slammed it to the ground with such strength that his claws dug through the dirt. The force of the impact cracked the ground and the channeled rage and flames exploded into a super-heated shock wave. "Ah!" The force of the impact pushed both Viora and the hooded mercenary back, clinging on to the debris. The Red-Hand's hatred-filled fury destroyed anything in its wake. Soon, Auvan's attack released a number of flame surges that cuts through stone and destroys anything in its path.


"Brother please stop this--aahh!!!"


The rock debris that Viora sheltered was obliterated. Knocking her down, with a force of a full swung blow of a hammer. As she was about to get up, she felt her leg was stuck on the collapsed debris. Much to her horror, a massive flame surge came scorching through the earth. Amid the attack, Auvan came to, he heard the cry of his sister still in there within the range of his attack. "Viora...!!! No!" He tried to contain his energy but it was too late, the attack had been performed in its peak. Fueled by the fires of his hatred. The very fires that now endanger his sister. Viora could only stare in shock as the flames of his brother's rage consumed all.

"Brother..."

With a single tear shed, she whispered under the muffle of the dense hot air as if she was not prepared to meet her death at the hands of her brother. The entire courtyard was scorched, burned to the ground. As the flames subsided, Auvan frantically searched every debris he came acrossed. "Sister! Sister! Answer me!" The fierce Red-Hand suddenly broke into a panicked, and worried brother. Clawing the burnt debris and calling out for his sister. "No... What have I done...?" The Red-Hand fell on his knees, doused of his fire and enveloped by the shroud of guilt.



Not too far from Auvan, the dravian girl suddenly opened her wide-shut eyes to feel a presence embraced on to her; a presence she's most familiar with. "Drake..?" Viora whispered she met her eyes upon his face. "Ugh... thank--the gods." The young knight muttered in a jittery tone, feeling the intense burn on his back. "Drake? What happened--" The dravian girl gasped as she quickly took notice of his injury. A severe burn that scorched his back, with 3 deep burns like that of blade wounds that melted through his armor. "Drake!!!" She yelled as she sat him up carefully, and Drake in terrible zenith pain.


The dravian girl's yell was heard by his guilt-ridden brother, much to his gladness. But as he approached his sister, Auvan found the wounded young knight beside her. Almost immediately, his blood began to boil again; unfurling his elbow-mount Scythes like large talons. "Viora! Step away from him. I'll finish this quick." Auvan dictated as he towered over the two as he approached with a fearsome gait. As the dravian girl saw his brother approach, she held the young knight in her arms. As he took another step, his instinct shot up for an imminent danger. Using his instant reflex, he flipped back as he evaded three fiery projectiles that was aimed at him. As he was about to retaliate, the Red-Hand's path was impeded by a trailing astral field, forming an illusory wall.


"Drake!"


A familiar voice rang from the far distance. Elleina and Lady Eurya arrived on Viora and Drake's side but were too late. Not far behind them was the praetorian, Vovin accompanied by Ymierre herself. "You can have an army arrive and I'll burn them all down, Golden Dragon!" Auvan again channeled his mana to create intense amounts of fire from his scythes.


"I said that's enough brother!"


A clear shout was heard from Viora, "How long are you planning to fight a meaningless fight? What victory are you even trying to achieve!?" Words had finally reached her brother's ears as she stood up to face Auvan, her brother himself. "This man had sacrificed so much just so he could save our clan from being dismembered by the empire. We owed our lives for him, and not one bit he asked for anything in return!" The dravian girl said, becoming sobby in her tone. Tears of sadness and frustration began falling down her beautiful eyes. "Auvan, brother--please stop this... by Vaolan's blade, he's not our enemy. Look around you, brother! If we do not stop this, everyone, all of our clan--all those we held dear will die!" Viora exclaimed as she looked straight into her brother's hate-filled eyes. Her conviction firm and her honor stands strong. "Viora..." Auvan finally eased up and extinguished his scythes; retracting them back.


"Auvan, I presume?"


Drake stood up from his wounded state. "Drake--" Elleina was about to stop him but he gestured that he's fine. Revealing his wounds were but a scratch and the burn just melted his armor; just barely scratched his back. "It is not too late to retreat, gather your forces. The rest of your clan awaits for you at an encampment we established beside Oakenstead." His composure gained, Drake was back to his old self. His golden eyes no longer gleam of bloodlust. The young knight was still bitter in the eyes of the vicious Red-Hand; his clenched his claws as he laid eyes on Drake. "Please brother." Viora held her brother's hand with her comforting touch, and looked at him with eyes that showed Viora begging to him to heed her call. "Hmph, do not think I trust you yet, human." Auvan scoffed as he looked at the young knight, the same way Viora did when she first met him.

"Of course not. You do this for Viora, and your people, yes? I do not mind. You are more trustworthy this way."



Even though he mistrusted Drake, the young knight still kept his stance and his sense of honor, justified. "But I do not lead the forces, our elder sister, the Chieftain of our clan leads us." The Red-Hand pointed out. If they were to marshal the entire dravian ranks, then they would have to approach the chieftain herself. "Very well, lead us to her." Drake nodded.


"Argh..."


A loud grunt was heard, not too far from them. From the pile of debris, rose the mercenary leader whom Viora fought earlier. His hood and scarf torn and his identity in view, clear as day. Drake and the party turned to face the mercenary. Viora and the others were on high alert, their hands gripping their hilts tight. "Your arm!" The young knight immediately noticed the mercenary's right arm that was once wrapped in bandages. Now burned and worn off by Auvan's last attack. The mercenary lowered his right arm, and the torn and burnt bandages fell loose on the ground.


"Th-That's--!!!", "The Grip of Zorrkhan!"

Viora and Lady Eurya immediately recognized the gothic gauntlet that the mercenary donned. The cursed gauntlet glow green upon its trims and resonated black vapor like it was dipped in freezing darkness. "Heh, well I'll be." The mercenary leader held his right arm where he donned the cursed gauntlet. "I'd love to stay and chat but apologies, I have place to go!" With a brush of his red scarf, he instantly zoomed off with blurred speed, scaling the debris-ridden surroundings and even scaling the fortress walls like a slippery serpent. "Wait!" Drake tried to go after him but the wielder was too fast to be followed. "Curses. We'll go after him some other time. It's imperative we take care of the dravian army's retreat." Even though, he was tasked by Elder Mayani to find the cursed gauntlet, the safety of the Mystic Marches must come first.



As the party moved out, Drake turned to Elleina. He knelt down and held the little elf girl by the shoulder, which startled Elle a little. "Elleina, go with Ymierre. Secure the path towards Oakentead, while the rest of us will attend to the Chieftain at the front lines." Drake said to the little elf girl. "But Drake! I--" , "Do not worry, I'm not telling you to run. I am issuing you an order. It is crucial that we secure the path back to Oakenstead camp. I am entrusting you this responsibility. So can I count you on this, m'lady?" Elle was about to oppose the notion until Drake elaborated her duty. Without anymore second thoughts, she nodded in glee. "Vovin! Let's go!" She called to her guardian. "This way, Elleina." The ethereal woman went ahead to lead the elf girl out of the fortress.

"You will come back safe, yes?"



She asked, with a mark of great concern for the young knight. "Like I always do." He smiled, sending a warm reassurance to Elleina. As the little elf girl nodded, Elleina and Ymierre made their way out of the fortress together with Vovin.




------------------




The once bloody and noisy battlefield was now still. Both sides, the dravian-mercenary army and the empire's Azalond battalion laid down their arms to witness the clash of two of the most powerful warriors to ever stepped in Titan's Cross. They all surrounded the two warriors like that of a coliseum audience. They knew better than to do battle and get in the way of these powerful adversaries on the field. The adversaries were the mighty lady chieftain of the K'toan dravian clan, and the wanderer in the black clad, Alt.


The dravian chieftain, who seemed to be aggravated and holding her dragonbone mace with a firm grip. Sweat rolling down her cheek beneath her bone helm, breathing heavily not because of exhaustion but because of disbelief. Alt, on the other hand, kept his stance and his demeanor calm and still like water. Unlike in his previous battles, he kept his mechanical scabbard clipped on his back hip and using nothing but his fist--his entire physical body as means of defense and offense.

As the wind blew, Alt suddenly felt an incoming presence coming from the fortress itself. Moving at great speeds and was moving towards him. With the help of his keen senses, he saw a the mercenary leader stride through the shadows. Others may not see but Alt saw him as clear as day. The mercenary leader passed beside Alt with an unseen speed. Before the wielder of the cursed gauntlet disappear in the wanderer's sight, Alt caught glimpse of the fleeing mercenary's arm. It was for a brief moment but he clearly felt the aura of corruption forming around the mercenary's gauntlet. He would go after him but Alt had things still needs tending, like the duel between him and the lady chieftain.



"Haaaarrrgh...!!!"


The fierce lady chieftain of the dravian army roared. With quaking steps, she charged towards Alt like an angry beast. Alt stood ready and slowly took stance as his adversary close in. Immediately she unleashed a string to lighting fast swings with her mace. In addition to her swift entry, the lady chieftain still retains her destructive prowess and relentless might. Wielding a seemingly heavy weapon with such grace and efficiency, like she was wielding a a light weapon. Like her siblings, Auvan and Viora, her fighting style was the same as theirs. A combined speed of Viora and the potent attacks and blows of Auvan's; only more powerful. The relentless string of multi-connecting blows in conjunction to her destructive ability to wield a heavy weapon. Hence the title of being the strongest among her clan, the chieftain.


The lady chieftain may be the strongest but her technique was leagues behind the wanderer's, Alt's technique. Matching her pace, rhythm and predicting her swings, Alt weaved and evaded each swing of her mace.


Jyuuken Ryudo


The Jyuuken or Gentle fist style, a passive and the most effective defensive stance of the Shin Muteki-ryu. One that was mastered and taught by Alt's mother. In this case, Alt used one of its branches, the Ryudo or Flowing Stream stance. The Jyuuken Ryudo involves the practitioner being on a complete blank state of mind and using the opponent's own stance to predict the next move the opponent is going to make. Moving the same rhythm and pace as as your opponent's, the same stance he used when Alt fought Zweifried and the Black Knight. It shares the same attribute as Zen Kankaku but a direct one. And since the lady chieftain's style is derived from continuous strikes, it makes all the more easy for Alt to evade her attacks.


Alt weaved through the relentless barrage with ease like a strand of wheat bending through the wind. The wanderer's movements were almost mesmerizing, as he used his reflex to dodge point-blank assaults. Instead of a backward pace, Alt slowly circled his opponent, controlling the battlefield on a defensive stance. "Grrr... Haagh!" The lady chieftain became aggravated as she connects powerful ground slams together with her vicious assault; an attempt to throw her opponent's footing off. Even her swings grinds through the ground due to the powerful momentum, creating crags like a dragon's claw being scratched through the ground. But sadly, it was ineffective due to the nature of the Flowing Stream stance.


"Sister!"


Viora along with Drake and the others emerged from the crowd to the front row. "No..." The dravian girl gasped as she felt her elder sister's Bond of Challenge burned as hot as the surface of the sun. "No! Sister stop this--!!!" Viora yelled some more, hoping her voice could reach her. "It's useless, Viora." Auvan the Red-Hand stepped forward and placed his hand over his sister's, "Her bond is at its peak. Any moment now, she'll be unstoppable." He said to Viora, fully aware of their chieftain's full potential. "Although what baffles me... if she's at her peak then her opponent would be grinded to dust by now." The Red-Hand wondered, now even him taking an interest to the lady chieftain's opponent, the black-clad wanderer, Alt.


Among the dravian army ranks, Bulv and his warband emerged from the crowd and hurriedly joined Viora and Auvan. "K'al Viora! Vaozan!" The dravian warrior called the attention of both the dravian girl and the Red-Hand. Addressing Auvan as Vaozan, or Red-Hand in the old tongue. "K'an Alt and the chieftain were at each others' throats for more than an hour now." The old warrior said, catching his breath as his heart beats with both euphoria and worry. "--An hour?!" Auvan was immediately shocked by how long this black clad has been fighting. "That's impossible!", "It's true, Loaka'n Vaozan." Bulv slightly bowed his head as a sign of respect and truthfulness to his word. "She herself offered the challenge towards K'an Alt. Our chieftain herself went down on her knees to challenge him!" He concluded, saying it as he saw it, plain and simple. Yet the both siblings were still thrown to disbelief that their sister herself, the most powerful in their clan would kneel to challenge the unknown wanderer. 'She must have a reason why she did the gesture. But what does this stranger have that made her take the role of the challenger...?' The dravian girl thought.


Both Viora and Auvan were surprised how well Alt controlled the battlefield. Even up against the most powerful in their tribe. "Who is he? What is he? No human alive had the capability to ride the full brute strength of our sister." Viora asked, amazed and impressed at the same time. Though she knew Alt was with Drake, Viora was completely unaware of his capabilities. "That is our friend, Alt." Drake stepped forward, at ease and reassured. "Through the short time he's been with us, he has done a number of nigh-impossible feats with ease. Faced enemies I wouldn't dare face, and conquered impossible odds with efficiency. I wouldn't underestimate him so easily." Drake declared, announcing his confidence towards the wanderer himself. Glad that Alt was at the beck and call of the young knight and the party, whenever he's needed the most.


"--I wouldn't be so sure of that."


Auvan suddenly made an abrupt remark. "I wouldn't underestimate our chieftain either. She was the first female chieftain in the history of our kind. The prophesied second coming of our god, thrice-blessed by our lord Vaolan. Blessed with the strength to move mountains, the will to lead a charging army, and the visage of the god of war himself." Auvan said, reliving the battles he fought side-by-side with her and the accomplishments she achieved as a warrior caste. "It's true. When she was tasked to offer the blood of a hundred enemies, she returned with a thousand slain. She always performed beyond what was expected of her. Hence, she was annointed chieftain." Viora expressed her worry for her sister's opponent.


The lady chieftain unleashed a full swing of her mace, with momentum powerful enough to topple a fortress wall. Alt, using his lightning reflexes, bent his trunk backwards, evading the attack at a split-second. In the midst of his dodge, he used his black arms to redirect the impact of the swing and mimicking the attack's movement as means to evade. He then twisted around and flipped to the side. In mid-flip, he caught a glimpse of the lady chieftain looking at him dead in his eyes.


As soon as Alt lands on his flip, she quickly shifted her grip on her mace and immediately shifted her footing. Delivering an over-head bash with her mace. There was no time to dodge, and no margin to evade. Alt took the blow directly to his head. As the blow touches his head, the lady chieftain smiled as she felt the full force of her mace hit directly at her elusive opponent. But as Alt's head was slowly pushed down towards the ground, he let out a slight smirk. Then with a split-second reflex, he used the downward momentum of the blow as leverage to spin his entire body, performing a perfect reverse moonsault. So instead of taking the full impact, Alt used the momentum and potential impact as his own, delivering a full 360 degree axe kick that hit directly towards the lady chieftain's helm. As soon as his counter connected, Alt quickly shifted back into stance.


Ryudo no Modorryu


A newer variation of the Flowing Stream stance developed by Alt himself. Ryudo no Modorryu or Flowing Stream of the Returning Dragon. Instead of mimicking the enemy's momentum to evade incoming attacks, the practitioner uses the enemy's own momentum as a weapon. Using and channeling the same force and impact of one blow to execute a counter-attack.

The dravian army including Viora and Auvan were shocked, the first one to land a blow on their chieftain. "Grrr...!!!" The lady chieftain growled as she immediately charged right at Alt. Again, she unleashed a relentless assault to her enemy. But each blow connected was caught by Alt then parried it back to her. With each swing of her mace, punch and kick was reciprocated with sharp and precise blows upon her body.



"Fall!"


The lady chieftain twirled her bone mace and with full force, she swung it forth. The powerful momentum of her swing scraped the ground. Alt raised his knee and caught the attack. He then spun around and stretched out his right leg where he caught the momentum. As his black armored leg swung, it also created a momentum so powerful that it scraped the very earth itself. Alt then connects a powerful roundhouse kick as a counter-attack, hitting his opponent by her gut. The impact pierced through her body like an invisible spear. The force was enough to send an individual crashing through the earthen walls of the canyon but the lady chieftain held her stance and endured the impact; pushing her only back a few feet. As she was about to retaliate, her eyes widened as she saw Alt returning into stance but not yet done with his counter-attack. With gathered energy from his opponent's attacks, Alt quickly channeled it upon his palm. With a shift of a foot and stance, he unleashed a powerful palm blast that hit the lady chieftain with a compressed blast of her every blow being returned to her ten fold. "Uagh!" She grunted as she took the full impact, sending her on to her knees.


"Sister!!!"


Both siblings were shocked along with the crowd. Overwhelmed both by the impact of Alt's attack and the lady chieftain being floored. Viora was about to rush in to her sister's aid but she was suddenly stopped by his brother. Viora gasped before she could utter a word. A gripe of fear suddenly spread among the dravian ranks as they felt altogether, a very heavy, very powerful surge of energy coming from their chieftain herself. "Sister..." The dravian girl could only utter a muffled mutter. "Bulv, gather and marshal the warriors of the clan and retreat towards the east end of the canyon.", "Understood, Vaozan." Auvan immediately issued not a retreat order but a full evacuation of their ranks. Aware of the impending danger yet to come for them. Without anymore second to spare, Bulv and his band immediately scattered to regroup with the rest of their clan.


The young knight quickly noticed the sense of urgency that suddenly griped Bulv, as they head out in a hurry. "What's going on? What's about to happen?" Drake was alerted by the Red-Hand's order. Curious yet anxious at the same time on what was about to happen. "Your friend has angered our chieftain. The Blood of the Ancients has been awakened within her." Grim with his tone, Auvan explained what was in store for the black-clad wanderer.


"The Blood of the Ancients, our own state of divine enlightenment. Few dravian are born with this power. In this state we channel our rage upon ourselves and the god of war grants us a portion of his very own power; at the cost of pure bloodlust. At this point, our sister won't recognize friend or foe. She will destroy everything in her path, it will be the end of us and your friend."


Auvan stated, a very dark and grim warning. Cold sweat rolling down his cheek. "I remember when she first entered this state when we were running from Ryushuu continent." The Red-Hand could only close his eyes as he reminisced that tragic moment of their lives as siblings.


----------


Our pursuers had caught up with us and we were heavily outnumbered. Desperate to protect us and our fellow refugees, she fought valiantly against our pursuers. It was then from the heat of battle did it awakened. We saw her mutilate the pursuers one by one with her bare claws. Then she turned on us and began slaughtering the ones she was supposed to protect. We couldn't stop her, she finally came to when she had her claws on a vice grip to my neck.


She fell to her knees and looked at the bodies she had piled. Our sister cried, consumed with guilt that she couldn't protect us. That she gave in to the rage and bloodlust. since that day, she vowed that she will never enter that state again, and I will fight her battles for her as the Red-Hand of the clan.


----------


"We have failed her vow. Now we have to get out of here before she kill every last one of us." Auvan concluded. As he was about to turn his back, Drake grabbed his shoulder. "If you were to abandon your chieftain, then you only prove that you are incapable of leading these brave men and women." The young knight remarked, his golden eyes looked straight unto Auvan's. "What!?" The Red-Hand shoved Drake's hand off his shoulder. "You don't seem to understand, human. If our chieftain reaches her full apotheosis then we have no chance of surviving her wrath! I care for our people and care for my elder sister! Enough to not let my clan be felled by the hands of our own chieftain!" The dravian sternly exclaimed. "Then, if you are true to your vow, you will not turn your back on her. She trusted you to be there and that's what you should do. Not as a Red-Hand, but as a brother." With a firm stance, Drake insisted that Auvan stay. The Red-Hand couldn't help but bow his head, gritting his teeth and clenching his claws tightly. He was reluctant but he couldn't but agree with the young knight. He turned his attention back into the fight.


Back in the battlefield, the lady chieftain slowly stood up after being felled to her knees by Alt. As she stood up, her aura became more and more foreboding and the energy pressure was so intense that every living soul around them felt it. Fear, anxiety and helplessness before her growing presence; except for a select few, Alt and Drake. She raised her head revealing the entire left side of her bone helm was shattered. Fragments of her helm cut her cheek. As she stood up, she wobbled a bit from the dizziness; dealt by Alt's blow. "I... am Kiva. The second coming of the god of war..." Her fighting spirit rapidly swelled by ten-fold. Suddenly, the ground she was stepping on began to shake, a powerful series of vibration resonated from her. And with it, her shattered helm disintegrated, revealing her face and her jet black hair falling down on her shoulders and her very profound horns.

As she clenched her claws, her muscles began to slightly expand and her height increased. Her scales protrude like small bony quills; horns began growing longer and becoming red. Her hair also drastically increased volume, and becoming bright red. Her eyes now flooded with blood, becoming red with anger.



"Grrr...rrraaaaaggghh...!!!"


With an almighty roar, Kiva, the lady chieftain completed her apotheosis with a powerful blast of shock wave that came from her aura. The roar was so intimidating that even Drake and the others were thoroughly overwhelmed. But Alt still remained unfazed and steadfast. The some of the empire's army, the Azalond battalion however, ran furiously for their lives as they saw Kiva's new and more ominous presence.


"Hmph."


Alt flicked his nose and slowly clenched his black metal fists, tightly. "Well then." He breathed deep and focused; then took stance. Still using his fists instead of brandishing his weapon. Alt opened his eyes and looked at his opponent eye to eye with their razor sharp glares collided with Kiva's. He felt a number of powerful surges of strength within her opponent, he may have to now use direct means instead of passive-aggressive. Alt channeled his energy through both his fists, emitting a white hot glow from the trims of his black metal arms.


The enraged Kiva then planted both her claws through the ground itself. She then channeled her tremendous strength upon her arms. In one giant heave, the ground surrounding the fleeing crowd began to tremble on a seismic scale. Cracks began to crawl the surroundings. The wanderer suddenly felt a rising shock wave beneath his footing; without anything to spare, he quickly flipped back and darted backwards. Gaining a considerable amount of distance. With incredible strength, the enraged lady chieftain raised both her arms, pulled a colossal slab of earth the size of a tower from the ground itself. As her arms were fully raised, Kiva held the slab with one arm, glaring at Alt with her burning red eyes. The crowd fled in terror as they saw the fearsome feat of the enraged lady chieftain.


"Alt!"


Drake and the others called the wanderer out. Worried that he may not survive the impending attack. Alt on the other hand, can't help but to be impressed. "Wow, you know my old man once bench-pressed a full-sized meteor, about the size of an island." Even at this dire situation, he can't help but remember one extraordinary feat of his late grandfather. "I will destroy you!!!" The lady chieftain roared as she take another large heave, ready to slam the massive debris unto her opponent. With all her might, she plummets the colossal slab unto Alt. "Alt, get out of the way!" Lady Eurya screamed beside the young knight, fearing for her dance partner's life. He could evade it but Alt stood firm and still. With massive impact, the entire populace of Titan's Cross felt the crushing blow of the slab. Plummeting to Alt like an angry god's wrath.


As the cloud of dust cleared, Viora, Auvan, Drake, Lady Eurya, and even both armies could only look at what happened, in sheer awe and amazement. Alt had stopped the colossal slab of earth with his single fist, dug through the rock itself. The enraged Kiva was still using her strength to press the debris unto Alt, but the wanderer didn't budged an inch. Alt slowly shifted his stance and connects another strike, then one punch after another, slowly picking up tremendous pace.


Genkotsu Gansengan!


With rapid succession, Alt unleashed a barrage of explosive punches. Connecting a hundred punches per second; and each punch are imbued with compressed tremors that explodes on impact.


The Genkotsu Gansengan or the Knuckle Barrage is one of the many variations of the Knuckle Bullet. In this variation, Alt rains the enemy with a barrage of fists connecting in rapid-fire succession. So fast that his punches' movements are blurry to the naked eye; and creating a squint and blurred illusion of him having multiple arms. Each punch has the same strength and impact of a single Knuckle Bullet. The longer the duration of the attack, the more speed and momentum it builds, hence the more stronger and destructive the attack. Like that of a fully-winded gatling gun.


Alt's rapid-fire punches quickly reduced the towering slab into chunks of small debris in mere seconds. Small fragments and debris rained upon the battlefield like a light hail. The entire populace of the battlefield were stil in awe. As Alt was about to switch stance, he suddenly felt a pluck on his string. He eased his stance and in an instant, Kiva lands a direct punch right on Alt's face. The punch was so fast and powerful as is it precise. But to Kiva's surprise, Alt was still steadfast where he stood. The force and impact of her punch should have sent him flying but he didn't. She felt her fist upon his face but it felt like she just punched a steel wall. The enraged lady chieftain slid back and connects another but this time it was blocked by Alt.


"That hurt y'know."


Alt smiled as he made a sarcastic remark while rubbing his right cheek, where her punch landed. "Grr...!!!" Kiva growled. Immediately, she connects a string of punches, kicks and strikes at point-blank range. The same pace as she did with her mace, hand-to-hand combat but with more vicious and destructive blows. But to no avail, as Alt parried and caught her every blow, utilizing from his shoulders to his chest, elbow and arms, hip and legs, down to his knees and feet. They were thrown into a brutal deadlock.

The enraged Kiva, being relentless with her close combat and Alt using his defensive stance; the same stance he had used earlier. The Ryudo or Flowing Stream stance.Kiva darted forward and quickly connects a fast, spinning kick towards Alt. The wanderer weaved down then backwards to dodge the attack; she then connects a powerful arcing stomp. But Alt before it could connect, Alt slid slightly back to avoid the attack at the exact range and margin. Ignoring the powerful impact of her talon. As she was about to connect a roundhouse punch, Alt slid to the side to corner her. But it was a split-second feint as she saw Alt's movement. As soon as her opponent slid to the side, she quickly shifted her footing and used her entire body to enhance the momentum of the swing of her punch. The punch connected, Kiva hit her opponent squarely at the center of his torso; a vital point. But as soon as the lady chieftain connects her strike, Alt spun around. He channeled the impact he took unto his palm and launched a powerful palm blast directly at her torso.



"Argh!"


The enraged Kiva was pushed back by the impact a few feet. She felt the piercing blow she took. She could have shrugged it off but it was different and it felt very painful. The enraged lady chieftain gritted her teeth as she tried to overcome the pain but it only worsened. She then raised her head seeing her opponent easing his stance. Kiva's vision becoming blurry and disoriented. She tried to take a step but the pain was preventing her to do so. Her knees were shaking, struggling to stand up. Soon she slowly returned to normal, her hair changing back from red to jet black along with the rest of her physical features. A few minutes passed, she finally succumbed to the pain and fell on her knees; clenching her chest as she saw Alt approach her.


"--F-finish me..."


She stuttered, with the pain clawing through her body. "I... have failed. My--clan. My family." The lady chieftain, Kiva slowly bowed her head in and awaited her supposed end. "But I--don't have regrets... I have served my purpose well, watched my clan grew strong and be a the chieftain, my clan deserved. A warrior's death is what I have been waiting for. A death delivered by a worthy opponent." With her stuttered words, she was ready to bid farewell to her clan after the result of the duel. "No! Don't! Sister!" Viora cried as loud as she could so that her sister and Alt could hear her. "No chieftain!", "Please no! We still need you!" Along Viora, the brave men and women protested that she live. "SILENCE! All of you!" Kiva yelled. "It is stated that--if one of us is to be defeated then one must give the other an honorable death. This is our god's will!" She added, stating the ancient rule of the Blood-Duel. To oppose this doctrine is to oppose their god.

Alt scratched his head and slouched for a bit. "I'm sorry but... nope." Without a second of hesitation, Alt gave his answer. "W-What?" The defeated Kiva was caught by surprise. "Because I am not worthy to take your life. Because I know, you can still be stronger than you are now. I know I felt it through your fist. And right now, I don't see a chieftain, but rather a warrior that still desires to be stronger to protect her people. If you want to be strong then live for your people, don't die for them. Live." Alt knelt down before the felled Kiva, looking at her with a warm smile and a gentle look in his eyes. The lady chieftain gasped at Alt's statement as she felt a sudden mellow feeling, "F-fool..." The dravian chieftain finally succumbed to the pain as she fell unconscious to the ground. Carefully he carried the Kiva on his arms and went towards Viora and Drake's direction.

"Sister! Is she alright?"

Viora quickly rushed to her sister's aid. "Yeah don't worry. I hit one of her pressure points to block the flow of her energy temporarily. Normally it should render her to unconscious immediately but she managed to stay awake for a brief moment." Alt looked at Kiva while he still held her on his arms. She looked peaceful and sleeping. "She's a strong woman, she'll be fine. Just give her time to rest and patch up her bruises." The wanderer reassured the siblings that their chieftain and beloved elder sister will be alright.

Amid the aftermath of the battle, Alt suddenly looked southward. Which caught the attention of Drake, "Something the matter, Alt?" The young knight asked. "--we have to move, now." The wanderer's tone was grim and serious. Drake looked at Alt; the young knight knew he sensed something more foreboding than the empire's army.

"They are coming..."


TO BE CONTINUED....
 

KingdomKey

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Alt is still a ladies man and a badass wrapped in one. I like how he didn't end up giving into Kiva's death wish after losing to him. The ending is such a tease of a cliff hanger that the suspense is driving me crazy with wanting to read what's next. I also like the battle with Drake vs. Auvan. So many unique characters and battle styles. It's kind of a sad tale that Auvan explained to Drake and his party about Kiva. At the same time, I'm glad Alt could handle her and bring her to her senses with Auvan and Viora not too far away. I wonder if we'll see the hooded mercenary in the following chapter? Overall, it was a good read with lots of action to it. :)
 

Sumire

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Sigh... Alt is <3! :3 Though props to Drake for pulling his sword swings long enough. But sad he had to resort to violence to reason with the Red-Hand. Dravians have serious anger issues. Seriously!
 
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