She had been freed from the campus when the librarian kicked them out.
When she exited from the academy, she noticed the many street light illuminating the city. Whenever winter season arrives the skies tend to grow dark earlier. The brightest object closet to the darkened night was the clocktower that could be seen miles away. On the tower, the hour handle pointed 8 after evening.
She still had to retrieve for her repaired adventuring uniform and pick up Laura, her sister, from a friend’s house.
However, she did not exit the campus in a friendly mood. Her face was half covered by her hair, holding an angry frown.
What’s with her! I don’t understand, I don’t understand at all! Neila marched down the campus pathway infuriated. What’s Simonn got to do with this? Why do I have to drop out!? If I drop out now, then what was the point of working so hard to earn this badge.
Neila clung on the badge she prided. This badge was one of her largest accomplishments in her life. To earn a spot for otherwise expensive magic training, she worked her ass off, day and night studying. All her efforts bore fruit and she barely passed.
She began to recall Elizabeth and Adbelle’s voice in her head.
“What do you think the hero’s purpose of protecting this city is?”
“Is it because he has a grudge against Zarathous?”
“Or for someone?”
“It’s because of me?”
What did they mean because of me? I know Simonn and he’s not the type to leave the powerless helpless. He became a hero for that ideal.
But how much does she actually know him? The two had only reunited recently, and Simonn came back with an enormous change, almost becoming an entire stranger to her.
Neila didn’t know the exact details for him to became a hero. Rumor or not, he earned himself a title at a cost of his reputation, by killing the previous Crest Bearer of Exile. Among the eight heroes, he was the least favor even if the Crest Bearer of Exile was among their strongest warrior. Still, she can’t change the facts her dearly missed friend was a savage people described about him.
Neila scratched her hair confusingly and looked to the night skies. The brightness from the street lamps revealed heavy volume of clouds passing above the city. They are ready to drop a blanket of snow at any moment but for now they floated silently. Tonight was a quiet night.
She rode on a tram leading to the tailor’s shop and paid for her repaired goods using the money she earned from Simonn’s retrieval quest. With this, the remaining activities lowered to one.
Her package is safely in her hands and she is on her path to picking up Laura. She figured might as well when she strolled by a weapon shop display case. There was a piece of equipment she envied laying on display, tempting her everyday. This staff had a head of a mini six barrelled magnum shaped into a luxurious cane. All her stress had faded away, only looking at the staff she admired. When she looked at the price tag, about fifty million silver, she backed away from the glass case. It’s name is Hextech Magna Murliboon, a staff crafted by a mysterious magick engineer.
It’s not the aesthetics of over the top elegance, but it’s the ability to store pre-casted spells prior the battle for a fast paced- rapid fire assault. The six chambers in the magnum’s cylindrical slots contain enough space for twelve rune charges before needed to be buffered again. Further more, the cylindrical cartridge could be remodelled and configured to hold more spells or suffer the amount of available spells for magic amplification.
She could have given herself a chance to test its weight, if she was willing to pay an entrance fee of 2,500 silver which was half the reward. This warehouse of weapons is the most prestige weapons dealer in this city. It was famed for supplying the heroes with their initial equipment-.
And that struck a thought.
Wait, does Simonn know the owner of this store? Maybe… but I don’t want to impose on him.
Her emotions were like a roller coaster; a moment ago, she was angry. All that feeling had vanished when her hopes were raised for a chance to enter this store in near future. Then she really thought hard on the cruel words Elizabeth and Adbelle had said, her smile turned back into a frown.
What about the thing Elizabeth said to me? What if it’s true? Will my family be able to live happily by his side?
A few hours prior.
Elizabeth asked a rather odd demand.
Neila felt conflicted. She did her best to stay under the radar and yet everything she worked for would be on the verge of collapsing if she does not contest.
“What do you mean?” She asked with an antagonizing voice.
“I am asking you to stop attending your training. You are risking your life.” Elizabeth said.
“If you were talking about the quest we took on, I would’ve agreed but I don’t get why my life is at risk when I am training to be a full fledge mage.” Neila argued.
“You’re a little shallow. Let me ask a series of questions if you don’t mind. What do you plan to do after you finish your program?”
“To join the Magi Magic Guild!”
“Do you know what they do?”
“They provide support and run operations otherwise would help turn the tides of battles. I know the full capabilities of their tasks and I aspire to be a member.” For the first time, Neila had acted against Elizabeth without hesitation.
Neila wouldn’t have known the duties of a MMG member if she did not aspire to be one. Not bound by the strict laws of military or as laxed as adventurers, it’s the perfect between for a group of elite mages to provide relief and support on a battle field. They would undertake missions of all difficulties in similar fashion of the adventurer’s guild ranks; from monster hunting to defending an area until a royal command is given to them to deploy large scale spells to break enemy army formations.
However, despite the powers of magic to be used in conflict, their main focus is to do research of the most spectacle phenomenon that had brought them to this era. Mana and its origins. Ever since growing up in an rural village, she was fascinated by the works of this source of energy that breathed life into everything around her. She wanted to pursuit her goal to understand it.
“I’ve already worked hard to come this far, I won’t drop out just because you tell me to.”
In the corner of her eye, Neila spotted Adbelle shook her head disappointingly. Neila frowned and nearly growled at Adbelle when she felt disrespected.
“Elizabeth, you’re getting nowhere if you dawdle on like that.”
“Fine, I’ll get right to it.” Elizabeth gave a surrendering posture and flicked her golden hair with a sigh. “You’re rather close to the hero, aren’t you? Like very close?”
Of course this irritated Neila and she didn’t know why. Her hand made a fist, almost ready to be thrown. She knew in terms of physical strength, Elizabeth would have the advantage. Still, the unknown torrent of emotions caused her to lash out in an annoyed tone.
“We’re childhood friends you could say. Is this one of those things you’ll tell me off because you’re jealous? What does Simonn have to do with this anyways?”
“My interest is to never get between other people’s lives, but I don’t want this city to be destroyed. To do that I need you to realize the situation you are in. Have you wondered what the hero would benefit fighting for Yilan? Could it be because he has an unspeakable grudge against Zarathous? I highly doubted that if the other heroes allied themselves to the enemy. I keep thinking over and over but couldn’t find a solid solution..”
“And that is until we saw your intimacy with the hero.” Adbelle barged in. “We suspected you are his sole reason this country is being protected against Zarathous. In the MMG, you will be enlisted in the war. Knowing that, when the only person the hero wants to be safe is dead, what will he do?”
The person Adbelle referred to is indeed Neila. Her two interrogators were actually being considerate, easing her into the answer. It took a couple of twists and turns but she finally landed on the same page as them.
It all came together into one completed puzzle.
Her forehead was slick with cold sweat and stood frozen. After realizing, her imagination had branched into possible theories what would happened to Yilan if Adbelle’s statement was true. There was always a chance Simonn could abandon the people of this country and leave them for dead.
“It’s because of me?”
“This was only an assumption.”
She was speechless. Strength from her legs gave up, falling her bottom onto the edge of the table. Neila may had known Simonn’s return was simply for her sake from the promise they made decades ago but she doubted it and kept believing because he is a hero. A hero’s duty was to fight against all odds to protect the powerless. There was slight criticisms in her beliefs as five of the eight heroes had turned their weapons upon the world they once protected.
Then there was this weight suddenly shouldered upon her. If the pressure from taking on the academy’s entrance exam was already extreme, this grasped out at her soul and pulled it to the depths of abyss. It was easily a million times worse having to know the whole country’s survival rest on her safety.
“I’m only telling you this out of good will.” Elizabeth took a pause until Neila absorbed the previous facts and brought her ghastly pale face up. “There is also the fact how people will react when news of your relationship with the hero. If you don’t want trouble for your family, sever your connection with the hero now.”
She had met him ten years ago, and about half that time was used when he went on an adventure and joined the heroes campaign against the Demon Lord. Simonn was her first friend she had met in the previous, but now destroyed village. There wasn’t much children as it’s residents hadn’t had their homes built their homes before the invasion of demons.
Per chance she had unknowingly entered what he called ‘The Fairy Kingdom’ and rescued him. She remembered the place as hollow as ever, no monsters, only animals and unknown plants. The non-existent fantasy castle of the fae may be a lie, but the air was chiming whimsically, almost with the same atmosphere as described from a fairytale kingdom. That place was how she met a ragged and lonely child named Simonn.
She could deny Elizabeth’s words but there was a small chance her argument may be the truth.
True, Neila has Princess Sylvia on her side from the royal oath she performed. However, her position is always endangered from assassins, corrupters, and she was forced to take precedence on political issues. For a commoner like Neila, she decided it would be best to become one with the mobs and not stand out. This way, she wouldn’t cause trouble for the Princess and her family would be safe.
On the other hand, what would Simonn think of me, she thought.
She became lost.
“What is it?” Neila asked her sister who she had picked up from a friend’s home.
Her sister, Laura Vinca, five years younger than herself. She mostly inherited her mother’s facial traits except for the eyes and hair of her father’s. Her silver hair wasn’t as glossy as Princess’ white hair, but it was envied by many young girls her age. Her cosmetic skills gave up an one up if the sisters were being compared, but still far from reaching that of a level of Sylvia’s natural elven beauty. She wore a fur coat she cherished as a gift from her parents that made her appearance more mature.
Laura tugged on her big sister’s arm looking at her with big concerned expression.
“Are you okay? You look a bit pale.”
No, I’m not, is what Neila wanted to say but her lips felt like they were sealed by magic. She felt like being struck by lightning, her other hand slightly soaked with sweat. Then her lips began moving, as if being controlled, “I’m fine, I guess.” and left Laura with a half convincing smile.
“Yeah, I’ve just been thinking a lot lately. Don’t mind it. We’ll be late for the last tram if we don’t hurry to the station.” Neila said and raced to the nearest stop pulling Laura behind her.
Laura sensed something was off and cocked her head. Rather than being able to read off her sister’s expression, Laura thought about the closest topic that could put Neila in a depressed state. She wasn’t sure, but she knew something did happen. All she could do was try to know and help comfort Neila with kind words. Laura nervously pursed her lips and braved her question.
“D-did something happen to father?”
Neila did not account for her sister to speak of something their family had recently resolved. It occurred to her, reminded her that Laura was absent. For one moment, she dispelled all emotions related to Elizabeth’s words aside and changed the conversation with a more positive attitude.
“No, in fact we finally booked an appointment for his surgery.” She smiled, putting her hand over Laura’s head.
“S-s-s-seriously!? Dad’s… dad’s illness is going to be cured? Ohmygod, ohmygosh this…” Laura’s cry was no more than a proper reaction to bear this blessed news. Her behaviour was more little sister like gazing her sparkling pupils and displayed a wide pure smile. “That’s great- no, it’s the best news I heard in years! Why didn’t you notify me!?”
“You were away so we weren’t able to tell you.”
“Oh right, but I thought we didn’t have enough to pay the bills for such an expensive procedure.”
“I know someone kind enough to lend us money. You might see him when we get home.”
“Hm… Him…? Him, huh… him…”
When Laura was skeptical about her unknown connections, she realized her mistake. This would generate a storm of unending misunderstandings. Laura has guy friends and most seem to be interested in her. However, they weren’t comfortable to be closer because of Laura’s strict personality and cautiousness of her mother’s side. Her demands were set too high to be anyone’s love interest.
As they gossiped, the last tram of the day had finally arrived. It was ten at night. The time shops slowly closed one by one, leaving the only taverns and inns opened for their patrons for late night happy time. The skies are now pitch black, but the city was still bright. The castle of where Princess Sylvia resided, reflected lights off its white marbled walls giving it the brightest building in this city.
Their ride shook each time the wheels rolled onto a new set of rails. The number of passengers steadily decreased as they went back to their homes. Since their stop was the last, Neila couldn’t help but have the urge to fall asleep any moment. When she felt some weight on her shoulder, she could see Laura had succumbed to a sleeping spell. The constant rattling noise kept her awake until her stop came and brought Laura out with a piggyback.
Laura wasn’t small, but as her elder sister it was the proper way to treat younger siblings when her guardians weren’t around.
“Neila, welcome back!”
There, under a streetlamp Simonn pushed himself off the post, onto his two feet and happily skipped towards her. He would be practically wagging his tail like a puppy if he had one.
Neila was hesitant on approaching him from, but there was no chance of her escaping as she needed to carry Laura to the same building where they would inevitably meet.
“Did my parents sent you?”
Knowing especially her mother, she had the right to question him being here.
“Nope, it was coincidence I tell you. It must be fate! Even the world says we should be together!” He clapped once, spread his arms wide apart and spun on his toes Then he said in a more polite tone. “But seriously, I saw you getting off the tram and- and…”
For a moment, his undivided attention left Neila and stared at Laura. He acted a little inquisitive, so far to put his nose centimeters away from Laura’s sleeping face. He held his chin and inspected Laura’s facial features, tossing a glance at Neila each time he spotted a miniscule difference between the siblings.
Why are you acting so suspicious? It made Neila shift herself between Simonn’s line of sight. You could say it’s because of her instinct feeling the need to. Then again, Simonn had never met Laura, who knows how they would interact.
“Your sister?” He asked.
“Yeah. Her name’s Laura.”
“I didn’t know you had a sibling. She resembles your mother with your father’s hair.”
“She does, doesn’t she?” Neila took a peek over her shoulders to look at Laura’s silver hair. “Don’t get too close to her now, I don’t want Laura to be startled in case she wakes up thinking this might be another misunderstanding.”
Did that make him even more curious or jealous? Neila couldn’t tell since it was dark. She had Simonn leading the path, but the shadows of his cheeks were slightly puffed out.
“I can say your sister is very lucky.” He pouted. “I wish I could cling on you like that.”
He was jealous.
Neila chose to remain silent, though she would usually have something to comment on that. Her eyes were glued onto his back, contemplating on the issue aroused earlier in the day. She could hear Elizabeth’s words haunting her.
Shortly, they had set foot in the floristry leading into Neila’s home. Neila’s mother greeted the two and one sleeping child with a smile as she carried Laura upstairs. Neila then saw Simonn opened the door halfway as if he was planned to stay another night at Davin’s.
“Simonn…?” She instinctively stopped him, then her voice went silent. Does she plan on dismissing her opportunity? Either way it was driving her nuts.
Simonn waited for as long as she needed with his hand on the handrail of the steps. He has his gentle smile as always in front of her. “What is it?” For once words were normal without his usual playful tone. “If you’re worried about me, I’m just taking a night stroll you know.”
“N-no… I have something I need to consult. You see-.”
As she opened her mouth, a bright ball of light beyond the castle walls shot up in the skies and snatched the quiet atmosphere. It’s not fireworks. When it exploded it did not make a sound.
From the size of the flare, she deduced it came from the frontier. It was a signal for Simonn as he stared down the path to the gate. The enemy is nearby, the artificial players, Zarathous’ force is launching an invasion. The entire country of Lizurin must have fallen and now Zarathous is launching its campaign through Yilan’s border.
“Sorry, Neila. Can I ask you to say what you need to tell me now? I might not be back till morning” He said calmly as he stared into the direction of his battle.
But if I say it… I’m scared. If she let him go, would she live another day bearing all the guilt she would have to carry? Before her, this man, this hero everyone respected for saving the world once or feared for having powers surpassed a demigod. If he would leave, there would be no one to fill the void but she couldn’t bear risking her family’s safety if there are bad people like Elizabeth described.
“I don’t think I can trust you.” She shut her eyes to hide the face she imagined Simonn would make. “I only knew you as a boy back then and you came back suddenly being a hero. Moreover, people have said that you aren’t what I think you are. They said the Demon Lord’s defeat was delayed because of you. You killed the previous crest bearer when there was a vacant spot by the hero.”
“Earlier today, I met up with Elizabeth and Adbelle. They said you’re only fighting to protect this city because of me isn’t it? You’re a hero, you’re supposed to be protecting not just me but the people that live here too, right?”
Neila heard snow being crunched towards the opposite direction and took a peek. She figured Simonn would’ve left but he stood in the middle of the rode staring down the road.
“First off, I had to kill the previous crest bearer because it was necessary to make myself stronger so that the heroes party can reach the minimum strength to defeat the Demon Lord.” He admitted.
“Then what about what Elizabeth said?”
Truthfully, she was already screaming at herself internally for accusing Simonn.
The answer she sought never came to her. Instead, an inviting gesture was proposed to her when Simonn lend out his hand.
“I think its better if I showed you rather than words. You are free not to follow but I figured my true self will show on the battlefield. If you concluded I am a threat to your family and you, I will never show my face in front of ever again.”
“That’s not what I mean-.”
“Neila, you can’t say that since you can’t read my thoughts.”
Only you can confirm it for yourself… The people at the border could really use the aid of the hero. She tightly grabbed his hand and was lifted like a princess in his arms. “Won’t I get in your way?”
“Impossible!” He shouted in his usual merry attitude. “I have to show that I can really protect and fend off the enemy at the same time, don’t I? Relax, you’ll be watching from a safe distance.”
“And that will be…?”
“Inside that floating island.” He pointed to a dark object floating in the night sky. “You will monitor me through the legendary dungeon. Inside Chaos.”
A stronghold a little beyond the frontier, was the acting border heavily guarded by two hundred soldiers. They fired a flare for its purpose of alarming an enemy invasion and asked for reinforcements. That light was manufactured upon one of Princess Sylvia’s condition, a white soundless firework is to be used as emergency means to call upon the hero’s aid while the main army back in the city is being mobilized.
These so called ‘Players’ had already begun their assault on this fortress. It began with floating texts in another world’s language;
[Players, welcome to the beta test first implantation of the invasion system.]
Then after a long paragraph of text.
[Sieging will begin in: 60]
“Holy shit… how many are there!?”
One soldier leaned against the merlons of his post observing thousands, non ending waves of artificial beings ready to invade their homes. Every single of them had different outfits to suit their fashion, different weapons of all lengths, shapes and sizes. Their sheer numbers under the lighting of Candle Torch, an illumination spell, had already won the battle of intimidation.
At zero, the stationed soldiers were taken back by the enemy’s thunderous war cry. The ally forces immediately flashed high powered beams onto the plains to fight the darkness that conceals the enemy.
“Fire! Let all our arrows loose, blast them outta our sight!” The commander officer of this stronghold yelled. “Barricade the gates and have our mage units fortify the walls! They have a ram with them!”
He didn’t idle along after shouting orders. This commander took his own rifle and fired down on the ‘Players’.
As the first enemy wave had perished, small gleams of light sparkled ominously in the darkness. He probably guessed they were Altars from the reports. Every second, stars would appear three times, so three tall crystals stood as their resurrection tower to revive incapacitated players after a certain number of time.
For the second wave, Zarathous’ players brought out new contraptions. Cannons, no. They ran on tracks and had a large multi-barrelled snout. It was as large as a two storey building and moved slowly, deflecting all allied artillery from its solid defences. Its cannons blasted through a ten meter earthen and stronghold’s walls with ease.
“Sir, over there! That’s-!”
Another unit was drawn into the commotion in the middle of the night. The floating island that had protected the borders of Yilan moved the first time in decades as its master had ordered it to. The three legendary mobile dungeons rang its low toned bell and aimed its large arsenal of numberless artillery at the direction of the enemy.
“Chaos!” Someone called its name. “We’re saved-.”
When they thought Chaos was going to contest its title as the strongest, it released one projectile into a battlefield and… it didn’t explode. It just fired a dud shell. After it finished its business, it turned away from the fight and went back to its rightful spot.
“I-it’s leaving- No, wait! Please help us!”
“Oh, shut up. I’m here now.”
The commander thought he heard a voice zoom by.
What know one knew there was one person inside the mysterious island. She was not to pilot it but to observe the hero’s battlefield. Chaos was ordered to safekeep the person inside it, so it fled after dispatching one shell.
This resulted the hero’s delayed arrival as he dropped into the enemy’s center soon after the dud projectile had landed. He swung his trusty legendary hammer, Dreaded Elipson, at the enemy’s giant moving giant and won the game of whack-a-mole in one swing. The artificial veins of his weapon glowed mysteriously blue, spreading a fading blue trail wherever it moved.
“Can you hear me?” His voice generated some static from a radio. “I’m a hero your Princess had contracted with.”
“H-hero, it’s an honor-.”
“Spare me the flattery. Here’s my plan. Since those players are going to keep up this assault, I will target those Altars to stop them from resurrecting. In the meantime, I will have Chaos provide some backup from afar while you guys protect the border. Can you do it?”
A simple ‘Can you do it?’. The commander was swelled of determination and courage as he interpreted it as a hero putting his faith in him.
Suddenly his voice rose in a fiery roar to inspire his soldiers, to give them motivation that a hero, someone with the strength to defeat the Demon Lord, asked them for help. It would dishonorable to let this fortress fall if they didn’t defend this place with their lives.
Neila’s watching me. I hope she gets the answers that I want her to. Simonn thought as he continued his one man assault. I have to end this quickly, but I have to hold back since the Princess needed this fortress to stand.
He accelerated from an invisible force pushing against his heels each time he took a step forward. The wind pressure alone was at frightening levels, inflicting stun onto the players without touching them. He glided smoothly across the grounds enough for his witnesses to describe him to be able to fly without magic or other supernatural powers.
“Grant me the blessing. Appear, appear, I search for the skill from my library of legendary achievements.”
His usual army of Will-o-wisps brought him a copy of every trinkets he owned. The players instinctively erected barriers and shot at the blue ghosts thinking it was an area of effect attack. Their attacks phase through without injuring the flames or the parchments.
Simonn skated to a wisp holding onto a deck of talismans and equips them.
“This should be enough to get by this battle. I wished I hadn’t used up all the weapon skills from the other world.” He licks the back of a slip of paper to activate the adhesive coating on one side then sticks it onto his weapon. Weapon skill enchantment: Hammering Force!
He performed a sommersault smash, similar to Tyler’s skill. In terms of power, his was far superior and formed a crater about the diameter of a small hill. This sent back dozens of players back to the respawn point.
Good, these players haven’t gotten used to the mechanics to activate skills yet. The future battles won’t be so easy once they learn about it.
In his blitz, what he failed to hit with his hammer, he did with his fist. A one sided battle like this barely strained his breathing as he decimated the enemy around him.
[Flame Shot!], [Aqua Lance!], [Earth Spike!], [Water Jet!], [Terrain Crusher!]
[Beheading Fang!], [Rolling Crown!], [Decapitating Slash!], [Whirlwind Blade!]
[Blazing Gatling!], [Snipe!], [Heart Seeker!], [Rapid Fire!], [Critical Barrage!]
That’s not saying they won’t retaliate.
“Tyvrarth Xaineit, Dragon God. As one who is the master of Dreaded Elipson, a weapon crafted of your tail, I order you to show them your fury. Gor Virkus!”
He leapt into the air, putting himself upside down in a quick draw pose. The air released a loud snap then a roar of a dragon several seconds later. He had already cut down all spells and skills launched towards him. His attack wasn’t anti-magic, but the difference of skill level of players and his were too much for the enemy’s spell endure past his devastating slash.
If there was a forest, it would ceased to exist. There were players standing in the meadows instead, with their upper halves separated from their legs. An army of thousand that opposed him vanished from a blinding sweep.
Simonn’s Dreaded Elipson retracted to its original size as he continued to rush to the three crystals resurrecting players.
“This is quite boring.” He strolled below the last altar and brought it down to unrecognizable fragments. “Still, I have to commend Zarathous for stealing my things and making them work.”
What should have taken only a second ended in thirty minutes he needed to bypass thousands of enemies and destroy the three crystals.
The rest is for the soldiers to round up the last players. They shouldn’t have any problems outnumbering the last few. He turned back, facing Chaos with a bright smile. “How did I do, Neila?”